TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2002:
1. "Road to Perdition" (Sam Mendes)
2. "Gangs of New York" (Martin Scorsese)
3. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (Alfonso Cuaron)
4. "CQ" (Roman Coppola)
5. "Secretary" (Steven Shainberg)
6. "The Kid Stays in the Picture" (Nannette Burstein/Brett Morgan)
7. "The Cat's Meow" (Peter Bogdanovich)
8. "Kissing Jessica Stein" (Charles Wurmfeld)
9. "Adaptation" (Spike Jonze)
10. "Punch-Drunk Love" (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Honorable Mention: "Changing Lanes" (Roger Michell); "8 Mile" (Curtis Hanson); "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (Sam Jones); "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (Peter Jackson); "Roger Dodger" (Dylan Kidd); "The Rookie" (John Lee Hancock); "Signs" (M. Night Shyamalan); "Storytelling" (Todd Solondz); "Tadpole" (Gary Winnick); "24 Hour Party People" (Michael Winterbottom).
The Worst: "Bowling For Columbine" (Michael Moore); "Death to Smoochy" (Danny DeVito); "Full Frontal" (Steven Soderbergh); "Hollywood Ending" (Woody Allen); "Vulgar" (Bryan Johnson).
Movies That I'm Sure Are Excellent, But I Haven't Seen Yet: "About a Boy," "About Schmidt," "Auto Focus," "Barbershop," "Catch Me If You Can," "Chicago," "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Far From Heaven," "Human Nature," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "The Pianist," "The Quiet American." I'll be writing a more in-depth Year in Review later this month, for American Dreamer.
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2002:
1. Wilco- "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"
2. Norah Jones- "Come Away With Me"
3. Bruce Springsteen- "The Rising"
4. Bright Eyes- "Lifted: Or, the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground"
5. Ben Kweller- "Sha Sha"
6. Eminem- "The Eminem Show"
7. Andrew W.K.- "I Get Wet"
8. Interpol- "Turn On the Bright Lights"
9. Moby- "18"
10. N.E.R.D.- "In Search Of..."
Honorable Mention: Beck, "Sea Change"; Coldplay, "A Rush of Blood to the Head"; Counting Crows, "Hard Candy"; John Mayer, "Room For Squares"; OK Go (self-titled); The Streets, "Original Pirate Material"; James Taylor, "October Road."
TOP TEN TELEVISION SHOWS OF 2002:
1. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO)
2. "The Sopranos" (HBO)
3. "Pardon The Interruption" (ESPN)
4. "Six Feet Under" (HBO)
5. "24" (FOX)
6. "The Shield" (FX)
7. "Law & Order" (NBC)
8. "Oz" (HBO)
9. "Project Greenlight" (HBO)
10. "The Osbournes" (MTV)
WE'RE NOT WORTHY! WE'RE NOT WORTHY!: Over the holiday I finally got to drink a beer I'd wanted to try for years: Arrogant Bastard Ale. But even better than the name is the monogram on the bottle:
This is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it. It is doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory - maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you its made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you're mouthing the words as you read this
PRESS FOR SALE: The New York Post's Keith Kelly reported on Friday that New York Press, my favorite publication in the city, has been sold by founder Russ "Mugger" Smith for $5 million to a syndicate led by media veterans Charles Coletti and Doug Meadow. The new owners' first act was to fire longtime editor John Strausbaugh (author of "Rock 'Til You Drop") and promote erstwhile Managing Editor Lisa Kearns.
Smith, who will continue to write the "Mugger" column, had reportedly been facing family pressure to get out ever since the 9/11 attacks, and had previously rebuffed an advance from noted right-wing hedonist and former NYPress columnist Taki Theodoracopulos, who went on to co-found The American Conservative magazine along with Pat Buchanan. The new owners promise that the paper's editorial content will remain unchanged, and I sincerely hope that some of the paper's more unconventional writers (Christopher Caldwell, Jim Knipfel, and especially Armond White) escape the transition with their jobs intact.
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: Having trouble choosing a religion? Try giving Belief-o-Matic a spin! I took it and survey says I have 100% compatability with Reform Judaism, which is the religion I was raised in yet I certainly have my issues with it these days. But I'm also 80% compatible with Islam- say what?
...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAILERS: One of my favorite parts of going to the movies has always been the previews, even prior to my former job of test-marketing movie trailers. Before "Gangs of New York" the other night I saw two compelling ones: Since GONY is about the hero trying to kill the villain, whose name is Bill, it only followed that the film be preceded by the teaser for "Kill Bill," Quentin Tarantino's first new movie in over five years. I must say it looks good, using kung-fu as a stand-in for QT's usual blaxploitation homage.
Another trailer I saw impressed me much, much less: it was for "The Life of David Gale," an anti-death penalty propaganda film which despite appearances is based neither on a true story nor a John Grisham novel. 'David Gale' stars Kevin Spacey as a death-penalty-fighting college professor (apparently based on Northwestern's David Protess) who gets framed for murder, is convicted, and then is sentenced to (you guessed it) the death penalty. So with two days left until he's due to be executed, it's up to intrepid reporter Kate Winslet to uncover the evidence to clear him.
Like "The Contender" and "Three Kings" before it, "Life of David Gale" appears to be making an impassioned, polemical political argument based on events that are completely fictional. We don't know who the bad guys are in this movie, but apparently they're so pissed at David Gale for being against the death penalty that they committed a murder and pinned it on him just to get the perverse joy of seeing him executed- instead of just cutting out the middle man and killing Gale themselves.
A previous Hollywood treatment of this issue (1995's "Dead Man Walking"), was also told from a left-wing perspective (the principals, after all, were Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Sean Penn), but its script actually managed to call the issue down the middle, and it ended up being one of the best movies of the '90s. "Life of David Gale" looks to have nothing but propaganda on its mind, manipulation on the level of an earlier Spacey vehicle, "Pay It Forward." The only thing that could possibly redeem the film for me would be if Gale turned out to be guilty, but based on the trailer I'm guessing that's not the ending.
And besides, Kate Winslet is the female lead, and she's playing an American. We all know Kate is a thousand times sexier with a British/Australian/New Zealand accent...
ROGER DODGER: Roger Ebert's Top Ten list is out, and he picks Spielberg's "Minority Report" (?) as #1. Ebert's been known for off-beat choices, from "Dark City" in 1998 to "Monster's Ball" last year, but as much as I respect him as a critic it's hard to imagine what he was thinking picking 'Minority,' which according to most observers wasn't even the best Steven Spielberg movie of the year.
A NOTE: Enetation is apparently going haywire, and as a result the word "poseurs" now appears below this post (and every other) rather than "comments." Please be advised that I am doing my best to fix this, and I don't in fact think that you are poseurs. Well, most of you, anyway.
RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN' ON MY HEAD...: George Roy Hill, the director of one of the greatest films of the 20th Century ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") died today at the age of 81. Hill, I learn now, was a Minneapolis native who graduated from Blake, a Hopkins prep school; he later attended Yale and was a member of the Whittenpoofs, a well-known glee club. Hill won numerous Oscars in 1973 for "The Sting," which like "Sundance" starred Newman and Redford, and also directed the '70s comedy classic "Slap Shot."
GET IN THE RING: Caught "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" over the holiday. It's unquestionably a masterfully created picture, under the skilled thumb of Peter Jackson (director of one of my favorites, 1994's "Heavenly Creatures"). But as someone who never read any of the books, I repeat my objection to the first film, which was that I had no idea what was going on half the time- which bearded hero was which, which grotesque villain was which (I just call them all "the evildoers"), and in the climactic battle scene, which army was where at any given time.
Funny- I always thought I was a geek growing up- but I never read or collected comic books, I never played Dungeons & Dragons, never was into that renaissance/role playing stuff, and I never as much as opened a Tolkien book. Is that why these movies were made- to make non-LOTR readers such as myself feel better, in retrospect, about their high school experiences? I'm reminded of an exchange from a "Friends" episode:
Chandler: Didn't you ever read "Lord of the Rings" in high school?
Joey: No, I had sex in high school.
SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALL RIGHT: Over the holiday I finally finished "Live From New York," the mammoth oral history of "Saturday Night Live" written by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. Like all great showbiz books, it offers just the right amount of historical exposition, artistic analysis, and behind-the-scenes gossip. And the book is refreshingly honest about the show's ups and downs over the years- after reading it, it'll be hard to ever respect Chevy Chase (or Janeane Garofolo) again. Doing for SNL what Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" did for '70s Hollywood, the book sheds all sorts of light on pop cultural touchstones that we thought we knew all about- I can't recommend it enough.
"A VERY DISAGREEABLE MAN WITH LITTLE GOOD IN HIM WHO WILL NOT BE MISSED:" The preceding (by Canon Michael Dittmer of a parishioner) was selected in the book "More News of the Weird" as the cruelest funeral eulogy in history, but the New York Post may have surpassed it with its editorial yesterday about the recent passing of noted Brooklyn-based black supremecist Sonny Carson: "In fact, Sonny Carson contributed nothing to the betterment of this city. He was a racist, a demagogue and a thug. New York has lost nothing by his passing."
Ouch. Imagine what they'll have to say when Hillary Clinton dies...
KWANZAA: What the fuck is that?
I'M JUST A JEW... A LONELY JEW... ON CHRISTMAS: Now that the great James Lileks has graced us with his masterful takedown of the anti-Christmas brigade, I guess it's my turn to weigh in on the same topic. Here we go: Lileks slams those who bash Christmas on Marxist grounds, but of course most of the anti-Christmas feeling I've seen in my life has come from the Jewish side of the aisle. My mother, after all, was raised as part of the only Jewish family in Watertown, South Dakota, and to this day (somewhat understandably) she can't even look at a Christmas tree in a shopping mall without seething.
Like every other American Jew, for one month out of each year I am subjected to a majority of the people around me observing a holiday that I don't celebrate. And no, Hannukah's never been much of a consolation, especially in years like this one when it ends before Pearl Harbor Day. I do have fond memories of family Hannukah parties and my grandma's latkes, but let's get real: Adam Sandler could write a new Hannukah Song every year for the rest of his life, and Hannukah still wouldn't make a dent in the Christmas juggernaut.
But I must say: each passing year, Christmas bothers me less and less. Maybe it's being in New York instead of Minnesota, with a more diverse population that's more tolerant and understanding of other cultures- nobody in New York seems like they're completely clueless about Judaism. Perhaps being older I realize that Christmas is a happy time for those who celebrate it, that they mean me and other Jews no disrespect, and it's not right for me to rain on their parade. I consider it a matter of tolerance and pluralism going both ways: if we're going to ask Christians to be tolerant of Jews on the High Holidays (to give us the day off from work, etc.), it's only fair that we be tolerant of their holiest days.
I don't consider it an affront to me as a Jewish person when someone tells me "Merry Christmas," or if I'm in a public place that's decorated with Christmas trees. If I were pressured by others to celebrate Christmas, if people regularly used the holiday as an excuse to try to convert me, or if I was hounded by a co-worker to decorate my office with Christmas stuff (as happened to a good friend of mine), that would be another matter entirely. But none of those things have ever happened to me. And I've never come into contact with anyone like Mr. Garrison either.
And while we're on this subject, the standard PC greeting, "Happy Holidays," has always sounded so generic and artificial and insincere to me. Rather than subject people to that, I prefer to meet them, get to know them, and wish them joy in whatever holiday they observe. Because if you don't know the person, what do you care whether they have "happy holidays" or not?
So for those of you celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or (of course) Festivus, have a wonderful and meaningful holiday. Remember, if someone celebrates a different holiday than you, they're almost certainly not doing it just to exclude you. And to those of you Jews out there, enjoy the movie and Chinese food.
COCKBURN: LEFT NUT: New York Press' resident crazy lefty loon, Alexander Cockburn, finished up last week's column with a goofy little non-sequiter titled "Bikes Are Bad For Your Balls," sharing what is apparently new scientific evidence that bike riding causes testicular discomfort and can even lead to low sperm counts. How this relates to Cockburn's usual left-of-Nader drivel is known only by the author, but he for some reason leaves out the pertinent information that the best cyclist in the world, four-time defending Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, is in fact missing a testicle as a result of his battle with cancer. But hey, at least he doesn't suffer from Cockburn.
FUZZY PATH: Taking the train into Manhattan tonight, I saw two subway advertisements that gave me a chuckle. First I saw a poster for an upcoming made-for-TV biopic of John F. Kennedy, Jr. And in this movie, Jacqueline Kennedy Onannis is played by... Jacqueline Bisset. Yes, the mother of John-John (whose mother was named Jacqueline and whose wife's last name was Bissette) is being played by Jacqueline Bisset. It's the most ironic casting choice since Sam Shepard and Scott Glenn were cast in a movie ("The Right Stuff") in which two of the main characters were Alan Shepard and John Glenn.
Next to the JFK poster was another of those wonderful Drug Free America ads, this time localized to the Partnership For a Drug-Free New Jersey. This advert featured pictures of two rather appetizing-looking wrap sandwiches, next to a note cautioning parents to "eat at least one meal a day with your child, and he/she will be less likely to try marijuana." Because if you don't, and your child does try marijuana, he or she will subsequently eat lots and lots and lots of meals- and probably without you.
THROUGH THE LEGS OF LOTT! THE DEMOCRATS WIN!: "If you Google the text string 'we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years' you get 25+ pages of results (1,500 or so results), all quoting Trent Lott. Quote after quote after quote, page after page after page. I find it amazing. Lott must now understand how Bill Buckner feels." - The blogger Patio Pundit (Martin Devon), strengthening my Lott/Google theory.
JUST IN TIME: Time Magazine has chosen as their "Persons of the Year" for 2002 a trio of female whistleblowers: Sherron Watkins of Enron, Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom, and Minnesota-based FBI agent Coleen Rowley. While it's hard to disagree with the choices or think of better ones, the grouping of women from Enron and Worldcom on a magazine cover reminds me of something else another venerable old magazine did earlier this year. And after all, how long before Playboy does a cover story on "The Women of Whistleblowing"?
ROCKIN' THE CASBAH IN THE SKY: One of the great rock stars of the past quarter-century has died, as Joe Strummer of The Clash succumbed to unknown causes over the weekend at the age of 50. In addition to his groundbreaking work with the legendary punk band The Clash, Strummer also toiled as a solo artist for many years, and most recently wrote and performed "Minstrel Boy," the song that closed last year's great Somalia film "Black Hawk Down." The Clash will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year.
GRAFFITI OF THE WEEK: This week The Hoboken Reporter (a local newspaper for which I've written in the past) has as its lead story a demographic history of Hoboken. The headline of this story is "Germans, Irish, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Then..."; when I saw a stack of newspapers in an ATM vestibule tonight, someone had penciled in the correct completion of the sentence on the top one: "YUPPIES."
TOMAHAWK-CHOPPING THE PAYROLL: As a lifelong hater of the Atlanta Braves I can't say it makes me too upset, but today that team made the most nonsensical trade in recent memory, dealing ace pitcher Kevin Millwood to the Philadelphia Phillies for backup catcher Johnny Estrada.
Now I understand that since the Braves decided to bring back Greg Maddux they can no longer afford Millwood. But why trade him for almost nothing (to a divisional rival no less) when they could've held out and gotten multiple prospects from another team? The Yankees and Red Sox right now are in a bitter bidding war over Bartolo Colon, a pitcher of similar skill level, age, and salary to Millwood. So why Atlanta didn't just deal Millwood to the loser of the Colon battle for a similar package of prospects will forever remain a mystery.
THE GREAT ECONOMIC DEBATE: Arguing the pro-supply side line, it's Neil Cavuto. Arguing against: my new favorite cartoon character, Lucky Ducky! (And no, Lucky Ducky isn't gay. Where would you get that idea?)
SID FESSES UP: Sid Hartman reports that Twins' gate receipts last season were up $4.5 million from 2001. Previously, he had written that gate receipts for the entire 81-game home season were $4.5 million, which would indicate an average ticket price of just over $2. It's just a line in the column however, not a formal correction.
WOO HOO! PART TWO!: Trent Lott has resigned as Senate Majority Leader. I'm proud to have called it here and here. It's a great day for America that there's no place for race-baiting idiocy like Lott's in either major party.
Another thing about Lott- he's the first politician ever brought down by Google. Seriously- where do you think everyone found all those old quotes?
WOO HOO!: According to Geobutton, this blog got 300 hits from about 250 unique users on Wednesday, still not a lot but by far an all-time high. Thanks so much everyone... keep this up and I might even get to skip Pledge Week this year!
FAIRWEATHER JOHNSON: The NBA has made its decision on who will own their new expansion team in Charlotte, and the choice is Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, who becomes the first-ever African American owner in the four major sports. Johnson, in somewhat of a surprise, was chosen ahead of a group that included businessman Steve Belkin and Celtics greats ML Carr and Larry Bird. Johnson, to his credit, won without resorting to the argument that "if Larry Bird were black, he'd be just another prospective owner."
Robert Johnson may be the first black person to own a sports franchise, but he's not the first Robert Johnson- that would be Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson, owner of the New York Jets. Other famous Robert Johnsons include the 1930s blues guitarist, the current District Attorney of the Bronx, scrub NFL quarterback Rob Johnson, and the late Pittsburgh Penguins coach "Badger" Bob Johnson.
SICK, SICK, SIKAHEMA: As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and Brandeis alum Gail Shister reports, former All-Pro NFL star Vai Sikahema recently did no less than nibble a horse's ass as a promotional stunt for the NBC reality show "Fear Factor." Sikahema, an anchor for Philadelphia's NBC affiiliate, shot the stunt in order to promote an upcoming "Factor" episode; the station, to its credit, has decided not to run the promo, though they inexplicably have no plans to drop Sikahema.
It's hard to believe that while such a huge deal was made earlier this year when a former NFL player (ex-Viking Esera Tuaolo) announced that he's gay, there's been a virtual media blackout about the Sikahema/horse incident. Whatever you think about athletes having sex with other men, there's no way you can put that on the same moral plane as another athlete tossing a horse's salad.
TROUBLE IN BRISTOL: Mere seconds after anchor Scott Van Pelt introduced last night's 6:00 PM "SportsCenter" with "don't get fooled by the rocks that we got," I arrived at a sudden realization: I no longer enjoy watching ESPN. Whereas I once hung on Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick's every word nightly, SportsCenter is now a show that I watch each night while sitting at my computer with my back to the TV.
Where did it all go wrong for the "Worldwide Leader in Sports"? The problem came about two years ago when, as part of an effort to become the sports version of VH1, they decided to adopt something called "ESPN Original Entertainment." This meant that, on top of the usual actual sports programming and highlights shows, the network would be producing a third tier of programming, which would include talk shows, reality shows, and even original movies.
In that time ESPN has introduced a couple of dozen new shows. One of them, "Pardon the Interruption," is among the best talk shows in the history of cable television. Just about every other has completely, utterly, and unquestionably sucked. From "Streetball" to "Beg, Borrow, and Deal" to the misbegotten Brian-Dennehy-as-Bobby-Knight biopic "A Season on the Brink." the network that once defined edginess and creativity has sunken to lows that were once hardly even imaginable.
"PTI," the daily talker hosted by sportswriters Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, has probably had more influence than any other sports show since SportsCenter itself. But a year after PTI's launch, ESPN's executives have shown that they completely misunderstand its appeal: rather than continue to produce intelligent content from people who know what they're talking about, the network has stuffed its schedule with all sorts of obnoxious people shouting personal insults at each other. It's the Fox News Channel-ization of cable TV.
On top of the abominable gabfest-cum-gameshow "Around The Horn," this mentality has even invaded SportsCenter itself. A few months ago the network's flagship show introduced a segment called "Fact or Fiction," during which a question is asked by the anchor and two panelists are asked to argue about it- preferably in between calling each other names. When the topic is football one of the panelists is usually Vikings backup quarterback-turned-NFL analyst Sean Salisbury, who in a segment last week spent 10 minutes shouting personal insults at gritty, respected chief NFL reporter John Clayton. Watching this highly regarded journalist being screamed at by the loathsome Salisbury made me feel nothing but embarrassment for Clayton- is this why he spends all those hours on the phone each week with sources, so he can get yelled at by some failed backup QB?
I don't mean to sound like Phil Mushnick here- I still enjoy the network's sports specialty shows (NFL Primetime, Baseball Tonight, College Gameday, etc.), and I don't share the revulsion towards Stuart Scott that so many sports observers seem to have these days. ESPN's journalistic credentials are still top-notch, and its coverage of actual sporting events (including the newly-acquired NBA) is second to none. But I find it quite disturbing that what has long been one of the top operations in television has been reduced to producing such substandard programming as "Around the Horn," on top of vacuous drek like the sub-"Amazing Race" "Beg, Borrow, and Deal." This week, they even ran a heavily-hyped prime-time interview with O.J. Simpson.
It's going to be tough, but I do have faith in the folks in Bristol to bring its network back to the respectability levels of the mid-'90s. I mean, could you ever imagine Keith Olbermann introducing an episode of SportsCenter with a quote from J-Lo?
NOW THIS IS INTERESTING: A few months ago The New Republic's website began running an anonymous political blog called "&c.," and since then it's been somewhat of a blogger guessing-game as to who exactly the author is (the smart money has always been on TNR writer Noam Scheiber).
BUT, now I think we may have the answer. On Monday an item was posted to "&c." criticizing Ted Turner for failing to live up to his pledge to donate $1 billion to the United Nations by the end of 2002, while lamenting the decline of "AOL-Time-Warner-General-Motors, or whatever it's now called." This argument, and specifically that phrase, sounded VERY familiar to me, and at first I thought that perhaps another blogger had plagiarized TNR. But then I realized it: ESPN.com's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column had also slammed Turner for the same thing- and used the same "AOL-Time-Warner-General-Motors, or whatever it's now called" phrase! Even more interestingly, the author of the TMQ column is Gregg Easterbrook, who is also a Senior Editor of... The New Republic!
This apparently means that either Gregg Easterbook is the elusive author of "&c.," or he's one of many group-authors. Am I the first to discover this?
A DREAM COME TRUE: Everyone who's gone to college has at one time or another had that dream where you oversleep, finals are over, and you forgot to take them. Unfortunately, it was more than just a dream for Florida State quarterback Chris Rix, who overslept and missed a final exam last week and has been suspended for the Sugar Bowl. Though for all I know he may have, while sleeping, had a dream about taking the exam...
This caps an awful senior year for Rix, who gutted his Heisman hopes by underperforming, and was at one point even benched. But at least the nightmare that became a reality wasn't the one about showing up in class naked.
JANE, YOU IGNORANT...: The New York Post's Adam Buckman has a report today about an upcoming sitcom called "Town Slut." Originally under consideration by Fox two years ago, "Town Slut" is a strong contender to appear on NBC's fall schedule. The show is the story of a single mother raising three children by three different fathers- and all hilarity, I'm imagining, ensues.
Ever since I first heard about "Town Slut" I've been fascinated by the concept, especially that audacious name. I even imagined a theme song, preferably sung to the tune of Steve Martin's "King Tut." But unfortunately, Buckman writes, the producers will likely have to change the name if it ever becomes a series, in order to avoid boycotts from the William Donahues and William Bennetts of the world.
"Town Slut"/Could've won an Emmy!/"Town Slut"....
KILL 'EM ALL?: As Guanubian points out, Metallica and Hamas have a lot more in common that anyone ever realized...
WORST HEADLINE EVER: From ESPN.com: "Yankees Still Working on Colon."I'm almost rooting for the Yanks to get Bartolo, just for the tabloid headline creativity alone ("Colon Removed in 5th Inning"?)
KILL THE BEAST! KILL THE BEAST! KILL THE BEAST!: The blogger known as "The Beast" gives us the "50 Most Loathsome People in America." I don't agree with many of the selections (primarly Steven Spielberg and John Ritter), but it's a great read nonetheless. Leggy and hateful conservative pundit Ann Coulter is #1, and The Beast memorably dismisses her as "Goebbels with tits." But in reality Coulter is quite small-breasted- meaning that the "Goebbels" part of the equation is actually more accurate than the "tits" part.
OUT WITH THE AL: Al Gore did two things this weekend that pleasantly surprised me: he did a good job hosting "Saturday Night Live," and he announced that he's not running for president in 2004.
While it was missing what could have been a classic confrontation between the real Gore and the Darrell Hammond-played version, the show was chock-full of clever sketches that made good use of the ex-VP, especially his visit to the set of "The West Wing," his creepy-funny making out with Tipper, and most of all, his "Bachelor"-based love scene with Joseph Lieberman. While not the best SNL episode of all time by any means, the show nonetheless was much more than I expected from one of the dullest politicians in recent memory. Also wonderful to see Phish again (as they've been even more reclusive than Gore since 2000), and in sketches, too! I look forward to their Meadowlands show in February...
If Gore had announced in January that he wouldn't be running for president, I wouldn't have been floored. But that the announcement came this early, the day after the SNL appearance and after months of Gore and Gore on every talk show in the world threw me and everyone else for a loop. As a Democrat I'm happy at the news, but as a political junkie I'm ecstatic- I don't think I could've stomached another Bush-Gore election, and a contested Democratic primary should make things quite fascinating for the next two years. And I love that presidential campaigns now last two-plus years- it really says something that it's election season more often than it isn't.
EVERYONE'S A CRITIC: Over Armond White's strenuous objections, I'm sure, the New York Film Critics Circle has picked Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven" as the year's best film. Earlier, the LA critics chose "About Schmidt". Still, I predict that the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2002 will go to "Gangs of New York," regardless of whether or not it's good.
'SPRAWLING NEW YORKER SHIT': My take on another of the year's best films, "Adaptation," is right here.
STRIKE OUT: New York's threatened transit strike is apparently off, as the union announced just before midnight that "sufficient progress has been made" to "stop the clock," thus preventing the sort of walkout that would've caused mass chaos in all five boroughs. I never really understood where the Transit Workers Union got off attempting to stand up for their workers' rights but preventing all of the other millions of workers in the city from getting to their jobs. And how were the strikers planning to get to the picket lines? Apparently either the MTA called the union's bluff, or they just chickened out. Either way, anarchy has been averted.
I also got quite sick of the ever-present "strike clock," which ticked down throughout the day on every local TV station- kind of like a more boring version of "24." And the local Fox station cut away from the Giants-Cowboys game for more than a half hour to broadcast a Bloomberg-Pataki press conference- sure to provoke lots of anger tomorrow from irate Giants fans. Oh well, at least they'll make it to work now.
EWWWW!: Entertainment Weekly came out with its "Best of 2002" issue on Friday, and they made the somewhat nonsensical choice of Denzel Washington as Entertainer of the Year. While Washington did become only the second black Best Actor Oscar winner, his selection is based on his performance in a movie ("Training Day") that came out in October of 2001, as well as his direction of a film ("Antwone Fisher") that no one has seen yet. He's not exactly the intuitive choice.
One could make a case for Halle Berry as Entertainer of the Year, but I really don't know how anyone giving out such an award who has paid any attention whatsoever to popular culture in 2002 could choose anyone other than Eminem. EW even chose as their best album of the year one by a white rapper (The Streets' "Original Pirate Material") who is not Slim Shady. EW's other choices: a split verdict for Best Movie (Owen Gleiberman picks "Far From Heaven," Lisa Schwarzbaum chooses "About Schmidt,") and Best Television Show? You guessed it, "The Sopranos."
FUZZY MATH: Sid Hartman, the dean of Minneapolis sports columnists, reports that the Minnesota Twins' gate revenue for the 2002 season was $4.5 million. Which absolutely can't be right, because the Twins' attendance for the year was about 1.8 million, so unless each ticket costs $2.25, Sid's projections are way off. I think he meant to say $45 million... it doesn't follow that the team would make more from baseball's miniscule revenue sharing than from actual home attendance.
WE RECYCLE: Tonight I caught Colin Quinn's new Comedy Central show "Tough Crowd," which just began this week and was actually quite funny. As his panel for the "Politically Incorrect"-like show, Quinn managed to bring on top-notch talent like Jerry Seinfeld (!), my new best friend Sarah Silverman, and comic Jim Norris, the former "Opie and Anthony" associate who I saw in a comedy club just a few months ago. The panel was discussing something related to the Special Olympics, and Seinfeld told a joke ("what is the situation with handicapped parking at the Special Olympics?") that, while funny, is at least 10 years old. I mean, Jerry always used to go on Letterman and Leno and use recycled material from his show, but it was always from recent episodes, not from a decade ago. Didn't Seinfeld make a huge deal about retiring his material from the days of his sitcom? I mean, he just made a whole movie about his brand-new material- why not use some of that?
SATURDAY NIGHT DULL: The host of this week's episode of "Saturday Night Live" is... Al Gore. Yes, just when you thought his never-ending book tour was over, Al's taken on yet another gig, apparently trying to get his book into the top 1000 on Amazon.
There are quite a few reasons why Al Gore should not be hosting SNL. One, while politicians from Rudy Giuliani to Steve Forbes to John McCain have hosted the show successfully over the years, those people all possess lively personalities and are capable of being very funny. To say that Gore's personality doesn't lend itself to comedy (or, for that matter, likability) would be the understatement of the year. After all, as the writer Crispin Sartwell proved philosophically (if not politically) in 2000, Al Gore's continued presence in public life may very well result in the negation of the entire universe.
Another reason that Gore on SNL is a bad idea is that the show had a big hand in costing him the 2000 election. The show's lampoon of the first presidential debate in 2000 was so savagely brilliant (buoyed by Darrell Hammond's impersonation of Gore, one of the best ever on the show), that Gore's advisers sat him down after that debate, showed him the SNL parody, and essentially told him "don't be that guy." This caused Gore to adopt two completely different personas in the two subequent debates, leading Americans to ask themselves which one, exactly, is the real Al Gore (having three separate personas may be advantageous if you're a rap superstar, but not when you're a nominee for President of the United States).
By all accounts SNL produced a dud of a show last week with the greatest actor of the last quarter-century, Robert DeNiro, so I'm not optimistic that they'll do much better with a wooden non-actor like the former Vice President. Plus, the musical guest for the evening is Phish- think Al Gore had heard of Phish before this week?
Meanwhile, Fox News reports that in a recent straw poll Democrats were asked "who is the leader of the Democratic Party?," and the leading candidate, with over 50% of the vote was "I Don't Know." It's been a long, illustrious career for "I Don't Know," who 50 years ago was the third baseman on the St. Louis ballclub made famous by Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First," and now he's apparently taking the Byron White/Bill Bradley/Steve Largent route from sports into politics. And no, "I Don't Know" was never a segregationist.
BADA BING, BADA BOOM: I want to thank Sopranoland, the best "Sopranos" fan site, for linking to my Season 4 review. Also: HBO will be re-running Season 4 in its entirety during the week between Christmas and New Years.
AND ONE MORE 'SOPRANOS' NOTE FOR THE YEAR: All-time greatest masturbation euphenism: "Whacking Johnny Sack."
ROCK CATFIGHT: It's Ryan Adams vs. Jack White! Oh no, which one will the Williamsburg hipsters side with?
MUPPET DEBAUCHERY, CONT'D: Just when I thought the muppet scandal was finally over with, here comes this: I was perusing the new Tom Shales/James Andrew Miller history of "Saturday Night Live," "Live From New York," when I learned that one of SNL's original writers, Michael O'Donoghue, had previously written a made-for-TV special in 1975 called "Sex and Violence With the Muppets." Yes, you read that correctly: "Sex and Violence With the Muppets." A google search turns up nothing on this other than an excerpt from the book; the book suggests elsewhere that 'Sex and Violence' was actually the pilot of one of the incarnations of "The Muppet Show." Damn- why isn't this part of the cultural canon like it should be?
TRENT: NOT SO MONEY: "Trent Lott must resign as Senate majority leader. It's not just that no one who has said this can lead an American political party. It's that no one who could say something like this should be an American leader." -Arch-conservative Charles Krauthammer, saying what absolutely needs to be said. And I'm very pleasantly surprised that much of the conservative punditariet realizes it. When Lott steps down (hopefully by the weekend), it will be a great day for America, because it will prove once and for all that there's not room in the leadership of either major political party for an unreconstructed racist. And make no mistake about it: that's what Trent Lott is.
MORE ON PETE: "No, what's truly puzzling to me is the public love for a man who's firmly established himself as one of the more despicable people to wear a major-league uniform. Peter Edward Rose Sr. is a convicted tax cheat and a crummy husband and father who has, for many years, surrounded himself with drug dealers and various other unsavory types. Granted, none of us are perfect, but it seems to me that Pete Rose is significantly farther from perfection than just about anybody you would want to know." -Rob Neyer, on ESPN.com.
UPDATE: The New York Post's Joel Sherman has investigator John Dowd saying for the first time that he believes Rose bet against the Reds while he managed them. This ought to nip that whole reinstatement thing in the bud...
BRUSHES WITH GREATNESS: Famous-person sightings in Manhattan always seem to come in bunches for me. For instance, last Friday morning I found myself standing next to David Lee Roth in line at the Union Square Virgin Megastore (the same store where on seperate occasions I've run into Spike Lee and Albert Hammond of the Strokes; I once saw Lizzie Grubman- on foot- right outside). If DLR was attempting to go incognito he wasn't doing the greatest job of it, as he was wearing a hot-pink jacket, skin-tight gold pants and multiple over-the-shoulder chains. I considered running to buy an old Van Halen album and asking him to sign it, but I thought better of it. And since Friday was the last night of Hannukah Roth was apparently on his way home to, you guessed it, light the Menorah.
The next night I covered an event for The Blueprint which was headlined by Sarah Silverman, the actress and comedian who I've been a fan of (and had a crush on) for years. I got to meet her afterwards, and in tow she had her actress friend Natasha Lyonne, who co-starred in "American Pie" as well as a little-known but excellent "Jewish movie" called "The Slums of Beverly Hills." And at this party Natasha was wearing- that's right- a David Lee Roth T-shirt, apparently having left her pink jacket and gold leggings at home.
PETE IN THE HALL? DON'T BET ON IT: There are new reports this week that Pete Rose has been negotiating with Commissioner Bud Selig about a potential reinstatement into baseball, one that may one day allow baseball's all-time hits leader to finally enter the Hall of Fame.
Rose, of course, agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 after he was accused by an independent investigator of betting on his own team's games during his five seasons as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Since then Rose (who did a stretch in prison for tax evasion in the early '90s) has steadfastly maintained his innocence, despite facing a mountain of evidence that makes the one against OJ look like an anthill.
It's long been conventional wisdom that Rose can't even think about being reinstated until he admits his guilt, though there are serious doubts that Rose will end up in the Hall. This is due to an implied "gentleman's agreement" among baseball higher-ups that Rose remain banished out of respect to the late commish Bart Giamatti, who died of a heart attack less than a week after negotiating Rose's suspension. That the recent meeting with Selig even took place indicates that Rose's denials of wrongdoing may have softened, although even if reinstatement is agreed to there's likely to be a grace period of a few years before Rose can enter the Hall.
In every poll a majority of fans vote overwhelmingly in favor of Pete's reinstatement, but I believe that's because most of today's fans misunderstand the charges. Rose wasn't suspended because of some moralistic stand by baseball against gambling- he was banned because he bet on his own team's games while he was managing them- and did so over the course of several years. Sure, it looks bad that the Hall of Fame is missing one of the great hitters of all time. But the crime that Rose committed can and should not be dismissed lightly: on numerous occasions he put the very integrity of the game into serious question.
That said, I would not oppose a compromise solution that, in the event of a confession, allowed Rose into the Hall while keeping him banned from working or otherwise making money from baseball. Although since Rose keeps appearing publicly each year in Cooperstown and on the field at just about every World Series, it hardly seems these days like he's banned at all.
IT'S COME TO THIS: The last vestiges of Napster, the revolutionary file-swapping service of the late '90s, are available now for auction, including the computers and servers that originally created it. The company, which became the toast of the New Economy due to its revolutionary business model of giving away other people's intellectual property for free, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. But don't forget, if you want Napster's stuff you have to pay for it; it's not free.
FILM CRITIC QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "So cadaverous that his bones press through his skin, with oversize eyes that pop out of a shrunken bald head, [The Gollum] is like the Starchild from '2001' grown up into a raspy crackhead." -Owen Gleiberman, reviewing "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" in Entertainment Weekly.
EDITORIAL CARTOON OF THE WEEK: This is from Mike Smith, making fun of the Augusta situation. And most surprisingly, the New York Times ran it on Sunday without incident.
THAT'S SERIOUSLY WHACK: I want to delay full comment on "The Sopranos"' season finale until I've watched it a second time, but I do wish to make one observation (spoiler alert): You will hear analysis from many who complain that the finale was boring because "nothing happened," in other words, "nobody got whacked!" To that I reply that the dissolution of Tony and Carmella's marriage is a much bigger "happening" than the death of any character on the show (save for Tony) would've been.
More to come...
YOU, AND YOUR RACIST SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Here's Trent Lott, on the occasion of ex-segregationist Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
This really says something about Lott. Not only does he feel America would be better off if segregation had never ended, but he also lives in a world in which describing advances made by black people as "all these problems" isn't thought for a second to be a controversial statement. And he can't use Rick Kahn's excuse that he made his ridiculous comments "in the heat of passion and grief." To their credit, a majority of the audience (including several supporters of Lott and members of Thurmond's family) let out an audible gasp upon hearing his comments.
I'll be very disappointed in President Bush if he doesn't immediately call for Lott's resignation as Majority Leader. I mean, we're really in Al Campanis/Marge Scott/John Rocker territory here.
And in other Southern political news, America's sexiest senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, was re-elected in a special runoff election on Saturday.
BAD BUD: Peter Gammons doesn't come right out and say it, but he strongly implies that Bud Selig and the owners are colluding to suppress the baseball free agent market. The evidence? It was announced this week that the Selig-controlled Montreal Expos have to slash about $15 million in payroll, meaning that they may need to trade more than one of their young stars (Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Javier Vasquez, and Bartolo Colon). This announcement was timed to coincide with Friday's deadline for offering players salary arbitration (all players not offered instantly become free agents) and the start next week of the annual winter meetings.
Basically, the owners are seeking to flood the supply of available players, and then crying poverty when it comes time to sign them. As Gammons points out, Selig and his cohorts pulled the same trick last year by threatening contraction and keeping the possibility of a dispersal draft alive throughout the entire offseason. The latest gambit means that come spring training, there'll be dozens (if not hundreds) of unsigned major leaguers, and those who do sign will get far less money due to the artificial decrease in demand. The Phillies appear to be the only franchise not playing the game.
LANCE STORMS: The 2002 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year is cyclist Lance Armstrong, who came back from near-death from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France four consecutive years. I would've guessed SI would choose Serena Williams, as the Sportsman award has traditionally gone to newly-coronated superstars who have made the Leap. And if Barry Bonds weren't such a jerk, he'd be a shoo-in himself. But Armstrong is a deserving and worthy winner; congratulations to him.
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: It's NeverForget.com, an online service which "improves memory" by providing e-mail alerts in order to prevent users from missing meetings, appointments, and the like. All well and good, but in a just world wouldn't NeverForget.com be a Holocaust rememberance site?
ECKSTEIN AWARD NOMINEE: This week's nominee is Ian Gold, a linebacker for the Denver Broncos who is, nope, not a Jew. But guess who is...
GIDDY-UP: Whereas my college's student senate never took up any issues more germane than the quality of the romaine lettuce in the cafeterias or whether or not to recognize the Toothbrush Club, the student lawmakers at the University of Alabama apparently take their powers a bit more seriously. After football coach Dennis Franchione quit the Crimson Tide yesterday in order to take over at Texas A&M, the school's student senate swung into action, passing a resolution (unanimously, I may add) calling the ex-coach a "low class lying son of a bitch male whore that raped the fans of this great University by taking his male tits to College Station, TX." And then, in a passage that likely would get them sentenced to university-mandated sensitivity training at the good ol' 'deis, the senate taunts that "only two things come from Texas, steers and ummmm... and I don't see any horns." Speaking of which, perhaps 'bama should consider replacing Franchione with former Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill, who once had a steer castrated in front of his team the week they played the Texas Longhorns.
And the senators aren't the only ones in Tuscaloosa angry about Franchione's departure: according to Alabama talk show host Paul Finebaum, "Brutus and Benedict Arnold are mild figures in history compared to what Alabama people feel tonight about Dennis Franchione."
(The senate resolution was brought to my attention by Dan Lewis, inventor of the Chunky Soup Curse and in my opinion the best damn sports blogger there is).
SOPRANOS IV: HINTS, ALLEGATIONS, AND THINGS LEFT UNSAID: We're down to one more episode of "Sopranos" Season 4, and as always we're left with all kinds of loose ends that may or may not be wrapped up in Sunday's 75-minute finale. So I've decided, as a service to you the reader, to include each and every one of those loose ends, in order to prepare you for the big night. All of these are mere speculation, and should NOT be construed as predictions. Capische?
Here we go (Season four spoilers included, obviously):
- Will Tony and Johnny Sack conspire to whack New York boss Carmine, as was hinted last week? Will Johnny ever find out that Tony and Carmine had previously conspired (unsuccessfully) to whack him, back in the fat-wife-joke episode? And speaking of that hit, why didn't we ever see them call it off? That "Deliverance"-like family of hitmen may still be gunning for Johnny, for all we know.
- Will there be an endgame for the Adriana-as-FBI-informant plotline? Will she use the occasion of Christopher getting out of rehab to tell him about it, or might he find out on his own?
- Is the Tony/Carmella marriage in as much trouble as it appears? Will Tony find out about the Furio/Carmella non-affair?
- Speaking of Furio, are we sure that he disappeared back to Italy and not, say, into the Witness Protection Program? 'cause for a guy who suddenly up and left one day, his house seemed to sell rather quickly.
- What will be the outcome of Uncle Junior's RICO trial?
- Will we ever find out if Ralphie really killed Tony's horse Pie-O-My? If he didn't, who did?
- How about the Russian from last season's lost-in-the-woods episode? We haven't seen him since then, but he's been mentioned twice in recent weeks, and this season there's been all sorts of foreshadowing of things that happen two or three episodes later.
- Will the show's most unsympathetic character (Janice) succeed in seducing its most sympathetic (Bobby Bacala)?
- Will Paulie get pinched for killing the old lady last week? Tony for killing Ralphie? Christopher for killing the guy who killed his father???
- Back to Paulie- will Tony find out about his flirtation with the New York family? Will Tony discover the Pie-O-My painting in Paulie's living room? Between those, the old lady, and the Russian, things are not looking good for Mr. Walnuts...
- How about the character of Brian Cammerata (the financial adviser)? With the amount of screen time he's gotten, isn't he bound to become important in some way, like as as the family's new consigliere? The HUD scam was Brian's idea- but would Assemblyman Zellman dare the put the kibosh on it after Tony beat him with a belt?
- Is the Family still having the cash-flow problems it was at the beginning of the season (the "where's the fucking money" speech)?
- Is the Tony/Dr. Melfi therapy relationship really over? Notice Tony's gone since the beginning of Season 3 without a single panic attack- may he have one next week?
- Will AJ manage to score with girlfriend Devin Pillsbury?
- What will happen with Tony's girlfriend Valentina? Is she just arm candy, or something more (like, say, an undercover FBI agent)?
- How about Raymond Curto? The Soprano family captain was revealed to be a rat in the first episode of Season 3, but it was never mentioned again. May it be now?
- And most importantly of all, how long 'til Season 5? Steven R. Schirippa said in a recent interview that production starts in February, which would seem to place the premiere sometime around January 2004 (Season 4 production started in October 2001 for a September 2002 start). Too damn far away, in other words.
See, I told you there was a lot more to the show than the silly "who's gonna get whacked" guessing game...
The finale of Season 3 created many more questions than it answered- will this year's do the same? I'd say if they answer half the questions posed above, I'll be satisfied. That's all the analysis I can do for now- enjoy the show!
RETURN OF THE QUEEN: After a decade as persona non grata among classic rock hits, "Under Pressure" is back. The 1982 collaboration between Queen and David Bowie may have been one of the strongest singles of its era, but the song's legacy was significantly crippled in the early '90s when it was sampled in one of the most embarrassing pop songs in history, Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby." That song and the subsequent backlash against it served to ruin "Under Pressure" for an entire generation of rock fans, who had no choice but to associate the beat with Mr. Van Winkle's non-masterpiece.
But just as another Queen song, "Bohemian Rhapsody," was rehabilitated a decade ago by its inclusion in "Wayne's World," "Under Pressure"'s undergoing a renaissance now. It was included in the trailers for last year's Josh Hartnett movie "40 Days, 40 Nights" and for the new "Adaptation," as well as commercials for the failed TV show "girl's club." And it was brought up repeatedly on tonight's episode of "Scrubs." Plus, a whole new generation of rock fans have discovered it through both the various Queen greatest hits packages as well as the new "Best of Bowie" compilation. Glad to see we could give the song another chance, just like we "give love, give love, give love...."
MET GAIN: The New York Mets today made their first big free-agent splash in quite a while, bringing lifetime Atlanta Brave Tom Glavine to Shea with a three-year deal worth about $35 million. The signing prevented the Phillies from gaining a monopoly on major free agent signings this year, as they had coveted Glavine as well. The trade will also serve to pacify angry Mets fans upset about last offseason's bad moves, on top of their Yankee-envy. He'll help the Mets, but then that's what they said last year about Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn.
Glavine, a likely future Hall of Famer, has long been a consummate professional, which made him sort of an anomoly in the land of the Tomahawk Chop, Ted Turner, and such unsavory characters as John Rocker, Gary Sheffield, and Chipper Jones. Glavine's departure means that the last remaining Brave from the 1991 team that lost the World Series to the Twins is fellow hurler John Smoltz.
The best case scenario for next year's NL East? 1. Phillies, 2. Mets, 3. Braves. I wouldn't mind the Expos or Marlins overtaking Atlanta either. At any rate, the bottom line for the Mets is that by getting Glavine they helped themselves while hurting both the Braves and Phillies.
WHEN IT RAINES, IT POURS: Prior to this week, the only place one could hear about the activist left-wing bias and dictatorial management style of New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines were on Fox News Channel and in the blogosphere (most notably on the site of disgruntled former Times employee Andrew Sullivan). I tend to skeptical of any story that only the liberal media or only the conservative media is covering, so I didn't quite know what to make of the Raines attacks. But then this week, Raines has overstretched his bounds so outrageously that the paper's staff seems poised for a mutiny- and it's all over the mainstream press.
First there was the embarrassing David E. Kelley debacle, in which the paper mistakenly referred to "The Practice"'s creator as Catholic, and took nearly a month to correct the mistake. Then this week, Raines spiked a pair of sports columns, by Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton, that disagreed with the paper's stance that Tiger Woods should skip the Masters this year in protest of Augusta National's male-only membership policy. The lack of capacity for dissent in the "paper of record" is surely an unwelcome development, especially considering that Anderson is the nation's only living Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist.
The spike story was broken by the New York Daily News, and has been picked up all over the place; it was even mentioned by rock-ribbed sportswriters Kornheiser and Wilbon tonight on "Pardon the Interruption" (Wilbon went as far as to "thank God we write for the Washington Post and not the Times"). Maybe now that the cat's out of the bag, Raines will learn to see the error of his ways- but I'm not holding my breath.
I'M OVERJOYED: I've gotta say- even though it's only an innocuous Christmas commercial for Target, it's really great to hear Stevie Wonder's voice again.
CHRISTMAS WITH THE KLAN: There's big trouble going on in Cincinnati over holiday displays in the downtown Fountain Square. Every year a Christmas tree is lit in the Square on the day after Thanksgiving, and other religious groups have been long been fighting to get their holiday decorations in as well. Last week the US Supreme Court ruled that the city must allow other, non-Christmas displays to be included, as a result of a lawsuit filed by Cincinnati's Chabad community. The Chabad wanted to put up a Menorah in the Square alongside the Christmas tree, but now that other powerful interest group in Southern Ohio, the Ku Klux Klan, wants in on the action too.
According to "Channel Cincinnati" (the website of the local NBC affiliate), an activist named Kabaka Oba is angry about the ruling because he believes that it opens the door for the Klan to introduce Christmas decorations of their own, as they've done in the past. Reasonable enough, until Oba charges that "we think [the Jews] are working with the Ku Klux Klan to further degrade black people." Oba's authority is further diluted when he threatens to hold a weekly anti-Menorah protest "each week this month," apparently unaware that Hannukah is only an eight-day holiday, that it's over in two days, and that the Menorah will likely be long gone by the time he and his supporters arrive for the second week of demonstrations.
The Channel Cincinnati story carries no byline, although it appears to be based on a TV news segment by reporter John London. Shame on whoever wrote it for letting the absurd accusation of a Klan/Jewish alliance go unchallenged. (Thanks to Dena for referring me to this story).
"STUPID FOCKIN' GAME": I'm loving this story about Tiger Woods and his caddie. During a tournament last weekend, a cameraman snapped a picture of Tiger as he was shooting a putt and caused him to hit it errantly. As a result, Woods' caddie Steve Williams grabbed the man's camera and threw it in the water. Williams (who has the same real name as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and even looks like him) has thus far refused to apologize.
This is eerily reminiscent of a "Sopranos" episode from Season 3, in which Tony Soprano and Furio visit a golf course in order to intimidate Uncle Junior's doctor, John Kennedy. When Dr. Kennedy refuses at first to set an appointment for Junior, Furio knocks his cell phone into the water. But that's not the best part- when Tony first approaches Kennedy, in a direct reference to Tiger's caddie he introduces Furio as "Mr. Williams"! I guess Steve decided he had to live up to his "Sopranos" pedigree- good thing he didn't decapitate the guy, or otherwise give him the Ralphie Treatment.
UPDATE: A reader asks: "Does this mean that, in a jealous rage over the affections of Elin Nordegren, Mr. Williams will try to kill Tiger by pushing him into a moving helicopter blade?"
NOT YOUR AVERAGE "JOE": The Fox Network announced this week that they will broadcast a new reality series called "Joe Millionaire." Along the lines of ABC's "The Bachelor" and the network's own controversial special "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," the show will feature a male multi-millionaire being pursued by multiple women, until one wins and then becomes (possibly) his wife.
But there's a twist this time- the "millionaire" is not a millionaire at all, but rather a blue-collar worker who makes less than $19,000 a year. The audience is aware of the deception, but the women aren't. Now this sounds to me like it's going beyond mere "parody" of reality TV and straight into genre deconstruction. "Joe Millionaire" is to "The Bachelor" as Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven" is to Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows."
I have a couple of reservations about this concept though: one, I don't find "The Bachelor" and other such shows the slightest bit watchable, and "Joe Millionaire" sounds like it'll be the same, except with a slightly more entertaining final episode. And also, I don't see how this show can have any outcome other than making the women on it look like golddigging wenches- I don't know how they can do this without being sued.
KELLEY'S NO HERO: Andrew and Mickey have been on the story the last few days about David E. Kelley, the writer/producer of such TV shows as "The Practice," "Ally McBeal," "Boston Public," and many others. Kelley recently wrote an episode of "The Practice" that dealt with the recent priest sex abuse scandals in Boston and ended with the show's protagonist, Bobby Donnell, choosing to leave the Catholic Church. The New York Times ran a piece a month ago about the episode with the headline "A Catholic Writer Brings His Anger to 'The Practice.'" The article gave the impression that Kelley is a devout Catholic who became disillusioned with his faith as a result of the scandals and chose to deal with that anger through his work. One problem though- Kelley is not Catholic. According to a correction published last week, the writer was raised Protestant- a fact he apparently kept from the piece's author and didn't exactly rush to point out after publication.
What I find especially shady about this story is that it took almost a month for the correction to be published. By contrast, I share an anecdote from Thomas Friedman's "From Beirut to Jerusalem." Friedman, who at the time was Jerusalem correspondent for the Times, had learned the names of the new cabinet that was in place after the 1984 Israeli elections, and his assistant dictated the list to his secretary in New York:
"When he got to the Minister of Religious Affairs, he said 'Veteran National Religious Party leader Yosef Burg...' Well, the person taking dictation in New York heard "Bedouin" instead of "veteran." Sure enough, when the cabinet list was published it said 'Bedouin National Religious Party leader Yosef Burg.' Burg was an Orthodox Jew; a bigger mistake would be difficult to make. The first edition of the New York Times hits the streets at about 11:00 PM. At 11:01 PM someone called Burg in Israel, and at 11:02 PM he or one of his staff called the Times. By 11:03 PM the Cabinet list had been corrected for later editions."
When the New York Times mis-stated Yosef Burg's religion, it took him all of two minutes to call and correct the mistake. When the Times mis-stated David E. Kelley's religion, it took him three weeks. Why do you suppose that was? Could it be because Kelley knew the truth would expose him as a fraud? You'd think he'd be able to afford better PR people...
IT'S A WAR ON WAR: Whatever you think about whether a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein is justified, it's pretty much a given that a war would be over with relatively quickly, somewhat comparable to the first Gulf War or last year's campaign in Afghanistan.
But that's not the impression you'd get from the stuck-in-the-'60s, Vietnam-obsessed characters who make up modern-day university faculties. A former professor of mine has gotten 350 Brandeis students to sign a pledge that they will immediately walk out of class on whatever day the US first bombs Iraq. This is because these students have been convinced by their professors that the Iraq war will be, literally, another Vietnam, one that will last for years and cause all of them to be drafted and sent to die in the streets of Baghdad. Nevermind that Saddam has neither the backing of a superpower nor a VietCong, and is likely to capitulate within a week or two, unless he's killed first.
Even worse is that these professors have not instilled in their students any sense that America is a great country, because of their unhealthy obsession with moral equivilance. Therefore, every agent of the government becomes J. Edgar Hoover, every president becomes Richard Nixon, and every war becomes Vietnam. Reality notwithstanding.
One more Iraq note: there must be a whole nation of little kids out there who will never be able to hear the name "Saddam Hussein" without first thinking of the version from the "South Park" movie. "Satan... our minyans are over-running the Earth- let's fuck to celebrate!"
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WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO "THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS"?: I thought the Partnership For a Drug-Free America was being heavy-handed when they made those Super Bowl ads that essentially accused small-time pot purchasers of being in league with Osama Bin Laden. But now they've topped even that, with a new 30-second spot featuring a couple of teenagers getting high in their basement, and mumbling to one another, until one of them pulls out a gun and shoots himself in the head! Uh oh... don't smoke pot, kiddies, or else you just might end up stumbling upon Daddy's gun- and dying!
I don't have to tell you how ridiculous this is- for no reason other than there's never been a single recorded case of marijuana causing a shooting death the way it does in the commercial. If that had ever really happened, you know that no such commercial could ever be possible because it would be insensitive to the victim's family. Yet the ad exists, in hypothetical form, and serves to make unsubstantiated, laughably off-the-mark generalizations about both pot and guns. Did Michael Moore direct it?
I liked The Partnership more when all they did was fry the eggs. That, and "I learned it from watching you!"
MINNESOTA, HATS OFF TO THEE: I just returned from five days in my home state, during which I ate lots of food, hung out with some friends, went to about 65 different family Hannukah parties, saw virtually every single living relative on either side of the family, and listened to all 18 minutes of "Alice's Restaurant" on Thanksgiving afternoon. It was my first time home since the death of Paul Wellstone and the fall from grace of Kirby Puckett, and my final time in the State of 10,000 Lakes during the Jesse Ventura Era. To mark the occasion KQRS has released a compilation CD of their best Ventura material called "Send Out the Clown."
I also attended two sporting events, the first of which was the Minnesota Wild's 2-2 tie against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. XCel Energy Center is an INCREDIBLE facility, and I almost feel bad about having to cover the woes of its namesake at my job. And the Wild, in only their third year of existence, are in first place and clearly not following the Timberwolves' Minnesota Expansion Model of sucking for their first half-decade. One of the highlights of the game was the first-intermission entertainment- a "Mascot All-Star Game" in which various mascots of local teams and businesses squared off in a five-minute mini-game. The twist was that since all of the mascot costumes included feet, none of the players were able to wear skates, so each time the puck was cleared to the other end all ten skaters were forced to jog the length of the ice, a process which usually took about 30 seconds. Unlike the previous time I saw this the game was not a non-stop brawl, but near the end U of M mascot Goldie Gopher got into a scuffle with Charlie the Tuna and ended up body-slamming him (though ironically, there was not a single fight in all three periods plus overtime of the Wild-Avalanche game). I later heard from a friend that the Wild employee in charge of procuring pre-Zamboni entertainment is a guy I went to high school with.
DOME SWEET DOME: On Sunday I attended my first regular-season NFL game in almost a decade, as I watched my Minnesota Vikings fall to the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. Sure, watching the Vikings lose to the Falcons in overtime at the Metrodome was an unpleasant flashback to my worst moment ever as a sports fan (the 1998 NFC Championship Game), but the sight of a Minnesota team playing an Atlanta team at the Metrodome did take me back to my best moment (the '91 World Series). I had divided loyalties going in: the Vikings are my team and I naturally wanted them to win, yet Michael Vick is the quarterback of my fantasy football team, the Sack Kings, so I was rooting for a big day for him- well, one out of two ain't bad...
Vick is absolutely incredible- in case you had any doubt, go see him in person some time. 173 yards passing, 173 yards rushing, 17.3 yards per carry- it's not just the symmetry that makes him great. The Vikings may be out of the playoff picture (in fact, they clinched a losing season with Sunday's loss), but if my team were headed for the playoffs this year I'd be very VERY afraid of the Atlanta Falcons.
A few complaints about the game: I'm not as violently opposed to the Metrodome for football as I am for baseball, but I did have a big problem with owner Red McCombs distributing we-need-a-new-stadium propaganda on every seat as part of the game-day program (I used to produce those things for a living, and they never asked us to do anything like that). And also, three days after terrorists used shoulder-held missile launchers to try to blow up an Israeli plane in Kenya, it may not have been the best idea for the Vikings crew to use the exact same contraptions to fire confetti at the crowd throughout the game.
And one more Vikings observation: I'm not sure if Tuesday Morning Quarterback has recognized the Vikings cheerleaders yet, but he really, really should. Though watching the squad, I couldn't help but ponder the natural question: how many of them have been nailed by Norm Coleman?
BEATTY, DUNAWAY, CARTER, & KNOWLES: The first single from Jay-Z's new double-album, "The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse," is a sweet, romantic duet between the rapper and his girlfriend, Destiny's Child's Beyonce Knowles, called "'03 Bonnie and Clyde." In the song the two stars rap and sing about their love, at no point even hinting that Bonnie and Clyde (both in reality and the movie) were ruthless criminals who killed people and robbed banks. J-HOVA may be a gangsta, but there's no reference anywhere in the song to either killin' or robbin'- Beyonce's only about 20 so I don't fault her for not knowing better, but Mr. Izzo really flubbed the ball on this one. He was much more on the ball when addressing "Big Pimpin'"; monogamy has apparently mellowed him.
A much more faithful interpretation was Eminem's 1999 rap "'97 Bonnie and Clyde," in which, addressing his daughter Haillie, Em raps: "Da-da made a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake/Here, you wanna help da-da tie a rope around this rock? (yeah!)/We'll tie it to her footsie then we'll roll her off the dock"
THOME CAN YOU HEAR ME?: Unlike Minnesota, it was a great sports weekend for Philadelphia. First the Eagles beat the reeling Rams despite starting Mr. McFeeley at quarterback, and then this morning the Phillies signed the year's #1 free agent, Jim Thome, to a six-year deal. The deal means that the Phils will likely be a contender in the NL East in 2003, and also that they will probably be referred to from now on as a "large-market team," as though a million people suddenly moved to the city overnight.
Despite Philadelphia being the fourth-largest television market in North America, I've never once heard that phrase to describe them. I have, however, heard it used numerous times to describe Thome's former team, the Cleveland (Baseball Team) Indians, even though Cleveland as a city is considerably smaller than Philly. This is because the sports media is lazy, and doesn't know the difference between "large-revenue" and "large-market. Throughout the '90s Cleveland and Baltimore (along with New York) were almost universally called large-market because they made lots of money from new stadiums and thus always signed major free agents and competed for championships. Philadelphia didn't have a high-revenue stadium and never signed free agents or fielded a competitive team after '93, so they never got the large-market label despite being, literally, a large market. Maybe now that the Phillies are improving and the Indians and Orioles are reeling, the sportswriters can start to get it right.
NEAL AND PRAY: I'm as happy as anyone that the New York Times op-ed page is publishing Neal Pollack. But I just wish they'd done it before the joke got old.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Israel is the only country in the world where all of the Puerto Rican girls are Jewish." -Ze'ev Chafets, from Thomas Friedman's "From Beirut to Jerusalem."
THAT'S NOBODY'S BUSINESS BUT THE TURKEYS: Patrick Reusse pulled an upset: this year's co-Turkeys of the Year are Timberwolves exec Kevin McHale and coach Flip Saunders. They win the award by virtue of the Wolves' sixth consecutive first-round playoff exit, their misguided decision to re-sign the ineffective Joe Smith, and the years-ago decisions to let free agent Tom Gugliotta go for nothing and to trade Stephon Marbury for the now-injured Terrell Brandon.
It should go without saying that Reusse chickened out by not giving the award to obvious winner Kirby Puckett, though if he had to go the co-winner route, I don't know why he didn't choose the Vikings' Red McCombs and Mike Tice. And besides, the Wolves were right to let Gugliotta go (since he hasn't done anything with Phoenix except almost die from a seizure), and I believe true responsibility for the team's collapse lies with owner Glen Taylor. Better luck next year, Pat.
THE MALE MARGE SCHOTT PASSES ON: Ralph Engelstad, hockey goalie, real estate billionaire, Las Vegas casino owner, University of North Dakota hockey booster and avid collector of Nazi memorabilia, died Friday after a short illness. Pretty much UND's only major donor, Engelstad was best known for spending $104 million to build a state-of-the-art hockey arena for UND and then essentially taking control of university policy by virtue of threats to withdraw funding. He was especially staunch in his demand that the school not change the names of their athletic teams from "Fighting Sioux."
Engelstad also caused a huge controversey in 1989 when he was fined $1.5 million by Nevada's state athletic commission for throwing a birthday party for Adolf Hitler at one of his Las Vegas casinos.