MERYL-LY WE ROLL ALONG: Here's Meryl Yourish, in an effort to be de-linked, making a variety of "controversial statements":
Strom Thurmond was a racist jerk who should have died a few decades ago. PETA is a stupid, twit-filled organization that harms animal causes more than it helps. Ann Coulter is a lunatic who belongs in an asylum, and manages to cause more harm than good. And listen up, fellas—she's not hot! You are effing blind if you think that woman is attractive. Ooh, ooh, I know! Rush Limbaugh is a big, fat idiot! Oh, and yes on Roe v. Wade, yes on affirmative action, yes on the war in Iraq, and yes on the War on Terror.
Well, I agree with every single one of those sentiments, so if you're un-blogrolling Meryl, take me off too. Though I suppose I'm yet to get a single de-link from my anti-Strom rant of the other night.
Speaking of which, I've gotten quite a bit of negative reaction to what I said about the late Dixiecrat. I admit that what I posted was written in the heat of the moment, and it was a bit more vicious than what I'm typically capable of writing. Yet I still stand by my original point that Strom Thurmond was not an admirable man, and I thus will not pretend that I'm saddened by his passing.
What's interesting is that many bloggers (including Andrew and Mickey) have chosen to ignore Thurmond's passing altogether. I guess it's the whole "if you can't say something nice..." principle.
"PAVANO PITCHED TO SIX BATTERS IN THE FIRST": Here's the box score line of the year, by Carl Pavano of the Marlins, starting Friday night's 25-8 loss to the Red Sox:
C Pavano (L, 6-9)
Yes, Pavano gave up 6 runs in zero innings- that's right, he didn't get a single batter out. And to think this is the guy the Red Sox traded for Pedro Martinez... the inning became the first time in baseball history that a team scored 10 runs in the first inning before making an out, thus adding to my theory that every single day of the season, at least one thing happens that has never happened before in baseball history.
On bright side for Carl, the other four Marlins "pitchers" also gave up at least four runs apiece, one of them (Kevin Olsen) even winding up in the hospital after he was hit with a line drive. And we can also expect Pavano to become an instant sabermetric fave: he may have faced six batters and given up six hits and six runs, but he didn't allow a single walk!
EX PLACE RISES AGAIN: The redevelopment of Ground Zero and of the World Trade Center's destroyed transit hub may be years (if not decades) away, but a crucial piece of the pre-9/11 tranportation landscape was restored Sunday when the Exchange Place PATH station in Jersey City re-opened.
The PATH, for those unfamiliar, is a small underground transit system that serves the lower part of Manhattan and Northern New Jersey. Prior to 9/11, it functoned sort of as an X, with the four corners being Hoboken and Newark on the Jersey Side and 33rd Street (near Macy's) and the World Trade Center on the Manhattan end. After 9/11 the WTC end of course was scrapped, and that included Exchange Place, which served Jersey City's downtown business district.
When I first moved to Hoboken from Manhattan two years ago, one of the first things I did was teach myself the PATH system- so one day I got off at Exchange Place to look around. I remember being in awe of the view of the World Trade Center from the station's plaza.
Almost two years after September 11, every little bit of healing still helps. I'll have take another trip down there sometime this week.
TONY! TONY! TONY!: No, the Gawker avalanche hasn't inspired me to run a "Silver Stalker" feature from now on, but I thought I'd better share this: this afternoon I was walking down Hudson Street in the West Village (after returning from a trip to Philadelphia) and who should cross my path but Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini! He was by himself, wearing a blue polo shirt not too different from the one I was wearing at the time, and looked pretty much exactly the same as he does on TV. I didn't say hi or anything; I think I would've been afraid of accidentally calling him "Tony." Or of getting whacked. Or something. I believe he lives in the area; it's the same block where the "Real World" house was during the Malik/Nicole/Coral season.
James happened to be walking in the direction of the New York Gay Pride Parade, which was going on in the West Village at the same time, but knowing from Page Six and elsewhere all about Mr. Gandolfini's well-established heterosexual proclivities, I would not read anything into that connection. His role as a gay hitman in the movie "The Mexican" notwithstanding.
As for the parade itself, it was quite an experience: Chelsea boys were walking around in shirts that said "Just De-Criminalized." Yea, the crowds kept me from getting to the PATH quickly, but I didn't mind it nearly as much as when the anti-war protestors did the same thing a few months back. Did see lots "Queers for Howard Dean" buttons, though.
BORDER BATTLE: While the Brewers and Twins were squaring off on the field this weekend, the Minnesota and Milwaukee entries in the NBA connected in another way: they made a trade. The Bucks sent point guard Sam Cassell and center Ervin "Not Magic" Johnson to the Wolves for forward Joe "not the founder of Mormonism" Smith and guard Anthony Peeler; both Johnson and Peeler were thrown in for cap purposes and are both expected to be immediately released.
I think it's a good trade for the Wolves. Smith, possibly the worst overall #1 pick in league history, will always be a symbol of the most embarrassing gaffe in franchise history: the "illegal contract" that cost the team multiple first-round picks. Cassell may be unquestionably the ugliest player in the league (the man uncannily resembles an X-Files-like alien) but he's a solid veteran; interestingly, Cassell was already included in a Wolves-Bucks trade of point guards- he went from the Nets to the Bucks in the 1999 three-way trade that sent Stephon Marbury to New Jersey and Terrell Brandon to the Wolves.
It's been a pretty turbulent week for those Milwaukee Bucks: Thursday they drafted T.J. Ford of Texas, who plays Cassell's position; on Saturday they shipped out both Cassell and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, and then today owner (and Senator) Herbert Kohl announced that he is backing out of an agreement to sell the team to Michael Jordan. It's unclear now whether the team will now be hanging unto Gary Payton or, for that matter, coach George Karl.
ONE MORE NBA DRAFT NOTE: I forgot to mention one thing from the draft broadcast Thursday (and Sports Guy missed it too): towards the end of the first round, the Lakers picked Brian Cook of Illinois- and just as the selection was announced, the camera zoomed in on a fat, mustached white guy in a Lakers jersey who was sitting in the crowd.
"Huh?" I thought to myself, "that's the pick?" No, it was merely some Laker fan celebrating; the real Cook emerged a minute or two later.
GOODBYE AND GOOD RIDDANCE TO STROM THURMOND: It was announced at about 11:00 tonight that former Senator Strom Thurmond has passed away at the age of 100. Readers of this blog know that when a celebrity or famous political figure dies, I often share a personal rememberence, and make an effort to pay tribute to that person. I plan to do that when Ronald Reagan dies,when Carl Pohlad dies, and (hell) probably even whenever Bud Selig dies too.
I will not be respectfully eulogizing Strom Thurmond tonight, because I believe that he was a man unworthy of mine or anyone else's respect. He was the man who did more than any other American to derail the progress of the civil rights movement, to preserve racial inequality, and to deny voting and anti-discrimination rights to African-Americans. And he wasn't Robert Byrd, who (in an admittedly atrocious act) once briefly joined the Ku Klux Klan in a bid to gain votes- Thurmond was a national leader of the pro-segregation movement, and (as Thurmond admirer Trent Lott has reminded us) even ran for president on the single-issue platform of keeping black children out of white schools. That he dropped these views as he got older is no defense; Thurmond's actions were beyond forgiveness- He said "segregation forever," not "segregation 'til I change my mind." And later he all but lost his mind, selfishly continuing to serve in the Senate until he was well beyond senile, and was practically catatonic by the time he retired at the age of 100.
What's funny is, I can already predict the next three or four days of partisan political discourse: Fox News Channel and their allies will run wistful, worshipful tributes to Thurmond- the same people who call Robert Byrd a Klansman every time he opens his mouth will preach the fiction that Thurmond was some kind of hero. Then a liberal or two will tell the truth- that Thurmond was in fact as vile a man as has ever been in American politics- and the righties will call them "rude," "disrespectful," and "un-American." And on and on it goes... the continuing presence of Strom Thurmond in the GOP was one reason I've remained a Democrat; their soon-to-be-lionization of him will likely be one thing that keeps me one.
Strom Thurmond was a racist, a monster, and one of the primary villains of 20th century American history. He was an embarrassment to the United States the entire time that he served in the Senate, and one of the last links to an era in which black people were looked at second-class citizens, if not subhuman. America is a better country now that he's dead.
DODGING THE DRAFT: Tonight was unquestionably the most boring NBA Draft I've ever watched. There was no drama, no surprises, no trades other than pick-for-pick or pick-for-cash, no embarrassing suits, and not even adverse reactions by the crowd to the Knicks' picks.
Part of the problem was ESPN's awful coverage, continuing their substandard NBA work from throughout the season. They used tiresome announcers like Tom Tolbert and Greg Anthony, gave next to no screen time to top reporters David Aldridge and Andy Katz, and were left with nothing of substance to say for minutes at a time. This paled by comparison with the hilarious and well-spoken TNT studio team led by Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson, who handled the draft the last few years.
The Wolves- finally- had a first round pick (their first since 1999) and used it to select Ndudi (pronounced "Doody") Ebi, who I highly doubt will ever be a player of consequence in the NBA; with their second-round pick they took Rick Rickert, a one-dimensional former University of Minnesota Gopher who continues in the fine tradition of Gophers/T-Wolves like Randy Breuer, Richard Coffey, and the pre-trade Bobby Jackson. Of course, the Wolves had promised for weeks that they wouldn't even consider drafting Rickert; looks like it's gonna be a long offseason at Target Center.
The draft went exactly the way everyone thought it would- no one of note was left on the board for too long (other than that Lampe guy) none of the top picks were traded, and no veteran players were traded. There wasn't much ESPN could've done with this material, but that doesn't entirely excuse their bad coverage: the network is slipping, there's no doubt about it.
The NBA Draft Diary is usually one of Sports Guy's best columns of the year; even he'll have his work cut out for him with the three hours of boredom of this year's draft.
UPDATE (OR, "DOWN ON THE UPSIDE"): Simmons does a good job, despite the absence of an interesting draft, or his dad.
THE OTHER SODOM: Those who refer to the current Supreme Court as "radical right wing" may have to think twice after today's ruling that laws against consensual sodomy are unconstitutional. It's a just, fair, ruling, and with this and the gay marriage in Canada, it's been a great year so far for the Radical Homosexual Agenda! They're celebrating over at SodomyLaws.org.
It's my hope that lifelong gay-basher Strom Thurmond heard about the ruling before he died today, just so he went to his grave knowing that in this very crucial part of the culture war, his side is on its way to defeat.
TROUBLE IN JASPERWOOD: James Lileks has come clean on what was wrong, from the previous day's cryptic post: his wife was sacked from her lawyer job, and this caused him to worry that he may have to start writing more regularly for money (as opposed to every night, for free).
Apparently, even though Lileks didn't ask, large sums of money have been donated via his PayPal button in the last 24 hours. In the meantime, I think I may have to lobby my father (like Mrs. Lileks, a lawyer in Minneapolis) to see if his firm has room for the wife of one of America's best bloggers.
And hopefully, those responsible for the sacking will be sacked.
TOGETHER AGAIN: BlogCritics head honcho Eric Olsen e-mails to announce that a compilation is in the works of the best music writing from the first year of BlogCritics. Awesome! Now, hopefully my groundbreaking essay on Weezer, the Muppets, and Interspecies Sexuality will FINALLY see print.
BOB LE FLAMBEUR: Iraqi supreme propogandist Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, aka Baghdad Bob, aka "Comical Ali," was captured in Iraq- but later released it was determined that he posed little to no risk.
Now that 'Bob' is free- and still a cult figure in America- it's time he went to Hollywood. Or maybe he can find a candidate next year for whom he can be press secretary.
SI ORTEGA!: I caught "Bruce Almighty" the other night- nothing special, despite a few funny moments here and there (published review will be forthcoming). But there was one recurring, totally throwaway joke that while it doesn't fit the movie, just about had me on the floor.
Catherine Bell, the buxom actress best known for "JAG," has a small role in "Bruce Almighty" as Susan Ortega, a local news anchor who, despite being clearly white and speaking unaccented English, has the last name "Ortega" and pronounces it with a Spanish lisp.
The joke appears to be a nod to the minor trend of local newscasters exaggerating (if not downright lying) about their racial or cultural heritage for purposes of career advancement. An old co-worker of mine told the story once about visiting a West Coast city and noticing that a high school classmate of his was working in that city as a lead news anchor. But while the classmate had been white (and Jewish!) in high school, in the intervening years he had undergone plastic surgery, darkened his skin, and changed his name to "Martinez."
I'm not quite sure how common this practice is, but it's quite funny that such a thing would be made fun of in such a mainstream movie as "Bruce."
IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN: Despite a strong opening weekend, the movie "The Hulk" hasn't gotten the greatest word of mouth, and thus has inserted a curious line into this week's TV commercials: "it's the movie people are arguing about."
In other words: "a large percentage of the people who saw this movie thought it totally sucked! Come see if they're right!"
GETTIN' GAWKED AT: I want to welcome everyone who's here for the first time after clicking over from Gawker today -all 400-some of you- and to say thanks to Entertainment Weekly It-Lister Elizabeth Spiers for sending 'em over. I'd been planning one of those funny-Google-searches posts for tonight, but my referral logs have been wiped clean, in favor of all-Gawker, all-the-time.
Ya'll come back now, ya hear?
LISTEN ALL Y'ALL, IT'S A SABOTAGE!: The latest on the Spike vs. Spike TV battle: Spike Jones, Jr., the son of legendary satirist Spike Jones, has filed an affidavit in the case on the side of Viacom, calling Lee's suit "frightening."
Spike Jones is not to be confused with Spike Jonze, director of "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," and numerous music videos. Oddly, for a story about mistaken identity involving the name "Spike," the 12-paragraph AP story does not mention that Spike Jonze even exists. Jonze has apparently not had anything to say about Lee's suit; perhaps Lee will sue him too- or Spike Jones will sue Spike Jonze over the Spike Jones/ze name.
And maybe Spike Lee, whose real name is Shelton Jackson Lee, should be sued by Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
GOOFIEST QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Seething with rage and frustration at the success of the war in Iraq, liberals have started in with their female taunting about weapons of mass destruction." -Ann Coulter, in her most recent column; repeated nearly word-for word tonight on Joe Scarborough's MSNBC show, a few minutes before she defended Joseph McCarthy and called him "a great American."
DA (BANK ONE) BEARS: Oh, what would Ditka and the Superfans say? It was announced yesterday that the Chicago Bears, beginning next year, will heretofore be known as "Bank One Presents the Chicago Bears," as the bank has agreed to pay the Bears $2 million a year for the team naming rights.
While stadiums have been known by corporate names for a couple of decades, this is the first time an actual major-league sports team has taken on the name or subtitle of a corporate sponsor (no, the now-defunct Arena Football franchise the Miami Hooters does not count). The closest precedent in the world of entertainment was "The Taco Bell Dana Carvey Show," which briefly aired on ABC in 1996. A variety show starring a just-off-SNL Carvey and written by longtime Conan O'Brien writer and future "Pootie Tang" director Louis CK, the first episode featured a lactating Bill Clinton breastfeeding a litter of puppies- a sketch that so outranged higher-ups that Taco Bell angrily pulled their sponsorship, and the show itself was canceled a few weeks later.
Considering how bad the Bears were last year, perhaps Bank One will hastily withdraw from the deal after Da Bearsss go 3-13 next year. Or maybe new quarterback Kordell Stewart will suddenly start lactating in the middle of a game. But more likely the former.
POST-BLAIR PLAGIARISM WATCH: On the heels of the Post/IMDB thing Paul Frankenstein uncovered yesterday, I've found something similar:
Some of you may remember a widely circulated e-mail forward from around the time of the Iraq war, a "military history of France" that made fun of France's various military blunders throughout history. On page 135 of the June issue of Maxim (Shania Twain on the cover), there's a general roundup of humorous anti-France stuff, which includes a timeline of French wars- and lifts or slightly rephrases multiple lines from the forward that was circulated months earlier, including references to the "Dien Bien Flu," and "the first rule of Muslim warfare: we can always beat the French."
A Google search of one of the lines in the Maxim story, that after World War I France discovered "what it's like to bed a winner who doesn't call her 'Fraulein,'" turns up 683 results. Doesn't Maxim have fact-checkers for this sort of thing?
CHUTZPAH: Author and social critic Douglas Rushkoff has a very convincing and very brave piece in last week's New York Press on what he calls "The Death of Institutional Judaism." I don't agree with all of Rushhoff's views, but he's saying very important things- many of which I've thought myself for quite some time.
Rushkoff's NYP piece is extrapolated from his current book "Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism," which I have not yet read but plan to. In a few months on the shelves the book has caused nearly as much controversey as the mid-'90s priest-centered TV series of the same name, with Rushkoff being called everything from a self-hating Jew to an anti-Semite to (since his mother is a gentile) not even a Jew at all.
I should say right off the bat that parts of Rushkoff's critique of modern Judaism very much rub me the wrong way: he doesn't appear to be a Zionist; I am. He seems to all but completely reject religiosity and literal belief in God; I do not. And his belief that all Judaism should be centered around "social justice" is something I've long opposed, as too often (especially in the Reform movement) "social justice" becomes nothing but a synomym for a left-wing politics that has little to nothing to do with Judaism itself.
So why does the rest of Rushkoff's thesis resonate with me so deeply? For one thing, I admire that he's willing to question long-established tenets of the faith: institutional Judaism, as I've experienced it, has often been all-lockstep, all the time. But more importantly, it's because Rushkoff, in decrying "organized Judaism’s self-defeating obsession with race and numbers," shares my disdain for the habit of Jewish institutions (like the Federations, individual synagogues, and even the ADL) to adopt a Chicken Little philosophy, and accompanying scare tactics that Judaism will DIE if Jews don't acquiesce to a list of demands: reject intermarriage, abandon assimilation, and (of course) donate lots and lots of money.
Rushkoff gets that these tactics not only make the millennia-strong tradition of Judaism look falsely like it's dying on the vine, but they also perpetuate every negative stereotype there is about Jewish people: pushy, money-grubbing, guilt-purveying, elitist, etc. The nadir of this was the Marc Rich pardon in 2001, a truly shameful episode in American Jewish history, when the leaders of virtually every major Jewish organization in America, including Abe Foxman of the ADL, pushed (successfully) for the presidential pardoning of a thief, swindler, and fugitive- really, an example of the absolute worst Judaism has to offer.
Rabbis and purveyors of "checkbook Judaism" have been pulling the "Judaism is dying" card ever since my dad was a kid in the '50s, always (always) with a healthy dose of Holocaust guilt thrown in for good measure. And they're still playing it today despite the facts, which are that Jewish people in America in the 21st century have more power, more influence, and face less adversity than in any society (other than Israel) at any time in human history. We're not in the desert anymore.
No, there's no secret Zionist conspiracy or "cabal," but many individual Jews -and more importantly, Jewish culture- has managed to rise high in American life. How else could "Seinfeld" have been the most popular television show of all time? Rather than continuing the counter-productive pity-party, I'd like to see Jewish "leaders" actually look as these advances as something to be proud of, as they are.
I really believe, as Rushkoff writes, that many of those who abandon Judaism do so because of this sort of stuff, not despite it. But in any pluralistic society, some people will choose not to buy into religion- and I wouldn't want to live in a society in which everyone did. And besides, is the percentage of Jews that choose to reject Judaism anywhere close to that of Catholics who reject Catholicism? I don't think I've ever heard anyone over 30 call himself a "recovering Jew."
These are all important issues that are long overdue for re-examination, and I look forward to reading Rushkoff's book and looking at them further.
ARAFATS IN AMERICA?: "The Democrats, indeed, look like they're turning into a domestic version of the Palestinians--a group so enraged at their perceived oppressors, and so caught up in their own victimization, that they behave in ways that are patently not in their self-interest, and that are almost guaranteed to perpetuate their suffering." -David Brooks, equating the two principal enemies of his magazine, The Weekly Standard.
SHE'S BACK! (DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA): One of my favorite bloggers, Asparagirl, has returned from a month-plus hiatus, and she's got things to say about Israel, Iran, tech, her upcoming wedding, and other stuff. She also refers to another acquaintance of mine, Paul Frankenstein, who seems to have discovered a tiny bit of plagiarism by the New York Post from the IMDB.
NO MORE GIZZLES GONE WILDIZZLE: Snoop Dogg has severed his relationship with the "Girls Gone Wild" series, complaining that the series' videos, which he's occasionally hosted, lack appearances by women of color.
Having never seen a GGW tape, I can't verify the veracity of Mr. Broadus' claims, however I can tell from the commercials that the profile of young ladies in the series has always been young, white, hot, and in college. Snoop's got a point- and he even plans to create his own, more racially diverse version.
Laura Gleason has more, making the logical connection between Snoop and "topless affirmative action."
NEW YORK POST HEADLINE OF THE WEEK: "Sickening Logic of 'Victimless' Baby Rape." A strong-armed rebuttal, I guess, to the multitudes out there who wholeheartedly support baby rape.
"I HAD A FRIEND WHO WAS A BIG BASEBALL PLAYER:" In 22 days I'll be attending the first of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's ten sold-out shows at Giants' Stadium, though I may have to find the time for yet another Bruce show a couple months later: it was announced today that Bruce will perform a concert at Boston's Fenway Park on September 6. It'll be the first rock concert in the nearly century-old history of Fenway, and kind of funny juxtaposition with the avowed Yankee fan and Jersey boy performing at ground zero of Red Sox Nation.
Springsteen will also play several other ballparks in September, including Miller Park in Milwaukee, Comiskey Park in Chicago, and Comerica Park in Detroit. As baseball stadiums are usually assymmetrical, they're not often used for stadium concerts, usually passed over in favor of football fields. But I suppose if anyone can make it work, The Boss can.
SAINT ANGER: Two notes I forgot to mention from my St. Paul Saints experience of one week ago. One, throwing out the first pitch prior to the game was Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, as the game began about 90 minutes prior to the start of a concert by Vedder and Co. at nearby XCel Energy Center.
And also, the day after the game we attended was a promotion sponsored by a Minneapolis-based outfit known as The Old Fart Baked Bean Company. Yes, it does exist.
ILL PRESIDENTE: I haven't yet decided who I'm supporting for president next year. I don't think I'd consider voting for President Bush, since I intend to keep my promise to my old professor, the neocon icon Jerry Cohen, that I will emulate him in not ever voting for a Republican for president no matter how conservative I become in my lifetime. I suppose I'd have to consider breaking that pledge on the off chance that the Democratic nominee were Al Sharpton, or Dennis Kucinich, or Carol Moseley-Braun. Or maybe even Howard Dean, who I'm convinced has a very good shot at the nomination, after which he can look forward to carrying Vermont, with Bush taking the other 49 states.
I think, after today, we can add Dick Gephardt to the list too. Here's Dick today, in a speech to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition:
When I'm president, we'll do executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day
Either Gephardt is an ignoramus, who doesn't know after nearly 20 years in Congress that the president has no constitutional authority to overrule the Supreme Court, or he was pandering to an all-black audience that he assumed wouldn't know any better. Either way, it makes him look like a doofus, and totally unqualifed to be president. It's almost as embarrassing as when Dean made the wrongheaded slippery-slope argument that President Bush's opposition to abortion will eventually lead to him to disallow girls from attending school. Or, for that matter, when Bush himself criticized liberals for discussing Medicare "as if it were some federal program."
YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDD-ING: It's one of my favorite weeks of the year- NBA Draft Week- and the crazy trade rumors are flying already. Much of it centers around Jason Kidd and whether or not he'll leave New Jersey, and speculation has mostly had him either staying with the Nets or jumping to San Antonio. Last week another rumor had Kidd heading to Sacramento in a sign-and-trade for Mike Bibby and Hedo Turkoglu, a scenario denied by all parties.
But now Marc Stein of ESPN (the second-best journalist in North America named Marc/Mark Steyn/Stein) is reporting that Kidd may decide to return to his original team, Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks. A Kidd-to-the-Mavs deal would necessitate a sign-and-trade that would send at least one of Dallas' young stars to the Meadowlands- most likely the man who plays Kidd's position, Steve Nash.
Stein doesn't even mention the most intriguing part of the rumor: a Kidd-for-Nash trade has already happened, back in '96 when Dallas dealt Kidd to Phoenix for Nash and a couple of other players. Both players have improved considerably in the intervening years, and yet another trade of the same two players would not only make a lot of sense, but it may be unprecedented in the history of sports for two All-Star-caliber stars to be traded for each other more than once.
'DEIS ON 'DEIS: It was just one big Brandeis-o-rama yesterday on the Times op-ed page: Thomas Friedman (class of '75), in his column quotes noted Brandeis Near Eastern-Judaic Studies professor Yitzhak Nakash, who was my professor for "Making of the Modern Middle East" in Fall of '99, and is considered among the nation's foremost experts on Iraq. You'd also expect the Times to include a wistful rememberance of such past 'deis luminaries as Abbie Hoffman, Catherine Power, Angela Davis, or Jerry Rubin, but they resist the urge. They did run a pro-Rosenbergs editorial last week, however.
Speaking of TLF, John Paul has an interesting discussion over on Fightin' With Grabes, in which he and a commentor disagree over the merits of Friedman's "Garrison Keillor analogies and the down-home timbre," yet agree in their admiration for the columnist's " luxurious, Baathist mustache."
MAN IN THE BOAT: WWE heavyweight champion and former Minnesota Gopher Brock Lesnar was injured over the weekend in a boating accident, apparently falling out of the boat while on a ride with some friends near San Antonio, TX. It's not clear at this point whether Lesnar was drinking, though that's normally the case when people fall out of boats.
Lesnar is believed to be the first professional wrestler to be injured in a boating accident since Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake (Ed Leslie) shattered nearly every bone in his face during a parasailing accident in 1990. Though I suppose it's debatable whether parasailing counts as "boating"- or, for that matter, if Beefcake counts as a "wrestler."
IF ONLY THEY COULD INCARCERATE PEOPLE FOR STUPIDITY: Jose Canseco is heading to jail, on charges that he used steroids in violation of his parole from a 2001 assault charge.
Jose's guilty of a whole list of offenses: spousal abuse, steroid abuse, bar-room brawl abuse, egomania, pitching when he's not a pitcher, allowing a home run off the top of his head, poor fashion sense (who else gives a national TV interview while wearing a 'beater?), squandering what should have been a Hall of Fame career, and (worst of all) sleeping with Madonna. And while he can't be punished by law for all those things, I'm willing to live with one thing, as long as this national embarassment ends up behind bars.
Of course, Canseco's last few bad acts (the ESPN interview, as well as auctioning off days with him to fans) have taken place while the ex-star has been under house arrest. Thus proving my theory that no one can make house arrest look good. Except for Uncle Junior, of course.
DEMOCRACY WHISKEY SEXY DEPT.: I just got this piece of SPAM e-mail. Though I don't know if I'd call it SPAM, 'cause it wasn't really asking for anything. Here, you be the judge:
From: faisal al-shamari
To: email@example.com Sent from the Internet (Details) i hope to be agood healthy and happy all time . i hope to send films sexy about Salma Hayek . god bless you .
Don't we all, Faisal, don't we all. God bless you too.
THE REAL WORLD: BACK TO NEW YORK: I'm back on the East Coast; regularly scheduled blogging should begin about now.
CARA-ING AND SHARING: Speaking of Bunim/Murray, Cara Nussbaum is back in the news. The "Real World: Chicago" cast member has agreed to become a spokesperson for both the National Institute of Health and at least one pharmaceutical company, in order to speak out on issues related to depression, from which she has suffered.
Now known as Cara Kahn (it's unclear whether that's a stage name for the aspiring actress, or if she has since married), Cara was heretofore best known as perhaps "Real World"'s all-time hook-up leader, at least among females; her conquests included Todd Park Mohr, frontman of the generally talented band Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Bill Simmons even called her "The Harlot." Her behavior, in fact, caused a minor stir in that it may have caused embarrassment to her brother- who at the time was working as an aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
A classmate of several friends and acquaintances of mine at Washington University in St. Louis, Cara always gave the impression that she acted the slut role without giving off the slut vibe- an attractive quality, if you ask me. In fact Cara, whether it was her depression-masking cheerful personality, her vegeterianism, her neo-hippie affectations, or her fondness for the Indigo Girls, always came across to me as the absolute embodiment of the unique Jewish Summer Camp Culture. Not that there's anything wrong with that...
Depression is obviously serious business, and if Cara can use her experience and her small amount of notoriety to help people, then God bless her.
NOSFERATU STRIKES AGAIN: The Twins may have gone 1-7 while I was in Minnesota, but as soon as I got back to New York they won tonight, beating the Milwaukee Brewers 8-3 at Miller Park (I almost drove to Wisconsin Saturday for the second game of the series, but then thought better of it).
In tonight's game Justin Morneau continued his power surge, hitting a home run to right that caused pieces of the Miller Park infrastructure to rain down into right field. Not exactly a new sight for Milwaukee baseball; pieces of the decrepit old stadium used to fall pretty regularly too- not due to homers, but rather gravity.
WHAT WOULD BRIAN BOITANO SCHEDULE?: Comedy Central just announced, via a commercial that they will be showing the World Broadcast Premiere of the 1999 film "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut"- naturally, it's the uncut version. In keeping with "South Park's long respect for freedom of speech, the broadcast will take place on the Fourth of July- at 1 AM. This has to be the first-ever advertised World Broadcast Premiere to be shown in the middle of the night; why even advertise it? Are they hoping for blockbuster 1 AM ratings or something?
A "MINNY" GOOD TIME: Just a little over 48 hours remaining in my visit to the Twin Cities; in the past few days I've seen a few high school friends, met a a couple of longtime readers, and downloaded approximately 500 mp3s (thankfully, I'll be getting out of town before Orrin Hatch blows up my parents' computer).
The Twins may have only won once -though I strongly considered trying to drive to Milwaukee for at least one game of this weekend's series- but it's been sunny outside for seven straight days and counting, and I seem to have missed some pretty nasty weather in New York.
I've been told that three big things in Minnesota have changed in the opening months of the post-Ventura era: rampant gentrification in my home suburb of St. Louis Park (including the first-ever Starbucks), much greater traffic due to ever-expanding sprawl, and the new law that allows for the carrying of concealed weapons. Those last two, combined, sound like a recipe for disaster, and while I don't often complain about the former (Hoboken is, after all, the gentrification capital of the East Coast), some of the excessive new developments are making me sympathize with the sentiments of the new Counting Crows Joni Mitchell cover/anti-gentrification anthem "Big Yellow Taxi": They paved paradise/and put up a parking lot. It's pretty sad that the Dairy Queen I used to go to for ice cream after Little League games (which burned down in '99) has been replaced by an upscale furniture store.
Yet despite the guns and the traffic and the multitudes of Chipotles and Caribou Coffees, Minnesota Nice is one thing that has not faded into the past, for which I feel we can all be thankful. As long as that's there (and the lakes, and the skyways, and the Twins, etc.) Minnesota's all right.
And don't forget about the Mall of America- I drove down there this afternoon and picked up a #16 Doug Mientkiewicz Twins jersey. Let's just hope he's wearing it as long as I am...
"ALL NEW YORKERS" DEPT.: There's a spectactularly wrongheaded column in Thursday's Washington Post by Anne Applebaum, in which the author laments that Manhattan has become a "monoculture" in which everyone "agrees on just about everything." Applebaum, apparently, is sick of traveling to New York and attending dinner parties in which members of the "creative class" where political dissent is more or less nonexistent.
I don't know which New York she's been visiting, but it's not the one I've spent the last three years in. The New York I know is one where people fight, argue, and debate virtually constantly- and I like it that way. It's the one where at my last party, two of my guests experienced a moment of confusion, when one mentioned his affinity for Dan Savage, and the other assumed "Savage" referred to Michael.
It would be so much easier to rebut conservative attacks on the "liberal elite media" if they didn't come up with garbage like this so often. Appelbaum makes the common mistake among journalists in writing "New York" and "Manhattan" when she really means "Upper West Side of Manhattan." Yes, it's true that the majority of UWS types tend to think alike, especially when it comes to politics.
But what about the rest of New York? How can a city in which "it isn't polite to say anything positive about any Republican, even a moderate Republican" manage to elect Republican mayors three elections in a row? In a state in which a Republican was just elected to a third straight term as governor? Applebaum mentions Rudy Giuliani in the first paragraph of the piece, yet why doesn't she explain that the very Republican Rudy is as great a hero (if not more so) in New York's liberal monoculture as he is in the rest of the country?
I'm even starting to have second thoughts about the Upper West Side and its political single-mindedness: around the start of the Iraq war, I was invited to a dinner party, and a few days before suggested to my host that we not discuss the war, since I figured I'd be the only one in favor and I didn't want to be in the middle of a huge shouting match. No problem, my friend said- he figured he'd be the only one against.
What Applebaum really means, of course, is that there's a monoculture among the "important" New Yorkers, the "elite" ones- but that's not what she says, she says "Manhattan," period. Maybe everyone she knows in Manhattan "agrees on just about everything," but that's certainly not true of everyone. To suggest otherwise is condescending, on top of just plain inaccurate.
GOOD GAME, GOOD GAME: Just when I was beginning to worry that the Twins would go 0-for-my-trip, today they crushed the second-place Kansas City Royals 16-2. Breaking a five-game losing streak, the Twins got 23 hits. We'll be celebrating tomorrow at my lunch with TwinsGeek.
In other Twins news, rookie first baseman Justin "Nosferatu" Morneau remains on a tear, batting well over .400 in his first two weeks in the majors. Morneau's success intensifies speculation that the incumbent 1B, Doug Mientkiewicz, will be sent packing, although Dougie Baseball did play a few innings at second base in a game last week. I'm hoping it stays that way- then the Twins can get rid of ineffectual second baseman Luis Rivas (that sure would make Gleeman happy. Now they just need Johan Santana as their instant #1 starter, and we're all set).
YOU PUT ON THOSE AYERS, AND ACT REAL COOL... Ditched by Larry Brown, spurned by Maurice Cheeks and Jeff Van Gundy, and apparently uninterested in Rick Carlisle and Mike Fratello, the Philadelphia 76ers today hired former Ohio State coach Randy Ayers as their new head coach.
As usually happens in big, Northeastern cities when a team names an unknown as coach, the move will likely be looked at with derision from FU Center regulars and WIP callers. But I think we heard the same thing from Philly fans when the Eagles hired Andy Reid, and that's worked out fabulously.
However, whether Ayers can get along with Allen Iverson is another matter entirely. My only question is whether Ayers plans to keep his name when he marries ABC analyst Ahmad Rashad.
(And I'll be very, very impressed if anyone got that last joke).
ON THE MONEY: What the neo-conservatives of the Bush Adminstration are to foreign policy, the sabermetric movement is to major league baseball: a movement that has existed and gradually gained steam for years, and now has finally broken through and more or less been accepted by those in power. The sabermatricians' Weekly Standard is the Baseball Prospectus; their Scoop Jackson Bill James, and their Axis of Evil is baseball's traditional scouting establishment. And their George W. Bush is Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane: a longtime insider who has embraced the movement's long-held ideas and applied them on the main stage.
Ostensibly a look at Beane's A's and how they've managed to beat baseball's large market/small market structure, Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball" is the first major work to chronicle the influence the sabermetric movement has had (and will continue to have) on the national pastime. While certainly not perfect by any means, "Moneyball" manages to be a highly important book, while remaining readable and entertaining throughout.
Lewis spent parts of the 2002 season with the A's in the quest to figure out how they were able to break the 100-win barrier nearly every year despite operating on a low budget that caused them to regularly lose key players to free agency and left them unable to bid competitively for other teams' players. The answer lies in the theories of the legendary baseball statistician and best-selling author Bill James, who began writing in the 1970s and inspired a generation of baseball/math geeks to expound on his philosophies. Yet Beane (who became GM of the A's in 1997) was the first man to apply James' thinking to the actual running of a big-league team. As a result he turned the A's around, into a team that has reached the playoffs three years in a row, including two straight 100-win seasons, and a 20-game winning streak in July and August of 2002. The theories have begun to take hold around the major leagues as well, as Beane protege J.P. Ricciardi is now running the Toronto Blue Jays, while James himself and pitching statistician Voros McCracken have both been hired as consultants by the Boston Red Sox.
But, as described by Lewis, another part of Beane's philosophy is related to his own experiences: a onetime prep phenom, Beane was drafted in the first round by the Mets out of high school but flopped in the big leagues, never living up to his potential and retiring before reaching the age of 30. Lewis uses this to draw an almost Freudian explanation of Beane's method of evaluating high school players: he disdains prep ballplayers, rejects out of hand the idea of evaluating players on the basis of athleticism or "having a good body," and pays no attention at all to "tools." After all, Beane was always in impeccable shape as a player while his onetime teammate Kirby Puckett never was, and the latter is a Hall-of-Famer. In what would look to the untrained eye like a pathetic act of self-hatred, Beane refuses to draft any player that in any way reminds him of himself.
The book is at its best in describing Beane in the "war room" prior to and during the amateur draft, as well as on the "trading desk" prior to the trading deadline, bringing us into a major part of baseball success that is rarely if ever covered. And in the couple of occasions that he brings us actual play-by-play coverage of games, Lewis (previously known primarily as a business/Wall Street journalist) proves an exciting storyteller.
The book isn't without its glaring weaknesses, however- and foremost among them is the author's hagiographic, almost messianic worship of his subject. If Beane has ever been wrong or made a mistake in his time as GM, or if there's a single weakness anywhere in sabermetric theory, we don't learn about it in "Moneyball." Also, for a book called "Moneyball," Lewis devotes very little attention to baseball's overall economic picture: that there was nearly a player strike in 2002 is, I believe, not even mentioned, and the longrunning three-headed battle among the union, large-market owners, and small-market owners is barely even touched upon. And how does Lewis explain the similar success in 2002 of the Minnesota Twins, who played (and beat) Oakland in the playoffs despite an equally low payroll- only without the benefit of any sabermetric influence whatsoever?
My friend and fellow blogger Jeremy Wahlman recently met Lewis at a book-signing and asked him why the A's have never attempted to attack the small-market problem from the demand (rather than supply) side: why not try to somehow increase revenues? Why not pursue a new stadium (another thing that is, I believe, not mentioned in the book)? Lewis, I believe, acted as though those questions had never even occurred to him.
Overall, however, "Moneyball" is a fascinating and worthwhile book. Clearly, baseball is on a collision course: in five years, either every team in the sport will have embraced sabermetrics, or it will be dismissed as a fad, sort of like what the run-and-shoot offense was for baseball. But one thing is for certain- whether or not Billy Beane stays in Oakland (he nearly departed for Boston last year) sabermetrics in baseball is likely to last, on some level, for quite a long time- quite possibly longer than neoconservatism does in the White House.
NOT-SO-MAJOR TOM: After one of the quickest career meltdowns in Hollywood history, Tom Green has come crawling back to MTV, and next week will begin hosting "The New Tom Green Show."
Around the summer of 2000, Green looked like the next big comedy movie star. He had been consistantly funny (albeit way over the top) for years on his original MTV show, prior to hitting a home run with his MTV swan song, "The Tom Green Cancer Special"- a network special filmed around the comic's successful surgery for testicular cancer that included the memorable "hey boys, feel your balls, so you don't get cancer" jingle. Later that summer Green appeared in a successful supporting role in the movie "Road Trip," and looked on the way to becoming the next Adam Sandler, or at least the next Rob Schneider.
The next Pauly Shore, more like it. In '01 Green wrote, directed, and starred in "Freddy Got Fingered," a film that is not without its fans, yet was that rare movie that was such a failure that it all but ruined every career involved. Green's follow-up, last year's "Stealing Harvard," didn't do much better. Even worse, Green's marriage to Hollywood royalty Drew Barrymore lasted less than a year, and Green needless to say will not be appearing in the upcoming "Charlie's Angels" sequel.
Green's return to MTV means something else to me, on a personal note: the comedian's longtime friend and sidekick, Glenn Humplik (below, left) will return on the new show, and I've been told for years by Green fans that my resemblance to Mr. Humplik is uncanny, to the point that every 12-16-year-old I met between the years of 1997 and 2001 took to calling me "Glenn" from that point forward. Good thing I'm not a camp councilor anymore...
All in all, I can't say I'm that surprised about Tom Green coming back to MTV. How much you wanna bet the same thing happens, in 2005, to Johnny Knoxville?
TALKIN' BASEBALL: I'm reporting live from my parents' house in suburban Minneapolis, where so far this week I've attended my first-ever Wilco concert, my first home Twins game since 2000, and my first St. Paul Saints Northern League game since even before that.
Wilco was cool- an outdoor concert outside of Minneapolis' famed sculpture garden, although the crowd seemed to lose interest when the band was playing any non-"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" songs.
My dad and I went to the Metrodome on Father's Day, when (unfortunately for both the Twins and my fantasy team) Brad Radke once again pitched piss-poorly, as the Twins fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-8 before a crowd of a little over 30,000. The loss, unfortunately, means the Twins will not win the World Series this year, because in both '87 and '91 they were undefeated (8-0 and 12-0, respectively) in games that I attended, including spring training and postseason. Oh well. But that Morneau kid looks like the real deal.
The Saints game, as always, was fun- owner Mike Veeck was doing Mark Cuban's schtick years before Cuban did, and really owes it to the game to get into major league ownership, and soon. The Saints have previously been home to Darryl Strawberry, J.D. Drew, Kevin Millar, Rey Ordonez, and others for brief stretches; I didn't see anyone of note in Monday's game, but I did see this year's Official Saints pig, known as The Notorious P.I.G. (following previous mascots Saint, Hamlet, and Kevin Bacon), as well as the "Designated K-Man," a member of the opposing team who wins a free Arby's sandwich for everyone in the stadium if he strikes out. As most people would, the player for opponent Fargo struck out the first time out.
The Saints' opponent, unfortunately, was not the Schaumburg Flyers, the team that until recently employed the Worst Son Ever, John Henry Williams.
And in other sports news, the good guys (the San Antonio Spurs) won the NBA championship, defeating the New Jersey Nets. My condolences to (apparently) the only Nets fan who cares, Ken Goldstein, as well as those people who got their cars blown up outside the Meadowlands Friday night. What the hell was that all about?
I'll be back with more later, from "Minny."
WORST PREDICTION EVER: From Graydon Carter's editor's letter, in the June Vanity Fair:
"The New York Times has called the White House's domestic agenda 'a national train wreck that must be headed off for the country's well-being.' The editor and publisher of that paper will hardly be run out of town the way the Dixie Chicks and others opposed to the war have been."
The editor of the New York Times run out of town? Nah, that'll NEVER happen.
HOMEFRONT: In about three hours I'm heading to Minnesota for a leisurely, nine-day vacation, where I'll be seeing Wilco tonight, going to my first Metrodome Twins game in three years on Monday, and sleeping as much as possible. One place I won't be going is Chino Latino, one of those godawful "fusion" restaurants that, as reported by Lileks the other day, is using "edgy" advertising. So edgy, in fact, that it might just make you shit yourself:
Of the many aren’t-we-naughty! billboards Chino Latino put up, two stood out: one said they had three spice levels. Hot, Very Hot, and Excuse Me I Have to Go to the Bathroom. Ha ha! We put so much pepper in the food you will spray your entree from your hindquarters before you are finished! Ha ha! The second was for the Tio Pepe Taco, or some such item, and it was described simply as “Runs South of the Border.” I remember looking up at that billboard, and thinking this was like promising that they only served undercooked chicken. No thanks.
Minnesota: Land of one big swamp
Minnesota: Sorry about Paul Wellstone
Minnesota: Sorry about Walter Mondale
Minnesota: Sorry about Garrison Keillor
Minnesota: Sorry about Jesse Ventura
Minnesota: Please take Prince off our hands
Minnesota: Gives new meaning to shrinkage
Minnesota: Mosquitoes big enough for frying
Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Taxes
Minnesota: The New Somalia
Minnesota: Sorry about the Liberals
Minnesota: We elected a two-headed calf
Minnesota: Where Welfare is a growth industry
During my vacation posting may be light. Or it may be heavy. We'll see.
STRIBBED: Here's my latest New York Press Daily Billboard piece, on the Star Tribune and Native American nicknames.
JEWEL OF DENIAL?: The singer Jewel has gotten quite a bit of attention lately for her rather radical musical/physical makeover. The formerly earnest folkie has joined up with Shakira's producers and (apparently) her stylists as well, emerging from the studio with both a more pop-oriented sound and a much skimpier wardrobe.
Make no mistake about it: Jewel is sexy as hell, and I've always thought so. I always prefered her, looks-wise, to her contemporaries Alanis Morrisette and the Spice Girls, and even more to more recent entrants into the fray such as the vacuous Britney Spears and the vile Christina Aguilera. She's got just the right amount of curves (as opposed to the sickly-looking "Xtina"), and has somehow gotten more and more attractive through the years, almost in a reverse correlation to her album sales.
While I certainly preferred Jewel's older, more classy look, I'm not exactly complaining about seeing more of her now. The music I've heard, on the other hand, leaves quite a bit to be desired.
However, I'm not about to complain about Jewel's change in direction, for one big reason: her music was never that good to begin with. Unlike erstwhile indie-rock goddess Liz Phair, who is in the midst of a similar image/music makeover and looks and sounds ridiculous doing it, it's not as though Jewel is trashing some great artistic tradition- she's merely moving from one substandard musical pursuit to another. Lisa Marie Presley, meanwhile, deserves credit for taking a more tabula rasa approach, sitting out for years before finally beginning her diva-pop career at the age of 35.
So my view of Jewel remains unchanged: she's still really hot- just in a different way. And her music still sucks- just in a different way.
86'D MET: The New York Mets on Thursday fired general manager Steve Phillips, in a move that had been expected pretty much since the beginning of the season. Phillips' 6-year tenure as GM was highlighted by a World Series appearance in 2000, but he'll likely most be remembered either for his series of ill-advised trades, or the mini-scandal in which Phillips had an ill-fated affair with his secretary.
The Mets are in the midst of their third straight losing season, and the New York Post version of events has had it that all of their troubles have flowed from Phillips' failure to sign the best player in the game, Alex Rodriguez, as a free agent after the 2000 season. Yes, there's no question that Phillips bungled the talks with A-Rod, pulling out of the talks out of what he deemed "unfair demands" that the player claimed he never made. From all indications- including the several times he's mentioned in "Moneyball"- Phillips comes across as both a mediocre judge of talent and a jerk- in fact, I don't think shagging his secretary would even crack the top ten of bad moves made by Steve Phillips as Mets GM.
But the not-signing-A-Rod-led-to-current-predicament theory is all wrong, for three reasons:
1) Even if the Mets had stayed in the bidding war, there's no way they would have come close to the Rangers' offer of $252 million for A-Rod, especially when no other team came within $50 million of that number. The Mets have never even had a $100 million player.
2) Even if A-Rod had signed with the Mets, who's to say that they still wouldn't have made all the other dumb moves they've made since? Having A-Rod around doesn't necessarily mean they wouldn't have still brought in Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeno, Shawn Estes, and still made every other trade and signing that hasn't worked out in the past two-plus years.
3) The team Rodriguez did sign with, the Rangers, finished last in both 2001 and 2002 (winning fewer games than the Mets both years), and are in last place this year as well.
Chunky Soup Man Dan Lewis, who unlike me is an actual Mets fan, has more on the Phillips firing. And great back page headline from the Post, of course: "Stevie Nixed."
"LATEST PALI ATROCITY" DEPT.:
Via Bloviating Inanities.
SELIG-BASHING FOR THE DAY: "As an owner (don't forget, he's still an owner) for more than three decades and the commissioner for seemingly forever, Bud Selig's done far more to hurt the game than he's done to help it. We're often told that Commissioner Bud loves baseball, and I believe that he does. Unfortunately, his love or baseball ranks somewhere behind 1) his love of profit, 2) his desire to leave a legacy as an activist commissioner, 3) his love of his fellow owners. Plus, he's delusional. In Commissioner Bud's Fantasy World, everything he's ever done has worked out perfectly, which means of course that anything he wants to do will work out perfectly, too.
But it won't. Selig's a dangerous man, and the sooner we're rid of him, the better." -Rob Neyer, ESPN.com. If the Internet could successfully bring down that other despotic ruler of a great American institution, Howell Raines, then why not Selig too? Come on people, organize!
MAKIN' A LIST, CHECKIN' IT TWICE: Showing once again that it has become completely irrelevant other than as an organ through which to release lists, VH1 yesterday announced the "100 Greatest Songs of the Last 25 Years." Why 25 years? And why now? What's so special about the period of 1978-2003 (other than that it represents, within a month, my own lifetime?)
Anyway, looking at the list itself I have relatively few complaints. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is the only logical possibility for #1, Michael Jackson really has to be represented and he is with "Billie Jean" (#2), and "Sweet Child O' Mine" (#3) is G'n'R's best song and has really been underrated historically. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Def Leppard's "Photograph" ranked at #14.
But there's one choice on the list that's wrong, wrong, wrong: Eminem's "Lose Yourself" is picked as the fourth-best song since 1978, and the top entry among rap songs. And since rap music didn't really exist prior to '78, I guess this makes "Lose Yourself" the greatest rap song of all time. Huh? Yes, Eminem is currently the most important artist in American pop music, and he deserves recognition for that. But of the 10 or so singles he's come up with since bursting onto the scene in 1999, the "8 Mile" theme is probably the least provocative, least daring, and least important of them all. With its generic, self-help-like lyrics and uncharacteristic lack of controversy, "Lose Yourself" doesn't come close to "Stan" (which I could see going in the Top Ten), "The Way I Am," or even "The Real Slim Shady" or "My Name Is" among Shady's greatest achievements.
ANCHORPERSON DENNIS MILLER, REVISITED: Fox News Channel's most unfair and unbalanced program is about to get even more lopsided, as the Daily News reports that comedian Dennis Miller will soon join the show as a once-a-week commentator.
The former anchor of "Weekend Update" and host of "Monday Night Football," and his eponymous HBO show, Miller was among the most articulate and convincing celebrity spokespeople before and during the war in Iraq- perhaps because unlike most others, he was for the war. While Miller never seemed right on MNF, Fox News seems to fit his personality to a T, as both have long combined all-out attempts at entertainment with both conservative politics and mean-spirited vituperation. However, Miller has to remember to avoid the pitfalls of his recent HBO standup special, which was more or less 60 minutes of Republican talking points, in which Miller seemed to have forgotten that he's a comedian and is supposed to be funny.
As I've often mentioned in this space before, "Hannity & Colmes" is an extreme microcosm of FNC's entire ethos: a supposedly balanced "debate" that's rigged from the start and more resembles a kangaroo court than a serious political program. The ultra-conservative and obnoxious but very charismatic Hannity squares off against the weak, conciliatory, and center-left Colmes, who would be the world's most ineffectual, ineffective liberal spokesman if it weren't for Tom Daschle. Colmes spends all of each episode on the defensive, alternately stammering, apologizing for his liberal views, getting interrupted by Hannity, and just plain keeping his mouth shut for minutes at a time. The right-leaning Miller will give the Republican/strong personality team a 2-1 advantage over the Democratic Wimp brigade.
This formula obviously seems to work for Fox; they know their audience, and I can't imagine many liberals watch the show and root for Colmes. I think the "fair" and "balanced" thing to do would be for Fox to jettison Colmes in favor of somebody who's the lefty equivalent of Hannity- Eric Alterman or Joe Conason, perhaps. Then, bring in someone like Chris Rock or even George Carlin to do an occasional liberal/comedy segment. Of course neither of those things will ever happen, but it sure would make tangible improvements to what the lefty website TomPaine.com once likened to the TV news version of a Harlem Globetrotters game.
MONKEYBALL: Isaac at WKIKYA asks the question that's on all of our minds: why is the current Health Scare of the Week called "monkeypox," which it is spread by prairie dogs and has nothing at all to do with monkeys?
I think it's the same logic that Conan O'Brien uses when he refers to all animals-having-sex footage as "monkeyporn," even if the animals aren't themselves monkeys. But make no mistake: monkeypox and monkeyporn do NOT mix. At least, they certainly shouldn't.
Hear David Halberstam read from his book, The Teammates, about the championship winning 1949 Boston Red Sox, at the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble at E. 86th Street.
Oops. Although really, if it had only been 54 years since the last championship rather than 85, would Sox fans hate themselves any less than they do?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Conservatives are at their absolute worst when the name 'Clinton' comes up. There's a visceral hatred there, every bit as deep as the far left's hatred for President Bush, but the conservative hatred for the Clintons seems broader... This is absurd, and it is a major turn-off to centrists.
If the GOP really feels the need to attack Senator Clinton, it should spend less time drawing horns on pictures of her and more time arguing against her policy proposals. Enough is enough: personal animosity is not a political platform. At least not one that I am willing to support." -Josh Chavetz of OxBlog, articulating my exact feelings on the Hillary book- which I plan neither to read nor to comment on further. Via Fightin' With Grabes.
TAX CUTS AND "FROTHY MIXTURES": House Majority Whip Tom DeLay is resisting President Bush's half-assed effort to expand child-tax credits for low-income families, apparently believing it "unfair" to give a tax cut to those who don't pay any taxes as is.
In other news, Tom DeLay is going to hell. When will Dan Savage name a gay sex act after him?
SIX SEMPER TYRANNUS!: Don't you just love when the Yankees get no-hit, at home, by six different Houston Astros pitchers? Isn't it great that just a few losses- leading up to tonight's embarrassment- can make championship-entitled Yankee fans go nuts? And isn't it precious that whispers have already begun that four-time World Series-winning manager Joe Torre may be on the hot seat, even though his team is only a half game behind the Red Sox and will in all likelihood win the AL East?
I love New York sports fans sometimes. The Devils just won the Cup, the Nets won Game 4 tonight and will take San Antonio at least to a sixth game, and I don't expect to see a word about either until at least six pages into tomorrow's Post sports section.
AND ON AND ON IT GOES...: There was another suicide bombing today, this time in Jerusalem; as of now 9 are dead and at least 40 wounded. Oddly, the New York Times describes this attack with a neutral headline: "At Least 9 Die as Suicide Bomber Hits Bus in Jerusalem." As opposed to yesterday's strike by Israel against the leader of Hamas, which the same paper described in a headline as "Israeli Attack Wounds Top Hamas Aide in Blow to Peace Bid." Trying (unsuccessfully) to kill an admitted terror bigwig is a "blow to peace," yet blowing up a busful of civilians somehow isn't? When Hamas last week walked away from peace talks at the same time Ariel Sharon was using the word "occupation" and talking about dismantling settlements?
The Star Tribune's headline of the AP story this morning is even worse: "Roadblock to Peace: Israel, Palestinians Trade Deadly Attacks." The "deadly attack" perpetrated by Israel "killed two Hamas officials." The bus bombing in Jerusalem wasn't aimed at Israeli officials, or even soldiers: it was civilians and only civilians.
The Israel side isn't perfect; I don't pretend that they are. But the way many parts of the US media have covered today's already sickening events has been sickening in and of itself.
Another note about the Times: now, I know that website story headlines aren't written by top editors, and probably not by the reporters either. But you may remember that the major complaints about the Times' not-fair-to-Israel tilt started in the mid-late '90s, when Joseph Lelyveld was Executive Editor. Now that he's all of a sudden back in charge, it's happening again. Coincidence?
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: It's The Shizzolater, in which you can enter the name of this site (or any other) and it translated it into Snoop-speak. It's certainly less time-consuming than going through each post yourself and adding "-izzle" to the end of every third word.
MISLEADING HEADLINE OF THE DAY: From the Boston Globe: "Target is a Fierce Foe of Israel." No, the story does NOT refer to the popular Minnesota-based discount retail chain otherwise known as Tar-zhay, but rather to the target of yesterday's Israeli rocket strike, Hamas kingpin Abdel Aziz Rantisi. 'Cause I was afraid for a minute that Target was anti-Semitic and I wouldn't be able to shop there anymore.
FORECAST: FOUR DAYS OF RAGE: WKIKYA points us towards a weather-forecast website called, that's right, The Weather Underground. A web destination, apparently, for people who do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
MORE WEIRDO SEARCHES: Lots of crazy queries brought people here this week. Here's a sampling:
-"Ann Coulter picture nude" (Yahoo)
-"Quote of the Day Meat Funny Investment" (Google)
-"Gay Baseball Player Billy Beane" (Google; was that you, Joe Morgan?)
-"Triple H Nude" (Google)
-"Ted Rall vs. Ann Coulter" (Yahoo; who do you root for there?)
-"Dirk Nowitzi home address" (Google)
-"nickname" and "fuck" and "college" and "students" (Yahoo)
-"Campbell Brown tits" (Google).
HIGH ART: The New York magazine world lost a true legend on Monday when longtime GQ editor Art Cooper passed away at the age of 65. Cooper served at the helm of GQ for more than 20 years, stepping down just last month.
For all the bluster from Howell Raines about how he modeled himself after Bear Bryant, Cooper's career had a trajectory that was much more similar to that of the Alabama football legend: like Bryant he revolutionized his field while seemingly defining the job that he held for decades. And also like Bryant, Cooper passed away almost immediately after leaving that job.
In Cooper's stead the sub-genre of formerly respectable "men's magazines" have almost all gone the way of Maxim, combining juvenile humor with sub-pornographic photographs of people like Carmen Electra, who appears to have no career at the moment other than alternately appearing on the covers of Maxim, Stuff, and FHM. Even the current issue of GQ, Cooper's last, features dueling lists of 25 Signs She is Low-Maintenance ("She only screams when she's having fun," "she's not a cat person," "when she's pissed off she tells you why") and 25 Signs She is High-Maintenance ("complaining is a form of conversation," "she wears jewelry to the beach," "her dad calls her 'Princess'," "all her friends are married to bankers," "her last three fiances were bankers"). Come to think of it, that last bit is probably funnier than anything Maxim has come up with the last 4 years.
RIP Art Cooper; his irreverent wit will certainly be missed.
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: Cracksmoker.com, a survey of athletes guilty of bad behavior, including (but certainly not limited to) crack-smoking itself.
AND SPEAKING OF WHICH...: Gammons reports this morning (though it has yet to picked up by anyone else) that on his way out of Boston Shea Hillenbrand expressed his frustrations over a year of trade rumors by directing a vicious anti-gay slur at Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.
When this story breaks big time, probably today or tomorrow, expect it to bring strange bedfellows, as the gay rights movement and sabermetric movement jockey for position over who hates Hillenbrand more. "He hates gays... and he doesn't walk enough!"
BRAVE: Bravo to the Star Tribune for finally getting rid of their nonsensical policy of refusing to publish Native American sports team nicknames. Which, to be honest, was always more pitched towards the Twin Cities' population of PC-obsessed, left-of-Wellstone ex-hippies, as opposed to the actual Native Americans themselves. It's the sort of sensible, level-headed decision that could only have come from Jake Gyllenhaal's uncle.
I MIGHT BE WRONG: New Radiohead album comes out today; for some reason the entire thing was intentionally posted on MTV.com the other day, and I've already listened to it a few times (I love my new Wi-Fi connection at home), and will probably purchase it sometime this week.
What do I think? Hmm. As an unabashed "OK Computer" devotee I appeciate the return to a guitar-based sound for the band. But I've found it impossible lately to judge records based on one or two listens- especially coming from Radiohead. After all, it took me about a year to finally formulate an opinion on "Kid A" (I like it, but they're a different band now and we may as well accept it), and another to fully digest "Amnesiac." Look for my "Hail to the Thief" review on Blogcritics sometime in early 2005.
BLOGROLL BLUES: After a quick look at Technorati's new search page, I at first was excited beccause I thought I'd been blogrolled by some complete stranger. Awesome- that's actually been happening quite a bit lately. But, after checking out the blog, I instead made a disappointing (and disturbing) discovery:
Medals for farting
Gold - Stephen Silver - Josiah Bronze - Elaine
I should sue, just for the disgusting misappropriation of my name...
EVERYTHING IS SUPER WHEN YOU'RE...: At Sunday's Tony Awards, winning "Hairspray" composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman shocked the crowd by kissing each other full on the lips after winning the award for Best Musical. The two men are not only longtime songwriting partners, but have in fact been a couple for 25 years.
While it's hard to think of many forums other than the Tony Awards where a gay male kiss would be less controversial, the kiss has nonetheless made waves all across the world. Good for them, I say; Marc Shaiman wrote all of the brilliant, should've-been-Oscar-winning songs for the "South Park" movie; he can do whatever he wants for all I care.
TERRORIZING THE TERRORISTS: Last week, Hamas announced that they were pulling out of Middle East peace talks, because Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had made too many concessions in talks with the Israelis. On Sunday Hamas collaborated with two other groups on a terrorist attack that killed one Israeli. Today, Israel wounded Hamas kingpin Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, as he rode in a car in the Gaza Strip.
If any pundit or analyst or diplomat today has the effrontery to suggest that by trying to blow up the car of a leader of Hamas, Israel is somehow "impeding peace," then I don't that I can ever take that person seriously again. With Hamas making it perfectly clear that they have no intention of stopping suicide bombings at any point in the foreseeable future, I don't see how peace is the slightest bit possible until Hamas is obliterated. And I'm speaking as someone who supports the roadmap, albeit with much skepticism.
(I'd also be remiss in not pointing out that for the past hour, the Google News headline has referred to the Palestinian terrorist cabal not as Hamas but as "Hams." Which, come to think of it, is just as anathema to Israel...)
UPDATE: New York Times headline: "Israeli Attack Wounds Top Hamas Aide in Blow to Peace Bid." What- it's somehow good for the peace process if Hamas bigwigs don't get blown up?
BETTER THAN 'CATS: Bob Johnson, owner of the NBA's new expansion team in Charlotte, today became the first major league sports owner since Paul Brown in Cleveland in the 1940s to name a professional sports franchise after himself, announcing that the new team will be called the Charlotte Bobcats. The other finalists for the team name were "Dragons" and "Flight," the latter of which was a nod to North Carolina's favorite sons the Wright Brothers; Tony Kornheiser had a better idea the other week, that in honor of the Wrights the team be called the "Charlotte Brothers."
Guess that means that should Bobcat Goldthwait someday come to own an NBA franchise, he'll have to come up with some other name.
In other NBA news, Jeff Van Gundy will be the next coach of the Houston Rockets- good move by JVG; it's better to coach a ready-made contender with Yao and Stevie Franchise than the mess in Washington or a near-certain losing power struggle with teenager LeBron James in Cleveland. Oh, and the coach with the worst winning percentage in the history of American professional sports, Tim Floyd, was inexplicably hired by the former Charlotte team, the New Orleans Hornets. I guess compared to that other ex-Iowa State coach, Larry Eustachy, Floyd all of a sudden doesn't look so bad.
FRIENDS OF THE DEVILS?: When the Twins won the World Series in 1987, I opened my front door in suburban St. Louis Park and could hear people shouting and yelling in celebration from all throughout the metro area. Same goes for Manhattan in 2000, when the Yankees beat the Mets to win their 26th championship. I'm looking out my window right now, and I can't see or hear anything out of the ordinary. It's not like the Devils won the Stanley Cup tonight or anything like that...
Credit where credit is due- the Devils played a hell of a game and a hell of a series, and managed to win Game 7 3-0. The most embarrassing moment was probably when the Conn Smythe trophy (for playoffs MVP) was awarded to Ducks goalie J.S. Giguerre, and the Devils fans- 30 seconds after their team won the Cup- responded by booing him lustily. All class, those Jersey fans... I'm sure Joe Piscopo is very proud of them.
WEIRDEST GAMMONS QUOTE EVER: "This is not an American president looking into the camera and blatantly lying. This is not a Harvard student being dismissed for cheating, or later driving a car with a female companion into the ocean; and he recovered to introduce and enact more legislature that any man in the history of the U.S. Senate. This isn't the managing editor of the New York Times perpetrating and promoting serious fraud. This is not a major league manager betting on his team's games. This is hitting a ground ball to second base with a corked bat." -Peter Gammons, trying to put the Sosa thing in perspective by establishing that Sosa's deeds are not nearly as nefarious as those of Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Howell Raines, or Pete Rose.
But what's the point of including the legislation part about Ted? And Raines was executive editor, not managing- and while he may have let serious fraud happen under his nose- did he really "perpetrate" and "promote" it himself? Or is Gammons talking about Gerald Boyd, who was managing editor? For the analogy to work he could've just mentioned Blair, but I wonder why he didn't- does the longtime Boston Globe employee have some grudge with the Times' top brass that we don't know about?
AIN'T IT FUNNY: The New York Post apparently decided to scrap that juvenile Funny-Cide-writes-a-daily-column idea (only running it once, the day before the race). However, all the fake columns in the world weren't enough to give the gelding a victory, as Funny Cide lost the Belmont Stakes Saturday to Empire Maker.
Now I don't pretend to be some kind of horseracing expert, but if I were the other owners, trainers, and jockeys, I would've let Funny Cide win. Why not? With horseracing essentially a dying sport, wouldn't the one thing that could cure it (a triple-crown winner) be more in the interest of everybody than winning themselves?
As it stands now, there still has yet to be a triple crown winner in my lifetime- the last, Affirmed in 1978, won the Belmont about six weeks before I was born.
94 STRIKE!: As pointed out by Aaron Gleeman, the Twins' magic number for clinching the American League Central is now 94. Yes, any combination of Twins wins and Chicago White Sox losses totalling 94 between now and the end of the season equals another trip to the playoffs for the Twinkies...
ONE MORE RAINES NOTE: When the Raines-is-out story first broke last Thursday, the first article posted on the Times web site (even before the Times' account) was the AP's version. I was shocked at the time to see that the author of the AP story was a young woman who had been an acquaintence of mine when I lived in Boston, she a student at Tufts while I was at Brandeis.
How ironic: the executive editor of the world's most important newspaper is brought down largely by the actions of a 26-year-old reporter, and when he steps down the AP account is written by a 24-year-old reporter- albeit one much smarter, more ethical, and better-looking than Jayson Blair.
WHAT IF THEY GAVE A CHAMPIONSHIP AND NOBODY CAME?: Worthwhile cover story in USA Today Friday (a rarity, I know) on why people in New Jersey just can't seem to bring themselves to give a shit about the Nets or Devils. I see their point- I spent the whole weekend in New Jersey and I can't recall seeing a single person in a Nets or Devils jersey- could you imagine the furor that would be going on in New York right now if both the Knicks and Rangers were going for championships? Something like excitement of the Subway Series, I bet.
It goes to show just how ridiculous the idea is of having suburban competitors to large-market, metropolitan teams. If people can't get excited about the prospect of a championship (let alone two the same year), then why even bother?
FILM CRITIC QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "['Wrong Turn' is] a blood-simple backwoods splatterfest that makes shameless use of the same old antirural moonshine Hollywood's been bootlegging for decades. Like we need to be reminded: Between the cannablistic 'mountain men' who stalk tasty-looking twentysomethings and the mono-toothed gas-pump cracker whose intentionally vague directions send unsuspecting NAW-thun-nuhs into peril, the only things missing are banjo riffs and anal rape." -Scott Brown, Entertainment Weekly. But on the bright side, Eliza Dushku's in it...
WHEN IT RAINES...: Sullivan is celebrating the downfall of his arch-nemesis with acronyms for "Howell Raines": so far he's got "Ran Whole Lies" and "He's Orwellian"- the latter of which I would've expected the Orwell-obsessed Andy to have come up with months, if not years ago.
I just can't believe that no one yet has come up with the obvious Allen Ginsburg parody, "Howell":
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by plagiarism, fabrication, stark raving naked through the newsroom, etc. etc.
UPDATE: Damn- Joe Klein got there first. But over a year ago, and not in reference to Blair...
MUCH ADO ABOUT WMDs: Having blogged endlessly about the subject before and during the war in Iraq, I suppose it would be wrong for me to ignore what’s going on there now.
No, they have not yet found weapons of mass destruction. And yes, that does matter- anyone who tells you otherwise is either a mindless Bush apologist, an idiot, or both. But repeat after me: if no WMDs are ever found, it proves that the Bush rationale for the war was wrong. It does NOT, however, prove that the war itself was wrong.
Thomas Friedman’s final Raines-era column, published Wednesday, articulated this point perfectly: If (and it’s a big if) no weapons are ever found in Iraq, yes it will be a huge embarrassment to the Bush Administration and pretty much all American foreign policy endeavors for the foreseeable future. But it doesn't undo the other results of the war: mainly, that millions of Iraqis have been freed, the possibility of a vibrant democracy in the Middle East has strengthened, and a foreseeable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has moved from "impossible" to merely "unlikely."
While the absence of weapons would seem at first glance to prove the war unjustified in retrospect, the presence of something else has more than justified it: mass graves. A lot of them. Of children. So in the end, it wasn’t that we fought an unjust war; we just fought it for the wrong (official) reasons.
Of the 60-something Tom Friedman columns I’ve read in the last two weeks, I’ve gotta put this one in the top ten.
CORK: THE OTHER WHITE GUY: It’s been two days since Sammy Sosa was caught using a corked bat, and it still appears that no one, in or out of the media, knows quite what to make of the story.
As usual with sports stories lately, PTI had the best take: Wilbon said he’s not the least bit surprised, having been taught from a young age that “bad things will always happen to the Cubs.” And Kornheiser wasn’t buying Sosa’s explanation, or the part about sending 77 of his bats to Major League Baseball to be X-rayed. TK was sure Sosa never used the bats MLB saw, and that Sammy’s real bats are presently “at the bottom of Lake Michigan.”
While fans in Chicago and at other ballparks continued to cheer Sosa like never before, certain baseball pundits predicted near-certain death for his image- among them ESPN’s odious Rob Dibble, who was about one-one-thousandth the ballplayer Sammy is. Meanwhile Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly, who somewhere along the way had the genius label bestowed upon him for reasons I’ve never quite understood, went on ESPN and made the ludicrous assertion that Corkgate may actually keep Sosa out of the Hall of Fame. Then again, Reilly’s probably still bitter that Sammy didn’t take him up on his offer to take an on-the-spot piss-test during last summer’s steroid scandal.
But the most embarrassing of all were the comments on “Outside the Lines” of Jose Canseco, who’s really starting to rival Mike Tyson and Richard Williams on the “muttering to himself in a subway car” scale. This paranoid wackjob and admitted steroid abuser claimed that the media is racist for concentrating on the Sosa story, as though it weren’t newsworthy that one of baseball’s most prominent players had been caught red-handed cheating in a game. Canseco even said that “this would never happen… to Mark McGwire,” in one sentence both selling out his longtime teammate and forgetting that “this” did happen to McGwire during that Andro non-scandal in ’98.
I think blogger Jay Caruso has the last word on Canseco here:
Oh shut up you non-fielding allowing a home run off the top of your head bar brawling bitch.
UPDATE: Sosa has been suspended eight games for the incident. It’s fair- and almost certain to be reduced to five or six by a player-friendly arbitrator.
MARTHA! MARTHA! MARTHA!: In other news, the roaring ‘90s ended once again on Wednesday afternoon when Martha Stewart was indicted on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, as was her former Merrill Lynch broker Peter Bacanovic (Bacanovic’s assistant Douglas Faneuil, former next-door neighbor of my friend Evan, managed to escape indictment by agreeing to testify against the domestic diva/doyenne.)
Now I’m not going to pretend that I know the case well enough to determine her innocence or guilt. But I do know that Martha’s primary defense, “how can you indict me and not indict Ken Lay?”, is really no defense at all. It’s not an either/or: every case is different, the US attorneys are different, and there’s a good chance it’ll take years to process all of the federal crimes committed in association with The Largest Bankruptcy in US History. And besides, by that rationale I could chop off someone’s head, and then use “how can you convict me if you didn’t convict OJ?” as my legal defense. Martha didn’t help herself either with this self-aggrandizing letter.
The completely insane but always entertaining James Cramer had a memorable rant on “Hardball” the other night, comparing Martha to Pete Rose: both were guilty as sin of relatively benign crimes, but were punished more severely than they would’ve been had they come clean from the start- and their lawyers inexplicably allowed them to stonewall and deny, deny deny (in Rose’s case, to this day). And the best financial journalist alive, Christopher Byron, who had the prescience to write a biography of Stewart a month before her troubles started, draws the OJ parallel as well.
Wait 'til this circus trial starts... it'll make Laci Peterson look like nothing.
COSMO.COM: Longtime Blacktable CraigsList re-capper Lindsay Robertson’s new blog, Lindsayism, gets off to a roaring start with a savage shot at Cosmopolitan and other women’s magazines: “895 Ways To Change So Someone (Rich) Will Marry You.” (scroll down). It somehow involves taking all the headlines and changing “him,” “he,” and “your man” to “Carrot Top.”
SCANDAL!: Just in the last few years I have…
-Been to a strip club.
-Drank beer at parties with college girls, and
-Won my NCAA basketball tournament pool.
Guess that means I can never coach a Division I athletic team…
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: The A-List, a sort of master list of gossip about every celebrity. Whoever put it together is a braver man (or woman) than I.
Biggest surprises: Kirstie Alley has a torture chamber in her house, Mary Chapin Carpenter is an "arrogant, self-centered bitch," Mel Gibson has "the world's worst case of B.O.," Janet Reno is a "part-time dominatrix," and Louie Anderson is "gay."
SAV-AGE OF CONSENT: According to a press release, bloviating right-wing radio talker Michael Savage "soared to #1 [in] Arbitron ratings among adults 12+ during afternoon drivetime in San Francisco."
Adults 12+? If Savage considers 12 year-olds to be adults for the purpose of puffing up his radio numbers, I'm not sure I want to know whether he considers them adults in other contexts...
NO MORE LACI: I just watched the replay of tonight's episode of Greta Van Susteran's Fox News show, and despite all the major news stories going on right now (the WMD search, Hillary's book, the Raines resignation, the Martha indictment, etc.), Greta's show was devoted singularly to one topic: the Laci Peterson case. That today was a relatively news-free day in the case didn't seem to matter; ever since the war in Iraq ended all of the cable news channels have pretty much been all-Laci, all the time, covering the everyday minutae of the case the way they once did the war, Chandra Levy, and the Florida recount.
Why this case is any more important or newsworthy than any of the other thousands of murders in the last year is something I stopped trying to understand a long time ago (I'm not normally one for race-based conspiracy theories, but I would imagine the Laci hysteria has something to do with the belief that the death of an attractive white woman is a much greater tragedy than that of anyone else).
In the meantime, I'm sick to death of hearing about this case. I'm sick of Geraldo talking about it on every show every day. I'm sick of that big-haired monster, Gloria Allred, who's somehow allowed to be a TV talking head while simultaneously representing Scott Peterson's Paula Jones-lookalike mistress. I'm sick of whole news segments devoted to changes in Scott Peterson's hairstyle. And most of all, I'm sick of much more important news stories getting shunted aside in favor of this very run-of-the-mill murder case. One day last week half of an episode of the usually-serious "Hardball" (the first half) was devoted to the Peterson case; it's only a matter of time before Keith Olbermann gets sick of the demands from his Laci-obsessed bosses, and stalks off the set of "Countdown."
The news today was that the judge in the case may impose a gag order on all of the participants. Good! But why stop there? How's about we slap a muzzle on Geraldo, O'Reilly, Larry King, Aaron Brown, and everyone else whose coverage-to-actual-news ratio has been so embarrassingly high in regards to the case these past three months?
VERY SUPERSTITIOUS, THE WRITING'S ON THE WALL: At about 11:00 EDT tonight, a headline was posted to ESPN.com, stating that St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Woody Williams had a no-hitter going after 7 innings. Well that jinxed him, because about two minutes later Williams gave up a single to Orlando Hudson, foiling his bid for the first interleague no-hitter since David Cone's perfect game against the Expos in 1999.
True, most baseball superstitions are stupid, but this one's legit: you don't ever acknowledge that your pitcher is working on a no-hitter.
FILM CRITIC QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and [Vincent Gallo] will still be the director of 'The Brown Bunny.'" -Roger Ebert, firing the latest salvo in his bizarre feud with director Gallo, whose "Brown Bunny" was proclaimed by Ebert the worst movie ever screened in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. Gallo responded the way most people do when Ebert proclaims that he "hated hated hated" their movie- he called the noted critic fat. Though I guess if Ebert decides to pan Michael Moore's next film, Moore won't have that recourse.
CORRECTION: In yesterday's review of the season premiere of "The Real World:Paris," (cross-posted here and to BlogCritics), I inadvertently quoted a friend of cast member Leah, heard over the phone, as advising Leah that she should "bit his butt." Upon further review of the episode, the quote should instead have been attributed to Leah's mother.
I profusely apologize for this embarrassing error, and sincerely hope that it hasn't competely destroyed my credibility as both a blogger and a journalist. Does this mean I can never write for the New York Times?
KAUS RULES: Here's something I'll be checking regularly from now on:
HEY, MUST BE THE 'MONEY': My friend, fellow blogger and high school classmate, Jeremy Wahlman, recently went to a book signing hosted by the author of the critically acclaimed new baseball book "Moneyball." Now if you're a regular watcher of ESPN's Sunday night baseball telecasts, or an avid reader of the baseball chat raps on ESPN.com, you're probably thinking right now, "cool! Jeremy met Billy Beane!"
That's because Hall of Famer and ESPN color commentator Joe Morgan has for some reason been under the false impression for the past few weeks that Beane (the general manager of the Oakland A's) is in fact the author of "Moneyball"- and Morgan has seen it fit not only to repeat that incorrect fact everywhere he's gone- but he's also decided to rip Beane at every turn for writing the book that he didn't write.
Anyway, the actual author of "Moneyball" is Michael Lewis (who wrote the book about Beane), and that's who Jeremy met the other night- and Jeremy also had the distinction of being the first person on Lewis' nationwide book tour to mention Morgan's nonsensical bloviating to Lewis- though I would imagine Beane probably heard about it first. And even better, Jeremy was linked to yesterday by the other major pro-"Moneyball"/anti-Morgan blogger, Aaron Gleeman, and had a record hit day.
Billy Beane is not to be confused with Billy Bean, another journeyman outfielder from the late '80s/early 90's, and the first openly gay former major league baseball player. In fact, Billy Bean himself has a new book out, one that he did in fact co-write- so maybe that's what's got Morgan so confused .
AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT?: At risk of getting delinked from various places and knocking my Ecosystem ranking down even further, I feel compelled in the interest of accuracy to mention that I am newly on the blogrolls of two different blogs (this one and this one) under the subheading "Republican Bloggers"- even though I am now, and always have been, a registered Democrat.
I generally pride myself on making any sort of pigeonholing of my politics impossible from a cursory glance at my blog (or, for that matter, my bookshelf), so I'm not insulted or anything; in fact, I'm flattered to have been included. But a re-categorization may be in order.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF GEEK: Yet another legend of the wrestling world has passed on, as longtime WWF manager "Classy" Freddy Blassie died Monday at the age of 85.
Associated with the World Wrestling Federation for nearly a half-century, Blassie got his start playing an in-ring villain in the '50s and '60s, and later became a manager, associated with Hulk Hogan when the Hulkster first invaded the WWF in the late '70s. Blassie is perhaps best known for coining the phrase "Pencil-Necked Geeks," and also for appearing with Andy Kaufman in the 1983 comedy "My Breakfast With Blassie." As a result of the latter, Blassie is immortalized in the lyric "Mr. Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess" in the R.E.M. song "Man on the Moon."
After retiring at some point in the '80s, Blassie remained with the WWF/WWE in various capacities; Blassie's WWE-published autobiography, "Listen, You Pencil-Necked Geeks," was released mere weeks prior to his passing.
Blassie's death was announced by Jim Ross during Monday's episode of "RAW" on TNN.
GREAT BLOG NAMES, CONT'D: I already told you about the "My Prerogative"-derived "I Made This Money You Didn't Right Ted;" Now I hear for the first time of "The Minor Fall, The Major Lift," with a name taken from the Leonard Cohen-as-covered-by-Jeff Buckley masterpiece "Hallelujah." Those are both right up there with Amish Tech Support.
ONE STUPID IDEA BEGATS ANOTHER:
Stupid Idea: TNN announces it will change its name to "Spike TV."
Another: Spike Lee sues Viacom, alleging that most people hearing of "Spike TV" assume that Lee is involved, when he is not.
POP THE CORK: It what has the potential to become a huge, HUGE story, Sammy Sosa was ejected in the first inning of the Cubs' interleague game tonight against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after it was discovered that the superstar was using a corked bat.
Now it's possible that Sosa is telling the truth, that he had mistakenly used a batting practice bat in a game, and that he had no intention of cheating. But what if he's not? Does this tarnish the 505 home runs he's hit in his career? The 66 he hit during his famed battle with Mark McGwire in 1998? McGwire came under fire at the time for using the stimulant Androstenedione- but that drug is neither illegal nor banned by baseball- corking clearly is. It's been a while since we've heard anything about players corking bats (and even longer since we've heard of pitchers scuffing the ball- whatever happened to the Joe Niekro Method?), but now expect it to come to the forefront again- this seriously could be a scandal that makes last season's steroid panic look like nothing.
A CONSERVATIVE WHO'S BEEN MUGGED: I've made it very clear in this space that I think New York Post columnist and world-class alkie Steve Dunleavy is an embarrassment, even by the Post's comparatively low standards. Whether it's his awful prose, his ridiculous moral judgments (mob rats are scum, but oath-abiding mobsters are paragons of virtue), or his defense of indefensible figures like Michael Skakel and the Louima and Diallo cops, one could make a pretty strong case for Dunleavy as the worst columnist in New York, if not the whole country.
Thus, there was an item Monday in the Daily News gossip pages that I couldn't help but laugh at: apparently the other night, after the 65-year-old Dunleavy got stinkin' drunk as usual, he made like one of those homeless people he's always railing against in his column and fell asleep on a bench. Problem was, the bench was right on Sixth Avenue, and at 3:15 AM two men jumped the sleeping columnist, relieving him of $70 before Dunleavy kicked one of them; both were arrested. Then, reports the NYDN, Dunleavy returned to the Post's newsroom (which is about a block away from where the mugging occurred), and promptly vomited near the metropolitan editor's desk.
The Daily News account doesn't make clear whether Dunleavy went home first and the vomiting happened the following morning, or if he went straight from the mugging to the office in the middle of the night. At any rate, unlike most people (who would've been suspended or fired if they showed up drunk to the office and vomited near their boss' desk) Dunleavy was not disciplined in any way, and his column ran as scheduled the past two days.
Here's Dunleavy's own account of the mugging where, to his credit, he at least takes responsibility.
AMERICANS IN PARIS: The 13th season of the reality show that started it all, MTV's "The Real World," set in Paris, began tonight- and I crossed the picket line of the anti-France boycott in order to watch it (this post, I promise, will be completely free of lame French/Freedom puns). The premiere episode may not have lived up to the high bar set by last year's hedonistic Las Vegas cast (in which two cast members had sex in the first episode, and then had a threesome with a third the following week), but still indicated that the season will be a fascinating one.
In the sort of stunt-casting that would be too laughable to work if this were fiction, the alpha-male character is actually named "Ace." Ace almost immediately attracted the attention of all three females, who nevertheless prostrated themselves even more quickly at the feet of the lone gay male cast member, Simon. Meanwhile, we've got the quintessential sexy Midwestern virgin, Mallory (shades of Julie the Mormon), a former Iowa State soccer player who has a self-proclaimed penchant for getting drunk and making out with strangers at parties- just like that other notorious former ISU athletic figure, Larry Eustachy. Cast member Adam- who we hear is the son of a former member of the Commodores, though presumably not Lionel Richie- at first seemed sincerely lovestruck at the sight of Mallory, before revealing himself by episode's end as at best an insensitive jerk, and at worst a sociopath. The first thing I noticed about Adam is that he shares a hairdo with Billy from "Six Feet Under"; apparently he's got Billy's abject insanity down as well.
But the most memorable moment of the premiere unquestionably involved Leah, the blond Long Islander who declared immediately her desire to "hook up" with the attached Ace. She started by teasingly (and drunkenly) announcing that she'd like to "bite [his] butt." Later, in the obligatory group hot tub scene, Leah did exactly that- diving underwater and literally biting Ace's derriere. But the clincher came a few minutes later, as she was on the phone lamenting to a friend that she couldn't seem to get Ace to notice her. The friend's advice? You guessed it: "You should bite his butt!" I guess that means butt-biting is actually considered normal, flirtateous behavior in Glen Cove, LI-that this was the first suggestion from Leah's friend still has me practically on the floor five hours later.
I found the Steven/Brynn/Trashelle Las Vegas season last year less than enjoyable, simply because the cast was so loathsome it was hard to identify with any of them, with the singular exception of put-upon country bumpkin Frank. This year's cast looks much more promising, and even though I can't stomach most reality TV, "Real World" will likely be the one show I watch regularly throughout the summer. Even if it is French...
EISEN SAYS BOO-YA!: Longtime ESPN anchor Rich Eisen has departed the network, apparently in a dispute over his desire to appear more often on network shows other than SportsCenter. Because really, sitting next to Stuart Scott nearly every night for the past seven years must've done a number on Eisen's hearing; perhaps leaving is for his own good.
I'm not shedding any tears for Rich though- he's getting married this weekend, to former Fox Sports reporter Suzy Schuster.
BONUS BABY: When Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew signed with the Washington Senators at the age of 18 in 1954, he was what was known as a "Bonus Baby"- a young kid who according to baseball rules at the time had to remain on the major league roster for the entire season. The Bonus Baby rule is long gone, however, as baseball is the only sport now in which players must prove themselves at the major-league level in order to make the really big bucks.
If only we could say the same about hoops... in an age in which LeBron James can sign a $90 million shoe contract two weeks before graduating from high school, and soccer star Freddy Adu celebrates his 14th birthday by signing for millions with Nike, I suppose it was only a matter of time before basketball saw a bonus baby who was an actual baby.
Now we have Mark Walker. A Missouri native and lifelong basketball enthusiast, Walker will soon be appearing in a series of ads for Reebok in which he shoots baskets in his driveway and is advertised as "the next Michael Jordan." And he's got some time to refine his game in order to reach that high level- Mark Walker is three years old.
Probably the youngest athlete ever to sign away his amateur athletic eligibility (presumably Walker, or his mother, has hired an agent as well), Walker can supposedly make 18 consecutive free throws in front of the cameras. Even worse, the commercial is meant to encourage other underage (as in, 15 years underage) children to embrace their inner Jordan and crave the limelight.
I am the only one who realizes just how vile this is? People worry about whether LeBron James, who is 18, can handle the pressures of the limelight. Mark Walker is 3. Do you think he had any choice in the matter? Could he have told his mother not to embark on this self-aggrandizing, money-grubbing crusade even if he'd wanted to? We also learn that Walker will soon make an appearance on "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." Three-year-olds shouldn't even be allowed to watch that show, let alone appear on it. And even worse, how can they expect Walker to know who Michael Jordan is? Jordan won his last championship in '98. Walker was born in 2000.
Never mind Nike and their unsavory sweatshop record. It's the Reebok execs who are going to hell first.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The recipe for [Michael Jackson's] ills is no mystery: Combine psychological trauma brought on by an allegedly Svengali-like father, a childhood denied, vast wealth early in life, and an insatiable ego; surround with yes-men and enablers; shake well, and voilŕ: the mutation of Jackson from an immensely talented, spunky, sharp young black man to a perpetually childlike, wan, genderless, semi-Caucasoid, delusional baby-dangler, who spends money like tap water and covers his children’s faces with doilies and dishrags." -BlogCritics head honcho Eric Olsen, writing for MSNBC.com.
THE STRIB GETS SMART: According to Romenesko, the Star Tribune is strongly considering dumping its laughable, unjournalistic policy of refusing to publish Native American sports team names. Because when the Twins finish 20 games ahead of the Cleveland "Baseball Team" Indians this year, I want to be able to read about it.
The piece also quotes Strib editor Anders Gyllenhaal. Is Anders related to Jake and Maggie? Does that make him the It Boy? How would you like to be his Secretary?
"HOW'S LIFE? GOOD. HOW'S DEATH?:" What a brilliant, note-perfect season finale Sunday for "Six Feet Under," capping off a very different but nonetheless very strong season for the HBO show. (Spoilers!)
Each character in the Fisher family when through a very believable, very human character arc throughout the season: Nate (Peter Krause) nearly died in the first episode, going through a surrealistic hall of mirrors that will go down in history as among the show's most memorable sequences. Falling into an unhappy, clearly mismatched marriage with Lisa (Lili Taylor), Nate struggled throughout the season to rediscover his identity- even moreso after Lisa disappeared and later turned out to be dead. His brother David (Michael C. Hall) continued in perhaps the most richly drawn gay relationship in television history, with Keith (Mathew St. Patrick)- one that led to the eternal-classic Gay Paintball War sequence in the eighth episode. Claire (Lauren Ambrose) continued to grow as a character (and Ambrose as an actress), attending art school, dating tortured bisexual artist Russell (Ben Foster), eventually having an abortion, and taking a "walk through heaven" in the finale. And matriarch Ruth (Emmy shoo-in Frances Conroy) grew perhaps most of all: first sharing time with guest star Kathy Bates, then engaging in a bizarre "Harold & Maude"-like near-affair with intern Arthur (Rainn Wilson), and eventually meeting and marrying George (James Cromwell).
The finale brought all of these elements to a roaring crescendo- also throwing in a guest appearance by the always-welcome Richard Jenkins as the family's deceased patriarch- the image of the always-stoic Mr. Fisher crying in the corner near the end of the finale was among the season's most heartbreaking images. And since the show's primary couple for the first two seasons, Nate and Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) was split for the entire season, it only made sense that the season ended with them in the same room.
Great as they are, HBO's shows (especially "The Sopranos") have been in the unfortunate habit of huge letdowns in their season finales the last few years. Not this time- Sunday's episode was enough "Six Feet Under" to keep its fans happy for a long time- especially considering the show is not scheduled to return until the summer of 2004.
Here's Salon's review, and Slate's, referring to Lisa as the show's "Dark Hippie-Villain."
GREAT WHITE HYPE: There's a cover story in the Village Voice this week decrying "The Foreign Invasion of the American Game." A jingoistic response to the rise of Ichiro Suzuki and the resulting influx of Japanese and other foreign players in baseball? Of course not- this is the Voice. The piece, by Dan McGraw, is in fact an attack on the recent globalization of basketball, as in recent years dozens of foreign (i.e. European, i.e. white) players have come to play professionally in the United States- which McGraw slams not-so-subtly as a conspiracy by the NBA and its corporate partners to make the league more white.
Like a growing percentage of Voice material, McGraw's piece is at once thought-provoking and way, way off. It's the second such cockamamie exercise in the alternative paper of record this month, after Richard Goldstein's soon-to-be-legendary meditation on President Bush's package. At the crux of McGraw's argument is the observation that basketball as historically played in America is really two different sports- the finesse-oriented White Game and the power-driven Black Game. In the '70s and '80s, the Black Game overtook the White Game (Larry Bird notwithstanding), and when the sport began to globalize in the '90s it was the "black" style that was exported to foreign countries- therefore, Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic, and all the other European stars learned from watching Jordan, Magic, and the rest. As a result, according to Maxwell, the white European players currently in the league are playing the "black" way, blurring longstanding cultural distinctions and taking away yet another innovation from black America (the author even likens Nowitzki to Elvis in this manner).
Its oversimplification and racial stereotyping aside, I don't find this line of argument as offensive and wrongheaded as I do the part in which McGraw alleges that rather than creating a meritocracy that has dramatically improved the overall quality of play in the league the last few years, the arrival of foreign-born players may in fact be a conspiracy by the league, the mostly white owners, and the league's corporate sponsors to make the league whiter. McGraw uses as evidence the goofy statistic that in 1995 the league was 82% black, whereas 8 years later the figure is all the way down to 78%. (Huh? Multiply 29 teams by 12 players, that's 348 roster spots in the league. Meaning there are 14 fewer black players in the league than there were eight years ago. Not that huge a number- and don't forget, there are also nearly twice as many black coaches now as then.)
But there's an even bigger reason to doubt McGraw's grand conspiracy theory- he alleges that the white players have essentially been brought in to make white audiences more comfortable with the game- after all, the average fan who can afford season tickets or a luxury box is rich, and would presumably prefer to spend his time and money in the company of a squeeky-clean white guy such as Nowitzki or Steve Nash, rather than the tatooed, cornrowed, and rap-sheeted Allen Iverson. But by that rationale, wouldn't the NBA attract a larger, more well-heeled audience if they went back to all-white rosters?
No, in fact, in that case they'd probably all go bankrupt. McGraw virtually ignores the fact that white basketball players not named Larry Bird are the objects of derision and vitriol pretty much everywhere they go. Anyone who followed the Christian Laettner Era in Minnesota can testify to that.
McGraw also says that the NBA's white-owned corporate partners prefer the influx of white Europeans as well. In fact, I would argue the opposite: whether selling tickets, jerseys, or endorsed products, the league and its partners are actually done a disservice by the presence of foreign-born players, many of whom speak heavily accented English (or no English at all), and therefore don't have the same endorsement value as those who who can speak to the American fanbase in their own language. Yao Ming, after all, needed the assistance of Mini-Me to make a successful commercial. And if this nefarious, make-the-NBA-more-white conspiracy really did exist, don't you think the league would be trying their darndest to groom at least a couple of American-born, English-speaking, white superstars? Now that John Stockton has retired, there isn't such an individual probably among the NBA's top 75 players. (Though several top stars, including Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, and Doug Christie, are biracial.)
After the NBA overexpanded in the '90s, talent was diluted to the point where the level of play in the league dropped significantly. Just as the influx of Russians, Swedes, Finns, and Czechs helped fill the NHL's post-expansion talent vacuum in the mid-'80s, the NBA's quality has improved by drawing from a pool of talent not just nationwide, but worldwide. The most prominent player to emerge from that influx, Yao Ming, is not himself white; the international player of most significance in the upcoming NBA Finals (no, not Dikembe) is Tony Parker, the French-born son of an African-American father. Like it or not, the NBA is now a multicultural, international league- combining the best players of every race and every basetball-playing culture on the planet. If Dan McGraw doesn't like that he doesn't have to watch, but he can rest assured: there's not a true basketball fan alive whose goal is fewer black players in the game.