Tuesday, December 31, 2002

A HALL-OF-FAMER IN EVERY SENSE: Thirty years ago today, baseball's Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to bring emergency relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The Miami Herald remembers his remarkable legacy here.
OKAY, ONE MORE: Actually, two. But when Packers QB Brett Favre disses Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio, I'm obligated to report it:
Favre could not tell a lie - he wanted to boo and hiss at the newly released live-action remake of the animated Disney classic "Pinocchio."

"It wasn't very good," Favre said. "It wasn't the 'Pinocchio' I remember."

He didn't get any argument from his wife, Deanna, and their young daughters, Brittany and Breleigh. This was one "Favre Family Night" that didn't live up to expectations.

"Halfway through, (13-year-old) Brittany had had enough," Brett recounted. "Now, we were waiting on (3-year-old) Breleigh, and, fortunately 10 minutes later, she had had enough. So, we didn't have to live through the whole thing."

Also, the Washington Post has finally gotten its crack at the wooden puppet, noting, among other things:
As an idea, Benigni's puppet is certainly the most insanely ill-conceived movie conceit in years. It's not a puppet! Do you hear what I'm saying, Mr. Oscar Winner? Are you understanding this? It's not a puppet. It's an adult male in jammies. Who could look at this and not think, ewww, creepy. What's with that guy? If you saw him in the theater, uh, wouldn't you get a little nervous? He's a 911 call to Vice waiting to happen.

Benigni grotesquely overestimates his charm as a movie illusionist. He certainly has nothing of the great Charlie Chaplin's weightless grace, he has none of Douglas Fairbanks's acrobatic wit, he's not even as compelling a physical presence as Val Kilmer in "Batman." He just looks stupid. I can't say this enough: This movie is about an adult male dressed in pink jammies.
"THAT'S HIM, RIGHT THERE." Meet Eddie Sheed Jr., Philadelphia Weekly's person of the year. An inspirational local hero.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

ADMIRATION: Saw Adaptation last night at the new Bridge "cinema de lux" theatre in University City -- which, in and of itself, merits comment at some point, but not now.

There is much to admire about Adaptation -- the inventiveness of the script, the performances, and just the sheer technical achievement of getting two Nicholas Cages into the same frame. This is a terrific concept for a movie -- a movie that both attacks and consciously adheres to the conventions of Hollywood filmmaking, showing why certain stories are both unadaptable to narrative filmmaking yet adapting this one just the same, decrying the inability of a movie to convey cinematically the sheer beauty of an orchid while nevertheless finding a way to celebrate it.

It is, on one level, a delicious mobius strip. But that's its problem as well -- I was so enraptured by the movie-within-and-above-the-movie that I was seeing that I was unable to connect on any emotional level with the characters within the movie. The whole enterprise left me cold. I just didn't care about what I was seeing, because I was too busy deconstructing its own self-deconstruction. I was anticipating its own moves even before the script called your attention to it -- the level of self-referentialism almost forbids you from making any other kind of attachment to the movie but a purely intellectual one.

Being John Malkovich, the last film by the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman duo, was also a colossal mindfuck, but it was one of a different sort: its discursions on the nature of identity had a depth and feeling to them that this movie didn't. You cared about the characters in that film, and you wanted to see how things ended up -- because, unlike Adaptation, the movie allowed you to lose yourself in the cinematic experience as opposed to making you self-conscious and feel complicit in the act of watching an artificial creation adapted, more-or-less, from a real-life book.

Adaptation shreds the wall between truth and fiction. It will likely make you question any movie you see from this point forward that it alleged to have a basis in reality, and will help you see the narrative conventions being used to make you care about the characters and give you the emotional reactions that a good movie does. Real life just isn't structured the way satisfying fiction or film is, which isn't to say that it's not interesting: of course it is, and the movie makes a big point of saying this. It recognizes the futility of just trying to make a nice movie about flowers, so instead it makes one about the futility of making a nice movie about flowers, only it does so by, well, I can't give away the third act. That's not fair. But I can say that its way of calling attention to itself puts the viewer on an impossible tightrope. Either you passively watch the movie oblivious to everything it's underlining in terms of its adherence to formal conventions, and enjoy it for the goofy, unexpected romp which follows; or you remain cognizant of all that and appreciate the movie, but never escape from the experience of knowing that You Are Watching A Movie.

I mean, gosh, it's all really interesting. It really is. I admired the heck out of what they were trying to do here. It just didn't work completely for me -- or, maybe, it did, and I responded in exactly the way it was intended. Who knows?

Would you like to know more? I can only commend to you Janet Malcolm's book The Crime of Sheila McGouch, about the impossibility of arranging real-life narratives to be courtroom-plausible. It's an absolute favorite of mine, and if you find this stuff interesting, start there.
PILING ON: I'm probably going to hell for this, a hell in which I'll have to watch this movie, but, okay, here's Part III:

Philadelphia Inquirer: The result is an epic turkey, in a league with this year's Swept Away, that must be seen to be believed. . . . Concentrating on the music instead of the dialogue gave me time to ruminate on why the gentle, rubber-faced comic felt compelled to play a puppet-boy who constantly lies and is constantly forgiven. Was his purpose in adapting this classic Italian tale to make a parable about the infantile behavior of moviemakers?

Newark Star-Ledger: Yes, Mommy, I know why "Pinocchio's" nose is growing. But why is he going bald? The beloved Roberto Benigni pushes his fortuna too far with a live-action adaptation likely to disperse his American following as quickly as "Life is Beautiful" recruited it. It's not pretty to see a grown man cry, and whimper and whine and simper, even if he's playing a madcap puppet idiotically described by everyone as resembling a little boy. And especially not a sallow, balding, desiccated fellow inching into late-middle age. . . . Maybe there's an unreported Italian tradition of employing long-in-the-tooth comedians as Pinocchio, akin to casting small, dynamic women as Peter Pan. If there is no such tradition, this movie won't start one.

San Francisco Chronicle: "Pinocchio" is punishment for the moviegoer. Given that Miramax made a killing off Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful," the studio's dumping of "Pinocchio" may seem shabby and ungrateful. After seeing the movie, however, its decision is clearly the kindest possible move, short of shelving the movie altogether.

In the interest of equal time, if anyone finds a favorable review, please know that I will run it. I owe Benigni that much.

Friday, December 27, 2002

And then nothing turned itself inside-out: Tonight on Larry King Live -- Larry King and James Lipton, host of Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio, compete in the finals of the Ass-Kisser Of The Year tournament. 2001's winner, Vanity Fair's Dominick Dunne, will be on hand to award the trophy.

edited to add: Here's the transcript. In addition to kissing each other's asses, look at the Double Smoochy they put on Robin Williams here:

KING: Back to Robin Williams. There are critics -- and I guess you read them -- who seem to be angry at him for doing movies, like, where he plays the good doctor or the sad movie or the prison camp in the Holocaust. Do you criticize him for doing that? Sentimental...

LIPTON: I criticize those critics. The reason being that they're doing one of the worst things that ever can be done to an actor, which is to say, Look, you do what we like you to do or else. Cary Grant spent an entire career being light-hearted and suscient and a wonderful leading man. He tried once in his career to do a serious part and they excoriated him and he never went back to it the rest of his career.

KING: Brando told me the best ones -- actors are risk takers. They will take the shot.

LIPTON: Absolutely.

KING: Right?

MORE ON PINOCCHIO: As promised. No, it doesn't get any better:
Associated Press: Apparently unhappy with his efforts to dub his character into English with his own voice, Benigni fired himself at the last minute and hired American actor Breckin Meyer, whose voice work as Pinocchio takes the form of a nattering, whiny, supremely annoying monologue. He talks to himself frequently, but even when he's talking to someone else he sounds like he's the only one in the room.

Why did Benigni think this was a good idea? Beyond that, why did he think anything about his deadly live-action version of "Pinocchio" was a good idea? Using the creative freedom afforded to him by "Life is Beautiful," Benigni has massacred a children's classic

Baltimore Sun: For one thing, there's Benigni in the title role. It is very hard to accept as a child a man of 50 who does nothing to hide his receding hairline or his height. It's also tough to accept him as a puppet: There is nothing especially puppetlike in his appearance or in the way he moves. Couldn't Benigni, a gifted clown elsewhere, at least have drawn a couple of lines down the sides of his mouth to indicate a hinge? Or something?

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Here's a simple rule for Oscar-winning actors: If you're going to make yourself look like a complete idiot for a movie, you should at least get a few laughs for your trouble. Roberto Benigni, in his little clown's pajamas and his little cone hat, certainly looks like an idiot in his new live-action version of Pinocchio. He does not, however, get any laughs.

The Globe And Mail: [A] Pinocchio with 5-o'clock shadow and tufts of arm hair poking out from under the sleeves of his puppet costume [] borders on creepy.... For grownup Canadian viewers who prefer watching their foreign films with subtitles, the dubbed version of Pinocchio also presents the annoying distraction of using well-known voices, namely, Glenn Close (the Blue Fairy), Regis Philbin (the Ringmaster) and John Cleese (the Cricket). It was hilarious hearing Cleese's voice as a gorilla in Disney's live-action comedy George of the Jungle, but it is decidedly odd -- and not in an amusing Monty Python way -- hearing his familiar British cadence emanating from a balding Italian actor with antennae on his head.

If there's more, I'll keep 'em coming.
CORRECTION: A reader points out that Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia. Also, Missouri, home of Harry Truman, kinda-sorta-seceded -- but not really, and I don't really see Missouri -- or Truman -- as Southern. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

GEORGE ALLEN, HERE'S YOUR SISTER SOULJAH MOMENT: The Sons of Confederate Veterans have announced their opposition to a statue of Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad to be dedicated in April 2003 at the Civil War Vistors Center in Richmond, VA. Lincoln and his son had visited the city days before the war's end, and the Richmond-based United States Historical Society felt it was worth commemorating.

According to the AP dispatch, "The Sons of Confederate Veterans view the Lincoln statue as "a slap in the face of a lot of brave men and women who went through four years of unbelievable hell fighting an invasion of Virginia led by President Lincoln," Brag Bowling, the SCV Virginia commander, said Thursday."

Or, if you look at SouthernCaucus.org, home of the Dixie Daily News, we see a link to the news item, with the description: "A Statue of Lincoln To Be Placed in Richmond - How disgusting and maybe next we will have one of Sherman in Atlanta or of Hitler in Tel Aviv. We urge Southerners to organize, e-mail the sponsors to stop this heritage and cultural outrage!" Or, via the same website, this cartoon for more on what they think about Lincoln.

Why all the outrage? According to Civil War scholar Edward C. Smith, director of the American Studies program at American University, "To the best of my knowledge there is no public statuary that commemorates Lincoln anywhere in the South. Therefore, the only image that Southerners see of Lincoln is on our national currency: the one cent penny and the five dollar bill."

Smith may have inadvertantly hit the nail on the head two years ago in a speech supporting the concept of a Lincoln statue in Richmond:
At some point in time, and it still may be too soon, a sculptured statue of Lincoln should be erected in Richmond. If that should ever happen, the war would finally be over.

For most of us, of course, the war ended in April 1865. And if there are still people walking around claiming that it's not really over -- not after Reconstruction, not after Brown v. Board of Education, not after the civil rights movement and the laws passed in the 1960s, not after Lyndon Johnson (the first Southerner elected President since Zachary Taylor in 1848) spearheaded the passage of those laws from the Senate and the Presidency, not even after South Carolina's multiracial Hootie and the Blowfish won the 1996 Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance (Duo or Group) . . . well, I don't know that a statue's going to make everyone all hunky and dory all of a sudden, but it's a necessary start. It will be interesting to see how the South's conservative politicians line up on this issue, whether pro-statue, against, or, as I'd expect, silent.

The current UPI article has a bit more on Smith and this controversy.
SHOWGIRLS? IS IT THAT BAD? Fans of this website (yes, all three of you) know that I'm a big fan of bad reviews. Well, god bless Roberto Benigni, because his Pinocchio was quietly dropped into theaters yesterday, and the reviews are trickling in:
The New York Times: The voice-overs [ ] are so sloppy you might feel as if you're watching a 1978 Hong Kong action picture: the dubbed mouths of the Italian cast are probably still moving an hour after the film is over... I guess Geppetto doesn't get out much, because his idea of a child is a 40-ish man with a receding hairline, pancake makeup and 5 o'clock shadow: the Pinocchio he fashions is Mr. Benigni. . . . a picture that is mostly a desert of strangeness, a movie so bad that it quickly enters the pantheon of wreckage that includes "Battlefield Earth" and "Showgirls."

Mr. Benigni's decision [to play Pinocchio] makes this "Pinocchio" as believable as Diana Ross playing Dorothy in "The Wiz" or Matthew McConaughey portraying a college graduate in "Contact".

New York Observer: This gluttonous overdose of whimsy cries out for animation, but when the nursery-book action is played out by real people in tacky costumes from a Macy’s parade, it loses its magic fast. It’s unusual to see so many people making fools of themselves at the same time. Lethal for kids and an unspeakable insult to adults, this unreleasable fiasco is a torture for all.

Slant Magazine: It's like watching an ass put on a blue suit--there's still an ass underneath.

As more reviews come, I'll try to post them here.
ABOUT ABOUT SCHMIDT: Perhaps they should have called the movie About Jack, because, really, that's the central dynamic of the movie.

Yes, there's the plot of the movie (Jack Nicholson plays a retired, widowed insurance executive from Omaha whose life has been a disappointment, and by the end of the movie he realizes this), but what this movie is really about is Nicholson's efforts to not be like Jack Nicholson, Movie Star. We see his Warren Schmidt suffering through things that would ordinarily make The Jack We Know And Love snarl, glare and give a pouty, sarcastic, do-you-know-who-you're-f*cking-with speech -- but instead, he is pitiable, morose, unsure of himself. As a viewer, you're caught up in this tremendous amount of tension: will Jack ever be Jack? Will he finally break free and tell people what he really thinks and wants? Will he even realize what that is?

It's a truly memorable, interesting performance. But what's bothersome about the movie was its tone: there's a level of contempt for these working-class Midwest people -- especially Schmidt's wife -- that's really off-putting. Just too many cheap laughs that the filmmakers were trying to score off some tacky, but basically decent people.

But, look: the performances are all great -- Hope Davis is engaging as Schmidt's daughter; Kathy Bates does a lot with a small part that required her to be braver than you might expect, and anytime you get to see ordinarily hunky Dermot Mulroney look like this, well, that's entertainment.

About Schmidt isn't a great movie, but it's a good and interesting one. It's certainly entertaining -- and to the extent the whole movie might just be a set-up for the money shot at the end, well, it's a hell of a money shot, and the emotions there are well-earned. Go see it.
PAGING KIM BASINGER: The "entire rustic town" of Bridgeville, CA is now for sale via EBay.

Read more about it here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

AND THAT MODEL PAULINA SOMEBODY: Steve Martin has some wishes for you this holiday season:
If I had one wish that I could wish this holiday season, it would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.

If I had two wishes that I could wish for this holiday season, the first would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing in the spirit of harmony and peace . . . and the second would be for $30 million a month to be given to me, tax-free in a Swiss bank account.

You know, if I had three wishes that I could make this holiday season, first, of course, would be for all the children to get together and sing . . . the second would be for the $30 million every month to me . . . and the third would be for all encompassing power over every living being thing in the entire universe.. . . .

You'll have to click here to read wishes number four and five. Or, if you like, go here and listen to Mr. Martin tell you himself.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

"IT JUST DIDN'T SEEM NECESSARY TO SAY, 'GEE, WE'D LIKE TO RECONCILE YOUR CHECKBOOK.' " Accounting fraud and financial shenanigans: it's not just for global megacorps anymore.

We've got a growing scandal at Philadelphia's Weaver's Way co-op grocery, currently undergoing a financial crisis after officials showed up at a construction loan closing only to find out that the money for the closing wasn't in the co-op's bank accounts. About $100,000 was believed missing.

Did an unscrupulous executive abscond simply with the money? Not exactly. It's worse.

As a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article put it, "The store operated essentially under a belief in the inherent goodness of mankind since it opened in 1973." Such belief, apparently, foreclosed the need for anyone to oversee or even question the co-op's finance director of the past fifteen years, Andrea "Andi" Sheaffer, while dealing with the co-op's $5,000,000 in annual sales.

Weavers Way's own investigation has determined that the co-op presently owes about $215,000 to vendors that is 30 or more days overdue, and that they have somehow accrued bank overdraft charges of $91,000, going back to April 2000. In other words, it looks to this untrained eye like this place has been bailing water from a leaking vessel for years, and no one might have realized the ship was sinking had the construction loan closing gone as planned. The co-op is now seeking $300,000 in member donations to replace missing funds and pay the co-op's debts.

Keep track of this story here via Weavers Way's Financial Crisis updates. In the meantime, be mindful of Lenin's old creed: Doveryay, no proveryay. Or, as President Reagan translated it at the 1987 INF Treaty signing -- trust, but verify.
OKAY, I SUCK: I just realized that the reason I wasn't receiving any fanmail (or hatemail) whatsoever via this blog is that, according to Hotmail, ThrowingThingsBlog (a) hotmail.com is not the same as throwingthingsblog@hotmail.com, which is the address I've been using.

So, if you had tried to send me something, get rid of the caps in the address and try again. The Management apologizes for the inconvenience. Or, as the great philosopher of our times might say, d'oh.
STRIKING OUT ON APPEAL: While Howard Bashman is out to lunch, it's up to me to fill you in on this one: the California Court of Appeal (2d Dist) has ruled that the manufacturer of the Louisville Slugger Air Attack 2 bat can be held liable for injuries caused by line drives hit off the bat.

Cal State-Northridge pitcher Andrew Sanchez suffered serious injuries after being struck in the head by a line drive hit by an Air Attack 2 aluminum bat. According to expert reports, the ball was travelling at an approximate speed of 108 miles-per-hour at his head, just 52-53 feet away, giving Sanchez only 0.32 - 0.37 seconds to react.

Sanchez sued the bat manufacturer and others, alleging that the high-tech bat had been designed in such a way that knowingly and significantly increased the risk that a pitcher would be hit by a line drive. The manufacturer countered that Sanchez assumed the risk of being hit in the head by a line drive just by being a pitcher, because, hey, these things happen in baseball. (Indeed, it happened to me once in a softball practice in law school)

What happened? Well, this is the kind of paragraph you hate to see in a court opinion when you're the defendant:
Jack Mackay, the designer of the Air Attack 2, declared that he had been a designer and tester of bats for nine years and was a paid consultant for H&B’s Louisville Slugger Division. Mackay was present when time studies were performed on the bat at a Louisville Slugger testing center. He stated that the invention allowed a batter to hit a ball at speeds in excess of that which would have given a pitcher time to avoid being hit. As a result, he opined that the Air Attack 2 substantially increased the risk of a pitcher being hit by what he termed a “come backer.” Mackay complained to his employers at the Louisville Slugger division of H&B about the increased risks of injuries, but the complaints were ignored and Marty Archer, president of the division, warned Mackay that he should not publicly discuss issues of safety.

Other valuable testimony was given by legendary Amherst baseball coach Bill Thurston, who had initiated an NCAA study which concluded that the Air Attack 2 substantially increased the risk of a pitcher being hit by a line drive, compared with the risk associated with wood bats or even earlier generations of non-wood bats.

The court reversed the grant of summary judgment, allowing Sanchez's suit to proceed to trial. You can read the court's opinion here.

For what it's worth, this wasn't the first time that Hillerich & Bradsby has been sued for the Air Attack 2. In fact, the bat seems to have caused them a lot of headaches, so to speak.
IN A WORLD . . . ONE MAN . . . : Looking for a way to waste some time?

Apple.com's Movie Trailers page can keep you occupied all day, with previews of such movies as Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, and the already-gone-from-theaters-but-the-trailer-was-great Comedian. (Warning: The Seabiscuit trailer is pure treacle. But good treacle. And with some of my favorite actors too, like Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.)
A HOLIDAY CLASSIC: From January 1990, Spy Magazine answers the question: could Santa Claus really exist?

Monday, December 23, 2002

COME FOR THE FRISTING; STAY FOR THE POP CULTURE POSTS: It's ironic that Kaus should bring me into this, since my role on this whole thing is precisely the sort of "e-mailers sending links to blogs, which eventually make it into the media" story that he first highlighted on December 17. All I did was say to myself Saturday night: "Hey, Self, was Marion Barry even mayor in 1994?", did the research, made the post on my little blog here and then emailed the link to Josh Marshall, since it was his story, anyway. I figured I was filling in a nice footnote.

It's not the first time I've played the role of feeding news to a blog -- this is just the first time I've done it (successfully) since starting my own. See here, here, here too and finally here for others. But, seriously, I'm not a newsmaker, nor do I intend to be. I'm just a small, interstitial link in the great big blogosphere, with (hopefully) a few interesting bits to pass along now and then.
FOOTNOTES: Mickey Kaus takes Josh Marshall and, by named reference, yours truly to task for continuing on this whole Bill Frist/Marion Barry story.

Do I think that the initial Frist statement was problematic? Interestingly, Kaus uses the exact same word my wife did when we discussed this Saturday night on our way to dinner: synecdoche. When you think "Marion Barry" (and aren't confusing him with The Hon. Maryanne Barry or the tasty marionberry), you do tend to think of "Democratic willingness to tolerate failed, bloated urban governments for fear of offending African-American pols," as Kaus puts it.

But I think that goes too far: after all, the people of D.C. elected Barry, and it wasn't for the Congress to simply cut off all funding as a result. Moreover (research topic!), I'm not aware that Jim Sasser's subcommittee was any more generous to the District than his predecessors or successors.

[Hold that thought: I did learn (bless you, Google) that in January 1994, Congress enacted the Federal Payment Reauthorization Act of 1994, which forced the District's mayor to implement a performance management process and accountability plan (p.2). Did this matter? Did Sasser vote for it? Please email me if you find anything on this, or especially on DC appropriations in the 1980s and 1990s. There's got to be a chart or something somewhere, right?]

But, as I said, tying in Marion Barry to other Democratic politicians goes too far, because I can't ever recall Barry being embraced by Democrats nationally. Especially post-arrest, he's been treated as a pariah by the rest of the party. The analogy I'd use is this -- attacking a Democrat just because he's in the party of Marion Barry is like attacking a Republican just for being in the party of David Duke and Alan Keyes -- they're nutty rogues off the deep end of what the party actually represents. (Ted Kennedy, by contrast, is a fair-game synecdoche.)

So, end of the day, my conclusion is this: unless there's actual evidence that Jim Sasser was being particularly generous with the District, and given that Marion Barry wasn't even mayor at the time, then the Frist remark was mild race-baiting. Is it a Lott-level offense? No. But is it worth needling him for? Yeah, a little bit.
BUT THEY DON'T GIVE YOU ANY CHOICE 'CAUSE THEY THINK THAT IT'S TREASON: Jim DeRogatis, music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, recently interviewed Dennis Wharton, senior vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters, the lobbying group for the radio industry, regarding charges that radio stations have become increasingly conformist:
Q. But what he's saying is that you have a music lover, maybe somebody who's devoted 20 or 30 years of their career to being a DJ, and they are no longer able to control what they play on the air. It isn't even decided by the station's programmer, but by some national consultant, who is taking his cue from independent promoters and the major-label hype machine. That's who Petty is eulogizing in "The Last DJ."

A. Do you have specific examples of that?

Q.Yes. I've interviewed a dozen DJs in Chicago and Minneapolis on six different rock stations over the years, and they all agree with that critique. They complain about following pre-set play lists fed to them on a computer. If they deviate and play something else in a moment of inspiration, they receive a scolding memo, and sometimes they're even fined. Does "The Last DJ" really exist anywhere today besides college or public radio?

A. Yes, I think so. I don't believe they're gone. In Washington, D.C., WHFS is a tremendous alternative-rock station.

Q. But I have seen its play list, and it's almost identical, song for song, to three dozen other alt-rock stations across the country.

A. If the charge is that they're playing songs that people want to hear, guilty as charged.

Q. What Petty is questioning is what comes first, the apple or the horse? Is radio playing songs because they inspired the programmers and the DJs, or is it playing songs that are being pushed by millions of dollars of promotional money? And how can people like a song that they have never had a chance to hear?

A. I don't think the idea is to inspire DJs. I think the ideas is to inspire audiences to come back with music they want to hear.

Q. If that's so, why is this such a chronic complaint from artists, from Elvis Costello to R.E.M. to Tom Petty? When was the last great rock song written about how good radio is?

A. You're the rock critic, you tell me.

And so on. When real life starts to sound like one of my favorite SNL skits, I smile.
LITTLE THREE, BIG TROUBLE: Two members of the Wesleyan University football team were arrested Friday night after robbing a Gap at gunpoint.

And, yes, you're correct in your assumption: I wouldn't have posted this story had one of the gunmen not scored both touchdowns in Wesleyan's 14-13 win over my alma mater this year, Wesleyan's first in the series since 1993.
AND HE SHALL BE A GOOD MAN: LeBron James is that damn good.

Last night's sold-out game at the Palestra between James' St. Vincent's-St. Mary's squad and Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion High School (featuring Maureece "The Scorelord" Rice) wasn't much of a game -- SVSM led 65-25 after three periods and won 85-47 -- but as coronation and theater, it was outstanding.

James' stats for the evening don't tell you much: 26 points on 7-16 shooting (3-9 on threes, 9-11 FT), with eight rebounds, five assists and seven steals.

But seeing him in person tells you everything. At 6'8" 240lb, he's got an NBA body at the age of 17. More than that, though, he's got an NBA game. Not just the dominating presence, not just the confidence, but a court vision that enabled him to make lightning-quick passes to his teammates -- only some of whom were able to keep up with him.

Indeed, as good as his teammates are, LeBron James is wasting his time in high school. He is good enough to be in -- no, that's not strong enough, star in the NBA right now

Current NBA rules prohibit players from declaring for the draft until they turn 18 or their high school class graduates. It's silly. Sarah Hughes started skating in Nationals at the age of 13 and won her gold at the age of 16. Venus Williams turned pro at 14 and reached her first US Open women's tennis final at the age of 17 -- only to lose to 16-year-old Martina Hingis.

So what's wrong with a 17-year-old black kid from the Akron projects making his way through the NBA, when everyone else is profiting off his talent and success? I mean, look at this schedule. With games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, North Carolina and Trenton this year, it's not like anyone else cares about his making it to class every day.

One final note: God bless Philadelphia crowds. We cheered the local underdogs early, booed them when they'd hack James on the way to the basket (which is understandable -- who wants to be the other guy in a LeBron James poster?), booed whenever someone on SVSM other than LeBron shot the ball, even booed LeBron's mom when she acted up like an Ann Iverson-in-training.

But in the fourth quarter, when the teams conspired to give us the playground style LeBron James-Maureece Rice one-on-one matchup we had wanted, a full house gave both players all the love we could. And when Maureece did a crossover dribble and broke LeBron's ankles, then popped in a jumper . . . oh, it was hoops heaven, and no one cared that Strawberry Mansion was still forty points behind.
COMPREHIZZENSIVE: Howard Bashman knew I'd be interested in this one, which he found on Colby Cosh's blog, and he was right: the Snoop Dogg Shizzolator.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

COMING ATTRACTIONS: I'm go to see LeBron James at the Palestra tonight. Just how much game can a 17-year-old have? Will let you know.
MY MONEY WAS ON COLIN POWELL: Time Magazine's Person of the Year has been announced: The Whistleblowers -- Cynthia Cooper (WorldCom), Sherron Watkins (Enron) and Coleen Rowley (FBI). An interesting, off-beat choice.
THE NEW YORK TIMES PASSES ON A LIE: In the Editorial/Opinion section, there's no such thing as a bad opinion, and anyone can legitimately say whatever s/he wants. But there are bad, demonstrably untrue facts, which no writer should be allowed to repeat.

In response to a George Vecsey column on the evils of college sports, Susan Dixon of Austin, TX was allowed to repeat the following pernicious lie on today's Sports Mailbox page:
It is also a little-known fact, but it has been shown that donations to the rest of a university go way up when it has a successful athletic program.

It's little-known because it's patently false. According to the research in James L. Shulman and William G. Bowen's comprehensive The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values:
First, contrary to much of the mythology about winning and giving, the study finds no relationship of any kind between won-lost records in football and general giving rates at either the Division IA private universities that operate bigtime programs or the Ivies. . . .

A parallel analysis that focuses not on participation rates but on the amounts given reveals only one significant, and somewhat puzzling, result. Improvements in Division IA football performace on a par with moving from a 50-50 record to an unbeaten season are associated with an average decline of about $135 per person in general giving per year, with no offsetting increase in athletic contributions.

The Game of Life, pp. 220-221. Moreover, focusing on men's basketball did not change the results. Id., p. 407 n.20.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

BARE-FRISTED RACE BAITING? Josh Marshall sees a low-level problem with the following Bill Frist quote from his 1994 campaign, during his first Senate campaign, attempting to smear his Democratic incumbent foe:
"[Jim Sasser is] sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry ... While I've been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans' wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry."

Marshall properly notes, in response: "Marion Barry, as I said in the post, was a rotten mayor. Corrupt, drug-using, the list goes on and on. And one can't get into a situation where one can never criticize a black politician for fear of being tarred as using a racial code word. But look at the line and tell me what on earth this had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee. I think the answer is obvious: nothing."

Well, sure, but I think he's missing something: Marion Barry wasn't even D.C.'s mayor in 1994. Sharon Pratt Kelly was. Barry had been out of the mayor's office since the beginning of 1991, and was not elected mayor again until November 8 of that year, the same day as Frist's election. For the prior two years, Barry was a member of D.C.'s City Council, however.

So Frist was attacking Sasser for someone who wasn't even mayor at the time? Who was just a member of a weak city council? And even instead of attacking Sasser for sending funds to D.C.'s then-current ineffective mayor (who herself happens to be black), Frist reached back four years to remind Tennessee voters of D.C.'s former mayor, the crackhead. If the slam seemed tenuous before, I think it's even worse now.

Senate Majority Leader Arlen Specter. It's only a matter of time.

Friday, December 20, 2002

IN LIEU OF A THOUSAND WORDS: Enjoy this vintage picture of current 76ers head coach Larry Brown, via the Remember The ABA website:

Have a good night. Go Sixers!
PLEADING IGNORANCE: Howard Bashman asks:
Should one write: (1) "Last week the defendant plead guilty to assault"; (2) "Last week the defendant pleaded guilty to assault"; or (3) "Last week the defendant pled guilty to assault"?

My practice has always been to make the meaning as unambiguous as possible. In written form, choice (1) is horribly ambiguous, and choice (3), to my eyes at least, looks weird. It just does, and I know it's probably an irrational, visceral reaction. It just doesn't look like a whole word. Moreover, (2) is completely risk-free as to meaning, so why not just write "pleaded" and be done with it?

But that's written. In spoken form, I'll always go with choice (3), "pled". When spoken, it sounds right: "he pled guilty", whereas "he pleaded guilty" intrinsically (again, my ears) sounds like a wasted, pretentious syllable.

Next witness?

Thursday, December 19, 2002

ED, CAN I HAVE A TIMPANI? Here's the new scoreboard:
Howard Bashman: 400,000
Adam Bonin: 1,000

We'll catch up by the year 2076, easy.
SIMPLY AMAZING: What is there to say about The Amazing Race finale for those who didn't watch it?

Only that good reality tv reveals character, and TAR does it better than any other show by placing characters in familiar settings, and not hermetically sealed bubbles. Many of us know what it's like to travel while fatigued, to have to deal with foreign cultures . . . to find a cab in an American downtown.

This episode alone saw the teams traverse Vietnam, fly from Hanoi to Tokyo to Honolulu (to Kauai and back), then to Seattle for the final set of tasks. Was it dramatic? Yes. Exciting? Hell yeah. Emotionally satisfying? Surprisingly (given the outcome), yes.

Florinka Pesenti and Zach Behr (both Vassar '01) were the central dramatic arc of the whole episode -- essentially, Flo had a complete emotional and physical breakdown, almost quit the race several times, including in middle-of-nowhere Vietnam, and the two hours centered around Zach's friendly encouragement and resourcefulness that kept them in the race. He did everything humanly possible and then some -- taking breaks, slowing the pace, calmly reassuring his friend to stay focused and keep trying.

She did. After falling 2 1/2 hours behind by the end of the first half of the episode, they caught up to the other teams in Hanoi, kept the pace in Honolulu and Kauai, and by the luck of a cab in downtown Seattle, they won.

To that, there has been considerable backlash on the discussion boards, centering around how underserving Flo was given how many times she almost quit the race and how annoying she was to watch. The amount of venom directed towards her is pretty obscene.

Good drama reveals character, but even more, it allows for characters to change, grow and develop. What made this episode so compelling was that Flo and Zach turned the corner and found their strength, that even nasty, hardened Ian apologized for the way he had treated his wife Teri and how much he appreciated and admired her during the race.

Plain and simple, this was television at its best -- a great travelogue, plus a great study of human emotions. Surprising, thrilling, revealing, and most of all, entertaining, and there's nothing wrong with a little entertainment now and then.

The Amazing Race 4 begins airing on Wednesday, February 26. Check your local listings.
WAS SANDY KOUFAX GAY? That appears to be the necessary implication of this blind item in today's Page Six:
WHICH Hall of Fame baseball hero cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep it secret that he is gay? The author kept her word, but big mouths at the publishing house can't keep from flapping.

Female author, baseball hero . . .yup. Koufax was married twice, but has no children.

Is it any of our business? Of course not. But if it is true, it just goes to double and triple the admiration so many of us have for all that he accomplished.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

AMAZINGEST FINALE EVIR: West Coast people, you still have time. I'll save all discussion until the morning.
AND A REMINDER: If you are not watching the two-hour finale of The Amazing Race tonight, you will likely be depriving yourself of one of the entertainment highlights of the year.

The show is far-and-away the class act of "reality tv", as it calls on teams to exhibit smarts, stamina and real-world skills, and does not reward catty comments, physical beauty or the ability to play office politics. It's all about the race, and what a race it's been. From the Everglades to Mexico to Portugal to Switzerland to Malaysia and Vietnam, this year's race has featured some great, gripping drama. Oh yeah -- and it's fun, too.

What's more, you've got until 9pm tonight (8pm central) to read all of TWoP's brilliant recaps of the episodes so far. Your shorthand on tonight's remaining teams:
Kenny and Gerard: Our heroes. The lovable, funny middle-aged brothers. Kenny's gay, Gerard's a married father. They have wits and great airport skills, but have been horribly indecisive at times.
Flo and Zach: Twenty-something friends from NYC. She's a non-stop ball of angst and complaint, he's as laid back as can be. Not that he doesn't care -- he's just tired of dealing with her nonsense. Together, he'll drag her to the finish line.
Teri and Ian: Team Evil. They're an older married couple, but he's a bossy, mean s.o.b., especially to his wife, who claims they still function well as a team anyway. And they do: it's the furthest a 50+ team has ever gotten in the race. They don't make a lot of mistakes.

Twelve teams started. Three remain. Watch and enjoy.
MORE BEST-OF: The best New York media gossip of 2002, courtesy of Sridhar Pappu of the New York Observer. Including:
Best Recycling of Killed Material from Own Magazine: Tina Brown. Not long after Talk shut up, Ms. Brown told The New York Times: "I have been swimming in a howling sea of schadenfreude for the past three years." Where’d she get such a sparkling bon mot? Maybe her own pages: Talk’s unpublished last issue featured an interview with Courtney Love, in which the rocker was quoted complaining about her "three years swimming in a howling sea of schadenfreude."
PAGING DR. ROSS: I don't know why I found this Page Six item so amusing:

HIS dinner companion Rande Gerber turned beet red, but George Clooney played it cool Saturday night at Downtown Cipriani when a trashy-looking Russian woman reminded him of their brief tryst.

Clooney, Gerber and pals were chowing down at the crowded restaurant when the woman approached and announced in a throaty voice, "Remember me, George? We spent four hours together." "Sure, baby, sure," Clooney replied. "Where was it then?" she quizzed. "Um, New York," Clooney replied - to which she shook her head and clucked, "You're a very bad boy."

As diners nearby tried not to burst out laughing, Clooney placated the interloper and deflected her attempts to arrange another rendezvous.

"I'll say this for him," a diner who witnessed the incident told PAGE SIX's Jared Paul Stern, "he has b-s of steel."

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

ESSENTIAL READING: Thousands of music albums are produced each year -- some good, many bad, but few so completely useless as to merit the scorn of the Onion A.V. Club's. As regular a December appearance as the New York Times' "who died?" issue and irrelevant college football bowl games, the Onion's annual awards for the least essential albums of the year are now online. Among the highlights:

Through The Looking Glass

Who's that reproducing the riddims of Bob Marley's classic "Could You Be Loved" at the opening of Through The Looking Glass? Why, it's Toto, the blowsy '80s standby known for such hits as "Africa" and "Rosanna"! For those who love Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, and Bob Dylan but are constantly complaining that their songs could be more Totofied, Through The Looking Glass is as good as it gets. Everyone else should panic and flee, trampling loved ones if necessary.

Still online for your time-wasting pleasure are the 2001, 2000 and much-beloved least essential albums of the 90's awards. Snark-o-rama, indeed.
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING: Thank you, Gary Condit, for suing Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne for defamation. You may read the complaint here.

Now let's suppose everything Condit is claiming is true: that Dunne "has attained a high level of credibility with the American public" (par. 8); that Condit was not under police suspicion for Levy's murder, which may have been tied to a Middle Eastern Embassy sex ring (par. 20) or Condit's motorcycle friends (par. 25); that Dunne said such things in front of people people like Gore Vidal, Anjelica Houston and fashion designer Adolfo (various); and that Condit "had no involvement whatsoever in the disappearance and murder of Ms. Levy and has no knowledge of how she was abducted and murdered" (par. 34 -- but who said she was abducted, necessarily?)

Suppose all that is true, and that as a result Condit has suffered "stress, emotional distress, mental pain and suffering and adverse physical consequences" (par. 42); "public hatred, contempt and ridicule" (par. 43); and a "permanent" impairment of his ability to obtain or hold a job (par. 44). It still begs the question: why sue?

Isn't Condit aware that truth is a defense to a defamation claim, and that in order to establish that defense, he has now given Dunne (and his attorneys) free reign to conduct such discovery in order to demonstrate said defense? That, at the very least, Condit is going to be subject to a very nasty, personal, intense deposition?

It's the rare few who exit the public stage with a minimum of griping at those who did them wrong. Bill Weld and Pete Wilson come to mind as honorable men who accepted their defeats and disappeared. Then there's the Richard Nixon level -- yes, I'm going away, but don't think for a second I'm not angry about it.

And then there's the last level, with Jim Trafficant and Bud Dwyer, who have (and in Dwyer's case, quite literally) chosen to go down with guns blazing, no matter the consequences or wisdom, in massive displays of ego, self-pity and remorselessness. It's on that level where Gary Condit now resides. Congratulations.

This added note: Yes, you can find the Dwyer video on the web. A simple Google search will suffice. I was home from school that day and saw the press conference live, and have no interest in seeing it again. Probably the worst thing I'll ever see.

Monday, December 16, 2002

SQUISH! GOES THE WEASEL: Two moments from the Trent Lott interview on BET that should sink his leadership hopes. The first, Josh Marshall has already blogged about: Lott's dubious claim that he supports affirmative action, despite his many votes to the contrary. But according to the new, squeaky-clean Lott: "I'm for affirmative action and I've practiced it. I've had African Americans on my staff and other minorities, but particularly African Americans, since the mid-1970s."

Here's the other, and I wish I had the transcript to get his exact, stoopid words: he claims that the main reason he didn't support the establishment of the holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday was that -- get this -- he didn't know enough yet about the good things Dr. King did. Yeah. In 1983. News hadn't gotten out about the good stuff yet. Even though Lott grew up in America, and not on the moon. Senator Lott just didn't realize yet that Dr. King might have been a force for justice in the universe, or that the changes he brought into being were good ideas.

It would have been much more effective had he just said, "Look, I greatly respect and admire Dr. King, even though I didn't always see eye to eye with him. I didn't believe back then that we should have more federal holidays. But I didn't understand that the symbolic importance of the holiday was so great that it outweighed any monetary price that honoring Dr. King would cost, and for that, I'm sorry."

The truth. It works.

[P.S. Please, next time, someone stop me from poking around the BET message boards, okay?]

edited to add: here's the transcript:
GORDON: Let's talk about the King holiday.

LOTT: I want to talk about the King holiday. I want to go back to that. I'm not sure we in America, certainly not white America and the people in the South, fully understood who this man was; the impact he was having on the fabric of this country.

GORDON: But you certainly understood it by the time that vote came up, Senator.

LOTT: Well, but...

GORDON: You knew who Dr. King was at that point.

LOTT: I did, but I've learned a lot more since then. I want to make this point very clearly. I have a high appreciation for him being a man of peace, a man that was for nonviolence, a man that did change this country. I've made a mistake. And I would vote now for a Martin Luther King holiday.
"I THOUGHT A DARNED GOOD FART WOULD DO HIM A BIT OF GOOD." The mark of a great writer is to make you care about something you'd otherwise have little interest in. CNNSI's tennis columnist, Jon Wertheim, is one of those writers.

With that in mind, please enjoy his summary of the year in tennis, including bits like this:
After winning a marathon five-setter against Carlos Moya at the U.S. Open, Todd Martin was asked, "Where are you physically?" Martin responded: "Physically? I'm right here. Do you want to know where I am metaphysically?"
SPEAKING OF PALEO-PHILADELPHIAN TRADITIONS: Qualifying stunts for WingBowl XI have begun. Go ahead: watch a grown man named Lord of the Wings attempt to eat a quart of mayonnaise. Or, if you prefer: watch a man chug a bottle of applesauce (3lbs), plus a quart of egg nog to gain entry. All for the rights to eat a lot of wings in front of 20,000 people at 6am on the Friday before the Super Bowl. Can El Wingador win for a fourth time?

Philadelphia: oh, we're different, alright.
CHECK-A-CHING-CHING-CHING: And speaking of marching bands, today's Philadelphia Daily News contains a little bit of Mummers lore of which I was not previously aware: what happens when two string bands want the same theme?

There are those people who find Philadelphia's traditional New Years' Mummery distasteful, and now that I've lived near the Two Street Corridor and been woken on New Years' Day at 7am by the sounds of music blasted out of the back of a comic crew's beer truck (a Ryder van stacked to the top with cases of cans of cheap beer, including half-cans of Coors which were handed out -- again, at 7am -- to the 12-year-olds in the crew), and had drunk Mummers puking and peeing on my block at the end of the day (as well as saying distasteful things about my wife), well, I'm in the process of being converted to a staunch anti-Mummist position.

And it's still almost all-white. And they don't march on Broad Street anymore. But, still, what city has grown, blue-collar men spending their New Years Day dressed like this?

Saturday, December 14, 2002

ONE BAND, ONE SOUND: There are few things I enjoy more in movies than a well-made formula movie, and one of the oldest, best formulas is The Prodigy Who Needs To Learn Disclipine And Be A Team Player For The Sake Of The Mission. From Top Gun to Purple Rain to Rocky to Bring It On to Harry Potter to The Program, the formula is an eternally renewable resource, the solar power from which many great movies have emerged.

To that list, I am happy to add the just-released Drumline. Think of it as Top Gun, only instead of a flight academy it's a historically black college marching band. You've got the rebel prodigy drummer who plays by his own set of rules, the disciplinarian mentor, the by-the-rules competitor, the love interest, the wacky friends. That's the formula.

What makes Drumline special are the ways it enhances the formula. First off, and most importantly, is the subject matter. These bands have a rich history and tradition which is to be cherished, and this movie does right by them. Heck, go here and here to see and hear some of the best of what's going on right now. And the movie takes the bands seriously, and brings their joy and craft to a wider audience.

This is a movie about values: of musicianship over flashiness, of discipline and teamwork over narcissism and rebelliousness. These are not typical values to be pushed in a movie targetting towards the same teens who are otherwise seeing "be the rebel" movies like xXx and The Fast and the Furious, but they are there and the message is strong.

And finally, this is a well-done movie. The performances are all strong, led by (new-to-me) Nickelodeon's Nick Cannon and Orlando Jones of 7-Up commercial fame, surprisingly good as the serious, traditionalist marching band director. Kudos as well to Charles Stone III, the director (of Budweiser "Wazzup?" fame) -- the movie was well-paced and especially well-shot. Sometimes you just need to know where to put the camera to make the screen come alive, and with a minimal of showy effects, he did so here. You will understand every drum beat, every cymbal crash, every step. The marching band performances are all highlights of this movie, which is filled with opportunities to sit back, watch and listen. The finale, shot before a live crowd of 50,000+, is something to behold. Even if you think you know how it's going to end, you'll be surprised.

This is a movie for the whole family. Its values are good, its language is clean (how it got a PG-13, I have no idea), its heart is in the right place and its entertainment value you will keep you smiling. Not every movie has to break ground or be challenging -- sometimes, a movie is worth seeing just because it knows what it wants to do, and does it well, with heart, sincerity and enthusiasm. This is one of those movies.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

IF HE DIES, HE DIES: Okay, I may have spoken too soon. There's even worse news today. Ladies and gentlemen, there will be a Rocky VI.

For Bill Simmons' take on Rockys I-V, enjoy yourself here.
DEUCE BIGALOW AND HOWARD THE DUCK HAD PREVIOUS COMMITMENTS: Now bringing joy to the children of the Middle East: Patch Adams!

For more, see Roger Ebert on Patch Adams.
AND NOW, FOR THE WORST NEWS ALL DAY: The NFL has re-upped with DirecTV for another five years for its Sunday Ticket package, as opposed to moving the all-access package to digital cable. The NFL will not be able to revisit the issue until 2006.

Why? Because if they switched over to digital cable, too many people would be able to watch it. Seriously. And the networks don't want that. Let ESPN Page2's Gregg Easterbrook explain the rest.
A TRICKLE BECOMES A DRIZZLE, BECOMES A STORM: Here's a good summary of Trent Lott's voting record on racial matters. If nothing else, he's consistent.
TWO TO ONE SAYS HE GETS REINSTATED: With all that's in the news about Pete Rose lately, it's worth reminding people that all the source material concerning his activites is available online, along with this great summary of the evidence by baseball writer Sean Lahman. Perhaps Bud Selig needs to be reminded of Commissioner Giamatti's remarks at the press conference announcing Rose's ban:

The matter of Mr. Rose is now closed. It will be debated and discussed. Let no one think that it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game.

A NOBLE THOUGHT: A bunch of us were emailing around one day debating the following question: the next time a writer working in the English language wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, who should it be?

Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon were among the more worthy names tossed around, and I added two to the discussion. My first choice was the Czech-born playwright Tom Stoppard, whose brilliant words and sheer wit, questioning and considering everything, embody the best of what writing can do.

My number two choice was a bit of an odd one: Princeton's John McPhee, America's best nonfiction writer, and I'm posting this today because this profile in yesterday's Boston Globe makes this case for his all-encompassing brilliance far better than I could (which does not get much more articulate than drooling over his Bill Bradley pieces.)

He would not be the first Nobel laureate to win for non-fiction writing, and he would be as worthy as they come.

Disclaimer: My wife was a student of his at Princeton.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

AND IN CASE YOU'RE KEEPING SCORE AT HOME: Trent Lott voted against making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday a federal holiday. Heck, even Strom Thurmond voted for that.

note: after a thorough Google search, that was the best verification I could find. If anyone can find better, let me know.
AND HERE'S THE PARAGRAPH THAT MIGHT BE THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN: All credit to Josh Marshall for uncovering Trent Lott's pro se (in other words, he wrote it himself -- don't blame the lawyers) 1981 amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting Bob Jones University's right to maintain tax-exempt status while barring its few black students from dating or marrying whites. (Lott and Bob Jones lost, 8-1).

Anyway, here's the paragraph from the brief to put in bold, underline, italicize and, in my case, block-quote:

Moreover, racial discrimination does not always violate public policy. Schools are allowed to practice racial discrimination in admissions in the interest of diversity. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). An institution's right to pursue diversity is not constitutionally protected, but its right to practice its religion is protected by the First Amendment. If racial discrimination in the interest of diversity does not violate public policy, then surely discrimination in the practice of religion is no violation. (emphasis mine)

Equating affirmative action with mandatory segregation and anti-miscegenation policies? Not too many people, in or out of the great state of Mississippi, are going to find the moral equivalence there, even if they disfavor the use of affirmative action in college admissions. I've got a funny feeling this might bite the Senator in the ass -- unless, that is, his apology-of-the-day finally quiets the story.
A LESSON IN TV ECONOMICS: Today's LA Times explains why Friends won't be renewed for a 10th season, no matter how high its ratings are.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

REGRETS, I'VE HAD A FEW . . . Unless you're controversial Philadelphia sportscaster Howard Eskin, profiled in today's Philadelphia Daily News, that is. But does he really mean it when he says "Not only wouldn't I leave, but I would never change anything I have done"?

Perhaps, he needs to be reminded of this 1997 incident, which, just maybe, he wishes he had handled differently.
WHENEVER THEY MENTION MOOSE MURDERS, LOOK OUT: This is not a good morning for Jim Steinman, Amherst class of 1969. His new $10 million musical, Dance of the Vampires, starring Phantom of the Opera's Michael Crawford, opened on Broadway last night and, umm . . .

The New York Times: It is an enterprise to be associated with only under the veil of anonymity.

Washington Post: The advice for theatergoers is just what you might give to those garlic-wearing villagers: Run for your lives.

New York Post: [T]his vampire excursion needs a transfusion.

Newsday: For this, Michael Crawford has chosen to return and show his fans the other side of the face beneath the mask. He is either very brave or very foolish.

Well, at least the class of 1969 still has Teller to be proud of.

Monday, December 9, 2002

"THE CORONER? I'M SO SICK OF THAT GUY!" Younger fans of The Simpsons might not be aware that bumbling Dr. Nick Riviera has a real-life antecedent: Elvis' personal doctor, George "Dr. Nick" Nichopoulos, who freely dispensed drugs to stars like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Well, it looks like Dr. Nick has an heir: Dr. Jules Lusman. According to public documents, it looks like Dr. Jules has been hooking up Hollywood types like Winona Ryder and Courtney Love with their drugs of choice for some time (and perhaps, some non-Jewish celebrities, or ones with careers on an upswing as well). Presumably, Dr. Jules was responsible for some of the liquid Demerol, liquid Diazepam, Vicoprofen, Vicoden, Percodan, Valium and morphine sulphate found in Ryder's possession at the time of her arrest. Plus the syringe.

Remember kids: Don't Do Drugs.
TODAY'S DIVERSION: It's time for America's favorite Asian teen-pop video parodists, 'NChink!

[Three videos by a bunch of UCLA students. Very professional. And hysterical.]
A SIGHTING? I spent the last four days in Las Vegas with my family for a joint birthday celebration. It was my third time in Vegas in the past three years, and everyone had a good time.

If you've never been to Vegas, go. At least once. It really isn't just for gamblers anymore. Between the sightseeing, the quality dining (we did everything from mega-gourmet-buffet to Brazilian steakhouse) and the shopping and people-watching, there's plenty to do without ever setting foot in a casino.

[That said, I did set foot. Multiple times. Netted around $250 playing $10 blackjack, broke even on the sports wagering.]

Trying to find an entertainment option for a group ranging in age from 26 to 90, we settled on a Neil Diamond impersonator for Saturday night. Jen and I kept waiting for all the lines from the Will-Ferrell-as-Neil-Diamond SNL skits ("Here's a song a wrote after I killed a drifter to get an erection"), but Jay White played it straight. He didn't introduce his friend, Gay Speedskating Hitler. He simply became Neil Diamond.

Okay, not really, but it was good enough, whether enjoyed ironically or un-. Especially since he didn't sing "Heartlight".

Finally, three celebrity sightings of varying degrees of significance: rapper Ja Rule on the Bellagio casino floor Saturday afternoon, NBA journeyman Buck Williams at dinner at La Chine on Saturday, and, Sunday morning, Todd spotted former Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil at the Bellagio sports book Sunday morning.

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

THIS BLOG IS ON VACATION until Monday morning. Enjoy yourselves.
THE GREATEST SHOW ON TURF: Stuart Banner of the Volokh Conspiracy laments this year's demise of the St. Louis Rams' offense in a heartfelt post. Having twice seen said Rams defeat my Eagles in the past sixteen months, before this week's splendid reversal of fortune, I can't claim to have much sympathy for his viewpoint (except as a fantasy football owner of Marshall Faulk's in a keeper league), but I can add some explanation.

Stuart cites the Rams' injuries, and, yes, Kurt Warner hasn't had a solid hand in some time, and Marshall Faulk has been dinged up some. But the real story is a simple one: scheduling and realigment.

From 1999 through 2001, the Rams were in the old NFC West, and not only played their eight home games under the dome, but also had annual road visits to Atlanta and New Orleans. During each of those seasons the Rams played eleven games under climate-controlled domes on artificial turf, quite conducive to their speed-based game, and only five games per year exposed to the sky.

The results? The Rams were 27-6 indoors (.818 winning pct), but only 10-5 (.667) when forced to play under the same conditions that Saints Lombardi and Halas would have preferred.

With the new divisonal realignment of the Falcons and Saints joining the new NFC South, being replaced in the Rams' division by Seattle and Arizona, the Rams had zero dome road games this year.

So, what happens when the Rams are forced to play in natural weather conditions? The Rams are 4-2 at home, 1-5 on the road, the only road win being against the pathetic Arizona Cardinals.

The dome advantage is manifest this year in the Rams' wide receivers' stats. Torry Holt averages 2.3 more yards/reception under the bubble. For Issac Bruce, 4 more yards/reception, plus all five of his touchdowns are indoors.

In short, the Rams have been returned to the land of the mortals because they've been forced to take their turf-enhanced game into the great outdoors, and it just hasn't worked out for them. Fortunately, they'll have a nice, long winter to figure out what to do next . . .

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

THIS BLOG OWNS THIS STIZZORY: Now on MTV, it's Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, Mr. Dogg's new sketch comedy show. Fo' shizzle.
OF COURSE, AT UCHICAGO, THIS WILL BE DECRIED AS "INEFFICIENT": Kudos to the anonymous first-year law student at George Mason University for anonymously donating $19,200 to defray the $192 increase in tuition for 100 of his classmates.

The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimomedes claimed that there were eight levels of charitable giving, starting with those gifts begruding and incomplete, rising to those sufficient but where the donor takes public credit, ending with those anonymous gifts which allow the recipient to become free from the need for further aid. On his scale, this one's a '6', and should be applauded.
THEY'RE BACK: After intermittent post-election appearances, ABC's The Note column is back. It is the essential political news-of-the-day source. Chock full of links, and where else are you going to find add-it-all-up inside baseball like:

[J]ust in the last week, Kerry 1) got Joe Klein to fall deeply in love with him (starting the clock toward the day when Joe turns on him, just like he did with South Carolina Senate candidate Alex Sanders, former President Clinton, et al); 2) inspired unsolicited calls from various Republican operatives to political reporters both trashing Kerry's prospects and making it clear he's seen as somewhat formidable (luckily for us and our somewhat blunted holiday-time reporting skills, these calls were neither simultaneous nor immediately consecutive); 3) got Matt Drudge to attack him over his hair; 4) got the White House pool to throw a question to the president about him; 5) got non-aligned operatives buzzing about his candidacy anew; 6) had the courage to be the first out of the semi-announcement box this round, presumably believing he can raise enough money off of this kind of soft-launch to be able to save the fly-around until later for a second feasting at the trough; and finally, 7) decided it was okay to blow off the local media in favor of a national venue to announce his "exploratory" committee, raising the investigative hackles of at least one of the local papers.

The first primaries are only fourteen months away.
FINDING YOUR NICHE: Like most men of my generation, I'm an ESPN guy. But there's an exception: for pro football analysis, you cannot beat the writers at CNNsi. Between Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback columns and Paul Zimmerman's mailbag and analysis pieces, it's an insightful 1-2 punch that obliterates the repetitive, albeit amusing ESPN competition.

Here's Peter King on Sunday's Titans-Giants game:

Steve McNair showing such guts in winning it for the Titans. McNair was playing with a rib cage shot up with painkillers, thanks to an injury that forced him to miss a week of practice ... Tennessee down 26-14 ... early fourth quarter ... McNair leads the Titans on a 14-play, 72-yard drive to make it 26-21 ... Giants answer with a field goal to make it 29-21 ... Titans get it at their 19 with two minutes left ... McNair leads them 81 yards, capped off by a nine-yard strike to Frank Wycheck ... 29-27 ... Two-point conversion attempt ... Crowd on its feet ... But wait, what's this? McNair audibles on the two-point play ... Turns out he's calling a quarterback draw! What brass knuckles, or something, this man has! ... And he makes it! ... Tie, 29-29 ... Overtime ... G-men win the toss. Advance to the Tennessee 46 but have to punt ... From his 20, McNair completes four key passes, moving the ball to the Giants' 20 ... Joe Nedney's 38-yard field goal seals it ... Titans, 32-29. ... "This ranks with his best games," said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher. I should hope so, Jeff.

That's just great, evocative writing.
SOMETHING THAT'S BEEN BUGGING ME: If conventional deterrence and economic sanctions seems to have worked with Libya and Col. Muammar Qadhafi, why can't they work in Iraq?

If you have any thoughts on this one, please email me. It's been stumping me for a while.

Monday, December 2, 2002

NO, WE DIDN'T HAVE THAT PICTURE: Among the Google searches that have brought people to this blog over the past few days, according to my counter:
Theo Epstein bachelor
darrell hammond comedy works
taylor hanson ezra jordan pictures
injury pictures for koy detmer
snoop izz
hayden christiansen penis
Steven Seagal's real-life fight accounts

Heh. Lot of disappointed people, I'm guessing . . . .
MORE THOUGHTS ON ASSONANCE: Back in June, I wrote a piece for my friends at the Volokh Conspiracy on Eminem and the literary device of assonance, the use of repeated vowel sounds in poetry. You can read that here.

I argued then that the brilliance of Eminem goes beyond the mad flow and the personal nature of the lyrics. He happens to be a master of using assonance, repeating the vowel sounds to make the lyrics resonate, to reinforce the mood. It's one thing to rhyme line-endings (my favorite? Probably the Beastie Boys' "Sometimes I like to brag/Sometimes I'm soft spoken/When I'm in Holland I eat the pannekoeken" from Super Disco Breakin') -- it's another thing all together to make every dominant vowel sound in a section cohere.

I figured it was time to revisit that analysis after the umpteenth playing of his new #1 single, Lose Yourself (from 8 Mile) on the radio on the way to/from Connecticut this weekend, because it uses the same tools to just the same powerful effect.

Two parts to focus on. As the song opens, watch the transition from eh's (and eh-ee's), which gives you a sense of nervousness, to the oh-ow sounds emphasizing being beat down. (Try saying these aloud for full effect.):

There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
to drops bombs, but he keeps on forgetting
what he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth but the words won't come out
He's chokin, how? Everybody's jokin now
The clock's run out, time's up, over - BLAOW!

Compare that to the last verse, which has three distinct vowel sections, from the angry ooh-aw-ay trios to the hopeful i's to the a long series of ah's at the end, each of which comes back to Em's desperation:
Tear this motherf*ckin roof off like two dogs caged
I was playin in the beginning, the mood all changed
I've been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage

But I kept rhymin and stepped right in the next cypher
Best believe somebody's payin the pied piper
All the pain inside amplified by the
fact that I can't get by with my nine to
five and I can't provide the right type of
life for my family, cause man, these God damn
food stamps don't buy diapers, and there's no movie
There's no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life
And these times are so hard,

and it's gettin even harder
Tryin to feed and water my seed plus, teeter-totter
Caught up between bein' a father and a primadonna
Baby momma drama screamin on her too much for me to wanna
stay in one spot, another day of monotony
has gotten me to the point, I'm like a snail I've got
to formulate a plot, or end up in jail or shot
Success is my only motherf*ckin option, failure's not
Mom I love you but this trailer's got to go
I cannot grow old in Salem's Lot
So here I go it's my shot, feet fail me not
This may be the only opportunity that I got

Whatever you may want to say about his politics, you can't deny the talent.
OR FOR THAT MATTER, A HOLE IN THE GROUND: Can you tell your arse from your elbow?

Saturday, November 30, 2002

NO ONE -- AND I MEAN NO ONE -- COMES ONTO THIS BLOG AND PUSHES ME AROUND: If you're like me -- and even if you're not, if you've got cable, then undoubtedly you've seen the inspirational football film RUDY, or at least parts of it, at least half a dozen times. But does it have anything to do with the real life Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger? Not so much, says this ESPN article, part of an excellent series by ESPN's Jeff Merron on the real life stories behind Hollywood sports films.

But you will learn something. I mean, it's not surprising that Coach Dan Devine wasn't as much of a jerk as the movie portrayed him, or that various characters are composites. But did you know that the football scenes were choreographed by O.J. Simpson emergency chauffer Al "This is A.C." Cowlings? That the actual starting Notre Dame starting quarterback for most of that 1975 season was some guy named Joe Montana?

Learn even more, maybe, from Rudy himself -- right here. (Like, you can get Daniel Ruettiger to speak to your company for only $17,500, plus expenses -- but for that money, wouldn't you rather rent Cheap Trick or the guys from Mr. Show?)

(And that whole list, for what it's worth, is here.)

P.S. More on commerce: did you know that you could order the videotape of the 1954 Indiana state basketball championship during which tiny little Milan High bested Muncie Central, inspiring the movie HOOSIERS, which has its own set of credibility issues?

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

HEY HEY HEY! IT'S TRA THOMAS! Now auditioning for the role of new Eagles quarterback: former Philadelphia high school sports star William H. Cosby, Jr., Ed. D. You can't make up stuff like this.
MORE HIZZISTORY: As it turns out, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer beat me to this story in an article published earlier this year. Among the linguistic findings:
The predominant theory seems to be that it comes from the Cuzz (sometimes "Cuz") branch of the Los Angeles-based gang, the Crips. The Cuzzes took to using zz's in place of s's, and then the z's started crezzeeping into the middle of the wozzurds. For example, "chronic" -- a slang term for marijuana -- became crazzonic. And guess who used to be a Crip until it got his bony backside into prison? That's right, Snoop himself.

The article concludes with instrizzuctions and a disclaimer: "Don't blame us if you sound laughably unhip -- in our experience, only rappers can (sort of) get away with throwing this lingo around."

Worth keeping in mizzind.
SOON TO APPEAR IN SPANISH PANTALONES II: As far as journalistic flubs go, this one's among the less damaging. Still, from this week's New York Observer:

In early January, Rolling Stone will publish a story by writer Robert Kurson, talking about what it's been like to lead a life with, um, a man with a big penis. Originally considered by Esquire, Rolling Stone managing editor Ed Needham said: "It's a story of man with an extraordinary gift. It's something new, something different, something you haven't read before. This is a biological fact of life that we find difficult and embarrassing, but this is a guy that was born with an enormous asset in an otherwise ordinary life.

"I'm not sure he has too many problems with it," Mr. Needham continued. "He's a fairly confident individual. He doesn't treat it like a disability or inconvenience. It tends to be the people around him that have problems with it."

So far, so good. But according to Robert Kurson:

Were it only true! The New York Observer noted that I would be writing an upcoming piece for Rolling Stone about my own large penis. In fact, the story is about the penis of someone else. Alas, I'm still the "normal" man I always have been. But what a thrill while it lasted! Think I should ask for a correction?

Courtesy Romenesko's MediaNews.