Saturday, July 28, 2012

STEP BY STEP:  For those who insist they've located the least essential, or least sport-y Olympic discipline, may I present -- via Kon Ichikawa's essential 1965 documentary Tokyo Olympiad -- 50 kilometer Olympic race-walking?

Open thread for whatever happens today. In terms of spoilers, I'd prefer that we stick to what NBC is broadcasting live, and be extremely cagey/cautious in discussing things which have happened but not yet been broadcast.

added, at 3:30pm, from a ferry crossing Cape Cod Bay: But we certainly ought to discuss NBC's decision not to show a major live sporting event in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, a time of day -- as I understand it -- when many Americans are already conditioned to watch live sporting events.  Seriously.  Show the swimming finals live, even if you want to limit broadcast to one of the cable outlets -- and then package it for the network in primetime.  Argh.

added, Sunday afternoon:  "Call Me, Lochte."  Of course. (But does he look like a Shar-Pei?)

Friday, July 27, 2012

RULE, BRITTANIA: [Opening Ceremonies open thread.]
A FARM ANIMAL IS DOING SOMETHING ... UNPLANNED:  BroBible, GQ UK, BBB, and no doubt other sites are starting to form rules for an London Olympics Opening Ceremonies Drinking Game for this evening.  We can do better.

  • Michael Phelps' mom is shown.
  • An American athlete is highlighted who doesn't play basketball, gymnastics, track (they're not talking to field), swimming, or beach volleyball.
  • A non-US, non-basketball athlete is highlighted by NBC (2)
  • Pompous "Olympic ideals" bullshit from Rogge.
  • Costas makes some reference to the tension when Iran and Iraq follow each other in procession, as well as Ireland's serving as a buffer between those two and Israel.
  • A Python, Steve Coogan, or the AbFab ladies.
  • Her Majesty is dour (1), politely smiling (2), authentically happy (chug).
  • Princesses Eugenie or Beatrice are seen, double if wearing hats.
  • Correctly predicting a nation whose initial entry during the Parade of Nations is bumped by NBC for a commercial.
  • Costas references, in any way, the 1904 St. Louis Olympics (chug).
  • Full male frontal nudity, like they had in the 2004 Athens opening ceremony.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

THE PRACTICE OF SPORT IS A HUMAN RIGHT:  Tremendous essay in Grantland today from Anna Clark on the history, success, and aftermath of the international sports boycott against South Africa, and questioning why the IOC does not continue to leverage its power against other regimes which continue to discriminate against large portions of their populations. Clark cites a Richard Lapchick essay from 2009, which notes:
To this day, [South Africa under apartheid] was the only regime that the world came together to isolate in peacetime. There were oil, trade, bank loan and sports boycotts. Oil can be smuggled and trade restrictions circumvented. Some banks made loans that kept the regime afloat. But there is no black market for games, and the sports boycott became South Africa's Achilles' heel.
Ironic given the Games' professed nonpolitical nature (ha!), but be reminded that this is the one time every other year that we loosen the reins a bit on the blog in terms of geopolitical discussions. (Geopolitical, not political. No dressage banter unless it's actually about dressage; those reins remain tight.) It was impossible to talk about Beijing 2008 without discussing the brutal host regime, and we will not shy away from our continuing objection to British claims of sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas and Gibraltar, and our support of freedom for the Manx people as well as Noel Gallagher.
I MUST BEGIN MY JOURNEY: Commenter Emily attended the first preview of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods as part of this summer's NYC Shakespeare in the Park festival, and files this report:
* * *
The reason that reviewers wait until the end of previews to see a show is that it takes time to work out the kinks in a production. Rehearsals aren't enough. Tech week isn't enough. The cast and crew need practice in front of an audience. I start by noting this because I saw "Into the Woods" at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on its first preview, its first time up in front of a live judgmental New York audience. If you plan on seeing the production and don't want any spoilers, stop reading. Otherwise, here are a few thoughts:

WHAT COLOR WAS THE LOST ITEM?  Yesterday's WSJ A-Hed covered a topic relevant to many of us here: what happens if you lose your Olympic medal, and how often does it happen?

added: Slate's Seth Stevenson catches up to a story we've been on top of since day one: Why are London Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville so incredibly creepy?  (Bring back Waldi, the psychedelic dachshund!)  BONUS!  LA Times piles on:
"Also known as 'My Little Drony,' this plastic Beelzebub all-knowingly looks into my very thoughts like the Eye of Sauron in a hat," one [] reviewer joked.

Another quipped, “Every fifteen minute since I've opened it out of the packaging, it will shout phrases such as 'I AM THE EYE OF PROVIDENCE', 'PAX ROMANA' and 'THE SECRET IS WITHIN THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA.'"

The mascots have been branded as a cross between a Teletubby and a Cyclops, a cellphone and a "Yo Gabba Gabba" character, even the one-eyed aliens Kang and Kodos from "The Simpsons." When they were unveiled two years ago by the London design firm Iris, design critic Stephen Bayley derided them in the Telegraph as "appalling computerized Smurfs for the iPhone generation."
okay, one more thing: The London organizers were confident in their ability to get each flag and anthem right when the time comes. Of course, it didn't prevent them from fucking up on day one. With the North Koreans, no less.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

GET ME RESHOOT!  We've talked a lot about the problems with The Newsroom and have largely blamed the writing, but the more I watch, the more I think the direction is equally to blame for the show's problems.  This is the first time a Sorkin show has been lead directed by anyone other than Thomas Schlamme.  (Schlamme was tied up with Pan Am at the time.)  The direction become problematic in two major ways:

1.  The rhythm of the dialogue seems slightly off.  Rather than the rat-a-tat-tat we're accustomed to with Sorkinese, it's much more "beat, beat, beat, beat."  As a result, the show moves more slowly and less interestingly.  Part of that may also be due to HBO's indulgence and no longer having a strict "this episode must be 44 minutes" rule as they did on NBC, but the director can certainly affect that as well.

2.  Particularly in the scenes in the conference room, there's an awful lot of cutting between close-ups of the various actors when they talk rather than a wide shot or continuous shot with the camera moving to focus on the performers when they're talking.  This has the side effect of making it seem less like the characters are talking to one another and more like the characters are just pontificating into thin air, which is a particular problem for scripts as prone to pontification as Sorkin's.

I'm not saying a new directing team would solve all problems, but I think it certainly wouldn't hurt.
FELIX FELICIS:  Actor Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) is running with the Olympic torch today.

[Fact you probably won't hear from Bob Costas on Friday: the reason there is an Olympic torch relay from Greece to the host city is because in 1936, Hitler's folks thought it'd be an effective way to paint Nazi Germany as a successor to the greatness of Ancient Greece.  But he will tell you that the Central African Republic is a republic, located somewhere in central Africa.]
FANCYPANTS:  The New York Times would like you to know that highfalutin is preferred to highfaluting.  No one is really sure where the word came from -- probably an American folk derivation -- though it appears to have taken off in the 1850s, and peaked in the post-WWII era.
HARD TIMES IN A HARD LAND: I don't know when's the last time I laughed as hard as when Stringer confronted Shamrock after the New Day Co-Op meeting regarding his compliance with Robert's Rules of Order. Wow. (Also funny as hell: Bubbles and Johnny's ladder scam; Bunk's Dink procession; Santangelo telling Johnny that "the WMD is the bomb.")

"Straight and True" is the episode where we see the reformers have their go at it -- Bunny gets Hamsterdam up and running, and Stringer is going to make the Corleone Family 90% legitimate within five years (so to speak). Cutty has given up on reforming himself, however, and Bushy-Top is still Bushy-Top, for better and for ... eh, I don't judge. And on all sides there's resistance -- the rank-and-file police don't quite get it, the junkies and many dealers are incredulous, Marlo certainly isn't on board yet, and Avon ... I think it's safe to say that Avon's still trying to figure out what he wants his organization to be.

It's always good to see Maury Levy again. Such a credit to the profession.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TOOK A WHOLE LOT OF TRYING, JUST TO GET UP THAT HILL:  Sherman Hemsley, who passed away today at the age of 74, grew up near 22nd and Christian in South Philly. He worked as a postal clerk at 30th Street Station while learning his craft as an actor at locations familiar to many here -- the TLA, Society Hill Playhouse, and Valley Forge Music Fair, to name a few. Norman Lear spotted him during his Broadway debut in 1971, told him about a part he wanted to hold open for him in his new sitcom, All in the Family, and you know the rest. I can tell you how much I enjoyed Amen growing up, but let's let Odie Henderson discuss Hemsley's defining role:
Until I saw George [Jefferson], most of the Black men on my TV were characters like Thug #2 on Baretta. George opened my eyes to something I had never seen before, a successful and rich Black businessman. I was in awe, and I knew that if George, who reminded me of my uncle, could have seven cleaning stores (one near you), I had a chance to succeed just as he did. I didn't have to grow up to be Thug #2. I could be A-number-one....

Good Times was closer to my reality; The Jeffersons was closer to my dreams. The folks on Good Times acted like people I knew, and despite all his money, George Jefferson acted like people I knew too. I think this is where the confusion about his character lay. What made George such an inspiration to me was that he was a self-made man, someone who pulled himself up, but who also acted exactly like he did when he was broke. This was staying true to the character's roots, his upbringing, and his experiences prior to his promotions. Success may have spoiled Rock Hunter, but it didn't change George. He was still always running his hustle, afraid that everything he had could be taken away at any minute. Just because you have money doesn't mean it changes the type of person you are. Especially if you're not used to having it. Weezy was always trying to refine herself. George was always going to be George.
MODERN NEGOTIATIONS: Unsurprisingly, given that Modern Family is a massive hit with a syndication deal already in the works and an Emmy juggernaut, the six adult cast members are all holding out for more money.  The one interesting thing is that this is not a Friends scenario where all six are negotiating as a unit.  Five of the six are, but Ed O'Neill has apparently not joined, in part because he's already paid more for his services than the rest of the cast and expects that to continue.  (Warren Littlefield's Top of the Rock indicates that Schwimmer was originally higher paid than the other five Friends, but agreed to the "all for one, one for all" negotiating strategy that wound up getting them big money.)

Interestingly, I'd argue O'Neill may be the most easily expendable part of the show--I can easily see Jay dropping dead of a heart attack and the show continuing on largely as it was, while getting rid of any of the other characters makes things much more difficult.  Will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially with ABC's press tour day coming up on Friday.
BEING AN ACTOR'S NO DIFFERENT THAN BEING A RUGBY PLAYER OR CONSTRUCTION WORKER, SAVE FOR THE FACT THAT MY TOOLS ARE THE MECHANISMS WHICH TRIGGER HUMAN EMOTION:  The NYMag folks did a lot of math (and employed not-much subjectivity) to determine who the 100 most valuable movie stars are in Hollywood these days, with some neat tools to re-weigh the criteria employed, and best of all it's not a slideshow.

(Too high: Daniel Radcliffe, Jonah Hill. Too low: Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway. Oddly missing: Samuel L. Jackson.)
IT'S THEATRE, YOU KNOW. I'M A THEATRICAL PERFORMER. I'M WHISPERING IN YOUR EAR, AND YOU'RE DREAMING MY DREAMS, AND THEN I'M GETTING A FEELING FOR YOURS. I'VE BEEN DOING THAT FOR FORTY YEARS:  I recognize that we've got a segment of the audience here who'll say enough with the Springsteen, but for the rest, David Remnick's lengthy New Yorker profile of the artist at age 62 will be immensely satisfying. Springsteen is particularly revelatory in discussing his mindset in putting together a concert (and this post-Clarence tour in particular), his thirty years of psychoanalysis, the role of politics in his music, and how his personal wealth plays into all of it:

Monday, July 23, 2012

NUMBER ONE SON: Ichiro announced himself to the baseball world early in his ersatz-rookie season, gunning down Oakland's Terrence Long as Long tried to go from first to third on a single to right field. He laid down hit after hit after hundreds of hits, infuriating pitchers and purists alike by chopping balls into the grass and taking his base before the first bounce came down; by slapping balls weakly but where-they-ain't; by being two steps toward first base before the bat head was through the zone. Ichiro never hit more than enough home runs to prove that he could do it if he wanted, and he never walked more than enough to prove that he could do it if forced to do it by pitches around the ears (but not in the dirt -- Ichiro would hit singles off the bounce). But he also put the lie to the old saw that you can't steal first.  And when he lined up next to Mike Cameron, there wasn't a patch of grass to the right of left-center where a batter could bet on a double or a Texas-league single. In his prime, he confounded PECOTA, irritated old baseball writers, and gave the most glorious, inscrutable, possibly poorly translated, possibly fucking-with-you quotes in baseball.

Ichiro did everything the way that a professional should do everything. He knew his body, understood his limitations, maximized his strengths. He stayed in impossible shape, followed the same pre-game stretching routine every day of every season, had the same pre-at-bat routine (bat between the legs, adjust the glove flaps, bat up like a flagpole, adjust the right sleeve) every at bat of every day of every season.

I am sad, tremendously sad, that Ichiro will not be a Mariner ever again.  But he can't help these Mariners (no one can), and he deserves another shot at a World Series.  Despite his impending Yankeedom, I wish him the best.  And I will always remember those floating catches in right, the did-he-just infield hits, the numbers 116 and 258 and 262, and Terrence Long confusedly sliding into David Bell's waiting tag, a warm-to-the-touch missile from Ichiro welcoming him to almost-but-not-quite-third.  Ichiro: now a Yankee; ever a Mariner. 
DEFINITELY AN E-TICKET: Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, has died after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. There are, of course, many things to admire about such a woman. First, of course, she was a fucking astronaut. I don't care how routine space flight is or may or some day become. Astronaut = Awesome. Second, of course, the competition simply was too fierce for the initial class of shuttle astronauts to have allowed for anything but inherently well qualified folks. Sure, NASA was going to have women and African-Americans in the class of 1978, but those folks, as a class, probably needed to be better than their peers. But in all the interviews I ever read with her, she didn't much care about any of that, not at least on her on behalf. She got to do something cool and she thought that she might inspire another girl along the way to do something cool as well. And that's a life well lived. (Also, fucking astronaut.) Is her impact any greater than Shannon Lucid or Kathryn Sullivan or any of her peers in that class? Maybe not. But she was the first.
MATH CLASS IS HARD: I've been trying to give The Newsroom plenty of time to work the kinks out, but I think that after last night I may be done. That dynamic between McHale and McAvoy, where McAvoy and Sorkin can't stop themselves from belittling her (she's a cheater; she's jealous; she can't do math, he announces to the newsroom; she doesn't understand economics at even a high-school level; she's ethical but too stupid to recognize ethical problems), even when McAvoy is busy saving her from the mean people -- is just disturbing.
THERE ARE A THOUSAND HACKING AT THE BRANCHES OF EVIL TO ONE WHO IS STRIKING AT THE ROOT:  This isn't enough: a fine of $60M in football revenue (one year's worth) from a University with a $2B endowment to go "into an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university," no bowl appearances for four years, ten fewer initial and twenty total fewer scholarships per-year for the next five years (and allowing mass transfers out), symbolically vacating the wins from 1998-2011 ... this is all big, and will impair Penn State's ability to run a football program, but I fear it does nothing to change the culture of a university where janitors were terrified of reporting a child being raped in their showers.  Only closing down the football program for 2+ years would have done that.  Dave Zirin:
[Today's] decision will of course gut Penn State athletics. It will also create a siege mentality among PSU alumni causing a rush of donations that, I bet, will make up the difference in a week. It’s a farcical public relations move that distracts the public from actually holding to account those responsible for protecting Sandusky. Former FBI director Louis Freeh had said that the root of the problem was the “culture of reverence” for football. Penn State did more to confront this “culture of reverence” by taking down their statue of Joe Paterno on Sunday than Mark Emmert did today.
Added: The full NCAA-Penn State consent decree (pdf).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

SOME HATE THE ENGLISH. I DON'T. THEY'RE JUST WANKERS. WE, ON THE OTHER HAND, ARE COLONIZED BY WANKERS. CAN'T EVEN FIND A DECENT CULTURE TO BE COLONIZED BY:  Did you know that the London Olympics opening ceremonies are being directed by Academy Award winner Danny Boyle, of Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, and Trainspotting fame? (Link has spoilers at to the quantity and array of livestock expected to participate. No word yet on whether any slam poets will appear.)