"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Pop Culture Archives
December 07, 2004
POP CULTURE: Tangled Up In Green
Slate.com carries a negative review of Ed Bradley’s mailed-in Sunday interview with Bob Dylan and sees a Viacom connection as the motivation behind Dylan’s rare appearance and Bradley’s fawning. The Crank mentioned in passing here the tendency of CBS to shamelessly plug books put out by its corporate masters.
Aside from ethics, I guess there’s nothing necessarily wrong about it - Dylan is certainly a worthy interview subject - but you have to wish that “60 Minutes” would be a little more forthright about this type of thing.
UPDATE: I misread the end of the Slate piece, which, as a more alert reader points out in the comments, says that Steve Kroft had apparently mentioned the Viacom-CBS-Dylan connection at the top of the show. Having just caught the tail end of the interview and reading the Slate author’s tone, I assumed that CBS had failed to disclose it. Anyway, as a result, I don’t see any real problem here except for a boring interview. My bad.
December 04, 2004
POP CULTURE: Iron From a Stone
This IMDB news item caught my eye:
Movie-maker Oliver Stone is lining up another historical figure for his next biopic - former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The director is refusing to let the critical mauling and disastrous box office performance of his latest film Alexander - based on Macedonian warrior Alexander The Great - and is pursuing his current dream of bringing the British leader's life to the big screen. And Stone is determined to land Meryl Streep for the lead role. He says, "Margaret Thatcher is an amazing woman and a good subject for a film. I'm thinking about Meryl Streep to play the Iron Lady." Pals claim Stone - who's documented the lives of shamed President Richard Nixon, assassinated leader John F. Kennedy and rock star Jim Morrison - is now keen to focus his films on some of his female idols. One friends says, "Oliver is one of Baroness Thatcher's greatest fans. Alexander was slammed by critics, so maybe he think it's time to concentrate on a great woman for a film. Thatcher was one of the most powerful political figures in the world and her life has been as colorful as any superstar." [Emphasis added]
I confess to being more than a little surprised that Stone is an avid admirer of the famously conservative “Iron Lady” but, then again, I wouldn’t have thought he would be a fan of an unapologetic conqueror like Alexander the Great either.
December 03, 2004
POP CULTURE: Classical Rebirth?
The City Journal, lamenting New York’s long, unpleasant experiment with “modernist” architecture, has some great suggestions for a rebirth of classical architecture on the West Side.
It is long past overdue for the City to stop alternately constructing hideous eyesores and bland, nondescript office buildings and move back to the classical architecture of Grand Central Station, the Flatiron Building and the Empire State Building. As the authors here state:
Here’s hoping this idea gets somewhere.
November 28, 2004
POP CULTURE: That's Incredible!
Took the kids to see The Incredibles yesterday, and it was, in fact, as tremendous a movie as advertised, a thrill-a-minute action flick with more than enough adult emotional depth to make it more than your typical action movie. Actually, in a number of ways the movie reminded me of the recently released Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, since the movies shared many settings and plot devices, but while Sky Captain, was a very enjoyable ride, it was the added emotional depth that makes The Incredibles by far the superior movie.
November 06, 2004
POP CULTURE: The Final Countdown
If you’re looking for a nice break from politics or sports, you may want to check out the teaser trailer for what may be the final "Star Wars" movie. Hint: it prominently features both Alec Guinness and the voice of James Earl Jones.
I thought it was pretty neat.
October 29, 2004
POP CULTURE: A September 11 Miniseries
Michele is appalled. I do think there will and should eventually be a good movie or TV treatment of September 11, but more years of time, distance and perspective are still needed, as was the case with movies about, say, the Holocaust. ABC and NBC shouldn't be touching this right now. Of course, Hollywood being what it is these days, they'll probably change it so neo-Nazis fly the planes into the towers.
October 19, 2004
POP CULTURE: American Puppets
I saw the movie, which is entirely filmed with puppets, yesterday and admit to having laughed a lot. The film is completely offensive to just about everyone, of course. What strikes me as interesting is that a lot of people seem to see this as a revolutionary right-wing movie for basically arguing that America often causes more damage than its enemies in the War on Terror, but that we are still right to fight it. That this is considered a daring statement from a Hollywood film says more about modern-day Hollywood and what we have come to expect of it than it does about this particular movie. During World War II, theaters were consistently jammed with movies about the righteousness of fighting against German and Japanese fascism. Today, almost 3,000 Americans were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania and this may be the first major studio movie to come out which is even somewhat in favor of fighting back.
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A few other comments:
* One shouldn’t get too carried away reading political messages into this film. It’s largely just a spoof of violent Jerry Bruckheimer-style movies…starring puppets.
* That said, I’d be very leery of having this film shown overseas. It is a very amusing spoof of American foreign policy and its dissenters, but is a little irresponsible too. In particular, do we really want Kim Jong Il thinking that America feels that it has to invade his country? Mightn’t the maniacal, singing and cursing version of the Dear Leader here seem like hate-filled American state propaganda to a regime that knows no other kind of expression? These concerns may be unwarranted, but they tempered my ability to freely laugh in certain places.
* I did, however, have to laugh at the Middle Eastern “cantina” scene and at the slow-witted I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E super-computer which keeps sending “Team America” barreling into the wrong countries.
* I bet Hans Blix never thought there would be a puppet version of him appearing in a major Hollywood movie.
* As you might guess, I sympathize with ridiculing Hollywood celebrities (led, of course, by Alec Baldwin), but, as a satirical device, I’m not sure if dispatching so many of them violently was the best way to make fun of their views, such as they are. Doing so is, like much of the film, pretty juvenile. In fact, the various violent fates of the enemies of “Team America” (most of whom are based on real people) makes me wonder, again, if this is more of a spoof of violent movies and less one of politics.
* In terms of making fun of Hollywood conventions, my favorite part was when the main characters engaged, in a typical action movie scene, in an oblivious argument about their personal relationships in the middle of a dogfight with the North Korean air force. Similarly, the casual approach to collateral damage doesn’t strike me as a particularly fair criticism of the U.S. military, but it certainly rings true for Hollywood action movies.
* It may be my old-fashioned instincts, but the profanity and juvenile humor, while admittedly funny, undermined the potential impact of this film. Unlike the “South Park” movie, profanity was not the point of the movie here. This film could’ve been more meaningful with more satire and less cheap jokes, but, I guess, what else exactly would one expect from these filmmakers?
Anyway, if you have an interest in the Global War on Terrorism, a willingness to laugh at your own political views, a high tolerance for extremely profane humor and your name isn’t, among many others, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay or Matt Damon, “Team America” is probably worth checking out.
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October 13, 2004
POP CULTURE: And We Liked It!
Speaking of grumpy old men - just kidding – happy birthday wishes to the Crank!
September 20, 2004
POP CULTURE: Sky Captain
I went to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow this weekend (I wasn't excited enough about the movie to redesign my blog on that theme, but I was pretty intrigued). Visually, the film was an absolute masterpiece, every bit as compelling as advertised, with the film noir-ish play of light and shadow and the spectacular computer-generated backdrops. One thing that worked extremely well was the fact that the movie opened in familiar settings - the Empire State Building, Radio City - and when that worked, the suspension of disbelief was cemented. The movie's high points were the spectacular aerial dogfights, especially the chases through the narrow streets of Manhattan. You could fill a film-school paper with all the visual references, notably The Empire Strikes Back (for a Cloud City-style airborne aircraft carrier scene and a duel on a bridge over a seemingly bottomless pit), and an early scene against a large picture window in Manhattan that was lifted directly from Citizen Kane.
The plot and dialogue weren't anything exceptional, but they held together without much in the way of cringeworthiness, and a plot twist near the end was amusing. If I had a quibble with the movie it was the casting of Jude Law, who was rather a dry action hero, lacking in the charm and flair of a Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson. Law co-produced the film, though, so I gather a different lead would not have been possible.
Anyway, if you like sci-fi/retro adventures in an Indiana Jones-ish vein, this is definitely one to catch on the big screen.
September 12, 2004
POP CULTURE: Jack and Bobby
OK, I admit it: I saw the ads for the WB series "Jack and Bobby," and when they described the premise, I thought, "maybe not my kind of show, but sounds like a cool idea." Kind of like "Joan of Arcadia," which I don't watch but which I seem to enjoy every time I catch 10 minutes of it flipping channels. Then they gave the show's title, and they lost me. Please, not another walk down faux-Kennedy memory lane. Even if the show's content has nothing to do with it, I'm just not buying something in that wrapping. Make it stop.
August 21, 2004
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Governor Piscopo
Joe Piscopo says he may abandon his lucrative career as . . . uh . . . well, anyway, he may run for governor of New Jersey as a Democrat.
Piscopo, of course, stopped being funny when he started lifting weights, which makes him the prime example of what I might term Picsopo's Laws of Thermodynamics for Comedians:
*The talent of a small-to-average-size comedian decreases in direct proportion to the increase in the mass of the comedian.
*The talent of an average-size-to-large comedian decreases in direct proportion to the decrease in the mass of the comedian.
Not sure why exactly this is. Partly it's because fat comedians who make jokes about being fat and sloppy get less funny when they get in shape, skinny comedians who do a lot of pratfalls and physical comedy lose some of that if they get fat (think: Dan Aykroyd), and comedians generally get less funny if they start working out and taking themselves seriously. Which is another way of saying that growing up is bad for comics.
August 01, 2004
POP CULTURE: Revenge
From one of Bill Simmons' readers, on the "Vengance Scale":
Department of Embarrassing Corrections, from the same column: "Joe De's is on Cambridge Street, not Main Street." Bill, you're getting old . . .
July 04, 2004
POP CULTURE: Walk Like Brando Right Into the Sun
One thing I was thinking about this week with the death of Marlon Brado - in the mid/late 50s, four of the biggest stars in Hollywood, were Brando, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. At the time, they were all about the same level and type of star, although Monroe had probably been a star the longest (excluding Taylor's original incarnation as a child star). They were all considered steamy sex symbols.
We know how the story went from there; Brando and Taylor went on to greater artistic heights but eventually decended into self-parody, getting fat, old, batty and beset by tragedies great and small; Dean and Monroe died young and beautiful, but left behind less of a comprehensive body of work, at least compared to Brando. Dean and Monrore, though, have an aura that nutty old Liz and Marlon gradually dissipated.
Which makes you wonder about how images change; who Taylor and Brando were in the 50s hasn't changed, yet their memory is much clouded by who they became. You wonder, if they had died and Dean and Monroe had lived, how different the memories would be.
As for Brando, in a way, his image is liberated by his death, free again to be remembered for his best work; you can see that already in the tributes. Maybe, in the long view, the better part of his life will reclaim center stage.
July 02, 2004
POP CULTURE: Well, it wasn't enough time, Michael. It wasn't enough time.
June 17, 2004
POP CULTURE: The Fat Cat
Chris Suellentrop argues that Garfield has, since its inception, been basically a cynical merchandising concept in search of a comic strip. Personally - and maybe it's just because I was 10, 12 years old at the time - I thought Garfield was a genuinely funny strip the first few years (especially the very early strips when Garfield was squarer and poorly drawn), granting that it jumped the shark some 20+ years ago.
POP CULTURE: Once You've Directed Jesus . . .
May 27, 2004
POP CULTURE: "We didn't want someone to put nipples on the Batsuit."
Newsweek on the new Harry Potter movie and the transition in directors. Some choice quotes on the new cast members, Gary Oldman (who plays Sirius Black) and David Thewlis (who plays Remus Lupin):
May 26, 2004
POP CULTURE: This Boy Can Really Fly
Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts expands on some observations by his brother about the absence from TV portrayals of teenage sexuality of what is euphemistically referred to as second and third base. It's an interesting argument.
May 25, 2004
POP CULTURE: Little W?
Has the malaprop-wielding Little Carmine on The Sopranos been modeled after George W. Bush? That's one I had not thought of, but the quote at the end of this entry makes clear that this had to be deliberate. (Via Steve Silver who notices that Sunday night's episode - in which he finds himself in a "stagmire" - pretty much does away with the parallel).
May 23, 2004
POP CULTURE: Sequestration Order
Note to viewers of The Sopranos who aren't up to speed through tonight: Things Happened on tonight's episode. If you don't want to know, begin avoiding the media immediately, with particular emphasis on Slate.com, the New York Daily News, and the Letterman show, among others. Thank me later.
We now resume our regularly scheduled broadcast.
May 22, 2004
POP CULTURE: Five Songs, Vol. I
I'm kicking off a new intermittent feature here on the site (bearing in mind the unfinished nature of many of my prior serieses of posts): Five Songs, in which I'll post about five selected songs that I've been listening to lately. Hope you enjoy.
1. Forgotten Years, by Midnight Oil - "Who can remember, we've got to remember" - a heartfelt tribute to the tribulations of generations that fought wars (written in that whole "end of history" mood of the early Nineties), with a driving beat and a moving video shot amidst rows of crosses. Of course, it's no longer entirely true of America (though for the moment it remains true of Midnight Oil's native Australia) that "Our shorelines were never invaded, our country was never in flames".
2. Night Train, by Guns n' Roses - The Gunners at their best. One funny thing: there's a line in the song where Axl, in full "see how much of a badass I really am" mode, sings, "I got a dog eat dog sly smile." But until I read the lyrics, I thought he said, "I got a dog he doubts my smile" (listen some time and you'll see what I mean), which conveys a much more menacing thought - a man whose dog doesn't even trust him. Two bonus Guns n' Roses items. First, the band did a demo cover of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" that got leaked to New York's Z100 back when I used to listen to the station (hey, I was in high school), and it went in heavy rotation for a few weeks until some sort of legal action quashed it. I hope they find a way some day to unearth this one - it was just dynamite, fast-paced full-tilt rock that made the classic original sound pokey by comparison. Second, and listen closely before you laugh at me: listen to the "sparks flying" part of the bridge in "Welcome to the Jungle" (the part leading up to where Axl screams, "you're in the jungle baby, you're gonna dieeeee); then listen to the sound of Satan's fiddlers in The Charlie Daniels Band's 1979 novelty country tune "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." Tell me they aren't basically playing the same sound.
3. Comfortably Numb, by Van Morrison - The Pink Floyd original is definitive, of course, but Morrison's interpretation, from the concert at the Berlin Wall, is quite different; while David Gilmour's purposely flat vocals give expression to the singer's drug-induced distance and emotional alienation, Morrison invests the song with a lot more emotion, singing about the pain of loss rather than portraying absence.
4. I'm the Ocean, by Neil Young with Pearl Jam - Young, famously, is a master of both heavy metal and easy listening; this is in the former vein. The "Mirror Ball" album he did backed by Pearl Jam is uneven, but has some good stuff, this song among it.
5. Human Wheels, John Mellencamp - Another song for just the right mood - melancholy, without being depressing, and with a hypnotic, cycling beat. Should rank with Mellencamp's best.
May 21, 2004
BASKETBALL/POP CULTURE: Sports Guy & Wiley
Bill Simmons faced off with Ralph Wiley on Monday, talking basketball and other stuff. As Aaron Gleeman noted, Bill "did the unthinkable" and "made Ralph Wiley seem almost likeable." He did the even more unthinkable by playing the first race card in a chat with Wiley - that's like winning the tipoff against Wilt Chamberlain.
NOTE: SOPRANOS DISCUSSION AHEAD
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Bill also didn't use the term, but he invoked the Ewing Theory on Tony Soprano ("I always thought the best thing they could do is kill Tony off"). I have to agree with Bill and nearly everybody else (see here for Lileks savaging the episode) that the extended dream sequence sucked big time - they could have used 30 seconds of it to tell us that Tony knew what Tony B was up to but couldn't face the implications.
That episode also got rough treatment over at Slate, where the online chats between mob experts on the Sopranos have been tremendous. Tony keeps getting savaged for being a wuss by Gerald Shargel, one of John Gotti's lawyers about whom Gotti memorably said (on tape), in the course of complaining about the bills he was paying them, "Gambino crime family? This is the Shargel, Cutler crime family." Classic.
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May 06, 2004
POP CULTURE: The Sexy Friend
A thought on the end of "Friends" tonight . . . it's a commonplace, and one I'd certainly agree with, that there's altogether too much sex and sexuality in mass entertainment these days. And yet, for all the panting and bumping and grinding, the portrayals of sex tend to be rather incomplete. The typical mode of sexual expression tends to be raw, animal passion, people grabbing each other, tearing their clothes off, etc., conveying a sense that sex is a powerful force that completely overhwelms us. Which is fine as far as it goes, but in the real world, even the most passionate relationships won't sustain that sort of demonstrative intensity for very long stretches; even fires that burn very hot won't always send up such visible flames. At the other end of the scale, particularly among long-married sitcom couples, we see the portrayal of sex as the logical conclusion of playful, wholesomely leering banter; the big inside joke of a married couple. Which, again, isn't so much a false picture as a woefully incomplete one.
What brings this all to mind is that Jennifer Aniston has to be one of the best, perhaps the best, actress I can recall at portraying genuine sexual longing - not just theatrical lust but the powerful cocktail of affection, need, and desire that forms the real foundation of a sexual relationship. The episode this season that really powerfully dramatized this was the one where Rachel's father had a heart attack and she was hanging closely on to Ross; their scene in her childhood bedroom was one of the most sexually charged things I've ever seen on television notwithstanding the fact that the scene concluded with essentially nothing having happened and the characters still fully clothed. Watch that one again some time and pay careful attention to her. It should be added, of course, that Aniston's acting in this regard has sustained the credibility of the Ross-Rachel storyline this season despite the obvious fact that Ross, who was the funniest thing on the show the first season or two, has been acting like an annoying idiot for the last 6 or 7 years on end.
Of course, Aniston's not the only one who does this well; Linda Cardellini and Goran Visnjic have put on similar performances on "ER" this season, and even Tony and Carmela's scene in the pool on the Sopranos two weeks ago was a good example of going beyond the usual TV cliche on sex. But Aniston has long been particularly impressive, in "Friends" and her film roles, in this regard.
April 22, 2004
WAR/POP CULTURE: Springtime for Arafat
For those who have complained - rightly - of Hollywood's post-September 11 squeamishness about making movies about terrorism where the bad guys are (duh!) Muslim and/or Arab fanatics, there is hope: Steven Spielberg, who's likely to be pretty damn unsympathetic to lunatic Jew-hating Palestinian terrorists, is making a movie about the terror attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
March 31, 2004
POP CULTURE: In The Bucket
I don't know much about "Buckethead," but suppose you could have predicted that his collaboration with Guns n' Roses would not go entirely smoothly. Gawker has an amusing press release in which Axl Rose vents.
March 25, 2004
POP CULTURE: "Zombies Drive Jesus From Top Of Box Office"
Somebody at MTV News sure has a way with headlines. That's the best one since "Hobbits Whup Leonardo DiCaprio's Ass".
March 19, 2004
POP CULTURE: Heh Heh, or Huh Huh?
Tim Blair, noting Maureen Dowd's line about how President Bush "did his "Beavis and Butthead" snigger" at a Dutch reporter, asks the burning question:
Thing is, Beavis and Butthead had entirely distinct and separate sniggers. Performing both simultaneously would rupture a person’s snigger glands. So, which is it, Maureen? Is Bush a high-pitched Beavis man, or does he tend towards the deeper Butthead style?
March 17, 2004
POP CULTURE: Get Your Irish Up
I believe tickets are still on sale (check Ticketmaster here) for this Saturday's concert by one of this site's favorite bands, the Saw Doctors, at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. They're a great show; see here and here for more on the Galway-based rockers. They've also got a live CD hitting the stores (as well as available through the band's website), which I'll have to pick up shortly.
March 13, 2004
POP CULTURE: Mother Focker
Barbra Streisand signs on to play Ben Stiller's mother (Dustin Hoffman will play his father) in Meet the Fockers, the may-or-may-not-be-funny sequel to Meet the Parents. Of course, watching Robert DeNiro trying to hold his temper in check while listening to Barbra Streisand may be worth the price of admission by itself.
March 07, 2004
CNN reports that filming has begun on the new Batman movie, starring Christian Bale as Batman, with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, and Ken Watanabe. Neeson will play a familiar role as "Batman's mentor."
Advice to Neeson: this time, if they ask you to do dialogue with a computer-generated character, get a look at him first before you agree to do the scene.
March 03, 2004
POP CULTURE: In Hollywood, "Christian is the new gay."
NRO's Mike Potemra quotes an amusingly overoptimistic take on Christianity's (very temporary) cache in Hollywood after the blockbuster opening weekend for The Passion of the Christ. Of course, let's face it: like political conservatism, Christianity will never be particularly popular in show business because it's not readily compatible with the sort of hedonistic sex-and-drugs lifestyle long favored by wealthy entertainers.
March 01, 2004
POP CULTURE: Lost in the Rings
I was certainly satisfied to see Return of the King take the Oscar last night; it wasn't necessarily the best film of the trilogy, but the whole masterpiece really deserved recognition.
When they announced the Best Actor, Bill Murray definitely had that "I'm never gonna have another chance at an Oscar" look on his face . . . I did see Lost in Translation a few weeks ago, and while some of the hype was overdone, it was quite good. Murray gave a fine performance, albeit one that was mostly your typical Bill Murray, just more subdued. I actually though that the person who really deserved recognition was Scarlett Johansson, who gave a really vivid portrayal of an aimless young woman.
At least, that's what I thought until I read that the movie was semi-autobiographical. If you saw Godfather III, you know that Sofia Coppola projects only the most minimal emotional range. Having seen Coppola's 'acting,' I came away wondering if Johansson's performance was more an extended (and highly accurate) impression rather than a characterization from whole cloth.
POP CULTURE/RELIGION: The Passion of the Audience
Stryker, who is something of an afficionado of Jesus movies, has a decidedly mixed review of The Passion of the Christ. Given how infrequently I get out to the theater, I'll probably wait for this movie to come out on video. But, having read a number of reviews and articles on the movie, I suspect that Stryker has hit the nail on the head with this observation (after comparing the film's violence to that in Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan):
For what purpose, I ask, would someone pay money to watch American servicemen and innocent Jews mocked, beaten, broken, and murdered? And why are those films rightly praised, while The Passion of the Christ seems to be judged by a different standard? For the answer, we have to turn to The Empire Strikes Back. When Yoda instructs Luke to enter the Cave, Skywalker asks, "What's in there?" Yoda replies, "Only what you take with you." What you bring into the theater will largely determine how you view this film.
February 14, 2004
POP CULTURE: The Real Conspiracy Revealed!
February 10, 2004
POP CULTURE: Bonus
The SciFi Channel reports on bonus footage that will be included in the DVD version of Return of the King:
Among the excised scenes: a humorous bit between Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) having a drinking competition. "I really quite liked [it]," Jackson said. "But we felt [it was too comedic] at a point when we wanted to set up the tension of the story. And there's a sequence of Sam [Sean Astin] and Frodo [Elijah Wood] disguised as orcs, where they end up in the orc army for a while."
Personally, I'll be very disappointed if even the DVD version doesn't have the scene with the Mouth of Sauron. I think I had read somewhere that the parley with Saruman was also filmed, but maybe not; that would make a good scene.
February 07, 2004
POP CULTURE: Watching the Watchers
February 06, 2004
POP CULTURE: You Say He's Just A Friend
By the way, I gotta say, it warmed my heart to hear Biz Markie in one of the Super Bowl ads. I gotta figure ol' Biz could use the royalty money.
February 03, 2004
POP CULTURE: The Boob Tube
I missed the now-notorious peep show at halftime at the Super Bowl; I only caught a little of halftime before changing the channel in disgust and disinterest. My wife's reaction to a glimpse of the show even before Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction": "don't they know that children watch the Super Bowl"?
The Corner had the two best reactions. From Jonah Goldberg:
LOOK AT IT THIS WAY.... Your daughter comes home crying, driven home by a boy you never liked in the first place. Before you can ask what happened she runs up to her room. You ask the boy what happened. He says, "Mr. Goldberg it's not my fault. She had a wardrobe malfunction!"
From John Miller:
"Dad, why are they doing that?" asked my son, age 6, just before his bedtime. What was I to say? "Some people call it dancing," was my lame reply. I should have told him that maybe all the dancers forgot to go potty before they went on stage.
Also, it occurred to me afterwards that Justin Timberlake has done things like this before.
February 01, 2004
FOOTBALL/POP CULTURE: Return of the Sports Guy
I hope you haven't missed out on this week's rare treat: Bill Simmons is back and blogging twice a day. Bill's Boston Sports Guy site, of course, was a hit blog before most people knew what a blog was -- for the last few years of the 1990s, he was a mostly one-man show offering daily links and sidesplittingly funny commentary on sports and pop culture. (As many of you know, I got my own start on the Net on Bill's site from May 2000 to its demise a year later). Anyway, he's been reduced to two columns a week lately while working for the Jimmy Kimmel show, but this week he's been in Houston for the Super Bowl and back in top form. Click here for yesterday's entry and links to the rest of the week.
I confess to not having followed football that much this season, but Bill's Thursday column completely sold me on why the Patriots should be heavy favorites:
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Consider the following things:
Bill's Monday column also ran through another of his specialties, worshipping at the altar of gorgeous women . . . just two thoughts: (1) Bill asks what happened to Phoebe Cates, but if I recall correctly she made a conscious decision to stay out of the limelight and have children (with her husband, actor Kevin Kline); and (2) Bill writes of Jennifer Anniston, "[e]specially in those first two seasons of "Friends," when she had a little more weight on her . . . [t]hen she went Elisabeth Shue on us and got skinny ... she still looks great, but it's not the same." I have to not only agree, but say that this is, as far as I can tell, this is nearly a unanimous opinion and one that's shared by women as well as men. Nearly every time we watch Friends, my wife and I comment on how much better Anniston and Courtney Cox looked before they went all diet-crazy. I just don't know how women in Hollywood get it into their heads that they aren't supposed to look like . . . well, women.
Anyway, read the whole week's worth of columns, if you haven't already.
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January 21, 2004
POP CULTURE/BASEBALL/POLITICS, etc.: A Few Of My Favorite Books
Nothing scratches the blog itch quite like a little bout of list-making. With that in mind, I decided to draw up a list of my all-time favorite books. For reasons that will become obvious, I limited myself to one book per author, and in some cases the one book is something of a stand-in for a larger body of work. The top 10-15 of these are the real immortals, the ones I go back to again and again. In some cases, I suppose, I've also stretched the definition of "book," but hey, it's my list. I also decline to apologize for the paucity of literature and the prominence of baseball memoirs on this list; I've always preferred polemics, analyses, humor and great storytelling, and I've never made pretense at being deeply intellectual in my interests:
24. Raymond Woodcock, Take the Bar and Beat Me: I enjoy my job and the law, but not to the point where I can't see the humor in the profession of law. Woodcock, a reformed lawyer, graduate of Columbia Law School and practitioner at a big New York firm that has since gone under, wrote a scathingly humorous look at law school and the legal profession, and one I highly recommend to anyone considering a career in the law. Woodcock's take is blithely cynical in some places, but also self-critical, as he looks at how the law changed him, including his divorce (an occupational hazard of lawyering).
23. Leo Durocher, Nice Guys Finish Last: Leo's book, like Leo himself, is funny, vindictive, manipulative and an essential key to understanding six decades of baseball history, from Leo's run-ins with Ty Cobb to his frustrations with Cesar Cedeno.
22. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged: A cliched choice for conservatives, although I came to read this one relatively late in life (just a few years ago) after I was pretty well set in my thoughts, and I still haven't read any of Rand's others. It's a tale well-told (even if John Galt's didactic speech drags a bit), skillfully playing on the unfairness, pettiness and venality of a system that gives some people the ability to decide how to dispose of the fruits of others' labors.
21. Joe Garagiola, Baseball is a Funny Game: Garagiola's was one of the first baseball books I read as a kid, and dog-eared it rather severely. It's unmistakably pre-Ball Four in its G-rated treatment of the game (it was published in 1960), and thus will seem horribly dated to the modern adult reader, but still manages to capture the earthy humor of ballplayers and the genuine love for the game of guys like Garagiola and his boyhood pal Yogi Berra, who came up from a working-class Italian-American section of St. Louis. Garagiola also captures an up-close look at important figures like Branch Rickey and Frankie Frisch. A similar collection of humorous stories about the game from the 1970s can be found in the late Ron Luciano's books.
20. Stephen Carter, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby: A tough choice between Carter's books on church and state, affirmative action, and judicial confirmations, so I picked the one I read first. Carter describes himself mostly as a political liberal, but he fits comfortably in the neo-liberal camp in his willingness to challenge orthodoxies of the Left, especially on questions of race and religion. His writing is also a model of clarity and directness.
19. Scott Turow, One L: Yes, this was particularly influential because (like most everybody else in my law school class) I read it the summer before starting law school at Harvard. Harvard and law schools generally have changed a good deal since the 1970s, but Turow captures perfectly (and contributes to) the essentially internal psychodrama of the place. I'm also giving Turow credit here for his works of straight fiction, which are intricate and absorbing, however seamy.
18. Stephen King, Christine: King's books are always gripping, most of all The Shining and Christine. The latter gets extra points here for King's vividly accurate portrait of the minds of high school kids and the real and imagined terrors that can overcome them.
17. Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down: As frightening as any Stephen King book, but much sadder; Bowden not only rescued the Battle of Mogadishu from historical obscurity, but in the process drew a compelling picture of the modern American military and the men who populate it, the mindset and tactics of its Third World adversaries (sometimes in spite of decent men in their midst), and the gulf that separates the two. The book's indictment of foreign-policy adventures like Somalia is almost an afterthought but one that stays with you.
16. Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August: If Bowden provided a readable and engrossing look at war from the ground level, Tuchman's World War I classic did the same from the top down. Tuchman recognized the Shakespearean tragedy of the onset of the Great War, and presents the plans of the various generals and the vissicitudes of the onset of war to maximize that effect. I also loved her book A Distant Mirror, a chilling compendium of the ills (literal and figurative) of 14th Century Europe.
15. Raymond Smullyan, Alice in Puzzle-Land: One of the many things I got from my mother was a love of logic puzzles, and Smullyan is the master of them. This book isn't just a collection of increasingly brain-bending puzzles, like his book The Lady or The Tiger?; it's also a clever and stylish takeoff on Lewis Carroll's bizarre cast of characters. The book is out of print and hard to find, but it remains a favorite.
14. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: I was a bit of a latecomer to the Harry Potter books, having seen the first two movies with my wife (who'd read the books) before diving into this, the third installment (I've subsequently read the first two to my son); now I'm hooked. Having read all five, the third is the best, with a taut, fast-moving plot carrying lots twists (granted that a number of the surprises are telegraphed in advance). Perhaps as importantly, for the adult reader, Prisoner of Azkaban introduces the series' serious adult characters (i.e., characters who are more than just quirky authority figures).
13. The Opinions of Justice Antonin Scalia: The Caustic Conservative: Yes, I'm cheating here by citing a book that hasn't been released yet, based on its likely contents consisting of judicial opinions. I'll narrow it down here to its essence: the two opinions I particularly have in mind, and which have greatly influenced my thinking about American government and its principles, are his lone dissent in Morrison v. Olson (in which he argued that the independent counsel statute was unconstitutional, in terms that his nearly unanimous critics eventually had to concede a decade later), and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (his denunciation of the theoretical emptiness and illegitimacy of the Court's abortion jurisprudence). Taken together, the opinions set out a central theme of conservative thought about government: the need to draw governmental power only from sources whose legitimacy can be reaffirmed by keeping them accountable to the people.
12. Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who: In enumerating favorite and influential books, too many people neglect the books they learned from first. But Dr. Seuss deserves a special place, and not only for charming this and many other hearers of his books to become readers of books in the first place. (I've also noted their usefulness in teaching children to read aloud). His longer books, with stories that have a moral to them, are masterpieces of precise and whimsical use of the English language, and in most cases manage to make their point without getting preachy, even on subjects (e.g., The Lorax and environmentalism) that are prone to heavy-handed one-sidedness. And they hold up so well that they are the rare children's book that an adult actually enjoys reading for its own sake.
My current favorite of these is I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew, which is a none-too-thinly-veiled slap at utopianism of all kinds. But the one that's endured the most in my consciousness since childhood is Horton Hears a Who, with a mantra that should be the creed of any pro-lifer: "A person's a person no matter how small." And its message of Horton's solitary courage when surrounded by neighbors who wish to define the Whos out of existence (one with undoubted Holocaust overtones) remains a powerful one for readers tall and small alike.
11. Baseball Prospectus 1999: I've arbitrarily picked the first of the BP books I bought. The Prospectus hasn't always been on the right side of the many arguments its staff has raised. Nor has it been as influential or groundbreaking, or nearly as entertaining, as Bill James' work; but the comparison is unfair. What matters is that they've consistently asked the important questions that were needed to move serious analysis of the game forward in the 1990s and beyond, and in so doing they've done a lot to drive the terms of debate ever since. I would never have understood baseball's post-1994 business environment and its ramifications without BP, and their work on projections, translations and pitcher workloads has often been groundbreaking. This is the first book I turn to every year to get a handle on the new season.
10. Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities: Wolfe's novel about a Wall Street investment banker who becomes a cause celebre after hitting a young African-American teen with his car after taking a wrong turn in the Bronx just perfectly sums up all the ills of pre-Giuliani New York (only some of which have been fixed since then). The satirical bite of the book is only enhanced by Hollywood's ham-handed efforts to sanitize its portrait of New York's ethnic politics. My dad, who was on the NYPD until the late 80s, swears by the authenticity of many of the scenes in this classic.
9. Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need: If you've only read Dave Barry's columns and skipped his books, you've missed a lot. I had a tough choice between the Travel Guide and Barry's Short History of the United States, which is basically his annual year-end column writ large, but the Travel Guide packed in just an unbelievable number of laughs in a short space.
8. Lawrence Ritter, The Glory of Their Times: Simply the best oral history of baseball ever done, and the one all the others copied. Ritter got a number of ballplayers from the early 20th century to open up to him; all or nearly all of them are dead and gone now, but not their stories.
7. The Book of Job: As you can no doubt tell from the balance of content on this blog, I'm a Catholic who doesn't think about religion as often as I should. But the Bible undoubtedly informs my thinking in ways I can't even perceive, and when I have read Scripture, the book I've most enjoyed reading (from the Old Testament, ahem) is Job. Job deals with the toughest questions that face any believer in an omnipotent and benevolent God must grapple with -- why bad things happen to good people, where sin and suffering belong in the world -- and doesn't provide any easy answers.
6. Peter Gammons, Beyond the Sixth Game: The best assignment I ever had in school was when my sophomore English teacher, Mr. Donnelly, gave us a list of books to report on and one of them was this classic by Peter Gammons. Gammons is a lot of things to a lot of people, and these days he's best known for (1) having the game's most extensive network of sources, and (2) uncritically repeating everything those sources tell him (which is not unrelated to the maintenance of (1)). He is at times an open mind friendly to statistical analyses of the game, and at times gives a soapbox and his imprimatur to denunciations of statistical analyses of the game.
But first and foremost, Gammons is a guy who loves baseball, loves the Red Sox, and can really write. Beyond the Sixth Game is the tale of the Red Sox from 1976-1985, when Gammons was the Boston Globe's beat writer for the team, and it's a love letter to every fan whose heart was broken by those teams, and a cold-eyed analysis of how it happened (Gammons' thesis is that the ownership of the Sox failed to appreciate the new financial realities of the free agent era). His portraits of the players are detailed and affectionate (especially Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant, two guys Gammons obviously really did think were very special people), and his narratives of the pivotal 1977 and 1978 seasons soar. No Red Sox fan - no baseball fan - should do without this book.
5. Peggy Noonan, What I Saw at the Revolution: Ask conservatives of my generation about Ronald Reagan or conservatism, and chances are pretty good that you will get a picture heavily influenced by one of his "wordsmiths," Peggy Noonan. The book is only secondarily a memoir, although it does capture (with Noonan's eye for sympathetic detail) numerous Washington figures of the 80s, as well as her previous boss, Dan Rather, of whom Noonan was very fond despite his politics. More importantly, it's a book about writing -- about a particular kind of writing (political speeches), how they get created, why they matter, and what's important in crafting them. It's also a tribute to a set of conservative ideals, and how they continued to inspire conservatives even when their practitioners didn't always live up to their promise.
4. The Orwell Reader: Yes, I'm cheating again by including an anthology. Another invaluable assignment -- the best thing I got out of college, academically -- was buying this book for Professor Green's British Empire class. I re-read it end to end again after September 11. Orwell hardly needs my introduction; his depictions of working-class life in the 1930s (coal miners, dish washers) are famously vivid, and his jeremiads against those who wouldn't stand up to fascism are the stuff of legend. My favorite essays are "Politics and the English Language" and "England Your England" (I reached for the latter in the opening of my September 11 column, as well as reaching for a scene from the Council of Elrond from the next selection) and I'm sure I'm not alone in those choices.
3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: I had a tough choice here; The Hobbit was the first "grownup" book I ever read, back in the second grade, and it remains Tolkien's best-written book. But Fellowship of the Ring perfectly bridges the gap between the lighthearted adventure of The Hobbit and the epic sweep of Lord of the Rings, and launches the greatest fantasy epic of all time. The question: what will good men do in the face of unremitting evil? Tolkien's answer isn't always reassuring.
2. P.J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores: As far as I'm concerned, still the best book ever written about American government; O'Rourke brings his vicious humor to every branch and agency of the federal government he can locate. His chapter on farm policy is the best thing I've ever read on the subject, and his account of a Housing NOW! march is sidesplitting. Along the way he encounters everyone from Pat Moynihan to Mike Dukakis to Ken Starr. But the book does have just one terribly cringe-inducing line, in retrospect; in his look at American foreign policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, O'Rourke states that
the main thing to be learned about foreign policy in this part of the world is that a wise foreign policy would be one that kept you out of here. There are some things you ignore at your peril, but you pay attention to Central Asia at the risk of your life.
Well, you knew that was coming; if I hadn't limited myself to one book per author, I'd have had a top 10 of Bill James books. As I've repeatedly noted, James has had a tremendous influence not only on my thinking about baseball but on my entire thinking process. I picked the first edition of the historical book because it is, on balance, the largest compilation of James' most pointed and entertaining writing and original thought, effortlessly spanning twelve decades of baseball history and bringing even the most distant past vibrantly to life. (I reviewed the new Historical Abstract here).
Read More »
BASEBALL: Jim Bouton's Ball Four; Ron Luciano's umpire books (noted above); Pete Palmer and John Thorn, The Hidden Game of Baseball; Keith Hernandez, If at First (a very post-Ball Four look at the 1985 Mets); Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein, Baseball Dynasties (another one I'd have enjoyed more if I didn't know the subject so well already); Charles Alexander's biographies of Ty Cobb, John McGraw and Rogers Hornsby; Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer (I really didn't enjoy the first part, about Kahn himself, but the sections on the players were fascinating, and it was particularly poignant in retrospect to read about Carl Furillo as a hardhat helping build the World Trade Center).
POLITICS: Jeffrey Birnbaum and Alan Murray, Showdown at Gucci Gulch; The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind; Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.
WAR/HISTORY: George Kennan's writings on the Soviet Union and on American foreign policy; David Pryce-Jones, Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs.
LAW/LEGAL FICTION: The works of John Grisham, notably his first few novels; Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action.
HUMOR: The collected books and cartoons of Gary Larson (The Far Side), Scott Adams (Dilbert), Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Charles Addams, Berke Breathed (Bloom County) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes).
FICTION/LITERATURE: The collected works (nearly all of them) of Michael Crichton; Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
SCI-FI/FANTASY: The works of Isaac Asimov (including many of his books in other areas, notably his mysteries). There's a number of others I've enjoyed, but not enough to note a mention here.
BASKETBALL: The Rick Barry basketball annuals; I haven't seen one in years, but they heavily influenced my thoughts on the game in the early 1990s. I'm still reading the Basketball Prospectus, and that could be on the list soon.
CHILDREN'S BOOKS: The works of Richard Scarry; the Curious George books.
UPDATE: The Mad Hibernian reminds me that Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels should have been on this list.
« Close It
Posted by Baseball Crank at 06:48 AM | Baseball 2004 | Law | Politics 2004 | Pop Culture | War 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
January 19, 2004
POP CULTURE: Tolkein FAQ
One of the beauties of the internet is that you can find the answers -- or at least someone else asking the questions -- for just about anything. I've been re-reading the Appendices to the Lord of the Rings lately, and one question occurred to me that I hadn't focused on before: during the Second Age, the forging of the One Ring precedes Sauron's captivity in Numenor. What happened to the Ring when Numenor was drowned in the sea and Sauron lost the physical form he had taken? Was he wearing the Ring, or had he left it somewhere?
Though reduced to 'a spirit of hatred borne on a dark wind', I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended.
So, now we know that.
January 11, 2004
POP CULTURE: Totally Random Observation
January 08, 2004
POP CULTURE: Run To You
Well, this was news to me, at least: Princess Di had an affair with Bryan Adams?
January 05, 2004
POP CULTURE: Robbery, Violence, Insanity
Busy week for the Kinks' Ray Davies, who was named a "Commander of the Order of the British Empire" by the Queen forur days ago, and was shot in the leg while attempting to live up to the honor by chasing down a purse snatcher on Sunday. Davies was apparently not seriously injured and has been released from the hospital.
December 31, 2003
POP CULTURE: Celeb of the Day
You know him - I know you know him. Who is Steven Zirnkilton?
Take your best guess and click here to find out.
December 22, 2003
POP CULTURE: Christmas Songs
OK, in the spirit of list-making, I've drawn up a list of my favorite popular music performances of Christmas songs. Not necessarily favorite songs, as much as favorite recorded performances. Thus, for example, I haven't included "Joy to the World" here, even though it's just about my favorite Christmas hymn, because I have yet to hear any one artist put to record a version of the song that can match a church choir raining down the hymn as you process out of Mass on Christmas morning, an experience that's about as close to God as man gets on this earth. A few others missed the cut as well because I couldn't think of one definitive performance, like "Let it Snow! Let it Snow!," and I left off the songs from one of my favorite Christmas movies, "Scrooge," starring Albert Finney, since on their own they aren't really that Christmasy. I wound up with 17 tunes that made the cut.
Here we go:
17. Bing Crosby - Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful) - Crosby does the Latin version of this, interspersed with the modern hymn in English, in a way that perfectly captures the virtues of the old Catholic Church.
16. Bruce Springsteen - Merry Christmas Baby - An excellent tune, albeit a bit less Christmasy than some of the others on the list. Clarence Clemons' sax carries this one.
15. Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas - Elvis wouldn't seem to go with Christmas, but he gets it right with "Blue Christmas."
14. Various Artists - Do They Know It's Christmas? - Yes, it combines 80s cheesiness with liberal condescension, but the impulse - giving to the less fortunate at the holidays - has its heart in the right place, and this is a fun song.
13. John Lennon/Yoko Ono - Merry Xmas (War is Over) - See #14; Lennon's wacky peacenikery strikes the right note for a Christmas aspiration, even if it was foolish politics at the time (after all, the Vietnam War didn't really end until one side was overrun and enslaved by the other).
12. Burl Ives - Holly Jolly Christmas - I left off the list songs that were truly inseparable from TV specials, like the themes for the Grinch and the Heat Miser, but this tune (always identified with Rudolph) makes the cut. Ives' voice is like a warm fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate all by itself.
11. Johnny Mathis - Winter Wonderland - One of the oddities of Christmas music is that people will listen to artists from genres they wouldn't listen to normally; you wound't catch me listening to Johnny Mathis any other time of year. But at Christmas time, he's one of the ones who makes his annual reappearance.
10. Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song - You know, the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" song, Cole's signature tune.
9. Mariah Carey - All I Want for Christmas is You - I'm not much of a Mariah Carey fan, but there's some decent stuff on her Christmas album, and this old-time Motown-style tune is really good; if she did a whole album like it, she could revive her career in very short order.
8. Bing Crosby - White Christmas - The all-time classic.
7. Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - I first came to know this one through the U2 version, which is quite good, but Love's voice gave this song just a little extra emotion. I'm very partial to "A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector," which remains the greatest Christmas record ever made (in spite of Spector himself being a psychopath); besides the two songs listed here, many others were close runnerups to other versions.
6. Gene Autry - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Autry's gentle, genial version still tops what's come after it.
5. Leon Redbone/Dr. John - Frosty the Snowman - Thumpity thump thump, thumpity thump thump . . . Redbone and Dr. John complement each other perfectly.
4. Harry Connick jr. - (It Mus've Been Ol') Santa Claus - It's very hard to write a new Christmas song that stands up to the classics, but this one, from Connnick's Christmas album from about 10 years ago, is as close as it gets, with just the right mix of humor and Christmas magic.
3. The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride - Another Phil Spector production.
2. Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus is Comin' to Town - Bruce just owns this tune. I saw him perform it live in 1992, complete with a dancing Christmas tree onstage, albeit without Clarence Clemons. Brought the house down.
1. Bing Crosby - I'll Be Home For Christmas - Well, that's what we all want - home for Christmas. Of course, this song had its heydey when millions of Americans could only listen to it on Armed Forces Radio somewhere in the South Pacific, or in Europe or anywhere else but home.
Honorable Mentions: "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You," by Billy Squier; and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," which barely elicits a chuckle today but which I thought was the funniest thing I ever heard when I was about 8 years old.
December 19, 2003
POP CULTURE: Captain Euro Goes to Mordor
December 15, 2003
POP CULTURE: More on Sir Mick
Looks like Mick Jagger gets his good looks from his father.
November 10, 2003
POP CULTURE: Natty Like The Wolf
Longmire has some amusing thoughts on the wolfman's clothes.
November 07, 2003
WAR/POP CULTURE: Pop Goes Bin Laden
Just ran across this one from some months back: The Guardian reported that Osama bin Laden's 26-year-old niece, Waffa bin Laden, is trying to launch a pop music career in England. This smacks a bit of trading on one's notoriety, but you can't blame her for who her family is. Waffa is apparently an American-educated lawyer who lived near the World Trade Center (ironically enough) in downtown Manhattan until (hmm?) just around or before September 11. You can check out a picture of the very Westernized Ms. bin Laden over at the Iranian magazine Salam Worldwide.
October 29, 2003
POP CULTURE: My G-G-Generation, N-R
Nothing sets this site apart quite like my ability to start things I never get around to finishing. But let's see if we can't push to the finish line my series looking at famous people in my generation, i.e., born between October 1969-October 1973; here's Part IV of V. (If you're interested, check out Part I, Part II and Part III).
Robb Nen, MLB
For men of my generation, even old married guys like me, all you have to do is say the name "Amanda Peterson," and you're 16 again . . . yes, it was less than a decade ago when Ed O'Bannon was in college . . . Barry Pepper is just one of several of the guys on this list who played the soldiers in "Saving Private Ryan"; that movie hit guys like me so hard in part because we were just the age of the cast. By now, I'd identify more with Hanks . . . River Phoenix has been dead for many years now, and as Bill James once said, you can't get older than dead.
BASEBALL/POP CULTURE: Deacon Phillippe
I see that Reese Witherspoon had a baby boy, and named him "Deacon." Now, given that her husband is actor Ryan Phillippe, this would make the boy Deacon Phillippe. Well, since Deacon isn't exactly a common first name these days, that set me a-thinkin': is he named after the six-time twenty-game winner (born Charles Louis Phillippi) who pitched for Honus Wagner's Pirates in the early part of the century, won 3 games in the inaugural World Series, never had a losing season and finished his career with an admirable 189-109 record and a 2.59 ERA despite not arriving in the major leagues until age 27? Is Ryan Phillippe a relative (the original Deacon died in 1952), or perhaps a baseball fanatic? Or was there some other origin to the original Deacon's nickname (a literary reference I'm missing here?) that the new baby shares in common?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 07:03 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
October 14, 2003
POP CULTURE/POLITICS: The Other Arnold
Gary Coleman turns out to be one of the California gubernatorial candidates who comes out of the recall looking better than he did before; Coleman has landed a gig as a political commentator for the All Comedy Radio Network. (Presumably, this is a different venture from Al Gore's rumored youth-targeted news network, although both sound like pale imitations of The Daily Show).
Personally, I thought Coleman's campaign was good-natured and appropriately tongue-in-cheek; he didn't take himself too seriously, but he gave due respect to the overall seriousness of the election. And it turns out that it got him a job. Not bad.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:01 PM | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 22, 2003
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Just Plain Chicks
The Dixie Chicks have essentially divorced country music. This was an inevitable development; there's no art form quite like country music in terms of the fans' demand for an emotional, one-of-us connection with the artists. The Chicks may have impaired that bond with Natalie Maines' ill-chosen anti-Bush and anti-Texas remarks, but if they'd left it at that, it would have been all. But once the Chicks started portraying themselves as First Amendment martyrs (probably the key moment was the nude magazine cover), they basically set themselves into a melodrama with their own fans cast as the villains. You'll win a lot of new friends in Hollywood that way, but you can never again go back to the country crowd once you've sided with people like Bob Herbert (who called country music fans "flag-waving yahoos").
How long until the "Dixie" is dropped from the band's name?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 PM | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Muppet Influence
We rented Chicago over the weekend, and it was pretty much as advertised, a very musical musical; if you like musicals, you'll enjoy it. (Unless I'm missing something, it has to be the first major Hollywood release where two of the top 3 stars' last names started with "Z").
Anyway, considering that the cast mostly broke down between people who hadn't sung and danced in the movies before and people who hadn't sung and danced, period, they pulled it off well. The one part I didn't buy was ubiquitous That Guy John C. Reilly's lead-footed dancing to the song "Mr. Cellophane."
Anyway, as I'm thinking this, I realize that one reason I noticed this is that I remember the incomparable Ben Vereen performing the same song on "The Muppet Show," gliding effortlessly about. Looking back, I realized how many songs and people I was exposed to in those childhood years from watching that show, many of which I might not have heard until years later or not at all otherwise. And it wasn't just show tunes, but pop, rock, country . . . from Sly Stallone singing "Bird in a Gilded Cage," which I believe is a 19th century standard (or sounds like it), to Debbie Harry doing "The Tide is High," which was then near the top of the pop charts, to people like Paul Williams and Leslie Uggams who I would just never have heard of otherwise.
How strange, in a way, that one of the last successful shows to truly present a variety of entertainment was a show aimed at children and starring muppets.
September 13, 2003
POP CULTURE: My G-G-Generation, I-M
Part III of a series (see Part I here and Part II here) looking at athletes, actors/actresses, musicians and others in my generation (including a few bloggers where I knew or could infer their ages), defined generally as people born between October 1969-October 1973. Today, our march through the alphabet reaches from I to M (bearing in mind that some cases require creativity in assigning alphabetical order):
Kazuhisa Ishii, MLB
Notes: Yes, Sam Militello . . . As I've noted before, lotta Red Sox on this list; the future is now . . . I missed LaPhonso Ellis on the last list . . . Man, Alonzo Mourning just seems like he should be a lot older . . . And Muresan and 'Webster'; I can't help but wonder if Muresan, like Andre the Giant before him, labors under the likelihood of a short life expectancy due to the conditions that made him so tall.
September 12, 2003
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: O'Rourke
Interview with the indispensable P.J. O'Rourke over at the Onion, including a classic O'Rourke story that combines Animal House with stock options and some well-earned contempt for Rick Reilly. (Link via The American Scene). On the difference between himself and Hunter Thompson:
His political stuff is just wonderful, but basically nothing happens. It's all about his reaction to a situation. And my stuff is much more externally driven. He brings a lunatic genius to ordinary events, and I bring an ordinary sensibility to lunatic events.
On the plague of lawyers:
I buy a tractor two years ago, and four-fifths of the tractor manual is about not tipping over, not raising the bucket high enough to hit high-tension wire... not killing yourself, basically. The tractor itself is covered with stickers: Don't put your hand in here. Don't put your d___ in there. And in that manual, I found out—and it cost me a thousand dollars—that when the tractor is new, 10 hours into use of the tractor, you have to re-torque the lug nuts. If you don't, you will oval the holes. This is buried between the moron warnings. I never found it. I take the tractor in for its regular servicing, and they say my wheels are gone. A thousand dollars worth of wheels have to be replaced because I didn't re-torque after 10 hours. How am I supposed to know that? "It's in the manual." You f___ing read that manual! You go through 40 pages of how not to tip over!
And some good advice for bloggers and other creatures:
O: Do you ever have a crisis of confidence when you're writing, where you say, "Man, I don't know if I'm right about this?"
PO: If I do, I say so. That's the only way out of that. If there are three words that need to be used more in American journalism, commentary, politics, personal life... it's the magic words "I don't know." I mean, there are certain basic principles... There are certain things that I feel pretty confident about. But when I get in deep water, I prefer to announce that I'm in over my head.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:30 PM | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Opus Returns
Bloom County creator Berke Breathed is bringing back Opus in a new weekly strip! (Thanks to Jackson Murphy for the link).
September 07, 2003
POP CULTURE: Old Toys
While we're on the subject of looking at my generation, here's something that should give you some nostalgia for being a kid in the 70s.
POP CULTURE: My G-G-Generation, D-H
Part two of a series on people within a year or two of my age (i.e., born late 1969-late 1973); here's part one. Today: D through H:
Omar Daal, MLB
Also, one I missed last time: Netscape founder Marc Andressen. I cheated a little on the young end to get Theo Epstein in there (December 1973), while Jonah Goldberg missed out just a bit at the other end. You'll also note most of Epstein's players here as well as some recent Sox alumni like Daubach, Floyd and Garces. Dave Holmes, the former MTV veejay, was actually a college classmate. Bobby Hurley -- now there's a guy who peaked early. Hurley's car accident was just early enough in his career that we'll never know if he might have made a decent pro player if he hadn't had that setback. I saw a report recently that said Cameron Diaz is now the world's highest-paid actress; look at these lists and you'll see that right around 30 is a real good age for an actress' career; an awful lot of them are right around their primes. Running backs are another matter (ask Terrell Davis). I'm going by reported ages here, so don't ask about El Guapo.
September 04, 2003
POP CULTURE: My G-G-Generation, A-C
I turn 32 next month, and thought it would be fun to take a look around at who else out there is part of my generation (Generation Y, is it? I lose track of these things), roughly defined as people within a year or two of my age (born between late 1969 and late 1973), although I wasn't entirely scientific in every case, and in any event the list is somewhat arbitrary based on who I could locate the ages for and who I had heard of (I left out a lot of musicians where I'd heard of the band but not the individual). Baseball-reference.com and IMdB were invaluable in this process, since both have lists of individuals born in particular years.
August 22, 2003
POP CULTURE: Random Thoughts
*Recently rented The Recruit. You know, Al Pacino is the Aerosmith of acting -- he's given us decades of entertainment with no sign of slowing down, but it's really only the first few years of his career that you can take seriously.
*I caught some of Meet the Parents again the other night -- as Bill Simmons would say, I wish I could buy stock in things like "Meet the Parents will be the highlight of Teri Polo's film career."
July 29, 2003
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Dixie Chicked?
The lefty side of the blogosphere -- and the media -- has done a good bit of hyperventilating about the charge that radio congolmerate Clear Channel Communications supposedly ordered a nationwide ban on playing the Dixie Chicks on the radio, depite the company's denials. Washington Post media critic Tom Shales charged that "Clear Channel stations led a ridiculous national campaign to smear the musical group the Dixie Chicks after one of its members insulted President Bush. The group's songs were banned on its stations for a time." Paul Krugman stopped just short of pinning this on Clear Channel, but some left-wing news outlets have pushed the story. The argument goes that the network's reach shows the evil of media concentration, and Clear Channel has been Exhibit A in the case against FCC deregulation of media ownership.
I hadn't followed this story all that carefully, but then I stumbled accross an interesting fact. You know what company is the promoter of the Dixie Chicks' current concert tour?
That's right: Clear Channel Entertainment.
This isn't exactly a secret; Clear Channel has touted the success of the Chicks' tour to the business press, and you can go to the company's website to buy tickets to their shows.
Moral: maybe you should distrust what you hear on the radio, but don't believe everything you read, either.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 06:50 AM | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Harry Potter News
July 08, 2003
POP CULTURE: Big Brother Africa
This story about a pan-African version of the TV show "Big Brother" is actually a little bit hopeful: unlike in Europe, where the concept is mostly being used to stamp out accountable government, shackle free enterprise and crush non-French foreign policy, the building of a continent-wide (i.e., non-tribal) identity in Africa may actually be a good thing, and if a common interest in even the trashiest pop culture can encourage that, good for reality TV.
POLITICS/LAW/POP CULTURE: Judge Ponch?
This story from a few weeks back is simultaneously amusing, humbling and a little depressing about how little attention the average American pays to inside-the-Beltway power plays: a Democratic pollster not only finds that 61% of Latino voters are unaware of President Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada for the DC Circuit, but concludes that
it was clear many of those who supported Mr. Estrada were also confusing him with actor Erik Estrada, who was on the 1977-1983 television police drama "CHiPS" and is now a popular Spanish-language soap-opera star.
Hey, anybody who can talk his partner out of giving a traffic ticket to H.R. Puffenstuf is ready for the D.C. Circuit . . .
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 PM | Law | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: A Short Spell
Sorry, no blogging this morning; I've been racing through the new Harry Potter book (I'm around page 633 as of 7:15 this morning), and the time to read it had to come from somewhere. More on the Potter books when I've finished, but I'll say this much: Order of the Phoenix is really not a children's book; it's a teenagers' book in its tone and plot, as befits the now 15-year-old lead character. In fact, I'm rather glad that it will take us some time to get my son, who's almost 6, through the third book before taking on the fourth and fifth.
Still, if you'd told me 7-8 years ago that a new author would have 8- and 9-year-olds lining up to read a nearly 900-page book, I'd have said you were out of your mind. Just another reminder that you can never say you've seen everything.
July 05, 2003
POP CULTURE: Of Oprah and Women
Turns out that the Power of Oprah can even put a classic book by a long-dead author back on the best seller list.
June 14, 2003
POP CULTURE: Brinkley
Following up on The Mad Hibernian's post below, the thing I always remember about David Brinkley -- even more than his dry, sarcastic wit -- was his funereal manner. Every time Brinkley popped up behind a news desk and started to speak, between his somber tone and pregnant pauses, I expected him to announce a death or a tragedy of some sort. It got to where you'd hear Brinkley come on and name someone:
BRINKLEY: Good Evening. President Reagan
(By this point, I've mentally inaugurated Vice President Bush and am thinking about who will replace him as VP)
today visited an elementary school . . .
June 13, 2003
POP CULTURE: O'Brien
A link to a classic, if you haven't read it: Conan O'Brien's commencement speech to the graduating class of 2000 at Harvard. (Link via the Corner). The speech is hilarious and even a little wise. Here's one thing that set Harvard apart from my alma mater, Holy Cross:
I was, without exaggeration, the ugliest picture in the Freshman Face book. When Harvard asked me for a picture the previous summer, I thought it was just for their records, so I literally jogged in the August heat to a passport photo office and sat for a morgue photo. To make matters worse, when the Face Book came out they put my picture next to Catherine Oxenberg, a stunning blonde actress who was accepted to the class of '85 but decided to defer admission so she could join the cast of "Dynasty." My photo would have looked bad on any page, but next to Catherine Oxenberg, I looked like a mackerel that had been in a car accident.
What this means, apparently, is that they went straight from O'Brien to Oxenberg, with no other O'Briens, and no O'Connors, no O'Learys, no O'Keefes, no O'Tooles . . . at Holy Cross, that was good for 2-3 pages in the campus phone book.
June 12, 2003
POP CULTURE: Hackman Numbers
Here's a fun game if you're looking for time to kill -- what's your Gene Hackman Number? Real simple - just tick off how many of Hackman's movies you've seen, and "Hoosiers" only counts once no matter how many times you've seen it. (I think mine is 14).
June 10, 2003
POP CULTURE: Geek Alert!
(Not that I'm not one). For $19.95 per year to George Lucas, you can get:
* A personal SW-themed e-mail address, such as john @darthvader.net or julie @padme.com. (The service will forward the e-mail to a subscriber's actual e-mail address.)
* Constant Webcam video from the set of the final prequel, Episode III, which begins filming next month in Australia.
* Access to the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated shorts once they begin appearing this fall on the Cartoon Network.
(Go to starwars.com for details)
June 08, 2003
POP CULTURE: Nemo
My wife and I took the kids to see Finding Nemo yesterday morning, and I have to give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up [Ed. - Isn't the "thumbs up" copyrighted to Siskel and Ebert? Ask me when I start making money off movie reviews] -- the movie was a bit scary for my daughter's age (not quite 4), but it was fun and funny, especially the scenes with the seagulls.
June 07, 2003
POP CULTURE: Martha, Martha, Martha
I have to say that I don't have a strong stake either way in the Martha Stewart saga; I've never been interested in her show or her products simply because I'm not much interested in the subjects of how to entertain, how to fix up your home, etc.
Mark Steyn, oddly enough, has some fond memories of Martha, and penned a sympathetic piece in the Wall Street Journal on Friday (subscription only). Steyn is undoubtedly correct that the "Martha brand" of products can't really be separated from Martha the personality; her company will survive only if she, in some sense, survives.
Steyn seems to think that Martha might come out of the criminal case OK in the end, but personally I suspect that Martha The Cottage Industry will come out OK even if Martha winds up serving jail time; I'd suggest my own analogy -- to Marv Albert. Marv, as you may remember, was convicted in an incredibly ugly case a few years back (I seem to recall it involved some sort of sex-related assault charge, with all sorts of sordid testimony about Marv biting his girlfriend). Today, he's back doing Knick games. And he's back, not because the public thought he was innocent or forgave his crimes; not because we're a particularly benevolent society or Marv a particularly beloved figure. He's back for one reason: he calls a good basketball game. And once he'd paid his debt to society, people wanted to hear Marv Albert do basketball again.
That's how it may be with Martha. Maybe she's not loved, and maybe she's not innocent; but she's good at what she does, and a great many people watch her show and buy her magazine and her products because people believe that Martha Stewart is a good guide to homemaking. And, once a decent interval has passed, they'll still feel that way.
June 02, 2003
POP CULTURE: Changing Landmarks
May 29, 2003
POP CULTURE: Meet The New Judge
The NY Daily News calls David Schwimmer "the Judge Reinhold of his generation".
May 16, 2003
POP CULTURE: Hendrix Joined By Bassist
Noel Redding, the bass player for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, has died at age 57 of undisclosed causes.
May 06, 2003
POP CULTURE: "Peace Train" Has More Than One Meaning
Seems like everyone's favorite peace activist, Cat Stevens, is unable to issue a strong denial to the allegation that some of his contributions to "Islamic charities" ultimately got routed to Hamas. If "no one ever knows where the money goes," wouldn't that be a sufficient reason not to contribute to a particular "charity"? Read more about it here.
The '70s folkie formerly known as Cat Stevens has become a voice of moderate Islam since the the Sept. 11 attacks. But Israeli officials are charging that thousands of dollars donated by the "Peace Train" songwriter for humanitarian causes in 1988 were rerouted to the terrorist group Hamas, GQ magazine reports.
The article by Jake Tapper claims that Stevens, who changed his name to Yusef Islam in 1977, gave the money to Mouhammad Abdel- Rahman, a son of the notorious blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
"We don't think this - we know it," Israeli government spokesman Daniel Seaman tells the magazine.
Islam also helped radical cleric Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad get a lawyer after he was jailed for saying Britain's then-Prime Minister John Major was "a legitimate target" for assassination, the mag reports.
His brother, David Gordon, says Islam has distanced himself from radicals and argues "no one ever knows where the money goes" with such charities.
May 05, 2003
POP CULTURE: Maybe they can hire O.J....
Peterson promises to find the real killer.
May 02, 2003
LAW/POP CULTURE: Personal Injuries
Now this sounds like my kind of lawsuit.
April 26, 2003
JON STEWART: Continuing on.
Read that Jon Stewart just signed a new contract with Comedy Central that will have him continuing to do his show through the 2004 election. Although not good news for George W., this is good news for those looking for nightly political humor. Although my politics are much more in line with Dennis Miller, I do enjoy watching Jon Stewart. Although liberal, he does try to play it fair, which results in him skewering both sides.
April 23, 2003
POP CULTURE: Rye Playland
A little nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the NY area: Rye Playland is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Go back in your mind's eye to the Kiddie Coaster . . .
POP CULTURE: Python
Yes, I had to take this silly quiz:
April 18, 2003
POP CULTURE: Contingencies
Jesse Walker of Reason's Hit&Run blog, discussing the Smoking Gun's capture of premature CNN.com obituaries, links to the transcript of a hilarious SNL skit where Tom Brokaw pre-tapes possible announcements on the death of Gerald Ford. Read the whole thing.
April 17, 2003
POP CULTURE: Knight Rides Again
Biker gangs and corrupt small-town sheriffs hold on to your hats, Knight Rider: The Movie is coming!
I actually used to watch Knight Rider as a kid. It's interesting how few shows like this still exist on network TV (although the small cable networks still produce action shows that aren't adult dramas). You occasionally see a 'Walker Texas Ranger' or 'Nash Bridges' or '24,' but mostly the action genre has been overtaken by the X-Files-style sci-fi/fantasy show.
April 11, 2003
POP CULTURE: A Peaceful People
Looks like Hollywood's offended the wrong group again.
April 09, 2003
POP CULTURE: April in Moscow
Now, here's a bizarre story: The Moscow Times reported as follows:
In a surprise move Monday, President Vladimir Putin named Russia's former Miss Universe as a deputy prime minister. Oksana Fyodorova takes over the post vacated by Valentina Matviyenko, who left the government earlier this month to become Putin's envoy in the Northwestern Federal District.
* * *
Fyodorova, 25, was stripped of her Miss Universe crown last year after only four months. Pageant organizers said she failed to fulfill all her duties and had gained weight. The New York Post reported at the time that she might be pregnant from a well-connected older boyfriend named Vladimir.
Putin said Monday that he was sure Fyodorova would prove up to the task. "Being a deputy prime minister is not the same as being Miss Universe," a visibly annoyed Putin said in remarks shown on Channel One and later rebroadcast on "Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi." "She has a beautiful mind, will fulfill all her duties and will not gain any weight."
Of course, the article is bylined April 1. Who knew that they celebrated April Fool's Day in Russia?
March 21, 2003
POP CULTURE: Crikey!
Seen at CVS tonight: 'Croc Hunter' Valentine's Day cards (25 pack!), amazingly, still left over from Valentine's Day. What were the odds of that?
March 15, 2003
POP CULTURE: Saw Doctors Rock!
Well, one non-baseball entry . . . I went to see the Saw Doctors last night at Irving Plaza in lower Manhattan. (Apparently, according to their website, the Galway-based band played at a St. Patrick's Day luncheon the day before in DC for President Bush, Dennis Hastert, and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern). They put on a raucous show, and you can't beat a small venue like that.
Frankly, there's no rational reason why the Saw Doctors aren't international superstars; they're that good, and their mainstream pop-rock sound could appeal to basically any audience other than hard-core hip-hoppers or metalheads. I only recently got into them, so I didn't know all their songs, but most of the ones I hadn't heard were catchy enough to sing along to or at least keep time with after one verse. Probably the most similar recent American band is the Gin Blossoms (who are, by the way, still touring some 6-7 years after their second and last album), but the Saw Doctors' up-tempo stuff is a bit livelier.
The crowd looked to be overwhelmingly Irish-American, as you would imagine, and there was particular enthusiasm for some of the band's blood-and-soil anthems to their native land. There's an exceptionally strong, romantic attachment to Ireland among second- and third-generation Irish-Americans; it's not just the Irish, of course (Italian-Americans, among others, have a similar pull to their Old Country). But it's mistaken to see it as something artificial; there's still a deep emotional attachment, even for people who have never laid eyes on the land of their ancestors.
March 10, 2003
POP CULTURE: Do As I Say
POP CULTURE: That Guy
Bill Simmons likes to write about "That Guy" actors, familiar character actors you see over and over but never know their names. Here's one I finally bothered to look up: James Rebhorn (Here's a picture)
March 01, 2003
WAR/POP CULTURE: Sonic Jihad
John Hawkins of Right Wing News catches up on an appalling pro-terrorist album cover (for the album "Sonic Jihad") and matching lyrics by rapper Paris.
POP CULTURE: Another Farewell to Mister Rogers
Ross Douthat has the best eulogy I've read for Fred Rogers.
February 27, 2003
POP CULTURE: Goodbye, Neighbor
I wasn't going to blog today, but this demands comment: Mister Rogers has died.
We can all remember, warmly, the TV personalities of our childhood; as we grow older and outgrow them, we lose our innocence and move into a harder world. Yet, the loss of innocence that accompanes adulthood makes it all the more admirable to see a grown man who so efortlessly, for so many decades, produced the sort of kind, gentle entertainment that connected instantly with generations of poreschoolers. Even with our own children, it can be hard to have that connection, to put aside all the trappings of adulthood. And everyone who knew Fred Rogers testified to the fact that he was really like that -- soft-spoken, patient, understanding, deeply religious (he was a Presbyterian minister) and committed to an old-fashioned, small-town sort of decency.
You could've been my neighbor any day, Mister Rogers. Rest in Peace.
February 24, 2003
POP CULTURE: Rock Is Dead, They Say
I'm not sure if it says more about the state of the Grammys or the state of rock music today that Bruce Springsteen's awards for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album were not even featured on the telecast, but presented off the air with the polka awards and the Grammy for "best liner notes."
February 14, 2003
POP CULTURE: Bull Flipping
POP CULTURE: UCR Alert
According to this UPI wire report:
The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network Thursday announced a last-minute agreement with PepsiCo Inc. in New York averting a boycott of the company's products. The organization had said earlier in the day that it would call an immediate boycott over what it called Pepsi's "cultural disrespect" of hip-hop. HSAN Chairman Russell Simmons first called for a boycott last week, accusing the company of applying a double standard for hip-hop in its national TV advertising. Simmons said the company demonstrated disrespect for hip-hop culture by dropping an ad campaign for Pepsi-Cola featuring rapper Ludacris because of public protests over the sexually explicit context of his lyrics -- then featuring foul-mouthed metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne in ads for one of its soft drinks. Simmons said Tuesday that HSAN had reached a "multi-million dollar, multi-year agreement" with the company and the Ludacris Foundation. He told United Press International Thursday that he decided to renew the call for a boycott because the company had not yet signed on to a formal agreement. . . Simmons said Pepsi accepted a formal agreement Thursday, calling for the company to contribute "millions of dollars" to the Ludacris Foundation -- a non-profit organization founded by the rapper.
A few thoughts:
1. "Disrespect for hip-hop culture" is an awfully serious charge, and should not be thrown around lightly in a mere commercial dispute.
2. I bet you didn't know there was such a thing as "the Ludacris Foundation." Do they give college scholarships? ("I've got the Ludacris scholarship to go to Stanford!") Endow scientific research? ("Here at Ludacris Laboratories, we're working on cheap, renewable sources of energy.")
3. Would litigation have focused on comparing and contrasting the vices of Ludacris and Ozzy? Man, that would have been an entertaining case.
4. I have to respect Simmons' candor in this quote:
When HSAN first raised the threat of a boycott last week, the organization demanded that Pepsi not only donate $5 million to the foundation, but also issue a public apology to Ludacris and reinstate his ad. Asked Thursday whether the company had issued a public apology, Simmons said, "The millions of dollars is pretty much the same thing."
February 13, 2003
POP CULTURE: Imply It Long, Imply It Loud?
John Podhoretz, writing for NRO, refers to "Tom Cruise (whose last name is well-chosen, but I can't say any more about why)." I'm not 100% sure I get this, but I suspect that Podhoretz is making a reference to Cruise being gay (a subject that has launched lawsuits by Cruise in the past). Whatever he means, if Podhoretz can't say it, he shouldn't imply it.
February 12, 2003
POP CULTURE: OSCAR PREDICTION
I saw a bit of the Golden Globes, and Nicole Kidman won best actress for the movie where she plays a sad lesbian with a big nose. OK, there's more to it than that, but I'd wager that about a third of the Oscar voters don't know much more than that either (it's just scandalous that they let people vote on movies they haven't seen). Anyway, Kidman's speech was all about how this award is a triumph over Hollywood's failure to give women good roles.
I bet she and "The Hours" win -- precisely because the film is campaigning on a feminist platform that says that a vote against this movie is a vote against good roles for women. The merits got nuthin' to do with it.
February 10, 2003
POP CULTURE: Clooney Tunes
You can always count on American celebrities, when in Europe, to bash some aspect of the United States. Interviewers over there eat this stuff up. But what's ironic about George Clooney ripping reality television is that, at least from this Washington Post report, it appears that he has no inkling that nearly all the concepts in American reality TV are taken from shows that first debuted in Europe.
February 07, 2003
POP CULTURE: Eat Bugs for Money
If, like me, you read a lot of Dave Barry columns, you probably reacted to the latest spate of gross-out TV reality shows by wondering when they would air Barry's long-touted "Eat Bugs for Money" show. Turns out that Dave himself has been wondering the same thing. Here's the column that launched the idea.
Next up: Hello, and welcome to Saw Your Head Off!
January 28, 2003
POP CULTURE: Dobby Putin
This sounds too wacky to be true; the London Evening Standard claims that the makers of the latest Harry Potter film may be sued in Russia -- presumably by Vladimir Putin -- on the theory that Dobby, the computer-generated self-flagellating house elf in the movie, bears too close a resemblance to Mr. Putin. I swear I am not making this up; judge for yourself. (Link via Drudge).
January 27, 2003
POP CULTURE: Heresy!
It may be heresy to say this, as a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, but I can't agree with the sentiment that Thunder Road is the greatest rock 'n roll record ever. First, I'd pick 'Born to Run' as Bruce's best, because it's so elemental, and second, my all time #1 rock song is still "Sympathy for the Devil," with its challenging lyrics and the great variety with which its tune can be adapted.
January 20, 2003
POP CULTURE: Kangaroo Jack
Now, I haven't seen the movie, although I did sit through what I believe was the longest trailer I've ever endured in a theater. But 'Kangaroo Jack' looks like the stupidest kangaroo movie since 'Mathilda the Boxing Kangaroo.' Which would be saying quite a lot, except that I can't think of any other movies starring a kangaroo. I guess there's a reason for that. On the other hand, unlike Mathilda, at least Kangaroo Jack doesn't feature a guy in a kangaroo suit that looks like it was rented from a Halloween costume store ("Quick, Elliott, we've got to finish this scene in time to get the security deposit on the kangaroo suit back!")
January 14, 2003
POP CULTURE/RELIGION: MY DREAMS, THEY AREN'T AS EMPTY AS MY CONSCIENCE SEEMS TO BE
Much as I'd like to ignore the story, the Pete Townsend thing is hard to avoid, when the man has been such a foundational figure in modern rock. It ain't exactly a secret that Townsend's lyrics are full of stuff that's hardly G-rated. He sang about homosexuality in "Rough Boys," to say nothing of the lyrics to "5:15" Heck, his most prominent work thirty years ago was about a boy who withdraws from the world after being sexually abused by an older male relative. At the time, people thought of this as a metaphor.
Nonetheless, even if it turns out - as it appears - that Townsend has been consuming child porn, regardless of the purpose, we can still enjoy his music. In fact, one of the benefits, for political conservatives, of the idiot leftism of so many actors, musicians, etc. is that we learn early to distinguish between the artist and the art.
Thus, when Robert George on NRO comments that "Pete Townshend['s] arrest on child-porn charges must cause CBS and the producers of CSI a little discomfort (Its theme song is, "Who Are You")," I say: No, it shouldn't. Say what you will about the man, the song "Who Are You" is not just great rock & roll, it is, in fact, a song about man's search for God - an angry expression of that search ("tell me who the f__k are you?"), to be sure, but the lyrics include a description of Jesus' love for sinners that most Christian rockers would give their right arm to write:
I know there's a place you walked
I spit out like a sewer hole
January 12, 2003
POP CULTURE: TV Movies
We are being treated, this week, to a TV movie about JFK junior and a TV movie (about Benedict Arnold) in which Kelsey Grammer plays George Washington. Egads. The idea of a movie about JKF Jr. . . . I mean, the guy was "intriguing" in the "People Magazine" sense when he was alive, mostly because people wanted to know what he might accomplish with his famous name, good looks, wealth, and ease in the limelight. While seems to have been a decent enough fellow despite being a Kennedy, the answer was always "wait 'til next year." Then he died, the job unfinished, the interesting parts of the story unwritten. Why put that on film?
POP CULTURE: Don't Read This
I'm pretending this story never happened. I can do that, right?
January 10, 2003
POP CULTURE: Dave Barry 2002 in Review
I should add, by the way, that if you haven't read Dave Barry's entire 2002 year in review, you missed a classic. (One of my favorites: "In entertainment news, the surprise hit TV ''reality show'' of the spring is India and Pakistan Threaten to Start a Nuclear War. But after a few weeks of waiting for something to happen, viewers become bored and go back to watching the perennial ratings favorite, Amateur Video of Police Officers Beating Up a Motorist.")
December 30, 2002
POP CULTURE: Enter The Hobbits
How can you resist clicking on a story headlined "Hobbits Whup Leonardo DiCaprio's Ass"? Unfortunately, the attached story is just box office receipts, not an action video. Still, it's an interesting mental picture.
December 23, 2002
POP CULTURE: ROCKIN' THE CASBAH NO MORE
Joe Strummer, lead singer of The Clash, has died at 50 of an apparent heart attack.
December 19, 2002
POP CULTURE: Big Trouble
My wife and I rented "Big Trouble" recently. You may remember what happened to this movie - it was made from a hysterically funny first novel by Dave Barry (the book was funnier than I expected, and I had pretty high expectations given that Barry is the funniest man alive), but because the plot revolved around a nuclear bomb on the loose in an American city (well, Miami, anyway), the film's projected release in fall 2001 had to be pushed back to the spring, and the movie bombed (so to speak) at the box office.
Go rent it. It's not as good as the book - it's always hard to live up to the book - but it's mostly faithful to the book and a very funny film. It's also wall to wall with familiar faces - Tom Sizemore from 'Saving Private Ryan,' Janeane Garafolo, Stanley Tucci from 'Big Night,' Puddy from Sienfeld, Dennis Farina from 'Crime Story', Andy Richter from the Conan O'Brien show - which is one reason I'm sure the studio was crushed that it failed. Tim Allen actually has surprisingly little comedic heavy lifting to do as the star; he mostly plays the straight man. In a way, we've moved on to living with the terrorist threat to the point where maybe it's not so bad to laugh at the dark humor of 'Big Trouble.' If you can get past that, it's a very funny movie.
December 13, 2002
POP CULTURE: Lileks Goes Christmas Shopping
Lileks goes Christmas shopping with his toddler daughter: "[W]e went down to the children’s book section of Barnes and Noble. I was looking for gift ideas; she seemed to like the Curious George backpack - it looks as if the little fellow is clinging to your back. Very cute. It would be different if he had red eyes and sharp teeth, of course; if the bag looked like that, I’d train Gnat to run around screaming whenever she put it on, shouting GED OFF! GED OFF MONKEY! Just for fun."
December 03, 2002
POP CULTURE: My TiVo thinks I'm Gay!
This Wall Street Journal article (subscribers only) is one of the funniest things I've read recently, about how consumer-behavior tracking software in products like TiVo can freak people out ("My TiVo thinks I'm Gay!"). One of the best parts is when Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com goes to demonstrate the "preference tracking" features on his company's site in front of a live audience, and he logs on, and it tells him the top recommendation for Jeff Bezos is a DVD called "Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity."
Dawn Freeman, 23, a tax analyst in Lexington, Ky., has bought lowbrow videos, such as "American Pie," from Amazon.com. But she was aghast when the site suggested Tom Green's gross-out performance in "Road Trip."
"I thought, 'I know I don't like high cinema, but have I really reached the point where I'd like to watch Tom Green lick a mouse?" To even out her Amazon profile, she went through the site finding "witty independent films."
Her TiVo also thinks she's a sophomoric-humor-loving 12-year-old, she says. It keeps giving her cartoons. "I know it's dumb to take it personally, but it's in your face. These are supposedly objective computers saying, 'This is what we think of you.' "
November 29, 2002
POP CULTURE: The Magic Garden
I was watching TV with the kids yesterday, and what should come on WPIX but an old episode of "The Magic Garden," in all its Seventies glory, from bell-bottom trousers to the wacky pastel colors everywhere. The show, for those of you who never saw it, was a preschool show, with two women (Carol and Paula) who sang songs, acted out stories, interacted with puppets, the usual kids' show stuff. My kids, 3 and 5, loved it. What amazed me was how quickly something like that can take you back, bring back all the little details of the show that have sat dormant in your memory all these years. I'm quite certain I haven't seen the show since I was about 6 years old (I'm 31 now), but the gimmicks (the Chuckle Patch, daisies that tell corny jokes, to the Storybox with its low-budget costumes for storytime playacting) and the jingles ("you don't need a key, so follow me, there are no locks on storybox, on story box"; "see ya see ya, hope you had a good good time . . . ") all came piling out of the recesses of my brain.
It was also a reminder - today's kids' shows are quite good, some of them, and so were the shows I used to watch, but they're different now - shows like Blues' Clues and Dora the Explorer are just busier, more crowded with THINGS TO SEE AND LEARN!!! than the shows I used to watch as a preschooler. Better? Worse? Just that the world keeps moving faster and getting more complicated, and times never stand still. It's the reality we all deal with, either way, and the world my kids have to prepare for will already be different than the one I live in now, which is plenty modern enough for my tastes.
November 27, 2002
LAW/POP CULTURE: The Christmas Party
Slate's Dear Prudence advice column tells a guy to break up with his girlfriend rather than let her go to an office Christmas party at her law firm where spouses and 'significant others' are not invited. Leave aside the general asininity of this advice, although it may be harmless; the fact that the guy has written to an internet advice columnist to say he doesn't trust his girlfriend suggests that this particular relationship is doomed anyway. But consider Prudence's first reaction: "Office Christmas parties are famous occasions for drunken women lurching at the boss ... or the other way around." Am I naive, or is this a totally outdated stereotype? I mean, my law firm has an annual Christmas party, and people are generally too uptight about the possibility of making fools of themselves to dance, for crying out loud. I mean, not that extramarital affairs and the like don't happen in the business world, but I really can't see the office Christmas party as a major culprit in that kind of thing, especially at a party full of lawyers in these days of hair-trigger sexual harassment litigation. Get a grip!
November 25, 2002
POP CULTURE: Beard
Mark Steyn, who once wrote an extended and not entirely tongue in cheek attack on 'barbophobia,' would love these guys.
POP CULTURE: Visions of . . .
The appearance of the phrase "Spinach McNuggets" in Saturday's kausfiles suggests that Mickey Kaus has spent too much time on the road.
POP CULTURE: Wacko
Personally, I think it's about time to get someone to Smacko Wacko Jacko. Heck, maybe if we ask him real nice, we can even get Shaqo to Smacko Wacko Jacko until he's Backo to Blacko. And the obscenity laws ought to prevent newspapers from putting photos of Mr. Jacko on the front page . . .
November 19, 2002
POP CULTURE: Na Na Na Na Na I'm Not Listening
I don't have HBO, but my wife and I got hooked over the summer on renting "The Sopranos" on video. We are, at this writing, halfway through the third season. So, it was with extreme consternation that last week's major plot development on the show was mentioned in prominent links on Slate (not the articles, the links on the front page), in a large picture and appropriate captions in the NY Daily News, in Letterman's monologue, and even in Peggy Noonan's column, for crying out loud! In today's Bleat, Lileks feels my pain.
November 14, 2002
POP CULTURE/WAR: George W. Potter
Instapundit thinks Harry Potter is like George W. Bush - which explains why Slate's staff hates Potter as much as it hates and hates Bush.
November 13, 2002
POP CULTURE: LILEKS on DirecTV
Hooked it up, called DirecTV, went through the procedure to activate it - and here we enter mumbojumbo land. I chanted the magic numbers into the phone; the shaman on the other end moved his fingers, and the birds in the sky and the snakes on the land woke as one, and yea: the picture appeared on the wall, and seemed to move; the words appeared as if writ by an invisible hand, and I fell on my knees and said I will order the NFL Total Access Game Package, O my liege. I will! I am not worthy of this package but I shall accept it nonetheless. Blessed be unto you.
October 31, 2002
POP CULTURE: Newhart
CNN and MSNBC have pieces on the brillance of Bob Newhart, the white-collar standup comic, on the occasion of his receiving an award. My mom had the old records with Newhart's standup routines, and as good as his sitcoms were, if you never heard his standup act, you missed a lot. What was really revolutionary about Newhart's act was his ability to create an act with no funnyman, just a straight man.
POP CULTURE/LAW: Girls Club
The Washington Post with a good roundup of the faults and bad reviews of the late, unlamented 'girls club'. All I saw were the ads and reviews - from the ratings, I gather I was not alone in this - but among the show's numerous flaws were its Lifetime-network-ish assumption that nothing in the least has changed in the way women lawyers are treated at work (in San Francisco, no less) since the Fifties, and its equally absurd presumption that a successful law firm would be sending first-year associates out, without training, no less, to do things like the opening statement of a murder trial. What planet did David E. Kelley practice law on?
October 29, 2002
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Rampaging Lileks
You hate to link to the same people every day, but I laughed so hard at Lileks' Bleat this morning I almost fell off my chair. He takes on the Pet Shop Boys, Avril Lavigne, and Walter Mondale, and likes only one of the three. A taste of his observations on Mondale: "I was a hardcore Democrat [in 1984], and I remember watching the [convention] speech and thinking: we are going to lose. We are going to lose 51 states. Puerto Rico will demand statehood just for the chance not to vote for this guy. . . [Now] I just feel sorry for the guy. If he wins, he has to leave home, leave his family, leave his nice job, and go back to the ossuary of the Senate for six years. One night he’ll find himself staring at the lovely ceiling, listening to Robert Byrd drone on - for heaven’s sake he was talking when I left and twenty years later he still hasn’t shut up . . ."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 06:38 AM | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
October 16, 2002
POP CULTURE: Beard Surgery
USA Today has a great headline (fifth down): "ZZ Top still rocking after Beard surgery". Actually, it's just an appendectomy for drummer Frank Beard.
Also in today's issue: President Bartlett's post-September 11 bounce didn't have the same staying power as Bush's. What will he do? Scare the old folks about Social Security? Play the race card? I'm betting on a sex scandal and a special prosecutor . . .
October 03, 2002
POP CULTURE: IS THIS THE WORLD'S FUNNIEST JOKE?
IS THIS THE WORLD'S FUNNIEST JOKE? I'd say 'you decide,' but apparently scientists already have. I've seen way too many of these Onion-esque stories lately.
October 02, 2002
POP CULTURE: Larry King
Dave Shiflett takes Larry King to town:
"It is in fact something of a surprise when a low-life newsmaker does not show up on Larry's show, or a show like his. Back over pedestrians at a swank club, get some face time. Ditto for marrying your horse, staying stoned for six years, or for simply gobbling down wanker-enhancement pills. Profess yourself a cannibal and you might get a full hour.
Larry: So tell me, what does a human taste like?
September 17, 2002
POP CULTURE: Monk Will Return
ABC is bring back "Monk," the quirky whodunit starring Tony Shahloub of "Wings" and "Men in Black" as a detective with a severely advanced obsessive/compulsive disorder. I've seen it a few times, and it's a good show; it also fills a niche, for the lighter mystery show of the "Murder, She Wrote" or "Columbo" variety, a genre that's not that big with 18-24-year-old TV viewers, but that should draw good ratings nonetheless. Kudos to the network both for correcting a mistaken decision to pass on the show and for putting something on the air that's neither tailored to the under-25 crowd nor a sop to the Emmy voters, but is just good entertainment.
September 16, 2002
POP CULTURE: Graduated From Show Business
Jerry Seinfeld tells the Sunday NY Times, in a long profile, that "I've kind of graduated from show business. I have no further need of this business. It's not about money any more, and it's not about fame. Now, it's just about maintaining a creative arc."
September 03, 2002
POP CULTURE: Death to Free Willy!
September 01, 2002
POP CULTURE: DEAD MAN SHILLING
Turned on Channel 5 (WNYW-TV) this morning and saw an infomercial. Nothing unusual there, except that the beaming visage of the down-on-his luck celebrity hawking some tooth cleaning system to people who appered to have been drinking PaperMate ink was none other than Robert Urich - who, if you recall, has been dead for several months, clean teeth or no.
In a similar vein, I was at the Bronx Zoo recently, where they have signs informing the visitor of helpful facts such as that, among other countries, "the USSR has outlawed the hunting of polar bears." Well, if it's good enough for the Soviets, it must be good enough for us, right?
POP CULTURE: The Eye
Click on this link. Go to "M.I. Lounge." Run your mouse over the clock and you can download an extremely creepy screensaver: it's from the animated movie "Monsters, Inc.," which has a character (voiced by Billy Crystal) with one gigantic eye. The screensaver is just this huge blinking eye.
August 29, 2002
POP CULTURE: DISSING THE BOSS
It's always been easy for people who fancy themselves to be cool and sophisticated to bash Bruce Springsteen. Bruce's work has always been highly emotional, and his appeal visceral, with none of the too-cool-for-school detatchment that is the signature of rock poseurs everywhere. That's what made him such a man of the moment in the flag-waving 80s and such an easy target in the Seinfeldy, irony-ridden 90s. And, contrary to what some people seem to think, the unguarded sincerity of Bruce's music is precisely what makes him once again a vital force in the post-September 11 world, the world where even David Letterman got choked up on national television.
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Everyone's entitled to dislike his music, of course, but dedicated Bruce-bashing -- the type that isn't content to dislike the guy and his songs but wants you to feel bad for liking him too -- is, like, so September 10. Bruce and his devoted fans are a big target because irony is always most effective against people who take things seriously. Bruce takes things seriously. He even takes having fun seriously: listen to a song like "Badlands" or "Dancing in the Dark" or "Born to Run," for example, and you can see that Bruce is talking about having fun, having friends, having faith and making love not because life is wonderful, but precisely because life is hard and we only come this way once. Bruce's lyrics are the kind of stuff you hear from people who get weepy after a couple of drinks. I read one review that criticized "Mary's Place" on the new album, as well as the entirety of the "Born in the USA" album, for matching upbeat music to downbeat lyrics. But that's always been the point - Bruce is telling us to go out and have a blast when times are toughest.
The Boss' critics on the political Right, as well as some of his fans on the Left, tend to miss the fact that, as a result of this mixture of sincerity and optimism, Bruce's fan base tends to be much more socially and politically conservative than the nation, or the record-buying public, as a whole. This is an issue of temperment as much as anything. It's hard to be a Bruce fan if you are the type of person who snickers reflexively at the flag, or soldiers and cops, or the Church, or other institutions that take serious things seriously. It's hard to be a Bruce fan if you are the type of woe-is-everyone Leftist who moans on about how all our institutions are a fraud designed to prop up a corrupt, racist, homophobic patriarchy and we should all say NO to making better lives for ourselves, wear black all the time and live like the bonobo chimpanzees. How many Critical Race Theorists, or 'womyn' who celebrate "V-Day," could say with a straight face that "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive"?
Penn of Penn and Teller gets this, as does Stanley Kurtz. I think Bruce gets this too, which is why he's so careful to thread the needle on controversial topics in a way that preserves his credibility with his friends on the Left without alienating his fans. "41 Shots" is a good example of this - Bruce presents the Diallo shooting as a tragedy, not a crime, but he also makes sure that his white, blue-collar audience remembers the story. And to my mind, Bruce was as guilty as anybody for the misinterpretation of "Born in the USA," a song that broke dramatically with the 70s-era Leftist tradition of bashing the Vietnam vets: if he didn't want it to be heard as a hymn to underappreciated patriots, he should have thought twice about releasing a video full of warm, fuzzy Americana where he played in front of the flag; about putting Old Glory on the cover of the record, and as the backdrop to the stage show, and as the backdrop to the tour posters, all at a time when the "USA! USA!" chant was at its highest ebb. But Bruce could play that game precisely because he isn't really of the modern Left so much as the old-time liberalism; he believes America can do bad things, but he obviously doesn't believe in his heart that this is an evil, corrupt country. And to conservative fans, that's all we ask - artists are allowed to have their own politics. We don't have to vote for the guy.
In the same the-personal-is-political vein, the main criticism of "The Rising" on the Right is that it gives short shrift to the epic battle between Good and Evil that was revealed by September 11. In a sense, Bruce - who had kind words for the US operation in Afghanistan in a recent interview, in contrast to his Gulf War mopery in "Souls of the Departed" - is threading that needle again, but so what? It's always stupid to criticize somebody for the songs they didn't write; it's stupider for criticizing a musician for avoiding a political topic about which he obviously has nothing useful to say. Bruce also wrote songs principally about the World Trade Center rather than about the Pentagon or Flight 93 - so what? He's in New Jersey. People in his town died at the Trade Center. He wrote what was around him, and did it well. Picasso's Guernica (one of the few paintings I know anything about and appreciate) didn't tell the whole story of the Spanish Civil War, either. It didn't have to to be great art. Springsteen wasn't likely to improve on Neil Young's Flight 93 record, "Let's Roll," anyway, which gave powerful voice to the need to do battle with evil. To take the Picasso analogy to the breaking point, Young's song, like the Leftist intellectuals (such as Orwell) who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War, is a clarion call to fight Islamist fascism that's all the more powerful because it comes from a dyed-in-the-tie-dyes peacenik, the guy who raised hosannas to Jesse Jackson in the great garage-rock anthem "Rockin' In the Free World" and sang derisively in the same song about America's "kinder, gentler machine gun hand." But Bruce didn't have to say that; what he did say, about hope and faith in the face of grief, was quite enough.
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August 28, 2002
POP CULTURE: Dixie
Is it just me, or does this picture make the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks look like a dead ringer for Sally Struthers?