Friday, October 30, 2009

AP Headline of the Day

4-Legged Movie Stars Vie for 'Canine Oscars'

Sports Talk

I'll just dump some disparate sports talk into this one post. I know how you love sports talk.

First, the World Series is shaping up to be as good as I thought it would be. What I love most, though, is that it's the "Jersey Turnpike Series" but none of it actually takes place in NJ. Ah, Jersey.

I'm not a big fan of bringing full replay to baseball, but it's true that the umps are making it very hard to avoid the issue. I'm not sure that last night is the best example of ineptitude this postseason, even though it had a big impact on the game. Ryan Howard's trapped catch was incredibly difficult to see in real time, especially with the ump behind him. And the call on Chase Utley the next half inning was one of those bang-bang plays that happen a million times during a season and only get the Zapruder treatment in the playoffs.

Three quick thoughts on NBA's opening week: It doesn't shock me at all that Cleveland is 0-2. What shocked me was how many games they won last year. The Cavs are still LeBron plus zero.

Everyone figured it would be a long year for the future Brooklyn Nets, but blowing a huge lead to the Timberwolves is extra humiliating.

I had a fantasy basketball draft this week, and with a couple of last-minute no-shows, the league has a grand total of eight owners. That meant much better players for the picking each round, and I think I have a really solid crew. They are: Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Troy Murphy, Russell Westbrook, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, Al Horford, Hedo Turkoglu, Mike Conley, John Salmons, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace. Memo to the rest of the league: Bring it.

"Hello, Travis"

When The Onion first started a video news network, I had my doubts. That was stupid of me. Their latest hilarity:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Circling the Drain

I'm sure this will end well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

They Sound Good to Me

For this wet, gray Wednesday in New York, here's some sunshine. This is a clip (truncated at the beginning) of the Oscar Peterson Trio doing "You Look Good to Me" in Prague, 1969. Enjoy:


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Movie edition:

Christopher Kelly says that the film of adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road is "a movie so singularly unpleasant, so resolutely ill-conceived that it should bring Hollywood’s unlikely love affair with the iconic Texas author to an immediate end." . . . If you're an obsessive fan of Taxi Driver, New York City, or both, then this three-part series comparing frames from the movie with current-day street scenes is for you: Here, here, and here. (Via The Awl) . . . A review of A Serious Man, which I thought was better than the reviews it's been getting but still minor Coen. . . . A list of the 20 worst sequels to good movies ever made. It includes Babe: Pig in the City, which I remember liking, but it’s been a long time. In any case, it’s better than Back to the Future 2, which didn’t make the list. I haven’t seen the No. 1 selection, but it seems like a safe choice -- I remember my parents and sister going to see it in Texas; when they got back, I could hear them get out of the car in the garage, still laughing. . . . Terry Teachout re-posts his take on an anthology of film criticism. ("American Movie Critics will likely become the standard collection of its kind, for the most part rightly so.")

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gallery 31

Been a long time since I added something to the Gallery thread (nearly seven months, in fact), and I'll get it started again with a painting. Photographs shouldn't have all the fun.

Horse by George Boorujy
Currently on display at PPOW in New York


My Home Away from Home

Over at The Second Pass, a busy day today. First, James Chandler thinks that if you like the work of Jane Austen, you're almost certain to love Belinda, an 1801 novel by Maria Edgeworth. Also, I've written the second Editor's Note in the site's young life, partly to describe changes to the section called The Shelf.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eisenhower Sees the Future

Near the end of World War II, General Dwight Eisenhower sent this letter to General George Marshall in Washington. In it, Eisenhower recounts visiting recently liberated concentration camps in Germany. The entire letter is beautifully, clearly written, and it includes this paragraph, startling in its prescience:
On a recent tour of the forward areas in First and Third Armies, I stopped momentarily at the salt mines to take a look at the German treasure. There is a lot of it. But the most interesting -- although horrible -- sight that I encountered during the trip was a visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to "propaganda."
(Via Freddie de Boer)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Condensation: James Cameron

It's been an awfully long time since I tried to kick-start a series that condenses New Yorker articles into three sentences. I'd like to try again. In this week's issue, Dana Goodyear profiled filmmaker James Cameron, he of Abyss, the first two Terminator movies, Titanic and the forthcoming effects orgy Avatar. In many ways, it’s a typically smart New Yorker piece: Goodyear implies she started preparing for it at least a year and a half ago, she did a lot of reporting, and the writing is plenty sharp. (“All directors have a God complex; Cameron takes his unusually seriously.”) Still, it’s hard not to wonder why Goodyear and the magazine would take 10,763 words to say what could be summed up in five: “James Cameron is a toolbox.”

So here it is again, in three sentences:
Each spaceship reflected the character of its pilot, and also Cameron’s instinct for the iconic, literal image; to the mother ship, Nell, he gave a curvaceous shape and a pair of heaving breasts.

[Landau's] T-shirt said something about Tommy Bahama’s Dive Bar; staying close to Cameron means embracing scuba culture in whatever way you can.

"We want to say that this arch formed as igneous rock, that it’s a lava formation that got eroded, but it’s fracturing out along the crystal planes of minerals."


Creed is What?

I'm as happy to be contrarian as the next guy. Happier, in fact. But Slate's habit of taking the other side has never been quite this crazy. I give you: "Creed Is Good: Scott Stapp's nu-grunge foursome was seriously underrated."

Come again, Willis?

It would take some serious rhetorical skill to rescue the reputation of the strange combination of bombast and sleep-induction that is the music of Creed. It would also help if the writer's audience was composed entirely of people who have lost the sense of hearing. Slate critic Jonah Weiner doesn't even come close:
In his lyrics, Stapp is a well-meaning, Bible-fluent doofus, easy to chuckle at but difficult to imagine hating. . . . The trouble wasn't that he was a blustery, would-be messiah (that didn't stop Bono's canonization) so much as the unrepentant hamminess he brought to the role: ample baritone quaking and churning, arms outstretched atop mountains and hovering, Christlike, above crowds in music videos.
So now, "difficult to imagine hating" is the same thing as "good"? And the "doofus" doesn't seem connected to "Bible-fluent." Just because you know the Bible doesn't mean you have to write lyrics like: "Well I don't know if I'm ready / To be the man I have to be / I'll take a breath, I'll take her by my side / We stand in awe, we've created life."

But maybe Weiner's just building up to his heavy artillery. Here we go:
Every surging riff, skyscraping chorus, and cathartic chord progression telegraphed the band's intention to rock us, wow us, move us. . . . One of the surprises involved in returning to Creed with a fresh pair of ears is how rocking, exciting, and, yes, moving, the songs can be.
Uhh. Rocking, exciting and moving? Those are some sharp adjectives. But OK, OK, once we dig down deeper, surely there's a case to be made:
"Bullets" is a furious blast of metal and one of the most galvanizing persecution anthems ever penned: "At least look at me when you shoot a bullet through my head! Through my head! Through my head!" he howls, presumably at the band's haters.
Oh, boy. I'm all for defending dynamic music that others might call dumb -- music that is, in fact, moving and rocking. But it will take someone else to convincingly defend Creed. In the meantime, one Slate commenter succinctly makes the prosecution's case:
People hate Creed because their infantile, derivative, boring music represents the absolute least-common denominator of modern rock (at least they did until Nickelback underbid them).


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Goldy Prays

It's been a while since I've had mascot news to share. This nugget's pretty good. The University of Minnesota's mascot, Goldy Gopher, got himself in hot water last week. When Minny's opponent, Penn State, took the field, defensive end Jerome Hayes knelt in the end zone to pray. Goldy knelt, too. Fairly mild stuff, but charges of mocking religion led Minnesota to apologize for Goldy's behavior. The video is pretty funny. But the ensuing quote is even funnier:
According to the report, Hayes said he has seen video of the moment, and that he's not bothered by it -- although teammates have told him "the Gopher got the best of me."


A Little Baseball Talk

I suppose I should have said this a couple of weeks ago if I wanted to look prophetic, but I thought the Phillies were clearly the favorites in the National League. And once the Cardinals and their incredible one-two punch of Carpenter and Wainwright were eliminated, it seemed even clearer. The Dodgers were really ordinary in the second half of the season after their blazing start. The Phillies beat the Dodgers in last year's NLCS (also in five games), and this year they added Cliff Lee. They're the defending World Series champs, and they have what is commonly referred to as "an American League lineup," full of big boppers.

Now. I really don't want to get ahead of myself (unlike Joe and Evan on WFAN, who are jinxing this thing to high heaven at the moment, by comparing the Phillies and Yankees position by position), but if -- if -- the Yankees get past the Angels, I think this will be the first World Series in a while that matches the legitimately best teams from each league. And it will be very evenly matched (though I think the Yankees get the pitching edge). OK. Officially ahead of myself.

Here's a picture of the crowd outside Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston before a game of the 1903 World Series, between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates:

Boston won that series 5 games to 3. A best-of-nine series is a good segue into Willy Stern's proposal for a new playoff structure. It's pretty unorthodox -- involving, among other things, a team with the better record having to win one less game in the opening round -- but I'm willing to consider anything to mitigate the effect of the additional divisions and the wild card. Citing the work of Craig Robinson, Stern shares these facts about the playoffs since the wild card was implemented in 1995:
* The team with the best record in baseball has only won the World Series once (1998 Yankees). The 2007 Red Sox tied with the Cleveland Indians for the best record and also won the series.
* The playoff team with the worst record has won two World Series (2000 Yanks and 2006 Cardinals).
* Only in 1995 did the teams with the best record even meet in the World Series (Indians and Braves).
* In only three seasons did the best eight teams go on to the playoffs (1996, 2002, and 2004).

Don't Blame it on Her

For Wednesday-Thursday, this is a strangely hypnotic clip of Stevie Nicks being prepped for a photo shoot and breaking into "Wild Heart." The woman singing back-up only enters the frame toward the end. Enjoy:


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"It's what this country was started for."

I've been working on a post about DADT, our country's sterling military policy, which should be up soon. As preface to it -- though this isn't about that particular policy -- here's a World War II vet in Maine (a "lifetime Republican") talking about his son and the right to marry:

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Four Candles

So, yesterday marked this blog's fourth birthday. I had cake to celebrate.

No, I didn't.

As always, many thanks to any of you who are still dropping by from time to time. Post #2,387 and counting...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pretty Posters

I just fell down a rabbit hole of movie poster design. This list of 25 reimagined movie posters led to lots more. Here are two of my favorites. Ratatouille is by Eric Tan. Sleeper is not on that list of 25, but the list links to more work by Brandon Schaefer, which is well worth checking out.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Friday, October 16, 2009


A nine-year-old kid’s incredible hockey shot. Really, check this out. . . . Seems increasingly obvious that the whole “balloon boy” thing was a hoax by crazy, attention-hungry parents. Gotta like the boy, though, who farted on CNN and puked on NBC. . . . Glenn Beck remembers a simpler, non-existent time. And says it was better because of Paul Anka. And rambles about how Americans are like kids at a party who smell like pot. Or something. Oh, and of course, fake cries. . . . Toronto’s Star names the 10 “most important” movies of the past decade. Lots of movie-related stuff in this blog’s near future. . . . Neanderthals beat a gay man to within an inch of his life and their idiot friend cites the Bible (and his Biblical tattoo) to back them up. And a pastor writes in to slam the idiot friend. . . . Speaking of idiots, but on a much lighter note, "new rule," as Bill Maher might say: You can't casually use baseball stats that only four people have heard of, as Jayson Stark does in this column: "[Lincecum has] had the most 'dominating' starts (game scores of 75 or better)." What the hell is a game score of 75? . . . A short(ish) provocative piece, I thought, about 72-year-old artist David Hockney and his new passion for drawing on his iPhone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Get Your Back Up Off the Wall

The weather in New York is miserable, and is supposed to remain that way for the next two days or so. In order to combat the mood it has brought with it, I need something forceful. I need a groove that simple rain cannot defeat. So for the Wednesday-Thursday song, I give you Kool & the Gang doing "Get Down On It." (Warning: Serious Keytar Ahead.) Enjoy:

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AP Headline of the Day

Texas Police Find Woman, 45, Living With Corpse

Monday, October 12, 2009

You Have My Attention

News lede of the year:
A gay man tried to poison his lesbian neighbours by putting slug pellets into their curry after he was accused of kidnapping their three-legged cat.
(Via Kottke)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Rookie's Thoughts on Twitter

If you're up on all things Second Pass (meaning, if you're a true patriot), you know that I recently started a Twitter page for the site. This went against all of my human instincts. So far, though, it hasn't been bad. My motor skills haven't eroded (too much), and I find myself still able to carry on conversations at a college level or better.

A lot of the people I follow on Twitter, so far, are book-related individuals and companies, and they tend to send out a lot of blasts with links to things. I do this, too, so I'm not judging. But I find this can get repetitive. For instance, Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize, and lots of people posted that she had won it. I find that the medium -- such as it is -- is more fun when it's used by people like writer Dan Kennedy. His Twitter page is a series of aphorisms, like these three recently posted in quick succession:
People fall in love because it makes them feel a little better about themselves.

People break up because it makes them feel a little better about themselves.

People stay single because they feel fine about themselves.
Or my friend Eugene Mirman, whose Twitter page includes these two recent entries:
Congratulations Mr. Obama! You won fair and square, even though I’ve been texting Hamas & Israel requesting peace for weeks.

Good morning Amherst! Can't wait to go downtown & see ten 50somethings holding a vigil to end poverty/ injustice/ Vietnam.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize for Obama

This is like the reverse of what happens when a band wins the Best New Artist Grammy when they've released 10 albums. I'm sure that Obama himself thinks this is hasty. And he pretty clearly reflected that in his statement this morning:
To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace. But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build, a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.
I also know from the way the world of books reacts to the Nobel Prize for Literature that these are often controversial decisions, and – this is most important – decisions that don't have an awful lot of effect on what the kids call "the real world." With that in mind, I round up a bunch of responses below, the way Andrew Sullivan does from time to time, starting with Sullivan himself. I don't see how you turn down an award like this – as some below (like George Packer) suggest – without making things more awkward. Even if you think it's the worst decision ever made, you can't blame Obama for it. Anyway, I honestly won't spend much time thinking about this myself, but here are the thoughts of several others, all of which I agree with to some extent:

Andrew Sullivan:
I don't think Americans fully absorbed the depths to which this country's reputation had sunk under the Cheney era. That's understandable. And so they also haven't fully absorbed the turn-around in the world's view of America that Obama and the American people have accomplished. Of course, this has yet to bear real fruit. But you can begin to see how it could; and I hope more see both the peaceful intentions and the steely resolve of this man to persevere. This president has done a huge amount to bring race relations in this country to a different place, which is why the far right has become so vicious in attacking him and lying about him. They know he threatens their politics of division and rule. He has also directly addressed the Muslim world, telling some hard truths, and played a small role in evoking a similar movement of hope and change in Iran, and finally told the Israelis to stop cutting their nose off to spite their face.
Rod Dreher:
The Nobel committee has awarded Obama its Peace prize for the grand achievement of not being George W. Bush. I don't see any other way to explain this decision. Again, it doesn't reflect poorly on Obama, but rather on the Nobel committee, which looks petty and political.
George Packer:
President Obama should thank the Nobel committee and ask them to hold on to the Peace Prize for a couple more years. The prize should be awarded for achievement, not aspiration, and so far Obama’s main achievement has been getting elected President, which is in a different category. He shouldn’t contribute to the unfair accusation that he is all talk by accepting an award based on speeches he gave in Berlin, Prague, and Cairo. Europeans’ relief in seeing the last of George W. Bush and their adoration of Obama are entirely understandable, but in the U.S. we've moved on from November 4, 2008, and these days Obama is — in a way that's both inevitable and healthy — a working President, with his share of troubles and mistakes, who is trying to get some difficult things done but hasn’t come close to accomplishing them yet. This seems like a prize for Europeans, not Americans, and I worry that at home it will damage him politically by reinforcing the notion that he is — and will be — a world icon rather than a successful President. I don’t mind him being the former, but I most want him to be the latter. Not even a Rookie of the Year is ready to be elected to the Hall of Fame. I’m afraid this prize will be bad for Obama. For political reasons and on the merits, he should paraphrase Shakespeare to the Nobel committee: “As you shall prove me, praise me.”
Joe Klein:
There is a slight whiff of condescension attending the announcement that Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. There is the sense that he has won simply by not being George W. Bush. Effete Europe is congratulating rowdy America for cleaning up its act and not bringing guns to the dinner table. . . . Well, I'm as relieved as anybody that the Bushian gunslingers have been given the gate and, as regular readers know, I'm a big fan of patient, rigorous diplomacy – and there's a certain lovely irony to any prize that brings the Taliban and the neoconservative Commentary crowd together in high dudgeon – but let's face it: this prize is premature to the point of ridiculousness.
Michael Russnow:
I am generally a supporter of Barack Obama. I voted for him and campaigned in print for his election. However . . . [T]he Nobel Peace Committee has been accused in the past of trying to make a political statement, and perhaps, because they admire Obama and his groundbreaking presidency, in addition to his earlier anti-war statements and recent speech to the Muslim world, they are, by this action, hoping to jump start his ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why else give him the honor now? Whatever one might feel about Obama, he has not earned this singular award.
Glenn Greenwald:
His willingness to sit down and negotiate with Iran – rather than threaten and berate them – has already produced tangible results. He has at least preliminarily broken from Bush's full-scale subservience to Israel and has applied steadfast pressure on the Israelis to cease settlement activities, even though it's subjected him to the sorts of domestic political risks and vicious smears that have made prior Presidents afraid to do so. . . . All that said, these changes are completely preliminary, which is to be expected given that he's only been in office nine months. . . . People who live in regions that have long been devastated by American weaponry don't have the luxury of being dazzled by pretty words and speeches. They apparently – and rationally – won't believe that America will actually change from a war-making nation into a peace-making one until there are tangible signs that this is happening. It's because that has so plainly not yet occurred that the Nobel Committee has made a mockery out of their own award.
Spencer Ackerman:
[T]urning it down would be a slap in the face to an international community that is showing, in the most generous way possible, that it wants the U.S. back as a leading component of the global order. The issue is not Barack Obama. It’s what the president represents internationally.
Matt Welch:
[T]his selection illustrates the United States' way-too-oversized role in the world's imagination. And it shows how people – almost touchingly – remain suckers for likeable politicians who replace guys they hated, investing in them a kind of faith mere mortals usually don't merit. As Chili Davis famously (and presciently) said about Dwight Gooden, "He ain't God, man."

He Means What He Feels

Funny stuff from Colbert here. Post about the Nobel Prize for Obama to follow:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Day Late, Opera

For, um, Wednesday, this is Anna Netrebko singing Puccini's "O mio babbino caro." Enjoy:


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

R.E.M., Now and Then

This was going to be a post just recommending an upcoming album, but then I made a great discovery. So now it’s about two things.

First, the upcoming album: On October 27, R.E.M. is releasing the two-disc Live at the Olympia. The performances come from a series of “working rehearsals” the band held in Dublin in 2007 while recording their last album, Accelerate. The shows were intimate and energetic, and the set lists were a dream for any longtime fan of the band. The songs on Accelerate are included, as are three or four from its sessions that didn’t make the final cut. But of the 39 songs on Olympia, 16 of them come from Fables of the Reconstruction or earlier. (There are also five great songs off Document.) And with so many selections, the majority of them weren’t the big hits. Yes, there’s “Driver 8” and “So. Central Rain” and “Gardening at Night” (the last track), but there’s also: “Maps and Legends,” “Auctioneer,” “Carnival of Sorts,” “Harbor Coat,” and “Little America.” Oh, and “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”!

After a spirited rendition of “Letter Never Sent,” Stipe says, “that was a ‘just go ooh and ah and let Mike and Bill do everything kind of song.’ ” After “Sitting Still” -- one of my favorite songs of theirs -- Stipe, presumably holding up a sheet of paper, playfully says, “This is why the Internet sucks. It says here . . . well, number one they never get the lyrics right, not that their were lyrics to begin with. But it says here, ‘Note: These lyrics are approximations. Stipe himself has no idea what he says.’ ” (This is a charming moment, but it’s even funnier as an infinite regression of sorts: Stipe admits the early songs didn’t all have established lyrics, but seems mock-angry that people are accusing him of not knowing what he sings, but also has clearly printed out lyrics from the Internet to sing along with because he hasn’t done the song in ages. So he’s singing fan-created approximations of nonexistent lyrics that he only half-admits are nonexistent.)

I’ve heard Live at the Olympia because . . . well, my lawyer is advising me not to say. In any case, it’s a must-have for fans. Unlike a lot of compilations and such that R.E.M. have done this century, the inspired song selections and the lively spirit of this make it essential. The band sounds tight and terrific through most of it, and anyone who reveres the old days has to be delighted with a live album that includes Stipe also saying, “This is another Chronic Town [tune] . . .”

And speaking of Chronic Town, the great discovery:

And I mean great. On YouTube are eleven songs from an R.E.M. concert on October 10, 1982, at a club called The Pier in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’ve seen pretty early things on there -- from 1984, etc. -- but this is kind of ridiculous. As one commenter concisely put it, “Jesus. This is important stuff.” It’s true that any rock archivist -- much less a die-hard R.E.M. fan -- would have to be glad for such high-quality clips. Considering that it’s homemade video from 1982, the sound and picture are incredible. And this is truly the early days of the band, just a couple of months after Chronic Town, their debut e.p., came out. It would be another six months before Murmur was released, another year before the band made its TV debut on Letterman, etc. Here, Stipe, all of 22 years old and wearing a sweatshirt bearing a fraternity’s letters, nervously yelps and bounces. Peter Buck and Mike Mills look a combined 14 years old. And Bill Berry keeps the beat, as God intended.

The crowd seems like it can’t be more than a few dozen people, tops (I’m picturing something like 35). The band sounds good, and Stipe was still in more of a punk phase, not very interested in singing particularly well -- though his most polished performance, I think, was in the song I embed below. (One of the reasons I love the band’s early ’90s work is because I think Stipe’s voice was at its best and most expressive then, richer and more confident than before but less gruff than it became. But of course, the early work was the most innovative, and I love it equally, if not more.)

Anyway, these videos -- which the saint who posted them describes as “a reflection of hard work & dedication in the trading circuit since 1991” -- are fascinating. They make me feel an intense nostalgia for something I never experienced. The list of all 11 clips can be found here. They include an experimental-sounding number called “Skank” as an encore. As one Internet fan site says, “ ‘Skank’ was kind of R.E.M.'s ‘All Purpose Jam.’ ” OK.

Here’s the band doing “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” -- again, October 10, 1982:

And here's "Catapult," a favorite singalong of mine:

Oh, hi. It’s me again. I’m just sitting here, listening to the version of “These Days” on the new live record I mentioned in the first half of the post, and thinking of the irony in a band maturing in some ways and spoiling in others. Nearly everyone would agree that the songs R.E.M. has produced on its last few records are, with exceptions, not up to the standards set by their earlier work. And yet, they’re as accomplished and confident as a band as they’ve ever been -- they’ve been doing it for about 30 years, after all -- so they can really hit the old material out of the park in a way they might not have even done back when they first wrote it. That’s not profound. But I was thinking it. Unrefined, unprofound thoughts transmitted immediately -- blogging at its best.


Monday, October 05, 2009

An F for Effort

For weeks, I’ve been meaning to share a brief anecdote about baseball announcer Joe Morgan that sums up what’s wrong with . . . the entire art of broadcasting. In the past, I’ve cast aspersions on Morgan and his fellow traveler in nimrodicy, Tim McCarver, and on occasion people -- like my friend Tim -- have asked in good faith what I find so odious about them. And I always feel like I answer by just casting more aspersions, not by being specific. And that’s fun, but it makes me feel like some schmuck running attack ads during a campaign for New Jersey state office, rather than someone who understands what’s wrong with Morgan and McCarver.

I will say that when you drill down to specifics, part of what you find is that -- as bad as Morgan and McCarver can be -- many of their irritating moments are indicative of larger asinine trends in sports coverage, such as the moment I describe here. It was a Game of the Week (TM) on Fox, and the Phillies were playing the Mets.

In the third inning, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hit a home run. Because every broadcast must be crammed with analysis, even when there’s nothing to analyze, Fox ran side-by-side shots of Utley’s home run swing and a swing from his previous at bat in the first inning, when he made an out. At the point of contact with the ball, they froze the frames. Morgan opined that Utley made much squarer contact with the fastball he hit for a home run; he was a split second behind the previous fastball. This alone is stupid to point out, since it goes without saying (98% of the time) that a batter has made better contact on a ball he pulls 400 feet than a ball he, say, grounds weakly to second base. But Morgan had to provide even more analysis, so he said that Utley was clearly better prepared for the fastball the second time around, so he had an easier time catching up to it, going on to posit that Utley -- who does nothing but hit baseballs for seven months a year and probably quite a bit in the other five months as well -- wasn’t quite ready to turn on a fastball so early in a game. This is ridiculous. Four of Utley’s home runs this year came in the first inning. He hit a home run in the first inning of the first game of the 2008 World Series. Players hit home runs in the first inning all the time.

But it’s not enough for the Morgans of the world to say: “Utley didn’t hit a home run his first time up, but he did the second time.” Because then, what expertise would the announcers be bringing to bear? Examples like this abound. (And this one is too specific, because it ignores Morgan's garden-variety vacuity, which is in evidence in moments like this one, when he fills dead air by saying it's worse to walk someone with no outs than to walk someone with two outs. Everybody together now: "Duh.") Around the same time as that Phillies-Mets game, there was a Yankees-Red Sox game on Fox during which the sound from the booth was broken the entire game. I know it wasn’t my TV, because the ambient noise from the crowd mic could be heard. I kept figuring the sound of McCarver and Joe Buck (also odious) would kick back in at any moment, but it never did. It was heaven. Muting them is one thing, but then there’s an odd silence -- to have the noise from the park but not from the booth was the perfect mix.

I guess the reason I single out McCarver and Morgan for enmity is because: a) they have such plum, high-profile jobs; and b) they seem to take the most glee in the “analysis” side of their jobs, as if they’re esteemed educators.

OK, one more sports gripe while I have you.

Phil Mushnick is a professional crank. In some ways, he has the easiest job in the world, which is to write columns for the New York Post bemoaning all the dumb things sports announcers say. He doesn’t lack for material. His tone can be annoying and he can overreach on occasion, but the way I know I’m really an 82-year-old man is that I frequently nod in appreciation of Mushnick’s choice of targets. Damn kids these days. This past weekend, his collection of mini-rants included this about the general stupidity of NFL rules:
Consider that Mark Sanchez last Sunday scored an extended-arm touchdown because the nose of the ball crossed the plane of the goal line before it was knocked from his hand. But if a wide receiver clearly catches the ball with both hands, clearly holds the ball tightly as both feet clearly land in the end zone, but the ball jiggles when he's knocked to the ground, that's not a touchdown.
I’ve been laughing about that for years, especially now that the rules governing full control of the ball are stricter/sillier/dumber/more confusing.

A (Very Cool) Photo of a Tree

This month's National Geographic has a cover story about redwood trees. Inside is a picture of a tree that is 300 feet tall and 1,500 years old. At NPR, the photographer describes the process of taking the shot, which included "three cameras, a team of scientists, a robotic dolly, a gyroscope, an 83-photo composite and a lot of patience." The page also features the photo itself, which is stunning, and requires some scrolling.

(Via Norm Geras)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

AP Headline of the Day

South Dakota Town Gets Rid of 44 Tons of Stinking Bison Meat

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A (Drug-Fueled?) Feeling

I really should be in bed now, suffering from the manx as I am, and this might be the NyQuil talking -- I haven't taken tonight's dose yet, but I swear there's a leftover effect from last night's; the NyQuil people seem to have strengthened their formula, perhaps with something stolen from (or developed in cooperation with) the military.

But I think the blog is about to go through a weird-but-productive phase. Maybe not that weird; maybe just weird because it's productive and things have been so quiet lately. But maybe weird because it will be productive in an unprecedented way when the blog is way too old for strenuous activity like that. We'll see. Stay tuned, won't you?

Kraig and Rick, Sittin' in a Tree...

My friend Kraig's blog, Boy Hates Girl, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. But there's a more specific reason that I point to it today.

All of us have guilty pleasures. And as I've often argued, this doesn't mean Hall & Oates. Hall & Oates are awesome, and if you feel guilty for liking them, you're a socialist. Or worse. If there is anything worse.

No, I mean guilty. Like, if I'm in a bodega, and that Miley Cyrus song about wanting to move mountains comes on, I don't mind. I should get at least 140 hours of community service for that.

Over the past several months, though, Kraig has been bravely blogging about his love for the music of Rick Springfield. There isn't a single typo in that last sentence. And here's the thing: We're not talking about a love of "Jessie's Girl" or even a love of "Jessie's Girl" and "Don’t Talk to Strangers." There would be some mental template for understanding that.

No, Kraig loves “the music of Rick Springfield,” broadly speaking.

This makes my friend Dez’s love for the entire solo catalog of Men at Work lead singer Colin Hay look like an obsession with Handel.

Kraig is straight. Kraig is deeply sarcastic and skeptical. Kraig is not, as far as I know, drawn to kitsch for kitsch’s sake. Kraig is not clinically insane. I’m not sure even Kraig knows what this is all about, and that’s part of what makes it fascinating.

Springfield has recorded 16 albums, five of them before he broke out as a heartthrob on General Hospital. So he’s certainly put in his time. And I learned from Kraig that Springfield can actually play guitar. He also looks ridiculously good for 60(!), not in a grizzled-but-fit Springsteen way, but in a boyish Michael J. Fox way. And how did I learn all of this? You see, Kraig has a “Friday Night Video” feature. He ripped off this feature from me (on Wednesdays), but that’s OK, I ripped it off from someone else and didn’t even bother changing the day. Besides, blogging itself is just something everyone ripped off from diarists and letter-writers and novelists and all kinds of other people who express themselves in more socially accepted ways. (I always felt a bit creeped out -- by myself -- when I tried to keep a diary, though with ASWOBA’s traffic these days, perhaps that’s what this is turning into.)

Anyway, for ten weeks straight, Kraig devoted his Friday feature to clips of ol’ Ricky as a way of counting down to a Springfield concert at the Borgata, a casino in Atlantic City. Kraig took a friend -- I don’t know this friend, but I know he’s a very good sport -- to the show. And now he has filed his report.

Two of my favorite parts:
What's interesting is that 90% of the audience stood for 90% of the show . . . everyone who didn't have arthritis, basically.
Within seconds he was directly in front of me and, well, he touched me. Or maybe I touched him. It doesn't matter, I suppose.
Read -- marvel at -- the whole thing.

Friday, October 02, 2009

People Are Still Awful: A Play

An exchange just now at Starbucks, in one act.

Dramatis personae:

Pushy-Looking Mom with Bratty Kid in Stroller (PLMw/BKiS): Attractive(ish), severe-faced blonde woman wearing too much denim. Key thing to picture about her is that at no point in what follows did her expression change from one of stone-cold, unquestioning, undisturbed look of "What I Want to Happen is About to Happen."

Bratty Kid in Stroller (BKiS): Probably about 3, dressed in a tiger outfit like it's Halloween.

Cashier #1: The cashier helping me when this unfolds.

Cashier #2: The cashier next to her, also busy with customers.

Me: Me.

[As the scene opens, I am finally at the front of a busy line. Both cashiers are doing a good job, but they're harried; the store is crowded, and a promotion involving Via, a new brand of instant coffee, is underway, prompting questions from customers and lengthy interactions with the cashiers. Behind me, PLMw/BKiS is about to leave the store, but BKiS has stopped to point at a red balloon on one of the Via displays and cry that he/she wants it. Note that though PLMw/BKiS was "pushy-looking," she never became pushy in tone. It was as if she was asking for a straw or a napkin or something totally normal. Also note that at no point during what follows did PLMw/BKiS make even a modicum of effort to move the kid along or even address the kid directly.]
PLMw/BKiS: [in general direction of cashiers] Hey.


PLMw/BKiS: Hey. Excuse me.

Cashier #1: Yes.

PLMw/BKiS: [pointing to balloon] Do you have any more of these?

Cashier #1: Oh, those aren't for sale.

PLMw/BKiS: Yeah, but do you have any more?

Cashier #1: [kind of confused, but friendly] I don't know, but they're not really for sale.

PLMw/BKiS: [turning to cashier #2] Do you have any more of these?

Cashier #2: [confused and irritated, but still friendly] Oh, no. Those are just for display. The only ones we've got are the ones out on display.

PLMw/BKiS: OK, I'm taking it down. [makes move toward balloon string]

Cashier #2: OK, wait a minute, I'll come around.

PLMw/BKiS: [untying red balloon from display] I was going to ask you for a scissor.

Cashier #1: [to me] I don't understand what's happening.

Me: [to Cashier #1] Entitlement is happening.

Old Times

For most of this week, I've been suffering through a bronchial setback -- a wheezing, coughing, Barry White-voiced thing that my friend Nick refers to as "the manx." (As far as I know, that's only a kind of cat, but it still makes me laugh out loud.)

But with a few deadlines passed, and the weekend (essentially) here, and not much to do but wheeze, I'm going to post probably three or four things in the coming hours. It will be just like old times.