Saturday, December 31, 2005

Reflections on Christmas

Thus far, the arrangement has been quite practical. The past three Christmases my wife and I have been alternating between my parents and hers. This year we spent Christmas with her folks in lovely, rustic, bucolic, Rockwellian (the painter, not the singer) Essex, Connecticut, home of the Griswold Inn and its "hunt" breakfast. The air was cold and snow was lingering in little mounds around us, but inside the house, friends and family feasted on a robust Christmas turkey, mashed potatoes, and a string bean casserole, among other festive fixings. It rained a good bit, though it didn't really bother me--not when you have a Dewar's and soda or three. On Tuesday we loaded all the booty into the car and wistfully departed the Nutmeg State, feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. (Perhaps it was the Dewar's.)

Then it was off to the Jersey shore for a few days with my parents. Less than 24 hours after we arrived, we found ourselves flying down the GSP. Destination: Exit 38B, the Atlantic City Expressway. What a touching way to end the holiday season, at a craps table inside the Tropicana, hoping the shooter hits a 6, 8, or 9. He was a burly man, the shooter, looking much like B.B. King (complete with tinted glasses). The table had been blowing hot and cold all night (or was it day?), no one quite getting on a run. But now was the moment, I recalled. He was throwing well. A 6, 8, or 9 was all I needed. And the shooter sported a t-shirt auspiciously emblazoned with the words "Natural Born Player." The dice flew. "SEVEN!" yelled the croupier. Mr. Natural Born Player had just crapped out. Naturally.

Everything you've read and heard about the newly renovated Tropicana is true. It really does feel like a Vegas casino inside, the shops all connected by one of those passages with the fake blue sky above. They've got Carmine's and P.F. Chang's and the Palm steakhouse. In front of the Red Square Russian restaurant stands a towering statue of Vladimir Lenin. (Was Stalin unavailable? How about Beria?) All of these venues were booked solid, thereby exiling us to the "beachfront" buffet, where degenerates try to cover their losses by piling their plates high with crab legs.

On our way out, my father played a few rounds of poker. Video poker. The kind that doesn't even reward you for two pairs. The minimum hand for an extremely minimum payout is three of a kind. And yet people continue to play these machines. I scolded my old man who then landed four of a kind.


P.S. According to a bartender at the Tropicana, sports books are still illegal in AC. I had always assumed, having seen the horses on the jumbotron, that other betting was also legit. Turns out you still have to place that bet in Vegas. Or online. Or through your local bookie.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Yet another sign The End is near: Mariah Carey has topped the charts for the 17th time, according to Billboard, tying Elvis Presley. She is now only three hits away from the Beatles.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Quote of the Day

"This is unjust and undemocratic."

--Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half brother, complaining about a 30-minute television censoring delay during war crime trial proceedings, Dec. 22, 2005.

The Bob Loblaw Law Blog?

Could it be for real?

I can't tell. I think so. Although the timing of its launch--October, 2005--is very suspicious. If this is a real Bob Loblaw's law blog, then I can't help but wonder how he's circirumventing the suits at Fox.

Bonus: I'm obviously not the first person to find this. Check out the comments.


Christian Lowe reports:
The raid was very interesting. Real-world door-to-door room clearing urban combat stuff. The section leader we were following, Sgt. Kitter, who’s Texas twang made me feel pretty damned safe, was very agressive and seemed to know his stuff. He was climbing all over the roofs and ordering his Marines around like he’d done this a thousand times. What a good dude. We also went into a set of rooms that housed an old Iraqi man with his family. They were caretakers for the school and had just been hassled by a group of insurgents. It was hearbreaking to hear how they’d scared the daylights out of the poor man. I watched as Lt. Awtry…the platoon commander, handed a little girl a blue chem-light…she smiled. Will she remember this kindness when she grows up? What side will she be on when the chips are down. I wanted to think that gesture would go a long way — for both the parents and the child — but I wasn’t sure.

I talked with the interpreter for a few minutes while Capt. Powledge formulated a new plan with Lima Company commander, Capt. Quinn. He is Iraqi. A Sunni from the north…I forget which town. His wife is in school there. He has no kids. He’s been living in San Diego. I asked him if he thinks things are getting better. “No,” he said quickly. “It is the same for the last three years.” “Before, it didn’t matter if you were Shiia or Sunni or Kurd (he pronounced these “sheeeya, sun-nee and kord). But now, it matters…” his head shaking in disgust.

We moved out. None of the insurgents were found. No shots were fired. But Awtry was pretty convinced that the insurgents used the school as an overwatch position and to detonate IEDs when they saw US vehicles go by. When I got back to camp, I took a look at the map…just across the dirt road from the school, within plain view, was the place the 7-ton truck had been hit…where the 12 Marines were injured and the one killed…the place with the severed feet. I had a feeling we’d be back to this place…and so would the terrorists.

Before I go, I want to say again that I hope all of you reading this are praying for the health of our friends Walker and Janet’s new son, Michael. He is surely as strong as his parents and will come through this trial unscathed, I am sure of that. Keep the Carters in your thoughts please. And keep the widow of Samuel Tapia and his beautiful daughter Samantha in your prayers as well…

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ten Worst

While we're at it, perhaps we should now note our ten worst films--a task much harder than it seems. To qualify, these have to be movies you actually saw from beginning to end (or at least really attempted to), ideally in a theater where the thought of having flushed good money down the toilet makes the experience especially unnerving.

In no particular order:

Congo - Having a device that allows a gorilla to communicate in English does not suddenly make the gorilla act or think like a normal human being. That and the scene where the "gorilla" is strapped to a parachutist. I saw this one in a theater.

Cannonball Run II - I genuinely enjoyed the first one. Sadly, I cannot say the same for the sequel, which included the separately taped segment with Frank Sinatra and the montage to the music of ... Menudo.

Problem Child - If the aim of this movie (or its sequels) was to have me wish ill towards the kid, it worked. I don't care why he's a lousy brat. I used to confuse Problem Child with Child's Play. Difference is, I'd welcome the doll to my home any day.

Out on a Limb - Who knows what Matthew Broderick saw in the script. The leading lady is rather unappealing. Couldn't even tell you about the plot. Simply a horrible film.

Little Buddha - At one point, Keanu Reeves, playing Siddhartha, is sporting a bouffant.

Hercules - It starred Lou Ferrigno. I saw it in the theater. I was only ten. I didn't know! I was just a child!

Those were just six and I am wiped out. Galley friend Mike Woody lists Caddy Shack II, She Devil (starring Roseanne Barr), Casualties of War, Ishtar, and "anything with Jean-Claude Van Damme except Bloodsport. That was rich."

Finally, in terms of great disappointments, no doubt I would have to place The Godfather Part III on top.

Mel Hussein

I had promised myself that I wouldn't blog anymore for the remainder of the year. Yet no matter how much I hate blogging and despise the blogosphere, I've come back for more. Why? Because I love you. And I'm going to make your day better, right now.

First, go watch the new trailer for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. It's all very serious and dire, even if I couldn't tell you exactly what it's about.

Now, click here to see one of the frames that Gibson inserted into the middle of the trailer, just for kicks. (You could hunt it down yourself by going frame-by-frame, but an enterprising AICN reader has saved you the work, so why bother.)

Even if you're at the office and aren't going to watch the trailer, for the love of God, click on that second link. You'll thank me for it.

Bonus: The trailer doesn't give a credit for the score, but I'm pretty sure it's the handy work (get it?) of Buster Bluth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not that I have anything better to do--in fact I do--but since Mr. Last posed the question, herewith my list:

(1) Goodfellas

(2) The Godfather Part 2

(3) The Godfather

(4) Almost Famous - Isn't this how every writer wishes he got his start?

(5) When Harry Met Sally - It's the story of me and my wife. I play the role of Sally.

(6) Raiders of the Lost Ark

(7) Jaws

(8) Ferris Bueller's Day Off

(9) The Empire Strikes Back

(10) As Good As It Gets - "What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you're that pissed that so many others had it good." That about sums up my attitude on life.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the old black-and-whites, but they just don't do it for me. It's hazy, gray, and worst of all, if there are any children in the picture, they usually can't act to save their life. (Case in point, the daughter in Gone With The Wind.) As for honorable mentions, I'll throw in Any Given Sunday, Shawshank Redemption, Big Night, Heat, and Schindler's List.

All-Time Top 10

Galley Friend J.E. and I have been trading emails about the state of Hollywood--I'm more optimistic than he is. J.E. wanted to know how many movies in recent years could come close to touching classic status. I say that there aren't many, but that there are some. All of which is prelude to asking:

What are your Top 10 movies, all-time? I'll be interested to see how readers weight their lists and how modern cinema fares. I'd ask you to take your time a bit with these--spend a few minutes thinking about it. This post isn't going anywhere.

To help you out, there's the Oscar database, which is wonderful to browse, but that should only be a start. Anyway, to start things, here's my tentative list, which I reserve the right to edit at a later date:

(1) Casablanca - You may have something else in your top slot, but it's hard to argue against it.

(2) The Philadelphia Story - After more than 60 years, it's still laugh-out-loud funny. Not one joke relies on contemporary culture; the acting can't be touched; and if you aren't misty at the end, then you're a robot.

(3) North by Northwest - The best written of the Hitchcock films, it has genuine funny mixed with great suspense and incredible creative economy.

(4) The Godfather - Everything everyone says about it is true. Maybe the most quintessentially American story of the century. Beautiful and immersive.

(5) Citizen Kane - Amazing that a movie as durable and powerful as this hasn't become overrated. It's another classic American tale, told very, very well.

My top 5 is pretty locked down in a rough cardinality, but for the bottom half of my top 10, there's no real point to ranking them, so here they are in alphabetical order:

* Chinatown - So dark, so twisting, so startling. If it had included this line from the sequel--"In this town, I'm the leper with the most fingers."--then it might have been in the top 5.

* Fellowship of the Ring - In a few years I may want to drop this down, out of the top 10, but it's so taut, so exciting, so forceful, so exquisite that I'm just as likely to want to move it up. At the very least, it's the best film of the last 20 years.

* The Godfather, Part II - In many ways better than the first. Shows how well glamour and evil get along.

* The Insider - Very quiet, very unassuming, it creeps up on you. The glowing blue dots that become golf balls sitting on a range under the moonlight; Bruce McGill exploding in the courtroom; Christopher Plummer giving the most perfect and honest portrayal of vanity ever committed to celluloid.

* Sense and Sensibility - It teeters on the edge of sadness, but never goes over the brink. It's a happy movie that isn't "uplifting." And it features Alan Rickman, as a hero.

But that's just me. Now it's your turn. Discuss.

Jody Bottum on Christmas

Just beautiful:
Just because something is sentimentalized does not mean that it is untrue—or even that we are wrong to layer it over with sentiment. The distaste for sentimentality begins as a rebellion against false feeling, but it finishes as a rebellion against all feeling. It starts as a plain-speaking person’s refusal to be deceived by a coat of paint, and it ends as a rude person’s refusal to use paint at all. It opens as a wise man’s ability to point out the fool’s gold, and it concludes as a fool’s inability to point out the real gold.

For on this point, we dare not be mistaken: Christmas is the real gold, and all the sentimentality with which we gild a thing already golden, all the evergreens with which we decorate a thing already evergreen, all the holly boughs with which we mark a thing already holy—all these are not some vain attempt to mask the truth. They are, rather, the tribute that sentiment will always try to pay to true things, on the same principle by which a wife chooses the prettiest wrapping paper for her husband’s most expensive gift on Christmas morning. What need had the King of Kings—what need had a newborn child in a cattle shed—for the awful oblation of frankincense and myrrh laid before him by the Wise Men? And yet those men were wise, as we are wisest only in our greatest foolishness.

There's more. You should read it.

More Cloning Doublespeak

Wesley Smith is on the case.

Now You Can Be the People's Champ!

Ever wonder where Freddie Mitchell got his wacky championship belt from? My bet is that he bought it here, at Wrestling Belt World.

They've got them all--from the WWE Hulk Hogan era World Championship belt to the WCW Television Championship belt.

Or, if you're the subtle type, there's the NWA World Tag Team belt buckle.

If I was rich, I'd give $5 to everyone who sent me a picture of themselves wearing that to the office.

How 'Bout Them Cowboys?

"I know Bill Parcells is madder at his players than the fans are mad at me. The looks he was giving his players--if looks could kill, I declare he would have killed a couple people yesterday."

--Dallas point guard Darrell Armstrong in yesterday's Dallas Morning News. Prior to the Mavs-Timberwolves game, Armstrong took the mike and asked the home crowd, "How 'bout those Redskins?" He was greeted with boos and laughs and fined $1,000.

Two in the Bush Numbers

Am interested in the new approval numbers for Bush being reported in today's WashPo. V. good news for the prez overall, as his numbers richet off the floor they hit in early November, with the economy performing rather well and Iraq hosting successful elections and Katrina becoming a more distant memory.

Two questions occur to me as I read the report by Dan Balz and Richard Morin. One, why this gratuitous caveat: "The other cautionary note for the administration is that Bush's approval ratings and public optimism about Iraq have spiked in the past after instances of positive news, such as the capture of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or the election in January of this year, only to recede later."

Yes, accomplishments do tend to help a president's approval ratings, which are known, however, to go down as well as up. Duh.

Also, I find interesting the swing of public confidence concerning the relative merits of Democrats versus Republicans on the issue of Iraq. Though Balz and Morin say, "On three major issues -- Iraq, government ethics and standing up to lobbyists and special interests -- the public still trusts Democrats over Republicans," they fail to note that on Iraq, Republicans have recaptured much of the support they had lost as of the beginning of last month. On November 2, the public favored Democrats to Republicans on Iraq 48 to 37 percent. In this month's poll, the preference is 47 to 44 percent, not exactly the clear, ongoing, decisive victory Balz and Morin suggest. Also, one has to wonder if the tide isn't finally turning after two years of the Democrats' full-court-press against the president on his leadership and honesty vis-a-vis Iraq.

As to the other preferences mentioned: That the public currently gives Democrats higher marks for ethics and standing up to lobbyists doesn't surprise me at all.

Narnia Watch Finale

The weekend actuals are in and, as we suspected yesterday, King Kong beat Narnia over the weekend by a little more than $18 million. (Although it's worth noting that, in a rare moment of candor, Universal's Sunday morning estimate was almost dead-on with Kong's actual total. How can they guess that close without the Sunday numbers even have happened yet? They have rooms full of math scientists using test tubes and slide-rules.)

If you've followed the saga of Narnia watch, you'll remember that Hugh Hewitt was quick to gloat after Narnia's opening weekend, but has been silent on the subject in recent days now that the dream of a Narnia over Kong second weekend has died.

Anyway, this was such a wildly unfair bet that I feel a little guilty even bringing it up. And I certainly don't expect any fabulous prizes. (Although what self-respecting runner wouldn't want a Hugh Hewitt Running Club t-shirt?)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tim Hortons

The Wershovenist Pig is on the case, researching Wendy's decision to spin-off Tim Horton and Baja Fresh.

I didn't even know that Wendy's owned Baja Fresh in the first place, although I should have guessed it, since Baja is to Chipotle almost exactly as Wendy's is to McDonald's.

A Billion Year Contract?

This white-hot LA Times piece on Tom Cruise and Scientology is filled with awesome details. For instance:
Maureen Bolstad, who was at the base for 17 years and left after a falling-out with the church, recalled a rainy night 15 years ago when a couple of dozen Scientologists scrambled to deal with "an all-hands situation" that kept them working through dawn. The emergency, she said: planting a meadow of wildflowers for Cruise to romp through with his new love, Kidman.

"We were told that we needed to plant a field and that it was to help Tom impress Nicole," said Bolstad, who said she spent the night pulling up sod so the ground could be seeded in the morning.

Then there's this strange phrase:
For years, the property has been home to Golden Era Productions, where Scientologists work around the clock producing videos, audio recordings and e-meters, to be sold to church members. Rinder said nearly all of the members at Golden Era have signed billion-year contracts to serve the church.

A billion year contract? They'll still be working for the Church long after Xenu has devolved into an inferior warrior/spirit life-form.

Iraq: From Good to Bad

Christian Lowe reports how things can be good one day and then terrible the next. Heartbreaking.
Wesley Smith has an excellent post showing a prime example of how the media gets cloning wrong. It's good stuff.

The Probabilistic Age

Chris Anderson has an excellent entry on The Probabilistic Age: the emergence of market-driven intelligence. I'm not 100 percent convinced in the inherent goodness of probabilistic systems, but they are frighteningly efficient.

Darrell Armstrong: Super Fan

This may be the most charming sports story I've seen in 10 years:
Mavericks guard Darrell Armstrong was so happy his beloved Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys that he grabbed a microphone before Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and hollered, "How 'bout those Redskins!"

It's going to cost him $1,000.

Dallas coach Avery Johnson announced the fine during his postgame news conference and team owner Mark Cuban later verified it was legit, much to the chagrin of a disbelieving Armstrong. The money will all go to charity, with Johnson saying the Cowboys would decide the recipient.

The Redskins wrapped up a 35-7 victory over the Cowboys shortly before the Mavericks left the locker room to play the Timberwolves.

As part of the pregame ceremonies, guard Devin Harris wished the crowd a happy holiday. Then Armstrong, who wasn't scheduled to speak, asked for the microphone. He added his holiday wishes, then made his fine-inducing proclamation, a twist on a famous line by former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

A mixture of laughter and boos followed, even from German import Dirk Nowitzki. Cuban laughed, too, and joked with Armstrong about it when he returned to the bench.

The Danny should send Armstrong something nice for the holidays.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Narnia Watch: The Verdict Is In

The prelim numbers are in for this weekend and--surprise!--King Kong outgrossed Narnia by almost $20 million during the Friday-to-Sunday period. (Note these are the studio projected numbers; my guess is that Kong drops by maybe $2 million in the final tally on Monday; Universal has probably pushed this number to get Kong over the $50 million mark just so they can run a big ad in Variety tomorrow.)

Anyway, as you'll remember, I was always skeptical about the notion that Kong was going to be a super-gigantic blockbuster--Titanic (or Gone with the Wind)-sized monsters simply cannot be foreseen. But, as our initial rough math showed, it was all but impossible for the second-week Narnia to outgross Kong on its opening weekend. Erosion rates for movies that open at 3,200+ theaters (and Narnia was up over 3,600) are notoriously steep. Narnia declined by 52.4 percent from its opening, leaving it in no position to challenge even a Kong which opened at the bottom of the range we predicted for it.

This was never even close.

Moving along, I want to point people toward the truly impressive per theater average for Brokeback Mountain--which is doing $109,485 per screen. That's huge. It's been 10 years since a live-action movie has done a per theater number like this. [see Update] It's very impressive and the people at Focus should be thrilled.

That said, I'm still skeptical that Brokeback will find a mainstream audience. Look at the other live-action movies at the top of our list of all-time highest-averages. You'll see Bulworth, Punch-Drunk Love, I Heart Huckabees and other films which were critical darlings but couldn't even cross the $30 million mark in total box office. The highest total gross of one of these high-average movies is Moulin Rouge!, with $57 million.

Anyway, it will be interesting to watch Brokeback's numbers in the coming weeks to see if it follows in the path of a medium-sized hit, such as Edward Scissorhands, or becomes a hot-house flower, such as Huckabees.

Update, 12/19/05: Galley Friend J.E. emails in to point out that the average I cited above for Brokeback Mountain, $109,485, is from last weekend, when the movie was only playing on five screens. This weekend it expanded to 64, and the average dropped to $34,188.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Cira Centre

Unlike my good friend Art Vandelay, I know nothing about architecture. Which leaves me only with personal taste--which is to say, dangerously unarmed. As a rule, I tend not to gravitate toward anything modern, but my goodness, I just can't get The Cira Centre out of my head. It's amazing and simple and beautiful and somehow, the perfect complement to 30th Street Station.

Go and drink in some of the photos so far.

Memento Mori

I should mention that Ross Douthat's piece on the abolition of Limbo is one of the best essay's I've read in the last 12 months. You'll be cheating yourself out of something wonderful if you miss it.

It's so good that it will, at least for a moment, make you want to clutch Susan Sontag to your chest.

Sharks Who Eat Sharks

Are the luckiest sharks of all!

Get Your Fresh CulturePulp!

One of Mike Russell's best yet.

The NORAD Santa Tracker

In what is surely the best use of the Internet to date, bookmark the NORAD Santa Tracker and check in on it with your kids on Christmas Eve.

Totally Amazing.

On Star Jones

Blog Crush:
Someone over on Live Journal found the cover for the new Star Jones book (new one on the left, old one on the right) that comes out in January and I just had to share. This is the book where she reveals her secrets to finding true happiness and making your life as great as hers. Cause she really does have it all figured out, huh. Sure, she's obesely fat and would die if she walked the streets of Phoenix for an hour in July, but when she makes a cheesecake, that's real bacon inside, not the fake stuff. Some people say she's mean because she wears fur and tricked Ariel out of her singing voice . . .

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Let 'er Rip

In case you missed it, today's front-page Wall Street Journal story on "revirgination" is not to be missed. (Apologies for not being able to link to it.) As it turns out, hymenoplasty is becoming an ever more popular procedure for women who want to experience that wonderful feeling of ...

As Jeanette Yarborough explained to WSJ's Amy Chozick, "It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything." (And I thought my G4 Powerbook was great!) Esmerelda Vanegas runs a clinic where hymenoplasties take place. But why? "Ms. Vanegas says many of her patients risk disgracing their families if they're not virgins on their wedding night.... 'Losing your virginity is like losing a member of your family.'" (Really? I don't remember crying after I lost my ... oh wait a minute, I did.) Vanegas also says that, by undergoing hymenoplasty, "We can make it seem like nothing ever happened."

Another juicy excerpt: "[A] married mother of two says she's glad she had the surgery nonetheless. She says her husband wanted to experience intercourse with a virgin."

Now wait just one minute. Because a woman undergoes hymenoplasty doesn't exactly make her a virgin. Physically, yes. But in actuality? Only a time machine could do that.

It's a fascinating and quick read. I tore right through it. David Skinner says he wishes he broke the story.

Okay, just a few more tidbits: It turns out forms of hymenoplasty have been carried out for centuries. Chozick interviewed a director at the Kinsey Institute who said that "midwives used to disguise a broken hymen with a needle and thread, sometimes using membrane material from goa-

The author of this blog item has just fainted and is unable to finish this post.
The Washington Post is rightly outraged by former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder's decision to become an adviser for Gazprom. During his tenure in Berlin, Schröder was criticized for his chummy relationship with Vladimir Putin and his downplaying the war in Chechnya and Russia's suppression of human rights. Adds Davids Medienkritik: "The fact that the company is run by a former East German secret police officer who was close to Putin in his KGB years is truly disgusting."

Not mentioned, though equally disturbing, is Schröder's decision to serve on the board of both Zorin Industries (a biotech firm) and the Tropigala casino hotel, alongside former Nevada senator Pat Geary.

Hairless versus Hairy

The trend continues. The American Association of Plastic Surgery said 1.4 million people underwent depilation procedures last year—twice as many as the year before. This Wilamette Week Online reporter does a very good job of reporting out the story's local context, in which porno-style hairlessness is opposed only by hippie-bear fetishism of the opposite sort. (He also deserves points for his Matus-like pursuit of every possible pun.) Unrepresented in the feud is anyone who thinks the coming of the hairless man bodes ill for manliness and womanliness—and for men and women's entwined biological and moral fates. But that's why you have me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Potpourri for $500

Galley Reader J.V. sends along a link to this interesting new blog, Potpourri for $500.

Although blogger David Slattery has chosen a strange time to start blogging--he just became a father to an adorable baby girl boy--the blog's name is so good that it should carry him through periods of light posting.

Plus, he's got an item up now on spud guns. So he's got that going for him.

"A movie that only a bigot would hate."

Ross "That Thing You" Douthat is on the Brokeback Mountain watch.

A Mosque Grows in Boston

Do not miss Dean Barnett's fabulous piece about Boston's newest mosque and its attendant legal battles. It's great stuff.


Galley Brother B.J. sends along this AP story about the European reaction to Tookie Williams's execution. It contains this very strange formulation:
Williams was convicted in connection with four killings during a pair of armed robberies in 1979. But he never wavered from his claim of innocence and refused to confess to crimes he did not commit, even if doing so would save his life.

I'm not a student of this case, but Williams wasn't convicted "in connection" with the killings--he was convicted for murdering four people. And so far as I can tell, only the fringey, Free-Mumia types believed that Williams did not commit these murders.

And then there's the AP report's strange, Darkness at Noon notion that the State somehow told Williams that they would stop the execution if he would only admit to the murders. Again, without knowing all the details of the case, I find it hard to believe that this happened.

(Also, if you read further down in the AP story, you'll see that the reporters don't find the moral pronouncements of the Vatican so objectionable when they fit with the journalists religious agenda. If the Vatican is against homosexual priests, then they're hopeless retrogrades; but if they're against the death penalty, then they're our moral tutors. Funny how that works.)

In sum: The Europeans are idiots and the AP report is at least severely flawed, and maybe much worse. And yet, despite having to keep company with these people as well as the Hollywood idiots who spent last week parading for Tookie, his execution--like all executions--was a bad thing. In many ways, Tookie was the poster-child for the death penalty: Clearly, if you're going to have capital punishment, it's meant for bad guys like Williams.

But when it is avoidable, the state--we--should not be in the business of taking lives. For the broader arguments as to why, see Cardinal Dulles and Jody Bottum, both of whom do so better than I could hope to.

Update, 11:54 a.m.: Reader Jay Homnick cites Gov. Schwarzenegger's statement on the Williams case as evidence that had Williams admitted his guilt, he would have been saved: Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption. In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do."

I'm not sure that this is exactly what the governor means. Was the offer on the table for Williams? Or was Schwarzenegger using this idea of atonement as a smokescreen.

While I'm happy to believe in atonement, the idea that redemption should commute a death mark seems faulty to me. Tookie Williams or Carla Faye Tucker are no more deserving of life because they have reformed and no less deserving of life if they haven't reformed. And how are we to judge genuine reformation and atonement, which is much harder to establish than guilt?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Goalie Keeps Eye on the Ball

In the spirit of Brokeback Mountain, perhaps this story is worth mentioning. A Galley friend passes along this link to (no explanation needed), which is reporting on the recent sex scandal rocking a soccer team from Varna, Bulgaria.

Remember that scene in Any Given Sunday, in which the players are at a party complete with hookers and cocaine? Or do you perhaps recall the incident involving the Minnesota Vikings on cruise ships fully stocked with hookers? If so, don't expect anything nearly like that to happen with MAX, Varna's soccer team. Rather, when the stadium host walked into the locker room, he discovered the goalie engaged in some off-sides ball-handling with three teammates.

The men have since been expelled.

First of all, the coach says he noticed earlier some unusually friendly behavior among some of the teammates. But as he saw it, "I thought they were just drunk." (Ah yes, that excuse.)

Second, the goalie was supposedly cited for sodomy when he was 15. With a goat.

Finally, the incident occurred only after the team had lost the game. Had they won, it would have been truly a come-from-behind victory.

The Genius of Fark

Here's Fark's headling for this story: "Honda's ASIMO robot now capable of menial office tasks like greeting visitors, making coffee, finding Sarah Connor."
Larry Miller has a beautiful and moving piece about a boy who's becoming a Marine.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Just a few thoughts...

... on the passing of comic genius Eugene McCarthy and everyman's politician Richard Pryor. Or is it the other way around? Double obits, unfortunately timed as they are, can be a little confusing. But first, on Pryor: The man took scatalogical humor to a whole new level. I mean he really, um, pushed it. For that, I pay him homage. Pryor also starred in great films (at least I liked them) such as Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, The Toy, and, best of all, Brewster's Millions. (The Toy is notable for not only matching Pryor with Jackie Gleason but also child-star Scott Schwartz, who later starred in New Wave Hookers 5 and The Wrong Snatch. Incidentally, Schwartz's character's name in The Toy? Master Eric Bates.)

Where was I? Oh right, Eugene McCarthy. He ran for president before I was born and his leanings aren't exactly mine. But I did get a chance to hear him speak some 13 years ago at Georgetown. My friend and I went to the reception that followed, heading right for the hors d'oeuvres table. Suddenly the senator came up on us, placed his hands on our shoulders, and said, "I remember the kids on my campaign. They always came for the free food too."

And right he was.

Xbox 360: A Dog? Part 2

After reading this disappointed story on the new Xbox 360 in the Washington Post yesterday--titled "Where's the 'Wow'?"--now there's this news of sluggish Xbox 360 sales in Japan.

Is Xbox 360 the new Dreamcast?

No way! Dreamcast was a superior system with unique capabilities launched before its time.


Bob Ford writes a perfectly Philadelphia Eagles column, which is really just doom-saying about the Giants:
Whatever. They won. They jumped around. They held on to the division lead.

Enjoy it for now, guys. If it's this hard to beat the Eagles, the road ahead doesn't extend quite as far as you think.

Christian Lowe in Iraq

Don't miss his post on life with IEDs. Some of the best reporting you'll ever read from Iraq; you'll think you're there and then be thankful you're not.

Narnia Watch

Narnia had a huge opening weekend, pulling in $67.1 million (that number will probably fall a little once the final numbers are crunched, but probably won't dip below $65 million). Disney should be thrilled and overjoyed with this release. Good for them!

Not, however, good news for those who have been insisting that Narnia will beat Kong next weekend. Remember, that using the most conservative estimates--which means guess that Kong will open very weakly and that Narnia will hold incredibly well--we calculated that Narnia would have to open somewhere between $70 million and $87 million in order to be within striking distance of Kong next weekend. It's now all but inconceivable that Narnia will be Kong next weekend and, if Kong is as good as the early reviews, then it's also difficult to believe that Narnia (which will be helped by being a children's film, but only has so-so word of mouth) will out-gross it in the long run. I suspect that, when all is said and done, Narnia will finish with somewhere around $280 million in North American box office.

Bonus: Narnia did a bit better than I thought it would--I suspected it would be around $59 million--largely because I was figuring it to be on 3,200 screens. Instead it debuted on 3,616 screens. Where will it go from here?

If Narnia performs similarly to Goblet of Fire, and I think they're pretty analogous properties--it'll have a profile similar to this. That means that it will retain its high screen count this weekend and, more crucially, for the two following weekends, both of which are holidays. That means it could dip to about $37 million next weekend, but could uptick over the Christmas holiday and show excellent legs over New Year's.

Update: Inexplicably, Hugh Hewitt seems to be gloating. Maybe he thinks that the "tens of millions" of people who were going to see The Great Raid on its opening weekend are going to materialize next weekend for Narnia. And maybe--Army of the Dead-style--they will!

That would make Hugh Aragorn, son of Arathorne, and heir to the throne of Isildur, right?

Friday, December 09, 2005


For many months there has been a conservative knashing of teeth over Munich by those worried that it will be equivalent, anti-Israel, pro-terrorist, etc. Spielberg's recent statements have been seen by some on the right to confirm their worries about the film.

I haven't seen it, but I've been very wary of such predictions: Spielberg has been so heavily involved in World War II and Holocaust projects that I find it difficult to believe that he's going to suddenly head in the other direction. As for his remarks about the cycle of violence, etc., etc., I've wondered if he isn't trying to insulate himself from the left.

Now Todd McCarthy--the best straight-on film critic in America (Lane is an entirely different sort of animal; he's in his own class)--gives his verdict. He doesn't like the Munich much but has this to say about it:
Spielberg, Kushner and Roth go out of their way to try not to demonize Palestinians or anyone else, but the story is indisputably told with Jewish and Israeli concerns at heart.

Go For It

A Berkeley professor does some interesting math about kicking vs. going for it on fourth down. (He uses the Bellman Equation, in case Brendon or any of the other scientists were wondering.):
omer realizes that his conclusions run counter to conventional football wisdom. But he argues that the conclusions make sense if one thinks about them.

An example he gives in the paper concerns a team facing fourth and goal on the 2-yard line. The usual strategy is to attempt a field goal, which will almost certainly produce three points. In this situation, however, going for a touchdown has about a three-sevenths chance of success, and so, on average, produces about the same payoff in terms of immediate points. But because trying for a touchdown and failing leaves the opponent with the ball in terrible field position, thinking about what will happen next tips the balance in favor of the aggressive strategy.

All Roads, etc.

Go read Ross Douthat's exceptionally funny post about the end of the Reformation. Not to be missed!

The Times Loves Brokeback Mountain!

Shocked, aren't you? What bravery! Here's a clip from Stephen Holden's review:
That's exactly how Mr. Lee films their first sexual grappling (discreetly) in the shadows of the cramped little tent. The next morning, Ennis mumbles, "I'm no queer." And Jack replies, "Me neither." Still, they do it again, and again, in the daylight as well as at night. Sometimes their pent-up passions explode in ferocious roughhouse that is indistinguishable from fighting.

This moving and majestic film would be a landmark if only because it is the first Hollywood movie to unmask the homoerotic strain in American culture that Leslie Fiedler discerned in his notorious 1948 Partisan Review essay, "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey." Fiedler characterized the bond between Huckleberry Finn and Jim, a runaway slave, as an unconscious romantic attachment shared by two males of different races as they flee the more constraining and civilizing domain of women. He went on to identify that bond as a recurrent theme in American literature.

In popular culture, Fiedler's Freudianism certainly could be applied to the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Minus the ethnic division, it might also be widened to include a long line of westerns and buddy movies, from "Red River" to "Midnight Cowboy" to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid": the pure male bonding that dare not explore its shadow side.

We're all gay cowboys, now.

Not being a literary scholar, I'm just wondering: Wasn't Huck Finn in his early teens? Wasn't Jim a grown man?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Narnia Watch

Gitesh the Box Office Guru isn't infallible. But he's very astute. His weekend estimate is out. Here's what he has to say about Narnia:
Narnia is in many ways Lemony Snicket meets Lord of the Rings. What begins as a story of siblings sticking together in a new environment turns into a fantasy action film complete with epic battle sequences and plenty of violence. Surely fans of the books will all be out in force this weekend and over the holidays. . . In fact, those used to Tolkien-style fantasy every December will surely be tempted by Narnia, even if very little blood is shed on screen. . . .

The studio is not leaving anything to chance by having its marketing team target and attack every demographic group with money to spend. Given the author's popularity in the Christian community, a solid church marketing campaign has been underway which should help deliver a massive turnout. Reviews have been mostly positive and it will be interesting to see how the two-hour-plus length will affect younger children used to 90-minute kidpics. Plus with Goblet of Fire going into its fourth weekend, and King Kong still a few days away, Narnia is in a position to dominate the box office this weekend with considerable force.

Despite the arrival of the great ape, the Disney flick should still be able to post strong numbers throughout the holidays and if American kids don't find the film to be too British and the studio can find that holy grail - repeat business - then it will be well on its way to investing in more Lewis pics. Cross-gender appeal is solid, and with most movies currently in release getting stale, teen and young adult patrons that have already seen everything they want to see should also turn up at the cash registers. Roaring into well over 3,000 theaters on Friday, The Chronicles of Narnia might open with around $45M.

That screen count is a little lower than I expected, which may explain why Gitesh is more bearish. Still, that $45 million is a long way from the target window needed for Narnia to be in position to duel with Kong next weekend.


Hugh Hewitt has a scary, worrisome post.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Jenny has a great riff on Brad and Angelina:
I swear if these two freaks of nature ever breed biological children together the kids will either be so ridiculously beautiful people will need to wear special suits and goggles to protect themselves from the radiation which exudes from the kids, or they'll resemble mythical monsters like the ones in Clash of the Titans. "Hi. I'm Angelina, and this is Brad. These are our children, Medusa and The Kraken."

Meanwhile, the Blog CrushTM rolls on:
Those crazy Brits spell cozy with an "S", but they scarified Coventry during WWII to protect Ultra, and that took fuckin guts, so they get a pass. And if you'd lost track in this awesome game, Jude Law and Sienna are off-again for now because he wants to go to Africa with his ex-wife and kids over Christmas. But this isn't the first time Sienna and Leo have been linked, earlier reports had them meeting in New York after her initial split with Jude. All I really care about is the hopeful demise of the Leo-Kirsten Dunst rumors. I've never accidentally tried to pick up a transvestite (in this country) but I'm pretty sure I'd prefer a light raping at the hands of a tranny than to even shake hands with Sabertooth Dunst.

Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love

Forgive my lateness in posting this. I think the clock is slow.

I always thought Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie Van Halen would defy the odds and stay together for a long time. And I guess, in relative terms, 24 years is a long time together. In any event, a publicist for Bertinelli reported yesterday that the two, who have been separated for four years, have officially divorced due to irreconcilable differences.

At the time, I thought it was the best of both worlds--having a hot wife and being in a great band. Sure there were excesses, and few thought it would last, but why can't this be love? And while nobody said it'd be easy, you just have to roll with the punches to get to what's real. (I know, I'm pushing it.)

Yeah, we’re runnin’ a little bit hot tonight. I can barely see the road from the heat comin’ off of it. You reach down, between my legs...

Okay, now that was gratuitous.

Nevertheless, perhaps we should have seen this coming: In 2004 Van Halen told Guitar World that "I'm back, I'm black, and I'm chasing young, white meat."

Poor Valerie Bertinelli. She'll just have to take it one day at a time.

Okay, I'm done.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Easy Money (Updated!)

Hugh Hewitt is betting that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will beat King Kong both in total box office and--amazingly--on the weekend when Kong opens. I'd take that bet.

Narnia opens this Friday and Kong opens next Wednesday. They'll both have monster screen counts--I expect them each to be around 3,200 screens. But I'll be shocked--totally and completely blown away--if it's even close next weekend. The word of mouth on Narnia is fair to good, Kong is getting nothing but raves. The only thing Narnia has going for it in the context of Hugh's theoretical wager is that since it's shorter, it will probably get one more showing per day than the 3+ hour Kong. (I forget what the exact tipping point is, but I believe that once a movie crosses the 170 minute line, it loses a booking.)

Still, even if Narnia performs every bit as well as Disney hopes, next weekend it will face at least a 40% decline (and probably closer to 50%) from its opening weekend. So, just for the sake of argument: If Kong were to debut to $50 million, which is a pretty conservative estimate, even taking into account its disadvantage in play dates, Narnia would have to open to $70 million this weekend to even have a shot at beating it next weekend. If Kong opened to $60 million and Narnia declined a bit more steeply, it would have to open to $87 million even to be in the vicinity of Kong.

Two Notes: First, I'm not commenting at all on the artistic worthiness of either of these movies. I haven't seen them; I hope they're both great. I'm just trying to put the economics and the math into perspective.

Second, Hugh links to this Drudge story with various breathless expectations about Kong breaking the modern Titanic record. "Yes, I think this will do TITANIC numbers. It is going to be a huge movie," says one "Hollywood insider."

Don't believe him! For starters, Titanic's opening numbers were very good, but not great; they don't make the top 100 biggest opening weekends. How much do you think Titanic opened to?

Answer: $28 million. That's right. What made Titanic such a monster hit wasn't its opening--it was the film's crazy-small rate of decline. Titanic never did more than $36 million in a single weekend, but it did very big numbers for 18 weeks in a row--18 weeks!

The bigger point is that nobody can predict a Titanic-sized hit. Look at the list of All-Time Biggest Blockbusters and you don't find many movies that look like sure-fire, super-duper monster hits. The Sound of Music? E.T.? The Exorcist? 101 Dalmatians? The Graduate?

While you can predict with some degree of certainty opening weekends, you can never predict the type cultural moment that creates the insanely small week-to-week erosion rates that produce the most commercially successful movies. Some day a movie will break Titanic's domestic record, but when that day comes, it will be a surprise.

Final note: Hugh Hewitt's a great guy with a discerning movie palate, but he can occasionally allow his rooting interests in a film to distort his box office expectations.

Update, Wed. 7:25 a.m.: Please don't get the idea that I'm rooting against Narnia--I'm not. I hope it's good and if it is, I hope it makes a ton of money. Because when good movies do good business, we all win.

But commenters who are insisting that Narnia is going to open huge simply because "everyone" will see it don't understand how the industry works. Opening weekends follow the broad contours of seasonal movie attendence patterns, which is to say that, from year to year, the box office numbers for each month remain strikingly similar.

Remember that we've gone backwards and decided that in order to have even the slimmest of hopes of beating Kong next weekend, Narnia has to open somewhere between $70 million and $87 million this weekend. Look at the list of biggest December openings. Only one movie opening in December has ever fit into this range, and that was Return of the King, which squeaked by with $72 million in its first weekend. Only one other December movie, The Two Towers, opened above $60 million. Do you think Narnia is going to open bigger than either of these movies, which had the added benefits of being sequels? (Sequels earn a higher percentage of their overall gross on opening weekends than non-sequels do.) I don't.

We'll wait for the Amazing Gitesh Pandya to make his expert prediction later this week, but right now the Hollywood Stock Exchange, which has an uncanny gift for getting these things right, is predicting a $58.9 million opening for Narnia. That sounds pretty plausible to me.

Eagles Talk

Everyone else can ignore this thread.

In response to my meltdown, Galley Friend M.G. has some reasonable-sounding thoughts, but still comes to the same conclusion: Blow it up.
Let's first just start by saying we've been here before. Most of us were born here, and watching the Birds collapse is like taking off that nice Brooks Brothers suit at the end of a long night during which you almost scored with the hottest girl in the room. Now we've returned home to put on our old jeans, eat a hot pocket and sleep it off--cold comfort, but comfort all the same.

It really was over when we lost to the Skins--they're not even mediocre, they stink. At least now that McNabb is out for the season, we can lose with dignity, secure in the knowledge that the Dragon of the NFC East has not been slayed, just put on the IR to return next year. The Eagles will be feared again.

The real problem is twofold. First, the Eagles still have nothing like the reciever corps necessary to run a successful West Coast offense--an offense most of Philly has embraced at this point. T.O. and Freddie Mitchell got themselves thrown out of town. Pinkston is a bum with hands of stone who has strangely avoided the wrath of JVL. And McMullen and Brown have a long way to go.

Second, the Eagles secondary is perhaps the most overhyped defensive unit in the history of professional football. Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent were hyped, but solid. Sheldon Brown, Michael Lewis, Rodderick Hood--these guys never earned the reputation they had at the beginning of this season. And they let every washed up QB in the NFC put up record numbers on them--Drew Bledsoe having a career day in 2005???

JVL is a cold, calculating fan who saw long before I did the troubles that would befall our Birds. Unfortunately, he is probably right. Time to clean house, rebuild, look toward the next decade. My only quibble: Dawk. Dawk has been the heart and soul of this team for years, and he deserves better than being put out to pasture in the Sun Belt. Even if the Eagles could get a second and third round pick for him, it would break the city's spirit in a way losing never could.

Any team with Donovan McNabb will be competitive, just as the Eagles were at the beginning of this season. The organization is top-notch, and if there is a silver lining the cloud that was TO, it is that everyone knows Philly is the place to be if you want to play on a national stage. If Donovan builds it, the All-Pro players will want to come. But it is time to bring out the wrecking ball, Philly knows how to lose, but we prefer to do it with purpose and dignity--that means building for the future and not rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Meanwhile, Galley Brother B.J. has a different, more optimistic view:
onestly, I think you're over-reacting. The players that lost last night's game are back-ups that are only playing because on injuries (yes, I'm looking at you Mike McMahon and Koy Detmer and I'm at least glancing in your direction Reno Moats).

The game started with a very good drive by Seattle for a touchdown. The thing that killed the Eagles defense on that drive was the lack of a pass rush evidenced by the touchdown pass where Matt Hassleback had about 8 seconds to survey the field and pass. Things were not lost at this point. The D needed to make some adjustments, but this defense has shown that they can still play (just ask LaDainian Tomlinson).

Then, the Eagles have a pretty good looking first drive until McMahon throws an interception returned for a TD.

The Eagles defense then hold Seattle to a 3 and out and a 4 play drive that ends in a punt.

Seattle, next scores on another McMahon pick 6. Seattle up 21 - 0. You could very easily argue that at this point the game was over.

Then, Koy throws an interception that gets returned to the Eagles' 2 yard line, and Shaun Alexander runs the ball in for a touchdown. Seattle up 28 - 0. By now, the game is over.

Seattle's offense adds another touchdown before the half, mostly off of a long completion that was effectively a jump ball.

Seattle's final score comes on the Moats fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

Of the 3 scores that occur ed before the game was over, 2 of them were directly the result of Mike McMahon. I'm not trying to throw McMahon under the buss and blame all of the Eagles problems on him because the Eagles do need to address certain areas (D-line, depth at WR TE and HB). But, the Eagles loss last night was not due to across the board incompetence. There is enough talent on the team/cap room to make some adjustments and address these problem areas.
David Skinner is too humble to plug his excellent piece in glossy pub Boston magazine (sadly not available online). It's on singer Madeleine Peyroux. And her ex-boyfriend William Galison. And the nasty feud over an album that could've made them famous. It's like the dark side of The Commitments, minus a horn section. (There is violence, though it stops short of an Ike Turner.) Read it.

Gem Dice.

Galley Friend B.W. sends this Onion-esque link:
Vatican sources said yesterday that the commission would recommend that Limbo be replaced by the more "compassionate" doctrine that all children who die do so "in the hope of eternal salvation", rather than the traditionally held belief that their souls suffer eternal deprivations at the hands of the Slaadi and their demented lords Ssendam and Ygorl.

What this change in theology will do for the millions of Dungeons & Dragons players across the world is not yet clear. Randy Thomson, a Dungeon Master of 23 years from Buffalo, New York, is livid. "The Pope has no authority to mess with the cosmology of our beloved multiverse!" Thomson ranted, between gulps of cola. "This will be like Second Edition all over again, when they tried to take away our demons and devils. If it's a schism the Pope wants, it's a schism he'll get!"

But not all players of the game are so enraged. Lisle Sheffield, a player for 14 years from Tucson, Arizona, said, "Frankly, I'm pleased with this move. The planar cosmology was a straitjacket imposed by the medieval-style beliefs of roleplayers from the 1970s, who saw the need for a way to restrain the actions of characters within a rigid alignment system. In these enlightened times, such measures are not necessary, as modern secular humanism encourages accountability for actions within the moral framework of the D&D setting without the need for rules. I see the abolition of Limbo as the first step towards a more open and honest roleplaying system."

These arguments don't go down well with Timmy Livingstone, a 14-year-old from Sacramento, Caifornia, who discovered the game with his friends last summer. "The Pope can't take away Limbo! Who does he think he is! My 78th level half-elf-half-dwarf paladin-ranger-barbarian just got a +23 sword of Slaad-slaying, and was going to go to Limbo and kill Ygorl and take over the whole plane! How's he going to do that now? He might have to take over the Seven Heavens instead! Let's see how the Pope likes that!"

Higher Ed Jerks

It's especially dispiriting when it's a "conservative" acting like a cross between Ward Churchill and John Kerry. No movement is without its idiots.

Reaping What They Sow

Erasmus has an excellent and thoughtful essay on The Ice Harvest and the essential ingredients of the film noir. Reminds me of Stanley Kaufman in his prime; a great bit of writing.

"Microsoft has done for gaming what they did for personal computing"

A smart commenter used that line when describing the tech glitches of the Xbox 360. Now there's this story. Ignore the main premise of the piece about the class action lawsuit against Microsoft and note this nugget:
Microsoft has stated that approximately 3 percent of Xbox 360s will encounter some form of technical problem, but adds that the number is lower than normal for retail electronics.

I have no idea what the numbers are on this, but while 3 percent might be a normal trouble rate for "retail electronics," doesn't that seem pretty high for gaming systems? I've been futzing around with game systems since the original NES and neither I, nor anyone I've every known over the years, has ever had a hardware problem with any system they've had.

Maybe my friends and I all just got very lucky, but I'd be interested to know if this is the first time such a problem rate manifested itself in the gaming market.

It Wasn't That Close

Last night at the half, I wondered if there would be any way to hold Seattle under 50. By the end of the game, I was wondering what the over/under is for the total number of points the Eagles will score in the final 4 games of their season. I'll set the line now at 16.

You may have thought that the loss to the Redskins was The End, but you would have been wrong. The Nightmare Season From Hell continues.

(By the way, if Westbrook's ankle injury is serious, Andy Reid should have his Ring Dings taken away for a month. There is no reason in the world that the team's brilliant-but-fragile back should have been on the field in last night's meaningless, and quickly out of hand, game.)

The Inquirer and Negadelphia (here and here have reactions. I'm still sorting things out, but my initial suspcion is that they don't go far enough. It may be time to demo the team, trade everyone with any value not named McNabb for future picks, and try building a team that can compete for a title between the 2008 and 2012 seasons, during what will probably be Donovan's last few championship-caliber seasons. And by everyone, I mean everyone. Westbrook. L.J. Smith. Kearse. Dawkins. Trotter. Pinkston.

It isn't that these players are bad--I'd be sad to see every one of them go. (Except maybe Pinkston, but that's just business, it's not personal.) But the question is, which of these guys is going to be helping the team contend four to seven years from now? It's time to start building for the future and not delluding ourselves into thinking that there's one last chance with the current squad. That's fool's gold. The window for this core group is closed.

The Eagles will get a good pick this year, maybe 9th or 10th. Next season is already a lost cause. If they make the trades now, maybe they can get a high pick (3rd or 4th) in next year's draft. Then they can truly start rebuilding and make another legitimate run before the sun sets on McNabb.

Well, the moment you've all been waiting for. It is finally legal today throughout all of Great Britain. At long last, interracial marriage is now permitted.

Monday, December 05, 2005

For relaxing times...

...make it Bushmills Irish Cream time.

I never thought I'd be hawking alcoholic beverages for free but here's a product endorsement worth hawking. It was Sunday night and we needed a holiday house warming gift--the kind that would bring in some yuletide cheer. In other words, a bottle of wine just wouldn't do. But perhaps a cordial? I asked my local liquor salesman for a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream. He laughed. Then he says, "May I suggest something a little different like Bushmills Irish Cream?" I didn't know Bushmills even made Irish cream. "We've been selling it for the last six months," he points out. "And it's not as sweet as Bailey's."

And for $18.99, why not?

Not that I expected our always gracious dinner hosts to open the bottle in our presence. But thank God they did. (There's nothing better than enjoying your own gifts to others!) We all had it on the rocks with two dashes of nutmeg. It was like a chocolate shake plus 17 percent alcohol--a match made in heaven. Bushmills recommends consuming the opened bottle within six months. We did even better, polishing it off in an hour.

I know, you have questions:

You say you don't endorse products for free. Didn't you promote The Famouse Grouse and Courvoisier?

True, but I did get a t-shirt from one and a dress shirt from the other (the latter of which I'll wear once I become a blackjack dealer at the Borgada).

So you like Irish cream? Hope you didn't stain your skirt!

Every man is entitled to drink his choice of cordial in the privacy of his home, as long as the blinds are closed and the door is locked.

You really aren't expecting anything in return for this shameless plug?

Expecting? No. Hoping? Praying!

Go on Luke,

give in to the hate.

Not the Spider-Man Villain

Christian Lowe rides the Rhino:
After clearing thru the inbound terminal at the Baghdad airport and getting our bags and passports registered (all run by contractors) we took a bus to a place called the Camp Striker Stables. It’s pretty neat there. They have a big tent with wood floors and tables and chairs all set up to lounge around waiting for the Rhino. They assign you a tent that has cots in it and they’ll loan you blankets so you can catch some shut eye before or after your flight. It’s really really helpful and the employees are super accomodating and nice. You can take a shower, go to the chow hall or PX or nosh on an MRE if you want. Nice, relaxing place before hitting the Rhino x-hours later.

More about the Rhino ride…

You have to wear full flak jacket and helmet during the trip. The road is single lane, dark and bumpy. Like I said earlier, it’s only 16 miles from the airport to the IZ, so it’s hard to believe this was once the most dangerous road in Iraq. Lots of checkpoints and darkened Humvees on the side of the road securing the route. Rob was sitting in the front passanger’s seat and said he saw two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters flying alongside to blast anyone trying to pop at us. That much effort for 16 miles…huh…

Monday Morning WWTDD

Fine. Stop your mocking, she-elf. Here's some good stuff from the Blog CrushTM archive. Why? Because you've been dying to know where he went to school and I've got the answer:
I guess I never realized that Pink was a spokesmodel for Bally’s Total Fitness until these pictures showed up a few days ago. Mostly because Pink is a tubby poser mess with legs like Ricky Williams, and it never even dawned on me that such a thing was possible. I guess on one hand, it’s a brilliant idea, because fat girls see Pink as an achievable goal. You too can look like a model, and its not even gonna be that hard. Like when Shaq used to do commercials to encourage reading. And he sat there reading a picture book about dragons. I’m assuming he was supposed to be reading to kids, since he was reading aloud in the same voice he used in Kazam, but since no kids were ever actually shown, its also possible they were inadvertently airing a live feed from his house.

Oh, hey look, my degree from LSU is crying!

But on a more serious note, I love it when Brendon deals with current affairs. He doesn't do it all that often, but this Very Special Episode is tough and hard-hitting. If I was Tim Russert, I wouldn't be taking too many sick days, if you know what I mean:
Jamie Foxx, Snoop-Dogg, Danny Glover, Jason Alexander, Russell Crowe, Ted Danson, Ed Asner, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed O’Neil, Carl Reiner, Tim Robbins and Noah Wyllie are just a few of the big Hollywood stars trying to stay the execution of Crips co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams. These actors and many more have held rallies honoring Tookie as a great man of peace and signed a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger asking for mercy.

The Film Actors Guild faces a tough battle with their latest cause, mostly because its illegal to shoot an elderly woman in the face with a shotgun. As Tookie did to 63 year old Tsai-Shen Yang after robbing the motel she managed. Tookie also murdered her husband Yen-Yi Yang, 67, and daughter Ye-Chen Lin, 43. In Tookies defense, they had money and Tookie wanted it. Nonetheless, Tookie was charged with a crime, and sentenced to death.

There’s no mention in Hollywood’s letter of the people Tookie executed, but it does mention that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Someone who was not nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize was 19 year old Albert Owens. Possibly because Tookie shot him twice in the back of the head with a shotgun while he lay face down on the ground after Tookie successfully robbed the 7-11 Owens worked for.

The letter goes on to say that Tookie should be given clemency because he’s a changed man, and his brave tale of redemption can help others at risk. It also implies that Tookie was innocent and the victim of a racist judicial system. You would have thought that the very same letter wouldn’t say that Tookie found redemption after NOT committing a crime, but, hey, look, there it is.

A New List from Forbes

The Forbes Fictional 15. Santa Claus tops the list this year with Lex Luthor coming in a disappointing #4. Bruce Wayne holds at #8. Lucius Malfoy clings to the final slot.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Pot, Kettle

From Galley Friend D.B.:

From today's Washington Post:

Kennedy said in a statement yesterday that Alito "bears an especially heavy burden at the hearings in January to explain the growing number of discrepancies between his current statements and his past actions."

"He told senators that he wasn't involved in Thornburgh , yet a detailed memo was released [Wednesday] showing that he was," Kennedy said. "In 1990, he said he'd recuse himself from all cases involving Vanguard. Yet he didn't and has changed his story as to why six times. Its not the crime, its the cover up."

It's not the crime, it's the cover up. Says TED KENNEDY.

Words fail me.

Excellent point.

This Isn't a Brains Kind of Operation

Maybe Brendon Donnelly should stop publishing his work on a blog and start placing it with Nature or JAMA:
Scientists with clip boards and bunsen burners have proven that the Way of the Gun is the greatest movie ever made. And Ryan Philippe was at the heart of it. For the record, his name was Mr. Parker. His associate was Mr. Longbow. Why this guy isn’t a huge star is beyond me. He’s a great actor and apparently super dreamy too, considering he’s not that well known and still topped Pitt, Cruise and Depp. Are you listening Hollywood, or are you just gonna keep casting asexual droopy eyed freak Jake Gyllenhaal. The guy looks like a fucking hammerhead. Hes the only person alive who could play Admiral Ackbar with no-makeup.

Sign me up for the peer review.

Forsaking Cupcakes

Okay, fine. Now that it's December I can no longer hold back talking about college hoops. Yes, this is when I attempt to turn this blog into one giant Hoya chatroom. So here goes:

In the first year of Coach John Thompson III, the Georgetown Hoyas, coming off their worst season since 1973, managed to win 19 games, including a couple in the Not-In-Tournament tournament. And while the two previous coaches were criticized for cupcake preseason schedules, the current coach should hear nothing of the sort. As JT3 told's Jeff Shelman, "The nature of our schedule is that we can have some tough times.... We realized that when we put it together. But at the end of the day, we have to be prepared for the Big East--and hopefully we will."

That preparation includes more away games in December than any other school in the Big East, a trip this Saturday to Oregon, next Thursday at no. 12 Illinois, and a game against the Duke Blue Devils in January. Thompson knows his team cannot afford to take it easy against usual suspects like Bethune-Cookman, Marymount, and St. Leo's--not in a Big East that now includes Louisville and Marquette, let alone UConn and Villanova.

"Our [long-term] goal is not to get to the tournament, it's to win the tournament. But you have to take steps along the way. It's a first step," he tells ESPN. Compare those sentiments with (now former) GU athletic director Joe Lang, who just two years ago said it was "unrealistic" to expect Georgetown to make it to the Big Dance every year.

Of course, not everyone thinks a tougher preseason is the right way to go. One former coach called Thompson "a fool." Nevertheless, says Thompson, "What other people think does not matter. It's up to that group of people that's in that gym right now."

Besides that, the former coach who called him a fool happens to be his father.

Isn't that Castor Troy?

Reuters reports on the ground-breaking face transplant operation that took place in France last Sunday. Naturally, there are ethical issues: "Did the patient give adequately informed consent to the procedure? Did she understand the risks and implications of the transplant?" asked one doctor. Adds an ethicist: " is likely that the families of the deceased donor may be exposed to images of the recipient and this is likely to present particular difficulties for them." There are potential medical complications as well, such as if the body's immune system rejects the new facial cells over time.

Not that any of this is new. A few years ago, law enforcement agents, investigating a bioterror plot in Los Angeles, actually managed to switch the face of one of its officers with that of a leading terror suspect. Unfortunately the terrorist awoke from his coma, secured the face of the officer, and wreaked all sorts of havoc until the two eventually faced off and shot the hell out of each other amid flying pigeons.

Welcome to the "almost" suck

Christian Lowe, a good friend and a great reporter, has set up a blog called Nom de Guerre to chronicle his travels in Iraq, where he'll be for the next several weeks. He knows what he's talking about, he's got a good eye, and his judgment is right on, so it'll be very interesting to read his dispatches. You'll thank yourself if you bookmark his page or, better yet, sign up for his RSS feed. Here's a bit from his layover in Kuwait:
Today we’re doing a bit of last minute admin stuff — Rob’s buying a pair of “shower shoes” at the chi chi Burkenstock shop downstairs; I’m trying to convince him to buy the fruitiest ones they have so the Marines will make fun of him “yeah, the bright yellow ones look awsome! No No, they won’t think it’s wierd, man. Don’t worry…” (he he he)…And I’m writing emails and updating my contacts and stuff. We’ll repack our stuff (we had to cross-pack a bunch of gear to make the maximum weight requirements for our commercial flight) then meet with the military guy arranging our flight out. Supposedly we meet the KBR (contractor) bus tonight in the wee hours to drive to some American airbase here, then fly at “o-dark thirty” into Baghdad. Then we’re supposed to link up with another group at the airport who will load us onto a Mad Max-esque armored bus appropriately called the “Rhino” that will take us into the “Green Zone” where we’ll get our press credentials…then we are due to fly to Ramadi to meet up with the Marines on the 4th.

It's going to be dynamite reporting.

The Church

Eve Tushnet has been writing some tough things about the Catholic Church and homosexuality. This post is a good place to start:
More crucially, one of the most beautiful and hopeful doctrines of the Catholic Church is the distinction between behavior and worth. You aren't valuable because you have never screwed up, or because everything you do and believe is right. You're valuable because you were created by a God Who loves you, Who cherishes you and longs for you. If you take every chastisement based on behavior as an attack on your personal worth, you are a) a Pelagian (believing people get saved because they're so cool and special) and/or b) rejecting the possibility that God sees past your behavior, sees down to the core of you, wants you, loves you, but doesn't ever agree that everything you do is right. God is not an idolater. God's constant lament to His beloved is, "Baby, don't be that way!"

A political and (more importantly) cultural movement has sprung up to convince those of us with strong (I guess the word this season is "deep-seated"; it's the new black!) homosexual attractions that God couldn't possibly want us not to act on those attractions. Because it hurts too much to give it up? Because it seems so necessary or central to our identities? If those are the reasons people resist, I guess I just want to remind them that people every single day embrace varying kinds of sacrifice--slow or fast, honored or humiliating--and if you want anything resembling a functioning culture (let alone a Catholic one) you need people who can say that "It hurts" isn't an argument. Every functioning culture relies on a core of people who can accept that life, or God, or whatever they believe in, will ask them to do things they would never have believed possible; and they do them. Every day. Policemen and policemen's wives; soldiers and soldiers' husbands; saints and martyrs; pregnant women in desperate circumstances; everyone who suffers and whose suffering would be eased by just a little wrong action, just a small palliative sin.

But this post is really something of a marvel. For all my caterwauling about bloggers talking too much about themselves, this is the exception to the rule; it's a simple, beautiful, and honest piece of witness:
I know I find it relatively easy to believe the Church about homosexuality, as vs. believing the culture in which I was raised, in large part because I never for a moment believed I was intrinsically good. I never believed that the fact that I really, deeply wanted something made that thing good. I found the Catholic understanding of the Fall--that we are neither good nor bad, but Fallen--astonishing and hopeful.

Read that again. It's important.
This seems like a promising development.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Australians and the Death Penalty

This very sad story about an Australian citizen arrested and executed in Singapore for smuggling 400 grams of heroin has a bizarre bit at the end:
A survey by Morgan Poll conducted on Wednesday night showed 47 percent of Australians believed Nguyen should be executed, 46 percent said the death penalty should not be carried out, and seven percent were undecided.

Australia abolished the death penalty decades ago.

This doesn't quite compute. If Australia reached a real consensus on capital punishment, then who do more people want to see their fellow citizen executed by a foreign government for a reasonably minor drug offense? Is the poll faulty? Do Australians actually favor the death penalty as an institution?

Life-Art-Life-Art. . .

Have you seen the trailer for The Producers? It's a movie, based on a play, based on a movie, about a play.

You know, that Mel Brooks is such a hack; thank goodness someone is finally going to do this film right. Now, if only Bret Ratner would remake Casablanca to tighten the story up, get better f/x, and fix the ending.
A funny and somewhat devastating slide-show from Wonkette.

It's not entirely fair to the administration--but it's not so unfair that it doesn't leave a mark.

More Funny

This time from Hugh Hewitt, with a Matus-like riff.

Separated at Birth?

Get Religion has a serious post about Stanley Fish and Intelligent Design, but I didn't read it because I was distracted by the accompanying photo of . . . Arvin Sloan!

Who knew Fish was such a dead ringer for Ron Rifkin?
Amy Welborn is making with the big funny. Don't miss it.

The Champ Is a Vamp

Uncle Grambo has a great little Martina Hingis riff:
Alas, I suppose I can take solace in the impending comeback of Martina Hingis. Has there ever been a better female tennis player ever? You can keep your Fraulein Forehands, Chris Evert-Lloyds and Tracy 'I'd Like To Fuck Her On The Tennis Court, If You Get My Meaning' Austins of the world — your Uncle Grambo has never EVER seen anyone with a sicker groundstroke game than The Swiss Miss. And I'll kindly have you remember that she would regularly whoop on Venus and Serena before her feet went wonky in 2000 or thereabouts. And come on, 14 Grand Slam titles? Redonk, especially for someone who was forced to retire at the tender age of deuce deuce. Welcome back, Hingis!

I don't know that I'd go that far--for my money, Steffie Graff is the greatest women's player I've ever seen. And I wonder what would have become of Monica Seles if she hadn't been cut down in her prime. But it would be nice to have a resurgent Hingis back in the game, none the less.

10 Best College Players Ever?

Driving to work this morning, Tony Kornheiser argued, if only briefly, that Christian Laettner is one of the 10 best college players ever. Could this be? Laettner was an amazing, dominating college player. But if you're making a list of the 10 best college players ever, you really only have 6 openings to argue about, since 4 of them--Walton, Kareem, Bird, and Magic--are locks.

So who would round out those other 6 spots? Off the top of my head, I'd say:

Patrick Ewing
Grant Hill
Steve Alford
Danny Manning

Those guys all deserve high consideration. Certainly Laettner does, too. But who else?

Update: Commenters pointing to Pistol Pete are dead-on; I don't know how I left him out. Maravich averaged--averaged!--44.2 ppg in at LSU.

Others have suggested Grandmama Johnson. I don't buy it. Johnson was a man among boys and here, I'll say it: The '91 UNLV team which lost to Duke by a bucket in the Final Four was the best college team I've ever seen play. They were defending national champs, had an ungodly record, and lost to a Duke team playing the game of its life. They replay that game 100 times, UNLV wins it 99 of them. That said, Johnson only played two years and averaged 21.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Great, awesome numbers, but not Top 10 All-Time material.

Does anyone have stats for David Thompson?

PS: This CBS Sports link has all sorts of good NCAA tourney stats and Basketball Reference has everything else you'll need for this discussion.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just FYI

From Jonah Goldberg:
One of the interesting developments of appearing in the LA Times regularly is that I've activated a whole new constituency of people who don't like me. For example, I don't really know who Marc Cooper is. But a couple readers say he's normally a fairly open-minded liberal. Maybe. But not judging from this typical lefty yelling. Apparently Cooper thinks it's self-evident that I'm illiterate and historically ignorant -- and that I'm a "shout show clown."

Since Cooper's snideness is representative of a vast amount of blowback in recent weeks, let me just respond in brief. A) I haven't been on a "shout show" in years and I turn them down all the time. B) Illiterate? Try harder. C) Perhaps Cooper could try to explain why my argument was "ahistorical drivel"? Is he saying that the views of three of the 20th century's most esteemed liberal historians amounts to nothing? Does he believe it is so self-evident that I'm wrong it doesn't merit a thoughtful rebuttal? Was FDR completely honest in the run-up to World War II? About Lend-lease? Are his dittoing readers content with such substance free high-chair pounding?

I'm not exactly in a great position to throw stones about name-calling, but I do it less than I used to and I always try to do it in the context of an argument. Cooper should give that a try.

Posted at 10:13 AM

The Long, Strange Journey of David Brooks

David Brooks sure has changed a lot since he went to the New York Times. He's gone big-time and now. Instead of playing pick-up basketball with other journalists, he's hanging with 50 Cent.

Bobos in Bling?

John Paul the Great?

Amy Welborn has the word on his fast track to beatification.

Arab Media Bias

Wouldn't that be funny? Imagine a Chris Buckley book, maybe a sequel to Florence of Arabia, where the protagonist is trying to apply Western media standards to the Arab media. This clip of Al Jazeera staff members chanting "Down with fascist America, and with the terrorist administration!" would make a whole chapter by itself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wrestling R.I.P.s

This page of wrestling obituaries is disturbing. Look on the far right for the ages and causes of death.

Law? The Four Horsemen Are the Law!

Or, apparently not. The Nature Boy Ric Flair has been arrested. No word as to whether or not The Enforcer, Arn Anderson, was with him at the stationhouse.

Another Blow

. . . to the argument that "they only hate us because we're [in Iraq; support Israel; etc.]" comes in this story about peace activists who've been taken hostage by Islamists in Iraq:
The aid group Christian Peacemaker Teams has confirmed that four of its members were taken hostage Saturday.

German TV broadcast photos Tuesday showing a blindfolded German woman being led away by armed captors in Iraq. Six Iranian pilgrims, meanwhile, were abducted by gunmen north of Baghdad.

The pictures of Susanne Osthoff were taken from a video in which her captors demanded that Germany stop any dealings with Iraq's government, according to Germany's ARD television. Germany has ruled out sending troops to Iraq and opposed the U.S.-led war.

Abortionist Hagiography

Amy Welborn has the loving LA Times profile of Dr. William F. Harrison. At 2,100 words, it's a pretty fair-sized devotion for a newspaper. It is, I'm afraid, more horrifying than you could even imagine:
Now 70, Harrison estimates he's terminated at least 20,000 pregnancies. . . .

Harrison warns every patient he sees that abortion may be illegal one day. He wants to stir them to activism, but most women respond mildly.

"I can't imagine the country coming to that," says Kim, 35, in for her second abortion in two years. . . .

He calls himself an "abortionist" and says, "I am destroying life."

But he also feels he's giving life: He calls his patients "born again."

"When you end what the woman considers a disastrous pregnancy, she has literally been given her life back," he says. . . .

His Fayetteville Women's Clinic occupies a once-elegant home dating to the 1940s; the first-floor surgery looks like it was a parlor. Thick blue curtains block the windows and paintings of butterflies and flowers hang on the walls. The radio is tuned to an easy-listening station.

An 18-year-old with braces on her teeth is on the operating table, her head on a plaid pillow, her feet up in stirrups, her arms strapped down at her sides. A pink blanket is draped over her stomach. She's 13 weeks pregnant, at the very end of the first trimester. She hasn't told her parents.

A nurse has already given her a local anesthetic, Valium and a drug to dilate her cervix; Harrison prepares to inject Versed, a sedative, in her intravenous line. The drug will wipe out her memory of everything that happens during the 20 minutes she's in the operating room. It's so effective that patients who return for a follow-up exam often don't recognize Harrison.

The doctor is wearing a black turtleneck, brown slacks and tennis shoes. He snaps his gum as he checks the monitors displaying the patient's pulse rate and oxygen count.

"This is not going to be nearly as hard as you anticipate," he tells her.

She smiles wanly. Keeping up a constant patter — he asks about her brothers, her future birth control plans, whether she's good at tongue twisters — Harrison pulls on sterile gloves.

"How're you doing up there?" he asks.

"Doing OK."

"Good girl."

Harrison glances at an ultrasound screen frozen with an image of the fetus taken moments before. Against the fuzzy black-and-white screen, he sees the curve of a head, the bend of an elbow, the ball of a fist.

"You may feel some cramping while we suction everything out," Harrison tells the patient. . . .

When he's done, Harrison performs another ultrasound. The screen this time is blank but for the contours of the uterus. "We've gotten everything out of there," he says. . . .

For the few women who arrive ambivalent or beset by guilt, Harrison's nurse has posted statistics on the exam-room mirror: One out of every four pregnant women in the U.S. chooses abortion. A third of all women in this country will have at least one abortion by the time they're 45.

"You think there's room in hell for all those women?" the nurse will ask. . . .

Amanda, a 20-year-old administrative assistant, says it's not the obstacles that surprise her — it's how normal and unashamed she feels as she prepares to end her first pregnancy.

"It's an everyday occurrence," she says as she waits for her 2:30 p.m. abortion. "It's not like this is a rare thing."

Amanda hasn't told her ex-boyfriend that she's 15 weeks pregnant with his child. She hasn't told her parents, either, though she lives with them.

"I figured it was my responsibility," she says.

She regrets having to pay $750 for the abortion, but Amanda says she does not doubt her decision. "It's not like it's illegal. It's not like I'm doing anything wrong," she says. . . .

His first patient of the day, Sarah, 23, says it never occurred to her to use birth control, though she has been sexually active for six years. When she became pregnant this fall, Sarah, who works in real estate, was in the midst of planning her wedding. "I don't think my dress would have fit with a baby in there," she says. . . .

The last patient of the day, a 32-year-old college student named Stephanie, has had four abortions in the last 12 years. She keeps forgetting to take her birth control pills. Abortion "is a bummer," she says, "but no big stress."

Harrison does not get frustrated with such patients.

He has learned to focus on the facts he considers most important: This woman does not want to be pregnant. He can give her back control of her life and keep a child from coming into the world unwanted. He believes in this so strongly, he waives his fees for women who can't come up with the money.