Thursday, May 31, 2007

French Open Notes

* I poked fun at Serena Williams for how out of shape she was at the Australian Open, so let's give credit where it's due: She looks like a Mac Truck this week. She's shed the weight and looks back in fighting trim--and it shows in how well she's moving and running down balls. Good for her.

* In a radio interview earlier this week, John Feinstein was asked why tennis has died in America. His answer: Because the players are so totally inaccessible. Feinstein's argument (I'm paraphrasing) was that in most sports, it's hard to get close to the top players (Kobe, Tiger, P. Manning). But on the ATP, it's not just the Sampras and Federer who are impossible to talk to, it's guys sitting at #57 in the rankings, too. And because the players are so insulated from both fans and the media, fans don't form attachments to them.

It's an interested theory. (And if you haven't read it, go read his Hard Courts right now. You'll love it.)

* It's been a long time since I've seen a player not named Hewitt act like a bigger jerk than Novak Djokovic did in the first round. Djokovic, the #6 seed, was beating up on Columbian Santiago Giraldo, a Lucky Loser qualifier, cruising through in three straight sets. Closing the match out in the third, Djokovic starts screaming, flexing, and posing after points like some weird, skinny Serbian version of Triple H.

I was kind of hoping Giraldo would get the Dragon on his ass.

* Meaningless bit of trivia: During his last seven Grand Slam victories, only three players not named Nadal have even managed to get a set off of Federer: Roddick, Baghdatis, and Agassi, who came the closest to pushing R. Fed to a fifth set.

HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray (cont.)

AICN's Harry K. has chosen HD-DVD. Which isn't really news. But if you follow the link you'll see an insane comments thread. I only got about halfway through before I gave up, so enter at your own peril.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Emperor, Clothes, etc.

Herc lays out a convincing rap against Kevin Williamson:

I'll never get why screenwriter Kevin Williamson got to have that big career. Wasn’t “Scream” a whole lot of nothing? Wasn’t “Scream 2” a whole lot more of the same? Didn’t “I Know What You Did Last Summer” suck? Wasn’t “Dawson’s Creek” a nonstop chunk of nonsense? Didn’t “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” supersuck? Didn’t “Wasteland” suck? Didn’t “Glory Days” suck? Didn’t “Cursed” suck?

Those who go into The CW's dim, pretentious “Hidden Palms” with the lowest of expectations - as I did - may still find themselves thoroughly underwhelmed. The key problem is 42-year-old millionaire Williamson is a not-funny guy who continues to believe he knows how to write funny teens.


Emperor, Clothes, etc.

Herc lays out a convincing rap against Kevin Williamson:

I'll never get why screenwriter Kevin Williamson got to have that big career. Wasn’t “Scream” a whole lot of nothing? Wasn’t “Scream 2” a whole lot more of the same? Didn’t “I Know What You Did Last Summer” suck? Wasn’t “Dawson’s Creek” a nonstop chunk of nonsense? Didn’t “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” supersuck? Didn’t “Wasteland” suck? Didn’t “Glory Days” suck? Didn’t “Cursed” suck?

Those who go into The CW's dim, pretentious “Hidden Palms” with the lowest of expectations - as I did - may still find themselves thoroughly underwhelmed. The key problem is 42-year-old millionaire Williamson is a not-funny guy who continues to believe he knows how to write funny teens.


A Glass Ceiling for Lax?

Paul Mirengoff has started following college lacrosse and now laments that that the game's popularity is expanding at the high school level, but that more college teams aren't being added because of Title IX:

As the Post also notes, however, the game is not expanding at the college level. Despite high school talent that is probably at least twice as deep as it was 10 or 20 years ago, the number of college men's lacrosse program has remained basically the same.

The Post doesn't explore the reasons for this, but Title IX must be the main culprit.

Galley Brother and lax superstar B.J. could probably evaluate this better than I can, but let me take a stab anyway.

Title IX is an abomination and should be taken off the books. That said, I'm not sure it's responsible for the lack of growth in college lax programs because while the number of Div. I programs hasn't grown significantly over the last 20 years, the number of serious Div. I programs has exploded.

Ten of fifteen years ago, nearly every Div. I lax program was in the national Top 25 because there weren't that many of them (I'm not going to look up the number because it's not essential to the argument). And within that Top 25, there were only really two or three serious programs: Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, and depending on the year, either Princeton or Maryland.

If you were even a moderately competent high school player, you could get a spot on whoever the 17th ranked team in the country was (Hofstra, maybe, or Delaware). There was no depth in the college game. There was no other Div. I varsity sport where you could be a mediocre player and still find a roster spot on a school somewhere.

But in recent years, as more and more high school kids have started to play lax, you've seen more and more Div. I programs become serious teams that can realistically compete at the championship level: Loyola, Duke, Georgetown, UNC, Navy, Notre Dame, Cornell, UVA, UMBC. Heck, this year Albany was a contender and Delaware went to the Final Four!

Since this is the first time that there's been enough talent to spread to more than two or three schools, I'd argue that college lacrosse is only just now becoming a normal, healthy varsity sport (instead of an exaggerated club activity). That's good for the game. And I think you could argue that, for now, there isn't any reason why there should be an explosion of varsity programs at the college level.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Day the Laughter Died

I'm late to the news that Charles Nelson Reilly died last Friday. He was one of those strange Hollywood talents. My favorite memory of him is from the Jose Cheung episodes of X-Files, but I'm always thrilled to see him on Match Game re-runs.

I'd like to think that Rip Taylor tossed some confetti for CNR this weeekend.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Queen Is Dead, Long Live the Queen

Pajiba has a fabulous eulogy for Veronica Mars, a show which snuck up into my list of all-time great hour-long dramas. They've got the perfect descriptive praise of the writing:

But the thing that hits me a moment before everything else is always the story itself. There’s a graceful kind of math to well-done structure, when characters are pulled apart or pushed together or sent sailing by each other in the night by the impassive hand of fate.

Dead on. All praise Rob Thomas and his writers.

Also, Awesome Dan Carlson has a partial list of great Mars lines. One of my favorites:

Veronica: You're patronizing me?
Keith: To be fair, I am your patron.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Greatest Harry Potter Theory Ever?

Egged on by Galley Brother B.J.'s conjecture about the impending death of Mrs. Weasely, Galley Friend and Harry Potter Super Fan K.S. sends in this giant, super-crazy, and oddly persuasive theory: That Professor Minerva McGonagall is a traitor!

Read on, if you dare:

Here's where I dork out on HP and my McGonagall theory. Throughout the books, Dumbledore says that he trust Snape. But Minerva slides under our radar: She's just present enough to be likeable (a crotchety old maid, so to speak) and there are things that could be clues scattered throughout the series. I'll start at the beginning. Page cites are to softcover U.S. for Books 1-3, hardcover U.S. for books 4-6.

* In Book 1, before we even meet Harry for the first time, she is waiting--as a cat--at the Dursleys. She is surprised, ruffled, to see Dumbledore at the Dursleys, and did not know he'd recognize her as a cat. So, why was she there? How did she, of all people, know that Harry was going to his uncle's, and she questions Dumbledore about whether Voldemort is really gone. P. 9-11.

Remember also her reaction to the celebrations of Voldemort's death: she's cold, sharp, and angry. These are odd reactions, no? And she finds it "astounding" that Voldemort couldn't kill a little boy and wants to know how. P. 12.

Was she there to intercept Hagrid? Did she know about--and seek to stop--the protection of Harry's mother's family? Another thought: How old is McGonagall? We know she's quite old--older than Sirius/Snape/the Potters/Lupin. In a 2000 interview, J.K. Rowling says that McGonagall "is a sprightly 70" and that Wizards have a much longer life expectancy than Muggles. (2000 scholastic chat). Doesn't that put her at school about the same time as Riddle? (Wikipedia says she was born in 1925). And couldn't we see her as the Gryffindor Prefect at the same time he was the Slytherin Prefect?

Also, recall that she is the one who makes Harry a Seeker--and directly puts him into the line of danger when Quirrel tries to jinx his broom. Isn't it interesting that one of the most rigid and rule-following characters in the book (she won't let him go to Hogwarts w/o a permission slip in Book 5, for example), is so quick to break the rules to set up Harry in what could be seen as an "accident"? Recall her reaction when Harry and Ron tell her about the Philosopher's Stone? She reacts with "suspicion and shock". Also, why would she be the one to send him the broomstick? Isn't that kind of weird--she would have known that he had money from his parents, no?

Also, also, recall that the chess game--McGonagall's protection for the stone--was intact when they got to it--and they left it shambles. How did Quirrell get past it? Finally, I'm fascinated by Quirrell's reaction when Harry confronts him. He says "Yes, Severus does seem the type, doesn't he? So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat." Is that JRK's way of telling us that Snape is a red herring?

In Book 2, she's the one who finds the final message that says Ginny was taken into the Chamber, and tries to close the school. P. 293. Then, she says "weakly" that they'd all like to know how Harry and Ginny get out of the chamber and probes repeatedly for the answer. P. 327-328.

* In Book 3, McGonagall is mysteriously absent from the scene after Peter Pettigrew escapes. And she "goes white" when she says she "never speaks ill of her colleagues"--is she talking just about Trelawney there? (or even if she is, does she recall the prophecy)? P. 109. Moreover, doesn't she call Voldemort "the Dark Lord" when she takes Harry's new broom (a gift from Sirius) away from him? Harry later notes that only the Death Eaters call him that.

In Book 4, who is with Barty Crouch Jr. when the Dementor administers the kiss? McGonagall (and Cornelius Fudge). We know Dumbledore didn't want this to happen - why wouldn't his second in command, McGonagall, stop it? Also, recall that Voldemort says his "most faithful servant" was at Hogwart's. Is that Crouch? Too easy, I think. Sure, he's important in Book 4, but the story arc for him is short. Perhaps I'm too quick to dismiss the obvious, but I don't think it's him. Snape? I don't think so, because there are references in Book 6 to him having to go back to Voldemort after the hubbub dies down to sort out his role--he tells Narcissa and Bellatrix about this at Spinner's End. So at the point Voldemort says this, he didn't know Snape was coming back to him. So there must be another spy at Hogwarts. (At that point, Wormtail has already returned.) Note also that when Harry returns from the graveyard, McGonagall is one of the people trying to yank Harry away to the hospital wing. We know that it turns out badly when Crouch/Moody takes him away. Is it important that McGonagall has tried to do the same thing?

*In Book 5, McGonagall tells Harry about the importance of "keeping your head down and your temper under control". P. 249, 319.

When she's stunned by the ministry, which side is she on? P. 723-24. Note, however, that this is a hole in the McGonagall-as-spy theory: getting yourself stunned is not likely to be a stellar moment for a spy. And she's nowhere near the Ministry during the fight. Note also her response to Umbridge on how long she's been teaching at Howarts--doesn't that track fairly closely with the number of years since Riddle was there? I think that might (though I've not run the numbers exactly) help confirm she was at Hogwarts during the time Riddle was a student. Also, I feel like I remember that Madam Pomfrey somewhere in here comments on McGonagall's dueling prowess back during the day, but can't find the cite to it.

*In Book 6, Mcgonagall also digs for info when Katie Bell is cursed, and immediately dismisses Harry's Malfoy theory. P. 253-55.

As we know from later on, Malfoy is the one who started that curse--using the necklace from B&B. So McGonagall has--whether deliberately or unintentionally--thrown them off the track. Unless, of course, someone else has helped Malfoy. . . We know that Malfoy tells Snape the night of Slug's Xmas party that he has "other people" "better" than Goyle and Crabbe on his side. Next, after Dumbledore's death, McGonagall comes into the ward where Bill is. Harry tells her "Snape killed Dumbledore. " She says "Snape. We all wondered . . . But he trusted . . . always . . . Snape . . ." P. 615

Keep reading that passage and the next--it makes sense both with Dumbledore as "he" and Voldemort as "he." And, though McGonagall confesses she sent Flitwick to get Snape, she rather bizarrely can't recall the details of how he joined in the fight, and she recounts her tale "distractedly" P. 117. Isn't it an odd time not to remember what happened?

She is "curt" when saying Dumbledore would have been happier to think there is more love in the world. P. 624.

And then she tries to pry the info out of Harry about what happened, but he won't tell him anything in return. And she immediately suggests closing the school. P. 626-627.

Given the story arc, I think it's clear there has to have been a spy at Hogwarts and/or in the OoP. Snape's the easy answer: hate the guy who is mean to Harry. But isn't that too simple? McGonagall is the secret: we like her just enough throughout the books. However, J.K. Rowling herself says that McGonagall is an "old softy" and a "very worthy second in command"--but not Dumbledore's equal. (JKR's interview with scholastic in 2005, and 2000). Could be read both ways, no? Note also the sequence of cats Mrs. Figg has cats, Crookshanks, and McGonagall's an animagus. Moreover, in the movies--which we believe JKR has insight into, McGonagall is wearing green, as she does in the formal parties (whenever she's not wearing tartan).

Finally--one last thing: Wikipedia says the Queen of Spades depicts Minerva, AND spades in Tarot indicate obstacles, trouble, death.

Did I just blow your mind? Because that just happened. Fine work, K.S.

Pirates 3

Well, I guess it's up to Transformers now. (Although I have secret high hopes for the third Bourne.)

Anyway, treat yourself to Alexandra DuPont's review of PoC: At World's End. She's got one of the first--and only--reviews you're likely to see before Friday. And she's in full effect.

Federer vs. Sampras

It's happening. Albeit eight years too late.

I actually don't know who I like in a match-up of Sampras and Federer both in their primes. These theoretical tennis matches are always dependent on lots of things--for instance, are you talking about a player at his absolute single-moment peak, or at some rough approximation of how good they were during the meat of their career? In other words, if you're talking about a player at their very best moment, I think you have to consider McEnroe, who was downright scary in 1981. But if you consider the totality of his game, he's a top 10 (or 12) all-time player and isn't in league with Laver, Borg, et al.

But Sampras at his general best level against the Federer we've seen for the last couple years? I just don't know. Federer is such an amazing ball-striker, Sampras was probably the best pure athlete ever to play the game. Both could switch on their dominance and both had the ability to play a game basically independent of the guy on the other side of the net.

At this point in time, I give the smallest edge to Pistol Pete II, because he was so mentally tough. But I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise if Federer is able to assert himself over the coming wave of great young players who will be reaching maturity in the next 24 months or so.

(Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet, in particular, who look like monsters.)


Galley Friend and Fourth Slave C.L. understands my obsession with the real estate bubble and has sent, in an attempt to drive me over the edge, this amazing link.

Go and be sure to read all the way down.

Update: But this post might even be better. Put Burbed in your RSS today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The PS3 Surges!

If I were to tell you that the April game console sales numbers were in and that Sony's much-vaunted PS3 was tied with a certain Nintendo console, you'd think that was good news, right?

Except that the console the PS3 is tied with for the month was Nintendo's Game Boy Advance--a last generation handheld. Also, the PS3 wasn't actually tied with the Game Boy Advance, it was slightly behind it. Seriously:

Specifically, the NPD statistics supplied to Gamasutra by the firm reveal that the Nintendo DS dominated the month's hardware sales, with 471,000 units sold, closely followed by Nintendo's Wii console, which sold 360,000 units in April, despite continuing console shortages.

The Xbox 360 sold 174,000 units for the month, slightly behind the PlayStation 2, which managed 194,000 for April, and the PlayStation Portable, which sold 183,000 in the month. However, the PlayStation 3 again slumped, with just 82,000 units sold in April, again behind the Game Boy Advance, which sold 84,000 copies.

Fly, Eagles, Fly

The conventional wisdom in Philly is now that this will be Donovan McNabb's last season as an Eagle. Which is bad enough. Now comes Don McKee with a more depressing theory:

A few observers have opined that McNabb will be moved after the coming season. But here's a scenario that has him moving before September.

The Chicago Bears are ready to win the Super Bowl. They might have won it last year except for a glaring weakness at quarterback. Before the ever-popular "window" closes, the Bears need a quality QB to kick them over the hump.

This scenario obviously depends on two things. One, that McNabb is physically ready to play on Week 1 of the 2007 season. Two, that Chicago is convinced McNabb is their best available QB option.

(The fact that McNabb is from Chicago is, in my mind, irrelevant. The Bears would be just as interested in an available quality veteran if he were from Portland, Tucson or Montreal.)

But the key to this scenario is Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, who has said publicly that he will never play for Chicago again and who refused to report to minicamp on Friday.

Briggs is, arguably, the best weakside linebacker in the game and is only 26.

The question most Eagles fans are asking right now is: Why would the Bears make that deal?

Ummmm, that's not the first question that comes to my mind, actually.

Best Campain Poster Ever?

If Warner Bros. were to send me a placard of this:

I'd be a very happy camper. It would go right up in my office. Mind you, I don't have very high expectations for The Dark Knight, but I'm a big Two Face fan and Tom Jane is one of my favoritist actors, ever.

Bonus: That's just for you, S.B.

P.S.: I know. That's what makes it funny.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Uncle Junior's got laser beams shooting out of his eyes!

Okay, so I am still recovering from last night's tumultous episode of the Sopranos. (And if you have yet to see it, you might want to skip this.) Just a few thoughts:

As I guessed, the crooked-eyed Butchie Deconcini will play a potentially lethal role in the final two episodes of the show. (Actor Greg Antonacci simply exudes creepiness.) Of course the coming attractions are always deceptively spliced, but it seems Tony and Phil will face-off--the latter giving the order to wack the former. If not, the order would be to hit someone close to him, like Bobby. As Carmine Lupertazzi so eloquently put it, "We are at the precipice of the crossroads." (And speaking of Bobby, don't be surprised if his gift to Tony, the AR-10 assault rifle, makes an appearance.)

As Galley friend S.B. said, "If this is the last we see of Anthony Jr., I am fine with it." In other words, that story arc, like Uncle Junior's and Christopher's, has basically been resolved. But at the hospital, as A.J. is being wheeled away, was anyone else distracted by Tony's shirt? Was that velvet or velour?

Another splendid Carminism is "alteration"--as in the "alteration" between Phil and Tony leading to the most graphic curbjob I've seen on film.

And finally, the biggest question of all: Has anyone really had a Lincoln Log sandwich lately?

All Hail Blogzarro

Spurred on by Galley Friend A.K., I've been going through the back issues of Blogzarro and this site a real find. Check out, for instance, this seminal post exploring the end of a young comic collector's innocence:

The best lame comics have lame origin stories. “US 1″ came into exist not through the inspiration of a writer or artist; it was born in a marketing office. In the early 1980s Tyco created a line of electric trucking toys. A few years later they approached Marvel about doing a comic based on the toys. And Marvel bit.

Then, in 1983, in a lame reverse merchandising move, the “US 1″ comic hit the stands. And I bit. I was nine years old and excited to own a first issue of a series. This was an investment, I thought, that would pay off when I was in my early 30s, leading to an early retirement. Twenty-four years later “US 1″ comics are worth about six cents a copy and I am about 45 years away from retirement.

The hero of “US 1,” Ulysses Solomon Archer (U.S.A, get it?), graduated from college magna cum laude with a degree in computer program design and electronics engineering, among other things. He was quarterback of his football team. So, what does this athletic genius want to do with his life? Get hemorrhoids and drive a truck. Sounds like this guy shoots real low when it comes to career goals.

Immediately after graduation, U.S. joins his big brother, Jeff, as a gypsy trucker. But the life of a truck driver isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when there’s some demonic lunatic in a black 18-wheeler looking to play road hockey whenever it rains. The Highwayman, as he’s called, sends Jeff and U.S.’s truck off a mountain for fun. U.S. is thrown from the wreckage and survives; Jeff’s body isn’t recovered. Now we step further into lamesville.

U.S. is in bad shape after the accident. His skull is shattered. But, wait, there’s hope. There’s this new, experimental surgical “technique.” The doctors replace U.S.’s skull with a special metal alloy — which gives him at least two special powers: he has a really hard head now (which he uses for his devastating head-butts) and he can pick up CB transmissions in his head.

Of Comic Books and Cheesecake, part 2

Responding to this post on the proliferation of randy super-heroine statuettes, Galley Friend A.K. sends us this link to pure awesomeness: It's totally safe for work and features covers of Wonder Woman comics so fabulous that you won't believe the artists got away with them. Each is a giant F.U. to the Comics Code.

What are you waiting for? Go take a look!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Michael Bay Owns Your Ass

Remember Sissy Fight?

Well here's the Transformers movie tie-in version. And it's kind of awesome.

I'm not saying The Transformers is definitely going to win BP this year. I'm just saying that Criterion better start working on the platter for this classic right now.

Potter Watch

Some observations and predictions from Galley Brother B.J.:

I'm trying to reread years 1 through 6 before year 7 comes out. I'm about half way through year 2 and I've noticed a couple of interesting things:

Everything used by Malfoy to try and kill Dumbledore in year 6 shows up in year 2. When Harry accidentally ends up in Borgin & Burkes, he hides in the vanishing cabinet (although it's not named as a vanishing cabinet and he doesn't close the door all the way). The necklace is spotted and it is mentioned that its cursed and has killed its last 19 muggle owners. The candle that only give light to its holder also shows up. I'm pretty sure those are the only items that get described during the visit. And later, when Harry is in Filch's office, Peeves breaks the Hogwarts vanishing cabinet. It is identified as such.

Interestingly enough, Year 2 takes place in either 1992 or 1993; which we know because Harry, Ron, and Hermione attend the 500th anniversary of Sir Nick's deathday. The party takes place on Halloween and the cake states that he died in October of either 1492 or 1493). I'm fairly certain this is the only time you find out exactly when the Harry Potter books take place. I think this is noteworthy because the book is copyrighted 1999. Why was this date chosen? No clue.

Finally, I notice that Deadalus Diggle comes up a lot. He's the first wizard who's full name you hear in year 1. And he shows up two other times before Harry makes it into Diagon Alley for the first time.

Some wild theories:

Mrs. Weasley dies in year 7. I've been claiming this one for a while, but now I'm willing to bet on it. Why?

* She's the only mother figure for Harry.
* Harry has already lost 2 father figures.
* She always worries about everyone else.
* And there's dramatic necessity. A Weasley is always placed in peril. (Year 1: Ron with the giant Wizard's chess set; Year 2: Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets; Year 3: Ron abducted by Sirius; Year 4: Ron at the bottom of the lake; Year 5: Mr. Weasley in the Ministry of Magic; Year 6: Ron with the poisoned mead and Bill during the battle at Hogwarts.) It's become such a common occurrence that there's no suspense left when one of them is in trouble. To make year 7 dangerous, it makes sense to put a Weasley in danger early on and then kill them--just so J.K. can let readers know that she isn't fracking around.

I go with Mrs. Weasley instead of Ron because you just can't kill Ron at the start of year 7 and I think this death needs to come early on in order to make the rest of the book feel dangerous. Everyone knows a big death is coming; most people expect it won't come until the end. Kill someone early and the stakes have been upped for everything that comes afterward.

Dark Side Rebels

That. Just. Happened.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Of Comic Books and Cheesecake

There seems to be some agitation over a new Marvel statue of Mary Jane, pictured below.

It's unclear to me if people are bothered because M.J. is washing Spidey's costume or because she looks like she's on loan from the WWE's "Diva" squad. That said, there's a long, proud history of comic book cheesecake, much of which has even made its way into the comic statuette business as of late. Check out, for instance, this insane recent Supergirl:

Frankly, I'm surprised she's not depicted here fighting off an attack from some randy tentacles. But the most ludicrous serving of cheesecake in recent years has been DC's continuing fetishization of Power Girl, who has become something like a combination of Wonder Woman and 1995-era Pam Anderson.

Anyway, no matter how advanced and sophisticated comic books get, one suspects that they will never completely outgrow their pin-up roots. So if M.J. is getting the same treatment as the super-heroines, then I suppose there's no harm in it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More Dorm Room All-Stars

Surely you remember the Vanderbilt hoopsters? Well, courtesy of Redskins Super Fan P.G., here's a crew of guys doing a dorm room dunk contest. It's pretty sick:

Now that's just the appetizer, check out this "in memorium" sequel, complete with grainy, sepia footage.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Wages of Bushism?

Charles Barkley--who might as well be Cincinnatus in my book--now claims he isn't a Republican (and never was). He says some beautiful things.

I wonder if we'll be seeing more of this in the next couple years: People who are basically conservative being repulsed from the Republican party in general by the incompetence of the Bush administration?

UFC Goes Mainstream?

First Chuck Liddell makes the cover of ESPN Magazine and now NBC sports has an interview with him. If you follow this stuff at all, the proposed Tito Ortiz-Dana White fight sounds a bit too much like Vince McMahon stepping into the square circle. I'm glad it didn't happen.

The Writerly Life

So I'm reading a story from an April WSJ on the rise of militant atheism in Europe and the lead subject is a celebrity philosopher named Michel Onfray. In what may be the most damning line ever used to describe a subject, reporter Andrew Higgins give us this gem:

"Mr. Onfray, 48 years old and author of 32 books . . ."

Really, after that, what else do you need to know?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

We're All Puritans Now

Last political post of the month, I promise.

Slate's Emily Blazeon writes of a certain person seeking the Oval Office:

This is a man whose life is filled with poisoned intimate relationships and who appears to be responsible for much of the poisoning. It's not only the religious or the uptight that can be put off by an utter lack of personal morality in a presidential candidate.

Really? I seem to remember a time not very long ago when a political party for which 99 percent of Slate's staff seems to vote every year insisting that exactly the opposite was true.

I say this not to chastise my friends at Slate--goodness knows this change in worldview can only be positivie--but merely to welcome them to the Land of the Unsophisticated Prigs.

I can only hope that they'll still think this way after Giuliani loses the GOP nomination and Hillary wins the Democratic one.

The Death of American Idol?

Maybe, maybe not. Too soon to tell. But I do think the show faces an existential crisis.

I dropped out of watching the show after American Idol Gives Back because it occurred to me at the time that the mega-special was an enormous, possibly fatal, betrayal of the audience, on two grounds. The first is that the American Idol franchise is half built on the art of the tease as they draw out their results shows once a week.

If you're good at it, you can tease the audience for forever. But the only Cardinal Rule of the Tease is that you absolutely, positively must deliver the payoff. During Idol Gives Back, the producers teased the audience for two excruciating hours, pretending that they were going to send someone home. And then, at the final moment, went back on their word. That's very, very bad. It breaks your bargain with the audience and makes them much less forgiving. I don't know if you can ever re-establish that trust once it's gone.

The other betrayal of "Idol Gives Back" was the show's honesty. A big part of the appeal of American Idol is that Simon is unscripted and, if not heartless, then at least clinical enough not to pull his punches because of sentimentality or politeness. That gives the show its tiny frisson of danger. The Idol Gives Back show gave us a neutered, Hallmark-ready Simon. Which is death.

I don't think audiences want to believe that Simon can be as pre-packaged and fake as everyone else on television because it introduces the possibility that even his critical schtick is an act. And the minute audiences believe that Simon is playing a part is the minute Idol starts to wane.

It's completely possible that I'm overstating things, but the numbers on Idol post-Gives Back must be giving Fox a fright--it's down and now tied with the much-diminished House.

Maybe Idol will make a comeback and this is nothing more than a blip, but I suspect that the Gives Back show may have been the night when Idol began its gradual eclipse from the culture.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hugh Hewitt, The Dark Prince of Mean

Hugh lovingly--and rightly--defends James Lileks here. But in the course of his defense he makes a large mistake. He asks,

If, as I hope happens, the Strib wakes up and keeps Lileks as its online anchor and Jim Boyd disappears into well-deserved obscurity, what will that tell us about the talents of the two?

Umm, it will tell us absolutely nothing. Just as if, Lileks falls into obscurity and Jim Boyd goes on to run the New York Times, that, too, will tell us nothing about their talents. We measure talent by the work it produces, not the rewards it reaps. Need we recite a long, long, long list of spectacularly untalented hacks who have seen their careers as an endless buffet of prizes and payouts? Need we recall the depressingly long list of superb talents who go through life toiling in the shadows of said hacks? Tina Brown is much more conventionaly "successful" than, say, Ramesh Ponnuru. Katie Couric is much more "successful" than, say, Chris Wallace. Cynthia Tucker is more "successful" than Matt Labash. Who's the bigger talent? We could go on and on and on with this list and it's not just a question of left-right media bias.

Lileks is a treasure and he deserves a great future. But the world is frequently an unfair place.

Update: I don't know why this chafes me so. I think it's because there's a certain strain of free-market conservatism which insists that the only values are market values and that whatever a market declares is the Eternal Truth. These are the loud people who tell you that CEO X, who has driven his company into the ground, must have been worth $140 million a year, because if he wasn't, nobody would have been willing to pay him the money. I hate these people.

I'm as much for the free market as the next guy, I suppose. But market failures are real and pervasive and much, much more common than most conservatives would like to acknowledge. Sometimes they work themselves out over time, sometimes they don't. In any event, I'm happy to live my consumerist life by the free market, but we should never allow it to dictate to us moral truths.

And that's why we don't write about politics here.

Pajiba, Breasts, Etc.

Our homeys at Pajiba have their list of the Top 10 Celebrities They'd Like to Bang, which is as edifying as it sounds. Dustin Rowles gives us this bit of awesomeness:

6. Maggie Gyllenhaal — Gyllenhaal happened to be number two on my list, which Ms. Pajiba-hyphenate suggested looked like a list of women who would work in a book store if they weren’t celebrities.

And then Pajiba points us to this excellent exploration of the recent history of digitally-enhanced breasts on movie posters. Special Matus Alert: Exhibit A is Hermione Granger.

Alexandra Frackin' DuPont

I'm just saying that if you were to find yourself at work, trying desperately to avoid writing, you could do worse as a distraction than sifting through the Alexandra DuPont archives. DuPont is what people pretend Pauline Kael was. Only smarter. And funnier.

Favorite tidbits include:

From a review of The Mummy:

The plot is straight out of an old Hollywood serial: A ragtag bunch of adventurers in 1930s Egypt accidentally unleash an undead, nigh-invulnerable, utterly evil Egyptian priest. Then they spend the rest of the movie trying to kill him.

And there's this, from a review of the first X-Men:


The interplay between Logan, Cyclops (James Mardsen) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). A romantic triangle, just like in the comics -- only without the I-speak-in-pseudo-erudite-paragraphs-even-as-I'm-flying-across-the-room-to-hit-you stylings of writer Chris Clairemont.

(Parenthetical remark w/r/t geek purists and C. Clairemont defenders: I'll try to resist a profound urge to swing a Fungo bat at anyone who tells me that Magneto's mutant-conversion-machine in this movie is dumber than anything in the comics. I read me some "Classic X-Men" comics in preparation for this film, and in one of them, our heroes found themselves aided by leprechauns. That's right, leprechauns.)


George Lucas, Spider-Man 3

This is rich. Here's George Lucas in an exchange with Roger Friedman on the merits of Spider-Man 3:

Lucas told me he has seen all the summer movies since his company, Industrial Light and Magic, does most of the special effects. The only one they didn't work on was "Spider-Man 3." What did he think of it?

"It's silly. It's a silly movie," he said. "There just isn't much there. Once you take it all apart, there's not much story, is there?"

Well, it's not "Star Wars."

"People thought 'Star Wars' was silly, too," he added, with a wink. "But it wasn't."

This from the stern intellect which gave us Ewoks, Jar-Jar, and a Darth Vader acting like Frankenstein.

Be that as it may, pace Anthony Lane and John Podhoretz, I kind of liked Spider-Man 3. The movie had all sorts of problems both in the writing and editing and not-tiny parts of it were ridiculous. Still, as a meditation on forgiveness, it worked for me and I particularly enjoyed the moments when Raimi let the movie be light-hearted--Bruce Campbell's scene, the bad-boy Parker montage, everything with Emil Skoda's J. Jonah Jameson. It was better than the over-praised first Spider-Man, but nowhere as perfect as the second film, which might be the best super-hero movie ever made. (The other contenders being, obviously, Batman, X-Men 2, and The Incredibles.)

But of all the problems with Spider-Man 3, the one that bugged me most--do you still have to have a spoiler alert on a movie that's made over $160M? if so SPOILER--was when Harry Osborn's butler announces that, like Bruce Wayne's Alfred, he was party to all of the Green Goblin's doings and that he himself could testify (how, exactly?) that Osborn Sr. died by his own hand. Only with this revelation does young Harry decide to come to Parker's aid in rescuing Mary Jane.

It's a preposterous deus ex machina, but what's maddening about it is that there's a simple and elegant way to write around it: Peter Parker comes and asks Harry's help in rescuing M.J., but, still blaming Parker for his father's death, Harry refuses. On further reflection of his fondness for M.J., he relents and follows Parker to the fight, surprising him by coming to his aid. Instinctually, he takes a mortal blow aimed for Parker and then, on his deathbed, he forgives Peter even though he still thinks Peter killed his father. Only because of this example is Peter Parker then able to forgive Flint Marko for the murder of Uncle Ben.

Is it just me, or does this solve all sorts of narrative and motivational problems without altering the story in any structural way? Perhaps they should have kept Michael Chabon, who wrote parts of Spider-Man 2 on board for the third installment.

Alternatively, they could have classed the project up by throwing in a '50s-style robot diner.

Genius from Slate

Commenting on the NBA playoffs:

Twenty years ago, the fabled Pistons' "Bad Boys" squads were the terror of the NBA. These days, Bill Laimbeer coaches a women's basketball team, Dennis Rodman is an international embarrassment, John Salley's on a lousy sports talk show that used to star Tom Arnold, and Isiah Thomas is running the Knicks into the ground. Sort of makes you wonder how Chauncey Billups is going to end up.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Star Wars, Iran, George Lucas

Precious blogging time was taken up today composing this item for Mike Goldfarb's WWS on an Iranian endorsement of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

Just wondering: If you're George Lucas and you hate the evil, conservative, Bible-thumping Republicans, what do you think when you find out that an Iranian regime, which executes homosexuals and brutally represses women, (to say nothing of their terrorist activities) thinks you're a genius? Maybe you don't switch sides, but do you maybe, just for a second, wonder if you're on the right side of history?

Nah, probably not. A man who defends Jar-Jar Binks to the bitter end isn't going to be spooked by being on the same side as the Islamofascist mullahs.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Where's Father Neuhaus when you need him?

Dirk Does Dallas

Sure, it's not fair. I didn't see a minute of the series and didn't even know Dallas had even been ousted from the series until this morning. And without looking up the stats, I'd guess that the Mavs have won about 130 more games than the Sixers over the last four seasons.

But still. Golden State? Between Dirk and Romo, Dallas might be replacing Houston as Choke City.

(Bonus: That's just for you, LB.)

Late Eagles Draft Talk

For anyone still reading after I basically took April off, here's an excellent exchange on the draft between D-Mac and Andy Reid:

Andy: So this Kevin Kolb situation is going to be a problem?

Donovan: We got lots a problems motherfucker.

Andy: Please watch the language Donovan, I'm a man of God.

Donovan: God tell you to fuck me in the ass on Saturday?

Andy: Of course not Donovan, it's just that you tend to crack like a damn egg. That homosexual latin fella saved me last year and he's gone now. We had an opportunity to bring in a great prospect to back you up so we took it. We're just acting in the best interest of the franchise.

Donovan: Forget that second round cocksucker for a minute. I saw how ya'll traded out of the first round.

Andy: Well we just didn't see anybody on the board at the time that we really needed. By moving down we were able to take Kolb.

Donovan: And you just had to let the Cowboys step in the spot.

Andy: Trading within the division is really no big deal.

Donovan: You wouldn't be spoutin' that bullshit if you were gonna spend the next five years runnin' from that crazy asshole they drafted. He's gonna break my damn neck because you couldn't just draft a fuckin' receiver?

Andy: We've got a great offensive line and plenty of targets for you to throw to.

Donovan: I needed a fuckin' wide receiver you dumb piece of shit! You think I'm gonna throw to Reggie Brown all year? Fuck that shit, I'm holdin' out. I got Chunky Soup money backin' me up.