Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's not quite New Warden. But it's close.

EMBED-Scarface School Play - Watch more free videos

Hit him with a pillow-case full of batteries.

Philly Pride

Good news: The most sacred record in Philadelphia sports is safe.

White Collar

The new issue of Wired is a good example of how Chris Anderson's book is often both fabulous and mildly frustrating. The cover story is about How the iPad will Change Everything About the World As We Know It. And look, maybe it will. (Though I kind of doubt it.) But Wired always thinks that the next new thing is going to Change Everything About the World As We Know It. In part, I suppose that this is part of the magazine's institutional mission, the evangelize about technology with minimal skepticism. The thing is, as pieces like this one on "good-enough technology" show, they do actually know better.

Anyway, that's the minor gripe. Because as silly as the iPad piece is, Joshuah Bearman's story about Gerald Blanchard makes up for it tenfold. Blanchard is a super-thief:
The plane slowed and leveled out about a mile aboveground. Up ahead, the Viennese castle glowed like a fairy tale palace. When the pilot gave the thumbs-up, Gerald Blanchard looked down, checked his parachute straps, and jumped into the darkness. He plummeted for a second, then pulled his cord, slowing to a nice descent toward the tiled roof. It was early June 1998, and the evening wind was warm. If it kept cooperating, Blanchard would touch down directly above the room that held the Koechert Diamond Pearl. He steered his parachute toward his target.
A couple of days earlier, Blanchard had appeared to be just another twentysomething on vacation with his wife and her wealthy father. The three of them were taking a six-month grand European tour: London, Rome, Barcelona, the French Riviera, Vienna. When they stopped at the Schloss Schönbrunn, the Austrian equivalent of Versailles, his father-in-law’s VIP status granted them a special preview peek at a highly prized piece from a private collection. And there it was: In a cavernous room, in an alarmed case, behind bulletproof glass, on a weight-sensitive pedestal — a delicate but dazzling 10-pointed starof diamonds fanned around one monstrous pearl. Five seconds after laying eyes on it, Blanchard knew he would try to take it.
The docent began to describe the history of the Koechert Diamond Pearl, better known as the Sisi Star — it was one of many similar pieces specially crafted for Empress Elisabeth to be worn in her magnificently long and lovely braids. Sisi, as she was affectionately known, was assassinated 100 years ago. Only two stars remain, and it has been 75 years since the public had a glimpse of…
Blanchard wasn’t listening. He was noting the motion sensors in the corner, the type of screws on the case, the large windows nearby. To hear Blanchard tell it, he has a savantlike ability to assess security flaws, like a criminal Rain Man who involuntarily sees risk probabilities at every turn. And the numbers came up good for the star. Blanchard knew he couldn’t fence the piece, which he did hear the guide say was worth $2 million. Still, he found the thing mesmerizing and the challenge irresistible.
He began to work immediately, videotaping every detail of the star’s chamber. (He even coyly shot the “No Cameras” sign near the jewel case.) He surreptitiously used a key to loosen the screws when the staff moved on to the next room, unlocked the windows, and determined that the motion sensors would allow him to move — albeit very slowly — inside the castle. He stopped at the souvenir shop and bought a replica of the Sisi Star to get a feel for its size. He also noted the armed guards stationed at every entrance and patrolling the halls.
But the roof was unguarded, and it so happened that one of the skills Blanchard had picked up in his already long criminal career was skydiving. He had also recently befriended a German pilot who was game for a mercenary sortie and would help Blanchard procure a parachute. Just one night after his visit to the star, Blanchard was making his descent to the roof.
Go treat yourself to the whole thing, it's awesome. And here's why Wired is so great: Bearman's piece has nothing to do with the magazine's mission; it's just a fantastic story. Yet Anderson runs pieces like this all the time. Which is why, despite everything, it's such a great book.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Greatness of Jay Cost--Updated

Probably the best thing David Frum's Frum Forum (say it three times fast) does is occasional podcast interviews with Jay Cost. Cost did one of them earlier this week and it's gold. There's so much to love about Cost, from his command of congressional politics minutia to his serious funny ("what really bakes my clams is . . ."). But what I like most is that Cost is (1) Open about having his own policy preferences while (2) Firmly believing that his policy preferences are irrelevant to how the political world works.

One of the biggest problems with punditry (maybe the biggest problem?) is how writers align their preferences with their situational analysis: Pundit A favors Legislation X and therefore believes that Legislation X will be wildly popular and beneficial to Pundit A's party. My favorite example of this is the Sarah Palin Rorschach Test: Whether a pundit believes that she is a serious contender with a plausible path to the Republican nomination and/or White House depends entirely on whether said pundit likes or dislikes Sarah Palin.

Anyway, Cost will have none of that. He's just fantastic.

Incidentally, he touches briefly on something I wrote about this week: The disparity in job approval rating numbers between black respondents and the rest of the country. In case you're interested, here's the nub:

Obama’s black job approval numbers are more than double his overall [job approval] numbers. What that means is that the level of support the president receives from this group moves the overall number more than you might imagine. When you do the math, accounting for percentages of population (roughly: 75 percent white, 12 percent black, and 13 percent Hispanic/other), you find that today the black vote moves the overall number significantly. Using Gallup’s data, blacks push Obama’s overall number up by about 5 points; using Rasmussen’s by roughly 7 points.
Now all core supporters move the overall number of their candidate upwards; that’s why they’re called a base. In a presidential election, this trend has few ramifications. The presidency is a nationally elected office, and nationwide approval indices are a good measurement of the prospect of reelection. But this skewing of the president’s job approval number creates complications for congressional candidates. While about 12 percent of Americans are black, relatively few congressional districts have an average demographic make up. Because of gerrymandering, mandated majority-minority districting, and simple geographic diversity, blacks tend to be concentrated in certain congressional districts. There are 31 districts with a black population over 40 percent. Only 132 districts are above the national average in terms of black population—leaving 303 districts below the national average.
This racial concentration creates a great many districts which are significantly less black than the nation as a whole. For instance, 62 districts are less than 2 percent black; 107 districts are less than 3 percent black; 177 districts are less than 5 percent black. The median congressional district has a black population of only 6.41 percent. 
This uneven dispersal magnifies the disparity of approval between Obama’s base and the rest of the country. If relatively few congressional districts look like America, then in most congressional districts Obama’s job approval is likely to be lower—anywhere from 2 to 7 points lower—than the national average. (Conversely, in a smaller number of districts it is likely to be much, much higher.) . . .
It’s not hard to see why this phenomenon might concern the folks running Democratic campaigns. Charlie Cook has 23 Democratic-held seats currently rated as toss-ups, and this sample looks a lot like Congress as a whole. Only six of the 23 have black populations above the national average and in five of these districts, as you might expect, the black population is over 20 percent. But of the 23 districts, the median black population is only 5.67 percent. Eleven of these seats have a black population under 5 percent. In seven of them the black population is under 2 percent.

Click through for greater detail and some historical perspective.

Update: Cost has a new post up filled with great nuggets, like this:

Witness, for instance, the number of members who are defecting on minor procedural matters. For instance, seventeen brave House Democrats voted with the Republicans on the highly controversial resolution yesterday to adjourn the House of Representatives! That includes 10 Democrats who just voted for ObamaCare but who were courageous enough to defy the Speaker's demand to send members home for Easter vacation: Chris Carney, Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth, Jim Himes, Suzanne Kosmas, Harry Mitchell, Scott Murphy, Tom Perriello, Mark Schauer, and Joe Sestak.

Kidding aside, there is no other reason for such a vote than to lower the percentage of agreement with Speaker Pelosi.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Andre the Giant: A Brief History

Fantastic stuff from Galley Friend A.W.:

André was billed as being undefeated, which was presumably untrue but functionally valid; he certainly never lost a straight singles match to pinfall or submission during this period. He didn't need to, though — he would elevate his opponents in the audience's eyes just by letting them get in a few good minutes against the giant. As Jerry "the King" Lawler, one of the many local heroes to get the rub from André, put it to Krugman: "He'd let you do anything you wanted in a match. Other than beat him… But if he didn't like you, he'd make you look like crap, and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it." This became a pattern in André's career, the willingness to make his opponent look good, unless he personally disliked the guy. The explanations for this are assorted — that André was protective of his place on top of the food chain, that André respected the tradition of wrestling and detested anyone who didn't — but the result was a legend of André's temperament that was less a story of personality dispute and more like the old tales of the angry and unpredictable Greek gods. And if you were one of the unlucky few whom André decided to smite, well, god help you.
By this time, André was undeniably a megastar. In 1974, the Guinness Book of World Records named him the highest paid professional wrestler, with a one-year take of $400,000. The Washington Redskins offered him a tryout — and even viewed as a publicity stunt, it shows the degree of André's celebrity. He appeared (in costume) onThe Six Million Dollar Man, playing a dastardly Sasquatch. In 1976, on the night that Muhammad Ali fought Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki in a terribly ill-conceived inter-disciplinary match, André fought ham-and-egger Chuck Wepner (the inspiration for the Rocky movies) in Shea Stadium.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on ObamaCare's Brave New World

I get the sense that very few people are non-plussed by the passage of President Obama's healthcare reform bill last night--you are either enthusiastically happy with the new bill or vociferously unhappy with it. Some mildly-interelated thoughts for both camps:

* As a political matter this was a destabilizing act. Passing a gargantuan piece of legislation with permanent  consequences for the country using only the support of one party (and against bipartisan opposition) against significant popular unhappiness with the legislation will have large political consequences, both immediate and long-term.

Seats that were safe will not be. Candidates who are not ready for prime-time will find themselves winning the political lottery. ObamaCare will destabilize the political environment in the same way the Iraq war did, upsetting coalitions, elevating new figures, and dooming once solid-seeming politicians on all sides.

* No Democratic politician can any longer credibly claim to be anti-abortion. This is particularly worrisome because once abortion becomes a purely party-driven issue (as opposed to a mostly party-driven issue) it will become even harder to find common ground of the "safe, legal, and rare" variety. By necessity Democrats will cease to be pro-choice and become objectively pro-abortion.

* For people who like to think of themselves in ideological, rather than party-based, political terms, ObamaCare is a hard lesson. When push comes to shove, political parties matter, quite a bit. Any Republican who, say, voted for Jim Webb as a sensible, hard-nosed Democrat over George Allen, a bumbling, embarrassment of a Republican, is now confronted with the stern truth about the power of parties. To paraphrase the great Midge Decter, at the end of the day you have to join the side you're on.

* At the same time, George W. Bush deserves at least some small sliver of credit for ObamaCare. He was so careless with the final term of his presidency, so completely uninterested in the fate of the Republican party aprés moi, that he helped Democrats to the Congressional majorities which made this possible.

Friday, March 19, 2010

ObamaCare End-Game Game Theory

I have no deep thoughts about the substance of President Obama's health-care scheme, but I do find the game-theory of the last few weeks (and next 60 hours) very interesting.

One of the principle failings of economic theory is that it always assumes rational actors. I don't think you can assume that many of the wavering Democrats are behaving rationally:

* By their own lights, very few people--and by definition none of the waverers--like this bill in and of itself. If the bill was self-evidently great, they wouldn't be wavering.

* There's no credible way to claim that for a wavering congressman, voting for the bill will help with their re-election. A "yes" vote might help some Democrats, but it's not going to help the swing-district Dems who have to face the music in seven months.

* There are certainly Democrats for whom even the highly-imperfect bill--with all its attendant political ramifications--would be deemed an ideological bargain at twice the price. Let's pretend for a minute that we had a Republican president and a Republican Congress poised to pass a deeply unpopular bill that would outlaw abortion. All Republicans understood that such passage would cause the GOP to lose the next three election cycles. Would many Republican office-holders make that deal? My guess is: Yes.

The problem is, the kind of Republicans who would take that bargain would be the ones who already have the best chances of re-election. For the anti-abortion bill to pass, it would need the support of more marginal Republicans ("marginal" here applying to their ideological status, not their moral worth, obvs). Mike Pence might be willing to lose his seat to outlaw abortion. But would Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe give up their jobs to pass an anti-abortion bill? I very much doubt it.

So what the president and the Congressional leadership is trying to do is persuade the marginal members of their party to act irrationally--that is, against their electoral self-interest and against their ideological bias. (I'm sure some of the wavering Dems are "for" health-care reform in the abstract, but probably not much more than moderate Republicans are abstractly "for" choosing life. And I doubt that very many of the waverers are "for" this particular health-care reform in any meaningful, ideological way.)

At the end of the day, I suppose that's what real power is: The ability to convince people to behave contrary to their best interests.


Which leads us to the end-game game theory. There are two countervailing imperatives on any remaining "undecided" congressmen.

1) Hold out as long as you can in the hope that the issue will become settled before you have to render your decision.

2) Make your decision as soon as you can so that you don't become the deciding vote, thereby putting a giant target on your back.

I'm sure John Nash could work the numbers and give us a graph showing the equilibrium point of these two equations and predicting the hour and minute at which the final congressman will make up his mind.

There is, however, one other pressure, which I assume exists, but which is not being talked about.

3) Assuming your re-election is out of reach, hold out for long as possible in the hope of extracting some iron-clad post-Congress income from the Democratic establishment or friends thereof.

It was hilarious hearing Obama threaten not to campaign for "no" Democrats earlier this week. Any Democrat who has to even consider voting "no" is going to run as far away from Obama as possible come November. This president is going to be electoral poison in vulnerable districts. What I assumed Obama's threat implicitly meant was this: The president is not going to take care of any "no" Democrat who loses in November.

When people euphemistically talk about the leadership trying to "change minds" I assume they're not just referring to government pork for the district.


Speaking of, Marjorie Margolies-Mazvinsky--who did okay for herself after doing a kamikaze for her party--had a charming op-ed the other day telling Democrats that she was glad, in retrospect, that she voted for the Clinton '93 budget, lost her seat, "saved" the presidency, etc. I wonder if she really means that.

By which I mean this: By their own lights, would Democrats really trade the first 2 years of the Clinton presidency for the 12 years that followed it? You can't make a straight-line projection from the 1993 tax increase to the 1994 Republican re-alignment, but they're closely related. If you're a Democrat who believes that the Republican Congress which existed more or less from 1994 to 2006 and did all sorts of dreadful things to the country--welfare "reform", tax cuts, war authorization, rolling back women's reproductive rights, et al--might have been avoided by tanking the 1993 tax increase, wouldn't you jump at the chance to go back in time and re-do that vote?


For vote counts, Fire Dog Lake seems pretty good (which is to say, both well-researched and modest) as does The Hill.

NCAA Wrap-Up

If I was in a pool and I had gone heavy on the Big East and I was a Georgetown alum, I'd hope that my friends and family welded the windows shut and hid sharp objects from me.

NB: I've already removed the stapler and letter opener from Matus's office.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


There, it's my gift to you. Go put it on your DVR schedule and catch up with this week's premier on On Demand or the Hulu machine or whatever. Just get in now on the ground floor, because this series is going to be crazy awesome.

The first episode was some of the best TV I've seen in years. Justified is an Elmore Leonard rough adaptation. On the surface it plays like Hillbilly Heat, but only the chassis is crime story. Underneath the hood, Justified is pure Western. The premise is a U.S. Marshal who gets himself banished from the Miami field office and back to a small branch in rural Kentucky, which happens to be where he's from. There he immediately gets involved in tracking down a fellow he was buddies with in high school, who now happens to be an Aryan brotherhood, white-supremacist type. It is, by turns, tense, engaging, and even funny. And it changes speeds effortlessly.

Also, I suspect it's going to (finally) make a big star out of Timothy Olyphant. A tease below of the awesomeness:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Finally, the Sex Cannon Has Come Back to Washington!

Skins Superfans were jazzed enough about the Larry Johnson signing but hold the phone! The new era of responsible management in Washington has continued with the Redskins signing 2 tons of twisted steel and sex appeal--Sexy Rexy Grossman!

Is that Berrian? I think he’s triple-covered. You know what? Fuck it. I’m throwing it downfield.
Yeah, I see Jones open on the flank. But fuck that. Dumpoff passes are for faggots. I’m fucking Sexy Rexy Grossman. I can get that ball in there. And, even if I can’t, I bet I’ll be able to pull it off the next go round. I like throwing the ball long. It makes my dick hard.
What’s that? I should throw a quick slant? Fuck that. That’s gay. Button hook? Gay. Flare out? Gay. Screen pass? Kevin Spacey gay. This is fucking football. You can’t just expect wins to come to you. You can’t massage that shit. You gotta grab that game by the throat and rape the ever-loving shit out of it. You think a 5-yard out is gonna win you a game? You’re a pussy. This ain’t John Shoop running this offense. Sexy Rexy’s got the arm. The dragon. You gotta unleash the dragon.
Okay, I’m throwing it. Nice. Look how far it went. I look good. I bet I made that Pats cheerleader wet her panties with that throw. She fucking wants me. I bet she likes it over a stair railing. I can hit that with 100% accuracy, my dear. Mmmmmm. I am delicious.
Oh shit. Looks like Samuel caught it. Again. Oh well. It still felt fucking great to throw that shit. Tell me that wasn’t one of the prettiest passes you ever saw. You know what? Not only am I gonna throw it long the next time we hit the field. I’m gonna throw it even longer. Harder. You see that kid in wheelchair sitting in the end zone bleachers? I’m gonna nail him right between the fucking eyes with a Sexy Rexy fastball. Why? Because I can.
This is Rex Grossman we’re talking about here. We’re talking 210 lbs. of twisted steel and sex appeal. I’m not just a gunslinger. I’m a cumslinger. Throwing that ball long tells all the Rexettes that I am fucking out there. On the edge. Where I gotta be. The ladies love the danger. The unpredictability. Oh, maybe I’ll tease them with a pretty touch pass every now and again. But then I’m gonna go right back to pumping that ball out for all it’s worth. It tells them I throw like I fuck. That’s how we do things in the sexy business.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Big Short

Galley Friend M.C. points us to this 60 Minutes piece on the new Michael Lewis book. It looks pretty great.

But has anyone else noticed how very, very much Steve Kroft looks like Ryan O'Neill?

Smash the Internet

Cracked has a truly fantastic post on five dangers to the internet as we now know it. Great tech writing in breezy, layman's terms. I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Andrew Sullivan, Jeffrey Goldberg, and The Atlantic--Updated

Jeffrey Goldberg deserves some credit for pushing back against Andrew Sullivan instead of just going along to get along. But he adds a curious addendum:
UPDATE: When I implied above that a magazine with standards would not allow Andrew to misinterpret history, I should have stated that the Atlantic's website has no fact-checking standards, and not that it has no standards at all.
In all seriousness, what standards are those? They allow profanity, misrepresentation, public criticism of fellow employees, the endorsement of criminal activity, descriptions of sex, and truly pornographic use of the first-person. What is explicitly ruled out-of-bounds by TheAtlantic.com's Standards & Practices Handbook?

Update: Goldberg now says that he simply isn't going to respond to Sullivan anymore. Well, okay. That's one way to do it. Go along, get along it is!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

BSG Sabotage

From Galley Friend B.W.

Turn it up. Way up. And drink in the awesome.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

"Now" vs. Last Year

Galley Friend M.C. has a post up about David Gelernter's lament about the internet and "nowness." It's very smart. Around the time of the Iranian election last year I wrote a long post (which I never published) about my dream to launch a magazine that was the anti-thesis of nowness, theoretically called Last Year. Here's the resurrected idea:


During the beginnings of the Iranian post-election uprising, someone posited that the Twitter/Blogo-sphere had finally succeeded in creating two distinctive species of news consumers: People who relied on Old Media, whose understanding of the world was shallow and lagged something like 48 hours behind reality and people who relied on the newest of New Media, whose perceptions of events were broad and immediate. The suggestion being that those relying on the Twiblosphere were much better informed and much more up to date, culiminating in a better grounding of the world around us.

Let's grant a couple things. First, let's grant that if you were plugged into the Twiblosphere last weekend, you knew (or thought you knew) that events in Iran had suddenly shifted and that the regime was imperiled by a mass backlash against what was taken to be a rigged election. (Or rather, an election more rigged than the rigging everyone had already assumed to be built into the affair.) By relying on hundreds, or thousands, of mostly anonymous, burst transmissions you were able to piece together a pixelated version of events in something like real time. You couldn't be sure that any given pixel was true, but the sea of them was able to tell you that something was happening.

Second, let's grant that if you were part of the great unwashed getting your news from the papers--or even skipping out on news during weekends altogether--you were absolutely behind the time curve in understanding what was happening in Iran. And when you did finally figure out what was going on, the perception you got was already outdated.

The obvious question is, does it matter? Practically speaking, unless you're part of a very small circle of people--DoD, State, the White House, a dissident group, someone with financial interests or family in the region--is there any real value to immediacy? I'd argue no. I doubt events in Iran would have been altered much if bloggers at the Atlantic hadn't learned about the uprising until last Tuesday.

But more importantly, is it possible that the immediacy of information diminishes our understanding of the world around us? It certainly seems possible. At nearly every level of the physical and intellectual worlds, speed creates uncertainty and mistakes. Time allows deliberation and judiciousness. This is true of everything from writing to quarterbacking. The faster you have to go, the more mistakes you make.

The Twiblosphere has its place. And even if it didn't, it's not going away anytime soon. (By "it" I mean forms of instaneous publishing; I think it's very possible that Twitter will be seen as a bizarre fad a few years from now.) But as the Twiblosphere has expanded, it has seduced and absorbed a bunch of projects which used to be devoted to long-view reflection and converted them to the realm of the Now.

I'm not sure that's a good thing. Actually, I suspect it's very, very bad in the long term. One of the founding hopes of the blogosphere was that all writing was forever and that your links could haunt you until the end of time, that the blogosphere could "fact check your ass." There's been some of that. But I think you could reasonably argue that the volume of writing has actually had something of the opposite effect on serious thinking: It's hard to remember arguments or schools of thought from even two months ago.

It seems to me that the Now has become a terribly over-served niche. Long-view reevaluation has become dramatically underserved.

One of my little fantasies is to have some think tank start a journal--we'll call it Last Year, just for giggles--which dealt exclusively with events from 12 months ago. So, for instance, the June 2010 issue would look back at the initial weeks of the Iranian uprising, explain the contemporaneous thinking surrounding it, and then evaluate how such thinking held up. Were the people claiming that the election was obviously rigged proven correct? Was the school lauding President Obama for his caution shown to be wise? In retrospect, was the uprising, more, or less, serious than it initially appeared?

That's a magazine I'd read, anyway.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Sad News--Updated

Variety has just let go of Todd McCarthy, who I have long regarded as America's best movie critic. McCarthy's reviews were so objective, informed, and modest that they often read less like critiques and more like appraisals. He wasn't telling you if he liked or disliked a movie: He was telling you what was objectively good about it, what was objectively not good about it, and what the data suggested its commercial prospects might be like. While the rest of America's critics tried to shout one another down (or show off their erudition), McCarthy came as close as anyone could to divining some measure of truth about the movies he reviewed. The closest analog I've ever seen is Walt Mossberg's tech reviews.

I'll miss his work.

Update: Roger Ebert has a fantastic little essay about how he met McCarthy as a high school kid:

I met him so long ago. When I was new in my job at the Chicago Sun-Times, I got a letter one day from a high school kid who said he loved the movies and wanted to have a talk with me about them. The letter struck a note. I met Todd and his friend Charles Flynn at Andy's, a place with pretty good hamburgers, outside the back door of the Sun-Times.
They knew everything about the movies. They had seen them all, debated them all, written about half of them. They became for me examples of a species I thought of as "Doc Films Kids," named after Doc Films at the University of Chicago, the nation's oldest film society. Other Doc Films Kids included Dave Kehr, now at the New York Times. They'd seen so many movies I didn't see how it was possible in such brief lifetimes. Once at O'Rourke's, Flynn was telling me how much Otto Preminger hated over-the-shoulder shots, and I nodded wisely while asking myself, how in the hell does he know that?

There's more great stuff in there.

Even Further Thoughts on Alpha Males

Galley Friend T.R. sends in some deep thoughts on men and women, in response to that long, meandering post on alpha males, the new dating game, Tod, etc:

I fear you neglect three points in generalizing about the creature Today's Woman:
1) You are actually only talking about the (heartbreakingly large) subset of women who have been abandoned or neglected by their fathers. The whole wanting to connect with the guy who blows you off thing pretty much reduces to that. Women who have always had close and affectionate relationships with their father find the bad boy attractions of their friends mystifying and the guy who ignores them irrelevant.
 2) The phenomenon you describe precisely inverts over time. The 20-year old is thrilled by the cool older guy who doesn't remember her name. The 30-year old is mildly miffed... maybe mildly intrigued. The 40-year old mom is just annoyed - though she DOES like that nice Dad who knows her childrens' name, and thinks the guy who remembered and praised her homemade dip from last year's Super Bowl party is actually quite charming. The 50-year old is positively delighted by the guy who notices her shoes, and the 60-year old is smitten by the guy who simply remembers her name.
 3) Do not underestimate the power of peer validation among women. This is a longer topic for another time, but men rate all other men on a scale of 1 to 3 (loser, good guy, rock star). Women rate each other on a scale of 1 to 100 (it may be 1 to 1000, I am still exploring this), with gradations based on clothes, where their kids go to school, hair, butt size, career, husband's car, promiscuity, house size, etc. Their principal social interaction consists of hot-syncing with each other over who is where on this list and, most importantly, which bitch is trying to act like a 62 when we all know she's a 59, right? The point for this discussion is, if the high status girl sleeps with a guy, it rockets his desirability up the chart faster than any single thing that he could do or be. Success breeds success, failure failure. The pleasant mopey guy in his 30s is a leper. If he's a widower, he's attractive. If his dead wife was a high status knockout . . . he's fishin' with dynamite.
 "Fishing with dynamite"? No comment.

Eric Massa: BSG Nerd?

Galley Friend T.R. sends this excellent observation about Democratic Rep. Eric Mass: When describing his alleged mis-doings, Massa uses BSG slang!

"And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and I said, 'What I really ought to be doing is frakking you,' and then tossled the guy's hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where I shouldn't be there." 

Oscars? Let's Talk Alice

The giant opening weekend for Alice in Wonderland ($116M) shows you that studio execs aren't stoopid for making pre-existing properties. For all the records Avatar broke, one of the most interesting was "Biggest opening weekend for an original property." Even with all the hype and all the ad support and fanboy love, etc, etc, Avatar could only do $77M. That's saying something.

Second, is it just me, or is the Oscar weekend becoming a pretty good box office weekend? I'm not going to go through the charts, but I think Watchmen, 300, Bringing Down the House, and maybe Pink Panther all did very good business right around this time. One of the real changes we're seeing in the industry is that in the bad, old days (even into the late 1990s) to open wide you had to be in the summer or December. Execs have figured out how to create a summer-like opening weekend any weekend of the year.

Third, Depp is a big movie star and everything, but I'm struck by how very, very many pre-existing properties he's starred in. All of his biggest hits are pre-solds (Alice, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Pirates, etc.). When he makes a movie that's original (let's count Public Enemies even though it was based on a book based on a true story), it doesn't open all that big.

Fourth, is $100M the new $50M for opening weekends? It looks that way. Before 2002, a $100M weekend was thought to be theoretically possible, but practically almost impossible. After all, if The Phantom Menace--the most hyped movie ever created--could only do $65M in three days, it was going to take a lot of ticket inflation to get a picture over the $100M hump. 

Since Spider-Man broke the century mark, 13 other movies have done it.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Living the Dream, cont.

Like last year, I have come into possession of a book I never imagined I'd own:

Also like last year, this is only temporary. In a few weeks I'll turn it over to its new owner. Even so, it's a charge to be able to hold onto it for a little while.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The BBC Restructures

This story will probably not get a ton of attention, but it strikes me as being important for the media world.

Further Thoughts on "The New Dating Game," Alphas, and Manliness.

Two weeks ago I talked a little about Charlotte Allen's excellent piece on "The New Dating Game," the "seduction community," etc. On further reflection, something else stands out at me from the piece: Bloggers such as Roissy spend a lot of time talking about the difference between "alpha" and "beta" men, but I think they misunderstand these types and that this misunderstanding is part of a general inability of modern culture to come to grips with what I'll call, for lack of a better term, manliness. This could be a long digression, so feel free to check out now if the topic bores you.

The one great insight which Roissy et al have is this: Chicks dig guys who don't particularly care about them. This isn't a universal truth, of course, but it's predominant enough to be reasonably treated as universal. The greatest swordsman I ever knew was a guy in high school named Tod. Tod plowed his way through dozens of girls in high school alone. Probably upwards of 30, maybe as many as 50. He was such a stud that he even bagged hot seniors when he was an underclassman, an unheard of achievement in our milieu.

Tod was a good athlete, though not exceptional; he was from a good family, though not particularly wealthy by the standards of our school. Tod's three relevant characteristics were: (1) He was very good looking; (2) He was genuinely friendly to everybody around him, from teachers and nerds to the other cool kids; (3) He absolutely *did not care* whether or not a girl was into him. This wasn't an act. He really didn't give a shit. As a result, girls threw themselves at him, day and night.

(A brief aside about Tod: All of this was impressive enough, but what elevated Tod as a grandmaster was that none of the girls he plucked ever had anything bad to say about him afterwards. They all still loved him and liked being around him. My buddies would joke that watching Tod work was like being in the presence of Michelangelo. Last I heard, Tod had become a born-again Christian, gotten his doctorate in molecular biology, had kids, and was teaching college.)

Anyway, Tod was exceptional, but what made him so was his very real indifference regarding any particular girl. And that indifference is why so many guys with all-consuming interests--think skaters and surfers and pot-heads--also get a lot of girls. They're not necessarily "alphas"--they just exhibit the core of what Roissy et al think "alpha" means.

And here's where the question is a little more broadly interesting. What is an alpha male? We can start with what alpha-ness isn't: It isn't simply money or power. Those are effects, not causes. Ted Turner and Dan Snyder, for instance, are both very rich dudes. Turner, if you've ever seen him up-close, is probably an alpha. Snyder probably is not. American presidents are the most powerful men in the world. Ronald Reagan was probably an alpha. Jimmy Carter probably was not.

Likewise the ability to bag a lot of girls. Some of the Roissy et al group might actually be alphas, but the ability to score isn't the definition of alpha-ness. The key mistake Roissy et al make, I think, is believing that alpha status has anything to do with women. Just the opposite: What makes alphas different is their ability to relate to other men. And if we had to come up with a one-sentence descriptor of what makes an alpha male, I'd argue that this is as good as anything:

An alpha male is a man with the ability to convince other men to follow him into battle.

Presence, command, authority--the alpha qualities are charismatic. That makes them hard to define. But in general, you know one when you see one. I doubt very much that you'll find all that many alphas in an Adams Morgan club on a Saturday night. You can find them by the dozen down on the Marine base at Quantico, though.

Alphas aren't exclusive to the martial life. Pope John Paul was almost certainly an alpha (if that's not heretical to say). Laird Hamilton is a an alpha, as are lots of other high-level athletes (particularly in team sports--think Tom Brady). Some businessmen are (the aforementioned Turner and Steve Jobs both come to mind). Everybody has probably met a man here or there, even from ordinary walks of life, who exudes competence and inspires trust. That's what makes an alpha. And alphas are the archetypes of manliness.

There has been a general diminution of manliness in the last 40 years or so. Some of it lamentable, some of it not. (To pick just two writings on the topic, here and here.) A large part of this cultural shift is the byproduct of the feminization of America. (I use this term descriptively, not pejoratively; again, some of the feminization has been lamentable, some has not). But when even devil-may-car men who revel in their indifference to polite society (such as Roissy et al) begin to mistake effect for cause and to misunderstand what the real markers of manliness are. Well, that suggests that manliness hasn't just been diminished, but has been somewhat perverted, too.

Update: Galley Friend C.L. says he would define alpha male thusly, "an alpha is one to whom other men naturally defer, or against whom, in a head-to-head contest, other men will usually back down."

Monday, March 01, 2010

Who's the Worst Colleague in Journalism?

I've long believed that Michael Kinsley was the least-gracious guy in journalism. Well Andrew Sullivan wants a shot at the title. The Atlantic has redesigned its website and Sullivan doesn't like it. Not one bit. So he's made his criticisms public.

To be this insulting not only to the people you work for, but work with . . . it's just breathtaking. At this point, David Bradley must be like some kind of battered wife.

You don't understand what it's like with Andrew when it's just the two of us alone together--he's so smart and counterintuitive. When he shreds the magazine's credibility and pisses all over those other drones . . . that's as much my fault as it it his. I should have asked him about the redesign first. I should have made him a bigger part of the long-range planning of the institution. That's why he lashed out like that. If only I could really prove to him how much I love him, then everything would be perfect. Oh God! I just realized we took the green away! Now the Islamic Republic of Iran will never fall and it'll be my fault. He's going to be so mad. Maybe I could stay with my sister . . .

Steph Currie Doing His Best Pistol Pete Impersonation