Friday, October 27, 2006
#25 - Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford: I can save a ton of time here by simply saying 'What Angelica Said.' The main thing I took away from the book is how ruthlessly utilitarian the more famous of the Khans (Genghis and Kubilai) were. They get a bad rap for being cruel and all that, but the time period, they weren't so bad. Ok, if you were an enemy soldier, they killed you, but there wasn't nearly the wholesale slaughter, rape and pillage which seems to be a staple of other 'civilizational' contests.
#26 - A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage: Like Salt, but with liquor instead. Since I like drinking more than I like cooking...
#27 - How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer: Think of P.J. O'Rourke doing his "everything is crap" routine, but instead of warzones, soccer clubs. Really would have been better titled "How Soccer Reflects the World," but that's a minor quibble for a very readable book.
#28 - Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner: Quite possibly the best book I've read this year. Wide ranging discussion of Dutch culture, ingenuity, individualism, racial integration and the 'style vs. substance' debate, seen through the prism of Dutch soccer. The Dutch are, with reason, often known as 'the Brazilians of Europe' for their stylishly attacking football. At least prior to this World Cup's much less extravagant side, they were. But there are particular psychological, perhaps even psychiatric reasons why they never seem to come good in the end. Fascinating read.
#29 - 31 - The Mind of Bill James by Scott Gray; Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville by Stephen Jay Gould; Fantasyland by Sam Walker; 3 baseball books, which I'll cover at TWT sometime soon.
More to come sometime this weekend...
That is, until this (via Glennzilla):
In an Ironic Twist of Events, NBC and The CW Television Network Refuse to Air Ads for Documentary Focusing on Freedom of Speech...NBC responded to a clearance report submitted by the Weinstein Company’s media agency saying that the network “cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.”I'm not sure which angers me more, CW's lying (not being a demographer myself, I can only speculate that there would be substantial crossover in the audiences for say "Gilmore Girls" or "Veronica Mars" and the Dixie Chicks. But that's just me, who am I to tell the bastard child of the 5th and 6th broadcast networks (out of...six) that they have no clue?) or NBC's uncharacteristically bald-faced truth telling.
The CW Television Network responded that it does “not have appropriate programming in which to schedule this spot.”
Glenn hits on a point I've made (see here) in the Net Neutrality debate:
Once corporate-owned networks start selecting which politically-tinged ads are "too controversial" and which ones are not, it is inevitable that messages which please the political leadership which regulates those corporations will be allowed, while messages that displease those political leaders will be rejected.FWIW this will probably shake out in favor of the film, if this controversy gets any play at all. For example, I now think I'm going to go see it seven or eight times out of spite. And I hate the Dixie Chicks...
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
The people who are going to be affected by the ban are the millions of Americans who play online poker recreationally — and responsibly. But that $12 billion per year is going to simply dry up. Problem gamblers and minors will still be able to find places online to make wagers.This being a topic on which I have some interest (former lives and all that...), I fired off an email, which he was good enough to publish:
Any attempt to prohibit consensual activity is going to create black and gray markets. The legitimate, law-abiding gaming sites may now be out of reach for Americans, but that'll create a niche for truly unregulated sites. These sites will be far more prone to fraud, won't much care about the age of their customers, and customers who are defrauded will have no recourse.
There's also no telling who's behind them. But it's probably a safe bet (pardon the pun) to say that the people operating black market, blatantly illegal gambling sites will include a significant criminal element.
Good article. I have two points to make in response - the first is that this is incredibly tin eared on the part of the GOP. My guess would be that poker professionals *should* be solidly in the GOP base - there is no more naked a form of capitalism then the ruthless meritocracy of poker. Yet, as you suggest, in a single move, the GOP has decided to jettison this group (a group with both visibility and money to spare to contribute to candidates who won't try and kill their livelihood.)
My second point relates to the notion that this is simply leaving tax revenues on the table. Yes, the operators of poker rooms won't pay taxes, but neither will the professional players. I subsidized grad school with online poker, and I always paid taxes on my winnings. Now? No way would I expose myself to criminal sanction by declaring "Other Gambling Winnings." And I don't think I'm the only one. Given the size of the market, that's significant tax revenue simply being left on the table so that state lotteries (or, as most poker players refer to them "taxes on stupid people")
and Indian casinos can maintaint their monopolies and we can "save the children."
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Despite this critical acclaim, the show has struggled for ratings out of the block, so TMQ says "save FNL":
Here are the good aspects of "Friday Night Lights." First, brilliant cinematography. Many television shows claim to offer theatrical-quality film values; "Friday Night Lights" actually does. NBC has spent a ton of money on "Friday Night Lights," a reported $2.6 million per episode -- perhaps too much for the long-term survival of the series. In Hollywood, production money often disappears into Ferraris for the director and presidential suites for the cast; "Friday Night Lights" producers are getting their money's worth onto the screen. The episodes have many outdoor scenes, which are more expensive than studio-filmed scenes; lots of crowd scenes; lots of gritty depictions of school corridors, parking lots, restaurants, gas stations and other standbys of daily life. (The greater the number of scenes, the more expensive an hour of television is to produce; many contemporary TV dramas have too many scene shifts, but that's a separate issue.) Next, the acting is first rate. Third, the situations and characters presented are as close to real life as television can come. Yes, the cast is better looking than any representative sample of actual people, and 25-year-olds play 17-year-olds. But there's no over-glamorized action, no preposterous subplots. Surely "Friday Night Lights" would have stood a better ratings chance had the show been some "Gilmore Girls"-esque teen inanity [Pooh: Seriously Greg, Gilmore Girls is your best shot at 'teen inanity?' Afraid to take a shot at The OC because it's on Fox? Tsk tsk]. Instead "Friday Night Lights" challenges viewers with material that isn't flashy or pumped up.Okay, so Easterbrook can't help being a populist anti-snob, no shock there. I'm not an effete Manhattan critic, and I loved those aspects of the pilot, features not bugs as they say. However, I think he's quite probably right from a viewership standpoint - the reason that all sports movies are the same is that the 'scrappy underdog making good in the big game' thing resonates. Even if you know it's coming.
Now to the not-so-good aspects. The pilot episode not only was a total downer -- it ended with the character you thought would be the series focus being paralyzed for life -- but gave viewers the impression the show held small-town life and prep football in disdain. The pilot was heavy on subliminals suggesting the producers thought the sort of people who play or care about high school football are rubes or have warped values. That view might be defensible as an artistic choice, but my informal survey of friends who love football culture and who watched the pilot was unanimous on this point: Everyone one of them said that if "Friday Night Lights" was going to be about bashing football, they weren't going to watch. It turns out the show does not think small-town America or people who care about high school sports are weird; subsequent episodes have been sympathetic to the characters and to the town depicted. But as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Having the pilot be depressing, then end with a character paralyzed and everyone sobbing, was the sort of touch effete Manhattan critics love, but viewers don't -- who wants to watch more of that? The "Friday Night Lights" pilot was a disaster in terms of stating the show's case for its audience. This show would have been better served to start with the second episode, whose concluding image -- the coach and his petrified backup quarterback standing alone on the field of an empty stadium late at night with all the game lights on -- was haunting.
And FNL turns that paradigm on its head a little - there have been legit "chill scenes" in every episode thus far (the hail mary in the pilot, the one-on-one under the lights and "eyes wide open" scenes in episode two, and the conclusion to the 'standard training montage' in last week's episode). But the show never ends on these high points, as if to say, after the game ends their is still life to live. Last week's was a particular gutshot sort of moment - bringing in the hired gun QB right after the team building solidarity of the previous day's midnight practice. Perhaps appreciating these reversals do make me a Manhattan elite, but whatever.
In any event, watch the show, it's worth your while to get caught up.
Update: Easterbrook can't help himself from being a tool in some aspects - see Yglesias, who disses so I don't have to...
Monday, October 23, 2006
I suppose as a whole, "The Departed" is a superior film to "Gangs of New York," but "Gangs" was more interesting because of my unfamiliarity with the milieu. Performance-wise, Damon, Di Caprio, Baldwin and especially Wahlberg were great, and I don't think Nicholson was as "big" as everyone has been saying (there was one Lecterish moment, but that was largely it for the indulgent scenery-chewing.)
I endorse wholeheartedly the criticism of the inanity of the film's final shot. The phrase "on the nose" comes to mind.
Perhaps I'd be more positive if the tautest portion of the film hadn't been spolied by the fact that not one but several idiots brought their toddlers to a Marty Freakin Scorecese movie. Are you high? So the rightly lauded scene consisting of Damon and Di Caprio silently listening to each other being silent over a phone connection was broken up with ga-ga-ing, and perhaps a goo-goo or two. Spolis the tension somewhat...Plus one of the kids couldn't sit still, and was wearing those shoes with the lights in the heels, so it looked like there were cop cars actually sitting in the front of the theatre with the lights on.
Anyway, if you can stand violence and profanity, see it. Thoroughly professional, though not quite transcendant. B+
Pooh: Ohmigosh what is that white stuff on top of my car???
(Cue sinister music)
Pooh: It's, it's, it's Termination Dust
(Jangling strings, ala "Psycho")
Well, hey, only about 5-8 months until I see green grass again. Who am I kidding, like I'm allowed to go outside during the work week anymore anyway...
Thursday, October 19, 2006
(or if you live in NYC, Yadier 'pinche cabron' Molina)
((Of course while I was typing this, the Mets have 2 on none out...))
(((Cliff Floyd needs to swing harder)))
((((Why is Paul Lo Duca's theme music "Boogie Shoes" not confidence inspiring))))
(((((UHM, swing the bat, Carlos...)))))
Saturday! Bonderman! Carpenter! It's the World Series on Fox!!!
... Heh, been there myself, Met Fan (as some have in fact witnessed)
Sunday, October 15, 2006
In reading "The Good Fight," and then thinking about why it left me feeling more than a bit high and dry, I recently came across a series of questions. Questions which author Peter Beinart should be able to answer in the course of developing his vision of "liberal internationalism." But in the end, he probably can't, at least not within that framework, because for all the high-minded rhetoric and historical analogy at his disposal, there's no there there when we drill down from a philosophy to what polcies to follow. First, the questions
A common query:
So here’s a question: What happens if the war had been executed competantly? Let’s assume this wasn’t Donald “Special Forces Solve Everything” Rumsfield, but a real military leader like Eisenhower or MacArthur and we’d gone in the right way. Let’s assume for one imaginary moment that we played it smart, maintained stability in the region, and installed a pro-Western Democracy on par with Jordan or Turkey. Would you approve of the war then?Callimachus (quoting Abe Lincoln):
Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert ? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or friend, into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked Administration of a contemptible Government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that in such a case to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy.M. Takhallus:
Sixty five years ago we fought a war with Japan following their attack on Pearl Harbor. Within a matter of a few months we were burning down Japanese cities. The Japanese of that era favored wood construction and we dropped incendiary bombs. Later, when the technology became available, we dropped atomic bombs. You can argue one way or the other whether there were significant, legitimate military targets in each and every case, but let's take it as granted that there were. Nevertheless, incendiaries in packed cities full of wood houses, I think we knew what would result. I think we knew the firestorms might suck the oxygen from the lungs of children as well as adults, women as well as men, opponents and supporters of the regime alike. Fair enough so far? Question: were we right or wrong to do it?
(See also here for a thoughtful follow-up)
Admittedly, these are tough questions, but a serious, 'important' tract on a "new approach" to U.S. foreign policy should provide some guidance as to how that approach would handle difficult questions...if the problem was easy there wouldn't be such strenous disagreement now would there.
And for all the good work Beinart does leading into his prescriptions, this is where he fails. Much like Andrew Sullivan, Beinart talks a good game about lessons learned, and hubris, and multilateralism. But these 'epiphanies' don't mean much if they amount to calling for "more of the same, just better."
That said, there is much to recommend here. I don't have the historical chops to dissect Beinart's discussion of post-WWII liberal foregin policy or his chapter on the rise of the violent strain of salafist Islam which seems to be the motivating ideology of Al Qaeda ("The Looming Tower" is on the book pile, and hopefully it will tell me more ), but these historical chapters are a useful primer. Further, Beinart's demolition of the errors of the Bush administration carries the tone most easily recognizable as that of a scorned lover.
In particular, I think Beinart is correct on the dangers of overly moralistic absolutism (I think the major point of contention among the posters at my other place [ed: nice catch, 'Pick] is our individual tolerance for ugly outcomes. Or, more harshly, the extent to which we believe ends can justify means.) It may came down to us having to do some nasty things that in a better world, we'd prefer not to, but a demand for purity uber alles strikes me as having the practical effect of demanding we do nothing, ever.
This is not to say that we should no longer strive for morality and ethical behavior, to the contrary. Beinart is explicit in his view that an important aspect in this conflict is the degree to which we remain true to our ideals, as well as the degree to which we are seen to remain faithful.Which is nice, but there is a not-so-subtle irony of a book which purports to fill the void of concrete vision in liberal circles, but gives us not much more than the very platitudes sought to be replaced.
Beinart could have saved us all a lot of time by simply saying "I was very wrong. I'm sorry that I was an ass. Everything is a mess, and I have no idea what to do now. Send me a check."
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Thursday, October 05, 2006
What does it say about me that I was elated by this turn of events?
Be afraid, be very afraid.
1. "Heroes" - okay, so they are so obviously going for the X-Men storyline to appeal to the immense fanboi base. So what? I'm something of a fanboi myself, so it works for me. Plus, they've made several good choices - only one of the players introduced thus far has the Supermannish whiny-guy thing going, and they have made some very interesting choices not just for powers but for who has them. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Japanese salaryman, as well as the flying brothers.
Additionally, they are aiming more for Darknight era Batman, rather than Adam West. I'll take dark and mysterious over campy pretty much any day. One downside is I'm not convinced that either female lead is up to carrying the show. Well, I'm convinced that Ali Larter isn't, and I don't recognize the girl playing the cheerleader, so I'm, at best, skeptical. A further negative is that they appear to have picked the Most Annoying. Voice. Ever. to do the "previously on 'Heroes'" bit: B+
(However, Kung Fu Monkey has a good point about the dialogue, which is at times...pretentiously portentious:
he first episode was laden with the particular disease of non-genre guys writing genre: "Behoooold. I bring you superheroes WITHOUT CAPES! What brave new world of fiction is this? And look, there's even a plotline using a series of pictures as a narrative device. They are called, in the underground, 'co-mic book-es.'"Indeed.)
2. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" - Profoundly disappointing pilot episode. Not saying it was bad, but compare it to the pilot for "West Wing." Maybe for those who never watched "Sports Night", the show might seem original, but I feel like Sorkin is covering old ground with 30 minutes more per week to use. Matt Perry and Brad Whitford seem to have a nice reparte, but I'm concerned that they are not distinct enough from each other either in appearance or personna. I could be proven wrong, but who wants to watch "Smart and Smarter?" I did enjoy the opening teaser (and especially enjoyed the dig at the Media for all reporting the "Network" aspect of it, as if it was an original observation.)
Lest I seem too negative, I thought the second and third episodes were better - a lot will ride on Sarah Paulson, who didn't have much to do in the pilot, but has certainly been growing on me. She'll always be compared to Allison Janney's C.J. Cregg. High bar there. Additionally, I don't feel like we 'know' any of the characters besides Matt & Danny so far - what is D.L. Hughley supposed to be doing? (And after ignoring the 15-year old looking groupie in almost perfunctory fashion, what odds on their being a shocking twist regarding alternate sexuality?) Is Nate Corddry (of "Daily Show" moderate fame) playing Topher Grace playing Jimmy Fallon? Will Danny Concannon, er Tim Busfield ever stop inducing "hey it's C.J.'s hubby! What the hell happened to his beard?" reactions. I know, I know, it's early, but my expectations were pegged insanely high.
But despite all my complaints, it's Aaron freaking Sorkin writing the dialogue, and Matt Perry and Brad Whitford can still in fact bring it: B
(Slate disagrees with my last point, writing the show off as an excercise in "I'm Aaron Sorkin
bitch!, and you're not")
3. "Friday Night Lights" - There was not a single original element in the pilot episode. Isn’t there a rule against a director of a film (Peter Berg) turning around and directing a TV show of the same title? It’s supposed to work the other way, right? (See Miami Vice, Firefly/Serenity, etc…) To my recollection, Altman had nothing to do with MASH the series, for an example of a movie being made into a show.
So, let's see, take the basic plot line of "Varsity Blues," remove the MTV-related goofiness. Mix in the hyperkinetic, shaky camera work from "The Shield," and in the soundtrack from "Any Given Sunday" because it works well for football. Add insanely violent football action, plus the Standard Miracle Comeback ("SMC"). (Simmons has a point:
I can't stomach another climactic game scene in which the home team recovers an onside kick, runs the next play for 20 yards, then, on the final play, the QB throws a 50-yard pass that his WR catches on the opposing 30 and takes off for the winning TD. Not even the CFL has 140-yard football fields. Come on. This isn't rocket science.I know, didn't occur to me at the time either, but yeah.)
All that said, it was still amazingly well done for network TV, and fully watchable. Even knowing what was going to happen the SMC still had chill potential. Even if the throw should have gone 30 yards out the back of the endzone unless Deer-in-headlights backup QB guy took at 23-step drop before throwing...The trash-talking rapper/preacher running back was surprisingly effective as well - in his prayer following the game, his cadence reminded me uncannily of that of my former college roomie who's now a pastor.
The challenge now is to make the show interesting and believable across a whole season. How many SMC's can we really believe in? And will the show be able to maintain the almost painful earnestness, or will it be reduced to what Tall Guy predicted: "The OC" in pads? B-
I am most intrigued by "The Nine" - after the disappointing premiere of "Lost" (by adding more and more stuff to the island, they are in danger of neutering the essential "Lost"-ness of the whole deserted island thing. More on this one next week, I promise). The pilot teased, and now we really want to know "What happened inside the bank?" Unfortunately, I'm guessing from the previews of the second episode that it is going to be told, in a piecemeal, flashback manner. The premise is "Lost" inverted. And I'm not sure that's a good thing - the backstories make the island happening more interesting, I'm not sure how much I'll care about What Happened After to the Nine until I know What Happened Before. Of course, I could be wrong, and it could be pure marketing genius, as the show will demand repeated viewings once the whole thing plays out, spurring DVD sales, etc...but I'll stay with it for a time, at least. Grade: Incomplete
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
1. I still feel an awful lot like I'm playing dress-up, or going to a halloween party as a Real Lawyer.
2. I'm looking out my window(!) to see the maintenance folks putting up the sign on my reserved parking space(!!). I'm easily purchased, I fear.
Or especially her.
Update: No sooner had I composed this bad boy then Cuddy and Morn-ofertherseries went back to back.
Update the second Ouch. No sooner had I updated than a "failed to turn the DP" led into Torii deciding that coming back from 1-0 down in the series is just too easy. That was almost Bostonian the way that there developed, sorry TwinKids for the jink...
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Yankees over Tigers in 3: Young team, in a tailspin, gets hypnotized by the 45 minute 7th inning stretch at the stadium (which includes everything short of Disney on Ice, these days...)
Padres over Cardinals in 4: La Russa probably pinch runs for Pujols, which ends up costing them the deciding game. If there's a baseball equivalent of the basketball "Look! I'm coaching!" timeout, it's Tony La Russa doing pretty much anything. This is still a really good book, though.
Mets over Dodgers in 4, before the lack of Pedro derails them. (It's almost as if one could have predicted that Pedro would be very good for a year or two after he left the Sawx, and then his arm would fall off. Almost.)
Let's Go Twins
And they haven't fired me just yet. Which is nice. As can be told from the lack of updates after 10 am yesterday, the bosses found me (depending on who's here and not in trial, I have between 7 and 12 on any given day...not to mention the IT people, accounting, who really owns my ass, and of course my secretary who could do my job twice as well for half as much...or so she tells me. Not that I disagreeto her face...)
To answer some questions from yesterday - yes, I got the spiffy plant. I don't have to look busy, I am busy. State of mind and all that. And Sam, .2 hours, not that I have a timer or anything...