erik lundegaard

Friday November 27, 2020

Movie Review: Never Steal Anything Small (1959)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Never Steal Anything Small” is a musical that feels ashamed to be a musical. We’re meeting Linda Cabot (Shirley Jones) for the first time, about 25 minutes in, and suddenly she starts singing. And it throws us. Oh, right, this is a musical. It’s the first song we’ve heard since the opening chorus.

How many songs do we hear overall? Five maybe? Many are consumerist. Jones’ first song is all about clothes (“I Haven’t Got a Thing to Wear”), “I’m Sorry, I want a Ferrari” takes place in a car showroom, while “It Takes Love to Make a Home” is a TV commercial for a cleaning product called “Love.” “Thing to Wear” is the cutest, “Ferrari” the most memorable, “Love” the missed opportunity. It’s supposed to satirize commercial jingles but doesn’t dig deep enough. It’s not jingly, either.

Despite all this, “Never Steal Anything Small” almost has a chance. It’s about a Damon Runyonesque figure, Jake MacIllaney (James Cagney), who runs for president of his union local, wins, then keeps the machinations going to rise further. That could’ve worked. He’s a charming scoundrel. But he goes a machination too far. He not only tries to pin his own graft on his naïve lawyer, Dan Cabot (Roger Smith, whom Cagney discovered while on vacation in Hawaii), he breaks up Cabot and his wife, too. At first I thought it was because Linda wanted Dan to steer clear of Jake, so Jake needs her out of the picture—but that’s not it. He wants Linda for himself.

Keep in mind: At the time of filming, Jones was an unblemished 23 while Cagney was a craggy 58. It’s kinda creepy. 

Addressed as sir
The movie opens with Cagney at a piano, talk-singing to the camera, about advice his father gave him to never steal anything … never steal anything … small. It’s not bad. Even better, we get these lines, which probably ring truer during the Trump years than they did in the Eisenhower era:

Steal 100 dollars and they put you in stir
Steal 100 million they address you as “sir”

 I liked all of this. I liked that the opening title card alludes to Cagney’s breakthrough picture a quarter-century earlier: “This picture is sympathetically dedicated to labor and its problems in coping with a new and merry type of public enemy … the charming, well-dressed gentleman who cons his way to a union throne.” Then we get a speech by Cagney on the waterfront. And it really is the waterfront. A lot of the movie was shot on location in New York City—this scene was apparently at the Fulton Street pier in lower Manhattan—and it’s so great to be outdoors in a real place with Cagney it makes you wonder what we missed with all those ’30s Cagney flicks shot in the studio. 

“Anything Small” is basically a series of problems Jake solves, only to have the solution lead to another problem. At Union Local 26, he’s running against longtime president O.K. Merritt (Horace McMahon) but needs money to win. That’s the problem. So he and his boys shake down “Sleep-Out” Charlie (Jack Albertson), a penny-pinching loan shark, to get the dough. That’s the solution. Except Sleep-Out rats on him and Jake is arrested. Problem. So he gets Sleep-Out’s girlfriend to slip him a mickey and Sleep-Out wakes up in a (fake) iron lung while a (fake) doctor tells him he should go to Yuma, Ariz. for his health. And there goes that problem. Amid some strongarming, Jake then wins the election and takes over the local.

Except he finds out his newbie lawyer, Dan, is dropping him as a client because his wife objects, which means the Sleep-Out case may be delayed, which means Sleep-Out might be back in time for it. Can’t have that. So he goes to see Dan but instead finds his charming wife singing “I Haven’t Got a Thing to Wear,” and he falls for her. Now his machinations are two-fold: wooing Dan back with a big office, which takes care of the Sleep-Out case; and equipping the big office with a hot, well-appointed secretary, Winnipeg Simmons (Cara Williams), who, on instructions from Jake, seduces Dan. Which takes care of the Cabot marriage, allowing Jake to move in. 

The rest of the movie is this bifurcated plotline: How to rise in the ranks while winning over Linda. Early on, he tells Winnipeg: “I like to scheme. I get a boot out of a nice, sharp scheme.” I admit: The stuff with the union, where his opponents are other sharpies, grifters, and mob bosses, is fun. But the other storyline? Just awkward. Creepy. Plus, why is Linda amenable to him? She didn’t want Dan representing him but she’ll consider dating him? No logic there.

I might have swallowed some of this if Cagney weren’t so much older than Jones—and obviously older rather than, say, “Cary Grant older.” But this is how apparent their age difference is: The movie acknowledges it. Yes. Even though older men with younger women is generally treated as normal in the movie, in this one Jake raises the issue: “Maybe age doesn’t make as much difference as you think,” he tells Linda over coffee. “Elderly guys and young gals—getting to be quite the fashion.” Truer words were never said in Hollywood.

As for Dan? Too much of a patsy to be interesting. He not only loses his beautiful wife, he allows Jake to use his name on some local larceny. As a result, when Jake runs against mob boss Pinelli (an excellent Nehemiah Persoff) to take over United Stevedores, and Pinelli alerts the cops to Jake’s graft, Jake simply points the finger at Dan, whose name is on everything. Interestingly, it’s the same scam played on Cagney’s character, Biff, in “The Strawberry Blonde” 20 years earlier. Maybe that’s where Jake gets his schemes—watching old Cagney flicks.

Put in stir
For a movie about a corrupt union man, there’s a real knowledge and pride in union history. While trying to woo Linda, for example, Jake says the world isn’t a garden but a jungle, where the winner is always right, and without unions “the jungle could be a whole lot crueler.” He ticks off past union heroes—Samuel Gompers, John L. Lewis, Dubinsky, Meany and Reuther—and the assumption is the audience knows who most of them are. Love that. Different world.

I also like the twist at the end. Jake fingers Dan, who’s carted away by the cops, and Linda pleads for Dan’s sake. She asks Jake to take the rap for his own crimes. She says she’ll do anything Jake asks—even marry him. “You’d go that far just to keep that square out of the can?” he asks. He seems both incredulous and pissed off. Then he works himself into a lather talking up how Dan will have it made when he gets out. “He can go into union politics. When the story gets out, the member will think he stole all that money for them—for their clubhouse and their benefits. He’ll be a real vote-getter in the unions, all the unions. A very popular figure.” That’s when the light bulb goes on. “Yeah. Why should he be the popular figure?” And he does what Linda wants. Without the marriage. Or the anything.

It is a bit ridiculous that Dan is still Jake’s attorney during the final trial. One, why would Dan bother to help him? Two, can you actually represent someone whose confession to a crime got you off the hook? Either way, after the guilty verdict, Jake plants a big kiss on Linda’s lips and then happily goes to the stir—with the foreknowledge that when he gets out he’ll be running it all. It’s another ’50s movie that has to make Cagney the hero, or anti-hero, when he’s really the villain. Cf., “Love Me or Leave Me.”

“Never Steal Anything Small” was written and directed by Charles Lederer, who is mostly a writer (“His Girl Friday,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”) and rarely a director (this is his third, last and best-known). He adapted it from an unproduced play, “The Devil’s Hornpipe,” by Maxwell Anderson and Rouben Mamoulian—which apparently wasn’t a musical, although Anderson and Allie Wrubel (“Song of the South”) wound up writing 13 songs for it. Only a handful made it in. Then they kept tinkering. I guess previews were bad? The movie was filmed between October 1957 and January 1958 but not released until March 1959.

It was supposed to be a big deal. In July 1956, The New York Times wrote about it under the headline UNIVERSAL PLANS ‘BIG’ MUSICAL FILM, and in the first graph we get an unattributed insider quote saying it will be “one of the biggest pictures ever made.”

It wasn’t, but it almost had a chance.

Posted at 08:25 AM on Friday November 27, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 1950s   |   Permalink  

Thursday November 26, 2020

Thankful For

I meant to post these two weeks ago but I've been busy with work and besides awful Republicans kept making me feel less than celebratory. But today, Thanksgiving Day, seems perfect for it. They're all tweets from Sat. Nov, 7, the day everyone but Trump and the GOP acknowledged Joe Biden won the 2020 election and will become the 46th president of the United States.

This one made me smile. Out of the chalk of babes.

Laughed out loud here:

Felt proud:

More laughs:

Damn right:

Finally, good fucking riddance:

People keep talking about what this year has been like. They keep coming up with metaphors. To me, 2020 reminds me of a Ricky Gervais BBC comedy. We get two years of horror at the smallness of humanity; and then, for a holiday special, he gives us a happy ending—like a cherry on top of a shit sundae. That's this year. Trump and Covid are the shit, Biden/Harris and vaccine reports are the cherry. The pain is lifting. We can breathe again. After four years, we can breathe again.

If I can't be thankful for that, what am I here for? 

Posted at 12:33 PM on Thursday November 26, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Wednesday November 25, 2020

Loser

“I don't get it. All these other Republicans, all over the country, they all win their races. And I'm the only guy that loses?”

-- Pres. Donald Trump during a meeting with Michigan lawmakers last week, as reported in Tim Alberta's must-read piece, “The Inside Story of Michigan's Fake Voter Fraud Scandal,” on Politico. The subtitle is “How a state that was never in doubt became a 'national embarrassment' and a symbol of the Republican Party's fealty to Donald Trump,” and that's exactly it, and it is an embarassment; and we only escaped a more extended constitutional crisis because one GOP official, Aaron Van Langevelde, had the guts to do his job and essentially tell Donald Trump he had no clothes. The others? Pretending his evidence-less charges of voter fraud had validity, and that he won in a landslide an election he lost by 6 million votes. (More on Van Langeveld via Charles Pierce.)

Alberta writes: “Republicans here—from Ronna Romney McDaniel to Laura Cox to federal and local lawmakers—knew it was a lie. But they didn't lift a finger in protest as the president disparaged Michigan and subverted America's democratic norms. Why?” The short answer is “career ambition.” If you had it, and you wanted to stay with the GOP, you went along with the crazy. 

How much? This part about Ronna McDaniel is stunning. I had no idea. “Born into Michigan royalty—granddaughter of the beloved former governor, George Romney, and niece of former presidential nominee Mitt Romney—she knows the state's politics as well as anyone. Working for her uncle's campaign here, and then as a national committeewoman and state party chair, McDaniel earned respect for her canny, studied approach. She spun and exaggerated and played the game, but she was generally viewed as being above board. That changed after Trump's 2016 victory. Tapped by the president-elect to take over the Republican National Committee—on the not-so-subtle condition that she remove 'Romney' from her professional name—McDaniel morphed into an archetype of the Trump-era GOP sycophant. There was no lie too outlandish to parrot, no behavior too unbecoming to justify, no abuse of power too flagrant to enable.”

It's that not-so-subtle condition. That she went along with? Wow. These people. These absolutely worthless people.

Posted at 05:00 PM on Wednesday November 25, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Tuesday November 24, 2020

'Democracy Has a Fundamental Assumption'

What is the awful consequence of the War in Iraq as you see it? 

Well, let me say I think it's not soluble. That it's not even a bad war, it's not even a dreadful war, it's a war that it may have repurcussions that will go on and on forever. It's like the sort of hideous, obsessive experience you never get out from under.

I won't be fancy about it. It's a lose-lose situation. Because we will never succeed in turning Iraq into a democracy—which I think is immensely difficult for a very simple reason: You don't take democracy and put it in a hypodermic and inject it into a country. Democracy is a grace. For religious people—not fundamentalists, who are in my mind not nearly so much religious as totalitarian, because you've got to do it their way—but for people who have religious spirit, democracy is a grace. In other words, it's something that you can abuse. 

Democracy has a fundamental assumption: that if you allow the mass of people to express their will, more good will come out of that than bad. That means that democracy can always fail. And the best of democracies can fail. We have probably the greatest democracy that ever existed: We can go down the tubes; we can turn into a totalitarian country, too.

-- Norman Mailer talking to Charlie Rose, Nov. 6, 2003. This snippet begins at 15:37. Norman was always a great, underrated prognosticator, which I mentioned in my obit for him in 2007 and in this 2017 blog post. To be a great prognosticator, you just need to know human nature and keep a clear mind. Or at least keep it free of the noise; of the bullshit. God, I miss him. I feel like re-reading him. At the moment, I'm re-reading Joyce. 

Posted at 09:17 AM on Tuesday November 24, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Monday November 23, 2020

Suspended from Twitter for 12 Hours

Last week, former Bush speechwriter and current senior editor at The Atlantic David Frum tweeted that Congress was approving more conservative judges during this lame-duck session, which was without precedent, and my anger at Mitch McConnell was stoked anew. I dashed off this response, then, whistling a happy tune, went for a walk:

When I returned and logged onto Twitter, I found, instead of the usual feed, a message telling me I'd been suspended from the site for 12 hours for violating its rules against abuse and harassment. “You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm.”

They had a link where you could argue your case, and I believe I had one: It was obviously a joke, or a metaphor, and anyway the harm Mitch McConnell is visiting upon our country is a million times worse than my little tweet. But then I just thought: Naw, fuck it. Besides, I really do mean it. I want Mitch McConnell kicked in the nuts. On some level, it's unfathomable to me that the man is able to walk around D.C. without at least three people a day taking a shot. So I didn't argue my case. I took the punishment. If it was punishment. It was kind of freeing, to be honest. I had to delete the tweet, but I could still scroll through Twitter; I just couldn't tweet, retweet, like, or comment on anything. Sometimes I forgot and tried to like something, but mostly the 12 hours, half of which were sleeping hours, went like that. I spent more time on legit news sites. I spent more time reading.

I'm glad they're policing. I just wish they did it better. Mis/disinformation is the battle and we're losing it every day on all of these social media platforms. 

Posted at 08:52 AM on Monday November 23, 2020 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Sunday November 22, 2020

'Strained Legal Arguments Without Merit'

The best thing about our courts is you can't just blab on as you can before the press; the court won't take it. Remember David Boies' line about eviscerating an anti-marriage equality proponent during the Prop 8 case? “In speeches, no one got to cross-examine him.” But Boies did. And there went that guy's argument.

Last week, Donald Trump's personal $20k-a-day lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who's been busy spouting theories of voter fraud, went back into the courtroom for the first time in decades. It didn't go well. 

Asked what standard of review should be applied, Giuliani responded “the normal one.” He said he didn't understand what “strict scrutiny” meant. He said he didn't understand what “opacity” meant, then guessed it meant “you can see.” U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann responded: “It means you can't.”

My favorite line from Judge Brann? 

“You're alleging that the two individual plaintiffs were denied the right to vote. But at bottom, you're asking this court to invalidate more than 6.8 million votes, thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth. Can you tell me how this result can possibly be justified?”

Man, why can't journalists do this? 

Cut to the chase. Yesterday, Brann ruled on a request to dismiss Giuliani's/Trum's case. His ruling was basically “Fuck, yeah.” It was “Get this shit out of my court.” Here's his intro: 

In this action, the Trump Campaign and the Individual Plaintiffs (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) seek to discard millions of votes legally cast by Pennsylvanians from all corners – from Greene County to Pike County, and everywhere in between. In other words, Plaintiffs ask this Court to disenfranchise almost seven million voters. This Court has been unable to find any case in which a plaintiff has sought such a drastic remedy in the contest of an election, in terms of the sheer volume of votes asked to be invalidated. One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens.

That has not happened. Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more. 

P.S. Brann is a Republican.

Trump won't go away on Jan. 20 but he will be removed from holding the levers of power; and we'll be a better country and a better world for it. 

Posted at 07:50 AM on Sunday November 22, 2020 in category Law   |   Permalink  

Saturday November 21, 2020

Wayne County

“Consider just how openly racist and undemocratic the Michigan debacle was. Two white Republican canvassers refused to certify the results of the state's most populous Democratic county, which contains Black-majority Detroit. Was there evidence of fraud? No. ... One of those canvassers, Monica Palmer, suggested that the white-majority areas of the county could be certified, while the Black-majority city of Detroit could not. ...

This was a racial disenfranchisement move so blatant it would make Jim Crow blush. Michigan Republican leaders applauded this, and Trump tweeted, “Flip Michigan back to TRUMP.” Among the national Republican leaders, those with a conscience—a group that could fit in a broom closet—have been quiet.

-- Timothy Egan, ”Donald Trump Is Leaving Behind Blueprints to End Democracy," The New York Times

Posted at 10:33 AM on Saturday November 21, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Saturday November 21, 2020

Dreaming of Jeff Bezos

Here's a dream from last night—or early this morning.

I was working at Amazon and heading to some event with Jeff Bezos. Was it planned that we would go together or were we just leaving together the office at the same time? The office was on the second floor and to get to the street level you had to walk down a long wooden outdoor staircase. That's what we were doing, but every other step there was a giant object, like a huge iMac computer, that we had to step over. Was there also snow? We were going to a movie premiere or event like SIFF, and Bezos was talking about how he hadn't been to a movie in years. I said “Really?” and was going to mention seeing him at Seattle movie theaters over the years—like at that Ricky Gervais movie—when he added he'd been to see “Our Miss Brooks” and some other film. I couldn't hear him. We were reaching the bottom of the staircase, and I was like, “What did you say again? 'Our Miss Brooks' and what movie?” He got frustrated. No, he insisted. It wasn't “Our Miss Brooks” but “Our Miss Brooke.” It was a festival dedicated to the life and career of Brooke Shields.

Posted at 08:13 AM on Saturday November 21, 2020 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Friday November 20, 2020

America Held Hostage, Day 17

“I'm no political pundit, but I grew up with a dad who was a federal prosecutor and he taught me a lot. I've also sat a fair amount of poker with serious players and l'll say this: I do not think Trump is trying to 'make his base happy' or 'laying the groundwork for his own network' or that 'chaos is what he loves.' The core of it is he knows he's in deep, multi-dimensional legal jeopardy and this defines his every action.

”We're seeing: 1) a tactical delay of the transition to buy time for coverup and evidence suppression, and, above all, 2) a desperate endgame, which is to create enough chaos and anxiety about a peaceful transfer of power, and fear of irreparable damage to the system, that he can cut a Nixon-style deal in exchange for finally conceding. But he doesn’t have the cards. His bluff after ‘the flop’ has been called in court, his ‘turn card’ bluff will be an escalation and his ‘river card’ bluff could be really ugly. But they have to be called. We cannot let this mobster bully the USA into a deal to save his ass by threatening our democracy. THAT is his play. But he’s got junk in his hand. So call him. 

“I will allow that he’s also a whiny, sulky, petulant, Grinchy, vindictive little 10-ply supersoft bitch who no doubt is just throwing a wicked poutfest and trying to give a tiny-hand middle finger to the whole country for pure spite without a single thought for the dead and dying. But his contemptible, treasonous, seditious assault on the stability of our political compact isn’t about 2024, personal enrichment or anything else other than trying to use chaos and threat to the foundation of the system as leverage to trade for a safe exit. Call. His. Bluff. 

”Faith in the strength of our sacred institutions and founding principles is severely stretched ... but they will hold. They will. He’s leaving, gracelessly & in infamy. But if we trade for it, give him some brokered settlement, we’ll be vulnerable to his return. We can’t flinch."

-- Actor Edward Norton, in a six-tweet thread, early this morning

Posted at 03:21 PM on Friday November 20, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Friday November 20, 2020

Strike Two

Going... going...

Very bummed about the PED-revelation and year-long suspension for Robinson Cano. I guess even in our 50s we remain kids and want our baseball heroes to be clean and upstanding rather than what we know the world to be: problematic.

A short synopsis of my history with the man: Ignored/worried about him as a Yankee, counseled against the Mariners signing him for too long and too much money, wrung my hands when they did exactly that, dug him as a stellar talent on our team, empathized with his struggles with acid reflux, shook my head over his first suspension for a diuretic/PED masking agent, worried that we would trade him and Edwin Diaz during the 2018/19 off-season, wrung my hands when we did exactly that. I didn't want him to come and didn't want him to go. I guess I like stasis? No, that's not right. He grew on me. I was hoping to see him hit 3,000 at the Nei-House.

Now it looks like he won't hit 3,000 at all. He had 2,376 hits after his age-34 season in 2017, but he's only gotten 248 hits over his last three seasons, for a total of 2,624. He lost half a season to the diuretic, hit poorly in 2019, and this season, while PED-fueled, was a blip. Wait, make that 248 hits over four seasons. He's not playing in 2021. The next time he'll have a chance to get an official hit, he'll be 39 years old. 

It's all a bit sad. Among active players, Cano is currently third in hits (81st all-time), third in doubles (28th all-time), seventh in batting average, fourth in bWAR (68.9).

I like this graf from Tyler Kepner's semi-obit in the Times:

If Cano had accepted [the Yankees' seven-year deal after the 2013 season], the deal would have just expired. Instead, he wisely took advantage of a bad team's desperation to be relevant. The Mariners splurged on Cano for 10 years and $240 million, and could hardly believe their luck when the Mets took the second half of the deal off their budget — and gave up the franchise's best prospect, outfielder Jarred Kelenic, for the privilege.

All that is exactly brutally right. Still sad.

Posted at 07:33 AM on Friday November 20, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday November 19, 2020

What is Shirley Jones 'Known For'?

Ask me what Shirley Jones is known for and I'd say the 1955 movie “Oklahoma!” and the 1970s TV show “The Partridge Family.” Oh right, and “Music Man.” Marian, librarian. She was so lovely in that. She also won an Oscar for “Elmer Gantry” or something. So all that.

The other day I was checking out her IMDb page because of a Cagney connection (“Never Steal Anything Small”), and it seems IMDb's algorithms disagree with my assumptions. Again. I guess it weights for Oscars? Hence “Elmer Gantry.” Also weights for movies? Hence, no “Partridge Family.” But why isn't “Oklahoma!,” suerely one of the great American musicals, mentioned?

This could be me and the world caring about different things. That describes much of my life, actually. But I still think the algorithms are off. They care too much for Oscars and too little for TV and ... 

Wait, is it that with “Oklahoma!”? I bet it is. God, that's dumb. 

Shirley Jones is the female lead in “Oklahoma!” but because it was her movie debut she's fifth-billed. So I bet IMDb dings her for that. Except the movie made her such a star that she was second-billed in “Carousel” the following year. Which is why, in IMDb's logic, that one trumps the other. Even though everyone knows “Oklahoma!” and less so “Carousel.”

The problem with a society run by algorithms.

Don't even get me started on “Grandma's Boy.” JFC.

Lovely in “Oklahoma!”

Posted at 02:19 PM on Thursday November 19, 2020 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Wednesday November 18, 2020

America Held Hostage, Day 15

I've been fairly calm through this, although less so yesterday afternoon when two Republicans in Wayne County, Michigan voted (w/o precedent or evidence) to not certify the 2020 electioin outcome. Outcry. Two hours later, they recanted. I'd like to hear them confess, to be honest.

This guy, Ned Staebler, was a hero in that fight.

Trump seems intent on bringing anything down with him: these Wayne County Republicans, Lindsey Graham, half the Republican party, the entire country. Wait, make that about 90% of the Republican party. They're now not just the opposite of the Democratic party, they are anti-democratic—and thus anti-American. This is what you get when you listen to your own bullshit for a quarter century.

Posted at 10:21 AM on Wednesday November 18, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Monday November 16, 2020

It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Not top 500, just weird as hell. 

Over at the NY Times, Bret Stephens and Gail Collins have a good conversation about the bad times that were/are the Trump era. Stephens is particularly succinct here:

The child-separation policy was definitely the administration's single most disgraceful policy. Cruel, reckless and stupid — like Trump himself. I'd place that in the same basket of deplorable acts alongside the Muslim immigration ban, his accusation that Democrats want illegal immigrants “to pour into and infest our country,” and his drastic reduction of the number of refugees admitted into the country.

Collins adds Trump's COVID response (“history will remember Trump as the president who pooh-poohed a pandemic”), and then it's Stephens again:

We also can't ignore the foreign policy hit parade. Exchanging “beautiful” letters with Kim Jong-un. Taking Vladimir Putin at his word on the question of Russia's election interference. Strong-arming the president of Ukraine to provide political dirt on the Biden family. Asking Xi Jinping's help to get re-elected. Calling NATO into question. Maybe one of our clever readers can set all this to the tune of Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start the Fire.”

What bothers me most of all, Gail, is Trump's serial trashing of political norms, which wasn't so much a moment as it was a constant. He'll be remembered as the president who treated every civil servant as a personal servant, every cabinet secretary as a toady, every critic as an enemy, every enemy as a role model and every supporter as a fool.

So many horrible moments, day after day, that it's tough to keep them straight. Maybe making a list as Stephens suggests isn't a bad idea. He says Top 5 but I'd suggest Top 1,000. It could be a book. 

Posted at 11:02 AM on Monday November 16, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Sunday November 15, 2020

Who Led the 1970s Twins in Homers?

I think I started out looking at who led the Twins in bWAR various years, then wondering how often was it Harmon Killebrew (twice: 1961 and '67), or Tony Oliva (three times) or Rod Carew (four). Who's done it the most? Believe it or not, Chuck Knoblauch, five straight years from 1993 to 1997. Then my focus narrowed to the team I grew up on, the 1970s Minnesota Twins. And eventually it led to this question:

Harmon Killebrew led all of Major League Baseball in homeruns in the 1960s with 393 longballs—meaning, obviously, he also led the Twins in that category. So who hit the most homeruns for the Twins in the 1970s?

I'll start out by saying the 1970s was not a great homerun decade for Minnesota. We had three seasons in which the team leader didn't even hit 20:

  • 1973: Bobby Darwin, 18
  • 1975: Dan Ford, 15
  • 1978: Roy Smalley, 19

Anyway, here are some of the biggest homerun hitters for the Twins in the 1970s:

  • Tony Oliva: 88 (six seasons)
  • Larry Hisle: 87 (five seasons)
  • Bobby Darwin: 70 (four seasons)
  • Dan Ford: 57 (four seasons)
  • Rod Carew: 57 (nine seasons)
  • Roy Smalley: 51 (four seasons)
  • Craig “Mongo” Kusick: 44 (seven seasons)

None of them, though, are the answer. The answer is ... Harmon Killebrew, who hit 113 homeruns in his five 1970s seasons with the Twins—before Calvin let him go and Killer played his final sad season in light blue for the Kansas City Royals. Those homers obviously aren't included here. Neither is his final homerun, #573, September 18, 1975. What's special about that one? He hit it at Met Stadium off the Twins' Eddie Bane in the second inning, and it proved the difference in a 4-3 Royals win. And that was that. He appeared in four more games for KC, went 1-10 with two walks, and retired.

Touch 'em all, Killer.

  

Posted at 02:15 PM on Sunday November 15, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday November 12, 2020

This, Basically

Posted at 07:17 AM on Thursday November 12, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Wednesday November 11, 2020

The Fall and Fall of the Republican Party

“The most dangerous attackers of American democracy aren't the Russians or the Chinese. They are the leaders of the Republican Party.

”In the face of a commanding national triumph by President-elect Joe Biden — not just an Electoral College victory but a popular-vote margin that is approaching five million — President Trump and top Republicans are behaving like spoiled children refusing to let go of their toys. ...

“The rot pervades the administration. The Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration, Emily W. Murphy, has yet to recognize Mr. Biden as the winner of the election and the president-elect, preventing him from accessing millions of dollars in funds, national-security tools and other essential resources to begin the long and complex task of presidential transition.

”On Monday, Mr. McConnell snidely remarked, 'Let's not have any lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.'

“Oh, please. Hillary Clinton conceded the 2016 election less than 24 hours after polls closed, even though Mr. Trump had barely eked out wins in three decisive swing states and was trailing badly in the popular vote. So did other top Democrats, including, crucially, President Barack Obama, who called Mr. Trump before sunrise to congratulate him and to 'invite him to come to the White House tomorrow to talk about making sure that there is a successful transition between our presidencies.'

”This is what you do when you lose an election. Republicans still howled in outrage because Mrs. Clinton had dared to hold off conceding on election night itself.“

-- Jesse Wegman, ”The Republican Party Is Attacking Democracy," The New York Times. We need more of this. Please. This should be the focus—the undermining of American democrcy by Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and their rabble. 

Posted at 04:45 PM on Wednesday November 11, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Wednesday November 11, 2020

Movie Review: The Time of Your Life (1948)

WARNING: SPOILERS

If you like “White Heat,” thank “The Time of Your Life.” James Cagney wouldn’t have returned to the movie studio he despised (Warners), and the genre he didn’t care for (gangster), if the Cagney brothers’ adaptation of William Saroyan’s 1940 Pulitzer Prize-winning play hadn’t been so costly to produce and bombed so badly at the box office. The bombing was perhaps inevitable, the costliness not. It was basically a filmed played, so why cost overruns?

According to Cagney, director H.C. Potter and cinematographer James Wong Howe insisted on two weeks of rehearsals to block everything out, then they realized they had a problem with the mirror above the bar (or something), so it all amounted to wasted time. And money. Then the ending had to be reshot. Howe is a legendary cinematographer, who had previously photographed five Cagney flicks, including “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” but the two never worked together again. Not sure why the Cagneys went with Potter in the first place. I guess because he was a stage as well as a film director. Except his film output tends to be the lesser-known efforts of great stars: James Stewart in “You Gotta Stay Happy,” Fred Astaire in “Second Chorus,” Cary Grant in “Mr. Lucky.” In his favor, he did do “Mr. Blandings” and directed Loretta Young to an Oscar in “The Farmer’s Daughter” in 1947. But that’s a small favor. 

As for why bombing was inevitable? Imagine Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” as a precious, one-set film. John at the bar is always yakking about how he could’ve been a movie star; Paul, the realtor, is forever working on his novel; and look, there’s ol’ Davey in his Navy whites. Everyone is this thing and nothing else.

'Sup, Officer Krupp
Cagney is the kind of conductor of it all. He plays Joe, “whose hobby is people,” and who hangs out all day at Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon Restaurant: & Entertainment Palace. He observes people, we’re told, but we also see him fix things with an amused, know-it-all demeanor. The way Cagney’s Tom Richards acts as Lone Ranger in “Johnny Come Lately”—showing up in town, fixing things, riding the rails out—so Joe does all that but from his seat near the bar. 

William Bendix plays Nick “whose hobby is horses,” while Cagney’s sis Jeanne is Kitty Duval, “a young woman with memories.” Everyone has their bit. Everyone is defined by it. Dudley (Jimmy Lydon) is lovelorn, Willie (Richard Erdman) is forever playing pinball, while Harry (Paul Draper) thinks of himself as a tap-dancing comedian, except nothing he does is funny. It’s mostly annoying. The bar is supposed to be full of characters but it’s actually full of annoying, one-note people who tend to be solipsistic. It’s a big space but everyone can’t believe that guy got in the way of me doing my thing.

Joe has a right-hand man named Tom (Wayne Morris) whom he bosses around: get toys at such-and-such a place; play numbers 6 and 7 on the jukebox. Later, Tom eyes Kitty, who shows up, asks for a beer, and is disrespected by Nick. He calls her “a B girl at Manigi’s joint up the street” but she insists she was once in burlesque and had flowers sent to her by European royalty. I guess she’s supposed to be trashy and lost, like Claire Trevor in “Key Largo,” but she’s just Jeanne Cagney—cute and sturdy—and Joe works it so she and Tom wind up together. That’s one thing he does.

He also tells Nick to bet on Precious Time in a horse race, and, despite long odds, it wins. “How do you do it?” Nick asks. “Faith,” Joe responds. There's a vaguely magic realist element to him. Later, for example, he tells Nick to bet on a horse named McCarthy, who's supposedly no good, but Joe insists it'll come through. How does he know? “McCarthy's name is McCarthy, isn't it? The horse is going to win, that's all. Today.” And it does. Joe knows all.

I like a scene halfway through, where he talks up a new patron, Mary L., “a woman of quality” (Gale Page), and they play a little guessing game about each other’s names:

She: Joseph?
He: That’s my first name. Everybody calls me Joe. The last name’s the tough one. I’ll help you a little. I’m Irish. [pause] Just plain Mary?
She: Yes, it is. I’m Irish, too. At least on my father’s side. English on my mother’s side.
He: I’m Irish on both sides. Mary is one of my favorite names. I guess that’s why I didn’t think of it.

The whole Mary/favorite name thing is a nice echo of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” We get an ironic version of this when Joe insists (to Kitty) that he can’t dance.

Beefy character actors Broderick Crawford and Ward Bond play, respectively, a cop and a blatherskite, which means “a person who talks at great length without making much sense,” except Bond’s character doesn’t seem to do that much, and anyway the most fascinating thing about each is their name. A year before his Oscar turn in “All the King’s Men,” Crawford’s cop is called Krupp, which makes me think of Officer Krupke from “West Side Story,” as well as a corruption of “corrupt” (even though Krupp isn’t); while Bond, who is about to become the right-hand man to HUAC in fomenting the blacklist in Hollywood, plays McCarthy two years before “McCarthyism” was born. That one made me do a doubletake. Plus, yeah, the horse. McCarthys everywhere in the late '40s. 

More fun with names: The bad guy, Freddy Blick, is played by character actor Tom Powers, which just happened to be Cagney’s character’s in his breakthrough role in “The Public Enemy” back in 1931. (Powers also played the cuckolded husband in “Double Indemnity.”) Blick is described as “a stool pigeon and frame-up artist” so it’s odd that everyone at the bar seems afraid of him. Why would you be afraid of a stool pigeon? Answer? In the play, he was a vice cop, so he had power. Basically they change him from dirty cop to dirty rat but pretend the dynamics are the same. They aren't.

Blick is also the reason for the other, costlier change. In the play, he bullies the bar’s patrons, particularly its women, until a new patron named Murphy (James Barton), a twinkly-eyed teller of tall tales who goes by “Kit Carson,” shoots him off-stage. Then he comes back onstage and talks about it as if it were a thing of the past, a thing he couldn’t quite remember, another tall tale. After that, Joe gets out of his seat, waves goodbye to everyone, and that’s that. The Cagneys filmed this version and took it through previews in Pasadena and Santa Barbara. “You could have heard a pin drop in the theater,” Jeanne Cagney has said. “I just don’t think audiences were ready for a philosophical play.”

So they refilmed the ending. Cagney’s Joe has to put up his dukes and the patrons merely oust Blick—they don’t kill him. In the aftermath, we get some quirky lines from Joe and Kit Carson, while Nick, listening to the blather, takes a sign reading “Come in and be yourself” from his window, says “Enough is enough,” and tears it in half. I’m not sure how the original end would’ve played—it would require a delicate touch to have impact—but this one amounts to a kind of hapless shrug. A Wuhr-wur. I would've rolled the dice on the other.

What the hell else
Anyway, it’s not good, and I guess the copyright has expired, as with many (all?) of the independent Cagney productions, so the version I saw was a cheapie on YouTube. It looked like a kinescope of an early TV play rather than a feature film. That didn’t help but that’s not the problem. Everything else is.

I go back to Hitchcock’s line about the true drama, the better drama, happening off camera among the actors (leading Truffaut to make “Day for Night”), and it’s true here but in terms of irony and poignancy. The film strives for poignancy and doesn’t get there. But for Cagney, the whole enterprise feels excruciatingly poignant. He became a star at Warners as a tough guy, bellyached for a decade about the money he made and the roles he got, finally left to make more hifalutin fare, and he couldn’t even get the stuff through previews. He had to add fisticuffs to Saroyan. “But what the hell else could we have done?” he told his biographer John McCabe in 1980. “The public just didn’t get it at the previews.”

What could he have done? Held the line. Rolled the dice. Instead he corrupted the final product and audiences still didn’t come. So he returned to Warners. His reward for desertion was a lot more money and the role of a lifetime in “White Heat,” but I think he only truly appreciated the former. I don’t think he ever appreciated how great he was in those gangster roles. Maybe none of us appreciate what we do well. We keep striving for the other thing.

Posted at 07:59 AM on Wednesday November 11, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 1940s   |   Permalink  

Tuesday November 10, 2020

70 Million Trump Voters Can Be Wrong

“No new president has ever had to fear that his predecessor might expose the nation's secrets as President-elect Joe Biden must with Trump, current and former officials said. Not only does Trump have a history of disclosures, he checks the boxes of a classic counterintelligence risk: He is deeply in debt and angry at the U.S. government, particularly what he describes as the ”deep state“ conspiracy that he believes tried to stop him from winning the White House in 2016 and what he falsely claims is an illegal effort to rob him of reelection. ...

”Many concerned experts were quick to note that Trump reportedly paid scant attention during his presidential intelligence briefings and has never evinced a clear understanding of how the national security apparatus works. His ignorance may be the best counterweight to the risk he poses.“

-- from ”As an ex-president, Trump could disclose the secrets he learned while in office, current and former officials fear," by Shane Harris, in The Washington Post

Posted at 12:40 PM on Tuesday November 10, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Monday November 09, 2020

Leading the League in Doubles, Triples and Homers: 2020 Update

Now that that's over (kinda), my mind is free enough to be curious enough to see if this year's shortened baseball season helped us come any closer to having a player who has led the league in doubles, triples and homers at some point in their career. Reminder: the last guy to do this was Johnny Mize in the 1940s. So a long time ago.

And the answer is ... kinda sorta. But not really.

I did this as a weekly quiz for SABR a few months back and we included this proviso at the end:

There are only three active players who've led the league in more than one extra-base hit category. None are likely candidates to complete the trifecta:

  • Miguel Cabrera: homers and doubles two times each; hasn't hit a triple since 2016
  • Albert Pujols: homers twice, doubles once, hasn't hit a triple since 2014
  • Nolan Arenado: homers three times, doubles once, his career-high in triples was 7 in 2017, which tied for fifth-best in the NL. Last year he had 2.

Active players who might have a shot at this include Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Juan Soto and Mike Trout, but they all share one thing: They've never led the league in any of the three categories.

Guess what? Though Betts led the Majors in bWAR, and Soto in OBP and slugging, none of these four led the league in any of the extra-base hit categories in 2020. However, someone has joined Cabrera, Pujols and Arenado as a leader in two of the three.

Here are the 2020 league leaders in each:

  • Doubles
    • AL: Cesar Hernandez, CLE
    • NL: Freddie Freeman, ATL
  • Triples
    • AL: Kyle Tucker, HOU
    • NL: Trevor Story, COL; Trea Turner, WSN; and Mike Yastrzemski, SFG
  • Homers
    • AL: Luke Voit, NYY
    • NL: Marcell Ozuna, ATL

Spot the two-fer guy? Look again. Hint: I would've had no clue.

It ain't Ozuna. He led the league in homers, ribbies and total bases, but those are the first time he'd led in anything. Voit just led the AL in homers, and ... same. Tucker's practically a rookie; he only had 144 plate appearances, spread out over two seasons, before this year, so no. As for the NL trifecta, all tied with four triples each. You'd think maybe Story for homers, considering how he began his career, but his career high of 37 in 2018 was one behind teammate Arenado. And no for Turner or grandson Yaz.

Which leaves our doubles guys. And it turns out that, yes, Freddie Freeman has led in one of the extras before. But it was doubles in 2018. Which leaves only Cesar Hernandez, who, yes—really yes this time—led the NL in triples with 11 in 2016. Which is amazing. So all he needs to complete the trifecta is dingers ... which probably won't happen. Kid is 30, he's got 49 career homers with a season-high of 15 in 2018.

Nevertheless, he does join Cabrera, Pujols and Arenado as the only active two-fers in the extra base categories. Nice things can happen even in years like this one.

Posted at 06:03 PM on Monday November 09, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday November 08, 2020

'The people have[N'T] spoken, and we [DIS]respect the majesty of the Democratic system!'

From the article, “Why Trump Can't Afford to Lose,” by Jane Mayer, and published on the New Yorker site several days before the election:

If the winner's advantage in the Electoral College is decisive, neither side will be able to easily dispute the result. But several of Trump's former associates told me that if there is any doubt at all—no matter how questionable—the President will insist that he has won. Michael Cohen, Trump's former attorney, told me, “He will not concede. Never, ever, ever.” He went on, “I believe he's going to challenge the validity of the vote in each and every state he loses—claiming ballot fraud, seeking to undermine the process and invalidate it.” Cohen thinks that the recent rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was motivated in part by Trump's hope that a majority of Justices would take his side in a disputed election. ...

“He'll blame everyone except for himself,” Cohen said. “Every day, he'll rant and rave and yell and scream about how they stole the Presidency from him. He'll say he won by millions and millions of ballots, and they cheated with votes from dead people and people who weren't born yet. He'll tell all sorts of lies and activate his militias. It's going to be a pathetic show. But, by stacking the Supreme Court, he'll think he can get an injunction. Trump repeats his lies over and over with the belief that the more he tells them the more people will believe them. We all wish he'd just shut up, but the problem is he won't.”

On cue:

How much more can he muck up the system? I don't know. On the plus side, his lawyers are “not exactly the A-Team,” in the words of LA attorney Ted Boutros, who is a member of the A-Team. On the downside, thanks to Mitch and the Federalist Society, he's packed the courts with partisan, lesser lights. Plus there's the damage he does to democracy with his accusations—the fury he'll provoke to get what he wants. I also don't know if he's going to jail. That's the second half of the article. But I do know this: I'm tired of crazy, and Trump is motherfucking crazy.

Posted at 12:58 PM on Sunday November 08, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Saturday November 07, 2020

Not Much, How About You III

This morning I was getting the first haircut I'd had since February, since the pandemic struck, and of course Todd and I were talking about the election. Normally we talk Broadway musicals and superhero movies but these are extraordinary times, and in the midst of it all I began to get a slew of text messages but I didn't check my phone—which was in the pocket of my coat on a nearby chair anyway. But Todd was checking his Twitter feed to show me something and then realized something was up. Had ... it been called? It had. By now it had been somewhat expected—although a chance at a backslide in PA, GA, AZ and NV was still a possibility, at least in my worst-case-scenario mind. But that's how I found out. I took it with a nod and a smile beneath my mask, and on the ride home I turned on the radio, KUOW, which I'd been avoiding for days, and where they were still playing a prerecorded episode of “Hidden Brain” with Shankar Vedantam, about the way alpha-male apes act, and how the ape community, even as it acquiesces, expresses displeasure and disagreement, and yes, it was the wrong episode to be playing at that moment but was it? It still felt very, very relevant.

When I got home and onto Twitter, which I'd also been avoiding for days, that's when it began to feel real, and a relief. Later I walked over to Cal Anderson Park, where Seattlites had gathered to dance and celebrate and woo!, and I celebrated and wooed! with them, and cars honked, and it just felt great, and it was just a shame we couldn't hug everybody because that was the vibe. It was like VE or VJ Day but our version: VDT Day. Our long national nightmare was finally over. We have a real president again.

The downside of the election, and all the work to be done, is obvious, and some folks like Debbie Downers keep bringing that up, like we don't know it, but no, give us 24 hours. Mitch McConnell is already machinating, but give us 24 hours. Seventy million stupid fucking assholes still voted for this monstrosity, and there is a divide in this country that's almost less left vs. right than reality-based community vs. QAnon, and that divide, that chasm, has to be overcome somehow, but no, give us 24 fucking hours first. To dance and celebrate and woo. To bask. Put a nail in the coffin: Nov. 8, 2016 – Nov. 7, 2020. We survived it. We survived him. My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. There's enough of us. if we work together, there's enough of us.

Harpo, take us out. xo

Posted at 02:54 PM on Saturday November 07, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Friday November 06, 2020

Not Much, How About You, Cont.

I've been staying off Twitter for the last few days and feel healthier and less anxious for it. The story is the numbers. Everything else is noise.

Posted at 12:08 PM on Friday November 06, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Thursday November 05, 2020

Not Much, How About You

 

Posted at 08:46 AM on Thursday November 05, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Monday November 02, 2020

Daniel Dale's Tweets are Works of Art

Daniel Dale's tweets are works for art. He's the future on how to do this. The New York Times and NPR, with yet another piece on Trump voters at a diner still supporting Trump—meanwhile completely ignoring Trump's most egregious lies and behavior, such as bragging about how he could beat up Biden—are the past. 

My favorite part: “...says Biden is a phony for saying he's from Scranton, where he's from.” That's how you fact-check, people. That's how you hold powerful people accountable. It's not rocket science. Just say it plain.

One day more. 

Posted at 01:08 PM on Monday November 02, 2020 in category Politics   |   Permalink  
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