erik lundegaard

Wednesday October 31, 2012

Movie Review: Cloud Atlas (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Every Hollywood movie believes in true love but only “Cloud Atlas” posits an explanation: reincarnation. We’re simply meeting someone we already knew in a previous life. The movie suggests a continuity from life to life, and an existential moral authority in which justice is meted out in this life or the next.

My thought throughout: Isn’t it pretty to think so?

Unconventional Storytelling
Admittedly “Cloud Atlas” is ambitious and unconventional in its storytelling. It gives us six stories from six eras, with the same actors playing different roles in different eras. They, it is suggested, are the reincarnated souls. Thus:

  1. In the Pacific Islands in 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is trying to get home to San Francisco and his wife, Tilda (Doona Bae), but doesn’t know he’s slowly being poisoned by his friend, Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks).
  2. In 1936, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), to become assistant to one of the world’s great composers, Vyvaan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent), only to have his ideas stolen by the great man.
  3. In 1973, journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) investigates a nuclear power plant run by Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant), but all of her sources, including an aged Rufus Sixsmith (still D’Arcy) and Isaac Sachs (Hanks), wind up dead. Is she the next target?
  4. In 2012, a publisher, Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent), owes royalties to a gangster-novelist, Dermot Hoggins (Hanks), so his brother (Grant) agrees to hide him in a hotel; but the place turns out to be an old folks home run military-style.
  5. In Neo Seoul in 2144, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), a replicant waitron, born and bred for the purpose of serving the customer, is helped by a pureblood, Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess), to ascend to greater knowledge and thus transform the world.
  6. In a post-apocalyptic future, “106 winters after the fall,” a superstitious islander, Zachry (Hanks), aids one of the last remnants of our technologically advanced civilization, Meronym (Berry) up a mountain peak in search of Cloud Atlas, an outpost and communication station, where she can contact humans living in space. For what purpose I never really understood. To make things better, I suppose.

Writer-directors Andy and Lana Wachowski (“The Matrix”), and Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”), intercut these stories like an MTV video. Cloud Atlas posterThey even offer an early, meta explanation for their method. As Cavendish writes his comic tale of escape, he talks up his general distaste for flashbacks and flashforwards but considers them necessary evils. He promises, “There’s a method to this madness.”

I can think of only one flashback in Cavendish’s tale (to his true love, of course), so the line is meant more for us than Cavendish’s imaginary readers. I found it either too cute or unnecessary handholding. I wasn’t confused by the cross-cutting. I was sadly unconfused. I got it all too quickly.

Each era leaves something behind: a story for the next generation. So the goddess worshipped in the far-flung future is Sonmi-451, whose escape was inspired, in part, by an old digital/film version of the memoirs of Cavendish, who publishes, or stupidly rejects (I forget which), a novel based upon the adventures of Luisa Ray, who reads the 1930s love letters between Sixsmith and Frobisher, the latter of whom, while collaborating on his Cloud Atlas Symphony, reads “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing.” We are bound to each other by our stories.

But this is the best, most poetic way to describe the movie’s philosophy. It’s what Sonmi-451 says to the unseen masses of her time:

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.

Conventional stories
Sometimes this future is birthed in another lifetime. It’s karma. Broadbent’s character traps a man in one lifetime only to be trapped himself in another. Hanks’ character is corrupt first-worlder amid the island natives in 1849, then island native in a far-off future dealing with first-worlder Halle Berry (the incorruptible). When Berry and Hanks meet in 1973, he falls for her (easy to do) because he senses he already knows her (though, chronologically, their paths have yet to cross). When Berry and Whishaw, the proprietor of a 1970s record/head shop, listen, entranced, to a very rare 1930s recording of the “Cloud Atlas Symphony,” both feel they’ve heard it before. They have: he as composer, she as wife of corrupt collaborator.

More often, though, the future, and the karma, is birthed within one’s own lifetime. The kindness Ewing shows the escaped slave Autua (David Gyasi) is returned to him when Autua saves him from the machinations of Dr. Henry Goose. The kindness Cavendish and the others show by returning to save Mr. Meeks (Robert Fyfe) is returned to them when Meeks, finding his voice in a pub, rallies football hooligans to save them from Big Nurse (Hugo Weaving). Zachry twice saves Meronym’s life, despite a voodooish demon, Old Georgie (Weaving), whispering in his ear; and in the end, at the last moment, when all hope seems lost, she returns to save him and his daughter from marauding cannibals.

In fact, every story but one (maybe two) has a happy, Hollywood ending. Ewing, saved, returns to San Francisco, stands up to his father-in-law (Weaving), and becomes an abolitionist. Luisa Ray publishes her scoop about oil companies conspiring to create a nuclear disaster. Cavendish escapes the old folks’ home and is reunited with his true love (Susan Sarandon). Zachry and Meronym become husband and wife and perpetuate the species with children and grandchildren, to whom Zachry tells his tales around a campfire.

The two less-than-happy endings? In 2144, Sonmi-451 discovers that replicants, rather than “ascending” to a higher place, are killed, skinned, and served as food to the purebloods. “They feed us to us,” she says, stunned. This echoes similar sentiments in other eras. “The weak are meat and the strong do eat,” says Dr. Goose as he attempts to kill a weakened Ewing. “Soylent Green is people!” Cavendish shouts during his first failed attempt at escape. Plus the cannibals of the post-apocalyptic future. This fate awaits Sonmi-451, too. But first she gets word out to the masses. She changes the world. It would be more poignant, however, if we understood why Hae-Joo Chang saw her as “The One.” What is it with the Wachowskis and “The One” anyway? Can’t they get off that fucking horse? Can’t Hollywood? Can’t … all of us?

The other sad ending is from the 1930s, when Frobisher, the talented gay guy, for no good reason, kills himself. Someone alert Vito Russo.

But each story mostly builds toward happy endings; and the movie leaves us in the far-off future with humanity returned to its natural state: telling stories around campfires.

Hollywood ending
“Cloud Atlas” is, again, ambitious, and often beautiful. I think of Tykwer’s shots of Luisa Ray going over the bridge and into the water, then ascending. I was rarely bored. The nearly three-hour runtime went by like that. And a lot of the words, which come from David Mitchell’s novel, are just glorious.

But for all its unconventionality, each story, by itself, is utterly conventional, as is the connective tissue between the stories. “Cloud Atlas” takes our most unknowable questions, about life and love, and makes the answers obvious. In this way, it’s like almost every Hollywood movie ever made.

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Posted at 08:18 AM on Oct 31, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Monday October 29, 2012

Endorsement of the Day: Susan Eisenhower Endorses Barack Obama for Re-Election

Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower's granddaughter weighs in:

Four years ago, I left the Republican Party of which I was a lifelong member and became an independent. Not long after, I supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election for president. ... Like many other voters who crossed party lines to vote for Barack Obama in the last election, I have watched the 2012 campaign carefully and listened closely to what the candidates have said.

I believe that President Obama should be re-elected.

Four years ago, Obama, a relatively inexperienced public servant, became the 44th President of the United States during one of the most difficult times our country has faced. The nation’s economy was on the brink of collapse. Our image overseas was tarnished, and our military was bogged down in two unpopular wars. I supported Obama then because I thought that he was unflappable. I saw him as a man with a keen intellect and a cool analytical head. ...

In the last four years, and despite the global downturn, America has come back from the brink. ... According to the International Monetary Fund, today the United States is poised for 3 percent growth, which would make our economy the strongest of the other richest economies, including Canada and Germany. Other influential studies, cited in a recent column by Fareed Zakaria, show that debt in the U.S. financial sector, relative to GDP, has declined to levels not seen since before the 2000 bubble. And consumer confidence is now at its highest levels since September 2007. The housing market is also slowly coming back. ...

[Obama] ended the war in Iraq, was the first Democratic president to ratify an arms control treaty with the Russian Federation, and rallied global leaders to put nuclear security at the top of the international agenda. The Obama Administration has also been responsible for decimating the top leadership of al-Qaeda and introducing biting sanctions on Iran. ...

I am more confused than ever about what Mitt Romney stands for. I know little of his core beliefs, if he even has any. ... Given Romney’s shifting positions, he can only be judged by the people with whom he surrounds himself. Many of them espouse yesterday’s thinking on national defense and security, female/family reproductive rights, and the interplay of government and independent private enterprise.

In this context, Barack Obama represents the future, not that past. His emphasis on education is an example of the importance he places on preparing rising generations to assume their places as innovators and entrepreneurs, workers and doers, and responsible citizens and leaders. He recognizes, as many of us do, that access to opportunities must be open to every American ...

As I said in 2008 and will say again: “Unless we squarely face our challenges as Americans—together– we risk losing the priceless heritage bestowed on us by the sweat and the sacrifice of our forbearers. If we do not pull together, we could lose the America that has been an inspiration to the world.”

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Posted at 01:18 PM on Oct 29, 2012 in category Politics
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The 2012 World Series: 74,861 People are Disappointed This Morning

This popped up among my sponsored ads on Facebook this morning:

FOX Sports Detroit Girls: LIKE us

If only all trivia questions were this easy. 74,861 people are surely disappointed this morning. OK, at least 74,861.

The baseball season is over and the Gints [sic] of San Francisco, with a different no-name team than the one that won the championship two years ago, swept aside the Detroit Tigers. The team that crushed the Yankees in four were themselves crushed in four. I barely had time to blink. I didn't even have Tim or Jim over. Poof. Over. Blah.

For a time I wondered if the Tigers, with mucho muscle in the middle of the lineup, would surrender the way the Dodgers surrendered to the Orioles in 1966: without scoring a run in the final three games. But then Miguel Cabrera hit a fly ball to right field that carried over the fence for a 2-1 lead, their first lead of the Series. “Was this what the Tigers needed?” I wondered. “A sense that God is on their side?” If it was, it didn't last. Three innings later, Buster Posey, he of the 12-year-old face, went deep the other way for a 3-2 SF lead. Four batters later (two Giants, two Tigers), Delmon Young tied it up, 3-3.

And that's how it stayed. The Giants got lead-off men on in the 7th and 8th but never brought them around. The Tigers got the lead-off man on in the 8th, with the meatiest part of a meaty lineup coming up, but they got shot down by Jeremy Affeldt, a journeyman remade in San Francisco into a premiere set-up man. Affeldt faced Cabrera, Fielder and Young and struck them all out. It was a Carl Hubbell moment. In 10 games and 10.1 innings this post-season, Affeldt has allowed five hits, no runs, and struck out 10. Fans in KC must be wondering who the fuck this guy is.

In the top of the 9th, the Tigers' Phil Coke matched him: 3 up, 3 Ks. But in the 10th, with two outs and a man on second, Coke was forced to face Marco Scutaro, another journeyman (10 years, .276 BA, .731 OPS), remade at trade deadline in San Francisco (.362 BA, .858 OPS), and again in the postseason (.328 BA); and of course Marco Scutaro, who surely has the most musical name in baseball, lined a single to center to make it 4-3. In the bottom of the 10th, against Sergio Romo, the new bearded wonder in SF, Austin Jackson struck out swinging, Don Kelly struck out swinging, and Miguel Cabrera, the best hitter in baseball, the first Triple Crown winner in a generation, struck out looking to end it. God doesn't choose sides after all.

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Posted at 06:51 AM on Oct 29, 2012 in category Baseball
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Sunday October 28, 2012

Endorsement of the Day: The Stranger

“This endorsement might seem like a no-brainer, but this shit is important, so let's go over it one more time. Electing Barack Obama to a second term goes beyond the standard Democratic boilerplate about how a Democratic president will nominate Democratic judges to the US Supreme Court—though that is vitally important, and is the reason we don't at all regret voting for John Fucking Kerry in 2004.

”The thing that's easy to forget in the middle of all this bullshit is that Obama has been a very good president. He saved us from a second Great Depression; he passed health care reform that future Democrats can utilize as a first step to a national health care system; he's made investments in science, transportation, and green energy that will pay off for decades; he supported gay marriage at just the right moment; and he's made dozens of advancements for equality and dignity (Lilly Ledbetter, DADT repeal, executive orders for humane immigration reform) that have changed millions of people's lives for the better.

“Sure, there are issues—with presidents, there are always issues—where he's dropped the ball (drones, Gitmo, drones). Those are serious issues. But right now, President Obama needs our help. After all he's done for us, we owe him the opportunity to transform from a very good president into a truly great one in his second term.”

--The Stranger Election Board, in its “Endorsements for the Nov. 6, 2012 General Election”

Pres. Obama

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Posted at 06:28 AM on Oct 28, 2012 in category Politics
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Saturday October 27, 2012

Endorsement of the Day: The Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune was founded in 1847 and has endorsed a Democrat for president only twice: Barack Obama in 2008 and Barack Obama in 2012. From the endorsement that went out this week:

Obama ... has been careful about projecting military power overseas. At home he has initiated, or agreed to, tax cuts to promote growth: investment tax credits, payroll tax cuts and extension of all the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. He proposes to reduce a corporate tax rate that everyone this side of far left agrees is a globally unfair hindrance for U.S. businesses.

On questions of economics and limited government, the Chicago Tribune has forged principles that put us closer to the challenger in this race, Republican Mitt Romney. ... [Romney] has, though, been astonishingly willing to bend his views to the politics of the moment: on abortion, on immigration, on gun laws and, most famously, on health care.

As a governor, his signature issue was the deal he cut with Democrats to extend health care — and a health insurance mandate — to all citizens. Romneycare was the Massachusetts model on which key elements of Obamacare were modeled. Yet Romney won’t acknowledge he is, in effect, the godfather of the national health care plan he vows to repeal.

His proposals to achieve a balanced budget, and to begin reducing taxpayers’ huge debts, rest on questionable math and rosy assumptions. ...

Romney’s fix on tax cuts, plus his guarantee to protect defense spending that genuinely could constrict, leaves him precious little room to maneuver [on the federal debt]. Remember, the next president needs to reach deals that slash debt by many trillions — without bankrupting Washington in the process. ...

If a European debt meltdown doesn’t stoke another, pardon our repetition, global financial crisis, Obama’s next term would open to less economic tumult: Friday morning’s GDP reading confirms anew that U.S. economic growth has a fluttering heartbeat. Home prices are stabilizing, the stock market and consumer confidence have risen, and job growth has been steady if unspectacular.

Bolstered by his steadiness in office, cognizant of the vast unfinished business before him, we endorse the re-election of Barack Obama.

Pres. Obama

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Posted at 02:29 PM on Oct 27, 2012 in category Politics
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Getting Out the Vote

Obama: I've Got His Back

I'll be helping with the get out of the vote campaign for Pres. Obama today and tomorrow, 3-6 pm, at Washington Democratic Headquarters in downtown Seattle. I've contributed money, now time. I urge you to do the same. Give what you can.

We can't let bullshit win.

Right now, despite Gallup, it's not. Obama's winning. Let's keep it so. Read your Nate Silver. In 2008 he got every state correct except for Indiana, which went for Obama. He also got every Senate race correct. In the 2010 midterms, he got 34 of the 36 Senate races correct. The ones he missed went Democrat. So his misses have favored Republicans. And he's got Pres. Obama winning both the popular and electoral vote.

Vote if you haven't. Donate if you can. Volunteeer if you can. And let's party on Tuesday, November 6.

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Posted at 01:10 PM on Oct 27, 2012 in category Politics
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Friday October 26, 2012

My Most-Quoted Movie Lines: 'She's a drag, a well-known drag...'

A few years ago I wrote a piece, in five parts, on the movie lines I quote the most. These were not the institutionalized, AFI-approved movie lines everyone knows: “Here's looking at you, kid”; “May the Force be with you”; “Plastics.” Those lines have no real cache in conversation. Everyone knows if you quote “Star Wars” you go with one of the lesser-known lines appropriate to a particular situation. Say you're overruled as to evening plans: “But I was going into Tosche Station ...” You're arguing with your wife: “Look, your worshipfulness...” A good movie quote is like a password to a club. It's a search for the like-minded.

The original plan was to write a follow-up piece, with five new lines I quote, but then I realized: Wait, I have a blog. I can just make it a regular deal.

So here it is. A regular deal. 

The first line, for no reason other than I used it the other day, is from George Harrison in “A Hard Day's Night.”

She's a drag, a well-known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.

You really lay on the Liverpudlian when you say it, too, in the manner of Paul Rudd and Jason Schwartzmann and Justin Long in “Walk Hard.” (About Jack Black's Liverpudlian, the less said the better.)

I guess I say this a lot because I often say things are a drag and the rest just follows. When I was younger, the notion of something being a well-known drag cracked me up. Now I know the world is mostly made up of well-known drags.

Here's the scene. George says the line at 3:15:

(Damn, that secretary is hot. I'd forgotten that.)

The whole scene is full of quotable lines:

  • “You don't see many of these nowadays, do you?”
  • “Oh, by all means, I'd be quite prepared for that eventuality.”
  • “Well, I'll have a bash.”
  • “And who's this Susan when she's at home?”

It's a brilliant scene. Watching it again, I suddenly flashed back to the first time I saw it, in the 1970s at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. I remember being incensed that this guy 1) had no idea who George was; 2) thought his TV personality, Susan, that posh bird, was hipper than one of the Beatles; and 3) thought he and his crowd could manipulate us in the manner talked about. I thought my interests, my buying patterns, my loves and fears, all sprang up organically. I didn't see the manipulation. Now I see nothing but. I know. It's a drag, a well-known drag.

A Hard Day's Night

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Posted at 08:10 AM on Oct 26, 2012 in category Movies - Quotes
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Thursday October 25, 2012

Endorsement of the Day: Colin Powell Signs on for 'Long Patrol with Pres. Obama'

“When he took over, the country was in very very difficult straits. We were in the one of the worst recessions we had seen in recent times, close to a depression. The fiscal system was collapsing. Wall Street was in chaos, we had 800,000 jobs lost in that first month of the Obama administration and unemployment peaked a few months later at 10 percent. So we were in real trouble. The auto industry was collapsing, the housing was start[ing] to collapse and we were in very difficult straits. And I saw over the next several years, stabilization come back in the financial community, housing is now starting to pick up after four years, it's starting to pick up. Consumer confidence is rising. ...
”The president got us of one war, [is starting] to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars. And finally I think that the actions he has taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very very solid. And so, I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on.
I've signed on for a long patrol with President Obama.“

--Gen. Colin Powell on why he's endorsing Pres. Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States.

”The governor who was saying things at the debate on Monday night ... was saying things that were quite different from what he said earlier. I'm not quite sure which Gov. Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy.

“One day he has a certain strong view about staying in Afghanistan but then on Monday night he agrees with the withdrawal. Same thing in Iraq. On almost every issue that was discussed on Monday night, Governor Romney agreed with the President with some nuances. But this is quite a different set of foreign policy views than he had earlier in the campaign. My concern ... is that sometimes I don't sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have.”

--Gen Colin Powell on why he's not endorsing Gov. Mitt Romney for POTUS.

Colin Powell endorsing Barack Obama for President

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Posted at 04:26 PM on Oct 25, 2012 in category Politics
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The New Hollywood 10: How Stars on the Left are Punished; How Stars on the Right Punish Us

It's logical to assume there are more liberals than conservatives in Hollywood. Artists tend to be progressive, cities tend to be progressive, Hollywood is a city full of artists and artisans. And businessmen. The rub. But not enough of one.

But I've long argued that it doesn't follow that the product of Hollywood, particularly the movies, is progressive. Movies have almost always been conservative. You can sum up most action movies this way: a lone man using violence to achieve justice. You can sum up most romances this way: ...and then they got married. The movies are wish-fulfillment fantasy. That's why we go. And wish fulfillment isn't progressive; it's stagnant. It moves us but it doesn't move us.

Consider this a clumsy lead-in to a quick discussion of Steven J. Ross's book “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics.” Ross gives us nine chapters on 10 different stars and their involvement in the political scene, generally intercutting between stars on the left and stars and moguls on the right:

  1. Charlie Chaplin
  2. Louis B. Mayer
  3. Edward G. Robinson
  4. George Murphy and Ronald Reagan
  5. Harry Belafonte
  6. Jane Fonda
  7. Charlton Heston
  8. Warren Beatty
  9. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Hollywood may have more liberals than conservatives, but, certainly in the above scheme, it's better to be conservative than liberal.

Look what happens to those on the left: Chaplin is kicked out of the country, Robinson is blacklisted; Belafonte gives up his career for the civil rights movement and never gets it back; Fonda is pilloried for the rest of her life for a bad, 10-second photo op not of her own making; and Beatty, well, Beatty is the Hamlet of the group. He's the good actor who has trouble acting. He can't make a decision.

(All of these stars on the left, by the way, tend to be incredibly talented, and their legacy in the arts is long.)

On the right? Mayer ran the biggest studio in Hollywood's Golden Age and indoctrinated a few choice stars to the conservative cause. Heston became president of the NRA, Schwarzenegger governor of California, George Murphy U.S. Senator, and Ronald Reagan, of course, became the 40th President of the United States.

(All of these stars on the right, by the way, aren't very talented, and their legacy in the arts, Mayer notwithstanding, is puny.)

You could say the stars on the left were punished while the stars on the right punished us. Murphy, Reagan, et al., transferred the absolutist, wish-fulfillment fantasies of Hollywood to the political realm (“Morning in America”; tax cuts + increased defense spending = balanced budget; “my cold, dead hands”) and remade our society. But there's no Hollywood ending for us. At least not for the middle class. The bad guys win. We just don't see it.

Ross doesn't draw so stark a conclusion but it's there.

The saddest chapter may belong to Edward G. Robinson, who was a good guy, a solid liberal, an anti-Nazi, who was made to pay during the McCarthy era for being liberal and anti-Nazi. He was set up to serve as a warning to everyone in the community to shut the fuck up. I.e., If they could do what they did to Edward G. Robinson, what can't they do to you?

I could see a movie being made out of Robinson's chapter. Not wish fulfillment.

Edward G. Robinson

The dirty rats were in HUAC and Red Channels.

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Posted at 07:48 AM on Oct 25, 2012 in category Books
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Wednesday October 24, 2012

Say Who?

Last week Patricia and I were out to dinner at Cafe Presse with another couple and an American friend visiting from Vietnam. I was relaying a story about the 2012 election and began in this manner. “The best explanation I can come up with is, I think Obama is doing what Willie Mays often did. A lot of times, when...”

At which point I was interrupted by Myriam, one half of the couple, who asked the following question:

Who's Willie Mays?

I was stunned. I didn't know how to answer. It was as if someone had asked me: Who's Abraham Lincoln? What's bubble gum? Where's the sky?

In Myriam's defense, she arrived in this country from the Philippines when she was 7, in 1977, when Willie's playing career was over.

On the other hand, her husband, Jim, is a big baseball fan. But he's mostly a Yankees fan, and Yankee fans are notoriously myopic when it comes to the rest of the sport. Myriam knows enough to root for the Yankees but not much beyond that. At least she didn't ask, “Was he as big as Derek Jeter?”

Eventually I got on with my story but that was the bigger story to me.

Who's Willie Mays?

About broke my heart.

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Posted at 10:04 AM on Oct 24, 2012 in category Baseball
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Have the Giants Now Played All Eight Original A.L. Teams in the World Series?

Since, as I mentioned yesterday, this is the first meeting in the World Series of two of the original 16 MLB teams, and since one of those teams, the Giants of New York and then San Francisco, have been to the World Series 20 times now, I was curious if they'd played every one of the eight original American League teams. The odds semed favorable. The results:

Year Opponent Result
1905 Philadelphia Athletics W
1911 Philadelphia Athletics L
1912 Boston Red Sox L
1913 Philadelphia Athletics L
1917 Chicago White Sox L
1921 New York Yankees W
1922 New York Yankees W
1923 New York Yankees L
1924 Washingon Senators L
1933 Washingon Senators W
1936 New York Yankees L
1937 New York Yankees L
1951 New York Yankees L
1954 Cleveland Indians W
1962 New York Yankees L
1989 Oakland Athletics L
2002 California Angels L
2010 Texas Rangers

W

2012 Detroit Tigers ?

Nope. Seven of the eight, plus two expansion teams (Angels, Rangers). The original AL team missing to complete the set? It's in the COMMENTS field below.

The Gints, as they used to be called, are 1-0 against Texas, 1-0 against Cleveland, 0-1 against both the Red Sox and the White Sox and the Angels, 1-1 against the Senators/Twins, 1-4 against the Athletics of Philly and Oakland, their big rival in the early days of modern baseball, and a sad, sad, 2-5 against the Yankees. McGraw's Giants won the first two meetings; nothing but bad since. 

Over in the A.L., this is the Tigers' 11th trip to the World Series. Its history:

Year Opponent Result
1907 Chicago Cubs L
1908 Chicago Cubs L
1909 Pittsburgh Pirates L
1934 St. Louis Cardinals L
1935 Chicago Cubs W
1940 Cincinnati Reds L
1945 Chicago Cubs W
1968 St. Louis Cardinals W
1984 San Diego Padres W
2006 St. Louis Cardinals L
2012 San Francisco Giants ?

They're 2-2 against the Cubs, 1-2 against the Cardinals, 0-1 against the Pirates, 0-1 against the Reds (the telescopic-site Series), and 1-0 against the Padres. Missing from the original eight National League teams? The Dodgers, Braves and Phillies.

So has any team played all eight original teams from the other league in the World Series? Yep, and big surprise. The Yankees, with their 40 pennants, first played the Giants in 1921, the Cards in 1926, the Pirates in 1927, the Cubs (Ruth's called shot) in 1932. In 1939 they played the Reds. Two years later, they played the Dodgers for the first time, a team they would play a total of 11 times. In 1950, they met the Phillies. Seven years later, they completed the set by playing the Braves, now of Milwaukee.

Among expansion teams the Yankees have played the Padres, Mets, Diamondbacks and Marlins. So the only NL teams—expansion included—that they haven't faced in the World Series are anomalies, really: the Brewers, who came over from the AL in the 1990s; the Astros, who have been once and are moving to the AL next year; the Rockies, who are a recent 1990s franchise who have been once; and the Expos/Nationals, who have never been. Hard to complete the entire set with those odds.

Interestingly, the Red Sox, with a mere 11 pennants, almost have a complete original set as well: They played the Pirates in 1903, the Giants in 1912, the Phillies (the tough get, since they barely went) in 1915, the Robins/Dodgers in 1916, and the Cubs (another rare get) in 1918. Then they played the Cards in 1946 and 1967 and the Reds in 1975. That was seven. They're only missing the Braves, their original crosstown foe. Those old Beaneaters.

Tonight, we play ball. Go get 'em, Tigers. Trivia answer in the comments field.

2012 World Series: Detroit Tigers vs. San Francisco Giants

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Posted at 08:00 AM on Oct 24, 2012 in category Baseball
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Tuesday October 23, 2012

Former Mossad Chief for Obama, Warns Romney's Rhetoric Against U.S. Interests

“What Romney is doing is mortally destroying any chance of a resolution without war. ... Obama does think there is still room for negotiations. It’s a very courageous thing to say in this atmosphere. In the end, this is what I think: Making foreign policy on Iran a serious issue in the US elections. What Romney has done, in itself, is a heavy blow to the ultimate interests of the United States and Israel.”

--Efraim Halevy, former chief of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad

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Posted at 06:00 PM on Oct 23, 2012 in category Politics
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How Long Since Your Team Went to the World Series?

This was a little mental exercise to see just how pathetic my Seattle Mariners have been.

I knew they were the only team in the AL, and one of only two teams in Major League Baseball, not to go to a World Series. But I also suspected that every AL team has gone to the World Series at least once since the M's were established in 1977.

Yep:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

  • Detroit Tigers: 2012 (overall: 4-6, one series pending)
  • Texas Rangers: 2011 (0-2)
  • New York Yankees: 2009 (27-14)
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 2008 (0-1)
  • Boston Red Sox: 2007 (7-5)
  • Chicago White Sox: 2005 (3-3)
  • Los Angeles Angels: 2002 (1-0)
  • Cleveland Indians: 1997 (2-3)
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 1993 (2-0)
  • Minnesota Twins: 1991 (3-3)
  • Oakland A's: 1990 (9-6)
  • Kansas City Royals: 1985 (1-1)
  • Baltimore Orioles: 1983 (3-4)
  • Seattle Mariners: NEVER (est., 1977)

The only teams matching the M's in eptitude are in the National League: the Expos/Nationals franchise, which has, likewise, never gone to the World Series, and they were established in 1969; and the Chicago Cubs, the hapless, hapless Cubs, who came close in '84 and '03, but who haven't been since two months after the end of World War II:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

  • San Francisco Giants: 2012 (overall: 6-13, one series pending)
  • St. Louis Cardinals: 2011 (11-7)
  • Philadelphia Phillies: 2009 (2-5)
  • Colorado Rockies: 2007 (0-1)
  • Houston Astros: 2005 (0-1)
  • Miami Marlins: 2003 (2-0)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: 2001 (1-0)
  • New York Mets: 2000 (2-2)
  • Atlanta Braves: 1999 (3-6)
  • San Diego Padres: 1998 (0-2)
  • Cincinnati Reds: 1990 (5-4)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 1988 (6-12)
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 1982 (0-1)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 1979 (5-2)
  • Washington Nationals: NEVER (est., 1969)
  • Chicago Cubs: 1945 (2-8)

Two teams have never gone while eight teams have never won: Rangers (est. 1961 ), Astros (1962), Brewers (1969), Nationals (1969), Padres (1969), Mariners (1977), Rockies (1993), Rays (1998). Doesn't say much for the Class of '69, does it? Four teams: one of whom went twice and won once, one of whom went twice and never won, one of whom went once and lost, and one who hasn't come close. 

This year is the Giants' 21st pennant in the modern era (circa: 1903) and the Tigers' 11th. Oddly, for two of the original 16 teams who have spent a lot of time playing in October, this is their first World Series meeting. They kept missing each other. McGraw's Giants went in 1905 and '11 and '12, Cobb's Tigers in 1907, '08 and '09. Giants went in 1933, '36 and '37, Greenberg's Tigers in the intervening years: 1934 and '35.

Interestingly, they would've met in 1908, but that was the year of “Merkle's Boner,” the baserunning error, if you can even call it that, by hapless Fred Merkle, which cost the Giants the pennant and sent the Cubs to the Series. Their last victory, by the way. Cubs' fans talk all the time about the Curse of the Goat. How come no one mentions the Curse of Fred Merkle? That's a better candidate, isn't it?

Wednesday night. I'll be rooting for the Tigers.

Detroit Tigers vs. San Francisco Giants: 2012 World Series

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Posted at 09:18 AM on Oct 23, 2012 in category Baseball
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'One of the Most Successful Foreign Policies of Any Administration'

From Robert Reich:

I thought the third and last presidential debate was a clear win for the President. He displayed the authority of the nation’s Commander-in-Chief – calm, dignified, and confident. He was assertive without being shrill, clear without being condescending. He explained to a clueless Mitt Romney the way the world actually works. ...

I kept wishing Obama would take more credit for one of the most successful foreign policies of any administration in decades: not only finding and killing Osama bin Laden but also ridding the world of Libya’s Gaddafi without getting drawn into a war, imposing extraordinary economic hardship on Iran, isolating Syria, and navigating the treacherous waters of Arab Spring.

Obama pointed to these achievements, but I thought he could have knitted them together into an overall approach to world affairs that has been in sharp contrast to the swaggering, bombastic foreign policies of his predecessor.

Like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney has a pronounced tendency to rush to judgment – to assert America’s military power too quickly, and to assume that we’ll be viewed as weak if we use diplomacy and seek the cooperation of other nations (including Russia and China) before making our moves.

President Obama won tonight’s debate not only because he knows more about foreign policy than does Mitt Romney, but because Obama understands how to wield the soft as well as the hard power of America. He came off as more subtle and convincing than Romney – more authoritative – because, in reality, he is.

Although tonight’s topic was foreign policy, I hope Americans understand it was also about every other major challenge we face. Mitt Romney is not only a cold warrior; he’s also a class warrior. And the two are closely related. Romney tries to disguise both within an amenable demeanor. But in both capacities, he’s a bully.

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Posted at 07:47 AM on Oct 23, 2012 in category Politics
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Monday October 22, 2012

Quote of the Day

From The New Yorker's endorsement of Barack Obama for president:

The choice is clear. The Romney-Ryan ticket represents a constricted and backward-looking vision of America: the privatization of the public good. In contrast, the sort of public investment championed by Obama—and exemplified by both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act—takes to heart the old civil-rights motto “Lifting as we climb.” That effort cannot, by itself, reverse the rise of inequality that has been under way for at least three decades. But we’ve already seen the future that Romney represents, and it doesn’t work.

The reëlection of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney—a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.

Obama at the Lincoln Memorial

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Posted at 02:50 PM on Oct 22, 2012 in category Politics
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Richard Brody on 'Marnie': As Insane as His Beard?

Richard Brody, the grand old blogger for The New Yorker whom I generally admire, recently wrote the following as part of a post on “The Girl,” an HBO movie about Alfredy Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, which premiered last Saturday, and which wasn't bad if a bit one-note.

Here's Brody's sidebar:

I’ve long thought that “Marnie,” not “Vertigo,” is Hitchcock’s best film—and, as such, is one of the greatest films of all time. It, too, is about disguise, deception, crime, and desire, about mental illness and unhealed trauma. The plot twists in “Marnie” aren’t as elaborate or as surprising, but it captures, more harrowingly, a sense of derangement—inner and outer, intimate and widespread—that reflects a world on the breaking point. Nobody would mistake Hitchcock for a political filmmaker, but “The Birds” and, especially, “Marnie,” are the work of an American Antonioni, whose psychological dramas are matched by architectural and symbolic ones, by a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.

But, yes, these movies also feature the performances of Tippi Hedren, which are not only the ultimate Hitchcock performances but—and especially that of “Marnie”—among the very best in the history of cinema.

Wait. One of the greatest movies of all time? Among the best performances in the history of cinema? “Marnie”?

It's a movie about repressed memories; it feels as dated, and as relevant, as a late-'70s “M*A*SH” episode with Dr. Sidney Freedman. It's like that five-minute monologue at the end of “Psycho” where the shrink goes on and on about what's wrong with Norman Bates—but here it's for an entire movie. 

I wrote my review of “Marnie” a year ago. Let me know what I'm missing. Because I just don't get it.

Scene from "Marnie"

“...a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.” Or a bad cold.

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Posted at 02:05 PM on Oct 22, 2012 in category Movie Reviews
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I'd Like to Apologize to All Women on Behalf of All Men

Not for the usual reasons, either. From Nate Silver at the FiveThirtyEight blog:

If only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election... If only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney...

The biggest gender gap to date in the exit polls came in 2000, when Al Gore won by 11 points among women, but George W. Bush won by 9 points among men — a 20-point difference. The numbers this year look very close to that.

I thought the polls would improve more after the second debate but they're not. Enough. Or they're just too volatile. Gallup, which is assuming 80% of the votes will come from whites, isn't helping.

I participated in GOTV efforts for Obama on Capitol Hill (Seattle) on Saturday and there were fewer people participating than in 2008. Not surprising, but ... Do the rest really want Pres. Romney? I know I don't. You've got to fight these motherfuckers.

2000 election

The 2000 election map.

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Posted at 07:06 AM on Oct 22, 2012 in category Politics
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Sunday October 21, 2012

Hollywood B.O.: Crappy New Releases, Fall Break, Make 'Argo' Winner

The big box-office success story this weekend isn't that “Paranormal Activity 4,” the franchise's third sequel in three years, finished first at the box office with a $30 million take. That's actually a poor showing for that series. The first sequel, in 2010, opened at $40.5 million (with an overall $84 million gross), while the second sequel, last year, opened at $52 million (for a $104 million overall gross). So in comparison, “4,” on track for $60 million, is a failure.

No, the big success story is that “Argo,” Ben Affleck's grown-up thriller about rescuing hostages in Iran in 1980, finished in second place with $16.6 million. Why is that a success story? Because in its second weekend it dropped only 14.6%. Among superwide releases (3,000 or more theaters), that's the 26th-lowest drop ever.

It's actually even better than that. Because most of the 25 movies ahead of it benefitted less from word-of-mouth than suffered from release date: They were released the week before Christmas, when they did so-so business because everyone was superbusy, then held or did better the week after Christmas, when everyone wanted to be with their relatives without actually talking to them.

So if you eliminate the week-before-Xmas movies? The second weekend of “Argo” is now 11th.

But some of these 10 movies are week-before-Thanksgiving movies. Same deal. So if you eliminate mid-to-late November films? “Argo” is now 6th.

The remainder are kids' movies—“Shrek,” “Puss in Boots,” “Brother Bear,” “Flushed Away,” and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause”—which have longer shelf lives than other genres.

It's fairly unprecedented, in other words, for “Argo” to be doing what it's doing.

On the other hand, a lot of movies this weekend had low drop-offs: “Hotel Transylvania” (-21.7%), “Pitch Perfect” (-24.4%), and “Here Comes the Boom” (-28.1%). What's going on?

Two things.

In many school districts around the country, this is “fall break” weekend, something we didn't have when I was growing up, in which students take Thursday and Friday off. So it was a type of holiday weekend. Just not one most of us notice. And I guess it made a slight dent at the box office. Slightly.

More, the new wide-release movies this weekend, “Paranormal” and “Alex Cross,” Tyler Perry's stab at action stardom, stunk, garnering ratings of 8% and 0%, respectively, from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

So if you were parents who celebrated “fall break” by getting away from your kids for a night, and you're smart, the choice was pretty clear. Alex What? Paranormal Blah-blah? Hey, I heard the Ben Affleck movie is good. Let's go.

Box Office Mojo's numbers here.

Ben Affleck in ARGO

Ben Affleck in Iran in “Argo.”

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Posted at 04:34 PM on Oct 21, 2012 in category Movies - Box Office
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Gaffes, Blunders, Walkbacks and Lies: A Week-by-Week Retrospective of the Year in Mitt

It's been such a long year, for both Mitt Romney and us, that it's tough to remember all his gaffes, blunders, walkbacks and lies. Apparently he's having trouble remembering himself. Apparently so have many voters, those glorious undecideds, who gave him a 6-point boost after the first debate, where he repudiated much of what he'd said during the GOP primaries. He shook the Etch a Sketch and it worked. In 2004, John Kerry changed his position on one matter, the Iraq War, and was condemned for an entire election season, and beyond, for it. Mitt Romney flip-flops on everything and he's awarded the governorship of Massachusetts, the Republican nomination for president, and... ?

So I used Google's “custom range” tool to search, week by week, for the various top stories on Mitt Romney, and came up with the compendium below. Caveat: “Dog on roof,” and “Corporations are people, my friend,” two favorites, are from 2011.

Enjoy. Or grimace.

You could almost sing a version of Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start the Fire” to Mitt's year:

NASCAR owners, Cadillacs,
He pays what in income tax
Kid Rock, Y'all and grits, Michigan trees.
Severely conservative governor
Not concerned with the poor
Bain exit, Paul Ryan, Benghazi.

Etch a sketch, Eastwood's chair,
You can't take him anywhere
Brit Olympics disconcerting
Homosexual student hurting

Mitt keeps starting fires
And he keeps them burning
Instead of learning...

Feel free to add your own stanza. I didn't even touch “47 percent” or “binders full of women.”

Mitt Romney

“I stand by what I said, whatever it was.”

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Posted at 09:04 AM on Oct 21, 2012 in category Politics
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Saturday October 20, 2012

Absent Fathers, Powerful Fathers

Our two most recent Democratic presidents never knew their fathers. Clinton's father died before he was born while Obama met his father for one extended two-week meeting when he was 10. That was it. Both men were raised by single mothers, grandparents, and stepfathers. Neither came from wealth or power but they raised themselves up to positions of wealth and power. They represent the Horatio Alger aspects of the American dream, which, for most Americans, is just that (a dream), but which they, as leaders, have tried to keep open for as many as possible.

Our most recent Republican president and the current Republican nominee are the scions of wealthy, powerful men. George Romney was the CEO of General Motors, the governor of Michigan and a presidential candidate; George H.W. Bush was a U.S. Representative, director of the CIA, ambassador to China, Vice President of the United States, and then the 41st President of the United States. Both scions had/have father issues. W. probably resented his father too much and Romney probably loved his father too much. Both tried to do what their fathers couldn't or didn't: topple Saddam; become president of the United States.

In other words, the rhetoric that the right tends to use about success in America, bootstraps and all, is best represented by Democrats. The reality, that money and connections help immensely, is best represented by Republicans.

I suppose Obama and Clinton, bootstraps guys, never bought bootstraps rhetoric because, in part, they saw the inequities of the world and knew the pain of absent fathers. That's why they are men of the people. Mitt Romney is a man of the LDS Church and the boardroom. He knew the pain of being the son of a man who might not be reelected governor of Michigan. From Nicholas Lemann's profile in the Oct. 1 New Yorker:

[Romney] recalled watching his father on Election Night in 1964, when George was running for reëlection as governor of Michigan. Lyndon Johnson had won the Presidency by a landslide. “The numbers had come in, and in Michigan Johnson was way ahead of what our pollster, Walter DeVries, had estimated. And Walter DeVries came in. Our family was in a hotel room. He said, ‘George, you probably can’t win. Most likely you’ve lost tonight.’ And I, as a seventeen-year-old, was thinking about how embarrassing it would be to go to school and have your dad having lost as governor...

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Posted at 09:29 AM on Oct 20, 2012 in category Politics
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Friday October 19, 2012

'Romnesia'

Wow. Wow wow wow.

Additional reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates on “The Burden of a Black President,” in which he compares Obama's first debate to Joe Louis' first fight with Max Schmeling.

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Posted at 04:19 PM on Oct 19, 2012 in category Politics
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Lies, Damned Lies and Mitt Romney

Andrew Sullivan is worried because Mitt Romney's net favorables now (or at least temporarily) exceed Pres. Obama's:

The Convention failed to move the needle, but some time in late September, a rise began, perhaps as Republicans came home and just decided they could like the guy. But then the big turning point is Romney's first debate, when he effectively undid in one night almost everything the Obama campaign had thrown at him since the spring. It was a new market; he had a new sales pitch; a new set of policies; a personality implant. And for many low-information voters, and others, that was enough.

He worries what this will mean on election day, as do I. But more, I worry what this means about democracy, and whether we can have it.

If you can win the presidency by repudiating many of your past positions in order to appeal to a rabid base, then repudiate those repudiations in order to appeal to the uninformed, undecided, middle-of-the-road voter, and you can prosper in this, what does that say about representative government? What does that say about success and who gets it? And how does that conform with typical right-wing rhetoric about success?

None of this is exactly news to me. But for the past year I've assumed that most people were at least smart enough to sense the inauthenticity in Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, he had a good 90 minutes, Obama had a bad 90 minutes, and apparently that was enough for some of them. We'll see how the second debate numbers shake out. We'll see if enough people can see, as almost every conservative leader says in this video, what a pathetic and pathological liar Mitt Romney is.

Mitt Romney, pathological liar

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Posted at 08:12 AM on Oct 19, 2012 in category Politics
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What the Yankees Look Like Without Derek Jeter

Here's how Joe Posnanski ended his post about Derek Jeter's injury the other day:

To see him on the ground Saturday night, stretched out, not writhing in pain but instead barely moving at all, it was as if a box of memories opened up, and at the same time that the announcers wondered aloud how the Yankees might go on without Jeter, I tried to imagine how a Yankees team would even LOOK without Derek Jeter at shortstop. It's been so long, I cannot even remember.

Obviously too much attention gets paid to the Yankees because they're the Yankees, so both successes and failures are exaggerated, but this is what the Yankees looked like without Derek Jeter in the lineup:

  AB H 2B  3B HR BB K R RBI AVG
Game 1, 12th 3 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 .000
Game 2 31 4 1 0 0 3 10 0 0 .129
Game 3 32 5 0 0 1 0 4 1 1 .156
Game 4 30 2 1 1 0 3 12 1 1 .067
Totals 96 11 2 1 1 6 28 2 2 .115

They averaged a hit about every third inning. They only got four extra-base hits: Teixeira's double in the first inning of Game 2, Nunez's homerun in the 9th inning of Game 3, and Nunez's triple and Swisher's double in the 6th inning of Game 4. They scored two runs: both Nunez, Jeter's replacement, who drove himself in and then put himself on third with no one out. They never had a lead.

Meanwhile, Yankees fans, those spoiled shits, are getting screwed over by Yankees management in the new stadium. Here's a snippet from Jonathan Mahler's excellent piece in Bloomberg News:

For years, I shared a package of season tickets with a group of friends. I eventually bailed out, but they still had their tickets when the new stadium opened. In order to keep the same seats — which went from $45 a ticket to $100, in large part because they gave ticket holders access to a cheesy stadium bar called the Jim Beam Suite Lounge — they had to sign a two- year contract. My friends initially balked, but eventually relented after being assured they would have no trouble reselling tickets on the secondary market.

As it turned out, the Jim Beam Suite Lounge wasn’t such a big draw. People weren’t willing to pay a premium for the tickets, and my friends had to sell their extras at a discount. At the end of the season they informed the Yankees that they wanted to move to cheaper seats. They were told they couldn’t, and the Yankees threatened them with litigation if they didn’t pay up...

The Yankees can buy all of the players they want, but they can’t make them hit. If they don’t hit, the team will lose, and Yankees fans — having emptied their wallets to see a winning team — will lash out, or simply stop buying tickets and merchandise altogether.

Last weekend, we witnessed the first rumblings of a mutiny. If things continue at this rate, the new Yankee Stadium may ultimately become just another symbol of an empire in decline.

I'd love to visit that ruin someday.

Alex Rodriguez in the second-to-last at-bat of the 2012 Yankees season

“Five more years! Five more years!”

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Posted at 06:57 AM on Oct 19, 2012 in category Yankees Suck
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Thursday October 18, 2012

Sad Yankees Fan of the Day

Sad Yankees fan of the day: 2012 ALCS Game 4

Since the fourth and final game of the ALCS was in Detroit, there weren't a lot of options for our “Sad Yankees Fan of the Day” award. But near the end of the game, as it became apparent that the Yankees would be swept for the first time in a best-of-7 series since 1976, and not even lead in a postseason series for the first time since 1963 (when they were also swept), the TBS cameras did keep finding this guy, on the right, who was apparently with his friend, on the left. At the least, they were wearing jackets that matched save for the team stitched on the front. At this moment, there's one out to go.

Final out can be seen here.

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Posted at 06:53 PM on Oct 18, 2012 in category Yankees Suck
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The Fall of the 2012 New York Yankees

Andy Pettite watches as the Yankees lose to the Tigers, 8-1 and four games to none.

A-Rod's final at-bat of the 2012 season

Curtis Granderson in the Yankees dugout during their elimination from the 2012 postseason

Jayson Nix pops up to end the Yankees 2012 season

Prince Fielder calls for it

Tigers celebrate winning the 2012 AL Pennant

Previous “Fall of ...” treatments: 2011, 2010.

In 1922, the upstart New York Yankees played in only their second World Series, once again against John McGraw's New York Giants, and got swept in four. The next year they'd finally beat the Giants for their first World Series title.

In 1963, the Yankees played in their 12th World Series in 14 years, once again against the Dodgers, previously hapless of Brooklyn, now of Los Angeles and led by “the Jewish Kid,” Sandy Koufax, and got swept in four.

In 1976, the Yankees, newly owned by George Steinbrenner after falling into decline under CBS ownership, made it back to their first World Series in 12 years and faced the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds. They got swept them in four.

In 1980, the “Bronx Zoo” Yanks, which won it all in 1977 and '78, during which they used George Brett's Royals as a stepping stone to the title, were not only finally defeated by the Royals; they got swept by them.

That's the last time the New York Yankees have been swept in a postseason. Until today, when the Detroit Tigers knocked them off, 8-1.

During the last few days I've witnessed, at least online, a lot of teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling from Yankees fans.

One friend, or a friend of a friend, a die-hard Yankee fan posted this short-term-memory lament during today's game:

What would George Steinbrenner have done after watching this totally disinterested Yankee lineup?

Here are some of the answers he got:

  • Kicked some a** and gotten out the checkbook
  • Flirted with a bikini model in the stands?
  • Probably would have fired Billy Martin

Ian O'Connor of ESPN New York has told A-Rod to hit the road, jack. He said the 2012 Yankees had no business playing for the title and asked Detroit to end their (or his) misery.

It has. For the second year in a row.

So who was the last team to do that to the Yankees? Beat them two years in a row in the post-season? That would be John McGraw's New York Giants in 1921 and 1922.

We've come full circle. Start spreading the news.

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Posted at 05:24 PM on Oct 18, 2012 in category Yankees Suck
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Wednesday October 17, 2012

Not What We Do

I first saw this on Andrew Sullivan's site (hello again, Sully!) but I remember the power of the moment during the debate last night. Romney's about to step into it in a manner described well by Paul Krugman:

A large part of Romney’s campaign has been based on the false claim that Obama “apologized for America”. This supposed verbal weakness is supposed to trump the reality that Obama, you know, actually did get bin Laden.

So naturally Romney tried to go after Obama [on the Benghazi issue] not for what he did or didn’t do, but for his supposed failure to talk tough enough.

But then how did Romney get it so wrong? And if you read the transcript, by the way, Obama was clearly enjoying this — it seems as if he knew what was coming:

MR. ROMNEY: I think it’s interesting the president just said something--which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.

MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.

MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.

MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.

MR. ROMNEY: So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)

MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror.

Which left Romney looking stunned and angry ... and small.

But even before that moment, which is all about Obama letting Romney hang himself in the politest manner possible (“Please proceed, Governor”), we got this moment, which is all about Obama's strength of character:

I love the way he faces Romney. I love the look in his eye. I love his insistence on respect and seriousness in the disrespectful realm of political gamesmanship that Romney is playing. “That's not what we do” has an unasked follow-up: “So why are you doing it?” Obama makes Romney seem like a petulant child here.

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Posted at 01:53 PM on Oct 17, 2012 in category Politics
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Man of the People, Mitt of the Sons

Hey, candidates. You've just spent 90 minutes debating each other over the future of the country. Who do you hang with?

Pres. Obama talked with and mingled with voters:

Obama mingles with voters after the second debate

Romney immediately surrounded himself with his sons, who seemed to close him off from the rest of the world:

Romney surrounds himself with his sons after the second debate

Via The Atlantic and their debate recap.

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Posted at 09:04 AM on Oct 17, 2012 in category Politics
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The Second Debate: Romney Creates a Meme

OK, I can read Andrew Sullivan again.

I missed the first debate, stuck at work, but followed it via Sullivan's blog and Twitter, and, well, barely got any work done for all the panic I felt.

I watched the VEEP debate and thought Joe stuck it and Paul Ryan was smooth and without answers to tough questions, which is the GOP way. Increase defense + cut taxes doesn't equal balanced budget, as they claim. It equals bullshit. It has for 30 years.

I watched the second presidential debate and thought Romney did a good job for someone impersonating someone running for president. He doesn't seem as inauthentic as he did during the GOP debates, when he was awful, but he began to crumble near the end. He seemed a little sweatier, his voice a little reedier. He complained too much over little things. Obama was calm when he needed to be, forceful when he needed to be. He seemed presidential.

I think Romney began to go off the rails with the answer to the question about women making 72% of what men in the same positions make:

Obama's answer: I signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January 2009.

Romney's answer: I hired a woman once.

Not even that. He tells a story about filling cabinet positions as governor of Massachusetts in which all the applicants were men.

And I went to my staff and said, 'How come the people for all of these jobs are men? and they said, 'Well, these are the people who have the qualifications.' And I said, well, gosh, can’t we—can’t we find some—some women that are also qualified?

That's some condenscending crap. Let's break it down to see what he's saying. 

  1. He only knows men.
  2. The only qualified job applicants for his administration were men.
  3. He decided to look for qualified women, because they were not anywhere around him.
  4. Plus: He's not really answering the question.

This leads to his already infamous “binders full of women” line:

I brought us whole binders full of—of women.

That meme went viral faster than anything I've ever seen. By the time the debate was over, it was all over the Internet. It's already a tumblr site. It's already a Facebook page with a quarter of a million 'likes.' My favorite so far:

No one puts baby in a binder

But in some ways, the meme actually misses the point. The bigger problem with his answer, which doesn't even answer the question, is that it implies that he, Mitt Romney, was a business leader for two decades, helped organize the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ran for governor of Massachusetts and won, and yet through all of these endeavors knew no women who would work well in positions of power. He had to search for them.Because apparently they're so passive, being women, and he's such a good guy, being Mitt.

It implies a very cloistered and closed-off existence.

Guess what? This horrible answer is actually a lie. A woman's group actually presented him with qualified candidates. They were proactive. He was passive.

According to Think Progress' fact-check, this was just one of 31 times that Romney lied during the debate.

We still have a long way to go. There's one more debate. Obama needs to do it again. He needs to kick ass again. We all need to help. I contributed $500 to his campaign last night, bringing me up to $2,000. Other than a car and a home, I don't think I've spent $2,000 on anything in my life.

But at least I can breathe again. I can read Andrew Sullivan again. It was good seeing my president again.

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Posted at 08:20 AM on Oct 17, 2012 in category Politics
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Tuesday October 16, 2012

The 'All the President's Men' Pep Talk for Pres. Obama Before the Second Debate

With apologies to Jason Robards and William Goldman, actor and screenwriter of “All the President's Men,” from which this quote was taken (slightly out of context):

You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? ... We're under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing's riding on this except the first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters. But if you fuck up again, I'm gonna get mad.

Here's the scene:

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Posted at 03:11 PM on Oct 16, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Photo of the Day

I WANT YOU TO STOP BEING AFRAID: ACT LIKE AMERICANS

Saw this on Facebook today. Don't know its origin. Love it. My feelings exactly. See Gerry Spence's comments, the end of this review of “Fast Five,” and, appropriately, this advice to Pres. Obama for the next debate, which is tonight, and which I'll be watching with beer, klonopin and a prayer rug.

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Posted at 02:57 PM on Oct 16, 2012 in category Photo of the Day
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What's Missing from AV Club's Top 50 Films of the 1990s?

Last week, the AV Club over at the Onion, which writes seriously about film, listed its top 50 films of the 1990s.

Not a bad time to do it. We're 12 years removed, the teenagers who saw movies then are now in their 30s and a little smarter, the folks who were in their 30s (me) are now nearing 50 and a little wearier. So ... not a bad moment to pause and collect and sort through.

This is the list they came up with:

  • 50. Dead Man
  • 49. American Movie
  • 48. Ed Wood
  • 47. Starship Troopers
  • 46. Heavenly Creatures
  • 45. The Limey
  • 44. Metropolitan
  • 43. Terminator 2
  • 42. All About My Mother
  • 41. Raise the Red Lantern
  • 40. Trainspotting
  • 39. The Blair Witch Project
  • 38. Fast Cheap and Out of Control
  • 37. Glengarry Glen Ross
  • 36. L.A. Confidential
  • 35. Naked
  • 34. Seven
  • 33. The Matrix
  • 32. Close-Up
  • 31. Paradise Lost
  • 30. The Thin Red Line
  • 29. Irma Vep
  • 28. Election
  • 27. Short Cuts
  • 26. Eyes Wide Shut
  • 25. Fight Club
  • 24. Crumb
  • 23. Carlito's Way
  • 22. The Sweet Hereafter
  • 21. Fargo
  • 20. Red
  • 19. Exotica
  • 18. Schindler's List
  • 17. Safe
  • 16. The Big Lebowski
  • 15. Groundhog Day
  • 14. Hoop Dreams
  • 13. Boogie Nights
  • 12. Miller's Crossing
  • 11. Barton Fink
  • 10. Being John Malkovich
  • 9. Rushmore
  • 8. Unforgiven
  • 7. Reservoir Dogs
  • 6. Out of Sight
  • 5. Chungking Express
  • 4. Dazed and Confused
  • 3. Toy Story 2
  • 2. Pulp Fiction
  • 1. Goodfellas

Not bad. I particularly like putting “Dazed and Confused” and “Rushmore” so high and not forgetting about “Crumb” and “Groundhog Day.”

Of course there were objections. Whenever you make a list, there are objections.

Specifically, some objected to the fact that there were no women directors on the list. As a result, critics such as Carrie Rickey suggested some female-directed movies, such as “Clueless” and “Point Break.” (Really, Carrie?) Slate piled on, too, with women and foreign and African-American-directed movies. Anything to get us away from the awful dreariness of live white males: You know, Scorsese, Tarantino, Eastwood, Wes Anderson. At least Slate quotes one of AV's critics, Scott Tobias, who defends their work, saying if there's bias its not AV's bias. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” he says. “The list raises questions about institutional bias in ’90s filmmaking here and abroad. In itself, it is neutral.”

Well, “neutral.”

But overall I agree. I think the objection from Rickey and Slate is a little silly and misses the bigger problem with the list:

Where the fuck is Michael Mann's “The Insider”?

Seriously. It's deep, serious, accessible, fascinating. It's about ordinary people under extraordinary pressure. It's about the preeminent issue of our time: how corporate profits trump integrity—scientific or journalistic or otherwise. It's about two men who sacrifice to win one battle in a war we are losing everywhere.

I'm not sure what my Top 50 films of the 1990s would look like. I don't even know what my Top 10 would look like. But at the least I can tell you what my top two would look like:

  • 2. The Insider
  • 1. The Thin Red Line
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Posted at 07:19 AM on Oct 16, 2012 in category Movies - Lists
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Monday October 15, 2012

Anthony Lane on 'Argo'

I liked my review of Ben Affleck's “Argo” well enough until I read Anthony Lane's in The New Yorker. Wow. (Of course, he gets paid.)

First he gives us this laugh-out-loud line:

[W]e were wrong about Ben Affleck. Few of us, watching “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor,” could see a way out, or back, for an actor so utterly at the mercy of his own jawline.

Then he ties the film's super-dramatic ending to its earlier gentle mocking of Hollywood values, which include super-dramatic endings:

If you visit the C.I.A. Web site, you can read Mendez’s account of events in January, 1980. “As smooth as silk,” he calls the hostages’ passage through the airport, whereas Affleck, chopping up the action and spinning it out, insures that no nails remain unchewed. This is absolutely his right as a teller of tales, and “Argo” never claims to be a documentary. It struck me as a bit rich, however, to make such sport of Hollywood deceitfulness and then to round off your movie with an expert helping of white lies, piling on car chases that never occurred.

It helps, as it always does, that Lane and I are more-or-less in agreement about the movie. We're pleasantly surprised by Affleck, love ourselves some Alan Arkin, wish the last third had delved a bit more into character, particularly the character of the six embassy workers, rather than Spielbergian thrills--most of which, even as I watched them, I didn't buy.

But I bought “Argo.” It's one of the best movies I've seen this year: smart, funny, accessible.

Of course the year is just getting interesting.

Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck in "Argo"

Lane: “...and, most enjoyable of all, Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, a producer so scornfully amused by Mendez’s request that he has no option but to obey it.”

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Posted at 05:40 PM on Oct 15, 2012 in category Movie Reviews
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Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

When did I give up on this movie? I guess about halfway in. That scene where Tom Solomon (Jason Segel), who has sacrificed a rising career as a sous chef in San Francisco to follow his fiancée, Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt), to Michigan (where she is a Ph.D. student in social psychology), is babysitting Violet's 3-year-old niece and takes his eye off her for a second to watch a cat video on YouTube. The girl goes missing. She winds up in the kitchen behind Tom’s cross bow. (“Cross bows don’t clean themselves,” he explains to Violet as to why it’s on the kitchen table.) Then the girl shoots Violet in the leg. Then her parents return, and we get anger and recrimination and blame. And a close-up of the wound.

It just seemed a bit much.

The Five-Year EngagementBy this point we’re seeing how low Tom can sink. In Ann Arbor, instead of running a foodie joint by the bay, he’s making sandwiches in a local deli and hanging with other, neutered faculty husbands like Bill (Chris Parnell), who knits sweaters and hunts deer. The knitting is for something to do. The hunting is, one assumes, to replenish his disappearing manhood. Tom finds himself following suit, first with a rifle and then with a cross bow. He begins to display flowing, Civil-War-era facial hair. He wears the draping sweaters Bill knits. He begins to make mead from honey. He serves his wilderness fare in fur-covered mugs.

The niece is the child of his goofball friend, Alex (Chris Pratt, Scott Hatteberg of “Moneyball”), and her sharp-tongued sister, Suzie (Alison Brie, Pete Campbell’s wife from “Mad Men”), who met at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and then quickly zipped past them in making a life together. She got pregnant, they got married (with a beautiful ceremony), had the kid, then another. When Tom followed Violet to Michigan, Alex, the screw-up, got the job running the clam bar that was meant for Tom.

Violet, meanwhile, is enjoying her work at the University of Michigan, but her fellow grad students, Vaneetha, Ming and Doug (Mindy Kaling, Randall Park and Kevin Hart), are all one-note  sitcom characters, while their advisor, Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans), is obviously making a play for Violet. We wait for it to happen. It does. We wait for the eventual breakup. It occurs. We wait through their new, awkward relationships until they get back together and get married. They do. At the end. Two hours into the movie.

Two hours? For a rom-com? A clue right there.

I liked “The Five-Year Engagement” at the beginning. It felt true and slightly original. Segel and Blunt have great chemistry and are generally sweet together. Plus there are great laugh-out-loud lines. When Violet talks about hurrying up the wedding plans, her sister tells her, “Hey, it’s your wedding. You only get a few of these.” When they worry what the relatives will say when they delay the nuptials, Tom declares, “They’ll live.” Cut to: a funeral.

But there’s too much. They keep pushing the envelope unnecessarily. One of Violet’s fellow grad students is obsessed with masturbation; another with blood and chicken feathers. When Tom gets angry at Vi, he winds up with a crazy girl who wants food-fight sex … or something. He leaves that encounter half-naked, winds up sleeping half-naked outside in winter, and loses a toe to frostbite. Funny. When he opens a foodie taco truck back in San Francisco, to raves, the guy waiting in line can’t just tell him how much he likes his tacos; he has to ask him for a hug. Grandparents have to keep dying, her father has to keep marrying younger Asian women, his mother has to talk to him about her vaginal reconstruction surgery. After a while, it feels like everyone is doing standup rather than serving the needs of the story.

Some envelopes aren’t meant to be pushed. Some bits need a little less commitment.

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Posted at 07:20 AM on Oct 15, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Sunday October 14, 2012

No Tears for Jeter

At first it seemed like postseason baseball as usual.

The Yankees were losing 4-0 in the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium when two recent hires, two ex-Mariners in fact, Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez, both hit 2-run homeruns to tie the game and send it into extra innings. I was actually kind of rooting for Ichiro when he came to the plate with one out and a man on, because it's hard to turn that shit off. C'mon, it's Ichiro. And when Raul came up with two outs and a man on? I didn't assume homerun like everyone else. I wasn't worried. Sure, lightning strikes twice. But three times? Get out of town. When he did it, when Ibanez sent the ball over the right-field wall, I actually laughed out loud. It was so absurd. Has anyone had this kind of postseason? Ever?

It was also depressing. I assumed the game and the series were over right then. You don't give it up in the 9th inning in the postseason at Yankee Stadium and expect to win in extras. So Patricia and I began watching something less depressing, “Delicacy,” a 2011 French film about a young woman (Audrey Tautou) whose husband is killed in a car accident.

But it's a DVD so you pause, and in the pauses I'd check the score. Just to see. It was 4-4 for a while but I was sure, sooner or later, one of those pinstriped bastards would pull a Leyritz or a Jeter or a Boone. They always do.

They didn't. First, Tigers scored two. Second, Derek Jeter, Yankees captain, was helped off the field. Third, Detroit won it in 12. Wow.

It's a broken ankle for Jeter, which means the Yankees, the longest-running prime time soap opera this side of “Law & Order,” are now without their closer (Mo) and their captain (Jeter).

I'll spare the tears. You know how I feel. Jeter's had a good run. He's had a better run than any baseball player deserves. Here are the records he holds in career postseason categories:

  • Games played: 158 (33 more than No. 2, Bernie Williams)
  • At-Bats: 650 (185 more than Bernie)
  • Hits: 200 (72 more than Bernie)
  • Runs: 111 (28 over Bernie)
  • Total Bases: 302 (79 more than Bernie and Manny Ramirez)
  • Doubles: 32 (3 more than Bernie)
  • Triples: 5 (tied with Rafael Furcal and George Brett)
  • Strikeouts: 135 (26 more than Jorge Posada)

He's also third in homeruns (20), fourth in RBI (61), sixth in stolen bases (18), and first in FOX-Sports slow-motion shots of celebratory prancing and gamboling after the final out.

He's played in 38 World Series games, which isn't even top 10 (those '90s Yanks can't compete with those '50s Yanks), but it's 38 more World Series games than Ernie Banks or Frank Thomas or Ken Griffey, Jr. ever played in.

So no tears.

Here's Tyler Kepner's encomium/hand-wringing in the Times. Meanwhile, in The Detroit Free-Press, Mitch Albom reminds us that it ain't over as long as the fat man pitches.

Then there's, as always, Joey P., who gave me my first big laugh of the morning when the talked up all the big stories in the game last night—the public humiliation of Alex Rodriguez, the misplaced loyalty of Jim Leyland, the Hollywood heroics of Raul Ibanez, and, yes, Derek Jeter and his ankle—and then recounted the conversation he heard post-game on TBS:

“So what's the story of the night?” the question went.

“Delmon Young,” panelist and former pitcher David Wells said.

Exactly, see the … I'm sorry, wait a minute, what? Delmon Young? Because he hit a home run? Because he hit the ball that Nick Swisher misplayed? Delmon Young? That's like saying Johnny Two-Times was the star of “Goodfellas.”

Posnanski's ending is also true and poignant.

Is there a next gen for the Yankees? Or even a voyager?

Jayson Nix will replace Jeter at short but he's a career .214 hitter as well as a recent hire. The core of that '90s Yankees squad was home-grown and organic. This one is made up of Robinson Cano and middle-aged dudes from elsewhere: Teixeira, A-Rod, Granderson, Swisher, Sabathia.

Game 2 at 1 pm PST today. No mercy, Tigers. Derek Jeter would understand.

Derek Jeter ankle injury

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Posted at 09:04 AM on Oct 14, 2012 in category Yankees Suck
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Lancelot Links

Mitt Romney is running for president – for president! – promising an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without offering any details about how that's going to be paid for. Forget being battered by the press, he and his little sidekick Ryan should both be tossed off the playing field for even trying something like that. This race for the White House, this isn't some frat prank. This is serious. This is for grownups, for God's sake. If you're going to offer an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without explaining how it's getting paid for, hell, why stop there? Why not just offer everyone over 18 a 1965 Mustang?

  • Taibbi also zeroes in on one of Paul Ryan's worst debate lies, one which caused me to yell at my TV screen from about two inches away: the notion that Pres. Obama isn't bipartisan and that he, and Mitt Romney, are. The GOP does this all the time. It accuses its enemies of its own crimes. Salon.com's take here.
  • Why can't movie audiences be bothered with a fun, smart film like Ben Affleck's “Argo”? Because, Jeff Wells, says, “young American audiences are, for the most part, obstinate, under-educated, slow-to-catch-on infants who want their pacifier.” Ha! I love it when Wells goes off like this. And couldn't agree more. 
  • After A-Rod's benching in the ALDS, ESPN.com's David Schoenfield asks “Is Alex Rodriguez a playoff choker?” and comes to the conclusion: No. He even compares his postseason numbers favorably to Derek Jeter's postseason numbers. I'm surprised someone hasn't done that before. Oh, right, I did.  Two years ago.
  • Joe Posnanski has a smart piece on what the Yanks should do with A-Rod. Bench him? Nah. He may not be A-Rod anymore, says, Joe P., but he's at least Scott Brosius. So bat him down in the order.
  • Before the Nats were knocked out the other day in brutal, one-strike-away fashion, Joe P. posted a masterfully nonchalant profile of the masterfully nonchalant Nats' manager Davey Johnson. Posnanski keeps doing this. There's no one better at it.
  • My friend Tim, webmaster and comic-strip master, has had a good week on “Cloud Five” with Benny, his comic Yankees fan, and Benny's various complaints. My favorite of the bunch.
  • Finally, I came of age with Soul Asylum, the Minneapolis band that couldn't (break through before Nirvana), so the news that Dan Murphy is leaving the band is slightly sad but old news before it happened. I'll let the boys take you out with “Sometime to Return” from 1988. Three years later, everyone would call this grunge:

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Posted at 07:17 AM on Oct 14, 2012 in category Lancelot Links
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Saturday October 13, 2012

Go Get 'em, Tigers

As the MLB playoffs began last week I was rooting for the following:

  • Washington Nationals (who have never been to the World Series) over the St. Louis Cardinals (who won last year)
  • Cincinnati Reds (last won in '90) over the San Francisco Giants (won two years ago)
  • Baltimore Orioles (last won in '83) over the NY Yankees (don't get me started)

Detroit Tigers logoTigers ('84)/A's ('89) was kind of a toss-up. I thought I'd root for the A's, the underdog of underdogs, who came from nowhere with the second-lowest payroll in baseball, but found myself rooting for the Tigers, because of Miggy or Detroit or something. But I would've been just as happy with an A's victory.

So what happened? With the exception of the Tigers, every team I wanted to win lost. With the exception of the Tigers, baseball fans can now choose between the team that won it last year, two years ago, or three years ago. It's called diversity.

Admittedly, it's been a great post-season: close battles, come-from-behind victories, extra innings, great catches, walk-off homeruns. The St. Louis Cardinals are so good at come-from-behind victories, at waiting for the last second to stick the knife in, I'd almost accuse them of sadism. The Seattle Mariners had a slogan in 2001 that played off of their frequent two-out rallies: Two outs? So what? The 2011-12 St. Louis Cardinals slogan should be this: Two outs? Two strikes? Ninth inning? Do-or-die game? So what?

So who to root for now? You root for the team true baseball fans around the country always root for: whoever is playing the fucking New York Yankees.

Begins tonight. To pluralize Mary Jane Watson's thought, and resurrect the slogan of the 1968 Detroit team that won it all: Go get 'em, Tigers.

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Posted at 09:30 AM on Oct 13, 2012 in category Baseball
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Friday October 12, 2012

The Dangers of PBS Programming

Maybe Mitt was right about the dangers of PBS programming after all. From Steven J. Ross' “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” pg. 378:

Schwarzenegger may have kept his personal politics quiet during his rise to stardom, but that did not mean he lacked a well-conceived ideology. Schooled in free market thought during his youth, his economic philosophy crystalized in January 1980 after watching Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman's Free to Choose television series on PBS. “It expressed, validated and explained everything I ever thought or observed about the way the economy works,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

On the other hand, maybe Mitt's beef ultimately has less to do with Big Bird than Big Arnold (from pg. 387):

Party loyalists were less than thrilled  when [Schwarzenegger] bypassed Mitt Romney to support Ted Kennedy's reelection bid in 1994 in Massachusetts.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, learning

Arnold, learning.

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Posted at 07:29 PM on Oct 12, 2012 in category What Liberal Hollywood?
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Movie Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a surprisingly good film about the first awkward steps of high school and the even more first awkward steps of love. I liked it, and was moved, even though I’m about to turn 50. I felt long-ago pangs and longings. I felt this despite being painfully aware of the film’s central lie: that the perks of being a wallflower generally don’t include Emma Watson.

Off the wall
Charlie (“Percy Jackson”’s Logan Lerman) is about to start his freshman year of high school, friendless, in a suburb of Pittsburgh in the mid-1980s. He’s a shy kid but with an inner determination. He’s also known tragedy. His best friend killed himself the previous spring. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)His favorite aunt, Helen (Melanie Lynskey), died when he was young. He keeps flashing back to her death. A car accident? A suicide? He’s not quite right in the head. Incidents are alluded to. He’s aware that his parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh) are worried he’ll “get bad again.”

High school is certainly the place to get bad again. We all know the casual cruelty there. Despite a good pedigree, including a way-too-hot older sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), and a handsome older brother, who now plays college football (Zane Holtz), he sits alone at lunch. In English class, a girl makes offhand, nasty remarks. Moments after Charlie bonds with his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), a senior grabs his book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and tears the cover in half with a “Whaddaya gonna do about it?” look on his face.

In shop class Charlie quietly admires the outgoing Patrick (Ezra Miller, from “We Need to Talk About Kevin”), an obviously gay guy who obviously doesn’t give a fuck. At the high school football game, Charlie works up the courage to sit next to Patrick, who, oddly, considering his rebel status, is cheering boisterously for the home team. Patrick’s step-sister, Sam (Emma Watson), then stops by. Since she looks like Emma Watson, Charlie’s dazzled. There’s a moment, a kind of camera wobble, that indicates a sudden shift in Charlie’s life, that love-at-first-sightedness, even as what she’s talking about isn’t exactly romantic:

Sam: Could anything be more disgusting than the bathrooms here?
Patrick: Yeah, it’s called the men’s room.

There are several good—but not too good—lines like this. Sam says she isn’t a bulimic but a bulimicist. When Charlie tells the two he wants to be a writer but doesn’t know what to write about, Sam suggests he write about them. “Call it ‘Slut and the Falcon,’” Patrick adds. “Make us solve crimes!”

Is Charlie really a wallflower? He introduces himself to Patrick, after all. And at the Homecoming dance he forces himself off the wall and onto the floor, where Patrick and Sam are dancing boisterously to Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.” He’s welcomed there. Joyously. It’s a joyous moment.

How little we know
I graduated from high school five years before the kids in this movie, 1981 versus 1986, a lifetime in cultural terms, but I kept feeling odd moments of resonance. Sam and Patrick do this counter-rotational dance that reminded me of a dance two Chinese girls did to R.E.M.’s “End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” at a Taipei club in 1987. Charlie winds up dating the wrong girl in his group of misfits, the outgoing, smart, vaguely punkish, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), just as I did in my group. He has a bedroom moment with the right girl, Sam, that is less about sex and more about the held breath of first love, and then its release. I once tried to write a novel centering on such a moment.

I kept having to remind myself how little I knew, how little we all know, in high school. Mr. Anderson gives Charlie extra books to read, including “The Great Gatsby” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” Really? I thought. Charlie doesn’t know these books already? Then I added up. I didn’t read Salinger until 10th grade. I didn’t read “Gatsby” until college. Sam likes to stand in the back of Patrick’s pick-up truck with her arms spread wide as he speeds in the tunnels and over the bridges of Pittsburgh, and we, and Charlie, watch her do this to one song, which they then spend the rest of the year, and movie, trying to find. They don’t recognize the singer, David Bowie, or the song, “Heroes.” Really? I thought. Bowie? They don’t know Bowie? That one definitely seems wrong.

But there are so many little things the movie does right. Mr. Anderson never becomes more than Mr. Anderson: a good teacher who gives out good books and good advice. At the end of the school year, Charlie hugs him and he responds with a tentative, one-armed back-pat, as if he’s wary of the administrative lines being crossed. Earlier, he gives Charlie the line Charlie repeats back to Sam: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” That’s why Candace accepts her jerkoff boyfriend (until she doesn’t), and Sam accepts hers (until she doesn’t), and Charlie accepts Mary Elizabeth (until their relationship, and his relationship with everyone else in the group, implodes). And that’s partly why it takes so long for Sam and Charlie to get together. What he feels for her, and what she seems to feel for  him, is too meaningful. So it waits until she’s about to go off to college and there’s no more room for waiting. That’s generally when we find the courage. When there’s room for nothing else.

Charlie is an interesting character for being so passive. He’s a little more messed-in-the-head than we realize. He’s not just shy; it’s as if he’s carefully walking a very narrow path because he doesn’t like what he sees on either side. He is, in E.L. Doctorow’s phrase, a small criminal of perception. “There’s so much pain,” he says near the end. “And I don’t know how not to notice it.”

These are the little things the movie does right. But there are three big lies that go with this smaller, truer story.

Infinite jest
The first lie is the aforementioned wallflower perks that include Emma Watson.

The second lie is how Charlie returns to his group’s good graces after his messy break-up with Mary Elizabeth. Patrick has secretly been dating a football player, Brad (Johnny Simmons), but they’re found by the Brad’s father, who beats the boy. At school, to protect himself, Brad becomes even more homophobic, and, at one point, calls Patrick “faggot,” then does nothing when his fellow football players begin to beat up Patrick. But Charlie does something. He stands, moves forward ... and the screen goes black. The next images we see are football players beaten on the ground, and Charlie, dazed, staring at his clenched fists, which are bruised and bloody. He did all that. Without knowing he did it. Skinny freshman Charlie against three senior football players. It’s a great wish-fulfillment fantasy, finding your inner Hulk, but it’s just that.

The final big lie is found in the final lines of the movie—and in its tagline.

Before the next school year starts, before Sam returns to U Penn and Patrick goes off to Seattle (to participate, it’s implied, in the nascent grunge scene), the three party one last time. Charlie has finally found that Bowie song for Sam, “Heroes,” and they play it again in the tunnel leading to the bridges over the three rivers of Pittsburgh; but this time it’s Charlie who stands in the back of the truck and spreads his arms wide to take it all in. Throughout the movie he’s been narrating to us, in the form of writing a letter to a friend named “Friend.” (Chbosky’s novel, upon which Chbosky’s movie is based, is epistolary.) And of the moment in the back of the truck, he tells us, “I am here and I am looking at her and she is so beautiful.” Nice, I thought. Great last lines, I thought. But those aren’t the last lines. The pickup truck begins to move away from the camera and toward the lights of the big city and Charlie adds: “And in this moment, we are infinite.”

In the audience, I grimaced. “And in the next moment,” I thought, “You are nearly 50.”

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Posted at 08:17 AM on Oct 12, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Wednesday October 10, 2012

Movie Review: Argo (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” is the type of movie Hollywood never makes any more: a thriller for adults, steeped in history and humor. The tension at the end is so heightened I almost got a headache. But it’s what they do at the beginning that is particularly noteworthy.

“Argo” is about a true-to-life, supersecret CIA mission, declassified in 1997, in which a lone operative, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), flies to Iran in January 1980, in the midst of the hostage crisis, to rescue six American foreign service officers who have taken refuge in the Canadian embassy.

Movie poster for Ben Affleck's "Argo" (2012)And how does the movie begin? With context.

Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio, and Warner Bros., have the audacity to show us, in storyboard fashion, a short history of Iran and its shahs, and of the election in 1950 of Mohammad Mosaddegh, an author and lawyer, who nationalized British and U.S. petroleum in his country, and who was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by MI6 and the CIA three years later. His replacement was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whom we all knew as the Shah of Iran, whose lifestyle was profligate, whose police force was ruthless, and who attempted to westernize his country, angering Islamic clerics. This helped lead to his own coup d’etat in 1979, which brought to power the Ayatollah Khomeini. Later that year, Iranian students overwhelmed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Thus began, in a sense, our modern age.

The crowd looks a little bigger today
“Argo” begins on that day, Nov. 4, 1979, with demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy, and embassy officials inside saying things like, “The crowd looks a little bigger today, doesn’t it?” Then one Iranian jumps the wall. Another. A stream. Metal cutters arrive to cut the chains of the gate and the students flood in. They pound on the doors of the embassy. They break windows.

There’s an obvious innocence to the people inside. They don’t know that history is being made. They don’t know the modern age is about to begin. So while some officials shred documents, and a security officer, aware of the lessons of My Lai and Kent State, warns his subordinates not to fire at anyone in the crowd, and then blunders outside thinking he can actually calm the crowd, six officials, helping Iranians obtain U.S. visas, debate whether or not to leave. One of the six finally says, “If we need to go, we need to go now,” and they exit the building with the visa-seeking Iranians, then find themselves on the streets in a hostile country. When Washington D.C. gets the news about the embassy takeover, they, too, don’t know the modern age is about to begin. In a bout of early optimism, one official says of the Iranian president, “Bani Sadr says it’ll be over in 24 hours.”

Then the screen goes black. Then these words appear: 69 days later.

The best bad idea
At this point we’re introduced to Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), calm in demeanor, prone to drink, and with stylized hair and beard similar to Michael Douglas in “The China Syndrome.” In a motel room full of Chinese takeout boxes and crushed Miller High-Life cans, with the TV on, he’s sleeping it off, fully clothed. In a bad leisure suit. It’s the 1970s.

When Mendez arrives at a meeting at Langley, he finds out about the six, and the various idiot schemes being propagated by officials. No. 1? Airlift in bicycles and have the six bike the 300 miles to the Turkish border. “Or you could just send in training wheels and meet them at the border with Gatorade,” Mendez responds.

It’s an OK line but give Affleck credit. He gives most of the best lines to his stellar supporting cast. At one point Mendez’s CIA superior, Jack O’Connell (Bryan Cranston), says, “Carter’s shitting enough bricks to build the pyramids.” When he pitches Mendez’s movie scheme to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance (Bob Gunton, temporarily freed from warden duty), Vance’s contemporary, played by Philip Baker Hall, asks, “You don’t have a better bad idea than this?” and O’Connell responds, with deference, “This is the best bad idea we have. Sir.” There’s something very American about that. We are a country made up of best bad ideas.

Mendez then contacts a friend, legendary Hollywood makeup man John Chambers (John Goodman), who guides Mendez through the Hollywood scene and who finds him a producer, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), who declares, as they go through scripts, “If I’m going to make a fake movie I want it to be a fake hit.” They find one: “Argo,” a sci-fi flick. He and Chambers begin a running gag about the title: “Argo fuck yourself.” If there’s any justice, you’ll be hearing that a lot this fall.

But even in Hollywood we get serious moments. Mendez is separated from his wife and kid, and, in a moment of camaraderie, he asks Siegel about his family. Siegel says he has two grown daughters whom he sees once a year. He says, with no self-pity, “I was a terrible father.” He gives this excuse without excusing himself. “It’s a bullshit business. You come home to your wife and kids, you can’t wipe it off.” Great line. Great line reading. You don’t have to live in Hollywood to identify.

Spielbergian
So the plan is for Mendez to travel to Iran as a Hollywood producer, scouting exotic locations (sand dunes, etc.) for a post-“Star Wars” sci-fi flick. There are write-ups in the trades, storyboards created, publicity, a meeting with potential investors at the Beverly Hilton. In the distance, the Hollywood sign is crumbling.

At the Canadian embassy in Iran, Mendez is greeted less as rescuer than as the man who will get them all killed. But authorities are closing in. Iranian officials already know six embassy officials are missing. They’re piecing together shredded documents, like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle, that will reveal names and faces. They don’t know it but they need to get out now.

Is the tension at the end too much? Too heightened? Too unreal? At the airport, an angry bearded official doesn’t believe them and checks out their story, as, back at the U.S. embassy, the face of one of the six is pieced together and tied to a clandestine shot of “the movie crew” going through Tehran’s market. Officials then storm the Canadian embassy, phone calls are made, and police cars and jeeps roar down the runway after the Swiss Air jet about to take off with our heroes. It’s all very Spielbergian.

Why the terrorists won
It’s also effective and fascinating and witty and historically important. It’s a feel-good story about a feel-bad time. I remember those times. I was in high school. The sense of impotence the country felt because of the hostage crisis led directly to the election of Ronald Reagan and his own-brand of Hollywoodish feel-good fantasies. We’ve been doubling down on those fantasies ever since. In this way the terrorists won.

How about Ben Affleck? After “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” he’s now 3 for 3. “Argo” is a fun movie for smart people. Argo fucking see it already.

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Posted at 07:13 AM on Oct 10, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Transaction Man

“In the nineteen-seventies, the balance of power began to shift from production to capital, and corporate America started to seem lumbering and inefficient. This shift was the business world’s version of the sixties—one (younger and impatient) group of politically conservative businesspeople challenging another (older and more traditional) group. The field of battle was not politics, culture, dress, or taste in music. It was the American corporation, and the consequences for the whole society were profound. The business sixties wound up rearranging most of the American economy. General Motors has fewer than half as many employees today as it did in 1955, and, among the American corporations that were great at mid-century, it’s hardly alone. George Romney was an organization man. Mitt Romney became a transaction man: someone who moves assets around with a speed and force that leaves many of the rest of us bewildered. The insurrection in business has profoundly affected the lives of most people who work, pay taxes, and get government benefits. It is the backdrop to this Presidential election.”

--Nicholas Lemann in his Oct. 1 New Yorker article “Transaction Man: Mormonism, private equity, and the making of a candidate.”

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Posted at 04:21 AM on Oct 10, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Tuesday October 09, 2012

Why Obama Now

Yes, I wish he'd said more of this during the debate. Doesn't mean I'm not voting for him. Seriously, America. Dude takes it on the chin—for you—for four years, and because he doesn't call out a blatant liar during a 90-minute debate, a guy who rewrites everything he fucking believes in, that means you're voting for the blatant liar? What are you—a woman in a Sam Peckinpah movie?

I know. Obscure. But brutal.

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Posted at 10:22 PM on Oct 09, 2012 in category Politics
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Separated at Birth: Pinstripe Empire vs. Boardwalk Empire

This postseason whenever I've seen Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira at the plate, with a look on his face like he's constipated or desperately trying to produce a thought, I've gone into a bad Sylvester Stallone imitation: Aydriaaahhhh. Something about him reminds me of something gutteral. But I make fun mostly because he plays for the Yankees.

Last night, though, watching the Yankees lose to the Orioles 3-2 at Camden Yards, I realized that, at least in looks, there's something of Bobby Cannavale about him. Cannavale is the New Jersey actor who's playing psychopathic gangster Gyp Rosetti (fictional) on “Boardwalk Empire” this season. Here:

Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees   Actor Bobby Cannavale

Mark Teixeira (left), who plays for the Yankees, and Bobby Cannavale (right), who plays a psychopathic gangster on “Boardwalk Empire.”

Patricia wasn't buying it. But when Russell Martin, the Yankees catcher, came onscreen, maskless, she immediately made the comparison between him and British actor Stephen Graham, who plays gangster Al Capone (non-fictional) on “Boardwalk Empire.” Here:

Russell Martin, catcher, Yankees, Dodgers

Stephen Graham, British actor, in Yankees cap

Yankees catcher Russell Martin (top), in 1920s-style cap; British actor Stephen Graham (bottom) in Yankees cap, getting ready for his close-up.

I'm not saying the Yankees are necessarily gangsters and psychopaths. I'm saying that when we need to make the movie about the 2012 Yankees and their disastrous, empire-ending postseason performance, “Boardwalk Empire” wouldn't be a bad place to start.

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Posted at 07:29 AM on Oct 09, 2012 in category Baseball
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Monday October 08, 2012

Quote of the Day

“If you believe in the value of every human life, if you believe that lives that aren’t filmed have meaning, then you have to believe in theater.”

--Craig Wright, playwright, in the New York Times.

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Posted at 08:26 AM on Oct 08, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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Sunday October 07, 2012

Mt. Pilchuck: Breathtaking Twice

I was going to call this post “Rocky Horror Pilchuck Show,” since, as I was climbing Mt. Pilchuck on this glorious, glorious fall day, there was a couple ahead of me, then behind me, whom I couldn't shake (I kept stopping to take pictures), and whose male half kept droning on and on. About nothing. In a loud baritone. It was like being pursued by the Bore-anator. That same kind of calm, plodding persistence.

But eventually I did shake them and forgot about them amidst the beauty of the hike and the fall colors.

Here's a video from the summit. The Cascade mountains were clearer to the north than the south. I filmed it from the rock on which I was eating lunch.

One day I'll figure out how to make better movies.

Here are some of the fall colors:

Mt. Pilchuck, October 7, 2012

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Posted at 05:52 PM on Oct 07, 2012 in category Hiking
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Hollywood B.O.: Took

“Taken 2,” the movie whose very name is both absurd (“Hey, how come we keep getting taken?”) and indicative of how movie studios see moviegoers (thus the rejected title, “Taken Again”), earned $50 million at the box office this weekend. That's the biggest opening weekend since “The Dark Knight Rises” in July and the third-biggest opening weekend in October ever, behind only “Paranormal Activity 3” from 2011 and “Jackass 3D” from 2010.

Took.

It did all this despite a 19% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Among the comments:

  • “An attempt to see how stupid and insulting a motion picture can be and still be a big hit.” — Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
  • “So lazily put together that it relies on flashbacks from its predecessor for the majority of its character development.” --Dana Stevens, Slate

Then there's this prescient blurb:

  • “It'll have a great opening weekend, but it still seems a shame to have diluted the action-flick purity of the first 'Taken' with this cash grab.” — Mike Russell, Oregonian

In other news, Tim Burton's “Frankenweenie” grossed only $11.5 million in more than 3,000 theaters and finished in fifth place: behind “Taken 2” and the second weekends of “Hotel Transylvania,” “Looper” and something called “Pitch Perfect.”

In silver-lining news, both “End of Watch” ($4 million) and “The Master” ($1.8 million) finished in the top 10.

The TCB numbers here.

Scene from "Taken 2," starring Liam Neeson, which grossed $50 million its opening weekend.

It's “Taken 2”: Everybody close your eyes!

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Posted at 05:09 PM on Oct 07, 2012 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday October 06, 2012

Facts Don't Speak for Themselves: Obama's Worrisome Conciliatory Nature

This is worrisome. From David Remnick's piece, “Obama's Old Friends React to the Debate.”

Here's Remnick:

When Barack Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, he was never known as a particularly good debater. In class, if he thought that a fellow student had said something foolish, he showed no forensic bloodlust. He did not go out of his way to defeat someone in argument; instead he tried, always with a certain decorous courtesy, to try to persuade, to reframe his interlocutor’s view, to signal his understanding while disagreeing.

Here's Laurence H. Tribe, a leading constitutional-law scholar and Obama’s mentor at Harvard:

Barack Obama’s instincts and talents have never included going for an opponent’s jugular. That’s just not who he is or ever has been.

And here's Will Burns, a Chicago alderman, who worked for Obama in '96 and 2000:

The President has always been someone who takes the truth seriously and has a great faith in the American people and their ability to handle big ideas. He doesn’t patronize them. He uses the campaign as an educative process. He wants to win but also wants to be clear about his ideas.

Finally Burns again:

Romney stood there, with his hair and his jaw and his terrific angles—and he lied! About taxes, about Medicare. Obama pushed back on the five-trillion-dollar tax cut or the way Romney’s version of Medicare would destroy Medicare as we know it. And Romney just tilted his head and said, Oh, no, it won’t. At some point, you have to believe that the facts speak for themselves.

That's the sad thing about facts: they don't speak for themselves. You have to speak for them. In a way that people will hear.

The sadder fact about the electorate is that they don't want facts; they want wish fulfillment. You say you'll cut my taxes and the deficit won't grow? Yay! You say we can take down Saddam, who caused 9/11, with no cost to ourselves? Double yay! You say you'll give me a loan for this house I can't afford? Triple yay!

At some point, the bill arrives.

We respond to emotion: fear and reassurance. The GOP knows this. Everyone including me thought Obama's 2008 victory was about hope and change but it was really about fear and reassurance: our fear that an idiot president was destroying our economy. Huge institutions like Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. were crumbling to the ground like the twin towers on 9/11. What do we do? Hey, this guy seems smart and calm. Let's vote for him instead of the crazy old man, with the dippy girl, neither of whom is reassuring me at all. He's what? He's black? Whatever. He seems smart and calm. Obama '08!

But for Obama to win this time, he needs to be more than calm and smart. He needs to call a liar a liar. For the good of the country. He can't be Ali holding back his punch as Foreman goes down, because, now, Romney isn't going down. He's going up. And if he goes up, we go down.

Obama needs to do it. In the next debates. Every day on the campaign trail. He can even frame it within the context of who he is. “I'm not the type of person who...” “People who know me know I try to be diplomatic whenever possible...” Then add the “but.” Then throw the fucking punch already.

Because Mitt Romney, rich bastard, dissembler and liar, hider of taxes and firer of people, needs to be decked with the truth.

And brother? Make it sting.

Barack Obama, 2012 presidential debate

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Posted at 09:46 AM on Oct 06, 2012 in category Politics
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Lancelot Links

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Posted at 07:42 AM on Oct 06, 2012 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday October 05, 2012

Movie Review: The Master (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Five years ago I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” and was disappointed. Last week, I watched it again and was stunned by how good it was. This week I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and was disappointed. Will I be stunned by how good it is if I see it again in five years? Or will I see it the way I saw it this week: a powerfully directed film whose story doesn’t resonate?

What’s your name?
Both movies focus on a clash between two men, one of whom is religious or quasi-religious, none of whom is likeable. The battle in “Blood” is between capitalist forces, represented by oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis), and spiritual forces, represented by preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), and it’s never much of a battle. Plainview has too much will; he’s the triumph and tragedy of it. He dominates the movie and dominates Eli. By the end, Poster for Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" (2012)the masks both men wear—Plainview pretends to care about community but despises humanity; Eli is a weak-willed charlatan—have fallen to the point where Eli admits to living in a Godless universe while Plainview commits murder (again) without repentance. Thus capitalism crushes us all. With a bowling pin.

In “The Master,” the clash is between Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a Navy serviceman broken by World War II, and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an L. Ron Hubbardish figure whose cult Freddie wanders into five years after the war. What’s their clash? Initially, it’s drawing out Freddie. It’s understanding him and his problems. There’s a great scene where Dodd, with his repetitive methods (“What’s your name?”; “What’s your name?”; “What’s your name?”), finally gets Freddie to open up. And he does. Freddie reveals himself. He says his father’s dead from drink and his mother’s in an asylum and he had sex with a family member, his aunt, three times, and he left behind a girl in Boston whom he never went to see after the war and he doesn’t know why. It’s an exhilarating scene, for us and for him. We all wear masks; we are all trapped by our past. Saying the truth can momentarily set us free.

But revelation for Freddie does not lead to rehabilitation; his problems persist. He remains childishly obsessed with sex. He remains violent. He continues to drink his awful, war-era drinks of Lysol and gasoline and paint thinner. One such drink kills an old Filipino man in Salinas. That’s what Freddie’s running from when he stows away aboard the Alethia (“truth”; “disclosure”), Dodd’s ship bound from San Francisco, through the canal, and to New York City. But it’s not Dodd’s ship.

Peace is here
“The Master” opens to a soundtrack full of discordant music from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. We’re on a Pacific island beach waiting out the end of the war, and Freddie, one Navy man of many, is already isolated from the rest. He’s cutting coconuts while the other men wrestle on the beach. They make a sand woman on the beach, hair flowing, legs open, and Freddie gets on top and starts pumping away. It’s funny for a second, then gets embarrassing fast. Freddie gets too into it. There’s too much need there. When we hear the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, Freddie and other men are aboard their ship searching for, I believe, gasoline, from the ship’s missiles. To drink. “Peace is here,” the announcer intones. You look at Freddie and think: No, it’s not.

Freddie’s early, peaceless, post-war drifting is fascinating. A military shrink, smoking away, gives him a Rorschach test, telling him there are no right or wrong answers. Freddie’s first three responses to the ink blots are thus: 1) a pussy; 2) a cock inside a pussy; 3) a cock upside down. The psychiatrist sighs. Apparently there are right and wrong answers.

In a perfectly rendered, late 1940s department store, Freddie becomes a portrait photographer. America has just gone through a global depression and a world war and everyone wants to put all that shit behind them and display its best face to the world (“Get thee behind me, Satan” sings Ella Fitzgerald on the soundtrack). That face turns out to be a false face. It’s cute kids and young couples and there’s strain in every smile. Freddie, a young man, takes their pictures, but he already looks like an old man. Phoenix’s performance is amazing and Oscar-worthy. It’s like they took him, broke him in half, and put him back the wrong way. He’s hunched and painfully thin. He keeps his arms akimbo like a chicken, like he’s holding up his back. The post-war male sex symbols, Brando and James Dean and Elvis, were slouched men with curled lips and unruly hair slicked back, and Freddie has elements of each of these but there’s nothing sexy about him at all. He’s the anti-sex symbol. He drains sex from any situation. Martha the salesgirl (Amy Ferguson), whose job it is to walk the floor displaying dresses for sale, displays more to Freddie in a back room, and he pokes at her nipples like a 4-year-old, and pouts when she puts them away. He’s old in appearance and adolescent in his prurience, and he loses his job when he starts a fight with a fat man who’s getting his picture taken for his wife. He’s FUBAR.

This doesn’t change aboard the Alethia. He affects normality among the youngish men and women untouched by war (it’s 1950 now) but he has no place. There’s a hilarious moment when, surrounded by women listening to a taped recording of Dodd’s book, “The Cause,” in which Dodd intones, again and again, that Man is not an animal, that we are not part of the animal kingdom, that we are not ruled by our emotions, Freddie makes eyes at all of the women, then writes one of them a note: “Do you want to fuck?”

He remains violent but now he’s violent for The Cause. During the course of the movie he attacks anyone who attacks or doubts Dodd, including a New York party guest, John More (Christopher Evan Welch), surely named after St. Thomas; Dodd’s son, Val (Jesse Plemons), who tells Freddie, “He’s making it up as he goes.”; the Philadelphia police, who come to arrest Dodd; and Bill William (Kevin J. O’Connor), an acolyte who feels Dodd’s second book is a failure and could’ve been edited down to a three-page pamphlet.

"Peace is here": Freddie Quell celebrates the end of WWII

“Peace is here”: Freddie Quell celebrates the end of WWII

Pig Fuck!
So what is The Cause? Anderson keeps it sketchy. Dodd claims, among other things, that our problems in this life are caused by unresolved issues in previous lives. Apparently our previous lives go back thousands or trillions of years. Yes, trillions with a “t,” sir, Dodd says to More at an upper east side New York coming-out party. More says that some of Dodd’s methods sound like hypnosis, to which Dodd responds that it’s de-hypnosis. He says that man is asleep. It’s a good line. But he is increasingly agitated at being questioned. More reminds him that “Good science, by definition, allows for more than one opinion. Otherwise, you merely have the will of one man, which is the basis of cult.” Dodd’s response begins well but he winds up ruled by emotions: “If you already know the answer to your questions, why ask them—PIG FUCK!” Cut to: our group, in the elevator, on the way down.

If Freddie is a wrecked man, prone to bursts of sex and violence, Dodd is an ebullient man who cannot abide dissent. Others call him ‘The Master’ but he lives in a post-World War II democracy that has just swept away the would-be masters of the world. Dissent lives. Dodd is the master of a small domain forced to live in a larger one, and he and his group, like all beginning religions, are forced to wander in the wilderness: from San Francisco to New York to Philadelphia to Phoenix, where The Cause, he hopes, will be reborn. But it’s a downward trajectory. All the while, thanks to Dodd’s outbursts, they’re losing adherents.

Except it can’t be Dodd’s fault, can it? He’s the Master, isn’t he? So they look for someone else to blame. And there’s Freddie. Erratic, chicken-winged Freddie. In an inner-circle, dinner-table pow-wow after Dodd returns from a Philadelphia lock-up, Dodd’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), she of the sweet face and bitter, iron will, counsels excommunicating him. The inner circle accuses Freddie of being what he is (erratic) and what he isn’t (a spy). Dodd’s daughter from a previous marriage, Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers), accuses Freddie of desiring her sexually, when, we see, she made the pass at him. Once more, we accuse others of our own crimes. World without end.

But Freddie isn’t tossed out of The Cause; he leaves. He flees. In Phoenix, Dodd’s second book, “The Split Sabre,” is unveiled, to disappointment among adherents, including Bill William, whom Freddie pummels, and Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern), whose largesse they relied upon in Philadelphia. She comes to Dodd with a great, strained smile on her face, and asks about page 13, where the language for “the processing”—the near-hypnotic state Dodd puts adherents under—has been changed from “Can you recall...[past lives]” to “Can you imagine...[past lives].” She feels this is muting the Master’s message. The Master explains, vaguely, and we get this exchange:

Helen: But if the new—
Dodd: WHAT DO YOU WANT!?!

The outburst shocks her; then she gives him the dirtiest of looks. Scales have fallen, as they have fallen from others’ eyes. It’s shortly after this, riding motorcycles in the desert, that Freddie leaves the group.

The Cause on the elevator down, like Lonsome Rhodes before them.

Members of “The Cause” on the elevator down. Like Lonesome Rhodes before them.

Maybe in the next life
Should the movie have ended there? I wonder. Instead, Anderson shows us Freddie, still full of tics and mannerisms and small lies, finally returning to the girl in Lynn, Mass., but the girl, Doris, doesn’t live there anymore. Her Irish mother tells Freddie she’s married, to Jim Day, and now lives in Alabama. We get a great line from Anderson, and a great line reading from Phoenix: “Jim Day, Jim Day, that Jim Day?” Freddie suddenly realizes the girl of his dreams is now named Doris Day, like the movie star in Hollywood’s dream factory, and he chuckles over this. In the very next shot he’s asleep in a cinema balcony while a “Casper the Friendly Ghost” cartoon plays; and he dreams of getting a phone call from Dodd inviting him to England. As dreams go, it turns out to be fairly accurate.

Oddly, The Cause, which seemed in its death rattle in Arizona, is now flourishing. It’s institutionalized. It resides in a big schoolhouse, and Dodd reigns from behind a grand desk in a gigantic room with 50-foot ceilings, and we get our final confrontation between our two protagonists, just as we got our final confrontation between Plainview and Sunday in the bowling alley in “Blood.” This one is less bloody. The brutality is in the words:

Dodd: If you leave here I don’t ever want to see you again... Or you can stay.
Freddie (grins): Maybe in the next life.
Dodd (serious): If we meet again in the next life, you will be my sworn enemy and I will show you no mercy.

There’s a kind of knowing gentleness, almost grace, to the way Freddie says his “next life” comment. He doesn’t believe in it but he’s throwing it out as a gift to Dodd, who throws it back in Freddie’s face. The people of The Cause, pampered and puffy and immaculate, need to look to previous lives for answers to their problems. Freddie, rail-thin Freddie, doesn’t. He’s seen the horrors in this one. His problems have resulted from this one. He knows.

Then we see him walking down an English path. We see him hook up with an English girl. He uses some of the lines Dodd used on him back on the Alethia. We get a flashback to his sand woman in the Pacific, and we see the progress he’s made, from sand woman to real woman, and the movie ends and the lights go up.

And we go: “Huh.”

Lancaster Dodd: pampered, puffy, immaculate

Lancaster Dodd: pampered, puffy, immaculate.

Slow boat to China
What’s the movement in the movie? Freddie goes from being massively fucked up to being slightly fucked up, while the cult he joins seems on a slow, downward trajectory—rootless and wandering and full of sophomore slumps—until it leaps, off-screen, into an established institution in England. How did that happen? How did Dodd make that happen? We last see him losing disciples in the desert and then suddenly he’s a massive success in England. Why? And why England? Isn’t this the more interesting story? How come it doesn’t interest P.T. Anderson?

There’s a good quote from Norman Mailer on the nature of art:

Art obviously depends upon incomplete communication. A work which is altogether explicit is not art, the audience cannot respond with their own creative act of the imagination, that small leap of the faculties which leaves one an increment more exceptional than when one began.

Unfortunately, Anderson’s communication is too incomplete. We leave with nothing but questions:

  • After the Dodds speak of excommunicating Freddie because he’s beyond help, they force him to walk between a wall and a window for an unspecified amount of time. Is this to a) drive him out; b) drive him crazy; c) control him; or d) something else?
  • In Philadelphia, Dodd sings his “a roving” song, and suddenly all of the women in the room are naked. I assume the nakedness is in Freddie’s head. But was Elizabeth Dodd’s pass at him also in his head? If it wasn’t, why did she do it? To get him to stay? To repay him for attacking More? Are there elements of Sam Peckinpah there?
  • Does The Cause do Freddie good? Does he need it? Does it help?
  • What does the accuracy of Freddie’s movie-theater dream about Dodd’s phone call say about our unconscious lives? Or what does it say about what P.T. Anderson thinks of our unconscious lives?
  • Is Lancaster Dodd a closeted homosexual?

This last would explain why Dodd keeps Freddie and his erratic, animal nature around. It would help explain several scenes.

During the naked “a roving” scene, Peggy, pregnant and naked and in the background, stares at Freddie with something like concern in her eyes. Does she see his lust? Is that it? And does she assume the lust is for Dodd, who’s center-stage? And does she already suspect that Dodd reciprocates? Because in the very next scene, Dodd is in the middle of his nighttime ablutions, brushing his teeth, when Peggy comes over and jacks him off, telling he can do whatever he wants with whomever he wants just so she doesn’t hear about it. Initially I assumed she was referring to the women in the cult. But Freddie is a more likely culprit.

Then in the final scene Dodd suddenly sings to Freddie, and Freddie sheds a tear. This is what he sings:

I'd like to get you
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone

Is this Dodd’s moment of revelation? Or does he never truly reveal himself the way that Freddie does, or the way that Plainview did? You could argue that Anderson doesn’t show us Dodd’s true nature because that is the basis of cult: never to truly reveal yourself. Or you could argue that that is the basis of Paul Thomas Anderson and his movies.

“The Master” is deeply felt and rendered, beautifully shot and art-directed, and acted by artists and professionals. It’s also a failure in terms of story. But I would still rather watch it again than almost any movie released this year.

Get thee behind me, Satan: Our strained, post-war innocence

Get thee behind me, Satan: Our strained, post-war innocence.

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Posted at 06:35 AM on Oct 05, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Thursday October 04, 2012

Miggy

I never thought I'd see another Triple Crown winner in Major League Baseball. I thought we were done with that. There'd been one in 1966 when I was 3 (Frank Robinson), one in 1967 when I was 4 (Carl Yastrzemski), and ... nobody since. Nothing for nearly half a century. Baseball had become too specialized, it was argued. Nobody can lead the league in homeruns and RBIs and batting average anymore because they require different talents. In the modern era, there had ony been 13 TC winners anyway, and some of the best hitters in baseball history had never done it: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds.

Now someone else has done it: Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Miggy, who did it this year, hitting .330, slugging 44 homeruns, and driving in 139 runs. Makes me want to pump a fist. And I'm not even a Tigers fan.

2012 Topps Miguel Cabrera baseball cardIt's come as a surprise, though, an annoying surprise and shock, that the baseball bloggers I read tend to think he shouldn't be the league's MVP.

Excuse me?

Their argument is all about Mike Trout, who was brought up in May and played the way Casey Stengel wanted Mickey Mantle to play in 1951: he hit .326, slugged 30 HRs, and led the league in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49). Plus his WAR is 10.7. Miggy's isn't even top 5; he's sixth with 6.9. No contest.

Wait, WAR?

Yeah, I know. And I know you know. Wins About Replacement. But WAR isn't like almost every other baseball stat. There's no standardized definition for it. It tries to combine everything in a way that seems fair, and different orgs have different arguments for how to value this over that, or that over this. Baseball Reference's WAR rating seems to be the popular choice, as ESPN.com is using it.

In WAR, defense is included. Trout shines there. He's a fantastic defensive center fielder. Cabrera is a serviceable third baseman. But even offensively, Trout's WAR rating is 8.6 (No. 1) to Miggy's 7.5 (No. 2). So again: Trout.

You can keep going back and forth. Miggy led the league in runs created (133.6), while Trout was No. 2 (129.8). Trout is No. 1 in runs scored/9 innings (8.85) while Miggy is second (7.98). Miggy's first in OPS, Trout in OPS+. Etc.

To be honest, I've never felt like more of an old fogey in a conversation about baseball stats. I'm a Bill James guy, but to me this isn't even a question. The Triple Crown is hallowed.  I know guys who've managed the TC haven't always won the MVP--Chuck Klein in '33, Lou Gehrig in '34, Ted Williams twice in the 1940s (sportswriters hated him)--but every dude since has: Mantle, Robby, Yaz. And then it became impossible to do. And now somebody's done it. And these guys are talking WAR.

As for the defense argument I'll add this: Yes, Trout's amazing in the field and fun to watch. But Miggy's been playing out of positon all year. He's normally a first baseman. When the Tigers had the chance to grab Prince Fielder, however, who could only play first, he moved over to third. For the good of the team. The Tigers would not be in the post-season right now if they hadn't grabbed Fielder; and they wouldn't have grabbed Fielder if Miggy hadn't moved.

So he's not only the best hitter in baseball, he's a team player. That has some value.

Plus, and not for the last time, he won the frickin' triple crown already. Yeesh.

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Posted at 12:40 PM on Oct 04, 2012 in category Baseball
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Wednesday October 03, 2012

Quote of the Day

“When [Coco] Crisp squeezed the baseball, the Oakland Athletics completed one of the more amazing and unlikely seasons in the sport's long and storied history. The Texas Rangers, of course, are still alive. But as Wild Cards, not champions. The A's are the champions. And nobody in the whole world saw it coming.”

--Rob Neyer, “Athletics Blow Out Rangers, Win American League West.”

CF Josh Hamilton commits rare error that allows 2 runs to score, as A's beat Texas 12-5.

CF Josh Hamilton commits rare error that allows 2 runs to score, as Oakland beats Texas 12-5.

(BTW: These moveable gif files like the U2 song “Stuck in a Moment,” aren't they? They're like bad memories, played over and over again in your mind. And each time, it plays the same. I find them a bit disconcerting.)

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Posted at 05:35 PM on Oct 03, 2012 in category Quote of the Day
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How the Hell are the 2012 Oakland A's Doing It?

It's the last day of the regular baseball season and we know who the 10 playoff teams are—if not yet division winners. A's and Rangers are tied in the AL West. The O's are one game back of the Yankees (Suck) in the AL East. This isn't your last year's playoffs, either. The two wild cards play each other in a one-game death match and no team wants that so every team wants the division title. So they fight on.

Now that we've reach the near-end, here's the near-beginning: Each team's opening-day payroll, ranked by moolah, courtesy of USA Today. (Red, bolded teams = playoff teams):

 TEAMTOTAL PAYROLLAVG SALARY
1. New York Yankees $ 197,962,289 $ 6,186,321
2. Philadelphia Phillies $ 174,538,938 $ 5,817,964
3. Boston Red Sox $ 173,186,617 $ 5,093,724
4. Los Angeles Angels $ 154,485,166 $ 5,327,074
5. Detroit Tigers $ 132,300,000 $ 4,562,068
6. Texas Rangers $ 120,510,974 $ 4,635,037
7. Miami Marlins $ 118,078,000 $ 4,373,259
8. San Francisco Giants $ 117,620,683 $ 3,920,689
9. St. Louis Cardinals $ 110,300,862 $ 3,939,316
10. Milwaukee Brewers $ 97,653,944 $ 3,755,920
11. Chicago White Sox $ 96,919,500 $ 3,876,780
12. Los Angeles Dodgers $ 95,143,575 $ 3,171,452
13. Minnesota Twins $ 94,085,000 $ 3,484,629
14. New York Mets $ 93,353,983 $ 3,457,554
15. Chicago Cubs $ 88,197,033 $ 3,392,193
16. Atlanta Braves $ 83,309,942 $ 2,776,998
17. Cincinnati Reds $ 82,203,616 $ 2,935,843
18. Seattle Mariners $ 81,978,100 $ 2,927,789
19. Baltimore Orioles $ 81,428,999 $ 2,807,896
20. Washington Nationals $ 81,336,143 $ 2,623,746
21. Cleveland Indians $ 78,430,300 $ 2,704,493
22. Colorado Rockies $ 78,069,571 $ 2,692,054
23. Toronto Blue Jays $ 75,489,200 $ 2,696,042
24. Arizona Diamondbacks $ 74,284,833 $ 2,653,029
25. Tampa Bay Rays $ 64,173,500 $ 2,291,910
26. Pittsburgh Pirates $ 63,431,999 $ 2,187,310
27. Kansas City Royals $ 60,916,225 $ 2,030,540
28. Houston Astros $ 60,651,000 $ 2,332,730
29. Oakland Athletics $ 55,372,500 $ 1,845,750
30. San Diego Padres $ 55,244,700 $ 1,973,025

The top third is well-represented, with five of the 10 playoff teams, including, of course, the “Hey Big Spender” team, the New York Yankees (Suck), which outspent every other team for the 14th year in a row. At least this year the gap between the Yanks and the No. 2 team isn't exorbitant. You couldn't fit the entire payroll of another team in the gap, for example. Just half of an entire team's payroll. So: progress.

The middle tier is well-represented as well, with four plucky teams.

The bottom tier? The dregs? Just one. Billy Beane's Oakland A's. 29 of 30. Even Borgs don't go that low.

How did Billy Beane of “Moneyball” fame do it again? Does anyone know? How did this team do it?

Pitching, mostly. And luck. There's always luck. This is baseball.

Beane is definitely not using the traditional “Moneyball” stats. The Oakland A's, as a team, rank 11th (of 14 AL teams) in OPS, 9th in SLG, and 12th in OBP. They're speedy. They're tied for 3rd in triples, tied for 5th in stolen bases, and 2nd in stolen-base percentage. They rank first in strikeouts (1,381) but second-to-last in grounded-into-double-plays (97). They rank last in ground balls and ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. They're speedy guys who hit the ball in the air and strike out a lot. No one knows their names.

The pitching is easier to understand. Sort of. The team ERA is second-best in the AL, to Tampa Bay's, who won't be continuing. Oddly, the A's pitchers don't strike out many: they rank 12th there. But they have the second-best batting average against. How often does that happen? A lot of balls are in play but they just don't land?

Either way, I hope the A's keep on. I want to watch them play. I want to know their names.

I have my rooting interests, which aren't solely based on inverse payroll. Goes something like this:

  1. Washington Nationals (first post-season appearance since 1933)
  2. Oakland A's (above)
  3. Baltimore Orioles (from hapless to hopeful)
  4. Detroit Tigers (Miggy)

Then there's the middle tier, about whom I shrug at this point. Maybe the Reds over the others.

Then there's the bottom tier. You know that one:

10. New York Yankees (Suck)

Talk soon.

The 2012 Oakland A's, at the start of the season, in Japan

The 2012 Oakland A's, at the start of the season, in Japan, against the Mariners. Who knew?

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Posted at 11:16 AM on Oct 03, 2012 in category Baseball
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Movie Trailers: The Lone Ranger (2013)

I like the opening narration here. I like anything in movies that reminds moviegoers how much everyday life changed during the 19th century from the previous, I don't know, 10,000 years. “From the time of Alexander the Great,” we're told, “no man could travel faster than the horse that carried him. Not anymore.” Cut to trains zipping through the west.

The focus is on the star, Johnny Depp, rather than the titular Lone Ranger, played by Armie Hammer, but that makes sense. Hell, it's not even on Depp. It's on the trains. But that makes sense, too. We're just at the teasing phase of the trailer. They can't give us too much or they'll have nothing to give us in the spring.

On the other hand, as great as that opening narration is, a few of the mid-shots are of outlaws on horses catching up to those zippy trains. Kind of undercuts the message, doesn't it?

(If the video above has been pulled try watching it here.)

I still don't know how they're going to do it. What's the story? How do you make the Lone Ranger interesting? How do you not marginalize the Ranger or Tonto? What's the point of the mask, the silver bullet, hi-yo Silver? The most recent incarnation, the disastrous “Legend of the Lone Ranger” from 1981, died a slow, strangulating death answering these very questions.

It doesn't help that the movie team is basically the “Pirates of the Caribbean” team: Depp, director Gore Verbinski, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Disney and Bruckheimer. Depp's stoic head wobble riding beneath the train is indicative. It's a whiff of Capt. Jack.

They're going all out, though: $250 million budget and a July 3 release date. Somewhere, Klinton Spilsbury cringes.

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Posted at 08:58 AM on Oct 03, 2012 in category Trailers
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Tuesday October 02, 2012

Dana Stevens on 'Looper'

“Looper felt to me like a maddening near-miss: It posits an impossible but fascinating-to-imagine relationship—a face-to-face encounter between one’s present and future self, in which each self must account for its betrayal of the other—and then throws away nearly all the dramatic potential that relationship offers. If someone remakes Looper as the movie it could have been in, say, 30 years, will someone from the future please FedEx it back to me?”

--Dana Stevens in her Slate review, Looper: Joseph Gordon-Levitt meets his future-self, and he’s Bruce Willis.” I agree with her, particularly on the above point (my review here), but we're in the minority. “Looper” is currently running at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The diner scene from "Looper," with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Posted at 06:34 AM on Oct 02, 2012 in category Movie Reviews
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Monday October 01, 2012

iPhoto of the Day

View of downtown Seattle from Kerry Park, Oct. 1, 3 pm

Afternoons I like to walk from lower Queen Anne, where I work, to upper Queen Anne, Kerry Park, and its views of Puget Sound and downtown Seattle. Today, the first day of October, Mt. Rainier was out as well. Not a bad little view. I think I'll keep it.

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Posted at 03:48 PM on Oct 01, 2012 in category Photo of the Day
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Movie Review: Looper (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The great technological innovation in Rian Johnson’s “Looper” isn’t the time travel that allows criminals in 2074 to dispose of enemies by sending them back to 2044, where assassins, known as “loopers,” await to blow them away; it’s the CGI/prosthetics that allow Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing young Joe in 2044, to look like Bruce Willis, who plays old Joe sent back from 2074. It helps that JGL also does a pretty good Bruce Willis imitation: that pursed, amused smirk; the whispery low tone.

Thirty years is a long time but Bruce Willis has been a star almost that long. “Moonlighting” went on the air in 1985 and in 1988 we got “Die Hard.” For a guy whose fame seemed like a fluke, and who’s had his share of bombs (“Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Hudson Hawk” were released in back-to-back years), he keeps on keeping on. He also makes movies that will be remembered: “Die Hard,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable.”

“Looper”? Eh.

Letting your loop run
The movie opens with a stopwatch, young Joe’s, because he’s awaiting another victim from the future to blow away. We also get young Joe’s voiceover explaining the situation. In 2044 time travel hasn’t been invented yet. In 2074 it has but it’s been outlawed. Our first message is an NRA message: outlaw time travel and only outlaws will use time travel.

Poster for "Looper" (2012), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce WillisWe get bits of Joe’s life in Kansas in 2044. He’s studying French. He chats up Beatrix, a waitress at his favorite diner, and parties at night with his looper buddies, and gets wasted with eyedrop drugs. He sees a good-looking whore occasionally, Susie (Piper Perabo), and the next day he starts the cycle again. Kansas looks like a futuristic Hooverville but Joe feels nothing for the people around him. He’s a looper, after all. He kills folks for a living.

Every once in a while, a looper kills his older self, sent back from 2074, and he’s cashed out of the biz. This is known as “closing the loop,” we’re told. Every once in a while, a looper can’t kill his older self sent back from 2074, and allows him to escape. This is known as “letting your loop run,” we’re told. The latter happens to Joe’s friend, Seth (Paul Dano), who is also a TK, meaning he has mild telekinesis powers. When he lets his loop run, Seth shows up in Joe’s place and begs for help; he gets it, grudgingly. But then Joe is pulled in before Abe (Jeff Daniels, bearded), the 2070s gangster who runs the operation, and he give up Seth. When young Seth dies, old Seth disappears. Bit by bit. Nose first. Let this be a lesson.

It isn’t. Old Joe shows up and young Joe hesitates before killing him. The hesitation is all. Old Joe decks his younger self, runs, and our battle is engaged.

How did young Joe become Old Joe? He’d been studying French (“nous avons... vous avez...”), but, redirected by Abe, he wound up in Shanghai, where he lived off his looper earnings. He partied, did drugs... I guess that’s about it. That was his life. Then he went back to gangstering. Then he met a girl (Qing Xu), whom he loved, and who weaned him from eyedrop drugs. They built a life together. Then the bad guys came and took it all away. A gangster named Rainmaker, whom we never see, but who came to power by himself, without associates, is sending back all the old loopers to be killed by their younger selves; and when they grab Old Joe they kill Qing Xu, too. At the time-travel launch pad, Joe turns the tables and kills his captors. At this point why doesn’t he run? Why does he still send his sorry ass back to Kansas 2044? So he can find Rainmaker as a child and kill him and thus save Qing Xu.

Letting your loop run amuck
At this point, we get all kinds of fun time-travel shit. Young Joe sets up a meeting with Old Joe by burning the meeting place (“BEATRIX”) onto his arm, which will suddenly appear as a scar on the arm of old Joe. That kind of thing.

Though little is known of Rainmaker, Old Joe knows when and where he was born. He also has the addresses of the three kids who were born on that day and in that place, and, like the Terminator seeking out all the Sarah Connors of 1984, Old Joe seeks out all the kids who might grow up to be Rainmaker. The first is a curly haired tyke returning from school. He turns. There’s Old Joe with a gun. I know I’m a dick but it’s a shame they didn’t show the killing, which needs to be done, but which involves showing Bruce Willis actually blowing away an innocent five-year-old. I’m sure the filmmakers, or the studio, or Bruce Willis’ agent, decided we have to maintain some sympathy for the character, not to mention our aging star. The killing is merely suggested.

The second child turns out to be the son of Susie, which is an unnecessary coincidence. The third child is at a farm near fields of dry sugar cane, where young Joe, who got the address from Old Joe, lies in wait. He still wants to close his loop so he can continue to live his life for another 30 years. Until, you know, he kills himself.

The farm is run by the no-nonsense Sara (Emily Blunt), who is a bit of a TK. Her boy, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), takes a shine to Joe and less so to Sara, whom he claims is not his real mom. He says he remembers his real mom. “When I was a baby,” he says, all pudgy cheeks and fierce eyes, “I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t stop her from getting killed. I wasn’t strong enough.” It’s poignant and the boy is quite good. He gives off a scary, “Twilight Zone” vibe here.

I’ll cut to the chase. The boy is an all-powerful TK who can blow apart people with his mind, and who, yes, becomes the Rainmaker. Old Joe shows up at the farm after killing Abe and his men, and he and young Joe have a showdown. Old Joe gets the upper hand, or at least enough of one to have both Cid and Sara in his sites; and it leads to this epiphany from young Joe, our narrator, who tells us he sees it all happening: Old Joe killing Sara; a motherless Cid forced to raise himself in a brutal world until he comes of age and takes his awful revenge upon it. But Joe sees a way out of this unending cycle. He turns his shotgun on himself and pulls the trigger. Old Joe blips out of existence, never having been, while Cid now has a chance to use his powers for good. Or something.

Letting your loop run off at the mouth
As I said, “Looper” is clever at times, but I still got bored. I wanted less action, more talk. There are so many possibilities during the scene at the diner. Old Joe chastises his younger self, lays into him and calls him stupid, as most of us would do if we could face our younger selves. (Think Morgan Freeman’s speech in “Shawshank.”) It would have been fun to see more of this. But that would’ve been a different movie.

Some moments don’t make much sense, either. I’m not talking about the inevitable time-travel paradoxes—e.g., if old Joe never existed, how did young Joe wind up on Sara’s farm with the motivation to shoot himself? No, my quibbles relate more to matters of logic. Such as:

  • If criminals in 2074 send their enemies back in time to die because it’s impossible to dispose of a body in 2074, why don’t they kill the enemy first and send back the body for disposal? Why not time-travel it to a graveyard? Wouldn’t this be easier? Less expensive? Allow for fewer fuck-ups with the space-time continuum?
  • Is time travel also location travel? Old Joe is zapped from Shanghai 2074 to Kansas 2044 rather than Shanghai 2044. If so, can you do one without the other? And is location travel allowed in 2074? Would help with the commute, certainly.
  • Is Old Joe prevented from killing the second kid? If so, why doesn’t he return to finish the job?
  • Can Old Joe reset the time pod? If so, why doesn’t he? He could show up earlier. He could kill Cid more leisurely.
  • How can Old Joe take his younger self hostage at the diner? Isn’t that like this scene from “Blazing Saddles”? Shouldn’t Abe’s men laugh and kill both men? Or just kill young Joe and let Old Joe blip out of existence?
  • Why the term “looper”? These guys aren’t looping anything. I kept thinking of the way Big Bird mispronounces Mr. Hooper’s name on “Sesame Street.” I went into and out of the theater with Big Bird’s voice in my head.

Some critics feel “Looper” is deep. I think it has the chance to be so; I think it just stayed pretty close to shore.

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Posted at 09:51 AM on Oct 01, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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