Lancelot Links postsThursday June 17, 2010
Lancelot Links (Gets Covered in Oil)
- With all of the people blah-blah-blahing about the BP oil spill, it's nice to read someone who knows a little history—like Elizabeth Kolbert over at The New Yorker. A few weeks back she had a smart “Talk of the Town” piece on what happened with the Union Oil Company spill off the coast of California in 1968, what we subsequently did (in part: Earth Day, the EPA), and what's gone horribly wrong since. Who's to blame? All of us in our SUVs, certainly. Plus a few others:
Members of the Drill, Baby, Drill Party have blocked efforts to raise the liability limits for oil spills, and have yet to muster a single sponsor for climate legislation. At the same time, they have sought to portray the spill as President Obama’s Katrina.
The President does, in fact, share in the blame. Obama inherited an Interior Department that he knew to be plagued by corruption, but he allowed the department’s particularly disreputable Minerals Management Service to party on. Last spring, in keeping with its usual custom, the M.M.S. granted BP all sorts of exemptions from environmental regulations. Ironically, one of these exemptions allowed the company to drill the Deepwater Horizon well without adhering to the standards set by NEPA.
- So who else is to blame besides BP, all of the pretty deregulators in a row, all of the MMSers partying on, and all of us driving our SUVs and Hummers? Timothy Egan at The New York Times names a few more names, including Halliburton, who cemented the well that blew, and our court system, which allowed Exxon to get away with paying a fractiion of what they should've paid for the Exxon Valdez oil spill 22 years ago. He calls the John Roberts Supreme Court, in a line worth repeating, “a compliant pet of the corporate world.”
- Joel Connelly of the “I'm not dead yet” Seattle P.I. also has a line worth repeating: Exxon still owes $92 million from its 1988 spill.
- Last one on oil: David Carr's column last Monday on how BP, a private company, has hampered the press in their coverage. “BP is running everything down here,” said an employee of the St. Bernard Parish government. “It’s their show.” That's scary. I guess we're all compliant pets of the corporate world.
- How about some fun? Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals made an impressive debut a week ago Tuesday—7 IP, 14 strikeouts, no walks, 2 earned runs, amazing stuff—and Joe Posnanski, the best baseball writer in the country, was there to liveblog the event.
- Despite all of the noise from fans about how Jim Joyce sucks, about how Bud Selig should give Armando Galarraga the perfect game anyway, about how replay is desperately needed in Major League Baseball, the players themselves think: a) Jim Joyce is the best umpire in the bigs (53%), the call shouldn't be overturned to allow the perfect game (86%), and no way replay (77%).
- My friend Adam keeps pushing Sports Illustrated on me and I'm beginning to think he's right. I made fun of Tom Verducci a few weeks back but he has another good piece, similar to Posnanski's, on Jim Joyce's blown call in Galaragga's better-than-perfect game. Grace quote I:
If Joyce provided a tipping point toward baseball's embracing more technology, the irony is that baseball never seemed so human and empathetic as it did in the aftermath of his blunder.
Upon seeing a replay on the night of the blown call, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said, “It happened to the best umpire we have in our game. The best. And a perfect gentleman. Obviously, it was a mistake. It's a shame for both of them, for the pitcher and the umpire. But I'm telling you, [Joyce] is the best baseball has, and a great guy. It's just a shame.”
- But Verducci isn't SI's best writer. Gary Smith is. And his latest piece is about Gareth Thomas, a rugby player for Wales, and the only openly gay professional athlete in the world.
This isn't BP's fault. This is rugby. And this is Gareth Thomas.
- Smart talk from Andrew Sullivan and friends on members of the Tea Party: Part I here, Part II here. Why are they so angry? Why, if they care about deficits, did they not protest George W. Bush, whom most of them supported, as he raised our national debt from $5 trillion to more than $10 trillion? Why wait two months into the new guy's administration to take to the streets? Read on, read on, teenage queen...
- He doesn't say it outright, but Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere was a pretty big “Greenberg” fan. He saw it four times and hopes it stays in the heads of critics long enough to make top 10 lists in December. He also rightly slams Universal Home Video for marketing the film as if it's a slightly nutty relationship comedy. They've changed the austere, almost black-and-white, word-ballon movie poster to something colorful and snuggly. From “What's life all about?” to “Will they or won't they?” Has anyone done a piece on the most egregious DVD cover art ever? I'm not talking discussion forums, and I'm not talking about straight-to-DVD, only-10-people-have-ever-seen-it-anyway movies. I'm talking about theatricial releases with decent or great poster art that was reduced, in the transition to home entertainment, to something generic and awful. I don't want to do that piece but I'd like to see someone (someone getting paid) do that piece.
- The feds have approved box-office futures trading! I dibs James Cameron. I'd go short on this one.
- David Carr on “Restrepo,” the best movie I've seen this year.
- Finally, a really nice piece by Geoff Young on Ken Griffey, Jr.
- It's worth noting that, for all of the U.S.'s problems, many people would still like to live here. According to a recent Gallup poll, focused mostly on Mexican immigration, 700 million people worldwide said they would like to live in a different country, and 165 million chose the United States. The Compass sees this as “the country's capacity to regenerate itself and stave off a decline in population. America's two major great power rivals - China and Russia - can boast of no such attraction.” I'd go further. I think immigration is the only thing that can save us from inevitable decline, because it fills the country with people with drive rather than with a sense of privilege.
- Related: Who wants to work at the FoxConn plant in Shenzhen, China? It's a tragic situation, but, I have to admit, the dueling headlines at the New York Times yesterday made me laugh. In the morning: “After Suicides, Scrutiny of China's Grim Factories.” The story's all about the horrible conditions for these Chinese factory workers, 12 of whom attempted or committed suicide in the past year. In the afternoon: “Changes in China Could Raise Prices Worldwide.” It's all about how rising wages for these factory workers, including those at FoxConn (doubled to US$300 per month), will impact your wallet. It's our schizophrenia in one neat package. “Oh, how awful for these poor people!”/“Wait, I don't want to spend more money for a T-shirt, an iPhone, a slinky!” See also: “BP sucks!”/“I'm driving to the gym in my SUV!”
- Is this part of our schizophrenia or just part of our assholedom? I'm talking the controversy surrounding the mural at Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Arizona. Lord. Roger Ebert has a nice, personal essay on race in response, but Arizona's becoming a real embarassment. Remember “Mississippi, Goddam”? Try “Arizona, Goddamn.”
- FYI, but I would read a Newsweek magazine redesigned by David Carr.
- Movies! Matthew Belinkie at overthinkingit.com on “Jaws” and Chief Brody's heroic journey, complete with phallic and impotent images.“ It's a fun read that clarifies the film. I'm also warming up to his contention that ”the summer blockbuster is about a regular Joe becoming a real man" (i.e., Neo, Peter Parker, Harry Potter), and that Chief Brody was the first of these regular joes. Sorta kinda maybe. He was still a man, of course, just not a man's man. He had a real job and a real family. But what does this trend mean? Is it a positive (characters aren't thrust whole into the storyline but must develop) or a negative (wish fulfillment for all the half-men out there)?
- Finally, there was a lot of puffed-up talk about Jim Joyce's blown call in Armando Galarraga's perfect game last Wednesday, but the best thing written about the entire affair was written within hours of the game. By my man Joe Posnanski. Read the whole thing. Please. Excerpt:
Galarraga pitched a perfect game on Wednesday night in Detroit. I’ll always believe that. I think most baseball fans will always believe that. But, more than anything it seems that Galarraga will always believe it. The way he handled himself after the game, well, that was something better than perfection. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was thrilling. Roy Halladay’s perfect game was art. But Armando’s Galarraga’s perfect game was a lesson in grace.
- The Texas State Board of Education wants to put Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy into their textbooks. Michael Lind of Texas says have at. (My first thought: They're not in textbooks? How do you teach the U.S. Civil War without those idiots?)
- Michael Lewis writes a mocking, open memo to the CEOs of Wall Street, congratulates them for diverting attention from breaking up banks and banning CDOs, and then lays out the three remaining steps needed to waylay any meaningful financial reform. Reconsult in a month.
- Andrew Sullivan slaps down Peggy Noonan. Good for him. She needs slapping down. I still remember that awful book she wrote about the Reagan/Bush years, “What I Saw at the Revolution,” and how she began a chapter on Pres. Reagan thus, “I first saw him as a shoe,” and how, in that first paragraph, she describes the shoe in detail, and confesses to wanting to cradle it and protect it from bad weather. My god. That anyone offers her any gigs after that...
- From Jeff Wells' site, a great clip of Orson Welles on the old “Dinah Shore” show explaining why there are no true audiences left. Smart, smart, smart.
- What's your earliest film memory? Nathaniel Rogers of Film Experience wants to know. He doesn't remember his but one of his earliest memories about a movie is the summer of '75 and “Jaws,” and how the poster, just the poster, made him scared of swimming in the backyard pool. Love the accompanying comic strip.
- It's the 50th anniversary of Jean-Luc Goddard's “Breathless” and David Thomson isn't celebrating. So it's not just me.
- Adam Liptak has a fun article on those crazy U.S. Supreme Court justices and baseball. They're fans.
- Fascinating post by Sex in a Submarine's William Martel on the long, sad road "Robin Hood" took to the big screen. Once upon a time, he says, there was a much ballyhooed screenplay called "Nottingham," in which the RH tale is told from the Sheriff's perspective. Russell Crowe signed to star as the Sheriff. They just needed a director...
- Check out Felix Salmon's thoughtful New York Times Op-Ed on the future of the futures market for Hollywood movies. He thinks the studios, who are against it, and lobbying Congress to make it illegal, have the most to gain from it. Me, it might be the one futures market I'd have a chance in hell in.
- And the battle to reign in copyright infringement in the digital age continues. The FCC has allowed studios to encode video-on-demand with a signal that prevents set-top boxes from recording that content, while music publishers are suing profitable Web sites from posting song lyrics without license. Quote from David Israelite, the chief executive of the National Music Publishers’ Association, which represents more than 2,500 publishers: "The digital age has provided a chance to re-evaluate the value of the words." He adds, "[It] hasn’t been exploited very well." Understatement of the year, bro.
- Via IMDb.com, Jessica Barnes of Cinematical lists her favorite books about movies, and readers chime in. Off the top of my head, I'd go with: David Thomson's "The Whole Equation," Edward Jay Epstein's "The Big Picture," Mark Harris' "Pictures at a Revolution," Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," and David Mamet's "Bambi vs. Godzilla." If we're talking influential, then my no. 1 is "The Filmgoer's Companion," Fourth Edition, 1974, by Leslie Halliwell. Dog ears should be so dog-eared.
- Via a Sean Axmaker FB status update, here's Richard Thompson singing, believe it or not, "Oops... I did it again." He nails it, too.
- Is "This Much I Know" a regular Guardian column? Good idea—even if the title reminds me of Homer Simpson botching the title of that right-wing record album, "This [sic] Things I Believe." Guardian's latest version is from Malcolm Gladwell. Of the things he knows this much, some are interesting ("We need more generalists"), some are obvious ("I prefer great songwriters to politicians"), and one, near the end, just feels wrong: "Hollywood is strangely indifferent to questions of faith, while the rest of America is consumed by them." Counter-argument: Most of America isn't consumed by the questions of faith so much as by the desire to see their faith validated. Hollywood used to do this, with their Biblical epics in the '20s, '50s, '60s, but it's a bigger world now, a bigger market, and while sometimes the Christians come out to spite those they feel are spiting them ("The Passion of the Christ"), mostly they just stay at home ("The Nativity Story").
- Good article on The Atlantic site on what's wrong with "Glee."
- Also from The Atlantic: Odd, creepy encounter between Donald Rumsfeld and Alex Gibney, documentarian ("Taxi to the Dark Side"), at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Rumsfeld: "Abu Ghraib... That was a terrible thing." OK, so maybe that was the understatment of the year. Not a big fan, by the way, of the WHCD. It always has a "Nero fiddles" feel. With one exception.
- Hawaii's had enough of the Birthers. And who hasn't?
- The best lines I've read on the Junior-sleeping-in-the-clubhouse controversy is in this post from a New York Yankees fan. Read it and laugh. Or weep. Or just shake your head sadly.
- Finally, here's a special "Iron Man 2" quote for the New York Yankees and their invincible closer Mariano Rivera: "If you can make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water. And the sharks will come." Touch 'em all, Jason Kubel!
- Video of Al Pacino speaking with Katie Couric on "60 Minutes." Do I find out anything I don't already know about Al? I guess that he was raised by a single mother and grandparents, and that his mother and grandfather died when he was relatively young, and where "Attica!" in "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Hoo-ah!" in "Scent of a Woman" come from. That's about it. It's fun listening to him but the questions are so generic, and often gossipy, that you're not learning much. I would've asked more about "The Insider", or at least one question about "The Insider," but I know I'm in the minority.
- Now here's an interview. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly talks to director James Cameron as "Avatar" comes to DVD in the U.S. (a month after I bought it in Vietnam for 50 cents). Money quote, much reprinted, on the puny DVD extras. Cameron: "There’s zero extras! There’s so few extras that you put it in, you push play, and the movie starts. There are no trailers, there’s no bullshit at the beginning that you have to endlessly go through. I have a deal with the studio and it goes like this: Any movie I make that makes over a billion dollars goes out without a bunch of crap trailers for your other movies." Hoo-ah!
- A lot has already been said about the new Arizona immigration law and the demand, the Nazi-era demand, for people to show their papers, but a couple of readers on James Fallows' Atlantic site have good takes. The first reader's comments are particularly apt. If driver's licenses don't count as citizenship papers, then U.S. citizens don't really carry around citizenship papers. Put another way: Nothing defines an American more than NOT carrying around the very thing Arizona's new law demands you carry around to prove you're American. The most suspect people, then, are the people who can prove they're not suspect. Nice law. The second reader's comments have a kind of Nelsonesque "Haw-haw!" attached to them, since the right wing in this country is becoming like the very thing they've always disparaged: France. It's amusing, certainly, but here's a killjoy reminder: The last thing we want is for Latinos in this country to feel as welcome as northern Africans do in France. That's not what we're about.
- Andy Engelson in Hanoi eats some crickets, reads Saul Bellow, hoists a couple of glasses of fresh beer.