Lancelot Links postsMonday January 04, 2010
Lancelot Links (Still Loves David Simon)
- Last Lancelot Links ended with this Q&A from David Simon of “The Wire,” and it's so good I decided to begin this Lancelot Links with it—in case you didn't get a chance to read it the first time around. Simon's view of the world is basically my view of the world—just, like, lots more articulate.
- Tired of reading? Feeling like Chance the Gardener and just want to watch? Here's a joyous end-of-the-year video from Matt Shapiro (who's 17? Really?) on our 2009 cinematic moments. Nicely done, kid. I saw it via Jeff Wells' site and he had the audacity to complain it was a week late. Jeff wants his end-of-the-year celebrations before the end of the year—even though some of the best movies aren't released until the end of the year. And in most cities not even then. Two words for Jeff Wells: Chill the fuck out.
- Via Sully's site, a nice 10 or 15-year-old video of Jon Stewart interviewing George Carlin.
- A New Year's message from Minneapolis' own Dan Wilson: “What a Year for a New Year”
- Opinionator subhed on The New York Times' site: “Is 'the system worked' this White House’s 'heckuva job, Brownie'?” Quick answers: 1) The former is about a disaster that didn't happen, the latter is about a disaster that did; 2) the former is something Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, the latter is something Pres. Bush said; 3) the former defended a bureaucratic system put in place by the Bush administration; the latter defended an incompetent and party loyalist. So my opinionator answer to the Times, and to Tobin Harshaw, who hasn't impressed me thus far, is no. The subhed, though, is an early candidate for most fatuous of the year. Heckuva job, Tobin.
- In the Times', and Tobin's, favor, of course, the system didn't and doesn't work. I see old men made to take off their shoes and belts at airport security, and yet this guy, with all of the alarms he sets off, waltzes in with a bomb in his undies? But blaming Napolitano for one comment doesn't answer the question: What to do? How do we keep the system efficient and safe? I don't have answers. I just know fatuous when I hear it.
- Via Rob Neyer's “Sweet Spot” column on ESPN.com, I saw this bizofbaseball.com piece on the spendiest MLB teams of the 2000s. Some highlights (or lowlights): Six of the 30 spent over $1 billion. The second-spendiest was...wait for it... the Boston Red Sox, who spent $1.3 billion. And the team who spent the most? Yeah: Your (or their) New York Yankees, who spent $1.87 billion. Quite a gap between 1 and 2. The thriftiest, or cheapest, was the Florida Marlins, whose $0.4 billion still got them a World Series title, but they're the anomaly. Most of the time, if you don't spend, you don't dance in October. The two spendiest teams are the only teams to have two titles in the decade.
- Also via Neyer, who agrees with Jason Rosenberg's All About the Money (Stupid) piece blasting MLB Fanhouse writer Ed Price's headline: “No Rival to Red Sox in 2000s.” I agree the headline's silly, since the Red Sox had nothing but rivals. But I disagree with everyone who's given the meaningless title of “team of the decade” to the Yankees. Sure, based on the stats, the Yankees eke out the Red Sox—and blast by every other team. But baseball's not just about stats. It's about who's expected to win and who isn't, who pays to win and who doesn't, who wins all the time and who doesn't. The Red Sox are the team of the decade to me because they overcame not just a nearly 80-year legacy of operatic futility but they did so in a fashion no team's ever done. Down 3 games to 0 to the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, and behind in the ninth innng of Game 4, they managed to tie the game with a walk, a stolen base and a single, then win in extra innings on a David Ortiz homerun; then they won the next night in extra innings on a David Ortiz base hit; then they won behind the bloodied sock of Curt Schilling; then they tore the Yankees a new one in Game 7 for the greatest post-season comeback ever. Plus in their two World Series titles they never lost a game. They turned their franchise around entirely. The Yankees? Considering how they began the decade, considering how much money they spent, considering the history of their lofty franchise, they were actually kind of a disappointment. Besides, as everyone knows: Yankees suck.
Lancelot Links (Votes for Edgar, Worries over the Future of Journalism)
- A good piece in The New York Times on the established media attempting (yet again) to put up fences and charge $$ for online use. Much of the back-and-forth is same old, same old (“It has to be done or we die” vs. “It's already too late, suckers”), but the money quote, near the end, comes from Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU: “People who really think we have to charge or the industry is sunk would be more persuasive if they said at the same time we have to add more value than we’ve been adding.“ Exactamundo, Rosen. But value's a tricky business. Rupert Murdoch says the following in the article: “In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.” I got sad reading that because people don't want good journalism now. They want gossip, sports, biased politics. Asking people to pay for good investigative journalism is like asking people to pay for vegetables when hamburgers are free. It's like asking people to pay for ”The Hurt Locker“ when ”Transformers 2“ and ”2012“ are playing at the same cineplex for nothing. That's the true dilemma. Beyond starting over from scratch, with better civics lessons at every level of school, I don't know a way out.
- Another stats-head vote (from David Schoenfield) for Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame. I'm on board, of course. I've been on board forever. I wrote the player profiles for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, back in the late '90s and early '00s, and Edgar's numbers were just amazing. Schoenfield references some of them: ”Edgar hit .311/.423/.517 at home, .312/.412/.514 on the road,“ he writes. But it's not just home and away. He hit everywhere, against every team. He's not just a manager's dream, he's a mathematician's dream. This is from his player profile in April 2000:
In Ken Burns' Baseball documentary, columnist George Will put the cherry on top of Stan Musial's remarkable consistency with this fact: of his 3630 career hits, 1815 were at home and 1815 were on the road. ”He didn't care where he was,“ Will says, ”he just hit." For our own Seattle entry into baseball consistency, we present Edgar Martinez. Last season he hit over .300 at home and away. He hit over .300 before and after the All-Star break, versus lefties and righties. He hit over .300 every month of the season except for April and June, when he slumped to .298 and .297 respectively. For his career he's batting over .300 against every AL team except Toronto (a meager .297). The sunrise should be so consistent. And don't even get us started on his on-base percentage.
- The lead-in is beyond embarrassing but Vice Magazine's Q&A with The Wire's David Simon is a must-fucking-read. Excerpts:
On the gift of 12 hours
We weren’t cynical about having been given ten, 12, 13 hours—whatever we had for any season from HBO. All of that was an incredible gift. The Godfather narrative, even including the third film, the weak one, is like… what? Nine hours? And look how much story they were able to tell. We were getting more than that for each season. So goddamn it, you better have something to say. That sounds really simple, but it’s actually a conversation that I don’t think happens on a lot of serialized drama. Certainly not on American television. I think that a lot of people believe that our job as TV writers is to get the show up as a franchise and get as many viewers, as many eyeballs, as we can, and keep them. So if they like x, give them more of x. If they don’t like y, don’t do as much y.
On mistaking capitalism for a social framework
It’s one thing to recognize capitalism for the powerful economic tool it is and to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and, hey, thank God we have it. There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980—since Reagan. Human beings—in this country in particular—are worth less and less. When capitalism triumphs unequivocally, labor is diminished. It’s a zero-sum game. People paid a much higher tax rate when Eisenhower was president, a much higher tax rate for the benefit of society, and all of us had more of a sense that we were included.
On health care
We live in an oligarchy. The mother’s milk of American politics is money, and the reason they can’t reform financing, the reason that we can’t have public funding of elections rather than private donations, the reason that K Street is K Street in Washington, is to make sure that no popular sentiment survives. You’re witnessing it now with health care, with the marginalization of any effort to rationally incorporate all Americans under a national banner that says, “We’re in this together.” ... And of course it’s socialism. These ignorant motherfuckers. What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! If socialism is a taint that you cannot abide by, then, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be in any group insurance policy. You should just go out and pay the fucking doctors because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, “Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we’ll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan...” That’s fuckin’ socialism. That’s nothing but socialism.
On choosing personal ambition over a moral imperative
But all the characters who are serving the institutions, who are so self-preserving and self-aggrandizing, they are rigorous about always making the wrong choice when it comes to a societal good, to a communal good. And you know what? I was a reporter for a lot of years. I actually believe that’s how the city works or doesn’t work. I wrote a book about what was wrong with the drug trade, the drug war. It was very carefully researched and it made clear that this was a fool’s errand. I watched a councilman who was running for mayor go to the corner where I wrote the book, hold a copy of the book up in front of the TV cameras, and say that if he were elected mayor he would fight the drug war for real and he would win it. Well, he became mayor and he fought as a drug warrior and he clipped the stats and he made it sound like crime was going down when crime wasn’t going down and now he’s the governor of Maryland. ... And he didn’t like The Wire. He didn’t think The Wire was a good thing.
On the stories we tell ourselves and why
Let’s celebrate me and the wonder that is me. It’s not about society. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were consumed with questions about man and state. ... Now the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. How many frickin’ times are we gonna watch a story where somebody [rises agains the odds]: “You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “I’ll show you, see?” And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.
On the death of journalism
What got asked at the Baltimore Sun was, “How can we bite off a little morsel of outrage and run with it?” Yeah. “Let’s do 50 stories on lead-paint poisoning between January and December. We’re not going to do any more the next year because that’s past the Pulitzer year. But we’re going to show you how bad lead-paint poisoning is. In fact, we’re going to show you that if it weren’t for lead-paint poisoning, these kids would all be at fucking Ivy League schools. Never mind that their family lives have been decimated, that they’re in a school system that’s utterly dysfunctional, that the drug trade’s the only industry where they live. Never mind all of that. If they’d just stop eating the fuckin’ lead paint, they could all be at Princeton.” You would look at that and you would say, “This is the highest ambition for journalism? This is what you got? What the fuck happened to us?”
Lancelot Links (Is Pissed at QT)
- "Iron Man 2" trailer, dudes! Questions: 1) Are they overdoing Tony Stark with the "Yes, dear" line? He was so good in the first movie, but sequel writers tend to exaggerate the actor's first-movie exaggerations (see: Capt. Jack) and ruin 'em. Hope that's not happening here. 2) Iron Man makes a nice metaphor for America in the 21st century, doesn't he? Initially cocky and triumphant while enemies gather; then dazed and hurt; then ready for action. The difference is that Iron Man was smart enough to get a partner. An equal partner, Mr. Blair.
- Related: Sam Worthington as Captain America? It's an unfound rumor, and some object because he's Australian, but he sure looks like he'd fit the part.
- Phil Contrino of boxoffice.com wonders if "The Hurt Locker," which is garnering all the critics' awards, can possibly win best picture when it made only $12 million at the box office. "Crash is this decade's lowest grossing Best Picture winner with $54.6 million," he writes. "Technically, Annie Hall has the lowest domestic gross of any Best Picture winner since 1970 with $38.3 million in 1977, but that equals around $124 million when adjusted for inflation." Contrino seems to suggest moviegoers are at fault for the dismal box office, and maybe they are, but Summit Entertainment never really put the movie out there, either. Its widest release was only 535 theaters.
- Speaking of "Crash": Manohla Dargis goes off on the sexism rampant in Hollywood: the lack of female directors, the lack of smart female movies, the fact that time and again Hollywood executives seem to think women don't go to the movies—despite all evidence to the contrary. Spleen is definitely, and legitimately, vented. Then there's this beauty: "Let's acknowledge that the Oscars are bullshit and we hate them. But they are important commercially... I've learned to never underestimate the academy's bad taste. Crash as best picture? What the fuck."
- There's a great piece by Jeffrey Toobin in the Dec. 14th issue of The New Yorker on the legal issues surrounding Roman Polanski's arrest on statutory rape charges in 1977—not to mention his flight from, and attempted extradiction back to, the U.S. earlier this year. You need the print edition to read it in full, though. The abtract is here. Toobin is smart on the ways Polanski's celebrity both helped and hurt his case. There's little doubt, from Toobin's description, that Polanksi committed a crime in 1977. There's also little doubt, from Toobin's description, that those charged with that crime—that is, statutory rape—rarely did prison time back then. His recent incarceration in Switzerland, meanwhile, resulted from renewed interest in the case because of a documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which more or less declares him not guilty, and more or less on the strength of an interview with then-deputy district attorney David Wells, who implied misconduct on the part of the presiding judge. But Wells has since recanted that portion of the interview. Leaving us where? In a big fat no-man's land.
- Quentin Tarantino is starting to piss me off. Not as a filmmaker but as a critic. Here he lays out his top 8 movies of the year. I like that he includes "Funny People" and "Observe and Report," two underrated serio-comedies starring Seth Rogen. But "Star Trek" at no. 1? The thing is lukewarm "Star Wars." Does he like it s much because J.J. Abrams kills off the sacred in the "Star Trek" universe (the planet Vulcan) as QT kills off the profane in ours (Hitler in "Inglourious Basterds")? That's not enough of a reason. The accompanying video of QT adds little, but I suppose I should cut him some slack because he is taking this seriously. He talks of going to see certain movies again to see if they've risen in his estimation. That's more (twice more) than a lot of Academy members do.
- Finally, via my friend Mr. B., a Season's Greetings from the Seattle Mariners, who are getting smarter all the time. It's a clip from a game last...September? Ichiro hitting a walk-off homerun off some hack named Mariano Rivera. Makes. Me. Smile. Touch 'em all, Ichiro!
Lancelot Links (Wants to Deck Someone)
- John Perr's blog, "Crooks and Liars," takes Sarah Palin apart for her massive ignorance of the history of our country, but equally important, not to mention related, is the accompanying graph (below) on the recent tax rate of our lowest and highest income brackets. During World War II, which Palin insists, in a Washington Post Op-Ed of all places, was paid for by war bonds (volunteerism), the top income bracket was taxed at 94%. Ninety-four percent! So much for voluteerism. Now they're taxed at 35 percent. Me, I'd raise it back to at least 50 percent —at least—as it was from 1982 to 1986. Reagan years, people. Everyone in this bracket is making tons of money off of a system they were born into and it's time they showed their appreciation to that system, and the long-term stability of that system, by, yes, "volunteering" to give back. Read the whole piece, it's worth it:
- My man! Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) takes down Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on the health care bill. Franken, by way of Pat Moynihan, has given us a mantra for this age of disinformation: "You're entitled to your own opinion, you're not entitled to your own facts." I particularly like how frustrated and angry Franken gets by the end. You can tell he's fed up. These people keep lying.
- It's actually worse. These people make careers out of accusing the opposition of doing what they do. It's the absolutist right, not the relativist left, that's as close to a fascistic organization as this country has ever had. The Nazis, remember, started out as a vocal minority, an absolutist, bullying, hateful group that wheedled its way into power and then shut out all opposition. That's the absolutist right in this country. And their latest alley-oop accusation? Via the Daily Show: Global-warming debunkers are now accusing global-warming proponents (i.e., the scientific community) of believing what they believe...for money! The idea being that global warming is big business so it doesn't matter if it's true or not. Nice. Because we all know it's the opposite of that. Global warming continues because of big business, because of the money that's made pumping what we pump into the air. The whole thing is so awful it makes you want to retch. It makes you want to deck somebody.
- A voice of reason in this wretched political world? Hendrik Hertzberg. Again.
- And another. It's worth watching Pres. Obama interviewed by Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes." He's a serious man in serious times surrounded by the unserious and the moronic. By people who are dicking around. And not just the absolutist right and not just the mainstream media but you and me. We create all of this. Every second, with every decision, we create our world.
- And even this serious interview gets an idiotic response from Dana Perino, whose 15 minutes, in a normal world, that is a non-cable, non-fragmented world, would be up. Yet she keeps talking. She says that President Obama's suggestion that President Bush "was too triumphant in his rhetoric when talking about war...is demonstrably false." The obvious follow-up? "Can you demonstrate it?" But she was on FOX News so they didn't ask the obvious follow-up. Here. Here are the three words that demonstrate the truth of what Pres. Obama implied about Pres. Bush: "Bring 'em on." Do we need more? Do we need to recall the swagger and the smirk? The aircraft carrier and flight suit? The "Mission Accomplished" banners? The talk of good and evil? The covering up of America's war dead? Damn, people, it wasn't even 10 years ago.
- But apparently some people can't even remember January 19, 2009.
- First, The Daily Show helped expose Glenn Beck's inciting panic/encouraging gold-buying and repping for Goldline. Now it's The Colbert Report's turn. "'Pray on it.' Like we're preying on you." Brilliant. Here's an in-depth look from the L.A. Times. The question that needs to be asked—and I mean this—is: Why is Glenn Beck trying to destroy this country?
- To end on an up note, here's Pres. Obama's speech after winning the Nobel Prize. It's a serious speech by a serious man in serious times. Read the whole thing. An excerpt:
- We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
- We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
- The New York Times gives us their top 10 books of the year. I haven't read any of them but I'm still disappointed with the fiction offerings. Or maybe I'm merely disappointed with the Times' synopeses: "concise yet finely grained..."; "narrated by a Wisconsin college student who hungers for wordly experience..."; "the theme is feminism..." It all feels dry and small. Only the Lethem and Walls' books open things up.
- Meanwhile, the best bookstore in Seattle is moving.
- I'm not a big fan of the "forgot" school of commentary ("In your list of top 10 superhero movies, you forgot "Daredevil, dude..."), but NPR gives us an article on the top villains of the decade, complete with a poll of five possible picks... and doesn't mention Anton Chigurh? Nice work, friendo.
- Two years ago Variety's Peter DeBruge's watched an Oscar montage of best foreign films and was, in his phrase, "floored," and became determined to watch them all. He did so this year and reports his findings here. He talks about the excitement of the early years: "Bicycle Thief," "Rashomon," "The Nights of Cabiria," "The Virgin Spring"...
And then a curious thing began to happen. Questionable winners started to sneak in. Mushy French melodrama "Sundays and Cybele," a Stateside hit in 1962, won (submitted over Francois Truffaut's far superior "Jules et Jim"). De Sica's overripe "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" (1964) trumped the existential masterpiece "Woman in the Dunes," while massive French phenom "A Man and a Woman" (1966) bested "The Battle of Algiers" and so on.
The category was fast devolving into a popularity contest, with the B.O. sensations beating what many thought was their more deserving competition. Great films carried the category into the next decade, including De Sica's heartbreaking foiled-by-WWII romance"The Garden of the Finzi Continis" (1971), Truffaut's playful meta-movie "Day for Night" (1973) and Kurosawa's pensive non-samurai epic "Dersu Uzala" (1975). But corruption allegedly set in as well, which might explain how "Black and White in Color" (1976) beat "Seven Beauties" and "Cousin, Cousine" when those two films were nominated for five other Oscars between them.
My two most satisfying discoveries — 1978's "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," a nutty menage a trois from French provocateur Bertrand Blier, and 1985's "The Official Story," a wrenching look at the children of political dissidents put up for adoption during Argentina's Dirty War — fall during this questionable period.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere, James Cameron talks to a French journalist about the making of "Avatar." The questions are tough and the answers are smart. I don't know if "Avatar" will work, or will sell, but I like the way Cameron's selling it. He includes a kind of callback to Wiliam Goldman's famous dictum that nobody in Hollywood knows anything: "I think people in Hollywood don't really know what's commercial," Cameron says. "What's commercial is what people want to see. It's that simple. Sometimes they want to slow down and experience something. It isn't always dack-dack-dack, boom-boom-boom, rocketing along. This is what Hollywood has convinced themselves people want to see." ... Even better are Cameron's comments about how the best movies alter our perceptions. "It's not just about literally seeing [the Na'Vi] but about perceiving differently —perceiving through the eyes of the other person. That's what cinema's all about to me. You come in one door and you come out through another door. And that's a door of perception." The comment reminded me of the days when moviegoers would do this literally: enter one way, exit another (through the exit doors). We don't do that so much anymore. We tend to leave the same way we entered. Both literally and, sadly, metaphorically. (BONUS FOR FRENCH STUDENTS: The interview is subtitled in French so you can practice as you listen.)
- In baseball, the rich get richer.
- Finally, I'm a long-standing Marx Bros. fan, so A.O. Scott doesn't say much that either surprises or thrills me in his video critique of, or homage to, "Duck Soup." But watch it anyway—particularly if you haven't seen them in action. Halfway through, we get a scene where Chico and Harpo, spies for Sylvania, report to Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), who simply asks for the records of Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) of Freedonia. One simple question and the gags come rapid-fire:
- Harpo produces a record LP from his trenchcoat.
- Trentino throws it in the air in exasperation and Harpo takes a gun from his trenchcoat and shoots it like a skeet.
- Chico rings a bell, says "And the boy gets a cee-gar," and hands Harpo one of Trentino's cigars.
- Chico closes the cigar lid on Trentino's hand and Trentino rubs his hand in pain.
- Harpo pretends to take Trentino's hand-rubbing for excitement and rubs his hands in excitement, too.
- Five gags in 10 seconds. Brilliant.