Nuts and Bolton
Good lede by the New York Times editorial board on Trump's latest appointment in his increasingly nationalistic cabinet:
The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump's new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks.
The bad thing is what he thinks.
And what is that?
Over a 30-year career in which he served three Republican presidents, including as United Nations ambassador and the State Department's top arms control official, Mr. Bolton has largely disdained diplomacy and arms control in favor of military solutions; no one worked harder to blow up the 1994 agreement under which North Korea's plutonium program was frozen for nearly eight years in exchange for heavy fuel oil and other assistance. The collapse of that agreement helped bring us to the crisis today, where North Korea is believed to have 20 or more nuclear weapons.
Bolton is also mentioned in Andrew Sullivan's weekly article for New York magazine, in which he worries that we're entering the late-stages of a democracy as articulated by Plato 2500 years ago:
The prism is essentially how a late-stage democracy, dripping with decadence and corruption, with elites dedicated primarily to enriching themselves, and a people well past any kind of civic virtue, morphs so easily into tyranny.
The Audience is a Child
Optimus Prime in “Transformers 2.” Plot sold separately.
“The audience is a child. If you ask the audience what they want, they‘ll want dessert. They’ll say they want ice cream. They‘ll want cake. You ask them what they want the next minute, they’ll say more ice cream, more cake. You show them that they like something else. ‘You like fried chicken? Here, taste my fried chicken.’ Then the next ten things they order will be the fried chicken. ‘You like Omar?’ ‘Yeah, I love Omar. Give me more of Omar.’ No, I want to tell you a story, and the characters are going to do what they‘re supposed to do in the story, and that’s the job of the writer. That's the writer's job. That's the storyteller's job. You don't write for anybody but the story, for yourself and for your idea of what the story is. The moment you start thinking about the audience and the audience's expectation, you‘re lost. You’re just lost.”
David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” in the oral history “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire,” by Jonathan Abrams.
Trailer: The China Hustle
“The China Hustle” is available via On Demand, iTunes and Amazon on March 30. Fingers crossed.
“I led Facebook's efforts to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering. What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse. As the world contemplates what to do about Facebook in the wake of its role in Russia's election meddling, it must consider this history. Lawmakers shouldn't allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won‘t.”
Sandy Parakilas, operations manager at Facebook in 2011-12, in a New York Times Op-Ed, “We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself,” from last November. Since then, the Cambridge Analytica story has broken. Almost as big a story has been Facebook's non-response. Mark Zuckerberg is supposed to “break silence” on the controversy today, but it already feels too late.
Brennan vs. Trump: Dawn of Justice?
This is how nuts everything is.
On Friday, March 16, the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, fired the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, two days short of his retirement, for reasons we‘re not quite clear on yet, but which, overall, smack of political retribution. Shortly thereafter, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, sent this message to the nation via tweet:
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
It’s that classic GOP strategy—accuse others of your own crimes—filtered through the taunting and bullying manner of a third-grader. I‘ll pause for a second to remind everyone that Trump wouldn’t even be president if it wasn't for James Comey.
But that's not the nuts thing.
The following morning, the former director of the CIA, John O. Brennan, responded to Trump, the sitting president of the United States, with this quote-retweet of his own:
When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America ... America will triumph over you.
Again, that's from a former director of the CIA to the sitting president of the United States. For everyone to see.
But in a way that's not the nuts thing, either. The nuts things is that this isn't making headlines. It's barely a blip on the media radar.
The Short, Consequential Career of Pee Wee Wanninger
My father is fond of the following baseball trivia question:
Who did Lou Gehrig replace to begin his 2,130 consecutive-games-played streak?
It’s a famous baseball story—if partially apocryphal. On June 2, 1925, Wally Pipp, the Yankees longtime first baseman, complained of a headache and asked manager Miller Huggins if he could sit out a game. Huggins sent in Gehrig ... who stayed at the position for 14 years.
The apocryphal bit is the headache. If there was a headache, it was Huggins’, since the Yankees started the season poorly: 15-26, seventh in the A.L. And they’d just lost five in a row—three to the Athletics, one to Boston, and one to the Washington Senators, who were, remember, 1924 World Champions, and who at this point had as many titles as the Yanks: one. So Huggins was doing what he could to change things around. Pipp, a career .300 hitter, was down to .244. His replacement, Gehrig, wound up going 3-5, with a double, a run, and an RBI, in a 8-5 Yankee victory. The rest is history. Certainly for Pipp: In the off-season the Yanks sold him to the Cincinnati Reds for $7500. Three years later, he was out of baseball.
Anyway, that’s the famous story but it’s not the answer to the trivia question—which is why my father likes it. Because the day before this game, on June 1, 1925, Gehrig came in as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 8th inning for shortstop Pee-Wee Wanninger.
And that’s the answer: Pee-Wee Wanninger.
Dad and I were talking about this again on the phone last week, and afterwards, curious, I did a dive into Baseball Reference stats and came away with some interesting tidbits my father didn’t know.
The first game of the streak was a 5-3 loss to the Senators. The last game of the streak was a 3-2 loss to the Senators. Oh, and guess who Gehrig faced in that first game? Walter Johnson, the Big Train, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Talk about your deep ends. He flew out to left.
But here’s the part that amazed me most.
Before Gehrig, the record-holder for consecutive games played was a shortstop named Everett Scott, who was part of that late '10s/early ‘20s migration of Red Sox players to the Yankees. His streak, 1,307 games—still the third-longest ever—began in 1916 in Boston and ended on May 5, 1925 with the Yanks. It was part of another Miller Huggins shake-up. Scott was hitting just .208, so, streak or no streak, on May 6, Huggins replaced him.
With Pee-Wee Wanninger.
Isn’t that amazing? Wanninger replaced the guy with the longest consecutive-games streak, and then, less than a month later, was replaced by the guy starting the new consecutive-games streak. Life doesn’t give us this kind of symmetry often. We need to appreciate it when we find it.
For all the baseball history he made, Wanninger didn’t last long. He was hitting .316 on June 6, but by the end of the month he was down to .291 and kept falling. End of July: .264. August: .243. He played sparsely in September, and that off-season was dealt to the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. A year later, the Saints traded him to Boston. He ended his Major League career that same season in Cincinnati. Lifetime, he hit .234/.266./295. He has negative career WAR. But he could close a bar with the stories he could tell.
Boxscore, June 1, 1925
Box Office: Bet on ‘Black Panther’
Still sharpening its claws.
In its fifth weekend, “BP” dropped just 34% to gross another $26.6 million. It's now at $605 million domestic, $1.185 billion worldwide. The latter is 14th-best, the former seventh-best. Domestically, it will soon pass “The Last Jedi” ($619) and “The Avengers” ($623). The only real question is if it can pass “Titanic,” too ($659), and become the third-highest-grossing domestic movie ever. “Avatar,” at $760, is out of reach.
That's unadjusted, of course. But even if you adjust for inflation, “BP” is 47th all-time, having already passed up the likes of the ‘89 “Batman,” “Bambi” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Less celebrated but also relevant? “Jumanji” grossed another $1.6 to eke over the $400 million mark.
Most of the new releases didn’t exactly bowl anyone over. The reboot of “Tomb Raider” finished second with $23.6 mil, while the gay teen movie “Love, Simon” finished fifth with $11. But: the Christian uplifter “I Can Only Imagine,” starring Dennis Quaid, surprised with a healthy $17 mil. It finished third.
Meanwhile, the much-ballyhooed “A Wrinkle in Time” dropped 50% in its second weekend for $16 mil and fourth place. It's grossed $60 mil domestic.
It's Not the Tweets
“The largest faction of the [Republican] party has taken the position that Donald Trump is a fantastically successful president whose main error is undisciplined tweeting. What is most notable about this approach is what it omits: the idea that Trump possesses authoritarian instincts or might be deeply implicated in the Russia scandal. It focuses entirely on the most superficial critique of his job performance and ignores evidence of his fundamental unfitness for office.”
Jonathan Chait, “Republicans Can't Understand Why Trump Is Acting Guilty,” New York Magazine