Lancelot Links posts
Tuesday November 26, 2019
Chabon: “I love Mr. Spock because he reminds me of you, I said.”
- Dan Kois and Laura Miller of Slate pick the top 50 nonfiction books from the last 25 years. For the last 15 I‘ve mostly read nonfiction. So how many of these have I read? Four. Yikes. Get busy reading or get busy dying. Particularly vis a vis the Kolbert.
- That said, no Michael Lewis, Adam Hochschild, Jill Lepore or Jane Mayer? How about Yu Hua? Or Bill Bryson?
- The New York Times, meanwhile, has put out its list of the top 10 books of 2019, as well as 100 notables. There, I’m 0-10 and 0-100. But I am interested in the impeachment book.
- Joe Henry's new album is out, “The Gospel According to Water,” a title I love. My most-played song so far? “Orson Welles,” with its beautiful refrain: “You provide the terms of my surrender, and I‘ll provide the war.” (Cf., “Citizen Kane.”) It’s available here, along with testimonials from Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jason Isbell, and John Prine. But you should really just buy it. Support your local artist.
- Parade magazine has posted a slideshow of its baseball-related covers through the years. We get about five Stan Musials, three Mickey Mantles, a few Tom Seavers, a few Yogi Berras. What's missing? Besides any Minnesota Twin? Well, on the April 11, 1954 cover, Roy Campanella is displayed as one of six sluggers in the Majors. He's the only African-American baseball player on the Parade cover until the 1978 Cleveland Indians/Bible study cover, in which none of them are named. And that's it. That's it, by the way, even to this day. Just two. Yes, a few pretty good players kinda passed over there, Chief. Cf., the history of Who's Who in Baseball.
- Everyone who cares about this world, not to mention good writing, should subscribe to The New Yorker. Print edition, if you still do that thing. Earlier this month, we got a personal essay from Michael Chabon about his dying father and “Star Trek.” I was reading it, went “Damn, this is good writing,” then checked the byline. Right, Chabon. Amazing what you can make art out of. “I'm with the Horta on this one.”
- How many of the SCOTUS justices can you name? On a good day I get all nine but it's kinda part of my day job. One that gets overlooked (not Breyer- or Alito-overlooked but still overlooked) is Elena Kagan, who's the subject of a good Magaret Talbot profile in The New Yorker. Talbot paints her as the stolid liberal justice even conservatives dig. Bonus points for Jewish/dry sense of humor.
- But the must-read New Yorker piece—for the year, really—is by Alec MacGillis, who wrote that scathing bio of Mitch McConnell I'm forever quoting. Here, he dives into how the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes have affected one family. They lost a daughter in the second crash, flying out of Addis Ababa, five months after the first crash. She was 24, lovely, smart, driven. Her father ran “Coalition for a More Prosperous America,” a lobbying organization for small farmers and manufacturers, and on whose board sat a former Boeing engineer who had been warning for years that Boeing had shifted from an engineering culture to a business/bottom-line culture, and the inherent dangers there. Her mother, meanwhile, was the niece of Ralph Nader, the author of “Unsafe at Any Speed,” and the most famous consumer-safety advocate in my lifetime. You can't make this stuff up. If no one is contacting MacGillis to turn this story into a movie, Hollywood is truly dead.
- I should mention that those three great New Yorker stories were all from the same issue: Nov. 18, 2019. The one with the beautiful “Dressing for Fall” cover by Birgit Schossow. See what I mean?
Saturday November 09, 2019
- Peter Osnos (related to Evan?) writes about editing the first two Trump books: “The Art of the Deal” (w/Tony Schwartz), and “The Art of Survival” (w/Charles Leerhsen). The big reveal has less to do with Trump than with the publishing industry. It's all about fancy lunches in exotic places with rich guys pushing one of their own forward. The press, too, helped. See: a fawning 1976 profile in The New York Times calling him NYC's No. 1 real estate promoter who “looks ever so much like Robert Redford.” Ever so much? It was the original fake news. “The Art of the Deal” is one of the many fake books: a book by and about people who don't read.
- Yes, Evan Osnos is the son of Peter.
- Bernard Slade died last week at age 89. He was a TV writer who helped create “The Flying Nun” and “The Partridge Family,” then transitioned back to his first love, theater, for which he wrote “Same Time, Next Year” and “Tribute,” among others. He also wrote the screenplays for each; he got nominated for “Same Time, Next Year.” Key quote from the Times' obit: “While in Canada I had written a television play called ‘The Big Coin Sound,’ which was about a vocal group. Then one night I happened to catch a family group called the Cowsills on ‘The Tonight Show.’ Since ‘The Sound of Music’ was enormously popular at the time, I thought the combination of original music and comedy could be very effective in a television series.”
- News this week from The New York Times: “A state judge ordered President Trump to pay $2 million in damages to nonprofit groups on Thursday after the president admitted misusing money raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to promote his presidential bid, pay off business debts and purchase a portrait of himself for one of his hotels.” Right. So the president of the United States admits to bilking people for his own benefit ... and it hardly causes a stir. Those are the times we‘re in.
- Meanwhile, the latest GOP excuse for the Ukraine Scandal isn’t that it didn't happen, it's that there's no evidence in some of the charges against him. Gordon Sondland, for example, who gave $1 million to the Trump campaign and then became EU ambassador, has testifed before Congress that Trump basically directed him to shake down Ukraine—withholding favors until they conducted a very public investigation of Joseph Biden—but there's no direct evidence of this. Jonathan Chait has some fun with the absurdity of this. To me, it's like congressional Republicans in 1973 saying of Watergate: “It was a Don Segretti operation all the way.”
Tuesday January 08, 2019
- Outgoing chief of staff John Kelly says the man responsible for the “zero tolerance” border policy that separated families was Jeff Sessions. Kelly says the White House was surprised by it but doesn't say anything on why they didn't immediately push back. Also stuff about the wall. Old news.
- Robert Horton's 10 best/worst movies of 2018. I don't necessarily agree but I like the way he says it.
- Dave Barry's review of 2018. Wasn't pretty, kids.
- I am still in love with “Ben Franklin's Song” by the Decembrists, via Lin-Manuel Miranda. What I didn't know? The Ben Franklin Institute wrote about it!
- Via The New York Times, photographer Li Zhensheng tries to make the Chinese remember its recent past—specifically the Cultural Revolution.
- Good Q&A with Jena Friedman on the latest Louis CK controversy. Good because it's tempered. She acknowledges both the faults and the genius of the man. In the new routine that has people up in arms, secretly recorded and posted by others, she acknowledges that stand-up is a process. Exactly. To me, this is like people getting angry at an author over a rough draft that someone stole off his desk.
- Chris Rock is kind of funny on not being able to be funny anymore.
- Elina Shatkin makes a list of complaints about the things Millennials are supposedly putting out of business through lack of interest—including Buffalo Wild Wings, Applebee‘s, Hooters, golf and breakfast cereal—and says, “You go, kids.” Then she offers up a few other targets.
- Recommending again the New Yorker piece on how Mark Burnett revived Donald Trump’s sad career with “The Apprentice,” setting up our current predicament.
- From the same issue: the Trump-Merkel contretemps. The horror of what Trump is blithely ending. How it may end the world as we know it.
Monday December 24, 2018
- In the wake of the Harold Baines debaccle, Joey Poz had a great piece on the long sad history of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Writers Association of America, and the Veterans Committee. I know a lot about baseball history but the specifics he brings are new to me. It's basically how underreaction can lead to overaction, and over to under. Balance is tough.
- But Baseball's sure as hell beats the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. One of my guys, John Mulaney, did a great, brutal bit on the Rock HOF on Seth Meyer's show, and this Rolling Stone interview is an expansion on that. It's funny, chastising, but mostly heartwarming. He's reminding the honorees, “You mean a lot to all of us. Your music made happy days happier and sad days happier, or sometimes made normal days more poignant and sad, and that was necessary. ... Go ahead and enjoy it.”
- Life-lesson from John Cassidy: He who rises by the tabloid shall fall by the tabloid. Not that the lessonee will listen.
- Seattle Film Critics (sans me) announced their best of 2018 and it's the usual suspects: “Roma,” Cuaron, Hawke, Collette, etc. Not their fault; other film critics get to see and announce first. And none are bad choices. By now it's just ... familiar. They do give some love to tentpole films “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and “Black Panther,” but even there, it's not unfamiliar. Here's what I think has been missing from the conversation this awards season: “Wajib,” “Love Education,” “The King,” Sakura Ando, Jun Jong-seo, Hawke for “Juliet, Naked.” Maybe “Avengers: Infinity War.” Why I wrote, I suppose.
- The good folks at SABR have written a clear-eyed portrait of baseball's greatest loveable loser: Charlie Brown. The fact-checking graf on his exact birthdate alone makes it worth reading.
Wednesday December 12, 2018
All previous entries
- The U.S. box office hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” which some U.S. critics sadly keep touting, debuted two weeks ago in China—and bombed. It wound up in eighth place, grossing the equivalent of $1.1 million, $23 mil behind “A Cool Fish” in its third week. The website Sixth Tone tries to sort out why. Too shallow? Too Mary Sue—“a pejorative referring to the trope of shallow, unconvincing female characters in works of fiction”? How about too Asian? The article mentions how an All-Asian cast is a breath of fresh air in the U.S. but kinda not in China. It also doesn't mention the arms-length reaction of many Chinese to overseas Chinese or huaqiao. At the same time, the movie did OK in smaller Chinese markets like Taiwan and Hong Kong. But China said 不要。Could make a good dissertation someday—the why of all of this.
- Hey, guess what didn't bomb in China? “Aquaman.” It's opening weekend gross was $93 mil, which is the 21st biggest opening in China ever.
- Larry Stone has a good eulogy on Robinson Cano's five-year tenure with the M's: PED suspension, yes, occasional lapses, yes, but two top-10 MVP finishes and 23.6 WAR. He delivered. Mariners management didn‘t. Not enough. It was a bad deal, and now we’re out of it for the worst part of it, but I‘ll miss him. He was fun to watch. What Yankee fans saw as laziness, I saw as the usual nonchalance of great baseball players turned to 11.
- In an interview with Bob Schieffer, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says it was difficult to work for Trump because he’s “pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.’” Not a huge shocker. Nothing about Trump is a huge shocker to anyone who was paying attention in 2015 and 2016. And all the years previous.
- Speaking of: If you know anyone who says “They didn't know ...” what Trump was like, kindly direct them to this 2006 piece by Mark Singer in The New Yorker. He nailed it all then. There have been no surprises.
- Can't recommend enough George Packer's mid-November piece on the demise of a moderate Republican. Mostly because it's not about that. It's about Packer holding the GOP accountable for its 50-year-long slide into the muck: from the Southern strategy to welfare queens to Willie Horton. “They pushed conspiracy theories into the mainstream,” Packer writes. “They kept raising the bar of viciousness. ... Trump is the movement's darkest realization, not its betrayal.” His Mitch McConnell metaphor is brilliant.