- Tablet has a nice, short piece on the history of Hasidim on film—from Molly Picon in “East and West” (1923) to (convert me, baby!) Natalie Portman in “New York, I Love You” (2009).
- Also from Tablet: Ben Birnbaum, two years ago, explaining much of what goes unexplained about Gertrude Berg in Aviva Kempner's documentary “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.”
- Have you read Tad Friend's New Yorker piece on Nikki Finke yet? Finke is good at what she does but I don't quite get what she does. She has a lot of inside information on the Hollywood industry, and, with her blog, Deadline Hollywood, scoops rivals at Variety and The Los Angeles Times. But most of her scoops, at least according to Friend's article, are stories that would come out anyway: next week, tomorrow, in an hour. So-and-So is replacing Such-and-Such at Yadda-yadda. Thingamajig is making Whatever with Whomever. Dick Cook is getting fired. She's scooping press releases. I understand why it leads to a kind of power, I just don't get why she would want to do it—other than the power. Is this what she's here for? Isn't there a better use for her inside information?
- Also from the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear's piece on Titanic director, and enfant terrible, James Cameron. Great first graf:
The director James Cameron is six feet two and fair, with paper-white hair and turbid blue-green eyes. He is a screamer—righteous, withering, aggrieved. “Do you want Paul Verhoeven to finish this motherfucker?” he shouted, an inch from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face, after the actor went AWOL from the set of “True Lies,” a James Bond spoof that Cameron was shooting in Washington, D.C. (Schwarzenegger had been giving the other actors a tour of the Capitol.) Cameron has mastered every job on set, and has even been known to grab a brush out of a makeup artist’s hand. “I always do makeup touch-ups myself, especially for blood, wounds, and dirt,” he says. “It saves so much time.” His evaluations of others’ abilities are colorful riddles. “Hiring you is like firing two good men,” he says, or “Watching him light is like watching two monkeys fuck a football.” A small, loyal band of cast and crew works with him repeatedly; they call the dark side of his personality Mij—Jim backward.
- A friend of mine, a big Phillies fan, mentioned a line that's gaining currency among Phillies fans: The Bigger, Redder Machine. (She actually told me, “Bigger. Redder. More Machine,” but same idea.) It's cute. But even if the Phils do repeat this year, as the original Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds, did in 1975 and '76, they're hardly, you know, bigger and redder. Put it this way. Six times in 8 years (1970-77) a Cincinnati Red won the NL MVP: Bench in '70 and '72, Rose in '73, Morgan in '75 and '76, and Foster in '77. The Reds had perennial gold glovers at catcher (Bench), second (Morgan), short (Concepcion) and outfield (Geronimo). Their record in '75 was 108-54, which was 18 games better than the second-best team in the league. Their record in '76 was 102-60, which was only one game better than the second-best team in the NL, the Phillies, whom they swept anyway in the NLCS before sweeping the Yankees in the World Series. In two years they only lost three games in the post-season—all to the Red Sox in that epic '75 Series, which, of course, the Reds won anyway. The current Phillies (92-70 last year, 93-69 this year) are good and all. But the original Big Red Machine? They were GOOD.
- Nice piece on Torii Hunter from ESPN.com before the start of the ALCS with the Yankees. I was living in Minnesota at the time the Twins gave him up and thought it a mistake—although my reasons were of the heart more than the head. Torii was getting old and slowing down in center field, but he was so positive, so outspokenly positive in a sport that needed heroes, that I thought it worthwhile to keep him on those grounds alone. Turns out he's actually improved as a player. So now he's the guy you want in the clubhouse and at the plate. Imagine if the Twins had kept him and Johan Santana, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. How quickly would they have crushed the Yankees in the ALDS? This is why Major League Baseball feels like a joke. The other teams are essentially farm systems for the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Mets. Everyone says nothing can be done but... something needs to be done.
- Meanwhile Buzz Bissinger misses the point completely in this New Republic article on Michael Lewis' Moneyball. He says Moneyball is dead. He says it's particularly dead this season, with the higher-payroll teams (Yankees, Red Sox) making it once again to the post-season, while lower-payroll teams such as Billy Beane's A's, the subject of Lewis' book, finishing last in their division. But Moneyball didn't deny that higher-payroll teams had an advantage. That, in fact, is the whole point of the book. How can lower-payroll teams even compete? Lewis found an answer with the A's and sabermetrics in the early 2000s, in which, through his inevitable Wall Street prism, the A's took what was undervalued (on-base percentage) and bought it, and took what was overvalued (closers) and sold it. Not a bad strategy. An inevitable strategy, given the uneven financial playing field of MLB, but it led to this problem: the other MLB teams, particularly the Yankees and Red Sox, now value what was undervalued. Beane no longer has that advantage. This season doesn't disprove Moneyball, as Bissinger argues; it proves it. Bissinger himself proves it. He writes: “Market inefficiences are harder and harder to find, one of the ironies of Beane's brief but successful reliance on on-base percentage from 2000 to 2002 is that it has made players with such skill far too expensive for his pocketbook.” Exactly. That's why Moneyball isn't dead but more alive than ever. As for Bissinger's argument about the importance of closers, I'd say Mariano Rivera is the freakish exception that proves the rule. The rule is Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes, Brad Lidge and Jonathan Broxton. Four of the best closers in baseball over the last two years. Match them up with your favorite, late-inning, post-season, season-altering gopher ball.
- Andrew Sullivan has long been arguing that Obama's opponents underestimate him. They think short-term (news cycles); he thinks long-term (public policy). They think his passiveness is weakness; Sullivan sees it as cunning. The latest argument in the Times online. Hope he's right.
- Sully again—on how it's time to stop the stoner jokes about medical marijuana. I couldn't agree more. On this issue, for most of my adult life, I've been caught between two forms of stupidity: people on the right who criminalize what is medicine, and necessary, for people in pain, for people who are dying; and people on the left, the partying crowd, who laugh and go “Ow!” whenever MEDICAL marijuana (wink-wink) is mentioned. Overall I'm in favor of legalizing marijuana itself but the medical marijuana issue is, in my opinion, and with no pun intended, a no-brainer. Don't even get me started on the fact that it's been deemed a schedule 1 drug (harmful, addictive, with no medical benefits) by cops rather than doctors, when all the medical evidence points to the fact that it isn't addictive and has medical benefits. More from Glenn Greenwald at Salon here. Review of Dan Baum's history of the war on drugs, “Smoke & Mirrors,” here.
- Also via Sully, this graph. Nice to be part of the the growing, hopefully vocal minority: