Monday October 25, 2021
Fox & Fascists: What Birtherism Gave Birth to
“[Roger] Ailes tested something too: a Trump call-in segment on Fox & Friends. On March 28 , the hosts teed up Trump to irresponsibly fearmonger about Obama's birthplace. Gretchen Carlson looked skeptical, but the men went right along with Trump's lies. Doocy even took a shot at the news media, telling Trump, 'They're trying to paint you as the mayor of Crazytown for bringing this up'...
”This, it turned out, was the first episode of 'Monday Mornings with Trump,' a weekly segment that changed the course of American politics. Ailes even ordered up TV promos for the segment. 'Bold, brash, and never bashful, the Donald now makes his voice loud and clear every Monday on Fox,' the announcer said. Trump loved it. He was ticked off that people weren't taking his political gambits seriously, and the segment helped him change that by giving him a direct connection with the conservative base. Through the weekly calls, he got to know Ailes's priorities. He got to know Fox's priorities. He got to know the people who became his voters. And they got to know him...
“The birther smear helped cement the impression of Obama as a foreigner in the minds of millions of viewers, wedded Trump to the Fox base, and foreshadowed Trump and Fox's full-throated embrace of white identity politics.”
-- from Brian Stelter's “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth”
Sunday October 24, 2021
Peter Scolari (1955-2021)
I loved “Bosom Buddies” when it first aired in 1980-81. I kept telling people, “You gotta watch this show. Something about the two leads—they have such great chemistry.” I added: “I think the shorter one is going places.”
And he did, just not to the level of the other guy, Tom Hanks. But then, who has?
Peter Scolari kept acting but I kept missing him. I didn't watch “Newhart,” for which he was nominated best supporting actor three times. I did see him in the Tom Hanks-directed “That Thing You Do!” in 1996. And I saw him regularly on “Girls,” playing Hannah's dad with impeccable, fumbling, comedic timing. Almost Bob Newhart-esque timing. He won an Emmy for that. It was fun seeing him regularly again.
On “Bosom Buddies,” I identified. He was short, cute, and wanted to be a writer. I remember they did an episode where it became clear that it's almost impossible to make a living and pursue your passion. The ending cut to Kip's empty canvas and Henry's cold typewriter. The show was trying to warn me of the future.
Scolari died this week of cancer, age 66. Here's his New York Times obit. Godspeed, Henry.
Wednesday October 20, 2021
If Anyone Would Like to Say a Few Words About the Deceased...
So this arrived yesterday via the usual social media circles. It's a eulogy for an American hero delivered by a former American president. And yet something seems slightly off about it:
Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America
Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday. He was a classic RINO, if even that, always being the first to attack other Republicans. He made plenty of mistakes, by anyway, may he rest in peace!
I know we expect nothing from this fuckstick, and so the notion that he would release the above a few days after the death of Colin Powell isn't exactly news. But it is news. Because former American presidents have never acted this way before. This is how Trump got away with it in office. He'd do this kind of shit, the mainstream press wouldn't cover it, thinking it wasn't news, and then he could do it again. On social media, his detractors would gasp, his supporters would guffaw, and on he'd go. There were no consequences. World without end.
I'm curious if any of his inner circle tried to prevent the statement's release? Or tried to edit it? “Mr. President, that first sentence doesn't quite make sense. I think you mean infamously rather than famously, and either way it gets in the way. I think it's smoother without. And I'd excise that whole second sentence. Don't make it about you—I know, but don't—and also aren't you implying that once you've died you hope the press will forgive all the big mistakes you've made? Yes. That's what you're implying. You're implying big mistakes, famous mistakes, on your part. And why repeat the mistakes thing in the last sentence? The whole statement is pretty short and you're already repeating yourself? I'd also lose the anyway, which is childish, and the exclamation point, ditto. I mean, the whole thing is childish. It's petty and pathetic and shows the smallness of your soul. Sir.”
The New York Times didn't cover it, by the way. Not news.
Sunday October 17, 2021
2021 MLB Postseason: I Should Be Rooting for the Braves But I'm Not
We've got four teams remaining in the 2021 Major League Baseball season and I'm trying to figure out who to root for.
Normally I'd root for the team with the longest drought. Here's what it looks like when you figure out each team's last pennant/last World Series title:
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 2020/2020
- Houston Astros: 2019/2017
- Boston Red Sox: 2018/2018
- Atlanta Braves: 1999/1995
No brainer. I should be rooting for the Braves.
How about historically? Total number of pennants/titles:
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 21/7
- Boston Red Sox: 13/9
- Atlanta Braves: 9/3
- Houston Astros (est. 1962): 3/1
This one's trickier—but, as an aside, it is fascinating that the Red Sox have done so well in the World Series. Every time they went in the first 20 years of a century they won: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, and then 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018. It was the other 80 years when things fell apart. Maybe that's a reason to root for them? See them finally win a Series in the last 80 years of a century?
The Dodgers are the opposite. They have more NL pennants than anyone but failed in 2/3 of those—mostly because they lost their first seven in a row. Since 1955, they're .500.
Braves? They're their own brand of pathetic. They never amounted to much in the early days and played second fiddle to the Red Sox in Boston. They've moved three times and have one title per city: Boston in 1914 (moved after the '52 season), Milwaukee in 1957 (moved after the '65 season), Atlanta in 1995. Most of their pennants, five of the nine, are from the 1990s, when they were good, with an out-of-this-world pitching staff, but couldn't close the deal. I would argue that the one time that team did win it all was against the best team they faced—the '95 Indians.
Anyway, historically, it's Astros or Braves.
How about payroll? I like rooting for have-nots.
- Los Angeles Dodgers: $267 million/1st overall
- Houston Astros: $194 million/4th
- Boston Red Sox: $184 million/5th
- Atlanta Braves: $147 million/12th
The Braves aren't exactly have-nots but their payroll is half that of the Dodgers. So: Braves.
As for historical postseason rivalries? What matchup sounds the best?
|vs.||Boston Red Sox||Houston Astros|
|Atlanta Braves||1997-Division 1999-Division 2001-Division 2004-Divison 2005-Divison|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||
Astros were NL until the 2013 season and mostly a punching bag. They faced the Dodgers in 1981 in a true division matchup (split season: winner of the first half vs. winner of the second half), won the first two games and then lost the next three. Against the Braves, they lost in '97 (three and out), lost in '99 (four and out), lost in '01 (three and out again), before finally turning the tables in '04 and '05. Astros fans, I'm sure, remember, and wouldn't mind having another shot at the Braves. Revenge is a dish best served in the World Series.
The Dodgers and Red Sox first faced each other in 1916, when the Dodgers were called the Brooklyn Robins (after manager Wilbert Robinson) and the Red Sox pitching rotation was anchored by a young phenom named Babe Ruth, who, in Game 2, gave up an inside-the-park homer to Hi Meyers in the 1st inning, then put up goose eggs for the next 13 innings until the Red Sox won it in the bottom of the 14th. In 1918, Ruth ran his scoreless innings streak to 29 2/3—a World Series record until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961. (“A bad year for the Babe,” someone quipped.) That fifth title for the BoSox, a record at the time, wasn't matched until the Athletics won their fifth in 1930; then the Yankees in '36, the Cardinals in '44 and the Giants in '54. The Dodgers didn't win their fifth title until 1981. Eight of the original 16 teams, and 22 teams overall, have never won five titles.
Oh, and they faced each other again 102 years later, in the David Price-Steve Pearce World Series. Boston won in five.
But the coolest matchup to me would be the two teams who haven't faced each other, both of whom started out in Boston: the one-time Boston Americans (now Red Sox) vs. the one-time Boston Red Stockings, Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees (now Braves).
So to recap who I should root for:
- Recent: Braves
- Historical: Braves, Astros
- Payroll: Braves
- Matchups: Braves, Red Sox
So it's pretty obvious: I should be rooting for the Braves.
And yet I find myself rooting against the Braves, and with a passion. And here's the reason: The tomahawk chop. I hate the thing.
And it isn't even original to them? It started at Florida State for the Seminoles? Then migrated to KC for the Chiefs before Braves fans, with hints from the organist, adapted it for the '91 team?
It is effective, I admit: this repetitive warlike chant resounding throughout a stadium of 50,000 people. It's just embarrassing. In an age when the Washington football team has dropped “Redskins” and the Cleveland baseball team has opted for “Guardians,” this Atlanta team is still known as the “Braves” and its mostly white fanbase still chants the “tomahawk chop.” The less we hear of this thing, the better.
Anyway, against all logic, I find myself rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Maybe because that's the one champion that'll annoy Yankees fans the most? The Red Sox would be the third team to 10 titles, following the Yankees (who won their 10th in 1943) and Cardinals (2006). They'd truly be the team of the 21st century, with five pennants and five titles. (Second-best Giants have four pennants and three titles). And they'd finally break the back-80 jinx.
Thursday October 14, 2021
Is the Best Story a Gangster Story? In the Early Days of Oscar, Yes
I came across this recently on IMDb and did a double-take. Oscar certainly seemed to like early Cagney:
Three of his first six movies got nom'ed for Best Original Story? Wow. But it turns out, original story was loaded with gangster movies in the early days—“Underworld” (1927) and “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934) even won. And among Cagney movies, it's the most commonly honored, and in six of the eight he plays a gangster:
- 8: Original Story: “The Doorway to Hell,” “The Public Enemy,” “Smart Money,” “G-Men,” “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “White Heat,” “Love Me or Leave Me”
- 7: Music/Score: “Something to Sing About,” “The Strawberry Blonde,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “West Point Story,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Ragtime”
- 4: Picture: “Here Comes the Navy,” “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Mister Roberts”
- 4: Cinematography: “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Captains of the Clouds,” “One, Two, Three,” “Ragtime”
- 4: Supporting Actor: “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Come Fill the Cup,” “Mister Roberts,” “Ragtime”
- 3: Actor: “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Love Me or Leave Me”
- 3: Art Direction: “Captains of the Clouds,” “Blood on the Sun,” “Ragtime”
- 3: Sound: “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Mister Roberts”
- 3: Screenplay: “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Seven Little Foys,” “Man of a Thousand Faces”
- 2: Editing: “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy”
- 2: Director: “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy”
- 2: Song: “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Ragtime”
- 1: Assistant Director: “A Midsummer Night's Dream,”
- 1: Supporting Actress: “Ragtime”
- 1: Costume Design: “Ragtime”
Worst among the nominations? Picture for “A Midsummer Night's Dream” or screenplay for “Man of a Thousand Faces.” Most overlooked? What should've been nominated? Cagney for “Public Enemy” and Henry Fonda for “Mister Roberts.”
Monday October 11, 2021
Movie Review: A Slight Case of Murder (1938)
I don’t mean Edward G. Robinson playing a gangster, since he was supposed to do that. He played eight of them between “Little Caesar” and this. I'm talking something more specific: Robinson, in a comedy, playing a gangster boss who tries to go legit after Prohibition is repealed in 1933 and runs into trouble.
In “The Little Giant,” from ’33, Robinson played “Bugs” Ahearn, who decides to take his Prohibition-era dough and scram to LA/Hollywood, and mingle with the jet-set there. The joke is he thinks he’s entering refined society but they’re actually bigger crooks than he is.
In this one, he plays Remy Marco, a Prohibition-era gangster who decides, after repeal, to keep selling his beer legally. The joke is he doesn’t know his beer sucks, and, with tons of legal options, no one will buy it. Thus: trouble.
“A Slight Case of Murder” is based on the play by Howard Lindsay and Damon Runyon—Runyon’s only theatrical production—which ran for 60 or so shows in the fall of 1935. It was basically contemporaneous with repeal so the “sucky beer” gag makes sense. Warner Bros. also makes “Slight Case” contemporaneous—but to the year it was released: 1938. Meaning Marco has been trying to sell his awful beer for five years? And no one’s told him? I had trouble getting past that.
- “Say, you mugs, why aren’t we selling anything?”
- “Well, the beer sucks, boss.”
- “What are saying about Marco’s beer?”
- “I’m saying it’s no good, boss.”
- Sips. Spits. “Say, you’re right! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
We get a scene like that but way, way too late. As a gag, I’ll buy his ignorance for a month or two. But five years? The gag loses its fizz and loses my interest.
That’s one aspect of the plot: Marco wheeling and dealing to keep the bank from seizing his brewery because he’s selling sucky beer and doesn’t know it. (Robinson is good, by the way, at drawing out the comedy of a man super confident in what everyone else knows is wrong.)
Marco’s financial troubles necessitate calling back his daughter, Mary (Jane Bryan), from her studies in France, and they all decide to meet at their Saratoga home in Upstate New York. And she’s got news: She’s engaged to the well-heeled Dick Whitewood (Willard Parker), who, feeling he should have some kind of job, gets one with the police. But his attempts to introduce himself at the Saratoga home are constantly rebuffed by Marco and his gang (Allen Jenkins, Edward Brophy, Harold Huber, an All-Star assemblage of Warner Bros. character actors), who assume he’s just another cop hassling them.
Remy brings with him an orphan from his former orphanage—a kid named Douglas Fairbanks Rosenbloom, played with “so’s your old man” charm by Bobby Jordan, one of the original Dead End Kids. Oh, and before they arrive, the nearby racetrack is robbed and the five crooks are hanging out with the dough at Marco’s home, upstairs, until one of them, the oddly named Innocence, panics and shoots the other four.
All of this, plus Whitewood’s uptight dad at Marco’s boisterous party, set the stage for madcap antics and misperceptions. You can definitely see the play in it. Once we arrive in Saratoga, I don’t think we move from the home.
I like the idea that finding four dead bodies upstairs isn’t a big deal for these gangsters, as it would be for most of us. In fact, they put the bodies to good use by depositing them on the doorsteps of Marco’s enemies. But once the gang finds out there’s a reward, dead or alive, the bodies are retrieved and stuffed in a closet upstairs.
Amid the chaos, order of a kind is restored. Marco uses the stolen racetrack money to convince the bankers he’s flush, so they extend his mortgage and his brewery is saved. He convinces his future son-in-law that the dead gangsters in the closet are alive and has him shoot them—and the kid becomes a hero in the process. A stray bullet from his jittery hand kills Innocence. The movie ends abruptly with Marco fainting at the news.
A standout is Ruth Donnelly as Marco’s wife, Nora, who is forever forgetting to put on airs and keeps returning to her plain-talking patois. But “A Slight Case of Murder” is just that: slight.
Saturday October 09, 2021
MLB to Fans: Drop Dead
This is the way it used to work when I was a kid in the 1970s.
You’d see your favorite team (in my case, the Minnesota Twins) on your local TV station (Metromedia Television 11), but not much of the rest of the league. Most home games were blacked out, if I recall, but you’d get a lot of the away games. There was also a “Game of the Week” every Saturday afternoon, hosted by Curt Gowdy, so you could see other teams, even National League teams. Then there was the postseason. I still remember running home from elementary school to catch World Series games in the afternoon but that changed rapidly. The first night-time World Series game was in 1971, Game 4, and TV ratings doubled (shocker), so the next season every weekday World Series game was played in the evening. Back then, the World Series was set up 2-3-2 and began on Saturday, so, assuming no postponements and seven games, plus two travel days, four of the seven were still day games. That changed in ’77 when they began to start the Series on a Tuesday. Now you’re down to two day games. And in ’85, when the LCSes went to best-of-seven and the Series start returned to Saturdays, MLB said screw it, night games all the time. The last day World Series game happened in 1987, Game 6, and that was apparently the result of fan pressure. Joke was on them: The game was played at the Metrodome.
Anyway, the point is, when I was a kid, you’d see other teams occasionally, and your team a lot.
This season I saw other teams a lot and my team barely. I saw other teams because I paid $29.99 a month for MLB.TV. I barely saw my team, the scrappy Seattle Mariners, who won 90 games despite a negative run differential and the worst team batting average in the Majors, because those games are blacked out on MLB.TV. I assume they’re blacked out because ROOT Sports Northwest has exclusivity within its market (five states, believe it or not: WA, OR, ID, MT and AK), and somehow MLB hasn’t brokered a deal with them so fans can have easy access to the team.
To watch the Mariners, I had three options:
- Get cable again (fuck that)
- Get a VPN and change my IP address so it’s outside those five states (I’m not much of a cheater, nor tech savvy, but I should’ve explored this better)
- Stream the games via a DirecTV sports package for $84.99 a month (fuck that)
But at least I had the MLB.TV account and other teams.
Until the postseason. Then those games went away, too. Wednesday night, I contacted MLB’s customer service to ask why. Here’s the response I got, via text, after about a 15-minute wait:
Your subscription included only regular season games. To access postseason games, you must purchase a postseason subscription for MLB.TV and authenticate with a Pay TV provider.
When I asked for the names of Pay TV providers, they sent me this link with a throng of alphabet-soup companies: Among them, Arvig, Cox, DirecTV, RCN, ATT U-Verse, and Wow! (BTW: Isn’t Wow! in the first column the same as WOW! in the second? Can’t MLB at least hire a copy editor?)
Of course, I didn’t have any of them. I was SOL.
But so is MLB, it seems. It has a dwindling fan base that skews old, fewer and fewer people have cable (down from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center), and MLB has made no good, easy way for that dwindling fan base to watch either their own team or the playoffs. Baseball is keeping its own fans from enjoying its own product. Remarkable.
But then, I don’t think the people running Major League Baseball think of fans like me as their customer base. Their customer base is Arvig, Cox, RCN, Wow!, etc. Keep them happy, they seem to think, and everything will be just fine.
Thursday October 07, 2021
Yanks Bounced Early, Suck
Sad Yankee fan, 2021
In the wake of their 6-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the one-game AL Wild Card playoff, Yankee fans are wringing their hands and calling for heads—chiefly manager Aaron Boone, but also GM Brian Cashman, pitcher Gerrit Cole, who didn't get out of the third inning (and whom the New York Post called Gerrit Bleepin' Cole and the staid New York Times refered to as the team's “nominal” ace), and assorted cast and crew—but one thing you can say for Boone: this team did better than it should have. By Pythagorean standards, they should've gone 86-76 instead of 92-70. They actually had the lowest run differential of any AL postseason team (+42) and the second-lowest, to the Cardinals' +34, of any of the playoff teams. Not sure if beating the Pythagorean speaks to smart managerial moves or just luck, but this definitely ain't your great-grandfather's Murderers' Row.
You've got Aaron Judge, you've got Giancarlo Stanton sometimes. Both are .200/.300/.500 guys. The rest of the team? Most of the regulars were .200/.300/.300 this year. They're a dull three-outcome team: HR, BB, K. The Yanks were sixth in the Majors in HRs with 222; first in walks with 621; and sixth in strikeouts with 1,482. That's their game. Elsewhere, they ranked 23rd in team batting average, and a lot of that was just because of the dingers. If you break down the other hits, they ranked 20th in singles, 29th (to the Mariners) in triples, and, shockingly, dead last in doubles. The team they just lost to? The Red Sox? They finished first in doubles—clobbering 117 more than the Bronx Bombers.
I know: Fenway. But generally the BoSox were a way better hitting team, ranking third in BA, sixth in singles, twelfth in triples and tenth in homers. They had a balanced offense. They had more than three outcomes.
Me, I'm a huge fan of this outcome. Yes, I would've liked it more if the Yankees had missed the playoffs, or had a losing record, or, you know, gone 0-162; but I'll take it. The team's pennant drought now stands at 12 seasons, which ain't much for most teams, but is the second-longest pennant drought for the Yankees since the day they bought Babe Ruth in 1920. Only the shitty Steinbrenner years, 1982-1995, 14 seasons, eclipses it. Fun times. Take us out, Carey.