Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The blog post that writes itself

From the Hollywood Reporter's Karen Chu:

Sharon Stone, who last year was a guest of the Shanghai International Film Festival, now faces a boycott of her films in China after she suggested the devastating May 12 earthquake there could have been the result of bad "karma."

Stone's remarks, made Thursday at the Festival de Cannes, pondered a link between the earthquake -- which to date has taken the lives of more than 65,000 -- and China's treatment of ethnic Tibetans and their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom she called "a good friend."

"I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else," Stone said in a brief red-carpet interview with Cable Entertainment News of Hong Kong. "And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"

Her remarks triggered anger across the Chinese-language media and were called "inappropriate" by the founder of one of China's biggest urban cinema chains, who said his company would not show the Hollywood star's films.

You can click on the story to read more, but here are two ways in which it might have ended:
1) "Ng See-Yuen, founder of the UME Cineplex chain and the chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, denied that his decision to ban Ms. Stone's film had anything to do with Basic Instinct 2: "I said her comments were 'inappropriate,' not 'God-awful dreck from the dredges of hell.'"

2) "After making her comments about karma, Ms. Stone stepped into an elevator, which mysteriously stopped soon afterwards and began playing a uninterrupted loop of Catwoman on its video monitor for the next ten hours."

posted by Dan at 08:54 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Regarding Angelina Jolie, I'd like to deny the rough sex

Tirdad Derakhshani has an article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer on celebrity activism in politics in which I'm quoted. It's worth a read, but alas, it appears that my quote was sexed up a bit:

Drezner, whose 2007 book, All Politics Is Global, analyzes how globalization affects international power relations, said there's no better way to reinvent oneself in Hollywood than through good works.

"Just look at Angelina Jolie. Ten years ago her image was about tattoos, rough sex, and wearing vials of Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck," Drezner said. "Today. Jolie has royalty status because of her work with UNICEF and other international charities."

While I do not have a photographic memory, my New England upbringing has trained me to remember any and all times I say the words "rough sex" to anyone. I never said it to Derakhshani.

The basic thrust of the quote is accurate, but I just want to categorially deny that I alleged anything about Angelina Jolie's sex preferences during the interview.

posted by Dan at 08:44 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Op-ed - actual research for op-ed = blogswarm

Further evidence that, "it might be the case that bloggers serve an even greater good by engaging in quality control of other public intellectuals."

Bill Kristol in today's New York Times:

On Tuesday night, while the G.O.P. Congressional candidate was losing in a Mississippi district George Bush carried in 2004 by 25 points, Barack Obama was being trounced in the West Virginia Democratic primary — by 41 points. I can’t find a single recent instance of a candidate who ultimately became his party’s nominee losing a primary by this kind of margin (emphasis added).
The blog reaction:
It took me all of 2 minutes to find what Kristol couldn’t find -

Utah Updated 11:02 a.m. EST, Feb 14, 2008

Romney 255,218 90%

McCain 15,264 5%

Paul 8,295 3%

Huckabee 4,054 2%

Politico's Ben Smith:
Arkansas 2008
Huckabee 61%
McCain 20%

Massachusetts 2000
McCain 64%
Bush 32%

West Virginia 1976
Byrd: 89%
Wallace 11%
Carter: 0%

posted by Dan at 04:10 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 21, 2008

All purpose excuses

A few months ago, I observed the following all-purpose excuse used by many conservatives in a bloggingheads episode:

If I did [insert perfectly reasonable and ethical act here], the terrorist win.
After ruminating on this Josh Marshall post, I now believe I have found an all purpose excuse for liberals:
If I had not done [insert your own unspeakably inoffensive action, here], you know the Republicans would have done it in the fall.
Try it out during your everyday routine... it's easy and fun!

posted by Dan at 03:30 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Like Jon Stewart, I have the sense of humor of an eight-year old

Forgive me, Jock:

posted by Dan at 04:58 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 24, 2008

What's the worst movie ever?

Alex Massie links to a Joe Queenan essay in the Guardian. Queenan takes advantage of the opportunity to review The Hottie and the Nottie to ponder the elements of the worst films of all time:

To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can't simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? This is what separates Waterworld, a financial disaster but not an uncompromisingly dreadful film, and Ishtar, which has one or two amusing moments, from The Postman, Gigli and Heaven's Gate, all of which are bona fide nightmares.

Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again - and again - and again. To pass muster as one of the all-time celluloid disasters, a film must be so bad that when a person is asked, "Which will it be? Waterboarding, invasive cattle prods or Jersey Girl?", the answer needs no further reflection. This phenomenon resembles Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim ends up befriending his tormentors, so long as they promise not to make him watch any more Kevin Smith movies. The condition is sometimes referred to as Blunted Affleck.

Now I actually enjoy several "bad" movies whenever I stumble upon them in dimension known as late night basic cable morass -- Starship Troopers, Road House, Red Dawn -- but by Queenan's criteria, the worst movie I have ever seen, hands down, was Caligula.

This was Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione's attempt to create an all-star mainstream X-rated movie. It had an all-star cast of British luminaries (Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole) and cost a bundle to make. It is also the only film I have ever seen that was so revolting that I had to walk out before it ended.

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spare me the public intellectual nostalgia

I see that Ezra Klein thinks that William F. Buckley's passing is symptomatic of an entire generation of public intellectuals leaving the stage:

[I]n the last two or three years, a whole host of giants have passed away, men who were political thinkers at a time when that made you a cultural figure. John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Norman Mailer, and now, William F. Buckley Jr. Gore Vidal is just about the last of their number left. And that's a shame. They would write serious books of political analysis and sell millions of copies -- they were the writers you had to read to call yourself an actual political junkie. Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse is held by the Coulters and O'Reilly's of the world. Where we once prized a tremendous facility for wit, we're now elevating those with a tremendous storehouse for anger.
Now I know I've picked on Klein in the past, and I know that Megan McArdle has picked on him today -- but give me a f#$%ing break. Comparing Galbraith/Friedman to O'Reilly/Coulter is like comparing apples to worms -- they both grow out of the dirt but are otherwise of a different species.

There are plenty of economists, historians, lawyers, and general-interest writers alive today who can claim the mantle of discourse that the departed once held:

Economists: Larry Summers, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Collier, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw, Tyler Cowen, Steve Leavitt, myriad Leavitt-clones.

Historians: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, Ron Chernow, John Lewis Gaddis, Paul Kennedy

Lawyers: Cass Sunstein, Richard Posner, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Laurence Tribe, Ruth Wedgwood

General Interest: Samantha Power, Andrew Sullivan, Fareed Zakaria, Martha Nussbaum, Theda Skocpol

Readers can think of other names to post in the comments. Hell, all you have to do is click over to and you'll get perfectly civil and discourse from a welter of interesting critics and thinkers -- including Ezra Klein.

Some of these people are more partisan than others -- but I suspect they would all tend to get along as well as the people on Klein's list. They're just more likely to do it via short e-mails rather than long letters.

The O'Reillys and Coulters of the world also existed back in the heyday of Buckley and Galbraith: Walter Winchell comes to mind, for example.

Cable television and the Internet enhance the attention directed at hacks -- but I seriously doubt that the state of discourse -- or emnity among those producing the discourse -- among the best and the brightest today is any worse than it was forty or fifty years ago.

UPDATE: James Harkin has an essay in today's Financial Times that underscores the strength and vitality of American thinkers -- compred to Europe:

Ideas are all the rage. Good ideas have always been contagious, but thanks to the internet and the increasingly globalised media, they are now making their way around the world almost as soon as they are invented. As this new market for ideas begins to settle, something else has become clear too - America is way out in front. If distinctively European thinkers such as Isaiah Berlin and émigrés from Europe to America such as Hannah Arendt had dominated the battleground of ideas during the age of ideology (defined, by the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, as the years between the first world war and the fall of the Berlin Wall), one of the oddities of this new landscape of ideas is that Americans seem to be much better at generating them. There are still some heavyweights around in Europe with novel things to say - Jürgen Habermas in Germany and Slavoj Zizek in Slovenia, for example - but they are few and far between. When France's Jean Baudrillard died in March last year, at the age of 77, it seemed to signify the close of an intellectual era. In any case, Baudrillard was canny enough to know which way the intellectual wind blew. For all his criticism of American culture, he was enchanted by this place he called "the original version of modernity". France, he pointed out, was nothing more than "a copy with subtitles"....

America's dominance in the new global landscape of ideas is not only a matter of resources. Americans have also become expert packagers of ideas. American writers and thinkers seem to have acquired the knack of explaining complex ideas in accessible ways for popular audiences. The success of idea books such as The Tipping Point and Freakonomics and a rather depressing glut of books about happiness has signified to cultural commissars a thirst for good ideas clearly expressed. It helps that journalism in America is taken more seriously than it is in most other countries; its newspapers and magazines have been happy to whet the public appetite for interesting ideas, clearly articulated. The New Yorker, buoyed by staff writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, James Surowiecki and Louis Menand, has developed a reputation for helping to explain complex ideas to a lay audience. In 2000, The New York Times even inaugurated an annual "ideas of the year" supplement, handing out gongs to the best new ideas around the world.

Assaulted by this battery of sometimes flaky new ideas, it would be easy for European thinkers to sit back and sniff. Some of it is mere gimmickry - zappy headline titles that seem to capture the essence of a complicated idea while intriguing the reader enough to read more. Unlike many European philosophers and social scientists, however, the new idea-makers lack verbosity or obscurantism and do not retreat into jargon. A country that controls the market for ideas, remember, has its levers on a great deal else besides. Europeans thinkers, who were so formidable at producing practical ideas during the age of ideology, need to think about catching up.

Harkin raises a point worth stressing again. Part of the vitality of American thinkers is that demand seems to be higher. In terms of books, historical narratives are more popular than ever. Publishers are killing each other trying to find the next Freakonomics. We don't lack for tomes about grand strategy.

Let's face it -- it's a great time to earn a living through the power of ideas.

posted by Dan at 11:26 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Jacob, your long 3-1/2 hour nightmare has ended

I can only hope that Jacob Levy and Brad DeLong survived yesterday's Starbucks closure better than The Daily Show's Jason Jones:

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Your 2008 Oscar predictions!!

The Oscars are upon us yet again, and yet the writers strike deprived us of all the pre-Oscar campaigns by the various nominees. In other words, it's the best of both worlds!! And what better way to provide this blog's sixth (!!) annual Oscar predictions!!

Except the nominated movies are mostly downers. You know you're looking at a depressing set of films when the conclusion to Michael Clayton ranks as one of the happier on-screen endings among the Best Picture noms.

The pressure is on your humble blogger -- I got absolutely creamed last year, a fact that the Official Blog Wife has lorded over me for quite some time now. This time, it's personal.

OK, same rules as always -- predictions of who will win followed by who should win. Once again, I'm pleasantly surprised that the wife and I got to see many of the top-nominated films:

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Should win: Chris Cooper, Breach

Bardem and Daniel-Day Lewis are vying for the Official Mortal Lock this year, and he gives a great performance. But I'm truly flummoxed why Breach got no love from the Oscars. If the film had been released in October instead of February, it would have earned a slew of them -- and none more deserving than Cooper's portrayal of the bewildering Robert Hanssen.

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Should win: Jennifer Garner, Juno

Chicks playing dudes + Blanchett's ability to mimic anything and anyone = Oscar love as a general rule. However, Garner pulls off an astonishing turn in Juno. When you first see her, she seems like your stereotypical uptight yuppie professional. As the movie progresses, however, Garner is able -- sometimes with little more than a widening of her eyes -- to show the very valid reasons for her outer shell. In a movie filled with dead-on characterizations, it was Garner's character that provided the most surprising and yet thoroughly believable arc.

Best Actor
Will win: Daniel-Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Should win: Anyone but Daniel-Day Lewis Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum.

Cards on the table -- I loathed There Will Be Blood . [See the Boston Globe's Ty Burr for a defense of the movie] I've had it up to here with Paul Thomas Anderson movies that hint at interesting themes before taking the most obvious metaphor and whacking you on the head repeatedly until you "get" it (also, I find it interesting that Anderson's film scores are always praised. As a general rule I find that when critics praise the soundtrack, it's because the director is going all Brechtian and making things obvious to the movie-goer. It's the ultimate backhanded compliment of the director. Contrast the overbearing music of There Will Be Blood with the silence of No Country for Old Men -- the latter is much more affecting). The final reel of There Will Be Blood is far worse than the frogs from Magnolia, in part because the promise of this movie was greater -- and because the final scene in this movie is so impossibly ludicrous that the "I drink your milkshake!" line deserves to be debased in every way imaginable.

As for Lewis' performance, it's the same thing as the movie -- quite good at the start and then descending into utter hamminess by the end of it (see this David Spade spoof and tell me he doesn't nail Lewis' shtick). He's already received every pre-Oscar award, and clearly knows how to give a good acceptance speech.

However, to repeat my objection from last year:

One of the absudities of Hollywood's value system is that someone who can sing or dance can win an Oscar for one show-stopping number, whereas stars in action films are thought to be tawdry and commercial.
Damon's performance in all of the Bourne movies, but especially Ultimatum, highlights the contrast between Bourne's coiled physicality and his repressed emotions.

Best Actress
Will win: Julie Christie, Away From Her
Should win: Laura Linney, The Savages

I haven't seen Away From Her, but if the trailer is any clue, Christie is no doubt the winner. Linney, however, was just sublime in this serio-comic role of frustrated writer/liar who is forced to deal with the institutionalization of her senile and mostly unloved father.

Best Director
Will win: Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Should win: Anyone but Paul Thomas Anderson Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men

With the exception of the ending (a problem way too many of the nominees had this year), No Country for Old Men had the best combination of camerawork, cinematography, sound, pacing and acting of any live action movie I saw this year.

Best Picture
Will win: No Country for Old Men
Should win: Ratatouille

Unless Oscar-voters really care about endings, No Country for Old Men will win (if they do really care, then Juno pulls off the upset).

I liked No Country for Old Men a lot, but like State's Dana Stevens, there's something about a Coen brothers' movie I just can't love. Brad Bird, on the other hand, has me eating out of the palm of his hand. And the simple fact is that none of the nominated movies contains anyting in it that compares to the scene in Ratatouille when the critic Anton Ego tastes the titular dish for the first time. Nor is there anything in any other movie that can top this speech a few minutes later:

So there.

posted by Dan at 05:05 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An interesting test of cultural wills

Here's the new Indiana Jones trailer (hat tip: Isaac Chotiner):

Of course, the last time George Lucas tried to resuscitate a classic movie series from my youth, I had to endure the torture of watching Lucas reduce Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson to uttering the worst lines since Showgirls. Even Lucas admitted that much of the second Star Wars trilogy was padding. This is a serious cultural transgression -- I mean, this is Samuel motherf@#$ing Jackson we're talking about!

However, in the case of the Indiana Jones saga, Lucas faces an interesting frenemy -- Steven Spielberg. As Tom Shone discussed in a fascinating Slate story a few years back, the interplay between these two has been fascinating. For the audience's sake, I can only hope that Spielberg proves to be stronger with the force in shaping this movie.

posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The Westminster dog show finally moves down the learning curve

It took this long for judges at the Westminster Dog show to recognize the friggin' obvious?

Of course, Chester would have won this with one paw tied behind his back.

posted by Dan at 07:50 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Your cultural question of the winter

As the writer's strike continues to not end, let's consider a key cultural question that's been nagging me in recent weeks.

I don't care for Alec Baldwin's politics, and I suspect he's not really a terribly nice person. That said, the man can chew through scenery with the best of them, and he's the best thing on the best comedy on television, 30 Rock.

So, here's your question: which is the signature Alec Baldwin performance? The gold standard, of course, is his very not-safe-for-work monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross:

However, maybe, just maybe, Baldwin's psychiatric role-playing tour-de-force in an October episode of 30 Rock tops his previous acting apex. Watch for yourself and help me decide:

posted by Dan at 02:10 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Your semi-interesting travel observation of the day

For those of you who will be travelling this holiday season, here's a useful, spontaneous discovery I made yesterday. This is based on my personal experience with an automated voice recognition software program on the customer service line of a major airline:

If, at any point, you say "f*** you" into the phone, you will be automatically and politely transferred to a human operator.
Remember, you have to pronounce the asterisks correctly.

I'm sure my razor-sharp readers were already cognizant of this fact -- but if not, go forth and find out if it works on other airlines.

UPDATE: This site is also useful for figuring out how to talk to a human (hat tip: loyal reader A.A.)

posted by Dan at 10:10 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hmmm.... that's probably a good idea

From the Associated Press:

Lynne Spears' book about parenting has been delayed indefinitely, her publisher said Wednesday. Lindsey Nobles, a spokeswoman for Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc., said Wednesday that the memoir by the mother of Britney Spears was put on hold last week.

She declined to comment on whether the delay was connected to the revelation that Spears' 16-year-old daughter, Jamie Lynn, is pregnant.

"I can tell you that we are standing behind Lynne and supporting her decision to be with her family at this time," Nobles told The Associated Press.

"Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World" was initially scheduled for release May 11, Mother's Day. Spears, the mother of three children with ex-husband Jamie Spears, had been working with a Michigan-based freelancer since March on the memoir chronicling Spears' experiences raising a family in the public eye.

posted by Dan at 09:26 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sweet Jesus. Sweet, sweet, here-before-everyone Jesus

According to Jacob T. Levy, Philip Tetlock won this year's Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Tetlock won for Expert Political Judgment, a book that I blogged about a bit on this hallowed web site (see Rodger Payne as well.).

A key point that Tetlock makes is that experts aren't any better at making political predictions than non-experts.

I bring this up now because it's really, really important to remember that there is hard data confirming Tetlock's assertion when you think about the non-experts in the world. Like, for example, these precious few seconds from The View, courtesy of Crooked Timber's Kieran Healy:

Look, the really important thing -- as I told my son sometime this week -- is that the Star Wars saga took place before anything discussed in the video clip.

Dinosaurs too.

posted by Dan at 01:54 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rowling outs Dumbledore??!!

Can we forget the the world's troubles for a second and talk about the fact that an author just outed her fictional character's sexual persuasion?

Tina Jordan explains for Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog:

At last night's talk at New York City's Carnegie Hall — an event for thousands of young Harry Potter fans and their parents — J.K. Rowling outed the kindly headmaster.

Responding to a question from a child about Dumbledore's love life, Rowling hesitated and then revealed, "I always saw Dumbledore as gay." Filling in a few more details, she said, "Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald.... Don't forget, falling in love can blind us. [He] was very drawn to this brilliant person. This was Dumbledore's tragedy." She added that in a recent meeting about the sixth movie, she spied a line in the script where Dumbledore waxed poetic about a girl, so she was forced to scribble director David Yates a note to correct the situation.

Now this raises all kinds of interesting questions.
1) Does what Rowling think matters?

2) Does an author have a responsibility to keep aspects of a fictional character's life private? What if the character is in a children's book? What are the ethics, if any, of fictional outings?

3) Am I just procrastinating on deeper thoughts?

Blog reactions at Red State and Andrew Sullivan.

posted by Dan at 04:38 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I bet Sinead O'Connor is a great mother

I can't resist one bit of Britney-blogging -- namely, that I'm not sure how good high-falutin newspapers are at covering the down and dirty. From Mireya Navarro's account in the New York Times of the custody decision that went against Ms. Spears:

The ruling was the culmination of a rash of bad news for Ms. Spears, whose erratic behavior on and off the stage, including shaving her head and diving into the ocean from a public beach in her underwear, had cast doubt on her fitness as a mother. (emphasis added)
Note to self: alert DCFS authorities about these women immediately.

Seriously, there are plenty of reasons on the table to explain why K-Fed is the more responsible parent.... hold on a sec, my keyboard just burst into flame for some reason.... there, it's out now.... but do head-shaving and ocean-diving really belong on the list? I'm going to go out on a limb and say the drug and alcohol abuse and the bad driving might be more relevant.

posted by Dan at 10:10 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Your mock music video for today

This is awesome.

Hat tip: Garance Franke-Ruta: "Soft power, at its finest, baby."

posted by Dan at 01:59 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Those college kids today, with their ambition....

Yesterday was the New York Times Magazine's ballyhooed college issue, which includes a Rick Perlstein essay that seems like a shorter version of David Brooks' "Organization Kid" essay from six years ago (to Perlstein's credit, he does cites Brooks' piece in his essay).

If you want something really provocative, however, check out Jake Halpern's "The New Me Generation" in the Boston Globe Magazine. His opening:

Nicole Mirabile, who is just 15 years old, has a clear vision of her future, and it doesn't involve a boss. The prospect of working at a Fortune 500 company – and landing the sort of well-paying job that Americans once regarded as the benchmark of success – holds zero allure for her. "It would be hard compromising with a lot of different people whom I might clash with," she speculates. Mirabile, a sophomore at North Quincy High School, would be far happier running her own company. "I have the time, I have the brains, I have the patience to do it, and I am not going to give up if I fail once," she vows.

Alan Chhabra, who is 31 years old, shares a similar sensibility even if, as it turns out, he does report to a boss. Chhabra works at Egenera, a computer-server manufacturer based in Marlborough, but he is not the sort of fellow who puts too much stock in old-school notions of corporate protocol. As he puts it, "I have no problem knocking on the door and walking into the CEO's office or the CTO's office on a whim – interrupting their schedule – and saying, 'I need to talk to you.'" Chhabra says that ever since he was a kid, he has been "knocking heads with basketball teachers, track coaches, teachers, and girlfriends. If I felt that I was right, I wouldn't back down."

What do Alan Chhabra and Nicole Mirabile have in common – besides a great deal of chutzpah? They are members of the so-called Entitlement Generation, the upstarts at the office who put their feet on their desks, voice their opinions frequently and loudly at meetings, and always volunteer – nay, expect – to take charge of the most interesting projects. They are smart, brash, even arrogant, and endowed with a commanding sense of entitlement. And since a new crop is graduating from Boston's high-powered colleges and universities every year, chances are, one may be heading to your office soon.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, says that this includes virtually everyone born after 1970. According to Twenge, these young people were raised on a daily regimen of praise and flattery from their baby boomer parents and from teachers who embraced a self-esteem-boosting curriculum that included activities like the Magic Circle game. Never heard of it? In this game, one child a day is given a badge that says "I'm great." The other children then take turns praising the "great" child, and eventually these compliments are written up and given to the child for posterity. This constant reinforcement, argues Twenge, is largely responsible for those young co-workers who drive you nuts. At the University of South Alabama, psychology professor Joshua Foster has done a great deal of research using a standardized test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). The NPI asks subjects to rate the accuracy of various narcissistic statements, such as "I can live my life any way I want to" and "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place." Foster has given this personality test to a range of demographic groups around the world, and no group has scored higher than the American teenager. Narcissism also appears to be reaching new highs, even within the Entitlement Generation, among American college students. Another national study involving the NPI, conducted by Twenge, shows that 24 percent of college students in 2006 showed elevated levels of narcissism compared to just 15 percent in the early 1990s.

All of this would seem to suggest that this generation, which is flooding into the workforce, will create chaotic, unpleasant, and utterly unproductive work environments that will drive many a good business directly into the ground. But there's another very real possibility. It may be that this much-reviled generation will revitalize the economy and ensure the prosperity of America for years to come. Painful as it sounds, in the not-too-distant future, we may owe a debt of gratitude to these narcissists.

I'm not entirely sure Halpern's correct -- but I'd rather argue about his essay than Perlstein's warmed-over copy.

[What's your beef with Perlstein?--ed. Really, it's not intentional -- he's just published two pieces in the last week that have annoyed the crap out of me.]

posted by Dan at 11:12 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 17, 2007

In other news, Americans still don't like spinach

Over at Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog, Gregory Kirschling is puzzled that Iraq is not a real ratings-winner in film and television:

You know one thing that bums me out? A lot of friends I’ve talked to lately refuse to go see movies about Iraq! What’s the matter with people? For the past many weeks I’ve been talking up Paul Haggis’s new film, In the Valley of Elah, and as soon as I mention that it actually has something powerful to say about the war, a lot of folks’ eyes turn glassy. Nobody cares!

Are we that detached? I don’t wanna go on for too long about this, because it’ll probably make me sound like a shrill crazy person, but I do kinda feel that if you refuse to go see a well-reviewed movie like Elah or the flabbergasting war doc No End in Sight simply because both of them are about Iraq, then you are — hate to say, but it might be true — a bad American.

Look, I liked No End In Sight, but are culture mavens like Kirschling really that clueless about why most people go to the movies? There's not a whole lot of escapism in films about Iraq.

[People go to movies for other reasons as well!!--ed. Yes, but getting angry is usually not one of those reasons. And anyone who sees a well-crafted movie on Iraq will feel that way. Why would anyone who supports the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumptions challenged? Why would anyone who opposes the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumption -- that the war is a mess -- confirmed?]

The only way I could see an Iraq war movie doing well would be if it was, like M*A*S*H, a very black comedy.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The ineluctable power of the bad review

In the New York Times Book Review, historian David Oshinsky writes about what he discovered in the archives of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

Oshinsky's general finding is that, "the great bulk of the reader’s reports seemed fair-minded and persuasive. Put simply, a rejected manuscript usually appeared to deserve its fate."

This is boring, however. Oshinsky, like too many of us, is attracted to people when they are bad. So the bulk of Oshinsky's essay is devoted to the exceptionally bad reviews -- bad because they were clearly wrong about the manuscript, or bad because the review seemed to go out of its way to belittle the writer.

As an example of the first type of bad review, Oshinsky opens with:

In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”

Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history.

There's more: "Another passed on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, explaining it was 'impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.'"

When rejections are bad, however, they can be delightfully nasty, which is how Oshinsky closes:

Today, as publishers eschew the finished manuscript and spit out contracts based on a sketchy outline or even less, the scripting of rejection letters has become something of a lost art. It’s hard to imagine a current publisher dictating the sort of response that Alfred Knopf sent to a prominent Columbia University historian in the 1950s. “This time there’s no point in trying to be kind,” it said. “Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don’t think it’s worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff.”

Now, that’s a rejection letter.

For more on the Knopf archives, click here.

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The cultural question of the summer

Which version of "Umbrella" is better?

Here's Rihanna:

Here's Mandy Moore:
Finally, there's YouTube phenomenom Marie Digby's version:

I think it's Rihanna, hands down. [Oh, you, always siding with "professionals"!!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 07:07 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Welcome to my musical demographic

After a long stretch of time in which I did not attend any large music concerts, I managed to attend two in the past ten days.

The first one was friggin' awesome.

The second one.... well, don't click on this link unless you're made of stern stuff. Several concert-goers have commented that the new lead singer can't match up to the old one.

As much of a musical whiplash as these two concerts created, I'm willing to bet that a fair number of people my age attended both of these concerts.

posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

DC in the summertime

The quote of the day goes to the official Blog Brother, sightseeing in Washington, DC. His description of the city during the summer:

Lots of young people walking around believing that they are very important.
He's referring, of course, to the interns. Which is as good an excuse as any to link to this six-year old Slate essay by David Plotz defending interns. Plotz's key point:
In fact, interns deserve neither derision nor fear. They are a wonderfully useful segment of Washington. They are a "backbone" of the city, argues Mary Ryan of the intern-placing Institute for Experiential Learning. For better or worse, they often serve as cheap clerical labor, replacing secretaries at a fraction the cost. They can also make more substantive contributions. They often do hard, nasty work, such as the unpleasant background research for nonprofits or the dirt-digging on a campaign opponent. Interns, in short, are not pointless.

(Nor are internships pointless: If you perform, you'll win a real Washington job. Washington is run by ex-interns. Today's 20-year-old mail-room smartass becomes a 22-year-old legislative assistant, and then a 25-year-old press secretary, and then a 29-year-old lobbyist. … According to Ryan, 20 percent-30 percent of the interns she places in D.C. return to jobs where they interned.)

Washington's interns are valuable more for psychological reasons than economic ones. Though Hill rats would never admit it, interns decynicize D.C.; Washington thrills them (at least for the six weeks till their disillusionment). They may be calculating and ambitious, but they remind their beaten-down editor, their dispirited chief of staff, their venal executive director of why what they do is important and interesting and exciting. Their idealism is fuel for the city.

The libertarian in me is a little afraid of what happens when you combine idealism with government power. That said, the ex-research intern in me nods in sympathy.

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I, for one, suspect Michael Bay

First Ingmar Bergmann dies.

Now it's Michelangelo Antonioni.

Clearly, someone or something is killing Europe's great film directors.

Anyone seen Michael Bay recently? How about Brett Ratner?

posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A small Harry Potter break in the blogging.... and we're back and grumpy

Am reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with spare time.

[It took you five days to get the book?--ed. No, it took the Official Blogwife that many days to read it and then give it to me.]

Everyone go away for a while. Like Megan McArdle, I'm going into semi-withdrawal for a few days.

UPDATE: Is it just me, or does anyone else derive satisfaction from tearing through Rowling at warp speed? I normally don't plow through 750 page books in a day, but I always read Harry Potter about twice as fast as other books. My hunch is that Michael Berube is correct -- the books are a combination of a fully imagined world and the pure essence of plot and narrative. I feel the same way reading a Harry Potter book as I do when I was running a really fast wind sprint.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Fans of both Harry Potter and the Sopranos should really click here.

FINAL UPDATE: OK, I've finished the book and opened the comment thread back up. My critical take on the book appears after the jump [WARNING: MASSIVE PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD]:

I have to say, I thought Deathly Hallows was the weakest of the bunch. Part of this was inevitable -- the ending can't satisfy everyone, a lot of loose ends needed tying up, and there is a clear tension between what Rowling's adult fans and younger fans wanted to see happen. These tensions existed in the previous books as well, but Rowling was always able to kick the can down the road in the earlier volumes. As a reader, I was always confident that unanswered questions (what is Snape up to?) would be dealt with before the series ended.

Now that the series has ended, however, there are still a bunch of cans lying on the road. Rowling has always been able to control her unruly plots, but when I finished this book, I had a hell of a lot of questions:

1) How the bloody hell does the sword of Gryffindor get into the friggin' Sorting Hat? UPDATE: I knew Wikipedia had its uses: "The two items share a particular bond; whenever a "true Gryffindor" needs it, the Sword will let itself be pulled out of the hat."

2) Does anyone completely buy Dumbledore's explanation for why Harry survived Voldemort's attack in the forrest? Reminded me a wee bit of this.

3) What purpose does the Deathly Hollows portion of the plot serve?

4) Why does Rowling completely whiff on Draco Malfoy's character? She sets him up for some interesting character developments at the end of Half-Blood Prince. In Deathly Hallows, Potter saves him, he's alreay feeling unsure about Voldemort, and he still tries to join the Death Eaters?

More generally, I'm with Russell Arben Fox on this: "I wanted to see Horace Slughorn lay it on the line to the Slytherin students, shut Pansy Parkinson up, and demonstrate (as Phineas Nigellus insisted) that there's a real reason for Slytherin House after all."

5) Is it just me or does the final duel between Potter and Voldemort revolve around.... correctly defining the property rights of wands?!

6) This one is the biggest, and touches on Megan Mcardle's complaint that, "most of [the characters] spend the latter books pointlessly withholding information from each other that, if shared, would end the installment somewhere around page ten." Let's see if I have this straight: At the last minute, Harry Potter needs to be told that he has a Horcrux in him and must be willing to die when he faces Voldemort. Following secured, compartmentalized information protocol, Dumbledore entrusts this information to Snape and Snape alone. Dumbledore then has Snape promising to kill him at the right moment -- which he does, in front of Harry Potter, who has no idea why this is happening.

So, here's my question -- how in the hell was Snape ever going to relay the necessary information to Potter in a way that Potter would have believed him? Harry hates Snape -- how could he possible have believed him? Rowling comes up with a way, but surely Dubledore could not have counted on this serendipitous series of events taking place.

Even Potter knew to tell Neville about dispatching Nagini before he heads into the woods, because Ron and Hermione might not make it. Why didn't Dumbledore also tell McGonagall or Mad-Eye this crucial bit of info?

It wasn't all bad. The scene with Harry walking to his doom, accompanied by all the dead who love him, was particularly affecting. The battle of Hogwarts was friggin' awesome (one looks forward to seeing that on film). Rowling always knows when to surprise with the humor. And I think I liked the epilogue more than most -- Harry and his friends have more than earned their happiness. On the whole, though, Michiko Kakutani is full of it -- Dealthly Hallows is a disappointment.

For other takes, see Russell Arben Fox, Ross Douthat, and Slate's Book Club.

Rowling provides a few more details about the epilogue here.

posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What does YouTube mean for punditry?

Ezra Klein has a provocative answer:

Increasingly, though, the incentives [for television appearances] are changing. Assume that the incentive for going on television is to raise your profile (which is about 75 percent correct). If I went on television five years ago, a large part of my incentive would be to make the host like me. After all, these appearances pass in an instant, and most of you would never see the program. So if I want to reach the maximum number of people with my arguments and do the most to increase my visibility, I want to keep coming back.

Now, however, with YouTube and GoogleVideo and online archiving, a single, contentious appearance can be seen on the internet a million times. Everyone, after all, has seen Stewart berate Tucker Carlson on Crossfire, but very few of us had actually tuned in that day. Similarly, my segment on the Kudlow show, replayed on the internet a few thousand times, did much more for my reputation among the audience relevant to my success than have my more friendly, but bland, appearances on other shows.

Making sense often requires you to be disruptive, and not long ago, being disruptive was probably a bad idea. Now it's a good one. And since the channels are wising up and putting their videos online with advertising before them, they also want widespread online dissemination of appearances, and so their incentives are increasingly aligned with mine. Does this mean more folks will be making sense? Not necessarily. But it means their might be more room for sense-making.

Alas, I think Ezra has his logic backwards. What attracts viewers' attention when watching pundits is not whether or not they're making sense, but whether or not they're being disruptive. This, of course, was why Crossfire was on the air for so long. This is why Robert Novak's most memorable TV moment will be when he walked off the the set of Inside Politics. This is why's biggest viral moment involved a lot of disruption but not a whole lot of sense.

To put it in terms of inequalities, I would agree that (disruptive + making sense) > (disruptive + nonsense) for most TV viewers, but that (disruptive + nonsense) > (polite + making sense) for most TV viewers as well.

One could argue that this means that the best pundits will be both disruptive and make sense, crowding out everyone else. Color me skeptical, however, for two reasons. First, it's much easier to be disruptive than it is to make sense, and so for an aspiring pundit, the risk-averse attention-getting strategy is making as big a stink as possible. Making sense is optional.

Second, sometimes making sense is not disruptive -- it's boring. Most of the time, life is not simple, does not fit neatly into ideological categories, and requires "on the one hand, on the other hand" calculations. This kind of analysis can be really, really boring to people -- especially if they crave informational shortcuts in the form of brightly colored answers.

Of course,to defend this position, I hereby challenge Ezra Klein to a mano-a-mano, no-holds-barred bloggingheads smackdown to debate the issue -- a prospect that scares other pundits.

posted by Dan at 11:04 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 13, 2007

The most frightening sentence I've read today
"A lot of suburbanites have moved to the city in the last five years looking for action," said Beehive co-owner Darryl Settles
Suzanne Ryan, "The place to be (over 30)," Boston Globe, July 13, 2007.
posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thief foiled by Democratic party caricature

In the Washington Post, Allison Klein writes about an attempted robbery thwarted by.... Camembert:

A grand feast of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp was winding down, and a group of friends was sitting on the back patio of a Capitol Hill home, sipping red wine. Suddenly, a hooded man slid in through an open gate and put the barrel of a handgun to the head of a 14-year-old guest.

"Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he demanded, according to D.C. police and witness accounts.

The five other guests, including the girls' parents, froze -- and then one spoke.

"We were just finishing dinner," Cristina "Cha Cha" Rowan, 43, blurted out. "Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

The intruder took a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry and said, "Damn, that's good wine."

The girl's father, Michael Rabdau, 51, who described the harrowing evening in an interview, told the intruder, described as being in his 20s, to take the whole glass. Rowan offered him the bottle. The would-be robber, his hood now down, took another sip and had a bite of Camembert cheese that was on the table.

Then he tucked the gun into the pocket of his nylon sweatpants.

Click on the story to read what happens next... but group hugs are involved.

posted by Dan at 03:23 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Drezner's pop culture minute!!

One of the pernicious side-effects of shuttling around small children in one's car is that it causes one to lose with touch with today's music. Anything that's not on "Music Together" or the theme song from Maisy is lost on my youngest child, and she gets very grumpy when her music is not being played.

Even with this caveat, I'll go out on a limb and declare myself a better arbiter of pop music meanings than David Brooks.

This is based on Brooks' column ($$) in the New York Times today, a sociological exegesis of three hit songs today:

If you’ve been driving around listening to pop radio stations this spring and summer, you’ll have noticed three songs that are pretty much unavoidable, and each of them is a long way from puppy love....

[Brooks' three songs: Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," Pink's "U + Ur Hand," and Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend". I'll go out on a limb and add that I think Kelly Clarkson's "Never Again" is actually a better song than these three and better represents what Brooks is trying to get at in his column.--DD]

If you put the songs together, you see they’re about the same sort of character: a character who would have been socially unacceptable in a megahit pop song 10, let alone 30 years ago.

This character is hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, fedup, emotionally self-sufficient and unforgiving. She’s like one of those battle-hardened combat vets, who’s had the sentimentality beaten out of her and who no longer has time for romance or etiquette. She’s disgusted by male idiots and contemptuous of the feminine flirts who cater to them. She’s also, at least in some of the songs, about 16.

This character is obviously a product of the cold-eyed age of divorce and hookups. It’s also a product of the free-floating anger that’s part of the climate this decade. But as a fantasy ideal, it’s also descended from the hard-boiled Clint Eastwood characters who tamed the Wild West and the hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart and Charles Bronson characters who tamed the naked city.

When Americans face something that’s psychologically traumatic, they invent an autonomous Lone Ranger fantasy hero who can deal with it. The closing of the frontier brought us the hard-drinking cowboy loner. Urbanization brought us the hard-drinking detective loner.

Now young people face a social frontier of their own. They hit puberty around 13 and many don’t get married until they’re past 30. That’s two decades of coupling, uncoupling, hooking up, relationships and shopping around. This period isn’t a transition anymore. It’s a sprawling life stage, and nobody knows the rules. (emphasis added)

A few thoughts:
1) David needs to haul his current research assistant into his office and bitchslap him or her for a while. It's the RA's job to have a better grasp of pop culture, and in this case there has been a clear failure, because this kind of song has been around for a while. A decade ago, there was Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," Fiona Apple's "Sleep to Dream", and Meredith Brooks' "Bitch."

Two decades ago, there was Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?"

Three decades ago, there was Blondie's "One Way (Or Another)"

2) The persistece of this song suggests that Brooks' fears might be just a wee bit exaggerated. II'll wager it's been at least three decades since educated women have had to marry the farmer next door at gunpoint. The fact that this period has stretched out further (for both sexes) does not breed more confusion -- it simply means that a higher percentage of the population has experienced the kind of traumatic break-up that generates the songs discussed above. [Did you experience this?--ed. Yes, but in my case it manifested itself into marathon watchings of thirtysomething back when it was aired on Lifetime. You were such a wuss!!--ed. I was keenly aware of this fact, yes. ]

3) Pop songs are about moods more than permanent states of personality. The mistake in Brooks' column is to assume that the mood identified in these songs lasts beyond a summer. They don't.

4) I've wasted way too much time on this post.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!!

It's a 4th of July miracle!!

In a gut-busting showdown that combined drama, daring and indigestion, Joey Chestnut emerged Wednesday as the world's hot dog eating champion, knocking off six-time winner Takeru Kobayashi in a rousing yet repulsive triumph.

Chestnut, the great red, white and blue hope in the annual Fourth of July competition, broke his own world record by inhaling 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes -- a staggering one every 10.9 seconds before a screaming crowd in Coney Island.

"If I needed to eat another one right now, I could," the 23-year-old Californian said after receiving the mustard yellow belt emblematic of hot dog eating supremacy.

posted by Dan at 03:05 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, June 18, 2007

You be Newsweek's guest editor!

I find little to cavil about Newsweek's sympathetic profile of Angelina Jolie ("look, she's gone from Billy Bob Thornton's ex to being good at acting, adopting and international public diplomacy!")

Well, OK, there is this rather odd section:

Earlier this month Jolie was invited to join the Council on Foreign Relations, the elite club for the American foreign-policy establishment. It's no room for lightweights. Her fellow members include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Jimmy Carter, Diane Sawyer and Bill Clinton.
To my dying day, I will be vexed by one of two possibilities:
1) Reporter Sean Smith sees Diane Sawyer as a foreign policy heavyweight;

2) An editor at Newsweek read Smith's draft and though,"not enough heavyweights... better add Diane Sawyer."

posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

A&W sells me on MacDonald's

While engaging in my monthly hotel workout regimen, I caught a new ad by A&W restaurant. The gist of the ad was that McDonald's was not to be trusted because... wait for it... they used beef from New Zealand. As opposed to A&W, which only uses American beef.

Having been to New Zealand,, that ad actually made me want to go out a buy a Big Mac. Because New Zealand grass-fed beef tastes much, much better than American corn-fed beef.

posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Final Sopranos predictions

I haven't blogged too much about the Sopranos over the years, but it's been one of the few shows that both the Official Blog Wife and I watch religiously.

In eager anticipation of the show's series finale tonight, and blog efforts to predict the show's denouement, here's what I think will happen:

1) No one in Tony's immediate family dies;

2) No one else in Tony's crew will die either;

3) Melfi takes Tony back (I found that part of last week's show unconvincing);

4) Regardless of how/whether Tony's feud with Phil Leotardo is resolved, the show will end with Tony still in charge, bereft of any competent underling to take over, depressed at the prospect of having to soldier on in charge, acutely aware that his eventual death will likely not be a peaceful one (this search for a successor has been at the heart of this last season, and for the past few seasons if you think about it);

5) Despite his best efforts, James Gandolfini will never find a role that makes people forget either Tony Sorprano or this song.

Readers are encouraged to offer their own predictions/postmortems.

POST-EPISODE UPDATE: Wrong on Melfi, but I think the rest of it holds up pretty well.

posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 21, 2007

The most amusing sentence I have read today
"Like all red-blooded American women, [Michelle Obama] isn't afraid to publiclly mock her husband."
Laura McKenna.
posted by Dan at 09:39 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 11, 2007

The most bizarre analyses I've seen today

This is what I get for surfing the web instead of revising that paper-that's-really-just-perfect-the-way-it-is-and-I-don't-care-what-those-stupid-peer-referees-think.

First up, Scott Sullivan, "U.S. Jews Must Protect Wolfowitz," The Conservative Voice:

US Jews must protect Wolfowitz because the allegations against him are baseless and Germany’s motives in pushing these allegations are suspect. Meanwhile, President Bush wants to purge his administration of anti-Iran policy makers. As his legacy, Bush wants to make a strategic partnership with Iran’s Nazi President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Firing Paul Wolfowitz is the down payment on Bush's strategic partnership with Iran.

Next up: Grady Hendrix, "Mocha Zombies," Slate:

The rage virus, with its ability to create red-eyed, screaming monsters, with its instantaneous transmission via liquid, and the fact that its frantic growth can only be stopped by firebombing, is an effective metaphor for the unstoppable, global spread of Starbucks.... Images of rabid globalization... still deliver a kick, and there's nothing that says "New World Order" more than a horde of single-minded zombies devouring the quick and assimilating them into their anonymous, ever-expanding ranks.
I think this one is intended to be funny, but I'll let the readers be the judge.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Crooked Timber vs. the suburbs

There's something about the suburbs that appears to periodically freak out the Crooked Timberites. Exhibit A was a Daniel Davies riff against big-box retailers that provoked a very interesting comment thread.

Exhibit B is Kieran Healy's shock at viewing the most desirable places to live for his demographic:

In the Top 10 for Singles are the fun, densely-populated places you might expect: New York, L.A., Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. For Young Couples, we have cool hangouts like Portland, Austin, and Boulder. Empty Nesters get to kick back in Bellingham, Santa Fe, Tahoe and Berkeley....

But what does my demographic, Families with Children, get? Number 1 in the nation: Louisville CO. It’s followed closely by Gaithersburg MD. Roswell GA, Lakeville MN, and Flower Mound TX round out the top five. Now, I don’t want to offend the many fine people of Gaithersburg, MD or Noblesville IN, but Roll on the Empty Nest, I say.

I confess to some puzzlement at Kieran's distress. What most of the top-ranked Family With Children places have in common is that they are semi-affordable suburbs adjacent to cities that fell into one of the other Top 10 categories [What about Noblesville IN?--ed. I got nothing, but that doesn't mean it's a bad place to live.]

In a follow-up comment, Kieran elaborates:

[C]ome on, everyone. Do people really not find the notional life transitions laid out in the chart—from New York or L.A. to Boulder or Austin to … Flower Mound or Gaithersburg—even slightly funny? It’s like, as if the endless diapers and slug-like minivans aren’t enough, here’s where you have to live.

Having made the move from one of the top 10 places for Singles to a place that I'm guessing ranks high on Families with Children, all I can say is, thank God for the suburbs (in fairness, Hyde Park is not exactly a typical urban neighborhood):
Five minute walk to the elementary school? Check.

Five supermarkets within a ten-minute car ride? Check.

Lots of children for our children to befriend? Check.

Reasonable access to big city to enjoy childless activities once in a blue moon? Check.

Swinging key parties to get to know the neighbors better? Thankfully, this isn't The Ice Storm, so no.

I suspect Kieran was mostly being flip, but I do think there's a part of him that shudders with dread about the exemplary suburban locale.

To which I have to say, sure, it's easy to find fault. But I'll take the small downsides of suburbandom over the nasty stares I recall getting when entering hip and trendy restaurants/supermarkets/stores/shopping malls with a few rugrats in tow. At this point in the 21st century, having small children is kind of like belonging to a different religious persuasion that others view as bizarre and discomfiting. It's nice to be with one's own kind during these years.

posted by Dan at 09:52 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Will NBC save our marriages?

Either my wife has secretly married Entertainment Weekly writer Dalton Ross, or the television show Friday Night Lights has an interesting gender effect. Ross explains in his Glutton column:

It started just the other week as I watched FNL's season finale. I had never bothered to introduce my significant other to the show, because, well, she likes football about as much as she likes my Star Wars lightsaber collection — which is to say, not very much — so I viewed the entire season by myself. But then something else dawned on me: Christina loves teen shows.... It occurred to me that, hey, Friday Night Lights is as much -- if not more -- a teen show than it is a football drama. So I implored her to give it a chance. To my shock, she agreed (again, we're talking about football here). We had the first nine episodes on DVD. We watched one. Then we watched another. Then I went to bed, and she watched two more. Next night, same drill. She went through episodes the way I go through cans of Milwaukee's Best. Only she didn't wake up with a headache in the morning.

Now, I know what you're thinking: How is your marriage in trouble? You've found a show you both love! What's the problem? Well, the first problem is that when I asked Christina whether she was a Street girl or a Riggins girl, she replied emphatically, ''Riggins!'' This means she digs the bad boy, and not being a bad boy myself by any stretch of the imagination, this causes me some concern. (She in turn inquired whether I was a Lyla or Tyra guy, which I refused to answer because I am smart and realize that either answer would come back to haunt me in the long run.) The bigger problem, however, is this: I'm out of episodes. Like an addict that is being denied her fix, my wife is going through serious withdrawal symptoms. She actually ordered me to not come home until I got more DVDs (which might explain why I remain typing here at 10:23 in the evening). Luckily, I have my sources. My peeps over at NBC Universal have taken pity upon me and are hooking Christina up with the rest of the season.

Whew — crisis averted. But for how long? Sure, we'll get a dozen more episodes, but at this rate that'll take her about a weekend to plow through them. What then? In case you hadn't noticed — and judging by the ratings, you hadn't — Friday Night Lights is not exactly what you'd call an audience favorite. A critical darling, to be sure, but a seriously low-rated one....

And as much as I absolutely adore Friday Night Lights, I clearly recognize that this show will never, ever be a hit. What fans love about it — its realism and understated nature — does not appeal to mass audiences. Twenty million people are simply not going to watch a show with shaky cam shots of kids in a diner, so it's hard for me to convince the powers-that-be to keep the show on the air in the hopes that it will suddenly do big numbers. Convincing NBC brass of the show's excellence is also rather futile, because everyone that works there seems to be a big fan of the program. They know it's good. So I am left to play the only card I have left — the preservation of my holy matrimony. Look, NBC, I have children — two of them! Do you want them to grow up in a broken home just because you benched what might be the best drama on network television?

I lack Ross' NBC connections, but my wife got so hooked on the show after I introduced her to it that she caught up on all the episodes by watching them online (they're all still available, by the way).

And, as in Ross' case, my wife is a huge Riggins fan, even though he's the bad boy of the show. "He's just gorgeous... and smoldering," she said. She then tried to assuage any anxiety I might have had by reassuring me that, "you are as un-Riggins-like as you can possibly be."

I feel much better now.

[Yes, you, who link to Salma Hayek at the drop of a hat, should get upset at this!!--ed. True, though I have never (and will never) told my wife that she was "un-Hayek like."]

Oh, and for FNL afficionados, I'm neither a Lyla or a Tyra guy -- I'm a Tami guy through and through.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The very thin line between comedy and tragedy

Compare and contrast:




posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The trailer that haunts me today

Surfing the web yesterday, I came across this trailer for Away From Her, a film directed by actress Sarah Polley:

I have no idea if the movie will be as good as this trailer (though it seems to have won a few festival awards). That said, it's been 24 hours and I can't shake this from my head.

The official blog wife thinks it's because I'm becoming a complete sap. This is indeed a possibility.

Click here to see a short interview with Polley about the film.

posted by Dan at 05:15 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Open Starbucks overheard conversation thread

Virginia Postrel relates a conversation she head while at a Los Angeles Starbucks: "Two screenwriters working over a script that features both the CIA and some kind of evil mercenary hired by...a pharmaceutical company."

For some reason, the Starbucks I occasionally frequent here in the Boston area has much stranger conversations than the Hyde Park Starbucks. In the fall, I overheard two IT consultants bemoaning the fact that some outfit in Sudan (???!!!) was getting a whole bunch of World Bank money that allowed them to be competitive in some niche market. I have no idea if this was true or not, but it safely distracted me from work for twenty minutes.

Here's a good Monday question for readers -- what was the strangest conversation you have overheard in a coffee house?

posted by Dan at 08:03 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 6, 2007

Even the Onion is vlogging

Well, not vlogging so much as good old fashioned fake news that makes you squirm as well as laugh:

A Friend's Cancer: Good For Your Health?

This is going to be very, very bad for my productivity.

posted by Dan at 07:22 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

I saw it, so you're going to have to suffer as well

I'm going to have a stomach ache the rest of the day after watching this:

I understand what Alanis was going for here, but the fact is, as Hua Hsu wrote in Slate two years ago about the original Black Eyed Peas song, "My Humps":
It is... proof that a song can be so bad as to veer toward evil....

It's not Awesomely Bad; it's Horrifically Bad. The Peas receive no bonus points for a noble missing-of-the-mark or misguided ambition (some of the offended have responded with parody videos and snickering anecdotes about how the group uses Hitler-approved microphones). "My Humps" is a moment that reminds us that categories such as "good" and "bad" still matter. Relativism be damned! There are bad songs that offend our sensibilities but can still be enjoyed, and then there are the songs that are just really bad—transcendentally bad, objectively bad.

Which makes an "ironic" cover of the song... well.... pretty damn bad.

posted by Dan at 03:17 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The thousand nations of the Persian empire are pissed off about 300

Via Matthew Yglesias, I see IRNA reporting that the government of Iran is not pleased with the movie 300:

Government spokesman, Gholam-Hossein Elham said Tuesday that the movie called `300' insults the culture of world countries.

The statement was made in response to the question raised about the anti-Iran movie dubbed `300'.

The government spokesman referred to the movie as part of the extensive cultural aggression aiming to degenerate cultures of world states.

Elham noted that the Iranian nation and those involved in cultural activities will respond to such a cultural aggression....

The movie has fabricated the history with depicting a war between Iran and Greece, whereas, no Greek king dared to stand up to the Persian Empire or the Emperor Xerxes.

Though Sparta's King Leonidas cherished such a dream, but, he lost his head and Iranian fighters threw his head before Emperor Xerxes's feet and told him that he had attempted a suicide attack to Persian Army.

Though Matt and I have had some differences on Iran, I agree with correct lesson he from this tidbit of information:
It's interesting that even Iran's contemporary theocrats regard themselves as the heirs to all the pre-Islamic Persian empires. Which goes to show how misleading it is to frame US-Iranian disputes as part of an apocalyptic struggle with "Islamofascism" rather than a sort of banal (but not unimportant!) situation issue where the government of Iran is seeking to assert its interests in the neighborhood where governments of Iran have traditionally sought to assert themselves.
UPDATE: Azadeh Moaveni suggests in Time that ordinary Iranians are equally ticked off about the movie.

posted by Dan at 03:15 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Best bloggingheads ever

Just click and watch. It helps if you are/were a fan of Iron Chef.

posted by Dan at 09:03 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"I wonder why this Council on Foreign Relations meeting is so well-attended?"

Jeremy Grant reports in the Financial Times that the Council on Foreign Relations has announced its latest batch of term members. One of them apparently has some prior experience as a U.N. ambassador:

The dead-pan world of the Washington policy wonk looks set for a dash of Hollywood glamour with the nomination of actress Angelina Jolie to join one of the most venerable think-tanks in the US.

The Council on Foreign Relations, whose members include former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman, decided on Friday to accept the 32-year-old to be considered for a special five-year term designed to “nurture the next generation of foreign policy makers”.

Membership would allow Ms Jolie access to 40 academic “fellows” – such as Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, and Max Boot, a neoconservative military historian – and to meet current world leaders.

The Council does not require members to hold any particular academic qualifications. Ms Jolie’s formal education ended at a high school in Beverly Hills . Applicants must be nominated by one existing member and seconded with at least three supporting letters from others.

It is not clear who nominated Ms Jolie, but fellow Hollywood actors Michael Douglas and Richard Dreyfuss are life members of the Council, founded in 1921 as a non-partisan membership organisation to “promote understanding of foreign policy and America’s role in the world”.

Note to self: check immediately to ascertain if Salma Hayek would be interested in CFR membership. [Um.... don't you have to be an American citizen to belong to the Council?--ed. Hayek is now a U.S. citizen, to vdare's everlasting chagrin.]

posted by Dan at 07:18 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Your Oscar predictions for 2007!!

Well, the Academy Award ceremonies will be upon us in 24 hours, which means it's time for our fifth annual Oscar predictions. We will note that this year, we are wearing black armbands in protest at the brutal discrimination subjected against Salma Hayek in the acting categories. Don't those Academy fools realize that she won Best Nude Scene for 2006 from Mr. Skin for Ask the Dust?! [You'll always have this scene!!--ed. It's not enough. It's never enough.]

OK, same rules as always -- predictions of who will win followed by who should win. Surprisingly, given the move and everything, the wife and I got to see many of the top-nominated films:

Best Supporting Actor:
Will win: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Should win: Steve Carrell, Little Miss Sunshine

Eddie Murphy has made a ton of money for Hollowood over 25 years, and proved he can act. Hollywood will reciprocate accordingly -- despite his graceless acceptance speech at the Golden Globes -- because the alternative characters (heroin junkie grandpa, child molester) aren't as appealing.

It's great that Arkin got nominated, but Carrell stole the movie for me. Part of it is that he's playing against his "type" from Anchorman and The 40-Year Old Virgin. Part of it is that, as an academic, I had never seen an actor nail the self-seriousness that we all possess in great quantities better than Carrell.

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Should win: Jane Adams, Little Children

Let me preface this by saying I did not see Dreamgirls, but by all accounts Slate's Judy Rosen is correct in asserting that Dreamgirls is "not really a movie, but a song, surrounded by 125 minutes of padding." Plus, Hudson is apparently the sweetest person on the face of the planet. Still, part of me does wonder why this logic did not apply to Queen Latifah's nomination for Chicago.

Adams played Sheila, Ronnie's date in Little Children. She doesn't have a lot of screen time (really, she would win Best Cameo if they had that category and Adams was more famous). I don't want to spoil the movie for the many of you that didn't see it but should rent it on DVD, so can't exactly say why I thought she deserved it. Let's just say that despite the fact that Kate Winslet was astonishingly good in this film, I couldn't stop thinking about the sorrow embedded within Adams' character for days after seeing the film.

Best Actor
Will win: Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Should win: Daniel Craig, Casino Royale

My hunch is that if either Venus or Blood Diamond were better movies, Whitaker wouldn't be winning. I still think that DiCaprio has a decent shot at a major upset here. However, Whitaker's acting chops will not be denied.

For me, one of the absudities of Hollywood's value system is that someone who can sing or dance can win an Oscar for one show-stopping number, whereas stars in action films are thought to be tawdry and commercial. Craig was able to take a character and a franchise that defined "cartoonish" and actually make people care about James Bond again. For this, he wasn't even nominated. The really absurd thing is that Craig is not an action star but, by all accounts, a chameleon of an actor. Sorry, Daniel -- if it makes you feel any better, my wife and many of her friends would like to somehow make it up to you.

Best Actress
Will win: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Should win: tie, Mirren and Kate Winslet, Little Children

Look, if you don't think Helen Mirren is going to win, please e-mail me so I can take your money in an Oscar pool.

As for who should win, Mirren was extraordinary -- it's not just the makeup, it's every facial twitch and frown. That sais, Winslet accomplishes the same thing -- she makes us sympathize with a fundamentally unsympathetic character (an adulterer who neglects her child).

Best Director
Will win: Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
Should win: Stephen Frears, The Queen

C'mon, you know that the Academy is to Martin Scorcese as Lucy is to Charlie Brown kicking the football. My hunch is that Eastwood gets brownie points for directing two superior films in a year and Scorcese gets docked a point for having that rat in the final shot.

Paradoxically, Mirren is so good in The Queen that she's been sucking all the oxygen from the other people that deserve praise. Frears, in particular, managed to pull off an improbable task -- he fit an Oscar-worthy dramatic performance into one of the driest comedy of manners ever made.

Best Picture
Will win: Babel
Should win: The Queen

Babel is this year's Crash -- on a global scale!! I'm counting on the Academy's guilty liberal conscience to put it over the top. Besides, you know, it aimed high -- which is apparently what matters to Academy voters.

The Queen is the only movie I saw this year that was note-perfect (though Thank You For Smoking came close). Even though, as I said, it's fundamentally a comedy, the characters are never played for broad laughs (well, except Prince Philip). As I said, Mirren's performance has somehow crowded out the attention that it deserves for other reasons, including Michael Sheen's fascinating portrayal of Tony Blair.

Enjoy the show!!

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.... hmwa? It's over? Jesus, people, if you're going to read your acceptance speeches, how about outsourcing the thing to someone who can write in a concise and pithy manner? This awards ceremony actually made me nostalgic for the 3-6 Mafia.

[You're just bitter because you didn't do so well in your predictions!--ed. Alas, this is true. My sharpest observation of the evening occurred after Alan Arkin won for best supporting actor, when I said to my lovely wife, "I bet you Eddie Murphy leaves the building in the next five minutes." And he was never seen from again.]

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The secrets of Sid Meier

The Weekly Standard's Victorino Matus has a cover story on Civilization and its creator, Sid Meier (I have previously documented how Civilization nearly crippled my academic career).

Read the whole thing, but here are two bits of interesting information:

Meier cites the strategy board game Risk as one of his major influences. "Conquer the world. All those cool pieces. You felt like you were king. It gave you a lot of power." What about the game Diplomacy? "You had to have friends to play Diplomacy so that kind of left me out."....

Civilization has a range of levels ascending in difficulty, from "Settler" to "Deity," sometimes known as the Sid level. Ironically, Meier has never won at this level. His excuse? "When we're developing, it's hard to finish a game. A lot of times, you play for a while and say, 'Oh, this or that ought to change.' People in the real world get better than us. I mean, there are people who are just so willing to spend the time."

Take, for example, WEEKLY STANDARD contributor and First Things editor Joseph Bottum, who has, in fact, won at the Deity level in Civilization III. He first began playing Civilization II in 1995 when he was a professor at Loyola College in Baltimore. "Among real aficionados," he says, "the goal was to see whether you could launch a spaceship before you reached A.D." The Deity level of Civ III posed more of a challenge, though Bottum eventually found a winning strategy--one involving an ancient civilization whose prime achievement appears early in the game, such as Egypt with its war chariots.

UPDATE: Matus provides some more details in this Galley Slaves post.

posted by Dan at 08:54 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Yes, it's the golden age of 80's music-video spoofs

First, there was Justin Timberlake's "D**k in a Box" on Saturday Night Live:

Now, there's Hugh Grant's "PoP! Goes My Heart" from Music and Lyrics:
Clearly, this is the golden age of music video spoofs. Everyone just sit back and enjoy our cultural crest.

My only complaint is that so far this trend has only covered boy bands. I'd like to see someone like Sarah Silverman spoof a Madonna video (though this one comes close).

posted by Dan at 04:36 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Your amusing quote of the day
For Maoists, they’re very light-hearted.
From a comment made at this Crooked Timber post by Scott McLemee.

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Must... resist.... looking back through rose-colored glasses

My son is very excited, because today is his very first snow day from school. I'm happy for him -- all children deserve at least one snow day a year. There's something much more enjoyable about an unplanned day of leisure (for the children -- this sort of thing is unbelievably inconvenient for the parents) than the expected weekend days.

That said, I can't shake the feeling, looking outside my window, that Massachusetts has gone unbelievably soft. There is, as I type this, less than an inch and a half of accumulation outside. Why, when I was a lad.... oh, hell, you know how the rest of that sentence will go.

This leads to an interesting question -- beyond the natural, likely erroneous belief that we were just physically hardier back in the day, what could explain this perception that schools call snow days with less weather now than they used to?

1) Media hype. Last night the spouse turned on the local news to catch a weather forecast, and the anchors looked positively orgiastic in their glee about the impending storm. The growth and sophistication of media marketing is greater now than a decade ago, and this affects expectations about the future;

2) Liability laws. School districts are more risk-averse because of the possible liability that comes with not calling a snow day and then having a bus get into an accident.

3) Traffic congestion. The problem isn't the weather, it's the weather + an increased number of cars on the road.

4) When it's been a mild winter, everyone jumps at the first appreciable snowfall.

Parents, provide your guesses here.

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bring back the siesta!!

A little more than a year ago I mourned the slow disappearance of the siesta from Spain:

[I]t seems hard to dispute the notion that the siesta is a thoroughly inefficient way of inserting break times into the working day. So the economist in me accepts this as wise policy.

At the same time, the Burkean conservative in me mourns a loss. The siesta is such a lovely conceit for lazy people like myself -- who have a strong belief in the restorative and stimulating powers of the long lunch -- that it will be hard to imagine its disappearance from its country of origin.

It turns out there may be another negative externality associated with eliminating the siesta -- according to Stephen Smith of the Boston Globe:
In a study released yesterday, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and in Athens reported that Greeks who took regular 30-minute siestas were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a six-year period than those who never napped. The scientists tracked more than 23,000 adults, finding that the benefits of napping were most pronounced for working men.

Researchers have long recognized that Mediterranean adults die of heart disease at a rate lower than Americans and Northern Europeans. Diets rich in olive oil and other heart-healthy foods have received some of the credit, but scientists have been intrigued by the potential role of napping.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that napping was more likely than diet or physical activity to lower the incidence of heart attacks and other life-ending heart ailments.

Still, the authors cautioned that further research is needed to confirm their findings.

Well, confirm them, for Pete's sake!

posted by Dan at 08:28 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 12, 2007

I don't think this headline means what I think it means

From the front page of

Kevin Bacon, Will Smith make celeb love work.
Clearly, I've been infiltrated by the enemy at home.

posted by Dan at 11:06 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I've gone to the bad place again

Really, I was going to do some work tonight.... but then I kept thinking about this Brad DeLong post about canonical Star Trek episodes. That led to some web surfing, and before I knew it found this at Youtube:

This was bad enough, but then it led to this clip, and then that led to this clip, which led to this bit, and, then, well this intrigued me but I just couldn't really enjoy it, and then, finally, oh dear God, there was this extract from my 13-year old id.

I'll post again once I've regained some equilibrium.

UPDATE: Ah, a Youtube video that brings me (sort of) back to the real world.

posted by Dan at 11:59 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Where the foreign tourists are

Virginia Postrel has a great column in the Atlantic Monthly about the decline and fall of airline glamour. Go check it out -- if for no other reason than to admire a writer's ability to justify someone paying for her to fly from Los Angeles to London in Virgin Atlantic’s “Upper Class” cabin.

In a follow-up post, however, Postrel makes a rather curious assertion:

I suspect that The Guardian's audience is not as well traveled as they think they are. Outside the major cities in the United States, for instance, the only foreign tourists you usually find are Germans, who will go just about anywhere and rent RVs to do it. How many Guardian readers have driven through the desert Southwest or the Blue Ridge?
I've traveled a fair amount in the United States, and my casual empiricism suggests that you'll find quite a lot of foreign tourists in the Southwest. They might not be driving RVs, but they will go there to take in one of the features of the United States that is not quite as common in Europe -- jaw-dropping natural vistas like the Grand Canyon, Garden of the Gods, or Zion National Park. In fact, in my experience, I've bumped into foreign tourists more often at non-urban destinations than urban ones.*

This could be a perceptual bias, so I'd be curious to hear from readers if this is their experience as well.

*If the dollar continues to fall in value, this will change, as even more tourists come to the U.S. for lower consumer prices.

posted by Dan at 08:54 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Personally, I'm voting for option A

What does it mean that, when I contemplate the fact that today is Martin Luther King Day, I can't stop thinking about the first three minutes of this clip from Blazing Saddles?:

A) I have bizarre sense of humor;

B) It underscores Seth Mnookin's point that, "[It's] twenty-nine years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr…and we still can’t talk openly and honestly about race." UPDATE: Wow, I am old. it's been thirty-nine years since the MLK assassination.

C) All of the above

D) None of the Above

posted by Dan at 02:57 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The truest sentence I will read this weekend

People rarely watch their language when they’re about to be eaten by a giant crocodile or shot in the head by a glowering thug.
Parental warning accomanying A.O. Scott's New York Times review of Primeval.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 1, 2007

Merry New Year!!

Three thoughts to welcome in 2007:

1) It's good to be near the focal point. New Year's has never been high up there on my holiday list, but I always enjoyed it less when I wasn't in the Eastern time zone when Auld Lang Syne was sung. I have to conclude that this is because the dropping of the ball in Times Square means something more when I'm in the same time as New York. Why this is true is beyond me.

2) The young people today will never believe their elders when we tell them that for the longest time, Dick Clark did not age. Tonight he was half a beat behind countting down, but back in the day, Fortunately, Wikipedia will tell them too, and because it is on that newfangled information superhighway, they will accept it as gospel.

3) A question to readers -- is there a movie that does a better job with New Year's Eve than Trading Places?

posted by Dan at 12:32 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Your holiday quote of the day

From Jane Galt:

It's the holiday season in New York, which means the festive sight of twenty-somethings decorating the early morning streets with the former contents of their stomachs.
I strongly suspect that many New Yorkers will vent about this during the celebration of this holiday.

posted by Dan at 09:02 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

In your face, everyone else!!!!

Time tells me what my ego wants to hear:

[F]or seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.
Hah!! I knew it!!! I knew I was Person-of-the-Year material!! Take that, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- you couldn't do better than second!! Go suck an egg, George W. Bush!! Daniel Craig, I don't care any more that my wife really, really liked that bathing suit scene in Casino Royale. I'm the king of the world!!!!

[Um... you know they meant "you" in the global sense--ed.] Oh.... never mind.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse believes this gambit is "unbelievably dorky." I wouldn't go that far. It's certainly amusing -- I couldn't stop laughing when I first read it. Beyond the instinct to giggle and the God-awful bubble-headed prose, however, there is the core of an idea worth expanding into a popular book -- the idea of production by consumption.

For a wide variety of products, traditional consumers now add value by mixing, matching, riffing, sampling, commenting, critiquing, customizing, and mutating goods and services. In the process, value-added is created. It's an interesting phenomenon, and someone like Virginia Postrel or Robert Wright or James Surowiecki or Steven Johnson should take the idea and run with it -- they'd have to do better than Time.

UPDATE: William Beutler predicted Time would do this back in October.

posted by Dan at 12:11 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Drezner gets volunteered results on volunteerism!!

Last week I asked the following question about the spike in volunteerism: [

D]escribing the growth of teenage participation in these kind of activities as "volunteerism" stretches the meaning of the word a bit, since "service-learning programs" are often mandated at the high school level (that said, the growth of volunteerism at the high school level might also be a function of market pressures -- you want to get into a good college,you need to demonstrate volunteerism).

One question I'm curious about: these service programs have been in place for quite some time now. Does anyone know if hard data exists showing that participation in them triggers a life-long pattern of volunteerism?

I've now received an answer.

Mike Planty, Robert Bozick and Michael Regnier, "Helping Because You Have To or Helping Because You Want To? Sustaining Participation in Service Work From Adolescence Through Young Adulthood." Youth & Society, Vol. 38, No. 2, 177-202:

This article examines whether the motive behind community service performed during high school—either voluntary or required—influences engagement in volunteer work during the young adult years. Using a sample of students from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (N= 9,966), service work in high school is linked with community service in young adulthood. The findings show that participation in community service declines substantially in the 2 years following high school graduation but then rebounds slightly once members of the sample reach their mid-20s. In general, community service participation in high school was related to volunteer work both 2 and 8 years after high school graduation. However, those who were required to participate in community service while in high school were only able to sustain involvement 8 years after graduation if they reported that their participation was voluntary. Strengths and limitations of the analysis as well as implications for youth policy are discussed.

posted by Dan at 06:56 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Draw your own conclusions about American pop culture

What is the significance of the fact that the following is currently ranked as the most viewed YouTube video for today?

A) The imminent arrival of the apocalypse?

B) Ironic detachment is now the predominant stance of Internet users?

C) YouTube has jumped the shark?

D) Ain't nothin' over til it's over?

E) There are a lot of Airplane II: The Sequel fans?

F) Montage sequence + Bill Conti theme = Crazy delicious?

posted by Dan at 03:53 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

What happened to bowling alone?

The Corporation for National and Community Service -- a government entity that runs AmeriCorps and Senior Corps -- issues a report that would, at first glance, surprise those who have read Bowling Alone. From the press release:

Volunteering has reached a 30-year high in the United States, as more people pitch in to help their communities, according to a study released today by the Corporation for National and Community Service....

The report, Volunteer Growth in America: A Review of Trends Since 1974, finds that adult volunteering rose sharply between 1989 and 2005, increasing more than 32 percent over the last 16 years....

The brief analyzes volunteering rates in 1974, 1989 and 2002-2005, using information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It finds that the growth in volunteering is driven primarily by three age groups: teenagers 16 to 19, Baby Boomers and others age 45 to 65, and older adults 65 and over....

Among the findings:

  • Older teenagers (ages 16-19) have more than doubled their time spent volunteering since 1989.

  • Far from being a “Me Generation,” Baby Boomers are volunteering at sharply higher rates than did the previous generation at mid-life.

  • The volunteer rate for Americans ages 65 years and over has increased 64 percent since 1974.

  • The proportion of Americans volunteering with an educational or youth service organization has seen a 63 percent increase just since just 1989....
  • Educational and youth service organizations (such as schools, 4-H, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts) are benefiting from the growth because they have received the largest increase in volunteers between 1989 and 2006. Nearly 24.6 percent of all adult volunteers serve through such organizations, a 63 percent increase since 1989. The biggest percentage of volunteers serves through religious organizations, although the proportion of Americans contributing time to those groups has decreased slightly, from 37.4 percent to 35.5 percent, since 1989.

    Noting that volunteering actually declined between 1974 and 1989 before rebounding, Grimm cited several reasons for heightened civic engagement today:

  • Teenagers are volunteering in greater numbers, in part, because of an increase in service-learning programs in schools and colleges that combine classroom study with community activity. Another reason may be a response to traumatic national events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and recent natural disasters.

  • Mid-life adults are more likely to have children in the home because Americans are delaying marriage and childbearing. The result is increased exposure to volunteering opportunities connected to their children’s school and extracurricular activities.

  • Older Americans are living longer, are better educated, and more financially secure – creating an increased desire for them to remain active and seek ways to give back to communities.
  • After another glance, this result can be partially and uneasily reconciled with Putnam's thesis of declining social capital. First, Putnam focused on a wide range of behaviors beyond volunteerism, which this report doesn't cover. Second, this report still shows a volunteering gap among Gen X-ers like myself, which prompted Putnam's book in the first place. Third, describing the growth of teenage participation in these kind of activities as "volunteerism" stretches the meaning of the word a bit, since "service-learning programs" are often mandated at the high school level (that said, the growth of volunteerism at the high school level might also be a function of market pressures -- you want to get into a good college,you need to demonstrate volunteerism).

    One question I'm curious about: these service programs have been in place for quite some time now. Does anyone know if hard data exists showing that participation in them triggers a life-long pattern of volunteerism?

    posted by Dan at 09:01 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006

    Drezner's iron laws of high school reunions

    Your humble blogger attended his twentieth -- yes, I said twentieth -- high school reunion over the Thanksgiving break. Using some of the fancy-pants Ph.D.-level training I've picked up since my high school days, here are some tips for future reunion attendees that might be helpful:

    1) Physically and emotionally, the men will have changed much more than the women. This is mostly physiology -- boys mature later, and are the ones who go bald. Plus, if they're very, very lucky, the men will also meet someone who can dress them better than when they were in high school.

    2) If you have children, you will save yourself and everyone else a lot of time if you laminate some picture(s) of your offspring and staple them to your forehead.

    3) That person you had a crush on in tenth grade? They're still going to look good.

    4) Someone will be out of the closet -- with a 50% chance that that person was in your homecoming court (note to Generation Y: this will be reversed for all y'all -- someone who came out in high school will be in a heterosexual marriage, with two kids and a house in Schenectady).

    5) WARNING: you will drink more at these functions than you probably should.

    6) There will always be at least one woman who has given birth to many children in recent years but look like they could do a guest-hosting stint on E!'s Wild On series.

    7) At any point during the reunion, you will observe a large number of women congregating near the bathroom, whispering to each other and giggling every five seconds.

    8) Someone's going to bring their high school yearbook.

    9) The food will leave something to be desired.

    10) Unless he or she attended your high school, under no circumstances should you subject your spouse to this function. [Against the Geneva Conventions?--ed. Only if you think boring someone to death is a form of torture.]

    As a public servive, readers are hereby requested to suggest their own covering laws.

    UPDATE: James Joyner weighs in: "Women, much more than men, still define themselves by who they were in high school. Possible exceptions include men who were star athletes or otherwise peaked as teenagers."

    Hmmm... I wonder if this applies to math team captains.....

    posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    What's the more disturbing video of the week?

    Over the past week, there's been a lot of blog chatter about a tazer incident at a UCLA library that was partially captured on video. To quote James Joyner, "I agree that the use of a taser against a skinny student for the crime of being a dumbass would appear to be an excessive application of force."

    The video is extremely disturbing for the cries of the tazed student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad. What I found interesting, however, was the way in which every person on that video acted according to type. The security officers acted as brutal thugs who would not have their authority questioned; the students acted as the righteously indignant chorus. Even Tabatabainejad seemed to be playing a role, the belligerent protestor ("here's your f#$%ing Patriot Act!!"). The violence is disturbing, but the characters playing their parts grounds the sequence into familiar tropes. It is, therefore, perhaps less shocking than it should be.

    For me, the more discomfiting video was Michael Richards' apology on The Late Show with David Letterman for his racially profane diatribe at an LA comedy club over the weekend. Richards, a comedian, is acting in a non-comedic fashion. The audience, confused about what's going on, begins to laugh at Richards' apology. Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian, tut-tuts the audience for laughing. Richards, who on Seinfeld played a character who seemingly fell ass-backwards into success, has put himself into the exact opposite situation, someone who seems completely mystified about how he wound up in his current predicament.

    posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, November 7, 2006

    The ultimate election day surprise

    Over the weekend, I blogged at Open U. about possible last-minute October surprises for the midterms.

    Well, if the Dems do worse than expected in today's midterms, I think we know who to blame:

    TMZ obtained the legal papers, filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, citing "irreconcilable differences." In her petition, Spears asks for both legal and physical custody of the couple's two children, one-year old Sean Preston and two-month old Jayden James, with Federline getting reasonable visitation rights.

    As for money, sources tell TMZ the couple, who married in Oct. 2004, has an iron-clad prenup. Not surprisingly, Spears is waiving her right to spousal support. She's also asking the judge to make each party pay their own attorney's fees.

    Spears gives the date of separation as yesterday, the same day she flaunted her incredible revamped physique during a surprise appearance on David Letterman's show. Sources tell TMZ there was no single reason for Britney pulling the plug, rather, it was "a string of events."

    This is perfect timing for the GOP. She's demonstrated her love of George W. Bush in the past. Now consider the following chain of events:
    1) Her divorce will fire up Andrew Sullivan to point out -- again -- how Britney has defiled the institution of marriage more than any gay man ever could.

    2) This in turn fires up the conservative base over at NRO's The Corner.

    3) In the next three hours, a outpouring of social conservatives forget the Ted Haggard follies and vote for the GOP

    4) At the same time, under-30 voters -- considered to be overwhelmingly Democratic -- decide not to vote in favor of surfing the web to find out how the young Ms. Spears is looking doing.

    5) The combined effects push the Republicans to actually pick up seats in Congress and in state capitols.

    It's genius. Pure genius.

    posted by Dan at 05:24 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Your sexy sex quote of the day

    I have to assume that Reuters reporter Claire Sibonney has sacrificed her first-born child to the hounds of hell, because the following is the kind of quote that would cause most reporters to agree to human sacrifice in order to obtain:

    "It's not sexy sex sex, where we're talking about whips and chains, but we will talk about whips and chains," said graduating student Robbie Morgan, 33, who left her job teaching sex education in Chicago to attend the [University of Toronto's] Sexual Diversity Studies program, one of the largest of its kind in North America.

    "We'll talk about whips and chains in a political, social, cultural, religious context of sexuality and how that sexuality affects those institutions."

    Sibonney, "Sex ed gets a lot sexier at Canadian university"

    posted by Dan at 09:07 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Maudissez cette culture américaine séduisant!

    In the International Heald-Tribune, Eric Pfanner reports that despite rising anti-Americanism in Europe, American television has actually become more popular, not less:

    In the Parliaments and pubs of Europe, the United States may wallow in least-favored-nation status. But on European television, American shows have not been as popular since the 1980s heyday of "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."

    "What a difference," said Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of RTL Group, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster that owns Five US and other channels across Europe. "Five or six years ago you could barely find any U.S. series on the prime-time schedules of the market leaders. Now they are back, pretty much on all the major European commercial channels."

    RTL, which is owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, recently created an all-American Tuesday night lineup at its flagship channel in Germany, the biggest commercial broadcaster in that country. It starts with "CSI: Miami," the latest installment in the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" franchise, which airs on the CBS network in the United States, and continues with "House," "Monk" and "Law & Order."....

    U.S. producers are taking more risks, creating edgier shows, analysts say, and they are spending more on them in an effort to appeal to audiences in Europe, where American programming is often dubbed into the local language. With revenue from sales of U.S. rights flat, they are also increasingly dependent on international sales to recover the costs.

    Meanwhile, European programming budgets are getting squeezed. Advertising revenue at many of the leading channels is stagnant or falling as viewers defect to the Internet and other new media. Yet broadcasters have to fill many more hours of air time as cable, satellite and digital terrestrial channels proliferate. Buying the rights to American shows is much less expensive than producing original ones....

    Nick Thorogood, controller of Five US, said British viewers were setting aside any anti-American leanings when they settled down in front of their TVs.

    "We are seeing bright, intelligent and beautifully made drama coming out of America," he said. "In the U.K., many people abhor the politics of the U.S. but eagerly embrace the culture."

    In other parts of Europe, the embrace may not be as hearty.

    The largest broadcaster in France, TF1, added Disney's "Lost" series to its Saturday night lineup last year. Last month it went further, dropping the feature films that it had shown for years on Sunday nights in favor of three episodes of "CSI," lifting its ratings but prompting a backlash from French producers, who are supported with public funding....

    In any case, analysts say, American shows again command the kind of universal appeal they last held when a fictional Texas oilman named J.R. Ewing swaggered across European television screens, helping shape stereotypes of America.

    "The world and the U.K. were watching when J.R. was shot on 'Dallas,'" Thorogood said.

    "Now that kind of thing could happen again."

    It would appear that American television producers have pulled off the same feat as other American multinationals -- marketing their wares to anti-American publics.

    My favorite quote from the story: "As recently as 1999, Zeiler said, the only American fare shown during prime time on RTL in Germany was reruns of 'Quincy.'"

    posted by Dan at 08:53 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    Finally, I get to play Mousetrap

    In today's New York Times Magazne, Neal Pollack has an amusing essay about how three-year olds play games:

    Soon after coming into his Hungry Hungry Hippos stash, Elijah had a friend over. He was very excited to share with his friend, whom I’ll call Cinderella to protect her identity.

    “Can I please play Hungry Hippos with Cinderella?” he asked.

    “I don’t care,” I said.

    “She likes Hungry Hippos! She likes it more than ice cream!”

    “Yes, yes.”

    In the few days since we’d purchased Hungry Hungry Hippos for Elijah, he’d made up his own rules. This shouldn’t have been a problem for a game that’s essentially a scale model of gluttonous Dadaist anarchy. Unfortunately, Elijah’s rules went: I always win, and you have to do whatever I say. Problems arose.

    Elijah: Let’s play Hungry Hippos.

    Cinderella: O.K.

    Elijah: I get to be the pink one and the yellow one!

    Cinderella: I want the pink one!

    Elijah: The pink one is mine, Daddy.

    Daddy: Don’t look at me, dude.

    Elijah: Ahhhhhhhgggh! I want pink! I want pink!

    At this point, Cinderella began whacking the pink hippo’s lever. Elijah became, like his favorite hippo’s jaw, unhinged. He, in return, began whacking Cinderella.

    The whole essay is pretty funny, but I was struck by this passage about why today's parents buys these games: "This generation of parents, after all, is obsessed with reviving the pop-cultural experience of its own collective childhood."

    Speak for yourself, Neal. I buy games for my children for a completely different reason -- I finally get to play the games I was denied as a youth for some reason or another. And as the title of this post suggests, Mousetrap is friggin' awesome.

    posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Hey, this Jew really does control Mel Gibson

    From my August 1, 2006 blog post, "Dogpiling on Mel Gibson," here's the beginning of my predicted narrative arc for Gibson:

    1) Gibson repeatedly issues contrite apologies -- oh, wait, that's already happened.

    2) Exiting rehab, Gibson does heartfelt interview with Diane Sawyer in which he:

    a) Admits to various chemical dependencies/imbalances that affect his behavior;

    b) Explains that his father's rank anti-Semitism led to psychological abuse during his childhood;

    c) Cries on camera.

    From ABC News, "Mel Gibson Says He Feels 'Powerless Over Everything'":
    In an exclusive interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Mel Gibson talks about his recent D.U.I. arrest, his battle with alcoholism and his anti-Semitic remarks.

    Actor Mel Gibson is speaking out for the first time about the anti-Semitic comments he made to police when they booked him for drunken driving last summer.

    Gibson tells ABC News' Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview that his anti-Semitic statements were "just the stupid rambling of a drunkard."....

    [Gibson] admits that staying sober is a constant struggle.

    "Even fear -- the risk of life, family is not enough to keep you from it," Gibson says. "That's the hell of it. You're indefensible against it. If your nature is to imbibe. & So you must keep that under arrest, in a sense. But you cannot do it yourself. And people can help you. But it's God. You gotta go there, you gotta do it, or you won't survive. All there is to it."

    I'm not right about a lot, but I was right about J. Lo, and now Mel comes through for me as well.

    All I need is for Apocalypto to tank, and my claim to be this generation's Nostradamus will be complete.

    posted by Dan at 01:58 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    The comparative political economy of The Office

    Liesl Schillinger has an interesting essay in Slate comparing and contrasting four different versions of The Office. In addition to the U.K. and U.S. versions, both French (Le Bureau) and German television (Stromberg) have produced variants on the show.

    Schillinger's takeaway:

    [T]he base-line mood of David Brent's workplace—resignation mingled with self-loathing—is unrecognizably alien to our (well, my) sensibility. In the American office, passivity mingles with rueful hopefulness: An American always believes there's something to look forward to. A Brit does not, and finds humor in that hopelessness. What truths, I wondered, might Le Bureau and Stromberg reveal about the French and German professional milieus?...

    if any conjecture could be made about the cultural differences that these subtly contrasting programs reveal, it might be this one: These days, Germans and Americans are doing much of their living in and around their offices, while the Brits and French continue to live outside of them. Here, in broad strokes, are the chief differences. In the British version, nobody is working, nobody has a happy relationship, everyone looks terrible, and everybody is depressed. In the French version, nobody is working but even the idiots look good, and everybody seems possessed of an intriguing private life. In the German version, actual work is visibly being done, most of the staff is coupled up, and the workers never stop eating and drinking—treating the office like a kitchen with desks. Stromberg continually calls his staff "Kinder," or "children," further blurring the line between Kinder, Computer, and Küche.

    While Michael Scott also sometimes calls his American office a "family," his staff knows he's the kid brother, not the father, and that if there's to be any Kinder in their lives, they're going to have to get busy with one of their fellow prairie dogs, because really—who else are they likely to meet, given the stretching parameters of the U.S. working day? We may still talk of "working like a dog," but the Russians lately have coined the expression, "to work like an American," reflecting our 24/7 on-call mentality. These days, for Americans, "home office" is not just a place, it's a state of mind. And it's perfectly reflected by our version of this global sitcom—in which work is ostensibly cared about (though skimped on), romantic tension simmers on numerous fronts, and the whole enterprise is gently inflated by a mood of eventual, possible progress in work and love—like a bowl of dough that could have used a little more yeast but is doing its best to rise. Vive la différence.

    posted by Dan at 02:47 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, September 7, 2006

    My top five foods at Trader Joe's

    One of the major perks of moving from the south side of Chicago to the west Boston suburbs is that even during rush hour, we are now less than 10 minutes away from Trader Joe's.

    In an ode to the store, Laura McKenna recently posted her top 5 favorite foods to get there. While I respect Laura's opinion on a great many matters, I fear that my list is very different from hers.

    Without further ado:

    1) Chocolate-covered espresso beans. Sweet Jesus, are they decadent. After many years of struggle and toil, my wife and I only consume these delectibles on the rarest of occasions. In a perfect world, however, I could scarf these things down every ten minutes with zero effect on my metabolism and BMI.

    2) Cuban-style black beans. Steam some rice, saute some onions, and heat these up -- you have a tasty side dish in no time.

    3) Lemonade. The perfect equipoise between sweet and tart, and a great treat during the summer.

    4) Frozen mushroom medley. Here I'll give a nod to Laura and say that for convenience's sake, having a bage of these in the freezer is good when there is a sudden emergency for a mushroom stir-fry.

    5) The rosemary-seasoned lamb roast. It's because of this product that my son once said, "There's nothing like some nice, cold lamb for dinner!"

    Now, if my children were doing this list, the Annie's Mac and Cheese and the frozen chicken nuggets would also be making appearances.

    posted by Dan at 02:46 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    This seems like a good weekend topic

    Well, I see the blogosphere is ablaze with talk about this Forbes colum by Michael Noer:

    Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

    Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage....

    Not a happy conclusion, especially given that many men, particularly successful men, are attracted to women with similar goals and aspirations. And why not? After all, your typical career girl is well-educated, ambitious, informed and engaged. All seemingly good things, right? Sure…at least until you get married. Then, to put it bluntly, the more successful she is the more likely she is to grow dissatisfied with you. Sound familiar?

    Read the whiole thing and then coment away.

    I'm shocked, shocked that Noer's article, "provoked a heated response from both outside and inside our building." Indeed, after a few days, Forbes felt compelled to publish a side-by-side rebuttal by Elizabeth Corcoran.

    Online reaction from Laura McKenna and Jack Shafer, and on a related topic, Bitch Ph.D. Shafer has the key point:

    Forbes' definition of a career woman is extraordinarily broad, including any woman who has a college education, works 35 hours a week, and makes more than $30,000. So, if you define non-career women as all the "undereducated" who work part-time and make less than $30K, it becomes painfully obvious why female careerists are more likely to divorce than non-careerists: They can better afford to get out of an unhappy marriage than their sisters.

    That may be bad news for all the schmoes getting dumped, but it's great news for the gals. So, go ahead, young ladies. Get your degree. Even go to grad school. Gun for that corner office if you want to and get the guy. If you divorce, make sure to stick him with the shared subscription to Forbes.

    I'm sure both Noer and Shafer would point to this Jacqueline Mackie Massey Paisley post to support this argument.

    posted by Dan at 08:49 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Wikipedia vs. Brittanica

    David Adesnik provides an excellent summary of the relative strengths of each encyclopedia. Key point:

    Wikipedia has been able to generate so much content -- 1,000,000 in English, compared to 120,000 for Britannica -- precisely because it has so few rules. As Americans know, it is very dangerous to put limits on free speech when that is the essence of what makes you great. Yet some limits are necessary....

    let me just suggest that the purpose of Wikipedia isn't necessarily to replicate or transcend Britannica. Vast swathes of Wikipedia content would be considered far too trivial for a "serious" publication like Britannica....

    Some might call this a waste of a labor, but I think it's a very good thing. Most people burn out when they don't waste some time on trivial pursuits. But even trivial pursuits often depend on information.... I say, "Viva Wikipedia!"

    posted by Dan at 10:02 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, August 18, 2006

    Open JonBenet thread

    It's a Friday, it's late August, and I'm technically on vacation. For these reasons, I'm just going to create this JonBenet Ramsey killer thread, walk away from the computer, and let anyone who's still online on this lovely August day a chance to wallow.

    Here are links to the Associated Press and Boulder Daily Camera archives on the case.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go wash my hands.

    posted by Dan at 12:59 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, August 9, 2006

    Day of the lefties

    The Washington Post provides me with another reason to be happy that I'm left-handed (hat tip: Greg Mankiw):

    "Among the college-educated men in our sample, those who report being left-handed earn 13 percent more than those who report being right-handed," said economist Christopher S. Ruebeck of Lafayette College. Ruebeck and his research partners, Joseph E. Harrington Jr. and Robert Moffitt of Johns Hopkins University, reported the findings in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

    And lefties, stay in school: Those who finished all four years of college earned, on average, a whopping 21 percent more than similarly educated right-handed men. Curiously, the researchers found no wage differential among left- and right-handed women....

    While evidence of a wage gap was unequivocal, explanations for the disparity proved more elusive. Differences in biology and brain function are two possibilities. Nor do the researchers know why they didn't see a similar effect among women.

    I'll leave it to my readers to speculate on possible explanations.

    posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, August 1, 2006

    Dogpiling on Mel Gibson

    Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I really don't have much to say about Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynist rant against the cops who pulled him over for drunken driving last week. Mostly, this is because Tim Noah framed the event pretty well in Slate:

    The best case that can be made for Gibson's belief system now is that he's anti-Semitic only when he's three sheets to the wind. And really, now. Are you in the habit of declaring, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" when you get pie-eyed? Or simply of muttering, "Fucking Jews"? Or of asking your arresting officer, "Are you a Jew?" (Here Gibson revealed an anti-Jewish bigotry so all-consuming that he couldn't even get his ethnic stereotypes straight. The Jews control international banking, Mel. It's the Irish who control the police.)
    Well, I have two more thoughts on the matter. The first is that there needs to be a term that describes the mechanism through which the New York Times manages to run stories about scandals while claiming that they are really metastories (In the past week alone, they managed a front-pager about the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes baby as well). To their credit, however, the Times story by Allison Hope Weiner contains this juicy tidbit: "On Monday, Hope Hartman, a spokeswoman for Disney’s ABC television network, said the company was dropping its plans to produce a Holocaust-themed miniseries in collaboration with Mr. Gibson."

    Second, I'll ask my readers to suggest the likelihood of the following arc taking place:

    1) Gibson repeatedly issues contrite apologies -- oh, wait, that's already happened.

    2) Exiting rehab, Gibson does heartfelt interview with Diane Sawyer in which he:

    a) Admits to various chemical dependencies/imbalances that affect his behavior;

    b) Explains that his father's rank anti-Semitism led to psychological abuse during his childhood;

    c) Cries on camera

    3) Appears on Saturday Night Live to skewer his own behavior, right before;

    4) Apocalypto comes out -- and then tanks; at which point either

    5a) Hollywood treats Gibson as persona non grata because "it's the right thing to do"; or,;

    5b) Gibson signs up for Lethal Weapon V for $15 million and Hollywood treats Gibson as "a man who learned his lsson"

    posted by Dan at 11:47 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, July 29, 2006

    Interest group capture and Snakes On A Plane

    Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen has a cover story on the movie Snakes On a Plane (SoaP), and the online fanboys who really like the title of the movie:

    For nearly a year, SoaP obsessives have been chatting and blogging about the movie, not to mention producing their own T-shirts, posters, trailers, novelty songs, and parodies. As the movie has morphed from a semiprecious nugget of intellectual property into a virtual plaything for the ethertainment masses, Snakes and its cult are teasingly threatening to revolutionize the rules of marketing for the do-it-yourself digital era....

    It's the promise of enlightenment that has drawn thousands of SoaP fans to Comic-Con for a peek at 10 minutes of the film's fang-baring snake-rageousness. But what thrills these SoaP fans the most on this ain't-it-cool Friday is confirmation that their jocular voices have been heard, which comes once they've seen the footage, when Jackson himself shows up to bellow his already-famous line, a line inspired by the fans themselves:


    The crowd goes wild.

    Now let's see if they actually go to the movie....

    [Soap's diehard fanbase] raises some provocative questions. Consider the ''motherf---ing'' line, which was directly suggested by SoaP fan culture. Sure, it's something an R-rated Sam Jackson action hero would say. But should fans be allowed any input into the artistic process during the actual making of a film? Jackson offers a qualified yes: ''Films are a collaborative process, and this is the next step. If a film is vying for that mass teen dollar, then yes, they have every right to say: This is the kind of film we want to see. Films of social relevance — well, no.''

    Adds Snakes costar Julianna Margulies: ''On one hand, it's fantastic, because it put our film on the map. But it's a slippery slope. If we have to rely on the public to tell us what great work is — I don't know if that's a great idea.''

    In addition, a vociferous fan culture doesn't always translate to big grosses (see Joss Whedon's Serenity). Earlier this year, New Line conducted focus-group research that revealed that awareness of SoaP among potential moviegoers wasn't nearly as large as the fan base made it seem. Which meant that a small and noisy band of enthusiasts was independently shaping the image of the movie — an image at odds with New Line's intentions. The studio wanted to position the film as a scary, if fun, Final Destination. But in co-opting the film for their own amusement, SoaPers were assuming Snakes was something campy — or worse, demanding that it be. ''I don't really like that,'' says [director David] Ellis of the film's so-bad-it's-good rep in some quarters. ''[But] I guess it's good that they're talking about it, and when I get them in the theater, I can change their mind."

    ....New Line execs are worried. ''What's unique about Snakes is that the idea of the movie has excited people. But that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the movie we made,'' says [New Line president Toby] Emmerich. ''I'm hoping it does. But I just don't know what people are expecting.'' And [New Line's domestic marketing president Russell] Schwartz thinks it's impossible to use the film as a marketing template: ''If this movie opens, I [still] don't think we've shown the Web can open a movie.''

    New Line execs are not the only people freaking out -- Chuck Klosterman has a rant on this in the August issue of Esquire:
    I have not seen Snakes on a Plane, so I have no idea how good this movie is (or isn't). But I do know this: Its existence represents a weird, semidepressing American condition, and I'm afraid this condition is going to get worse. I suspect Snakes on a Plane might earn a lot of money, which will prompt studios to assume this is the kind of movie audiences want. And I don't think it is. Snakes on a Plane is an unabashed attempt at prefab populism, and (maybe) this gimmick will work once. But it won't keep working, and it will almost certainly make filmmaking worse....

    When it comes to mass media, it's useless to ask people what they want; nobody knows what they want until they have it. If studios start to view the blogosphere as some kind of massive focus group, two things will happen: The first is that the movies will become idiotic and impersonal, which is probably predictable. But the less predictable second result will be that many of those movies will still fail commercially, even if the studios' research was perfect. If you asked a hundred million people exactly what they wanted from a movie, and you used that data to make exactly the film they claimed to desire, it might succeed. Or it might not. Making artistic decisions by consensus doesn't work any better than giving one person complete autonomy; both strategies work roughly half the time.

    There are several possible ways this could play out. However, the one that interest group theory suggests will happen is that by trying to please the most ardent base of fans, the movie will reduce its appeal to a wider audience.

    Of course, both Jensen and Klosterman miss one important point in their analyses -- they're generalizing from a $30 million dollar film. $30 million is a lot to you and me, but to Hollywood that's barely enough to pay for Jessica Alba's skin care products. Somehow I doubt this kind of interactive filmmaking process would take place with a tentpole movie, as it were. With a bunch of lower-budget films, however, this kind of feedback might increase the viewing pleasure of specialized viewers, even if it doesn't make the movie seem any better to a general viewer.

    There's more to discuss here, but I'l leave it to my readers and a plaintive cry for help from Virginia Postrel.

    All I want to know is, why isn't Salma Hayek in this mother f*&%ing movie?

    posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, June 25, 2006

    Are you addicted to A Capella?

    There is help. And I'm proud to say that my alma mater is at the forefront of this disorder that plagues at least 30% of all graduates of northweastern liberal arts colleges.

    Click here for a useful (and entertaining) infomercial.

    posted by Dan at 12:13 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    My third concentric circle in hell

    No words that can accurately convey my reaction to this video.

    Well, I have five six -- Connie Chung is no Michelle Pfeiffer.

    posted by Dan at 09:22 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    So you want your child to go to college....

    I wasn't too fond of doing my homework when I was in middle school and high school, a fact that exasperated my mother to no end. Seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, she would remind me that, "college is coming sooner than you think!!" At the time, I thought this was a bit of melodrama, but as I've gotten older I do recignize a glimmer of wisdom in her point.

    Since modern science has yet to devise a way to clone my mother, and modern ethicists have yet to come to grips with the awesome metaphysical implications of having multiple copies of my mother running around in the world, how can the young people get a grip on the importance of college? This is where Quest For College comes in:

    Quest For College is an educational board game designed to provide 8th and 9th graders with some early awareness of the opportunities afforded by higher education. The game was created by Gina Coleman, an Associate Director of Admission at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Coleman created this game in 1999 as a reaction to the inequalities she observed between public and private schooled children in terms of preparedness in the college search and application process.
    Great idea, but there should be a companion game for the helicopter parents that will undoubtedly buy this board game: "Letting Go of Your Children."

    Full disclosure: Coleman was a college classmate of mine.

    posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    What's the best mass-market paperback novel of the past 25 years?

    So the New York Times polled the literary best and brightest to determine the greatest novel of the past 25 years (It's Beloved, for those who don't want to click through). They've also got an interpretive essay by A.O. Scott, and an online discussion forum with novelists Jane Smiley and Michael Cunningham, critic Stephen Metcalf, a critic, and professor of English Morris Dickstein.

    I must make the following confession upon reading the top five on the list: I haven't read any of them. Jonathan Demme ruined Beloved for me with his execrable film version of it, though if Stephen Metcalf's assessment in Slate is accurate, I'm not sure how much I'd like it anyway:

    What Beloved does feel grounded in, and firmly, is a repudiation of everything that exerts a soft but nonetheless unpleasant authority in a young person's life. In place of the need to master hard knowledge or brute facts, there is folk wisdom; in place of science, animism; in place of the strict father, the self-sufficient matriarchy, first of Baby Suggs', and later Sethe's, house; and finally, in place of a man's world, the hallowed sorority of women, especially women of color—though on this last, Morrison does not insist too heavily.
    Why don't my tastes overlap with the New York Times Book Review? There are a couple of possibilities.

    First, when I flash back to the books that really grabbed me over that span of time, I find I think first of non-American novels -- Salman Rushdie' The Moor's Last Sigh, Milan Kundera's THe Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog, or Alan Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up In.

    Second, the American books that come to mind -- Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls, Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe, Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods -- don't have the sweep of Beloved or Rabbit Angstrom. Meghan O'Rourke -- my latest intellectual crush -- makes this point in her Slate essay on the topic:

    The notion that "small" novels are unworthy of high critical esteem has been especially pervasive of late. Somewhere along the way, the critique of the small novel got bound up with a critique of the well-crafted novel that proliferated with the rise of MFA programs. Even as Gatsby, Lolita, and Rabbit Run (all short novels) entered our canon, the "small" novel became inextricably linked in critic's minds with domestic and generally female novels of the sort that Gail Caldwell, the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, indicted in a 2003 interview, when she lamented the dire state of American fiction. "There are a great number of contemporary fiction writers who go for the myopic sensitive-heart rending personal blah, blah, blah, blah, blah small novel," she complained, announcing her love of "big brilliant novels" and praising the panoramic skills of Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon. In 2004, after the National Book Award nominees were announced—in an act of apparent rebelliousness, the judges had chosen five short, lyrical books by women, leaving off Philip Roth's Plot Against America—Caryn James wrote in the New York Times that the real problem with the finalists was not that they were unknown, but that they did not write "big, sprawling novels."

    What's been lost in the conflation of "small" and "small-minded" is the recognition that small books can be powerful vehicles for big ideas—to say nothing of powerful examples of aesthetic rigor. In his otherwise astute essay accompanying the Times' list, A.O. Scott succumbed to a form of category confusion when he explained the absence of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in the top five by noting that they are "small" books that do not "generalize" but "document"—a peculiar misreading of both novels, which hardly shy away from probing large themes, and do so with metaphoric richness. In fact, plenty of big novels do far more documenting than these two masterpieces....

    Big novels may indeed contain more of the flotsam and jetsam of social reality than shorter novels do. But concision, lyrical intensity (not the same thing as "well-crafted prose"), and metaphorical depth are in principle as aesthetically valuable as expository generalization, sweep, and narrative complexity. Taut perfection may not be the only hallmark of a good novel (the novel has always been an expansive form), but it is surely one of them. It's time that the books we call "small" get a closer look, which would reveal some of them to be as intellectually and artistically ambitious as their fatter counterparts.... When it comes to celebrating the American novel, thinking big is only a form of being small-minded.

    There is a final, possible reason: I like potboilers more than I like highbrow fiction. If I was strapped to a polygraph and had to confess which novel moved me the most in the past 25 years, I'd have to cop to Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs.

    So..... the hardworking staff here at encourages it's readers to submit their choice for the greatest mass-market novel of the past 25 years!! [How is that defined?--ed. Any novel that was popular enough to eventually be released in a mass-market paperback.] My choice is Silence of the Lambs -- let me know yours.

    UPDATE: Ah, this post is perfectly timed to coincide with pulp fiction week at Slate!!

    posted by Dan at 11:09 AM | Comments (69) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    Why has there never been a hit television show based on an academic's life?

    View the first minute or two of this Brad DeLong video post about how he spent his day yesterday and you'll get an excellent answer (You'll also get a nice precis of Marty Weizman's explanation of the equity premium).

    This is not to diss Brad -- I too have children to ferry to school, a dog to walk, assignments that are overdue, and bureaucratic minutiae to finish. It's just that, to the rest of the world, it probably looks as exciting as paint drying.

    You'll know the reality TV craze has passed when they air a show called The Professor.

    posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    The market for matchmakers

    Craig Wilson has a story in USA Today about how high-end personal shoppers have added new functions -- such as trying to marry their clients off:

    [Claire] Wexler's concierge service helps the wife-seeking man deal with, well, just about everything he needs in his search, from what flowers to send ("Not roses, they're trite") to what shoes to wear ("Brown goes with almost everything"). And if he has less romantic desires like finding a good doctor or choosing new appliances, she can handle that, too.

    "Our concept is to build a one-stop shop of resources," says Barbie Adler, founder of 6-year-old Selective Search, where 100 well-heeled men — CEOs, professional athletes and the like — pay an annual fee of $10,000 for 15 "introductions" to some of the 30,000 "bright and talented" women she has in her database.

    "They're not just arm candy, although we have that, too," she says. The women, called "affiliates," pay nothing to get in the game. Over the years, Wexler has found them mostly through word of mouth.

    "We're the surrogate females in (clients' lives) until we can get them a female of their own," Adler says. "Our client is busy. They believe in outsourcing."

    "We're the wing women," Wexler adds.

    Three thoughts (beyond the obvious reference to Tyler Cowen's "markets in everything" meme):
    1) You have to think that some Hollywood executive read this article today and immediately conceived of a romantic-comedy-starring-Rachel-McAdams-kind-of-like-The-Wedding-Planner-but-funnier-and-with-more-heart.

    Some free advice for Ms. McAdams: "Run!! Run like it's a nekkid Vanity Fair cover shoot!! Run!!"

    2) There's a Laura McKenna-type comment on the social significance of such services... but I'll just task this to Laura and any commenters willing to venture forth.

    3) One of the suggestions that Alan Blinder makes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs about how to deall with the long-term impact of offshoring is to gear education towards jobs that require face-to-face interactions. This seems like the ne plus ultra of Blinder-style jobs. [That's all you're going to say about the Blinder article?--ed. I'll have more later in the week.]

    posted by Dan at 09:55 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, April 7, 2006

    A slippery slope for the Passover diet?

    The Passover holiday starts next week. As Jews -- and philo-Semites -- begin to think about the Seder, they should check out this Joan Nathan story in the New York Times from a few days ago. It's about how Orthodox rabbis are lightening up on baking for Passover:

    When Emily Moore, a Seattle-based chef and instructor, was invited to consult on recipes for Streit's Matzo, she assumed that the baked goods would have their traditional heft, because no leavening can be used during Passover.

    Not so, said Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, a member of a prominent rabbinic dynasty, who oversees the company's ritual observances. Let the cookies and cakes rise, he told her. Let there be baking soda and baking powder.

    "He acted like I was crazy," Ms. Moore said.

    The biblical prohibition against leavened bread at Passover — which begins on Wednesday night — has kept observant Jews from using any leavening at all. Cakes and cookies of matzo meal (ground matzo), matzo cake meal (which is more finely ground) and nuts can be tasty, but dense.

    So it will surprise many Jews — it certainly surprised me — that among the profusion of products that most Orthodox certification agencies have approved for Passover are not just baking soda, but also baking powder.

    Some rabbis are lifting other dietary prohibitions that they say were based on misunderstandings or overly cautious interpretations of biblical sanctions, and because they want to simplify the observance.

    This is all to the good... indeed, as someone who, after careful empirical research, has determined that everything tastes better with bacon, I can only hope that small steps like the easing of Passover restrictions lead to larger reforms in the Kosher dietary laws.

    Mmmmm..... baking powder.....

    posted by Dan at 05:33 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Kurt Anderson has no beef

    Kurt Anderson has an essay in New York magazine entitled, "Celebrity Death Watch." The subhead says, "Could the country’s insane fame fixation maybe, finally—fingers crossed—be coming to an end? One hopeful sign: Paris Hilton."

    Intrigued, I read the first paragraph:

    On a scale of one to ten, one being the least possible interest in famous entertainers qua famous entertainers, and ten being the most, I’m about a six. Until I recently gorged for days on end, it had been years since I had touched a copy of People or Us Weekly. I skipped the Tonys and Grammys and Emmys. But I do skim three or four New York newspaper gossip columns most weekdays, and I watched E!’s Golden Globes red-carpet preshow, and, of course, I tuned in to the Academy Awards telecast. For years, I’ve thought that the intense fascination with famous people must be about to end—and I’ve been repeatedly, egregiously mistaken. But now—truly, finally—I believe that we are at the apogee, the zenith, the plateau, the top of the market. After 30 years, this cycle of American celebrity mania has peaked. I think. I hope.
    So I read on, eager to see what evidence Anderson had compiled to support his argument. But it wasn't until the third-from-the-last paragraph that I found the evidence, such as it is:
    The Nielsen ratings for this year’s Oscars were down 8 percent, and for the Grammys 11 percent. During the last half of 2005, the Enquirer’s newsstand sales were down by a quarter and Entertainment Weekly’s by 30 percent. The American OK! is said to be unwell, the magazine Inside TV was launched and killed last year, and a magazine called Star Shop was killed before it launched.
    That's it???!!! Good Lord, this kind of evidentiary base makes the Israel Lobby argument look like top-notch social science!!

    Even the facts that Anderson presents are bogus. Declining newsstand sales of some celerity mags are meaningless, because of the proliferation of other celebrity mags, like In Touch, Us Weekly, and In Style. Failed magazines are meaningless, since new magazines fail most of the time anyway. Oscar ratings, like Super Bowl ratings, have experienced a secular decline in recent years. And to my knowledge no one has ever cared about the Grammys.

    I look forward with bated breath to Anderson's future proclamations of the death of blogs (I beat him to that!!) and why porn has jumped the shark.

    posted by Dan at 12:12 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, March 19, 2006

    The most interesting fact I learned today
    Short [sperm] donors don't exist; because most women seek out tall ones, most [sperm] banks don't accept men under 5-foot-9.
    Jennifer Egan, "Wanted: A Few Good Sperm" New York Times Magazine, March 19, 2006.
    posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Trailer libre!!!

    What John Podhoretz said -- if the movie is as funny as this trailer, I'll be a very happy man come June.

    posted by Dan at 03:23 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Anti-semitic cartoon contest!!!

    Well, after the whole cartoon flap over Mohammed, and the Iranian decision to hold a contest on the best cartoon mocking the Holocaust, you knew this was just a matter of time:

    Amitai Sandy (29), graphic artist and publisher of Dimona Comix Publishing, from Tel-Aviv, Israel, has followed the unfolding of the “Muhammad cartoon-gate” events in amazement, until finally he came up with the right answer to all this insanity - and so he announced today the launch of a new anti-Semitic cartoons contest - this time drawn by Jews themselves!

    “We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!” said Sandy “No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!”

    The contest has been announced today on the website, and the initiator accept submissions of cartoons, caricatures and short comic strips from people all over the world. The deadline is Sunday March 5, and the best works will be displayed in an Exhibition in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

    Sandy is now in the process of arranging sponsorships of large organizations, and promises lucrative prizes for the winners, including of course the famous Matzo-bread baked with the blood of Christian children.

    Mmmmm.... blood-soaked matzot.

    Sandy has a running start on this. Today he was interviewed by Terry Gross for NPR's Fresh Air . Entries are starting to trickle in -- here's one of the first entries:

    Furthermore, noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt has already agreed to be one judge.

    If Sandy needs another judge, I'd be happy to volunteer. I have a Ph.D., I love cartoons, and as my darling wife said when she pointed out this story to me, "you're a prominent Jew in the blogosphere!"

    UPDATE: This isn't as cool as the cartoon contest, but on a related note, the editors of PS: Political Science and Politics are calling for papers on The State of the Editorial Cartoon:

    The editors of PS: Political Science and Politics invite contributions to a symposium on the state of the editorial cartoon. The symposium will explore the current condition of editorial cartooning, with an emphasis on daily newspaper editorial cartoons but encompassing politically minded weekly newspaper cartoons, magazine cartoons, comic strips, and web comics. The editors invite informed essays that advance our empirical, historical, and theoretical appreciation for editorial cartoons as art, politics, and culture.

    The dramatic worldwide protests over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad are only partly about the cartoons themselves, of course. Yet the protests underscore the fact that editorial cartoons are or can be of immense political and social significance.

    In recent years, political scientists have had relatively little to say about the history, form, ideology, and political economy of editorial cartooning. This symposium will bring together political scientists and other scholars to help situate editorial cartooning in relation to political communication and political conflict.

    posted by Dan at 09:47 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    A libertarian barista on Starbucks

    Jacob Grier has a blog post at Smelling the Coffee on the contradictory impulses he feels towards Starbucks -- as a libertarian who nevertheless thinks quality control at Starbucks has gone down.

    Read the whole thing, but the part about how Starbucks has affected the industrial organization of coffeehouses is particularly interesting:

    Let's begin with the easy issue: Starbucks is driving independent coffee shops out of business. Anecdotally, this may seem obviously true. Many people can name a favorite coffee shop that went out of business soon after a Starbucks moved into the neighborhood. The fact is, though, that Starbucks is creating a market, not destroying it. Growth in both independent and corporate coffee shops has been huge over the past fifteen years, thanks in large part to consumers being introduced to specialty coffee drinks in the safe confines of their local Starbucks.

    The Specialty Coffee Association of America, a leading trade group, tracks American retail sales. In 1989, the SCAA estimates there were 585 coffee houses operating in the U.S. By 1995 that number had risen to 5,000. By 2003, there were 17,400 shops in operation.

    Starbucks growth is notable, but it's far from the sole factor driving these new shop openings. The SCAA reports that 57% of the shops open in 2003 were independent, having only one to three locations. Microchains (4-9 units) made up another 3% of the market. All the large chains combined make up the remaining 40%. [Source .pdf]

    A 2004 article in the Willamette Weekly finds a similar pattern at work in Portland. In 2003, a misguided miscreant attempted to blow up a new Starbucks in a neighborhood where residents claimed to not want the imperial corporate giant. But a survey of the local yellow pages reveals that indie shops were doing just fine in Portland:

    According to the Portland Yellow Pages, before Starbucks came to Portland in 1989, there were 28 coffee shops in the city. Today, there are 91 non-Starbucks coffeehouses in Portland proper, compared with the chain's 48 stores within city limits.
    Bellisimo Coffee Infogroup, a consulting company for coffee shops, notes that Starbucks plays an important role in giving people their first gourmet coffee experience, after which they can and often do branch out to try out other sources. Tully's, a smaller chain, agrees, intentionally locating new stores in the vicinity of existing Starbucks locations. In the same Willamette article, one coffee expert gets perhaps a bit too effusive, but his point is well made:
    "Every morning, I bow down to the great green god for making all of this possible," says Ward Barbee, publisher of the Portland-based coffee trade magazine Fresh Cup.
    Of related interest: this Tim Harford essay in Slate about why Starbucks doesn't advertise it's "short" cappucino.

    posted by Dan at 04:19 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Not the biggest shock in the world

    Which sci-fi crew would you best fit in?

    You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

    Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in?
    created with

    Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds -- but I'm still upset at him for this post -- I lost a good hour of productivity following the links to their logical conclusion.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be in my bunk.

    posted by Dan at 01:16 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    Transatlantic radio and telly debate

    Kieran Healy has a post up at Crooked Timber on the superiority of U.K. radio trivia to the United States, and then closes with this paragraph:

    Incidentally, Radio 4’s The News Quiz, when set against NPR’s execrable Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, joins the long list of cultural objects that serve to illustrate the difference between Britain and the United States. Others include The Office (UK) vs The Office (US), Yes Prime Minister vs The West Wing, and so on.
    This has prompted quite a lively debate in the comments section (including an intervention from yours truly), about a) whether Kieran was correct; and b) What kinds of programming do not appear to be replicable across the Atlantic?

    For example, Kieran is correct to point out the complete lack of a U.S. competitor to Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister. At the same time, however, I'm not sure that there's anything in the U.K. that can compete with The Daily Show or The Simpsons. The U.K. version of Friends was pretty appalling (curiously, though, that didn't stop NBC from trying to copy it). Both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm are commedies of manners, yet I can't think of their British equivalents.

    When it comes to genre shows, well, I can't think of any program that could compete with Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the new Battlestar Galactica.

    I'm not sure there's any great lesson to be drawn from this, but I invite readers to do two things: 1) Isolate creative excellence in TV that appears to be non-replicable once you cross the border; and 2) Reasons for why this is so. For example, I'd wager that the U.S. does better at certain kinds of comedies and teen shows because television producers have a much greater comfort level with America's affluent class than British producers have with their yuppie audience (there's that whole need to sell advertising as well).

    posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, February 6, 2006

    Super Dud XL

    Yesterday afternoon, I was thinking that the Super Bowl had recently been on a decent run of gripping games. Between 2000 and 2005, three of the contests (St. Louis/Tennessee, New England/St. Louis, New England/Carolina) had been pretty gripping games, a vast improvement over the Super Bowls I remembered from childhood.

    So much for the nice run -- this one was a stinker punctuated by the occasional nifty play. How much of a stinker? The lead Chicago Tribune sports columnist wrote an entire article about a play that wound up not affecting the final outcome.

    As for the ads -- well, to quote Kieran Healy, "I hope next year Burger King Corporation just make a pile of 2 million dollar bills and set it on fire, rather than taking the roundabout method of pointlessly wasting money they opted for this year." On the upside, I did win $100 from a friend who was convinced that Karl Malden had appeared in one of the NFL Mobile ads.

    posted by Dan at 10:22 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, January 31, 2006

    Who gets the Roger this year?

    The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning -- click here for the full list.

    Last year, I blogged about "a new interactive feature -- who did work that merited a nomination at the very least but got completely shut out." So, who gets a Roger this year???

    The hardworking staff here at has perused the list and.... well, we're having an admittedly tough time dredging anything up. The most glaring omission was Maria Bello as Best Supporting Actress for A History of Violence -- but then again, I wasn't that huge a fan of the movie. Sin City didn't get nominated for anything -- I would have thougt it merited a technical nomination or two, and if you ask me Elijah Wood was far scarier in that flick than William Hurt was in A History of Violence. I would have liked to have seen The Aristocrats nominated for Best Documentary, but I can't get too worked up about that -- especially with Murderball getting a nod.

    So, I'll leave it to the readers -- who merits a Roger?

    UPDATE: Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog has generated a list of its own -- including Joan Allen for The Upside of Anger. Having just seen that movie last night on DVD -- and being a big Joan Allen fan -- I'd argue that she'd have had a better chance if the movie had something resembling a coherent theme or plot.

    posted by Dan at 09:19 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, January 30, 2006

    Seven different ways of looking at Dog Days

    Flying back from a conference today, I finished Ana Marie Cox's Dog Days. Here are my seven different ways of looking at the book:

    1) It is the perfect airplane book -- provided you don't have a prurient ten-year old reading over your shoulder;

    2) Chistopher Buckley was right and P.J. O'Rourke was wrong -- as DC novels of manners go, it's pretty decent.

    3) Weirdly, the novel it most reminded me of was Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City -- except for the fact that the protagonist is a woman instead of a man, the book is set in DC rather than in New York, and the characters are addicted to Blackberries rather than cocaine.

    4) I'm pretty sure Oprah will not be choosing Dog Days as her book of the month -- although it would certainly make people forget her connection to James Frey. This is a shame -- I, for one, would pay cash money to have Oprah ask Ms. Cox, "So, Ana, when did you first get interested in a@#-f%&?ing as a trope for your fiction?"

    5) The single truest line I read in the book was this observation about DC: "You have to remember, no one here will ever admit they don't know something. It's considered a major faux pas to admit being uninformed."

    6) I can't figure out why, after creating a fictional blog for the book called Capitolette, the book publicists didn't get more creative with the actual URL.

    7) I hereby copyright the name "Eva Marie Dix" for that roman a clef I'll eventually write.

    posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, January 28, 2006

    Those trade ministers mean business!!

    Wow, some real progress was made at the Davos Economic Forum for pushing the Doha round of trade talks towards completion. Why, Alan Beattie reports for the Financial Times that trade ministers have agree to.... a new deadline:

    Ministers on Saturday set themselves a tight new deadline of the end of April to come up with a framework deal under the faltering Doha round of global trade talks.

    Meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, around 25 trade ministers from the World Trade Organisation’s 149 member countries promised that they would start making the key trade-offs that will underpin the final agreement.

    The end-April target for agreeing the numerical formulas that will cut tariffs will require a huge acceleration in the talks, which started in 2001. “It is not going to happen unless there is a significant change in style, pace and content,” said Rachid Mohammed Rachid, the Egyptian minister who co-ordinates African countries in the talks.

    Well, thank God -- the real problem with this round of trade talks had been the lack of deadlines.

    Seriously, Bloomberg's Rich Miller provides some detail on what needs to be done:

    Among their goals are resolving 33 differences over agricultural subsidies and 15 questions on industrial products by April 30th. "We've got a big number of topics to be addressed,'' Pascal Lamy, director general of the WTO, told reporters in Davos. ``Most of that has to be done in the first half of this year.''

    U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told reporters that ministers agreed they needed to act together to strike a deal rather than wait for each to move first.

    "They all know they have to move,'' said Lamy. ``That is the widest secret here.''

    Indian Minister of Commerce Kamal Nath said the onus should be on the U.S. and Europe to slash agricultural subsidies which are hurting developing nations.

    "The European Union and U.S. must move,'' he said. "Developing countries cannot accept any more paying a price for the U.S. and EU to stop doing what they shouldn't be doing anyway.''

    Portman is correct about the need for cross-issue linkage -- but until the ministers in Nath's camp acknowledge this fact, I'm not holding my breath waiting for progress.

    posted by Dan at 07:25 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Cuba gets to play ball

    The Associated Press reports that Cuba will be allowed to participate in the World Baseball Classic:

    The Bush administration is letting Cuba play ball.

    The Cubans will be allowed to participate in the inaugural World Baseball Classic after the U.S. government reversed course Friday and issued the special license necessary for the communist nation to play in the 16-team tournament.

    One slightly bizarre aspect to this was the reasoning the Bush administration gave for rejecting the first application back in December:
    "The president wanted to see it resolved in a positive way," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying. We believe the concerns have been addressed."

    The license was required by 45-year-old American sanctions against Cuba designed to prevent Fidel Castro's government from receiving U.S. currency. At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said the initial rejection was based on concerns Cuban spies might accompany the team.

    I understand the concern about profit. But spying? Even if there are Cuban spies, what are they going to find in Puerto Rico?

    I, for one, welcome Cuban participation -- because I want to see them get whipped by the capitalist teams. Scanning the team rosters and the schedule of games, I'm fairly confident that if they're very, very lucky, the Cubans will get creamed in the semifinals by the Dominican team.

    posted by Dan at 08:46 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Major league baseball has some bad, bad lawyers

    The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is about to get into a legal war with fantasy baseball:

    A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers' batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be sold.

    In a lawsuit that could affect the pastime of an estimated 16 million people, CBC Distribution and Marketing wants the judge to stop Major League Baseball from requiring a license to use the statistics.

    The company claims baseball statistics become historical facts as soon as the game is over, so it shouldn't have to pay for the right to use them....

    CBC, which has run the CDM Fantasy Sports leagues since 1992, sued baseball last year after it took over the rights to the statistics and profiles from the Major League Baseball Players Association and declined to grant the company a new license.

    Before the shift, CBC had been paying the players' association 9 percent of gross royalties. But in January 2005, Major League Baseball announced a $50 million agreement with the players' association giving baseball exclusive rights to license statistics....

    Major League Baseball has claimed that intellectual property law makes it illegal for fantasy league operators to "commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles" of big league players....

    Ben Clark, a St. Louis attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights, said a win by Major League Baseball could "send a shudder through the entire fantasy industry," he said.

    On the other hand, he said, it stands to lose the rights to any royalties for use of statistics.

    "You just wonder whether it's a fight Major League Baseball wants to have," he said.

    I find it hard to believe that MLB could win this in court -- and the PR backlash from going after fantasy baseball operators isn't going to win them any plaudits either.

    Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto has some useful links, including this nugget of information that appears to completely undercut MLB's case:

    IP lawyer Kent Goss is quoted as citing an interesting 2001 case in which MLB themselves claimed that player names and statistics were (as far as I can interpret) both in the public domain and free for others to profit from, and the California Court of Appeal upheld MLB's right to use the names and stats of historical players. "A group of former players sued MLB for printing their names and stats in game programs, claiming their rights to publicity were violated," Goss said. "But the court held that they were historical facts, part of baseball history, and MLB had a right to use them. Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, 94 Cal. App. 4th 400 (2001)."
    In other words, five years ago MLB was making the opposite argument of what it's saying now.

    This leads me to a question I can't answer -- what on earth prompted baseball to adopt such a hard-line position on an issue it knows it probably can't win in the courts?

    posted by Dan at 09:47 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, January 15, 2006

    Anatomy of an unbelievable scene

    The New York Times' Arts section has three articles by three Times movie critics "looking deep inside three of the year's most haunting scenes."

    In "Dark Truths of a Killing Love," Manohla Dargis looks at what most critics consider the pivotal scene in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]:

    Until the staircase sex, Mr. Cronenberg has encouraged us to look at Tom the way Edie sees him, to believe the image she has unquestioningly accepted of the good father, the loving husband, the Everyman and the hero. "You are the best man I have ever known," she whispers to Tom after their first lovemaking. Through her ignorance and slow awakening, Edie has served as our surrogate, but in this scene she becomes something else, something other. In a story of blood and vengeance, Mr. Cronenberg asks us to look at those who pick up guns in our name, protectors who whisper they love us with hands around our throats. And then, with this scene, he goes one better and asks us to look at those who open their hearts and bare themselves to such a killing love.

    Edie's transformation from helpmate into a gangster's moll with a taste for a little rough trade is one of the more shocking turns in a film filled with hairpin turns of mood and tone. Throughout the staircase clash, Mr. Mortensen visibly changes from Tom to Joey and back again, his face and caresses alternately gentle and brutal. When Edie unleashes her fury with that slap she's reacting as much to Tom, the husband who has betrayed her, as to Joey, the stranger who has brought havoc into her life. Yet Tom's secret self is no noir-like contrivance; it's a manifestation of all that lies beneath, the ooze and shadows, the desire and dread, one that, in turn, bares Edie's secret self too. Here, in a simple American home, the repressed returns with a vengeance.

    Dargis does a lovely job of deconstructing the scene, showing how details like Edie's wardrobe act as a harbinger for what's about to happen. And I suspect that Dargis' interpretation of what Cronenberg is going for are perfectly accurate.

    There's just one thing -- that scene completely destroyed my willing sense of disbelief in the movie. Until that point, Maria Bello as Edie acts as our emotional barometer for the events that take place, and I found her responses completely believable -- indeed, they're the best thing in the film.

    The idea, however, that at that particular moment on the staircase her character was going to find the violence and identity switches a turn-on was pretty damn ludicrous. Critics might have liked it because it touches on the theme of violence's hidden role in the American heartland, but as a resident of said heartland, the scene looked like pure Hollywood tripe. Edie's first reaction to the discovery of her husband's true identity -- in the hospital room -- was far more convincing.

    The staircase moment in the film might have been perfectly staged, brimming with craftsmanship, and well acted -- but without the emotional resonance, it was impossible to be as invested in the characters for the rest of the flick. I think Maria Bello deserves an Oscar nomination -- for everything she did but that scene.

    Everyone reacts to movies in different ways, so I'll ask the readers -- particularly the (five or so) women who read this blog and have seen A History of Violence. Did that scene make sense to you?

    posted by Dan at 09:31 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, December 30, 2005

    The greatest quote whore who ever lived

    In the University of Chicago Alumni magazine, Amy M. Braverman has an excellent profile of Robert Thompson, Syracuse’s trustee professor of radio, television, and film in the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television.

    Thompson is better known as being the best quote whore in the business -- seriously, the could be asked to comment on wallpaper paste -- or That 70's Show -- and he'd come up with something worth putting in the first two paragraphs of a story.

    What Braverman reveals, however, is that Thompson devotes considerable time and effort to hone this skill:

    [A] large portion of his day is devoted to talking with reporters. Most mornings, after waking up at 5:30 to read a novel (favorite authors include Don DeLillo, Nicholson Baker, and Alison Lurie), he makes scheduled calls to a few radio shows. “If you’re a professor holding office hours,” he says, “you’ll talk to anyone who comes in. This is the same thing. If I have three calls—one from the student newspaper, one from the New York Times, and one from CNN, I’ll return them in that order.” When big television events occur, he’s inundated. After the 2004 Super Bowl, for example, “Janet Jackson gets her blouse ripped off, and that killed Monday.” In fact, the Janet calls continued for two weeks. For that particular story, he considered it important “to get another voice out there.” Nobody else, he says, was discussing how the Super Bowl “has always been a raucous, rowdy broadcast with cameras lingering on cheerleaders and crass commercials. What are you going to worry about more—the breast flashing at 50 yards or the countless commercials about beer and the good life? To me there’s no question.”....

    It’s time to return some calls. He’s already spoken today with an LA radio station about the JetBlue incident, the Syracuse Post Standard about Martha Stewart’s Apprentice, the Los Angeles Times about the Weather Channel changing format for big weather stories like Hurricane Katrina, and WPRO in Rhode Island about the new fall television season. Now he plays phone tag with NPR, which wants him to reflect on Bugs Bunny for an upcoming “great characters in cultural history” series. He gets hold of Sacramento Bee reporter Alison Roberts and discusses JetBlue. The next day he appears in her story:

    But did the coverage unnecessarily alarm passengers?

    “The mode of American journalism is hyperbole,” said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television.

    At the same time, the attention can also be reassuring, he added. “If CNN and Fox are on you—if you’re considered breaking news—then you figure somehow surely all that can be done is being done,” Thompson said.

    The key to Thompson’s savvy is staying ahead of the game. “You hope that by the time a journalist calls you’ve already been thinking about it,” he says. The 60th anniversary of the webbed aluminum lawn chair, he offers as a nontelevision, pop-culture example, is approaching, so he read up. The chair is fascinating, he says, “because you had all this extra aluminum after the war,” and some enterprising folks thought to “take this surplus of aluminum and match it with the explosion of the suburbs, which was helped with the GI Bill.” It’s his favorite type of topic. “It’s fun to learn the contextual history of things you take for granted. The stuff is so totally a part of who you are and you fail to see the significance.”
    The webbed aluminim lawn chair. Wow.

    I humbly bow before the greatest quote whore who ever lived.

    [Isn't there a price to be paid for this kind of slavish attention to media entreaties?--ed. I dunno. On the one hand, Thompson does seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject domain, thanks in no small part to his willingness to talk to the media. At the same time, attempting to render a two-sentence judgment on any media trend or phenomenon under the sun might carry a cost in terms of deeper thought -- a point Josh Korr makes here and here. Er, can't you say the same thing about bloggers?--ed. I'll leave that question for the comments.]

    UPDATE: Thompson might be the most prolific quote whore ever, but I'm pretty sure Virginia Postrel will win the award for most profitable.

    posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    What are the lessons of Munich?

    Encouraged by the positive reviews it has received from film critics, my wife and I went to see Munich today, and perhaps the most accurate thing I can say about it is that it is, in every way, a lesser movie than the one in Spielberg's prior oeurve it most resembles, Saving Private Ryan.


    A movie based on or inspired by historical events is always judged on two levels -- the extent to which the film hews to historical accuracy, and the larger meaning that is derived from the current context through which the film is viewed. Munich fails pretty badly on the first point -- as Aaron J. Klein points out in Slate, "Munich is not a documentary. Indeed, it is full of distortions and flights of fancy that would make any Israeli intelligence officer blush." (Check out Klein's interview with NPR as well.) The idea that the Mossad relied exculsively on a private organization for its intelligence and logistics is pretty absurd. The biggest difference might be that the Mossad agents who engaged in the Munich response did not evince any of the moral qualms that Spielberg assigns to his assassination squad. Ironically, this is less of a problem with Saving Private Ryan, even though the main narrative of that film is complete fiction. It is through the journey of trying to find Ryan that the protagonists and the movie-watching audience is exposed to the abject brutality of war.

    So, what is Spielberg's larger meaning? There's lots of evidence here. As Edward Rothstein points out in the New York Times:

    "There's no peace at the end of this," warns Avner, the morally anguished Mossad assassin, as Steven Spielberg's new film, "Munich," draws to a close. And by "this" he means the targeted killings that Israel is said to have begun after 11 of its athletes were murdered at the 1972 Olympics by members of the Palestinian Black September offshoot of Fatah.

    But Mr. Spielberg, in collaboration with his screenwriters, Eric Roth and the playwright Tony Kushner, also has a different "this" in mind. The camera pointedly settles on the period's skyline of lower Manhattan, showing the World Trade Center in sharp relief.

    The warning and image are meant to suggest that militant attempts to destroy terrorism lead not to peace but to cycles of violence, and that the 9/11 attacks may even be consequences of Israel's response to the Munich massacre. A war on terror amplifies terror. Moreover, the movie teaches, opposing sides begin to resemble each other. Moral credibility is destroyed along with hope.

    It's not just movie critics who have interpreted Munich in this way. Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, after viewing the film, said:
    My reaction to it in some ways is less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more about the larger context of dealing with terror. In many ways this is a historical event. And for the Israelis and Palestinians, while it will move many, you look at the demographics of both peoples and you'll find this is ancient history for them. So, it doesn't have an immediate relevance for them per se, but it does have a relevance in terms of highlighting what happens when you're confronted with a horrific act of terror and you have to do something about it. My reaction to it from the beginning was much more about terror and the responses to terror, and much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    And I saw dilemmas built in here. And what I liked about it from the beginning, Steven came to me and wanted my reaction to this. And I told him, my reaction was much more related to this contextual relationship with what happened then, but what was relevant for today. And the fact that it's a movie that suggests that you have to respond - it's understandable that you respond - but when you respond, you're actually confronted with real dilemmas. And the choices are hard, and sometimes you pick the best of the bad alternatives. And it has an effect on the people who do it.

    In the movie, Spielberg suggests two dilemmas with the Munich response. The first is that terrorizing the terrorists carries with it a moral and ethical price that cannot be easily dismissed (ironically, this is best demonstrated in the film not through any speech but through the last murder the team successfully carries out). The second is that the practical results of such an operation are counterproductive -- they merely encourage one's adversary to escalate its campaign of terror, and those involved in the mission succumb to the grip of paranoia.

    The problem with Munich is that neither of these dilemmas is accurately portrayed. Practically, there is evidence that the gains of the campaign outweighed the costs. Klein says that, "The numbers show a steep slide in the frequency of terror attacks against Israelis and Israeli institutions abroad from 1974 to the present." That fact matters in any utilitarian calculation of these actions, but it is never mentioned in the film.

    As for the moral dilemma, none of my fellow moviegoers bought the idea that the Israelis would develop any remorse or inner conflict over what they did, and the historical record bears them out. This doesn't mean that in a world of Abu Ghraibs, the question shouldn't be asked. But just as critics of recent wars have argued that what happened at Munich in 1938 is an imperfect metaphor for policy responses, what happened after the Munich tragedy of 1972 is a badly flawed metaphor for the ethical dilemmas we face today.

    Ross gets it right when he says, "the choices are hard, and sometimes you pick the best of the bad alternatives." Not even Steven Spielberg, however, can turn that lesson into a compelling movie.

    posted by Dan at 09:53 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, December 25, 2005

    A new front in the war on terror?

    The global war on terror has many fronts -- including, apparently, the pages of the January 2006 issue of GQ magazine:

    The person you see above is Wafah bin Ladin Dufour, the subject of a GQ story by George Gurley entitled, "It Isn't Easy Being the Sexy Bin Laden." From the article:
    On a hot August afternoon, aspiring pop star Wafah Dufour walks into the media lunch hub Michael’s, in Midtown Manhattan. Accompanied by her publicist, Richard Valvo, the slender, exotic young woman with long dark hair in a high ponytail ŕ la I Dream of Jeannie is dressed in a white tank top, green love beads, lacy miniskirt, and backless pumps. Conversations continue as heads look up to check her out.

    Ms. Dufour passes by Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, who is lunching with designer Isaac Mizrahi, then stops at the next table to meet former Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola and NBC head Jeff Zucker.

    “You know Wafah bin Ladin?” Valvo asks the men loudly.

    “Wafah Dufour,” she snaps, shooting him a look that’s more pleading than hostile.

    Lest you think this is some attempt at a put-up job by a deep cover Al Qaeda agent, Gurley provides some additional info:
    She has no contact with most of her relatives, including her father, doesn’t speak Arabic, has an American passport… The list goes on. “At the end of the day, I believe that the American people understand things and they have compassion and they see what’s fair,” she says. “They’re very fair, and that’s why I love America, and that’s why my mom loves America.”
    The entire staff here at wishes Ms. Dufour the best of luck in all of her endeavours -- and we hope in particular that word reaches her notorious uncle. As Reuters reports, "Asked how he would react to her posing for racy pictures in a glossy magazine, she said, 'I think he would have a heart attack.'"

    posted by Dan at 12:40 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Is now the winter of my baseball discontent?

    When my New York Yankee-loving brother starts posting random comments goading me to blog about baseball, you know it's not a good sign for the Boston Red Sox.

    Indeed, Johnny Damon's decision to join the Yankees has prompted quite the media backlash against the performace of Red Sox management since Theo Epstein's departure as GM. One commenter on Jacob Luft's blog put it well:

    So right now, the Sox have four guys who played second last year (Graffanino, Loretta, Cora and Pedroia) and three guys who played third (Lowell, Youkilis, and Marte); no real first baseman, no clear shortstop, no center fielder, a disgruntled left fielder and no leadoff hitter.
    The New York Daily News' Bill Madden sounds a similar theme:
    [A]s of now, [the Red Sox] have no center fielder, no shortstop, no first baseman, no bona fide closer and seemingly no game plan.

    On paper anyway, there's been another seismic shift of power in the American League East with the Yankees adding the prototypical leadoff man they haven't had since Chuck Knoblauch in their last world championship season in 2000, and the Red Sox subtracting another pillar from their only world championship team since 1918.

    Lest you think the criticism is coming only from Yankee-lovers, consider this Tony Massarotti rant in the Boston Herald (link via David Pinto):
    [T]he 2006 Red Sox look like an 84-78 squad with a management team that is playing rotisserie baseball. The Sox still can go out and get players, but there seems little regard for how they fit together. And until we learn otherwise, there is simply no way to know that Mark Loretta and Mike Lowell can shine in Boston, that Julio Lugo or Coco Crisp is coming (or that they, too, can succeed), that Kevin Youkilis can play every day or that Keith Foulke can close again....

    For Red Sox ownership and upper management, in particular, there are some bad trends being established, particularly during the last two offseasons. Pedro Martinez left. So did Derek Lowe. Now Damon is gone, too, his departure coming after negotiations with Theo Epstein also resulted in an ugly divorce between the Sox and their young general manager. When it comes to negotiating with their high-profile personalities — Jason Varitek is the exception — the Sox generally seem inclined to let the market dictate the price, then decide they do not want to pay it.

    Uh, fellas?

    Sooner or later, if you want to keep good people, you will have to fork over the dough.

    Of course, while all of this has been going on, the Sox have been throwing away money in other areas. Last winter, even when Epstein was the GM, the Sox overpaid for Matt Clement. They forked over $40 million for Edgar Renteria, then decided he wasn’t worth it (after one year) and shipped him to the Atlanta Braves. They ate $11 million of Renteria’s remaining contract and took on the $18 million due Lowell. In the same trade that brought the Marlins third baseman, they shipped away Hanley Ramirez, a highly regarded prospect who seemed part of their long-term plan.

    Confused yet? You should be. Amid all of the comings and goings this offseason, Fenway Park has become baseball’s version of Wisteria Lane. There has been speculation and finger-pointing, controversy and confusion.

    Meanwhile, a team suffers.


    Is there any hope for Red Sox Nation? I think the answer is yes, but it takes a little work.

    First, consider that each of the individual trades/signings that the Red Sox have made this offseason can be defended. No one except the Yankees thought Johnny Damon was worth $13 million a year. Trading a backup catcher for a former All-Star second baseman seems like a shrewd move. Renteria was never comfortable in Boston, and in trading him the Red Sox got one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball. Getting Josh Beckett was worth the costs in prospects -- especially since the Sox also got a premier set-up man and a Gold Glove third baseman. The problem isn't with the individual moves -- it's whether one can see an overall plan when the moves are combined.

    Second, left unsaid in all the critiques is the fact that the Sox have done a very good job of rebuilding their pitching staff. In the past few months the Sox have lost Mike Myers and Chad Bradford while acquiring Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, and Jermaine Van Buren via trade, re-signing Mike Timlin, signing Rudy Seanez, and picking up Jamie Vermilyea via the Rule V draft. They have also developed a raft of quality arms -- Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester -- from their own farm system. That's a set of pretty decent moves made at low cost given the way the market for pitching has gone as of late. And while it may be overly optimistic to expect Curt Schilling or Keith Foulke to perform at their 2004 levels, it would be way to pessimistic to see them be as bad as they were in 2005. To be sure, not all of these pitchers will pan out, but enough of them will for the 2006 pitching staff to look better than the 2005 version.

    Third, the off-season is only half over. The $64,000 question is whether the Red Sox can trade from their strengths (pitching, second base, third base, farm system) to improve their weaknesses (leadoff hitter, centerfieldier, shortstop, first base) between now and February. The big concern here is whether these obvious deficiencies will force the Sox into desperate moves in January and February. However, it's also worth remembering that the Sox had uninspiring production from two of those positions in 2005 and still made it to the playoffs.

    Finally, it's worth remembering that at this point last year everyone was trashing White Sox GM Ken Williams for a series of moves that laid the foundation for the 2005 team. The only thing that matters is the how the team performs on the field between April and October.


    [How convinced are you by your own analysis?--ed. About 55% -- the other 45% of the time I'm with Massarotti.]

    UPDATE: Sam Crane offers Confucion and Taoist perspectives on the Damon signing.

    posted by Dan at 04:24 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Christmas in the Pacific Rim

    I'm back from Hong Kong, and seriously jet-lagged. Before I stop thinking about that jewel of a city, however, I have a question for any cultural anthropologists in the crowd -- what's the deal with Christmas in the Pacific Rim?

    The city of Hong Kong -- never shy of neon -- was engulfed in Christmas decorations the week I was there. This web site points out::

    Christmas in Hong Kong is the time for the tasteless, the season for the syrupy, the holiday for the horrific -- if we're talking about lights and decorations, that is. There may be another city that can equal Hong Kong in the banality of its Christmas decorations, but it's sure to fall short in terms of sheer volume.
    I was told that I would see the same thing in Tokyo as well.

    Many Westerners who attended the WTO Ministerial expressed distaste about this phenomenon as well -- not on religious grounds, but rather because to them it epitomizes the homogenization of western tastes.

    I think this is much ado about nothing. I doubt that any North American city, with the possible exception of Las Vegas, would festoon itself in the same way Hong Kong has -- but then again, no other American city is as in love with neon as HK. However, to repeat my question to Tyler Cowen or anyone else who would know -- why is Christmas so big in so many non-Christian countries?

    My hunch is that it's a marketing opportunity, but I'm open to other suggestions.

    posted by Dan at 10:01 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Notes from Wan Chai

    There's nothing watching a city gearing up for a major economic meeting. Hotels in Wan Chai -- the neighborhood near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, where the WTO meetings will be held -- have set up X-ray scanning machines in the lobbies to check for... well, I'm not sure what, exactly but it's definitely a pain.

    Protestors started coming out in force two days before the official events even begin. According to The Standard's Doug Crets and Leslie Kwoh, the protests were peaceful but:

    Police said they were... alarmed by the mysterious disappearance of uniforms belonging to janitors, watchmen and others from local laundries and dry cleaners. The AFP news agency quoted police as saying protesters might use the uniforms to infiltrate the talks.
    Meanwhile, the presence of the protestors has also encouraged some investment firms based in Wan Chai to give their employees an early Christmas break. One commentator on Bloomberg TV said, "Happy Holidays -- and thank you, protestors!" And, of course, the strip clubs in the downtown area seem crowded with more raucous Westerners than usual. [How would you know?--ed. I swear, I walked by them to get to dinner last night.]

    Of course, in Hong Kong, there are some additional measures taken in the wake of a big meeting. In my NGO accreditation materials, there's a lovely "Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Kit" put out by Hong Kong's Department of Health. According to this document, "If one has not come into close contact with infected live poultry or birds or their droppings, there is no need to be unduly alarmed about acquiring avian flu." So if any pigeons get near me, there's going to be trouble.

    But all of this is great for the local economy, right? Well, not according to The Standard's Andrea Chiu:

    Wan Chai residents said that, while they welcome the World Trade Organization's ministerial conference and the thousands of protesters in ideological tow, so far they aren't getting much out of it.
    "There's nothing we can do," philosophized Chow Fook-wah, a newspaper hawker on the corner of Hennessy Road and Percival Street, near the start of the march route. "The police have blocked off roads and that's affected business because fewer people are walking by."....

    Wan Chai District Council chairwoman Ada Wong said she blames the government and police for creating a climate of fear in her district.

    Wong said she witnessed an overwhelming police presence in Causeway Bay, "doing nothing but patrolling."

    "If this event is so scary, why did the Hong Kong government agree to host it?"

    The police were not the only ones on high alert as many businesses along Hennessy Road closed their stores before the march started at 4 pm. The exterior metal gates at Hennessy Centre, which houses the Mitsukoshi department store, were halfway down before the march started. A security guard, one of five standing at the doors, said the shopping center would remain open as normal unless there was an incident.

    Down the street, several banks closed their ATM terminals to the public. The Nan Yang Commercial Bank posted a notice that said ATM machines would only be available when the branch is open "as a precautionary measure in response to traffic and security arrangements."

    The Bank of China, however, shut its branch at the China Resources Center on Gloucester Road for the entire week.

    Well, at least something of substance will be achieved at the WTO Ministerial itself, right? Er, not according to the Financial Times' Frances Williams:
    For many of the ministers gathering in Hong Kong for the World Trade Organisation’s biennial jamboree, which opens on Tuesday, the accession ceremony for tiny Tonga could be the highlight of their week.

    When even the main protagonists in the Doha global trade talks are vague on what they hope to achieve in the next six days, the rest of the WTO’s 149-strong membership could be forgiven for sneaking off to do a little shopping.

    . One last note -- if you're coming to Wan Chai, try to avoid staying at the Novotel Century Hotel. If you took a slab of concrete and wrapped it up in Kevlar, it would still be softer than my mattress from last night

    posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, December 6, 2005

    George Carlin probably wouldn't call this a sport

    God bless the trend reporters at the Los Angeles Times -- particularly Jeffrey Fleishman, who has a story on a brand new sport -- chess boxing:

    Martin "Amok" Thomas is jabbing a right, but Frank "so-cool-he-doesn't-need-a-nickname" Stoldt is as elusive as a ribbon in the wind. He can't be hit.


    The gloves come off, and the men hurry across the canvas to the chessboard. (You heard it right.) Amok took a couple of body shots, and he's breathing hard, but he had better focus. That Stoldt, though, everyone in the gym knows he's this warrior-thinker, slamming the speed clock, cunningly moving his queen amid unraveling bandages and dripping sweat, daring Amok to leave him a sliver of opportunity.


    Velcro rips. Amok slides back into his Everlast gloves, bites down on his mouthpiece, dances around the ropes. His king's in trouble, and his punches couldn't knock lint off a jacket. Stoldt floats toward him like a cloud of big hurt.

    Such is the bewildering beauty of chessboxing. That's one word, as in alternating rounds of four minutes of chess followed by two minutes of boxing.

    The World Chess Boxing Organization provides more detailed rules:
    In a chessboxing fight two opponents play alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The contest starts with a round of chess, followed by a boxing round, followed by another round of chess and so on. In every round of chess the FIDE rules for a ´Blitz game´ apply, in every boxing round the AIBA rules apply with the following extensions and modifications: In a contest there shall be 11 rounds, 6 rounds of chess, 5 rounds of boxing. A round of chess takes 4 minutes. Each competitor has 12 minutes on the chess timer. As soon as the time runs out the game is over.

    A round of boxing takes 2 minutes. Between rounds there is a 1 minute pause, during which competitors change their gear. The contest is decided by: checkmate (chess round), exceeding the time limit (chess round), retirement of an opponent (chess or boxing round), KO (boxing round), or referee decision (boxing round). If the chess game ends in a stalement, the opponent with the higher score in boxing wins. If there is an equal score, the opponent with the black pieces wins.

    And, of course, there is a chess boxing blog. If you're interested in participating in a sanctioned chess boxing match, click here!

    [I detect some mild mockery in this post;you really want to piss off the chessboxers?--ed. On the contrary, this could sell. Thirty years ago no one took beach volleyball seriously, and now it's a professional sport.... that advertises on blogs. So would you ever watch chess boxing?--ed. Er, probably not -- but I could be tempted to watch celebrity chessboxing. Just think of Naomi Watts vs. Salma Hayek. Yes, just think......]

    posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, December 5, 2005

    Blegging for help on Hong Kong

    I'll in Hong Kong all next week to take a first-hand look at the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conference. I'll be representing the Geman Marshall Fund of the United States as an "NGO observer" -- those of you who have read my scholarly work on globalization can drink in the rich ironies of that designation pour moi.

    Anyway, while I won't have oodles of free time, I might have the occasional hour or two off. So I'm asking you, good readers, to fill me in on what must be seen and done in Hong Kong, or even Shenzen. Sure, the New York Times' Keith Bradsher provides some useful tips, but I have every confidence that the collective intelligence of readers can improve on Bradsher's advice.

    UPDATE: Hmmm.... Justine Lau and Frances Williams have a report in the Financial Times implicitly suggesting that the NGO protestors might get a bit unruly:

    Peter Yam, the police director of operations, said he expected at least three large demonstrations to take place, each of which could draw as many as 10,000 people.

    “We have measures to deal with all scenarios. We will not allow anyone to disrupt the conference, threaten the personal safety of others, cause damage to property, or cause serious disruption of traffic,” said Mr Yam, who said 9,000 officers, or one-third of the force, would be deployed.

    In comparison, fewer than 800 police were mobilised on Sunday when 250,000 marched for democracy in Hong Kong.

    posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    A data point for frozen turkeys

    One of the fiercest debates among the staff here at about the Thanksgiving holiday is whether the convenience of purchasing a frozen turkey days in advance outweighs the added taste of cooking a fresh, unfrozen bird.

    Angela Rozas has a story in the Chicago Tribune that highlights a heretofore unknown value of the frozen turkey -- in an emergency, it can save lives:

    Mark Copsy saw the smoke inside the car, and watched as the vehicle careered into a curb in Northlake on Sunday afternoon. It took him only a moment to realize the horror--the car was on fire, and there were people inside. Copsy and his 12-year-old son ran the half-block to help.

    When they got to the car, Copsy, 42, said he couldn't open the door. Inside, he could see an elderly man in the driver's seat. A female passenger sat next to him, her face white. He tried to smash the glass with his foot, but couldn't do it. In his hands, he held a 20-pound frozen Norbest turkey he and his son had just bought for Thanksgiving.

    "I said, `Hell, I'll just use the damn turkey.' And that's what I did," Copsy said. He yelled for the driver to cover his face, and used the turkey to smash out three windows.

    By then, police and others had arrived at Wolf Road and North Avenue, and together they pulled the elderly driver out of the car.

    posted by Dan at 10:05 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, November 21, 2005

    Hmmm.. what's missing from this survey?

    There are a lot of news stories (here's one from's Jo Best) out today on the latest Pew survey that shows search engines have become the second-most frequent online activity after e-mail. According to Pew's Lee Rainie:

    These results from September 2005 represent a sharp increase from mid-2004. Pew Internet Project data from June 2004 show that use of search engines on a typical day has risen from 30% to 41% of the internet-using population, which itself has grown in the past year. This means that the number of those using search engines on an average day jumped from roughly 38 million in June 2004 to about 59 million in September 2005 - an increase of about 55%. comScore data, which are derived from a different methodology, show that from September 2004 to September 2005 the average daily use of search engines jumped from 49.3 million users to 60.7 million users -- an increase of 23%.
    Here's a link to the data memo in .pdf format. What I found most interesting was "the proportion of that daily population who are doing some well-known internet activities":
    Email 77%
    Search engine 63%
    Get news 46%
    Do job-related research 29%
    Use instant messaging 18%
    Do online banking 18%
    Take part in chat room 8%
    Make a travel reservation 5%
    Read blogs 3%
    Participate in online auction 3%
    Two thoughts -- first, this blog number is consistent with other recent surveys suggesting that not a large fraction of Americans are blog consumers.

    Second, there's one very large invisible elephant in this survey. One obvious online activity was not included in the above list. See if you can guess what it is. [What is it?--ed.] Umm.... just guess. [Can you give the people a hint?--ed.] Ummm.... er.... Chapelle's Show had a hysterically funny skit about what people do when they're on the web that best captures this activity.

    If search engines are more popular than that invisible elephant, then I'll start to disagree with Asymmetrical Information about Google's share price.

    posted by Dan at 03:03 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Putting on the foil? Read this first.


    "On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study", by Ali Rahimi, Ben Recht, Jason Taylor, and Noah Vawter. The abstract:

    Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

    Hat tip to The American Interest's Dan Kennelly for the link.

    posted by Dan at 12:22 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    My personal apologies to Mitchell Hurwitz

    In one of those cruel coincidences, Erika and I decided to rent the first season of Arrested Development the weekend the show itself got cancelled.

    After having digested the first twelve episodes -- and still laughing about them 48 hours later -- I feel I owe an apology to creator Mitchell Hurwitz. I clearly belong to a large swath of viewers who would have enjoyed the show and yet mysteriously chose not to view it when it counted. My only defense is that a large groups of us have small children, and by the end of the weekend have little energy for anything more sophisticated than My Mother, the Car.

    Why the show failed to merit any coverage by the Television Without Pity people, however, is beyond me.

    Sorry, man -- we let you down.

    posted by Dan at 03:47 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, November 6, 2005

    Is American political fiction really so bad?

    Via Kevin Drum, I see that Christopher Lehman has a long essay in the Washington Monthly asserting the poverty of American political fiction:

    To gauge the arrested development of American political novels, one need look no further than the pallid state of our own literary satire. Christopher Buckley now passes for the high-water mark of political satire in the nation's literature. In 1994, Buckley drew upon his experience as a speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush to produce Thank You for Smoking, an engaging send-up of the grimly farcical rounds of advocacy for the tobacco industry, as well as of the excesses of its opponents. Since then, however, Buckley's novels have acquired a one-note tetchiness in both tone and subject. They read less like gimlet-eyed parody than gussied-up "O'Reilly Factor" transcripts....

    [F]or all the impact of novels of advocacy, we have consistently failed Whitman's prophecy in one crucial respect. America has almost never produced a serious novel addressing the workings of national politics as its main subject. Indeed, it's hard not to read Whitman's own rueful characterization of his own literary generation—a “parcel of dandies and ennuyées” usually just “whimpering and crying about something, chasing one aborted conceit after another, and forever occupied in dyspeptic amours with dyspeptic women”—and not remember many of the scribes churning out the modern American political novel. The genre is as distressingly flat and uninvolving as it was when “Democratic Vistas” was published.

    Well, surely those who have seen the belly of the beast -- politicians themselves -- could produce a good political novel. Oh, wait... [Well, what about political scientists?--ed. Don't go there.]

    This particular subgenre of fiction is the topic of Rachel Donadio's NYT Book Review essay for today. Curiously, Christopher Buckley makes a cameo appearance there as well:

    Novels by politicians are generally regarded as vanity projects or curiosities, written out of egomania, boredom or a drive to "get out the message." Often culled by reporters looking to leaven political profiles, most have fairly tepid sales before being quickly forgotten....

    For the most part, novels by politicians quickly fade from the conversation - and the bookshelf. Christopher Buckley, the novelist and Washington gadabout, recalled how he unloaded a lot of books in a house move. Years later, he ran into William S. Cohen, an acquaintance and the author of several novels of international intrigue, some written in the 80's with former Senator Gary Hart. Cohen, who was then President Clinton's first secretary of defense, invited him to lunch.

    "I went to the Pentagon for lunch in his office, which is a very formidable office, and he greeted me at the door and handed me a piece of paper," Buckley recounted. It was a printout from the online bookseller Alibris, with the listing for one of Cohen's books. "It said, 'Very fine first edition, excellent condition, inscribed to a fellow author, Christopher Buckley.' The price listed was $3,500. I said, 'Well, Bill, this is most embarrassing.' " Besides, Buckley added, "I thought it likely there had been a decimal error in the price."

    Is the state of American political fiction really so parlous perilous? At first I was skeptical, but after perusing my bookshelf, maybe Lehman has a point. He missed a few greats in his conversation. I liked Buckley's Little Green Men better than Lehman, in part because the premise is so delightfully loopy. I'd also include Tom Perrotta's Election and Ward Just's Echo House. Lehman's biggest oversight is Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods, but that might be because this small masterpiece is as much about Vietnam as it is about what it means to be a politician. Still, that's not such a big list.

    What's the explanation? Lehman thinks it's because the overarching theme in American political fiction is the loss of innocence -- which doesn't jibe with how politics actually works:

    The American political system has never really staked anything on the preservation of innocence. Indeed, its structural genius is very much the reverse—using the self-interested agendas of political players to cancel each other out, interlacing the powers of government in order to limit the damage that one branch can do, and making ambition at least address, if not fulfill, the public good in spite of itself. Our federal government, as any good reader of “Federalist 10” can report, is an instrument of cynicism erected on the open acknowledgment that human nature is flawed. It has unfailingly survived (and thrived) despite the vices novelists suggest have brought it to its knees. Expecting anyone to journey to the seat of national power and deliver a Mr. Smith-like blow for the sanctity of scouting and motherhood is a bit like wanting the final act of a musical to be all gun battles and explosions: It's what the critics call a genre error.

    What's more, this stubborn moralizing impulse is what makes American political fiction, even today, such watery and unsatisfying literature: It deprives writers of the best material. Don't the intrigues sprouting from our well-known human flaws and excesses ultimately make for more engaging plots and character studies than the falls from grace of a thousand or so Washington ingénus?

    This echoes the complaint voiced by Slate's David Edelstein a few years ago about how politics is portrayed in film and television:

    The real party line in campaign movies turns out to lead straight to the Big Speech (let's call it the BS)—the one in which the candidate either bravely affirms principles over politics and is transfigured, or cravenly yields to expediency and is damned. Compromise, the core of the political process, is regarded not as an art but as a black art.

    The transfiguring BS happens like this: The crowd is primed to cheer. The candidate (a man, generally) begins a speech that has been worked on by his handlers, the one designed to please the fat cats and ward heelers—i.e., the "special interests." But at the last second, he cannot bring himself to read what's in front of him. He eyeballs the eager crowd, then lays aside that accursed speech and begins to extemporize. I have met the devil, he says, and nearly sold my soul to get elected. This country, he goes on, deserves better. The people deserve better. The candidate's spouse, who has only recently discovered that he wasn't the Superman of integrity she thought she'd married, regards him again with Lois Lane eyes. The crowd goes wild: Balloons and confetti and soaring music signal the politician's apotheosis.

    I'm not sure I have a better answer than Lehman or Edelstein, except to say that I'm not at all sure the problem is peculiarly American. Good fiction set in an democratic political milieu just might be a difficult feat to execute.

    Readers are warmly encouraged to suggest their favorite political novels.

    posted by Dan at 12:06 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, November 1, 2005

    Say it ain't so, Theo!

    Part of my faith in the Red Sox's future rested with general manager Theo Epstein and the brain trust he had assembled. In contrast to the byzantine organizational structure of George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees.

    Alas, this week has scrambled those expectations. Steinbrenner managed to retain Brian Cashman as his GM, and Cashman managed to shift the center of gravity on decision-making away from Tampa and towards New ork.

    Meanwhile, Red Sox wunderkind GM Theo Epstein has declined the Red Sox's offer of a new three-year contract. The Boston Herald's Michael Silverman explains why:

    Money and length of the contract were not issues in the past few days for Epstein, who had lobbied hard for an annual salary of more than $1 million a year.

    Epstein had come close to agreeing to a deal Saturday evening but had not officially conveyed acceptance of it. On Sunday, he began having serious misgivings about staying on. A leading contributing factor, according to sources close to the situation, was a column in Sunday’s Boston Globe in which too much inside information about the relationship between Epstein and his mentor, team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, was revealed -- in a manner slanted too much in Lucchino’s favor. Epstein, according to these sources, had several reasons to believe Lucchino was a primary source behind the column and came to the realization that if this information were leaked hours before Epstein was going to agree to a new long-term deal, it signaled excessive bad faith between him and Lucchino.

    Epstein's innovation as a GM wasn't to use sabremetrics to analyze baseball players -- though he was part of the first wave of GM's to do so. No, Epstein's real gift was to think about the 40 man roster as a portfolio that needed to be diversified, and to exploit the healthy payroll he was given to the hilt. In positions where the Red Sox did not have an All-Star, Epstein managed to sign multiple players whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Think of Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn at second base in 2004, or the troika of Jeremy Gimbi, David Ortiz, and Kevin Millar at 1B/DH in 2003, or Millar and John Olerud this year at first base. Not every signing paid off, but Epstein hit the jackpot way more often than he crapped out. And he did this without trading away all that much in the way of young talent.

    Meanwhile, both David Wells and Manny Ramirez want out of Beantown because of a lack of privacy.

    MSNBC's Mike Celizic thinks Epstein's departure is a harbinger of disasters to come to Red Sox Nation:

    When a man walks out on the job he dreamed of having all his life, a job for which he’s just been offered triple his previous pay, there’s something seriously wrong either with the man or with the job.

    With most people, I’d pick the man as the one who’s stripped the threads on a couple of mental screws. But not with Theo Epstein, the man who authored the Miracle of Fenway. If Epstein, who took over as the general manager of the Red Sox at 28 and won the World Series at 30, is willing to turn his back on the team he grew up cheering for, a job he was offered $1.5 million a year to perform, there’s something terminally wrong with it.

    Red Sox fans had better get used to that realization, and they had better hearken back to what life was like before 2004, when they entered the spring of every season knowing that waiting for them in the fall was only heartbreak. The Red Sox will get another general manager, but the job he faces is daunting.

    The left fielder wants out. The center fielder is a free agent who can’t play center field any more. There’s no closer in the bullpen and no middle relief. The starting pitching is a mess. The newspapers, even more smothering in their coverage of the Sox than the New York papers are in their coverage of the Yankees, are starting to nip at the team’s heels. In the clubhouse, which not long ago was happier than a squirrel in a birdfeeder, there are stories of dissension.

    In other words, the Red Sox are turning back into what they always have been — a team playing a game, as Bart Giamatti once wrote, that’s meant to break your heart.

    Methinks Celizic is way too pessimistic. A rebuilt farm system is going to be providing the Red Sox with a bevy of fresh arms and speed over the next few years. And I think the current owenership is still pretty interested in winning another World Series or two. That said, it's still going to be a very bumpy off-season -- but was true the year they won it all (remember A-Rod?).

    However, the staff here at wishes the best of luck to Mr. Epstein in any of his futute career pursuits -- so long as they don't entail taking over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' GM job.

    UPDATE: David Pinto has more at Baseball Musings here and here. Via his blog, I found this wonderful rant :

    God Damn! They are now just another team. Here's the thing, kids. Here's what's different about Boston. Yankee fans are frontrunners, we all know that. They root for the 27 World Championships. Angels fans want to play with their thunder stix and Rally Monkey(r). Cubs fans want a party; the team is the medium for that. Sox fans aren't fans of the team. Rather, every Sox fan thinks he/she is ON the team. Theo was our guy who was ON THE TEAM. They could sell dirt from the '04 field, or blow up Fenway Park,or sell those silly membership cards, we didn't care. They could jam that effin' Sweet Caroline down our gullets every day (twice on the split admission day-nighters).

    We didn't care. We were ON THE TEAM. Theo was our surrogate. He got Papi; he had dinner with Curt; he got rid of that pain in the ass Nomar.

    We have all been kicked off the team. God Damn.

    posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, October 27, 2005

    Congrats to the pale hose

    Back in August, Mike DeBonis wrote the following in Slate:

    Chicago's Sox still have the best record in the American League by far. They're a lock for the playoffs, and they have a real shot at making the World Series for the first time since 1959. But if they do win it all, there won't be hundreds of books and special-edition DVDs that exhaustively document the final moments of anguish and misery on Chicago's South Side. When the sports world's most mundane epic losing streak ends, it will go quietly.

    Now we'll get to test his hypothesis.

    Congratulations to the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox. Like the Red Sox last year, the South Siders swept the NL representative. Unlike last year, however, all four of these games were exciting nailbiters until the end. As David Pinto points out in Baseball Musings:

    The Sox did it their way. Four close games, two decided by one run. The White Sox outscored the Astros by just six runs over the four games. Houston had plenty of chances, but the White Sox pitchers always found a way to get out of the jam.

    The Red Sox in 2004, the White Sox in 2005 -- man, if the Cubs win it next year, the world really will end.

    Of course, I've lived in Chicago long enough to know that until that happens, White Sox fans will be very, very happy to stick it to the Cubs fans.

    UPDATE: You just knew Leo Strauss was involved.

    posted by Dan at 12:29 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Yo Geritol!!

    In my first visit to Souther California, my guide took me to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. After gawking at the stores and the price tags, we stumbled into an art gallery that was having quite a function -- lots of guys with slicked-back pony tails, black suits, black shirts, and black ties [Cut them some slack -- this was 1990--ed.]

    It turned out that we had stumbled into a retrospective of the artwork of... Sylvester Stallone.

    The piece of his I remember the most was "Rocky V." This was a collage of typed manuscript pages on a canvas with gobs of paint splattered everywhere. It was very... three-dimensional.

    I dredge this memory out of my brain and inflict it on all of you because of this Associated Press story:

    Rocky is planning another comeback.

    Fifteen years after starring in "Rocky V," Sylvester Stallone is reprising his role as the boxing champ in the sixth "Rocky" movie, publicist Michelle Bega said Monday.

    The 59-year-old actor will write and direct "Rocky Balboa," which will begin shooting in Philadelphia and Las Vegas next year.

    Stallone told the Daily Variety trade magazine the movie will focus on an aging, widowed Rocky who is reluctant to get back in the ring but ends up doing it "just to compete, not to win."

    I look forward with bated breath to see the work of art that Stallone will forge out of this screenplay.

    Readers are strongly encouraged to suggest an age-appropriate opponent for Stallone's senior boxing flick. With apologies to Fight Club, I'd have to vote for William Shatner.

    posted by Dan at 04:18 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, September 29, 2005

    The Red Sox cause heartburn -- but do they save lives

    It's going to be an agonizing/wonderful/intense final weekend of Major League Baseball's regular season. Whenever Major League Baseball has to post this kind of web page to explain the possible playoff permutations (link via David Pinto), you know there are some close races.

    Naturally, the piece de resistance is the AL East, with the streaking Yankees a game ahead of the Red Sox, who are tied with Cleveland in the wild card standings.

    I don't know how these games could top the drama of the last two years with these two teams -- but then again, I thought that was true right before last year's ALCS, and look what happened.

    Intriguingly, the close series probably means an easier load for Boston's emergency rooms:

    A couple of dyed-in-the-red-wool Fenway fanatics -- who, by day, specialize in analyzing trends in health-care use -- wondered what happens to emergency room traffic when the Sox catapult into the playoffs.

    The result of their research: Last fall, while the Sox pummelled the Yankees in the deciding game of the league championship and, then, the Cardinals in Game Four of the World Series, business in the ER was as cold as Manny Ramirez's bat was hot.

    ''We knew if we were looking for any public event that would have an effect on health-care utilization, it would have to be the Red Sox championship games," said Ben Reis, inveterate Sox fan and Children's Hospital Boston researcher....

    The researchers discovered that during the championship games, televisions were blaring in three of every five households in the Boston area, watching Curt, Johnny, and the rest of the self-proclaimed Idiots.

    At the same time, visits to the emergency rooms plummeted, on average, by 15 percent when compared to historical trends for ER visits on autumn evenings.

    Fewer ER visits and more babies -- you know the recent Red Sox revival has been good for New England.

    [Sure, there are fewer visits, but do the Red Sox save lives?--ed. The reportage is unclear. On the one hand, it seems that people with chronic ailments might defer or postpone visits. On the other hand, "There was no evidence, the researchers from Children's report, of a surge in ER visits immediately after the game concluded." One has to wonder if there were fewer driving accidents, etc. while people were watching the games.]

    posted by Dan at 10:25 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, September 27, 2005

    Serenity -- the review

    Forget the clever marketing strategy -- is Serenity worth the coin? Does it soar like a leaf on the wind?

    The answer partially depends on where you fit in the movie-going universe:

    1) Joe and Jane Moviegoer. If you like action flicks with a dash of surprising levity, Serenity is definitely worth checking out. Writer/director Joss Whedon clearly knows his genres, and has no trouble mixing them -- in this case, sci-fi and westerns -- and has even less trouble subverting genre stereotypes. The best parts are the first and last 30 minutes of the film. There's a lot of backstory exposition, and if you go for opening weekend, you might notice a lot of oddly enthusiastic moviegoers, but I agree with Variety's Derek Elley in saying that, "Familiarity with the original episodes isn't necessary, as a tight opening effectively recaps the backstory." This is not Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me -- thank God.

    [UPDATE: I'm glad to see this thumbs-up from someone illiterate in Whedon-speak.]

    If geeks and fanboys scare you, do not see Serenity on opening weekend. Then go.

    2) Firefly fans. Hmmm... how to put this.... hell yes, it's worth the coin. Whedon brought his "A" game and Universal gave him just enough money to make it very, very shiny. Whedon accomplishes in Serenity what he did so proficiently in his best work on TV -- he creates characters who stay true to their motivations, and then makes you realize that just because an actor is featured in the opening credits, there's no guarantee that they'll still be alive when the end credits run. It's that credible danger that makes the final half-hour of Serenity so intense for fanboys and fangirls alike. In Chiwetel Ejiofor, Whedon has found the perfect villain for this piece. Summer Glau and Nathan Fillion are equally good in the emoting and kickass fighting categories. The rest of the cast has their moments as well.

    3) Aspiring movie auteurs: This take from Ken Tucker's New York magazine review should whet your appetite:

    [Whedon] can write quick, gabby banter for an array of heroes and oddballs better than any auteur since Preston Sturges, and he can dramatize the camaraderie within an ensemble better than anyone since Howard Hawks.

    My take: You wish you could do a tracking shot like the one Whedon serves up in the opening credits. Serenity is a nice exercise in demonstrating how special effects should serve the story and not vice versa. As for dialogue, one person who saw an earlier preview put it best: "Han Solo wishes he was this cool." Whedon betrays his TV past with some claustrophobic shots at some junctures, but this is a great big-screen directorial debut.

    4) Libertarians: Back in August, I resisted posting on this debate on the politics of Firefly that had been going around the blogosphere. Having seen Serenity, I think I'll weigh in.

    To recap: Tyler Cowen argued that the "implicit politics" of the show imply it's "actually Burkean conservative."

    Sara T. Hinson thought the show sounded libertarian themes -- like all sci-fi:

    At its best, science fiction advocates liberty. While Star Trek lamentably supported a "Federation knows best" mentality, other works like Star Wars and Robert Heinlein's novels have promoted the dissolution of central rule and the triumph of the individual. For the science fiction writer, space means one thing: freedom. Like the Wild West where men made their own rules and property rights were enforced at the end of a landowner's shotgun, space has afforded the hope that one day man can move beyond the reach of any government's oppressive hand.

    Having seen Serenity, I have to side with Hinson. While I thought the television show had both libertarian and modern liberal themes, the movie is actually more libertarian . Indeed, without giving Serenity's plot away, the information you discover about the Reavers negates one of the anti-libertarian critiques present in Firefly.

    So go see the goram movie.

    UPDATE: Jacob Levy saw the same screening I did, and blogs an excellent review. This paragraph captures the film well:

    This is not a genre-buster like Matrix or even a genre-redefiner like Blade Runner. It's more of an ante-raiser like Alien: "See? This thing that we've gotten used to seeing done badly can be done really, really well." For Alien, it was making a monster movie genuinely suspenseful, scary, and visually compelling. For Serenity, it's making space opera morally serious and centered on complete characters with convincing relationships and first-rate dialogue. I predict that it will make watching Star Wars or Star Trek movies harder to do without cringing.

    Matthew Yglesias also liked it -- though I don't agree with Yglesias' assertion that Whedon painted "the Alliance as a cartoonishly evil empire."

    [Dude, don't you and everyone else are overreading a sci-fli flick?--ed. You don't know Whedon. From the Toronto Star's Marlene Arpe:

    Whedon's work is studied in universities, it's the subject of academic conferences and about a dozen books in print.

    [Whedon says,] "Who's gonna feel bad about that? I've worked enormously hard on every episode of every show I've ever done, not just to have it be interesting, but to have a very specific reason to put it on ... And so there's been, with my writers, a great deal of discussion about philosophy and politics and message and structure, so to have it be a field of study, feels like we actually communicated.... Language is my drug."

    So there.]

    ANOTHER UPDATE: In Reason, Julian Sanchez has a link-rich, spoiler-rich essay on the philosophical roots of Serenity -- and makes a persuasive case for the role of Camus as well as Hayek. In Slate, Seth Stevenson likes Serenity but thinks Joss Whedon's comparative advantage is in the long narrative arcs of episodic television. Salon's Stephanie Zacharek agrees:

    I still feel some anxiety that "Serenity" will be viewed by audiences unfamiliar with Whedon's work as just another sci-fi-geek enthusiasm. My problem, I think, is that "Serenity" dredges up some of the same feelings I have when a movie adaptation of a book I love just doesn't measure up. I'm so used to "reading" Whedon in the long form -- so used to riding the rhythms of his television series, rhythms he sustains beautifully week after week, season after season -- that "Serenity," as carefully worked out as it is, feels a bit too compact, truncated. That's less a failing on Whedon's part than a recognition of the way TV, done right, can re-create for us the luxury of sinking into a good, long novel. I hope Whedon makes many more movies (and there's the enticing possibility that "Serenity," if it does well, will be the beginning of a franchise). Faced with a big screen, Whedon knows exactly what to do with it. But the small one needs him, too. Of all the pleasures TV watching has to offer, he has perhaps tapped the greatest one: that of waiting on the docks, anxious to find out what happens next.

    posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (7)

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    Finding Serenity

    As promised last week, I got to preview Serenity. I'll review it in the next post -- for this one, a few interesting tidbits about the logistics of the whole enterprise after the jump:

    1) Joss Whedon fan Dori Smith wondered last week:

    Okay, here's something that's been puzzling me since yesterday: you've got Joss Whedon, who's a well-known Hollywood liberal type and John Kerry supporter. He's got a new movie coming out next week, name of Serenity.

    So why on earth is Whedon, or the studio, or the PR folks, only working with rightwingers to plug the movie?

    Maybe it's 'cause there aren't any progressive bloggers who are long-time fans of the show?

    I seriously doubt the latter is true, but I do have a partial explanation for Smith: the motto of Grace Hill Media -- the PR firm tasked with the blogger promotion -- is "Helping Hollywood Reach People of Faith." I wonder if there's another PR firm to hype the event for liberal blogggers.....

    2) And I wonder if they're better than Grace Hill Media, because I must agree with this blogger's complaint about the confirmation e-mail they sent to everyone. Juuuust a bit too bossy.

    3) As someone who was captain of my high school math team, I can say with some certainty that I know from geeks. With that background knowledge, I must confirm what one of my moviegoing compatriots said: "I've been to Star Wars and LOTR openings, but this was easily the geekiest moviegoing audience I've ever seen."

    3) Universal studios showed one preview before Serenity -- Doom, starring The Rock. From an audience primed for Joss Whedon quips, it provoked a... bemused reaction.

    4) Despite the high fan-to-nonfan ration, there were enough interested outworlders such that the preview accomplished what Whedon said was the marketing strategy in this New York Times interview:

    The idea was always that if the fans got excited enough, made enough noise, somebody fan-adjacent would go, "What's that noise?" And somebody near him would go, "What's that noise?" It was about those people, the people who don't know where to look, but then they start to see it or hear about it.

    posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

    Thursday, September 8, 2005

    Take that, Lincoln Park!!

    Residents of Hyde Park are keenly aware that although our neighborhood possesses many fine qualities -- ample bookstores, nice housing, diversity of residents -- one quality it does not possess is a surfeit of great restaurants.* For that, you have to go up to the downtown, the West Loop, or the North side.

    In today's Chicago Tribune, restaurant critic Phil Vettel says this may be changing:

    Where is Chicago's next hot restaurant zone? We've already seen the Miracle on Randolph Street, West Division's dining surge, the South Loop's gradual buildup. What's next?

    Would you believe ... Hyde Park?

    Don't scoff. Or, go ahead and scoff. No one saw Randolph Street coming either.

    But Hyde Park, a largely well-to-do neighborhood (bounded by 44th Street, 60th Street, Cottage Grove Avenue and the lake) that for years has been underserved by the restaurant community, is poised to become, within a year or three, a legitimate dining destination.

    "I love that area," says restaurateur Jerry Kleiner. "There are 50,000 people here [44,700, according to the neighborhood's Web site], you've got the university and the hospital, and the city has been fixing up Lake Shore Drive. I thought this would be a good opportunity."

    And so in spring 2006, Kleiner is opening a 160-seat, 4,000-square-foot restaurant in the heart of Hyde Park.

    What has the dining community giddy with anticipation is the fact that Kleiner is regarded as something of a culinary pied piper. Where he goes, other restaurateurs quickly follow.

    More to the point, Kleiner has a track record of launching successful restaurants in neighborhoods others regard as "iffy."

    Read the whole article, if you care about such things. I've heard this kind of talk about Hyde Park many times since I've been here, but Kleiner's track record makes me more optimistic than usual. Look out, Lincoln Park -- in, say 20 years, we will have closed the restaurant gap!

    Of course, this section of Vettel's piece brings me back to reality. It quotes Mary Mastricola, the owner of La Petite Folie, the one high-end restaurant in the area:

    "The one shocker was not being able to find kitchen employees," she says. "You can get students to work in the dining room, but we ran ads looking for kitchen workers and we had kids responding who wanted $2 an hour extra because we're south. They'd rather work in higher-visibility places."

    Left unspoken in the piece is why Mastricola doesn't just hire neighborhood residents beyond the student population.

    And don't get me started on the supermarket situation around here.....

    *Yes, devotees of Dixie Kitchen, or Medici, or Pizza Capri, there are some lovely places to eat around here. But a neighborhood of this size needs more than just a handful of good eateries.

    posted by Dan at 10:03 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (2)

    Tuesday, September 6, 2005

    I'd blog more if it wasn't for that darn Jacuzzi-tusion

    In honor of the the 10-year anniversary of Cal Ripken's breaking Lou Gehrig's iron-man streak in baseball, Jayson Stark has an amusing column at on his "favorite injuries, calamities or miscellaneous excuses for missing games during Ripken's fabled streak."

    Go check them out -- my two favorites:

  • [Atlanta Braves pitcher] Pascual Perez missed a start because he couldn't find the stadium, drove 100 miles on a loop freeway around Atlanta, circled the city two hours, missed his exit five times.

  • Reds pitcher Johnny Ruffin hurt his knee watching television.
  • I was convinced that last one had to be a misprint, but I stumbled across this fine Peter Gammons column on Ripken that mentioned the same injury:

    Cincinnati’s Johnny Ruffin was unavailable to pitch when he sat down on a couch in the players' lounge to watch television and his knee popped out of joint.

    posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, August 29, 2005

    Open hurricane porn thread

    CROW-EATING UPDATE: The post below was written 24 hours before the waters of Lake Ponchatrain broke through the levee, devastated New Orleans, and video footage came in on damage to the Mississippi Gulf coast. I must concur with James Joyner that the coverage of this hurricane was not overhyped in the end, and at this point is a rather trivial issue compared to the damage at hand.

    I maintain that my general point stands on extreme weather coverage, but not with this case. Whether there is a "weatherman crying wolf" phenomenon taking place is also worthy of further thought.

    Click over to FEMA's list of charities to help out those affected -- or even better, Glenn Reynolds' list of charities

    Comment away on Hurricane Katrina -- or even better, the coverage of it. If this report is any indication, the original estimates of potential damage appear to have been overstated (though the New Orleans Times-Picayune has a different take). This is of small comfort to rural residents of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but better news for oil traders -- who appear to have panicked and then reassessed -- as well as consumers.

    This overestimation would be consistent with the growing problem of hurricane porn:

    This kind of coverage was understandable with regard to a titanic bastard of a storm like Allison [a 2003 hurricane--DD], but it was only the latest in the local networks' long-standing pattern of milking every possible bit of fear and suspense out of viewers at the approach of tropical weather systems. It hardly seems to matter that computer models are roughly as accurate as a Ouija board while a storm is more than 48 hours out, or that storms like Allison are rare beasts indeed, for these days our doughty weatherpersons breathlessly report every developing tropical depression as if the End Times were upon us. Coverage increases in intensity until the tension is almost to much to take.

    I call it "hurricane porn."

    First, there's the foreplay, which (unlike in actual pornography) can take several days. It starts with Doppler radar and satellite images that grow progressively larger and, dare I say it, more tumescent as the system approaches the coast. Cloud cover grows and the winds pick up, and most TV stations will have reporters positioned along the coast in areas projected to be in the storm's path. These hardy souls eye the camera with come hither looks of dire urgency (I wish I could find screen captures of local ABC reporter Jessica Willey standing on a pier in Galveston during Claudette's rainy approach wearing a soaked-through white blouse - more than ratings were rising that evening, let me tell you). The anticipation continues to build in this fashion until landfall, which is where you get...

    Hot hurricane action: water crashes furiously over the sea wall, palm trees whip back and forth in an orgiastic frenzy and street signs waggle suggestively in the wind. Meanwhile, the rhythmically swaying area street lights almost seem to keep the beat for the omnipresent frenzy. This is the period where one sees the most pervasive coverage. TV stations will often interrupt regular programming in order to cut to live shots of their other reporters, who can be found "braving" the storm by standing right in the middle of the heaviest wind and rains. Speaking only for myself, I'd have a lot more respect for a newsperson who did their report from a bar, sipping a beer and leading off with, "You know, you'd have to be a real idiot to be outside on a night like this..." Maybe someday.

    Fortunately, the actual hurricane footage can only last so long, as most systems weaken rapidly once they make landfall. This is why television stations are so desperate for that money shot. You'll know it when you see it: a roof flying off a department store and disintegrating, or one of those aforementioned reporters getting blown into a ditch. If the networks are really lucky, they'll get film of a fireman rescuing a baby from a rooftop, or a woman pulled from her car just before it's covered by rising floodwaters. After something like that, you can't help but feel spent.

    Once the storm has blown inland, you can finally bask in the afterglow: blue sky shots of boats beached thirty feet above the tide line, hapless shmoes sweeping water out of their bedrooms, and the weatherman telling us it "could've been worse." That's when you light a cigarette and compare property damage with your neighbors.

    I'm waiting for the NOAA to extend hurricane season by a month and a half so it can include May and November sweeps.

    I think this blogger actually underestimates the problem -- it's not just local news, it's the cable nets as well. See Michelle Catalano for more.

    Readers are invited to submit the most.... er.... pornographic moment of coverage they've seen to date.

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds believe that Katrina was worth the hype. And several commenters have pointed out that the blanket coverage probably saved lives in convincing people to get the heck out of the Big Easy. Valid arguments.... except I've been so inured to prior hurricane porn that it's now tough for me to distinguish between a genuine menace to mankind vs. some weathermen breathlessly claiming that some tropical depression could be huge.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Alas, I spoke too soon about New Orleans.

    posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Comments (50) | Trackbacks (7)

    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    The President's suggested reading

    The Washington Examiner asked losers who check their e-mail in late August political junkies what they thought George W. Bush's summer reading should be in Crawford. You can read the responses -- including mine -- here.

    I will say, though, that Bush's actual selections -- "John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History and Edvard Radzinsky's Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar" -- aren't too shabby. The first choice, in particular, might have some policy relevance for the future.

    That said, Jonathan Rauch's selection is the one that stands out.

    posted by Dan at 08:37 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Beloit College needlessly reminds me of my age

    I have a summer birthday, and I am creeping ever closer to 40. Curiously, I seem to be the oldest member of my peer group, and so all of my friends take great delight in saying "Dude, you're old." at the appropriate moment.

    In that spirit, it seems fitting to link to the Beloit College Mindset List for this year:

    It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Director of Public Affairs Ron Nief.

    McBride, who directs Beloit’s First Year Initiatives (FYI) program for entering students, notes that "This year’s entering students have grown up in a country where the main business has become business, and where terrorism, from obscure beginnings, has built up slowly but surely to become the threat it is today. Cable channels have become as mainstream as the 'Big 3' used to be, formality in dress has become more quaint than ever, and Aretha Franklin, Kermit the Frog and Jimmy Carter have become old-timers."

    “Each year,” according to Nief, “When Beloit releases the Mindset List, it is the birth year of the entering students that is the most disturbing fact for most readers. [Most students entering college this fall were born in 1987--DD] This year will come as no exception and, once again, the faculty will remain the same age as the students get younger.”

    My highlights from this year's list:

    They don't remember when "cut and paste" involved scissors.

    Boston has been working on "The Big Dig" all their lives.

    Iran and Iraq have never been at war with each other.

    The federal budget has always been more than a trillion dollars.

    Condoms have always been advertised on television.

    Money put in their savings account the year they were born earned almost 7% interest.

    Southern fried chicken, prepared with a blend of 11 herbs and spices, has always been available in China.

    Tom Landry never coached the Cowboys.

    Entertainment Weekly has always been on the newsstand.

    They never saw a Howard Johnson's with 28 ice cream flavors.

    They have grown up in a single superpower world.

    And, in conclusion:

    They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

    posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

    Friday, August 12, 2005

    "I was just made by the Presbyterian Church"

    You'll just have to click here to find out the meaning of the post title.

    It reminds me of an episode from a criminally underrated television series, News Radio. In the "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" episode, Jimmy James needs to read his own autobiography after it was translated into Japanese and then re-translated into English.

    And you at home can play this game too!! Just go to Alta Vista's Babelfish page, pick a favorite piece of dialogue, translate it and then retranslate it.

    posted by Dan at 12:10 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, August 8, 2005

    Peter Jennings, R.I.P.

    The longtime anchor of ABC news died on Sunday, four months after announcing he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

    His career tracked a lot of recent history, as the ABC obit observes:

    As one of America's most distinguished journalists, Jennings reported many of the pivotal events that have shaped our world. He was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and there in the '90s when it came down. He covered the civil rights movement in the southern United States during the 1960s, and the struggle for equality in South Africa during the 1970s and '80s. He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, and on the other side of the world when South Africans voted for the first time. He has worked in every European nation that once was behind the Iron Curtain. He was there when the independent political movement Solidarity was born in a Polish shipyard, and again when Poland's communist leaders were forced from power. And he was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise. He was one of the first reporters to go to Vietnam in the 1960s, and went back to the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1980s to remind Americans that, unless they did something, the terror would return.

    On Dec. 31, 1999, Jennings anchored ABC's Peabody-award winning coverage of Millennium Eve, "ABC 2000." Some 175 million Americans watched the telecast, making it the biggest live global television event ever. "The day belonged to ABC News," wrote The Washington Post, "&with Peter Jennings doing a nearly superhuman job of anchoring." Jennings was the only anchor to appear live for 25 consecutive hours.

    Jennings also led ABC's coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks and America's subsequent war on terrorism. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the network's longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised for providing a reassuring voice during the time of crisis. TV Guide called him "the center of gravity," while the Washington Post wrote, "Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage." The coverage earned ABC News Peabody and duPont awards.

    I am not and never have been a big network news watcher, but my preference was always ABC, and the Jennings' detached, analytical demeanor was the reason. He will be missed.

    posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, August 4, 2005

    Medicine and the modern pitcher

    On his 43rd birthday, Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens has become his generation's Nolan Ryan, the Official Hero to American Middle-Aged Men everywhere.

    No Red Sox fan can have an uncomplicated opinion of Clemens -- however, this Alan Schwarz article in provides a nice illustration of how medical advances made Clemens' long career possible:

    [F]or most of baseball history, a "sore arm" was like a malevolent genie who visited pitchers in the night, entered their joints and corroded their futures from the inside with no explanation or recourse. Johnny Beazley, Karl Spooner, Mark Fidrych ... they all faded into anonymity before medicine could fix them, medicine we now take for granted. When you consider that almost every top modern pitcher has gone under the knife at some point -- heck, some throw harder after ligament-transplant surgery -- you realize what a lucky era we're in.

    So lucky that most people forget that Roger Clemens could have been one of those pitchers we never heard from again. It was 20 years ago that he and his throbbing shoulder lay on the operating table -- before any 20-strikeout games, before any Cy Young awards and before arthroscopy was a sure thing. Before Dr. James Andrews was sure he could fix him....

    In June 1985, Clemens learned that a shoulder tendon and nerve were rubbing together, causing "the nerve to rise and get as big as shoelaces," Clemens said then. He tried to pitch through it but ultimately couldn't. On Aug. 23, he was told that he had a "flap tear" in his shoulder and was reportedly "devastated" by the news. The only good news was that the arthroscope, which originally had fixed knees in the 1970s, had come far enough that it could be used, instead of the more invasive scalpel, to shave down the damaged tissue.

    "We had very little knowledge [about pitchers] -- they hurt and that's about all we knew," recalls Dr. Andrews, who performed the hour-long surgery on Clemens. "We began to arthroscope shoulders and started being able to see what was inside. Roger was one of the early ones."....

    Clemens has been such a machine for the past 20 years that many people can't (or don't want to) believe how close we were to losing him. I asked Andrews to consider what might have happened had Clemens been born just 10 years earlier and hurt his shoulder before the scalpel gave way to the arthroscope.

    "We probably wouldn't have been able to fix it," Andrews says sadly. "He probably would have fallen by the wayside."

    posted by Dan at 04:51 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, August 2, 2005

    Who wants their Gore TV?

    Fourteen months ago, Al Gore announced his plans to create a new cable tv channel. That channel -- called Current TV -- launched yesterday. Salon's Heather Havrilesky sums up what Gore is after:

    The programming is broken down into short segments, or "pods," generally less than 10 minutes long, which focus on everything from style to newlywed experiences to money management to profiles of inspiring individuals. As each pod progresses, an indicator (like the one you see in QuickTime or iTunes) demonstrates how much time is left in the segment. If you've never seen your TV imitate your laptop before, that's just the beginning: The network hopes to receive a lot of its content from viewers, who are encouraged to shoot short pieces on video and upload them to the Current TV Web site. Viewers will vote on the best segments, and first-time contributors will make $250, while regular contributors will make around $1,000 per pod.

    At the press conference for his new cable network, Gore explained in earnest yet detached terms just how revolutionary he intends his venture to be: "I personally believe that when this medium is connected to the grass-roots storytellers that are out there, it will have an impact on the kinds of things that are discussed and the way they are discussed."

    Well, Mo Ryan is certainly discussing Current TV in the Chicago Tribune -- and it sounds like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch can rest easy for now:

    For a channel that is supposed to be aimed squarely at 18 to 34 year olds and reflect their views and concerns, Current's remarkably clueless and elitist. And a fair amount of the content could be found just about anywhere else.

    We meet a couple of newlyweds who drive a Lexus and fight over whether to get a $1,200 icemaker (the expensive ones, you see, make clear ice, not cloudy ice). Young couples in New York City -- news flash! -- find the real-estate market daunting. We meet a couple who's just had a baby. Baby poop is, apparently, very smelly.

    Thanks, Current, for blowing my mind.

    Havrilesky dumps on the on-air talent:

    [T]he Current hosts are too sexy for their cable network. And not only do they introduce each segment with inane, bubbly comments that make it sound far more fluffy and empty than it is, but they reappear after each segment to sum up their feelings about what happened. This is why we know that watching a pod about dating in Iran makes former Miss USA Shauntay Hinton realize "how lucky I am to be free to do what the hell I wanna do! Yeah!" and watching a segment on suicide in Japan "pretty much took the wind right out of my [host Johnny Bell's] sail." Bell adds, "Not much more to say, but it's tragic." As a result, tuning in to Current TV sometimes feels like going to see a moving documentary with a semiliterate preteen who insists on recasting the entire story in the shallowest of terms the second the credits start to roll.

    Hmmm.... this almost makes the hosts sound like.... bloggers. And yes, the channel has its own blog.

    In the interest of providing greater depth than the semiliterate preteen, check out Chip Crews in the Washington Post if you want a somewhat more charitable view of their first day.

    And, if they manage to hang around for more than a decade, you just know that someone is going to write a TV column that begins, "Remember when Current TV used to run pods?"

    posted by Dan at 04:57 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, July 23, 2005

    Talking 'bout my old generation

    Generation X -- you (and I) are old and getting older. Monica Eng's story in the Chicago Tribune explains:

    For many of us who attended Lollapaloozas more than a decade ago, the prospect of returning to this hipster music festival can make us feel a little creaky.

    I mean, can we really feel comfortable coming back as people whose lives of late-night carousing and multiple piercings have been replaced by late-night feedings and multiple strollers?

    According to Lollapalooza founder and dad Perry Farrell, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

    That's because this year's Lollapalooza features a special family area called Kidzapalooza, where all children under 10 get in free with a ticketholding adult.

    "Since I started Lollapalooza I've had three children and I've become very aware of the fact that there aren't many family-oriented activities geared towards parents like me . . . Lollapalooza Parents," says Farrell. "Kidzapalooza gives us something we can share with our whole family--a festival with family-oriented entertainment and activities that can educate and enliven the spirits of our kids, while also giving us a place to hear great music for our own ears."

    It's also a way to expand the reach of the festival and test new waters for this event that is in the process of reconceptualization.

    But it is also a boon to rock-loving parents who thought that their minivans, Diaper Genie skills and multiple offspring had exiled them from Coolville forever.

    posted by Dan at 09:51 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, July 20, 2005

    Danica McKellar's unique two-fer

    I'm pretty sure that Danica McKellar is the first person in history to be the subject of a profile in the New York Times science section, as well as ">the subject of a profile and a photo essay in Stuff magazine.

    A tip of the cap to Ms. McKellar's very talented and flexible publicist.

    My previous thoughts about Ms. Mckellar can be read here.

    posted by Dan at 12:17 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, July 16, 2005

    My contribution to the greatest sports moments meme

    Earlier this month, Steven Taylor of PoliBlog provided his anwer to the "Ten Unforgetable Sports Moments that You Actually Saw (not ones you saw later on tape)" meme. Kevin Drum offered his as well. More specifically, it's events you saw live, be it in person or on television.

    Taylor puts together a pretty good list, but he betrays his youth -- most of his examples are in the last ten years.

    Here are my answers -- and remember, the key adjective is "unforgettable," not "greatest":

    10) The Fumble (1978). The New York Giants had a regular-season game wrapped up against the Philadelphia Eagles. Then QB Joe Pisarcik was told to hand the ball off to Larry Csonka instead of downing it himself. Herman Edwards (now the coach of the New York Jets) caught the fumble and went on to score, propelling the Eagles into the playoffs. Because of this play, in part, my father still cannot watch the Giants live.

    9) The Pass (1985). Doug Flutie's 60 yeard heave to Gerald Phelan in the closing seconds of a regular season game against Miami on Thanksgiving Day. It capped an extraordinary display of offense by both teams.

    8) The Tackle (1999). The Tennessee Titans' Steve McNair, on the last play of scrimmage in Super Bowl, completes a pass to Kevin Dyson at the Rams' one yard line. Mike Jones makes the game-saving tackle as Dyson tries in vain to break the plane of the end zone.

    7) Mark Ingram's catch (1990). Super Bowl XXV, third quarter, down by two, third and 13 at the Buffalo 32. Ingram catches a two yard pass, breaks four tackles, and gets the first down. The Giants take the lead on that drive, which was the longest in Super Bowl history.

    6) The Dunk (1983). Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma was supposed to destroy N.C. State in the 1983 NCAA tournament final. Lo and behold, an airball + Lorenzo Charles = Jim Valvano running around the court like a maniac.

    5) Joe Theisman's last play (1985). Monday Night Football's introduction of it's "super-slo-mo" instand replay coincided with Lawrence Taylor sacking Theisman into the back of Leonard Marshall (I think). Immediately after the play ended, Taylor started gesticulating wildly to the Redskins bench for their trainer. ABC showed why -- the images of Theisman's leg breaking must have been replayed in super slo mo at least ten times before play resumed. I have no memory of who won that game, but I'll always remember Theisman's shin bending in the most unnatural way.

    4) Michael Jordan's final minute as a Bull (1998). Strong drive to the basket for a lay-up. A steal of Karl Malone under the Bulls' basket. A a 20-footer with 5.2 seconds left, nothing but net. Having seen the final shot replay numerous times, I'm still not sure if Byron Russell fell down because Jordan faked him out or if there was a push.

    3) The fourth set tie-breaker (1979). The British despised John McEnroe before his first final against Bjorn Borg. After the tiebreaker in the fourth set -- in which McEnroe fought off five match points -- the relationship turned more into a love-hate one. With the big serves in today's tennis, I'm not sure this match will ever be equalled.

    2) Back to Foulke (2004). Until Foulke caught that ball, I wasn't completely convinced that the Red Sox were actually going to win the World Series (The NESN DVD, interestingly enough, shows that Foulke almost didn't hold onto the ball). The moment he caught it, I stopped caring about 1978, 1986, etc....

    1) David Ortiz's final at-bat, ALCS, Game 5 (2004). Sure, Ortiz hit more dramatic homers, but his at-bat against Loiza led to the walk-off hit than ended the greatest game of the 2004 postseason, and perhaps the greatest game ever in baseball. Loiza hada lousy 2004 season, but he pitched well that night, and Ortiz fought off five straight nasty cut fastballs before he finally muscled the game-winning single.

    The end of this game is #1 for another reason -- my wife finally got it. Until Game 5, Erika thought my Red Sox fandom was a particularly extreme aberrational aspect of my behavior. Fox's coverage of the extra innings -- in which there were plenty of shots of fans on both sides gnawing at anything to try to keep some semblance of emotional control -- convinced my lovely wife that this was a regional epidemic, and hardly unique to me.

    That's it -- feel free to add yours. [Where the hell is the Miracle on Ice? You saw that, right?--ed. Oh, I saw it, but no one outside of the ice rink saw it live. ABC showed the game tape-delayed. And thank God there was no World Wide Web back then, because it would have been too tempting to find out who had won beforehand. As it was, my parents turned off all the radios and TVs in the house to ensure ignorance.]

    posted by Dan at 08:18 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, July 8, 2005

    Sunday night, or what you will

    From the Associated Press:

    James Henry Smith was a zealous Pittsburgh Steelers fan in life, and even death could not keep him from his favorite spot: in a recliner, in front of a TV showing his beloved team in action.

    Smith, 55, of Pittsburgh, died of prostate cancer Thursday. Because his death wasn't unexpected, his family was able to plan for an unusual viewing Tuesday night.

    The Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home erected a small stage in a viewing room, and arranged furniture on it much as it was in Smith's home on game day Sundays.

    Smith's body was on the recliner, his feet crossed and a remote in his hand. He wore black and gold silk pajamas, slippers and a robe. A pack of cigarettes and a beer were at his side, while a high-definition TV played a continuous loop of Steelers highlights.

    "I couldn't stop crying after looking at the Steeler blanket in his lap," said his sister, MaryAnn Nails, 58. "He loved football and nobody did (anything) until the game went off. It was just like he was at home."

    Readers are free to interpret the story as an example of:

    A) The ne plus ultra of fan devotion;
    B) A sign of the cultural apocalypse;
    C) A future growth field for the funeral industry.
    D) A scene that really, really should have been in Shaun of the Dead

    Me, I'm still trying to stop laughing.

    posted by Dan at 04:31 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, July 6, 2005

    Those passionate Brits

    London has won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. The city defeated Paris in the final vote -- since 1992, the French capital has lost out three times in a row (to Barcelona, Beijing, and now London).

    This Associated Press report suggests that the International Olympic Committee was swayed by the passion of the British boosters:

    "Two different strategies -- the French and the British," Dutch member Anton Geesink said. "The British, they explained their love of the sport. It is a love affair for Sebastian Coe, that was the difference. Love you can explain, but you can't sell it."

    Senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper said London won because of the way it sold its message in the final hours.

    "They delivered on the day," he said. "The presentation just had that little extra feel."

    Which is not to say that the French weren't passionate -- it's just that the passion of their president, Jacques Chirac, might have been directed at the wrong targets:

    The French and the British are having another food fight.

    It broke out Monday when the French newspaper Liberation reported that French President Jacques Chirac had labeled British cuisine the worst in Europe except for Finland's. He also was quoted as saying that mad cow disease was Britain's sole contribution to European agriculture and that "we can't trust people who have such bad food."

    The British press responded in reliable fashion.

    "Don't talk crepe, Jacques!" scorned London's tabloid Sun.

    "A man full of bile is not fit to pronounce on food," food critic Egon Ronay told the Guardian....

    While the British are used to a cultural rivalry with the French, Chirac could have damaged his country's Olympic bid by tarring Finland with the same basting brush.

    London's Sun noted that although British and French International Olympic Committee members are banned from voting, two Finnish IOC members will be voting, and their ballots could be crucial.

    posted by Dan at 11:09 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, July 1, 2005

    How to reverse New England's demographic decline

    Stan Grossfeld reports in the Boston Globe about the deeper social impact of the Boston Red Sox winning a world championship last year:

    When Jason Varitek leaped into Keith Foulke's arms Oct. 27, 2004, they weren't the only ones embracing on that glorious night across Red Sox Nation.

    Back in Boston, Dr. Robyn Riseberg and her husband, Doug, had a couple of beers, decided the stars were aligned, and celebrated the World Series championship in their own way. ''I will not refute that," said Riseberg, blushing slightly.

    Now, there's living proof.

    Emma Smith Riseberg, 5 pounds 5 ounces, was born June 18 at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, six weeks early and with a head of hair that would make Johnny Damon envious. She is the first known baby conceived after the Red Sox won the world championship. Baby Emma already has a full Red Sox wardrobe and tickets in Section 16 from her season ticket-holding grandparents. Dr. Riseberg, a lifelong Sox fan, was on bed rest for eight weeks. ''We have Red Sox in our blood," she said. ''She gave me a run for my money, just like the Sox."

    There are already signs of a ''Red Sox phenomenon," according to Isis Maternity, the largest provider of childbirth education and parent services in New England. The due dates start roughly in mid-July, nine months after the Evil Empire was destroyed in four straight games, and continue through August.

    ''Last week we sold more memberships than we had any other week," said Jo Myers McChesney, cofounder of Isis Maternity. ''There could definitely be a little bit of a Red Sox phenomenon going on. People being fired up after the playoffs and the World Series. We have strong class enrollment for couples delivering in late July and August, and they may very well end up being higher than other months."

    Red Sox newborn baby clothes are flying off the shelves faster than Dave Roberts dashing for second base.

    ''We have definitely sold record numbers of Red Sox paraphernalia," said McChesney. ''Onesies for babies, teeny tiny T-shirts for newborns with Red Sox logos. We have definitely seen and expect to see an increase in kids named Manny."

    Click here for the Globe's accompanying photo essay.

    posted by Dan at 09:29 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, June 16, 2005

    The biggest threat to Moneyball

    With all of the debate over the business logic underlying Michael Lewis' Moneyball, there was a simple underlying assumption behind the book -- baseball teams that are successful on the field are also successful at the gate.

    Erik Ahlberg had a front-pager in yesterday's Wall Street Journal suggesting that this assumption doesn't necessarily hold for the Chicago White Sox:

    The Chicago White Sox have the best record in baseball, and their best chance in years of ending an 88-year drought of World Series championships. But here in one of America's great sports towns, hardly anyone seems to care.

    The team has tried almost everything to lure fans, including half-price tickets on Mondays, $1 hot dogs, and roving bands of cheerleaders who give free tickets to anyone who happens to be wearing a White Sox hat or jersey. Still, the Sox are averaging only 23,000 fans a game -- a tad more than half the capacity of their South Side home, U.S. Cellular Field. When the Sox recently faced another first-place team, the Los Angeles Angels, only about 20,000 showed up, despite delightful weather and a 2-for-1 ticket special.

    "I've always said that the PR department should just hand out tickets to the upper deck -- they'd at least get the money for parking," Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle says. Despite his 7-1 won-loss record, the 6-foot-2-inch lefthander says he rarely gets recognized around town....

    At the heart of the Sox's troubled wooing of Chicago lies a conundrum worthy of Yogi Berra: They haven't been good enough to win, and they haven't been bad enough to tap into baseball's romance with hapless losers....

    as of yesterday afternoon, the Sox led the American League's Central Division by five games. They've built their 42-21 record on strong pitching, speedy base-running and late-inning comebacks. Mirroring the South Side's rough-and-tumble image, the team consists mostly of scrappy, low-priced, no-name players.

    Some blame attendance problems on owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who threatened to move the team to Florida in the 1980s and was a leading hard-liner in the 1994 baseball strike, which began when the Sox happened to be in first place in their division.

    Some fans say Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs and two of Chicago's biggest media outlets -- the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV -- slights the Sox in its coverage. Mike North, a local sports-radio host, says the Sox get the most ink when there's a crime near their ballpark. Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath says, "We try to be as fair and balanced as we can."

    Many people fault Comiskey Park, which one local columnist has described as having the feel of West Berlin during the Cold War. The park, which replaced the old Comiskey in 1991 and was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003, is bordered by a rust-stained concrete wall, train tracks and an interstate highway. Some of Chicago's toughest housing projects loom beyond the outfield fence. There are only a few bars within walking distance....

    The Cell, as the team's ballpark is often called here, was one of the last efficient but unappealing fields built before stadiums in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and San Francisco showed how to design a park that's equal parts ballfield and tourist attraction. In response to fan complaints, the White Sox have spent $80 million over the past five years to make their stadium cozier, adding shapely awnings, tearing off the uppermost rows and, for opening day next year, switching seats from blue to forest green.

    There are advantages to attending a Sox game. Bathroom lines are short and foul balls are easier to nab. But many Chicagoans prefer the cozy confines of historic Wrigley Field, with its ivy-covered outfield walls, hand-operated scoreboard and neighborhood teeming with saloons. Despite a mediocre performance most of the year, the second-place Cubs have played to 98% capacity, and nearly had a sellout April 23 when they lost to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates in near-freezing temperatures with 25-mile-an-hour winds blasting off Lake Michigan.

    "Even if we win the World Series this year, Wrigley will still sell out next year," Sox first baseman Paul Konerko says. "But I can't guarantee we'd be sold out here."

    As it turns out, last night I took my father to a pretty exciting game at the Cell -- and would have to concur that the West Berlin answer makes the most sense. The park itself is actually quite nice -- it's not Wrigley, mind you, but it's fan-friendly. However, there is simply nothing (in the way of shops, restaurants, bars, etc.) surrounding the ballpark.

    UPDATE: As has been pointed out in the comments, there is a double irony in all of this -- most sabermetric analysts predicted that this year's White Sox team -- built on speed and pitching -- would crash and burn.

    posted by Dan at 12:54 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, June 6, 2005

    What I got out of Mark Felt this week

    The orgy of commentary and journalism produced by the revelation that W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat has been staggering -- and mostly unproductive. The revelation that a key source for Woodward and Bernstein was the number two man in the FBI and a J. Edgar Hoover loyalist has produced a lot of bullshit -- and in the case of Pat Buchanan, outright lies.

    So has there been any commentary of value to be gleaned from this revelation? I've seen two things worth reading -- though both of them are only tangental to Felt's coming out party. Surprisingly enough, they're written by two people who probably don't get along very well -- David Brooks and Sasha Issenberg (click on this Noam Scheiber essay to find out why they don't get along).

    Brooks does a great riff off of Bob Woodward's first person account of how he first met and got to know Felt. This allows him to talk about the topic he covers so well -- what aspiring young people do to get ahead:

    Bob Woodward... was in the midst of the starting-gate frenzy.

    Places like Washington and New York attract large numbers of ambitious young people who have spent their short lives engaged in highly structured striving: getting good grades, getting into college. Suddenly they are spit out into the vast, anarchic world of adulthood, surrounded by a teeming horde of scrambling peers, and a chaos of possibilities and pitfalls. They discover that though they are really good at manipulating the world of classrooms, they have no clue about how actual careers develop, how people move from post to post.

    And all they have to do to find their way amid this confusion is to answer one little question: What is the meaning and purpose of my life?

    ....Entering the world of the Higher Shamelessness, they begin networking like mad, cultivating the fine art of false modesty and calculated friendships. The most nakedly ambitious - the blogging Junior Lippmanns - rarely win in the long run, but that doesn't mean you can't mass e-mail your essays for obscure online sites with little "Thought you might be interested" notes....

    This is now a normal stage of life. And if Bob Woodward could get through something like it, perhaps they will too.

    For that is the purpose of Watergate in today's culture. It isn't about Nixon and the cover-up anymore. It's about Woodward and Bernstein. Watergate has become a modern Horatio Alger story, a real-life fairy tale, an inspiring ode for mediacentric college types - about the two young men who found exciting and challenging jobs, who slew the dragon, who became rich and famous by doing good and who were played by Redford and Hoffman in the movie version.

    As you would expect, one Junior Lippman takes the time to respond -- but if you ask me, Brooks' point has attracted too much attention for it to be dismissed lightly -- see Elizabeth Bumiller and Tim Noah for more on this theme.

    Issenberg, meanwhile, has a great piece in Slate about how Felt's revelations bring to mind an excellent Watergate movie -- and it ain't All the President's Men:

    Unlike the movie that made Woodward and Bernstein into matinee idols, the 1999 comedy Dick stripped Watergate of its cloak-and-dagger and left it in pigtails....

    Superficially, Dick was a spoof on All the President's Men. In place of the earlier film's battle between two grand Washington institutions, Dick renders the White House and the Washington Post as sitcom offices. Heroic Woodward is played not by dashing Redford, but by Will Ferrell, with the halting inanity he brings to every role.

    But Dick was really a riposte to Oliver Stone's 1991 epic JFK, which trolled every nook and cranny of Kennedy-assassination conspiracy. In exploring each little question raised by the events in Dallas (including many that are settled, in the eyes of every serious scholar), Stone seeks out the most abstrusely nefarious explanation possible....

    Our disenchantment with Deep Throat follows a common American narrative: What begins as conspiracy is eventually reduced to camp. Dick sends up what Richard Hofstadter in 1964 identified as "the paranoid style in American politics." The movie doesn't make light of Watergate—the gravity of Nixon's crimes isn't questioned, and his young friends are shocked by his meanness, even if he doesn't come across as diabolical—as much as it spoofs the narrative impulses that drew us to Watergate as a tale. Both Dick and the recent Deep Throat unveiling leave us to reckon with the dissonance of Watergate's importance and its minor-league cast of characters. With JFK, Oliver Stone tried to invent a story that, in its sprawling scope, could be as big as the death of a president—a counterpoint to a Warren Commission version written in a language of narrowing: lone gunman, single-bullet theory. In Dick, both heroes and villains come only in size small: They are all central-casting buffoons.

    Hmmm.... paranoid style in American politics infecting public commentary... yes, that sounds familiar. Well, at least Felt's revelations will put the conspiracy meme to rest on this question. Oh, wait....

    posted by Dan at 06:08 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, June 5, 2005

    Giving a whole new meaning to "the chosen people" means

    This Economist story makes me very, very uncomfortable:

    The idea that some ethnic groups may, on average, be more intelligent than others is one of those hypotheses that dare not speak its name. But Gregory Cochran, a noted scientific iconoclast, is prepared to say it anyway. He is that rare bird, a scientist who works independently of any institution....

    Together with Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending, of the University of Utah, he is publishing, in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Biosocial Science, a paper which not only suggests that one group of humanity is more intelligent than the others, but explains the process that has brought this about. The group in question are Ashkenazi Jews. The process is natural selection.

    Ashkenazim generally do well in IQ tests, scoring 12-15 points above the mean value of 100, and have contributed disproportionately to the intellectual and cultural life of the West, as the careers of Freud, Einstein and Mahler, pictured above, affirm. They also suffer more often than most people from a number of nasty genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs and breast cancer. These facts, however, have previously been thought unrelated. The former has been put down to social effects, such as a strong tradition of valuing education. The latter was seen as a consequence of genetic isolation. Even now, Ashkenazim tend to marry among themselves. In the past they did so almost exclusively.

    Dr Cochran, however, suspects that the intelligence and the diseases are intimately linked. His argument is that the unusual history of the Ashkenazim has subjected them to unique evolutionary pressures that have resulted in this paradoxical state of affairs.

    Read the whole article to understand the explanation of Cochran et al. Here's a link to their working paper on the topic.

    The thing is, Cochran has also advanced the idea that, "homosexuality is caused by an infection," which is just strange.

    posted by Dan at 04:58 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, June 1, 2005

    No one trashes guido the killer pimp on my watch!!!

    What could David Adesnik be thinking?:

    [I]n case you were thinking of watching Risky Business after reading about it on OxBlog, I have one word for you: Don't.

    Any movie with the line, "Joel, get off the babysitter" deserves better treatment than that. Heresy, I say!! Heresy!!

    On a slightly more serious note -- I haven't seen the movie in some years, but my memory is that it's quite a good flick. The interesting question is whether this is true because I first saw the movie when I was roughly the protagonist's age. It's possible -- not probable, but possible -- that I'm viewing this film through rose-colored glasses. There are movies that occupy a more prominent place in our personal pantheons because of when we see them, and the good memories we associate with that time. There are "generational" movies that are valued because they click on some level with one's entire peer group -- The Shawshank Redemption for Generation Y or Rebel Without A Cause for baby-boomers, for example.

    Readers are encouraged to debate the merits of Risky Business, or to confess the movies that they adore but recognize may not be as good as they originally thought. Oh. and this seems as good a time as any to link to Time's "All-Time 100 Movies."

    UPDATE: Hey, apparently this concern of mine has a name -- the Tron effect.

    posted by Dan at 11:05 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

    Friday, May 20, 2005

    Frank Gorshin, R.I.P. (1933-2005)

    The Frank Gorshin -- a.k.a., the Riddler -- is dead.

    Over at Hit & Run, Jeff Taylor observes:

    I'm not certain, but I think Frank Gorshin introduced me to idea of actors as real people. My little 4 or 5-year-old brain vividly seized upon the fact that the guy who was the Riddler on the 60s Batman TV series seemed to be the same guy in the wild black-white face make-up in that Star Trek show -- and boy was Bele sweaty!

    Oddly enough, Gorshin played a role in my movie education -- an awareness of costume design.

    In the 1966 Batman movie, Frank Gorshin wore the most awesome-looking suit I'd ever seen -- it's what Gorshin's wearing on the front page of his web site. Nothing Jim Carrey wore in Batman Forever comes close to it. The moment I saw Gorshin cavorting around in it, I didn't want to be Batman anymore -- the Riddler was the guy for me.

    Reading the obits, I was delighted to find out in Joal Ryan's E! Online story that Gorshin's co-star loved the costume as well:

    Outfit in the archvillain's question-mark-covered green body-stocking, Gorshin bedeviled Gotham City's finest--Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, respectively--with a manic energy, a hyena laugh and assorted tranquilizer guns....

    Gorshin appeared in eight episodes, encompassing four cliffhanger storylines broadcast on back-to-back nights, in Batman's first breakout season. Then he picked up an Emmy nomination. Then he did the movie, teaming up with Bat enemies Cesar Romero (the Joker), Burgess Meredith (the Penguin) and Meriwether (Catwoman).

    Then Gorshin got a little worn out on the costume.

    "He didn't like the tights--I know that," Meriwether remembered Wednesday. "Back then, they were cotton and they [only] had a little bit of stretch in them...[In the movie], they gave him a gorgeous suit to wear--oh, it was wonderful."

    The Riddler is dead.... or is he???????????

    posted by Dan at 03:16 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, May 19, 2005

    Pssst.... religious conservatives... here's some red meat

    CBS chairman Leslie Moonves has revamped his Friday lineup. According to this MSN Entertainment story, both his decision and his explanation is likely to rile up religious conservatives:

    CBS canceled "Judging Amy," "Joan of Arcadia" and the Wednesday spinoff of "60 Minutes" while adding Jennifer Love Hewitt to its prime-time lineup — all in search of a more youthful appeal....

    CBS is convinced it can draw more younger viewers on Friday, where "Joan of Arcadia" had a puzzling decline in its sophomore season and "JAG" finished its last year. It will try two new supernatural stories: "Threshold" features a team of experts called in when the Navy discovers aliens have landed in the Atlantic Ocean. Hewitt's "Ghost Whisperer" finds her talking to dead people.

    "I think talking to ghosts may skew younger than talking to God," Moonves said. (emphasis added)

    The Reuters account makes it clear that Moonves said this in jest, but religious conservatives might not get the joke... plus, they'll be too angry about the cancellation of "Joan" to make way for a Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle.... particularly if Hewitt's wardrobe conforms to her stereotype.

    UPDATE: Yep -- Drudge has the story. Again, it's worth stressing the Reuters account ("'I think talking to ghosts may skew younger than talking to God,' Moonves joked at a news conference before the upfront presentation).

    I suspect this is a case where reading the quote in cold print strikes a dramatically different chord than the effect of hearing Moonves say it.

    posted by Dan at 12:38 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, May 18, 2005

    Why I love geek culture

    Go read either James Lileks on the end (for now) of the Star Trek franchise or Harry Brighouse on taking his daughter to see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and you will know what it means to truly adore a work of popular culture.

    posted by Dan at 01:49 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, May 16, 2005

    The confessions of George Lucas

    For me, coming out of a vacation news vacuum is like moving from still water to a class ten rapid in thirty seconds -- there's just too much to catch up on. [Didn't you read anything while you were gone?--ed. Honestly, I didn't surf the web at all and the only thing I read in a newspaper that caught my eye was a reprint of this Victor David Hanson essay blasting the concept of tenure.]

    Later on in the week I'll try to deal with violence in Uzbekistan, the explosive situation in Afghanistan (and Newsweek's monumental f@#$-up that triggered the problem), but to start post-vacation blogging, let's get to something really important... like George Lucas confessing his moviemaking sins.

    In an Entertainment Weekly cover story by Jeff Jensen (sorry, the story is mysteriously absent from EW's Star Wars index page -- which is one of many things wrong with EW's web site, but that's off-topic), we get this little tidbit from George Lucas about how he feels about the prequel trilogy:

    [I]n discussing the process that birthed the prequels, Lucas finally seems capable of being candid. one are the If it made $400 million then it must have been good and The kids loved it! rationalizations (both of which can be strongly supported) that he peddled while promoting Clones. Now he volunteers that his prequel story line -- derived from material he'd brainstormed over 30 years ago to inform his writing of Star Wars -- was "thin.... It was not written as a movie. It's basically a character study and exhibition piece about politics--two things that are not dramatic. [Not like] the dramatic story that was constructed for Star Wars. But I wanted to be faithful to it, so I didn't construct other stories. It is what it is."

    Nor did he want to consolidate Menace and Clones, either. Lucas felt that exploring "the full range of Anakin's personality" made sense if three films addressed him at three different ages. And he wanted no hint of the dark side in Skywalker until Sith. "He has to start good and turn evil," says Lucas. "You can't have a monster turning into a monster. That's not a story."

    Lucas believes that his biggest gamble was starting the saga with Jake Lloyd's gee-whiz kid in Menace. Even his marketing team was skeptical. "That's a little bit why it got overhyped. People [here] were nervous if it was going to break even," says Lucas of Menace's notorious promotional push. "I didn't care. I said, 'This is the story. I know I'm going to need to use Hamburger Helper to get it to two hours, but that's what I want to do.'"

    By Lucas' own calculation, 60 percent of the prequel plot he dreamed up decades earlier takes place in Sith. The remaining 40 percent he split evenly between Menace and Clones, meaning each film contained a lot of...filler. Or, in Lucas parlance, "jazz riffs... things that I enjoy... just doodle around a lot."

    I'm glad to hear that Lucas agrees with me about the quality of his last two films... except that Lucas didn't cop to this when Episodes I and II came out. And the promotional campaign for Episode III has been just as heavy as the roll-out for Episode I. So I'm not getting close to a movie house for this one unless there's multiple independent confirmations that the movie is good. [But in the Jensen story the Star Wars-obsessed Kevin Smith is quoted saying, "Sith will not only enthrall the faithful, but it'll pull the haters back from the Dark Side."--ed. Two words: Jersey Girl.]

    To date I've been able to resist the siren song of Revenge of the Sith. Reading Jensen's story and thinking about Lucas' execrable "Hamburger Helper" will make it even harder to turn me to the dark side.

    [You'll see it at some point. It is your.... destiny--ed. Oh, go do promos for CNN or something.]

    UPDATE: Well, A.O. Scott praises the movie in the New York Times, but has this ominous line: "Mr. Lucas's indifference to two fairly important aspects of moviemaking - acting and writing - is remarkable." Meanwhile, Kelli nicely encapsulates my attitude towards Lucas -- and asks an interesting question: "whether to take the kids." Sith is rated PG-13. Discuss away!!

    posted by Dan at 02:03 AM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (3)

    Sunday, April 24, 2005

    In praise of the average Americans

    If there is one thing that too many modern-day Democrat and Republican party elites share, it's a mild contempt for the average American. For Democrats, Americans are obese spendthrifts susceptible to faith-based argumentation at the expeense of logic and evidence. For Republicans, Americans are obese spendthrifts susceptible to the temptations of a debased popular culture at the expense of moral probity.

    Well, a bunch of stories this week suggest that the average American is a hell of a lot smarter than the donkey and elephant elites.

    Over at Slate, Daniel Gross observes that Americans are responding to interest rate increases by.... reducing their spending and paying off their debts:

    It turns out many customers are having entirely rational reactions to rising interest rates (and perhaps the new bankruptcy law). They're taking the sometimes painful steps necessary to reduce credit card debt before it gets too onerous. Perhaps MBNA was caught short because it has taken consumers so long to wake up. For nearly 20 years, consumers were schooled to believe that interest rates generally fell and that any increases were short-term blips. Now, the Fed has boosted rates seven times recently, and we've entered a period in which interest rates will likely rise or remain stable—but not fall.

    Credit card companies have been operating in an era of falling interest rates so long that they may have forgotten that when interest rates rise, people either seek to pay down debt or look for cheaper sources of financing....

    There's another wrinkle in the complex interest-rate climate that may hurt credit card companies. Interest rates on credit cards tend to respond to moves in short-term interest rates, which means they are rising. But mortgage rates respond to moves in long-term interest rates. And those rates remain remarkably low. Since long-term rates are steady, it now makes more sense for people who need cash to turn to a home-equity line of credit rather than to an MBNA card.

    At the margins, some Americans seem to be using their slowly growing incomes to reduce credit card debt rather than to buy new stuff. (That could be one factor behind March's weak retail spending report.)

    And while we're on the subject of consumer behavior, could commentators please stop bashing Americans for not saving enough when they are acting rationally? If the assets that Americans hold -- like equities or their houses, for example -- are dramatically increasing in value, then it makes sense that their stream of additional savings will taper off.

    Meanwhile, earlier this week Jonathan Bor and Frank Roylance reported in the Baltimore Sun that just a smidgen of obesity might be good for you:

    Government analysts downgraded the annual death toll from obesity Tuesday in a study that is certain to bewilder a public already obsessed with dieting and nutrition.

    In fact, they inexplicably found that people who weigh a few pounds more than the ideal are less likely to die than those who weigh a few pounds less.

    Taken together, the findings will undoubtedly leave scientists and consumers arguing over obesity's true role in mortality -- though no one argues that being overweight is good for you.

    The latest report by scientists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that obesity kills about 112,000 people a year, only a third of the number estimated just four months ago....

    The study, which mines data from three national health surveys spanning the 1970s through 2000, also found that people who are slightly overweight actually have a lower chance of dying than people who weigh a few pounds less.

    The same cannot be said for people who are truly obese; they face a greater risk the more weight they gain.

    Health experts agree that American are becoming fatter with each passing year, leading to an epidemic of diabetes, even among children.

    Still, Tuesday's announcement will hearten critics who have argued that government agencies, which spend millions convincing Americans to eat less and exercise more, have inflated obesity's death toll.

    The legal team here at would like to remind everyone that this report does not recommend obesity and that anyone now tempted to go order several Hardee's Monster Thickburgers are doing so at their own discretion and not with the blessing of More seriously, check out food economist Parke Wilde for an informed appraisal of the ramifications of the CDCP study.

    Finally, that allegedly brain-dead American boob tube may acually provide more cognitive stimulation than previously thought. Steven Johnson explains why this might be true in the New York Times Magazine:

    For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

    I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down. And yet you almost never hear this story in popular accounts of today's media. Instead, you hear dire tales of addiction, violence, mindless escapism. It's assumed that shows that promote smoking or gratuitous violence are bad for us, while those that thunder against teen pregnancy or intolerance have a positive role in society. Judged by that morality-play standard, the story of popular culture over the past 50 years -- if not 500 -- is a story of decline: the morals of the stories have grown darker and more ambiguous, and the antiheroes have multiplied.

    The usual counterargument here is that what media have lost in moral clarity, they have gained in realism. The real world doesn't come in nicely packaged public-service announcements, and we're better off with entertainment like ''The Sopranos'' that reflects our fallen state with all its ethical ambiguity. I happen to be sympathetic to that argument, but it's not the one I want to make here. I think there is another way to assess the social virtue of pop culture, one that looks at media as a kind of cognitive workout, not as a series of life lessons. There may indeed be more ''negative messages'' in the mediasphere today. But that's not the only way to evaluate whether our television shows or video games are having a positive impact. Just as important -- if not more important -- is the kind of thinking you have to do to make sense of a cultural experience. That is where the Sleeper Curve becomes visible.

    Read the whole thing. The only troubling note I found in the piece was the admission that, "The only prominent holdouts [to more cognitively sophisticated plots] in drama are shows like ''Law and Order'' that have essentially updated the venerable ''Dragnet'' format and thus remained anchored to a single narrative line." Which is true, except that when you tally up all the "Law and Order" and "CSI" shows & spinoffs, that's an awful lot of the prime time schedule.

    Johnson earns my goodwill, however, by labeling his phenomenon the Sleeper Curve after this classic exchange from the Woody Allen movie Sleeper:

    SCIENTIST A: Has he asked for anything special?
    SCIENTIST B: Yes, this morning for breakfast . . . he requested something called ''wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk.''
    SCIENTIST A: Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances that some years ago were felt to contain life-preserving properties.
    SCIENTIST B: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot fudge?
    SCIENTIST A: Those were thought to be unhealthy.

    posted by Dan at 09:09 PM | Comments (70) | Trackbacks (2)

    Monday, April 18, 2005

    Why my head hurts right now

    Alex Mindlin recounts an apparently real dispute about what constitutes fiction between the writers Michael Chabon and Paul Maliszewski in the New York Times. The highlights:

    It was the kind of headline that sells. "Michael Chabon's Holocaust Hoax," read the cover of the April-May issue of Bookforum. Inside, the article, by Paul Maliszewski, suggested that Mr. Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, had exceeded the bounds of poetic license in a lecture that he has given perhaps half a dozen times since 2003.

    In the lecture, titled "Golems I Have Known, or, Why My Eldest Son's Name Is Napoleon," Mr. Chabon recounts a version of his childhood, laced with some tall tales (saying, for instance, that he has encountered several golems, the clay monsters of Jewish lore), and tells the story of a counterfeit Holocaust survivor he'd once met who turns out to be an ex-Nazi in hiding.

    Mr. Maliszewski pointed out that the Nazi character was entirely fictional, and contended that Mr. Chabon had misled his listeners into believing it was real. He suggested that Mr. Chabon had "fashioned a Jewish identity for himself that incorporates - through an utter fiction - the Holocaust."

    The lecture's organizers have said the lecture was clearly advertised as a series of yarns. In a letter that will be printed in the next issue of Bookforum, Matthew Brogan, program director for the Jewish literary nonprofit organization Nextbook, which sponsored some of the performances, wrote that Mr. Chabon had "signaled to the audience at every turn that the narrator is not to be completely trusted." Mr. Maliszewski, he added, had "deliberately misread these signs in the hope of stirring up a scandal."

    In the Bookforum article, Mr. Maliszewski admits that, as a reporter at a Syracuse business newspaper, he besieged his own paper with parodic letters to the editor. Later, he became the Web editor of McSweeney's Quarterly, a job that his editor said ended when Mr. Maliszewski sent McSweeney's subscribers an anonymous e-mail newsletter full of invented gossip about other writers.

    So if I understand this correctly: A writer that has frequently fudged facts for fun has fingered a fellow fabulist for fictionalizing facts for fortune, even though that fabulist foretold his fictions before his oration. [Now my head hurts--ed. If I'm going down, I'm taking people with me!]

    Seriously, it seems like Maliszewski is off his rocker.

    posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Charles Krauthammer misses the best part

    On Friday Krauthammer penned a column about how the Washington Nationals have rekindled his passion for baseball. What happened to it before? Naturally, he was a Red Sox fan:

    Then came the 1986 World Series and the Great Buckner Collapse. At that point, I figured I'd suffered enough. I got a divorce. Amicable, but still a divorce. With a prodigious act of will, I resolved to follow the Sox -- but at an enforced distance. I refused to live or die with them. Which is how I got through Grady's Blunder -- leaving Pedro in too long -- in Game 7 of the 2003 Red Sox-Yankees playoff.

    It was a hard fall for Sox fans, but I came through it beautifully -- feeling delighted, indeed somewhat superior, at my partial emancipation from the irrationality of fandom (far more troubling than the pain). Thus a free man, almost purged of all allegiance, I watched with near-indifference as the Montreal Expos moved to Washington. Little did I know.

    I know this is a lighter column for Krauthammer, but it's almost criminally negligent for him to go from discussing his passion for the Sox to his interest in the Nats without mentioning how he felt being on the outside looking in at the Red Sox successful 2004 season.

    posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, April 15, 2005

    The cyberbalkanization of trivia?

    Bryan Curtis has an interesting essay at Slate about the alleged decline and fall of Trivial Pursuit at the hands of the Internet. The closing two pragraphs:

    How could Trivial Pursuit survive in the age of Google? The Internet has rewritten the rules of the game. The old measure of the trivia master was how many facts he could cram into his head. The new measure is how nimbly he can manipulate a search engine to call up the answer. The ABC show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire included a lifeline called "phone-a-friend," in which a desperate contestant was supposed to call upon the knowledge of a smart companion. Seconds after the contestant dialed for help, you could hear the guy on the other end pecking away at a keyboard—Googling—and I thought, This is it. Trivia is dead.

    That's overstating it a little. Trivia lives; it's generalist trivia, the kind of fluency that Trivial Pursuit prized, that's ailing. Just as the Internet splintered trivia into thousands of niches, Trivial Pursuit has contented itself with turning out games like "90s Time Capsule" and "Book Lover's," and, more frighteningly, those devoted solely to the vagaries of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Gone is the proud generalist of the original Trivial Pursuit, who knew the most common Russian surname (Ivanov) and the international radio code word for the letter O (Oscar). In his place is the specialist, who knows every inch of Return of the Jedi. There are many of us who have a nagging fear we belong to the latter group. "What jungle planet do Wookiees hail from?" a Star Wars card asks. Let's say, hypothetically and only for the sake of argument, that I know the answer. Who is supposed to be impressed by that?

    This argument is akin to Cass Sunstein's "cyberbalkanization" hypothesis from The only problem is that Curtis contradicts his closing earlier in the piece by observing: "23 years after its American debut, the original [Genus] edition still accounts for a huge percentage of Trivial Pursuit's 80 million units sold." If memory serves, a Genus II edition was also pitched to the generalist. In fact, since most trivia games are played in person, the Internet's effect on this social institution is likely to be marginal.

    posted by Dan at 12:00 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, April 10, 2005

    Real men don't worry about man dates

    At a group dinner last night, a male friend who shall remain anonymous said that the first thing he read in the Sunday New York Times was the Style Section. In the Drezner household, that section generally falls under Erika's purview -- much like our division of labor with regard to the Book Review. However, I will often look at an article that my lovely wife recommends. The point is, this declaration from a close heterosexual friend neither surprised nor particularly preturbed me.

    Today, however, the front-pager for the Style Section was a Jennifer 8. Lee story about the "man date". Some highlights:

    The delicate posturing began with the phone call.

    The proposal was that two buddies back in New York City for a holiday break in December meet to visit the Museum of Modern Art after its major renovation.

    "He explicitly said, 'I know this is kind of weird, but we should probably go,' " said Matthew Speiser, 25, recalling his conversation with John Putman, 28, a former classmate from Williams College.

    The weirdness was apparent once they reached the museum, where they semi-avoided each other as they made their way through the galleries and eschewed any public displays of connoisseurship. "We definitely went out of our way to look at things separately," recalled Mr. Speiser, who has had art-history classes in his time.

    "We shuffled. We probably both pretended to know less about the art than we did."

    Eager to cut the tension following what they perceived to be a slightly unmanly excursion - two guys looking at art together - they headed directly to a bar....

    Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.

    "Sideways," the Oscar-winning film about two buddies touring the central California wine country on the eve of the wedding of one of them, is one long and boozy man date.

    Although "man date" is a coinage invented for this article, appearing nowhere in the literature of male bonding (or of homosexual panic), the 30 to 40 straight men interviewed, from their 20's to their 50's, living in cities across the country, instantly recognized the peculiar ritual even if they had not consciously examined its dos and don'ts. Depending on the activity and on the two men involved, an undercurrent of homoeroticism that may be present determines what feels comfortable or not on a man date, as Mr. Speiser and Mr. Putman discovered in their squeamishness at the Modern.

    As someone who has gone on the occasional man date, I suspect Ms. Lee might be exaggerating the awkwardness of this particular social institution. Heterosexual men who are unafraid of saying that they read the Sunday Styles section first -- and the men who befriend them -- don't really care what other people think about two men sharing a meal, a movie, or an art gallery.

    Next week in the Style Section, I want to read about trendy reporters who use numbers for middle initials.

    UPDATE: to be fair, Mr. Lee changed her name before she became a reporter and did so for reasons having little to do with trendiness. Plus I've been assured by many that she is a very nice person.

    This doesn't change the fact that the article is a crock of s&#t, however.

    posted by Dan at 11:32 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

    Friday, April 8, 2005

    Funny thing about the comics....


    Jeffrey Zaslow writes in the Wall Street Journal (that link will work for non-subscribers) about how old comic strips are trying to stay fresh. Apparently the "Family Circus" above is one such example. Others include, according to Zaslow:

    Blondie's daughter, Cookie, is dressing like Britney Spears....

    Lately, Little Orphan Annie has landed in a North Korean jail and foiled terrorist plots....

    Dick Tracy chases corporate crooks, including one with a trophy wife in continual need of plastic surgery. Prince Valiant might be living in the sixth century, but his current storyline has an ecological theme designed to resonate with 21st-century readers. Blondie uses a laptop in her catering business....

    "Nancy," a character who has been around since 1933, watches "The O.C." on TV and recently booted her friend Sluggo from a competition a lot like "American Idol." Her Aunt Fritzi drives a sport-utility vehicle and loves such country-music stars as Faith Hill and Shania Twain....

    The more macro trend Zaslow identifies is the barrier to entry that keeping old strips on the funny pages presents:

    Other young cartoonists complain that cosmetic makeovers in these "dinosaur strips" are masking recycled plots and gags. They say a comic should die when its creator does. "There's all this new talent not making it on comics pages because newspapers are running Blondie and Nancy," says Stacy Curtis, a 33-year-old editorial cartoonist for the Times of Northwest Indiana, in Munster, who has had three strip ideas rejected by syndicates.

    The half-dozen major syndicates receive 10,000 or so submissions a year from cartoonists. They pick altogether about 12 to 15 to launch. Some syndicates defend their reliance on old strips by saying profits from these popular old war horses allow them to invest in the promotion of new comics....

    Though many old gag comics such as "Blondie" and "Beetle Bailey" are thriving, storyline strips are an endangered species. People don't read newspapers with the regularity they once did, so they don't follow the daily ins and outs of heroines such as red-headed reporter Brenda Starr. And given the fast-paced nature of TV and movies today, people have little patience for a 14-week storyline that plays out with "the speed of a dripping faucet," says Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune columnist who writes "Brenda Starr." Ms. Schmich hopes that strips like hers will gain new life because people can now read dozens of days at a time online.

    What the Internet taketh away, the Internet also giveth. Which makes this as good a time as any to recommend Chris Muir's Day By Day strip.

    posted by Dan at 12:09 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

    Thursday, March 31, 2005

    Warding off the dark lords of dark chocolate

    Fifteen minutes ago I felt a rare craving for a candy bar, and went to buy one. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Twix has introduced a dark chocolate version of their candy bar.

    Apparently, the dark chocolate Twix is part of a larger trend. Julie Scelfo explains in Newsweek:

    All his life, Jason Judkins was seeking something, but he was looking in all the wrong places, like vending machines. "Usually between 2 and 3 o'clock I'd eat a Snickers, a Three Musketeers or a Twix," he recalls. "Then after dinner I'd have chocolate cake, or Hershey's Nuggets, or ice cream with Hershey's syrup." But that was before his first taste of a dark-chocolate truffle from The Cocoa Tree, an artisanal candy store in his town of Franklin, Tenn. Made fresh on the premises from dark chocolate and organic cream and butter, it made his mouth "explode" with tastes he'd never gotten from an M&M. Of course, he could have bought a lot of M&Ms for the price of a single truffle, $1.80 plus tax. But these days he is satisfied with chocolate only a couple of times a week instead of twice a day, and since each piece is 10 times as good, he's way ahead.

    Long after iceberg gave way to arugula, candy remained defiantly retro: cheap, garishly wrapped and tasting just like it did when you were a kid. But eventually, connoisseurship touches everything. The symbol of this revolution is dark chocolate, intensely flavored with cocoa, fragrant and complex. Comparing it with milk chocolate—also made from cocoa, but diluted with milk powder, lecithin and much more sugar—is like comparing wine with grape soda. Once dark chocolate was an obscure and furtive passion that involved haunting drugstores for a stray Lindt bar. Now grocery stores carry Dagoba Organic Chocolate at up to $4.40 for a two-ounce bar, or the Chocovic Ocumare, which caters to the obsessive chocolate snob by listing its cocoa content (71 percent) and the type of bean (Venezuelan Criollo) on the wrapper. Sales of high-end chocolates have risen 20 percent each year since 2001, says Clay Gordon, who runs the Web site. And the revolution has reached even the mass marketers. Hershey's introduced dark-chocolate Kisses in 2003; this year Mars is rolling out dark versions of Twix and, yes, even M&Ms. "Americans have spent the last 10 years educating themselves about wine, olive oil and cheese," says Gordon. "Attention is finally turning to chocolate. The surprise is it's taken this long."

    ....Indeed, anyone with a dollar or two can taste the artisanal truffles of Legacy Chocolates in Menomonie, Wis., or Moonstruck Chocolate Co. in Portland, Ore., or any number of other local chocolatiers now dotting the mallscape. ("Truffle" typically means a soft chocolate confection dusted in cocoa powder; filled chocolates are better described, simply, as "bonbons.") Biting into one, you immediately understand why chocolate has been associated with sex at least since 1519, when the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, became renowned for the vast quantities of hot "xoco latl" he drank before visiting his harem. The rich taste and intoxicating aroma arouse the senses, immediately bestowing pleasure upon the eater. This experience has given rise to a new type of customer, capable of integrating chocolate consumption into a normal, healthy lifestyle, like those French women who don't get fat. (emphasis added)

    As a lifelong dark chocolate afficionado, I fear this to be a bad, bad, bad, bad, delicious trend. The dearth of dark chocolate opportunities has to date been an effective constraint on excessive chocolate consumption. The proliferation of dark chocolate "microbrews" could overwhelm my feeble abstinence instinct -- this is the candy equivalent of Salma Hayek showing up on my doorstep wearing nothing but a terrycloth robe and asking for a foot massage.

    My only viable strategy might be to insist on consuming only very gourmet chocolates. [You could just exercise more and eat less. Or you could be like Virginia Postrel and eat more spinach--ed. No one likes it when you act like a rational editor.]

    posted by Dan at 04:14 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, March 27, 2005

    Right profession, wrong stage of life

    Warren St. John and Alex Williams have a good article in the New York Times Style section about sleep patterns and the character taits that are often incorrectly derived from them. Among the interesting facts:

    Whatever the negative associations with sleeping late, scientists say there's good reason to doubt the boasts of the early risers. Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego, said that in one study he attached motion sensors to subjects' wrists to determine when they were up and about. While 5 percent of the subjects claimed they were awake before 4 a.m., Dr. Kripke said, the motion sensors suggested none of them were. And while 10 percent reported they were up and at 'em by 5 a.m., only 5 percent were out of bed....

    Dr. Kripke said that a 2001 study of adults in San Diego showed no correlation between waking time and income. There's even anecdotal evidence of parity on the world stage; President Bush is said to wake each day at 5 a.m., to be at his desk by 7 and to go to sleep at 10 p.m., while no less an achiever than Russian President Vladimir V. Putin reportedly wakes at 11 a.m. and works until 2 a.m.

    Night owls thrive, it seems, by strategizing around the expectations of the early crowd. Bella M. DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who goes to sleep around 3 a.m. and wakes about 11 a.m., said that before she answers the phone in the late morning, she practices saying "Hello" out loud until she sounds awake. Ms. DePaulo said she has been a night person since childhood, and that she gravitated toward academia in part of because of her sleep habits.

    "Academia is a good place to be if you're out of the mainstream," she said. "If you're doing 80 hours of work a week, what does it matter what 80 hours you work?"

    The sleep schedule is certainly one reason why I gravitated towards academia (and blogging, I suppose -- it's a partially nocturnal event). That said, one of the first internal indications I had that I wanted to marry Erika was that I shifted my grad student work habits from a 7PM-2 AM cycle to a 9-5 schedule without complaint.

    Unfortunately, the article fails to address the biggest challenge to late-sleepers. It's not the job, it's the children. Any hope of sleeping in for the next decade is pretty much shot to hell.

    The advantages for the children are overwhelming, of course -- but that doesn't mean I don't miss the halcyon andbygone era of getting up past ten o'clock in the AM.

    posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    I will not surrender to the dark side, I will not surrender to the dark side...

    Via Ross Douthat, I see the latest trailer for Star Wars III, Revenge of the Sith is out. Last fall, I confess I found the teaser trailer to be very seductive, so I was worried about my reaction to this one.

    And I'm happy to report that I mildly disagree with both Douthat and Matthew Yglesias; the trailer is OK, but the dark side has not turned me yet. There are other popcorn movie trailers out there -- like Sin City, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or Fantastic Four -- that have grabbed more of my attention.

    Take that, Emperor Lucas!!

    posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    Return to sender

    Ian Urbina has a fun story in today's New York Times on the small rebellions individuals engage in every day to protest life's petty annoyances. Here's an excerpt:

    Life can involve big hardships, like being fired or smashing up your car. There is only so much you can do about them. But far more prevalent - and perhaps in the long run just as insidious - are life's many little annoyances.

    These, you can do something about.

    To examine the little weapons people use for everyday survival is to be given a free guidebook on getting by, created by the millions who feel that they must. It is a case study in human inventiveness, with occasional juvenile and petty passages, and the originators of these tips are happy to share them.

    "They're an integral part of how people cope," said Prof. James C. Scott, who teaches anthropology and political science at Yale University, and the author of "Weapons of the Weak," about the feigned ignorance, foot-dragging and other techniques Malaysian peasants used to avoid cooperating with the arrival of new technology in the 1970's. "All societies have them, but they're successful only to the extent that they avoid open confrontation."

    The slow driver in fast traffic, the shopper with 50 coupons at the front of the checkout line and the telemarketer calling at dinner all inflict life's thousand little lashes. But some see these infractions as precious opportunities, rare chances for retribution in the face of forces beyond our control.

    Wesley A. Williams spent more than a year exacting his revenge against junk mailers. When signing up for a no-junk-mail list failed to stem the flow, he resorted to writing at the top of each unwanted item: "Not at this address. Return to sender." But the mail kept coming because the envelopes had "or current resident" on them, obligating mail carriers to deliver it, he said.

    Next, he began stuffing the mail back into the "business reply" envelope and sending it back so that the mailer would have to pay the postage. "That wasn't exacting a heavy enough cost from them for bothering me," said Mr. Williams, 35, a middle school science teacher who lives in Melrose, N.Y., near Albany.

    After checking with a postal clerk about the legality of stepping up his efforts, he began cutting up magazines, heavy bond paper, and small strips of sheet metal and stuffing them into the business reply envelopes that came with the junk packages.

    "You wouldn't believe how heavy I got some of these envelopes to weigh," said Mr. Williams, who added that he saw an immediate drop in the amount of arriving junk mail. A spokesman for the United States Postal Service, Gerald McKiernan, said that Mr. Williams's actions sounded legal, as long as the envelope was properly sealed.

    posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

    Saturday, March 12, 2005

    Susan Estrich can't be this stupid

    Via Virginia Postrel, I see that the Susan Estrich/Michael Kinsley feud has not abated (click here for my take on the triggering op-ed). James Rainey provides the latest account for the Los Angeles Times. Two interesting facts:

    1) In the first nine weeks of this year, women penned 20.5% of the paper's op-ed columns, not including staff editorials, which do not carry bylines. That compared to the New York Times, with 17% women writers on its op-ed pages and the Washington Post with 10%.

    2) Susan Estrich is losing her equilibrium: "As the controversy drags into a fourth week, Estrich continues to bounce from conciliation to confrontation. She seemed near tears in an interview, saying she never intended the fight to get so personal. She blamed the operators of her website for improperly posting comments about Kinsley's mental health and contended she didn't think e-mails to Drudge and others in the media would get into the public domain." (emphasis added)

    This kind of thinking is on par with Sandy Berger thinking, "Yeah, I bet I can get away with taking some classified documents home without anyone the wiser."

    posted by Dan at 12:14 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    The secret formula for superheroines

    Christina Larson has a droll essay in Washington Monthly about how Hollywood has screwed up the female superheroine genre, despite the initial promise from Charlie's Angels or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show and not the film). The key part:

    But the good news for Hollywood—and audiences—is that there is an enduring formula that works. Superheroines since the 1970s—from Wonder Woman to Princess Leia, Charlie's Angels to Lara Croft, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to "Alias's" Sydney Bristow—have all followed a few simple rules to find success on the big and little screen. And every would-be action babe who has flopped has broken at least one of them. So what's the secret?

    1. Do fight demons. Don't fight only inner demons.
    2. Do play well with others. Don't shun human society.
    3. Do exhibit self-control. Don't exhibit mental disorders.
    4. Do wear trendy clothes. Don't wear fetish clothes.
    5. Do embrace girl power. Don't cling to man hatred.
    6. Do help hapless men. Don't try to kill your boyfriend.
    7. Do toss off witty remarks. Don't look perpetually sullen.

    I would point out that one of Buffy's best seasons was when she had to try to kill her boyfriend -- but that's nitipicking. Read the whole thing.

    posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, March 9, 2005

    Yeah, I'm Jewish too

    Eugene Volokh posts about some anti-Semitic websites that are trying to identify Jewish professors at UCLA (link via Glenn Reynolds). I'll just quote his closing argument:

    So, yeah, we're Jews. Yeah, we're overrepresented on university faculties, in law and medicine, in the Senate, on the Supreme Court. [Don't forget the blogosphere!!--DD.] Speaking of Nazis, we were overrepresented on the Manhattan Project, too.

    The most powerful country in the world, America, is one of the ones that has been most open to Jews. Look at the most anti-Semitic countries in recent history: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Arab world. Right up there at the forefront of civilization and power, aren't they? Is it all the workings of The Conspiracy? Or is it just that the sorts of idiots who hate Jews do other idiotic things, too?


    posted by Dan at 11:14 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Your surreal post of the day

    I honestly don't know how to categorize this post. I'll just relay what the Associated Press has to say about Russell Crowe and Al Qaeda:

    Russell Crowe says Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network wanted to kidnap him as part of a "cultural destabilization plot," according to an Australian magazine.

    In an interview published in the March edition of Australia's GQ magazine, Crowe said FBI agents told him of the threat in 2001, in the months before he won a best actor Oscar for his role as Maximus in "Gladiator."

    "That was the first (time) I'd ever heard the phrase 'al-Qaida,'" Crowe said. "It was about -- and here's another little touch of irony -- taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as sort of a cultural destabilization plot," he added.

    Crowe was born in New Zealand and has a ranch in eastern Australia but made his name in Hollywood.

    I'll leave it to my readers to figure out if this is a prime example of:

    a) Russell Crowe's outsized ego;

    b) The FBI's ineptitude in coping with Al Qaeda;

    c) Al Qaeda's surprisingly deft sense of popular culture (remember, if the information is accurate, they wanted to kidnap Crowe before he won the Oscar).

    UPDATE: Hmmm.... maybe Al Qaeda wasn't behind this fiendish plot.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Readers are heartily encouraged to suggest which celebrity kidnappings would be the most likely to trigger "cultural destabilization" in the United States. Loyal reader B.A. suggests Oprah Winfrey. [What about Salma Hayek?--ed. Ms. Hayek has the distinction of being the celebrity most likely to culturally destabilize the hard-working staff at]

    UPDATE: Kudos to bumperarchive for finding the link to the actual magazine story. Here's the relevant section of the interview:

    GQ: In the midst of the Oscar celebrations and the success of Gladiator, there was the rather strange kidnapping subplot. What can you explain about that now?

    RC: We just arrived in Los Angeles, and we got contacted by the FBI, and they arrived at the hotel we were staying at, and they went through this big elaborate speech, telling us that for the whole time we were going to be in America, they were going to be around and part of life. You know—oh, I shouldn’t say things like this—I do wonder if it was some kind of PR thing to attract sympathy toward me, because it seemed very odd. Suddenly, it looks like I think I’m fucking Elvis Presley, because everywhere I go there are all these FBI guys around.

    GQ: I don’t think it did create sympathy for you. I think a lot of people were kind of mean about it. I think they wrote about it in a way that implied you were paranoid and self-important.

    RC: None of it was my application. I didn’t pay for any of it. It was…the FBI, bless their pressed white shirts. They picked up on something they thought was really important, and they were following it through. They were fucking serious, mate. What are you supposed to do? You get this late-night call from the FBI when you arrive in Los Angeles, and they’re like absolutely full-on, “We’ve got to talk to you now, before you do anything. We have to have a discussion with you, Mr. Crowe.”

    GQ: But who was supposed to be after you?

    RC: [pauses] Um…well, that was the first conversation in my life that I’d ever heard the phrase Al Qaeda. And it was something to do with some recording picked up by a French policewoman, I think, in either Libya or Algiers. And it was a destabilization plan. I don’t think that I was the only person. But it was about—and here’s another little touch of irony—it was about taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as a sort of cultural-destabilization plan.

    GQ: So presumably the trigger for it was that you played the iconic American movie role of that year?

    RC: That seemed to be a Hollywood thing, yeah. But look, I’ll tell you what, it was never resolved to any intellectual satisfaction from my point of view. I never fully understood what the fuck was going on.

    GQ: But there must have been a point where they said, “Well, we’re not going to be around anymore….”

    RC: Oh yeah, there was a point where they said they thought the threat had probably or had possibly been overstated, and then they started to question their sources, and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t know how it was resolved, you know? But they were serious about it. And what can you say? I mean, gee, there were a lot of man-hours spent doing that gig, so the least I can say is, “Thank you very much.”

    GQ: It must have messed with your head somewhat.

    RC: I think it was a bit odd. But I also thought, [laughs] Mate, if you want to kidnap me, you’d better bring a mouth gag. I’ll be talking you out of the essential philosophies you believe in the first twenty-four hours, son. I might chew through the first one, too, so be prepared.

    posted by Dan at 10:28 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, March 7, 2005

    The U.S. exports comic book heroes

    Kim Barker has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the adaptation of one comic book hero to the Indian subcontinent:

    He swings from buildings, wears a red-and-blue spider costume and shoots webs from his wrists.

    But this Spider-Man is Pavitr Prabhakar, not Peter Parker. Uncle Ben has turned into Uncle Bhim. Longtime crush Mary Jane is Meera Jain. This Spider-Man does not wear only an average tight superhero outfit. He also sports a red Spider-Man loincloth and white balloon pants.

    "We kept the characters the same, but added an Indian touch," says Jeevan Kang, the artist.

    Spider-Man has been outsourced. Next month, the first edition of the Spider-Man India comic book will be released here, in an attempt to expand the superhero's market by catering to different cultures.

    In Spider-Man India, our teenage hero has just moved to Bombay, India's cosmopolitan business center. Prabhakar hails from a village and wears large gold hoop earrings. He is teased at his new school for wearing his traditional loincloth, called a dhoti. Other boys call him "dhoti boy." They use words such as "dude" and say Prabhakar "has air bags for legs."

    As with many future superheroes, Prabhakar is haunted by his past. His parents were killed when he was a child; he still has nightmares about them. And clearly, he is destined for something more, as made obvious by his Uncle Bhim, who repeats that familiar Spider-Man adage: "With great talent, with great power ... there must also come great responsibility."

    Unlike Peter Parker, a spider never bites Pavitr Prabhakar. Because this is India, there is more smoke and mysticism involved. A mysterious yogi appears to the teenager and gives him the power of the spider "that weaves the intangible web of life."

    Prabhakar is told to fulfill his karma. He wakes up on a roof in a Spider-Man suit with a dhoti.

    Spider-Man India's nemesis also has a magical touch. Nalin Oberoi turns into a Green Goblin-like mystical Indian demon after stealing a powerful amulet.

    "We'll see what happens," says Suresh Seetharaman, an executive with Gotham Entertainment Group, which puts out Spider-Man India and distributes most U.S. superhero comic books in India. "It has been receiving a lot of unprecedented publicity and noise."

    If the first four-issue package is successful, the series will likely continue, he says....

    One wonders if the Spider-Man icon is particularly well-suited for export. One of Spider-Man's distinguishing features among the superhero pantheon is his relative poverty.

    Readers are encouraged to propose which countries would embrace which superheroes export -- and why. UPDATE: Readers are also strongly encouraged to peruse David Adesnik's thoughts on this very question from his January Weekly Standard essay

    posted by Dan at 10:08 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, February 28, 2005

    Interesting values quote of the day

    The following quote comes from Jeanette Walls' source on the fact that Paris Hilton's Blackberry was hacked and its contents made public:

    “It became obvious to her what was going on,” says the source. “She was pretty upset about it. It’s one thing to have people looking at your sex tapes, but having people reading your personal e-mails is a real invasion of privacy.” (emphasis added)


    posted by Dan at 09:12 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, February 27, 2005

    Oh, right -- Oscar predictions 2005!!

    Ever since 2003, we here at have been unafraid to make bold predictions about who will win and who should win the Academy Awards. This year is no exception, but I will confess that this time it's a bit more labor rather than a labor of love. [Surely you weren't expecting Ms. Salma Hayek to get nominated for After the Sunset, did you?--ed. Well, just look at her premiere outfit!!


    Look, if Kathy Bates can score an Oscar nomination for valiant disrobing a few years ago, surely Salma deserves something for valiant... robing.]

    Anyway, this has less to do with Ms. Hayek and more to do with the fact that Ms. Drezner appeared in August, making it very, very difficult to get away for Oscar viewing. There is, however, one other factor -- which Frank Rich raised in his New York Times column: "The total box office for all five best-picture nominees on Sunday's Oscars is so small that their collective niche in the national cultural marketplace falls somewhere between square dancing and non-Grisham fiction." So while I haven't seen many of the top Oscar nod movies this year, I haven't felt truly compelled to see them in the same way as in previous years. Even the fashion is now boring, as Julia Turner points out in Slate (though Turner may have underestimated the effect that 9/11 and Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction have had on muting the red carpet).

    In other words, I'm flying blind a bit more than usual this year.

    Nevertheless, ignorance has never prevented me from making bold predictions in the past. On with the Oscars!

    Best Picture:
    Will win: The Aviator
    Should win: Tie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/The Incredibles

    My calculation on this one is purely stragtegic: this year's Oscars will be a legacy fight between Scorcese and Eastwood. Neither is exactly loved by the system -- however, between Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator, the latter more closely meets the parameters of the standard "prestige" Best Picture. Plus, Million Dollar Baby has just a hint of a backlash because of the controversy surrounding its ending.

    Will either of those two films be remembered even five years from now? Unlikely. The same cannot be said of either Eternal Sunshine or The Incredibles.

    Best Actor:
    Will win: Jamie Foxx, Ray
    Should win: Jamie Foxx, Ray and Collateral

    The one lock of the year. Why Foxx's role in the latter movie is considered a supporting performance is beyond me -- I think he had more screen time than Tom Cruise. It's the contrast between the two peformances that make you realize just how gifted and good Foxx really is. Plus, I really want to see Wanda say something in the acceptance speech.

    UPDATE: Honorable mention must go to one Gary Brolsma, for his "Numa Numa" performance. Kieran Healy is dead-on in roasting the New York Times for not understanding Brolsma's confident deadpan style. "Earnest but painful"? Gimme a break!!!

    Best Actress:
    Will win: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
    Should win: Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    Hilary Swank is to acting as the Florida Marlins are to baseball. For the first nine years of their existence, the Marlins were an under .500 team for seven of those years. The two years they were above .500, they won the World Series. So it is for the first nine years of Ms. Swank's career and her acting choices -- mostly stinker roles (The Core, anyone?) with the occasional jaw-dropping performance. This year yielded a way-above average performance for her.

    All Kate Winslet did in Eternal Sunshine was make someone with a bad orange dye job seem simultaneously compelling and thoroughly imperfect. Whenever I think about her performance, it reminds me of what must have been the inspiration for the Sheryl Crow song, "My Favorite Mistake."

    Best Supporting Actor
    Will win: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
    Should win: Neil Patrick Harris, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

    If I was the Oscar coordinator for Million Dollar Baby, my promotional campaign would for Freeman would be real simple -- I'd just send out a postcard with the sentence, "Morgan Freeman has never won an Oscar" and let that fact bore itself into the skulls of Academy voters. WTF?

    It is highly unlikely that Mr. Harris will ever win an Oscar -- but damn, that man was funny in Harold & Kumar, the feel-good libertarian movie of the year. [Does he really deserve an Oscar for playing himself??!!--ed. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Harris' actual personality is a bit different from his Harold & Kumar persona. Besides, consider the balance required to perform that scene where he's driving down the road with the two models in the car. I remain unconvinced--ed. C'mon say it with me -- Doogie!! Doogie!! DOOGIE!!]

    Best Supporting Actress:
    Will win: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
    Should win: tie, Virginia Madsen, Sideways; Laura Dern, We Don't Live Here Anymore

    By awarding Blanchett an Oscar this year, the Academy can make up for one of their more egregious f***-ups in not giving her the Best Actress award for Elizabeth. Plus, it will be logically difficult for people to vote for Foxx for Best Actor and not acknowledge Blanchett's similar style of craft. Madsen will give Blanchett a run for her money in this category, and her performance was just effortless -- but Blanchett has the stronger track record, and that will sway Academy voters.

    I'm probably one of about 20 people who saw We Don't Live Here Anymore, so I understand if this appears to be an obscure choice. In many ways, what blew me away about Dern's performance was that it was the opposite of Blanchett's -- a portrayal of a thoroughly ordinary, frazzled, and depressed housewife. Dern broght such pain to it, however, that the movie has stayed with me despite its forced contrivances.

    Best Director:
    Will win: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
    Should win: Michel Gondry Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    I had to sleep on this one -- it's a close call between Eastwood and Scorcese. However, with Mystic River now on cable, I've concluded that Academy voters will give the psychic nod to Clint for both films. [You're kidding me, right? Scorcese has lots of great films too!!--ed. Yes, but the only one on cable right now is Gangs of New York. Er, never mind--ed.]

    Enjoy your 2005 Oscars -- especially since the 2006 affair will be so boring, what with the Farrelly brothers' Fever Pitch coming out of nowhere to totally sweep the Oscars!

    UPDATE: Well, it's over, Chris Rock killed -- killed -- for the first ten minutes (but see Roger L. Simon for a dissenting perspective -- though the American people seem to agree with me). The bit at the Magic Johnson theatre was pretty funny as well, especially with the Albert Brooks kicker. And I admit that I won't forget hearing Chris Rock read, "Growing up as a young Welsh lass....." anytime soon. Ironically, I think Rock was too good -- he made the rest of the show seem boring by comparison (except for Sean Penn, who came across as a humorless clod).

    [Aren't you going to say anything about Salma Hayek's unfortunate hairstyle?--ed. Too depressing to discuss.]

    posted by Dan at 12:01 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)

    Wednesday, February 23, 2005

    Interesting facts of the day

    The Economist has a survey on New York City that is chock full of fascinating information. Some of the items that piqued my interest:

    Manhattan is still enormously wealthy. The residents of just 20 streets on the east side of Central Park donated more money to the 2004 presidential campaigns than all but five entire American states....

    Most immigrants live in the outer boroughs, two-thirds of them in Queens or Brooklyn, where they build businesses and often homes. Flushing in Queens, whose population is now nearly two-thirds immigrant, is a striking example. Poor and virtually all white in the early 1970s, the place is now Asian and flourishing. Across the city there has been a boom in housing construction. From the start of 2000 to July 2004, permits for about 85,000 new units were issued, almost as many as in the whole of the 1990s. And nearly half of all new housing in the past seven years is reckoned to be occupied by immigrants or their children....

    “Sex and the City” stars four young career women and is ostensibly about the difficulties of finding a man in New York. It has a point. According to an analysis for The Economist, there are 93 men to every 100 women among single New Yorkers aged 20-44. In the country as a whole, and in most other big cities, there are more young single men than young single women....

    Leave out the passengers and crew on the aeroplanes that were flown into the World Trade Centre, and about 2,600 people were killed in New York on September 11th 2001. Put that tragic number in perspective, and you can perhaps see how it is possible for New York to be a powerful magnet for talent, youth and energy once more. In 1990 there were 2,290 murders in the city; last year there were 566. Thus even if a September 11th were to occur every other year, the city would by one measure be quite a lot safer than it would be with crime at its 1990 level and no terrorism.

    Click here to hear an audio interview with the survey's author, Anthony Gottlieb.

    posted by Dan at 09:37 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, February 22, 2005

    A different take on the female public intellectual "problem"

    I've got a lot on my plate right now, which is why I've been studiously avoiding the whole Larry Summers kerfuffle -- I haven't had the time to read his remarks in full and don't want to wade in those waters until/if I do.

    However, I do want to wade into an eddy of the Michael Kinsley/Susan Estrich blood feud over a Los Angeles Times op-ed by Charlotte Allen. To be specific, I don't want to bother with Estrich or Kinsley -- click here, here, here, and here for more on them -- but rather examine Allen's original hypothesis a bit more carefully -- because, to put it kindly, it's a crock of s***.

    Here's the nub of Allen's argument:

    When Susan Sontag died recently, she was mourned as America's leading female intellectual. So the question naturally arose: Is there anyone to take her place? If you can't come up with many names, you're in good company. The list is short.

    This wasn't always the case. Ironically, during that part of the 20th century when overt discrimination barred many women from advanced educations, lucrative fellowships and prized teaching and editorial positions preparatory for the world of public letters, there were many brilliant, highly articulate female writers who combined a rigorous mind with a willingness to engage broad political, social and literary issues for an audience beyond academia. We still read their books (or at least their epigrams), and we remember their names: Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, Mary McCarthy, Iris Murdoch, Hannah Arendt and Sontag, to name several.

    Some of these women possessed glittering scholarly credentials. But most did not, because a public intellectual is more than simply an intellectual. Unlike the academic version who speaks mostly to fellow scholars, public intellectuals pitch their ideas to the general reading public — and their writings appear in newspapers, magazines and books. Garry Wills is a public intellectual; Berkeley's jargon-laden postmodern theorist Judith Butler is not.

    Public intellectuals also explore the implications of ideas, which distinguishes them from sharply observant journalists. When Sontag wrote about camp — or Tom Wolfe about customized cars as kinetic sculpture — they joined writing about popular culture with the long tradition of writing about high culture.

    One possible explanation for the dearth of Sontag successors is our electronics-saturated age that is inexorably diminishing the number of people who read. Our hyper-specialized higher education system is another candidate. Academic postmodernism, with its contempt for the general public, has largely replaced the core liberal arts curriculum that once created a shared literary culture and an appetite for serious ideas.

    Still, there is no shortage of well-known male intellectuals. Besides Wolfe and Wills, we have Richard Posner, Louis Menand, Francis Fukuyama, Ian Buruma and Henry Louis Gates Jr., to name some, along with scientists who write provocatively for a general readership: Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Jared Diamond. In books and magazines, these intellectuals, who represent a wide variety of ideological perspectives, debate a broad spectrum of topics: science and politics, high and low art, literature, evolution, the Iraq war, campus sexual mores, the origins of the universe.

    There are female intellectuals with stellar credentials and bestselling books: Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi, Deborah Tannen, Natalie Angier. But there's a big difference between these women and their forebears. They are all professional feminists. They don't simply espouse feminism; they write about little else. Feminist ideology forms the basis of their writings, whether it's Greer on the infantilization of women by a patriarchal society, Tannen on how the sexes are socialized to communicate differently, Faludi on how white men have reacted to women's progress, Ehrenreich on how the male medical establishment intimidates female patients, or Angier on how humans ought to be more like bonobos, the female-dominated, sexually liberated cousins of chimpanzees.

    Let's conduct a little experiment: as a faculty member at the University of Chicago, and looking only at my colleagues within my university, can I gin up a list of notable public intellectuals who write on topics beyond feminism? Why, yes, yes I can!!:

    Danielle Allen
    Jean Bethke Elshtain
    Melissa Harris-Lacewell
    Martha Nussbaum
    Saskia Sassen
    Iris Marion Young

    Hey, I did that without breaking a sweat!!

    If Allen -- who co-edits (???) Inkwell, the blog of the Independent Women's Forum -- wants to claim that female public intellectuals are hostage to doctrinnaire feminism, I'll concede that she doesn't have to search that far to find examples to support her hypothesis. However, she appears not to have searched at all for any cases that contradict her hypothesis. And that doesn't make her a very good public intellectual at all.

    [You only searched within the confines of your ivory tower. Maybe your university is atypical--ed. I'd agree, but beyond the U of C, it's still not that difficult to think of counterexamples to Charlotte Allen's hypothesis -- Deborah Dickerson, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Jessica Tuchman Matthews, Peggy Noonan, Virginia Postrel, Diane Ravitch, Claudia Rossett, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Theda Skocpol, etc. (UPDATE: Other excellent suggestions from the comments thread -- Anne Applebaum, Amy Guttman, Samantha Power, Elaine Scarry, etc.)]

    UPDATE: Aspiring public intellectual Phoebe Maltz offers her take:

    [P]art of the reason things have changed since Arendt et al is that there's now this huge workforce of female professionals, so brilliant women who might have once gone into public-intellectualizing are now investment bankers, lawyers, etc. So the women who remain are the ones who don't just need to channel intellect, but who really do just want to get paid to write about whatever happens to be on their minds. Well, Andrew Sullivan makes it known that he's gay, Cornel West, rumor has it, is black, so if we take them as they are, do we really need to fault Barbara Ehrenreich for focusing on female workers?

    posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, February 20, 2005

    Dumb, dumb A-Rod

    [NOTE: If you don't care about baseball, just skip this post entirely.]

    Alex Rodriguez reported to spring training for the Yankees today. Over the past week multiple members of the Red Sox have bashed A-Rod to varying degrees over comments he made in the offseason and his on-the-field altercations with the Red Sox during the regular season -- and most infamously, in Game 6 of the ALCS (go to this link and then click on the "Plays of the Game" for the 10/19 game vs. the Yankees).

    Here's what he had to say about that play today:

    Rodriguez was the face of the Yankees' ALCS loss to the Red Sox, with his "slap play" against Arroyo in Game 6 serving as the frozen moment for fans on both sides of the rivalry. A-Rod laughed when asked about that play on Sunday, saying he still thinks it was the right move for him to make.

    "I thought it was a brilliant play -- and we almost got away with it," Rodriguez said. "It took a lot of guts -- and was the right call by Jim Joyce -- to make that call in Yankee Stadium in that environment. I was stuck in an alley, boys. There was nowhere to go.

    "I gave my best karate, even though I only got to a yellow belt," he added. "I think Brandon [he meant Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo--DD] is a great pitcher. I played with him in high school. It's just one of those things. If that game was in June, I probably don't do that. But in Game 6, you do silly things. Perhaps it was a silly thing, but at the time I thought it was pretty smart."

    To which I can only say, "Huh?"

    Recall the situation -- the Red Sox were leading 4-2 with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning and Derek Jeter on first base. A-Rod hits a weak squibbler to Arroyo, and tried to slap it away. For his troubles, A-Rod was called out and Jeter was sent back to first base. If A-Rod doesn't slap at Arroyo's glove, he's advanced Jeter into scoring position with Gary Sheffield at the plate. It sounds minor, but having Jeter at second rather than first makes it much easier for Sheffield to drive in a run.

    What A-Rod did wasn't silly -- it was downright stupid.

    UPDATE: Speaking of A-Rod, Karen Guregian has a piece in today's Boston Herald excoriating the Red Sox players for bashing A-Rod so much. This is a bit rich -- as Murray Chass points out in today's New York Times, it's the media trying to keep this story alive:

    In this new version of "Get the good guy," the Red Sox are blameless. One player, Trot Nixon, ignited the game with negative comments about Rodriguez last week and a torrent of teammates have followed. But the teammates' comments have not been unsolicited. They were at the urging of reporters eager to inflame the game to incendiary levels. They were all but handed a script.

    Athletes have long accused reporters of creating stories, and, sadly, this is one of those instances. It has become one of the most distasteful instances I have witnessed in 45 years of covering baseball....

    Every player who spoke with reporters last week was asked what they thought of Rodriguez, whether they agreed with what Nixon said. Extended the invitation, some players replied with negative comments, but most of what they said in response to the invitations was far less severe than the resulting articles reflected.

    Hat tip: David Pinto.

    posted by Dan at 08:31 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005

    I know saffron, and The Gates is not saffron


    I'm typing this in New York City, about a block from Central Park. As some of you are no doubt aware, Christo has opened up his latest art exhibit, The Gates, in Central Park. This is how he describes it on his web site:

    To all visitors of The Gates:
    There are no official opening events.
    There are no invitations.
    There are no tickets.

    This work of art is FREE for all to enjoy,
    the same as all our previous projects.

    This is great -- but ask the New York cabdrivers about this exhibit as you pass through the Park -- as I did -- and what you get is an impressive string of invective (to be fair, part of this is due to the exhibit shutting down some of the cross-park roads -- but only part).

    Having seen it, I'm very amused by the headline for Michael Kimmelman's New York Times review, "In a Saffron Ribbon, a Billowy Gift to the City." Now, if Christo and Kimmelman want to call it "saffron," more power to them. To me, the color of "The Gates" is not saffron -- it's safety orange.

    This is the biggest problem with the exhibit: approaching the Park, all you think is that the entire area must be under massive construction. It's just a bizarre color choice, and mars what would otherwise have been an aesthetically pleasing exhibit.

    For a somewhat contrary take, see Virginia Postrel's take

    posted by Dan at 11:36 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, February 7, 2005

    Fox's in-game breach of contract?

    So the Super Bowl was a pretty good if not great game, and a pretty good if not great halftime show by Paul McCartney (though if there is any song that was made for massive fireworks displays, it's "Live and Let Die.").

    The general consensus, however, is that the ads were pretty lame. See Seth Stevenson's review in Slate and Chris Ballard's at Part of the reason for this may have been the extent to which FOX and the NFL censored the ads, according to The Age's Caroline Overington:

    This year the Fox network, which shows the Super Bowl, banned four ads. Many on Madison Avenue were disappointed. Advertisers pay around $US2.4 million ($A3.1 million) for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl and usually strive to create something controversial. But Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age, said this year's commercials were disappointing. He told Good Morning America, "This year, the Super Bowl is interesting not because of what ads they're showing but what ads they are not."

    Car maker Lincoln withdrew a commercial after Christian groups complained. In the ad, which can be seen on the web, a priest finds a car key in the collection plate. He goes to the car park, where he sees a Lincoln truck. He strokes it, loves it. But then a little girl turns up with her father, and the father wants his keys back.

    Some Christian groups said the ad was inappropriate, given the Catholic Church's recent problems with pedophile priests.

    Fox banned an ad from Budweiser that showed a delivery boy using the hard breastplate from Janet's notorious costume to open a beer. Another ad, featuring Mickey Rooney's bare and ageing buttocks, was also banned.

    Fox censored itself too, changing the name of its Best Damn Sports Show, Period to The Best Darn Super Bowl Road Show Ever.

    But at least one company got a saucy ad through the net. The website,, showed an ad with a well-endowed woman jiggling her breasts. At one point, the strap on her singlet top snapped, but no nipple was seen.

    Ah, but not so fast!! It turns out that the ad did get censored run into difficulties. Bob Parsons, the CEO/founder of, blogs (yes, blogs) about what happened:

    [O]ur Super Bowl ad only appeared during the scheduled first quarter spot. It was scheduled to run also in the second ad position during the final two minute warning. Our ad never ran a second time. Instead, in its place, we saw an advertisement promoting "The Simpsons."

    The NFL persuaded FOX to pull our ad.

    We immediately contacted Fox to find out what happened. Here's what we were told: After our first ad was aired, the NFL became upset and they, together with Fox, decided to pull the ad from running a second time. Because we purchased two spots, we were also entitled to a "Brought to you by" 5 second marquis spot. They also chose to pull the marquis spot....

    I believe that it's the first time ever a decision was made to pull an ad after it had already been run once during the same broadcast. (emphasis added)

    Forget whether or not this is censorship -- FOX is a private company, not the government -- if Parsons is correct, then I would imagine this has got to be one whopper of a breach-of-contract suit [Ahem, despite what others may believe, you're not a lawyer--ed. Good point -- I'd appreciate some legal takes on this issue.]

    If you want to see the "controversial" ad, click here (I recommend the two-minute version -- the last spoken line made me laugh out loud). The ironic thing about the ad is that the object of the satire is not the NFL, but sanctimonious politicians (and, I might add, by far the best ad of the evening was the G-rated one for The NFL Network with Joe Montana et al singing "Tomorrow")

    It should also be pointed out that this isn't the first time the NFL has acted like a spoiled brat it its desire to be seen as "wholesome". Last year ESPN aired a fictionalized show called Playmakers, a "behind-the-scenes" look at a professional football team. While the show was a bit over-the-top at times, Playmakers was an above average drama with some excellent performances -- kinda like The Shield for the NFL. However, the NFL believed that the show cast the NFL in a bad light, and made it's displeasure known to ESPN. In short order, ESPN caved in to the NFL.

    UPDATE: Krysten Crawford has a story on this for CNN/Money that confirms Parsons' account:

    Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, confirmed Monday that league executives contacted Fox officials after seeing the ad, which they had not pre-screened. The reason, said McCarthy, "was exactly what many people felt. It was inappropriate."

    Check out this Parsons post from earlier in the week to see the back-and-forth between GoDaddy and FOX to get any ad on the air. Finally, the advertising blog adrants suggests that the the ad might not have played well. The Associated Press concurs, reporting that an post-game survey of 700 people found the GoDaddy ad to be one of the least liked. On the other hand, the Boston Globe's Alex Beam and the Kansas City Star's Aaron Barnhart both liked it. Howard Bashman correctly points out that, "Congressional hearings don't usually contain this much pretend near nudity."

    Writing at WPN News, Kevin Dugan (who hated the GoDaddy ad) makes the provocative argument that blogs have ruined Super Bowl ads forever:

    This year, the game was better than the ads. Again. You want to know why? There will never be an ad as good as 1984 again because there are no more secrets (that remain secret) before being told only once.

    Blogs usurped the payoff around the big game this year. You could head online and find out the latest about any and all ads. We created buzz bigger than 1984 for ads that never stood a chance.

    Pamela Parker makes a similar argument.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Joal Ryan reports for E! Online that the FCC received 33 complaints from the Super Bowl this year -- eight of which were devote to the ad. Three viewers called in to complain about Janet Jackson from last year.

    posted by Dan at 02:24 PM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (5)

    Saturday, February 5, 2005

    Old-time football

    I've been happy as a clam not paying that much attention to the Super Bowl hype. It's not that I'm not interested in the game -- it's just that I'm interested in the game and not the two weeks of media overkill preceding the game.

    That said, there is one brand of story I always find interesting -- interviews with retired football players who bemoan how the game has changed. A classic example of this genre is legendary Eagle Chuck Bednarik. The Associated Press' Dan Gelston reports that Badnarik doesn't want the current incarnation of the team to win:

    Chuck Bednarik holds a grudge only slightly larger than his legacy as the last of the 60-minute men....

    He also is protective of his Hall of Fame legacy. While he boasts about playing both center and linebacker for part of his 14-year career, Bednarik is equally as proud to have played on the last Eagles team to win a championship (1960).

    That's why Bednarik will be rooting against the Eagles in the Super Bowl against New England. He has no desire to ever see the franchise win another title.

    "I can't wait until the Super Bowl is over," said Bednarik, who played for the Eagles from 1949 to 1962. "I hope the 1960 team remains the last one to win. I hope it stays that way."

    Bednarik admits he's jealous and resentful about the salaries and spotlight today's players receive, calling them "overpaid and underplayed." Bednarik says he never made more than $27,000 and supplemented his income with an afternoon job selling concrete, earning him the nickname "Concrete Charlie."

    Read the whole thing -- I think it's safe to say the Bednarik doesn't pull any punches. He also sounds like the last person with whome you'd want to be stuck in an elevator. [Yeah... think of him as the anti-Salma--ed.]

    If Bednarik seems a bit too "old school" for modern fans, SI's Peter King looks at former Los Angeles Ram Jack Youngblood -- whose comeback from injury makes Terrell Owens look like a complete wuss:

    Youngblood snapped his left leg in the second quarter of a 1979 playoff game at Dallas, then played the next two-and-a-half games with the leg tightly wrapped. Now, six weeks after surgery to repair a broken leg and damaged ankle ligaments, Philadelphia wideout Terrell Owens will attempt to play Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIX.

    I will get to the specifics of Youngblood's tale in a moment. It's a great story, and because it happened 25 years ago, there are probably an awful lot of you out there who don't know it very well, or at all. But I thought the most interesting thing I noticed in conversing with the Hall of Fame defensive end was the edge I caught in his voice when I asked him what sort of advice he'd have for Owens right now, seeing as though there's only been one guy in history to play in a Super Bowl with an honest-to-goodness broken leg, and he was the guy.

    "To be honest,'' Youngblood said, "it's hard to compare my injury to [Owens']. He's been out of the game for what, five weeks? He's been convalescing. After four weeks, an amputation should be healed. Shouldn't it?''


    Definitely read the whole thing. As someone who has suffered the exact same injury that Youngblood did, let me just say that I'm very impressed with Youngblood's threshhold for pain.

    posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, February 2, 2005

    This is just sick. Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick.

    I must congratulate Maggie Haberman of the New York Daily News for reporting a story that leaves me pretty much speechless. My only thought: this is not a good day for the Tribe.

    [What, no excerpt?--ed. Not with this story -- you'll have to click on it yourself. Here's a link to the less lurid but also less informative wire service account.]

    posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, January 27, 2005

    Parents, be sure to add this to your cross-country trip!!

    The Economist reports on a proposed new museum in the state of Nevada:

    Nevada is the only state in the union where brothels are legal, but prostitution is by no means a hallowed trade. Brothels are usually seedy affairs, tucked discreetly away from churches, town halls and the like (or so somebody we met in a bar once told us). But Lance Gilman, who owns both the Wild Horse bordello and the trademark for the Mustang Ranch, is building a sex village—complete with museum and souvenir shop.

    George Flint, head of the Nevada Brothel Association, insists that a trip to the Mustang Ranch could be “just as important as driving to Mount Rushmore”. The businesslike Mr Gilman insists that a house of ill repute is nothing of the kind. Brothels are part of Nevada's history, and nowadays they are respectable businesses....

    Mr Gilman is building his Mustang Ranch Village on the plot next to the Wild Horse. The driveway to the village is neatly lined with saplings and, at the end of the road, a row of foreign flags greets visitors as if they are arriving at an international institution. The museum will include a portrait of the legendary Mr Conforte [a previous owner of the Mustang Ranch] and a circular bed with a mirrored headboard from the original Mustang Ranch. Souvenirs will range from the usual T-shirts (boasting about the Mustang's “res-erection”) to more exotic oils and toys. Because Mr Gilman's girls are experts in long-lasting “make-up that doesn't run”, a Mustang Ranch cosmetics line will also be on sale. (emphasis added)

    posted by Dan at 06:02 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

    Wednesday, January 26, 2005

    Does the genius grant work as advertised?

    Marc Scheffler has an interesting story in Crain's Chicago Business arguing that the MacArthur Fellows Program -- a.k.a., the genius grant -- hasn't worked as advertised in the case of writers:

    As part of a program widely known as genius grants, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation most years gives one or more authors $500,000, hoping financial freedom will help the writers produce their best work.

    An examination of the program, however, reveals that most of the 31 writers chosen since 1981 as MacArthur Fellows had already hit their artistic peak. That conclusion is supported by the 14 major awards — either a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award or PEN/Faulkner prize — and 37 minor awards the authors received before getting their MacArthur money.

    Surveying book reviews, author profiles and the opinions of literary scholars, Crain's determined that 88% of the MacArthur recipients wrote their greatest works before being recognized by the Chicago-based foundation. The sheer number of books produced by the writers declined, too, after their MacArthur awards.

    It would reinforce romantic notions that great art requires personal sacrifice to suggest that, half-a-million dollars in hand, writers get lazy. But something else appears to account for the failure of the MacArthur program to fulfill its promise: Writers are mostly chosen too late in their careers, average age 48, and well after the literary establishment has recognized them for excellence.

    One could argue that recognizing past achievement is hardly a bad thing -- except that as Scheffler observes and MacArthur's web site announces, that isn't really the goal of the genius grant:

    Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential. Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society.

    Of course, this begs the question -- beyond great past performances, what are the available metrics that can be used to measure genius and/or creativity?

    Clearly, this is an assignment for Tyler Cowen. [UPDATE: Tyler posts hist thoughts on the matter here.]

    Oh, and I look forward to the free-for-all in the comments section regarding the "Crain's determined that 88% of the MacArthur recipients wrote their greatest works before being recognized by the Chicago-based foundation" assertion.

    posted by Dan at 12:47 PM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (3)

    Tuesday, January 25, 2005

    Who got screwed by the Oscars?

    The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning. You can look at the list by clicking here.

    The staff here at will be hard at work with our annual Oscar predictions. This year, however, we introduce a new interactive feature -- who did work that merited a nomination at the very least but got completely shut out. [You need a catchy name for them, like the Oscars or the Razzies--ed. Hmm.... how about the Rogers?]

    Looking over the nominations, the most glaring omission was the absence of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind from most of the major categories. Kate Winslet got nominated, and so did the screenplay, but Jim Carrey, director Michel Gondry, and the movie itself deserved way better treatment.

    Other omissions:

    1) Laura Dern for Best Supporting Actress in We Don't Live Here Anymore;

    2) Paul Giamatti for Best Actor in Sideways -- try to imagine any other actor in that role [UPDATE: Washington Post readers agree!!];

    3) Uma Thurman for Best Actress in Kill Bill, Vol. II;

    4) For that matter, there's no way anyone watches Kill Bill Vol. II without giving the film a nod in the sound categories for the coffin sequence;

    5) Anyone, for anything, for Friday Night Lights (This, by the way, is the film that conservatives should talk about when discussing liberal biases in Hollywood, and not The Passion of the Christ, which actually did collect three Oscar nominations);

    6) Once again, action movies got hosed in the technical nominations -- even the "arty" action movies. How in the hell does Collateral not get nominated for Best Cinematography? Or The Bourne Supremacy for Best Editing

    7) I haven't seen it yet, but I find it hard to believe that Team America: World Police does not have one song superior to "Believe" from The Polar Express

    I'd have added Natalie Portman for Garden State, but she got nominated anyway for Closer, so it's no big whoop. I toyed with the idea of adding Zach Braff for Best Original Screenplay, but the guy is getting thousands of comments on his blog and gets to act with Portman, Sarah Chalke and Heather Graham -- so f*** him.

    The staff at welcomes other glaring omissions!!

    UPDATE: Do be sure to check out the Golden Raspberry nominations as well. As an added bonus, they have the a special “Worst of Our First 25 Years” list of nominations if you scroll down.

    posted by Dan at 10:22 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (4)

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    Your personal ad of the week...

    The following ad appeared this week in the Eye, an alternative weekly based in Toronto:


    Wait, do you hear that sound? That must be the wails of anguish from women all across North America, upset that they do not live in Toronto and will therefore be unable to learn "the art of bedroom control." Especially when there are young women in Toronto who are myseriously declining this generous offer.

    posted by Dan at 09:47 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)

    The Greatest Americans?

    The Discovery Channel and AOL launched a contest today asking "Who is the Greatest American?" According to the Associated Press story, the specific criteria is naming the Americans who they believe "most influenced the way they think, work and live."

    I've already entered my five names, in ascending order of importance:

    5) Paul Volcker -- a seemingly odd choice, but his stint at the Federal Reserve dramatixally altered expectations about inflation, to the point where it has become politically unacceptable to push for mild forms of inflation. For the century before Volcker came along, that was not true.

    4) George Washington -- think about how the United States would be different had Washington not decided to step dowmn after two terms of office. One could argue that his precedent sealed America's political future just as much as the Constitution.

    3) Elvis Presley -- the godfather of alll American popular culture.

    2) Thomas Edison -- For God's sake, any man who could inspire Homer Simpson to industrious activity belongs on this list!! More seriously, Edison symbolizes the range of private entrepreneurship that made the United States such a dynamic economy.

    1) Abraham Lincoln -- America's greatest President and one of America's greatest writers. We live in his image of America.

    Honorable mentions for Jackie Robinson, Steve Jobs, Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe, and Henry Ford.

    Readers are encouraged to post their own top 5.

    UPDATE: Some excellent suggestions have been put forward in the comments -- particularly George Marshall.

    posted by Dan at 12:33 AM | Comments (58) | Trackbacks (3)

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    Charles P. Pierce doesn't like capitalism very much

    Pierce -- who writes for the Boston Globe Magazine, Esquire. and appears regularly on National Public Radio, has a truly bizarre Slate essay that takes aim at Michael Jordan.

    What, exactly, has Jordan done to incur Pierce's wrath? He's expanding his business empire:

    Michael Jordan, a once-famous basketball personage, announced last week that he had teamed up with a Chicago development firm to build a brand-new casino resort about a half-block east of Caesars Palace, just off the Strip, in Las Vegas. There is no place in America demonstrably more homogenized or more corporatized than Vegas. Logos have swarmed in from every point on the compass. Las Vegas now differs from, say, Charlotte only in that it has casinos instead of Gaps and Banana Republics, except that it has those, too. This is Michael Jordan's kind of sin. This is Michael Jordan's kind of town.

    The last couple of months have been a triumph of banality, even by Jordan's standards, which always have been considerable. He's lent his name to a motorcycle racing team; Michael Jordan Motorsports began testing at Daytona on Jan. 3. He's turned up at his son's basketball games, complete with an entourage to shoo away the curious. He appeared on My Wife and Kids, a truly godawful ABC sitcom on which his fellow guest stars included Al Sharpton and Wayne Newton, who at least share a similar taste in pompadours and amulets. And now, he will bring to Las Vegas yet another banging, clanging neon corral, with a fitness center, a spa, and a rooftop nightclub. The surprise is not that Michael Jordan has become such an unremarkable, boring old suit. The surprise is that we ever saw him any other way.

    Michael Jordan was a great player. He also was a great salesman. And that was all he ever was, and that seems to be all that he ever will be. There's nothing wrong with that. He made some great plays and some pretty good commercials. Has anyone so completely dominated his sport and left so small a mark upon it? From the very beginning of his professional career, and long before he'd won anything at all, Michael Jordan and his handlers worked so diligently at developing the brand that it ultimately became impossible to remember where the logo left off and the person began. He talked like a man raised by focus groups. He created a person without edges, smooth and sleek and without any places for anyone to get a grip on him. He was roundly, perfectly manufactured, and he was cosseted, always, by his creators and his caretakers, against the nicks and dings that happen to any other public person. He held himself aloof from the emerging hip-hop culture that became—for good and ill—the predominant culture of the NBA. Remember, he once warned us, Republicans buy shoes, too. He always sold himself to people older than he was.

    How dare Jordan cater to old fans!!!

    I'm genuinely baffled by Pierce's claim in the piece that "there's nothing wrong" with Jordan just being a great player and great salesman -- because the entire essay is devoted to saying that those things are somewhow wrong. Furthermore, even on this plane of analysis, Pierce tries to diminish Jordan's effect as a pitchman, when in fact his effect overshadowed every other athlete up to his time (click here for the whole story). The fact that Jordan was perhaps the first African-American sports figure to be able to achieve such a high-demand status within the corporate world goes unremarked by Pierce as well.

    As for Jordan's business ventures since his retirement, I'll let these words from Magic Johnson speak for themselves:

    When I was an NBA player, I was always dreaming of business plans. As a black man you have to. Minorities make money, but we don't generate wealth. But a business generates wealth—it is power, it is something that you can pass on to the next generation. That is what is needed in the black community. We can pass on problems—it's about time we passed on wealth.

    Side note: I'm personally very, very grateful to Magic -- thanks to his Urban Coffee Opportunities program, the Hyde Park neighborhood has more places to get a decent cup of coffee.

    Click here for another blog response to the Pierce essay.

    posted by Dan at 12:13 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, January 13, 2005

    Can the New York Times and booger jokes co-exist?

    Over at Slate, Bryan Curtis has a subversive proposal regarding Dave Barry and the Grey Lady:

    Here's an idea: As soon as William Safire shuffles off to the Old Columnists' Home, put Barry smack dab in the middle of the Times editorial page. Barry confessed a few years ago that he's a raving libertarian—just the kind of dyspeptic crank who would take pleasure in thumbing Washington in the eye. Give him 14 inches twice a week and let him write whatever he wants. Why settle for another graying libertarian when you can have a libertarian who makes booger jokes?

    The big question -- aside from how quickly the Timesmen dismissed this suggestion -- is whether Barry would give up his blog to do it.

    posted by Dan at 11:27 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)