Saturday, July 21, 2007
Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Prints
OOO!! OOO!!! MR. POTTER!! MR. POTTER!!!
Sorry, wrong medium, wrong decade.
Now that the last turd in the Harry chamberpot has been dropped, perhaps we can all get back to some REAL reading?
I have nothing against Scholastic. I'll be forever in debt to them for one of my favorite childhood memories, the 1970s Dynamite Magazine. From a purely market standpoint as a pro-capitalist-type, I applaud Scholastic for taking a small piece of children's literature and helping shape it into a multi-billion dollar industry on par with Lucas-Films and the Star Wars saga, or any number of Marvel and DC characters writ large on the Big Screen.
From a literary perspective, however, I find it disgusting that the Potter series is compared to the great works of Charles Dickens by empty-minded talking heads. I think most of these journalist and media types make comparisons between The Half-Blood Prince and Nicholas Nickleby because they are such unread imbeciles that Dickens is the only comparative English-language author whose greatness they can comprehend. Were they a little more well-read, we'd be subjected to Harry histrionics that engulf Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, or Rudyard Kipling. Are we really to believe that The Prisoner of Azkaban is on par with Gulliver's Travels, Captains Courageous, The Red Badge of Courage, Oliver Twist, or Huckleberry Finn?
In an age where the educational establishment doesn't think that there should be rigorous standards, that self-esteem and feelings are more important than tangible accomplishments and personal sacrifice, and that no one should have to suffer the indignity of poor grades because they didn't work as hard as another, it doesn't surprise me that poorly written trash lit for kids like the Harry Potter series is praised more than it should be. There used to be a time when "children's literature" consisted of books that were written for adults but accessible to children in such a way that youth could readily enjoy the immediate plot of a work then grow into deeper understandings of the subtleties and shadings within the texts as they matured.
Good night, Allan (and Harold and Leopold) Bloom, wherever you are ...
Now, I'm not one to claim snobbery, as anyone who reads Ragged Thots can tell from my love of three-minute, repetitive tonic-chord pop ditties. Intelligence, however, is to know the difference between my AC/DC or LL Cool J records on one end and my Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev or Duke Ellington CDs on the other. One reason why I hated the Batman Begins movie is that it seemed to me that screenwriters were so embarrassed that they were writing about a wealthy weirdo that runs around in tights, that, much like an eighth-grader caught reading Mad Magazine in English Lit class, they felt the need to explain every single detail of how Bruce Wayne got the car, this bat device, that suit, etc. It was a two-hour apologia for engaging in low-brow entertainment. By contrast, there's something to be said for the honest, unassuming camp of the old Adam West incarnation. The producers of the 1960s TV show knew they were passing off pop entertainment, not Kafka or Nietzsche, therefore they excelled at being a great TV show, rather than a poor-man's Masterpiece Theater.
Read Harry Potter, and enjoy it. But please, please, PLEASE, stop trying to justify a simple read as the progeny of more advanced works!
For parents who'd prefer a less pretentious (and FUN) read for their little dumplings, I recommend THIS Scholastic series ...
Friday, July 20, 2007
Ragged Retro Moment
Time flies, when you realize that some of your all-time favorite hip hop albums are now as old as some PFCs and Lance Corporals serving in Iraq. I only feel my age when my grammar-school-age nephews now have the same reaction to my 80s adolescent soundtrack that I had to my parents' 45 rpms from the 1950s and 60s.
Take, for example, my recent shining to the song "Krispy" by Kia Shine. In two decades, stylish young black men have gone from being FRESH to CRISPY. In another 20 years, I expect a new culinary-haberdashery connection ("Yo, man! Them Nike's is Sauteed! ") I've been duly informed by my oldest nephew, a high school senior, that all his friends hate the song. So Kia, consider my endorsement your middle-aged Kiss of Death.
Anyway, back to the Golden Years of Stetsasonic, Just-Ice, and Whodini. Before Afrocentric Fashion (and Fascism) and "Gangsta Street Cred" took over rap, LL Cool J was my main man. The fact that he went from being the skinny bad-assed kid in Run-DMC's 1985 movie Krush Groove (below) to "all swol' up" (as we called LL's Joe Piscopo-like transformation back then) in the course of one album, only made his 1987 sophomore effort B.A.D. (Bigger And Deffer) that much better.
B.A.D. was my top album that summer two decades ago. I played it to death on my radio show at Ohio State's student station. Ahhh, to be 21 again! The icing on the cake was that LL dropped his record in July, a full month BEFORE Michael Jackson's long-awaited Thriller follow-up with the same-title. By then, MJ was beginning his slow decline to High-Tech Howard Hughes status, and LL's album was like a Gen-X dopeslap to the so-called King of Pop.
As embarrassing as LL's moves are in the video for his album's title cut, it's a good thing he moved into TV and film acting and left the dance moves to the Moonwalker. Comparing the two BAD videos, Father Time gives us unintentional humor as Michael Jackson exclaims in the opening lyric of HIS "Bad" video (surrounded by young men), "You're butt is mine!" Luckily, for Michael, a recent jury did not concur.
If hip hop is not your cup of tea, pick up a copy of my man LL's workout tome. Mr. Smith hits the Big 4-0 next year, but no one will ever confuse him with the majority of pot-bellied, beer swilling slugs among America's other 40-year-old men ("You're the type of guy that says, 'My lower back is killing me' / Catch my drift?"). What LL neglects to tell unsuspecting readers who marvel at his physique on the cover is that (a) you need genes like his, and (b) 20 years of bodybuilding experience to get a figure like that. Take heart, however: Peter Lupus of Mission: Impossible fame is 75-years-old and still bench-presses at least 300 lbs. There's hope for some of us yet!
Next Month: Lose Weight the Easy Way with The Courtney Love Diet! (burnt spoons not included)
Update: If LL and Peter Lupus aren't enough fitness incentive, this prospect will definitely encourage a visit to the YMCA ...
Tim Donaghy's Point Shaving: Putting Things in Perspective
The Sox and Rose damaged the sport they played more then any drug user or thug could ever hope. When players, coaches, and referees bet on games they crush to pieces an unspoken covenant that is shared between fan and participant. This covenant represents a promise that what we see is real. Sports are not fiction, nor fantasy. Instead it is a tangible, and actual thing where then ending is unknown to both viewer and athlete right down to the final out, the final whistle, the final horn, until the fat lady sings.
When Michael Jordan hit his famous last second shot against the Utah Jazz in the 98 NBA Finals, what we saw was real. Or so we were led to believe. Now, thanks to Tim Donaghy, doubt will creep in during every past or present moment in the NBA. Our hope is that the Jordan shot was not orchestrated by an NBA exec trying to conjure up the best ending for the best financial result. Our hope is that what we were watching was pure drama occurring in real time. We hope that it was not a puppet show, and puppeteers were deceiving us before our own eyes.
If Tim Donaghy is found guilty of point shaving, he will hurt the NBA's credibility. The trust between the fans, and the game of basketball will have to be earned once again through time. It is important for us to take a step back and realize that if basketball is such a great game, then it survive this turmoil that it is about to be thrown into. As the tempest nears, the game will go on.
Baseball is an example of a sport that has persevered and moved on. Baseball is alive and well now with record attendance across the country, and TV ratings that most other leagues would die for. But it was not so long ago when many thought that the national past time had run its course. In 1989 it was hit with the Pete Rose scandal, in which it was found he bet on baseball.
At the time, baseball commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti, tried to bring calmness to a time of incalculable harm to the game. He gave a moving speech when he announced the banishment of Pete Rose by saying:
I believe baseball is a beautiful and exciting game, loved by millions - I among them - and I believe baseball is an important, enduring American institution. It must assert and aspire to the highest principles - of integrity, of professionalism of performance, of fair play within its rules. It will come as no surprise that like any institution composed of human beings, this institution will not always fulfill its highest aspirations. I know of no earthly institution that does. But this one, because it is so much a part of our history as a people and because it has such a purchase on our national soul, has an obligation to the people for whom it is played - to its fans and well-wishers - to strive for excellence in all things and to promote the highest ideals.
I will be told that I am an idealist. I hope so. I will continue to locate ideals I hold for myself and for my country in the national game as well as in other of our national institutions. And while there will be debate and dissent about this or that or another occurrence on or off the field, and while the game's nobler parts will always be enmeshed in the human frailties of those who, whatever their role, have stewardship of this game, let there be no doubt or dissent about our goals for baseball or our dedication to it. Nor about our vigilance and vigor - and patience - in protecting the game from blemish or stain or disgrace.
The matter of Mr. Rose is now closed. It will be debated and discussed. Let no one think that it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game.
NY GOP Enters Stone Age
Well, a couple of interesting developments: 1) The New York Sun advanced the story by highlighting Stone's role in the creation of this anti-Democrat web-site discussed here.
In the context of my assertion that the state GOP is "doomed", note where meeting between Stone and Republican senators was held:
Mr. Stone, a protégé of President Nixon who developed offensive strategies for the campaigns of President Reagan, the first President Bush, Senator Dole, and other Republicans, is likely to help Republicans sharpen their attacks against Mr. Spitzer.One more time: "...the Albany headquarters of 1199 SEIU, the health care employes union, which has become an important base of operations for the Senate conference."
Mr. Stone, a Miami resident, addressed Senate Republicans on Tuesday at the Albany headquarters of 1199 SEIU, the health care employees union, which has become an important base of operations for the Senate conference.
After meeting with Mr. Stone, Senate Republicans went live with a Web site, nyinjeopardy.com, attacking individual members of the Senate Democratic conference for their positions on economic and other issues. Mr. Stone said he was not responsible for the site.
Not only have New York Republicans essentially been bought by arguably the most powerful union in the state, they plot their political strategy in its headquarters.
That fact, by the way, explains only too well the language attacking senate Democrats FROM THE LEFT on health-care spending.
2) Oh, and the above Sun story? I received it by e-mail from yet another anonymous account. This one was email@example.com. The NYFacts.net e-mails are still coming -- and a third such e-mail account is now sending out news stories, firstname.lastname@example.org. That all of these are the product of Mr. Stone's new relationship with the state GOP I have no doubt: Just like the NYFacts e-mails, these are being sent to both my Post and home accounts.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Why The NY GOP Is Doomed
So, they've opened up their own Website to highlight the abuses of Democrats. Not a bad idea.
How do they highlight those abuses? Do they promote their own alternative to the Democrats' agenda? Let's see:
The Republicans’ new Web site includes a mock version of the “Jeopardy” TV quiz show.Yep, the New York state GOP is bashing a Democrat for supporting cuts in health-care expenditures in public hospitals!
A visitor to the site can click on “Health Care” for $100, for example, and read: “Wanted to Cut $18.6M from hospitals and nursing homes in her district.” The answer — or the question, in “Jeopardy” style — is “Who is Democratic State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins?”
The reference is to the senator’s support for the governor’s proposed health care budget cuts; the governor presented them as a way to help pay for broader health care coverage, but Senate Republicans and some advocacy groups have criticized them as cuts and were swift in making political hay out of them.
Once again: The GOP is attacking the Democratic state senator FROM THE LEFT for supporting Spitzer's attempt to control health-care!
Doomed, I tell you, doomed.
Labels: New York state politics
Rudy's Political Predecessor
Giuliani plays up his continuity with the Republican past, particularly with Ronald Reagan. But Reagan, of course, was a committed social conservative who expressed reservations about choosing George H.W. Bush as his running mate because of his questionable pro-life views. Giuliani's style and approach are actually much closer to those of another politically successful Republican president: Richard Nixon, pre-Watergate.
In his elections, Nixon appealed to conservatives and the country as a culture warrior who was not a moral or religious conservative. "Permissiveness," he told key aides, "is the key theme," and Nixon pressed that theme against hippie protesters, tenured radicals and liberals who bad-mouthed America. This kind of secular, tough-on-crime, tough-on-communism conservatism gathered a "silent majority" that loved Nixon for the enemies he made.
By this standard, Giuliani is a Nixon Republican. He is perhaps the most publicly secular major candidate of either party -- his conflicts with Roman Catholic teaching make him more reticent on religion than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But as a prosecutor and mayor of New York, he won conservative respect for making all the right enemies: the ACLU, advocates of blasphemous art, purveyors of racial politics, Islamist mass murderers, mob bosses and the New York Times editorial page.
Gerson then identifies the ideological and political dangers that a Giuliani nomination could create:
But the Nixon example is also a warning. His presidency -- from wage and price controls to the nomination of Justice Harry Blackmun-- could hardly be called a conservative success story. As president, Nixon was a talented man without an ideological compass, mainly concerned with the accumulation of power. Giuliani's 1994 endorsement of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo -- the modern hero of Democratic liberalism -- also indicates some loose ideological moorings. And, as with Nixon, Giuliani's combativeness, on occasion, blurs into pettiness.
Another consequence of a Giuliani victory would be to place the Republican nominee in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. For someone who aspires to be the fourth Roman Catholic to lead a major-party ticket, this is not a minor thing.
Giuliani is not only pro-choice. He has supported embryonic stem cell research and public funding for abortion. He supports the death penalty. He supports "waterboarding" of terror suspects and seems convinced that the conduct of the war on terrorism has been too constrained. Individually, these issues are debatable. Taken together, they are the exact opposite of Catholic teaching, which calls for a "consistent ethic of life" rather than its consistent devaluation. No one inspired by the social priorities of Pope John Paul II can be encouraged by the political views of Rudy Giuliani. Church officials who criticized John Kerry on abortion are anxious for the opportunity to demonstrate their bipartisanship by going after a Republican. Those attacks on Giuliani have already begun.
Not the only reasons for being cautious about jumping on the Rudy bandwagon, but certainly food for thought.
Sports (Self) Center
ESPN's lucrative partnerships with the NFL, the NBA, MLB and NASCAR, among others, have put its news operation, and "SportsCenter" in particular, in a unique bind. "Imagine The New York Times owning half of the Broadway theaters whose plays it reviews. Or imagine CNN paying billions of dollars for exclusive ... rights to cover the War in Iraq," wrote ESPN's own ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, in a May 10 Web column titled "At ESPN, Conflict of Interest Is Business as Usual." It has led to the occasional gaffe, like ESPN's decision to cancel its well-regarded drama "Playmakers" after the NFL complained about the show."Playmakers" ran for one 12-episode season four years ago. Unfortunately, the NFL pressured the network to kill it, charging that the fictional show reflected poorly on the real NFL. It featured players engaged in illict affairs, spousal abuse, drugs -- and one of them came out as gay too (sort of "Footballers Wives" without the accents).
Of course, in just the last year, there have 13 arrests of Cincinnati Bengals players (admittedly, Chris Henry was nabbed four times); over a two-year period, Tennessee Titan "Pacman" Jones has been arrested multiple times and has been suspended for half of next season, Chicago Bears' Tank Johnson spent time in jail on weapons charges (and subsequently got released by the team after speeding) -- and now Michael Vick is under indictment for dogfighting.
Bring back "Playmakers", ESPN! It's far tamer than anything that's really happening in the National Football League.
On the other hand, maybe the network thinks such a show would only be redundant at this point.
Praise For The Old Boss
And Steve is by no means a conservative -- or a Republican.
Dog's in the Kennel
(Thanks to Profootballtalk.com for the YouTube link)
Labels: Michael Vick
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Teenage Kicks All Through The Night
There's nothing wrong with seventeen year-olds getting it on while mom and dad are out of the house -- assuming the family is white, middle- to upper-middle class and 'mom and dad' actually live in the home."(amending language in italics)
Corollary: The high level of fatherlessness in the black community helps demonstrate that something can go profoundly wrong when seventeen year olds are left happily "fooling around."
UPDATE: The great pop-punk song that inspired this post's headline:
The sequel to "Obama Girl"
It's Rudy vs. Barack...and their, uh, posses are already fighting it out!
Monday, July 16, 2007
The Catholic Libertarian
I first met Anthony back in DC in the mid-90s. I was working on the Hill and he was (I believe) working in a law firm. He eventually returned to his native New York and I followed not too long afterwards.
He's in Chicago now (how can you stand it, man?).
Anyway, a belated welcome to blogging, Mr. Calabrese!
The Stoning of Spitzer
About a week or so a go, various New York area bloggers and journalists -- including yours truly -- began receiving these odd anonymous emails.
The sender was a previously unheard of organization called NYfacts.net. Visiting that site only rendered a blank Web page.
The e-mails were all just cut-and-pasted fully reprinted news articles (not links) -- specifically negative stories about Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The first few all were stories written by my Post colleague Fred Dicker on Spitzer's apparent using State Police to spy on his political adversary, Majority Leader Joe Bruno.
Bruno denied knowing anything about the e-mails.
Now this blogger, a Democrat, assumes that the sender is a politically active Democrat. Now, it's true that Spitzer likely has quite a few enemies within the Democratic party, but generally a Democrat wouldn't be using a New York Post report to try to bash another Democrat.
I was puzzled by the e-mails, but didn't give them much more thought until this morning.
I got a "StoneZONE" e-mail -- a semi-regular update on the media appearances and other work of long-time GOP strategist Roger Stone. Usually, these e-mails tell the recipient when Stone is appearing on MSNBC or has written some column. This one was different: It (fully) reprinted a Daily News blog item (not a link) that Stone has been hired by the NY state GOP:
Stone, whose client list has included Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump, the late President Ronald Reagan and failed billionaire gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, will be conferring privately with the GOP majority Monday when the Senate returns to Albany to take up congestion pricing, yet-unconfirmed Spitzer nominees and property tax rebates, insiders say. Stone's assistance was reportedly sought by the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. Stone himself did not return a call for comment.Now, here's the kicker: I've been getting these "StoneZONE" e-mails regularly for some months, in both my New York Post account AND my personal "home" account (NOT the e-mail linked to this blog). For the first time today, I also received a NYfacts.net e-mail to that same home account (previously, NYfacts.net had only been coming to the Post).
A source said Stone last spoke to GOP senators several weeks ago and provided advice on "what we need to be doing to take it to the governor."
Since then, Senate GOP Leader Joe Bruno has sharpened his attacks on Spitzer, who in turn has vowed to play "hardball" against the Senate Republicans.
I went to the "NYfacts.net" e-mail and noticed this "disclaimer" at the very top:
NYFacts is a news service. Our goal is to inform civic, government, community, and political leaders about the news-of-the-day. NYFacts is not affiliated with any corporation, political party, or candidate. The viewpoints and contents of the news stories we commend to you are obviously that of the reporters and news organizations. All other editorial comments are ours.Acting on a hunch, I did a quick Web Search of "Roger Stone, Michael Caputo." That brought up this Village Voice story from 2004. It's actually a harsh piece slamming of Al Sharpton for working with Republican strategists -- like Roger Stone.
But look who pops up (emphasis added):
Two vendors for a current campaign assisted by Stone—the senate campaign of Larry Klayman—also donated in Florida, with public relations consultant Michael Caputo and Tasmania Productions owner Teddi Segal donating $250 (she says she doesn't know Stone). Caputo, ironically, was Stone's spokesman in 1996, when Stone was embroiled in the most embarrassing scandal of his career—the much ballyhooed revelation that he and his wife had advertised, with photos, for swinging partners in magazines and on the Internet. Caputo has, until recently, been handling press inquiries for Klayman, an evangelical who led the sex assault in Washington on Bill Clinton and is running a moral-majority, retake-Cuba campaign for senate. Stone volunteered behind the scenes for Klayman too, and several Stone-tied vendors, like Baynard and pollster Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, have been retained.Hmmm...seems pretty clear where NYfacts.net originated. Eliot Spitzer apparently wanted hardball; it looks like he's now got it. And Mr. Bruno's comments that he didn't know anything about the e-mails seems a bit, well, disingenous.
UPDATE: The Albany Times-Union contacts Michael Caputo who discusses his plans for "NYFACTS":
“NYFACTS goes out to a large group of interested “grasstops” activists and decisionmakers. Beyond vital news clips, NYFACTS will be communicating stories from other publications and some orginal writing and cartoons. I have further aspirations for NYFACTS, but for nowCaputo sounds like he's doing this by himself. The timing of his new project, happening just as his erstwhile colleague, Mr. Stone (who, like Caputo, also splits his time between New York and Miami) signs a contract with NY state Republicans is curious, to say the least.
it is what it is.
“Time and the truth will prove Eliot Spitzer is a capricious man of questionable ethics - and I want to help nudge that news around.”
UPDATE II: I should make another obvious point: If Stone and Caputo aren't working together in some fashion, how did both of my accounts end up on Caputo's mailing list. I've never previously received e-mails -- to any of my accounts -- from Michael Caputo. On the other hand, as noted above, I have gotten them from Roger Stone.
I Must Admit...
There are only two ways to think about what Novak is saying, neither too flattering.
It's either 1) The American public is basically racist and sexist and are unlikely to vote for a black or a woman or, 2) Republicans are uniquely positioned to run a racist/sexist campaign. The second scenario offends me as a Republican; the first offends me as an American.
If Novak had made the caveat that America isn't ready to vote for this black (as opposed to, for argument's sake, Colin Powell) or this woman (as opposed to, for argument's sake, Condoleezza Rice or Elizabeth Dole), that would have been one thing.
But he didn't.
Given the way he characterized it, I'm not sure if he was endorsing this sentiment or just reporting it as being prominent within the GOP. And since this was an "off the record" comment, he won't bother sharing exactly who in the party is preparing to make racist or sexist appeals in the general election.
And, as Steve Benen at TPM noted, none of the four other white men on the panel found it worthwhile to call him on it.
Pathetic all the way around.
UPDATE: Some of the Comments section asked for clarification on what I found "offensive" in Novak's remarks. Well, I was offended by the notion that Americans, collectively, are still so racist and sexist enough to reject a black person or a woman out of hand (which is a different proposition from rejecting Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton specifically). I'm offended that Novak's unnamed Republican -- with issues and political circumstances seeming to be running against the GOP in '08 -- was hoping that Democrats nominate a black or woman in order to run what could be considered a racist/sexist campaign.
But, upon reflection, what I found most offensive actually was Novak's glee at this prospect.
Looking at the video of him on MTP , it seems pretty clear that he was not engaging in neutral reporting: The prospect of Republicans trying to exploit sentiments on race and gender was exhilarating to him. And, neither Russert or Hunt (forget about Shrum) bothered to explore the implications of his statement -- either from the GOP's perspective or his own.
Just to be fair in context, Russert's roundtable was in the midst of laudatory look at Novak's just-released autobiography, and so everyone was in a jocular "those were the days" mode. Still, if the show is called "Meet The Press," you'd think there might be occasion to actually explore a sensitive topic if it comes up in the course of the conversation.