Sunday, April 30, 2006

Episode Last minus two

This week, my old friends (less C.J. and Margaret) took a "West Wing" week off. Be that as it may. My review is short enough, so here it is:

Alexander Haig, historians recall, was Richard Nixon's last Chief of Staff, and stayed in the position for Gerald Ford until Dick Cheney was appointed. When Nixon resigned and returned to San Clemente, he fell into the habit of calling the White House and demanding to be put through. After five days of this, Haig put out the word: The next time President Nixon calls, put him on hold.

Message received.

This phenomenon, of Vinick rambling through his offices, facing nothing to do, dealing with aides who realize he will run again, who are desperate to dissuade him, was about the only really good thing about tonight--the last breather before the sprint to the finish. Alan Alda was wonderful, as always; never as Hawkeye Pierce or one of Woody Allen's movie characters did he have to deal with his own irrelevancy. The sad fact is that his aides are right, and John Kerry's presumptive 2008 bid will bear them out. (70,000 votes--does this sound familiar?)

The rest of the episode was the equivalent of an author publishing his notes before his death. Once again the hand of O'Donnell filled out the historical analogs:

1. The public school--Amy Carter of course, and a school (of course) run by a hyperintelligent African-American woman.

2. "Sullivan won't run if I do." Vinick. Echoes of Joementum, ay?

3. The SecState offer to Vinick=SecDef to William Cohen via Clinton. Ergo, bravo Clinton.

This was the week the old gang (less C.J. and Margaret) got a rest. A good filler episode.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The graveyard

There is no better place to measure the pulse of the Houston sports scene than the Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar in Rice Village. BWW had been planning its draft party for weeks. Special “Vince or Bush” pint glasses were made up. An ad read that “parties of 8 or more” would receive specials on wings.

For a big event–a UT football game or an Astro post-season game–you can barely get in the door there. Clearly a mob was anticipated for today. Instead, the place was a graveyard; only ten people in the dining area, maybe double that in the bar. The bar itself should have been three deep; instead, two people sat silently and stared ahead.

Back in the dining room, the extra staff lined against the wall and looked at rows of empty tables. When Mario Williams’ name was called, the booing was half-hearted, almost obligatory. Why pick on the kid? Some cheering from the Longhorn faithful when Vince was chosen, some “Oooh”ing for picks four through nine (translatins: Matt’s still on the board!), then when Matt went everyone turned their attention to the Astros game.

Houston has become a baseball town, and pro football here is officially a joke. I honestly didn’t think that was possible.

Worser and worser

The Reggis Bush saga becomes more absurd, seemingly with every passing hour. Over at The Irish Trojan, both tracks are being followed: the potential of Bush's ineligibility affecting USC's 2004 BSC championship and the Houston Texans' astonishing decision to draft Mario Williams instead. Via IT, Chuck Klosterman of's Page 2
basically gives voice to my feelings

Obviously, this decision is wolf-face crazy. It’s the kind of decision you make when you are drunk, and on cocaine, and on deadline, and on fire. It’s going to define the future of the Houston franchise, and it will potentially wreck it (at least for a decade). … The Texans talked themselves into picking an inferior player; they created reasonable, intellectual reasons to make a terrible move. And I realize Houston needs help on defense, but remember — they had the first overall pick because they were the worst team in the league. They need everything. And while you can’t get everything at once, the closest singular equivalent is usually the single-best force. But they took the wrong guy.

I believe what I'm supposed to write now is . . . read the whole thing.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bush League, indeed

Not drafting Reggie Bush is a mistake the Houston Texans will feel for the next ten years.

Time will tell. It says here that this will rank among the most ignoble moves in pro sports history:

Picking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan--because the Trail Blazers were bringing six guards to camp.

Trading (in essence) Joe Barry Carroll and Ricky Brown for Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio.

I'm at a loss. The local TV news should take a page from David Letterman and run an ongoing segment entitled, "The Houston Texans--What?!"

I'm basically in agreement with Len Pasquarelli's take on

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Now this

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez arrested for sexual assault. The Irish Trojan has the story.

Los Angeles, and the heir to Heisman heroes Palmer and Leinart, and (Vince Young notwithstanding) the glamour team of college football. Put 'em all together. This may make the Duke imbroglio look like traffic court.

Happy Sec . . . er, Admin . . . oh, just take the roses

Today is one of those prickly holidays. This article in Slate touches on a few of the difficulties of The Holiday Formerly Known as Secretaries Day. Who qualifies? And what constitutes an appropriate gift? On the first problem:

One Secretaries Day, a former advertising-sales assistant and co-worker of mine got lovely plants from colleagues who rushed to point out that they'd gotten her a gift even though she wasn't really a secretary. She got the impression they thought she might be offended by being lumped in with the admin staff. The holiday forces workers, like it or not, to evaluate how they stack up. Mail-room guy, copy clerk, typist, receptionist, administrative secretary, executive assistant—are you low enough on the totem pole to merit a gift? Or are you too low?

And on the second:

Some bosses feel compelled to take their secretary, assistant, or whoever out to lunch on Secretaries Day. It's a nice gesture, but who wants to sit through that awkward meal? Anyone who has seen the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in which Larry David takes his maid on a squirm-worthy lunch date at his country club knows the potential disaster of forced boss-employee conviviality.

My office was, until recently, a classroom. Now, thanks to the imposition of several portable dividers, none of them reaching to the ceiling, the converted space holds the dean, myself and another chair, the office manager to the dean, the office manager the other chair and I share, my associate chair, and the other chair's intern, and two receptionist/assistants. My desk sits in the center of the room, surrounded on three sides by dividers that lean sideways and, when upright, come up to my chest.

This is, of course, an absurd working environment for a college of 10,000 students. I was never one to hold out for the corner office, but as a chair I listen all day to complaints from students and sensitive matters with faculty, and when I really need not to be overheard (for, say, accusations of harassment) my only recourse is to take either my visitor or my cellphone out to the parking lot. Otherwise, all nine of us can hold a conversation in our normal speaking voices without getting up from our seats.

The only good thing about our working environment is the sense of conviviality it has bred. All of us feel underappreciated, shoved into some no-man's land that startles our visitors; and all of us have chosen to feed off our resentment by seeking understanding between one another. Sensing our esprit de corps, the dean has pushed the notion of us as her inner circle, and when a real crisis hit our college earlier in the semester, it was we she chose to confide in, to the exclusion of, say, the other chairs. The office manager I share with the other chair is one I have worked with for 11 years; she and I share nothing in common save following the Astros, but she is marvelously good at her job. Furthermore, as my duties often have me travelling from campus to campus throughout the day, she is a rock of stability.

Sill, as this day approaches, I have a bit of foreboding. Who gets invited, and who does the inviting? Our solution is that the Dean, the other chair and I spring for the rest of the gang: the associate chair, the intern, receptionists, and so forth. Of course, we leave out the campus receptionists, the work study students, and the adjunct faculty, on the grounds that you have to draw the line somewhere.

The second issue has to do with where we go. My office manager is an intensely private woman in her sixties. As she has turned down all lunch invitations extended by anyone over the past decade-plus--all but two per year, her birthday and today--I suspect that she views this as even more of an obligation that I do. But to point that out out loud--ick.

So we have lunch. But I eschew flowers. An Easterner by birth, in the great Eastern tradition, I give money. Money for everyone. At least that part is easy and (I hope) appreciated.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

While we're talking about football . . .

A paper I delivered at last fall's Southern Conference of the Modern Language Association (Or "Scum-lah," by common parlance) dealt with the incredible hypocricy associated with the notion of the football "team." No one team has embodied the idea of "the team" as my beloved New England Patriots; but at the same time, no one approaches the Patriots for cold-heartedness once a veteran becomes one step too slow or one dollar too expensive. I thought then (and wrote then) that only Tom Brady and Adam Venitieri's jobs were safe (these two, after all, are the only two Patriots from three Lombardi trophies who will join Brian Belichek in the Hall of Fame), but since then Venitieri has left, over a measly million dollars, and to the hated Colts yet. So I suppose these words, since revised, are as prescient as ever. Here they are .

Bayless: If Bush is guilty, rip his Heisman

Skip Bayless, who is spot-on about three times in five, reaches right to the heart of most Trojan fans' fears. If Bush is guilty, Bayless says, take away his Heisman . Bayless first writes this:

The idea hit me Sunday night. I pushed it on Monday morning's "Cold Pizza." And I was very happy to read Joe Schad's Monday afternoon report on that members of the Heisman Trophy Trust are "doing some soul-searching" about it.

Yes, director Rob Whalen told Schad that the trustees have discussed "revoking" Bush's Heisman Trophy.

Good for them.

The mechanism for such a precendent has been kicked around since yesterday. Bayless implicitly admits the rules supplied by the Downtown Athletic Club would require a stretch, but not an unthinkable one:

After all, the Heisman rules say the recipient "must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student." Can't that be interpreted as "student-athlete"? And can't that rule be enforced after the fact?

And how, Bayless wonders, could Bush have been as innocent as he claims? Money quote:

This is not to say Bush is guilty of doing anything wrong. Maybe Bush's parents paid the full rent. His mother has worked as a corrections officer and deputy sheriff. His stepfather works security at a public high school. They have one younger son.

But the family moved into the house before the season began. Surely Reggie would have visited the new house -- it's an easy drive from USC. Surely he would have wondered about the rent. Surely he knew.

If he did know and went along with the scheme, make him an ex-Heisman winner, gentlemen. For the good of the game.

An arguable point, to be sure.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Keep your eyes on your own paper

Dean Barnett is one of the masters of the blogging trade, and the spiffy new look to his Soxblog site has coincided with a wealth of output these past few months. I rate him among the masters of the trade, and divide my favorite bloggers between those who pulled me in via the Dan Rather Memogate fiasco (Powerline, Hugh Hewitt, Captain's Quarters, The Kerry Spot (now TKS), Little Green Footballs, and National Review Online's The Corner) and non-Rather (soxblog, The Irish Trojan . . . gee, that's a lot of blogs via Rather, eh? Well, in fairness, I was reading The Corner before Memogate, aka The Greatest Story In the History of the World. My own less-than-miniscule participation there is a tale for another day). I should add Andrew Sullivan, who demonstrated how the entire genre worked and was so masterful in the weeks following 9/11, and then so erratic starting around Spring of 2004, starting with his obsession with Abu Ghraib and followed by his decision to support Kerry, mostly over the issue of gay marriage.

Look, I'm in favor of gay marriage. To paraphrase Steve Buscemi: Show me a petition and I'll sign it. Put it to a vote and I'll vote for it. But (back to me) I won't use it to choose a Commander-in-Chief in wartime. Sorry.

Back to Barnett. I was careful to paraphrase Buscemi lest I be accused of plagiarism, a serious thing. Barnett gives the details :

I honestly don’t know how stuff like this keeps happening. Some gullible publishing house paid a Harvard freshman $500,000 to write her first novel. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news – there’s a pretty decent chance it will be her last novel.

According to the Boston Globe, it appears that the frosh-person in question plagiarized significant portions of said-novel for which she was so richly compensated. Still, a half million dollar score for a an 18 year old grifter is nothing to sneeze at.

You can go with this any way you like. For me, before I went through Soxer's link I made three wild guesses:

1. That the Harvard co-ed in question was a babe. I mean, smokin' hot.

2. That she was not white.

3. That she came from the Middle East.

How close did I come? I won't say perfect, but you judge for yourself.

And really, am I really the best person to just such a thing--me, a struggling novelist in my own right, with two unpublished manuscripts on the shelf, someone likely to let my jealousy hamper my reason? Shouldn't I be a little less judgmental toward mistakes of youth? Almost certainly. You see, In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages you've had."

"Reggie Bush's House" (is what you're gonna hear)

I'm a USC graduate (class of 1987), and though I have followed USC football since my freshman year, my passion (along with the passion of a few hundred thousand other alums) was restored when Pete Carroll, Norm Chow and Carson Palmer brought the team back to greatness. After Palmer left for the NFL, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush improved on his pace, culminating one of the great three-year spans of the last 50 years: An AP Championshiop, followed by a an AP/BCS Championship, followed by a heart-ripping 41-38 loss to Vince Young and a great Texas team in the latest BCS Championship game, the 2006 Rose Bowl. The Irish Trojan and Boi from Troy have cornered the USC football market thus far--I'll see what I can add.

With that out of the way, we come to the subject of Reggie Bush's family's house , owned by a California businessman apparently interested in steering the Griffins (Bush's family) toward a particular agent. Unless some kind of reasonable rent was paid by the Bushes, this is probably a violation of NCAA rules. The story in is a part of the second wave, in which the Bushes and the businessman deny any wrongdoing and Reggie denies all knowledge.

The worst case scenario (forfeiture of all 12 2005 victories, loss of the Bush's Heisman) is, at this moment, we are told, probably off the table.

Four thoughts:

1. Any Trojan fan who saw the Vince Bowl would agree with me: going from 12-1 to 0-13 wouldn't hurt half as much as going from 12-0 to 12-1 did, especially if the championship seasons of 2003 and 2004 remain intact.

2. Tucked away in the story, following Bush's profession of ignorance, is this passage: "NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes and their families from receiving extra benefits from agents or their representatives. It can be a violation even if Bush had no knowledge of the transaction."

That is, if Bush neither did anything wrong nor knew of any wrongdoing, both he and the school on the hook for whatever punishment is meted out. Ah: once again, the NCAA demonstrates it runs third to the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee in retrograde, small-minded thinking.

3. The Houston Texans, my local NFL team (though not my favorite; I've been a Patriots fan since--stop laughing--since Jim Plunkett) owns the number one overall pick in this weekend's NFL draft. It is no secret that they have leaned toward drafting Heisman-winner Bush, in preference to defensive stud Mario Williams and quaterback/hometown hero/Rose Bowl MVP Vince Young. (The Texans' presumptive theory is that they already have their quarterback of the future, David Carr, and besides just committed themselves financially to Carr for the foreseeable future.) Five days from the NFL Draft, with Bush's agents in close negotiations with the Houston Texans, this story complicates things. Bush, is, I believe, the best choice for the Texans (I will listen to arguments for Young, Williams, et al, but remain unconvinced). Understand: Young has all but begged the Texans to draft him, and a significant number of Houstonians are huge Longhorn fans coming off maybe the greatest season in team history, in no small part due to Young. If the Texans want Bush, fine: but they will have to sell him, trumpets blaring, to a significant number of people who are dead-set against him. (Some local group cut a song called "Pick Vince," for God's sake). The Texans faced the real possibility of outright booing at dozens of draft parties around the city--and this was before this mess. Now?

4. There is a reason that the silly season in politics (Carter's briefing book in 1983, Cindy Sheehan last year) is August: everyone goes home from DC save the journalists, who have nothing to write about, so they seize and obsess over every crumb that comes their way. The silly season in the NFL is between the Combine and Draft Day, when sports radio jocks and fans bore even themselves to death brooding over things they know nothing about. (Peyton v. Ryan? Remember when that was the hot topic?) Something like this house business, for the moment a matter for concern but not yet a crisis, will--in the absence of any new information, without one shred of a formal charge--be the new thing everyone can roll in, so that by Saturday no one will be able to say "Reggie Bush" without having to say, "trailed by scandal," "the subject of an investigation," or whatnot. Not good for Reggie.

Boi From Troy has his take.

Update:The Irish Trojan chimes in with a ton of links.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

West Wing Episode: Transition

My second piece of fan mail today. My mom! I've decided to make use of my LiveJournal page after all, and put the longer stuff there. See how it goes. So my latest submission to TV.Com, my latest "West Wing" review is here.

Let's see. My mother hates "The West Wing." As does my father. My sister-in-law, Karen, can't even work up hatred. And my old high school buddy, Cinco Paul, never watches the thing. His daughter Alex--well, her I don't know.

And to my knowledge, these are the only people yet who've come here. So why burden them?

Happy Earth Day!

My first memory of Earth Day was in 1990. I celebrated by driving 250 miles by myself to see the Yankees in an afternoon game at Arlington. Don Mattingly hit a double but the Yankees lost; I bolted a quick dinner with a friend in Dallas, hit the toad for another 250 miles and was back to my apartment in Houston close to midnight. Ah, one's twenties.

Anyway, two of the great joys of the internet are 1) seeing smart people tee off on eco-freaks; and 2) Mark Steyn. Sheer bliss? Both at once.

Sunday Morning

From my mother I cultivated a love of movies; from my father, sports. Politics I picked up as I went along. From those three avocations come Sunday morning, the most structured day of my week:

8:45 wake up

9:00 Watch "The Sports Reporters" on ESPN.

9:30 Read Phil Mushnick's Sunday column in the New York Post. Mushnick is almost sui generis as a sportswriter, covering not games nor players nor history, but rather behaving as an Old Testament scold against the stupidity, cruelty and excesses of the modern sports scene. His favorite targets: ESPN, Don Imus, and Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN. If ever you've seen the tail end of a forty-foot putt blocked by some stupid "Sportscenter" graphic ("Mickelson's 65: Fourth Lowest Ever on a Saturday Round at Sawgrass") Mushnick is your man.

9:35 Read Mike Lupica's Shooting From the Lip in the New York Daily News. I fell in love the the rat-a-tat-tat style of Alan Malamud in the old LA Herald Examiner before that paper folded, and then at the LA Times. Lupica is the foremost standard-bearer of that style, which probably has its roots in Jimmy Cannon's "Nobody Asked Me, But" ("Nobody Asked Me, But . . . all women look prettier in polka-dots . . . Thursday is the most underrated day of the week"); and in Walter Winchell's gossip columns. My only wish is that he didn't limit Shooting From the Lip to Sundays.

9:40 Read George Will's Sunday column. Will is a hero of sorts of mine: his essays gave rhetoric to my conservative impulses and reading his his clean, eloquent prose style was always a way to kick-start my own graduate-school efforts when the syrup refused to pour. This morning, a nice surprise: a column datelined from my old hometown, Phoenix, about a local giant, Carl Hayden, whose name (but not whose exploits) are familiar to most Phoenicians. Having lived in Houston for 17 years, I can rattle off last names familiar--but only as names--to most Houstonians: Jones, Fannin, Hofheinz, Cullen. In Phoenix the names run as follows: McClintock, Rhottas, Goldwater. Carl Hayden, so crucial to Phoenix's steady supply of water, and hence its population, is a giant in that tradition.

9:50 Read Roger Ebert's biweekly Great Movies essay. With the retirement of The New Yorker's Pauline Kael and the unfortunate death of his colleague Gene Siskel, Ebert has stood alone for nearly a decade as the dean of American movie criticism. In the past few years, Ebert's politics have done a great deal to distort his reason; his politics prompted him to give four stars to "The Contender," a two-hour anti-GOP scream that could have been cobbled together by Still, Ebert can still knock them out of the park--and no better evidence is today's appreciation of Robert Altman's adaptation of Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye."

10:00 George Stephanopoulus. This week, John Kerry once again provides the entertainment so lacking in my life since the cancellation of "Everybody Loves Raymond." Five years on, Kerry still complaining about the failure to capture bin Laden in October of 2001, as if pushing this pedal on the organ for the fiftieth time would, unlike the other forty-nine times, be his ticket to the White House.

10:40 George Will again. The only reason I watch ABC's train wreck of a show is for Will's six or seven sentences of sanity.

11:00 Type all this

11:30 Off to brunch

1:00 Grocery shopping

2:00 Put myself down for my nap

4:00 Work out

6:00 Dinner

7:00 "The West Wing"

8:00 "Sopranos"

9:00 "Gray's Anatomy"

10:00 Type stuff

11:00 Question: What have I accomplished today?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"The Smell of the Wood Burning"

Bob Costas was right: The best thing about baseball is the conversation that surrounds it. And the best baseball conversation I ever read was the one recorded by Peter Gammons twenty years ago this month, in the baseball preview issue of Sports Illustrated. Three outstanding lefthanded hitters--Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, and Don Mattingly--met in Florida to discuss hitting, with Gammons along to record the encounter.

I remember everything about the article, right down to the circumstances involved in purchasing it. I was a junior at USC, and was headed home from the apartment rented by that month's Love of My Life. I cut through University Village and read the article's first few paragraphs at the magazine rack of the 32 Market. It was a Thursday, and I had a story due to my creative writing professor the next day, but I could not wait; I simply HAD to read the entire article that night. So I read it, then stayed up all night to finish my story, then went to class, then slept until the early evening, then took the bus to the Beverly Center Friday night, where I saw Alan Rudolph's "Trouble in Mind."

But really, the article. The only sad part, in retrospect, was that Don Mattingly, coming off an MVP season and touted as the second coming of Teddy Ballgame at the time, would have two more MVP-caliber seasons in 1986 and 1987, two tolerably good seasons in 1988 and 1989, then be laid low with chronic back pain, and finally retire in 1995, with but one playoff appearance--just missing, by one year, on the Yankee team that would win the World Series, then win three more in four years, and generally terrorize the American League for the next decade.

But the article. This is the article that contained the wood-burning question Williams would ask Tony Gwynn thirteen years later, when he made what was essentially his farewell, at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. In all its glory, here you go.

Ray Nagin Watch

Those of us in Houston, who put our shoulders to the wheel and invited our New Orleans brothers to our city last late August/early September, have a vested interest in seeing Ray Nagin (who during Katrina made Cleveland's Dennis "the Menace" Kucinich's reign of error look like the days of Fiorello LaGuardia by comparison) kicked to the curb this election day. Looks like it won't happen--not today, and not in the run-off, unless Mitch Landrieu can rally the "anyone but Nagin" forces to outnumber Nagin's "anyone but Whitey" forces.

For those who don't know, Brendan Loy's Irish Trojan blog was superb in covering first Katrina (several hours ahead of cable news) then its aftermath. Guestblogger Joy Loy's coverage is here.

I love links! Or: I (ugh) meet Bill Simmons

I've started blogs three different times over the past few years, then given them up in disgust when I failed to link to them from Google. My last attempt (save this one) was some major bucks I shelled out at Live Journal the night I met Bill Simmons, Page 2's Sports Guy. I met him at a Borders book-signing for his book, "Now I Can Die in Peace," which chronicled the last few frustrating years of Red Sox Nation fandom, leading up to the Greatest Comeback in Sports History, the team's charge from a 3-0 playoff deficit to the New York Yankees and eventual World Championship.

Simmons's reading is hard sledding for this Yankee fan, but I read the book and found a source of inspiration--well, I wrote the story down in Live Journal before coming over here to be with my friends. The embarrassing tale is told here, here, and here.

My public

I've received my first review of this from one of my sisters-in-law, Karen Wozniak Mcdade, Karen Wozniak as was. Her encouragement has emboldened me to try to link again.

So here goes.

"Cinco and Ken have an interesting question here regarding which celebrity said what he said to Dr. Amy Paul, Cinco's wife."

Here goes.

Update: Yes! Yes! We have contact.

Photos come next.

When it comes to this stuff, I'm the guy typing on an IBM Selectric in the wireless cafe in that ad.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Three to go

Sitting here all alone in the dark (literally and figuratively), I began thinking how so little time seems to exist for just about anything.

So what do I do? I polish reviews for about the last few episodes of "The West Wing." Like this one, about "Requiem," special to me because it featured a real-life goodbye to John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, the Chief of Staff in the fictional White House and the real-life heart and soul of the show.

Here goes:

Random thoughts:

1. I was wondering if John Spencer would be in the opening credits; he was. So, all morbid thoughts aside: a casket played John Spencer playing Leo McGarry.

2. Placing the funeral before the opening credits was precisely the right move: we were cued both for the returnees and for the counterbalancing scene, Bartlet's appearance at the wake. Not only was Bartlet providing catharsis for everyone else, he was honoring his friend by making the wake more in keeping with Irish tradition. (I was disappointed there was no Harp or Jameson's to be had. In the Boston wakes of Leo McGarry's boyhood, circa 1955, there would have been fiddles, drums, and dancing.)

3. My money, these past few weeks, has been on Josh having his legs cut out from beneath him, but in those surprising-yet-inevitable moves that distinguishes the show, Santos threw his lot in with Josh, even at the expense of an old friend. It didn't hurt that Josh was right. So, in a nice narrative folding, Josh becomes COS after all, the spiritual heir to his surrogate father.

4. The politics were fine; my love for political inside baseball was (along with John Spencer) the reason I tuned in seven years ago. But one big eye-roller. When a lobbying opponent says, "Money is speech," the screenwriters have it all wrong. Lobby/campaign finance reformers claim that their opponents argue that money is speech--in fact, they're putting words (or is it dollars?) in the other guy's mouth. (Campaign finance reformers claim that restictions on money are tantamount to a restriction on speech--somewhat akin to ordering the New York Times to spend no more than five thousand dollars a year on printer's ink--but not that money is, in and of itself, speech.) This has always been the weakest part of The West Wing since Day One: purporting to represent GOP views but not doing so, really, unless said views were voiced by drop-dead gorgeous Ainsley Hayes.

5. On which subject. The younger generation takes over, right? Ainsley Hayes becomes White House Counsel. Sam Seaborn, Deputy COS. Donna, Amy, and on down the line.

6. That fellow Marino. How in the world could he be elected president of his condo board, let alone to Congress?

7. Oh, in the memory scene in the Oval Office. Was it just me, or were we being told things about Leo that made absolutely no sense in the context of what we know about Leo? Luge? Minor league baseball? Was there a season or three I missed? Leo McGarry is going down in television history with Captain Furillo and Sam McCoy. His legacy needs to be handled with extreme care.

8. Still, I'm giving the show high marks, since it passes the "crap, only 20 minutes to go" test. I'm invested enough in these people's fates to care about what happens, and the show keeps keeping me on tilt, no knowing. I spent forty minutes with my stomach in a knot, thinking Ray Goodwin would take over as Chief of Staff. I don't mind saying I feel a lot better.

My favorite movie, part 2

(For all none of you, part 1 is below)

In later years, when I would watch "The Sting," every eighteen months or so, the movie had the same effect on me as "The Wizard of Oz": above all else, it became a movie about friendship; in "The Sting"'s case, friendship of an almost paternal type. If you remember, Redford's Johnny Hooker sets after Robert Shaw's Doyle Lonnegan after Lonnegan's hired guns murder his first father figure, Luther Coleman. In that respect, Hooker's journey from Joliet to the big city of Illinois has with it the trappings of a young man leaving home, and of relinquishing one father figure for another.

I watched the subtitled version because one of one question I always had: wasn't Paul Newman, who was after all Redford's contemporary, a little young to be Redford's father figure? As it turns out--as the subtitles make clear--the role was originally written for a man much older, someone so down in the dumps he has become a slob. The person David S. Ward had in mind was Peter Boyle, who had starred in the movie from Ward's first screenplay, "Steelyard Blues." As it turns out, Redford and Newman pulled off the feat by sharing the weight: Newman played about five years older than he was, and Redford played ten years younger. In addtion, some of the supporting characters helped carry the load: note Walston's look of fatherly concern when Redford first enters the fake wire room; or Gould's referring to Redford as "Tootsie,"; or Eileen Brennan acting as den mother for the whole group, right down to applying peroxide to the wound Redford received from Charles Durning.

That was one question I had about the film. I went in search of three more answers, and unfortunately found only one.

1. In the train berth, does Newman do all the card tricks himself? Answer: No. A technical adviser was brought in to teach Newman some tricks, and Newman learned fast, but not fast enough. Right toward the end of the card flourishes, the advisor's pair of hands moves offscreen. Newman's then move on for the coup de grace.

2. How in the world did Newman exchange his four threes for four jacks? Answer: we are never told. Newman's motivation is clear; he has been informed that when Shaw cheats, he usually does so with eights and nines. How the switch is made, we are never told.

3. One thing that always puzzled me. When Redford and Shaw first meet up at Klein's drugstore, we are shown Redford siting at a booth near the back wall. He (and we) wonder if Shaw will show. At quarter two two, Shaw's number two bodyguard enters the drugstore and sits and the counter. Shaw then hears a throat-clearing, stands, then turns around to see bodyguard number one standing behind him, then Shaw in his booth. "Always look to the back, kid," Shaw says.

All right, so how is the set-up possible? If Shaw entered the drugstore before Redford, Redford would have seen him when he entered. If he entered after Redford entered then, of course, Redford would have seen him come in. No back entrance. So what gives? I spent and hour hoping to get an explanation--but nothing. When the scene happened the subtitles were in the midst of the back-and-forth between screenwriter Ward, producers Tony Bill and Michael and Julia Phillips, director George Roy Hill, and stars Redford and Newman. Totally unrelated stuff. So I was left to enjoy the movie--which I did, of course.

Part three next, all none of you.

My favorite movie, part 1

AMC showed "The Sting" twice last night: once in its regular restored version, once with the subtitles that purport to elicit crucial information about the movie in real time. (Who knew, for example, that the Saran Wrap during the "Greased Lightning" song in "Grease" stood for sex, in that--in those days--poor urban kids (of which the T-Birds were exemplars) would use their mothers' Saran Wrap as a cheap prophylactic.) As it happened, I purchased the "Sting" DVD on Amazon a few weeks ago and watched the movie straight through three times, plus the documentary on The Making Of, plus the trailer. As a package, the DVD rates about a B: no excluded scnes, interviews held to a bare minimum. But throughout, as I played one segment after another, I sat transfixed, gulping in every word, every image.

"The Sting," you see, is my favorite movie.

In reviewing "La Dolce Vita," Roger Ebert made a comment that has stuck with me: good movies remain what they are. For Ebert, "The Graduate" remained what it was, and his 1997 re-assesment of the film, downgrading it from four stars to three, reads like an account of a personal betrayal. Ebert's main thesis was that Benjamin should have simply run off with Mrs. Robinson, the smartest, most sensitive, and yes, best-looking character in the film--an opinion whose merits I see, having had my own Mrs. Robinson experience a dozen years ago.

On the other hand, for Ebert, great movies keep coming at you differently, depending on your circumstances. He first saw "La Dolce Vita" in his youth, when Fellini's "The Sweet Life" was everything he aspired to: the clubs, the late nights, the parties in rich mans' houses. He saw it again as a young adult, as a party animal on when the crowd he ran with in Chicago almost consciously aped the behavior of Marcello Mastrianni's group, with the clubs, the late nights, etc.

There is a sensitive point here. Over the past decade, Ebert has made a few veiled references to his status as a recovering alcoholic. (Re "Sideways": "Whenever an alcoholic tells you what he is planning, what he's planning is his drinking.") It is apt to point out here that, in the late 1970s, when they both were becoming famous, Ebert closed down a few places with his fellow Chicagoan John Belushi. When Belushi died from a massive cocaine/heroin overdose in his early thirties, Ebert, in his rememberance of Belushi, recalled a night when Belushi essentially re-created (this time in real life) the Jack Daniels chug-a-lug scene from "Animal House." Ebert, who recalled that he was "pretty far gone" himself that night, wondered not why Belushi did what he did, but how he could--how he could possibly drink in a way that would put the rest of us in a coma.

For all his references, nowhere besides his review of "La Dolce Vita" does Ebert simply state the stark facts of his life. When he saw "La Dolce Vita" a third time, he writes, he had stopped drinking and could look on the characters as objects of pity, never more so than Mastrianni's character, who tried one pathetic morning to try and write a novel (his typewriter outside, his paper flapping in the breeze, he himself trying to concentrate through a triphammer hangover.

So this is the definition of great films: they change for us as we change.

When I first saw "The Sting" I was ten years old, in a Phoenix drive-in, and was simply blown away. The music, the color, the wardrobes. The huge surprise at the end. Did I mention the music? My only sense of betrayal was the difficulty keeping track of the lead players. I had Paul Newman and Robert Redford in my mind from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid": Newman was the clean-shaven overgrown kid, Redford the hard-bitten mustachioed realist. The shock that not only had they swapped mustaches but also personas was my first major ajustment. Who the hell was whom? For a few strange moments I thought the guy at the beginning, Detolla, was either Newman or Redford or both. When I finally settled down, I saw a world I wanted to enter, with my pin-striped suit, tam-o-shanter and wisecracks. This was a world that was bigger and brighter than the Phoenix of my youth, and I desperately wanted in.

I saw "The Sting" about ten times over the next few decades, and here--knowing the ending, braced for the surprises--I could simply enjoy it as a bravura piece of filmmaking. On the DVD I saw Robert Redford, Ray Walston, and Eileen Brennan interviewed, and all said the same thing: that David S. Ward' screenplay came to them as perfect as a duck's egg, the best screenplay they'd ever seen. I'm always a sucker for an ensemble piece, for supporting characters in all their glory. The first two "Godfather" movies are an ideal example, as is "Presumed Innocent," with John Spencer's detective and Paul Winfield's judge. With Brennan, Walston, Harry Gould, even the pool hall landlord with his one memorable line ("Never heard of the place"), "The Sting" became something akin to an actors' Olympics. For twenty years I would judge it as such.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Well, damn it

Can't link. Tried it once, and got one comment: "puppy tards." I try. I TRY. I just want to BLOG, people. I want to say, well, Hitch has an interesting essay HERE.

And link, and then write, "Heh."

That seems to be the blogger's version of QED. "Heh."

For the love of God, HELP ME!

I want to write "Heh," damnit!


Here we go. Like, an interesting article here explains the blah blah blah.

For allone of you, excuse the training wheels.

Educating Rita

Good Lord, is a link this hard?

The Yankees are clubbing their way into contention, my favorite golfer just won the Masters, "South Park" just entered television history, and my college campus is soon to meet the wrecking ball, but I want to know how to link to freaking soxblog.

Okay, here we go.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

More West Wing

Sad, really. The better the valedictory episodes of "The West Wing" become, the smaller the audience. Well, a re-cap of tonight's episode:

This episode was, I think, the fourth in my viewing lifetime that allowed the real-life death of a well-known and beloved performer/character to work its way into the plot of his show. They are, in order: Jock in "Dallas," Ezsterhaus in "Hill Street Blues," Coach in "Cheers," and now Leo. Of the four, only John Spencer's Leo could be mourned as a personal loss; though I had known and sometimes loved the other performers (Coach--Nicholas Collesanto--was especially good as a made mobster in "Raging Bull"), John Spencer was an actor in the tradition of Gene Hackman and Paul Newman, an actor who could give a performance with the ease of Jack Nicklaus hitting nine-irons on the practice tee.

Funny thing: I knew Santos would win, and I knew Leo would die, but until tonight I never connected the two with Josh: the notion that the greatest moment of his professional life would be the moment that his surrogate father would pass away.

Does anyone remember the kidnapping episodes? Lost amid the panic of the evening, the drugs, the notion of John Goodman as President tempore, was the conversation between Donna and Josh's sometime girlfriend, during which Donna laid out the bifurcated state of Josh's life: that his triumphs and tragedies run neck-and-neck. Chief among these was Bartlet's winning the Illinois primary (basically assuring himself the nomination) and, the same evening, the death of Josh's father, who (cue Doctor Jung) was an old friend of Leo's. This led to one of the greatest exchanges in the show's history, when Governor Bartlet followed Josh to O'Hare and talked to Josh about how Josh's father would have talked, had he lived:

Bartlet: "Be doing a little bragging, would he?"

Josh: "Yeah. Your name wouldn't have come up at all. 'My son won the Illinois primary.'"

Bartlet: "Yeah." (Upraised thumb.)

And now we have a greater triumph, and almost as much (for Josh) a personal tragedy. As I've written before, Leo once described convincing Bartlet to run as "pushing molasses up a sandy hill." Well, now Josh has done the same, with even a less likely candidate than a Governor of New Hampshire. And in his moment of triumph, he deals with the loss of his second father. I recognized the glasses, the shoes. And I miss the man in all his forms.

Before I get to the end, there is this: Oh, could Lawrence O'Donnell just go far away. I saw his fingerprints all over the two weakest parts of the episode. The first was Vinick's refusal to challenge the results in Nevada, which (oddly enough) I read as a criticism of Bush's taking the Florida matter to the Supreme Court in 2000. (Message: whoever is the last to litigate is the most overly litigious.) The second was Santos saying that, since the election was "razor-thin," he hadn't won a mandate. Any recent election come to mind?

Finally, again, Josh. I can't escape thoughts of the Leo-Josh relationship without noting that, when pull came to tug, Leo picked CJ over his surrogate son--and furthermore, whatever betrayal Josh might have felt was never expressed. Are we moving toward this moment? Santos's statement toward his Hispanic aide ("I think we may find a way to top it") seemed to suggest he may look elsewhere for a Chief of Staff. This would be a gut-punch to Josh. Everyone else is locked in orbit, steaming toward docking. Next week, we bury Leo. Then, for the last few weeks, this is the Josh show, people.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lights, please

I feel like Charlie Brown in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," shouting, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" Every time I try to link, something else happens. Either I link to a nonexistant email or mess up my text.

Isn't there anyone who knows what linking is all about?

I want to write, "Now here's an interesting article here," and have a line under "here." And "here" in boldface. Instead I feel like Uncle Arthur on "Bewitched" when he can't pull off the tablecloth trick and has to work in that depressing ice cream stand. Help?

Ah. My first bleg.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A cautionary tale

Submitted for your approval: the post below.

I take off from work for every Opening Day at Minute Maid Park to watch my adopted team, the Houston Astros. I did so yesterday. My father brought me up a New York Yankees fan; I enjoyed the Bombers' World Series championships in what were, for me, the two perfect moments of my life: the ages of eleven and twelve, when my deep love of the game was embryonic; and the ages of 31-35, the years just after I received my doctorate in English Lit, embraced the world with a sense of achievement and--with "Silas Marner" (ugh) behind me--could return to the world of spectator sports with renewed vigor.

The Houston Astros--a different bunch. A beloved baseball team in a football town. A team of grown-ups compelled to act like grown-ups. As Roger Angell wrote, "Baseball is ultimately about losing, which is why it is, ultimately, a game for adults." That thought in mind, I started off on baseball and Opening Day and television and somehow got sidetracked . . . well, read if you wish.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Opening Day

My boyhood friend Cinco Paul and his writing partner Ken Daurio ("Bubble Boy," "Santa Clause 2,") started a blog last week: It was their emergence online that brought me here from my lonely outpost at LiveJournal, in part as a reason to keep track of Cinco without having to hunt up his e-mail address every time something was up. So it was quite nice to receive a response to the reprinting of my submission (one of five) regarding the most recent episode of "The West Wing." That post prompted one response, from pal Cinco, wishing me well but adding he'd never seen "The West Wing."

Okay, Cinco. Since you and daughter Alex have apparently been the only two visitors these first few days, since I'm feeling like I opened the Houston cyber version of Babboo's Restaurant in "Seinfeld" (and wasn't Babboo Mr. Ice-Cream-and-Curry in "Bubble Boy"?) allow me to treat you to a musing on a topic we both love: baseball.

Yeah, kidding, Cinc'. Your indifference for baseball was always a disappointment to me, but I accepted it under the doctrine of no disputing taste. You always liked football plenty--even more in recent years, when you discovered Fantasy Football and dragged me in, to the point that when the Houston Texans signed that fellow Jay Putzier as a tight end last month, I not only said, "I know that guy"; I not only said, "I know that guy's stats" (FOOTBALL stats? Sheesh!); I said, "Hey, I remember when someone took Putzier in my online draft, I wondered in the chat room if there was a 'Putziest,' and someone shot me back an 'lol,' which was cool, 'cause I usually get a '?'."

So football, fine.

But come on: Opening Day.

There are two questions people are often asked, to which I have ready-made answers. To the question, "What is your favorite joke?" I tell the one about the Irishman pulled over by the Officer Malloy on his way home from the bar. To the question, "If you could pass any law, what would it be?", I answer, "Opening Day of the baseball season. National holiday."

In any case, as long as I can manage, Opening Day will be MY national holiday, even if (as with this year) the home game in question is a night game, thus necessitating no absence from work. My home team, the Houston Astros, played at 6:05 tonight, but I took off the entire day. All afternoon, in anticipation of my drive out to Minute Maid Park (Enron Field as was), and the raising of the 2005 National League Pennant,
I had one game after another on TV, so many that they blended together like so many bowl games on New Year's Day--entirely appropriate. A few games were fabulous--Mets v. Nats comes to mind, a 3-2 nail-biter with the potential tying run thrown out at the plate--but the sight and sound of the games in my living room, my bedroom, my den, accomplish the same task MTV a few decades ago did in the summer months I was home for college: provide carpeting for the air, something to listen to and only occasionally draw my interest.

Cinco will remember what I'll write next. The complaints about MTV's tiresomeness are at least a decade-and-a-half old, dating from when the dominant fixture on the network stopped being videos and started being "The Real World" and its offspring. The complaints are so old they themselves have become tiresome, and they ignore a certain reality: that MTV's first phase, starting with its debut in 1981, lasted until 1986, when front-line performers stopped doing four or five videos (or, in the case of Billy Joel, seven or eight videos) per album--and in some cases, none at all. The genre itself seemed exhausted. Really, how many white horses could wander through darkened cities? How many mirrors could be shattered? How many second-line celebrities could do cameos, and inspire us not to say, "Hey, that's Joe Piscopo!", but rather, "Hey! We're supposed to say, 'Hey, that's Joe Piscopo!'" ("Keepin' the Faith," anyone?) In desperation, MTV was driven to screen old "Monkees" episodes, and the news that reruns of Davey and the gang had become the most popular part of the MTV viewers' day was deemed not good news at all. The network trying packagin videos in theme shows ("One-Hit Wonders," which allowed us another look at Flock of Seagulls) but really, was in serious danger of becoming yesterday's news.

The network-as-videos enjoyed a partial renaissance in 1989-90, boosted by a cluster of videos by a pair of comebacks (Aerosmith and the B-52s) and a new generation of younger artists (Michael Penn's "No Faith" is perhaps the exemplar). However, an already conscious choice had been made, to move from videos and into programming. Thus the most famous moment in the history of the network (ultimately more memorable than Live Aid) was the moment when Puck was kicked out of the "Real World" San Francisco house--a moment, I believe, that led us to elimination-style reality TV, "Survivor" and its offspring: one Puck, every week!

But never mind that. For a brief few years in the 80s, there was no need to schedule to watch what was on MTV. It was, like radio, simply there to be listened to. You came home, you turned in on, and music came out--much music, at least for someone growing up in Phoenix, that was months ahead of what was played on the local FM stations. The audio portion of the network was deemed so important that celebrities (Phil Collins stands out) were recruited (and, one assumes, paid) to shill for some hook-up that would run the sound of the network through the viewers' stereo amplifiers. You're of a certain age if you remember this catchphrase:

"MTV. Are you listening to it . . . . in stereo?"

Nowadays, it is laughable to think of stereo sound in conjunction with Juanita's drunken blackouts on "Real World: Hawaii." Who on earth would care? MTV has become WE or SciFi or . . . yeah, here's where I stopped.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The West Wing, as it winds down

It's politics aren't mine, but I became an absolute freak for this show. Must have been the dialogue. I became entranced with the reviews of the show on and, starting this season, began posting my own reviews. Here is my latest, my review of tonight's Part One of "Election Day":

Funny coincidence: while killing time waiting for "Election Day" to start, I was recalling graduate school for someone who had never known the importance we attached to every argument, the earth-shaking importance of endearing ourselves to every invited author who came through town, and, always hovering in our midst, the sex. It is an emotional perfect storm to feel overworked, underappreciated, and still involved in something bigger than oneself: in my case, teaching freshman comp to thirty-five students at a time. What happens in the aforesaid situation is a sense of self-romanticization in which sex becomes the logical outcome of a half-decent evening.
This exhaustion/romance/sex matrix was what was on display throught tonight's episode, and by God, none too soon. So many of the characters we've seen these past seven seasons could best be described as thwarted: up to now, CJ never had sex with Danny, nor Josh with Donna, nor (I think) Sam with Ainsley. Toby fathered twins, Leo got it on with his lawyer--but really, the Rubicon was seriously crossed when Will Bailey started getting some nerd action earlier this season. But tonight was a kind of prom night crossed with commencement--and, full of themselves and the moment and the wish to continue it, everyone in the Santos campaign paired off, Josh and Donna most prominently.
There are the big questions, and then the interesting questions. Big question: will Santos win? Answer: yes, of course. Alan Alda has been kept in the bullpen for the last two weeks, for one thing. Interesting question: what will become of Josh and Donna? Answer: who knows? Their thwarted passion has given way to the two of them having to find a kind of truth together. Now they have to find their own way.
Big question: how will the election be resolved? Answer: some spin on the 2000/2004 elections. My best guess now: Vinick turns down the opportunity to pursue a court fight, in part because of the death of Leo McGarry.
Two final thoughts. The discovery of Leo McGarry's body brought home once again how much I'll miss both his character and John Spencer the actor. Spencer was that rare actor who simply was never bad: along with M. Emmett Walsh, Steven Hill, and Harry Dean Stanton (along with few others) Spencer was a guarantee that, whatever the merits of a product, there would always be one good reason to watch.
Finally, Josh. I'm worried. Josh clearly has spent his entire adult life preparing to be White House Chief of Staff. At least seven times, he has come close (sometimes perilously so) to the job: Hoynes's first campaign, the time the Bartlet staff considered dropping Hoynes for (among others) Leo during the re-election, Hoynes's resignation (and the thought of replacing him with Leo), Leo's heart attack, Hoynes's second campaign, Russell's campaign, and now Santos. Each time, something (or someone, such as CJ) has stood in the way. Now, his election-day emotional unraveling, combined with Leo now gone as his cheerleader, may stop him yet again. Does anyone think that President Santos might judge someone else (Lou, perhaps) to be more appropriate? Or is all this a red herring?
Leo's death and the election will be the immediate triphammers. Toby will make a deal, Will's fate will be a footnote, Bartlet will write his memoirs, and CJ will get together with Danny and run General Electric. The big gut-punch will be Josh: his future with Donna, and--watch for it, gang--his future in the White House.