Friday, July 16, 2004

I'm mad as hell and...could you pass the wasabi please?

Is Jeb rigging the election again for his big bro? On his blog, Kevin Drum expresses outrage that Jeb Bush compiled a voter purge list that included a ton of
African-Americans, but only 50 Latinos (out of 47,000 supposed ex-felons).  Given that African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Dems and Florida Latinos (especially Cubans) traditionally favor the GOP, this is deeply troubling, especially considering the Jeb and co.'s legerdemain in 2000. 

Does Osama support Kerry for Prez?
On his blog, Josh Marshall expresses outrage that a branch of the Kentucky Republican Party is handing out signs that say:

"Kerry is bin Laden's Man/Bush is My Man." Never mind that nobody has
done more for al Qaida recruitment and incite hatred around the world
for Americans -- not even bin Laden himself -- than good ol' Dubya. As
the theory in Unbreakable goes, the hero would be lost if he didn't have his archnemesis.

Evil Bush destroying our National Parks to curry favor with loggers? On their site, The Onion finds liberals, no, it looks like they've exhausted all their liberal outrage. Damn.

Priority Movies (of relevance only to a select few)

(This post is of interest only to the handful of P&B readers who also double as my moviegoing companions. So let me know what you're interested in seeing, buds.)

The following is a list of movies in current release I would consider watching, ranked on 1-5 point scale (with 5 being "I'll drop everything" and 1 being "buy me a ticket and I'll check it out"):

1. Before Sunset (5)
Why? I will throw a fit if I don't see this movie this weekend.
2. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (4)
Why? Ecstatic reviews; interesting subject matter, and memories of the band kicking G N' R's ass at Dodger Stadium in 1992.
3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (3)
Why? Alfonso Cuaron.
4. The Corporation (3)
Why? Supposedly a thought-provoking take on the world's most important institution.
5. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (3)
Why? Why is it so funny to watch grown men get pelted with a rubber ball and other objects? Also, see ESPN commercial with Randy Johnson.
6. Troy (3)
Why? Fuck the naysayers. I still think this movie will kick ass.
7. Napoleon Dynamite (3)
Why? Looks like a funny cross between Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz, but also looks like the quirky Sundance movie from hell.
8. Maria Full of Grace (2)
Why? Is this didactic-looking realist drama really supposed to be this good?
9. Anchorman (2)
Why? Will Ferrell's kinda funny.
10. Baadasssss! (2)
Why? Looks like a movie for geeks, 'cept I still haven't seen Sweet Sweetback.
11. Super-Size Me (2)
Why? Has anyone not seen this?
12. Riding Giants (2)
Why? Dogtown & Z Boys was fun enough.
13 The Terminal (2)
Why? Looks bad, but I haven't missed a Spielberg movie since...
14. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (1) [corrected]
Why? The only watchable Clive Owen movie out there.
15. De-lovely (1)
Why? Supposedly awful, but even if the rockies may tumble and Gibraltar may crumble Cole's still my man.
16. Zhou Yu's Train (1)
Why? Doesn't Gong Li get neekid in this? Does anyone know? If yes, move up 8 places.
17. The Story of Weeping Camel (1)
Why? Please don't make me watch this.
18. The Door in the Floor (1)
Why? Surprisingly good Dargis review, and Bridges supposedly awesome, but the trailer was so crappy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


- Let's hope Missy spends her time away from the blogosphere productively and return rejuvenated and refreshed. I'll miss her witty ruminations on pop culture ephemera.

- Has anyone watched Jeopardy lately? This guy Kevin Jennings is an absolute monster, like the real life version of the kid from Magnolia. He's just destroying the competition like Mike Tyson in his heyday. Truly awesome to behold. (Jeopardy changed its rules recently so that winners stay on until they're beaten, so Jennings can conceivably go on for a year or two.)

- Barack Obama, whom I'd hyped here, has just been chosen to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic convention. (Tradition holds that you pick a rising star to be the keynote speaker; Clinton famously delivered a dud in '88.) And Mike Ditka decided not to run against him. And so the ascent continues unabated.

Shaq and Roger

Nothing to add to this terrific piece by the Sports Guy on the Shaq trade, which manages to make the case that Shaq's trade was a big mistake while somehow also working in Jimmy "Super Fly" Snuka and an exegesis of Walter Hill's The Warriors (the Sports Guy is freakin' brilliant).

The Sports Guy, like every other die-hard Red Sox fan, hates the Rocket. So does this guy. To top it off, Roger's awful hometown start in the All-Star Game in last night elicited much schaudenfreude among the press, even from the great Thomas Boswell. Besides Barry Bonds, can you imagine any other living legends getting this kind of treatment? What if Dan Marino embarrassed himself in his last start? Or Jordan? It's bizarre that the two most dominant baseball players of the last five decades are also among the two most hated. Not that there isn't justification: these aren't the nicest guys in the sports. Bonds is widely loathed for being an all-around boor, while Clemens is lambasted for hypocrisy and nuttiness.

Clemens is only recently widely appreciated by fans, but still not widely respected as he should be. This is the most dominant pitcher of the last 50 years, possibly the most dominant pitcher we'll see in our lifetime. So he's no astrophysicist, but he deserves the respect his dominance accorded him.

What distinguishes Clemens from Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux, the only other pitchers in his rarefied league, is sustained excellence. Check out his career numbers. The Hall of Fame numbers are the 320 wins and 4,000+ Ks, but the key is at the bottom: Clemens posted the top adjusted ERA (ERA adjusted for the league average) in 7 seasons, and was a top five finisher in 12 seasons spread over 18 years. Adjusted ERA measures pitching performance relative to the league -- correcting for "juiced ball" and annual quirks. It's one of the best measures of actual pitching performance, and nobody in the last 50 years -- not Seaver, Koufax, Maddux, Pedro, or the Unit -- have been that dominant for such a long stretch. Clemens was one of the top 5 pitchers in his league for over pretty much his entire career, one or two fluke seasons aside.

The knock against Clemens was that he floundered in the mid-90s, just going through the motions until he can cash in as a free agent. Duquette famously described Roger to be in the "twilight of his career" in 1996, and Sox fans take it on faith that the Rocket coasted that year, but the numbers don't bear it out (nor does it make any sense -- if he's a greedy fat bastard who could turn it on at will, wouldn't his free agent year be the perfect year to do so?). In 1996, Clemens actually recorded the 4th best adjusted ERA that year in the AL. And that year, what I remember most was Clemens laboring through games at 120+ pitches at start, trying to strike out everybody because Duquette assembled a team of DHs who can't catch worth a lick. The bad defense fucked with Roger's head, leading him to throw way too many split-fingers. Still he was one of AL's top five pitchers, and finally went to Toronto and recorded two of the most awesome seasons in baseball history.

Give the man his due.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Kerry's strong hand

Attack the base, win the middle. That's the judo move called the "Sister Souljah", named after Clinton's brilliant denunciation of the Public Enemy flacky for her militant, white-bashing Afrocentrism at the 1992 NAACP convention. Not unlike the gangster ritual of shooting your buddy to prove your loyalty to the gang, the idea is that, by calling out the more extreme elements of your base, you can supposedly bolster your centrist bona fides and better position yourself as part of the American mainstream.

Norm Scheiber, one of the most astute pundits around, suggests that Kerry should Sister Souljah the Hollywood left for its Bush-bashing. Even as counterintuitive tactics go, this has got to be one of the most wack ideas put forth by a smart TNR writer. First of all, that kind of pointless triangulation would play right into the GOP's hands. In case you missed it, Whoopi, Chevy Chase, John Cougar Mellencamp and assorted other B-listers went on a Bush-bashing frenzy last week at a big NY fundraiser. The wingers started crying foul, and Bush/Cheney 04, right now an echo of the rudderless Bush/Quayle '92 campaign, has seized upon this event as an example of Kerry being "out of the mainstream", running on negativity and pessimism. Kerry's response to this non-issue has been perfect: ignore the desperate provocations and bash Bush some more on his vanished military service records, secret energy task force meetings, and national security lapses. Let the right wing fume about this for a couple of days, and it'll soon be forgotten.

So why shoot the guy who brought you to the dance? The Sister Souljah is a smart move...usually. But not this year. In '92, Clinton needed to prove that he's a different kind of Democrat, the kind who can resist "special interests" and unpopular lefty ideas like radical identity politics. Plus, Clinton only alienated a slither of his base, black militants, with his move. This year, Kerry doesn't need to prove his centrist credentials by bashing the left; he's blessed with the tremendous luck of having an unified, passionate base, giving him carte blanche to make centrist policy pronouncements and run on schmaltzy "heartland" themes while raising an unprecendented sum of money for him. And what's the cause of all this good fortune? Vociferous hatred of George W. Bush from Democratic partisans.

As everyone at TNR should know, Bush-hatred is a legitimate response to this administration's ideological blindness, capriciousness and incompetence. It's Bush-hatred, not Kerry-love, that's driving Democratic activism and fundraising. Democrats have let Kerry get away with not opposing the war, making conservative "values" pitches ("life begins at conception", John?), and even going easy on Bush-bashing (we know the 527s and Michael Moore will do the dirty work). Will Kerry have such an easy time if he starts denouncing these celebrities for expressing exactly what the Democratic rank-and-file feel (those 38% or so who "strongly disapprove" Bush's job performance in the polls)? Why risk angering the left by scapegoating them? After all, they've asked nothing except for Kerry to beat Bush. Plus, those precious few swing voters aren't paying attention anyway, so this does nothing to gain their votes.

So you risk the left's enthusiastic (rather than grumbling) support, while gaining absolutely nothing except maybe some props from The Note and The New Republic. Looks like a bad wager to me.

Good thing Kerry's been playing it smart. He's been laying low, running a vacuous campaign heavy on biography and feel-good pronouncements and now incorporating second-hand Edwardsian themes. As Ryan Lizza notes, the polls show that the "swing voters" -- a notorious apolitical bunch -- are already knocking on Kerry's door. They just don't happen to pay attention to horse race maneuvering in July. (Kerry will win them over with credible debate performances.)

The lay of the land favors the Democrats. Kerry's sitting on a lead, with Democratic convention, the 9/11 Commission report, the Plame indictments, and more Abu Ghraib fallout to come. To use one of my ever-annoying poker analogies, Kerry's holding pocket jacks to Bush's AQ, and nothing's hit on the flop. Bush still has a chance to pair up, but the odds are against him. Kerry just has to avoid being stupid. Like denouncing the kind of Bush-bashing practiced by his most energetic supporters.