Sunday, July 20, 2014

A darker world

In a matter of three days, Elaine Stritch and James Garner. Actors with personality are abandoning us.

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Stritch claims she had her first orgasm on stage during Virginia Woolf's big dramatic scene. Here she is absolutely destroying it on The Late Show in 1996

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Garner's iconic lead characters in Maverick, Support Your Local Sheriff, and The Rockford Files should be instruction for conflict avoidance in U.S. foreign policy. They were a brilliant contrast to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood cinematic characters from the late 1950s through the '70s. Cold War bluster never seems to go out of style, but fortunately Garner never has either.

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Quiz question:
John Kerry describes this as "their moment of truth." He says they "arm," "train," and "support" them, and he accuses them of so far having "refused to call on them publicly to do the things that need to be done."

Is he talking about A) Russia's response to Ukraine separatists, or B) the United States' response to the Israel's current military operation in Gaza?

The answer is A. If you said B, you're on drugs or something.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't You Know That?

 

Luther Vandross died this month back in 2005. He was featured in this year’s Academy Award-winning documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” a movie chronicling the work of professional background singers in the American music industry. Before launching his solo career, Vandross sang backup on David Bowie’s 1975 hit “Young Americans” (pictured above) and for artists like Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, and Ben E. King. It would be no surprise that Vandross would prominently feature a group of background singers when he released his debut album “Never Too Much” in 1981. Enjoy this track off that album, and appreciate the lost art of backup singing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All-Stars

Tonight, Major League Baseball is honoring Glenn Burke at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis. Burke was the first Major Leaguer to be out to his teammates and the first to acknowledge it after his retirement. Burke died of AIDS complications in 1995. Of course, we didn't see this tribute on television and heard nothing about it on the broadcast so there's that qualifier.

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And it's been at least a decade since they telecast the playing of the Canadian national anthem.

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LeBron James re-signs with Cleveland and Scott Raab, the Esquire writer that wrote the book about James bearing the title "The Whore of Akron" says he forgives the superstar forward-- "Acceptance, forgiveness, and love." Says online commenter "pampl," "It takes a big man to forgive someone you don't know after they've moved somewhere else. Scott Raab is kind of a hero."

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I defy you not to get weepy on this video. Maybe there's a chance for us.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Rivers runs through us

 
This world will try your patience, but I like to believe that I will never reach the point in which I'm offended by something Joan Rivers says. Isn't that akin to believing that Don Rickles is a bigot? Joan is a national treasure.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Our broken system


It's a problem that the United States Supreme Court has a favorite religion. (Does anybody believe that the Hobby Lobby verdict would have been the same if the arts and crafts retail store wanted to install Sharia Law inside their stores?) But another problem is that the United States still has an employer-based health insurance system. So very asinine.

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I'm not sure I would label xenophobia the cause of soccer resistance in the United States. Just because many of us agree with Ann Coulter doesn't mean we agree with Ann Coulter. Somehow we should get excited about soccer? It's the signature sport of British imperialism run by one of the most corrupt organizations on the planet. We're supposed to respect the outcomes of the matches even though Europol reports that more than 400 European matches have been fixed, HBO's Real Sports reports that $1.7 trillion will be bet globally on the World Cup this year, legally and illegally, and a match-fixing scandal has actually broken out at this year's World Cup, even though it has gotten almost no play in the American media.

ESPN is a monolith, and they determine what is "important" in American sports, so it will be interesting to see how the sport fares four years from now when the U.S. telecasts move to FOX. Will ESPN bail on the sport like they did to hockey when those games moved to NBC/Universal? (And by the way, how will the sport fare during the four intervening years between Cups?) ESPN is certainly on board now, but why wouldn't they be when the matches air only during weekday afternoons. This is Texas poker all over again.

Another growth problem I perceive: Hipsters here like the sport because it's unpopular. If it gets popular, they'll move on. Rugby or cricket is up next.

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I like the show Game of Thrones, but I don't understand why these fantasy series have to be almost entirely white and the people speak with British accents. It's a fantasy world.
A hundred years ago today, an assassination touched off the war that would end all wars. It's still being fought in the Middle East

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New Orleans.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."

The funniest book ever written is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It famously went to print-- in 1980-- eleven years after its author had committed suicide. Toole's mother, Thelma, had persistently pushed the completed manuscript upon another New Orleans writer, Walker Percy, and after inspiring him to find a publisher, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

Its protagonist is like none other. In the foreward of the book, Percy calls Ignatius J. Reilly a "slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one-- who is in violent revolt against the entire modern age." (People always quote this line, I believe, because the character is so difficult to adequately outline that its easier to stick with the first interpreter's description.) Ignatius loudly criticizes as perverse television programming aimed at youth, yet watches these programs every day without fail. Well educated and literate, he nevertheless lives slovenly at home with his mother, upon whom he is almost completely dependent. "I dust a bit," he tells a police officer. "In addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."

Confederacy has been been stuck in cinematic purgatory for decades, but may be at least coming to the stage. John Belushi, John Goodman, Chris Farley, John Candy, Will Ferrell, and Philip Seymour Hoffman were all linked to the starring role at one time, but in April, Nick Offerman took the role in "an industry-only reading of the project" in New York with an eye towards taking the story to Broadway. Zach Galifianakis, incidently, was the man born to play the part.

Here's a favorite passage of mine from A Confederacy of Dunces. In this scene, Ignatius has stepped into a parking garage and samples a hot dog from a vendor.

"My," Ignatius said to the man after having taken his first bite. "These are rather strong. What are the ingredients in these?"
"Rubber, cereal, tripe. Who knows? I wouldn't touch one of them myself."
"They're curiously appealing," Ignatius said, clearing his throat. "I thought that the vibrissae about my nostrils detected something unique while I was standing outside."
Ignatius chewed with a blissful savagery, studying the scar on the man's nose and listening to his whistling.
"Do I hear a strain from Scarlatti?" Ignatius asked finally.
"I thought I was whistling 'Turkey in the Straw.'"
"I had hoped that you might be familiar with Scarlatti's work. He was the last of the musicians," Ignatius observed and resumed his furious attack upon the long hot dog. "With your apparent musical bent, you might apply yourself to something worthwhile."
Ignatius chewed while the man began his tuneless whistling again. Then he said, "I suspect that you imagine 'Turkey in the Straw' to be a valuable bit of Americana. Well, it is not. It is a discordant abomination."
"I can't see that it matters much."
"It matters a great deal, sir!" Ignatius screamed. "Veneration of such things as 'Turkey in the Straw' is at the very root of our current dilemma."
"Where the hell do you come from? Whadda you want?"

"What is your opinion of a society that considers 'Turkey in the Straw' to be one of the pillars, as it were, of its culture?"
"Who thinks that?" the old man asked worriedly.
"Everyone! Especially folksingers and third-grade teachers. Grimy undergraduates and grammar school children are always chanting it like sorcerers," Ignatius belched. "I do believe that I shall have another of these savories."
After his fourth hot dog, Ignatius ran his magnificent pink tongue around his lips and up over his moustache and said to the old man, "I cannot recently remember having been so totally satisfied. I was fortunate to find this place. Before me lies a day fraught with God knows what horrors. I am at the moment unemployed and have been launched upon a quest for work. However, I might as well have had the Grail set as my goal. I have been rocketing about the business district for a week now. Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today's employer is seeking."

 

A statue of the fictitious Ignatius stands today in the 800 block of Canal Street in New Orleans, outside the former D. H. Holmes department store, which stood during the time the story is depicted in the early '60s and beside which Ignatius "(studies) the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress" and nearly gets arrested during the novel's opening chapter. In bronze, Ignatius still scowls disapproving at passersby, and the Chateau Bourbon hotel takes him down each year during the Carnival celebration to avoid damage by drunk and disorderly pedestrians of whom Ignatius would no doubt disapprove.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The 'F' word

 

St. Louis Cardinals fans are an increasing unpopular group. They're generally considered baseball's best fans, routinely voted as such by all sorts of separate populations (players, sportswriters, fans, etc.) as the game's most dedicated and informed. And we're not modest about owning the claims. As the franchise enjoys more success on the field (last year's league pennant was its fourth in a decade, and the team finished within a combined three games of two more), that general feeling of public love that the organization and its fans have for each other starts to grate.

I'm told.

Milwaukee Brewers Jonathan Lucroy, flavor of the month in the championship-starved city of his employment, along with his team, released a video last week promoting the backstop's candidacy for the National League All-Star team ahead of Cardinals catcher- and field general-- Yadier Molina. The video, inspired by the mudslinging political ads on TV that we're all familiar with, and that make us weep for the dream of a better America, features both a crying baby (spooled over an image of Molina) and a voice message promoting the fact that Lucroy "does not play for the St. Louis Cardinals." It caps with Lucroy stating off-camera, "I approve this message." Not funny exactly, but maybe baseball funny. Like when an announcer says to another, "When you played, the hide of the ball was still a horse."

Anyway, I'm not here to make the case that Cardinals fans are the best fans. I'm here to make the case that Cardinals fans are, in a sense, the only fans. Because, you see, I believe the Cardinals organization should feel a sense of proprietorship over the word "fans." We invented it.

In 1883, a gentleman manager for the old St. Louis Brown Stockings named Timothy Paul "Ted" Sullivan, from County Clare in the old country, coined the phrase. The Browns were the forerunner of the Cardinals in a circuit known as the American Association. Their revival of the game in Mound City during that decade created the recipe for a new breed of addicts. According to Edward Achorn's marvelous book "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey" (2013), Sullivan encountered a man hanging around the club's downtown headquarters one day that spring eager to show the baseballer that he "knew every player in the country with a record of 90 in the shade and 1,000 in the sun." According to Sullivan, "he gave his opinion on all matters pertaining to ball. There was no player but he had a personal acquaintance with." (Sounds like some of my fellow Cards rooters today.)

When the man left the office, Sullivan asked his coworkers, "What name could you apply to such a fiend as that?... He is a fanatic." He then shortened it to "fan," and whenever that same gentleman was seen at headquarters, or around the Browns' park on Grand Avenue on the city's west side, "the boys would say 'the fan' is around again."


It would be the turn of the century until the word fully caught on around the country, emerging, as they say, as an "Americanism." Until then, the preferred word continued to be "crank," and even "fanatic," which is rarely used in the sports context today and mostly reserved for people who violate the prevailing social norms. (Beyond a simple eccentricity.) By the dawn of the 20th century, the Browns were eight-year, merged members of the National League. In the spring of 1899, after short stints as the "Maroons" and "Perfectos," they had adopted the name "Cardinals," which has also sort of caught on, when you think about it.

So, in a way, we're really sharing the word with the rest of you. If it weren't for us, you would probably still be satisfied with "cranks," or "rooters," or maybe "supporters," as it is with a politician or political party and used to be for the game of baseball when it was still almost exclusively a club sport. Today, there would be no Yankees fans, no Cubs fans, no Jonathan Lucroy fans. No Steelers or Cowboys fans. No fans of soccer or futbol. Hell, there would be no Star Wars fans, no Beatles fans. There would be no such thing as a "fandom," as "fan fiction" or "fan art," and there would be some really lonely "fan clubs." 

Sullivan's Brownie boss Chris Von der Ahe, a German immigrant and a larger-than-life figure who owned a prosperous grocery and Biergarten in St. Louis in addition to the ballclub, introduced two major concepts: beer at a baseball game and the idea of Sunday games (there was major opposition to both at the time), so that same 1880's club is collectively responsible not only for two of the elements we love most about sports-- suds and one of the best days of the week to enjoy the experience-- but it also provided the common-usage name for the loyalists that keep our entertainment industries so prosperous and influential in the English-speaking world.

You're welcome.