Sunday, February 23, 2014


In our wimpified world, snowfalls are given names, like the recent 8-inch dusting dubbed Winter Storm Hercules. News reports on these events now tell us not only the “wind-chill factor” or the “real-feel temperature,” but also how long it takes for exposed flesh to freeze. This is especially troubling since exposing my flesh is pretty much all I ever do in the wintertime. It's all I have left, and now I'm afraid to do it.


surfstop, n., a television show the entire audience of which consists of people who, while flipping through the channels, pause briefly out of curiosity, horror, ennui, or some combination thereof; a television show virtually no one ever intends to watch but which is viewed by a few people anyway.


I have never understood why Republicans, and even some conservatives, always refer to the Democratic Party as the “Democrat Party.” It's pejorative---I get that--- and it's done to annoy Democrats (which it does), but why? I've always assumed that there is some underlying implication that the Democratic Party should be called the Democrat Party because they're not “democratic,” whatever that means. But I've never actually heard anyone make that argument, and I can't guess what the argument would consist of.

Taking the most charitable view of this, let's assume there is some historical reason for “Democrat Party” that once made some sense. Even so, doesn't it now just seem churlish and mean-spirited and lame? Why do Republicans do this? Isn't it like those people way back when who insisted on calling Muhammed Ali “Cassisus Clay?”


The latest craze in faux politeness from the corporate world is thanking you for asking a question. I have encountered this several times. You call a help line or a benefits office or a phone bank set up to take calls from the public, you spend eight minutes navigating the menu options until somebody picks up the phone, you finally pose your query, and the person says, “Thank you for asking that question!”

The first time you hear it, you are puzzled. The second time, you're amused. Now it's just annoying. And there is nothing more annoying than being thanked for asking a question by a person who doesn't know the answer.


Pope Francis showed up in Davos this year to tell the billionaires they need to cough up more cheese for social justice and such. This takes a lot of nerve with Bill Gates sitting there, whose business activities have improved the life of every civilized and semi-civilized person on the planet. As for the non-civilized folks, he has done a lot for them as well with some of the $28 billion he has contributed to his Foundation. Then there's Warren Buffett, who doesn't attend Davos but who gives away more money than Gates does.

This pope's a dope. As pope, he has some responsibilities as a head of state and one of those is to have, or acquire, some minute quantum of economic knowledge. The guys he was castigating are the reason the number of poor countries around the world has been cut in half over the last twenty years. Economic freedom, business innovation and entrepreneurship are what, over the last 300 years, has made all of our lives significantly less “solitary, poor, nasty, brutal and short.” Francis, however, doesn't understand that.

I'm finding it hard to like Francis. He seems smitten with various fluffy-headed socialist ideas that have failed wherever they were tried. It is only democracy and economic freedom that have put food in the mouths of the poor. Also, anyone who looks at the 20th Century and cannot see the 100 million corpses produced by those who were opposed to economic freedom is a bit of a fool.


First we had the coincidence of Thanksgiving and Hanukah, and then we found that Superbowl Sunday and Groundhog Day also occurred on the exact same day. Between these two synchronous double-overlap celebrations on November 28 and February 2, we were attacked thrice by the bone-chilling and mysterious Polar Vortex during which exposed flesh freezes within twenty seconds or three minutes or sixteen parsecs (depending on the meteorologist).

Next winter, I want everything to happen on a different day.


As the years go by, the list of email contacts on my computer is increasingly populated by the dead---friends, relatives, acquaintances who have passed on. I can't bring myself to delete their email addresses. It would be so final a goodbye, I can't bear to do it. It would feel like a betrayal somehow, as if I were personally consigning them to oblivion. Yes, they're gone, but they're still on the list, right? They may be dead but I can still send them an email, can't I? Can't I?


ESPN reports that the NFL is giving serious consideration to a new rule that would penalize a player on the field for using the word “nigger.” The first offense would draw a 15-yard penalty and the second violation would result in ejection.

Or as Adam Carolla has pointed out, “In twenty years, we'll all be chicks.”


Working with and among the public, I see a lot of women who accessorize for the Christmas season---Santa hats, jewelry, knee socks, antlers, etc. And what I have noticed is that some women look really good in antlers and some do not. So here is my fashion advise for women at Christmas: find out whether you look good in antlers. Ask a trusted girlfriend and demand the truth. If you do not, NEVER WEAR THEM. On the other hand, if you are one of those lucky women who look smoking hot in antlers, wear them all year long. Please.


Thursday, February 13, 2014


Bill Conlin, who died a month ago, was the best writer at the Philadelphia Daily News for at least thirty years. Then, in 2011, allegations surfaced that he was being accused by a niece and three of her childhood friends of pedophilia. Hours before the news hit, this dean of Philly sportswriters resigned his position and disappeared into a retirement community in Florida. He never spoke to anyone about the allegations. I was told by his colleagues at the Daily News that Conlin was never a terribly sociable guy and had no friends at the paper, but even so, his vanishing act was extreme. He wouldn't answer the phone. He wouldn't answer an email. Exactly nothing appeared about him in any Philadelphia newspaper from December 2011 until the report of his death on January 9, 2014.

I mention him because his story is today so unusual, though public figures caught in corruption scandals or moral turpitude used to do this all the time. They would disappear in shame, and you would hear nothing about them for decades. Today, however, the ambit of public shame has shrunken so much that Conlin's story is a bit of a shocker.

A 49-year-old US president cheats on his wife with his star-struck 22-year-old employee, then perjures himself about it in an unrelated legal matter. There was a time, well within living memory, that a scandal of this nature would have led to his resignation and his departure from public life. Instead, there were howls of outrage from his supporters that anyone would suggest such a thing. Today, he remains very visible in public life, and it is considered rude to even mention his past behavior.

Lesser creeps consorted with hookers (Spitzer), cheated on a cancer-stricken 30-year wife (Edwards), drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl (Polanski), and repeatedly sent photos of his penis to strange women on the internet (Weiner). All these guys took career hits from their transgressions, yet none of them seems especially contrite. They all seem to be merely waiting until the rest of us come to our senses and stop being so damn judgmental and let them back onto the A list. And they all have their defenders though, unlike Clinton, maybe not so many.

Expelling a person from public life for transgressions against accepted norms had several purposes. First was deterrence. By stripping bad actors of their celebrity privileges, society made it clear that disgraceful or dishonest or evil behavior would carry a price, and this made it more likely that those who were lifted up to positions of power and influence would refrain from giving in to their baser instincts. There was an implicit understanding that those few individuals would hold themselves to a higher standard. I can offer no mathematical proof of the deterrence principle, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. I don't remember seeing bad behavior from the high and mighty nearly as much as we do today. Then it was always a shock. Today it is almost expected.

A second purpose was to teach humility, and this aspect is something I desperately miss. When I see a weird serial pervert like Anthony Weiner trying to resurrect his political career, I am struck primarily by the arrogance of it. Does he really believe we can't get along without him? Does he think the New Yorkers he represented in Congress will be so distressed by his departure that they will be unable to find somebody else? This was the other lesson of the shame-and-disgrace model---that no one is so important they cannot be replaced, or are beyond the reach of our contempt---but that lesson is no longer being taught. Instead, these creeps hang around, disappearing briefly for a stint in a clinic but then re-emerging (cured!) to reclaim their sliver of limelight. I just want them to go away. But they won't.

But Conlin? At one point, he and I had a lengthy argument on-line about Gene Mauch's proper place in baseball history, and Conlin actually blocked my emails. At the time I didn't know that could be done, and I don't know why he did it other than the fact he was a crotchety old bastard. I didn't like him much, in other words, but I have to give him some minimal credit for understanding there is a line between good and bad and that he had fallen on the wrong side of it. Knowledge that there is such a line is far from universal, though it used to be.

John Profumo was Secretary of War for Harold Macmillan's government in 1963 when he became entangled with a young hottie named Christine Keeler in a complicated scandal involving Russian spies that might have compromised (but probably didn't), British national security interests. He then lied to the House of Commons about it, and that was viewed as a considerably worse thing than the scandal itself. Two weeks later, he resigned his position and went to work as a volunteer cleaning toilets at the Toynbee House, a charitable institution in London's East End.

And that is where he spent the last forty years of his life.


Friday, February 7, 2014

BLUE JASMINE---A Film Review

You have probably noticed that film reviewers who really really really WANT to like a movie (for whatever reason), will find something wonderful about it even if the movie itself is dreadful.  Often it is an acting performance.  "The Master" got raves everywhere solely on the basis that Philip Seymour Hoffman (God rest his soul), captured an unusual character in an astonishing way and made the film a masterpiece.  What the reviewers said about Hoffman may be true, but the movie itself closed instantly.  Nobody wanted to see the goddamn thing.  But oh, we were told, it's a tour de force!

All of which brings me to "Blue Jasmine," a monstrosity from Woody Allen.  This too was sold as a lifetime acting wonderfulness opportunity for Cate Blanchett, who has been nominated for the Best Actress award.  (And why didn't we realize before what a great actress she is?  What's wrong with us?  Do we all live in double-wides?)  It was also promoted as the great Woody Allen movie we've all been hoping Woody still was capable of making, and here it is!  At last!

In fairness, "Blue Jasmine" is not Cate Blanchett's fault.  She did her best.  But she was required to play a part written by a man who has been morally empty for twenty-five years, and now also hates women.  He didn't used to hate women.  He didn't hate women when he wrote "Annie Hall."  He didn't even hate women when he wrote "Manhattan" or "Hannah and her Sisters," (though one could make the case).  The tide turned somewhere around 1990, however, and now his misogyny has entered a darker, cartoonish phase.

The two main characters of "Blue Jasmine" are sisters.  No women like this have ever existed, and they never will.  These two literally have no interest in life other than finding a man to love and support them, both of them hate their own children, and neither the women nor anyone else in the movie ever suggests there is any possibility that their lives could be lived differently. The situation depicted in the movie is preposterous, and while there is nothing wrong or even unusual with a preposterous scenario in a movie, the reason it is preposterous is that Woody Allen wishes to present his own emptiness and nihilism as normal, as the best any of us can hope for.  He is wrong about this, of course.  None of us can deny that the human condition is fundamentally tragic, but that doesn't mean life is meaningless, or hopeless.  It is only Woody Allen's moral cowardice, his unwillingness to confront the difficult questions of existence, that leads him to make a movie as uniformly un-entertaining and full of despair as this one.  

From the opening frame, my spidey-sense began tingling immediately.  I don't know anything about film technology, but this movie looks different.  It is shot with an extremely high-definition camera and the result is an ultra-realistic, see-every-wrinkle-in-every-face film that strips the actors of all the glamour we have come to expect in a movie.  I mean, I know that the impossibly beautiful women we see on the screen are not as impossibly beautiful in "real life."  I know George Clooney might actually have a wart on his nose sometimes.  Fine.  I'm cool with artifice.  So it made me immediately suspicious when I saw Allen was determined to strip all that blurry, gauzy Hollywood glitz away and accentuate the ugly bits.  Why?  Does ugliness make art more "artistic?"  More meaningful?  More profound?  Or is that an aesthetic theory we generally outgrow by the age of fifteen?  

But that only pushed the needle on my pretentiousness meter up to 8.5.  It hit 11.0 (most pretentiousness meters go to 10.0, but I recently had mine recalibrated) when I realized there was not a single joke in the entire freaking movie!  Think about that.  First of all, it's a Woody Allen movie.  Remember him?  The guy who made "Bananas" and "Take the Money and Run?"  Just because of who he is, he could not have written this movie without throwing some jokes in it, accidentally, inadvertently.  That means he had to remove them; he had to edit out any hint of humor that might have somehow slipped in.  Then consider that three of the actors are Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K and Alec Baldwin---two stand-up comics and a great comedic actor.  It is unnatural, even perverted, that there would be no laughs whatsoever in this movie.