Thursday, June 23, 2011

On...In Case You Missed It...

The top five and other assorted musings can be found over at Grantland.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On The Week's Top Five

1. Dirkness

There has been much lamentation in the mainstream hyper-socialist media about the demise of the sports nickname, but here is the truth: In this year's likely NBA finals matchup, the two best players are likely to have such distinctive first names that they do not require nicknames at all. In fact, I recently asked myself, who is the second-greatest basketball player named Dirk? In retrospect, suppose the answer is obvious, but it is at least a little strange that a large percentage of the world's best athletes almost seem to self-select by their own unusual nomenclature. Did the fact that Dwyane Wade's mother preferred unconventional spelling propel him to greatness? Were LeBron and Eldrick part of some grand cosmic plan? This is a ridiculous question, I realize, but then again, if, in 1991, Renny Harlin were asked to devise some sort of German superhero to combat Hans Gruber in a Die Hard sequel, there is at least a 53 percent said superhero would be named "Dirk." That's all I'm saying.

2. Heat Revisionism

There is a difference between appreciating the way a team plays and appreciating it as an entity. Charles Pierce appears to conflate the two here, and this seems to have become the conventional wisdom among hard-core basketball geeks--that somehow the Heat deserve our support because they are now living up to their potential, that somehow we should forgive LeBron because he was simply acting in his own self-interest. But here's the problem with that: Before The Decision, I always had this notion that LeBron was more self-aware than we realized, that among the mega-stars of the athletic universe, LeBron was at least 3.8 percent Andy Kaufman, that he was almost willing to toy with our perceptions of him (remember the puppet commercials)? I can't even explain where this came from; maybe it was just something as facile as the way he grinned. But now I have come to realize that LeBron is none of that, that he may be the greatest athlete to ever play basketball, but he is not a particularly interesting character at all. So faced with a choice between him and a superhero named Dirk, I will choose the German every time, even if said German's boss is a budding Donald Trump.

3. A Brief Observation

Waiting in line for a marriage license is one of the strangest experiences I've had since the entire process began, largely because we bided our time in line judging and evaluating every single couple in line with us. And since this was Brooklyn, there were Orthodox Jews, hipsters, and pregnant Ukrainians--it was a reality show waiting to happen. 
4. Reading

A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

5. Listening

Friday, May 20, 2011

On the Week's Top Five

1. Carmen's Complaint

I've read most of Philip Roth's oeuvre. I once took a class in which we read nothing but Roth novels. I will admit, I am not an unbiased observer when it comes to Roth, and how much of that has to do with the fact that I am also a cranky Jewish male, I cannot say; but anyone who says that Roth "doesn't rate" as a writer is clearly not worthy of commenting on his work at all, let alone judging it. Even if you think Roth's work borders on the misogynistic--even if you think his hatred of women is palpable and disturbing--you cannot deny that in terms of the pure craft of writing sentences and crafting plots, there is no one in the latter half of the 20th century who has done it as well as Roth. To contend otherwise is to shed all credibility as an arbiter of writing. Which is why I've never really trusted British people in the first place.

2. And While We're At It... are five potential Roth entry points:

The Great American Novel. If you enjoy sharply hyperbolic fairy tales about mythological baseball leagues.

Portnoy's Complaint. If you enjoy carnal relations with animal products.

Goodbye Columbus. If you enjoy coming of age (and or starting at the beginning).

The Plot Against America. If you prefer your Roth straight and unadorned.

Patrimony. If you prefer your Roth straight and unadorned and memoirish, and if you have a complex relationship with your father.* 

3. Coming Out

Here's the difficulty for the first gay athlete who chooses to out himself while still active: He cannot really plan ahead. If Branch Rickey had one advantage in signing Jackie Robinson, it's that he could choose the player he felt was best built to endure the difficulties he would inevitably face. The first gay athlete will have to rely more on the fact that whatever team he plays for would be willing to accept his homosexuality and to protect him from the maelstrom that ensues, which is what makes this story about college basketball coaches' potential acceptance of a gay athlete actually kind of disturbing: None say they would actively discriminate, but many say they would hesitate to recruit a gay player, which makes me wonder--not if we're ready as a society for a gay athlete to emerge (we obviously are), but if there is enough of a support system in place to allow that athlete to emerge on his own.

4. Reading

Pamela Colloff, on a Texas murder story that would have made for an even worse plot twist than what actually happened during Season 2 of Friday Night Lights.

Alex Pappademas on teenaged werewolves.

5. Listening

The Outfield, "Your Love." Because there was a point in my childhood when I listened to the .45 of this song, on repeat, for an entire afternoon. And because Josie's been on that vacation for a hell of a long time.

*In other words, if you are a male.

Friday, May 13, 2011

On The Week's Top Five

1. Spiking the Football

In 1965, a New York Giants wide receiver named Homer Jones, having crossed the end zone with a football in his hands, chose to slam said object to the grass in celebration. Hence the birth of the ostentatious gesture known as the "spike," which 46 years later, our commander-in-chief utilized in metaphorical language to discuss why he declined to release photographs of a mass murderer with a considerable hole in his face. Now, depending on which cable news programs you watch, you may find this refreshingly humble or you may find it hopelessly naive/falsely modest, and you may claim that there is no direct correlation between the national atmosphere fostered by presidents and the attitudes of professional athletes, but here's something I was wondering about, in the wake of the president's statement: Are we witnessing a restoration of modesty in sports? I am thinking specifically of several of the young stars in these NBA playoffs, most notably Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, who, at least at this point in their careers,* seem to legitimately embody a sort of humility that hearkens back to a bygone era. Not to mention, in the back and forth between the players and owners in the NFL, most reasonable humans seem to side with the players, which has earned them a new level of sympathy. So--could we be on the verge of an era when "spiking the football" suddenly seems ostentatious and uncouth, when touchdown celebrations are muted, when quiet cool is the default position?

2. Well, Probably Not...

...because there are still the Miami Heat, who grow increasingly unlikeable with each game they win, with each half-hearted apology LeBron James makes, with each opponent Dwyane Wade inadvertently cripples, with each attempt to rile up a fan base that clearly has little to no idea who exactly it is cheering for. At this point, the Heat's only mistake is in not embracing its villainy. Quit apologizing, LeBron. Embrace the dark side so that we may be allowed to embrace it with you.

3. The Most Deflating Paragraph of the Week

“The last thing you ever expect is that somebody you revere will mislead you,” said Alex Davis, 38, who bought a $500,000 unit in Trump International Hotel and Tower Fort Lauderdale, a waterfront property that Mr. Trump described in marketing materials as “my latest development” and compared to the Trump tower on Central Park in Manhattan.
4. Reading

David Grann, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes

Robert Coover, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

5. Listening

A few years ago, future wife and I were in Los Angeles, listening to a radio show emceed by Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols--which was, I will say, one of the greatest radio shows I've ever heard--and in the midst of all this Jones was discussing Jethro Tull, and he mentioned flutes, and then he said, "When you hear flutes, you know there are hippies about." This is pretty much all I think about when I listen to "Aqualung," which happens about once every sixteen months or so.

Anyway, I don't believe there are any flutes on this new Fleet Foxes album, though there are oblique discussions about laboring in orchards and contemplating the stars and reciting incantations. It is hippie music through and through, and I really, really like it. Which means, I guess, that I should start taking flute lessons.

*If you reading this in 2016, there is a distinct possibility that both of these men will have done something self-aggrandizing and social distasteful that will completely alter the narrative about them. But, at least for now...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On The Week's Top Five

1. OBL, Part I

Here is the thing that may be forgotten: For approximately one hour after the president of the United States called a press conference on a Sunday night on the first day of May, no one seemed to know exactly what it was for. That in itself is almost as remarkable as the capture of the most-wanted terrorist in the world. We live in a world that is post-suspense, post-surprise; everything is leaked and nothing is secret, not even the most base and uninteresting cables involving domestic protocol with Norweigan diplomats--but somehow, for that hour, the biggest story of the decade remained entirely unconfirmed. Weirdly, in the past year, there have been precisely two live televised moments that have engendered absolute suspense: One involved a the escape of a perceived villain (LeBron James), and the other involved the capture of an actual villain. So it goes.

2. OBL, Part II

I've never seen a crowd quite like the one that clogged the streets of my hometown on the night we learned OBL was apprehended. It is fascinating that the killing of a terrorist could somehow draw a bigger crowd than a victory over Ohio State, and I'm sure part of it was the timing of finals week and the need to blow off steam and the fact that Penn State students will utilize any excuse to gather in the streets and block traffic, but underlying it all I have to imagine there was something genuine here, in the fact that these gatherings took place on campuses across America, in the fact that a generation that has grown up with almost universally terrible news about its country finally found a reason to embrace it. You could argue that they were too blithely celebrating death, but it would ignorant not to recognize that they also believed they were commemorating some kind of rebirth.

3. The Dumbest Article of the Week...

Manages to malign the endings of both Cheers and The Sopranos for both ambiguity and "glumness," which, of course, is exactly what made them two of the best endings in television history.   

4. Watching

Solitary Man. The second-best Michael Douglas, post-"Michael Douglas" movie of all time.*

5. Reading

Grantland. Opening salvo here and here. 

*This is number one. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On A New Venture (Of Which I Am A Small Part)...

You may peruse details here, if that kind of thing interests you.

On The Week's Top Five

1. Royalties

You know what upsets me far more than garish ceremonies celebrating a vestigial institution? It's people who utilize garish ceremonies celebrating a vestigial institution in order to engage in self-righteous condemnation. Let us say, for instance, that you are a sports fan, and you condemn the royal wedding largely because it is an exercise in garish symbolism. Does this mean that you are also in favor of the abolition of marching bands? Of school mascots? Of player introductions? Of uniforms? At some level, myths and symbols infuse every aspect of our culture, but nowhere more than sports. You may argue about the need for/cost of such symbols, but to completely disregard the notion that these symbols hold emotional weight for a great number of people is as ignorant as declaring that pep rallies are a national embarrassment.

2. The Culmination of the NBA Playoffs...

Will be that moment when Kobe Bryant finally engages in physical assault on Pau Gasol.

3. Proof of Life

You know the best part of those early seasons of The Apprentice? It was those segments when Trump would deliver his advice on business and on life, because I imagine the advice Trump would give to young entrepreneurs is very similar to the advice Ahmedinejad would give to young terrorists, if Ahmadinejad played golf.

4. Listening to...

"The Envoy," by Warren Zevon. Because I am feeling especially cynical today.*

5. Reading...

"An Accidental Hero," by John Ed Bradley, SI.** 

"True Colors," by Malcolm Gladwell.

*See Number 3.
**I would argue that Bradley is one of the most underrated writers in that magazine's history. I have yet to read any of his novels, but his memoir about playing college football at LSU is outstanding.