Monday, December 27, 2010

This Is Not Thailand

And it's not even terribly close to being Thailand. Blizzards are sweet, of course, and I'm not nearly old or mature enough to believe otherwise. But they are notably less so when they involve tons of canceled flights and effed-up infrastructure and sad conversations with Bangalore phone-bankers whose English skills are what might most nicely be called narrowly proscribed and whose agency to help out when your flight gets canceled is essentially nil. That is maybe the least enjoyable version of a blizzard. Second-least enjoyable being the figurative kind that arrives some weeks later, with the announcement that the tickets you hastily booked after finding out that the best you could hope for from your ticketing agency was a refund -- which is not nothing, but also not actually helpful in re: getting to Thailand -- have added like $1600 to your credit card bills. That is also a terrible kind of blizzard.

But the literal kind that just happened was pretty cool. Thunder and lightning and snow? How does that work? And an extra day in New York isn't the worst thing. More than one, though, and I'll have to be prepared to re-open the subject of my strictly pro-blizzard approach. But also:

So there are obviously two sides to all this.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

For The Love Of Footballs

I've been kind of bumping up against this all year, but Friday finally marked the day when I more or less ran out of time with my NFL column at The Awl. I still filed something, it still ran, and I'm still happy enough with it, but I just didn't give myself enough time to write it the way -- that is, at the vast and adjectivally padded length -- that I wanted to. That I went back and added 600-odd words to the draft after it went up is my own ridiculousness at work, although it'll presumably fascinate and confound future students of my writing as they comb through my Uncollected Works. "Why does he require so many words to describe this?" they will wonder. They will wonder that frequently.

Anyway, chalk another up for the vexations of my busy Fridays and confused priorities. The Awl NFL thing is basically the byline I'm proudest of right now -- well, that and the one I share with Jeff Johnson on the Yakkin' About Football things, which have seemingly migrated to Sundays -- and yet they're the last thing I write every week.

And this has been your peek under the hood of my lawnmower-engine work habits. Back to something else, all of us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

That's My Word: Fungibility

Obviously I apologize for putting Mike Francesa's nightmare face and voice in front of your face. But I would be, as they say, "amiss" if I did not highlight Francesa's vocabulary lesson from today's show in re: Cliff Lee. Hat tip to Gerard at CSTB, who put this up first (and presumably suffered through The Francesa Experience in order to find it).

Obviously I like words, and type them and use them and sometimes miss use them. But I've got to bow down in the presence of a player who is greater. No one gets a word wrong as proudly, as loudly, or as repeatedly as Francesa does here. It's so unique and distinctive, it's downright fungible.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Celebrity Center

Small, orange, blisteringly uninterested in that outside his narrow billionaire's ken -- that's my Mayor. In his 19 (or so) years as NYC's chief executive, Mike Bloomberg has indeed proven himself to be one of your more efficient moderate Republicans, where moderate Republican is defined as "unstintingly pro-business in every way, but not a total jerk about women's issues and gay rights." New York is tough to govern, and he has indeed governed it, but he has also been roughly as poor as his demon-weasel predecessor at making the city a less shitty place in which to live if you're poor or non-white or take mass transit or send a kid to public schools or are a civil servant or are not a Manhattanite or are unfortunate enough to be living someplace where a real estate mega-developer wants to drop a Tampa-style luxury condo-turd. But he has also tried somewhat hard on the green building side of things, given boatloads to charity, painted down some bike lanes, and generally done the sort of things that might (have) convince a casual liberal on the Upper East Side that Bloomberg is the good kind of plutocrat.

Anyway, a liked-but-not-well-liked billionaire is nevertheless still a billionaire, which means that -- in addition to his invisible nuclear helicopter and lunchtime diamonds-and-kale salads and low, low taxes -- Mayor Bloomberg receives regular, gentle-but-affectionate HJ's from the political press, and is routinely bruited as a potential presidential candidate. New Yorkers are surely confused by all this, because -- while Bloomberg is indeed rich as hell -- he is about as poor a retail politician as one could imagine. And yet for those whose understanding of politics is based purely on anecdote and unofficial polls of like-minded buddies -- this underwhelming tranche of NYC's politi-thinkers, oddly, include New York Times political chief Matt Bai -- Bloomberg is indeed considered very viable. The reasoning, again, being that while he is indeed another billionaire prone to issuing all kinds of churlish plutocratical ridiculousnesses about the manifest riskiness of "scaring" money with regulation or taxation or punishment for massive systematic fraud or the other vicissitudes of life under the rule of law, Bloomberg is at least the kind of billionaire who is cool with gay people and not a total asshole about a woman's right to choose. Again: basically, Our Type of Rich Guy.

There are a decent number of other people out there like Bloomberg -- very rich men (and women) who are not total assholes, but still have some very self-serving ideas about Terrifying Deficits and corporate taxes -- and many of them live in New York City. The High Moderate Druids of the establishment press love these guys, both because a disappointingly large segment of The Culture At Large currently sports diamond-cutter boners for the super-wealthy and because Our Type of Rich Guy occupies the sort of valorous middle ground -- valorous because it is in the middle, not because it is readily defended in any coherent way -- between the imaginary revolutionary left (these guys, you mean?) and the tricorn-hat buttheads bellowing incoherences at George Washington impersonators in Colonial Williamsburg. If being capital-r Reasonable is the greatest and glibbest of rhetorical luxuries, then both Bloomberg (and, vicariously, his fluffers) get to enjoy the best of both worlds -- the security and influence of unassailable and well-defended mega-wealth, but also the ability to evince a casual-but-nuanced familiarity with sustainable development and charter schools and suchlike.

The term "limousine liberal" is tempting, here, but for the fact that 1) Bloomberg is Hydrogen-Powered Hovercraft Rich, not Limousine-With-Neon-Tubes-On-The-Interior rich and 2) Bloomberg's sort of facile social liberalism is essentially and only a pose when de-coupled from things economic. For instance, "sustainable development" means nothing when the city has essentially ceded zoning decisions to mega-developers, and ceded its own right to demand concessions in re: affordable housing from those developers; do that and go to war with the city's public workers, turn the public schools into laboratories for glib market-forces cynicism, and etc. and it doesn't matter how many trees you plant or where you ban smoking -- you're on your way to a city that does not make sense, is not healthy and which is impossible to live in for all but the very wealthy. But of course economic stuff is tough to report upon and understand, and style and pose is easy to report upon, and most people care more about style than they do about civil servants or public schools or whatever. SEO strategy certainly dictates as much.

And so we got, Monday, something called No Labels, which is a sort of third party dedicated to Non-partisanship and Centrism and Civility and finding a less stridently dickish way to argue for cutting taxes on the rich and loosening regulation across the board in order to free the power of the market and so barfily on. Michael Bloomberg, burnt-umber prince of the city and very wealthy dude, is probably one of the group's anonymous wealthy donors, and definitely high on its masthead -- alongside actual idiot Joe Scarborough and noxiously reasonable animate custard Evan Bayh.

And if Bloomberg is there, then the New York Times' poignantly besotted civility-flogging Bai is also there. Here is what Bai wrote about No Labels on Monday, in a piece that's redolent with a wish for a Bloomberg presidential run in 2012 and rife with what Jonathan Bernstein, who knows a lot about this sort of thing, describes as a boatload of basic misunderstandings and errors on Bai's part. Guh ahead, Bai-bee:

Mr. Bloomberg brought some star power to the inaugural No Labels convention at Columbia University, which also featured speakers like Joe Scarborough, Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida and a smattering of congressmen and senators. No Labels aspires to become a counterweight to ideological groups like and the Tea Party movement — a network of activists devoted to pushing politicians from both parties toward a nonpartisan consensus on vital issues.

...No Labels was created by two Washington consultants, the Democratic fund-raiser Nancy Jacobson and the Republican image-shaper Mark McKinnon, and its slick opening event featured throngs of journalists, free boxed lunches and a song written for the occasion by the pop sensation Akon. The group’s slogan, printed on T-shirts and banners, summarizes its purpose this way: “Not left. Not right. Forward.”

There's more, but honestly that's probably good enough. Not since Jon Stewart's Everyone Chill Out Knowingly Rally (feat. John Legend) has a dimmer message been more successfully narrowcasted at media types and no-fucking-one else, and so it wouldn't be surprising if this -- like Stewart's impassioned urgings that all those unemployed people and war widows just please calm down about Juan Williams for a minute -- sunk into a quick and richly deserved anonymity. But it also wouldn't be surprising if it didn't -- the lure of A Billionaire We Can Believe In is stronger now than ever -- Bai, and others, evidently believe that a shorter, more moderate and notably un-charming version of Obama, albeit one with a better helicopter, would heighten the debate and perhaps save our nation from deficits. You know, because Bloomberg knows business and creates jobs himself and so on.

Ridiculous, I think -- Bloomberg has done fairly well at his government hobby, but there are no lessons for the rest of the nation in Bloomberg's NYC, just a slightly softened micro-scale version of the nation's troubling broader trends and some better-than-average bars. But if a true-blue charlatan like Pete Peterson can see his self-serving lifelong obsession become a real and Serious thing like the Presidential Deficit Commission, Bloomberg and Them might hang around for a few more news cycles. There really is a media elite, although it's not the kind that haunts Glenn Beck's moist night terrors. It's something far scarier -- fatuous celebrity columnists whose hard-ons for prestige and wealth are paired with both a desperate wish to appear reasonable and a sad, suffocating lack of interest in what might actually be reasonable in times like these.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Have A Snow Day!

I was going to be doing my usual Wall Street Journal Four Lessons thing on today's Giants/Vikings game, but... well, watch the video. I have never had a better excuse for taking a day off, and yet I still don't have to shovel. Although this does kind of put the whole "sometimes Minneapolis is just better" argument from earlier this week into some perspective.

(Also, the game has been postponed until Monday night, and moved to Detroit. Where tickets will be free on a first-come/first-served basis. Which means what's in that amazing video may not actually be the weirdest thing that happens involving this game. If anyone actually reads those Four Lessons things -- and they don't, except to call me a NYC elitist for not knowing the nicknames of Eagles players -- tomorrow night would be the time for that)

Also good Sunday news: the most recent Yakkin' About Football went up today at The Awl. Quiet day for readership, but it's just nice to have it up at all. And by "it" I mean "a ton of fake names for New England Patriots players." Here you go on that. I'm going to go do something that doesn't involve typing about football, now.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Sound of Vying, with Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)

From a (subscription only) piece in the Financial Times on the Principled Conservative Revolt against the FCC's new and distinctly mildish net neutrality rules -- a piece written by FT reporter Stephanie Kirchgaessner, with whom I attended the University of Virginia's Young Writers Workshop 51 years ago -- comes what might be the best Republican congressional quote I've ever read. Best, in this case, being measured by the ratio of focus-tested messaging-related phraseology to actual words. The quote itself makes little to no functional sense, which means that it is also basically perfect -- a little koan of overdetermined partisanship. The topic is what Stephanie K. describes as "watered down 'net neutrality' regulations, including concessions to the cable and wireless industry and companies such as Comcast and AT&T," and which Michigan congressman Fred Upton describes as "nothing less than an assault on the internet." Upton, get on the mic and tell the people what it is:

"We have all grown sick and tired of the Chicago-style politics to ram through job-killing measures at any cost, regardless of the consequences or damage to our economy. Rather than put a gun to the head of our largest economic engines, now is the time for the FCC to cease and desist."

Even assuming, as we ought, that Upton is trying to show that he hates all kinds of regulations -- even the kind that major corporations essentially craft and purchase, which are generally the most popular kind with Congress -- can you figure out what he's trying to say? It's "Do not regulate," I'm pretty sure, but he loses that simple message amid all the messaging catch-words. The result is like the spoken equivalent of an overly SEO-ed piece of web prose -- language that frustrates just about every expectation we have of language. Let's enhance:

"We have all grown sick and tired of the Chicago-style politics to ram through job-killing measures at any cost, regardless of the consequences or damage to our economy. Rather than put a gun to the head of our largest economic engines, now is the time for the FCC to cease and desist."

There is only one thing to do with someone so willing to put message fidelity ahead of the most basic coherence. You give that motherfucker a chairmanship. I'll bet the National Association of Manufacturers congratulates him. A radical splinter faction of the MLA will doubtless be next.

Have You Had Your Bon Iver Annie Lennox Cover Today?

It's part of a new series here at the blog, in which I will post my favorite covers of Annie Lennox songs every single day until I run out of favorite Annie Lennox covers. So there will be no part two, probably. But I liked this, so there it is.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

People Helping People (Write About The Knicks)

Living in New York City is nice, because it affords relatively reliable mass transit, all-hours access to a wealth of tasty foods from many cultures and the opportunity to interact with observe some legitimate sociopaths on the aforementioned relatively reliable mass transit. What has served me best about living in New York for what will soon be 10 years, though, is having access to my friends. Many of them still live in New York City, and almost all of them have been here for at least a little while over the past decade. And while it is of course not me that brings them to New York City -- see above, add your own more sensible reasons as needed -- it is nice for me, as a lazy person, to know that they will come back. And it is a luxury, of course, to be this close to so much. I am not talking about the ethnic food, now.

The thing with encomiums to one's friends, though, is that they're invariably of more interest to the writer than the reader, unless that reader is a friend looking to see if he got mentioned -- yeah, you made it Alec, congratu-fucking-lations -- or to see if I said someone got fat or whatever. My remora-style ride on New York City's appeal has been good to me, insofar as it has afforded me access to the people I love most and many of the things that I love most. And that some of those people have left town... well, virtually anything can make me sad, and not having all of my friends around at all times (not in the bathroom) makes me sad, but this is one thing -- a rare thing, as regular readers know -- that I find I'm less torn up about as time goes by. There are plenty of other places to be and plenty of other places to be there. And anyway, even if everyone still lived in the city, I'd seldom see them because I don't have very much money or go out much, and because everyone else hates long subway rides, too -- it's only relatively effective mass transit, remember.

So do I wish that my friend Ben Polk still lived in New York City with his elegant beyonce Samantha Anders? Good question, the answer is yes I certainly do wish that. But I also know that they've both been happier in Minneapolis than they were here, and that their not being here probably has something to do with that happiness. Despite the proximity of inimitable me and open-late falafel and whatever, some people do just need to leave. I wouldn't wish them less happiness just so they could be around more often for me to have beers with.

The move has been especially good for Ben, I think, because it gave him an opportunity to grow a beard. But it also got him into writing about basketball, which is a good thing for everybody because Ben writes exceptionally well about basketball. He writes well about other things, too, but we'll stick to basketball for our purposes here, just as Ben does at his ESPN TrueHoop Network blog (tm) A Wolf Among Wolves. Ben writes about basketball the way that I hope I write about football -- with dense, serious sentences and a light, resolutely and healthily un-serious understanding of the game's importance, as well as with real empathy and perspective and intelligence. He's also not afraid to ask terrifying backup center Nikola Pekovic about his even more terrifying half-torso warriors-on-skullz tattoo, which is admirable.

Anyway, Ben got me a press credential for the Timberwolves/Knicks game at Madison Square Garden earlier this week, and while being there and working -- kind of working, really, but I didn't have any beers -- wasn't as fun as it would've been to be there with him and everyone else I love, it was fun to write about the game and the experience. I did just that for A Wolf Among Wolves, and I'm really happy with the way it came out, and really happy to have worked with/for a friend, and his very excellent website. So read that, if you want to read about the Knicks or Allen Houston's nephews or Amare Stoudemire's star power or what Michael Beasley whistles.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tom Brady Speaks Out On Ugg Apparel

So, Tom Brady is endorsing Ugg men's apparel. It's a pretty huge deal, which is why the sports media is covering it. It's obvious that this could be what apparel-market watchers and total buttheads call "a game change." But it's also clear that men will never buy Ugg apparel. So, it's complicated.

I did what journalists do and called Tom Brady for comment on this. What I got was a very long statement, a lot of it about hair care and a small portion of it about the difficulties of shaving when your chin looks like his does. But I've edited the most salient bit and put it below. I think it's quite illuminating.

BRADY: And you see this happen every time someone tries to branch out and try something different, push himself. When Justin Timberlake -- close friend, we watch DVR'ed episodes of Entourage on Tuesdays, sometimes via Skype but every Tuesday since 2005 -- wanted to get into restaurants, people were like, "You're spreading yourself too thin, concentrate on your acting." That's just an example. There are a bunch of others. Bruce Willis and his vodka brand, and this one's near and dear to me because Bruce and I were co-chairs of this Anti-Death Tax Gala that Robert Kraft threw last year, but Bruce put his heart and soul into that vodka, and everyone in the media's like, "no, famous people can't have vodka brands, but maybe you can have yours as long as you don't go back to making music."

I'm maybe off topic, but my point being that Ugg clothing is a product I believe in, it's a natural fit, and so partnering with them isn't the sort of thing I really like seeing criticized. And there's this argument that Uggs, you hear this argument, sometimes: "Ugg boots are just for women, and more specifically they're just for women in certain parts of Nassau County and that Pamela Geller woman who goes around stopping up the toilets in Middle Eastern restaurants with paper towels because she hates Sharia law so much." And that sentiment is ignorant, that sentiment is stupid, okay. Because I buy the boots for my offensive lineman every season, and they love them. Logan Mankins wears them during practice. You can't see it, but Tully Banta-Cain wears this fur-lined Ugg hat that I got him for Secret Santa last year under his helmet when it gets cold. It's disgusting, by this point, it looks like a giant hairy pancake and smells like microwaved diapers, but Tully swears by it. And these are men. Tell Tully Banta-Cain that men don't wear Ugg apparel, you know?

But my point is that I'm branching out -- because I'm not just a football player, you know, any more than Bruce Willis is just an actor. He's a bluesman. He loves vodka. He's a PERSON, okay. And people have interests, and some of us have brands, and those brands need cultivating the same as any other person's brand does. So I feel like people need to get over it. And anyway, I'm trying to focus on the Jets. That's job one.

(The Awl Yakkin' About Football thing has been delayed this week, but this will be discussed, when Jeff and I finally get around to discussing things)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanks And You're Welcome

I'm back in New York City after four days in the benign sensory deprivation/regression therapy experience that is the ancestral home in New Jersey. Me, the wife, my parents, and the excitable bathmat pictured at left, hanging around a weirdly cold house -- the 64-degree setting on the thermostat was seemingly non-negotiable, with my mother going so far as to offer a sweater to a small/elderly/beloved Thanksgiving guest rather than goosing the temperature a few degrees. Eccentric parents are going to be eccentric parents, though, and I brought sweaters. And that giddy little shag carpeted animal is going to be cute, but it's also going to be fed weird things by my parents -- cheesecake? goose-liver pate? -- and then my parents are going to blame each other for feeding it weird things. And then the dog is going to poop in various places throughout the home, usually on or near one of the half-dozen or so wee-wee pads(tm) that have been scattered about the house in an attempt to both minimize carpet-related damage and define down the definition of "housebroken." This is all normal. I know it doesn't look that way, but it's normal.

It's actually not at all normal, I know. But the ways in which my annual Thanksgiving trips to the happy, underheated, secretly weird home have become normal -- the unconscious rapprochement I've realized with my family and hometown and past, and which you probably have, too -- has been much on my mind of late. In part, this is because -- belatedly, so incredibly freaking belatedly -- my novel is finished, and in the hands of my estimable agent, and because my novel is (subtextually, I guess) mostly about that topic. I write what I know, just like anyone else, and while I don't necessarily know what to make of the passage of time's effect on my family and myself, or on that cluttering, chilly homestead, I am at least aware that it is happening, and that the fact that it is happening makes me feel something.

The easiest label for that "something" would, I guess, be nostalgia or regret. This is because a sort of vague melancholy is my default mood/mode, but also because that's a pretty normal response to the passage of time and the inexorability of change and all that. We, or at least I, tend to struggle for a sense of control and equilibrium all of our days, but the accretion of all that time is something we can't control, no matter how on point we are about calling people back on time, getting up when the alarm goes off, et cetera. I battled myself to get the novel finished, while all around me my life rose in great teetering piles, and it has been a strange sensation, facing all that accumulation and wondering what to do with/about it, what to do next. And if I hadn't been alternately anxious and busy, if I hadn't spent all this time knee-deep in lame-brand scotch and inertia, the same accumulation would've happened. I'm not totally sure what I'm writing about, here, but I think I could write a lot more about it if given the opportunity.

I was given such an opportunity by my good friends at The Awl before Thanksgiving, as part of their Real American Thanksgiving Cookbook project -- a sort of compendium of essay-fied recipes by Awl staffers and commenters and adjunct semi-regular humperinos such as myself. I'm pretty happy with what I wrote, which was an essay about my parents' house and Thanksgiving -- still and probably always my favorite holiday -- wrapped around my second grade teacher's recipe for cranberry-orange relish.

Kate revealed to me, after the essay went up, that she has always found the recipe a little too tart. We made a half-recipe this year, and made it a little sweeter -- the guest list was smaller, and 20 percent of said guest list bashfully/finally went on record with her it's-just-too-cranny sentiments. I complain about my parents' house and weirdness because I worry about them getting old, I guess, and because I'm noticing myself getting older. But, as the Awl essay points out, it's a hopeful and happy thing that all this weirdness has proven so enduring, and so adaptable.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Richard Seymour Is Making Sense

I could link to the video of Oakland Raiders lineman Richard Seymour straight slapping Ben Roethlisberger's rape-ham of a face in today's Oakland/Pittsburgh tilt -- can and will, friends -- but I'm pretty sure the NFL will have it pulled down off YouTube sooner than later. So I'll go with a somewhat more abstract bit of imagery above, which pretty well sums up what you'll see in the video.

Am I now suddenly reversing my stance on NFL violence, or idiot macho stuff, or what is generally a slap-averse approach to life? No, not really. Although I feel like it's healthy to make exceptions when a shit-talking serial sexual assault suspect is on the receiving end. My thoughts on Roethlisberger, and what kind of processed meat he resembles most, are obviously a matter of public record. But I'd be remiss if I didn't link to this, and thank the mighty Joey Litman for bringing it to my TV-less attention up here in New Haven.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Socialist Light Bulbs

Bradford Plumer of The New Republic examines the way in which opposition to compact fluorescent light bulbs has become an article of faith (?) for conservative politicians. You know, like believing that the earth's climate is not changing and that reducing taxes raises revenues and that rhinoceroses are made of cinnamon and that Wednesdays are a myth created by the liberal media. What's important is that incandescent light bulbs are more American/free/market-positive, you see, because they existed fifty years ago. Even though they suck at being light bulbs, relatively and absolutely, in just about every way not having to do with seniority. For fuck's sake, you guys:

Most of the opposition to the light-bulb law just seems to be cultural: Conservatives don't like the government telling them what to do (unless, of course, it's bedroom-related), and the only benefits of this law are to solve a problem (global warming) that the right doesn't even think exists. That's not a promising sign for energy policy. Cap-and-trade may be dead, but there are still a lot of smaller, relatively non-intrusive measures that could help curb power use, save money, and make the economy more efficient, such as stronger building codes. This isn't some wild-eyed liberal idea; even Ronald Reagan signed a big appliance-standard bill back in 1987. But the odds of small-bore compromise seem low now that even efficient light bulbs are considered unacceptably socialist.

It's nice to know that old people feel safer with the dumbest Caucasians ever to walk the earth in charge of things. I know that bit of analysis is not terribly nuanced of me, but some things are not terribly nuanced. Some lightbulbs are better than others, and no lightbulbs are more or less socialist than others.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Been A Minute...

For which I apologize, obviously. Lot of other typing going on. But there will be actual content here, in time. For now, here is Fred "The Hammer" Williamson shilling the man's poison. Good work, Fred!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Revolutionary Unconsciousness

When I talk to people about my NFL columns for The Awl, it's tough for me not to say something like "I write the same column every week." I don't, or not entirely -- it's just this kind of reflexive self-deprecating thing that might well be charming in a more successful person, or one with higher self-esteem. But if I could write the same column every week, it would be this one's. I think it's my favorite, and anyone who has ever suffered through my football-is-socialist spiel in the past -- it's a three-scotches-in favorite, and a Chupacabran legend at certain bars -- will perhaps be happy to see that it's finally made it into print. Perhaps? I don't know, I don't know how you feel. But I'm pretty proud of the piece so, if you're into that sort of thing, feel free to read it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

World B. Free: On Writing For No Money

In terms of fancy-person attention, it has been a good couple of weeks for The Awl. One of their groundbreaking and reliably amusing and very handsomely written columns found itself on New York Magazine's Approval Matrix, which is apparently a much bigger deal than I'd previously understood. But more than that, there was a B1 feature on The Awl in The New York Times -- a very important dinosaur that I like despite the fact that it employs Matt Bai -- by the very excellent David Carr. (Whose retweet of my most recent Awl NFL column was honestly a much bigger deal to me than the New York Magazine thing, although that is only because I'm a doofus and not because it's objectively a bigger deal) All of this was good news in a bunch of different ways, from proving to my parents that writing for a website (on the Internet) is actually a real thing that people do to blessing the very deserving people behind The Awl with some positive attention. It's a great site, and I'm proud to be a part of it. All of that, I imagine, goes without saying. But that article also introduced a fairly complicated new element to my relationship with the site.

It started with this sentence, which different people will read in different ways, but which refers to The Awl itself: "Revenue for the year will surpass $200,000." Which, I know, is almost Pooh Jeter-caliber chip-stacking, just in terms of the number of digits/ducats involved. That's revenue for the entire site, presumably, before bandwith and tech stuff and snacks and other not-so-incidentals are taken out. So it's a decent chunk of money -- a big enough figure to inspire phone conversations with my parents and emails from friends wondering if/when that site is going to pay me -- but it's also fundamentally not when it's put in context. But about that parenthetical, back there.

So, as I wrote in an earlier me-on-me post that further marked the continued descent of this space into a spammier-than-usual LiveJournal, I am not getting paid by The Awl for the few thousand words of copy of mine that appear on the site every week. The arithmetic of it is simple and -- in the plain sense of how easy or difficult it makes it for me to buy groceries/scotch -- obviously unsatisfying: zero dollars and zero cents. But the calculus of it, which doesn't necessarily make much more sense but is at least a little less stark in its disappointing aspects, is worth going over.

This, as America has been requesting for generations, is at long last the calculus that is also gymnastics. (This is why my "street name" is Calc-Nasty) I've never been on the inside enough, writing-wise, to ever really come close to making a living at it -- I haven't gotten the apparently-still-industry-standard dollar per word rate since my trade magazine days some years ago. This is, in part, by choice -- I went out of my way to try to write for venues I enjoyed reading, and that's a narrow and generally unprofitable niche. So I did a lot of writing for $300 or $400 per piece, and there's no real way that adds up. The Wall Street Journal stuff -- now serving on Sundays! -- does something to even things out, but not a lot. I've got a part-time day gig. But I never really made notable inroads on the profitability thing. I have lived very luckily, and very cheaply, for years. Which is okay -- it's not that okay, but it's more or less okay -- because of... well, here are the gymnastics, before the calculus.

It's okay because why would I really WANT to write some feature for, like, Fast Company or some (any) Conde Nast magazine or whatever when I don't read those magazines and don't really have ideas for that sort of piece anyway? The answer, which I actually know, is that I would want to do that so that I could go out to dinner every now and then, or buy lunch without some gnawing pang in the gut, or any number of other things that I was last able to do when I had a steady and stable paycheck and a good deal less debt on my personal ledger. Honestly, I don't know people at enough magazines -- enough editors, or even enough writers who have been in those venues -- to have a shot at getting in. But also I don't try. This is circular. The point being that, as I'm 32 and persnickety and only inclined towards doing a few things, I am almost willing to do with less in the way of lunch rather than have to hustle my ass off to write a $300 feature (again, the only kind I can get into print -- the kind working writers do for yuks after cashing a check from, like, Esquire or Allure or someplace) that I kinda-sorta care about. And by almost I mean that I am willing to do that. I don't necessarily agree with myself, but here I am, doing it.

Of course, this isn't just -- or isn't entirely -- self-defeating behavior from a guy with some issues. The fact is that I am happier when I'm writing stuff that I'm proud of, when I feel like I'm writing at my best and doing great work. It's vain, maybe, but I imagine most any writer would tell you that. No one goes into this particular line of work for the money or perks or furs or VIP Room shit. And the way out, the only writing endgame that really works for me even in the abstract, is an opportunity to get paid to write the stuff I do best. I wish, or a part of me wishes, that said stuff was world-changing journalistic stuff, instead of dense, allusive football columns that are 80% jokes about lunchmeat. It'd be easier to explain than, "Oh, I'm the guy who compares quarterbacks to different types of ham."

But if I'm going to get to do the writing that I'm good at -- which is the lunchmeat thing, sadly, and which I think I'm pretty good at -- then I have to do it. I don't know that anyone could get paid for that, be it me or someone better organized or more focused or taller or whatever. It's not quite inventing a genre -- people have been comparing Ben Roethlisberger to olive loaf since long before olive loaf was invented -- but it's not an exercise in playing the standards, either. But if I'm going to write and be okay -- not feel badly, choose badly, act like a jerk or a layabout or some other lousy thing -- then I'll need to be writing my stuff. Would I love it if The Awl were paying me a dollar a word, or if someone wanted to turn my goofy chats with Jeff Johnson into a popular series of young adult novels? Fuck yes, because I'd have new shirts. But because I love it, and because I'm a happier and better dude when I do it, and because The Awl is a brilliant and generous platform for it, I do it for free. And they're doing the same thing, honestly -- going pretty broke (note the first graf of Carr's piece for the arrival of Choire's first Awl paycheck) running only the stuff they like. Some of that is tough-to-categorize, webby serial stuff -- Sean McTiernan's month-long dance with the devil in his 31-horror-movies-in-October series, for instance. Some of that comes in the form of delightful, literary essays about pop stuff written in a way that wouldn't fit at most sites. Some of it, thankfully for me, is long-form joke-riffage about NFL coaches and hate letters to Chris Berman.

It'll either earn me money someday or it won't, but it is really the stuff I'm best at right now. And earning money the other way -- a few more dribs and a few more drabs, with a lot more agita and notably less satisfaction -- wasn't working for me, either. This way, with this place and even at this rate, is working for me -- I'm doing the work I want to do. In a market that made sense or worked or valued what I do more highly, I'd of course not give it away so cheap. That's not this market, though, and I wasn't nearly as proud of my work (or, barf-alert, myself) when I was hustling bylines for three-digit paychecks at various other venues. If I'd ever had better-paying work at other places, I might feel differently. I never knew anything that much better than this, though, money-wise. And I've never known anything better in terms of my satisfaction with my work, affection for my editors, or positive response from an audience. Some things are more important than money. Like shirts. You would not believe my shirts. I look like a homeless Stephen Malkmus.

Anyway, there's all that. I'm sure this decision will look amazing when the platinum edition of "My Chris Berman Problem And Ours, A NFL Journey" hits stores. I'll be sitting pretty signing copies at Del Posto for secretaries of state and generally looking wise as fuck, steady wearing a shirt without even smallish olive oil stains on it. Or anyway, not the shirt I'm wearing now. I look like a batik made of everything I've cooked in the last few months. That's the other side of this: self-batik. I never said it was easy, or smart. But it's the only thing I can imagine even working this well.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sonned By Willow Smith, or A Career Highlight?

I don't usually put pictures of myself on this website -- I'm above trading on my looks at this point in my career, frankly -- but I'm making an exception at left to show my expression when I heard that Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" was closer to the "Brilliant" axis on this week's New York Magazine Approval Matrix than were my Yakkin' About Football conversations with Jeff Johnson at The Awl. But then I realized that my goofy Yakkin' About Football conversations with Jeff Johnson at The Awl were even on the Approval Matrix, and I was happier. And kind of startled. Now that I know someone's reading these things, they're going to get a lot tougher. You'll see a lot more /anxious silence in my responses and a lot less stuff about Freezie Freakies.

I really hope someone in the NFL says or does something ridiculous, and bails me out on this anxiety thing. Hold on... and, thank you, Brett. Obliged. Also, even by New York Post standards, that is basically the most ridiculous URL head-text I've ever seen. (Words rhymed: "ringee" and "thingee") Stop hiring 8-year-olds to write those, you guys! Stop it right now. (They'll never stop, I know)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Tired Sounds Of...

When I write, I write a lot. This is also true of when I talk or eat, but it's especially pronounced when it comes to This Writing Shit. I'm a really fast typist, and if I'm going to be honest also pretty well enamored by the sound of my own voice, and so writing 1,000 words to me doesn't always feel like a big deal. (Doing the Daily Fix -- which used to be an inexplicable 1300 words, and is still over a thousand most days -- on the regular has also conditioned me to think of 1,000 words as an hour-and-change/no-big-deal deal)

Obviously this isn't always the case -- when I'm trying to write in my inside/professional voice, for instance, it's obviously more difficult. But I don't need to tell you that this, say, is different from this. All you have to do is read them to see as much. The former's a third as long as the latter, but took several more drafts and several more hours to do. Some of that is the nature of working with newspaper editors -- good ones, in this case, but still people who most definitely will redline a draft and send it back to you -- but a lot of it is just me working the way I work. When it's happening for me, it happens in these big loud tumults of words and long, parenthetical-rich sentences -- for instance, there'd be a parenthetical here, were I making this sentence an example -- and things of that nature. You get some alliteration and some jokes and whatever, but it's basically an exploded drawing of my brain, hopefully with some connection to whatever the topic in question is. The struggle is to give it some shape, or to edit out the more egregious jokes or -- and I have some work to do on this part, I know -- limiting the parentheticals and finding some focus.

And maybe that's all that went on this week with my two pieces for The Awl, and I'm reading too much into it. So, as per usual, I did two football-related pieces for The Awl this week. The first one was this chat with Jeff Johnson which, once again, was fun as hell and -- because making jokes about Brett Favre's fantastically wise cock-shot gambit comes almost as easily to me as does writing long parentheticals -- about as easy as could be. It came out pretty funny, got a nice response, and I hope you'll read it. It's also almost 2,000 words and took about an hour or so to do. As long as NFL people keep doing silly/objectionable/easily-riffed-upon things, we could continue doing these every week, and it'll never be difficult or less fun. That's not the problem.

The problem was the weekly Kicked Off column, which -- and this is the doesn't-usually-happen part -- wound up being an intense struggle for me. Part of the problem was that I didn't totally know what I was going to be writing about. I was going to write about Favre and his photogenic peen, before realizing that it had actually apparently been covered fairly well in the sports press. Then I was going to write about embattled 49ers head coach, crucifix aficionado and objectively crazy human Mike Singletary, and coaches in general. And then, finally, I settled on the eventual topic -- Ben Roethlisberger and the dual, duelling uglinesses of his personal behavior and the NFL's institutional arbitrariness.

It wasn't that easy, though. For most of Thursday, I sat in front of my computer (yes, I do write on a computer, ladies) with nothing happening at all. I wrote a paragraph and tweaked it, then deleted it. I wrote some jokes about what Andy Reid's office must smell like, which is obviously kind of evergreen (the writing, not the smell of the office -- I'm getting a pretty strong "old fried" vibe, there). But the engine wasn't really turning over. I don't know what the cause of this was, and still kind of don't -- I think there was probably some anxiety about writing something too serious and not having people enjoy it as much as my cavalcade of dick jokes, and definitely some anxiety over wanting to have each Awl NFL column be the best thing written about football in that, or any, week. Which sounds okay, I guess, in a hard-driving perfectionist sense (and another way in which I'm like Tom Coughlin, I suppose), but which is also a pretty goofy way to address an unpaid online column I'm doing for yuks, even if I hope that the column could become a book or something someday. So I'm doubly proud of the mini-essay that resulted, both because I think it's pretty good in its own right and because it was something I did under duress late at night on Thursday and then in double-time on Friday. Mostly, though, I'm happy that it got done.

Which, you know, probably isn't the highest standard, necessarily. But while I've stressed over stuff like this before, this was the first time I'd really been in doubt about whether something was going to get done in time in a long while. With a lot of what I write for money, I simply don't worry about it enough to experience this sort of anxiety. I'm not tearing the Daily Fix out of my soul, and the Four Lessons things I'm writing for the WSJ's Metropolis section (and am supposed to be writing right now) aren't things I agonize over. (Although I did work hard on my Dan Dierdorf imitation in this one) The Awl columns mean a bit more to me, which makes a perverse type of sense given that I'm doing them for free. The relative editorial latitude, the ability to pick my subjects and write in my own voice and with the words I like best -- that should make it more fun. Ditto the reliable ego-feedback of a couple of weekly bylines and a generally kind response from the Awl's commenters (the rare internet commenters whose opinion I actually value). As usual with me, though, I tend to forget that having fun is even an option -- writing's my favorite thing, more or less, but because it's also my work, I kind of fall back on my default mood, which is self-lacerating anxiety/scotch-wanting. File that under the Mental Beatdown of Freelancing, I guess. Anyway, the good news: I still enjoy this stuff. The unsurprising news: I need to remind myself of that, sometimes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Talking About What Matters

So, Jeff Johnson wrote a series of amazingly joke-dense and strange NFL previews for McSweeney's years ago -- back when I was just a young pup working at AOL and somehow making more money than I've ever made since -- that pretty much changed the way I thought about sportswriting. Which is to say that I hadn't previously known that you could compare a Jacksonville Jaguars game to the experience of getting a nosebleed in a rental car, although that was obviously what most Jags games are like and also is way better than, like, talking about match-up problems in the secondary. So obviously I was excited to get the opportunity to talk Randy Moss -- and high-altitude intercourse, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's ultimate frisbee chops, and et cetera -- with him at The Awl today. It went a little something like this:

Jeff: You go out and get Randy Moss because…

David: Tall, great at football, future Hall of Famer, knows lots of trivia about Robert Byrd, is as defiantly country as any multi-millionaire in the world. What the Vikings are doing seems unlike anything I can think of another NFL team ever doing, though.

Jeff: Building by getting older.

David: Just stacking the olds and giving it One Last Try. Totally not the move in the NFL.

Jeff: Maybe Jan Stenerud will come out of retirement.

David: You know he’s keeping fit.

Jeff: Skiing.

David: Doing decathlons in Bemidji or whatever.

Jeff: Having sex in the Alps.

David: High-altitude sex: that was P90X before P90X was.

Jeff: I don’t want to live in a world where he can’t.

And so on. Good times. Read it, if you have five minutes to spare on things that really don't matter and might not amuse you.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wit Or Wit-Out: On Michael Vick, Ethical Hurdles and Barf Monsters In Brian Dawkins Jerseys

Ordinarily I'm happy to tuck the links to Kicked Off, my NFL column at The Awl, over into the right hand corner. And while I've done that with this week's column, which deals with Michael Vick, Philadelphia monsterfans and the moral and (as usual) ethical quandaries of NFL fandom -- assiduous site maintenance being my hallmark, here -- I thought it worthy of a miniature post, as well. Not just because I'm kind of proud of it (I am, but I love all my adjectivally unbalanced creations equally) (Not really), but because... well, because I had that great picture of a dog in a Redskins jersey gnawing on a Michael Vick figurine, and wanted to use it.

But mostly I'm proud of the piece. It's not perfect, obviously, but I really did want to get it right, and I think hours of fussing over it helped me come pretty close to that. (Also helpful were the near-invisible edits of The Awl's Alex Balk, who manages to cut down the shag on these columns with real grace; I barely notice, and it doesn't hurt at all) There's a tendency for me to fall back into the same harangue every week with these -- said harangue being, in short, that the NFL demands an unseemly ethical quiescence from its fans because of its singular brutality and exploitiveness. While I didn't feel that any less acutely this week than I did last, or the week before that, or back in like 2008 when I was moaning about the Patriots and the end of everything good in the universe. The tough part to remember, and the thing I can't forget if I actually want these pieces to be any fun to read, is that I actually do kind of enjoy watching football. This means that, because players like Michael Vick are so transcendently gifted and what they can do so unique and remarkable, I need to kind of re-examine the NFL fan's ethical bargain every week knowing that 1) I'm going to come down on the "buy" side every week and 2) my livelihood at WSJ (and elsewhere) depends to a great degree on sucking it up and dealing with the squeamishness.

It helps that Vick is fascinating, and a beautiful player and vexingly complex subject. But while I can't write this particular column every week, I'm feeling pretty good, at the moment, about the challenge of writing something like it for another few months. I'm sure it won't be easy, because if past experience holds I'm going to be sick to death of the whole dumb thing by Week 13. But I imagine it will be interesting, and there's always room in my workday for something like that. Or... well, there's not actually room in my workday. But I look forward to trying to fit it in anyway, is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Confederacy of Assholes

I have a longer post in mind on the general topic of proud ignorance and political narcissism and sad-stupid bigotry -- yes, besides this and this and this and whatever else -- that I am way too busy writing other things to write right now. So I'm jut going to note that Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece on the Tea Party is pretty freaking great. And I say this as someone who does not like how amused by his own excellence Taibbi generally seems to be, or a bunch of other things about him. But also, this. This:

It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. I'm an ordinary middle-aged guy who pays taxes and lives in the suburbs with his wife and dog — and I'm a radical communist? I don't love my country? I'm a redcoat? Fuck you! These are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head as you listen to Tea Partiers expound at awesome length upon their cultural victimhood, surrounded as they are by America-haters like you and me or, in the case of foreign-born president Barack Obama, people who are literally not Americans in the way they are.

It's not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It's just that they're shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid.

Or this:

You look into the eyes of these people when you talk to them and they genuinely don't see what the problem is. It's no use explaining that while nobody likes the idea of having to get the government to tell restaurant owners how to act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the tool Americans were forced to use to end a monstrous system of apartheid that for 100 years was the shame of the entire Western world. But all that history is not real to Tea Partiers; what's real to them is the implication in your question that they're racists, and to them that is the outrage, and it's an outrage that binds them together. They want desperately to believe in the one-size-fits-all, no-government theology of Rand Paul because it's so easy to understand. At times, their desire to withdraw from the brutally complex global economic system that is an irrevocable fact of our modern life and get back to a simpler world that no longer exists is so intense, it breaks your heart.

Condescendingly Taibbi-ian? Sure, yes, absolutely. But right is right, and even if dude kind of loses the thread in the last third of the piece, it's always bracing to see idiocy met eye to eye and engaged on its own shriek-y terms. I might've written it differently, but dude is not wrong.

I know you can't stop what's coming, and that this is what's coming for just about everything made of words, but I really hope Rolling Stone doesn't die. Someone needs to review Linkin Park records (just kidding, no one needs to do that) and someone needs to run good political writing with curses in it. Or at least someone out there needs to pay for writing like that. Otherwise I'd pretty much have to quit.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Concuss and Discuss, or Everyone Works During The NFL Season

Here is a reasonable person doing a reasonable thing. His name is Jared Allen, he plays for the Minnesota Vikings, he fucking loves guns, and he is almost impossible for me to relate to in any way. It's not just that I'm kind of meh on guns, have not been arrested for DUI even once, and have never driven Dan Orlovsky's face into the turf of Ford Field. It's that the life experiences and physical bigness and immense wealth and tremendous overwhelming love of firearms that have shaped Jared Allen's personality is as foreign to me as can be. This isn't to say that I can relate with, say, Jose Reyes's life experience -- I don't love fried meats or other Dominican delicacies, I did not grow up excruciatingly poor and then become excruciatingly rich. But man: writing about the NFL, which is mostly what I've been doing for the last two weeks and mostly what I'll be doing for the next five months, sure feels strange.

I mentioned it earlier, but I should probably have been linking to the two columns I've done for The Awl in my new role as their weekly NFL columnist. Which, like so many of my other gigs, sounds really awesome until you check out the (imaginary, in this case) pay stubs. But I love that site, love the editors, and am pretty proud of the two columns I've written for them thus far -- the first is an elaborate scene-setting given over almost entirely to making fun of Chris Berman; the second is about mirroring and reflexive unreflectiveness in the broader NFL discourse. So kind of like Peter King if you replaced his pumpkin spice latte with scotch and his love of the NFL and everyone in it with intense ambivalence. There are also predictions at the end of every column, in which I'm getting soundly out-predicted by a flipped Canadian coin and posting a winning percentage that even Charlie Morton thinks is pathetic.

Anyway, it has been fun, and as you can see I've decided to busy up the righthand column -- which did not contain nearly enough information, obviously -- with links to each of these columns and all of those to come. I will, however, probably be saving most of my NFL insights -- insights such as What Is The Deal With Jared Allen, among other pricelessnesses -- for my bylined stuff. Between The Awl column, which I have apparently decided to make a sprawling weekly exercise in cultural studies capped with totally incorrect predictions, and additional NFL writing for the Journal -- More bad predictions! Semi-gamers for the Metropolis blog! -- I'm really pushing my NFL tolerance to its limits. This is a sport I'm more fascinated by than actually interested in, and I watch the games -- and the behavior of the totally reasonable national heroes playing and coaching those games, like the 100% not DSM-diagnosable mentally ill man at right -- at a much further remove than I do any other sport. In part because the players are like strange zoo monsters, and in larger part because of its outsized impact on the broader national discourse and the terribly stupid fear-based machismo that defines NFL culture.

The sport itself is interesting to me, maybe more so than ever -- when you start noticing for the patterns of the game and the intricacies of each play, football is a fascinatingly complex (if also culturally complicated) thing. But the discourse surrounding it keeps me at arm's length -- increasingly rapt at the weird, brutish intricacy of the sport itself, but also puzzled by the combination of incautious canonization and casual loathing to which the players are subjected, irritated by the terrified gay-panic weirdness of its broader discourse, discouraged by the sheer equine scope and bellowing utterances of CBS halftime dude Shannon Sharpe's face. If this sort of insight sounds like the sort of thing you're interested in reading over and over again, with varying intensity of expression and a fairly high amount of profanity, man do I have some good news for you about your next four-plus months.

Don't Tread On Animated Bears

The Christine O'Donnell in Delaware thing makes a lot more sense when it's weird bears in overalls hashing it out. Also, a perfect object lesson in the power of a well-placed F-word for LOL FX. I got it from Jonathan Chait's blog at The New Republic.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What To Remember, What To Forget

The idea, originally, was to get all in it today. Being that it's September 11 and all, and being that September 11 -- Giuliani Day here in NYC -- is now celebrated by insane, tragically misinformed caucasians as a national hate holiday and festival-style celebration of victory over tolerance and sophistication and insight. It's also the day I met my wife, and a day that changed my life and many other lives in many other ways. I light a Yahrzeit candle every year, and I did it again this year. The idea I had, and there was a part of me that was even looking forward to it, was to write about where I and everyone else found ourselves this anniversary, write about remembering and forgetting and all that. But I didn't go that route, as you can tell by the fact that the end of this post is in sight on your screen right now.

No, I took the day off. I took some stuff to donate to Goodwill and I bought a weird mirror at a street sale. I watched the Mets and some tennis and I went to a friends house and made dinner, got tomato sauce on myself, allowed myself to be pretentious. I did some late-summer Saturday things, basically.

There's a lot to write about, and a lot that I'd like to write about, but I finally just decided to exclude from my celebration of this de facto holiday the monster squad of sourdough-faced Staten Islanders and brute, mean-faced oldsters cheering John Bolton's walrusian sadism and Andrew Breitbart's via-satellite fuming. I haven't even looked for reports on that Glenn Beck/Palin live hate show in Alaska. I switched off. I drank some beers and ate and made jokes and listened to jokes and listened to music. I guess I saw the people who spend all their time Remembering as hard as they can about 9/11 -- all these weird unreal non-lessons and new fear-curdled bafflements -- and I realized that what they're remembering didn't actually happen, to me or to anyone else. And that what I remember is something that maybe I'd like to keep away from them, and that I'd like to keep them away from my memories.

This is an important day, for me and everyone else who was around here when it happened. Too important to fetishize, too important to cheapen, certainly too important to lie about and exploit -- doesn't mean people won't do it, people being people and all, but it's too big for that. It's too important to leave to the monsters, in that sense, but also too sacred to me -- I almost wrote "hallowed" -- for me to feel okay spending it thinking about those monsters who would make it something it shouldn't be, something far more akin to what the original monsters who perpetrated the act hped for. I suppose today was like a holiday for the ghoulish anti-Muslim protest fucks, too, but as much as I hate what they're doing I finally decided to spend this one differently. Except for now, of course. But I spent it in my own goofy process of life, rather than observing some sour, multiply wrong festival of death. And of course isn't that brave of me. But what else are you supposed to do? The world doesn't stop, for lies or truths or things big or small. It didn't then, and it shouldn't now. You remember, sure. But then you look ahead of you, and you walk.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ulcers With Bylines: Okay, Gregg Doyel, Okay.

Most people in the world don't have to have an opinion, well-informed or no, about the sports columnists at CBS Sports. I suppose that I don't really have to have an opinion myself, although the fact that CBS is one of my regular visits when I'm doing The WSJ Daily Fix Thing means that I am at least familiar with who those columnists are. So this gives me a really uncool edge on all of you -- and it's probably more or less all of you -- who can be all, "Um, I know there's definitely Shannon Sharpe. Or Sterling Sharpe. And also I think Hugh Downs and Sherman Alexie? And is Summer Sanders still doing that blog?" It's one I would trade to you for pretty much anything. But it does enable me to have opinions on things that are transparently unimportant and none too interesting. To wit:

So CBS Sports has a bunch of columnists, more or less all of whom are at the very least Fix-usable and three of which -- the very great Ray Ratto and the very better-than-serviceable Dennis Dodd and Gary Parrish -- are pretty good. All of them have really terrible column photos, though: Parrish's gel-and-loosened-tie look is uncomfortably Frat Semi-Formal, Dodd looks like Mitch Pileggi For SlimFast and Ratto looks like a skeptical walrus. Again, it takes nothing away from any of them, and Ratto -- it bears mentioning again -- is one of the most consistently wry and wise and overall excellent writers out there who types about sports. But the picture atop Gregg Doyel's column is actually exactly right, and maybe even pretty flattering considering that the mohawked nightmare above is also Gregg Doyel. But the sour, puckered-up face Doyel is making in his column photo -- it's atop this column, which I'm going to write about in a moment -- is just so right for him. It's a picture of someone losing his train of thought mid-scold; it's a photo of the worst dad at a Little League game suddenly realizing that he has to go to the bathroom, number two, and pronto. It's pretty representative of Doyel's writing, too.

(It's worth mentioning, parenthetically, that Doyel may not actually be the worst columnist at CBS Sports. The hilariously, relentlessly anodyne Mike Freeman is just as predictable, but his dull, dutiful columns -- here's one about how the Mariners' knowing acquisition of rape-y former Rangers prospect Josh Lueke represents baseball's declining commitment to moral players -- aren't nearly as gripping as Doyel's equally dull but much more in-your-face troll bait. Also, Freeman loses points for forgetting about legendary Raw Talent Ambiorix Burgos. And one should never forget about Ambiorix Burgos, because he's presumably going to get out of jail someday)

Anyway, Doyel's an ulcer. I mean, I don't know what he's like in real life, but given how eager he is portray himself in columns as a guy who enjoys screaming disgustedly at his television it would seem unkind not to take him at his word. Of course, taking Doyel at his word would mean accepting his own self-assessment as a fearless truth-speaker, forever willing to take big names to task in near-unreadable columns that make for easy SEO-stack headlines. And it would mean ignoring the fact that he's obviously working the WWF Heel angle pretty hard -- drawing fire, drawing comments, hopefully drawing links and hits and ad-views or whatever. He shouldn't be taken too seriously.

And yet, while I sense he gets his own Heelery at a level that's probably not entirely unconscious, it's occasionally amazing to see how far he will go for a sell. The premise of the piece itself is straight comment-and-link-bait all by itself -- Doyel is "asking" Boise State to lose to Virginia Tech tonight. But even knowing that he's playing up the whole Gregg Doyel thing as per usual in the grafs I'm about to quote, even knowing that he's fishing for "Doyel UR retard!!1!!" comments on his piece -- even knowing that, isn't this a bit much?

It's nothing personal. Honest. I don't dislike Boise State or Boise State coach Chris Petersen, even if some of you in Idaho might recall a brief confrontation I had with Petersen last year on a conference call. If you're a conspiracy theorist, congratulations: There's another conspiracy for you. In addition to the SEC connection here at CBS -- plus I attended the University of Florida! -- Petersen and I butted heads, briefly, on a phone call last year ... so this year I'm getting even by rooting against the Broncos.

Problem with that theory is, I have notoriously bad phone etiquette. I also butted heads once on a phone call with Mike Krzyzewski. So the conspiracy theory falls apart there, because Krzyzewski coaches Duke and Duke beat Butler for the 2010 national basketball title and Boise State has been called the 2010 football season's equivalent to Butler, and since I once butted heads with Coach K that means I should, um ... now I'm confused.

So how about this. How about we just stick with the facts here?

And the fact is this: If Boise State beats Virginia Tech, the Broncos almost certainly will play for the national championship this season, and that's going to kill me. It's going to kill lots of fans of college football. Call us BCS snobs, call us front-runners, call us realists. Say we're stupid vestiges of the past, digging a moat around the BCS castle and guarding it with our alligator mouth and hummingbird ass.

Just say it in the comments, please. And on your blog, and on, like, Huffington Post and Bleacher Report, please. If Doyel is in earnest, he's got to be a pretty miserable guy. If he's not, then it seems like he's wasting what could be a pretty cool gig on what must be an exhausting and unsatisfying bit of play-acting. I'm starting to think that picture might be a candid.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Get Tough: Reasonable Bigots and Others

Picking a single worst thing about the ongoing nightmare parade circling the non-mosque that may or may not ever be built some distance from Ground Zero is difficult. This, and I promise this will be the last time you read this in this post, is a credit to the awfulness of all involved -- the Staten Island bigots showing up looking to punch Bin Laden in the nose because the New York Post told them he might be there, and pleather-bound monster and serial Muslim-baiter Pam Geller, and the out-of-town cynics willing to parrot the crudest and most ignorant bigotry if they think it will win them a chance to cut capital gains taxes next year and impanel a congressional investigation of the president's "birth" "certificate." These are all bad people, doing bad things. I've already written about this at length, albeit in kind of a narrow, NYC-centric context, and I'm happy with what I wrote. I'll leave that at that for now. But I want to write about something else having to do with this. I want to write about how non-nightmares have tried to be wrong about this question -- this very-easy-to-be-right-about question -- in a reasonable, more-in-sorrow-than-in-whatever way.

To a great degree, I know, even bothering with these ambivalence jockeys is kind of missing the point. The people who have chosen to be wrong about this -- or, by dint of their own sheer and self-evident demi-retardation, had that wrongness thrust upon them -- are so wrong, so fully and offensively wrong and so cynically and dangerously wrong (and, it must be presumed, possibly both at once), that it's probably best to focus on them. But rebutting Newt Gingrich is, finally, both someone else's and everyone else's job. (He also does a pretty good job of it himself, just by being the epic barf-beast that is Newt Gingrich) And anyway, Gingrich is just kind of cheating. Him and the rest of them.

What makes it possible for the Palins and Rick Lazios and Newt Gingriches and That Construction Worker Guy On Fox News With The American Flag Hardhat to be who they are is that being right on this issue -- that is, either not being bigots or recognizing the primacy of private property rights or the exercising even a modicum of perspective or keeping out of other neighborhoods' business, or all of those -- simply never occurs to them. The people who want to be both evenhanded and blindly biased are perhaps a more interesting case, but they're also a minority in this instance, and not a terribly sympathetic one. So, yeah, let's get to talking about them.

Even as someone inclined to see pretty much everything as poignant, I find it kind of difficult to feel for these dudes so hungry to see their biases be righteous. With the exception of actual crazy people like the aforementioned Pamela Geller -- she's on the left at right, and is also the ur-bigot behind the planned September 11 anti-Park51 protest, and a woman who would definitely have sex with Glenn Beck -- more or less everyone involved with trying to get the non-mosque moved/stopped/turned-into-a-wedge-issue feels obliged to at least pretend to reasonableness. Much of this is due to the right's choice of "sensitivity" -- to the families of certain 9/11 victims, to people who don't much like Muslims but don't feel comfortable with shrieking Gellerian bigotry and, per La Palin, "families in the heartland" who can't abide the idea of a Muslim 92nd Street Y that's exactly as far from the erstwhile Ground Zero than The Vitamin Shoppe at Maiden Lane. Even Michael Goodwin -- the anonymous NewsCorp apparat whose work lies on the other side of that hyperlinked "demi-retardation" above -- makes some awkward feints in the direction of brotherhood and sensitivity in his column. It's not exactly the sort of outreach that Imam Rauf engages in -- it's less a Muslim cleric reciting the Shma and making common cause with the Islamic world's most-hated minority than a well-compensated pundit reciting the word fire in a crowded theater. But even Goodwin-ian hatchetpeople realize that they need to try to appear not to be a part of the mob. While signaling frantically to the mob in semaphore the whole time, naturally, but in the subtext rather than the headline.

But what about those who could never bear the thought of being mistaken for the Michael Goodwins of the discourse -- the land-grant yobs making the most noise and casting the smallest amount of light in the discourse; the sort of puffed-up, under-educated Babbitts who would never use words like discourse? Yeah, I'm talking about Martin Peretz agonistes -- Peretz being the plu-Harvard publisher of The New Republic who happens to fucking hate Arabs as much as he loves ostentatious, flex-time-to-have-sex vocabularizing. The New Republic is still a pretty great magazine, I think -- I'm biased insofar as my two best pieces of magazine writing, this and this, were both done for them -- although more despite Peretz than thanks to him. He's been wrong and nasty about the non-mosque, in his distinctive way -- it's not that he opposes a mosque so much as that he's concerned about some very ordinary things Imam Rauf said willfully misunderstanding the importance of the "Cordoba" in Rauf's Cordoba Initiative. (For example) And there's this touchingly out-of-touch bit here, from another of his nasty maunders: "Nobody knows whether the entrepreneur who wants to open a gay bar next door to the Muslim center will be permitted to do so. This is a question of fairness." The entrepreneur, here, being red-faced, coke-speed Fox News late-night host Greg Gutfeld, who is obviously very serious about opening a "Muslim gay bar", possibly to be called Ram-a-Dan, next to the "mosque." Peretz and Gutfeld are less mismatched company than either would probably think, but you see my point here: clown is as clown does.

For a more serious-seeming TNR iteration of the why-can't-we-just-compromise-and-do-what-I-want, here's Israeli correspondent Yossi Klein Halevi's better-informed and less pugnaciously bigoted take. It's not worse than Peretz's mulitple and multiply wrong takes on it -- Halevi's a better writer, and less inclined towards the sort of drive-bys (i.e. there's no need for Park51, as there are already enough mosques in New York City and besides the cultural programming will stink) that make Peretz so exhausting and strange to read. But from the subhed -- "My Friend, Imam Rauf" -- on down, it's every bit as wimpily dishonest as the ADL's statement on the matter.

First of all, Halevi and Rauf aren't actually/at all friends -- they met once, in 2001, at a symposium. And while Halevi is (generally, hedgingly) willing to admit that Rauf isn't an al Qaeda apologist -- like I said, better than Peretz -- he still manages to be really wrong about what "the mosque" even is, and to misapprehend the actual thing at issue, here. "You have dedicated your life to helping Islam enter the American mainstream. In its current form, though, your project will have the opposite effect," Halevi writes. And I'm going to quote more in a second, but this is where he loses the thread to the point of utterly misunderstanding this situation: the point is that the "opposite effect" has nothing to do with Rauf or his project. The issue is that there is NOTHING Rauf or Cordoba could do to alter Park51 that would change the response from the people leading the charge against it. You can't negotiate with Martin Peretz or Pam Geller on this. They are unappeasable, and for that reason ought not be appeased -- there is no place this non-mosque could be that Geller wouldn't call it a "Monster Mosque" and Peretz wouldn't talk about Rauf (or any other Muslim leader) as if he were Ayman al-Zawahiri. But yeah, continuing: "However inadvertently, your current plan would be understood by large parts of the Muslim world as a victory over the West. Merely adding an interfaith component to the proposed Islamic center would not counter that distorted impression. Instead, it would likely reinforce the medieval theology of extending 'protection' to Christianity and Judaism under the auspices of Islam. But an interfaith center in which the three Abrahamic faiths are given equal status would send the message that I believe you intend to convey."

Which is maybe well-intentioned, but also pretty embarrassing. Because, first of all, it wouldn't even work: it's a compromise that solves nothing -- based on some soothsaying of "the arab street," it offers to replace this guy's dream of a Muslim JCC (and what a dream) with some weird, denatured monument to interfaith cooperation. Hopefully it will still have a pool, because otherwise it sounds pretty boring. But the bigger point that Halevi misses, and what compromise-minded David Paterson and Howard Dean and everyone else in the "too close/too soon" camp miss, is that they are not in a conversation or a negotiation, but a tip-of-the-pitchfork shouting match with people for whom it will never be acceptable that a center of this type get built by this person, anywhere. The reason why there has not yet been a convincingly reasonable, tolerant argument for moving or deferring or canceling Park51 is that reason has its limits, and that there is no real tolerant way to hold an intolerant position. Cordoba Initiative played by the rules in every possible way, and seem as good a neighbor as anyone could want -- this isn't even hard to see or understand. But if you're truckling to people intent on seeing a 15-story building as towering over the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, perspective obviously would be an issue.

On issues of this sort, Peretz can usually get some equally verbose support from TNR's chief literary critic, Leon Wieseltier. Wieseltier generally spends more time calling out antisemites and lambasting contemporary philosophers than he does getting his hands dirty on matters like these, which I guess is fine. Wieseltier is a long sentence, Great Big Idea guy, but his eloquent defense of the mosque is surprisingly, bracingly simple in addressing the myriad complexities -- and the few, integral simplicities -- of this conversation. This right here is just good:

There are families of the victims who oppose Cordoba House and there are families of the victims who support it. Every side in this debate can invoke the authority of the pain. But how much authority should it have? I do not see that sentiment about the families should abrogate considerations of principle. It is odd to see conservatives suddenly espouse the moral superiority of victimhood, as it is odd to see them suddenly find an exception to their expansive view of religious freedom. Everybody has their preferred insensitivities. In matters of principle, moreover, polling is beside the point, or an alibi for the tyranny of the majority, or an invitation to demagogues to make divisiveness into a strategy, so that their targets come to seem like they are the ones standing in the way of social peace, and the “decent” thing is for them to fold. Why doesn’t Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don’t Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end.

I know this whole thing has been something of an August non-story, blown up to gargantuan size by the worst kinds of cynics and some blinkered, shameful simpletons. But I feel like my earlier argument -- that opposition to Park51 represented a misunderstanding and underestimation of New York City -- kind of feels insufficient now, as the story has expanded and the depth of the misunderstandings and underestimations of those who have kept this an issue have come into sharper focus. It's not a surprise when Palin and Gingrich and USDA Prime kooks like Pam Geller say idiotic, intolerant things -- they always do, for one, and I see no real reason not to take them at their word when they claim to believe their own words. But seeing how hard smart people are willing to work to make this simple issue seem complicated -- and to make their own essential cowardice appear reasoned and reasonable -- keeps on surprising me.

Wieseltier points out that Islam is no more "a religion of peace" than Christianity or Judaism -- that is, not one at all. Which, I have always thought, is precisely why we have a public, secular religion grounded in the rights enumerated in the constitution. Our common secular faith's health, and the strength of our national soul, is reflected in the citizenry's devotion to those rights -- not just for themselves but for all, not merely when flattering but always. I am interested, and a bit afraid, in seeing just how well our single real shared faith weathers this test.