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)