Thursday, March 17, 2011

Three New York St. Patrick's Day Haikus

I don't usually write poems, because I am not a very good poet. But everything non-basketball today was so moving that I am making an exception. Please do not snap or say "dig it" until the last haiku is finished. That's rude. Thanks. So:

New York St. Patrick's Day Haiku (I)

They both look quite drunk
The firemen holler at broads
Lonely barf puddles.

New York St. Patrick's Day Haiku (II)

Crying and texting
That one Dropkick Murphy's song
Jets jerseys rampant.

New York St. Patrick's Day Haiku (III)

Shwag weed, punches thrown
There are no good bars on Lex
Let's get out of here.

You're welcome. I would really advise you not to go out there.

Strictly For My Sportz Nerdz

This right here is probably the dorkiest thing I've ever written -- a piece for about the joys of the do-it-yourself NCAA tournament fantasy basketball league. (Frequent collaborator and MacGyver commish Brendan Flynn is the hero):

We are all grown men: some of us fathers, some with post-graduate degrees, all of us comparatively well-adjusted, some of us smart enough to know that Richmond’s first-round matchup against Vanderbilt looks like a reasonable upset pick. Why were we doing this? Well, the simplest answer is that we are hideous, hideous basketball dorks who happen also to share a taste for fantasy basketball. (Ladies!)

But the more specific answer is that we were having a NCAA fantasy draft because we could. Licensing issues prevent fantasy sports giants from hosting player-driven NCAA drafts along the lines of the average NBA fantasy basketball league, and those sites do plenty well with their bracket-prediction fantasy games. Last year, 4 million people picked a bracket through’s Tournament Challenge, which features some nifty coding, a $10,000 prize for a perfect bracket, and a State Farm sponsorship. In contrast, there are eight of us in the hand-collated NCAA fantasy league run by Brendan Flynn, a doctoral candidate in political science at the City University of New York’s grad center. We’re still working out the corporate sponsorship thing.

I'm happy with it, and enjoyed the experience immensely, as I have enjoyed all my experiences writing for Wired's Erik Malinowski. That said: serious levels of nerderation jumping off on this one. Sports + MS Excel = LADIES!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

From the Desk of Sen. Fred Thompson: A March Madness Bracket For Those Who Hate Social Security

There are limits to how much Obama-hatred I can comprehend. I myself am frustrated by a number of things about the guy -- his embarrassingly offhand non-approach to the scandal of Bradley Manning's continued detention and his embarrassingly offhand non-approach to the continued detention of people other than Bradley Manning in Guantanamo, for starters. And also his doomed and half-pitiful approach to find common ground with a trollish and cynical opposition that spends its time either 1) imagineering his fanciful non-American origins and anti-American motivations or 2) crassly attempting to harness the nutty fervor of those who spend their time on that speculative task in the service of, like, extending the carried-interest tax loophole and ending clean-air laws. And also there are some other things, some of which probably reflect unrealistic expectations on my part and others of which probably reflect real and serious and intractable problems with our political system. But while it seems obvious to me that Obama is playing himself by attempting to play nice with these goofs, and while that frustrates me, I bump up against my Obama-skeptic ceiling pretty quickly. Not only do I not think he's the secret child of Stokely Carmichael and Joan Baez -- or Bill Walton and Angela Davis, or Dick Allen and Patty Hearst, or whatever Pamela Geller is speculating about now -- but I think he's probably a pretty decent man with a very difficult job. Which is all sort of a long way of saying that I'm totally fine with him filling out a NCAA bracket if he wants to do so.

And I suspect that, for the most part, those on the right who are acting outraged about Obama's bracket (for a second straight year!) are probably okay with it, too. There will be exceptions, people who are not ever okay with anything -- the first comment on that WSJ link above is from someone who describes the president as Barry Soetoro, which is what the Prison Planet nerdlingers call him in their elaborate Obama fanfic multiverse. But do I suspect that Sleepy Fred Dalton Thompson, one of America's laziest political elites, really begrudges Obama his bracket? No, of course not.

Thompson, who displays the porky sheen of a glazed ham and has evinced half the work ethic, is a nap aficionado so stuffed with foie gras that even a no-show job as a Senator from Tennessee proved too much for him. A planned presidential campaign never really quite happened -- perhaps because some Republican primary debates were held in cities without their own branch of Morton's of Chicago -- and he has been kind of half-assing his way through a career as a lobbyist, voice-over actor and spokesman for American Advisors Group, a typically upstanding-seeming reverse-mortgage lender, ever since. It's a good way to make a living, I guess, but it's no one's idea of a tough gig. Should Thompson choose to fill out a NCAA bracket, it would almost certainly be the most productive thing he did that day, unless he was shooting another Iron Eagle sequel.

So does Thompson mean it when he writes, at The National Review, that Obama is "ignoring the heavy lifting that comes with the job of 'Leader of the Free World'" by filling out his brackets? I'd guess no, or at least no more than Thompson means anything he says. But, increasingly, that seems to be the point of much of the right's Obama-related discourse -- rhetorically, it might be heated cant seeded, SEO-style, with random buzzwords, but essentially it's simple, taunty trolling. (The American Prospect's Adam Serwer has posited that the Obama-is-a-Muslim thing is a subspecies of this -- that is, it's just another way to call him a jerk) That Thompson would get his troll on isn't surprising, and isn't all that meaningful. I doubt he put much more thought into carping about Obama's bracket than he does into, say, encouraging old people to get fleeced through reverse mortgages.

But, in this one instance, Thompson actually seems to be showing some initiative. His NR piece -- entitled, grandly, "The Brackets of Leadership" -- is as rich in tossed-off folksiness, as syrupy with condescension and as light in actual substance as you'd expect, but it's also an invitation for NR readers to create their own bracket of conservative cant, with, say, the privatizing of Social Security standing in for the University of North Carolina:

Now, while I could easily slot issues like Japan, the budget, entitlement reform, and tax cuts in upper seeds, I think the president would find it much more rewarding — and perhaps more engaging — if he knew that this was more of a community-organized endeavor.

So down below, let’s use the comments section to build our “Bracket of Leadership” for our ever-distracted president. We’ll take your suggestions and unveil the brackets tomorrow. Don’t feel limited to national-security issues, mind you, though we all know there are plenty. And there is no rule that says that “Tax Cuts” can’t be seeded next to “Zero Out the Education Department” (though I’d hate to pick one over the other).

What serious person wouldn't hate making that decision? As someone who organized a couple of NCAA bracket pools this year -- one at the Wall Street Journal, and another for Can't Stop the Bleeding -- I know well how not-at-all stressful those three-to-six minutes of clicking fields and sending out invitation emails are. So kudos to Thompson for being brave enough to take things in an entirely new direction. So far, Thompson's commenters haven't come up with anything for his Brackets of Leadership, although one of them has mentioned Obama's birth certificate. Perhaps they're too busy CREATING JOBS to engage in this sort of thing?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Century Club, Among Other Things

As you certainly already know, because you are a superfan, this is my 100th post here at David Roth, The Writer. Which means that I have now officially had 100 excellent thoughts -- thoughts about Guy Fieri and John Schnatter and libertarians and the "Ground Zero" "Mosque" (Oh man, remember that? CLASSIC SUMMER BIGOTRY!) and writing for no money and Frighteningly Nutty Sitcom Actors and terrible things and awful, awful David Brooks and so on. All of them excellent, all of them (apparently) worth the getting-deep-like-a-Navy-SEAL treatment. Which is to say: I guess I've been doing things at this address for a minute, now, although I'm still not exactly sure what I'm doing with it. I do know that I'm probably taking it a bit more seriously than I should.

I know that because the knowledge that this was my 100th post has kept me from writing anything here for awhile, because it Had To Be Good. Which is generally a good impulse, I suppose -- this sort of constructive self-consciousness is the thing that separates humans from Thomas Friedman -- but which also meant that I would periodically stare at a blank screen here, knowing that I should write something Totally Epic and Withering about a three-week old (but very terrible) feature story about evil prosciutto/New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (right), but also feeling tired and being busy and so on. And while I could easily fill my days writing about how sleepy, fatuous elites need to stop fluffing this graceless and cruelly cynical human hot pocket, I also know that that's not what this blog was for.

It was, almost a year ago, an attempt on my part to be professional, put all my stuff in one place, and do simultaneously a little plumage-flashing -- "I don't just write about sports, I also make fun of Paula Deen!" -- and some self-promoting. Which I guess I've done, but which I've also probably done too sporadically and (shock) in too prolix and off-topic a way to serve its desired purpose. What was supposed to be something I could put on a resume instead became, like, a blog. It's one with links to all my recent publications in the right-hand column (check it out, it's just to the right of these words!), but it's also a blog that I use the way people use blogs. I like it in that way, but also, really now. Really.

But also: really, it's nice to have a space to write about what I want to write about. I'm kind of past the "fuck an editor, it was perfect when I first thought it" stage in my life -- I make exceptions, periodically -- but given the stresses of trying to sell things, I suppose giving it away for free and enjoying the freedom from expectations that comes with that is maybe a healthy thing. And when someone calls me and says they want me to write a weekly column that is really a transcribed Gchat conversation about why so many Food Network personalities look like photographic negatives or freaky cartoons and yell all the time, I'm sure as hell going to be warmed up.

So yeah, 100 posts in a little under 365 days, and a 101st and so on in due time. I don't know that I'll use this space more effectively or responsibly in the future, but I know that I'll keep using it, and appreciate those of you who -- for whatever reason -- read it. (The Blogger stats thing suggests that, oddly and improbably, there are actually a few dozen of youse, which really reflects more on you than it does on me) I will also now use this post to promote something I wrote for The Awl about a week ago on the NFL Labor Apocalypse, which stars the adorable Jerry Richardson (he's the evil deflated Gingrich above). I'm happy with the piece, and think it's a good example of my work with The Awl over the past months, and that's why I'm putting it at the bottom of a 600-word post about myself and how I use my blog. I am really figuring this out!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

(Don't) Watch What Happens

During the early days of Charlie Sheen's monstrous, fast-talking public wild-out, I will admit to being pretty blown away by it, and I guess by him. What at first seemed like The Highest Shit Ever -- complete with the amazing coke-decision to start his image-rehabilitation tour on the radio program of 9/11 Truth godfather and overall crazy person Alex Jones -- became... well, it stayed really high-seeming. The over-the-top verbosity and epically poor rhetorical decisions and general thermonuclear grandiosity, after all, being what an already jerky/cocky guy -- who has gotten away with decades of conspicuous substance-consumption, property destruction and woman-hitting -- would sound like were that guy coked to the fucking gills. In a "Christ What An Asshole" sense, it was kind of gripping and mostly amusing.

And it still is, when you read the stuff Sheen has said on the page/screen. But listening to his sad sped-up crackpipe voice going on about himself -- always about himself, always going on -- or watching his prematurely wizened and withered visage, little pet's eyes flashing around restlessly, while he's spouting all that bullshit is not really funny to me. It's hugely discomfiting and increasingly depressing, and this is true even if the bullshit itself, the "I'm an F18 with tiger blood and poetry-spouting fingertips" stuff is actually amusing on its own. (It's doubly amusing when, thanks to Buzzfeed, it is attributed to other organisms)

Again, too, because it's the internet, my revulsion is enhanced by being able to watch other people watching this. For me, the hundreds of thousands of rubberneckers who opted to Join The Revolution and follow him on Twitter -- Sheen got 810,000 followers in a little over a day -- were basically people fighting for front row seats at a bumfight, but that's the internet, and that's what you get on the internet. But as Sheen continues (improbably, I know) to pass drug tests, it's getting tougher for me to laugh at any of this. He is indeed "high on a drug called Charlie Sheen," which is why he is continuing to talk about Charlie Sheen all the time, in these amazingly grandiose and insight-free ways. Dude is having a very public manic episode, and whether it's drug-fueled or not doesn't make it any more or less amusing to me. The "bi-winning" thing is funny, on its own. When it's said by a textbook dual-diagnosis bi-polar dude acting like a textbook dual-diagnosis bi-polar dude, you wince. Or I do.

Sheen is better-spoken, better-looking and marginally better-dressed -- I'm not really feeling his bowling shirt couture, personally -- than the crazy person in sweatpants screaming shit about how the CIA can just COME FUCKING GET HIM outside my office yesterday. He is rich enough that he could never find the mountain of blow he couldn't afford. And I don't really like being on the side of those clucking news program types who are like "don't you feel bad about choosing to ingest all these substances?" because fuck that noise, he's a grown-up and can do what he wants to his body. That includes being a total epic dickhole and starring on Two and a Half Men, both of which he has successfully managed to do for years without me really noticing. Or I'd be inclined to say that, I guess, if he wasn't also socking women in the face and keeping his crack rocks so near his young kids.

But I'm going to unplug from his I Need My Meds Tour for awhile, and be glad to do it, because I don't want to watch a crazy person be crazy in this way. I have no doubt that Charlie Sheen is not a very good guy -- hitting a woman once is proof enough of that, and the fact that his kids got removed from his sprawling and no doubt very hygienic home at Eight Balls And Shaved Pudenda Estates yesterday is abhorrent. More to the point, though, I am increasingly unable to laugh at this guy as he hurtles vainly, ragingly, biliously over the edge, blathering anti-semitisms and noxious self-praise as he makes his way down to the bottom. I'm not going to sit here and Dr. Drew you about how I want him to get help -- I'd think that's probably a good idea, but I do not now and never have given a shit about Charlie Sheen. Mostly I just think that pointing at laughing at this mentally ill narcissist in mid-breakdown is maybe not the best use of a week's free time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ride Things Or Die: The Paula Deen Experience, With Brendan Flynn

Paula Deen's giant howling orange face and Chico's be-swathed form is alternately and simultaneously one of my most and least-favorite things on television. The Food Network fry-mistress is one of the absolute monsters of our time -- with the complexion of a photographic negative, a brash and brazen ignorance that she wears on her linen (always linen) sleeve and a jones for butter so severe that it could coax a reproachful "dude, you are an addict" from Tom Sizemore, Deen embodies every glorious, galling excess currently on display in our culture. But while her goes-to-11 shrieking is tough to take, and while it's a bummer how fearlessly she has made her howling and proud lack of interest in any type of cooking but her own a part of her brand -- she's basically a culinary Tea Party, demanding a return to some unhealthy and imaginary yore in which the streets were viscous with shortening and men were still free -- she's also weirdly gripping to watch. Guy Fieri, for all the myriad things that are profoundly wrong with/about him, at least wants you to know that he knows how to cook. Deen just wants to laugh too loud at what didn't even seem like a joke and then shove cookies into your face.

Anyway, the internet is clearly in P-Deen's thrall as much as I am, and today the very amazing and very strange Paula Deen Riding Things photoshop tumblr lit up the parts of the web where I hang out. I discussed this with Brendan Flynn, one of our generation's foremost tumblr-readers, someone who reads Cook's Country for the articles, and who is as taken with the mysterious and richly umber Deen as I am.

brendan: Paula Deen Riding Things, currently trending on twitter. Internet 1 Brendan 0 today.

David: Yeah, I saw some of that earlier. The internet is just better at this than we are. I didn't even know I wanted to see that.

brendan: and Paranormal Blacktivity. that's also trending. but yeah, the internet is better. Paula Deen is terrifying. I can't even watch the top chef she's on. it just sits in my dvr box.

David: Sits in your DVR box, screaming and getting cream cheese on everything.

David: I also cannot imagine her food being good? Her show is fascinating, though. I watch it until I get too nauseated to watch it. I like when she drags her poor dumpy family around.

brendan: no, it doesn't look good. and I like Durkee Fried Onions a lot.

David: Her husband looks like a grumpy Southern Santa Claus, and she's just pulling him around like France, screaming about something and terrifying pedestrians with the force of her great gusty laughter. The guy looks ashamed to be there, but also like he'd rather be at home, eating chips.

brendan: grumpy southern santa claus is awesome.

David: Big golf belly hanging out. He should have his own show. His orange wife in loose Chico's linen garb, howling. Her giant teeth. She dresses like Missy Elliott in the "I Can't Stand The Rain" video, only the weird garbage bag outfit is from Chico's in her case, and she's screaming about frosting, and how you can-too fry it. Did they let her grade the food on Top Chef? Did everyone have to make tartar sauce, and then she did a shot of it and decided which version she liked best.

brendan: he's sort of the opposite of the barefoot contessa's husband.

David: I haven't seen that dude, although I guess you don't get to be a Contessa without a Count in the mix. What does he look like? A banker? A duke?

brendan: a banker, which he is. and been a clinton appointee. seems incredibly affable and happy to eat/listen to a story.

: according to Wikipedia, he also was in the Nixon whitehouse, dean of yale school of management and at one time managing director at lehman brothers.

: Affable plutocrats, man. Can't beat 'em. Paula Deen's husband ran a gun shop for awhile, then retired because he felt like he wasn't eating enough fried fish. He was sick of the bullshit.

: So who do you think wears/owns more loose-fitting linen pants, The Contessa or Paula Deen?

David: And I do have a follow-up.

brendan: it's a push, maybe. But I'm going with Deen b/c they're probably cheaper (contessa is strictly lands end) and she seems to favor volume

David: That was my follow up -- which one's wardrobe comprises more linen by yard, not by item. How did you anticipate that.

brendan: it just makes sense.