Friday, April 21, 2017

This Week in Review: Trump, Bill O'Reilly, Aaron Hernandez, Tom Brady and Sean Spicer


Photo: from isitfunnyoroffensive.com, here (at your own risk). United's newest "passenger removal specialist."

Hey, it's been a few weeks! Mostly my absence was due to an illness that felt like a minor-league flu, but wasn't (I think). Fever up to 101 for a few days; really bad throat and ear pain; fuzzy and congested head (which I have normally anyway). I still have a lingering minor cough and fuzziness/congestion and ear pain, a few weeks and two different antibiotics later. Twice a doctor has shined a light into my right ear and said, "Whoa, there's a lot of water build-up there." Could've been worse, I could've met United's newest employee, pictured above, who calls himself a "passenger removal specialist."

Anyway, there's been a lot of crap lately to get my mind off it. Among these:

--Bill O'Reilly, who's made a (lucrative) living blowharding about "values" and telling people how to behave, has been paying off women over the last 15 years so they don't sue him for sexual harassment. To the tune of $13 million, that is, and I'll bet that's conservative. (See what I did there?) What a hypocrite! Is it me, or does it seem that everyone who makes a living telling others how they should live is a hypocritical dirtbag?

--And even then, Fox only let him go after the sponsors started pulling out. Which shows you it's, unfortunately, not about sexual harassment, but about dollars.

--By the way, O'Reilly's publisher, Henry Holt, has stated that it will still work with him. "Our plans have not changed," Holt said in an email, according to the New York Times. O'Reilly's latest best-selling book titles: Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, and Killing Reagan. I am not making those up. Read into the similarities what you will, but you don't need to read books from Henry Holt Publishing anymore, right? I don't (if I do already). I don't normally advocate not reading, but we don't need to support this dirtbag. There's plenty of other things to read.



Photo: from his own Wikipedia page. 

--And in any dictionary, next to the word "smug."

--Bill O'Reilly was given a severance package as high as $25 million, by the way. Add to that the approximate $13 million Fox paid to women he sexually harassed, and that's $38 million Fox had paid to kiss his butt, not counting his actual salary. His latest contract, just recently signed, was for $18 million a year--which he won't collect. Fox had an out-clause: it was void if any new allegations and lawsuits were filed against him. Hmmm...You think Fox knew anything?

--And this is after Fox Chairman Roger Ailes had to resign over his own sexual harassment woes. Despite this, Fox was still willing to pay the money for O'Reilly and sweep him under the rug. Rather than clean house all at once, Fox was willing to let it go on.

--And Fox has been putting on conservative "news" for years about proper values and behavior. Sexually harassing women? Check. Gay marriage? No.

--Scumbags.

--Speaking of scumbags, so Aaron Hernandez was (somehow) acquitted of double-homicide, then hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet, the same day the Super Bowl-winning Patriots visited the White House. If you think that's a coincidence, I want to drink your Kool-Aid. This is what narcissistic sociopaths do, right to the bitter end. That'll show them, he thought.



Photo: from the Huffington Post, at this website


--He also scribbled John 3:16 on his forehead. It reads: "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in [H]im may not perish, but may have life everlasting." That's a narcissistic That'll show 'em, too. Again, all about him. That's not religious belief. That's self-importance. And power. Actual religious people are the ones not killing people. This act is an offense to every Christian out there. Narcissistic sociopaths will do anything, and believe anything, that benefits them. Unless you think he was actually seriously religious. Again, I'll take a glass of that.



Photo: Tom and Gisele, from the International Business Times, at this website. These two are so used to the limelight that they know they'll look better together if they're looking in opposite directions.

--I normally don't give a damn about the politics or beliefs of my favorite athletes, but I have to give kudos to Tom Brady, who at the last minute pulled out of a visit to the White House this week. He'll deny it was a political move, but a) Gisele posted an anti-Trump tweet this week (and as Gisele goes, Tom Brady goes); and b) Tom Brady has been quoted many times supporting Trump, speaking for him, and basically being Defense Exhibit A of why I don't care about the politics of my favorite athletes (See also: Curt Schilling). But to blow off Trump at the last second on a worldwide stage is a gutsy move, because we all know it will anger him. And it speaks very loudly, no matter what PC spin all three will put on it. I don't know why he did it (except, as Gisele goes, so does Tom Brady), but I'm glad he did. I might actually try his workout and diet plans, too. Which are really out there.

--Prince died a year ago. I can't believe I just typed that, but it's so.




Photo: from entertainment.ie, here





--There've been idiots in American politics since there's been an America, but Sean Spicer must be the most verbally handicapped one I've ever seen--and I've been keeping track since 2001. He makes Dubya look like he actually passed Yale with his own intellectual capacity. Dubya is an Oxford don next to this guy. If all the crap Spicer said before this week didn't open your eyes, drop your jaw and make you shake your head like a wet dog, surely this week's verbal diarrhea did it for you. Hitler didn't use gas?!? Holocaust centers?!? Bottom line: this is a national spokesman who cannot speak. And this doesn't just shock and awe Americans. It pisses off people across the world, including Germans, who haven't been our biggest fans since Trump refused to shake Andrea Merkel's hand, twice. What is it with this administration's problem with Jews, anyway? (Look up "Trump" and "National Holocaust Museum.") Now that O'Bannon is out, let's see what happens. If nothing does, we'll have to face the fact that it isn't just him, but the entire administration. (P.S.--It's all of them.)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Don't Believe Everything You Read and Hear: Ty Cobb, A Terrible Beauty



Photo: from the book's Goodreads page (and from my review)

I've got a major sinus infection and fever, that the doctor said looked like strep or the flu, and she just said she thinks I should be out of action for at least three days, so forgive the lack of structure here. Doing my best...

As Shakespeare's Caesar showed us (and Orwell's Animal Farm), when someone in charge repeats something often enough, the masses believe it. (Defense Exhibit A: Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Exhibit B: Everything Mr. Orange said to win the chair he never sits in.)  Charles Leerhsen's Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty attempts to show that everything we've thought, read and seen in a movie lately about Ty Cobb is either fiction, exaggerated, or misleading.

He largely succeeds, but he gets carried away with his own success. He inserts lame jokes into the text. He happily shows how he's correct and writers like Al Stump aren't. He's right, but does he have to be so gleeful and boastful about it? And most of the errors he points out about Cobb aren't direct falsehoods, but errors of degree. Was Cobb the psychotic we've learned about? No, he wasn't. But would you choose him over Honus Wagner to be on your team? No, you wouldn't. The Tigers desperately needed him, so they coddled him for as long as they needed to, but that was not a happy family in Detroit. Speaking of happy families, Cobb's mother did shoot his father, and Cobb apparently was emotionally and perhaps physically abusive to his kids, and perhaps his wife.

He favors Cobb with such a bias that he writes: "In Honus Wagner [the Pirates] had a marquee star who had almost all of Cobb's ability and none of his charisma..." (223). Now, there's a lot wrong there. Not so fast. Wagner had ALL of Cobb's abilities--including hits (Cobb 4,189; Wagner 3,420) average (.366 to .328) and stolen bases (963 to 897). The point isn't that Wagner surpassed the numbers; the point is we're talking about 2 all-time greats playing at the same time, amassing very similar numbers. And Wagner never saw the live ball era of the 1920s as Cobb did. Wagner retired in 1917 while Cobb hung up his spikes in 1928. Had they played during exactly the same years, their numbers would be closer. Though Cobb may have a slight edge with the bat, the numbers show that Wagner could have matched them, but didn't. Why? Perhaps the Pirates didn't need him to.

But the point Leerhsen never makes in his whole 400+ page book is that on defense for his career, Cobb owes 10 games to the Tigers (his defensive WAR is -10), while for his career Wagner gives his team +21 wins on defense. That's a swing of 30 games, which Cobb's 38 points of batting average, 700 hits and 66 stolen bases don't compensate for. (Cobb played 3 more years than Wagner, and Honus never saw the lively ball of the 20s.) Cobb was known as an average to below-average defender, at best, while Wagner made other players' jaws drop at shortstop. He played Gold Glove- caliber defense every day, according to his contemporaries, in The Glory of their Times. All of the players said Wagner was better than Cobb because of Wagner's defense, and that they all stood around and watched as Wagner hit. Nobody says that about Cobb.

Also consider Cobb's behavior. Leerhsen makes it clear that he was nowhere near the crazy butthole everyone thinks--but he also makes it clear that he was a pain in the ass to his own teammates, to anyone who got in his way on the basepaths (I can let that slide, as the players did. See what I did there?), to the team management that usually coddled him and adopted him, and to fans, both for him and against him. Did Cobb assault a black waiter? No, he didn't. Did he dislike African-Americans in general? The evidence says No, that he was indifferent, and that he was for them if they were good ballplayers, like how he spoke in favor of Jackie Robinson. Did he kill 3 people, as has been said? Nope.

But did he jump into the stands and beat the crap out of a paraplegic? Yes, he did! Did he slide with his spikes up? Yes, he did, but only if you were in his direct line on the basepaths. And if you were at a base, including home, he usually slid away from you. Did he say bad things to almost everyone, including his teammates, kids and wives? Yes. Did he drink too much as he got older and turn nasty? Yes, he did. You get the idea. Now, did Wagner do any of those things while active? Was the whole Pirates team against him? Did he piss off his ownership? Did he assault the disabled and chase after umpires and fight almost every guy he knew? Nope. And does that translate into a better team, so that it could be said that he helped his team by not being a butthole like Cobb was? You bet. (Though, like Cobb, Wagner drank too much when he got old. But while alcohol made Cobb angry, bitter and mean, the sauce just made Wagner babble incessantly, and start baseball stories that could last an afternoon.) In a nutshell, that's the argument Bill James makes when he says that Ted Williams was a better hitter than Stan Musial, but not a better ballplayer (or left fielder).

It's not clear by the numbers that Cobb was that much better than Wagner with the bat (though I'll concede the point that he may have been a little bit, like Ruth over Gehrig), but it's also very clear that Wagner was the much better defender and clubhouse presence. I don't give much credence usually to the latter, but I do when we're talking about a chronic problem like Cobb, though he may not have been the psychotic we've been led to believe he was. Having read this book, I see him now as a Jimmy Piersall type of neurotic, a nervous and anxiety-ridden guy, with an ability ten thousand times that of Piersall. But essentially the same temperament.

So that's what we've got here. The author makes the mistake of celebrating himself too much--ironic, since that's what he shows Cobb did too much, which made his teammates dislike him. He was better than they were, and different, and smarter, and faster, and that also made them dislike him. In fact, the T206 guys on his team actively bullied him, to the point that a few of them were suspended by the team. I don't criticize Cobb for this, though one would think he could have somehow handled it better. After all, Wagner was better than all of the Pirates of his time, and nobody taunted him or beat him up, even when he was a rookie. But Leerhsen says at least 12 times (I stopped counting) that Wagner (and Lajoie, and Elmer Flick, and other HOFers of the time) were grunts with a lunchpail, guys who would be in the mines without baseball, boring guys with no personality--I'm not making this up, or exaggerating. Leerhsen calls them these things.

Well, hell, I used to know a lot of people I thought were interesting, who did a lot of crazy things, who hurt a lot of good people, either emotionally, mentally or physically (or all of the above), but weren't they fun and exciting? But then I grew up, and I saw that stable and consistent behavior is a helluva lot more interesting than the crazy, destructive and self-destructive crap I saw the "exciting" people do. Those latter people flamed out, or exited from my life, stage left, (or both) and I replaced them with stable and consistent people with different things about them that were exciting and interesting.

Which ones would you rather work with for 20+ years? Exactly. Turns out, consistent and stable people make your job (and therefore your life) easier. Leerhsen gets caught up in his own cult of personality, like Cobb did in his, and it made them both pale in comparison.

So if you like the T206 era as I do, and you're interested in who Ty Cobb was, like I am, you should read this, and you'll find it interesting. It's informative, it sets the matter of Cobb straight, and it's a good read.

But like those guys who keep repeating the same thing, and it's believed because it's on the internet, or it's in print, or it's what you want to hear, or it's said by someone in some sort of power--Well, don't believe everything you read, you know? Ironic, because that's the point of this book, and Leerhsen proves his point in a way that he doesn't want to. But there it is.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Decay and Disgust in 1664 London -- The Sweet Smell of Decay, a Book Review


Photo: from the book's Goodreads page.

I really liked this book despite its inconsistency. Some parts are very well-written, and some...well, aren't. Very odd. You can get a paragraph or two, or a few pages, with exceptional prose, or description; but then suddenly you get a dead-weight clunker of a paragraph, or sometimes just a line or two. There are shifts in tone, too. Suddenly--and I mean you can hear the screeches--a character becomes shady. Suddenly a scene changes, or you can't see it clearly. Towards the end there's a well-drawn action scene--and then suddenly you're at a trial, and it's very drawn-out. And the main character, Harry Lytle, does this and does that, and seemingly never stops, to do anything, and you realize that can't be, and it all doesn't come together, but it's okay because you're reading about yourself going through the motions as Lytle, and that's enough. In fact, that's the point, and undoubtedly the author's intent.

Very tough to explain.

But despite it all, you have a main character who is likable in his opaqueness. Who is he? What does he do? Not really ever explained, but he's a common enough bloke, and he's supposed to be you, the reader. He's just accessible enough to be us. We're the ones doing what he's doing, seeing what he's seeing. That transition is so seamless, you don't even realize it happened.

1664 London is really the main character, and it is supported well. The mystery isn't really mysterious. (The plot is more of a mystery, if you know what I mean.) It's all explained at the end, not very well, as the bow falls off and isn't neatly tied. But you won't care, because you're there for the sights and sounds of 1664 London, and you will get a lot of that, and you'll like it. The logistics of the ending is a head-scratcher, as are all of the characters when they take off their wigs to check for lice. Everyone's bald, and everything's filthy and gross, and 1664 London is just a disgusting place, where people get hanged but don't die, and their intestines are ripped out and burned and they don't die, and they're then tied hand and foot to horses and ripped apart, and if they still don't die, they're carted in a wheelbarrow to the nearest river and dumped in. And then their heads are stuck on a pike on a bridge or tower. And a prisoner about to die this way soils his pants, and that's described, and you realize that's what you're reading this for--the details, like you're there in 1664 London, and you're happy to be there by reading about it, because you sure as hell wouldn't really want to be there.

That's why this book works. If you like the history of historical fiction more than you like the fiction of historical fiction, you'll like this one. I'm on to the next, A Plague of Sinners.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks -- A Book Review


Photo: cover of the paperback book, from its Google.com page.

Very, very well-written account of a young girl's life on Martha's Vineyard and in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1660s. Though the book is more known to be about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, it is really about this girl and her Puritan family. Narrated by Bethia, the book is a comparison between her life as an Other, and that of a native Wampanoag named Cheeshahteaumauk, called Caleb by Bethia's family after his Indian family dies of disease, probably smallpox. (He dies of disease, too, of consumption, not long after he became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.) This is a book, like all her others, to read and enjoy, and to learn from and emulate if you want to be a writer. I can someday hope to become nearly as good--though that is doubtful--but I cannot become better.

Bethia loves life on the island, despite its hardships. Let me rephrase: She loves the island more than she loves her life on it. Her chores and responsibilities are endless. She loses her parents and her younger sibling, all three in horrible ways. She can read and write and she has intelligence and opinions--all bad in 1660s Puritan Massachusetts, especially on the island. Her daily life, with and without her best friend Caleb, and her family, are equally interesting and distressing to read about.

She follows Caleb and her older brother to Harvard. Her brother is next in line to lead the family and to become a preacher like their father. Except, he's not intelligent, not good in the ways of leadership or human nature. He can't read as well as she, and he can't learn the Bible's languages as well as she. In fact, she's a helluva lot smarter than he is, and they both know it. In fact, Caleb, the "salvage," the other and the lesser in that time, is also smarter than he is in all of these things, and he knows that, too. Despite all this, Bethia goes to Harvard with them because it is her indentured servitude that will pay for her brother's education there, so that he can become more in their society than she can, though everyone knows she deserves it more. She steals a bit of an education while she can, eavesdropping on lessons, learning from the other students, etc., but it is not a life she is destined to overtly benefit from.

In lesser hands, Bethia would fall in love with Caleb, and run away with him, and such, but these are not ordinary hands, and she does not do this. Bethia as a child was confused about her true feelings for Caleb, and maybe she did have what we would call a crush on him for a few years, but overall she outgrows that, and they become perhaps even closer, a brother and sister that would have continued had he not died. She leaves with another man, rather happily, from that Harvard disaster, and lives in Italy for a time, before she comes back and sees Caleb in his final days. The book is told in three parts, the last of which is a bit more sad than perhaps it needed to be, but who am I to judge? It's all enthralling. You'll feel like you're there, and you'll care about everyone.

Brooks clearly is painting a parallel between Bethia's life in 1660s Puritan Massachusetts and that of women in 2000s America. She does this in every work, and continues to do so here. As usual, it is not overt, or heavily done, and you don't feel preached to. This outlook, again as usual, enhances the story and does not detract from it. In fact, that cultural comment is not the story. As always, her story is her story. Bethia and Caleb, two others in a career-long character list of strong others, are her vehicles to tell this story. They themselves are not the story, per se. This is a distinction that all writers trying to say something should understand: your characters tell the story, but your characters are not the story. They drive it, of course; the story is not a river and they the mere floaters. But the story is the tide, and the characters either swim with it, or they swim against it. Brooks is excellent--here, and especially in March, her Pulitzer-winner--at showing the tides of the times she sets her stories in. It is one of the many things she does masterfully.

So this book is a story of the time, but also of our time. There is an other of every time, as we see today. I suspect maybe a female of African-American or Mexican descent is writing a good book about that as I type this.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Get Out -- A Movie Review, Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of the movie review for Get Out. Yesterday's Part 1 is here.



Photo: from the movie's Wikipedia page. This is what white people like me, whatever that means, thought racists were when I saw this movie in 1988. Turns out, it's a lot more complicated than that. By the way, this movie has more relevance now than it should, so see it if you haven't. And don't expect factual accuracy. It's a depiction, a cinematic dramatization in broad strokes. It's not a documentary.

Yet Get Out says that the awareness of the...nervousness, or political-correctness, or even the awareness of the awareness of a biracial couple...is in fact part of the problem. Which of course it is. Maybe someday we'll live in a country where a biracial couple simply doesn't raise any eyebrows, anywhere, in any kind of person, pro or con, friend or foe. That isn't going to happen soon, since we've taken two steps back in this country, but we'll see.

But you can see maybe why this was such a ballsy movie to make. Especially today. Now, cynics that we usually are, we'd expect this movie to maybe--or maybe not--do okay its first weekend, maybe for interest or shock value, and then disappear once blockbusters like Kong and Logan are released at the same time. 

But I'm happy, and a little surprised, to say that it hasn't happened. It's hanging in there, in third place, right with those films. It's grossed over $100 million--on a budget barely over $4 million. Considering that, it's so far been more of a financial hit than Kong: Skull Island or Logan. That's saying something.

And it should be. It is (uncomfortably) funny--but it won't be for those who don't think biracial couples, or the reaction they can elicit from others, is funny. Frankly, if you're racist, you're not going to like this film. But I suspect racists know that, and are staying far away. I've seen shockingly scant mention of it from them in the news and on the internet, but then I'm not an internet crawler. Also, it's a good horror flick, once you get by the horror premise, which you're not really supposed to take seriously to begin with. There is actual unease and tension and suspense. Strangely so, for me, and it wasn't scary, exactly, for me, like other horror films have been. Like, The Exorcist, or The Silence of the Lambs.

So it's a ballsy film, and it's a good film, and it's doing really well, which means it's hit a nerve somewhere, and found a niche. You can expect to see more films like this now, perhaps not as good.

I will leave you with some positive reviews of the movie, which are written more succinctly than this one. They're all taken from the movie's Wikipedia page, which you can click on here.

Richard Roeper gave the film 3.5/4 stars, saying, "[T]he real star of the film is writer-director Jordan Peele, who has created a work that addresses the myriad levels of racism, pays homage to some great horror films, carves out its own creative path, has a distinctive visual style — and is flat-out funny as well." Keith Phipps of Uproxx praised the cast and Peele's direction, noting: "That he brings the technical skill of a practiced horror master is more of a surprise. The final thrill of Get Out — beyond the slow-building sense of danger, the unsettling atmosphere, and the twisty revelation of what’s really going on — is that Peele’s just getting started." Mike Rougeau of IGN gave the film 9/10, and wrote: Get Out's whole journey, through every tense conversation, A-plus punchline and shocking act of violence, feels totally earned. And the conclusion is worth each uncomfortable chuckle and moment of doubt." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated Get Out a 3.5/4, and called it: "[A] jolt-a-minute horrorshow laced with racial tension and stinging satirical wit." Scott Mendelson of Forbes praised how the film captures the current zeitgeist called it a "modern American horror classic".

So if this sounds good, or if you like horror/comedies, go see it.