Friday, June 22, 2007

Some Things Never Change

I guess that one heartening thing about reading The March Of Folly, a 1984 book by Barbara Tuchman, is that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is not the biggest screw up in history.

In fact the steps taken by the British to maneuver the colonies into armed revolt must almost certainly take that title -- and this is in fact one of her four case studies of "the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests."

While she examines the fall of Troy, and the actions of the Vatican leading to the Reformation, the bulk of the book looks at the how the British "lost America" and how the U.S. bungled into, through, and out of war in Vietnam.

If the heartening part is understanding the historical proclivity to screw it up, the disheartening thing is just how clearly applicable the lessons of those two failures should have been for the current fiasco -- and just how clearly they were ignored.

For instance, does this line seem to resonate?
"The prospect of defeat under "my" command pleases no ruler, and rather than face it, George tried obstinately to prolong the war long after it held any hope of success."
That's King George III, by the way. Kicking the can down the road as a tactical substitute for lack of strategy has a much longer history than the current occupant.

But the lost lessons of Vietnam are, if anything, even more disheartening, as that disaster was well within the lifetimes of those responsible for the immediate disaster. Any of this make sense in the current environment?
"The follies that produced this result begin with continuous overreacting: in the invention of endangered "national security," the invention of "vital interest," the invention of a "commitment" which rapidy assumed a life of its own, casting a spell over the inventor ... it was a failure to understand that problems and conflicts exist among other peoples that are not soluble by the application of American force or American techniques or even American goodwill. 'Nation building' was the most presumptuous of the illusions."
In the end, I suppose that the final heartening aspect to this is that three of the four examples show that colossal disasters need not be permanently debilitating. The Catholic church is still around, the British empire continued unabated for more than a century, and the U.S. quickly recovered its footing despite losing our "vital interest" in Southeast Asia.

It remains to be seen, of course, what will be the long term implications of the current folly. One certainty is that if Barbara Tuchman were still alive we would someday see a revised and updated version of this book to include a fifth case study.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reasons YOU Might Love The '80s...

3 videos featuring dudes wearing lipstick.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Friday's Blues On The Fox in Aurora featured what is surely one of my Top 10 fav bands, a back-to-a-threesome version of the North Mississippi All-Stars. It also featured a cherry-bomb bratwurst and a shot of something that "tastes like ass" at the Mike Laurx estate's pre-show get-together.

Given the street venue and the free-for-all crowd, it was a short set and featured a number of covers surely aimed at giving an unfamiliar crowd a taste of something they recognized ("La Grange" and "Sunshine Of Your Love" were stellar, but the version of "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" was pretty much just flat out pandering. Some pics.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Episode The Final

And now comes the last to weigh in on The Sopranos' final episode.


I suppose it's a testament to something -- either the brilliance or the arrogance of David Chase's conclusion to the show -- that opinions on the ending ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other.

What we know.
  • Phil Leotardo has a flathead, and I'm not talking about his screwdriver set.
  • A.J. is a tool, and I'm not talking about a screwdriver here, either.
  • Carlo made like Olga Korbut and flipped.
  • Agent Harris is hairy, horny and maybe a little too invested in his surveillance targets.
  • Patsy Parisi's wife used to be "Angie" back in the day.
  • Janice is still self-obsessed and manipulative ... oh wait, that's everyone in the show.
  • A.J.'s new young thing is smokin' hot, as is his SUV.
  • Sometimes it can be very frustrating to get ketchup out of a bottle.
What we think we know.
  • The forevermore infamous blackout ending is indeed meant to tell us that Tony was whacked by the guy in the Member's Only jacket. There were just too many references to "not hearing a thing" and "everything going black" to make anything else a viable explanation. Add to that the fact that Gandolfini is on record as never wanting to play the character again, and it's pretty clear that Tony took one in the melon.
  • Meadow was on her way into Holsten's in order to tell her family that she was pregnant. Problems with her birth control ... problems parallel parking ... problems, problems, problems.
  • The real Holsten's does not appear to even have onion rings on the menu.
  • That Ade has apparently been reincarnated as a cat. I mean, what was with the cat? And if she was staring at Christofa was it because she still loved him or because she wanted to scratch his eyes out for ratting her out to Tony & Sil?
What we don't know.
  • Why so many people were either pissed off or disappointed by the ending. To me it seems deft and appropriate. The show was Tony's life, and with the end of that life comes blackness on the screen. No ending was about to satisfy everyone, but this was enough to satisfy me.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Shelf Life Of Greatness

Really interesting Sports Guy piece here, about the perishability of "greatness" in sports.

While I don't completely agree all of his conclusions, the idea that we quickly forget the greats of the past and downgrade them in comparison with those of the present (and even the future) is absolutely true.

At least in basketball.

His examples are all concerning basketball, and this is certainly the sport in which the idea resonates most clearly. An example was in the Tribune just yesterday, as Sam Smith ranked (I know, but it's relevant and recent) the greatest NBA dynasties.

#1 on the list was the Celtics of the '50s & '60s, if only because how can you ignore 8 in a row and 11 of 13? The twist of the knife comes in the blurb, "Perhaps they didn't have the best players ever because the league then was so small and so white. But they dominated like no team ever."

So, Simmons' point about John Havlicek's forgotten greatness is explained by what, his ... whiteness, Sam?

#4 on the list was the Minneapolis Lakers of the early '50s, dismissed by Smith in this way, "They make the list for sheer domination in their era. Who knows if any but George Mikan even could make a team today?"

I guess that's the issue in a nutshell. The thing about basketball (in comparison certainly to baseball) is that it is a game of creativity as well as (and sometimes as much as) athleticism.

As with any creative enterprise, basketball is conditioned by its environment. Music in 2007 is not the same as music in 1951 because of the incremental changes that have built upon previous incremental changes (as well as the odd creative leaps). To say that someone making music in 1951 wasn't making the same music as someone in 2007 is not the same as saying that they couldn't make the same music. The context has changed.

Likewise with basketball, the context has changed. Players didn't do a lot of things in 1951 that we take for granted now. Partially that is because they are bigger and stronger and better fed (as is the entire population), partially that is because they are better trained (based on better knowledge about, appreciation of, and money devoted to better training), and partially that is because the things players do now have grown out of the things players have created in the intervening 56 years.

In other words, players didn't do a lot of things in 1951 that we take for granted now, partially because they didn't know they could. Because no one had ever done them before.

This, of course, is exactly what defines the greatness of a Pete Maravich or a Julius Erving -- greatness in spite of the lack of statistical backup for that greatness. Their way of playing wrenched the whole game forward (usually kicking and screaming) through a paradigm shift.

Vern Mikkelsen played in six NBA All-Star games in seven years for the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1950s. He was born in 1928, meaning that his formative years were in the Depression, where nutrition could be scarce, yet he grew to be 6'7" and 230 pounds in his playing days. Now if Sam Smith is saying "if you magically transported the Vern Mikkelsen of 1951 and placed him down in 2007, he wouldn't be able to make a team in the NBA," I'd say he's wrong.

If Sam Smith is saying "if you magically transported Vern Mikkelsen such that he was born in 1984, and that having been subject to all of the training and nutrition improvements of the intervening 56 years, and that having grown up watching Julius Erving and Ervin Johnson and Larry Bird and all the other players of roughly his size doing amazing things he still wouldn't be able to make a team in the NBA," then of course I'd say he's completely full of shit.

Anyway, Simmons' conclusion about why this historical dismissal happens is:
We'd like to believe that our current stars are better than the guys we once watched.

Why? Because the single best thing about sports is the unknown. It's much more fun to think about what could happen than about what already has. We don't want LeBron to be as good as MJ; we need him to be better than MJ. We already did the MJ thing. Who wants to rent the same movie twice? We want LeBron to take us to a place we've never been. It's the same reason we convince ourselves that Shaq is better than Wilt and Steve Nash is better than Bob Cousy. We don't know these things for sure. We just want them to be true.

There's a much simpler reason that we're incapable of fully appreciating the past. As the Havlicek broadcast proved to me, it's easy to forget anything if you stop thinking about it long enough ...
He's got two reasons for the historical myopia there, one somewhat complex, one simple.

I'll take the simple one. Stop thinking about how great John Havlicek was, or the 1951 Minneapolis Lakers were, and they stop being great.

And if you do think about them at all, go ahead and remove them from their context, and then you can go ahead and tell us how really awful they actually were.

Women In Art

If you haven't seen this, then you haven't seen anything like this.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

That Happened When?

As the series comes to a close, a random walk through one man's Soprano's highlights.
  • Sil takes Ade for one last ride - "Long Term Parking" - Season 5, Episode 12 - May 23, 2004
  • Junior gives Tony a belly buster - "Members Only" - Season 6, Episode 1 - March 19, 2006
  • Big Pussy sleeps with the fishes - "Funhouse" - Season 2, Episode 13 - April 9, 2000
  • Philly Parisi takes a loud one in the temple - "Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrists Office" - Season 2, Episode 1 - January 16, 2000
  • Paulie's Ma ... ain't his Ma - "The Fleshy Part Of The Thigh" - Season 6, Episode 4 - April 2, 2006
  • Ade spews - "No Show" - Season 4, Episode 2 - September 22, 2002
  • Christofa sits on Cosette, no more Cosette - "The Strong Silent Type" - Season 4, Episode 10 - November 17, 2002
  • Christofa bangs his cuz's hot girlfriend - "D-Girl" - Season 2, Episode 7 - February 27, 2000
  • A.J. smashes up his school - "The Telltale Moozadel" - Season 3, Episode 9 - April 22, 2001
  • Sil torches Vesuvio - "The Sopranos" - Season 1, Episode 1 - January 10, 1999
  • Tony's Ma OK's his hit - "Isabella" - Season 1, Episode 12 - March 28, 1999
  • Tony takes a pillow to his Ma - "I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano" - Season 1, Episode 13 - April 6, 1999
  • Carmine keels with a mouthful of egg salad - "Two Tonys" - Season 5, Episode 1 - March 7, 2004
  • Tony B. gets a faceful - "All Due Respect" - Season 5, Episode 13 - June 6, 2004
  • Jackie Aprile expires - "Meadowlands" - Season 1, Episode 4 - January 31, 1999
  • Jackie Jr. is expired - "The Army Of One" - Season 3, Episode 13 - May 20, 2001
  • Janice kills Richie Aprile - "The Knight In White Satin Armor" - Season 2, Episode 12 - April 2, 2000
  • Patsy Parisi delivers the kiss-off to Gloria - "Amour Fou" - Season 3, Episode 12 - May 13, 2001
  • Tony throttles Ralphie - "Whoever Did This" - Season 4, Episode 9 - November 10, 2002
  • Christofa & Paulie chase down and whack Mikey Palmice - "I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano" - Season 1, Episode 13 - April 6, 1999
  • The Russian "interior decorator" disappears - "Pine Barrens" - Season 3, Episode 11 - May 6, 2001
  • Gigi dies on the can - "He Is Risen" - Season 3, Episode 8 - April 15, 2001
  • The hit on Christofa goes wrong - "Full Leather Jacket" - Season 2, Episode 8 - March 5, 2000
  • Tony kills Christofa - "Kennedy and Heidi" - Season 6, Episode 18 - May 13, 2007
  • Tony & Pussy whack Matt Bevilacqua - "From Where To Eternity" - Season 2, Episode 9 - March 12, 2000
  • Furio considers throwing Tony into a propeller - "Eloise" - Season 4, Episode 12 - December 1, 2002
  • Tony busts-out Davey Scatino - "Bust-Out" - Season 2, Episode 10 - March 19, 2000
  • Tony visits campus, whacks a snitch - "College" - Season 1, Episode 5 - February 7, 1999
  • Dr. Melfi is attacked - "Employee Of The Month" - Season 3, Episode 4 - March 18, 2001
  • Christofa creeps out Gandhi - "Luxury Lounge" - Season 6, Episode 7 - April 23, 2006
  • Finn spies Vito with a mouthful - "Unidentified Black Males" - Season 5, Episode 9 - May 2, 2004
  • "I Love You, Johnnycakes" - "Moe n' Joe" - Season 6, Episode 10 - May 14, 2006
  • Tony Dreams at the Ritz - "The Test Dream" - Season 5, Episode 11 - May 16, 2004
  • Christofa cries in acting class - "Big Girls Don't Cry" - Season 2, Episode 5 - February 13, 2000
  • Richie pounds Beansie - "Toodle-Fucking-Oo" - Season 2, Episode 3 - January 30, 2000
  • Tony looks up Johnny Soprano's goomah - "In Camelot" - Season 5, Episode 7 - April 18, 2004
  • Joey Peeps' headstone says "PEEPS" - "Unidentified Black Males" - Season 5, Episode 9 - May 2, 2004
  • Frankie Valli gets whacked - "Luxury Lounge" - Season 6, Episode 7 - April 23, 2006
  • Sal whacks Jimmy Petrille - "I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano" - Season 1, Episode 13 - April 6, 1999
  • Vito is outed - "Mr. & Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request" - Season 6, Episode 5 - April 9, 2006
  • Sil gets a lead shirt - "The Blue Comet" - Season 6, Episode 20 - June 3, 2007

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sweater Song

Saw this on TV last night, for the first time in many years. Great song, great video, great glasses.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Bloody Hell

The Sopranos picked up a great deal of steam last night, one week away from the series' finale.

Bobby Baccala? Dead!

Silvio Dante? (practically) Dead!

Phil Leotardo!?!? Dea... Oops, Not Dead! ("They call it 'gone to ground'." "Who does?")

And where is Tony Soprano? Still alive, but gone to the mattresses.

The internets are rife with speculation about next week's wrap-up. So many loose threads, so little time.

For me, Agent Harris has been making a few too many appearances lately to not figure into this somehow. In one way or another I see Tony, out of options and facing either coming in or going six feet under, turning himself into Witness Protection.

It just seems as though Sil's lead poisoning drastically closed the options for Tony to resume anything like his former life.

Also, no way we don't find out that Paulie Walnuts (and/or Patsy Parisi?) hasn't been (and still is) a mole for Phil Leotardo.

Best moment of the episode (one of the top five or ten in the show's run): Tony and Sil's Raging Bull pantomime when Cavalleria Rusticana comes on the Nuovo Vesuvio musak system. A fitting bookend to Sil's Michael impression from the first season.

"Wait, One More Thing ...

... I know I signed the contract, and had the press conference, and the Magic started selling season tickets floggin' my mug, but I guess I'd really rather just stay at Florida. Is that OK?"

So Billy D. has announced that he will be staying in Gainesville for the rest of his career. I certainly wouldn't expect any more interest from the NBA anytime soon.

Do you suppose the Magic will also be letting the poor schmucks who clicked that season tickets link off the hook as well?

I suppose it won't make any difference for The Kid in the long run. It would be nice if recruits (and their parents) would take this into account (opposing coaches will be mentioning it), but they probably won't.

Strange story all around, but I suppose the Magic don't want a coach that doesn't want to actually coach them, and they can't afford the the PR hit of making the guy pay any price for making them look like fools, and so that's that.

I can't say it won't be fun to see Billy G. build a monster that will beat the crap out of this guy for year after year again. Doing it to Anthony Grant wouldn't be quite the same thing.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

It Was ... 40 Years Ago This Month

Lots of "Summer of Love" pieces coming up in the next few months. Included in that will surely be a spate of Sgt. Pepper pieces, all of which will have some variation of the lame title I gave this post. The iconic 60s album was released in June, 1967 and that 40 year anniversary has already got things rolling.

One end of the spectrum is represented by this fawning appraisal in the Tribune yesterday:
The artistic community occasionally flatters itself by telling the rest of us how art transforms society. Only isolated examples exist of this transformation. Pablo Picasso's 1937 painting "Guernica" mobilized much of the world against fascism. Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery tract "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the best-selling novel of the 19th Century, was an integral part of American history. When President Abraham Lincoln was introduced to Ms. Stowe after the outbreak of the Civil War, he remarked, "So this is the little lady who made this big war."
But instances of art transmogrifying society might only occur once in a lifetime. Since the Beatles' release of "Sgt. Pepper," nothing the artistic community has produced has had a comparable effect on society. The album changed the lives, in some way or another, of virtually every American who was alive then, and it continues to reverberate for the generations born since. It was that "once-in-a-lifetime" work of art.

Then on the other hand you've got this critical reappraisal from

If you were to play the album for someone who knew nothing about the '60s and told them that "Sgt. Pepper" was somehow representative of that time, it's hard to imagine what conclusions they would draw.

I don't buy it as a generation-defining album. I think that's been put on it in retrospect. "Sgt. Pepper" is completely missing the generational strife of the time; there are no political overtones. It may be representative of how many people experienced that period -- "I like that dress! Paisley is cool!" -- but it doesn't seem like a defining album for the generation of Mario Savio or Huey Newton.

I wonder if the reason "Sgt. Pepper" attracts such a conspicuous amount of critical praise is that the songs actually don't hold up as examples of the band's best work. Justifying "Sgt. Pepper's" status requires a lot of bluster.

I can't really explain calling it the greatest album of all time. One of my gripes about rock critics is listmania. What does it say that "Sgt. Pepper" is rated so highly? It just seems so obvious that "Abbey Road" is a better album, that "Revolver" is a better album.

For myself, I have to follow the salon line on this. Those who consider this the "greatest album of all time," or even the "greatest Beatle album ever," or even a "great" album, probably haven't listened to it for a while.

Good? Sure.

Great? Mmm, not so much.

Greatest of all time? Are you still high?

"A Day In The Life" is undeniably a great song, and yes it was truly groundbreaking for its time.

But too much of the album is tin-pan alley stuff, and I'm not only talking about the McCartney songs. Too many of John's songs are hokey hokum as well -- "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite"? What the hell is that?

Salon mentions Abbey Road and Revolver as better Beatle albums. I'd throw Rubber Soul and The White Album on that pile as well. It's unlikely that I'd put Sgt. Pepper's in the top half-dozen Beatle albums.

As far as the greatest or "most important" of all time goes, it's nowhere on the list.

Friday, June 01, 2007

And Here We Go Again

So is this why the Cats couldn't lure Billy D up from Gainesville two months ago?

Did he have the league in mind all along?

Or was the cash just piled too high to finally turn down?

My money's on the latter. Not that I have $5.5 mil a year to pile up for 5 years. Eddie Munster's got that.

In any case, the Orlando Magic reportedly gave him 27.5 million reasons to reconsider his dedication to a team which had just lost its top six players.

What is unknown is how much consideration he gave to the many good reasons to avoid the jump. Reasons named Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Mike Montgomery, Lon Kruger, Tim Floyd, Leonard Hamilton ... even Steve Spurrier.

Now the difference may be that Donovan inherits a much better team than any of those guys did. In most of those cases, the teams they went to were legitimately awful (legendarily bad in the case of the Bulls team that Tim Floyd bounced to). Dwight Howard, for one, is a legitimate franchise player, something none of the others enjoyed (among the many things that Rick Pitino did not understand about the NBA, Tim Duncan was by no means a lock to wear the green in 1997).

They were in fact a playoff team this year, albeit clearly the worst playoff team in the league ... quite possibly one of the least imposing playoff teams ever. Plus they will finally now be out from under Grant Hill's enormous contract, which will allow The new Kid some free agent signing opportunities.

So as these things go, the Magic right now is probably the best NBA opportunity Donovan was likely to see. And maybe he figured where is there to go from the top of the heap he had been standing on? Would he ever win back-to-back ... to back in Gainesville?


So jump from the top of the heap to the pile of cash now, and when it goes south in a couple (or even a few) years, he'll have his pick of college openings to walk back into.

Of course as Slick Rick could tell him, he will be walking back into a different situation. But even Florida 2007 is not on nearly the same level of cruise control as Kentucky 1997. Pitino walked away from annual title contention. Billy walked away from what will always be a football school.