A blog about politics, sports, media, stuff

June 1 2011 10:00 PM

Goodbye and See You Soon: Nothing Dies on the Internet

 

A blog has a history—697 posts before this one, if I added up the sidebar correctly—but it exists mainly in an apparently endless present . Someone is on the Internet, on the publishing platform, reacting to the state of the world and the state of the commentary on the world at the moment (tag: " Ground Zero Mosque "). If you're that person, it's partly like having the entire potential of the Gutenberg printing revolution in your fingertips, and partly (often the greater part) like having a giant, hungry Tamagotchi with your name on it (tag: " The Machines ").

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When I got up this morning, or even when I had lunch, I didn't really know I'd be shutting the blog down today, on the 698th post ( Go for 700, already , cries the part of the brain conditioned to tend the Tamagotchi). That's how the instant horizon works. Get mad about Bill Simmons' taste in shoes and—oh, time to make an announcement: I'm going to be managing editor of Deadspin .

(Slightly late with the announcement, in fact. That's the online news cycle.)

Deadspin appeared in the New York Times Magazine's Simmons profile , deprived of its name and false-pluralized, in the statement "[W]e have reached a point at which sports Web sites are posting photographs said to show Brett Favre’s penis." Pray the gods save us all from an era when journalism consists of coverage of crotch photos .

("Anthony Weiner" was not showing up today among whatever my atomized-Internet version of Twitter flagged as Trending Topics; "Kazaam," however, was.)

Thanks to David Plotz, for opening part of his magazine for whatever I might write about, whenever I might write it, with no editing and no particular mandate. Thanks to Julia Turner, for managing the semi-feral employment arrangement with grace and enthusiasm. Thanks to the readers, for reading and reacting.

This blog, as a blog, is stopping. I'll continue to write for Slate as a columnist. Media historians of the unimaginably distant future, 50 or 60 months from now, will have no idea what this distinction meant. "IDK LOL," they will say, brain straight to tactile-enhanced video, on their implanted iPhones.

And there's also the book: Beijing Welcomes You , available August 4. Maybe I'll be at a bookstore near you, if your bookstore is within a four-hour radius of New York. Thanks again.

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June 1 2011 5:45 PM

Bill Simmons Is Doubtful About This Grantland Project, Too

Add another voice to the chorus of anticipatory skepticism about ESPN Sports Guy columnist Bill Simmons' still-gestating Quality Sports Writing website, Grantland: ESPN columnist Bill Simmons. The New York Times Magazine profiled Simmons as he bopped around Los Angeles in preparation for Grantland's debut. Note: the most useful way to reconcile an "oppositional" regular-guy persona with participation in a huge corporate establishment is probably not to preemptively disparage your own contribution to the enterprise:

Simmons sounded as if he was having some regrets about Grantland. "It hasn’t been as much as fun as I had thought," he told me. "I’m not sure I would do it again." Too much of his time was being spent in the office, dealing with administrative tasks, which was encroaching on his column.
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Do it again? He hasn't done it once yet. Way to rally the staff.

Beyond that, there's a little of the usual Sports Guy racial/ethnic disciplining:

Between cheers, Simmons hunkered down over his BlackBerry, not to check his e-mail but to post gloating messages on Twitter. "I don’t care if J. J. Barea is from Puerto Rico," Simmons typed. "We need to put him on a dollar bill. He’s an American hero."

(Puerto Rico fields its own team in international competition, and Barea plays for it, but it is a United States commonwealth and its people are American citizens. It even has its own U.S. quarter.)

Also I finally learned what kind of person wears those atrocious Komfy Foot padded fake-old-timey Jack Purcells that Converse replaced its real Jack Purcells with a few years ago, thereby ruining a small but important part of my life:

ESPN’s press presence at N.B.A. games is dominated by men who, in their slick suits and Italian loafers, seem to be taking their misguided fashion cues from the players themselves. Simmons, who is 41, was dressed more like a TV comedy writer — which he was, briefly, on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" — in a T-shirt, Jack Purcell sneakers, a baseball cap and blue jeans.

Yes, that is what a nonconformist wears to a Lakers game

May 31 2011 5:10 PM

Bloomberg View: All-Cliche Edition

"Surely Professor Warren is clever enough to see the proverbial writing on the wall," Bloomberg View columnist William D. Cohan wrote in the site's current lead story, urging Elizabeth Warren to stop pursuing confirmation to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The proverbial writing, on the proverbial wall.

But all the writing is proverbial. William D. Cohan thinks Elizabeth Warren should quit. He is not Elizabeth Warren, nor does he appear to know any facts about Warren's situation beyond what anyone who would read a column about Warren would have already read in the news. So why not embrace the familiar? Aside from the occasional awkward Briticism—"bloody disagreeable," "a petty row"—the piece is a Levittown of opinion writing, stock constructions all the way to the horizon, till the effect becomes fantastical:

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The inconvenient truth....for the good of the country...stop the charade now...get underway full- throttle....a well-deserved pat on the back....caught Obama’s eye...in the aftermath of the financial meltdown....In retrospect, that may have been Warren’s high-water mark....That’s when the gloves came off....audible gasps....debate raged....did not concede any ground...what a partisan lightning rod Warren has become....faring little better....all but inevitable....Enough shenanigans already....argued forcefully...a fight worth having...serving the president best...Commonwealth of Massachusetts, head held high.

May 30 2011 3:56 PM

Words of the Times: "Rebellion" and "Monarchy" in Bahrain

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an overview of Saudi Arabia's efforts to shape current events in the Middle East and North Africa, through its "financial and diplomatic might." The Saudis are trying to buy off the Egyptian junta, "ease out" the president of Yemen, and "block Iran's influence" in various ways.

Because it was a front-page piece in the Times, the story took pains to respect the Saudi point of view. which is—transitively or owing to the regrettable realities of global petro-politics or just is—the effective American point of view, which is that anti-authoritarian protests need to stop before they get too close to the oil. Or, as the Times put it:

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The kingdom is aggressively emphasizing the relative stability of monarchies, part of an effort to avert any drastic shift from the authoritarian model, which would generate uncomfortable questions about the pace of political and social change at home.

Speaking of political and social change, last week, the Saudi authorities arrested a woman named Manal al-Sharif for violating the country's ban on female drivers, a quixotic challenge to the Saudi system of gender apartheid. Overall, here's what the State Department had to say last month about the model that our Saudi allies are so busy trying to protect:

The following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of fair and public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency. Violence against women and a lack of equal rights for women, violations of the rights of children, trafficking in persons, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. The lack of workers' rights, including the employment sponsorship system, remained a severe problem.

Of events out in the world where the United States does more than issue reports, the Times wrote:

President Obama, in his speech last week demanding that Middle Eastern autocrats bow to popular demands for democracy, noticeably did not mention Saudi Arabia. The Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, sat prominently in the front row.

Among the things the president did say in his speech was this:

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short term interests do not align perfectly with our long term vision of the region.

Sorry, Saudi women. Or Saudi practitioners of non-state-supported religions. But Obama did mention Bahrain, another "long-standing partner," which has unfortunately used "mass arrests and brute force" against protesters—as "Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there."

The Times mentioned Bahrain, too—that the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of six countries including Saudi Arabia, had

authorized the Saudis to send in troops to quell a largely Shiite Muslim rebellion in the Sunni Muslim monarchy of Bahrain.

Here, the Times' word choices fit uncomfortably with the facts. The events in Bahrain were generally not described as a "rebellion" while they were happening. The protesters were nonviolent, and they weren't calling for an overthrow of the government—at least, not until the government had started shooting, beating, and tear-gassing them.

The phrase "in the Sunni Muslim monarchy" is another problem. Does "monarchy" here refer to a system of government, or to a country that has such a system of government? "Monarchy" is the object of the preposition "in," which suggests the latter—since the protests were taking place out in the streets, not among the members of the ruling Al Khalifa family.

But Bahrain is not a Sunni Muslim country; it is a majority Shiite country ruled by Sunni monarchs. The Saudi troops, armed with American weapons, are there to keep the country from falling into some form of majority rule. Their short-term interests in Bahrain align just fine with their own long-term vision.

 

May 30 2011 10:38 AM

Homemade Infographic: How to Make Everyone on the Subway Despise You and Your Children

What's the most efficient way to arrange a family of four in a subway car? Not this. Bonus points to the daddy for the two-seat crotch-splay, usually employed by younger men traveling solo.

 

May 26 2011 4:15 PM

American League Left Fielders Can't Hit at All This Year

Carl Crawford, the left fielder who signed a $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in December, went 4 for 4 with a home run and a double last night. That raised his batting average to .229 and his on-base plus slugging percentage— OPS , the simplest all-purpose measure of a hitter's production—to .599.

For comparison, fading 39-year-old Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who got into a public dispute with team management over the prospect of being dropped to the bottom of the batting order, has an OPS of .664. Rickey Henderson, ending his major-league career in a short stint with the Dodgers at the age of 44, had an OPS of .627 .

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But if Henderson could put up those numbers today, he might be able to hold down a job. (Note to general managers: he's only 52, and he's almost certainly willing .) Crawford is only the most expensive and visible example of the fact that American League left fielders have been incomprehensibly bad this year.

Left field is supposed to be a hitters' position. On Bill James' defensive spectrum , which ranks the positions by the relative importance of bat work to glove work for each, left fielders come just after first basemen and designated hitters.

Yet in the 2011 batting tables, AL left fielders are below even catchers and second basemen. Far below them. The average AL left fielder is batting .227 with no patience and no power, on pace for about 13 home runs and 65 RBI, with 52 walks and 138 strikeouts. In 2,615 at-bats, left fielders have a collective .637 OPS. That puts them more or less in a tie with third basemen—that is, third basemen in 1968 , the notorious Year of the Pitcher .

May 26 2011 1:54 PM

Dallas' Jason Terry Supplies Some Perspective on Basketball History

Mavericks guard Jason Terry, probably best known for crotch-punching Michael Finley during Dallas' last run to the NBA finals, reportedly got a picture of the league championship trophy tattooed on his arm before this season began. Hubris? Or was it humility? Here's how Terry elaborated on his confidence in his team after the Mavericks finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder last night:

"If you look, to a man, this team is better than it was in 2006," Terry said. "To a man. The whole makeup. The chemistry, just all together. … Just look at the point guard on that team. It was me. Look at the point guard on this team: Jason Kidd. Big difference."

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That might be the most ruthless NBA self-assessment since Gilbert Arenas declared that he would choose Kobe Bryant over Gilbert Arenas ("I had a good game, but I mean, one's 6-8 or 6-9, one's 6-3 and a half. Hey, you go with the bigger guy. Jesus Christ. Just state the obvious").

 

May 25 2011 11:03 PM

Bloomberg View: An Unexpected Look


Bloomberg View has arrived. Do I agree with its expensive and precision-engineered consensus opinions ? I haven't read any yet, because I got distracted by the headlines. The lettering, not the words.



What is this? So very, very rounded. Rational little letter-planets, spinning individually in white space. If you look at the edges, you can see the haze of their planetary atmospheres—a little fuzziness, in counterpoint to the geometry, as if the letters are a little too finely crafted for a humble computer screen to do them justice. Like those boardwalk t-shirts that use a blurry font for gags about drunkenness.



(Blowing it up doesn't even capture the weirdness; New York Times online headlines look bizarre when enlarged, too, but are clean at normal display size.)

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A newspaper designer tells me this appears to be a custom version of Avenir . Wikipedia, the crowning accomplishment of human consensus, explains that Avenir is also found on the buttons of LG mobile phones, in signage at Hong Kong International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, on planes flown by Japan Airlines, in the pages of Dwell magazine, at Wake Forest University, and "for the Eurovision Song Contest in all brand communication materials."

May 25 2011 3:24 PM

Forgotten but Not Gone: The Dallas Mavericks and the Afterlife of NBA Reputations


There are two separate timelines in the NBA: one for a basketball player's career, and another for the things people say about a basketball player's career. The second one moves much faster than the first, which is why the Eastern Conference finals feature former MVP LeBron James, age 26, trying to reclaim his status as the league's best player from reigning MVP Derrick Rose, age 22—a series pitting the seven future titles James' Miami Heat have been built to win against the four titles Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has predicted for Rose.

Meanwhile, over in the Western Conference, in slow time, Dirk Nowitzki—after 22,000 points scored and 10 consecutive All-Star games—has the Dallas Mavericks one win away from the finals. Alongside him is Jason Kidd, who leads all active players 11,578 assists and 2,477 steals in his career, the second and third most all-time, respectively.

It's not just that Dallas is a haven for aging players; it's that it's a haven for forgotten story lines. Kidd took the New Jersey Nets to the finals two years in a row, when Kenyon Martin was still a plausible superstar and before Facebook existed. Who's that springing out to double-team Oklahoma City's 22-year-old superstar Kevin Durant, as Kidd forces him to his right? Shawn Marion, of the now-disbanded Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns. Back when the Suns were maybe going to sprint to a championship, Marion was supposed to be the next coming of Scottie Pippen.

There's Peja Stojakovic, formerly of the Chris Webber Sacramento Kings. And DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood, last seen as role players on Gilbert Arenas' up-and-coming Washington Wizards*. And coach Rick Carlisle, under whom the Indiana Pacers cryptodynasty collapsed in the 2004 brawl at Auburn Hills.

Or there's the Mavericks franchise itself—owner Mark Cuban's brash, new-money operation, bent on forcing its way into the league's elite. Flat-screen TVs in the lockers, remember? But the Lakers and Spurs kept winning titles anyway, and the Mavs blew a lead in their lone finals appearance, and everybody stopped caring.

Yet the Mavericks never stopped winning 50 or 60 games a year —57 this season, not that anyone was counting. That gave the old people a better record than the 23-and-under Thunder, who were already crowned the next great team in the NBA.

The new thing is always more interesting than the old thing, and the game right now—even though it only has 10 players in it at once—seems bigger than its overall context, let alone the vague sweep of history. This is what made people say Rajon Rondo was the best player on the Celtics, more important than the three future Hall of Famers beside him. (Really? Give him John Wall's minutes in Washington and see how that goes.) Tony Parker was the most unstoppable player on the Spurs. Chris Paul is the most dominant player in the NBA, when the Hornets are playing. Zach Randolph, two weeks ago, was the best power forward in the league. Sure, it helped that he had the now-formidable Marc Gasol beside him. ( Marc Gasol is totally better than Pau Gasol. )

You can come up with new ideas about reputation every day. Watch Oklahoma City's point guard Russell Westbrook: a triple-double to close out Memphis...a fourth-quarter benching as the Thunder won a game against Dallas...a 30-point game in a loss to Dallas. What do you say about how good Westbrook is?

Or about Nowitzki? His coach, Carlisle, said after the Mavericks swept the Lakers that he was "a top 10 player in NBA history." Well—WiltMagicJordan...RussellKareemBirdDuncan...OlajuwonShaq—mmmaybe? Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, yeah, no. History is long. But the thought does count. Nowitzki has led a historically worthless franchise to the playoffs year after year. Measuring him game by game is silly. Forty-eight points* in game one: an unstoppable scorer . Then 29 in the game two loss: he can't carry a team alone . An awful start, then a flurry of points in the final minutes to win game three: the will of a champion .

Here's what can be said about Dirk Nowitzki: if he wins five more games, he gets an NBA championship. The same goes for LeBron James.

 [*Corrections: I originally put an extra A in "Arenas" and wrote that Nowitzki had scored 41 points rather than 48.]

May 24 2011 2:40 PM

Gay Person Is Boycotting Straight Weddings Because He's a Tendentious Dope

Writer Rich Benjamin took to the New York Times opinion pages this past weekend to declare that he is "boycotting all heterosexual weddings," even though he is "not a gay-rights activist." (Why not?) In response to a suspiciously pat-sounding phone call from a newly engaged former college roommate, Benjamin wrote:

How utterly absurd to celebrate an institution that I am banned from in most of the country. It puzzles me, truth be told, that wedding invitations deluge me. Does a vegan frequent summer pig roasts? Do devout evangelicals crash couple-swapping parties? Do undocumented immigrants march in Minuteman rallies?
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Maybe if Benjamin were a gay-rights activist, he'd recognize the problem with comparing homosexuality to a self-chosen ideological identity like veganism. It's an old problem, and sort of an important one, especially on the subject of same-sex marriage.

Even well-meaning heterosexuals often describe their own nuptials in deeply personal terms, above and beyond politics, but tend to dismiss same-sex marriage as a political cause, and gay people’s desire to marry as political maneuvering.

What many straight people consistently forget is that same-sex couples aren’t demanding marriage to make a political statement or to accrue "special rights." When I ask my gay friends why they wish to marry, they don’t mention tax benefits. They seek marriage for the same personal reasons that straight people do: to share life’s triumphs and trials with their beloved, to start a family, to have the ability to protect that family, and to celebrate their loving commitment with a wedding.

This is not even a straw man; it's some loose straw the writer is throwing in the air while yelling "Look at that man!" Who are these many straight people Benjamin claims to be describing? That same-sex couples want to marry for love, rather than as a political statement, is a commonplace among straight liberals. (Oddly enough, they, too, have gay friends they can talk to.)

This coming September will mark nine years since the Times itself—as good a proxy for well-meaning heterosexuals as anyone could hope to find—changed "Weddings" to "Weddings/Celebrations" and started printing same-sex couples' announcements. At the time, executive editor Howell Raines said that same-sex commitment ceremonies were "celebrations important to many of our readers, their families and their friends." The Times also wrote that same-sex couples' applications for published announcements would be judged the same way male-female couples were, by "the newsworthiness and accomplishments of the couples and their families."

Gay marriage is winning, in concept. Even Focus on the Family president CEO Jim Daly just said so, in an interview with Marvin Olasky:

We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that.

So what is the point of this weird little time capsule of unfocused grievance? If you want to blame heterosexuals for something, don't blame them for not believing in homosexual love. Blame them for not doing enough to support it.

There's no sense in pretending that the arc of justice bends anywhere but toward two groom figurines on a wedding cake. The question is why the arc is still so long. The good opinion of well-meaning people has not yet repealed the Defense of Marriage Act, or gotten 41 states to drop their bans on gay marriage.

Instead of a blanket boycott, try asking your straight friend if he'll have the wedding in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Vermont, or Iowa. Some of those places are lovely in June. Go, bring a date, dance. See how many people assume you're doing it to lobby for a tax break. Why be more unreasonable than the law is?

 

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