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August 2009

david is a punk

Once again we have an example of how athletes and fans relate to spectator sports. As it has often been lately, this one comes from the world of soccer. David Beckham, a fine soccer player who has been called overrated for so long that he’s probably underrated, did certain things that made sense to him. He came to play for Los Angeles in MLS … got paid lots of money, got the new experience of living in America, got to introduce himself on the field of play to an entire new group of fans. He never denied that playing for England is his #1 priority. During the offseason between the 2008 and 2009 MLS seasons, Beckham was loaned to AC Milan, one of the biggest clubs in the world and a fine showcase for Beckham’s skills as he tried to continue to impress England national manager Fabio Capello (who played and coached at Milan). Beckham was scheduled to return to Los Angeles for the start of the 2009 MLS season.

During his stay in Milan, Beckham said he wanted to stay in Italy. A sale did not occur, but the loan was extended to July. This allowed Becks to finish the Italian season (they play on a different schedule than MLS), after which he would join Los Angeles in mid-July.

There is nothing odd about this from David Beckham’s perspective. He wants to play, in particular for the English national team, he wants to get paid, he wants high-level competition … and, for some reason, he also wants to play at least part of the time in America.

From the perspective of the Los Angeles fans, though, Beckham’s actions mark him as a traitorous punk. He came to LA, led the team to … well, to nothing … sold a lot of jerseys, then took off the first chance he got for Italy, from where he announced that he didn’t want to come back to the States. There is nothing odd about this from the fan’s perspective. An expensive superstar used MLS (not that they didn’t use him right back), and crapped on LA fans.

And so, of course, on his return to Los Angeles in a Galaxy uniform, he was booed by the fans of his own team. The Riot Squad, the primary group of fanatical Galaxy fans (and they’re good at what they do, as much as it pains me to say it as an Earthquakes fan who hates them), may not represent Betty Joe in the crowd who loves Becks and Posh, but they most certainly do represent fans who believe in club over pretty much everything. As they see it, Beckham’s a punk, and they let him know.

Beckham eventually went over to the section in the stands where the Riot Squad attends matches and challenged them to come on down. One of them did … the cops immediately threw him down, and he is now apparently banned for life from attending Galaxy matches. Meanwhile, David Beckham didn’t even get as much as a reprimand from the league. [see below for more]

Right or wrong, better or worse, a fan looks at an athlete and sees a jersey, not a person. They want to know that the athlete respects the jersey. And when the athlete moves on to other teams, as they almost always do, the way they speak of their previous fans says a lot about how they will be treated by those fans. David Beckham doesn’t give two shits about the Galaxy jersey, and that’s why his own fans booed him.

I’ll finish with a baseball example, since most people reading this don’t care about soccer. Brett Butler was a terrific leadoff hitter and centerfielder for the Giants for three years between 1988-90. When he left the team, he could have easily become one of those players who are still treated well when they come to San Francisco … Will Clark gets a standing ovation whenever he shows up at China Basin, for instance. Butler, though, did two things Clark did not: he signed for the Dodgers, and he said upon joining the team that it was fulfilling a lifelong dream. At that moment, Butler guaranteed that he would be booed by Giants fans for the rest of his career.

Fans and athletes have different reasons for participating in spectator sports. I don’t know why the likes of David Beckham don’t understand this.

[Addendum: the LA Riot Squad issued a statement on the events of the day. It isn't clear whether the fan was banned. The statement itself is worth reading: "We don't fault David for his desire to play for his country and for playing abroad during the off season, but we do find fault with his stated desire to play in Europe rather than the Galaxy. After going out on loan last winter to Milan, Beckham shortly made it clear that he no longer wanted to play for the Galaxy. He returned this month only because he and Milan were unwilling to meet AEG/MLS' price for a transfer, yet his public comments don't reflect this reality. Rather, he has rather unbelievably said he is 'fully committed' to the Galaxy, as if repetition can make it so. He has been unable or unwilling to show any understanding of why the fans are disappointed with his actions and choices. We chose a friendly match, one arranged as part of the payment by Beckham and Milan to extend his loan, to let him know that if he was unhappy to be here, we were unhappy too."]

[Further addendum: Beckham was fined by MLS.]


rules

Bill James speaks out on steroids in baseball:

Cooperstown and the ‘Roids

Was there really a rule against the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs? At best, it is a debatable point. The Commissioner issued edicts banning the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs. People who were raised on the image of an all-powerful commissioner whose every word was law are thus inclined to believe that there was a rule against it.

But “rules”, in civilized society, have certain characteristics. They are agreed to by a process in which all of the interested parties participate. They are included in the rule book. There is a process for enforcing them. Someone is assigned to enforce the rule, and that authority is given the powers necessary to enforce the rule. There are specified and reasonable punishments for violation of the rules.

The “rule” against Performance Enhancing Drugs, if there was such a rule before 2002, by-passed all of these gates. It was never agreed to by the players, who clearly and absolutely have a right to participate in the process of changing any and all rules to which they are subject. It was not included in any of the various rule books that define the conduct of the game from various perspectives. There was no process for enforcing such a rule. The punishments were draconian in theory and non-existent in fact.

It seems to me that, with the passage of time, more people will come to understand that the commissioner’s periodic spasms of self-righteousness do not constitute baseball law. It seems to me that the argument that it is cheating must ultimately collapse under the weight of carrying this great contradiction—that 80% of the players are cheating against the other 20% by violating some “rule” to which they never consented, which was never included in the rule books, and which for which there was no enforcement procedure. History is simply not going to see it that way.

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a work in progress

Sometimes, the Pre feels less like V1.0 and more like 0.9. The operating system inspires great hope … it’s going to be good, it’s going to be around awhile. The phone itself, I’m not so sure. But the real problem is the lack of software. There’s enough to do basic stuff, and by basic stuff, I mean a lot more than what I did on my Treo. But for the most part, I find myself imagining how good this will be a year from now. The stuff it does now, it will do better, the stuff it doesn’t do now, it will do. Someone like me, who has had some kind of Palm product for a very long time and who isn’t an Apple obsessive, is the perfect person to ride this first wave of the Palm Pre. And I have a feeling I’ll recommend this phone to anyone who asks, as long as they don’t ask for six months or so. If you have to get a new phone tomorrow, though, you shouldn’t get a Pre unless you’re willing to be an early adopter. It’s not that it doesn’t work (although there are reports that Palm is getting a lot of returns, reports I dismissed until I remembered I’m on my second Pre, myself), it’s that it promises more than it delivers at this point.

I’ve seen more than one review that says pretty much the same thing: I love my Pre, wouldn’t want to do without it, but it’s not quite there, yet.


what i watched last week

The Searchers. Such an acknowledged classic that you might forget how many lesser moments it includes. The core story of racist Ethan Edwards’ obsessive quest for his “Indianized” niece remains startling and disturbing. To say it is John Wayne’s greatest performance is to ignore a lot of other great work on his part, but along with Red River it’s his “darkest” role, and he makes the most of it. There are some other fine performances, Ward Bond’s in particular, but there are also some duds … Jeffrey Hunter isn’t the best, pretty much every actor playing an ethnic type is all type and no stereo, Hank Worden’s canny loon is too over the top. And the other plotlines are like reverse versions of Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones in A Night at the Opera … those two stop the comedy dead in its tracks, the “comic relief” scenes in The Searchers do the same thing in the opposite way, stopping the drama for no apparent purpose. John Ford has had better success in other movies at portraying community on the frontier, but this time, his characters are caricatures. These aren’t nitpicks … if you haven’t seen The Searchers for awhile, you’ll be surprised how much screen time is taken up with the crummier stuff. But the iconic scenes overwhelm most concerns. I say “most,” because while I’ve always given this movie 10/10, I think I’ll drop that a hair this time around. #7 (yes, 7!) on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.

Waltz With Bashir. Perhaps since documentaries purport to offer up the “real,” I tend to find the particular structures of this or that documentary to be of particular interest. There are straightforward documentaries that attempt to disguise their art, in order to seem hyperreal, and there are documentaries that draw attention to their methods in order to push a certain angle. Waltz With Bashir is about a lot of things, but I felt the Rashomon-like “tricks of memory” part the most interesting, and I think the animation worked in that regard. Everything in the movie “really happened,” except maybe not … we get the memories of various participants, and they don’t always agree with each other (director/star Ari Folman claims not to remember his own participation, and the film is the story of his attempt to get at the truth of his own life via the anecdotal evidence of his old friends). Some of the memories are off-center, and others are hallucinatory … thus, the animation is not only appropriate, it may be the only way to tell the story. Waltz With Bashir begins and ends with unforgettable images that couldn’t be more different: the snarling dogs that assault the viewer in the beginning suggest that what will follow might have a psychedelic edge, while the shock cut to actual news footage at the end forces us to accept that underneath faulty memories and artful animation, there are real people suffering. #86 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 9/10.

Laura. At least as gay as Bewitched … Judith Anderson = Agnes Moorehead, Vincent Price = Paul Lynde, or maybe Clifton Webb is Paul Lynde, which makes Price = Dick Sargent. The plot is silly piled on silly, but the movie is concise (only 9 minutes longer than Booty Call), which isn’t to say it moves fast … it barely moves at all. There’s enough subtext going on to fulfill the requirements of a term paper in cultural studies, and the whole thing is unforgettable in its way, although I personally wouldn’t call it a classic. #304 on the TSPDT Top 1000. 7/10.

L.A. Confidential. When I noticed that I had long ago give this movie a rating of 9 on a scale of 10, I was a bit surprised … I remembered liking it, but not THAT much. Well, I just watched it again, and it really is that good. Russell Crowe is a very scary force of nature in this one, and it’s easy to forget now that Americans didn't know anything about him at the time. Brutal, never boring, with characters who gradually emerge with more depth, not just to serve the plot but because the movie is interested in character. #486 on the TSPDT Top 1000. 9/10.

The Hurt Locker. 8/10.


the hurt locker

I realized during the buildup to seeing The Hurt Locker that I have managed to see every one of Kathryn Bigelow’s feature films. Not that she has made all that many … seven in just over 20 years by my count. I have long championed Bigelow as one of my favorite directors, even though the truth is I don’t think she has come close to matching Near Dark, which came out all the way back in 1987. All of her movies have something to get my attention, and I like some more than others (Point Break is one I enjoy, as is K-19: The Widowmaker, which is the one where Bigelow got a $100 million budget and ended up with a box-office bomb, which is probably why The Hurt Locker, her next movie, cost only $11 million). Whatever the case, my interest in her movies has never wavered, even as they disappoint, and so I actually went to a movie theater to see The Hurt Locker when it came to town this weekend.

I’m glad I did. The Hurt Locker is Bigelow’s best movie since Near Dark, as she finally finds a subject that rewards her skills. She is a capable action filmmaker, and that’s more rare than you’d think. It’s also crucial to the success of The Hurt Locker, where, as several critics have pointed out, you always know who is where in relation to others (again, this is rare … think of how often you get pyrotechnic shootouts in movies where there is no real attempt to place the participants relative to each other). She takes her time telling her story here … you might say “nothing” happens, it’s more a character study than something driven by narrative … but the movie never feels too long, and it rarely lets up on the tense feelings it inspires from the audience. The acting is strong, in an action-speaks-louder-than-words way. Basically, Bigelow deserves the awards that are finally going to come her way. Near Dark will always be the Bigelow film closest to my heart, but it is a pleasure to be able to finally say that she has matched that excellent film. 8/10.

Here is the opening to the movie, if you’re interested in a preview:


last trusted man

We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds.

-- Walter Cronkite, February 1968

[M]edia stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite's death as though he reflects well on what they do … In fact, within Cronkite's most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today's modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.

-- Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Most, Last Trusted Man In America Dies

-- headline from The Onion’s Twitter page


friday random ten, 1986 edition

1. Chris Isaak, “You Owe Me Some Kind of Love.” Stylized cool. On the video, he meets the cool of a different generation.

2. The Feelies, “The High Road.” I’m a little backwards from the standard view of the Feelies. I loved their later albums more than the early ones. This one came in between, and isn’t a favorite of either view, far as I can tell. Not that they ever made a bad record.

3. Paul Simon, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” As Christgau said, “Opposed though I am to universalist humanism, this is a pretty damn universal record.”

4. Alexander O’Neal, “Criticize.” More than 20 years later, this track found a home on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto IV.

5. Huey Lewis and the News, “I Never Walk Alone.” I liked Huey Lewis more than the cool-critic crowd, and I liked Fore! more than Sports. This is my favorite Huey Lewis song, and I think it captures what was worthwhile about these guys when they were good: camaraderie, basic bar-band rock, good-natured with a dab of “meaning.” Completely un-cool, I know … they were, after all, the ones who said it was hip to be square.

6. Run-D.M.C., “You Be Illin’.” A lot of the music on this list clearly comes from another era. At least the rap music sounds a little like 2009.

7. New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle.” Much as I love this band and this song, Bernard’s dancing in the video is kinda scary.

8. Sabrina, “Sexy Girl.” Maybe you have to be European to appreciate this one. It hit #20 in Italy, and #11 in Finland. The subsequent album, which featured covers of “Kiss,” “Lady Marmalade,” “My Sharona,” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” made #4 in Finland. It had a picture of her large cleavage on the cover, which I’m sure was irrelevant to its popularity in Finland.

9. Robert Cray, “I Guess I Showed Her.” You know, Christgau gave this album an A+, and I can’t for the life of me remember a single song off of it. Even this one, and I just listened to it.

10. The Beastie Boys, “Brass Monkey.” Back in the day, my kids would tell me I liked all the wrong songs on Licensed to Ill. This is one of the tracks they preferred.


so the thumpa thumpa continues

Scott Woods digs up a bunch of related-to-each-other quotes that I imagine hit home for a lot of people (and, if his post on Facebook is any indication, Scott’s one of those people):

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

The fact that I fear the moment spoken of in the above, even as I am 56 years old, says something unfortunate about myself, I guess. I understand that we’re supposed to outgrow certain things as we get older … I also understand that I’m not very good about outgrowing things. Having a semi-charmed life is part of it … I’m not often forced to grow up. Being an amateur doesn’t hurt, either … the quotes Scott features are from professional rock critics, most/all of whom long ago tired of writing for this or that editor/publisher. Similar to my position within academia … by not actually having a position, I can have a blog, write about what I want, and get published occasionally if I’m lucky. Yet even I often think I should get out of this place … been writing this blog for 6 1/2 years, without any clear reason why.

Specific to the concept of burning out on pop music (or just outgrowing it), I’ve been through several ups and downs. When I was a kid, the radio was the main focus, first the Top 40 channels, and then, as I entered my teens, my beloved FM “underground” radio. I only had a handful of records for most of that time, which I played over and over again … doesn’t matter how good Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds was, I played even the worst tracks on that album dozens of times more than I’ll ever hear, say, “Rebellion (Lies)” by Arcade Fire, which I love to death, because then I listened to the same records all the time, where now “Rebellion (Lies)” is just one of tens of thousands of tracks I can listen to.

The next period in my musical life was the beginning of my attendance at concerts. First concert, Judy Collins supporting her In My Life album. First rock concert, Chuck Berry at the Fillmore (recorded for a live album he released soon after) with Eric Burdon and the Animals and the Steve Miller Blues Band. First OMFG I can’t believe I’m here concert wasn’t until 1974 (Bob Dylan and the Band). Then came Bruce in October of 1975, and I never looked back.

Then, punk. I went to more concerts in the late-70s/early-80s than I ever would again. In 1984, I quit working at the factory, became a college students, and turned 31. The peaks of “college rock” kept me going (hello, Hüsker Dü), as did Prince and, as always, Bruce. But by the end of the 1980s, Bruce had split from the E Street Band, the Hüskers had broken up, and I was a graduate student in English in my late-30s. I still loved music, still went to concerts, but I was probably more concerned about how the Giants were doing than with how good the Stone Roses were.

And I could live with that. I was “out of that place.” If I resisted nostalgia, that was less because I was Forever Young and more because I hate nostalgia more than just about anything.

And then came Sleater-Kinney. For a decade, I was reborn as a music lover. I played their albums obsessively, saw them in concert a dozen times … and I wasn’t alone, there were always middle-aged men at those shows, happy to have found a reason to not outgrow. Even as so many things worked to keep me out of that place (not least, the increasingly availability of every piece of music ever recorded), S-K kept me strong. Which is why their “hiatus” affected me so deeply, why I miss them to this day. Because, as I said at the time, I knew that Sleater-Kinney would be the last musical act that would put me back in that place. I would never again obsess as much about a musician as I did about Sleater-Kinney. I was in my mid-50s … the gravitational pull to get out of that place is just too strong, I don’t have the time time, what’s on teevee?

I couldn’t decide which video to stick at the end of this post, so here are the two finalists … you choose the one you want: