April 22, 2006

Some intriguing speculation about Mary McCarthy, the CIA analyst cashiered this week for leaking info about American gulags to the Washington Post.

April 21, 2006

The L.A. Times has suspended columnist (and blogger) Michael Hiltzik for posting anonymously on the internet. That's right, "posting anonymously", not for making death threats or making defamatory statements. Just for putting his opinions in the mouth of a nom de plume. A s if pseudonymous blogging was some sort of ethical violation. Morons.

April 20, 2006

Not a good day to be Julia Roberts. According to the critic for the New York Times:
Like a down-home Garbo, she is an Everywoman who looks like nobody else. And while I blush to admit it, she is one of the few celebrities who occasionally show up (to my great annoyance) in cameo roles in my dreams.

This probably accounts for my feeling so nervous when I arrived at the theater, as if a relative or a close friend were about to do something foolish in public. I don't think I was the only one who felt that way in the audience, which had the highest proportion of young women (from teenagers to those in their early 40's) of any show I've attended. There was a precurtain tension in the house that had little of the schadenfreude commonly evoked by big celebrities testing their stage legs. We all wanted our Julia to do well.

That she does not do well — at least not by any conventional standards of theatrical art — is unlikely to lose Ms. Roberts any fans, though it definitely won't win her any new ones among drama snobs. Your heart goes out to her when she makes her entrance in the first act and freezes with the unyielding stiffness of an industrial lamppost, as if to move too much might invite falling.

Sometimes she plants one hand on a hip, then varies the pose by doing the same on the other side. Her voice is strangled, abrupt and often hard to hear. She has the tenseness of a woman who might break into pieces at any second.

Unfortunately it's in the second act that Ms. Roberts plays the character who is always on the verge of a breakdown, and in this part she's comparatively relaxed, perhaps because she has a slipping Southern accent to hide behind. In the first act she's supposed to be the normal one.
One of the trends in popular theatre in recent years has been to cast a film star to lead a major production, in a desperate attempt to generate hype and bring the crowds back to Broadway or the West End, and sadly, all such attempts seem to end badly. Last month, it was Cate Blanchett attempting Ibsen, to great derision.

In a different context, Bill James has written about the Defensive Spectrum, which warns teams about shifting players in mid-career from less challenging positions (the outfield, first base) to the most challenging, defensively technical positions (shortstop, third base). You can turn a shortstop into a rightfielder, but don't even think about making a first baseman play third, as the Giants so memorably did with Dave Kingman in the early-70's. Of course, right fielders and shortstops share many of the same technical skills; to play both positions skillfully requires speed, a good throwing arm, an ability to anticipate where a ball is going to be hit, etc. But whereas a team can survive even with a slow-footed, mediocre outfielder, as long as he can hit, a team with a shortstop who has trouble fielding his position is going to be in for a long season.

Much the same thing is probably true in the performing arts. Roberts and Blanchett are trying to transition from a medium where their physical beauty is part of their talent, where performances are shot out of sequence and with multiple takes, and where mistakes can be edited out later, to one where they are performing before a live audience, without a safety net, and where their voices have to carry to the cheap seats, without a microphone. It's still acting, so many of the same tricks carry over from one realm to the next, but the consequences of mediocrity are much greater on stage.

April 19, 2006

Poe Knew: What Edgar Allan Poe might have thought about the current immigration debate, courtesy of local pundit Ron Smith.

April 18, 2006

The benighted sport of professional basketball wraps up its six-month long regular season in the next two days, to be followed by a ten-week post-season. The old saw about how basketball games never start until the final five minutes is equally true now: a playoff series never begins until Game 5, and the playoffs don't really get interesting until the semis. The NBA has seen fit to eliminate only half the league from the playoffs, most of whom were playing for the draft lottery since Christmas, thereby creating a situation where the game gets overshadowed by its college counterpart (which appeals to serious fans of the sport due to the fact that its participants use something called "strategy") for months at a time, and the only thing of interest to fans since February is playoff seeding.

And tonight, in Memphis, a clusterfuck of monumental proportions is about to result. The NBA, in its infinite wisdom, has drawn up a playoff system where the divisional winners (San Antonio, Phoenix and Denver in the West, Detroit, Miami and New Jersey in the East) are assured of the top three seeds in each bracket. There is also a longstanding rule that gives the team with the best-record home court advantage in any series. The one drawback is where, due to an imbalanced league, one of the divisions is so weak that a divisional titlist has a worse record than almost every other team in the playoffs. In that situation, it's theoretically possible for such a "champion", which would automatically receive the third seed, to face a sixth-seed with a better record (and hence, have the home-court advantage), while the fifth-seed, a team with a superior record, would be forced to go on the road against the 4-spot.

And behold, that's exactly what's going to happen in the West. The Clippers, one of the teams that's usually preparing for summer vacation right now, is set to play the Grizzlies, with the winner probably assured of the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. That will mean a face-off with the Dallas Mavericks, the team which barely missed out on the top record in the conference, with the winner likely playing the team with the best record, the world champion San Antonio Spurs, in the conference semis. The loser of tonight's game will play the third-seeded Denver Nuggets, but since both Memphis and the Clips have better records than Denver, they will get to play 4-out-of-7 at home (and the winner will likely get Phoenix, a much easier opponent than the Spurs).

Both teams are going through the motions, claiming that they're all about winning and developing momentum for the playoffs, but the temptation is too obvious to ignore. It makes no sense to create a "loser wins" situation, but that's what's going to happen tonight.
Some differing perspectives on the Duke LAX rape case, here, here, here and here. I'm inclined to the position of "I don't have a clue who's telling the truth, since everyone who's commenting has a motivation to lie", but I was intrigued by the statement last week by the Durham D.A. after DNA results allegedly failed to tie any of the accused to purported crime, that between 70-80% of all rape convictions in his bailiwick occur in spite of the lack of DNA evidence. Is that true?

Certainly, in a community like Durham, that wouldn't be hard for an enterprising reporter to research...also, remembering the fact that DNA testing is still considered to be a luxury for many criminal defendants, isn't the 70-80% figure going to be impacted by:

a) cases where the defendant confesses before trial, thereby not requiring the introduction of physical evidence;

b) situations where the wrong guy gets convicted, b/c DNA wasn't available to exonerate the innocent; and/or

c) prosecutions that are dropped early on, b/c DNA evidence has exonerated the accused?

The prosecutor seems to have a good ear for how this case plays out locally (he is, after all, running for reelection), but a tin ear for how the media is playing it. He clearly believes the alleged victim's telling the truth, unlike the Kobe Fiasco. There are certainly Fourth Estate organs that would like a different angle; Sports Illustrated, in particular, has always shilled for the prosecution when an athlete is under criminal investigation. So if he believes the alleged victim enough to seek a grand jury indictment, why isn't he fighting harder before the public?

April 17, 2006

Whenever Christopher Hitchens writes something like this, it can only be good news for Bill Clinton. Up until 9/11, Hitchens was basically a priggish, leftist scold, obscure for the most part, except for his obsessive writings about the Big Dog. People who didn't know any better gave him more street cred on this topic than he deserved, because he was purportedly attacking Clinton from the left. Now, everytime Hitchens writes something completely nutty, like trying to blame Saddam for the Niger Forgeries, Clinton's historical legacy improves.

Same thing goes with Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa.