Thursday, January 27, 2005

Sly Like A Fox

In the recent hubbub about Rolling Stone's refusal to run an ad for Zondervan’s new TNIV Bible (and the magazine’s eventual reversal), one salient fact is being overlooked: the TNIV is a crappy translation that alters gender-specific pronouns in the Bible to suit a political agenda.

What's more, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Zondervan, in a major meeting with distressed evangelical leaders in 1997, promised not to produce this mutated translation in the United States, even signing an agreement to that effect. But Zondervan (owned by the company which has brought us such hits as Who's Your Daddy? and My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Fiancee) almost immediately broke their own agreement and embarked on the new translation anyway. They've refused to circulate the TNIV among scholars, and are planning an "aggressive marketing campaign" as the new version is released in a few weeks.

But at least the ad will run in Rolling Stone, and if Murdoch can push it on Fox News Channel and the New York Post (and maybe even have it written into an episode of The Simpsons), we'll have perfect corporate synergy. And in the final analysis, isn't that what a good Bible translation is all about anyway?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Microphone-Stained Wretches

Stephen Rodrick at Slate has an indespensible column about how the lure of stardom is destroying America's sports columnists.

Most sports columns in America are now unreadable because they sound like those silly shout-shows on ESPN and Fox Sports. And the reason for that is fairly obvious: the columnists are the guys shouting on those stupid shows. Where we once had the Jim Murrays and the Red Smiths, we now have the ubiquitous and odious Stephen A. Smiths and Mitch Alboms.

When I was in sports radio, it was common for newpaper guys in the pressbox to smirk at the "broadcast media," at whom these keyboard wizards looked down their noses. Ironically, however, several of them had their own radio shows, either at my station or at one of the others.

I once asked one of them, who was a friend of mine, "You writers all act like you disdain the broadcast media. But why is it that you guys are lining up at my radio station vying for shows, while not one of us at the station has ever tried to snag a job down at the Post-Dispatch?" I'm still waiting for an answer, but Rodrick seems to be onto it.

That Is Funny, Funny Stuff

When I followed Michael Spencer's link at the Boar's Head Tavern to this piece by Larry Miller in the Weekly Standard, I had no inkling (despite Michael's raves) just how just how much I would really end up loving it.

It's a first-hand account of what it was like for a young comic to walk out from behind that curtain on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and it's not only the best post-mortem piece I've seen yet about Carson, it's the single most entertaining thing I've read about anything this year.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Great Carsoni

David Edelstein gets a lot right (though not quite everything) in his appreciation of Johnny Carson at Slate.

His is the first tribute I've seen that ties Carson's overwhelming success directly to his training as a magician, and I think convincingly so. Edelstein also correctly eviscerates a misguided USA Today editorial (that, by way of "tribute," made Carson out to be tame and milquetoast) for missing the mark completely on the key to Johnny's appeal--the knife's edge that was hidden just below the geniality.

Edelstein comes up short in a few spots too, such as when he aims the predictable liberal criticism at Carson for not "risking" enough in venturing political opinions a la Dick Cavett or John Stewart (a criticism liberals level at just about every mainstream star) .

While the media is currently in the throes of a schoolgirl crush on Stewart (says Edelstein: "The only current host with the speed and agility of Carson in his prime is Jon Stewart, who goes politically where Carson feared to tread"), Edelstein seems oblivious to the possibility that Carson's outward political neutrality is perhaps why he maintained widespread popularity for 30 years. In contrast, Stewart (talented though he is, notwithstanding Edelstein's absurd assertion that he's closer to Carson in speed and agility than, say, Letterman) hosts a nightly niche cable show and Cavett has hosted one short-lived failure of a talk show after another. It's like criticizing Frank Sinatra for not singing enough Radiohead songs.

Nonetheless, Edelstein captures something of the subtle dangerousness that made Johnny one of the world's most fascinating people, and it's one of the most perceptive Carson retrospectives I've seen yet. Definitely worth a few minutes' reading.

"To Blog, Or Not To Blog..."

You know what I'm getting a bit sick of? Tedious blog posts about blogging.

Everywhere I turn on the Internet, more and more blogs are filled with more and more angst-filled posts about how blogging relates to the rest of some blogger's daily life, whether or not they should continue, the existential import of all of it, blogging goals for the future, why someone is not going to be able to post anything for the next 4 1/2 hours, who's ranked where in the blog "ecosystem," and the future posts someone is planning deep within the recesses of his/her mind for which we are presumably to wait by the computer with anxious anticipation until this veritable cybergold flows from brain to keyboard to internet ether.

Hey, folks, not to burst your bubble, but it's all disposable. These posts are read in 30 seconds, and then everybody moves on to something else. It's largely forgotten by tommorrow. If you've got something to post, post it. If you don't, don't. But consider sparing everyone the slightly self-important metanarrative on blogging itself. Nobody else seems to be willing to tell you, so I will: it's about as compelling as a twelve-part radio series about the route the announcer took to work this morning.

Yes, a few bloggers made a difference by exposing the CBS fiasco. We're all glad for it. But it's starting to seem as if a few successes are going to drive the medium to eventual death-via-narcissism. If there's something to say, by all means say it. But if you don't have anything to say for a few days, we'll all understand. We'll find some other way to fill that 30 seconds today.

(NOTE: Fellow blogger, if you are wondering whether I am talking about you personally here, believe me, I am not. This sort of thing is so ubiquitous in the blogosphere now that it would be impossible to narrow it down to a few prime suspects. No particular post or blogger brought it to mind. Not that that will keep you from hating me anyway....)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

Simply put, Johnny was the King. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever owned the medium of television the way Johnny Carson did. He made what he did look so easy and so smooth that it was almost as if television had been invented with him in mind.

When I was a kid, I wouldn't just watch Johnny, I'd study him. If one were going to teach a class on comic timing (which would be a stupid thing to do -- as Carson himself often said, analyzing comedy kills comedy), it would begin and end with Johnny Carson. Nobody ever put it all together--face, mannerisms, voice, wit--better than he did.

Most of the clips they show over the next few days will show Johnny doing crazy sketches and stunts, but we won't see nearly enough of the two places where his genius truly shined: the nightly monologue and conversing at the desk. Only David Letterman could rival Carson in seeing an opening in an interview and nailing home the perfect line. And Carson could do it without drawing blood and making the audience uneasy. Letterman himself is the first to say that anything he did right, he mainly learned by watching Carson.

It's no small order to hold the attention of a fickle nation every night for thirty years. Carson pulled it off. This was a guy you wanted to spend time with (or in my case, this was a guy you wanted to be). Because one always sensed that he was holding something back (that famous and impenetrable midwestern reserve produced by his Nebraska upbringing), he never overstayed his welcome, and as one television critic once put it, "he wears well." If he hadn't been pushed into retirement in 1992, I suspect we'd still be watching him.

Of course, on a personal level, it's been well known for nearly as long as Carson has been famous that he perhaps wasn't the greatest human being in the world. Four marriages, three periodically alienated sons, a score of former friends (such as Joan Rivers and Rich Little) who were completely and permanently frozen out for reasons only fully known to Carson himself, and a highly publicized DUI all come together to paint a personal picture of a guy maybe you wouldn't want to know too well after all.

But he wasn't hired to be America's husband. He was hired to entertain us, and nobody ever did a job with more consistent excellence for a longer period of time than Johnny Carson did his. His influence on me personally was inestimable. When I heard the news last night that he had died, it knocked the wind out of me. He and Letterman are two of the primary reasons I went into broadcasting in the first place.

On his final show, Johnny said "I hope when I find something I want to do and think you would like, I can come back and you will be as gracious in inviting me into your homes as you have been." I had always vainly hoped that Johnny would find that project and give us one final look. We now know that he won't. But there are thousands of hours of The Tonight Show on videotape, and hopefully someone will someday bring them to cable TV, so that a new generation can see what it was like when the king reigned over television.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Onion: Supreme Court To Break Up If Rehnquist Leaves

From The Onion:
Bernard Tomaine, publisher of the Supreme Court fanzine The Docket, characterized Rehnquist's role as "essential."

"When Rehnquist leaves, it's going to be the end of an era," Tomaine said. "He's absolutely irreplaceable."

Added Tomaine: "I've got a bootleg copy of an opinion that Rehnquist wrote for U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez that would blow your mind."

Although the associate justices have yet to announce their plans following the dissolution of the Supreme Court, Tomaine said he believes that many will continue on with solo judiciary projects.

"I don't think they're ready to give up interpreting the law just yet," Tomaine said. "I wouldn't be surprised if a number of these justices get together and start something very similar to the Supreme Court, but under a different name. I heard that Scalia wants to set up a new organization under the name 'The U.S. Supreme Court featuring Antonin Scalia.' Personally, I think it's very disrespectful to use the name of that honorable institution, but I suppose it's his right."

Second Term-inator

Peggy Noonan, not exactly what you would call a Bush critic, has some trenchant thoughts on the president's rather frightening inaugural speech yesterday.

She writes:
[Several promising] moments were followed by this, the ending of the speech. "Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

This is--how else to put it?--over the top. It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past "mission inebriation." A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts.

One wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.
As I've said before, the "perfectibility of mankind" is a leftist notion, plain and simple. In fact, it's the foundational, Utopian presupposition of all leftism. Not exactly the kind of stuff you're hoping to hear out of the mouth of a supposedly conservative president.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


The Chicago Tribune this past Sunday ran a story (free registration required) on the newest trend in evangelical megachurches: franchising.

According to the article:
Community Christian and Willow Creek are geared to spiritual seekers in their weekend services. They put a priority on delivering a highly professional presentation to audiences that have grown up with 16-screen cineplexes, big-budget musicals and elaborate concerts. So when Willow Creek hired Colorado megachurch pastor Jim Tomberlin to spearhead its expansion to satellite campuses, he knew the far-flung locations couldn't skimp on the reputation that the South Barrington church has developed.

"When Starbucks opens up a Starbucks," Tomberlin said, "people expect it to be Starbucks, not a mom-and-pop coffee shop. There's a lot of meaning in the Willow brand."
Okay, I'm going to throw up now.

(Hat tip to Liz Goss)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


American University, the site of last week's Scalia-Breyer discussion, has posted a transcript of the event online in case you haven't been able to view the video.

The discussion between the two men is fascinating, and I found myself annoyed at the fact that this sort of thing happens so seldom. As far as I'm concerned, the Supreme Court is cloaked in far too much mystery and mystique for a free republic, and I think these justices ought to be expected to appear on Meet the Press or Larry King Live just as often as senators and presidents do.

The "debate" (though it's not technically a debate) is instructive on many levels, not the least of which as an object lesson on the hilariously pompous verbosity of most lawyers. The audience and pool of questioners was comprised entirely of lawyers and law students, and they were absolutely spellbinding in their ability to launch into extended bloviations that droned on and on, seeming to finally draw near a question or definitive statement for a fleeting moment only to suddenly veer back again at the last second into the ditch of verbal obscurity. Several of the attorneys babbled on so obliviously that one began to sense that they were actually using the debate as an audition, as if just the right combination of circumlocutions and palaverous verbiage would cause Breyer and Scalia to shout "Eureka!" and instantly install them on the Supreme Court by fiat. It's quite telling that the least long-winded and tedious of the entire bunch were the justices themselves.

On the substance of the issue--the role of foreign law in Supreme Court decisions--I think Scalia clearly won the day, though both acquitted themselves nicely. Breyer was not, perhaps, the best representative of the foreign law position. Repeatedly, he stressed that in his own mind, the role of foreign court decisions is purely informational and not controlling. Said Breyer:
[Foreign rulings are] relevant in the sense that you have a person who's a judge, who has similar training, who's trying to, let's say, apply a similar document, something like cruel and unusual or -- there are different words, but they come to roughly the same thing -- who has a society that's somewhat structured like ours. And really, it isn't true that England is the moon, nor is India. I mean, there are human beings there just as there are here and there are differences and similarities. And so one is not trying to figure out the meaning, really, of the words "cruel and unusual punishment," one is trying to deal with their application.
If there were going to be any role for foreign law (which I, with Scalia, think there should not be), this would probably be the most proper use of it. But the problem is, such a moderate approach to foreign law is not the one we're seeing rear it's ugly head lately in the Supreme Court. Far beyond use for mere applicational information, Sandra Day O'Connor has said that foreign law should be used to "create that all important good impression" worldwide, and that "over time [the Supreme Court] will rely increasingly" on foreign law.

Justice John Paul Stevens, ruling on the issue of the death penalty being imposed on retarded people, justified his decision by saying:
[W]ithin the world community, the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by mentally retarded offenders is overwhelmingly disapproved...
And Justice Anthony Kennedy relied almost exclusively on foreign law in suddenly discovering a right to homosexual sodomy in the U.S. Constitution in the Lawrence v. Texas case.

The ultimate issue, as Scalia makes clear in the debate, is this: foreign opinions about what is good and bad, what works and does not work, are entirely irrelevant when it comes to interpreting the U.S. Constitution and American laws. The reasoning of foreign judges, whether excellent or poor, is irrelevant because they are interpreting other laws. They're not interpreting the U.S. Constitution, nor are they interpreting and applying American laws. The starting point from which they reason is, by neccessity, entirely different.

Thus Scalia is right when he says that the use of foreign law is only a tool for implementing a desired result. Only if a judge has already decided on a particular outcome does it make any sense for him to resort to foreign opinions for support. If a judge's job is to intepret and apply the American law, then the rulings of those with different laws has no bearing whatsoever. If, on the other hand, a judge's job is to implement the outcome that she thinks best--in other words, if she is determined to enact a particular agenda--then it becomes very tempting to find support for that result wherever she can. And if she can find no support in American jurisprudence, she will selectively look elsewhere to find the justification for her predetermined conclusion.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Judge For Yourself

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you carve out an hour and a half to watch the discussion/debate that aired this weekend on C-SPAN between Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer on what role, if any, foreign law should play in American judicial decisions.

Scalia demonstrates why he's the greatest Supreme Court Justice in recent history and Breyer, can finally see what the least known member of the high court looks and sounds like.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Thinker

One of the most amusing pop-culture conceits of recent years has been the notion that rappers are secretly intellectual. Universities now even teach classes on their lyrics. has an interview online today with one of these geniuses, someone named Nas. In the article, Nas is described as the "cornerstone of the new social consciousness fighting to emerge in hip-hop circa 2005."

Here is some of the insightful Q&A:
Q: Here are lyrics from 1999's "Nas is Coming": "I bit the fruit from the Serpent, apocalyptic, get bent, stay splifted." And then in your new song "Suicide Bounce" you say, "The devil's calling, but I don't answer." Where does that change come from?

NAS: Just understanding my warrior spirit. There is genius out there, when they go "Vote or Die" that's genius, but what's missing is that warrior spirit. There's is a whole different spirituality that goes with the warrior spirit that Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, that they died for.
Would it be rude (or perhaps politically incorrect) for me to submit that I haven't the faintest idea of what the hell he's talking about, or what he even said? But hey, who am I to argue with street genius?

And another thought from our modern-day Baudelaire:
I didn't want to bore people so a lot of the records I party to are more slammin', more knockin'. This album is not an album that knocks, it's really a storytelling knock from beginning to end. Disc one, which is one story, and the second disc completes the story both imaginative and personal.
So Nas, tell it a knock or isn't it? You've confused me.

Am I the only one who is reminded Damon Wayan's hilariously over-articulate, malapropping prison character on "In Living Color?"

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

American Bedstand

In the wake of the Aniston/Pitt split (Is nothing sacred anymore? If you can't count on a Hollywood marriage, what can you count on?), I've been too depressed to blog. But there has been one thing on my mind of earth-shattering importance that now forces me to break out of my blog funk ("blunk?"): Dick Clark.

As you may recall, when Dick Clark had was hospitalized on December 8, he was described as having suffered a "minor stroke."

According to a report from the next day:
"He did have a minor stroke and he’s in the hospital for that reason but he’ll be fine,” spokeswoman Amy Streibel told Reuters.
Now I'm no doctor, but I'm starting to doubt the veracity of Clark's spokespeople--seeing as though it's now been over a month and the man's still in the hospital. Perhaps they and I have a different interpretation of the word "minor." One wonders what might constitute a "major" stroke.

His people continue to issue all sorts of optimistic bedside statements purporting to be from Clark himself, so I'm giving even money that he's a veg.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Sinking Like A Stone

So I see that Oliver Stone is blaming the epic failure of his most recent piece of egomaniacal bloat on "raging fundamentalism" in the U.S.

Evidently, Alexander, a three hour film which portrays Alexander the Great as a bisexual, has only grossed $34 million domestically on a $150 million budget, making it a huge flop, and Oliver's looking to point fingers.

But is fundamentalism really to blame? Let's look at some of the box office figures for Stone's last few films, according to Box Office Mojo. In order to be considered a big hit, most movies these days have to break the $100 million box office barrier. How have Stone's films done?
  • Any Given Sunday, Stone's last major film, grossed $75 million domestically, which, while respectable, falls far short of "blockbuster" status. It's the closest Stone has come to a "hit" in more than a decade.
  • U-Turn, starring Sean Penn and Jennifer Lopez, among others, grossed all of $6.6 million in 1997.
  • Nixon, his feverish and conspiratorial account of Richard Nixon's presidency that cost $44 million to make and starred Anthony Hopkins, grossed $13 million.
  • Natural Born Killers pulled in only $50 million despite the biggest media controversy between Scorcese's Last Temptation and Gibson's Passion.
  • And before that, Stone directed something called Heaven and Earth in 1993, which cost $33 million to make and raked in $6 million at the box office in wide release.
In other words, there are very few people directing major films that more consistently flop than Oliver Stone. In his entire career, he's had exactly one film that's broken the $100 million box office barrier: Platoon in 1986.

So which is more likely? That fundamentalism wrecked Alexander? Or that the name "Oliver Stone" has become synonymous with "bloated, over-directed films that suck."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

G.I. Jane

A gal I work with has a son in the Army. A while back, he married a girl (also in the Army) while stationed in Georgia, and they just had a baby boy in August.

A week from tommorrow, both are being sent to Iraq. They arranged to have their baby stay with the grandparents in Chicago.

There's something deeply, deeply wrong with a culture that sends its mothers and wives off to war. There's something deeply wrong with a culture where fathers allow their daughters to join the military. And there's something deeply wrong with a feminized culture where some people will read what I just wrote and be more offended by my "sexism" than that women with four-month old children are being sent off to convoys in Iraq.

If I've offended you, tough. You're wrong. Your society that sends wives and new mothers off to war as soldiers deserves its impending collapse.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

They're Dancing As Fast As They Can

Tony Blankley has a wonderful column today about the fool's errand the United States government has embarked upon in trying to win the love of the world through tsunami aid. The Bush Administration is falling all over itself to appear to be saying and doing the right thing.

Says Blankley:
Americans are famously, almost ludicrously, unstingy. We not only empty our cupboards to help out other people, we go into debt to be helpful. It was a dead bang certainty that we would be unstingy this time also.

But the charge of stinginess (compounded by a Washington Post story that President Bush had been negligent in not rushing to a television camera to emote for the world on the loss) drove the president and his staff to acts of extreme contrition not seen since Henry II of England submitted himself barefoot and shirtless to the lashes of the monks of Canterbury Cathedral for ordering the murder of Thomas a Becket.
In subsequent days, the administration ratcheted up it's pledges of support like an auctioneer. But it didn't stop there, by any means:
Then the president sent his brother, Governor Jeb Bush, and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, to pay their respects. Then he upped the ante and called on two former presidents, his father and Bill Clinton, to rally the country -- despite the fact that the country seemed to be rallying itself rather magnificently. Private American giving looks to surpass the collective offerings of the European Union and the Arab Gulf states.
The American public comes through because we are a generous people. We know that we're blessed, and want to lessen the suffering of others. But to expect some sort of payback in the form of goodwill is misguided, to say the least.

Yesterday, Colin Powell, on the scene in Indonesia, touted American involvement in that almost entirely Muslim nation by saying:
We are doing it regardless of religion, but I think it does give the Muslim world -- and the rest of the world -- an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action, where we care about the dignity of every individual and the worth of every individual.
Fat chance that the world will suddenly recant of their incessant America-bashing.

Tsunami aid is certainly a worthy cause, but it is the height of naivete to think that this will somehow buy us goodwill anywhere in the world, let alone the Muslim world. It won't.

Says Blankley:
The president should get off this deranged merry-go-round. Money will not buy him -- or us -- love. He and America should give according to the voice of our conscience -- not in order to try to win a compassion competition.

It was inevitable that we would do all in our power to save lives, bring in emergency food, water, medicine and shelter. No other country is able to do it, and few other countries would be motivated to do so. But virtue is its own reward. Those around the world (and here at home) who hate, fear or envy the United States will never love us for our good deeds. So be it.
There's no need to tapdance for the approval of the world. It won't come and we don't need it. We'll help the Muslims who've been affected with little significant help from the rest of the world, and then they'll go back to hating us same as before.

And we'll know we did the right thing simply because it was the right thing.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Stayin' Alive

Other people of whom I find myself greatly surprised that they are still alive:

  • Joey Bishop
  • Arthur Miller
  • "Grandpa" Al Lewis
  • Doris Day
  • Eddie Albert
  • Harry Morgan
  • Glenn Ford
  • James Arness
And my personal favorite:
  • Conrad Bain

Birdie, Birdie, Not Yet In The Sky

Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson has been hospitalized for bronchitis, leading to the inevitable question: Lady Bird Johnson is still alive?

It also leads to another inevitable question, at least for one who was only born in the final month of the Johnson administration: Did everyone feel pretty stupid having to repeat the word "lady" when they said "first lady Lady Bird Johnson"? Because I felt kind of silly just writing it.