January 10, 2012 - January 3, 2012
Hell Freezing Over, World Coming to End...
. I admit it. After last season, I was beginning to accept
that the Phillies' day in the sun was coming to an end. A great hitting
team had become average at the plate, or less, and even having three of
the best pitchers in baseball couldn't get them to the World Series.
Last night, Mrs. CP told me she was seeing rumors on the Internet that
suddenly the Phils were being mentioned in the negotiations for Cliff
Lee. I just laughed. The Yankees and the Rangers had a couple hundred
million on the table, and whenever the Phillies are said to be in talks
for a huge free agent, the odds are ten to one that nothing will come
of it. They certainly don't have the bucks to compete with the
Steinbrenner cartel in New York. End of story.
Except she woke me up this morning to tell me that the Phillies had signed Cliff Lee. She was giddy. So am I. MY TEAM HAS THE BEST STARTING ROTATION IN BASEBALL IN AT LEAST A DECADE. Four aces in a sport where most teams have only one, and two is the stuff of legend (Who pitched days 3 and 4 after Koufax and Drysdale?). Four stoppers. Two righties and two lefties who can pitch seven, eight, or nine innings with ERAs averaging under 3.00. Two Cy Young winners, a World Series MVP who got 20 percent better just by watching the incomparable Roy Halladay last year, and a warrior named Oswalt who pitched brilliantly in the darkness of Houston until the Phillies freed him a year ago.
So many delicious tidbits:
Is anything else happening anywhere? Never mind. It doesn't matter even
if it is. For this to be happening in Philadelphia, the End Days are
upon us for sure. But WE have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. On
OUR side for a change.
UPDATE. Hilarious. ESPN is now running a funereal segment called "Yankees Plan B." The poor dears don't know what to do. They still have all the money they wanted to give Cliff Lee, but there's no one really good left to buy. Awww. Lee's decision to accept less money is also reportedly regarded as a blow to the players' union, which is always in favor of free agents going after the biggest jackpot offered. Ha. Again.
Speaking of jackpots, the WIP SportsTalk guys had a pretty objective on-air discussion last week about the Jason Werth contract with the Nationals. They didn't begrudge him his big pay day and readily conceded there was no way the Phillies would or could have matched the offer he accepted. But they wondered, with genuine concern, what this well liked (in some quarters beloved) Phillie was trading away for the extra $30 million he scored. The tone of the discussion approached, well, sorrow. The Phillies clubhouse is one of the very best in baseball. The manager honors and protects his players through thick and thin. The Philadelphia fans are without peer; every game is sold out, and the boo-birds who used to harass Pat Burrell and even Mike Schmidt back in the day are a thing of the past.
For most players, Philly has become a kind of major league heaven. So what is Jason Werth giving up for the extra $30 million he'll be putting in the bank? He'll be playing for a last place team, and the weight of the world will be on his shoulders, with no Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, or Chase Utley to pick up the slack. The Nationals draw an average of 9,000 fans per game compared to the 50,000-plus in Philadelphia. Truth is, Werth gained less monetarily than Cliff Lee -- an inarguably greater star -- gave up to return to a team that may be the happiest home a player could have in major league baseball. It makes one wonder. Which is what the talk was in Philly long before the Cliff Lee deal. Why would you leave this? When you have $90 million, what's the cost in personal happiness you're willing to pay for another $30 million? As I said, they weren't mad. Nobody in Philly was mad at Werth. I think they're actually kind of sorry for him. The Cliff Lee deal seems to kind of drive that sadness home. Poor Jason. All alone in Palookaville with all that money and torrents of abuse and/or indifference to come. Sigh.
The Phillies do know how to fill a hole in right field without breaking the bank. It's called platooning. I remember a free spirit named Jay Johnstone (whom Werth always reminded me of) and a sometime slugger known as "Downtown Ollie Brown." They alternated righty and lefty in right field on the great Phillies teams of the seventies. Johnstone hit for average, usually .330 or better, and Ollie hit homeruns on his shift. The fans loved Werth a lot and wanted him to stay. What will it be like for him to be loved less and resented more, by far fewer fannies in the seats? Money isn't everything, as every wise man will insist. Another lesson of the Cliff Lee deal.
Like it or not, sports does say something about what we value and why. Sometimes the news is more good than bad. Here in Philadelphia, anyway.
P.S. btw, guys. You don't have to be a big baseball expert to come in and congratulate Mrs. CP and her lesser half on this day of all days. Especially you (er, us) Michael Vick antagonists. Mrs. CP's first message to me after telling me the glorious news was, "Thank God. Something to talk about besides Michael Vick. I'm so happy about it all."
I'm as happy for her as I am for the Phillies. How about you?
Belated Movie Reviews:
. I want you all to watch Inception. It's the most
remarkably brilliant -- in the true sense of the word -- movie I've
seen in many and many a year. I've been wondering how to review it
without including spoilers, because I don't want you to approach it
with my imposed interpretations (multiple) in mind. My answer to myself is that
this post won't be a classical review or code-breaking explication. It will be a
free-association of provocative teasers, a seeming succession of non
sequiturs. What, after all, is
You sci-fi buffs. Most of what you obsess about isn't worth talking about, let alone thinking about. This one is.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 87 percent "fresh" rating, remarkable in that none of the reviews I read came very close to understanding it, although a few assured us we ordinary moviegoers weren't smart enough to understand it.
Writer-Director Christopher Nolan is an artist (yes!) obsessed with the nature of reality, the human mind, and -- dare I say it? -- the meaning of life. He has done four other movies I've seen that stayed with me afterwards (a personal record), invited rewatching, and much thinking about afterwards, as if the surface cinema layer were the looking glass that had to be penetrated by subsequent viewings and creative questioning: Insomnia, Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight. Not all of them equally ambitious or effective, but all of them, in their way, haunting.
Remember this old puzzler?
Some dots I noticed in Inception:
Leonardo di Caprio's recent performances in The Aviator and Shutter Island; the use of Piaf's
signature song "Je
Ne Regrette Rien" in a movie also featuring the actress who played
Piaf in La Vie en Rose; a
scene that recalled both Batman
Begins (or was it The Shadow?)
and Her Majesty's Secret Service;
the uncanny-but-off resemblance between Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Keanu
Reeves, both visually and vocally; a scene of a man in a bed in a vault
that evinced one of the climactic moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey; sand on a
surf tormented shore; and, uh, others you can find for yourselves.
Some reviewers compare Nolan to Lynch. It's not a fair comparison. Why? Because Lynch is nuts and never plays fair with the audience. Nolan is exponentially more ambitious, and he is playing fair. The script itself is not a series of non sequiturs. The movie is explicable in its own terms. It's just that its themes and meanings have at least as many layers as the architecture of the plot.
One reviewer criticized di Caprio's performance. He said di Caprio wasn't empathic, couldn't make us feel or care enough about him. He didn't wholly blame di Caprio. Something about character sacrificed to and short-changed by the puzzle aspect of the movie. Milestone: the single most wrongheaded understanding of a movie I've ever come across in a review (apart from every Roger Ebert review ever written). There is no movie that has ever provided more information and context for a protagonist than this one. I haven't always been a fan, but this time Leonardo di Caprio hit it out of the park. (A propos of nothing, here's a pic of Christopher Nolan.)
Everything matters in this movie. The extraordinary cast and what that entails, the moments that confuse or drag or seem like plot holes or errors, the astonishing visuals that remind you of something specific or just seem to remind you of something you can't put your finger on. The editing, including both traditional and unexpected transitions from scene to scene. The whole thing is its own kind of test of the audience, an interrogation we can respond to or ignore. But even the default is superficially acceptable -- a thrill ride that's incredibly absorbing and suspenseful, even if you can't follow all the twists and turns of a plot that just might be too complicated to be truly satisfying. Which is its own kind of statement and meaning. You have every right to walk out of the theater and forget it forever. You really do.
One personal anecdote. I watched it On-Demand through Comcast. When I bailed out part way through the closing credits, I returned to the main On-Demand screen, where the ongoing promotional PIP video was pitching... Inception.
Here at InstaPunk we have a couple of words for that. One is 'serendicity.' The other involves an inference: masterpiece.
If some of you care enough to watch and comment, I am willing to share what I think I see about how the thing is put together and why it's so great... but I'll wait for your cues and questions. Experience it for yourselves first. What it isn't: pretentious, muddled, or diffuse.
ADDENDUM: More serendicity. Happened on an old IP post called Punk Paradox that included the following:
Love, action, heartbreak, paradox, and poetry. How do these things
coincide? The whole world lives in an intricate dream of mine. But you're all welcome, and
please sit down. A waitress will be with you shortly.
P.S. In case you don't take links... and in case your dreams aren't like the one of mine you're in now, better watch this:
It's Paris. It's a clue. How did we get here? Do you remember? I do:
Dream within a dream? Rien de rien. Tout pour l'amour. A jamais.
Talk about fatigue. No, don't talk
about fatigue. Don't talk
about anything Favre ever again.
An observation, though. This whole multi-year "Will he, won't he?" saga is nothing but old white guy soap opera. It makes me embarrassed to be an old white guy. He was a very good quarterback but never a great quarterback. Too many dumb decisions and too many interceptions. He was an indestructible quarterback. That's something very different.
Kind of like Susan Lucci, the perennial soap opera villainess who couldn't really act but got nominated for an Emmy every year.
The appeal is the same. Such people get adopted by other over-the-hill
members of their sex and rooted for regardless of the facts.
I want to hear about Favre's Wrangler jeans the same way I want to hear about Susan Lucci's WonderBra or fourth facelift. Meaning not at all.
GO AWAY. If I want to fantasize about an ancient femme fatale, I'll rent a Greta Garbo movie. If I want to idolize an ancient hero quarterback, I'll go look at the statue of Johnny Unitas in the Hall of Fame. What I will not do is celebrate a washed-up old soap-opera diva in shoulderpads who proceeds onto the field with a stick up his butt to keep him upright in a game he can no longer play.
All you old jocks at ESPN and the NFL Network: S T O P I T !
Please. The rest of us don't care. (More specifically, all 300 million of us who never sexted a pic of our QB private parts to a cheerleader don't give a shit.) Honestly.
Quit annoying us with the streak. Go home, old man. Forty-one is an age at which you really should start acting like a grownup. (Unless you're Susan Lucci.)
Policy is one thing. Personality is another.
Obama may realize intellectually that he has to make a Clintonian move
toward the center if he's going to have a chance at reelection. But he
can't change how he reacts emotionally to the kind of pushback Clinton
how to absorb and turn to his own advantage.
The recent press conference in which he announced the Tax Compromise is indicative. Remember his reputation for being cool and above it all, even to a fault? There was nothing cool about his performance at the press conference. The even modulation of his delivery shouldn't fool anyone. He was hot under the collar. Having made the deal in the first place, he found himself unable to resist the temptation to counterattack. He attacked Republicans for having wrong-headed ideas about the economy and the disposition of the American people. He attacked his own base for not understanding that he'd made the deal at all only because he had a gun to his head. And he attacked the American people -- via his over-long series of kindergarten-simple sentences about "doing what's right," as if none of us has ever had to make a choice between imperfect alternatives. He didn't seem presidential. He seemed put-upon. And petulant.
He's had two years of being the placid gray eminence whose entitlement it is to step forward and explain why everyone but him is wrong or stupid or both. The impact of the November election is that he lost that entitlement. He's been hauled out of the imperial box into the arena, where it looks very much as if he can't take a punch without losing his temper.
There's the difference between policy and personality. He initiated and agreed to the compromise, a policy decision that was prudent and necessary. And then he couldn't stop himself from insisting on having the last word, and damn the political cost. That's the passive-aggressive template: 'I'm reasonable, I'm listening, I'm cooperative, I accept the terms of our agreement -- and now I'm going to make you pay.' In political terms it's a recipe for escalating distrust, partisan warfare, and eventual defeat.
Importantly, the lame duck session of congress is the easy part. He's managed to tick off everybody, including his own vassals, while he still has an overwhelming majority in both houses of congress. It will only get worse when the new congress convenes. If he thinks he's taken a right-cross or two since November, it's nothing compared to the body blows and uppercuts he can expect over the next two years. If he continues to emit steam from his ears after evey forced compromise, either vetoing or gracelessly condemning the ignorance and corrupt motives of the opposition, he won't be able to take credit for anything that finally emerges from the process. He'll just be the pouty obstructionist, and whether subsequent economic news is good or bad, his long cultivated celebrity will be inverted into the image of a spoiled, bitchy starlet.
We don't elect people like that president of the United States.
Triangulation is the word on every beltway insider's lips right now, the most common word in all the headlines about the Tax-Cut Compromise and the coming Republican-dominated house. But triangulation is not a push-button panacea for chastened presidents. It's a kind of political chess whose first requirement is a cool head and patient maneuvering. Clinton was never smarter than Gingrich. He was simply a better chess player on the four-dimensional board where knights and bishops and rooks are real people with brains, voices, ears, and individual motives of their own. The president who can play that game to win is the real gray eminence. He sits on his King square with half his pieces lost, aware that he can move only one careful step in any direction, cannot fancy himself as the pulverizing, board-covering queen taken down in the last gambit, and yet quietly orchestrates all the moves of all the other players. Until he wins.
Never a chess player myself, I was nevertheless curious about how Napoleon Bonaparte approached the game. I eventually found the answer in a memoir of one of his intimates: He cheated. When his opponent wasn't looking, Bonaparte sneaked pieces off the board. How Clinton beat Gingrich.
I'm thinking Paris Hilton is no Clinton. Upending the board and huffing away doesn't quite cut it. And it doesn't look to me as if Obama can quite cut it, either.