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Tag: "i see dead people"

A Tough Month For ’80s Canadian Icons

[ 4 ] February 28, 2012 |

There was an obituary in the Times today for Neil Hope, the actor who played the sometimes homeless alcoholic character Wheels on the low-tech, every-episode-a-special-episode 80s Degrassi series.   Apparently the character’s demons and struggles were in some measure based on the actor’s. The really sad part: he passed away in 2007, and “[f]amily members, who declined to be interviewed, found out about his death only recently.”


Anthony Shadid

[ 5 ] February 17, 2012 |

R.I.P. A great journalist, and having been hospitalized for asthma attacks more than once…this really hits home.

…as Mizner notes, his final piece on the post-Gadaffi chaos in Libya was typically superb.

Gary Carter, 1954-2012

[ 25 ] February 16, 2012 |

R.I.P. Great gallery of rare photos here.

I wrote a bit about the Kid when he received the diagnosis last year. He was a really great one; his career was a little short because he was worked so hard in Montreal, but at his peak he was one of the greatest catchers ever. I’m glad that the Nationals reversed their decision not to honor his retried number, and am glad that he will be permanently honored at the Bell Centre as well.

…I was at this game!

…strongly recommend this remembrance from Mitch Melnick. See also Andrew Cohen.

Whitney Houston, RIP

[ 80 ] February 11, 2012 |

According to twitter, Whitney Houston has died.  Also according to AP, which means that it may actually be true.  Regarding the media circus which shall ensue within the next hours, I’ll simply link to this. I won’t watch any of the coverage of her passing; I didn’t care for her music, her acting, or her public persona, and so I have little interest in the media fest that will be her wake. However, given that our aesthetic commitments play out not simply in terms of preference for one musician over another, but indeed help determine what we find relevant and irrelevant, I’m reluctant to judge those that will form the audience for the wake.

UPDATE [SL]: Good obit with lots of embeds from Maura Johnston.

Joe Paterno, R.I.P.

[ 69 ] January 22, 2012 |

I assume Paul will have more. ESPN has a front page article arguing that his “legacy outweighs the scandal.” I believe this is the more plausible account:

I know that child assault comments directed at Paterno are old hat and may seem predictable and a little cheap. But let’s be clear, here: when given the chance, Joe Paterno failed one of the biggest and yet most basic tests of humanity. This wasn’t a nebulously complex philosophical quandary or a snaking series of indistinguishable forks in the road.

Like the last decade of watching journalists and policymakers trying to decide if torture is “okay” or preemptive warfare permitted without evidence, this was one of those baldly self-evident challenges posed to an adult in society, and those who refuse to meet it should have the odium of their failure linger next to their name, into the grave and onward. Their winning percentage elsewhere is immaterial: when you add that loss to the equation, all else plummets toward zero. They failed.

Gordon Hirabayashi (1918-2012)

[ 4 ] January 5, 2012 |

Gordon Hirabayashi, a civil rights hero who was arrested while attending my alma mater and ended his career teaching at my native province’s flagship university, passed away at age 93.   He was the last survivor of the three courageous people who refused to comply with racist internment orders during World War II, leading to negative-landmark precedents.

Hirabayashi’s case, as many of you know, made it to the Supreme Court.   The civics textbook reputation of the Court notwithstanding, its record in terms of protecting unpopular minorities is not very good.  So it was predictable that it unanimously upheld Hirabayashi’s conviction for violating the curfew order.  “Because racial discriminations are in most circumstances irrelevant and therefore prohibited,” Justice Stone argued, “it by no means follows that, in dealing with the perils of war, Congress and the Executive are wholly precluded from taking into account those facts and circumstances which are relevant to measures for our national defense and for the successful prosecution of the war, and which may in fact place citizens of one ancestry in a different category from others.”    When the Supreme Court directly addressed the question of internment in the case of Fred Korematsu with similar conclusions, dissenting Justice Frank Murphy accurately summarized the constitutional error that also should have been recognized in Hirabayashi’s case:

This exclusion of “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien,” from the Pacific Coast area on a plea of military necessity in the absence of martial law ought not to be approved. Such exclusion goes over “the very brink of constitutional power,” and falls into the ugly abyss of racism.

And despite what Michelle Malkin and her enablers may try to tell you, the policy that led to Hirabayshi’s arrest was utterly lacking in military justification.  The policy was a disgraceful stain on some otherwise admirable public careers: FDR, Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas.  The utter indefensiblity of the internment did ultimately lead to some far-too-delayed justice for Gordon Hirabayashi:

Soon after retiring, Hirabayashi received a call that would prove consequential. Peter Irons, a political science professor from the University of California, San Diego, had uncovered documents that clearly showed evidence of government misconduct in 1942—evidence that the government knew there was no military reason for the exclusion order but withheld that information from the Supreme Court. With this new information, Hirabayashi’s case was retried and in 1987 his conviction was overturned.

“It was quite a strong victory—so strong that the other side did not appeal,” says Hirabayashi. “It was a vindication of all the effort people had put in for the rights of citizens during crisis periods.”


Death List ’12

[ 36 ] January 1, 2012 |

Last year was a tough year for my Death List. Only Andy Rooney died. I’ve replaced him with Phyllis Diller. The rest are the same:

1. Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand
2. Mike Wallace
3. Margaret Thatcher
4. Rev. Sun Myung Moon
5. Fidel Castro
6. Luis Echeverria
7. Ernest Borgnine
8. Phyllis Diller
9. Clark Terry
10. Little Jimmy Dickens

Let the outrage at my moral turpitude begin.

The Unbearable Lightness of Hitch

[ 124 ] December 21, 2011 |

There’s been a lot of interesting stuff written in the wake of Christopher Hitchens’s passing, with a lot more uninteresting stuff summarized by this Neal Pollock satire. Since I agree with Greenwald that one shouldn’t pull punches in assessing the legacy of a public figure, I have to say I can’t go along with those seeking to justify his reputation.

One point that hasn’t been made enough was made effectively by Katha Pollitt — even when he was a man of the left the rare occasions when he dealt with women generally involved witless sexism. As Pollitt says, “[i]t wasn’t just the position itself, it was his lordly condescending assumption that he could sort this whole thing out for the ladies in 1,000 words that probably took him twenty minutes to write.”

Which brings us to the more fundamental problem — the breadth noted by his admirers always came at the expense of depth. His political writings were, as Michael Lind’s excellent account notes, fundamentally personality-driven. He wasn’t Orwell; he was a highbrow Maureen Dowd or Mark Halperin, albeit with more cosmopolitan interests. I agree with SEK and the more divided Scott McLemee that he was some sort of master of political rhetoric. But this was a shallow gift — to borrow Pauline Kael’s line, clever in a way that implies merely clever. A political essayist needs something interesting to say. Hitchens’s rhetorical virtuosity was like a really well-edited car commercial or Mariah Carey applying her multi-octave range to cheesily arranged Diane Warren-style power ballads or Kip Winger adding above-average bass parts to third-rate hair metal. Contrarianism, as Lind correctly notes, is an inherently anti-intellectual pose. No matter how lively the prose, avidly supporting “Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz while continuing to insist that Henry Kissinger was a war criminal” is not the mark of any kind of serious thinker.

Combining both points, I always think about Michael Totten’s damning-with-intense-hagiography account of his meeting  with Hitchens and some Iraqi activists after the war. It was a minor but definitive example of his unearned condescension, of the glib high-school debate rhetoric serving arguments that collapse on the slightest inspection.  As Healy says, the account “full of small moments of whatever the opposite of an epiphany is. Like Hitchens’ schoolboy-debater habit of calling people “Sir” as he talks down at them (as in ‘So you’re saying, sir, that you can be bought.’)”  The great Ted Barlow — who should take this as a sign to return to blogging — picks up on this and has Hitchens pegged perfectly:

“If you wanted more Iraqi support,” Atiyyah bellowed at Hitchens,” you should have given us more money and food once you got there!” “So you’re saying, sir, that you can be bought,” Hitchens shot back. If I didn’t deeply dislike Hitchens already, that would do it. He’s talking to one of the leaders of one of the liberal Iraqi institutions upon which the future of Iraq depends. There’s no way that the guy has the resources he needs. And Hitchens has the gall to talk about humanitarian aid and support for his projects as if it was some sort of bribe that Atiyyah should have the self-respect to refuse. You want more money for the military? Are you saying, sir, that the United States Armed Forces can be bought? I shall have to say good day to you, sir!

This kind of thing is pretty intolerable when he’s saying things you agree with. When deployed in defense of a horribly destructive war he repeatedly defended with better rhetoric but no more intellectual sophistication than Glenn Reynolds or Jonah Goldberg, it’s well beyond intolerable.  He took physical risks in the service of his journalism, but then so did the late Michael Kelly (whose justly forgotten political writing had an uncomfortable number of things in common with Hitchens’s.)  It’s not writing I can see going back to much, even leaving aside his decade+ as an actively pernicious force in American political discourse.

Vaclav Havel

[ 21 ] December 18, 2011 |



[ 65 ] December 16, 2011 |


Many more tributes here.

Smokin’ Joe

[ 10 ] November 8, 2011 |


The recent HBO documentary about him was outstanding.

Al Davis

[ 27 ] October 17, 2011 |

I came into football awareness in the late 70s and early 80s in Sacramento, California.  The choice in football lay between the Raiders and 49ers, and for reasons I can’t fully explain I chose to love the Raiders and hate the Niners.  This persisted in spite of the Raiders move to Los Angeles; by that time I identified closely enough with the team that I hated those who hated it. This meant, of course, that I developed a healthy lack of respect for the NFL and for establishment sports media at an early age.

I don’t know much about Davis’ political leanings, although apparently his father was a Taft Republican.  The Raiders donated more money to the Democratic Party than the Republican, but this would not be unusual for a team that bounced between Los Angeles and Oakland.  Davis did hire the first Latino head coach, and the first black head coach of the modern era.  Davis had a reputation for generosity with his players, although this doesn’t mean that he supported any structural efforts on their behalf.  Indeed, Davis understood his relationship with the players in personal terms, supporting Howie Long’s devastating decision to cross the picket lines in the 1987 strike.   And of course, Davis knew how to hate.

What to say about Davis and Marcus Allen?  Davis lost faith in Allen on November 30, 1986, when Allen fumbled in overtime on what should have been the winning drive against the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Raiders were 8-4 at the time, but they lost the last four games of the season, including an awful 37-0 defeat at the hands of the Seahawks.  It was twenty-four years ago, but I swear I remember the fumble like yesterday; I was crushed in the way that only a 13 year can be crushed.  It was very, very easy for me to blame the Raiders’ collapse on Allen, and so on some level I understood Davis’ reluctance to rely on Allen.  But then, I was 13 year old; Davis was fifty-eight, and should have known better.

But… The Raiders drafted Bo Jackson in part because of Davis’ skepticism about Marcus Allen, and it turned out that hey, Bo Jackson was actually better than Marcus Allen.  Jackson didn’t become a Raider by accident; he was precisely the kind of player that Davis was interested in, and the Raiders targeted him because of the feud.  The Jackson-Allen 1-2 punch almost made up for the fact that the Raiders were trying to put together an elite team with helmed by Jay Schroeder, although this was itself a result of Davis’ weird attitude about Steve Beuerlein.

As I understand it, Davis’ player acquisition strategy was guided by an emphasis on athletic ability over demonstrated football skills.  The Raiders thus aimed for players of outstanding physical ability, without specifically trying to fill holes in the offense or defense.  As a strategy, this seems to have made sense for the first two and half decades of the Raiders existence, and less so afterward.  I don’t think that this is accidental; as the NFL (and the NCAA) matured in terms of physical training and scouting, it became harder to find “athletes” who were undervalued because of their lack of skills.  This is to say that NFL teams began to appropriately correct for lack of skill in their acquisition, just as the gap covering raw athletic ability narrowed.  By the 1990s, the Raiders were drafting players like Ricky Dudley, who had Hall of Fame caliber athletic ability but who couldn’t catch the ball.  Under Davis’ influence, the Raiders were never able to update this acquisition strategy.

That said, the thing I hold most against Davis is a departure from the focus on athletic ability, which was the drafting of Todd Marinovich.  Not much serious thought seems to have gone into this, beyond the notion that Marinovich was somehow undervalued because of his attitude.  Turned out that Marinovich just sucked, and that he didn’t even fit into the Raiders offensive scheme.  If there’s one thing I can’t forgive, it’s that Al Davis made me believe in Todd.

Nevertheless, he was a remarkable individual, and football would have been poorer without him.

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