Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On Seeing Slick Rick, 8Ball and MJG, and Raekwon in a Columbus Parking Lot

This summer I work for a federal judge in Columbus, Ohio. We do some exciting things, like passing on the constitutionality of healthcare reform or deciding whether Michigan's voters are allowed to ban affirmative action in state universities (they can't for the moment, but will be free to again when the Supreme Court reverses us), but the bulk of a federal appellate judge's work, and by extension, my own, is deciding whether murderers should go free because of irregularities in their trials, whether aliens get to stay in the country, whether an arrest was wrongful or justified, whether prisoners' rights to some modicum of medical care have been violated, and so on. Virtually no one with any kind of financial wherewithal litigates before a Court of Appeals (those people settle); people who litigate in federal appellate court do so because they have no other choice but to appeal and appeal until some court, hopefully, springs them from prison or lets them stay in the country or gives them a huge judgment without which they couldn't financially subsist. So you see a lot of bad lawyers and work through a lot of uninteresting law. Often, even if the convicted murderer in jail for the rest of his life has a strong argument, one which the poor recent Harvard/Yale Law School grad assigned the case will labor mightily to persuade the court of (the grad being one of the judge's clerks), the guy's lawyer will screw all your good work up by being an idiot. So it can be a frustrating job.

Anyway, the somewhat random grouping of Slick Rick, 8Ball and MJG, and Raekwon came to a dingy Columbus club's parking lot to perform Saturday night. The place was in a terrible neighborhood, the girls seemed to have largely wandered off the set of Apache's 'Gangsta Bitch' video, there were only about 150 people, eight of them white, etc. The fact alone that these four legends could end up together in a tiny parking lot, and that kind of a tiny parking lot, is pretty remarkable. Slick Rick and Raekwon obviously didn't have the most fully realized careers, perhaps Raekwon never really had the talent or personality that his having recorded perhaps the best rap album ever made would suggest, but these still are fairly colossal figures in the history of the genre, and yet there they were in this tiny lot. And not as some kind of back to their roots gesture - this is how they make their money. I don't think an equivalent gathering of great rock artists could occur in that kind of a setting. There's still a sense in which, as dominant as "rap" is in pop music today, rap never really made it to the mainstream or got taken seriously. Particularly the latter. Millions of college-age white kids know who Dre and Snoop and 50 and Wayne are, but have no notion that rap exists that isn't made to be played at frat parties or blasted out of their cars or laughed at because at times it's even more misogynistic than they are. It's an unfortunate and, of course, vaguely racist state of affairs.

So anyway, Slick Rick performed first, and that was rather dismal. At this stage in his career, Slick Rick is no less an oldies artist than the Beach Boys. He stands there in his eyepatch and huge jewelry and does songs he recorded 22 years ago when he was young and brilliant, but today he looks and sounds like an ordinary middle-aged guy. It's one thing to be an old-school purist and quite another to find any sort of enjoyment in seeing it performed by a 46-year-old-man. At one point he did this sad little gimmick where he wanted to "test" whether the audience preferred the old school or the "new school." So he would say, "DJ, play me the best of the new school, of the last two years of the new school." And then we were supposed to cheer, but not as enthusiastically as we were supposed to cheer when the DJ subsequently put on a Run-DMC song. So first the DJ plays 'Hustle Hard,' and I'm like, what the fuck, Slick Rick is playing us 'Hustle Hard.' Then he actually goes, "do you remember this from the BET Awards?" And he starts dancing to it! I don't even watch the BET Awards, what is the great Slick Rick doing watching the BET Awards and dancing to Ace Hood? Then the next song was 'We Fly High,' another exemplar of the "best of the last two years of the new school," though it is most assuredly not from the last two years or three years or four years. And for that, Slick Rick actually briefly did the balling dance. No one in the crowd seemed to see any irony in this. Meanwhile, the women in the crowd were finding whorish ways to dance to 'Hey Young World.' So his set was an absolute torture.

Then after a very long intermission, during which the winner of some Columbus beat battle showed us how he could set the Supremes's 'You Keep Me Hanging On' to DJ Khaled-bop, 8Ball and MJG came on. That was a lot less depressing, if only relatively speaking. For starters, both have actually done notable things after their first album, so their set was way less of an oldies act and way more, unfortunately, of an unnecessary walk through their Bad Boy/Grand Hustle discography. Now I like 'Don't Want No Drama' as much as the next guy, but how much more amazing would it have been to see them do 'Armed Robbery'? Not happening. I think the earliest song they did was 'Pimp Hard.' That aside, it was an interesting set in some respects. Maybe this is just my view, but since 8Ball got older and less facile, I've felt that MJG is by far the more technically adroit member of the group - but at the same time by far the least interesting. And that was very much the case Saturday. MJG kept doing the same stop-start, precisely enunciated flow he's been doing on everything for forever, carefully mapping out every little hitch in the air with his off-mic hand as if he were conducting himself in an orchestra, and doing so with a great deal of intensity. Yet there was something strangely inessential and hollow about it. Meanwhile, 8Ball was slurring everything, practically inaudible for half of the time, but quite riveting all the same. Between the hat and shades covering his entire face and how round the guy is, the man barely seems human; he looks like a big ball that might roll off the stage if he weren't so firmly stuck in one spot. At times when I was watching him, I wondered if he didn't just lay on a sofa all day, hibernating until it was time to roll off the couch and record something in perfect double-time. (Even though he was a bit of a mess for most of the set, this performance of 'Sho Nuff' was shockingly sharp.) At one point, he just stopped doing anything and his whole crew gathered round him in a circle as MJG looked on nervously, as if 8Ball were about to give birth. I half-expected that he might - or that he was about to pass out from the heat. Unfortunately, 8Ball started to seem a whole lot less like a magic rapping fat globule and more like a regular guy when, towards the end of the set, he repeatedly reminded us that 10 Toes Down, their latest album, is currently in stores.

Then after another huge intermission, Raekwon showed up. This was a somewhat emotional experience for me. One tends to forget that Rae isn't just his solo career, but a huge part of Enter the Wu-Tang, and particularly of songs like C.R.E.A.M. and Can It Be All So Simple, both of which were staples of my late adolescence. Raekwon still looks like Raekwon, he still raps about the same and about as well, though he's obviously much less hungry, he still does random rants about seeds and respecting your elders and the future of the youth and how he loves grandmothers. That said, I was struck by a few things. He was constantly performing other people's verses - ODB's on Da Mystery of Chessboxin, Nas's on Verbal Intercourse, Prodigy's on Eye for an Eye, probably INS's on Protect Ya Neck and a bunch of other things. So little of what he did was purely solo Rae - Incarcerated Scarfaces, a couple of the new things, and that was it. And after a while it began to serve as a reminder of how inessential Rae arguably was to the music that bears his name - indeed, how inessential and replaceable all the various Wu members may have been vis-a-vis the project's real driving force, RZA's musical vision. Second, he did do a few of his new songs, and I guess I'm not sure what the purpose of new Rae in 2011 is. He does a superb job of recreating the sound of Wu in its prime, but none of it even begins to compare to the originals or have anything new to say, musically, thematically, however, that the old stuff didn't say already. I wish that Cam could have kept going on forever in the Purple Haze vein, but Purple Haze, unlike Cuban Linx, isn't a 16-year-old album. And even in Cam's case, when he still was capable of rapping well on Killa Season, there was a point, songs like I.B.S. aside, where the whole endeavor of Cam being as crazy and far-out and 'surreal' as he could possibly be started to feel very tapped-out and redundant. All that said, seeing Raekwon perform Cuban Linx, even today, is a hugely rewarding and at times moving experience.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Tree Of Life Is Not A Good Film

Jean-Luc Godard once accurately said of Au Hasard Balthazar (the first masterful five minutes of which are above) that it was the world in an hour and a half. In The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick attempts to give us the universe in two hours and a half, only to give us over-edited fragments of a 60s Texas suburban clan's family videos. What's particularly galling is how little Malick cares about his characters; he treats them with precisely the degree of interest (and in precisely the same way) that a music video director treats his models. Large parts of the movie feel like extended anti-allergy or anti-arthritis* commercials. You know, the rapturous shots of mothers and their toddler sons playing outside - imagine a couple hours of that, edited at exactly the pace of a real anti-allergy commercial, leavened with a digression on the Big Bang and pseudophilosophical disquisitions on the "way of nature" and the "way of grace." And like a commercial, Malick's movie isn't about the people in it; it's about aggressively selling the viewer on some bullshit about loving every leaf, every ray of light (an actual quote from the film's constant voiceover). And even at that it fails completely. The only slightly interesting thing in the movie is the bit when the eldest of the Allegra Fam's three sons develops a not-very-subtextual thing for his mom, which Malick seems to be cool with, because in the film's unsubtle dichotomous world, she represents the way of grace, while Brad Pitt, her husband, represents the way of nature (apparently the bad way, which is odd given that the entire film is a series of loving shots of sunflowers and trees and flowers and more trees). It's the only sexual thing in a very sexless film, Malick being more comfortable with plant life and its less messy means of reproduction.

* The last fifteen minutes are more of a riff on anti-arthritis ads - tons of old people happily taking a stroll on the beach. The twist here being that they're all - SPOILER ALERT! - reincarnated old arthritic people. Or maybe they're just in Sean Penn's mind. Either way, who cares.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Sun May Rise Tomorrow

Yeah, it might do that.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Shawna Kingston (JR!) In Critical Condition/NY Times Totally not Culturally Stereotyping French People

This is a great picture of Sean Kingston. Or "rapper Sean Kingston," as he is referred to by the Chicago Tribune, Extra TV, HipHopDX (???), and many local TV stations. I suppose he was a rapper once; JR Rotem has been quoted as saying: "Sean Kingston was a rapper when we found him and it was a development process to get him more melodic. At Beluga we essentially refine the talent so that it's more of a marketable product." Wow, super-artistic approach to making music. "Essentially refining" the talent so that it doesn't rap anymore. Anyway, Sean Kingston crashed into a bridge on a Jet Ski and is in stable, yet critical condition. I wish him the best of luck.

This, on the other hand, is a picture of French-American people. Check out the Gallic gestures! French-American people, the New York Times tells us, have mixed reactions to the once-future President of their homeland being an accused rapist. Not just that, it's "forcing them to examine their loyalties." Because that's what people do when someone of their nationality is accused of rape. Many of the American French, the Times tells us, "work for French restaurants, French banks and enterprises specializing in perfume, high fashion and luxury goods. They often prefer French newspapers..." They also have weird French views about stuff. For example, in the case of Ms. Cottavoz, who runs a health food store in the Upper West Side and was raised in the Gascony region, "her French blood boiled" when she saw DSK doing the perp walk. That's because she's French and they don't perp walk in france. Another Frenchwoman, Ms. Steckel, who runs a French culture-promoting institute, says that when DSK got arrested she got "extremely emotional" and that her "Frenchness came to the fore with more force than [she] would have thought." Ms. Steckel also adds the insight that the French are more prone to think DSK was set up because "the French adore the idea of plots," while "French Americans are more factual." Way to promote your culture. Mr. Touchard, however, who is a French American owner of a French bistro, still thinks that DSK was set up, cryptically observing that "if you want to take down your enemy, you have to know his weaknesses." And a Thomas Bishop, who isn't even French, but who is a bigtime French people expert, explains to the Times that "French-Americans... do not integrate into the American mainstream as easily as other ethnic groups, retaining stronger feelings for their homeland." These French-American peoples, he goes on to explain, may view DSK as "a man with a tragic flaw," rather than holding the normal American view of DSK as a "frisky Frenchman." Meanwhile, Ms. Cottavoz can't reconcile the views of "her American mind and her French mind" on the matter. Her American mind, apparently, tells her that raping maids is wrong, but her French mind is the one with the boiling blood over DSK's mistreatment at the hands of the police. I thought that, like, our sophisticated media elites were supposed to be all about French people and their elite sophisticated ways, not a bunch of anti-French bigots. That's what Sarah Palin told me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cornel West and the "Jewish Brothers"

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

First, sorry for not blogging. I'm just at a point in my life where I don't care too much about rap. It isn't that rap isn't good right now; it is. But major label rap has become so moribund that the only way to stay on top of things is to follow a million tumblrs and listen to mixtapes from a million artists that don't have record deals. I lack both the time and the interest to do that. I do, however, write capsule reviews of pop, and some rap, at thesinglesjukebox.com. You can have fun guessing which of the writers I am.

So Cornel West went on MSNBC last night to be interviewed by a liberal talk radio hack, who was upset that West, in an Internet interview, had criticized Obama for lacking backbone and being the "puppet of corporate plutocrats." I sympathize with those on the left who are disappointed with Obama; from a liberal perspective, his has been a disappointing presidency. However, this is, no matter what people say, a center-right country and I doubt that Obama could have done much more than he did - besides, perhaps, making the stimulus somewhat larger. But even that, you may recall, was very difficult to get passed, even with 60 Democrats in the Senate. He does, of course, have the power to leave Afghanistan, and I do think his staying there is, in large part, attributable to a failure of political courage. But I don't really think that that's why people like West are mad at Obama, though perhaps it should be.

Anyway, when West was asked why he had accused Obama, in a previous interview, of having a "fear of free black men," West replied (about 4 1/2 minutes into the video above) that Obama has "a predilection much more towards upper middle class white brothers and Jewish brothers and has a certain distance from free black men who will tell him the truth both about himself as well as what’s going on in black communities, brown communities, red communities and poor white and working class communities." My initial reaction was that this was shockingly anti-Semitic; otherwise, why single out us "Jewish brothers" when Jewish people, after all, are white people? It all sounded very "teh Jews secretly rule the world." Moreover, this wasn't some weird slip of the tongue, because in the interview that this interview was about, West said the same exact thing, namely that "brother Barack," apparently due to his "Kansas influence [and] loving white grandparents," is frightened by "independent black folk" and "feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men."

These comments are stupid in a typical Cornel West-ian way - West, who started his career as a fairly brilliant philosopher, has spent so many years talking down to an uneducated audience that he seems to have deeducated himself as a result - but I don't think they're anti-Semitic. For, as it turns out, West has this really weird view about Jewishness as an ethnicity, on which Jewish people (or Jewish brothers, if you prefer) are no more "white" than Chinese people are white. Hence, for him, saying that Obama is most comfortable with whites and Jews is like saying that Obama is most comfortable with whites and Asians, as opposed to saying that Obama is most comfortable with whites and a religiously defined sub-set of whites whom, for suspect reasons, West felt like singling out. However, this view, as we'll see, is perhaps even more disturbing than the garden-variety anti-Semitism that it sounded like he was espousing.

Turning to this weird view, West has been rather explicit that Jewish people just aren't white. In a podcast he did for the Holocaust Museum in a series entitled, ironically, 'Voices on Antisemitism' (ironically because some of the views he espouses in the podcast seem fairly anti-Semitic), West actually says, "even if some Jews believe they're white, I think that they're duped." West doesn't claim that Jewish people are somehow genetically non-white; rather, his view is that anti-Semitism is so deeply rooted in Western civilization that Jewish people can never truly become white. Even though, he acknowledges in somewhat queasy terms, Jewish people have "move[d] from underdogs to middle dogs and upper middle dogs, and even a few top dogs at the top of American capitalist civilization," West says that he is "not going to believe the hype," as even in America, "the antisemitism lies just beneath the surface." That is why, he explains, "those like myself who are fundamentally committed to defending the humanity of Jewish brothers or sisters" are constantly reminding those brothers and sisters that they aren't really white and that Jewish brothers who lived in Nazi Germany thought they were safe too. (Yes, he says that.)

As you'll notice, this all seems awfully dissonant. For on West's terms, Jews are a race of "upper middle dogs," "top dogs at the top of American capitalist civilization," and one of the two privileged races that control "brother Barack's" policy decisions. (One might also add that we comprise a third of the Supreme Court in spite of comprising less than 2% of the U.S. population.) On the other hand, this uniquely privileged race, if you insist on calling us one, is, according to West, not white, not because that's the case biologically but because America is still such an anti-Semitic country that it regards us as racially other even though we're no less white than Russians, Italians, etc. It strikes me that, rather than being "fundamentally committed to defending the humanity of Jewish brothers and sisters," West feels a sort of vested interest in the continuation of anti-Semitism even after it's ceased to exist in American life in any important way (though I have no doubt that anti-Semitism is still huge in poor white, and black, communities where most Jewish people would never be caught dead in the first place, just as there are all sorts of powerless places in America where there's anti-white bigotry).

That this is the case is abundantly obvious in his podcast, in which he bemoans the estrangement of "Jewish brothers" from their black brothers and sisters. The way in which he does this is rather revealing. On the one hand, he says, Jewish people did play a huge role in the civil rights movement, and that's great. But then, "on the other hand," America is a place of "unbelievable upward social mobility," and this mobility has led to the "bourgeois-ossification of American Jewry," and this "bourgeois-ossification" has led to tensions between Jewish and black brothers. And it's precisely at this point at which he goes on his rant about Jewish people being duped if they think they're white or are safe in America, because Jewish people in Germany thought the same thing. The implications of all this are terribly clear. West thinks it's an unfortunate thing that Jewish people have succeeded in this country, a success he chooses to give the ugly name of bourgeois-ossification, and continues to view us as a victim of bigotry, in spite of all the evidence that that's not the case, in order to maintain some rhetorical community between Jews and blacks. This is why he insists that Jews aren't really white.

I find this rather pathological. It's understandable to be a little sad about Jewish-black relations, and it's undeniable that a - not the - cause of their declined state is Jewish economic success and black economic stagnation, or rather, a lesser degree of economic success on blacks' part than on our part, as there is a thriving black middle class that's a great deal larger than it was 40 or 50 years ago. (Of course, another cause of the declined quality of Jewish-black relations is black anti-Semitism.) But in the scheme of things, I would accept a decline in Jewish-black relations as the inevitable price of Jewish success and assimilation any day, and anyone who claims to be fundamentally committed to defending Jewish humanity should be happy for our success, rather than delusionally pretending that we didn't cross the line from other to white decades ago out of regret that we're no longer around to be partners in someone else's misery. It's a little like the fat girl who's always telling her formerly fat friend that she could put on 50 pounds at any moment, and that her warnings are just out of deep concern for her good looks. Except I don't believe that there's any fat girl out there crazy or pathetic enough to tell her ex-fat friend that, beneath the veneer of weight loss, everyone still sees her as fat. Then again, there probably is. At least that, though, isn't as egregious as not so subtly hoping for a re-injection of anti-Semitism into American life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New York Times Does Feature On Acting, Inadvertently Demonstrates Why Modern Movie Acting Sucks


So the Times, to get us all excited for their annual Hollywood issue, gave us an exciting multimedia preview of said issue today called '14 Actors Acting.' One-minute, silent clips of pure acting from the Times's 14 favorite actors of the year. These clips, the Times says, will "show - with a few gestures and props but without dialogue or story - what acting is." Wow. More than that, "these brief clips portray not only the art, but also the joy and vigor of performance." You might think, then, that you'd see some good acting in these clips. But of course you would be wrong. Rather, you see the sort of excessively mannered, thoroughly phony, utterly self-conscious and self-aware, actorly acting that tends to win awards at the Oscars and get raves from your local newspaper of record's movie critic. Specifically, we get:

  • Jesse Eisenberg trying to do Mark Zuckerberg gone psycho by making a ridiculous expression in which he clenches his teeth and furrows his becurled brow
  • Robert Duvall doing the same old winking cutesy wise old man thing he's done in his last, what, two dozen movies
  • Lesley Manville playing a breakdown so broadly you'd think she was doing an opera performance for the benefit of the people in the 800th row in a megachurch
  • Tilda Swinton tearfully tugging her hands across her face so slowly and emphatically it looks like she's being recorded in slow-mo
  • Michael Douglas sitting in a chair and pretending to pretend to ponder old age and the mysteries of life, then lifting up and hopefully cocking his drooping head in a procedure that takes at least ten seconds, as if to mime thinking, "well, I'm still technically married to Catherine Zeta-Jones," and finally gazing into the camera in supposed-to-be-haunting-and-profound fashion, as if to say, "but I'm still really old and it makes me sad." All while doing stupid mannered things with his thumb and forefinger
  • Jennifer Lawrence doing a supremely awful job of reenacting the shower scene in Psycho
  • Natalie Portman, who's trying to effect a transformation from cute girl who can't act into sex symbol who can't act, doing an atrociously exaggerated take on existential weariness while stripping
  • Chloe Moretz trying to portray anger, I think. Judging all by the teeth-baring, she might simply be pretending to transform into a vampire
  • And some other stuff that isn't quite as bad.

And here's some actual acting:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

WATCH BLAKE GRIFFIN/Vick/Moments From The Last Weeks of LKL

Blake Griffin and teammates marveling/basking in replay of his greatness.

What I have to say about Blake Griffin will be pretty short. Blake Griffin isn't a great basketball player. Not yet, anyway. He struggles to guard pretty much anyone, is useless from beyond 10 feet, the occasional pretty jumper notwithstanding, and doesn't even have great touch around the basket. Oh and he lives at the line and can't make free throws. In large part a dunker, he only makes 48% of his shots (going into tonight's 44-point effort). His team is dramatically better with him off the court. This makes sense if you think about it. If a guy makes a little less than half of his shots (all of which are two-point shots), and just half of his foul-shots, a possession ending in that player taking a shot or going to the free-throw line will produce, on average, 1 point. In today's NBA, that is terrible. To put in perspective just how terrible that is, a team just as good, offensively, as Blake Griffin would be the 5th worst offensive team in basketball. Not coincidentally, the Clippers, Griffin's team, are the 4th worst. Griffin does not make his team appreciably better on offense, and he makes his team a whole lot worse on defense. A pretty huge guy, he can't even set a screen properly. The only respect in which his play actually makes the Clippers better is rebounding; per-minute he's one of the best twenty or so in the league at that.

That said, Blake Griffin is the most exciting player in the NBA and you better watch him now before he busts his head open flying through a backboard. This is so for two reasons; Griffin's game is sick, and the sick part of his game is the only part he has. Griffin has no real post game. I don't know if he's shot a hook shot in his NBA career. (Actually, he has, but it feels like he hasn't.) Ditto on turnaround jumpers, bank shots, drop steps/any systematized steps, and, like, post catches followed by simple footwork and a non-flashy layup. Nor can he shoot the ball. All he can do is fly, dunk, and execute a spin move faster than Twista can say 'dreidel dreidel dreidel.' Griffin is 100% highlights - even his rebounds of missed free-throws are highlights - and what spectacular highlights they are. Watching Griffin is like watching an airborne linebacker with the agility and demeanor of a puppy. Griffin's game is solely about attacking the basket, and yet, Griffin doesn't really go to the basket; of his dunks, maybe 5% are of the straight down the middle of the lane, arm raised perpendicular to the backboard variety. Griffin's M.O. is to leap up in a general area a few feet away from the basket, and then to reach over and dunk it from there; he has the oddest sense of angles I've ever seen. And when he does make contact, it's like he's tackling the basket and everyone around it. For example, this happened tonight:

Notice how his teammates' reaction is to hug each other for protection. In a dozen games, Griffin has taken the entire career of his closest physical comparison, Amare Stoudemire, formerly the last word in big-man athletic spectacle, and turned it into something hopelessly banal. One guy can dunk the basketball really hard; the other guy makes you forget you're even watching basketball. To watch Amare on the same court with Griffin is like listening to Joe Fatal's verse after Nas's on 'Live at the Barbecue.' Hopefully Griffin isn't getting career advice from Salaam Remi and the Trackmasters.

And now about Michael Vick. Michael Vick is my city's team's quarterback. I haven't seen a minute or a highlight of his play. This isn't, primarily, a reflection on my disapproval of Vick; I haven't watched football for several years now. If I did, however, I don't know if I could watch. It seems to me that two factors, and only two factors, should be relevant to whether one forgives Vick. First, one's general attitude towards forgiveness - forgiving murderers, rapists, thieves, dog-killers, significant others who cheat on you, whatever. Second, one's attitude about how wrong killing and torturing dogs is. Hence, there are a couple coherent positions you can have on why we ought to forgive Vick. You could believe that anyone who's genuinely contrite should eventually be forgiven for anything that they do, whatever that might be. That's a noble position; it's also one that very few, if any, people hold. Or, you could think that murder, rape, being Bernie Madoff, etc. is unforgivable, but killing and torturing dozens of dogs is not. What makes no sense at all is to say that Vick's playing football well should have anything to do with whether he should be forgiven, or has anything to do with whether he's a "changed man." What also makes no sense is to urge forgiveness without acknowledging that such forgiveness is predicated on an implicit discounting of the value of dogs' lives.

So for example, here the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year complains that:

Wednesday, the L.A. Times ran yet another front-page story about how some of the 47 rescued pit bulls from the Vick kennels are doing. You know the answer because you saw the story the first 100 times: not well. Some of them still shake, cower and won't bark.

I love dogs, too, but how long does Vick have to star in "The Unforgiven"?

To me, this begs the question: what do you really think about torturing dogs? Is Reilly trying to say that 100 articles about any atrocity is too much? Of course not. If Vick had raped just one woman and left her in a state of permanent clinical depression, no one would ever write, look, this is the hundredth time we've read that this rape victim is living in a clinic and hasn't cracked a smile in years. I like women too, they make nice playmates, but, like, how long are people going to wring their hands over this shit? Of course not. So implicit in the claim that it's time to forgive Vick is the notion that electrocuting, drowning, hanging, and torturing dogs just isn't that serious a matter. Fine! Just let me know what it is about a dog that makes him soooooo much less worthy of consideration than the average person. Then maybe I too will complain that too many stories are being written about silly little dogs and their silly little shaking/cowering/not barking problems. But you need to make an argument; you can't just say, "all we've got here are some dogs still too traumatized to bark after being released from Vick's dog farm three years ago, time to get over it" like the conclusion follows from the premise.

Then Reilly continues:

Just press "pause" for a second and look at what he has done.

A man fresh from the clink is turning the NFL upside down. A man who was arguably the most reviled athlete in this country in 2007 is now the toast of American sports. Imagine that. Michael Vick ... is the favorite to win MVP this season.

Well how about that! Yes, maybe Vick has killed dogs, but he can really run and throw a ball. Well yeah. He was born fast and athletic. He has a brother who might be as talented as he is, it runs in their family. What is Reilly saying here? That Vick's genetic endowments redeem what a sicko he is, or was? So if Brad Pitt had done what Vick did, would Reilly be writing, "just press pause... a man fresh from the clink is still really good-looking! All over America, women are rediscovering Brad Pitt's cheekbones and going to see him in really bad movies!" Oh, but Vick isn't like Pitt - it's not all natural ability, he has to practice to get this good. Vick has worked hard at throwing a football this well. Many repetitions, hours of mind-numbing practice. The guy could be sitting at home reading Shakespeare, but no, he's working hard on throwing a football. The pain, the agony, the intense ennui this sensitive literary soul goes through to amuse millions of fat middle-aged men and their drunk sons. Yes, I am just so impressed that this man has found a way time and time again to throw a ball into a painted off section of a grassy field someplace that I wouldn't care if he murdered my sister.

Me, I think Vick is the most exciting athlete in American sports. Does that mean I approve of hideous cruelty to pit bulls?

As long as by 'exciting athlete' no moral judgment is being passed, then no, of course not. I think Hitler was an exciting orator - doesn't mean I approve of the gassing to death of relatives who actually appear in my family photo albums. On the other hand, I don't make a weekly habit of watching his speeches in rapture at how awesome he was at waving his hands around really super fast. Not my thing. But seriously, this is such a straw man argument. Thinking Vick's an exciting athlete doesn't mean you approve of electrocuting dogs. Therefore, it's time to forgive Vick. Huh? I'll bet he's exciting but that doesn't mean I want to cheer for the guy.

In fact, in a backward way, Vick has been the best thing to happen to pit bulls.

"It's very true," says John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States. "For the big picture, Michael has been a tipping point. Since his case, there have been 30 new laws enacted all over the country toughening dogfighting penalties...

Great. Maybe the pit bulls who were lucky enough to not get adopted by Vick could write Vick a thank-you note for killing a gazillion pit bulls and calling people's attention to the fact that dogfighting really sucks. Maybe Jewish people should be a little more thankful to the Nazis for killing so many of us and thereby making the world so sorry for us that we got our own country and anti-Semitism is way less cool. In a backward way, you might say that Hitler saved Judaism. Perhaps in Vick's next act he could go to North Philly and start shooting some people to call attention to inner-city violence. He could be the best thing to ever happen to inner-city neighborhoods! In a backwards way, of course.

Before prison, Vick used to be the last one into the locker room and the first one out. After prison, he's just the opposite. No Eagle prepares harder.

Before prison, he practically drove ruts in the McDonald's drive-thru lane. After prison, he's a chicken-and-broccoli guy.

Before prison, the only film room he hit much was the home theater in his Atlanta mansion. After prison, he has become a freak for studying game film of the opponent. Gollum sees more daylight.

Two things. 1, has Reilly ever heard of the term "contract year"? The guy's making a tiny fraction of what he used to make. He's probably interested in playing really well and returning to his pre-incarceration salary. 2, are we seriously contending that changes in diet and amount of game-film viewing has any possible bearing on an assessment of Vick's moral character, and even if so, are we suggesting that these sorts of things hold any substantive weight? Think about how ridiculous that sounds. Well yes, Vick did kill a ton of dogs in sick ways and torture many others. But he's stopped eating McDonald's and he watches tape of himself all the time. Even if not eating McDonald's makes you a better person in some obscure way - I guess it would speak to his being a good employee - can it possibly compare at all to what he did to all the dogs? The fact that he's simply doing what he's supposed to do, as an employee of the Eagles, has some real weight compared to hosing down and then electrocuting not just one dog, but many? Could that be? I guess it could, to an idiot who equates effective play on a football field with moral worth and whose life revolves around writing fawning tributes to fat people colliding into other fat people and concussing themselves. One might as well applaud porn stars for keeping slim figures, assiduously studying their "game film," and valiantly giving themselves STD's so socially maladjusted men can have shit to jack off to. Sheesh.

And finally Larry King, or to quote one of his interviewees, authenticity in a world of plasticity and synthesis. Larry King is retiring (forced out?), to be replaced by the judge at Britain's Got Talent who went crazy over that fat ugly woman. So now bigger-name guests are coming on his show again to say goodbye. Here are some moments, culled from transcripts, from Larry's long departure.

Ricky Martin

In this episode, Larry struggles to understand how Ricky could be gay, wants to know why Ricky named his memoir 'Me' (answer: "it's about me"), speaks for 'the Latin,' hears about Ricky wandering the slums of Calcutta rescuing little girls, and learns that Ricky's being on General Hospital was a very intense and beautiful moment in Ricky's life. Also, not quoted here, Ricky explains twice that he came out because of 'transparency.' Like he's a corporation aiming for full disclosure of his corporate activities. Ah, celebrities these days.

King: Ricky Martin, as you know, is the Grammy-winning recording star. He sold more than 80 million albums worldwide and is the author of a new memoir simply titled "Me."... Why did you title it that?

Ricky Martin: Very simple. It was my life. It was my moments, my ups and downs. It's about me.


KING: You had a surrogate mother?
MARTIN: I had a surrogate mother. And --
KING: Your sperm?


KING: How did you come out?
MARTIN: Well, first to my mother. And she actually asked me, my son, are you in love? And I was in love. And she said, is it with a man? And I said yes, mom, it's with a man.


KING: All along -- of course the people saw your act, you know. It was a very sexual and sensual act.


KING: You're listening to Ricky's new single, "The Best Thing about Me is You." It's a duet with Joss Stone. And from the sound of it you'll be hearing a lot more of this one. This could be a big hit, right? Is this out?
MARTIN: Thank you. Very simple. Reggae-ish, kind of tropical vibe. A lot of people were saying, Ricky, I was not expecting this kind of music from you on your comeback. I thought you were going to do either a power ballad or a "Living La Vida Loca" kind of vibe. And I'm like, well, you know what? I guess life is more simple than that.


KING: To the Latin, though, this is the image. To the Latin, the thought of being gay is very difficult. It's very not macho.


KING: All right. You've been -- do you call yourself gay or bisexual? Are you still bisexual? I mean you -- what are you?
MARTIN: Very confusing. For everybody, but for me. I am gay.
KING: No interest in women at all?
MARTIN: But I am gay. G-A-Y. Gay.


KING: You were on "General Hospital"?
MARTIN: I was on "General Hospital." And it was a very intense moment of my life. Very beautiful moment of my life.


You do a lot of philanthropic work, the Ricky Martin Foundation. You're an activist against human trafficking. What got you into that?
MARTIN: Many years ago I was invited by my colleagues, someone that was building an orphanage in Calcutta, India. And he told me, come and check it out. And I hopped in a plane, I went to Calcutta to see what was going on and when I was there he told me come on, let's go out to the street and let's rescue girls. And I'm like, OK, let's rescue girls.

Oksana Grigorieva

In this episode, Larry doesn't believe the shit that Mel Gibson's battered ex is selling, questions why she would ever bother to record phone calls in which an abusive, insane boyfriend threatened to kill her, tells her that she had all the power in the relationship because Mel is famous (????), and is treated to Oksana's views on the Constitution and the history of 1600s English law.

KING: So why, Oksana, did you tape him?

KING: So, you were taping him and you thought that you would be killed and wanted the world to hear this?
KING: Is it legal to tape a phone conversation?


KING: How did the tapes ever get released?
OKSANA: I have no idea.
KING: They were just in your possession?
OKSANA: In the possession of my lawyers.
KING: How can they be released if you're the only one with them?
HER LAWYER: She just said her lawyers had them!


KING: How are they so technically good?

GRIGORIEVA: They're not that good.
KING: They're pretty good.
KING: Don't you think for -- you had a home machine?
GRIGORIEVA: No, it's not a machine, it's an iPhone.
KING: Just sold a lot of iPhones. That's pretty good -- no I mean, that...


KING: The obvious thing that people have asked about this is, why didn't you hang up?


KING: In this clip that came from Radar online, we hear the man [the man!] giving his feeling about Oksana's appearance.
MAN: You go out in public and it's a (bleeped) embarrassment to me. You look like a (bleeped) heat and if you get raped by a pack of (bleeped), your fault. All right? Because you provoked it. You are provocatively dressed all the time, with your fake (bleeped), you feel to have to show all.
KING: Do you provocatively dress?
GRIGORIEVA: Am I provocatively dressed right now?
KING: No, not now. But I mean, where does that come from?


KING: How about the story that you were out to entrap him in a way. You knew his weakness and you wanted these tapes for -- forget the public use, for use in the courtroom some day. Did you have any script?
GRIGORIEVA: Are you kidding me?
KING: No, I mean, people have said this. I'm just asking.


KING: I'm still a man -- I know that you were doing for hopefully protecting yourself. Why you didn't keep hanging up.


KING: What finally ended the calls? Why did it stop?
GRIGORIEVA: It's just I pulled the batteries out of my phones, literally, physically.


GRIGORIEVA: People died for First Amendment, for Constitution. Soldiers died. I know I'm not dying or anything, but I'm actually being threatened in court that I might lose my baby. I'm terrified talking to you right now because I might lose my child. I might need your help, Larry.
KING: But you know that he's a very famous person.
GRIGORIEVA: Yes, I know.
KING: And so, therefore, it's a risk to him. A power you had over him was his fame. Other people who are -- who treat people poorly and hit them, they're not well-known. Women are forced -- they're slaves to them. They have trouble running away. You didn't have that problem. You had Mel Gibson.
LAWYER: Yes. But look at the power that he had in a role like this.
KING: Except he's more vulnerable. She's vulnerable physically, but he's -- who's getting the bad press now?


GRIGORIEVA: The paternity system is broken. I don't know maybe it's from 400 years ago, from U.K., remnants of the system when one person, the judge, is entirely responsible for something so monumental as your child's custody.

Russell Brand, or "so, you never said to her, why did you strike me with the bottle?"

I really don't get what's going on in this interview with Russell Brand. Brand pretends to be funny and intellectual but he's neither and then Larry tries to take his bad jokes/stupid profound act literally because he takes everything literally and then he gets all homoerotically obsessive with Brand's sex life and strange stuff happens. You'll see what I mean.

KING: You feel like a thing?

BRAND: I think you -- yes, I think you're objectified by fame. They simplify you and say, oh, right, his character, he's like a womanizer, or he's a cad, or he's a troublemaker. And they just use you and they don't -- they remove nuance. Someone said to me, the brilliant filmmaker, Albert Mazors (ph), he said tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance. People simplify things. They take out away the gray areas. But it's complicated. It's not so simple as Democrat, Republican, good, evil. But like we live in a culture I think that reduces those things so that they can pack these ideas and make us passive consumers. [Russell Brand, victim of tyranny. Brilliant filmmaker told him so.]


KING: How many women do you estimate you have bedded?


KING: How did you meet?
BRAND: At the MTV awards. I was hosting the MTV awards in Radio City, New York...a bottle arched the room struck on the head from distance, I looked at the trajectory using my knowledge of geometry, I looked out, it must have come from Katy Perry's impressive right arm. I thought that's very good that she threw that bottle that accurately from that distance. And a woman with an arm that strong, I have to have in marriage.
KING: She threw a bottle at you? For what purpose?
BRAND: I think it was attention speaking. It was like a romantic riot. There was a civil rights protest between two people.
KING: What did she say? Did you ask her, why did you throw that bottle at me? You didn't?
BRAND: No, I tried to assimilate it in everyday life, Larry. [Rambles on about how it reminded him of civil rights protests.]
KING: So, you never said to her, why did you strike me with the bottle?
BRAND: I've never asked her why she did that because I think it was evident that she was using it to punctuate the slew of ordinary encounters that I was having, giggling, chuckling women, the sweet scent of them, the pinkness of their cheeks, or their rich coffee color depending on the hue of the day.


KING: Why did you name your book "Booky Wook"?
BRAND: Yes. Because like a language, I think it becomes like it is going to be the way that people speak with the language on TV. It becomes like a white noise, you don't really listen, whether it's an oil spill or a murder or what else, someone being given a lifetime achievement award or whatever it is -- just this white noise of language.
So, I think if you disrupt language by --
KING: "Booky Wook."
BRAND: "Booky Wook," it's silly and childish. And it sorts of like it interrupts your thinking.


KING: Why didn't you [propose to Katy Perry] in Britain or Hollywood?
BRAND: Why would you do that? Go to a country like India vibrant with spirituality where you can see God in people's eyes.


KING: So, you're both on the same elephant.
BRAND: Absolutely.
KING: Side-by-side.
BRAND: No, no. We're there, we're on one elephant, like an emblem of (INAUDIBLE).


KING: How did you say it? What did you say?
BRAND: We get off of the elephant (INAUDIBLE) because things are going wrong. So, like, then we walked into a clearing and suddenly all the grandiosity and all of the gestures and the magic melted away into the simplicity of a moment between the two people when you realize there's a kind of -- I got -- it was very, very emotional.


BRAND: -- it's like Houdini's foreskin. Look --
KING: Houdini's foreskin. That's sick.


KING: If you just joined us, we're wearing each others rings for some preposterous reason.
BRAND: And who dare judge us?
KING: That's right.
BRAND: If we choose to wear it, Larry.
KING: Damn by (ph).


KING: That's a little rough. I knew Jim Morrison. You do look like Jim Morrison.
BRAND: Thanks.
KING: I did. Jim Morrison was maybe the handsomest man ever.
BRAND: Well, hold there in a minute. Let's just run this here. This is breaking news.
KING: You're a good looking man.


KING: Now, how do you combine juggling careers? You, actor, comedian. She, a singer, a fame renown. Why am I talking like this?
BRAND: I like it. It's brilliant.


KING: You're an Olympian under the sheets. You were fantastic, right? You were a good lover. BRAND: I really, really tried hard, Larry. It requires chemistry, proper good love making. Doesn't it? You can't do it really good with a table, unless it's a hell of a table. But I really was committed to it, because of this ferocious, deep love of femininity and of women and anatomy. I love the curves of their body, the aroma of a woman, the scent of a woman, to quote dear Al Pacino. I love them. I love them. I love the variety. But in the end, it got a bit much. If you were loose in a candy store for too long, eventually you get diabetes.
KING: Did you ever wake up in the morning and not know who you were with?
BRAND: Yes often, because sometimes you can't remember all their names. If you put name tags on them, that's offensive.
KING: Yeah, it is.
BRAND: Often there was not just one, Larry, of course.
KING: There were two?
BRAND: I was looking for the one. I was very thorough in my search. To save time, sometimes I would audition three or four at once. So occasionally, it was difficult to remember everybody's names.


KING: You were a mailman in Britain?
BRAND: Yes, Britain, delivering letters. I thought there would be more sex involved. I thought knocking on people's doors at that time in the morning, the housewives would be vulnerable, I thought.
KING: It works?
BRAND: Do you want an extra delivery. No one picked up on it. It was innuendo laden. Would you like me to stamp that? I've got a heavy sack.
KING: You're a handsome young man. I think women open the door in the morning --


KING: You are totally -- you are totally you.
BRAND: I appreciate this.
KING: There is nothing false about you. And yet you are in show business.
BRAND: How have I achieved this peculiar dichotomy?
KING: Yes. How?
BRAND: It's a paradox. I live in a world of plasticity and synthesis, and yet there is some authenticity.