Erik Wemple, Just Another WP Idiot

Erik WempleErik Wemple says, Good Riddance to MSNBC’s Martin Bashir. As usual for a Washington Post columnist, he completely misses the issue. He didn’t like Bashir’s show. Fair enough. I only saw it a couple of times myself and it certainly wasn’t something that I went looking for. But he was competent and interesting. And he had a style that was distinct from pretty much all of the second-tier hosts: he seemed to actually give a shit.

That was his undoing, it seems. To me, what he said about Sarah Palin was typical rhetorical hyperbole. He didn’t actually say that someone should shit in Palin’s mouth. He was making a point that being in debt is nothing at all like being a slave and that when people like Palin link them, they are being offensive in the extreme. I thought it was highly effective rhetoric. And here’s the thing. I know that the conservatives thought it was highly effective rhetoric. And they responded the way they always do. They whined like children. They acted as though they engage in a high level of political discourse and the liberals just dump all over it.

If Wemple thinks that Martin Bashir’s show was bad, then it should have been canceled for that reason. But it wasn’t canceled for that reason. It was canceled because liberals can’t stand even the tiniest amount of controversy. Wemple even says, “Conservative America just lost one of its talking points about left-leaning network MSNBC.” Oh, really? Does he seriously think that this will make even an infinitesimal difference in how MSNBC will be portrayed in the conservative media echo chamber? If he does, I have news for him: according to conservatives, CNN is a lapdog of the DNC.

What really happened in this case is that conservative America had a major victory. They’ve been shown once again that all they have to do is whine about the smallest of insults and liberals will jump to attention and trash any member of their group. Even after Bashir’s firing, Sarah Palin was not satisfied. She belched out a logorrhea that, as best I can tell, means, “Martin Bashir has poisoned the whole world and now no one will go into public service (Or even be mothers, it seems!) because of the unthinkable harm done the always wounded Sarah Palin.”

Erik Wemple is missing the big picture here. This isn’t about Martin Bashir. There will always be people who say things that go too far. On the right, they are protected. On the left, they are sacrificed. Maybe the loss of Bashir is no big deal. But Palin’s statement makes a bit of sense here. How long will capable liberals move into the public sphere when they know that they are one misstep from being sacrificed to the whims of conservative outrage.

So fuck Sarah Palin! Fuck Erik Wemple! And fuck MSNBC! As I wrote before, I will no longer watch the network. What’s the point anyway? MSNBC represents liberalism like Josh Barro represents the Republican Party.

Not the Last Record Store

Matt YglesiasAfter Matt Yglesias came back from Singapore, the first thing he did was write an article about how old I am, Someone’s Opening A Record Store. You see, I have a pretty big music library that spans many different genres. It ranges from Devotchka to Jacques Brel to JJ Schultz to various Mozart Operas. But I haven’t purchased a single song as an MP3 or through iTunes. I just don’t trust it. I like my little discs that have the songs stored on them. Yes, these discs can be destroyed, but I have no children and I’m not an animal. So I have decades old discs that look brand new. (And yes, I also have vinyl.)

I take these discs, convert the songs and put them on my phone. And I am happy. And if something goes wrong and my micro-SD card destroys them all, I still have my discs. It’s very nice—very comforting for an old man. But do you know what I like most of all: the total lack of licensing software. I assume that what I’m doing is legal, but there is no doubt what I’m doing is ethical. I don’t rip the music and then sell the disc. For one thing, that would destroy my whole old man anxiety prevention program based on the fear that that I will lose my music because of a computer malfunction.

So where do I buy these old man discs? Well, I’m not that old so I often buy them online, sometimes directly from the artists themselves but more often from Amazon. But I also buy them at my hometown shop, appropriately called The Last Record Store. I first visited that store 30 years ago, within days of its opening. And the first album I bought was The Velvet Underground & Nico. They’ve moved since then, but they still run the store the same way. And the main thing about it is that the guys love music—in particular, they love the kind of music that I love. I remember commiserating with Hoyt Wilhelm about the death of D. Boon, the guitarist of Minutemen:

I suppose we could have commiserating over twitter. And there is nothing at The Last Record Store that I can’t find online. But there is something electric whenever I’m there. It’s nice to be surrounded by people who love music. And the physical experience of browsing is something that has never really worked online. That’s especially true in their $5 or 3 or $10 CD bins or their $1 vinyl bins where there is no ordering at all.

I think that Matt Yglesias understands all this. But he’s still being tongue in cheek when he writes:

On my recent trip to Hong Kong I saw a fascinating business in the Pacific Place Mall. It was kind of like a music store, except it was a physical shop. Instead of searching for the songs or collections you wanted, you would browse physically through their inventory. They stocked digital music files the same as any music store, but the files were encoded on optical disks that you could use to transfer the files to your computer. They also had a certain amount of what initially looked like large-format optical discs but were actually a kind of analog music storage format that could be used with specialized equipment.

Yes, I suppose that to the 20 somethings, such a place would seem unusual. And Yglesias can sit back and have a bit of a laugh at the stereotypes of the young and the old. But if physical music stores are really coming back, that’s a great thing. It’s a shame that they have to be combined with “coffee sales.” But that’s probably just my reaction to the musical dreck that Starbucks sells. The main thing, though, is that corporate physical music stores are not going to cut it. Music is a special kind of consumer good. Purchases really do say something about you, and not in the way that AXE Body Wash has sold you the idea that using it will turn you super cool. Music is personal, and I (at least) want to buy it from people who understand that.

I’m not sure that Matt Yglesias understands that, though.

Pennies from Heaven, Roses from Cairo

Pennies From HeavenA couple of weeks ago, Will mentioned to me that he had seen Pennies From Heaven. He asked what I thought of it and I told him I wasn’t that fond of it. I didn’t think it worked. But I began to think back on the film and reconsider it. After all, I was only 17 when I saw it. So I picked up a copy and finally got around to seeing it last night. I really wasn’t wrong about the film. It is a worthy effort and often brilliant. It isn’t perfect, of course, it has minor problems. The story is too episodic and the murder subplot was entirely the wrong way to go. But these are minor. There is really only one major thing wrong with the film and it is fatal.

Steve Martin.

He’s just terrible. He does to this film what Bruce Willis did to Last Man Standing. But it is much worse here. Whereas Willis plays his usual stilted action hero character, Martin delivers lines like the understudy at a bad high school play. And then there is the dancing where he is obviously outclassed by everyone else. It’s a real shame.

There is much to like in the film. Gordon Willis’ cinematography is just perfect for the film. Of course, the whole art crew does a great job with the realism of the period and the fantasy numbers. Jessica Harper as the long suffering wife with homicidal fantasies is fantastic. Bernadette Peters and Christopher Walken burn up the screen. And Vernel Bagneris gives the best performance of the film. Sometimes, I thought that Danny Daniels’ choreography was uninspired, but at other times it was as good as anything I’ve ever seen. And Herbert Ross directs the hell out of the film. This is my favorite scene:

The Purple Rose of CairoAs you may know, this film is based upon a BBC television mini-series of the same name. I haven’t seen it, but I do know that Bob Hoskins played the Steve Martin role. And all I can do is sigh for the lost opportunity. It didn’t have to be Hoskins, of course, just about any decent actor would have saved this film. But this was Steve Martin’s second starring role. He made The Jerk right before Pennies From Heaven, and he brings the same level of acting to each film. That level, of course, is the level that one sees on Saturday Night Live.

Interestingly, just four years later, another film was made that addressed the same themes. And it too was shot by Gordon Willis: The Purple Rose of Cairo. There is a difference, of course. In Pennies, Arthur wants to make his life like the popular songs he sells. In Cairo, Cecilia just wants to escape from her life into the Hollywood movies she watches. Thus, even though Cairo is explicitly a fantasy—actual magic happens in the story—it is the more realistic. And so I think we get a film that speaks to us much more profoundly. The ending of Pennies from Heaven doesn’t really work. The ending of The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of the greats, right up there with the best of Vittorio De Sica:


Artistically, I think the ending of The Purple Rose of Cairo would have worked better if Allen had left it vague. As a viewer, I like the sweet ending; I like watching her get drawn into the movie and smiling. But it strikes me as a little heavy handed. I imagine that the money people were pushing for that happy ending. It’s hard to say, of course. I would have been crushed if the dog had not come back in Umberto D. Regardless, Allen’s ending to Cairo is still artful. It’s a choice is all; and a hard choice at that.

After Afterword

To end The Purple Rose of Cairo with an explicit unhappy ending where she, for example, just cries would have been a mistake. I really think there were only the two options: happy or vague.

Magic Then and Magic Now

Robert-HoudinOn this day in 1886, the poet Joyce Kilmer was born. You know him because of his very famous and oft parodied poem “Trees.” You know: I think that I shall never see… By the time he was sent to fight in World War I, he was considered the leading American Catholic poet. And then, like millions others he was killed in that senseless war.

George Nelson (Real name: Lester Joseph Gillis.) was born in 1908. He is better known as “Baby Face” Nelson, a moniker that was given to him because of his youth. It was in reference to the song “Baby Face.” It was meant to be an insult and Nelson hated it. It made him angry. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. This is largely because he was a psychopath. Most people in his line of work were more desperate than evil. I don’t think you can say the same thing about him. Just the same, as he traveled across the nation robbing banks and murdering people, he maintained a rather normal life for his wife and child. Of course, that’s along the lines of, “Hitler was kind to his dogs.” But still, he was a fascinating guy.

Dave Brubeck was born in 1920. Alright, I admit it: he was great. It is just that Paul Desmond was greater. And, of course, he was no Bill Evans. Here is “Blue Rondo a la Turk”:

Comedian Steven Wright is 58. I really like his work. Below is a 49 second clip of a couple of his jokes. I just want to point out that the question about what would happen if you were traveling at the speed of light and you turned on your lights is exactly the question that Einstein asked. Let me answer Mr. Wright’s question. First, you could not travel at the speed of light, so let’s assume you are traveling just under the speed of light. If you turned on your lights, from your perspective, the light would stream out at the speed of light. That is the theory of relativity.

Other birthdays: astronomer Niccolo Zucchi (1586); painter Frederic Bazille (1841); poet Evelyn Underhill (1875); lyricist Ira Gershwin (1896); comedian David Ossman (77); actor JoBeth Williams (retired); actor Tom Hulce (60); musician Peter Buck (57); animator Nick Park (55); and film director Judd Apatow (46).

The day, however, belongs to one of the greatest magicians of all time, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, who was born on this day in 1805. He is widely considered the father of modern magic. Indeed, magic has not changed a great deal since then. In fact, up through Mark Wilson, it looked very much the same—in style and substance. Robert-Houdin was born to be a watch maker. There is a very famous story about how he got into magic. He went to a book seller and bought a two-volume set on clock construction but was accidentally given a two volume set on conjuring, Scientific Amusements. He became fascinated with the art of magic and the rest is history. Of course, it mightn’t have ever happened. Pretty much everything we know about Robert-Houdin comes from his own Memoirs of Robert-Houdin. And magicians are known to be liars.

I find it interesting to see people’s reactions to modern magic. The truth is that basically, nothing ever changes. The Tarbell Course in Magic, published in 1928 contains basically all the collected knowledge that magicians have today. But each generation dusts off the old tricks and makes them their own. This isn’t to say that there are no innovations. But it is marginal stuff. Consider the Ambitious Card routine. This is a card trick that has been around for a couple hundred years. The magician puts a card in the middle of a deck and it keeps coming back to the top of the deck. Pretty much every card magician has a version of it that suits their style. But check out Daryl doing his version. Everything he does is quite standard, except the very end where he uses a device that Robert-Houdin would have been proud of:

Other than style and some marginal changes, that’s Robert-Houdin. And that is not to put down Daryl at all. I think that’s a really clever, entertaining routine. But it owes a great deal to Robert-Houdin. Magic is history.

Happy birthday Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin!