THE TOP 10 OF 2008

A highly eclectic, hardly systematic accounting of what I liked best in 2008:

1.) THE ELECTION. What a tremendous drama. The characters were strong and well-drawn–too-good-to-be-true Barack Obama, the redoubtable Hillary Clinton, the indomitable and gracious John McCain, and the brilliantly imagined Sarah Palin, among others–plus the well-plotted series of upsets and comebacks, culminating in Obama’s eventual, resounding victory. Could have done without the big financial crash at the end, though.

2.) THE SUPER BOWL. Try this: a wandering, underperforming team gets its act together, makes the playoffs, goes on the road to upset traditional rival Dallas, goes on the road to frigid Green Bay to upset the Packers, goes to the Super Bowl, and with a staunch defense and what is, by acclamation, the greatest play in Super Bowl history, upsets the undefeated Patriots. What could be better? How about: it’s the team you rooted for all year!

3.) THE SPIES OF WARSAW. Alan Furst is a master of the pre-WW II espionage novel, in large measure because his characters are so precisely and insightfully drawn. The hero of this latest novel, a French officer stationed in Poland, is a fully satisfying combination of nobility, class, duty, and simple courage. Continue reading “THE TOP 10 OF 2008”

“AN ANGRY HOWL”

Here’s Bob Herbert, writing in today’s Times (Op-Ed Columnist – Add Up the Damage – NYTimes.com):

When Mr. Bush officially takes his leave in three weeks (in reality, he checked out long ago), most Americans will be content to sigh good riddance. I disagree. I don’t think he should be allowed to slip quietly out of town. There should be a great hue and cry — a loud, collective angry howl, demonstrations with signs and bullhorns and fiery speeches — over the damage he’s done to this country.

I don’t whether magnaminity and forebearance should be the order of the day as we put the past behind us and march in the future’s “broad, sunlit uplands” (as Winston Churchill was fond of saying), or should we put on a green eyeshade and total the many and various ways Bush has damaged and sullied America, if only for the simple pleasure of saying “we told you so”? Personally, I’m torn.

FIGHT ON, YOU BALTIMORE COLTS!

Among the earliest things I ever knew about myself was that I was from Baltimore, home of the Colts. This was a matter of considerable pride, since the Colts were led by Johnny Unitas, the best quarterback in football and even at what would turn out to the early middle of his career (the years 1960, ’61, ’62), obviously the best who had ever played the game. Proof of this status dwelled in the championship the Colts won fifty years ago today, in the thrilling overtime title game against the New York Giants in what is still known as the greatest game ever played, and in the more convincing but more prosaically accomplished championship won the following year. In the overlooked, blue collar, port-and-steelyard city lying between New York and Washington, the Colts were heroes: regular guys who were accessible, who your dad saw in the supermarket or your uncle saw eating crabs (even if you didn’t). For years, from the time I was in first grade until the time I was old enough to get swoony over Beverly Brent (which, trust me, was some years after Beatlemania struck), I not only wore a Johnny Unitas haircut, it was what I asked the barber for by name. Continue reading “FIGHT ON, YOU BALTIMORE COLTS!”

CAROLS AT THE OPERA HOUSE

Since September Cara has been singing with the Lubin Singers, a group of talented vocalists under the direction of Susan Lubin. Last night at Susan’s beautiful home (which she calls The Opera House) we saw the fruits of their efforts. They sang a program of carols that was very lovely, and Susan laid out an amazing spread of desserts, egg nog, mulled wine, cider, and more. As a special treat, Steve Santiago, a/k/a/ Opera Steve, who performed at the Brica reading in April, performed O Holy Night. What a lovely party–it really helped to get the season going.

SHOES IN THE NEWS

Muntadhar al-Zeidi, a 28-year-old unmarried Shiite reporter from a minor TV station, hurled a pair of shoes at President Bush to protest the U.S. military occupation of Iraq. “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” he said as he threw the first shoe. “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” he shouted as he hurled the second. An agile Bush ducked both shoes and smiled in an amused way during the incident. “So what if the guy threw his shoe at me?” Bush commented. “I didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it. . . .[T]hat’s what happens in free societies where people try to draw attention to themselves.” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki showed no promise as a defensive back.  The incident joins the thwarting of the Shoe Bomber, the discovery of Imelda Marcos‘s shoe trove, Khruschev’s pounding of his shoe on a table at the UN, Adlai Stevenson‘s hole in his sole, and Prince Charming‘s use of a glass slipper to select his bride as history’s greatest political shoe stories.

I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS VON STAFFENBERG

The holiday movie season is upon up. No, I don’t mean Four Christmases and Nothing Like the Holidays and the endless broadcasts of It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. I’m talking about Valkyrie, the movie about the attempted assassination of Hitler, and The Spirit, Frank Miller’s blood-saturated comic book adaptation, and of Gran Torino, in which Clint Eastwood teaches some Hmong immigrant gang members the true meaning of violence. Indeed, only a late rescheduling bumped The Road into the spring, which sadly prevented us from going over the river and through the woods, while at the same time going over the charred and mutilated bodies, and through a devastated, post-apocalyptic America. It’s a weird way to mark the season of peace, but it must be said that Hollywood’s willingness to spike the egg nog with a bit of blood has led to some interesting mash-ups:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of a 38 caliber slug ripping through Fredo Corleone’s brain tissue danced in their heads. (The Godfather Part II, December 12, 1974) Continue reading “I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS VON STAFFENBERG”

HEAR, HEAR!

Three cheers for Tina Brown! In her column in The Daily Beast this past week, she nailed the media business’s problem on the head: “The carnage in media jobs accelerated last week with hundreds getting whacked at Viacom, NBC, Time Inc., and my own esteemed publisher Doubleday. . . . We’re in the middle of a volcanic realignment that’s overdue; but as Big Media fights for its life, are the right people leaving? As great newspapers, magazines, TV networks, and publishing houses dismember themselves around us, it would be marginally consoling if the pink slips were going to those who contributed so vigorously to their companies’ accelerating demise—the feckless zombies at the head of corporate bureaucracies who cared only about the next quarter’s numbers, never troubled to understand the DNA of the companies they took over, and installed swarms of “Business Affairs” drones to oversee and torment the people “under” them. There are floors of these creatures in any behemoth media company, buzzing about each day thwarting new ideas or, worse, having “transformative” ideas of their own when what is usually required is to revive, with a bit of steadfast conviction, the originating creative purpose of the enterprise.” I remember a decade ago when I was at Time, the head of Time Inc. Don Logan imposed a hiring freeze, all because he wanted to continue to rack up double digit increases for his shareholders. That’s a fine goal, but in the processed, he exhausted his journalists, and deprived his magazines of infusions of talent and creativity at a critical time, and they have yet to recover.  Bureaucrats, stifling, expensive and clueless, are crushing the business.

ALL THAT ENDS WELL ISN’T WELL

Day after day, drip after drip, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough wages a low-key but relentless campaign to make us believe that the presidency of George W. Bush wasn’t all that bad. One morning this past week, Scarborough advanced the idea that the Bush presidency could be divided into three sections: the part after 9/11, for which Scarborough says everyone generally give Bush good grades; a second part, from 2003 to 2006, which Scarborough describes, accurately, as a “disaster”; and the final section, highlighted by the success General Petreaus has had with the surge, which has been redemptive. To paraphrase Scarborogh, Bush always wanted to win in Iraq, and he finally found a general who produced.

First, I don’t know if Bush deserves such high grades. Continue reading “ALL THAT ENDS WELL ISN’T WELL”