Bedwetters vs. Thumbsuckers

McCain betFrom NY Times mag profile of McCain by Mark Leibovich:

He in­vites me to an ac­tual arena that night: in Glen­dale, Ariz., where the Cal­gary Flames of the N.H.L. were in town to play the Phoenix Coy­otes. This is not the most fa­bled ri­valry in sports, but Mc­Cain says he will watch any sport­ing event (“I’d pay to see the Bed­wet­ters play the Thumb­suck­ers”). He is a big fan of the Coy­otes. There are sup­pos­edly oth­er Phoenix Coyote fans, too, though not many of them come to home games. Mc­Cain’s 25-year-old son, Jim­my, dri­ves us to the arena. Cindy Mc­Cain is in the front seat, and I’m in back with the sen­a­tor, who is des­per­ate to hear the pregame show on the ra­dio. Si­lence makes him ner­vous. He keeps bark­ing out call num­bers to Cindy, but no luck. He checks the Coy­otes app to find in­for­ma­tion about the show (Mc­Cain talks in­ces­sant­ly about his new Coy­otes app), and Cindy con­tin­ues to hunt around the ra­dio di­al, ex­cept when she is brac­ing her­self for a crash, which hap­pens on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions dur­ing Jim­my’s gun-and-slam death ride through the greater Phoenix sprawl. When we ar­rive, mirac­u­lous­ly with­out in­ci­dent, the Mc­Cains en­gage in a spir­ited de­bate about which park­ing lot to use. Jim­my takes a few wrong turns; Cindy tells him to slow down and asks why he’s go­ing this way or that way, un­til fi­nally Jim­my snaps and says, “Mom, you make it seem like which park­ing-lot en­trance is the most im­por­tant thing in the world!” In fact, it’s not, he tells her. “I had a woman al­most OD in front of me at a strip club this af­ter­noon. Now that’s some­thing se­ri­ous.”

“Why were you in a strip club this af­ter­noon?” Cindy asks. Jim­my says he was mak­ing a de­liv­ery for the fam­ily beer dis­trib­u­tor­ship. The woman will be fine, Jim­my re­ports. His fa­ther chuck­les in the back.

The arena is ringed with palm trees pop­ping out of the con­crete and named for a com­pa­ny I’ve nev­er heard of. Twen­ty min­utes be­fore face-off, the con­course is as placid as Penn Sta­tion on a Sun­day morn­ing. The ce­leb­rity politi­cian walks a few feet ahead of the rest of us. He car­ries him­self with a full and right­ful ex­pec­ta­tion that peo­ple will rec­og­nize him, and he greets any­one that meets his glance. “Thank you for your serv­ice, sen­a­tor,” many say. He gets this a lot, he says, “usu­ally right be­fore they un­load on me.”

In the el­e­va­tor, we meet a big, hand­some guy in a suit who looks like a hock­ey player and, sure enough, turns out to be an in­ac­tive mem­ber of the Flames. Mc­Cain asks him where he’s from. Min­neso­ta. “Where are you from?” he asks Mc­Cain. “Oh, I’m sort of from all over,” Mc­Cain tells him. When the player gets off the el­e­va­tor and I men­tion to Mc­Cain that the guy had no idea who he was, the sen­a­tor seems slight­ly amused and even a bit dis­ori­ent­ed. “It hap­pens some­times,” he says.

The seats are about half filled, and the arena is quiet enough dur­ing the game to hear the play­ers shout­ing to each oth­er. Fans are pe­ri­od­i­cal­ly in­struct­ed to howl like Coy­otes, which Mc­Cain does in the same way he greets Wolf Blitzer. The home-team Bed­wet­ters beat the vis­it­ing Thumb­suck­ers 4-2, and Mc­Cain heads home hap­py, ex­cept when Cindy can’t find the postgame show on the ra­dio, and Jim­my is near­ly killing us again.

Not sure what the point of this profile is except that McCain loves life?  Certainly entertaining anyway.  This was interesting:

In his book about five Na­val Acad­emy grad­u­ates, “The Nightin­gale’s Song,”* the jour­nal­ist Robert Tim­berg de­scribed what Mc­Cain looked like af­ter two months of im­pris­on­ment — weigh­ing less than 100 pounds, with col­lapsed cheeks and at­ro­phied limbs. “His eyes, I’ll nev­er for­get,” Mc­Cain’s cell­mate, Bud Day, told Tim­berg. “They were bug-eyed like you see in those pic­tures from the Jew­ish con­cen­tra­tion camps. His eyes were re­al popeyed like that.”

Day, a dec­o­rated fight­er pi­lot, died in Ju­ly at age 88. “He was the bravest man I ever knew,” Mc­Cain said af­ter his death. He and Day had no­ta­ble dis­agree­ments over the years: Day was part of the Swift Boat Vet­er­ans for Truth, who cam­paigned against John Ker­ry in the 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Mc­Cain con­demned the group for their at­tacks against Ker­ry. “Like a lot of he­roes, ev­ery­thing was black and white with Bud,” he told me. “That’s how you sur­vive.”

In cap­tiv­i­ty, Mc­Cain said many of his fel­low P.O.W.s would search for omens that their re­lease was im­mi­nent. “Peo­ple would say, ‘Hey, there’s a car­rot in my soup, so that must mean we’re go­ing home,’ ” he said. “Bud used to say to them: ‘Right, guys. We’ll be go­ing home one day, but it sure as hell won’t be be­cause we found a car­rot in the damn soup.’

* highly recommended.

The human desire to give a shit is not defeatable.

from Craig Mazin and John August’s podcast (Mike is guest Mike Birbiglia):

Craig: You’ve lost your defenses and you’re expecting to laugh again. So, nobody sees it coming, you know? I remember talking to David Zucker and Jerry Zucker about the first time they screened the movie Airplane! for a test audience. And in their minds everything was jokes. They were just obsessed with how the jokes would play. And they were just thrown on their heels when at the end of the movie the plan finally lands and the audience bursts into applause.

Mike: Oh, that’s amazing.

Craig: Because they cared that the plane would land. You know? And they just thought, “It doesn’t matter. We’ve told them in every possible way this is not a real plane.” It is to them. It matters. And so the human desire to give a shit is not defeatable.

Saving Mr. Banks

* Man, I thought this was a deeply, deeply interesting movie.

* Everybody in the movie does a great job.  It is a well-made movie, the story’s really artfully told.  I’s not like I remember Mary Poppins super well, but they lay that stuff in just right.  I straight up enjoyed this movie.

* But: part of what I liked about it was the thrilling feeling that it was so unbelievably shameless.  John Lee Hancock directed this movie, he directed The Blind Side, which was perfectly, amazingly shameless.  Or was it not that shameless, is the world really like this and I’m just jaded/cynical and I need movies like this to bring me back to the fullness of humanity??

* What’s at the heart of this movie?  What is this movie saying about cynicism, honesty, manipulation, entertainment? There’s Paul Giamatti talking about his handicapped daughter?  Is this a play on being a shamelessly cornball movie?  Does it matter?  Isn’t the argument of this movie that putting something like that into your movie for the purpose of bending your emotions and giving you hope is ok?  Is the moral that if you let down your cynicism for one second you’ll find yourself moved, and that feeling, that person, is your truer, better self?  But how can the ends of that message come across if the means is truly shameless manipulation?

* How much is it on me, the audience,  to agree to not be cynical, and how much is it on them, the storytellers, to not then manipulate me?  What’s the deal we make when we suspend disbelief and what counts as a betrayal of that deal?

* At one point Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) looks at P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) but it’s shot so he’s nearly looking to camera, to the audience.  “Trust me,” he says.  What are we to make of a movie made by Disney (the company) where the story of the movie is Disney (the man) making the case for manipulative entertainment to a reluctant audience?  Where there’s a scene of a cold, repressed  woman reduced to tears in a movie theater by the power of a movie?

* Saving Mr. Banks exists at some  intersection where cynicism and idealism cross over each other again.  If Disney makes a movie that runs right at some of the issues that make cynics so knee-jerk scornful of “Disney,” isn’t that kind of interesting and cool?  Even if (of course) the ultimate product is in the end pretty pro-Disney?  Or is it just nth level propaganda?  Does it matter, if it’s fun and moving to watch?

* now look I’m not comparing anyone to Nazis or anything: but a thing that has stuck with me since I learned it is the idea that Goebbels was continually stunned and amazed at how much better and more effective the American “propaganda” movies that were coming out of a non-state directed Hollywood were than the products of Germany’s completely controlled machine, big example being Mrs. Miniver.

* I don’t want to deal with the idea of possible sexism in Saving Mr. Banks, but I mean the story of this movie is an uptight old woman is seduced by a powerful and calming man and when she finally submits herself to him after a lengthy courtship she experiences an extreme emotional release (right?)

* MORE!: the moviemakers monkeyed with the history at least a little bit, but how much?  This article, “Saving Mr. Banks Is A Corporate, Borderline Sexist Spoonful of Lies” from LA Weekly (which I only learned about when the co-screenwriter got in a Twitter spat with the reviewer) would suggest quite a bit.  This New Yorker article from 2005, though, suggests it’s hard to know, that maybe P. L. Travers played it a lot of different ways depending on who she was talking to.  (that article, btw, written by Caitlin Flanagan, whose thoughts on nanny issues are always good to stir up the Internet).

How much does this matter?  Isn’t part of the argument of this movie something about “the goal of entertaining and creating hope through entertainment can supersede other concerns,” or something?  I dunno.  Surely the people who made this movie looked into it more than your average reviewer and made their own set of ethical choices about how faithful they had to be to reality.  If the manipulation of reality for narrative makes us queasy why and at what point does it make us queasy?  How far are you allowed to go on these kinds of things?

I mean, a movie is a lie, that’s not really Walt Disney and it’s not really 1961.  How much are you allowed to lie, though?  I mean we all agree some accuracy is important, see Wikipedia:

To accurately convey Walt Disney’s Midwestern dialect, Tom Hanks listened to archival recordings of Disney in his car and practised the voice while reading newspapers.[37][38] Hanks also grew his own mustache for the role, which underwent heavy scrutiny—with the filmmakers going so far as to matching the same dimensions as Disney’s.[39][40]

Do we like hearing these things because it suggests the moviemakers are showing respect for the truth, and respect for us the audience by doing this work?  Does it matter only when the real-life person is as famous/sacred at Walt Disney?  Are critics like Amy Nicholson in LA Weekly mad the way we’re mad when we catch someone lying to us?  Because it suggests the liar doesn’t respect us and thinks they can get away with it?

* An Australian person once claimed to me that it’s a well-known thing among Australians that Australians are known to get emotional when they come to Los Angeles.  The person who claimed this to me said it was a combination of the flora, eucalypts and stuff, reminding them of home, plus Los Angeles is often the last stop on a long trip and they’re tired and on their way home.  An odd claim maybe but then it was spontaneously confirmed to me by a whole other Australian.  Saving Mr. Banks hints at this theme a little bit, I guess, but even that gets weirder when you learn the Australian scenes were shot in California.  

* Real-life P. L. Travers is pretty interesting.  Here’s some teasers from her Paris Review interview:


Does Mary Poppins’s teaching—if one can call it that—resemble that of Christ in his parables?


My Zen master, because I’ve studied Zen for a long time, told me that every one (and all the stories weren’t written then) of the Mary Poppins stories is in essence a Zen story. And someone else, who is a bit of a Don Juan, told me that every one of the stories is a moment of tremendous sexual passion, because it begins with such tension and then it is reconciled and resolved in a way that is gloriously sensual.

or here she is talking about her time with the Navajo:

I’d never been out West and I went to stay on the Navajo reservation at Administration House, which is at Window Rock beyond Gallup…

One day the head of Administration House asked me if I would give a talk to the Indians. And I said, “How could I talk to them, these ancient people? It is they who could tell me things.” He said, “Try.” So they came into what I suppose was a clubhouse, a big place with a stage, and I stood on the stage and the place was full of Indians. I told them about England, because she was at war then, and all that was happening. I said that for me England was the place “Where the Sun Rises” because, you see, England is east of where I was. I said, “Over large water.” And I told them about the children who were being evacuated from the cities and some of the experiences of the children. I put it as mythologically as I could, just very simple sayings.

At the end there was dead silence. I turned to the man who had introduced me and said, “I’m sorry. I failed, I haven’t got across.” And he said, “You wait. You don’t know them as well as I do.” And every Indian in that big hall came up and took me silently by the hand, one after another. That was their way of expressing feeling with me.

I never knew such depths of silence, internally and externally, as I experienced in the Navajo desert. One night I was taken at full moon away into the desert where they were having a meeting before they had their dancing. There were crowds of Indians there, about two thousand under the moon. And before the proceedings began there was no sound in the desert amongst those people except the occasional cry of a baby or the rattle of a horse’s harness or the crackling of fire under a pot—those natural sounds that really don’t take anything from the silence.

They waited it seemed to me hours before the first man got up to speak. Naturally, I didn’t understand what they were saying. But I listened to the speeches and I enjoyed the silences all night long. And when the night was far spent, they began to dance. Not in the usual dances of the corn dance; they had their ordinary clothes on and were dancing two-and-two, going around and around a fire, a man and a woman. And I was told that if you’re asked to dance by a man and you don’t want to dance, you give him a silver coin. So one Indian did come up, but I went with him. I couldn’t do the dance, even though it wasn’t a very intricate dance; it was more a little short step round and round, just these two people together. So we two strangers danced around the fire. It was very moving to me. And we came back to the House in the early morning.

* Oh!  What about the part in the movie where P. L. Travers’ dad says of her poetry “it’s not exactly Yeats, is it?”  Well real-life P.L. grew up to know Yeats.  Is that anything? I dunno, probably not.

* What if this is a story about a pretty good con artist/manipulator (Travers) going up against the best who ever lived (Disney), and when she realizes how meagre her gifts are compared to his she becomes spiteful and petulant (Salieri-in-Amadeus style)?

* They mention in the movie that Robert Sherman got shot.  Apparently he was in on the liberation of Dachau.  A Jewish guy liberates a death camp and comes home and writes the cheeriest songs anyone’s ever heard?  I mean, that’s a whole other interesting movie.

P. L. Travers as a young actress:

We Spent It All On Kites


Ann Summa for The New York Times

Haven’t read The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner yet despite strong recs from Pittsburgh office and elsewhere.

How about this, from this NY Mag profile?

In Eugene, Oregon, where the Kushners lived in a painted school bus like Ken Kesey’s, Rachel walked to her “totally hippie preschool” unaccompanied. Hard at work on their Ph.D.’s, the Kushners often left her and her brother at home alone, once for days with no sitter. “They left money in a jar,” Kushner says. “We spent it all on kites, and then we didn’t have any money to buy food.”


Eugene “was a sweet little town,” Kushner says now, “but it was the seventies. I feel like there was a certain kind of evil lurking around the edges.” She and Smith are raising their own 6-year-old son very differently. “We actually take him to school and make his lunch. We dress him in clothes.


Counting Puffins

from The Big Picture.


Question ONE:

* Is 

as wonderful as


Look, I don’t want to turn this into another Astor Place riots, but I think there’s a healthy American vs. UK rivalry to start here.

Question 2:

The biggest Dylan fan I know says: “every time Dylan does something, ten years later it’s revealed to be genius.”  Is the same true of the Coen Bros?

Even if I didn’t really like one of their movies, they are so good I assume that I’m wrong.  I liked this one though, even though it was so so sad.

Listen to Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Oscar Isaac sing 500 Miles.   Best I can tell they all did their own singing.

Question 3:

Who wrote “500 Miles”?

This song is usually attributed to Hedy West, who put together  “fragments of a melody she had heard her uncle sing to her back in Georgia.”

Her father, Don West, was a southern poet and coal mine labor organizer in the 1930s; his bitter experiences included seeing a close friend machine-gunned on the street by company goons in the presence of a young daughter.

Question 4:

What is the meaning of this movie?

I’ll tell you one message I felt strongly:  “pursuing great art requires great sacrifice.  It’s tragic if the art falls short.  You don’t get the sacrifice back.  Maybe the sacrifice itself is still noble but it’s an awfully lonesome road.”

Also this could be seen as a movie about a man being punished by God for abandoning a cat.

This was  a movie where the hero literally does NOT save the cat.

Question 5:

The two best units of art that emerged from Jewish Minnesota have to be the Coen Brothers and Bob Dylan, right?  Both deeply fascinated with “the old, weird, America.”  Is there anything to that?

Question 6: 

What would Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald make of this movie?

I saw it just around the corner from where F. Scott Fitzgerald died.

Question 7:

Will the movie revive interest in The Clancy Brothers?

Question 8:

Why is Justin Timberlake so good at playing lame characters?

Is it because he has moved in his life so far beyond the idea of coolness?

Consider this testimonial by Joe Jonas.  Timberlake, who at least in his choices appears very smart, was at an equivalent point of fame and self-awareness  TEN YEARS AGO.

Question 9:

How the fuck is some guy in a magazine or a newspaper supposed to review a movie like this??  Obviously everything you’d think of the Coen Brothers already thought of times 1000!!

That’s what I thought as I walked out.

Sometimes Anthony Lane cheeses me off but his review of this movie helped me think about it.

(Some photo sources.  Are photos of movie stars on the Internet just public property we can repost?  I dunno, but 85% of all HelyTimes profits goes directly to charity)

Eulogy for Madiba

Thursday I went to meet somebody for lunch at a restaurant here in Los Angeles.  I got there a little early, it was a sunny day, and this restaurant has a very pleasant outdoor bar.  So I sat down at the bar and ordered an iced tea.

The bartender was a friendly dude.  We joked around a little.  When he came back with my iced tea I was staring at my phone.

“Would you like to hear some world news?”  I said.

“Fire away.”

“Well, Nelson Mandela died.”

He thought about this.

Hasta luego, brother,” the bartender said.

He went back to work for a bit.

I kept reading my phone.  A little while later he came back.

“What else are they saying about Mandela?”

“Well, it says here he was 95.”

“Huh,” said the bartender.  “So he kicked it for a long time.

(photo: “Long lines of people outside the polling station in the black township of Soweto, a southwest suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, on April 27, 1994. Photograph by Denis Farrell/AP.”)