Saturday, May 31, 2008

Back to the Future: A Classic Matchup in Negative

(The following post is adapted (with revisions, elisions, and additions) from a comment I left at the world-famous Commonwealth & Commonwealth. Also, some historical context: as a youngster growing up in suburban Connecticut in the 80's, I always identified with (and rooted for) the fabulous Lakers of that era (Magic, Cooper, Worthy, Kareem, Byron Scott, Rambis, et al.), even though I lived in the heart of Celtics country, with all the kids at school wearing Larry Bird #33 jerseys, "Beat L.A." t-shirts, etc. The Celtics would even play occasional "home" games at the Hartford Civic Center. I could never bring myself to root for the Celtics (or any other Boston team, for that matter). (J.A. Adande at discusses his similar feelings in the 80s.) But this year, even though I now live in (and love) L.A., I am all for the Celtics against the Lakers. Some reasons why below.)

Let's discuss the finals matchup of the Lakers against the Celtics in 2008, twenty-one years after these teams last met in the finals. The Lakers will field Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pao Gasol, and some combination of Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Sasha Vujacic thrown in. The Celtics will have Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kendric Perkins, and some combination of Sam Cassell, James Posey, Glen Davis, and P.J. Brown. The Lakers are coached by Phil Jackson, and the Celtics are coached by Doc Rivers. As Adande notes in the ESPN article linked above, the Celtics are the only top team (and the only team in either Conference Finals) with an all-black starting five and a black coach.

We can make the laughable claim that race just doesn't matter in the league, and that NBA teams are built solely with regard to talent, with no eye to race and the marketing appeal of "white" players (see, e.g., the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks of yesteryear, the Boston Celtics of the 1980's, Wally Szczerbiak), etc., but I don't know how seriously we'd be taken. Actually, maybe the current majority on the Supreme Court would take us seriously and affirm us.

In a country flush with basketball talent, does it mean anything that NBA teams will scour the earth (Eastern Europe, Turkey, Baltic states, etc.) for quality "white"- looking players -- even if their names are unpronounceable to the target audience of upper-middle class white fans who buy tickets to the Staples Center and other NBA stadiums -- that young Johnny from Brentwood (or his dad the hedge fund manager) can identify with? Who's to say? I'll make a totally unrelated allusion here to the steely determination with which white American parents will find white or Asian babies in other countries to adopt despite the glut of African-American children in orphanages and foster care here in America. Does that matter? Is it relevant? Is Yao (or Sasha) somehow equivalent to Charlotte's adopted Chinese baby on Sex & the City? Again, who knows?

What's my point? Simply this: in a Lakers-Celtics match-up this year, the current Lakers are the 1980's Celtics, and the current Celtics are the Lakers of the 1980's. Unless we are making claims of "colorblindness," there is no denying that the current Celtics are "blacker" than the current Lakers, and vice-versa (viz., any team that features a player with a Grateful Dead dancing skeletons tattoo is by definition "whiter" than the current Celtics). Does that matter? Do we care? Should we? Maybe. For my part, I think in a league with an overwhelming majority of black players, there should be more black coaches and GMs. I think teams shouldn't shy away from fielding a starting five with no white players, even though team marketers may fear, as others have noted in the past, that white fans won't come out to see ten black guys playing basketball.

Moreover, these Lakers deserve to lose. Why? Because they are largely a team of hopeless pricks. First point: Sasha Vujacic shooting a meaningless three with no one guarding him as the clock ran out in the final game of the San Antonio series. Only one way to describe that: fucking punk move. Second point: as the truly great Jerry West, who represents all that is good about the historical Lakers, was presenting the team the Western Conference trophy, because he is not a dick, he made some gracious remarks about the San Antonio Spurs and what a great run they had had, what great champions they had been. What was the response from the Staples Center crowd? Booing. Tons of loud, derisive booing at the mention of the Spurs -- after the Lakers had just eliminated them from the playoffs.. These are not fans that deserve a championship. This is a crowd made up of narcissistic, screaming, full-body waxed entertainment executives wearing blinking blue phones in their ears, Cameron Diaz and friends pretending to watch the game, and Kobe apologists. I'm no Spurs fan, but that kind of despicable, shameless reaction is exactly what gives L.A. and its fans a bad rep across the country. Third point: Kobe is a black hole of self-absorption. He could give two fucks about his team or teammates. They're just fungible moving parts around him, either getting in his way, or properly framing him. It's all about Kobe, all the time. If you disagree, we can discuss his pre-season demands to be traded. The current Celtics stars, in contrast, seem downright human and humble. I want to see Paul Pierce finally make it, after ten years sticking with his team through ups and downs. I want to see Garnett win the big prize. Do we want to see Sasha Vujacic rewarded for his bullshit? Do we believe Kobe sees his team as "brothers"? Please.

In closing, I'll just note that the great, fantastic historical irony in all of this is that the current Celtics team was brought to you by Danny Ainge.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy Memorial Day Weekend: Hillary's New Meme

[A dramatic reading of the above interview with the Sioux Falls Argus Reader]

Argus Leader: "So, Senator Clinton, why are you staying in this race?"

Senator Clinton: "Oh, you know, it's just so ridiculous that people are trying to push me out. We all know that anything could happen, like, say, Obama could be, um, ASSASSINATED, just like Bobby Kennedy, so, you know, I'm sticking around and staying hopeful. Anything could happen, and I could still win, stepping over Obama's gunned down corpse to claim the nomination that is rightfully mine. And, heck, if that's what the American people want, that's what I will give them. I'm a fighter. America doesn't stop fighting, and neither do I. My campaign is really like the civil rights battles, like the emancipation of the slaves, like defeating the Nazis, like parting the Red Sea, and destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. So, I may not pull the trigger myself, you know, but if it takes a hail of bullets from assassins, that's what it takes. I'm in it to win it."

This is a new low for even HRC. These are the ugly death throes of the Clinton campaign. This is how you get attention when you have no money. This is how you force people to give you what you want. Politics done the Clinton way.

[Updated 5/24]: In a just world, this latest shameless, disgusting trial balloon from the Glorious Campaign for the Clinton Restoration should end HRC's campaign (and perhaps political career) once and for all. That won't happen, I bet. We'll hear more bullshit about Hillary "misspeaking" (whatever the fuck that may mean) because she's "sleep-deprived" from working so hard to win the nomination/tear down Obama and the Democrats' chances in the fall. We'll hear idiotic Clinton surrogates like Geraldine Ferraro carping, dare I say it, bitterly, about how misogynistic and unfair the press has been to Senator Clinton -- the Senator Clinton who has dismissed black voters, played on racial divisions, blackened and widened Obama in advertisements, and played, wherever possible, to the lowest common denominator in American politics. The Clintons and their delusional, bitter, selfish supporters can go to hell. If they really want to tear down Obama and the Democratic party this year, if they want to hand the Republicans a super-majority on the Supreme Court for the next thirty to forty years, if they want to allow the neocons and far right to commence another glorious war in the Middle East, this time against Iran, if they want to see our nation continue to tumble into the toilet in the eyes of the world, and in the markets of the world -- sure, you assholes can refuse to vote for Obama and pull the lever for McCain. But be well aware of the disaster your selfishness will wreak, and never again ask to be taken seriously or respected by anyone who believes in liberal and progressive values, loves this country, and believes that we must change the course we are on.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Welcome to the next phase of Campaign 2008.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Case of the Missing Taco Truck

Last week, my Gaullic friend introduced me to the Taco Zone taco truck on Alvarado in Echo Park, near the Vons parking lot. It was life-changingly good.

As most of you have surely heard, not far behind the cyclones in Myanmar and the earthquakes in China is the imminent taco truck crisis in Los Angeles. Even the New York Times is hip to the threat to this pillar of L.A. culture.

I am not that sympathetic to the restaurants that are pissed about the "unfair competition" presented by the taco trucks. The taco trucks offer cheap, delicious fare, and are rare spontaneous centers of gathering in L.A.

My Gaullic friend's father was in town from France. My friend thought it would be a good idea to take his dad, on his last night in town, to the Taco Zone taco truck. So we went by on Sunday night, around 7 p.m., to get tacos. The taco truck was not there. My friend and I began to curse the municipal powers that be in Los Angeles. Why were they denying us our taco truck? Damn them! Fucking pigs! We went to a trendy Vietnamese place in Silverlake instead (all East Siders will immediately know which restaurant this was).

Later, on our way home from Echo Park, around 9:30, Mrs. Octopus and I drove by the Taco Zone truck, at its regular location, with a motley crew of Los Angelenos munching on tacos on the sidewalk around it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chris Matthews Calls Bullshit

I almost felt bad for this right-wing blowhard moron with his sad-ass sideways mouth bullshit spewing. I've never seen a TV pundit absolutely demolish anyone the way Matthews does here.

Scratch beneath the surface of the Right's current talking points (e.g., we must fight "them" over "there" so "they" don't attack us "here", etc.) and find revealed a world of dizzying idiocy.

Hat tip to a friend way out in Santa Monica Venice for the clip!

The Trials of the Bus

An interesting essay in today's L.A. Times on riding the bus in Los Angeles. Some of the themes covered in the essay will be familiar to long-time readers of the blog.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The View from the Tank: Variety-Pak

Iron Man (2008)

Notice the Perrier in the glass fridge behind him. You will also notice Verizon phones, several Audi cars, and a bag of Burger King strategically placed throughout the film.

Generally, a decent superhero film. Although, the recent trailers I've seen for the second attempt at the Incredible Hulk movie reminded me that at some point, we've got to get past superhero movies; at some point Hollywood will exhaust Marvel's and DC Comics' stable of characters. What then? We can only wait and see.

I saw Iron Man when it first came out, and now I'm forgetting all the stuff I wanted to say about this. Basic problems, no good enemy. The build-up portions of the movie, where Tony Stark was working on the suit, getting the kinks out, etc., were entertaining, but the denouement came abruptly, and left me feeling a little short-changed. The filmmakers have tucked a little teaser at the end of the credits as if to apologize and to promise oh so much more a few years down the road.

Robert Downey was pretty good as Tony Stark. I wasn't annoyed by Gwyneth Paltrow as his perky assistant. It took me some time to get my head around Jeff Bridges as the bald, bearded, avuncular bad guy; he seemed to be really savoring playing the heavy here. I kept on expecting him to lapse into the Dude.

The one scene that stuck with me was the one where Iron Man lands in Afghanistan and confronts a bunch of bad Afghanis holding a bunch of good Afghanis hostage at gun-point. It's a tricky situation, and Iron Man's targeting system quickly pinpoints the bad Afghanis and shoots them dead with a barrage of super precise missiles, even as these bad guys are holding the good Afghanis, who escape unharmed -- no collateral damage! It's like wish fulfillment for the disaster we currently find ourselves in in Afghanistan and Iraq, trying to sort out the "bad" Arabs and Afghanis from the "good". Trying to sort out which Shiites are on our side, and which are on Iran's. If only we could pinpoint and destroy all of the baddies while leaving the good ones entirely unscathed! Even if that were a desirable objective, that's not even close to what we're doing, even with our own "smart" weapons.

I thought it was also interesting how the flying suit collapsed the distance -- spatially and emotionally -- between Tony Stark's dreamhouse in Malibu and the warzone of Afghanistan. At a time when it's all too obvious that most of us here in America hardly ever think about the two active wars we're currently engaged in and the untold pain and suffering those conflicts have cost (consider, in relation to this point, Charlie Rangel's reinstitution of the military draft proposal), it's interesting that Iron Man would take the excuse of the supersonic suit to collapse the distance between here and over there. Tony Stark, sitting in his basement in Malibu, feels guilty and responsible for the misery and suffering going on in Afghanistan. So what does he do? He puts on a suit and flies over there to blow shit up. What do the rest of us do? Go shopping, blog, and go watch Iron Man.

I won't say too much about the obligatory Islamofascist Threat depicted in this film. I thought it was noteworthy that the head terrorist dude seemed to want to take over only Asia. (And, as any seasoned Risk player knows, that is a foolish strategy.) In the end, he seemed less threatening than the Obadiah character played by Bridges. Is it heartening that the arch-villain here is the number 2, the Vice-President, of a weapons manufacturer? Maybe.

[Updated 5/18/08: So after posting this, I continued to think over the movie, and I've decided that, in its own Burger King-peddling, jabbering Arab darkies with bazookas way, Iron Man is sort of an anti-war movie. Tony Stark renounces his role in participating in the military-industrial complex, he takes up an independent project and refuses to keep the military in the loop, he flies over to Afghanistan to blow up Stark Enterprises weaponry, and his arch-enemy is a Vice-President merchant of death arms dealer selling to all sides and fomenting more aggression: Iron Man is at war against war. Hollywood is nothing if not adaptable. If the kids like Barack Obama so much and are bored or sick of Bush/Cheney and the war, why don't we just give them what they want? With Gwyneth Paltrow and some new Audis thrown in to boot?]

Also, ANNOUNCEMENT,, starting today, movies reviewed in The View from the Tank will receive ratings, on a scale of 1-5 tentacles. The rating system is as follows:
1 tentacle = watch only if forced to on a bus, or in the back of a Honda Odyssey.
2 tentacles = perhaps fast forward to good parts on your phone.
3 tentacles = Netflix, or perhaps worth watching in the theater, if you don't have to wait in line, or if your date is paying for you.
4 tentacles = go to theater to see, but your life will not change. You may, for a short while, go around telling everyone how awesome it was, but you will cut it out after about a week.
5 tentacles = AYBABTU, you are on the way to destruction, etc.

Iron Man receives 3 1/2 4 tentacles.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)

I can't actually offer a full review of this movie, as the sound cut out about half-way through in the theater we were watching this in. It was interesting though, as most of the audience stuck around for ten minutes or so to watch the movie in silence. The gestures and expressions in H&K are grotesque enough to make dialogue largely irrelevant anyway. If the action had been sped up just a bit, made a little jerkier, and if we had had an organ player and the occasional frame of peppy dialogue in an elongated, curlicued font, it would have been perfect.

I was disappointed with one point in particular. At some point, H&K arrive at a "bottomless party" one of their buddy's is throwing. All the women there are bottomless, as is their friend. Their friend urges H&K to drop their pants, and after some hesitation, they do, but the camera cuts up to their faces, and then their butts. We're left to imagine (even though we had been shown their friend's business). It was a disappointing decision for the following reason: I feel like it undermines part of the point of the H&K movies, i.e., Asian guys can play leads and not just be sidekicks, etc. The squeamishness about showing their stuff (heck, they could have used prosthetics, a la Boogie Nights, or maybe CGI?) seemed to be a hole that swallowed up all the other stuff about empowering Asians through new and and non-conventional roles, etc.

Okay, that all sounded more convincing to me a few weeks ago when I saw (half) the movie than it did just now when I wrote it. Who really cares, I guess? (But see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, below.) Also, a friend raised a good point: if they did show H&K's business, whose would have been bigger? Wouldn't that have raised issues? Would they have to depict them as exactly equal? Anyway, I am now officially bored with this line of thought. I will probably Netflix this movie to see the rest. We didn't even get to the part where Neal Patrick Harris shows up.

3 tentacles

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

I can't remember what the point of this movie was. Was the point to have some schlubby guy hook up with a number of super-attractive women way out of his league? Was the point to update the Woody Allen genre on a different coast, in a different decade, etc? What is it about these Judd Apatow movies that feels so hermetically sealed? Is it the whole sense that they are all filmed in the same Los Angeles neighborhoods, with people that grew up in Los Angeles. It was disappointing (and I guess, in retrospect, unsurprising) to me to learn that people like Seth Rogin and Jack Black, who play these uber-everyman types are in fact children of the Hollywood elite, having gone to school at super-expensive and elite L.A. privates schools like Crossroads, etc.

Anyway, the lead in Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel, ends up on screen naked a bunch of times, with some dangling full-frontal. It's gratuitous and good for a couple opening night giggles at the Vista, but, that's about it. (It did call to mind the glaring omission in H&K, see above.) I liked the English rock-star dude, played by Russell Brand, who seems to be having more fun than anyone else in this movie. Segel is good, in his dopey, sad, heartfelt way, but so what? A nice date movie?

I like muppets, too. I am sad now that muppets have been coopted by the Judd Apatow empire.

Why do these Judd Apatow films insist on tossing in sidekick ethnic types still? Message: Real people are white. Other people are amusing/cute.

3 tentacles

Is It Just Me, or Is the World Coming to an End?

The death toll from the China earthquake is currently projected to reach 50,000.

The toll of dead and missing from the Myanmar cyclone is now above 133,000 people and expected to continue rising.

The global food crisis continues unabated, pushing millions around the world into hunger and starvation.

Please consider helping in any way you can. See, Unicef; UN World Food Program; Int'l Red Cross.

Of course, we all the know the way things will inevitably end, at least locally, in our corner of this particular Galaxy.

The End Is Near

After the primary campaign we've seen, I thought I would never say this, but now it's true: I feel sorry for Hillary Clinton.
On the day Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was endorsed by the governor of North Carolina, a supporter gave her a three-foot-long balloon replica of herself, complete with blond hair, black pantsuit and wide pink smile, which Mrs. Clinton promptly took on her plane and laughingly showed off to reporters.

On Thursday, little more than two weeks later, the doll lay on the sofa by her seat on the plane, shriveled and deflated.

With her candidacy running out of time — and perhaps air — the Clinton campaign has taken on a distinctly subdued mood.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Canaries in the Coal Mine

Bad omens for Republicans. The other side of Hillary Clinton's analysis of the racial dynamics of Barack Obama's candidacy:
The result in Mississippi, and what Republicans said was a surge in African-American turnout, suggested that Mr. Obama might have the effect of putting into play Southern seats that were once solidly Republican, rather than dragging down Democratic candidates.

Next time, Taco Trucks.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

Turkey Hunting: Notes From Phonebanking Into Indiana for the Obama Campaign

During this undying Campaign 2008, I have gotten over my fear of cold-calling my fellow Americans. I have called Democratic Undecided Voters in Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut, California, and, most recently, Indiana.

Most of these phone calls end in anticlimax, with the phonebanker, eager to engage rural undecided voters, forced to leave a scripted message on an answering machine. But sometimes you do get to talk to people -- real American people. Here are some highlights from my most recent round of phone calls:

Around dinner time, a boy of about ten or eleven picked up the phone. I asked if John Doe was home. I heard him ask someone else, as dinner plate washing up sounds were being made, where his dad was. His brother said their dad was turkey hunting. So the boy told me that his dad was out turkey hunting. I clicked the "Not Available" button on my Obama Phonebanking Website Interface.

I reached an out of breath man at home around 4 pm Indiana time. When he heard I was a volunteer with the Obama campaign, he let out a derisive snort. He told me that "that man doesn't have enough intelligence to be president. Not yet. Not for many many years." He sort of slurred his words as he said this. I asked him if he knew whom he was voting for (I said "who", not "whom"). "No!," he said. "I don't like any of them. None of the three. McCain -- he's sleeping with, in bed with the Kennedys, which is about as low as you can go, in my book. And Hillary . . . ha! She's a joke." I said something like, "Okay," and he snorted again and said "Yeah, bye." I clicked the "not interested" button.

Many people seemed to be sick of the campaign and the calls from idealistic volunteers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston, all urging them how to think and vote. A couple people yelled at me and asked why "you people keep calling here. I've told you I'm not interested. You keep calling. Eight or nine times a day! Why, I wouldn't vote for that man if he were the only one running!" When this kind of thing happened, as it did a few times, I would say "Okay," and click the "Not Interested" button. Getting yelled at made me feel a little bad, but I tried to rally myself by thinking (1) the person doesn't know who I am, so how can I take it personally?, and (2) I don't even know whoever it is that's mad at me, and they're really far away in Indiana and I will never meet them, so why should I care? I imagine these are some of the mental health tactics call-center employees in India use after absorbing abuse from angry home computer users in Hoboken.

A few times, I got choked up when I got a real, live, undecided voter willing to talk and I departed from the script and started speaking from the heart about why I was for Obama: how he was right about the war, how he was inspiring all sorts of people like my college-age brother to get involved with the political process, how he is the Democrats' best chance to take back the White House and change the direction of our country, etc. Actually choked up. One of the guys I was talking to was sort of silenced and shocked, I think, hearing my voice break. I couldn't believe it as it was happening. I don't know what it was. My fervent hope that Obama can win and we can put our country back on the right path? My fear that Clinton and her politics of expediency, her blithe willingness to go along with an agenda of military aggression for political points, her Muslim and race-baiting might win? The raw emotional content of making a call on your own time, one private citizen to another, and telling them what you think?

The script that the Obama campaign provides gives the transaction some structure, allows callers to hide their fear and anxiety and awkwardness behind the rigid structures of an automated script on the web with prompts, but every now and then, like me, callers probably have to leave that script, and at that point, they are just speaking their own minds, giving their own reasons, one stranger to another, one citizen to another. At one point, I choked up while departing from the script while leaving a message. I couldn't believe that either. I don't know what is wrong with me.

One woman whom I spoke to around dinner time was really really upset with me, because she had received too many calls from the Obama campaign. Apparently, the surge in youthful enthusiasm for the Obama campaign, as expressed through unsolicited phone calls from out of state to her home phone, did not strike her as a remarkable example of democracy in action. She said she was "sick of it and, you know what, we're voting for Robin Williams. We're just going to write it in. We're voting for Robin Williams." See, Hollywood? This is your fucking fault. That's how it plays in Peoria. And, to stave off the comments from my faithful readers, I know Peoria is not in Indiana.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day

It's the Octopus's fourth May Day. Sad to say, the world has not improved in the three and a half years that Octopus Grigori has been in existence. To mark this May Day, I set out the basic elements of an ideal America as envisioned by Octopus Grigori:
  • a universal right to food for all

  • a universal right to health care

  • a universal right to housing

  • a universal right to quality public education through college

  • massive government investment in clean renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind, with a committment to achieve zero-growth on carbon emissions within ten years

  • the development of high-speed rail links up and down both coasts, and cross-country, to help reduce air and car travel

  • gas taxes, registration and parking fees, congestion fees, and traffic fines routed toward development and promotion of public transportation

  • obligatory foreign language study through high school, with an emphasis on Spanish

  • greater emphasis in public elementary schools on fitness and proper nutrition

  • public financing of political campaigns

  • tax benefits encouraging Americans who adopt to adopt American children

  • the dedication of a major segment of the armed forces to national and international disaster relief work, perhaps with a special division dedicated to such work

  • a minimum wage high enough to afford workers dignity and comfort

  • greater funding of public libraries, in connection with greater public internet access, and reading access to all library holdings via internet

  • an obligatory year of national service for all college graduates, either in the Peace Corps, domestic public schools, or the military.

  • a national holiday honoring Native Americans

  • a national holiday in remembrance of American slaves

  • a national holiday honoring workers on May 1
I may be adding to this list. (Updated 5/2/08)