Archive for July, 2005

The Best [Expletive Deleted] Movie about a Single [Expletive Deleted] Joke You’ll Ever See

Posted on July 29th, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

It’s The Aristocrats, of course. An entire movie dedicated to one really nasty, vulgar, disgusting, scatological joke. Which begins with some rough approximation of the line, “So this guy walks into a talent agent’s office,” and ends with the line, “The Aristocrats!”, and inbetween is filled with every perverse and probably illegal act that you can think of. One thing’s for sure: comedians will never run out of terms for bodily fluids and orifices.

It is hilarious. And in a strange way, it is heartwarming. There is more genuine laughter in this movie—the people in it, not just the audience—than you’ll see in a lifetime of sitcoms. Much of the film is really about the tribe that is comedians…how they all know each other, they respect each other, and they all know this one joke, passed down through the ages. No matter how slick they get, how much money they make, they remember where they came from, and the beauty and art in the telling of one, simple but not so simple, joke. It’s fitting that the best telling of the joke is done by squeaky-clean Bob Saget, whom middle-America knows from the old sitcom “Full House” and, I think, “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” His telling of the joke is genius—there’s really no other word for it. He interrupts the telling to go out and “entertain people”—it looks like he’s got a stand-up gig to do—and you somehow feel that you’ve been privy to something much funnier than whatever he’s about to do for that other audience.

Then there’s Gilbert Gotfried, telling the joke to make people laugh and raise money weeks after 9/11….Kevin Pollack imitating Christopher Walken doing the joke…Drew Carey describing his little flourish at the end in a way that can only be described as sweet…Andy Richter telling the joke with his infant…and when the infant doesn’t laugh at the punchline, he pushes it a little farther, as if to say, “Oh, yeah? That didn’t get you laughing? All right, try this!”

The Aristocrats is about a joke, but it’s really a movie about a group of people who are very, very good at making the rest of us laugh, and the joy we all get when they say the things that we dare not.

Mr. Harper Says Goodbye

Posted on July 29th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Conrad Harper’s resignation gets play in the Boston Globe and New York Times. The Globe story is better, the Times story more important.

The Globe story is better because it adds new material to what the Crimson reported yesterday. Reporter Marcella Bombardieri finds a source who is “close to Harvard’s leadership” and “familiar with the discussions over Harper’s resignation” who provides these insights:

“…Harper was displeased with Summers’ criticism of celebrity professor Cornel West, which prompted West to leave Harvard. Harper was also upset, according to the source, both about Summers’ comments on women in January and his remarks about Native American history at a conference this past fall. In that speech, Summers contended that many more Native Americans were killed by disease than by Europeans, and spoke of the ‘vast majority of suffering’ as a ‘concidence that was a consequence’ of assimilation and ‘nobody’s plan.'”

The Times story is more important because it’s in the Times, which people all around the country read. When the Times says that a story’s important, then Harvard alums take it seriously.

Some thoughts of my own.

You’ll notice that Harper says “it’s up to Harvard” to release his resignation letter. That’s different than saying that it shouldn’t be made public. Harper clearly wants his grievances to come out. Fascinating; he must really be pissed. This move puts some pressure on Summers, et al, to release the letter—just as happened with the transcript of his remarks at the women-in-science conference.

The question of the Corporation and its composition now becomes so urgent for Harvard, it has risen to the level of a crisis. In four years, Larry Summers will have appointed five of the six Corporation members other than himself. The last holdout is Jamie Houghton, who is not young, and surely can’t enjoy having to stick up for Summers every time some new controversy arises.

(And yet, Houghton, the Harvard loyalist, does it. Notice his quote about Harper’s resignation: “I regret that he has chosen, in reflecting on recent matters at the university, to bring his service to a close.” This we can classify as spin. That clause—”in reflecting on recent matters at the university”—is a subtle dig, an attempt to suggest that this is the last fall-out from the women-in-science fiasco, and nothing more…when in fact Harper’s dissatisfaction with Summers dates back at least to the Cornel West matter in the fall of 2001. Houghton is playing damage control here…and in the process, he is damaging his own reputation and credibility. Sad for an old man nearing the end of his career to compromise himself for a younger man who probably doesn’t deserve it.)

(It is possible that if Houghton were really the Harvard loyalist, he would organize Larry Summer’s ouster…but then, he’s outnumbered, isn’t he?)

The question becomes, what if everyone wanted to fire Larry Summers…except the people who have the power to do it? Because Larry Summers appointed them….

Another One Down

Posted on July 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The number of black people employed by Harvard continues to shrink.

Wait. Stop. That was sensational. True, but sensational. Let me start over.

Conrad Harper, the only African-American member of the Harvard Corporation in its 355-year history, has just resigned from that body, telling the Harvard Crimson that he “could no longer support President Summers.”

The Corporation, you will recall, is Harvard’s seven-member (including President Summers) governing body. It meets about once a month, in secret, and is notoriously tight-lipped. It happens to be the body which chose Larry Summers to be president—although Harper was rumored to have preferred Lee Bollinger, then the president of the University of Michigan and now the president of Columbia.

Since Summers was chosen, four members of the Corporation have retired from it, and Summers has handpicked replacements who are, in background and interest and perspective, rather like him.

Harper has apparently never been a fan of Summers. He was said to be furious about Cornel West’s departure for Princeton, and very concerned that Skip Gates would also leave. This spring, after the faculty vote of no-confidence in Summers, Corporation senior fellow Jamie Houghton released a letter saying that the Corporation supported Summers. Some eyebrows were raised over the fact that Houghton was the only signatory; it was whispered that Harper had refused to sign.

The quote that he gave—he “could no longer support President Summers”—adds some circumstantial evidence to that theory.

While this event may seem like inside baseball to some, to the Harvard community, it’s a very big deal. I’m not aware of any precedent—not, at least, in Harvard’s modern history. (Larry Summers is creating all sorts of unfortunate precedents at Harvard: first president given a vote of no-confidence, first president to become a national object of controversy, etc.)

Conrad Harper is a smart, highly respected man, a member of the New York legal establishment, a member of the United States establishment. He’s no fire-breathing radical, and he wouldn’t take this step lightly. He clearly wants it to have some impact.

This should be interesting…..

Thoughts on "Over There"

Posted on July 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Anyone else watch the premiere of Steven Bochco’s new FX show, “Over There,” about the war in Iraq? It’s been controversial, as the idea of putting on a dramatized tv series about a war that’s still in progress makes some people (myself included) uneasy.

My uneasiness is not completely quelled by watching last night’s episode, in which a group of rookie soldiers tries not to get killed during its first week in Iraq. There are some awkwardly Hollywood moments in the episode, such as when the African-American recruit named Angel composes a song that just happens to be the show’s theme song. (And not a particularly good one, either—it sounds like a beer ad.)

But still, there were moments when we saw a side of the war that we don’t see on the nightly news. At one point, a female soldier is nearly shot when she’s trying to take a nighttime crap in the desert. Not pretty, but I’m sure that this is how many of the deaths in Iraq come—in the middle of the most mundane acts, the combination of the banal and the horrific.

At episode’s end, a US truck drives over a roadside bomb, and a soldier has his leg nearly blown off; another soldier tries to hold it together as the wounded man is lifted onto a stretcher. The agonized cries of the wounded man are truly haunting.

Who knows? In a culture where so many prefer reality tv to reality, and where the Bush administration won’t allow photographers to take pictures of coffins coming home from Iraq, maybe it will take a fictional TV series for people to start realizing just how terrible war is—especially when it’s based on lies.

That Would Be Bad

Posted on July 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Arianna Huffington presents a creepily plausible scenario about Judith Miller’s role in “Plamegate,” as the Huffington Post likes to call it.

Short version: Miller was so pro-war that she’s the one who told Scooter Libby and Karl Rove of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity, in order to discredit ambassador Joe Wilson, Plame’s husband, who was writing anti-war editorials in the pages of Miller’s own newspaper…..

Which, if true, would make me recant all the nice things I’ve previously said about Judith Miller’s principled stand on sourcing. More important, it would just be appalling—terrible for journalism, terrible for the Times.

Is it possible? I think so. I once saw Judith Miller speak about the war in Iraq, and was impressed by her passionate hatred of Saddam Hussein’s regime—this was a subject about which she clearly had no objectivity. Of course, you can understand why. But her cold fury did seem to have affected her ability to report on the war without sounding boosterish. At one point, describing her status as an embedded correspondent with a group of soldiers, she described American soldiers in Iraq using the first person plural….

So John Bolton, Ari Fleischer, and Karl Rove Are On a Plane…

Posted on July 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Now Senate Democrats are wondering whether John Bolton lied when he vowed that he was not interviewed by the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame matter.

Let’s consider the group of people now of interest in the CIA agent’s outing: John Bolton, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby…and let’s not forget Bob Novak, the journalist who started it all.

Strikes me that, as you might expect from a nasty piece of work, this is a nasty group of people. It says something about President Bush that, although he can come across as genial and likeable, he surrounds himself with a bunch of hitmen, and their court scribe, Bob Novak….

No More Echinachea

Posted on July 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Like clockwork, every winter I get laid out with a nasty cold, and like clockwork, all my earthy, Brooklyn-based friends inform me that, although I should have taken echinacea the second I felt a twinge of illness coming on, it’s not too late. I know they mean well, but it’s kind of annoying. So imagine my delight—immature, I know, but still delight—to discover that I haven’t missed a thing, and echinacea is nothing more than snake oil….

The Further Adventures of Journalism’s Most Self-Important Man

Posted on July 28th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

When Eric Alterman needed a new assistant, he sent around the following e-mail:

“Seconds ago, I received two weeks’ notice from my senior research assistant [RB: Does this mean that Alterman also has a junior research assistant? Or is he just being pretentious?] who works somewhere between half and full time for me, doing mostly historical research for my books, but also a bit of clerical work and helps me a bit with planning my teaching, writing and speaking schedules. I’d really like to have someone in place by the time he’s gone. If you are interested, please apply ASAP to [], but do not send me your resume as an attachment. I won’t open it. Sorry I can only reply to those emails I want to pursue. If you don’t hear from me, it’s a “no.” Please apply only if:

a) You have at least a master’s degree in American history or a closely related field like American studies, or, you have at least two years experience as historical researcher or editor or as a particularly impressive intellectually-oriented journalist on say, a Matt Yglesias or SARAH WILDMAN level (which means I should already be acquainted with your work).

b) You already live, or will be living, in or around New York City two weeks from today.

c) You can make a commitment to work 20-40 hours a week at least until Labor Day

d) You are independent, efficient, grown-up, well-organized, and discrete [sic].”

What a great job! So good, you don’t even have to mention pay. Hard to believe the other guy quit….

The School of Hard Knocks

Posted on July 27th, 2005 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Red Sox pitcher Matt Clement got hit in the head by a line drive last night. He was hit so hard, the ball bounced off his head all the way into left field, where it was played by left fielder Manny Ramirez.

The picture alone of this incident is disturbing…..

I don’t want Clement, one of the Sox’s pleasant surprises this season, to win any more games, but not for this reason. Here’s hoping that he’s okay.

A Reminder of Who We’re Dealing With

Posted on July 27th, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Two teenage boys, one 18 and one younger, have been executed in Iran because they allegedly had sex with each other. It’s big news all around the world…except here. Would it be too much for the White House to voice its displeasure?