In his first significant move as Team President, Phil Jackson fires Mike Woodson and the entire Knicks coaching staff after the team fails — again — to make the playoffs. (Woodson did lead them there last year, but it ended badly in the second round.) Yeah, unfortunately for Woodson, it did seem to be the time.
That reminds me: I’ve once again neglected to write up this year’s playoff bracket here. But, since the Knicks have been terribad all season, I haven’t been keeping up with the league much this year. Suffice to say, I hope we see an more interesting finals than Heat-Thunder or Heat-Spurs. And here’s to better luck in 2015, although I’m not terribly enthused with the idea of head coach Steve Kerr.
New planets have been discovered at a pretty decent clip of late. But, in a milestone, NASA’s Kepler Telescope finds in Kepler 186f, 500 light years away, “the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the ‘habitable zone’ — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet.” (“Earth-size” being the key word here — Kepler has previously found larger planets in the habitable zone.) To put it all down and start again, from the top to the bottom and then…
Kepler 186f or bust? After flirting with 400ppm last May, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reach 402 parts-per-million, the highest levels in at least 800,000 years. “When asked if the 400 ppm will be reached even earlier next year, Butler responded simply, “‘Yes. Every year going forward for a long time.’”
At Lawyers, Guns, & Money, Steven Attewell reminds us that Captain America has always been an FDR progressive. “[U]nlike other patriotic superheroes (like Superman, for example), Captain America is meant to represent the America of the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, and the Second Bill of Rights – a particular progressive ideal.”
Which reminds me, I was glad to see Cap so obviously take arms against the post-9/11 GWOT surveillance/preemption apparatus in Captain America: The Winter Soldier a few weeks ago. CA:TWS is top-tier Marvel, right next to The Avengers and Iron Man, and an even better film than the quality first installment. I particularly enjoyed the second-act twists involving Operation Paperclip and a UNIVAC, and if nothing else, the movie has furnished us with another very funny meme in “Hail Hydra.”
That being said, the third act slips off the rails some — state-of-the-art aircraft carriers with easily penetrable overrides, ho-hum — and the death count here, while not as egregious as in Man of Steel, still veers well into the absurd. When it comes time to face Ultron, how ’bout going easy with those grenades, Cap.
Upon the news that “Savage” Steve Holland is returning to filmmaking, this sad interview, in which Holland chronicles John Cusack’s bizarre reaction to Better Off Dead, has been making the rounds. Weird and frankly kinda depressing: Cusack is a guy who, for every High Fidelity or Being John Malkovich, has made a lot of crap over the years, and Better Off Dead is not at all a black mark on his resume.
After reviewing the tapes from the last decade — I’d say Bad Lieutenant and The Wicker Man remain underrated and indefensible respectively — Grantland‘s Alex Pappedamas makes a case for the much-maligned Nicolas Cage. “As Ethan Hawke, who costarred with Cage in 2005’s Lord of War, put it…’He’s the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art of acting; he’s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours.’”
In the NYRB, and in very related news, Paul Krugman sings the praises of Thomas Piketty’s new magnum opus, Capital in the 21st Century. “This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics…Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to.”
As a counterpoint of sorts, CEPR’s Dean Baker — neither a Pollyanna nor a conservative — argues Piketty has picked up some of Marx’s bad habits, and finds the book too deterministic and despairing by far:
“[T]here are serious grounds for challenging Piketty’s vision of the future…the book [suffers from a] lack of attentiveness to institutional detail…In the past, progressive change advanced by getting some segment of capitalists to side with progressives against retrograde sectors. In the current context this likely means getting large segments of the business community to beat up on financial capital…[T]he point is that capitalism is far more dynamic and flexible than the way Piketty presents it in this book. Given that we will likely be stuck with it long into the future, that is good news.”
Update: Galbraith weighs in. “[This] is a weighty book, replete with good information on the flows of income, transfers of wealth, and the distribution of financial resources in some of the world’s wealthiest countries…Yet he does not provide a very sound guide to policy. And despite its great ambitions, his book is not the accomplished work of high theory that its title, length, and reception (so far) suggest.”
In the wake of Michael Lewis’ publicity blitz for Flash Boys, and per his “let’s focus on solutions” argument to Piketty above, CEPR’s Dean Baker explains how to easily fix the problem of high-frequency trading. “[O]ne simple method…would virtually destroy the practice. A modest tax on financial transactions would make this sort of rapid trading unprofitable since it depends on extremely small margins.”
Proving yet again that we live in the Golden Age of fanboydom, there’s apparently movement afoot to make a film out of Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar(!) Dreadstar — one-part Blake’s 7, one-part Conan, two-parts Star Wars — was one of my favorite comics as a kid, and the only one I remember writing a letter to, explaining my (wrong) theory about who the traitor on the team was.)
To be honest, even now in the midst of the comic-film invasion, it’s hard to imagine a Dreadstar movie making any bank — Hopefully Oedi brings in the kitteh-minded folk. But I would’ve said the same about Guardians of the Galaxy, so what do I know.
“Letterman’s deconstructionist, at times borderline Cubist style made you laugh by mocking the very idea of a stranger needing to make you laugh…[his] sensibility had its roots in a post-World War II school of university-educated smartass comedy, which also birthed such institutions as Mad magazine, Monty Python, Second City, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, the 1970s meta-comedy movement that gave us Andy Kaufman and Albert Brooks, and pretty much every moment of Bill Murray’s early career.”
In very related news, Matt Zoller Seitz looks over Letterman’s long and storied late-night tenure. I don’t watch talk shows much anymore, but I’m just old enough to remember how formative Letterman’s NBC run was for the rest of late-night television back in the day. (It helped that I had a well-worn copy of Late Night with David Letterman: The Book as a kid, which re-printed classic gags like Dave’s Voyagers after-school special.)
Also, an excellent point made in the comments of Seitz’s article: “One thing I’ve always respected Dave for is the fact that he really loves music, and when the show is presenting a variety of lesser-known bands, he honestly seems to enjoy them. It kind of offsets the ‘grumpy curmudgeon’ vibe at which he excels, and it feels genuine and enthusiastic to me.” True, that: Take, for example, his many visits with Tom Waits, who’s given some amazing and indelible performances on Dave’s show over the years.
Buzzfeed offers up a ranking of every single Mitch Hedberg joke. RIP. “I find that a duck’s opinion of me is very much influenced over whether or not I have bread.”
Hrm…I could still see this one going either way. Next to the Dark Phoenix saga, Days of Future Past is probably the quintessential X-Men tale, but this seems overstuffed, and screenwriter Simon Kinberg’s work on X3 does not inspire confidence.
At Buzzfeed, Joseph Bernstein sings the praises of the highly deadly Dark Souls games. “Basically, the Souls formula is to put a very difficult boss at a very far distance from a checkpoint with many difficult enemies in between who come back to life every time you save or die. It’s devious.” He spends entirely too much of the piece fretting about gaming’s respectability, and I think he oversells the uniqueness of the Dark Souls franchise, but still worth a read nonetheless.
Until now? With help from the South Pole’s BICEP2 observatory, astrophysicists announce they have detected the first possible direct evidence of cosmic inflation after the Big Bang, in the form of “distortions in the cosmic microwave background light…Those distortions take the form of twisting of the light’s polarization created by gravitational disturbances from inflation.” “‘This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar,’ said co-leader Clem Pryke.”
Update: 5 Sigma, R of 0.2. WHAT? Also another good explanation here: “Punchline: other than finding life on other planets or directly detecting dark matter, I can’t think of any other plausible near-term astrophysical discovery more important than this one for improving our understanding of the universe.”
In the NYT, historian Timothy Egan notes Paul Ryan’s rhetorical debt to those who helped perpetrate the Great Hunger in Ireland. “You never hear Ryan make character judgments about generations of wealthy who live off their inheritance, or farmers who get paid not to grow anything…Dependency is all one-way. ‘The whole British argument in the famine was that the poor are poor because of a character defect,’ said Christine Kinealy, a professor of Irish studies and director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University. ‘It’s a dangerous, meanspirited and tired argument.’”
By way of Cryptonaut-in-Exile and LinkMachineGo, why Columbo should be the American Doctor Who. “[D]o not allow yourself to believe for even one second that there are not deeply classist, capitalist reasons Sherlock abounds in this day and age of ours, while Columbo does not. Sherlock is more often than not nowadays played as relatively young and good-looking, self-aggrandizing and mercurial and aristocratic, a troubled genius too good for the idiotic plebes that surround him; Columbo is blue-collar and humble.”
With an array of telescopes, astronomers are watching a gas cloud waft dangerously close to the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy “this month” (Of course, it already happened ages ago, and we’re just now being apprised of it.)
“The gas cloud…could either continue on its current orbit and slingshot around the black hole or it could run into surrounding gas and dust, which will make it lose speed and start sliding down toward the black hole. The first scenario could give scientists insight into the evolution of galaxies and better understand the history of our Milky Way’s own black hole. In the second case, they might get to watch the black hole consume a sizable dinner.” Say hi to Maximillian for me.
With Phil Jackson apparently on the verge of returning to NYC, Grantland‘s Zach Lowe breaks down how his hire as Team President could impact the Knickerbockers. “[T]he Knicks clear the Bargnani, Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire contracts off their books in the summer of 2015 and hungrily look to replenish. And this is where Jackson’s great value might lie — as a Pat Riley–style free-agency magnet.”
Even riding a five-game winning streak, this season looks lost, especially given that we don’t have a first-round pick. So I can’t really imagine Jackson having much of a short-term impact, especially since he’ll be spending most of his time in LA. Still, I guess it can’t hurt to have him on the payroll, and there’s something very Zen about finishing the journey where you started.
“You cannot f**k the future, sir. The future f**ks you.” Ten years after its premiere and seven years after the hoopleheads of HBO wrought its untimely demise, Matt Zoller Seitz pays homage to Deadwood, the original bookend to The Wire: Whereas The Wire dramatizes the interminable decay of a city’s municipal institutions, Deadwood showed why they were needed in the first place, especially when a Great Man of means and no small ambition, like George Randolph Hearst, comes a-knockin’.
Of course, Deadwood also remains one of the most highly quotable television hour-longs around. The one I tend to use most these days: “And you, Mr. Wolcott, I find you the most severe disappointment of all.” “Often to myself as well.”
You know the drill by this point. This is yet another of Anderson’s precious dollhouse-and-train-set movies, a Tintin comic brought to life, with all of the usual twee affectations and tics we have come to expect. (If you thought Wes Anderson movies were too white before, this flick is so white it has a ski chase.) And for whatever reason, this time the wall-to-wall bric-a-brac aesthetic just did not connect for me.
Part of the problem, I think, is that Hotel is bereft of what is usually one of the sharpest arrows in Anderson’s quiver: There are no artfully placed pop songs anywhere in this movie, which, now I think on it, is one of the ways his films in the past have been best able to escape their elaborate artifice to establish real emotion or human connection.
But the other, bigger issue here is tone [mild spoilers to follow]: The Grand Budapest Hotel felt to me like it’s heedlessly skating along the surface of tragedy. Even notwithstanding a dead cat joke which put me in a foul temper (too soon), there are stabs at black humor here — chopped off fingers, a decapitation, prison shivvings — which jar with the movie’s antic frivolity, and suggest black humor really isn’t Anderson’s forte. He’s fine at creating one particular, immediately identifiable as “Andersonian” tone, but apparently not so great at modulating it.
Along those lines, not that you can’t or shouldn’t make a comedy about the horrors of World War II, but I found something off-putting about, say, the cutesy alternate-universe Gestapo banners (“ZZ”) fluttering all through the hotel while our heroes are engaged in their latest madcap Keystone Kops chase. I’ve been short of sleep this week, so it may just be that I wasn’t in the mood for it. Still, for me, The Grand Budapest Hotel didn’t take.
They dug too greedily and too deep…In a small Brazilian diamond, scientists find some potential evidence of vast reservoirs of water deep below the Earth’s surface (otherwise known as R’lyeh, where dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.) The Abyss pic above notwithstanding, “geologist Hans Keppler told Agence France-Presse that scientists should be cautious in concluding so much from such a small sample, and adds that it is likely the water is trapped in molecular form in certain rocks.” (Via High/LowIndustrial.)
Stuart Reid checks in with former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold at his current job as John Kerry’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “‘I really wanted him here at the State Department because I saw him operate on the Foreign Relations Committee,’ Kerry told me. ‘He was the Senate’s expert, bar none, on Africa. He knows the region and the players.’”
Report: Only 20 Minutes Until Introverted Man Gets To Leave Party. “At press time, sources reported that Brewer’s plans for withdrawal were dangerously imperiled by a partygoer’s insistence that the whole group hit up a nearby bar.”
In another example of banksters taking notes on a criminal f**king conspiracy, the NY Post get their hands on Wells Fargo’s How-To-Manual for ginning up fraudulent foreclosure documents. “Foreclosure experts called these procedures shocking. ‘It’s an explosive document,’ said forensic accountant Jay Patterson.” Hey, can somebody go to jail now?
Update: Nope, doesn’t look like it. “Four years after President Obama promised to crack down on mortgage fraud, his administration has quietly made the crime its lowest priority and has closed hundreds of cases after little or no investigation, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said on Thursday.”