Saturday, July 26, 2008

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen (w/ Tom Morello) - The Ghost of Tom Joad (Live)

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Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Magic (Live)

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Next week's Meadowlands run may be the Boss' last at Giants Stadium

by Jay Lustig
The Newark Star-Ledger
Saturday July 26, 2008, 5:08 PM

Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played at Hartford Civic Center, Conn., October.

Few people know what it's like to be 57 and play a stadium rock show. Max Weinberg does. And he can tell you, it's not easy.

"It is athletic, it is physical," said the drummer. "At points in the show, particularly in the first half-hour or 40 minutes, every muscle in your body is screaming."

Sunday, Monday and Thursday, Weinberg -- a member of New Jersey's leading rock group, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band -- will perform at the state's largest concert venue, Giants Stadium.

The band, which has presented some of the hardest-driving shows of its career on its 2007-08 "Magic Tour," has played at the stadium 16 times, with six shows in 1985, at the height of "Born in the U.S.A."-fueled Brucemania, and 10 in 2003.

The upcoming stand will be epic rock-'n'-roll. But it also raises a question: Will these be Springsteen's last Giants Stadium shows?

The stadium is scheduled to be closed and demolished in 2010, to make way for a new stadium. But it's not just that.

Springsteen is still a stadium-level attraction in Europe: He just completed a successful stadium tour there. But in the States, he mostly plays arenas. On the leg of his tour that begins tonight and ends Aug. 30, in Milwaukee, he has booked only one other Giants Stadium-sized venue: Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Aug. 2.

The Giants Stadium concerts, with a capacity of 55,000 per night, did not sell out immediately -- a rarity for home-state Springsteen shows -- and there may be empty seats at some of them.

That doesn't mean he can't play a Jersey stadium again. But he may think twice about it.


Springsteen, who declined, through a representative, to be interviewed for this article, is 58. The oldest E Streeter, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, is 66.

In April, keyboardist Danny Federici became the first E Street Band member to die, succumbing to cancer at the age of 58.

"It's been brutal," said guitarist Nils Lofgren, 57. "I've stood in front of Danny and run up on his riser for the last 24 years, and most of the guys go back a lot further than that."

Lofgren praised Federici's replacement, Charles Giordano, as did Clemons, who added, "It's like losing a limb and having to replace it with something else. It works, but it's not what it was."

When Springsteen was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in a May 4 ceremony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, he didn't mention Federici by name. But it was impossible not to think of him as Springsteen meditated on the passing of time.

"You get a little older," he said, "and when one of those crisp fall days come along in September and October, my friends and I slip into the cool water of the Atlantic Ocean. We take note that there are a few less of us as each year passes."

Maybe Springsteen was thinking also of Terry Magovern, his longtime friend and associate, who died in July 2007. Springsteen wrote a song about him for his funeral, and included it as a bonus track on his 2007 "Magic" album. "All I know's I woke up this morning and something big was gone," Springsteen sang.

Bill Chinnock and Big Danny Gallagher, Springsteen contemporaries who helped put Asbury Park on the rock-'n'-roll map, died last year, too. And Madam Marie, the boardwalk fortuneteller immortalized by Springsteen in his song, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," passed away in June, the same month that Springsteen, still in Europe, sang via satellite at the memorial service for his friend and fan, broadcaster Tim Russert.

There are many references to death on "Magic" -- they are mostly of a political nature, reflecting Springsteen's horror at the war in Iraq. But the current tour, which has included dark "Magic" songs such as "Last to Die" and "Long Walk Home" on a nightly basis, has not been a mournful affair.

And judging by the set lists of the recent European shows, it's getting giddier by the minute, with covers of high-energy, crowd-pleasing songs such as "Twist and Shout," "The Detroit Medley," "Seven Nights To Rock" and "Summertime Blues," as well as lots of Springsteen-written rarities.

"The set lists are going nuts -- 'Drive All Night' being the big one, for me. That came out for the first time since the (1980-81) River Tour," said Christopher Phillips, who edits and publishes the fanzine, Backstreets. "For the most part, I prefer to see him in smaller venues. But when he gets to the stadiums, he tends to bring out covers, and those bigger songs that will really reach to the rafters. So to me that's one of the upsides of the stadium shows."

Some of the rarities have been inspired by signs that audience members hold up. Springsteen started honoring requests made in the manner in March and has continued doing so since.

British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who wrote about his extreme Springsteen fandom in his 2007 memoir, "Greetings From Bury Park," said Springsteen's willingness to take requests and shake up his set lists could mean he's thinking this will be his last time around, in stadiums.

"The spectacle of seeing him singing 'Hungry Heart' in front of 60,000 people ... I don't know when that's going to happen again," said Manzoor. "And I kind of get the feeling that he knows that himself. That probably explains why the set lists have been so loose, and this idea of taking songs from placards in the audience.

"Just before the summer holidays break up, in school, you go a little bit crazy -- I think there's a little bit of that, maybe."


It's impossible to say when the E Street Band will work together again. Springsteen's previous tour was with his newly formed folk-roots ensemble, The Seeger Sessions Band. Before that, he toured solo.

He may be contemplating more non-E Street projects. And one band member, Weinberg, may be compromised by another commitment. He leads the house band on the television show "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and has taken time off from that job to back Springsteen in recent years. But he may not be able to continue juggling in this manner when O'Brien's show moves from New York to California. O'Brien replaces Jay Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" next summer.

"I make no assumptions about the future," said Weinberg, adding that he has found ways to balance his two jobs in the past and can do so again. He doesn't see being in California as a deal-breaker necessarily, as other E Street members are scattered all around the country (California, Arizona, Montana and Florida).

Lofgren and Clemons both said they have no interest in trying to predict the band's future.

"This is not a farewell tour in any sense of the imagination," said Lofgren. "Nobody's spoken a word about it having any kind of significance at that level."

"I never think beyond right now," said Clemons. "I'm concentrating on what we're doing now. And what happens in the future happens in the future."

Springsteen has never publicly suggested that he has given any thought to putting an end to any aspect of his career. And he probably never will.

"There ain't gonna be any farewell tour," he told Backstreets in August 2007. "That's the only thing I know for sure. ... You're only gonna know that when you don't see me no more."

Bruce Springsteen performs with Nils Lofgren and the E Street Band at the first concert to be held at Emirates Stadium, during his world tour, on May 30, 2008 in London, England.
(Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images Europe)


Even though the three Giants Stadium shows weren't instant sellouts, the best seats were snatched up quickly and are being sold, in many cases, for hundreds of dollars above face value, on websites like and And if there hadn't been so many Jersey E Street shows in recent years -- 40 since 1999, not counting solo, Seeger Sessions or holiday shows, or New York gigs -- there would be more demand.

There is a precedent, of course, for musicians continuing to rock stadiums into their 60s. The Rolling Stones are doing it. The current lineups of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd -- two groups that predate the E Street Band -- could fill stadiums, if they wanted to.

There is little doubt that if Springsteen wants to keep the band going -- even if some of the musicians are unable, or unwilling, to participate -- he will do so. There have been many versions of the E Street Band over the past 35 years, and there could be more.

On April 21, Springsteen eulogized Federici at a funeral service at Red Bank's United Methodist Church. He ended by describing Federici as a lifelong member in good standing of the E Street Band.

He didn't just say E Street Band, though. As he has often done while introducing the band in concert, he prefaced the band's name with a stream of overblown adjectives: "house-rockin', pants-droppin', earth-shockin', hard-rockin', booty-shakin', love-makin' ... "

He kept going, starting to pick phrases more suited to the occasion. First came "heart-breakin'." Then "soul-cryin'."

And then, an unusual one to use at a funeral.


E Street Band anticipates New Jersey energy at Giants Stadium stand

by Jay Lustig
The Newark Star-Ledger
Friday July 25, 2008, 10:00 PM

Bruce Springsteen, center, chats with band members Clarence Clemons, left, and Nils Lofgren during their appearance on the NBC "Today" show in 2007. Drummer Max Weinberg is in background center.

Just as tightrope walkers shouldn't look down, musicians playing in stadiums shouldn't spend too much time gazing into the crowd.

So cautions Nils Lofgren, a guitarist for the E Street Band, which will back Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium, tomorrow, Monday and Thursday.

"The tendency, just because you're human, is to get lost in the spectacle of it, and the next thing you know: "Oh, jeez, I missed my part,'" says Lofgren. "So sometimes I'll just ... 'ignore' the audience isn't the right word, because you soak up their energy. But, visually, concentrate more on the band."

These 55,000-capacity shows will be three of only four U.S. stadium gigs the band will present on the final leg of its 2007-08 "Magic Tour." (The other takes place Aug. 2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.). The rest of the shows will be in arenas and smaller outdoor venues.

"It's exciting to play for your family, and everybody in New Jersey is our family," says saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

"It always has a definite New Jersey energy to play there," says drummer Max Weinberg. "It's something that you definitely look forward to. I think half the audience will be relatives and friends of ours."

Bruce Springsteen performs during a concert in his 'Magic tour' at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona July 19, 2008.

The band has played at Giants Stadium 16 times before, in 1985 and 2003. But these will be the first Giants Stadium shows without keyboardist Danny Federici, an original E Street member who died in April, at the age of 58, after a three-year battle with cancer.

"It's been devastating," said Weinberg. "We have a beautiful picture of Danny that we set up in the band dressing room, and ... it's hard to articulate the loss.

"Danny was one of a kind. It really encompasses losing a colleague, which is hard, a friend, which is deeper, and, really, a member of your family."

Lofgren calls Federici's illness and death "a brutal chapter for us, but it's great to have shows, instead of just sitting at home and dwelling on Danny's loss. It's great to have the distraction and the opportunity of a great rock show, and a great audience, to kind of work through the grief, through the music."

The E Streeters say there has been no discussion so far about what songs they might play at Giants Stadium, what guests they might play with, or what they might do to make the shows special.

"There never is," says Lofgren. "We're just a very improv group.

"I know that I'll get a setlist that will surprise me the first night. And I know that Bruce won't follow it. I know that the entire night will be one big audible, and I'll be freaking out, and having a ball, and being extremely challenged. But as someone who is very comfortable in front of an audience, with an instrument, that's a very exciting challenge."

Bruce Springsteen at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona July 19, 2008.

Before a July 8 concert in Oslo, Bruce Springsteen told the band that they would be playing "If I Should Fall Behind," a song they previously hadn't attempted on this tour.

He let them know as they were making their way to the stage.

They played it, with an arrangement they had never used before, "and right in the middle of it, without any discussion, he started pointing at us to take solos," says Lofgren.

"Bands just don't do that -- that does not happen in front of an audience anymore. And it's a real honor to be a part of something that powerful, with that kind of history, and with that kind of freedom."

At recent shows, some of the unexpected songs have been inspired by signs that audience members hold up. Springsteen started honoring requests made in this manner in March, and has continued doing so since then.

The signs have become so numerous that the following message was recently posted on Springsteen's website, "All of us have been enjoying the signs and banners with song requests. And we appreciate that the U.S. stadium shows may loom epic in your imaginations, inspiring grand and vibrant art. Please show respect for those in the crowd whose views of the stage may be blocked by your signs by keeping them to a reasonable size and displaying them for only short periods of time."

The musicians believe the signs have boosted the spontaneity of the shows.

July 7 / Oslo, Norway / Valle Hovin Stadion
photograph by Jan Lundahl

"It's something we've never done before," says Weinberg. "And it seems to make the stadium experience -- as intimate as Bruce has always been able to make it -- even more intimate. 'Cause that's what you do in a club. You take requests."

"I like this new thing he's doing: going out to the audience and picking up a sign, and showing it to the band," says Clemons. "Sometimes it's a song we haven't played in 20 years, so we have to go back over the hundreds of songs that the band has on file, in their memories, and grab one of them."

Jay Lustig may be reached at or (973) 392-5850.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Where: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford.
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, Monday and Thursday. Howmuch: $65 and $95. Call (201) 507-8900 or visit

'Burn Notice' back and quirky as ever

by Joseph V. Amodio - Jul. 8, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

When Jeffrey Donovan first auditioned for the role of Michael Westen, a new TV spy, he didn't go for the intense, Kiefer-Sutherland-on-"24" sort of thing. Donovan's take was more laid-back. Sarcastic. Been there, done that.

In an instant, "Burn Notice" creator Matt Nix knew he'd found his star.

The last thing Nix wanted was for his hero to be, well ... "spy-ish." He envisioned something un-"Alias," a non-"24."

"Those shows (depict) a very dramatic world," Nix says. "People run around saying" - he adopts a deep, basso acting voice - "'You don't understand! We're up against the hugest organization in the world, and we're all going to die unless we do this thing in the next 42 minutes!' "

Back to regular Matt: "On Burn Notice,' we kinda go in the opposite direction."

Like in the pilot, when Michael is stuck between two thugs in the back of a Mercedes. "You know, Mercedes makes an SUV now," he says. "Big backseat ... surprisingly affordable, too."

Michael Westen is no James Bond. He's Stephen Colbert armed with sunglasses, a hot babe sidekick and perhaps some combustible homemade thermite powder, outwitting villains with levity as well as pyrotechnics.

The series, which debuted on the USA Network last summer, was a hit. And Thursday, after nearly a year, "Burn Notice" returns for a second season (at 10 p.m. EDT), as quirky and clever as ever.

The premise remains the same. Michael, a former agent, is stuck in his hometown of Miami, broke and blacklisted. (In spyspeak, a "burn notice" is like a pink slip, but worse.) He's desperate to figure out who "burned" him and why, but he also needs to pay the rent. So he dabbles in crime-solving, helping folks in need using Special Ops training and assistance from Sam (Bruce Campbell), a semiretired colleague, and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), a sultry, ruthless IRA operative - and Michael's ex-girlfriend.

Each episode is like "Spying for Dummies," with Michael explaining how to tail a suspect, use a flash grenade, escape from a house when all exits are blocked. (Bust out the air-conditioning unit, where the wall is weakest and when nobody's watching.) Nix prides himself on getting the details right, and even has a private intelligence operative on staff.

When Donovan was first cast, he read up on spies and intelligence. "I don't remember the (book) titles," Donovan notes. "Or made me forget - by some brainwashing message embedded in the text," he jokes. "They all spoke about the same thing. How boring and long the waiting is between actual missions. Kind of like sitting on a movie set."

The show revels in that kind of reality. Michael's world is shaken, not sugarcoated.

Take Madeline, his manipulative, chain-smoking mother (played by "Cagney & Lacey" vet Sharon Gless). "It's a little weird to have a spy show with a mom on it," Nix admits. "But this is a show where all the hard things are easy and the easy things are hard."

Thug in the doorway? No problem. But a nagging mom? That 007 never had it so tough.

And then there's the ex.

"I love how outspoken and unrestrained Fiona is," Anwar says of her character. One minute she's pushing Michael to rig a bigger bomb - the next, to face his issues. He knows her well enough not to judge her by her slinky attire.

"We were shooting a couple weeks ago, and I had a micro mini on," Anwar says. "One of the writers said, Do you know you're gonna be loading and firing a shotgun? (Maybe) you should be wearing jeans.' And I was like, It's Fi.' He nodded and wandered off."

Hey, the show tweaks convention, but there's still got to be a sexy gal with a gun. Plus the requisite chases, the cool clothes, the muscle car (a 70s Dodge Charger).

In truth, "Burn" is a spy series moonlighting as a private-eye show - part "Rockford Files," part "MacGyver." The MacGyver act doesn't come naturally, Donovan admits. "I usually pick a project at home, research it on the Internet, tackle the job myself, screw it up, then call in an expert at twice the original cost to fix it."

But Donovan's flair for accents has encouraged the writers to create more scenes where Michael goes undercover. Over the hiatus, the actor boned up on dialects - and jujitsu, for good measure. (He already knows aikido and has a black belt in karate.)

"Michael runs around with a gun and there are explosions on the show," Nix says, "but the reason he defeats the bad guys always has to do with how smart he is."

It's the power of the brain over the bullet.

If that doesn't work, Fiona can always whip out a missile launcher from under her skirt. Now there's an ex a spy can count on.


by Rick Bentley - Jul. 7, 2008 12:00 AM
McClatchy Newspapers

Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar

Jeffrey Donovan's character of Michael Weston on the USA Network series "Burn Notice" has the cool of James Bond and the handyman skills of MacGyver. Those attributes come in handy as Weston tries to find out why he was given a "burn notice," a term for when a spy has been blacklisted.

He's stuck in Miami without money or resources. His only help comes from an ex-spy (Bruce Campbell) and a gun-crazy ex-girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar).

The second season of "Burn Notice" begins at 10 p.m. EDT Thursday. Donovan agreed to a debriefing about the new season in a telephone interview in late June. Here's what he had to say:

Q: You will film this new season during the rainy, hot summer in Florida. Was that because of the writers strike?

D: "The strike just delayed us a couple of months. It's difficult. We try to roll with it. If we're going to have this beautiful backstop then we got to just roll with the storm punches. And doing action in the humidity is a little tough. But I just try to stay in shape, eat a lot of yogurt and try not to hurt myself."

Q: This series could have been filmed in Los Angeles and the weather would not be as big a problem. Is it important this show shoots in Florida?

D: "I think that not only is it important for the show, it's important for Miami. We are the only show since Miami Vice' (1980s) to have a second season and that's a big deal for the economy down here, especially in this depressed real estate market. So the backdrop is important with the humidity and the heat, and the beach and the sun. I think it's really important for Miami itself."

Q: This character has been called the James Bond of America. Do you channel Bond or any other spy while playing this role?

D: "Well I don't have the body and good looks of the James Bonds and, though I am a big fan of the Bourne Identity,' I don't have Matt Damon's chops and probably his intellect.

"So I don't think I'll ever be confused with anybody like really good. And as long as I kind of keep my rogue-ish slant on this role, I don't think it can be like anybody else."

Q: How will your relationship with Fiona (Anwar) change this season?

D: "Put in parentheses he chuckles loudly.' That's a crazy relationship that's going to have its ups and downs. And it's going to go left, right and all around, and it'll be exciting. Some of the episodes I actually don't read until I get on the day just so I can see what crazy thing she's going to do to me that day."

Q: You attracted a big enough audience to get a second season. Any pressure to make sure there is a third?

D: "The ratings are not up to me. They're up to the general public and if they go up and down, we're still going to do the same thing we did last year which was make the show we would want to watch. And that's what we're doing this year again. If people follow, great. If they don't, well we're going to still be proud of what we did."


by Luaine Lee - Jun. 30, 2008 12:00 AM

It's a little difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys on USA's "Burn Notice," and that's one of the things that make the character-driven thriller unique.

When star Jeffrey Donovan was cast as the spy who is driven in from the cold, he knew a lot about Bruce Campbell, who was to play his unkempt cohort, Sam.

"I knew of Bruce," says Donovan. "I actually had heard about him through a friend of mine who knew him. So I knew just of him, but that's not to say that I wasn't a fan of his because I don't actually know many actors - because I don't go to the movies and I don't watch television. But now that I've gotten to know him, I couldn't ask for a better costar. And I'm sure actors say that all the time, but they're lying. I know all of them. They're lying. And this is the truth. You can't ask for a better actor coming from his huge career, to come and grace us on this show has been just a blessing for us."

But Campbell, the veteran actor from shows like "The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr." and "Jack of All Trades," says he knew "jack diddley" about Donovan. In the case of "Burn Notice," which returns to USA with new episodes on July 10, it was a case of choosing the right man for the right job.

"The role was offered and I just did some research of who was involved and what their deal was because in television you're kind of trapped in an airless box, working very closely together with these people. And if the dynamics aren't right it can be a very trying situation," says Campbell.

"And so I just did enough research, to find out a little bit about this Donovan guy. My research, I think was successful in that it led me to the right direction and the right decision because I chose this show because of its unique nature. And what I also like about it, there's a retro feel to this show. There's a weird classic' feel to it. It's a little bit iconic. I like this show. I'm a fan of this show because I like the nature of it. It's not bitter. It's not jaded."

Campbell should know. He's been around the block more times than a school bus from as far back as his days with director-pal Sam Raimi and the "Evil Dead" movies. Campbell directed many episodes of "Hercules: the Legendary Journeys" in which he played the role of a villain, a character he repeated in "Xena: Warrior Princess.

He thinks episodic television hasn't changed much since his "Briscoe County" days 15 years ago.

"They usually pick seven or eight days that you get to make your movie. You either get a support crew to shoot stunts and carnage and mayhem, or you don't. Generally speaking, you're shooting between six and nine pages a day, which is really fast, really aggressive. And so those aspects really haven't changed. Somebody came across these genius amounts of days to make a TV show and everyone has stuck with that," he says.

"And so the actual process of shooting episodic has not changed that much aside from a second camera. I've noticed that pretty much two cameras are now standard whereas episodic I did years ago wasn't always as much as two cameras. But, you know, mechanically it's similar."

Campbell has become a cult favorite among fans and filmmakers alike. A known scene-stealer, his proclivity for snatching the limelight doesn't rattle Donovan. "Let me set the record straight," says Donovan. "You WANT Bruce Campbell stealing scenes on your show. I mean, you want that ... I'm the straight man, and you need someone like Bruce Campbell because he never does it so far that it detracts from the show or the scene, or the characters.

"It's a blessing that Bruce has stolen scenes in the past because it lends him an ability to come in here and do the same thing here. You know, it's awesome."

It was two other big TV stars who gave Donovan advice early in his career that helped form the pattern he followed from appearances on a soap to "Touching Evil" and now "Burn Notice."

Alison Janney ("Juno," "West Wing") and Anthony LaPaglia ("Without a Trace") costarred with Donovan in "View from the Bridge" in New York. "I knew they'd gone in and out of movies," says Donovan. "And I turned to them one day and said, Is there any difference?' They said, No. Truth, that's all it is.' (After that) it wasn't that hard for me to figure out how to do TV and film."

Obama Bails on Wounded Soldiers to "Tour Around a Little Bit"

By Erick Erickson

Obama’s behavior toward American troops in Germany was so egregious, even the New York Times this morning is picking up the story. The Times writes, “It wasn’t perfectly clear whether the Pentagon asked the Obama campaign to cancel the trip outright or the campaign decided on its own -- after quiet pressure from military officials -- that a political trip to the base was inappropriate.” “The trip” was a scheduled trip to visit American troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, one of the world’s largest military hospitals.

US Democratic presidential hopeful, Barack Obama, makes a speech in front of the Victory Column in Berlin. Obama Thursday challenged a new generation of Americans and Europeans to tear down walls between estranged allies, races, and faiths in a soaring call for global unity at an unprecedented mass campaign rally in Berlin.(AFP/DDP/Michael Kappeler)

Initially, Obama claimed it would be inappropriate because he was in Germany on a political trip.

After reporters noted that Obama began his speech in Berlin by saying he was not speaking as someone campaigning for office and also met, in his capacity as a United States Senator, with German Chancellor Merkel, Obama changed his story. The story morphed to blame the military with the campaign telling reporters the military thought the trip was inappropriate.

The story then morphed again. Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters the Pentagon said Obama should not go to Landstuhl.

Inconveniently, the Pentagon told NBC no one there knows why Obama cancelled his trip. In fact, a military spokeswoman announced Obama would be visiting only to then announce he would not for reasons unknown to the military.

The only thing we know from Obama himself is what Jake Tapper reported at ABC. “Obama noted that in a break from his whirlwind schedule, ‘we've got some down time tonight. What are you guys gonna do in Berlin? Huh? Huh? You guys got any big plans? ...I've never been to Berlin, so...I would love to tour around a little bit.’”

Mr. Erickson is the managing editor at RedState.


By Mike Vaccarro
New York Post
July 26, 2008

BOSTON - JULY 25: Mariano Rivera #42 and Jose Molina #26 of the New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox, 1-0, at Fenway Park on July 25, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

BOSTON - There was only one way for this beauty of a baseball game to end, of course. The tying run had to be on base. There had to be two outs in the ninth inning, with the MVP of the All-Star Game digging in to face the greatest closer in the history of the sport.

Some nights demand the full regal treatment. Those nights also deserve an appropriate conclusion. And so it was that Mariano RiveraMariano Rivera zipped a 95-mph cutter toward the outside corner, and J.D. Drew stood and stared at it, and home plate umpire Marty Foster lifted his right arm and tied it all up in a bow.

New York Yankees 1, Red Sox 0.

"That," Joe Girardi said after he'd breathed his final sigh of relief, "was one whale of a game, wasn't it?"

It was that. It was even more than that. It was a grizzled ace of the present named Josh Beckett bringing C-plus stuff to Fenway Park and nearly getting away with it, tip-toeing in and out of trouble for seven innings, somehow scattering nine hits, burned only by a Jason GiambiJason Giambi bleeder that nudged in the only run.

It was a fuzzy-cheeked ace of the future named Joba Chamberlain accepting that one-run lead after nearly getting cold-cocked by the Boston bats an inning earlier, then grinding his way through seven innings of his own, retiring the last 10 hitters to face him, extending by another game a brewing feud with Kevin Youkilis which is either a relentless quirk of fate or a conflagration waiting to happen.

Joba Chamberlain pitches to designated hitter David Ortiz in the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Friday July 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

And at last, naturally, there was the great Rivera, summoned with one out in the eighth, re-proving one more time why he is the best ever born at his job, striking out three, retiring five of the six he faced, kicking the plug out on the crazed crowd of 37,744, dragging the Yankees another game closer to the Red Sox.

"We're not in a position where we can afford to take any games off," Derek Jeter said. "This one just felt like a team effort from the very beginning."

It felt that way because it was that way, starting with back-to-back fielding gems in the second, when Melky Cabrera made one of the best catches you'll ever see robbing Drew of what would surely have been a run-scoring double, Robinson Cano following that with a breathtaking start to a 4-6-3 that rescued Chamberlain from the only real trouble he'd see all night.

Unless you count the kind that generally visits whenever he's on the mound and Kevin Youkilis is at the plate. A year ago, a high hard one too close to Youkilis' melon earned him a suspension, and earlier this month a slider behind Youkilis' legs drew a chorus of hard stares and harder feelings.

BOSTON - JULY 25: Jason Giambi knocks in the winning run against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 25, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Last night, leading off the home seventh, ahead in the count 2-and-0, Youkilis got an up-close look at another heater, one that missed drilling his helmet only because his bat got in the way. Chamberlain recovered to strike him out, Youkilis screaming "Horse [bleep]!" all the way back to the bench.

"He has great command," Terry Francona said of Joba, "until Youk gets in there."

"It was at his head!" an incredulous Beckett muttered.

The Yankees pled innocence, naturally, Girardi insisting it was "coincidence," Joba defiantly proclaiming "If you think I'm going to throw at him leading off an inning with a one-run lead, that's just crazy."

It's always dangerous to wrap yourself too closely around one game in July, even if the presence of the Yankees and the Red Sox makes such hyperbole mandatory. But this one begs you to praise it and to re-watch it when it inevitably winds up a Yankee Classic on YES. There is still so much season left to play, and there are still the Rays, refusing to be pulled offstage by the vaudeville cane.

But you aren't human - or, at the least, you aren't a baseball fan - if this game didn't make you salivate over what could be across the next two months. And beyond.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Christopher Nolan’s Achievement: The Dark Knight

By Thomas S. Hibbs
Tuesday, July 22, 2008, 6:12 AM

With the record-setting release of The Dark Knight, his sequel to Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan, whose previous films include Memento, Insomnia, and The Prestige, stakes his claim to be our most inventive and most philosophical filmmaker. He has certainly surpassed M. Night Shyamalan, whose latest release The Happening was his third straight disappointing film. Both Nolan and Shyamalan focus on dark tales of human quest in which characters, set out to solve a crime or set things right in the face of seemingly insuperable evil, are beset with doubts, and tempted by despair, or—what is worse—by the temptation to become the evil they are fighting against. Whereas Shyamalan has descended into unintentional self-parody in his last few films, Nolan’s filmmaking and storytelling skills are on the rise.

Nolan first gained his notoriety with Memento, his remarkable indie neo-noir film starring Guy Pearce as a man trying to solve his wife’s murder while suffering from short-term memory lapses. Shot in short segments, to mirror the amount of time Pearce’s memory could remain intact, and in reverse chronological order, the film raised all sorts of interesting questions about personal identity, knowledge of the past and the significance of human choices. The examination of moral issues was even more at the forefront of Nolan’s next film, Insomnia, starring Al Pacino as a compromised cop, whose insomnia reflects his uneasiness with the state of his own soul. Pursuing a wily suspect (Robin Williams), Pacino’s character is forced to reckon with questions about what differentiates him from the criminal. Consciously making use of classic noir thematic and stylistic elements, Nolan specializes in the dramatic portrayal of quests for which there is no possibility of a traditional happy ending or a complete recovery of what has been lost. The best that can be hoped is, as Pacino’s character puts it, that we “not lose our way.”

A similar premise undergirds Nolan’s retelling of the Batman myth, starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne. Batman Begins invests the backstory of Bruce Wayne’s embrace of the Batman persona with philosophical depth. Scarred and formed by witnessing his parents murder and the impotence of the legal justice system, Wayne crafts a “symbol” to intimidate evildoers. Batman’s quest to restore justice in Gotham is often hard to distinguish from the pursuit of raw vengeance. Thus, Batman himself is always in danger of becoming what he fights against; as Alfred (Michael Caine) warns him in the first film, “don’t get lost inside the monster.”

Ambitious to make a sequel that would rival in quality the second films in The Godfather and Star Wars trilogies, Nolan focuses in The Dark Knight on the “idea of escalation,” the way Batman’s dramatic persona, with its violent heroism, calls forth a greater, more creative response from the criminal element. It would be hard to imagine a more compelling embodiment of the escalation of evil in Gotham than what Nolan and actor Heath Ledger have created in the character of The Joker, whose insouciant embrace of chaos eclipses the malevolence of Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs and John Doe from Se7en. What makes Nolan’s latest film such a success is not, however, Ledger’s compelling presentation of evil, on which critics have focused their attention, but the way in which he uses that character to bring out the depth and complex goodness of the other characters in the film, including Batman. The title of the film is not The Joker but The Dark Knight.

Still, Ledger’s performance as The Joker is a chilling and memorable one, superseding all other villains in superhero genre. To account for The Joker, Nolan adverts to no childhood trauma or scientific experiment gone awry. All such explanation is beside the point. At one point, The Joker asks one of his victims whether he wants to hear the story of how he got his scars. He proceeds to explain that his father was a “drunken fiend,” who fought with his mother, one night to the point of cutting her with a knife. Having done so, he turned on his stupefied son and, putting the knife to his mouth, asked, “Why so serious?” Then, in a subsequent scene, The Joker tells quite a different story about the source of his scars. The point is clear—there is no “reason” for the Joker’s love of chaos. As Nolan commented, The Joker has “no arc, no development”; he is an “absolute.” As he sets fire to a huge pile of money, The Joker chastises the astounded criminals in his midst for their petty love of money. When Bruce Wayne tells Alfred that criminals are “not complicated” and that they just need to find out “what this one wants,” Alfred responds, “some men just want to watch the world burn.” There is no ultimate purpose to his mayhem; he delights in it for its own sake, as is evident in one particularly chilling scene in which Batman tries to beat him into revealing his plans. As The Joker cackles with glee at the pain, he taunts Batman, “you have nothing to frighten me with.”

Beyond good and evil, The Joker is off the human scale. In preparation for the role, Ledger studied the voices of ventriloquist dummies aiming for a chilling effect in which the voice itself sounds “disembodied.” Ledger and Nolan looked at Francis Bacon paintings to try to capture the look of “human decay and corruption.” As in William Peter Blatty’s definitive depiction of demonic evil in The Exorcist, so too here—the demon’s target is us, to make us believe that we are “bestial, ugly, and not worthy of redemption.”

If there were a purpose, it would be akin to that pursued by Mr. Glass (Samuel Jackson) in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, whose amoral destruction has as its goal the discovery of someone at the other end of the spectrum, his complement. As The Joker says to Batman, “Why would I want to kill you? What would I do without you? You complete me.” So he taunts Batman, “You’re just like me—a freak.”

The Joker espouses a nihilist philosophy concerning the arbitrariness of the code of morality in civilized society; it is but a thin veneer, a construct intended for our consolation. If you tear away at the surface, “civilized people will eat each other.” As The Joker puts it, “madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push.” In a wonderfully comic take on a Nietzschean sentiment, he sums up his beliefs: “Whatever does not kill you makes you stranger.” His character also illustrates the parasitic status of evil and nihilism. A thoroughgoing nihilist could not muster the energy to destroy or create. As The Joker puts it at one point, he’s like the dog chasing a car; he has no idea what he would do if he caught it.

The Joker’s attempt to bring down the entire system of civilization has the scope and feel of terrorism; in fact, the film features many genuinely terrifying scenes. Here Nolan shares Shyamalan’s sense that true suspense and fear require restraint in the direct depiction of gore and the development of characters with whom the audience is sympathetic. In addition to Batman, there are a number of other admirable characters in The Dark Knight. In a film brimming with terrific performances, three stand out: Lieutenant and then Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), the assistant D.A. Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes from Batman Begins), and especially the fearless crime fighting D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), whose tragic undoing at the hands of The Joker is the “arc” upon which the plot pivots. These three illustrate the costs of defending the innocent and fighting against evil, the costs borne by those who would be decent in an indecent world. If in certain prominent instances in this film, the hopes of the audience for these characters are dashed, the film does not succumb to The Joker’s vision. It is not nihilistic; it is instead about the lingering and seemingly ineradicable longing for justice and goodness that pervades the film. As Batman put it in the original film, “Gotham is not beyond redemption.”

Dark quests for redemption, whether religious or secular, abound in contemporary culture. As Nolan’s films indicate, these quest films owe a great debt to classic film noir. Classic noir takes aim at some of the treasured assumptions and promises of modernity. In noir, the modern world, embodied in an urban setting, is hardly the world of light, happiness, and peace that utopian thinkers of the Enlightenment foretold. Modernity is about human beings exercising control over nature and thus taking control of their destinies; in our modern technological project, knowledge and power are one. The postmodern turn in noir is about the loss of control, the absence of intelligibility, and the threat of powerlessness. But the quest has something pre-modern about it—a sense of human limitations, of the dependence of human beings on one another and on events not in their control. In this world, the outcome of the quest is tenuous and uncertain.

The title of the Nolan’s latest Batman film calls to mind medieval chivalry in a postmodern key. The dark knight embraces extraordinary tasks and fights against enormous odds; his quest is to restore what has been corrupted and to recover what has been lost. In so doing, he takes upon himself a suffering and loneliness that isolate him from his fellow citizens and inevitably court their misunderstanding and scorn. He is a dark knight, in part, because the world he inhabits is nearly void of hope and virtue, and, in part, because some of the darkness resides within him, in his internal conflicts between the good he aspires to restore and the means he deploys to fend off evil. Of the many filmmakers designing dark tales of quests for redemption, Christopher Nolan is currently making a serious claim to being the master craftsman.

Thomas S. Hibbs is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and dean of the honors college at Baylor University. His books include Virtue’s Splendor and, most recently, Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption.

He Ventured Forth to Bring Light to the World

The anointed one's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a miracle in action - and a blessing to all his faithful followers

By Gerard Baker
The London Times
July 25, 2008

And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: “Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?”

In the great Battles of Caucus and Primary he smote the conniving Hillary, wife of the deposed King Bill the Priapic and their barbarian hordes of Working Class Whites.

And so it was, in the fullness of time, before the harvest month of the appointed year, the Child ventured forth - for the first time - to bring the light unto all the world.

He travelled fleet of foot and light of camel, with a small retinue that consisted only of his loyal disciples from the tribe of the Media. He ventured first to the land of the Hindu Kush, where the

Taleban had harboured the viper of al-Qaeda in their bosom, raining terror on all the world.

And the Child spake and the tribes of Nato immediately loosed the Caveats that had previously bound them. And in the great battle that ensued the forces of the light were triumphant. For as long as the Child stood with his arms raised aloft, the enemy suffered great blows and the threat of terror was no more.

From there he went forth to Mesopotamia where he was received by the great ruler al-Maliki, and al-Maliki spake unto him and blessed his Sixteen Month Troop Withdrawal Plan even as the imperial warrior Petraeus tried to destroy it.

And lo, in Mesopotamia, a miracle occurred. Even though the Great Surge of Armour that the evil Bush had ordered had been a terrible mistake, a waste of vital military resources and doomed to end in disaster, the Child's very presence suddenly brought forth a great victory for the forces of the light.

And the Persians, who saw all this and were greatly fearful, longed to speak with the Child and saw that the Child was the bringer of peace. At the mention of his name they quickly laid aside their intrigues and beat their uranium swords into civil nuclear energy ploughshares.

From there the Child went up to the city of Jerusalem, and entered through the gate seated on an ass. The crowds of network anchors who had followed him from afar cheered “Hosanna” and waved great palm fronds and strewed them at his feet.

In Jerusalem and in surrounding Palestine, the Child spake to the Hebrews and the Arabs, as the Scripture had foretold. And in an instant, the lion lay down with the lamb, and the Israelites and Ishmaelites ended their long enmity and lived for ever after in peace.

As word spread throughout the land about the Child's wondrous works, peoples from all over flocked to hear him; Hittites and Abbasids; Obamacons and McCainiacs; Cameroonians and Blairites.

And they told of strange and wondrous things that greeted the news of the Child's journey. Around the world, global temperatures began to decline, and the ocean levels fell and the great warming was over.

The Great Prophet Algore of Nobel and Oscar, who many had believed was the anointed one, smiled and told his followers that the Child was the one generations had been waiting for.

And there were other wonderful signs. In the city of the Street at the Wall, spreads on interbank interest rates dropped like manna from Heaven and rates on credit default swaps fell to the ground as dead birds from the almond tree, and the people who had lived in foreclosure were able to borrow again.

Black gold gushed from the ground at prices well below $140 per barrel. In hospitals across the land the sick were cured even though they were uninsured. And all because the Child had pronounced it.

And this is the testimony of one who speaks the truth and bears witness to the truth so that you might believe. And he knows it is the truth for he saw it all on CNN and the BBC and in the pages of The New York Times.

Then the Child ventured forth from Israel and Palestine and stepped onto the shores of the Old Continent. In the land of Queen Angela of Merkel, vast multitudes gathered to hear his voice, and he preached to them at length.

But when he had finished speaking his disciples told him the crowd was hungry, for they had had nothing to eat all the hours they had waited for him.

And so the Child told his disciples to fetch some food but all they had was five loaves and a couple of frankfurters. So he took the bread and the frankfurters and blessed them and told his disciples to feed the multitudes. And when all had eaten their fill, the scraps filled twelve baskets.

Thence he travelled west to Mount Sarkozy. Even the beauteous Princess Carla of the tribe of the Bruni was struck by awe and she was great in love with the Child, but he was tempted not.

On the Seventh Day he walked across the Channel of the Angles to the ancient land of the hooligans. There he was welcomed with open arms by the once great prophet Blair and his successor, Gordon the Leper, and his successor, David the Golden One.

And suddenly, with the men appeared the archangel Gabriel and the whole host of the heavenly choir, ranks of cherubim and seraphim, all praising God and singing: “Yes, We Can.”

Today's Tune: Creedence Clearwater Revival - Down On The Corner

(Click on title to play video)

Gossage a Hall of Famer at last

By John Kekis
Friday, July 25, 2008

National Baseball Hall of Fame electee Goose Gossage holds a plastic goose wearing a Yankees helmet after his news conference in New York. (AP Photo / January 9, 2008)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- As a kid, Rich Gossage's dreams never matched those of his father.

"My dad always said, 'You're going to play in the big leagues some day,' " Gossage recalled. "I pooh-poohed that. I would be like, 'Aw, dad, please don't say that.' And sure enough, here I am."

Gossage did more than just play in the major leagues. He became a dominant relief pitcher in a 22-year career that will receive its finishing touch on Sunday when he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For Gossage, a shy, humble guy from the Rocky Mountains, what has transpired since those talks with his dad, Jake, is simply mind-boggling.

"I can't even really comprehend my career," said Gossage, elected in January on his ninth try. "Really, I just can't believe that a kid from Colorado, just a big fan of the game -- it's totally overwhelming being elected to the Hall and to have had the career that I had."

What's even more difficult to believe is that it took so long. The "Goose" was as significant a pioneer as anybody in the evolution of today's relief pitcher.

Rich Gossage poses in the Hall of Fame, where he'll be inducted on July 27. (Mike Groll/AP)

Gossage finished his career as a Seattle Mariner in 1994 with a 124-107 record, 1,502 strikeouts and 3.01 ERA in 1,002 games. He ranks third in both wins in relief (115) and innings pitched in relief (1,556). Of his 310 career saves, Gossage worked more than two innings 52 times (by comparison, prior to the 2008 season, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had done that just once in 443 saves and San Diego's Trevor Hoffman, the career saves leader, has never done it) and recorded at least six outs in 125 saves.

"I saw that total evolution of what the bullpen was to what it became," said the 57-year-old Gossage, the second top reliever to be inducted in the past three years (Bruce Sutter was elected in 2006 in his 13th year on the ballot, joining Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, and Dennis Eckersley). "I knew how the job evolved. No one had a better seat than I did.

"I think the closers today are so dominant in that role that people kind of forgot what we used to do, the number of innings that we pitched, the jams that we used to come in to. Now it takes three guys to do what we used to do."

Gossage signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1970, and it's no coincidence that he has invited his first big league manager to Sunday's ceremony. Acting on the advice of renowned pitching coach Johnny Sain, Chuck Tanner made a special trip to Appleton of the Class A Midwest League in 1971 to teach Gossage to throw a changeup. It only took about five minutes, and Gossage finished the season 18-2, was selected league player of the year, and made the jump to the White Sox the next season.

"Chuck Tanner was the most influential manager in my career," Gossage said. "I would never have made it if he hadn't made that trip."

Up with the big club, the 20-year-old right-hander became a reliever and Tanner taught him the most important lesson of all.

"He told me when I first came to the big leagues, 'Son, if you don't make that hitter as uncomfortable as you can, you might as well go do something else,'" Gossage said.

1984 World Series: San Diego Padres vs. Detroit Tigers.
Credit: John Iacono

Gossage was dubbed "Goose" by rookie-year roommate Tom Bradley, who said Gossage looked like a goose when he leaned over on the mound to get the catcher's sign. And at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds with a blazing fastball, Fu Manchu mustache and menacing stare, following Tanner's advice was easy, even for somebody whose demeanor off the field was the exact opposite of what he portrayed on the mound.

"He came out of that bullpen like John Wayne," Tanner said. "He had no fear of anybody. He was an intimidator with a 99 mile-an-hour fastball, 100 once in a while, and that would intimidate anybody."

"When I went between the lines, it was Jekyll and Hyde -- two different people," Gossage said. "Playing in the major leagues is not for the faint of heart. It was kind of the law of the jungle. You either eat or get eaten. If you're soft, you'd better be really, really good."

Gossage was anything but soft, and though he was good at his new job he didn't relish it initially.

"When Chuck put me down there, I didn't want to be in the bullpen," Gossage said. "That was an old junk pile down there where old starters went that couldn't start anymore. But hell, I was in the big leagues. I would have cleaned the toilets, whatever was necessary to stay."

Gossage simply had to throw to stay, and he quickly became enamored with the frenetic pace of his new role at a time when the position was evolving. Fingers was instrumental in Oakland's three straight World Series titles (1972-74) and Sutter was on the cusp of becoming a show-stopper for the Cubs.

"I hated the days off between starts," Gossage said. "I really enjoyed the opportunity of coming to the ballpark every day and pitching in a big situation with the game on the line. The bigger the jam, the better I felt I was.

"But those were grueling outs. Every pitch was maximum effort, every out was so critical because I came into situations that God couldn't get out of. I came into situations where you couldn't even allow the ball to be put in play, and I got out of them because I could strike guys out."

Tanner also helped Gossage when he urged the front office to trade left-hander Tommy John to the Dodgers for slugger Dick Allen in December 1971.

"Dick was a pro. He was like having a manager on the field," Tanner said. "He'd go in to the Goose and say, 'Hey, let them know you're the boss out here. Don't be afraid to throw one under their neck. Not only will you get his attention, everybody on the bench of the opposing team is going to look at you and you'll get their attention.' And Goose would listen to him."

"He (Allen) took me under his wing and taught me how to pitch my first year in the big leagues from a great hitter's standpoint," Gossage said. "No amount of money could have paid for that experience and advice."

Though Gossage played for nine teams, his star shone brightest in the six years he spent in the pinstripes of the New York Yankees, the team he idolized growing up in Colorado Springs, where he still lives.

Goose Gossage (right) and Thurman Munson had plenty to celebrate with the Yankees in the 1970s.
Louis Requena/Getty Images

Gossage signed as a free agent with New York in November 1977 and in his first season in the Bronx had 27 saves and a 2.01 ERA to help lead baseball's most storied franchise to its second straight World Series triumph. He was on the mound for the final out of the memorable playoff victory over the Boston Red Sox, the decisive Game 4 of the ALCS against Kansas City, and the Game 6 Series clincher against the Dodgers.

"Putting on the pinstripes was special, totally awesome," said Gossage, who will be wearing a Yankees cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. "The first time I pitched at Yankee Stadium I stood on the mound and looked around and my legs were shaking. I couldn't hardly put one foot in front of the other. I just stood there, and I looked around at the vastness in that huge stadium and I said, 'Dad, this is for you.' That was overwhelming."

There were low points, to be sure -- losing the 1980 ALCS to the Royals, surrendering the infamous pine-tar home run to George Brett three years later, and allowing Kirk Gibson's three-run homer in the final game of the 1984 World Series while pitching for San Diego.

Reflecting on those setbacks reveals the real Goose.

"I'm proud of those home runs," he said with a big smile.

Gossage will be enshrined with Dick Williams, one of his former managers, the late Larry Whiteside, a pioneering black journalist who will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, and Ford C. Frick Award winner Dave Niehaus. Former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, former Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and former manager Billy Southworth, all deceased, will also be inducted.

Yankees relief pitcher Rich "Goose" Gossage follows through as he strikes out Andre Thornton of the Cleveland Indians in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium during a game in 1978. (AP File Photo / September 30, 1978)

Induction day isn't likely to be gleeful while Gossage is on stage. After all, this is a man who cried when they tore down Comiskey Park and who will cry again when the Yankees move to a new home next year. And he'll have to thank too many people who are no longer around, especially his dad, who died when Gossage was 17, and his mom, who died two years ago.

"She was my biggest fan. She always said, 'I hope I'm around if you go into the Hall of Fame,'" Gossage said, his voice quivering. "It's going to be very emotional for me. The anxiety is killing me. Maybe I just shouldn't even talk. I'll just give it to somebody to read."

Film Reviews: "Step Brothers"


New York Post
July 25, 2008

I thought I knew funny, but I was mistaken. Before the blessed light of "Step Brothers" entered my life, I knew not the sweet comedic splendors of live burial, bunk-bed catastrophe or a minivan family singing "Sweet Child O' Mine" in four-part harmony.

Will Ferrell plays Brennan ("You can call me . . . Nighthawk") and John C. Reilly is Dale ("Call me Dragon"), two unemployed full-grown manboys who each live with a widowed single parent.

Brennan mooches off mom Nancy (Mary Steenburgen, who, by the way, is at age whatever in possession of a body that is fierce), Dale off dad Robert (Richard Jenkins of "Six Feet Under," who busts out a gift for deadpan that rivals Leslie Nielsen's).

When Nancy and Robert get married, their live-in sons become stepbrothers, and lo, the foreheads of the world's comedy writers did submit to a mighty thwacking as their owners begged the gods of japery, "Why didn't I think of that?" There hasn't been this much fun under the same roof since the creation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Instead of banging the same gong throughout, though, the writing team of Ferrell, Reilly and director Adam McKay, who is maybe the second hottest comedy helmer after Judd Apatow, keeps trying new situations.

The boys are alternately sworn foes, BFFs and even sober job-holding adults. The only standing order comes from Reilly: "We're here to f - - k s - - t up!" Proclaim it, sir! "Step Brothers" is, by a hair, the funniest film I've seen this year (over "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which was a better movie overall), and at least as funny as McKay's other ones, "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights."

Will Ferrell, Mary Steenbergen, Richard Jenkins, John C. Reilly

After fooling with night-vision goggles, one of the manboys says, "Imagine if we'd had these when we were 12." "Even better," is the reply. "We got them when we're 40!" The concept of grown men acting like boys has been done so frequently that it's nearly time for a shock-value comedy about grown men acting like grown men. But it has rarely been done properly, with the correct degree of vulgarity, social awkwardness, scowly faced mystery, aggression and Bruce Lee T-shirts. Boys are freaks. Picture Tom Hanks in a de-cornified "Big": Wouldn't his first move have been a mission for porn and beer?

There is fascination with pretty ladies, but a fog of unease when it comes to talking to them. There is much fighting - Brennan hits Dale with a bike - and the soft crackling of old bones as geezers are lightly tossed down flights of stairs. At a moment of d├ętente, Brennan (T-shirt: Pablo Cruise) offers Dale (T-shirt: Yoda, a real classy one, with Yoda's face all shadowy) the chance to ride with him upon "majestic and translucent steeds," while Dale responds, "I will follow you through the mists of Avalon." Brennan wants to sing, but he's too shy to perform, so Dale encourages him: "Your voice - it's like a combination of Fergie and Jesus."

Brennan's rich brother Derek (language sampler: "Bro," "Not gonna happen," and "It would be kickass"), who brags that he knows Jeff Probst, becomes a hilarious foil as played by Adam Scott, who has been popping up here and there for a few years but never made his mark before. Now he's hit on a role that can pay his wages for the next decade: He's not just a tool, but a power tool.

With its middle-age roommates failing to meet basic developmental milestones, "Step Brothers" is like "Wayne's World" and "The Odd Couple" taking a shower together, under a soothing cascade of filthy language. There is too much funny here for a movie (even though it continues into the closing credits). "Step Brothers" should be a TV show. Given the limited career aspirations of its main characters, the demotion would be fitting.

Sibling Revelry

By Stephen Hunter
The Washington Post
July 25, 2008

Thank god that when he became a man, Will Ferrell never put away childish things. His "Step Brothers" is so childish it seems to arrive in diapers, and that's not bad; it's good.

As "Step Brothers" has it, Brennan Huff (Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) are capital-L losers who live with their single parents. Brennan, younger son of accomplished businesswoman Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen), and Dale, only son of Dr. Robert Doback (the great Richard Jenkins), can hardly get out of bed, and when they do it's only to make a beeline to the couch in front of the TV.

Nancy and Robert meet, fall in love and a few weeks later get married. Thus Dale and Brennan meet and, immediately hate each other.

John C. Reilly, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell

With their childish body language, their bravado, and their micro-attention span, it's pretty much a war of the newts. And it stops only when a larger enemy approaches: Brennan's brother, the magnificently smarmy Derek (played by magnificently smarmy Adam Scott).

Of course Ferrell has one of the most liberated screen presences in history; he will literally do anything for a laugh. For his part, Reilly lets it go, too. The movie is produced by Judd Apatow, and it displays some of his comedy trademarks. Chief among these is a reliance on profanity from unusual sources for laughs, and some viewers might be shocked at the constant appearance of obscene language.

The director of the madness is Ferrell's old "Saturday Night Live" buddy Adam McKay, who also guided "Talladega Nights" and "Anchorman" to box office loot. Whatever, it works in spades.

Contains crude and sexual content and pervasive profanity.

Maliki Votes for Obama

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
July 25, 2008

WASHINGTON -- In a stunning upset, Barack Obama this week won the Iraq primary. When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki not once but several times expressed support for a U.S. troop withdrawal on a timetable that accorded roughly with Obama's 16-month proposal, he not only legitimized the plan. He relieved Obama of a major political liability by blunting the charge that, in order to appease the MoveOn left, Obama was willing to jeopardize the astonishing success of the surge and risk losing a war that is finally being won.

Maliki's endorsement left the McCain campaign and the Bush administration deeply discomfited. They underestimated Maliki's sophistication and cunning.

What is Maliki thinking? Clearly, he believes that the Iraq War is won. Al-Qaeda is defeated, the Sunni insurgency is in abeyance, the Shiite extremists are scattered and marginalized. There will, of course, be some continued level of violence, recurring challenges to the authority of the central government and perhaps even mini-Tet offensives by both Shiite and Sunni terrorists trying to demoralize U.S. and Iraqi public opinion in the run-up to their respective elections. But in Maliki's view, the strategic threats to the unity of the state and to the viability of the new democratic government are over.

Maliki believes that his armed forces are strong enough to sustain the new Iraq with minimal U.S. help. He may be overconfident, as he has been repeatedly in estimating his army's capacities, most recently in launching a somewhat premature attack on militias in Basra that ultimately required U.S. and British support to succeed. And he is certainly more confident of his own capacities than is Gen. David Petraeus.

Whether warranted or not, Maliki's very confidence allows him to set out a rapid timetable for U.S. withdrawal, albeit conditioned on continuing improvement in the security situation -- a caveat Obama generally omits. But Maliki calculates that no U.S. president, whatever his campaign promises, would be insane enough to lose Iraq after all that has been gained and then be saddled with a newly chaotic Iraq that would poison his presidency.

So Maliki is looking ahead, beyond the withdrawal of major U.S. combat forces, and toward the next stage: the long-term relationship between America and Iraq.

With whom does he prefer to negotiate the status-of-forces agreement that will not be concluded during the Bush administration? Obama or McCain?

Obama, reflecting the mainstream Democratic view, simply wants to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Two years ago, it was because the war was lost. Now, we are told, it is to save Afghanistan. The reasons change, but the conclusion is always the same. Out of Iraq. Banish the very memory. Leave as small and insignificant a residual force as possible. And no long-term bases.

McCain, like George Bush, envisions the U.S. seizing the fruits of victory of a bloody and costly war by establishing an extensive strategic relationship that would not only make the new Iraq a strong ally in the war on terror but would also provide the U.S. with the infrastructure and freedom of action to project American power regionally, as do U.S. forces in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

For example, we might want to retain an air base to deter Iran, protect regional allies and relieve our naval forces, which today carry much of the burden of protecting the Gulf, thus allowing redeployment elsewhere.

Any Iraqi leader would prefer a more pliant American negotiator because all countries -- we've seen this in Germany, Japan and South Korea -- want to maximize their own sovereign freedom of action while still retaining American protection.

It is no mystery who would be the more pliant U.S. negotiator. The Democrats have long been protesting the Bush administration's hard bargaining for strategic assets in postwar Iraq. Maliki knows the Democrats are so sick of this war, so politically and psychologically committed to its liquidation, so intent on doing nothing to vindicate "Bush's war," that they simply want out with the least continued American involvement.

Which is why Maliki gave Obama that royal reception, complete with the embrace of his heretofore problematic withdrawal timetable.

Obama was likely to be president anyway. He is likelier now still. Moreover, he not only agrees with Maliki on minimizing the U.S. role in postwar Iraq. He now owes him. That's why Maliki voted for Obama, casting the earliest and most ostentatious absentee ballot of this presidential election.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

‘This Is the Moment’

And now we are loved again?

By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
July 24, 2008 3:30 PM

Given the size of the audience in Berlin Thursday, the enthusiastic response, and the standard lines about how we-were-, -are-, and -will-be-friends boilerplate, one wonders whether all it took to win the Euro-hearts and minds was to have a charismatic, multiracial American spice up a standard George W. Bush speech about helping the world, addressing AIDs, more troops in Afghanistan, etc.?

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) arrives to deliver a speech at the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park in Berlin, July 24, 2008.
(Jim Young/Reuters)

So supposedly sophisticated Europeans, who constantly dissect American politics and culture, seem suddenly to like us now, because a younger, more mellifluous figure repackaged the standard American trans-Atlantic rah-rah speech, dressed up with a little Obama messianic sermonizing: “People of Berlin — people of the world — this is our moment. This is our time!” along with some throwaway lines about global warming and Darfur?

That’s all it took?

A few minutes of Obama’s Elvis-like hope and change? And now the Europeans will pour troops into Afghanistan, match our AIDs-relief dollars, stand up to Iran, be balanced in the Middle East, get off our backs about Iraq, and stiffen their spines with the Russians, because the days of Bushitler are by fiat over with?

Besides the usual rock-star stuff that he excels at, Obama still does not do history well. He started, as in now usual, almost immediately by mentioning his race (“I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.”) But that simply was not true, given the fact that for the last seven years both American Secretaries of State — who have been the faces of American foreign policy in Europe — were African-American.

His reference to why Berlin did not starve in 1948 (“But in the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city’s mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom.”) seems somewhat misleading: the city was kept alive not by “the world” or even the courage of the hungry Berliners, but by skill and courage of the U.S. Air Force.

Three conclusions:

One, the public spectacle was of enormous political value to Obama, given the vast press coverage and the enthusiastic crowds.

Two, pundits will probably praise — and then forget — the speech in the same manner they did his embarrassing “I can no more disown Rev. Wright . . . ” race sermon which they once compared to the Gettsyburg Address — before quietly deleting it.

Three, I doubt aping the European line about U.S. torture, global warming, Darfur, etc. will result in any more NATO troops to Afghanistan, or anything else forthcoming from Europe. As it is, they want less, not more, military spending; their extra-constitutional anti-terror laws, spy-cameras, and preventive detentions make the Patriot Act look like Cub Scout bylaws; and their new anti-immigration protocols would earn calls of “fascism” if enacted here at home.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Democratic ticket and the John Edwards affair

By Byron York
The Hill
Posted: 07/23/08 06:54 PM [ET]

John Edwards and Barack Obama (May, 2008): Photo by Beth and Christian Bell (CC)

There’s been a lot of talk lately that former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) will have some sort of role in the Obama administration, if there is one.

A few months ago, Edwards, the Democratic Party’s 2004 vice presidential candidate, seemed to pull himself out of the VP race. But then, a couple of weeks ago, Edwards quietly put himself back in, telling National Public Radio, “I’m prepared to seriously consider anything, anything [Obama] asks me to do for our country.”

“Anything” could, of course, mean running for vice president. But Edwards has done that before, and he didn’t exactly put Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over the top.

Of course, “anything” could also mean serving as Obama’s attorney general, a position that has been mentioned for the former trial lawyer from North Carolina.

In any event, Edwards has shaped up as someone to watch should Democrats win in November.

But now there’s another reason to watch: an extensive story in the National Enquirer providing new evidence that Edwards, in the midst of his presidential campaign, had an extramarital affair that has, perhaps, resulted in a child.

The story began in 2006, when Edwards commissioned a woman named Rielle Hunter — sometimes described as a documentary filmmaker and sometimes as an aspiring actress — to make a series of brief behind-the-scenes Web videos about his campaign.

Newsweek did a short item on the videos, mentioning that Edwards met the filmmaker “at a New York bar where Edwards was having a business meeting.”

That’s all we heard about it until September 2007, when the Huffington Post published a story headlined “Edwards Mystery: Innocuous Videos Suddenly Shrouded In Secrecy.”

The website’s Sam Stein reported that the videos made by Hunter had suddenly disappeared from Edwards’s campaign website. “No longer am I working on a piece about new media and politics,” Stein wrote. “Now, I just want to know why these webisodes are shrouded in such mystery.”

Then, the Enquirer got into the story, reporting last October that Edwards was “caught in a shocking mistress scandal that could wreck his campaign.”
When Edwards was asked about the allegation, according to the Enquirer, he strongly denied it.

“The story is false. It’s completely untrue, ridiculous,” Edwards said. “Anyone who knows me knows that I have been in love with the same woman for 30-plus years.”

Later, in December 2007, the Enquirer published more details. A pregnant Hunter had moved to North Carolina, living in a house “owned by an Edwards backer” and driving a BMW sport utility vehicle registered to a longtime Edwards aide.

Hunter denied any affair, saying that the longtime, married Edwards aide was actually the father. A lawyer for that aide confirmed to the Enquirer that the aide was indeed the father.

Now the Enquirer has published a new story under the screaming headline "SEN. JOHN EDWARDS CAUGHT WITH MISTRESS AND LOVE CHILD!"

The tabloid reports that Edwards visited Hunter in a Los Angeles hotel Monday night, leaving her at 2:40 Tuesday morning. When the Enquirer’s reporters confronted Edwards, the story goes, he tried to escape.

Critics might question the Enquirer’s involvement in all this. Perhaps, they might charge, money changed hands to make the story happen.

Maybe it did. But one reads an Enquirer story just like one reads a story in The New York Times. You look at the allegation and try to sort out how much evidence the paper is presenting.

For example, after carefully reading the Times’s front-page story alleging that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had had an affair with a lobbyist, one could only ask, Where’s the evidence?

That’s not the case with the Edwards story; there’s quite a bit of detail.

What will happen now? Well, we probably won’t hear as many mentions of Edwards as a possible key player in an Obama administration.

But so far, Edwards is going on as if nothing happened. The morning after the Enquirer story appeared, he was in Denver, promoting an anti-poverty project.

Asked about the vice presidency, he said, “I’m not seeking the job. But anything Sen. Obama would ask me to do in his campaign or presidency I would consider seriously.”

Will Obama ask? Not likely.

- Byron York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail:
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Cover me: Bruce Springsteen's top 7 cover songs

By David Hinkley
New York Daily News
Wednesday, July 23rd 2008, 12:23 PM

This July 17, 2008 file photo shows Bruce Springsteen, right, as he performs alongside Clarence Clemons on saxophone during a concert in Madrid, Thursday, July 17, 2008.
Bruce Springsteen will be at Giants Stadium on July 27, 28, and 31.
(AP Photo/Paul White, FILE)

It's probably a good measure of how much fun Bruce Springsteen seemed to have on the just-concluded European leg of his "Magic" tour that he dusted off a couple of rock 'n' roll classics.

As the sets got longer - a show that was running maybe two and a half hours in the U.S. got as long as three hours and 10 minutes in Oslo - first Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and then the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout" dropped in for a visit.

This is always good news - not because Bruce does them better than anyone else, but because 1) those seminal rock classics fit perfectly with what Bruce still does with his own music, and 2) they say that he's still a rock fan. You have to figure the main reason he plays "Summertime Blues," besides it being summer, is that if he were in the audience, he'd love to hear it himself.

And who wouldn't? (Note clever classic rock joke there.) Among the many great early rock lines, there will always be a place for:

"I called my congressman
And he said, quote,
I'd like to help ya son
But you're too young to vote."

It will be interesting to see if those classics, or others, make an appearance when Springsteen visits Giants Stadium July 27, 28 and 31, kicking off the final month of the "Magic" tour that ends Aug. 30 in Milwaukee. Some folks privately say they think Bruce's European audiences have been responding better than his U.S. audiences for a while now, and that, subsequently, he sometimes has more fun there.

In any case, Springsteen has a pretty impressive song catalog of his own. But like his pal Bob Dylan, about whom the same can be said, Springsteen has never restrained himself from doing someone else's songs if he's in the mood.

He's sung hundreds of other people's songs, maybe thousands if you go back to the live shows of the early days when he would sing Motown, soul and garage. As time went by, those songs from his own top-40 and rock radio youth were joined by folkier songs he discovered further on down the road, like Woody Guthrie's "Vigilante Man" or "I Ain't Got No Home."

Then there are the times he's joined artists he likes or admires on stage, like when he was part of the band behind Roy Orbison for the famous 1987 tribute show, or the night he helped sing backup behind Dion at the Garden.

Throw in the hundreds of jam sessions at Jersey shore clubs, and it's hard to think there are many early rock classics he hasn't played at some point. That absorption was just part of the music culture in which he grew up. That's why his band years ago became one of hundreds corralled by Chuck Berry to back him up when he came to town. Chuck liked to travel light and he figured, correctly, that everyone who had the slightest connection to rock 'n' roll knew his songs, so why bother hiring and paying a standing band of your own?

Bruce Springsteen performs during a concert in his 'Magic Tour' at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona July 19, 2008.

In any case, the deal with Springsteen singing other people's songs is not to compare his version with someone else's, but to gauge how they fit in with his own songs. Does Bruce sing "War" better than Edwin Starr? No. Did it complement and enhance the music and messages around it in a Bruce show? Absolutely.

With that in mind, then, let's take off on a kind of fool's errand, which is picking the top seven Springsteen renditions of Other People's Songs.

And before you read the list and assume I forgot some major ones, which is entirely possible, I didn't forget about the "Detroit Medley." I know many Bruce fans cherish it as a pinnacle of pure rock 'n' roll excitement. I just think he's done better.

1. "Quarter to Three." It may have helped that he built elaborate stage raps around this classic Gary U.S. Bonds song, like about not eating a cheeseburger before you sing it. It definitely helps that by singing it, he helped enshrine one of the great party songs ever. But mainly, he sounded like he enjoyed it as much as Bonds enjoyed it, which seems almost impossible to anyone who knows the original. It's part of Bruce lore, and it should be.

2. "Jersey Girl." In contrast to the way "Quarter to Three" kicked matters into a frenzy, he used this one to slow things down. It would be a hot summer night and he'd work everybody into a sweat and suddenly the lights would drop and out would come this beautiful Tom Waits love ballad. A lot of people assume Springsteen wrote it because he took it over so thoroughly. He even added a verse of his own, though it's not as delicate and subtle as Waits' originals. But he understood the importance of the "sha-la-las," which mean just as much as the other words. He understood the girl about whom Waits was writing, too, and while his version is different from Waits', it's equally powerful. As an added bonus, it inspired a great line that Waits used many times in subsequent years about how sure, he wrote this song and Bruce sung it, but now, well, Bruce was just going to have to go the rest of the way on his own.

3. "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Not a heavyweight, you might say. You'd be right. But he just does it so perfectly. This is the definitive rock 'n' roll rendition of a Christmas song, one of the few peers to Phil Spector's Christmas album. The rap is perfect, too ("Clarence, Santa gonna bring you a new saxophone?"), and mainly, it just so fits the exhilaration of the season. In fact, it fits any exhilarating moment. He threw it into a European set one night a few weeks ago.

4. "Who'll Stop the Rain?" No one sings this with the jagged edge of writer John Fogerty. Not even Bruce. But Bruce sings it mighty mighty well, and even though he sometimes puts it in a playful context - he's been known to use it as a show kickoff on a night when the skies are threatening - he also conveys its dark metaphoric warning. It may be the most unsettling cosmic question rock 'n' roll has ever asked, the global counterpart to "Will you still love me tomorrow?"

Bruce Springsteen (L), Little Steven van Zandt (R) and the E Street Band perform at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki July 11, 2008. REUTERS/Hannu Kivimaki/Lehtikuva (FINLAND).

5. "Trapped." Hardly anyone heard this when Jimmy Cliff first recorded it, but one listener - Bruce - was enough. A song of restless unease became, in Bruce's hands, a roar of pain - and it might not be too much of a stretch to suggest Bruce felt a little of it himself, since he broke it out on the "Born in the USA" tour that made him rich and famous, but also clearly made him feel like he might be getting shoved into an anthem-rocker box.

6. "Chimes of Freedom." A recent UK article on later versions of famous songs called this one of the worst ever. Here, as in signing the non-aggression pact with Germany in 1938, a Brit was quite simply wrong. Bruce picked this song, which is one of Bob Dylan's best, which is really saying something, to kick off the Amnesty International tour a few years back. The enduring version is one he performed live on a radio broadcast and then issued as a single, largely to help promote the tour. Bruce doesn't have a big problem with song envy, but you know he wouldn't mind having written this one.

7. "Pay Me My Money Down" and "Old Dan Tucker." Personally, I'd put the whole "Seeger Sessions" project here. Those two songs sounded especially fine in the live performance, but so, on any given night, did a dozen others, from Sis Cunningham's "My Oklahoma Home" to Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live." Springsteen added a couple of his own lines on that last one, turning a scratchy old lament into a message for modern times as well. The new-for-Bruce sound of the "Seeger Sessions" was a big part of their appeal, obviously, but the fact Bruce was poking into these great old songs at all helps explain why he's done so many versions of Other People's Songs from the beginning: He hears a song, likes it, identifies what he likes and figures out how to convey it to us. That may be easier with "Twist and Shout" than with "Oh Mary Don't You Weep," and it obviously resonates with a larger audience. But it's the same impulse and the same process and at the very least, it explains why this conversation is worth having.

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