Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Omar is Dead, and Life as We Know It Seems Drab and Barren

We’ve tried to devote the few spare moments the Almighty grants us to a close study of the upcoming Texas primary elections, but our mind keeps wandering far away as we zone out on the lulling cadences of the SoulMender (maybe the Empathy Deficit’s got us down), or we reflexively turn away from the occasionally braying screech of the Missus Clinton (not a particularly “male” reaction, contrary to popular but uninformed opinion). Besides, this doing of our civic duty steals invaluable moments from our obsessive watching and contemplation of the 5th and final season of HBO’s The Wire, now down to its last two episodes (or grand finale, if, like us, you catch the show early on HBO On Demand).

We believe it was Carmela Soprano, ruefully needling her splayed-before-the-tube Mafiosi-Couch Potato husband, who offered the great meta-observation on TV: “It’s so much more interesting than life, isn’t it?”

The Wire was slow getting into gear this season, driven as it was by the highly out-of-tune plot twist that saw hard-drinking Irish cop Jimmy McNulty (one of The Wire’s few prominent white characters, and one of its most uninteresting) manufacture a kinky serial killer of Baltimore’s homeless so that the funds-strapped city would grant his department the resources to take down cold-blooded drug kingpin Marlo, who is pictured as the apotheosis of predatory capitalism by Wire creator David Simon. And Simon’s highly anticipated dissection of the newspaper business (anticipated in the newspaper business at least: has there ever been a show that generated so many acres of news and magazine print as Simon and The Wire?) at first seemed flat, perhaps because the monopoly newspaper operation, unlike the monopoly street-drug trade, isn’t really that riveting a subject for drama, and the workers who populate newsrooms these days are a singularly boring lot, or so we’ve been told.

By the fourth or fifth episode, however, as these developments merged with the show’s other narrative threads, the sheer headlong drive of The Wire took over, temporarily culminating in a emotional high point last Sunday with the out-of-the-blue killing of Omar Little, America’s best-loved gay practitioner of the fine art of ripping off drug gangs (hey, according to this piece in the Houston Chronicle’s Star section---which like most anything else half-interesting in that section emanated outside of the newspaper---even the SoulMender himself has “expressed his admiration for Omar---albeit with the caveat that he didn’t endorse Omar’s behavior” (NOTE TO CLINTON CAMPAIGN: BETTER JUMP ON THIS QUICK!). We were so wrong about Omar: We figured he’d stick around to coat the streets of Baltimore with the blood of Marlo & Co. and die trying, a showdown that we thought would be surreptitiously engineered by “murder police” Bunk Moreland (who, as no less an astute critic than us previously noted, is the most sublime fictional creation in the history of TV drama; when you see New Orleanian Wendell Pierce in a non-Bunk role you realize what a hellaciously good actor he is; unfortunately, for much of this season too much of Bunk’s face time has been devoted to hand-wringing over McNulty’s ruse).

But part of The Wire’s genius is its unpredictability, so of course Omar is done in as he’s buying a pack of Kools by a psychotic 9 year old (the screams of the Korean lady behind the Plexiglass still echo in our brain) who appears to have been pissed because Omar interrupted the boy and his confreres in the street-corner act of setting a cat afire.

Even the newsroom angle has grown on us, despite the leaden presence of city editor Gus, who as these jokers at Slate note appears to be a direct descendant of Jesus Christ (one of the only characters on the show who, at least so far, seems too good---too good to be true). Our favorite is Klebanow, the supercilious, thin-lipped managing editor with the perm’ed locks (we surmise that he gets his blue jeans dry-cleaned for the weekend), who’s just a notch less smarmier than the sweaty-palmed Jayson Blair-like fabulist Scott Templeton, a careerist and favorite of Klebanow who’s almost too bad to be true (Simon & Co. take pains to show that Templeton, in addition to being a monumental liar, is a physical coward). If you’ve spent anytime around a newsroom, you know these guys. (Check the scene where Templeton, sitting in a bar with McNulty and another reporter, unwittingly goes about helping the detective, a fellow sociopath, construct the phony serial-killer narrative so it can land on the front page of the fictional Baltimore Sun. Neither is aware of the other's lies. That was sharp.)

As good as the death-of-Omar episode was, the penultimate installment, scripted by the great George Pelecanos (The Wire is surely “Pelecanosian,” as opposed to “Dickensian,” the favorite adjective of the doofus executive editor on the show) has to be one of the most affecting dramatic works we’ve witnessed, dating back several past lives to when we used to rattle our chains at the special “Slaves Only Matinee” of Euripides’ works. We won’t give way any of the story, in case our mama’s read this far, but we most certainly did not fall asleep 45 minutes into it, as we did Tuesday night during that 90-minute drowser on MSNBC.

So much more interesting t
han life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

There Will Be Blood … or Wine, or Maybe Tomato Soup (Something Red and Sticky) in District 146

We know all the youngsters and media types are hyped up on this Obama bandwagon like they’d knocked back a six-pack of Red Bull, or whatever it is that keeps them up all night at their computer machines (we prefer the traditional stimulants: Community Coffee and/or methamphetamine), but true connoisseurs of the “political process” understand the real action lies in the Democratic primary in Texas State House District 146, where Old School Crank Al Edwards is trying to get back his seat from New School Crank and allegedly ungentlemanly insurance man Borris Miles.

Just this week the Slampo Family, which thanks to some computer program-induced gerrymandering resides in the heavily Democratic district (while also residing in heavily Republican U.S. House and state Senate districts), was the recipient of a truly sublime piece of direct mail from the Edwards campaign---one of the finest political mailings we’ve received in the many decades that such has been cluttering our mailboxes. On the front is a big, close-up color photo of a .38 nestled next to several (spent) cartridges, along with a glass of a nearly drained amber fluid (Olde English 800?) and another glass or bottle, this one green, which appears to be empty. “If you’re embarrassed by Borris Miles’ recent actions, you’re not alone …” says the words below the picture.

Damn straight that got our attention, so we opened up the half-fold to find a reprint of the key parts of the very fine Jan. 12 Chronicle article revealing the that the district attorney’s office is investigating The Honorable Rep. Miles for an incident in which he allegedly livened up a Christmas party by “confronting guests, displaying a pistol … forcibly kissing another man’s wife” and proclaiming himself a “gangster and a thug.” The uninvited Borris also is alleged to have informed the host, a property manager who had invested in a “rival” of Miles’s insurance concern, “There ain’t room in this town for the two of us. I’m going to come after you and take you down.”

(Y’know, that kinda sounds like using one’s office [or thuggery] in the restraint of trade, if true and all.)

But the best part is the picture below the reprinted article, which shows an overturned wine bottle from which appears to have spilled a sizable puddle (with ripples!) of something red. Something too red, too viscous, to be wine. Something a reasonable viewer can only conclude is blood---the life-stuff that the wine-guzzling, pistol-packing Rep. Miles spilled last year when he plugged a copper burglar who was thieving from the state rep's under-construction Third Ward mansion. (In case you forget while turning the page, the backside of the pamphlet bears another image of a .38 below the command: “Enough is enough. Say NO to crude behavior. Say NO to disgusting acts of rage. SAY “NO” TO Borris Miles.”)

Count us among the “undecided” in this one.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oh, Man, I Was Sooooo Messed Up …

So it was the drugs, huh? Well, one thing you can say in Chuck Rosenthal’s favor: At least he didn’t roll over on his wife during a nationally televised congressional hearing, or insinuate that a supposed good buddy is so feeble-minded as to have misremembered significant conversations.

Instead he fell back on America’s all-purpose excuse. These, of course, were legal drugs---at least according to the statement by Rosenthal that accompanied his resignation as district attorney---but prescribed and consumed in such a combination as to impair the D.A.’s judgment (or to cause “some impairment,” as he phrased it). Anyway, that’s what he said, and who are we to discount that explanation (for whatever)? After all, you don’t have to be a Scientologist to see that ours is one seriously overmedicated society. It would be one last act of public service by the retired D.A. to publicly specify which drugs combined to loosen his screws, if only to warn other depressed middle-aged males of the dangers of mixing certain medicines.

We must confess to finding it difficult to suppress a latent sympathy for Rosenthal that arose while we watched the news clips of Lloyd* Kelley** and noted theologian and recent Holocaust Museum visitor Quanell X (what a pair!) holding forth on the courthouse steps. One station aired a snatch of Quanell, speaking before it was known that Rosenthal had permanently clocked out, declaring the district attorney to be “the devil himself.” That right there is all anyone needs to know about Quanell: No sooner does he emerge from the Holocaust Museum a "changed man" than he’s back setting the bar for "deviltry" as close to the ground as possible.

*By the way, it’s still unclear to us at this late date what relevance Rosenthal’s email traffic held for the lawsuit Kelley is pressing against the sheriff’s department. We think the answer is “none,” although the lawsuit appears to be meritorious in its claims.
**Check out the way Kelley tosses out for public consumption the rumor that Rosenthal is a boozehound, much the same way he years ago tossed out for public consumption the rumor that Sylvia Garcia was gay. The boy’s a charmer!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

No Time for Vegans

Our defining moment of Wednesday’s Exercise in Sustained Bloviation, formally known as Day 2 of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s hearing on “The Mitchell Report: the Illegal Use of Steroids in Baseball,” came after one of the congressional gasbags---we didn’t catch the name, but we presume he’s a Democrat, since he was being extra-mean to Seven-Time Cy Young Award Winner R. Clemens---reeled off a list of “conditions” for which doctors recommend injections of Vitamin B12, the kind that R. says he was administered in the buttocks by ex-pal B. McNamee but which B. on Wednesday denied having ever administered to said buttocks.

The congressman asked R. if he had Alzheimer’s (“No,” replied R. unhesitatingly) or whether he was anemic (“No” again) or whether he was a vegetarian (“No I am not,” said a slightly grinning R., whose backyard barbecues were once the stuff of H-E-B commercials. [Hey, remember the one where he had A. Pettitte over?]) Finally, the honorable cut to the heart of the matter by asking R. if he were a vegan. R. requested that the congressman repeat the question, then a momentary look of confusion crossed the Seven-Time Cy Young Award Winner’s face before he declared---with a touch of pride, or so it sounded to us---“I don’t know what that is.”

Friday, February 08, 2008

Precious Keepsakes of Our Fleeting Time Together

But seriously: What kind of person holds on to bloodied gauze and dirty needles for six or seven years?

An ex-cop, apparently.

We did not know until reading the New York Times this week that Brian McNamee, Roger Clemens’ ex-trainer and chief accuser, was a pre-Giuliani era member of that city’s police force, a resume entry his lawyers have cited to explain his retrieval and storage of items he claims to have use used while injecting Clements in the buttocks with steroids and human growth hormone at the Yankee pitcher’s New York apartment in 2000-01.

In other words, it supposedly was a prescient CYA move by a distrustful onetime law enforcement officer, not a manifestation of some heretofore undefined psychological malady or an effort to cash in on eBay down the road. (And one is moved to wonder whether Clemens, guilty or innocent, was inoculating himself against just such a possibility when he acknowledged early on that McNamee had given him injections in the backside, of Vitamin B12 and painkillers.) According what to an unnamed lawyer “familiar with the matter” told the Times for Thursday’s edition, McNamee says he spirited the detritus away from Clemens’ apartment and took it to “his home in Queens, where he had a medical waste-disposal box.” (Doesn’t everyone?) As to why McNamee only lately has stepped forward with this (alleged) evidence---well, that’s what Clemens gets for taping McNamee’s phone call to him and making it public.

Considering the intimate moments these two shared over the insertions of needles into one man’s tender spot---and we’ll refrain from calling further attention to the homoerotic undertones of those endeavors---theirs does not seem to have been a relationship built on trust.

Now comes word from the New York Daily News that McNamee is purporting to have hit Debbie Clemens with HGH before she posed in a bikini for Sports Illustrated’s 20003 swimsuit issue. (The Daily News did not report whether McNamee claims to have injected Mrs. Clemens in her tush.)

Damn, this is getting good---better than Season 5 of The Wire! And the cast is getting almost as large: According to Friday’s Times, Clemens, in the midst of his two-day meet-and-greet swing through congressmen’s offices on Capitol Hill, was “introduced” at his news conference by none other than "America’s Judge," U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, a onetime colleague of Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin in the Harris County district attorney’s office (as well as of Chuck Rosenthal, whose would-be destroyer, like Clemens’s, is an ex-cop). We’re sure this wasn’t the first time Poe has given an accused drug user such consideration.

If you, like us, can’t get enough of this tale, we’d recommend this detail-rich profile of McNamee in the recent New York magazine, which includes a description of a 2001 episode that resulted in McNamee being investigated but not prosecuted for a rape involving GHB (said incident allegedly having taken place while McNamee was "partying" at a Tampa hotel with Bellaire High grad Chuck Knoblauch), as well as this observation on the nature of the ex-cop's relationship with The Rocket:
“McNamee got off on being the guy that Clemens deferred to,” says Pat Jordan, a veteran sportswriter who spent time with the two men in 2001. “The ‘greatest pitcher of our generation blah blah blah’ would have to ask McNamee what he could have for dinner, and McNamee got off on it. He was officious about it. He was pissed off I was intruding on their intimacy.”

Friday, February 01, 2008

Teen Columnist Takes a Stand for Teens Everywhere, While Apparently Not Setting Such a Good Example Herself

Taking a break from her jihad against the hapless Chuck Rosenthal & Co. (which is OK as far as it goes, although at this point it’s just making the dead dogs bounce in the rubble), the daily paper’s Lisa Falkenberg this week took up the cause of 17-year-old Jeff Liu of College Station, who has embarked on a campaign to allow 17 year olds to vote in Texas’ party primaries if they will turn 18 in time to participate in the subsequent general election.

We’re certain that Mr. Liu is a smart guy with a high IQ and commendable SATs (has to be---he’s a Chinese kid from College Station!), but we’re afraid he’s pushing a dumb idea. It’s obvious that what this country needs at the moment is a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum age of enfranchisement to at least 35, if not 40, and we’re not so sure that a non-discriminatory literacy test of some kind---perhaps reciting the multiplication tables to 12, or declaiming a snatch of Longfellow---shouldn’t be required. Maybe the posting of a surety bond, too.

Yet Falkenberg is so geezed on Liu’s idea that she rang up the high schooler’s state rep, Fred Brown, R-College Station, a dunderhead of the first order (middling IQ, unimpressive SATs) who, perhaps caught up in an infectious moment of good feeling with the big-city columnist, said he’d be glad to sponsor legislation fulfilling Mr. Liu’s desire (which, as we didn’t know [middling IQ], is permissible in local- and state-conducted elections, despite the 26th amendment setting 18 as the minimum for participation in federal elections).

We thought it odd that the columnist would be pushing such a change and talking up the glories of enfranchisement because, as we noted earlier and as still seems to be the case, the name “Lisa Falkenberg” is nowhere to be found on the voter rolls of Harris County (the two clearly female Falkenbergs listed as registered both live in heavily Republican redoubts---place where we’d bet the columnist has never ventured---and neither bears the name “Lisa” or a close variation) This of course doesn’t mean she isn’t registered to vote: It’s possible that Lisa Falkenberg is a whatchamacallit, a pseudonym, and she’s actually registered under her real name, or perhaps she maintains her registration in some other county, one where she doesn’t write a twice-weekly column whose sometimes aim is to influence public policy. And if she’s not registered, we’re sure there’s a good reason: Maybe she’s a convicted felon and lost the right, or maybe she’s not a legal resident of the United States (which around here is no barrier to participation in the electoral process), or maybe---and we’re guessing this is the reason---she herself is just 17 (and you know what I mean).

Whatever the case, we can assure both Mr. Liu and Ms. Falkenberg that this representative democracy business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Take us, a longtime voter who on occasion even goes to the polls and may do so in one or the other upcoming party primary, unless we oversleep: Our state senator has not lived in our district for many months (which is OK---we don’t need a state senator except once every two years, if then) and has set his resignation date a ways off so he can anoint a successor, while our state rep seems to be some kind of stone gangster (a Gangster of Love, no doubt). Then there’s our city councilman, who apparently does not live in the city but supposedly has aspirations for citywide office. (Our bottom line on this residency question is this: “If we have to live in this dump, then you do, too, if you would presume to represent us.”)

So we’d suggest that Mr. Liu concern himself with matters more suitable for a 17 year old---trying to get laid, or trying to get into the Ivy League school of his choice, etc.---and bide his time until it’s his turn to mess up this world.