On Friday, as players from the Final Four teams — Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Kentucky — worked out and held news conferences, the tournament branding was omnipresent. The day’s events were sponsored by Reese’s, the official candy partner of the N.C.A.A. The company’s mascot, an oversize Reese’s peanut butter cup, took the court at AT&T Stadium to rev up the fans between practices.
Off-court activities presented another branding opportunity. When five Wisconsin players met journalists in separate rooms, each had at least one Powerade sports-drink cup on the table in front of him, regardless of whether he actually drank from it.
Who wins from that? Besides people like me who enjoy watching college sports, I guess it would be the sponsors, the networks, the players who become pros, and the NCAA. I don't see many benefits for the average college athlete, who won't go pro but still has to compete at the level the networks, endorsers, and fans expect.
Does Harker, the NCAA status quo defender, really think we can go back in time to the 1950s, when all student-athletes actually were student-athletes and there was no such thing as ESPN, March Madness, or a Powerade endorsement? Does he really believe the NCAA would be willing to surrender all that cash and just oversee what would amount to good intramural sports?
Even Harker acknowledges, "On some campuses the pursuit of athletic dominance has eroded the ideal of the student athlete. Players at these schools have every right to complain, particularly when the demands of competition effectively prevent them from being students."
Exactly right. The NCAA loves to use the term "student-athlete," but in the regime they've created it's difficult for an 18-year-old to be both. If the NCAA wants to accept all the cash but still use the term, then they need to figure out a way to really make them "student-athletes" again.
We were in Los Angeles. The first day, we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway, around Malibu. It had been a long, cold winter in Washington, and we needed to see the ocean.
We pulled up to a lonely beach, gathered some shells as mementos. It wasn't especially warm, but we walked on the sand and felt the ocean air. That is why they invented spring break.
Later, we both thought the beach looked like the last scene of The Planet of the Apes, the classic 1968 movie. If you've seen it, you can't forget it, cheesy or not. It makes almost every top ten list of great film endings.
I'm not sure if you can spoil the end of a movie that's almost 50 years old, but if you can, I'm about to: The astronaut played by Charlton Heston, carried away in a time warp to a land ruled by talking apes, is escaping from enslavement along the shoreline. He rounds a corner and sees the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. He realizes he's been on post-apocalyptic Earth the whole time. It's a legendary conclusion to one of the most imaginative movies of all time. But who knows where they shot it? It could have been any beach.
Then we realized we were in LA, and there was a good chance we might be right. As it turns out, we were close: the scene had been shot just a few miles east, on Point Dume.
When they shot the beach scenes for the movie, they had to chopper in the actors who played apes because driving there took an hour, and they suffocated in their costumes and makeup. That's what it took to make that movie. Somebody thought it was worth going through all that to make a movie about apes ruling the world. And aren't we grateful they took the chance?
Later in the week, we went to Point Dume, because why not? And there it was: the big rocks and the cliffs, the same distinctive and abandoned Pacific beach. Charlton Heston had pounded his fist into this sand and damned humans to hell for destroying the Earth and leaving it to the apes. I was sure of it.
The sun was sinking alone, except for one young couple on a blanket. You could feel the tension between them, as if he was about to propose. He had picked the perfect place to do it. That's a beach where anyone would say yes.
In the parking lot, there was a crew taking advantage of the light to film a commercial. I approached a crew member, an older guy who looked like he might know some history. Is this where they filmed Planet of the Apes? Yes it is, mate. An Australian would know. They're always right. This was the place.
People criticize Los Angeles, and maybe there's something to it — traffic, smog, plastic surgery, the Kardashians, and all the rest. But I saw it through different eyes. We don't know how lucky we are to live in an era with the movies and shows and imagination we have at our fingertips. It's a golden era. To me, Los Angeles, spring break 2014, felt like Paris in the 1920s, where the view of the world changed. It's hard to see when you're in the middle of it. But when I was really in the middle of it, I saw it.
My nine-year-old daughter hasn't seen Planet of the Apes, but she ran around the beach, touched the rock wall at the base of the cliff in the background of that final scene. Watching her, I hoped a little of the imagination of the place where we were standing might rub off.
Whenever I hear tough-guy foreign policy talk, I remember Christmas Eve dinner, 2002. I was sitting next to a relative whose opinion I respect. It was just a year after the 9/11 attacks. Almost 3,000 had been killed and we were still in shock. We were at war in Afghanistan and we were gearing up to invade Iraq.
My relative and I started talking about all this at our Christmas Eve table in Boise, Idaho. The problems were a long way away. We were eating Aunt Bene's codfish and drinking some good wine. And out of nowhere he asked a question that stuck in my mind: How did we get from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein?
It was an excellent question and right on the money. It was the question that was never really answered well before the U.S. invaded Iraq a few months later, before we ended up with almost 4,500 military personnel killed and spent one trillion dollars. Those in favor of invading ignored that question. The question instead was whether we were going to take it or not. What kind of man are you? There was a popular country song at the time, "Have You Forgotten?":
I hear people saying we don't need this war
But, I say there's some things worth fighting for
What about our freedom and this piece of ground
We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down
There might have been a good reason to invade Iraq, but it shouldn't have been because we were afraid of looking like we were backing down. I thought going in to Iraq was a bad idea, but I wasn't out on the National Mall protesting. It was clear we were going in whether I was on the Mall or not. Maybe history will judge differently, but it's pretty clear now that Iraq was a colossal mistake. I suppose that it will influence the way I and many of my generation look at foreign policy for the rest of our lives. And that might be a good thing, within some boundaries. It's made us think things through a little more.
One morning you wake up and things in eastern Europe have gone to hell. Ukraine is in chaos and the Russians have occupied Crimea. After you've found Crimea on the map and read up on it a bit, it strikes you as a travesty. As they greet Russian troops on their way to polling places, Crimeans vote by more than 90 percent to join Russia. The annexation is rubber-stamped by the Russian legislature, signed by President Vladomir Putin, and it's a done deal.
Suddenly in the United States, Vladimir Putin becomes the new Saddam Hussein. But this time, there's a strange element of admiration for him among some U.S. politicians and journalists. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giulliani says "Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day." He describes Putin as "big, strong, muscular on a horse." Sarah Palin says, "People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates." It's as if they're egging on Obama to send in the Marines.
That's fine. Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin are just doing their job, which is to make Barack Obama look weak and to continue appearing on Fox. The problem is that they're making this a joke and turning it into December 2002. The problem is that what's going on in Ukraine is a very big deal. It will probably influence our relations with Russia, and many other countries, for at least as long as Putin's in office, and that could be a very long time.
I've read about all this and thought about it with Christmas Eve 2002 in mind. And even though what self-interested clowns like Rudy Giulianni say makes you want to do the opposite, I think we need to smack Putin now, and smack him hard.
Because of my background, I'm as sympathetic as anyone to the right of people to determine whether they want to be independent, or whether they want to join another country. Maybe Crimea should go to Russia. But it shouldn't happen at the barrel of a gun, or contrary to local or international law.
What Putin has done in Ukraine is an outrage. He said, Crimea is ours, we're going to take it. We need to make him feel some pain. That might take sacrifices by everyone including the European Union, but if we don't do it now, why would he stop? I don't trust him when he says after Crimea, he's done.
It doesn't help when we have prominent Americans admiring Putin and his shirtless horseback riding. It dumbs down the many good reasons we should respond firmly. But in the end I think we should make Putin regret what he's done, so we don't end up being the ones with regrets.
When 3M invented the Post-it note in the 1970s, some people thought it was ridiculous. Why would I buy that when I already have a piece of paper and some tape?
Sometimes I try to think about nothing. My brain is filled with nonsense and pollution most of the time, worries about things that will never happen or that don't really matter. It's time to dump it all out. I find a quiet place.
It should be easy. It isn't. I breathe. Focus. I can feel the worries slip away. I'm almost there. I feel close to having nothing in my head.
But not really. No matter how much I relax and concentrate, things start flying around up there, appearing out of nowhere like a bad neighbor. I remember my unpaid parking ticket, how unfair it was and how the signs were completely insufficient. Am I saving enough for retirement? I'm filled with anger, shame, and bitterness. I wind up feeling worse than I did at the beginning. And that's not nothing.
Try it: Try to sit there for 60 seconds and think about nothing. You can't do it. Your head isn't built for nothing. It's built for hoarding.
These fancy-pantsed yoga and meditation masters who claim they can travel to a state of nothingness? It's bunk. On the outside, they give the appearance of being far away in a space of blissful emptiness. Their eyes roll behind their lids and their faces are blank.
I don’t buy it. You know that despite their act of serenity, their minds are filled with the same chaos as ours. They hear the same voices in their heads. And they're reminding them that they forgot to get soy milk. They were just at the co-op yesterday! Now they’re going to have to go back and fight the traffic and wait in line and they’ll probably forget their cloth bag so they’ll have to use the co-op's paper bag. Dammit!
One day you open your closet and a debate trophy from junior high falls on your head. This closet and your life are filled with junk: your Ab Terminator and your unsuccessful macramé lessons and all the Christmas sweaters. In a frenzy, you empty it all out, take three truckloads of rubbish to the Goodwill. You get your donation receipt and go home and look at your closet. There’s nothing in there. Nothing! And it feels good for some reason, like you've accomplished something by going back to the day you were born, when you had nothing.
But the feeling doesn’t last. You've got all this space. It's time to go to Sam’s Club. They have crates of electrical tape, 200 rolls for 20 dollars. That’s a hell of a bargain. You know eventually you’ll need electrical tape. You pick it up. Collections of spatulas. Three Stooges DVDs. A dozen jugs of Crisco. It won’t go to waste. You take it all home and store it in the closet you just emptied out, where it will sit until the distant day when you try to reach nothing again.
It’s the night of the big gala, and you’ve got nothing to wear. The problem is that you do. The problem is that you have to confront your spasms of bad taste in all those department stores. That's not nothing.
She dumped you by text after two years together. You're left with nothing. But not really. You're left with months of regrets and memories of all those times together. And then, after a while, another text from somebody new who asks you to dinner.
My wall is filled with drawings and paintings by my daughter. Your parents' walls were (and maybe still are) filled with drawings and paintings by you. That is definitely not nothing.
If you shut your eyes, you still see something. It might be blurry, but it's still something. Your natural state isn't nothing. Your natural state is doing and creating. Amid all the dumb things you've bought or said or done and the things that didn't work out the way you planned, try to remember that a lot of the time you've made and done things that surprised you and filled others with a lot of happiness. I'm grateful that there's no such thing as nothing. Even if that means that much of the time, it’s always something.
Washington, D.C. is a company town, and the company is politics. Even if you're like me and don't work for the company, it's always there. You can't ignore it. You get into a cab and you and the cabby talk about the company.
When you live in a company town, the company's news saturates everything. In Washington, D.C., national news is really local news. The perfect example is one of the biggest political events of the year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which finished this weekend. CPAC features speeches by all the Republican stars, including those considering presidential runs. And here, it's covered like the Super Bowl.
All that coverage makes you notice things. And one thing I've noticed is that every — and I mean every — bit of coverage about CPAC describes speakers throwing political "red meat" to the audience, as if they were satisfying a pack of hungry dogs.
If you Google "CPAC red meat," you get 18.1 million hits.
The networks report CPAC red meat:
"Conservatives descended on Washington D.C. Thursday for an annual gathering replete with ideological red meat."
"[Senator Mitch] McConnell delivered a red meat speech to the conservative activists."
The big newspapers report CPAC red meat:
"The audience [at CPAC] was hungry for red meat."
The Wall Street Journal
"McConnell's speech at CPAC focused on 'red meat' conservative issues."
"CPAC applause lines: Red meat for the faithful"
Christian Science Monitor headline
The Hispanic media report CPAC red meat:
"Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R, served up a familiar portion of conservative red meat."
At least one African-American blogger reported CPAC red meat:
"It’s probably got something to do with the conservative red-meat diet ’cause these girls have way more junk in the trunk than your average kale-chomping liberal."
The Washington Post can't get enough CPAC red meat:
"[Texas Governor Rick Perry] kicked off Friday with a red-meat speech that received enthusiastic applause from the audience."
"McConnell ... filled his speech with red meat rhetoric."
"New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie [gave] plenty of red meat and conservative lines to the crowd."
"... heaping chunks of red meat."
The Beltway political industrial complex loves CPAC red meat:
"Chris Christie’s red-meat speech scores at CPAC"
"[McConnell delivered] a speech full of conservative red meat."
"And that’s red meat for [Senator Rand] Paul’s followers."
A bunch of publications I'm not familiar with also love CPAC red meat:
"[CPAC] is a multi-day festival of dogmatic red meat."
"Watch Ann Coulter Serve Up Jokes And ‘Red Meat’ During Her CPAC Speech"
The liberal and public media cover CPAC red meat:
"Anti-Obama red meat expected from conservatives."
"Top conservative event opens with big names, red meat, and fun"
"Highlights from Reince Priebus's CPAC 2013 red meat speech"
Daily Kos headline
But the conservatives do too:
"GOP hopefuls serve red meat, audience eats it up"
Fox News headline
"CPAC Red Meat: Perry, Trump, LaPierre"
"[Senator Ted Cruz] launches CPAC political convention with a "RED MEAT" crowd-pleasing demand to abolish Barry's IRS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Patriot Action Network headline
"McConnell's speech was packed with red meat ..."
"Former Arkansas governor ... Mike Huckabee threw out red meat to social conservatives."
"[Texas Governor Rick] Perry’s remarks were full of red meat."
"Serving Up Red Meat at CPAC"
Food metaphor lovers love CPAC red meat:
"Christie’s address here was a heaping serving of red meat."
"At [CPAC], the red meat was served as the second course."
The Fiscal Times
"The special served all day on day one of [CPAC] was red meat."
WSB.com [Atlanta] headline
"[CPAC] afforded an opportunity to feed conservative Republicans the red meat they craved and expected."
The Washington Examiner
"'Mama Grizzly' Sarah Palin dishes red meat to CPAC conservative activists"
Christian Science Monitor headline
Every region of the country covered CPAC red meat. Ohio:
"And so the corruption-filled, jelly-roll of a big man [Christie] included just the right amount of fictitious red meat."
Akron Beacon Journal
"Former Governor Mike Huckabee offered plenty of red meat at [CPAC]"
Salem radio headline
"[Cruz] tossed red meat to cheering activists."
Dallas Morning News
"Christie ditched his purple-state prose for red meat."
California Political Review
The media love CPAC red meat so much they mix it with other metaphors:
"But even that red meat came off as a bit flat."
The New Republic
"You can’t ... expect people not to notice all the chewed-up red meat and low-hanging fruit on the floor."
"You can't put lipstick on red meat."
And they love CPAC red meat when it's not even there:
"[Mitt] Romney didn’t exactly throw red meat to the crowd of conservatives."
"By the standards of recent Republican rhetoric, [Senator Marco Rubio's] speech was no red-meat stem-winder."
New York Times
I'm now a vegetarian.
In sympathy, many reporters write with a deadline, so they probably can't help but use clichés like "red meat." The problem is that "red meat" starts out meaning nothing to anybody but becomes a caricature that means a lot to everybody. It means that CPAC attendees are a bunch of slobbering idiots.
I don't have to use clichés like that. The advantage of an occasional blog is the time to think carefully about what I write. You wouldn't catch me using a cliché, even if my life depended on it.
One of the blessings of our time is never having to choose what to watch. You can see shows during their original airing or you can store them up and watch an entire series over a binge weekend.
But what if you had to choose? I was thinking about that last night when Downton Abbey and the premiere of the latest Walking Dead season aired head to head. What if it were the 1970s and I only had one chance at either? I thought about it a bit, and it was a little troubling to realize that I'd go with the zombie apocalypse show.
I've never been the kind of guys who likes zombie movies. So what is it about The Walking Dead that's sucked me in? It's hard to explain. There's a lot going against it.
For one thing, it's filled with gore and violence, usually close-ups of one of the few human pandemic survivors sticking a sword or a knife or a shovel into a zombie's head (it's the only way the Walking Dead zombies can be killed). Or going through the intestines of a dead zombie to see if it's eaten one of the young members of their group. Or turning a corner and seeing a zombie with the entrails of a victim hanging from its mouth.
And I don't particularly like the characters or their development, which many critics and fans have praised about the show. The humans can be unlikable and unbelievable. Like the Governor, a loathsome sociopath who for the past couple seasons has been a regular fixture, commanding a small group barricaded against zombie invaders. He's crazy. He keeps his young daughter, who was bitten by a zombie and therefore become a zombie herself, in a closet in his apartment. He dresses her as his little girl and brushes her hair while black goo oozes out her mouth and onto his shoulder. It's all pretty gross.
But once you start, you can't stop watching the thing. I think what makes The Walking Dead is not the zombie scenes (which I admit are pretty fun), but the survivors' facing the devastation of the almost total annihilation of the human race. The buildings of Atlanta, around which much of the story takes place, still stand, but the city is dead. Thousands of zombies stagger through the streets, looking for stray dogs or human cadavers (apparently zombies don't eat other zombies).
One brilliant part of the show is that it only hints about the pandemic that killed most of humanity. They show a freeway leaving Atlanta bumper-to-bumper with cars trying to escape. They are now parked there forever, filled with bodies and essential belongings. Meanwhile, the freeway into the city is empty. You never really know why. You have to use your imagination. As gratuitous as the violence can be, there is also a captivating restraint about how they got in that situation in the first place.
The few survivors, which the series revolves around, roam around the area on a constant hunt for food and water and shelter against the zombies. I think that's what keeps me watching. They have to pilfer from the remaining canned goods at a grocery store that was raided long ago, or look through the suitcases and coolers of cars stuck on the Interstate, their dead drivers still at the wheel. They go back to their towns to get pictures of family members who died long ago, trying to capture happier days that they'll never have again. They have to scrounge gas. They have to steal books from kids' bookshelves. Nothing is owned anymore.
The opening scene of a season three is a perfect example. There's no dialogue. The characters barge into an abandoned home and kill off a few zombies camping there. They raid the cupboards, and one of the boys finds only dog food. As he opens a can, his father looks at the others, embarrassed and resigned. Is this what we've come to? Is this our existence now? You can't help but wonder what you'd do in that situation, and that's what sucks you in more than anything else.
The scene ends as more zombies are approaching and the survivors have to escape, blending into the opening song and credits, which are the most terrifying 25 seconds on television.
I suppose it's a little twisted to choose The Walking Dead, with all its gore, over Downton Abbey, with its beautiful scenery, wardrobe, excellent story lines, acting, and writing. But is it any more twisted than Downton Abbey, which tells the story of coddled nobility who spend their days commanding second-class-citizen servants, who help their employers get dressed for six-course dinners while they live in attic dorm rooms and work six and a half days a week? It reflects a hierarchy and time that really existed. The Walking Dead is all a work of the imagination — a warped imagination, but a pretty good one.
That dress looks really sharp. That's a really nice twisty thing on the side.
Woah, look at her! If two trucks hauling nothing but organza crashed head-on in the middle of the night, that’s what the wreckage would look like.
There’s only one word to describe that gown: really sharp.
As I watch the guys walk the red carpet, I wonder what happened to cummerbunds. None of the guys are wearing them. I always thought that they looked sharp. I will admit that at prom I had a hard time figuring out which end went up. And then it kept poofing up my stomach. Plus, it really didn’t secure my pants. So now that I think about it, never mind about cummerbunds.
I like how that poofy sash hides the midriff.
What do you think they do with these gowns when the night is over? Do they wear them to the next wedding? You know what I think would be a good idea? They should donate them to people who have been through a tornado. It would give them something to wear.
That dress gives off the feeling you get when you find the surprise money in your pants while doing laundry. And not just a one dollar bill, but more like a five.
The Downton Abbey girls look better in their 1920s English gear. I can’t put my finger on it. Without the costumes, they just look like American chicks who are faking an English accent. And faking is unattractive.
You know what I like about tuxedo pants? There’s a belt that you can expand a little bit if you’ve put on some weight. And when you take them off, you can wad them up and kick them around and then throw them in the corner, but when you put them on the next day they don’t look any different. Like you just got them back from the dry cleaners. Really crisp.
His outfit is okay, but he worked too hard on getting the right amount of facial stubble. You know what guys think of a guy who spends too much time trying to get his stubble right? Well, they’d like to kick his ass is what they think.
He should have asked his wife if that tuxedo made him look fat. Women always tell the truth and then everybody wins.
That’s what Mother Teresa would have worn on the red carpet. The difference is that Mother Teresa would have pulled it off.
That outfit reminds me of the story of the two hoboes who were walking down the road. The first hobo says, “I really like your suit. Can I try it on?” And the second hobo says, “Sure, if I can try on your suit.” So they switch suits. They both like their new outfits and feel great, so they keep them on and continue walking. The moral of the story is that she may feel great in that outfit, but it looks like two hoboes who switched suits.
Just an aside: These awards shows offer a really nice opportunity to acknowledge people who don’t get enough recognition.
You'd think a famous actor would work harder to look like he has a six-pack. But that suit makes him look like he just had a six-pack.
Colonel Sanders just called. He wants his tie back. And his bucket of chicken too.
Colonel Von Trapp called. He wants his lederhosen back.
Colonel Klink called. He wants his Sergeant Schultz back.
I've just been informed that Von Trapp was actually a captain. But she still needs to give the lederhosen back.
Imagine a kid who is trying to make the varsity baseball team. He works his heart out, sweats by the gallon, grinds in the dirt and dust day after day. When the tryouts are over, the coach calls him into his office. I’m sorry son, he says, it just isn’t in the cards for you. I have to let you go. The kid returns to his locker in tears and stuffs his sweaty, dirty, blood-stained clothes into a duffel bag, and walks out alone and brokenhearted. The dress she’s wearing looks like that duffel bag.
One more great thing about renting a tuxedo: the shoes. They are not very comfortable, I’ll admit that. But boy do they hold their shine. You can walk home in a blizzard, shuffle through mud, but do you think it makes those shoes any less shiny? Not a chance. I think more guys should have rented those shoes. They’re sharp.
The texture on that gown is just fabulous. It's like a warm bowl of Rice-a-Roni.