HLG

Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Scaramucci Well Done

“It looks like the basement ballroom of a two-star Vegas hotel, the site of the Long Island bar mitzvah you could never afford to have, the classiest strip club in Bayonne, New Jersey.” So begins what must be the easiest hit job in the history of journalism: a review of Anthony Scaramucci’s Manhattan steakhouse. Rolling Stonerevels in it.

Everything we ordered was wet. When you cracked them open, the complimentary popovers wheezed with a damp, cheesy broth. The mac and cheese reminded me of my own high school cafeteria’s, the way it coated my entire mouth in a thick, molten layer of Elmer’s glue…The décor, which reportedly includes 55,000 pounds of marble, is said to have cost $5 million at the time of installation. (The fixture reminds me of Dolly Parton’s famous saying: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”)

2. A Perfect Swing

John Barton, possibly the greatest golf journalist, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years ago. In this month’s Golf Digest, he describes playing his favorite course for what he knows will be the last time. In this poignant piece, he summarizes both his game (never good) and his career (always great):

I played in the Russian Amateur in Moscow the first year they let non-Russians play, shot 89-88 and finished 28th. I played in Pyongyang, winning what we jokingly called the first North Korean Open. I played Royal Thimphu in Bhutan, "the world's most remote golf course." I finished 38th in the Putt Putt U.S. Open. I interviewed Annika Sorenstam in her hometown, Stockholm, and Fred Couples in his home in Texas. I saw each of the four majors that Tiger Woods won in a row. I asked Jack Nicklaus a dumb question. I asked Gary Player about his early support of apartheid. I got Gene Sarazen to sign a photo of himself. I met Henry Cotton. I wrote a golf book…I underclubbed. I overswung. I left it short…I shook Arnold Palmer's hand.

Barton’s courage and self-awareness were not limited to golf. See, for example, this report on running the London marathon after his diagnosis.

3. Premier League Coach

Legendary coach of Arsenal Football Club, Arsene Wenger, announced this month that he would be leaving his post. Although the British sports press rushed forth with tributes and assessments, the best one was published The New Yorker:

There was a meticulousness in his approach that extended to how the players took care of themselves. “I think in England you eat too much sugar and meat and not enough vegetables,” he told reporters. At the time, players were more accustomed to pre-match chocolate bars than to individually tailored nutritional regimes or post-game massages. If Wenger’s players insisted on taking sugar with their coffee, he reportedly recommended a particular stirring technique to insure that all of the granules properly dissolved.

Over on ESPN, novelist Nick Hornby reflected on Arsenal’s dominance in the Wenger heyday: “The worst thing the opposition could do against Arsenal in the early 21st century was win a corner.”

4. Spaced Out in Post-Shame San Francisco

Corey Pein’s A-Brit-in-Silicon-Valley report covers well-traveled ground. But his description of the typical tech conversation is pitch perfect:

The inevitable first question was: “What’s your space?” Not “How’s it going?” Not “Where are you from?” But: “What’s your space?” This was perhaps the most insufferable bit of tech jargon I heard. 

“What’s your space?” meant “What does your company do?” If you were a writer, you would never say “I’m a writer”. You would say “I’m in the content space”, or, if you were more ambitious, “I’m in the media space”. But if you were really ambitious you would know that “media” was out and “platforms” were in, and that the measure – excuse me, the “metric” – that investors used to judge platform companies was attention, because this ephemeral thing, attention, could be sold to advertisers for cash. 

So if someone asked “What’s your space?” and you had a deeply unfashionable job like, say, writer, it behooved you to say “I deliver eyeballs like a ninja”. In my former life I would have sooner gouged out my own eyeballs than describe myself in such a way, but in post-recession, post-boom, post-work, post-shame San Francisco, we all did what we had to do to survive.

5. The Tyranny of Nice

Jonah Sachs dissents from the notion that we ought to create a harmonious workforce. “Niceness fails to increase equality, even making it worse.” He elaborates:

As the heads start nodding and the good feeling starts spreading, critical thinking starts shutting down…Nice workplaces quickly become tyrannies of conformity and inequality. Perhaps your nice organization is different, but that would make it the rare exception. Once the expectation for harmony is set, very few companies make it clear that it’s acceptable to go against the grain when it’s needed.

6. Movies Worth Second Thoughts

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, has 93% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and Scarface, the Brian DePalma/Oliver Stone opus, enjoys the same score from audiences. Yet neither film fared well upon release. Two recent reappraisals show how far things have come. Here is Dan Chiasson on 2001:

A sixth of the New York première’s audience walked right out, including several executives from M-G-M. Many who stayed jeered throughout… Renata Adler, in the Times, described the movie as “somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring.” Its “uncompromising slowness,” she wrote, “makes it hard to sit through without talking.”

And Jason Bailey on Scarface:

"Scarface has a few brilliant scenes, but it’s dismayingly empty…a sadly overblown B movie.”The Village Voice’s Andrew Sarris dismissed it as “camp for the coke crowd.” The New York Post’sRex Reed deemed it a “pointless bloodbath” that aimed only to “disgust, sicken, and horrify the audience with a rampage of violence, bloodshed, and carnage.”

Both pieces also include insider dope on the how each movie was made. Even better: The New Statesman’s look into the making of Casablanca.

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