What the Grinch movies get wrong about the Grinch

December 12, 2021

Recently, writer Jesse Spector surfaced one of the most cursed tweets of this, or any, Christmas season. Behold: police “arresting” the Grinch.

As Jesse correctly noted — with appropriate profanity — the biggest point of the Grinch story is that he learns the spirit of Christmas and redeems himself. Having police arrest the Grinch is bitter irony for those of us who believe the American carceral state holds too much sway in the popular imagination, because arresting and jailing the Grinch mostly forecloses upon his opportunities for redemption and improvement, and it's deeply dispiriting to see that display lauded as some kind of happy conclusion.

Jesse’s tweet inspired me to revisit Dr. Seuss’s book, and a few things occurred to me while reading. It’s very good as these things go — in the Seuss canon, I put How the Grinch Stole Christmas! behind only Horton Hears a Who!, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and Green Eggs and Ham — but I also think the two major movies that have been made based on it fall short in specific ways that may be contributing to people thinking of the Grinch as merely an antisocial asshole.

Of all the fake slides in all the world

December 5, 2021

In the first quarter of this year’s ACC championship football game, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett dropped back to pass, saw no one open, then took off to his right and downfield. As several Wake Forest defenders converged on him, he appeared to break down his running gait in preparation to slide feet first, which, under longstanding football rules, is an option available to ball carriers to give themselves up and end the play without getting hit, which would be a penalty on the defense. So, the defenders slowed down to let him slide. He did not slide.

The joys — and lows — of playing Super Nintendo games

November 21, 2021

Recently, I’ve started re-playing my old Super Nintendo games. I was never a big-time gamer, topping out at about 15 games in my SNES collection, and when I was a teenager I wasn’t interested in classic adventure games like Chrono Trigger or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Rather, I focused on sports games like Madden 94, Super Tennis, NCAA Basketball, Super Bases Loaded, Super Goal!, and NHL Stanley Cup.

Firing up the cartridges today, I was pleased to find that Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, and Mario Kart still hold up as perfect games, but my sports titles, ones I played for hours on end in the 1990s, are mostly unplayable today.

The Pachyderm

November 14, 2021

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago and have revised slightly for publication here. If you're reading this by email, know that it runs long and will probably get clipped by your mail client, so you can just click the title link right above here to read the whole thing.


Jaden Driscoll was already awake, staring at the ceiling, trying to remember his father’s face, as the early morning rain pattered against his bedroom window. Black hair, gently sloping jaw, sunken eyes, a small burn scar near the left ear, a mole on the right cheek near the nose.

He thought of every detail as he remembered his father, Mark, twenty years ago throwing a football across their street, ten years ago handing him a Miller Lite in the back yard, and three weeks ago confiding which nurses he was flirting with.

Jaden couldn’t tell if the women had found his father’s come-ons playful or tiresome, but he suspected the latter. Now, he worried he was already forgetting the way his father pursed his lips when mulling something. Worse, he worried he’d already forgotten important details. Had his father crossed his arms or put his hands on his hips when he was disappointed? How much of the Texas accent from his youth had he actually retained?

About the people fighting CRT and supporting the Tomahawk Chop

October 30, 2021

If you want to rile up someone who’s fully immersed in conservative media fever swamps, ask them about “critical race theory”.

As with just about any issue, you’ll get a variety of understandings, but among the folks who can string together an argument and that I’ve seen, most fall into just a few major forms, and each of these arguments suffer from some combination of being ahistorical, circularity, or misapprehensions about what is actually taught in schools.

'I’m not saying I’d make a better CEO. That's unsaid': How Connor Roy is a vital ingredient in Succession

October 20, 2021

has a killer lineup of characters who grab the imagination. Logan, the profane Lear. Kendall, the Don Jr.-esque cringe factory. Shiv, the appropriately-nicknamed emotional terrorist. Roman, the frightened clown. Gerri, who plays all sides all the time. Tom, the suckup. Greg, the underestimated interloper. And many more.

But there’s one I appreciate more than any other, because he inverts the central question of the show and heightens the dark comedy: Connor Roy, the eldest son. The show, so far, might feel like it doesn’t need Connor, but as played by Alan Ruck, Connor is the bay leaf in the Succession stew that brings everything together.

Finally, it's time for Giants-Dodgers in the playoffs

October 8, 2021

Given the San Francisco Giants’ recent run of success, I’m not sure the general baseball public realizes how rarely the team has made the playoffs since moving west in 1958. They only played in one World Series before the divisional era, losing to the Yankees in 1962, and in the five decades since have reached the postseason only 11 more times.

The ideal form of dodgeball probably isn't worth saving

October 1, 2021

When I was a kid, I liked playing dodgeball. In my childhood experience, it was no more freighted with anxiety than kickball, basketball, or any other game. Part of that is because I was athletic and a good thrower, but we also played a different version of the game than the ones I’ve seen played elsewhere and acted out in American pop culture, versions that provide an opportunity for bullies, sadists, and chaos monsters to dominate other children.

Ben Simmons, and the cheetah on the spaceship

September 26, 2021

Imagine a spaceship that’s about 300 yards long when sitting stationary on Earth. Aboard this spaceship is a cheetah. You’re able to watch as the ship launches into deep space and approaches the speed of light, leveling out at about 50 miles per hour short of that limit. You’re also able to watch as the cheetah then goes to the back of the spaceship and sprints toward the front at its top speed of 70 miles per hour. How fast is the cheetah going?

We’ll return to the cheetah, but let’s get to Ben Simmons, first.

Shohei Ohtani, please do this one more thing for us even though we're not worthy of your greatness

September 14, 2021

Like every other baseball fan, I’ve enjoyed watching Shohei Ohtani do Shohei Ohtani things this season. He’s been one of the two or three best power hitters in baseball while also pitching like a No. 2 starter, which makes other MLB players giddy and provides tremendous value to the Los Angeles Angels because, effectively, they get two great players from one roster spot.

However, there’s one more wrinkle to Ohtani’s game that I hope the Angels explore more fully: Playing him in the field.

We pretend 9/11 was a shared experience

September 6, 2021

What I wish more Americans consciously understood about 9/11 is that it was not a shared experience. Most of us acknowledge that people who were in Lower Manhattan and in or near the Pentagon were affected differently than people who were in Cheyenne that day. However, I want to highlight how our full identities — geographical location, age, education, parents’ background, and more — contributed to shaping realities that exploded into kaleidoscopic webs of memories and narratives.

The San Francisco Giants could have torn everything down, but didn't

August 29, 2021

The San Francisco Giants have the best record in Major League Baseball, and though the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays could easily overtake them by the time you read this, the Giants deserve recognition as the latest major pro sports team to rebuild and return to the top of their league without a full-on tank.

Teachers unions, pro athletes unions, and vaccine mandates

August 16, 2021

This week, millions of children are headed back to school in person, and so are the adults who teach and otherwise care for them. While large majorities of teachers appear to be pro-vaccination and actually getting vaccinated, too, teachers unions have, predictably, received waves of vitriol from the usual suspects for deigning to flex their collective muscle to urge the utmost caution in returning to school. A weird thing about this conflict is that a very similar dynamic plays out in professional sports leagues.

Prediction: The worst people are about to start invoking 'mental health'

July 30, 2021

Most of the conversation around Simone Biles’s decision to pull out of Olympic gymnastics competitions has been equal parts supportive and deferential to her stated reasons, at least in my circles. It’s not difficult to recognize that competing in these particular events without full confidence is far more dangerous than, say, trying to play basketball at the highest levels with an extreme aversion to shooting the ball.

However, I’ve come across a few people with different takes, which largely boil down to “she could have done something rather than pull out of the team competition completely, right?” or, in the case of the culture warriors making bad-faith arguments about how Biles’s choices reflect poorly on America more broadly, “she’s weak.”

ESPN's Playmakers: Flawed, but still resonant today

July 19, 2021

may not be remembered as a great television show, particularly when assessed by today’s standards, but the 2003 drama about a fictional pro football team that aired on ESPN(!) has many of the hallmarks of modern prestige TV and holds its own alongside other classic melodramas. Others have ably recapped the show in broad strokes, but I have yet to read any analysis of the character Leon Taylor, and how he was, subtly, as wild as all the other emotional wrecks and arrested development cases on the Cougars.

What it really means to be young

June 27, 2021

Each time I listen to The Linda Lindas — in particular their song, “Missing You” — I’m struck by their youth. Partly, it’s the lyric about doing homework; mostly, it’s the youthful energy in the performance that is somehow different from the energy that much older musicians present, even if otherwise they share more similarities than differences.

Being 30 years old means you can’t sincerely channel the same emotions as a 15-year-old in a rock performance. It just plays different.

Pitchers using sticky substances: What's become collective understanding and what's ephemera?

June 14, 2021

A problem with being Super Online is that when certain issues cross over to the mainstream and trigger fresh waves of “discourse,” it can feel disorienting. In my internet-rotted brain, the controversy about MLB pitchers using sticky stuff to grip the ball was litigated in the middle of the 2010s and ebbed away, so the return of the argument, inflected with newer, Statcast-inflected understandings of the effects of better grip, feels like a sneaker wave.

My brain won't let go of a job I wasn't offered

June 7, 2021

In the summer of 2017, I applied for a communications job with a Silicon Valley startup. After two phone interviews, they invited me to an in-person interview at a co-working space with no signage on the outside.

The two gentlemen conducting my interview met me outside on the sidewalk and guided me to their home office, which occupied one of the co-working space’s sub-warrens. As we headed through the company’s rooms, we passed several young men in shorts and t-shirts working on laptops. One of them had four or five cases of Soylent stacked under his table.

If The Athletic’s head honchos cash out, what was the point?

May 25, 2021

If the New York Times ends up buying The Athletic, as Axios reported is in the works, it could be good for readers. There’s a scenario where the NYT simply absorbs The Athletic as a sort of sports vertical and lets all the local journalists they’ve hired the past few years continue as they have been. There’s also a chance they make a series of cuts in an attempt to “right-size the business” when it becomes part of a public company and is no longer propped up by venture capital, and readers, local news outlets, and journalists are all left out to dry while a few executives and their VC backers make a tidy profit off the NYT’s optimism.

Either way, the primary lesson of The Athletic saga that I think not enough people have learned is how much news ⁠— radio, television, digital ⁠— is built upon the foundation of local general interest newspapers, and that the entire ecosystem goes to hell without that foundation.

Imagine college athletics existed for the benefit of students

May 10, 2021

For more than a decade, I’ve been convinced that big-time college sports and the NCAA are a predatory racket and we’d all be better off if the entire system was dynamited. “Big-time” is doing a lot of work in that statement, since I also believe organized, sponsored sports can serve a valuable purpose for students. The key, of course, is that if a university’s sports programs were truly oriented to serve students then they wouldn’t look like most Division-I schools’.

Every time I read about how these athletic departments are run, it’s clear that they don’t exist for the direct benefit of athletes or other students. Take this recent New York Times article about the athletics program at UC Berkeley. It specifically refers to the NCAA’s “anachronistic notion of amateurism,” which is about as edgy as it gets, but beyond that one reference, once you take in the entire picture there’s a gaping hole that remains unaddressed: Why go to all this trouble?

Giannis and the Bucks have reached 'boring, but good' status

May 2, 2021

Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t win the NBA’s MVP award this year even though his statistics indicate production and impact essentially equal to his past two MVP-winning seasons. That’s because Nikola Jokic has played transcendent basketball, Joel Embiid has also played fantastically when healthy, and Stephen Curry has bounced back to put up tremendous numbers for an otherwise terrible team following a lost season.

But I also suspect another big reason he won’t win the award is that Giannis and the Bucks have become boring to the NBA circles that decide such things, and American sports fans tend to underrate the talent of athletes or teams they deem boring.

'One Man's Trash': A brilliant bit of television

March 7, 2021

Upon recommendation of Film Crit Hulk, I recently watched the episode of The Chris Gethard Show titled “One Man’s Trash”, available in its entirety on YouTube. You don’t need to know anything about Gethard or the show, which, despite airing in the mid 2010s, is a very 90s-MTV-ish zany comedic variety/talk show (I was aware of him, but hadn’t seen much of his material before). You don’t need to know anything about the guests, Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas, though you may recognize them from their extensive bodies of work.

Hulk’s post suggests the episode is a classic because of the sheer energy Gethard, Scheer, Mantzoukas, and other participants bring to the proceedings, which garners big laughs. And it’s true those guys overflow with jokes upon jokes. But I think the genius of the episode is that, confined to a single room, with a live audience and a bunch of callers, it’s a master class in improvisational comedy blended with a dramatic arc.

The state of preparing to compete has no predefined end point

February 25, 2021

Many people have written thoughtfully and righteously about Kevin Mather, the now-former President and CEO of the Seattle Mariners, publicly denigrating players in the organization and openly admitting to service time manipulation. In some respects, it’s amazing he said such racist crap on video, and yet those of us who have paid even scant attention to the business side of Major League Baseball over the past decade shouldn’t have been surprised that someone would slip up and admit the obvious, that these days winning baseball games is still part of MLB teams’ purpose, but it’s nowhere near as important to their existence as it used to be.

There's nothing to understand about MLB's minor league power grab

February 17, 2021

On February 12, Major League Baseball announced its final minor league realignment plans, tweeting out a news release and chart showing the new arrangements of Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A clubs in newly-formed minor leagues with generic names (i.e.: available for naming sponsorships). It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the stated logic for the realignment doesn’t make much sense, even when taken on its own terms.

‘Wishful thinking. Most people will never learn the game of basketball…’

February 8, 2021

A brief note before we get to the main topic… I’m launching a new project next week, writing about a fictional NBA expansion team called the Pittsburgh Pierogies. You may have come across something similar before, but I’m planning to take it somewhere very different. Read the introduction, and be sure to subscribe to the mailing list so you don’t miss any entries — it’ll be published exclusively via email.

In 2014, Ken Arneson, a baseball blogger I’ve followed for more than a decade and a half, wrote a piece I’ve pondered ever since. Titled “10 Things I Believe About Baseball Without Evidence”, after I read it, I had a distinct feeling that it expressed thoughts I already had but couldn’t articulate, even to myself.

What the Super Bowl means

January 31, 2021

My earliest Super Bowl memory — one I’m not even sure actually happened — is of going to a party at a family friend’s house in January 1990, for the 49ers-Broncos game. I didn’t care a whit about the game, or the commercials, and I don’t think there were any other kids there other than my toddler brother, so my main memory is of the adults’ mirth growing in proportion to the 49ers’ lead, and that there was a lot of beer.

Protecting my child from my Internet Brain Rot

January 24, 2021

If you have a kindergartener in your home as I do, you’re likely aware of the Ryan’s World YouTube channel. Perhaps you’re also aware of J-House, Tic Tac Toy, or any number of other channels in which a well-groomed, outgoing, loud family with young children films themselves doing “challenges” or opening toys or playing in the backyard of their four-bedroom house or going on vacation, and presents the videos as aspirational lifestyle infotainment for children.

There’s always been garbage on television, and garbage books, and garbage music, all with garbage messages for children, so I’m not about to suggest this stuff is particularly harmful, even if I wish YouTube would do more to promote accountability for stuff people post as children’s entertainment. But the thing I keep thinking whenever I see these parents pointing the camera at their children and prodding them to perform is, “Thank God I was a kid before my parents could be tempted to do that.”

A thought on the future of U.S. national team fandom

January 17, 2021

There’s a video from 2010 I think about a lot that shows a variety of Americans’ reactions to Landon Donovan scoring his last-second goal against Algeria in that year’s World Cup.

I was in an office in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I worked for a sports media company. Perhaps my memory is fogged by time and what I wish it to be, but I remember a bunch of us were gathered around a television, watching the end of the game.