Friday, March 14, 2008

OFF THE BEATEN ST. PATRICK'S PATH — John Lynch









A native of Newry, Northern Ireland, John Lynch has been called the cinematic face of the Irish Troubles. On screen, he also has two-timed Gwyneth Paltrow, romped with Lassie and been one of the most touching schizophrenics in film history.

You'll recognize his face, no doubt, but John Lynch is one of the greatest actors you've never heard of.

Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney and the incomparable Daniel-Day Lewis are the branded faces of Irish film. John Lynch is it's quiet soul.

He arrived on the film scene indelibly with Cal in 1984. Playing the title character — a reluctant IRA terrorist — Lynch brings a haunting sensitivity and depth to the affecting story of Cal's love affair with the widow (a stunning Helen Mirren) of the man he helped to kill.

Cal, like Lynch, is an under-appreciated classic.

Lynch was part of the combustible cast of Derek Jarman's searing Edward II (1991) as well as the heartbroken Lord Craven in the sweet and sumptuous film version of The Secret Garden (1993) — his first taste of commercial success. That same year came In The Name of The Father, as Lynch played Paul Hill alongside the Oscar-nominated Day-Lewis as Gerry Conlon — half of the railroaded Guilford Four. Deservedly so, the powerful, moving film was nominated for Best Picture.

Now on a full-fledged great-movie binge — Lynch, in the next three years, went from John Sayles' The Secret of Roan Inish to Angel Baby, where he was wondrous as a schizophrenic fighting for love and his independence to Nothing Personal — possibly his greatest performance — as a young father trying to stay apolitical in 1975 Belfast to his indelible turn as doomed hunger striker Bobby Sands in Some Mother's Son — which reunited him with Helen Mirren.

Lynch is probably best-known to American audiences as the feckless boyfriend in Sliding Doors (1998) — which not only stars Gwyneth Paltrow but has been seen by Trip McClatchy nigh on 400 times.

In the intervening ten years Lynch has continued to give finely etched performances — most notably in the mini-series Bleak House, the latest incarnation of Lassie and as legendary soccer star George Best.

In every role — John Lynch finds its heart. And you believe him. He's an artist.

You could do a lot worse than a John Lynch film festival this St. Patrick's Day.

JUST RIDICULOUS !!

















Try as we might to bring the St. Patrick's Day countdown your way, the absolute magic of college hoops and BrothersMcC mojo refuses to be ignored.


John Noonan's (that's him administering the bear hug) favorite descriptive adjective is "ridiculous." It is summoned for good, ill and anything in between.

And now it must be applied to Ursinus College basketball.

These guys are ridiculous.

Tonight Ursinus took on last year's national runner-up Virginia Wesleyan (of the powerful — and I mean POWERFUL — Old Dominion Athletic Conference — which has produced its share of great teams, D-III Hall-of-Famers and slow, earthbound, fundamentally sound, Irish-American hotheads who get in fights and nearly tossed from games minutes after tip-off when their families have driven five hours to watch them play ... okay maybe just one of those.)

This second-round match-up had "Bad News" written all over it for Ursinus. Their leading scorer and All-American Nick Shattuck was hobbled by a painful bruised heel and Virginia Wesleyan was fast, physical and experienced.

By the way — this Shattuck fellah was cut from his high school freshman team and squeaked on JV as a sophomore. Now he's a college All-American. Mover over, Rudy. Here's a picture of the dude:








Long story short — Virginia Wesleyan comes out smokin' and Ursinus is down 17 at half time. Shattuck has as many points as I do to complement his three fouls and John Noonan is clanging everything outside two feet.

But soph guard Matt Hilton is on fire — or as his notorious relative might say, "hot."
And 6-10 Michael Shema is beating up Virginia Wesleyan inside.

In the second half — Ursinus chips away, Virginia Wesleyan gets tight, Nick Shattuck absolutely guts it out and scores huge bucket after huge bucket, Noonan finds the range and some French dude named Cousart has a zillion assists. Ursinus comes all the way back and finally takes the lead 60-59 as John Noonan, showing hops foreign to the rest of his gene pool, converts a sweet alley oop play.

It see saws the next couple of minutes. Helfferich Hall is pandemonium, my sister — John Noonan's mother — is in cardiac arrest, her husband — John's dad — is quietly aging decades and my nephew Sean is apparently plotting a media grab (see above photo — and dig the Ohio State sweatshirt — purchased by the wife and yours truly. Kid has taste.)

Ursinus rides clutch play and a collective huge pair to a mind-boggling 70-64 comeback win for the ages. And a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. And quite possibly the greatest post-game celebration picture in sports photo-journalism history.

Reached for comment following the game, John Noonan characterized the comeback, the photo, the gutcheck, the Sweet Sixteen, the celebratory embrace with teammate Keith Page, the Freak-a-Deak photo jubilation of his cousin Sean and the length of this sentence as ...

"ridiculous."

OFF THE BEATEN ST. PATRICK'S PATH — Roddy Doyle

(ed. note: First things first — never underestimate the power of a blog entry. To wit:
I ignited an Ursinus-hoops-tastic burst of blog activity earlier this week — focusing on young John Noonan (great-grandson of Irish immigrants, mind you.) Tonight the Ursinus College Bears defeated Bible Baptist, 94-76, in the 1st round of the NCAA tourney. Noonan — in his first game flush with BrothersMcC mojo — promptly went off for a career-high 28 points.
We do what we can.
)





Now for today's offering:

Most everyone knows about The Commitments — the wildly popular movie about the fictional ragtag Irish band that finds success. The Commitments was originally a novel written by the great Irish author Roddy Doyle. It later was included in The Barrytown Trilogy — along with his next two novels, The Snapper and The Van — both of which also became films.

Doyle won the Booker Prize for his 1993 novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. But the spotlight we throw today is on my favorite from the pen of Mr. Doyle:

A Star Called Henry


Profane, profound, and laugh-out-loud funny, it is Doyle's best. He gives us one of the most memorable characters in recent fiction in Henry Smart — born in 1902 into grinding Dublin poverty to a one-legged father who works as a whorehouse bouncer and uses his wooden leg to keep the peace.

If that doesn't hook you — you can kiss my ass.

We follow Henry — memoir-style — as he makes his way through a tumultuous childhood to joining the cause of Irish independence and ... I'll say no more. Except Henry meets many an historical figure along the way.

Writing this good is rare.

So go get the thing and read it. Hell, it was published in 1999. It's gotta be in paperback by now, you cheapskates!

A Star Called Henry is Volume One of The Last Roundup.
Volume Two is Oh! Play That Thing — it's good but not nearly the masterpiece A Star Called Henry is.

That's right, I said masterpiece. Problem, friend?

OFF THE BEATEN ST. PATRICK'S PATH — Sinead






Over the next few days, I'll endeavor to bring you some of the less-well-trod options for cultural Irish enhancement.

As beloved as they may be — you'll not find The Quiet Man, The Clancy Brothers or James Joyce in these pages. It's about new experiences, forgotten gems, hidden treasures.

And, please — for the love of all that is good and holy, Michael Collins and John F. Kennedy — NO GREEN BEER.

Today's offering:

Just because she's a split-personality nutcase who is a danger not only to herself but record executives and authority figures everywhere — we cannot forget that Sinead O'Connor is possibly the greatest female vocalist in Ireland's illustrious history.

She is brilliant, petulant, unhinged, beautiful, infuriating, inspiring, heartbreaking and, in the end, mysterious. Just like the country she hails from, tortures and reveres.

Here she reminds us of our common humanity:

THE LAST TRUE AMATEURS LOVE THE GAME — AND MAKE HISTORY




There is a plaque that hangs just inside The Palestra, the legendary basketball arena on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It reads:

"To win the game is great. To play the game is greater. But to love the game is the greatest of all."

That quote may apply to the legions of Division I players that have made history at the Palestra through the years. But nowhere does it apply more than in the relative obscurity of Division III basketball.

There are no scholarships. There is no TV deal. There are no coach's endorsements. And many times, there are no fans.

The players in Division III are the last true student-athletes. They aren't going pro and they aren't getting famous. And they play hoops for themselves, their teammates and the love of the game.

And these guys can play. Really play.

And while the college basketball landscape is dominated by the March to Madness, Bob Knight's bail-out and Kelvin Sampson's compulsive scuzzball behavior history was quietly being made, Division III-style, not forty minutes from that famed plaque at the Palestra.

Ursinus College, in Collegeville, Pa., became the first team in Centennial Conference history to go undefeated in conference play. The Bears hit 18-0 with a 72-69 nail-biter over Muhlenberg on Saturday.

The Bears have an All-American scoring machine in senior Nick Shattuck. They also have an emerging star in junior guard John Noonan.

You will read very little about Nick Shattuck the rest of the way because John Noonan is my nephew and I'm going to brag about him from here on out.

Nick — sorry, dude.

And in keeping with strict BrothersMcc protocol, I am writing this without benefit of actually having seen any of the games — which in no way diminishes my expert opinion and insights. That said ...

John Noonan is the quintessential D-III hoopster.

He was the best player at his high school — tiny Friends Select in Philadelphia. He had the chance to transfer to bigger high schools that played in more competitive leagues but he chose not to. Friends Select was his school and the guys were his teammates.

In the summers, John held his own against some of the best players in the city — many of whom went to D-I schools.

Ursinus, a perennial power in D-III, recruited him. And off he went, tagged as the school's next great player.

And he struggled.

The transition from Friends Select-type competition to top-flight college hoops was a huge challenge. John played sparingly as a freshman — he was tentative. He put pressure on himself. He got frustrated. His jumper deserted him.

But he kept working. He worked hard. Then worked a little harder.

Last year — as a sophomore — John moved into the starting line-up and he showed flashes. But his jumper still was fickle and the team never found its stride, stumbling on a four-game losing streak to end the season a disappointing 16-10.

This year, John Noonan has emerged. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He is playing clutch basketball, shooting the ball like a seasoned veteran and even leads the team in steals. And he makes his free throws.

(Note to John Calipari at Memphis — There will be games that come down to making free throws and it will be your undoing. For the love of God, practice free throws, mister.)

And John Noonan is funny. Which goes a long way in the course of a grueling hoops and books season.

In the final three-game run to history, Ursinus battled the following:

— prior to an 88-62 road win against Dickinson, Nick Shattuck and John were flattened by the flu. John dragged himself out on the court and laid 22 points on them, going 8 for 11 from the field.

— against Haverford, a team Ursinus beat by 30 earlier in the year, John gets whistled for a phantom foul with .08 seconds remaining and the score tied. The player from Haverford College spares John years of therapy and possible mental illness by missing the free throw. Ursinus holds on in OT 82-75.

— In the final regular season game at Muhlenberg, Ursinus survives an excruciating parade to the foul line by Muhlenberg in the last two minutes and a desperate three-point heave to stay undefeated.

The Ursinus Bears were perfect. John Noonan broke out — averaging nearly 15 points a game and even throwing down his first career dunk.

The Ursinus Bears host the Centennial Conference tournament this weekend. They are ranked 17th in the country and #1 in the Middle Atlantic Region. They are on their way to the NCAA tournament.

So, when you're filling out your pools for March Madness and watching games and shouting yourself hoarse, remember D-III — the teams that play out of view, that go to class, that play for the love of the game.

And remember that nice guys do finish first.

Just ask John Noonan — 2008 1st-Team All-Conference

NO DICE: EVERYDAY SALVATION








There is nothing like great theater.

And there is really nothing like great theater that hits you when you least expect it. That presents itself in such a unique and committed way that it makes you want to jump up onstage and share the joy.

And when you factor in that the great theater in question — No Dice from the New York-based Nature Theater of Oklahoma — is a four-hour experimental theater extravaganza — the enormity of the thrill becomes clear.

In the friendly confines of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, OH, the astounding No Dice ensemble takes stylized acting and wildly energetic choreography to a place of high art.

The dialogue was crafted from countless hours of taped phone conversations between company members and their friends and family. The characters are foreigners — until they discard their accents and then their costumes and we realize what we suspected all along:

They aren't foreigners — they are us. And they are making a Herculean effort — using everyday conversations — to make sense of their lives and the world they share. Their interactions are by turns melodramatic, vaudevillian, touching and consistently hilarious.

Topics of dissection — um, discussion — include office work, Russian TV, drinking, dieting, novel punishments for scofflaw actors, Mel Gibson's Hamlet and dinner theater. All explored with non sequiturs, fits and starts and magnificently commited acting.

Then there's the dancing — which is as joyously uproarious as any I've ever witnessed on stage. (I admit, I do not possess a comprehensive mental library of dance numbers on stage but take my word for it.)

The theatrical experience of No Dice ultimately defies any written description. Like any great live experience — it needs to be seen, felt and heard.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the truly inspirational commitment by the actors — especially the astounding trio of Zachary Oberzan, Anne Gridley and Robert M. Johanson.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that my lovely, insightful and persistent wife, Lisa, was the driving force to see this show. See, I've been in and seen enough wacky-kooky-hey-look-at-us we're-super-different! experimental theater that I was leery of a four-hour sojourn — possibly into the heart of nutville.

No Dice is a show that restores faith in the power of live theater.

It is an example of what live theater should be.

I wanted to be up there with them.

PATTON, HE AIN'T

















I've been a Bobby Knight apologist for years. Yes, it's been with declining conviction recently but nevertheless, there it is.

My brother Trip thought Knight was a dick.

I loved The General's teams when I was growing up — especially the 32-0 '76 team that sealed the deal in Philly. I dreamed of playing for Knight. His teams played tough, hard-ass basketball. They were unselfish and disciplined. They overcame physical limitations. They played hoops the right way. They played hoops that let you dream.

I thought it would be the ultimate challenge — to play under that kind of pressure, to thrive in that demanding cauldron. Even if I was too short, too slow and too earthbound.

Trip reiterated his sentiment that Bobby Knight was, is, and shall be ... a dick.

Even when everyone around me labeled him a bully, an ogre, a jerk off, a dick — I was fascinated by Bobby Knight. Did it really make you a better person to survive four years under him? Could someone be that angry, stubborn nasty and intimidating AND be a fiercely loyal, brilliantly innovative, tough-loving father-figure genius coach?

Maybe, Trip said, but not Knight — because Knight is a dick.

I was mesmerized by Knight's contradictions. I read John Feinstein's amazing book A Season on the Brink and came away wanting to meet Knight and find out what the Sweet Jesus made him tick.

You'll meet a dick, Trip said.

Well, I was too slow, too small and too earthbound a hoopster to ever come near experiencing Knight's particular brand of coaching. And the closer Knight came to Crazy Old Guy status — I mean, his eyebrows have their own zoning laws — the less I was able to rationalize my fascination.

But, even as his behavior became wackier and downright reprehensible, there was STILL a kernel of absorption in this Shakespearean decline. Sure, his teams tanked in the tournament and he was beginning to look more and more like a dinosaur. Yes, he railed like Lear and picked on little guys like Jeremy Schaap, who had the unmitigated gall to not pucker up and kiss his ass.

But he was Knight — maybe the greatest college coach of all time. And he had his principles — twisted as they might get by his temper and pig-headedness. His programs were clean. He cared about the kids. The kids got their diplomas. He was there.

Knight was there — through shitstorms and tornados, through outrage and witchhunts, through his own buffoonery and the exploitation of the media.

Knight hung in. Because it was for the kids. That's what college coaching is, after all. It's for the kids. Isn't that what every coach says?

Isn't that why coaches — in particular Bobby Knight — demand unquestioned loyalty, total obedience and maximum effort?

Because it's ultimately about character. Principles. Ideals. The kids. Jesus Christ, it's about the kids after all!!!!

Except when the coach is a dick.

Bobby Knight quit. He didn't retire. He'll coach again, the pussy. He had a painfully mediocre team at a school that — no matter how you slice it — was, is and always will be an also-ran. And he bailed. He took his red sweater and went home. He couldn't even be bothered to consider the four seniors on his team.

He tortured poor Martin Zeno for four years and then gives him the high hat with a month left. In fact, playing for Bobby Knight has probably 86'ed Zeno's NBA prospects.

And what thanks does Martin Zeno get?

The thanks of a dick.

Bobby Knight can tell everyone that he left to help his son Pat — who took over for Dad as coach at Texas Tech. But Pat was already promised the job whenever Knight was through. Why quit in the middle of the season? Why quit on the team that you browbeat about loyalty and toughness?

Bobby Knight told Jay Bilas of ESPN that he was "tired." And that it had been a "tough season." Okay, Bobby Knight is 67 — that's old but it's not even close to I'm-absolved-of-all-responsibility-for-my-actions old.

Worst of all, Knight told Bilas — "I'm just a basketball coach. I didn't work on curing heart disease or work on a cure for cancer or lead a division into a military endeavor that was a tremendous benefit to the United States. I've been a basketball coach.''

That quote was the killer — because Knight knows it's a lie and built his career on just the opposite.

And Bilas, who simply knows better, let it slide. He didn't have the courage to risk Knight's petulant wrath.

Here's the truth ...


College basketball is not insignificant. Yes, it has ruined some young men and probably hundreds of coaches' marriages. But college basketball has saved countless young men and women and thrilled millions and made millions and is a cultural institution. And I'd like to know this:

If you're just a basketball coach, Mr. Knight, — Why do you lose your shit every game. Why don't you sit on the bench, shut up and read the paper? Why do you write books about the lessons learned? Why do you take young men under your wing? Why does Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski call you the most influential person in his life other than his father?

Because, you hypocritical jackass, you know and I know that you (and every other coach worth their salt) is way, way more than a coach.


I can tell you, unequivocally, that when you sweat and bleed for a coach for three and a half years, you are in it together — to the end. That's just the way it is. That man or woman becomes more than a coach. That person becomes like another parent.

And no amount of wizened verbiage, crocodile tears and rationalization will change the fact that the Texas Tech players will feel that they let Knight down, that they drove him from the arena. That he quit because they weren't good enough.

Is there a worse act to commit in the locker room?


Why would Knight do that to those kids? And then, as a final shiv, why in the name of John Wooden would he leave the door open to the possibility of coaching again somewhere else? I mean, it was so easy to avoid. Just finish the season like a man. Why would The General make such a weak-tit choice!?


Because, in the end, the winningest coach in College basketball history, the towering innovator, the General, the mentor who has shaped countless lives, the man, the myth, the legend ...

... is a dick.

Trip was right.

And that might be the worst part of all this.

Moral Octuple Standard









No one has done what Jim Brown has done.

Hall-of-Fame NFL legend. Civil-rights activist. Racial barrier smasher. Movie star.

The racial obstacles he had to overcome are unimaginable for athletes today. His life 's accomplishments are a wellspring of inspiration.

The guy has gone into the scariest neighborhoods in America and rescued African-American kids from gangs.

There is greatness about him.

I even cried when he died in The Dirty Dozen.

But it's time for him to shut up.








At least when it comes to dictating the moral duties of star athletes.

Specifically, Tiger Woods.

Here's the thing, Mr. Brown —

Tiger Woods is not you.

He's not as angry as you are.

He's not as prone to violence as you are.

He's never had trouble acknowledging his offspring.

As far as we know, Tiger has never threatened to snap his wife's neck.

We're pretty sure Tiger hasn't smashed the windshield of his wife's car — with her in it.

We're almost positive that Tiger didn't jump into the spotlight as Maurice Clarett's advisor and then disappear once the kid really could've used some help.

Of course Tiger Woods isn't perfect. Just like you, Jim, are not perfect.

Tiger seems to be a world-class grudge-holder (Is he part Irish!?!?), a bit of a control nut and he is way too successful for anyone to truly like. But all he has done is revolutionize his sport and handle the daily crushing pressure and expectations with (mostly) grace and a prickly sense of humor.

So Kelly Tighlman — someone none of us had ever known existed prior to this — said something idiotic, insensitive and reprehensible: that young players on the PGA Tour would "have to lynch him (Tiger Woods) in a back alley" to keep him from winning.

She's a moron. We all understand that. Most of all, Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods said that it was not the brightest thing Tighlman ever said but he considered it a "non-issue", that he and Tighlman are friends and that was that.

That pissed Jim Brown off.

Evidently, Tiger is not allowed to be mildly offended.

Evidently because Tiger isn't an opportunistic, hypocritical Jacksonian, Sharptonian flame-fanner, Jim Brown is heartily offended.

Well, I'm wildly offended that Jim Brown is heartily offended that Tiger Woods isn't more offended.

See, nobody's perfect.

The Midas Touch ...















... is exactly what Tony Resch possesses.

So it is high time that the global BrothersMcC readership gets a load of one of the true good guys.

Tony Resch (AKA H-Squared for reasons that are none of your business) will be inducted into the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame in February.

Why, you ask?

Oh, just your run-of-the-mill phenomenal success and leadership achieved with uninterrupted humility and a wickedly sly sense of humor.

Formerly known as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL), the NLL has been in existence since 1986. Tony Resch played for the Philadelphia Wings from 1988 to 1993. A ferocious defender, he was the team captain for three of those years. The Wings won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990 and Tony was an All-Star in 1991.

In 1994 he became the Wings head coach. In 8 seasons, Tony won four championships and took the Wings to the title game five times.

That is quite a run. And done with dignity all the way.

Anyone who has sat at a Little League or a high school basketball game with assorted coaches and parents popping aortas and throwing Knight-ish temper tantrums knows the truth:

It's rare that a genuinely nice guy kicks the crap out of the competition year in and year out.

And it didn't start with the NLL.

Oh no, sir.

Tony graduated from Yale where he was a two-time All-American and a three-time All-Ivy Leaguer. And he played football as well. Plus he met his future wife there — the lovely, intelligent hoop-playing Irish girl Mary Gorman.

Talk about outkicking your coverage. Believe me when I tell ya, Tony went Ray Guy on that one.

His athletic exploits become even more impressive when you consider that during his junior year — smack in the middle of lax season — he had to share a dorm for six weeks with a wayward, alcohol-and-coed-crazed, broke, journalism-school intern malcontent who had a chip on his shoulder and no sense of boundaries.

Namely, me.

In spite of that, I've been lucky enough to count Tony as a friend ever since (personally, I think it was the Honeymooners marathon that cinched it) and I can think of no better subject than the ultimate stand-up guy getting his due.

Tony is currently the athletic director at LaSalle College High School in suburban Philly. He also is an assistant coach on the school's lax team. The team's leading scorer is some kid named Patrick Resch.

As if there were any doubt.

Congrats, H-Squared.

Psyched at you.

Redemption From Beyond The Arc





Until three hours ago, I had never heard of Kyle McAlarney. Now I might be his #1 fan.
And this is why college hoops is magic — even in the first week of January.

McAlarney is a 6-1 guard for Notre Dame who got booted from school last year after a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. At the time of the arrest he was the Fighting Irish's starting point guard.

McAlarney went back to Staten Island (where he holds the all-time high school scoring record) and took classes, worked out and paid the price for his mistake.

(While I have a working knowledge of many illicit substances from my college days, weed was not high on the list. However, my junior year I did smoke dope once before a practice with two of my more regularly stoned teammates. I shot the ball so well that our coach jokingly asked if I was on anything. I said yes and we all had a big laugh.
Not really — I was so freaked out and paranoid I nearly threw up.)

McAlarney and Notre Dame took on UConn tonight in South Bend. It was a raucous, fierce, physical and frantic affair and McAlarney was the best player on the court. He went for 32 points, hit every big shot for the Irish and even stuck his nose in on defense.

It would not be a stretch to say that McAlarney was the least gifted athlete on the floor (a position with which I have deep, intimate experience.) UConn's roster is filled with tough, rangy, quick, wildly athletic youngsters and McAlarney put on a clinic.

He rained three's and resurrected the seemingly lost art of the jump stop for feathery mid-range jumpers instead of plowing into people willy-nilly, pell-mell, helter-skelter. And when the Irish squandered all of their 21-point lead to fall behind, McAlarney rescued them with a clutch three. Notre Dame won 73-67.

He played the way most of us play the game — or played. Which is to say — below the rim. It was the game you always dream of playing — national television, flawless at both ends, putting your taller, more chiseled, faster teammates on your back and carrying them to victory in front of a gonzo crowd that includes your gear-wearing mom.

A year ago, he was disgraced. Tonight he was the best player in the country.

Hoop dreams, indeed.

JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS ...

... comes a behind-the-scenes look at a heartwarming tale for the whole family — or a creepy psycho thriller. I can't remember ...



SAND AND SORROW: A CHANCE TO GET IT RIGHT











Imagine the gods of history looking down on us all after our failures at protecting millions of innocent human lives from their own governments — and imagine them saying to us,

"We'll give you another chance. But this time, so as to be sure you get it right ... we'll do it in slow motion.

And we'll call it Darfur."

— from Sand and Sorrow


BrothersMcC has asked you to buy a book (Not On Our Watch) in the battle against genocide and to go see a movie (Darfur Now!) in the battle against genocide.

We are asking you now to stay home and watch TV in the battle against genocide.

Sand and Sorrow airs on HBO tomorrow night — Thursday, December 6th — at 8pm. The film was made by Peabody-award-winner Paul Freedman. George Clooney narrates and is the executive producer.

Sand and Sorrow follows our good friend human rights activist John Prendergast, fellow activist Samantha Power and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof on a first-hand journey from refugee camps to war-torn villages and finally to the halls of the U.S. Senate — where, well, you can only imagine what they find there.

(And if you're saying, "Sweet, I don't have HBO" then I'm happy to let you know that Sand and Sorrow will be streaming on hbo.com the entire weekend.)

I asked J.P. why we all should turn our backs on Survivor, Ugly Betty and Smallville tomorrow night:

"Genocide is a unique crime against humanity. It means people are targeted for their identity, for who they are. For the first time in history, a citizens' movement is growing against a genocide while it is still happening. You have a chance to be part of that movement. Watching the film can educate to empower."

And there you have it.

And I believe that making that effort is not an act of generosity. Or of self-sacrifice. It is an act of self-improvement. It is — in the end — a selfish act. As it should be.

I'll venture even further — that there really is no such thing as altruism. Doing what you think is right — or doing something because you can't not do it — is not unselfish. Nor is there any reason that it should be.

We do these things because they make us feel better about ourselves. They make us feel stronger. They make us feel good.

So let's be appallingly selfish and self -centered.

We just might get it right.



THE ONLY GOOD THING ABOUT THE WRITERS' STRIKE ...



















... is that you have the chance to catch up with a great TV show.

The Friday Night Lights party is one I am just now joining. A month ago, I hadn't seen a single moment of this compelling, emotionally real, impeccably acted series — now in its second season.

Evidently, I'm not alone in my tardiness.

Friday Night Lights has struggled in the ratings thus far but NBC has stuck with it. Take advantage of this rare wise network decision.

We finally tuned in to the show on a recent Friday night mostly because I was curious about Connie Britton, with whom I'd been in class. You'll remember her from The Brothers McMullen, Spin City and from playing the same role in the film version of Friday Night Lights.

And she was excellent. As she always is.

But so was the rest of the cast. I mean, every single actor was on the money. And the writing was good. The episode was so good — it was jarring.

So we watched it the next week — and it held up. And the week after.

Damn, man. We needed to get the whole story. So we rented Season 1.

The pilot of Friday Night Lights is as good as it gets on network television. It was art. It really was.

And the next few episodes (we've seen 4 so far from Season 1) were nearly it's equal.

And the big, honking revelation is Kyle Chandler. If ever there was an example of the right guy for the right part, this is it. As Eric Davis, the complicated, tightly wound head coach of the Dillon Panthers, Chandler is great.

He's never been great before — he's worked alot — but never like this.

And the younger actors — I mean, Holy Casting Director! (Linda Lowy , by the way) — they are superb. Except one — you tell me who it is. (Now you have to watch it.)

I've only seen 7 episodes of this show but I can confidently say — its not a football series. It is about people and the only other show that ever treated high school students with this much respect and insight was My So-Called Life.

The heartthrob is Taylor Kitsch — and he is as soulful and talented as he is good-looking.
The flat-out babe is Adrianne Palicki — and she can act.
The scene-stealer is Jesse Plemons — and he commits grand larceny at every opportunity.

Do yourself a favor and get up to speed with
Friday Night Lights.

It's better than the movie.
It's better than the 789 CSI's
It's better than every sitcom.
And, believe it or not, it's better than October Road and Grey's Anatomy (the two worst shows on TV, by the way — in case you were wondering what the two most unwatchable hours of pure torture were — and I know you were)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING: OUTRAGE TAKES A HOLIDAY


















By now, I think its apparent that this blog faithfully adheres to it's Celtic DNA. We seem to have two basic modes of expression — Outrage and Sentimentality.

As one given more to Outrage, I figured I'd give the tired old bastard the holiday weekend off. Actually, Outrage can give thanks to my wife Lisa — and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Lisa and I had the honor of hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. The fact that it was a resounding success is due largely (okay, entirely) to Lisa's tireless effort and determination. Over the past two weeks, it was often difficult to determine whether we were making preparations for 22 dinner guests or for the next space shuttle launch.

All of Lisa's hard work and attention to detail paid off in spectacular fashion — and she was even gracious enough to share the credit.

Sure, I made a few runs to the grocery store, cleaned out a cooler and peeled a few potatoes. But I was a willing bystander — ready for the planning and the gorging to be done.

It was, for all intents and purposes, Lisa's boulder to roll up the mountain. Trying to find room for 22 of her relatives and address their individual dietary quirks, she engaged in mental gymnastics that would have impressed Plato, Newton and Vizzini. Not to mention Olga Korbut.

So what in the Sam Hill does this have to do with Hootie?

Well, for reasons that are none of your business, I was tasked with cleaning the oven the old-fashioned way. I was feeling none too thankful, none too generous and the likelihood that Outrage would be pressed into service after all was growing.

I put the iPod on "shuffle" and commenced scouring and scrubbing:

Screaming at the Wailing Wall — Flogging Molly
Go All the Way — The Raspberries
If I Should Fall From Grace With God — The Pogues
8 More Days Till The Fourth of July — Ike Reilly Assassination
Oceans — The Format

I was feeling slightly better, a bit more thankful.

I'm Goin' Home — Hootie & The Blowfish

(ed. Yes, I have the entire
Cracked Rear View on my iPod. And proudly. In fact, I once got into it — on a music nerd message board — with Peter Blackstock about, ironically, his outrage over the success of Hootie and Darius Rucker's supposedly substance-free lyrics. When I pointed out that I'm Goin' Home was a moving and deeply personal tribute to Rucker's late mother, it marked my one and only victory in a music argument.)

I'm Goin' Home changed the tenor of my day.

Because that song is about me ... and it is about my family.

While I continue to mourn the loss of my mother — and the things we don't get to share — hearing that particular song never fails to shake me out of whatever self-centered, self-indulgent jackassery I've allowed to take over.

Then Lisa walked in the kitchen. Then Eirann walked in behind her. And, although the rest of clan McClatchy was strewn up and down the eastern seaboard, I had 'em all there for 4 minutes and 11 seconds.

I was surrounded by my family. And for that, I was thankful.

Have a nice vacation, Outrage.
Sentimentality, fasten your seat belt.

Thanks, Lisa.
Thanks, Eirann.
And thank you, Hootie.

DINNER AND A NEW KIND OF ACTION MOVIE
















I recently had the good fortune to share a meal and hang out with John Prendergast (above.)

J.P. (I call him that because those are his initials — and we played hoop together in high school) is a human rights activist and the best-selling author of Not On Our Watch — which he co-wrote with Don Cheadle.

After years toiling as what he calls a "policy wonk" in Washington, D.C., J.P. changed his focus to activism and, in the process, helped jump start the global attention now focused on the genocide being perpetrated in Darfur.

In his role as activist, he has tirelessly crisscrossed the globe speaking to anyone who will listen (and not a few who didn’t want to) in the fight to end the horrific suffering of the people of Darfur. Along the way, J.P. has also been able to enlist many and various celebrities and big shots in this battle.

Although J.P. and I had not laid eyes on one another in over 25 years we were lucky enough to fall right back into an easy rapport. It was immediately apparent why he has been able to accomplish so much. His is an infectious and energizing presence. He has limitless passion — for his work, for sports, for his family — and he’s a very good storyteller. Plus he’s pretty funny.

All in all — a perfect dinner companion.

For my part — I was able to keep the bar staff busy.

More than anything, what struck me about J.P. was the urgency of his behavior.

Whether he was talking about the unspeakable tragedies he has witnessed, eating a roll or listening to one of my wild embellishments of past athletic exploits — there was motion, intensity, a kind of "more to be done" vibration pulsing across the table.

And the source of that is clear — for J.P., each moment that escapes, that is not fully utilized, translates into more innocent deaths, more devastating violence and more grinding despair.

J.P. has reached a place of influence — one that allows him (and those who work with him) to impact events in the worst place on earth. It’s exhilarating, fleetingly satisfying, maddening and sleepless.

There is always more to do. There are always faces that haunt.

The battle rages on. Many have joined the fight. Many more are needed.

What can one person do?

On November 2nd — the documentary Darfur Now! opened in New York and Los Angeles. If you live there, go see it. Over the next two weeks, it will open in cities across the country. If it opens in your city, go see it.

I know that most of us go to the movies to escape, to laugh, to watch stuff blow up and forget about how tough life is. But — trust me — Saw IV and The Game Plan aren't going anywhere.

On the other hand — how often can you actually help stem the tide of innocent blood and feel the power of having made a palpable difference — by going to a movie theater.

Genocide is happening right now. This very instant.

Now you know what one person can do.

This being a blog with an inescapable Irish shadow, I’ll hit you with a quote from an 1846 article in the Times of London discussing the plight of the starving Irish after a second potato crop failure:

“It is possible to have heard the tale of sorrow too often.”

And the Irish people died.

Is it really possible?

BULLY PULPIT

























On Monday I had occasion to drive from Columbus, OH to Pittsburgh, PA and back. A little over six hours in all. My iPod was on the fritz and the cd player betrayed me. I was stuck with the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the unbearable:

The radio.

The choices east of Columbus and southwest of Pittsburgh — an area herewith known as the "The Forbidden Zone" — boiled down to the following:

1. Six to eight versions of Glenn Beck — Beck and his phlegm-throated sidekick spent an inordinate amount of time making fun of the nameless "celebrities" being victimized by the horrendous wildfires in Southern California. Beck seemed to be immensely irked at the fact that celebrities have money and opinions.

Like he doesn't have an abundance of both.

Beck proceeded to fashion anemic, profoundly unfunny riffs on a central theme — People idiotic enough to live in nice houses in Southern California are getting exactly what they deserve. And if they happen to have made a couple of successful movies and aren't Bruce Willis, then they really, really deserve it.

I know it's easy to pick on Glenn Beck — seeing as how he's a loudmouthed halfwit and all — but in all fairness, he does do two things worthy of note:

He stands up for the rights of wounded veterans and he champions the cause of the criminally undermanned and largely ignored Border Patrol.

Now back to him being a dick — he rails against those who waste time with trivial things and who can't see what's really important. Then he spends an hour yucking it up about incinerated houses. Does everyone with a microphone have to be a hypocrite? Is it in their contract?

2. Six to eight versions of Rush Limbaugh — If I have to go into any further detail, then you're beyond reason and have already angrily scrolled to your Drudge Report bookmark for a dose of "truth."

3. ESPN Radio — OK, this was cool — some Mike Tirico and Kirk Herbstreit kibbitzing and talking football and getting the straight dope from Hall-of-Famer Steve Young. This lasted 8 minutes and I lost the station somewhere around New Concord — the birthplace of John Glenn!

4. Six to eight versions of Bill O'Reilly — O'Reilly is the biggest bully in a schoolyard of screechers, drug addicts, sexual harassers, intellectual cripples and profuse perspirers who never got enough love or chicks growing up ... and they find their revenge — one day at a time — on the radio, attacking anyone with the temerity to hold views that might even remotely conflict with their own.

Bill O'Reilly has one weapon in the arena of debate: volume.

He shouts and bullies so you can't hear that what he's actually saying is moronic. I'm no tough guy but I'm pretty sure that, given the chance, I could beat the shit out of Bill O'Reilly ...
and there would be much rejoicing.

5. OLDIES!!!! — I never thought I'd weep for joy to hear Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence warble "Tonight I'll Say A Prayer For You My Love."

6. Evangelical radio — I could practically see the comb-over, the sweaty forehead, the swooning rubes and the hidden mistress waiting to place the call to TMZ the second the silver-tongued charlatan slipped into his Little Bo Peep outfit at the Motel 6 later that night.

7. One version (and that was plenty) of Dennis Miller — I hate to revisit the subject of Miller's stunning decline but, Holy Tin Ear For Comedy! In the 6.7 seconds before I could lunge at the dial, Miller was able to — irony-free — let his listeners know that he doesn't like Islamic fundamentalists because he objects to the way they treated Cat Stevens.


For all their bluster and buffoonery (and the satirical fodder they provide) — Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Miller are deeply troubling. They have the bully pulpit. They dominate the airwaves so completely. People listen to them as if they are speaking some kind of revelatory truth. How exactly did this happen?

Again, I appeal to you — set me straight. What am I missing? Is Rush Limbaugh really the voice of America? Is Glenn Beck truly our national conscience? Is Bill O'Reilly our intellectual touchstone? Is Dennis Miller really the new Eric Sevareid?

Here endeth my report on the insidious liberal media conspiracy.

BEST WESTERN



















Remakes — as a general rule — usually result in angry movie-goers. Psycho, anyone? Diabolique? Planet of the Apes?

And westerns have been declared dead more times than Neidermeyer.

So what to make of 3:10 to Yuma — a remake of an obscure western? Purists may howl about that "obscure" claim but, frankly, who cares about howling purists?

In any event, I never saw the 1957 original and I'm glad I didn't. I went in fresh.

Cutting to the chase, 3:10 to Yuma is the best western I've ever seen. Yes, it's better than Unforgiven if only because my wife didn't fall asleep this time.

This is one great movie. Director James Mangold — who wonderfully mined similar territory in Copland and directed Reese Witherspoon to a statuette in Walk The Line — delivers an amazing experience. It's rare when you truly don't know what is going to happen next — and at the same time desperately care what's going to happen.

Mangold shares the credit for that with a great script (adapted from Elmore Leonard's short story) by three credited writers — which also usually spells trouble — but not here.

The script is a marvel of terse philosophical musings and classic western one-liners that sum up more than eighty paragraphs of Tarantino hyper-babble ever could.

The actors are simply perfect. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe work wonders together. Bale plays Dan Evans, a down-on-his-luck rancher and Civil War veteran (a visceral parallel to today's scrap-heaped veterans), who takes on the near-impossible task of getting the legendary outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe — having what looks like the time of his life) on the titular train to prison.

Christian Bale has what most actors only play at — complexity and emotional depth. You just believe every single thing this dude does and says. Bale finds every ounce of pain, regret and anger in Evans and breaks your heart.

Crowe is a movie star. He is also a juggernaut talent. He puts these two things together and creates possibly the most charismatic villain in western history.

The revelation — and there is always a revelation in a great movie, isn't there? — is Ben Foster as Charlie Prince, Wade's unhinged hair-trigger right-hand man. He is unrecognizable from his Six Feet Under days and nearly steals the movie from the two stars.

Westerns have always been good at supplying great supporting roles to great character actors. "3:10 to Yuma" delivers — Foster, Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk and Dallas Roberts all hit home runs.

And remember this name — Logan Lerman. He is 15. He plays Dan Evans' son Will who worships Ben Wade. He is a star. You heard it here.

The violence is fast and furious in this film — but not one shell is fired gratuitously. It all has a purpose. It's not flashy ... it's violence.

Above all — everyone in "3:10 to Yuma" finds the truth. It's a morality tale with no easy answers and alot of hard questions.

Who knew a western could be so relevant in 2007?

DENNIS MILLER : COMEDY’S JACKSON BROWNE



















Dennis Miller has moments of brilliance. He has made me laugh until I cried. He has made me nasal-spank my beer with his uniquely acerbic and ultra-hyphenated, multi-tiered references and rants. His outrage made for sporadically great, often hilarious social and political commentary. Dennis Miller could be downright inspiring.

Because of that, it was easy to overlook his occasional pretension. His apparent bottomless need to appear hip and ingratiate himself with other celebrities. His interview skills — rivaled only by those of Chevy Chase. And the fact that he always seemed spectacularly ill-at-ease on-camera and on-stage. No problemo.

Because he was funny.

Now he’s on radio — ostensibly the perfect medium for his jittery, self-conscious mode of expression.

On Monday, I caught his radio act for the first time. I listened for fifteen minutes. With that comprehensive data, I am ready to render a verdict:

Dennis Miller has lost his funny.

Now, much has been made of his “conversion” after 9/11. His point of view has become increasingly conservative. He has been co-opted by the right. He has been pilloried by the left.

Frankly, I could care less about his political persuasion. I’m a left-leaning commie pinko (so I’m told) but I love the writing of P.J. O’Rourke. For one reason — he is funny. He may be dead wrong about a lot of things but he kills me.

For those fifteen minutes, Dennis Miller was a strident, groping mess. He was lathered up about how Democratic leaders keep harping on the absence of WMD and that they should just give it up after 5 years already. “Can we just move on, please?” he wants to know. He then went on to make the case that, instead of vilifying the actions of the Bush administration and carping about a hopeless war, we should hail ourselves as feminists. That’s right — the latest and best reason that we are at war in Iraq is, according to Dennis Miller, because Iraqi men treat their women like shit.

Of course, if by being in Iraq, soldiers are able to improve the lot of abused women there, that is great. But to use that as the new, shiny reason that American men and women are turning the sand maroon with their blood ... it was disturbing to hear.

Besides, if that’s really the case, certain pockets of Philly better get ready for some serious daisy-cutters and bunker-busters. You know who you are, fuckers.

It was a sad moment. It felt like a death blow to a rare comic talent. Miller was borderline hysterical. He's made the fatal mistake of becoming an ideologue. He’s now blinded by the light of righteousness. He is now comedy’s version of Jackson Browne circa Lives in the Balance and World in Motion. In a word — an unbearable blowhard.

Fine … three words.

Now — Jackson Browne has made some of my all-time favorite music. His first 5 records are classics. However in the 1980’s he began churning out ideological song after strident message tune after unwieldy “important” ditty. Only they weren’t songs at all, they were lectures. As he found ideology, he lost me.

Jackson Browne has wended his way back — realizing somewhat that no one interested in buying records wants to be barked at. Especially by a wife-beating folk singer.

One can only hope that Dennis Miller gives up the dogma and remembers what made him great — the ability to see reality as more than black and white … and then give it a pie in the face.

THE "OTHER" REGGIE

(Ed. A while back we blogged in honor of Howard Porter, the former Villanova basketball star who was found beaten to death in Minneapolis. We lauded his hoop greatness and his battle back from the abyss of drug addiction.
He was one of my first sports idols. And I called him a hero for turning his life around and helping others.

He did do all that.

But Porter was unable to conquer his demons entirely. According to murder charges filed Tuesday, Porter was trying to trade money and crack cocaine for sex with a hooker when he was beaten to death.

What is more tragic than tragedy? Whatever that word is, it fits here.
The irony is that I had just finished writing about another long-ago sports hero. Not to spoil it — but — this one ends better.)
















I watched the recent ESPN miniseries “The Bronx is Burning” — a relentlessly entertaining chronicle of the 1977 New York Yankees’ dysfunctional run to the World Series. The show centered on the triangle of Billy Martin (a Spock-eared and intense John Turturro), Reggie Jackson (the estimable Daniel Sunjata — who you can see weekly on friggin’ RESCUE ME, people!) and George Steinbrenner (a fun, if scenery-pulverizing, Oliver Platt.)

Reggie Jackson took center stage in the miniseries. He was the lightning rod. And he cemented his legend by hitting three home runs in Game Six to clinch the Series for the Yanks. In 1977, Reggie Jackson became a folk hero.

In one episode, amidst all the bluster and drama, was a fleeting glimpse of a forgotten star doing his own home run trot. It was just a second or two but it was unmistakable.

It was the “other” Reggie.

Reggie Smith was a member of the ’77 Dodger team that lost to the Yankees. He was also their best player. He may be the greatest player in major league history you’ve never heard of.

With career stats that surpass a number of Hall-of-Famers, he was a seven-time All-Star, a Gold Glover, and the most feared switch-hitter in the game. He also possessed the most lethal throwing arm of any outfielder during his career.

In that epic ’77 World Series, he also hit three home runs. Just not in one game. So Reggie Jackson got a candy bar named after him, a bust at Cooperstown and immortality. Reggie Smith got the undying adulation of a pasty-white Irish-Catholic coke-bottle-glasses complexion-challenged 14-year-old in Philly (Okay, I was a late bloomer.)

Reggie Smith was the epitome of cool — from the menacing, gum-chomping stare to the pre-Sheffield bat waggle to the rifle right arm he used to just erase guys at the plate. Reggie Smith did the impossible — he made playing right field cool.

For that alone, he deserves to be in Cooperstown.

In his career, Reggie Smith hit 314 home runs, was one clutch bastard and led the league in simmering competitive fire. He had run-ins with teammates, the media, management and fans. But all he did was win. In 16 years, his teams had winning records 13 times. He played in 4 World Series, getting a ring with the Dodgers in 1981. And he was a keeper of the long lost art of the helmet ‘fro.

I wanted to be Reggie Smith. In fact, there was a large chunk of time when I wished I was black. Everywhere I turned for inspiration back then, it seemed like an African-American was holding the torch. In ’77 — Reggie Smith’s best season — my favorite hoopster was Doctor J. My favorite musician was pre-nutjob Michael. My favorite football player was Walter Payton. I even went deep into The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I cried when Jim Brown died in The Dirty Dozen. And Billy Dee Willliams in Brian’s Song? I ran like him for years. Not Gayle Sayres. Billy Dee Williams. Might explain my less-than-stellar football career.

I thought being black must be the coolest because they were the best at everything — except, of course, golf and hockey. Black was beautiful. Sugar Ray Leonard. Lola Falana. Ben Vereen. Sidney Poitier. Even the sister on Good Times.

Black is still beautiful but Reggie Smith is one who endured for me.

I followed him even through his bizarre year in Japan, where he clashed with everyone and weathered racial attacks — both physical and verbal. Through it all, Reggie Smith never got his due, it seems. And that made his cool factor go even deeper.

When his major league career ended in 1982, Smith had more home runs than any other switch-hitter in history except one — some dude named Mantle.

Reggie Smith is a baseball lifer. And, by all accounts, a stand-up guy. He worked for the Dodgers after he retired. He was a hitting instructor, a first base coach, a front office jockey.
He coached the 2000 Olympic baseball team to it’s stunning upset of Cuba for the gold.
Billy Crystal hired him to get Barry Pepper to play like Roger Maris and Thomas Jane to swing like Mickey Mantle for the movie *61. His baseball instruction company, Reggie Smith Baseball Centers, is well-respected and successful.

Yet Reggie Smith still flies under the radar. He is still the “other” Reggie.

But not here.

Here and now — he is the “only” Reggie. One sports hero who never disappointed.


FUCK YOU, I'M IRISH!!

















The 20th annual Dublin (OH.) Irish Festival ended just a couple of hours ago. And of the many certainties to emerge from this latest gathering of my well-lubricated people, two stand out:

1. With apologies to The Hold Steady, Jesse Malin and anyone else currently plugging in and rocking hard, the best live band going right now is Flogging Molly. As Trip might say, "These guys believe." As Scott might say, "They were un-fucking-believable." What I say: To have been in that steamy, stinking, sweaty tent in Central Ohio when Dave King (above) and his cohorts ripped through their set of joyous Celtic powerhouse rock and roll is to have forgotten all the bullshit and regained your faith.

I've never seen the generational mix — and I mean, enthusiastic, fanatic and willing mix — that we saw tonight. Lacoste-wearing boomers were jabbing their fists in the air alongside redneck kilt-wearers who were next to pierced, mohawked teens who were pogoing in the personal space of , well, us. And we (the missus and I) were screaming at the top of our lungs.

In between long pulls of adult beverages. (Killian's for me and Coors Light for the wife — hey, that's all they had!!!!)

It was rock and roll. It was Irish. It was beautiful.

Frontman Dave King — a Dubliner of the Irish sort — led the band from searing punk-folk tales to soaring heartbroken ballads to all-out fiddle-fueled rave-ups. Christ! I can't sit still even now! Just writing about it!

Ok. There. I'm back.

Dave King is a true believer. He is a storyteller with a punk rock bent who never, ever forgot the old country. He is currently Ireland's most vital rock and roller and Flogging Molly is the band you need to see.

No one needs a set list but I will say that Flogging Molly paid angry, loving tribute to the great Tommy Makem, dedicating "What's Left of The Flag" (from Drunken Lullabies) to his memory.

Flogging Molly was turned down by every label in the universe. Nobody "got " them. Except their fans. Now they have three records out and a cult following and you'll never hear them on the radio.

Believe the non-hype.

See them. Hear them. Be a Rebel of the Sacred Heart.















2.
The Mickey Finns are the next great Irish/NYC bar band and lead growler Ray Kelly is the heir apparent if the throne were shared by Shane MacGowan and Mike Ness.

I had never even heard of these guys before this weekend. In fact, I was a little skeptical of the name. Mickey Finns — it conjured up images of a bar filled with cheesy faux-Irish neon signs and that served green beer on March 17th.

Shows what I know.

Ray Kelly is relentless and intense and has a classic Irish rock and roll snarl. He led the Finns (a band culled from the original line-ups of The Prodigals and Raglan Road) through a tight, nasty set of Irish rockers. The fiddle player, Matt Mancuso, is a virtuoso. He's also an Italian dude from Brooklyn. See, we are a nation of immigrants. Even the Italians are down with paddy.

Here's the thing. The Prodigals played as well. And they are a very good band. And fun in concert. Gregory Grene, the lead singer, is as genial and energetic a performer as you're likely to come across. He is alot of fun.

Ray Kelly moves you.

And he provided the moment of the festival. Taking the mike — and singing a cappella with a barely concealed rage that seemed to shoulder the entire troubled history of his native Ireland — Kelly purged himself of "Sean South", an anthem about a fallen Irish republican made famous by the Wolf Tones. The performance gave me chills and nearly brought me to tears. I'll never forget it.

There were other great moments as well — not the least of which was the furious rendition of "Star of the County Down" by Homeland — a Dayton-area band. It was their tribute to Mr. Makem. Homeland is a solid, reliable band with a lead singer my wife kinda digs so we'll never be seeing them perform live again. They also have a fiddle player who is flat-out brilliant and looks like Oliver Reed circa Tommy with a perpetual hangover. Take a moment.

Finally, the wonder of Black 47. The ageless, nearly translucent and always ecstatic Larry Kirwan never fails to deliver the goods. And he unleashed two heated, politically pointed anti-war songs from their forthcoming record. The reception from the Columbus crowd was decidedly mixed. The reception from me was Fuckin' A, Wally. The songs were great and tragic — less funk and more punk. Which is how I like my Black 47.

If an Irish festival is coming near you — join Paddy Nation for the day.
If not — buy some Irish music, turn it up, tell the neighbors and drink a pint.
Hell, I'll kiss you.

FIVE YEARS LATE: THE MAGDALENE SISTERS














It's never too late to discover a great movie. And a spectacular performance.

You'll find both in The Magdalene Sisters (2002).

This is one of those movies I had been intent on seeing but never quite able to negotiate it into the DVD player. Until last night.

Please don't wait as long as I did.

The Magdalene Sisters is a wrenching account — based on true stories — of life inside the barbaric Magdalene Laundries Of Ireland. Women were sent to these de facto prisons for crimes such as being raped, overtly liking boys and having a baby out of wedlock. The film explores the harrowing cruelty inside one such place — through the eyes of three inmates:

Margaret is the one who was raped. Bernadette liked flirting. Rose had a baby without being married.

Written and directed by the estimable Peter Mullan (a brilliant Scottish actor who's appeared in such films as Braveheart, My Name is Joe and Miss Julie), The Magdalene Sisters is not easy but it is riveting. On its surface, the movie is a bald indictment of the Catholic Church's treatment of women — the nuns who run the joint are either steadfastly cruel or bug-eye crazy. Some are both. The inmates are all innocent victims.

But there is more going on than a big fuck-you to the Pope and the Sisters of Mercy and all the freaky sex-starved priests out there.

(Ed. I had the Sisters of Mercy for eight years of grade-school and they weren't all that sadistic; though there was a preponderance of bad breath. Could the order not pony up for some Listerine? )

The lasting effects of sustained, indefinite abuse are explored with a gripping attention to detail and an unflinching eye.

The movie ultimately is not just an indictment of the Catholic Church — it is relevant in a searing, I-dare-you-to look-away fashion. You can't help but think about the Taliban, honor killing and ritual circumcision — especially when you realize that the last laundry in Ireland closed its doors in 1996.

Yes — 1996.

We like to believe that backward, primitive barbarism is the province of far-away, of those who are nothing like us. Clearly, it's closer to us than we think.

The Vatican denounced the movie when it was released. I couldn't possibly come up with a better reason to watch it.

The great performance?

In a film with not a false acting note, a woman named Eileen Walsh steals the show. She plays Crispina, a mentally handicapped woman interred so she won't be taken advantage of by predators. So naturally she ends up blowing the parish priest.

Walsh (she's the one on the right) is stunning. She is funny, heartbreaking and sometimes downright scary. The fact that her performance generated zero interest or attention is mind-boggling.

Or maybe its not.

This movie is a a test of wills. Let your will win — it'll be worth it.

KEVIN MCCLATCHY IS A MENSCH

http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/images/2005/09/30/cJzCwAOD.jpg

I'm a little late with this but, frankly, no one's paying me so I have no deadline.

I can say without reservation that Kevin McClatchy is one helluva good guy.

It was ironic that I was in western PA. when the news broke that Kevin was stepping down from his job with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He and I have been linked since 1996, the year the "other" Kevin engineered the purchase of the belly-up Pirates, keeping major-league baseball in Pittsburgh and becoming the youngest owner in the league.

And before we go any further — let me reiterate, re-emphasize, magnify, bellow and beat a dead horse:
Kevin McClatchy saved baseball in Pittsburgh. Any argument to the contrary is either the 15th Iron City talking or just plain old idiot spite. So when your grandkids are hootin' and hollerin' and living and dying with every pitch as the Pirates make their triumphant return to the playoffs — keep a kind thought for the guy who allowed it to happen.

(THIS MEANS YOU, FEENEY.)

Kevin contacted me in '96 and we struck up a friendship. Without turning this into a gossip column or the McClatchy social newsletter, I'll state that Kevin has been nothing less than generous with his time, effort, sense of humor and owner's seat at PNC Park.

In '96 I was making soap opera history on Another World (Skinniest Man Ever To Make The Cover of Soap Opera Digest) and Kevin was the youngest owner in the majors. I was getting requests for charitable donations — seeing as how I owned a baseball team and had an acting job. Kevin was getting the opportunity to make jokes about that.

When he and I finally met, I sat in his office overlooking PNC Park and we just shot the shit. He is the most ego-less, pretension-free rich guy I've ever come across. He may have made his share of mistakes as owner of the Pirates but it was refreshing as hell to sit with him at a "meaningless" late-season game and watch him live and die with every pitch.

And he did. He wanted so badly to bring winning back to the Pirates.

Yeah, he wanted to raise the price of tickets after losing 100 games one year but ...
Okay, I have no explanation for that.

But he did 10,000 great things for Pittsburgh as well — and the good dwarfed the bad.

Yes, in win and losses, Kevin's tenure as owner of the Pirates was less than great.

And, yes, when you get right down to it, it's all about wins and losses.

So remember this — Kevin McClatchy, rich guy from Sacramento who could have taken any number of easier roads, came to Pittsburgh, saved the goddamn team, built a killer park, took a complete beating from assorted hack writers and hysterical radio mutants, hung in there (he's an athlete, let's not forget) then told the truth to whoever would listen and did it with a healthy dose of sly wit.

Kevin McClatchy gave the yinzers their biggest win — Pittsburgh got to keep their team.

Furthermore, Kevin is the only owner of a professional franchise that I would like to have more than one beer with.

I have no higher praise for "the man."

Now, Kev, about that tee time at your club ...

"BECAUSE I THINK IT, IT IS RIGHT."

A very good friend of mine who has given his entire adult life to government and military service — and who is the 2nd smartest person I’ve ever known — said this to me as George Bush prepared to take office in 2001:

“If Bush didn’t have Cheney, I’d be worried. But I’ve been around Cheney. I’ve worked with him. He is smart, tough, will do what needs to be done. The right way.”

At that time, this very good friend of mine was the smartest person I’d ever known. And what he said made me breathe a little easier. I relaxed about the prospect of an inarticulate addict taking the highest office.

(Yes, I meant to type “addict.” For me "addict" is synonymous with “drunk." As a born-again Christian, George W. Bush has simply traded one addiction for another, in my completely underqualified medical/spiritual assessment. This is not to say that all born-again Christians have traded one addiction for another … just all the ones I have come across. So for the sake of a classic Irish-Catholic snap judgment — yes, without a doubt, all born-again Christians are trading up in the addiction showroom. And furthermore — any ideologue, regardless of their spiritual affiliation, political stripe or acting technique, is a kook. So there. )

Anyway, this friend of mine assured me that all would be cool with Cheney lurking the halls of power.

It is a measure of the genius gap between Smartest People I’ve Ever Known #’s 1 & 2 and the rest of us that this friend has fallen only one spot after such a monumentally dickheaded assessment.

The last thing I’m going to do is catalogue all the deceit, treachery, fleecing, spilled blood, criminal acts, public profanity and fart jokes for which Bush and Cheney are responsible.

But I will mention two things:

1. My father-in-law — a respected psychologist — told me about a study done at Duke University. The study examined — if I got everything straight — presidential behavior from the Carter administration to the present in order to explore why presidents invariably become too big for their britches and do power-mad, idiotic things. In a nutshell, it’s the “Because I think it, it is right” syndrome. There are no rules in this rarified air of unchallenged opinions. These men actually begin to believe that they can —and should — act with impunity; that they know best and everyone else can just pucker up and smooch their imperial buttocks.

This is why Bush has gone off the rails and Cheney is growing horns and cloven hooves as we speak. They believe in their own infallibility. So did Clinton and Bush the Elder. Which brings me directly to —

2. Why in the name of Nixon Weinberger Rich Libby do we even have presidential pardons?
— I will be forever in the debt of whoever can educate me as to why we allow rich, privileged men to upend the judicial system in service of bailing out their criminal, scuzball friends and covering their own asses. Why do we do that? Why do we diminish ourselves in that way?

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

HUMAN RIGHTS HERCULES WITH A FUNKY JUMPER

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John Prendergast had the funkiest jumper I've ever seen. It would start somewhere down around his hip, roll up the side of his body and be slung whiplash-style somewhere in the direction of the basket.

All this occurred — in defiance of the laws of physics — with the timing and weird natural athleticism that was unique to J.P. For all the herky-jerky spin-move mania that was J.P.'s pigeon-toed game in high school, the kid could ball because he never stopped moving, never got tired and was fearless. And he believed.

These same attributes — plus a healthy dose of moral outrage and big-time smarts — have led J.P. to the summit of human rights activism.

He has spent the better part of the last quarter-century shining a spotlight on the most troubled parts of Africa — tirelessly raising the alarm for those who cannot raise it themselves. From the Ethopian famine to the killing fields of Northern Uganda, Somalia and, most recently, Darfur in northern Sudan — J.P. has borne witness, documented and shouted from rooftops about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims.

J.P. has now written a book with Oscar-nominated actor and fellow activist Don Cheadle. It is called Not On Our Watch.

And I suggest that you read it.

Now I know what you are thinking — because I have had the exact same thoughts:

"Africa? What about all the problems we have right here in the U.S.?"

"Um ... we are at war ourselves."

"Genocide. I mean ... genocide! What could I possibly do that would change something so huge?"

"Africa — the place is hopeless."

We do have urgent crises here. We are at war. And "Genocide" is a problem so huge, so halfway-around-the-world and so nobody-I-know that it is difficult to get fired up.

I read Not On Our Watch and it was stunning. I felt proud to know J.P. and count him as a friend. Ultimately, though, I was moved not by John and Don's remarkable commitment, nor the inspiring efforts of students across the country or even the wrenching photos in the middle of the book — but by a single description in the book:

"Amina ... had fled her village during an attack. Her husband had been shot ... She had two of her children on her back and the other two in her arms as about twenty Janjaweed (the government-sponsored militia) chased her on camels. First they ripped her five-year-old, Adom, from her, and when she stopped running and begged for her child, they told her they would shoot her. So she continued running away from her village that was up in flames. The Janjaweed then tossed Adom into the fire. He was screaming and calling her name but she just kept running."

I have a five-year-old.
How can I do nothing?

Who benefits from my action? I do.
Who benefits from your action? You will.




FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, WATCH "RESCUE ME"

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The best show on television started it's fourth season last Wednesday and most of you weren't watching. What the hell?
I know. I know.
Denis Leary provides very little gray area. People seem to think he's either brilliant or a total assface. (For the record — I lean well to the former)
But, for the love of God, how can you keep yourself from at least trying a show that is harrowing, hilarious, heady and heartbreaking (sometimes all in the same scene.)
This is Denis Leary's high-water mark — or at least in a dead heat with No Cure For Cancer. As writer/actor of this highwire TV act (I'm going to break the record for descriptive H-words in a single blog) he delivers not only an emotional wallop but a tonic for the recent horrors visited on Irish-Americans who own television sets.
Who else was ready to call in air strikes after suffering through the likes of Madigan Men, Trinity and the goddamn Fighting Fitzgeralds?
Rescue Me has something for everybody.
Why, just in last week's episode alone — there was Tatum O'Neal passionately advocating for the marital importance of a porn stash. The woman's porn stash, no less. There were sexy doings in a Catholic church during Mass — and the participants were consenting adult parishioners. There was a spectacular explosion, firefighting heroics, pity sex, teen sex, gay marriage, substantial weight loss, true love, vomiting, domestic squabbling and at least eight genuine belly laughs.
Watch this show. You're worth it.