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May 30, 2007

Immigrants in NYC

NYC locksmiths

The NYT has a great feature today on how the immigration legislation now in Congress, the first major new legislation in 40 years that might actually pass, will affect the social fabric of New York City.

Among urban areas with high populations of immigrants, New York has an especially high ratio of legal to illegal immigrants, and a large majority (72%) of those immigrants come to the city to be reunited with family. Since the new legislation would value education and marketable skills over family members already in the country, it will have an especially big impact on cities like New York.

A couple of the families interviewed for the article really show how much the city needs the highly motivated people who come here looking for a better life. Jamal Hussain, 26, is a Bangladesh-born owner of a deli at Delancey and Allen streets. He got loans from family members to open his business four years ago. He says, "'I’m a hard worker, motivated.' said Mr. Hussain, who has repaid the loans, married, had a baby, and bought a house in the Bronx. 'Kids are going to school, they’re being doctors, lawyers,' he added, citing a niece who is a graduate student in science at New York University. 'Bottom line, instead of bringing those people already educated from over there, we have the opportunity to be homegrown Ph.D.’s.'"

The article says that Mexicans have entered the top three biggest immigrant groups in the city, along with Dominicans and Chinese. But of course, New York's growing Mexican population tends to be viewed differently than in other, less diverse parts of the country: "In dense and diverse city neighborhoods, they generally have been absorbed as just one more immigrant group."

With so many different kinds of people coming to the city, New York even has its own, weirder, more high-brow version of coyotes, which the Times coincidentally also covered today. A guy named Ralph Cucciniello was charged with fraud for swindling illegal Irish immigrants out of $5,000 each for non-existent aid in getting legitimate papers through the Yale Immigration Law Clinic, which he made up.

He operated the fake law clinic from a desk at the Yale Law library, but has never been affiliated with the school apart from doing some volunteer research for a professor. Over the last two years, he got over 200 immigrants who wanted to be legal to give him millions of dollars, giving them nothing in return. Many of his victims won't talk to prosecutors for fear of getting deported; as one said, "Now I feel like my head has a flashing light on it screaming ‘I’m illegal’."

May 29, 2007

Jennifer Lynch is a glutton for punishment

Jennifer Lynch

There are two things that you might remember about Jennifer Lynch. She's David Lynch's daughter, and she made 1993's Boxing Helena. What you might remember about Boxing Helena is that it could be the worst movie ever made.

Now she's back, making her first movie since then: Surveillance. As much as I admire anyone who can come back after such an abject failure of a first movie (especially with such an acclaimed father,) judging from the things she says in a feature the NY Times did about her, it seems that Jennifer Lynch might be getting sick of waiting around for people to start writing mean things about her again.

Boxing Helena, and sometimes Lynch herself, got savaged by critics (especially good was Janet Maslin's review, which doesn't fall back on accusations of misogyny or perversion that some other critics threw out, but rather says the movie "threatens to give the concept of metaphor a bad name.") There's really no temptation to be contrary and claim that Boxing Helena is some kind of misunderstood masterpiece. Lynch seems like a nice enough person, but her movie really is as bad as everyone says (video evidence). Not surprising: she wrote the script when she was 19.

But now that's over, and she's offering herself up to be pistol-whipped by this cruel, cruel world all over again. Here's a quote from the NYT feature that comes after she's already openly discussed her addictions, her changing emotional states, journalists who think she doesn't deserve to be loved, and the titanium rod that was implanted in her spine a few years ago:

"I know I’ll be scrutinized. There was a moment when I found that Surveillance could actually happen that I broke out in a form of hives. From my navel to my neck. Brutal hives. It wasn’t till I said, 'O.K., you know what? This is complete anxiety and fear' that they vanished. As soon as I admitted I was scared, they were gone."

There are so few female directors working in Hollywood, and I really wish I didn't find this one so irritating. Surveillance ("both grotesque and insane!" --Bill Pullman) is about homicidal maniacs driving through Nebraska. I hope it's good, or soon we're going to be reading about her breakthroughs in group therapy and abnormal Pap smears.

May 23, 2007

Cannes Film Festival

The best movie playing at the Cannes Film Festival is Abel Ferrara's new movie Go Go Tales.

I'm basing this judgment on three things (none of which are the movie, which I haven't seen):

1) Manohla Dargis's review:

"Sleaze rarely looks as lovely and plays with such sentiment as it does in Abel Ferrara’s Go Go Tales, a down-and-dirty story about a nightclub owner and the beauties and beasts who work for him. The film, which unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, is screening out of competition, is easily Mr. Ferrara’s best since The Funeral (1996) and welcome news for his hard-core, patient admirers."

2) The cast: Willem Dafoe, Bob Hoskins, and notably Asia Argento, who plays one of the strippers. From the review: "Ms. Argento, who enters wearing her pretty scowl and tethered to a Rottweiler ... has the kind of intense screen presence that could bring out the fire department. Actors are paid to emote and recite lines, but Ms. Argento bares body and soul."

3) These photos of Asia Argento, Stefania Rocca, Bianca Balti, and Abel Ferrara whooping it up at the screening at Cannes.

Go Go Tales at Cannes

Go Go Tales at Cannes

Go Go Tales at Cannes

May 22, 2007

24: this goddamn season is finally over

24, Tom Lennox

Nobody liked this season of 24 much. The show's been picked up for at least two more seasons, and the producers say they're "recreating the series" for next year, which seems to mean that it might take place somewhere other than LA (I know, really going out on a limb, there.)

I'll tell you one change that I wasn't too fond of this season: Kiefer's transition from single-minded action hero to tortured Peter Parker during the season finale. Instead of a big final action sequence in which Kiefer does whatever it takes to save the day, this time all we got was an unresolved showdown with his evil father on an offshire oil rig which ends with Kiefer running away and getting lifted off by helicopter while the military comes in to blow shit up and kill the bad guy (recap of finale).

And how about that final scene where he kisses the forehead of the sleeping/catatonic Audrey and gives her the speech from the end of Spider-Man about how in order to protect her, he can't be with her? Which took a half an hour? Please! It was the least suspenseful season ender yet, because nothing bad or surprising happened at all, except that Kiefer can't hang out with his brainwashed girlfriend. Considering he started the day by getting released from a life sentence in a secret Chinese prison, I'd say he's still coming out ahead.

After the first few episodes, we didn't get enough Kiefer renegade action this season for my taste. But there were some great heroics going on elsewhere, in the form of Tom Lennox, aka Peter MacNichol, aka the guy from Ally McBeal. Tom Lennox started the season as a hawkish, weasly little fearmonger who was advocating surveillance and detention of "suspicious" Muslim-Americans in the wake of national security threats.

But before long he was cold cocked by Chad Lowe and tied up in a boiler room, an experience which helped him see the error of his ways. Pretty soon he was deviously subverting the power of this year's Evil Vice President (we get a new one of those every year,) disobeying orders and blackmailing his boss for the good of our nation and our democracy. He set up the lying traitor-tramp White House staffer Lisa Miller to plant false information with her Russian spy boyfriend, then had the best line of the entire season while out in the surveillance van uncomfortably watching them have joyless spy-sex and fiddling with his cellphone waiting for it to be over ("...Aaand finally we're done!") (watch the video)

The political "intrigue" subplots on 24 are typically the most tedious part of the show (though this year's CTU office romance dramas were much, much worse) but Tom Lennox made them bearable this year. He was like the White House policy advisor version of Kiefer, playing both sides, breaking the rules, and getting tied up by Chad Lowe for what he knew was right.

Thank God it's over.

May 21, 2007

Good news! Your book got reviewed in the Wall Street Journal

Bad news: the review is by Dan Quayle.

Sports writer John Feinstein's latest book, Tales from the Q School about the qualifying tournament for the PGA tour, is sure to be popular among Journal readers. Feinstein, who describes himself as "very liberal and obviously not a big fan of Dan Quayle politically" didn't know who was going to review his book until he picked up the weekend edition of the Journal and saw the byline. "Oy vey," he said.

Quayle is quite an accomplished golfer, so his review isn't that much of a surprise. Given history's assessment of his political career, it's also not so surprising that the review identified him only as "a seven-handicap golfer and the chairman of Cerberus Global Investment." It also just so happens that the parent company of his investment firm is in the process of gaining control of Chrysler even as we speak, as the Times helpfully points out.

Here's a picture from 2005 of Dan Quayle with his golfing buddy Alice Cooper at a celebrity golf tournament.

Dan Quayle and Alice Cooper

Which does not imply that Dan Quayle is a rockin' kind of guy: Alice Cooper is a self-described golf monster and also supported Bush.

May 17, 2007

NYT Styles section: if you're a woman, your life sucks

Miserable women in the NYT

Here are some articles featured in today's woman-hating Styles section in the New York Times:

"Mr. Right, It Turns Out, Does Not Take Classes"
This piece examines single women in New York who want to find a man, but are unable to, because no matter how many interests they develop or classes they take or in any other way try to "get out there", there aren't any men to meet. "Where are they?" asked Wendy Hill, who has taken architecture classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has joined singles groups and getaways. "Where do they go?"

"After Baby, Boss Comes Calling"
In this article, professional, upper-middle class women who have quit their jobs when they have children struggle to find meaningful work when they decide to start working again. This is by Lisa Belkin, who wrote "The Opt-Out Revolution" a few years ago as part of the Times' trend in covering the plight of wealthy women who can actually decide whether they feel like having a job or not. Anyway, aside from the glaring class issues that articles like this persist in ignoring, the piece points out that more employers are making modest allowances for their workers to have flexible schedules or work part-time, which is good for working mothers and everybody else, too.

The problem I have with this article is the Note to Readers: "Life’s Work, a column about workplace trends and office culture, which has run most recently in Sunday Business, today moves to Thursday Styles." Yes, workplace issues, as they relate to women, are better suited to the goddamn Styles section.

"Secret Ingredient: Their Husbands"
Here we find an article about women who actually are successful entrepreneurs (written about, again, in the Styles section) but the only reason they seem to be getting any ink about their businesses is that their husbands are celebrities. We learn about Mrs. Dustin Hoffman, Mrs. Ron Wood, Mrs. Patrick Dempsey, and Mrs. Prince, and their lines of beauty products and decorative candles that, with the help of inexhaustible personal capital investment and built-in publicity, have been remarkably successful. "The husband’s participation in the promotion is not expected, but if it happens, it’s very nice," says a SVP at Bergdorf Goodman, which stocks many of these wives' products. "There’s no denying the public’s appetite for association with celebrity."

So let's see what today's Styles section tells women about the reality of their lives:

1) if you're single in NYC, you'll sign up for Olympic-distance Triathlon training classes out of your desperation to get a man, but forget it, because you'll never get one;

2) if you're lucky enough to get married and you stop working to have kids, it will be really hard for you to find good work again, and while you're trying to get a job, people will take the challenges you face about as seriously as they take everything else that gets written up in the Styles section;

3) if you do actually establish a successful business for yourself, it's probably because you're married to someone who is rich and famous, and some significant portion of your success will be attributable to his name recognition.

Yeah! You've come a long way, baby!

May 16, 2007

In Memoriam: Fametracker


We couldn't be happier for the success that has come to the Television Without Pity crew--the site got bought by Bravo/NBC in March, and no doubt it's nothing but avalanches of corporate money, booze and sex on tap, and unlimited Tivo hard drive space over there these days.

One downside to the buy, though: Fametracker, the Farmer's Almanac of Celebrity Worth that shares some writers with TWoP, has been "on hiatus" ever since. Site creators Wing Chun and Man From FUNKLE clearly have big things going on, and New York magazine's Intelligencer probably needs a lot of attention. But Fametracker was my very favorite pop culture website for the past several years, and if it really is gone, it deserves some recognition. Or at least a clip show of its own.

So here are a few of our Fametracker favorites from the vault:

The Fame Audit. Assessments of celebrities' current status, and where they're headed.

  • Owen Wilson
  • William Shatner ("Shatner has conquered. He was cool, then he was nerd-cool, then he was kitsch, then he was kitsch-cool, then he was knowing-wink cool, then just plain cool again, and now he's something better than cool. He made himself a punchline with such debonair cunning that -- guess what? -- the man is not a punchline anymore.")
  • Scarlett Johansson, who they recognized was in the process of flushing her career down the toilet two years ago ("The only problem is that, while you might place your lips to the money teat while thinking, "I can always do indies on the side," you can't, in fact, always do indies on the side. Scarlett, don't you think Ben Affleck, while being hoisted in a harness into a model of a fighter plane against a green screen on the set of Pearl Harbor, was thinking to himself, "I can always do indies on the side"?")

2 Stars 1 Slot. Pitting two actors who occupy the same cultural space against each other. Terrence Howard vs. Jeffrey Wright in "Battle of the Next Great Black Actors"; and William Shatner (yes, again) vs. Alec Baldwin in "Battle of the Brilliant, Bloated Meta-Masters".

And some of the best stuff they ever put out in Blue Moons:

Sure, we'll be able to keep on trudging through life without Fametracker, but without some funny rejected taglines for Ocean's 13, our skies will be just a little grayer.

May 14, 2007

More Britcoms on NBC

The IT Crowd

Today's fall line-up announcement from NBC reveals that there is only one new comedy planned for next year, amidst all the time-travel serial dramas and the "Bionic Woman" remake. The lone sitcom (scheduled to be a mid-season replacement) is another UK import, "The IT Crowd", about the tech department of a big company and their geeky hijinks.

The original version of the show has only been on for one 6-episode season, and features a lot of pratfalls and other slapstick-y shtick. Some of what I've seen is pretty funny, such as a recurring joke about how Roy, the main IT guy, always answers the help line (video). Another bit from the first episode, in which a young, attractive woman starts her first day as the company's new IT Director is kind of sloppy, but there is some potential (video).

The Wikipedia entry for the UK version includes some of the show's better cultural references:

  • Roy's t-shirts include "RTFM", an alien from Space Invaders, the Flash's lightning bolt, the 256th level of Pac-Man, Guided by Voices, and the number 42
  • Stickers decorating the office include 'MP3 is not a Crime'; 'Fair Use has a posse'; the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and an O rly? Owl

Even if the ratings still aren't so great, NBC has been successful with importing the UK's "The Office" and developing it into its own entity. The material of the original "The IT Crowd" isn't as good to begin with, so hopefully NBC will get creative. I almost wish Judah Friedlander from "30 Rock" was available so he could play the main IT guy... BUT thank you NBC for standing your ground and not canceling "30 Rock".

May 10, 2007

Klosterman, New York magazine, and the Eagles

Lebowski hates the fuckin Eagles

Blah blah backlash, I still like Chuck Klosterman. Not everybody appreciates his obsessive approach to the minutiae of popular culture and tendency to make just about every story he writes a self-referential exercise or public disclosure of his family history/love life/drug habits.

But when he was writing for Spin, before the big shake-up that seems to have resulted in everything in there you'd want to read getting axed, I enjoyed his columns. In these columns, he often made wild and unsubstantiated claims about music and sometimes relied a little too heavily on the same '80's metal bands for earnest comic value, but they were almost always genuinely funny, even if his one-liners hold up better than his thesis statements. Sometimes the essays captured some idea about music that was new, at least to me (such as the "Ten Most Accurately Rated Artists in Music History" piece.)

So then New York magazine comes along with a self-consciously quirky little Apropos of Nothing column called "32 Reasons Why the Eagles Are the Best Band in the Universe", which is an attempt at ripping off Klosterman that is just not subtle at all. It's also not very successful. Here are some of their reasons:

3. Like all good California singer-songwriters, they looked great, too — no other band has pulled off the awake-for-three-days-on-peyote-buttons, stumbling-off-a-Lear-jet-dressed-like-a-cowboy thing with as much style.

5. The poster included with 1974’s On the Border, in which Don Henley is wearing the manliest peasant blouse in rock history.

7. The career arc of Glenn Frey, from “Chug All Night” — a song from the first Eagles album, about wanting to be “high on a pleasure wheel” — to “Smuggler’s Blues,” a nuanced critique of U.S. drug policy (seriously!) that inspired a really good Miami Vice episode.

28. The use of the “talk box” guitar sound — think Peter Frampton — on “Those Shoes.” Walsh’s solo sounds like a duck trying to speak with its mouth full of rubber cement and chewable Quaaludes.

The underlying "greatest rock band" hyperbole of this list is a rip-off in itself, and these kinds of statements about the Eagles are, I guess, trying to be cute and "random" ("rubber cement and chewable Quaaludes"??) but come off as insincere and unfunny. So the style of this piece really bugs me, as does, of course, the notion that the Eagles are the world's greatest rock band.

The fact that they actually include as a reason the Eagles reference that's in The Big Lebowski ("15. The scene in The Big Lebowski where the Dude (Jeff Bridges) gets thrown out of a taxicab for dissing the Eagles") demonstrates that these people have no idea what they're talking about. The Dude getting thrown out of cab after he says "I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man" isn't supposed to act as a rebuke to the Eagles-hating public, it's meant to suggest that the Eagles in general, and the song playing in the cab ("Peaceful Easy Feeling") in particular, are not synonymous with "the best band in the universe". As Robert Christgau famously wrote, "Another thing that interests me about the Eagles is that I hate them."

Watch the Eagles-dissing clip from The Big Lebowski.

May 9, 2007

NYC's free condom campaign: public health threat

NYC condom campaign will get you knocked up

New York's Health Commissioner Thomas Friedman said yesterday that the city's NYC Condom campaign, launched on Valentine's Day, might be pulled if it doesn't get results. "If we find launching this brand didn't increase at all safe sex among the groups at highest risk, we may stop it entirely," he says.

Well, Dr. Friedman, let me tell you something about risk: an unscientific hands-on study has come to my attention that indicates a blood-chilling, knee-clenching 100% failure rate in those free NYC condoms, when used as directed. Those LifeStyles™ branded freebies are, unscientifically, unreliable. Condoms are products that consumers need to work, all the time. Like seatbelts.

Perhaps my study subjects aren't the only ones who have had trouble: the Post reports that "between March 15 and April 15, the city gave away 3.7 million of its transit-themed prophylactics. That's a sharp drop from the 5 million given away in the 30 days after the condoms' Valentine's Day debut."

Maybe the novelty wore off, maybe the bowl at McSwiggans was empty every time you checked (here's a full list of distributors), or maybe 1.3 million people who used a free NYC condom in that first month don't need to use birth control anymore, since they're now pregnant.

May 8, 2007

Long way down

This flyer was taped to a lamppost on 9th Avenue, advertising an upcoming show at local cruddy fake-Irish bar Mean Fiddler in a couple weeks.

Chris Barron flyer

Guy from the Spin Doctors, using his 1993 Rolling Stone cover to promote his latest tour. Flyer is taped up next to an ad for a man with a van, and a flyer for a craft fair at a middle school.

[tx Cushie]

May 7, 2007

NYC: raiding Hell's Kitchen

Poseidon Bakery pastry

The 34th Annual Ninth Avenue International Food Festival is almost two weeks away, but today's the day that I'm starting to drool over salacious photos of pastries from Poseidon Bakery in anticipation. It's coming up on May 19-20. One million people show up every year to walk through Hell's Kitchen, from 37th St to 57th St, and stuff their faces with roasted pig flesh, apricot strudel, and gator on a stick. Food photographer Roboppy has many photos of flaky baked Poseidon butteriness on Flickr, and Pop Stand has loads more past festival documentation.

Street fairs are traditionally a source of revenue for the neighborhood associations that sponsor them, and for the local nonprofits that the associations donate to. But the Post reveals today that the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival brought in almost $240,000 at last year's event, but only about $3,500 made it to local organizations. In 1989, $28,000 was donated.

But last year's relatively small donation doesn't appear to be entirely the festival organizers' fault. The 11-day San Gennaro Festival, which in 2005 was able to donate $212,000 of revenue from its street fair to local charities, only broke even in 2006. Expenses have gone way up, and the Ninth Avenue Festival pays more for things like insurance than San Gennaro does, which hardly makes sense since San Gennaro is 9 days longer. Ninth Avenue Association President (and, I think, owner of Poseidon Bakery) Lillian Fable complained that the $48,000 permit fee collected by the city doesn't allow for any surplus revenue to be donated.

Since the city probably isn't going to give up any of the $1.5 million it takes in every year from street festival permits, we can all try to do our part by eating at least 5 times as much gaucho-grilled meat than we did last year. Or if you're interested in donating more directly to local organizations, just write them a check. Hartley House, Fountain House, and Housing Conservation Coordinators are good ones.

About May 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in May 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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