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May 16, 2012

NY Times hits new height of NY Times-iness

Mother and daughter, freezing eggs together

The closest thing we've got to a national, general interest newspaper is probably The New York Times*, but the paper itself seems to possess an exasperatingly adorable fixation on its imagined core audience: super-privileged white people. Non-rich Times readers roll their eyes, but we've grown accustomed to their fussy little non-news human interest stories on the lives of the very fancy, such as the difficulty of finding repair service for high-end kitchen appliances in vacation homes, yoga for dogs, and the article guaranteed to turn me into a sputtering indignant crazy person, the one about wealthy Ivy League-educated young mothers who decide they don't want to work anymore and wonder whether or not that makes them feminists, when what it really makes them is rich.

This week, the Times has almost out-Timesed itself with an article called "So Eager for Grandchildren, They're Paying the Egg-Freezing Clinic". It's got everything for the elite: the compromised fertility of aging single women, over-involved parents, and super-expensive, questionably-effective technology that only the rich and desperate can afford.

Here's the story: in a new trend among rich white people, parents who have grown weary of waiting around for their single daughters in their 30's to produce grandchildren decide to pay $8,000-18,000 for their daughters' saggy old eggs to be harvested and frozen.

Says mother Gloria Hayes of Darien, CT (who appears in the photo above, which is so perfect it's like a cliché of a cliché):

"I just didn't feel right approaching her about it, because it's almost a criticism in a way -- 'You're getting old,' " Mrs. Hayes said. When Jennifer finally floated the idea, "I was thrilled. I thought this could just take a lot of the stress off her."

...

When Brigitte Adams, a San Francisco marketing consultant, brought up the idea of freezing her eggs to her parents, her father quickly approved. So quickly that, for a moment, Ms. Adams felt stung. "It was a little degree of shock," she said. "This is actually real if they're pushing me towards this," she recalled thinking at the time.

The really wonderful/horrible thing about this article is that these parents have found a way to both emphasize their children's advancing age and waning fertility, and infantilize them at the same time!

One more thing: in a coincidence that seems strange at first, but upon reflection is almost too perfectly on-the-nose, two of the young women featured in the article now write for blogs about their personal egg-freezing experiences. Eggsurance.com and RetrieveFreezeRelax.com. I know.


* There's also USA Today, but I don't think anyone reads it unless it's dropped in front of their hotel room door.

March 7, 2012

Sue Simmons and NBC

WNBC, New York's NBC affiliate, has announced that they won't be renewing the contract of their beloved 30 year news anchor Sue Simmons.

[Obligatory response to NBC:] The fuck are you doing?!

See one of my favorite TV clips, from a memorable news promo from 2008:

In a statement, the station said, "We have tremendous respect and admiration for Sue Simmons. For decades, Sue has been a critical part of New York's longest-tenured anchor team in the city and has more than earned her iconic status."

You know what goes a long way in earning iconic status? Swearing on the air. It's not just that she (accidentally) swore during a promo for the news, it's that she did it with such bravado and flair. No timid cursing for Sue Simmons! That incident, and her open, authentic style on the air, make her seem so funny and appealing. We'll miss her.

UPDATE: The Times has an adoring professional-obituary for Sue Simmons on today's front page!

Amy's Robot turns 10, suffers midlife crisis

10 years old

Well, it's been 10 years of watching TV, going to the movies, following fluffy political gossip and serious celebrity news, and guessing which famous person is older. Hooray!

It's hard to imagine that 10 years ago, the world wasn't yet flooded with countless websites about pop culture and celebrities and the crazy world we live in. But now it is, and here we still are, doing exactly the same thing as back then. That's the power of brand consistency.

Looking back, I'm not coming up with much in the way of "accomplishments", so instead, let's consider some of the pitfalls other blogs have succumbed to that Amy's Robot has heroically avoided. None of us have lost our jobs due to unscrupulous posts about our bosses. We've technically never lost an advertiser. No Washingtonienne-style sex scandals (still trying!) or embarrassing failed book deals. No Homeland Security investigations (we love America, please don't arrest us) or attacks by Anonymous. I'll take lack of catastrophe as a substitute for actual achievement.

So thanks, everyone, for reading. A tip of my hat to That Fuzzy Bastard, Tim, T-Rock, ooghe, ORStylee, Colin, essbeekay, and Matt S for your many smart and funny comments. Emily and Cushie for years of collaboration, and special acknowledgement to ADM for co-surrogate-birthing this weird little baby.

Now to figure out what to do for the next 10 years, besides my eternal dream of making Who's Fatter?™ into a regular feature.

November 4, 2011

GWAR and mainstream media

GWAR guitarist

Now that the heyday of the PMRC is behind us, the only time you're likely to see an article about a band like GWAR in a paper like the New York Times is when one of their members is arrested for a heinous violent crime, or dies. Sadly, GWAR lost its guitarist of the last ten or so years, Cory Smoot, yesterday when he was mysteriously found dead on the tour bus. Cause of death isn't known yet, but the guy was only 34 years old.

As tragic as this news is, it's a wonderful opportunity to see the mainstream media try to explain it to its readership, which comprises a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the satirical heavy metal genre.

From the Times' piece:

Mr. Smoot, 34, joined the band in 2002, taking over the outlandish role of Flattus Maximus that had been played by other guitarists in the band’s long history. He also produced the group's last two albums—"Lust in Space" and "Bloody Pit of Horror," both on the Metal Blade label. On stage he wore a grotesque red mask, foam dinosaur-head shoulder pads and reptile feet.

GWAR was formed in Richmond, Va., in the mid-1980s and is known for its sci-fi costumes, raunchy lyrics and graphic stage performances, often touching on political and morally taboo themes. Its shows sometimes include phony decapitations and disembowlments of people wearing the masks of public figures. The theatrical conceit of the group is that they are intergalactic warriors, descended from aliens stranded in Antarctica who came to Earth to turn humans into sex slaves.

Thank you, newspaper of record, for publishing that last sentence.

The Washington Post includes an overview of GWAR's costumes,

As Flattus Maximus, Smoot wore shoulder pads made out of dinosaur heads, and a red Cro-Magnon skull. Other GWAR members' costumes are equally elaborate: Lead singer Oderus Urungus (played by Dave Brockie) wears a horned barbarian costume, and Balsac the Jaws of Death (played by Mike Derks) wears hooves and a mask shaped like a giant bear trap.

then they go even further, quoting subjective descriptions of attending a GWAR concert from 2004 to help its readers experience the magnitude of this loss:

While the band ground out such classics as "Apes of Wrath," "Horror of Yig" and "Biledriver," the audience was treated to such Caligulan diversions as a woman in a bikini breathing fire, a pope doll being savaged by a large singing Tyrannosaurus rex named Gor-Gor, and a pair of bondage slaves flogging each other with the bloody entrails torn from a figure resembling the president of the United States.

And Slate made a cool short video about the news, featuring gloriously apocalyptic footage of GWAR videos and shows.

RIP, Mr. Maximus. We bow our Cro-Magnon skulls in your honor (and really, really wish we'd gone to a GWAR concert while you were alive.)

September 28, 2011

Roger Ebert at the NY Times

Roger Ebert at the NY Times

I've been watching and reading Roger Ebert's movie reviews for just about as long as I've been able to watch and read, so seeing him at the NY Times last night was one of the most exciting movie-related experiences I could have. A big reason I'm so into movies is that when I was growing up, I watched Siskel & Ebert talk about movies every week on TV. Because those two smart, thoughtful, funny guys were excited about movies, they got me excited about them, too. I don't always agree with Ebert, but he still writes about movies more compellingly than just about anyone, and I'm always interested in what he has to say.

Since Ebert got cancer and lost the ability to talk about 5 years ago, he stopped appearing on TV, but he's become unbelievably prolific in his writing. He reviews a bunch of movies every week (A.O. Scott, who interviewed him last night, said Ebert reviews at least twice as many movies each week than any one else he knows), writes a blog, an excellent Twitter feed (500,000 followers!), plus he has a new memoir out and, my personal favorite, a cookbook for rice cookers. He'll probably never speak again, but the man still has a lot to say.

A couple of things about the interview, which Ebert conducted by typing into a talking laptop:

  • He got into movie reviewing entirely by accident. The former movie critic at the Sun-Times retired, and Ebert got assigned to take over because, he claims, he was the youngest journalist and had the longest hair.
  • A.O. Scott talked about 3D and Ebert's well-publicized, unwavering contempt for it, and said that Ebert was on the record saying he thought 3D was a "disaster". Ebert immediately corrected him, via talking computer. "Abomination," he said. Preach it, Roger!
  • He told a story about the legendarily tough critic Gene Siskel about a time Siskel took his young daughters to see a movie. When they were leaving the theater, he asked his younger daughter what she thought of it. "Daddy," she said, "I didn't like it." "I've never been more proud!," he told Roger.
  • A.O. Scott asked Ebert for a few of those movies, among the hundreds of thousands he's watched, that are most special and meaningful to him. He named four, which I thought were surprisingly arty and relatively obscure, considering he's probably the best known mainstream movie critic ever:

    Ikiru, by Kurosawa. I think I watched this for a class on Japanese film when I was 20 years old, and almost definitely fell asleep. Ebert says it's a wise film about mortality and death, topics that probably don't resonate with a junior in college who still thinks Goldschlager is a very nice drink in the same way they would with someone who's survived cancer.

    Floating Weeds, by Ozu. I haven't seen it. Actually, I still haven't seen any of Ozu's movies, probably because I've heard they're lengthy, quiet studies of Japanese family life, and I always end up picking something less lengthy and quiet instead.

    2001: A Space Odyssey, by Kubrick, which Ebert said "knocked his socks off". Maybe sometime he could explain to me what happens in the last 20 minutes.

    Gates of Heaven, by Errol Morris. This is the one about pet cemeteries, definitely one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. As A.O. Scott pointed out, it's impossible to tell if Morris has compassion and respect for the people in the doc who select these cemeteries as the final resting places for their beloved pets, or if he thinks they're a bunch of lunatics that make good punchlines. Maybe both?

One other thing about Siskel & Ebert and their lasting legacy. I was out at karaoke last week, and someone performed Bloodhound Gang's "The Bad Touch", a song that's very popular at karaoke despite it being almost impossible to get through. When the line "Yes I'm Siskel, yes I'm Ebert, and you're getting two thumbs up" line came along, the lyrics displayed on the screen read: "Yes I'm Sisco, yes I'm Evil, and you're getting two thumbs up." An unintentionally surrealist lyrical reworking, there.

Whoever transcribed that line perhaps doesn't speak English as their first language, but still, it made me wonder if young people don't actually know what "Siskel & Ebert" means anymore.

Many old "Siskel & Ebert" reviews are archived, so you can watch them argue about, for example, The Big Lebowski. It's still fun to watch the two of them.

June 7, 2011

Should have seen it coming, Weiner

Anthony Weiner comes clean

Today's coverage of Anthony Weiner's confession about his enthusiasm for online dirty chatting has quickly moved from reactions to yesterday's announcement to broader discussions of the issues the matter most to each media outlet. The Post has offered the most consistently explicit use of original source material, while the Times has provided analysis of the political fallout and the weird ongoing involvement of blogger and "perpetually sweating conservative trickster" Andrew Breitbart, who isn't really part of the story anymore.

But the most interesting related story I've seen is an unbelievably prophetic interview that the NY Times conducted with Weiner less than three weeks ago, which specifically addresses his fast and loose approach to Twitter. Even before we knew he was contacting his female followers with jockey bulge photos, he had a reputation for being candid and sometimes flippant in his tweets. So the Times asked him about the risks he was taking.

Here are some actual quotes from Anthony Weiner about his Twitter use:

"I know the risk. I've seen enough stories about the risk, and I've kind of kicked the line of the risk a couple of times."

"There's a certain amount of risk that you take. And I kind of forget them as I write them," meaning the Twitter posts, "but if I saw all of them lined up, I'm sure I could probably point to one or two and say, 'Oh that got a little bit close there.' But they're mostly pretty playful."

The interviewer asked him if he had any safeguards in place, like having a staff member read over his Twitter posts before he sent them out. "The answer is no. Maybe I should." He laughed and then added: "Point taken."

He then made a comment about the waitresses at Coffee Shop, where the interview was conducted, and how attractive they are. Watching one waitress walk by, he turned around "in an exaggerated pantomime" to eye her.

It's almost too on the nose. If the Anthony Weiner scandal was a movie, I'd criticize the interview scene as obvious, clumsy foreshadowing.

The scandal itself doesn't surprise me, I guess, but I am surprised that a politician as openly ambitious as Anthony Weiner would engage in such high-risk behavior that, if he got caught, would ultimately ruin his political aspirations. He did, and it did.

March 23, 2011

Liz and Dick

Richard Burton and Liz Taylor in 1970

Hollywood and celebrity obsession today don't have much in common with the era of Elizabeth Taylor, but her death still feels like the end of some lost, revered image of glamour and excess (see tan, makeup, cleavage, and jewelry, above.) She was such a gigantic star for so long, she was so beautiful, and she so far outlived her stardom and beauty. In a lot of ways, we've been losing her for the last 30 years. Here's the NY Times obituary.

Last summer, Vanity Fair published an excerpt of a book by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger (my one-time professors) called Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. It's a great read. I knew the world was obsessed with Liz and Dick, as the papers called them, and their tumultuous, scandalous, tabloid-ready relationship, but I didn't know that this obsession formed the blueprint for every other media-saturating celebrity affair, marriage, and breakup that has become a self-perpetuating industry.

Liz Smith, gossip columnist at the Post until 2009, was writing about celebrities through the entire Burton-Taylor era, and has some wonderful stuff to say about why the world's appetite for Elizabeth Taylor and the couple was so insatiable:

"On the face of it, Elizabeth Taylor was just totally arrogant. She'd walk out in Capri pants and her Cleopatra makeup and her kerchief and go off to whatever local restaurant and drink up a storm with Burton. That's part of what excited the public: her vulgarity and her arrogance and the money. Oh God, their love story had everything."

The details of their consumption are spectacularly lavish. Despite owning six homes, they mostly stayed in hotels, and sometimes ordered room service to be flown in from other countries. Liz Smith points out that only one celebrity couple has ever been condemned by the Vatican (for "erotic vagrancy".) At the height of their married fame, nearly half of the US film industry's income came from movies starring one or both of them.

One fact I learned about Elizabeth Taylor today: she converted to Judaism when she was 27, and used to fight with Richard Burton about who was more Jewish. And here's a really cute photo of her:

Elizabeth Taylor, white bikini top

March 9, 2011

NPR and our screwed up news industry

Vivian Schiller from NPR, on Fox News

If I don't think about it too hard, I can almost understand today's ouster of Vivian Schiller, the CEO of NPR. Even if she wasn't the one who got suckered by a team of fake donors and made negative comments about the Tea Party, Republicans, and, awkwardly, the Jewish-controlled media, (though there's "not too much Jewish influence at NPR",) and even if the person who did make those comments made it clear that he was voicing his own opinions and not those of NPR, she's still the boss, so she's ultimately responsible for how NPR is perceived.

But at the same time, it makes me want to bang my head against a wall. This is in part because I personally agree with some of what Ron Schiller said while he was secretly recorded by con artists--the Republican party really has been hijacked by some extremists, and a lot of those extremists really do seem to be xenophobic.

It's also because members of the right-wing media loudly announce their irrational negative beliefs about Democrats and the left all the time. Roger Ailes can say that NPR is run by Nazis, and hosts of Fox News programs can call the Wisconsin pro-union demonstrators "union thugs" spewing "vitriol and violent rhetoric".

What makes Vivian Schiller's ouster sort of understandable is that NPR gets public funding, and Fox doesn't. OK. But that funding is only 1% of NPR's budget, and 9% of member stations' budgets. And the guy who made the questionable statements isn't a journalist or involved in news in any way; he's a fundraiser who's on his way out to his next job, and, frankly, he's probably already sort of mentally checked out.

In my opinion, NPR does real, thoughtful, high-quality reporting, without any identifiable political agenda. In my opinion, Fox News often falls far short of that. But Fox also seems to understand that there really isn't any such thing as pure, unbiased reporting. There never has been. The wealthy classes have always controlled major media in this country, and business interests are always central to news agency operations. I sometimes admire that outlets like Fox can so wholeheartedly embrace this, and not even try to pretend they're impartial.

But NPR and other public news services seem to strive for a noble, if ultimately illusory, concept of neutrality in reporting. I guess that's why Schiller had to resign: any evidence of bias in reporting lessens your credibility, if you believe that reporting can ever be free from bias.

What I really wish had happened is this: if all that separates Fox News and NPR and the standards we apply in the personal opinions their staff are allowed to voice is the little bit of public funding that NPR gets, I wish Vivian Schiller had stepped up and said that NPR was returning all the public funding it's received this year, and would no longer accept public funds. Let the public funds go only to local nonprofit stations, not to NPR itself. Yeah, it would be financially difficult, member stations would suffer, and her board would hate it. But if that financial freedom allows NPR to do its good work without getting harassed by a Congress that doesn't see the value of real reporting, it's worth it.

February 16, 2011

Actresses and food

Mila Kunis eats a hotdog

There's an article in today's Times about actresses who gush in interviews about how much they love eating high-calorie, fatty, cellulite-generating foods. It isn't all that original an observation, but I love it anyway. Skinny celebrities--women--whose bodies bear little resemblance to those of basically everyone else on the planet, often make a point that they love to eat bacon. Or spaghetti bolognese with cheese. Fries with ranch sauce. Macaroni and cheese. Or if they're being interviewed by Lynn Hirschberg, truffle fries.

Like the author, I think this is part of a calculated effort to make actresses seem more approachable and easy to relate to, and less like manufactured entertainment products with starved bodies and gigantic heads. As ex-publicist Bumble Ward says, "Don't you feel awfully sorry for actresses? They're so sure that people assume they have an eating disorder that they're forced to wolf down caveman-like portions of 'comfort food' in order to appear normal."

Then the article speculates on male fascination with beautiful women eating greasy food as being a combination of two primal drives. Remember George Costanza shoving a pastrami sandwich into his face and also watching a portable TV while in bed with his girlfriend? Pretty reasonable, I guess.

I think actresses say they love food that makes you fat, which they so obviously do not eat when not doing magazine interviews, in order to allow us non-famous folk (especially women?) to cling to our fantasy that we can eat whatever we want and still look good. If Cameron Diaz can eat ribs and mac and cheese and look the way she does, why can't we? A quick glance at the butts of America tells you why not, but we still want to believe. It's comforting to see that the lithe, willowy Taylor Swift loves hotdogs.

The vegan feminist cultural theorist perspective, provided by Carol Adams in the Times article, is that seeing beautiful women eating crappy food (especially meat) encourages men to consume both women and meat. "These images of women, whether they're ads or they're in magazines, they're all saying the same thing: traditional consumption of women's bodies and animals' bodies is O.K." I see her point, but maybe another idea is that men want to believe that hot girls can eat burgers all the time and still look great. Who wants to think about a sexy girl starving herself and sadly eating a dish of steamed broccoli for dinner?

Remember when Sarah Palin revolted against Michelle Obama's suggestion that we cut back on desserts, defiantly gathering her s'mores ingredients? We want to keep eating our fries and brownies, and we want Keira Knightley to keep eating them, too. But unless bulimia is waaay more prevalent than I realize, I think if actresses really ate the way the rest of us do, they'd look like the rest of us, too.

February 3, 2011

Message to the Academy: Save Natalie!

Natalie Portman at the SAG awards

Over the last few Oscars seasons, we've seen anecdotal documentation of the Best Actress Curse: the phenomenon in which a talented actress wins accolades for her work, which triggers the collapse of her personal life. Examples include, incredibly, almost every single Best Actress winner of the past 10 years: Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock most recently, and the special case of Hilary Swank, whose marriage survived her first win in 2000, but not her second in 2005. Only Helen Mirren and Marion Cotillard still have their manfolk around.

Some analysis goes back to the 90's and finds even more examples: Helen Hunt, Emma Thompson, and Susan Sarandon (though in that last case, her relationship with Tim Robbins didn't break up until 13 years later.)

There's speculation that male insecurity is the root cause of the Curse. Some assume that, when an actress gets the highest award for her work, her husband, often also in the entertainment industry, can't handle his feelings of inadequacy when comparing his success to hers. In the Halle Berry example, one site asks, "When was the last time you listened to Eric Benet?" It could also be related to Best Actress winners becoming dissatisfied with the losers they married and deciding to make a play for George Clooney.

But now that everyone knows about the Best Actress Curse, and it's been validated by academic research (with a graph!), I think we have to lay the blame elsewhere. If members of the Academy are aware of the fate that will almost surely befall the woman they name Best Actress, shouldn't we be holding them accountable?

Which is why I'm asking members of the Academy, who just received their ballots and are now considering five innocent actresses, to remember that they hold the future happiness of poor little Natalie Portman, and the fate of her unborn child, in their hands.

Natalie is now engaged to her on-screen dancing partner Benjamin Millepied, who seems like a nice enough French ballet dancer, and is neither a scruffy beardy singer-songwriter, nor Moby. We should encourage their young love, even if Millepied ditched his longtime girlfriend a couple of months after meeting Natalie on the set of Black Swan, and even if Natalie's Golden Globes acceptance speech chronicling Benjamin's desire to impregnate her was the creepiest awards speech I've ever heard.

If Natalie loses, I give them two years. But if she wins, I hope the members of the Academy can live with themselves.

The other big contender this year is Annette Bening. How weird is it that her marriage probably stands a good chance of surviving a Best Actress win, when her husband is Warren Beatty?

Just think of the agonizing future Natalie Portman interviews on "Ellen". Aggghh. It would be enough to make me vote for Jennifer Lawrence, who's dating the guy from the British "Skins", so if that breaks up in two months, big whoop.

January 31, 2011

Women and Wikipedia

Women pay gap

Wikipedia has determined that only 13% of its contributors are women. The site's usefulness depends on all kinds of people sharing knowledge about subjects they're interested in. Everybody benefits when the knowledge of a vast number of individual people is centralized in one place, and Wikipedia has done a fantastic job at collecting individual knowledge -- of guys in their mid-20's.

The Times article about the low contribution rates of women includes surprised speculation from people in media and computer studies about why this might be. I don't want to be cynical, but do these people live in the same world I live in?

Let's look at some major areas of public life:

Sensing a trend?

Of course there's a big difference between becoming a Senator or a CEO of a big company and contributing to a Wikipedia article. ANYONE can write something on Wikipedia. You still don't have to register with the site to add some verifiable facts to an existing article, and there's a help page for new contributors.

Since women's knowledge is so radically underrepresented in Wikipedia, we're all losing out. I don't know about you, but I probably look something up on Wikipedia every day. I don't want to only find what dudes are interested in up there.

Two examples in the Times article: "Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in The Simpsons?" "The entry on Sex and the City includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on The Sopranos includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode."

Sure, it's just pop culture, but this is part of what happens when women are in so few visible leadership positions. As Catherine Orenstein, founder of The OpEd Project says in the Times piece, "When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies." Fewer women in media, business, and government seems to also mean fewer women and girls sharing a bit of knowledge in an online article about TV shows, authors, historical figures, cities, bands, or artists they like and know something about.

Contributing to Wikipedia doesn't require leadership or ambition, but it does require women and girls to think, "I have something to say", and with few exceptions, that's not happening. Boys and men obviously think they have plenty to say, and they're already saying it awfully loudly and in painstaking detail. Ladies: please speak up, I can't hear you.

In thinking about the small numbers of women in leadership positions in business, I realized that at every single job I've had since college, the person at the top has been a woman. This now seems incredibly statistically improbable, and I feel really lucky.

[Note: a reader points out that Wikipedia is intended to be a repository of known facts, not personal analysis or research, as described in the No Original Research entry. My point remains that contributors reflect their own personal interests by adding facts to an entry, making the whole of Wikipedia a sum total of the interests of its contributors, so if those contributors are 87% dudes, well, you get a lot of stuff about Matchbox cars and Civil War Reenactments.]

January 26, 2011

Mark Bittman gets political

Mark Bittman, The Minimalist

Today Mark Bittman announced that he's ending The Minimalist cooking column in the NY Times after 13 years. He's had a great run of making cooking at home feel accessible, smart, and fun.

I don't know if Mark Bittman and I just naturally have similar approaches to cooking and food, but after reading his columns and cookbooks (How To Cook Everything, regular and vegetarian editions) over the years, I often find myself thinking "What Would Mark Bittman Do?" when faced with an unexpected shortage of a key ingredient or a dish that isn't coming together quite as I'd hoped.

Bittman makes me feel like I can cook anything I want to, and that once I've messed around with a type of dish or ingredient, I can and should improvise and trust my instincts. Plus, he's really funny. I flip through sections of his cookbook that I'll probably never use (e.g. meat, sauces, cauliflower) just because he's such a hilarious guy who clearly has fun in the kitchen. As he says in his departing column, "I never maintained that my way of cooking was the 'best' way to cook, only that it's a practical way to cook. (I'm lazy, I'm rushed, and I'm not all that skillful, and many people share those qualities.)"

He's a guy who has no problem with shortcuts that makes sense, like sauce in a jar or the most versatile and delicious of all condiments, ketchup ("I mean, why not?"). But he's driven up the wall by how expensive and cruddy packaged salad dressing is when it's ridiculously easy and cheap to make fresh yourself.

So now that he's not The Minimalist anymore, he's going to start another Times blog about food and politics, which is a direction he's been moving toward for a while now. He did a fantastic talk at TED in 2008 about food and what's wrong with what we eat. This talk, in conjunction with Food, Inc., changed the way I think about the food industry forever. I especially like the kind but blunt way he talks about the food his own mother served at a time when eating in America was mostly about meat, thrift, and convenience, and seemed to involve a lot of canned pineapple.

"What I see as the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States is a political issue," he writes, introducing the new blog that will launch next week. Over the years, he's turned into an eloquent food crusader speaking out against meat-heavy diets and processed crap, and now he'll get a dedicated space to rail against Big Food. I'm psyched.

Here's a collection of his best cooking videos, including the outstanding Kitchen Starter Kit one, and here's a collection of all his columns, dating back to 1997.

January 20, 2011

Why Vanity Fair is the best magazine, even with covers like this

Justin Bieber cover of Vanity Fair, Feb 2011

Of all the magazines I subscribe to, Vanity Fair is consistently the best, the one I'm most likely to read cover to cover. Sometimes carrying my copy around with me and reading it in public or on the subway can be a little embarrassing, due to covers like the one on the current issue (February).

I don't know if the general public understands that, yes, I'm reading a magazine with Justin Bieber on the cover, but the article that I'm reading at this moment is about how J.D. Salinger's experiences on the beaches of Normandy influenced the development of the Holden Caulfield character, or about the history and culture of The Guardian newspaper and how that determined its rocky partnership with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Or maybe I am, at this moment, reading the Justin Bieber article. But this is what really makes Vanity Fair great: I would guess that it's the best Justin Bieber article yet written, anywhere. I'm not completely kidding, here. In this article, we learn that Justin understands that more guys might start coming to his concerts after he turns 18; that he can solve a Rubik's Cube in 2 minutes; that Kanye's remix of one of his songs features Raekwon; and that his mom is younger than I am. (I know!)

Most of the reason this Justin Bieber article is so good and relevant to a non-tween audience is the author, Lisa Robinson. She's interviewed Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson (many times) and Kanye, and written articles about pop stars that reach beyond the existing fans. Which brings us to her Justin Bieber article, which I have to say is a really good read.

Just about all the celebrity stuff in Vanity Fair is good, even after losing the beloved Dominick Dunne (especially the features on dead movie stars and the making of classic movies by Sam Kashner.) The political stuff is good, the analysis of the financial crisis was probably the best anywhere, and the random pieces on the world's greatest surfers or a Florida private investigator that caught a serial killer are unexpected and consistently great.

My only complaints: too much stuff about the Kennedys, and the occasional piece that is so exclusively targeted to the extremely rich or people who wish they were extremely rich that I can't get myself to read it. I'll read an article about what kind of psychology/pathology inspires a person to spend $80 million on a yacht, but I don't much care about the yachts themselves.

November 3, 2010

What we can learn from the election

Maybe exit polling and statistical analysis has gotten a lot sharper in the last few years: yesterday's election went pretty much as everyone expected, i.e. Republicans took more House seats from Democrats than ever before, and probably the only reason we didn't lose the Senate as well is that only 1/3 of it was up for vote.

The American political system is designed to be in a constant state of rebalancing, allowing voters to move in one direction, then make incremental corrections to head back in the other direction. But in this graphic in today's Times, it looks like these incremental corrections have turned into an electroencephalogram of insane, reactionary panic:

NY Times graphic of the House majority party

We've gone nuts. Our country has decided that it doesn't trust anybody anymore, so rather than allowing our government to try new policies and create change over time, we're just blindly hurling ourselves to one extreme, freaking out, then hurling ourselves back the other way.

This is not the way to get anything done. Our system of allowing an infinite number of two-year terms for House members only encourages this kind of wild overcompensation that looks like a 16 year-old's car fishtailing out of control down an icy highway. Voters clearly aren't handling it well.

But here's what I've learned: voters are probably going to keep zig-zagging all over the place every two years, so a) nothing is forever, and b) whichever party is in power has to do whatever it takes to push their policies through, because they're going to be kicked out soon.

Here's another thing: The maniacal ad that played in West Virginia featuring a Senate candidate shooting a piece of paper labeled "Cap and Trade Bill" with a rifle was actually by a DEMOCRAT. Joe Manchin. He won. Guess I should have read the press about him more closely. Anyway, ads like this and people like Joe Manchin remind me that party affiliation isn't everything: this guy is a Democrat, and Olympia Snowe is a Republican.

One more thing: While watching the results scrolling along the bottom of the screen last night, I noticed the results of the Idaho governor's race, which was won by a man named Butch Otter. Who has just become my favorite governor in Idaho's history.

November 1, 2010

Hey, look, it's Sars!

Tough Love in Time Out

I was reading the current issue of Time Out, which has a new weekly feature called "Tough Love" which offers smart, non-sugar-coated dating advice. And hey! It's by our old almost-friend Sars, aka Sarah D. Bunting!

If you've been reading the internet for a while, you may remember a time before Gawker, before Jezebel, and before every single style and culture magazine started doing clever commentary of TV episodes. Today, if you want some analysis of the latest episode of "Mad Men" or "Glee", you can read the Times' TV blog, NY Mag, Entertainment Weekly, even the Wall Street Journal culture blog, and many other sites that do TV recaps.

But there was a time when Television Without Pity was pretty much the only game in town, and it was hugely influential. I was a big fan back when it was called Mighty Big TV, and Sars' weekly "Dawson's Creek" recaps regularly forced me to clap my hands over my mouth and shake silently at my desk so that no one in the office would know I was reading something deeply hilarious and not remotely work-related.

Though they couldn't have known the havoc they would wreak on a generation of internet commenters, TWoP brought the word "snark" into common usage and taught us all how to be ironic and sophisticated when writing about pop culture. Though, judging from all those other recap writers, not necessarily how to be funny.

Anyway, TWoP was sold to Bravo in 2007, and Sars and co-founder Wing Chun left the year after. Since the sale to Bravo I have read the current site's recaps exactly zero times. Their related pop culture site Fametracker has been frozen in time since 2007, and, sadly, doesn't look like it will ever return. Which is too bad--Fametracker was one of my favorite media/culture/celebrity sites ever.

Sarah D. Bunting's personal site Tomato Nation looks better than ever, with a lot of stuff about candy, baseball, and, of course, what she's watching on TV. She's also done an advice column for many years, so it's pretty cool that a magazine finally noticed and offered her a regular gig.

So far, Tough Love is good: funny, sharp, and sympathetic, while not letting anyone off the hook. In her very first answer, she advises a young woman fed up with waiting for her boyfriend to propose to "grab a Ring Pop and propose to him. It’s 2010." Thank you, Sars! This should be the default advice given to anyone who has ever made this complaint. Hope she's as influential with this kind of stuff.

June 23, 2010

McChrystal: the Stillwater of the U.S. Military

General McChrystal looking sad

Tough break, General McChrystal. Yammering to Rolling Stone about your ineffectual boss was a terrible idea, but it really seems like he lost sight of how his words would sound outside of the Paris bars where he hung out out with journalist Michael Hastings.

The issue of Rolling Stone won't hit the stands until Friday, and it's already the most significant/disastrous article of the year. It's worth reading. We already know about all the disses on Obama and no-nonsense military tough-talk, but there's some funny and surprising stuff in there, too. McChrystal sounds like a guy who's serious about his job, totally dedicated to his soldiers, misguidedly wedded to his counterinsurgency fantasy, and almost superhumanly disciplined. With the notable exception of his tendency to mouth off to reporters.

A couple of interesting bits:

  • McChrystal allegedly eats only once a day, and in the month (!) that Michael Hastings spent around him, he witnessed him eating exactly one time
  • His staff refers to themselves as "Team America", referencing the movie by the South Park guys in a way that causes me a lot of confusion about their degree of self-awareness
  • He's tighter with Karzai than the US ambassador or any other civilian government reps
  • He was personally involved in the cover-up of Pat Tillman's death by a fellow soldier in Afghanistan, one of the darker moments of this war
  • He wrote 7 short stories for the West Point literary journal while he was there

Michael Hastings did a short interview with Newsweek (his former employer) over the turmoil his piece has created, and discusses why McChrystal was so open with him. Specifically: he has no idea.

He's still in Afghanistan now, and says that he doesn't know why McChrystal agreed to talk to him in the first place. But it does seem like a lot of the more candid (aka ill-advised) stuff might have come out because a) they were in Paris and Berlin for some of the time, rather than in Afghanistan, and b) what was supposed to be two days of interviews turned into a month because of the the Icelandic ash cloud.

So I guess things got a little looser as time went on, and McChrystal and his staff probably stopped thinking of Hastings as a journalist. It happened in Almost Famous, when Stillwater got a little too cozy with their 15 year-old Rolling Stone reporter, and I guess it happened in real life, too.

One other interesting thing about Michael Hastings: he's also the guy whose girlfriend visited him while he was working for Newsweek in Baghdad as part of her job with a political nonprofit, and while she was there got killed in a Sunni ambush. He wrote a book about it.

June 16, 2010

Books about movies: the Brits beat us

BFI Film Classics, Star Wars

The other day I mentioned a new series of short books about individual movies that Soft Skull Press was going to launch later this year. Cool, right? Sort of like the 33 1/3 series of books about individual albums that I like a lot. Everyone's got a movie they've watched enough times they could probably write a book about it, it seems, so this sounded like a wonderful and novel idea.

Except that the British already did it. A film buff friend who knows a thousand times more than I ever will about German expressionism and film noir pointed out that if I'm so psyched about this new series, maybe I should check out BFI's existing series of short books about movies. Ahem.

Since the 90's, the BFI (British Film Institute) has been putting out these great little books as part of its Film Classics series, and they've got some really good ones. Like, well over 100 of them. They've got tons of standard selections like like Star Wars (above), Vertigo, and Lawrence of Arabia, and smart, less popular favorites like Night of the Living Dead, Cat People, and Sweet Smell of Success, which comes out later this summer.

But check these out. They did a book about Groundhog Day. Spirited Away. In August they're putting out Back to the Future. Manohla Dargis did the book about L.A. Confidential ! They got freaking Salman Rushdie to write the book about The Wizard of Oz !

They're all available in the US through Macmillan, and they're all up on Amazon, too. Just about all of them are 10 or 11 bucks, and mostly under 100 pages! Though, mysteriously, no books about Alien or Tootsie.

Wow. Hard to know where to start. Maybe I'll go for Mark Kermode's book on The Exorcist--he's pretty great, and apparently believes it's the greatest movie ever made.

June 3, 2010

Books about music, books about movies

They Live by John Carpenter

One of the coolest things to happen to music criticism in recent years is Continuum's 33 1/3 series of short books, each one about a different album and by a different author. Each book is around 100 pages long, and includes background, interviews, heady analysis, and often some wacky, highly personal musings, reflections, and rants on the importance of the album in question. They're a lot of fun--the experience of reading one is sort of like meeting an interesting person at a party and suddenly finding yourself in a long, meandering conversation about the album that's playing, which you both happen to really love.

The albums in the series range from the obvious but necessary ("Led Zeppelin IV", "Doolittle", "OK Computer") to the well-informed if less canonical ("Meat is Murder", "Born in the U.S.A.") to the truly inspired picks that you might not immediately think of for a series like this ("Rid of Me", "Trout Mask Replica", and one brave monograph about Celine Dion.) There are new ones coming out all the time--I can't wait to see the book for Wu Tang's "36 Chambers", especially the crazy recording studio anecdotes. Here's the whole Wikipedia list and Amazon list.

Many of the writers of these books don't have any other author credits on Amazon, so there's a tantalizing sense that you yourself could one day write a 33 1/3 book on "Dubnobasswithmyheadman" or "Faith" or "Elastica" or "Very Necessary", and that music fans everywhere would read about your own personal musical obsessions.

(As a side note, I've always thought it was an unfortunate indicator of my own musical ignorance that the one book in the series written by somebody I actually know is about an album I have zero personal connection with: The Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime".)

This news has been out for a bit, but I just found out (via Rex) there's going to be a similar series of short books -- about movies! It's called Deep Focus, and it's being put out by Soft Skull Press. The first two books in the series will be about John Carpenter's alien takeover movie They Live, by Jonathan Lethem (!), and Charles Bronson's Death Wish by Christopher Sorrentino. Both are out in November.

So the next obvious question: if you could write a book for this series, what movie would you choose? It seems like they're going mainstream so far, but let's assume that the movie selection will be wide open. I might pick a favorite comedy like Tootsie. There's so much to say about that movie. Or, oh man, can you imagine getting to write a whole book that encompasses every tangent and diversion about Blue Velvet? Or The Apartment? Or Dead Alive? Or Hannah and Her Sisters? I can't wait to see where they go with the series.

If you were going to get paid to go off at length on your own totally subjective analysis and personal adoration of a movie, what would you pick?

February 22, 2010

Stuff My Shatner Says

William Shatner

A few months ago we heard that the popular Twitter account "Shit My Dad Says" was being turned into both a book and a CBS sitcom. This site makes me laugh 100% of the times I read it, so as happy as I was that it was doing so well, I was a little worried that the swears and the casually cantankerous, humanity-hating stuff that make it so funny wouldn't make it to TV, where the title would probably be softened to "Stuff My Dad Says".

But now, none of that matters. Because the star of the show is going to be WILLIAM SHATNER.

William Shatner on a horse

This is some deeply inspired casting. If anyone can make a TV-ready version of Samuel Halpern as funny as the original, it's the Shat.

The site's author, Justin Halpern says that his dad's first choice for a star to play him on the show was James Earl Jones. Justin says, "I was like, 'But you're white.' He was like, 'Well, we don't have to be! Who gives a [censored]? You asked me who I thought, and that's who I think.' "

James Earl Jones would add a certain gravity to lines like, "A mule kicked Uncle Bob once. Broke his ribs. He punched it in the face.. My point? You have an ingrown fucking toenail. Stop bitching." But in this case the producers know what they're talking about.

As a side note, I guess one of these days Justin Halpern will probably be able to move out of his parents' house in San Diego, but hopefully the time he'll have to commit to his book and TV show won't detract from time spent listening to his dad's blunt, vulgar wisdom. Also: his dad went to medical school and used to lecture at Harvard, so Halperin says the show's tone can't be quite as "All in the Family" as it sounds like it could be.

Here's Shatner singing "Bust a Move" in a Priceline commercial from a few years ago, around the time that his strange version of cool started moving into uncharted, mythical territory.

February 8, 2010

Watch the game, hate your life

FloTV Super Bowl ad

I noticed a theme in some of last night's Super Bowl ads: in addition to the usual inscrutably unfunny Doritos ads and unoriginal but instantly recognizable Go Daddy ads (those people really understand brand consistency) there was an undercurrent of male misery. It's standard for ads to make the viewer feel uncomfortable or insecure, then offer the product as a solution to your self-esteem problem, but a couple of these ads suggested that the problem in your life is not really your athlete's foot--it's your girlfriend.

The Dodge ad was an especially bitter girl-hating ad, which is odd, considering that it's basically one long whiny bitch fest (with a few pissy little jokes thrown in.) It features lots of guys looking directly into the camera, with a voiceover listing all the indignities they suffer as part of living with a woman, such as being forced to separate the recycling. Life for a man, according to this ad, is an endless series of irritations piled on by that bitch you married (or who's pressuring you for a ring, probably) and the only recourse is to drive a Dodge, the one thing in this world she can't take away from you.

Geez, guys, if it's really that horrific to pick up your underwear, you could find a lady with less stringent household tidiness expectations. Or support Chrysler by suffering in silence and driving a shitbox car.

Then there's the poor doofus who let his girlfriend drag him along underwear shopping (above) instead of letting him watch basketball. Another hapless fellow whose simple yearning for happiness has been denied by his selfish cow girlfriend who needs a new bra. Poor, poor widdle man!

The long-suffering man ad that I did like was the one for Dove Men, which is admittedly an absurdly tough product to try to sell during the Super Bowl. Anyway, the Dove Men approach is to depict one man's life, from fetus to adulthood, and the many challenges he has faced and overcome along the way. Living with a lady in this ad can also be a trial, but these difficulties are shown as small victories to be proud of rather than opportunities to complain about how much women suck. And it's funny. A decent ad.

Actually, the Dove Men ad is probably targeted exclusively to women. How many guys out there are going to purchase Dove Men bodywash at the supermarket? They could at least rebrand this line to something like Falcon or, to continue the political metaphor, Hawk. This ad probably presents a less toxically bitter attitude toward women because they're the buyers. (Though I see that Dove got last night's MVP Drew Brees to appear on the website, lathering up a very masculine and non-drying foam in the shower.)

My favorites were the Kia ad about toys going out on the town (particularly the shot of the robot and a human in a Vegas club, both doing the robot) and the Audi ad using Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" as a soundtrack for scenes of an army of draconian eco-fascists handcuffing people for using styrofoam cups. I love it.

You can watch all the ads on Hulu, though you have to watch a few seconds of a Coke ad before you watch each of the other ads, which seems unjustifiably cheap.

February 1, 2010

Tweens and Axe

Tween boy loves his Axe

In the Styles section, the NY Times ran an article about tween boys and their devotion to Axe body spray that's basically the exact same piece that the Washington Post ran almost 4 years earlier. Both articles are great reads and very funny, but the story has hardly changed over the past few years: boys are becoming self-conscious at younger ages, and 11 year-olds are dousing themselves in $6 bottles of spray perfume in an attempt to copy the older kids and get girls.

A few interesting things both articles point out:

  • The companies that produce these popular products insist that their target markets are 18 to 24 year-old men, despite the evidence that a lot of their customers haven't reached puberty yet. The Post suggests that this is because their marketing is so direct in its claims that using Axe (or whatever) will make you irresistible to women, and no one wants to think about a 12 year-old boy getting busy. The Times says Axe marketers are reluctant to talk about their younger fan base publicly because "nothing would make older teenager run from a product faster than for its manufacturers to acknowledge that it's a must-have among the sixth-grade set."
  • Young boys appear to interpret Axe's obviously jokey ads, in which guys wearing body spray are swarmed with lust-crazed girls, pretty much literally. A 12 year-old at a suburban Maryland middle school said, "I was watching the commercial, and there was this guy and he was mobbed by a bunch of girls, and I thought, 'Wow, that's tight! ' So I went to CVS and bought it."
  • Everybody apart from middle school boys seems to hate it, because boys tend to use it too liberally or as a substitute for bathing: "It's not necessarily a hygiene thing," said Paul Begley, a physical education teacher at Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland, ME. "If they've been sweating, they'll use it as a mask instead of a shower."

    And my favorite quote of these articles, from 14 year-old Allison Testamark: "Someone by my locker uses it, but he uses so much that you can taste it in your mouth," she said, scrunching up her nose in disgust.

Also, the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman (who has things to say about 12 year-old boys highlighting their hair), has a new book out called Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials. Tina Fey, who adapted her earlier book for Mean Girls says, "You can't put this book down... or it will talk about you while you're out of the room."

October 23, 2009

Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me! at Carnegie Hall

Wait Wait's Peter Sagal and Carl Kassell

Public radio nerds descended on Carnegie Hall last night for this week's taping of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz show. It's one of the most popular shows on NPR, which makes sense: it's weirder than The Daily Show, and sometimes I think it's funnier in a loose, improvy sort of way.

I was lucky enough to go, and thought I'd share a few highlights. The live show ran for two and a half hours, and will get cut down to 45 minutes for Saturday's broadcast, so some of the really funny stuff is going to have to get cut:

  • For those of you wondering what the outgoing message that Carl Kasell records for your voicemail if you win, they played a sample. The winners get to script the message, and this one ended with Carl singing "What's New, Pussycat?" like a sonorous baritone Tom Jones.
  • The special guest for the "Not My Job" segment was Brian Williams, who's been on the show a few times. That guy is a riot. There was some immediate adversarial jabbing between host Peter Sagal and Williams over the mainstream media's Balloon Boy coverage: Williams said he was (conveniently) on vacation for the whole thing, and made some lame excuse for all the media attention like "people were concerned and really cared about that kid in the homemade UFO" or something, but Sagal went for integrity points by ripping TV news outlets. Well, NPR covered it, too, but at least they covered the media reaction, not the actual balloon.
  • Peter Sagal brought up the fight between the Obama administration and Fox News, which Williams thought was a bad fight to pick. Everyone has to work together in politics and news, he said. Making distinctions between network news and cable news is meaningless: he said the evening news is "like The Munsters." Heh. It was the weirdest comment of the night.
  • Then Brian Williams shared an anecdote from the 90's when he was a White House correspondent, about an unflattering piece he did on Bill Clinton. One night while Brian Williams was making dinner at home with his wife, he was in the process of pouring the pasta into the colander when Clinton called him, mad as hell, and started berating him mid-pasta pour. His point was that Presidents have always gone after individual reporters; his pissed-off Clinton impersonation was perfect.
  • Music Brian Williams is into lately: Deer Tick and The Republic Tigers and other stuff listed on his embarrassingly titled BriTunes page on MSNBC.
  • Williams was so funny and quick, I think everyone had to remind themselves that he has a day job as a news anchor. After he left the stage Paula Poundstone said, "What a waste of talent!"
  • Peter Sagal wrote a screenplay that ended up becoming Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.

    Mind-blowing trivia: both Roger Sterling and Betty Draper from Mad Men were in Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights!

Tune in Saturday for the show.

October 9, 2009

Today's news

Obama waves

Some of today's happenings:

  • The Nobel Committee, in a spasm of ecstatic relief that George W. Bush is no longer President of the United States, awards the Peace Prize to Obama. "He's only been President for 9 months!," everyone is saying, "He hasn't done anything yet!" Obama himself seems genuinely surprised.

    It does seem like this choice is as much a condemnation on the direction the world has taken as a result of our last administration as it is an approval of Obama. For the sake of comparison, let's look at what George W. Bush accomplished in his first 9 months in office: He cut taxes, especially for the very rich, rejected the Kyoto Protocol, and allowed our country to be attacked by terrorists. Maybe Obama should get a few Olympic medals and a VMA on top of the Nobel Prize.

  • Charlotte Gainsbourg has a new song called "IRM", which is French for MRI, inspired by the many MRIs she went through after she had a brain hemorrhage a couple of years ago, which I didn't know happened. You can download it. Beck co-wrote and produced this song, and all the songs on her new album, also called IRM.
  • Do you realize Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" album came out THREE YEARS AGO? Wow. She has a new one coming out next year, "hopefully". This reminds me of sporadic reports of a new Elastica album that floated around music magazines throughout the late 90's. That one took 5 years, and wasn't worth the wait.
  • YouTube is at over a billion video views a day, and is "getting closer to being profitable."
  • Marge Simpson on the cover of Playboy.
  • And finally, two people killed by a sweat lodge.

September 23, 2009

A Mamet/Anne Frank joke script that's funny

David Mamet and Anne Frank

Earlier this summer when it was announced that David Mamet was going to write and direct a film version of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, the smirky jokes flew fast. Some of the many fake script excerpts out there are OK, though a lot of them don't move very far beyond all the characters swearing a lot and being inexplicably aggressive. (NY Mag, The Independent, The Voice.)

One pretty good one incorporates this line for Anne: "You know what it takes to live in an attic for two years? It takes BRASS BALLS." The Onion's highlights from their imagined script uses the same the brass balls joke (taken from Alec Baldwin's big scene in Glengarry Glen Ross [video]). And (this is great) The Onion also predicts, "Rebecca Pidgeon is shoehorned into the plot, ruining movie at last minute."

Anyway, one of the best joke Mamet/Anne Frank scripts was performed and broadcast on last week's edition of Filmspotting, a good movie discussion podcast. The script was submitted by a listener and the podcast performance got posted on YouTube:

September 13, 2009

Remakes and non-resurrections

St Etienne's Fox Base Beta

Some bits of news from the last few days:

August 26, 2009

RIP Dominick Dunne

Dominick Dunne

Dominick Dunne, the man who knew everybody, went everywhere, and did everything, all while looking like a million bucks, died today.

Most recently he was a columnist for Vanity Fair, focusing on celebrities and the crimes and scandals that bring them down. He also covered all the major celebrity murder trials, got sued by Gary Condit, and crusaded for victims' rights, and that was all after a long career in TV and movie producing.

Vanity Fair has an obituary, a letter from Graydon Carter about his amazing career and what it was like to know him, and a retrospective of his career in pictures. There are great ones of Dunne with a young Elizabeth Taylor, with his pal Princess Di, hanging around at parties attended by Claus von Bulow, and my favorite, sitting near a surprised O.J. at his recent criminal trial, wearing a huge smile:

Dominick Dunne and OJ

During a brief conversation they had during the trial, he said he started to like O.J., but no one was happier about that conviction than old Dominick Dunne.

Here's the last article he wrote for Vanity Fair, "What a Swell Party He Wrote", which is just incredibly great. Here's an archive of his other VF columns. ADM once declared on this site that Dominick Dunne is a national treasure. Sure was.

August 19, 2009

Bake sales and teen flicks

Soterious Johnson and Richard Hake baking

  • WNYC made a ridiculously twee little movie with an extended gag about having a bake sale to raise money. Goofy, but it's cool to see Brian Lehrer, Jad Abumrad (whose dessert I would actually eat,) Leonard Lopate, Brooke Gladstone, Terrance McKnight, and our faves Richard Hake and Soterios Johnson (above) all pretending to be terrible bakers. Best YouTube comment: "Soterios Johnson is white?"
  • Interesting op-ed about how struggling newspapers should switch to a nonprofit model like Harper's and Mother Jones.
  • The good news: the first real video inside a print magazine. The bad news: it's a "Two and a Half Men" clip and a Pepsi ad in Entertainment Weekly. I like pop culture just a little bit less now.
  • Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, my favorite movie of 2011, now has Jon Hamm in it, playing a character named High Roller. OK, I guess I like pop culture again.
  • Maybe you've seen ads for this new movie Bandslam. Did you assume it was another cruddy pre-teen High School Musical spinoff? Me too!

    Did you know it might actually be a cool movie that's a victim of bad marketing, and features a scene in the abandoned CBGB's where, according to the Washington Post review, the main character "spots an old Patti Smith poster and gasps in awe, 'Do you know how many times she must have spit on this floor?'" And has a David Bowie cameo? Me neither!


August 18, 2009

Video scratch

Mike Relm, scratcher

  • This is from a week or so ago: Wired has a short video interview with Mike Relm, one of my favorite mashup guys, talking about his live sets where he scratches music and video simultaneously. With stuff like Battle Royale, Pee Wee, Led Zeppelin concert footage, and amateur YouTube videos. It's cool.
  • I like Nicole Holofcener's movies, which center on women and their relationships but are better than most other movies about women and their relationships, and always star Catherine Keener. But here's her next movie: I'm With Cancer, starring James McAvoy and produced by Seth Rogen (who co-stars) and Evan Goldberg. It's about a young guy with cancer.

    I can't decide if I'm annoyed that one of the few successful women writer/directors who makes good movies about women has been absorbed by the Seth Rogen juggernaut, or if I'm hopeful that the next Rogen/Goldberg movie might be a lot better than Pineapple Express.

  • A New York judge ruled that Google has to reveal the identity of a blogger whose blogger.com site, Skanks in NYC (it's been taken down), exists only to diss model Liskula Cohen, who wants to sue the blogger for defamation. (She's also the one who a crazy guy hit in the face with a bottle at a club.) The blogger's lawyer said this case could lead to indiscriminate lawsuits against internet trash talkers, which means the floodgates might have just been opened.
  • The Times says that there are almost twice as many Dunkin Donuts as Duane Reades in the city, which I can't see how that is possible.

August 4, 2009

More movie news, other news

Coffee and Cigarettes

A few links for today:

  • A new study shows that people have a lot less self-control than they think they do, and people who think they're good at resisting temptation are actually terrible at it. One of the tests involved college student smokers watching Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes (which features Iggy and Tom, above) while holding an unlit cigarette in their hand or, for the hardcore delusional people, in their mouths. Three times more students who thought they had unbreakable self-control smoked during the movie than the other students.

    The lesson: you are helpless to resist that donut/cigarette/drink/cute flirt, so who do you think you're kidding? As Wilde said, the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.

  • Latest cast addition to Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch: Carla Gugino. If this movie isn't fantastic I'm going to cry.
  • Review copies of G.I. Joe aren't going to be released, which is usually a bad sign. But really, what have they got to lose? Transformers 2 showed that fans don't care what critics say anyway, so why put what's probably a pretty disappointing movie out there to get bad reviews? One reviewer who has seen it called it "a big, silly, pulpy, cartoony action film." Yeah, no kidding.
  • Some statisticians who think language used in song lyrics and on blogs indicate our national mood found that teen blogs use "an abundance of 'sick,' 'hate' and 'stupid.' "
  • Michiko Kakutani weighs in not so positively on Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, which sounds like an intentionally breezy read: "it feels more like a Classic Comics version of a Pynchon novel than like the thing itself."

July 8, 2009

Public Enemies: maybe I expected too much?

Johnny Depp in Public Enemies

The movie I've been most looking forward to all summer is Michael Mann's Public Enemies. I love some of Mann's movies (especially The Insider, Manhunter and most of Collateral), I love Johnny Depp, and I'm a sucker for period gangster movies that involve slick suits, big guns, and smoky nightclubs.

Maybe my expectations were too high. I was completely prepared to love Public Enemies, but I didn't.

The good things about it:

  • If the movie had any overarching theme, it's how our society constructs crime. John Dillinger knew how to turn on the charm and use the media to make the public love him, even though he was a thief and a murderer. J. Edgar Hoover also uses pop culture to launch his War on Crime, showing "America's Most Wanted"-style reels at movie theaters about "public enemy number one" like a sort of 1930's reality show. Hoover's methods may have backfired, since spotlighting Dillinger made him even more of a celebrity and a folk hero, but it's interesting to see the moment when law enforcement turned real-life crime into entertainment.

  • The contrast between Dillinger the man and Dillinger the pop icon. I love the scene of John Dillinger in a movie theater, watching the reel about himself. He watches, sort of detached and bemused, with only a moment of anxiety as the audience is instructed to "look to your right; look to your left", but of course, nobody notices him. John Dillinger is just an unsophisticated farm boy who's good with a machine gun; Dillinger the public enemy is practically a movie star.

  • The overlap between Johnny Depp and John Dillinger. In one of the only moments of exposition in the whole movie, Dillinger declares that he likes "baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whiskey, and you", speaking to a pretty girl he just met. He's a man of action who isn't interested in image, even though his image is what makes him who he is. You could say the same things about Johnny Depp, judging from the recent Vanity Fair feature where he carouses around with his buds, drinking and enjoying being Johnny Depp, yet has no interest in watching his own movies.

  • The scene where a mob middle-manager (played by John Ortiz, who was in "The Job") tells Dillinger that they will no longer associate with him, launder his money, give him guns, or let him use their safe houses, because he's "bad for business." The mob was pulling down a lot more cash through their gambling ring than Dillinger was stealing from banks, but the feds were only interested in Dillinger, because he made a better celebrity-criminal. This one scene says more about perceptions about what kind of crime matters in this country than anything else in the movie, and I wish they did more with it.

  • Marion Cotillard telling an abusive cop, "When my Johnny finds out how you slapped around his girl, you know what's going to happen to you, fat boy?"

But overall, the movie felt surfacy and meaningless. It's fine to drop in on the action with no exposition: we can figure out who these characters are as we go along. But it's like there was nothing to figure out. I never felt like I understood what John Dillinger was all about, except that he was good at robbing banks, and I have no clue what the members of his gang were like. Wouldn't it have been interesting to see some stuff about the relationships between Dillinger and his gang, the people at the safe houses, and the madam he was friends with? It would have been, but we hardly got any of it.

The gritty look of the HD video was fine and made sense, but using hammy dialogue straight out of a 40's gangster movie totally didn't fit with the look. The acting was cold and flat, which is fine for a movie that doesn't glamorize its characters, but then it's almost impossible to care when those characters get arrested or killed. There are no cheesy biopic cliches, but there also isn't any character development, emotion, or suspense. As Roger Ebert says in his (positive) review: "His name was John Dillinger, and he robbed banks. But there had to be more to it than that, right? No, apparently not."

I'm surprised that I these characters were so uninteresting, because Michael Mann knows how to get you to care about his characters. Think about The Insider: Russell Crowe is brave, but he's thorny and unfriendly, not especially likable. But we really care about what happens to him and want to see where the movie goes. We already know what happens to Dillinger, so we need something else besides the plot to feel invested in him, and I don't think we got it.

My favorite review is David Edelstein's in NY Magazine. He suggests that the best rejoinder for Public Enemies is the Michael Jackson video for "Smooth Criminal":

It's a tommy-gun gangster fantasia with a touch of Guys and Dolls, and it's everything Public Enemies isn't: madly inventive, genre-bending, a passionate tribute to the artist as outlaw-loner. The video reminds you why the gangster has become an existential hero in pop culture: It’s how he seizes the space. On some level Michael Mann knows that, but he's paralyzed by his pretentions and specious morality. And he can't dance.

Here's the long version and the short version of the MJ video. Not really a fair comparison, but the video is a lot more fun than the movie.

June 3, 2009

Microsoft makes you the decider

Bing ad still

Microsoft has launched its new search engine, Bing, and tonight will start showing some TV ads to try to get more than 8% of the market share to use it.

The ad starts with a montage of lots of the internet memes we've come to know and love. The still image above has a bunch of them--you've got the OK Go video, Chocolate Rain, Dramatic Chipmunk, Afro Ninja, the cat on the piano, the monkey on the laptop, Perez Hilton, and on and on.

Then a voiceover says, "While everyone was searching, there was bailing." Then we see images related to the financial crisis and bailout, and flashing text says we're all "lost in links" and suffering from "search overload", as though the current recession is somehow related to popular YouTube videos.

Anyway, then we move on to shots of smiling children using electronic devices, joggers, a rubber stamp that says "Let's go!", and the Bing logo. The voice-over narrator says, "It's time to *Bing*!" in falsetto.

This ad is a little bit better than the Google Chrome ad with the colorful toy blocks, but it seems to be targeted to people who don't enjoy the internet. The ad says that old search engines (Google) are for using interactive sites like YouTube and watching funny videos, and for reading news about the economy, which is more or less how most people actually use the internet. But this new search engine isn't about that: it's more focused, and it's for "deciding". The ad calls it a "decision engine", not a search engine. It's like Microsoft actually wants you to think "I'm the decider" while watching this ad.

Here are Bing search results for Bing Crosby and Steve Bing (number one related search for Steve Bing is Rick Santorum, ha!)

You can watch the whole ad on YouTube, that symbol of woefully outdated internet search, or just turn on the TV over the next few days.

May 26, 2009

Google: your guide to the 95% of the internet that is useless

Google vs. Facebook

pic by APC

During a protracted, sacred-cow-bashing bitch session the other day, a friend pointed out that Google is getting less and less useful for finding the things you want online. A generic search engine is fine if you have literally no idea where to find what you're looking for, but if you spend a lot of time looking for stuff online, it's often faster and easier to go to a site that pulls together information about a broad topic (like business news or movies or book reviews) and start searching there. Between a basic news aggregator like Yahoo News or Google News, the front page of the NY Times, Wikipedia, Amazon, IMDb, YouTube, Bartleby, and your social network of choice, you can find a lot what you're looking for on the internet without having to wade through a Google search that points to a lot of sites that aren't useful.

This is nuts, though, right? Google is supposed to be the easy-to-use guide that takes you where you want to go through the chaotic mess of the internet. Now it's the service that points you to one thousand robo-sites that reproduce the same inaccurate lyrics to Rihanna singles that every other robo-site offers, then tries to sell you a ringtone ("pictures, lyrics, pics, videos, photos, wallpapers, biography, news and much more!")

Useless content on the internet isn't Google's fault, but as a search engine, it has to get better at weeding out the garbage. This is where more specific sites like Facebook and Wikipedia come in. Sometimes the external links and references section at the end of Wikipedia entries is faster than a Google search to find some specific bit of information. And a lot of people would rather ask their group of friends for advice on a bar with a good jukebox or a book to bring on vacation instead of wading through 200 book blogs by PR account assistants.

One good thing about Google searches is that the first response you get is often a link to the Wikipedia entry (examples: Cyclops, "Maude", cadaver, philanthropy, Colorado River, quinoa, and Doug Henning.)

Lately there have been headlines like "Facebook Could Kill Google" because Facebook is getting users a lot faster than Google is, and because Facebook is now responsible for almost 20% of Google's traffic. And 45%(!) of people on the internet use Facebook as their homepage.

This week a Google product manager said that for many users, social networks are more trusted than an anonymous search engine because the results they get are better. If you want to know the capital of Tunisia, you'd use Google, but if you want to find out about restaurants, you go to Yelp or Facebook.

Maybe after the orgiastic explosion of new websites that happened over the last 7 or 8 years, the internet is starting to contract into a handful of sites that provide reliably useful information. When you're searching around blindly, you might want Google to show you a huge, sort of random list of sites related to what you're looking for. But as people start to get more comfortable with the internet and how it works, they won't want their searches to show them everything on it.

April 14, 2009

Movieline is back

Movieline Kevin Spacey cover

The 90's movie magazine Movieline is back, online only. The print magazine ran from 1989 to 2003, and it was a fun read. Looking back at it now, it serves as an interesting document about how people thought about movies and celebrities in our no-so-distant ancient past (for example, the 2003 "sex symbol" Kevin Spacey cover above, that frankly makes my skin crawl.) To help take you back, here's a 1996 cover with a quote from Heather Locklear about whether she or Teri Hatcher had the most downloaded images.

The original magazine was a good general-interest movie mag, but also compiled some smart and interesting lists, like their 1995 100 Best Movies Ever Made list, a few years before AFI started doing their own. They also did a 100 Best Foreign Films list in 1996. The Best Movies list has some good choices (Being There, In a Lonely Place) and included only 3 movies from the 90's. But one of those was True Lies. So I guess the magazine attempted to balance thinky film criticism with whatever was popular at the moment.

The new site seems to have a similar philosophy. They've got interviews with Emily Blunt and the guy who directed the new Grey Gardens, and also gossip about Leo DiCaprio and Zac Efron talking about heroin and a bit about Seinfeld porn. And stuff about TV like Parks and Recreation.

It looks like they're going for accessibility, balanced with some stuff for people who are really into watching movies and some stuff for people who are really into celebrity gossip. A bunch of the editors were hired from Defamer, which Gawker shut down as an independent site a couple of months ago. Hard to say if the world needs another site like this, but it's good to see the Defamer group is largely intact in a new home. Hopefully they'll resist the original Movieline magazine trajectory--in 2003 it changed its name to Hollywood Life, which was like a less interesting US Weekly that nobody read.

The new Movieline is owned by Mail.com, which is weird. Mail.com says that in addition to the email service they have "a growing number of essential online content destinations."

The Vault, an archive of all the print magazines, is coming soon. You can see a lot of old covers up there now, featuring a young Johnny Depp, a young Christina Ricci, and a really young Robert Downey, Jr.

April 1, 2009

Peabody Awards: Now With More Internet!

Onion News Network and YouTube

I love the Peabody Awards. It's always such a strange collection of TV and radio that gets selected every spring. The awards are for "electronic media", which for the first time this year, includes media that only exists online.

They've recognized some newspaper websites, including the NY Times website this year, and in the past gave an award to the Washington Post's Being a Black Man site. But this year they also gave awards to Onion News Network and YouTube. A fake news site and an ocean of crazy videos made by preteens in their bedrooms are now Peabody winners. I love it.

Here's the full list of winners this year. Some other cool winners are SNL for the political stuff, Washington Week with Gwen Ifill (yay Gwen Ifill), Lost, "King Corn" from Independent Lens on PBS, Breaking Bad on AMC, and the entire Turner Classic Movies channel.

The Peabody board has to vote unanimously for each winner, and they must be a group of people very willing to indulge each other's favorites, since the list of winners they generate every year is all over the place.

But I almost always like their choices. In the last two years, winners have included Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, NPR's StoryCorps, Scrubs, the Planet Earth series on Discovery, an NBC-affiliate's coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, and Project Runway.

Here's a list of recent winners.

March 30, 2009

So that's why my friends in advertising are getting laid off

Empty billboards in Times Square

This austere, zen-like photo of empty billboards in the middle of Times Square is from Slate's Shoot the Recession series. This one is especially recognizable as I've been noticing the empty storefronts and dark signs around midtown lately. Could this signal the demise of the cleaned-up, corporate New Times Square? The last 42nd St peep show, Peep-O-Rama, closed in 2002; we could be due for a porny backslide.

The entire photostream is on Flickr, which includes some good shots of a boarded-up Bank of America window, a 50% Off sale at a liquor store (don't see that every day) and an Always Open store with both "Closed" and "For Lease" signs in the windows.

The Times now has a similar online photo submission thing called Picturing the Recession, so you can share your own financial desperation with the world.

March 13, 2009

Chinese bloggers too dirty for the NY Times

Grass-mud horse video

The Times reports on a new internet phenomenon in China -- cheeky bloggers are writing stories and making cartoons and videos about an animal called a "grass-mud horse" in fake nature documentaries and children's songs [video example--it's actually an alpaca].

The grass-mud horse is an "impish protest" against the Chinese government's censorship of the internet, says the Times, because the characters that form its name are a homonym for something dirty: "The mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity."

But this is the Times, a respectable family newspaper, so they won't tell you what that obscenity is -- sort of ironic for an article that's overtly critical of media censorship.

Slate, on the other hand, doesn't care about propriety, so they'll just come right and tell you that the Mandarin for "grass-mud horse", cao ni ma, is a homonym for "fuck your mother." (London's Times seems to be the first to report the actual phrase.)

The Slate article goes on to explore the "motherfucker" insult, which seems to exist globally as the worst insult anyone has been able to come up with. We get some funny and super-vulgar variations of the theme in African, Asian, Mediterranean, and Arabic cultures, with a little anecdote about the first written example in English, in a Texas court in 1889, where someone who was called that particular insult who then shot his insulter "could not be found guilty of a higher offense than manslaughter."

These subversive Chinese online writers seem to have thwarted government censors for now. Censorship has gotten a lot worse recently: in the last couple of months, the government has shut down about 2,000 websites for publishing material they don't like. The NY Times quotes Wang Xiaofeng, a blogger in Beijing, who wrote about the grass-mud horse phenomenon as a sign of censorship's inability to control free expression: "When people have emotions or feelings they want to express, they need a space or channel. It is like a water flow — if you block one direction, it flows to other directions, or overflows. There’s got to be an outlet."

Thanks to the London Times and Slate for providing an outlet for the mf'ing flow around the NY Times Manual of Style and Usage.

Here's an essay from the NY Times' Public Editor from last summer, around the time of the Jesse Jackson "I wanna cut his nuts off" incident, about when the paper decides to use crude language, which is just about never.

March 11, 2009

Manufacturing your bogus Wikipedia story on Wikipedia

Obama and Aaron Klein

Here's a beautiful example of the conservative media's protracted freakout over Obama: Aaron Klein, a writer for WorldNetDaily, wrote a story about Obama's Wikipedia page and how it lacks some of the controversial elements of his political career. Things like whether he was actually born in America or not, which as far as I can tell is not actually controversial except among people who also believe that Obama is secretly Muslim.

So Fox News picked up the story, noting Klein's discovery that a Wikipedia user called Jerusalem21 had been banned from Wikipedia after changing the Obama entry to reflect this supposed doubt over his birthplace.

From Wired's story about who this Jerusalem21 might be:

Of more interest is the identity of the mysterious Jerusalem21, whose courageous disregard of Wikipedia's ban on fringe material provided WND's Aaron Klein with his smoking gun in the first place, spawning what will soon be a national wiki-scandal.

Curiously, it turns out that Jerusalem21, whoever he or she might be, has only worked on one other Wikipedia entry since the account was created, notes ConWebWatch. That's Aaron Klein's entry, which Jerusalem21 created in 2006, and has edited 37 times.

Eventually Aaron Klein admitted that Jerusalem21 is his research assistant. Klein works in the Jerusalem bureau of WorldDailyNet, and I guess his assistant likes blackjack.

Wired also looked back at other edits to Obama's Wikipedia page, and one bit about his (minimal) association with William Ayers that got edited out was also originally submitted by Jerusalem21. When Wired asked Klein why he didn't disclose in his article that he was the one generating the Wikipedia edits that were the subject of his story, he said, "It just slipped my mind."

The discussion page on Wikipedia's entry on Aaron Klein, master of media manipulation, is a great read. On it, we find that 30 single-purpose accounts have been used to edit his entry, some "very obviously" used by Klein, his boss, and other people at WND. The entry at various times has exaggerated the importance of Klein's reporting on the 2008 election, and included details about his history of alleged plagiarism.

February 4, 2009

Recession hits the Times Dining section

Biggest Loser kitchen

Hard times seem to have arrived all at once at today's Dining section. The main articles include a piece on the desperate measures expensive restaurants are taking to get people to come in; peanut butter as a recession-proof source of protein that everybody loves, salmonella be damned (though I was stunned to learn that smooth far outsells crunchy in American homes. I'm a superchunk girl.)

The other main feature is about NBC's "The Biggest Loser", which appears in the Dining section although the main involvement that the show's contestants have with food is that they don't eat any of it. Also odd that they chose to cover the show now, when it's been on for 7 seasons, but I guess now is a good time to report on a show that encourages viewers to alternately fast and eat nothing but asparagus (which makes you pee your weight off, apparently.)

I've never watched a whole episode of "The Biggest Loser", and the only bits I've seen consisted of overweight people suffering through byzantine and painful-looking physical challenges. The Times focuses on the diet part of the competition, and uncovers all kinds of really freaky relationships with food that contestants have, which are probably intensified by having to lose hundreds of pounds with piles of money at stake, while on national TV.

Some especially crazy highlights from the article:

  • "The first two weeks, you're throwing up so much from working out, you're so tired, the last thing you want to do is eat," said Ed Brantley, a chef in Raleigh, who in the last season lost 139 pounds (more than 40 percent of his body weight). [This is because they work out SIX TO TEN HOURS A DAY.]
  • Soon, food becomes the devil they love to control. Every contestant is required to eat a minimum number of calories each day and is supposed to keep a daily food journal to prove it. But many of them actually eat less. "It gets so you crave that feeling of going to bed with hunger pains in your stomach," said Erik Chopin, a Long Island deli owner who won the show in 2006, going to 193 pounds from 407.
  • During scheduled "temptations," contestants are bribed to eat junk food with prizes like cash and calls home, sometimes while locked in a dark room with mountains of candy. "We want to simulate the real world in there," said Dave Broome, a co-creator of the show. [Mountains of candy? That's a real world I want to live in.]

The upshot of the article is that once they're back in the actual real world, the one with food other than broccoli and kale in it, most contestants put the weight back on.

Though this is definitely the most belt-tightening Dining section I've ever read in the Times, it also features a Frank Bruni review of the Oak Room, "A Waltz of Gilt and Truffles", that contains this: "My fork sank into tender venison in a classically dark, rich, winy sauce as my eyes traveled up, up, up the sculptured oak walls toward a ceiling more than two stories high. That ceiling was framed by yard upon yard of gold molding and trim. If heaven is wood-paneled, it probably looks something like this."

The rest of us will just stick with our peanut butter and carrot sticks.

November 4, 2008

It's election day! Here's your paper bag to hyperventilate into

McCain and Obama

The big day is finally here! By now you've probably already voted, or are restructuring the rest of your day so that you can vote without missing the election parties you're going to tonight.

It's an intense day for everyone. So far it seems like people (and by "people" I mean "Obama supporters"-- this is New York) are alternating between giddy excitement (when looking at polls), cynicism (when reading reports of voting irregularities and remembering the last two elections), and superstitious fears about jinxing it by being overly optimistic (when planning what time you'll pop the champagne or take the celebratory Obama Jell-O bust out of the fridge.)

The earliest a presidential election got called was 9:00 eastern time in 1980, and some people think it will all be over pretty early tonight. It will be interesting to watch the news channels struggle to hold back individual state projections until they're sure about them (and keep viewers around as long as possible) while eagerly wanting to make the overall call. "There's no way to get around it," CBS News senior VP Paul Friedman says. "If one man gets 270 electoral votes before the West Coast polls are closed, we're not going to pretend (he doesn't)." CBS said they might call it as early as 8:00, but I don't think that's happening.

An early call would mean that all the people watching the results in bars will switch over from nervous sipping of drinks to rounds of victory shots and special blue election-themed "O-bomb-a" Jager/Sake/Irish Car bombs. Here are a few guides to special bar nights from New York magazine, Time Out, Drinking Liberally, and those raging party animals at Channel Thirteen.

It looks like the folks over at Slate aren't feeling very superstitious: they offer some advice to McCain on his concession speech, and remind us of Bob Dole in 1996 shushing his crowd with "You're not going to get that tax cut if you don't be quiet." McCain should definitely go for funny--especially if this is the last big public forum he's going to get.

October 30, 2008

Times tries for piece on ugly people, ends up with piece on "ugly" people

Charlize Theron in Monster

Ugly people--ew!

The Times has an article in today's Style section that makes a half-hearted attempt to document a trend in average-looking or ugly people getting more attention in movies and TV. Here's the thesis statement:

Ugliness has recently emerged as a serious subject of study and academic interest unto itself, in some small part because of the success of television’s Ugly Betty, which ABC promoted with a "Be Ugly" campaign stressing self-esteem for girls and young women. Sociologists, writers, lawyers and economists have begun to examine ugliness, suggesting that the subject has been marginalized in history and that discrimination against the unattractive, while difficult to document or prevent, is a quiet but widespread injustice.

So maybe social scientists momentarily care that ugly people don't get the attention, admiration, or money that beautiful people get, but, as it turns out, no one else does. Cosmetic surgery is a $13 billion industry, beauty and makeover shows are all over the TV, and the gajillions of magazines, ads, and movies out there confirm that we're only interested in looking at beautiful people.

The article even notes that America Ferrera, who plays Ugly Betty, is actually really gorgeous.

Which brings us to an aspect of this ugliness non-phenomenon that's more interesting: the article only addresses beauty vs. ugliness in women. The only reference to a male creature in the whole article is Shrek who, as an ogre, is by definition ugly.

The highest paid actors are good-looking guys like Johnny Depp, Will Smith, and Leonardo DiCaprio, but we've also got Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and James Gandolfini to play the regular shlubby dudes whose characters are supposed to be average-looking.

On the other hand, when a female character is supposed to be regular-looking or kind of ugly, we tend to get beautiful women disfigured by ugly makeup and clothes: Nicole Kidman in a fake nose, Renee Zellweger plus 30 pounds, or Charlize up there in ugly-person makeup and fake crooked teeth. Or America Ferrera in her Ugly Betty red glasses and braces.

So here's the legitimate trend: prosthetic makeup is likely to be a solid career field forever.

October 10, 2008

How to turn an ugly crowd into a scary crowd

McCain Palin puppets

McCain is in a tough spot. The Dow is down 40% since last year (20% just in the last 10 days!) and he's losing in states like Florida by a lot. His own desperation is starting to show in his supporters, and his latest strategy is riling up voters' illogical fear and anger. And talking about William Ayers, a topic I thought had already been played out last winter.

It's hard to see how Bill Ayers is relevant to anything in this election, especially now with the whole world falling apart, but a new McCain ad coming out today is largely about this guy.

Slate tries to set the record straight with an article by a guy who knew both Ayers and Obama in the 90's. These days Ayers, Chicago's Citizen of the Year in 1997, is best known for his work in education and juvenile justice reform. He's also worked on an approach to dealing with juvenile offenders that George W. Bush adopted as part of his 2000 campaign.

Reporters have noticed how riled up the crowds have been getting at McCain-Palin rallies this week. In Wisconsin yesterday, Slate quotes a man who probably expressed the anger and frustration that a lot of campaign staff is feeling these days: "I'm mad, and I'm really mad. It's not the economy. It's the socialists taking over our country." McCain started to respond, and the man shot back sternly. "Let me finish please. When you have an Obama, Pelosi, and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we've got to have our head examined."

McCain decided this wasn't the best moment to bring up his socialist idea of the government buying people's mortgages. The Slate reporter also says that McCain's supporters gave members of the press the finger on their way out of the event (which he interprets as a "You're Number 1!" salute.)

At a rally in Florida earlier this week, Sarah Palin whipped the crowd into actual frenzy. From the Washington Post:

In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

Wow. It's desperate and ugly and sinister, and I doubt McCain himself supports this stuff. But his campaign is encouraging this behavior from the people whose votes he needs, so he's still responsible.

October 8, 2008

Gretchen "No Nuts" Mol is back on TV

Gretchen Mol in Life On Mars

Tomorrow night is the premiere episode of "Life On Mars", a British show adapted by ABC. This is the one about a cop who gets knocked on the head and travels back in time to 1973, when the streets were tough and cops didn't have cellphones. The clips I've seen make it look like it will do for cops what "Mad Men" does for the advertising industry: show us how bad the bad old days were with racism, sexism, smoking, drinking (and in this case, police brutality) while reminding us that all that stuff still goes on now, we've just gotten better at hiding it.

The show has been through a tumultuous history already--it's gotten a new executive producer (David E. Kelley was the first one, but I've liked exactly zero of his shows, so this is a good thing,) an almost totally new cast, and has been relocated from LA to NY. But about that cast: it features Harvey Keitel as a tough-guy lieutenant who has no truck with Miranda rights, though does hilariously like to cool his brow with a delicate little Chinese paper fan in a clip posted on the show's website.

Gretchen Mol was cast just recently as the precinct's lady cop, nicknamed "No Nuts" (heh). Hopefully this show will last longer than her last one, Girls Club, or excuse me, "girls club", which didn't have enough capital letters to keep it from getting axed after two episodes.

Lisa Bonet is in it too, as the main cop guy's present-day girlfriend, and in the commercials for the show she somehow looks exactly the same as she did in 1987. Haven't seen her since she was in High Fidelity.

And we're all excited to see Michael Imperioli back on TV--in the clips it looks like he's wearing a raccoon pelt on his upper lip and his character is described as "Part misogynist. Part bigot. All cop." Awesome.

The Reuters review notes that the American version of the show doesn't speculate on the sci-fi nature of the cop's time traveling, and once he's back in the 70's, he stays there. But the original series only ran for a total of 16 episodes over 2 years, so we'll have to see if the adaptation can come up with enough new material for an entire season, if it makes it that far.

The San Francisco Chronicle review says the music in the pilot is especially good: The David Bowie title track, plus Who and Rolling Stones. Sounds like some expensive rights to clear for TV, but hopefully the soundtrack will be one of the best parts of the show.

The Daily News has an elaborate 1973-era homepage today as part of the show's marketing--sort of a nonsensical concept (the dubious tagline is "Ever wonder what our homepage was like in 1973?") But it's cool as a media artifact, since it looks like the content is actual 1973-era DN articles, including a review of Serpico, a great feature on the year's best album covers (War, Carly Simon) and a piece announcing the Roe v. Wade decision.

The premiere of "Life On Mars" airs tomorrow at 10.

August 5, 2008

I bet the Red Cross is loving this photo

Bruce Ivins, Red Cross volunteer

The weirdest story in the news is the unfolding drama of Dr. Bruce Ivins, the government scientist suspected of being behind the anthrax letters of 2001. The FBI's investigation for the last 7 years has mostly been a mess, and they still haven't released real evidence that links Dr. Ivins with the anthrax letters.

Ivins killed himself last week with an overdose of Tylenol with codeine, which is a really bizarre way for a scientist who deal with deadly chemicals all the time to opt to poison himself. It's a really slow, painful death, taking days to destroy your liver.

The case has already generated lots of negative publicity for every organization that Ivins had a connection to. Without any real evidence to point to, the media is reporting random bits of information about him that have nothing to do with the anthrax case. Among them:

  • The Red Cross. Ivins was a volunteer with his local chapter, and the AP photo of him above has been all over the news for a couple of days now. Is there ever good press about the Red Cross? I don't think there is.
  • Kappa Kappa Gamma. Ivins was allegedly obsessed with the sorority after dating a Kappa in college, and visited houses around the country in the 70's and 80's. The anthrax letters may have been posted from a mailbox near the Kappa office at Princeton. Of course, this has nothing to do with anything, and reports about Ivins' interest in Kappa seem to have been leaked by the FBI to make him look suspicious and creepy in a way that is not at all connected to anthrax.
  • Tame-sounding porn. Ivins also rented a post office box, where he got pictures of blindfolded women mailed to him. Again, who cares.

And how about the details of the FBI's investigation? They interrogated his two kids using highly suspect methods. In the Times: "They had even coercively questioned his adopted children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24, with the authorities telling his son that he might be able to collect the $2.5 million reward for solving the case and buy a sports car, and showing his daughter gruesome photographs of victims of the anthrax letters and telling her, 'Your father did this,' according to the account Dr. Ivins gave a close friend."

The FBI also searched his house last fall, and "bureau surveillance vehicles openly followed the scientist for about a year." He was escorted out of his lab last year, which a colleague said was "so humiliating. It's hard to believe."

Dr. Ivins was reportedly suicidal for the last month and was hospitalized for 2 weeks in July, claiming that the FBI was going to arrest him for 5 murders. Which, of course, they would have done, if they had gotten credible evidence against him. The FBI had already admitted botching their misguided 2002 investigation against another scientist in Ivins' facility, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who just got a $4 million settlement.

So he ended up killing himself. Ivins' suicide is probably going to become a part of the FBI's case against him, but look: I've seen The Long Goodbye. Just because a suspect kills himself doesn't mean he did it. In a way, his suicide is going to let the FBI off the hook for a sloppy investigation that never found convincing evidence of Ivins' guilt.

But if he actually did do it (and there's some evidence, mostly circumstantial), the best motivation for mailing those anthrax letters that I've seen is that he wanted to focus attention on the threat of biological warfare. In the Times' article from the weekend: "To some anthrax experts, while reserving judgment on Dr. Ivins’s case, his identification as a suspect fit a pattern they had suspected might explain the crime: an insider wanting to draw attention to biodefense." He also held patents for anthrax vaccines.

Pretty ironic that the US's only deadly biological attack ever might have come from one of our own government employees, who had been honored for exceptional civilian service in 2003 for his work in anthrax.

July 11, 2008

Today's Times

wooden rollercoaster

The Times has a lot of especially good stuff today:

  • A response from Rep. Charles Rangel about his 4 rent-stabilized apartments in a luxury building, which the Times exposed this morning. He fails to explain why he gets to have all 4 when one is the legal limit, and pretty much just comes right out and says that Harlem should be glad he still lives there.
  • A piece on the Bronx Zoo visitors trapped in a broken-down tram, and their newfound sympathy for the animals they were there to see: "I can understand what animals feel,” one woman said. "You have no say in what happens to you. You lose all control."
  • Amazingly in-depth piece on wooden roller coasters in Pennsylvania, which have a "different psychology of fear" than steel ones. (I agree--they're scarier.)
  • Positive comments from New Yorkers about the city's plan to use two lanes of Broadway between Times Square and 34 St as a pedestrian park. Opening in August!
  • New debate over who wrote the Serenity Prayer--a Protestant theologian? Aristotle? St. Francis?
  • Obama gets in trouble for saying Americans should learn other languages; McCain gets in trouble for saying Social Security is "a disgrace."
  • A court interpreter for Spanish-speakers wrote an essay saying that many immigrant defendants don't understand the charges brought against them or their legal rights.
  • A.O. Scott tries to avoid thrill-ride comparisons in his review of Journey to the Center of the Earth. He fails. But he does note that one of the coolest uses of 3-D in the movie is when Brendan Fraser spits into the sink while brushing his teeth.

July 1, 2008

My new favorite New Yorker: Randy Credico

The many faces of Randy Credico

The greatest guy in NYC* might be renegade drug-policy activist and stand-up comedian Randy Credico. Today's Times has a feature about him and his strategy of protesting small-time marijuana arrests. He sits on his stoop on Gay Street in the West Village, a quiet block where pot-smokers like to go, and warns people not to smoke there because the cops will likely bust them.

A pretty harmless campaign, and as Mr. Credico puts it, "Listen, I don’t want people committing crimes on my street and I tell them not to." But he also spent a night in the Tombs a few weeks ago after yelling at officers and telling them "that that they should be 'solving murders,' not making marijuana arrests."

He may claim that his warnings to pot smokers are just a crime-fighting strategy, but Credico is a much cooler and stranger guy that. He's the same one who randomly offered Shawn Kovell $25,000 for bail when she was arrested along with "preppy killer" Robert Chambers--one of my favorite stories from last year. She ended up turning down his offer for unclear reasons (she said she would have preferred rent money), but Credico's generosity seemed to stem from his desire to decriminalize drugs and get people in trouble like Shawn Kovell out of jail and into treatment.

Turns out the Times has been covering Credico's one-man crusade for some time now. Three years ago, they did another profile of him, which reveals the origins of his activism: trying to quit cocaine and happening to hear about the large number of black and Latino people in prison due to New York state's Rockefeller laws:

"I felt like I had dodged a bullet, because I'd violated those laws a million times but never came close to being arrested," he says. He was insulated, he claims, by his milieu: white, privileged and connected. "If I were black or Latino I'd be in prison right now. I feel like a lot of these guys are doing my time. Fighting these laws, which are unjust and racist, was a perfect platform for me: the antiwar movement is 0 for 50, you can't stop a war, but a movement to repeal the Rockefeller laws is something local. You can put a face on it."

When he's not on the comedy circuit, he works at the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, a legal aid service that fights the racially-based structure of our drug laws, and also hangs outside 100 Centre St taking pictures of judges in drug cases and undercover cops bringing in drug arrests--"Pretty easy to spot," he said. "The cops are usually white and the perps are almost always people of color." In his stand-up routine, he jokes that "Bloomberg" is Yiddish for "Giuliani".

There's also a great video of Credico in today's piece where we see him talking to cops, complaining about the drug laws, and smoking a big cigar.

*besides Christopher X. Brodeur, that is

June 30, 2008

IM movie clips

Sidney Pollack in Tootsie

A new service called PopTok allows users to insert video one-liners of movies into instant messages and email. Creator Illi Edry describes the inspiration for his service:

"Everybody quotes films. We produce one hour of television broadcasting for prime time at a cost of millions and at the end of the day, people quote one sentence. I came to the realization if the one hour is supporting that sentence, let's keep the sentence."

Of course, it's this mentality that led to the whole world repeating "You're so money!" and "Yeah baby!" over and over again in 1997, but I see his point. (Damn, my references are old. I just can't think of any annoying catchphrases from Iron Man.)

The service is being tested now, but they say they already have 2,000 snippets licensed from studios that you can drag into your IM conversations. Neat!

The site offers a few examples of their available clips, which are mostly famous 2-3 second bits from movies like Austin Powers, American Psycho, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Borat, Scarface, some Bugs Bunny, and a Kanye video.

I thought I'd suggest a few clips I'd like to see:

Suggestions?

June 17, 2008

FUMTV

The promo above shows that MTV is trying to reintroduce music videos. And it is promoting them by poking fun at itself and its all-reality-all-the-time programming. In this ad, Pete Wentz is talking with some MTV reality girl and tells her: "Music videos still exist, and we're playing them on MTV for you."

The show is called FNMTV which I thought was a pun on "Friday Night MTV" when the show premieres, and "Fuckin' MTV" which would be kind of awesome. And maybe it is, but they also claim "F is for Feedback, N is for new."

The feedback is the most annoying, absurd aspect. And this is why MTV is not as good as it used to be, when it really showed videos. On repeat airings of the show, random viewers submit their comments, as recorded at home, and they are broadcast with the videos. So you can't even watch the damn video.

You can watch the fan videos here. Here's a fan response to Flo Rida's "In the Ayer." The fan in question says "I really really liked it." I'm glad I know that. There's lots more, all on about that level.

Watching the show with the feedback on top of the video, felt like watching pop-up videos, only worse, and without really being able to hear the song.

I feel bad, because I am completely in favor of MTV showing more videos (and not just for the summer, thanks) but this execution is ridiculous.

June 9, 2008

James Freys of the world not doing so well these days

Wildly successful writer and loathed memoir-fabulist James Frey has been having a rough few years. One thing he can be thankful for: he's not a child molester.

Another guy named James Frey got busted over the weekend for soliciting some kids in Washington Heights. First he offered a 9 year-old boy $5 to run away with his pants half way down. That same day he allegedly punched a girl in the face for refusing to give him her underpants. Ew.

The story ends well, though. He got caught when a group of teens, led by the older brother of the kid Frey offered $5 to, circled around Frey and cornered him until the police got there. "That's my brother. I didn't want anyone to hurt him," said 14 year-old big brother Jamel Hadley.

The Post has a good picture of the resourceful group of kids who captured the evil predatory James Frey:

Kids who captured James Frey

Sex offender James Frey was also arrested in 2005 for abuse. Here's his file in the state sex offender registry, which makes the other James Frey look like an eagle scout.

Media punching-bag James Frey has a good interview in this month's Vanity Fair. He seems like he's more or less doing OK. Janet Maslin seems to have forgiven him enough that she wrote her review of his new novel (we're all just coming right out and calling it fiction this time) Bright Shiny Morning in his old style of short, sharp sentences, which he thankfully seems to have left behind.

June 4, 2008

"Assassination" political art show shut down

Assassination art show getting papered over

The Democratic primary may be over, but it looks like we're still, on some level, freaking out about having a woman or a black man as our next president.

A Boston-based artist named Yazmany Arboleda was installing an art exhibit in a gallery today called "The Assassination of Hillary Clinton / The Assassination of Barack Obama". But don't worry, says the artist--he means the character assassination of the two candidates, as perpetrated by the media.

Well, the NYPD didn't care what kind of assassination he meant, and by 9:30 this morning had papered over the title on the gallery doorway. The artist, who just hit the free publicity jackpot, says he still plans to open the show on Thursday, but it sounds like it will run for only two days.

The NY Times post on the exhibit links to two websites that show its pieces, which mostly consist of doctored campaign photos, book jackets, and print ads about each of the candidates. The exhibit looks "edgy" to the point of being stomach-turning.

In case you're interested in learning more racist and sexist jokes and references about these two people, there's a whole bunch of them at the Obama exhibit site and the Clinton exhibit site. The artist says his exhibit is a "metaphorical"critique of the media, presumably the media's sexism and racism in how it covered the candidates during primary season. Critical analysis of sexism and racism is one thing, but when your art consists exclusively of cruel, belittling material, you could end up just looking like a jerk.

But it's not the content of the show that concerned the cops, or the Times, just the title. The cops took the artist in for questioning, then released him. The Times points out that the subject of assassination has come up in many cultural works, but--you know what's coming next--"in the post-9/11 context, recent comments touching on assassination during this political season — including references by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton — have hit a nerve, and have been followed by apologies."

Both candidates are protected by the Secret Service, and Obama has had Secret Service coverage for over a year, which is apparently the earliest that any candidate has been given protection.

June 3, 2008

Political theories

Hillary and Sex and the City

Slate offers a few political theories today, largely about the intersection of politics and pop culture:

  • First one: part of the reason Sex and the City did so well this weekend is because its main fan base, white ladies, could no longer deny that their favorite political candidate has lost the nomination. According to this theory, both Hillary Clinton's campaign and the movie (which had the highest grossing opening weekend ever for a romantic-comedy) represent a "weirdly conflicted feminism": the SATC ladies are successful and independent, but their lives revolve around status, money, and the men in their lives, while Hillary arguably got as far as she did because she's married to her own Mr. Big. So much for the feminist revolution.
  • Next is another theory about Hillary: since she keeps winning primaries, especially in big states, why doesn't she have more superdelegates supporting her? Theory: the superdelegates have learned from history that a party that fights with itself through the convention will lose in November. If she were running in the free-wheeling '70's or '80's when the news was only on for a half an hour a day, she might still have a chance. As it is, the political big shots who serve as superdelegates are trying (and failing) to minimize negative press and keep their party from looking like a chaotic bunch of squabblers.
  • And finally, an insinuated conspiracy theory: 90 year-old West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd was mysteriously hospitalized hours after criticizing Dick Cheney's "contempt and astounding ignorance toward his own countrymen" when Cheney made a cheap incest joke about West Virginia.

May 30, 2008

Times readers are very interested in tripping

NYT most popular stories

Yesterday's Times story about "flavor tripping", a newly popular recreational activity involving a magical berry that makes everything you eat taste sweet, is still at the top of the paper's most emailed list.

While the fruit, called a miracle berry, produces an effect that isn't really psychotropic or mood altering, it has a sensory effect that the article describes like it's Ecstasy for people with oral fixations--"tasting under the influence". Clearly, Times readers want that disco berry-biscuit:

[Tripping party host Franz Aliquo] believes that the best way to encounter the fruit is in a group. "You need other people to benchmark the experience," he said. At his first party, a small gathering at his apartment in January, guests murmured with delight as they tasted citrus wedges and goat cheese. Then things got trippy.

"You kept hearing 'oh, oh, oh,' " he said, and then the guests became "literally like wild animals, tearing apart everything on the table."

"It was like no holds barred in terms of what people would try to eat, so they opened my fridge and started downing Tabasco and maple syrup," he said.

Sure, they're natural, safe, legal, non-narcotic berries, but the Times sure makes them sound like really fun drugs! Expect to see a lot of these berries at Bushwick loft parties all summer, in between rounds of fire-spinning. Added bonus for party hosts: you can buy super cheap booze and it will all taste like heaven to your berry-eating guests.

May 20, 2008

Almost-mythological R. Kelly child-porn trial is actually happening

R. Kelly at the Grammys

Over the past six years, you may have heard about successful and deranged R&B singer R. Kelly and how he was charged with having sex with (and maybe also peeing on) a teenage girl/girls, and taping himself doing so. Finally, the judge, the lawyers, and Kelly himself all showed up at the same time, a jury was selected, and opening statements are happening today.

Even though the judge in R. Kelly's case has forbidden access to sealed documents and closed hearings, there are so many weird details about this case, including all the other instances in which R. Kelly has had sex with underage girls, that the media is still finding plenty to talk about.

The Chicago Sun-Times published a long story in 2000 about R. Kelly having sex with teenage girls, and two years later, the incriminating videotape was sent anonymously to one of the authors of that story. The paper's website has has an incredibly thorough special section dedicated to the case. Recent headlines include "R. Kelly angrily hurls basketball at reporter at rec center" and "Potential juror: R. Kelly's 'not very smart'".

They also have a blog about the case, with a recent post suggesting that Kelly's brother might testify against him with evidence that R. Kelly tried to bribe him to say it was him in the infamous video. In an earlier interview, the paper quoted Carey "Killa" Kelly as saying, "And I say to America, the criminal justice system: If you let that n***** off, he's going to do it again, trust me. I bet my life on it."

The Sun-Times has owned this story from the beginning, but the NY Times has a good background article today, too. They interview some media and culture scholars about the case, with a few interesting conclusions. One of them thinks that since 2002, we've all gotten so used to sexed-up teenagers that this dirty video case seems like less of a big deal than it might have at the time.

The Times quotes a professor of black culture at Duke, Mark Neal, who notes that since the indictment, R. Kelly has continued to write songs about having threesomes and called himself the "Pied Piper of R&B", implying that he seduces children with his music. "Either he’s absolutely demonic or stupid or crazy."

Yep, probably. Or, as R. Kelly once attempted to explain the messes he's gotten himself into: "In life, you have people that love to party. That’s me. People that love God. That’s me. People that love sex. That’s me. People that love people. That’s me. And people that make mistakes. That’s me also."

Mm-hmm. Well, he also said at the time of his indictment that "Osama bin Laden is the only one who knows exactly what I'm going through."

I think I'm going to stick with demonic, stupid, or crazy.

May 16, 2008

State motto bastardization

Williamsburg Edge NH state motto rip-off

This ad for a new luxury high-rise in Williamsburg has been floating around the local press for a while. This week it's in the Onion. It's the most egregious rip-off of New Hampshire's aggressively libertarian state motto I've ever seen, and it definitely makes me want to withhold my tax dollars that are probably subsidizing this steel and glass hunk of hideousness.

In an attempt to discourage the Williamsburg Edge developers from taking a hard-core, no-bullshit motto like "Live Free or Die" and using it as some kind of nonsensical hyperbole to promote their latest yuppie compound, might I suggest a few other state mottos they might use instead:

Paraphrase Ohio's motto: With Trust Funds, All Things Are Possible.

Or update the New Jersey state motto: Liberty and Prosperity (thanks, Dad!)

Better yet, use the original motto of the Republic of Texas: Remember Galapagos!

April 30, 2008

Disney and underage girls

It's been interesting watching the Disney reaction to the flap over Vanity Fair's tamely sexualized photograph of Disney star Miley Cyrus. Even though Miley willingly removed her shirt while posing for magazine pictures, she says she's "embarrassed" to have those pictures out there in the world for everybody on the planet to see. Who knows, maybe she reconsidered and really is embarrassed. Or maybe the producers of her show are trying (in vain) to maintain her squeaky-clean image.

Whatever change of heart Miley may or may not have had, Disney's response to the photos is totally clear: they blame Vanity Fair for exploiting their young star. Spokesperson Patti McTeague said, "A situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines."

It's like Disney is just begging for someone to track down an instance of the company using sexualized images of young girls to promote their own products.

Slate contributor Daniel Brook is happy to oblige.

Brook dug out a photograph he took a few months ago in Beijing of a billboard ad for, of all things, a Disney bra-and-panties set intended for 12 year-olds. I have discreetly covered the potentially shocking areas of the ad with an emblem of unblemished virginal intactness (though the scaffolding in front of the billboard adds a disturbing, girl-in-cage kind of aspect) but you can click on the pic for the original version.

Disney bra and panties

Embarrassing!

Asked about how this ad manipulates a pre-teen girl in order to sell Mickey-themed underwear, another Disney spokesperson has been trying to rationalize. Yes, they approved the image, which was created by a Chinese licensee of their brand. And in Disney's defense, the spokesperson says that in China these kinds of images are "not unusual at all" (like they are over here...?)

April 24, 2008

Are you aware that Tina Fey's husband looks like this?

Tina Fey and husband

This photo is from last night's premiere of Baby Mama--Tina Fey and her husband Jeff Richmond.

They met while they were both working at Second City and have been married since 2001. I would bet cash money that he is a wonderful and funny guy. Incredibly, Fey says that before she met him she "could not get a date."

But I have to hand it to Tina Fey for staying with this guy instead of doing what other celebrities who suddenly find their public value rocketing to super-fame levels would do, such as divorcing him to trade up for someone more famous like Naveen Andrews or John Stamos (or even her agent.) She's a real movie star now; in terms of media measurement of her fame, she's progressed from being on the cover of Bust to being on the covers of magazines at the checkout at Rite Aid.

How many TV/movie stars under 40 at a Tina Fey-level of fame can you think of who are married to a someone who a) you've never heard of, and b) also isn't conventionally attractive (i.e. not a former model)? Anyone?

April 23, 2008

Seamy underbelly of Hell's Kitchen returns to obscurity

Dead Guy Pay-O-Matic in Hell's Kitchen

The two long-time Hell's Kitchen residents who wheeled their dead friend to a 9th Avenue Pay-O-Matic [above] in January and tried to cash his social security check were cleared of forgery and larceny charges yesterday. There was no proof that the dead guy, Virgilio Cintron, was actually dead at the time they brought him out of the apartment, so the case was thrown out.

And so, after a brief moment in the spotlight, this reminder of what the neighborhood (and a lot of the city) was like decades ago recedes to the background. The neighborhood is increasingly made up of $15/glass wine bars and posh baby-clothes stores, but those exist right next door to the check cashing places that serve the surprisingly resilient non-yuppie segment of the Hell's Kitchen population.

During their period of fame, the two defendants, James O’Hare and David Daloia, shared a lot about their lives with the press. Back at the apartment yesterday, O'Hare said that at the time of Cintron's death, his landlord was trying to evict him. "Maybe I feel like I should have done more," he said. "I could have done more to help him with the medication. I loved the guy. I miss him."

Daloia said, "If the medical examiner couldn’t tell his time of death, and they are the professionals, then how could we?," which doesn't make much sense, considering that they were actually there with the body, tried (unsuccessfully) to pull some pants up onto him, and carried him downstairs onto the street where a crowd immediately noticed that the man in the computer chair was dead.

Daloia and O'Hare have also expressed their surprise at all the media attention. From the Daily News: "Daloia said he was still amazed by all the attention generated by their arrests. 'I thought Britney Spears took her pants down again,' he said outside court."

From Newsday: "Daloia can't understand all the fuss. 'I robbed banks that got less coverage than this.'"

March 26, 2008

LA Times completely duped by Tupac fan/forger

James Sabatino

The Smoking Gun totally busted the LA Times today over last week's story about the Tupac shooting that implicated Puff Daddy. Turns out the FBI documents that formed the basis of the story were fabricated.

And here's the best part: the guy who forged the FBI documents is James Sabatino (above), a known con man and rap fan who has been trying for years to, as the Smoking Gun puts it, "insinuate himself, after the fact, in a series of important hip-hop events, from Shakur's shooting to the murder of The Notorious B.I.G." In the forged documents he created, Sabatino actually named himself as one of the New York hip-hop figures who lured Tupac to the site of the shooting.

I love it.

This isn't the first time Sabatino has made up connections to famous rappers. According to the Smoking Gun, he had "created a fantasy world in which he managed hip-hop luminaries, conducted business with Combs, Shakur, Busta Rhymes, and The Notorious B.I.G., and even served as Combs's trusted emissary to Death Row Records boss Marion "Suge" Knight during the outset of hostilities in the bloody East Coast-West Coast rap feud." He's currently in federal prison for some other crime.

Wired has good coverage of the many misspellings, typos, and other inaccuracies littered all over the fake FBI documents. And the NY Times is continuously updating their story, providing lots of details about LA Times journalist Chuck Philips (Pulitzer Prize winner!) and excerpts from interviews he's given since the article came out last week in which he gushes about how exciting it was for him to get such fabulous FBI reports--"like frosting on the cake." Philips notes that he had mysteriously never heard of James Sabatino in all the paper's years of reporting on the Tupac case, but insists, "he definitely knew these guys."

The LA Times has started to investigate their gigantic screw-up.

At the time the article came out, Puffy called the allegations "beyond ridiculous", which still seems to be true.

Another great bit from the Smoking Gun piece about Sabatino's other attempts to pass himself off as a hip-hop bigshot:

Sabatino has frequently claimed to have managed a number of leading hip-hop acts, including Notorious B.I.G., Lords of the Underground, and Heavy D and the Boyz. Du Kelly, a member of Lords of the Underground, described Sabatino as a "scam artist" who briefly tried to befriend the group's manager. Kelly said that he recalled Sabatino as a "short, Caucasian, little chubby fat guy" whose "father was supposed to be Mafia or something." He added that Sabatino also tried to get near the Wu-Tang Clan, "but I heard they beat him up."

March 25, 2008

More fake news on CNN

CNN Headline News

Eager to join the already crowded joke-news arena, along with "The Daily Show", "Colbert", VH1's "Best Week Ever", Weekend Update on "SNL", and Fox News' "1/2 Hour News Hour", CNN Headline News is launching its own comedy show, "Not Just Another Cable News Show", a title that defines failed irony.

It's also a reference to HBO's "Not Necessarily the News", which was itself a remake of the UK sketch comedy show "Not the Nine O'Clock News", a show that featured a young Rowan Atkinson and Clive Anderson. But maybe CNN is assuming that the trend-setting 16 year-old market that watches Headline News for hours on end won't know those old shows.

"Not Just Another Cable News Show" will feature commentary by Huffington Post's Rachel Sklar, Ana Marie Cox (who recently defined her current not-as-funny journalistic role with Time.com as "the more feature-y, bloggy, scene-driven stuff"--ugh) and self-effacing, sometimes funny LA Times columnist Joel Stein.

March 18, 2008

Who's eating Cheetos™?

Bathtub full of Cheetos

Seth Stevenson over at Slate has done a good analysis of the new Cheetos ads that feature a newly sinister Chester the Cheetah, voiced by someone who sounds just like Peter O'Toole, urging Cheetos snackers to use their food as mischief implements.

Some of them are funny, especially the cubicle menacer one, and those shots of Chester massaging the languid flight attendant's shoulders are really hilarious.

But here's something strange: what inspired Cheetos to launch this new adult-oriented ad campaign on cable channels is that they found out, to their surprise, that 60% of Cheetos eaters are adults. They had always assumed that kids eat more Cheetos, hence the cartoony Chester character and the elementary-level design of their website.

I'm surprised it's not MORE than 60%. Frito-Lay, who makes Cheetos, apparently forgot that most of the world is made up of adults, and we love our orange snack foods, too. Kids are more likely to focus on candy in their gas station shopping trips, I think, leaving us adults to make up most of the Cheeto, Combo, and Cheez-It salty/cheesy snack market.

A partner at the ad agency that created the ads says that adults who eat Cheetos are somehow transgressive: "You're supposed to be eating arugula dip, but you have a nonconforming desire" to eat junk food. Huh? Has he looked at the size of the butts populating America lately? Eating bags of Cheetos looks pretty mainstream to me. Also, "arugula dip"? Maybe he meant artichoke dip. Either way, Frito-Lay has been missing their primary demographic all along: grown-ups wallowing in extended adolescence, stoners, and Jared Leto.

Stevenson says that the ads are memorable enough to make him more likely to buy Cheetos in the future, "next time I'm drunk and in a convenience store."

March 17, 2008

Increasingly cynical state looks forward to non-sleazeball leader

David Patterson, our new governor

After what feels like the fastest political scandal in history, David Patterson is getting sworn in as our new governor today, and will be taking on a state government full of corruption, ineptitude, and mutual partisan loathing. Plus we're in the midst of a tempestuous budget season and a recession.

Actually, Albany is like that pretty much all the time. We've gotten so used to corrupt politics in our state that having a competent, non-combative, upstanding guy in power feels like a radical new approach to government. If Patterson can just avoid swearing at/threatening Assembly members and stay out of any federal criminal investigations, he'll probably be heralded as a success.

A couple of interesting reports on how he's dealing with his new leadership position today. The Post reports that he's getting irritated with state officials, lobbyists, and fake Barack Obama assistants all claiming that they have special access to him. Patterson has just won the political lottery, so he should get ready to hear from a lot of long-lost friends coming out of the woodwork.

The Times says that Gov. Jodi Rell of Connecticut, another surprise governor who replaced an ousted criminal, sent Patterson a care package of Pepto-Bismol, Excedrin, and a Magic 8 ball. She says she wanted to "provide him with a few laughs" by suggesting that his new job will cause him physical pain--haha!

One last thing about the Spitzer scandal: I wonder if the Times checked out any other high-level politicians in the state when they first noticed that an FBI public corruption unit was involved in the prostitution ring investigation. I wonder who else they considered as the significant public figure before figuring out it was Spitzer?

Bloomberg? Ew! Would have been a much bigger shock, also would have dispelled rumors that he's gay that I don't think are based on anything but never seem to go away.

Schumer? He loves the media (As Bob Dole said: "The most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a camera") and is probably smart enough about his image to not commit such a salacious and easily traceable crime. He's also been impressively restrained in his comments about Spitzer, who he's never liked.

Cuomo? He was already involved in a sex scandal in which he was the one getting screwed over, so maybe political sex scandals are a lightning strikes once kind of thing. Unless you're Bill Clinton.

As it turned out, the Times journalists couldn't have written a tidier morality play. They're so pleased with their reporting in this area that the paper did a lengthy profile of three more expensive prostitutes in yesterday's paper. That's a lot of whores for the Times.

February 20, 2008

Big mess at Columbia

Protests at Columbia

Today the Columbia Spectator reported that the professor who found a noose on her office door last fall has been cited for plagiarism. The professor, Madonna Constantine (best name in the Ivy League), allegedly used the work of one of her colleagues and of two students without attribution.

There's no clear connection between the noose incident and the plagiarism thing, but Times readers wasted no time in slamming Prof. Constantine in a textbook example of an ad hominem argument:

I was very suspicious of Professor Constantine during the noose case. As an African-American woman and graduate of Columbia University, I had doubts about the validity of her claims. I had a sick feeling that she put the noose there herself. Of course that would far worse than plagiarism, but news that she would do something as dishonorable as using the work of her students makes me wonder.

Ugh. You can look at other reader comments for some really disgusting references to "lowering of standards" at elite universities and openly racist remarks about Prof. Constantine's education at a historically black university in New Orleans.

Plagiarism is a serious offense for an academic, but it has nothing to do with the noose situation, or race, or anything other than plagiarism.

Unfortunately, as soon as the allegations were made, Prof. Constantine started in with the crazy logic herself. She called the inquiry into her writings, which has been going on for a year and a half, a "witch hunt", and wrote to faculty and students:

"I am left to wonder whether a white faculty member would have been treated in such a publicly disrespectful and disparaging manner. As one of only two tenured Black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted."

What?! You're not helping yourself, Professor. Even if Columbia doesn't put much value in diversity in its faculty, that has nothing to do with whether or not you stole other people's work.

First, Columbia and NYPD should try harder to figure out who put the noose on her door--the investigation is still going on, apparently. Then if there is substantial evidence that the professor plagiarized others' work, she should get fired.

Ironically, Constantine's work focuses on how race influences people in educational and counseling settings.

There are loads of examples of plagiarism in academia, literature, and politics: Stephen Ambrose, Joe Biden, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mike Barnicle, Harvard undergrads.

February 4, 2008

Sons of Italy vs. scratch tickets

Bada Bling ad

When The Sopranos was on the air, the Sons of Italy protested its unflattering negative stereotypes of the Italian-American community--specifically, they claimed Italian characters on the show were mostly mobsters, criminals, murderers and, in their words, "low-class, dim-witted hoodlums." David Chase said the show was "about America" and wasn't meant to generalize about Italian-Americans, but the Sons of Italy stayed mad.

Now that the show's over, the Sons of Italy are protesting a cheap, unfunny rip-off of The Sopranos produced by the NY State Lottery for one of their scratch games, Ba-Da Bling. Here's the TV ad for Ba-Da Bling that caused the problem:

Bada Bling Video

You'll note that some of the four ganster-type guys in the ad look almost exactly like Sopranos characters, and that they have really schlocky fake Brooklyn accents. And that the name of the scratch game is obviously taken from the strip club where the guys all hung out on the show.

Stella Grillo from the local Sons of Italy chapter says about the protest, "I know a lot of people are saying you are overly sensitive. But Americans have become more sensitive to most racial groups, and it should apply to Italian-Americans."

I don't know where she's seeing all this sensitivity--if you look at this one cruddy state-sponsored lottery ad, you'll also notice young black men with lots of jewelry, big cars, and puffy jackets rapping about money. And a group of girls in tiny hideous outfits enthusiastically shaking their asses all over everything.

If anything, I'm impressed that the lottery could reference gangsters, rappers, strippers, one of the best TV series of our time, and loud obnoxious jewelry all in one 30-second ad for a program that mostly exists to fund public education.

Almost half of the $2.3 billion that the state generates for education through the lottery every year goes to NYC schools. So you can feel good about perpetuating a whole rainbow of stereotypes for a good cause.

January 31, 2008

Romney and 30,000 journalists visit California voters

Romney visits a California family

The Times has a great Reuters photo of Romney and friends meeting with the Bennetts of Long Beach, CA.

"Now just pretend we're not even here, Bennett family! Just act natural. And the consultants say if you can throw a 'Ronald Reagan' or two into your questions and comments, that would be great."

January 22, 2008

Cloverfield: really not that bad

Cloverfield

WARNING: Some spoilers.

Imagine you're watching TV and a rerun of "Felicity" comes on. It's an episode you haven't seen before, but it seems to be about the usual pretty but sort of bland characters going on about their realistic but sort of bland problems and interpersonal relationship dramas, and they're all hanging out and talking a lot in the nicest dorm room/loft in New York.

Then a monster attacks the city and shit starts blowing up and all the characters start running around screaming and getting eaten and otherwise horribly killed.

You'd watch that, right? You'd say, "Fuckin' yeah! This is the best damn "Felicity" episode I've ever seen!" Of course you would.

The first big movie controversy of 2008 seems to be over the J.J. Abrams-produced, cleverly marketed, and overly scrutinized Cloverfield. Specifically, is it a cool action movie in which Manhattan gets spectacularly destroyed, or is it worthless garbage with nothing intelligent to say about our contemporary consumerist culture and the effects of a 24-hour news media on how we experience real life?

This is a dumb controversy.

Manohla Dargis wrote a surprisingly out-of-touch review in which she mostly complains that Cloverfield lacks "Freudian complexity or political critique" (a phrase the Times readers are having a lot of fun tearing to shreds over at the readers' reviews.) She makes reference to September 11 (twice!) in order to demonstrate that the horrors of Cloverfield pale in comparison to the actual terrorist attacks that happened in real life. No kidding!

She usually knows how to review a movie on its own terms, and since she went into raptures of praise for the remarkably similar The Host last year, I was really surprised at her negative review. The characters in The Host were similarly broad, often caricatures, and the dialogue was no more inventive or witty. Maybe the not-so-subtle anti-pollution, anti-military message of The Host bumped it up in her estimation? Personally, I was relieved not to have any valuable city-obliteration time wasted on meaningless pseudo-science about where the monster came from, why it wants to kill us, what form of ionic gas cloud might neutralize it, blah dee blah.

In Cloverfield, all we know is there's a gigantic really scary monster out there that will totally kill you in a number of terrible and surprising ways. And sure, there were some contrived plot devices and relationship melodramas, but they're all in service of the action. Whatever it takes to get characters into interesting and scary situations in which they will almost definitely get killed, I'm all for it.

There were a few kinder reviews that judge Cloverfield on its own terms. Roger Ebert (3 stars!) notes that it sticks to its structural premise perfectly through the whole movie, and "never breaks the illusion that it is all happening as we see it."

The Boston Globe review says the movie lives up to the hype (which I don't totally agree with--the only problem I have with the movie is how out of control the endless, boring blog speculation got, but that's not really the movie's fault.) The reviewer also points out how suspenseful and agonizingly drawn out a lot of scariest parts were--there's some top-notch audience manipulation in there. David Edelstein in New York Magazine says it's shallow, sure, but still admits he was "blown sideways by it."

Meanwhile, Manohla Dargis goes on about the characters' and the movies' "incomprehensible stupidity", a claim which even for a movie like this doesn't hold much water. Just look at that shot above. It's funny and smart and somebody who knows what they're doing put it together. If you go see this movie, what you're going to get is a relatively unsentimental action movie about a big monster pounding the crap out of New York. It's a tidy 80 minutes, and for what it is, it's good.

Speaking of all the endless internet speculation about different aspects of the movie that mostly just made people sick of it before it even opened, IMDb lists all the fake working titles the movie went through: 1-18-08 (of course), Cheese, Clover, the Spanish Monstruoso, and my favorite, Slusho.

January 9, 2008

Patton Oswalt eats a KFC Famous Bowl™

Someone over at the A.V. Club had the brilliant idea of getting Patton Oswalt to actually eat a KFC Famous Bowl™, the fast food metaphor for a world that has totally given up: "America has spoken - pile my food in a fucking bowl."

This is akin to getting TLC to go on a date with a scrub, or having Amy Winehouse spend a week in rehab.

So he wrote about it, and it's funny.

First, some photographic documentation. KFC's assertion as to what its Famous Bowl™ looks like:

KFC Famous Bowl

Patton Oswalt's actual Famous Bowl™:

Patton Oswalt's KFC Famous Bowl

And a few descriptions of his experience eating it:

The gravy, which I remembered as being tangy and delicious in my youth, tasted like the idea of blandness, but burned and then salted to cover the horrid taste. The mashed potatoes defiantly stood their ground against the gravy, as if they'd read The Artist's Way and said, "I'm going to be boring and forgetful in my own potato-y way!" The corn tasted like it had been dunked in fake-corn-flavored ointment, and the popcorn chicken, breaded to the point of parody, was like chewing a cotton sleeve that someone had used to wipe chicken grease off their chin.

If you haven't ever seen his KFC Famous Bowl™ bit, you can watch it here:

Patton Oswalt doing standup

November 29, 2007

NY's new unconvincing anti-domestic violence ad campaign

NY's anti-domestic violence campaign ad

OK, whatever, mom.

Sure, not slugging your girlfriend is probably the right thing to do, but it's such a drag!

Even teenage boys know that hitting girls is wrong and disrespectful, and illegal, but this approach makes domestic violence sound like something sort of fun and illicit, like filling up on Cheetos before dinner and blowing off Chemistry lab.

The TV ad for New York State's new domestic violence prevention ad campaign looks better.

NY domestic violence ad still

[download ads or read scripts]

The TV ad uses the same logic as those animated anti-pot smoking ads from earlier this year in which a stoner's girlfriend gets bored with him and goes off with a cute alien. Social scare tactics--that your friends and girls will think you're lame--are probably much more effective deterrents than moralistic scolding of "eat your vegetables" or "do your homework" or "dude, that weed is gonna blow your mind".

November 5, 2007

WGA Strikes!

WGA writers on strike at Rockefeller Center

The first picket lines for the Writers Guild of America strike went up this morning at Rockefeller Center, where about 30 writers peacefully gathered near the skating rink with signs and the giant inflatable rat. Many of the writers out there probably work for some popular shows, but of course, I have no idea who they are or what they look like.

With the exception of Tina Fey.

Tina Fey on the picket lines

The strike is the result of unsuccessful negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. So how does that work when one person is a writer but also an executive producer? Wouldn't that make someone like Tina Fey both union and management? Maybe. But she's a producer who's out there on the lines with the proletariat, because she's awesome.

The Times has a good piece on the vast disparities in income among the 12,000 WGA members. Almost half of the West coast members are unemployed, while writers for shows like "Grey's Anatomy" take home $5 million a year. The WGA site has a schedule of all the picket locations in the LA area.

October 22, 2007

This week's teeth-gritting Style section

Grammar Bytes

A few articles from yesterday's Times Fashion & Style section that seem to provide some meta-commentary on the world we live in.

First there's a piece on socialite Tinsley Mortimer's husband. His name is Topper, he's an investment advisor and a fan of Caddyshack, and he offered many spectacularly clumsy quotes that I am very grateful to the Times for choosing not to clean up at all:

"It’s worked out well for Tinsley," Mr. Mortimer said. "She’s built a great business for herself, she’s heading in the direction that she’d like to see herself."

But, he continued, "I don’t know that the route to how she got there is what I’d tell my 5-year-old girl to follow if I had one... I just never liked that whole thing with everybody trying to gain status from being involved in these charity events."

As awkward as his criticism is, Topper is clearly unhappy about his wife's pointless fame. Sure, he could have married someone who wasn't such a calculating publicity-hog, but he didn't know he would end up connected to the empty, self-serving elite social scene. He later compares Tinsley unfavorably to LeAnn Rimes, who also attended an event, because at least LeAnn "didn’t make her bones going to charity parties. She did something else." Preach it, Topper!

Next we've got a "What's Next for Lance Bass?" piece about his memoir, Out of Sync (a title I bet celebrity biographers have been dying to use for most of the last decade.) He says "it was very, I don’t know, like, therapeutic" to write the book, but as much as he hopes his former bandmates will read it (especially JT, who he slams for going solo) he's not sure they will. "It’ll take them a while because none of them like to read," he said.

It must have been hard for the Times to publish so many gems in one section, but later they indulge their editorial superiority with "Your Modifier Is Dangling", a tribute to hopeless cause supporters who rage against grammatical abuse. These people have started Facebook clubs like I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar and Grammar Freaks United in which they can vent their outrage at the world.

OK, I hate it when shampoo ads say their product "structurizes" your hair as much as the next girl, but check out this advice from business writing consultant Lynne Agress about what to do when somebody you're talking to makes a grammatical error:

Don’t point out the mistake. Instead, repeat what was just said, but with correct usage this time, and in your own sentence. Then keep talking.

"So if someone tells me that everyone has their issues," she said, "I reply, 'Yes, everyone has his issues, but that doesn’t mean we have to worry about them.'"

Yuck! Gee, I think they might pick up on your totally unsubtle correction, there. I know, "their" is wrong. But many people who have a robust appreciation of grammar use "their" as a replacement for the clunkier "his or her" when speaking, knowing it's incorrect, to avoid using sexist language. The fact is, there is no polite or non-prickish way to correct someone's grammar unless you are a teacher, or unless someone specifically asks you to edit their writing. You're just going to have to bitch to your grammar vigilante Facebook group.

October 5, 2007

Giuliani: a history lesson

Giuliani on his radio show

It is totally understandable for most Americans who live outside the NYC metropolitan area to think of Rudy Giuliani as a strong, no-nonsense leader who takes a tough stance on fighting terror and is experienced in managing complicated governments.

People who lived in NY while he was mayor know the truth: the guy is a belligerent, obnoxious jackass.

The NY Times has compiled a history of memorable moments on Giuliani's weekly radio call-in show, which is like a microcosm of his entire political career. For New Yorkers, it serves as a reminder of why Le Tigre called him "a fucking jerk", and as a wake-up call for everybody else.

A few choice excerpts:

When Joe from Manhattan called in 1998 to complain about the city government giving special parking privileges to a white-shoe law firm, Mayor Giuliani emitted an audible groan into the microphone. "Well, let me give you another view of that rather than the sort of Marxist class concept that you’re introducing," Mr. Giuliani said.

On Aug. 8, 1998, Marvin from Brooklyn complained that the mayor talked too much about the Yankees. (Mr. Giuliani opened summertime programs by examining the Yankees’ prospects and closed with: "Go Yankees!") Marvin got off the line but the mayor was not finished with him.

"Marvin, where’d you go? You go back into your hole, Marvin? Listen, I enjoy sports, Marvin — you think that makes me a bad person? Marvin, get a life."

When Bob from Manhattan asked in 1999 about a report linking a mayoral friend to ethical wrongdoing, Mr. Giuliani butted in.

"Why don’t you seek counseling somewhere, Bob? I think you could use some help. I can see the direction we’re going in — there are people so upset and so disturbed that they use radios for these sick little attacks on people," Mr. Giuliani said. "I hope you take this in the right spirit, Bob. You should go to a hospital. You should see a psychiatrist."

You know, I totally dislike this guy and think he would make a terrible President, but these old anecdotes? They're pretty funny. I read these, and I'm sort of grudgingly amazed at how outspoken and ballsy (and crass and offensive) Giuliani could be, in public, over the airwaves, to his own constituents. It's still a mystery to me how he got elected, twice, but these stories demonstrate one quality that will always appeal to many New Yorkers--the guy has no problem telling people when he thinks they're full of shit.

And now the very qualities that he had no problem sharing with the world pre-9/11 are the same ones that he's successfully (so far) toned down while campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

But it's only a matter of time before he shows his true colors and tells some elderly, ferret-owning voter that she's sick in the head and needs to get a life.

September 11, 2007

Which news makes the news?

Margaret Warner in Pakistan

You may have heard that CBS News anchor/albatross Katie Couric recently went to Iraq. Some things people have been talking about related to her mission:

  • It was a publicity stunt for ratings.
  • It was not a publicity stunt for ratings.
  • Katie carefully considered her decision to go to Iraq, since she has 2 young children.
  • Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News has already been to Iraq three times, and Bob Woodruff of ABC World News went to Iraq last year, where he was badly injured.
  • Nobody did soul-searching interviews with them before they left about their young children.
  • CBS News producers are "proud" of the show and Katie's journalistic chops despite all the viewers they've lost since she came on.

It's a good thing CBS didn't send Katie Couric to Iraq and Syria for ratings, since all that media coverage didn't get anyone to actually watch her show. Last week while she was there, the Evening News tied its own all-time low record.

In other news news, I bet you haven't been seeing any news coverage about Margaret Warner of PBS's News Hour, who was in Pakistan, home to al-Qaida and recent suicide bombings, at just about the exact same time that Katie Couric was in Iraq. Her pieces were awesome, and she did interviews with politicians (former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif), people on the street, local journalists, and business people. She seemed to really like being there, calling Islamabad "a political junkie's paradise," and it was a great series.

Incredibly, Margaret Warner's News Hour bio doesn't say if she has any small children who she, as a mother, might have taken into consideration when planning her trip.

August 29, 2007

A whole new way to destroy the world

Humane Society environmental ad

Last year, the UN came out with a report on climate change that said that the livestock industry generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation all over the world. It sounds pretty unbelievable, but it's true: methane is 21 times worse, climate-wise, than carbon dioxide, so all those cow farts are screwing up the environment a lot worse than SUVs are.

Thing is, a lot of environmental groups and figures like Al Gore aren't saying anything about the livestock industry, at least not the same way they're talking about cars and coal-burning power plants and fluorescent lightbulbs. But today, the NY Times speaks up about it: an article about meat as a cause of global warming is right there in the Business section. The big environmental groups aren't targeting meat in their campaigns, but, not surprisingly, animal rights groups are.

PETA has this ad directed at Al Gore, who didn't include anything about the meat industry in An Inconvenient Truth:

Al Gore PETA ad

It's funny in that blunt, mean PETA way, and it's good to let people know that not eating a lot of meat will help the environment. But when groups like PETA or The Humane Society (who made the car key/fork ad above) talk about the environment only in terms of saving animals, it probably won't convince people to change their behavior. PETA is good at stopping KFC from chopping the beaks off chickens and sometimes getting attractive people to pose naked, but we need more mainstream environmental groups to start talking about the meat thing.

And why shouldn't they? The head of the Sierra Club says "we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective." But they have no problem telling people to take public transportation more often and to buy different air conditioners and those damn ugly fluorescent bulbs.

Is reducing meat consumption just too radical for environmentalists to mention? Even ELECTRIC COMPANIES are telling consumers to buy appliances that use less electricity to help reduce global warming.

It reminds me of the dust-up over top selling diet book Skinny Bitch that women are buying like crazy, then becoming outraged by one of the central messages of the book: a good way to lose weight is to be a vegan. In another Times article, we learn about readers such as Laura McGlinchey, 41-year-old computer network manager:

She bought the book on Amazon because she was attracted by the packaging and "irreverent tone."

So she was surprised to encounter chapters on meat and poultry farming practices. "It seemed to be pushing more of a PETA agenda," she said, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal-rights advocacy group. Ms. McGlinchey said she was so fed up that she didn’t even finish the book.

Aww, poor little offended baby. As Skinny Bitch author Rory Freedman said, "They’re mad that they spent $14 on a book that was not what they thought, but they’re not mad that chickens are having beaks chopped off their faces? How is that possible? I can’t even wrap my mind around that."

It seems like the best way to get people to actually change their behavior is to create a product that they can buy to feel like they're helping to save the environment. Toyota and Honda have done a great job letting drivers know how their hybrid cars are good things to buy if you want to reduce emissions, and Panasonic will happily tell you all about their energy-saving flat screen TVs.

The corporations that would benefit from more consumers adopting vegetarian diets need to get on the ball with marketing some celebrity-endorsed tofu. Forget those Sierra Club wimps--Vitasoy and Morningstar, you guys get on the phone with Pamela Anderson and Forest Whitaker and make some good ads, OK?

August 23, 2007

NY Daily News: Plan B a big success among tramps, jerks

Plan B ad

Barr Pharmaceuticals announced that one year after making their morning-after contraception pill Plan B available over the counter, sales have doubled, reaching $80 million! Judging from their predictions last year, this is better than they expected, but still isn't exactly a blockbuster drug (Viagra's at about $800 million.)

Doubling sales of emergency contraception is sort of a murky cause for celebration, though. It's great than more women have access to Plan B (unless, of course, they're under 18 or don't have any ID) and can prevent unwanted pregnancies, which is what NARAL and Planned Parenthood are stressing. But Plan B still has a lot of enemies among anti-contraception people and some pro-lifers, and they're looking for data that suggests that making Plan B easier to get encourages irresponsible sex.

"Over-the-counter access has not increased or encouraged sexual activity," says Traci Perry of Planned Parenthood of New York City. She stresses that emergency contraception is a method of backup protection such as when a condom breaks.

OK sure, but how do women use Plan B in real life? The Daily News has an article on Plan B's one year anniversary, which seems intentionally written to destroy the argument that access to contraception doesn't encourage risky behavior. It begins with this personal anecdote:

"When I started dating this dude, it was a hassle to get an appointment with the gynecologist, so I used it weekly for about a month," confesses Kendra, a 24-year-old New Yorker. "I'd have unprotected sex, then go and blow $60 on EC [emergency contraception]."

Whoa, Kendra, a whole month of emergencies! You or your dude ever hear about condoms? I can just see the Family Research Council's press office carefully clipping this article to add to their "Promiscuous Liberals" binder.

Later on in their article, the Daily News reminds us that even if Plan B is available to most women without a prescription, you still have to ask a surly pharmacist to hand it to you from behind the counter:

Phoebe, 25, recently asked for Plan B at her local suburban pharmacy. "A male pharmacist gave me the look down, then asked me how old I was. He was overtly unfriendly," she says. "Usually, they put it in a bag to respect the purchaser's privacy. He just handed it to me in front of a long line. It felt intrusive and embarrassing."

Yuck. What is going on, Daily News? Last year they published an editorial complaining that Plan B was "being held hostage to politics" while the FDA took forever to approve OTC sales, and now they make it sound like a humiliating drug for sluts. Can we get some Plan B pride, or at least one "I am so stoked not to be pregnant!" story?

August 21, 2007

MTV and Rhapsody: taking digital music a few steps back

MTV and Rhapsody

MTV announced today that they're scrapping Urge and teaming up with an online music service you've probably never heard of called Rhapsody to offer digital music to its viewers. Membership plans under the new partnership haven't been announced yet, but of all the online music download services I've ever seen, Rhapsody's looks like the worst. The service is part of Real Networks, the people who brought you the worst media player of all time, RealPlayer.

Here's the offer: you pay $12.99 a month, and can listen to all the music you want on your computer. But no downloading or anything. If you want to download music, it costs $14.99 per month, and you can then download your music onto a Rhapsody-compatible MP3 player, which does not includes iPods.

And if you want to download a song onto your computer, it costs another 89 cents per track! After you've already paid 15 bucks a month just to put music on your cruddy-looking SansaRhapsody MP3 player, you have to pay again if you want to be able to burn a song onto a CD! You can also download your songs onto your cellphone, but only if you have a contract with Verizon.

And of course it goes without saying that even these purchased tracks come with DRM that limits copying to 5 computers (with the exception of Universal, who are offering their songs without restrictions starting today.)

What kind of deal is that? Considering that the other big news today in online music is that Wal-Mart is offering DRM-free downloads for a mere 94 cents each, MTV/Rhapsody isn't looking so tempting. A year ago Rhapsody had only 4% of the online music market share, so they've got a lot of work to do.

MTV is assuming that people are going to keep buying bigger and better combined phones and MP3 players. Wired bets that the next big iPhone-related announcement from Apple will be that iTunes tracks can be downloaded wirelessly with an iPhone, since that seems to be the main thing iTunes can't do yet.

August 14, 2007

New York Times: All the news we can find without leaving our desks

nytnewsroom.jpg

Lately the Times has been particularly interested in filling us in on news stories based on information gleaned from social networking sites. Apparently Times rules allow this reliable information to be printed without any corroboration or factchecking. You've probably heard the hard-hitting, important news that Giuliani's daughter belonged to an Obama-supporting Facebook group (until she deleted her account).

But did you also know that Facebook is an essential tool for crime reporters? A report on the young woman found dead near NYU helpfully tells us that "A Facebook entry that seems to belong to Ms. McCallum lists 255 friends." In a piece on the suspects in the recent Newark schoolyard shootings, the Times tells us about one suspect: "The teenager’s page on the MySpace social-networking Web site has references to MS-13, an international gang consisting primarily of Latinos, along with a picture of him wearing a bandanna over the lower half of his face."

I am looking forward to articles telling us things like "a google search for movie times in Midtown seemed to show that The Simpsons is playing in Times Square."
Photo from silencematters

July 19, 2007

It's the middle of July. Anyone seen a TUSH?

Rihanna umbrella single

Most summers, a pop song has emerged by now that so saturates our environment that you hardly go a day without hearing it somewhere. Car stereos, bars, the Gristedes PA system, radios at the beach--it's everywhere. It's the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit.

I've been listening hard every time I go into a Rite Aid or a bodega to identify the song that will be the definitive hit of summer 2007, but I'm still waiting. What is this year's TUSH? Today, the NY Times' Kelefa Sanneh wonders the same thing. He comes down strongly supporting Rihanna's "Umbrella" [video], which was auspiciously released right before Memorial Day, and only got knocked off #1 on the charts this week. Of course, in his review back in June, he predicted that it would be this year's Song of the Summer, and whaddaya know, now he says he was right!

I should also note that Kelefa Sanneh suggests that the 2005 TUSH was Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together", when everybody knows it was "Hollaback Girl", obviously.

"Umbrella" is catchy, sure, and I like it OK, but it lacks the warmth and energy of your ideal summer hit. Plus it's not so great to dance to. Last year's TUSH, "Crazy", was unconventional too--a consideration of mental illness and death somehow lacks the buoyancy of "Macarena" or "Good gracious, ass bodacious", the opening of "Hot in Herre".

There's still a lot of summer left, but so far I'm not quite hearing non-stop, unavoidable, ubiquitous "Umbrella" airwave saturation. Or maybe I just need to go to bars more. So what else would qualify? Sanneh offers "Beautiful Girls" by Sean Kingston [cute video], and earlier WNYC suggested a few other songs that seem off base now, such as Ne-Yo's "Do You", which I rarely hear and in my opinion is a pretty terrible song.

Last year you could have picked one of at least 4 or 5 songs and declared it TUSH 2006. This year's a little trickier. It will all be clear in another month--what's it going to be?

July 12, 2007

NY Times reveals unbearable new office stress you probably didn't realize you were suffering

Marilyn on two phones

I'm beginning to think the NY Times' weekly "Life's Work" column by Lisa Belkin exists solely to drive me up the wall.

Today's column is about how totally impossible it is to get anything done at work because of all the different newfangled ways there are to reach people nowadays. Instead of just having phone numbers, some people that you want to contact also have email addresses. And not only that, some people also have cell phones! And one or two sadistic monsters of the corporate world who want nothing more than to trample upon your human spirit even make use of text messaging!

Seriously, this weekly column is supposed to be about navigating the complexities of the world of work, and this one is about the struggle to figure out whether you should email someone or call them.

It's especially bizarre because in most cases she mentions where a person has more than one form of contact information, they actually come right out and tell her and everybody else how they prefer to be contacted. Some have voicemail messages that say "I don’t check messages here too often, so if you want to reach me in a timely fashion please e-mail me."

Is that really so confusing?

Apparently it is. Belkin writes, "Does he or she hate e-mail, letting it build up in the inbox, but quick to answer the cellphone on the first ring? Does the person refuse to carry a cellphone, but grab the office line through the Bluetooth that is literally attached to one ear?"

Then she answers these frantic questions with an example of one of these she-demons of modern communications, Jeni Hatter who works at Rollins College in Florida: "I prefer to be contacted on my cellphone. It is immediate, and it is always with me." HOW DARE SHE?!

Actually, like most of her examples, it seems like Belkin personally has no problem with just telling people the best way to contact her. She describes an anecdote in which her voicemail message encouraging callers to email her for a faster response prompted one man to leave a message saying "That is so rude. Who do you think you are?"

Maybe Belkin is onto something, here. Maybe the world really is full of easily-offended, helpless people unable to cope with the labyrinthine world of office communications. John Corzine announced today that he will no longer be using email, at all, after realizing through an investigation that emails written from public office accounts are public record. He says he's going to shun not only email, but apparently also telephones, fax machines, dictaphones, and two aluminum cans with a piece of string tied between them: "We'll go back to the 1920s and have direct conversations with people," he huffed.

June 18, 2007

This ad is too sexy

Trojan pig ad

Trojan, which already has a whopping 75% of the condom market, has developed a new ad campaign featuring a bunch of pigs trying unsuccessfully to hit on women in a bar, and one handsome man with a condom in his pocket who looks like he might get lucky. This is a picture of the print ad (the version that will run in women's magazines), and you can watch the TV ad at the Trojan site.

It's a cute ad, maybe a little hard on unprepared guys while not expecting that women should carry condoms of their own, but it's hardly salacious. CBS and Fox, however, both thought it was unsuitable for their viewing audiences. CBS said it was inappropriate even for late-night audiences, and Fox's prim little policy for condom ads is this: "Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy."

This is so funny, and so insane. If only there were some way to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases without violating the precious culture of life so sacred to Fox viewers! The VP of Marketing for LifeStyles says, in a NY Times article about the ad, "We always find it funny that you can use sex to sell jewelry and cars, but you can’t use sex to sell condoms." Fox had no problem with Paris Hilton selling burgers by washing/fucking a car in heels in the goofy-sexy ad that they aired during "The O.C." [video].

For the benefit of CBS and Fox's delicate audiences, let's keep promotion of condom usage on the same public health PSA level as having your cholesterol checked or getting a flu shot. Sex is for making babies, right? Just look at shows such as CBS' "Two and a Half Men" (Parents Television Council's Worst Show of the Week for a genuinely offensive episode last year.)

June 6, 2007

Tyler Perry's media juggernaut keeps on rolling

House of Payne

Tonight is the TBS premiere of Tyler Perry's first TV show "House of Payne", which like his other productions is about a southern black family and their various troubles and successes. There aren't many other people working in entertainment today like Tyler Perry, who has become enormously popular and rich working outside mainstream media channels.

"House of Payne" aired for 10 episodes last spring in New York, Philly, Chicago, Houston, DC, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, Baltimore and Raleigh, and was popular enough to incite a bidding war among networks. TBS bought an unprecedented 100 episodes of the show, which start airing tonight, and Fox also got in on the deal to air episodes starting next fall.

Not bad for a show totally created by one man (Tyler Perry is director, producer, executive producer and writer) who paid for the production of the first 10 episodes himself at his own studio, then sold those into syndication, then got a network to buy 100 episodes at once. As the New York Times points out in an article about the phenomenal success of every single thing Tyler Perry does, this is backwards from the usual process of getting a network show made, and has allowed him to continue making the kinds of productions that studios may not be quick to recognize as promising: "I went to LA and pitched to a room full of studio execs," Mr. Perry said. "They told me I couldn’t say 'Jesus' on television and nobody would watch it."

Just like his 2005 movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman generated a lot of terrible reviews from critics, some angry statements from black cultural theorists and writers, and gigantic ticket sales (and even led to an exchange between us and Roger Ebert,) how you react to "House of Payne" seems to depend a lot on who you are and what you expect from a sitcom. If you're Jill Nelson, African-American cultural critic who wrote about Perry in Essence, you think it's insulting to women and not funny. If you're the kind of person who writes on the IMDb discussion boards, you either think it's a shameless exploitation of offensive black stereotypes, or you think it depicts important truths about black American families. Or you're just mad that it replaced "Girlfriends" in its time slot.

Either way, enough people who watch TV and buy movie and theater tickets love Tyler Perry, and helped him move off the "chitlin' circuit" to reach a national audience. A lot of people (maybe especially a lot of white people) may not like or understand his style, but he's already shooting a second comedy series called "Meet the Browns", shooting a talk show, two new movies, and is making plans for his own TV network.

Personally, I think the mainstream critical responses to Tyler Perry's productions really demonstrate how far removed those critics are from his core audience. The Times article refers to Niyi Coker Jr., a professor of theater and media studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis:

Perry’s work was filling a void in many mediums. "It’s not sophisticated or theatrical in the Western context," he said, but it strikes a deep chord with Mr. Perry’s audience, which does not see their stories in many places.

It's also interesting to see the creative ways a TV network like TBS markets to an audience that they know is out there and that they want a piece of: they're running a contest on the "House of Payne" website where you can win $25,000 for your church and a trip on a Sheridan Gospel Network cruise. Mm-hmm. How often do you see mainstream secular TV networks offering a donation to a church as an incentive to viewers?

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

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 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.

April 25, 2007

CBS News: Admit it. You blew it.

Katie Couric on CBS Evening News

It's been almost eight months since Katie Couric started anchoring CBS Evening News, and I think now we can confidently say that hiring her for this job was a huge misjudgment.

She was probably the most successful and beloved daytime TV host ever when she was on Today, but it appears that people do not want to watch Katie Couric host the news. The ratings are bad. CBS averages 2 million fewer viewers than NBC and ABC every night, and the week of March 26, when the ratings hit bottom, CBS had lost 900,000 viewers since Couric took over for Bob Schieffer.*

But there could be a silver lining: today we found out that a certain popular morning TV show has an opening coming up, which might be a position better suited to Katie Couric's celebrity interviewing and homewares pitching skills.

And best of all, the ideal candidate can finally come forward and take her rightful place in the CBS News anchor seat: self-promotion machine and erstwhile "The View"-er (and one-time actual journalist!) Star Jones. Haven't the American people waited long enough for our 21st century Walter Cronkite?

[*tx ADM]

April 24, 2007

Roger Ebert is unstoppable

Roger Ebert post-surgery

"I ain’t a pretty boy no more," Roger Ebert says about his current appearance. Yeah, he was never much of a looker, but he's right. He's been through multiple surgeries over the past several months for cancer in his salivary gland and jaw, and other complications resulting from the surgeries have put him out of commission since last summer. But his 9th annual Overlooked Film Festival starts tomorrow at the University of Illinois at Urbana, and by golly, he's gonna be there.

The column he wrote about his determination to get back to work and out into the world again is fantastic. A few excerpts:

I have received a lot of advice that I should not attend the festival. I’m told that paparazzi will take unflattering pictures, people will be unkind, etc.

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. As a journalist I can take it as well as dish it out.

For the time being, I cannot speak. I make do with written notes and a lot of hand waving and eye-rolling. The doctors now plan an approach that does not involve the risk of unplanned bleeding. If all goes well, my speech will be restored.

So when I turn up in Urbana, I will be wearing a gauze bandage around my neck, and my mouth will be seen to droop. So it goes.

I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers. So what? I have been very sick, am getting better and this is how it looks. I still have my brain and my typing fingers.

Why do I want to go? Above all, to see the movies. Then to meet old friends and great directors and personally thank all the loyal audience members who continue to support the festival.

At least, not being able to speak, I am spared the need to explain why every film is “overlooked,” or why I wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Ha! You tell 'em, Roger Ebert.

Some of the movies featured at the Festival include Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, which I had zero interest in seeing until I found out it was directed by Tom Tykwer, who also did Run Lola Run; Gattaca, which is awesome; and Holes, which I only heard of last week in connection to rising megastar Shia LaBeouf. And it closes with Ebert-scripted X-rated classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a nice touch.

[tx Cushie]


April 9, 2007

How to apologize without apologizing

Don Imus not apologizing

Today's statement from Don Imus about last week's racist comments is a perfect lesson in how to explain your own bad behavior in a way that sounds sort of like an apology, without actually saying that you were in the wrong.

Here's what he said:

"Here's what I've learned: that you can't make fun of everybody, because some people don't deserve it. And because the climate on this program has been what it's been for 30 years doesn't mean it's going to be what it's been for the next five years or whatever."

Then he goes on to say that he knows actual real live black people:

He pointed to his involvement with the Imus Ranch, a cattle farm for children with cancer and blood disorders in Ribera, N.M. Ten percent of the children who come to the ranch are black, he added. "I'm not a white man who doesn't know any African-Americans," he said.

So here's a translation: It's OK to "make fun" of most people, but black female basketball players do not deserve to be made fun of. And calling them "nappy-headed hos" amounts to a "fun" jab, not a racist slur. Also, times have changed, and while it used to be OK to make comments like that on the air, I guess now I have to censor myself and my fun banter. Plus, fewer black children than are accurately representative of the US population come to my cattle ranch.

Unbelievable. Imus seems to have learned from the great non-apologizers like Cynthia McKinney ("There should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all"), Tom Delay ("I said something in an inartful way, and I shouldn't have said it that way, and I apologize for saying it that way. It was taken wrong." and Rosie O'Donnell ("So apparently 'ching-chong,' unbeknownst to me, is a very offensive way to make fun, quote-unquote, or mock, Asian accents. Some people have told me it's as bad as the n-word. I was like, really? I didn't know that.")

All this fake apologizing makes me almost appreciate someone like Dick Cheney, who just doesn't even bother pretending.

March 20, 2007

Coors Light asks, why wait till 5:00 to start drinking?

It's 4:53! Start drinking!

In a brilliant advertising campaign combining interactive online media and a slack work ethic, Coors is planning to introduce its new Silver Bullet Express Beer Train to Happy Hour. Which now starts at 4:53.

In creating these ads, Coors noticed that their target consumers, men ages 21-34, do almost all of their online reading at work, and between 3 and 6. Since these guys have already indicated their feelings on the relative importance of doing their jobs late in the workday and, say, reading Maxim.com, the strategy for selling beer to them pretty much designs itself. Regular ESPN.com readers are practically begging Coors Light to launch a speeding beer train across their screens at 4:53 PM local time, signalling that it really is OK for them to have completely given up on productivity for the day, because it's already happy hour!

Avenue A/Razorfish, the agency that designed the 4:53 online beer train, says the ads will also include a Happy Hour Countdown clock. The train and clock will presumably trigger a Pavlovian response in industrious drinker-workers, and give them enough time to get out of the office, down to a bar, and actually be pouring a Coors Light down their gullets by 5:00.

"It’s getting back to the roots, back to a brand promise of cold refreshment," says a VP at Draft FCB, the agency that designed the TV ads that will tie-in with the 4:53 train. Solid American roots of cold refreshment and a 7-minute shorter workday.

March 19, 2007

How to not get scammed

In the aggressively unfunny "Funny Pages" section of yesterday's NY Times Magazine was a great True-Life Tale from Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's legitimately funny weekend quiz show, "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me".

In the story, Sagal recounts a learning experience from his younger days, when an older respected writer friend gave him a crisp, new $100 bill to use for anything he needed to help his writing. Within seconds of dropping off the writer friend at the airport, he's already given 40% of it to a con artist.

It's a charming and self-deprecating story about how stupid he felt to not only have been duped by a sort-of attractive woman with a fake story (her invisible car broke down, she didn't have enough cash for a tow truck and the cops were about to ticket her if she didn't move her car), but to have continued playing along even after he knew she was lying: "I probably knew she was lying as soon as she got into my car. But by that point, it had become far easier to continue playing along than to call the whole thing off. She had worked so hard on her scheme that it seemed cruel to disappoint her. And of course, by suddenly expressing doubt, I would be admitting that I had been stupid enough to believe her to that point."

These kinds of scams seem to be incredibly common (other examples I've heard include "my car's brakes don't work and I need $19 to get a cab home" and the slightly more complex "I'm outside with two wardrobes and I lost my keys and need $20 to get a cab to my mother's apartment to get the extra set") and intelligent people sometimes fall for them. So if you are approached by someone asking for cash for some implausible emergency situation, you can do one of the following:

1) Blow them off;

2) Get some dark satisfaction out of playing along with their scam, but offering them the actual service they say they are in need of instead of money. Offer to call a cab or tow truck yourself and pay the driver directly, drive them to their mom's apartment, etc. This won't earn you any good karma, but will give the sick pleasure of watching the con artist's whole story disintegrate before your very eyes; or

3) If you happen to have some meth or gin in your pocket, or if you are a civic-minded prostitute, just skip the extra transaction and give the con artist what you both know they're really after.

If you want to get in on the other side, a good place to start is Simon Lovell's How to Cheat at Everything, a funny and practical guide to hustling.

[tx adm]

February 28, 2007

New York Times: The math club president in the cheerleaders' locker room +

New York Times does Penthouse

Frank Bruni's review of the steakhouse in the Penthouse Executive Club is surely rocketing its way up the Times' "Most Popular Articles" list. I hardly know what to say about this thing, except that it's totally bewildering, and very funny.

When the Times runs an article about a somewhat distasteful, low-brow topic like strip clubs, they often assume a posture of the amused outsider, observing the unwashed masses and their unrefined pursuits (like the article about other papers' journalists, who often *gasp* go out drinking together after work!) When their restaurant reviewer goes to a strip club to eat their legendarily delicious steaks, he does so only while stressing how out of place he feels, how much he is really, honestly there for the steak, and intentionally comes off like a dork pushing his wire-frame glasses back up his nose. Even in the part when the strippers pour a buttery nipple cocktail and Reddi-Wip down his throat.

My favorite part is his exchange with a woman who is I guess is his waitress or hostess, who sits down with him and his friends at their table.

She introduced herself. I wasn’t sure I’d heard her name correctly.

"Mahogany?" I said.

"Yes," she purred.

I was getting my bearings. "Mahogany," I asked, "do you know where you’re going to?"

She didn’t miss a beat, noting the reference, summoning the singer, and moving on to another of the dreamgirl’s hits. "I’m ... coming ... out!" she sang, waving her arms, wiggling her hips. Mahogany and I would get along just fine.

Haha! Funny, but maybe trying a little too hard to show how down with the strippers Frank Bruni can be, and how he totally doesn't objectify these women but actually views them as intelligent and very, very friendly human beings. He even chats with another stripper about her cellphone! Plus, did he mention he really loved the steak?

Funny article, if painfully self-conscious, like the Times was trying to publish something "fun" that might be found in New York magazine, but ended up with something more like what you'd read in Stuff. There's also an interactive slideshow that features equal parts steak and tits. Even though Bruni swears that he and his friends weren't interested in the human flesh on display, somebody on the payroll clearly picked up on it.

UPDATE: Of course, all this makes a lot more sense when you take into account that Frank Bruni is gay. Of course! A group of gay guys eating steak "ecstatically" at Penthouse Executive Club on Valentine's Day with the Times picking up the tab makes the whole story so much better. I can't believe I didn't pick up on this right away, but at least Mahogany seems like she did.

February 27, 2007

YouTube ruins it for everyone

no more Twisted Sister

Great post on Fimoculous yesterday about YouTube and the death of video culture. Remember when YouTube was still an exciting new resource that totally changed the way people thought about once obscure material, music videos, clips from tv shows and movies? When you could think, hey, I wonder if the song by Frazzle and the Frazzletones from Sesame Street that I loved so much when I was 4 is up there, and it was?

Well, not anymore, it's not. The best demonstration of YouTube's recent decline is Fimoculous' methodical revisiting of a wonderful Pitchfork feature from last June, 100 Awesome Videos. I was pretty excited about this video collection myself. It was article that took a lot of work, and now it's mostly useless, because fewer than half of the 100 videos that used to be freely available on YouTube are still available there. The rest of them have been replaced by the "This video is no longer available" notice of doom.

No more Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It", no more ODB's "Got Your Money" [note: the Pitchfork links don't work anymore, and though right now you can search for and find new posts of these videos on YouTube, it's only a matter of time here]. I understand about intellectual property and artists getting their due, but this seems like a poorly-conceived knee-jerk restrictive approach to all video media that only aggravates fans and prevents the public from learning about new things. How is this helping anybody? And I'm not just saying that because we got banned.

Rex says, "I try not to be polemic about these matters on this blog, but I find it hard to believe this is good for anyone -- artist, label, critic, fan, and, especially, the marketplace of ideas."

February 21, 2007

Mag crew exploitation

Mag Crews

The latest article in a series that the NY Times seems to be doing about really horrible exploitation of vulnerable kids is today's piece on traveling magazine sales crews, who go around the country trying to get people to buy magazine subscriptions, often while being abused by their employers. The article is long and incredibly thorough, but might make you throw up or decide that the whole world sucks.

Even though this industry was investigated by Congress decades ago (article includes links to coverage of the hearings), it seems like no changes have been made. Here are just a few excerpts:

Two days after graduating from high school last June, Jonathan Pope left his home in Miamisburg, Ohio, to join a traveling magazine sales crew, thinking he would get to "talk to people, party at night and see the country." Over the next six months, he and about 20 other crew members crossed 10 states, peddling subscriptions door to door, 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. Sleeping three to a room in cheap motels, lowest seller on the floor, they survived some days on less than $10 in food money while their earnings were kept "on the books" for later payment.

By then, Mr. Pope said, he had seen several friends severely beaten by managers, he and several other crew members were regularly smoking methamphetamine with prostitutes living down the motel hallway, and there were warrants out for his arrest in five states for selling subscriptions without a permit.

"You’re involved in bad stuff, you’re seeing bad stuff and they tell you, 'No negativity,' " said Jennifer Steele, 23.

In September 2004, Ms. Steele said, she was drugged and raped by two men who were partying with crew members at a motel in Memphis, where her crew was staying. When her manager told her to go back to work the next day, she said she "threw a fit." But she did as she was told, and worked part of the day before filing a police report and having a rape kit performed. She stayed with the crew for another seven months before quitting.

Asked if they ever went overboard, two enforcers [employed by magazine companies to keep sellers in line] recalled an incident in November 2005 involving an 18-year-old recruit from Dayton, Ohio, named Rudy. "All we were told was that Rudy had shoved and disrespected the manager." For 10 uninterrupted minutes in a motel stairwell in San Francisco, Mr. Simpson, Mr. McClinton and four other enforcers beat Rudy unconscious, Mr. Simpson and Mr. McClinton said. One held his mouth shut. Two others pinned down his arms and legs. Tearing off his shirt, they pressed a flaming lighter into his back. Mr. Simpson kicked him in the face and body. "I stopped because I ran out of breath," Mr. Simpson said.

Ugh. It's sadly reminiscent of Kurt Eichenwald's now-legendary articles about solicitation and exploitation of kids in internet chat rooms, and how child abusers encourage each other online.

February 16, 2007

Lazy interjections

Today's Slate has a piece on the rise of interjections as a substitution for actual words in speech, on blogs and other websites, and in actual respectable newspapers. The clip above shows a textbook use of the "awwa!", or in more linguistic notation, "aww/uh!", an interjection used to express delight in the adorableness of something that is popular among teenage girls and, in written form, LiveJournalers.

The article provides a good overview of interjections of years past, such as "duh!", "not!", and "ka-ching!", which all seem to have outlived their socially acceptability in speech and writing. "Meh" and "feh" are more recent examples that maybe demonstrate the growing apathy and noncommital attitude of youth culture.

Other more generic interjections that are used by all ages are the interesting ones, in my opinion. "Ha", "haha!", and "HAHAHAHAHAAAA!" are unoriginal, yet I never get tired of them or feel false when I write them. While "lol" or "rotfl" or "lmao" suggest a teenage MySpace user, a simple "haha" is universal and not attached to any particular age group or other demographic identifer. Like Ben Yagoda, the author of the Slate piece, I feel proud when I get a written "haha!" as a response to a joke.

But the interjection that is probably most common in speech, and most grating in writing, is "um". Right now I formally apologize for any usage of the interjection "um" in anything I have ever written. As Ben Yagoda wrote, "um" has "been flagrantly overused by feature writers and columnists to signal an impending attempt at irony or humor; the maneuver is now well beyond cliché, somewhere in the neighborhood of desperation." Writers at newspapers like the Chicago Sun-Times and the Toronto Sun use "um" to indicate that they are saying something marginally off-color or making a lame joke ("Watch for Justin Timberlake pairing up with someone in a duet, which often can be quite, um, revealing").

If you have written a joke that isn't funny enough for your readers to notice that it's a joke without preceding it with an "um", it probably isn't a good joke.

If the best we can do these days to add some spice to our writing is "um" and "meh", then I think we have no choice but to revive some of the colorful interjections of yore that never find their way into published writing anymore. Such as "darn tootin'".

February 12, 2007

NYT headlines

Yesterday's New York Times had an article on the popular recreational usage of Viagra among Spanish men, with a surprisingly Post-y headline:

"Spain Says Adiós Siesta and Hola Viagra"

Some old favorite Post headlines celebrating our Spanish-speaking brethren include a culturally sensitive piece on Bloomberg's efforts to learn Spanish:

Latin Lover

And the questionable announcement of Bill Richardson's plans to run for President:

NM Governor Throws Sombrero Into Ring.

Nothing wrong with using a few universally familiar Spanish words in a headline, but the subject matter of the Times article makes it sound sort of like an ad in the back of a magazine guaranteeing the erotic delights of spanish fly. The piece discusses how cultural shifts have affected the sexual habits of all those fiery, macho Spaniards, leading to increased popularity of... ok, I don't know if they made this up, but they claim that Spanish people call it "sexo azul":

The quest for Viagra was apparent on a recent day at a packed disco in Chueca, a bohemian district of Madrid, where a group of young men said they took Viagra because it increased sexual confidence. "No one wants to admit it, but everyone is taking it," said Santiago, a 32-year-old travel agent.

"We used to have a siesta, to sleep all afternoon, to eat well," said a spokeswoman for Pfizer. "But now we have become a fast-food nation where everyone is stressed out, and this is not good for male sexual performance."

Pfizer says it sold nearly one million boxes of Viagra in Spain last year, the equivalent of one box for every 17 men 18 and older. Globally, Pfizer earned $1.66 billion from Viagra sales in 2006.

And how about the señoritas? Turns out they're a bunch of insatiable hot tamales, too.

One such woman is Carmen, a chic, twice-divorced 45-year-old information technology executive and Sophia Loren look-alike, who complains that her sexual ardor intimidates most Spanish men. Frustrated by her boyfriend’s sexual performance, Carmen insisted that he take Viagra, which he obtained by making a fake prescription on his home computer.

The Viagra worked, she says, but she decided anyway to leave her boyfriend, an urbane 55-year-old psychologist, for a 32-year-old unemployed student athlete.

"Viagra is not the solution many Spaniards think it is," said Carmen. "I came to realize that the problem wasn’t my boyfriend’s sexual prowess. The problem was him." Now, she added, "I have sex six times a day, but I do miss going to the opera."

Whoa. Or, ¡Whoa!

February 6, 2007

Gavin Newsom goes to rehab

Gavin Newsom repents

You knew this was coming.

After Thursday's announcement that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had an affair with his campaign manager (and close friend)'s wife, he has finally accepted that the best way to apologize for his indiscretion and do some soul-searching about his behavior is to go to rehab. For alcohol.

"Upon reflection with friends and family this weekend, I have come to the conclusion that I will be a better person without alcohol in my life," he said in a statement. "I take full responsibility for my personal mistakes and my problems with alcohol are not an excuse for my personal lapses in judgment."

Not an excuse, but a great distraction, right Gavin? Welcome to the club! Mark Foley will be contacting you soon with your Rehab Redemption membership card, which includes one (1) free public use of any relevant ethnic slur against Alex Tourk.

Good call, Cushie! [tx ADM]

February 2, 2007

AP headlines

Some unintentional irony in the headlines of today's AP top stories:

AP Top headlines

This is the first year the groundhog hasn't seen his shadow since 1999.

[tx bar]

January 29, 2007

Democrats will definitely start getting tough any day now

Hillary demands that the US leave Iraq within this century

At a campaign event in Iowa yesterday, Hillary Clinton took her political cues from one of our all-time favorite Tom Tomorrow cartoons [thanks, ADM].

The headline says it all--Clinton: U.S. out of Iraq by January '09.

The Modern World cartoon is from 2002, and so far all his predictions have been forehead-smackingly accurate.

January 19, 2007

The People's Paper

Finally, a New York Times lifestyle story just for me!

Did you know that there are literally tens of New Yorkers out there facing a heartbreaking ordeal? They can't get the high-end appliances in their weekend homes serviced, because all the bumpkins in upstate New York and Vermont shop at Sears!

Oh, the tragedy of installing a "luxury Australian-made Regency VSA oven" and not being able to get the hinges fixed! The horror of "spending about $1,000 [to cajole] Sub-Zero into sending a repairman on the 40-minute drive from Albany!" And what if your vacation home is on Fire Island? Did you know they don't even have cars there?!

Sadly, many of these folks are now turning to sub-par brands like KitchenAid and G.E. (which seem, curiously, to not break down as frequently). I mean, why even bother being an "executive vice president for luxury real estate sales" or a "vice president at the Corcoran Group real estate company" if you have to keep your Berkshire pork cold under a fucking block of ice in the backyard?

Oh, boohoo. Relevance aside, this article isn't even interesting. Appliance repair? How did this pitch even make the first editorial cut?

Congratulations, New York Times, for the most useless news article of 2007 so far! And to think I had my money on New York Magazine.

December 22, 2006

Rebranding Christmas

Xmas logos

As embedded in American tradition as Christmas is, it isn't exactly the hippest thing going in our cultural landscape. Saying Christmas is your favorite holiday if you're not 8 years old is obvious and white-bread, and nowhere near as cool as saying Halloween or Chinese New Year.

Time for rebranding! Just because Christmas is inherently associated with small children and tacky commercialism and your extended family is no reason why its tired image can't be made into something sleek and modern by a multinational design firm, who are clearly kidding, but got the attention of the New York Times anyway.

In conjunction with Studio 360*, the NPR show produced by WNYC and Public Radio International, a design firm came up with some ideas for Christmas 2.0. The group that formed for this project was “kind of like the Iraq Study Group,” according to Kurt Anderson, who hosts Studio 360. “It sounds shocking and overcommercial and ludicrous,” conceded Michael Bierut, a partner at design firm Pentagram (are they devil worshippers trying to kill Christmas with their diabolical trendiness?! Clearly they are) “but we actually see this as a way to take the commercialization, which is inevitable and irreversible, and turn it to good.”

It's mostly a joke, and some of it isn't especially good, but they have a few funny ideas too. They want to create a new domain ".mas", as in "x.mas", and let stores buy new websites to promote holiday shopping for their crap. And my favorite: "In the place of red and green would be various almost-indistinguishable shades of x.mas white, like Yule Neutral, Shopping Frosted and Dawkins Blank (named for Richard Dawkins, the biologist and outspoken atheist)."

As far as the marginal religious significance that Christmas still holds in our culture, or the affection that people have for the traditional red and green holly jolly Christmas images, the designers don't want to get involved. “We weren’t hired as theologians or social engineers,” Beirut said, before tilting his head and adding, “Actually, come to think of it, we weren’t hired at all.”

* ADM notes that we now have an NPR show called Studio 360, Studio 60 on Sunset Strip, and Anderson Cooper 360. Enough already.

December 5, 2006

NYC's rat patrol and Edgar R. Butts

Rat extermination in New York

Sometimes I think the NY Times should stop doing analysis of the important events and developments happening all over the world, and just stick to investigation and detailed reporting of all the weird stuff that goes on right here in the city.

Today's article on the city's ongoing fight against rat infestation is the best example of this kind of local reporting. Pest complaints reached an all-time high last year, at 32,000. The city is trying to adopt more aggressive, preventive measures to fight rats, like keeping garbage inaccessible and clearing the debris where rats live, instead of just dumping loads of rat poison everywhere. A deputy for environmental health, who is named Edgar R. Butts and therefore might be my favorite of all the city's employees, said: “You can bring a trainload or boatload of rodenticide into the city. But as long as you have food and harborage, you’ll have rats.” I've seen a whole lot of "WARNING: Area Baited With Rodenticide" signs in the subway which never seem to be more recent than 2003, and the rats are starting to grow resistant to it anyway.

The article gives you an incredible amount of detail about the history of pest control in the city, the 19th century rat catchers (paid by the rat!), old federal CDC programs, the city council's "rat summits" in the Giuliani days. There are lots of anecdotes about the Bureau of Pest Control Services, which spends $8 million each year on rats, going to buildings where tenants have been complaining for months.

But my favorite part is when the intrepid Times reporter walks around the Bronx himself, and paints a vivid picture of the garbage that he sees, and apparently also rummages through: "Why the rats remain is no mystery, given the abundance of waste New Yorkers leave behind. In an alley next to an apartment building were two exposed trash cans. Inside one was an empty can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, with a residue of sauce."

We've all seen rats scurrying around in the subway or in vacant lots, but take a guess as to the percentage of rental units with rodent infestations. Guess. Ready to get grossed out? 28.7 percent!!! Ew! If you don't have rats drinking your beer and gnawing your toothbrush, you're lucky.

October 25, 2006

German soldiers pull German Lynndie

German soldier skull photos

Today German tabloid Bild published photos that they claim were taken in 2003, of some German soldiers in Afghanistan clowning around with a human skull.

The photos are pretty typical of what we in America are no longer so surprised to see from our soldiers in the War on Terror: shots of a soldier posing with the skull, positioning the skull as the hood ornament of their Jeep. One creative soldier, in a reversal of the pointing at the prisoner's penis pose that Lynndie England made famous, took out his own penis and photographed it next to the skull.

Here's the Bild article in German and translated.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said, "These pictures revolt and mystify me. It is clear that such behavior cannot be tolerated from German soldiers. It runs counter to the values and codes of conduct we try to instill in our soldiers."

Posing for pictures with a skull that military sources say may have come from a mass grave is certainly not as bad as posing with actual live, tortured prisoners, like some U.S. soldiers did. The German pictures probably are revolting, as the Minister says, but after Abu Ghraib, how mystifying can they really be? "We must investigate exactly how such degeneration and misbehaviour can happen despite good training and good supervision," said Bernhard Gertz, who represents German troops.

Bernhard: this behavior happens because of the training, the supervision, and the entire approach that our countries have taken to this war.

October 18, 2006

KFC Knows What You Really Want

Deliver Us From Evil priests

Have you seen the ads for KFC's new Cheese and Chicken Mashed Potato Bowls?

Here's one of them.

In case you're wondering, the Cheese and Chicken Mashed Potato Bowl is like some unholy 7-layer dip - mashed potatoes, corn, fried chicken, gravy and cheese. In a bowl.

Oh, KFC. At last you've realized that Americans are nothing but sad little piglets waiting to be slopped. My only regret is that the Cheese and Chicken Mashed Potato Bowl is not yet available in a styrofoam trough.

October 12, 2006

Meaningful gift-giving

Putin gets his gun

Vladimir Putin was given a very thoughtful and personal gift from Bavaria's Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber last night during his formal visit to Germany: a traditional Bavarian gun! How considerate of those Germans. Especially considering the event that dominated Putin's visit to Germany and probably many other aspects of his life this week: Saturday's murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

A NY Times editorial on the murder says she was killed at her apartment by one shot to her heart, and three to her head. Politkovskaya, a long-time vocal critic of Putin's administration, was most recently working on an article, with photos, about torture in Chechnya.

Bush asked Putin about the murder when they spoke recently about North Korea, and Putin said her death was "a blow to Russia" and promised an investigation. Putin also he had also "not forgotten" the case of Paul Klebnikov, an American who was editor of Forbes Russia when he was shot to death two years ago.

Still no news on who shot Andrei Kozlov, a Russian central banker who was trying to reform the corrupt banking system, a month ago. Or, probably, on any of the 13 other journalists that have been murdered in Russia since 2000, when Putin came into power.

September 14, 2006

In Memoriam: Ann Richards

Ann Richards on a motorcycle

One of the more colorful politicians of all time, Ann Richards, died on Wednesday. In honor of her and her status as onetime leader of progressive Texan politics (sounds crazy, doesn't it?) and all-around hellraising sass machine, we bring you one of her finest moments: the Doritos™ commercial she did with Mario Cuomo, after they were both defeated by their Republican opponents in the 1994 elections, aka the Republican Revolution.

The New York Times provided a narration of the ad.

"THE AD CAMPAIGN; The Taste of Defeat: Got Any Salsa?" By Kevin Sack, Published: January 27, 1995

DEFEATED CANDIDATES

Mario M. Cuomo and Ann Richards

With the mournful strains of Auld Lang Syne as background music, the scene opens with Mr. Cuomo helping Ms. Richards pack up her gubernatorial office. As she tosses file folders into a cardboard box, they begin to philosophize about the nature of change. When it becomes clear that the change they are discussing is packaging - of tortilla chips, not candidates - Ms. Richards pulls out a newly designed bag of Doritos and Mr. Cuomo begins to munch on a few.

Ms. Richards: "Mario, I haven't seen a change like this since I was knee high to a June bug."

Mr. Cuomo: "Ann, I was as surprised as you are."

A.R.: "Well, I should have seen it coming."

M.C.: "Maybe so, but now I think we ought to accept this change, embrace it, be positive about it, because change can be very exciting."

A.R.: "You're probably right, Mario. I guess I'll get used to Doritos' new bag."

M.C.: "There you go."

Announcer: "This year's big change is Doritos. More great taste, brand-new bag."

M.C.: "Too bad about the Cowboys, Ann."

A.R.: "They always won when I was Governor."

I couldn't find a video of this ad, but if anyone can locate it, please notify us in the comments.

August 1, 2006

Man, I was so wasted Friday night!

Drunk Mel Gibson

Nobody likes to see drunk pictures of themselves taken shortly before they did something really regrettable. Which is why we take such pleasure in this photo of Mel "I own Malibu" Gibson taken on Friday night at Moonshadows in Malibu, a few hours before his arrest and career-incinerating tirade.

Check out the defensive raised fist and scared eyes of the woman on the left. It's like she almost senses the nearness of racist, megalomaniacal, violent, hypocritical, alcoholic bigotry or something.

July 19, 2006

Reuters photo essay on the Gay Games

This week, Chicago is the host city to the Gay Games VII, a sports and cultural festival open to all competitors. Basketball, hockey, figure skating, water polo, synchronized swimming--pretty much all the same sports are featured as in the regular Olympics. But which sport do you think Reuters chose to cover in their photo essay on the Gay Games?

Wrestling! And it's gay wrestling, right? The Reuters editors have made sure that every single photo is a crotch-shot, an ass-shot, or a flirtatious sweaty-embrace shot.

gay games wrestling

gay games wrestling

gay games wrestling

gay games wrestling

gay games wrestling

And as an added bonus: a Reuters photo of preparation for the women's Physique event.

gay games wrestling

April 7, 2006

PR Rule Number 1

When promoting your new show, make sure you send releases to ALL of the Post's gossip columnists.

Cindy Adams, 04/06/06:

"For two years, National Geographic has secretly worked on a project dealing with religious history. Their deep pockets financed an architectural dig in biblical desert land. Its ultimate was to yield a scriptural trove and, in fact, has unearthed what they will soon proclaim are ancient scrolls.....These scrolls have painstakingly been translated by a group of scholars, and the revelation is that they deal exclusively with Judas...For more, for answers, questions, facts, widening of this information, you are directed to spokespersons at National Geographic."

Liz Smith, 04/06/06:

"On Sunday, the National Geographic Channel airs "The Gospel of Judas," which purports to show us the authentic carbon-dated manuscript of a book definitely left out of the New Testament. This gives a new view of the villain who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Judas Iscariot is given a makeover as the deus ex machina behind the Crucifixion, necessary for the Resurrection and the beginning of Chistianity. I've seen these documentaries, and they are absolutely marvelous!"

April 6, 2006

The state of the news in America

Katie Couric announces move to CBS

It's been a big week for American TV journalism. The biggest story is Katie Couric's move from NBC News (because "Today" technically counts as a news show. I know, don't get me started) to CBS where she will anchor the Evening News.

Now today, the Center for Media and Democracy issued a report called "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed" (NY Times coverage). They report that 77 news departments in TV stations across the country have used corporate video news releases as part of their news segments, without telling viewers that they were watching commercially produced advertisements. Sometimes they just air the entire unedited corporate video. They've shown publicists on-air and credited them as being reporters. Their anchors have read scripts provided by corporate publicists as though they were doing their own objective reporting.

The FCC will probably take notice of this report, because they started investigating this kind of use of promotional video in news reports last year, specifically chastising stations for airing government-produced videos without saying where the material came from.

Slate ran an article at the beginning of the week about the death of objectivity in news. Since many news outlets don't even pretend to be objective anymore, should viewers still expect it, or just select news sources according to their overt agendas? Old media like newspapers and network nightly news shows used to at least try to be objective, but they're declining in popularity. Should they just abandon their old values and deal in the opinion journalism of blogs and cable news? Intercut with segments filed by "reporters" from Capital One and Intel?

It looks like the answers to many of these questions are up to the latest leader of American journalism, Katie Couric. Katie did an unmatchable job for 15 years of steering the content of "Today"'s stories back to herself and her own life, and also providing a forum for corporations to advertise their products live on an NBC News show. But if network news gets even less objective and even more commercial with the arrival of the newest cast member this September, we can't just blame Katie. These shows are already letting publicists stand in for journalists and showing us ads and telling us it's news.

April 3, 2006

The Axe Effect (on 11 year-olds)

Axe Effect

Some of the most pervasive and eye-catching ad campaigns in recent years have been those for Unilever's Axe body spray and related male grooming products. The fridge full of cans of whipped cream, the women humping their apartment building's water drainage pipe, the woman with the image of a coat hanger imprinted on her back (I have to admit, I still don't 100% get that one.) They're all sort of clever, and they all have an unmistakable message: this shit will get you so laid.

Convincing American men to use body spray (a product I had always associated with "when a man you've never met suddenly gives you flowers, that's Impulse!") may have been an uphill battle, but somehow Axe has managed to associate itself in our minds, as a Slate reporter wrote a while back, with getting "crazy, spontaneous monkeysex."

That same Slate writer predicted that, although Axe was the top-selling men's body spray on the market in 2004, it wouldn't be for long. The problem is, he wrote, "when you promise spontaneous monkeysex, you run into a couple of problems. 1) You won't deliver on that promise. This leaves the customer disappointed and sours him on the brand. 2) Your image gets linked with the guy who is desperate to get laid and who needs some sort of magic potion to help him. Which is not a great image."

But apparently the middle schoolers of suburban Washington, DC don't have a problem with 1) or 2), probably because at age 11, they don't have much hope of getting any monkeysex anyway. The Washington Post has a piece today on the overwhelming popularity of Axe among pre-pubescent boys, who have whole-heartedly bought into the Axe marketing strategy.

"I was watching the commercial, and there was this guy and he was mobbed by a bunch of girls, and I thought, 'Wow, that's tight! ' " said Asean Townsend, 12. "So I went to CVS and bought it."

The article includes many other wonderful testimonials from middle-school boys about their allegiance to Axe, and some concerns from gym teachers that boys may be using it as a convenient replacement for showering. Some boys have already been using Axe for so long (the $5 retail price encourages brand loyalty) that they've moved onto other more grown-up fragrances offered by Axe:

"Eighth-grader Klima Arrola started wearing Axe when he was 11 after seeing a TV commercial in a which a good-looking guy was mobbed by a bunch of even better-looking women. He found the ad appealing, he said. Now 14, he prefers Axe's Orion fragrance, described as an 'aromatic citrus/fruity fragrance with a transparent watery top note composed of minty accents, orange flower, geranium, citrus and musk.' But to Klima, who doesn't have a girlfriend, 'It just smells good.'"

And what about the girls? Do they find their musky, Axey classmates appealing?

"Someone by my locker uses it, but he uses so much that you can taste it in your mouth," said Allison Testamark, 14, scrunching up her nose in disgust.

Remember, boys: girls do appreciate personal grooming, but in achieving the Axe Effect, less is more.

March 17, 2006

In case "New movie by the Wachowski Brothers" still means something good to you

V for Vendetta

Personally, I've been pretty sick of V for Vendetta since last summer, when we all heard all about how it was scheduled for release, but then delayed out of sensitivity to the London Underground bombings, and we read all over the place about how Natalie Portman liked "shedding that level of vanity" by having a shaved head. Lately the press has centered on Alan Moore, who wrote the comic that the movie is based on, and what "rubbish" he thinks the Wachowski script is. (Moore has had really bad luck with movie adaptations of his books--he's already suffered through some bad adaptations of From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Hasn't learned his lesson, I guess.)

And really, come on. Did you see those last two Matrix movies? Do you really think this movie is going to be anything other than a big-budget arbitrarily-stylized illogical waste of time? It's like the pairing of Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman brings together the worst elements of The Matrix and Star Wars and hurls them into a fantastical new world of crap.

Anyway, this damn movie is finally coming out today. We've already seen those big Parliament explosions one thousand times in the previews, but let's look at what some of the funnier critics are saying about the movie.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times. Thumb suckers of the world unite, the most hotly anticipated film of the, er, week, V for Vendetta, has arrived, complete with manufactured buzz and some apparently genuine British outrage... The usual totalitarian hard line prevails (no dissent, no diversity, no fun) as does the usual movie-villain aesthetic. The shock troops wear basic black with crimson accents, while the leader, played by John Hurt in a goatee drizzled with spit, parts his hair like Hitler.

Inevitable questions and objections have been raised about whether V for Vendetta turns a terrorist into a hero, which is precisely what it does do. Predictably, the filmmakers, actors and media savants have floated the familiar formulation that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, as if this actually explained anything about how terror and power (never mind movies) work. The more valid question is how anyone who isn't 14 or under could possibly mistake a corporate bread-and-circus entertainment like this for something subversive.

Stephen Hunter, Washington Post. For all that the film gets out of its putative star, Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith from "The Matrix" movies), it could just as easily star a radio. Weaving is a fruity, stagy voice emanating from a hole in the polyurethane phiz clamped over his real mug... V for Vendetta is a piece of pulp claptrap; it has no insights whatsoever into totalitarian psychology and settles always for the cheesiest kinds of demagoguery and harangue as its emblems of evil.

To say that the Wachowski brothers, who made the Matrix movies and wrote this picture from the graphic novel that has since been disowned by its creator Alan Moore, are not up to Orwell's level is not to say much. Nobody's Orwell. Nobody writing today has the guts as well as the talent to be Orwell. But they should have come up with better stuff. They say they want a revolution? Then give us a revolution, one that's believable, frightening, heroic, coherent and not a teenager's freaky power trip.

I would like to send a special thank you to Stephen Hunter for his reference to the "eternally underwhelming" actress Natalie Portman in his review. What has she made now, one good movie? Hey Natalie, try to get cast in just one more movie in which you're not the weakest link, and you'll have Winona Ryder beat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars. But clever readers can see through some of the Ebert outpouring of love for everything in the world in his mention of the "audacious confusion of ideas" and "their manic disorganization."

March 10, 2006

Tasteful Coverage from the New York Post

Oh, New York Post! What would we do without you? It makes my heart proud that when, say, a Restaurateur-to-the-stars is charged with domestic abuse, you'll handle the story with.....class. And sensitivity.

Tasteful new york post cartoon

February 7, 2006

Who's taking their clothes off this month?

It's been awhile since we brought you a comprehensive roundup of the women who have taken their clothes off in public as a career-advancing strategy. So here's who is going to appear naked on the cover of the upcoming Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair:

  • Scarlett Johansson (surprise!)

  • Keira Knightley (so much for that "Academy Award Nominee" lustre)

And who isn't:

  • Rachel McAdams

Also appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair is designer Tom Ford, who is fully clothed (surprise!) About Rachel McAdams, he says, "She did want to do it, and then when she was on the set I think she felt uncomfortable." Maybe she did feel uncomfortable... about what sometimes happens to young actresses' careers when they start taking their clothes off in public venues that aren't related to acting.

It's a choice every pretty young actress has to face: whether to go the Brittany Murphy/WB series star route and pose naked for some magazine, or take Natalie Portman's more reserved approach: "Young actors often don't think of the consequences of doing nudity or sex scenes. They want the role so badly that they agree to be exploited." Which is I guess why she asked for her brief nude scene in Closer to be cut.

Rachel McAdams has made some good career moves so far and has gotten a lot of "It" girl talk, but oddly doesn't have any announced new movies. Maybe she wants to hold off on the random nudity until she gets some new work.

Well, at least Scarlett finally got her wish to appear naked on camera, after that prudish Michael Bay insisted that she keep her bra on in The Island.

February 6, 2006

Fake news, real news

Michael Jackson, the Pope's composer

Remember in 2004 when Maureen Dowd referenced a joke in an Ali G interview with James Baker about the similarity of the words "Iraq" and "Iran" and the potential danger of attacking the wrong country ("Bomb Ira-")? She pointed out that this joke had sort of come true: "Well, as it turns out, we did bomb the wrong Ira-."

In recent years there have also been some easy jokes made about the Catholic church and its child abuse scandals that went like this:

You know who the Catholics could bring in to see them through these scandals and restore their public image? MICHAEL JACKSON! Or:

You know who would be a good new Pope who could show the world that the church is in touch with recent events? MICHAEL JACKSON!

So today there's another joke:

You know who the Catholics should hire to set John Paul II's prayers and chants to music? MICHAEL JACKSON!

And like "bomb Ira-", it's come true.

January 12, 2006

The next CBS News anchor

The world seems to have totally lost interest in the rumor-that-won't-die that Katie Couric will be the next anchor for CBS News. Katie herself was recently overheard at a party saying nothing is happening, and that she can't even negotiate any other contracts until May.

ADM has already commented on Katie's journalistic "chops", which primarily consist of interviewing television celebrities and hawking household products on "Today". And yes I know she used to be a news producer and was a Pentagon correspondent for two years. Still. She markets herself as a likeable soft-news host who has a good head for PSA-like specials, like the colonoscopy thing. She's the consummate morning show host, but she's no Walter Cronkite.

Despite all this, many people love the idea of Katie Couric as a nightly news anchor, so obviously her popularity is worth more than other qualities typically valued in high-level journalism.

Which brings me to my ideal candidate for the job at CBS: Star Jones.

Star Jones, serious journalist

Hey, if we can seriously argue that Katie Couric is a journalist, why not Star? Star Jones has been hosting popular daily TV show "The View" for over 8 years. Before that, she was a legal correspondent for Court TV and NBC, and was the only correspondent to get an interview with O.J. Simpson while she was covering his case for "Inside Edition". The world may not have seen the inside of her colon (though the doctor that performed her alleged gastric bypass probably got a look at it) but she has worked extensively with organizations helping low-income kids in East Harlem.

And her wedding to Al Reynolds last year demonstrated that her product promotion skills rival even Katie's.

So let's hear it for the successor of Dan Rather and the future of CBS News, Star Jones!

December 29, 2005

New York Times covers the drunken antics of NYC's unwashed "journalists"

In what might be the least relevant, most arrogant bit of fake reporting ever, the Times today has an article called "Beer by the Barrel, Stories by the Scoop", about how some journalists for other (read: lesser) New York daily papers sometimes like to leave work, go to a bar, drink, and, get this--talk to other journalists about work.

"At the crime scene, reporters compete ruthlessly for exclusive information, hunting and hoarding the juiciest quotation, the grittiest fact and the bloodiest narrative - anything to land a story on the front page. But after deadline, many of them head to a bar, declare a truce and order enough beer to douse the daily dose of horror. An eavesdropper can sample the next day's headlines, along with details too gory to print."

Too gory for your delicate sensibilities, elite NY Times readers! The rest of the article suggests that these ragtag hacks are just a bunch of bloodthirsty boozehounds who swap the most salacious details about recent murders, crimes, and hit-and-runs for their own sick pleasure. They refer to a Daily News reporter talking to his colleagues: "You have not adequately covered a homicide, he tells rookies, if your shoes are not wet with the victim's blood."

Well, my word! Rest assured that the Times reporter was at the 11th Street bar with these reprehensible sleaze-peddlers only to give Times readers a glimpse into the gritty, dangerous world of papers that cost under $1.

And what do these irresponsible drunks do after they're done guzzling liquor and obsessing over the victims of sex crimes? They "spilled out into the street for a noisy 4 a.m. snowball fight", no doubt violating noise ordinances.

December 22, 2005

And then, for a brief moment, everyone forgot about the transit strike

Rings around uranus

Thank you, MSNBC copywriters, for not disgracing the noble concept of public service.

December 16, 2005

NYT webmasters take a shot at cop killers

They've done this before, but whoever it is that comes up with the URLs for nytimes.com decided to take an easy shot at Lillo Brancato Jr and his thug friend who killed the cop in the Bronx the other day. The URL for a story about the pair:

mooks url

For those of you who didn't grow up watching Lillo Brancato Jr movies, a mook is defined by the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang as "an ineffectual, foolish, or contemptible person." The word figures prominently in Mean Streets, which stars Robert De Niro, Brancato's co-star in A Bronx Tale.

December 4, 2005

The best possible replacement for Dan Rather at CBS News must be Katie Couric

dan rather the reporter

katie couric the reporter

There was all kinds of buzz last week that Katie Couric is the most likely replacement for Dan Rather as the anchor of CBS News.

As a woman who has spent the vast majority every morning for the last umpteen years telling housewives what to buy and what celebrities to like, it's clear that she has exactly what it takes to restore credibility to CBS News.

If that's not enough (taken together with her numerous other career highlights, such as scoring interviews with JFK Jr., Mr and Mrs Jon Benet, and the Runaway Bride), also consider these two incidents that highlight her journalistic qualifications:

November 15, 2005

Kazakh Foreign Ministry's Next Target: The New York Post

NY post kazakhstan

October 28, 2005

The mystery of "Official A"

Is this a big deal? Has anyone else mentioned this?

From page 8 of the Libby indictment:

21. On or about July 10 or July 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke to a senior official in the White House (“Official A”) who advised LIBBY of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. LIBBY was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.

Novak is not described previously in the indictment's chronology as having had a conversation with Scooter yet. "Official A" must be Rove, right? In other words, either Novak told Official A that Plame was a CIA agent, or Official A told Novak about her. If it's the latter, shouldn't Official A be similarly investigated for disclosing this information? If he's already been investigated and he told the truth, shouldn't he be indicted, too? If he's already been investigated and he lied (like Libby did), shouldn't he be indicted for making false statements (as Libby was)? Hmm.

October 24, 2005

Tonight, the role of Holly Golightly will be played by Michiko Kakutani

Three makes a trend--Michiko Kakutani, books editor for the NY Times, has continued to indulge her weird penchant for writing satirical reviews in the voice of a related fictional character.

Two years ago she wrote that insane review of Candace Bushnell's Trading Up in the form of a memo from Elle Woods (you know, Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde) to the book's main character. She doesn't always hit the nail on the head with this concept, but there are some great moments that suggest that she did really love that movie: "But I have to say, and I hope you won't think I'm being impertinent here, I really think you need to have a little more faith in people. You come across in ''Trading Up'' as this really cold, hard, cynical, manipulative -- you know, rhymes with witch. Maybe you just had it with all the creeps hitting on you and got depressed and jaded. Haven't you ever heard of Zoloft? Or maybe this is just a P.R. problem -- like did you authorize this biography or what?"

Then a few months back she reviewed Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision in the voice of as Holden Caufield. She loves good old HC, too, but she gets a little clumsy: "But hey, Dwight and his friends have spent the better part of their lives getting these chemical assists, and I've gotta say that Dwight (or this Mr. Kunkel, who turns out to be pretty great at channeling old Dwight's thoughts) does a swell job of describing what it's like to be high -- on weed or Ecstasy or this South American hallucinogen that makes everyone puke their guts out before transporting them to nirvana or whatever you want to call Drug Heaven. This drug Dwight takes in Ecuador gives a new meaning to stream-of-consciousness narration that old James Joyce certainly never, ever envisioned."

So today, she writes a review of Summer Crossing, Truman Capote's newly released first novel, in the voice of Holly Golightly: "Tru, Dear, There's Only One Holly. Moi." Not as creative a choice as her other wacky reviews, but she has a good time with it. Though perhaps Kakutani has trouble making those subtle character distinctions between Holly and Elle Woods: "As for her choice of men: well, darling, there's simply no accounting for taste. I've had my share of rats, certainly, even more superrats than I can count, but none of them were supersize, King Kong-type rats like Grady's. Her first love was this über-married preppie rat, who hotfoots it after the poor girl while his wife's pregnant, then the minute the child's born, can't wait to proclaim what a happy family man he is. I mean, yikes and double yikes!"

I can't stand Breakfast At Tiffany's, and this little game might start getting old soon. But hey, Michiko, whatever gets you through the day.

October 17, 2005

Ideas for future CBS News Film Festival

CBS News

With the recent release of Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney's study of Edward R. Murrow and his role in exposing the McCarthy hearings for the un-American activities that they were, I would like to offer some ideas for a future CBS News festival of film, titled something like "The Embattled Newsroom: CBS News and the Fight for Truth."

Good Night and Good Luck
Good Night, and Good Luck. CBS News team bitch slaps Sen. Joseph McCarthy on "See It Now"!

The Insider
The Insider. CBS News producer Lowell Bergman gets insider Jeffrey Wigand to tell all on "60 Minutes"!

Dan Rather biopic
What's the Frequency, Kenneth? CBS News anchor Dan Rather cultivates reputation of being sort of insane, then in his final year, blows it on a stupid forged document about Bush's Air National Guard service record!

Actually that last Dan Rather biopic hasn't been made yet, but we're sure it's coming.

October 15, 2005

Post Copyeditors Show Enormous Restraint, Part 2

A Pair of Aces

"A PAIR OF ACES"

October 14, 2005 -- Jeff Kesselman and Harvey Canter thought they'd never be able to afford a bigger apartment with the way Manhattan real-estate prices have skyrocketed - until The Post plopped $250,000 in their laps.

The retired teachers, lifelong friends and roommates, are the newest winners of a quarter of a million bucks in our fabulous $4 Million Post Poker Scratch n' Win - the game that delivers real cash, not broken promises.

-NY Post, October 14

I only imagine the original "Pair of Queens" headline got shot down in an editorial meeting.

Previously: Post Copyeditors Show Enormous Restraint

October 13, 2005

NYT devotes two stories in two days to Snowman t-shirt

snowman

He's Not Jolly, but Is He Sinister or Benign? (10/11/2005)
Cracking the Code in Hip-Hop (10/13/2005)

Looks like one of the section editors missed the weekly staff meeting.

[tx for sending in the 2nd one, t-rock]

Update: Gawker points out that the story ran in 2003, too.

October 12, 2005

Oh my god I totally hate my mom

The Washington Post today analyzes the therapeutic nature, and occasional traumas, of posting your most personal thoughts on a website that is accessible to everybody in the entire universe. Yes, there are some people out there who do blogs chronicling their daily activities, the fights they get in with their boss, their intimate and gruesome medical procedures, their romantic developments, and, in the case of teenage girls, how much they totally cannot STAND their mothers. For some reason, cat wallpaper figures into many such blogs.

In a nice meta-touch, the Post uses Technorati to link to a list of blogs that link to the article, many of which fall into the aforementioned personal diary category.

Of course, the article also mentions a number of hospitals that have found that very sick people find comfort and community in sharing their experiences with other distant people who are going through similar treatments. There is certainly value in using the internet to find these other people.

But people. This is the internet. The whole world is reading your diary. The WaPo article says, "Some bloggers are unprepared for the attention and don't realize that what seems to be a disposable medium is anything but." If you think back through your life, there are probably at least a few people out there you might not want to know about how you made out with your ex-girlfriend in her boyfriend's car, or that you've been really depressed about your future lately, or the raging party you're having next weekend.

And: your parents can read your blog.

So even if you might think you want to read about the predilections, favorite ice cream flavors, hypothetical baby names, drinking stories, freaky dreams, illegal fetishes, suicide attempts, and emoticons of Emily, ADM, and I, sorry. You're stuck with ugly celebrity pictures and posts about TV. - Amy

And people, seriously, don't write about your job on your blog. The first 8 zillion people who got fired for bitching about their bosses might have gotten some sympathy, but that time is over. As hard as it is for Amy to not talk about her nights of undercover crimefighting and for me to never mention the long-running network soap opera that I write for, we realize that just like your parents: your boss can read your blog too. (ps - my favorite ice cream is butter pecan.) - Emily

October 10, 2005

Wire services agree: New Orleans police have "stepped it up a notch"

Reuters: New Orleans police vow crackdown as crime picks up

Related:

AP: Two New Orleans police officers repeatedly punched a 64-year-old man accused of public intoxication, and another city officer assaulted an Associated Press Television News producer as a cameraman taped the confrontations.

nola police

ap guy gets beat up by cops

I guess that trip to Vegas didn't really do the trick.

September 8, 2005

Rebuilding New Orleans

Now that those affected by Katrina are mostly either staying somewhere safe or dead, media attention is turning to long-term recovery. Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Will people ever want to live there again? And some people are asking what I think is the real question here: what the hell are hundreds of thousands of evacuated people with no home, no job, and no money going to do for the next 6 months to a year while everybody discusses the first two questions?

Clearly, the government can't support the entire populations of New Orleans, Gulfport, Biloxi, and all those other ruined cities, for months on end. The evacuees' self-preservation instincts and the desire not to live in a football stadium in Houston has kicked in, and as of yesterday only about 3,000 evacuees are still in the Astrodome. Other shelters also report greatly reduced populations. Those $2,000 debit cards being given to evacuees should help more people get to other cities to stay with family and friends.

But wherever the evacuees go, before too long they'll have to find more permanent places to live, and jobs. The instantaneous unemployment of hundreds of thousands of people in all sectors is a huge deal, unlike anything our country has faced in recent years. New Orleans was a city with a lot of serious social problems before the hurricane hit, but social problems can be fixed through careful policymaking, time, and money. In the late '70's, New York was going down the tubes; today it still has some big problems, but it's a totally changed city.

A history of poverty is no reason for not rebuilding a damaged city, like Jack Shafer suggests on Slate. It's a reason to rebuild it into a better city, as David Brooks writes in the NYT. There's also a fantastic piece in the New York Press, which is usually full of reactionary garbage, about how the rebuilding of New Orleans "is an unprecedented chance to create something new and vital, to sow equality where there has been segregation, democracy where there has been corruption, and beauty where there has been ugliness."

Also, New Orleans is one of our country's most important ports. You can't just move the place where the Mississippi River ends. We're still a country largely dependent on shipping, both for imports and exports, and that's not going to change.

Another silver lining: the new request that Bush sent Congress for $51 billion in relief money is the start of a larger reassessment of some of the administration's biggest goals in social and economic policy. The Washington Post reports, "The disaster has forced the Republicans to temporarily set aside a planned fall agenda of tax relief, spending cuts and retirement savings initiatives, as well as to react to public outrage over the government's slow response to the crisis." Some of those spending cuts were to be for Medicaid, which is now where many evacuees will probably get their healthcare coverage for awhile. Looks like the plan to gut our government's social programs has been derailed, maybe for the next three years.

September 5, 2005

Go, journalists, go +

Some of the most impressive and diligent responders to the Katrina disaster this week have been our journalists. There's been some great work by TV journalists like Ted Koppel, Anderson Cooper, Tim Russert, hell, even Tucker Carlson, who seems to have gone through a dramatic awakening and has lately been showing up on camera in a dirty shirt with matted, greasy hair, ranting about "the shelter from hell" and the dead bodies piling up on the streets.

The media blew it so often during the start of the Iraq war and in covering the expanding scope of the Bush doctrine, so it's extra gratifying to see them getting scrappy and feisty again, demanding answers of government officials with questions like "Why haven't people been evacuated? Why are people dying in there?", asking Michael Chertoff how the government could possibly have been surprised by the flooding that has killed thousands of people, asking the FEMA Under Secretary "Don't you guys watch television?" and asking LA Senators exactly who they are angry at when they see bodies being eaten by rats on the street.

It's been especially great this week, when we haven't had much to be proud of in this country, to see our media standing up to the government administration that they rolled over for again and again over the last few years.

I don't know if any of the fire burning within the little bow-tied soul of Tucker Carlson is going to survive after he leaves the Gulf coast, but I sure hope it does. The administration is probably going to try hard to shift media attention away from the botched evacuation and needless deaths of innocent people (the disaster they are responsible for) to infrastructure recovery efforts in the flooded city of New Orleans and all the other wiped out cities (the disaster they have less direct responsiblity for.) It will be up to our journalists to keep asking the hard questions.

UPDATE: Here's a first-person account from a Reuters photographer who was in New Orleans from two days before the hurricane hit until the weekend, who recounts how dangerous the city was for anyone perceived as a part of the establishment, and also how desperate some evacuees were to get the attention of the media.

September 2, 2005

When Early Print Deadlines Make You Look Like An Asshole

Us Weekly Video Music Award Coverage
September 12 edition:

"With the hurricane, I didn't want to do anything too extreme," [Gwen Stefani] told Us of her high, sleek ponytail."
Best '60s Hair: Gwen Stefani

"When a flash of rain threatened to soak the event, partiers dashed to the hotel lobby for cover. But five minutes later, everyone was back outside busting a move!"
Jessica Alba Parties with Us!

"6:30 PM: As Hurricane Katrina whips up 75 mph winds, Diddy gambles and drinks champagne in his dressing room. "Turn up the music!" he says. "No one's going anywhere." Meanwhile, Missy Elliott tells Us, "I spent the hurricane at my crib. Everybody was drinking Bacardi!"
What You Didn't See

August 8, 2005

Smackfest smackdown

As a part of his ongoing bust-up of the corrupt music industry, Eliot Spitzer has today reached a settlement with NY radio station Hot 97 , in which the radio station has agreed to stop its "Smackfest" promotion, in which female listeners competitively slapped each other and were awarded prizes. Hot 97 will also pay a fine of $240,000. Attorney General's office press release is here.

The payola case against Sony BMG and other big record companies was perhaps a clearer crime than the Smackfest, because the Smackfest participants were willing adults who voluntarily agreed to slap and be slapped so that they might have a chance to win up to $5,000 or score some Usher tickets. But NY State has laws against promoting combative sports (pretty much any sport where people beat the crap out of each other other than boxing and martial arts,) and City Council member John C. Liu said that Hot 97 had "broken the public trust by profiting from hate and violence."

So now the station has to promote anti-domestic violence campaigns and give a part of its settlement to Safe Horizon, much like Sony BMG has to give its $10 million settlement to music education nonprofits.

Of course, Hot 97 has gotten in trouble lately for other hijinks, such as their infamous ode to poor taste, "Tsunami Song" that used the tune of "We Are the World" and a lot of cruel racial slurs to jeer at the people killed in December's tsunami.

Sure, it's nice to see morning-show radio hosts, generally some of the more vulgar and offensive people in media, get the shaft, and pay-to-play policies in the music industry are unfair. But these days Spitzer's office seems awfully bent on going after the big splashy cases that regular people (i.e. voters) will respond to. Almost seems like it's all a part of somebody's election campaign or something.

August 5, 2005

We're back

After a long, lonely week of work travel, vacation, and ADM suffering a total communications-device meltdown, we're back. Nice to see you.

Here's a photo of Russian Navy spokeman Igor Dygalo, speaking about the stranded Russian mini-sub that will hopefully very soon be triumphantly pulled up from the ocean floor by a U.S. remote operated vehicle "Super Scorpio." Or a British one. Looks like Igor has such empathy for his endangered sailors that he has acquired a sympathy frozen-and-dead demeanor.

Russian Navy spokesman

We hope the rescue missions get there in time, and we hope someone gives Igor a hug.

July 28, 2005

Lessons in Copyediting

Oh, A.P. How you disappoint us with your headlines. So many words! No "s" replaced with a dollar sign! What are your copyeditors thinking when they run this headline over potentially the greatest tabloid gross-out story ever?

Yonkers man who was being eaten by maggots dies after he is taken from filthy home

I'm sure our readership can come up with something better. Please feel free to submit your own headlines. We'll be accepting submissions for the rest of the day.

Extra points if you work in a $.

July 27, 2005

Daily News discovers the TUSH

A piece in today's Daily News is oddly reminiscent of our musings from 2 weeks ago about what this year's Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit might be. Not that we want to use any fightin' words with author Breanne L. Heldman like "rip off" but, well, here's what the Daily News has to say about "summer anthems":

"We're talking, of course, about summer anthems, and such hits as 'The Thong Song' and 'Hot in Herre.' As the summer of 2005 heats up, we're left to wonder: What could possibly be in store for us next? Summer anthems provide the soundtracks to our scorching days and sweltering nights. They permeate, well, everything. They blast from the booming systems in Jeeps to transistors at the beach to makeshift stereos on folding tables at neighborhood throw-downs."

So what tunes does the Daily News think are contenders for this year's TUSH?

"Today, an album like the Black Eyed Peas' 'Ele-phunk' seems entirely primed for the clothes-shedding months... The group's single 'Don't Phunk With My Heart' has been at the top of the radio charts ever since the temperature soared. But the field of competitors for 2005 anthem champ is crowded. Artists such as Gwen Stefani, the Ying Yang Twins and summer specialist Will Smith each have entries vying for this year's title."

Then they go on to list the TUSH of a number of summers past (including of course "Hot in Herre" and "Crazy in Love", the songs that first inspired us to follow the TUSH,) going back as far as "Faith" by George Michael from 1987.

Maybe Breanne and I are just listening to the same radio stations/Jeeps, but we've come to strikingly similar conclusions.

July 13, 2005

Headlines can be misleading

An AP headline from yesterday afternoon:

"Bush Calls for Jailed Reporter's Release"

Of course, he doesn't mean that reporter. He means an Iranian reporter: "President Bush called Tuesday for the release of an Iranian journalist jailed for writing articles linking government officials to murder. Akbar Ganji was sentenced to six years in jail in 2000 after his investigation of the murders of five dissidents by Intelligence Ministry agents. Ganji was convicted on charges that the articles he wrote violated the law.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement that Ganji has been jailed for his political views and that Bush calls on Iran to release Ganji 'immediately and unconditionally.'

'Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.'"

But Judith Miller? She can rot. Rove? No comment.

July 2, 2005

Looking (out) for Deep Throat

mark felt

In case you missed this in the last few sentences of a WP article the other day:

Woodward writes he finally called his old source, who was now living with his daughter, Joan. In the course of their conversation, Felt said -- among other things that cast doubt on his mental state -- that he had no memory of being convicted or pardoned.

The next month, Woodward went to see him. Felt knew they had met, Woodward writes, but appeared to remember nothing about their Watergate transactions:

"Did he recall being my source, the one that was called Deep Throat? He said he didn't know."

Says his daughter, who pushed him to come forward:

...We could make at least enough money to pay some bills, like the debt I've run up for the kids' education. Let's do it for the family.

Related: Deep Throat film rights bought by Hanks' firm

June 28, 2005

Tonight: more non-information on Iraq

Latest poll on war opinion

To attempt to counteract the free-fall in national support for the war in Iraq, Bush will give a speech on TV tonight to try to make it look like we know what we're doing over there, and that progress is being made. Considering that a few U.S. troops are dying every day lately, and daily attacks by insurgents make the whole country look like a chaotic fireball of death (Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, recently told U.S. lawmakers, "I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago") the hopeful element of the speech will likely be full of total fantasy. Bush will probably point to the gritty determination of the free Iraqis as the solution to all the country's problems, or maybe it will be the unstoppable force of democracy, or maybe it will be magic, or unicorns!

Regardless of the fictions we may be told about how great things are going in Iraq, we'll definitely hear a lot about the tremendous sacrifice of our soldiers over there. And of their parents who "give up their children" to a greater cause of freedom, as though the parents themselves did something to preserve the American way. This kind of language about parents giving their children to the military, as though they were tires being donated as part of a USO rubber drive, has always bugged me. Christopher Hitchens wrote a great vitriolic piece for Slate about this very thing.

He starts off like this: "Oh, Jesus, another barrage of emotional tripe about sons. From every quarter, one hears that the willingness to donate a male child is the only test of integrity. It's as if some primitive Spartan or Roman ritual had been reconstituted, though this time without the patriotism or the physical bravery. Worse, it has a gruesome echo of the human sacrifice that underpins Christian fundamentalism."

And it just gets angrier from there. If we really do respect the work and sacrifice that our military is doing in Iraq, it's time to respect each soldier's decision to join the military of his or her own free will. Their parents didn't "send" them anywhere. Also, as Hitchens points out, the war would not be somehow legitimized if (God help us) one of the Bush twins were over there fighting. "Do I know a single anti-war person who would be more persuaded if one of the Bush girls joined up? Do you? Can you imagine what would be said about such a cheap emotional stunt?"

There will probably be a number of cheap emotional stunts on tonight's broadcast. Though these will probably not involve blowing Jenna's legs off.

June 15, 2005

Public Servants

al franken camo

Al Franken's been making some noise lately about running for public office - he's bought a house in Minnesota and is talking about broadcasting his radio show from there. Today's New YorkTimes examines the possibility of a future Senator Franken, but leaves one important detail out. If Franken does run for public office, it will mean the end of The O'Franken Factor.

Air America has been picking up speed of late, but the company's future is far from assured. What would the loss of their highest profile show mean?

Well, it means you have to start cultivating another big name liberal - say, maybe, former public servant Jerry Springer. In April, Springer's weekday call-in show went national on Air America, in the desirable 9am - 12pm weekday time slot. And, to be frank, he's a hell of a lot more listenable and engaging than Al Franken.

But what about speculation that Springer's new non-tawdry talk show format is merely a stepping stone for his own political future? As we've mentioned before, Springer has talked about running for Governor of Ohio, although he tends to hem and haw when asked directly about it. Can Air America afford to build up its biggest draws only to lose them to political office - or does serving as a political breeding ground go further toward achieving their goals than sustaining a liberal media voice?

Franken and Springer's decisions will be interesting ones. As a media superstar, Springer wielded far more public power than he ever did as mayor of Cinncinnati. What's the responsible path for a politically-minded public figure? Use the power of public opinion, or the power of public office?

June 14, 2005

NYC Reacts (Similarly) to the Jackson Verdict

ny post jackson headline

nydn jackson headline

June 6, 2005

Crying at work

voinovich chokes up

In a great example of what sets the New York Times apart from other newspapers, their profile of George Voinovich today examines the Republican Senator's recent appeal as part of the discussion of Bolton's nomination to the UN, during which he got a little choked up. He is the lone Republican to speak out against Bolton on the Senate floor, passionately asking his colleagues "to understand that this appointment is very, very important to our country." The article looks at Voinovich's record and other times that he has diverged from party lines, and it addresses media's response to his teary speech (including a conservative talk radio host, who said "That man is a clown, a crying clown.")

But then the Times goes one step further, and includes a list of every other time that Voinovich has gotten teary throughout his career as a politician. "His tendency to cry, he said, developed in the years after his daughter Molly, 9, the youngest of his four children, was killed in a car crash in 1979. Mr. Voinovich first drew attention for the inclination more than a decade ago when, as governor, he cried while responding to reporters' questions about the consequences of welfare cuts. He has appeared to cry or hold back tears in public many times since then. In the interview last week, his eyes moistened as he talked about his daughter's death, about Pope John Paul II's visit to Israel, and again about his own work in the Senate."

Norman K. says, "Crying because you lose your daughter is one thing, and if he did that in public, more power to him for showing people can have feelings. But crying over budget cuts is just weird. Get a hold of yourself, man."

Judging from the testimony of former employees about what Bolton was like as a boss, Voinovich wasn't the first person he drove to tears.

May 31, 2005

Man as Machine

One of my least favorite columnists in the New York Times, John Tierney, has been writing lately about why men still more or less run the world when women today have unprecedented access to education, networking, and positions of power. His op-ed from last week concluded that women have the capability and opportunity to reach top positions in their fields of work, but many of them choose not to, deciding instead to have some semblance of a normal life outside of work. Men, on the other hand, are likely to see their jobs as a winner-takes-all tournament, so they are more likely to sacrifice everything to get to the top. And he says they like competition more than women do.

Today's op-ed looks at Scrabble tournaments rather than the corporate world. Tierney notices that, while women outnumber men in Scrabble clubs, the winners and top 50 players are almost exclusively men. Are women just not as good at anagrams as men are?

No, he suggests, men are just more willing to commit themselves totally to being the best Scrabble players in the world. They want to be Scrabble machines. "You need more than intelligence and a good vocabulary to become champion. You have to spend hours a day learning words like 'khat,' doing computerized drills and memorizing long lists of letter combinations, called alphagrams, that can form high-scoring seven-letter words." Women seem to be less willing to do this extra time-consuming work to edge up another ranking or two in the Scrabble champion hierarchy.

Tierney's suggestion for why men will sacrifice everything to reach the top is the same old tired evolutionary explanation we've heard a million times: successful men do better with the ladies. Men at the top will be more likely to attract both long-term partners and women for quick flings, so they pass on their genes more, so many of us are descended from these Scrabble champs who supposedly get laid a lot. Men stand to gain or lose more in an evolutionary sense by whether or not they win the Scrabble tournament, while women will probably still find someone regardless.

Nothing new here. Related to Tierney's ideas, I have some theories of my own about the male drive for expertise (for example, why men are more likely than women to have extensive record collections of '70's German art rock, all on vinyl, or have enclyclopedic knowledge of Swedish new wave films,) which I will admit I developed mostly while reading White Noise in a college English class. But what I find really interesting is the similarly single-minded, machine-like attitude that men seem to take to arenas of life that are in no way competitive in nature, and that are relatively new areas of participation for men, such as spa treatments.

Another Times article today says that more and more men are going to spas, especially as part of business trips, and they aren't going to relax. No way. One businessman goes to a fancy spa in Miami on his way home from business trips, and describes his treatments like this: "I go in there for a lube job and oil change. I don't go to relax; I go to get rehabilitated."

Spas that cater to men have made a few changes to make men feel more comfortable in territory that is traditionally as female as it gets, by installing TVs in the locker rooms so the naked men could have something to look at besides other naked men, but it seems that as long as the treatments sound like automotive services, men love them. A 50 year-old vice president of a mortgage company in Illinois had the "golf performance treatment" at a hotel while there recently with about 20 colleagues, mostly male, and their spouses. "I'd say everyone of them got some type of spa treatment," he said, and some, including himself, had multiple visits. "I don't mean to sound like a chick," he said. "It just feels so good."

Maybe the male striving for perfection in professional competition, intellectual capacity, and reduced pore size all come down to the quest for reproductive advantage, I don't know. But it would be nice if the corporate world was structured so that talented and ambitious women were encouraged to achieve their full potential without the pointless winner-takes-all mentality that encourages us to spend our weekends memorizing alphagrams. Then maybe we could achieve the mythical work/life balance, and rich businessmen would feel more comforable getting a facial without talking about it like it's a car tune-up.

May 17, 2005

24: [wink]

Now that 24 has re-entered the honeymoon phase with its devoted and long-suffering viewers, its producers have also decided to start adding a few in-jokes into the dialogue. On last night's episode, did you catch the little Dennis Haysbert/President Palmer Allstate ad reference? Each of the Allstate ads ends with Haysbert looking presidentially into the camera and asking, "Are you in good hands?"

As the ambitious, grouchy Speaker of the House confronted Mike over the newly sworn-in President, and his questionable choice of selecting former President Palmer as his chief advisor during the national crisis they're embroiled in, rather than turning to his own staff, this is what the Speaker says: "If [the President] is not going to ask his cabinet for help, or the leadership, it comforts me somewhat to know that he's in good hands."

Little in-jokes like this serve mostly to make loyal viewers feel acknowledged and appreciated by the writers of the show, and it's espeically smart to use them when you've just spent the last two or three months making these loyal fans sit through tedious episodes, wondering why the hell they still bother.

I would also like to take this moment to recognize the producers of 24 for following exactly the same pattern of story development and quality that they have done for the previous three seasons: a great opening, a generally strong first third of the season, a mid-season slump of implausible story developments and way too much talking, during which ADM stops watching the show, and then a final 3 or 4 episodes in which all the good ideas that they have been hoarding all season get crammed into a few hours, and the fans decide they love the show all over again, despite everything.

One more thing. The return of Mia Kirshner--again. Hers is possibly the most uniformly strong character on the show, because she is behind or connected to just about every seriously evil plot of the show's history (blowing up a passenger plane; setting in motion the plot to assassinate then-Senator Palmer; slipping President Palmer some trans-dermal poison; helping to set off a nuclear warhead within the U.S.; next--who knows, but it will definitely be evil.) She perfectly combines two of the best character types for a show like 24: sexy spy and vicious assassin. Suck on that, The L Word !

Post Copyeditors Show Enormous Restraint

Since you know they've been itching to use this one since the day the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Holy Shiite!

May 16, 2005

Sabrina Harmon: Soldier. Lesbian. Yoo-Hoo Drinker.

Sabrina drinks YooHoo!

At today's trial of Sabrina Harmon, who you may remember from the Abu Ghraib Photo Album, Sabrina did not speak in her own defense. But her lover, Kelly Bryant, did get on the stand and read from a letter that Sabrina wrote to her from Iraq in October 2003. "At first I thought it was funny, but these people are going too far," Sabrina wrote in her letter. "Kelly, it's awful. I thought I could handle anything, but I was wrong."

Unfortunately for Sabrina, it turns out that her letter was written a few days before the first instance of abuse that she is accused of committing.

Here's a picture of Sabrina not thinking it's funny.

Here's one of her not being able to handle it.

Wonkette has a funny bit on Harmon's trial and spelling skills.

April 28, 2005

Alternative radio finally dies

You may remember that time in the early 1990's when suddenly a totally new style of music magically came into existence: "alternative". Even though bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction had been around for years, fans had been suffering in silence without a marketing term to describe the music they liked. Once Nirvana got really big and formerly underground music became fashionable, many radio stations jumped on the trend, and changed their formats from regular/classic rock to "alternative," a name that was instantly made meaningless when the music it described ceased to be an actual alternative to anything.

Anyway, at long last, those days are over: the Times reports that the alternative format is dead dead dead. Formerly big stations in big urban markets are changing their formats from "alternative" (it's even harder to imagine what kind of music that means anymore, especially since downloading has erased the boundaries between mainstream and indepedent music) to formats like R&B, '80's, or talk radio.

Radio listenership among young rock fans has also dropped lately. The article says, "The share of the 18-to-34 age group that is tuning in to alternative stations has shrunk by more than 20 percent in the last five years, according to Arbitron, while stations playing rap and R&B or Spanish-language formats have enjoyed an expanding audience."

Another potential reason for decline in listeners is rock stations' decision to stop even trying to appeal to women. A former radio programmer and current VP at MTV describes how this marketing decision seemed to make sense at the time for stations that play rock music, but ultimately hurt them: "When you listen to alternative stations do their 90's flashback weekends, you can hear something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden to something as silly and quirky as Harvey Danger and Presidents of the United States of America. When [your listeners] become 65-75 percent guys, you're leaving a huge audience on the table." I'm not sure what the implication is here about what kind of music women like, but I can say from personal experience that it is not Harvey Danger.

Of course, another obvious explanation is that young people who are into new music aren't listening to traditional radio anymore; they're either listening to free internet radio or their iPods.

But I'd like to think that Americans have stopped believing that listening to Nine Inch Nails or Beck is a tribute to underground music, or a rebellion against mainstream music produced by entertainment multinationals. The word "alternative" stopped meaning anything as soon as it was used to describe Pearl Jam, whose first album sold 11 million copies and saturated radio and MTV. There have always been and always will be loads of bands that are genuinely underground, but I doubt any radio stations are going to start adding them to their playlists any time soon.

A few stations that have avoided the whole "alternative" trend by continuing to play truly alternative music all along: WFMU in Jersey City, and pretty much any college radio station (WZBC and WUNH being good examples.)

April 25, 2005

Maybe I'm Starting to Like that amNewYork paper after all

Ratzinger with devil horns

I apologize for the blurry image, but this caption from today's amNewYork reads:

The editors of amNewYork didn't notice the bizarre optical illusion in this AP photo of Pope Benedict XVI, which ran in Friday's issue. We apologize if the photo offended any readers.

...Although there were approximately 120,000 other photos that the amNewYork photo editors could have selected where the Pope does not have devil horns. By the way, this photo is even more effective in color:

Ratzinger with devil horns color

April 11, 2005

Who's Older?™: Gutsy Women Media Pioneers Edition

Today's installment of Who's Older?™ asks you to consider two celebrities who have broken boundaries for women in popular media, one by being a great and incredibly successful singer and performer of the American stage and screen, and then going on to direct and star in some of the most agonizingly wretched movies ever made; and the other by infiltrating and exposing abusive and sexist institutions, inspiring generations of feminists, and continuing to this day to look amazing in leather pants.

Barbra Streisand and Gloria Steinem are both fascinating and often perplexing figures in the media, and much could be written about each of them and their evolving careers. But today, we only care about their relative ages.


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