Tag Archives: New York Times

Really, New York Times?

The New York Times prints unfounded, vicious gossip about Anthony Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin.

Sipping sparkling water by the bustling patios of Bryant Park on Wednesday afternoon, the young women touched on the usual topics of lunchtime gossip: men, work, relationships.

And it’s apparently Upper Middle Class gossip. The Times does understand that Weiner is running for mayor of all of New York City, not just the Upper East Side, right? Is print in such trouble that it can’t afford to spring for a cab to Harlem?

As her companions nodded, Noebeth Toro, 30, said she could understand how Ms. Abedin chose to stand by her husband in 2011 when he was first discovered sending explicit messages to women online. But she was puzzled to see her beside Mr. Weiner once again on Tuesday, defending him despite new revelations of more recent online encounters.

“Fool me once, shame on you,” Ms. Toro said. “Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Her colleague, Jessica Marrocco, 26, suspected another motive.

“I think she’s really just doing it for the publicity, and she wants a husband in office,” she said. “Because no self-respecting woman would stand up there and say that something like that’s O.K.”

Abedin, I’m sure, appreciates that Toro “understands” why she did something that’s none of Toro’s business. Meanwhile, her friend Marrocco accuses a perfect stranger of being a shameless attention seeker. And she comes to the conclusion thanks to sparkling water and the fizzy substance inside her head.


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David Brooks on Edward Snowden…

David Brooks impresses me with his piece in The New York Times on Edward Snowden. I don’t agree with a lot of his conclusions, but I like that Brooks doesn’t leap at the chance to use Snowden as a blunt instrument against President Obama, as some conservatives are doing.

More importantly, I think, is that Brooks takes aim at modern libertarianism, which has often been a strange bedfellow with today’s Republican party.

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

This lens makes you more likely to share the distinct strands of libertarianism that are blossoming in this fragmenting age: the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme. You’re more likely to donate to the Ron Paul for president campaign, as Snowden did.

Brooks does not overtly condemn the Tea Party but I can’t help but think he has them in mind when he writes the following:

But Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.



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Spider-Man and Supermodels…

From the New York Times article about the legal battle between Julie Taymor and the producers of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.

A courtroom battle would likely force Bono to respond to the e-mail claims that in January 2011, soon after “Spider-Man” actors were injured because of technical problems and when the musical was a laughingstock on late-night television, he showed up at a creative meeting with supermodels in tow, too drunk on beer to contribute usefully.

Oh, Bono, I love you. Certainly more than the use of the term “in tow” to describe actual human beings. “In tow” is defined as “to draw or pull behind by a chain or line” — usually in reference to a barge or a trailer. Also, supermodels are defined as “highly paid fashion models with a worldwide reputation.” You know, someone you might refer to by name. Random, unnamed, tall, thin women hanging onto an aging pop star are more the Wonder Twins of supermodels.

It’s possible actual supermodels were in attendance — although that would require their parents or guardians explaining to them who the old drunk guy was and why it would be cool to hang out with him during meetings for a poorly conceived Broadway musical when they could be making millions on an assignment.



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Selective Rational Self-Interest…

Charles M. Blow of the New York Times has an interesting piece about the “politics of envy.”

In his New Hampshire victory speech on Tuesday, Romney lambasted his Republican opponents (who have raised real issues about his role at the private equity firm Bain Capital) for following the lead of President Obama, whom he described as a leader who divides us “with the bitter politics of envy.”

The next day on “Today” on NBC, Romney defended the statement, rejecting the notion that there were questions about Wall Street behavior, saying the whole discussion was about class warfare. He even went so far as to suggest that such talk shouldn’t even be openly entertained. When the interviewer asked, “Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?” Romney responded, “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.”

Quiet rooms? This isn’t a discussion of Keats in the sumptuously furnished salon of the Earl of Stuffypants. This is a serious issue. As Blow points out, the problem is that we’ve been “too quiet for too long” and I agree with him that if the Occupy movement deserves any praise, it should be for making these issues public and making certain people very uncomfortable.

And it is these people’s “discomfort” that this is all about. They rail about “class warfare” when very real concerns regarding income disparity are raised but are quick to warn voters about the insidious spread of socialism. Please note that the former concern is based on the history of the past 30 years. The latter is based on science fiction.

It’s not that they don’t want to fight a class war. They just don’t want the other classes to defend themselves. Shut up and take it while wondering what the hell happened in the “your quiet room” — before your friends at the bank foreclose on it.

I’ve stated before that Republicans these days sound more like Randians than anything else. However, I’m struck by the level of inconsistency in their beliefs. They have no interest in sacrificing for you but believe you should sacrifice for them. Basically, “one for all and all for us.”

The issue people have with Mitt Romney and Bain Capital (really, who names a company “Bain”?) is not based in “envy” so much as the simple fact that the system didn’t work for them. Should the 1,750 people who lost their jobs at Georgetown Steel applaud Romney’s business acumen in simultaneously doubling Bain’s investment even though Georgetown Steel eventually went bankrupt? The commonly trotted out excuse that Romney and his supporters give is that Bain’s actions “saved” other jobs, but this doesn’t mean much for the people whose jobs weren’t saved. Isn’t that “cold comfort” closer to the “socialism” Republicans revile? Putting the interests of others and of the “corporate state” over their own? How is that in their “rational self-interest”?

I’ve been in the position of having to fire employees whose jobs were being sent elsewhere. The HR talking points I was given had a section regarding how this “decision was not taken lightly” and would “benefit the company as a whole, by allowing it to remain competitive.” I refused to repeat this nonsense — pointing out that even if these statements were true, why should the terminated employee care? The only reason to try to reassure him that the company doesn’t “like” firing people is to avoid negative PR and only serves the company’s interests — from the employee’s perspective, the motivation doesn’t change the end result. And why should he care about the health of the “corporate state” once he’s been expelled from it? It’s not like he has stock in the company that will generate revenue for him even if he no longer earns a salary.

Hostess pulled the same shenanigans when it announced its latest bankruptcy.

In a court document explaining how the company got into this mess, Hostess largely pins the blame on its labor costs, as well as increased competition, poor financial performance and excessive levels of debt. Hostess also says the company didn’t do enough to fix itself during a lengthy prior stint in bankruptcy protection less than a decade ago.

Hostess said it does not “have a competitive cost structure and cannot achieve viability on a long-term sustainable basis,” according to its court filing. ”The company obtained only modest concessions relating to health and welfare, as well as inflexible requirements under their collective bargaining agreements relating to work rules,” Hostess says in its court filing, which says the company and its employees have 372 separate labor agreements.

“Modest concessions” relating to “health and welfare”? So, apparently it’s the unionized labor’s fault for not allowing management to create a more efficient plantation-style model in which they sacrifice for the company’s long-term profit and benefit. Their employees’ well-being seems to mean little to the company so why should the employees be all that concerned about the company?

Why is rational self-interest so selective in this country? Millionaires paying more in taxes is an unfair burden. It’s wealth redistribution. But unionized labor — even teachers — must “sacrifice” for the sake of the nation.

Is this an example of “some animals are more equal than others”? Whatever the bill of good that’s been sold, Americans are slowly realizing it’s a con. We are either all in this together or we’re not. If “sacrifice” leads to “socialism,” then it’s in working-class people’s best interests to advocate for better pay and better benefits (by “better,” I refer to the distant past prior to the Reagan administration). If you’re one of the countless Americans who don’t have health insurance, you are under no obligation to continue to sacrifice for the corporations that need to deprive you of those benefits to “remain competitive.”

Newt Gingrich argues that raising the minimum wage would lead to unemployment. Suppose he’s right (and I don’t) and companies would have to get by with 10% less employees if working-class wages are increased. Isn’t Comrade Gingrich advocating for a socialist system where you take a pay cut for the benefit of your coworkers and the “state” (your company)? If this is a “merit” society, as Romney likes to say before adding more millions to his children and grandchildren’s trust funds, then the best employees would survive the resulting cuts and have more to show for it. Would the company’s profits suffer if the workforce decreased? Perhaps. But if you’re making minimum wage, the minimum you should care is whether the company keeps the doors open.

It does make you wonder who the real “socialists” are in this country. And why the average Americans fear the “public state” more than the “corporate state,” which as far more power over their lives these days.


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Posted by on January 14, 2012 in Capitalism, Pop Life


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From the New York Times: “Amazon’s Jungle Logic”…

An op-ed in The New York Times discusses Amazon’s holiday assault on brick-and-mortar bookstores. It’s a Scrooge left hook, followed by a Grinch uppercut, leading to a Mr. Potter TKO.

I first heard of Amazon’s new “promotion” from my bookseller daughter, Emily, in an e-mail with the subject line “Can You Hear Me Screaming in Brooklyn?” According to a link Emily supplied, Amazon was encouraging customers to go into brick-and-mortar bookstores on Saturday, and use its price-check app (which allows shoppers in physical stores to see, by scanning a bar code, if they can get a better price online) to earn a 5 percent credit on Amazon purchases (up to $5 per item, and up to three items).       

This promotion has received a good deal of negative press. Chamber of Commerce of Eastern  Connecticut President Tony Sheridan called it a “new low” and a “slap in the face to all small business owners.” Sam Hall at Amazon disagreed.

“We are enabling customers to use the Price Check app to share  in-store prices while they search for the best deals,” (Hall said). “This is a powerful  opportunity for customers to get involved and ensures Amazon customers  get the best possible prices.”

It’s not new for a store to offer to match or even beat the price offered at a competitor, but those are usually fairer battles. Small retailers aren’t in the same weight class as Amazon, which like Wal-Mart can afford to lower prices for the time it takes to crush the competition.

Another example of the app in action:

Valerie Lewis opened the slender book, cradled it lovingly in her hands and began to read a story about a bear who lost his hat. As co-owner of Hicklebee’s Books in Willow Glen, she has done this a thousand times.

Then Lewis turned the book over and allowed a visitor with an iPhone to scan the bar code using Amazon’s Price Check app. Within seconds, the Amazon price popped up: $9.59. “Let’s see what Hicklebee’s has it for,” Lewis said, then pointed to the amount imprinted on the book jacket: $15.99.

A clerk standing nearby was unable to resist mentioning the obvious — that Amazon would probably ship the book free and not charge any sales tax, further increasing its $6.40 price advantage over the venerable San Jose children’s bookstore.

Complaints in the press and on Facebook status message aside, I’m sure Amazon’s promotion wil be a succes. The U.S. consumer is the ultimate mob wife: She knows something’s up — it’s all a little suspicious — but she doesn’t ask questions.

I’m a Kindle user — I even read comics on an app these days — but in my younger and more vulnerable days, I haunted physical bookstores. My favorite was Gotham Books in Manhattan, which Katharine Hepburn described as the “greatest bookstore in New York and thus the world” (I think… the exact quote is on the bookmark you got when you bought a book there and all my books are currently in storage). I watched as my homes from home slowly closed one by one. Their replacements were the mammoth Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Books-A-Million, Book Hut, and so on. They had a wider selection but were antiseptic with employees who either didn’t have the time or the ablity to talk to you about a book you might want to purchase. There was little passion in those stores. Once we accepted that, we were bound to embrace Amazon, which is now intent on wiping out the remaining bookstores with the same cold ruthlessness as Michael Corleone eliminating the competing families in “The Godfather.”

This might be the path of the future but I guess I wonder what’s the rush? Amazon reminds me of the loathsome heir to a family fortune standing over his mother on her death bed, silently willing her to croak sooner rather than later. With its price-check app, Amazon now goes as far as to smother smaller retailers with a pillow.

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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Capitalism


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Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): It’s a Wonderful Lives…

Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): It’s a Wonderful Lives…

When “It Happened One Christmas,” a gender-bending take on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” debuted on ABC in 1977, the 1947 Frank Capra original with was rarely seen on TV. This soon changed in the 1980s when it became almost impossible to turn on your set in December and not stumble upon some portion of the film. As a result, I think it’s likely that those under 30 have never seen the remake.

That’s a shame because if you’re inclined to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” multiple times, there’s no harm in seeing this version at least once. It stars Marlo Thomas (“That Girl”) as Mary Bailey Hatch and Wayne Rogers (“M*A*S*H”) as George Hatch. Although she has the same name as Donna Reed’s character from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she’s basically playing the Jimmy Stewart character with Rogers serving as dutiful husband George.

Cloris Leachman plays Clara, Mary’s guardian angel, and Orson Welles (yes, Orson Welles) is the evil Mr. Potter. Welles is particularly fun to watch as one of the great screen villains.

The update remains set in the 1940s — requiring a bit of suspension of belief regarding Mary’s choices in life but whatever, this is a movie with an angel. The clip I’ve included is the part everyone knows — arguably even the few who’ve never seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”: Mary is delighted to discover that she’s returned to the reality she knows instead of the Wal-Mart at every stoplight nightmare she’d just witnessed. Reinforcing the Christ allusion is the fact that she has no reason to believe there’s a happy ending waiting for her. She’s even pleased when the police greet her with a warrant for her arrest. So what if she spends Christmas in the slammer, her mission has been accomplished… I guess. I mean, if she winds up in jail and her business fails, there’s nothing to stop Mr. Potter from moving on with his plans to turn Bedford Falls into a tacky Las Vegas or, simply, Las Vegas.

Fortunately, Mary’s friends and family bail her out — she’s too nice to fail. Wendell Jamieson pointed out in The New York Times that George (and his female doppelganger) would still have been liable for the colossal incompetence that led to the funds going missing in the first place. Shows you what Jamieson knew: He wrote this piece in 2008 around the time of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (i.e. “bank bailouts”). If you’ve read Andrew Sorkin’s “Too Big To Fail,” you’d know that there were apparently countless senile Uncle Billys handing avaricious Mr. Potters newspapers filled with money (or more specifically mortgages that were worth about as much as a newspaper). These guys are still in business somehow, which makes the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “It Happened One Christmas” sadly realistic.

“It Happened One Christmas” is not available on DVD and despite The Hallmark Channel finding time for “Lucky Christmas” on its holiday roster, there are no upcoming airings scheduled this year. You can see it at the Paley Center for Media in New York, which used to be the Museum of Television and Radio, where I practically lived during the late 1990s. It was renamed in 2007 to reflect its inclusion of Internet, mobile video, and podcasting and to also make me feel like a fossil.

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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in Pop Life, Social Commentary


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Turn on the Cash: After a Year, ‘Spider-Man’ Earns Its Weekly Keep…

My friend Mark and I saw “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” at its first preview performance a year ago. Aside from the widely reported technical difficulties — Act I ended prematurely with Spider-Man hanging out rather pathetically above the audience — the production itself lacked narrative coherence, logical characterization, oh.. and an ending. It was like reading the Clone Saga back in the ’90s while listening to U2 but less enjoyable.

A year later, has the “Spider-Man” musical joined the ranks of “Lestat” and “Carrie” as theatrical abominations remembered only by theater geeks like myself who reference the ill-fated productions as punchlines?

No, apparently, it’s a hit — pulling in as much as $300K per week and a record-breaking $2,070,195.60 this past week. And all despite cast members suffering near crippling injuries, despite at-first comical and then-infuriating delays of its official opening, despite replacing its director Julie Taymor with a below average 8 year old child (actually, that was probably an improvement), despite Bono and the Edge finding some more random songs between their couch cushions that failed to advance the plot — people kept coming. Perhaps just to say they did or maybe just to make fun of whatever was happening on stage. Basically, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” became the theatrical equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest and seeing a very expensive midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

You might wonder why I sound a bit peeved. After all, shouldn’t it please me that any Broadway musical is drawing audiences away from their HDTVs?

Well, I also saw another show the same week of the first “Spider-Man” preview. It was Kander and Ebb’s “The Scottsboro Boys” — a brilliant, challenging, thoroughly entertaining production that promptly closed on December 12, 2010. I concede that the timing is coincidental and “The Scottsboro Boys” and “Spider-Man” are essentially apples and oranges. Comic book heroes will always be more popular than tough explorations of the United States’ history of racism. But even if you believed an apple would go down easier than an orange, would you really choose a clearly rotten apple over the orange? Why did people go to see a show the knew was awful? If I’m generous, I can say that the show wasn’t awful, it was just being “refined.” However, how many of you would blow $200 for dinner at a restaurant where the chef is still figuring out the recipes?

What’s worse is that the producers of “Spider-Man” are not chastened by the bumpy road the show was on this past year. No, the free publicity the show received in the media as a result of its incompetence was far greater than what it would have received otherwise.

But now they are barreling ahead with the radio promotions and overtures to foreign news media, while focusing particularly on the idea of the current director, Philip William McKinley, to add material. “I want to tap the comic book roots and do a whole new issue of the show,” Mr. McKinley said. “A ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Issue 2012.’ And then ‘Issue 2013.’ ”

Mr. McKinley is confused. Spider-Man’s comic book roots were brilliantly conceived stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko that arrived on time each month without maiming anyone in the Marvel bullpen. What’s actually inspiring Mr. McKinley is the variant-cover, multiple “first issue,” gimmick after intelligence-insulting gimmick speculator boom that destroyed the comic book industry. I repeat: Destroyed. The. Comic. Book. Industry.

Now Mr. McKinley and his army of P.T. Barnums can bring such well-regarded business practices to Broadway.

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Pop Life


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Producer Explains Scrapping ‘Funny Girl’ —…

Producer Explains Scrapping ‘Funny Girl’ —…

I was disappointed to read this in The New York Times:

The Broadway producer Bob Boyett had never heard so much bad news in a single week: Four longtime investors in his shows had each backed out of his latest, a $12 million Broadway-bound revival of the hit 1964 musical “Funny Girl,” he said in an interview on Friday.

I am a big fan of “Funny Girl” (one of my favorite pastimes in my single days was to spend an evening listening to the original cast recording while whittling down my scotch supply) and would have enjoyed seeing it performed on Broadway. It is unlikely that some Transformers musical with a score from Soundgarden or something else offensive from the “South Park” creators will provide as compelling a reason for me to return to New York.

Reading this article, I can understand, if not necessarily agree with, some of the arguments for not moving forward, specifically the mainstream name recognition of Lauren Ambrose, who would have played Fanny Brice, the role Barbra Streisand made famous on both stage and screen.

At the same time, the buzz among Broadway ticket agents and other producers was that the star of “Funny Girl,” the television actress Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”), might end up giving a brilliant performance, but she was unlikely to sell many tickets on her name. Most musical revivals are star-dependent, since theatergoers tend to be familiar with the music; hence the casting of stars in current Broadway hits like “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Daniel Radcliffe), “Anything Goes” (Sutton Foster), and “Follies” (Bernadette Peters).

The wording of the last sentence confuses me: Although I thought Radcliffe was great in “How to Succeed,” I wouldn’t compare him to Foster and Peters, who are both predominately known for their theatre work. Peters is undeniably a movie star, but Foster, aside from a “Law & Order” (of course), has not done much of note off-stage.

Radcliffe’s performance is certainly a best-case scenario of driving ticket sales by casting a major name without sacrificing the integrity of the show. However, I’m uncertain as to how brilliant Ambrose’s performance would have been. This is a killer role that requires vocal and theatrical chops. As the article states, Ambrose is a television actress. Yes, she’s a trained opera singer and, yes, she’s in a jazz band (Lauren Ambrose and the Leisure Class… Really), but that all amounts to diddly with a side of squat because we’re talking about Barbra Frickin’ Streisand here. Ambrose was going to have to get on stage eight times a week and sing “Cornet Man” (how many unfortunate women out there have that song on a mixtape I made them?), “People,” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” This sounds like a Christopher Durang-penned nightmare. Is it possible she mistakenly thought she’d signed up for a staging of Judd Apatow’s “Funny People“?

I found a clip on YouTube of Ambrose and her band performing “My Man,” which was Brice’s signature song (you can listen to the original here and Streisand’s version from the 1968 film “Funny Girl” here). It strikes me as inauthentic pantomime. She learned in a vocal class once that Billie Holiday stomped her feet when overcome with emotion, but you don’t get that she actually experienced anything she’s singing about — not that I would wish that upon her. It sounds rough.

They say Mama Rose is the female King Lear, but “Gypsy” has had four revivals. No one has touched “Funny Girl” (with the exception of a 2002 concert version with Foster) because it is so closely identified with Streisand, then just 22 when it premiered. And it’s not just Streisand’s voice — she had the motzie necessary to portray the incomparable Brice, which brings up a delicate matter: Brice was Jewish, as is Streisand. Ambrose is not. I know it’s all just acting, but Brice and Streisand both shot to fame in an industry that generally perceived them as the “other.” As the show itself says, “If a girl isn’t pretty like a Miss Atlantic City. All she gets in life is pity and a pat.” What’s unspoken is that the definition of “pretty” at the time tended to exclude women with frizzy hair or certain shape of nose. Casting Ambrose would discard the tension or force the production to “tell” but not “show,” as it seems unlikely that Ambrose grew up in a world that thought she was ugly — more suited for the life of a laundress on the Lower East Side than the life of a glamorous actress on the cover of magazines.

That said, I hardly want to persuade the producers to try again with currently popular and perhaps superficially more appropriate Lea Michele. I’d prefer seeing Laura Bell Bundy exclaim “oy gevalt!” than have the “Glee” star anywhere near “Funny Girl.”

For now, though, I can content myself with the still pristine original 1964 production. Here’s Streisand bringing down the first act curtain with “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (from the film not the show, as it was much harder to sneak camera phones into Broadway theatres back then):


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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Pop Life


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