Friday, January 15, 2016

Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump on "New York Values"

Ted Cruz Hates “New York Values” But Sure Loves New York Money

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

It's 2016 ... and "things are changing"

As 2016 began, so did the final season the PBS super-hit "Downton Abbey", the British upstairs/downstairs story of a great estate, set in the early 20th century, when "things were changing." 

What kind of things? Well, women were getting the right to vote, this funky thing called radio was becoming popular, people were dancing the Charleston, and, basically, the landed gentry could no longer afford to own their huge, expensive estates and employ hundreds and hundreds of people. Pretty soon, the nobility would become more of a curiosity and less an imposing force.

This blog has exhaustively chronicled how NYC has been changing over the years. One of my favorites is from December 31, 2013, when I bade farewell to "Funkytown", remembering the deaths that years of Ed Koch, Al Goldstein, Lou Reed, and Stan Brooks, great New Yorkers all of a bygone era. As 2015 has now ended, we can add two more great New York icons to the memory bank: Janet Wolfe and Dr. Zizmor.

Who are they? New Yorkers who impacted our city in smaller yet wonderful ways.

Janet Wolfe, who died last year at age 101, was the founder of the NYCHA Symphony. After a career as a bit movie actress, doing PR, and working for the Red Cross in Italy during WWII, she founded this symphony orchestra (in her early 60s no less) for public housing residents in 1971. What a wonderful, imaginative thing to do! For four decades, she brought great music to people who would otherwise might not hear it, and she did with verve, with excitement, and with love. She was the best kind of New Yorker and, even though she lived a very long life, we lost her too soon.

And what about Dr. Zizmor? He's not dead yet (he's still a youthful 70-something) but the friendly dermatologist whose silly ads papered the subway system and local TV programming for decades has apparently closed shop and retired. No longer can people get appointments with Dr. Z to have their skin treated by one of his famous chemical peels. His ads were one of those things about the NYC culture that were just ... there ... never wavering ... and they provided a certain kind of reliability and comfort to people in an ever churning city. No more. And, as this article indicates, the old school, local pitchman in NYC is just another thing -- like the subway token -- that has gone away.

So "things" are always "changing" in NYC. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Woody Allen @ 80

Today one of NYC greatest living film directors, every body's favorite nebbish Woody Allen, turns eighty years old. 

Eighty! Who knew he was so young?

After all, Woody Allen has been a cultural force in this country and around the world for over fifty years. Since his days as a TV comedy writer in the 1950s, to his days as a stand-up comedian/actor/game-variety-talk show presence in the 1960s, to his now legendary filmmaking career which blasted off in the early 1970s and lasts to this day, Woody Allen has done so much to shape comedy, movies, and American popular culture over the decades that it seems like he has always existed -- and always will.

Only Keith Richards seems more durable. 

For a man who's so obsessed with and afraid of death, Woody seems impervious to any kind of mortality -- either physical or professional. He has just kept rolling along, producing a new movie every year, decade in, decade out. So many others actors and directors have risen and fallen during his time, coming and going like presidential administrations and TV shows, being "hot" for a time before fading away -- and yet Woody endures. How much longer he will endure is anybody's guess but, for the time being, he's still here, making movies. 

P.S. You might enjoy this 1996 profile from The New Yorker about Woody Allen. Even though the article is almost twenty years old, even then he was almost four decades into his film career and already legend. And to think he still had some of his biggest success, and another Academy Award, in his future. Amazing. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Memo from NYC

In the history of art -- music, literature, painting, sculpture, film, etc. -- blogging is a very new arrival. In fact, it's so new that many people might not think of it as Art at all. How much skill, you might wonder, does it take to sit down at a computer, pound out a few words on the key board, link to a few sites, upload a few pictures, and hit "Publish"? Not much, you might presume. However, making an interesting blog takes a certain amount of thought, talent, and attention, therefore blogging is more of an skilled "art" than you might think.

In this era of the Internet, art of all kinds is widely disseminated online. How artists get paid for work available at the click of a mouse is an endless, almost maddening point of contention between artists and consumers. This is not a subject that I will belabor here because it is, quite frankly, a hopeless and unsolvable bore. But I do want to make one point: companies expecting artists to give them free work is a goddamn outrage! 

Remember Wil Wheaton?

If you're a child of the 1980s, like moi, you certainly do. He was in the 1986 movie Stand By Me and then the late 1980s/early 1990s TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Kind of a big deal back in the day. As a grown up, Mr. Wheaton continued to act but he also worked in tech. He also is a blogger and, apparently, he recently posted something on his blog that was so interesting that the Huffington Post asked if they could re-post it on their site. He asked, quite reasonably, how much they would pay him for it. Their answer? Nothing! Oh no, they told him, the compensation is that we give you a ... "platform" ... which will give you ... "exposure" ... so that somehow ... somewhere ... someone down the line will pay you for ... something ... But, in the meantime, a big wealthy company gets free content.

Mr Wheaton was livid. They wanted to post his work and not pay him for it. He was pissed -- and rightly so.

This happened to me very recently. I thought about blogging about it earlier but didn't because I assumed no one would care. But the fact that this happened to Wesley Crusher's doppelganger shows how over matched us humble artists are against the corporate behemoths that would exploit us like 19th century plantation owners.

This is my story.

Several months ago I got a message from Uber.

Yes, that Uber -- the corporate giant that wants to take over the taxi industry in every city around the world. They wanted me to blog about how great Uber was. I had never actually used Uber but, hey, if they wanted to pay me for a writing gig, I was willing to listen. Give me a free Uber coupon or something, give me some dough, and I'll write something. I'm happy to be a sellout -- for the right price. So I told them this (well, I left out the "sellout" part but said that I could write something) and asked how much money I would get.

Their answer? Oh, we can't pay you a dime but we'll link to your blog on our site and won't the "exposure" for you be great?

I didn't bother to answer Uber and deleted all their messages. Expletive them.

The noive.

Uber is currently valued at $51 billion dollars. The Huffington Post is valued at $1 billion. And yet, somehow, these BILLION DOLLAR companies can't afford to pay bloggers a few bucks to post their content? As De Niro exclaimed in Goodfellas: "What the matter with you? What's the f@#$@#@#ing matter with you?"

I get that we now live in a so-called "disruptive sharing" economy (whether we like it or not), but when big companies like the Huffington Post and Uber ask writers for free content, that ain't sharing -- that's theft. Plain and friggin' simple. Links that provide "exposure" on "platforms" is not compensation -- at most, it's a favor. Not compensation. Get the difference?

This blog is written by moi as a labor or love and its content is free. This is my choice. And what (very) little money that this blog generates goes directly into my pockets -- cause I created this blog and all its damn content. That's my business.  But if I write something for a big for-profit company like Uber that exists to enhance their business and not mine, then that is not a labor of love -- that's just good old-fashioned capital-L Labor. And, for most of the last couple of centuries, people have expected to be paid for their Labor. Civil wars have been fought and revolutions started over just this very point of contention. But now these big tech and Internet companies think they're so special that they should be the exceptions to this rule that undergirds most of civilization.

Some might think that people like Wil Wheaton and yours truly are just big greedy complainers. But no, this is not greed. This is about respect and proper compensation for "services rendered." Capitalism is about the exchange of goods and services. Asking people to give you free stuff ain't capitalism. It's not an exchange. It's not fair compensation. It's just nasty, mean-spirited theft and exploitation. And nothing more.

If getting people to work for free is part of the "new economy", then count me out. Call me old-fashioned, call me a troglodyte, but I think people should be paid for their work. I think big wealthy companies exploiting people is wrong. I've never sat at the cool kids table so if my attitude on this subject is "uncool" then so be it. The uncool never bothered me anyway. 

As a person I onced worked with said, "I may be a whore, but I will thank you that I'm not a cheap one."

Or, in this case, a free one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

HEY, WHERE DA' PORN AT? The New Times Square

So Goes Times Square, so goes NYC ...

I've blogged countless times over the years about the transformation of NYC from a bustling, fun, dirty, dangerous city into a sanitized fun-house mirror of itself catering to tourists and rich foreigners. The cost of living in this city, while never cheap, is now astronomical, and the vestiges of old NYC - like coffee shops, rent controlled apartments, corner drug stores, and porn theaters - are fast disappearing. Because NYC is so vast, because it's a hodgepodge of over 300 neighborhoods (many of which are bigger than most towns and cities in the rest of the country), it's impossible to point to one spot in NYC as representative of greater whole changing dynamic. However, if you had to look for one example, then obviously Times Square, Crossroads of the World, is the place. It has changed so dramatically over the last quarter century, done a complete 180 in the city's and the public's imagination, going from "scary" to "boring", from "gross" to "respectable", that's it's almost impossible to comprehend. Times Square basically is NYC -- only more so.

This lengthy article from this week's New York magazine reviews the transformation of Times Square over the years, from a den of moral inequity to a den of economic inequality. Times Square, it reminds us, has always been the nerve center of the city, representative of it in so many ways. So when it changed, the rest of the city was destined to follow it.

Also, you might be interested to read (or read about) a new book called City on Fire about NYC in the last 1970s era, when the city was dangerous -- and wonderful.

Then, finally, read this article about the boom in 1970s New York nostalgia. Apparently, it's a "thing" now.

If you get a time machine and travel back 40-something years and tell New Yorkers what their city would become, most of them would ask to get into the time machine and travel back to the future with you. But for many of us, if we could go back to that old NYC, some of us, including yours truly, might choose to stay there ... for a while at least.

As Fran Leibowitz said: Times Square today is like a gay bar in the 1970s -- no one admits to going there.

Preserving the Past

Sure, lots has changed in NYC over the years but two things in this city seem immune to the ravages of time: Chinatown and the Dakota building. How have they survived while so much has been changed?

First, in Chinatown, the community, politicians, and business leaders have made a concerted effort to keep this classic neighborhood intact. It's a wonderful example of how vision, intelligence, political will, and good old fashioned hard work and fight huge forces -- like big money and the real estate industry -- to keep a great neighborhood alive.

Second, the Dakota -- this old fashioned building has stood the test of time. Why? Who can say? Perhaps it's because it's just such a gorgeous building that the idea of demolishing it or changing it substantially seems incomprehensible. Perhaps the residents have kept its integrity intact (unlike the Apthorp). Who knows? The only thing we do know is that it still stands -- and probably always will.

Did you see this?

A couple of weeks ago, DNAInfo published a map of NYC neighborhoods -- the borders of which were drawn by their readers. 

There are several hundred neighborhoods around the five boroughs, all leading and bleeding into one another. Where the boundaries of one neighborhood end and the others begin has been -- and probably always will be -- a matter of debate. 

And what this map proves is that, while we may all agree that we live in NYC, exactly where in NYC is open for discussion. 

You know, us New Yorkers, we love to argue, even about where in the city we live!


Apologies for the long absence. Since I last blogged, Mr NYC has reproduced yet again -- my second Little Miss NYC was born two weeks ago and, as you might imagine, that took precedence to blogging. However, I'm still sentient and will try to blog as much as possible. Till then!