Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis in NYC

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Mighty New York Times -- and Its Future

If you watch the TV show Game of Thrones (or have even read the books its based on) then you know all about Lord Tywin Lannister. He's the richest man in the "Seven Kingdoms", has served as "Hand" to two insane kings (one of them his own grandson), has won many battles and crushed many rivals, and who also controls the most feared family in the fantastical realm of Westeros.

In season one of the show, King Robert Baratheon, supposedly the most powerful man in Westeros, constantly moans about how much in debt (both literally and otherwise) he is to Lord Tywin. Tywin helped make Robert king and Robert is married to Tywin's daughter, Cersei, creating what has become a miserable alliance between Houses Lannister and Baratheon. At one point, a drunk and resentful King Robert calls his menacing father-in-law "the mighty Tywin."

Tywin is the ultimate "power behind the thrown", someone who supposedly does not wield the real power in the land but who controls the kings that do. He is in fact more powerful than the kings he's supposed to serve. He can make kings -- and destroy them -- like Tywin did to Robert's predecessor. Power brokers like Tywin do not get any glory but are deeply, deeply feared by those who do. And, as Machiavelli said, "'tis better to be feared than loved."

In New York City & State, and in the country at large, we elect governments to represent and rule us. Democracy is supposedly about the people controlling those who have power over them, but, as we know, a political system awash with money means that those with money really control our government. There are also "bosses" who can throw the weight of a political party apparatus behind selected candidates -- thereby choosing who gets elected and who gets shafted. But there is one thing more powerful than money and bosses -- the media. The people who "buy ink by the barrel", who broadcast and broadband to hundred of millions of eyeballs and ears around the country, who are the ones who really control the leaders we supposedly elect to rule us. They can make and break reputations and thereby empower or destroy the careers of our rulers. And in this town and country, no media outlet wields more power and influence over our governments than The New York Times

Oh, the mighty New York Times. The "newspaper of record" is easily the most feared news outlet in NYC and one of the most feared in the country. It wields enormous power and influence. 

Just some examples: In 2003, it published story after story saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The result? It gave mainstream, respectable legitimacy to the Iraq War which, of course, turned out to be one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in American history. (The stories turned out to be bogus, the Times later acknowledged, but the damage was done). Another example: the Times' power can directly affect the fortunes of politicians, especially in NYC. It can endorse candidates for office and make (or unmake) political careers. I recall seeing a TV interview with Scott Stringer in 2005 when he was running for Manhattan Borough President. He had just gotten the Times endorsement for his run that year and he looked like a guy who had just lost his virginity to a supermodel while being spoon-fed Beluga caviar from a crystal goblet. He won the borough presidency that year, he is now the Comptroller of NYC, and he very well may become mayor one day. Such is the power of the "mighty" New York Times.

So who controls the newspaper that controls NYC?

For over a century, the Times has been ruled by the Sulzberger family. Sons and grandsons of its founder, Adolph Ochs, have been running it for 119 years. The position of Executive Editor at the paper is the ultimate designation for the Power Behind the Throne of New York and American power. The current "mighty" Sulzberger is Executive Editor Arthur Sulzberger Jr. who is now in his 60s and is beginning to think about who might replace him when he retires. As this article points out, there are currently three leading candidates, all members of House Sulzberger, who might very well one day become the next Executive Editor. Currently, America is in the madness of a yet another protracted presidential election which will culminate in November 2016. However, something that will be less noticed by the populi but is no less in important is who will become the Times' next EE. Whoever that is will have tremendous power over our city and country for years to come -- as many mayors, governors, and presidents come and go.

Right now the Times is using its power and influence to unmake one potential president -- former US Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They have been writing creepy, oddly-sourced stories about how she "might" be a criminal, about her complex marriage to former president Bill Clinton, about any controversy, real or imagined, concerning her life and presidential campaign. Anyone reading the Times' nasty coverage of Hillary Clinton can only reasonably conclude that "the paper of record" wants to prevent a potential Hillary Clinton presidency and destroy her and her family's reputation. The paper tried and, uncharacteristically, failed to destroy Bill Clinton's presidency. When he was in office, in the 1990s, as this article points out, the paper issued story after story, editorial after editorial, slamming the Clintons and their administration. Of course, Bill Clinton wound up becoming an incredibly popular two-term president still much admired to this day. But the Times' tried to stop that and they are trying to prevent what might become yet another incredibly popular two-term Clinton presidency. Many quoted in this article believe, quite rightly, that the paper has had a twenty-year plus vendetta against the Clintons, that they are the Times' White Whale, that to destroy the Clintons will be the ultimate demonstration of the Times' power. Of course, those currently leading the paper protest, way to much, that this is not so. But anyone rational person knows that it is.

So as we look forward to a change in leadership both in America and at the "paper of record", the question is simply put: will The New York Times remain mighty or has it, like American power itself, started a slow, long decline? 

Monday, August 3, 2015

KIDS @ 20

Twenty years ago this summer a low-budget movie about teenagers hanging out in Manhattan hit theaters. The movie had no stars and was shot in a documentary, cinema verite style (basically it was a 1990s American version of an Italian neo-realist film). It also had an unassumingly simple title: KIDS.

But oh ... the kids in this flick were doing very un-kid like things. Oh my, they were hardly paragons of youthful innocence. They were doing very nasty and quite disturbing things, like having sexual intercourse, and consuming drugs, and getting into street fights, and even skateboarding in a very dangerous manner. It was an expose, a "shocking" look at young'uns in America (or at least NYC) gone wrong. It was, as one reviewer at the time put it, "a wake up call to the world."

Yes, right under our noses and on our streets and in our buildings, teenagers were behaving very badly.

The "plot" of this film concerns a teenager named Telly who likes having sex with virgin girls when he's not hanging out with his friend Casper whose main interests are drinking 40 ounces of malt liquor and sticking tampons up his nose. Together, they spend a day "cold chillin'" in NYC with various friends. Meanwhile, a girl named Jenny that Telly previously de-flowered discovers that she has HIV -- and that means Telly, her only sexual conquest, was the culprit. She spends her time during this day trying to find him but can she do so before the self-described "virgin surgeon" strikes again? Oh my indeed.

One thing that's interesting to see in this movie, and what makes it something of an historical document, is that cell phones/smart phones and social media are totally absent in it. They didn't exist yet. Heck, these kids don't even have beepers! (Remember them?). Remember, this movie came out in the mid-1990s so Jenny actually had to track down Telly in person to inform him of her (really their) plight. Doubtless, today, Jenny would call or text Telly (assuming she had his number or knew someone who did) or she'd just go on Facebook and flame "THAT TELLY MUTHAFUCKA GAVE ME AIDS!"

I remember when this movie came out in '95. It was the summer I went to college. The movie was very controversial and very much discussed in the press. And then it was pretty much forgotten about. After all, once the shock value wore off, people were just left with watching a rather gross, tedious movie. That said, the movie had its virtues. KIDS did not moralize. It didn't claim to have any answers about the youth crises in America. It was just a look at a bunch of teenagers living lives of boredom in despair in the richest most powerful nation in history ever to bestride the face of the earth. It reflected the mirror to nature, made us look at the world we had created. And it sucked.

However, now that the film is older than most of the actors who were in it, those of us who were teenagers back then seem to be remembering it. Here's one article that is a retrospective of KIDS, of what it meant to American society and popular culture at the time, and its legacy today. And here's another one about many of the locations in NYC that appear in the film (it was shot in 1994) and what they look like today.

One thing about this movie that really dates it: the teenagers in it are clearly lower-middle class kids, kids who aren't academic geniuses or great athletes, kids whose futures seem very bleak. Today, in post-Bloomberg NYC, there are barely any lower middle class people in Manhattan anymore. If this movie was being made today, these kids would probably be hanging out in some of the rougher parts of the outer boroughs. KIDS takes place in the era when the great bad old days in NYC were ending and the Comeback city was emerging. Take, for instance, Washington Square park. Back then, it was a run-down haven for young people and the disaffected to hang out, do drugs, and get into trouble (in this movie, a scene in Washington Square park turns into a violent melee). But today, the park is ... bucolic ... serene ... a friendly place for families and NYU students alike. Today, if a bunch of kids beat someone up there in broad daylight, they would be arrested and booked within seconds.

In many ways KIDS is ... old.

The crime is gone. The AIDS crises has largely receded. Teenagers are having less sex and pot use is virtually legal. The city has changed. Now being a non-having sex, book loving, computer using nerd is considered cool, even sexy. Being a druggie loser has lost its appeal for many young people. But in looking back at this movie and at the time and place and issues of the day it addresses, you have to wonder, won't kids always be kids?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Marc Maron in NYC

If you're like me, you're a huge fan of comedian Marc Maron's insanely great podcast WTF.

Originally started as one comedian talking to his fellow comedians, in recent years Maron has also been interviewing actors, singers, movie directors, and other high profile people. His podcast has become so popular and "important" that people are begging to be interviewed on it. Most recently, the President of the United States himself was a guest. 

Maron records WTF out of LA but he lived in NYC for many years and his show has a definite New York vibe. This article about Maron's past life in New York is very interesting and revealing about the man who America wants to talk to.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Eat at Seinfeld's

It's a testament to the eternal greatness of Seinfeld -- the ultimate New York show "about nothing" -- that now, almost two decades since it went off the air, people still watch, talk, and write about it.

Recently the Internet streaming service Hulu licensed all of the episodes, netting the creators and owners of the show a cool $150 million.

And now this nostalgic article in The New York Times about the New York food culture on the show -- the coffee shops, hot dog stands, restaurants, and soup Nazis that Jerry, Kramer, George and Elaine all frequented during their madcap, 90's adventures. Several of the places featured on the show have closed but many are still around and can be visited by any fan.

Great food, great comedy -- just part of what always make NYC great.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality Rocks America

Marriage equality is now legal throughout the entire country. This is a great achievement. Here is what I wrote about it back in 2011 when marriage equality was legalized in New York State. I think my comments then still stand now.

Bloomberg Back in Biz

Have you been wondering what former Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been up to since he left office in 2013?

Of course you haven't! 

But this very long article is a rough summary of what our former mayor has been up to since he laid down the burdens of running NYC and resuming the duties of running his company Bloomberg LLC.

It's an interesting read but it also shows that Bloomberg is, at heart, a businessman and that his 12-year detour in government was really an aberation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Past Tense, Future Perfect

Forgive the intellectual laziness of the following sentence but I can't think of a better way to put it: a big city like NYC has a big history. Big -- in that it is varied, complicated, and endless.

In fact, there are many histories to NYC: political, social, cultural, architectural, you name it. There are whole libraries devoted to the history of NYC, literal forests of felled trees devoted to capturing the complex biography of this place. The following are links to just a few resources and articles to learn more about the history of NYC:

A "Book Bag" that summarizes some of the best novels and non-fiction writing about NYC.

A recent segment on WNYC radio about the history of landmarks and the preservation of great buildings in NYC.  

An article about the legendary hangout and music haunt Max's Kansas City where Andy Warhol liked to go and where the Velvet Underground gave some of their last, great shows.

And a history of Roosevelt Island, that sliver of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens that has as long, complicated, sometimes scary, but always amazing history all its own. Recently it was the site of Hillary Clinton's campaign launch for president -- yet even more history being made in NYC.