Sunday, February 27, 2011

The King's Visit

Tonight are the Academy Awards and many people expect The King's Speech to win several major awards, including Best Picture. I certainly hope it does. I'm a big Anglophile and this was an excellent film, shedding new light on some otherwise well-known history.

The film is about King George VI who came to the British throne in 1936 when his older brother King Edward VIII abdicated to marry "the woman I love," American divorcee Wallis Simpson. George was shy, awkward, and had a terrible stutter (his attempts to cure being the subject of the film). George never wanted to be king but he did his best. Along with Winston Churchill, FDR, and Stalin, George was one of the leaders who led the Allies through WWII and helped to conquer fascism. He died in 1952 and was the father of the current British monarch, Queen Elizabeth.

After his abdication, however, Edward became something of pariah. He and Wallis traveled the world, living in luxurious exile, and generally becoming the first couple we might call "celebutards." Allegedly they were sympathetic to Hitler and engaged in financial shenanigans and were generally just awful.

They also had a connection to NYC. Every year they would come here and stay at the Waldorf-Astoria, bringing loads and loads of luggage, including their own serving china. Edward was actually staying in NYC in 1947 when then Princess Elizabeth married Prince Phillip. And after they left town, rumor has it that this outlaw royal duo would never pay their hotel bills.

That said, they weren't so truly horrible. Apparently, in 1941, Edward visited a tenement on the Lower East Side. For all of his wretchedness, Edward always cared a great deal about the poor and working class. During his brief reign as King, he actually went into working class neighborhoods in England and talked face to face with commoners, even saying at one point "Something must be done" (like Princess Diana fifty year later, who was one of the first public figures who bravely shook the bare hands of AIDS patients). Edward may have been an SOB, and a creepy guy, but he was not totally without merit. And here in NYC, at least at one time, he showed that to be true.  

Wisconsin Protest in New York City

Saturday, February 26, 2011

We Won't See Their Likes Again

Former Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett and former Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, couldn't be more different. 

One is a deeply respected journalist who shone a bright light on the dark doings of New York's political world. The other is an infamous pornographer who published a very filthy magazine and hosted a really dirty cable show here in NYC called Midnight Blue. Love or hate this saint and sinner, they were both amazingly good at what they did, and both made a real impact on the worlds of politics and sex in NYC.

Now they are both out of work. 

Wayne Barrett is no longer with the Voice (as I blogged about here last month) and Al Goldstein's magazine and TV show folded up a few years ago. Both in their golden years, the times have changed and conspired to pass them by. Part of it is the decline of print journalism and the rise of the web (devastating both to newspaper and porn finances), and part of it is the fact that NYC is no longer the gritty, dirty city it once was -- and Wayne and Al were most certainly gritty New Yorkers. Instead, guys like this have been superseded by the likes of Gawker and Burning Angel, slick sites that are more representative of this increasingly slick city.


It's hard to believe how long these guys practiced their respective trades in this town. For thirty-plus years their work was read and consumed by New Yorkers of all ages, races, colors and backgrounds. Now they've been replaced by a new generation who owe them a debt they probably don't recognize. And NYC is a little the lesser for it.

We'll probably never see their likes again.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Carmelo Comes to Town

For those of you still broken hearted that Le Bron James snubbed joining the Knicks last year (he decided to take his "talents to Miami"), you may now dry your eyes. Our savior has come!

His name is Carmelo Anthony.

The superstar basketball player for the Denver Nuggets was traded to the Knicks in a complex deal that involves other players being traded from the Knicks to the Nuggets, a few others players being traded to the Knicks, and then some cash (roughly $3 million) trading hands. 

So now the Knicks has another big-time player and sports experts are calling this a blockbuster deal that could our city's sorry NBA team's fortunes around. In the last few years, the Knicks were doing so badly that the team was literally bribing New Yorkers to come to games. I went to a game in late 2009 where, for $20, I not only got a decent seat in the Garden but also a t-shirt and a free popcorn and soda.  

Last season, however, the Knicks got its act together and now such deals are gone. And now that Carmelo is joining the Knicks, suddenly b-ball will be cool in NYC again in a way it hasn't been since the glory days of Patrick Ewing. 

Best of luck, Carmelo, and best of luck Knicks. We're counting on you to make our city supreme in all sports once again!

Woodstock Minute With Larry Fine (Narrated by Allison Steele)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Battle of the Beers

We New Yorkers, like all good Americans, love to drink us some brew. We may not be Milwaukee (or even Canada, eh?) but, in this town, you can get just about any beer you'd like from anywhere in the world.

And for the last twenty years, the Brooklyn Brewery has been putting out some damn good beer, showing that NYC concedes to no one when it comes to making quality brew.

But -- oh no! Despite its dominance, Brooklyn Beer is being ignored in its own backyard. Micro and craft breweries are challenging our hometown, big time brewery and lots of restaurants and bars in town are ignoring it too. Obviously Brooklyn Brewery is fighting back but it may not be long before our very own brewery is quashed by hippies making their own homemade beer in their backyards next to their compost heaps.

I guess, in NYC, if you can make it here ... that doesn't mean everyone will want whatever it is you make. 

Must Read!

Imagine losing a wallet and then getting it back, credit cards and all -- forty years later.

This really happened here in NYC.

It's quite a story. And how appropriate that the place where this wallet was lost and then found, with the forty-year interregnum, was in the old New York Times Building. Stop the presses! Read all about it here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Theater NYC

In this multi-media era, there's nothing more old school as theater. These days, when it comes to entertainment, if you can't throw it up on YouTube or watch/listen to it on an IPod, it seems like no one cares. The idea of actually going to a theater and watching real live people performing on a stage seems almost ... quaint.

And yet, here in NYC in the second decades of the 21st century, theater is booming.

Theater in NYC has always been a big industry. After all, this is the town that invented the theatrical brands of "Broadway" and "Off Broadway" and "Off Off Broadway" shows. But right now this seems to be a particularly exciting time -- perhaps historic -- in the annals of NYC theater.

Where else but in NYC can you see not one but two Oscar winning actors play Shylock in The Merchant of Venice? Just as Al Pacino is finishing up his Broadway run in the iconic role, another version starring F. Murray Abraham. Amazing. And, in fact, if you like Shakespeare, there's going to be a play by The Bard on stage somewhere in NYC for the next several months. Even more amazing. Call this Shakespeare NYC.

And over in Brooklyn, at BAM, Geoffrey Rush just debuted in Diary of a Madman. And very shortly Derek Jacobi will be coming into town with King Lear

And right now there's a very little seen Tennessee Williams play being staged, a Redgrave is on Broadway, the always brilliant Mandy Patinkin is back, and the amount of off Broadway and alternative theater is absolutely booming.

Plus a revival of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is headed to town -- and Mr NYC already has tickets!

And yes, the saga of Spider Man: Turn off the Dark rolls on. Now the geniuses behind this show are calling in someone to re-write the show completely. I hope this show stays open if only because it's such a welcome distraction from the real problems of the world.

Seriously, you should read the Theater section of the Times -- it's a show unto itself.

For those of you looking for good deals on tickets to this extravaganza of old media, you should go on TheaterMania to find deals. This a wonderful time in NYC theater and everyone should want to be a part of it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Extreme Makover NYC

I almost called this post The Face of NYC, but I think Extreme Makeover NYC gets more to the point (besides shamelessly riffing off the popular reality show).

As many of you know, plastic surgery has skyrocketed in popularity over the last couple of decades. People now shell out large chunks of their life savings in order to change their appearances and make themselves look younger. Wrinkles, moles, blemishes, bumps and odds and ends can be vanquished by the surgeons scalpel. Indeed, entire decades can be removed from the visages of those willing enough to pay the price and risk the consequences.

Here in NYC, however, it's not that simple. Plastic surgery is an industry but, like so many things these days, it's a niche one. Standards of beauty differ from culture to culture, and people from different cultural backgrounds who want plastic surgery want different kinds of operations. Asians, Russians, Latinos, in particular, have become big customers of plastic surgery but want very different kinds of augmentations. This fascinating article gives you an insight about the plastic surgery business in NYC and how, in order to survive in this competitive market in this competitive town, plastic surgeons better understand what kinds of enhancements their customers are going to want based on their ethnic backgrounds.

But it's not just the literal face of our citizens that are undergoing big changes. The face of this city has changed dramatically in the last forty years. Currently at Film Forum there is a retrospective of Al Pacino movies from the 1970s. Obviously The Godfather movies are his most famous but he made some other classics like The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) all set in NYC. As this article points out, the city we see in these movies is a very different place than it is today. The face of NYC from the early 1970s to the early 2010s has changed dramatically. Instead of trash and junkies, we have bike lanes and yuppies. Instead of run down rent-controlled buildings, we have glass condos. Watching any movies set in NYC in the 1970s is like peering through the looking glass, seeing a place that is at once totally familiar but also completely alien. 

By the way, not all movies set in NYC in the 1970s were scary ones. 2011 marks the fortieth year since Woody Allen released his second movie, and his first real big hit, Bananas. Watching this very funny trailer below from 1971, you see that they don't make movies -- or trailers -- like this anymore.  

Bananas (1971) Trailer: 40 Years Later

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

They Get Away With It

Once upon a time, in an era that was a little more innocent than our own. F. Scott Fitzgerald supposedly said to Ernest Hemingway, "The rich are different than you and me." To this Papa replied, "Yes, they have more money."

If you read the tabloids every day, you see sob stories of rich and famous people getting divorced or arrested or being forced into rehab. You read about their miserable lives and think to yourself, "See, just goes to show you: money doesn't buy happiness." So you might be forgiven if you think that Ernest Hemingway was right.

But the rich really are different than you and me. They live by a different set of rules. The laws that apply to regular people don't apply to them. If you think that being rich means you can get away with things others can't -- you're right.

The recent financial crises just illustrates this beautifully. The always brilliant Matt Taibbi has a new article called Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? Taibbi meticulously breaks down why so many of the people who blew up the economy two years ago, forcing lots of people to lose their jobs and homes, haven't been prosecuted, haven't gone to jail. He reveals the truly incestuous, disgusting relationship between the financial industry and the government agencies that are supposed to regulate them. Obviously the government doesn't regulate the financial industry at all. The relationship is totally hte inverse with the financial industry totally neutering the government. As Taibbi points out, the worst penalties these malefactors of great wealth ever get are pathetic little fines, almost always paid out by the companies and not borne personally by the perpetrators. None of these guys are ever sent to jail, forced to share a cell with a six foot five, 300 pound, heavily tattooed biker gang rapist. If they did, as one of the people quoted in this article points out, these financial shenanigans would cease immediately.

One of the most truly loathsome financial criminals that Taibbi writes about is Merrill Lynch CEO John Mack. And guess what? Mack, who the article points out is probably guilty of massive insider trading, is a big time political donor. Right now Mack and other such reptiles are shopping around for a Republican candidate who they think can defeat President Obama in 2012. Oh, they're having such a hard time of it, they can't find a candidate they really love who is "electable." Apparently he and others like him think that Obama is too tough on the financial industry (never mind that Obama, like all politicians, is completely beholden to the industry) and is looking for a potential occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who will be an even bigger kiss-ass financial criminals. 
And you thought that you had problems in life.

Of course the only financial criminal currently rotting in jail is our own Bernie Madoff. And why? Because he had the audacity not only to steal money from people but to do it from other rich people. Obviously he had to be punished harshly for that. But ripping off millions and millions of ordinary people? The people who did that got off scott-free. And even Madoff isn't suffering too much. He was recently allowed to give an interview to The New York Times and is even given access to email in the pokey. So I guess life in prison isn't all that bad for him. If it were up to me, Madoff and all of these other scumbags would be in cells with the aforementioned rapists -- or sitting in 23-hour-a-day lock down in a Supermax.

Of course, injustice isn't always a matter of money. It's also racial. The vast majority of people busted for pot possession in NYC are black and Hispanic. But who actually uses the most pot in NYC? White people! 

Taibbi ends his brilliant article with the following depressing true observation:

"The mental stumbling block, for most Americans, is that financial crimes don't feel real; you don't see the culprits waving guns in liquor stores or dragging coeds into bushes. But these frauds are worse than common robberies. They're crimes of intellectual choice, made by people who are already rich and who have every conceivable social advantage, acting on a simple, cynical calculation: Let's steal whatever we can, then dare the victims to find the juice to reclaim their money through a captive bureaucracy. They're attacking the very definition of property — which, after all, depends in part on a legal system that defends everyone's claims of ownership equally. When that definition becomes tenuous or conditional — when the state simply gives up on the notion of justice — this whole American Dream thing recedes even further from reality."

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's in the air ...

Love, that is. 

This is Valentine's Day, that wonderful holiday created by greeting card companies. Tonight, in our own fair city and across the fruited plain, lovers young and old will be celebrating their burning passion of each other ... and hopefully "gettin' down" or "gettin' busy" (as those of us who speak the da' hip-hop jive might say). 

Where do lovers meet these days? Online, usually. However, in NYC, some people have met at some of our more famous landmarks -- kicking off their relationships at places like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, etc. Today on WNYC, this was a topic and is, apparently, the subject of a new book. 

On a side note: speaking about speakin' da jive, did you know that New Yorkers apparently Tweet differently than people elsewhere? Apparently we use different abbreviations and catch-phrases from our fellow Americans. I'm not sure if that makes us cooler or just more annoying. Read this and let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Unluck of the Irish

Last week Mayor Bloomberg, whose mayoralty has taken a few hits lately, had yet another round of bad publicity when he made a joke about drunk Irish people.

Ouch.

At an event for the American Irish Historical Society, he talked about how often he sees drunk Irish people hanging out windows on St. Patrick's Day. Irish people took offense, naturally, and Bloomberg backtracked saying he was talking about a specific place where he saw this -- not that all Irish people get drunk and hang out of windows anywhere and everywhere on St. Patrick's Day. You know, he was "misunderstood."

Okay Mike.

But really, this is such a tempest in a teapot. As someone partly of Irish descent, I guess I should take offense to this but I don't. Ask any Irish person and they'll make lots of drunk Irish jokes. I have lots of Jewish friends who make the most vicious Jewish jokes, I know some Greek people who make sweeping generalizations about their fellow Greeks, same with Italians and other ethnicity's. 

However, I'd send a memo to Bloomberg and anyone politicians who wants to make a joke about an ethnic group or nationality: don't. Don't even make illusions that feed into negative stereotypes: no Italian jokes referencing organized crime, no black jokes referencing watermelon or fried chicken, no Indian jokes referencing 7/11's, no Asian jokes referencing certain parts of their anatomy. In this 24/7 PC media culture, you're just asking for trouble.

That said, there's a proud history of Irish people in this town being great police officers, and this weekend we owe our cops an unusually high debt of gratitude.    

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

If We Knew Cathie ...

... like Mayor Mike knows Cathie Black, then perhaps we might like her better. 

But, as this extensive profile of new Schools Chancellor Cathie Black shows, the woman is truly out of her depth in her new job. She might be a dynamite magazine exec but this article makes clear that she knows nothing about our public schools system or how to run it. Just being a "good manager" isn't enough -- if requires political skills and a certain emotional intelligence that she clearly lacks. I think Bloomberg knows he made a huge blunder in appointing her but obviously he can't fire her now without looking foolish. Still, if there was evidence that overturning term limits was a bad idea, the fact that Cathe Black is now schools chancellor is compelling proof indeed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fascinating

A couple of years ago I blogged about a book called The Works which looked at the "anatomy" of NYC -- where our electricity and water come from, where our trash goes, how our traffic and pedestrians move around the city, etc. While reading it, I could only think of what Mr Spock would have said: "Fascinating." Fascinating because there are whole worlds that exist within this city that we never see but vital to our security and way of life. 

Recently I read a couple of new articles that also got me thinking in a similar vein. And, again, Spock's voice rang in my head. 

This month the Atlantic has a tremendous article about how the Secret Service operates in this town during the UN General Assembly. If the expression "the weight of the world on their shoulders" was ever apt, it's for the US Secret Service which converges on NYC each fall when the General Assembly meets. They are responsible for the safety of every single world leader who comes to town including, as profiled in this article, that nutty President of Iran. Considering that NYC is a perennial terrorist target, along with the challenges of shepherding all of the worlds' CEOs around a crowded town, it's amazing to read about what these people do to keep not only these powerful people but also all of us safe. Something they do -- but that we never see.

Then there's another reality in this city that we all live in but almost never see: the economic reality of NYC. In America, as we know, the distribution of wealth, the gap between rich and poor, has never been larger. NYC is just like America, only more so, and the gap between rich and poor in this city is even larger than the national average. In his final piece for the Village Voice, Tom Robbins crunches the numbers and paints a devastating picture, not only of the gross economic disparities in this town, but of the political class in this city and state that serves to protect the elite at the expense of the poor. Republicans and Democrats have done everything they can to short shrift city workers, cut social services, underfund our schools, decimate the unions -- while giving tax breaks to the rich. Robbins writes about a corporate group called "The Committee to Save New York" which is run by a bunch of rich people. One of the members of this organization, which claims it wants to "save" our great city, is Rob Speyer -- yes, a Speyer of Tischman-Speyer which was responsible for the biggest real estate debacle in this (or any) city's history. Yes, this same man believes he is qualified to "save" New York. Did you know that? Well now you do.


Fascinating.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Only Time Will Tell

The week that ends tomorrow has not been one of earth-shattering events.  But a few things happened in NYC in the last couple of days that may have long-range significance. Only time will tell.

This week Mayor Bloomberg announced sweeping proposals to the city's pension system. In short, it will require city workers to serve more years, establish fixed retirement ages, prevent "double-dipping" or people working lots of overtime in their last year to qualify for bigger pensions, and require new city employees to contribute to their pensions. This could dramatically affect the kinds of people who will police our streets, teach in our schools, pick up our trash, helps us in emergencies, and take care of the city. Will city services benefit or suffer from these changes? Only time will tell.

Yesterday the city council voted to extend the city's smoking ban to the city's beaches and parks. Now people lighting up in these recreational areas will get fined. Will it add more money to the city's coffers while saving lives or will it be a failure? Only time will tell.

And the war over Walmart continues, with battle lines forming over whether to let the big-box retailer into our city. Will NYC remain a Walmart-free bastion or will it finally be conquered, forever destroying the small businesses this city thrives on? Only time will tell.

Then, whaddya know, Yankee Andy Pettite decides to retire. Will this hurt or improve the Yankees' future World Series chances? Only time will tell.

Finally, Governor Cuomo submitted his first budget that cuts huge amounts of money that goes to state services that help the city. In a message to accompany the budget, he declares: "Our state is at a crossroads.  After years of overtaxing and overspending, we are at the fiscal brink.  We can continue down our current road to financial ruin or we can take a new course – a road to recovery." Will this be a road to recovery or the road to ruin? Only time will tell.





Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Want Proof ...

... that the middle class is dying in NYC. Read this.

'berry inta'resting

Look at the two videos below and tell me what you think. I don't know which is more amazing -- that President George W. Bush's daughter supports marriage equality or that there are people who actually like "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark."

I think what both videos show is that you should never pre-judge anything: just because Bush is a scary man and was an awful president doesn't mean his daughter is. And just because the  "Spiderman" musical has gotten lots of lousy press doesn't necessarily mean it's actually a bad show.
It's both wonderful and depressing that Bush fille supports gay marriage: wonderful because it means that the sins of the father are being redeemed by the child (she's like a female Luke Skywalker); depressing because now I'll feel just a tad bit guilty at the fact that I despise her dad.

And as for "Spiderman" -- unlike everyone else in this world who wants it to fail, I want it to succeed. It will be good for Broadway, good for the city's economy, and be a badly needed piece of good news in today's wicked world. 

Barbara Bush for HRC's NYers for Marriage Equality

Audience Reaction to 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" on Broadway