A Movie About a Nice Jewish Boy

MV5BMjIyNzc3NDM2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcyMTk2MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_“Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” produced and directed by Mike Myers is one of the most fascinating and entertaining documentaries made in the past ten years, and for people over 50 years old will bring back some delightful memories of rock n roll in the 1970s and the contemporaneous life-style.

Given the breadth of what the man was involved with and the extended cadre of celebrities that he knew and managed, I feel somewhat ashamed that I had never heard of Shep Gordon before. His story starts in the 1960s with a road trip to LA after failing as a probation officer at a juvenile prison in California. Shep stops at a motel outside LA where he meets Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The movie is filled with serendipitous encounters such as this that seem too unreal to be true.

For no other reason than Shep is Jewish, Hedrix thinks he should become a manager. He further suggests Shep take on a scraggly, misfit band called Alice Cooper. The tales of how Shep Gordon manipulated public opinion about the degenerate Alice Cooper and merchandized the band to number 1, multi-millionaire, private jet status are mind-blowing. Whoever said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” must have been thinking of Alice Cooper.

A significant thread through the movie is the life-long friendship that Shep and Alice have nurtured and enjoyed to this day, and it serves as a springboard by which Myers reinforces Shep’s status as a “supermensch” – a man of integrity and honor who would do anything for a friend. The movie recollects countless examples of Shep’s generosity, the most poignant being his enduring support of five orphans he barely knew – the connection being simply that he had had a brief fling with their grandmother.

Although Shep managed Alice Cooper and as such got close with rock royalty like Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Steven Tyler and Iggy Pop, he was not an enthusiastic fan of the genre, preferring Motown and Folk. Confounding his peers, Shep took on management of Anne Murray, a Canadian singer with a crystal voice and an straight-laced image to match. Music industry insiders thought it a fool’s errand to try to promote the likes of Anne Murray, who sang about snowbirds and “honey, wheat and laughter” at a time when booze, drugs, androgyny and general unwholesomeness dominated rock n roll. In 1973 Shep booked Anne at the Troubador in LA, a small, intimate club, and arranged for several rock stars to attend the set. His mission was to have Anne Murray photographed surrounded by top talent, surmising correctly that anyone who saw the picture would demand to know more about the unknown chick in the middle. Soon afterwards, Anne Murray was featured in numerous trade rags and performed on “The Midnight Special” – the top rock n roll show on TV (back when being on TV meant something.)

John Lennon, Anne Murray, Alice Cooper and Mickey Dolenz at the Troubour
Anne Murray and some other people

In the second half of the film, Shep observes that fame and unhappiness seem inevitably intertwined. He notes the early deaths of Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix, the alcoholism of Alice Cooper, the paralysis of Teddy Pendergrass (another of Shep’s clients) following a car crash. Then one day while having dinner during the Cannes Film Festival (by this time Shep had moved into movie production: “The Duellists,” “Choose Me,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) he meets Roger Vergé, one of the greatest chefs of all time – but virtually unknown outside the world of gourmands. Vergé is the first person Shep encounters who is both famous (within his chosen field) and happy. He resolves to become an accomplished chef himself. Later, when Shep learns that Vergé and his fellow chefs actually reap little financial reward for their efforts, he embarks on an effort to change the dynamic, and in the process creates what we now know as the “celebrity chef.” Emeril Lagasse was Shep’s first client and the rest is history.

The unlikely tales go on and on. I highly recommend the film, for as the tag-line says, “Discover the man who saw everything and went looking for more.” Watch “Supermensch” and find out how this regular schmo from the suburbs of New York City came to be best buddies with the likes of Michael Douglas, Groucho Marx, Ron Wood, the Dalai Lama, Tom Arnold, Sylvester Stallone, and dozens more.

Cantor Chants the Blues

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Too much already has been written and spoken about in the couple of days since Eric Cantor lost his primary race for the right to represent the 7th congressional district of Virginia to small-town college professor David Brat – an event that has been called “an earthquake,” “a tectonic-plate shift,” “a David and Goliath story,” and a “mind-blowing modern-day ‘Dewey Beats Truman’ moment” (nevermind that the original famous headline was “Dewey Defeats Truman”.) There’s been much speculation by the voyeuristic punditocracy on the meaning and ramification of Cantor’s double-digit drubbing – the first time in American history that a House Majority leader was beaten in a primary. A bitch-slapping worse than when House Speaker Thomas Foley lost in a general election to a newcomer.

I don’t intend to pull out a smudged crystal ball and start opining on the future. That’s the job of cretins like Cokie Roberts and Gail Collins. Rather, I offer a few observations:

• Supposedly Brat won because he maniacally beat up Cantor for his softness on illegal immigration. Forget whether Cantor was a pro-“amnesty” liberal or a latter-day Torquemada. Is the blight of illegal immigration really plaguing the 7th congressional district of Virginia to such an extent that it is their most urgent crisis? Seems a stretch. Whatever evils accompany illegal immigration, I have to believe the bulk of them affect border states like Texas and Arizona, leaving little for genteel Virginia to be upset about. Latinos make up less than 5 percent of the district, which includes some of Richmond and its Caucasian suburbs; is the 7th district really a magnet for illegals? Once again, it seems the people have voted against their interests by giving up the benefits of having their congressman wield the power of the Majority leader so that a phantom boogeyman can be vanquished from their midst.

• Every pundit has remarked with incredulity that Cantor’s massive re-election war-chest of $5.4 million was impotent against Brat’s tiny $200,000 budget. But keep in mind, Brat received what was surely millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity from right-wing radio hosts like Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck and Sean Hannity who carried his water for hours on end each day. Cantor surely squandered his money on suspect marketing tactics, but let’s not pretend Brat won on a 27-1 discount.

• Representative Peter King of New York made the following comment after Cantor’s demise: “The results tonight will move the party further to the right, which will marginalize us further as a national party.” No doubt adding Brat to the line-up will move the GOP further right, and you can expect other knock-kneed Republicans to rush to the right out of fear of catching Cantoritis. And Cantor’s loss may marginalize the party in the sense that fewer Americans will identify with the party – but so what? Through such nefarious tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression laws and obstructive filibusters, the GOP has effectively stifled the power of those who don’t identify with them. We keep hearing that the GOP is becoming the party of older whiteys, leaving behind the growing population of blacks, Latinos, etc – yet everyone’s talking about a perpetual Republican House, the likelihood that the GOP takes the Senate this year, and the possibility of a Republican winning the presidency in 2016.

Is it possible to hold both houses of Congress, and the presidency, and the Supreme Court, and the majority of governorships – and still be marginal?

Only in America.

Posted in Movies, Music, Politics | Comments Off

Justly Scrutinized: Don Zimmer, NRA, Elise Stefanik, Mary Soames

p1_zimmerDon Zimmer died the other day. The various headlines and photo captions noted unanimously that the 83-year old former NY Met and bench coach for the Yankees had established a career of 60 uninterrupted years in baseball. How sad then that the most prominent memory of this icon of America’s Pastime is the time Pedro Martinez grabbed him by the head and threw him to the turf at the start of a bench-clearing brawl between arch-rivals Yankees and Red Sox. After a few retaliatory pitches earlier in the game, the vile Roger Clemens threw high at Manny Ramirez and that was all she wrote. I saw that episode on TV in real-time and must have watched it again at least a dozen times. Sorry Don. If you’re coaching ball in heaven, stay in the dugout if Ty Cobb spikes Joe DiMaggio.


Tempers flare in Beantown

Who Does the NRA Work For?

I believe it is possible to support the Second Amendment and still revile the NRA. After all, the NRA – actually a lobbyist for gun-makers, more so than a gun-owner’s advocate – routinely goes off the reservation of sanity and backs such dangerous notions as the inviolable rights to make and own guns that resist fingerprints, and the manufacture of bullets capable of penetrating “bullet-proof” vests. Both these positions offend law enforcement – a group that you would normally expect to be pro-gun. Yet the NRA stands firm. Any restriction of any kind remotely connected to a gun of any kind is anathema to the NRA.

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Are those hollow-point croissants?

So of course, they now find themselves in a jam following the publication of a lucid essay on their own website titled ““Good Citizens and Good Neighbors: The Gun Owners’ Role.” The gist of the essay is that mass congregations of dudes bearing assault rifles in public places like restaurants might scare patrons, thus turning otherwise neutral people on gun rights against them. The essay says, “While unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms. Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”

In other words, people who might otherwise be inclined to support gun rights decide not to after bringing their 80-year-old mother to Applebee’s and encountering 20 guys in camo brandishing AK-47s all pissed that the two-for-one beer tap ran dry. As this observation about appearances makes perfect sense, the NRA leadership is as usual counter-intuitively apoplectic. The poor writer was simply trying to help the NRA leadership avoid alienating the centerline voting public, and for that he is pilloried. Somehow, I suspect the NRA will contort the essay into a secret Obama ploy to confiscate guns. That of course will result in a spike in gun buys – which is exactly why the NRA exists in the first place.

(Side note: a vicious psychopath has just been arrested in the stabbing deaths in New York of a few people, including two young children in an elevator in their apartment complex, one of whom died. How long before the NRA and its backers foment a facetious campaign calling for all steak knives to be registered?)

New Ideas? New Leadership? How about some New Imagination?

Driving up the New York State Thruway I heard an advertisement paid for by people supporting the candidacy of Elise Stefanik for the 21st Congressional district high up in what is called “North Country.” Stefanik who is a young darling of the right (supported by Paul Ryan, Karl Rove) is campaigning on the tag line: “New Ideas, New Leadership.” Blah. That flavorless stew reminds me of the scene in “Back to the Future” where the mayors of 1955 and 1985 employ the same lame-o motto: “Progress is his middle name!”

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Anyway, Elise notes in her ad that, if elected, she will work hard to “Repeal Obamacare and replace it with common sense solutions.” Forgetting the reality that the first time Obamacare could possibly be repealed is early in 2017, when all the provisions will have been established for better or worse, would it be too much to ask “what do you want to replace it with?” I’m fairly tired of hearing about “repeal and replace” without much on the “replace” side of things. She doesn’t mention any ideas in her radio ad, but perhaps that’s because time is limited. I checked her website instead and there she lists some things she’d like to enact, although they don’t seem replacement-worthy.

Elise would enact these provisions if given the chance:

1. “Let people shop for insurance across state lines.” I used to work at an insurance company and I can testify that they dissect every shred of data when setting policy prices. If some sick bastard in New York saw a cheaper policy for sale in Idaho, I can guarantee that before he could sign his name on the line that is dotted, the Idaho company would have adjusted the rates to take into account his rapidly-diminishing vital signs. In the end, crossing state boundaries to buy insurance would quickly result in homogenized premium prices, accruing a net zero in savings.

2. “Pursue real tort reform.” An easy target, puffed up by crazy stories of people “winning the lottery” over minor surgical gaffes. Of course, we also hear on occasion about a patient who suffers from the amputation of a healthy limb, or one who dies because the doctor accidentally prescribed 10x the amount of a strong drug. Does Elise think these people should have no standing to pursue recompense? In any event, the whole “tort reform” angle is not supported by the evidence. According to Forbes, “A new study reveals that the cost of medical malpractice in the United States is running at about $55.6 billion a year – $45.6 billion of which is spent on defensive medicine practiced by physicians seeking to stay clear of lawsuits. The amount comprises 2.4% of the nation’s total health care expenditure.” Two point fucking four percent. Can we move on please? Besides, if Elise got her way, the sellers of malpractice insurance would have a cow and see to it she became a one-termer.

3. “Fight the waste, fraud and abuse that costs our health care system billions each year.” Give me a break. This is worse than “New Ideas, New Leadership.” The generic “waste, fraud and abuse” are perennial boogie-men, but no seems to able to a) effectively define them, and b) show how to eliminate the onerous costs without spending more to investigate and prosecute the subject offenses. I’m sure someone’s grandmother somewhere is scamming the system to get a fully-pivotal, earthquake-proof, Corinthian leather-seated wheelchair for free, but do we want the US Government to spend $100K to prosecute the “theft” of a $5K wheelchair? Better to go after the wheel-chair company for their loose practices with respect to Medicare – but that would entail taking on a revered “job creator.” Never gonna happen.

4. “Protect those with pre-existing conditions by funding state-level high-risk pools” Given that those with pre-existing conditions are already protected under O-care, this sounds like a tweak.

5. “Allow individuals and families to purchase insurance on the same tax-advantaged basis as businesses.” I’m good with that. But please don’t whine when the budget deficit increases as a result. Just please admit you don’t care about deficits when you give away tax bennies.

Mary Soames dies at 91. Did she have the teeth of a 291 year old?

Getting back to recently dead people, I see that Mary Soames, the last surviving child of the lion of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill died at age 91 on May 31. Mrs. Soames lived an unusual and varied life, one that allowed her to accompany Sir Winston to such memorable events as the Potsdam Conference where Roosevelt and Stalin tagged along. Despite her historic pedigree, I was more fascinated with the photo of her as a young woman during WWII, surrounded by smiling British soldiers. Damn – what they say about British teeth!

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Maserati Toys with its Brand

qmasLate last summer I strolled into the Maserati dealership on North Rush Street in Chicago where a fetching young woman guided me through the merchandise adorning the spotless floor. After a brief stop to ogle beautiful Ulysse Nardin watches, I got the lowdown on the new Quattroporte GTS, the Cambiocorsa, the Gran Turismo, and the brand new revitalized Ghibli. She also introduced me to a variety of other exotic cars available for sale: the Lamborghini Aventador and the Gallardo, the Aston Martin Vanquish, the Bentley Mulsanne, various Ferraris, a few McLarens. You know – the rides of the 1 percenters.

What struck me though was the Ghibli, the namesake of a sexy, rakish Maserati model introduced in 1966 that ran through production year 1973. (The name “Ghibli” refers to hot dust-bearing wind of the North African desert; Maserati also produced a car called the “Mistral” which refers to a strong, cold northwesterly wind that blows through the Rhône valley and southern France into the Mediterranean. Perhaps a “Santa Ana” vehicle is on the drawing board in Modena.)

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1967 Maserati Ghibli

The saleswoman explained that the Ghibli was set to retail for about $75K – a far cry from the flagship Quattroporte which goes for about $110K. She commented sotto voce that Maserati might be making a mistake by pricing a car that closely resembles the Quattroporte at three-fourths the price; a creature of commissions, the woman obviously feared that customers would opt for the less-expensive but pedigreed Ghibli, thus thumping her take-home pay.

I too wondered whether Maserati was making a strategic error. After all, Maserati has been forever a member of a category of cars considered “exotics:” limited in production; gorgeous of style; priced out of reach; endowed by a legacy of precision engineering and European racing credentials. The whole idea of Maserati (and Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bugatti, McLaren) is exclusivity. Even more so than Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and even Lotus. My concern: that Maserati may have made a blunder that could hurt its solid brand image – not unlike what Cadillac had done with the clunky Cimarron in the 1980s or Porsche with their Corvair-like 914. Believe me – the Ghibli is no Cimarron. . . but introducing a line within Maserati that costs just a tad more than a Jaguar F-Type or a Corvette sounds risky.

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Basic management texts describe revenue as the product of P times Q – price of the item times the quantity of the item sold. Luxury companies like Maserati, Tiffany, Bergdorf-Goodman, Patek-Philippe, Christian Louboutin and Kiton rely on exclusivity – ie. big P small Q. Reversing the arrangement – bigger Q, smaller P – fundamentally reframes the company’s brand, oftentimes for the worse.

I saw a Ghibli this week parked in a municipal golf course lot alongside dented Hyundais and rusty Subarus. There was no “Dead Head” sticker on the bumper, but like the song says, “you can never look back.” If too many dentists and Chipotle franchisees start driving Maseratis, the jig is up.

Joe Nocera Sucks Bezos’s Kneecaps

New York Times op-ed contributor Joe Nocera made his bones reporting on financial markets, but lately he’s been on a crusade against the NCAA. Nocera calls out the NCAA for treating college football and basketball players – guys who help drive millions (billions?) of dollars of revenue for the colleges and the NCAA itself – as nothing more than amateur “student-athletes” who partake of sport as though it were a hobby to enjoy between Calculus and Kierkegaard. I’m with Nocera on his assessment of the NCAA as a cretinous bunch of hacks enabling the exploitation of young people, most of whom will not enjoy a lucrative professional sports career awaiting them, nor a college degree either. You see, once the “student-athletes” are deemed insufficiently talented to propel the university to TV-revenue glory, they’re cut from the roster and set adrift, incapable of completing the curriculum.

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Joe Nocera keeps his head from falling off

So passionate is Joe Nocera about the evils of the NCAA, that the scribe penned a piece that opened as follows: “Twice a year in Vienna, the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries gather to decide on the short-term direction of oil prices. Sometimes, O.P.E.C. agrees to cut back on oil production, pushing up the price of oil. Other times, it decides to boost production. Always, the goal is to fix the price of oil, rather than allow it to be set by the competitive marketplace. Indeed, collusion and price-fixing are the main reasons cartels exist — and why they are illegal in America. Yet, in Indianapolis a few weeks from now, a home-grown cartel will hold its annual meeting, where it, too, will be working to collude and fix prices. This cartel is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.”

This cartel is the NCAA – sayeth Joe the Nocera.

So imagine my surprise upon reading Joe’s column today in the New York Times titled sarcastically, “Amazon’s ‘Bullying’ Tactics.” Nocera defends Amazon’s tactics which include such peevish behavior as purposely delaying shipment of books by certain publishers, denying buyers the opportunity to pre-order books, and taking down “buy” buttons on selected books. Normally such impudence would be met with a rush of buyers to alternative outlets – but as we all know, that is problematic because Amazon has gobbled up much of the e-book marketplace and now acts like the monopsony that it is. They use their bigness to unlawfully lower the prices of what it buys – a violation of the antitrust laws. Kinda like a cartel, right Joe? Joe’s response (not to me, but in his piece): “No matter what you think of Amazon’s tactics, they surely don’t violate any laws.”

Coincidentally (or not) another Op-Ed piece on the subject appears right next to Nocera’s paean to Jeff Bezos’s Amazonian behemoth: How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon by Bob Kohn who takes a contrarian view to Nocera’s. In Kohn’s view, Amazon is using monopsony power to fuck up those publishers and authors who won’t bow to its tyranny – and I’m on Kohn’s side.

Books by rabidly anti-NCAA/pro-Amazon Nocera are published by Penguin – and so help Joe if Penguin doesn’t toe the line with Bezo the Clown. He may have to turn his NYT column into a book promotion advertorial.

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The Adventures of Bezo the Clown

bezoAmazon.com was founded by Jeff Bezos as a book seller in the mid-1990s on the principle that revenue growth was paramount if the on-line store (then a novelty) was to compete against long-established companies like Borders, Waldenbooks and Barnes & Noble. On day one, Amazon had precisely zero customers so they needed an angle to lure buyers away from the well-stocked aisles of the big retailers. And the strategy was to sell books at the lowest price available – even if the transaction resulted in a loss for Amazon.com. Dot-com era shareholders and venture capitalists were cool with the plan, and their investments served to bridge the debit gap between the price of books sold and the cost incurred to procure them in the first place.

Nearly twenty years later, Amazon is for the most part running the same strategy. Only now, as a mature company, Amazon finds its shareholders are not as sanguine as before. Years of minimal profit (or outright losses, see bar graph) have taken a toll on Bezos’s avaricious company. The stock is tumbling.

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The infinitesimal black bars are profit for the year.

Under unusual pressure to perform, Bezo the Clown is trying something new. Not a departure from the subsidized-sale model that has sustained the business to date, but a scorched earth policy against the very people who make his book-selling arm possible: authors and publishers. Through the short-sightedness of publishers and the big retail book sellers, Amazon was allowed to cement a powerful control point by establishing the de-facto e-reader device accompanied by a simple-to-use online store. The fact that a few years prior, the music industry went through exactly the same type of upheaval which ended with an outsider (Apple) becoming the control point, it’s astounding that the book industry completely missed seeing the same inflection point in its industry. Had a book-friendly B&N launched the Nook a few year earlier – something easily accomplished had anyone thee been awake – they could have dominated their industry. Instead they’re hanging onto life by their fingertips, closing stores and contemplating sell-off.

In any event, now that Amazon has hegemony over the industry, it’s making punitive demands of its suppliers (authors and publishers) in the form of reduced royalties, mandatory loyalty oaths, and for those who push back, ostracism. Amazon is regularly delaying delivery of books from certain recalcitrant publishers, or refusing to sell them at all. So much for partnership. It’s ironic that most of the “big six” publishers who tried to cut a pricing deal with Apple were punished by the Justice Department, while the most evil of the players in the book-selling industry – Amazon – was granted freedom to march forward unscathed. Now Bezo the Clown holds a near-monopoly position and is exploiting it exactly as any business textbook would forewarn.

I have four books available on Amazon and I can tell you that they essentially offer you the sleeves off their vest. For example, in return for selling books exclusively on Amazon, the author is rewarded with a special promotion: the privilege of giving away books for free for up to five days. What a deal! What a country! I have removed my books from distribution for B&N Nook, Apple iPad, Sony eReader, Kobo, and who knows what else – just to be able to give away my book for free on Amazon. Yes – traffic on Amazon for my books spiked, but to what end? No royalties. Loss of sales on other outlets. Knowing for three months that I played the tool for Amazon.

My take: Amazon is becoming Walmart. Not in the retail business sense of dominating commerce, but in the evil sense of restricting flow of free trade while exploiting the working stiff. They’re a bully to its suppliers, and a dictator of choice to its customers.

I appeal to all avid readers: assuming you have one, buy local in your friendly indie book shop (I’ll give a shout-out to IndieBound ). And, to the friendly indie shops: invent a better way to for customers to purchase e-books. Collude with your competitors if you have to – after all, you’re dealing with John Sherman’s worst nightmare.

Golden Parachute in Iran: Death by Hanging

Accused: Stanley O’Neal
Occupation: CEO, Merrill-Lynch
Crime: As the sub-prime crisis swept through the global financial market while clueless Stanley checked his Blackberry, Merrill Lynch announced losses of $8 billion.
Penalty: Severance package included Merrill stock and options worth $161.5 million on top of the $91.4 million in total compensation he earned in 2006
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Accused: John Thain
Occupation: CEO, Merrill-Lynch.
Crime: Misrepresented the assets and liabilities of Merrill-Lynch to acquirer Bank of America while renovating his office to the tune of $1.2 million. US Government must come in to prop up the weakened merger at tax-payer expense.
Penalty: Total compensation of $83,785,021, which included a base salary of $750,000, a cash bonus of $15,000,000, stock grant of $33,013,151, and options grant of $35,017,421.
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Accused: Robert Nardelli
Occupation: CEO, The Home Depot
Crime: Oversaw flat growth at Home Depot while rival Lowes doubled revenues. Treated employees like shit. Shareholders felt like said shit-upon employees.
Penalty: Severance package was estimated at $210 million.
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Accused: Carly Fiorina
Occupation: CEO, HP
Crime: Steward of limp performance in a growing market; in the face of massive resistance, drove the ill-conceived acquisition of Compaq, a major seller of PCs just as the PC era was about to go into the history books alongside the Pony Express.
Penalty: Paid slightly more than $20 million in severance.
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Accused: Mahafarid Amir Khosravi
Occupation: Billionaire Iranian investor
Crime: Forging letters of credit with the help of high-level bank managers in order to get loans from Saderat, one of Iran’s largest banks.
Penalty: Death by hanging.

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The Customer is Always Right a Pain in the Asset

GM_RECALL_INQUIRY_2_36404083+(3)General Motors just received a financial penalty of $35 million (the highest allowable) meted out by the US Transportation Department for their “criminal” behavior surrounding the flawed ignition switches installed in Chevy Cobalts whose failures led to at least 13 deaths. As GM marches inexorably from this PR nightmare into a full-scale litigation shit-storm, it’s worth recalling a time when corporate America valued customers – and even its employees (horrors!) – over shareholders.

This was a time, dating back to perhaps Marshall Fields’s famous declaration that “the customer is always right,” when companies directly correlated their own financial successes with the happiness of customers. Dig out pre-1990s corporate literature, or read management text books from that era and you’ll see paeans to “customer satisfaction,” “respect for the individual,” “it’s all about the customer,” and “commitment to quality.” Hell, you couldn’t swing a dead cat in 1985 without hitting a “quality circle” or someone yammering on about ISO9000. This was an era of growing global trade when the names Edwards Deming and Malcolm Baldridge meant something, and the arcane phrase “six sigma” was bandied about by secretaries and statisticians alike.

It was “all about the customer” because as anyone with a spot of real-world experience knows, customers have mobility, and they can take their spending elsewhere whenever they feel under-appreciated. But is that still true? Merger and acquisition activity has soared in the past decade, leaving fewer choices for customers – especially in the financial, airline, media and national retail industries. Although the Federal Trade Commission approves just about every M&A proposal, presumably following due diligence, it seems the undesired outcomes always unfold anyway: reduced competition, employee layoffs, higher prices for crappier service. And big paydays for the shareholders – some of the heftiest being the executive architects of M&A to begin with.

It used to be a business foundation: good customer service meant greater revenue, market share and profit. Corollary to that was the notion that happy employees produced better goods and services, which led to satisfied and loyal customers. In other words, shareholder value was a by-product of attention to customers, not something that needed artificial engineering. There was little need to buy back shares, conduct wholesale layoffs, slice R&D spending, and move jobs off-shore. These tactics have only proliferated in the past couple of decades, with an acceleration in the last few years. Perhaps it’s an artifact of the internet and the formation cheap, online trading capability that has created legions of greedy day-trading, stock-watching Warren Buffet wannabees. It may also derive from the unconscionable tax breaks given to hedge funds that bestow superannuated powers upon them to influence corporate behavior.

Rather than show a modicum of concern about the drivers and passengers of its compact Cobalt, GM chose instead to cover-up and obfuscate information that could have saved lives. Undoubtedly, engineers, lawyers, actuaries and tax experts inside the company made a cost-benefit analysis that was geared toward holding the shareholders harmless. And now, with a heaping dollop of gall, GM is working a legal strategy to avoid paying claims in the billions by virtue of their government-forced bankruptcy in 2009. At that time I was on the side of letting GM liquidate. They had thumbed their noses at the government’s calls to field a more energy-efficient fleet, and when the economy tanked and buyers of multi-ton trucks disappeared, there was good old GM, French-cuffed arm extended for a nice fat handout. If they succeed with the “we wuz bankrupt” defense, auto buyers should look elsewhere for their future forms of ground transportation.

I mentioned the airline industry as one in which the customer has taken a cramped steerage seat way behind the coddled shareholder.

I write this blog high above the Rocky Mountains flying Delta 407 to Las Vegas. I barely made the flight which was scheduled to depart 10:45 (notice I did not say departed 10:45). After dropping off my rental car at the permanent dig site that is JFK airport, I took the Airtrain to Delta’s terminal 2 which deposited me on the sidewalk a good 10 minute hike (with bags) to the agent, who brusquely told me that because I had arrived 42 minutes before take-off, I could not check my bags. Had I been there 45 minutes before takeoff, OK. 42 minutes? F.U.

With insouciant disregard for my plight, the “bitch-of-the month” candidate informed me I would have to board the next flight – at 3:30. I told miss bottle-blonde that I would take my chances at the gate with an oversized bag, and demanded a boarding pass, which she tossed in my general direction. After rushing through security with half my clothing piled in a plastic bin, I scanned the signs for gate B36. Hmm. Nothing but C-gates. And a small sign that indicated A and B gates were located a shuttle bus-ride away in terminal 4. It seems Delta hadn’t gotten around to instructing JFK staff to note the change in terminal locations on the Airtrain billboard. Damn you Delta!

I popped out of the shuttle bus at terminal 4, wandered around for a few minutes looking for the elevator to the gates because the sign above my headed pointed in the wrong direction, and finally began my half-marathon to gate B36. As my luck would have it, two of the three moving sidewalks were out of order. And by my luck I mean “good” – at least it wasn’t a three-fer. Huffing and dry-mouthed, I made it to gate B36 just in time to hear the gate agent announce that the flight was delayed to 11:15. Good for me I guess – but what about the sacred 45 minute bag-check cut-off to boarding time? Did bottle-blonde not know that my arrival at her desk had actually occurred 73 minutes in advance? Or, like lazy corporate America, had she simply given up on the old adage “the customer is always right” and gone back to checking for a spike in Delta’s stock price? After all – if I miss the flight, Delta can charge double to some antsy slob waiting on standby at the gate like a Kindergartner about to pee his pants for a shot at the treasured no-show seat.

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Mainframe Turns 50; Founder Rolls in Grave

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This past month IBM celebrated the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the System 360 computer, the first in a long line of what would be come to be known as “mainframes.” In a move that was later called a “bet the business” strategy, IBM brought out a revolutionary system of computers, storage and software that changed business processes and cemented IBM’s position as the leader in technology for decades to follow. Despite numerous predictions that, like the dinosaurs, the mainframe was due for imminent extinction, in fact the product has sustained a good portion of IBM’s earnings year after year. (Rather than chafe at the comparison to dinosaurs, IBM notes that the lumbering creatures dominated the planet for millions of years.)

I suspect then that the cameo appearance of the IBM System 360 in last week’s episode of “Mad Men” entitled “The Monolith” was no coincidence. No doubt the vaunted IBM marketing machine went to work on the unusual product placement, matching the anniversary to the time-frame that the award-winning AMC series portrays. (By the way, I like the imagery of the rectangular black door that faces Don Draper as he exits the elevator at the opening of the episode – a not-so-subtle allusion to the original monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” After all, everyone knows that the name of the movie’s computer – HAL – was a nod to IBM. Or is that an urban legend?)

Dig up any old photos of IBM employees from the mid-1960s (especially those in sales and marketing) and you’ll see buttoned-down, not-quite dapper Don Drapers. They may not be as handsome as Don, but the thin-tie conservative vibe is all there. And this conservatism in dress and manner persisted well past the late-90s dot-com boom when NASDAQ upstarts like Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics relaxed working conditions and dress codes to stimulate creativity and nurture supposed genius.

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So imagine my surprise when I visited the ibm.com website the other day and came across this banner highlighting IBM’s eponymous cognitive computer named after the company’s founder, Thomas J. Watson.

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I can only imagine Watson’s reaction to the sight of a spike-faced freak gracing an IBM property. After rolling over in his grave a few times, which would Watson demand first? “Lose the piercings” or “Put on a shirt and tie.”

Trump disses Mies Van Der Rohe

Continuing with advertising . . .

A glossy, full-page ad for Trump Hotels ran in the New York Times last Sunday, picturing a sultry woman in a gold dress walking away from a leering man in a tuxedo, his tie undone and his thoughts (this being a Trump ad) undoubtedly teetering toward unchivalrous behavior yet to come.

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But forget the randy implication of a couple about to couple upon leaving an elegant Manhattan rooftop bar. It’s the tagline that kills me: “Whoever said less is more, never had more.” Although the sentiment captures Trump’s materialistic mentality, it’s clear that the junior copywriter who penned that blurb knows nothing about the elegance of simplicity. A more appropriate tagline for the Trump ad would have been the one I saw emblazoned like graffiti on a paintball emporium in Times Square: “Too much is never enough.” After all, Donald Trump is the king of too much: hotels, condos, golf courses, casinos, men’s wear, colognes, vodka – although his actual involvement in the enterprises is never quite certain. In many cases he’s simply licensing his name to some schmuck hoping to elevate his own vacant brand above that of Chucky Cheese.

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, the famous International Style architect who so thoroughly influenced urban structures from the 1950s on is most famous for expounding the ethos of “less is more.” The concept arose in the post WW I 1920s and 30s out of the German Bauhaus movement of architecture and design as a reaction to the heavy, overly-decorated designs associated with bourgeois buildings whose owners sought to mimic the royalty of Versailles and the castles of the Loire Valley (think Disney’s plastic Magic Kingdom.)

Tom Wolfe captured the sentiment well in his book “From Bauhaus to Our House”: “The bourgeoisie had always been great ones for false fronts, thick walls of masonry and other grant materials, overlaid in every manner of quoin and pediment and lintel and rock-faced arch, cozy anthropomorphic elements such as entablatures and capitals, pilasters and columns, plinths and rusticated bases, to create the impression of head, mid-section, and foot; and every manner of grandiose and pointless gesture–spires, Spanish tile roofs, bays, corbels–to create a dishonest picture of what went on inside, architecturally and socially. All this had to go.”

Clean design devoid of unnecessary frills was paramount.

It’s ironic that an ad for Trump would dismiss “less is more” given that many of his buildings derive directly from the foundations established by the International Style purists, and epitomized by Mies Van Der Rohe’s iconic Lake Shore Drive residences in Chicago, and the Seagram Building and Lever House, both on Manhattan’s Park Avenue.

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But leave it to Trump to extol the virtues of over-the-top garishness whenever the opportunity arises.

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When Charlie Met Meathead

meatRob Reiner may best be known either as the son of comic icon Carl Reiner, or as the tormented, droopy-‘stached “Meathead” Michael Stivic on the seminal “All in the Family” TV show of the 1970s. In fact, Reiner’s greatest accomplishments may actually be his directorial efforts on such films as “Stand By Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “This is Spinal Tap.” Casual movie-goers tend to be oblivious as to who directed the film they’re about to watch unless it’s the product of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or Martin Scorsese – and I suspect people are largely unaware of Reiner’s body of work.

No doubt with the help of his famous father, Reiner got started acting on TV early, playing a kid on “77 Sunset Strip” in 1959. Before landing the plum assignment as a major character on “All in the Family,” he did bit parts in no less than 16 series, many of them TV “classics”: “The Partridge Family,” “Batman,” “Gomer Pyle,” “That Girl,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Room 222.” By the time he completed his stint as “Meathead,” Reiner was ready for movies – pursuing a path much the same as his fellow TV personality Ron Howard.

A couple weeks ago on April 28, Reiner was feted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center as the 41st Chaplin Award recipient – an honor that seems well-deserved to me. Again, most people probably identify Reiner with “Meathead,” but keep these stats in mind: he has 24 director credits, 26 producer credits, 22 writer credits, 10 soundtrack credits, and 65 acting credits (TV & film).

“Stand By Me” is a heartfelt coming of age movie based on a novella by Stephen King that introduced a number of actors who went on to take on starring roles (River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman). “Misery” from another King novel about a writer rescued from certain death only to become a prisoner of his biggest fan is chilling and disturbing (even if you closed your eyes during the “hobbling” scene.) “The Princess Bride” is a clever and amusing tale (some may even say “inconceivable”) that showcases some interesting casting (Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn) and a couple cameos (Billy Crystal and Carol Kane). And of course, the most hilarious mockumentary of all time, “This is Spinal Tap,” a movie that set the standard that was followed by such funny stuff as “Best in Show.”

Paradoxically, I find that Reiner’s most successful movie – “A Few Good Men” – to be one of his weakest. The movie garnered four Academy Award nominations including Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Picture (although once again, the Academy found it unnecessary to nominate Reiner who directed the picture.) The plot is totally predictable, and the character development is formulaic. And some of the acting by lesser players is particularly wooden. True, “You can’t handle the truth!” is a memorable line, but what about “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me”? Who really talks like that? Furthermore, in 1992, after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the year the movie came out, the likelihood of Cuba attacking Americans on Guantanamo was ludicrous.

But my biggest complaint is with the courtroom drama segment in which cocky Navy lawyer Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) goads Guantanamo commander Col. Jessup (Nicholson) into admitting he ordered an illegal code red, thereby bringing about his own arrest and downfall. Strictly convenient B-Grade Perry Mason bullshit. It gives Jessup a chance to go ballistic while Kaffee stands there in perfect smugness for out-lawyering the tough commander – only in Hollywood. As Roger Ebert wrote in a pan, “A Few Good Men is one of those movies that tells you what it’s going to do, does it, and then tells you what it did.”

Still in all, congrats to Reiner for his Chaplin Award.

The Incredible Shrinking Florida

New climate change reports continue to speak of doom coming before the end of the century, and Florida is continually held up as the poster child for destruction. More than any other part of America, Florida seems to be the farthest along in suffering the noticeable ill effects of one of global warming’s biggest threats – the relentless rise of ocean levels. This story in the New York Time the other day describes the increasingly frequent flooding of sea water into the tony South Beach enclave of Greater Miami. I personally know some people who have had to sit by helplessly on several occasions while salt-water mixed with sewage and automobile fluids flowed into their in-ground pool.

But in spite of all the demonstrable evidence of trouble, three presidential hopefuls from the Sunshine State seem not to care: Sen. Marco Rubio, Former Governor Jeb Bush and current Governor Rick Scott are ominously quiet about the fate of their state. Given that Republicans (especially the primary voter types) tend to disbelieve climate change, and are outright hostile to any meaningful steps to tend to it such as carbon taxes or other regulations, no one seeking high office from the GOP side can summon the courage to take a stand – even as their own constituents regularly have to traipse thru brackish waters when crossing the street.

Miami mayor Philip Levine said, “Sea level rise is our reality in Miami Beach. We are past the point of debating the existence of climate change and are now focusing on adapting to current and future threats.” According to the article, “In the face of encroaching saltwater and sunny-day flooding like that on Alton Road, Mr. Levine has supported a $400 million spending project to make the city’s drainage system more resilient in the face of rising tides.”

My take – until the GOP leaders in Florida acknowledge the problem and take meaningful actions, I demand that not one penny of Federal funds goes toward this $400 million project – or to defray any other costs rising from a rising sea.

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The cross-roads(waters?) of SoBe and SoFi

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Cruel, but Becoming Less Unusual

sign2For the first time in more than 80 years, Oklahoma would execute two criminals on the same night: the dark and dreary evening of April 29. Due to some appalling incompetence, however, the state executioners only managed to get through one – and that was by accident.

Bad-guy Clayton Lockett was prepped to receive a triple dose of nasty chemicals injected one by one into his groin, as the usual spot on the arm would not yield a worthy vein. The first (midazolam) was meant to sedate him, the second (vecuronium bromide) was designed to paralyze him, and the third (potassium chloride) stops the heart. As lethal drug #2 was coursing its way into Lockett’s bloodstream, he unexpectedly tried to sit up and mumbled some words that suggested he wasn’t feeling no pain. Seems the person who set up the needle in Lockett’s groin didn’t do a quality job and as a result, not enough sedation made it into the condemned’s body. No matter. Lethal drug #3 did the trick, but not in a manner suitable for public viewing, as the executioners quickly lowered the blinds on the gruesome display. They also wisely postponed the second execution – after all, where were they gonna find a better phlebotomist on such short notice?

Consider this. Oklahoma went to the mat to stage this spectacle, and most likely scheduled two on the same day as a thumb in the eye of those bleeding-heart, anti-capital punishment wimps who had made so much noise about the unseemliness of using untested drugs and dosages to kill someone. And after being handed a victory by the State Supreme Court which green-lighted the use of the mystery cocktail of drugs over the objections of the death-row men’s lawyers, Oklahoma went ahead full steam – only to blow the whole thing, thereby handing over a huge club to their adversaries with which to beat them silly. As David Dow, a death penalty appellate lawyer in Texas, put it, “For a state that executes people, they are awfully bad at it.”

I’ve been an opponent of capital punishment mainly on the grounds that irreversible mistakes can get made, but also because its application around the country is uneven, and because it serves no purpose other than to satisfy the desire for revenge. But even pro-capital punishment people have to be shaking their heads at the sheer costs involved: expensive trials and mandatory appeals (which are necessary given the history of prosecutorial corruption, negligent defense and investigative errors), developing execution methods and training the “hangman,” PR issues, and sometimes, remunerating convicts following exoneration.

Oklahoma’s blown two-for-one special might have inadvertently become the incident that brings the death penalty to the beginning of its end in the US.

Geniuses of the Obvious

This past Saturday, Greg Mankiw writing in the New York Times reported on a study out of the University of Chicago that sought to discover the forces that drive political slant in the media. After a few years of research, the results are in! According to Mankiw, “The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.”

That’s it. After conducting extensive surveys, searching through newspaper articles using tailored algorithms, and correlating observations, they concluded that media give their customers what they want.

You only have to listen once to Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, or Ed Schultz, or read a couple editorials by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to understand intuitively that this is the nature of the news business – one that produces annual reports for hedge fund managers, and is beholden to stockholders who want to see returns. Shocker.

Maybe He’d Have Better Luck Picking His Nose

Required reading for fans of horse-racing from the Wall Street Journal writer Jim Chairusmi: “Why California Chrome Won’t Win the Kentucky Derby.” In his April 29 article, “Carnac” Chairusmi offers “Six Reasons to Look Beyond the Likely Favorite in the Run for the Roses.” The best reason? The favorite rarely wins. Lot’s of solid logic in this article, yet Chairusmi forgot the most significant reason of all: No horse named California Chrome has ever won in the entire 139 year history of the Kentucky Derby. QED.

For those fans looking forward to the Preakness and Belmont Stakes: read this article and do the opposite.

RIP Bob Hoskins

Francis Coppola’s film “The Cotton Club” starring Richard Gere and Gregory Hines received mixed reviews when it screened 30 years ago, but it remains one of my favorite gangster movies. The story is a mixture of real-life players and actual incidents blended with fictional characters – and the music and dancing are top-notch. (Side note: The Broadway hit “After Midnight” captures much of the same Harlem vibe and Duke Ellington swing that Coppola sprinkled so thoroughly throughout the movie.)

Although Richard Gere did a passable job playing Dixie Dwyer, a jazz musician who gets taken under the wing of Dutch Schultz (Gere did his own cornet playing), and Gregory Hines and his brother Maurice deliver some awesome tap-dancing, the most compelling characters are the second-stringers: Fred Gwynne (aka. Herman Munster), Julian Beck and, best of all, Bob Hoskins.

NPG x31047; Bob Hoskins as Owney Madden in 'The Cotton Club' by Adger W. Cowans

Hoskins, who died the other day at age 71 played the role of Owney Madden with appropriate flair and primal viciousness, just like the man he portrayed: an immigrant from England (Leeds) who worked his way up from petty crimes to ownership of the real Cotton Club. Although Hoskins himself is a limey from West Suffolk and has a thick Cockney accent, he manages to speak in the film with an Americanized tongue. Just as he did when playing Eddie Valiant in what I consider a brilliant film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” According to his obit, Hoskins discovered the role as a human amongst cartoon characters to be more than a bit daunting. In a 2009 interview with The Telegraph of London, he recalled how his doctor advised him to take five months off after finishing the film. “I think I went a bit mad while working on that,” he said. “Lost my mind. The voice of the rabbit was there just behind the camera all the time. You had to know where the rabbit would be at every angle. Then there was Jessica Rabbit and all these weasels. The trouble was, I had learnt how to hallucinate.”

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Hoskins’s highest achievement came a couple years later following his portrayal of driver for a high-priced “escort” in the film “Mona Lisa” in 1986, snagging a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor – which might be enough to get him into next year’s “In Memoriam” segment on the Academy Awards. Then again, he played “Mario” in “Super Mario Bros.” so who knows?

End Note

Regardless of what you think about Don Sterling, owner (for now) of the LA Clippers – does it bother you that he’s going down on the strength of a tape of a private conversation? One that he did not record or release himself?

Had the NSA captured the racist declarations instead of his petulant mistress V., and had an Edward Snowden-type mole leaked the transcripts, would people on the left be as excited to see the old codger taken down?

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Amnesiac Advertising

bkIf you’re over 40 years old – and especially if your name is “Herb” – you undoubtedly remember a gruesome television ad campaign for Burger King called “Where’s Herb?” The conceit behind the 1985-86 campaign, developed by J. Walter Thompson, entailed a hapless character who had never experienced the sublime pleasure of consuming a Whopper (the greasy hamburger, not the sex organ.) Burger King customers were invited to try to identify the mysterious burger-virgin – which was a pointless exercise at the time as Burger King hadn’t yet socialized Herb’s likeness. That didn’t come until a couple months later during the Super Bowl. And as you might expect from a clueless, three-piece-suit Madison Avenue agency, JWT concocted the stereotype of “Herb” as a fashion-addled, middle-aged nerd, complete with the obligatory horn-rim glasses, white socks and high-water, stovepipe trousers. (Side note: “Where’s Herb” was the last campaign JWT did for Burger King.)

Prior to the big reveal, the campaign deployed guerilla marketing techniques by keeping “Herb” under wraps in an attempt to build curiosity and anticipation, which as I recall never happened. Fundamentally, no one cared about the whereabouts of some asshole who never sank his choppers into a Whopper. Furthermore, BK’s offer of a discount off a Whopper to anyone who announced “I’m not Herb” when ordering, also failed to take root. In reality, anyone who actually considered uttering such a moronic claim in public thought twice about it lest they appear to be an even bigger dick than the creepy Herb.

Now it seems Burger King has a bad case of amnesia because they’re trying it again – this time with a the shop-worn character “Subservient Chicken.” A half-page ad in the New York Times this weekend pleads, “Have you seen this chicken?” and advises, “If found, please email chicken@burgerking.com.” Presumably, like “Herb”, the whereabouts of the “Subservient Chicken” will stay tantalizingly out-of-reach until some big signature event when the fugly fowl rears his bright red comb. And again, will anyone care? Unless the chicken is called subservient for reasons related to S&M, I’d guess “no.”

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If past is prologue, expect this lame ad campaign to run a few months before finding its rightful place in the dustbin of history. I can only imagine Don Draper deftly sticking a Lucky in his mouth and uttering a put-down that would make the actual Burger King cry.

Don Sterling Joins the Neanderthals of Sports Bigots

LA Clippers owner Don Sterling is in a jam for recently revealed remarks that to the untrained ear might be considered racist – although his history of such indiscretion goes back a long time. In addition to his ownership of a big-league basketball team, Sterling also makes coin by being a slum-lord. Some time ago, In an exchange with a property supervisor of a building he had just purchased, Sterling remarked on the “odor” of the place. “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean,” he said, according to the supervisor. “And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.” He added: “So we have to get them out of here.”

His opinion of the race of most people who play for his Clippers and the NBA overall is consistent with his views of his smelly tenants.

Classy shit. Definitely worthy to be cast among these sports clowns of yore:

Marge Shott – Cincinnati Reds owner in the 1990s:

Elegant Marge bestows wisdom accrued from many years of managerial experience: “Never hire another nigger. I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger.” And a favorite of many: “Everybody knows Hitler was good at the beginning, but he just went too far.”

Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder – Sportscaster

Half-wasted, quoted in a restaurant in 1988 while opining on the demise of the poor, discriminated white man in sports: “The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade…the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.” Thighs that go up his back? Seems Jimmy needs an anatomy lesson in-between sensitivity training.

Al Campanis – Baseball executive

Uncle Al the Kiddie’s pal explains black inferiority to everyone on Ted Koppel’s show: Blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager” for these positions. Later on he notes that blacks are often poor swimmers “because they don’t have the buoyancy.” Eureka!

Lush Rambo – Radio personality

Regarding Donovan McNabb, QB for the Eagles: “I’m sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go. I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.” But as McNabb proved for El Rushbo – QB is the white man’s burden.

Fuzzy Zoeller – Pro golfer

On Tiger Woods’s victory at the 1997 Masters, in front of a TV camera, for which its properties to record audio and video I presume the Fuzz-boy was familiar: “You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it?” Then Fuzzy walks away from the camera but can’t resist throwing one more line out. “Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.” Whatever the hell they serve? What an ass. Zoeller lost a lucrative endorsement from Kmart, as well as his reputation for being a nice guy.

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This Week in Jerk-ville

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Mr. Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court voted 6 to 2 to uphold a ban on using affirmative action to make college admission decisions in Michigan. The ruling sets in motion the likely spread of AA bans in other states. Whether that is good or bad will be debated forever. But one element is undeniably smelly: Clarence Thomas and his vote to expunge AA. Here’s a mediocre jurist crapping on affirmative action after personally benefiting from it throughout his career beyond all reasonable expectations. In his middling memoir, Justice Clarence bemoans the evils of affirmative action as a stain on one’s career – yet he never turned down the opportunities that came along with it.

Perhaps a movie could be made that involves a time-traveling DeLorean that transports mild-mannered & mute Jerkoff Justice Clarence back to 1955 where he nips AA in the bud, thereby eliminating his chances of getting into Yale, and by extension his appointment to the Supreme Court, which means he’s not really Justice Clarence anymore, thereby creating a paradox that confuses the audience like every other time-travel movie.

Selective Phrases

Every so often I receive an email ranting about the insidiousness of the Affordable Care Act, one that cites actual passages from the law to demonstrate not only its foolishness, but how it will inevitably bring about the decline and fall of the United States. Again, like Affirmative Action, ACA will be debated forever. But emails such as these do more to spread ignorance than enlightenment.

Because the email author attempts to build credibility by citing chapter and page of the law, the reader can easily verify veracity. I found one claim to be particularly amusing for its blatant and sophomoric deception. The emailer points out this statement in the law – “The tax imposed under this section will not be treated as a tax,” adding indignantly, “How could anybody in their right mind come up with that?”

Here’s the full passage from the law: “The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax imposed by this chapter for purposes of determining the amount of any credit under this chapter or for purposes of section 55.” Section 55 deals with the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Truncating the sentence – a jerky, shop-worn, bush-league tactic.

Cliven Bundy supporters run for the hills

Cliven Bundy may be a jerk for grazing cattle on federal lands without paying the fee – which happens to be a fraction of the cost he would have to pay if he grazed on private land – but the asshole politicians and pundits who elevated him to hero status are the true jerks in this stupid episode.

Such luminaries as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Sean Hannity defended Bundy’s “right” to graze on federal land for free, finding no irony that the situation boiled down to someone ripping off the government. Are Bundy’s actions any different than those of a person who would cut down a fir tree in Central Park to take home to decorate for Christmas? Still, because Bundy was taking on the Bureau of Land Management, part of the big, bad Federal government, he was likened to the Patriots at the revolution.

Then Bundy was taped giving his enlightened position on the fate of “Negroes.”

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro. When I go, went, go to Las Vegas, North Las Vegas; and I would see these little government houses, and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids…. and there was always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch. They didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for the kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for the young girls to do.

And because they were basically on government subsidy – so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never, they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered are they were better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things? Or are they better off under government subsidy?”

Are they better off under government subsidy? Cliven, you of all people should know the answer to that, as a man who has benefited from government subsidy for a decade or more.

Suddenly the supporters – the real jerks – ran for the hills. Here’s a sampling of some of the post-Negro-speech “outrage” that was issued by the formerly-enamored hero worshippers:

Sean Hannity – Pundit who devoted hours of air time to Bundy’s cause celeb cried, “His comments are beyond repugnant to me. They are beyond despicable to me. They are beyond ignorant to me.”

Rand Paul – Bundy’s “remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

Dean Heller – The Nevada Senator, who had called Bundy a patriot, “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

Michele Fiore – The Nevada Assemblywoman who came to Bundy’s defense said, “I strongly disagree with Cliven Bundy’s comments about slavery.”

(Side note: it looks like all these politicians use the same PR firm, given the similarity of responses and the degree to which they “disagree”.)

Because it’s there

“It is a bitter, bitter disappointment. I’m probably worse off than most in some ways.” That was the sentiment of British investment banker James Brooman after realizing that in the wake of a huge avalanche on the Khumbu ice-fall on Mt. Everest, he’d not be summiting the world’s highest (and perhaps most crowded) peaks. I hope for Brooman’s sake, he didn’t whine too much in the presence of the families of the 16 Sherpas who died in the avalanche. They might consider their lost climbers to be just a hair worse off than the frustrated banker.

And if self-pity wasn’t jerky enough, Brooman quit his job, sold his apartment and used up most of his savings to pay for the trip.

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The 10 Things I Hate About “The Ten Commandments”

MOSES460Not the tablets – the movie.
As with “It’s a Wonderful Life” around Christmas and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” around Thanksgiving, Cecil B. DeMille’s bloated epic “The Ten Commandments” appears perennially like a stinky weed every Passover season (although most viewers being Christian mis-associate it with Easter). And each time it arrives (as it did this past weekend) I find myself watching an hour or so of its four hour plus lifespan, marveling at its leaden pace and wooden dialog, agreeing with Time Magazine’s assessment that the film is “in some respects the most vulgar movie ever made.”

10twice

DeMille first produced and directed “The Ten Commandments” in 1923 as a silent film rendered in two parts: the Exodus story and God’s delivery of the two tablets to Moses. He returned to the same story told essentially the same way in 1956 with the version everyone knows: Charlton Heston as Moses, Yul Brynner as Ramses, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, and Yvonne DeCarlo (aka. Lily Munster) as Sephora. At 73 years old, DeMille spared no expense on his remake, taking years to complete the film, and in one famous sequence, featuring 15,000 extras and 12,000 animals. And although the film was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, it snagged only one – the second tier award for Best Special Effects. Still, “The Ten Commandments” made serious money and ranks in the top ten all-time grossing films. Yet Cecil was disappointed – the expected accolades for his 70th, and ultimately last movie, came up short.

Today, it seems almost comical that the film was at the time reasonably well-reviewed, and that the phony-looking effects were Oscar-worthy. In fact, the more I watch it the more I hate it. Here’s why:

1. Every Voice-Over starts with “And”

“The Ten Commandments” feels like two movies glued together with the second part rushed to get to the finish line. Hence the overuse of voice-overs to explain actions rather than shots and cuts. VO’s are a sure sign of laziness and inferior movie-making – and “The Ten Commandments” is chock-full of them. Furthermore, it seems every time the baritone narrator opens his mouth, the first word out is “and.” “And God smote this…. And God sayeth that…. And Moses didst perform the nasty….” Over-done and poorly at that.

2. Stilted dialog

DeMille worked with writers on the script starting in 1954, a full two years before the film was released, and yet the dialog doth sucketh. I presume that in an attempt to render English into Biblical-sounding cadence, the writers felt it necessary to make the lines over-wrought with gravity. So much so that it hurts the ears. For example:

Nefretiri: I could never love you.
Rameses: Does that matter? You will be my wife. You will come to me whenever I call you, and I will enjoy that very much. Whether you enjoy it or not is your own affair. But I think you will…

And one of my favorites. After a young boy marvels at the sight of the parted Red Sea, a grizzly old blind man utters: “God opens the sea with a blast of his nostrils.” Luckily for the fleeing Jews, God doesn’t get the flu, else they might have crossed the sea knee-deep in mucus.

3. Edward G Robinson as Dathan

Although Robinson was born Emanuel Goldenberg into a Yiddish-speaking Jewish family, he seems oddly miscast as Dathan in “The Ten Commandments.” Yes, Dathan was a Jew who opposed Moses, but Robinson plays him the same way he’d play a Prohibition-era tough-guy. He doesn’t call Moses a dirty rat, but his demeanor is closer to that of Johnny Rocco in “Key Largo” than that of a desert-backwater Israelite tramping the sands of 2,000 BC.
(Side note: Leading up to “The Ten Commandments,” Robinson had been unable to get good parts. After being cast for the movie, Robinson wrote, “Cecil B. DeMille returned me to films. Cecil B. DeMille restored my self-respect.”)

4. Moses turns his staff into a snake – and so does Pharoah’s magicians

Moses demands that Pharoah let his people go, lest he suffer the wrath of God. Unpersuaded by idle threats, Pharoah declines. In an attempt to demonstrate the power of the Almighty, Moses throws down his staff which morphs into a cobra. The courtesans find this stunt quite alarming, but when Pharoah’s magicians duplicate the trick, Moses’ stature seems disappointingly diminished. OK, Moses’ cobra killed the magician’s snakes – but so what. No wonder Pharoah told Moses to hit the road.

5. The column of fire as Deus ex Machina

God leads Moses and the Jews out of Egyptian bondage – straight to the banks of the Red Sea with no way to get out. The fleeing souls are poised to become fodder for Pharoah’s gaining troops. Panic (and the first of much irritating bitching aimed at Moses) ensues. Just as Pharoah’s troops prepare for the slaughter, God installs a huge pillar of fire to block their advance. That the actual “God” pulled this lame stunt, the pillar of fire scene could be considered the biggest Deus ex Machina of all time.

6. God closes the water after Egyptians enter Red Sea

Man, that’s just mean. Unless God ran out of fuel to keep the pillar of fire going, he should have closed the sea after the last Jew crossed instead of waiting like a sadistic mad-scientist for the Egyptians to plod into the murk. Unless He really hated the Egyptians – which begs the question: why let them reign over the “Chosen People” for thousands of years. Unless He really hated the Jews, too. Jeez.

7. Vincent Price as Baka

Baka is Pharoah’s master builder, and as such oversees the development of some fairly challenging structures. Under tremendous pressure to meet tight schedules, Baka can’t worry about workplace safety. He needs thousands of slaves to make bricks by hand and transport multi-ton blocks of stone. And if he loses a few hundred in the course of standing up an obelisk, so be it. In short, Baka is a prick. But casting horror-show veteran Vincent Price turns Baka into a creep as well. I can’t help thinking about a man with the head of a fly whenever Price is on screen.

8. Those ungrateful slaves

Reluctant Moses takes on the challenge of leading his people to freedom – and after siccing some insidious plagues upon the Egyptians, he succeeds. But is that good enough? Nooooooo. Every stumble on the path to the Promised Land is met with whining and moaning. For forty effing years! I have to believe Moses once or twice wished he’d stayed a Prince bedding Nefretiri instead of becoming the unappreciated leader of a bunch of ragged, ungrateful complainers. Best of all – Moses never gets to the Promised Land. He gets a tantalizing glimpse of it in the distance, then croaks.

9. His followers his break balls, so Moses breaks the tablets

Apparently the slaves just wanted to get out of Dodge. They had no interest in hanging around for Moses to lay some new laws on them – especially ones that dictate all the things they can’t do. Holding two stone tablets, Moses comes down the mountain into a 1950’s Hollywood version of an orgy. He scorns his fickle followers only to be mocked by Dathan and the pulsing crowd. Dathan challenges Moses – “Did you carve those tablets to become a prince over us?” – pushing Moses over the edge. But you have to admit – it’s a valid question. Moses flings the tablets at a huge golden calf which explodes in a fireball. The tablets are destroyed, and yes, Moses carves a new set – which seems to validate Dathan’s suspicions. (By the way: where does a pack of dirty, shekel-less slaves conjure up enough gold to make a scale-model of a calf?)

10. Central casting has no ethnic people

Other than the exotic-looking Yul Brynner (actually Russian), no one in the cast resembles someone who might have lived in ancient Egypt (with the exception of albinos). I know the film was made in the 1950s, but to my knowledge, like Moses, Abraham Lincoln let the people go almost a century prior.

10 actress

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The 5 Stages of “Global Warming” Doubt

6a00d8341c630a53ef0133ecb623d9970bThere’s a “movie-inside-a-movie” scene in Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” where a stand-up comic riffs on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of death. He notes that Kubler-Ross came up with the five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – having not had the benefit of dying herself. I suppose there’s a silly logic to that observation – not unlike that surrounding climate change, often referred to inappropriately as “global warming.” After all, no one on earth has had the benefit of living through an ice age, so what do we know.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report a couple weeks ago claiming that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose almost twice as fast in the first decade of this century as they did in the last decades of the 20th century. But that shouldn’t shock anyone, given the regular news reports about wanton coal and wood burning going on in India and China. The report also found a certainty of 95+ percent that humans are the main cause of climate change – a statistic believed by most rational people, but not by the noisiest deniers who seem to have out-sized influence.

Which brings us to the five stages of climate change denial.

1. There is no “global warming” problem
Based on detailed analysis derived from sticking their heads out the window, deniers conclude there is no problem. After all, one time it snowed so much in Washington DC, that family members of Senator James Inhofe (noted denier) constructed an igloo and cheekily labeled it “Al Gore’s New Home.” How could the globe be warming when it’s snowing in DC? QED.

2. OK, there’s a “global warming” problem, but it’s not caused by humans
After facing the results of some strange and vicious weather, some people are having trouble ignoring what seems to be a change in climate. But hell, the climate’s been changing since the Earth was created 4,000 years ago. Even before man invented coal. No way could little old humans be the cause. In fact, Ronald Reagan had it right when he said, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” Yeah – trees are the real culprit.

3. OK, there’s a human-caused ”global warming” problem, but fixing it will kill the economy.
Everything runs on coal and oil – so fixing global warming means going back to the horse-and-buggy. And no more lights in your house either. How would you like that? No TV and no refrigerator! There are just no alternatives to fossil fuels because stuff like wind and solar can’t compete without subsidies – and after subsidizing oil and gas to the tune of $4 billion a year, there’s no money left.

4. OK, there’s a human-caused ”global warming” problem that would cost more to ignore than to fix, but look at the bright side.
Maybe spending billions now would seem better than spending trillions later, but don’t forget the benefits of “global warming.” Do we really want to pass up all the good stuff that comes with it? New York City will enjoy Miami-like weather, farmers will be able to harvest corn all year long and make more ethanol, Royal Caribbean will spin-off Royal Arctic Ocean and begin cruises to the North Pole.

5. OK, “global warming” bright sides are outnumbered by the down sides, but it’s too late to do anything anyway, so when you think about it, there is no “global warming” problem.
Well, maybe the tundra will melt and leak methane into the atmosphere. Invasive bugs will migrate north and kill off forests. Half of Florida will be under water. World War III will start over a fight for water. But hey – what’re ya gonna do?

Would you lick these stamps?

I used to visit a now-defunct used-book store on the corner of Charles and Bleecker Streets (now a Juicy Couture) that offered an immense selection of books featuring the artwork of Touko Laaksonen aka. Tom of Finland. Called “most influential creator of gay pornographic images,” Tom created works of highly-stylized images of the stereotypical macho man embodied by some of the characters in “The Village People” and Al Pacino’s buddies in “Cruising.” Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe derived some of his best compositions from portrayals of Tom’s leather-clad, butch-cut, muscle-men. The sado-masochistic poses were often lurid, even comical, and almost impossible to ignore. Because Tom produced more than 3,500 illustrations in his lifetime, the number of books of his work was enormous – and I swear the store on Bleecker sold every one.

I suspect that outside of Gay enclaves like the West Village and Provincetown, Tom of Finland is virtually unknown. Now I see that the government of Finland plans to issue three postage stamps honoring Tom of Finland. An honorific of this nature for such an artist in uptight America would never happen, but an enlightened country like Finland seems to harbor no inhibitions. Good for them.

TOF_Stamp3

By the way, the stamps are self-adhesive, so you only have to lick them if that’s your fetish.

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Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks

leeeLeee Black Childers, along with Bob Gruen, Roberta Bayley and Mick Rock was one of pre-eminent photographers capturing the NYC rock n roll underground – although Childers was just as likely to appear in a photo as to snap it. Childers came to New York in the late sixties from San Francisco via Kentucky where he was born in 1945 – not such a great time or place for a gay man. Shortly after arriving in New York Childers met up with Andy Warhol for whom he later performed managerial duties – a skill that he parlayed into gigs as tour manager for the likes of Bowie and Iggy Pop.

His close association with 1970s purveyors of glam rock afforded Childers special access to pursue his interest in photography. Childers consulted Warhol about the skills and talents required to be a good photographer, and in typical blasé’ Andy Warhol fashion, the pop artist advised “say you’re a photographer, and you’re a photographer.” That makes eminent sense to me.

Childers died the other day which brought renewed if temporary focus on the heady times of glitter, glam and punk that I thoroughly enjoyed in the 1970s. These were pioneering days for alternative music that addressed not flowers and peace and Rocky Mountain highs, but transsexuality, drugs, loneliness, violence and other urban delights.

Some of Childers’ best work was exhibited in 2012 under the title, “Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks.” The show was revived in LA at the Lethal Amounts Gallery just a few weeks before Childers died.

Here are a few of my favorites. (All photos Copyright (c) Leee Black Childers.)

bowie
David Bowie

eno
Brian Eno

Divine-low-res-6201
Divine

iggy
Iggy Pop

o-DEBBIE-HARRY-570
Debbie Harry

smith
Patti Smith

mapple
Robert Mapplethorpe

nydolls
New York Dolls

cooper
Lou Reed & Alice Cooper

spiders
The Spiders from Mars

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Duck and Cover

In Muslim cultures, the “thumbs-up” sign is an offensive gesture, and eating and drinking with one’s left hand is considered gauche. One of the more insulting gestures in Muslim culture is to show the bottom of a shoe, such as might happen when crossing one’s legs while sitting, as the sole of the shoe is where disgusting detritus can collect (especially in a country where camels wander freely.) Therefore, to throw a shoe at another person might well be the ultimate Islamic insult. Just ask George W. Bush who dodged a pair thrown at him by a reporter during a press conference.

Now, for some reason, the shoe-throwing gig seems to have crossed-over into the general secular arena as evidenced by the recent assault in Las Vegas upon Hillary Clinton who was giving a speech on solid waste management. She dodged the sneaker; can she dodge the expected smears that will redouble as she gets closer to running for president? As Clinton moves forward toward the 2016 Democratic nomination, you can expect an ever-increasing attack offensive on the former FLOTUS and Senator. I don’t anticipate lots of shoe-tossing (the Secret Service takes that shit rather seriously), but I do expect a heavy-duty, coordinated attempt to resurrect dormant memories of the decades-old Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. I’m not sure how well the tactics will work, but the goal is certainly to make a dent in Clinton’s natural advantage with women.

Before the onslaught begins, it’s worth remembering some of the hypocrisy of those late-90s crazy times – and to prepare for a lot more of it.

Newt Gingrich
Former Speaker of the House and serial adulterer Gingrich can be counted on to participate in the smear campaign, but he carries a ton of marital baggage. He was a relentless detractor of Bill Clinton’s affair while conducting one of his own. Gingrich’s belated self-assessment is telling. “There were times when I was praying and when I felt I was doing things that were wrong. But I was still doing them. I look back on those as periods of weakness and periods that I’m not only not proud of, but I would deeply urge my children and grandchildren not to follow in my footsteps.” That assumes anyone alive will admit to being a child or grandchild of pompous Newt.

Robert Livingston
In the middle of Monica-gate, patrician Bob Livingston was in line to become Speaker of the House. Instead he resigned from Congress. Livingston said he “strayed from my marriage” after learning that Hustler magazine was preparing an article reporting that he had had several extramarital relationships. Larry Flynt: The Edward Snowden of infidelity.

Henry Hyde
This blob of cellulite who was to head any inquiry into impeaching President Clinton was faced with revelations his own extra-marital escapades. Tom Delay of Texas, upon hearing of the allegations called them “the most despicable, most disgraceful, most disgusting piece of rumormongering that I have ever seen.” Unfortunately for the Tom the future prison inmate, Hyde copped to it (kind of): “The statute of limitations has long since passed on my youthful indiscretions.” Side note – his “youthful indiscretions” occurred when he was in his 40s.

Mark Sanford
Before becoming governor of South Carolina and avid hiker of the Appalachian Trail, Sanford was a member of Congress who voted to impeach. Sanford-the-pious opined, “I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally (to resign)… I come from the business side. If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he’d be gone.” Explaining his decision to back impeachment articles against Clinton, he added, “I think what he did in this matter was reprehensible… I feel very comfortable with my vote.” Years later, Sanford found himself in precisely the same situation as the evil Clinton. Did Sanford follow his own counsel from the business side, and resign his governorship? Shit, you know the answer to that one.

David Vitter
Holy man Vitter had harsh words for Clinton and voted to throw him out of office. He said of Clinton: “his leadership will only further drain any sense of values left to our political culture.” Perhaps, but what of Vitter whose name was later found in the Rolodex of the so-called “DC Madam”? A mea culpa, some bogus therapy maybe, but no resignation for our hypocrite from Loozy-Ana.

Mark Foley
Before being run out of Congress for engaging in under-aged sex with male pages, M.F. said of Clinton’s Oral Office behavior: “It’s vile. It’s more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction.” Perhaps he thought it was vile because it involved a man and a woman?

Larry Craig
This spud from Idaho voted to impeach before assuming a “wide stance” in an airport men’s room, flashing come-hither signals to an undercover cop. With his wife by his side on TV, Craig denied being a “homosexual” – but it only reinforced the claim.

John McCain
When our hero was running for president against Obama, we occasionally saw his bottle-blonde wife Cindy tagging along – the wealthy heiress of Hensley & Co., one of the largest Anheuser-Busch beer distributors in the United States. But where did she come from? Well before voting to impeach Clinton, John McCain was enjoying some extra-marital action with young Cindy whom he met in Hawaii in 1979. McCain ditched his wife of 14 years and married the heiress – and yet he still had no sense of empathy for a man whose little head sometimes overrode the big head.

Strom Thurmond
Damn – what can you say about a guy who voted against Civil Rights and voted to kick out a sitting president for extramarital infidelity, who then was revealed in death to have fathered an out-of-wedlock child with a black woman? What is in that South Carolina water?

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The Long Life of a Short Man

mickey-rooney1Mickey Rooney, who died the other day at age 93, spent nearly all of his life in show business, having begun performing in his parents’ Vaudeville act at the precocious age of 17 months. Mickey Rooney had more lifetime experience in movies, TV and the stage than the immortal Mickey Mouse. In contrast to the on-screen persona of the lovable diminutive boy-next-door character he played often in his early and most memorable part of his career, Rooney was in real life often angry and frustrated. Rooney bemoaned his short stature – and the limits it put on the roles he was offered – noting once that he would happily sacrifice 10 years off his life for another six inches in height. He blew massive sums of money in the gambling establishments of Las Vegas. And he was a serial matrimonialist – tying and untying the knot several times, seemingly unable to find any durability.

Until I read his obituary I did not appreciate the extent of Rooney’s popularity in his youthful prime. “In 1939, America’s theater owners voted Mr. Rooney the No. 1 box-office star, over Tyrone Power. That same year he sang and danced his way to an Oscar nomination for best actor in ‘Babes in Arms.’ He was box-office king again in 1940, over Spencer Tracy, and in 1941, with Clark Gable taking second place.”

That passage reminded me of 2003 Academy Award host Steve Martin’s monologue in which he pointed out Mickey Rooney’s presence in the audience – way in the back of the theater. Martin noted drolly, “Mickey, I’m sorry we couldn’t get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here,” pointing to the jar-head action hero sitting in the front row.

A telling example of the fickleness of the public. I wouldn’t be surprised if you asked someone under the age of 25 to say something about “Mickey Rooney,” they’d respond, “goes great with melted cheese.”

Anyway, I’ve conjured up a few tests to challenge your knowledge of the Mick.

What was Mickey Rooney’s real name?

Mickey McGuire – Bernie Schwarz – Marion Morris – Joseph Yule – Ronald McMurphy – Rubin Manischewitz – Michael Rooney – Andy Hardon.

Let’s put on a show!

In the early days of the Hollywood studio system, companies often cloned successful movies to build a franchise of money-making productions. One of the most lucrative and derivative plot lines was the use of the “let’s put on a show” to solve a problem and wrap the movie on a happy note. Match the movie with the problem solved.

1) “Babes in Arms”
2) “Strike up the Band”
3) “Babes on Broadway”
4) “Girl Crazy”

a) Make money to save the college
b) Fund the high school band contest
c) Make money for out of work parents
d) Pay for orphans to go to the country

Marriages

rooneyava

Mickey was married eight times. Starting with his first marriage in 1942, there was never more than a few months between a divorce and the next wedding – an indicator of his neediness for companionship. Put Mickey’s marriages in order from shortest to longest.

1) Ava Gardner
2) Betty Jane Rase
3) Martha Vickers
4) Elaine Devry
5) Barbara Ann Thomason
6) Marge Lane
7) Carolyn Hockett
8) Jan Chamberlain

Characters

rooney

Although type-cast as energetic, wholesome Andy Hardy through 15 such movies, Rooney later snagged a variety of roles – some with depth, others quite dopey. Match the movie with the character played by Rooney. Note: one of the movies did not feature Mickey – which one was it?

1) “National Velvet”
2) “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”
3) “Angels with Dirty Faces”
4) “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
5) “The Black Stallion”
6) “Boys Town”
7) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
8) “Baby Face Nelson”
9) “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini”

a) Whitey Marsh
b) Robin Goodfellow
c) Mr. Yunioshi
d) Henry Dailey
e) Dingy Bell
f) Lester Gillis
g) J. Peachmont Keane
h) Mi Taylor

Answers

Mickey Rooney’s real name: Joseph Yule

“Let’s Put on a Show!”: 1c – 2b – 3d – 4a

Marriages:
1) Marge Lane – 1966-1967 (100 days)
2) Ava Gardner – 1942-1943
3) Martha Vickers – 1949-1951
4) Betty Jane Rase – 1944-1949
5) Elaine Devry – 1952-1958
6) Carolyn Hockett – 1969-1975
7) Barbara Ann Thomason – 1958-1966
8) Jan Chamberlain – 1978-2014 (more than all previous marriages combined)

Characters: 1h – 2e- 3 NA – 4c – 5d – 6a – 7b – 8f – 9g

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Does anyone really believe . . .

. . . That GM CEO Mary Barra – who led engineering there – had no idea that the ignition switches on the crappy Cobalt were faulty?

. . . That Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius thought an intruder was lurking in his locked bathroom?

. . . That George W. Bush can paint?

. . . That Vladimir Putin has no designs on Ukraine?

. . . That NY Yankee Derek Jeter will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility?

. . . That Don Lemon should be on TV after suggesting Malaysian Airlines flight 370 might have been sucked into a black hole?

. . . That golfer Tiger Woods can win another major?

. . . That a bartender would serve 1800 Tequila just because Ray Liotta glared at him?

. . . That Al Roker looks good thin?

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Stubby Ears and Blood Disorders: Publisher’s Gold

107203_v1Although the barriers to publishing books have fallen precipitously over the past several years with the introduction of the Amazon Kindle ecosystem and similar services from Barnes & Noble, SONY, et.al., the largest challenges for most authors remain intact, namely marketing and distribution. For this reason, the only reliable path to widespread success for writers is to get picked up by one of the major publishing houses and their imprints (Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House+Penguin Group, Macmillan, and Hachette) who will expend money and personnel to cultivate talent and fund promotion.

However, because the big publishers have also seen their traditional revenue streams upended by the e-book juggernaut, they’ve redoubled their focus on deriving greater profits from a shrinking set of people who have a large base of established fans. Notice I said “people” not “authors.” Today, it appears the book publishing industry would rather engage with actors, musicians, TV personalities and sports figures than novelists, biographers and essayists. This is especially true in the non-fiction genre. Top sellers this week on the New York Times nonfiction list (hardcover and paperback) include these erudite scholars from the world of TV: Chelsea Handler, Bill O’Reilly, Greg Gutfeld, Charles Krauthammer, Brian Kilmeade, Tina Fey and Cokie Roberts.

For people who fancy themselves dedicated full-time writers as opposed to celebrities who phone in pointless memoirs and redundant history lessons as part-time money-making shtick, receiving even passing recognition is a pipe-dream. Publishers love to gin up exposure for their top revenue prospects, and with the possible exception of an audience with Oprah, nothing can compete with being the star of a Barnes & Noble’s in-store author event, particularly in Manhattan – home of the traditional publishing industry.

During the of month April, B&N will host dozens of authors who might read passages from their books, discuss characters, and sign books that have been purchased as a prerequisite to attend the event. An examination of this month’s featured writers reinforces the notion that big publishing promo dollars tend toward celebrities who have name recognition and can draw in the loyal fan base. Here are a few of the top draws.

Title: Face the Music: A Life Exposed
Author: Paul Stanley
Literary credentials: Member of rock band Kiss
Publisher’s comment: “A memoir with a gripping blend of personal revelations and gritty war stories about the highs and lows both inside and outside of KISS.” Gripping? They also mention that Stanley was born with an ear deformity that rendered him deaf on the right side – a necessary hardship that every memoir must include to give an otherwise formulaic subject an obstacle to overcome.

Title: Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian
Author: Bob Saget
Literary credentials: TV personality famous for playing maudlin characters and hosting “funny” home videos that actually seemed quite sadistic
Publisher’s comment: “Millions of viewers know and love Bob Saget . . . in this bold and wildly entertaining publishing debut, Bob continues to embrace his dark side and gives readers the book they have long been waiting for.” I believe millions know who Saget is, but love him? Perhaps these are the same dopes who love toe jam and the sound of scraping fingernails on a blackboard. Furthermore. . . “bold” and “wildly entertaining”? Are we talking about the same Saget who once frotted with Liberace?

Title: Playing with Fire
Author: Renee Graziano
Literary credentials: Mobwife on TV
Publisher’s comment: She’s “the star of Mob Wives and perhaps the show’s most compelling character.” I assume they hedge with the word “perhaps” because it’s likely there are absolutely no compelling characters on the show whatsoever.

Title: Love Life
Author: Rob Lowe
Literary credentials: TV and movie actor
Publisher’s comment: “Find yourself in the presence of a master raconteur, a multi-talented performer whose love for life is as intriguing as his love life.” So intriguing in fact that the reader will learn Rob’s views on “camping at Sea World, his first journey to college with his son, trying to coach a kids’ basketball team dominated by helicopter parents, and the benefits of marriage.” Clearly, such insights will open the eyes of middle-class adults who have never experienced such phenomena.

Title: Everybody’s Got Something
Author: Robin Roberts
Literary credentials: Member of TV’s “Good Morning America” show
Publisher’s comment: “Recounts the incredible journey that’s been her life so far, and the lessons she’s learned along the way.” Watch out for the phrase “so far” – that means a derivative sequel is in the works. “With grace, heart, and humor, (ed. note: and not to be outdone by Paul Stanley and his dodgy ear) she writes about overcoming breast cancer only to learn five years later that she will need a bone marrow transplant to combat a rare blood disorder . . .” Damn, she should be on “As the World Turns” instead of “Good Morning America.”

Title: Magnificent Vibration: A Novel
Author: Rick Springfield
Literary credentials: Pop musician/memoirist
Publisher’s comment: ”Bobby calls the 1-800 number scrawled inside the front cover, only to discover that he has a direct line to God. This launches Bobby on an unlikely quest, serendipitously accompanied by a breathtakingly sexy and exceedingly sharp travel companion named Alice. Together the pair sets out to find some combination of spiritual and carnal salvation—and possibly save the planet.” Well, at least Springfield wrote an actual novel involving salvation both carnal and planetary – after penning an obligatory memoir in which he shares grim details of “his lifelong battle with depression.” Sidebar: Is depression a better or worse condition from a memoir point-of-view than a stubby ear?

Title: Jason Priestley: A Memoir
Author: Jason Priestley
Literary credentials: TV and movie actor
Publisher’s comment: “Honest, compelling, and often humorous details of Priestley’s up-and-down life, from his childhood in Canada to his adult life as a husband and father.” Note that the book covers the ups and downs facing Priestly lest his story not meet the required allotment of cheap pathos.

Title: The Closer
Author: Mariano Rivera
Literary credentials: Baseball player
Publisher’s comment: “The man who intimidated thousands of batters merely by opening a bullpen door, began his incredible journey as the son of a poor Panamanian fisherman. When first scouted by the Yankees, he didn’t even own his own glove.” Such is the conceit of the memoir – always a struggle. The dude didn’t even own a fucking glove. (Again, does that trump the Paul Stanley’s bum ear and Robin Robert’s blood disorder?) Nevermind that Rivera pocketed about $170 million for pitching a couple innings every few games thereby outperforming in one year the reader’s lifetime earnings – he suffered more than you.

Title: The Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook Recipes from a Texas Kitchen
Author: Nolan Ryan
Literary credentials: Baseball player
Publisher’s comment: “Legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan grew up in Texas and early on developed a passion for cattle ranching that rivaled his interest in baseball. His first cookbook offers 75 recipes for sizzling T-bone and rib-eye steaks, mouthwatering burgers, slow-cooked barbecue ribs, and more.” Thank God for Nolan Ryan’s book without which we would still be boiling ground beef in used motor oil and barbecuing ribs in the clothes dryer.

Title: Unbreak My Heart: A Memoir
Author: Toni Braxton
Literary credentials: Singer
Publisher’s comment: “The bestselling solo R&B artist finally opens up about her rocky past and her path to redemption. While Toni Braxton may appear to be living a charmed life, hers is in fact a tumultuous story: a tale of personal triumph after a public unraveling.” Oh yes – the “charmed life” is merely a façade to hide the horrible life of this wealthy diva. Maybe that’ll make you feel better about yourself after spending $27 for the hardcover. (By the way, she has small vessel disease in case you’re feeling smug.)

Title: Brunette Ambition
Author: Lea Michele
Literary credentials: TV star
Publisher’s comment: “The star of the hit show Glee shares her experiences and insider tips on beauty, fashion, inner strength, and more in an illustrated book that’s part memoir, part how-to, and part style guide.” Part how-to . . . what? “Lea Michele is one of the hardest working performers in show business.” Really? I wonder if the thousands of actors performing bit parts off-off-Broadway, sitting in the dark night after night as the never-called understudy, auditioning all afternoon for a bit part on a 30-second TV commercial, and making rent money working second-shift as a singing waiter would agree. But hey – Lea has inner strength, so eff you.

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A Million Bucks Says I’m Against Gambling

adelmoneyFirst we had the righteous clerics, then came the blustery Donald Trump, and now making noises is the addled Sheldon Adelson. What do they have in common? They all hate gambling – at least the kind that interferes with their own pursuit of the wagered dollar.

The hypocrisy of the church, which runs weekly Bingo events and “Las Vegas Style” casino nights inside their dingy parish halls, is well-documented. Although stopping short of calling gambling a sin – that would be a tough proclamation unsupported by Scripture – the church never misses an opportunity to weigh in on the latent evils lurking about the games of chance despite their reliance on the proceeds from chuck-a-luck. A few years ago the Catholic Church in Massachusetts was strident in its opposition to casino gambling in that state, circulating bulletins and ranting from the pulpit, but found their influence wanting. Ironically, according to Ray Flynn, Boston’s mayor at the time, “It was really the clergy sexual abuse scandal that really brought the church to a position where they weren’t very effective in lobbying in the Massachusetts Legislature. I think they lost a lot of their moral and political influence and clout up at the State House.” I guess like Frank Sinatra, the legislature didn’t appreciate the church blowing on some other guy’s dice.
(For more on the subject, read my tart blog entry “The Roman Conflicted Church” from October 2013.)

Back in 1993 when Donald Trump owned three Atlantic City casinos (Trump Castle, Trump Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal), a group of uppity American Indians – referred to as “a very limited class of citizens” by Donald – was making headway in their goal of operating their own casinos. Sensing a looming incursion of an un-American practice known as “competition,” Trump filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government.

trump
Donald Trump’s hairspray reaches its half-life.

The Mashantucket Pequots had already established the lucrative Foxwoods Casino in nearby Connecticut (building a case on the basis that the Catholic Church was already running games of chance there), and now the Ramapough Indians of New Jersey were getting into the act. Trump’s suit maintained that allowing Indian tribes to open casinos discriminated against him. I suspect a blowhard of Trump’s magnitude would have had a hard time self-labeling as a discriminated victim – but money is money, and competition has no place in the pursuit of it. Incidentally, the three Atlantic City casinos once run by Trump filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 – for the third time. As Donald once said, “I do play with the bankruptcy laws—they’re very good for me.” Obviously better than the laws of chance.

Crepuscular Sheldon Adelson is the billionaire owner, chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which also owns gaming properties in Macao. Adelson and some partners bought the old Vegas Sands Hotel in 1988 and a few years later constructed the fabulous Venetian on top of its razed carcass. He also built a casino complex in Pennsylvania that opened in 2009. So the man clearly is up to his tuchas in casino gambling action. And I have no problem with that.

Yet like so many of his ilk, once he established his dominant position in his chosen industry, Adelson went on the offensive against allowing others to partake of the well. Recently, Adelson, who said “I am willing to spend whatever it takes,” has hired an army of lobbyists to build Congressional animus toward online gambling – you know, playing games of chance on that fad called the “internet.” Disguised as a public service against the rampant corruption of youth that online gambling would advance, Adelson and his minions (aka. pliant, money-grubbing Congressmen) are actually planning to eliminate competition against brick-and-mortar casinos. And screw the conservative dogma about supporting “states’ rights;” Adelson seeks to have the (dare I say it?) Federal Government nullify laws already passed in New Jersey, and those poised to pass in a couple other states. Pussies like the flimsy Lindsay Graham of South Carolina are ready and gaping to take Adelson’s money in return for introducing appropriately punitive legislation.

adelson
Sheldon Adelson looks afar for a cure for terminal comb-over syndrome.

Adelson claims “This is not a competitive issue,” adding piously, “my moral standard compels me to speak out on this issue because I am the largest company by far in the industry and I am willing to speak out. I don’t see any compelling reason for the government to allow people to gamble on the Internet.” Strange – usually conservatives don’t see compelling reasons for the government to deny people things they want to do.

As the 11th richest bastard in the world, Adelson is obviously no dummy. He knows the gambling economy is bounded by a finite quantity of revenue people can afford to lose – and every buck wagered online is one that isn’t lost in a brick-and-mortar casino. In other words, concerned Adelson envisions himself as the Barnes and Noble of gambling: a dinosaur up against a fleet-footed Amazon. And he doesn’t like what he sees.

But unlike B&N, Staples, Best Buy and countless other companies fighting online competition by trying to offer personal customer service, more compelling products, and unique in-store experiences, Adelson prefers the blunt instrument of wielding his hefty wealth to stamp out competition by installing specious legislation with the willing aid of Congressional whores.

Despite Adelson’s largesse, I predict he’ll fail in his endeavor – just like his ill-fated $98 million investment in Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

Wanna bet?

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Baselworld – Time of Your Life

basel Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show opens this week in Switzerland, and sadly I am not there. I love watches. The combination of artistry and mechanical precision that results in a world-class time-piece is something to admire – and pay for through the nose. And in some cases, not just a single nose, but the probosci of one’s heirs.

We’re talking five figures to start, and going from there beyond a hundred K in some instances. Are they worth it? Naysayers will note that the $50,000 Patek-Philippe produces inferior time-keeping precision than an Asian-semiconductor-assisted, plastic-strapped, mall-kiosk 2-for-1 special priced at $15. Fair enough. And if the only goal is to ascertain the precise time at any moment, then even possessing a watch would be unnecessary. Many youngsters today have eschewed the wristwatch altogether for the all-knowing-all-seeing cell phone. Too bad.

What the naysayers fail to understand is that the Patek-Philippes (or any number of boutique time-pieces) are elegantly fabricated from precious metals and jewels by a lonely craftsman who has spent months at a cramped table making the god-damned thing. The resulting time-piece is a functional work-of-art. Isn’t that worth something? The elite say “hell, yes,” and commit with their hard-earned(?) paychecks.

Some of my favorites on display this week:

Girard-Perrgaux Tri-Axial Tourbiilon Teaser

Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon Escapement Dual Time
Arnold-and-Son-Double-Tourbillon-Escapement-Dual-Time

Breguet Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377 in Platinum
Classique Tourbillon extra-plat automatique 5377PT_12_9WU-thumb-960xauto-20993

The Harry Winston Opus XIII
Opus XIII_Front_Black Background

The Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5227
Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5227-thumb-960xauto-18310

Ulysse Nardin “Stranger”
Ulysse-Nardin-Stranger-thumb-960xauto-19109

Glashütte Original Senator Observer 1911
glashutte-original-Senator-Observer-1911-1

MB&F HM3 ReBel
P1010484

Blancpain Carrousel Répétition Minutes Le Brassus
Blancpain-Baselworld-2010-thumb-960xauto-22060

Raymond Weil Nabucco Pensiero
Raymond-Weil-Nabucco-1

Golden Bridge Titanium by CORUM
Corum-Golden-Bridge

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Death of a Hate Salesman

pThe 2007 documentary “The Most Hated Family in America” presented by Louis Theroux is not about the Kardashians, the Koch Brothers, the Clintons or Bushes, but rather a sociopathic clan of homophobes established by recently deceased Fred Phelps. Phelps, making a cameo appearance in the film as a somewhat addled, cantankerous human hemorrhoid was the patriarch of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) whose parishioners consist mainly of his hillbilly family members who are infamous for picketing the funerals of American soldiers and politicians in the name of God’s hatred for – in their words – “fags.”

The WBC are also stewards of the charming websites GodHatesFags.com and GodHatesAmerica.com – and given God’s well-documented infallibility, the WBC must have been pleasantly surprised the Almighty hadn’t already registered the domain names for Himself.

“The Most Hated Family in America” is a less-than-satisfactory documentary in that Theroux mostly plays the bemused observer of all things crazy with the Phelps’s; it reminded me of the skits on “The Daily Show” in which a Comedy Central shill pretends to be doing straight docu while quietly punking the subject. Nonetheless, the raw content of “The Most Hated Family in America” is devastating, and for that I highly recommend viewing. Even though Theroux flubs opportunities to call the WBC cretins to account for their actions, they are more than capable of self-damnation in front of the camera. If you’ve ever wondered how young Muslims came to embrace suicidal jihad, you’ll find signs of similarly toxic inculcation in this film.

Young family members (some as young as 6 or 7) bastardize songs like “America the Beautiful” (“God spread his shame on thee”) and hold up signs that illustrate military members engaging in anal sex, announcing “No Tears for Queers.” The logic is that “soldiers fight for a depraved and doomed nation” and hence they and their families deserve scorn.

To be fair, the WBC also hates Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Sweden. In one sequence, a WBC fanatic rails against the “Jew Church,” and when confronted about the logic of his loathing for a race of people that included Jesus Christ, informs the audience that “Jews worship the rectum.” Wow.

hams

As for the Swedes, the animus apparently stems from that country’s tolerance of Gays – and in retaliation the WBC members employ a scorched-earth strategy and picket an appliance store in the US that sells Swedish-made vacuum cleaners. (The connection is tenuous – unless perhaps the WBC sees a conspiracy between “fags” and Swedish sucking machines?)

Because Fred Phelps makes virtually no air time in the documentary, it is left up to his deranged daughter Shirley to carry the water for the insane. When confronted about the rationale for the abject hatred of Gays, she relies on the commandment against adultery, never stopping to consider picketing the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani. Perhaps she steered clear of the usual shopworn Biblical citation in Leviticus (18:22) about the abomination of homosexuality because the passage is located too close to another sin (Leviticus 19:19) which would seem to trivialize it: a prohibition of wearing a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material. It’s hard to imagine the WBC picketing The Gap proclaiming “God Hates Polyester Blends.”

Seriously, the tactics employed by the WBC are disgusting and demented, and seem to me to be a calculated ploy to provoke a violent reaction from the people they torment so as to gin up greater coverage for their bizarre beliefs. As Theroux notes, “Being hated was proof they were doing the right thing.” To their great credit, the victimized families of dead soldiers who were confronted by placards declaring “Pray for More Dead Soldiers” never took the bait. And even after Phelps kicked the bucket, the widespread reaction of his chosen adversaries was not one of glee, but rather more like a shoulder shrug. For just about everyone except the remainders of the WBC, the loss of Phelps seemed no more consequential than popping a zit – you’re glad it’s gone, but the result is hardly life-altering.

Unfortunately the documentary ends just when things seem to be getting juicy. One of Phelps’s granddaughters, a 21 year old placard-carrying hate-monger, has just been admonished by her mother Shirley for considering going to a diner with a school chum for coffee. Theroux probes: why does a 21-year old adult need the permission of a parent to have a cup of coffee – and why does said 21-year old toe the line so readily? The girl almost cracks to reveal her inner conflict over hating the whole world while wishing to participate in it, but quickly reverts to her Bible-thumping Nazi façade.

I bet a bit more probing would have yielded a truly fascinating documentary about the manifestations of child abuse masquerading as religious fundamentalism.

RIP Rock Action

Scott Asheton, original drummer for The Stooges died March 22 at the age of 64 – which is about 40 years longer than any actuary would have predicted given his association with some of the craziest people to walk on stage in possession of rock n roll instruments (and little of their faculties).

ASHETON-obit-web-master675
Scott Asheton third from left

Nicknamed “Rock Action” for his pounding beat and passion for the business, Asheton, along with guitarist-brother Ron, bassist Dave Alexander, and seemingly-immortal front-man Iggy Pop together formed seminal band The Stooges in 1967. They quickly banged out two albums, the first being the most influential in my mind (Producer John Cale also performed on a couple songs), but #2 “Funhouse” also rises to the top of the hard-core punk compendium – both nearly a decade before The Ramones, The VoidOids and The Sex Pistols stumbled upon the scene. Number three “Raw Power,” mixed by David Bowie, came out in 1973 with a slightly different line-up, and again was a stunning piece of rock – although the commercial success was non-existent. My favorite tune: “Penetration.”

Still, to be a contributor to a venture that is now understood to be foundational is something Rock Action could be proud of.

After decades in the wilderness, Scott Asheton came back to play on the superb 2013 Stooges “reunion” album “Ready to Die”. Prophetic, indeed.

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The Legacy of Peter Callander

CALLANDER-obit-master180By some calculations the total number of unique five minute songs is 1.7 trillion, of which perhaps five million have been recorded. Given this vast universe of musical combinatorics, it’s understandable that thousands of horrible songs would have been pressed into vinyl, laser-cut into plastic and rendered into bitful MPEG files. Less intuitive is how so many crappy ditties have come to top the pop charts since such tracking began decades ago. Perhaps a song captured widespread attention by its sheer cacophonic ineptitude, like a crowd forming around a car wreck – think “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” by Napoleon XIV, and “Hooked on a Feeling” (ie. the ooga-chaka version) ruined by Blue Swede. Maybe it’s the lemming factor – I have to like the song because everyone else likes it. That’s probably how a piece of shit like “Achy Breaky Heart” reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992, and got a Grammy nomination to boot. But the most probable reason bad songs fare well is that people have no taste.

Thinking back to a time well before iTunes, Pandora and Spotify – when all new music was consumed via the radio – I vividly recall three irritating songs that were the equivalent of poison ivy on my eardrums: “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” for some reason performed around the same time by both Paper Lace and Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods, “The Night Chicago Died” again by Paper Lace, and “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” by numerous lounge lizards, the most famous being Wayne Newton.

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero” tells the tale of a guy who joins the army against the wishes of his fiancée, goes to battle, and of course gets killed. Was he a hero? According to the song, “The soldier-blues were trapped on a hillside – The battle raging all around – The sergeant cried, We’ve got to hang on, boys, We got to hold this piece a’ground – I need a volunteer to ride up, And bring us back some extra men.”

Billy volunteers…to ride into the fracas looking for extra men to bring back? Where the hell from? Rent-a-Soldier? Sounds more like a suicide mission than an act of heroism

This song was not only a cheap tearjerker, but a nonsensical one as well. It made Rolling Stone magazine’s top ten worst songs of the 1970s.

“The Night Chicago Died” with its grating chorus of nah-nah-NAH-nah-nah-NAH’s recounts a Capone-era gangland battle between hoodlums and cops in Chicago (located “Back in the USA” in case there was some confusion about which Chicago was being referred to). The one-night fight raged on “’Til the last of the hoodlum gang had surrendered up or died,” which subsequently spelled the death of Chicago. Apparently, the city ceased to exist from that point forward. A song devoid of suspense, lacking historic foundation, and chock-full of sophomoric lyrics. Still, it made number 1 in 1974.

And then comes “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast,” a million-selling record that reached number 4 on Billboard, and a perennial member of the various incarnations of the “100 worst songs of all time.” Pure corn-pone.

A man is fed up with his wife – so much so that he resolves to leave for good. As he’s walking down the highway (apparently too poor or stupid to take a cab), he gets the sense he’s being followed. Sure enough his bawling “little daughter” has caught up with him. Apparently, 1) contrary to the song’s title, daddy walks real slow, 2) daddy didn’t have the courtesy to tell his daughter he was leaving her for the rest of her life, and 3) mommy doesn’t give a shit if the crying tot ambles down Interstate 15 in her jammies. Anyway, daddy tells the little girl that he has to catch a train. Presumably he presses on in the hope she got the message – but nooooo! “I turned around and there she was again.” Jesus, what an asshole.

By now the listeners of this maudlin three-hankie abortion have fallen into two camps: the weepy-eyed sentimentalists and the rank, concrete-heart set. After daddy proclaims, “I just had to turn back home right there and then, and try to start a new life with the mother of my child,” you want to believe the first camp has come to its senses, renounced its charter and joined the concrete-hearters. Start a new life? Just like that? Shit, in real life, daddy walks all the way home just in time to catch his wife doing the nasty with the pool boy.

Okay, three pretty awful songs that managed to hoist themselves high on the pop charts – and get this: all written by the same man, Peter Callander who died the other day at age 74. According to the obituary after “The Night Chicago Died” became a hit, the manager for Paper Lace “wrote to Chicago’s mayor at the time, Richard J. Daley, asking if the city might be interested in promoting it in some way.” Daley’s response came in a rude, terse letter: “Are you nuts?”

Perhaps one of the mayor’s aides cried out, “Daley, Don’t Be a Zero.”

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19 Screenwriters for Every Screenwriter

43You often hear people complain about the sorry state of movies from Hollywood, an industry that is ever more dependent on revenue from a collection of bloated action blockbusters, reliable if not imaginative sequels to previously successful films, and derivative offerings based on concepts with established bases such as comic books and TV shows. With the exception of a handful of quality movies meant to compete for Oscars released near the end of the year, it seems much of the Hollywood output – despite a concerted, corporate-mentality effort to appeal to a desired target audience – misses the mark more often than not.

For insight into why this might be, take a look at the “winners” of the annual Razzies awards for worst movie, director, screenplay, sequel/ripoff, etc. A common thread among the winners and nominees is the over-abundance of screenwriters and directors who played a role in the development and fashioning of the final product. And I believe such uber-collaboration is a main cause of why so many movies are convoluted, unbelievable, unfunny and generally horrid.

Consider the 2013 “winner” of worst picture, “Movie 43” – taglined “The Most Outrageous Comedy Ever Made.” Perhaps that’s true. It may also be one of the most reviled films of all time, capturing an abysmal 4% rating on RottenTomatoes. How about this sampling of reviews:

“As a film critic, I’ve seen nearly 4,000 movies over the last fifteen years. Right now, I can’t think of one worse than Movie 43.” – New York Daily News.

“Despite all the gross-out humor, the most offensive thing about this is the lazy filmmaking; every shot feels like a first take, and the haphazard editing precludes any comic timing.” – Chicago Reader.

“Absolutely disgusting, nauseating, misogynistic, racist, cruel, void of any common sense.” – Cinema Crazed.

“How many directors does it take to screw in a star-studded piece of aggressive stupidity and call it a movie? An even dozen, and there is no punch line.” – Los Angeles Times.

Say what? Twelve directors?

Yes, and upwards of 20 screenwriters. As Brian Gibson of Vue Weekly properly put it, “It’s death-of-laughter by committee.”

Not surprisingly, most nominees for the 2013 Razzies have this “death-by-committee” phenomenon in common.

“After Earth” – Screenplay by Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, story by Will Smith.

“Grown Ups 2” – Written by Fred Wolfe & Adam Sandler & Tim Herlihy.
(It took three people to pen a sequel to the moronic “Grown Ups,” but bear in mind, one of them was Adam Sandler.)

“The Lone Ranger” – Screen Story & Screenplay by Ted Elliott, Justin Haythe & Terry Rosso.
(Well at least these three Shakespeares wrote a screenplay AND a screen story.)

“Smurfs 2” – Screenplay by J. David Stem and David Weiss from a story they wrote with Jay Scherick and David Ronn.
(Four guys for a fucking Smurf movie? This had to be on a par with scripting porn.)

What happened to the days when killer scripts came from the manual typewriters of talented individuals like Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Paddy Chayefsky, Francis Coppola and Woody Allen? I suspect risk-averse studios and production companies meddle too much in the course of film-making, interfering along the way to tweak the movie to comport with the latest poll figures and viewer-sentiment metrics just in from the marketing department. Writers receive “help”, then they get replaced altogether – a process that is repeated several times. And directors who stray a tad too close to budget ceilings are summarily sacked.

If other industries reassigned and divided project leadership as much as Hollywood does, you’d probably encounter aircraft made of lead, vitamins that explode on contact with water, and refrigerators with built-in ovens. And maybe even banks selling mortgages to unqualified borrowers which quickly balloon beyond the poor bastards’ abilities to pay them back. Good thing the banks never let that happen.

Pinpoint the Pan – March 9 edition

As I explained many blogs ago, I like to scan the TV section of the New York Times in search of pithy, one-liner pans of movies to be aired that evening. More often than not, the list of crappy movies outnumbers the decent ones – which is likely related to the maladies suggested above. Here are the pans from this past Sunday. No less than ten stinkers in one evening.

“Thoroughly predictable.” – A Knights Tale
“That old hack magic.” – Now You See Me
“In the key of schlock.” – Pitch Perfect
“Sloppy directing debut.” – Quartet (directed by Dustin Hoffman)
“Uninteresting slog.” – After Earth (Razzie nominee for worst picture)
“Fool’s errand, desperately unfunny.” – King’s Ransom
“Gone.” – Going Ape
“Deeply square, largely mirthless.” – The Hangover Part II
“Aggravated melodrama.” – Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail
“Murder on your brain cells.” – Killers

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