Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is Ugly The New Beautiful?

"When a woman once told Winston Churchill he was drunk, he is said to have replied: “And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober tomorrow, whereas you will still be ugly.”

There’s a lot of hopeful media lately about how ugly is now the new beautiful.

The hit television series “Ugly Betty” is frequently cited as proof that it’s now okay for girls to be ugly in America.

But as an article in the New York Times points out, “…the show’s star, America Ferrara, is universally considered attractive. She makes a Cinderella transformation from a frizzy-haired character with braces and too-tight clothing into a conventional Hollywood beauty whenever she appears on a red carpet or magazine cover.”

“Shrek” is coming to Broadway and no doubt will be hugely successful; ads for the Broadway production are being marketed behind a “Be Ugly” theme.

But, “some critics have labeled the “Be Ugly” campaign as a marketing ploy, and they argue that the show [Ugly Betty] has done little to increase acceptance of the homely."

"On the contrary, American society continues to move aggressively in the opposite direction, critics say, placing an ever-higher importance on beauty.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Red Sex Blue Sex

The “sexual d├ębut” of an evangelical girl typically occurs just after she turns sixteen. Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark.

"Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion."

The quote is from a recent New Yorker article looking in greater detail at the reaction of many delegates at the Republican Convention to the news that Bristol Palin was pregnant.

Cindy McCain's Human Side

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sun Studio

I'm really glad that Graceland was last on my list of things to see during my recent visit to Memphis, because after visiting Sun Studio there was no reason for me to go.

I mean no disrespect to hard-core Elvis Presley fans, several of whom I spoke with during my recent visit to Bluff City. I understand that you have to go to Graceland if you want to immerse yourself in all the costumes and the country opulence (and decadence) that most people think of when they think of Elvis.

When I think of Elvis, I think of the three years or so after he arrived in Memphis from Tupelo, went to work as a truck driver for Crown Electric, and began churning out a raw blend of country and soul that sounded like nothing anyone had heard before. He recorded it at Sun Studio for Sam Phillips at the same time Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash were doing the same.

At Sun Studio, you stand in the same recording studio they all used, right next to the original speakers and recording equipment; for hardcore rock and roll fans, it is overwhelming.

When I was fourteen , the adult world hated Elvis for exposing us white kids to black music, but after Sam Phillips sold Elvis’s contract to RCA for $35,000 and Colonel Parker got hold of him and made him into a Hollywood star so that he would be acceptable to mainstream America, I lost interest in him and in his music.

Morgan Freeman recently opened a restaurant and blues club just off Beale Street in Memphis called "Ground Zero." I didn't get a chance to check out the music or the food, but it sure looks a cool place, and the name is perfect for its location at the epicenter of the blues in America. The music had better be good because that's a lot to live up to, especially with BB King's club just around the corner.

But for me, Sun Studio is the real Ground Zero in Memphis.

It's where Rock and Roll was born.

I was pleased to see that it has been designated a National Historic Landmark, but it’s really too bad that Memphis couldn’t have beaten out Cleveland as the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, because that's where it really belongs.

Lorraine Motel

I didn't expect to be so moved by our recent visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis TN.

The walk through the Museum itself reminded me of several things I had forgotten about the history of the civil rights struggle in America, and the exhibits inside the Museum were outstanding

But it was the exhibits outside the Museum that really got to me.

You get off the trolley on South Main Street, walk down some steps through a little park, and when you realize you’re standing right in front of the Lorraine Motel -- exactly as it was in 1968 -- you’re hit by the full impact of Martin Luther King's assassination , and it takes your breath away.

Then you walk across the street, through a tunnel and into the actual rooming house from which James Earl Ray fired the shot. The room that Ray occupied, and the open second-floor bathroom window from which the shot was fired, are also exactly as they were in 1968.

It was truly chilling to stand in the bathroom of that rooming house, looking out the window that gave Ray a clear shot across the street, to the balcony just outside room 306.

The exhibits that document Ray’s journey after the assassination and prior to his capture reinforce the theory that he was well financed, and could not have acted alone.

It is a blessing that the motel and rooming house were saved from demolition so that they can provide a living history component to the Museum.

If you’re ever in Memphis, be sure to make this your first stop, ahead of Graceland .

Monday, October 27, 2008

McCain Left On Campaign Bus Overnight


I took a trip through the countryside of upstate New York and back in time to Cooperstown for a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

It had been almost twenty years since my last visit to the Hall. I was prepared for making the ninety minute drive from Albany almost entirely on local roads, but I wasn’t prepared to find that nothing had changed along State Route 20. And in the case of State Route 20, that’s not a good thing.

Sad little roadside yard sales, boring houses, baled hay everywhere, endless satellite dishes, dozens of McCain signs – it was a lot like traveling the back roads of West Virginia. The only major employer in the area appeared to be a huge Wal-Mart distribution center, set down in the middle of nowhere.

In fact it was like traveling the back roads of most of the United States, and that was not comforting during the run-up to the Presidential election in November.

The Village of Cooperstown, however, is another thing altogether, an oasis in the midst of all this desolation. With a steady flow of tourists from around the world, and its quaint homes and old-fashioned charm, it is a lovely place to visit, even for non-baseball fans.

Unlike State Route 20, The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has grown and developed quite nicely over the past twenty years.

The “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience” and “Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball” exhibits were new to me, inspirational and humbling at the same time.

But while the new exhibits and audio/video presentations were excellent, I spent most of my time (as I had last time) in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery, reading the bronze plaques and immersing myself in the history of the game. Then I spent too much time (and money) in the Museum store, trying to talk myself out of buying almost everything I saw.

I will leave you with two pieces of advice if you’re making your first visit: double the time you think you’ll need to fully enjoy the Museum; and if your companion isn’t a baseball fan be sure to plan an alternate activity outside the Museum for him or her – there’s nothing worse than having travelled all that way and having someone who’s bored asking “Are you done yet?” when you haven’t really begun.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Remember $400 Haircuts?

If you've been worried about a major for your college-age kid, maybe he or she should seriously consider becoming a makeup artist or hair stylist -- so long as after graduation, they can network into the world of Cindy McCain and the senior advisers to her husband's presidential campaign.

Today's New York Times highlights (sorry) the $22,800 paid to Sarah Palin's makeup artist (who was recommended to her by Mrs McCain) for two week's worth of services. There was a separate payment of $10,000 to another person for two weeks of hair styling services.

It seems like it wasn't so long ago that John Edwards was severely criticized for the cost of his haircut.

I guess the cost of everything has just gone way up.

"Such A Shy, Sweet Girl"

“I kind of worried about how she would do up there on stage,” Ms. Osborne said. “You have to have a certain go-get-’em to get up there and stand up for yourself, and she came across as such a shy, sweet girl.”

Even if she and John McCain lose the election on November 4, I don't see Sarah Palin disappearing from the public eye anytime soon unless she chooses to.

I've been in Memphis Tennessee for the past few days, and I have noticed that whenever a McCain ad shows up on television, it's Sarah Palin doing the talking and getting the face time. John McCain has been reduced to a quick-cut in his own campaign ads.

Her performance last week on Saturday Night Live was very impressive, to the point where some television executives must have been thinking that she could have her own show if and when she wanted it. She's one of those people who understands how to use the medium to connect with people, even those who don't like her

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Dig Bill Evans

I have hundreds of songs on my iPod, but I often return to those involving the jazz pianist Bill Evans as composer, soloist or sideman. If you're not familiar with him, click on the title

Bill Evans is one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century. His work with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others, and especially with his own trios, is as fresh and lyrical today as it was five decades ago.

Listen to the interplay between Bill, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Paul Motian on the Bill Evans Trio's late 1950s and early 1960s recordings like "Moon Beams," and the live 1961 Village Vanguard sessions. Even though I've listened to his music for a long time, I still discover gorgeous facets to his solos that I'd somehow missed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brooke Shields Routan Boom

The new VW commercials flew right by me the first few times I saw them -- I had no idea what the message was supposed to be. But I did pay attention, because -- well, it is Brooke Shields.

Then I got the message, but I thought it was really stupid.

I still think the message is stupid, but I think this pseudo-documentary is pretty clever:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Francona To Manage McCain Campaign?

A report out of New York claims that the McCain Campaign has hired Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona to manage its final push toward the White House.

Based on the Sox Skipper's sterling track record of leading an organization back from the dead in several high-stakes situations (if only for a short time) Francona is an inspired -- if risky -- choice.

But time is running out for the McCain campaign, and drastic measures are in order.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ghost Whisperer

One of the benefits that accrues to a top-rated network television show is the freedom to stretch out from time to time, and having the budget to do it properly.

For the past few months, "Ghost Whisperer" has been a diverting weekly entertainment that Gail and I enjoy watching together.

"Ghost in the Machine," this week's show, takes on an important subject -- on-line predators -- and puts some serious resources behind the production of a powerful and scary episode that will hit very close to home for a lot of parents.

This behind-the-scenes feature will give you a taste of the exceptional special effects; try to see the full episode if you possibly can:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Edie Adams

I've been posting too many obituaries lately, but the passing of Edie Adams can't go without notice.

She was "an actress, comedian and singer who both embodied and winked at the stereotypes of fetching chanteuse and sexpot blonde, especially in a long-running series of TV commercials for Muriel cigars, in which she poutily encouraged men to 'pick one up and smoke it sometime'...clad in the highest heels and the slinkiest dresses, [she] danced with giant cigars, caressed them and extolled their virtues, often with a come-hither...wink, and the whispered slogan adapted from Mae West’s famous invitation to come up and see her.”

Don Draper and the boys from "Mad Men" would have loved her, and they might have made a commercial just like this one:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Too Pretty To Do Math?

“The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.”

"The idea that the U.S. won’t even properly develop the skills of young people who could perform at the highest intellectual levels is breathtaking — breathtakingly stupid, that is.

The authors of the study, published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, concluded that American culture does not value talent in math very highly. I suppose we’re busy with other things, like text-messaging while jay-walking. The math thing is seen as something for Asians and nerds."

As Bob Herbert, Bill Gates, and others have been saying for some time now, we had damn well better reverse this trend of ignoring practical education in math and the sciences, because while Americans have been focused on being pretty, the rest of the world has been eating our lunch (and dinner).

Not From Around Here - 2

“He’s neither-nor,” said Ricky Thompson, a pipe fitter who works at a factory north of Mobile, [about Barack Obama] while standing in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store just north of here. “He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.”

Separate New York Times articles today look at attitudes about race on campus and in the South, and recall for me some observations by David Brooks, posted on the Freeway earlier in the campaign.

I think that in order to affirm how far we may have come in our attitudes about race in America, we have to be totally honest about the distance yet to go.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Fellow Prisoners...

Everyone, especially on the campaign trail, messes up from time to time, but some mess-ups are better than others:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Duchess

There's a lot we liked about "The Duchess" and some things -- well, not so much.

It's a gorgeous film to watch on the big screen, with a compelling story about a fascinating woman very engaged in the extraordinary times just before the American and French Revolutions. It's full of fine actors, beautifully costumed, who are so good that they couldn't screw it up if they tried. And they have a great story to work with.

The soundtrack by Rachel Portman is so haunting and right that as soon as I got home, I downloaded it to my iPod.

Unfortunately, the correspondences between Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, and Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, while accurate, are laid on so thick and so often that they distract from the narrative flow.

Still, it's well worth seeing at the cinemaplex; but do it soon, beacause there weren't many people there when we went, and the average age looked to be well-north of fifty.

For now, have a look at this marvelous extended wide-screen preview from the film's UK website.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Teens Adjust To New Economic Realities

“Kaitlyn Postle is having a bumpy adjustment (to the financial crisis). She has a weekend baby-sitting job and can’t wait to turn 16, so she can find work at a mall.

“I used to ask for things and my parents would say, ‘We can’t do that,’ ” she said in a phone interview. “So I would throw a tantrum and get an attitude. They used to give in a lot. But that doesn’t work now.”

The good news, she said, is that when she shops at thrift stores, she can buy more for her money. But now that she has a temporary license — freedom! — how will she pay for gas?

She assumes she will have to attend a local college and live at home. “I don’t have a problem with that,” she said. “Whatever. That way, I won’t have to pay for everything.”

In the background, a half-shout of protest could be heard. “Of course,” Kaitlyn added, “my parents aren’t too happy about that.”

Examining the financial crisis as it ripples out into the real world.

As if it wasn’t already a challenge to teach kids how to manage (and earn) their own money…

Friday, October 10, 2008

Obama to Replace Biden?

Paris Hilton would be a better fit against Sarah Palin.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Alternative Investments

If you're on the sidelines financially, uncertain which way to turn, there's a new way to keep yourself warmed-up while you wait to get back into the game.

"Today is introducing a day-trading site for sports fans – a Web stock market which allows people to invest real money to own “shares” of their favorite sports players, teams and leagues. The word “shares” is in quotes because the shares on OneSeason are, ultimately, meaningless— only illusory slices of players like Eli Manning or Lebron James, which either rise or fall depending on the demand for those shares among other traders. People can transfer up to $2500 a year to their OneSeason accounts."

Fantasy Sports on steroids.

Heroes Season Three

Here's a little taste of Heroes Season 3, as Nikki/Jessica makes room for Tracey

More Paglia on Palin

"The next phase of feminism must circle back and reappropriate the ancient persona of the mother — without losing career ambition or power of assertion. Betty Friedan, who had first attacked the cult of postwar domesticity, had long warned second-wave feminists such as Gloria Steinem about the damaging exclusion of homemakers from their value system. The animus of liberal feminists toward religion must also end (I am speaking as an atheist). Feminism must reexamine all of its assumptions, including its death grip on abortion, if it wishes to survive.

The hysterical emotionalism and eruptions of amoral malice at the arrival of Sarah Palin exposed the weaknesses and limitations of current feminism. But I am convinced that Palin’s bracing mix of male and female voices, as well as her grounding in frontier grit and audacity, will prove to be a galvanizing influence on aspiring Democratic women politicians too, from the municipal level on up. Palin has shown a brand-new way of defining female ambition — without losing femininity, spontaneity or humor. She’s no pre-programmed wonk of the backstage Hillary Clinton school; she’s pugnacious and self-created, the product of no educational or political elite — which is why her outsider style has been so hard for media lemmings to comprehend. And by the way, I think Tina Fey’s witty impersonations of Palin have been fabulous. But while Fey has nailed Palin’s cadences and charm, she can’t capture the energy, which is a force of nature."

Some more reflections on Sarah Palin from Camille Paglia

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bailing Out The Kids

(Illustration by Mark Matcho for Newsweek)

"A Pennsylvania mother says that after her 23-year-old daughter took on $20,000 in loans to help finance a $160,000 undergraduate degree, the best job she could get last year paid less than $40,000, failing to cover rent, expenses and loan payments. In hopes of helping her gain entry to a higher-paying career, her parents picked up her loan payments, paid off $2,000 in credit-card debt and persuaded her to move back home, where she's preparing to apply for law school."

A lemming-like push to get your kid into college, without regard for the return on your (and their) investment, is resulting in helicopter parents being grounded by boomerang kids.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What They Do For Love

A Chorus Line is my favorite Broadway musical, in the same way The Godfather is my favorite movie. Both are fresh every time I see them. So I was eager to see for myself if the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line was as good as I had heard it was.

The CD of the revival captures the energy and passion of the original, and surprisingly includes more of the actual play than the original recording did.

Most of the actors in this revival of A Chorus Line, which we saw last weekend at The Opera House in Boston, weren’t even born when the show opened off-Broadway at The Public Theatre in New York in May 1975.

The characters in the show have become so iconic – as in “a Cassie” or "a Morales" – that aspiring Broadway musical actors want to play them with all the fervor and passion the characters themselves demonstrate in “I Hope I Get It,” the play’s opening number. That's because the play is about them and will continue to be about every Broadway musical actor, past and present.

At our performance, an understudy (Julie Kotarides) played Diana Morales and nearly stole the show, in classic Broadway fashion.

Nikki Snelson took complete ownership of the role of Cassie and performed a thrilling "The Music and the Mirror," almost making you believe no one else had ever done it before.

All of this and more is what makes A Chorus Line unique, and has kept it fresh and relevant for so long, with no end in sight.

Seeing it at the Opera House was special; even though its seats are as small as Fenway Park's, it has been fully restored to its Roaring Twenties’ splendor, with exceptional sightlines and architectural details. Don’t miss any chance you get to see something there.

And don't miss the chance to see this production of A Chorus Line if it comes to a city anywhere near you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

SNL On Palin - 3

Alaska Woman

This photo of Sarah Palin reminds me of the Gretchen Wilson video in an earlier post on Antelope Freeway

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Axe Dark Temptation

I don't think you're going to see this commercial anytime soon on "Oprah" or "Desperate Housewives," but you can't avoid it on just about every baseball and football broadcast -- right after the one for Captain Morgan Rum.

It will sell a lot of Axe body spray.

I'm including it here as an example of the kind of repetitive media messages men are bombarded with when most women aren't watching -- and also beacuse it's sick, twisted and kind of funny:

They're Baaack!

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight…you and I are about to hire many of the same people who made huge amounts of money (think “Trophy Houses”) getting us into this financial mess, and pay them large hourly fees to help get us out of it:

“Treasury officials do not plan to manage the mortgage assets on their own. Instead, they will outsource nearly all of the work to professionals, who will oversee huge portfolios of bonds and other securities for a management fee.

The government will hire only a bare-bones internal staff of about two dozen people with expertise in asset management, accounting and legal issues, according to administration officials, and will outsource the bulk of the program to 5 to 10 asset management firms.

The selected asset management firms will receive a chunk of the $250 billion that Congress is allowing the Treasury to spend in the first phase of the bailout. Those firms will receive fees that are likely to be lower than the industry standard of 1 percent of assets, or $1 for every $100 under management.

Administration officials said they would try to drive down fees with a competitive bidding process. But with $700 billion to disburse, the plan could still generate tens of billions of dollars in fees if the firms negotiate anywhere close to their standard fees.”

I guess we have to hire them, since they’re the only ones who know how to untangle the mortgage-backed securities they created in the first place.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Kingston Trio

“Thirteen of the group’s albums reached the Top 10, and in 1959 alone four of its albums placed in the Top 10, a record matched only by the Beatles.”

Reading Nick Reynolds’ obituary today, I was surprised to learn that The Kingston Trio began in the late 1950s. Somehow I thought they begain in the Sixties - but then, the Fifties bled all the way through to 1964.

Anyway, I remember hearing them on someone’s portable radio at a beach party in Seaside Park NJ in 1960, and their sound was so refreshing, especially in the context of most of the pap that passed for "popular music” at the time.

At another beach party later that summer, someone broke out a guitar and suddenly we were all singing along to “Tom Dooley.”

Over the following couple of summers, our hair grew longer and the music changed to Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles.

And then things really took off.

The Kingston Trio had that buttoned-down ivy league look, like the early Beach Boys, and their songs were definitely not political. But they expanded the boundaries of popular music and made it OK to play guitar, sing along, and maybe even write a song or two.

They will never make it in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but The Kingston Trio was there at the creation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Would Homer Do?

If you purchased $1,000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago, you have $49 today.

If you purchased $1,000 of shares in AIG one year ago, you have $33 today.

If you purchased $1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, you have $0 today.

If you purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, and recycled the aluminum cans for cash, you have $214 today

Based on this scenario, your best investment in these difficult times would appear to be the 401-Keg, which involves drinking heavily and recycling

In related news, recent studies have found that the average American walks about 900 miles a year, and drinks, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year

As a result, the average American gets about 41 miles to the gallon

Thanks to all who participated for doing your part in keeping America great!

Don't Misunderestimate Sarah Palin

"Repeating a stump speech is harder in a nationally televised debate, though, when moderators such as Thursday night's Gewn Ifill of PBS are likely to bore in and demand fuller explanations. Any apparent unfamiliarity with a topic also will prove problematic, and a glaring factual mistake will be difficult to overcome.

But Gov. Palin's telegenic gifts could help neutralize some shortcomings. Ms. Casey, the public-radio reporter, credits Gov. Palin's training as a TV sportscaster for her ability to connect with a broadcast audience at home.

In her debates during the 2006 campaign, Ms. Palin would often thank the reporters serving as debate moderators -- invariably addressing them by their first names, and adding a compliment for their insightful questions. She would then turn immediately to the camera to speak directly to a home audience.

"Like a sportscaster, she's learned to be good at dropping the g's, and relating to the viewer as a fan," Ms. Casey explains. "You know: 'It's a big game this weekend and it's gonna be tough. But we're all in this together.'"

I hope that Joe Biden doesn't fail to study her history in debates; we all know what happens when you fail to study history...

Across The Universe

I had resisted seeing "Across The Universe" because The Beatles were such a large part of my life in the Sixties, and I didn't want to hear anyone else perform their music. I couldn't imagine how it could be more than "tribute band" quality.

Last week my friend Donna reported that she had seen the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it. She thought I would, too. So that night I located it OnDemand and began watching, but when people who had been acting suddenly broke out into song, I had an "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" flashback, and went back to watching the Red Sox.

But this past weekend, on a rainy afternoon, I tried again, and Donna was right -- this is a lovely, magical movie with a refreshing lack of irony and a clear eye for what it really was like to live through those times. And it respects the Beatles' music.

Here's the point at which I knew I was hooked, with no choice but to watch until the movie ended: