Sunday, February 27, 2005

A note to our readers

In this edition, you'll find a little more entertainment than is usual. We offer a DVD review of Barefoot in the Park. We'll be noting other comedies in coming editions as the release date of Jane Fonda's Monster-in-Law approaches. That's a decision we made after seeing the trailer and noting the rumbles emerging from the right as they attempt to lay down the workings for a boycott.

We'll stand firmly with Jane Fonda -- someone most of us heard about at length while growing up. And not by rabid, foaming at the mouth types but by liberals who admired a strong actress who was also a strong woman willing to speak out.

This was a late in the week decision (Friday night) and had we planned it ahead of time, we probably would have reduced the entertainment content in this issue. However, we'd already made our notes on The Apprentice and when we made this decision, Ava and C.I. of The Common Ills were pulling from the notes and adding additional comments to create the humorous social commentary that appears in the TV review.

We'll note also that our TV section remains the thing we receive the most e-mails on.

C.I. also added input on the trend story. On that, you're intended to laugh. This is our spoof of the weekly media general interest mags attempt to create trend stories based on little to nil actual data. It's a send up so please beware before you rush out to buy a Vespa Scooter, for instance.

Being John Malkovich, er Being Bill Keller-vich is something we had help on with from Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Attitudes and Screeds throughout. When it was a piece on the Times institutional problems only, C.I. did assist by steering us to a CJR article and Naomi Klein's articles cited in the story.

Rebecca also assisted us with the editorial on Lawrence Summers.

The Barefoot in the Park review was written in a round robin fashion with no outside assistance or reading due to the late timing of it. We will urge people to visit not just their local video rental places, but also their libraries since many library systems have outstanding video and DVD collections.

We treasure and appreciate any help or assistance we can beg, plead or steal from C.I. but having read Rebecca's entry this week we don't want to be responsible for driving C.I. to the point of exhaustion and out of the blogosphere. Especially not when this week produced our blog spotlight entry. Check that out and see if you don't laugh. Remember, it's often the embarrassment from ridicule that brings about change. So tell your truth and, when possible, tell it in a humorous way. Or, if we can coin a new phrase, don't pull a Keller when you can be interesting instead!

Editorial: Lawrence Summers is an embarrassment

As the flames at Harvard president's Lawrence Summers's ass begins to tickle, defenders rush in to justify his offensive (and uninformed) remarks regarding gender and employment.

And the defenders largely share two common details: gender and age.

Why aren't we surprised?

Having just watched stiff shirt Paul Bratter (Barefoot in the Park) this week, we're quite aware that men of that generation grew up with a different frame of reference. Many have learned to adapt with the times, many have embraced the changes.

We do wonder if the defenders have. Certainly, were this 1967, there would be nothing shocking about Summers's remarks. But this is 2005. And apparently we're loooking at a gap created by gender and generation.

We're also looking at an assumption (male) that some jobs require more work. (Is the English professor slaving away in off time on fiction really not a hard worker? Or is just that the writing of fiction or poetry is seen as "soft" by those still living under pre-second wave feminism assumptions?)

From the start, Summers tried to have his cake and smear his face in it too. He offers that he's speaking for himself, when in fact, were he not president of Harvard, he wouldn't be at the conference. He continued to attempt to have it both ways by refusing to release a transcript of the tape of his statements while arguing that he had been misunderstood. (If you truly believe that, you tend to rush out a transcript immediately.)

His latest tactic is claiming that his appearence was not that different from a grad seminar. He's attempting to reduce the event from a formal conference to an informal seminar. Maybe that trick will fool some, but it's not fooling us.

It was a conference. It had a topic. Summers agreed to speak.

He opens his mouth to embrace what can kindly be termed a contrarian view. And somehow forgets that as someone responsible for hiring, such a view (that contrasts with notions of equality in employment) would cause outrage. If he were a potential jurist in a sexual discrimination case and made those comments, he'd be disqualified from the jury pool.

But his defenders rush in to question the logic of those criticizing Summers. Up is down all over again, apparently.

The point has been made elsewhere (including at The Common Ills) that when you participate in an academic conference, you're supposed to be operating under a certain set of academic goals in the pursuit of higher knowledge. Even those who accept the laughable idea that as university president Summers can speak at an academic event without his remarks reflecting on the university or his role have yet to address the issue of how someone heading a university can participate in an academic conference without pursuing intellectual standards.

The remarks were uninformed and as a participant in an academic conference that's possibly the worst critique one can offer. As he stumbles through the question and answer period attempting to note some author or remember some study that he thinks might have been done in the seventies, on baseball!, he's like a high schooler bullshitting his way through an oral report. This is not the behavior appropriate for an academic conference. And whether he thinks he was representing his institution or not, this desire to speak on a topic with no academic knowledge certainly doesn't speak well for the way intellectual pursuits at Harvard will be greeted by Summers.

What's next? Cancelling library subscriptions to journals and periodicals while offering the opinion that anything necessary can be found in Psychology Today and Time magazine?

It was embarrassing for both him and the university. It's past time for him to take responsibility for attempting to bluff his way through an appearence before academics who seriously study topics and issues.

To bumper sticker it for those who can't wrap their heads around what's going on: It's the Lack of Academic Standards, Stupid!

Being Bill Keller-vich

That wild and wacky Bill Keller. Jack Shafer reported a strange incident with the Keller man this week in Slate. The Columbia Spectator's Amanda Erickson reported on one event Shafer notes:

Keller also sees “blogging,” or online writing that blurs news and commentary, as a mixed blessing. While he celebrated the blogger’s ability to uncover breaking news, he noted that a blog’s inherent bias might be detrimental to the reader. “A blog is still a view of the world through a pinhole,” he said, noting that it can sometimes fall as low as being a “one man circle jerk.”

Too much information? Is Kellerino longing for some activities of his adolescent past or is he the pinhole?

A blogger's inherent bias? Like The Times's institutional bias which leads them to twist and turn in the wind as they try to keep pace with shifting policies of the state department, any state department of any administration?

Ever hear the story of The Times reporter almost stripped of his Pulitzer?

Fade in: 2003. The now deceased Walter Durnaty won an award for his coverage of the Soviet Union in 1932. Now we know he lied. (His reporting was characterized as "dull and largely uncritical reciatations of Soviet sources" -- substitute "administration" for "Soviet" and you've just described the 2002 and 2003 articles by Judith Miller.)

The Times weak ass defense is that it should have been caught in real time. But when do they catch anything in real time?

And let's note CJR on this topic (this is CJR proper):

Researchers who have investigated Duranty's career have found that certain editors at The New York Times did have doubts about his coverage of the Soviet Union, but never acted to recall him. Times editors were aware of famine reports in other newspapers, and even ran editorials and stories contrary to Duranty's coverage in the Times. Those who wish to see Duranty's Pulitzer revoked point to a 1931 State Department memo from the American ambassador to Germany on a meeting he had with Duranty in which Duranty supposedly said that by agreement between the Times and the Soviet government, all his dispatches reflected the Soviets' official position. Though the report appears genuine, it's hard to know how much weight to give it given the lack of other supporting evidence and the tone of the Times coverage. Certainly Duranty's dispatches were contorted to get past the censors, but the Times headlines on his stories were often harsher in tone than the articles under them. The paper had a long record of anti-Soviet coverage and took a much harder editorial line against the Soviets than Duranty did, leading to a somewhat inconsistent picture during Duranty's tenure.

Maybe you know the story of the Bay of Pigs? How The Nation reported on the story in advance something that The Times could have done as well; however, a request by that administration led them to kill the story:

Still, a journalistic price was paid: The paper's deference to power led to debacles like the Bay of Pigs affair in 1961. (Tad Szulc's story about the impending invasion, which had already been reported in The Nation, was set to run on the front page, but the publisher, Orvil Dryfoos, neutered it; John F. Kennedy himself later reproached the Times for not printing all the relevant facts.)

Or maybe you never heard the tale of how The Times got scooped by The Washington Post on the Watergate story? John L. Hess's My Times: A Memoir of Dissent reveals that reliance on official sources led The Times to believe that there was no there there. We won't spoon feed you here because Hess's book is too important. If you haven't read it, you need to. There's a

Maybe you missed the report in Extra! about The Times sitting on and then killing the story about what was under the Bully Boy's jacket in that first debate? From Dave Lindorff's "The Emperor's New Hump:"

While the thrust of this article was a justification for the Times' decision to run the controversial missing-explosives story a week ahead of the election, executive editor Bill Keller added a comment about the seemingly hypothetical issue of running a damaging story about a candidate as close as two days ahead of the voting:

I can’t say categorically you should not publish an article damaging to a candidate in the last days before an election. . . . If you learned a day or two before the election that a candidate had lied about some essential qualification for the job -- his health or criminal record -- and there's no real doubt and you've given the candidate a chance to respond and the response doesn't cast doubt on the story, do you publish it? Yes. Voters certainly have a right to know that.

Oddly, though, despite Keller's having taken such a position, the Times apparently chose not to run the Nelson pictures story on the grounds of proximity to Election Day. Even more oddly, despite the fact that the Times had thoroughly researched and reported Nelson’s story before deciding not to run it -- even after the story had run in both Salon and Mother Jones -- the Times still ducked (and continues to duck) the whole bulge story itself, ignoring an important issue that it knew to be factually substantiated.

Keller says one thing for public consumption but The Timid remains timid regardless of Keller's public remarks.

The point of all of this is that this is nothing new. This is ingrained in the paper and has always been. Keller wants to take on bloggers fine. But Keller needs to know that whether he tells the truth about the paper of non-record, the truth is known.

The Times curries favor with the people in power, worships at the throne of official sources. And what do they have to show for it? Oh, they might have a "scoop" that's about an official report to be released later that day. Wowie.

The Times must be so proud. We're talking about a paper that has institutionally decided time and again that rather inform readers, they want to curry favor. Gore Vidal has written of the paper being the house organ for the power elite and he's quite right.

The Nation scooped The Times in 1961 and it did so again last year when the strong reporting of Naomi Klein's (regarding the double life of James Baker) was never an issue raised in the pages of The Times. They wouldn't do so because it was embarrassing to their kind of people.

From Klein's "Carlye Covers Up" (an update on "James Baker's Double Life"):

The story--which made front-page news around the world--vanished almost as soon as it had appeared in the press at home. The New York Times has not printed a word about Baker's conflict, despite the fact that when Baker was first appointed envoy, it published an editorial calling on him to resign from Carlyle in order to "perform honorably in his new public job."

That's The New York Timid -- never write about anything embarrassing unless forced to do so by competiting daily papers.

Some will argue that they printed embarrassing stories on the Bush administration. Yes, they did. Often with sourcing from the CIA. Which may be why Porter Goss instituted his ideological purge of the CIA? It certainly the reason Keller can offer his opinion that instead of mainstream media, The Times should be called part of the "elite media."

The Times has historically engaged and interacted with the CIA. We won't argue it's out of some ideological goal, we'll just note that it has to do with the paper's idea of "class" and the desire for like minded to mix.

This isn't news to anyone who's read a few essays by Gore Vidal.

But there's some apparent refusal to tie it all together and to note that historically the paper has done an incredibly poor job of informing of any controversy. This isn't even about Keller, it's about an institutional problem at The Times. A quality ingrained that will apparently not go away.

To be the paper of record, The Times has to adhere to certain guidelines about what they inform and what they conceal. As an in house organ, the paper may be amazing. As a newspaper, The Timid fails miserably and repeatedly.

If there's a circle jerk going on outside of Keller's bedroom, basement playroom, latent desires or nostalgic memories, it may be what's going on at his paper.

Keller told Shafer (in an e-mail):

Some journalists get into this work to be players, to right wrongs, to change the world. The best investigative reporters have at least a streak of that. Most journalists, I think, like being on the sidelines, witnessing, analyzing, but a little detached, neither on the field nor sitting with the fans of either team. I've always been in the second category. I like the sidelines just fine. But when the fight is over the role and future of journalism itself, the sidelines are a pretty untenable position. So I give the occasional speech, I try to respond to press critics whose minds are at least ajar, I answer as much mail as I can, I make myself available to the Public Editor. . . .

Oh little Billy Keller, you're still very much a part of the sidelines no matter how long your self-serving list is (all of which falls under the duties of being executive editor of The Times).

But you don't try to answer as much mail as you can judging by the forwards we're looking at from our readers. If someone praises reporting, you dash off a quick note. If someone questions reporting, you are silent on the sidelines. You certainly do like the sidelines and no, there's no confusing your work in the past with that of an investigative journalist. (A term that seems not only to describe you but also seems distasteful to you.)

Third Estate Sunday Review reader Marci e-mailed this CJR Daily story on Jeff Jarvis's My Online Dinner With Keller:

I regard the blogosphere as both a treasury from which we draw ideas and information, and a stimulating bull session where our work lives on. It's only natural that in the blogosphere, a medium with a very low threshold, you find a lot of self-indulgent nonsense, misinformation, propaganda and paranoia. But I have an equally long and more unforgiving list of complaints about the more traditional media. My quarrel with the blog world, to the extent I have one, is really with the zealots -- the people whose pose is revolutionary, whose articles of faith are that All Information Must Be Free (as if we should stop paying Dexter Filkins to risk his life in Iraq) and that Editing Is Evil (abolish those fact-checking departments and copy desks and let the Truth emerge organically from the collision of blogs) and so on. My anxiety about the blog world is not that it will put us out of business but that it contributes to an erosion of middle ground, that it accelerates a general polarization of the nation into people, right and left, who are ardently convinced and not very interested in exposing themselves to facts or ideas that contradict their prejudices.

After we got over our shock that CJR Daily would allow a known lie in print, we decided maybe CJR Daily just doesn't know. ". . . Editing Is Evil (abolish those fact-checking departments and copy desks . . ." Let's be clear here, The Times doesn't have a fact-checking depeartment. That responsibility falls onto the editor of that department. (As numerous calls to The Times from Third Estate Sunday Review has demonstrated.)

So here we are inside William Keller's head, Being Bill Keller-vich, and we're finding a refusal to face the truth, a tendency for public statements that aren't necessarily reflected in the actual print version of the paper, an abnormal interest in circle-jerks, and a tendency to obfuscate reality. It's a dark place. We'd love to tell you about it's inner workings but honestly it's such a mess that we'd need to do some serious spring cleaning before we could even seriously assess the workings.

The Common Ills notes the New York Times at its worst

We always love C.I.'s commentaries at The Common Ills. And we hope to have an interview with C.I. someday. (We will be persistant.) But for now, we'll settle with highlighting what we think is the best piece of blog reporting on the web in the last week.

On this entry, C.I. notes that when the Times takes its role seriously, they are treated seriously. On Friday, Jodi Wilgoren's front page article resulted in serious coverage. "But when fluff and bad reporting are being done, the response isn't going to be, 'Oh come on everybody, you can do better!' There's an attitude that the Times is above reproach but as one community member who is of the working press noted, the Times reviews films, theater, books and music. And it doesn't feel the need to do so from the high ground. When the Times earns ridicule, they'll get it."

Love C.I. though we do, we'd argue that the Times courts ridicule more often than not. But we were thrilled with this piece. It's a long one and probably the longest blog spotlight entry that we've ever highlighted. (There are notes to this piece and you can find them by going to the entry proper at The Common Ills.) We defy you not to laugh at this. It's hilarious.

The New York Times at its worst: Elisabeth Bumiller, Jodi Wilgoren and Juan Forero make the front page on the same day

Front page of the New York Times today seems filled with prats and losers posing as reporters. Look closer and you'll realize that's because the three worst offenders of the paper are on display: Elite Fluff Patrol Squadron Leader Elisabeth Bumiller, Jodi Wilgoren and Juan Forero whom Francisco rightly dubbed "the littlest Judy Miller." (Sorry, no nickname for Wilgoren. We'll get to work on that.) It's as though the Times reached in the closet this morning and assembled their outfit from the worst pieces in their wardrobe. Now, hung over from the night before, they strut down the sidewalk as people point and stare. "I must be looking mighty fine," thinks the Times to itself -- missing the chuckles it leaves in its wake.

Let's start with the Elite Fluff Patrol squad leader Elisbeth Bumiller who files her piece on the Bully Boy entitled, "From Russia With Love." Ah, we kid. We joke. We jest. It's truly entitled, "Bush Says Russia Must Make Good On Democracy."

Like an old whore used to crossing her heart that she was "thrilled" and "excited" by any kink a john requested, Bumiller musters her broadest smile and most enthralled tone (and most unquestioning -- no, "Is that sore Herpes?" questions here) to tell us that the Bully Boy spoke of how "our shared alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law." John number 64 for the night just dropped his forty bucks on the dresser and Elisabeth's grinning like the tired scene is still exciting and new.

Possibly to distract herself from the deed she's doing (to the American people, specifically those that read the Times -- but the reach of the Times extends past the readership) Bumiller busies herself by focusing on details in a sort of the-way-you-wear-hat kind of way.

Breathlessly, she pants over "the grand setting of Concert Noble, a 19th-century hall" and notes jokes such as the Bully Boy's response to will Putin be invited to the ranch: "I'm looking for a good cowboy." So was Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy. Believe John Travolta is taken these days, but maybe Jeff Gannon could assist the Bully Boy with a hook up?

She informs us that "[a]lthough Mr. Bush delivered his speech in the heart of the new Europe, Brussels, the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, the setting chosen by the White House was very much old Europe." In doing so, she not only accepts the terms popularized by Donald Rumsfeld (among others), she further pads out her non-story. But hey, when you charge by the hour, apparently you'll do anything to ensure the john's satisfied.

Surely, her john will be satisfied that each of his groaners is passed off as wit (such as, "I have been hoping for a similar reception, but Secretary Rice told me I should be a realist" -- can we get a drum snare?). (It's also passed off as truth that Condi's trip to Europe was a success. Guess Bumiller was trolling the beat when the paper printed some dissenting voices -- Times staffers, not letter writers -- on the realities of Rice's trip to Europe.)

Wading through this trash, it appears Bumiller has topped herself in focusing on the trivial and is ready to proudly proclaim (as Farrah Fawcett's character did in The Substitute Wife): "I'm not just a whore, I'm a damn good whore." Indeed.

Now let's move to Jodi Wilgoren who can't be said to exhibit the worst traits of her campaign coverage but only because (as far as we know) she's not in the midst of planning a wedding while she should be doing her job.

Rebecca (Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude) had an interesting theory about Wilgoren's eventual fate at the Times. I'll try to boil it down (but use the link -- and sorry, Rebecca, if I miss a point or oversimply what you've pointed out). Wilgoren is the unknowing double agent at the Times. She truly thinks she is one of them. When she realizes that she's there to amuse and that she's hit her own glass ceiling (a class one), she could turn the attacks she so often used on the people she covered (Howard Dean, John Kerry) back at the Times and write the explosive tell-all that would leave the Grey Lady reeling for years.

Let's quote from Rebecca's post (I've just read it again and am still laughing):

jodi wilgoren's been shunted off to the chicago division because, frankly, she's at odds with the term 'photogenic.' the human cod liver pill that is adam nagourney is no rose but he comes off as 'educated.' jodi comes off, in speaking and visuals, like roseanne barr's younger sister. short of living off slim fast for a few years and taking speaking lessons, she'll never get very far at the times.
she's kidding herself if she thinks she'll ever fit in. she was used as the bomber to take to out howard dean and she proved to be quite adept at that task. but jodi never seems to note that while every 1 else uses the main entrance, she's using the servents. while every 1 eles shows up for dinner, she's doing the clean up. she's the hazel to their moneyed class.
which actually delights me because she's proven she's a killer. she's dropped her bombs on dean and kerry to curry favor with the 'elites' at the paper. she's felt they were behind her. and that she was fitting in. they were supportive of her attacks, but they were using the fat, frumpy, squawking wilgoren. and when that reality sets in, when she realizes she's hit the unattrative ceiling reserved for the 'common man' and 'common woman,' she'll probably explode and hopefully turn that anger into an expose.
wilgoren works for a paper that regularly celebrates trophy wives in the business section. in the business section! the paper's never supported feminism and gail collins probably already realizes that from the editorial attack on now.if she were seen as classy and having married up the way judith miller has, wilgoren might be okay. but she's married a guy in the theater who's last name isn't sondheim. she might as well have married the first survivor reject to be voted off the island.
if that awakening ever comes for jodi wilgoren, i hope her inner rage is directed not at the people she's reporting on but at the paper itself, i hope she's smart enough to not make a right-left attack on the paper. it's a class issue. and if she turns all that rage into documenting the 'elite' mindset at the times and what they really think of their readers, she could take the paper down.

On the front page today, Wilgoren's displaying all that "class with a capital K" (yes, stealing from The Mary Tyler Moore show again -- Valerie Harper utters this line, probably Treva wrote it). (Treva Silverman.) The topic itself is questionable for the front page (the brave fight for moneyless poker games) and darned if Wilgoren doesn't slap some blue eyeshadow on it, put it in pantyhose and cut off blue jean shorts, and top the whole thing off with a gold lame Nudie jacket. All that's missing are the Christmas tree ornaments passing as earrings, but hey, Jodi's got to save something for herself, right?

Oh the jokes! It's like A Friar's Roast from the seventies that's airing on all channels so there's no escaping it.

"No wonder we've got budget problems," cracked their colleague, State Senator Brian LeClair, who had folded his own cards long before."Well, it's other people's money," Mr. McGinn said of the taxes that fills state coffers. "It's kind of the same thing."

Truly, Wilgoren's opening line to the piece shouldn't have begun "Not 20 minutes into a Texas Hold'em poker tournament . . ."; it should have been, "Can we talk?"

That annoying bray delighted the paper when it was turned on Kerry or Dean. Here, I'm thinking even the paper has to realize Wilgoren is just not their "kind of people."

They'll print this nonsense for now (she heads the Chicago division, I believe) but these stories will kill her. She learned to be frivilous and "saucy" (crass, low class) while "reporting" on Dean and Kerry. But she's become a one-trick pony. No, that's not a reference to Bumiller's problems; Wilgoren is a trained killer -- she doesn't know how to fluff. She only knows how to go for the "dung heap" (to use a phrase that popped up in Hunter S. Thompson's writings yesterday) repeatedly. They loved it when she used that 'working-class' 'humor' to destroy Dean or Kerry. Now she's left with the humor and no classy target. She's become a WB show, specifically Blue Collar TV. We may soon see Rebecca's theory tested.

Which brings us to Juan Forero who truly is the littlest Judy Miller. "Latin America Fails to Deliver On Basic Needs" is the space he occupies on the front page. Marvel over his inclusion of the following in the article:

The fragile government of President Carlos Mesa, hoping to avert the same kind of uprising that toppled his predecessor in 2003, then took a step that proved popular but shook foreign investors to their core.

That's it on Mesa. Strange to anyone who knows the history. And though Forero plays omission like nobody since Miller, don't think he doesn't know what went down. Don't think the paper doesn't either. And turn to page A9, go to "World Briefing" and check out this item:

Bolivia: Ex-President Charged With GenocideProsecutors charged former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his cabinet with genocide in the deaths of more than 60 people during the antigovernment uprising that toppled him in 2003. After the ouster, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada fled to the United States, where he still lives. He has repeatedly denied that his forces used violence against the protestors.

Last time we fact checked Forero, we noted that 'summarizing' documents online, he managed to come to some amazing conclusions (largely due to seeing 'repeated' items that weren't there repeatedly). Now we note that he's managed to cover Bolivia today and missed the big story. (Genocide charges, if Forero's unaware, are pretty big news.) He's prone to do that when it might be embarrassing for the U.S. government or for big business. (Check out anything he's written on Hugo Chavez or note his work covering Columbia.)

Today, Juan Miller wants us to know that he can editorialize via inclusion and omission. Juan, you proved it. There's no way anyone walking into this topic for the first time will ever grasp how much you've failed to note. Or notice how clearly you steer the reader away from anyone against privatization. But you have to run with the big dogs to earn the title of "the littlest Judy Miller," so we aren't surprised.

Some random things Juan forget to mention. Argentina? Well, there's no discussion of the energy corporation (yes, U.S. -- California-based) Sempra. There's no discussion of the privatization of gas. So what? So the push for that is what led to the "anti-government uprising." Only the "World Briefing" notes that uprising today, in their single paragraph, Juan can't be bothered with addressing it, or naming it, other than to note that "it" -- an uprising, over what he doesn't tell you -- "shook foreign investors to the core."

Forero rule (apparently): Never forget that when reporting from another country, the reactions of those not in our (U.S.) country are the least important thing. Kind of the way Hollywood does their fish-out-of-water by using a star as tour guide when they enter into a terrain unfamiliar to the average domestic movie goer. (Think Patrick Swayze in City of Hope.)

I won't say Forero fails to grasp what happened in Argentina because I'm sure he grasps it fully. I just don't think he's in a rush to inform the reader.

He's also not the type to inform you of the failed neo-liberal policies that resulted in the reaction to the privatization of water so readers can be left with the impression that some good native of our country (to be played by Patrick Swayze?) really, really wants to provide clean, potable water to these unruly foreigners. (Funny, how it didn't work out quite that way, isn't it?)

Some will argue that he did let Deborah James (Global Exchange) speak. Yes, her lone voice against privatization comes in the business section, where the story continues. One small (but sane) voice in a sea of "voices of authority:" Riordan Roett of John Hopkins University -- remember a mouth piece from there pushing the war on PBS's The NewsHour in 2003; John Shultz (Democracy Center); and Cesar Gaviria (Organization of American States). Shultz weighs in that:

". . . it's going to have to be subsizized in some form of foreign investment." That, he noted, is not a realistic proposition, since Bolivia cannot afford to seek more loans and foreign governments are not so willing to make big cash outlays to a state they view as increasingly erratic.

The only non-official Argentine voice is Remedios Cuyuna who we meet in the opening scene.She says: "For us, this is good [cancelling a privatization contract for water]. Maybe now, they will charge us less."

Forero quickly dispenses with her (and dismisses her) with his first sentence after her quote: "That is far from certain." Silly foreigner, apparently.

But hint to Forero, when attempting to use the fish-out-of-water-American-meets-funny- foreigners concept, you open with Swayze. He's the lead. You really need some loveable American at the top of the piece. Remember to pitch it that way if someday you decide your fiction is just too good to continue to waste on the Times and pack up your bags for Hollywood. (An announcement I long to see.)

By not opening with that American voice, the audience is left wondering about Cuyuna (despite your prompt dismissal of her). (If you saw establishing and then quickly dismissing her as your hommage to Hitchcock's utilization of Janet Leigh in Psycho . . . Trust me, Forero, you should leave that trick to the masters. America Pie III is more your speed.)

There's a story here and the Times isn't getting it to the readers. There's a whole back history on India, for instance, in the nineties that would be quite illuminating. There's the reality of what went on in Argentina more recently as well. But telling readers that aspect would mean Forero would have to inform them that foreign subsidies or not (if privatization was continued), Argentina was facing serious problems for pretty much everyone but the foreign investors.

Readers will have to do their own research.

TV: Taking on The Apprentice

Two little commented items on NBC's Thursday night line up came up this week. Rumor has it that NBC may let Will & Grace go due to contract expirations (not due to ratings). And more importantly, no one's noticed that for the first time since Cosby provided NBC's Thursday night line up with a strong lead in, they've slipped as low as number forty with Joey in the latest ratings.

You read that right. It took Matt LeBlanc's disaster of a sitcom to destroy nearly two decades of success. This was the house that Bill [Cosby] built. Now, thanks to Matt LeBlanc, it's back to being the trash dump that Fred Silverman once managed. And yet NBC continues to stand by their dog. What would it take to get the show cancelled? At this point, possibly a crossover visit from Donald Trump to repeat the increasingly boring catch-phrase: You're fired.

Which brings us to this week's TV review.

A number of readers have written in asking if we could please review a reality show.

Forget that there's no reality in these shows, with the possible exception of the ABC disaster I'm A Celeberity Get Me Out of Here which may pay a legal price for taking Julie Brown out of "downtown" and putting her on an island. Forget that they're about as entertaining as the fight going on at the laundry mat and, wisely, at a laundry mat, you'd keep your head down and concentrate on folding those towels to avoid the embarrassing public revealing of secrets better kept from public eyes.

But hey, we aim to please. So we looked at the TV schedule and decided that The Apprentice is the one show we could watch. After all, any show that presents the Donald as a benefactor is only fooling the willfully stupid who apparently slept through the eighties and never saw an interview with former wife Ivanna.

There are two teams competing to win the praise of the Donald -- that and cheapo prizes. (Oh wow! Our picture taken with the Donald! That's so great! I mean it's not as though we might already have a DVD boxed set to remember him by!) The two teams are apparently dopey and ditzy.

This week's assignment? Apparently to beef up the ratings via intraparty quarreling. How else to explain that supposed business smart candidates turn in two shit-poor "billboards" to promote a new video game release?

Both teams are supposed to promote the upcoming video game to the "urban" crowd. Not a bad thing necessarily since considering the extras on the street and the "urbans" making up the focus group judging the billboards ended up setting a new record for the most African-Americans on an NBC in one week. Make no mistake, this results only from the fact that all three major broadcast networks continue to cast white. (Apparently the "urban" audience may be chased by gamers but not by broadcast networks.)

Dopey's artist in residence (at least they had one) was smart enough to realize that he knew very little of the urban scene and actually bothered to do what we'll generously and inflatedly call 'market research' by asking a few neighborhood bystanders what they thought of the design thus far and what would appeal to them.

Remember these teams are supposed to be made of business savy individuals. So when only one person thinks to do a "survey," we fear for the future of American business. (Maybe we can outsource concepts and marketing next?)

Over on Team Ditzy, an African-American woman apparently thinks a) I'm the whole team, b) because I'm an African-American I naturally know everything urban and how to appeal to urban game players even though I've never played any version of the video game and c) I'm the only African-American, nee the only person period, on the whole team.

At one point, Ditzy team leader makes the comment that of course "I'll win" because otherwise how will she hold her head up high since she's got the whole street thing down pat?

Her bravado, like the show's concept, was inflated beyond reality.

Team Dopey turns in a half-assed "billboard" that attempts, half-way in, to include some details derived from "research." So the blend ends up being like a meat loaf that someone forgot to add the meat to. In other words, just "loaf."

Well certainly the bad-mama-jamma-led Team Ditsy will get a walk to first base, right?

Oh no, no, no. While Team Leader Ditsy excells in throwing snit fits and claiming all credit for the team effort ("What I was trying to do hear . . .", "I wanted to . . ."), she completely forgets that she was supposed to be marketing a product. That's right, she forgot that the "billboard" wasn't an art project, it was an advertisement.

Man walks into a diner and orders meat loaf. First waitress serves him "loaf." Second waitress serves him an empty plate. Not really thrilled with either, he tips the first waitress and stiffs the second. That's the basic plot summary of this episode.

And now comes the part that America seems to love the most (or the ones that watch this show), somebody's going down, down, down, down.

Who's responsible for this disaster? (How about the people who chose the contestants or even NBC which, with the exception of Medium, hasn't created a new series worth watching in at least three years?) Though the show was on last year, apparently the contestants missed it -- as well as the basic business model in corporate America: when shit hits the fan, keep your head low. This is a grown up model of the popular classroom technique practiced by students everywhere, "If I stare at my desk, the teacher won't see me and, therefore, won't call on me!"

Three ditzes end up back in the boardroom with der Donald. Supreme Ditzy who's been team leader, Mini-Meltdown (who's missing her husband and never seems to realize this isn't sleep away camp) and Carl (who never should have been in there to begin with if he'd remembered to keep his mouth shut and his head down).

Things quickly get uglier than Donald's new female assistant.

Carl's interjected that Ditsy is not a leader. An obvious point, but bad strategy since Mini-Meltdown had already fingered Carl as the problem ("he's just so bossy!" she all but whimpered) and up until he opened his mouth, he had Supreme Ditzy on his side. Carl, corporate America doesn't want insight, just easy answers!

(Here's some insight, the entire team should have been fired since they didn't even grasp the assignment.)

Mini-Meltdown turns her boardroom appearence into a referendum on her marriage apparently confusing herself with the Dynasty character Alexis Carrington Colby. (If only she had Joan Collins's flair for the dramatics.) Supreme Ditzy's got her back up against Carl -- and completely misses her own opportunity to cut Mini-Meltdown off at the knees -- apparently because Carl violated the cardinal rule of reality television wherein all racial groups stick together. Has he never seen MTV's Real World? So with Carl and Supreme Ditzy taking each other on, Mini-Meltdown was allowed to skate onto the next round.

Make no mistake, the Donald should have fired everyone on Team Ditzy's asses. And you get the idea that even he knew that. (You also get the idea that der Donald can't believe the lack of quality in the contestants -- on both teams.) But someone had to go down and the choice was Team leader Supreme Ditzy.

This happens only after Carl's pulled both chairs out for the two ladies which struck Donald as the height of boardroom class. (Remember, he came to fame in the junk bond era.) Supreme Ditzy is truly shocked. Even though she was team leader, in her 'taxi cab confessions' (our favorite part of the show) she offers that she's got the goods and she'll go on to greater things.

We're sure she will. In fact, Omarosa, apparently not having had enough fun being flogged in the town square yet, will be on Monday's Fear Factor.

Donald's The Art of the Deal has petered out into The Fart of the Steal. Gasbag Donald (wearing a wig even Della Reese would look at in askance) steals your time with the assumption that you may actually learn something about business. That's what the people on campus that watch the show regularly offer as their reasoning. "It's important to study business," one dewey-eyed business major told us. Yes, and switching from plain Milky Way to Milky Way Dark will help you along the road of fine cuisine as well, no doubt.

Let's be honest, that's a self-justifying reason to cheer on someone else's humiliating public fuck-up. That's all this is about. And probably why so many losers show up on these shows. Gotta make the rubes watching at home feel like they're smarter. Why lift an audience up when you can flatter them with debasement?

To it's credit, no one's yet to offer that they're "learning about relationships" from the show, the way they do when asked why they watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Most people will never enter the corporate boardroom and thank God for that. But we all have relationships (even if they're only one sided). So The Apprentice's skewed world view does far less damage than some of the shows pretending to educate about the human heart. That's about all we can say for it. Watch at your own risk. Donald, you're tired.

Trend Story: What's Hot, What's Not

For this week's arts highlight, having felt we've done the cutting thing to death, we were looking for something different. When the unofficial film society had a recent showing of Funny Face, it was as if half the campus was erputing in she's-got-Audrey-Hepburn fever.

Never one to refuse to whore ourselves out to a fad (even a questionable one with no scientific backing -- hey we're just like real journalists!), we hung around campus looking for someone who could best act as cruise director. While the ten gals dressing the part of Audrey these days spoke merely of the simplicity of the look, we found many males dressing the part of beatnick. (Yes, Virginia, some still want to go on the road with Kerouak.) Seventh year grad student William squeaked by Che. Though both had the goat-boy-look down pat with their mini-facial hair eruptions, William's downy moss actually had food crumbs. A true intellectual if ever we saw one.

After spending thirty minutes ensuring that he was indeed a bonafide, we were either convinced he was the real deal or just happy to have had the cat nap he lulled us into with his oral dissertation on ontology's subtexual cosmic debt to epistemology. So sue us if we graded on a curve.

Quick to make our deadline, we immediately began probing him to compile the sort of "hot list" Entertainment Weekly's Jim Mullen's must only wet dream about. Follow it, live it, breathe it because what's a publication without a trend story!

1) Hot Comeback: Herman Hesse. "Events in Iraq, specifically Fallujah, add a new layer of contextual analysis to Steppenwolf and present an opportunity for a renewed critical appraisal."

2) So 80s: Swan Lake. "It's become the It's a Wonderful Life of the dance world. Over performed and over sentimentalized."

3) The New Jay-Z: Mozart! "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik K. 525 is nearly impossible to degrade tonally. Simplicity at it's most utilitarian with none of the vulgarity of Ravel's Bolero."

4) Hot blogger: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Our notes are spotty, at best, during this five minute discourse, but watch out Wonkette, this dude is way wack! Recommended: The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy.

5) Hot Drink: "Black coffee is the new latte."

6) Tricked Out Ride sure to tell the ladies a new stud's in town: "The Vespa Scooter."

7) Forget The Diary of Bridget Jones, here's the hot chick-lit fellows need to read to seal the deal: George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. "How a Hen Takes to Stratagem has many remarkable passages." Here's one William quoted from memory:

Mrs. Tulliver hid these reasonings in her own bosom; for when she had thrown out a hint to Mr. Deane and Mr. Glegg that she wouldn’t mind going to speak to Wakem herself, they had said, “No, no, no,” and “Pooh, pooh,” and “Let Wakem alone,” in the tone of men who were not likely to give a candid attention to a more definite exposition of her project; still less dared she mention the plan to Tom and Maggie, for “the children were always so against everything their mother said”; and Tom, she observed, was almost as much set against Wakem as his father was.


8) Hot backhanded compliment to a former lover: Speaking of his last relationship, William offered that, "Etta truly was the Charlotte Bronte of emo with all that entails."

9) Forget Hot Pockets, the new hot munchie: "Walker's Shortbread Rounds is a staple. For the truly decadent, I'd suggest Walker's Stem Ginger Shortbread."

10) DVD for entertaining friends: "The Sorrow & the Pity explores what The Pianist only indicated. Haunting and obsessive."

DVD Review: Barefoot in the Park

To prepare for the upcoming release of Monster-in-Law starring Jane Fonda, we'll periodically be reviewing some of the comedies in Jane Fonda's filmography.

We're starting with Barefoot in the Park, a 1967 film starring Fonda and Robert Redford. (They've been paired onscreen three times, The Chase, The Electric Horseman and Barefoot in the Park.) Redford had played the role of Paul Bratter onstage in the Neil Simon play. (Simon did the adaptation for the screen.) Corie Bratter is played by Jane Fonda and the spelling will come as a shock to the parents of many "Coreys" who named their daughter after this character. (We know of three Coreys on campus whose parents named them after Fonda's character.)

The film opens with Fonda and Redford headed to the Plaza for their honeymoon. (And at the Plaza, in a noncredited role, you'll spot a young Doris Roberts as a maid.) Paul's an attorney out to make his mark at a firm. Fonda's plans . . . Hey, it's Hollywood, it's 1967 and it's Neil Simon. Corie's only plan is a decorating their apartment and making sure they have fun.

Early on, at the Plaza, Fonda slinks into the hall in a man's pajama shirt (only) while Paul waits for the elevator. When the elevator arrives and Paul steps in, she calls out, "Thank you, Mr. Dooley. Next time you're in New York, just call me up." Her delivery nails the line but the physical nature of Fonda's work is little commented on. (Though her body is often noted.) This is the first attempt on the film's part to tittilate and we could be thrown (and often are when stage actresses recreate this role) if it's not handled correctly. It's not just the adventure in Fonda's eyes or the smile she's fighting hard to hold back as she slinks into the hall, it's the manner in which she slinks that lets you know something is about to happen. It primes you so you're not scratching your head at Corie's line (the way you do in too many recent stagings of the play).

Pauline Kael once noted Fonda's eyes and face, how she appears to get it a minute before others in a scene. While that's true, it's equally true that she has a physical quality to her work (no doubt partly due to her training which included Lee Strasberg) that's seldom noted.

You see that quality in many of the scenes. When she attempts to seduce Redford on their first night in their new apartment, she's doing a bizarre dance that is assured, comical and sexy. On a ferry ride, Fonda makes sure Corie is a constant buzz of movement. When details like this aren't utilized in the role by other actresses, you don't really grasp Corie's desire for adventure.

There's no denying her timing with a line or her ability to detonate a quip or wisecrack, but it's the physical base to her work that enriches the verbal.

The story can be boiled down to this: Can an uptight stiff find happiness with a care-free sprite?
The answer is an obvious and happy one (again, this is 1967). Playing the stiff, Redford submerges himself into an often thankless role. (Though it probably was greeted differently upon the film's original release.) Still, he gets some moments where he really shines. There's a moment where he discusses thinking of Corie while at work that is verbally inexpressive but completely pulled off by his facial expressions. He also shines in a super market scene where the estranged couple wait at the check out line and immediately after back at the apartment while a telephone installer attempts to fix their phone.

For the most part though, his character comes off like Will Truman on Will & Grace, largely standing around while Karen Walker and Jack McFarlin have all the fun. (Again, the role of Paul Bratter was probably greeted differently by many in 1967.) But despite the writing, Redford deserves praise for committing to the role and also for the care with which he handles the tasks of the role. A little more gravity and the film would sink. Redford exhibits a light and skillful touch, one that finds us wishing he would do some comedies in the near future.

Mildred Natwick is hilarious as Corie's mother and Charles Boyer as the intriguing neighbor adds to the mix. The film falls into a soggy period when Boyer loses his sparkle and Natwick offers up advice that probably too many women of that period heard (and heeded). But thanks the ending, we're left with the hope that Corie won't dim her own light to feed Paul's shine. Without giving away the ending to anyone who hasn't seen the film, Natwick's advice appears to fall on deaf ears when, by necessity, Corie has to once again exhibit her adventurous streak for everything to end happily.
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