Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow day rumination on newspapers and adulthood

It's been many months since I have posted here but when I turned 47 in early February and at the same time ran smack dab into the Rupert Murdoch juggernaut, it inspired me to consider some of the things that make us adults. Indeed, it is that very adulthood that keeps me from writing on these pages. More on that later.

With apologies to Mom and Dad, I owe as much to Gavin McInnes as anyone in my approach to adulthood. Believe me, the older I get the more I want to rock a faux hawk, grow a beard, get stupidly expensive headphones for the subway and ride one of those ten foot tall bikes. Vice's Do's and Dont's helped me to see how desperate and downright creepy that is. It's not just that you look like a loser unable to face the reality of adulthood, it's also that somebody needs to be paying attention. I mean this in both the broadest sense and the narrowest. We need people to pay attention to the scumbags on the A train as well as the idiots in Congress. So how do you do this and what does it have to do with Rupert Murdoch? I'm glad you asked.

Start by taking off your ridiculous headphones asshole. Yes, New York City is loud and sure, Iron and Wine is slightly more pleasant than that crying baby or screaching train brakes but guess what, you can't always be comfortable. I know you want to avoid confrontation and interaction at all costs but leaving the responsibilities of society to others just makes you a pussy. This incessant primacy of comfort in all aspects of our lives is nowhere more evident than in airport concourses where parades of Cinabon eating, Pumpkin Spice Latte drinking lardasses promenade past in their pajamas, pillows under their arms and flip flops on their disgusting fat feet. Or in Williamsburg where thousands of hipsters are snowed-in today because it wouldn't occur to them to maybe buy a snow shovel. Hey, that's the landlord's job isn't it? I hope you run out of cheese.

So all of this was going through my mind on my birthday as I cursed Uncle Rupert, media magnate, owner of the Wall Street Journal and old time newspaperman, for having the temerity to now want me to pay to read WSJ editorials. They have long restricted their web site news stories to paying subscribers but the opinion pages were free. And isn't it my God given right to get free content on the internet? After all, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Paul Gigot, Sam Sifton and Jane Perlez (note: these last two dodge waiters and bullets for the Times) all do this for free, right? Wrong. I suddenly realized that I could not in good conscience complain about the demise of newspapers if I wasn't willing to step up and be an adult. In this case, it meant simply adding a WSJ subscription to the one I have for the NYT. It works out to the embarrassingly paltry sum of $10 a month. So for all of you who mourn the loss of a vibrant local free press but who get all of their content for free on the internet, you are part of the problem. Grow up.

I was travelling with a colleague this past week and she off handedly mentioned that she had given up baked goods like cookies and bagels for lent. When I pointed out that she wasn't Catholic she just shrugged. She didn't need to elaborate. As I stuffed my face with a banana nut muffin I realized just how good we, as a society, have it. I'm not saying that having a sensible haircut and a subscription to the Journal makes me a saint or even an adult. Nor am I saying we all need to wear hair shirts. Deprivation and discomfort, in and of themselves, aren't what build character. What builds character and makes us adults (and keeps newspapers open) is our willingness to face up to responsibilities that might just force us off the path of least resistance. Practicing these principles in small ways in our everyday life can help us when the time comes and you really need to suck it up and drive on.

Am I a pompous ass? You know it. I'm also sorry that it took a snow day to get me back to the keyboard. There are just so many important people and things to do in my life that these on-line derangements seem like a luxury. If anybody's out there I would love to hear your comments.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Inside Baseball - So You Wanna be a Journalist?

Holy Crap, I just read the Op-Ed in today's NY Times by their Public Editor Clark Hoyt (the position they created after the fiasco a few years ago) about the train wreck of errors in the recent Cronkite obituary. As much as I like to see the smug liberal Times stumble ocassionally, this piece really demonstrates how hard it is to be a real live journalist - working multiple stories, on deadline - and to be a real newspaper with fact checkers, copy editors, deputy culture editors, late shift editors, etc. It is an amazing look at the inner workings of a major newspaper and a reminder that blogging is not reporting, or at least not the blogging I do. Being the paper of record is a responsibility the Times takes very seriously. Which is why I read it every day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My New Second Favorite Country

I'm not entirely sure what my old second favorite country was. Sadly, it is sports more than anything that informs these opinions (i.e. English Football, Tour de France, Italian Grand Prix at Monza, etc.). So with that in mind, my 13 year old and I were watching the new Travis Pastrana retard show "Nitro Circus" where they do insane things so that we won't turn off the TV and read. For those of you not in the know, Travis Pastrana is the bane of parents everywhere. His God given talents and nearly complete absence of fear have allowed him to achieve Nobel level exploits on a dirt bike including being the first to successfully complete a back flip and double back flip in the near sport of Freestyle Moto-Cross. Not satisfied with that he got into a rally car at the X-Games a couple of years ago, won the event and hasn't looked back. The man has cojones and a creative mind. And an attractive wife and co-star who just happens to be the first woman to back flip a motorbike. Their show, "Nitro Circus" is a more accomplishment driven but also more daring version of Jackass but without the ass piercing.

They travelled to the country of Panama in this latest episode and I thought, "Hey, I know a dude that lives there. Let's see what all the fuss is about." In the opening sequence Travis's posse shows up at a construction site. Not just any construction site, this is the tallest building in Latin America which is going up in Panama City. So the posse asks the boss if it would be alright if a couple of them BASE jumped off the crane on the top of this soon to be building. And the guy says (in Spanish), "Sure, don't land on anybody." That was that. They jumped, everybody had a good time and nobody got hurt. Then they rode their dirt bikes through the swimming pool at the hotel. Immature, extremely dangerous to riders and swimmers alike but wildly cool. Finally, to top it off, they set up a dirtbike jump in Panama City's equivalent of Central Park. Nobody got arrested. I suspect Mayor Bloomberg would have a baby if anyone tried that here. I realize that I am extrapolating a lot from these couple of encounters so I will ask others to confirm but I think Panama and its people have got it just about right. Nannies are for babies. Adults (even immature American ones like Pastrana's Dad who jumps out of a speedboat at 70 knots and breaks his pelvis) should be able to make stupid decisions. Especially when it entertains us couch potatoes. So, in a sense, sports is still informing the opinion but in a slightly more philosophical way. Go Panama!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Taking a page from Rummy's playbook

The latest market travails and inability to stem job losses reminded me that one of the things that was so frustrating for me in the chaotic aftermath of the Iraq invasion was that it didn't have to be that way. A carefully thought out occupation and integration plan would have gone a long way towards producing the outcome that Mr. Bush had envisioned. The problem was that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld saw the Iraq War as an opportunity to promote his agenda of transforming a long moribound military into a 21st Century fighting force. Transforming the military was and is a laudable goal. Focusing resources on light, rapidly deploying forces with a heavy reliance on emerging technologies was the logical next step after the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, Mr. Rumsfeld's rigid adherence to transformative strategies left us with too few boots on the ground and too many ad-hoc decisions on the fly. We had attempted to get inside the enemy's decision cycle and instead had found them inside of ours and without the means to defeat them. It wasn't until we dispensed with "fighting the war with the Army you have" and replaced it with fighting with the Army you need to win (i.e. the surge) that the fortunes of the Iraqi people turned around. One might argue that this (long overdue) flexibility was the most transformational measure of all.

So how is the bungled Iraq war like our faltering economy? Simply, it is the most important task before us but agenda driven politicians are using it as an opportunity to transform government institutions in ways that might be laudable but are hardly stimulative. It is possible, even likely in a Keynesian world, that transformative measures can be stimulative. However, when they are used, at best, to re-create obsolete institutions or, at worst, to simply further a political agenda, without regard for job creation or economic stimulus they serve only to distract from those vital goals. The Democrats in Congress have larded up the Stimulation Package with so many of these "progressive" ideas that have been sitting on their desks for 20 years that the bill cannot possibly fulfill it's mandate: saving our economy. Ms. Pelosi, meet Mr. Rumsfeld. You have both hijacked worthy causes to promote your pet causes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You're asking the wrong question!

I was inspired to write this after reading the excellent new blog The Gray Area by the mysterious MSK. By the way, I have been saying for years that the agenda of our Nation has been driven by the fringes on the left and right. People with passion get the most attention and tend to spend the most money getting their candidates elected. As many of you know, I am a fanatical gun nut. So it's hard for me to see the gray area on that issue but it's important to try. Otherwise the intellect shuts down and only shouting remains. The Gray Area is a great concept for a blog and is (so far) really well executed.

But that wasn't what I wanted to write about. MSK posts on the issue of executive compensation and this is a topic that makes me scream (and normal people yawn). Did it bother me when the Chairman of my old company made $6,000,000 in the same year that they eliminated the profit sharing plan? Sure it did. It was politically insensitive and severely hurt morale. Yet, that company was (and remains to this day) profitable as a result of some very smart decisions made at his level. That is worth compensating. It also would have been a blow to the company if he had left for greener pastures elsewhere. I also believe that incentivising employees to succeed at all levels is the best model going. If you generate revenue for the company, you get rewarded. Period. If you don't, you lose your job. um, also Period. Sounds tough, and it is. In fact, it keeps me awake at night. But it also keeps me motivated between 9:30 and 11:30 and then from 2:00 to 4:00 (that was a joke, boss!). It kills me that the media doesn't get the fact that the Wells Fargo employees who were going to be honored for their successful year with a trip to Vegas were part of the solution, not the problem. And what about the employees at the hotel? Don't they have families and bills to pay? So when the CNBC guy asked Matt Lauer on the Today Show this morning(in jest, of course) if he would take a pay cut if Today's ratings "went to zero" I screamed, "You're asking the wrong question!" Because what they should ask Matt, Meredith, Ann and Al is this. What if the Today Show's ratings were through the roof, generating tens of millions in ad revenue and was the only brightspot at NBC who was otherwise hemorraging money, would you agree to take only $500,000 a year? Hell no, you'd go to ABC in a heartbeat. This is why you shouldn't limit the pay of your top producers. A trip to Vegas would be nice too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There they go again

The .NY Times reports today that,
Automakers said Monday that they were working toward President Obama’s goal of reducing fuel consumption, but rapid imposition of stricter emissions standards could force them to drastically cut production of larger, more profitable vehicles, adding to their financial duress.

Adding to their financial duress? I thought "Job One" was to repair the ailing economy. This seems like a harebrained way to do it. The Government continues to bury the auto industry in new regulations with one hand while trying to bail them out with the other. Workers lose, consumers lose, communities lose. The only winner? Government bureaucracy, of course. Mark my words, if the new emissions and fuel economy standards go into effect, the only way the auto industry will be able to sell these cars will be at drastically higher gas prices. Steven Cho has already said he'd like to see a punitive gas tax and with Carole browner leading the way will anyone be able to stop them? Tim Geithner? John Dingell? Not a chance. But hey, they're doing it for our own good. We'll only have to wait a thousand years to see the benefits!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I had just dropped Lola and Isabela at Bowl-Mor lanes (gosh I could do a whole post on that place) and was driving down 12th Street when I passed this church. Or what remains of this church. You see, it's just a facade behind which looms a towering new condo building or NYU dorm or some such glass and metal monolith. I'm not sure how I feel about facadism which I vaguely remember reading about in a Brendan Gill New Yorker article in the early '90's. I love small scale historic districts where the buildings interact with the street and don't overwhelm passersby and so facadism offers a way to maintain this feel while allowing for necessary development. But this thing is an atrocity. My friend Clay Miller designs beautiful modern buildings that deserve to be seen and appreciated. Here in Brooklyn that often means having to take down an older building. So be it. Don't get me wrong, I almost cried when they tore down the Old Dutch Mustard Building in Williamsburg. We need to preserve our city's heritage but we're a dynamic city not a museum. We need to find a way to allow for vibrant, creative architects to make their marks here. Not that there's been any shortage of that lately, I'm just saying. But is facadism the way to do it? I mean, this church thing is a fucking farce. It's an abortion for Chrissakes (sorry, I couldn't help myself). Look no further than the goddam Christmas wreath on the door. You're joking right? Is this a joke? You want to build a big ass building? Have some balls. Tear the church down. So, while I am of (at least) two minds on the concept of facadism, I tend to agree with this 1985 NY Times article:

To save only the facade of a building is not to save its essence; it is to turn the building into a stage set, into a cute toy intended to make a skyscraper more palatable. And the street becomes a kind of Disneyland of false fronts.

What do you think?