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Law & Order: Golgotha

In Entertainment, Media, World on March 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm

“In the story of the killing of Jesus, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups – the Church, which has historically blamed the Jews for the killing – and the Church, which has persecuted them for it. These are their stories.”

(chung CHUNG!)

“Objection! Your honor. I mean, your Holiness! Mr. McCoy can’t be allowed to keep making statements that are totally irrelevant. Either he has the facts to back up his case or he doesn’t.”

“Irrelevant? Your honor. I mean, your Holiness. This is about motive. It goes straight to the heart of our case. Detective Torquemada is trying to explain why the Jews wanted Jesus dead.”

“Your honor. I mean, your Holiness. This is exactly what I’m saying. Detective Torquemada might be a member of The Church’s Finest but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t even born yet.”

(The Pope mutters something in German with a little bit of Latin thrown in)

“Thank you, your Honor. I mean, your Holiness.”

McCoy walks back to his desk and shuffles through some papers. He looks up at the witness stand. “Detective, thank you very much. You are dismissed. I would like to call the ghost of Lenny Bruce.”

The ghost of the stand-up comic takes the stand.

“Mr. Bruce, if you would kindly put the morphine and needle down. Thank you.”

The ghost does as told.

“Now, Mr. Bruce. When you were alive, you frequently take to the stage and talk about finding a note in your basement concerning the killing of Jesus. Is that right?”

“Well, um…”

“Yes or no, Mr. Bruce?”

“Yes.”

“And what did this note say?”

“We killed him.”

“And who was him?”
“Jesus.”

“And who was we?”

“The Jews.”

“And who signed the note?”

“My Uncle Morty.”

“A Jew. No further questions, your honor. I mean, your Holiness.”

Morty Moskowitz, the defense lawyer, leaps to his feet.

“Mr. Bruce. Thank you so much for being here. I know it must have been quite a journey from the afterlife.”

Bruce shrugs his shoulders.

“Mr. Bruce. Just a couple of quick questions. When you would talk about finding a note, what were you doing?”

“I was performing a stand-up comedy routine.”

“So, there was never really a note?”

“No. I made it up for comedic value.”

“Did you even have an Uncle Morty?”

“No.”

“Your honor, I mean, your Holiness. Mr. McCoy has thrown everything at the Jews but the kitchen sink, the kitchen sink and facts. Not once has he shown this court directly tying my client to the murder. An individual, maybe. But collective responsibility? Not even close.”

(The Pope again mutters something in German and Latin)

McCoy jumps up. “What about, His blood be—“

Moskowitz cuts him off. “Objection! Again, your honor, I mean, your Holiness, has already ruled that to be hearsay and even if it wasn’t. We have established that without a verb there is no way to determine the actual meaning of what Jesus was saying in that regard.”

(The Pope speaks in a combination of German and Latin before switching to English).

“Mr. McCoy. You just have not proved your case. I do not see how the whole people could have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus’s death. Case dismissed.”

On their way out of the courtroom, Moskowitz goes up to McCoy.

“You know, Jack. No hard feelings. You did your best. I will tell you something, though.”

“What’s that!”

“It means the real killer is still out there.”

(chung CHUNG!)

Palin on Parenting

In Entertainment, Politics, Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm

“And that is why the Mamma Grizzly had to kill the seemingly sweet, adorable bunny rabbit. As always, thank you for coming to the Sarah Palin Institute of Parenting. Does anyone have any questions?”

“Um, Governor?” says a woman sitting toward the front as she gathers up her notebook.

“Yes?”

“Well, I read that you gave an interview on Long Island where you said that the First Lady is telling people to breast feed because the price of milk is so high.”

“Oh, gosh, yes. Milk is just so expensive these days. That’s why I ask my Todd to go out and hunt pregnant, female elk, wound them and take all of their milk before killing them. Milk is just way too expensive.”

“Well, um, yeah,” says the student, a little disarmed. “A couple of things about that, I guess. First, aren’t babies supposed to get either breast milk or formula? I mean, I’ve never heard that you’re supposed to be giving them cow’s milk.”

“Where are you from?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“What does it have to do with anything? Everything. I would bet you’re from somewhere on the East Coast.”

“Ohio, actually.”

“Exactly. So you’re one of those East Coast intellectuals who probably gets most of their parenting tips from The New York Times. You probably think that your precious little child will be too good for cow’s milk. Let me ask you something. Do you think baby cows drink formula?”

The woman looks a little dumbfounded.

“Of course not. And do you think your baby is somehow better than a baby cow? A baby is a baby and we are all Mama Grizzlies looking to care for our young. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The woman shakes her head.

“Good, because it is very important that we never lose track of the importance of the things that are important to us. Sure, you can listen to some person using Kenyan parenting techniques to raise a child who will grow up to be a Marxist revolutionary looking to overthrow a government and upend all that is sacred to Mama Grizzlies looking to protect their young, and eat them if necessary, or you can do what generations of women have done for generations and make sure that the price of milk isn’t so high that people are forced to consider using their babies as anchors.”

“Anchors?”

“It happens all the time. People need to wake up and tell this administration that their ideas of parenting, ideas that they picked up in places like Cuba and Russia – which I can see from my house – are not the kind of ideas we want to use when it comes to raising our American babies.

“Anyway, I want to thank you all for coming. Next week we will talk about how to make sure you’re not secretly raising a Muslim baby. You betcha you’re going to want to be here for that one.”

Welcome to Wylie World: An Agent's Bold Move Makes Sense

In Entertainment, Media, Technology, Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm
Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

When I originally heard about Andrew Wylie’s announcement last week that he was partnering with Amazon to create “Odyssey Editions” — 20 special e-book versions of modern classics by writers whom he represents that will only be available for Kindle and devices that support Kindle software such as the iPad, I thought:

This is bad news.

After all, at its face it seems to be exclusive deal with one retail outlet.

Here’s the thing, though.

As I like to point out, Kindle’s not just a device, it’s software that works on many devices.

What Wylie has done is take 20 great books that have not been available electronically and made them available to a pretty large audience.

Sure there are some people who are upset.

For instance, I suspect Wylie won’t be getting any holiday cards from Random House this year. And there’s a book store in Mississippi that’s making a big deal of this.

The only ones who seem to be taking a balanced, sensical approach to the whole kerfuffle is The Author’s Guild.

Is there any real difference between what Wylie has done and say, special editions for The Franklin Library or the Library of America?

Well, yes.

Wylie has created a series of affordable editions for a very wide audience.

Good for him.

Amazon Says Print is Dead, Long Live the Kindle (Not so fast…)

In Entertainment, Media, Technology, Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 9:27 am
IMG_0096.JPG

Image by Yoshimasa Niwa via Flickr

So, earlier this week Amazon put out a press release singing the glories of the Kindle.

It has been a tough few weeks for the Kindle as things have looked up for the iPad while they’ve been caught in a bit of an e-reader price war.

So, you really can’t blame Amazon for putting out a release that trumpets their device.

“Kindle Device Unit Accelerate Each Month in Second Quarter; New $189 Price Results in Tipping Point for Growth” says the release’s headline.

Well, geez. Wow. That’s great, huh? They must be selling gazillions of Kindles by now. How many? Well, let’s look at the release again. Hmm. It’s not there.

How about in The New York Times story about Amazon’s announcement?

Wait. It’s not there either though the Times does repeat Amazon’s claim that “the growth rate of Kindle sales tripled after Amazon lowered the price of the device in late June.”

The problem is that unlike Apple — which regularly touts how many iPads it’s selling — Amazon has never released exact sales figures for the device. paidContent.org has quoted Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saying they may never release those figures.

So, when they say that growth has tripled… from one to three? Seven to 21? One million to three million? Who knows?

Now, let’s look at the rest of the release: “Amazon.com Now Selling More Kindle Books Than Hardcover Books.”

Again, wow. The previously mentioned New York Times story refers to this news “as a day for the history books — if those will even exit in the future.”

And reading the release, you can’t blame them.

Amazon claims that “over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.”

Again, wow.

But…

Since they don’t give us actual sales figures (other than the fact that James Patterson has sold 867,881 Kindle books, one of five writers to sell more than 500,000 KIndle books; the others being: Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer and Nora Roberts), we really don’t know what that means.

Yes, it’s a lot — based on those five writers alone — but how much? And what does it really mean?

Is it that — as Bezos claims — “the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format.”

Is it that e-readers, whether they be Kindles or iPads, are the way things are going?

The second is more likely.

At the same time, as great as the devices are, as I’ve pointed out, e-readers will only really be the future when we figure out how to get them to everyone. Otherwise we need to keep helping libraries and schools make sure they have regular, old, printed books for kids.

Print may not be quite as robust as it used to be but it’s far from dead.

Hey, Janet Evanovich! Spread the Wealth!

In Entertainment, Media on July 16, 2010 at 9:42 am
Cover of "One for the Money (Stephanie Pl...

Cover via Amazon

It’s summer, which is usually a very good time for Janet Evanovich, whose Stephanie Plum mysteries can be seen at beaches and on airplanes around the country as people devour books they know they can toss when they’re done with them.

I’m not knocking Evanovich’s books — One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Hot Six and so forth — they’re fun and quickly forgettable so there’s no issue with leaving the book wherever you finish them.

This, though, is turning into a Summer of Discontent, to some degree for her.

Deadline New York’s Mike Fleming reported earlier this week that Evanovich — St. Martin’s Press’s “biggest fiction author” — is moving on after 15 years because the publisher refused to pay her request for $50 million for her next four books.

That’s right. $50 million.

Now I’m not saying that Evanovich doesn’t make a lot of money for St. Martin’s — her books regularly sell hundreds of thousands of copies as they camp out on best-seller lists. And it’s not like there’s not a bunch of authors who make even more (let’s not forget JK Rowling, who leaves all others in her wake).

When The New York Times profiled James Patterson earlier this year, they titled the piece: “James Patterson, Inc.

I have no doubt that Evanovich’s agent, her son Peter, will be able to get someone to pay her what she wants. And I certainly am not saying that St. Martin’s should get rich off of her work…

My issue is that when you read stories about small-press publishers that manage to find the occasional Pulitzer-winner or another one getting shut down from lack of funds or a charity working to make sure school kids have enough books (any books!) to read and then you read about someone balking because she can’t $50 million?

Please.

Here’s an idea.

Find a new publisher who is going to give you, say $30 million for the four books and make them use the other $20 million to discover new talent or to help keep a literary magazine afloat or something.

So many people are struggling, so many great artists toil for nothing.

Make your money, Evanovich but spread the wealth.

If it's Good Enough for Oprah…

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on July 15, 2010 at 4:06 pm
According to Keirsey, Oprah Winfrey may be a T...

Image via Wikipedia

So, now that Oprah’s given every member of her magazine’s staff an iPad, publisher Hearst is going to make sure they can read their work on the device.

AdAge reports that Hearst is readying iPad app versions of O, Esquire, Food Network Magazine and its other popular titles, following in the footsteps of its Popular Mechanics app, which has sold more than 12,000 downloads.

“Capitalizing on Oprah Winfrey’s huge role recommending books to her fans, the iPad edition of O, The Oprah Magazine, that’s expected in the fourth quarter will let users buy e-books and read them within the app itself,” the magazine reports. “The app preserve the basic magazine experience but include visual tags that let users know they can see a video message from Ms. Winfrey or interact in some other way. A module on articles will let users make comments and see other readers’ remarks.”

And they’re far from alone.

Peter Kaplan, the former editor of The New York Observer who has just been hired as editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Group (publishers of Women’s Wear Daily, among other publications) tells his old colleagues: “There’s a new generation of readers coming up and they’ll be readingWomen’s Wear and these other publications, and they want a first-rate web site, and they’re gonna want something for the iPad. They want apps!”

And who can blame them?

Sports Illustrated has truly capitalized on the new technology.

When word of the death of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner broke earlier this week, Sports Illustrated quickly swapped out the cover on the iPad version of their magazine from LeBron James to Steinbrenner.

Apparently, take that antiquated print and hello new technology (though, of course, i write this on a table strewn with newspapers and magazines, the way it should be)>

But, like I said yesterday, the writing does appear to be on the tablet.

iPads vs. E-Readers: Things Looking Good for Apple

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on July 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

It’s not a new theme — in fact, earlier this month, I touched upon it — but the evidence seems to be building that e-readers face a tough road ahead.

According to Mashable, a new report by Resolve Media seems to indicate that anyone selling e-readers better do whatever it takes to keep iPads out of the hands of consumers.

The report states that after buying an iPad, 49 percent of people said they would not be buying another e-reader.

There’s also bad news for other devices — 38 percent said they wouldn’t buy a portable gaming device, 32 percent said they wouldn’t buy a netbook or laptop — but it paints a very stark picture for the e-reader industry.

“E-readers should be worried,” Mashable writes. “Even before the Kindle and Nook price cuts, we were already seeing some movement with lower-priced e-readers. We think that reading-only devices will ultimately find a new market at the sub $100 price point. Even at $200, the value proposition for an e-reader versus an iPad is tough to overcome.”

So, while Amazon is shipping its newest iteration of the Kindle and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos keeps talking about how the iPad and Kindle aren’t really competitors, it seems the more people discover the iPad, the more hurt is in store for the Kindle and similar devices.

Fortunately for Amazon, the Kindle isn’t just a device, it’s a software platform, an app that works on the iPad and, I have to say, on the iPad, it’s wonderful, well-built software that makes reading on the iPad a really nice experience.

And the same’s true for Barnes and Noble. They have the Nook but they also have software that works on the iPad.

I’m the thinking that for e-reader companies, the writing’s on the wall, er, tablet.

Amazon's New Kindle: Still Too Close to the iPad?

In Entertainment, Technology on July 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm
Kindle DX and Kindle 2

Image via Wikipedia

Starting today Amazon is taking orders for its new Kindle DX and while I have no doubt that people will buy it, I really have to wonder just how many.

First off, the device — which ships July 7 — is priced at $379, which is really too expensive to be considered an impulse buy.

And it’s only $120 away from an iPad and it seems to me that’s a little too close.

What makes it a little more confusing is that just last week, Amazon seemed to recognize the importance of lowering the price, which they did with their slightly smaller version.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has frequently claimed that the iPad and the Kindle aren’t really competitors; they’re different devices intended for different people. The Kindle, he says, is for readers unlike tablets, which are for, I guess, everyone else. He said it again just the other day.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of great things about the Kindle particularly, as cnet points out, that the thing is incredibly readable in sunlight, unlike the iPad.

Still, the thing is if you have a choice between the $189 Kindle and the $379 Kindle, why get the more expensive one? I guess if you really want a device that is really just a reader, it is your answer. But if you’re going to spend the money, why not just bump it up a little and get a device that does so much more?

I think Amazon’s great but I sort of sense this is a stumble for them.

On the plus side, one bit of really good news is that Amazon has finally released Kindle for Android devices.

As I’ve pointed out, Kindle isn’t just a device — it’s software that runs on many devices. I use Kindle on my iPad on a regular basis — and Android has pretty much been the final frontier for them.

Kindle’s great software. The device — at $189 — is great. At $379 — overpriced, I suspect.

If Only Rolling Stone had had a McChrystal Ball

In Entertainment, Media, Uncategorized on June 28, 2010 at 11:15 am
General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of US Fo...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Rolling Stone, which last week published the profile of General Stanley McChrystal that got him removed as the head of the US war effort in Afghanistan, received a lot of criticism over how they had handled the story on the web.

I mean

A

Lot

of

Flak.

And, to some degree, they certainly deserved it, right? They had the scoop of year, maybe, and they failed to handle it in a way that guaranteed it would drive people to their website. People were somewhat apoplectic that much of Rolling Stone exists behind a paywall accessible through a subscription.

And why not charge for their content? Rolling Stone’s not a charity, a not-for-profit employing people who donate their time putting the magazine together.

Rolling Stone chief Jann Wenner apparently believes that it cost some investment to create the content, it’s not unreasonable to ask people to pay a little — and really is a bit of a bargain. For less than the cost of one issue every month, you get two issues and online access to the complete archives.

And it’s not like Wenner’s some freak out in the wilderness on this. The New Yorker’s David Remnick believes that charging people for content is not unreasonable.

So, here’s my question: is it possible that maybe there was something else behind all of this criticism, some sort of ulterior motive, perhaps?

Probably not — at least on purpose.

What the reaction to the article does show is just how lousy a job the media’s been doing in general (no pun intended).

Pretty much all of the reaction to the story has been about the most salacious quotes in the story — about how McChrystal and his aides personally criticized President Obama and others — and whether the quotes were on the record or off the record.

CBS’s Lara Logan even slammed Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings, saying he’s “never served his country the way McChrystal has.”

It’s almost as if none of these critics have actually read the piece — just the prurient quotes that have been pulled out.

And why do I think this?

Because if you read the story, you might find that the most disturbing part is not that a general and his top aides are occasionally outspoken and maybe not all that politic.

The most disturbing part is that you get the sense they seem to have doubts about the war itself.

“If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” one top aide tells the magazine.

And while much has been made of McChrystal’s supposedly close relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the article makes it clear, the relationship ain’t perfect.

Hastings recounts how the day before the “doomed offensive” in Marja, the general needed to talk to Karzai but was told he was sleeping.

“After several hours of haggling, McChrystal finally enlisted the aid of Afghanistan’s defense minister, who persuaded Karzai’s people to wake the president from his nap.”

A lot of reporters, perhaps upset about being beat or perhaps upset by a freelancer writing something a lot of beat reporters haven’t written (see Politico’s now infamously deleted: “And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks”), chose to ignore the substance of what Hastings wrote and focused on the titilating.

And, if you have any doubt that the thing about the paywall is a red herring, for weeks Rolling Stone has been running astoundingly detailed pieces about the failure of the Interior Department to do its job, the pieces have been free on the website and really, no one’s picked them up.

People should not be surprised that Rolling Stone does great reporting.

And maybe they should do a better job of promoting their own stuff.

But let’s be real about what this is all about. People would rather focus on salacious than substance (I’m not saying everyone, clearly there’s lots of great, great, great reporting going on) and, as a result, sometimes they miss stuff and they’d rather have people not notice so they engage in misdirection.

Managing Mailer

In Entertainment, Media, Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 at 9:16 am
Norman Mailer, Miami Book Fair International, 1988

Image via Wikipedia

In 1969, Norman Mailer – already a successful novelist and somewhat notorious character – decided to run for Mayor of New York with the already legendary columnist Jimmy Breslin as his running mate.

The brilliant Joe Flaherty wrote a marvelous memoir of the campaign called “Managing Mailer.”

While the title is technically correct since Flaherty was the campaign manager, reading the sadly out of print book (excerpts can be read here), it quickly becomes clear that there really was no managing Mailer.

When I interviewed him in 2007, he said of that campaign:

“Looking back on it, there was something highly comic about the whole thing,” he said. “Not at the time, of course. Breslin and I worked as hard as we ever worked. One of my favorite remarks at the time was that my mother didn’t raise me to work this hard. The press thought it was a lark, but it wasn’t a lark. It was a bone-depleting journey.”

“What is comic about it, what I find comic about it, was how little political sense I had compared to how much political sense I thought I had. What I didn’t understand was that a freshman doesn’t run for president of the fraternity.”

I bring this up because there are two books out that deal with managing Mailer later in life. One by Norris Church Mailer, his sixth and, as she likes to point out, last wife. She was with him for about 32 years, pretty much longer than he was with his other five wives, combined.

Her book, A Ticket to the Circus, is a loving though very honest memoir of those times. It’s not always pretty but even when she writes of Mailer — or her — having an affair, there is no question that the bond that held them together was love (though, as she makes clear, sex was also a part of it (“No matter the circumstances of our passions and rages, our boredoms, angers and betrayals large and small, sex was the cord that bound us together”).

It was a relationship apparently few thought would succeed. After all, when they met, he was a 52-year-old literary giant and she was a 26-year-old single mother from Russellville, Arkansas.

“Bella Abzug gave me her phone number and told me to call her, at any hour of the night, if I needed to get away from him, and she would come get me,” she writes of an encounter soon after moving to New York.

But…

“His clear blue eyes lit up when he saw me,” she writes of their first encounter. And she was leaning toward smitten as well. “He had broad shoulders, a rather large head (presumably to hold all those brains) with ears that stuck out like Clark Gable’s, and he was chesty, but not fat, like a sturdy small horse.”

It was clearly a complicated relationship.

During the publicity swing for his novel Harlot’s Ghost — a time when she figured out Mailer had been having an affiar — Sam Donaldson was doing a story about Mailer and he asked her what it was like to live with him:

“Well, Sam, it’s kind of like living in a zoo, One day, Norman is a lion; the next he’s a monkey. Occasionally he’s a lamb and a large part of the time he’s a jackass.”

She tells of their trips, their love letters, their children, their grandchildren, their tender moments and their fights, which could be just awful.

As The New York Times put it, “A Ticket to the Circus is not a tell-all memoir; it’s a tell-enough memoir.”

Meanwhile, the other book about Mailer, Mornings with Mailer: A Recollection of a Friendship by Dwayne Raymond who worked for him the last four years of his life, helping as he wrote his last books, is surprising.

Picking it up, it’s hard to escape a first impression of someone who worked for Mailer, probably didn’t know him so well and is trying to cash in.

But then you start reading it and you quickly see how much Raymond not only cared about Mailer but was involved in his life the last few years (a point of view, I later discovered, is fully supported by Norris in her book).

Raymond had been a waiter in Provincetown when the Mailers convinced him to come work for them, helping Norman as an assistant but also doing the cooking and shopping and helping Norris who was battling cancer.

While Raymond had had the writing bug and was a reader, his knowledge of Mailer at the time was thin.

“I had no basis for what to think about Norman Mailer. I knew he lived in town, but I’d never seen him and knew nothing about how he lived. I figured if hew as crazy enough to stay here all winter long, he was probably a fairly regular guy.”

And, if you only knew Mailer from Raymond’s book, that’s probably the Mailer you would know: a fairly regular guy who, while maybe having some eccentricities, loved his family and cared about those around him.

“To look back on my time with Norman now is like peering through a kaleidoscope: vibrant images churn in imprecise order. What emerges as I shadow more than a thousand days with him should be clear but that is not the case. The memories that do rise to the surface are often as inexplicable as the fog that gathers over the harbor of our town.”

Okay, maybe a little purple but it’s hard not to see it — and the whole book — as a heartfelt, loving portrait of Mailer. And while Norris’s book gives us Mailer the Man, Raymond’s book really is about Mailer the Writer, taking us into his office as he crafted his final work.

Spending time with either book is time well spent. Spending time with both gives you a a deep portrait of a man, a writer, who while not always loved, was clearly a giant who was not always so well managed.