A blog about politics, sports, media, stuff

May 16 2011 11:14 AM

David Mamet Shocker: Rich Person Discovers He Is a Republican

David Mamet talked to the Weekly Standard about how

. This is going to really bust up the intelligentsia, you see, because liberals believe anybody who uses "fuck" in a work of art has got to be a fellow traveler.

Andrew Ferguson describes a Mamet speech at Stanford that drove the faculty—men with "wispy beards" and women with "hair shorter than their husbands'"—to walk out, shocked by his scathing attack on higher education:

He compared four years of college to a lab experiment in which a rat is trained to pull a lever for a pellet of food. A student recites some bit of received and unexamined wisdom—"Thomas Jefferson: slave owner, adulterer, pull the lever"—and is rewarded with his pellet: a grade, a degree, and ultimately a lifelong membership in a tribe of people educated to see the world in the same way.

"If we identify every interaction as having a victim and an oppressor, and we get a pellet when we find the victims, we’re training ourselves not to see cause and effect," he said. Wasn’t there, he went on, a "much more interesting .??.??. view of the world in which not everything can be reduced to victim and oppressor?"

See, in fact, the slaves

totally owned Jefferson

. But anyhow: higher education, it makes people stupid, and wrecks their gender identities, right? No one has ever made that risky observation before. And now Mamet is coming out with a


Mamet's big conceptual breakthrough, Ferguson writes, was about money. Bertolt Brecht claimed to be a Communist, but he "always took care to copyright his plays." Of this, Mamet writes:

The public’s endorsement of his plays kept him alive; as Marx was kept alive by the fortune Engels’s family had made selling furniture; as universities, established and funded by the Free Enterprise system .??.??. support and coddle generations of the young in their dissertations on the evils of America.

That's Free Enterprise with a cap-F, cap-E. Free Enterprise is a person, and David Mamet had discovered that he is a great guy, Mr. Enterprise, once you get to know him, have a few beers, appreciate his mastery of his craft. (Maybe he'll put you on that


"I never questioned my tribal assumption that Capitalism was bad," he writes now, "although I, simultaneously, never acted upon these feelings." He was always happy to cash a royalty check and made sure to insist on a licensing fee. "I supported myself, as do all those not on the government dole, through the operation of the Free Market."

This is an amazing contradiction that Mamet caught himself and everyone else in. Rush Limbaugh brought up the same point a few weeks ago, when he was talking about Wisconsin—how those stupid protesters didn't even realize the irony that their own pension fund was invested in Koch Industries. People who say they oppose capitalism (er, Capitalism) turn out to be totally participating in the Capitalist system. When will someone

about that?

Anyway, David Mamet will be blowing all the liberals' minds really soon now. How will they survive this betrayal by an Artist? Eh, Ezra Pound was a Nazi; the poets still somehow get up in the morning. The mystery of political conversion narratives is why claiming that you used to believe the wrong thing, because you were stupid, moves you to the front of the line to talk about the new, correct thing that you believe, now that you are smart. Can we just skip ahead to the Zef Chafets profile of Mamet in the New York Times Magazine in the spring of 2012?

May 12 2011 4:32 PM

Burson-Marsteller Has Another Image Problem

Oh, look: the globe-bestriding publicity firm Burson-Marsteller has yet another project for yet another client. The Daily Beast reported :

Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.

The stories of Google's privacy invasion, the Daily Beast wrote, were being pushed on behalf of Facebook. Maybe that led to yesterday's scary-sounding—but confusing—

about a "creepy" and "pretty evil" effort by Google to compete with Facebook by "quietly mining your Gmail contacts database." (Gawker cited a

about Google's quest for a "social graph" of its own.)

Quietly! The Google Social Circle does sound pretty invasive, at first. But unlike the dread Google Buzz—or Facebook's entire turn-a-private-network-into-an-opt-out-data-mine business plan—it doesn't really seem to know anything about you unless you've created a Google Profile and agreed to let Google examine your various social accounts. (And why would you do that? Have you learned nothing from the Facebook experience?

in sight.)

The Daily Beast:

Burson, in its pitch to journalists, claimed Social Circle was "designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users—in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google's] agreement with the FTC."

Also from Burson: "The American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloging and broadcasting every minute of every day—without their permission."

Yes, the American people must be made aware of Google's alleged intrusions into their personal lives because Facebook wants to keep the lucrative privacy-violation market to itself.

Is that the story that Mark Zuckerberg was paying Burson-Marsteller to promote? Because that's the story Facebook has ended up buying: the story that Facebook is the sort of deceitful scumbag hypocrite company that would hire Burson for its dirty work.

What's the advantage to hiring Burson anymore? The CEO, Mark Penn, is "best known as the chief strategist in Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign," the Daily Beast wrote. Here's a little refresher on how that went, as


As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state's 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified — and let Penn know it. "How can it possibly be," Ickes asked, "that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn't understand proportional allocation?"

In the end, though, it wasn't Penn's incompetence that got him demoted by the campaign—it was his toxic and unethical

, including "drug companies, a tuna industry group, a tobacco firm and the controversial military contractor Blackwater USA," and finally the government of Colombia, which had hired Burson to push a free-trade deal that Hillary Clinton opposed.

So Facebook was willing to hire a company whose CEO is identified with hilariously bungling tactical failure. And it was willing to join a list of

that has included, through the decades, Blackwater, the Union Carbide mass methyl isocyanate-gas* poisoning in Bhopal, the murderous Argentine junta, and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Those last two, a

, predate Mark Penn's time (as does Bhopal), so it is inaccurate and unfair to—

Oh, wait: Foxconn, the Chinese tech supply company where the

last year. Another Burson client.

How will Facebook scrub the stink off itself now? How will Burson-Marsteller, for that matter, get people to stop thinking of poison, corruption, failure, and death when its name comes up? If only there were some sort of company out there that knew how to fix a damaged reputation.


[* Correction: This sentence originally misidentified the toxic gas involved as chlorine.]

May 12 2011 2:33 PM

What Is the Story About the Story About Mitch Daniels' Marriage?

Cheri Daniels, the wife of Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, is supposed to give a speech at a Republican Party dinner tonight. This is important, for some reason that has to do with Mitch Daniels' potential candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny reported that "

" and that there has been "increased scrutiny on the couple's private life."

Specifically, the troublesome "part of the personal narrative" is

a three-year gap in their marriage in the 1990s, when she filed for divorce, moved to California with a new husband and left Mr. Daniels to raise their four daughters, then ages 8 to 14. She later returned and remarried him.

And? They got married, mumble mumble, they are married now. It's a pretty common story arc for marriages, even if there was more paperwork in the middle than usual. There are certainly

than that in this presidential field.

If Mitch Daniels had custody of the children during the couple's years apart, then it's hard to see what would be so damaging to him about the details, if the details were being publicized—which they are not. Cheri Daniels, Zeleny wrote

has never publicly discussed their divorce and is not expected to suddenly do so in the not-so-intimate setting of a hotel ballroom filled with political activists.

Yet here it is, being non-discussed in the Times (and the

, and the

). All this attention, turning so suddenly. Luckily, Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post has


A rival campaign has identified the first lady’s reticence as a pressure point before she steps fully into the limelight....

In exchange for anonymity, an official for another GOP prospect provided contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married, in the years between her divorce and remarriage to Daniels. Other officials at potential rival campaigns to Daniels disagreed about whether the personal history of Cheri Daniels would ever be a vulnerability or even germane to the race.

So: it's already time for preemptive oppo. Psy-oppo-ops. Remember when the Hillary Clinton campaign had stuff that was simply going to destroy Barack Obama? (Remember when Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain each starred in Cheri Daniels-style reluctant-spouse storylines?) Mitch Daniels has been warned. Or is Mitch Daniels doing the warning? The Washington Post, again:

"I talked to the governor briefly," said Jane Jankowski, a spokeswoman for Daniels, when asked for a response to the preemptive attack. "And Governor Daniels chooses to believe that no candidate would employ such tactics, and if someone working for a candidate did such a thing, it must not have been authorized."

Daniels has a hypothetical meta-rejection of the preemptive speculation about a possible narrative line if he were to enter the race. (I think. I may have missed a step or two.) And it makes him come out as being above the fray. This is already more canny and impressive than anything Newt Gingrich has come up with.

May 11 2011 4:58 PM

Absent a Jasmine Revolution, China Settles for Cracking Down on Actual Jasmine

 Alarmed by the spectacle of authoritarian states wobbling in the Middle East, China is still trying to protect itself from any thought of a similar "Jasmine Revolution." The New York Times reported that beyond locking up even more human rights activists, lawyers, and dissidents than usual, and beyond censoring online mentions of the popular folk song "Jasmine Flower," the authorities have suppressed the sale of jasmine itself .

This sort of crisis micromanagement is a tradition in the People's Republic. In 2008, after an American visitor was stabbed to death at the beginning of the Beijing Olympics, it became impossible to buy any sort of kitchen knife anywhere in the capital. Now, according to the Times, the wholesale price of jasmine flowers has fallen by two-thirds, as flower markets in Beijing have stopped selling the blossoms,

The Beijing Public Security Bureau declined to answer questions about jasmine. But a number of cut flower and live plant business owners said they had been either visited by the police in early March or given directives indicating that it had become contraband.


Thanks to a censored Internet, most Chinese have never heard of the protest calls in China, nor are they aware of the ensuing crackdown.

In the absence of concrete information, fantastic rumors have taken root. One wholesale flower vendor at the Jiuzhou Flower and Plant Trading Center in southern Beijing said he heard the ban had something to do with radiation contamination from Japan. A young woman hawking floral bouquets at Laitai, a large flower market near the United States Embassy, said she was told jasmine blossoms contained some unspecified poison that was killing people.


Many sellers, however, were less than eager to discuss jasmine with a foreigner, particularly at the Sunhe Beidong market, where a policeman could be seen last month nosing around the bouquets. Most quickly steered the conversation to more promising topics. "You don’t want to buy jasmine. It’s just not trendy this year," said one clerk at the Laitai market, pointing to pots of lavender and rosemary.


May 11 2011 3:52 PM

Rich Man's Paper Defends Other Rich Man's Right to Riches

Today's New York Observer—owned by youthful family-money plutocrat Jared Kushner, son of scandal-plagued real-estate tycoon Charles Kushner and son-in-law of Donald Trump—has a house editorial

from the "critics and cranks" who complained about his $14 million pay at last week's annual meeting. (I worked at the Observer before and after Kushner bought it from its founder, Arthur Carter.)

"Let's bear in mind that he could be making a ton more at a hedge fund or at another firm," the editorial says. Well, why he isn't doing that? Public-spiritedness? Nope: "He has taken no vow of poverty, nor does he pretend to be running a charitable enterprise." So he's just a loser. They must laugh at him, the hedge-fund boys. Even while the ignorant non-rich people envy him his modest successes:

Fake populists and demagogues can rail all they want about Mr. Blankfein's pay, but their opinions mean nothing. Mr. Blankfein certainly doesn't need us to defend his salary and his competence. But we'll take the opportunity to point out that he makes significantly less than a certain third baseman who works in the South Bronx. Despite the catcalls in Jersey City the other day, Mr. Blankfein and Goldman Sachs are having a better spring thus far than Alex Rodriguez, whose annual salary is double Mr. Blankfein's total compensation package, including his bonus, for last year.

Executive compensation is a private matter. That's how the free market works.

Alex Rodriguez,

, is on pace to hit 25 home runs, score 98 runs, and collect 103 RBI. Not a record-shattering season, but a very productive one. His Yankees are in first place and are on pace to win 98 games.

Goldman and Blankfein? Not everyone is putting them at the


May 10 2011 10:36 PM

I Be Reelected, Son: With Internet Duly Conquered, North Bergen Mayor Wins Vote, Too

With 38 of 39 precincts in North Bergen, New Jersey, reporting on Tuesday night, five-term mayor and viral hip-hop popularizer Nick Sacco had 9,272 votes , leading his slate of incumbent commissioners to an easy victory. The Jersey Journal reported that the Sacco partisans and the rival "Citizens for Change" ticket had accused each other of misbehavior at the polls:

[Opposition candidate Ravi] Varma said he has been getting calls from people on his side, who are official challengers at various polling stations, that poll workers are taking chairs and tables away from them.

He also said that poll workers are telling voters that ask for help who to cast their vote for.

"This is like three times it has already happened," Varma said, "It's terrible, I don't even feel like I'm in America anymore."


Sacco, who voted near his home on Palisade Avenue earlier today, said many of the workers from the "Citizens for Change" ticket are from out of the county, a violation of election rules.

"To work at the polls you have to be a county resident, it just doesn't seem to be many North Bergen people of their list," Sacco said, adding that one was arrested last night for having an active warrant out of Elizabeth.


May 10 2011 3:11 PM

Rick Reilly Is Correct: Write for Money


," Rick Reilly, the millionaire sports columnist, told the class of 2011 at the University of Colorado's journalism school. (It was the last group of graduates before the J-school is disbanded.) Reilly said:

Nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride!

The journalism world

about this, according to Romenesko. "

," NBC Sports baseball blogger Craig Calcaterra wrote. "Really, really

," wrote Jason Fry, a former Wall Street Journal staffer turned freelancer and consultant.

This is a changing world, the counter-advice goes. Get experience writing things on your own blog. Take unpaid work to get exposure. The 21st century rewards the bold.

Calcaterra wrote:

most people do have to either take unpaid internships or blog and otherwise hustle to make it in the media these days. Advice that says "NEVER DO THAT!" is useless, because most of those graduates will be asked to do it. 

And now, a word from the philosopher and career expert


Who the FUCK wanna be an M.C. / If you can't get PAAAID / To be a fuckin' M.C.?

Or, if you prefer,


No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.

In practice, Johnson spent a lot of time bogged down in badly funded startups, and he was frequently broke. If it were easy to get paid, he wouldn't have bothered saying anything. That's why that particular piece of advice has survived 200-some years.

A graduation speech is not the time to talk about practice. It's certainly not the time to talk about practice as if it were principle. Plenty of people will be encouraging the new graduates to write for no money.

So: write a personal blog for free? Sure. Blogging is just the streamlined version of starting a magazine. When the J-schoolers were in kindergarten, people made their blogs at Kinko's and called them "zines."

But self-publishing a blog should never be conflated with an unpaid internship. Unpaid internships are for chumps. They are a disgusting scam that ensures that the pipeline into the industry is clogged with wealthy college kids. There was a time in living memory when media companies paid for entry-level labor—some

, even now—so the people who are offering you the chance to work for free are actually aware that they are ripping you off.

Meanwhile, the Media Industries Project at U.C.-Santa Barbara just

about how they feel about their work:

Ninety-six percent of those surveyed believe that their postings are equal to or more valuable than contributions made by paid editors and curators at HuffPo.
Sixty-nine percent believe bloggers should share in the $315 million payday.
A majority (54%) say HuffPo should develop a flat-rate payment schedule for contributors (based on words per post, for example).
Most respondents (54%) say HuffPo bloggers should press their case through some form of concerted action, such as online organizing or unionization.

Writing for free is not an awesome new paradigm. It is a crappy option that can seem passable in a world where most of the options are crappy. Don't celebrate it.

Every writer needs a little voice—no, a big voice—asking the same thing, over and over:

are you getting paid? Why aren't you getting paid?

Yes, sometimes there are opportunities to write great things for lousy or nonexistent pay. Sometimes, you really

or a project before the market gets around to sharing that belief.

Writers will write for free. But whenever you write for free, or for below market rate, you should picture Samuel Johnson stooping over and scrawling BLOCKHEAD on your computer screen. You should hear Ol' Dirty Bastard (right here, at the

). Let Ol' Dirty Bastard be your conscience. Work for money.

May 9 2011 4:08 PM

Farewell, Phil Jackson, by Way of Lewis Carroll

A word ladder, also known as a doublet , to escort the NBA's most book-slinging coach into retirement :


(Yes, there's a shorter chain, but it's the journey, not the destination.)

May 9 2011 12:46 PM

Reassignment Memo: The New Yorker Shuffle

Last week must have been a busy one at America's leading crypto-newsweekly. The announcement of Osama bin Laden's death last Sunday hit the New Yorker at the worst possible moment in the publishing cycle, when bin Laden–free issues were already off the presses and in the mail. (Nice show of gratitude , Mr. President.) So this week's table-of-contents promotional email feels a little frantic—there was the foreign news to be caught up to and seriously grappled with, but the regular news-and-culture calendar could not wait. So:

David Remnick on Osama bin Laden; Steve Coll on the making of a modern fanatic; Lawrence Wright on Pakistan; and Jon Lee Anderson on Afghanistan. Plus: Malcolm Gladwell on the mouse; Judith Thurman on Alexander McQueen; Anthony Lane on Pixar; John Seabrook on snacks in the age of obesity; James Surowiecki on Dropbox; Joan Acocella on Paula Fox; Joyce Carol Oates on Margaret Drabble; Sasha Frere-Jones on Stevie Nicks; John Lahr on "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures"; Anthony Lane on "Everything Must Go" and "Thor"; fiction by Michael Ondaatje; and more.

Eh, OK, that sounds resoundingly fine. Nothing wrong with falling back on muscle memory in a crisis. But how much more exciting would it be to open the mailbox if Remnick had shaken up the assignments a little? Anthony Lane on Osama bin Laden, for starters. I would read that immediately. How about:

• Malcolm Gladwell on Margaret Drabble.

• Sasha-Frere Jones on "Thor."

• Michael Ondaatje on snacks in the age of obesity.

• Jon Lee Anderson on Alexander McQueen.

• Joan Acocella on the making of a modern fanatic.

• James Surowiecki on Pixar.

And definitely, definitely David Remnick on Stevie Nicks.

May 9 2011 9:57 AM

Political Spot of the Year: "I Be From North Bergen, Son" (VIDEO)

Besides baby bok choi and rye bread in a pinch, the downstairs bodega also supplies a quick, ongoing course in Hits Radio. Through short doses of heavy rotation, it's possible, without even trying, to stay aware of things like what Britney's comeback single sounded like (really? Like that?).

Early Sunday morning—oops, where did the milk go?—what was playing was a commercial, presumably at bargain weekend Manhattan-airtime rates. It went like this:

Does North Bergen's longtime mayor, Nick Sacco, deserve to be reelected tomorrow? Opinions seem to vary . This mashup of small-market advertising and earnest local-grown hip-hop, however, clearly deserves to be the template for every political spot between now and November 2012. "The streets are clean, and the parks are beautiful," someone testifies, over-vigorously, between choruses led by teenage rapper Tyler "TyAlaxandar" Griffin . Why does this not have an AutoTune remix yet?