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Category Archives: News and Politics

I’m sure you read the San Francisco Chronicle daily. There’s no better way to read about Hollywood starlets’ FOVIP (frequency of vomiting in public) or the DOASFYMTA (Divorces of Aging Stars for Younger Model-Type Actors) or the daily murder wrap from Oakland or a few blocks of San Francisco.

But last week the Chronicle ran freelancer Rob Baedeker’s entertaining Money Tale, How much money do you make? It was a fun read, and in it, Baedeker teased the reader along by dangling the sweet secret of how much money such a talented freelance writer makes in a city like San Francisco. He discloses his salary only after making the point that there are tons of people out there who not only consider frank talk about income to be private, but will nevertheless share that information with anyone at all, as long as they ask.

The truth is, I read the piece when it was first published and I’m too lazy to go back and re-read it. I could therefore be mistaken when I report now that I don’t believe it was based on, or even referred to any published research on sharing personal income information. Rather, as I recall, it was based on Baedeker’s personal research walking around in the streets of San Francisco, asking people he did not know to tell him basically two things (is salary information private? would you tell me anyway?). And again, his finding was that for the most part, people fall into the sweet spot of the contradiction between these two questions. It’s an implicit comment on generational change, so I don’t think I would have been too surprised to see the NYT carry the same article or another just exactly like it.

But instead, they published Alex Williams’s Not So Personal Finance. It does some of the same tricks, hovering over the “do people consider this to be private information?” question but turning to a 2007 study in Money magazine by Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz, as well as good quotes from Bill Coleman, the chief compensation officer of But it doesn’t tell us what the writer earns at the New York Times, and it doesn’t take a very human angle on the admittedly awkward silences that fall when friends with wide chasms between their various incomes come to the precipice in otherwise-pleasant conversations.

Chalk one (exactly one) up for the Chronicle.




first of all, i’m surprised that clinton’s not campaigning in Vermont more seriously. i didn’t forget about VT, but i hadn’t been following any polling, and i assumed she would have a chance there. the iraq war vote thing, if that’s what’s bugging people there, was a problem for me at the time that she cast it until i heard her explanation at that time, which to my buddingly neoconservative views (sort of kidding…) made sense (at some point we have to stand behind the president and at least pretend to agree, so that his efforts will carry some weight…. that, to my recollection, was the gist of it, and i guess i bought into that too, because that was before we bombed iraq, and there was still the distant, faint glimmer of a hope that the UN resolutions and the support of countries like, i dunno, any of them, might have played a role in diffusing the situation. and the only reason anyone would want to diffuse the situation would be if they realized that the US was really gonna do it this time, and the only reason they’d think that would be if even the fairly liberal wing of the democratic party thought about signing on….. but then all this other stuff happened and now we look back at that vote and blame – i think – the wrong people. but the fact that clinton has failed to articulate that effectively enough, and failed to keep the focus of her campaign on the need to undo the damage of the bush administration will probably cost her the nomination, and my feelings about that are similar to the feelings of disappointment that i have around john edwards’ failure to convince even ME that he was serious about ending poverty in the US, and my continued frustration with the imbecilic john kerry at somehow failing to allow his actual war record to stand as a suitable defense against his made-up war record. the sad fact is that there’s only one howard dean, and even if he lacked some of the stature or experience or panache or even clarity around issues that we’re looking for today, he had something that i can only continue to describe as “electability,” and i have the serious concern that we will look back on this election from the vantage point of having lost in November and realize that by nominating a historical first — either a woman or a black man — we seriously eroded our ability to maintain focus on the primary issue, which should be rescuing the country from some weird faith-based totalitarianism.)
leave it to me to bury the lead. somewhere in that rant of a parenthetical thought lies evidence of what i’m calling — and i’ve coined this term, so far as i can tell — my “obivalence”. when obama announced on MTP more than a year ago that he was beginning to consider the possibility of thinking of planning to consider running for president, i was very excited about it. he seemed like a godsend, and i looked forward to a substantive candidate emerging…. since then, i have become increasingly unimpressed with him. he seems almost like a Democratic version of W — the kind of guy who can be portrayed as plainly and incorrectly by the far right as the far left portrays W (to call bush reactionary, a despot, a fascist — these may have some basis in reality. but to insist that he’s truly a buffoon is to inadvertently give him greater power, because while he might be a bit bumbling, he’s not stupid, and we have clearly been underestimating him for a long time, despite a TON of evidence that he’s as calculating as anyone could be, but i digress again). point is, W is a flat character, with no real depth, and that enables us to map onto him whatever we like (dems map bad things, rich fat people map good things, etc.). that’s where obama is, too. the lefty optimist in me sees jfk, rfk, carter, john lennon, etc etc in obama, because why not? he won’t say anything to dispel those long shadows, because they benefit him tremendously. but the right can overlay a similarly one-sided image-set on him — naif, pop star, teen idol, pin-up politician, etc etc. And since his strengths are the same as his weaknesses (just like W), there’s an “around and around we go” quality to this kind of dialogue, and i do not relish the idea of four or eight years of it.
that said, i’m not thrilled with clinton, and i miss edwards (or rather, my sense of what edwards could have been — in my wildest dreams, he would have actually SET UP his campaign headquarters in the upper ninth ward, where he announced his run. he would have bought a few houses to convert to HQ, he would have hired local new orleans kids to help set up shop around iowa and new hampshire, he would have held all of his policy announcements on the same front lawn down there, and would have conducted essentially a front-porch campaign. when he won — and he definitely would have won if he’d done this — he could have made new orleans his crawford, and allowed the upper ninth ward to become an international center of diplomacy, lobbying and power, generally, at least for a few weeks each summer or fall. that would have been a campaign of change and whatever, and i would have been very proud to have that kind of president, giving unprecedented access to power directly to the most disenfranchised population in this country. but oh well. at least he wasn’t derailed by something as stoopid as a directional microphone. that still hurts.)
i don’t like that supporters of obama have been given enough reason to detest clinton, which is my way of saying that obama supporters can’t be entirely blamed for being, sometimes, quite mean about their preference. i’m not sure this race was every truly hers to lose, but she has lost entirely the original message, which was methodical one, arguing against current administration policies. eyes on the prize was all she needed, in a way. 
but i can’t get fully behind obama. i’m sure he’s a great guy, and i do wish i knew him personally. but those aren’t reasons to vote for someone. this is the longest definition ever, but it is OBIVALENCE. 

If an actor dies from a drug overdose on the same day that you’re planning to trot the old guy out to say that drugs are dangerous for kids, don’t worry about looking opportunistic. It’s true that it doesn’t look good for you because of the timing. You get decorum points for giving the awkwardness some consideration. But since nobody cares what your guy says anymore, and since nobody’s listening, you may as well go ahead with the scheduled event. Go on. Prescription drugs are bad. You might even consider adding a timely comment into the remarks. Something like, “As the untimely death of actor so-and-so tragically demonstrates, …” etc etc. If you do that, opportunistic or not, people might at least notice that you did something that day.

David Halberstam reported from courtside and from Vietnam, and he wrote long books that will stand for decades or more as a testament to whatever. When he needed them the most, words did not fail him. Not, at least, according to the story told by New York Times denizens, recounted by Timothy Crouse in 1972 and then recounted again by Calvin Trillin in 1993. When obnoxious, pre-rotund Johnny Apple made some stupid comment to the recently-returned-from-war Halberstam, he found poetry in three great words, which we should all use whenever the mood strikes us, as a glorious homage to a great man. Less than a half-year after Apple’s death, today’s ludicrous news brings the astoundingly stupid death of David Halberstam, in a car accident of all goddam things, in Menlo Park of all goddam places.
Somewhere, wherever these types of people end up going after this part, there’s a fat dead Johnny Apple saying something stupid to a new arrival, and the only comfort I can take right now is that I know what that new arrival is going to say to him.

[podtech content=]

I don’t know if Edwards has a real shot, but he does look like central casting’s a-list POTUS, at least for a movie that only features the president as a secondary character. Maybe a romantic comedy about the president’s daughter, or a romantic comedy about the president’s aging mother (a possible star vehicle for one of our talented aging American actresses? Goldie? She’d be perfect. For god’s sake, though, not Diane Keaton. Please. Enough with Diane Keaton.)


I’m taking a few moments out of a very pleasurable experience on hold with a few US Airways representatives to share my experience, which you’ll be very happy to know about.

Brussels is conveniently located in the heart of Europe. It’s a gateway to the Swiss Alps and it’s home to lots of guilty pleasures, like beer. Athens is a warm, Mediterranean city. US Airways is going to fly to Athens starting sometime or other, and the woman in the recording sounds genuinely pleased about that!

The nice thing for me is that I have been listening to this tape loop for 26 minutes. The recording scared me at first, when it said I would only be on hold for two minutes. “So short!” I exclaimed, in my head. Well, I had nothing to worry about.

US Airways is there to make sure that my relaxation is not cut short. They were so eager to have me relax listening to their recording that, even after I spoke briefly to a person after about 24 minutes of holding, I was re-placed on hold, told again that I had only two minutes to go until a representative helped me, and it’s been, well, it’s been more than that already, but I’m not complaining! It sure is nice to have a friend like this woman tell me the same things over and over.

This is a great tape loop to be stuck in. I really like it. But I also loved how at-home the customer representative I did speak with made me feel. She literally made me feel like I was in HER home! How did she do this, you ask? She set the you’re-not-talking-to-some-corporate-representative tone by picking up the phone with a perfectly disarming “Hello?”

I loved it! Let’s dispense with all of this bureaucracy where I have to say “Thank you for calling,” or “Thank you for waiting” or anything like that. We’re all adults here. We don’t know each other, so why should we pretend? We shouldn’t! So? What’s it to ya? Hello?

It was a great conversation, and I was only too thrilled when it ended less than a minute later, and I was placed safely back on hold. Very classy airline.

That’s how you run an airline. None of this “bill of rights” crap like you see at JetBlue.


I’m still on hold, thankfully! I was going to say it keeps getting better, but it doesn’t change at all…. But if you’re cynical, you might think that things are generally always getting worse. So if you find something this constant, this unchanging, this solid and reliable and seemingly permanent, that’s comparatively positive. Staying on hold with US Airways is like being part of something that’s getting better, just by staying the same! Anyway, my 41 minutes on hold so far are one thing, but i found someone who’s spent even longer on the phone, and that person has a great story to tell, too! If you have the time, you should read that. It’s inspiring.

Well done, US Airways!

Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, but he never won an Oscar. The current Governor of California has had a thriving career as a moviestar, but he hasn’t won an Oscar. Former Vice President Al Gore, whose most famous acting credits include the role of “pathetic overacting candidate” in the live-for-tv series, “Presidential Candidates Debate,” in 2000, and a widely-hailed appearance on Saturday Night Live the night before announcing he wouldn’t seek the highest office again in 2004, is on track to become the unlikely first just-about-President to win an Oscar.

Gore speculation has been brilliant this year, so far. We turn, as always, to our film critics, for good political punditry. The smartest word came this year from the oracle of the Chronicle (or “Orachron”), Mick LaSalle. He says a grosse Gore is a non-candidate, but a sveltitician is a potential threat for the Barackary Oclintons.

Actually, he said at first that Gore showing up to the Oscars at all would mean a no-go on the 2000 victor’s 2008 candidacy, but then conceded that just showing up wasn’t the thing. Showing up fat, however…

An AP story says an Oscar for Al could send some juice into the nascent and undeclared candidacy.

And then there’s Rolling Stone. I’m with them, actually. This guy is looking better and better. At least until Gary Hart gets back out there.

That was not a joke, by the way. Gary Hart. Write that down.

A little less than a year ago, Ze Frank started his year-long project called, simply, The Show. It’s become a popular daily video podcast and the prospect of its year-long run coming to an end is much-lamented by its many subscribers and fans. They are many, and their sentiments are now duly noted. One wishes that were enough to make them stop, but it isn’t. Ze Frank, himself, is going to ride the wave all the way to an end-of-The-Show party that will be in Brooklyn, or in Los Angeles, or somewhere else….

The show has done nothing but gain momentum over the course of the year thus far, with more than one significant mention in The Times, among other mainstream media sites.

Now, talk about the end of the show is clearly heating up, especially since this enlightening article a few weeks back, in The Observer.

There’s lots of speculation about what he’ll do next, with most of it swarming around Hollywood.

But let’s look back on the year: Here’s this young, brilliant guy. He’s got a close eye on current events and politics. He’s an architect of ideas, a writer, an actor. He’s got a mind for strategy. And — this bears repeating — he’s interested in politics.

Last year, he took a hard line against one videoblog site’s inflation of its popularity. Yes, it seemed a little catty to some obvservers, but what was really at issue in the so-called “Nerd War”?

The issue was metrics, numbers, how we count them and what they mean.

That debate may seem trivial if we’re talking about Rocketboom (and the milquetoast talent that it spawned and then lost to an as-yet unseen hit TV show or something), but the question of metrics is not so trivial when it is applied to counting votes in Florida, say, or counting bodies in Iraq. Questions of metrics, what they mean, and how we get them also come up in this country every ten years or so, when the government undertakes to follow its Constitutional obligation in the taking of the census. (The last census was taken in 2000, and the topic came up from time-to-time then. The next full census will be in 2010.)

A cursory glance at the political landscape right now reveals the obvious: we are still in the very early stages of our respective parties’ primary seasons. There are plenty of candidates, and although there may appear to be clear frontrunners, it’s both too early to be sure, and also clear that those positions are highly tenable (a woman and a bi-racial man are purported front-runners in the Democratic side, while a New England Mormon flip-flopper and a socially moderate Catholic are apparent front-runners in the Republican side. This is not a done deal, by any stretch.)

Now, back to The Show. It started, innoccuously-seeming enough, a year ago. Not much to suspect there, back in March 2006. Just another videoblog. But it wraps up a year later, and the climate has changed considerably. Primary season. The strategically-minded Ze Frank throws a party (or two), either on the East Coast or the West Coast, or both. He could just be throwing a party, sure. Or he could be energizing his “base,” on the coasts.

He gives an interview to the Observer in which he discusses his Hollywood ambitions, but also lets drop that he’s thirty-four years old. It’s 2007. He’ll be thirty-five in 2008. By the time the next President of the United States is sworn in, it will be 2009. Ze Frank will be thirty-five years old.

He is a writer and an actor.

There’s just one problem, alluded to in the Observer article. Ze Frank was born in Germany. Dealbraker? Maybe.

But this brings us back to all those trips he’s been taking out in California. Sure, that’s where the Hollywood studios are. But it’s also where a lively movement already exists to amend the U.S. Constitution on behalf of foreign-born citizens who might seek the highest office in the land.

Starting to come together, isn’t it?

So it’s finally time to retire the old line, “I love New York.” Time to come up with a new one. Can New York State put its heads together and do this on its own? No. It needs help.

If you have suggestions, go ahead and leave a comment. The winner gets a million dollars and the contract to work with the State on the new slogan. Go on. Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?

The Washington Post today has an article that proves that all politics is local, or at least personal. Seems that Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) met an Army captain in Iraq last December who was articulate and passionate in his views that U.S. troops were being overtaxed and overstressed in their missions in Iraq. He had the courage to tell them these things, and he was, you know, articulate, so no doubt they saw a little of themselves in him (or at least Kerry did, since he had something in common with him, disagreeing with the prosecution of a war that was wreaking havoc on the troops who were fighting for a cause that was no longer widely supported at home, etc).

Anyway, Brian Freeman was killed in Iraq a little more than a week ago, just after a short visit home to his (yes) 14-month old daughter and two-year-old son.

Senator Dodd, speaking about Freeman, said, “This was the kind of person you don’t forget,” strongly (but accidentally) implying that many of those other 3,000 dead, or 22,000 wounded — they are precisely the kind of persons one does forget. And that would seem to be the case, because, no matter how many times legislators make trips out to VA hospitals to see the troops that make it home, and no matter how many condolence letters their 22-year-old staffers forge their signatures on, and no matter how many funerals they show up to in their home districts and states, it’s precisely this point — that families other than their own are paying so dearly for this conflict — that Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.) was trying to make when she was toying with the Secretary of State a few weeks ago.

Senator Kerry also spoke up about Freeman, drawing the connection to his own past in explicit, if grammatically tortured terms.

“When I returned from war, almost 40 years ago now, I stood up and spoke from my heart and my gut about what I thought was wrong,” Kerry said on the Senate floor last week as he recounted his meeting with Freeman. “I asked the question in 1971: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? . . . I never thought that I would be reliving the need to ask that question again.”

Ah, yes. “Reliving the need to ask that question again.” Making the first time he needed to ask that question again — what — a few years ago? So the first time he asked it was back in 1971, and then he relived it once in 2004 (but not very effectively), and now — even though he lost and the same President is persisting in the same war — it somehow still needs to be asked again? Even though he already relived it?

The problem, as always, is that it really doesn’t matter that these fellas feel like the war is personal now that they met an articulate white guy who didn’t like the way things were looking and then died because of the way things are.

What matters, as always, is that there’s a 14-month old, a 2-year-old and a widow, and the last thing any of them needs is a few rich white guys with blood on their hands smacking their foreheads and saying they get it now.

A little bit more about Freeman is here and here

Some information about a different soldier, also killed, also named Brian Freeman, can be found here and here.

A soldier named Bryan Freeman — same name, spelled differently — was killed in Iraq in 2004. You can read about him here and here. He was in the reserves.

You can choose any dead soldier’s name and find other dead soldiers with the same or similar names. It’s not just familiar, it’s the same.