Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Most Trusted Names in News

This week’s “The New Yorker” has an interesting article titled, “ANCHOR AWAY: Katie Couric’s ill-fated voyage with CBS” by Nancy Franklin. It’s interesting not because of what it says about Couric herself (in my opinion Couric never had the gravitas necessary to succeed as a nightly news anchor; ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas is another story all-together), but because of what it says about the news media.

After chuckling at Franklin’s obvious shout-out to NPR (“I’ve always been a morning-radio person, not a morning-TV person — I don’t want to look at people when I wake up, I don’t want advice about keeping children happy during long car trips, I don’t want to hear about anybody’s dream wedding, and I would rather not know where in the world Matt Lauer is…”), I enjoyed reading her brief analysis of the state of the network news, the inability to predict which anchor will click with the public and which will fail, and the bygone days when “the person who sat in the anchor chair was hugely important.”

I confess I am old school when it comes to my news. Like Franklin, I love my NPR in the morning, but in the evenings, I enjoy seeing the things I previously only heard about. I grew up on ABC’s Peter Jennings, but since his death have migrated to NBC’s Brian Williams. I tend to go for the whole cult of personality thing when it comes to network anchors. I miss the days when “it was the news division’s reputation that set the tone for a network’s identity.”

What’s most illuminating is when Franklin bemoans the state of network news as an organization no longer interested in, passionate about or brave enough to do the sort of hard-hitting pieces that once made them great. “I don’t think that people want less news; they want, I believe, the same kind of informed passion and doggedness that TV-news people displayed while covering Hurricane Katrina, and they want anchors to go deep into issues.”

Ask any Gen Xer or Millennial and you are likely to find that two of their primary news sources are Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report.” Before you put on sackcloth and ashes, Franklin argues, consider that “when Dick Cheney denies making certain statements about the war in Iraq and Stewart shows three video clips that prove he’s lying, I think he’s providing a real service to the country, and I’d like to think that that’s what his fans are responding to.”

She’s exactly right. As much fun as Stewart and Colbert are and as many laughs as they give me each night, beneath the veneer of humor is actual, hard-hitting analysis that is not being done by the very people for whom it should be second nature. Even Maureen Dowd agrees. Don’t believe me? Watch any given week and you'll see Stewart conduct interviews more dogged and incisive than you will see anywhere else; you'll see Colbert skewer politicians and pundits alike in a satirical manner that would give Voltaire goose-bumps. For a free and independent press, our media acts more often like an animal terrified to bite the hand that supposedly feeds it.

Who knows, Franklin goes on to say, “young people might turn on their TVs in droves if news organizations had a few choice strands of Michael Moore’s DNA in them, and pointed out when, say, a public official wasn’t telling the truth.”

What a novel concept.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is America Coasting?

Long time readers of this blog will know of my obsession with all things space and my wife's and my lucky friendship with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, at the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the host of NOVA Science Now. He is the most extraordinary mentor either of us have ever known.

Neil is more than one of this country's greatest scientific luminaries. He is an educator par-excellence, a man who can explain the most dazzlingly complex theories so that even a child can understand and be excited by them. And, as you are about to see, he is a breathtaking philosopher poet.

The following clips are from an acceptance speech he gave after receiving the prestigious Space Communicator Award this past April. If you need to be sold on the critical necessity of America's place in space, watch these clips. But, perhaps, even more important than that, watch as Neil takes the idea of America in space and weaves it into a far greater, far more comprehensive, far more extraordinary metaphor for America's place in the world.

Embedding the video was not permitted, so click here for Part I and Part II.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Shame on you, John McCain!

Really John McCain? Really?

After Barack Obama criticized him for not supporting a bipartisan bill to enlarge the coffers of the GI Bill, John McCain shot back with what has to be his first misstep in his fledgling campaign against the presumptive Democratic nominee. Whether or not anyone realizes it remains to be seen.

For me, McCain's hotheaded answer went far beyond his playful, Reaganesque commentary about Obama's age the other day (“I admire and respect Senator Obama. For a young man with very little experience, he’s done very well.”) and veered into territory both childish, ridiculous and insulting.

He said: “I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.”

Excuse me?! Ignoring the fact that Obama began his criticism with wide-ranging praise for McCain's service record, and ignoring the fact that numerous Congressional members who are also military veterans echoed Obama's words, McCain's rhetoric is blatantly offensive. And I am a veteran.

To insinuate that someone is less patriotic, less qualified for office or has no right to question one’s stance on military issues simply because they themselves have not served in the military is outlandish. Many of this nation’s executives have not been veterans, including those regarded as it’s greatest heroes, from Jefferson to Lincoln to FDR.

Is McCain really suggesting that this issue is off limits merely because Obama chose to serve his country in a manner different than himself? Is he really suggesting that, on this issue, he is somehow better and thus, should not be questioned? Ridiculous and patently distasteful.

Shame on you, John McCain. You, of all people, should know better.


In an aside, McCain finally came out and repudiated Rev. Haggee's controversial positions and endorsement, just as he should have. In a response worthy of the playground tiff that it was, Haggee then withdrew his endorsement of McCain. As if we didn't need yet one more example why politics and religion need to remain separated.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Field of Dreams

This past week I returned to my beloved New York City for New York University’s 176th commencement exercises. NYU’s campus enfolds Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park on each side and it is here that the graduation festivities are typically held, the student body entering through the famous arch. However, this year the park is undergoing massive renovations, forcing the university to look elseware for a facility large enough to accommodate the 25,000 graduates, faculty, family members and guests.

The final solution was, in a word, inspired.

Wednesday morning I, and thousands of my fellow graduates, were granted our degrees in the House that Ruth Built, the famed Yankee Stadium. It is the first and the last graduation to ever be held there, as the 85-year-old ballpark will be torn down at the end of this season to make way for a larger, more modern stadium.

The ceremony itself was suffused with baseball metaphors, as nearly every speaker to grace the microphone, from student to guest, compared America’s game with academic accomplishments — life is like running the bases, sometimes you hit homeruns, know when to steal a base, etc. You get the general idea. Honorees this year included foremost liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and actor Michael J. Fox.

If three hours of speechmaking sounds mind-numbingly boring, you’d have loved William Lopez’s surprise addition to the morning’s program. Overtaken by events, the graduating senior stripped out of his pants and when the security guard in front of him turned away, Lopez vaulted over the rail and onto the field.

He hit first base, rounded the diamond and was heading for home plate when, just feet from his goal, half a dozen security guards tackled him to the ground and drug him away. Mr. Lopez has a court summons this week. I really doubt he cares. His 15 minutes of fame were plastered all over New York and even the national news.

It seemed fitting that at the close of the ceremony, the brass band gathered in the dugout played Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, best known to modern audiences as the famed strains that open 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fitting not only because the film stands as a favorite for most all Cinema Studies students, myself included, but also because it was as if we were those crude apes discovering tools and preparing to conquer outer space with our newly minted degrees.

Wednesday was the university graduation, but my specific school, Tisch School of the Arts, did not hold its ceremony until three days later. This time the festivities took place at Madison Square Garden. As inspiring as it was (alum Amy Heckerling, the director of such films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless gave a wonderfully scatterbrained speech full of motherly advice and sage industry wisdom), I found myself looking around at the gathered graduates — the future screenwriters, directors, costumers, actors, composers, set decorators, film critics, cinematographers, etc. — and wondering why this was the first time we’d ever met together under one roof. There was no program or incentive to draw us together while we were students, despite the fact that as we now head out into the “real world” we must all begin working together as one. How much better could it have been if we’d begun forging those bonds in the crucible of our academic lives?

The truth is, I graduate with mixed feelings. Part of me assumed that I would leave the Cinema Studies program with an illuminated path pointing unencumbered to my shining destiny. In truth, I am no more certain of exactly what I want to do now as when I entered the program. In fact, I cannot even say that I even learned much of anything knew. I reinforced, I augmented, I stretched, but mostly I expanded on the knowledge I already had. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. But if a part of me was expecting clouds to be rent asunder and heavily choirs to sing out the secrets of the universe, I was sorely disappointed. I am also not so proud as to admit that I may be too much in the proverbial forest to yet recognize individual trees. Time may reveal a different story than I now see.

Going into grad school, I was told by many friends who’d already indulged it, that it's not about what you learn so much as who you meet, the networks you establish and the experiences you create. And they were right. My horizons have been expanded and my vision enlarged.

And those with whom I lived through these past two years are among the greatest friends I have ever made. Today’s friends are tomorrow’s collaborators.

The week wasn’t all pomp and circumstance. To say that New York was not an education in and of itself is a radical deception. Stephanie and I relished being back in New York, especially for so protracted an amount of time. Our love of this city is difficult to put into words. It is something exuberant, haughty, boisterous, ravenous, larger-than-life, delicate, whimsical, elegant, luminous, audacious, transportive, brash, sublime, unbound and covetous. It is home.

We visited the iconic Empire State Building, which was lit purple in honor of NYU’s graduates.

I attended the screening of NYU’s “Docs on the Edge,” a collection of short documentaries written, produced and conceptualized by some of my dearest friends and classmates. Such film festivals are always incredibly inspiring, more so when the talent is so near and dear to your heart.

We spent a lot of time with my cousins, Haim and Monica and participated in their eldest son, Ezra’s birthday celebration at his Hebrew school.

We also met up with Lisa, a high school friend who was in the city as part of FOX’s upfronts (the week in which the networks pitch their forthcoming seasons to advertisers). A little birdy says keep your eyes out for J.J. Abrams’ “Fringe,” and Josh Weaton’s “Dollhouse.”

We had breakfast at the delectable Balthazar in SoHo and dined on a platter of succulent oysters and clams at the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

And strolled through Central Park.

We also caught two Broadway shows. “Macbeth” stars Patrick Stewart in a role a slew of critics are calling the best of their lifetimes and for which he was just nominated for a Tony. As interpreted through a Stalinesque aesthetic, the play was a fusion of fascist, avant-garde and Kubrickian imagery. Simply marvelous. For the first time in more than a dozen shows, I joined the throng outside the stage door and met Stewart on his way out. What else was a Star Trek geek of my stature to do!?

The second production was “Boeing, Boeing,” a revival of the original 1960's French show about a man juggling multiple fiancees who are all flight attendants from different countries. Staring Bradley Whitford, the play was an uproarious farce. And since Stephanie and I were such huge “West Wing” fans, we had to try the old stage door routine again. Whitford fans will be pleased to know that “Josh” is every bit as genuine, friendly and accommodating in real life as he is on the screen.

And so a long, wonderful, packed week in New York came to a close and I now find myself back in Washington D.C.. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated and even frightened by what is to come. But I am also hopeful...and inspired...and even excited. I have no idea what form or shape that future will take. I just know I have all the tools, support and love I need.

What I do with it it depends on me.

I cannot tell you how much credit for this accomplishment belong to my wife, Stephanie. She has been there for me through thick and thin, a year geographically removed from each other, financial ups and downs, endless classes and papers, ever more social events, and especially my all-too frequent uneven temperament. She has been a rock, even when--especially when--I didn't even realize how strong she was being for me. Thank you so, so much, schatz!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Righteous Rant

The man needs no introduction and I'll let him speak for himself.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Welcome Home

I couldn't put this off any longer. Several of you have been begging for pictures of our new apartment and though I was planning on waiting until everything was just perfect (every picture hung, every knickknack in place), I now realize that could be weeks or even months off yet.

So here it is. Those of you familiar with my post two years ago for our postage stamp of an apartment in New York City ought to find a lot more breathing room here in Washington D.C.

As usual, some of the pictures will be too small to decipher until you click and enlarge them.

Below is a satellite image of Capitol Hill. The green arrow points to the location of our apartment, just blocks down Pennsylvania Ave from the United States Capitol, seen in the next image.

The area is, of course, rich in history. Next door is Eastern Market, Washington's only permanent outdoor market. It's loaded with charming shops, pubs and popular local restaurants.

Our fortress, a brand new condo complex. The ground floor boasts a Harris Teeter gourmet supermarket and a Subway eatery. The roof sports several decks which open onto Capitol views.

One of the best things about the building is that the Metro (D.C.'s subway) is literally across the street. We sold our cars before moving to Manhattan and have no plans to replace them now that we're in D.C.

I confess, the building's luxurious, high-class hotel appearance, concierge lobby and amenities such as a fully-equipped fitness center, clubroom and Internet lounge actually put me off at first. I like old, creaky buildings with years of history. They have character and stories to tell. Somehow though, I think I'll manage.

The spacious floor plan.

This is our living room, which opens up onto the balcony, one of only 12 in the entire complex.

The view of the garden courtyard from our balcony.

The kitchen is fantastic--ceramic tile, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and maple cabinetry. We're loving these conveniences and top-of-the-line amenities.

The hallway leads toward the bathroom and bedroom. The doors on the right hide the washer and dryer. Amenities like these may seem standard to many of you, but after coming from NYC and hauling our laundry out to the cleaners every week, these machines are a God-send.

The loo.

The bedroom with expansive windows overlooking the courtyard. Finally, a room in which the bed doesn't collide with three of the four walls! Positively palatial! The bedroom also boasts a large walk-in closet.

So there you have it. We're currently taking reservations. Dozens of our friends visited while we lived in New York and we'd love to keep that tradition going. You're always welcome!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Some Clinton Supporters are Dumb

I don't believe the latest numbers from an NBC exit poll in Indiana yesterday (I feel they are inflated by those asked the question in the hopes of getting an immediate, in-your-face effect), but they are still telling:

Of those who claim Clinton, 31% said they would vote for McCain if Obama got the nomination and 16% said they would simply stay home.

Since it is very obvious that McCain and Clinton are nothing alike, these voters are saying that rather than support Democratic principles and go with the candidate that is much more in line with their ideals, they'd sooner go with her ultimate arch-rival, the one man who is against most everything for which she has campaigned. Are these people stupid? Even Clinton has to loathe those kinds of numbers.

The same question was asked of Obama supporters. 19% said they would vote for McCain and 18% said they'd stay home. The McCain number among the Obama supporters is far smaller than those in Clinton's camp. I am convinced that the only reason that percentage is as high as it is, is that Obama has wooed independents and even quite a few Republicans who like the idea of an Obama presidency but are still smarting from the Clinton years. Either way, Obama supporters are a far more forgiving group.

Will those numbers be as high when push comes to shove? No way. But it does indicate that the Dems have quite a bit of healing to do. And the sooner they start, the better.
Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus