The dark 1970s film Taxi Driver depicts an aimless young man distintigrating rapidly as he fixates on a plan to assassinate a political candidate. In an improbable twist of fate, he ends up doing something of a good deed. There will be no such neat wrapup of the real life violence on Saturday, January 8, in Tucson, Arizona, when a distintigrating young man took aim at a Congresswoman and shot six people to death, and wounded 19, including his target.
A big German drug company is betting that women will buy a pill that will make them want to have more sex. The logic is twisted: trying to get people to want to want. The company says it has collected evidence that many women are unhappy with their libido. Whether or not this is true, the safety trials are under way.
Anonymity on the World Wide Web is both a boon to free expression and a bonanza for boors, who abuse their freedom. Personal blogs are easy to set up, and almost all issues-oriented web sites allow readers to post comments freely under phony names. Is all the shouting and name-calling helping to destroy what rational debate we have left?
Is it possible that the teabaggers are something more than a mixed bag of established far-right groups, offered up under a catchy name? Is it possible that they are a spontaneous outcry against big government? Although the national news media is taking them very seriously, I don't think so.
At first, it amusing that Pat Robertson said that the earthquake in Haiti last month was god's wrath for a pact with the devil. But considering that Robertson has a huge following, and that disasters always prompt an outpouring of prophets warning about the price of sin, one has to wonder why naïve beliefs persist despite all evidence to the contrary.
The justices of the nation's top court expanded an election-law case over the financing of a movie pillorying Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign into a sweeping rewrite of the laws that restricted the political activity of corporations large and small.
Judgment Day is coming to the newspaper industry. The New York Times has decided to make online readers pay, according to New York Magazine. The paper, deeply in hock, is trying desperately to find its way in a world that in quick succession was turned upside down by television, and now by the Internet. Will the readers buy it?
Something was bothering me when I read the stories about Harry Reid's faux pas in race relations. Weren't the Republicans just blowing smoke to confuse the public on an issue they are losing: health care?
Was it necessary for Oprah to batter down the walls of individual privacy for Google to charge in and classify and categorize all of us for the sake of more efficient advertising?
A sense of déjà vu surrounds the health care debate. For the 15 years since the Clinton health care reform flopped, the problem has grown worse, but lobbyists and conservatives of both parties are out for blood again
A former insider, now outside, looks at the trouble in the news business with a fresh, unbiased perspective.
A fascinating collection of portraits and interviews with ordinary New Yorkers with extraordinary passions.
Technology consulting, specializing in natural language processing, artificial intelligence, data mining and machine learning.
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In the windup of the 70s movie classic _Taxi Driver_ , Robert DeNiro shows up at a political rally in an Army jacket, a Mohawk haircut and wire rim shades. He is armed and dangerous, and the Secret Service perceives this in an instant and starts to move in on him. The mentally disintegrating character, Travis Bickle, perceives them and flees to his second target, a low-level pimp on the lower East Side for his final descent from reality. If you remember the movie, it has a happy ending. In the coda, we find out that everything was neatly wrapped up.
The ending of the story that exploded in the media on Saturday January 8 won't have a neat ending. A disintegrating young man ran a red light in Tucson, Arizona, that morning. The police stopped him, didn't think much of the infraction and sent him on his way. His father wondered what was in his black bag when he left the house that morning, and tried to take a look. The young man, Jared Loughner ran off. Later, a cab driver took him to the supermarket, where he performed his mission, but didn't find anything out of the ordinary.
Maybe it's presumptuous of me to try to write about women's emotions, but here goes.
What started me on this was my reading that the venerable German drug company, one of the top 20 in the world, Boehringer Ingelheim, is preparing a drug to make women want to have sex more often. I know quite well this idea floats through our culture. We had a hugely popular television show like Sex in the City, where grown women acted like fraternity boys; music videos and stars who look and act like the streetwalkers; magazines like Cosmo and Glamour that advise young women about better sex. Many movies have desperate gymnastic sex scenes; many movie stars, men and women, have sculpted their bodies with whole days in the gym, assisted by regimens of steroids. No one who lives a normal life, no man or woman, could possibly measure up. Now we have this notion of a drug that can make life imitate art. The difference between the movies and music and this is that the former are all entertainment. A drug to alter what a human being wants is more serious — it's real.
A young man and woman sit hunched at a keyboard in a shabby part of town. By day, they are an unassuming couple, just a pair of faces in the crowd. By night, they are crusaders fighting a bloody dictator by speaking out. Their writing puts them in jeopardy of arrest, torture, imprisonment and even death. But they are safe because they are anonymous freedom fighters on the World Wide Web.
Anonymity is good, a guardian of freedom and justice. Think of Tibet or Iran, today. It looks like a principle in the making: anonymity is necessary, especially on the Web, to protect the free exchange of ideas.
In a front-page article on Sunday, the New York Times blessed the tea party movement as having real political potential. The occasion for the article, "Tea Party Looks to Move From Fringe to Force," was Sarah Palin's talk to the first National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday night. The reporter acknowledges that there was an element of cheesy political theater at the event with conventioneers dressed up as Revolutionary War figures, but the reporter relays the scoop straight from the leader of the Tea Party Nation, the organizer of the convention. "The movement is maturing," said Judson Phillips, the founder of the group.
From the beginning, the tea party people seemed to me to be a tiny, opportunistic band of people who hated President Obama and everything on his agenda. As mass vilifiers, they don't come close to the sentiment against Bush in the past decade. They seemed to be strictly public access television rather than prime time. Even when the ragged bands of people haunted the home state visits of members Congress in August to oppose health-care reform, they didn't seem to be a climate change, but rather but a strategic thundershower invoked by the lobbyists trying to block the legislation.
When the devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January, Pat Robertson revealed that god was getting even with the Haitians for their pact with the devil 200 years ago. As amusing as his explanation was, it was far more dismaying. His wild claim, which failed to say why the almighty waited so long, was news only because Robertson is a wealthy, well-respected commentator with a vast audience of believers. He's no street corner nut who hears voices; he's someone whose voice lots of people want to listen to.
There is clearly something about disaster that brings glee to religious souls like Robertson, as they always rush to explain the death and destruction in terms that allow them to bask in the certainty of their beliefs. On Haiti, Robertson was quite obscure. He says that Haitians (not sure if he means all of them, or only some) enlisted the devil's help in winning independence from France at the turn of the 19th Century. Perhaps he thinks his claim won't be easy to refute, since few people have a firm grasp of either Haitian history or plate tectonics. Usually the plethora of prophets seize on more contemporary causes for disasters, natural or otherwise. Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was an interesting case. It was a magnet for competing supernatural revelations from various perspectives.
How many lawyers does it take to dismantle the Constitution?
Would you be surprised that you need only five, with the proviso that they are old, smart and accomplished, and managed to live lives that put them on the Supreme Court.
Think about this. If you were trying to construct a new government in a perfect world, would you give effective absolute power to five lawyers — even lawyers in such a rarified position? What if the citizens were able to vote, yes or no, and whether or not they wanted to submit to a committee of five lawyers? What would the outcome be?
The woman told me that she doesn't like to French-kiss her husband.
I didn't know this woman. But on Dec. 6, 2009, I was told her name, and in moments she delivered this intimate confession. And I thought at that moment, "So this is how it ends."
It is the New York Times, and the woman is a writer who wrote an article in the Times Sunday Magazine about marriage counseling. Regarded by many, including myself, as the best newspaper in the country, and perhaps the world, it has fallen in on itself, trying desperately to find its way in a world that in quick succession was turned upside down by television, and now by the Internet. I will try to explain here why this woman's literary gifts are detrimental to the Times.
Retreating armies blow up bridges to stop their pursuers after losing a battle. Diabolical criminals create diversions to distract the authorities before elaborate heists. Clever lawyers blurt out clearly inadmissible questions to poison the minds of the jurors in cases they have no right to win. This is all standard stuff from the movies, but why do we forget that the politicians always blow smoke to confuse the public on an issue they are losing?
That was bothering me as I finally read the stories about Senator Harry Reid's faux pas in race relations. Something about the headlines told me this was bull, yet another tempest in this country's remarkable 50-year lurch from a hideously segregated nation to one where opportunity is rapidly becoming equal.
What do Google and Oprah Winfry have in common?
It's not a joke. While each has a huge audience and legions of followers, I doubt that the fans of these enterprises overlap much. They have very different cultural reputations — top-of-the-line geek, and low-brow television. But beneath the surface, they are more closely related than is apparent. Consider:
Neither Google nor Oprah invented the turf each plays on, but each of them perfected theirs. Oprah came first and her glamorized brand of confessional television might well have been necessary to lay the groundwork for the massive invasion of privacy conducted by Google (and other less-successful search engines) with hardly a whimper from the public.
I woke up this morning and had the strange sensation that I'd lived this day already — about 15 years ago, after Bill Clinton had replaced Bush Sr. and was promising to reform the dangerously ill health-care system. The headlines then were the same as they are now: Did the Democrats have the votes or not? The stories are eerily similar, informing us of how many thousands of pages are in the bills, and how many hundreds of billions of dollars they will save. Then, as now, the sour-faced Republicans were flatly telling us reform is dead on arrival because the people don't want more big government. Then my head cleared, and I realized that it is now and not then, that Obama has just replaced Bush Jr. and that the nation is still stuck with an expensive, unwieldy, inefficient health-care mess run by the insurance industry's bureaucracies.
Forty years ago, I started in the news business in Jersey City, N.J., at the Jersey Journal, a paper that was supposedly dying on the day I walked in the door. The veterans of the paper explained that the Newhouse family corporation was about to shut down their unprofitable subsidiary at any moment. It was the reason why the Newspaper Guild wasn't going to fight hard for better pay. But as amazing as it sounds, the paper is still there, hanging on, still existing on borrowed time, still gasping for air. In 1969, it was television, and suburban sprawl that was killing the Jersey Journal and all these other papers, both large and small. People often said that newspaper people didn't understand television. Just as they say now that they don't understand the digital media. Looking over this situation, considering my experiences at that little paper, and later at larger and more important papers, The Hartford Courant, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, I have to marvel at the resilience of the news business, especially at its resurgence earlier in this decade. But the crisis is more ominous than ever. The paper profits from a few years ago are all gone. There are bankruptcies, closings and if not for a couple of global billionaires, like Rupert Murdoch and Carlos Slim, my last two papers wouldn't have much of a chance. Maybe the sky is really falling.
© 2010 Barry Schiffman