Sunday, January 31, 2010

Coocoo for Brown

In a recent interview, Senator-elect Scott Brown, despite admitting that he was "humbled" by talk of him seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, refused to rule out the prospect.

HE may not have ruled it out, but as the experiences of Republican presidential aspirants from Tom Ridge to Rudy Giuliani should make very clear, it HAS been ruled out for him nonetheless. The reason for this is simple - Scott Brown, whatever else he may believe, is pro-choice. In the world of contemporary GOP politics, that renders him unviable as potential presidential timber (heck, it even played a key role in Joe Lieberman's being disregarded as vice presidential timber when John McCain contemplated picking him in 2008).

Just an observation.

Most Viewed Movies

When a movie's box office performance is assessed, it is invariably done on the basis of "gross" - i.e., the amount of money that movie has earned in ticket sales during its theatrical run. Unfortunately, the business aspect of a motion picture's success is often mistaken for an actual barometer of its popularity. Yet even though it would seem perfectly rational to assume that the amount of money a movie grossed is equivalent to how many people placed their butts in the seats in order to see the production, this measuring stick is wanting in several important ways:

1) Inflation. Ticket prices cost far more in the 2010s than they did during the halcyon days of David O. Selznick and Cecil B. DeMille. Back in the winter of 1937, when Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the first ever feature-length animated motion picture in history), its ability to take in $185 million made it one of the great theatrical sensations of the decade. Seventy-two years later, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel surpassed Snow White's cumulative intake by almost $20 million. Does that make the latter film more of a cultural splash than the former?

2) Differences in movieplexes. Movies playing in the middle of the day cost less to see than those showing late at night. Tickets for new releases sometimes cost more than those for films that are near the end of their theatrical run. Most importantly, state-of-the-art venues like IMAX offer audiences more immersive viewing experiences at significantly higher prices. As a result, it is entirely possible for one movie to gross more than another while netting fewer actual viewers. That is why a movie like Avatar - which has brought in 63 million viewers, many of them at IMAX showings - is already the highest grossing film in international history ($2 billion), and is expected to become the highest grossing film in American history later this week ($600 million). By contrast, 2002's Spider-Man only grossed $807 million internationally ($404 million of which came from domestic receipts), yet it managed to put 70 million butts in the seats during its theatrical run, 11% more than Avatar. Which film can rightly be considered the greater sensation? Even 2008's The Dark Knight, which Avatar recently surpassed on the box office chart, has 74 million views, 17% more than the film which supposedly beat it!

Below is a list of the motion pictures that have sold the most tickets during their theatrical runs, as culled from The Wall Street Journal (includes figures from re-releases; refers only to domestic runs):
1. Gone With the Wind (1939) - 196 million
2. Star Wars (1977) - 169 million
3. The Sound of Music (1965) - 141 million
4. E.T. The Extra-terrestrial (1982) - 140 million
5. The Ten Commandments (1956) - 131 million
6. Jaws (1975) - 128 million
7. Titanic (1997) - 128 million
8. Doctor Zhivago (1965) - 120 million
9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - 109 million
10. 101 Dalmatians (1961) - 100 million
11. Ben-Hur (1959) - 98 million
12. The Exorcist (1973) - 94 million
13. Return of the Jedi (1983) - 93 million
14. The Sting (1973) - 89 million
15. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - 87 million
16. Jurassic Park (1993) - 86 million
17. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) - 85 million
18. Fantasia (1940) - 83 million
19. The Godfather (1972) - 79 million
20. The Lion King (1994) - 79 million
21. Forrest Gump (1994) - 79 million
22. Mary Poppins (1964) - 78 million
23. My Fair Lady (1964) - 77 million
24. The Graduate (1967) - 76 million
25. Grease (1978) - 74 million
26. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - 74 million
27. The Dark Knight (2008) - 74 million
28. The Jungle Book (1967) - 73 million
29. Sleeping Beauty (1959) - 72 million
30. Ghostbusters (1984) - 71 million
31. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) - 70 million
32. Spider-Man (2002) - 70 million
33. Shrek 2 (2004) - 70 million
34. Love Story (1970) - 69 million
35. Independence Day (1996) - 69 million
36. Cleopatra (1963) - 68 million
37. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - 68 million
38. Home Alone (1990) - 68 million
39. Pinocchio (1940) - 67 million
40. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) - 65 million
41. Airport (1970) - 65 million
42. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) - 65 million
43. Thunderball (1965) - 63 million
44. Bambi (1942) - 63 million
45. American Graffiti (1973) - 63 million
46. Blazing Saddles (1974) - 63 million
47. Batman (1989) - 63 million
48. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - 63 million
49. Avatar (2009) - 63 million (still in theaters)
50. The Towering Inferno (1974) - 62 million
51. The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) - 61 million
52. National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) - 61 million
53. The Robe (1953) - 60 million
54. Tootsie (1982) - 60 million
55. The Passion of the Christ (2004) - 60 million
56. Spider-Man 2 (2004) - 60 million
57. Back to the Future (1985) - 59 million
58. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) - 59 million
59. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) - 59 million
60. The Sixth Sense (1999) - 58 million

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Defending Leno

While I have tried to avoid commenting here on the vicious feud between late-night talk show host Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien/NBC/the rest of the world, I have found it difficult to keep my opinions on this subject to myself. So as they say, here goes nuthin'....

1) The Leno/Letterman Feud - Anyone who takes seriously the wisecracks made by Dave Letterman against Jay Leno, or who faults Jay Leno for his one retort back to Letterman, needs to have their head examined. Ignoring the fact that Letterman was found to have sexually harassed at least half a dozen of his employees for many years (a sin that I would imagine is far worse than anything committed by either Leno or O'Brien), the reality is that the two men have had an acrimonious relationship ever since Letterman was passed over in favor of Leno for the prized "Tonight Show" spot being vacated by Johnny Carson. It stands to reason that Letterman still has some bad blood over what happened to him back then, and for that reason is enjoying this opportunity to take potshots at Leno and have the media applaud as he makes the man squirm. The fact that Letterman's avalanche of zingers, barbs, and outright insults were given such prevalent air time (without being first placed in the proper historical context) does not paint the media in an especially positive light; the fact that Leno's single response to Letterman's week-long onslaught - a well-deserved below-the-belt quip about Letterman's sex scandals - was treated with such contempt likewise shows that objectivity is not the strong-suit of today's pundits.
For those who want a more detailed review of why I'm so tough on Letterman for sexually harassing his employees - and that's exactly what he did - read:

2) The Leno/O'Brien Feud - Here is how I see it: In 2004, Jay Leno said that he was planning on retiring as host of "The Tonight Show" in 2009. As is the case with countless celebrities who contemplate ending their careers - including such beloved athletes as Michael Jordan and Brett Favre - Leno had second thoughts when 2009 came around. Even so, he DID follow through on his pledge, turning over the reins of "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien that year just as he had promised. To stay on the air, though, he accepted NBC's offer of having his own hour-long TV show at 10 PM, an arrangement that was perceived at the time as being mutually beneficial - Leno would be allowed to maintain a career he clearly loved, and NBC would maximize its profit margin by trading-in their old formula (five new high-budget hour-long dramas on primetime each week with erratic ratings that often left the network on the wrong end of their balance sheets) with a seemingly dependable one (a single hour-long show for all five primetime slots that, despite comparatively lower ratings, would compensate with high profitable due to its extremely low production costs).

The plan failed. Although Leno's show remained profitable, the programs which followed it - first the local news shows run by NBC affiliates, and then the new "Tonight Show" hosted by Conan O'Brien - sank in the ratings. The plug needed to be pulled, and NBC found itself in the unenviable position of having to keep two profitable big-name comedians on their network while simultaneously extricating itself from this new debacle. Their solution was to give both Leno and O'Brien the worst of both worlds - have Leno re-take his old 11:35 PM slot, but without the "Tonight Show" franchise name or his previous hour-long running time (he would be relegated to half an hour instead), while pushing O'Brien back to 12:05 AM, thus further diminishing his already paltry viewership even as he was allowed to keep the "Tonight Show" brand and his hour-long running time (luxuries Leno was denied).

As is well-known today, Jay Leno accepted this offer while Conan O'Brien declined it. To say that either party was "right" or "wrong" for acting as they did seems to me to be affixing ethical judgments in situations that are inherently amoral - each multi-millionaire comedian had to make a decision regarding his career, and each acted in accord with what he perceived to be in his best interest (as every other comedian in a similar situation would have done). When O'Brien refused to accept NBC's offer, and instead walked away from the network, NBC and Leno both salvaged what they could by restoring Leno to his old 11:35 PM slot and hour-long format. The rest, as they say, is history.

What confuses me is why the history is being written in such a distinctly anti-Leno fashion. As I pointed out earlier, he didn't break his promise to O'Brien, since the reins of the venerable "Tonight Show" franchise were promptly handed over to him in 2009. He didn't "take" the show back, as so many claim, but in fact accepted a deal far inferior to the one he previously had, and was only given the show back after it was turned down by O'Brien. While I don't blame O'Brien for his actions in this situation, it is hard to see how Leno was any less of a victim than his counterpart. Each was given a raw deal, and each made the best of it that he could. Accusing Leno of being overly-ambitious without making the same claim about every other celebrity who has acted similarly seems disingenuous at best, and baldly unfair at worst.

So why has the anti-Leno dogpile been growing so relentlessly in size and ferocity? I suspect, at its core, that there are three reasons:

1) O'Brien is preferred by the younger, hipper generation, while Leno is considered to be something of an old fogie. It goes without saying that the likes of Patton Oswalt, Jimmy Kimmel, and Sarah Silverman would thus be throwing their hats into the O'Brien ring. As for older folks, while some have seen fit to take an impartial view toward this fiasco (Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld), many more prefer to fit in with the "chic" crowd - and since youth is always much closer to what's vogue than the elderly, the type of celebrity who keeps his or her thumb firmly on the pulse of being cool (Rosie O'Donnell and Oprah Winfrey, anybody?) will naturally find ways to side with O'Brien.

2) 2010 - like 2007, 2008, and 2009 - is the year of the lost job. Regardless of the details leading up to the end result, what people are seeing is that Jay Leno gets to keep his job, while Conan O'Brien will be losing his. The naturally sympathies are thus aligned with the latter.

3) The media, which has been promoting the bejesus out of this story (to the neglect of more pressing fare, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the upcoming midterm elections), is never one to refrain from taking sides. Seeing that the instincts of youth and populism had sided against Leno, the media followed the bandwagon. Unfavorable reports against Leno from media outlets - from the mainstream to Entertainment Weekly - have been fanning the anti-Leno flames ever since.

So why have I taken the time to write this piece defending Jay Leno? Despite what you may read in op-ed pieces and news reports, the reality is that Leno is the underdog (and anyone who disagrees need only reflect for a moment on the overwhelming weight of popular opinion is bearing against him at the moment). O'Brien not only exits this drama with a $30 million-plus walkaway contract and an all-but-guaranteed future TV show with another network, but he has such a massive undercurrent of popular sympathy that high esteem (with its logical successor, high ratings) is bound to come his way. Leno, on the other hand, has been vilified to such a severe degree that it is very possible his career has taken a serious hit. If he had done something to deserve this opprobrium (say, by torturing dogs, or spewing racist filth about his potential daughter-in-law, or sexually harassing a long string of female employees), then I would feel that the SOB deserved it. Instead it seems to me that his only offense is trying to preserve his job and reputation in the midst of corporate wranglings that were, at best, excruciatingly inept. Hence why the anti-Leno sentiment is a mystery to me.

Oh yes, and there is one other reason - I happen to find Jay Leno to be very, very funny.

Celebrating FDR's Birthday

On January 30, 1882, Franklin Delano Roosevelt - the man who would successfully lead this nation through the Great Depression and Second World War - was born. The story of his life and times has been told by some of America's finest minds, from Doris Kearns Goodwin to Arthur Schlesinger. To commemorate this event, however, I would like to post an excerpt from a speech he delivered during his first presidential campaign in 1932, one that constitutes a surprisingly apropos rebuttal to many of the economic assertions made by Republicans today:

“Our Republican leaders tell us economic laws — sacred, inviolable, unchangeable — cause panics which no one could prevent. But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.”


Rummaging through the "Local News" section of my hometown paper, I came upon the story posted below. Remembering my Pennsylvania roots, I have seen fit to periodically interrupt it and offer commentary:

The Chris Bros. Sanitary Landfill in Williams Township has appealed a $186,750 penalty levied in December by the Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection for air quality, odor and gas management violations during the past four years.

So far, so good.

In a news release Thursday, Chris alleges that the DEP never traced detected odors to the landfill.

That's to be expected. Any company that has to endure a six-figure fine and a concurrent blow to its reputation is bound to protest.

The company suggests the smells could have come from numerous other area sources of emissions, including Interstate 78, trash trucks and trash containers.

In normal times, I would take it for granted that no one would be so stupid as to buy into that argument. Hundreds of communities are lined along Interstate 78, and none of them report odor problems related to their proximity to that highway; likewise, thousands of communities have trash trucks and trash containers without needing to worry about such consequences. It's elementary logic - if X is different from the thousands of other Ys, identify the unique variable in X's composition in order to ascertain the cause of the difference. Since we know that X smells while the Ys don't, and both X and the Ys share a proximity to Interstate 78 and the presence of trash trucks and trash containers, but only X has a garbage dump located within municipal limits, then it stands to reason...

Chrin also alleges the DEP was put under "extreme pressure" by a "small, politically active" group of Williams residents to document problems. In the appeal, Chrin claims the citizens group "began a smear campaign" to destroy the company's reputation and relationships within the community, the township and the DEP.


"The public demands and deserves the truth and that is why we are appealing," said landfill Vice President Greg Chrin.


"The only conclusion that can then be drawn is that the Chris landfill has acted properly when it comes to environmental compliance, continues to operate by the book, and has been unjustly treated."


Then again, perhaps I am naive for being that surprised that Chrin would actually make these assertions. In an era which placed its highest premium on logic and common sense, it would be hard to imagine that Chrin would ever dare to use the defense I just read. What possible motive would a grassroots citizens' league have for attempting to destroy a private corporation that has not harmed them in some way (particularly one that, by being located so close to the municipality, probably provides them with jobs and other economic benefits)? Even if such a group of inexplicably hostile Williams denizens DID spontaneously arise, in what universe would the middle class residents of a tiny Pennsylvania township have more political clout than a multi-million dollar company? In short, how do they expect anyone with a half-brain to find their version of reality - that a group of Williams Township citizens with a rabid hatred of Chrin Bros. Sanitary Landfill blamed that company for creating an odious stench in their fair community and manipulated the state government into believing similarly, even though everyone secretly knew that it was actually caused by a couple of trash cans and a nearby stretch of road - more plausible than the opposing view, which is simply that Chrin Bros. created a stench (a common problem when your business specializes in garbage), decided it was more profitable to simply leave it there, encountered citizens who were understandably angry about having to deal with the odor, and are now themselves furious because they're going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and clean-up fees?

Normally I would assume that no one would believe the Chrin Bros. story. Then again, there are millions of people who trust insurance companies over progressives who want to make health care reform accessible to everyone, so I can't take that for granted at all. The news article itself doesn't elaborate on public response to this fiasco.

The appeal will be heard by the Environmental Hearing Board in Harrisburg. Mark Carmon, regional spokesman for the DEP, did not return a message seeking comment. Kathy Lilley, spokeswoman for the group of residents opposed to the landfill, said Chrin has no one to blame but itself.

"It is well-known by people that live and work and travel through the area that that landfill routinely smells and it has for years," Lilley said. "What the citizens did was point out problems to the DEP and hold those agencies accountable for enforcing their own regulations."

That rabble-rousing Commie!

As a result of the residents' complaints, as well as an investigation by the DEP, the agency in December issued the penalty and required changes at the landfill. The DEP said Chrin on 19 occasions during the past two years failed to control odors and sufficiently cover the landfill.

The agency also said the company on "numerous occasions" between 2005 and 2008 failed to collect at least 70 percent of landfill gases and re-monitor locations where emissions exceeded state limits.

Seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.

But David Brooman, attorney for Chrin, said in the release that there was no basis for the violations or the fine imposed, calling the DEP's actions "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise contrary to law."

If it is so difficult for local companies to accept even the most obvious accountability, is anyone surprised that their Brobdingnagian counterparts are so unconscionably irresponsible?

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Field of Political Battle

A remarkable public meeting occurred today between President Obama and congressional Republicans, during which the beleaguered Commander-in-Chief had this to say:

“Both sides can take some blame for a sour climate on Capitol Hill. What I can do maybe to help is to try to bring Republican and Democratic leadership together on a more regular basis with me. That’s I think a failure on my part.”

Such is the fatal folly in the thinking of those who advocate appeasement. What Barack Obama has yet to recognize - and what he MUST accept as inviolable political law if he is to have any substantive successes as president - is that the Republican party has a vested interest in his failure. What's more, it isn't because there are ideological gaps between the two sides which he needs to bridge; it isn't because he has made faux pas in the social maneuvering so necessary in Washington; it isn't because he has been too radical, or too bold, or too unwilling to consult Congress, or any of the other ridiculous excuses his adversaries concoct.

The sole reason Republicans have not, are not, and will not work with the president is because he is a Democrat. Should any of his policies prove popular and/or successful, it will harm their organization in upcoming elections; should they prove unpopular and/or unsuccessful, they can count on electoral triumphs, such as those seen with Chris Christie in New Jersey, Bob McDonnell in Virginia, and Scott Brown in Massachusetts. If the Republicans were as chaotically structured and internally divisive as the Democrats, their efforts might ultimately prove impotent (just see how pitifully the Democrats tried to obstruct the agenda of George W. Bush during the last decade, even though Republicans had far smaller majorities then than we do now). That said, they are nothing if not a disciplined, well-oiled machine, highly tuned to tactical perfection in every important regard, from churning out ideologically consistent messages (albeit ones that are logically flawed and intellectually dishonest) and deluging important candidates with treasure troves of campaign cash to using brilliant skulduggery to destroy Democratic opponents and quasi-coercive strongarming to force straying independent-minded Republicans back into the fold.

Such a group will never be open to persuasion. That is why Obama must accept reality and resolve to best them on the field of political battle.

For my thoughts on Obama's State of the Union speech, see:

Worth Noting...

If you read The Morning Call - the local newspaper of my hometown, Easton, PA - you would come to the conclusion that Americans are evenly divided in their reactions to Obama's State of the Union address.

It's a standard journalistic practice; rather than risk offending one ideological faction by reporting the objective truth - even if that truth suggests that a vast majority holds an opinion which differs from theirs - choose instead a "balanced" approach that allows you to make it seem like both sides have equal support.

Unfortunately, that approach often leads to misleading reporting, since sometimes a vast majority DOES prefer one point-of-view over the other. Take the recent polls regarding Obama's speech, in which 78% report a "Very Positive" or "Somewhat Positive" opinion, while only 21% have a "Somewhat Negative" or "Very Negative" view. When the truth is distilled from the skewed "objectivity" practiced by the media, one realizes that Obama's speech was quite successful.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Big Island Rachel and the Twenty Nerd Commandments

I can't help it. My blog is normally political, but my friend Rachel wrote this article that tickled me pink, in no small part because - let's face it - I am UBERNERD, King of all things nerdy and destined-to-be-shoved-into-lockers!

Twenty Nerd Commandments

"I bring you fifteen--" *crash* "--oy. Ten! Ten Commandments!" From Mel Brooks History of the World Part I. One of my favorite movies.

Gosh, I do love the Internet. Before, us nerds were lost as babes in the wilderness, alone in our obsessions. And after, we were a force--insert Star Wars reference here--no longer lone freaks, but communities of freaks, entertaining the world with Lolcats and badly-dubbed anime. Now, our society has reached nerd saturation point.

We rule. Literally.

Since we rule, we need rules. Commandments, if you will. Topless Robot just published this list, gleaned from their comments section, of the
Twenty Nerd Commandments. It's all kinds of awesome. Here's a taste.

1) Thou must experience as many nerdy properties as possible throughout your youth (nerdy parents must assist with this). By the age of 20, you must have chosen at least two sides of the following: Star Wars orStar Trek, Kirk or Picard, Marvel or DC, Mac or PC, Trukk or Munkey, Baker or Tennant, and Joel or Mike. If these topics come up, you must argue your choice past all reasonableness.

10) If two nerds ever find themselves holding cylindrical objects of at least 9 inches in length they must immediately make lightsaber ignition noises and face each other down in mortal combat.

Thy first crush must be upon an cartoon character.

17) Thou shalt be required to attend at least one nerd convention (videogames, anime, comics, etc.) during thy lifetime.

The rest are just as good, but I put these up because upon reading them, I blushed and giggled because I follow all of them. I know my sides in the Great Debates (Star Wars, Picard, Marvel, PC), my first crush was on Donatello from TMNT, and you can see my pictures from the
New York Anime Festival here. Fun family memories: me and Daddio watching Star Trek: Next Generation and X-Files together. My big sister saw "Return of the Jedi" in theaters. She was only a baby, but Daddio brought her anyway because it was Star Wars, dammit!

But all this leads me to wonder, just academically, considering how many of these commandments have to do with pop culture phenomena of the last twenty or thirty years, how long can the community endure? I'm already falling behind with the kids these days, because I haven't seen the new Battlestar Gallactica, I don't watch Lost or Fringe, and what the hell is up with Prince of Tennis? Nerd camaraderie is build on our shared cultural experiences. Can we all still be nerds together when that changes? Some of these kids have always lived in a world with six Star Wars movies. They've never played D&D. Neither have I, but I would never play World of Warcraft, either. Where does that leave me, them, and us?

Your thoughts?

An Excellent Speech by Liskula Cohen

As I've said before, I normally try to avoid putting other people's articles on my blog, but this speech by Liskula Cohen was too fantastic to not be included. For those of you unfamiliar with her, please see my earlier article (, or her visit her blog (

You may be wondering why I have chosen to include this post. There are two main reasons:
1) It addresses several issues that deserve more attention than they commonly receive, from the nuances of First Amendment law to the lives of models.
2) I think Liskula's story is an inherently compelling one, and have found that she has a unique and powerful voice with which to share it.

Here is the speech.

Hello and thank you for inviting me to speak.

My name is Liskula Gentile Cohen and I'm here to dispel some myths. You may think you know me from media reports, but don't believe everything you read. I'm here to give you some insight into who I really am and how this whole Google story brought me here today.
I was born right here in London Ontario at St. Joseph's hospital on Feb. 3rd. 1972.

My profession? I am a working model....period. I have been fortunate to be able to support myself in this very competitive business for 21 years. Many years ago I managed to land one Vogue cover for the Australian edition and I've made the inside pages a couple of times over the years. Though I've been lucky enough to appear on several fashion covers in my career, Vogue seems to be the touchstone for the general media. Somehow, landing a Vogue cover, any Vogue cover, according to the media, made me a “SUPERMODEL”. This is not how I see myself, nor is it how I promote myself. It is a media fabrication and I am, quite simply, a hard working model.

Hard working? That concept may be difficult for some of you to understand. I'm sure that many of you believe that this is an easy simply have to be born with the right genes. You'd be wrong to dismiss me so easily. A working model must compete daily and have a thick skin.She must be prepared to face rejection every time she casts for a job. A working model can expect to hear: you're too thin...too fat...too tall....not tall enough...too blonde...too ethnic...too young...too old....too pale...too tanned... In short - not good enough for the job.....get out good're dismissed...daily....NEXT!

The work is physical. Apart from holding poses for ridiculous lengths of time, you must have a whole grab bag of have to be flexible and you have to be a chameleon. The days are long and nothing is guaranteed. You meet all sorts of people in the fashion industry....great people and some not-so-great. There are those who believe a model is nothing more than a piece of meat and try to take advantage. Those who believe in casting couches. Those who believe that all models are stupid...just lame-brained beauties with nothing more to offer. I've lost more jobs than I've won because I won't compromise my own values. I simply won't “DO ANYTHING” for a job. To those in the industry that really know me, I am the woman they know will be on time. When I walk onto a set, I work hard, I work fast, and I deliver the shot EVERY TIME. I am professional and I respect those who show me the same respect.

This business is exciting. In my 21 years, I've lived in Sydney, Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo. I've seen the world and met some extremely powerful and exceptional people. I've been very lucky.

So now that you know a little bit about me, you might ask: “So how did I get into this Google mess?” To answer that, you must be able to accept that for a model, beyond the physical appearance, HER NAME IS HER BRAND. Having said that, you should also know that the way I became aware of the “Skanks in NY” blog was from a client while on a job. These days clients, both new and old, consult the internet for the latest shots of models they're interested in using. It's faster, far more efficient and less expensive than sending model portfolio's around with couriers.

How did I feel when I heard about this blog? I was mortified....humiliated....angered. This was not simply a personal attack. This was an intentional malicious act that affected the way I earn my living. Should I have ignored it and crossed my fingers that it would just go away? Absolutely not! As we all know, internet postings are there for the world to see.....they don't simply fade away. Any client looking for me would see would my family and friends. I had no option but to fight for myself regardless of the outcome. There is some history to my decision to fight and in order to properly inform you it's necessary that you understand the history.

In January of 2007 I was physically assaulted at a nightclub in New York by a total stranger. This was a private club that offered bottle service which means simply that your table is private, a full bottle of alcohol is purchased and your table is provided with glassware and appropriate mixers. A drunk approached and helped himself to our bottle. When he was told to leave he became aggressive, broke the bottle and plunged it into my face. I was shocked and it didn't register with me right away the extent of the damage he had done. 

People started to rush toward me offering assistance and when I looked down, I realized I was covered in blood. My instant response was to pick up another bottle and pour the alcohol over my face. I ran to the ladies room to find a hole, the size of a quarter, in my cheek.

My life as a model was now officially over, or so I had thought. The owners of the nightclub offered me taxi fare to a hospital but I knew if I walked out they wouldn't be responsible. The club's security should have thrown him out earlier in the evening when he had gotten into a fight with someone else. He was clearly intoxicated and very aggressive. I held my ground insisting the police and an ambulance be called. I told the emergency room doctor that I made my living with my face and wasn't prepared to be simply stitched up. The damage was extensive and I waited 6 hours to be seen by a plastic surgeon. Forty three stitches later I found my way home. As it happens, my stepdad was flying into New York that day on business and he came directly from the airport to see me. My Mother arrived the next day to take care of me. Two days passed and I was seriously depressed wondering how I'd make my would I move forward.

My agent called and told me that she had a casting for a television commercial and that I was to be there in a couple of hours. I didn't know how to tell her what had happened. She wanted me to stop at the agency for the details before I met with the client. Quite frankly I didn't know what to do. Even though I had this hideous gash, covered with a bandage, my Mother pushed me to was that old "get back on the horse" concept and I suppose that's what I needed to hear. I got ready and between the two of us, we styled my hair so that it covered my cheek, sprayed it in place and put on a beret to hold it there. The buzz at the agency was all about a model that had been slashed in the face but no one knew who it was and my agent asked if I'd heard about it. I pulled back my hair and admitted it was me. To her credit, she insisted that I go to the casting and wing it. I did and to my great surprise, I landed the job. Of course I knew that the client would eventually have to see my bare face and the jagged red scar but until then, I'd wing it. I was banking on my brilliant plastic surgeon and counting on my ability to deliver the shot regardless. Would they accept me once they saw my bare face? The day of the shoot I arrived without a stitch of make-up and sat down with the client to explain what had happened. To my great joy the client said that they would work around it and they shot me from the other side. I was still in this game of perfection.....I hadn't lost it completely.

Through all of this, I never spoke with the press......I had managed to make it through this ordeal without anyone knowing "the victim's" name. I hate that word...victim...and never wanted it applied to me. My attacker was arrested and because he couldn't afford bail, he sat in jail until the case went to court. He plead guilty and was sentenced to one month based on time served.

Not a word of this made the papers. Within a month of his release he was back in the clubs. In July of 2008 he attacked another woman in the same manner.....this time he used a drinking glass and the story of her slashing made the news. I could no longer hold my tongue....this man had to be stopped and people had to know this wasn't the first time. I spoke with the new victim's mother and the press hoping this time he'd get a longer sentence. My treatment was ongoing and at the time of that story we were working on getting the muscles on the injured side working so that my smile would once again be balanced. Because I spoke up, my opinion generated on line and newspaper comments by people who identified themselves as being related to my attacker. Basically they defended him and justified their defense by saying I asked for it. Again he plead guilty and again he served time. His release coincided with the timing of the blog and my lawyer thought that his friends or family might be behind it. My lawyer recommended that I file a petition with the court to reveal the identity of the blogger, because if it did end up being him, or a friend of his, he would be violating his probation and the restraining order. I was assured that this filing was a private matter and I believed it was the only way I'd be able to bring down the blog. I've learned that NOTHING IS PRIVATE. That filing was very quickly leaked to the Daily News in New York and the rest is history.....flawed history, but history none the less.

The morning it hit the press I was working in Miami and my lawyer was inundated with calls. The first was Diane Sawyer, followed by Oprah , Dr. Phil, and every major newspaper and network news station. That was followed by international requests as the news exploded on the internet. How did I feel? Horrified, humiliated....then came the depression...I wanted to throw myself under a bus. I was petrified. What got me through? I have a very strong family who rallied around with supportive calls and e-mails. They stood shoulder to shoulder encouraging me to stand tall and fight the good fight. Sometimes it's necessary to face personal humiliation if you believe the cause is isn't always pretty. I refused all requests for interviews. I chose to keep my mouth shut and not let this play out in the would be tried in a court of law and win or lose, I'd speak with the media when the case was decided. The first seven and a half months of 2009 were pure hell. As the case moved through the court system and was reported, journalists camped outside my door. I couldn't walk my dog without being harassed by photographers and reporters. With the reporting came the commentary...the name calling...even death threats. In many people's minds I was the dumb, washed up, thin skinned, Canadian, has been, model bitch who was stepping on their first amendment rights. HOW DARE SHE! How dare I? I had survived a brutal physical attack yet still managed to find work but now, because of this blog no one wanted to see me and I could no longer support myself.. I suppose it was time....why not me?...somebody had to do it. Should I have rolled over and ignored it? Absolutely NOT. This blogger had succeeded in affecting my ability to earn a living

Why wouldn't I fight? Judge Madden's decision was thoughtful and thorough. She made her ruling based on common sense......if it is illegal to defame someone in print or on television, why should the information highway be exempt? The internet is not exempt and contrary to popular belief, defamation is not a right included in free speech. I was stunned when Judge Madden decided in my favor. For too long I'd heard over and over that I must be crazy to take on Google and it was impossible for me to win this battle.

Google, from the beginning, said that they would comply with whatever the court ordered and they did just that. I wanted the name of the anonymous blogger and they supplied it as ordered. The news of her decision lit up the worldwide web. Though the negative commentary was still there, I began to hear from all sorts of people but now they were offering congratulations. For the first time I understood that there were others outside of my family that believed in what I was doing. When the case was leaked in January 2009, my lawyer received a call from Tina Meiers, the mother of Meghan, the teen who committed suicide over cyber humiliation.

Tina offered her support from the start and it was her I thought of when the news broke....I was happy for Tina. A total stranger started a Facebook site titled "Thank you Liskula Cohen" and I realized I wasn't alone in this anymore. I was invited by John Seigenthaler, the founder of The First Amendment Centre, to take part in a panel discussion about the internet and free speech in front of many students at the University of Tennessee. The media, and public speaking for that matter, are a like a have to negotiate them very carefully.

I didn't know how I'd be received but I was delighted to find that though not all agreed with me, the students were intelligent, polite, and respectful. This was a refreshing change from the verbal and written abuse I'd been exposed to over the preceding 8 months.

Many have asked why I dropped my defamation suit against the blogger. I didn't proceed because frankly this whole ordeal has been exhausting. This person meant nothing to me. She was not a friend. She knew some of the same people I know and that's how she managed to snag private party photos from Facebook to build her repulsive blog. I'd had enough of court and the media. I needed some peace in my life so I forgave her. As I stated in the media, suing her adds nothing to my life. I needed to move on and another year or two in court fighting a useless battle with someone who didn't even have a job made no sense to me. Contrary to popular belief she is not suing Google for 15 million dollars for failing to support her first amendment rights.

If a suit had been filed, it would be a matter of public record

I suppose the truth doesn't sell doesn't get airtime or internet space like the fantasy of another scandalous round with Google. When the blogger got her rightful exposure and the media moved to her front door she folded quickly and asked her lawyer to contact mine to find a resolution....for her. After many hours we hammered out an agreement that bars her from speaking or profiting from my name. She was also required to make a public apology in the general media and on the internet. She signed that agreement but to date her lawyer has not. No public apology has been made. I understand that you can't change people.
We are who we are...we can only change ourselves.

So how am I as I stand before you today?

I'm a different person. I'm less trusting but I have learned from my experience. I've learned that I'm stronger than I thought I was. I've learned that there are intelligent, right minded people out there who believe in me and the battle I fought. I've learned that no matter how well you do your job, it has a lifespan and you'd better have a back-up plan. I know I've made an important difference and I believe that what I did was right. They say a change is as good as a rest and I certainly hope that is true. Modeling was my business and it has opened many doors for me but I move forward with caution because I've learned that talk is cheap. So I stand before you today at a crossroad and I have no idea where I'll end up. Next month I'll be 38 years old and the way I've defined myself for the past 21 years needs to change.

Today I'm grateful you invited me home. You've given me your time, and you have helped me heal. With every speech I give, I heal just a little bit more.

Thank you.

Review of Obama's State of the Union Address

My dread was high as I awaited Obama's State of the Union speech. Pundits from all across the spectrum were anticipating a turn to the right - or "centrism" as most prefer to call it - in response to Scott Brown's upset victory in the Massachusetts special election. Rumor had it that he would advocating a massive slashing in government spending, would be rolling back the progressive achievements from his first year in office, would be issuing a 21st-century version of the "era of big government is over" declaration that Obama's Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, famously declared when faced with his own Republican backlash in the 1990s. With barely suppressed glee, experts from commentator Chris Matthews to Senator Evan Bayh were anticipating that Obama had reached the Waterloo of his era of liberalism - that this State of the Union message would be remembered, by Obama's future biographers and by chroniclers of this period in American history, as the moment when any hope of a liberal upsurge in policymaking was decisively crushed by the weight of the Reaganite fatuity that had defined American politics for the previous three decades.

Much to my delight, they were wrong. Although it remains to be seen whether Obama has the political capital to push through the proposals made during last night's speech, there can be no doubt as the ideological direction in which he wishes to take this country. For the first time since the 2008 campaign, Obama offered a program of bold, aggressive, and unapologetic progressivism. The highlights of this agenda include:
- Committing $30 billion from the money reimbursed to our government by the Wall Street banks and extending it to small businesses to provide them with the line of credit needed to stay afloat.
- Enacting a small business tax credit to those companies which hire new workers or raise wages.
- Eliminating all capital gains taxes on small business investment.
- Providing a tax incentive for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.
- Putting Americans to work on infrastructure projects, from the building of clean energy plants and the "greening" of homes and other buildings.
- Offering tax breaks to companies that employ American workers while denying them to corporations that ship jobs overseas.
- Increasing regulations on banks so that the financial shenanigans which triggered the economic meltdown of September 2008 will not be possible in the future (essentially reversing the deregulatory fanaticism initiated by Reagan and continued by his three successors).
- Investing more money in new industries, from clean energy to biotechnology, that can lead to a genuine economic "boom" - such as those brought on by the interstate highway system in the 1950s and the internet in the 1990s - as opposed to the faux prosperity from the housing bubble in the 2000s.
- Creating a National Export Initiative to improve America's trade with foreign countries.
- Continuing to raise education standards through federal incentives to schools that meet certain criteria.
- Making college education more accessible to millions of Americans by offering a $10,000 tax credit to families that send children through college, increasing funding of Pell Grants, and requiring students who graduate to pay only 10% of their income on student loans, and to have their debt forgiven after 20 years (or 10 years if they choose a career in public service).
- Continuing to implement programs that will aid families wishing to save for retirement and obtain affordable mortgages on their homes.
- Reducing the budget deficit by slashing discretionary spending programs (apart from necessities such as military spending, VA care, Medicare and Medicaid, etc.) by $250 billion from 2011 to 2014.

Inevitably, the speech addressed the primary issue of Obama's first year as president - health-care reform. Wisely, Obama refrained from either jettisoning this issue from his agenda (as some cynical liberals, myself included, initially felt he ought to do) or stubbornly insisting on keeping it front-and-center in his agenda, as certain stalwarts were recommending. Instead he maintained the imperative nature of relieving the economic burdens borne by the middle-class and poor by insisting that health-care reform become a reality, while at the same time moving the issue to the middle of his speech, thereby making it symbolically clear that he would concentrate his energies where they were most needed - job-creation - and place health-care reform its proper perspective.

Other non-economic policy subjects were also touched upon in his speech, from a bold declaration expressing a desire to repeal the military's anti-gay "Don't ask, don't tell" practice to his outspoken criticism of the Supreme Court's ruling that opens up the floodgates of big business's ability to contribute vast sums to private individuals, thus furthering the centuries-old trend of American politicians working in cahoots with our plutocracy.

Finally, it goes without saying that, on every qualitative level, the speech was superb. In the tradition of great American orators from Daniel Webster to John Kennedy, Obama pulled off the impressive feat of making sheer rhetoric brilliance appear utterly effortless. He defended the efforts of his administration's first year without appearing defensive or egocentric; acknowledged errors and shortcomings on his own part with humility that never seemed obsequious or self-pitying; paid tribute to the character of the American people without demeaning his sentiments with the cloying platitudes so often employed by the opposition party; and most importantly of all, he reclaimed the mantle of pugnacious populism that right-wingers from Reagan and Gingrich to Bush and Palin had begun to make into the personal franchise of their movement, even while making it clear that this tone had really been a liberal property all along.

Of course, the question which remains is whether Obama will be able to implement the sundry proposals he lays out in this address. To do so, it is critical that he abandon the misguided notion that gestures of bi-partisan goodwill toward Republicans in Congress will win him their support. What he must remember is that, unlike James Monroe and Dwight Eisenhower, Obama is not blessed with ruling in a temporary one-party system or having an opposition party that is willing to acquiesce in most of his policy goals. The problem isn't that Obama's ideas are too radical; quite to the contrary, his State of the Union speech laid out suggestions that are a remarkable hybrid of old-fashioned New Deal liberalism (infrastructure spending, bank regulations) to plans that would normally make a conservative heart increase its rate by a few passionate thumps (slashing the budget deficit, cutting taxes on small businesses). Nevertheless, he must accept the fact that - having deemed it politically necessary to render Obama's first term in office an abject failure - Republicans will do everything in their power to paint each of his proposals as being paragons of dangerous radicalism, and will vehemently oppose them accordingly. An openly antagonistic relationship with the GOP is the only path for Obama that offers any hope of yielding success. Let them filibuster his proposals to create jobs and cut taxes, to relieve the financial burdens imposed on middle-class families and improve trade with other countries. A weak politician allows oppositional tactics to put him on the defense or paint him in the role of villain; a savvy politician, on the other hand, uses oppositionalism to humiliate and demean those who have made themselves his enemies. If Obama can effectively sell the merits of his proposals to the American people (and despite the dip in his job performance rating, the high percentage of Americans who like him personally suggests that he still has the power to do this), then Republican obstructionism that harms those policies will wreak political destruction on the GOP rather than the Democrats (see the Republican Congress versus Harry Truman in 1948, or the Gingrich Revolutionaries versus Bill Clinton in 1995-96). For that to happen, though, Obama must do what Truman and Clinton did before him - take the offensive, and let the Republicans use the rope with which they wish to cowtie him become their own noose.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review of Avatar

I vividly remember when Jurassic Park was in theaters. My father had read the book by Michael Crichton and, whenever possible, I would sneak into the small library of my parents' basement so that I could leaf through the early chapters of the softcover tome, all the while feeling as if I was venturing into an adult world from which I was normally forbidden. As the movie's theatrical run approached, the hype surrounding it reached a fever pitch - the revolutionary special effects were praised with quasi-reverential awe, friends who had seen the film before me would dangle tantalizing hints of the awesome sights it beheld (There's a new type of bad-ass dinosaur in the movie called velociraptors! There's this one dinosaur that looks like a giant lizard with a frill around its neck, and it spits black gunk at people! A lawyer gets eaten by a T-rex while sitting on the toilet!), and books and TV specials about dinosaurs provided a veritable bounty of information for those who had possessed paleontological proclivities before the movie's release (such as myself). Of course, being a wee nine-year-old when I actually saw the film in theaters, I was thoroughly blown away by the experience - overjoyed at the spectacle I had just witnessed, and riddled with nightmares of dinosaurs ripping me apart for weeks to come.

Years later, I discovered that one man who had been less than thrilled with the motion picture was esteemed movie critic Roger Ebert. Decrying Jurassic Park for its two-dimensional characters and formulaic monster movie story, Ebert ultimately gave the film three stars (the bare minimum of what was required to count as a recommendation) for the sole reason that it "delivers on the bottom line". As he said with more than a hint of ruefulness, "You want great dinosaurs, you got great dinosaurs."

This is very similar to how I feel about Avatar, a movie that is well on its way to following other blockbusters like Star Wars, E.T., Jurassic Park, and Titanic in breaking box office records. While some audiences and critics are wagging their tongues incessantly about "controversial" political and social themes in the story, I was more stunned by how poorly it compared to those from other cinematic epics from this decade:
- The dialogue, though occasionally spruced up with mild witticisms, was so flat that it fell just a hairbreadth away from being embarassing.
- Every character was a painfully generic archetype. Among the protagonists you had the the reckless Average Joe soldier with a heart of gold, the grizzled world weary scientist with the heart of gold, the awkward nerdy comic sidekick with heart of gold, the innocent tribal princess in touch with mother nature whose initial hostility to humans belies the fact that she has a heart of... well, you get the idea. The villains aren't much better, from the weasly fast-talking corporate executive who only cares about the bottom line to the hard-ass general whose air of military professionalism is a poor disguise for bloodthirsty savagery (all this character lacked to complete the ensemble was a cigar on which to gleefully chomp as he plotted his genocidal rampage).
- Even the fantasy world concocted as an elaborate backdrop for the story's ongoings left something to be desired. Couldn't Cameron have thought of a more convincing name for the MacGuffin than "unobtanium"? If he wished to use mythological allusions, couldn't he have chosen a more appropriate name for his planet than Pandora? If there was a parallel between the setting in this movie and the Greek box that unleashed suffering upon the world, I failed to recognize it.

And what of the plot itself? Like Jurassic Park, it is pure formula, a fusion of the space opera template pioneered by George Lucas with his original Star Wars (the 1977 film) and PC-passion play.

Perhaps I should pause here and elaborate on that last term. "Passion play", in its most common usage, refers to theatrical re-enactments of the death of Jesus Christ intended to help religious audiences experience collective catharsis by expiating their sense of communal guilt for Christ's having died for their sins. While the story of Christ is used to achieve this result among those religious Christians who choose to watch passion plays, the same effect is often obtained among politically-correct liberals by exposing themselves to stories which - either directly or through obvious analogy - address aspects of their collective identity for which they have a sense of communal guilt, and which they receive cathartic gratification from confronting. From the exploration of American racism via soap opera in 2004 Oscar-baiting Crash to this year's action/sci-fi flick cum apartheid allegory District 9, the PC-passion play has found wide accolade among critics and audiences alike. While it is tempting to mistake PC-passion plays with legitimate social commentary, there is a key difference between the two genres that must not be overlooked: While real social commentary takes risks by making observations about the world with which large and respected segments of the population will disagree, PC-passion plays - though often adopting the air of topical relevance - invariably focus on issues where the consensus on right-and-wrong in the given issue are undisputed. That is why movies like Crash and District 9, in condemning the use of racial epithets and the apartheid system (neither of which have respected open advocates in our own society), are PC-passion plays, whereas films like Brokeback Mountain and Munich (which take bold stands on gay rights and the moral complexity of fighting terrorism that were disliked by large, respected segments of society) are more deserving of the term "social commentary".

Now back to Avatar. As mentioned before, its story is a boilerplate fusion of space opera - brash young hero goes to a distant world, undergoes epic journey, discovers himself and ultimately saves the day - with a poorly-disguised allegory for Western imperialist ventures, specifically those perpetrated against Native Americans and, to a lesser extent, the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Middle East. If the story were better developed, it might be worthwhile to spend more time concurring with or dissenting from its views. As it is barely fleshed out beyond the level of a standard B-movie, though, it deserves little more than a rueful passing glance. When its plot is compared to the textured narratives of the past decade's finest epics - be they in cinema (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Dark Knight, Watchmen, even Pirates of the Caribbean, to some degree) or literature (the Harry Potter franchise) - Avatar is downright hollow. It's hard to believe that the man who crafted the storytelling masterpiece Terminator 2 could have chosen to use his revolutionary technology to tell such a mediocre tale.

Make no mistake about it, though... the technology in Avatar IS revolutionary. Even though I may be surprised at the extent to which critics have been mesmerized by the chimera that is Avatar's story (Ebert himself gave it four stars, his highest rating), I can't deny that the special effects deliver on exactly what was promised; I felt transported to a whole other world. The sensory experience of seeing Avatar in theaters is so spectacular that it is indeed worth the full ticket price, no matter how ridiculously high it may seem in this economic climate. To paraphrase the big macher himself:

"You wanted a whole new way of seeing movies, you've got a whole new way of seeing movies."

PS: I still count "Jurassic Park" among my all-time favorite movies. It is hard to weaken a sentimental attachment that has such strong links to one's fondest childhood memories.