[Photo by JOHN DONGES]
News, Media, Politics, Music, Culture, Gossip, In The 215 And The Great Beyond
BY DAN BUSKIRK, FILM CRITIC
Just last month Josh Brolin starred in W, the Oliver Stone biopic, utterly inhabiting the the dim, destructive id of incurious-ness. Now a month later Brolin pops up as the dark id of intolerance, political assassin Dan White in Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Where W seemed designed to hammer a stake into the heart of Bush’s legacy, Milk, which chronicles the life of slain gay activist Harvey Milk, uses the past as a map to inspire the future’s possibilities. If Stone’s film was dismissed in some quarters as yesterday’s news, Milk’s history couldn’t be more alive and relevant, especially with the recent passing of California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 which galvanized gay activism across the nation.
A Big Picture film that never loses its sense of intimacy, Milk recreates the world of 1970’s San Francisco down to the last post-counter-cultural detail. Despite the city’s storied embrace of alternative lifestyles, the city’s large gay population remains largely invisible, since evidence of homosexuality is a legally permissible reason for job dismissal. When we meet Harvey he is a still-closeted insurance salesman cruising the subway and seducing a young hippie fellow named Scott (James Franco) to help him celebrate his birthday. Like Bush, Harvey hits forty knowing he’s been an underachiever (“I’m forty years old and I’ve done nothing with my life” he confides after sex), with only the vaguest idea of what he wants to do. Together Scott and Harvey open a camera shop in the Castro and the harassment he witnesses there inspires Milk to run for city council as the first openly gay candidate.
Initially, San Francisco proves unready for this radical change and Harvey fails in his bid for that seat, but Harvey (much like our President-elect) discovers his power is in community organizing. Van Sant maintains a bit of the naturalism he has brought to his recent less-commercial projects (Paranoid Park, Elephant etc.) to give Harvey’s tireless activism a freewheeling sense of reality, keeping the film from falling into the plodding and episodic predictability that sinks so many biopics. While Harvey’s destiny as a martyr is revealed in the opening scenes, Milk’s unforced narrative never seems like it is headed to a foregone conclusion.
The unmannered style Van Sant uses here perfectly compliments Sean Penn’s magnetic performance, a dead-on and instinctual piece of film acting sure to be remembered as one of his career highlights. Entering middle age, Penn has shown a tendency in recent years to chomp the scenery, falling prey to the same kind of overstatement that has marred Al Pacino’s legacy in recent years. That’s not the case here: despite playing a flamboyant gay man with a thick Long Island accent, Penn captures Milk’s ego and his sense of the theatrical without upstaging his co-stars. Among the co-stars who make the biggest impression is the on-a-roll Brolin, who quietly underplays the deadly pathology boiling beneath the wrapped-to-tight demeanor of Dan White.
Even though great care is taken to evoke a lived-in 1970’s world, what is being fought for in Milk does not seem like a battle won long ago. What they are striving for is part of the same fight represented by Proposition 8, the battle for people in a minority to share the same rights enjoyed by the majority. While Van Sant works in a little of Puccini’s Tosca to underline the final tragedy, he wisely stays away from lionizing Harvey as a martyr, keeping him on a resolutely human scale. “You’ve got to give them hope” is the last thing we hear from Penn’s Harvey utter, a statement that recent history has given a contemporary ring and a legacy Harvey would undoubtedly endorse.
Facebook Spammer Fined $873 Million, Now All They Have To Do Is Catch Him
Facebook has won $873 million judgment against a Canadian man who bombarded the popular online hangout with sexually explicit “spam” messages. The victory, sealed with a judge’s order issued last Friday, probably won’t yield a windfall for privately held Facebook Inc., whose revenue this year is expected to range between $250 million to $300 million. Court records indicate the alleged spammer, Adam Guerbuez of Montreal, has been difficult to find since Facebook sued him four months ago. But Facebook is hoping the size of the judgment will scare off other spammers who might be tempted to target the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s audience of more than 120 million users. [via ASSOCIATED PRESS]
IT’S HERE: Toxic Melamine Found In U.S. Baby Formula
U.S. health officials have found trace amounts of the chemical melamine in one sample of infant formula sold in the United States, a Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman said on Tuesday. “There’s no basis for concern because we’re talking about trace levels that are so low … that there’s absolutely no risk,” FDA spokeswoman Judy Leon said. Melamine-tainted formula was found earlier this year in China, where thousands of children fell ill and several died. In September, the FDA sought to assure parents and said there was no similar contamination threat in the United States. The chemical, normally used to make plastics, has been found in milk power, wheat gluten and other Chinese-made ingredients used in products ranging from pet food to candy. Melamine’s ability to make foods appear to have higher amounts of protein during testing has made it a cheap but dangerous substitute that can damage the kidneys. [via REUTERS]
AND THEN THEY CAME FOR THE BLOGS: Technorati Announces Layoffs, Pay Cuts
Technorati announced on Tuesday that it was laying off six employees and cutting pay for the remaining members of the blog search engine company. Richard Jalichandra, the president and chief executive of the San Francisco-based startup, a leading site used to track and index blogs, announced the moves in a posting on the company blog. “There’s not much I can say about the economy that hasn’t been said a hundred times already,” Jalichandra wrote. “We’re facing the worst crisis of our lifetimes, and no one can say with certainty what lies ahead or how long it will last.” Jalichandra said that to allow the company to “weather the storm,” six employees were being laid off and two others would not be replaced. He said management would be taking pay cuts ranging from 15 percent to 25 percent and remaining employees would have their pay cut by 10 percent. Technorati is the latest Silicon Valley company to announce job cuts. [via BREITBART]
NEW YORK TIMES: Eight months after a federal investigation into a prostitution ring brought about, the question persists in some circles: Was the federal government out to get Mr. Spitzer? No evidence has surfaced to support such an assertion, and the prosecutor in the case has said that politics played no role in the pursuit of Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat. But that has not put to rest suspicions, expressed on left wing blogs, that Mr. Spitzer, a zealous pursuer of Wall Street wrongdoing who some thought could one day be president, had been singled out.
Now, a congressional committee is pursuing what would be the first public examination of the events that prompted the initial inquiry into his bank transactions, which showed he was sending money to a front company for Emperor’s Club V.I.P. The House Financial Services Committee intends to take up the matter early next year and tentatively plans to hold hearings that could include testimony from the United States Treasury’s law enforcement unit, along with Mr. Spitzer’s bank, North Fork, and HSBC, a bank used by a company connected to the prostitution service.
The office of the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael J. Garcia, declined to comment. Because Mr. Garcia said earlier this month that no charges would be pursued against Mr. Spitzer in the case, the committee’s work may represent the only forum in which to untangle the mystery of how the former governor ended up in the middle of a law enforcement rarity: a federal investigation into an adult prostitution ring. MORE
ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS: The governor is planning a trip to Georgia to campaign on behalf of Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss early next week on her way to Philadelphia to meet with her old foe, President-elect Barack Obama. Obama is meeting with governors of both parties in Philadelphia to talk about the ailing economy. It’s not clear how many governors are going to attend the Obama event, which the National Governors Association helped put together. “I don’t know if she has a one-on-one with (Obama),” said Palin spokesman Bill McAllister. “It may be, given that they were both involved in the national campaign.” McAllister said Palin will be in Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday, and the state will pay for it. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Three public ice rinks scheduled to close because of city budget cuts will stay open under private management, officials said Tuesday, and some swimming pools and libraries may also be transferred to the private sector. Management of the rinks is being taken over by the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, a charity started by the founder of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. The foundation already runs hockey programs for young people in poor neighborhoods. The city, which will save about $150,000 a year by handing over management of the rinks, will continue to own and maintain them. Mayor Michael A. Nutter said on Nov. 6 that the rinks would have to close as part of deep spending cuts unless private money could be found to keep them open. MORE
ATTYTOOD: Not many Philadelphians even know about Ed Snider‘s politics, because most of the time we didn’t have to. But he’s quite far to the political right, a devoted acolyte of the late conservative icon Ayn Rand, funding an institute based on her principles and giving speeches about her. (A Philadelphia Magazine profile of Snider said he won’t read anything in the Inquirer except for the sports sections because the paper’s too liberal for him.) Fair enough, but in the last two years Snider has veered off. Even though his beloved Rand did not believe in pre-emptive war, Snider is now a major financial support of continuing our very wrongheaded pre-emptive war in Iraq and sending new storm clouds over its neighbor, Iran. According to numerous news accounts, Snider is a leading donor to the group Freedom’s Watch, which is spending millions (here’s the repulsive part I mentioned up top) promoting its lethal policies in the Middle East and right-wing candidates like Sarah Palin and John McCain who support that agenda. MORE
LAS VEGAS REVIEW: Freedom’s Watch, the conservative group backed by Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, is pretty much kaput, sources with knowledge of the organization said. The group’s dozens of staffers have been paid through the end of the year. After that, Freedom’s Watch is likely to shut its doors permanently, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. MORE
INSTANT KARMA: Sheldon Adelson reportedly was the source of the overwhelming majority of the group’s funding as well as the guiding force behind its decisions. But the 75-year-old casino executive, whose company owns The Venetian and Palazzo, has suffered his own reversals of late. The company has lost roughly 95 percent of its stock market value over the past 11 months, dropping Adelson’s rank on the Forbes list of America’s wealthiest people from third to 15th. At the end of October, a New York compensation consulting firm estimated Adelson’s net worth had fallen by more than $16.6 billion for the year. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: The Movement To Save The War
PREVIOUSLY: Ari Fleischer Is An Ignorant Slut
BREAKING: Literally. The interweb is atwitter with reports that right wing vampire Ann Coulter has broken her jaw and doctors have wired it shut. Repeat, ANN COULTER’S JAWS HAVE BEEN WIRED SHUT.
PHAWKER: This sounds too good to be true: Obama is a elected president and Ann Coulter gets her jaw wired shut. If this is a dream, we never wanna wake up.
DRUDGE: Bestselling author and controversialist Ann Coulter plans to crash Obama’s inauguration party with her new work, GUILTY. Set for release first week of January, the book exposes and mocks, in graphic detail, the media’s love affair with all things Democrat and Obama. Coulter presents exhibits A through Z. MORE
RAW FOOTAGE: Man Jumps Canyon With Rocket Jet Pack
You have to put up with an obnoxious ad, but it’s worth it.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Afghan police have arrested 10 Taliban militants involved in an acid attack this month against 15 girls and teachers walking to school in southern Afghanistan, a provincial governor said Tuesday. “Several” of the arrested militants have confessed to taking part in the acid attack, said Kandahar Gov. Rahmatullah Raufi. He declined to be more precise. High-ranking Taliban fighters paid the militants a total of $2,000 to carry out the attack, Raufi said. The attackers came from Pakistan but were Afghan nationals, said Doud Doud, an Interior Ministry official. The attackers squirted the acid from water bottles onto three groups of students and teachers walking to school in Kandahar city on Nov. 12. Several girls suffered burns to the face and were hospitalized. One teenager couldn’t open her eyes days after the attack, which drew condemnation from around the world. One of the victims, a teacher named Nuskaal who was burned through her burqa, called Tuesday for a harsh punishment for the attackers. “If these people are found guilty, the government should throw the same acid on these criminals. After that they should be hanged,” said Nuskaal, who like many Afghans goes by one name. President Hamid Karzai earlier this month called for a public execution of the perpetrators. MORE
FRESH AIR: Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid discusses the Bush Administration’s policies concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan and speculates about the changes President-elect Barack Obama may bring to the area. Rashid is based in Lahore, Pakistan, where he writes for a host of international publications, including The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and London’s Daily Telegraph. His latest book, Descent Into Chaos, details the Bush Administration’s nation-building efforts in central Asia.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: Former Osama bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan is being transferred from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to his home country of Yemen, a senior defense official said Monday. Hamdan was convicted of aiding al-Qaida in August and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison. He would be eligible for release in January with credit for time served. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said Hamdan will serve out the remainder of his sentence in Yemen. MORE
BY JEFF DEENEY If there’s real concern that a physical confrontation between the students and staff in room 315 might arise the behavioral health worker steps in. Mr. Thompson’s official function falls somewhere between teacher’s aid and social worker; he’s supposed to help students with their work during those rare moments when they’re actually working, try to build a therapeutic bond with them when they have structured free time and de-escalate their behavior from the brink of violence if it reaches that stage. In reality, Mr. Thompson’s function is more like a security guard; he provides the muscle necessary to protect the teacher. Mr. Thompson’s a thirtysomething black man who judging from his build likes to spend time in the gym. He dresses in loose fitting casual clothes, which is the sort of attire suggested to social workers who deal with volatile, potentially assaultive clients. If you do this kind of work you never wear unnecessary accessories like neckties that a client could use to choke you.
DAN BUSKIRK: I don’t want to start a panic or anything but is anyone paying attention to Treasury Secretary/Bail-Out Chief Henry “Hank” Paulson these days? Look at him fidgeting behind Bush “Relax, I’M on the job” announcement yesterday. He looks like he’s ready to start sobbing, or he has to pee or he’s afraid someone’s going to run up from behind and de-pants him. What ever is going on, he ain’t inspiring confidence.
MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, warning that “millions of Americans cannot find affordable financing for basic credit needs,” announced a major expansion of the federal bailout on Tuesday — as much as $800 billion to make mortgages and consumer credit more available and affordable. The government will buy up to $600 billion in mortgage-backed assets, and, in a separate action, lend up to $200 billion to investors who’ve bought securities backed by consumer loans such as credit cards, auto and student loans, in a bid to free up consumer credit. MORE
CNN MONEY: The home price plunge stayed on a record pace this summer, according to a widely watched gauge of national real-estate markets released Tuesday. The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price national index recorded a 16.6% decline in the third quarter compared with the same period a year ago. That eclipsed the previous record of 15.1% set during the second quarter. Prices in Case-Shiller’s separate index of 10 major cities fell a record 18.6%, while its 20-city index dropped a record 17.4% With foreclosures soaring at record rates, the economic picture dimming and job losses ramping up, all the elements were in place to push prices lower. MORE
MOE TKACIK ON HOW WE GOT HERE: For years, Wall Street has exhibited only contempt for anyone on the government payroll who did not work for the Fed. This attitude was abetted and enabled by a Republican leadership that did not trust its own party members on the Financial Services Committee. They saw this coming — when Long Term Capital Management almost exploded the markets as a direct result of the “counterparty risk” that bound us to bail out AIG, when Enron touched off a wave of 30 or so separate multi-billion-dollar accounting restatements that killed Arthur Andersen and made laughingstocks of the entire accounting industry — but the fact-resistant, and fundamentally provincial, disdain of jerkoffs like George W. Bush and Tom DeLay — and Ratigan — kept them from doing anything, in a perverse decade-long pattern of willful neglect that systematically and repeatedly undermined every federal agency charged with regulating the financial system. MORE
PAUL KRUGMAN ON CITIBANK FAILOUT: A bailout was necessary — but this bailout is an outrage: a lousy deal for the taxpayers, no accountability for management, and just to make things perfect, quite possibly inadequate, so that Citi will be back for more. Amazing how much damage the lame ducks can do in the time remaining.
JAMES KWAK ON CITIBANK FAILOUT: The government (should have) had two goals for this bailout. First, since everyone assumes Citi is too big to fail, the bailout had to be big enough that it would settle the matter once and for all. Second, it had to define a standard set of terms that other banks could rely on and, more importantly, the market could rely on being there for other banks. This plan fails on both counts.
The arithmetic on this deal doesn’t seem to work for me (feel free to help me out). Citi has over $2 trillion in assets and several hundred billions of dollars in off-balance sheet liabilities. $27 billion is a drop in the bucket. Friedman Billings Ramsey last week estimated that Citi needed $160 billion in new capital. (I’m not sure I agree with the exact number, but that’s the ballpark.) Yes, there is a guarantee on $306 billion in assets (which will not get triggered until that $27 billion is wiped out), but that leaves another $2 trillion in other assets, many of which are not looking particularly healthy. If I’m an investor, I’m thinking that Citi is going to have to come back again for more money.
In addition, the plan is arbitrary and cannot possibly set an expectation for future deals. In particular, by saying that the government will back some of Citi’s assets but not others, it doesn’t even establish a principle that can be followed in future bailouts. In effect, the message to the market was and has been: “We will protect some (unnamed) large banks from failing, but we won’t tell you how and we’ll decide at the last minute.)” As long as that’s the message, investors will continue to worry about all U.S. banks. MORE
UPDATE: Mendte gets 3 years probation, 6 months home confinement, 250 hours community service, computer monitoring plus a fine. MORE
PHILLY.COM: Paul Rosen, Alycia Lane’s lawyer, said she would not speak at sentencing. In a statement, he said:
“Alycia never sought publicity for her private life, and she does not intend to give a public statement today. She gave a confidential statement to the probation officer which was presented to the Court. The only public life she wanted was her news anchor career. Larry Mendte’s criminal conduct destroyed that career and made her a tabloid feeding frenzy. He then attempted to have her convicted for a crime in New York City, which he knew by reading her private attorney-client emails, she did not commit. Thereafter Alycia was totally exonerated of those charges. We do not know the punishment the court will impose for the harm and pain Larry Mendte methodically inflicted upon Alycia. We trust the judicial system to dispense justice to Larry Mendte on behalf of his victims.” MORE
PREVIOUSLY: Ex-Anchor Pleads Guilty To Email Hackery
PREVIOUSLY: Alycia Lane Sues Larry Mendte, KYW