Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Yes, the key players are French, and the film is set largely in the 1970s when young adults would do such eye-rolling things as run around in fields giving each other piggyback rides.
We see this in the archival footage that is the back story to "Man on Wire," the documentary about the "artistic crime of the century" that just won an Academy Award.
"Man on Wire" chronicles the insanity or daredeviling of French wire-walker and street performer Philippe Petit, who in 1974, at age 24, surreptitiously strung cables between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and proceeded to spend 45 minutes walking it, tightrope-style, with no net. He was but a footfall or sweeping gust of wind away from oblivion.
What Petit, with a rag-tag collection of eccentrics, and some 1970s long hairs who appear to be stoned out their minds in the archival footage, did that day was, of course, illegal.
They used fake IDs and other tactics to gain access to the roofs of the towers so they could string the cable for Petit's daring-do.
In the 94-minute documentary, which is a British production done primarily in English with some French subtitling, we see Petit lay preparations overseas for the high-wire act and then hide out in the Trade Center with his gear the night before the "performance."
It is very much a chronicling of insanity. Or is it?
Against logic it is a thing of beauty to see Petit and his confederates breach World Trade Center security for purposes of art, not Armageddon.
Underlying this documentary, with its spectacular shots of New York City from the tops of the towers, is the gnawing sense the viewer has of the horrors we would we see on Sept. 11.
One of the more profound interviews I've recorded for the Daily Times Herald came from a Carroll High School graduate who was on the ground outside of the Towers more than 30 years after Petit walked between them.
After her 30-minute subway commute to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Michelle Gatton emerged from a train in the concourse area of the center only minutes after the first of the Twin Towers had been skewered by an airliner.
It's the building where she worked on the 52nd and 84th floors as a marketing professional for a software company.
"I had to be there at 9 a.m.," she told me later that day. The crashes took place minutes apart around that time.
Gatton saw the fire and the smoke and the second explosion from a vantage point across the street from the towers. Gatton's voice shook as she described the horrifying scene during an interview with the Daily Times Herald.
"I actually saw four people jump," Gatton said. "When you can see their arms and legs waving in the air as they fall it's not pretty."
It's still hard to read that quote.
While I watched "Man on Wire" and endured the insufferable Frenchness of Petit (who mocked American reporters for asking the obvious, "Why?") a peculiar effect took hold.
I saw his rebellious stunt, his mocking of life itself, his dance with God, if you will, up in the misty, cloudy Trade Center air, in the way I would imagine Petit wanted us to: as a mesmerizing reaffirmation of the human spirit.
"To me, it's really so simple, that life should be lived on the edge," Petit says in "Man on Wire." "You have to exercise rebellion. To refuse to tape yourself to the rules ... to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge. Then you will live your life on the tightrope."
This story is crossposted on the Carroll Daily Times Herald Web site.
Friday, March 27, 2009
My friend Jason Walsmith of Templeton Rye and The Nadas videotaped the proceedings at the dedication of the Veterans Memorial Monument in Carroll, Iowa. He posted the video to YouTube and when Jason was here at the paper this week, showed it to me. For years, I worked with many veterans in the area to raise money for this monument so it was truly an honor to help them dedicate it last Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Iowa's top gaming industry representative said this morning that his association is closely watching a federal lawsuit in New Jersey aimed at opening up sports betting nationwide.
"Certainly we're aware of it," said Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association. "As far as the industry I think this certainly would be of interest to our members."
With New Jersey facing major budget problems and with Atlantic City casinos suffering, a state senator there has filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J. against the Justice Department that seeks to overturn a ban on sports betting.
Only four states are allowed to have government-sanctioned sports betting: Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana.
"Obviously in those states it can be done in a regulated fashion and taxed," Ehrecke said.
New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak's suit challenges the exemption for the four states as unconstitutional.
At this point Ehrecke said the Iowa Gaming Association, an industry group representing Iowa's 17 state-regulated casinos, would be monitoring the lawsuit. But Ehrecke said he planned to raise the issue at the associaton's next board meeting in April to see if members want to take a more activist role in seeking to open up an option for sports betting in Iowa.
He said some first steps would be to assess what other states with commercial gaming are doing in light of the lawsuit. If successful, the lawsuit still would leave open questions about the federal and state legislative and legal paths to a day when fans could, say, bet on Iowa-Iowa State football games at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona.
But the lawsuit may be a reason to start a debate on legalized sports betting in Iowa, Ehrecke said.
"Is it time to allow other states to opt in?" Ehrecke said.
Ehrecke said legalized sports betting in Iowa would clearly mean more money for the casinos and the state through the taxes levied on the industry. And the state is looking to tie its fortunes even tighter with gaming houses. Gov. Chet Culver is now seeking to fund a $750 million infrastructure-and-jobs revitalization plan by financing bonds with casino revenues.
The Associated Press reports that a consultant hired by one of the plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association, estimated that sports betting could be a $10-billion-a-year industry in New Jersey alone.
Ehrecke said he had no studies about what legalized sports betting at Iowa's casinos could mean financially for the industry and state.
He noted that "it's a moot point" as long as the federal ban is in place and that it's a long way from the filing of a lawsuit to a dramatic change in the law.
Opponents of legalized sports betting say it harms the integrity of professional and collegiate athletics.
Advocates say betting is taking place anyway, and may as well be regulated and benefit the state rather than boosting the fortunes of organized crime and offshore facilities.
"As Captain Renault said to Rick, 'I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here,'" Lesniak said, appropriating a famous quote from the movie "Casablanca" in an AP story.
This story is crossposted at the Carroll Daily Times Herald.
(Top photo: Iowa Gaming Association president Wes Ehrecke.)
Described in the New York Times as a “brainy upbeat soccer-mom progressive,” Senator Klobuchar won her Minnesota Senate race in a landslide in 2006. She is seen as a rising star in the national Democratic Party and is viewed by some political pundits as a woman who might one day become the first woman President of the United States. Senator Klobuchar has an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from the University of Chicago.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
In a king's ransom of weighty economic development news that confirms our high hopes for a more robust Carroll, the crowning story we published last Thursday is word that Western Iowa Networks will overbuild a fiber-optic network in the city.
This $11 million project - funded in large part with a $10 million loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that Sen. Tom Harkin helped secure - will separate Carroll from much of the rest of rural America.
Western Iowa Networks will stretch lines of glass cables only slightly bigger than a human hair through the community. The fiber optic lines will run from a central location at 603 N. Adams St. to what are essentially neighborhood hubs. If a business or homeowner wants the service, WIN then runs the fiber line to them.
"It will be a total overbuild," said WIN CEO Steve Frickenstein.
WIN officials estimate that Internet speeds will be 10 to 20 times faster with their fiber than what most businesses and homes in Carroll have now.
Read the rest of the column on the Carroll Daily Times Herald's Web site.
Hurray for rural America.
Reuters is reporting that North Dakota's diversified economy is keeping the state of just over 600,000 people afloat while most U.S. states sink deeper into economic recession.
According to Reuters, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services this week upgraded the state's issuer credit rating to "AA-plus" from "AA," citing in part its "ability to generate surpluses with little impact from the current economic downturn."
Since December, S&P's state rating actions resulted in downgrades for California and Illinois and negative outlooks for Florida and Rhode Island ratings with North Dakota being the sole state upgraded by the ratings agency in six months.
As tax collections wither in most states, North Dakota is still raking in the revenue.
"North Dakota is about the only state in the country that is doing well, and its sales tax (revenue) was up 14.4 percent," said a recent Rockefeller Institute of Government report comparing state tax collections in the fourth quarter of 2008 to the same time period in 2007.
The state's jobless rate was a mere 4.2 percent in January, compared to the national unemployment rate of 7.6 percent.
"Isn't it crazy?" said Pam Sharp, North Dakota's budget director, in a telephone interview with Reuters on Thursday.
"People are still making money here; income growth is up," she added.
What sets North Dakota apart from other states according to Sharp is an economy that has been diversified beyond the energy and agricultural sectors, a stable housing market that did not take a hit from the subprime mortgage crisis and conservative financial management.
CNN is reporting that Dems view Sarah Palin as grist for the fund-raising mill ...
Here is CNN:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee asked supporters Tuesday to make a donation to help stop the former vice presidential candidate and her fellow Republicans from blocking President Obama's policy goals.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Of course U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was just being rhetorical with the suicide recommendation for AIG brass -- and he effectively conveyed the outrage over AIG handing out bonuses while taking handouts from the taxpayer.
Here is Grassley in a radio interview about the AIG execs:
"The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better about them is if they follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say 'I'm sorry' and do either one of two things, resign or go commit suicide."
Monday, March 16, 2009
Simple, said the iconic Hef, "Hi, my name is Hugh Hefner."
Writers for TV's "Gossip Girl" are similarly inspired with the creation of rich-kid, bad boy Chuck Bass, a character of such supreme smugness, unapologetic chauvinism and brilliantly wicked one-liners that it's hard to imagine him springing to life in the era of reality TV.
Based on the book of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar. "Gossip Girl" chronicles the fictional lives of wealthy private school kids in New York City. The title refers to an anonymous Web site with which the teens are terrifically obsessed.
In many respects the show, clearly aimed at the youth demographic on the CW network (channel 9 for us), is like "Beverly Hills 90210" only with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York skyline instead of palm-tree fenced drives and dreamy ocean cutaways. In a nutshell, here's the lowdown on the series: Two kids from Brooklyn, Dan and Jenny, try to make it among the trust-fund crowd in Manhattan.
Those of us who don't "summer" in the Hamptons or overseas are supposed to empathize with Dan (picture Jason Priestley's Brandon before the "90210" drunken-driving episode) and Jen who find themselves in all manner and variety of fish-out-of-water situations.
But the reason to watch this show begins and ends with Chuck Bass, played with an American accent by the British actor Ed Westwick, who turns condescension and contempt into art forms. He's so good you can live with the rest of the characters and at times tired plots.
Bass is the son of a New York magnate. He's driven to school in a luxury car and effects an air of entitlement that surely would earn plaudits from a resurrected F. Scott Fitzgerald. Young Bass completely embraces the money and influence of his world - the princely pomp and the champagne circumstances he luxuriates in courtesy of the genetic lottery.
"I care about three things, Nathaniel: Money, the pleasures money brings me, and you," he tells his best friend in one of the first episodes.
His most famous line - a la Hefner - is just this, "I'm Chuck Bass."
This is how Chuck Bass justifies getting into an Ivy League college in spite of his boozy ways.
"I'm Chuck Bass."
When his friends exchange impromptu admissions (one slept with a best friend's honey, another had sex in the backseat of a limo) they look to Chuck Bass to reciprocate with a revealing ditty about his own misdeeds - legions of which the audience has observed. Chuck, knowing that we know his unabashed bad-apple ways, delivers that signature line: "I'm Chuck Bass." As if they had to ask, the impudent lessers.
Here's Chuck Bass talking about a popular and beautiful girl in his school: "There's something wrong with that level of perfection. It needs to be violated."
In the middle of a party he's holding in a swanky Manhattan penthouse, Bass instructs his guests with the following: "Until I say so the only girls you talk to are the ones I've paid for."
The printed word doesn't do the lines justice. It is Westwick's delivery, his ability to convey an arrogance so journey-to-the center-of-the-earth deep that he makes Chuck Bass strut while sitting down, scream with but a stare and hurl insults with a simple tilt of the head. Bass commands a room simply by standing in its corner.
In the more traditional dramatic-series TV format of past decades, "Gossip Girl" and Chuck Bass give us a wonderful respite from the pitch and pull of life in the same way "Dallas" and J.R. Ewing did for an earlier generation. Bass is the anti-hero extraordinaire. He preens through episode after episode, stealing every scene he enters, often with but a smirk, and always with an absurd pomposity.
When Chuck realizes that (horrors) he has true feelings for one of the female leads, the scheming Blair, he approaches her with news of his love. "No one is more surprised or ashamed than I am," Chuck Bass says.
What does one hear on Chuck Bass' voice mail? "Leave a message and I might listen to it."
How does Chuck Bass describe someone who just returned from backpacking overseas? "He looks like Matthew McConaughey between movies."
In the end Bass has an intoxicating honesty. So many people want to have it both ways - the limousine liberal approach if you will. They want to be well-liked and rich and charitable and acquisitive and churchy all at once. Contemporary American society is full of insufferable hypocrites.
Chuck Bass, in a radically pleasant departure, is forthright with a belief that he is just better than the rest of us. He wasn't born on third base, thinking he hit a triple. Bass went from womb to owner's box and could care less what you think about it. Just get him a drink and send that girl over. Yes, the hot one.
And Chuck Bass is not about to go all Oprah soft on us and complain about the downside of all this uppity living.
""What we're entitled to is a trust fund, maybe a house in the Hamptons, a prescription drug problem," Chuck Bass says to a pal while walking through Central Park. "But happiness does not seem to be on the menu."
Chuck Bass then takes a drag on his cigarette and informs the friend that it's about time the latter sealed the deal with his girlfriend - and yes, that means what you think it does.
"I'm Chuck Bass."
Yes you are. And network TV needs you.
DENISON, Iowa —Antonio Oropeza, a Mexican immigrant living in the west-central Iowa city of Denison, doesn’t have his grandmother Angelina anymore. She has passed. But the Orepeza family treasures heirlooms she left: her salsa and this abuela’s (grandmother’s) culinary influence on their delightful little restaurant, El Charro (Big Hat) just south of U.S. 30 in the middle of the main strip in the Crawford County seat.
It’s a humble place with a giant taste. El Charro has a steady stream of customers, a mix of Anglos and Hispanics, who pop in not only at lunch and dinner time but throughout the day for an assortment of homemade dishes — from generous nacho plates to the hand-rolled tortillas that make the foundation for the guaracha, a sandal-shaped specialty topped with beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado and your choice of meat. (A special note: the chorizo, or Mexican sausage, is a must-try).
The rest of this story is available at the Center For Rural Strategies' Daily Yonder.com.
HARKIN ANNOUNCES RELEASE OF $2.1 MILLION IN RECOVEY ACT FUNDING FOR ADOPTION AND FOSTER CARE PROGRAMS IN IOWA
“The well-being of Iowa’s children is paramount and keeping kids safe and healthy means ensuring they have homes that are secure,” said Harkin. “These critical funds will improve state services and help ensure children in need are placed in safe, loving adoptive and foster homes.”
The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families will distribute nearly $187 million nationwide for the first and second quarters of FY 2009 as part of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funding increase to support states’ adoption, foster care and guardianship assistance programs. This funding represents a 6.2 percentage point increase for states, under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act.
Increasing the federal matching rate for federal foster care and adoption assistance programs helps provide much-needed fiscal relief to states across the country so they may maintain core operations and undertake projects that will put Americans to work during the worst economic crisis in decades.
About 496,000 children nationally were in foster care in 2007 (the most recent year for which complete data are available), of which approximately 198,000 children receive Federal IV-E foster care assistance per month, and the average monthly number of children receiving Federal adoption assistance was over 398,000 in 2008.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
The Des Moines-area alternative newspaper Cityview has published a cover story I authored examining some of the effects of the smoking ban -- such as how it has hurt rural bars.
Here is Cityview:
When Frank Sinatra, one of America's most famous smokers, died (at age 82, baby), one tribute observed that thousands of men on thousands of bar stools would no longer be able to ask, "What would Frank do?"_
Sinatra expired in 1998, and we've made it a decade without the philosopher-king of love and loss, the crooner with spot-on instincts in the world of handling a punch in the gut and making it to work the next day._
For the last eight months, with a nearly complete statewide indoor smoking ban in effect, many Iowans have been in something of a prolonged mourning for the passing of Sinatra's defiant prop, the barroom cigarette.
An underappreciated part of our culture, particularly in rural and working-class reaches of the Hawkeye State, died last July 1. Small-town and working-class bars are supposed to be a bit irreverent, dimly lit places to escape the bully boss, pending divorce, or the drudgery of a Working Joe life. Smoking is a part of this for many Iowans - or it least it was (legally) until last summer.
"I'm not justifying smoking, but it was part of the culture," said Paul Lasley, chairman of both the Sociology and Anthropology departments at Iowa State University. "This disruption of social life in a small community is one of the unintended consequences of the smoking ban."
To read the rest of my story in Cityview, click here.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Our president it saying that now is actually the time to buy more stocks. He doesn't give us any specific tips but did offer this, according to The New York Times:
The president did not offer any specific stock tips, but suggested that he believed the market might be close to its low point.
“Profit and earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal,” Mr. Obama said, “if you’ve got a long-term perspective on it.”
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Stella Haven's post at her blog -- Just A Girl In San Francisco -- is must-read for anyone who cares about professionally vetted news and the newspaper's track record of quickly affecting social change.
Ms. Haven is just a few years older than me, but we both came of age in the profession around the same time, learning the business the shoe-leather way, where you had to interact with people face to face instead of relying on texts and emails as too many younger writers do today.
Here's hoping her paper -- the Chronicle -- survives. SF needs it.
Monday, March 02, 2009
If your brother is the basis for the outrageous "Entourage"character Ari Gold, sibling rivalry no doubt occupies a big place in your life.
As it does for White House chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel -- who dropped more F-bombs in a New Yorker profile than anyone in a position of such stature has since, well ... even Cheney, who had the decency to keep his F-ing to an exchange with a senator.
The New Yorker piece reveals just how competitive Rahm is with his brothers. Here is Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker:
While Obama was wooing Rahm, Rahm’s older brother, Ezekiel, an oncologist and a bioethicist, served as a sounding board. “I probably spent half an hour every day being screamed at on the telephone by him,” he said. “ ‘I don’t want to do this. Why do I have to do this? Tell me I don’t have to do this.’ All of which said to me he knew he had to do it.” (Ezekiel told me that the rivalry among himself, Rahm, and their third brother, Ariel, a Hollywood agent who is the basis for the Ari Gold character on HBO’s “Entourage,” was so intense that they had to pursue careers in different cities. “We couldn’t possibly be within a thousand miles of each other, because the force fields just wouldn’t let it happen,” Ezekiel said. Rahm is now his boss; he works at the White House as an adviser to the budget director on health policy.)
A newly-released CNN poll, conducted just over a week ago, asked Republicans their choice for the 2012 nomination: Sarah Palin 29%, Mike Huckabee 26%, Mitt Romney 21%, Bobby Jindal 9%, Someone Else 10%. The margin of error is ±4.5%.
Speaking of the Enterprise, Mr. Obama has a bit of Mr. Spock in him (and not just the funny ears). He has a Vulcan-like logic and detachment. Any mere mortal who had to tell liberals that our obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from over and tell Republicans that he has a $3.6 trillion budget would probably have tears running down his face.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
The Des Moines Register's Thomas Beaumont has a thorough and powerful piece on the influence of Iowans in the White House.
Many names familiar to journalists covering the caucuses pop up not only the West Wing and East Wing but in cabinet duties as well.
A few weeks ago, I profiled Jackie Norris of Des Moines, Michelle Obama's chief of staff for Cityview in Des Moines.
Beaumont delves deeper into the Iowa influence, showing us the enduring power of the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses.
(Photo: Obama at the 2007 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola)
The New York Times has a must-read analysis of Warren Buffett's annual letter to investors. Iowa Political Alert is not in the business of giving investment advice but Buffett is a top advisor to President Barack Obama.
Buffett is optimistic about a recovery -- although he says 2009 will be tough.
Here's where he's going bargain-shopping according to The Times:
Despite its record losses, Berkshire Hathaway still has about $25 billion of cash on hand and has been buying preferred shares of General Electric and Goldman Sachs, as well as the debt of companies like Harley-Davidson and Tiffany & Company. Mr. Buffett is shopping for bargains while the share prices of most companies are sliding — his own portfolio included.