2009 - %3, August

CAA and the Actress Over 35 Problem

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

Ageism in Hollywood is, groan, an age old problem. It's gotten a bit of attention in the last couple of days after the co-creator of HBO's Hung, Colette Burson, was quoted in the New York Times Magazine as saying:

“We auditioned a lot of people,” says Colette Burson, the co-creator of “Hung.” “It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35.”

Whoa! That's no way to treat the ladies. I ripped her. Jezebel ripped her. There was a Twitter storm. Upshot: Burson sought out blogger Melissa Silverstein of WomenandHollywood.com, who had interviewed her before, and gave a long impassioned clarification (you can read it and my original blog post here).

Jezebel, I think unfairly, chose to excerpt only the parts of the post which make Burson look like more of a jerk. And in so doing missed the juiciest part of what Burson had to say, namely how the all-powerful Creative Artists Agency (CAA) views actresses. Which is to say, useless unless young and famous (and in which order, unclear). In addition to repping the famous, agencies like CAA also represent work-a-day character actors. Unless they happen to be women over 40 who don't look like poster children for cosmetic surgery and extreme dieting. According to Burson:

Just to illustrate: Dmitry (Lipkin her husband and co-creator of Hung) and I went into CAA and we were talking about all the different roles and I said what we are really going to be looking for is an actress around age 40 who is talented and funny and yet can really act.  They seemed to not want to address my question so I brought it up again and they said what about x? (a well known 45 year old film actress)  I said no, we don’t want to cast celebrities.  We want to cast real women and this is a rare opportunity.  We don’t want you to send us your beautiful starlets.  Send us real women with real bodies who can act and who can be comedic.  And he looked sort of sheepish and said I’m really ashamed to tell you we don’t have anyone like that on our list. 

I said you mean to tell me that you this huge agency can’t send us a woman who is 40 and they said no. [emph. mine] And he said I know it’s horrible but it’s the state of the business that they really aren’t a lot of roles for them.

Surprising that Jezebel didn't make hay of this part of Burson's comments, since unrealistic portrayals of women by the entertainment biz are the bread and butter of that blog (which I happen to love). Maybe another Gawker enterprise, Defamer, will get on it (oops, that's just an aggregator now).

And I still want to think what CAA client Oprah says about this.

Update: Upon further reflection, perhaps the real story is how Burson, having pissed off actresses/women everywhere, clarified by alienating Hollywood's most powerful agency. Guessing HBO will assign flack to shadow her henceforth.

Clara Jeffery is Co-editor of Mother Jones and has fallen under the sway of Twitter's dark powers. You can read her tweets here.

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Newsflash From North Korea

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

After hearing the news that Bill Clinton had brokered the release of the two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea, I headed straight to the website of the Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to see what the government had to say about the whole affair. Sadly, there's no story up yet about the journalists, although I did learn that Pyongyang University of Construction and Building-Materials Industry has recently developed a profitable stone-washing agent with efficiency of over 90 percent whose spent liquor does not hurt the environment.  The next most informative article—one that builds on a recent theme of fashion criticism emerging from the DPRK—was titled "President Wears Cotton-padded Winter-shoes in Summer." It's not so much a news story as it is an account of a touching shoe inspection performed in 1951 by former leader Kim Il Sung:

Does Beer Pong Need Scare Quotes?

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 4:20 PM EDT

Really, Associated Press? From a story about stickers that are attached to "nuisance" houses in Narraganset, Rhode Island:

The police, meanwhile, have continued to distribute the stickers while the court case continues, including one last month for an underage keg party involving a game of "beer pong."

Does beer pong really require scare quotes? I asked our esteemed copy editor, Nicole McClelland. "Absolutely not," she says. "Beer pong is totally legit, and therefore needs neither quotes nor introduction. It's not in the dictionary yet, but soon, my friend, soon."

There you have it. Come on now, AP.

 

Kim Jong-Il Pardons Journalists

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 3:31 PM EDT

Bill Clinton worked his magic today and convinced North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il to agree to grant a "special pardon" for the two journalists arrested earlier this year by state police. According to the state-run KCNA news agency:

"Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it," the news agency reported. "Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view.

"The meetings had candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK and the U.S. in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them."

This is certainly a good sign, but it's unlikely to mark a new era of cooperation between the United States and North Korea.

Response To Climate Change: Seasteading

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 3:25 PM EDT

It should come as no surprise that Patri Friedman, son of anarcho-capitalist professor David Friedman, and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, is a guy who prides himself on having innovative and controversial ideas. The project he's been devoted to for the past year and a half is called the Seasteading Institute, a research center with a mission "to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous, ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems."

Where did the youngest Friedman get this idea? "I wanted to find other countries that I could possibly settle in," Friedman said. "After researching places that people have ex-patriated to like Costa Rica, I realized that no country is better than the USA. So I looked into the idea of forming new nations. The ocean is the best place to do this, because in the ocean you don't have to fight with others as you would have to on land." The Institute defines seasteading as creating "permanent dwellings on the ocean—homesteading the high seas."

Miss Landmine Pageant Banned

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 2:44 PM EDT

Last year, women maimed by landmines around the world competed for the grand prize of an artificial limb in the Miss Landmine beauty pageant. But this year, the Cambodian government has ordered the organizers of the second annual Miss Landmine pageant "to stop activity immediately in order to keep the honour and dignity of handicapped Cambodians, especially women." 

The pageant's organizer is Norwegian artist/actor/director Morten Traavik. According to Traavik's website, the goals of the project include "female pride and empowerment," "disabled pride and empowerment," and "global and local landmine awareness and information."

Traavik told the Telegraph:
 
"Why this situation comes now and not before two years of good relations, I do not know," said Mr Traavik. "I have requested a meeting with [the social affairs minister Ith Sam Heng] as soon as possible to try to correct the misunderstanding."

Which, to be fair, seems a little disingenuous. I mean, yes, this appears to be a case of someone not understanding (or appreciating) the whole tongue-in-cheek nature of such an event. But presumably, part of the point of the loaded one-two punch of landmines and pageants was to make people a little uncomfortable, so Traavik had to have expected (and perhaps even wanted?) a reaction like this, no?

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Hiroshima and Me

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 2:37 PM EDT

As another August 6th approaches, let me tell you a little story about Hiroshima and me:

As a young man, I was probably not completely atypical in having the Bomb (the 1950s was a great time for capitalizing what was important) on my brain, and not just while I was ducking under my school desk as sirens howled their nuclear warnings outside. Like many people my age, I dreamed about the bomb, too. I could, in those nightmares, feel its searing heat, watch a mushroom cloud rise on some distant horizon, or find myself in some devastated landscape I had never come close to experiencing (except perhaps in sci-fi novels).

Of course, my dreams were nothing compared to those of America's top strategists who, in secret National Security Council documents of the early 1950s, descended into the charnel house of future history, imagining life on this planet as an eternal potential holocaust. They wrote in those documents of the possibility that 100 atomic bombs, landing on targets in the United States, might kill or injure 22 million Americans and of an American "blow" that might result in the "complete destruction" of the Soviet Union.

Bright Green Idea: Soda Fuel

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

How's this for a "green" idea: A New Mexico inventor has created a fuel made from Mountain Dew.

The GEET (Global Environmental Energy Technology) fuel processor is comprised of about 80 percent pop and 20 percent gas. It's been used in cars, tractors, and lawn mowers, and according to inventor Paul Patone, it generates nil pollution.

Watch how the caffeinated gizmo works below:

Any cool, eco-friendly ideas you've heard about recently? Post in the comments section.

Swimming and Finance

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 2:22 PM EDT

Alex Tabarrok comments on the arms race in swimsuits that's caused world records to topple like dominos over the past couple of years:

High-tech swimming suits [...] are primarily about distribution not efficiency.  A small increase in speed over one's rivals has a large effect on who wins the race but no effect on whether the race is won and only a small effect on how quickly the race is won.  We get too much investment in innovations with big influences on distribution and small (or even negative) improvements in efficiency and not enough investment in innovations that improve efficiency without much influencing distribution.

The phrase I elided in the first sentence was "and trading systems."  Alex is analogizing swimsuits to high-frequency trading, which he suggests is societally wasteful: it's not making stock trading any more efficient, it's just changing who gets the money.  The same is true of much modern financial innovation:

There is good reason to be skeptical about regulation in general but since this product, "financial innovation," is primarily about distribution I'm less worried about regulation in finance than in fields where innovation is more closely tied to efficiency.

High frequency trading is a good example of this.  Taken by itself, it's probably not that big a deal.  In the great scheme of things, the amount of money involved is small and the price paid by ordinary traders is microscopic.  Still, it's a pretty good symbol of what's wrong with the modern finance industry.  Even the CEO of a cigarette company can come up with something good to say about his product, but supporters of HFT mostly come up blank.  They mumble a bit about providing liquidity to the market, but it's obvious that even they don't really believe what they're saying.  In the end, HFT has a gem-like clarity to it: it's an unadulterated example of clever investors figuring out a way to siphon off cash from everyone else by manipulating the system in a way that has no relevance at all to the real world.  It's finance as pure game.

Others have made this point repeatedly and in better ways, but the entire purpose of the finance industry is to oil the gears of the business world.  Nobody objects (much) to Wall Street bankers earning their paychecks from things that do just that: loaning money, helping companies go public, underwriting bond issues, and just generally allocating capital where it can do the most good.  But when those become mere afterthoughts to the real money spinners — CDOs, credit default swaps, option ARMs, HFT, rocket science interest rate plays — all of which are almost completely divorced from providing more efficient services to the outside world, then the outside world starts to wonder what's going on.  As they should.  We need a finance industry that's about half the size it currently is and focused on providing actual financial services to the rest of us.  Until we get it, all we're doing is spending a lot of money on high-tech swimsuits instead of spending money on actually swimming better.

Kidney Matchmakers and Me

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 2:08 PM EDT

Boy, New Yorker web editor Blake Eskin must be chowing some humble pie right now. In case you were too caught up in last week's beerplomacy to finish the magazine, allow me to explain: Every week, Eskin interviews one of the magazine's mega-watt writers about a project of paramount importance. Then, just three short days after he posted a lengthy interview with Larissa MacFarquhar discussing her article about MatchingDonors.com, a sort of kidney-donor dating site, the feds up and busted one of the biggest organ-buying schemes in history right in the New Yorker's backyard. 

The piece is a look at altruism through the lives of people who become living donors, giving their kidneys away to total strangers. A week ago, we might have called them selfless. Today we'd call them shmucks.