Tuesday, November 8, 2011

MF Global Goes Down

MF Global is apparently in talks to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move could come as early as Monday. Apparently, the plan is to sell assets to Interactive Brokers Group (IBKR), The Wall Street Journal reported.

Here is another CIT disaster a once heralded CEO of a major firm comes out of retirement and takes over a mid tier shop and runs into a world of trouble. The reason is simple, while the underlying trades are the same and the will most likely succeed, MF balance sheet is nowhere near as robust as GS.

While the plan isn't final, the details released so far indicate that MF Global's holding company would be the one filing for the bankruptcy protection. Then as reposrted, Interactive Brokers is planned to make an initial bid of about $1 billion at the court-supervised auction of assets. It is important to note though, that none of MF Global's regulated entities are included in the deal. However, since nothing is final, it still remains to be seen exactly how the deal will unfold.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not So Evolved

I just spent 15 minutes watching a video of beautiful young women, and I'm thoroughly disgusted. I'll explain. I was watching excerpts of the 51 Miss USA contestants answering the question "Should evolution be taught in schools?" if you're like me, you'l watch it as you watch a horror flick -- you can't look, but you look anyway. I could not believe what I was hearing. Since when is science a matter of opinion? I also think these young women were coached to be uncontroversial at all costs. The result is deplorable. Watch it...if you can stomach it.


Pretty? Yes, pretty dismal.
-Jack Simony

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fun Summer Seaminess

I was fortunate enough to be invited to an "invited dress rehearsal" for Measure for Measure at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. I didn't have to wait on line from 3 AM until 1 PM, and I had a marvelous seat for what proved to be a fine production of a play that is often challenging to pull off.


The play is one of Shakespeare's "Problem Plays." Curiously, this summer, the Public Theatre has decided to produce two of the three "Problem Plays" -- the two plays in all of Shakespeare's canon containing "the bed trick", in which a man thinks he is sleeping with one woman while actually sleeping with another who has come in her stead under the cover of darkness. The two plays ("All's Well that Ends Well" is the second of the two) are being performed in repertory throughout the summer.

It's a curious choice, to offer up those two rather disquieting plays as the Park's summer fare this season. Even tragedies leave the audience more satisfied than upset at the end, whereas the "Problem Plays" are so named because while they fit the genre of romantic comedy, the catharsis they purport to achieve at the end is anything but, and audiences tend to leave feeling like they need a shower. But in for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose. It will be interesting to see how the performers navigate their different roles in the two productions, and it will be interesting to experience back-to-back "Problem Plays."

"Measure for Measure" is skillfully presented under the direction of David Esbjornson. A deconstructed but completely seedy Vienna is artfully and fully realized with the clever set by Scott Pask, and the costumes by Elizabeth Hope Clancy strike the perfect note. But it is the actors in the comedic roles of Pompey (Carson Elrod) and Lucio (Reg Rogers) who steal the show. They are remarkable. I'd wait on line from 3 AM until 1 PM to see them in these roles again.
-Jack Simony

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wal-Mart Loses Appeal (no pun intended)

You've surely seen the commercials: A well-groomed, articulate and likable fellow explains how he decided against a corporate job in order to move up through the ranks at Wal-Mart from stockboy to manager. A frank-speaking, earnest young woman describes the pride she takes in her work, and her choice to pursue a career path on the floor of a Wal-Mart. They articulate what a wonderful employer Wal-Mart is, how they could't want better.

Have you filled out your application yet? No? Apparently, the Appellate Court of Pennsylvania wasn't buying it either. Wal-Mart just lost its appeal of the 2006 ruling that awarded $187.6 million to workers who had been denied meal and rest breaks in order to boost store productivity and profits, in violation of appropriate labor practices.


The judgment may be reduced slightly, but only to adjust for legal fees that had been double-counted.

It seems Wal-Mart must do more than damage-control -- it must pay damages. Hefty damages. I'm glad to see it. At what point will companies finally understand that their profits should reflect the quality both of their products AND of their employment practices? Wal-Mart wants to be an example of successful business practices. It's going to be made an example of, all right. But I don't think this is exactly what Corporate had in mind. They'd have been better off saving the money on the commercials and treating their employees with decency. They'd have broken even on the commercials...but would have been far ahead in public opinion. Never mind the karma that comes of not taking advantage of the disenfranchised.
-Jack Simony

Monday, June 6, 2011

Best Blogs of 2011

I am not a Blogger (capital "B"), I'm more of a blogger. I read or hear or see something in the world and am occasionally moved to write about the experience. Perhaps the blogs get read, perhaps they don't. But the process of writing them is in and of itself satisfying.

It also has sparked an interest in blogging, generally. People blog about absolutely everything under the sun...plus the sun and everything beyond it.

Time Magazine posts its "Best Blogs of the Year." This year's list is a well-rounded selection of entries from politics to economics to fashion to cars to sports to lists (yes, lists made the list!) to climate change to itemizations of the contents of the backpacks and handbags of everyday people (yielding fascinating insights into the personalities of said people) to analyses of every David Bowie song to video games and gaming to celebrities to the minutia of a mom's everyday life. The writing on these sites ranges from funny to crisp to elegant; it is all good. The content is surprising, fresh and interesting. The Times' list has something for everyone.


Go! Skim! It'll do you good.
-Jack Simony

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Food Pyramid Gets a Renovation

First Lady Michele Obama will unveil today an updated version of the food pyramid, to replace the current icon.


The new icon depicts more clearly the information it wishes to convey. It is the hope of the First Lady that it will help consumers make healthier food choices.

It seems like a small gesture, however it could be a useful tool for those who need the visual aids. Michele Obama is waging a war on many fronts to diminish malnutrition and obesity in our country. People mistakenly assume that an obese person is not malnourished when, in fact, the two problems are the two sides of one coin: The food available to our nation's poor is low in nutrition and high in fillers and such that cause obesity. Hence, our nation's poor tend to be both obese and malnourished. I applaud Michele Obama's endeavors on behalf of our nation's hungry. If the new food pyramid icon is part of the educational component of this endeavor, terrific. Enjoy the new icon, everyone.
-Jack Simony

Friday, May 27, 2011

Scrapping Scrubbing

The NY Times came out with an article yesterday about how NY State education officials have ordered schools to end the longstanding practice of reviewing Regents exam scores that fall just below the passing grade.


The practice, known as scrubbing, was put into effect to protect students whose tests might have been mis-scored, where a careful review might prove that some of those students in fact deserved a passing grade. But schools began to look at essays -- where there is room to interpret what a grade should be -- as opportunities to add points and pass more students who otherwise would have failed.

In February, the city announced that it would introduce regular audits of schools that seemed to show suspicious amounts of grade-changes. But now NY State officials have decided that such audits don't go far enough to prevent grade inflation, and have removed the ability to rescore tests at all.

Let me state for the record that I believe hard work should be rewarded and that as a general rule I am not in favor of allowing students to coast without earning their grades. However let's take a step back, look at the larger picture, and be realists for a moment. First of all, some students' exams will be misgraded, and a review of their score may make the difference between passing fairly and failing unfairly. This is why the practice was begun in the first place. Removing the right to rescore tests in the 61-64 point range is unfair to those students. Second, the removal of the right to rescore does not factor in real world considerations: There is sometimes a hardship to many students and their families created by keeping them back, and a teacher might know of a particular student's situation. There are huge swaths of the population who are not going to be better off in life if they struggle through a class one more time in order to squeak out two more points on a Regents examination but who are going to be worse off if they can't graduate and get on with finding a job and helping out their households. A sad reality, perhaps, but a reality nonetheless.

But the larger problem lies in removing the ability to check altogether, in removing the protection for students who might have been robbed of a critical point of two they had, in fact, earned and deserved. Audits of the nature the city implemented in February are a big enough hammer -- if the state is concerned about unorthodox practices, whether because a school is concerned about getting funding under the No Child Left Behind provisions or because the test grader wants to help a student with his/her real-world needs, the state can simply audit those schools where there seems to be a pattern and practice of abuse. There was no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater by banning the rereading of tests altogether. What a shame.

-Jack Simony

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Seeing a Himalayan Peak Scaled at BAM

I'm seeing Sir Derek Jacobi in Michael Grandage's deftly directed production of "King Lear" at BAM tomorrow night, and I admit that I'm a bit punchy with anticipation. The production debuted at the Donmar in London, to superlatives:


It was nearly sold out here at BAM from the get-go, and has garnered raves here, too:


I'm thrilled to be seeing someone of Sir Derek Jacobi's intelligence, talent and finesse in the role. Here's what he said about playing the elderly King:

“It is a peak in the Himalayas, part of a mountain range that includes ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and the Scottish play,” [Sir Derek] said (following actorly practice, he never says “Macbeth” in the theater if he can help it).

He continued: “When you’re young you’re kind of judged on your Hamlet. If you get through that hoop successfully, you’re admitted to the classical club. When you’re older, you have to go through the Lear hoop to see if they were right to admit you to the club in the first place.”

He's far too modest. I am not going to see Sir Derek jump through hoops. He has nothing to prove to me, or to anyone. I'm just excited to be one of the lucky ones, one of the "happy few" who will forevermore be able to say that I saw him play King Lear in that legendary Grandage production at BAM.

-Jack Simony

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brave New World

Scientists working with Conservation International surveying the waters surrounding Bali have discovered what may be nine new marine species. Eight are fish and one is coral.


The scientists were not seeking new marine life. They were conducting a survey to assess the health of the reefs. Good news on that front: the reef is recovering following years of unchecked depletion and destruction, though it still needs intensive protection. More good news: We may all maintain our senses of wonder for a while longer -- we have more to learn about the world in which we live. Henry Miller once said, "We are all part of creation, all kinds, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there."
-Jack Simony

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

No Trivial Purchase

The whole world has been aflutter with the news this week that Microsoft has acquired Skype.

OK, no it hasn't. It's still been focused on what happened in Abbotabad last week. And Microsoft tends to elicit a collective yawn when mentioned in a crowded room. But there are a few potential uses to which Microsoft could put Skype that could be interesting, not only to the business world, but to the average Joe as well.


The article I just cited suggests that Skype might be integrated with XBox, which would vastly improve its real-time communication capabilities among remote-location players. This doesn't rock my world, but it would be seismic for many...and XBox would be giving PlayStation a run for its money.

Skype could help Windows mobile phones gain in popularity. It would cut into the hold Cisco has on video-conferencing and teleconferencing. It would boost users of Microsoft's Hotmail, which was left in the dust by the advent of Gmail. And Microsoft owns a piece of Facebook...Social media and Skype dovetail perfectly, don't they? This could be very big for Microsoft, indeed, not to mention for Facebook users.

I'm not yawning.
-Jack Simony

Friday, May 6, 2011

Focus at Home, Please

Yes, the killing of Osama bin Laden is big news. Yes, it is cathartic to read and hear about it, fascinating to get glimpses into his compound, his world, his psychosis and that of his followers. But no, it should not push other very important news entirely off the front pages of our newspapers and off of our television screens.

What would have been our top story this week? Surely the devastation in the South wrought by a record series of tornadoes. More than 175 tornadoes in a three-day period have been confirmed, and the number may rise to over 300. Municipal leaders down South are fairly begging our nation to snap its eyes back in their direction:


We as a nation must unite around our internal tragedies as well as those of international scope. The tornadoes that ripped through the South last week have taken hundreds of lives that we know about, and many more are still missing and presumed dead. Tens of thousands of our fellow Americans have lost their homes, their businesses and, in some cases, their entire towns.

We can continue to be fascinated by the unfolding story about the raid on bin Laden's compound that finally killed that monster. But we should not do so in lieu of focusing attention on the catastrophe in our own country. Our fellow Americans need us. We need to rally around them -- doing so is what our nation is about.
-Jack Simony

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tonka Trucks and Fisher Price Weapons

It could be a story from The Onion, except it’s no joke. Libyan rebels are going miserably ill-equipped and ill-trained into battle against Qaddafi’s forces (and a host of well-paid mercenaries, including hundreds of representatives of that relic of Soviet international interference, the Polisario Front from the Western Sahara). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8464254/Libya-Col-Gaddafi-has-spent-2.1m-on-mercenaries.html

Soviet tank guns that don’t shoot; pre-World War II Italian rifles that have no cartridges; 30-year-old French submachine guns without magazines; a steak knife. And the rebels’ inexperience, ignorance and lack of discipline match their arsenal. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/world/africa/21rebels.html?_r=1

Meanwhile, NATO is trying to figure out – without any serious help from the U.S. – how to help these It might just be funny if it weren’t so pitiful – and dangerous.
-Jack Simony

Thursday, April 28, 2011

High Stakes Gaming

This month's PlayStation network hack job is being called one of the biggest data breaches in history. The personal information of a full 77 million PlayStation Network users has been exposed, and the Big Question, of course, is: BY WHOM? Who has absconded with this information?

The answer: No one yet knows. In an interesting article on CNN.com, the authors walk us through an analysis of the possible culprits, from the hacktivist group that oh-so-ironically calls itself "Anonymous" (denied culpability and, in fact, probably not guilty) to China to the random recreational teen hacker to the (probably Ukrainian or Russian) for-profit cyberthief (probably guilty). Their M.O.s and motives are laid out and their potential culpability assessed.


Folks should not fear that this was done for their credit card numbers. No, no, no -- the CVV2 security codes aren't stored with the rest of the info, and the hackers would have known that. Passwords: that's what they're after. People tend to use the same passwords for multiple sites, and so one's password for the seemingly innocuous PlayStation network may well also yield one's password for online banking.

Seventy seven million people is a lot of passwords. If even a fraction of those are also used by their owners for their personal banking, this could actually wind up being the largest bank heist in history. Let this be a cautionary tale to you, 91282ILBOB.

-Jack Simony

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Medically Ready"

Since I've written about her in the past, I feel compelled to note that Representative Gabrielle Giffords has flown from Houston, where she is in hospital, to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to attend the Friday launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. The flight is to be commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.


This is fantastic news, not just because Representative Giffords is happy to finally get some time away from the hospital that has been her home since she was shot in Tucson on January 8, but because of what it says of her current condition. Representative Giffords has been making a remarkable recovery.

This will be the final space mission for the Endeavour, and it will be delivering communication antennae and other equipment to the international space station.


President Obama and his family are also slated to attend the launch.

Representative Giffords has long wanted to attend this launch. She worked hard at her rehabilitation to be "medically ready" to do so. I am so pleased for her and her husband that she will be there on Friday.
-Jack Simony

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Back in Black

The Gulf of Mexico is once again back in black. Oil drilling is resuming in the Gulf, as eleven new deepwater and forty nine shallow water drilling permits have recently been issued.


Gulf oil workers are relieved – no surprise there. Most had retained their jobs, being assigned to maintenance work rather than drilling, but that was a tenuous stop-gap measure at best. Knowing that the government had stopped granting permits to drill new oil and gas wells pending regulatory revisions and reformation had these workers quite nervous.

Reform efforts are underway. Shallow water drilling was the first to be resumed, and now that the government believes that adequate protections are in place to handle another incident such as BP’s explosion of last summer, deepwater drilling is being allowed as well. These protections come in the form of an inverted funnel system such as that finally used by BP last summer. This system has now been made readily available.

Obviously the hope is that another such explosion does not even happen. If it does, I only hope that such a funnel system is adequate to contain the spill quickly and channel the oil that has spilled to the surfact.

Interestingly, oil production from existing wells in the Gulf has reached an all-time high despite the temporary moratorium. And this is just how most Americans would have it – Sixty nine percent of Americans support the expansion of off-shore drilling, despite the nationwide condemnation of BP not so very long ago.

I’d like to see a faster and more concerted move toward alternate sources of fuel. Meanwhile, though…we need our fuel. I’m glad to see the implementation of safety regulations so that we can access it while keeping our oil and gas workers and our planet safe.
-Jack Simony

Friday, April 15, 2011

Encouraging College Programs

The rate of children with autism spectrum disorders has skyrocketed in the last twenty years. We all know someone with a young child with developmental challenges...but more and more of these children are now growing up and entering college, where they may be able to handle the academic rigors -- particularly if they're studying a field of intense interest to them (though they may need to develop skills for organizing and sequencing assignments) -- but where they need help navigating the life-skills and social sides of college life.

In response to the growing numbers of students with high functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome, more and more colleges are beginning to implement programs to help these students cope.


They offer faculty and staff to help students learn to manage their own studies and hand in assignments on time. They offer peer mentors to help the students learn the finer points of social interactions, and they strive to find work-study opportunities so that students on the autism spectrum can learn "soft skills" necessary to be desirable job candidates in the future.

Autism Spectrum Disorders are disabilities, though they are often invisible, and they manifest in ways the rest of the world does not readily recognize as the neurological disabilities they are. Daily life is markedly harder for people with ASDs. Their sensory systems are out of whack, and they often find normal sensory input to be assaultive. They have auditory and visual processing challenges that make it difficult to filter, process and make sense of what they see and hear around them. They have dyspraxia and verbal apraxia, and cannot motor plan or execute a sequence of motor tasks most of us do reflexively, or, for many of them, summon the spontaneous language they wish as quickly as the rest of us. And the list goes on...

Colleges are required by law to make provisions for students with disabilities. I am encouraged to learn that they are doing so for those courageous young people among us who struggle through each day with the complex and multiple challenges of their autism spectrum disorders.

-Jack Simony

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lying is Lying

Stephen Colbert has outdone himself. He’s been having a field day, both on his “Colbert Report” and via Twitter, ridiculing Senator Jon Kyl’s preposterous exaggeration on the Senate floor and even more preposterous attempt to justify the blatant lie. During last week’s debate about federal funding, Senator Kyl (R. Arizona) claimed that “well over 90 perent of what Planned Parenthood does” is perform abortions. Actually, that percentage is…drum roll, please…THREE percent. Three.

How did Senator Kyl’s office attempt to clarify the discrepancy (i.e., the lie that is now in the Senate’s permanent record thanks to Senator Kyl)? The office issued a statement that Kyl’s emphatic declaration “was not meant to be factual.”


Stephen Colbert grabbed that football and ran with it, to hilarious effect. He created the hashtag #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement and used it throughout the day to disseminate imagined “nonfacts” about Kyl…none actionable by Kyl because they all carry that hashtag.

* Jon Kyl is an accomplished nude hula dancer. He is not welcome in Hawaii.
* For the past 10 years, Jon Kyl has been two children in a very convincing Jon Kyl suit.
* Jon Kyl cheated on Sandra Bullock.
* Once a year, Jon Kyl retreats to the Arizona desert and deposits 2 million egg sacs under the sand.
* Citing religious reasons, Jon Kyl refuses to utter the number 8.
* Jon Kyl once ate a badger he hit with his car.
* Carly Simon wrote that song about Jon Kyl.
* Legally, Jon Kyl cannot be within 100 yards of Helen Mirren.
* Jon Kyl has a shrine to Scooter from the Muppet Show.
* Jon Kyl developed his own line of hair care products just so he could test them on bunnies.
* Jon Kyl was sent from the future to kill Sarah Conner.


Brilliant. Colbert’s followers on Twitter promptly followed suit, and Colbert shared some of their best on his program last night. You can see a clip from the show here:


This blog is NOT about whether Planned Parenthood should be federally funded. We can talk about that another time. It’s about blatant lying by Senators to further their agendas. I don't care whether I agree with a Senator's position or disagree -- s/he shouldn't lie about facts to garner support. I appreciate Colbert’s clever way of shining a light on the issue of lies on the Senate floor. If a Senator chooses to take a stand on a particular issue and wants to sway his or her colleagues to join him or her, it should be done on the merits. The actual merits. If the position has legs, it can be defended honestly. Citing a statistic of “ninety percent” when the actual statistic is “THREE” is unconscionable, regardless of what the statistic refers to. Claiming that your lie was “not intended to be factual”?!?! Even more so. Shame on Kyl — he deserves the ridicule being heaped on him.

Thanks, Colbert.
-Jack Simony

Friday, April 8, 2011

Safe Travels

I travel all the time, and while the following is a matter of common sense, I hadn’t thought about it all that much before. I just saw that the US Department of State has issued suggestions about the information to put on one’s luggage tags. The DOS recommends using tags with flaps that cover up your information and, if traveling in countries where anti-American sentiment exists, not putting anything on the luggage tag that identifies you as a US citizen.


Further, one should limit and be judicious about the contact info one puts on such tags. Use an office address rather than a home address, and create a free email account to list rather than one’s principle email account. Also, do not use a home phone number! Gleaning that you are traveling from home, a thief who sees your phone number could do a reverse phone search and find your home address. Use your cell phone number instead. The one thing the experts agree you do need and should put on the tag? Your full name. Seems ironic, somehow. If I’m being coy and careful about everything else, how can I write “Jack Simony” for the world to see? The tag, we should not forget, is there in case your luggage loses its way…and the airline can track you down and reunite you and your luggage far more quickly if they have your name, can match it to your ticket, and can find out where you’ve gone.

-Jack Simony

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Sad Centennial, by Jack Simony

By Jack Simony

Today is the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on Manhattan's Lower East Side.  The horrific fire took the lives of 146 young immigrant women and teenage girls.  Crowds that gathered at the sight watched in horror as the young women and girls crowded the windows and either leapt to their deaths or were burned to death before the crowd's eyes...or both -- many of those who hit the pavement were already on fire.

The whole city grieved.  Investigations of the building showed that there was no sprinkler system, flammable fabric was strewn throughout the building, there were far too many sewing machines crammed next to one another, an open bucket of oil was kept on the floor to lubricate the sewing machines, the wooden floors were themselves therefore oily, boxes blocked exits and the second floor egress was actually locked, stairwell doors opened inward rather than outward, and there was no third staircase as was required by NYC building codes.

The National Women's Trade Union League pushed for legislation, New York City established a Board of Fire Prevention, and then-State Senate leader Robert F. Wagner led a Factory Investigating Commission to scrutinize manufacturing conditions generally.  That Commission wrote thirty six labor bills to improve workplace conditions.  Later, when he became a US Senator, Wagner pushed through the National Labor Relations Act, a.k.a., the Wagner Act, which, among other things, gave workers the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining with their employers.

A Simony family friend has an odd story about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  It seems his grandmother was one of the teenagers who worked there.  On the morning of the fire, her sister begged and pleaded with her not to go to work that day but to stay in their coldwater flat all day and not venture out, saying that she'd had a strange dream and feared for her sister's safety.  My friend's grandmother scoffed and prepared to leave for work, saying that she'd be fired if she stayed home, and they needed her salary, but her sister became hysterical, so she finally acquiesced and remained at home.  Weird.  My friend likely owes his very existence to his great-aunt: had his then-teenaged grandmother gone to work, she may well have perished that day.

- By Jack Simony

Monday, March 14, 2011

Twain's Autobiography

By Jack Simony

As I'm sure you know, Mark Twain insisted that his autobiography not be published in its complete and unadulterated form until a full century had passed since his death.  Said century has passed, and the first volume of his complete autobiography was released this past November.  Twain's daughter Clara had donated approximately 20,000 of Twain's papers to UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.  It is the largest single collection of Twain's manuscripts, letters and other documents, and the editors and historians there have been painstakingly poring over the documents for over four decades to create the most accurate editions of Twains written works...including his autobiography.

Imagine their surprise when his autobiography became a runaway best seller over the holiday season.  Copies were hard to come by.  According to the LA Times, "editors realized that Twain's sly humor and skepticism about wealthy elites, U.S. Militarism, politicians and organized religion hold a seemingy timeless appeal."

Of course they do.  I'd be hard pressed to come up with a more fun read than Twain letting loose his true opinions on those subjects.  

Meanwhile, the University of California Press is, well, pressing hard for the remaining two volumes of the autobiography to be released earlier than originally scheduled.  But the scholars are holding firm: integrity over commercialism.  They'll use the windfall from book sales of Volume One to bolster staff, but they won't compromise on scholarly accuracy.  The process of sorting out what Twain himself called "a complete and purposed jumble" will take as long as it takes to be correct.  Twain didn't want his views publicized during his lifetime.  Nor did he want them incorrectly and inaccurately publicized a century later.

We'll all just have to wait a spell, I reckon.

Monday, March 7, 2011


By Jack Simony

When you think of going out to dine in New York, you don’t typically think of heading over to Kip’s Bay.  But Riverpark, Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar’s recent addition to the NYC dining scene, will change that.  It’s been open since the fall, which has given the kitchen and front-of-house staffs time to work out the bugs (should I use that expression in connection with a restaurant?!) and it is very, very good.

You can eat in the more casual bar area or dine in the more formal dining room.  Both are great-looking spaces, pretty masculine and also vast – this is not an intimate space.  The views of the river are terrific.  The staff is warm, welcoming and unpretentious.  The wine list is great and complements the menu well.  And the menu itself?   Intentionally eclectic, inspired by dishes from around the world while being playful with them.  The portions are generous, to say the least, which is rare nowadays in finer restaurants.  They accommodate dietary restrictions without a blink, and the dishes don’t seem to suffer for any omissions – this is a talented kitchen.  I don’t think anyone can go wrong with any of the choices – order whatever strikes you and enjoy.  Oh, and they have outdoor seating, and they serve brunch, too. 

Bon Appetit! -By Jack Simony

Thursday, February 24, 2011

About Prosecco

By Jack Simony

I'm writing about Prosecco today, because it seems that every time I turn around in a restaurant, I hear someone or other order a glass (or bottle) of the stuff.  The someone is usually a woman.  Men overheard ordering Prosecco?  Not so much.  I like a dry, crisp, refreshing glass of Prosecco as much as the next guy, but if I'm i the mood for light, dry and thirst-quenching, I tend to reach for a beer instead.

There was a good article in the Wall Street Journal about Prosecco this summer.  The author makes the case that Prosecco is best enjoyed in Italy, where it tends to be at its liveliest best, that Prosecco does not age well and, unlike champagne and many other wines, is best enjoyed sooner rather than later...usually within a year of its vintage, in fact. 

The author couldn’t understand Prosecco’s wide (and expanding) appeal in the States…until, that is, she was invited to a Prosecco tasting evening, along with Le Bernardin’s wine director and the members of a Prosecco club that met monthly in Brooklyn, NY.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the membership is all female.

The group uniformly preferred the dry Proseccos to those that were sweeter.  The clear favorite?  The Nino Franco Rustico ($15).

Another Prosecco with a very consistent and large following – not only among the members of that Brooklyn Prosecco group but more generally throughout the States – is the Mionetto Prosecco Brut (also $15).

What is Prosecco?  It’s a white wine grape (also known as the Glera grape) that is grown mainly in Italy’s Veneto region, in the hills north of Treviso.  While Prosecco can be a still wine, it is best known in its sparkling variety.  It can be either lightly sparkling (frizzante) or vigorously so (spumante).  The still variety of Prosecco is seldom exported.  The sparkling variety is not made using the same methods employed to make Champagne, as those would require aging the wine over time before its release for consumption, and Prosecco’s appeal lies in its freshness, as I stated above.  Rather, it is made using something called the Charmat method, which puts the wine through a short second fermentation in pressurized tanks, rather than Champagne’s longer second fermentation in individualized bottles that are turned daily.

Prosecco is served chilled, like champagne (and beer, I can’t help but add); at only eleven-twelve percent alcohol by volume, it is lower in alcohol content than other sparkling wines.  While dry Proseccos with robust bubbles have become the Proseccos of choice nowadays, they were traditionally only slightly fizzy and somewhat sweet back in the old days.

Italians will drink Persecco with practically anything and under any circumstances.  In fact, it’s even available in Italy in cans.  Here, most people drink it as an aperitif.  I think it pairs best with light fare myself, seafood in particular (my girlfriend likes it with cheese, though, so go figure), and if you catch Jack Simony drinking it, chances are its summer.  It has notes of fruit, sometimes discernable as lemon or melon, sometimes just, generally, amorphously fruity.

As for the author of the Wall Street Journal article?  She came away from her evening with the Persecco group and the wine director of Le Bernardin a bigger fan of Persecco than she’d been only a few hours earlier.  If she likes Persecco, I have a few great craft beers to suggest to her.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Earnest" Earnestly Enjoyed

By Jack Simony

I saw The Importance of Being Earnest at the Roundabout Theatre Company this week, directed by and starring Brian Bedford, and it was fantastic.  It was what Oscar Wilde’s works are supposed to be.  The direction was flawless, the acting incredible, and the sets, costume and lighting all of a piece and all working to support the hilarious script.  The actors took their time with the language, setting up the punch-lines perfectly without belaboring them.  Each character was fully inhabited by the actor playing him/her; at no time was an actor ever playing at the character.  The themes of aestheticism Wilde explored and modeled so adeptly in this society comedy shine through (it’s not a philosophy to which Jack Simony would ever adhere, but I enjoy how Oscar Wilde presented it), and I truly believe that were Wilde in the audience with me, he would not only have approved Brian Bedford’s performance as Lady Bracknell, he also would have heaved a huge sigh of relief at seeing his work deliver on its promise, uncompromised and whole.  If there are any tickets left, grab them.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Date Night

By Jack Simony

They're calling it "Date Night", but it's not exactly Blueberry Hill that they're pairing up on.  Nope, it's Capitol HIll, and it's this Tuesday night when legislators will be showing up and sitting with their favorite colleagues from across the aisle:


The pairings themselves are intriguing, but not as interesting as the fact of the pairings itself, happening at an event at which the President will be urging bipartisanship.  The symbolic gesture has picked up steam since the tragic events of Tucson earlier this month.  Senator Kirsten Gillirand (whose pairing with fellow attractive Senator John Thune is generating great attention) has called it a "symbol of what's to come."  

Maybe.  I tend to doubt it.  Even at the event itself, the lawmakers wlll tend to be rooting for their own team, cheering and applauding -- or decidedly not doing so -- in keeping with their parties' positions.  A new era of bipartisanship?  I'd love to see it.  I doubt I will, regardless of what I see on Tuesday night.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ibsen at BAM

By Jack Simony

As Ben Brantley reminds us in his NY Times review of Ibsen's "John Gabriel Borkman", playing at BAM's Harvey Theater through February 6, Edvard Munch, the painter of the famed "The Scream" called this play, "The most powerful winter landscape in Scandinavian art."

He was right, and the production at BAM, brought here by the Abbey Theater of Ireland, has done a tremendous job of showing us the chill, both exterior in the weather and interior in the hearts of the characters and their relationships with one another.

I loved this production.  Ibsen's play is timeless, and the performances, most notably by the always excellent Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw and Lindsay Duncan, were memorable.  The three refrained from milking Ibsen's tendency toward melodrama, delivering very nuanced performances.  

The play itself makes clear how our own minds can create prisons far more confining and stifling than any real penitentiary.

I believe there are still tickets.  Go!  


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Righteous Life

By Jack Simony

Sargeant Shriver has died at the age of 95.  A businessman-turned-public servant, Shriver used his place of privilege in our society to boost the place of others, founding the Peace Corps, launching the "War on Poverty" for Lyndon Johnson, and helming his wife Eunice Shriver's brain child, the Special Olympics.  I won't recap his life and formidable accomplishments -- you can read his obituary in any print media to which you turn tonight -- but I will simply say that he was an exemplar: a righteous person, beloved by all who knew him and a benefit to thousands who didn't.  CNN's obituary:


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Borowitz Report

By Jack Simony

I think we can all safely agree that there's no better source for televised fake news than "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central.  And who doesn't love the periodical "The Onion" (which now also boasts the hilarious "Onion Sports Network", also on Comedy Central).  You laugh (we all do, actually), but by lampooning real news sources and skewering those in the news, these satirical venues provide an important outlet for the rest of society, an opportunity for catharsis as we recognize the absurdities that accompany the troubling aspects of these difficult times.

So who is the as-of-yet unsung hero of the faux media?  In my humble opinion, that title goes to Andy Borowitz.  In his "Borowitz Report", updated nearly daily, he prints little absurdist gems -- fake news articles that always serve to shine spotlights directly on those areas of hypocricy, inconsistency and downright outrageousness that our political leaders and other newsmakers are hoping we somehow won't notice.

Samples of recent headlines (and sub-headlines):  

Would Create ‘Giant Hole’ in Program Schedule

Place of Birth ‘Negotiable,’ President Says

The articles are invariably even more clever than the headlines.  They don't disappoint.

Borowitz's website:   http://www.borowitzreport.com/   

You can "friend" Borowitz on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Maps with Meaning

By Jack Simony

The book Cartographia is worth a mention here -- it is a magnificent collection of maps spanning both history and the globe.  What makes this book a marvel is that in it, Vincent Virga shows us how maps are wide windows into their civilizations -- they show us how their makers viewed themselves in the contexts of their nations, their nations in the larger world, and humankind and our planet in the cosmos.  The maps in this remarkable book show an emergence of our sense of geography and even our understanding of science over time.  They show us how they could be used to bend truth as well as to point it out in all its starkness.  This is a multifaceted and multilayered book that one could lose oneself in, and return to time and again.  It tells myriad stories, and they all inform us about ourselves today:


Need I say that I'm a fan?  -By Jack Simony

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snoozeworthy (Snowsworthy?). Not Newsworthy.

By Jack Simony

CNN must be hard-pressed to come up with content.  It’s leading off with the news that 49 of our 50 states have snow on the ground.  Every state except Florida, in case you were now wondering which state was the lone hold-out:
Really?  That’s your lead story?  Another headline vying for my attention?  ”Ghostbusters III a nonstarter without Bill Murray.”  Really.
I could have told them that.  I went to the site to read more about the crash of Lebanon’s government, and this is what they felt took precedence.  This is what they wanted me to know about first.  Perhaps for some of their readership it might be the more interesting fare.  But as far as I’m concerned, let me know when Jacksonville’s expecting a light dusting.  To me, it might become newsworthy when we’ve achieved a full 50/50 states.  Maybe.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Brain Trauma Miracles

By Jack Simony

We live in remarkable times.  It was only a blink of the eye ago when the victim of a gunshot wound through the brain would never survive, never mind recover…as doctors hope Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords just might do.  She has been responsive to basic commands.  Doctors have been able to prevent further damage from brain swelling by removing a piece of her skull, and have put her into an induced coma, which is enabling her brain to rest and, in effect, heal itself.  It is incredible to think that a bullet entered Congresswoman Gifford's brain and exited the other side, and doctors are able to report cautious optimism that she may one day return to her job, her family and her daily life.

Apparently (and, perhaps, predictably), the military is where many of the recent medical advances in the area of  head trauma due to gunshot wounds have been made. 

My thoughts remain with Congresswoman Giffords and her family, with all those recovering from Saturday’s shootings and their families, and with the loved ones of those who were killed.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Condolences and Best Wishes

By Jack Simony

There's not much to say about the horrific and tragic massacre in Arizona yesterday, but I wanted to add my voice to those sending their deepest condolences to the families of the dead and wishes for speedy and full recoveries to the injured, most notable among them, obviously, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, by all accounts a bright, hard-working and dedicated public servant.  Given the location in the brain in which she was shot, there is -- amazingly -- hope for her recovery.  But with the murder of Federal Judge John M. Roll we lost a universally admired legal mind and a well-liked man.  We lost a nine-year old girl.  We lost a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, a young Congressional staffer engaged to be married, a retiree whose husband is still hospitalized from bullet wounds of his own, and another retiree married to his high-school sweetheart, who covered her with his body to protect her from the bullets.

For thumbnail sketches of them, see: http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/breaking/113180379.html#5_2,4_0_8d62627_%7B%22method%22%3A%22cookieFailure%22%2C%22params%22%3A%5

I wanted to write to help memorialize them.  And I know we all not only wish for the recovery of the injured from their physical wounds and mental trauma, but...no, never mind.  I won't get political.  At a moment like this, I'll keep it about the shooting victims and their loved ones.

-By Jack Simony

Saturday, January 8, 2011

iPad Elementary?

By Jack Simony

I’m both intrigued and repelled. As the NY Times reported today:
A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.
There’s a battling raging in my brain: Good or bad development? Arguments pro and con are obvious and myriad — it’s more environmentally sustainable, but students lose the satisfaction of turning pages in books; it broadens horizons, but not all the info is, umm, CORRECT. It can both spark creativity in teachers and dampen it, creating torpor as they leave lesson-planning to others. What will my boys encounter when they get to school, and will it lay the foundation for critical thinking or inhibit focus? I see possibilities for both. I will reserve the right to be vigilant.

Friday, January 7, 2011


By Jack Simony

It's playoff time! Whether you're the wildcard or the first seed it all doesn't matter anymore. Playoffs start tomorrow and my guys are taking on Peyton Manning and the Colts this weekend. If we step up the pass rush, Indy doesn't have a chance.

I'll be watching the game, and tweeting about it, so follow me on Twitter @jacksimony and let me know what you think.

- By Jack Simony

RSC in Repertory

By Jack Simony

I've been meaning to write for a while about this, so when a dear friend called this morning about this very matter, it gave me the impetus to up and do it:
This friend and I have been planning for ages to fly to England for a long weekend and go on a long Shakespeare tour, taking in as many productions -- both in London and at Shakespeare's home town of Stratford-on-Avon -- as possible.  It seems, though, that the Royal Shakespeare Company has decided to bring the productions to us instead.
From the NY Times article about it:
“King Lear” and “Antony and Cleopatra,” two Shakespeare plays that are not frequently produced in New York City, will be among the five productions that the Royal Shakespeare Company will mount in next summer’s Lincoln Center Festival, the organizers announced on Monday.
The other plays will be “As You Like It,” “Romeo and Juliet” (directed by Rupert Goold of “Enron”) and “The Winter’s Tale.”
Actors in the company’s 44-member ensemble will play various roles in the productions, with 7 to 10 performances scheduled for each show. The entire run, July 6-Aug. 14, will be held at the Park Avenue Armory on a thrust stage (with seats on three sides) that the Royal Shakespeare Company is now building to the specifications of its Courtyard Theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon. All five plays are now running at the company’s home base in England.
OK, it's a rather tragedy-heavy line up.  Three tragedies, a comedy, and a Romance (and this particular Romance is split right down the middle -- the first half is straight-up tragedy, while the second half is full-blown comedy).  I admit to preferring slightly lighter fare for my summer Shakespeare, but for whatever reason, the folks at the RSC and Lincoln Center didn't call Jack Simony to ask for his opinion.  Regardless, it will be a memorable experience to see the same fine actors tackling very varied roles over the span of only a few weeks.  I don't know about you, but my friend and I will be buying tickets to all five performances.  Stay tuned -- I know I'll have more to comment on the subject between now and then (as well as about each play in the line up)...and I'll have plenty to write once I've seen the plays.

-By Jack Simony

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Defining Moments at the Supreme Court in 2010

By Jack Simony

Tony Mauro of The National Law Journal recently narrowed down the top defining moments of the Supreme Court in 2010.

At the top of his list was something that happened almost a year ago -- when President Obama scolded the high court for its Citizens United decision the week before, as well as the reaction from Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who mouthed the words "not true."

See what other Supreme Court moments topped the list

- By Jack Simony