“American” Movies: What’s the Titular Attraction?

HBO’s new show How to Make It in America is billed as the East Coast’s answer to Entourage, but one big difference between the two shows jumps out immediately: their titles. The creators of the new program didn’t choose an innocuous, could-be-about-anything name like its precursor; nor did they go with the relatively straightforward “How to Make It.” Instead, they opted for the grand, sweeping “How to Make It in America.”

It made us think about all of the other works of art that have laid claim to that loaded word over the years. Though musicians (Green Day’s American Idiot), playwrights (Tony Kushner’s Angels in America), authors (Philip Roth’s American Pastoral), and TV shows (American Idol, which, notably, was called “Pop Idol” in England) have all co-opted the word successfully, it’s filmmakers who seem to enjoy naming their creations after this enigmatic nation of ours most of all. … Read More

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Democratic Euphoria: For Republicans, Arlen Now Just a Specter

On Tuesday, veteran Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter announced that he would defect from the Republican Party to join the Democrats on the other side of the aisle. This drastic decision, which will give Democrats a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority (provided that Al Franken is eventually seated in Minnesota), stunned party leaders and political observers. But in retrospect, it seemed like Specter’s only logical move. What forced his hand? And just how important is his conversion for Senate policy and President Obama’s agenda? What follows is a brief guide to the political calculus behind Specter’s flip-flop, and a snapshot at what it all means for politics and policy. … Read More

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The Weird and Unpredictable World of Thai Politics

If you’re planning on traveling to Bangkok, you may want to avoid packing that Cincinnati Reds jersey you just bought. No, it’s not a gang-warfare precaution; red shirts just happen to be the symbol of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra‘s supporters, who have taken to the streets for a round of aggressive protests that have roiled the country and made international headlines. … Read More

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The news is breaking — who will fix it?

Less than a decade ago, at the dawn of our brave new century, the American newspaper was doing a robust business. Newsrooms at major publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post were brimming with reporters; advertising rates were healthy; and, despite the rapid rise of electronic media in the late ’90s, news websites, still in their infancy, were no match for a fully formed print publication. The future of the news would involve the Internet, an average editor might concede, but it seemed a long way off before the new medium would do battle with the old one. … Read More

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A Quick and Dirty Look at Guns, Abortion, and Other Thanksgiving-Dinner Topics

Quickly and quietly, amid bailouts and Congressional hearings, Barack Obama is making his mark on some of the most perennially divisive issues in the country. It’s high time we took an issue-by-issue tour of the new team’s policy, to see what it’s accomplished so far, and what we can expect over the next four years. After the jump, we run down down some of the top contenders for hot-button status. … Read More

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Outlook: In Israel, a Bleak Political Calculus

During the last week of 2008, Israel launched an intense military operation against Hamas in the Gaza strip. The purpose was twofold: to dispel rocket attacks that had been terrorizing Southern Israel for months, and to send a powerful message that Israel was more than willing to use overwhelming force to get its zero-tolerance message across. After killing scores of Hamas fighters and civilians in air and ground raids, drawing scorn from much of the world for its actions, Israel abruptly withdrew its forces on January 18. The incursion had lasted 22 days, resulting in hundreds of deaths — another violent chapter in the long history of Middle Eastern hostility. … Read More

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Liberal Arts in Crisis: The Creative Sector Hunkers Down

Book publishing is used to dire forecasts for its future; the industry’s funeral has been prematurely anticipated for decades. Publishing was supposed to be killed off at various points by television, the Internet, and the general public’s apathy toward reading. But it’s always managed to scrape by — even if, in these scattered times, it’s been increasingly on the back of huge successes like The Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter series. The stagnant-but-relatively stable industry has also long been seen as “recession-proof”; the thinking goes that consumers will still spend on small, non-luxe goods, such as books, during a downturn. … Read More

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Around the World in 80 Currencies: A Global Meltdown Primer

The current recession is as American as a jazz musician eating apple pie during a baseball game. That is to say, the United States gave birth to this deepening crisis; it’s our once-mighty financial machinery whose breakdown kick-started a global economic domino effect. Perhaps that’s why, if you live in the suddenly market-obsessed States — where politicos breathlessly dissect new line items in the stimulus package, profligate CEOs inspire public disdain once reserved for George W. Bush, and reports of massive layoffs have become as common a sight on CNN.com as stories about dogs calling 911 — it’s easy to forget that this is a global crisis, not just a domestic one. And despite what cash4gold.com‘s Super Bowl ad might have you believe, the US is not quite on the verge of collapse; other countries are in even direr straits. So if it’s financial schadenfreude you seek, this quick tour around the world should satisfy your fix. … Read More

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What’s on Obama’s Full Plate?

Well before Barack Obama took the reins of the presidency, it became clear that the worldwide economic meltdown would complicate his ambitious agenda. But more complicated doesn’t necessarily mean more difficult to accomplish; on the contrary, as commentators have stressed again and again, it’s during dire times that America’s most beloved presidents have made their marks (see: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt). In other words, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. So how will Obama, who enters office at a historically high level of popularity, choose to get going? After the jump, a primer on five key issues on which he’s already beginning to flex his political muscle. Of course, there’s plenty more for Obama to think about (Iran, Pakistan, and overhauling health insurance come to mind), but these are some of the foremost challenges he now addresses. … Read More

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Exclusive: From The Daily Show to a Modern-Day Fable Set in Queens

In advance of a panel discussion at the gleaming new 92nd St. Y offshoot in Tribeca, we sat down with actor Aasif Mandvi and director David Kaplan to discuss their upcoming movie 7 to the Palace. You probably know Mandvi from his consistently funny work as a Daily Show correspondent, but the roots of the new movie, which he co-wrote, stretch back to his days as an off-Broadway performer — specifically his Obie Award-winning one-man production Sakina’s Restaurant.

In Kaplan’s words, 7 to the Palace, currently in post-production, is “a food family comedy set and filmed in Jackson Heights.” In it, Maandvi’s protagonist must give up his dream of cooking French cuisine to run his father’s traditional Indian restaurant. If that premise sounds a bit like an old-fashioned fairytale to you…well, that’s the point. Kaplan’s experience directing last year’s festival favorite Year of the Fish, a similarly fable-ish animated feature set in Chinatown’s underbelly, was “one of the reasons I got hired to do this.” What’s with his fixation on ethnic enclaves? Simply put — “I like New York a lot. Jackson Heights in particular is such a crossroads of different cultures…it’s a vibrant, alive ethnic enclave that reminds me of the New York of my youth, the New York of 20 years ago.” … Read More

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