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LOAD-DATE: December 18, 2008
GRAPHIC: PHOTO: Hoss Boyd, owner of Premier CIRE Systems in New Braunfels, Tex., has turned to credit card lines of credit for fresh financing.(PHOTOGRAPH BY ERICH SCHLEGEL FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)(pg. B7)

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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The New York Times
December 17, 2008 Wednesday

Late Edition - Final

No One Talks Media-Speak Like Product Pushers
SECTION: Section C; Column 0; The Arts/Cultural Desk; THEATER REVIEW 'GANG OF SEVEN'; Pg. 2
LENGTH: 381 words
Jim Neu, a veteran of experimental theater and a standby at La MaMa, has struck again with ''Gang of Seven,'' a brief but engaging torrent of intriguing ideas and dizzying wordplay. Largely a conversation among seven archetypes seated onstage, the play raises a heady froth of provocation within its hourlong running time.

The assembled are members of a focus group -- Raymond, an aging wag in a bow tie (Byron Thomas); the refined Dawn (Mary Shultz), who fears the group is losing its ''veil of anonymity''; the corporate curmudgeon Steve (Mr. Neu); the free-spirited Sh'rell (Chris Maresca); the entrepreneurial hustler Michael (John Costelloe); the naive teenager Sandy (Kristine Lee); and Frank, a working-class stiff (Tony Nunziata). They congratulate themselves on their authority to confer status on things never made entirely clear: products, say, or political candidates. Together, they delight in the fabrication of reality, the manufacture of perception, and employ a baffling marketing-speak (''veneer management,'' ''facade-ism'' and ''rumorizing'').

Their smug solidarity is tested by flare-ups of independence and spontaneity, embodied at one point by a mild flirtation between Ms. Maresca and Mr. Costelloe, but things eventually right themselves, if these electronic-media-addled consumers can ever be well adjusted.

''Uncommitted is the new black, and I've learned to be proud,'' Ms. Lee says. Utterly compliant, they have been hidden from their own feelings: ''I can barely remember the last time I felt so close to myself!'' Mr. Nunziata says tearfully. Ultimately, the play turns to theatrical convention but invests it with new meaning.

''Gang of Seven'' rewards repeat viewing -- once is not enough to savor the abundant verbal pirouettes. The actors are appealing, well served by Mr. Neu's frequent director, Keith McDermott, and conveying a palpable rapport. Some are familiar hands on Neu productions, and others are new, but discerning the veterans from the rookies isn't easy. (Ms. Shultz and Mr. Neu are especially good.) By the end you may not have retained all of the play's notions, but your brain will be abuzz with them.

''Gang of Seven'' runs through Sunday at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East Fourth Street, East Village; (212) 475-7710 or

TITLE: Gang of Seven (Play)>; Gang of Seven (Play)>
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The New York Times
December 17, 2008 Wednesday

Late Edition - Final

Taking Heat For Not Cooking
SECTION: Section D; Column 0; Dining In, Dining Out / Style Desk; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 2238 words
ONE morning earlier this month, Rocco DiSpirito climbed into a car that would take him from downtown Manhattan out to Jamaica, Queens, where he grew up. He hadn't been back to Jamaica in 20 years or so, and he was looking forward to the 13-mile journey with a mix of curiosity and trepidation.

''I mean, I remember being afraid constantly -- afraid for my life,'' Mr. DiSpirito said of his childhood in the 1970s. ''I was the kid in the maroon blazer on the way to Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic school, in between one gang and another gang, and it was like, How did I want to get beat up today?''

For those who know Mr. DiSpirito only as the brown-eyed, wavy-haired Bertolli spokesman and cookbook author who's become a smiling regular on reality shows like ''Top Chef,'' ''The Biggest Loser,'' ''Dancing With the Stars'' and his new cooking program on A&E, ''Rocco Gets Real,'' the notion of a rough upbringing -- part Bloods-and-Crips, part ''Bicycle Thief'' -- might come as a surprise. But Mr. DiSpirito seemed genuinely anxious about returning to the neighborhood where he says he was beaten up on a regular basis.

''Punched in the face. Mugged. Robbed. Knives. Guns. The whole thing,'' he said. ''I used to accuse my parents of not loving me for making us stay here.'' After roaming the neighborhood for an hour or so, he took a last look around before hopping back into the car. ''In a way,'' he said, ''cooking kind of saved me from all this.''

Except that it didn't -- not, at least, if you're talking about the getting-beaten-up-on-a-regular-basis part. In a way Mr. DiSpirito is still that kid in the maroon blazer, only now the roving gangs hitting him up for his milk money are culinary.

For the knife-sharpening snark squadrons of and a segment of the gastronomic elite, he has come to embody the Faustian bargain of celebrity in the restaurant business. He is portrayed, and often satirized, as a supernaturally talented chef who squandered his gifts in the scattershot pursuit of fame, fortune and pink ruffled shirts.

''He's almost gotten to the point where people in the food world feel sorry for him and want him back,'' said Michael Ruhlman, a cookbook author who has written for The New York Times. ''He's this really brilliant guy, foodwise, who's forsaken everything that he's good at for something that he's not good at. And that makes me really sad.''

Last year, Mr. Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain (no stranger to the concept of aggressive brand extension) announced on Mr. Ruhlman's blog that they would hand out Golden Clog Awards to the celebrity chefs whom they considered the best and the worst exemplars of that strange breed. Among the dubious honors was the Rocco Award, saluting the ''worst career move by a talented chef.''

(To his credit, Mr. DiSpirito gamely showed up at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and handed out the award in person, even though Mr. Bourdain had ''mercilessly and enthusiastically made sport of Rocco DiSpirito many, many times,'' as Mr. Bourdain himself put it in a blog entry.)

The word ''sad'' seems to surface a lot when you bring up Mr. DiSpirito's curious career arc. ''We were talking the other day, another food-obsessed person and I, and we were just saying how sad it was that he has disappeared,'' said Gael Greene, the grande dame of New York food scribes, and one of the first to celebrate Mr. DiSpirito's talent 13 years ago when he was the chef at Dava. ''I do believe that 'Dancing With the Stars' is kind of the last stop. This person said, 'Oh, he'll never be back, if he can make a living doing commercials and appearances and TV and books.' I don't understand -- has he totally lost that passion to cook? Because there are chefs that don't like to cook, and they just want to be stars. How could somebody be so talented and so gifted and just write it off?''

Of course, these days plenty of chefs are hawking products and hustling for TV gigs -- Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, Mr. Bourdain himself -- and yet very few of them come in for the vigorous hazings that Mr. DiSpirito endures.

That, Ms. Greene explained, is because Mr. DiSpirito no longer oversees a kitchen. ''Mario still is doing restaurants, and his restaurants are mostly wonderful, if you see him there or not,'' she said. ''Anthony Bourdain was so funny and so amusing that he became a show-business personality, and we don't question that, because he was not a great chef who sold out. He was just a perfectly ordinary cook. But somebody like Rocco, who is exceptionally gifted, seems to have thrown it all away -- that's why people are so upset about it.''

As the trip to Queens made clear, Mr. DiSpirito has had a freakish, prodigy-like understanding of food from the very start. The rich ethnic melange of Jamaica, he said, is where he picked up the culinary cross-pollination that would later propel him to stardom as a chef. ''I don't think there is more cultural diversity than in Queens,'' he said. ''I think in many ways my worldview on flavor was formed here.''

As soon as the car pulled up in front of a two-story red-and-white house at 148-01 90th Avenue, where five members of the DiSpirito family and several boarders lived before the DiSpiritos moved to a safer neighborhood in the early 1980s, he became swept up in a rush of Proustian triggers. As he dashed around the neighborhood, his memories of its past squalor (''There was an apartment in every building that sold drugs ... My friend Eddie lived right here, he OD'd on heroin'') were crosshatched, over and over, with memories of food.

He pointed to a spot on Jamaica Avenue where he'd tasted his first pomegranate. He tracked down the tiny patch of dirt on 150th where an elderly Italian woman named Vita once grew squash and tomatoes. He made note of the McDonald's that his father, Raffaele, used to forbid him to set foot in.

''Key Food,'' he said as he approached a supermarket. ''I used to bag groceries here.'' This dislodged yet another memory -- of how the young Rocco would pocket a few coins from his grocery job and dart down the street to buy two jumbo shrimp that his mother, Nicolina, could boil for him back home.

He was 11 when he got a job at a pizzeria on Sutphin Boulevard; there he became obsessed with perfectly calibrating the balance between the ice and the bubbles in a fountain soda. Tim Ryan, who was one of Mr. DiSpirito's instructors at the Culinary Institute of America, and is now the president of the school, said that his star student could leave a distinctive imprint even on raw onions. ''You could tell when he diced vegetables versus somebody else,'' Dr. Ryan said. ''You could pick his out of a group.''

To understand why Mr. DiSpirito is perceived as a wayward son of American cuisine, it makes sense to go back to his triumph in 1997, when his Union Pacific opened on East 22nd Street. (It closed in 2004.) People who fell under the spell of his cooking then still compare Mr. DiSpirito to an upstart Thomas Keller, and they slip into a reverie when they summon up their first encounter with his tiny but epically flavorful appetizer of raw scallops.

New York magazine rhapsodized over that dish and others this way: ''Sweet, small scallops nuzzled in their shells by blobs of sea urchin with an essence of tomato, mustard oil, mirin and black mustard. Halibut braised in goose fat with ginger jus and shallot cracklings. Mango and papaya carpaccio with pineapple sherbet and candied cilantro. Do these sound like the delusions of a madman? In less capable hands, maybe; in DiSpirito's, it's pure genius.''

While it's hard to grasp why a genius would feel compelled to mambo alongside hip-swiveling punch lines like Lance Bass and Kim Kardashian, it can be equally surprising to hear that in his Union Pacific heyday, Mr. DiSpirito was thought of as too much of a taste-tinkering recluse.

''The funny thing is that at that time, my partners and everyone in my world at the restaurant were always telling me I'm too serious,'' Mr. DiSpirito said. ''This is what is so mind-blowing to me. I was always too serious and too pure and didn't see the bigger picture enough and didn't understand that cooking and the restaurant business were entertainment. I needed to take it easy and do food that was simpler and made people happy.''

He was urged, he said, to put fail-safe customer bait on the menu -- dishes like steak and tuna tartare. He cooked short ribs, yes, but even those brought out the obsessive in him. ''So I proceed to concoct the short ribs with the most ingredients ever known to man. The short-rib braise itself had 20 or 30 ingredients in it.''

If there was a specific moment when the sun began to singe Mr. DiSpirito's wax wings, that would have to be 2003, when he made his reality-TV debut in ''The Restaurant,'' NBC's video verite chronicle of the flirtations and stove fires in a Manhattan meatballerie called Rocco's. For viewers, and for the show's producers, things went swimmingly, which is to say they went really badly for the head chef at Rocco's. A perpetual skirmish between Mr. DiSpirito and Jeffrey Chodorow, the entrepreneur who was funding the place, escalated into a flurry of litigation, with Mr. Chodorow suing Mr. DiSpirito and Mr. DiSpirito countersuing Mr. Chodorow and Mr. DiSpirito eventually being barred from entering the premises of a restaurant bearing his name -- while his own mother was still stirring pots in the kitchen.

''That was weird, wasn't it?'' Mr. DiSpirito said. ''When you say it out loud, it's like, 'How is that possible,' right?''

He went on: ''I think I took a lot for granted. I think when someone puts seven or eight million dollars into a restaurant with your name on it, it's a pretty big deal. You can't just think, 'Well, that's what he's supposed to do!' I think I underappreciated a lot of what was happening to me.''

Dr. Ryan met with his former student during that dark phase and offered advice. ''I said, 'Rocco, dust yourself off and get back into the restaurant business,' '' he recalled. ''At that time he still had Union Pacific. I said: 'That's a jewel. Throw yourself into it and that's what people will focus on.' And for whatever reason, he just didn't want to do that. This is my interpretation -- he had lost the fire for that, and had bigger dreams and aspirations.''

Asked about Mr. DiSpirito's game plan, Dr. Ryan said: ''It involves more exposure to the general public. That's where Rocco's thinking bigger: 'How can I pursue my passion for food and convey my knowledge and my expertise in a way that doesn't just reach a couple hundred people a night, but thousands of people, millions of people a night?' ''

Indeed, ''The Restaurant'' marked a shift in Mr. DiSpirito's public identity. Within a few years, the meticulous wunderkind from Queens had turned into a food-show Zelig. These days he has his A&E show and a new cookbook, also called ''Rocco Gets Real,'' a name that seems as much a mission statement as a title -- an attempt, perhaps, to merge the public and private and past and present Roccos and get back to basics. In contrast to his near-psychedelic experiments with flavor at Union Pacific, the ''Rocco Gets Real'' book (Meredith, $19.95) features recipes that often hinge on brand-name ingredients like a can of Progresso lentil soup, a jar of Heinz pork gravy or a cup of Splenda.

Mr. DiSpirito defends his career path with missionary zeal. What he loves to do, he says, is to bring his rarefied culinary skills to regular folks everywhere: ''The vast majority of what I hear from the people who appreciate what I do -- which is I think more of the general public, more of America, versus the people who write and read Gawker, a small but very influential group of people -- is that they love what I do, and they feel like there is someone from the professional world advocating for them,'' he said.

Mr. DiSpirito, by the way, hasn't ruled out opening a restaurant someday. ''If Keith McNally came to me and said, 'Hey, I've got the perfect situation for you,' who knows?'' he said. (In an e-mail message, Mr. McNally called the suggestion ''hugely flattering'' but said he would ''rather stay away from commenting'' on the idea.) ''I would certainly entertain opportunities -- and I have,'' Mr. DiSpirito said. ''I just don't think the right situation has come up yet.''

Still, does the disappointment of the elite gastronomes grate on him? ''I try not to judge them for how they feel,'' he said. ''If I make a judgment about it, then it will lead to anger and resentment, and I don't want to really go there.'' The answer carried a distinct echo of therapy.

''Well,'' he said, ''there's been lots of therapy.''

One had to wonder what a therapist would make of a birthday dinner that Mr. DiSpirito recently cooked for 13 friends in Los Angeles. It took place on Nov. 20 at the home of Ben Silverman, who is a co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and the man who produced ''The Restaurant.''

Mr. DiSpirito whipped up several courses, many of which dated back to his glory days at Union Pacific. He kicked off the meal with that famous raw scallop surrounded by sea urchin and mustard oil. He may no longer run a restaurant, he said, but ''I can still cook like that.'' The dinner was served in honor of Mr. DiSpirito himself. He had turned 42 the day before.

LOAD-DATE: December 17, 2008

THE OVEN-FREE LIFE: Rocco DiSpirito, left, at the store in Queens where he was once a bag boy. Below, from top: outside court after ''The Restaurant'' inspired lawsuits, promoting Bertolli products and with Jay Leno in 2004. (PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAMON WINTER



FAST HANDS, FASTER FEET: Mr. DiSpirito playing celebrity poker on television in 2006, right. He had a tight grip on Karina Smirnoff on ''Dancing With the Stars,'' above. (PHOTOGRAPHS BY KELSEY MCNEAL/ABC



Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

51 of 1231 DOCUMENTS

The New York Times
December 17, 2008 Wednesday

Late Edition - Final

News Corp.'s Stock Listing Shifts to a Higher Bidder
SECTION: Section B; Column 0; Business/Financial Desk; Pg. 2
LENGTH: 438 words
The Wall Street listing war appears to have opened a new source of revenue for media companies: list with the stock exchange that will pay the most.

The News Corporation, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, announced on Tuesday that it would move its stock listing from the New York Stock Exchange to the Nasdaq stock market, effective on Dec. 29.

The Big Board promptly fired back that its competitor had purchased the listing.

''Nasdaq bought the listing with a significant advertising commitment to News Corporation,'' said Richard Adomonis, a senior vice president for the Big Board. ''Other Nasdaq-listed companies and prospects should seek similar arrangements.''

He said Nasdaq had offered to increase its advertising in News Corp. properties, which include The Wall Street Journal and the Fox News channels, and that the New York exchange had made a counterproposal that was rejected. He did not give details of either proposal.

A Nasdaq spokeswoman declined to say whether the exchange had made such an offer, saying that to do so would violate a policy against disclosing advertising spending.

''We have always advertised with News Corp. properties in the past, including your competitor, The Journal, and we will continue to do so in the future,'' said Bethany Sherman, a senior vice president for Nasdaq OMX Group, the exchange's parent. ''This is business as usual.''

Teri Everett, a spokeswoman for News Corp., said the company ''would not like to comment'' on whether such an agreement had been reached.

In its announcement, News Corp. pointed to Nasdaq's technology as a reason for the switch but also referred to its ''cost-effective structure.''

''Our move to Nasdaq will ensure that our stockholders have access to the most current trading technology possible,'' said Reed Nolte, a senior vice president for News Corp. ''We are confident that Nasdaq's broad offerings and exceptional service, coupled with a cost-effective structure, will provide more value for our stockholders.''

In their advertising, both the New York exchange and Nasdaq have tried to persuade investors that the fact a company was listed on their markets bolstered that company's reputation. ''The world puts its stock in us,'' claimed the Big Board, signaling that a Big Board listing was a sign of corporate maturity and success, while Nasdaq sought to identify growth and entrepreneurship with its listings.

The battle for listings has been intense, particularly since, in 2003, the Big Board agreed to eliminate a rule that had made it difficult for a company to leave it.

Nonetheless, relatively few companies have switched.
TICKER: NWS (NYSE) (93%); NWS (ASX) (93%); NDAQ (NASDAQ) (58%); NWS (NASDAQ) (93%)
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The New York Times
December 16, 2008 Tuesday

Late Edition - Final

Lost in the Crowd

Bob Herbert is off today.

SECTION: Section A; Column 0; Editorial Desk; OP-ED COLUMNIST; Pg. 37
LENGTH: 831 words
All day long, you are affected by large forces. Genes influence your intelligence and willingness to take risks. Social dynamics unconsciously shape your choices. Instantaneous perceptions set off neural reactions in your head without you even being aware of them.

Over the past few years, scientists have made a series of exciting discoveries about how these deep patterns influence daily life. Nobody has done more to bring these discoveries to public attention than Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell's important new book, ''Outliers,'' seems at first glance to be a description of exceptionally talented individuals. But in fact, it's another book about deep patterns. Exceptionally successful people are not lone pioneers who created their own success, he argues. They are the lucky beneficiaries of social arrangements.

As Gladwell told Jason Zengerle of New York magazine: ''The book's saying, 'Great people aren't so great. Their own greatness is not the salient fact about them. It's the kind of fortunate mix of opportunities they've been given.' ''

Gladwell's noncontroversial claim is that some people have more opportunities than other people. Bill Gates was lucky to go to a great private school with its own computer at the dawn of the information revolution. Gladwell's more interesting claim is that social forces largely explain why some people work harder when presented with those opportunities.

Chinese people work hard because they grew up in a culture built around rice farming. Tending a rice paddy required working up to 3,000 hours a year, and it left a cultural legacy that prizes industriousness. Many upper-middle-class American kids are raised in an atmosphere of ''concerted cultivation,'' which inculcates a fanatical devotion to meritocratic striving.

In Gladwell's account, individual traits play a smaller role in explaining success while social circumstances play a larger one. As he told Zengerle, ''I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can't be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can't be.''

As usual, Gladwell intelligently captures a larger tendency of thought -- the growing appreciation of the power of cultural patterns, social contagions, memes. His book is being received by reviewers as a call to action for the Obama age. It could lead policy makers to finally reject policies built on the assumption that people are coldly rational utility-maximizing individuals. It could cause them to focus more on policies that foster relationships, social bonds and cultures of achievement.

Yet, I can't help but feel that Gladwell and others who share his emphasis are getting swept away by the coolness of the new discoveries. They've lost sight of the point at which the influence of social forces ends and the influence of the self-initiating individual begins.

Most successful people begin with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so. They were often showered by good fortune, but relied at crucial moments upon achievements of individual will.

Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention. We know from experiments with subjects as diverse as obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers and Buddhist monks that people who can self-consciously focus attention have the power to rewire their brains.

Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.

It leads to resilience, the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can't be done. A common story among entrepreneurs is that people told them they were too stupid to do something, and they set out to prove the jerks wrong.

It leads to creativity. Individuals who can focus attention have the ability to hold a subject or problem in their mind long enough to see it anew.

Gladwell's social determinism is a useful corrective to the Homo economicus view of human nature. It's also pleasantly egalitarian. The less successful are not less worthy, they're just less lucky. But it slights the centrality of individual character and individual creativity. And it doesn't fully explain the genuine greatness of humanity's outliers. As the classical philosophers understood, examples of individual greatness inspire achievement more reliably than any other form of education. If Gladwell can reduce William Shakespeare to a mere product of social forces, I'll buy 25 more copies of ''Outliers'' and give them away in Times Square.

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