Friday, March 10, 2006

 

Off-Track Tales

What's going on here?


And here?

Well, first some background: A few weeks back, the New York Post -- yes, that paper -- ran a story about a subway rider who was ticketed for having her shopping bag on the seat next to her in a two-thirds empty train car:

Sitting on the "mostly empty" Brooklyn-bound train Friday evening, [Samantha] Hoover, 33, said she tried to read a magazine, but her thoughts wandered between her day at work and the steak dinner she and her fiancé were going to prepare when she got home.

"Next thing I know, a police officer walks up and wants to know if I've ever been arrested," said Hoover. "He asked for my identification and said, 'You can't put your bag there.' "

Hoover's life as an outlaw was made possible by new MTA subway rules — prohibiting activities such as roller-skating or walking between cars, not to mention putting bags on seats.

Taking up more than one seat had always been an offense punishable with a fine. But until now, it was enforced only against people sprawled across several seats.

Officer Mohammad Ishrat told Hoover to leave the train with him at the Jay Street/Borough Hall stop so he could check whether there were any warrants for
her arrest, she said.
This incident caused some to question the Bloomberg administration about whether there was an official ticket-quota edict that had been sent through the city -- given the hiring of 117 new traffic agents.

Samantha Hoover, not surprisingly, got her ticket dismissed -- yet had to be inconvenienced even further by having to take a day off from work to go to court.

Okay, now let's flash forward to last night (Thursday evening, March 9/Friday morning, March 10): Shortly before midnight, the Q train (heading to Brooklyn) pulls into the Union Square station. The platform is somewhat crowded.

One of the middle cars is also rather crowded -- but there appear to be some empty seats further down. However, there are also people standing by the doors, not bothering to make use of the seats. As one heads back, it's easy to see why. Note the top picture.

The car itself is filled with an interesting cross-section of folks -- some students, a lot of working class folks, probably heading home from the evening shift, and, a few couples coming from dates. It's hard to see, but the lady in the picture was elderly and reading. It's mostly, but not completely black and Hispanic.

And, here you have it: The new-fangled MTA rules that can ticket someone with a grocery bag for taking up one extra seat somehow don't catch one "homeless" person who manages to take up four seats. Actually, it was six seats: An African American gentleman who had the misfortune of sitting on the seat bench facing the other way was forced to move when the street person's head and arm stretched over the back.

And, just a few seats away -- another such individual has managed to take up three seats apparently sleeping off the sauce.

Should there be some compassion shown for these individuals? Yes.

But, how about some compassion for hard-working people who paid for their ride home after a long day on the job and can't sit down? Wasn't that what the whole "quality of life" thing was supposed to be about?

Is there a solution? I don't know.

But, it seems to me that if these sort of incidents continue -- where the cops can be around to ticket the average person with a ridiculous summons but not one around to help clear the trains of street people taking up six or seven more seats than they are entitled to -- well, that's a good way to create an irritated citizenry.

One more tale of the city.

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Overextended

Five years in, certain bills come due:


"He has no political capital," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. "Slowly but surely it's been unraveling. There's been a direct correlation between the trajectory of his approval numbers and the -- I don't want to call it disloyalty -- the independence on the part of the Republicans in Congress."

The port deal has troubled Republicans not just on the substance of the issue but also on the president's handling of it. The White House failed to anticipate the frenzy that would be touched off by the prospect of an Arab company managing U.S. ports, and many Republicans believe that Bush exacerbated the situation with a rash veto threat.

The missteps seem all the more striking for a White House once known for its discipline and political acuity. With Bush's approval rating ranging from 34 percent in a CBS News poll to 41 percent in the latest Washington Post-ABC News survey, some Republican candidates facing the voters in just eight months worry
privately that, unlike in 2002 and 2004, he will be more albatross than advantage for GOP candidates in the fall campaign.

And speaking of bills coming due, the long-term ramifications of the port Du-bacle, may be truly high for the country:


It was more than a bit ironic that on the very day that Dubai Ports World threw in the towel and agreed to sell off its U.S. operations, the Commerce Department announced yet another record monthly trade deficit for January, putting us on course to exceed last year's record deficit of $724 billion. At this rate, we are adding to our debt to the rest of the world at the rate of $2,500 a year for every man, woman and child in America.

Where do you think that $724 billion comes from? Let me tell you: It comes from the people who have the dollars. And in case you hadn't noticed, tops on that list are the Japanese who are selling us all those cars, Arabs selling us all that expensive oil, and the Chinese selling us the shirts on our backs, the athletic shoes on our feet and all those computers and flat-screen TVs in front of our noses.

If these folks suddenly get the idea that we don't really trust them enough to do business with them, and begin acting the way human beings do when they get poked
in the eye, you could be looking at 8 percent mortgage rates, 6 percent unemployment, $4 gasoline, a $1.50 euro and a 9000 Dow.
Overextended.

A president and a nation.


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Thursday, March 09, 2006

 

The Last Word on Clooney...

...goes to Peggy Noonan:
Was his speech wholly without merit? No. It was a response and not an attack, and it appears to have been impromptu. Mr. Clooney presumably didn't know Jon Stewart would tease the audience for being out of touch, and he wanted to argue that out of touch isn't all bad. Fair enough. It is hard to think on your feet in front of 38 million people, and most of his critics will never try it or have to. (This is a problem with modern media: Only the doer understands the degree of difficulty.)

But Mr. Clooney's remarks were also part of the tinniness of the age, and of modern Hollywood. I don't think he was being disingenuous in suggesting he was himself somewhat heroic. He doesn't even know he's not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

How could he think this? Maybe part of the answer is in this: The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.
Exactly, Clooney's Good Night And Good Luck is a "good" movie -- from a technical standpoint. It is filmed expertly. It has some fine performances by David Straitharn, Frank Langella and, yes, Clooney himself. But it is not "bold" or daring. It's target isn't even either the McCarthy-like politicians Clooney suggests run the country today -- or even the broader American audience. It's target is -- as Noonan hints -- the media itself. He made a movie to remind the media how the media once conducted itself.

But, as Noonan says, "old" Hollywood made movies for the broader audience, not for its own self-satisfaction.



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Dubai ReallyIs Arabic For...

..."Harriet Miers".

See?

And you thought
I was kidding!

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 

Late to The Party...

Hmm...now, where have I heard this before:
[T]he small-government libertarians represented by Cato have always been the odd men out of the Bush coalition. But the standing-room-only forum yesterday, where just a single questioner offered even a tepid defense of the president, underscored some deep disillusionment among conservatives over Bush's big-spending answer to Medicare and Hurricane Katrina, his vast claims of executive power, and his handling of postwar Iraq.
....

[Andrew] Sullivan was on hand to second the critique. "This is a big-government agenda," he said. "It is fueled by a new ideology, the ideology of Christian fundamentalism." The bearded pundit offered his own indictment of Bush: "complete contempt" for democratic processes, torture of detainees, ignoring habeas corpus and a "vast expansion of the federal government." The notion, he said, that the "Thatcher-Reagan legacy that many of us grew up to love and support would end this way is an astonishing paradox and a great tragedy."
....

"You have to understand the people in this administration have no principles," Sullivan volleyed. "Any principles that get in the way of the electoral map have to be dispensed with."
Why does this sound oh-so-familiar? Oh, right:

Ultimately, on both foreign and domestic policy, the public's trust has been betrayed. Why should the public trust its leaders with future policy if those leaders deceive and manipulate the people's elected representatives to get a favored policy passed? If the American public and the world at large now react skeptically to future presidential claims that the United States faces a foreign threat, who can blame them?

Similarly, the president's intent to reform Social Security will now be judged by the still-emerging costs of the Medicare reform--to say nothing of the political backlash from some seniors incensed at having to pay 17 percent more in premiums. The mishandling of domestic spending, of which Medicare is the prime example--whether because of ignorance, incompetence, or deceit--casts the same pall over Bush's domestic agenda that the collapse of Iraq does over his foreign policy. The president who dismisses criticism of the cost of Medicare is the same one who "miscalculated" the costs for rebuilding Iraq by at least $100 billion--and submitted a subsequent budget that omitted even an estimate of spending for the current military campaigns. Medicare actuary Richard Foster was threatened with firing if he told the truth about the costs of the reform bill, while his boss who pushed forward the lower numbers, Thomas Scully, departed quietly to a cushy health care-related policy job at a Washington, D.C., law firm. That was, of course, the same pattern we witnessed with the management of the Iraq war. Individuals who got the prewar details right--either in terms of troop strength (General Eric Shinseki) or in estimated fiscal costs (former National Economic Council Director Lawrence Lindsey)--were publicly rebuked or dismissed. Those who got the prewar details wrong remain in positions of authority.

Conservatives--who fear unchecked, unaccountable government--should
be especially appalled.

This link takes you to the full article as originally printed in The New Republic in October 2004.

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GWOT Meets WOD

Just in case anyone forgets how essential it is that the government remain tightly focused in its current priority -- winning the global war on terror:

The reauthorized Patriot Act includes new tools to combat the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine. It will require retailers to place cold medicines with pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient of the illegal drug -- behind counters, and would set limits on each person's monthly and daily purchases. Buyers would have to identify themselves and sign for their purchases.
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Farewell to A Master...

It seems like we seem to be saying goodbye a lot in recent days. Both Kirby Puckett and Dana Reeve were relatively young when they died within hours of each other on Monday.

Perhaps less unexpected, but still profoundly sad was the departure Tuesday of someone who truly deserves to have the word "iconic" attached to himself and his work.

R.I.P. Gordon Parks:


He was the first black person to work at Life magazine and Vogue, and the first to write, direct and score a Hollywood film, "The Learning Tree" (1969), which was based on a 1963 novel he wrote about his life as a farm boy in Kansas. He also was the director of the 1971 hit movie "Shaft," which opened the way for a host of other black-oriented films.
Interesting that he died a day after there was a fair bit of debate about the Oscars, race, movies and songs from movies. Shaft was a pretty significant film at the time -- and, somehow, I think Isaac Hayes' theme will stick around in people's memory a little bit longer than that Hustle & Flow joint.


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"Elf"? "Troll"? No, no...

Kevin, the word you are looking for is "Romulan".

Whatever you call it, it is, uh, eerie.


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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

 

Getting A Clue-ney: Race & The Oscars

[Welcome, Reason and, uh, No Frontin' MP3 readers!!]

My post-Oscar update (#6) on George Clooney (see below) garnered a strong comment from "Cal." I thought I would put his statement and my response as a post, with some other views on the Oscars, race and the rise of Three Six Mafia.

First Cal, who starts quoting me:
"Oh, right, I keep forgetting what a great advancement on race Gone With The Wind represented! Oh well, slightly better than the message of Birth of A Nation, I suppose."

Well....yeah. Hattie McDaniel's character certainly was a significant improvement on any black character in Birth of a Nation. She's an outstanding character in many ways.

"how much of a social "advance" was the live performance and win of 'It's So Hard Out Here Being A Pimp.'"

Hustle and Flow, a movie with a predominantly black cast, was produced by John Singleton, a black director/producer (who hired a white director). The song you mock was written and performed by blacks.

Black artists can tell their stories, sing their songs, and get popular and artistic recognition for doing so. They're making the decisions, not bound by the roles whites want them to play and sing. But you don't like what they choose to sing about, so you want to pretend that there hasn't been any progress since Birth of a Nation, or since white people wrote Hattie McDaniel's acceptance speech.

I agree with you about the song. But Hustle & Flow was made possible by the social advancement that allows black artists to make their own choices and develop their own power base. If you don't like it, take your bitch out on the black artists themselves. Don't blame whites for calling it for what it is: progress.
My initial response:


Cal: I'm neither blind nor an idiot. I know perfectly well that "Pimp" was written and produced by blacks. Duh! So what? "make their own choices and develop their own power base"? Oh, whoopee! I happen to be a black man too (don't just take my word for it: The picture in the upper left hand corner *really* is me.) -- and I can rightly condemn both those choices and the construct in which they appear.

I think "pimp" -- and the movie that produced it -- is something approaching modern-day minstrelsy. And I'm certainly not a "hater" of all things rap. "Hustle and Flow" may show a certain amount of "power" that blacks have, but I think it is an abuse of that power -- "upward mobility" in the black community is going from pimp to rapper who shoots other rappers.

Wonderful lessons.

But, the point is -- the "Academy" is still primarily white. What does it say that it chose to award such a "song" with an Oscar? Double-check what won for Best Picture: Hollywood is still stuck in a certain time-frame when it comes to race relations -- and frankly "Hard Out Here To Be A Pimp" fits neatly into that time frame.

Yes, I condemn Clooney for his self-indulgent comments about his industry(we're supposed to be worshipful that -- including Hattie McDaniel -- seven black people have won acting Oscars in nearly 80 years). I condemn 3-6 Mafia for their choices too. How frickin' "brave" is it to still be rappin' about pimps, bitches and ho's nearly two decades after Straight Outta Compton -- or 35 years after the heyday of blaxploitation?

Please.

To which, I will add: I'm not trying to "pretend that there hasn't been any progress" since the early decades of the 20th century. I never said -- or implied -- that there had been no progress since either Birth of A Nation or Gone With The Wind. My comments were directed at George Clooney who was remarkably self-serving in elevating his "industry" so far above the rest of America in terms of social progress was -- and how proud he was to be "out of touch."

Birth of A Nation was was also part of the "industry" of which Clooney is a part (albeit, a very early part) and widely praised in terms of technical craft. And there's a pretty direct line from there to giving Hattie McDaniel an Oscar (arguably deserved) for playing a slave -- as if there were a wide array of roles for a black woman to play in 1930's Hollywood. Too often, Hollywood acts in a self-congratulatory manner for doing what should be considered the obviously right thing. In short, the industry acts much like the politicians they hold in such contempt.

Blacks have made much progress over the last century -- no kidding. However, it is manifestly obvious that the advances are far greater in the music industry than in film. The fact that you can mention Spike Lee, John Singleton and just a handful of other black directors (let alone producers) that can put forward their own movies demonstrate that obstacles still exist. Again, I say this not to decry the situation or whine about racism in America (go to another blog for that), but just to show that Clooney's industry is more like the rest of America when it comes to race or other social questions than he is courageous (or smart) enough to admit. That's a point Nikki Finke makes in her analysis of
why Academy voters went for the "safe" racial drama Crash, instead of validating the gay-romance of Brokeback Mountain:




Way back on January 17th, I decided to nominate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Bunch of Hypocrites. That's because I felt this year's dirty little Oscar secret was the anecdotal evidence pouring in to me about hetero members of the Academy of Motions Picture Arts and Sciences being unwilling to screen Brokeback Mountain. For a community that takes pride in progressive values, it seemed shameful to me that Hollywood's homophobia could be on a par with Pat Robertson's. So in the February 1st issue of LA Weekly, I warned that, despite the hype you saw in the press and on the Internet about Brokeback, with its eight nominations, being the supposed favorite to take home the Best Picture Oscar, Crash could end up winning.
Finke may be overstating the case: As I said before, I think Crash won for a mixture of political ("race" beats "gay") and pragmatic/conventional (LA-based, large ensemble cast beats Midwestwest drama). However, I think the charge of hypocrisy hits pretty well.

And, yes, I have no problem "bitching out black artists", as you so delicately put it for the choices they make. In fact, I've done it in this space (search for my posts on 50 Cent and discussions with other bloggers on gangsta rap. Indeed, it is precisely because that blacks are in a stronger position to put forward their own visions -- whether musical or cinematic -- that it is so appalling to see "It's Hard Out Here To Be A Pimp" be celebrated by an overwhelmingly white institution as a high point in artistic achievement.

I'm not necessarily a fan (or the target audience) of Tyler Perry's work, but his Madea's Family Reunion has been the Number One movie the last couple of weeks. That he wrote, starred in and produced it himself is somewhat interesting. His
views on being a black filmmaker bear sharing:



Perry remembers once pitching a film based on one of his religious plays and being told, "Black people who go to church don't go to the movies."
....

The $10 million film has taken in $48.1 million in 10 days and was a surprise winner over several newcomers, including two movies geared toward urban audiences, 16 Blocks and Dave Chappelle's Block Party.

But the industry's insistence on releasing urban films that focus primarily "on gangsters or rappers is a shame, because there's a big audience for black people who are doing normal things," Perry says. "Black people go to church; black people love their families. And sometimes people want entertainment that reflects their real lives. That's all I'm trying to do."
...

Reunion marks Perry's second film based on one of his church-based plays that he has turned into box-office gold.

His Diary of a Mad Black Woman opened at No. 1 with $21.9 million in February last year and went on to earn $50.6 million.

"I don't know why there is that disconnect in Hollywood. I hope they see there are movies to be made about black people falling in love and respecting their families," Perry says.
"It's a little narrow-minded to think they can only be carrying guns or rapping."
No kidding.

Meanwhile, here's a sampling of critiques on Three Six Mafia, George Clooney and the Oscars (hat tip on all links to the invaluable
Booker Rising):

1)
Ambra Nykol, "Pimpin Ain't Easy?"

2)
Angela Winters, "Pimpin' The Oscars And Other Observations"

3) And, the BR Man himself, Shay:
"On Other Oscar Results" and "Coonery Wins At The Oscars"

UPDATE: More thoughts on the "Pimp" song crossing over into the broader culture.

UPDATE II: And still more.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

 

Rollin' Wit Da SNL Crew...

Natalie Portman in "Lazy Sunday" meets N.W.A.. (Hat tip: the ever-snarky Michael Weiss).

They've got something going with these rap parodies.

Oh, Rob Smigel's "TV Funhouse" short last weekend of "forgotten" Saturday morning cartoon shows featuring minority characters ("hosted" by Dennis Haysbert) was priceless
.

UPDATE: Ah, so typical of a "dinosaur" business -- suing venues that essentially give you free advertising! NBC goes after Web sites that are "illegally" posting the wild Portman video! As if these videos haven't been the funniest and most memorable bits to appear on SNL in years -- though, ironically, they take the "live" out of "Saturday Night Live."

Check it out while you can, folks!


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Sunday, March 05, 2006

 

Last Minute Oscar Prediction

If Brokeback Mountain doesn't win the Oscar for Best Picture, it will lose to Crash. That will mean that, in Hollywood, "racism" is the new "anti-Semitism" and movies about race relations are the new "movie about the Holocaust."

The corollary to this is that a gay-themed movie is the new "race relations" movie --coming in second to the preferred Academy sensibility.

UPDATE (11:40 P.M): Not to say I told you so, but, well, I told you so!

Jon Stewart was a great host -- perhaps the most "normal-guy" host since the late, great, Johnny Carson.

Balanced hugging Hollywood with well-timed pricks of its elitist sensibility. Best line: After a lenghty series of clips showing Hollywood "message" movies, Stewart dead-panned., "And after all of that, all of those problems have been solved."

Next best line: "For those keeping track--Martin Scorsese, no Oscars; 3-6 Mafia [raucus winners of "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" as Best Song], one Oscar."

UPDATE II (3/06/06, 2:00 A.M.): It should be kept in mind that another reason why Crash won is simple numbers: It was an L.A.-based "ensemble" movie, i.e., it employed more Hollywood actors in Hollywood, including also-rans as Ryan Phillipe (thank goodness the charming Reese Witherspoon didn't have a Hillary Swank/Boys Don't Cry moment and forget to thank her slightly less-talented husband). It makes sense that the Hollywood types would reward a "message" picture that keeps a lot of them in business.

UPDATE III (3/06/06, 3:00 A.M.):
Run for your lives!!! We're very sorry, Mr. Wheaton! Really!!!

UPDATE IV: Slightly more "professional" analysis can
be found here.

UPDATE V: Nikki Finke was pretty much dead-on with her own predictions. Good snapshot of the hypocrisies of Hollywood.

UPDATE VI: Speaking of hypocrisies, two things come to mind from George Clooney's wonderfully self-serving speech: 1) "We were honoring Hattie McDaniel with an Oscar when blacks could only see films in the balcony of theatres." Oh, right, I keep forgetting what a great advancement on race Gone With The Wind represented! Oh well, slightly better than the message of Birth of A Nation, I suppose. 2) Exactly how much of a social "advance" was the live perfomance and win of "It's So Hard Out Here Being A Pimp." Is that really something Clooney takes pride in as being happily "out of touch" with America? Ironically, the whole minstrel-show aspect almost made some of the over-the-top episodes in Crash seem reasonable.


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