Saturday, September 19, 2009

Value priced values

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed the blatant hypocrisy of the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. These paragons of morality boil with hatred for President Obama, who is by all accounts a wonderful family man. Meanwhile they cheer for Bill O'Reilly, a sleaze bag well-known for outrageous lying, bullying and sexually harassing young women one third his age. Watching that circus, reasonable people must conclude, the only values those pigs value are power and money. Unless you count hatred as a value. Then they value three. And murder? Maybe four?

On a related note, I can understand that so many values voters think President Obama is an arch-demon in the process of bringing about Armageddon and the return of an ultra-violent Christ to kill their enemies by the millions. These value voters live in a demon haunted world of primitive myth and superstition. That, plus they are plumb stupid. But what I don't get is how so many of them get away with claiming that Obama is destroying the Constitution. Although I read that people constantly make that claim, I've never seen any details of exactly how they believe he is doing it. Unless his willingness to sign laws passed by Congress is unconstitutional? Or respecting the Constitution is unconstitutional. Oh, who am I kidding. Of course I understand. Since Obama is a demon and the Constitution is whatever God's chosen people (the really chosen--right wing demagogues, not Jews) say it is, then anything the demon says or does is unconstitutional. Of course it's not entirely that simple. There's power and money in riling up the rubes. Any excuse will do. Value added, you know.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Apocolypse nowadays

Talking Points Memo reports a poll that finds New Jersey Republicans to be mostly ignorant morons of biblical proportions.

To be precise, 18% of self-identified conservatives affirmatively say that Obama is the anti-Christ, with 17% not sure. Among the self-identified Republican label, it's 14% who say Obama has the number 666 hidden underneath his hair, plus 15% who aren't sure.
I mean, it's certifiably insane to believe in the existence of an anti-Christ. But how can anyone smart enough to breath even imagine that Obama is a super powerful demon who will throw the world into catastrophic religious war that will usher the return of Christ, who will kill millions?

Is there a more stupid text than Revelation, outside of the Aztecs, in any religion anywhere in the world? It's laughable primitive superstition of the worst sort. Think I'm exaggerating? I'll show you. I don't have to cherry pick. It's a fucking orchard. Just watch, nothing up my sleeve. I'll do the old "open it anywhere and point to a random paragraph" trick:
This is he who came with water and blood: Jesus Christ. He came, not by water alone, but by water and blood; and there is the Spirit to bear witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are in agreement.
Sounds like a Monty Python sketch, eh? I mean, there are four witnesses, the Spirt, the water, the blood, and the bleeding Watney's Red Barrel, natch.

Watch, I'll do it again:
Then another angel came out of the heavenly temple, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then from the alter came yet another, the angel who has authority over fire, and he shouted to the one wit the sharp sickle: 'Stretch out your sickle a, and gather in earth's grape-harvest, for its clusters are ripe.' So the angel put his sickle to the earth and gathered in its grapes, and threw them into the great wine press of God's wrath. The wine press was trodden outside the city, and for two hundred miles around blood flowed from the press to the height of the horses' bridles.
The great wine press of God's wrath? Morons.

Unfortunately, however, the poll goes on to find that New Jersey Democrats are only marginally less stupid:
32% of Jersey Democrats who say that George W. Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. In addition, another 19% of Jersey Dems are Truther-Curious, in the undecided column.
Could there be a bit of misunderstanding there. Are those 32 percent "Truthers" or did the mean that George W. Bush had advanced warning that Al Quaeda was planning to attack targets inside the United States, which is true.

Perhaps, but I'm willing to concede that 32 percent of Democrats will believe pretty much any kind of nonsense. We, as a society, are rapidly reverting to ignorance and superstition reminiscent of the dark ages. Just because someone supports Obama doesn't mean they are enlightened. They may just believe in a different type of voodoo. More and more, whoever best manipulates primitive fear and superstition will win.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shape of things

Regarding an alleged terror plot reported at Talking Points Memo:

...according to the Times, a law enforcement official said they had "only a hazy view of the group, its operations and goals, but decided to act fearing that undercover surveillance had failed to detect plans that might be developing."

If I read that correctly, they're saying that they arrested a bunch of people because they didn't know anything about them and couldn't prove that they were doing anything illegal. Yep. That makes sense. Perfect sense, unfortunately. In a Latin American right wing dictatorship circa 1980, pués. And ya'all wonder why I'm somewhat less than optimistic?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

People who died

I just heard that Jim Carroll died. That's sad. He is one of my literary gods.

The above was an interesting little project that integrated an interview with JC about Columbine and one of his masterworks, the poem "Borges Death Mask." It's incredibly rare to see this kind of thing on TV. Amateurish production, no doubt (it was a first effort on a primitive Mac), but JC comes through as so much better than the other peoples' shows he stars in.

Alternate link here: Borges Death Mask

Yada yada, pués

As you probably know, Joe Wilson, lunatic racist bumpkin, South Carolina, screamed that Obama was a liar during the President's address to congress. Wilson, whose breach of protocol was so offensive that even fellow Republicans were embarrassed, was then forced to deliver an obviously insincere apology which Obama, of course accepted.

As I've said, I very much admire Obama and think he is a fantastic individual and the best that we can realistically hope for as president. I respect his belief in the importance of forgiving his enemies, but I'm not so sure I admire his accepting such a blatantly insincere apology for such an egregious insult. In fact, I think it was a mistake, not just strategically, but morally as well.

This was what the president likes to call a teachable moment. A racist yahoo hate nutzi who lies pretty much every time he opens his moth wrongly calls the president a liar? Obama should have made Wilson the poster boy for Republican hate, lunacy and deception. But no, he let it slide. That's not an example of superior morality. That's an example of pathetic weakness. Again, Obama demonstrates that there's nothing you can't do to him, no matter how wrong or outrageous, that will cause you any pain.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Photo essay of the day

Slideshow here.

The essay is derived from two parades from Brooklyn's West Indian Days celebration. Each year people from the Caribbean publicly celebrate their culture through a series of events in and around their community. These events present outsiders with small windows into those cultures. Many more than can be presented in a 30 picture photo essay.

Doomed, doomed I tells ya

I like Obama. I think he's a fine man. I'll go much farther than that and say I think he is the best we can possibly hope for. No other man or woman possessing his intelligence decency and wisdom could possibly become president. Thoroughly understanding the issues, being open minded, respecting people and their different views, forgiving one's enemies; these are the attributes of an exceptional person. Add to all that the fact that someone with those admirable characteristics was able to get elected and it's hard to see how a better hope than Obama could come along.

Unfortunately, the very attributes that make Obama such a fine human being make him a weak president. Once he established beyond any reasonable doubt that one could oppose him with impunity, the game was lost. The politician's greatest desire is to avoid pain and anything they do is going to hurt some way, some how. So their calculation is always what will hurt least. Supporting Obama will get a shitload of calls and emails from a bunch of ignorant fucking lunatics. They'll probably come scream at you at public events. Opposing Obama costs you nothing. You may even get rewarded. No strings attached. What's a poor apparatchik to do? No, to succeed as president, Obama needs make those who oppose him, particularly those in his own party, feel pain. He has to be a ruthless asshole that doesn't give a fuck about someone else's point of view beyond figuring out how to bend it to his own. Can he do that? Can he do it without becoming somebody else? One of them? I'm guessing no.

But ultimately, I don't think it really matters what Obama does. In the "tides of history" vs "great leader" debate, I'm 90 percent or so on the side of "tides of history" theory of predicting the future. Right now it looks like the tide is washing in an era of stupidity and violence. We are a thoroughly corrupt oligarchy drifting rapidly totalitarian. The media ranges from stupidly irresponsible to consciously ultra-partisan. More and more people are effectively brainwashed. Not only are they ignorant of the facts, they are angrily averse to knowing them. They'll believe what they're told by their leaders, no matter how outrageous and their leaders are telling them democracy and rule of law are not legitimate, Those, and other socialist ideas (such as education, to name just one) are, in fact, dire threats to national security, to Amercan's children, all things good and God Almighty.

Were Obama to consult poor chuckling, I'd advise him to give a big speech on the Mall detailing just exactly how and why our political system is irreparably broken, then resign and emigrate to France in order to devote all his energy to writing. He'd probably accomplish much more that way than by turning into a ruthless asshole. But you never know. I can see how one might argue that he give being a ruthless asshole a chance, then if that doesn't work out go with the expat option.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


In retrospect, it became obvious that Obama would fail miserably as president when he pushed the Senate democrats to let Joe Lieberman keep his committee chairmanship. That act sent the message loud and clear that not only could people oppose him on this or that issue; they could kick him in the nuts, stab him in the back, bitch slap his wife--whatever-- and he wouldn't do a damn thing about it (except maybe try to suck up to them even more).

Pictures of the day

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A forest

I need some text here to separate the photo above from the one below. So I'll just type something here. Anything. It doesn't matter. Just to take up space. It would simply ooze. Like toxic sludge through the neural pathways. No. No politics. Best not to write about it. Sure, it would take up some space, but it would also take up space in my head, and possibly yours. No. No, We don't want that. Best not to think about it, eh? Think about something else. Look at the pretty forest. Sure is pretty. I like pretty forests.

See, this post looks better already. That space sure helps. A second paragraph is nice as well. One line should be enough, though it probably would look better with two. No, now that I'm looking at it, I think three lines are definitely called for. You say I have four? Damn.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Picture of the day

Before we get to the daily neighborhood report, we have an important personnel announcement. chuckling on-line magazine's photo editor has taken a leave of absence and will be replaced by a new guy that likes pictures of flowers. After the incredibly tranquil trip to Quebec, we feel it's best to look at pretty shapes and colors in an undisturbing kind of way. Enough of that black and white shit. Eh?

I finally downloaded the Offender Locator app. I'd been putting it off because I was so afraid of what I'd see. Living in a densely populated urban area which is, one must assume from what one sees, home to a ridiculously high number of malfunctioning individuals, I figured there's be at least a hundred sex offenders within a three block radius and that I'd recognize more than a few of them. Several guys I see regularly hang out on the sidewalk and make rude sexual suggestions to female passersbye. I just saw the worst of the two a few minutes ago when I went to the fruit market to get a red onion. He was sitting on a crate between the lemons and the limes, shirt off, sacked half pint going back and forth between his crotch and his lips. The guy always has a half pint. He makes his living, such as it is, sitting in front of businesses harassing females until the owner buys him a half pint to go sit in front of someone else's business. I expected to see that guy in the offender list at the very least. But it turned out to be not that bad and I didn't recognize anybody. No one near our block and only a few in a pretty wide area.

What a world, eh?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Picture of the day

It's hard to keep up with all the changes to businesses on the commercial strip near my house. I think I mentioned that there's been a recent influx of cell phone stores. And we've always had a lot of 99 cent stores. One went out of business. Another has expanded, taking over an empty adjacent storefront. Now that I think about it, a business taking over an adjacent storefront has become a trend. T-Mobile did it, the dry cleaner and now the 99 cent store. The other trend is empty storefronts. I believe there are three now between my house and the subway. That's a first. In the past new businesses would move in as fast as possible as the old ones move out. I suspect we'll be seeing more and more empties going forward, though eventually each block may turn into a giant 99 cent or cell phone store, save each block's crappy Chinese restaurant.

Of course the big news is the prostitute bar that opened up on the corner. It used to be just another Mexican restaurant, then it morphed into an illegal nightclub, now it has become a prostitute bar like those you find in Mexican border towns. Customer's pay ten dollars to dance with scantily clad whores who will sit at their table and order buckets of beer. There's another Mexican prostitute bar down the street that has upstairs apartments where they take their clients. A van is available to shuttle them back and forth. Actual streetwalkers have started to appear between the two prostitute bars. Late night fights break out several times a week. There was apparently a concerted efforts by the whorehouse patrons to literally shit on the neighbors, or at least their sidewalks. One day last week several neighbors woke up to find fetid piles in front of their homes.

The neighbors have actively tried to close them down from the start. The neighborhood association, local politicians and the local police precinct have all been trying, though it's been mostly ineffective. Despite their efforts, and blatant law breaking on the part of the nightclub, the state liquor board gave them a license to operate until 4 am, so now they are legal, at least to serve liquor. The powers that be managed to close them down the other night on the flimsy charge of hiring unlicensed bouncers. I went to the hearing in which the city was trying to keep them shut down. The judge that was handling the case was on vacation so a temporary judge was assigned. The prosecutor was unprepared and did not know the law regarding liquor licensing. The judge said it was crazy to take away someone's property rights because of unlicensed security and liquor license violations that had since been remedied. He said he never would have closed it down in the first place. But fortunately, the Mexican whorehouse lawyer was even less competent than the prosecutor. The prosecutor asked to keep the place closed until the other judge could return and make a ruling. The judge looked at the whorehouse lawyer, clearly willing to open the place back up, but the whorehouse lawyer said nothing. The judge looked to the sky and kept the place closed until September 11.

What a world, what a world. Brooklyn.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Picture of the day

Unfortunately, rehab wasn't very rehabilitating this year. Or if so, it hasn't kicked in yet. That could be because I still have a houseguest and the traveling has continued, albeit much more close to home. Rehab failed the past two years because I took it at Burning Man. Burning Man's great, but it's not exactly what you'd call relaxing. Not the way I've done it. Don't get me wrong. I'm as in favor of consuming mass quantities and watching things burn and go boom as much as the next guy, but I don't come back from it in a Buddha-like state. On the contrary, I shake for weeks.

But three years ago, I took the rehab in Quebec and that worked out quite well. Lola and I camped in a primitive campground on a fast moving river in a beautiful valley in a national park about 40 K north of Quebec city. We spent a couple days in the city, took a couple drives down the Chemin de Roy, which follows the Saint Lawrence from Quebec to Trois Riviere and I've no doubt is one of the more beautiful highways in the world. The rest of the time blissfully camping, hiking and canoeing. And the meals? Both in town and cooked over the open fire? Incroyable.

So I thought I'd replicate it this rehab. I'd recently been thinking of pursuing bliss and enlightenment and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Then maybe taking up squash. I don't know. Anyway, I though Quebec would be a good place to get started. And I had two weeks.

Long story short: Had a great time but am probably less enlightened before I left and definitely short of more than a few brain cells. But Quebec? It's fantastic. First we camped at Parc National de la Maricie. The highlight of those days was canoeing an hour and a half to get to a three kilometer trail that brought us to a beautiful waterfall where we swam for hours. Then we went about two hundred kilometers north to Parc National de Point Taillon, which sits on a giant lake. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was when we passed through an enchanted forest on the way. I'm not one of those boorish people that goes on and on about his dreams; suffice it to say that I was having a great one when I ran off the road and woke up. And it took up right where it left off when my friend Ken was driving. Unfortunately, I woke up when he ran off the road. Much as I hated to do it, we stopped for some coffee to shake off the effect of the enchanted forest. I didn't want to kill poor little John Bob. Point Taillon is almost totally flat. Everybody bikes there, so we rented bikes and tooled around for a couple days, often stopping for rest in fields of wild blueberry (the original title of this article was "my wild blueberry paradise." I would have eaten enough, if that were possible) and eating wild raspberries from the many patches that lined the side of the road. We were about 20 meters from the beach and went to sleep each night to the sound of crashing waves. We swam in the pleasantly cool water morning, noons and night. From there we camped at Parc National de la Baie-Sainte-Marguerite on the Saguenay fiord, best known for the Beluga whales that often hang out there. A three K hike took us to the observation area, a beautiful beach where the river empties into the fiord. The hills were as high as a thousand meters and the Fiord below was equally deep. Every day clouds enveloped the hills and drifted down the fiord. On the third day the whales arrived. I watch probably fifty or sixty Beluga swim leisurely up the fiord toward an oncoming storm. The water was blue, the clouds black, the lightning almost as bright a white as the whales. The thunder rolled. The next day we took a whale watching boat out of Taddousac and saw a lot of mink whales, a few fin whales and another pod of Beluga. After that we headed down to Quebec to finish off the trip with a couple days in the city. John Bob and I managed a kayak trip that included a couple sets of type II rapids. We had a couple fantastic French meals in the old city. Then cruised the Chemin de Roy to Trois Riviere and made a dash back to NYC.

Back in the city I saw Ponyo. Ponyo is the latest movie from Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli movies are great. Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle and My Friend Totorro are high art. One could make an argument for Princess Mononoke. I had reservations about Ponyo because I'd read it was a G-rated movie about a little fish girl who wants to be human. But I knew it probably didn't matter what a Studio Ghibli move was about and I was right. It is a great movie. Not without its flaws, but there are two or three scenes that are possibly the two or three most incredibly beautiful animation sequences in the history of the medium. If the sequence where Ponyo chases the car on waves is not the result of artistic genius then artistic genius does not exist. There's just nothing else out there like Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki writes the story and paints the storyboards. He has total control. No one else does anything remotely similar. Perhaps other have the talent but not the means. Nevertheless.

Finally, my friend Ken is still here so I haven't quite gotten back to normal, hence the paucity and poor quality of my publishing. I've spent far more time than I like going to bars and shows in Manhattan. Our return from Quebec coincided with the departure of the French kids. I had dreaded their time here, but it worked out quite well. They were perfect house guests and I liked them very much. Between them and Quebec, this turned into a summer of French. I can actually carry on a decent conversation again for the first time in years. Of course that won't last.

Anyway, things should be getting back to normal soon. I need to finish up this year's Coney Island project, but there's still a lot of work to make that happen.

Hope this finds you well, reader. Personally, I need a fucking vacation. I wanna go to rehab, yea, yea, yea.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back from rehab

Yep, back from rehab. It's been nice to be away from the news. Got in at 2 am last night and did a quick scan of the usual sites. Looks like Obama's blowing it big time, huh? Apparently his strategy of saying "fuck you" to his base isn't working. Who could have predicted?

Sunday, August 09, 2009


FYI, I'll be away for the next couple weeks. No posting or reading email.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A teachable moment

I'm surprised there hasn't been more comment on the lefty blogs about George Sodini, the wingnut who shot up a Pittsburgh gym full of young women, killing three. Pandagon covered it from the "nice guy" angle, but the overall effort seemed half-hearted. I understand. We know all about these people. Wingnut on a murder spree? It's like commenting on the weather. Sure is hot. Yep. The New York Times didn't even mention it.

But he fact that Sodini is an archetypical wingnut should be played for all it's worth. Sexually frustrated, bullied, Christian fruitcake, gun nut, Obama hater:

Sodini's first entry on Nov. 5, 2008, was a racist rant about President Obama and black men. The seeds of slaughter were sown in subsequent entries, where he complained about not having had a girlfriend "since 1984."

Sodini dismissed his dad as a "useless sperm donor." He raged against his "useless bully" brother. He called his mother "The Central Boss." He blasted his former pastor.

"This guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven," Sodini wrote.

Couldn't get laid for 20 years? Hell, I'm no great catch these days and women still occasionally flirt with me. That guy was in decent shape and had a job and couldn't get a date. Dude must have put off a seriously fucked up vibe. And Jesus gave him permission to kill. Now he's in heaven.

The wider audience, the regular people who don't read deep into the news, need to be introduced to these people. Mass murder is what some refer to as a "teachable moment." Oh well, it looks like there will be way too many of these teachable moments. Maybe next time a wingnut goes on a murder spree it will get the coverage it merits. Maybe tomorrow. It won't be long.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Someone asked if I was sorry I didn't shoot color the other day when I saw the rainbow at the beach. Actually, I was carrying the color camera and took a few shots. But this isn't all. I have a lot of color rainbow pics. Hundreds. I take them all the time. Rainbows are part of a project I'm working on called "Puppies, Kittens, and Rainbows." The purpose of the project is to show the naysayers that puppies, kittens, and rainbows are too just so damn cute.

On an unrelated note, people have been searching for the end of the rainbow since time immemorial. As you can see, I found it in Coney Island. The end of the rainbow is in Brooklyn public housing. Who could have guessed?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chuckling predicts a bipartisan solution for health reform

This is easy. Congress will eventually pass a health reform bill. It will be designed to transfer massive amounts of taxpayer money to health insurance companies. Given our experience with the financial sector, my guess is that the insurance companies will be given significant financial incentives to insure everybody, or at least most people, but there will be no actual requirement for them to do so. The guidelines will be voluntary. Executive compensation will be huge. Tens of millions will remain uninsured.

Then just as there are no racists in the age of Obama, and therefore no need for anti-discrimination laws; there will no longer be any need for Medicaid, or for the uninsured to visit emergency rooms, because everybody should have insurance. We'll see what form it takes, but some kind of compromise that denies millions of poor people the health care options they now have will be the makings of a bipartisan solution. The combination of windfall profits and punishing poor people will definitely appeal to the conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans who are so necessary to getting some kind, fuck all any kind, of health care legislation passed.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Photo of the day

Change you probably didn't sign up for

Seems that nowadays if a cop wrongly harasses and arrests an innocent black guy he wins a beer with the president.

Is it still too early to declare the Obama presidency a failure? To recognize Obama as the point guard for the Washington Generals? I guess, but so far the game is going according to script. The Washington Generals jump out to a big lead only to start making boneheaded turnovers, missing lay ups and turning a blind eye to the other team's egregious cheating. The Globetrotters, in this case the Republicans, close the gap and win in the end. The Generals, in this case the Democrats, cash their checks and laugh all the way to the next fundraiser.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Class divide

From an article in the Guardian UK: "Revealed: the hidden benefits of a private-school education."

...fee-paying pupils benefit from an emphasis on "soft skills" such as teamwork and communication, which are imparted through sport, music and drama. With more pupils now getting the academic grades needed for university, private pupils get ahead because of their more rounded CVs and confident presentation.

That's been my observation as well. Shows how stupid it is for public schools to cut sports, music, drama, and other arts in favor of class after class of reading and math focusing almost exclusively on test prep. Yet another area in which conservatives get it totally wrong.

Brooklyn summer

As regular readers know, I hate New York like any animal hates its cage. The noise, blah blah, the grime, blah blah, the godawful noise, blah blah, blah blah.

But it's not all bad. Last night I agreed to take John Bob to see the new Harry Potter movie. The weather was perfect. Warm, not too humid with a nice breeze. We walked through Prospect Park to get to the theater. We had an hour and a half to kill after buying the tickets so we walked across the street, back into the park to the bandshell, bought a glass of wine and caught the end of the (free) King Sunny Adé concert. By pure happenstance, we sat down on the lawn by some friends, so we sat around and had a nice chat after the concert.

The Potter movie wasn't as bad as I feared. I've read all the books because of the kids. I enjoy them. Not great literature, but page turners with a small amount of emotional impact here and there. I don't like any of the movies though. And I didn't like this one that much either, but it was significantly different than the rest. It was mostly about the awkwardness of teen sexuality and actually did a fairly good job of portraying it. There was some beautiful nature shots as well. All the wizarding mumbo jumbo seemed incidental.

Anyway, the movie got out about 11:30. We popped in a little restaurant for some sushi and I had a large Sapporo, then we hopped on the Subway for a couple stops to get back home. All in all, a nice urban experience.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Like everyone else, we here at chuckling on-line magazine have been following the Sarah Palin phenomena. We've managed to infiltrate her organization in the midwest and have learned many disturbing new facts. Most disturbing of all, we can now report, is that her followers are organizing themselves, or perhaps being organized, into secret societies modeled after Christian organizations from the dark ages. They've even got a stupid vow, which initiates must recite when entering the order:

I swear that I am not now nor have ever been a liberal, that I do not accept the overthrow of the rightful American government by the pagan usurper, Barack Obama. That I do not accept gay marriage or the separation of church and state or the metric system. That I will not answer the census questions. That I will never again steal or drink or use illegal drugs or fornicate out of vice. And that I will give my life for my religion and Sarah Palin.

More tk. Lots more, I fear.

Domestic updates

Several times in the past few years we've sent our children to stay with relatives in France during summer vacation. Payback arrived last week in the form of three Parisian teenagers who will be living with us for the next six weeks. As if New York teenagers weren't shallow enough.

Just kidding. Though quite fashionable, they are good kids. The only problem so far is that one of them seems to have made all his fashion decisions based on gangster rap videos. The second day here he came out with his pants down below his butt showing off his boxer shorts while wearing a wife beater shirt, a thick gold chain around his neck and a NY Yankees cap tipped sideways. He had the look nailed, the only problem being it was a bit too precise. Of course we told him he had to pull up his pants while he's in our house. And we asked him to please not go around like that in our neighborhood. In Manhattan he can wear his pants around his ankles for all we care.

Are we old fogies? Maybe some, but for the most part I don't think so. My main concern is for his safety. People Brooklyn in generally don't want to see kids adverting themselves as thugs walking around their neighborhoods and it's not unusual for local toughs to do something about it. Brooklyn ain't Manhattan. Then there are the cops who are likely to hassle the gangster types. And I also fear that real ghetto kids might not take kindly to some French kid posing as a thug. Cause tough guy he ain't. After putting away his gangbanger costumes he busted out with a series of athletic wear ensembles. Better a pimp than a punk, I guess. Those French and their fashions. Just gotta laugh.

The girl, who is 15, bears a strong family resemblance to my wife. I've found that a bit uncomfortable, but I'm coping. I'm not one of those disgusting old guys that ogles young women. My daughter's friends, for example, are mostly attractive young girls and I don't need any self control not to ogle them. One time I walked in when they weren't expecting me and caught them dancing topless. I got a laugh off their embarrassment, but that was it. But none of them look remotely like my wife, unlike her little French niece. It's taking some effort not to look at her. Lola was pretty cute way back when.

Anyway, I was afraid having three teen visitors in our tiny New York apartment would be difficult, but it's gone all right so far. John Bob's had a lot of sleepovers and now he's away at camp for 10 days. Jane Bob is spending a month in France, so it's not that much more crowded than normal. This time she's not staying with relatives. She got in one of those education abroad programs where they study something and live with a family. Of course she's not writing much and hasn't called, but the few notes we've gotten indicate she's having the time of her life. A bunch of 17 year-olds running free in Paris? Yea, that would be fun. Now she's with the family in Arles and seems to be having a fantastic time there as well. About the time Jane Bob gets back I'm going to Quebec for a couple weeks, so I'll be free. But it's too bad for her French cousins that she's away. They're kind of lost and are spending most of their time playing the Wii.

Periodically, I've told you about the ever-ongoing changes to the businesses in my neighborhood. It's been a little slow lately. A dry cleaner took over a clothing store and dentist office that closed. His old shop is now for rent. A Russian bakery went out of business. I walked by there late the other night and five Chinese guys were playing poker. I don't know if they were workers remodeling or if it's now going to be an illegal poker parlor. I wouldn't be a bit surprised either way.

The big news here is that a local Mexican restaurant went rogue and turned into an illegal nightclub. Hundreds of people are in and out of there till four in the morning. There's dancing, bright lights and thumpa thumpa all night long. There's been at least one knife fight, a few women have been slapped around on the street, and the noise is pretty much constant from 2 am to 4:30. The worst of it is that taxis continuously pull up and honk. We can drown out most of it, but the honks pierce any white noise we throw up against them.

You might think that it would be easy to close down an illegal nightclub but that's not proving to be the case. The neighbors are up in arms. The neighborhood association has had numerous meetings and repeatedly contacted the police and elected officials. The authorities have been responsive. They learned that the restaurant's liquor license only goes till 10 pm and claim to be working to get that rescinded. The police say they have given the owner numerous summons's and at one point they jailed him for four days. But the day he got out it was open again and has been open ever since.

I'm not without sympathy. Guy's trying to make a buck in tough economic times. Apparently there's a great need for nightclubs among the Mexican population. Those people work hard doing the shittiest jobs around. Why shouldn't they be able to party? The answer is that if the guy wants to run a nightclub, he should open one in a non-residential neighborhood where it's legal.

Nobody round here quite understands why it's so difficult to shut the place down. How can someone just defy the authorities like that? If I sat up a table and start selling beer on the sidewalk it wouldn't be an hour before the police closed me down. And since he doesn't have a liquor license for a nightclub now, I'm skeptical that taking away his daytime license is going to have any effect. Why won't he just continue telling the cops and politicians and the neighbors to fuck off? Apparently he's making a lot more money than being illegal is costing him. But I don't really care about his reasoning. What's with the cops? Are they really such big helpless pussies when confronted with a Mexican who doesn't want to obey the law?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How little I knew

The feature article* in this month's Harper's argues that Barack Obama is the next Herbert Hoover. Of course I've heard that he's the next Bin Laden, the next Hitler, the next Stalin and the anti-Christ if not Satan himself, so it's hardly surprising someone would throw Herbert Hoover into the mix. Hoover was, as we all know, the cold hearted architect of the Great Depression, a very bad person with no redeeming qualities and a typical big business Republican. Like you, I am sick of all that shit and passed over reading the article.

But this was Harper's and after reading everything else, I came back to it. And little did I know. Herbert Hoover was not at all like I thought he was. He's actually a lot like Obama, except far more interesting.

Orphaned and penniless by the age of nine, Hoover was raised by an exploitative uncle who considered him more chattel than son. He had no illusions about the America he grew up in, writing years later, “As gentle as are the memories of the times, I am not recommending a return to the good old days. Sadness was greater, and death came sooner.”

Removed from public school at fourteen to work as his uncle’s office boy, Hoover nonetheless learned enough at night school to make the very first class at the newly opened Stanford University, where he studied geology and engineering. He paid his own way by working as a waiter, a typist, and a handyman, and eventually running a laundry service, a baggage service, and a newspaper route. (Unsurprisingly, his favorite book was David Copperfield.) After graduation, he ran mining camps and scouted new strikes around the globe. It was an adventurous life; on one occasion he made a small fortune by following an ancient Chinese map and tiger tracks into a moribund silver mine in Burma. By the time he was forty, Hoover was worth $85 million in today’s dollars, and he retired from business to take up public life. “The ideal of service,” he would later write, was no burden on the striving entrepreneur but a “great spiritual force poured out by our people as never before in the history of the world.”

He had long lived up to his ideals. Caught in the siege of the Western delegations in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, only Hoover and his fearless wife, Lou, cared enough to sneak food and water to the Chinese Christians besieged elsewhere in the city. He first came to national attention after the start of World War I, when he led the effort to feed the 7 million people of occupied Belgium and France. He worked for free, donated part of his own fortune to the cause, and risked his life repeatedly crossing the U-boat–infested waters of the North Atlantic. His postwar relief efforts rescued millions more throughout Europe and especially in the Soviet Union; it’s unlikely that any other individual in human history saved so many people from death by starvation and want. Questioned about feeding populations under Bolshevik control, he banged a table and insisted, “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!” In 1920, many people in both major parties wanted to run him for president, but he opted for the Republican cabinet. As secretary of commerce under Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he was a dynamic figure, tirelessly promoting new technologies, work-safety rules, and voluntary industry standards; he supervised relief to Mississippi and Louisiana during the terrible 1927 floods and advocated cooperation between labor and management.

“We had summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch the problems being solved,” the journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote of Hoover’s inauguration in March 1929, in words that might easily have been used in January 2009. “Almost with the air of giving genius its chance, we waited for the performance to begin.”

The article goes on to describe the similarities between Obama and Hoover's governing philosophies. It repeatedly makes the point that both of them understood what was happening better than everyone around them. It details how Obama is taking the same approach as Hoover did across a wide range of issues. It details how and why Hoover failed and argues that Obama is making the exact same mistakes. It's a depressing read. Makes way too much sense. Uncomfortable. I fear all too prescient. Worth reading, nevertheless. At least it was for me. Turned out I knew next to nothing about Herbert Hoover.

* Subscription required. Go ahead, subscribe. Harper's is easily the best magazine still publishing.

Friday, July 03, 2009

And it's one, two, three...

What are we fighting for in Afghanistan? Does anyone even ask? Does anyone even give a damn?

The U.S. has reportedly launched an invasion of Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Helmand Province is roughly the size of West Virginia and home to 740,000 people, almost all of whom hate us. Why are we doing that?

The first major operation launched with the additional troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama is devised to clear Taliban havens across a strategic southern province — and then, in a marked departure from past practice, to leave clusters of Marines in small bases close to the villagers they were sent to guard and aid, according to senior military officers.

Why? Why do we want a presence in every little village in a dusty province half a world away? Isn't there some better way we could spend our money and energy?
“Essentially what they are trying to do is create and sustain a productive presence in Helmand Province, including both combat power and civil-engagement capabilities,” a senior military officer said.

Again, why? Even if 4000 troops can conquer and hold this province, why is it worth such a massive expenditure in lives and fortune?

The silence is deafening. Let's try Google. It has an answer for everything.

OMG. The all-knowing internet doesn't even know why we are fighting in Afghanistan. It's a mystery of our times.

Yea, I know, it supposedly has something to do with 9/11, but whatever the poor villagers of Helmand Province might have had to do with hijacking those airplanes has been lost to the mists of time. At this late date, we seem to be engaging in military operations just for the sake of engaging in military operations. Once a military operation starts, it has to continue until total victory has been achieved. Otherwise we've lost. What have we lost? That's not exactly clear.

Oh well, in these troubled times maybe it's best to have the military occupied in some hellhole half a world away. By all reports, the military is a very conservative institution and right wing Christianist extremists have been successfully infiltrating it. Maybe it's best they expend their energy trying to conquer and convert Afghanistan to right wing Christianity. With too much time on their hands they might try to conquer and convert us.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Picture of yesterday

Another self portrait (and apple stills sucks)

I finally got around to replacing my piece of shit computer. As mentioned previously, Apple is an evil monopoly and I once again call on President Obama to sic the trustbusters on them. Apple refuses to offer a simple inexpensive box that you can pop open and add hard drives and RAM. You either have to buy the highest of the high end Macs which adds up to $3000 minimum, or go with an underpowered little thing that requires the skills of a brain surgeon and a lot of research to upgrade.

Anyway, I eventually settled for cheapest Mac Mini with additional RAM and a firewire 800 hard drive to run the OS. It's OK, a bit zippier than the piece of shit G5 tower that died, but as you can see, it requires a lot of external crap and wiring. And being no brain surgeon, of course I fucked up the audio when installing the RAM, which voids the warranty. Fortunately, I've got a lot of computer crap laying around and that included an MBox that I can use for audio.

So it all ends well, for the time being, but my hatred of Apple is reaching pathological proportions. It's just not right that only one company manufactures personal computers. I'm not exactly what you'd call a rabid free marketer, but this is one area where government should get involved to ensure healthy competition.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A is for authoritarian

"God's laws are designed to protect people from themselves."

So says Mark Sanford (R) South Carolina, big red (A) in public. Yea, yea, another conservative hypocrite. Family values southern guy ditches his wife and kid for an affair with an exotic foreigner. Not such a hillbilly after all, eh? Yea, yea, I know, the term "hypocrite" in "conservative hypocrite" is redundant. We all know that.

I find the above quote from the governor much more interesting than his all-too-human fuckfest with a dusky temptress from a foreign land. Let he who hasn't either done that or fantasized about it cast the first stone. What separates conservatives and normal people on the scarlet letter question is the idea of control. I think we can all agree it's not a great thing to fuck around on your wife and mother of four kids and get busted all over the news cycle. The difference is that normal people think a person should exercise self-control in these matters while conservatives think government should intervene to smack down sexuality. Why? Because God commands that we do whatever it takes to keep people from enjoying sex. Sanford's little speech lays it out plain.

My knee-jerk reaction is to think that these hypocritical authoritarian fucks don't believe a word of their purported religion. Anyone who believes in an afterlife; anyone who believes that quality of a guy's eternal afterlife is decided by his ability to keep his dick in his pants would manage to keep his dick in his pants. Personally, I'd cut the damned thing off if it would guarantee me eternal bliss. Any sane person would.

Yea, yea, I know that the conservative pathology is more complicated than that, but they definitely believe in earthly authority, no ifs ands or buts. In the societies conservatives rule, societies such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, North Korea, et. al., the government beats the bitches in the street for any hint of sexuality. That's the ideal conservative society. That's what conservatives, people like Mark Sanford, need to control their hard on. They need for government to keep the bitches from tempting them. They need for the government to punish the ones who do. And God agrees, you can read it in a holy book, so it makes a lot of sense to people who believe that crap. That's why the conservatives of this world, Mark Sanford being today's poster boy, so diligently pursue state power. They can't control themselves so they want somebody else to do it for them. And when they're caught, they'll ask for and receive forgiveness, but you can bet they never gave any and probably never will.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kafka on the shore

You may recall that I've been revisiting Haruki Murakami’s novels. I recently re-read ""The Wind-up Bird Chronicle." I just finished "Kafka on The Shore."

Read a serious review of Kafka here.

The first time through I thought Kafka was the much better novel. It was funny and all the supernatural stuff made sense. But now I think Wind-up Bird was better precisely because the supernatural stuff didn't all fit together neatly. The level of explication necessary to tie it all together in Kafka resulted in many stretches of ridiculous dialog. Still, it's a great page turner and worth reading.

I was more disappointed in the review I linked to above. It's an example of pretty much everything I hate about modern book reviews. After reading it, I was surprised to find that it was written by John Updike who is very well-regarded in this area. I guess that means one of us is shallow and scoreboard suggests it's not John Updike. Still...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flaws in the ointment

Like I said, it's because all of the performances are imperfect. A dense, artistic kind of imperfection stimulates your consciousness, keeps you alert... But listening to the D Major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of--that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect.

-- Haruki Murakami from Kafka on the Beach

Amanda Marcotte's review of the movie Up at Pandagon includes a slap at Pixar's Cars. I had only recently become aware that Cars was poorly reviewed as far-and-away Pixar's worst film and that a lot of people think it sucks. I was surprised by this because Cars is my favorite Pixar movie and the only one I ever had any desire to see more than once.

So in comments I asked what people thought was wrong with it? The typical answer, supplied by someone called junk science, is:

...the plot, character types, and pacing seem like so much paint-by-numbers feel-good Disney blandness compared to a wittier Toy Story or Monsters, Inc. Cars isn’t a bad movie, but it could have come from a lesser studio than Pixar, which is what I think bothers people.

OK. That makes sense and pretty much answered my question. But a couple other responses were worth reading for their other-than-mainstream perspectives. Mnemosyne writes:
I wasn’t too fond of Cars but my husband and most men I know really, really liked it.  It seemed to speak to them on some subconscious level about breaking through to a better, less traditional view of what being an adult man should/could be.  It’s one of the few movies out there where the male protagonist matures through his relationships with other people and not because of the adventures he encounters.  The traditional markers of male success aren’t just rejected, they’re actively subverted at the end of the film.  (Trying to avoid spoilers here, but I think you know what I mean.)

If that’s what men and boys are getting out of it, then I don’t really care that it didn’t speak to me.  Not every movie is about me. 

I thought that comment was very insightful. Do I like Cars because of a guy thing? I'm not particular into cars, often don't even own one, and would just about rather go to the dentist than watch a NASCAR race, which as far as I can see is nothing more than a lot of colorful boxes making an endless left turn in slow motion. I did like the fact that the protagonist matured through his relationship with others. That was the heart of the movie and in conjunction with the manner in which he matured (understanding that friends are better than fame and fortune) explains a good part of why I liked it so much.

RobW had a different take:
One of the central themes of Cars was the idea that individuals are born to their purpose and cannot escape being what they are, and what they all are is a collection of stereotypes.  The race car is the jock, the towtruck is the dumb redneck, the lowrider is the cholo, the only “black” characters are a Cadillac and SUVs with huge chrome rims (who, being from the city are naturally criminals- in the end we see the small town sheriff has them in custody doing hard labor and we’re supposed to laugh at them), etc. 
The smart and pretty Porsche totally falls for the race car despite the lack of any explanation why anyone would even tolerate the arrogant prick.  Because she’s a girl and he’s famous.  Then there’s the fangirls: Mazda Miatas, of course.

It is also a paean to nostalgia.  Modern is bad, the Old Ways are good, combined with the vicious racial stereotyping and reactionary message that you can only be what you are meant to be makes the film despicable, really.  Hell, the towtruck, ‘Mater, has a star turn at one point demonstrating, quite literally, the joys of going through life in reverse.  It seems you don’t need to know where you’re going, all you have to do is know where you’ve been- but this can only work if you never, ever, leave the familiar.

Oh yeah, and the happy ending: it seems the best thing that can happen to anyone is to gain the approval and support of a large corporation, the oh-so-benevolent-and-kindly OIL COMPANY of all things.  Run by a stereotypical Texan, naturally...

...So, it’s an entertaining movie for people unoffended by racial, cultural, gender stereotypes, who don’t think about its reactionary message, or who just don’t think.  Great conservative film, in other words.

RobW, I think, is a bit harsh. The idea that individuals are born to their purpose and cannot escape being what they are is not one of the central themes of Cars. It's one of the central aspects of cars. That's cars, not Cars.

Cars really are born to their purpose and don't have a lot of opportunity to be something else. A tow truck is a tow truck. A fire engine is a fire engine. They will never become race cars or minivans. I see nothing in the movie that argues the same is true for people.

As for the ethnic stereotyping, Rob makes a good point. Without thinking about it, I had liked the diverse cast of characters and the way they all got along so well. Social integration is a good thing, man. And it fit with the fictional universe of the movie. The army surplus guy is a jeep. The VW Kombi is a hippie. The low rider is a Mexican-American from East L.A. How else would you cast the low rider? They are not ashamed of their taste in cars in East L.A. But yea, how do you cast the African American woman? As a Cadillac? Uh oh, there is some negative history with that kind of stereotype. But anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of African Americans like Cadillacs (as do geriatric white people) and don't seem particularly ashamed of it. I hesitate to call that vicious racial stereotyping. They didn't show her parked out in front of a shack.

And women fall for arrogant pricks all the time, both in real life and in film, so that's hardly unrealistic. Of course the part where the arrogant prick realizes the error of his ways and changes happens only in the movies, but Cars is a movie. What do you expect?

Perhaps Cars is a paean to nostalgia. I guess I just don't see that as necessarily a bad thing. The scene where the old neon lights of Route 66 come back to life is, I think, one of the better paeans to nostalgia in cinematographic history. It's a beautiful scene.

But enough defense against the fringe. The mainstream argument is that the story is paint-by-numbers feel-good Disney blandness.

First, I say leave Disney out of it. Cars is Pixar storytelling all the way and it tells pretty much the exact same story as Up. A socially isolated individual learns the benefits of friendship and community. All Pixar stories are painted-by-number. They are all textbook. They are all flawless from a technical storytelling perspective. Cars is just like all the rest.

That's my problem with Pixar. The flawlessness of their storytelling is their greatest flaw. You need only watch a few Studio Ghibli movies to see what I mean. Watch Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, or even Totoro, and you'll see that they leave Pixar in the dust artistically. Kids like Pixar movies but they're not that crazy about them. I'm the one who always suggests going to see them. But after seeing Spirited Away, my kids begged me to watch Studio Ghibli movies. You'll love it, dad, it's great, over and over again for about a year until I finally gave in.

The big difference, I think, is that Studio Ghibli movies are the artistic vision of one man, Hayao Miyazaki. Sure his stories have flaws, but his idiosyncratic visions of flying machines, old ladies, Japanese mythology and other individualistic bric-a-brac raise them so far above Pixar's textbook stortelling that it's not even close. Pixar's stories seem the work of a committee. A very competent committee, granted, but a committee nevertheless.

Naw, that's a bit harsh as well. Pixar does excellent work. I'll end this with a couple quotes that, I think, better illustrate what I'm trying to say.

John Lasseter of Pixar:
(about making the movie Cars) I learned that the journey in life is a reward, It's about living every day to its fullest, and I knew that's what I wanted the film to be about.

Let me tell you a funny story. I took the family to see this film one weekend, I'll go to see almost any film that's good for the whole family. And so we're sitting there watching this film, which I won't name, and there are long stretches that are just not very entertaining. My little son - he was probably 6 at the time was sitting next to me, and right in the middle of this dull section, he turns to me and says, "Dad? How many letters are in my name?" I must have laughed for five minutes. I thought, Oh, man, this movie has lost this little boy.

We make the kind of movies we want to see, we love to laugh, but I also believe what Walt Disney said 'for every laugh there should be a tear'. I love movies that make me cry, because they're tapping into a real emotion in me, and I always think afterwards how did they do that?

Interesting, but again, I'll give Miyazaki the last word:
"Personally I am very pessimistic," Miyazaki says. "But when, for instance, one of my staff has a baby you can't help but bless them for a good future. Because I can't tell that child, 'Oh, you shouldn't have come into this life.' And yet I know the world is heading in a bad direction. So with those conflicting thoughts in mind, I think about what kind of films I should be making."

Perhaps this is why he tells children's stories. "Well, yes. I believe that children's souls are the inheritors of historical memory from previous generations. It's just that as they grow older and experience the everyday world that memory sinks lower and lower. I feel I need to make a film that reaches down to that level. If I could do that I would die happy."

I ask if he feels he's managed that already and he chuckles and shakes his head. Nor does he feel that film can be employed as a force for good. "Film doesn't have that kind of power," he says, gloomily. "It only exerts its influence when it stirs patriots up against other nations, or taps into aggressive, violent urges."

This is a black diagnosis indeed. But then, inexplicably, Miyazaki's mood lightens. Perhaps it's the sunshine, or the cigarette, or the fact that the interview is almost over. "Of course," he relents, "if, as artists, we try to tap into that soul level - if we say that life is worth living and the world is worth living in - then something good might come of it." He shrugs. "Maybe that's what these films are doing. They are my way of blessing the child"

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Picture of the day

I don't know who you are or why you come by here so I have no idea whether or not you are interested in the photography. I've always figured it would be in my best interest to expound on the photos. To explain my motivation for taking them. To explain what I see when I look at them. People enjoy that, I know. It makes you more likely to buy. Yet I find myself unable to do it. It's your business to interpret the photo yourself, or not. My advice is to click on it to enlarge, then spend a couple hours or more staring at it. Some kind of psychotropic substance and an appropriate soundtrack might be helpful in achieving the proper understanding. But that's your business. It's not my business what you think and I don't want it to be my business to tell you how to see.

But sometimes I wonder. What do you see when you look at this photo? I'm not going to explain it to you, but I'll tell you that getting it was not a trivial endeavor. Technically, it required an obscure combination of equipment and skill to achieve this look. Artistically, how many people are even trying to achieve it? Probably not many. I've spent many years figuring out how to take this particular photo. How to communicate this particular experience. But I can see how boring it might be at a glance. There could well be a reason why no one else is bothering to figure this out. Do people on the internets even give something like this a second look? I'm guessing no.

Deformative action pt. II

In comments below, ChrisV82 provides this chart which purportedly represents the admissions disadvantages and advantages for different groups in terms of SAT points. It's saying, for example, that being a recruited athlete adds 200 points to one's SAT score. Being an Asian lops off 50 points.

Jewish people are the group most conspicuously absent. Historically, Jews were pointedly excluded from elite universities. Today they make up a disproportionate percentage of the student body at elite schools, particularly in the northeast. I'd guess that if Jews were on the chart, they'd rate something like -150.

I do not know what the best system for college admissions would be. I guess in some ideal world (somewhere similar to France), all students would have the same curriculum in school, take the same tests based on that curriculum, then be admitted, or not, to universities based on the results. But we don't have anything close to an ideal system. We have thousands of schools teaching who knows how many different curricula and the test results track with parents income far more than anything else.

What is best for society? Should test taking ability be the most important criteria? If test taking doesn't produce diversity, should diversity trump test taking, at least for a small proportion of the student body?

Poor chuckling simply does not know. The obvious answer is to have enough good schools for everybody, but that particular solution doesn't appear to be on anybody's agenda.

So for now we'll have to leave it to the professionals. College admissions people feel that it's vitally important to have a diverse student body. Beyond easily identifiable ethnic groups, they also try for socio-economic diversity, for example giving advantage to children who are the first in their family to attend college, and international diversity. What are their reasons for this belief in diversity? Are there data that suggest that's the best way to go? Is it political? At this point, I just don't know, but now that I'm thinking about it will start asking the question.

But as long as the most privileged children in this country are getting a leg up, I don't see how anyone can seriously complain about historically disadvantaged groups, or poor kids, getting a leg up as well.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Deformative action

The University of Illinois cops to what everyone knows. When it comes to college admissions, the wealthy and powerful benefit from a deformative action program that guarantees them spots in selective universities for which they would not qualify on merit.

This fact somehow gets lost in the debate about affirmative action. You know, the type of action in which people who merit an opportunity get an opportunity they otherwise would not due to their socioeconomic status.

Deformative bad. Affirmative good. Simple concept. Obvious truth. neh.

Today's top story

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Brooklyn story

This is sad. Chanequa Campbell, a gifted African American student from a poor, violent neighborhood in Brooklyn was told she would not be allowed to graduate this spring from Harvard and was forced to move off campus.

She was raised by a single mother in a blue three-story house in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and was set on a path to Harvard in fifth grade, when she was nominated to participate in Prep for Prep, a program that prepares minority students for elite schools. In seventh grade, she was admitted to Packer Collegiate Institute, where she excelled and was a star athlete. She won a New York Times Scholarship in 2005, applied to 14 colleges and was accepted to all of them.
Three weeks before she was scheduled to graduate, prosecutors reportedly linked her to a murder at her dorm. One of her friend's boyfriends killed a pot dealer in a botched robbery.
“Conversations that occurred between at least those four people led Jordan Copney to believe he could rip off Justin Cosby,” said the Middlesex County district attorney, Gerard T. Leone Jr. He also said that the Harvard students had provided the three men access to the campus.
Ms. Campbell was not charged with a crime and denies she was involved in the planning of the robbery or the murder. In an article in the Boston Globe, she denied knowing the pot dealer and letting anyone use her dorm access card. Harvard is not providing any details as to why she will not be allowed to graduate.

As you can no doubt imagine, the comments on the Globe story are mostly sick. It's getting to the point where the words "conservative" or "Republican" are synonymous with "racist moron." Those commenters, aside from the openly racist shit, whine on and on about "the race card." Now that Obama is president, no one is allowed to complain about racism any more, dontcha know.

But the old-fashioned don't question authority kind of conservatism comes out strong in that thread as well. Many simply cannot believe that Harvard would not take that kind of drastic action if they didn't know something they weren't telling. I admit to being somewhat susceptible to that argument, but I know better. Shit, as they say, flows downhill.How many times does a powerful organization find itself in an embarrassing position, look around for someone to blame and pick on the most powerless person available. So who's that gonna be? Chanequa from the hood or Brittany?

Of course I don't know. There's not enough information available to come to any kind of responsible conclusion on the justness, or not, of Harvard's actions. But no matter the outcome, this is a sad story in all too many ways.

I am familiar with Ms. Campell's educational background. Prep for Prep is an organization that picks the brightest minority students out of NYC's public schools and guarantees them placement in an elite private school. The prep part is two summers and the year in between in which sixth graders complete a grueling curriculum to catch them up with the kids in the private schools they will be entering. It is affirmative action, but not the kind that advances kids that can't hack it intellectually. Prep kids do very well in the top schools and belong at whatever university they choose to attend. Colleges want the top Prep kids because they are sure bets to succeed. After Prep, she excelled at a very good Brooklyn school, became a national merit scholar, and got into Harvard. Her parents and twenty relatives were planning on attending her graduation. I have some sense of what that would have meant to them and, try as I might, cannot imagine the devastation they must feel over what has happened. When a kid comes out of Bed-Stuy and aces Harvard, it's a very special thing.

And even worse, some poor kid died in a marijuana-related crime. This is yet another example ways in which prohibition destroys so many lives. The kid who died, his family, and possibly a very gifted young woman as well.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Katerskills falls

A few weeks ago I declared that I would go camping in the Catskills every weekend until October. You may think I'm crazy, but I have somewhat of a history with pronouncements like that. One summer I proclaimed that I would go camping on the beach in Mexico for the foreseeable future. Every weekend I got off work, picked up Jane Bob from the day care and hauled ass to the beach. 100 mph most of the way. We usually took a boat out to a sea lion rookery in the Sea of Cortez. If the sea was calm, I'd drink a lot of beer. If not, I'd lay on the deck and concentrate on not throwing up. Jane Bob spent most of the time hanging her head over the front of the boat and watching for dolphins. Once we got there we'd do some snorkeling and hang out with the sea lions. Yep. Those were pleasant days.

My soul-consuming hatred of New York City had abated significantly after visiting the midwest in the spring. I mean, sure, New York is a putrid hellhole, but it's a lot better than most the rest of the country. My all-too-understandable rabid hatred of the midwest trumps my sad-petty hatred of New York just about any day. My only real problem with New York is that I'm trapped in it. Who's fault is that. Not New York's. Obviously. But nevertheless, I hate it again.

What was I saying? Right. So every weekend I throw John Bob in the car and head up to the Catskills. But that's not gonna work. Not every weekend. I have photo commitments for a couple of Saturdays in June. Fourth of July I'm sure as hell not going anywhere. People and traffic are bad enough on a regular day. Holidays? No.

The Catskills are about 130 miles away. Two hours, right? But that's two hours plus whatever time it takes to get through New York City. Four hours is not unusual. Nightmare scenarios exist and regularly come to pass. In August, I've got to take Jane Bob on college visits. But I'm a gonna try. I'm a gonna try to get to the Catskills every weekend, to spend my days under cold waterfalls along Katerskills creek. I'm a gonna see some sunsets. Lot's of them. Follow the movements of the stars.

When's the last time I knew where Orion was going to be at any particular time. When's the last time I could predict where Venus would rise? Not since moving to New York. I can tell you that.

Friday, May 29, 2009

For a few d more

I saw "Up," you know, the new Pixar film, with John Bob today. It's a very well-made movie. Pretty much flawless. Except perhaps that it's too flawless. Maybe it could use a flaw or two. Regardless, those Pixar dudes sure know how to tell a story. Gotta love em for that. And enjoy it while it lasts. Cause you know that after the first flop Disney will be taking control and fucking everything up.

I also saw it in 3D. Not by choice. There was no choice at the local somewhat affordable theater. Pixar handled it well. The 3D was never annoying, at least not after the opening credits, and there were a few scenes where it worked very well. Those were subtle, not pointy things flying at the camera. The technology does give the director significantly more and better framing options.

The previews, however, featured upcoming 3D movies that were obviously horrible. Although Pixar did it well, my advice is to be very, very afraid for the future. Cause far and away the biggest thing that 3D enhanced was the price of the ticket. Added about $5, it did. Well, movies haven't been for the poor for awhile now. Pretty soon they won't even be for the middle class.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Education news

I hope you don't see me as one of those people who bore everyone with all the details of the lives of their kids. I only share Jane Bob's experience because it illustrates educational issues that are widely reported and discussed. And never fail to keep in mind that chuckling on-line magazine is a fictional publication. Any personal details may or may not be fanciful. Best to just assume they are.

Anyway, Jane Bob's SAT scores are in and she did okay. She took the PSAT before she started test prep. The PSAT predicts what a kid will get on the SAT. She scored 100 points higher than predicted. So in our case, the test prep was probably worth 100 points. That sounds about right. People who argue that test prep doesn't significantly favor those who take it claim it adds 10 to 30 points. Those who sell test prep claim it adds about 200.

In our case, that 100 points was the difference in being in the middle and being near the cut-off point for what it takes to get into the selective schools. That's a significant difference. A lot of people get left on the bottom side of that divide for lack of 100 points. If you care about getting your kid accepted into the selective schools, you really should consider some serious test prep. Not just a weekend. Several months, at least.

You probably aren't properly imagining how stupid I recognize this high stakes testing to be. Jane Bob spent five months going to a three hour class once a week and taking a practice test every weekend. If there were not big money involved, I wouldn't be able to think of a much worse way to spend that time. I really felt bad for her.

A lot of people don't realize this, I certainly had no idea as recently as a few years ago, but the most selective schools have far and away the best financial aid. Almost all of them are need blind. That means they accept kids based on their records with no consideration for ability to pay. If accepted, enough financial aid to get by is guaranteed. If you're not wealthy, Harvard is probably cheaper than Big State U. So for us, getting into one of those schools is not about prestige or ambition. I'm just hoping Jane Bob can come out of college without having sold her immediate future for student loans.