27.8.08

...And I Stop Acting Like Such A Bitch



I was hanging out with a guy a while back who said, when talk of the election came up, "Barack Obama? I'll never vote for that terrorist." I found it a constructive comment from the liberally educated, clean, articulate young man. Like him, the Clinton supporters above have taken such logical steps as creating Hillary Clinton Supporters for John McCain websites and also not eating their brussel sprouts and throwing even their chocolate pudding desserts on the ground at dinner.

As I said to my friend, of the clean, articulate young man as he walked away from our Socratic discussion, "I was just gonna hit him, but I'm gonna kill him now."

26.8.08

Christopher Long v. NYPD

Bikers

To bike or not to bike. I've been trying to figure this out. I feel something that makes me not want to be a bicyclist in New York City, but I haven't been able to articulate it. Just some general sense, beyond how many people I know who've been in shitty accidents, that there's a question to ask before I become a city-rider. I can't figure out what it is though. Just a nagging feeling I can't quite get at.

On n+1's website right now, there is an article by Dan Albert, "Take It to the Street: Class Clash on Seventh Avenue," that presents an explanation of the above footage from a Critical Mass event in which rookie officer Patrick Pogan leveled bicyclist Christopher Long.

Hooray for YouTube Justice, but Albert's article, as much as I like the narrative he crafts, leaves me unsatisfied. Here's the thesis:

"Fighting over street space is nothing new. Before the Model T made driving an everyman's game, New York police had little tolerance for the automobile crowd, viewing them as arrogant, wealthy scofflaws who treated the city like their private playground. Now we've entered a different era—a neo-Gilded one in which the wealthy scofflaws ride road bikes, and working-class cops are willing to go outside the law to protect the working-class driver's exclusive ownership of the right of way."

Problem is, Albert goes back and forth as to whether or not class is the issue or not and ends up, I think, undermining everything he says by writing, "The motorless commuter, regardless of his actual class position, has become a symbol of the privilege that comes with prime real estate."

There are problems with this piece. Also Albert never addresses the Brooklyn species of biker who is not a "wealthy scofflaw" but more likely a grungy twenty-something from Williamsburg.

Check out the video and the article. I'll keep thinking on this, maybe I'll come up with something. Until then, I'm staying on my Segway.

20.8.08

Settle For Less

I often encounter a curious subway ad for the law services of Trolman, Glaser & Lichtman PC. There are two versions; one in English, one in Spanish. The English version tells me, if I don't want to settle for less, I should call 1-888-484-5529. The Spanish version tells me for more than 40 years of experience, call 1-888-MARGARITA. My first thought was the same as yours; that's some racist shit. Anglos can remember numbers, but Latinos require a liquor-based-mnemonic to keep important stuff in their skulls?

There are a couple blogs that picked up on this as well, but appear not to have done their research. In this NY Times article from February 2001, Seth Kugel reports that the firm has no Latino lawyers nor does it have an employee named "Margarita," but...

"'Margarita' is actually 23-year-old Chastity Gutierrez, a receptionist who became the 'chief Margarita' four years ago. (Backup Margaritas serve when she is not available.) She is the latest in a line of Margaritas dating back to the late 1970's, when the first ads went on the air. The first one actually was named Margarita, but by the time she moved on, Mr. Glaser said, 'The name had become bigger than us.' The distinctly Jewish-sounding firm, he said, 'needed a name that said to people, when you call, you're not going to have to speak Yiddish.'"

If you read the NY Times article, you'll see that the number has taken on a peculiar quality amongst at least some of the New York Latino community. People call the number looking for advice and to vent frustration - the article, at least, makes it seem as though the Latino community calling the number think of "Margarita" only as a person's name, not a drink.

So I suppose there are two ways to approach this matter. Either the double entendre in the name "Margarita" is exploitative, racist regardless of these old white mens' intentions. This would put you in the Derrida school of deconstructivist "Death of the (Subway ad) Author" school of advertising theory. Or you take a more traditional approach and demand, no!, you cannot divorce the ad from the context in which it was created and the fact that the original receptionist's name was Margarita and that many people who call still refer to the receptionist as Margarita.

Me? I'm reminded, again, of the Graham Greene quote from the last post. Say the lawyers' intentions were purely honorable, good, innocent... that just reminds me of the "dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." Then again, part of the harm that leprous ad inflicts is due to the lack of investigatorial prowess displayed by the bloggers who've spiked the ad as straight racism. As much as I may be inclined to agree with them to an extent, their failure to do research pisses me off.

Distill it, and maybe the issue is simply that us Anglos think of Margarita as "one of the most common tequila-based cocktails, made with tequila mixed with triple sec and lime or lemon juice, often served with salt on the glass rim," while most Latinos think of a person named Margarita. But maybe that's wrong too. Someone get the census bureau on it.

As for Latino reaction to the ad on the web? All I could find was this post on a NYC Latino blog (Google translated from Spanish):

"We love SPEAKING of publicity for the metro and its terrible translations. Those who advertise there know that many Hispanics come and go in the subway every day, is a clear target. Obviously directed at them in Spanish (of dubious quality) and use tricks to the phone numbers or websites to stay in the memory. The advertising Trolman Glaser & Lichtman Attorneys is one of my 'favorite.' The slogan hurts: 'Lawyers for Hispanics Number One Injured in Accident,' my grammar teacher would shout at the sky. But the best thing is the phone number: 1.888.MARGARITA…"

Followed by this reader comment:

"Worst of all is that from time to time their advertising appears on this page. It is an honour for us to have a Margarita in Nuyorker…"

18.8.08

The Quiet American

"Death was the only absolute value in my world. Lose life and one would lose nothing again for ever. I envied those who could believe in a God and I distrusted them. I felt they were keeping their courage up with a fable of the changeless and the permanent. Death was far more certain than God, and with death there would be no longer the daily possibility of love dying. The nightmare of a future of boredom and indifference would lift. I could never have been a pacifist. To kill a man was surely to grant him an immeasurable benefit. Oh yes, people always, everywhere, loved their enemies. It was their friends they preserved for pain and vacuity." - The Quiet American, Graham Greene.

What will we do in a few months when our great enemies are gone? Perhaps we'll have John McCain, but hardly will he be as suitable an enemy as our current Jacobean characters. Just a silly man with a flimsy grip on matters of life and death. At least Bush's assuredness of the just nature of his cause will make good fodder for literature someday (and make prescient older literature such as the above).

Also from The Quiet American:

"Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm."

6.8.08

Obama and the Black Historical Narrative

James Baldwin wrote: "...it is part of the business of the writer--as I see it--to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source. From this point of view the Negro problem is nearly inaccessible. It is not only written about so widely; it is written about so badly. It is quite possible to say that the price a Negro pays for becoming articulate is to find himself, at length, with nothing to be articulate about. ('You taught me language,' says Caliban to Prospero, 'and my profit on't is I know how to curse.')"

Maybe you find Baldwin's criticism antiquated, and point to Barack Obama's "Dreams From My Father" as evidence that contradicts Baldwin's point. But, I'll say, that's just the issue.

The New York Times Magazine’s cover story this weekend is titled "Is Obama the End of Black Politics?" and written by Matt Bai. The Times, and Matt Bai, are off the mark when they address the end of "black politics," which I find a loaded term that obfuscates the writing that follows it. The question that should have been asked has to do with the African-American voice. What is at stake with Barack Obama's ascendance and this new generation of black politicians, is the black historical narrative in America and the way that narrative is shaped and told.

Glenn Loury, in an essay "Losing the Narrative," wrote: "My fear is that, should Obama succeed with his effort to renegotiate the implicit American racial contract, then the prophetic African American voice – which is occasionally strident and necessarily a dissident, outsider's voice – could be lost to us forever."

Unlike Loury, I think the dissident's voice is always destined to run out of steam. Unless it is purely satirical, the lampooning of power for the sake of it being power (and this is a much different voice), all dissident voices eventually join the mainstream. This is not a bad thing necessarily. It can be an indication of success. A dissident voice loses its raison d'etre the moment the political system, religion, whatever, that it opposes disappears.

Bai notes in his Times Magazine piece: "For a lot of younger African-Americans, the resistance of the civil rights generation to Obama’s candidacy signified the failure of their parents to come to terms, at the dusk of their lives, with the success of their own struggle — to embrace the idea that black politics might now be disappearing into American politics in the same way that the Irish and Italian machines long ago joined the political mainstream."

With Obama's rise, the dissident black voice those aging civil-rights era politicians crafted for the past 40 years is on the way out. This is an existential threat to such politicians; their reward for the success of their life's work is a page in the history books. A nice plaque on the wall commemorating their achievements and a Ken Burns documentary, to be sure, but the struggle moves into a new phase and they will have little role in defining the new narrative. Perhaps it is not so easy as knowing you’ve improved the lives of millions.

For a while, the black American voice sketched out a new narrative that seemed to follow two paths, in the post-civil-rights era, simultaneously; there was a new dissident voice – represented most prominently in American culture by hip-hop – that continued to chronicle a sense of no-exit desperation, and a second voice that was an economically empowered, upwardly mobile one that was/is working its way into the faceless mass of the mainstream.

But hip-hop found financial success, too, and now the norm for that artform is “microwave rap.” Music that is just a vehicle for a paycheck and no longer the gritty urban poetry written on the border of life and death by people like Nas. The dissident path that prospered artistically during the 1980’s and 1990’s came into some money and joined up with the mainstream as well. Although this occurred on a relatively small scale, not every impoverished black child has the opportunity to rap to financial freedom, the change of tack in the musical philosophy was significant, and debilitating, to the dissent of the genre.

Loury’s concern that the dissident black voice may be lost is probably passe. That voice has been lost. Part of the credentials of the dissident black voice was its “otherness” from mainstream American society (enforced, of course, by white mainstream America). But Obama’s personal narrative brings a distinctly untraditional black American history crashing into the mainstream. We all know the biography. By bringing the other so into the mainstream, Obama explodes the space for otherness in which the dissident black voice resided.

In the same Baldwin piece quoted above, Baldwin wrote that, “what was the most difficult was the fact that I was forced to admit something I had always hidden from myself, which the American Negro has had to hide from himself as the price of his public progress; that I hated and feared white people. This did not mean that I loved black people; on the contrary, I despised them, possibly because they failed to produce Rembrandt.”

Baldwin, here, addresses black provincialism. Furthermore, Thomas Williams, in a piece in n+1, wrote in February of this year; “Anyone willing to spend an hour in the company of Black Entertainment Television or to venture into the ‘Urban’ section of the bookstore could argue that today black culture has lapsed into a greater provincialism than ever before. It would not be hard to argue that.”

The question, for me, concerning the black American narrative and the future of a dissident black voice hinges on a difficult Catch-22. If black America is able to overcome the still significant socio-economic issues that plague a portion of its population and join the mainstream fully, then I’m not sure a distinctly black “Rembrandt,” a cultural, artistic force that overthrows a history of provincialism, can be created from the nest of the faceless mainstream where money, more than race, defines your place. On the other hand, the black American narrative has long been defined, as Loury states, by a dissident voice, and that voice has yet to find Baldwin’s Rembrandt, despite having produced some of the greatest cultural products in America’s history. Furthermore, I don't think a dissident voice can produce a Rembrandt as the dissident voice depends on some other agent (oppression, injustice) to provide the fuel for its work. I don't think a Rembrandt can come out of a system like that.

And no, Obama’s no Rembrandt.

I'll See You At The Debates, Bitches

Well, I doubt you'll have seen it here first, but kudos to Paris Hilton for bringing a modicum of intellectual rigor to the past few weeks of presidential poop-slinging. "That's not a sex-tape you can believe in.. heh heh heh."

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

1.8.08

In A Dark House

This is just too good to leave behind in the nooks and crannies of Politico. Sorry to ruin your Friday with thoughts of prancing Republicans embracing on the floor of Congress because the Democrats told them, No, we're not going to vote on drilling for oil that will sustain us for eight more days while destroying the sea-floor, you silly fools. Now shit's gone all Lord of the Flies in the chamber as Republicans go crazy without Pelosi home to watch:

House Dems turn out the lights but GOP keeps talking
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democrats adjourned the House and turned off the lights and killed the microphones, but Republicans are still on the floor talking gas prices.
Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders opposed the motion to adjourn the House, arguing that Pelosi's refusal to schedule a vote allowing offshore drilling is hurting the American economy. They have refused to leave the floor after the adjournment motion passed at 11:23 a.m. and are busy bashing Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for leaving town for the August recess.
At one point, the lights went off in the House and the microphones were turned off in the chamber, meaning Republicans were talking in the dark. But as Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz..) was speaking, the lights went back on, and the microphones were turned on shortly afterward.
But C-SPAN, which has no control over the cameras in the chamber, has stopped broadcasting the House floor, meaning no one is witnessing this except the assembled Republicans, their aides, and one Democrat, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has now left.

Only about a half-dozen Republicans were on the floor when this began, but the crowd has grown to about 20 now, according to Patrick O'Connor.

"This is the people's House," Rep, Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) said. "This is not Pelosi's politiburo."

Democratic aides were furious at the GOP stunt, and reporters were kicked out of the Speaker's Lobby, the space next to the House floor where they normally interview lawmakers.
"You're not covering this, are you?" complaining one senior Democratic aide. Another called the Republicans "morons" for staying on the floor.

Update - The Capitol Police are now trying to kick reporters out of the press gallery above the floor, meaning we can't watch the Republicans anymore. But Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is now in the gallery talking to reporters, so the cops have held off for a minute. Clearly, Democrats don't want Republicans getting any press for this episode. GOP leaders are trying to find other Republicans to rotate in for Blunt so reporters aren't kicked out.
Update 2 - This message was sent out by Blunt's office: "Although, this Democrat Majority just Adjourned for the Democrat 5-Week Vacation, House Republicans are continuing to fight on the House Floor. Although the lights, mics and C-SPAN camera's have been turned off, House Republicans are on the Floor speaking to the tax payers in the gallery who, not surprisingly, agree with Republican Energy proposals. All Republicans who are in town are encouraged to come to the House Floor."

Update 3 - Democrats just turned out the lights again. Republicans cheered.

Update 4 - Republican leaders just sent out a notice looking for a bullhorn and leadership aides are trying to corral all the members who are still in town to come speak on the floor and sustain this one-sided debate.
Also, Republicans can thank Shadegg for turning on the microphones the first time. Apparently, the fiesty Arizona conservative started typing random codes into the chamber's public address system and accidentally typed the correct code, allowing Republicans brief access to the microphone before it was turned off again.

"I love this," Shadegg told reporters up in the press gallery afterward. "Congress can be so boring...This is a kick."

Update 4 - The scene on the floor is kind of crazy. Normally, members are not allowed to speak directly to the visitor galleries, or visitors are prohibited from cheering. But in this case, the members are walking up and down on the floor during their speeches, standing on chairs, the visitors are cheering loudly. Some members even brought in visitors, who are now sitting on the House floor in the seats normally filled by lawmakers, cheering and clapping. Very funny.

Democrats faced a choice here - should they leave the cameras on and let Republicans rip Pelosi & Co. on C-Span, or should they leave the cameras off and let the Republicans have their "tantrum," as one Democratic aide characterized it, with the cameras off. So the cameras are off, but Republicans, and the crowd, are clearly enjoying the scene.

Update 5 - Republicans are literally hugging each other on the House floor. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), not normally known as an distinguished orator, just gave a rousing speech, accusing Democrats of stifling dissent. He referenced President John Quincy Adams, who returned as a House member after being defeated in his bid for re-election as president. Waving his arms and yelling, Manzullo brought the crowd (including a lot of staff shipped in by GOP leaders to fill up the place), and he left the floor to hugs from his colleagues. You don't see that up here every day.

Update 6 - Rep Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) just pretended to be a Democrat. He stood on the other side of the chaber and listed all of the GOP bills that the Dems killed. He then said "I am a Democrat and here is my energy plan" and he held up a picture of an old VW Bug with a sail attached to it. He paraded around he house floor with the sign while the crowd cheered.