Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There has been a certain amount of attention focused on some attacks being made on Barack Obama by the Right Wing punditry of late. I'm referring of course to this "birther" notion, espoused by Lou Dobbs, among others, that Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii, or in the U.S. at all. That he was actually born in, umm, maybe Kenya or something.

And naturally, I'm also referring to the proposition put forth by Glenn Beck, that Obama is a racist. Yes, a racist with a "deep seated hatred for white people." This because the President suggested that it was "stupid" for Cambridge police to arrest Henry Louis Gates for breaking and entering his own home. Ok, the arrest was actually for disorderly conduct, "after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" after the cops came in to his house and asked for ID, and Obama called it stupid (then backtracked on that language the next day.) And for that Glenn Beck says he's racist. Or it might be because he (the President) invited the participants in that arrest debacle to the White House for a beer to talk things out. I'm not sure.

And I'm not sure it matters. Here's the thing: I don't think these guys necessarily mean what they say. Is there any chance that Obama was not born in the U.S.? Not really, no. I mean, strictly speaking, sure - anything is possible. (including that some invisible being created the universe 6,000 years ago and that all evidence to the contrary is the work of some other, EVIL, invisible being) But - really? No more than there is a chance that Obama is a racist. Again, sure there's a chance that this man, whose mother (did you hear that? his MOTHER) is white, has some deep seated hatred for "the white culture."

But, I put it to you once again: really?? No, of course not.

So what's the deal? I'll tell you what - and it's surprisingly simple, and you probably already know it, though I think people lose sight of it all the time.

Here it is:

Television News is Show Business.

See? That's it. It's that simple. TV News is not all that brilliant in the way of sharing knowledge, or even information, and most of it isn't even pretending very hard to be. I mean, yes, of course, there are some very important exceptions once in a while, but even those exceptions fall into the category of "we need to make people watch us or our ratings slip and then we lose our jobs."

And - just as important, and even easier to lose sight of - it's true for the people we agree with too! Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, for instance: they too are there to sell soap.

You may be tempted to sputter "but Maddow and Olbermann are brilliant! They're not evil and devious and subjective the way Glenn Beck is!" I agree, part way: they are brilliant; they are not evil; they aren't that devious; but they are pretty much just as subjective and snarky in their presentation as Beck and Dobbs.

In the case of Olbermann and Maddow, I agree with much of the stuff they say. Beck and Dobbs don't say things that I agree with very often at all. See how that works? There are all kinds of levels of ideology working out there, no matter how 'objective' one tries to be. Even in (gasp!) newspapers.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't resist the Becks and Dobbses of the world. On the contrary, I think you should. Just be careful how much credit you give them.

And I am DEFINITELY NOT saying that those clowns are just as viable as Olbermann and Maddow, or that there is ANY credibility whatsoever to this notion, seemingly in common currency, that making whacked out statements that fit with your ideology 'balances' out contrary statements (no matter how accurate those contrary statements are), or that repeating those assertions over and over and over again makes them true.

What I am saying is: do your homework when it comes to gathering information. Use some critical thinking when you turn that information into knowledge in pursuit of the Truth. (Oh my, I'm trafficking in lofty themes today.) And make a very clear distinction for yourself between publicity and policy. Dobbs can say any wacky thing about Obama's birth. Beck can say what he wants about Obama's 'racist' attitudes. Representative Broun can go on about how health care reform will kill old people. Vice President Cheney can say any reprehensible thing about how useful, heroic and necessary 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were and are.

WHOA. Wait a minute... those last couple are a little different, aren't they? Broun and Cheney have (or should have) a different kind of responsibility, because they fall into the category of policy-maker, and elected ones at that.

These guys can say what they want (it's one of their most fundamental rights) and you can react how you want, but the question you need to be asking is - what is going to happen as a result? As a result of their statements? As a result of your reaction? There is a difference between media reaction, popular reaction and legal (re)action. And there is a big, huge, gigantic difference between calling someone names, and derailing a plan that might help to save the health care system of a nation; or getting off the hook for ordering your citizen soldiers to torture their prisoners, discrediting those who oppose this practice for being unserious about defending the nation, and in the process doing intense damage to that nation's standing, and making it impossible to prosecute those prisoners who were actually guilty of something. Just as an example.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ave Atque Vale Merce Cunningham

You've probably heard by now that Merce Cunningham has died.

As it seems we've been doing a lot lately, let's celebrate a life as well as mourn a loss.

This Annie Liebowitz portrait is an iconic one, and seems to fit the bill.

I was fortunate enough to attend what must have been one of his last public appearances, and maybe his very final performance event at Dia Beacon. It was incredible, beautiful, stunning, moving. The program shared the oft-stated (Alastair Macaulay writes "almost routinely hailed") contention that Merce was The Greatest Living Choreographer, and I asked someone who is more than passingly familiar with the dance world if they could really do that. Make that claim? THE Greatest? And the response was: "Well, who else would it be?"

Good point.

Love these images from his 1958 piece "Antic Meet," which was designed by Robert Rauchenberg and photographed by Richard Rutlege

Now, while I 've said before and will say again that I'm not a fan of favoritism, so that whole 'The Greatest' thing falls a little flat, I think it's surely fair to say that Merce Cunningham was one of the greatest artists in any medium, not limited to dance/choreography, of the last century or so. I have the sense that if you gave him a paperclip, a ball of twine and a tuba he could turn them into something you couldn't take your eyes away from.

Various media outlets/newspapers have their own obituaries, of course. Among many many others are Macaulay at The Times, Tobi Tobias for Bloomberg, and one from the London Telegraph that has no byline, but that yields some choice commentary:

He was impatient with the quest to discover meaning in art; asked what one dance was about, he answered: "It's about 40 minutes."

...for many years he was derided. Fairly early in the life of his company, a New York reviewer wrote: "Last night Merce Cunningham presented a programme of his choreography, and if someone doesn't stop him, he's going to do it again tonight."

The reception was not always rapturous: in Paris in 1964, when the company was beginning to tour Europe, audiences threw tomatoes and eggs, and Cunningham later recalled that people would leave in the middle of the performance to go out to buy more.

Love those, for their display of his persistence, and for their revelation of his originality and passionate creativity as he worked with Rauschenberg, Martha Graham and (especially) John Cage as well as countless other dancers, artists and musicians.

And the obits (along with commentary as he was still working) make the supremely important point that his work continued to be vital, relevant, important, well past the time he was able to dance with full vigor, or even get around unaided. That event we experienced in Beacon was beyond remarkable: he was creating up until the end, and he'll be missed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

More Kindling

I'm not a luddite, or anything like one. But to add to my earlier mini-rant about the less-than-ideal properties of some of the new technologies, this aspect of the Kindle is the kind of thing that raises the hair on the back of my neck (on those days that I don't get around to shaving it).

Love Orwell. Always have. And this kind of ironic incident just affirms why. And it, you know, kinda scares me a little.

Don't neglect the little Editor's Note: "Amazon said it would not automatically remove purchased copies of Kindle books if a similar situation arose in the future."

How comforting.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On the Waterfront

It's not really news that politics are still dirty in New Jersey. But this would seem to be an extreme case, at least at first glance. Innocent until proven guilty applies, of course, but the allegations are a large-scale, international corruption and money laundering scheme.

Among those arrested is Peter Cammarano, who has been the Mayor of Hoboken for about 20 minutes. (ok, ok - a couple of months) He won a tight runoff election this spring, and celebrated his 32nd birthday yesterday (along with kicking off St. Ann's Festival - the 'boken's annual Saints and Italian Sausage & Zeppoles party) before being arrested this morning.

His electoral rivals accused him of being part of the old school machine (and no, I didn't vote for him), but - holy moly! Brando and Malden are spinning in their graves.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

File Under "Are You F*cking Kidding Me?"

This is a joke, right?

I keep looking for the ironic wink of a punch line, or the April 1 dateline. Or something, anything, that will stop me from thinking that I have simply lived too long.

The Gangs of New Paltz

I think I've mentioned here that Cory and I went up to New Paltz a couple weekends ago for a visit with our friends Frank and Amanda and their kids before we headed over to Bard College for the incredible Lucinda Childs Company's performance/film Dance.

People may say (and some do say it) "Oh sure, Mick. Very performance-minded and artistic/edgy - you talk a good game with your Lucinda Childs/Phillip Glass/Sol LeWitt groundbreaking multi-media masterpiece, but you're really heading upstate to hang with your aging college friends and their kids." Well I gotta tell you - these upstate families are not messing around. Check out Callie and Daphne:

"Wait a minute," some of those same naysayers are now exclaiming, "that bartender can't be more than five years old!"

True that. And did you catch that tiger tattoo she's sporting?

And maybe you noticed that not only is a pre-schooler mixing the drinks, she's training her little sister in the fine art of mixology.

Still thinking of them as the Cleavers? Think they can't roll? These guys are hardcore - slapping tattoos on their toddlers and having them run the bar for the big boys.

And don't be fooled by that sweet smile. I'm not saying that she's been specifically trained to deceive by the street gang she calls a family, but this girl is a pre-K killer. I asked her how her summer was going, and she told me how she just passed the test for her green belt in Aikido. I said "Wow! You could probably really kick my butt!" and she gave the cutest little giggle and the next thing I knew I was looking up from the lawn at that smile with a sore shoulder and a headache. I muttered something about the suburbs being tougher than I thought and she put me in a chokehold and said "What suburb? We are an hour and a half from the City and are a self-actualized community with a thriving arts scene and a life of our own."

I stood corrected. Rather, I knelt corrected.

And then there's this one:

Sure, sure - she looks all innocent and pure as the driven snow. And she's too little to do any real damage yet, I guess. But I'd venture to say that her harmlessness (if she really is harmless) will last another 15 minutes or so. And then she'll get ink on her own arm (dragon? cobra? barbed wire?) and take her place at her sister's side protecting their turf.

When I first knew their dad he was working for Greenpeace. Guess those guys learn a thing or two about survival when they chain themselves to oil derricks and giant redwoods. Sheesh!

Carter on Christianity

Crazy what can happen while you're away on business.

Walter Cronkite passed to the Great Newsroom in the Sky on Friday. He was not a ground-breaker the way that Murrow was, and he perpetuated the myth of media objectivity, but he was about as good as his school of journalism gets, and I don't think we'll see his like again any time soon (if for no other reason than that TV news has suffered a severe butterslide of credibility from which it will be tough to recover.)

Not sure why, but I especially like this item from the Times obit:

When he was 16, Mr. Cronkite went with friends to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair. He volunteered to help demonstrate an experimental version of television.

“I could honestly say to all of my colleagues, ‘I was in television long before you were,’ ” he said in an interview with CBS News in 1996.

It was poignant to me how close Cronkite's death was to yesterday's 40th anniversary of the moon landing. It still makes me kind of giddy to think of him getting overwhelmed by the immensity of that achievement: this most articulate journalist blown away by the event to the point where he was "Oh jeez! Oh boy!" about it.

But I just found out about something that happened earlier last week that didn't get nearly as much attention. Jimmy Carter (remember him? President of the U.S. for a while?) separated himself from the Southern Baptist Convention because of its reaffirmation that women must be treated like second-class citizens.

A few excerpts from his statement:

I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths...

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share...

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter...

I don't often praise politicians (although I suppose that Carter could more fairly be described as a former politician) but I gotta give credit where it's due: thanks, President Carter. Hope people listen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back from Boca

I had to go dark for a while because of that trip I made for the dayjob.  Did I mention this?  It went just fine - quite well actually, as these things go - but it was exhausting, and frustrating at times, and I'm glad to be back.  Really glad.  No photos from that trip, natch, but soon I should be able to post an image or two from our day trip to New Paltz last weekend.

Meanwhile, it is AMAZING this weekend in New York.  I've been relaxing and handling some errands, going out with Cory; went to see the Neos last night, and we even met with a couple friends afterwards.  But mostly relaxing.  Baaaad and boring blog material, but good for me, and kind of necessary.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Independence Addendum

As I was recently reminded, the 4th of July weekend also saw me be initiated to the Guitar Hero video game, and was Cory's first experience playing Wii.

Fortunately, there is no photographic evidence of those events...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

4th of July, Just South of Asbury Park

In New Hope, Pennsylvania, as it happened.

It was pretty much a good old fashioned Fourth of July: barbecue in the back yard, tubing on the river (the Delaware river, very near where Washington made his fabled crossing during the Revolution), concert in a big field, followed by fireworks.  Small town fireworks, at that: not nearly as spectacular as the big city variety, but just as much fun in their own way, in among the balloons and the smell of bug spray and the folding picnic tables with stars and stripes paper tablecloths, and the annoying family nearby who kept moving the garbage can closer to us.

We entered the scene as Carl was making some jam.  He had a question about the process, so before I'd even been properly introduced, I was on the phone to mom for some guidance.  She steered us in the direction of a paraffin seal (which saved us a bunch of time and trouble) and not too much later we had us a batch of blueberry jam.

We had brought a case of beer and a bottle of spiced rum (drink of choice of our hosts) and continued to give good help in the kitchen, and it's good that we did, because Carl and Kevin outdid themselves with the hospitality.  SO much fun, and at the perfect time, right between Hamlet and the crazy dayjob Voyage to Boca.

They also have a couple of fun cats to liven up the joint.  Yes, yes, I'm allergic to cats, but it was a big place, and I took drugs to help me through it.  And they were some photogenic felines too, so we had that going for us.  Which is nice.

Here's Oliver, who's a little camera-shy:

And here's Rudy, who came right up to say hi:

And the backyard even had some nice hydrangeas. 

Throw in a late brunch at a Mexican place in Lambertville, NJ with Jen and Charles (love those guys!) and a good drive in both directions with my best gal in the passenger seat and it made for a damn fine holiday.

So, alright, this is an awfully conventional blog entry, but what can I say?  It was Independence Day.  How 'bout if I throw in an appeal to exercise your patriotic duty and contact the President to let him know that indefinite detention is unacceptable (and Unconstitutional.)  

And yes, we listened to The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle on the morning of the 4th.