As a film studies major I've been trained to sit through any cinematic experience -- from Andy Warhol's 8-hour long Empire (yes, 8 consecutive hours of the Empire State Building in real time) to Derek Jarman's Blue (an hour plus of an unchanging blue screen dramatizing Jarman's AIDS-related blindness) -- and never abandon ship (incidentally I loved both films). It took all this training and more to endure this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Crash, which I saw this summer in, alas, its entirety. I've already written about how I'm not a huge fan of Brokeback Mountain, the other Oscar contender, but it's definitely a better film than Crash, which I would have walked out on had it not been for my stalwart companions.
White critics like Roger Ebert, who proclaimed it the best film of the year, and David Denby of the New Yorker loved it. Denby wrote that it "makes previous movie treatments of prejudice seem like easy and self-congratulatory liberalizing."
I couldn't disagree more; easy and self-congratulatory liberalizing is the epitome of the film. To my mind, Crash's central message is: There's a lot of racism in the world, but it's all rendered meaningless by a magical force. This force is called sheer coincidence. I'll happily spoil the denouement for anyone who hasn't seen it. The racist white cop (Matt Dillon) sexually molests a black women (Thandie Newton), but is really a good guy because he saves her from a car crash (oh, and because he loves his ailing poppy). His partner's (Ryan Phillipe) anti-racist protests are really irrelevant because he ends up killing an innocent black teenager (Larenz Tate). Meanwhile, a rich, racist white woman (Sandra Bullock) unfairly suspects a Latino locksmith (Michael Pena) of being a crook, but it's okay because her Latino maid (and best friend) takes care of her when she injures herself. And on and on and on through a "compassionate conservative" rainbow of cast members each with their own neatly moralistic (but totally individualized) racial melodramas. As with the well-awarded musical Avenue Q, the moral of Crash is: Don't worry, everyone's a little bit racist.
There is much one could say about Mikhail Gorbachev. He is the man who changed the world. He ended the Cold War. He tried to abolish nuclear weapons--believing fervently that if we didn't attempt to do the impossible, we would face the unthinkable. He liberated Eastern Europe to find its own political path. And, at home, he was that rare political leader who used his power to launch unprecedented reforms--what came to be known as perestroika and glasnost. It is tragic that twenty one years later, little, if anything, is left of the historic opportunities and alternatives Gorbachev opened up for his country and the world. Those of us who know him have heard him speak of this loss with great sadness.
But last Thursday night, Gorbachev wasn't waiting around for history's judgment. At the Napoleon banquet hall in southwest Moscow, 250 family members, college and elementary schoolmates, former and current political and journalistic colleagues, friends from East and West, and current officials gathered to celebrate Gorbachev's 75th birthday. Having come to know Gorbachev quite well in these last twenty years, my husband Stephen Cohen and I were two of the partygoers.
Toasts and vodka flowed freely. Gorbachev and his daughter Irina opened the evening. Standing on the stage set up for the evening, the former Soviet President welcomed everyone by name--literally, everyone--to what he called his last big party "before old age begins". The party favor was handed out--a family album prepared by his daughter and grandchildren. The Governor of Stavropol, the province which Gorbachev led as a Communist party boss in the 1970s, opened the evening. Chancellor Helmut Kohl uttered some dignified words. An opera singer from the Bolshoi sang an aria. Former Presidential candidate Grigory Yavlinsky chastised the crowd-"Mikhail Sergeevich gave us a chance and we did not take it." Video tributes from former President George Bush, Bill Moyers, Leonardo di Caprio, former President Bill Clinton, and a rambunctious Ted Turner ( who belted out "happy birthday, my good friend Mikhaiiiil") and California Senator Barbara Boxer were broadcast on the banquet hall's walls. President Putin even sent a telegram of congratulation. (It's the least the Russian President could do considering that he threw Boris Yeltsin a lavish, state-funded 75th birthday bash in the Kremlin just a month earlier.)
The branding experts did a good job with Yahoo!. Everything about the Internet giant evokes a groovy vibe--from the name itself to the company's bright purple colors, wacky font and fabled Silicon Valley work culture. Creativity, innovation and freedom are the catch-words Yahoo! wants people to associate with its brand. The problem now is that the company is actively colluding with the Chinese government to help identify Internet dissidents to be thrown in jail. Not cool.
"Yahoo! has a Chinese-language portal hosted inside China, with a search engine that filters out all websites and keywords deemed unacceptable by Chinese authorities," writes former CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon in a recent Nation online exclusive. "It does not inform users that the content is being censored in any way. Yahoo! also offers a Chinese-language e-mail service hosted on computer servers inside the People's Republic. Because the user data is under Chinese legal jurisdiction, Yahoo! is obligated to comply with Chinese police requests to hand over information. Such compliance over the past several years has led to the jailing of at least three dissidents."
An Amnesty International report adds that, "investigatiions reveal that of four American Internet technology companies operating in China â€“ Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco -- Yahoo! has most actively aided repressive forces in China, by helping to jail political dissidents."
Cheaters never win, my mom said. And it looks like she was right.
This week the fur flew when senior associate editor Nick Sylvester was suspended from his gig at the Village Voice. Turns out the boy wonder/music critic had fabricated reporting for his cover story "Do You Wanna Kiss Me?" on the pick-up artist's guide The Game by Neil Strauss. (You might remember Strauss from other literary merits such as ghost-writing porn star Jenna Jameson's memoir.)
The story's been pulled from the site, but it's not really worth reading, anyway. It's a pretty thin piece of trend-reporting that doesn't hold much water. Basically, Sylvester interviews a few women who have read The Game and can use it against the would-be players who try to pick them up. He then attempts to extrapolate that into something--it's not clear what--about the state of dating in New York. He interviews Strauss and uncritically swallows a lot of his garbage about picking up women--for one, he fails to be very critical of the whole "art" of picking up women at all, let alone Strauss's basic assumption that social success is measured by belt notches.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 per hour for over eight and a half years. If Congress fails to pass an increase by December of this year, it will be the longest stretch of stinginess in American history.
The states are sick of waiting.
After Robert Casey, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to challenge vulnerable Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, joined Santorum in backing the Supreme Court nomination of conservative judicial activist Samuel Alito, Kate Michelman was not happy.
After saying she was "sorely disappointed by the lack of commitment to women and fundamental rights by the United State Senate," the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America ripped into Casey and local and national party leaders who back the socially-conservative Pennsylvania Democrat who is an ardent critic of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed women the right to choose.
"As a Pennsylvanian, I am particularly appalled that local and national Democrats would hand our Senate nomination to someone who openly supports giving Roe an Alito-induced death," said Michelman. "Those whose political successes have depended on the ballots and contributions of pro-choice voters but now facilitate the career of someone who would repeal those rights deserve special enmity."
When Senator Russ Feingold opposed the original version of the Patriot Act in 2001, the Wisconsin Democrat was alone in his defense of the Constitution.
This year, as Feingold led the frustrating fight to block reauthorization of the Patriot Act in a form that continues to threaten basic liberties, he left no doubt that he was entirely willing to stand alone once more. To colleagues who suggested that it was appropriate to trade a little liberty for the White House's promise of more security in the war on terror, the senator declared: "Without freedom, we are not America. If we don't preserve our liberties, we cannot win this war, no matter how many terrorists we capture or kill."
When the key vote came Thursday, Feingold found he was not entirely alone. Along with Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords, eight Democrats joined Feingold in voting "no" to reauthorization. The eight were:
The latest issue of Harper's Magazine contains a stunning 15-page article by well-known AIDS denialist Celia Farber (formerly of Spin magazine) that extensively repeats UC Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg's discredited theory that HIV does not cause AIDS. Among the claims that Duesberg makes (and Farber recounts approvingly) are:
AIDS is actually a "chemical syndrome, caused by accumulated toxins from heavy drug use."
"Many cases of AIDS are the consequence of heavy drug use, both recreational (poppers, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc.) and medical (AZT, etc.)"
As the U.S. Senate moved Thursday to reauthorize the Patriot Act in a form that fails to address essential concerns about the protection of civil liberties, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, the chamber's most ardent critic of reauthorization along the lines demanded by the Bush administration, admitted temporary defeat. But, in final remarks to his colleagues on the eve of the vote, Feingold declared, "This fight is not over Mr. President. The vote today will not assuage the deep and legitimate concerns that the public has about the Patriot Act. I am convinced that in the end, the government will respond to the people, as it should. We will defeat the terrorists, and we will preserve the freedom and liberty that make this the greatest country on the face of the earth."
Here is the text of the speech Feingold -- the only senator to oppose the initial version of the Patriot Act in 2001 and one of the few to consistently oppose it throughout the reauthorization process -- prepared for delivery to the Senate:
Mr. President, in a few minutes, the Senate will conclude a process that began over a year ago by reauthorizing the Patriot Act. I will have a few closing remarks but first I want to take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary staff who have worked on this bill for so long. These men and women, on both sides of the aisle, have worked extremely hard and they deserve to be recognized. I ask unanimous consent that a list of their names be printed in the Record after my remarks.
Turnabout is fair play when it's the terror card you're playing.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is not the first local government body to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, nor will it be the last.
But because San Francisco is one of America's best-known and best-loved cities --unless you're Fox News bloviator Bill O'Reilly, who last fall went on air to suggest landmarks there that terrorists might want to strike -- the news has drawn wider attention to the burgeoning movement for impeachment. It has also exposed another embarrassing rift between top Democrats and grassroots party activists and elected officials around the country.
Tuesday's 7-3 vote by San Francisco's Board of Supervisors for Democratic Supervisor Chris Daly's resolution urging California's Congressional representatives to pursue impeachment pushed no new limits. The bill of particulars discussed by Daly and other supervisors echoed concerns raised by U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and the 26 House members currently cosponsoring Conyers' call for creation of a select committee to investigate administration preparations for war with Iraq before obtaining congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouragement and countenancing of torture, and retaliation against critics. That committee would be charged with, among other things, making recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.
Guess who just bobbed to the surface smack dab in the middle of the Dubai ports deal? Why, none other than Slick Willie. That's right, we now learn that Big Bill Clinton was on the phone a couple of weeks ago offering the monarchs of Dubai some free advice on how to slip their ports management deal by a rather skeptical, if not dumbfounded, American public.
Clinton was offering his sage counsel in private at the time that his wife, in public, was denouncing the deal. American politics hasn't seen such a cynical duo since the advent of the Carville-Matalin spectacle.
The former president's paid flacks are now trying give this all an innocuous spin: "President Clinton is the former president of the US and as such receives many calls from world leaders and leading figures every week," said his official spokesman. And, we're further told, Clinton was a good Boy Scout and earnestly advised the Emirs to submit to any and all reviews that might be asked of them. (There's no report he was biting his lip or crossing his fingers behind his back as he chatted up our royal buddies).