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Why does #OWS hate the kittehs?

Everything you need to know about today’s Washington Post. Here is what happened in Oakland yesterday and today at the Occupy Wall Street protests:

The protests in the evening were characterized by increasingly violent encounters between protesters and law enforcement officers. Police officers launched canisters of tear gas into crowds of protesters on Broadway at 14th Street in front of Frank Ogawa Plaza at least four times Tuesday night, sending hundreds of people scattering down Broadway.

And here, via Shani O’Hilton of City Paper, is how the WP covered the #OccupyOakland clash:

Awww, a peace officer patting a kitteh! A kitteh left behind by evil protestors! And note the headline below-the-pic: “Protestors Wearing Out Their Welcome Nationwide.” Fair and balanced. (To be fair, the online coverage is better.)

Update: In the wake of the head injury that has put Iraq War vet Scott Olsen in critical condition, the WP‘s photo editor explains the kitteh decision.

Silence will Fall.

‘There is a huge irony,’ said SETI Director Jill Tarter, ‘that a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don’t have the operating funds to listen.’ SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak compared the project’s suspension to ‘the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria being put into dry dock.’…This is about exploration, and we want to keep the thing operational. It’s no good to have it sit idle.

Another casualty of the lousy economy and the budget crises (in this case, California’s) SETI’s Allen Telescope Array goes dark. “‘We have the radio antennae up, but we can’t run them without operating funds,’ he added. ‘Honestly, if everybody contributed just 3 extra cents on their 1040 tax forms, we could find out if we have cosmic company.‘”

Tiiiiime is On Our Side.

[T]aken together, it seems clear that while older whites may have broken for Republicans, the rest of the population – i.e. the majority – either broke for the Democrats or only barely moved to the right. And since it’s the shrinking parts of the population – whites and old folks – who broke most for Republicans, it’d be right to conclude that 2010 was a temporary setback for Democrats that can be reversed once the Obama Administration gets its head out of its ass and starts helping people get jobs instead of helping Wall Street get richer.

Oh yes, it is: Delving into the exit poll numbers for California, Robert Cruickshank points out how the GOP have staked their territory on ground that is fast eroding. “[T]here’s really no evidence that the 2010 election portends long-term doom for Democrats. Instead it is Republicans who are in trouble. They won by appealing to a shrinking group of people who are determined to hog democracy and prosperity for themselves at the exclusion of the young and the nonwhite.” In other words, demography is destiny, and, when it comes to the GOP, to paraphrase the Peppers, even a tidal wave can’t save them all from Californication.

Speaking of Golden State politics: Unfortunately, Prop 19, which decriminalized marijuana usage, also went down to defeat. (A victim of the older midterm electorate, it still pulled more votes than any Republican in the state.) That being said, the die has been cast now — it’s only a matter of time. “‘There’s a fair amount of latent support for legalization in California,’ said Anna Greenberg…’It is our view, looking at this research, that if indeed legalization goes on ballot in 2012 in California, that it is poised to win.

A Seed of Sanity in California.

Our nearly century-long experiment in banning marijuana has failed as abysmally as Prohibition did, and California may now be pioneering a saner approach.” In very related news, the NYT’s Nick Kristof makes a case for Prop 19. “One advantage of our federal system is that when we have a failed policy, we can grope for improvements by experimenting at the state level. I hope California will lead the way on Tuesday by legalizing marijuana.” (Note also the example of Portugal, as studied by Glenn Greenwald.)

Modern Family.

Still in catch-up mode on the movie front, so this past weekend I saw two flicks that have been making the rounds for awhile now. The first, and by far the better of the two, was Lisa Cholodenko’s well-observed situation dramedy The Kids are All Right — a smart, tautly-written family portrait that for at least its first two-thirds (before the inevitable recriminations pile up and all the characters start to vent at each other endlessly) is decently good fun.

Like I’ve said of movies like The Station Agent and You Kill Me in year’s past, Kids is unabashed indie-tainment, the type of small-bore, character-driven film that IFC or The Sundance Channel will no doubt be running into the ground six months from now. So, no, it’s not really the type of film anyone needs to rush out and see on the Big Screen, per se. Still, it is a well-made, well-acted picture, and not half bad as counter-programming if you’re looking for a grown-up, television-y alternative to the usual summer movie mayhem.

If nothing else, The Kids are All Right gives the promising Mia Wasikowska a peg to hang her hat on in 2010 after the thoroughly atrocious Alice in Wonderland. As Joni, an eighteen-year-old on the verge of leaving the family nest for college, she and her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) impressively hold their own with their two, thespian A-lister moms, Annette Bening (Nic) and Julianne Moore (Jules). Taken together, this foursome is a 21st century nuclear family just like any other (a point which the movie perhaps overly belabors at first) — controlling oenophile Nic can’t leave work at work, flighty, hippie-ish Jules feels taken-for-granted, Joni’s chafing under the maternal yoke, and Laser has lousy choice in friends — until the two kids decide, out of curiosity, to get in touch with their biological father, a.k.a. their moms’ sperm donor.

That would be Paul (Mark Ruffalo, who I find more palatable now that he’s less over-exposed), a charming if self-satisfied local restauranteur who needed some easy money way back when and has scarcely taken on any more responsibilities since. Still, Joni digs his insouciance and his motorcycle-riding ways, and Laser likes him ok too, even if Dad’s not quite what he was expecting, and so Paul slowly becomes integrated into Nic and Jules’ household. Too integrated, for Nic’s taste — Perhaps slightly paranoid even on the best of days, she starts to feel pushed out of the way as the materfamilias, and after awhile, for very good reason.

And so the family tension crackles and pops, as per films of this genre. For the most part, the writing here (by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg) is admirably subtle and character-driven — the problems that emerge seem natural outgrowths of these particular people’s traits. Still, I have to confess the film lost me a bit in its final act, as the winds of marital strife blow in earnest, and everybody keeps yelling at everybody else. This isn’t to say it’s not well-done (although one of the main characters does seem to drop out of the story rather perfunctorily), only that watching people clearly in love writhe in pain, and/or waiting for second act bygones to get bygonned, as they pretty obviously will, becomes unengaging to me after awhile.

As a sidenote, which I doubt will affect y’all’s enjoyment of this movie one way or the other, I’ll also admit to feeling some distance from these characters throughout the entire story — not because of the non-traditional (yet universally applicable) marriage at the movie’s heart, but because the action, locale, and characters here are so…Californian. Nothing against the Bear Flag Republic — I’ve got great friends out there and from there, and, as Biggie says: Great place to visit. But, as someone who grew up in the South and has lived on the East Coast for decades, I always feel a bit like Alvy Singer or Roger Greenberg while on the Left Coast — ever-so-slightly not among my people.

And, what with the locavores and the wine-enthusiasm and the car culture and the emphasis on landscaping and the skater rats and the sandals and all the “Right On”!s, Kids is as California suburbs as Mystic River is Boston, or, for that matter, Larry Clark’s Kids is N.Y.C. It’s to the film’s credit that it possesses such a strong sense of place, I guess. But as a processed-food-eating, beer-enthusiast, carless renter of the East Coast persuasion, at times The Kids are All Right seemed as much of an exercise in local color as the Appalachia of Winter’s Bone.

This is merely a quibble, of course, and probably speaks less well of me than the movie. In any event, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids are All Right is certainly All Right, and probably a good bit better. It’s a reasonably compelling dramedy that’s precise in its details and laugh-out-loud funny at times. If you’re in the mood for a slightly Lifetime-ish family drama this summer, you could do much worse. And, if you were to wait until it ends up on Netflix a few months hence instead, well that’d be all right too. Right on.

“The Audacity of Dope.”

“Marijuana is California’s largest cash crop. It’s valued at $14 billion annually, or nearly twice the value of the state’s grape and vegetable crops combined, according to government statistics…But the state doesn’t receive any revenue from its cash cow. Instead, it spends billions of dollars enforcing laws pegged at shutting down the industry and inhibiting marijuana’s adherents.” Also in Slate: In the wake of California’s money troubles, Daniel Gross makes the economic case for marijuana decriminalization.

“So what are the numbers? A national legalization effort would save nearly $13 billion annually in enforcement costs and bring in $7 billion in yearly tax revenues, according to a study by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron…That doesn’t include any indirect revenues as, for example, rural farming communities grow or marijuana tourism, which has been lucrative for the Netherlands, takes off.

The obvious economic benefits aside, it’s well nigh time to establish a sane drug policy in this country. And weed in particular is an easy call. We haven’t had a drug-free American president since 1992 (at best), and yet we still pretend that a goofball like Michael Phelps ripping bong hits is some sort of egregious sin? Time to grow up, people.

Thoughts after the Quake.

“‘I was born in 1941, the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve been living in darkness ever since,’ Dylan said to introduce the song, or as a goodbye, or, as he hadn’t spoken before, as a hello. ‘But it looks like things are going to change now.’ At the end of the stage he stepped out from behind his electric organ and did a jig.

Thus was the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’s happy reaction to Obama’s election Tuesday night. (As you may remember, he publicly backed the senator in June.) For many others, including yours truly, the feeling of the evening might best be summed up by one of Dylan’s esteemed contemporaries, Leonard Cohen: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Halleloooooojah!

For the first time since 1994, we have a Democratic president and a safely Democratic Congress. For the first time since 1964, we have a Democratic president entering office with a commanding mandate from the people. For the first time since…well, ever, we’ve reaffirmed our founding principles by choosing an African-American to lead us into the future.

I don’t want to overplay the “first black president” thing, because that’s not at all why we chose Sen. Obama. Still it must be said: With this election, we have shown the world — and ourselves — anew that the American ideal isn’t just a convenient myth, but a vision of the good that many of us still aspire to create every day. In the words of Cornel West, “To understand your country, you must love it. To love it, you must, in a sense, accept it. To accept it as how it is, however is to betray it. To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that in it which shows what it might become. America – this monument to the genius of ordinary men and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of the no into the yes, needs citizens who love it enough to reimagine and remake it.” And so we have, in a way the founders of our American experiment 221 years ago could barely have imagined.

Meanwhile, even with crooks like Ted Stevens and Norm Coleman still floating for the moment, our old friends the Republicans are now not only in full rout, but appear to be set to tear each other’s throats out in assigning blame for their repudiation at the polls. (Expect several further symposia of conservative hand-wringing, and a lot more intraparty shivving, along the lines of “Palin thinks Africa is a country,” in the weeks to come.) This gang will regroup — they always do — but for now the GOP has enough problems of their own to keep them busy. And, whatever ever they manage to accomplish as the loyal(?) opposition, it seems a safe bet that the Conservative Era that began with the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 has now officially coughed up its last in 2008, with the defeat of fellow Arizonan John McCain.

By the way, also joining the Republicans on the road to oblivion Tuesday night, alas, was my old laptop, a victim of post-return celebratory spillage. (Jamesons: Good for Jimmy McNulty and jubliant Dems, Bad for computer hardware in and around the television area.) Normally, inadvertently frying my growing-ancient-but-generally-reliable PC would’ve completely ruined my day. As it was, I took the news about like Baxter eating the whole wheel of cheese: “How’d you do that? Heck, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.” (And, fortunately, the hard drive, and the dissertoral files therein, were salvageable regardless.)

One much more depressing skeleton at the feast Tuesday night, about which Ted at Gideonse Bible, Chris at DYFL, and others have written eloquently: the passage of the idiotic Proposition 8 in California, which seemingly won with quite a bit of help from first-time Obama voters. It’s irredeemably sad not only that a day that saw so much progress was marred by Prop 8 and its like around the country, but that so many of the voters who helped strike a fatal blow against enduring racial prejudice at the national level seemingly had no qualms about encoding anti-gay bigotry into the California constitution.

Perhaps I’m dense, but I fail to understand how the institution of marriage could somehow be threatened by the state recognizing the unions of same-sex couples, particularly in a day and age when so many straight folk (myself included) have already had marriages that failed. (As my old boss used to say of the thrice-married Bob Barr back when he supported the Defense of Marriage Act: “Which marriage is he defending?”) By the way, particularly galling on the Prop 8 front, I think, is the strong imposition of the Mormon church into the battle on the side of the anti-gay zealots. One would think, of all people, the Mormons might have some sense of the damage that can be wrought by the state involving itself in stringent definitions of marriage. But, no, apparently what was good for two ganders in the eyes of the Mormons isn’t good for the goose. For shame.

Still, the Prop 8 debacle notwithstanding (I have every faith that within a decade, that law will seem as knee-jerk, narrow-minded, and embarrassing as it in fact is), Tuesday was otherwise a great night for America. What it now befalls us to remember is that, while we should savor them while we can, the path of progress before us will likely offer few such moments of jubilation in the months and years ahead. When it comes to change, it really is “uphill all the way.”

Given the economic and diplomatic travails already before President-elect Obama, he’ll have his work cut out for him from jump street. And those out there old enough to remember President Clinton’s first days in office, and how quickly things seemed to go south then (the sanity-restoring ’93 budget bill notwithstanding) will know that a Dem president and Dem Congress is no guarantee of progressive legislation in the offing. We won’t see the change we want — and voted for — without maintaining steady and unyielding pressure on all the machinery of government in the months and years to come. Now is not the time to sit back and let our new president try to do all the heavy lifting, but to stay involved as citizens and keep the progressive ball moving forward. (And, hey, keeping one’s head in the game may help to mitigate those postpartum existential crises The Onion warned us about.)

In an election held eighty years ago (i.e. in the living memory of one Ann Nixon Cooper), Herbert Hoover, the longstanding Secretary of Commerce widely revered as “the Great Engineer” and “the Great Humanitarian,” decisively defeated Al Smith, the Catholic Governor of New York. “Given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years,” Hoover had promised in his nomination speech, “we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.” And, while he obviously had his detractors, many across the country viewed Hoover as a miracle-worker who could singlehandedly steer the country to these new great heights. “We were in a mood for magic,” journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote of the Hoover inauguration. “We summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch the problems being solved.

For his part, Hoover was less sanguine about his prospects. “They have a conviction that I am some sort of superman, he fretted. “If some unprecedented calamity should come upon the nation…I would be sacrificed to the unreasoning disappointment of a people who expected too much.

Who among us think Hoover a superman now? History doesn’t stop with a war or an election or the collapse of a governing ideology, be it Communism or Conservatism. It grinds inexorably on, always uncertain, always equal parts danger and opportunity, and all too often deeply laced with irony — Time and time again in our American story, nothing succeeds like abject failure, and nothing fails like a great success. So let’s not rest on our laurels by any means: The election of 2008 was a campaign hard-fought and hard-won, but the battle continues, and in many ways the real work before us is only now just beginning.

Let us look to navigate the turbulent waters ahead with a deep and abiding faith in our new captain, but also with our own eyes to the sea.

(Presidents pic via Hal at Blivet and Patrick at Supercres.)

Wedding Day in California.

“‘In contrast to earlier times,’ the opinion reads, ‘our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation.’ More generally, ‘an individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights,’ it says.” A tip of the hat to the Golden State: Joining Massachusetts, the California Supreme Court overturns a same-sex marriage ban, and Gov. Schwarzeneger announces he will honor the court’s decision. [Responses: Obama, McCain, Clinton.]

Naturally, I’d expect the neanderthal, culture-warrior wing of the GOP to try and make some hay out of this, and, as with 2006, I’d expect it to make very little difference come November (give or take some fundie votes in California.) True, anti-gay bigotry may have played in 2004, but, with each passing year, it’s looked that much more antiquated and ridiculous. And, frankly, the fractured, anemic GOP has vastly bigger issues to contend with at the moment than whether or not gay and lesbian Americans are choosing to get married. In any case, congrats to the many couples in Cali who today saw their life-commitments honored by their state as they should be.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet.

“California has more than a 99% chance of having a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake within the next 30 years, according scientists using a new model to determine the probability of big quakes. The likelihood of a major quake of magnitude 7.5 or greater in the next 30 years is 46% — and such a quake is most likely to occur in the southern half of the state.” Memo to myself, re: the job hunt: Perhaps avoiding Southern California is in order

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