Thursday, February 26, 2009

Of Retired Bookmobiles and Editor's Picks

My Smile Politely column is up: Farewell, Sweet Bookmobile, where I give some love to both bookmobiles and librarians. But not in a wierd way.

Also, I'm continuing to post columns over at Open Salon, and they (the columns) are doing quite well. 5 of 11 have been editors' picks, which makes me feel good. Until my inner Groucho Marks kicks in, and I start to quesiton how exclusive that club really is, since they keep picking my stuff.

To continue the self-indulgence for a bit, what I find interesting about the Open Salon picks are which ones are chosen, since it bears no relation to which one's I like the most. Some that I spent a lot of time on and think are above average (Middle School Girl Syndrome, Prophets vs. Kings) are not chosen, and some others that I threw together (Bookmobile, Oscar wrap-up, Super Bowl commercials) do get picked. You never know what's going to connect and what isn't.

It must be that topical pieces have a better chance, since Salon is pretty newsy, and they look for things to tie in with headlines. For instance, they tied the bookmobile article to the bad economy. Alternatively, there's been nothing in the news lately about middle school girls. In fact, there is a constancy to middle school girls, who always have behaved and always will behave like middle school girls.

I'm sure my friend Bob would explain the editor's picks as being the most leftist, pinko, commie articles, but only two of the five would reasonably fit that category. It's possible that they simply have a random number generator that picks 5 of every 11 articles to highlight.

It doesn't much matter though. Whether it's a real editor or a robot program, it always gives me a special warm glow to have someone put a little gold star next to something I wrote.

Enough self-indulgence. Next week, look for even more complaints about middle school girls, and hopefully something that can start a huge flame war in the comments section.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Revival of Responsibility

Robert Creamer has a great article today over at HuffPo: Obama and the Revival of Responsibility:

The universality of the ethical demand to "love thy neighbor as thyself" is a very recent development in human evolution. It has emerged only over the last several thousand years of our approximately seven million years of evolutionary history. Previously, most behavior involving moral content pertained only to members of our own band, tribe or ethnic group.

At this point in history, responsibility for others is not some "soft" or "utopian" value, it is critical to our success and survival on our increasingly crowded planet. More than that, it's the key that will both prevent us from destroying ourselves -- and can unlock exponentially expanding human possibility in the 21st century.


Last night Barack Obama spoke to Americans as adults. He told America that responsibility for others is not just a stupid value for chumps -- but the definition of begin a grown-up. He told us that the era of "where's mine" -- where success is defined by seven-figures salaries and five-thousand dollar designer suits -- is over. He challenged America to once again take charge of our futures and fulfill our potential -- to invest in future generations. And he pledged to lead us there.

Pollution Ad

I love this ad, on an electronic billboard, positioned right in front of the campus smokestack:

I posted this over on Smile Politely's new "SPlog," where anyone can post photos, videos, quotes, etc, that would be of local interest to Champaign-Urbanites. Go check it out, and post something there.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yet Another Oscar 2009 Roudup

The Oscars: Recitation of lists punctuated by musical productions that last 4 days.

Every year, it’s the same. Winners come up on stage, recite a long list of people to thank, and say almost nothing of interest. Yawn.

Instead of actually showing us clips of outstanding performances this year, they decided to bring five former winners out, to play the part of professors handing out oral exam results to each nominee.
This might have worked, if everyone were as good as Robert DeNiro in praising Sean Penn (“How for so many years did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing straight men?”). But we had to suffer through too many Adrian Brodys saying something like: good job, dude.

Did anyone else think the 5 former winners coming out on stage at the same time looked a little too much like the ringwraiths in Fellowship of the Ring descending on Frodo? The nominees even looked as frightened as hobbits some of time.

Next year, just show us clips of the performances, please.

Hugh Jackman? Really? I like the guy, but it’s kind of like having Colin Firth host. Talented. Handsome. Not all that funny. Sure, Hugh did a good job with the opening number. But then he disappeared. Until the 4 day long musical production.

The only unquestionably great bit of the evening was Steve Martin and Tina Fey's screenwriting introduction. Please let them co-host next year. We need comedians as hosts, not dancing X-Men.

The Man on Wire guy did a magic trick and balanced the Oscar on his chin, and he didn’t even win the Oscar. We need more guys like him to actually win.

The Oscars: Recitation of lists punctuated not often enough by a man balancing an Oscar on his chin.

Ben Stiller as Joaquin Phoenix was certainly funny, but I think he went over the line by wandering around the stage while the nominees for cinematographer were being read. It was a hilarious bit, but unfair to the cinematographers. They should get their moment of glory without the distraction of an on-going comedy routine.

Eveyone seemed genuinely choked up by Heath Ledger’s Oscar. It’s hard to tell though, because they are all such great actors. I was a little choked up though.

Bill Maher was pretty clunky. His message: Religion sucks and see my documentary.

The Oscars: Recitation of lists punctuated by clunky political advocacy combined with self-serving presentations.

Even during the dead people montage, they couldn’t seem to manage to show us the damn movie clips. They showed us the screen that was on-stage that was showing the clips. Then the camera kept swooping around the stage. I felt like I was in a boat during a squall.

Wow, they actually showed men kissing on national prime-time television, during the romance montage. They even got it in twice, with James Franco inching closer to Seth Rogen during the Judd Apatow short that showed James Franco making out with Sean Penn. Nice work. I thought Franco deserved a Best Supporting Actor nod for Milk, so it was good to see him get some Academy love, so to speak.

Oh yeah, there were winners too.

Much as I love Danny Boyle and his entire body of work, I didn’t think Slumdog deserved best picture over Milk.

Kate Winslet deserves an Oscar for her body of work, but I also think Meryl Streep needs to win more Oscars. Sure, she’s been nominated 15 times, but has only won twice, over 25 years ago. She deserves to have won more.

Sean Penn deserved his Oscar. Gave a great little speech too, before pulling out the list and his bi-focals.

Finally, finally, at the end, they had a good film montage. Not only did they show us clips from the nominated movies, but they brilliantly weaved classic film nuggets into each Best Picture montage, related to the theme of that film.

The Oscars: Recitation of lists punctuated by occasionally inspired montages.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Middle School Girl Syndrome

This week's Smile Politely column is a rehash of an old blog post from last year: Middle School Girl Syndrome.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Frozen Grand Central

Does Art need an audience to be Art?

This does:

This is another good one:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gandhian Hardball

What do you do when you want to be bi-partisan and unifying, but the other side is only interested in partisanship and division? This is Obama's dilemma.

Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker has, as usual, incisive commentary on the subject.

Fifty years ago, the civil-rights movement understood that nonviolence can be an effective weapon even if—or especially if—the other side refuses to follow suit. Obama has a similarly tough-minded understanding of the political uses of bipartisanship, which, even if it fails as a tactic for compromise, can succeed as a tonal strategy: once the other side makes itself appear intransigently, destructively partisan, the game is half won. Obama is learning to throw the ball harder. But it’s not Rovian hardball he’s playing. More like Gandhian hardball.

Full article here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Smoke of Culture

My Smile Politely column is up: The Air We Breathe.

It's about last week's entertainment choices, which taught me that white men used to be real jerks, cads, and bigots.

But actually, I decided that was the wrong lesson to learn.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What a Man Is

My mentee at Urbana HS has a project where he has to list the qualities that make a man a man, as opposed to a boy (not as opposed to a woman, which would lead to a very different, biologically-slanted and politically-inflamed list).

A few weeks ago, he broke down the student population of Urbana High into:

  1. cool people (himself, his friends)

  2. nerds (uncool people)

  3. nerd-cools (people who are allowed to bask in his glow, but are really nerds underneath)

I asked him if there are cool-nerds, nerds who don't bask in his glow, but are cool within their nerdy group. He said that was a nerdy question.

So, although I barely qualify as a man in his worldview, he did ask me for help with his project (since us nerds are always useful with school projects). Here is the list we came up with, for what a Man does:

  • Lives up to his responsibilities

  • Owns up to his mistakes

  • Helps people in need

  • Uses his strength, power and privilege to lift up those who weaker or less privileged

  • Protects those who are abused or mistreated

  • Is a good example to young people

Yes, it would be easy to make cheap jokes in a list like this. But he doesn't need ideas floating in his head like "Yells for beer from couch while cursing at favorite football team." It's OK for some lists to reflect only our goals.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lazy Friday Video - Bratz Dolls

Our daughters grew up with Bratz Dolls. Not only that, but one Bratz is named Cloe and another Yasmin, just a few letters off from my daughters's names. Only now do I regret not being a responsible parent:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

John Lewis Deserves Some Love Too

We are often tempted to roll the whole civil rights movement into the single person of Martin Luther King, Jr. He certainly deserves to be front and center, but he is a lot like the Beatles to the rest of the 60s.

I watched a documentary over the weekend (one from the "A Force More Powerful" series) about the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in the early sixties. Like "Eyes on the Prize," it is always shocking to see what things were like back in the golden years of overt racism.

One of the many heroes of Nashville was John Lewis, then in his early twenties, now Congressman Lewis, the guy Obama hugged on his way out to be inaugurated. He is the only civil rights leader still alive who spoke on the Mall during the march on Washington.

I thought I was getting over all the unbridled hope and enthusiasm of the Obama inauguration, and into the reality of imperfect stimulus packages and tax-evading cabinet appointees.

And then I read The President's Hero in the New Yorker, and get all dewey-eyed again:

“People have been afraid to hope again, to believe again,” [Lewis] said. “We have lost great leaders: John F. Kennedy, Martin, Robert Kennedy. And so people might have questioned whether or not to place their full faith in a symbol and a leader. The danger of disappointment is immense, the problems are so big. None of them can be solved in a day or a year. And that’s the way it was with the civil-rights movement. This is the struggle of a lifetime. We play our part and fulfill our role.”

At the luncheon following the swearing-in ceremony, Lewis approached Obama with a commemorative photograph and asked him to sign it. The President wrote, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”

OK, just one more week of basking in the glow. Then I'll quit and start complaining again, I swear.

Monday, February 02, 2009

More Super Bowl Lessons

I am totally cheating on my Smile Politely column this week by doing a re-run of last year's "Super Bowl Life Lessons," but with this year's commercials. It's available here.

It turns out that guys are still oafs and violence is still funny. Whodda thunk?