Category Archives: politix

Close Encounters

Yesterday, at a party my boss took me to for work, an older gentleman used shaking my hand as an excuse to fondle my wrist. As his index finger caressed my skin and I tried not to barf, I reflected on how many odd face-to-face interactions I have had with people in the last month.

Most recently, I attended the Brooklyn Book Festival, an annual gala where writers and thinkers get to sit in close proximity with the only people who still buy novels. Even when less than scintillating, the panels always give you something to mull over, like when Sigrid Nunez, there to discuss the writing of her new memoir about her relationship with Susan Sontag, said that she doesn’t like to write about people she knows, but if one musts, the trick is to “be harder on yourself than you are on them.”

David Rakoff, also on the panel, said that he avoids writing about people he knows altogether — except his parents. And they, he feels, are fair game.

Jonathan Franzen’s advice on the same topic was to write about whomever you want but mention of any male character that he has distressingly small genitalia. Then no one will admit — or want to believe — that you’ve written about him.

All of that aside, the best panel over the weekend was about contemporary parenthood and featured Alice Bradley, an old favorite of mine from her blog Finslippy, who has co-written the funny/scathing Let’s Panic About Babies!; Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite bloggers and America’s best public intellectuals; and Adam Mansbach, the surprisingly smart & substantial author of Go the Fuck To Sleep. I had gone in with no expectations at all and really enjoyed hearing them all make jokes about children and about trying hard to be both a parent and a recognizable human being.

The panel I was most excited about, by contrast, featured the almighty Fran Lebowitz, the “Inconceivable!” Wallace Shawn, and author-of-my-favorite-short-story (“Days”) Deborah Eisenberg.

Photo via

The best thing about it was the location (all those Jews in a church on Sunday!). Otherwise, it fell kind of flat. You can always count on Lebowitz to say something hilarious, and she was exactly as sharp as you would hope she would be. “In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy,” she said, all but pounding the podium. Later, she had acidic words for America post-NAFTA: “What has replaced factories in the Midwest? Meth labs and mega churches. It goes New York–>meth labs and mega churches–>LA.”

Sadly, Shawn and Eisenberg had only standard leftist Ivory Tower talking points to contribute, and as Lebowitz wandered into the well-worn territory of carping about Kids These Days, the event became steadily less interesting. No one addressed either of the two fundamental questions I have about contemporary political life:

1) In a post-socialism world–which is to say, a world in which the left has no ideological counterpoint to capitalism to offer–what idea should we be rallying around? Less unfair democracy? More restrained capitalism? As Aaron Sorkin might say, I can’t believe no one ever wrote a folk song about that.

2) Bearing in mind that the last progressive US president to get elected to a second term was Franklin Roosevelt, how is Obama supposed to win in 2012, especially without pissing off the left? Clinton sold out to the Republicans with free trade and welfare reform; that’s a large part of why he was popular enough to compete, and even then he got a strong assist from the 3rd-party candidacy of wacko Texan Ross Perot.

So I left a bit disappointed with everyone involved. Unlike the many other people who potentially felt the same way, however, I got to express my feelings (!!) because later that afternoon, as I headed to Trader Joe’s, I passed the three panelists and a fourth individual on the street. There they were, just hanging out, Lebowitz smoking of course. (She’s the only smoker I love and almost certainly the only one I respect.)

Hitching up my resolve, I walked right to her and said, “Can I shake your hand?”

Lebowitz took her cigarette out of her mouth, held it with the fingers of her left hand, and shook my hand with her right.

“You were brilliant up there today,” I said, looking all of them in the eye one by one. “But you were wrong.”

Shawn and Eisenberg looked startled and confused, as though a waiter in a restaurant had lifted the cover off a dish to reveal a live kitten. Lebowitz merely put her cigarette back in her mouth and gave a half-shrug, half-smirk that made me want to make out with her, even though she would taste like an ashtray. Instead, I smiled once more at all of them and kept walking.

VICTORY IS MINE, SAYETH THE LORD. Or perhaps he didn’t, but he should have.

This American Ira

The night before, some friends and I hit up the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival at the Bell House, where we got up and close and personal with more celebrities: Ira Glass, John Hodgman, and special guest star Rachel Maddow. Maddow told adorable, endearing stories about how she was hired by a woman to do yard work and ended up doing another kind of maintenance altogether, if you know what I mean. (In fulfilling that fantasy, for both parties, by the way, she probably deserves some sort of lesbian Medal of Honor.) Hodgman held his own, hilariously straight-faced as always, but Mirman, who I’ve also seen knock over grown people with laughter, was underutilized by the hosts, Elna and Kevin of “The Talent Show,” who seemed much more focused on making sure Ira Glass puked onstage.

They nearly got their wish, too. By midway through, Glass was so sloppily happy that he kept popping up from his chair and beaming at the audience, like a tall hipster prairie dog. Elna and Kevin kept telling him to take shots and, as Mr. Ben pointed out later, it was like improv — he couldn’t say no. By night’s end, we watched a great wave of nausea nearly topple him. His cheeks puffed out; his eyes sunk; and his wife managed to lead him offstage before he blew his cookies in front of everyone.

Also one of the comedians nearly got into a fight with some hecklers from the audience and had to be restrained. In general it was not the best show I’ve seen there but, still, watching Ira Glass turn sea-green was pretty memorable.

More to come! I swear. I have great Montana stories and at some point I’ll get to tell them.

More feminism, she cried!

Have you read “Ask an Abortion Provider” on the Hairpin yet? This is for serious, and it is seriously amazing. Why did the author choose this path? “I figured the most direct way to ensure that there wasn’t a total asshole at the bottom of the table was to do it myself,” sayeth she. And she goes on:

I was with the doctor I train with doing the initial steps of an intake — an ultrasound to date the pregnancy and a full history.The patient says to the doctor, “I should not be here today. I agree with the people out there.” Gestures out window to street. The people at the bus stop???? “The people who are protesting. I think what you are doing is wrong. I think you should be killed.” Oh. Whoaaaa! …

So I told my patient what I truly believe, which is: “I’m so sorry that you feel that way because feeling that way has got to make this an even harder decision than it already is. I imagine it must really feel awful to think that you have to do something that goes against your own beliefs.” (Secret inspiration: my own feelings about the situation!)

“I know there is no way you’re going to go home feeling you did the absolute right thing no matter what happens today. We are not going to do any procedure until you are absolutely certain that this is what you want. I do not want you to have an abortion. The only that I want you to do is the thing that is most right for you, whether it’s continuing this pregnancy and becoming a parent, or adoption, or abortion.” Then we brought her with her boyfriend to the counselor who talked with them for hours about the spectrum of resources available for not just abortion but adoption and parenting. At my clinic, we joke that we turn away more patients than the protesters do.

And although she did end up terminating the pregnancy, the procedure went well, there were no complications, and she told the staff we had been the “most supportive!” I personally thanked her and told her it was an honor to be there for her and still get teary when I think about it. Ice burn, Lila Rose!

On Saturday I rallied for women’s health and Planned Parenthood and I was moderately proud of myself in a “Good girl! Look what you did instead of lolling on the couch watching old episodes of Buffy and eating packs of Trader Joe’s roasted seaweed” kind of way.

Reading this piece makes me think about soldiers. I didn’t grow up around military people and yet, when I met a Marine on New Years Eve in New Orleans, I knew exactly what to say: “Thank you for your service.” I rely on the men and women who join the Armed Forces to protect my freedoms. However you may feel about the Military Industrial Complex, you have to respect the individuals who commit to spending a year at a time in dusty, desert-y, Middle Eastern countries away from their families and friends and Netflix and Trader Joe’s, and much closer to death than we, in general, are.

But the men and women who choose to become abortion providers, and the fine folks at Planned Parenthood who support them, are protecting me too, and without anywhere near the same kind of societal recognition. Because I know that those doctors are there, I don’t have to choose between having a romantic life and a professional one. Because they are there, I can work — at my office, 9-5, as well as on my writing — and take that work, and myself, seriously. Because they are there, I don’t have to just be a woman; I can be a person too. They give me that freedom.

So thank you to everyone at Planned Parenthood who were so kind to me when I went in, twice, while unemployed, because I didn’t know where else I could afford health care. Thanks to those of you who stand at the ready in case I need you for other reasons, and who have helped the women I know who needed you. Thank you, Gail Collins, for urging me to think about all these issues as I read When Everything Changed. And thank you, Dolores P., for your service, which, in so many ways, makes everything possible.

"Missouri," Meet "Cop’s Wife"

“We can have animus and not be enemies,” sayeth Jon Stewart. I can’t say I’m there yet, but it gives me something to aim for.

Carolyn Hax perfectly expresses the feeling I had at the Rally to Restore Sanity, the one I’m trying to feel again, especially after Tuesday’s results:

Missouri: Hi Carolyn,

I guess my husband and I are what the liberal East Coast would call conservative bigots. My question isn’t about that, so I won’t get into it. We are raising two kids our way, while being constantly told by the liberal media that it’s the wrong way. Sorry, but we just don’t agree, and neither do most of the people in our community.

The issue is that my husband’s job is taking him to a liberal East Coast city, and we’re now faced with the question of whether to uproot everyone and follow him there. If we go, I worry my kids will be exposed to a lot of hooey I have worked hard to keep out of their lives. If we don’t, we’re looking at at least two years’ separation during which my husband will miss the last of his daughters’ little kid years. It’s well-established around here that you can’t bubble-wrap kids, so basically I’m looking for suggestions on how to keep our values strong in our kids even if we choose to move them out east.

Carolyn Hax: You’re right to worry–we liberal East Coast dwellers have two heads, learn a secret language at Ivy League schools so we can mock real hard-working Americans, make our preschoolers watch gay porn, and scream like pod people when we see someone going to church.

The exposure-to-a-lot-of-hooey ship has already sailed, I’m afraid–you’ve bought wholesale the whole idea that there’s an “Us” and a “Them” in this country.

Here’s a little welcome brochure for you in the form of my daily life, in case you decide to tough it out in the Eastern time zone:

I’m married, and we have three little boys.

We love them, work hard to teach them manners, values, civic responsibility, respect for adults, respect for themselves.

We care about the schooling they get, the food they eat, the bedtimes they keep, the community that surrounds them, the families that take them in for play dates. We care about setting an example of strong partnership in our marriage.

We have a hard time containing our frustration when we see even the slightest glimmer of entitlement in them, even though we know intellectually that all small kids see themselves as the center of the earth. We also know that it’s up to us to teach them the value of hard work, of delayed gratification, of gratitude, of giving back as much as they take, if not more.

We also give them as much room as we can to be themselves, which means, at various times, letting them explore in stick and rocks and mud, and make play weapons, and fall off their bikes, and they’ve done target shooting and archery. (I hear a lot about attempts to “feminize” boys, and all I can say is, good luck. If it’s in them to be house kids, then they’ll gravitate that way whether they’re pushed to or not, and if it’s not in them, then they won’t. Cultural norming works better in theory than in practice.)

We encourage them to play with neighborhood kids; these neighbors include four families with their kids in faith-based schools–one believes firmly in single-sex education–and four others with kids in public schools. (My kids go private because the classes are small, much better for their temperaments.)

Have you read anything yet that makes you tremble in fear for your children?

To be fair, I’ll also say that I worship no higher power. However, I am also never in anyone’s face about that, not even when someone of faith gets into mine, which does happen. I not only respect people’s right to live as they see fit, but I also hope my kids will look to others as an example, compare other parents’ choices to ours, and choose a path based on that exploration.

Which brings me to the point I could have opened with and quit (but then I wouldn’t have been able to bring in the Pod People): If you are as assured as you suggest in the correctness–and righteousness–of the way you’ve chosen to raise your children, then there should be no reason it couldn’t withstand the challenge of other points of view. Truth likes light, doesn’t it?

Trust your choices, and trust your neighbors to be human–really, I swear they will bear an uncanny resemblance to you.

As as for Us vs. Them, may I please humbly ask of you to declare with me that enough is enough is enough?

Staying ovation for Carolyn! Full points.

Then of course there’s the adorable five-year-old child whose mother allowed him to dress up as Daphne from “Scooby Doo” and defended everything from his neon wig to his go-go boots to judgmental mommies IRL and on the web in a post called “My Son is Gay.”

SPOILER ALERT: The child in question is not actually gay. The writer is employing a rhetorical device to make the point that it wouldn’t matter to her if he becomes gay at some point but that letting him dress up as a girl if he wants on a costume-oriented holiday will not affect his sexual preferences later in life. (As she puts it, brilliantly, “I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off.”)

In case Mrs. Missouri is wondering, this gender-bending Halloween is brought to you by a Stay At Home Mom who calls herself “Cop’s Wife,” sends her kids to church pre-school, and lives in the Midwest. Teh gays! Teh cross-dressers! They are EVERYWHERE. If you think you can avoid their pernicious influence by staying where you are, Mrs. Missouri, you’ve got another think coming.

Missouri, meet Cop’s Wife. Bring the kids! I think you will get along smashingly, at least until / unless Mrs. Missouri does have to transplant to some godforsaken eastern urban hellhole. (“Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.” —Alvy Singer)

But: breathe deeply, Ester. Abide. (“Calmer than you are.” —Walter Sobchak) I don’t need to resort to snark just because Mrs. Missouri did in her letter. Perhaps she is an open-minded person waiting to happen! After all, how Jesus Camp-y could Mrs. Missouri really be if she’s writing into my favorite (and East Coast based) advice columnist? Perhaps there is hope for her yet.

Remember Two Years Ago?

I do:

On Nov. 4, 2008, as on every morning during that fall’s presidential campaign, I began my workday by reviewing the latest battleground-state polls at Pollster and RealClearPolitics, checking up on the pundits at Politico and Wonkette, and seeing what the establishment had to say at the New York Times and the Washington Post. In contrast to the recent Election Days I had known, the news was more than encouraging. My co-workers planned parties. The experts were hopeful. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight predicted a landslide.

Still, concern spread through me until I was possessed: By the end of the day I resembled something out of The Exorcist: trembling and mumbling, with green-tinged skin. My husband, Ben, showed up at my office, took one look at me, and knew that I would never make it to our results-viewing parties; even if I did, I would scare the revelers. “Let’s go home,” he said, worried enough that he suggested taking a cab back to Brooklyn. I was worried enough that I agreed.

We made it only to Union Square before I threw up, splashing my fear on the inside of the car door and my beloved new suede boots. I got out and sat shivering on the curb as the cab driver muttered curses and Ben ran into stores, begging for cleaning supplies. Two Manhattanites walked by me on spiked shoes and laughed, but I barely heard them. I was thinking about Pennsylvania. …

The entirety of my oh-so-timely piece, entitled “Hope Over Experience,” has been on The Morning News for about a week now.

The funny thing is, I’m still thinking about Pennsylvania. And Nevada. And Wisconsin. (Poor Russ Feingold!) The point is, if you need me, I’ll be online shopping all day to distract myself, and pondering who I detest more: David “Pink Shirt” Brooks or Maureen “Fires of Mordor” Dowd? In fact, let’s make it a poll!

Who Is a More Worthless Human Being / Pundit?

My Family Wins the Internet

On BNReview, my father-in-law, a Russian doctor, teaches all you Americans how to drink vodka. I don’t need teaching because I have plenty of opportunities to watch the pros.

Meanwhile, my cousins of It’s the Real do it up OK Go-style with their new music video, “My Girl’s a Republican.”

My Girl’s a Republican from jeff on Vimeo.

Now I have their song competing for floorspace in my head with the Rally to Restore Sanity’s mash-up of “the Peace/Love/Crazy Train.”

Pictures of my favorite handwritten signs from the rally TK. It was pretty amazing, I have to say, to see hundreds of signs and not one typo. That should go down in history.

Two Weddings, One Ass

There is a terrific Yiddish expression that currently sums up a large part of what Juan Williams did wrong: “You can’t dance in two weddings with one ass.”

Fox News and National Public Radio are two very different weddings, playing very different music and enjoying very different food. Trying to please the machers at both was bound to be an exercise in futility, if not self-destruction.

Besides, wasn’t this so far over-the-top as to be almost passive-aggressive? (After all, he got to be the news story for a change, and he got a hefty raise too.) Telling O’Reilly “you’re right”? Using the words “I’m not a bigot” and then NOT STOPPING THERE?

Here’s the full quote:

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country,” Williams said Monday. “But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

For those who are saying that Williams was fired in violation of his 1st Amendment rights, an anonymous NPR exec rolls his eyes in the Washington Post: “Williams’s comments on Monday were the last straw, the executive said. He dismissed suggestions that NPR was suppressing Williams’s freedom of speech, saying, “Juan has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants. He does not have a First Amendment right to be paid by NPR for saying whatever he wants.” And there’s the rub. Though we are all free to talk, we are not free to escape the consequences. Not even if a lot of loudmouths agree with us.

Besides, considering that Tea Party senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell just publicly revealed she doesn’t know what the 1st Amendment entails, the Republicans probably shouldn’t be drawing too much attention to the Bill of Rights.

As TNC points out, what Williams said was a problem. What Williams CONTINUES to say leeches out any potential sympathy I’d have for him. From today’s NYT:

Mr. Williams said in an essay published Thursday on that he was fired “for telling the truth.”

He continued in the essay: “Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

Sent to the gulag! Somewhere, Solzhenitsyn is groaning in his grave and stuffing dirt in his ears. If Williams is really that convinced that he is a victim of severe, historical injustice, then he belong at Fox News. Let me be the first to say, Welcome home.

The Best American Writing of 2010

Poetry by people who hate Elena Kagan and, most likely, all recent developments since Fluoridated water:

The first thing wrong with this appointment; it is wrong according to the bible. Second she is againist the military which would place her in an unamerician position, therefore should have been rejected. Every senator who voted yes should be impeached for lack of mental ability to ascertain right from wrong”

This is a sad day for God fearing,Jesus loving strate people in the US.As long as obama is in office he knows he has one sure voteon the court hopefully his will be a short stay.”

“Jews make up less than 3 percent of the US population. Jews now make up 33.33 percent of the US Supreme Court. Something is WRONG with this picture. Only a handful of Bolshevik Jews took control of Russia in 1917 and eventually slaughtered tens of millions of Orthodox Christians. America, BEWARE.”

this is what i get for reading polls

As some of you know, I’m a bit of a compulsive when it comes to numbers, as long as there is no arithmetic involved. Every day at 1:05, for example, I check my boyfriend Barack Obama’s Gallup approval numbers. Not everyone loves him as much as I do (I know! Crazy!), and the fickle public must be monitored.

Then, when I’m done with Gallup, I head over to to get a sense of the bigger picture. Most of the time I scan the list of new polls, investigate three or four, then delve into the comments before recoiling like a dog who smacked into an electric fence.

This time I only got as far as this NBC/WSJ Poll before succumbing to whimpering & whiplash:

US: National Survey (NBC/WSJ 5/6-10)
Harry Enten | May 12, 2010

Topics: National

NBC News / Wall Street Journal
5/6-10/10; 1,000 adults, 3.1% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(NBC: story, results; WSJ: story, results)


Approval / Disapproval
Obama: 50% Approve, 44% Disapprove (chart)
Obama Economy: 48 / 46 (chart)
Obama Terrorism: 48 / 42
Congress: 21 / 72 (chart)

Positive / Negative
Barack Obama: 49 / 38 (chart)
Democratic Party: 37 / 42
Republican Party: 30 / 42
Tea Party Movement: 31 / 30
British Petroleum: 11 / 45
Charlie Crist: 8 / 16
General Motors: 37 / 27
Citibank: 10 / 43
Toyota: 31 / 34
Goldman Sachs: 4 / 50

Preference for Congress after 2010 elections
Democratic Control: 44%, Republican Control: 44%

Let’s break this down. Obama’s at 50% approval (fine) with a 2 point advantage on the issue of the economy (!). Everyone hates Charlie “Opportunist” Christ, whose sham marriage, which failed to get him on John McCain’s ticket, will also fail to help him stay afloat in Florida. BP, which ruined our water, polls almost as badly as Citibank, which ruined our entire economy. The Democratic Party is exactly as popular as failed, bankrupt automakers General Motors, while probably this asshole who hacked kindergarteners to death in China is still viewed more favorably than Goldman Sucks. All more or less to be expected.

Then we get to the fun stuff.

“The Arizona law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. It requires local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status if they have reason to suspect a person is in the country illegally, making it a crime for them to lack registration documents.”
64% Support, 34% Oppose

“How likely do you think it is that the decision in Arizona to promote strong enforcement of immigrants who are NOT in the U.S. legally will lead to discrimination of Hispanic or Latino immigrants who ARE in the U.S. legally?”
66% Likely, 31% Unlikely

More Off-Shore Drilling
60% Support, 34% Oppose

So, there’s this law, right? It requires that you have your papers on you at all times if you have even a tinge of melanin in your skin or a faint whiff of chile on your breath. As an LA councilman puts it in an LA Times piece on the boycott of the Saguaro State:

“Los Angeles is the second-largest city in this country, an immigrant city, an international city. It needs to have its voice heard,” said Councilman Ed Reyes, one of the resolution’s sponsors. “As an American, I cannot go to Arizona today without a passport. If I come across an officer who’s having a bad day and feels that the picture on my ID is not me, I can be deported, no questions asked. That is not American.”

Knowing that, how do the American people feel about this law? 64% of them think it is A-OK!

Well, back up a minute. Maybe they don’t realize it’s racist. No one likes racists or racism, right? That shit polls worse than Toyota. Let’s ask the American people whether they think this new law will be racist.

Well, cock-a-doodle-doo! They don’t care. 66% percent of respondents think that HELL YES, despite Jan Brewer’s insistence to the contrary, this law will be racist. It doesn’t bother them! Heck of a job, whiteys.

Oh, and as an extra kick in the pants, the poll then kindly informs us that 60% of Americans support *more* off-shore drilling, because what has the Gulf of Mexico ever done for us? Damned lazy, welfare-check-cashing, bean-eating, sombrero-wearing, American-job-stealing Gulf of Mexico. When was the last time we saw *its* passport? We say, let the sucker drown.

BONUS: In Portugal recently, the pope overlooked poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, iodine deficiencies, sexism, racism, religious extremism, child-rape, terrorism, environmental catastrophes and sinkholes that eat houses to declare that “same sex marriage and abortion were among the ‘most insidious and dangerous challenges that today confront the common good.'” Just, you know, FYI.

Arizona: the Police State

For days now I’ve been mulling over the new AZ immigration law and why it bothered me so much. Possibly it’s because I was just recently a judge at a student Holocaust film festival, so I’m more sensitized to fascism than I am on a day-to-day basis. Which, by the way, is pretty effing sensitized. I grew up breathing the air of the Inside Room and learned the Devil’s Arithmetic before I managed to Number the Stars. Every season was the Summer of my German Soldier, goddammit, to the point where if I heard German spoken in real life I jumped.

When I needed to cool down from YA Holocaust lit, I picked up on other kinds of injustice through biographies of Harriet Tubman and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

Even my very first smutty smut book, Night Over Water, had fascism as a subplot. (Reading the description is fascinating now because all I remember is the sex [vividly] and the politics [hazily], and that only because at 10 or 11 years old, I was surprised to learn there were fascists in England, too. By contrast, my mother, who gave me the book to read, didn’t remember the sex at all.)

Back to Arizona, the state that gave us John “Never Said I Was a Maverick” McCain. Bisbee is great! Try the killer bee honey. You can’t argue with the Saguaros everywhere, which are evidence of God’s prickly sense of humor. But why, WHY, does anyone think it’s acceptable to force people to carry identification papers with them at all times because they could be stopped and asked for those papers by the police?

Linda Greenhouse does not think it is acceptable. In fact, Linda Greenhouse is smoldering with rage.

And good on her. Having to wear a badge on your sleeve is only five paces in that direction from having to carry ID papers with you everywhere. Knowing you could be stopped and frisked by cops simply for leaving your house in your darker skin is a kind of low-level terror no one should be exposed to: not illegal immigrants, not legal immigrants, not citizens of this country.

As May Day is almost upon us, it feels appropriate to quote Billy Bragg’s excellent translation of the Internationale, which is unfortunately playing in my head to the tune of La Marseilleise, but never mind:

Stand up, all victims of oppression
For the tyrants fear your might
Don’t cling so hard to your possessions
For you have nothing, if you have no rights
Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all. …


On the way back from finally seeing Avatar, I hear a couple across the car from me discussing the Academy Awards and the meta-narrative of Cameron vs. Bigelow: Who Gets Custody of Oscar.

The conversation is very run-of-the-mill and I zone out, paying attention instead to the Daley article in the New Yorker. Then I hear the boy say something is “political.” My antenna goes up.

GIRL: Really?
BOY: Of course it is. You remember that movie, Brokeback Mountain?
GIRL: Yeah.
BOY: That was nominated for Best Picture!
GIRL: Really?
BOY: Yes! And you know what it’s about?
GIRL: Yeah.
BOY: And *that* was nominated for Best Picture! Even though it was about … *that*! It’s just ’cause it was politically correct. Now, if it was a good movie, I wouldn’t mind …
GIRL: I never saw it.
BOY: Me neither, but still …

This reminds me of the time when I was about thirteen and my mother took me to the Algonquin hotel. I was a passionate devotee of Dorothy Parker’s, and I sat where she had once held court soaking up the Vitamin D. At least, I did, until my reverie was broken by the sound of a man a couple tables away lecturing his female companion on my favorite author. And he was wrong! More wrong than a cat being thrown out into the snow.

My mother could tell how incensed I was. I glared and shook my head and snorted like a horse but the man kept talking in his pompous, Master of the Literary Universe kind of way. “Please can I go over there and correct him,” I asked my mother. “He’s pretending he knows all this stuff and he doesn’t!”

In this case, I will content myself with saying to you, the Internets: that boy is a fool.

Of course, it is tempting to dismiss anything you find distasteful without feeling like you first have to sit through it. Especially in our digital age when we can easily access the proxy opinions of friends, or “Fox and Friends,” why bother exposing yourself to something whose agenda you suspect you don’t want to support?

A friend and I were recently discussing this in relation to, as it happens, Avatar: Is it fair to hate it without having seen it? Especially with an international blockbuster that seems to have been covered quite in depth by the media, it feels pretty easy to get a sense of whether you’ll like it in advance. (Good questions to ask yourself: How did you feel about Titanic? Fern Gully? Cats? [The animal, not the Broadway show.] How do you feel about white male protagonists with one-syllable “J” names? Great. Lastly, mother-goddess worship. Is that a deal breaker for you?)

Well, I decided to take myself to see it, by myself, to decide in as much of a vacuum as possible how I felt about it. There are my primary reactions. *CAUTION: SPOILERS*

1) James Cameron can sure make movies. I found myself thinking like a film student a lot of the time: “Those two characters are going to kiss at this point. Wait, but will they? They’re not human; why would they kiss? American audiences expect it even though it doesn’t make sense in this context. I wonder what Cameron will — oh, there they go! Well done.”

Assuming that Titanic and Avatar are about equally long, I would give you excellent odds that the first kiss between the couples in both films happen at roughly the same time. Like, within five minutes of each other. Because there is a kind of science to this and Cameron knows how it works.

I also made mental notes of the characters who seemed marked as Dead Meat and, indeed, most of them bit it. In a couple of cases I was surprised, which is another Well Done for JC.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I was carried by the narrative. I was impressed with the visuals. At times I was moved and at times I laughed, though a couple of those chuckles came at the expense of particularly ham-handed lines of dialogue. The movie was long but I didn’t get bored.


2) the story — specifically the politics of it. Oy. I don’t need to get into this; others, more prestigious and better suited to the task than I have done it already (here, there, and everywhere).

It should be noted that right-wingers think “Avatar” is a tree-hugging, socialist fantasy:

Writing in the Weekly Standard, conservative commentator John Podhoretz called the movie’s clash between heavily armed humans and an indigenous tribe of aliens as “anti-American, anti-human.” In an upcoming piece in Commentary magazine, Stephen Hunter writes that “the movie essentially decodes into a 1960s pseudo-intellectual’s power-trip dream.” A headline on a piece by John Nolte, editor of Andrew Breitbart’s conservative Big Hollywood site, declared the movie wasn’t for Heartland America: “‘Avatar’ Is a Big, Dull, America-Hating, PC Revenge …”

Hee! I love conservative outrage. For more from the left, here’s Dan Savage on the film’s sexual politics. He’s not happy either.

To all of that, I will only add that the film’s gender politics do get points from me. Most mainstream movies pass the Ms. Test only on a technicality. JC gives us several interesting, active female characters. Even the warrior princess kicks ass, and not just once, like, when a maternal instinct helps her save a baby rabbit. She hunts and flies and fights; her dad gives her his huge bow and arrow. She doesn’t need saving. Well, once, a bit, but then she does some excellent saving of her own.

In short, the women are just as developed as the men (which is to say, not much, but this is not a deep, character-driven flick). For an action movie, that’s not nothing.

Here, however, is where JC falls short:

3) the tails. WTF, JC? You give these 10-feet-tall blue-skinned cat-people *tails* and then do nothing with them? Think of the possibilities! Think of the children! (We barely see the children. What are the little Na’vi doing all day? Plugging their braids into everything they can find?) Many people, including one of my favorite high school teachers, would kill to have a tail. That showed a lack of imagination, Mr. Cameron. I am disappointed in you.

Overall? I liked it better than I thought I would. It helped to have expectations set to virtually zero. And now I can feel even more morally superior to that little blond idiot on the subway than I would have felt already.