Monthly Archives: February, 2009

Duck and Cover

I’m in a “Left Behind” mode. That best-selling book franchise tells the story of some poor fools who are stuck on earth and it’s always something. Has the Rapture happened yet? I think not. The Democrats don’t have a filibuster-proof majority and the Republicans managed to water down the stimulus plan. So the chosen are still with us.

Now I’m all for a judicious eye on the taxpayer’s money, but let’s look at this stimulus plan from an emergency perspective:

Doctor- the patient is flatlining!

Defibrillate now! 200 Joules!

Well, I don’t know about that. I think he isn’t trying hard enough. Let’s give him 100 Joules and see if he can make the effort to revive himself.

Defibrillate now!!! 200 Joules!!
Let’s send this to committee.

Every time I drive through greater Providence I see more “for sale” signs and empty storefronts. And things aren’t safe in heaven either. You have to know when to duck and cover

MOSCOW U.S. and Russian officials traded shots Thursday over who was to blame for a huge satellite collision this week that spewed speeding clouds of debris into space, threatening other unmanned spacecraft in nearby orbits.

Okay, that was Thursday. Old news. Here’s from today

DALLAS The Federal Aviation Administration has received numerous reports of falling debris across Texas, which could be related to a recent satellite collision.
Some of the callers around midmorning Sunday reported what looked like a fireball in the sky.

Keep a heads up for incoming. It’s interesting times.

The Clothes of Our Lives

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the lovers out there, myself and my husband included. This year for Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to an hour of cleaning out my clothes closet, deciding on things I could let go. There was a lot. When I was in my 20′s and living on the East Side of Providence, I would go to people’s yard sales up on Benefit street, and women would be selling their practically new Liz Claiborne blazers for $1, and I used to be amazed. I went to a lot of sidewalk sales in New York in the preceding years, and it seemed in Providence the sales were much better.

After I’d come home with my booty and try it on, I remember pondering about who these women were who could afford to give away their clothes for nothing. Well, now I know who they are: I’m one of them.

My father (bless his heart and soul), who could be rather cynical in his world views, used to say that we are a throw-away economy — our economy depends on us throwing stuff away. He even extended the metaphor to our nation’s people at times, saying our working economy functioned as well as it did because we could afford to “throw away” a certain number of people by having a large available pool of low-wage workers in the poor.

I’d like to think he was over the top with his cynicism, but I know there is an element of what he was trying to convey that was true. I’d also like to think we’re evolving away from a throw away economy and more toward a renew and reuse economy. In the best-case scenario, that is what the economic recovery package that has just passed in Congress could bring — a different understanding of why we consume and what we can do to consume wisely and with an eye toward the future of this planet that our children will inherit.

Cool Shepard Fairey Link

At Rhode Island’s Future, here. With a good photo of a new public art action downtown. If you happen to be on North Main Street, look for a Shepard Fairey sign on the side of Max Formal. And stop in the store if you want a good deal on work pants.

The Slumdog That Didn’t Bark

(Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie, because it contains spoilers.)

Gangs of rail-thin children run from a club-wielding policeman, a satellite view of a maze of tin-roofed shacks extends for miles, children climb mountains of trash scavenging for anything they can sell. Acres of plastic bags, garbage and broken junk from their own upper classes and the first world. Slumdog Millionaire ups the ante of dramatized assaults on children, but the incidental scenes of daily life, with all those anonymous child extras, recalls the old saying ‘poverty is violence’.

Slumdog Millionaire is not a feel-good movie, but it’s too simple to call it ‘poverty porn’. It seems to me like a slick blend of reality and movie cliche, with the reality so heavy and compelling that it gives the film more credibility than it deserves. I sat in the Avon theater, overstuffed from an eating binge, and I saw skinny, hungry children running and laughing. An abstraction is now real to me in a way I can’t undo, and I’m glad for it, though it causes me discomfort.

There’s nothing on the net about the Mumbai children who played the small roles except for two of them who supposedly have a trust fund they can access when they finish school. One of the adult professional actors, Anil Kapoor, who plays a nasty talk-show host, has donated his fee for the movie to Plan India, a children’s charity–

“I think it is the good wishes and blessings of the children that were instrumental in the success of the film.” The actor staunchly defends the film, that has been criticised in certain sections for portraying the dark underbelly of Mumbai– dirty slums and poverty.

There’s plenty of footage of real people living without enough food, clean water, privacy or safety, but like the dog that didn’t bark, something is missing. When the three main characters, brothers Jamal and Salim, and a little girl named Latika are orphaned in a religious attack there is no adult anywhere who shows them mercy. No one from their mosque, no teacher from their school, no surviving kin. They live picking trash, until they are lured into a camp of abandoned children run by traffickers.

This leads to a film depiction of violence against a child that is so graphic and shocking that I won’t describe it here. I’ll only say that director Danny Boyle has raised the bar. When the movie was shown to an audience of slum children in Mumbai, that scene made them gasp. They said that they were sure such things happened, but not in their neighborhood.

Vikas Swarup, the author of the novel that inspired the movie, admitted that he was going for dramatic effect.

“This isn’t social critique,” he objects. “It’s a novel written by someone who uses what he finds to tell a story… It may be an urban myth, but it’s useful to my story.”

Violence in a novel is created in the reader’s mind by words on a page. Violence in cinema isn’t mediated that way. It goes straight to the primitive brain that doesn’t know real from fake and sets the heart racing. It’s a powerful stimulant. It works that way in Shakespeare and in slasher movies.

Raising the bar of child abuse has an interesting effect on the viewer’s experience of ‘Slumdog’. When the child Latika, flat chested and baby faced, is abducted by criminals who will force her into prostitution, you think, ‘hey, it could be worse. At least they didn’t do to her what they did to that poor little boy.’ When teenage Salim murders one of the bad guys, you just wonder what took him so long. When the adult Jamal is tortured by corrupt police you figure he’s probably used to it, and actually he looks just fine the next day, without a mark on him.

It kind of feeds into the general heartlessness of the movie. The child extras bring so much real warmth on screen that it’s awhile before you notice that the dog didn’t bark. But this movie shows an India that is without any expression of justice or mercy. Every authority is corrupt and sadistic. No Indian adult shows any interest in the orphans except to beat them or horribly exploit them. The only people who object to this mistreatment are American tourists, and they come off as saps. Salim, the older brother, repeatedly betrays Jamal, and can only redeem himself by dying. The pure relationship is the romantic love between Jamal and Latika. This love can’t prevail unless Jamal becomes rich. The dog that didn’t bark is the lack of any depiction of poor people helping one another to survive.

Danny Boyle was interviewed on NPR and remarked on the organization and resourcefulness of the Mumbai slum-dwellers. If there is such a thing as a universal human nature, then mutual aid is as necessary to survival as food and water. Poor people especially need to look to relationships, because they can’t buy their way out of every problem. That’s the heart that is missing from this movie. Where the dead brother and all the collateral abused children are forgotten in the final screen kiss, there’s lots of money and everyone is dancing.

At Last, A Cure

Posted on Democratic Underground, a very funny video from The Onion about a new drug for treating the annoyingly cheerful. ‘Despondex’ can reduce perkiness by 60%. The Youtube link is here, somewhat profane, but not worse than you would hear if you take the bus downtown.

The High Cost of Not Building a Concrete Plant

Projo has an article talking about the problems with finding funds to cover the costs of buying out Cullion to keep the concrete plant from being built. From the Projo:

CRANSTON  The city’s plan to buy the land on which a company had wanted to open a concrete-batching plant is slowly moving forward, but city taxpayers might be paying a bigger share of the $1.9 million price than first thought.

It turns out that some $700,000 in federal housing money – the last financing piece that city officials announced last year as they moved to buy the site – is not going to help after all.

The reason: Much of the 17.7-acre property owned by Cullion Concrete Corp., of South Kingstown, lies in a floodplain, which presents a serious problem for anyone looking to build housing, let alone government-subsidized affordable housing, city officials said this week.

Like Emilio says, the good news is that there is “nothing going on over there.” That’s as it should be. The plan to build anything on that land, particularly an industrial site, were ill-conceived to say the least. But the cost to fix this problem could not have come at a worse time — and possibly could have been prevented all together if the Laffey administration hadn’t given permission to Cullion in the first place.

Glad I Don’t Live in “Jersey”

Like Gilda Radner said, It’s always something. One day it’s plague-infested mice, the next it’s exploding beach debris

SURF CITY, N.J. Back when World War I was winding down, Navy ships patrolling the New Jersey coast found themselves with leftover ammunition and no targets.

So they dumped it all overboard, probably thinking the fuses and other ordnance would never be seen or heard from again.

They were wrong. Nearly 90 years later, the fuses resurfaced, invading the shores of two of New Jersey’s most popular beaches, Surf City and Ship Bottom.

The federal government is now in the third — and hopefully final –year of a cleanup that will cost nearly $17 million.

If we are lucky, this will be the cleanup century. The 20th left a mountain of bad karma that will keep on floating to the surface for a long time. Our challenge is to dig out, not dig ourselves in deeper.

Giant Gerbils Save Mankind

Plague conjures images of Gothic horror–rough wooden carts piled high with pestilent bodies–but it is more than a medieval memory. The disease, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, kills several hundred people every year by attacking the lungs, lymph nodes or blood. Less obviously, plague also ravages wildlife around the world.
…Confined to rural regions, the disease so far is not a major threat to people–only a few Americans die from it annually. But things could change if the bacterium spreads to urban-loving rodents such as rats. Now some researchers think that another species could provide the information needed to contain plague’s spread in the U.S.: the giant gerbils of Kazakhstan.

This is why I read Scientific American for stress relief. If you are wondering just how big those gerbils are, follow the link here.

Unfortunately, this week’s news in rodents is not all good. Trenton, New Jersey is wondering if plague-infected dead mice ended up in the regular trash.

Dr. David Perlin, director of the research institute, said the experiment was part of a National Institutes of Health bioterrorism program to test a vaccine for plague. The infectious disease often caused by bites from rodent fleas is of interest to researchers because of its potential for use by bioterrorists…
The rodents had been infected with the plague, Perlin said, but he said they posed no threat to research staff or the public in part because they were dead. They were also housed in a secure facility that follows protocols for a biohazard site, he said.

This is the same secure facility that lost the mice. Luckily we can count on the giant gerbils of Kazakhstan to come to the rescue. Meanwhile, if your cat drags in something frozen–don’t touch it.

Art Outlaw

Former Rhode Islander and RISD grad Shepard Fairey was arrested in on the way to his own opening.

Controversial street artist Shepard Fairey was arrested by Boston police Friday night for doing what he has been known to do before: graffiti.
Fairey, 38, was arrested at about 9:15 p.m. on his way to guest deejay an event kicking off an exhibition of his works at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Shepard Fairey is also in a copyright dispute with Associated Press over alleged use of one of their photos for his iconic image of Barack Obama.

I’m going to try to see his show. I’ve enjoyed his Andre the Giant art in all its evolutions and wish him well.

Florida Horror Story

I was up late reading the New Yorker, Feb 9&16, ‘The Ponzi State’ by George Packer. Wow–where is Swamp Thing when you need him?

It was a very scary picture of what happens when you run a state around low taxes, ‘freedom’ from regulation, and neglecting to consider the long-term welfare of the working class.

I know that we’re all middle-class here in America, whether we make $10 an hour or $500,000 a year but we have to get over that. Most of us work. Jobs. We depend on a paycheck.

The profiles of couples who were able to support their children as bank tellers or construction workers, and who now are jobless with only a high-school education are chilling. That could be a lot of us if things continue to deteriorate.

These people who are willing, in fact, desperate to work need health insurance protection, job retraining and temporary employment to get through these times, but that would mean a change of direction.

I was wondering too, why high schools don’t teach financial literacy the way they teach algebra and geometry. Why don’t they teach civics and how to critically evaluate the tide of advertising that comes at us every day? Sex education is good and necessary, maybe we can get up the nerve to open up the topic of money some time soon.

Governor Carcieri was on the radio calling for more tax breaks for upper income Rhode Islanders. He should take a drive around greater Providence and see all the ‘for rent’ and ‘for sale’ signs. Florida had a trickle-down philosophy of government–watch what is happening there and ask if you want Rhode Island to go the same way. It’s colder here too.

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