Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Freedom of Freedom

Despite the fact Iran is speeding towards acquiring nuclear weapons and is sharing training and methodology regarding IED (roadside bombs) with their Muslim Taliban brethren, the real problem isn't found outside these four walls, but from within. To quote the Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smith film Men In Black:

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

This week, a judge in Mississippi ruled that an 18-year-old lesbian, Constance McMillen, can not only attend her high school prom with her girlfriend but she can wear a tuxedo if she so chooses. However, he also upheld the school's decision to cancel the event entirely.

If you hadn't heard about this particular case, Ms. McMillen indicated she would be taking her girlfriend to the prom and intended to wear a tuxedo to the event. Subsequently, her school advised her she would be barred from bringing a same-sex date and would be removed or denied access if she wore a tuxedo. The ACLU intervened and sued the school, who subsequently canceled the event.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson held that the school district had violated Ms. McMillen's rights by prohibiting her from bringing a same-sex date as well as wearing a tuxedo, and cited the fact that she has been openly gay since she was in the eighth grade and her attendance with her girlfriend, and the type of attire she had chosen to wear, was a statement on her part. Hence the school violated her rights.

My initial response to this first component of the decision was what had happened if she was not openly gay or bi and had dated men for years but suddenly decided to bring a female date to the prom? And further, what would have happened if she was straight but decided to wear a tuxedo and bring a male date who decided to wear a dress?

The second component to the decision is somewhat misleading and disheartening as well. The judge did not demand the school sponsor a prom because, apparently, a group of parents decided to plan a private off-school event -- called a ball -- and hold same elsewhere on the same night as the intended prom. The question as to whether Ms. McMillen is allowed to attend this event -- with her date, and her choice of attire -- remains to be seen.

So despite the fact that Ms. McMillen -- courageously, I might add -- stood her ground, the end result is she'll likely be insulted and blamed -- both locally and from afar -- for being the cause of this situation when it's the school, the community and -- frankly -- some backwards-ass country fucks -- that have created this firestorm in the first place.

This case, and the bigotry behind it, is unfortunate but not surprising. I commend Ms. McMillen for standing her ground, especially in the face of the abusive response one can only assume she'll receive. One need look no further than the pathetic, repulsive comments in response to the article posted earlier herein.

This reminds me of a case from the last 18 months wherein an interracial couple was refused a license of marriage, and similarly demonstrates -- to me -- the religious zealotry and fervor with which some people fight abortion rights. To me, whether one is opposed to the marriage of interracial couples, abortion, gay rights or anything else which opposed their own views, fervent opposition is less an appropriate response and more a revelation of fear, bigotry, ignorance and naivete. I understand people -- "dumb, panicky dangerous animals" -- want to keep a handle on their world and retain the values with which they grew up; I understand wanting to keep your world the same as it was when your parents grew up. However, the world changes and the people that fail to change along with it are not going to win their battle with entropy, change or progress; they're going to be regarded as outcasts, bigots and angry. So be it.

This debate, incidentally, touches on the larger issue of gay marriage, which has increasingly been brought to the forefront since the Bush Administration was in existence. Personally, I'm opposed to the actual term "gay marriage" only because of semantic reasons. A marriage, by definition, is a civil union of a man and a woman. I fully support a same-sex civil union which grants each member of said union the same benefits as a married couple; I just would refer to same as a marriage. But whether it's 2010 or 1910, people should not be precluded from being happy, nor should they be prohibited from spending their lives with whom -- and in whichever manner -- they wish. What is unfortunate, to me anyway, is not that we as people are so resistant to change -- we all are, on some level, for various -- and not all bad -- reasons. What bothers me most is that as Americans, we have ingratiated ourselves with the notion that we should express our opinions because we have the right to do so, but we seem to have forgotten the fact that once we have expressed our opinions, we should expend as much if not more energy on actually moving forward, whether our opinion is accepted or not. Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers, described the notion of factions and how different opinions and beliefs would naturally pit one view against another -- in both governmental issues and beyond same -- and yet, his view wasn't that we should intensively, infinitely labor on these differences, but come to some sort of understanding or acceptance and move forward.

It seems we have only mastered that first part -- the extreme arguing, bile and insulting -- and skipped over that second part, the art of compromise and accepting, rather than alienating -- our neighbor. Whether it's gay rights, abortion, race, or anything else that seems to bring out the worst in us as a nation, I don't quite understand why we haven't mastered the art of jointly expressing our opinion and our respect for others' opinions. Saying "I don't agree with what you are doing, and I don't feel it is right for me, but to each his or her own" has been replaced with "My opinion is right, yours is wrong, and I will fight to the death before I see your opinion win out over mine."

Voltaire once wrote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." We've gotten so busy disagreeing, preaching, protesting and denigrating others' beliefs that we've forgotten another equally important American tenet -- individual freedom.

To me, that is both unfortunate and sad, and perhaps a unique American perspective, one I hope changes some time in the future, if not in my lifetime.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Busy Month

Invariably, in life, one reaches a point where his birthday is relatively insignificant and it represents yet another day in an otherwise busy schedule and the struggle to make it out of bed.

I'm happy to announce I'm not quite at that point yet.

It all began last Saturday, March 13th. I had been informally planning a night out with a bunch of friends knowing Kaia would be in town, but I hadn't really planned much of anything out. Typically, when we plan as a group, things come together quickly and efficiently and everything works out because we're all of a similar mind: pick a place, a time, and have fun.

However, being that Kaia was in town and there was a lot of ancillary stuff happening, the night never got fully fleshed out. Friends of mine from out of town were going to be visiting NYC -- with their mom -- and I wanted to be sure I saw them as well. However, because of the way everything was progressing plans-wise, I wasn't exactly sure when we'd get down to the bar where they were going to be celebrating with friends.

Needless to say, Saturday came and the weather was monsoon-like. So instead of vigorously planning the night out, Kaia and I decided to wing it -- and since a friend of ours, Matt, spent time with us that afternoon, we figured we would make some plans for dinner -- which we did -- and opted to visit Dinosaur BBQ, at 131st and 12th.

Kaia and I had been planning to visit Dinosaur for a year or two; between that and some friends of ours telling us to run, not walk, to Dino ASAP, we decided we three would head uptown. Never mind the weather was terrible, and that every sane person on the entire island of Manhattan canceled his/her plans and opted for delivery and a movie.

We went uptown and when we arrived -- in the monsoon -- at Dino, I looked through the crowd and saw a dozen friends hiding -- SURPRISE -- amid the masses of people awaiting Dino's tasty eats. The details of the surprise came out after, how Kaia engaged the entire group via e-mail and everyone finally agreed to venture out to Dino, etc. etc. etc.

We spent the next few hours kicking back, celebrating my birthday, and overall having a lot of fun.

I didn't really expect much of anything, between the fact my birthday landed during the week and I don't do much exciting any given year; however, it was a blast having everyone assembled, despite the weather -- amazingly, everyone made it -- and I genuinely was touched by the fact that the surprise was really a nice way to pre-celebrate.

On my actual birthday, we went out to Balthazar -- one of our usual hangs -- I had way too much to drink before and during dinner -- and went to bed happy, hazy and relaxed.

All in all, as I get older, I might not get wiser, but I do learn -- and in this case, I can happily admit I appreciate my significant other, my friends and increasingly realize that spending time with good friends enjoying good food, booze and good times is far more worthwhile than anything wrapped up with a shiny bow (although they're mighty awesome as well).

Thanks to all who celebrated or otherwise acknowledged my birthday, and I hope everyone enjoyed the day near and far.

Thanks to some good friends -- and, of course, Kaia -- another year's passing isn't something to mourn but to celebrate, and leaves me looking forward to the year ahead and to March 17, 2011.

Thanks again...


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Literary Road-Block Continues

Every time I absorb something new -- a book, a movie, a short story or a play -- it affects the creative process. This isn't particularly news-worthy or unique; most creative people -- or so I'd imagine -- incorporate their respective environments in varying degrees into their creative output. I think the best example of this phenomenon is that of graffiti artists; most members of this unofficial collective, I'd wager, are from urban areas. Conversely, I doubt many graffiti artists have spent their entire lives in rural parts of Iowa, Idaho and Indiana; not that there's anything wrong with any of those places; however, one is far more likely to see graffiti living in a congested area like NYC than in the rural Midwest, and exposure to something begets its influence, and so on, and so forth, etc.

In any case, I'm still in the process of writing It -- the story. The last time I had the urge to fill a shitload of pages with one collective literary bowel movement was sometime in the late 90's, and while I believe I had something, what I wound up having was victimized by timing. I was writing a story involving an anti-hero facing an international terrorist -- the latter's name was to be the name of the novel -- and part of the story involved terrorists blowing up the George Washington Bridge, among other things.

And then 9/11 happened, and fiction and reality -- sort of -- collided pretty intensely, both literally and figuratively. And I stopped writing -- fiction, anyway -- for awhile.

I began writing again a few years ago, and have since amassed what I believe is a pretty solid skeleton of a story. There are a half-dozen different aspects to the story, all of which culminate in a coming together in what I believe is something worthy of my time, although whether it's worthy of others' time remains to be seen. Interestingly, the real kick in the ass this time around isn't fleshing out the characters or constructing the interactions but coming up with appropriate names for characters. For anyone who doubts the significance of characters' names in political thrillers, consider a CIA operative who kicks ass and who can navigate a 256-bit-encrypted arms dealer's notebook PC -- in Arabic -- and who answers to the name of Orville Redenbacher.

As indicated, it's all relative.

There are other aspects of the project that are giving me fits -- how certain key plot points come together are still a mystery to me, and while some people can fabricate a novel by using an outline, more often than not I don't know what's going to happen from one chapter to the next until I actually take the time to map it out, paragraph by paragraph. I suppose I should be jealous of someone who can envision the entire sequence of a novel in his or her noggin; for me, however, the writing is almost as entertaining -- albeit inestimably fare more infuriating -- than just reading a good story.

In any event, my problem now -- far more significant than the naming issue -- is those few key plot points that still have yet to be connected and/or worked out. Every so often things come to me -- when I'm half in or out of sleep, in the shower, watching an episode of The Inbetweeners (on BBC America -- highly recommended, by the way) or even when I'm on a 4 train headed up- or downtown.

The bottom line, unfortunately, is these connected points rarely -- if ever -- seem to come to me when I can actually implement them -- or, far worse -- remember them.

So I suppose I'll continue to let the cursor blink at me among pre-fab text and worry less about what it is I'm going to say and more about when it is I'm actually going to commit to saying it.

Put another way -- in the words of Stephen King, in the forward to "Night Shift" -- a writer writes. In my particular case, I'll keep doing whatever it is I'm doing in lieu thereof.

For now, anyway.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Getting It Right

When in the course of human events, a machine of such magnitude like the film "Avatar" -- a bloated, boring techno-fest of blue things running around a screen -- can steamroll its way to Oscar favoritude is sort of irritating.

However, every so often the Academy gets it right. Like they did tonight.

It's irrelevant -- to me, anyway -- that Kathryn Bigelow is the first female to win an Oscar for Best Direction. It's irrelevant that this evening could have seen an African-American win an Oscar for Best Direction for the first time.

They managed to get it right.

I didn't see all 50 films nominated for Best Picture (actually, there were only ten but it's just a matter of time before 50 wind up on the list); however, I did see Avatar (most of it, although I managed to get in some useful rest during the 2.5 hour film as well) and I saw The Hurt Locker, the latter at home on BluRay.

The Hurt Locker was and remains -- and will remain -- a memorable, powerful, intense film that will serve as a reminder of what war in the 21st Century really is: dangerous, intense, numbing, powerful and incredibly frightening. There have been incredibly portrayed films depicting war -- Platoon and Saving Private Ryan are but two of the better ones -- but The Hurt Locker grabs you by the balls and doesn't let you go until well after the credits have ceased to roll.

I'm not sure if the reason why I failed to fall asleep during The Hurt Locker was the intense soundtrack (every time a bomb exploded I felt it all around me and my couch shook) or simply the fact that the film -- and the performances therein -- were thoroughly riveting.

Overall, tonight -- for better or worse -- went according to what I had hoped. While I think Jeremy Renner's performance in The Hurt Locker was deserving of a Best Actor Oscar, I understand and agree with the choice of Jeff Bridges in that capacity, if only because his body of work -- not only in Crazy Heart, which I didn't see -- but his entire resume -- was deserving of accolade and an Oscar was well overdue. It's a shame -- just like The Hustler and West Side Story or Goodfellas and Gandhi -- that timing screws things up so badly for certain unfortunate films/performances. Had Jeremy Renner been nominated for this film last year, he would have been up on that stage -- and deservedly so.

Sandra Bullock has always been a talented, likable actress, but most of her performances have been in fluff, disposable films (not to mention Speed 2: The Waste of A Film). From everything I've seen and heard about The Blind Side, she deserved to win, and simply by her acceptance speech alone -- and not based on the fact that I've always admired and enjoyed her as an actress -- I'm glad she won. It hearkens back to Julia Roberts' Oscar win for Pretty Woman, except Julia Roberts' victory remains -- along with Marisa Tomei's for My Cousin Vinny -- somewhat out of left field. Yet, while it's somewhat of a head-scratcher, I suppose her win this evening confirms that if you are a good guy and you do good work, eventually someone -- or some Academy -- will acknowledge you for what you've accomplished. Good job.

Christoph Waltz won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor -- at least in my eyes -- the minute I walked out of the theater after having seen Inglourious Basterds. The film was entertaining and enthralling as is typical of a Tarantino picture, but his performance was -- by far -- the most far and away deserving of an Oscar of any of the people nominated for their work in front of the camera. And Monique's win for Precious was not a shock to me, although I would have chosen Maggie Gyllenhaal simply because I had heard incredible things about her performance. I'm glad, in retrospect, that Precious received acknowledgment, however, because I heard it was a strong, powerful film. Crazy Heart might have been a strong, powerful film as well, but I'm not unhappy that Monique won because from what I've read, hers was a performance worthy of an Oscar as well.

Finally, as far as the evening goes, my favorite part (of what I saw of) the Oscars was the spoof of Paranormal Activity (starring Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin) which preceded the Academy's Tribute to Horror Films. I won't elaborate, but I actually enjoyed the two-minute skit far more than the film itself.

And finally, something I learned this evening which I never knew was that Helen Mirren has a spider-web tattoo on her hand. If there was an Oscar for a woman 65 or older who remains incredibly sexy and whose talent knows no bounds, we might have seen her tattoo wrapped around another Oscar.

Alas...until the Academy further dilutes its rules and regulations, we'll just have to wait until next year. C'est la vie.

Congratulations to the Academy this year -- despite the ten films thing -- for not fucking it up.