Bad Teachers?

Eighty teachers in Atlanta Public Schools confess to cheating on standardized tests, while Cameron Diaz lazily besmirches the role of educator at the multiplex. When teachers cheat, what do we learn?

Cameron Diaz in the movie Bad Teacher

On Tuesday, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia released a report on a decade-long cheating network for state tests on the part of 178 educators in Atlanta Public School system, including 38 principals, 80 of which have confessed. The culture of cheating is said to have stretched all the way to the top, allegedly implicating former Superintendent Beverly Hall. APS, the report says, manipulated a “data-driven” system in which test-score targets were being set ever higher, and then achieved through falsification. This misleading achievement data led to national accolades and a rush of private funding for APS.

Stretching back to the nascence of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the widespread cheating allegations in Atlanta could draw increased scrutiny of standardized tests, long considered the benchmark of how children are learning, and which schools deserve to stay open.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which broke the story:

“The investigators’ report, officials said, depicts a culture that rewarded cheaters, punished whistle-blowers and covered up improprieties. Strongly contradicting denials of cheating and other irregularities by Hall and other top district executives, the report describes organized wrongdoing that robbed tens of thousands of children — many of whom came from disadvantaged backgrounds and struggled in school — of an honest appraisal of their abilities.”

The report recounts instances in which children who could not read not only passed, but scored highest on the state reading tests. Had they been accurately tested, these struggling children would have received the support they needed to improve their skills, the Journal-Constitution reports. But in the school-funding meritocracy that closes schools with too many kids who don’t test well, it appears that the APS scandal is an ugly result of what can happen when financial support is tied to the black-and-white results of state tests in the sociological gray area of education.

State tests or no, teachers should know whether their students are able to read or not, and the practice of “social promotion” has long advanced students to upper grades who are not ready for the work they encounter there.

Next door in Alabama, one of the 10 poorest states in the U.S., the testing system of No Child Left Behind has drawn criticism. “There’s a fallacy in the law and everybody knows it,” said Alabama State Superintendent Joe Morton in August of last year. According to Morton, the whole system is out of order; the NCLB Act states that by 2014 every child is supposed to test on grade level in reading and math. “That can’t happen,” said Morton. “You have too many variables and you have too many scenarios, and everybody knows that would never happen.” In this context, it appears that the teachers and school leaders in Atlanta might have been acting unethically out of duress.

Are the victims in the Atlanta scandal that poor high school graduating class of 2011, who walked across the stage with a false sense of how their scores had measured up against the rest of the eighth graders in the U.S. back in 2006 – on the dubious “level playing field” of state tests?

Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall displays her 2009 Superintendent of the Year award. Hall's lawyers maintain that she did not know of the widespread cheating among APS educators

Or the bureaurocrats, robbed of the veil of accuracy heretofore signified by the miles of Scantron sheets they determine is the best way to allocate resources?

From how the next few months play out in Atlanta, we will see the consequences of messing with the certainty that in education, data equals destiny.

Depressing accounts from the teacher whistleblowers profiled in the Journal-Constitution say they witnessed other teachers giving kids the answers, allowing them to cheat off of fellow students, or flat-out erasing and correcting wrong answers on the sheets. These whistleblowers say their reports were ignored by school leadership, and allege they were retaliated against for reporting the unethical behavior they witnessed.

In a Journal-Constitution story on the cheating scandal, one teacher accused of feeding fourth graders answers defended herself, saying she was merely walking the aisles to wake up sleeping students so they “wouldn’t salivate on their answer sheets.”

Is there any other way to determine whether these kids in Atlanta were learning all these years? Falsifying federal records is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. For this critical mass of cheating teachers, what will the consequences be?

The Journal-Constitution, again:

“State School Superintendent John Barge and Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Kathleen Mathers said in a statement Tuesday in coming weeks ‘they will be working on a number of key issues, including: 1) student support, 2) accountability, and 3) the financial benefit that some schools may have received as a result of cheating.’”

Will the schools implicated in this cheating scandal (and of the 56 schools investigated, evidence of cheating turned up at 44) be made to pay financially in keeping with the meritocracy of public education policy?

For their part, major private donor the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week said in a statement that they continue to support APS and the work they fund. In 2007 Gates gave the Atlanta Public School System $10.5 million to redesign their high schools, and in 2010, another $10 million to overhaul the city’s teacher recruitment efforts. These latter funds will presumably be needed more than ever now, with the new APS leadership vowing that the cheating teachers will not be back in the classroom.

“The vast majority of the district’s educators, administrators and students have all worked hard to overcome great odds and earn stellar results,” Gates Foundation press secretary Christopher Williams told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As a nation, this might be a good time to ask ourselves, should cheating hold the same moral juice on Wall Street (where tens of millions of adults were robbed of an honest appraisal of their credit abilities with very little systemic accountability) as it does in the Teacher’s Lounge?

The implications of this scandal are that educators acted selfishly to secure their own jobs and financial gain at the expense of their students’ learning. But what if it was to keep the doors of their schools open in a system they believed was wrong-headed?

Selfishness is the order of the day in the comedy Bad Teacher, in which Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a seventh grade English teacher with slacker ways who resorts to ludicrous sexual trickery and extortion to steal the answers to a state test and win a cash incentive. She is nearly caught, but never punished. In the moral code of Hollywood, tellingly, Ms. Halsey steals the answers so she can teach them overtly to her students – and perhaps she gets off Scott free because her kids actually learn.

Ms. Halsey pedagogy involves “really teaching” her kids (through a convenient montage of dubious methods), inter-cut with descending levels of sexual degradation. She needs the incentive money for a breast-enhancement surgery so she can land Justin Timberlake’s fancy watch empire-scion milquetoast not-doing-it-for-the-money substitute teacher.

Diaz delivers probably her most compelling onscreen characterization as a verge-of-burnout beauty cynically snapping on a smile for what feels like one last time, each time. But her keeping-it-realness is not grounded in any social reality other than that of a gold digger fallen from grace, her class populated with stock-character kids fated to be pint-sized echoes of her adult love quadrangle. Ms. Halsey’s story begs the question: not, will her kids learn, but will she learn to live with her own breasts through the love of a humble PE teacher, Jason Segal, a man doing it for the witty repartee, humble state paycheck and, oh yeah, the kids. And after all that, Ms. Halsey’s moment of redemption comes through a small bout of inappropriate, breast-related teacher-student line-stepping during a field trip.

Besides the upper class/middle class tension between Timberlake and Segal, race and class are largely absent from this education satire, with three notable exceptions. Before she becomes an all-business educator, Ms. Halsey screens the teacher-as-savoir movies of the past two generations for her class, from Lean on Me to Dangerous Minds, letting Edward James Olmos and Morgan Freeman to do her inspiring for her mostly Caucasian students. Posing as a Chicago Tribune reporter to lift a copy of the answer key from a hapless Thomas Lennon, the script flips the idea of intrinsic racial bias in the testing material into a queasy punch line referencing “Orientals.” And in the final frames, a middle school named for Malcolm X. gets an unlikely laugh, when it is announced that Ms. Halsey’s painfully corny teacher-nemesis will presumably receive her off-screen come-uppance there.

As for real life, stay tuned for how this all-too-real cheating scandal will play out. The more complicated “selfishness” of Atlanta Public Schools educators has been thrust into the sweat-inducing spotlight, which might release some toxins of what has been left unsaid in our all-important, high profile “national conversation” about education.

What He Could Have Said: Weiner on the Mic

Did I tweet something wrong?

Did anyone else watch the Anthony Weiner emergency press conference?

Here’s

What He Could (?!) Have Said:

(Welcome to What S(He) Could Have Said, a new feature in which we explore what could have been said at different moments in time)

Last week, Rep. Anthony Weiner admitted to accidentally posting a lewd but clothed photo to Twitter, and then lying about it at an embarrassing press conference. Embarrassing to be sure, but in his abject apology press conference, Weiner perhaps over-compensated, calling it a “terrible” action in a world full of things far more terrible than some suggestive tweeting. He then vowed to focus all his energy on getting right with wife Huma Abedin part of Hilary Clinton’s inner circle, who was not at the press conference.

Weiner, you jerk! But by drawing out this sophomoric story, is the media being jerkier? Here’s what he could have said.

REP ANTHONY WEINER: “Good afternoon. Thank you for coming. I want to take this opportunity to talk about some things that have transpired in the last ten days or so.

Last Friday night, I tweeted a photograph of myself that I intended to send as a direct message as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle. Once I realized I had posted it to Twitter, I panicked, I took it down and said I had been hacked.

Some of you are shaking your head right now. Not out of righteous indignation, but because you don’t know what most of the last few sentences meant.

Yes, I got to know you folks. The elderly. You vote. To you, I am sorry. Really, really sorry.

To my wife, I’m deeply sorry. To my wife’s boss, Hilary Clinton, I hope you will still talk to me. And to my wife’s boss’ husband, Bill Clinton, I would like to apologize for a whole other series of reasons. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that my sex scandal is Dirty Dancing to your sex scandal’s Deep Throat.

To the rest of you I would like to re-emphasize that yes, that photo is me. (That’s right, Jon Stewart. It’s me, b****)

it was really, really stupid. Naturally, I regret it. A little tequila and a iPhone 4 have never done worse. Anyone who disagrees with that statement should use #THENEWWEINER

It was the media that first literally aired my dirty laundry. Something called the conservative blogosphere to be exact – no, elderly people, I didn’t know that was a phrase either. But addressing the whole media, I would like to take this opportunity of my public humiliation to draw your attention to a series of other current events. Events that you could, later today if you wanted to, turn your attention to instead of this one.

What about Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Isn’t that politician and head of the International Monetary Fund – an International politician – actually accused of raping a woman in New York City? What’s happening with that guy? Don’t you have some more questions for him? No? Okay, then how about explaining to the American people what the International Monetary Fund is?

Leave me alone at the Sheraton to think about what I did, maybe get a refresher course on new media from my intern. Oh my gosh, why did all those flash bulbs just go off… oh, wait. Come on, you guys that’s not a euphemism for anything. My intern’s name is Stanley. Why do those flash bulbs keep going off?

Did you guys forget that a gallon of gas costs $4 and you’re still not sure what’s happening with all the oil they spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, anyway? Where’s the follow-up to what Sanjay Gupta said on CNN about cell phones killing your brain in a totally trackable way?

Do you think that now that we got Osama Bin-Laden, we can bring the troops home? Or maybe the explanation is more complicated than that. Well, you’re reporters! Get to fact-checking, m**********s.

What about why do a lot of people in your government who now have juice seem to want “real sick” to keep translating to “real broke”?

Sarah Palin, I blame you. I don’t know why, but I just do. You were the one who was just around the most when I noticed the U.S. government turning into an US magazine.

Frankly, gang, if accidentally putting a picture of a some bulging shorts up on internet is the worst thing that your government was doing, then you would be in pretty great shape. But I know how you do. You’re going to Kanye me.

[Editor’s note: Technically speaking, you can only Kanye yourself, no one can Kanye you. To be Kanye-d is to be slung with righteous indignation mud from all sides of the culture after an embarrassing event until you wake up sweating at night thinking that after you’re gone, your most referenced words might MIGHT just be a (possibly inebriated) “Beyonce had the best video of all time!” when it was (already distressingly damsel-like) Taylor Swift’s “turn to talk,” instead of when you stunned all of them, including Wayne from Wayne’s World, with “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”]

But no matter what you do when we all leave this Sheraton, press corps, I am now going to go out there and redeem myself. I’m not going to focus all my energy on trying to get my personal life back together – frankly, I need to cool it with the ego trips.

No, America, I’m bringing it. I’m talking some Jimmy Stewart, man of color on The West Wing, first 80 minutes of Bulworth, Russ FEINGOLD-type action. I’m going to focus my energy on being the representative you want and need me to be. And guess what, America – New York State in particular: your representative sometimes gets into uncomfortable spots in his personal relationships, accidentally posts inappropriate photos of himself and then tells a quick lie about it. Whoops! Believe me, I am so, SO sorry! That’s something you could never, ever do, right, America? Right, New York?

Weiner out!

Conan Rocks Jeggings!

Watch this instant classic at tbs.com

WHY was Conan’s wearing of the resurgent jean-looking stretch-pants known as jeggings the funniest thing ever?

When I was eight, I HAD some jeggings. You see, my youthful self found real jeans uncomfortable for some odd reason, and this seemed like a nice compromise.

But even back then, the jeggings didn’t seem ready for the world. I looked at those things through my Sally Jesse Raphael glasses and said to myself, “these’ll never come back.”

I didn’t anticipate our current moment.

Maybe it’s the fact that, at the end of the day, what you’re actually wearing is an artist’s rendering of jeans.

Maybe it’s that jeans were invented for men to work building the freaking railroad back in the day.

Maybe it’s that you look like you’re watching coverage of the first Persian Gulf War on a TV inside a wooden piece of furniture instead of the second Gulf War on a small notebook-sized slabs of metal and minerals. What do we wear when we’re watching this one? Unfortunately, we don’t know.

Maybe it’s the fact that they are like a parody of an iconic pant, American blue jeans took the rest of the world by storm like that syrupy carbonated Kola nut (Africa?) and Cocoa (South America?) drink (the secret ingredient of which isn’t even public knowledge, reports John Pilger):

Maybe its because Conan wore them with a Little Lord Faunteleroy strut like he knew it all.

When Tim Gunn informed Conan that, yes, some men were “out there” who wore jeggings, this prompted total disbelief from Conan.

He was curious about stretch pants like a sociologist. He was going to expose them. And possibly himself.

It brings us to the question: what do stretch pants mean?

If you wanted to get all Harvard semiotics major about it you could also interpret stretch pants as pants that stretch across the globe – as so much of commercial clothing is these days, produced for Americans, by others in countries with lower income, but perhaps in cultural ways, maybe a higher standard of living. And the thing is with figurative and literal stretch jeans, its so hard to hide who you truly are.

Conan said, America: take a good look. At yourself. It’s me in jeggings right now.

 

 

“My Loneliness Calls” I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston

Part 2 in a series that over-analyzes music videos. Go to Part 1

Wow, even Whitney’s early videos had her tormented by fame a la The Bodyguard and the later more abstract signs of “get-me-outta-here” distress. In this clip from 1987, beginning with black and white footage, Whitney finishes up a performance to a crowd of adoring white people (European tour?), and then can escape into a Day-glow world of wacky male chorus dancers and blonde hair extensions and a poppy beat that chews itself like relentlessly cheery bubble gum and visuals that rip off Prince, vaudeville, Tina Turner, and a Disney channel version of Wild Style.

Somewhat ironically, even in her fantasy, she never actually gets to dance with anybody. Oh, sure, the male dancers dance for her, and some even get close enough for her to attack through jest. But “somebody who loves [her]”? I don’t think so.

She even dances with DISEMBODIED SHOES! If that isn’t the OPPOSITE of somebody, I don’t know what is.

But the end is the saddest part. She finally decides to run across the street to the Euro club where there might be somebody who loves her. But then we get one more still shot of mopey Whitney leaning on the doorjamb back at the venue, once more fame’s black and white prisoner. How can she get back to all those colors?

Soap.com Slings Mud at Corner Stores, Talking to People, Carrying Things

by Lauren Pabst, Your Eye on the Street (you better pick it up)

New Yorkers can’t get their own toiletries either or they don’t have to anymore.

Several cars of the L train are now brought to you by Soap.com – apparently for people who love Fresh Direct, but don’t love their selection of Neutrogena acne cleansers. The folks at Soap.com will deliver your drug store needs (presumably not prescriptions, but perhaps) like, according to an advertised goodie box, toilet paper, makeup, laundry soap and you know, etc. This service is also for people who have a doorman or someone to receive these packages as it is probably a new level of indignity to have to chase down a missed-delivery box of toilet paper for your fifth floor walk-up apartment.

No word on whether they will have the seasonal candy selection, surprise inventory of $5.99 Ed Hardy-esque tank tops, linger-worthy slow jams (Luther Vandross? Brian McKnight, anyone? Is that Lisa Stansfield??) and impulse-bought Snickers bars of my local Walgreens in Brooklyn, but my guess would be not.

This reporter finds herself yet again reminiscing about an already devolved chain store experience, like when I wistfully recall my time working at Blockbuster Video during the VHS-DVD changeover (ca. 2001). In my old neighborhood of Morningside Heights, (which is in Manhattan and thus eligible for same-day delivery from Soap.com) I used to frequent Claremont Chemists, which is visible from the elevated 1 train on Broadway (the skeletal trestle of which serves as one of the establishing shots in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, or at least in Wayne Brady’s um, reinterpretation) and is an independent business. No, they didn’t have Tom’s of Maine natural $5.00 toothpaste, which my fluoride-Googling self was seeking, but they had plenty. I felt good ringing the tiny bell strapped to their door. And I bet that maybe if I brought up the whole Tom’s of Maine thing to them, they might have considered stocking it (but I didn’t want to be that person, as I eggshell-walked over there feeling like a gentrification, personified. All that fluoride-Googling had gotten me paranoid).

Of course, like the future customers of Soap.com, convenience is what draws me away from patronizing the tiny drugstore located further down Union Ave – they’re usually closed by the time I am walking home from the train, and the comparatively massive Walgreen’s, open ‘til midnight, with its luxuriant parking lot is just there, looming, lit up like a giant bug zapper, only advertising fridge packs of Coca-Cola, 2 for $5.

Claremont Chemist, Broadway & Claremont, New York, NY

Looking down on Claremont Chemist, while looking out for #1

Maybe it’s dumb to miss consumer-culture interactions and it doesn’t matter how we get our soap, but this seems like a dangerous moment of cyber laziness. First we got our books online – sure, a big selection! – then, our music – ditto, as well as instant (often gratis) gratification – then in a bit of an only-in-New York leap, our groceries via the launch of the still-successful FreshDirect in 2002 – for those who have no time or no desire to feel their own grapefruits, prior to selection.

As Tom Robbins of the Village Voice reported in 2007, FreshDirect, the go-to fresh food delivery service for New Yorkers, whose lumbering trucks could be seen idling outside of posh neighborhoods all over the city, and whose witty ads stirred new layers of convenience and distance from the chores associated with food and eating, this happy green and orange company, may have been behind calling ICE on its workforce (undocumented workers from Mexico and other nations preparing and serving the food of Americans, immensely wealthy companies making cash off their labor and then turning their backs on them: surprise, surprise) when the employees began to talk of unionization with the Teamsters instead of the union that capped their salaries at $18/hour.

Anyway. Soap.com could just be the savior of people who have embarrassing body fungi requiring over-the-counter ointment.  And lazy-ass people who don’t like the non-stop barrage of (usually earned) attitude that some Duane Reade employees are serving up, perhaps a side-effect of so many customers treating them with the same amount of human interaction as a vending machine.

But perhaps we need a little coaxing, still. According to a profile of the campaign in the Campaign Spotlight Advertising column of the New York Times, e-commerce company and Soap.com helmer Quidsi, which also runs Diapers.com (okay, that one seems more intuitive), has dedicated half a million dollars to pushing Soap.com in the New York City market alone. And the L train is just the first stop on their courting of the “hipster” public, or those who delight in wackiness:

“…there is a grass-roots element to the campaign, handled by an agency named Bandwidth, featuring 30 people dressed as a character, Box Boy, meant to represent the packages that Soap.com delivers to customers.

“Box Boy is turning up in locations like Bryant Park and Times Square and can be glimpsed riding the subway.”

Indeed. With ads proclaiming “Less Schlep, More Shop,” and (my personal favorite) “The end of an errand,” as well as “We carry it all so you don’t have to,” and the literal-minded “Next stop: home (not the store). “Why rush to the store when you can rush to the door?” Whoa there. Not too fast in your socks on the hardwood floors – did you remember to add band-aids to that electronic basket? (wink)  But the most head-scratching and juvenile: “Life without Soap.com stinks!”

They’re selling another drug: hard-core convenience for customers whose drug store needs (or wants) out-strip their upper arm strength:

“’The convenience of shopping from home means you don’t have to schlep heavy things,’ [Soap.com marketing director David] Zhang says, and the selection on Soap.com gives a customer ‘the ability to have access to products you wouldn’t find at the corner drugstore,’ bodega or the kind of scaled-down grocery store in many city neighborhoods.”

The article continues:

“Christina Carbonell, vice president for marketing at Quidsi, notes the prevalence in New York of the “incredibly busy families” that are “among our core audience” for Soap.com.

“‘Versus spending hours in a store, they can spend time doing things that are fun,’ she says.”

Note that they’re targeting busy families, not people who for whatever reason can’t carry their own stuff who, presumably, that rincon-situated bodega can arrange delivery for in the event that it’s needed. These jet-set New York families, so incredible in their business, they don’t have time to stop at the store to get the most personal things they require to keep those bodies running smoothly. Ahem.

“Ms. Carbonell likens Soap.com to a spate of businesses offering convenience, among them FreshDirect, Netflix and Zipcar.

“The message is that ‘it doesn’t have to be hard to get basic essentials,’ she says.”

Yikes. It’s already not hard for their target audience “to get the basic essentials,” strictly speaking. I mean, what kinds of images would that phrase call up in many, many other parts of the world, where boxes of medical and sanitary supplies are another matter entirely?

I, for one, am not going to be using Soap.com. But I don’t think that my life is going to “stink.” I have grown too accustomed to the charms of these  “corner drugstores” being derided by Soap.com’s pushers (Claremont Chemist is literally on the corner. And it’s the best one) and also their bigger, convenience stakes-raising, national but still local job-providing mutant chain cousins. I’m not telling you what to do. But I, for one, need to see what a given hair color actually might look like via dozens of attractively looped locks glued to a sales shelf in an alluring hair rainbow. Okay? Can I do that? No offense to anyone dealing with fungus.

Red State, Blue State, Old State New State

Russ Feingold, holding his chin, looking like he is deciding something.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) taking time, making up mind

So the midterm elections were held earlier this week.  Most of the “pundits” I heard talking about this whole thing seemed to think that it was a referendum on the way the country has been run by President Obama.

This supposed ’10 conservative backlash has spurred a social media backlash in its turn, as many Facebook-ers (I guess I have more Democrat friends than Republicans, even though most eschew the Politics section of the personal profile, or put something quirky) have posted the link to to the website whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com – a helpful litany of the social-good actions taken by President over the past almost-two years.

So that is a bit of a face-saver. Although, reading the list, I remembered this election-year explanation from hip-hop legend K.R.S. One, in which he explains how the President of the United States is like the manager of Burger King:

Yeah… so what would that make the Congress? Burger King employees?

Yet and so, America got to go out and vote for its duly elected officials – and I did so too. I’ve heard all the jive talk from friends about how “if voting could really change anything, it would have been outlawed years ago.” Perhaps, perhaps. But politics is like a game based on fear of what others will do, not love of your actions (kind of like Family Feud).

One thing’s for sure: the U.S. does have that whole Coca-Cola/Pepsi, “Autobot/Decepticon” (in the brilliant words of Mos Def on Real Time with Bill Maher), McDonalds/Burger King binary thing going on with its political parties. Other nations don’t seem to feel threatened by breaking up the two-way political cluster-f*** by throwing in a third, or even fourth, party into the elections, but that has been an unheard-of issue for the longest here in the would-be paragon of democracy.

We seem to love watching that map light up with red and blue, and the election projections flashing across our screen up to the last moment before the news media, no, the BROADCAST NEWS MEDIA, tells us who won, based on their calculations. But answer me this: why can’t we wait even 24 hours before we have to know who won (or who was the projected winner – never mind whether the provisional or absentee ballots have been counted yet, or if those damn Diebold voting machines ever got the “kinks” out of them since the ’04 debacle). Do we really have to call it all that night?  Other countries can take weeks to count all the votes and determine winners. Do we need that primary colored map to sleep that night? Even American Idol waits a full day before announcing who is going back to the karaoke bar.

In my state of New York, the Democrats (the Blue Team! Hurrah!) carried the evening.  Supporters of governor-elect Andrew Cuomo breathed a sigh of relief when he beat plain-crazy Republican Carl Palladino and I guess this is good for those of us who like social services, gay marriage (though time will tell) and non-crazy people. But I have a hard time voting for people who have the same last name (and blood kinship) with people who held the same elected post in the recent past. This is supposed to be a democracy, people!  We’re not supposed to keep it in the family!

So, Nov. 2nd being the day after rent day (if I actually paid my rent on the first, instead of being a grace-period kind of person), I was reflecting on how my rent was pretty damn high. So I voted for this man:

My candidate, Mr. Jimmy McMillan got a rare chance to express his platform at the NY Gubernatorial Debate in October, as you can see above. Though laughed off and dismissed, this perennial candidate had a passion and truth of message that touched me at the core. Mr. McMillan got almost 40,000 votes. The karate expert, Brooklyn activist and Vietnam veteran was the easiest vote I cast in my whole voting career. But it wouldn’t be enough. Not by a long shot.

Wednesday’s wee hours of the morning saw the heartbreaking ouster of Russ Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin, my home state, the ethical, quiet, eloquent, broke-ass, vaguely Bert from Sesame Street-resembling Maverick (before McCain and Palin wore out that term with their dead-eyed smiling buffoonery). Feingold voted against the Patriot Act (and was the only U.S. Senator to do so), and looking back, you get the feeling he did the heavy lifting with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act too.  When others bought their way to the white-domed structure of their choosing with mud-slinging campaign ads designed to make you think their opponent wasn’t just a potentially bad legislator, but perhaps a back alley-stalking predator, Feingold campaigned on TV one year by showing the beat up old van he used to campaign the first time back in 1991. He was the poorest Senator several years running, but Wisconsinites stuck to their populist roots and re-elected him time and again. This week he was ousted by Ron Johnson, a businessman who proudly knows nothing about Washington, and once arranged for an organization he was part of to pay thousands of dollars in speaking fees to hear the Bell Curve c0-author Charles Murray hold forth.

Again, my Facebook network exploded with laments and paens to Feingold, and I was saddened to see the senator I had been so proud of, and always perked up to see on C-SPAN, getting the boot in favor of a serious Know-Nothing who would do who knows what in the name of Wisconsin.

My home state was red. I was already in bed. And I am getting sick of Burger King.

“Why do you work it?” Love in this Club by Usher featuring Young Jeezy

Part 1 of a series where we over-analyze pop music videos.

Envelopes are being pushed all over the music video world, not just in Erykah Badu’s recent Window Seat video. Usher declared his society-challenging intentions in the disarmingly complex short film from 2008 (I guess we could call music videos that?) “Love in This Club” by Usher featuring Young Jeezy even has a Matrix (2): Reloaded quality to it in its flashy yellow-gold-on-blackness lighting, like the scene from that uneven follow-up to 1999’s genre-breaking The Matrix where the multiethnic survivors of the Zion settlement sensually rave together in a momentary break from fighting a bleak galaxy dominated by computer-monsters.

“I want to make love in the club” croons Usher – then, what could be a disembodied bouncer/security chorus interrupts “Heyy…” as if to put to kibosh on the love-in-club-making unfolding on top of the precious-gem-studded, deep pile plush booth-beat.

This club is weird – Keri Hilson keeps slinking out of nowhere and draping herself sexily on Usher’s perplexed-expression-ed belting hunk, to which he reacts the way that Usher knows how to react – and things and people keep disappearing – while some of hip-hop’s superstars show up sunglass-ed and astounded for just a moment to be handed a length of diamonds (Blood diamonds? We wonder when Kanye West leans on the bar and plays melancholy air guitar) while Young Jeezy raps about setting us free “mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally” over impossibly persistent horns – or is it just synth? – and perhaps this club is the manifestation of fame – confusing, making you follow urges that might not end in the best outcomes – unless you’re URsher or one of the other male stars featured, who MAYBE could make Love in a Club consequence-lessly, but more likely it could end up in the tabloids or on the Gawker mini-article feed:

“Usher fined $750,500 for ‘lewd behavior’ after love-making incident in Las Vegas club.” “Mel Gibson recorded ranting at parking lot attendant about taxes in Aramaic.” “Kim Kardashian’s Disasterous Vanity Fair Photo Shoot.” “VIDEO: LeBron James humiliated in melodic freestyle by Krayzie Bone of Cleveland’s Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony in Miami Jamba Juice.”

But maybe not, perhaps discretion is assured, part of the “deal-with-the-diamonds/divas” these rappers have seemed to have made.

Nevertheless, nothing prepares us for the end. After chasing Ms. Hilson around the club which alternately fills and empties with fellow aspiring love-makers, Usher, almost out of breath from a dope dance number heads shoulder-first into a door and is suddenly in the ruins of a windblown bluish-gray dystopia – there is no club, no Kerri, no Cristal, no icy strings of diamonds, no swirling yellow lights, no superstars (maybe there never really were any) and all you have left is your head full of a beat that thankfully still bumped through your head like a speeding dune buggy in a nearer-future, more feasible Mad Max scenario.