Monthly Archives: March 2010

Does Obama have a mini-me?

So I’m still conflicted about the health care bill. I want to believe Dennis Kucinich when he says the new bill was a starting point, and Congress will keep moving toward universal health care. But I think Congress only had one shot, and they missed. They didn’t even hit the dartboard … or the wall behind it.

But on to more important things: This photo of Obama signing the health care bill today. Look at that kid next to the desk. Is Obama training a mini-me who will always stand next to him and wear the same clothes? He could cop an attitude like Arnold Jackson on “Diff’rent Strokes.” “What you talkin’ ’bout, Joe Wilson?” How fun would that be? Or maybe it’s Biden’s mini-me. They’re all wearing blue ties.

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Charlie Rose uses Wikipedia …

… for some of the bios on his Web site. WTF?

By the way, he hosts another brain episode this Wednesday. These episodes are really cool. Our brains are really wacky.

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Fantastic accidental journalism

This Mother Jones article about human rights in Burma is the best piece of journalism I have read in a while. The writer started teaching English to a group of Burmese refugees in Thailand before even really understanding that they were among a group of Karen refugees who risk their lives to document the massacres and brutality of the Myanmar junta. The story became a book and earned her a promotion from copy editor to “roving human rights reporter” at Mother Jones.

She didn’t seem to go into the project with any preconceptions or perhaps even a plan to write her story. But she ends up with a piece that is gripping and flows beautifully, while being tragic, heartbreaking and, at times, surprisingly funny. She writes in first person and clearly acknowledges that she changed the story through her presence (too many writers pretend otherwise). She is also wonderfully honest and open about her fears, confusion and vulnerability.

Most important, it puts human faces on the underreported travesty of brutal oppression in Burma. Here is her cleverly presented summary of the situation in the country:

“Imagine for a moment, that Texas had managed to secede from the union, Continue reading

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“Slam” another Nick Hornby win

Thankfully I am currently reading an intense book about globalization and roads. My track record for books so far this year is pretty weak — one heavy non-fiction book about the Armenian genocide alongside a children’s book and two beach reads. The second was Nick Hornby’s 2007 novel “Slam.”

It’s another comic drama about a manchild facing up to adulthood (in this case, the manchild really is a child). I read the whole thing on the plane to New York, and would have read another 300 pages. It’s not heavy lifting, but the characters are wonderful and the simple story is compelling. About two thirds of the way through, he notes that nothing else of significance will happen in the book, and talks about storytelling in one of my favorite passages (ellipses in quotes always look like journalistic cheating, so you should know that I only edited out plot spoilers).

“So you know everything. There’s nothing more for me to say. … So now you’re probably thinking, If this is the end of the story, why doesn’t he shut up so that I can get on with something else. … It’s just that there comes a point where the facts don’t matter anymore, and even though you know everything, you know nothing, because you don’t know what anything felt like. That’s the thing about stories, isn’t it? You can tell someone the facts in ten seconds, if you want to, but the facts are nothing.”

By the way, look for this cover, not the blue one (which thankfully doesn’t even seem to be available on Amazon right now). Don’t even look at the blue one because it gives away part of the story that should have been a surprise (I’m a slightly bitter owner of a blue-covered copy).

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Don’t stifle the freak. He could become Tim Burton

Our visit to MOMA in New York this week reminded me not to stifle kids’ creativity. That student with the drawings of a mangled, stitched-together corpse in a stained wedding dresses could be the next Tim Burton.

The Burton exhibit at MOMA showcases his childhood drawings alongside storyboards from his movies, Batman costumes and dozens of “Nightmare Before Christmas” art pieces.

The childhood sketches and student films show an early predilection toward the bizarre and the somewhat macabre. The art is more likely to be healthy catharsis than a dangerous warning of criminal and evil intentions.

The world would be a less interesting place if a bored kid from Burbank had been psychologically profiled and never allowed to sketch out the characters that became Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Jack Skellington.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFZ3gP0pqzE]

Also, looking at the dozens of little Jack Skellington heads drawn with each possible expression, I can’t fathom how much work is involved in making a stop-motion movie.

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“Away We Go” a good little movie

It’s probably mostly timing, but “Away We Go” struck a chord with me. It’s the story of a lovely lady (played unremarkably by SNL’s Maya Rudolph) who is pregnant with one girl of her boyfriend’s (played a little more remarkably by Jim from “The Office”). They strike off to look for a new home and a new life, and figure out when they will go from being “fuckups” to grownups.

I somehow missed the release of this movie even though I like John Krasinski (admittedly his “Office” character jumped the shark long before the rest of the show when he became a prank-free and serious manager guy) and director Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty” is one of my favorite movies of all time. I also understand Dave Eggers is quite a writer (someday I will get around to reading “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”).

It’s probably for the best, because I had pretty low expectations going in, thinking that such a great writer and director would have been showered with praise if the movie was as great as the sum of its parts. It doesn’t quite hit the mark. All the secondary characters (the new age childhood friends, the obnoxious work pal, the lonely sister and the sad college pals who can’t have kids) are disappointingly one-dimensional. But I don’t think I am alone in being able to really sympathize with the 30something main couple who can’t quite figure out how to be adults.

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What I learned this week

  1. It is somehow possible (and delicious) to put soup in dumplings. I can barely keep solid food in the samosas and other little pastries I have tried to make. How do you pour soup into them?
  2. $10,000 is relatively cheap for a NYC preschool.
  3. Asteroids officially killed the dinosaurs. It always seemed like the most logical explanation to me, but scientists who actually understand these things have established that a 6-mile-wide space rock killed off the dinos. By the way, this also means that humans could not have coexisted with dinosaurs. Either Bruce Willis would have stopped the asteroid or we would have been killed off along with the dinos in a nuclear winter. Continue reading

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