Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sign of the Times?

I Have No Vote And I Must Scream

What the Hell?

Originally, I couldn't figure out exactly who or what exactly this billboard was advertising. A new perfume? A nightclub? A steamy erotic thriller directed by Quentin Tarantino? Duct tape? Maybe it was a secret cabal of crazed movie critics who kidnapped Jessica Alba to stop her from ever stepping in front of a camera ever again.

"It's probably a warning to all of the untalented non-actresses in Hollywood," I said to myself. I imagined Roger Ebert placing a note in Scarlett Johansson's mailbox that read, "IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE NEXT, PUT THE SCRIPT DOWN--NOW!"

No such luck.

Apparently this controversial advertising campaign is by the voter advocacy group Declare Yourself and their goal is to get the Facebook generation to step away from their XBoxes long enough to vote. "I think it's important for young people to be aware of the need we have in this country to get them more active politically," Alba explained. "People respond to things that are shocking. If you don't register and vote and make a difference and hopefully change the bad things that are happening in our country, you are essentially just binding and muzzling yourself."


Good idea, lousy execution.

O.K., I still think Jessica Alba is a bad actress, but I have to respect her for being an intelligent woman trying hard to do the right thing. Unfortunately, she's wrong because the ad is stupid, creepy, exploitative, and offensive. It's politically correct cheesecake. Whatever marginal value it's supposed to have is negated by the blatant sexism. It reminds me of those dumb and outdated ads by PETA where sensitive new-age guys can ogle semi-naked celebrities without feeling guilty about it.

And do you know what's worse? It won't work. That's a big problem. Too many damned kids are probably gonna stay home in November. At a recent celebrity-populated shindig sponsored by Rolling Stone magazine, comedian Bill Maher observed, "The polls always bear it out: It's nice when musicians get involved, but they don't sway elections. Puff Daddy said, 'Vote or Die'--and Puff Daddy might actually kill you--but people still didn't vote."

Cynicism? Laziness? Indifference? Who knows? Only Republicans believe in the seductive allure of easy answers. What I do know is that this upcoming election is going to be decided by the narrowest of margins, and we saw what happened eight years ago when people stupidly deluded themselves into thinking that there wasn't a difference between the two candidates. And the idiots who can't be bothered to vote this time are going to have to live with the consequences of their non-decision a lot longer than old farts like me.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Norman Whitfield, Songwriter

The New York Daily News:

Norman Whitfield, the Motown writer/producer who died Tuesday at age 65, was one of those guys who could just plain flat-out make a great radio record.

That was the whole mission of Motown in the 1960s, of course, and while Whitfield did it a little differently than Smokey Robinson or the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, he did it just as well.

"People talk about Smokey and Berry Gordy and Holland-Dozier-Holland," says Bobby Jay, the former WCBS-FM deejay now heard on Sirius' "Soul Town." "Norman belongs right in there."

Whitfield co-wrote (with Barrett Strong) and produced the original "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," with Gladys Knight. Same with Edwin Starr's chilling "War."

He was mostly well known, starting in 1966, for producing the Temptations. He created their "psychedelic soul" sound, Jay notes, borrowing from Sly Stone for hits like "Cloud Nine" and "Ball of Confusion."

Where the Temptations were first known for great Robinson ballads like "My Girl" and "Since I Lost My Baby," Whitfield gave them a harder sound without losing the rhythm or melody.

On "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," their first single after Whitfield became their primary producer, David Ruffin's vocal blew out cheap car radio speakers all across America. It was raw power, a sledgehammer wrapped in sandpaper.

But Whitfield wasn't a one-trick musical pony. When the Temptations told him their fans wanted ballads to go with the psychedelic stuff in the early 1970s, he and Strong wrote the exquisite "Just My Imagination," which is pure and light as a September breeze. Eddie Kendricks never sounded better and, 36 years later, it remains a song that, once on the radio, is impossible to turn off.

While some fans associate Whitfield mainly with dark, dense message songs, he could also write pure pop love songs that make you feel like putting the top down, turning the volume up and just cruising.

"Pride and Joy" and "Too Busy Thinkin' 'Bout My Baby" for Marvin Gaye. "Too Many Fish in the Sea" for the Marvelettes.

Whitfield, who was born in Harlem and moved to Detroit as a teenager, had less success after Motown, scoring only with Rose Royce's "Car Wash."

But anyone who doubts his skill only has to compare the Rolling Stones' record of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" with the one by the Temptations. Great as the Stones are, there is no comparison.

"He didn't get the credit he deserved," says Jay. "He was a genius."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What does a bad economy look like to McCain?

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing

click to enlarge
With the biggest market collapse since 9-11-01 and the worst economy since the Great Depression, what DOES a bad economy look like to John McCain? That is the answer I want from the Straight Talk Express.

If he thinks things are glorious today, what does suck look like? Is it when billionaires start losing massive equity or has to work two jobs? Or maybe it is when Carly Fiorina gets fired from two jobs? Just what exactly?

Maybe a bad economy is when John McCain has to sell off 5 of his 10 houses? Maybe it is when his wife, Cindy, has to start wearing outfits that cost less than Joe Biden’s net worth?

Ohhh… the suffering. And you know, after being a POW where Buddhism once flourished, you would have thought McCain would have learned something about suffering.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tina Allen, Sculptor

Los Angeles Times:

Tina Allen dies at 58; sculptor created portraits of prominent African Americans
The L.A. artist captured the strong personalities of her subjects, including A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., Celes King III and Sojourner Truth.
Tina Allen, whose monumental sculptures of prominent African Americans through history -- including abolitionist Sojourner Truth and author Alex Haley -- fill public spaces across the United States, has died. She was 58.

Allen died Tuesday at Northridge Hospital Medical Center of complications from a heart attack, her former husband, Roger Allen, said. She had been a resident of North Hills.

Her first major commission, in 1986, set the course for her future. She made a 9-foot bronze sculpture of labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who helped organize a union for sleeping car porters in the 1920s, for a train station in Boston.

Over the next 22 years Allen created more than a dozen other sculptures of black activists to be displayed in public spaces. Whether her subjects were famous or not, her works were her way of "writing our history in bronze," Allen said.

For every nationally known figure -- agricultural scientist George Washington Carver for the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis or Sojourner Truth for Memorial Park in Battle Creek, Mich., -- Allen created one of her remarkable likenesses of a prominent local leader.

"Tina felt an obligation to get the word out about people who make important contributions but aren't household names," said Eric Hanks, an art dealer who represented Allen at the M. Hanks Gallery in Santa Monica in the 1990s.

Several of her works were created for sites in Los Angeles. Her bust of Celes King III, a founder of the California Congress of Racial Equality, was unveiled at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in 2004.

A bas-relief of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Charles R. Drew was installed at King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in 1998.

She also made smaller abstract sculptures and bronzes of Hollywood celebrities.

A number of her works are now in museums and corporate and private collections.

She had a special rapport with her realistic sculptures, each one capturing a strong personality. "I'm trying to infuse a soul into these objects," Allen said of them in a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel.

To begin a new work, she studied photographs and other likenesses of her subjects, interviewing their friends if possible, and talked to experts about them. Then she made a clay model.

"Tina said that once she got her hands into the clay, her subjects started talking to her," her agent, Quentin Moses, said this week.

As she sculpted a likeness of Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave and helped to abolish slavery, "he told me he's not happy," Allen said. It shows in his face, which closely resembles a famous photograph. The finished piece was featured in a scene from "Akeelah and the Bee," a 2006 movie about a girl in South Los Angeles who overcomes the odds and becomes a spelling bee champion.

"I'm looking at myself as speaking about the heart and soul of a people, and making sure they're not forgotten, making sure they don't feel ignored," Allen said in a 2003 interview with National Public Radio. "I like to think it's useful pieces of art as opposed to just decorative."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Very Bad Things

Little Big Man

Huh. A lot of bad craziness going on in the NFL lately.

Tom Brady's knee. Ocho Cinco. Vince Young was so depressed after a bad game, his coach sent the police to the troubled quarterback's home to be sure he was all right. T.O. won't shut up. A Jacksonville Jaguar player was shot in his car. Matt Millen still has a job. When Tatum Bell was cut by the Detroit Lions, he stole teammate Rudi Johnson's luggage. Ocho Cinco?

But in the middle of this lunacy, there is some good news to be found. USA Today's Tom Pedulla writes about running back Warrick Dunn's return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"What a great team guy he is." coach Jon Gruden says, "so we're really happy to have him back in Tampa."

The community feels the same way. When it comes to giving back to the city he plays in, the league can point to Dunn as a model of excellence. In fact, it already has. He was honored as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2004 for his combination of community service and on-field excellence.

The Warrick Dunn Foundation has been based in Tampa since its establishment in 2002. It provides opportunities for single parents and their children who have demonstrated a commitment to achieving financial independence and stability. His Homes for the Holidays program allows single mothers to become first-time homeowners by giving them down payments on new, completely furnished houses.

The program is a tribute to Dunn's mother, Betty Smothers, a single parent with six children. She worked as a police officer in Baton Rouge and was killed while working a second job as a security guard in her effort to save money for a house.

"Not everyone can donate homes to people," Dunn says, "but you can be a good person and help people better themselves in your own way."

Warrick Dunn is a class act. For a little guy, he stands heads and shoulders above the usual herd of savage nacissists in the NFL. It goes to show how overrated sports are.

No, I'm not talking about their talent. That ain't no joke. Hey, hitting a nasty, 98-mile-a-hour fastball aimed at your head takes bigger cojones than I got. If Ray Lewis wants the football, I'm gonna give it to him. And don't even think of asking me to box with a guy who could punch a hole in my chest. Is you crazy?

However, what is overrated is the psuedo-mythical status athletes enjoy in our culture. I think it's bullshit, but most people eagerly go back for seconds, happily licking the tasty brown goo from their fngers. Yummy.

To be fair, if a crazed fan decides to drop a grand for an autograph or a silly couple wants to get married in football jerseys, that's their business. Whatever gets your nipples stiff, it doesn't bother me. But when idiots decide that a new multi-million dollar arena downtown is more important than keeping the libraries open, that's insane. Unfortunately, it happens a lot, and too many athletes take advantage of it.

I have a question for you Mr. Clemens. Yes, senator? Can I have your autograph?

Warren Dunn is smarter than that. Moving on from a tragedy that easily could have left him angry and bitter, Dunn chose to instead build an enduring legacy that his late mother would have been proud of. Compassion is never overrated. And it makes more sense than a guy named Ocho Cinco.