Friday, March 18, 2005

Over Her Dead Body

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. -- Doctors removed Terri Schiavo's feeding tube Friday despite an extraordinary, last-minute push by Republicans on Capitol Hill to use the subpoena powers of Congress to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive, a source close to the case told The Associated Press.

It is expected that it will take one to two weeks for Schiavo to die, provided no one intercedes and gets the tube reinserted. The source had been briefed on the situation but spoke on condition of anonymity.

The removal came amid a flurry of maneuvering by Schiavo's parents, state lawmakers and Congress to keep her alive. Committees in the Republican-controlled Congress issued subpoenas for Schiavo, her husband, and her caregivers demanding that they appear at hearings on March 25 and March 28. But the judge presiding over the case later refused a request from House attorneys to delay the removal, which he had previously ordered to take place at 1 p.m. EST.

"I have had no cogent reason why the (congressional) committee should intervene," Greer told attorneys in a conference call, adding that last-minute action by Congress does not invalidate years of court rulings.

The tube's removal signals that an end may be near in a decade-long family feud between Schiavo's husband and her devoutly Roman Catholic parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. The parents have been trying to oust Michael Schiavo as their daughter's guardian and keep in place the tube that has kept her alive for more than 15 years. The tube has twice been removed in the past, but was re-inserted within days in both cases. Michael Schiavo says his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that, saying she could get better and that their daughter has laughed, cried, smiled and responded to their voices. court-appointed physicians testified her brain damage was so severe that there was no hope he would ever have any cognitive abilities.

...House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told reporters in Washington earlier Friday that removal of the tube amounted to "barbarism."

Now that Washington has cut in on this bizarre and tragic dance between a Florida family and the state courts, it’s clear that conservative legislators and bigmouths have seized another opportunity to eviscerate the power of so-called “activist judges” with an issue over which the faithful can clasp their hands and keen and grovel in prayer.

But at the end of Terri Schiavo’s long days that bleed into the sameness of night, it comes down to the family pulling a hopeless tug-of-war with that feeding tube.

Is it wrong for her husband to want to move on? It’s likely the woman who was his wife is dead to him. She is gone. If he wanted to be with his girlfriend, with whom he has had children, why wouldn’t he just divorce Terry and leave her care to her parents?

Yet, is it wrong for parents to want to hold on to their child’s (she is still their child) needing grasp, to see signs of their daughter in every muscle twitch and flutter of eyelids, to believe she is still there?

And how wrong is it for Delay et al to exploit these contorted, grief-filled questions in order to pursue their puritanical agenda?

Monday, March 14, 2005

CTA: Take It!*

We came up with some new expansions of the CTA acronym:

Coming Tardy Always
Crap Transportation Administered
Crooked Transit Action
Corrupt Thieving Administrators


Cut This, Assholes

*I did not create nor appropriate this phrase. Mars and Kerri said their friend said it, and it was funny.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

She Disappoint Me

One night a few weeks ago I dreamt that I met filmmaker Spike Lee. For some reason I ran into him in a nice restaurant in Chicago, maybe in the Loop or Wicker Park, far from his native Brooklyn. Or maybe it was a bookstore, but it was definitely my turf. . I bashfully bloviated about his work and the companion books to his early films, which I read cover-to-cover when I was in college: She’s Got to Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues. I don’t recall the details of my illusory rhapsodizing, which hopefully did not include highlights from the ten-page undergrad paper I wrote about Do The Right Thing, nor the t-shirt emblazoned with that film’s logo that I wore down to a rag, but rather I remember the distinct urge to impress on him that this twelve-years-of-Catholic-school white girl from the South was down with his films. Ya dig, Spike? When a letter a friend sent me in the hot summer of 1990 while I was a college student in France fretted about the riots predicted to follow the opening of Do the Right Thing, I couldn’t wait to see it. I did (twice) and went straight to cinematic heaven. What Spike had started in School Daze and She’s Got to Have It maxed out in DTRT. It was da bomb before there even was a “da bomb.” The colors, the ambiguity, the dialogue, Public Enemy, Rosie Perez, the shots—oh, the shots! Who else shot straight-in-the-face soliloquies, fast-tracking into close-ups, wide-angles, huge crane swoops, and made you sweat like you were standing in the summer heat of Bed-Stuy with Mookie, Sal and Buggin’ Out? My film vocabulary was limited at the time and my viewing experience even more so, but I had never seen the like: an intelligent movie with a clear-headed vision that didn’t suffer to answer the questions it raised. The real question was obvious: why weren’t other films like Spike’s?

After watching his latest release, She Hate Me, I am asking the same question fifteen years later. Okay, a slightly different question: Why isn’t this film like Spike’s? I think it’s possible that there’s two Spike Lee films trapped inside of the She Hate Me, which is fitting since Spike’s work primarily dissects trapped lives. With this July 2004 release, now available on DVD, we can perceive a biting commentary on corporate greed and malfeasance concealed inside a French sex farce—or maybe it’s the other way around. At any rate, neither satire reaches far enough in what feels like a hastily assembled (reportedly a twenty-eight day shoot) project. Jack Armstrong, an ambitious, young executive at a biotech firm that is preparing a vaccine for HIV, prompted by the window-jumping suicide of the company’s top scientist, exposes his bosses’ (Woody Harrelson and Ellen Barkin) insider trading and other nefarious Enron-style business dealings. As soon as the inevitable Securities and Exchange Commission investigation commences, Jack is fired and, though he’s pedigreed with a Harvard MBA, finds doors slammed in his face up and down Wall Street and his assets frozen at the bank. Jack’s up you-know-what creek—until his ex-fiancée Fatima, a beautiful and successful businesswoman, prances into his New York loft with her equally beautiful and successful businesswoman girlfriend, Alex. “We’re feeling maternal,” they announce, and Jack reluctantly takes the $10,000 (each) Fatima offers him to impregnate both her and her lover, no fatherly responsibilities required after the births. The women, especially when Kerry Washington’s Fatima puts on a petulant sorority girl face, approach motherhood with all the deliberation of adding the latest Birkin handbag to their wardrobe—only they can’t get a baby on order at Barney’s New York. Jack’s services are successful, and soon a newly-expecting Fatima sets her ex out to stud—collecting a nice percentage off the 10 grand a pop—and ushers a steady stream of ovulating lesbians of every imaginable stereotype into Jack’s apartment. A total of seventeen of them are also “feeling maternal”, in fact, and examine him like sheiks at a thoroughbred sale (or, as Spike is probably implying, plantation owners at a slave auction). This being a Spike Lee joint, there’s plenty of graphic, not-gauzy sex, and, despite the fact they play for the other team, not only do all of the women very volubly enjoy their baby-making trysts with Jack, they are all impregnated with his implausibly inexhaustible manhood.

Yet none of the knocking boots and knocking up, accompanied by the animated quest of Jack’s sperm, each bearing his smiling face, achieves the razor-sharp focus of satire. Nor do the actors, nor the script penned by Spike and Michael Genet, especially as the character Pierre Delacroix, centerpiece of Spike’s previous film, 2000’s Bamboozled, defines satire in the first moments of that film. Delacroix’s voiceover lays out the good old Merriam-Webster definition; that’s Spike letting us know that’s what we’re going to see, a satire on media depictions of blacks that uses the worst possible of all stereotypes: the minstrel show. Where She Hate Me seems befuddled and uninspired, Bamboozled hits its targets with the laser precision and courageous emotional investment and intellectual engagement we’ve come to expect from a visionary like Spike Lee. The former tiredly trots out the characteristic elements that are indelibly Spike, but the colors are strangely muted, Matthew Libatique’s camera work cannot match Spike’s early collaborator Ernest Dickerson, the dialogue is limp, and the digressions are meaningless. Case in point: Bamboozled concludes with a typical Spike technique, a monthage, a distressing one of disturbing images of minstrelsy and blackface, from Little Black Sambo to Judy Garland and Andy Rooney greasing up their faces, punctuated by Terence Blanchard’s expressive score. Did I mention She Hate Me’s ending? The conclusion to the Jack-Fatima-Alex love triangle is bewilderingly packaged as a ménage, or rather, family à trois, thankfully underscored by Blanchard’s sensual jazz scoring rather than the boom-chicka-boom of the soft porn this tableau closely resembles. Watching them trade kisses all around, I was disturbingly reminded of the time I observed a male acquaintance—who had a girlfriend elsewhere—and an unstable young actress I knew suck down more and more drinks and inevitably hook up: people who are going to go have sex and you really, really wish they wouldn’t. Watching She Hate Me causes a worse discomfort than the laughing-though-you-shouldn’t uneasiness prompted by the racist dissertations of Do the Right Thing’s Brooklynites or Mantan and Sleep’n’Eat’s shucking and jiving in Bamboozled: you just wonder, God, what the hell is Spike thinking?

She Hate Me’s male-fantasy finale adds little to nothing to the already meandering story, about as much as its Watergate break-in sequence, the pointed anti-Bush diatribes and the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington courtroom oration do. Oh, and the mafia sidebar that has always-able John Turturro spouting a dead-on Brando Godfather, I forgot that was in there, too, but apparently it appears because one of Jack’s Sapphic moms-to-be is the daughter of the mob (Monica Belluci), anxious to give her papa grandchildren. Usually, tangential stories about characters that you know Spike knows well (or at least has taken the time to learn about) add a subtle richness to his films that leaves you in hushed awe or doubled in laughter. Bamboozled’s aspiring television professional Sloane argues with her brother, who has renamed himself “Big Black Africa,” and fronts a black militant (think Public Enemy with low IQs) rap group, the Mau Maus. The crack epidemic that riddled black communities in the early Nineties is exposed in Jungle Fever through Samuel L. Jackson’s heartbreaking performance as Gator and as Spike’s camera takes us into the heart of Harlem darkness, into a crack den. And Spike can vocalize Bensonhurst, Brooklyn with equal effortlessness, in the strangled rants of Angie Tucci’s father and brothers and the gentle dreams of her boyfriend Paulie, doomed to wash his father’s back and run his sweet shop the rest of his life in Jungle Fever.

The seamlessness that singularizes his films from She’s Gotta Have It to Bamboozled, and the determined execution of Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X are sorely missed in the hollow She Hate Me, and I wonder if it’s because Spike just didn’t pose, starting with his script, the questions about identity that suffuse his best films. Was his heart even in this? Critic Stanley Crouch notes in the documentary that accompanies the Bamboozled DVD how well Spike understands “the prison of stereotype.” The only prison detailed in She Hate Me is the one into which Jack is inexplicably (for whistleblowing? for fathering nineteen children?) thrown halfway into the film.

If Spike wanted to, as She Hate Me’s press materials relate, “raise questions about the decline of morals and ethics in America – from the boardroom to the bedroom,” the moral and ethical—and emotional—implications of Jack’s actions are invisible to us. We can sense the depth to which the transformation of Manray and Cheeba into grinning minstrels Mantan and Sleep’n’Eat affects the former street performers as they apply blackface using the traditional burnt-cork method. Sadly, Anthony Mackie’s Jack Armstrong is merely a cipher as he screws his way out of the boardroom into the bedroom. “Survival makes a person do things they know in their heart is wrong,” Turturro’s mafia don Bonasera tells him, but Spike doesn’t let Jack do the right thing and instead rewards him with not one, but two, hot mamas.

Bamboozled’s coda, taken from African-American author James Baldwin and uttered by the pretentious Pierre Delacroix as he bleeds to death, actually could be a more fitting axiom for She Hate Me: “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become, and they pay for it very simply by the lives they lead.” But Spike has no one pay for anything in She Hate Me, despite the fact that eventually the greedy corporate scum is correctly identified and thrown in jail by the film’s end. Spike’s been quoted (possibly misquoted, knowing his track record) as describing his films as “litmus tests” that measure the pulse of public opinion on social issues. I wish I could go back to my dream and ask Spike to—please—test us again by any means necessary, just not those that allow you make movies that you know in your heart are all wrong.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Not for the Feint of Heart

I noticed something during Karaoke Thursday last week: How come when my theatre/performer- type friends get up to the mike, we just…well, sing? And when the other 98.125% of the urban out-on-a-Thursday-night population yowls and warbles up there, it’s complete with ass-shaking disco moves, or Korn-style microphone management (cord wrapped around arm, right leg braced front), or Mick Jagger cock-strutting. I am fully aware that I clutch the mike stand like it’s the last paddle on the Titanic and just FOCUS ON THE WORDS. And those other people, they perform it. We, we just…plant it.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Final Rose Is Not a Final Rose: The Anti-Bachelorette

I watched the live “After the Final Rose” finale of the latest installment of ABC’s The Bachelorette on Monday night. (To the peanut gallery: Let he who is without reality-show sin cast the first remote control…) Jen Schefft is a sweet-faced blonde from Chicago—it makes sense she is an event planner/public relations professional. Jen’s just the right combination of Midwestern practicality, 21st century assertiveness, and feminine acquiescence, with her soft voice, wide eyes and determinedly set jaw. I can practically see her tossing her hat on the plaza in front of the Hancock Tower, just like Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis thirty-five years ago, as well as extolling the benefits of upgrading to premium-quality sashimi for your next trendy cocktail event.

But Jen became the reluctant Bachelorette that night, not only dashing her swains’ hopes for a happy ending (and lucrative bottom-feeder celeb career and plenty of airtime on Extra!), but probably pounding the final nail in the coffin of ABC’s Monday night True-Love juggernaut. The bloom is off the Final Rose, folks.

"I just want to make sure that we do it right,” she vowed after turning down her second televised proposal, from Jerry. Runner-up John Paul was dissed and dismissed just before, in the first hour of the program, previously recorded in the New York penthouse or rooftop or wherever the final showdown occurred (I didn’t watch it since I couldn’t fast forward or Tivo through the lame—I mean lamer—parts. I cannot afford that kind of convenience).

Seeing him Monday night before a live audience after being (ostensibly) apart for the last several months, Jen rejected Jerry, an LA art dealer who actually appeared to be a wee bit too canny to appear on a reality dating—well, marriage--show, AGAIN. The newly terminated couple perched uncomfortably next to each other and gamely answered chuckleheaded questions from host Chris Harrison, who’s about as much a non-entity as you can get this side of a black hole, yet who still managed to feign enough surprise at the break-up to garner a Daytime Emmy nomination. If only the show was on before 5pm.

Then Chris turned the True Love Inquisition over to the audience. The first questioner was visibly perturbed with her Bachelorette’s decision (or non-decision). “I mean, what is it going to take to satisfy you, Jen??” she demanded, quivering under her carefully-chosen Banana Republic outfit.

That’s right, how dare she? Doesn’t she know you can marry someone you select from a group of bleached-teeth TV suckups you’ve romped across NYC with for six weeks?

“You can’t make yourself fall in love with someone,” Jen parried, both to the irate Bachelorette fan whose faith in True Love she had trampled, and to ex-almost-fiance Jerry. “You know that, don’t you?” she implored the sucker. Ever-suave Jerry was at a loss for words.

Chris alluded to the rumors swirling that Jen has been dating her boss, who turns out to be Chicago nightclub impressario Billy Dec (who has to have the most asshole-sounding name I have ever heard, ever). Jen demurred with enough shock to give Chris a run for his money in the Daytime Emmy race. "I'm not dating anyone," she remonstrated, widening those already-wide eyes, not even her first TV-fiance, the Tire King of San Francisco (also with an a-hole name), Andrew Firestone.

The first domino to fall in this go-round, eager-faced John Paul from Oklahoma City, told the cameras after his own sucker punch, "I think Jen made a mistake. I think six months from now she'll regret it. Jen's going to wake up, she's going to be 32 and [still] looking for a husband... looking for someone she knew was there and passed up, and it will be too late at that point."

Oh my God, the horror! She still might be single at 32, and thereby well on the way to a hairy chin, a bus pass, and 15 cats in a frowsy one-bedroom apartment in a Sheridan Road highrise.

Jen, let me have a moment with you, girl-to-girl: You are my new hero. By rejecting the Harry Winston engagement pabulum they offered you, in your own sweet, blond Kelly on 90210 way, you told the omnipotent architects of reality TV, millions of True Love brainwashees, and the ABC network (and hell, probably FOX too) to shove that Final Rose up their arses.

Maybe you should have stayed in Chicago and conducted your Husband Search from barstool at John Barleycorn. It's sad, but you might have had better odds.

Maybe He Wanted to Stay Next to the Shark Steaks

PITTSBURGH -- A gigantic lobster that may have survived two world wars and Prohibition before being plucked from the ocean will live on -- but only as a shell of its former self.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium plans to keep the shell of the 22-pound lobster, named Bubba, and use its remains to educate school children, said Rachel Capp, a zoo spokeswoman.

Some of Bubba's meat will be sent to labs for testing as officials try to determine why Bubba died, Capp said Thursday.

Bubba spent a week at Wholey's fish market after he was pulled from the waters off Nantucket, Mass. He died Wednesday, after he was moved from the fish market to a quarantine area at the zoo's aquarium. He was being checked to see if he was healthy enough to make a trip to an aquarium at a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.

Randy Goodlett, a marine biologist and former curator and director of the zoo's Aqua Zoo, said the lobster likely died because something was slightly off in the salt water mixture it was living in. Capp guessed it might have been the stress of being moved so many times.

Based on how long it typically takes a lobster to reach eating size -- about five to seven years to grow to a pound -- some estimated Bubba was about 100 years old. Marine biologists said 30 to 50 years was more likely.
Not only are they going to exploit the exoskeleton of the poor centenary beast just because he was the size of a healthy toddler, the AP has to refer to its flesh as “meat.” I’m far from a vegetarian, but the semantics here are a mite bit bloodthirsty. Goes to show, lobster’s only good for one thing: eating. No, two things: eating and Ripleys Believe It or Not.

Maybe he gave up because he was named Bubba and he got freighted to Pittsburgh.

And I don’t know how he survived Prohibition. You know how they hit the bottle at 100 feet below sea level.