Monthly Archives: February 2012

February 28, 2012 – 296 days Until Baktun 12

Survivalist Tip:  If you’re a minimalist survival type, then you understand the need for traveling light.  For the uninitiated, minimalism doesn’t refer to the art movement of the same name that began in New York City in the 1960’s when artists ran out of supplies and design space in the already-crowded Soho district.  This refers to those who can survive with the least number of tools and supplies, like military and law enforcement personnel.  Others, like celebrities and professional athletes, can’t function without heavy baggage and a large entourage, so they’ll perish in the chaos.  Considering that the Mayans built one of the largest and most advanced civilizations in pre-Columbian America without the aid of draft animals, wheels and Super Glue, minimalism is an appropriate survival technique.  I discussed the value of burlap bags in a previous post, but a large backpack or rucksack is better for those who plan to move about on foot.  It should be big enough to store such essentials as flashlights, batteries, snack crackers, bandages and, of course, chocolate and Xanax, but flexible enough to strap onto your back.  Understandably, you’ll get tired after hours of hiking and climbing over rough terrain, abandoned vehicles and the bodies of people who died because they waited until the last minute to prepare for the apocalypse.  But then, that’s why you have the chocolate and Xanax on hand in the first place!

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Racing Oscar

Sunday night’s Oscar ceremonies provided the usual displays of celebrity fashion and idolatry.  When Angelina Jolie arrived to present the screenwriting awards and stood at the stage’s edge with her right leg prominently jutting through a severe slit in her designer gown, I realized no one in their right mind can take this stuff seriously.  Every year at this time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences excretes these coveted statuettes amidst the tabloid revelry and calls it ceremonious.  But, like all other awards shows, the Oscars are nothing more than popularity contests; particularly in the acting and directing categories.  Henry Fonda once noted that it was ridiculous to nominate five actors for an award, but then select only one to receive it.  Katherine Hepburn, for example, is still considered one of America’s greatest actresses; the Academy bestowed four Best Actress Oscars upon her.  But, in my opinion, she has nothing on Meryl Streep who picked up her third Oscar Sunday night.  Hepburn never truly acted; she just sort of behaved.  She was too arrogant to let herself disappear into a character.  Streep, on the other hand, becomes almost indistinguishable whenever she takes on another persona.  Again, just my view.  If you want to see genuinely talented competition, watch a high school speech and debate contest.

This Wednesday, the 29th, will mark the 72nd anniversary of the 1940 Academy Awards where Hattie McDaniel won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as “Mammie” in Gone with the Wind.  McDaniel was the first African-American to be nominated for and to win an Oscar.  She was also the first African-American to attend an Oscar ceremony, although she had to sit at the back of the room in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  Her win was bittersweet.  It marked a cinematic milestone for Black Americans.  But, Gone with the Wind arrived in theatres to face as many protests from the NAACP as it did accolades from fans of Margaret Mitchell’s book.  Civil rights activists denounced the film’s stereotypical portrayals of Blacks.  McDaniel even sat out the film’s premier in Atlanta, saying she had other obligations.  In reality, she wasn’t welcome.

It’s difficult to imagine such a scenario now, especially considering the leftist bent the American cinematic community seems to possess.  But, observing this year’s contenders, I noticed three new faces: Viola Davis, a Best Actress nominee for The Help; Octavia Spencer, a Best Supporting Actress nominee also for The Help; and Demián Bechir, a Best Actor nominee for A Better Life.  Spencer won in her field.  More importantly, though, I noticed the roles they played were as stereotypical as ‘Mammie,’ anomalies in 21st century American films.  Or maybe not.  The Help is a period piece about a young White woman who decides to write a controversial book from the point of view of Black maids amidst the civil rights struggles of early 1960’s Mississippi; instead of – say – one of the maids suddenly discovering her literary muse and writing her own story.  A Better Life is a contemporary tale about a Mexican immigrant father who chooses to stay in the United States to provide (as the title implies) a better life for his son, while working as a gardener in East L.A.  Regardless of their respective storylines and grandiose intentions, both films play into conventional roles often assigned to Blacks (housekeepers) and Hispanics (immigrant gardeners).  To be fair, I haven’t seen either film – and I don’t intend to see them.  I’ve watched plenty of formulaic characterizations of Blacks and Hispanics in films and on TV.

But, you’d think in the 72 years since Hattie McDaniel won her Oscar, things would have changed for both ethnic groups.  Obviously, Hollywood isn’t as liberal as the talking heads on FOX News claim it is.  Despite years of progress and social consciousness – with celebrities publicly calling for more AIDS research, support for animal rights, etc. – the American entertainment community often likes to stick with what’s popular, or at least with what it knows.  Much like corporate America, the biggest movie studios are run by old and middle-aged White men.  So, it’s easy to deduce that Hollywood’s country club elitists still can’t see Blacks and Hispanics occupying more mundane professions like accountants, doctors, architects and technical writers.  We’re still pushing mops and lawn mowers in their minds.

They may not be able to see beyond those typical characterizations, but I certainly can – because that’s pretty much all I’ve seen of Blacks and Hispanics.  We’re educated and hard-working just like…well, just like you’d expect the average American citizen to be.  One only has to watch an episode of The First 48 on A&E to see more Blacks and Hispanics wearing law enforcement uniforms than gang colors.  Blacks actually have fared pretty well in film and television in recent decades.  They’re no longer presented as the ‘happy Negro,’ content with merely singing delightful Walt Disney songs, or delivering coy punch lines.  Hispanics, it seems, have yet to arrive, despite some concerted efforts like Chico and the Man and, more recently, George Lopez.  And, Native Americans haven’t even made it to the gate.  Some years ago a friend of mine who was of Vietnamese extraction lamented the constant portrayals of Asians as “wacky scientists” or “goofy doctors.”

“At least you’re shown as doctors and scientists,” I told her.  My people are still shown as gang members and illegal aliens.”

Blacks certainly have come a long way since Hattie McDaniel floated across the silver screen in proper kerchief and apron.  Hispanics also have made considerable strides since Desi Arnaz became the first Hispanic on American television.  Native Americans haven’t migrated much from the Little Big Man days, although there was that blip called Dances with Wolves.  I guess Hollywood and Academy executives are still smarting from Marlon Brando’s stunt at the 1973 Oscars.  I don’t fault Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Demián Bechir for taking on their respective roles.  In a business where unemployment hovers around 100%, people have to grab what they can.  But for all the headway and enlightenment we’ve achieved, The Help and A Better Life insinuate that Blacks and Hispanics occasionally have to be reminded of our proverbial place in society and how we shouldn’t stray too far from that standard.  I sense “our people” have to placate the money-laden powers in Hollywood every once in a while, if they want to keep working.  For better or worse, though, here we are – and circumstances have improved.  Change is often slow, yet unstoppable.  As philosopher William James once said, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitude of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”


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Today’s Birthdays

Actor Charles Durning (Tootsie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Sharky’s Machine) is 89.

Chris Kraft (NASA flight director for all Mercury and many Gemini space missions) is 88.

Author Svetlana Alliluyeva (The Faraway Music; daughter of Joseph Stalin; defected to the West in 1967) is 86.


Actor Gavin MacLeod (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Love Boat) is 81.


Dean Smith (Basketball Hall of Famer and coach of 1976 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team) is 81.

Tommy Tune (Tony Award-winning dancer and actor) is 73.


Auto racer Mario Andretti is 72.


Actor Frank Bonner (WKRP in Cincinnati, Sidekicks) is 70.


Guitarist – singer Joe South (Walk a Mile in My Shoes, Games People Play) is 70.

Actress Stephanie Beacham (The Colbys, Dynasty) is 65.


Actress Bernadette Peters (The Jerk, Annie) is 64.


Actress Mercedes Ruehl (Married to the Mob, Big) is 64.


Drummer Phil Gould (Level 42) is 55.

Actor John Turturro (The Sicilian, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Color of Money) is 55.


Singer Cindy Wilson (B-52s) is 55.


Actor Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poets Society, Manhattan Project) is 43.


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On February 28…

1827 – The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad became the first railroad incorporated for the commercial transportation of people and freight.


1849 – The SS California arrived in San Francisco for the first time, having left left New York Harbor on October 6, 1848.  Thus began regular steamboat service from the U.S. East Coast to the West Coast by steamboat, via Cape Horn.


1861 – Congress created the Territory of Colorado.

1893 – Edward G. Acheson of Monongahela, PA, received a patent for Carborundum, an abrasive or refractory of silicon carbide, fused alumina and other materials.

1940 – The first televised basketball game was broadcast on W2XBS in New York City from Madison Square Garden.  The game featured Fordham University and the University of Pittsburgh.


1953 – Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announced they have determined the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which had been discovered in 1869.

1972 – U.S. President Richard Nixon wrapped up an historic week-long visit to China, convinced the trip helped to create a new “generation of peace.”

1984 – Michael Jackson won a record 8 statuettes for his album, Thriller, at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, the most wins by a single artist.  He broke the previous record of 6 awards set by Roger Miller in 1965.


1993 – Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to invade the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.  Four ATF agents and two cult members were killed and another 12 agents were wounded.  The assault began a 51-day siege that ended on April 19.


1994 – In the first military action in the 45-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. fighter planes shot down 4 Serbian war planes engaged in a bombing mission over Bosnia’s no-fly zone.

1995 – Denver International Airport finally opened after 16 months of delays and billions of dollars in budget overruns.


1997 – Two men, masked and wearing body armor, bungled a bank heist in North Hollywood, CA, and unleashed an arsenal of gunfire on police and bystanders, as they tried to flee.  Fifteen people were injured, including ten policemen, before the robbers were killed.


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Cartoon of the Day


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Picture of the Day

The moon, Venus and Jupiter align in the skies over Mooresville, NC.  Photograph courtesy John Green and the ULAO Project.


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Quote of the Day

“He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman.” 

– Henri Leclerc, attorney for former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, about a French investigation into use of corporate funds to stage orgies. 

I know the feeling.  I’ve been to so many parties where people are butt naked that I’m hard up to tell who’s there to make some quick cash and who’s there just to have fun.  I mean, seriously!  Why are the French even investigating this?  Isn’t this what they do all the time over there anyway?

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