Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Inauguration, Day 2

I have so many questions. There are definitely going to be a lot of people in DC: Target is sold out of air mattresses and Washington Sports Club has never seen such a crowd. So I wonder how well DC is doing, economically speaking. i wonder how many restaurants and bars have changed things up for this weekend. I wonder how many local folks have been inconvenienced.

But who cares?! I'm having a good time. There are so many parties, it's hard to hit up a bad one. And we can look at it in the opposite way: there are so many parties, they couldn't all possibly be any good. I'm also enjoying my new venture: trying all drinks named after the President-elect. I am getting drunk pretty quickly.

Tomorrow starts the super big time events including the concert at the Lincoln Memorial with Bono and the Jonas Brothers. I'm not going for the music.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Inauguration, Day 1

First, I haven't been to DC in a bit. Actually, I've only been to DC twice in my life, once for Peace Corps training before we left and then for my cousin's wedding. I've always liked the city, although I'm not a fan of East Coast weather: summer time stickiness, winter time freeze. And they are having record cold and I just left a place with record heat. I'm miserable.

As soon as I arrived, many of my friends hit me up to tell me they are in town--the homies from grad school at UCLA, my cousin from NYC who does non-profit work in education, my cousin's, where we are staying who got his MBA from Harvard, the other homie doing her PhD at Chicago, and my former classmate working for the Treasury Department--and I realized, we're the 2009 edition of the Urban League with Barack Obama as our fearless leader. We are somewhere between the Claire and Cliff Huxtable with a little Denise and Sandra mixed in. All in grad school or holding those ivy league and advanced degrees in hand. All having traveled for miles and miles to see the epitome of Black, urban and education officially become the president. This revelation is new to me although labels like Buppy (Black yuppy) are not. In our defense, we aren't your typical Black elitist: conservative and in love with Jesse Jackson. Rather, you'll see us at a march, a museum, and the mall: liberal and the farmers' market, Sankofa and bohemian, natural hair and The Boondocks. Well, at least that's me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gaza and Grant

I was at a demonstration this week, across the street from my house, for Oscar Grant--a young unarmed Black man shot by BART police. Soon after I left the demonstration, some other people left to march and soon after a "riot" ensued. I say "riot" just because I'm not too trust-worthy of the media and regular folks' opinions of such matters. There were looters and many businesses, some owned by people of color, were destroyed, but I'm not sure if "riot" is the appropriate term.

I didn't know what happened after the peaceful portion of the demonstration until the following day. And I was shocked. A few things stood out: the quotes from people who destroyed the businesses, saying things like "Oscar Grant lost his life; they could lose a little store;" and the folks from "Revolution Books" in Berkeley in the mix. Both things pissed me off. We never seem to get what solidarity means or even having someone's back, in either case. We hurt each other and ourselves. In the case of "Revolution Books," it sickens me (of course assuming this is even true) that these elders weren't looking out for the youngsters of color on the street, now with criminal records if they didn't have one already.

When I was working with the young people today, they naturally had a lot to say about Grant. And I let them talk for a while. They argued about whether the cop had a 9mm or a 35mm. Definitely a 35mm, one said, and the rest agreed. They knew this based on the fuzzy video recording and their extensive knowledge of handguns. They live in Oakland. They argued about the type of cuffs the police used, plastic or metal. Well, he wouldn't be able to move his arms that way if they were metal, one said, and they all agreed. They argued about his record and how quickly BART police would find out that information compared to Oakland P.D. They argued about the different markings on police cars and how you know the rank of the officer. They argued about police jurisdictions and tactics. They live in Oakland. I stared at them amazed, shocked really. This is their reality. And I looked at the assignment I had for them to practice reading comprehension, a letter from Rachel Corrie, one that she wrote just a month before a bulldozer made in the United States ran her over in Palestine.

So I asked the kids if they knew what was happening in Gaza and if they knew about Palestine and Israel. They didn't. I explained. In my mind I kept thinking about the posters at the demonstration earlier that week, comparing Gaza and Oakland. At the time, I was a bit unsure about the comparison. Then we read Corrie's letter where she talks about how the school children feel, never knowing if they will be bombed, not having a safe place to go, always cautious.

"What does she mean when she says 'global power structure'?" I asked. "That the U.S., the government, forever be meddling with people. Here too, you know? I mean, folks trying to party on New Years and stay safe, so they take the BART. But then they get shot there too. Folks over there too...getting shot for not doing anything."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Stimulus Package

Have you ever missed an episode or two of your favorite program? Ended up wondering who Mr. Big is or why some new person is living in the house or what your favorite Baltimore detective's name is. Well, I've missed an episode of "Stimulus Package": most likely the episode that talks about why rich people get a check that I have to pay for and I'm still broke.

As you all know, Obama is my road dog. But like most of road dogs, you should be able to call them out: Rev Warren, bad decision; stimulus package, bad decision. I just can't figure out how lending money, with nearly no strings attached, to people and companies who constantly mismanage money is supposed to help anybody. And don't get me started on car companies--they need money every ten years or so and they still can't figure it out. I am really, really curious if dude from Ford, after driving the Escape Hybrid to DC from Detroit, was like "dang, this car sucks!" By the way, SUV hybrids are faux hybrids that make the Prius look like a Nova (price-wise).

I'll admit: I'm a little bitter. I once owned a home. In the hills...almost, mega backyard, lots of fruits trees, with a massive kitchen. It was hard to keep, but I was just at what I could afford. Besides, the mortgage company a.k.a. thieves, said I could refinance after a few months when the house had some more value. But I was laid off before then. Once I could get the thieves to return my calls, I found that the bank was unwilling to negotiate anything. So this player had to foreclose on the fresh house and file for bankruptcy. Even though by then I already had a new job, the bank still was hating, unwilling to negotiate, being mean, and outright lying in some cases. But I didn't know better. Watching the news, I get hella mad because if all of this happened a year later, I could have been eligible for some federal money or the bank would have been willing to negotiate. Now I can't do jack crap since my credit is doggy-doo, at least for a tiny bit longer. The only thing that makes me smile is that I'm certain the thieves are broke too, assuming I wasn't the only one and the banks aren't willing to do business with them and they aren't eligible for stimulus money. I am mad that the bank (Chase, by the way) really doesn't seem to be hurting, and if they start hurting, they can complete a really short application to get that remedied.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Vielka's Guide to the Movies: The Reader

Like my cousin after "Terminator 2," I left this moving saying this was a damn good movie. After talking to some folks, I have to qualify that. The movie discusses moral dilemmas of all sorts. It begins ten years after Germany surrenders in World War II when a fifteen-year-old, Michael, becomes ill and Hanna, in her mid-30s, helps him out. Months later, he goes to thank her, with his little crush, and they begin to get it on. After a while, they exchange names (what the...) and plans: before they do anything, he has to read to her. The affair goes on for months and one day, Hanna up and leaves. Years later, when Michael is in law school, he sees Hanna again, on trial for war crimes. Hanna was an SS guard at a concentration camp. The other defendants basically put Hanna out to dry, but she could save herself, and Michael could to, but that would mean they both would have to reveal her secret. Neither of them do and Hanna goes to prison for a long, long time.

There are a ton a moral questions, the two most obvious ones being what Hanna does as an SS guard and Michael keeping her secret knowing it would help her out with sentencing if he would just say something. The dilemma in the movie is that you don't want to feel sorry for the Nazi working in the camp. It's like in "Roots" when you get the back story on the slave captors. I don't care if you can't find a job, this shouldn't have been your job. In many ways, it seems like Hanna and Michael feel that way, like she should serve a long sentence, and that's why they keep that secret. The movie-makers don't want you to forget about the victims either. You get a nice tour of a camp at one point. There are two survivors of Hanna's camp, both particularly unforgiving. But I'm not mad at them for that.

I have a distaste for certain movies: white people doing all that they can to end all that they messed up in slavery movies, Civil Rights movies, Africa movies, and white teacher/ folks of color classroom movies...the list is really endless. I am going to put Holocaust movies in that category. Most Jewish Holocaust movies deal with one person saving her/himself, leaving hella people behind or they make a hero out of someone that is mad questionable (Oscar Schindler). Watching those movies, you would really think that like ten people avoided the camps while everyone else was like, which train do I get on? So not true.

In the beginning, I said that I like this movie. I do because I don't think of it as a Holocaust movie. As the audience, we aren't privy to the lives of the Jews and other victims. The movie is about all of us and what we DON'T do, forever watching things happen and not doing anything. We watch Bush 43 do the most insane mess, but we don't impeach him and try him for war crimes. We know about sweatshops, but we keep shopping...and so on. For me, the movie really made me question all the things that we watch happen and try to play innocent bystander, on this whole, this is what I was supposed/ ordered/ made to do. Michael might have been on his keep a secret tip because he got his feelings hurt years back, but he learned to regret that mess. Unfortunately, folks died while everyone was figuring stuff out.

Kate Winslet is awesome and the actor that plays Michael is great too. One more crotch or breast shot would have made this XXX though. By the way, every time I hear about how voluptuous Winslet is and then I see her on the boob tube looking hella thin, so thin you forget she gave birth TWICE, I want to just smack someone.

This is a must-see.

Vielka's Guide to the Movies: Doubt

"Doubt" is the film adaptation of the play, looking at a priest in New York City and his questionable relationship with a black student, the school's first non-White student. The story takes place in 1964, after Kennedy's assassination and in the belly of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement. The timing is key.

The priest starts by discussing how people are bonded by doubt, making reference to Kennedy. This triggers a nun, the principal, played by Meryl Streep, to have doubts about the priest's relationships with the students. She puts the other nuns on watch, and soon one on nun notices the supposed strange relationship with a student. When the principal confronts the priest about the relationship, he denies it, and the rest of the movie takes on a cat and mouse feel. In the end, the priest leaves the church and the audience never finds out if he did anything or what he did. It's nerve-racking, but whether or not the priest did anything is not the question; the question is why do we, as the audience, think he did.

We can automatically think about homosexuality, the church, and molestation on their own. But that is our contemporary setting and thinking. This is 1964 and the student is black. Although Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a spectacular performance, my favorite of the movie is Viola Davis. She is in the movie all of seven minutes at the most; I'm sure any less she wouldn't even be considered a supporting actress. But those seven minutes draw you in like nothing else and she raises some of the most thought-provoking questions of the movie, as the student's mother. We find out that the student's father beats him. We find out that his father doesn't like him, we assume because the young man is gay. We find out that the young man had to switch schools because everyone at the public schools were tripping off him. And sadly, she brings up the question of if the priest is gay and doing something with her son, who cares, since at least it means her son will be treated nicely. I couldn't help but match her tears at that one.

Vielka's Guide to the Movies: Milk

Milk discusses the political life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician. He was assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor. Although a bit of research or listening to Fresh Air would have gotten you this far, I got sort of a "Titanic" feel--I knew he was going to be shot, but I really didn't want him to. I admit, a salty discharge aka, a tear, fell from my eye at that point. Great work Gus Van Sant! I also had a moment of thinking back to "Philadelphia," and wanting to get into opera.

Sean Penn-Awesome! He's always great though. I was surprised by James Franco and Diego Luna, one being good and the other being awful. I wasn't expecting much from Mr. Pineapple Express, but dude really delivered! And from watching "Y Tu Mama Tambien" among others, I was really surprised by how bad Luna is in "Milk." I was thinking about when straight actors play gay characters. Do they automatically start taking with a lisp and flick their wrists? Well, that was Luna's take, to the point of annoyance. I'm not sure how the character was in actuality, but watching him portrayed on the big screen via Luna, really was getting to me.

I was also a bit annoyed with the lack of folks of color in the movie. I mean, what's with the Clint Eastwood interpretation of events? I mean, can I get some folks of color in the crowd shots? It was 1980s San Francisco! There had to be some folks of color in the Castro, right?

I think the greatest contribution "Milk" makes is allowing an audience to see homosexuals as politicians: working for their constituents be they gay or straight. Often times we assume the black politician will only be out for the black folks, and so on. Or we assume that having the chapter on the Haitian Revolution in a textbook will do great things for black people only. We forget that we all benefit when the boot pressing down on oppressed peoples in lifted, if even slightly and for a moment.