Archive for May, 2010

I first became a fan of Barack Obama after reading The Audacity of Hope as he didn’t sound like a typical politician and this was confirmed when a friend bought me Dreams from My Father as a birthday present.

So it is interesting to see some of the same ground covered by a third-party, rather than by Obama himself. In this case the third-party is David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, and the book is as well-researched and well-written as you would expect.

Not being an American, the most fascinating aspect of the book to me was seeing Obama in relation to the wider context of the issue of race in the US, from the slaves who built the White House to the civil rights movement. I found it shocking to read that :

“In the United States between 1890 and 1920, there were more lynchings than state-sanctioned executions.”

The title of the book comes from a quote by John Lewis, the longtime congressman from Atlanta, and the only speaker still alive from the March on Washington in 1963,where Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his inspirational ‘I Have a Dream” speech.

Lewis was also one of leaders of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7, 1965 which came to be known as Bloody Sunday as peaceful civil rights protesters were set on by Alabama state troopers.

The book explains:

“Bloody Sunday was likely the most important act of nonviolent resistance since 1930, when Mahatma Gandhi led seventy-eight other satyagrahis (truth-force activists) in a twenty-three-day march from his ashram to the coastal town of Dandi in protest against the British government and the colonial tax on salt. For millions of  Americans, the sight of peaceful protesters being clubbed and gassed in Selma disturbed the foundations of American indifference no less than Gandhi inspired Indians and unnerved the British.

On March 15th, before  a joint session of Congress, President Johnson delivered the most ringing endorsement of civil rights ever by a sitting President.”

The day before Obama’s inauguration Lewis said to Renwick :

“Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.”

While he was a Senator, Obama kept in his office a framed cover of Life magazine from March 1965 showing the confrontation at Edmund Pettus Bridge which Lewis had signed and given to him as a gift. I had tears in my eyes when I read what happened after Obama’s inauguration:

“Now, at the luncheon following the swearing-in ceremony, Lewis approached Obama with a sheet of paper and, to mark the occasion, he asked him to sign it. The forty-fourth President of the United States wrote, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.” “

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the horrendous karaoke scene

As part of my job, I sometimes get some really cool invitations so I was very excited when I got the chance to attend a preview screening of Sex and the City 2. I was huge fan of the TV series and even enjoyed the first movie but the franchise has truly jumped the shark – as epitomised by the karaoke scene where the rest of the bar joins in the singing a la the equally nauseous scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding.

I am still trying to understand the reason for the visit to Abu Dhabi when the only point seems to be use every available Muslim stereotype. The locals are sexually repressive and totally unreasonable  because they object to Samantha simulating oral sex in a restaurant or wanting to get shagged on a beach – ironic given that TBS ran a censored version of the television series in the US.

If any movie depicted Jews/African Americans in the same insulting fashion there is no way it would get a US release. As Wahajat Ali writes in Slate:

“Michael Patrick King’s exquisitely tone-deaf movie is cinematic Viagra for Western cultural imperialists who still ignorantly and inaccurately paint the entire Middle East (and Iran) as a Shangri La in desperate need of liberation from ignorant, backward natives.”

What makes it even worse is that this tone-deafness is in a film that is meant to represent New York, a city that prides itself on tolerance and multi-culturalism.

The series managed to deal with real issues, such as Samantha having breast cancer or Miranda not wanting to tell her law firm that she was pregnant, with style and panache while still making you laugh. So it is a shame they did not use the same skills to deal with real problems that Muslim women can face but, according to this movie, they can wear the latest designer clothes under their robes so all must be right in their world.

Even Western women don’t come out looking so great. The film implies their greatest freedom is the right to have sex with complete strangers whenever and where ever they want.

Miranda’s character illustrates the vast gulf between the series and this travesty of a film. She used to be a high-powered intelligent New York attorney but her one office scene in the film shows her being silenced by her male boss. Ironically, the movie then silences Miranda even further by cutting away when she confronts him so the audience does not hear what she actually has to say.

Unbelievably, Miranda then quits her job and spends most of the time in Abu Dhabi displaying the same level of intelligence as a teenager on spring break. Anyone who has only seen Miranda in this movie would not recognise her as being the same woman in the series telling Carrie not to give up her job so she can move to Paris with a man.

I really hope the movies stop here before they ruin my memories of the series. If I haven’t convinced you how truly terrible this film is then feel free to read other opinions:

– The Village Voice has a round-up of the 10 best slams;

– but came out with its list before a truly vitriolic  review from Lindy West in The Stranger which is very funny but also very rude – so don’t look if you object to very strong language ;

+ from Twitter via @robbiereviews: Our genius TV critic Ian Hyland’s verdict on SATC2: “This year’s worst release since the BP oil spill, with just as many f***ed-up birds.”

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When I travel I like to fix the start and end points but leave the bits in between to chance but sometimes you don’t have to go very far from home to put this philosophy into action.

At the weekend, I was honoured to be asked again to be one of the judges at the annual AMS Pi5NY Math Tournament which this year was at West 169th Street. I have never been to Washington Heights so thought it would be fun to walk home and as a result I came across beautiful Riverside Drive.

As you can tell from the name, the drive meanders alongside the Hudson River. It was lined with trees and you could hear very little traffic so didn’t feel at all like being in the city. In fact, when I got to the end at 72nd Street  the bustle knocked me for six and made me question how I usually manage to tune out the New York noise.

When I got home I looked up Riverside Drive and found that, like a lot of modern New York, it was the creation of Robert Moses,who has been dubbed the city’s master builder. New York, by Ric Burns and James Sanders, my go-to history book for the city, describes how Riverside Park used to be six and a half of miles of muddy wasteland, populated by hobos, where even the police were afraid to go. The park was bordered by railway tracks and the coal-burning and oil-burning trains caused so much pollution that nearby residents couldn’t open their windows.

In 1914, when Moses was in his early 20s, he was on a ferry crossing the river and according to the book, he turned to one of his friends, Frances Perkins, who later became secretary of labour, and commented on the smog:

” ‘Frances, couldn’t this waterfront be the most beautiful waterfront in the world?’ He started to talk to her about this great highway that could run up along the water and this beautiful park that could be beside the highway and the park would cover the railroad tracks. And the thing that astonished Frances Perkins was that, in her words, ‘he had it all figured out.’ He said you would have to bring the highway round a curve at 72nd Street and knock down some buildings there. He saw a marina – it’s now the 79th St Marina and Boat Basin – where people could have their sailboats. He wanted tennis courts and bike paths and knew exactly where they should be.”

From what I saw on Saturday, Moses certainly achieved what he wanted.

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I discovered today that May 24 is a landmark date in New York history for two very important reasons.

In 1883, after 15 years of construction, the  Brooklyn Bridge, the first suspension bridge to use steel rather than iron cables, and the first bridge across the East River, was finally opened. Wired describes the role of Emily Warren Roebling in supervising the bridge’s construction :

“By and by it was common gossip that hers was the great mind behind the great work and that this, the most monumental engineering triumph of the age, was actually the doing of a woman, which as a general proposition was taken in some quarters to be both preposterous and calamitous. In truth, she had by then a thorough grasp of the engineering involved.”

Perhaps more importantly, on this day in 1626, Dutchman Peter Minuit bought the island of Manhattan for the bargain sum of $24 worth of beads and trinkets. The Reformed Broker argues this is the real greatest trade ever and it is hard to disagree.

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I am sad that I won’t be in England during the World Cup where everything grinds to a halt during our team’s games and you truly feel you are taking part in a global tournament with billions of other football fans. The US is improving, and it is definitely better than four years ago, but the atmosphere is not the same at all.

However, I can console myself by watching Nike’s new advert for the tournament while I wait for the matches to begin – as a journalist I particularly enjoyed the totally sensationalist English tabloid headlines  :

The Guardian reminisces on some other great football ads including my all-time favourite:

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The Wire is one of my favourite television programmes and this blog had a great piece on Kentucky Derby horses named after characters, ideas and quotes from the show (hat-tip: Ezra Klein’s Wonkbook)

One section is devoted to Omarisms and “all in the game’ reminded me of a top scene from the second series in which Omar appeared as a witness in court :

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A friend was in town to cover the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York last weekend and we checked out some of the block parties on Saturday night where stores invited people in and plied them with alcohol.

The exhibits ranged from this lovely example of  Italian lighting :

to these rather more challenging lamps made out of stuffed rats and squirrells which turned out to be by British artist Alex Randall:

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