Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dub-ya, the movie

One of my favorite snapshots in American history will be the time between the upcoming election (Nov. 4th, 2008) and next year's inauguration (Jan. 20th, 2009).

No, not because of Mr. Hope. I'm interested to see what will happen when the country receives a totally unfettered W. presidency. In the meantime fiction will have to do.

Set to debut Oct.17th, Oliver Stone's new film is about our current commander-in-chief, Dubya, and unlike his other two presidential bio-pics, Stone says this is not a slap at the man or a conspiracy theory flick.

"I want a fair, true portrait of the man," Stone told Variety. "How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?"

We'll see. Cindy Adams of the NY Post saw a few excerpts of the script and wrote, "Pro-Bushies will hate it, antis will love it." I don't at this juncture think anyone can produce an un-bias movie on such a divisive and disastrous presidency.

The film stars Josh Brolin as W., James Cromwell as George H. W. Bush, Elizabeth Banks as Laura, Thandie Newton as Condi, and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell to name a few.

Here's the trailer:

Attack of the Activist

What happens when a veteran of the civil rights struggle goes off the rails? When does the next generation tell the previous one to step aside? That's been a question on a lot of minds, particularly after Jesse's comments on B-Rock. It has always been a sticky area and taboo subject back home in Louisville.

Rapper Nas made it plain about Jesse.

"I think Jesse Jackson, he's the biggest player hater," he said. "His time is up. All you old niggas, time is up. We heard your voice, we saw your marching, we heard your sermons. We don't wanna hear that shit no more. It's a new day. It's a new voice."

Check me out in LEO Weekly, 'Attack of the activist'. Underneath the juicy quotes are several pertinent questions about grassroots organizations, 'damaged goods' members, iconic veterans and the generational divide.

From LEO Weekly:

For years Gracie Lewis has worked to fight racism, but the feisty advocate’s longtime tenure with the Kentucky Alliance now is in jeopardy after she reportedly got into an altercation with a child, then berated the boy’s mother.“Gracie had an inappropriate and totally out-of-line confrontation with my 13-year-old son and I approached her about it,” says Attica Scott, a fellow activist and coordinator at Kentucky Jobs with Justice. On July 21, she says Lewis verbally abused her son, Advocate, who was participating in the Arts and Activism Summer Institute at the Kentucky Alliance.

Specifically, the 13-year-old claims Lewis accosted him for getting in her way, then waved her finger in his face and told him not to speak unless spoken to.

The boy’s mother says she approached Lewis about mistreating her son, and that she received the following threatening message on her answering machine the next day: “This is Gracie Lewis you black bitch. You better not never bring your skinny, narrow ass and get in my face again because I will kick your black ass. Peace.”...

Looking the other way might be the accepted way of doing things it can potentially endanger the reputation and work of social justice these groups claim to hold dear. Of course it'll upset some people that I wrote this piece, but accountability matters -- does it not?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


The Republican National Committee launched a website, BarackBook, which copies the format of Facebook and parodies the junior Senator from Illinois about his controversial friendships and moonwalking positions. It's a 21st century facelift on classic GOP attack ads, but it's a lot better than throwing the easy punch at Barack (he's a Muslim). Give the RNC credit, it's a pretty creative attack.

From ABC News:

The Republican National Committee has launched a fake Facebook page attacking Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, highlighting some of the more controversial "friends" in his "network." "BarackBook" includes info on Tony Rezko, former Weather Underground member William Ayers, Marilyn Katz, Nadhmi Auchi, and others.

Copying the format of Facebook, the page includes information along the lines of: "Alexi Giannoulias and Eric Holder have updated their profiles."

Young Republicans ought to love it. Users of the real Facebook can install an application on their personal page with links to BarackBook. This looks like an attempt by the GOP to shave at B-Rock's growing lead over McCain among younger voters.

Good luck! According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, voters age 18-34 favor Obma 55% to 31% over McCain. It's doubtful a faux Facebook will close the gap. The BarackBook idea is a good one, but unfornatuely the Republicans picked the oldest man alive as their nominee. Does McCain even know what Facebook is?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Maher's 'Religulous' trailer

Teaming up with 'Borat' director Larry Charles, comedian Bill Maher has a new documentary set to hit theatres on October 3rd. It's about religion and is called 'Religulous', because well, believing in unicorns, centaurs, demons, gods, angels and pixies in the 21st Century is ridiculous!

Watch the trailer, here.

Maher's statement on the film:

It has been my pleasure over the last decade and a half to make organized religion one of my favorite targets. I often explained to people, "I don't need to make fun of religion, it makes fun of itself." And, then I go ahead and make fun of it too, just for laughs.

With religious fanatics like George Bush and Osama bin Laden now taking over the world, it seemed to me in recent years that this issue -- this cause of debunking the man behind the curtain -- needed to have a larger, more insistent and focused forum than late night television. I wanted to make a documentary, and I wanted it to be funny. In fact, since there is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today's religions, this movie would try to be a real knee slapper. Unless, of course, you're religious, then you might not like it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

'Obama is my slave'

Boy oh boy, this is going to be a very interesting presidential election. Everywhere from Georgia to Utah, we're seeing some of the most racist caricatures since the 1920s being veiled as 'presidential criticism'.

Joining the club of rednecks is an unlikely candidate, an Israeli-born New York fashion designer named Apollo Braun, who is considered the new Andy Warhol according to one documentary film on YouTube.

One of Braun's customers, a 25-year-old NYC gradudate student, bought a $69 t-shirt that reads, 'Obama is my slave'. Well she got her ass kicked by four black teenage girls, who shoved her and spit in her face for wearing it. She then threatened to sue Braun.

From Livesteez:

The woman bought a $69 shirt from Apollo Braun's Manhattan boutique that bore the words, "Obama is my slave." When she wore the shirt on Tuesday, four teenage girls accosted her - shoving her, pulling out her earphones, and spitting in her face, according to the New York edition of Metro News.

The unnamed woman is reportedly seeking solace by suing Braun - born Doron Braunshtein - for "all he's got," the designer claims. He, of course, is shirking any responsibility for the incident and says that the shirt reflects the views of "ordinary WASPs."

"For a lot of people, when they see Obama, they see a slave. People think America is not ready for a black president,” the Israeli-born designer said.

"I can’t stand Obama," Braun says.

Braun says he hates Barack, thinks he's a Muslim and "He reminds me of Adolf Hitler." Strong words, which probably explains why he's decided to sell a line of anti-Obama t-shirts in NYC that include, 'Jews Against Obama,', 'Obama = Hitler' and 'Who Killed Obama?'.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blitt's cover eclipses Lizza's story

Barack is a Muslim terrorist, Michele is a Black Panther, bin Laden's their hero and old Glory is burning -- scared enough, America?

Maybe the readership of The New Yorker is so sophisticated that Barry Blitt's illustration, called 'The Politics of Fear', is understood as satire. The troubling thing about satire is this: if it ain't funny you're screwed. And it appears the rest of the country didn't get it. Go here, here and here.

Now New Yorker editor David Remnick is moonwalking, arguing that no one should truly believe that The New Yorker (a stereotype itself of liberal elitism) would deliberately put gasoline on the flames of these ugly rumors and stereotypes.

Unfortunately the controversial cover eclipses Ryan Lizza's article, 'Making It', which is one of the best written pieces about B-Rock's Chicago past. We know about the interracial odyssey of Barry's childhood and the rise of Mr. Hope after his election to the U.S. Senate, but who exactly was that community activist in Windy? Lizza puts the puzzle together by capturing the history of Chicago politics with my new neighborhood, Hyde Park, as the centerpiece.

One of my favorite touchstones deals with exactly why Barack joined Trinity. We all know why these suit and tie black professionals join these mega-churches . It ain't got nothing to do with theology. It has less than nothing to do with the charismatic clergy. It's called status.

From The New Yorker:

On issue after issue, [alderwoman Toni] Preckwinkle presented Obama as someone who thrived in the world of Chicago politics. She suggested that Obama joined Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ for political reasons. “It’s a church that would provide you with lots of social connections and prominent parishioners,” she said. “It’s a good place for a politician to be a member.”

Where else can an ambitious newcomer meet a network of Negroes other than a church? Maybe the barbershop (too leisure) or the club (too unorganized).

Let the secular truth say, Amen!

Fact checking w/ Patti Wolter

Described as a copious enterprise, fact-checking was our latest lesson at the Academy of Alternative Journalism. It was facilitated by Patti Wolter, an assistant professor at Medill, who was once a managing editor at Mother Jones magazine.

Wolter showed us just how important and tedious a process it can be, even to the smallest fact it can have serious repercussions at a major weekly or monthly publication. Is his name spelled correctly, was it raining that day, are the lights bright or dimmed, did he shoot the gun with his right or left hand?

These questions and a whole lot more should dominate the mind of any species of journalist whether you're an op-ed columnist, daily reporter, television anchor or magazine writer. We're the ones who should be prudent with the story in our hands enough to be as accurate as possible. Especially in an age of bloggers and citizen journalists, fact-checking means from spelling of names to government documents you have someone who certifies what the reporter wrote was factual.

Just to show us how important fact-checking is to the craft of journalism Wolter showed up as clip of Shattered Glass, which is based on the true story of Stephen Glass, a fraudulent reporter who worked for The New Republic in the late 1990s. Basically Glass exploited the holes in the fact-checking system and wrote at least 27 stories where he made up sources, quotes and people. And we all know about the infamous Jayson Blair.

To learn more guidelines, tenets and tips go here

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

B-Rock caves on Wiretap Bill

Look mommy, Mr. Hope is melting.

From NY Times:

After long opposing the idea of immunity for the phone companies in the wiretapping operation, [Senator Barack Obama of Illinois] voted for the plan on Wednesday. His reversal last month angered many of his most ardent supporters, who organized an unsuccessful drive to get him to reverse his position once again. And it came to symbolize what civil liberties advocates saw as “capitulation” by Democratic leaders to political pressure from the White House in an election year.

And so begins the sad, long, hard and yet predictable fall from grace of Mr. Hope. What will Obamaniacs do now -- increase their zealotry or admit their candidate is like every politician before him? I threw him a light jab on Iraq. We'll see if this continues.

Remembering Rev. Coleman

In this week's LEO I wrote about the death of Rev. Louis Coleman, which has been hard for many -- friend and foe -- back in Louisville to digest. He was one of the city's most familar faces, charismatic personalities and divisive subjects. He committed his life to struggle which some in our sleepy town will be eternally grateful. With all of the last minute memorials and comments of appreciation from public officials one may begin to believe he was loved across the Derby City.

Eck! Wrong.

Let's make it plain, there are people who are glad he's dead. And much like anyone who actually said aloud what they believe he had to wait until death to be embraced by those who usually kept him at arms length. Unless deep in the bosom of West Louisville, expect a nasty fight over any official rememberance such as renaming a city thoroughfare, Rev. Louis Coleman Boulevard.

Peace & Blessing Rev. Coleman.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

'The Juice' of Chicago

With Taste of Chicago coming to a close there's an interesting piece in the Tribune today about what garbage workers have to deal with each year, particularly a nasty elixir of soda, grease, food, snot rags, baby shit and other liquids known as 'The Juice' -- yuck!

Think about it, the world's largest food festival must produce the largest and one ff the nastiest mixtures of trash and human waste. It's a dirty job but somebody has to do it.

From the Chicago Tribune:

All that separates you from The Juice is a millimeter of plastic inclined to burst when pricked by plastic forks, sending noxious geysers down your legs to soak your socks and settle into your shoes, where over the course of a 12-hour shift it bakes in the summer sun until it forms a Pepsi/chicken fat/churro pate between your sweaty toes.

They don't list The Juice on Taste of Chicago menus. Nor do they highlight the army of maintenance workers who bus the littered terrain after 3.6 million diners have used Grant Park as a picnic table.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Wale is the TRUTH

If you haven't heard of Wale don't apologize. Just download 'The Mixtape About Nothing' and all your hip-hop sins will be forgiven.


'Let's Ride' -- Wale f. Lupe Fiasco

B-Rock moonwalking on Iraq?

With W. signing another $162 billion to keep the war going, the 'Change' candidate might be backpedaling on more than just campaign finance according to critics.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Barack Obama defended his position on the Iraq War on Thursday after saying he may "refine" his position to withdraw combat troops within his first 16 months in office if military officials said such a timeline is unsafe...

According to the Obama campaign Website Sen. Obama would move one to two combat brigades a month home from Iraq and have "all [U.S.] combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."

But lately he has left out the phrase "16 months" entirely...

What he calls 'refine' I call triangulation, which is not necessarily wrong or bad and in fact should be expected from a politician. As the campaign goes forward it will be interesting to see how or if Sen. Obama's supporters accept the melting of their candidate's sugar-coated shell. I expect the zealotry will only increase.

Most observers would have told you years ago that an immediate pull out from Iraq was not only unfeasible but potentially dangerous. Leaving Iraq requires a commander-in-chief who will be as prudent getting us out as clumsily as W. got the country in. No amount of chest-thumping from the anti-war left will change that. Barack is providing the public with more details about his Iraq plans.

However, by setting the bar so high, each time he does things like this he looks less and less like Mr. Hope.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Gonzo, a son of Louisville

Whether we know it, like it or embrace it or not, my hometown of Louisville, KY has exported two of the greatest rebels in American history -- Muhammad Ali and Hunter S. Thompson. The boxer who was a poet and the writer who was a fighter. Two men who revolutionized not only their respective genres but challenged the orthodoxy of atheletics and journalism and the world at large. In Louisville we've finally come to our senses and embraced Ali by building a downtown shrine -- mainly becuase he's a shell of his former self and much easier to digest.

The Ali Center is the glitter, giggles and gum of Ali. We ignore the work of the Ali Institute at the University of Louisville, which though under funded is the meat and bones Ali's legacy.

Even though he's been dead for nearly three years after offing himself, Thompson is still harder to swallow and a bit unnerving to a lot of folks from his hometown. There's certainly an underground following in an attempt to "Keep Louisville Weird" but there's not even one of those obnoxious giant posters that say, "(Person's Name) Louisville" in the city. Questions such as, 'Why doesn't Louisville have an institute of journalism with at least his named attached?' may provide answers that are more sad than puzzling. That would be a project I'd love to join.

Anyhow, tomorrow is the debut of a new documentary film about Thompson, entitled GONZO: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, which is written and directed by Alex Gibney. I hope it is showing in his city of birth, regardless I'm going to see it at Landmark's Century Centre. Go check it out, if you can. But first, read this article on the film.

From the Chicago Reader:

As Gonzo makes clear, the pitfalls of augmenting journalism with the techniques of fiction emerged when Rolling Stone assigned Thompson to cover George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972. In a panel discussion taped years later, Thompson chuckles as McGovern campaign manager Frank Mankiewicz calls Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 “the most accurate and least factual account of that campaign.” But Thompson’s mischief had real consequences when he speculated that Democratic candidate Edmund Muskie, whom he despised, was being treated with the obscure hallucinogenic drug Ibogaine by a shadowy Brazilian doctor. After Rolling Stone published his statement, thinking it too ridiculous for anyone to take seriously, it was picked up by the news wires as a legitimate story. “People really believed that Muskie was eating Ibogaine,” Thompson tells a TV interviewer. “I never said he was—said there was a rumor in Milwaukee that he was. Which was true, and I started the rumor in Milwaukee...

I’m a very accurate journalist.”
If you're interested in knowing more about Hunter S. Thompson and you happen to be one of those strange people who still reads books, there's a new biography, Outlaw Journalist: The Life & Times of Hunter S. Thompson by William McKeen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bullycide in KY

Though I've left my ol' Kentucy home for the bosom of Windy, check out my story on the cover of this week's LEO.

It's about bullycide, which is when kids committ suicide due to depression caused by bullying at school. My story orbits around one of those cases in Kentucky by following the family of 13-year-old Stephen Patton, an 8th grader who killed himself last November allegedly due to being tormented by fellow students at Allen Central Middle School out in far reaches of eastern Kentucky.

The piece is important to the Bluesgrass considering the past and present context. Almost a good two years before Columbine was burned into the skin of American memory, Kentucky had one of those first in a string of tragic high school shootings in Paducah with the Heath High School shooting on December 1, 1997. Many bullycide advocates point to the escalation of harassment by fellow students as a cause for those shootings. They say bullycide is that same anger, frustration and depression but turned inward.

Presently, the KY Attorney General, Jack Conway, has put a considerable amount of attention and resources into educating the public about Internet crimes against children, particularly cyber-bullying. There's also House Bill 91, which is better known as the 'anti-bullying bill'. Introduced by Rep. Mike Cherry and signed into law by KY Gov. Steve Beshear this spring, it is one of the few things accomplished in the General Assembly this year. Many are rightly skeptical of the bill's effectiveness considering that Stephen Patton went to a school with an explicit anti-bullying and anti-hazing policy. Read about HB91 briefly, here.

Below is an excerpt of 'Bullycide' from LEO:

Coined by journalist Neil Marr, the term bullycide is defined as a suicide caused by depression due to bullying. It is becoming a popular stream of logic among educators, parents and legal experts seeking a single answer to the escalation of violence, stress and suicide in America’s schoolyards. Instead of taking their anger and depression out on others, as was the case with Michael Carneal, who killed three of his fellow classmates in the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Paducah, experts say victims of bullycide channel their frustration inward...

Bullycide experts are tongue-tied on the matter of whether to criminalize bullies, which became a subject of much debate during this year’s session of the Kentucky General Assembly (see
sidebar, page 11). In the Badon case, the lawsuit against South Oldham High School names as defendants two students who are barely over the age of 17. Creating a slippery slope could entangle easily reconciled situations of teasing in a web of litigation and character smears that could sustain into adulthood and effect employment and further academic pursuits. No one seems sure where the so-called torture begins and simple bullying ends. Many teachers and parents say they expect a certain amount of teasing as a test of character, something normal that takes place between kids who are jockeying for social status.

Should teasers and bullies go to jail?

The Art of Interviewing w/ Steve Bogira

Today Steve Bogira, author of Courtroom 302, spoke with the AAJ fellows about the art of interviewing. Before today's lesson we had to read the prologue and first chapter of his book, which was a detailed account of the Cook County criminal courthouse in Chicago in the late 1990s.

I'm not into the prison beat, but Bogira's book is journalism at its best -- lucid, detailed and gripping. We think of injustice as these high-profiled cases of innocent people being sentenced to years of confinement, but Bogira points out without saying it directly that with a keep the line moving mentality, the American justice system miscarriages daily.

One of my favorite lines in the book comes from Sergeant London Thomas, who Bogira said was been promoted and was head of security at the R. Kelly trial, a guard who asks inquisitive prisoner, "Excuse me -- why am I about to beat the piss outta you?" If you've ever been to your local courthouse you know how rude and sade the scence can be. Bogira captures it perfectly. Definitely a must read.

Bogira said the book is being developed into a screenplay for HBO. I'd love to see it. Especially if it is similar to two other HBO book to film projects, such as David Simon's, 'The Corner' a few years ago and Evan Wright's, 'Generation Kill', which is coming in July.If HBO stays true to its established for then Bogira's nuanced prose will remain much more in tact than it would if it landed on network television.

Anyway, back to AAJ. Our instructor for the week, Mike Lenehan, former Executive Editor of the Chicago Reader, sent the class a few links on just how important it is for journalists to sharpen their interview skills. Here are a few links if you're interested in what we're learning. The first is an interview with investigative reporter John Sawatsky, one of the leading authorities on the art of interviewing, go here.

The others are helpful intructions on What to Do and What to Avoid.