a bird and a bottle

Taking Spitzer to Task
May 30, 2007, 10:39 pm
Filed under: activism, civil rights, criminal justice, drug war, muzak, news, video

I’ve never fully understood why people get so angry when famous Hollywood stars throw their celebrity behind an important social issue. That’s probably because they’re usually championing progressive policies with which I agree (well, except for Patricia Heaton who makes my skin crawl). Why not cheer when people who are overpaid and often overhyped actually use their fame for positive ends?

Case in point: Rapper Jim Jones’s recently released single excoriating the drug war and putting pressure on NY Governor Elliot Spitzer to live up to his campaign promises and reform New York’s harsh Rockefeller drug laws. The song, “Lockdown,” which Jones wrote with the help of the Drug Policy Alliance for an upcoming documentary of the same name, highlights the racially imbalanced effects of the War on Drugs . And Jones isn’t coy. He’s released a music video:

And here’s what he has to say for Spitzer:

“This one goes out to the governor. Gov. Spitzer. Eliot Spitzer, you say you want to make change? Well, we waitin’ on it. Matter of fact, we’re dependin’ on it.”

The Rockefeller laws were first reformed in 2004 with the passage of NY’s Drug Law Reform Act, but those reforms, touted as groundbreaking, have meant little practically:

Prisoners sentenced under mandatory minimum Rockefeller drug laws now number more than 13,000, and an astonishing 91% of them are black or brown. The reforms enacted in 2004 have resulted in the release of only 300, leaving thousands of prisoners serving mid-level mandatory minimum sentences still in purgatory.

So Spitzer’s got to keep his promise and push for real change. If not, because of Jones’s song, a lot more people will be ready to take him to task.


Free Speech, Dialogues, & Performance

Sometimes I’m shocked by what people do in the name of religion. Yes, yes, the violence, of course, is the first thing that comes to mind. But really, what surprises and appalls me are the more mundane things. The daily acts of supposed piety that require the denigration of someone else. I’m not knocking all religion (please, trolls, do not accuse me of that). What I am knocking is religion that requires one person to hurt another — physically or emotionally — as act of religious observance.

Not sure what I mean? Here’s an example. KMZ just sent me the video embedded below. It’s from the actor/monologist/author Mike Daisey‘s Friday night performance of Invincible Summer, his monologue currently running at the American Repertory Theater here in NYC. On Friday, Daisey was performing one of his extemporaneous monologues to a sold-out crowd. Until, in the middle of a sentence, all of a sudden, eighty seven members of a Christian group got up en masse and walked out. In the middle of the show. One man stopped and poured water all over Daisey’s handwritten outline for the show, an original and irreplaceable document.

Daisey, understandably, was shaken and reeling. He wrote on his blog:

I’m still dealing with all the ramifications, but here’s what it felt like from my end: I am performing the show to a packed house, when suddenly the lights start coming up in the house as a flood of people start walking down the aisles–they looked like a flock of birds who’d been startled, the way they all moved so quickly, and at the same moment…it was shocking, to see them surging down the aisles. The show halted as they fled, and at this moment a member of their group strode up to the table, stood looking down on me and poured water all over the outline, drenching everything in a kind of anti-baptism.

I sat behind the table, looking up in his face with shock. My job onstage is to be as open as possible, to weave the show without a script as it comes, and this leaves me very emotionally available–and vulnerable, if an audience chooses to abuse that trust. I doubt I will ever forget the look in his face as he defaced the only original of the handwritten show outline–it was a look of hatred, and disgust, and utter and consuming pride.

It is a face I have seen in Riefenstahl’s work, and in my dreams, but never on another human face, never an arm’s length from me–never directed at me, hating me, hating my words and the story that I’ve chosen to tell. That face is not Christian, by any definition Christ would be proud to call his own–its naked righteousness and contempt have nothing to do with the godhead, and everything to do with pathetic human pride at its very worst.

And it wounded me in my heart, because I trusted these people. Scared parents and scared teachers running from a theater because words might hurt them, and so consumed by fear that they have to lash out at the work, literally break it apart, drown it.

[…]But they are not simply fools and idiots–I saw them. They are young and old, they are teachers and students, they are each and every one of us. We are the same family, even if it hurts. The hard truth is that you reap what you sow, and I will not sow hatred and discontent–I refuse. I will not forget what that man, older than I am today, did to my work. I will not forget the cowed silence of those who left. I will not forget their judgment and their arrogance–but I will not hate.

Daisey’s experience, and his reaction to it, included in the video below (which is 9 minutes, but well worth watching in full) is a reminder that religious extremism takes many forms, and is both big/political and small/personal.

A Good Day for some Jazz
April 21, 2007, 10:47 am
Filed under: frivolity, muzak, video

The wonders of YouTube never cease. Here’s Dizzy Gillespie (on the trumpet) and Charlie Parker (on sax). If you can get past the introduction, in which the host calls two of the best jazz musicians of all time “boys” (the video is from 1951), it’s a truly amazing duet.

Clap Your Hands for the Weekend
April 13, 2007, 8:23 pm
Filed under: frivolity, muzak, video

This isn’t an official CYHSY video, but it’s charming. And the song is a goodie.

Mellow Music Weekend
April 7, 2007, 10:22 pm
Filed under: frivolity, laziness, media, video

Here’s a little Jenny Lewis and the Watson twins (with intro by Sarah Silverman):

Two Updates: A funny take on the E.R.A. and Serious Criticism of the PLRA
March 30, 2007, 8:32 am
Filed under: civil rights, criminal justice, feminism/s & gender, law, news, politics, video


1.) Colbert on the E.R.A. (can’t embed b/c WordPress isn’t cool enough yet). Choice quote: “The E.R.A. is just going to lead to one thing. Unisex bathrooms. Which means men will be forced to pee sitting down. Well I demand the option to stand. My body, my choice.”

2.) The American Constitution Society releases a policy brief explaining in detail the reasons for amending or getting rid of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), for which I advocated the other day. Here’s a snippet of the brief, which you can download in full here:

But in addition to frivolous or legally insufficient lawsuits, there are, of course, serious cases brought by prisoners: cases involving life-threatening deliberate indifference by authorities to prisoner health and safety; sexual assaults; religious discrimination; retaliation against those who exercise their free speech rights; and so on. When the PLRA was passed, its supporters emphasized, over and over: “[We] do not want to prevent inmates from raising legitimate claims. This legislation will not prevent those claims from being raised. The legislation will, however, go far in preventing inmates from abusing the Federal judicial system.”

Yet “prevent[ing] inmates from raising legitimate claims” is precisely what the PLRA has done in many instances. If the PLRA were successfully “reduc[ing] the quantity and improv[ing] the quality of prisoner suits,” as its supporters intended, one would expect the dramatic decline in filings to be accompanied by a concomitant increase in plaintiffs’ success rates. The evidence is quite the contrary. The shrunken inmate docket is less successful than before the PLRA’s enactment; more cases are dismissed, and fewer settle. An important explanation is that constitutionally meritorious cases are now faced with new and often insurmountable obstacles.

OK, now I’ve got to actually do some work.

Weekend YouTubage: For my Little Bro (and strangely, my mom)
March 24, 2007, 5:16 pm
Filed under: frivolity, me, video

My younger brother informed me today that he is taking our mother to a Bjork concert for her birthday. Her 60th birthday.

Her usual music of choice? Easy jazz.

So in honor of my mother’s impending 60th birthday and my younger brother’s obsession as Bjork (he was Bjork, complete with wig, eyeliner, and swan for Halloween last year), here’s a classic (and classically quirky) Bjork video (by “Science of Sleep” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” director Michel Gondry)