Category Archives: Journalism

Book of the Month: The Blind Side by Michael Lewis.

This month we’ll be reading The Blind Side by Michael Lewis.

In an excerpt called “The Ballad of Big Mike,” Lewis tells the story of Michael Oher, an impoverished kid from Memphis who through a strange confluence of events ends up in the legal custody of a wealthy white family. At the time of his adoption at 16, Oher had an IQ of 80.  With his adoptive parents’ resources and support from the Christian high school he attended, his I.Q. rose by 20 to 30 points. He went from foraging through the garbage for food to traveling on his father’s private jet. It’s also worth mentioning here Oher is also a behemoth —6’5, nearly 300 lbs. and boasting a basketball player’s physical grace — so by the time he graduated high school, he was on the wish list of every top college football recruiter in the country.

Now, the ballad comes to the big screen. The movie based on the book comes out November 20th, and the trailer seems to be focused on the relationship between Oher (Quinton Aaron) and his adoptive mother Leigh Ann Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), as well as the kid’s massive size. (Frankly, the trailer is worrisome and strikes me as an “Inner City Teacher Movie.”)

What the trailer and the NYT article barely mention is Lewis’ analysis of the “evolution of the game” — specifically the left tackle, whose job it is to protect right-handed quarterbacks’ blind side from rushing defenders (hence the title). As the N.F.L. has opened up for passing offenses, left tackles have grown in importance, and are now the highest paid players after quarterbacks.  Oher, who was drafted in the first round out of Ole Miss, is an almost prototypical lineman: huge, strong and surprisingly agile.

The movie and book trailers are after the jump.

Happy Reading.

More…

Why I Hate the New York Times Magazine.

In graduate school, one alarmingly bad, blindingly obvious article about gay marriage convinced me that the New York Times Magazine, the one you get for free on Sundays, is actually bad for journalism. That the world’s pre-eminent journalistic institution can churn out, at times, such a poorly written and edited magazine has always troubled me, not least because I feel its tremendous reach obligates it to delve into the issues the country faces in a meaningful way. I may be committing professional suicide here, but the conviction that we should burn this magazine as soon as it touches our doorsteps was only made stronger by the coming piece on the movie Precious.

The movie is already an Oscar favorite; it cleaned up at the festivals and its challenging subject matter — an overweight teenager abused by  her father and mother before a caring teacher and social worker help her find the beauty, the beauty that’s inside — is ready-made for the kind of congratulatory, back-patting spirit with which liberal Hollywood elites like to give awards. But by all accounts, the movie, which is based on the book Push by Sapphire, is actually a really good one,* especially because of (not in spite of!) the acting by Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey.

So it’s natural to want to know a lot about how the man who made it, Lee Daniels, did it, what inspired him, and how he got the woman who made this to become a good actor. Too bad, because the piece is written by Lynn Hirschberg for the New York Times Magazine, and what you get to read about is how one time Daniels caught Carey putting on some blush when he needed her to stay ugly. You should know something’s up when Hirschberg tries to draw you in with this lead:

At the Cannes International Film Festival in May, in the loud, chaotic bar at the Martinez Hotel, Lee Daniels seemed, as he often does, both ecstatic and nervous. He jumped, he slumped, his mood changing from giddy to anxious. He was the only black man in the crowded bar, a fact that he mentioned and then brushed away. He was dressed unremarkably in a loose, untucked shirt and slouchy khaki pants, but his hair, an electric corona of six-inch fusilli-like spirals, demanded notice. Although Daniels will be 50 this year, he has the bouncy, mercurial energy of a child. The previous night, at the gala screening of his movie “Precious,” which he directed and helped produce, he greeted the audience by saying, “I’m a little homo, I’m a little Euro and I’m a little ghetto.” The crowd cheered.

Wow, really? A movie director at Cannes is nervous and a little bit eccentric? What a unique fucking insight. I hope someday I become famous so a writer can pick this scene, in which I’m doing the exact same thing as everyone else is at that chaotic bar is doing, and describe my unremarkable clothing in the paragraph that’s supposed to make everyone want to read the story about my professional breakthrough.

It’s especially disappointing because later on, you learn some interesting stuff about Daniels, the actors involved and why they decided to become part of the movie. Many of those who join in or back it, like Oprah and Tyler Perry, admit to being abused. Daniels’s police officer father, who died when Daniels was 15, beat him, and Daniels aunt thinks it’s because the father knew Daniels was gay. See? That’s interesting. What’s not interesting is that lede.

Neither is this:

A MONTH AFTER Cannes, Daniels was back in Manhattan in his 11th-floor loftlike apartment near Madison Square Garden. “This is where I raised money for ‘Precious,’ ” he said. Daniels, dressed in black, lay sprawled on a plum-colored sectional sofa; on a low, white table in front of him were piles of scripts and stacks of photographs from “Precious.” A Roller Disco pinball machine stood next to a baby grand piano, and a large TV screen dominated one side of the room. Although he had a separate office in the same building, Daniels’s apartment seemed more like a lavish hotel suite than a home.

I DON’T CARE ABOUT HIS PURPLE COUCH! But if you make it through that, you get this great quote about the main character, Precious, “But at the end, it’s just this girl, and she’s trying to live. I know this chick. You know her. But we just choose not to know her.” So why isn’t that quote higher up in the story?

Continue reading

Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: Nuts about ACORN

Today in my office, a pimp and his prostitute came looking for advice on where to score some blow and advice on how to fill out their W-2s. When I told them what they could do, they accused me of encouraging them to engage in public masturbation. I hope Beck and Co. don’t get hold of the video:

pimp

It’s hard out here for a pimp. No, really. James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles (not pictured above) risked their lives, limbs and a camcorder to infiltrate the den of “thug criminality” that is the largest organization of poor and working families in America.

This is a time for us to appreciate their deep commitment to maligning ACORN, which clearly is an issue of utmost importance in these most troubled and divisive of times. I am sure their hearts and motives are pure.

Now if we can, let us move forward and consider some of the news of the weekend:

1. As always, if you want to learn something new or interesting or possibly infuriating about health care reform, reading Ezra Klein is essential. (Blackink)

2. Are pregnancy, bunions, acne, or receiving therapy or counseling pre-existing conditions that might allow health insurers a reason to deny people coverage? Of course. Best health care system in the world, eh? (Blackink)

3. Officially, according to a U.S. Census report, the Bush years were full of fail. h/t John Cole. (Blackink)

4. Go with your first instincts, Roxanne Wilson. (Quadmoniker)

5. Massachusetts might appoint an interim replacement for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the late Ted Kennedy by the end of the week. (Blackink)

6. In an e-mail sent to friends and supporters last week, Van Jones made his first public comments since resigning from the White House. Said Jones: “Of course, some supporters actually think I will be more effective on the ‘outside.’ Maybe so. But those ideas always remind me of that old canard about Winston Churchill. After he lost a hard-fought election, a friend told him: ‘Winston, this really is just a blessing in disguise.’ Churchill quipped: ‘Damned good disguise.’ I can certainly relate to that sentiment right now. :)” (Blackink)

7. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is cutting federally funded child care in the poorest wards of the District. Making it more difficult for single mothers to bring in money (or inviting child neglect cases) seems like a counter intuitive way of addressing city budget issues, at best. (Shani-o)

8. Something we probably won’t see in any campaign brochures from Texas Gov. Rick Perry next year: Texas remains first in the nation in rates of uninsured residents and uninsured children. Upholding family values and rebuffing creeping socialism … I love my home state. (Blackink)

9. Also related: Perry is not a very smart or honest man. (Blackink)

10. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) backed off prior claims that President Obama is a socialist because, uh … he’s not one. (Blackink)

11. Among those at the Values Voter Summit this weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was the clear choice for 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The 600 voters said abortion was the most important issue in determining their choice. What else is there to say about that? (Blackink)

12. Also at the Values Voter Summit, the chief of staff for Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma made the case that: 1. we should trust the sexual instincts of prepubescent boys; 2. bigotry against homosexuals is fine by him; and 3. “all pornography is homosexual pornography.” Video here. Sigh … Michael Schwartz and his ilk are almost completely beyond ridicule. (Blackink)

13. So rather than resort to ridicule, Amanda Marcotte moves the conversation forward to talk about some of the very real problems with porn. Which don’t include making boys turn gay. (Blackink).

14. Don’t you love links about porn? Yes. Well, here’s another: “The awkward truth, according to one study, is that 90 percent of 8-to-16-year-olds have viewed pornography online. Considering the standard climax to even the most vanilla hard-core scene today, that means there is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with a money shot to the face.” Whoa. (Blackink)

15. Feminist Finance speculates on where she’d be if she hadn’t rejected all the “dudely money advice” she’s received over the years. (Shani-o)

16. BitchPh.D puts out a call for volunteers for the 40 days for CHOICE campaign. (Blackink)

17. For John and Elizabeth Edwards’ sake, I hope his former aide is lying about this: “Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.” Please let that be a lie. (Blackink)

18. Let us mourn the death of American civility with Jude at First Draft. (Blackink)

19. Bruce Bartlett remembers Irving Kristol, father of neoconservatism. (Jamelle)

20. According to Marcus Buckingham at the Huff Post, women have grown increasingly unhappy as they made professional and social progress over the past 40 years. There’s a lot to digest in the provocative piece, and I get the feeling something is missing from this analysis. I need someone smarter than me to fill in the gaps. (Blackink)

21. After six years, Leslie Bennetts says The New York Times is finally attempting to set the record straight about the “Opt-Out Revolution” – well-off women who quit their careers to become full-time mothers. (Blackink)

22. Crooked Timber highlights a recent op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education that points out the problem of poor, black and Hispanic students choosing to go to less-demanding college institutions and an overreliance on standardized tests. (Blackink)

23. Colorism isn’t just the purview of black folk — it exists in the South Asian community as well. Sepia Mutiny notes a campaign that’s attempting to address the fear of darker skin. (Shani-o)

24. After charges were dropped last week against five men accused of raping a Hofstra University freshman, Amanda Hess parses some of the many problems of living in a rape culture. That includes false rape accusations. (Blackink)

25. In case there was ever any doubt, Andrew Sullivan has major pull. (Blackink)

26. While I was watching the Giants thump the Cowboys and the season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” apparently Neil Patrick Harris and the Emmy Awards were putting on quite the show. (Blackink)

27. I’m finding myself agreeing with Alyssa again: you should definitely get down to your nearest newstand or bookstore, pick up a copy of the latest New Yorker and read Ta-Nehisi’s piece about MF Doom and hip-hop. And, like her, I might quibble a bit with a few parts of the feature. Then again, we’re both from the South. (Blackink)

28. Harry Allen asks if Kanye is doomed to become “the next O.J.”? At the least, Kanye’s “victimization” of Taylor Swift has drawn out some of the bigots among us. (Blackink)

29. Nearly four-fifths of NFL players are bankrupt or struggling financially within two years of retirement. The Business Insider looks at some of the reasons why. (Blackink)

30. And because I’m from Houston and hate the Dallas Cowboys, I really enjoyed this:

Feel free to drop some links that would be of interest or chat among yourselves. Let’s hope we’re all in for a great week.

Deuces.

What ‘Good Hair’ Hath Wrought.

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Slb’s analysis of the natural hair discussion being a “constantly warmed over narrative” might actually be on point. Chris Rock does a movie on black women’s hair, and suddenly we have to read about the politics of it in the New York Times:

Although legions of black women in America straighten their hair (including Michelle Obama), hair salons specializing in natural styles have proliferated, and more black women are working with their virgin hair. Many wear their twists, locks or teenie-weenie Afros (known as TWAs) with an attitude — proud to have not given in to the pressure to straighten hair. In “Good Hair,” Nia Long, the actress, describes the conventional wisdom that straightened hair is more desirable: “There’s always a sort of pressure within the black community, like ‘Oh, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears an Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle.’ ”

For some, the battle lines are drawn.

But in recent interviews, a number of people of color expressed a weariness with the debate. They asked, essentially: Why can’t hair just be hair? Must an Afro peg a woman as the political heir to Angela Davis? Is a fashionista who replicates the first lady’s clean-cut bob really being untrue to herself?

While I am looking forward to the film, I find that stories like this (and I’ve seen more than a dozen in the last few years) leave me cold. They break no new ground. What I learned from this article is that some black women believe that they have to straighten their hair to be accepted in society.* Some wear their hair natural as a statement. Some think that hair is just hair. Some change their hair monthly.

All of this means just one thing: black women have differing opinions on the same subject. Hmm, I guess that is newsworthy.

The ending, which quotes Shayna Y. Rudd (pictured above), my classmate from HU and truly one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met, is a bit better. Shay, who was a contestant for Miss America, concludes that we should set our own standards. And she’s right. But author Catherine Saint Louis brought us to that conclusion in the most boring way possible.

Oh, and another thing. Waaaaay too many comments on that story were some variation of “well, I’m a white woman with really kinky curly hair and I’ve always hated it. I don’t mean to diminish how black women feel, but isn’t the problem that ALL women dislike their natural appearance?” No. No, that’s not the problem at all. The hatred of nappy hair doesn’t exist in a vacuum. (It’s a little over the top, but watch some of 400 Years Without a Comb and get back to me on that.)

*The article makes no mention of (often low-level) jobs that have regulations against locs or braids — two very popular options for black women who don’t straighten their hair.

Magazine Stand Blues.

sam-worthington-esquire-september-2009

Alyssa praises and laments that much-discussed Esquire piece on Walter Hern, the last American doctor specializing in late-term abortions:

True, magazines like Marie Claire, theoretically the smart-girl’s alternative, and magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour, do publish pieces about abortion and reproductive rights more generally. But pieces like this, that truly encapsulate the debates, and do it in extraordinary language and with intense vividness, seem to end up in Esquire or GQ. I’m not sure why. I loved the piece, and I would have loved to read it in a magazine aimed at my demographic. But its appearance in Esquire just made me feel, yet again, how entirely women’s magazines seem to have given up on their readers, while at least some men’s magazines, for some reason, still seem to hope that their subscribers value something thoughtful, articulate, and finely crafted. When did we become the gender exclusively devoted to junk?

I empathize with Alyssa here, as I’ve made the same complaints about reading excellent, thorough profiles of black luminaries in mainstream magazines and coming across puff pieces on “celebrities” like Boris Kodjoe in black magazines. To some extent, this has to do with pedigree.  Esquire may have moved in the direction of other men’s magazines, but its alumni include some of the heavyweights of American letters. The New Yorker is, well, the New Yorker, and every writer  in America wants to be on its staff. We’re talking about extremely talented writers working with a lot of resources.

But as Jenna writes, another big part of this is just editors with limited expectations for their audiences shoehorning things into a familiar, unchallenging shape.
Just a few weeks ago I happened to get into conversation with a junior editor at Vogue — which, for all its faults, is still one of the only American women’s magazines to actually include any long-form feature writing that goes much beyond Area Woman Brought Closer To Husband By Bad Disease. This editor told me that she was itching to cover the financial crisis. (Vogue has apparently noticed that there has been a financial crisis.) The only problem, said this editor, was that her magazine’s coverage would have to take the form of a profile, and because of Vogue‘s female audience, the profile would have to be of a woman. What’s more, any appropriate profile candidate would need to be attractive. “I pitched Sheila Bair to the photo department,” said this editor, “and they said, ‘Are you kidding? We can’t shoot her.'”
That next week, the New Yorker published an excellent profile of Bair, the chairman of the FDIC, a profile that explored her Republican background and how her pro-choice leanings probably scuttled her own political ambitions within her party, and explained how Bair had tried to address the subprime mortgage crisis before it actually came to threaten the rest of the economy. Vogue’s latest issue, in case you’re curious, has a story about Vanessa Traina (rich, likes clothes) and devotes two pages to a mother-daughter duo from Austin who sometimes like to share dresses and shoes. I did not notice any stories about the financial crisis.


Here’s what bugs me: There are about 300 or so blogs in my Google Reader — blogs on politics and race and gender and pop culture and economics and sports and social science — and I’ve never come across a link to an article/feature in Ebony or Essence (unless you count the ladies at WAOD excoriating them) or Glamour or Cosmopolitan (unless you count Jezebel going after them for airbrushing some photo of a celebrity). How is it possible that this age of RSS feeds and Twitter and Facebook that nothing published in such widely-read magazines seems to bubble up into the larger digital consciousness? I suspect some of this has to do with privilege — the demographics of the writers and their readers certainly matters — but I don’t think that’s the whole story.

Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: Acting Stupidly

Because of technical difficulties and an unusually busy work day, this almost became Your Tuesday Random-Ass Roundup. Sorry I’m late again.

DougJ at Balloon Juice: “We’re a country where a uniform and a badge entitles you to arrest people for speaking loudly on their porches.”

DougJ at Balloon Juice: “We’re a country where a uniform and a badge entitles you to arrest people for speaking loudly on their porches.”

Your PostBourgie-approved weekend reading material:

First things first, Stacia, one of our co-bloggers, is writing a novel and posting a chapter a day at her personal blog. What is this space for, if not for a show of pride in our blog fam?

Neither Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, or Jeff Sessions of Alabama will join their Republican colleague Lindsey Graham in voting for Sonia Sotomayor’s SCOTUS confirmation. Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the other two Republicans on the judiciary committee, haven’t said what they plan to do yet. (GD)

Also, Sessions outlined his opposition to the Sotomayor nomination in a USA Today column. “I don’t believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism. She has evoked its mantra too often. As someone who cares deeply about our great heritage of law, I must withhold my consent.” Of course. It’s always about heritage with these guys. (Bi)

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates is also the man behind The Root, which saw an uptick in racist commenters in the aftermath of his run-in with Cambridge police two weeks ago. Also, some must-reads on the Gates mess: Rich Ford’s typically smart macro take, as well as TNR’s John McWhorter and the NYT’s Charles Blow wrestling with being black men on the receiving end of touchy encounters with the police. (GD)

Ezra Klein on why President Obama should review the playbook from Clinton’s health-care reform efforts in the early ’90s. “Clinton got the politics of reform wrong, but in important ways, he got the policy right. He just got it right too soon.” I also had no idea that before the ’90s, most people had something other than managed care. (Bi)

Nate Silver offers thoughtful analysis about the “healthcare timeout” to keep everyone from taking a dive off the cliff. In short, don’t read too much into breathless media reports about momentum or a lack thereof: “I don’t think the media has a liberal bias or a conservative bias so much as it has a bias toward overreacting to short-term trends and a tendency toward groupthink. The fact is that there have been some pretty decent signals on health care.” (Bi)

After writing a feature story about MTV’s “16 and Pregnant,” Amy Benfer pondered the difficulties involved in telling the stories of the many, many pregnant teenagers who choose to have abortions. (GD)

Jamison Foser at Media Matters raises an interesting question: why is it a given that abortions should not be covered under any health insurance reform? “The idea that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for insurance that covers medical services they don’t support is fundamentally incompatible with the very concept of insurance. If every interest group wields veto power over the medical care insurance can cover, insurance simply can’t work.” Yes. Though I might quibble a bit with Foser’s implication that Chris Matthews is a reporter of any sort. He’s not. He’s a commentator. (Bi)

Russ Feingold and John Conyers have introduced a bill that would, among other things, restore felons’ right to vote in federal elections. (GD)

On Friday, the federal minimum wage went up 70 cents to $7.25 an hour. It still isn’t nearly enough to climb over the poverty line. (Bi)

The White House and lawmakers on the Hill from both parties are moving toward ending the disparity in sentencing for crimes involving crack and powdered cocaine, which disproportionately punish black people. (Does anyone, anywhere, still support those guidelines?) (GD)

Poor people in the U.S. are living live in a virtual “law-free zone,” according to a new report from the Center for Law and Social Policy. The study finds that the legal needs of the U.S. poor are unmet more than 80 percent of the time. Ian Millhiser at The Wonk Room: “As the report explains, the United States invests far less in legal services for the poor than other Western industrialized nations. At the low end, Germany and Finland spent three times as much of their gross domestic product as we do on civil legal services for the poor. At the high end, England outspends the United States twelve times.” (Bi)

More mundane Republican racism. Stay classy, guys. (GD)

Few places in the world are as dangerous for women as South Africa, where 1 in 4 men say they have committed rape. (Bi)

Can the legalization and taxation of marijuana save California from its unparalleled budget woes? (Bi)

It’s easy to forget how far the Internet has come in a relatively short amount of time. A photo gallery from The Daily Beast takes us back through those dark, unappealing pioneer days on the Web. (Bi)

Before she was a famous chef, Julia Childs was a spy. (GD)

In case you missed it last month, Toure visited Martha’s Vineyard to learn about vacation, the Obamas and the peculiar racial dynamics of Oak Bluffs – “one of the most demographically unusual towns in America.” (Bi)

Angela at ProperTalks takes issue with that commercial for KGBKGB commercial with the black women in a hair salon discussing the origins of their hair weaves. “White people giving two black women who’ve presumably gotten weaves before information about the process is a bit condescending. What if the answer-givers had been black as well? I think that would have made the commercial easier to stomach. …Why’d homegirl have to do the neckroll and the finger wave at the end?? And all of a sudden her English is broken, with the “bet not be putting no yak up in my weave” retort. Her eyes bulged out a little too.” (GD)

For a YA novel called Liar about a short-haired black girl, Bloomsbury chose a cover with a white woman’s face because “black covers don’t sell.” (GD)

President Obama might not have been looking at any ass overseas. But that doesn’t mean Joe Biden wasn’t. (Bi)

More and more atheists are going through a sort of mock ceremony known as “de-baptism” in an effort to renounce their childhood faith. (Bi)

What if robots took over the world? (GD)

A cool – but sad – Google map showing the cluster of foreclosures around the country. (Bi)

The college freshman that lives inside of me just rolled off my futon in excitement: Method Man, Ghostface and Raekwon are planning a joint album. Now if only they invite along Inspectah Deck and the GZA. (Bi)

“…a casualty of abnormal normality.” Vernon Forrest, a former welterweight champion who did a lot of charity work around Atlanta, was gunned down during an attempted robbery. He was 38. His hometown newspaper also offers a fitting, final tribute. Also, SI has more about Forrest here and here.

In the future, we’ll all be using HGH and hitting 40 homers a season. Or maybe we should. Don’t worry about that bacne. (Bi)

Wilt Chamberlain, George Clooney and Frank Sinatra all wear Tim Tebow pajamas. (Bi)

Back when Mark Madsen was a benchwarming Laker, Shaq used his clout to get him a deal on a car and bought him a grip of clothes to welcome him to the team. “After that he drove us up to Beverly Hills and we went to a Big and Tall clothing store. I found a pair of jeans that fit and Shaq said to the store worker, ‘He’ll take eight of each color!’ I said, ‘All I need is one of each color.’ When Shaq kept piling on Italian sweaters, I told him I didn’t need all the stuff, but he told me it was a welcome gift and to relax while he paid the $2,500 bill.” (GD)

And finally, the Huffington Post asks: Is this the stupidest person in the world? Judge for yourself.

Also, I meant to ask this question a couple weeks ago: Did anyone here ever go see “Bruno”?

Deuces.

RIP, Mr. Cronkite.

Walter Cronkite died today at the age of 92. According to CBS News, he was at the tail end of the evening broadcast when the station received word that King had been assassinated.