Friday, April 27, 2012

The Question on the Street

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He heard her before he saw her:  "Jyeeem!  Jyeeem!"
His heart sank as he realized it was the smoker
who was approaching him.  "Jyeem, can you spare
the big bucks for me today.  Could you...?"

"I don't have the big bucks today.  I can give you
a dollar."

She pulled the crumpled bill from his hand before he
extended it towards her.  "You look thin, Jyeeem.
Why you thin, Jyeeem? "

"Well, you know this cancer thing..."

But she wasn't listening.

"Are you sick, Jyeeem?"

"I... uh..."

Suddenly she was shouting, Are you sick, JYEEM?"
The sidewalk became an uncomfortable theater
without a proscenium to keep the audience safely
separated from the action.

The smokers voice kept rising, "ARE YOU SICK, JYEEM?

It came out of him without warning.   "YES!" he shouted
back while not looking at her.

She stopped and turned from him.  He kept going.  He did
not look back at her shuffling away.  He did not look up at
the on-lookers.  No one said a thing as he passed through
them.  He did not know if anyone was still looking at him.

Why had he said such a thing?  The fact he took refuge in
weakness made him feel weak.

But then he smiled:  at least he wasn't sick.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012


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I'm late posting the news. Lybrary.Com has released
my book, Artifice, Ruse & Erdnase:  The Search for
One Who May Not Want to Be Found.  The title
comes from the secret title of Erdnase's own master-
piece, The Expert At The Card Table.

He put the better known title on the cover but
used his secret title Artifice, Ruse and Subterfuge
at the Card Table on the title page.  S. W. Erdnase
was a pseudonym, and unlike most pseudonym's
it protected an anonymous author.  (His reasons for
remaining anonymous are explored in my book.)

Starting after the Second World War - the book
was published more than forty years earlier in
1902 - various Erdnase Hunters, mainly magicians
have tried to break the pseudonym and reveal the
day to day identity of the author.

My Artifice is the story of these Erdnase Hunters
and the fight against the death of eyewitnesses,
the decay of memory and a dearth of leads to follow.

Order Here
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why the GOP Kept Buddy Roemer Out of the Primary Race

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Today Thomas Friedman in the New York Times called for
Michael Bloomberg to mount an independent Presidential
challenge to "give our two party system the shock it needs":

               ... neither party... is talking... seriously about
               the taxes that will have to be raised or the
               entitlement spending that will have to be cut
               to put us on sustainable footing, let alone
               offering an inspired vision of American
               renewal that might motivate such sacrifice.

The leading third party candidate for president, though, isn't
Michael Bloomberg, it's Buddy Roemer, who at the moment
holds the lead in the Americans Elects on-line primary.

Buddy Roemer didn't set out to be a third party candidate.  He tried to
run for the Republican nomination, but a funny thing happened.  The
party blocked him from taking part in the debates, virtually barring
him from running.

At first glance, it's difficult to see why the GOP would stop his
candidacy.  He was as qualified as anyone in the race, having both
executive experience as Governor of Louisiana and national
experience as a multi-term member of the United States House
of Representatives.  Many of the candidates allowed in barely showed
up in the polls at the time the decision was taken to keep him out of
the Iowa debates, so it couldn't have been his relatively low profile.
He is a fiscal conservative who believes in a strong defense, main
stream Republican positions.  How could the Republicans let Herman
Cain, a pizza executive in, but keep Louisiana's former chief executive out?

I think the answer lies in Roemer's refusal to accept contributions
of larger than a $100 to his campaign.  Many candidates talk about
campaign finance reform or keeping big business out of politics
but continue to deal with lobbyists and take money in any way they can.

Buddy Roemer not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.

His presence on the primary stage would have been a
living rebuke to every other candidate, except perhaps Ron
Paul, and most especially to Mitt Romney who financed his
campaign almost exclusively with contributions from the wealthy;
but it's not just Romney, he would have embarrassed all the
candidates and by extension his party by comparison.  Of
course the Democrats can't really claim to be any better,
especially since President Obama decided to renege on
his vow not to allow a Super-Pac to be set up for him; but
still the Republicans, with their many corporate donors, must
have felt vulnerable on the issue and decided Buddy Roemer's
example was just too dangerous to allow him into the primaries.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Saturday Night Live & Political Satire

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Here is a very bad idea for a SNL opening skit:
bring all the comics who had played a Republican
President Candidate during the primary season and
showcase all their impersonations in a single bit.
The show tried just such a skit last night, and the
result was very revealing.

The sketch itself wasn't terrible in a television and
primary season which has featured a lot of terrible
political satire on SNL, but seeing all the faux
candidates together made it abundantly clear that
not a single one of the cast members had taken a
candidate and made the part his or her own.  Not
one had done something special with the opportunity,
which is especially regrettable given the heights to
which Tina Fey and Darrell Hammond had taken
their political characters in recent years.

Still the main responsibility for the dearth of political
satire on Saturday Night Live can not be laid at the
performers' feet.  Recent Weekend Updates make it
abundantly clear that the writers on the show don't
know much about politics, or at least don't have
anything interesting to say about it.

Very little on Weekend Update is political.  Even
when the topic is nominally political, usually the
humor is not.  

It's not difficult to imagine why SNL might have
trouble attracting a political writer or two:  The
Daily Show and The Colbert Report have become
where the action is for political satire.  If you're
interested in politics and you're a comic writer, those
are the shows you'd want to write for.

So what should Saturday Night Live do?  I think
they have two choices.  One is to drop Weekend
Update.   The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
have raised the standards so high, that in comparison
SNL's  current efforts are an embarrassment.  The
other is to return to the Dennis Miller model.

Lure a hip young political satirist to Saturday Night
by giving him the news.  Sure he still has to make
room for the zanies who round off the bit, but the
anchor should be guaranteed 5 or 6 solid minutes
which are all his own.  He writes, he produces,
he delivers.  It's his own show within a show,
and that's his only responsibility during the week.

This seems the only way to save Weekend
Update.  Yes, Seth Meyers has been honest to
point out that SNL is not a political show,
but without any political content, there is really
no good rationale for Weekend Update, so
either find a political comic to save it or throw
another digital short into the mix.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Weiners Circle - American Test Tube

The Weiners Circle is both a hot dog stand which
late at night-early in the morning is a popular haunt
of white Chicago & suburbanite singles and also
a new reality-game show on cable that is shot on
the actual premises of the Lincoln Park establishment.

The advent of the show has led Chicagoan Tai
Rosenberg to post on the Chicago Reader blog site,
The Bleader an essay on his own feelings towards
the exchange of late night abuse between patrons
and workers - much of it of a racist tinge - which has
become a phenomenon in itself.

The phenomenon is more fully detailed in Rosenberg's 
essay, which also features a short piece from the archives
of the This American Life television show.  One interesting
detail which emerges from Ira Glass's show is that Chicago
is so segregated that some sociologists have taken to using
the term hyper-segregation to describe the city.

After reading the essay, I went to the Yelp website and read
the patron reviews of the Weiners Circle.  Although most of
the reviews at least mentioned the food, the reviewers by
and large focused on the phenomenon which has supposedly
doubled the late night business at the Circle.

And also by and large the reviewers viewed the phenomenon
as benign, many encouraging the reader to go to Weiners and
join in the circle of abuse.  Still the Ira Glass piece made it
clear that feelings do get hurt.   I was particularly moved by a
worker who is to be featured on the cable show - and so whom
I'll not name - who admitted, "Of course it hurts when they call
me a monkey,"  though she quickly pointed out that she couldn't
afford to give up the job, so it didn't really matter how she felt
about the phenomenon.

Of course the well off whites who patronize the Weiners
Circle can afford to go out on the weekend while the
blacks behind the counter have to work.  To me this seems
the crucial difference:

After all, the whites are free to go out, get drunk and decide on
any particular weekend night whether they'd like to patronize
this particular hot dog stand and take part in the phenomenon
or whether they'd rather just pass it by, go home and pop a
frozen pizza in the oven.

The blacks are not.  They have to be there working in a hot
kitchen all night supporting themselves exchanging racial
taunts with well-heeled customers - weekend after weekend.

For the mostly white customers, the phenomenon is
entertainment; for the black workers, it's a sentence.

5:05 am