Thursday, July 31, 2008

National Political Pundits Find No Racism in McCain's Overtly Racist Ad

Maybe I'm out in the woods on this one. I just heard a pretty young African-American commentator on CNN, Michelle Bernard, proclaim that there's no racism in McCain's new political ad.

The ad, in case you've been stranded at sea for the past 24 hours, flashes photos of very blond, beautiful and young airhead Paris Hilton, as well as an image of almost as blond and beautiful, equally young, and narcotically disturbed Britney Spears. These are followed by images of a smiling Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama greeting crowds of believers. The ad questions whether Obama is qualified to lead. John McCain's face appears at the end of the ad.

The imputation, in case you're brain dead from your ordeal at sea, is that Obama is as intellectually challenged as two women who are famous for being famous.

Obama has responded to this and other ads by suggesting he is under attack because he doesn't look like the other faces on our dollar bills.

Aside from the fact that it's silly to devote one's ad to images of a smiling opponent being worshipped by stadium crowds, this ad had a decidedly racial undertone. Let's pan past those images again: Two young dumb blond white girls, clearly needing protection, sometimes from themselves. A powerful black man surrounded by a large and potentially mob. All the ad needs is an over voice. I suggest the robot from the 1960s TV series, Lost in Space (an intergalactic version of the Swiss Family Robinson story), intoning,"Danger Will Robinson. Danger, danger."

Michelle Bernard's position suggests that there are no lingering fears of black men, no fears of unreasoning mobs, and no desire to circle the wagons to protect those beautiful women-children. Huh. I wonder why six times more black men are in prison than white guys, per 100,000, as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

If you have doubts about the power of subconscious imagery of this sort, check out today's story on National Public Radio. It's about psychological tests that help us identify our hidden, subconscious biases by the cognitive connections we make when shown photos. From there, you can sample some of these self-quizzes online.

To slide off-topic a wee bit, for a daily dose of intelligent visual deconstruction, check out No Caption Needed. This blog is written by John Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, two communication professors who prove the academy is not a bastion of hopeless eggheads who can't write a readable paragraph.

In summary, the McCain ad is racist. It uses subtle visual images to exploit deeply held racial prejudices. Political commentators who deny this reinforce the fantasy that voters are making a decision to vote for McCain for good reasons. Encouraging people to deny our biases while simultaneously making decisions on their basis is the essence of exploiting people's worst selves. Not only McCain, but our television commentators, should be ashamed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

John Burdett, Bangkok Haunts; Robert B. Parker , Now and Then; James Lee Burke, Tin Roof Blow Down; J. Lantingua, Lady from Buenos Aires

John Burdett’s Bangkok Haunts captures the seamy underbelly of Thailand – an underbelly apparently as big as Sidney Greenstreet playing the corrupt Signor Ferrari in Casablanca or the vaguely homosexual seducer and rapacious Kaspar Gutman, The Fat Man, in The Maltese Falcon.

I mention these classic tales of human depravity, because they weave complex stories of human vice and virtues, although the later are practiced equivocally. Burdett ploughs new ground with this well-crafted page-turner. It had appeared that the James Bond novels and subsequent thrillers have covered every possible means of cruel torture and unnatural death. John Burdett proves it’s not so.

This tightly crafted novel offers finely drawn character portraits, a taut and surprising plot, and insight into Thai culture and consciousness. Burdett, who now lives in Thailand, has two previous novels with Bangkok in the title.

In Robert B. Parker’s novel, Now and Then, the gang is gathered together – Spenser, Susan, Hawk and Chollo – and up to their usual pranks of setting the world right with bullets. That these shoot-outs never seem to bear any consequences such as murder charges and the like is one of the enduring peculiarities of the series. The type is large, the story is brief. Now and Then, it appears, the author phones one in.

James Lee Burke is a word stylist worth reading even when plots curl over themselves in labyrinthine twists that – upon reflection – make little sense. The Tin Roof Blow Down is better than some (In The Electric Mist with Confederate Dead comes to mind) for plot. It is a Burke’s eye view of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 hurricane from which the beloved city, New Orleans, has not yet recovered. Having spent a short time living there and most of my life wishing that I could, I was glued to my TV during those awful days following the storm. Burke presents a version of the events as deeply and darkly human as those of Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

Clete Purcel continues to self-destruct with dialectical carefree intensity, and Dave Robicheaux continues to tilt at windmills. Dave is on his fourth wife, by my count. Like Travis McGee in the John D. MacDonald color-coded mysteries, Robicheaux is one dangerous dude to fall in love with, if you’d like to live a long, happy life.

It’s probably not fair for me to comment on my brief tango with John Lantingua’s Lady from Buenos Aires. Willie Cuesta is a Miami detective. I picked up this one because the locale interested me. By chapter two, the pedestrian prose had me flipping to the end. My hat’s off to any author who gets a book published, but this one was not for me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bearded Lady Shops at Wal-Mart

I was on one of my endless quests for a product that doesn't exist (black-out curtains in white or ivory, 63-inch length, that will fit my unrealistically low budget) when I saw a bearded lady tooling through the aisles on a Wal-Mart motorized cart.

She had something resembling a gray goatee extending from either corner of her chin, about three inches long. I don’t have a photo to prove this. At the time, not having a camera seemed like a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, I wanted a photograph as soon as I saw her. On the other hand, what was I going to do? Walk up and ask her for one? Under the law, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public place; hence, the profusion of paparazzi at celebrity locations. Legally, I would not have had to ask for permission.

On my nonexistent third hand – insofar as I have been dealing in the nonexistent and legendary, a third hand is not an imaginative leap – an unauthorized photo poses many ethical quandaries. How would I take such a photo? Should I be brazen and snap it as she sat helplessly confined to her motorized cart? Or should I hide behind something and take the photo surreptitiously? Either way, I could not in good conscience publish a photo of a woman I do not know for the purpose of holding her up as a public oddity.

But why not bring a Shiva-like fourth hand into this discussion? If the woman did not want to be noticed, would she not have shaved the beard or used some other depilatory? Aren’t there hormone treatments for such things these days? Or is she a feminist a la Frieda Kahlo who was making a statement by allowing her facial hair to show? Perhaps she would have welcomed a photo and an opportunity to express herself on my blog.

Alas, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, the bearded lady who shops at Wal-Mart must remain a creature of fable. We know one thing sure: she knows where to find a bargain.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Richard Lester Was a Genius

Director Richard Lester was a genius.

Help! introduced a wry comedy of irony and understatement. The visual jokes used fast-cutting and weird juxtapositions that later influenced music videos. Video techniques used by Lester were proclaimed as new when they appeared in the visual feast of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. As signified by the word vice in the title, by the 1980s, the innocent insouciance of the Beatles had morphed into the dangerous world of drug cartels and cynicism that remain hallmarks of our world.

Help! simultaneously is a send-up of the Eastern gurus seeking their fortunes in the West and the spy film genre. Looking back, the Cold War seems an age of innocence compared to the complicated world of suicide bombers and flu pandemics that threaten us today.

Watching a rerun of Help! on TV today, I was impressed by the joyful enthusiasm conveyed by the young lads from Liverpool. No wonder they took the world by storm. John, I know, would later battle depression and drug use. Two are dead, and one is now a peer of the kingdom. Those still alive are, like me, old.

Where has that irrepressible way of poking holes in all that is stuffy, hierarchical, and repressive gone? The world has become a serious place. The college students I meet are – depending on their particular make-up – angry and cynical or focused and motivated. But silly and foolish? No. The Joker and The Fool are gone from our midst in these harsh times.

The Beatlemania that engulfed the world in the first wave of worldwide media reach probably can never be again. The markets are now highly segmented, narrow, and divisive.

As I listened to the lyrics of the film’s title song, I also was impressed with the wisdom of words that now have quite different meanings to me.

When I was young – so much younger then than now – I never needed anybody’s help in anyway. Most of us come into the world helpless and leave it needing help. As a result:

But now I’m not so self-assured /My independence seems to fade

I’ve opened up the Door /Help me if You can, I’m feeling down

I do not often listen to the music from my past. A good time was had by all – at least, much of the time. I and the new mass mediated cultural world was a-borne-ing. But that sweet bird of youth has flown, to borrow Tennessee Williams’ phrase that perfectly captures my bittersweet feelings about that time and those places.

Wise Fools walked among us, and I am glad I was there.

What Would Jackie Do? Presents Hints for Living with Courage, Discipline, Balance -- and Great Style

Long before J-Lo became a pop culture icon of the snappy abbreviated moniker, Jackie O was pursued by the paparazzi, celebrated by mass media, and obsessed over by fans. What Would Jackie Do? distills the fabulous femme’s life into a guidebook for living life with courage, discipline, and balance.

Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway have given me renewed respect for this former First Lady whose brilliant husband, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was famously assassinated with her by his side in an auto parade in Dallas, Texas. The authors state that Jackie Kennedy made sure that her young children – then six and three – slept in their familiar White House bedrooms that night, not at the homes of relatives. Kennedy was convinced the children needed the stability of familiar bedrooms in their lives. Later, she recreated these bedrooms for the children in her Fifth Avenue apartment. Unbelievably in these days when a million dollars buys a 500-square-foot studio apartment in Manhattan, that purchase cost her $200,000.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was a strict but loving mother, according to Branch and Callaway. It was refreshing to read about a wealthy society woman of JBKO’s stature who was so engaged with her children. Memorable anecdotes are Jackie sending John Jr. for counseling when he started sowing too many wild oats, JBKO seen on Manhattan streets with Caroline laughing and sharing secretively like gal pals, and Jackie indulging her grandchildren with a sledding trip to Central Park not long before her untimely death at age 63 from cancer.

JBKO practiced balance in her inner and outer lives. A lifelong practitioner of yoga, she investigated the Eastern and alternative healing therapies that were in vogue for much of her life. But, Branch and Callaway note, she never went overboard about anything that could endanger her life.

Her homes also illustrated her emphasis on balance. She loved beautiful things, but she created environments (with the help of many famous designers) in which her children and friends could feel at home. Priceless treasures were displayed so casually that a visitor might not notice at first glance that the art was by world-famous masters.

Yet, above all, Jackie is remembered for her fabulous sense of style. Her over-sized dark black sunglasses are iconic. They remain a wardrobe staple for which I will pay almost any price. Her little shifts were copied throughout the sixties and seventies; her pillbox hats were immortalized in a Bob Dylan song. She was always impeccably dressed.

She made culture a part of White House life when she hosted internationally famous musicians, dancers, and writers with the President during their all-too-brief White House years. Her restoration of that historic landmark has been nearly undone by subsequent administrations, report the authors. Jackie and an elite committee put time and research into to getting the details right.

What Would Jackie Do? is written in short information bytes that make this the perfect book for waiting room reading. The breezy style is seasoned with memorable short anecdotes. The authors, editors for national magazines, have done their research. They know what they are doing when it comes to capturing and sustaining reader attention. Tuck this one in your bag for those times when you unexpectedly get stuck with time on your hands. The seconds will speed past as quickly as those fatal moments in Dallas that changed the world.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

CC's Oysters Rock -- CLOSED, noted 5/11/2009

I returned to CC's Fish Camp for a second round of fried oysters a mere four days after my first incredible basket.

I was pretty sure that my second meal would not measure up. I have a way of idealizing my first visit to a restaurant. I build it up so much in my imagination that it would be close to impossible for the next meal to live up to my expectations.

I was pleasantly surprised by my second visit. The oysters were as perfectly fried in light batter as they had been the first time. When I asked for a tad more cole slaw, the waiter responded with a bowl so large that I could not finish it.

A drunk in a corner booth carried on loud cell phone conversations against the too-loud retro rock on the sound system. Other than that, I enjoyed my second fried oyster basket as much as the first. Bravo for consistency, when the consistency continues standards for excellence. I hope your trip to CC's Fish Camp is as good as mine.

Friday, July 04, 2008

CLOSED -- Superb Fried Oysters, Light and Crisp, at CC's Fish Camp

Driving past earlier this week on May 11, 2009, I found CC's closed. Too bad.

It’s easier to cook oysters wrong than it is to get it right. CC’s Original Fish House got it deliciously perfect yesterday. A basket of fried oysters featured huge shellfish encased in perfectly seasoned batter, simultaneously light and crispy. Inside, the oysters were fully cooked with no trace of rubberiness.

The order was accompanied by French fries and cole slaw. If I can fault CC’s for anything, it is for the stingy portion of slaw. Cabbage, after all, is not yet a high-priced delicacy. The ice tea was full-bodied and served up in a huge glass.

CC’s is a plain structure with wooden floor, tables, booths, and a bar. The nautical d├ęcor is a bit out of place on the commercial strip of West Oakland Park Boulevard. The area is dense with dilapidated strip malls housing small businesses and walk-in doctors. I was not sure what to expect – a fast food joint or exactly the kind of individually prepared meals that CC’s Fish Camp has.

Every tourist and many a Floridian probably has sampled mediocre and over-priced seafood in tourist restaurants along our waterways. CC’s Fish Camp is off the beaten trail but well worth the trip. My delicious and generous oyster basket was $8.99 for lunch, plus a couple of bucks for all the ice tea I could handle.

Bring the kids. If they don’t like fish, they can try the burgers, chicken sandwich, or ribs. There’s even a delicious-sounding walnut gorgonzola salad for the vegetarian in your herd. The menu includes a Louisiana specialty – po’ boy sandwiches. This meal lived up to the best fried oysters I’ve had in New Orleans and fried clams on the Massachusetts coast. To see the menu, go to

The danger of falling in love with a restaurant is that the return trip often doesn’t live up to my ideal. There’s any number of reasons why fried oysters, clams, or calamari (all on the menu) can go wrong. I was there on a Thursday and during an off-peak time in mid-afternoon. I had the chef to myself. I am still looking forward enthusiastically to my next trip to CC’s Original Fish Camp. The restaurant is located at 301 W. Oakland Park Boulevard, slightly west of U.S. 1. There is a good-sized parking lot. If coming from the west, you have to do a U turn to get in.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Recommended Blog: Casting Jewels for Readers

I have been preparing to launch a website (details when ready) and neglecting this blog. It does not get much traffic anyway.

Today, I scuttled on over to Velvet Sacks from Ronni Bennett's Times Goes By, the best blog about aging anywhere.

Velvet Sacks refers to the little pouches in which women often keep small items of precious jewelry. As it turns out, Velvet Sacks is often about two topics most precious to me -- dogs and Louisiana.

During a time of emotional confusion, I bought a Florida condo apartment that does not allow dogs. Dogs were my most valued companions for more than 30 years. Honestly, what was I thinking to make such a lame decision?

I was not able to take care of my beloved companions and had placed two in good homes, thanks to my connections with dog rescue and dog training people. How could I have believed that I would live a dogless future forevermore. Now the value of property has decreased so much, I appear to be stuck here much longer than I dreamed.

As for Louisiana, like so many artists and oddballs, I've been attracted to New Orleans since I was young. I believe I read Dinner at Antoine's when I was a teenager. I lived the summer of 2004 in the Lower Garden District. The flood of 2005 tore my heart out -- as does the prospect of a dogless old age.

Enough of my whining. For some jewels, stop by Velvet Sacks.