Monthly Archives: May 2013

What I Liked This Week: More Student Debt Shenanigans, Death By Austerity, Now Hiring: Young Radicals

Good evening, Furious Friends. Apologies for the lateness of this week’s round-up. I have been busy relaxing and thinking. And over-thinking, a little bit, if we’re being honest.

And, as many of you know, if we’re anything here, it’s honest.

Onto it.

I liked this dissection of the coming student debt crisis (Student Debt and the Crushing of the American Dream), from Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, appearing in The New York Times. I don’t actually like this. I also don’t like the fact that, AS USUAL, the Republican-led House of Representatives (hah) is working tirelessly to make this situation worse, rather than better, and is prepared AS USUAL, to do nothing about it as well — which will also have the effect of making the situation worse. As a reminder, this approach by the House is different from that of Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose nobler, more sensible efforts we discussed two weeks ago.

I also liked this Times article about “How Austerity Kills,” which details, among other things, the “excess deaths from suicide” that have occurred since the recession began in the United States. Hit the link for other fun facts from co-authors David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, who also mention at one point that: “As scholars of public health and political economy, we have watched aghast as politicians endlessly debate debts and deficits with little regard for the human costs of their decisions.” I don’t actually like this. This makes me want to cry and scream.

I liked this “Letter to ‘The Nation’ From A Young Radical” by Bhaskar Sunkara. Because Sunkara intelligently, coherently, passionately — and realistically — explains why contemporary social liberalism falls short in fulfilling its responsibility to advocate and secure progressive policies for The People, in our current society, here and now. It’s a much more eloquent, studied, more directly targeted variation on my “balls on the table” bit from the end of last week’s post. While intractable rich old white men are to blame for a majority of the problems we’re facing today — these guys may never change their mind. Someone else is going to have to get real, organize, and force change to happen.

(That would be us).

That’s it for today. The Furious Romantic has more work to do. Sophia The Great beckons.

I Am The Anger (Somebody Pushed Me)

When I get on the subway in the morning to go to work, especially if I’m on time – and I am increasingly on time these days due to the steps I’ve been taking to exert more control over my health – I often make the insane decision to follow the rules and step all the way into the train.

By this I mean that I walk into the middle of the car, or as close to the middle as space allows. I rarely sit, even on the rare occasions when there are seats to be had, because whenever I do I start thinking about how much sitting I’m forced to do at my desk during the day, which isn’t good for your body. Also, standing burns extra calories. Standing occasionally, during relatively short intervals when you might otherwise sit, makes a big difference over the course of a year, in terms of fitness. This especially holds true if you “force” yourself to do a little extra walking each day, or opt for stairs more often than elevators or escalators. And so on.

I digress. I don’t want to talk about standing. I want to talk about the angry old man who got up in my face on the train yesterday.

Another reason why I move into the middle of the train is because my stop is a bit further out into Brooklyn, resulting in a situation where “enough space” to stand in becomes “no space,” as larger crowds of people pile in as we near the bridge to Manhattan. As a logical procedure, moving all the way into the train works quite well to minimize the effects of the tight squeeze that each car becomes, despite the general fear some New Yorkers seem to hold onto – that they will get stuck inside when they arrive at their stop, as neighbors swarm on and off, and will thus be forced to get off at the next stop, after which they will be late(r) to work, and then they are going to get fired, and on top of that spanked, then defiled by a fusillade of pigeon shit, and finally zombie apocalypse.

But I have a second, more selfish (or more self-aware) reason for moving towards the middle of the car and away from the doors. It allows me to exert a small measure of control over a situation I can’t control: the coming onslaught of The Crowd.

I have had an aversion to crowds since I was about eight or nine years old. I remember standing in the school yard during recess at that age, with a handful of friends, and watching from afar as many other students congregated together, laughing and screaming and generally having a great time. I wasn’t an outcast per se. In fact, I was friends with many of the children who made up the group – on an individual level. But the crowd unnerved me, at least in terms of being unable to easily join it without feeling a rush of anxiety or insecurity or just general discomfort with the idea of joining the group. I just didn’t understand it. I didn’t feel whatever it was that they were feeling, that compelled them to congregate. 

The psychology of such events can probably be unwrapped and analyzed a few times over, but for the present purpose I mean only to point out the necessity, in adulthood, for people like me to do something about a situation in which discomfort or anxiety is going to come whether you like it or not. Such feelings don’t often go away.

I live in New York City. I cannot ever avoid crowds. But, to a degree, I can avoid crowding, which is one of the reasons why I live deep in Brooklyn, where I can get more space for the same money that I would pay to live somewhere closer to the epicenter of the city – which doesn’t want people like me anyway (we lack capital).

In truth, certain parts of Brooklyn don’t want me either. This doesn’t surprise me, because the majority of the people living in such parts live in bubbles. Since I can be a bit prickly, there’s just going to be a lack of hugs all around when it comes to me and them. They don’t want to endanger their bubble and I don’t want to get sticky.

That’s all a long preamble to the additional fact that I also choose to move into the middle of the car as a means of exerting a small degree of control over my fate, as the crowd of bodies swells into a current and the jostling and pushing and crushing begins. I try to put myself preemptively out of the range of too much contact or too much crowding. When I know the crowding is imminent, I spread my legs a little farther than normal and stand slightly farther back from the people closest to me than I otherwise have to, in order to maintain comfort. This way, when the squeezing comes, I have a little extra space to play with. I know. I’m brilliant. It’s not at all ironic that I’m talking about creating my own bubble.

So what happened yesterday? Why do I go into so much detail about something so apparently mundane? Would it make you feel like you’ve been making a good use of your time reading this, if I told you that, in the midst of a situation typical of the above testimony, that I was suddenly accosted by an angry old (white) man?

Isn’t that kind of appropriate?

He got on at a particular stop in one of those neighborhoods in Brooklyn. A neighborhood famous (in my eyes) for the overwhelming percentage of genteel oblivious fuckheads whose behavior, movements, and general carriage belie an intrinsic belief that they (and their children) are more important than everyone else around them. Sticking to the example of the subway, these are the people who get on the train and act as if it’s your job to not be in their way, or in the way of the e-reader or iPad or magazine or book that they are going to hold out in front of them at a comfortable arms length even as others struggle to find room in the car. They are adept at holding their coffee in front of your face and hitting you repeatedly with their bags (in fairness, you are in the way of their bag). They also don’t mind chattering loudly about some of the most boring topics known to man while surrounded by a crowd of quiet fellow commuters who just want a few more minutes of peace before the furor of their day begins.

I was in the middle of the car. Minding my business. Reading. With my book in my face only. Shortly after we arrived at that stop, in that neighborhood in Brooklyn – I felt pressure at my back. The crowd. I stopped reading for a moment, to make room as best I could.

I should mention, at this point, that I travel to work with a backpack. One that is often bulging with lunch and filmmaking. I should also mention that I have a spinal condition that leaves me sensitive to pressure at certain angles. For instance, when someone pushes against my bag, adding extra relative weight from the top down – I feel it a little bit more than you do, because the curve of my spine is more acute than yours, from back to front. It’s like a more glamorous form of scoliosis.

So, when I felt unnecessary pressure on my back (the train wasn’t that crowded), I looked to see what was going on.

What I saw was an angry old man, who also had a large bag, grumbling about the reality that was the prior existence of other people on the train. For whatever reason, though there was room elsewhere, he had decided to stand right behind me – which placed large bag up against large bag. He pushed me a little, seemingly on purpose.

I had already relinquished all the extra room I had saved for dealing with The Crowd, and I wasn’t about to force discomfort on myself and the woman seated in front of me by straddling her legs. I also wasn’t going to allow the man to weigh my back down with the weight of his bag. So I held my ground against the pushing. Again – not my job to get out of your way.

I heard and felt his annoyance, but I didn’t care. He could have gone somewhere else. I would have. There was room. But, as it turns out, none of this mattered. The man would soon prove that he wasn’t concerned with anything other than being mad. For the time being, I focused on my book and listened to music through my headphones and stopped worrying about him because I was fine.

A few stops later, he turned around and shoved a hand into my shoulder. I also turned around, pulled my headphones down around my neck, and looked at him.

“Your umbrella is poking out of your bag! It’s all over the place!”

The words were delivered acidly, manically. I looked down at my umbrella. It was facing away from him, on the other side of my bag from the one he was closest to, and though it was dangling a bit from where I keep it secured to the outside of the bag, a quick glance at the people around us confirmed that the man was overreacting or creating a situation where there wasn’t one. He had spoken loudly, and was glaring at me, and since the train had been quiet (as it often is in the morning) everyone was looking at us.

I did the right thing before I even knew I was doing it. I told the man, in a kind but firm tone of voice, to calm down, and that everything was going to be okay.

This is a new tactic I have been using whenever someone comes at me with anger. I tell them, emphatically, that everything is going to be okay. I illustrate this fact through my tone, and via the look in my eyes. I often repeat the phrase, if they bark again. Everything is going to be okay.

He turned around immediately, and said nothing. He seemed embarrassed, perhaps because, after everyone had turned to look at us, I had immediately redirected their attention to where it was deserved, with him only. This was his problem.

I double-checked the umbrella and went back to my book.

Outside the realm of general politeness – when politeness is called for – it is the job of no one to get out of the way of someone else. This especially holds true when dealing with someone who is always in their own way, and is merely swapping you in, in place of themselves, as a means of spasmodically releasing their anger or dissatisfaction with their own self…while as the same time holding onto it for dear life.

Too much of what keeps too many of us perpetually dissatisfied with our lives, here in America, in my opinion, is the general default attitude we take when confronted by angry, childish bullies. What other explanation can there be for our current depressed state, wherein few of us are satisfied, or feel represented or free, and yet, as a daily rule, on average, we continue to acquiesce to a metastasized old world status quo in which the few dictate the lives of the many? Here, in a supposedly free democracy, this is the norm. Will this be the legacy of our time? Silent capitulation to screaming old men who want what they want, and you better get out of their way? Is this not a serious, widespread problem of courage?

These small stories add up. They are not separate from the larger picture.

As early as a year ago, I might have had a different reaction to the attack of that old, self-important man. I might have told him to fuck off, taking his bait, turning myself into a part of the show. I might have become fodder for the crowd I simply wanted to avoid. Depending on my mood, I might have also just taken the abuse, mostly ignoring him on the surface while privately fuming on the inside. Hell, on another day, even further back in my life, I could have even been that guy.

Now, I have more important things to do. I am no longer a man who deals in irrational anger. Except when we are here, on this site. Here, the anger is rational. Here, to borrow a phrase (while lopping off a key consonant): I am the anger.

This is a place where we get angry and speak up. Here, the energy can go somewhere useful.

Don’t let angry fuckheads throw you off track. And don’t be an angry fuckhead. Life’s crowded. Shit’s going to be in the way of the ideal. Deal with it and keep going.

It’s going to be okay.

What I Liked This Week: The Defiant Voice

Furious Faithful. Something must have been in the air this week. So much to talk about. Right into it. Attempting brevity. Probably going to fail. Okay. We all know I’m going to fail. But give me a break. It was another long week. The Furious Romantic literally limped to the finish line today.

Well, if there WAS a finish line. Onward.

I really liked this blog post by Marc Schiller, on the IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project) web site. It’s about “the one business model every filmmaker needs to know” — which essentially boils down to the filmmaker taking more responsibility over his/her fate in business terms. Here and now, this is a necessity, more than an opportunity. Great read. The only thing “missing” from the equation Marc puts forward (which I think is simply assumed in the post) is the importance of quality. It’s easy to look at smartly drawn, accurate equations and think that anything can be plugged into them in order to achieve success. Really, though, I think innovative paradigms like this are about quantifying the business side of Reaching Out Through The Screen. From my point of view, this starts with understanding the ethos behind the economic necessities of winning the day in the face of an all-around brokenness, of which outdated or crumbling business models are a result.

On a similar note, I like The Dogfish Accelerator. This is a brand new program from Dogfish Pictures that is aimed at helping independent film production teams get started off in the industry as entrepreneurs as well as artists. Accepted applicants get seed money from Dogfish in addition to being set up with mentors and other industry professionals during a summer “incubator” program. Rebecca and I applied to the accelerator and also met the Dogfish team at an Undiscovered networking event in Brooklyn this week. Even if we don’t get into the program, I will remain excited about this. It’s a brilliant idea — a forward-thinking solution that aims to disrupt old and dying business models and replace them with a new model of production wherein the filmmakers control their fate — by working (smartly) to control their fate. This is what Rebecca and I are trying to do anyway. This is why we’re here.

I’m excited to see what happens with Dogfish. The films that founder James Belfer has set up over the past few years (Compliance, Like Crazy) are great. The company seems locked in to what people want and need on the independent level right now. That they feel compelled to elevate their mission and draw more like-minded people into their sucess speaks volumes to their commitment to truly addressing the challenges facing the future of the industry. It’s a tangled mess we’re in, and getting out of it is going to require creativity on both an artistic and business level. Because, as we all know, a film is a strange, often contradictory confluence of these two vital aspects of social life. That doesn’t mean art and commerce can’t be reconciled with one another, especially when the barriers of entry in so many industries are being lowered by technology. All we have to do is be patient, think and feel and analyze — and do the work.

Getting back to our roots — I liked this article from The New York Post. It’s about wealthy Manhattan mothers who have been hiring “black market” handicapped tour guides to pose as family members, so that they and their children can jump lines at Disney World. Quote: “This is how the 1% does Disney.” I don’t actually like this.

I liked Angelina Jolie’s op-ed in The New York Times about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy after a genetic screening revealed that she was at a high risk of developing breast cancer. Obviously, the decision was brave. But I particularly like that she chose to control the message behind that decision and turn it into an advantage for others — by choosing to write the piece so that she could point out both the value of the procedure and the tragedy represented by the relative cost of the screening that lead her to have it. That cost: $3,000 — which is a lot of money to a lot of women and families around the world who simply don’t/won’t/can’t spend that amount to order the same potentially life-saving test.

I liked this article about the resignation of the Republican Director of Hispanic Outreach in Florida, who mentioned in his resignation letter that: “It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today.” I’m glad this man came around. Republicans have been making efforts to court Hispanics after faring  poorly among the Hispanic population in the most recent election. Instead of, say, expanding their general political outreach to include Hispanics (and thus treating them the same way as they treat white people), they treat the voting data as the problem. I could go on forever about this one, so we’ll just move on.

So what’s next? Maybe we could read about House Republicans wasting time and money by choosing to vote for the 37th time to repeal Health Care Reform. Just a fresh reminder that the current incarnation of the Republican party is more concerned with obstructing and sabotaging any type of progress — and with pouring lemon juice over their heaping bowls of sour grapes — rather than doing anything constructive to help the majority of Americans. I don’t really like this.

I liked this article from The Nation, by Farai Chideya, on the problem and consequences of the current demographic breakdown of our country’s journalistic corps. The gist: classes other than the upper class, and colors other than white, are underrepresented. I’m not going to go into detail about why that’s a problem. Chideya does an excellent job breaking the issue down. What I will say is that journalism has unique and special role to play in our society in terms of identifying injustice and raising awareness and spreading information about the failings of the status quo. When the majority of our journalistic corps is made up increasingly of the “elite” and privileged only, the quality and breadth of reporting — and of this crucial oversight — invariably suffers and falls short of fully representing the entirety of the populace. This is an important issue. The underground, populist, unpredictable, “amateur” reporting that rides through the internet, in a meagre attempt to fill the void left by our incomplete journalistic corps — it’s efforts are sometimes noble but they are not enough.

To end on a bright and hopeful note, I also liked this brief article from The Atlantic that asks the question: What’s driving the rise in suicide among middle-aged men? As difficult and sad a topic as this is, I believe we have a responsibility to be thinking about the question. The data suggests that the rise is due to the continued disintegration of the family unit as well as economic stress and strain.

And therein is the central contradiction of contemporary America, Furious Faithful. Times get tough, necessitating action, and, as a rule, we retreat instead. We run away from the problem. Or, in the case of this last article, we do something far, far worse. And the tragedy of it all is that we are together in our dysfunction. We all need more in the way of family, of community. We all need more from the defunct systems of life that have reversed course on us, such that we feed the needs of the system rather than it feeding ours — or rather than both exchanges proceeding perpetually in more-or-less equal measure. No, instead of digging our way out, instead of searching for solutions, we do nothing. We destroy ourselves rather than fight for ourselves.

I’m allowed to be so harsh because I’ve made these sort of mistakes in my own life. I still spend large parts of my day working to reverse the damage I inflicted on myself during the last several lean years. But you know what else I did over that time? I didn’t give up. I didn’t commit fully to the idea that this loneliness, this fundamental dissatisfaction, this void inside me — is completely my fault, and on top of that insurmountable.

Somewhere inside me, a defiant voice refused to go down. I owe that voice nearly everything.

The Furious Romantic returned because I did everything I could — as hard as it was — to bring him back. I’m going to allow myself to be proud of this, and to recommend that more people — especially more of my fellow “white American males” — do the same. Seems like a real man should be capable of doing that.

Yeah. I went there. Balls on the table.

Have a good week.

What I Liked This Week: Spitting Satanists and Struggling Students

I do not like struggling students. But, first, let’s talk about the spitting satanist. Well, she may not be a satanist. But she’s at least looking for one. I think.

Yesterday, I got up, threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, leashed the pup and went out into morning. I was tired. I don’t remember any part of the walk except the end of it, when I was re-approaching the entrance to my building.

A young woman was also approaching the building, from the opposite direction. She was a little closer to the entrance than me, but I wasn’t sure if she was going in or just ambling in the direction of the door. She was moving slowly and veering a little and…well…occasionally, if I’m up early, I pass drunks who have just woken up somewhere and are now on their way home or somewhere else. She wasn’t necessarily lumbering, though, and she was a young female (not your typical early-morning drunk), and she didn’t seem to be carrying anything with her to keep the buzz going or to wind it down (also a typical sign).

She may have been high. I hadn’t had my coffee yet so I wasn’t going to be able to tell. All I know is that she stopped short of the entrance, leaned over the railing that separates the sidewalk from the thin strip in front of the building that at one point might have been called a garden, and spit a spit that was made of more spit than any spit I’ve ever seen — when not on a baseball field.

Now, just to be clear — I don’t have much of a problem with spit. As hinted in the previous sentence, I spent a lot of time on baseball fields when I was younger. Spitting, in this context, was a often sub-game within the sport. Similarly, in my younger years I spent a decent amount of time here and there riding along delivery routes with my father, who was a spitter — though only really in this context. Also, a lot of my neighbors come from cultures where spitting is not a big deal. I won’t say I’m thrilled when they spit inside — or when I have to steer my dog around multiple scattered yolks of human DNA stretched along the sidewalk, but…when, for instance, I see an old man or woman rear back and drop a fresh one…I don’t mind. Old people tend to veer off to the side when they spit. Then again, many of the old in New York are living perpetually off to the side already, are thus perfectly positioned to grant this courtesy. Finally, I still spit sometimes, when my wife isn’t around.

My point is that, if I observed yesterday’s spitting woman more closely, it wasn’t out of some need to illustrate my disgust, or in order to judge her. I was literally just wondering if we were going to intersect (my dog likes to play with everyone) and then found myself momentarily transfixed by the volume of what was coming out of her mouth.

Still, when she turned to look at me, I felt a little embarrassed. I didn’t know this woman, and I wasn’t going to explain all of the above to her in the span of seconds, while on my way through the door with my dog. Also, all of this is clear to me now only in retrospect. At the time, again, it was early and I hadn’t had a yet had a drop of coffee.

I confirmed to myself that she didn’t seem to be chewing tobacco. I faintly recall trying this explanation out seconds after I saw her spit — but the spit had been clear. She also didn’t seem to have too much of a problem stepping right up to me. The woman was short and thin, maybe twenty or a few years older. She wore thick black glasses and had a few piercings and was dressed in tight-fitting clothing that was mostly black and red. If she weren’t where she was and didn’t also give off an air of actually owning her appearance rather than renting it it out, she might have passed for a sort of goth-hipster hybrid who was actively pursuing the look. But that’s really just conjecture, engineered by a tired mind. And I didn’t really have time to think about it because she started talking to me.

She asked if she could ask me a question. I said sure. Then she asked me if we were living in a New World Order. I said I didn’t know.

“Are you Illumunati?”

I also said no to this question, and I began making my way to and through the door, because it seemed silly. Then she asked me, finally, as I was leaving her behind, if I was a Satanist. I said no again and lingered a moment inside until the door closed behing me. I wanted to know if she was planning on entering the building as well. She hadn’t entered, and for some reason it suddenly occurred to me that she had asked me three questions rather than the permitted one. I thought that this thought of mine was funny. I wondered what a fourth question might have been like. Where do you go after satanism?

I went upstairs and had my coffee and ate breakfast and thought occasionally about what had happened. I wondered who the woman was, whether she was crazy or high or just fucking with me or all these things. I wondered if the experience would have gone differently, if I had already had my coffee upon meeting her or if I wasn’t being pulled inexorably — as I usually am — towards the mundane responsibilities of the coming weekday.

Shortly after, I glanced in a mirror, while on the way to my bedroom to get undressed for my shower. I realized that I was also wearing black and red, as well as a gray military-style jacket, and that I looked just haggard and rough enough after a long week that there may have been a slight possibility that the woman’s questions were, in relative terms, somewhat serious. Then again, I was walking a terrier on a pink leash, who only acts satanic when you’re trying to trim her nails…so…

For serious — the experience, however brief and uneventful, was fun. It seemed an intersection of the mundane with the exceptional, with neither element necessarily appearing more ridiculous than the other within the particular equation. When it happened, I remember feeling a little on edge, unnerved. Then: amused. And, now, finally, obviously…interested.

I like it when my interest is piqued. Hail Satan.

On to the rest of What I Liked This Week:

I liked that Rhode Island, the original hometown state of The Furious Romantic, passed legislation recognizing marriage equality for all. This actually happened a few weeks ago, so I apologize for failing to write about it last week. Still very proud of my state, however. I also like this op-ed that RI Governor Lincoln Chaffee, a former Republican, submitted to the The New York Times, as it symbolizes a thoughtful, measured approach to solving this rights issue despite the practical impediments thrown in its way by conservative politics.

I liked this video, in which Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren introduces a piece of legislation aimed at reducing interest rates on student loans subsidized by the government, so that they match the interest rates currently paid by banks also borrowing from the government. Sounds, fair, doesn’t it? Currently, interest rates on student loans are set to double if Congress does nothing to change this. Since Congress isn’t capable of doing anything that doesn’t help Congress and/or The Elite, because Congress has been held hostage by Republican extremists for years, it’s a safe bet that — unless we raise a ruckus and, possibly, even if we do — Congress is going to do nothing. If Congress does nothing, students will soon be paying nine times as much interest on government loans as big banks. Apart from being unfair, this makes little sense in terms of addressing the root causes — and especially the serious effects and the long-term health — of our stagnant economy.

While bankers and the elite continue to have it easy, young people (especially young people who don’t come from or sell out to the elite class) continue to be punished for their mistakes. We are literally in danger of becoming permanently indentured to the (rigged) system. Ultimately, this legislation (if it were to ever pass) is a drop in the bucket. The issue is much bigger than interest rates, but this is at least something — something measurable that people can see and grip.

Students saddled with burdensome loans have to take and keep jobs that already exist or exist in dwindling numbers, at least in terms of quality positions. If they get jobs at all.

Let’s say loan payments go down at the same time as a few heads pop out of a few asses and we (young people) get a few other bones thrown to us (or we sniff out our own bones), resulting in a handful of new or additional work opportunities here and there. Fewer students shackled by higher loan payments means more entrepreneurship and more small businesses, which is where real job creation and economic growth comes from — especially in an economy where large corporations continue to sit on record profits rather than invest in domestic growth. It’s also far easier to take a “risk” by selecting or pursuing a job in an innovative company or sector, or holding out for a job you’re passionate about (and would perform well in), or leaving a job you are not passionate about (in which case, you’re probably at best an adequate performer) when you aren’t anxious about mounds of debt.

Something else I liked this week was this fact sheet on Youth Unemployment in the US, compiled by the Center for American Progress and emailed out this morning by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. If all this nonsense upsets you, or gets you thinking, I would suggest reading through this (short) document as well. Want to do something about your anger, after that? Sign this petition by the Working Families Party, which asks Congress not to let student loan interest rates double. Again, it’s something. Something that takes seconds to do.

Have a good week, Furious Faithful.



What I Liked This Week: In Pursuit of Transcendence

Furious Faithful. I liked a lot this week. Let’s jump straight into it:

I liked this article, in Sports Illustrated, in which Jason Collins states that he is gay. This makes Collins the first openly gay male professional athlete who is still (technically) an active player of his sport. It’s a big deal. It’s an important step. The greatest hurdle that the human rights movement faces, in terms of unilateral acceptance of our gay citizens — and the legal recognition of their equality — is the opposition of the straight male. Our most major, most popular team sports are largely made of and for straight males. Collins’s announcement is a big, important step. However, many media outlets are calling him the first openly gay professional athlete. Let’s not make a claim for progress at the expense of further progress. Many professional female athletes — despite the smaller audiences female team sports draw — have come out as gay while still competing. More on that here.

Also, if you read what Collins wrote — pay attention to the reasons why he decided to do this now. They are not mutually exclusive to coming out. Without taking anything away from the social import of what Collins has done, this isn’t just a story about being gay and having the courage to say so while working in a business where homosexuality is not discussed. It’s a story about having the courage to be yourself and to stand up for what’s right. And a story about realizing we cannot wait for permission or the right time to do either.

I liked this op-ed, from The New York Times, in which Sean F. Reardon details the many ways and reasons why the children of the wealthy are increasingly performing better in schools compared to their middle class and poor peers. Peers. That word bears repeating. I don’t actually like this. I don’t believe that rampant income inequality and runaway social injustice is going to be solved by fostering a coming generation in which those that grew up fortunate are given an ever bigger head start in life by getting a better education than everyone else. This, of course, already happens — has been happening for a long time. But the pattern should be taking a turn for the better, not the worse, at this crucial time in our history.

Not only is this unjust, it’s bad for business. Trust me. I went to college with several wealthy young people who seemed barely human to me, and who also were incapable of doing much more than getting dressed, and drinking and eating in between rounds of networking and whining (to be clear: I also studied with many amazing and talented, good people). Also: think back to our recent presidential election. I believe part of the reason Mitt Romney lost is because he literally seemed like an alien — and at points appeared to feel like one — in the presence of the majority of Americans. Do we need more alien masters in our population? At what point does the limited experience and knowledge of “the real world,” on the part of those wealthy and powerful people who control our world, begin to predict a fuller collapse of our entire way of doing things? I’m starting to sound crazy, I know. I’m also completely right.

I like what Shelley Worrell is doing with The Flatbush Film Festival, as detailed in the Ditmas Park Blog. In short: the festival is filling an important need, by providing an official outlet for film and other arts to thrive within a community that — compared to the arts and entertainment industry in Brooklyn/NYC/America at large, and considering the Caribbean population in the area where the festival takes place — is probably underrepresented. I live in the Flatbush/Ditmas Park area, and Rebecca was born here, so it’s great to see an initiative like this (which is four years old at this point) getting its due. Consider donating to the festival on Seed and Spark (a new, fair-trade crowdfunding site) to help the fest get the resources it needs to go up this year.

I like this song, by Cash L3wis, who followed me on Twitter this week. I often do a quick check of someone’s profile when they follow me. Cash’s profile included this track, which I listened to all the way through. There’s a rawness and an energy to it that I appreciated, and I liked his lyrics. The track is on Spotify here.

I like the charts in this article, by Henry Blodget at Business Insider, in which record corporate profits can be compared to record low worker wages and continued underemployment. Remember this easy-to-digest video, about wealth inequality in America, that went viral a few months ago? These charts live inside the black soul of that video. Look upon them, and be angry. The title of the article is: Dear Workers of The World: These Three Charts Show How You’re Getting Totally Shafted. I don’t actually like any of this.

I liked My Dinner With Andre, the latest flick on the Sophia The Great watch list. Andre is another title I had been meaning to watch for a while. The overwhelming majority of the film takes place across a table at a restaurant, where two artist friends catch up after several years, which eventually results in a deep, overarching philosophical conversation on life as we know it. On the surface, this is not an easy story to keep moving. The film has an esteemed reputation, and Sophia includes (and depends upon) a few lengthy philosophical conversations that take place in our heroine’s living room as she goes about experimenting with podcasting…so I really wanted to see how they pulled it off. To be honest, it took me a little time and patience to settle into the film. But the investment paid off by the end, and not only did I enjoy the experience, not only did I learn a little, but I came out feeling more confident with my perhaps bold decision to adopt this format to some smaller effect. Most people would tell you that a film about two friends having dinner is a terrible idea, that it wouldn’t work. This one does. And I think I know why.

Quite apart from its setup, the story of My Dinner With Andre is completely itself. The life of it, which seems in a retrospect to have been unarguably sparked by an essential creative stroke of inspired thoughtfulness, was honored in the process of that story’s eventually telling through film. People go out to dinner in real life. Sometimes such occasions take on a narrative, and sometimes that narrative builds to a transcendent experience that stays with us all our life. Conversely, it seems important that something like Andre is proved to be possible. Not everyone is going to to have a transcendent conversation over dinner with a friend. But it’s nice to know it might happen, and/or to wonder if we might position ourselves, as we live our lives, such that it could happen — whether at dinner or anywhere else.

Transcendence is something we as filmmakers, no matter what the story, should always pursue. The medium does not always, shouldn’t always, cannot always — be aimed in the direction of escapism. Neither does this have to mean that our faces must be pushed always into the mud. Life, after all, is made of peaks and valleys. I wonder, sometimes, if it’s the journey between and among those peaks and valleys that is the essence of the experience of living. A film, for me, these days, seems the preeminent vehicle for re-delivering such an experience, despite its fundamentally artificial origins. I think this the duty of the filmmaker, to recapture, recreate, and honor a particular transcendent experience. Only in this way can the life of the thing, that essential creative stroke of thoughtfulness, become real in the minds of all willing to accept such an alchemical moving catalog of life and behavior that a film becomes, if it is composed authentically, pieced together moment by moment through a combination of imagination and memory.

Have a good week.