"Avatar": What Went Wrong, Racism Roundup, How Politics Can Kill You, Hertz Ran Over Own Customers, Golden Globes' Women Problem, More Women’s Soccer League Abuse, and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
In the last newsletter, I lamented that “If [conservative censors] have their way, all we’ll be left with is Hallmark movies and reruns of Blue Blood.” One of our subscribers, Terrence, commented: “Hallmark movies aren't so bad.” That is exactly why I appreciate the comments section so much and the subscribers who share their opinions.
I agree with Terrence (as I replied in Comments). My original statement was a reference to the sameness of their stories, creating a world that is mostly predictable in promoting a conservative worldview and fairly narrow values. Here’s the thing: nothing wrong with that. They do it well. If you look at some of the older Hallmark movies you’ll see an overwhelmingly White cast, but that has changed in recent years. Today, they offer a lot of ethnic diversity.
A Hallmark Christmas movie will usually give us romance, a celebration of traditional small-town values over corrupt city values, and a happy ending. But what I especially appreciate is how they are still able to elicit true emotions from their audience. You are likely to choke up a bit, even if you don’t want to, two or three times. Here’s why: they always include acts of kindness in which someone in great need is given a hand and judgement-free support. Sometimes, it’s one person, sometimes it’s the whole town. To me, that is the spirit of Christmas I’d like to see every day—an act of kindness toward someone in need.
Thank you, Terrence.
Politics: This Week in Racism (Not Sexy, But Important)
If I mention any one of these stories, it just looks like random acts of racism, easily rationalized as outliers. But when you put them all together—and these are just a few from the past week—you might see a clearer mosaic of what daily life is like if you’re Black in America. This does not discount the wonderful things about the country and all those fighting daily to improve it. But it does point out that there is a higher threat level to your safety and life if you are LWB (Living While Black).
U.S. attorney general moves to end sentencing disparities on crack, powder cocaine (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday instructed federal prosecutors to end charging and sentencing disparities in cases involving the distribution of crack and powder cocaine, after decades of law enforcement policy disproportionately treating crack offenders more punitively.
“Garland’s move effectively seeks to eliminate the significant difference in the amount of powder cocaine relative to crack cocaine that is required to be in a suspect’s possession to trigger mandatory minimum federal sentences upon conviction.
“Critics of the longtime policy have said it is a relic of Washington’s misguided War on Drugs era that targeted Black and Brown communities, resulted in overpopulated prisons and strained federal and local resources at the expense of more-effective strategies.”
MY TAKE: The poor and People of Color have been unfairly targeted for 50 years, ever since the War on Drugs decided the enemy wasn’t White people snorting coke at Wall Street parties, but Black people doing crack in poor neighborhoods. No one is excusing either group, just asking that they be treated equally under the law. Despite civil rights leaders and other advocates fighting this racism for five decades, there was little movement. Until now.
According to the article: “Though studies have shown that historically most crack cocaine users have been White or Hispanic, a report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission last year found that 77 percent of those convicted of crack trafficking offenses in 2020 were Black.” That is the very definition of of systemic racism.
The Equal Act would eliminate this racial disparity. However, even though the bill was passed in the House last year with bipartisan support, some Republican senators are keeping it from being approved in the Senate. So, even though Garland’s actions will help going forward, it requires a legislative change to federal policy in order to apply retroactively, which is necessary to bring justice to those previously unfairly sentenced.
Study: Federal magistrates, prosecutors misunderstand bail law, jailing people who should go free (USA Today)
SUMMARY: A Reagan-era law, passed by Congress nearly four decades ago to change the federal bail system in order to address concerns over rising crime committed by arrestees released pending trial, has been wildly misunderstood and misapplied by the federal court system's magistrate judges, prosecutors, public defenders and probation officers, a new two-year national study finds.
The unprecedented look at federal pretrial detention conducted by the University of Chicago Law School's Federal Criminal Justice Clinic paints a portrait of a judicial system that has neglected the rights of especially poor arrestees and people of color. Such systemic problems are largely the result of what judges and advocates told USA TODAY is a poorly-written, war-on-drugs-era statute known as the Bail Reform Act of 1984, an over reliance on prosecutorial discretion, and risk-averse magistrate judges and federal defenders.
According to the report, in 1983, less than 24% of arrestees were jailed pretrial. By 2019, nearly 75% of them were.”
MY TAKE: Just as with the crack/coke issue above, this judicial disparity has been going on for decades. Many important people have written about the inequities that fall harder on the shoulders of the poor and People of Color, but not enough has been done to end this injustice.
Because of this poorly written but enthusiastically implemented law, more people are in jail much longer without ever having had a trial. The article continues: “Prior research cited in the report also has shown that jailing has a cascading effect on an arrestee's life from even just a few days behind bars, which may cost them their job, custody of their child, and even impact their housing, as well as make it more likely an arrestee is convicted, sentenced to a longer term and faces mandatory minimums.”
When facing losing their job, their children, their homes, their freedom, many choose to plead guilty rather than risk all that and not knowing the outcome of the trial. As a result, they now have a criminal record, making life even harder. As Richard Pryor so famously said, “You go down [to the courthouse] looking for justice and that is what you will find, just us.”
Colorado Springs Hotel Employees Suspended After Mark Curry Incident (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “Staff members at Wyndham Mining Exchange Hotel in Colorado Springs have been suspended after comedian Mark Curry said they racially targeted him over the weekend. Curry, who was staying at the hotel while in town for a comedy gig, filmed two hotel employees following him through the lobby and asking him if he was a guest….Curry went to the guests services desk to alert other employees that he was being followed, but they also asked him to prove that he was a guest of the hotel.”
MY TAKE: Over the past few years, Black people have been harassed while going about their daily lives: walking their dog in the park, eating at Starbucks, napping in the lobby of their dormitory. Yet, businesses never seem to learn any lessons from the fallout over their racism. Certainly, they could do a lot more to train their staff in terms of racial sensitivity. Otherwise, people of conscience will have to stop spending money there.
Black Screenwriter Flying Home From Emmys Puts ‘Racist’ Delta on Blast (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “Delta Air Lines has launched an investigation after a Black screenwriter flying home from the Emmys said he was prevented from boarding his flight by an agent who admitted that it was due to racism.
“Darnell Lamont Walker said he tried to call Delta, but the company wouldn’t take complaints over the phone. As an alternative, he posted about his experience on Twitter because ‘it’s where things change.’
“‘Gate agent said it was too late to get on my flight - it wasn’t,’ Walker tweeted Monday. ‘Told me to get rebooked at [customer service] then he scanned in the people behind me.’
“…Walker, a writer for Netflix’s Karma’s World, was in Los Angeles for the Children’s & Family Emmys award ceremony over the weekend. He filed a formal complaint against Delta on Tuesday, claiming the gate agent said he was too late to catch his flight but, instead, let a group of white passengers board after him.”
MY TAKE: The most disturbing part of the story might be Walker saying that he went to Twitter because “it’s where things change.” Sadly, he’s right. If companies cared that much about racism from their employees they would crack down much faster on any instances of abuse. Do we really think this is the first time this guy has done something like that?
Hey, Corporate America, do the right thing because it’s right, not just because you fear bad publicity. Of course, you can’t possibly prevent every individual act of racism from an employee, but you can make sure there are no repeat offenses from that same person.
If you actually read this section, you might feel a little dispirited about the systemic racism (that conservatives deny exists). Yeah, I feel that way too. But I also feel hopeful because these abuses are being reported by a free press that has a commitment to democracy. The fact that we’re being made aware of them and discussing them openly is what makes me have faith.
‘Tis the season for giving—to others, to yourself, and to our staff. This newsletter exists as long as we have paid subscribers. Keep us going.
Movies: Old-Fashioned Moviemaking—But Not in a Good Way
Avatar: What Went Wrong
MY TAKE: Avatar: The Way of the Water is like looking at the most beautiful gowns ever made—but hanging lifelessly on a wire hanger in a .99 store. I wanted to like the movie—I really did—because I have to be committed in order to sit in those small movie seats with my legs crunched up for over three hours! Unfortunately, my knees did not forgive me.
When the first thing most people talk about is the special effects, then you know something went terribly wrong. We can praise the innovative techniques all we want, but that is no replacement for the barrenness of the story, the thinness of the characters, and the blandness of the dialogue.
Director and co-writer James Cameron’s sequel to Avatar (2009) was thirteen years in the making, but already feels dated. We can start with the most obvious: it’s an hour too long. I say this as a moviegoer who likes long films (sorry, knees), but only if the story justifies the length. This one does not. Most of the scenes showing the family assimilating to life with the water tribe are boring and unnecessary. They didn’t have to be, but they are because the film cares more about wowing us with visual effects then giving us characters that aren’t stereotypes.
I like stories that blend genres, but this doesn’t blend so much as jump around with no transitions. It’s an action film, then a teen dramedy, then Jaws, then a pseudo-spiritual/environmental lesson (spoiler: We’re all connected to Nature), then an homage to Titanic. Yes, all this could have been mixed together to create something wondrous, but sadly it just goes through the motions.
There’s a ‘50s vibe to the plot. Mostly, the men are strong, silent, and manly, the women emotional and spiritual. Dads bond with sons, mothers with daughters. Most of the conflicts result from the children disobeying the parents—again and again. The dialogue, the plot, and the characters are all woefully predictable. I had more of an emotional reaction to Thing being injured in Wednesday than to anyone in Avatar.
Be prepared for three hours of eye-rolling and head-shaking.
Politics & Health: Blind Faith in Your Party Could Kill You
Can politics kill you? Research says the answer increasingly is yes. (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “As the coronavirus pandemic approaches its third full winter, two studies reveal an uncomfortable truth: The toxicity of partisan politics is fueling an overall increase in mortality rates for working-age Americans.
“In one study, researchers concluded that people living in more-conservative parts of the United States disproportionately bore the burden of illness and death linked to covid-19. The other, which looked at health outcomes more broadly, found that the more conservative a state’s policies, the shorter the lives of working-age people.
“The reasons are many, but, increasingly, it is state — and not just federal — policies that have begun to shape the economic, family, environmental and behavioral circumstances that affect people’s well-being. Some states have expanded their social safety nets, raising minimum wages and offering earned income tax credits while using excise taxes to discourage behaviors — such as smoking — that have deleterious health consequences. Other states have moved in the opposite direction.
“…And still, the unequal burden of death and disease transcends covid: A chasm of inequality puts communities of color at higher risk of chronic conditions that leave immune systems vulnerable — a reflection of systemic racism, public health experts say.”
MY TAKE: Just as Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis launches his bogus investigation into COVID-19, a real study emerges showing that “Covid death rates were 11 percent higher in states with Republican-controlled governments and 26 percent higher in areas where voters lean conservative. Similar results emerged about hospital ICU capacity when the concentration of political power in a state was conservative.”
We expect our elected officials to have our best interests at heart, especially when it comes to our health and that of our families. But all the data suggests otherwise: “The October report found that if all states implemented liberal policies on the environment, gun safety, criminal justice, health and welfare, labor, marijuana, and economic and tobacco taxes, more than 170,000 lives would have been saved in 2019. On the flip side, if states went with conservative versions of those policies, there would have been about 217,000 more deaths that year — ‘the equivalent of a 600-passenger airplane crashing every day of the year,’ the study said.”
My guess is that those who don’t like the results will just ignore the study. It makes it a lot easier to then not have to deal with the guilt of being responsible for all those deaths.
Like the Terminator said, “Come with me—and the facts—if you want to live.” Or something like that.
Scary News: Gobsmacked!
How rental company Hertz falsely accused its own customers of auto theft
SUMMARY: “[Hertz] recently announced that it will pay $168m to settle 364 claims that were brought against it. According to Hertz, the settlement will bring resolution to ‘more than 95% of it pending theft reporting claims.’
“…Numerous lawsuits filed against Hertz in recent years accuse the company of knowingly and falsely reporting its customers to authorities. They accuse Hertz of not investigating alleged thefts before filing theft reports, as well as reporting cars stolen without any verification that they are stolen.
“…In February, a Delaware bankruptcy court judge ordered Hertz, which declared bankruptcy in 2020, to publicize its data on theft reports that it had previously filed under seal. It was soon revealed that Hertz files about 3,365 police reports every year on alleged car theft.”
MY TAKE: This article stunned me. My summary doesn’t do justice to showing just how devastating Hertz’s actions were. Numerous people were arrested at gunpoint, handcuffed, and falsely jailed, losing jobs and homes. Meanwhile, Hertz just kept reporting car thefts at the rate of about ten a day. TEN A DAY!
Francis Malofiy, an attorney representing several customers in one of the many lawsuits against Hertz, told Atlanta Black Star: “It’s wrong primarily to the customer, who is a valid paying customer or has a business relationship. It’s wrong to the police, who were basically acting as strong arms for a private corporation. And it’s wrong to the taxpayers, who are basically having their funds diverted away from stopping crime or resolving issues in the community, by putting it towards a global corporation’s security and finding their own cars because they’re not doing it themselves.”
How did this go on for years with no one—especially someone on the government or law enforcement—stopping them? Another example of how self-regulation by corporations does not work. It’s not enough that the victims win the lawsuit, those responsible should be arrested and tried for these crimes.
Entertainment: If You’re Not Surprised, Raise Your Finger (You know which one)
Golden Globes: Women Directors Shut Out of 2023 Nominations (The Hollywood Reporter)
SUMMARY: “When the Golden Globes return on Jan. 10 to air live on NBC, there will be no chance for a woman to take the stage to accept a directing award for a motion picture at the Beverly Hilton.
“For the first time since the 2020 show, no woman was nominated in the best director category. That’s despite a buzzy awards year for several female filmmakers, including The Woman King’s Gina Prince-Bythewood and Women Talking‘s Sarah Polley. Other directors in the contention discussion have included Till‘s Chinonye Chukwu and She Said‘s Maria Schrader.
“…The 2023 directing nominees — Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans), James Cameron (Avatar: The Way of Water), Baz Luhrmann (Elvis), Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin) — are also predominantly white, with Kwan becoming only the fifth director of Asian descent to be nominated in the category and only the third potential Asian winner, behind Ang Lee and Chloé Zhao.”
MY TAKE: I don’t have a knee-jerk outraged reaction to whether or not a marginalized person is nominated. Last year Jane Campion won for Power of the Dog, which I thought was an overwrought melodrama of little power. The only time I get worked up about diversity in nominations is if marginalized artists are deliberately overlooked in favor of more famous White males because their names will draw more people to the awards show.
Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is a bloated, bedazzled mess compared to Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King. Special effects aside, Avatar is a tiring cluster of cliches. Does either film have anything new to say more than Sarah Polley’s stark yet beautifully directed Women Talking (her screenplay was nominated) or the crushing yet inspirational Till by Chinonye Chukwu? No, but the fame of James Cameron and Baz Luhrmann will improve the Golden Globes award shows ratings. That’s all they want.
Sports: Please Make It Stop!
NWSL investigation finds misconduct at ‘vast majority’ of clubs (The Washington Post)
Summary: “The underlying culture of the National Women’s Soccer League created ‘fertile ground for misconduct to go unreported,’ according to a new investigation, which found the league’s financial instability and unbalanced power dynamics opened the door for rampant abuse across several teams and involving multiple coaches and team administrators.”
My Take: This is the second recent report that comes to the same conclusion (and which I previously discussed here). Also, a couple weeks ago I wrote about the same kinds of abuse and misogyny in girls’ soccer.
The path forward should be the inclusion of a lot more women as coaches and in management, an effective governing body that seriously investigates all claims of abuse, bringing criminal charges against all abusers rather than quietly “making it go away,” and a willingness by teams to fire anyone who abuses or knowingly allows abuse to happen.
We demand our athletes perform at their mental and physical peak for our entertainment, so the least we can do is protect them from predators and a system that doesn’t value them enough to promote them to more coaching and management positions. Sports should be a leader in equity.
Music: Grammy-Nominated Jazz
Peter Erskine Trio’s dazzling interplay captured on new album Live in Italy
SUMMARY: “Master jazz drummer Peter Erskine and his trio have captured their triumphant return to live performance on their new recording Live In Italy.
“The album was recorded at a concert engagement in Camogli, Italy, on Nov. 19, 2021, following a two-week Italian tour. Erskine is joined onstage by his longtime trio members Alan Pasqua on keys and Darek Oles on bass.
“On Live in Italy, listeners can expect vividly gorgeous performances of original material composed by each of the trio members, along with stellar arrangements of jazz standards. The original composition Dear Chick closes the set with a moving tribute to late piano titan Chick Corea. With Erskine at the lead, he masterfully shapes the dynamics of each piece to evoke an emotive experience.”
MY TAKE: When you watch to the above video, you’ll see why I’m so enthusiastic about this trio of experienced musicians. They’re playing in Erskine’s home, dressed like three dads jamming on a Sunday afternoon after mowing the lawn. The music matches that comfortableness because they invite you to sit on the nearby couch, sink back into the over-stuffed cushions, close your eyes, and let your foot tap and head nod along. Best way to spend any afternoon.
I'm constantly trying to balance outrage and hopelessness with acceptance and serenity. The former president, and the conservative political leaders who have encouraged and enabled the racism and disenfranchisement of people of color and unleashed violent forces upon innocent people of Jewish decent and LGBT+ people and people of color, caused me serious mental health problems that were destroying me. I had to cut back on my news intake for awhile and get some help. Fortunately, I am better and even though I am still outraged and disappointed by much of what is going on, I don't take it as personally so much as I did before. I can be proactive in my advocacy and not stew in my anger and resentment toward these individuals who don't even know me! I can spend more time on being loving and kind instead of sad and pissed off.
You're a good guy Kareem and you teach me with every post how to be outraged without losing my joy and sense of humor.
Thank you Sir!
Cap just wanted to say thanks...like a fresh drink of spring water I love reading your words and thoughts...that's it.