jeudi, novembre 29, 2007

TinyE's Christmas List; or: Sign #73 That We're in Trouble

Taken verbatim* from TinyE's recent letter to Santa Claus -

Fancy clothes
Diamond Ring***

She's 6 years old. 6. Years. Old.

Where on earth will she go from here? I suspect next year, TinyE will ask for a cruise on the QM2 or a pearl necklace or both.

And let's not kid ourselves here. She gets her desire for material things from her father and his ancestors. I mean, here's my Christmas wish list:

This jacket
This watch
These tennis shoes

Okay, just kidding. Although I do like the jacket (I saw it in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and I looked very handsome in it and might have worn it home if not for the small matter of the big price).

What I really want is:

This book
These jeans (in black, dark stonewash and new metal)
And about 5 of these hats (skip the blue periwinkle/paperwhite and the deep periwinkle/vapor gray please) - why five? I need a hats to wear home from the gym, require washing after one use there and everything.****

What's on your wish list?

* Totally verbatim.
**Don't be fooled or say "awwwwwww" this is designed to appeal to Santa's softer side and increase her chances of getting her requested items.
*** found an possible ring for her here. But Santa's not sure he can cover the ring and the Wii in the same Christmas season.

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jeudi, novembre 22, 2007

Whaddup Gansta?; or ILIM Reviews American Gangster (with the patented ILIM Spoiler Free Guarantee)

Mrs. Duf and I went to see "American Gangster" the other day. I went in having heard two general comments about AG. First, that it was good. Second, that it was long.

On the surface, AG purports to be about Frank Lucas, a man who killed a lot of people with heroin (and made a fortune doing it). And while AG is a fine character study of Lucas, the film is not just about him. It's about two men: Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. There is much to admire in how Director Ridley Scott tells the story, but perhaps what I admired most was how, over the course of the film (and before they ever meet), Lucas and Roberts are drawn closer together. Even though I knew of Lucas, and how his story plays out, somehow I was surprised by most of what took place after Lucas and Roberts finally make contact.

Denzel Washington is phenomenal. No surprise there. Frankly, he dazzles in just about every movie he's in (he was even pretty darn good in "The Preacher's Wife"). I've loved his work since St. Elsewhere. Russell Crowe is also very, very good (In AG, I think Denzel was meant to shine, and did; there were times when it seemed Crowe was restraining himself and pointing inward purposefully letting Washington take center stage).

And there were times when I wished for a bit more style from the Mr. Scott. The story is told well. Every scene is shot with evident skill, but I wouldn't have minded a bit more art (close ups, slow motion, non-traditional camera placement, something). While I'm at it, many of the minor characters are so ignored, that when their moments of note arrive, we either have no sense for who they are, or we don't care what happens to them. AG is so focused on Lucas and Roberts that everyone else seems to exist only to support them.

So, the film is just an excellent character study about two men of note, played by two actors who impress at every turn. And perhaps Ridley Scott intentionally dialed back the pieces of flair. I should give the man credit for realizing that Washington and Crowe could power the film and then some. They do.

AG is definitely worth seeing, and, if you're like me, it won't seem long at all.

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Fifty Five Things (in the Order in which They Came to Me)

My wife
My daughter
My mother and brother
My brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law
My mother-in-law and father-in-law
My cousins and all my relatives
My friends. Every one of them. Every single one
My comfortable life
My home
My health
My access to health-care
My diet
My safety
My education
My intelligence
My race
My age
My geographical location
My birthplace
My nature
My nurturing
My weight and Weight Watchers
Reliable transportation
My bicycles, both of them
My neighbors; my neighborhood
My ability to wake up without an alarm clock
That no one was hurt in the car crash this summer
Meaningful work where I feel valued; my job and my colleagues
My successes and my failures
My wardrobe – that I have comfortable clothes to wear
My luxuries and privileges
Fifth Sunday (months with five Sundays)
Months with three paydays
Anytime Fitness
The egg sandwich
TinyE’s first tooth came out today while many of her relatives watched
My golf clubs
My phone call with my Grandmommy (the nonagenarian) earlier today
Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec
Kansas University, and, within that, Kansas Jayhawk football
The good news we had about the scary thing that happened this year
Every bad poem I wrote this year; that I’m still writing while I struggle
Text messaging
Spoon River
My hand doesn’t hurt anymore
Como Lake and Phalen Lake
Most every piece of art TinyE gives me
The strong field of Democratic candidates
Keren Ann
April 15, 2008
January 20, 2009

Yes, this humble, shabby blog and friends who stop by from time to time and that some folks endured my unannounced hiatus earlier this year. I am thankful for you and for all these other things.

I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful.

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mardi, novembre 20, 2007

I'm Pretty Sure that in a Past Life I was Russian

Yep. It’s true, and yes, I feel weird saying it. But I’ve really come to think it’s true. Here’re ten reasons why:

1. I love Russian literature.

2. When I was in college, as a Political Science major, I studied Sovietology.

3. I love vodka innately.

4. I moved from Kansas to Minnesota (perhaps for a climate that more closely resembles the one I knew in the past).

5. To me, the sexiest accent of all is the Russian accent.

6. When I was in high school, I listened to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake every day (literally). I love it innately. I love Tchaikovsky in general (especially his Variations on a Rococo theme (I also love the cello)).

7. I love Matryoshka dolls, and own a set featuring Russian leaders.

8. In general I have an affinity for Eastern Europe. For example, I really like the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.

9. I have Socialist tendencies.

10. I really want to visit Russia, especially Moscow and St. Petersburg.

A little weird for a black kid from Kansas, no?

Also, to add a little but of nuts to this heaping serving of crazy, I think I died in a muddy battle field. This would explain my fear of mud (I really am afraid of mud).

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jeudi, novembre 15, 2007

What's Going On?

Pew Charitable Trusts will issue a report today with startling news about African-Americans and downward mobility. A related article is found here.

The study might also apply to me. I was born to a middle class family (my father, a dentist, died when I was 8; my mother is a retired Psychiatric Nurse and mental health counselor). I never really had a sense for my parents income (or my mother’s), but I grew up with everything I needed and most of what I wanted.

Many African-Americans, who had a background similar to my own, have now fallen into the lowest income quintile.

Some quotes from the article referenced above:

For every parental income group, white children are more likely than black children to move ahead of their parents' economic rank, while black children are more likely than white children to fall behind."

Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were "solidly middle income" fall back into the lowest earnings bracket, compared with just 16 percent of white children.

Forty-two percent of children born to parents at the bottom of the income distribution remain at the bottom while 39 percent born to parents at the top, stay at the top.

From a different article (which may require a login):

…the reduction has been more dramatic for black men than whites. And income for white women, who were less likely than black women to work outside the home a generation ago, has grown faster than it has for black women. Black women earned a median income of $21,000 in 2004, almost equal to that of white women. Black men had a median income of $25,600, less than two-thirds that of white men.

Another reason so many middle-class blacks appear to be downwardly mobile is likely the huge wealth gap separating white and black families of similar incomes. For every $10 of wealth a white person has, blacks have $1.

I’m pretty sure that I have exceeded the income of my mother, but I’m not positive. I cannot comment on how my household income would compare to the household income I would have had (adjusted for inflation) had my father lived.

I can say that I’m nearly obsessed with wealth transfer. TinyE was barely one month old when her 529 plan was started. The goal is for her to go to college and to finish without the burdens of, or with manageable student loan debt. Often I think we need to start an IRA or a mutual fund for her to take advantage of the exponential growth available to those who start investing early (even $50 per month started at age 6 would be hard to catch up to by investing significantly more starting at age 21). When I articulate my visceral reaction, I don’t want her to experience downward mobility, but when I think about it divorced from larger societal considerations, I hope she will pursue the path she desires and won’t focus on income in the way that I did and do.

Mrs. Duf, who is white, sees the value in planning for our future and for our daughter's future, but she approches that from a place of logic, without my manic posture.

At any rate, something is horribly wrong. My theory: education discrepancies, incarceration discrepancies, bias, and larger pressures against middle and lower middle class families.

mercredi, novembre 14, 2007

Regulating the Circulation; or: a Damp Drizzly November in My Soul

On 14 November 1851, the greatest novel of all time was published:

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

That's right, Moby Dick was published today.

Yes, I love it. Yes, I am obsessed with it. Yes, I'm a nerd.

Anyone up for a few years asea, whaling?

mardi, novembre 13, 2007

A Tragic Villian

This is an interesting article about a book written by a damaged man. I could not imagine myself buying the book (I hate the idea that my gesture there would line the pockets of a figure I find to the cause/source of a lot of harm), and I was thankful for the summary. Like most, this man is a hypocrite. He has a phenomenal anger at Yale University, and an inexplicable regard for Ronald Reagan. And, in point of fact, both have done him equal harm (his view, not my own). Most troubling about the article is how well it explains the extent to which our tainted nurturing and personal grievances can become the foundations of our philosophies. For most of us it doesn’t matter on such a grand scale. Here it does.