Friday, March 28, 2014

Our Economy and Our Government Are Broken

As the fight to extend unemployment insurance drags into a fourth month (and my search to find a job drags into its tenth), two conclusions are inescapable: our economy and our government are broken.
Our economy is broken because business owners (ironically referred to as “job creators” by Republicans) have colluded with Republicans to lower the cost of labor by a) shipping jobs overseas b) busting unions, and c) blocking any legislation that might improve workers’ welfare (higher minimum wage, extended unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc.)
President Obama has been a complete failure on this issue. Granted, Republicans have blocked him every step of the way, but that’s when the President should step in and use his power to get things done. Three months since unemployment insurance ended, there’s still no extension. Lock Congress in a room until they extend it! Anyone who’s been without benefits this long and has exhausted their savings is already being evicted! This is a joke!
It’s no surprise that long-term unemployment is higher than ever, especially when 90% of what they tell you to do to get a job doesn’t work anymore.
Want ads are useless. If you wait until a company places an ad on Mediabistro, LinkedIn or Craigslist, it’s already too late. That ad is going to get 100 (if not 1,000) resumes. It’s better to have an “informational interview” with someone and try to create a good impression so that if a job opportunity does come up, they'll call you. But that takes time, and time is something that people who have been unemployed for a long time (like me) don’t have.
Agencies and recruiters are useless. You’re just a piece of paper to an agency. As long as they fill the position, they don’t care whether it’s with you or someone else. Hell, they don’t care if they fill it at all, as long as they fill enough positions to pay the rent that month.
No one is going to care as much about getting you a job as you.
Add to this the fact that most companies would rather hire some 25-year-old and pay them nothing than someone more expensive but with more experience. So what if quality suffers? It’s all about maximizing short-term profits!
This entire country is run on internships! When I was growing up, the only interns were medical students who worked in hospitals…and they got paid.
You’d think our government would take decisive action when faced with a national emergency like this, but our government is broken. So here are some things we can do to fix it:

  1. Campaign Finance Reform: Republicans have already spent a record amount on this election and this is just a mid-term. Unless we get money out of politics, nothing will ever change. This should be our top priority!
  2. Redraw Congressional districts to end gerrymandering. As one of Bill Maher’s guests said recently, people used to choose politicians. Now politicians choose who they want to vote for them. How else do you explain Republicans’ ability to repeatedly block an extension unemployment benefits even when a majority of Americans are in favor of it? Or tougher gun control laws? Or political appointments? With gerrymandering, there are no politician repercussions to worry about.
  3. Abolish the Senate. Why should Rhode Island have as much power as California?
  4. End the filibuster and allow a simple majority vote in Congress to pass bills. There’s a reason why this is the least effective Congress in history.
  5. Abolish the Electoral College and establish a popular vote for elections. Ever since the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George Bush in 2000, we’ve been a victim of this outdated system. The Founding Fathers invented the Electoral College because they didn’t think Americans were smart enough to choose the President. They happened to be right, but then let’s not kid ourselves that we live in a democracy!
  6. Make Election Day a holiday or move it to the weekend. More people vote for American Idol in this country than vote for President. That’s a disgrace! Better yet, allow people to vote online or by cell phone!
We as a country deserve better than this. But unless we demand change, we’re going to get exactly what we deserve.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Madonna: Still "the Shit"

I finally caught up with Madonna’s MDNA concert on Epix last night. I didn’t buy Madonna’s last album or see this tour live, so it was a chance to catch up on what she’s been up to lately.
After a somewhat long, vaguely medieval looking intro, the show got off to a dark, foreboding start, with Madonna’s dancers wearing what appeared to be gas masks. A lot of her songs in this section featured auto-tune, a technology which hopefully has died a well-deserved death by now.
Then Madonna switched into drum majorette gear (among other costumes) and, for the rest of the show, it was the good-time Madonna we all know and love.
A lot of the show seemed to be devoted to reinforcing the Madonna “brand” against Johnny-come-latelies like Lady Gaga. In one clever mash-up, Madonna did a medley of “Express Yourself” and “Born This Way,” proving, if you still had any doubt, that Lady Gaga’s song, if not an outright rip-off, at least sounds a lot like Madonna’s.
But there were other times when I thought she came dangerously close to Michael Jackson’s habit of self-aggrandizement. There were a lot of references to Madonna’s name in the songs (“L-U-V Madonna” in “Gimme All Your Love”) and the very title of her album and tour, MDNA, seems to be an anagram for her name. Another time (again, during “Gimme All Your Love”) she chanted “I’m the shit” (which, apparently, is a compliment these days), and in a video segment, Vicki Minaj proclaimed “There’s only one queen, and that’s Madonna.”
Come on, Madonna! You’ve been making music for 30 years! Are you really that threatened by Lady Gaga?
I also found myself taken aback by all the cursing and casual violence in the show. When did “Fuck Yeah!” become Madonna’s slogan? And another song featured Madonna toting a handgun and some rather lurid video of blood being splattered all over the place.
I mean, it’s not like Madonna’s still the 25-year-old precocious upstart who burst upon the world stage in 1983. She’s one of the most successful women in the world and, up until her divorce from Guy Ritchie, was more likely to be found wearing Burberry suits and riding horses on her English country estate!
There was also some controversy about another video segment in which Madonna appeared as Adolph Hitler. I’m not sure what this was supposed to mean, but I suppose casually tossing around images of Adolph Hitler trivializes the real damage that Hitler did. But we’re so overloaded with such images on a daily basis, this should not shock anyone.
For me, one of great things about Madonna’s shows is the way they’re choreographed from beginning to end. I don’t think Madonna receives enough credit for her talent as a dancer. (She did study with Alvin Ailey, after all.)
Although she appeared to be lip-syching during one of her later numbers, for the most part, she seemed to be singing live. And that’s quite an accomplishment for a 54-year-old singer (at the time of this concert) and one reason Madonna is still “the shit.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Girls: Season 3

 This has been a season of growing pains on Girls. Season 3 ended last night with a bit of a whimper as all four characters went off in different directions: Hannah to the Iowa Writers Workshop, Shoshanna trying to get back together with Ray, Marnie trying to start a new relationship with her coupled actor/musician friend, and Jessa helping an aging artist kill herself. (The artist changes her mind at the last minute, probably because Lena Dunham didn’t want to have to deal with Jessa being charged with murder in the fourth season.)
Now that the novelty of Lena Dunham being a 27-year-old writer/actress/wunderkind has worn off, the time has come for these characters to break out of their 20-something solipsism and figure out the kind of adult women they want to be. One encouraging development this season found the girls leaving the hothouse atmosphere of their native Brooklyn and venturing to the Hamptons for a little female bonding session. This episode had great potential, because it showed all four women airing their previously unknown grievances about the other women in the group. I founded myself saying “Yes!” as they brought up such things as Hannah’s narcissism and Marnie’s perfectionism, but by the next episode, these grievances were forgotten. It was as if their drunken escapade never happened.
One of the great things about this season has been the remarkable casting choices (which were recently noted in a New York Times article), which included not only New York micro-celebrities like the J. Crew executive who was so believable as Hannah’s magazine boss that I thought she was a real actress, but great real actresses like June Squibb from Nebraska as Hannah’s grandmother and Louise Lasser as the aging artist who wants to kill herself. Another highlight of this season has been the reappearance of Andrew Rannells as Hannah’s gay best friend from college. As much as I want to hate Mr. Rannells for being so blessed with looks and talent, I have to admit that he steals every scene he’s in with his comic timing and absolute believability.
The problem I’ve had with this season (which also extends to Looking, Girls’ gay counterpart) has been the characters’ self-centeredness. Maybe that’s been intentional on Lena Dunham’s part, but it’s hard to root for characters that are so emotionally tone-deaf. In the last episode, for example, Hannah decides to tell her boyfriend, Adam, about her acceptance into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop right before he’s about to make his Broadway debut. Hello?
Another minor source of irritation has been the way Hannah seemingly drifts in and out of jobs with no apparent consequence to her living situation. I mean, I know that one of the singular achievements of this series has been its exposure of the dark underbelly of trustafarians, but it impinges on the show’s credibility.
While I still give Lena Dunham lots of credit for breaking barriers, whether it’s by exposing her less than model-perfect naked body in almost every episode or writing parts for and casting older actresses, I’d appreciate it if the characters were a little more outward-looking and less navel-gazing. But that’s a minor quibble on a show that is still one of the best-written and most thought-provoking comedies on television.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What’s Wrong with the Academy Awards

I’ve been asked to weigh in on a matter of great national urgency: What’s wrong with the Academy Awards? (OK, I haven’t been asked to weigh in, I’ve volunteered.) As a gay man, I have a vested interest in this matter. (What am I saying? I don’t even like vests!)
People have raised a number of issues: They’re too long. Who should host them? Why can’t more women dress like Cher?
Let’s address these issues one by one:
  1. The Academy Awards are too long.
    Abso-fuckin-lutely. But unless they decide to hand out a majority of the awards outside of prime time (as they already do with the scientific and technical categories), that will always be the case. Therefore, the awards need to be handed out with a minimum of fuss. All these extraneous musical numbers and film montages need to be cut. I already know about the great history of film. That’s why I’m watching the Academy Awards, you idiot! So unless you’re willing to invite Billy Crystal back to do one of his inspired musical parodies, move it along!
  2. Who should host them?
    The Academy Awards have had a number of hosts over the years, most notably Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and the aforementioned Billy Crystal. These three have had the longest runs and seemed to strike the right balance between respect for and good-natured ribbing of the Academy members. But pretty much everyone who has hosted the Academy Awards has come to the same conclusion: It’s the most thankless job in Hollywood. Even if you do a great job hosting (as I think Ellen DeGeneres did last night), you still get blamed for the show being too long and/or too boring. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Except for Anne Hathaway and James Franco. They really did suck.
  3. Why can’t more women dress like Cher?
    I think there’s a general consensus that stylists have taken over the red carpet and, therefore, watching the red carpet arrivals hasn’t been interesting since about 1988. There’s only one Cher and she’s not at the Academy Awards, she’s at her house in Malibu, watching the Academy Awards with Kathy Griffin and a couple of gays.
But I think the biggest problem with the Academy Awards is that they’re on too late in the year. March?! Really?! I mean, I know we had the Olympics this year but, let’s face it, after January no one gives a shit about Best Sound Editing. The Golden Globes, a bunch of foreign journalists whom no one’s even heard of, have unceremoniously (no pun) usurped the time-honored position of the Academy Awards at the top of the awards heap. (Which brings up another issue: There are too many awards shows. But I digress.)
Let’s move the Academy Awards up to January, where they belong. Hell, maybe they can have them the week after the Golden Globes, while the stars are still drunk. Or better yet, the week before. We’ll show those wine-sipping, cheese-eating Europeans how it’s done!
Or, if worst comes to worst, we can always ask Cher to host. At least we know she’ll wear something interesting.