Friday, May 26, 2006

Super Al Returns with An Inconvenient Truth

While watching An Inconvenient Truth, I thought of Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments; of course, Heston’s stone tablets seem archaic alongside Al Gore’s prophetic power-point presentation. Nevertheless, the Katrina age eco-gospel is here: thou shall not trivialize global warming! Thou shall not drive gas guzzling Hummers! Unfortunately, before we rejoice; all the good ideas, slick graphics, and corny jokes on this (soon to be extinct) planet will never wipe away our inconveniently timed eco-apocalypse. It’s too late, and judging by Mr. Gore’s somber face, he knows it. Undoubtedly, the most frightening aspect of Gore’s “Mr. Science” slide show is that irresponsible environmental habits have already pushed any thought of future survival on earth “off the chart.”

All life (yes, American life too) is in dire straits. But most frightening, is that even if we kick these dirty petrol/plastic habits, we’re probably already too far past that dreaded and proverbial “point of no return.” Depressing. But look, up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a…Super Al! Yes, he’s here to assure us not to be so fatalistic. We can change. But why bother? In fact, why not be i-pod apathetic? Let us (as Jim Morrison once bellowed) “get [ours] before the whole shit house goes up in flames.” Or not. After all, shouldn’t we at least give our horrible industrial addictions a worthy thrashing before they condemn all of humanity to its grave?

I agree with Al Gore, I think we can offset our waste. It’s not too late and I strongly believe that with international cooperation and (most importantly) world peace, we can stop this, seemingly, inevitable self-destruction. An Inconvenient Truth will not get an award for its mediocre and, oftentimes, irritating computer animation. Nor do I suspect Al Gore receiving recognition for his breakthrough performance. Of course, An Inconvenient Truth is not intended to be an edge of your seat thriller (even if it succeeds in scaring the hell out of us). Davis Guggenheim’s documentary is, meant to educate and provoke audiences into discussing this super-sized problem as well as to develop potential ways of redirecting these troubling trends. In this sense, An Inconvenient Truth succeeds and is definitely the most important movie of the year.

Unfortunately, backward socio-political ideologues—such as those who neglect to tabulate the true value of natural capital and, subsequently, abuse it—are preventing society from not only engaging in an honest discussion about global warming but actually believe it to be “fiction” (i.e. “the jurys still out on global warming”). As Mr. Gore jabs, “This is not so much a political issue, as it is a moral issue.” Unfortunately, such “moral issues” don’t speak so loudly to those more “morally” concerned with who can or cannot be legally married then, say, pay attention to the heavy concerns attached to waking up one morning in a Manhattan under 40 feet of sea water.

Hopefully, Gore’s sobering and stark analysis will serve as a wake-up call to those who ignorantly believe we can continue on such suicidal paths. The dangers of our industrial and commercial pollutants are obvious to the readers of New World. But to a larger Da Vinci Code watching audience? Well, I guess old habits are bad to break. However, if more people don’t start demanding and initiating real change then it’s going to take a whole lot more than Superman to save the day.

Friday, May 19, 2006

John McCain - Unwanted Guest

Commencement ceremonies tend to be boring and only worth their tedium when finally over. Fortunately, for The New School’s class of 2006, this year’s commencement is one charged with controversy and ripe with protest potential –how exciting. Admittedly, inviting conservative Senator John McCain to be keynote speaker and recipient of an honorary degree from this “liberal institution” has had much in provoking the peaked interest.

Of course, perhaps all this concern is for good reason? After all, the criticisms stacked up against Senator McCain certainly seem to outweigh any “personal legacy of integrity.” Accordingly, a significant number of students, faculty, and alumni (close to 600 according to an online petition) believe John McCain is an inappropriate choice as a commencement speaker because he doesn’t represent “The New School’s progressive tradition.” What then is it about the Senator’s record that makes him such a worthy target for the consistent barbs of liberally educated progressives? Obviously, McCain’s unabashed support for the ruinous war in Iraq, his illogical pro-life stance, and out-right bigoted rejection of same-sex marriage have done much in igniting the long burning embers of social activism of this “University in Exile.”

Thankfully, students and faculty are not being as hospitable to this unwanted guest as members from the school’s administration may prefer. Two weeks ago, three-dozen protesters stood outside of The New School’s building on Fifth Avenue in hopes of drawing attention to their cause. Responding to this protest, an online petition, and various letters from concerned students and alumni; New School President (and former Senator) Bob Kerrey stood firm with his decision to have Senator McCain as speaker. Kerrey believes, “McCain is one of the greatest and most influential moral and political figures of our age.” Agreed, but does McCain’s “moral” votes in the senate truly speak to the ideals of The New School? Kerrey thinks so; he argues, McCain’s “public service accomplishments are not only entirely consistent with [The New School’s] best traditions, but [that they] far out-weigh any disagreements we may have with his views on particular issues.”

Such disagreements will (assuming he sticks to the stump speech he has already delivered to Liberty and Columbia Universities) be brought up in McCain’s address. In fact, McCain acknowledges “we contend regularly and enthusiastically over many [such] questions.” Making friendly with his critics, McCain encourages his contesters to speak up and argues, “It is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.”

Undoubtedly, John McCain will (hopefully) face a fair share of hecklers at today’s commencement, especially when reaffirming his decision for war in Iraq. Of course, he will at the same time acknowledge “war is an awful business.” Of course, such rhetoric is expected; after all, John McCain often presents himself as not-as-bad-as other conservatives. In fact, this could be one of the main reasons Senator McCain agreed to speak at Jerry Falwell’s highly conservative Liberty University one week ahead of his appearance at The New School. McCain, like many 2008 presidential contenders, presents himself as a moderate centrist (or in his case a “maverick”). Admittedly, McCain has done commendable work; however (war supporter aside), when considering his conservative voting record, McCain fails as a “maverick” when compared alongside his fiscally conservative / socially liberal, republican colleagues (i.e. Senator Olympia Snow of Maine).

In the end, The New School vs. McCain clash is about more than the war (not that those who supported the decision shouldn’t be held accountable) but does concern—as Brooklyn Rail editor, Theodore Hamm, recently wrote—“a school trying to preserve its identity, in a city that needs to do the same.” This identity Hamm is so concerned about protecting is the social and secular values associated with a tolerant and progressive New York. McCain can try to be a “maverick”, but no amount of smoke-and-mirrors will ever hide his conservatism, which is completely at odds with the education and values students at The New School have spent a lot of time and money to acquire.

I wonder if David Harowitz is paying any attention to this debate? After all, could this be an example of a liberal bias regarding academic freedoms or just plain democracy in action? In many respects, this is less about McCain being the unwanted guest than it is about Bob Kerrey’s lack of connection with the students he, presumably, represents. Bill Clinton once described John McCain and Bob Kerrey as men who have “nothing to hide or prove.” This will not be the case for their joint appearance addressing The New School’s graduating class. Whereas Mr. Kerrey will need to somehow allay the concerns of his student body, faculty, and administration; John McCain will attempt to prove he is, apparently, not as bad as all those “other” fundamentalists.

Who knows what will happen? After all, commencement is still a couple hours away. Nevertheless, there is one thing we can be sure of; this conservative “maverick” Senator will receive “an honorary degree from The New School” and the only thing the graduating class can do about it is at least find some comfort in knowing John McCain comes from the old school and that his archaic beliefs and irrational policy decisions are going the same way as the dinosaur –soon to be extinct. Admittedly, this will be a great photo-op for McCain ’08 advertising purposes. Fortunately, there will be a New School audience there as well, who can either choose to sit there and take it, or have something to say back. I say, speak up class of 2006! You’ve earned it; the time for change is now!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

...No Surprises Please

David Blaine has tested the limits of human endurance before: buried alive, frozen in a chunk of ice, and fasted for 44 days while suspended over the river Thames; unfortunately, Blaine failed to complete his most challenging stunt-holding his breath for nine minutes- last night in the plaza at Lincoln Center. Muret Gunel, the head of Blaine's medical team said, "He still feels today like he let people down." Indeed, but only because we do not like to see our own weaknesses and limitations reflected back to us live on network TV.

I know I wanted Blaine to succeed. For me, there was something beautifully poetic -perhaps even magical- about Blaine's attempt that only a strange and internal feeling can truly describe yet words often fail to achieve. It is that feeling one experiences when craning their neck to marvel at a skyscraper or when witnessing someone beat a sports record. During these moments the whole of humanity seems to take a great collective leap forward, as if one man's success somehow makes us all faster, stronger, and smarter. In a world so consumed with conflict, sparse natural resources, and advanced technologies (often difficult to comprehend, let alone navigate), our failures and challenges make us feel weak and broken; thus, it is inspirational to see a man challenge these limits of physical and mental endurance so as to try and take another leap. Blaine's attempt was for his mind to transcend the limits of his body and even matter itself. He failed.

Regardless, throughout the week Blaine spent underwater, he was visited by people daily and succeeded in showing them all something beautiful. The happiness he brought to these onlookers was magic in itself and we should comend him for this. Blaine was already an ideal before his stunt and will most certainly not let this failure deter him from more ambitous imaginings. I'd like to pretend the orginal record for holding breath underwater was 6 minutes and 30 seconds, so that Blaine's seven minutes would've been a success. Regretably this was not the case, Blaine instead only confirmed the limits of our collective human experience and that these limits are often there to teach us more about who we are, this, in its own sense, is true magic.