The stodgy, meanspirited partisan politics of some elected officials often reminds us of why we can’t have nice things. And then there are politicians who really seem to enjoy their jobs, or at least the beginning and end parts. Take Christopher Schaeffer, a new town council member in Pomfret, N.Y. who took his oath of office while demonstrating his faith. Schaeffer wore a spaghetti strainer on his head as an article of faith because he is a self-professed Pastafarian, and a minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
It’s just a statement about religious freedom. It’s a religion without any dogma…Mostly, I’m just looking forward to making sure that the town is run smoothly and we meet the needs of all of our citizens. If anybody ever has any concerns or questions, I hope they contact me, because I want to make sure that everyone is represented.
expressed frustration with what he saw as runaway development in the town as well as concerns with how requests for public information were being handled. In November, the council tabled a plan to establish more fees for some public records and add more restrictions on how records could be viewed.
Before I get into the back and forth that resulted in her hiring and why this is a big deal I just want to take a second to say hooray!
Congratulations to Sasheer Zamata!
Have you guys heard of her? In all honesty I hadn’t prior to learning she’d been added to the cast. The Hairpin has quite an archive of her work that’s definitely worth perusing, and then of course there’s her Tumblr, and YouTube channel which I may or may not have spent a considerable amount of time on yesterday evening. Her comedy definitely incorporates a perspective that you don’t hear every day.
Case in point– her standup bit on “racist radio” (above).
In internet stalking her I learned her StepMom is white and sometimes accidentally racist, and that she intends to invent a personal racist consultant sometime in the future.
Zamata got her start through the Upright Citizens Brigade’s diversity program in 2009 and she’s been developing her craft ever since. Here are some more fun facts from Colorlines, some more background from Slate and some thoughts from comedian Sheryl Underwood on CNN who sums up what this all means:
More chocolate on TV!
She’s joking but also not really.
For the first time in 6 years there will be a black female cast member on SNL. What that means is we won’t have to wait for a black performer to make a guest appearance (or tolerate Kenan Thompson in a dress) in order to have content that’s representative of the rest of the world.
That’s a big deal!
Sasheer Zamata’s hilarious and I’m excited for her. I’m hopeful that SNL isn’t just placating the Internet uproar over their lack of diversity with this one symbolic gesture. That would be an insult to Sasheer Zamata and to all of us who called them out in the first place. I’m hopeful they’ll start to show a genuine commitment to diversity, and that even if they fail that, other programs will step up in a way that proves audiences want content that’s reflective of the rest of the world.
Our worlds are becoming increasingly complicated and integrated across all the differences. Our lives are full of complex human beings who don’t fit into check boxes. It’s not enough to just add some color to the cast– add some color to the content. The things that Zamata opines about in her comedy are unique to her perspective. It’s a perspective that we haven’t heard enough of– so I hope that her hiring not only succeeds in getting more chocolate on TV but also in elevating her perspective.
To be the first in 6 years puts a ton of pressure on Sasheer Zamata to not only do well but to be perfect.
Be yourself, Sasheer.
It’s gotten you this far and it will undoubtedly have us rolling in the isles come your debut on January 18th.
Nuclear Nation is director Atsushi Funahashi’s attempt to engage us in conversation. This documentary introduces viewers to the former residents of Futaba, the location of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and gives us a window into their lives after the disaster. The film follows the town’s residents, their lives as refugees, and everything that comes with that: communal living in an abandoned high school near Tokyo, coming to terms with the loss of family members, the loss of home, the lack of compensation, the questions about health from radiation exposure- the list goes on and on. Meditative and disturbing, this story of survivors raises more questions than it answers, giving viewers an intimate portrait of loss.
It’s midnight in Japan when I reach Atsushi over Skype. He’s just returned from a full day of shooting his next film, Nuclear Nation 2, which continues the story. He briefly updates me on how the families profiled in the movie are doing today before we turn the discussion to Nuclear Nation.
Atsushi, I heard you originally began filming Nuclear Nation just weeks after the disaster. How did this project begin for you?
“At that time I was preparing to work on a fiction film and it was cancelled due to the earthquake and tsunami. So, I lost my job for 3 months and had nothing to do except watch this disaster on TV and wonder what to do. CNN and American media were saying it was like Chernobyl and there was this meltdown going on. Meanwhile, the Japanese government didn’t say anything. They were very ambiguous and said there was no immediate harm to human health. I was living in this gap, this huge information gap, and I was frustrated. No one even knew how far away you really needed to get from these nuclear reactors to be safe. First the government said you must evacuate 3km, then 10km, then 20km. Meanwhile, the American government issued an advisory to Americans in Japan that said you needed to get at least 50 miles away, which is 80km. No one seemed to know the right distance. Then, this small town called Futaba, which is the location of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, evacuated its people 250km, which is almost to Tokyo. When I heard this news, I thought this was the right answer. Basically, you don’t know the implications of this nuclear disaster so you need to get as far away as possible. Futaba was the only town in Fukushima prefecture that did that. So I became immediately interested in this town. I went and met people and met the mayor and started talking with everyone. I am not a big news corporation. I am a freelance filmmaker. I knew if I wanted to tell this larger story of what was going on in Japan I needed to focus on something specific. I realized I could follow Futaba’s story because the town actually moved its town hall and citizens to an abandoned high school. Everything was in this high school so I thought maybe I can focus on this town’s experience. The concept was to shoot this microcosm that then tells the larger story.”
Your footage of Futaba after the disaster is haunting. How were you able to negotiate access to film in contaminated areas and how did you protect yourself from radiation?
“The Japanese government didn’t allow freelance media to go in there, they limited access to big media corporations. Ironically, these big media corporations said they would not send their people in because they were not going to have their people in this highly contaminated, radioactive area. They had to protect their workers. So, all of a sudden, there was a situation where no one was going in and reporting. I wanted to go because I wanted to be with the people from Futaba when they were allowed to return home for two hours to collect their belongings. Of course, I couldn’t get permission because the government only issues permits to these official news corporations. The Japanese constitution says that citizens have the right to know what’s going on and the media has the right to inform the public. I told the authorities that according to the Japanese constitution this is my right, it’s guaranteed. They told me, “I see what you are saying but we cannot grant you access.” After that I had no option until one of the Futaba families I was following told me they had 4 permits to return to Futaba for 2 hours and only 2 family members going back. So they asked me, “Do you want to go? We need help carrying heavy stuff.” That is how I was able to get a permit to go there. I went in, with them, as part of the family. For one hour I helped them pack and carry heavy stuff and for the other hour I asked them to let me go and shoot the shots you see in the film. I actually borrowed a bicycle from them and, by myself, went all over this radioactive area. There was no electricity, no cellular phone service, no one there. As you saw in the movie there were only animals walking around. I knew if I got lost that’s it. No one would be coming to rescue me. That was scary… Can I change the topic for a minute?”
“One thing I would like to stress is that the radiation exposure limit defined by the Japanese government is totally wrong. It’s really a human rights violation. The international standard defined by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is 1 milli Sievert (mSv) per year. When Chernobyl happened, the former Soviet Union redefined the limit as 5 mSv per year and was heavily criticized by the international community for not protecting its people. The Japanese government has since redefined the limit as up to 20 mSv per year. This is 20 times the international limit per year. This is a crime. It’s evil. The reason they set it up like this is because they don’t want to pay compensation money to people and because they don’t want to have to declare large amounts of land as unlivable. There are huge areas, outside of Futaba, that are exposed to between 1-20 mSv of radiation and people are forced to live there today because the government is not protecting them. People have no choice other than to continue to live there because the exposure is not recognized as over the limit and the government will not offer compensation.”
What do you want Americans to take away from watching this film?
“This is a human rights violation. That’s what I want the American people to understand. Rich people can move on because they can afford to buy another house or start over, but the middle class and poor people cannot restart their lives because they cannot afford it, so they wait. These people are living in temporary housing, which is awful. Some are even still living in the abandoned high school. Living in that type of condition 3 years after this disaster is not acceptable. As of now, most people have not been compensated. TEPCO and the Japanese government have come up with some money, but it’s a ridiculous, unfair amount; it’s very cheap. Some of the people had to give up and take that money but some of them continue fighting. There are also, as I mentioned before, many people being forced to live in this radiation, especially in the zones that have 1-20 mSv of exposure. The Japanese government does not protect these people but they should because the radiation level is over the international standard. The Japanese government is ignoring this. I want viewers to ask, why are the most damaged individuals also the most ignored? I want people to think about this.”
Not only did the legendary folk musician set 33 resolutions– but his resolutions included things like:
#15 Learn People Better
#20 Dream Good
#31 Love Everybody
It’s not a competition but the most popular resolutions as compiled by usa.gov include losing weight, tackling debt, quitting smoking, and volunteering to help others.
All admirable and formidable resolutions.
But what if we all resolved to just love everybody all the time.
What if we all agreed to just dream good and stay glad.
It’s all easier said than done but there’s something comforting in knowing that win, lose or draw we all collectively entertain this notion of owning our vices in an attempt to overcome them, even if it only happens once a year.
I haven’t quite relegated it to my brain basement with the rest of my childhood memories. No, I still sing the theme song in the shower and watch episodes on television whenever I can catch them.
Part of the show’s magic to me relied on how well cast it was. The characters were eccentric, elaborate and lovable despite the fact that they lived in a crazy big mansion and were often oblivious to how privileged they were. Hilary was shopping all the time! Is Carlton whining again?? Ashley was the instabestfriend I hadn’t met yet and oh, Jeffery! Jeffery was hilarious with his spot-on dry humor and he was also so strong! There he goes throwing Jazz out the window again!
I wanted to grow up to be Will. He was a good kid with a big heart, determined to figure things out on his own terms despite being forced out of his element. Aunt Viv was cool but her character always confused me (she was played by two actresses in a show that otherwise maintained character consistency in its 6 seasons on air) and of course there was Uncle Phil.
Parents just don’t understand!
Despite being short-tempered and full of lectures, he was truly looking out for his family’s best interest. He worked hard to earn for his family and yet he was always there to listen and lecture and laugh and dance with them. He was more than his job, and while he took Will into his home reluctantly; with time he came to love him as his own.
The development of their relationship was a testament to the acting chops of Will Smith and James Avery– and yet it was also a reflection of what was going on behind the scenes. Life long friendships were formed on that show.
Do you remember when Carlton, played by Alfonso Ribeiro, made a cameo as a cowboy extra in Will Smith’s Wild Wild West music video? How about how Will was 100% behind Tatyana Ali‘s leap into the music industry following the show’s end? They all stayed friends decades after the last episode aired.
Smith shared a photo of the cast reuniting outside a charity event as recently as 2011 and he spent this New Years Eve alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff (his Fresh Prince best friend both on and off screen) in Dubai.
Also this happened and the Internet nearly exploded!!
You see the folks of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air really and truly developed a family on that sound stage. As an avid viewer of the show, it was hard not to feel like whether they knew me or not I was part of that family, too.
When I heard that James Avery passed away yesterday at 68 years young I was, and remain, sad beyond words.
Joseph Marcell, who played the Banks’ family butler Jeffry had this to say on CNN about Avery’s long standing impact:
It was important to him that people understood that the striving of the African American ought to have been shown on television and that this was the moment, this is the moment, and he was happy with it and he strove to present an Uncle Phil that is lovable, that everybody wishes was there Uncle but who was very good at what he did. He was a marvelous man and a truly wonderful actor and what he has done for television, for African Americans on television is unsurpassable really.
We loved each other…and today is the day where we celebrate our life as one of our special ones.
Below is a special scene from a truly remarkable television program.
Happy New Year from Dublin where it is already 2014! We celebrated with a meal of tarragon chicken and green salad with a prosciutto melon starter, with See’s candy and brie for dessert.
(More on food Saturday! I am a glutton!)
But speaking of food,and joy, Dolphins eat puffer fish (aka fugu, the blowfish of careful sushi chefs and eaters) to get high. This behavior is seen especially in younger dolphins, according to zoologist Rob Pilley, who worked on the BBC documentary Dolphins: Spy in the Pod:
This was a case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating.After chewing the puffer gently and passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection.
It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people started licking toads to get a buzz, especially the way they hung there in a daze afterwards. It was the most extraordinary thing to see.
Warning: Slight (unspecific) spoilers ahead. Click here for more on the SNL skit above.
Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, direwolves in the tundra and The Wall and gratuitous nudity, and Ygritte is so annoying and sword play and WINTER IS COMING GAME OF THRONES IS THE BEST.
The land of Westeros was by far my absolute favorite discovery of 2013.
HBO’s hit series built off of the cult following generated by George RR Martin’s popular series A Song of Ice and Fire. Widely watched– and as it turns out even more widely pirated largely due to HBO’s strict third party policy. The show was recently dubbed the most torrented show of 2013, beating out shows like Breaking Bad which saw the series finale come and go this past year. (RIP Breaking Bad.)
I could try to summarize what GoT is about but I don’t know how to do so in a way that’s spoiler-free and does justice to the amount of magic, mayhem and absolute and perpetual badassness of Arya Stark.
Even HBO’s website for the show contains immediate and critical spoilers, don’t click on the link it will ruin everything!
As the series rounds its way into its 4th season there’s still time to catch up.
I binge-watched the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, and the first episode of season 3, just in time to catch the 2nd episode of season 3 and join the masses in waiting week to week for each new episode.
The experience has been thoroughly satisfying.
Check out some spoiler-free Game of Thrones treats courtesy of the world wide web below!
If not, I highly recommend Shannon’s piece here at FDL on the latest brain child of Jenji Kohan, the creator of the TV show Weeds. OITNB takes place in a women’s correctional facility in Connecticut and provides a really dynamic portrayal of the day-to-day lives of its prisoners. There are an abundance of tears and laughs and “WTF DID THAT JUST HAPPEN” moments throughout the series’ first season, currently streaming on Netflix, and if you haven’t binge-watched it yet I join Shannon in recommending it. In addition to being smart and funny and spunky to boot, the series makes a sincere attempt to portray “flawed” characters in a way that doesn’t put their flaws front and center. The show is incredibly well written and I’m a huge fan.
So much so that when I came across this Holiday/Christmas music mash-up magic video featuring the actors who play the show’s characters Crazy Eyes and Taystee, Uzo Aduba and Danielle Brooks respectively, I couldn’t help but indulge in even more Holiday cheer.
All I want for post-Christmas is to spend next Christmas holiday cheering it up with Crazy Eyes and Taystee, preferably around a Christmas tree with instruments and eggnog.
The mash up– dubbed “Jolly Christmas Medley”–was put together by Danielle Brooks herself and created with the help of a Brooklyn-based band called Oh Honey. (more…)
Beverly had insisted that I give her a ring upon arriving at the airport despite my repeated protestation that it would be SUPER late by the time my plane touched down. I called her and her excitement was not only audible but it gave me the little boost I needed to make my way over to baggage claim (lack of overheard storage space resulted in my carry on– which lacked adequate black girl hair products– to be stowed away beneath the plane presumably next to other bags that carried way more than 3.4 FL ounces of leave in conditioner.)
Bag in hand, I started walking in the direction of the rental car hub located at the other side of the airport. After about 20 minutes of walking — and the sinking realization that I had quite a ways to go — I promptly boarded the nearest shuttle to help expedite the process. I’d find out later that the airport was 3 miles across and that the shuttle wasn’t just decoration.
20 hours later- on the shuttle!
Once I had the keys to the rental car it occurred to me that I didn’t have directions to the hotel. (Did I mention the part where I’m not exactly good at traveling and that my “smart” phone is so smart that I don’t know how to use its GPS system?) Mike helped me navigate my way to Decatur, Georgia where our hotel was located, via the magic of the telephone and the ability to drive while on speaker phone.
Estimated Time: Super, duper late.
I was up early the next day to meet Beverly at church. She gave me the address for the church she regularly frequents– a small establishment that she sometimes performs at– with a service that started at 11:30am.
I gave myself ample time to pull together a church appropriate outfit and to– given my poor sense of navigational direction– get lost a few times with some time to spare.
I got into the car, cell phone GPS in hand, and punched in the address of the church only to find that the location didn’t register on the GPS.
No big deal! The street did! Plus, I had the church name!
I googled the church name only to find that the church didn’t exist on the internet. Beverly had mentioned that it was a small church but I guess my 21st Century brain didn’t consider the possibility that, small church or not, it wouldn’t have a website and a corresponding twitter and instagram account.
On top of that Beverly didn’t have a cell phone and since I’d checked in with her right before she left for church I knew she wasn’t home to receive calls on her home phone either.
I punched the street name into the GPS and proceeded to spend the next three hours following a whim hoping to strike gold.
So much for my magic cellphone…
I thought back on some of our initial conversations from a few months earlier. Church had always been a cornerstone of Beverly’s upbringing in Commerce, Georgia. When I asked her who introduced her to the blues she answered definitively:
She told me about going to church with her own family “back in them days”– and getting there via a horse pulled wagon just like Little House on the Prairie.
Maud was the name of her family’s Sunday horse.
Beverly recalled Her Grandmother’s dinners on the first Sundays of August and how her Granddaddy would take some straw out to the horses to keep them occupied during service. Church, family and music were all central to her childhood. In fact music was introduced to her by her Aunts who played together and called themselves The Hayes Sisters. Her aunt Mary Margette gifted her her first guitar when she was 8 years old. It was a toy guitar– a far stretch from the Fender Mustang “Red Mama” that she’d come to write a song about decades later.
You’ve gotta start somewhere and Beverly started young. It’d be years still before her Aunt Bishie would buy her a trumpet so she could play in the school band at Archer High School. Beverly would tell me
I’ll never forget she paid 90 dollars for it.
Beverly went on to play third trumpet and learn the fundamentals of music from her teacher, Clark Taylor. She’d acknowledge that this foundation proved helpful once the time came to hit the road with Piano Red:
I knew how to play all different types of chords; sharps, majors minors and just on and on.
Beverly knows her guitar inside and out– and beyond that she loves her guitars. Not only does she name them all– but on the road, if she so happens to find herself in a motel room with two beds, without hesitation one of those beds goes to her guitars.
On the road myself– driving aimlessly throughout Atlanta, rounding my third hour of trying to find Beverly’s church– I started feeling disheartened.
Church was definitely over and given my propensity to perpetually think that people are mad at me (this is a thing that I do) I felt terrible knowing that I’d come all this way to hang out with Beverly and I’d inadvertently left her hanging at the altar.
I hesitated to give up.
There are churches every other block in Atlanta– and despite knowing it was a long shot, I pulled over to a man selling pumpkin pies on the street and asked him for help.
He effusively ticked off about a half a dozen other churches I should check out with more joy than seemed necessary. It occurred to me that this perfect stranger was not only willing but eager to help me for no other reason than I was someone to be helped. I bought a HUGE and delicious slice of pie from him for $2 and finally came to appreciate that church wasn’t in the cards that day.
Solid way to spend 2 dollars
At that point I felt tired and a little defeated. I stopped by a coffee shop called Kavarna and figured I’d spend some time writing and getting caffeinated.
It was only after about an hour that I realized that this venue specialized in musical acts and that this whole time I had in fact been sitting on a stage.
Later that afternoon I made my way to a pizza shop for a super awesome slice of pineapple and bacon and red pepper pizza and a beer.
I finally reached Beverly after periodically contacting her throughout the afternoon well after 6pm.
She was bummed I missed a good service but she wasn’t mad at me (phew) and we made new plans to meet at the hospital the next morning.
While sitting in the pizza shop, my favorite song from The Band– The Weight– came on blaring through the stereo system:
Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)
I’ll never forget watching Levon Helm, The Band’s drummer, sing this song during my first viewing of The Last Waltz (I’ve since watched it a zillion times) and thinking “Man, I want to be able to do that.”
He sang lead vocals behind his kit and his performance was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
I took up drums shortly thereafter.
Beyond being an epic song that changed my life– and beyond Mavis Staples’ chill inducing rendition of the second verse– I loved the words.
I love the sense of being bombarded with really smart words that simultaneously mean something andmanage to say all of the things.
Take a load off, Fanny.
It sure made sense to me.
Teamwork makes the dream work and yet for some reason while we philosophize about the American dream — and insist that we’re only as strong as the weakest among us — we rarely offer to carry Fanny’s load. Shared struggle means actually sharing in the struggle, showing up and being there.
I’d only known Beverly for about 6 months when she told me she was having a procedure to remove her brain aneurysm. Upon hearing this I immediately knew I wanted to be there if only to help carry the load.
There’s little I could do beside show up and hope that it was enough to help. I hear, back in them days, it used to be more like this. In fact, Beverly told me so:
What would happen is they would get together and they would help each other. See, in the country it’s still like that. If one person got sick in the house or something they would go and help that person. It’s not like that, this generation, these times it’s not like that. I still go back. I think back in my times.
Take a load off, Fanny.
I was up thinking pretty late that night feeling all the emotions. Nervous and scared, sure, but mostly optimistic and grateful.
We’ve all been Fanny at some point in our lives– and for today, Beverly was someone to be helped and I was in a position be there to say: Put the load right on me.
Short films are incredible and often don’t get the spotlight they deserve. I love them because they’re, well, short: they fit into the cracks of your day when you’re looking for an excuse to procrastinate (while expanding your mind of course). Another plus is that shorts are frequently available online for free. It’s no fun to always profile films that people can’t access unless they live in a major city or have fancy cable.
Shorts are also difficult to make. With limited time to tell the story, the filmmaker has to employ the most efficient use of words and images. Finally, shorts are less expensive to make than feature films. This means that the playing field is more level, giving us opportunities to encounter new and exciting voices.
So each week, I’ll be choosing a great short film to share with you. It seems appropriate to lead off with a holiday themed piece. We’ll begin with the work of the good folks over at the ACLU and their amusing short, The NSA is Coming to Town. This 2-minute piece successfully incorporates Santa and the NSA into one video. Need I say more?
The film also ends with a call to action, which is a smart technique. Sometimes the best education comes through entertainment. Whether you are moved to sign the ACLU’s petition or not, it’s undeniable that this short will make you smile and promptly head over to your computer to make sure your email is encrypted. Enjoy.