Homo homini rodentius est

Network, 30 Years Later

I went to see Spiderman 3 this week and — for the life of me — could not see a quarter of a billion dollars on the screen. Sure, some of the computer-generated effects, especially the first appearance of Sandman, are astonishing — even moving — but the movie, by many accounts the most expensive in film history, is a strangled mess. I needed to wash my eyes out with something really good after seeing it, so stopped off at Virgin Video on the way home and picked up the DVD of something I haven’t seen since I was a kid.

Just about this time 30 years ago, Network, Sidney Lumet’s masterful production of Paddy Chayefsky’s script was on its way to clean up at the Oscars and deservedly. Arriving like a thunderclap, Chayefsky’s blistering satire excoriated the rise of television “infotainment” and the accompanying descent of standards in a medium he had helped pioneer. Briefly, it’s the story of a news anchor named Howard Beale who, after a long and respected career, finds himself being cut because of low ratings. But instead of passing from the scene quietly, Beale looks into the camera lens during his broadcast and announces to his dwindling audience that because his job was his sole reason to live he will blow his brains out on national television one week hence — an event guaranteed to generate huge ratings (“At least a 50 share”). The rest, as they say, is movie history.

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Progress report: my soul

Exactly one year ago today I [wrote] about an interaction I had with a beggar on the street and the profound impact it had on me. At the time, I resolved that I would change the way I treated people that I came across in my days — especially desperate people. After I finished writing, I hoped that unlike so many other times that I resolved to change this or that about myself it would stick this time. Well, it did.

Over the past year I’ve met up with scores of homeless and destitute people as I walk around the city. Some have become a daily part of my commuting ritual; one man, Dave, who has lived on my street for a number of years and who was watched over by our local deli men, declined badly over the winter and then disappeared. But in each instance, whenever someone sought my attention or help, I offered it. Usually just a few dollars and a smile but I also saw that many people needed a few moments of attention, a bit of conversation and a direct gaze into their eyes as much as they needed the money. Perhaps the worst effect of their desperation is the alienation they suffer — even surrounded by thousands of people. They become ghosts even before they are dead. Strange to say it took some practice to reach out to them — actually more disinhibition: deciding that it was all right to give money to the same person everyday by extinguishing the thought that I was being “taken advantage of” with the recognition that their need was persistent and that I was in a position to help. Practicing humanity. What a concept.

Jerry Falwell faces judgment. Finally.

As a charter member, along with [Tinky Winky], of the cabal that — according to Jerry Falwell — brought you [9/11] and any number of other disasters both natural and unnatural, I can’t say I’m sorry to see him go. But I’ll try to be gracious and not speak ill of the dead.

All I will say is that I find it interesting that God’s servant on Earth was taken at age 73, when my chain-smoking, hard-drinking, divorced parents made it to 74 and 76 respectively. Probably doesn’t mean a thing. I’m just sayin’…

Hitchens debates Sharpton. Both lose.

Krusty HitchensI almost feel sorry for Christopher Hitchens. I attended the “debate” that he engaged in last Monday with Al Sharpton at the New York Public Library. The entire episode was a surreal example of how diminished is Hitchens’ reputation as a public intellectual. For weeks before the event, the library had advertised it as a discussion with him about his new book, [God Is Not Great] — the latest handbook of apostasy to join an ever-growing list of atheist polemics. Then, for some reason (lagging ticket sales?) about a week before the event, it suddenly became a debate with Rev. Al Sharpton. Bizarre, to say the least. Perhaps they were hoping for verbal pyrotechnics — The Thrilla in The Celeste Bartos Forum… so to speak. A reporter for the New York Times wrote it up as a title bout, even listing the proceedings in “Rounds”, which was generous.

A slick self-promoter best known in New York as a man who never met a microphone he didn’t like and who made his name during the notorious [Tawana Brawley fiasco], Sharpton hardly seemed the proper foil for Hitchens’ intellectual challenge of scripture and its place in public life. Though “ordained” at the age of nine (whatever that means), he has never shown much ethical compunction in his own public life, so it was unclear how he could be seen as a defender of religious ethics in the public lives of others. Perhaps, having recently achieved a coup of sorts by raking Don Imus over the coals for his racist mutterings and contributing to his downfall, Sharpton felt that he was anointed to speak on matters of public morals. Ah, but as we know from Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. As events would turn out to show…

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Matzoh brei at B&H Dairy

St. Mark’s and Second Ave. May 5, 2007 12pm.

One of the last authentic dairy restaurants left in Manhattan. Mama taking a break from the kitchen at the last table on the left, Mike behind the counter.

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