Crucial Minutia
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Felice Belle
Stakes Is High: This Week’s Wow Award
1 Comment | posted April 22nd, 2007 at 09:12 am by Felice Belle


Every now then I hear a piece of news that leaves me speechless. Not that there are no words to say, just that in the moment I cannot find them.

When this happens my default response is, “wow.”

Short, simple, to the point. Communicating just the right amount of shock, awe and/or wonder.

This week, I’d like to present my first ever Wow Award to a German Army training video. According to the BBC, “during the filmed training session, an instructor tells the soldier: ‘You’re in the Bronx, a black van pulls up in front of you and three African-Americans get out and start really insulting your mother… act!’”

(On so many levels).

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Why Japanese Culture Is So Weird
3 Comments | posted April 19th, 2007 at 04:56 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

Hello Kitty FashionIf you’re anything like me, everytime you see Dragonball Z, Akira, Princess Mononoke, or any hentai you—ahem—accidentally come across, you wonder, “What is up with Japan? Why is their culture so weird?” In a feature in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about the popularity of anonymous group suicide in Japan (subscription required), the first plausible theory I’ve heard is offered:

“Japan lost the war to the Americans,” [Hideaki Anno, creator of the popular Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series] explains…Since that time, the education we received is not one that creates adults. Even for us, people in their 40s, and for the generation older than me, in their 50s and 60s, there’s no reasonable model of what an adult should be like.” The theory that Japan’s defeat stripped the country of its independence and led to the creation of a nation of permanent children, weaklings forced to live under the protection of the American Big Daddy, is widely shared by artists and intellectuals in Japan.

This is mentioned in the context of anonymous group suicide, but for me it goes a long way towards explaining Hello Kitty fanatics, large-iris manga contact lenses, and viral slapping videos. I mean, this stuff is weird!

Courtney E. Martin
Composing a Life: Too Much Sugar, Not Enough Medicine?
2 Comments | posted April 17th, 2007 at 08:26 am by Courtney E. Martin

stewartA new study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press confirms the obvious hunch that Americans are not so informed about current events. They concluded this by asking people stumpers like, “Who is the current vice president?” Thirty one percent of people either didn’t know or were too embarassed to utter Slick Dick’s name.

Here’s the really interesting bit, though: of the six news sources cited most often, “The Daily Show” and “The Cobert Report” were tied at the top with websites of major newspapers. As “well, duh” as that seems, we have to take a moment to reflect on how totally unprecedented it is that the majority of Americans are getting their news from a comedy show.

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Joie Jager-Hyman
Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?
2 Comments | posted April 13th, 2007 at 07:28 pm by Joie Jager-Hyman


Over a year and a half after the levees were breeched in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this is what you see when driving through much of New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish (I took these pictures myself). Once vibrant neighborhoods now look like eerie ghost towns with an occasional construction site sprouting up from the wreckage as a reminder that there are families who still yearn, in spite of everything, to return home.

Government has failed these people at all levels. Amazingly, local citizens and charity organizations have risen up to help put communities, schools and homes back together.

What can you do? Here are some organizations that are doing really good work (some of which are public/private partnerships):
Greater New Orleans Foundation
New Schools for New Orleans
Unified New Orleans Plan
Foundations for New Orleans

For the time being, at least, the responsibility for rebuilding the Gulf Region lies in all of us.
If you have additional recommendations for how we can contribute to this cause, please share them.

Jennifer Gandin Le
Poetic People Power
2 Comments | posted April 12th, 2007 at 02:37 pm by Jennifer Gandin Le

Poetic People Power logoI’d like to give a shout out to Ms. Tara Bracco, a friend of many Crucial Minutists. (Though that’s not really a word, and it looks kind of like “Menudo.” Maybe we need a different term for ourselves.)

Tara’s the founder and producer of Poetic People Power, an annual poetry event that combines poetry and activism. Last night was the project’s fifth event. Tara always offers a great variety of poets and styles: from the hilariously theatrical and brief Sugar Johnson to the long-form lyricism of Pamela Sneed.

The cool thing about this project is that Tara commissions a new poem from each writer, each year on a different subject. This year it was universal health care. You’d think those poems might be awfully dry, but they were eloquent and moving. Each poet reads their commissioned piece, and another original poem that represents their style. The result is a delicious sampling that addresses one issue, but weaves in the poets’ other passions as well.

Another thing I dig: Tara always provides a “Stay Active!” section in the program, which offers several organizations doing concrete work to make a difference.

I overheard Kimmi talking with several other audience members after the show. They were saying how refreshing it was to listen to people speak out passionately about an issue, without being embarrassed or ironic.

I wish those crotchety critics of young people could see projects like Tara’s. They might think twice before accusing us of apathy.

Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: What Men Can Learn From Wenches
3 Comments | posted April 09th, 2007 at 02:08 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

“A good wench is so hard to find,” laments King Phillip, sitting on his throne, speaking with Hank Hill. “You are fortunate. Yours seems sturdy. If I had her in my employ, it would solidify the bond between our two kingdoms.”

In the King of the Hill episode “Joust Like a Woman,” Hank Hill is trying to make a big propane sale to Phillip’s traveling Renaissance Fair. But Phillip refuses to drop character, speaking only with thee’s and thou’s in a British accent. (He’s voiced by Alan Rickman.)

Phillip’s kingdom is a misogynist’s fantasy. Women are put in the stocks for “the crime of offering her own opinion,” paid less than men, and have no rights. To help Hank make the sale, though, his wife Peggy agrees to work for Phillip. Upon discovering the inequalities, she goes to speak with Phillip, who ignores her unless she addresses him as King. When she asks him if he’s familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, he asks how could he be? After all, it is but the year 1590. Peggy tries to organize a revolt of the wenches by throwing tomatoes at Phillip, but the other women abandon her at the last second. To keep Peggy from the stocks, Hank agrees to fight a joust for Peggy’s honor—and the propane account.

“Take off that crown! I’m kicking your ass!”

*     *     *

Here’s the thing: men are in trouble in our society.

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Jennifer Gandin Le
Beauty in a Wicked World: The Daffodil Project
1 Comment | posted March 28th, 2007 at 08:47 pm by Jennifer Gandin Le

Daffodil ProjectIt’s late March, which means that flowers are starting to sprout in Fort Greene Park, like the one to the left. But this isn’t just any daffodil.

Five and a half years ago, shortly after September 11, 2001, Netherlands resident Hans van Waardenburg wanted to do something for the grieving citizens of New York City. So he donated half a million daffodil bulbs to NYC, as a gift from the City of Rotterdam.

Several parks groups coordinated 10,000 volunteers who planted 250,000 bulbs on October 20th, the first day of planting. This work is known as the Daffodil Project. It gave stunned New Yorkers something concrete to do. That next spring, the flowers burst into bloom and surprised us as we read news articles about the six-month commemoration ceremonies. They were yellow, the color of remembrance. It was perfect.

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Theo Gangi
National Pastimes: Political Theater
1 Comment | posted March 23rd, 2007 at 06:09 pm by Theo Gangi

The problem with Hollywood’s recent Historical action flicks is the marginal interest in history. At the top of the box office last weekend, 300, based on a Frank Miller comic book, tells the story of a famous Spartan last stand. What’s troublesome is that the movie surgically removes the strategic reason for this sacrifice—to save the lives of the 6,000 other Greek soldiers who would’ve been slaughtered. Why this fact is left out isn’t exactly clear, but it is disconcerting that somehow it’s easier for an audience to swallow a sacrifice for a vague, undefined ideology than for a strategic purpose.

It reeks of Bush logic. The Spartan king goes off to war while the Greek people are either too corrupt or too stupid to know it’s time to fight. This king represents only 300 of his constituency, the way our president only represents 30%. This king kills the Persian diplomat for suggesting a negotiation. Why mention that the Greeks destroyed an important Persian temple just years before? No, these ‘ambassadors’ are people of color coming for our freedom. Can’t talk, gotta kill ‘em. Git ‘er done. But most shameful, the movie pretends the 300 Spartans didn’t go to war with 6,000 other Greeks because then they would’ve looked like pussies. The filmakers also removed the Spartan’s body armor. I’m surprised they didn’t remove the spears and shields as well, and go into battle swinging their genitals.

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Joie Jager-Hyman
Kidz Today: Kidz Today are Screwed
3 Comments | posted March 21st, 2007 at 12:35 pm by Joie Jager-Hyman

Imagine this:

You are in your own house. It is the place where you wake up each morning and lay your head each night. It is your refuge from the world’s turmoil. It is the structure that contains your life’s possessions.

All of the sudden, there is water everywhere. And it is rising fast, seeping in through the walls, gushing in from the windows. Outside, you can see floating red balls. They are massive nests of fire ants with a queen that is surely in panic. They take loft to escape the water moccasins, poisonous water snakes that threaten humans and ants alike.

The water continues to rise. Cockroaches and rats come up from the sewers and canals seeking dry land all around you. You pile up your furniture to get to higher ground. The water keeps rising.

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Jennifer Gandin Le
Gallup Statistics for the Bored
2 Comments | posted March 20th, 2007 at 11:23 am by Jennifer Gandin Le

I ran across the Gallup website while researching an op-ed today. If you’ve never flipped through their poll statistics, bookmark this page for the next time you want to procrastinate:

I’m amused by the various poll topics. They cover everything from abortion to Osama bin Laden to Work. It’s also striking that poll respondents named two of the hot button issues in politics — abortion and gay rights — as having “low urgency.” Note these two quotes:

“Of any issues tested, it [homosexuality] had the lowest importance for the 2004 presidential vote.”

“Abortion is not an important issue for most Americans.”

I know others have discussed this before, but it amazes me every time I hear it. The media (printed, visual, and virtual) has such power to shape the national dialogue, even when it contradicts our every day experience.

No conclusions, just that observation.

Courtney E. Martin
Composing a Life: The Next Next for Your Old-Timey Resume
1 Comment | posted March 20th, 2007 at 08:38 am by Courtney E. Martin

I went to a fascinating panel a couple of weeks ago at NYU, hosted by Americans for Informed Democracy called “Social Entrepreneurship and Global Change.”

Yeah, I had no idea what it meant either, but apparently me, you, and everyone we know (shout out to the mystically talented Miranda July) is one. (And, yes, July is one too.) As I understood it, if you are someone enacting creative solutions to social problems—and aren’t opposed to blurring the line a bit between nonprofit and profit, grassroots and government, pop culture and theory—then you can slap a fancy new title on your resume.

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