November 28 – 29, 2014

It was so exciting to watch all the Black Out Black Friday protests unfolding via Twitter. In a society where legislators are for sale to the highest bidder, it’s eminently sensible for political activism to strike directly at the capitalist/corporatist power structure. And I was hugely impressed at the size of some of the protests, especially in St. Louis. 

Certainly enormously bigger than anything I’ve ever seen associated with Buy Nothing Day.

We drove into Roanoke and went ice skating. It’s actually kind of difficult to skate immediately after the rink has been Zamboni’d – my skates were going all over the place. I only skate once or twice a year anyway, so I’m operating at a consistent heavy deficit, but this was yet still more difficult.

Ten minutes of the little ice hockey hellions skidding everywhere, though, and it was just fine. 

Oh! The other day I promised some thoughts on Birdman when I got back to civilization. Here they are:

I mentioned that Birdman is a tour de force, and it is, of cinematography. It’s constructed to resemble a single take, and the camera is nearly constantly moving, swooping from set piece to set piece, following one person into a scene and then following another out of it.

It’s a movie about the theater, and about the tension between Hollywood and Broadway, or rather Hollywood actors and New York actors, since any actual line between Hollywood and Broadway was erased sometime long before The Lion King became the longest-running Broadway musical ever.

In that sense it’s extraordinarily old-fashioned, or rather it pretends to be, because it’s not really about all of that stuff, so much as it’s about confidence, in all of its permutations.

Despite the endlessly moving camera & other cinematographical trickery, the dialogue is hopelessly stagey, as perhaps befits a movie about the staging of a play, although I think I’d rather watch an entirely naturalistic movie about the staging of a play.

Edward Norton is amazing. So are Emma Stone’s eyes – they’re twice as big as anyone else’s. Everyone’s a little bit manic in a “theater people!” kind of way. Michael Keaton is fine, which is to say he’s actually pretty great, inasmuch as he’s playing sort of a hack actor during most of it, but one who has occasional flashes of brilliance onstage.

I don’t know how well it will age – there are a lot of Twitter references – but it’s probably the most interesting & engaging movie I have seen all year, so that’s something.

Drove home today (Saturday the 29th). Google Maps lady ignored my request to be routed via US 29 and instead sent me via a labyrinthine series of back roads. It was a gorgeous day & the roads were so obscure that there was very little traffic, so it was actually pretty awesome. Lots of rolling hills & small farms.

I listened to the new Tender Fruit album three or four times in a row in the car, and confirmed that it’s a shoo-in for my top-10 list this year. I’m afraid it’s going to get caught up in holiday shuffles and the general indifference of the press at large, and get overlooked, which would be an enormous shame. It’s heartbreakingly good, and in an idiom – stripped-down rueful female singer-songwriter – that has wider appeal than a lot of what I listen to.

November 28 – 29, 2014

November 14, 2014

Had a kind of disappointing series of emails with a member of Durham City Council, someone who is by most markers a progressive, but who at one point said the following:

 I’d say that people who can convince others that they are a good bet get access to capital. Some get access to a whole lot of capital, because they convince a whole lot of others–or at least some with who have access to a lot of capital.

At no point in that email (or any other) did he acknowledge the fact that race, gender or social class might in any way affect people’s access to capital. 

In his original response to my email (the one posted to Tumblr yesterday), he said:

The incentives for large scale developers are based on what the developers will do–jobs, tax base increases and more. To get any incentive money, they have to perform. If they don’t, they get nothing. If they do perform, the incentive is paid for by a portion of their property tax. They don’t get the incentive until they’ve finished their improvements, increased the tax base and started paying increased taxes. Large scale developers are, in a way, funding their own incentives.

My question back to him, and to the rest of the City Council, to which I have still not received a response, was as follows:

I’ll confess that I don’t know as much as I should about how business taxes are structured in the city of Durham. So does every successful business get a discount on their taxes as a function of the value they’ve added back to the city? Does one’s tax rate go down for every new employee hired? Does one’s base rate go down in proportion to every dollar of additional taxable value one’s improvements add to a piece of property?
Because that actually sounds like a pretty interesting system, especially inasmuch as it could be used to incent people who are sitting on empty structures to actually put them to use. So is it applied across the board?
I’ll absolutely post followups here if/when I get an answer to that question.
In case these posts haven’t made it crystal clear: I believe that handing out millions of dollars in incentives to out-of-state developers now, at this point in Durham’s growth, is a terrible idea.
The city’s success thus far has been achieved, to a remarkable degree, by people and companies who are heavily locally invested. The out-of-towners are showing up now because they want to capitalize on all of that hard work done by others. Which is fine, up to a point, but I see no reason to promise them additional incentives for doing so.
It was really cold after the sun went down. We walked to Toast for dinner & the chill (not to mention the freezing wind) was undeniably wintry. Walking back home, we noticed a couple of folks sleeping rough in the doorway of the Bargain Furniture building. 
It’s never a good time to be homeless, y’all, but winter is a real killer. If you’re not already, please donate to Urban Ministries of Durham. They work tirelessly to feed, clothe & house Durham’s homeless (and unlike some other groups, they don’t lay an explicitly religious trip on people as a condition of receiving help).

November 14, 2014