Entries Posted in "July 2004"

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Tasteful Politics
July 15, 2004

There are very few things that send me into convulsions. Among them, being called "feisty", use of the word "tolerance", little puppies crossing a busy street, and people who say dumb and degrading things about prominent political leaders in public. Ill-politics are like finger nails on a chalkboard for me. It gives me the chills. And I'm not talking about the good kind either. There's nothing like sitting back, relaxing to get your hair cut and being forced to listen to your stylist rant on about how much she hates Bush. Am I the only one that thinks this is completely unprofessional?

So you can imagine my disdain when I heard of Whoopi Goldberg's recent comments about President Bush and Dick Cheney at a recent Kerry fundraiser. I've yet to locate her actual words, but even then, I wouldn't post them because knowing Whoopi, they were inapproriate. The New York Post reported,

"Waving a bottle of wine, she [Goldberg] fired off a stream of vulgar sexual wordplays on Bush's name in a riff about female genitalia."
Classy Whoopi. Very classy. Can't say I'd expect more since Goldberg is known for her uncouth behavior. It seems the heads at Slim-fast did since they made the brilliant decision to hire this loose-cannon as their national spokesperson. That's mistake number one. They did however, avoid mistake number two. When Republican and Conservative Slim Fast drinkers (there's some Google boolean) started complaining to the company, Whoopi got dropped like a bad habit. So much for contracts. Slim Fast's Kathi Eckler remarks,
"Slim-Fast selected Whoopi Goldberg as its spokesperson because of her commitment to losing weight, which we applaud.

"We are disappointed by the manner in which Ms. Goldberg chose to express herself and sincerely regret that her recent remarks offended you. Advertisements featuring Ms. Goldberg will no longer be on air."

There are two subjects that can incite riots among the masses: Religion and Politics. Smart people know how to play the game, but the fools, well, they mouth off dumb things in the workplace and on CNN. Am I the only one that thinks a measure of tact should be used when discussing certain matters in a public forum?

As expected, Republicans were not pleased about the set-up of Kerry's fundraiser, which lined up celebrities with the intent and sole purpose of "skewering" the President. So what's new? I must say, this is my LEAST favorite aspect about politics during the presidential election. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of resorting to tactics of name-calling and mud-slinging. Democrats have the upperhand in that they're fighting an incumbent and many people love to hate Bush. It seems this is the game you have to play to be heard these days. All parties are guilty. Shame.

I personally think it's downright tacky. Why can't anything be about the issues anymore? That must be the "sheltered youth" in me speaking. I admit, I'm guilty on many occasions of slinging mud myself, but even with Clinton, I tried to remain civil. On another note, does anyone find it ironic that Whoopi's tagline with Slim Fast was "I'm a Big Loser"?

Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Posted by Ambra in Culture, Politics | Link to This Entry
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Female Brains
July 14, 2004

I could write about the recent debates around the Federal Marriage Act (I probably will later but not right now), I could write about how Weezie from the Jeffersons moved on up, or how sick I am of hearing about Kobe Bryant, or "Queasy" Mfume's dumb and typically calculated remarks on behalf of the NAACP. I could discuss the theory of relativity, the war on Iraq, or the current lack of leadership in the Philippines. I could finally finish and proofread my dissertation on not-being a Republican or write about the other fifty some odd topics I have lined up for this site, but today I won't. Right now I am going to talk about shopping and my addiction to buying shoes, the anger I feel when my lipstick melts in the sun, my love for ridiculously priced designer jeans, and the strange "peace" and solace I feel when I wander through the mall. Or how about the fact that every now and then, when I don't feel like thinking, processing, or analyzing, I indulge myself on Sunday evenings by watching my nemesis, MTV's Punk'd in re-run, laughing very hard and eating an entire large Canadian-bacon pizza by my lonesome, all while reading pointless magazines none of which contain the words "U.S., Today, World, News, or Week" with articles who peak in profundity when they outline the best forms of leg hair removal. Here's a tip: waxing hurts. Even in the midst of all this, I still manage to feel good about myself, and I still consider myself a half-way decent and intelligent human being. Every now and then, I reserve the right to vent.

Today I am going to talk about a subject I've toyed with in my head for quite some time. That is, being female and being intelligent. Before the "tomboy's" get all bent, let me just say that my intent here is not to stereotype anyone. I realize that the spectrum of womanhood is deep and wide so forgive me in advance if I pigeon-hole anyone. After all, you know how I feel about those labeled boxes.

This is a subject rather dear to my heart since I am most definitely female, and dare I venture to say I am somewhat intelligent (most of the time). So I have this problem, although I'm not sure what it is but maybe you can help. My dilemma is best outlined in a brief story I'd like to share:

The summer of my junior year, my best friend Alyssa and I took a trip to Washington, D.C. The trip was multi-faceted. I visited some relatives in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the both of us were on a mission to check out Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, UPenn and Temple University. It was an action- packed two week trip, most of which was spent in our nation's lovely capitol.

After a few adventures, the worst of which included getting stuck on the Beltway (a heinous work of engineering if you ask me), and included crying, sweating, and cautiously used Christian-profanity, we'd managed to successfully pick apart every university within a 120 mile radius. Alyssa decided if accepted, she'd attend Georgetown. I wasn't as impressed and remained pretty neutral on which school I'd choose.

After tasking intensely, the remainder of our trip left lots of time for sight-seeing and profound historical learning. We'd both been to Washington a number of times so the Capitol Building, the White House, Washington monument and the Holocaust Museum didn't interest us much. I wanted to go shopping and eat ice cream. So I'm certain you can understand my excitement when my aunt with whom we were staying mentioned we should check out the Mall. Needless to say, wrong mall.

The best time of the entire trip was not the time we spent immersed in the history of Washington, the buzz of politics at the Capitol, or the guided tours of the top universities. No, it was the day Alyssa and I, along with my cousin, who's also fluent in French, and some well-saved spending money and allowances, rode the train into Georgetown and hit up every shoe store East of the Mississippi. Nevermind that we managed to only speak in French the entire time, when we returned at the end of the day with shopping bags in hand, I had this feeling as though we'd done a great disservice to womankind. We chose recreational bliss over scholarly aptitude and had the shoeboxes to show for it.

So what is it about our culture that makes a girl feel she has to act a certain way to be deemed intelligent? I consider myself a moderate girly girl who doesn't mind getting dirty or breaking a nail. There are times when I absolutely need my "non-academic" interests to involve the least amount of thinking possible. Does this make me normal, does this make me dense, does this make me a ditz? I could care less what the answer is, but somehow society's decided to define that for me. I read the work of many great female journalists and authors and increasingly disturbing are the comments from critics who feel the need to point out their shock of someone with such great aptitude. You mean a woman right? You mean you're shocked that they're women and intelligent right? I recently poured through the comments on a blog of a particularly insightful female writer. Every now and then I'd see someone write "wow, you've got beauty and brains! How rare!" Is it really rare, or is that the concept our culture's projected?

I struggle back and forth with this as many women do. I've always hesitated to post my picture in conjunction with my writing. Not because I think I'm pretty or anything, but because writing can be a lot more fun when people don't know who's behind the words. First impressions are a funny thing and I'm not sure what my picture gives off, but I would have rather not risked it. Then I remembered two things:

  1. When I read, I like to put a face with words.
  2. I don't care what other people think.
So after all that rambling, I'm hoping you see my dilemma. I reserve the right to be mindless every now and then and unfortunately, these days that gets attributed to my sex.

Posted by Ambra in Culture, Life | Link to This Entry
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Bush Celebrates "Take Your Daughter to Work" Day

Just when you thought our nation couldn't handle another Bush, they get two more! In an interesting turn of events both of the First Twin daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush have decided to join their dad on the campaign trail. This is a far cry from their inaugural festivities during the first year of their dad's presidency with you know, the underage drinking, the fake id's, parties at Chuy's and whatnot. I would have expected this from Barbara but certainly not Jenna the "free spirit" as one Washington Post article calls her.

Since the 22-year-old Jenna and Barbara graduated this past fall from the University of Texas and Yale respectively, it seems the two have made a decision to crack down and get serious. The two share an office in Arlington at the Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters and their duties have yet to be outlined. Most people are suspecting their role will have something to do with rallying the young adult population. Heaven's knows we need it. Jenna's first major move was to hop onto the campaign bus and attend a few rallies along with her dad in rural Pennsylvania. This should be interesting. I'm actually really glad they're doing this. I like seeing the family aspect. I caught an interview this morning with First Lady Laura Bush and she mentioned that having grown up a little, the twins have become a bit nostalgic and don't want to regret not ever having been a part of their dad's presidency in a major way.

Even with my aversion to politics, if my dad was running for president, I'd be one campaigning fool. However, they'd probably make me shut down this website.

The campaign trail isn't the last stop for the twins. Reportedly, Jenna has applied for a teaching position at the Harlem Day Charter School and Barbara's considering working with AIDS patients in various countries. Just what is it about the oval office and Harlem?

Don't miss them on the upcoming vogue magazine cover!

Posted by Ambra in Politics | Link to This Entry
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Lessons From the Huxtables
July 13, 2004

Being that the Cosby show is the I-ching and sum of all wisdom, I had to mention this. In light of the hip-hop discourse at hand, I watched an episode of the Cosby Show in re-run last night. It was the one where Theo and Cockroach rewrite Shakespeare's Julius Caesar via rap to help them learn it. Interesting...

Posted by Ambra in Culture | Link to This Entry
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Epiphany! Movies Are Sleazy

I'm convinced, people have nothing better to do with their time. A recent study (NYT registration req) from the Harvard (I wonder where the endowment goes) School of Health, has found that the last decade in film gave birth to what they call a "ratings creep". It seems movie ratings are much more lenient than they were ten years ago. You mean to tell me that we had to do an in-depth study at a major university to find out that film content is more violent and sexually explicit? Sometimes I think I'm in the wrong profession. Some of these people are being paid way too much. In the New York Times article on the study, Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association suggests that the standards for judging acceptable depictions of sex and violence in American society are constantly changing. I give you my case for the fight against moral relativism and situation ethics in this country.

Co-author of the study and associate professor of get this, risk analysis and decision science (you're kidding me right...that's a real professorship?) Kimberly Thompson notes,

"When you look at the average, today's PG-13 movies are approaching what the R movies looked like in 1992 [and] today's PG is approaching what PG-13 looked like a decade ago."
That's not even counting the tripe and sexual innuendos Disney throws in most of their rated G movies. I've always said the ratings system is a joke and an excuse for people who want a shortcut to doing their jobs as parents. This is the danger in allowing the Motion Picture Association to dictate to us what is and isn't appropriate. It's ALL relative.

Ultimately, the result of the study appears to have left them with more questions than anything. Questions such as "What's the difference between sensuality and sexuality?" or "violence and action violence". Their end hypothesis? There's no fool-proof way to rate films. Well, duh.

Posted by Ambra in Culture | Link to This Entry
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Hi, I'm Charles Dickens, and I'm Overrated

For the record, I'm not a booksnob, I'm a bookslut. I read 'em and leave 'em. Books are an interesting topic of discussion. You'd have to understand my kooky personality to see how much humor I find in ripping on our "great works of literature" to shreds. My previous list was based on books I'd actually read or attempted to read. That leaves a lot out. Please understand that my tongue and cheek disdain for Dickens and Homer is tinted with a bit of respect and honor. After all, they are "great" authors. So all you Dickens lovers don't have to get your panties (or boxers) in a wad. I'll give them their due for long-windedness. There was a moment when I enjoyed Great Expectations. The end. I imagine if I would ever meet Dickens the conversation might go as such:

Ambra: So Mr. Dickens, many people love and revere your work. Dickens: Yes I know. I'm brilliant like that. Ambra: Honestly, I thought you were kind of boring. I mean, some of your books were the best snoozefest of my middle school life. Dickens: Well, you're certainly entitled to your opinion, but my family's estate is making millions from my work even to this day. Ambra: Touché. Dickens: I really never expected Great Expectations to do so well. Ambra: I'm suprised it did. Dickens: .... Ambra: Be honest, was "Pip" really meant to be "pimp"? Dickens: (laughs) Can you imagine him saying, "Pimp Sir. Pimp Pimp Sir" sounds like the latest Jay-Z chorus Ambra: What you know about Jay-Z? Dickens: Jigga Ambra: But really though...Mrs. Havishan, the wedding dress? It was all a little creepy to me. Dickens: I have to admit, I was on opium when I wrote that character in. Ambra: Figures.
When I was applying to colleges five years ago, I got a lovely letter from a school called "St. John's College" inviting me to apply. This school is scary. There are no majors, barely any teachers, all you do is read old (and a few new) books. It's like four years of reading every classic ever written. Fine for some, but for me, that would be H-E-double hockey sticks.

The thing is, in my opinion, no work of literature is exempt from criticism. If reading your book sucked one month out of my life, I'm entitled to say a thing or two in response to my lost time. One of these days, should I ever get around to writing a book, I will probably greatly regret that statement, but for now I'm just going to be flippant.

That said, a few readers have commented on their least favorite books and authors and as promised, I'm listing them. I've had english teachers who would have coronaries if they read this but oh well, they don't hold my fate anymore. Perhaps I should have changed the word "worst" to "over-rated". In any case, you said:

Overrated Authors
John Steinbeck
Ernest Hemmingway
Charles Dickens
James Joyce
Toni Morrison
Jane Austen
Virginia Woolf (that chick was a raving loony)
Thomas Wolfe
Maya Angelou (my addition)

Additional Worst & Over-Rated Books

  1. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  4. Ulysses by James Joyce
  5. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

  6. Rabbit Run by John Updike
  7. Roots by Alex Haley
  8. Tar Baby by Toni Morrison
  9. Silas Marner by George Elliot
Anytime a book needs Cliff's notes, I think we're all in trouble.

P.S. this list should be much longer.

Posted by Ambra in Culture, Education | Link to This Entry
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Political Polarization

Interesting. Guest blogging over at GlennReynolds.com, is law professor and author Cass Sunstein. He tackles the question of why Liberals and Conservatives hate each other so much. My first inclination is to shout "because they're wicked!", but that really does this discussion no good. He goes on to make some interesting observations about "groupthink" in his brief post on political polarization,

"Here's a clue: When like-minded people speak mostly to one another, they go to extremes. If members of a group think that President Bush is good, they're likely, after talking together, to think that President Bush is great. And if people in a discussion group think that the Iraq war has gone badly, they'll probably end up thinking that it has gone disastrously.
I'm rather tempted to quote the whole darn thing since it's so short. I did like this point however,
"Unfortunately, group polarization creates major problems. People can end up thinking of their fellow citizens as real enemies, rather than as simply having a different point of view. And even worse, both individuals and groups are likely to make big blunders if they don't contain dissenters. Corporations, investor clubs, and politicians do a lot better if they seek out views very different from their own."
My name is Ambra Nykol and I'm proud to be a Conservative dissenter. See, you need people like me. You really do!

Posted by Ambra in Politics | Link to This Entry
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Um, I'm Against Gun-Control But...
July 12, 2004

Something about Frank's "Peace Gallery" at IMAO is unsettling. Can't quite put my finger on it...

Posted by Ambra in Politics | Link to This Entry
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Rosie, This Stuff Just Can't Be Coincidental

Funny how right around the time the Supreme Court is making a Federal case out of marriage, Rosie O'Donnell's making a nut-case out of Norweigian Cruise Lines. Her newly founded company with partner Kelli Carpenter O'Donnell (I guess that makes Rosie the male figure) R Family Vacations,
specializes in promoting getaways that are gay-family friendly. Perhaps
someone can educate me on the differences. A cruise is a cruise.
Oh wait, not this cruise. This one's different NY Daily News staffer

were expecting more than just a pleasure cruise. Included among the
classic cruise entertainment is educational talks about adoption and
Agenda? What agenda?

Posted by Ambra in Politics | Link to This Entry
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Hip-Hop in Education: Do You Wanna Revolution?

So while we're on the subject of books (a subject I just can't seem to shake lately), I want to recall a recent topic of spicy debate. In all that I do and discuss these days, my favorite hat to wear is the young "millennial" one. That is, by most adults' standards, the rebellious, misunderstood generation cap. This is also where I usually contend with my fellow conservative associations.

A few weeks back, it came to light that a summer school program in Worcester, MA made "gangsta rap" a part of their curriculum when they placed one of Tupac's collections of poetry, The Rose That Grew from Concrete on their summer reading list. Many people have already tackled the subject of Tupac's poetry being used in the public system. Last month, author and columnist Michelle Malkin delivered a scathing report in her article 2 Lazy 2 Teach. The backlash was interesting, yet typical. Conservatives got on their moral high horses and spouted their "infinite wisdom" on how we should be teaching, while the usual Tupac lovers emerged from their dens of mourning to defend his honor. Neither reaction has produced any fruit in my opinion. I have yet to see useful dialogue in this whole topic of the hip-hop generation. I love Michelle Malkin as much as the next, but she and I dissent on a couple of things, and neither of them is Tupac. Due to the hat I wear, I need to come at this from another direction.

(Before we go anywhere, let's clarify the difference between rap and hip-hop. Rap is the act of saying rhymes to the beat of music. Seems rather basic and amoral when you put in those terms doesn't it? Hip-Hop on the other hand, is a four-part cultural movement. It encompasses breakdancing, graffiti art, rapping (aka emceeing) and DJ-ing. For those interested, Rap New Direct has a more in-depth look at the differences.)

The first mistake intellectuals (especially conservatives) make when discussing the topic of slain rapper Tupac Shakur, is to write him off as just that; a slain rapper. Not so boys and girls. Unfortunately, he's a Hip-Hop icon. There has yet to be another person to enter the sphere of hip-hop with the same cross-cultural effect on the masses. Tupac was a prophet of doom and voice to his generation. Albeit a hurt and wounded voice that cried vapid declarations and lies, he managed to slip in some tangible truth every now and then. That is of course, the essence of true deception. With lyrics seeping in anger, he empathized with the fatherless generation, dated his gun, called his own dad a "nigga", and ultimately prophesied his own death. Truth be told, an unsettling percentage of my generation related to this, or related to the "fantasy" of this (white folks included). I never did, although I knew some of his lyrics even without owning any of his albums. The guy was everywhere. He was tangible, palpable, and "real"--as real as you can be when you don't even know yourself.

Listening to Tupac's music alone MAKES you want to be angry. This is an artist who even in his death continues to hold his listeners in bondage. I call him the "Black Elvis", referencing the masses' inability to accept his death. There continue to be numerous theories around the validity of his death and his "second-coming" (warning sign for cult activity). I'm sure it doesn't need to be said, but I'll say it any way. Tupac is dead. Gone. In the grave, and probably in a place you don't want to be. The legacy he's left is more of a stronghold than anything else. I would argue that he's the single most prominent rapper to touch my generation. Hands down. The bells don't go "rah-rah" for this one. It's a sad reality.

The Worcester, MA school's decision to add Tupac's poetry to their reading list is embarrassing and irresponsible. Let's just get that on the table. Conceptually, this attempt to be "hip" and "relevant" is like shooting blanks in the dark. Not because they're using alternative text, but because they're using text steeped in death, lies, and anger. In her article, Michelle Malkin writes,

"The presumption that children -- and particularly inner-city children -- can only be stimulated by the contemporary and familiar smacks of lazy elitism and latent racism. These educators, and I use that term as loosely as gangster rappers wear their pants, are clearly more interested in appearing cool than in inculcating a refined literary sense in students. Their aim is not enlightenment but dumbed-down ghetto entertainment."
May be true. In fact, probably true. I don't trust most educators as far I can throw them. But let's be careful here. Hip-Hop doesn't equal dumbing down. Is this instance, that may be their motive, but this is not a black and white issue (take that for face value please). In fact, given the right lyricist, rap is one of the most intelligent music genres out there right now. I don't say that lightly. Hip-Hop embodies something more than just rap. It's a movement, and it's full of messages. We can choose what those messages should be. Right now, the dominating message is self-destruction. In terms of Malkin's comments on elitism, I actually think we teeter on the line of elitism when we begin to define what forms of writing can't be considered poetry. It's like the discussion on what art is. In school I read poets, (white men mind you) who were raving lunatics of death, high on every drug imaginable. Yet we consider them great poets. I'm not suggesting Tupac is, but our standards are questionable.

Let me tell you where conservatives get in trouble. They can't disassociate rap's co-conspirators with the artform. "Gangsta rap" and various other offshoots of the original art form have given the genre a bad rap--if you know what I mean. In its purest form however, rap is amoral. Like money, it's merely a magnifier or in some cases, a modifier of its owner. Most conservatives don't see this.

My new found friend, Avery Tooley of the Conservative Brotherhood discussed Malkin's column in a piece he wrote called Et Tupac?. Avery's my resident music buff, so he breaks it down gently,

"I've seen Michelle Malkin on television before (thank the Lord for good eyesight!), so I'm pretty sure that her beef here is not with the selection of Tupac specifically, she doesn't like the idea of using hip-hop in the classroom, period. Once again, if somebody doesn't like hip-hop, they just don't like it. That's a matter of taste. However, I think it's intellectually dishonest to suggest that hip-hop is somehow unsuitable for classroom consumption, particularly if a person doesn't listen to it enough to distinguish between the genres within hip-hop. Certainly there are elements of hip-hop that lack substance, and unfortunately that's what gets the most attention and makes the most money, but there's a whole lot of other records that could be useful in a classroom context. I know when I was teaching math, I couldn't wait to ask the kids what Redman meant when he said, 'I hit the spot like x,y.' It's not all idiot stuff."
Avery's perhaps said it better and more nicely than I would. Once again, this is a place where conservatives and I part ways. I don't agree with teaching Tupac in secondary school, but I also don't agree with our marriage to Westernized teaching structures. Growing up, I could memorize song lyric upon lyric, but yet struggled through the Pre-Amble of the constitution. Even today, I memorize things better if I know a corresponding song or set it to a mental beat. Music is a powerful medium. This was the success of shows like Sesame Street and School House Rock.

Mnemonic devices and teaching methods involving music and culture are probably the most untapped area in the arena of education. Hip-Hop has quickly become the top selling musical form amongst all races. Even in all its accompanying garbage, there's something we need to take heed of about the culture. Toyota, Pepsi, Sprite, Chrysler, and McDonald's have realized it. Hip-hop is the next wave of everything. It's not going to die down as analysts have predicted. If you thought you were uncomfortable now, just you wait. Thankfully, in the midst of the foolishness, there are people who are being raised up to set a righteous standard lyrically, and in lifestyle. Their albums sit in my collection as we speak. Mark my words. The first person who can package hip-hop in a way that teaches a difficult classroom subject will be a multi-millionaire. You can quote me on that.

Posted by Ambra in Culture, Education | Link to This Entry | Comments { 1 }
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Why I'm Not a Republican Parts I, II, III, IV
Reflections on the Ill-Read Society
The ROI of a Kid
The Double-Minded Haters
Hip-Hop in Education: Do You Wanna Revolution?
Oh parent Where Art Thou?
Requisite Monthly Rant: the State of the Nation
College Curriculum Gone Wild
Walmart Chronicles
An Open Letter to American Idol
Gonorrhea and the City

I Have a Talk Show