Monday, August 22, 2011

The Help: A simple movie about a complicated time

Back in June 2010, I wrote about the book The Help and my connection with Mississippi, and now that the movie is out I wanted to revisit the subject. M and I went to see the movie yesterday, and it was pretty much what expected. The story didn't stray too much from the book and their weren't many surprises. In that way the movie did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the book in only 2+ hours.

However, something I didn't address then and wanted to bring up was the criticisms of the book/movie. My brother-in-law linked the following on his facebook page: "open statement to the fans of The Help."  Also, there is a good editor's note in the Jackson Free Press called "Of anger and alternative endings" by Donna Ladd. I recommend you read both, since they should present another side of the story.  Below are the key quotes I thought needed highlighting:

Association of Black Women Historians:
"The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it."
"Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture."
"Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of the white employers."
"Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi."
From Donna Ladd:
"The movies are a problem because they dredge up a white version of a much more complicated past (and present) rich with courageous black heroes finding the faith and courage to reclaim a family structure destroyed by slavery, and ultimately changing this nation. But Hollywood seems to believe it takes a white hero saving poor blacks to sell the story. An occasional film like that would be fine - it did happen, too - but it is an injustice when only a victim narrative breaks through."
"...I know our history well enough to see how the movie's naive ending softens our history for newer generations."
My response back is that this was a fiction story from a white, Jackson Prep graduate and of course there would be criticisms of its omissions and authenticity. Kathryn Stockett wrote a novel with a compelling storyline that wasn't meant to be a historical textbook. I agree that she could have done more to address the complicated and volatile world of Mississippi in the 1960s. Also, her research on the subject wasn't at the level that I would trust her to teach a course on the Civil Rights movement. However, I don' think her incomplete knowledge of that time period should prevent her from writing a book with that as the background.

However, my response back (my criticism of the criticism) is that it is a story. It might be a simple story with *uncomplicated characters that lack depth, but in the end it gets by with a interesting plot. It doesn't tell the full story or even most of the story, but instead gives a small glimpse into the author's own portrayal of her home state. She shouldn't be criticized too much for not not including every detail of that time period, since as far as I can tell she never claimed this was the one stop shop for all information about the Civil Rights movement. Also, I disagree with the claim that it was a story that was nostalgic about the past. In no way do I think she was glamouring that time period and if you asked her I am sure she would be disappointed if people read the book and thought that in any way she was endorsing that lifestyle.

*Characters are either bad or good. In the real world people exist as both bad and good people, and I imagine that was even more pronounced in Mississippi in the 1960s. It would have been nice to seen good characters acting without the purest intentions and bad characters not always portrayed as 100% bad. The character development is the main reason I consider the book/movie to be simple.

Stockett tried to write a fictional novel, where the main character was a a white writer who wrote a book called The Help before moving to New York. Sound familiar because it is basically Kathryn Stockett's biography? It seems clear that it is a story of what she would have liked to have done if she was born in 1939 and not 1969. She has a strong connection to Mississippi and wrote a novel based on her viewpoint. I can relate to that, and I do not judge her for writing the story.

Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 Minnesota Twins

The 2011 MLB season is 75% finished, but it is time for the 2011 Twins obiturary. The season is over and the only two things that I care about as a Twins fan are Jim Thome's 600th home run and the 2012 season. As the 2007 season was to the 2006 season (a big disappointment) the 2011 season has been to the 2010 season. Every move that worked the previous years have hurt the team. The signings, trade and injuries have all worked agains the Twins this year.

Consider this: The Twins top 3 players (Mauer, Morneau and Nathan) will make $48,000,000 and produce a combined -0.2 wins over a replacement player. That means the Twins would have been better off (and much cheaperg) playing an average AAA player over those three players.

It doesn't look much better when you look at other highly paid Twins with the notable exception of Michael Cuddyer. Other busts for the Twins have been Carl Pavano ($8M for 0.8 WAR), Matt Capps ($7M for 0.3 WAR, while Wilson Ramos is at $415K for 1.5 WAR) and Delmon Young ($5M for 0.2 WAR). There is a lot of dead weight on the Twins roster, which helps explain the Twins 52-67 record despite the $100M+ payroll.

Another reason the Twins have underperformed is that they have two regulars that have to be in the running for worst players in the majors. Drew Butera's line is .170/.211/.261 with an OPS+ of 31 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.57. Tsuyoshi Nishioka's line is .226/.269/.253 with an OPS+ of 47. How those two players have combined for 376 at bats without being sent to the minors is beyond my comprehension?

Overall the batting stats aren't pretty (3rd last in runs per game, 2nd last in OBP%, 2nd last in SLG%, last in walks, 2nd last in home runs) and the only reason they aren't worse is because of the Seattle Mariners. Pitching isn't much better with the 3rd worst ERA+, worst strikeouts, 2nd worst in runs given up per game and 3rd worst in WHIP. Is there any surprise that the Twins have a -111 run differential, which is only better than the Orioles and Astros.

What is terrible about the Twins has been how boring things have gotten at Target Field. The new car smells is off the new ballpark and there needs to be a winning team there or otherwise the fair weather Twins fans will make Target Field feel like the Metrodome on a random Tuesday night game. The place has still been packed this year, but that is primarily because people (like me) bought season tickets last October. We will see how many people renew their tickets for next year.

Their is hope along the horizon. One thing is that this year has been a Murphy's Law type of season and one could expect a regression back to the mean next year. The key will be a healthy and productive Mauer and Morneau, but also contributions from whatever outfielders they keep between Young, Kubel and Cuddyer. If you combine those players with a healthy Span and improved Valencia then the offense will be much better next year. It will be tough without Thome (assuming he leaves) and the odds are against the Twins keeping Cuddyer (their best offensive player), but the team was the 5th best offense in 2010 and it is hard to believe that things have changed that much in a year.

The pitching situation is a little more difficult. I first thought that the pitchers were young and should improve, but a quick look shows a 26 year old Liriano, 28 year old Baker, 28 year old Blackburn, 27 year old Duensing and 26 year old Slowly. Those ages don't suggest that the Twins have to worry about their starting pitchers retiring, but it also doesn't suggest that their best days are necessarily ahead of them. The best hope for the Twins is Kyle Gibson and the return to even year Liriano (average ERA+ in even years 143+ compared to odd years of 78).

There is one other Twins related news I like to follow and that is Brian Dozier. I've written about him last May and am happy to report that things have only gotten better since them. I follow his stats on baseballreference and his .306/.379/.406 minor league line is pretty impressive. He started at high A Fort Myers, but was promoted to AA New Britain. He has done well in New Britain and was recently named by Gardy as someone who could help the Twins out next year. My hope is that he starts next year in Rochester before being promoted after 2-3 months to help the Twins win the division next year.

As for the 2011 Twins, there really isn't much more to report. I will hopefully be in attendance for Thome's 600th home run, but other than that the 2012 season can't come soon enough.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Debt, politics and the issue that no one seems to be talking about

Last night I watched part of the Republican debate from Ames, Iowa. The focus from most of the candidates was on the recent debt ceiling debate. Michelle Bachmann took credit for "*being right" about not extending the debt ceiling and her proof was the Standard and Poors downgrade and the declining stock market. Others pointed out how much the deficit was hurting us quantitatively (here is a picture of the 2011 national budget if you were curious - net interest represents 7% of the 2011 federal budget) and qualitatively (Wall Street doesn't like this uncertainty). The candidates made their points in different ways, but here were the persistent themes; it is President Obama's fault, raising taxes isn't the answer, the growing federal debt was bad and the key was cutting spending.

*From the SP report: "The political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed." That quote makes it seem like Bachmann has no idea what she is talking about on that issue.

There were other questions on social issues (bravo Jon Huntsman for at least showing some level of civility towards equality) and other topics, but the main focus was on the economy and federal deficit. I agree that the federal deficit is an issue, but it isn't the main thing I think politicians should focus on. The main issue with the country is the increasing income gap. This country has been divided into a small % of people that are doing extremely well and then the majority of people who are struggling to get by. There really isn't much of a middle class. Here are some good charts showing the gap. Below is another chart showing the income earned from the top 1% compared to the bottom 80% from

No matter what graph you look at or article you read it is clear that income inequality gap is growing. I challenge anyone to debate that as a fact. Now the funny thing is that despite all of this, the top 1% have been seeing their tax rates decline. Why would that be? Part of the reason is that most Republicans are against any type of tax increase, and the Democrats aren't willing to challenge them on this point. The Bush tax cuts were extended and the budget deal was worked out through spending cuts alone. The people are the top are making more money and having to pay (compared to previous years) less.

This is the main issue facing America. I don't know the solution, but I would vote for pretty much any politician that would address this issue. We need programs, taxes, and solutions to this gap. Rana Foroohar from Time wrote this great article called Stuck in the Middle that is unfortunately only available for subscribers. If you get a chance, pick up last week's Time magazine and read this article. Until we solve the income inequality gap, then I don't think we should be wasting so much time talking about the deficit.


People like humor. It is one of life's joys to have an honest (not forced) laugh. Laughter comes from friends, stories, comedians and the more I think about it negativity. People don't find Louis CK funny because he is hugely successful and has everything going for him. His humor comes from his challenges of being a middle-aged, divorced father. The funniest person on Seinfield wasn't the comedian, but his dim-witted, stocky friend. Comedies like There's Something About Mary, The Hangover and Meet The Parents all were loved because of the negative situations the characters faced in the movie. Sure, not all humor comes from negative comments, but my guess is that people find negativity funnier than the alternative.

However, people don't tend to like a negative person. Negativity in life can serve as a funny backbone to a good joke or story, but a negative person is normally shunned in social situations. Pop culture includes examples like Debbie Downer and Eeyore. There is a fine balance between recognizing negative situations and being a negative person. This can be especially true for people that like to use humor. The best comedians are probably those people that are able to talk about negative situations, while still being portrayed as a positive person.

That finished, I would like to bring up the exciting things that have happened recently in my life. I will try to forget about the wild ride in the stock market, the riots in London, the Twins losing streak and certain industry challenges at the Well. Below are the positive things that probably all deserve their own blog post:
  • Andrew Ojus was born on Friday. He weighed in at 9lbs 6 ounces and from all indications the entire Cooperphurs family is doing well with the new addition. I am pleased to be an Uncle (times 2) and am looking forward to the days were I can take the Cooper boys out to the basketball court. M and I celebrated the birth with champagne and a home-cooked steak dinner.
  • Field of Dreams: M and I decided to drive down to Iowa to go see the Field of Dreams and catch a minor league baseball game in Cedar Rapids. The entire trip was a huge success. The drive down along the Mississippi River was scenic and easy. The Field of Dreams movie site was perfect in its simplicity. It looked exactly how I expected and it was great that it was open to the public. I was able to pitch, play the field and bat and enjoy being outside on a movie set.
  • Columbus trip: M and I went back to Columbus to help her Mother celebrate her 60th birthday. It was a fun, relaxing trip that included my personal favorites; sleeping in, visiting friends, drinking whiskey, Skyline chili and generally eating great food. 
I am sure I am missing some of the other positive things in my life, but for now that will have to stand.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hunger Games

Last week I wrote a *little post for M's blog about the three Hunger Games books that I had just finished. Check it out here: The Hunger Games - Guest Post. If you have finished the Hunger Games trilogy then check out the post and let me know what you think.

*1500 words is little when compared to a novel I guess.