I'm dedicating this column, for this week with an extra day, to political activism a la Alan Keyes, the extra candidate. His is not activism as expressed via institutional fealty, but activism conveyed through an articulated understanding of root causes and fearless envisioning of solutions. Even if they're all wrong. With respect to the day that appears on calendars only every fourth year, let's ignore for a moment the circle-jerking that occupies both "four more years" camps.
Time's Up is a bicyclists' rights organization. They raise awareness about problems caused by private autos in the urban environment, and through direct action demonstrate how planning for cars has crowded people off city streets. (If you think overreliance on automobiles isn't a Big American Issue, you probably never thought hard about crime, Middle East policy, pollution or the racial divide.) Time's Up sponsors an event called "Critical Mass," which they describe as an "organized coincidence." What happens is, a bunch of bicyclists meet up and ride together, so as to assert their collective right to road space. The next Critical Mass ride is Friday evening, starting at Union Square at 7 p.m. (2/25, 14th St. at B'way.)
I'd be remiss if when writing about this issue I didn't also mention Shorewalkers, the stalwart pedestrian organization that holds urban hikes in New York every weekend throughout the year. Shorewalkers' cause is to get recognition for and complete access to what they call the "Batt to Bear" trail-a 56-mile shoreline trek from the Battery to Bear Mountain, parts of it currently blocked off by development projects like Trump's at Penn Yards. If every New Yorker who doesn't own a car is a political activist-and it's rare enough in this country that I'd say if you make that choice consciously, you are-Shorewalkers are soldiers for the planning-reform cause. Their next scheduled hike is legs four and five of the Batt to Bear, seven miles across the G.W. Bridge and down the stone steps of the Carpenters' Trail to the Hudson shore. (Sat., 2/26, meet at 10 a.m. at the 178th St. (George Washington) PATH bus terminal [take A or 1 train to 181st St.], 663-2167 for more info.)
And we can't discuss auto dominance of New York without a nod to old Penn Station, an architectural wonder destroyed for no good reason by "renewal" zealots in the late 60s. On Wednesday the Beaux Arts Alliance holds a lecture on "The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station," which will cover the architecture and cultural history of this bygone cathedral of rail travel, and touch upon plans to turn the post office on 8th Ave. at 34th St. into a new station. (2/23, 6:30 p.m., 115 E. 74th St., betw. Park & Lexington Aves., 639-9120, $20.) I'm too young to have seen old Penn Station, but became a fan of it after seeing the great views of its steel and glass structure captured in Kubrick's second film, Killer's Kiss. Being an old noir film, Killer's Kiss is not one of the movies being shown this or any other week of Film Forum's ongoing "Neo-Noir" series. You'll have to rent it. At Film Forum this week, in contrast, are such neo-classics as Taxi Driver (Fri., 2/25), Blue Velvet (Sat., 2/26) and Terrence Malick's Badlands. (Mon. & Tues., 2/28-29, 209 W. Houston St., betw. 6th Ave. & Varick St., 727-8110.)
You know seeing classic movies is edifying, but Why Read the Classics? That's a question Italo Calvino wanted to answer when he wrote a book with that title, but now it's left to a panel of scholars and critics, including preternaturally self-satisfied New Yorker blowhard David Denby, to address the issue "in celebration" of the great Italian storyteller. As someone who was never assigned Huck Finn because it was banned from my redneck Jersey school and de facto banned from my p.c. upstate college, I fully support the activist spirit of this leap-day event, which in addition to pompous Denby, features poet Paul Muldoon, novelist Cynthia Ozick and scholar Michael Wood. But if you want to listen to these people, you probably don't need much convincing. (And, book fans, you might want to check out this year's Antiquarian Book Fair, 2/25-27 at P.S. 3, 490 Hudson St., betw. Christopher & Grove Sts., 533-2429, $4-$12.) Maybe we should just let kids read Huck Finn again. They'll like it, and it could hardly be more relevant. Twain was the Eminem of his day, after all. (2/29, 6 p.m. at the New York Public Library's Bartos Forum, 5th Ave. at 42nd St., 930-0855, $10.)
Or, maybe we should just make sure the children know their mathematics. That's the thrust of the Algebra Project, a program developed with MacArthur grant money by Bob Moses, co-organizer of the historic Mississippi Freedom Summer. Recognizing that the minority wealth gap can be traced to a technology-education gap, the project "pursues math and science training for all students as a matter of equity." The Algebra Project's direct approach stands out in an education debate stifled by bullshit about "a computer in every classroom" (as if Web-surfing promotes learning) and "untrained teachers" (as if a state certificate makes a good educator), making it a movement better worth supporting than that of liberals whining about the end of affirmative action. You can hear Moses discuss the project when he delivers this year's Barbara Jordan lecture, "Education as a Civil Right," Wednesday at the New School. (2/23, 6 p.m., 66 W. 12th St., betw. 5th & 6th Aves., 229-5353, $5.)
The enormous nonissue in the 2000 campaign, haunting the "debate" on education, is the prison population's steady creep toward the two-million mark. Schools and prisons are alike in a lot of ways, from the food to the union labor to the instruments of local control-so it's not hard to see that they draw from what is, essentially, the exact same pool of funds. You certainly don't have to tell the one-outta-every-four (!) black males who'll spend time in each kind of state institution about the similarities. It'll probably take a few more election cycles until this American monstrosity finally becomes a front-burner issue. In the meantime, the NYU School of Law is doing what it can to get the ball rolling, with an all-day conference called "The Causes and Consequences of Mass Imprisonment in the USA," free and open to the public this Saturday. Look out especially for Loic Wacquant's 2 p.m. address, "Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Merge," which, if this Berkeley sociology prof has done his homework, should contain a lot of info useful to those of us trying to comprehend the hottest new hiphop albums. (2/26, 8:30-6 at NYU's Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square S., betw. Sullivan & MacDougal Sts., 998-8536, free but preregister.)
Speaking of which, I have some activist work to do in my own little corner of the intellectual world. New York Post music critic Dan Aquilante isn't someone I usually think of as an idiot worth remarking on. He is, rather, one of about 1000 daily newspaper pop writers who haven't a clue about cutting-edge music, demonstrate absurdly out-of-date tastes and preferences, haven't written anything remotely insightful for as long as I've been able to read and should have been put out to pasture long ago. There is no reason why a hack like Aquilante would appreciate an album like my favorite new release, Ghostface Killah's raucous and experimental Supreme Clientele. Predictably, Aquilante panned the album in a Feb. 8 Post review, displaying typical hiphop ignorance with a string of inaccurate statements about Ghostface's crew, Wu-Tang Clan.
But then the critic got nasty, citing a lyric referencing Hasidic Jews from the song "Malcolm" (which Aquilante maliciously refers to as "'Malcom' (sic)" even though no such error appears on the album's label) and twisting its context to claim that Ghostface is an anti-Semite. "There's no defending hate lyrics, or words that promote separation, division and prejudice. Ghostface Killah should be held to the same standard as the rest of society," thunders Aquilante, in disingenuous denial of the hateful, divisive treatment a black artist is getting in his professional hands. The song "Malcolm" is Ghostface Killah's imagining of a black-nationalist movement in the 21st-century ghetto. The verse that set Aquilante off contains a description of a troublesome young man: "Look at his hands/That's the same kid who cut his wrists/Talking bout the cuffs did it," is the first we hear of him. A few lines later comes the allegedly offensive part: "He sport the Bob Hope classics/Ran-down Asics/K-Mart, the short sleeve shirt be the basics/He eat ham/Shitted on himself twice/Big-hatted Jews rushed the nigga out in Crown Heights." Who knows what motivated Aquilante to urge readers, "Vote with your cash and tell this unfriendly, small-minded Ghost that you don't want hate in your CD player." As the record clearly shows, it wasn't anti-Semitism.
While I got my music-writer hat on, a few words on Yo La Tengo's new, 10th album, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. I've been a rather bemused observer of independent rock these past few years, watching it morph from music for downtown-basement live performance to music for CDs designed to be played through topnotch speakers in well-appointed apartments. No slight intended-I live in a fairly well-appointed apartment myself. But you can hardly argue that Pavement, Magnetic Fields and Flaming Lips are driving any sort of culture worth attending all that closely-just that of sheltered music nerds growing up. Yo La Tengo's justly acclaimed last album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, made a very compelling case for this demise-of-a-scene as a retrenchment, a taking of indoor refuge for the purpose of a more private pursuit of beauty. The new one refines that mission several notches further-it's like they said, "Sink into your Ikea couch and groove on this." Yo La seem to really know where their audience is at. On a rainy Brooklyn Sunday, meditative Nothing can hit your subconscious without touching your ears, like the way a deep breath can hit your gut without touching your throat. A hit-or-miss live act, yet always featuring one of the most interesting rhythm sections of any band touring today, Yo La Tengo play leap night at Town Hall. (2/29, 123 W. 43rd St., betw. 6th & 7th Aves., 840-2824, $18.)
Okay, enough activism, it's fun time. For the young and the young-at-heart there are lots of movies this week, including a Planet of the Apes festival starting Friday at the Screening Room (2/25-3/2, see Listings for complete info), trippy Yellow Submarine through Friday at the Walter Reade Theater (2/21-25, 10:30 a.m., 165 W. 65th St. at B'way, 875-5600) and a full slate of Japanamation gems by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) all week at the Museum of the Moving Image. (2/21-5, see Listings for complete info.) For the old and the old-at-heart there're chances to win such musty rock memorabilia as Springsteen's '52 Telecaster and lithographs autographed by Santana and Billy Joel, along with several plush vacations, all of which will be raffled or auctioned off at this year's semiformal benefit for the Kristen Ann Carr Fund, which contributes to the fight against sarcoma cancer and is a favorite of the Rolling Stone set. Even non-moshers have their worthy causes. (2/26 at 200 5th Ave., betw. 23rd & 24th Sts., 501-0748, $100, $110 at the door.