Sunday, April 30, 2006

A most delightful march

With crisp blue, sunny skies and a nice cool breeze, yesterday the Grande Enchilada marched down Broadway in what must be the most enjoyable march for peace ever. Luckily my friends and I caught up with the parade at the very beginning (actually we walked right towards it, very cool) and we squeezed in right behind the celebrities (Susan Sarandon, Al Sharpton, Cindy Sheehan and Jesse Jackson). There was calm and quiet, there were people chanting the obligatory silly chants, and there was almost no police presence, (or at least none too abrasive) and so the marchers could join the march at several points along the route and it was truly delightful. I was worried that there would be a cacophony of lefty grievances that would drown each other out (not that anybody's listening) but the consensus was against Bush and against the war in Iraq, so that turned out fine. The only bad moment was when someone decided to start singing Give Peace a Chance, a song so awful and stupid it should be banned from any such event. But soon people realized it was bumming people out (it makes me violent) and they stopped. As we passed Canal St, there is a bit of a hill and we turned back and could see a river of people behind us all the way up Broadway, which was very encouraging. What I like about these marches is that you see all kinds of people, not only the sock, sandal and patchouli crowd which is out there in force, but just concerned, outraged people from all income brackets and all stripes, including Matthew Modine. It was very well organized, beautifully handled by the police and probably useless, but it felt good. I thought that when we got to Canal, the entire parade was going to disperse for dimsum. The thought was very tempting but we finished the march and then went for soup dumplings at Joe's. They tasted like glory.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mexico: The Amigo Country, At Last

Holy guacamole, amigos! Who'd have thunk that our very Catholic goody two shoes President Vicente Fox would pass a law decriminalizing personal possession of every recreational drug known to man? Wowie! Or is it, yikes!?
This is supposed to end with low level police corruption, but somehow it sounds to me like the President is opening up the lucrative street market to the Mexican drug cartels, so there will be more consumption. Of course possession is allowed but selling is not. I don't even hope to attempt to understand this arrangement. If a good samaritan would explain it to me, I'd be forever grateful.
To begin with, since time immemorial you could be Mother Theresa of Calcutta and if you ran one night into a frisky Mexican policeman he could plant the drugs on you in order to extort money. So what would impede them now to plant more drugs than the personal amount permitted by law? How does this law change anything for the better? According to the NYT:

Under the bill, it would be legal to have 25 milligrams of heroin, a fifth of an ounce of marijuana or half a gram of cocaine. The bill also makes it legal to possess small amounts of LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, amphetamines and peyote.

The good people from AP helpfully decode this for you: the marijuana amounts to like four joints (the issue is are they Mexican sized, which tend to have the girth of stuffed burritos, or American sized -- sad, puny little roaches). Cocaine, give or take about four lines. Jesus, Maria y Jose! That's a lot.

Those quantities are sometimes eye-popping: Mexicans would be allowed to possess 2.2 pounds of peyote, the button-sized hallucinogenic cactus used in some Indian religious ceremonies. Police would no longer bother with possession of up to 25 milligrams of heroin, 5 grams of marijuana (about one-fifth of an ounce, or about four joints), or 0.5 grams of cocaine — the equivalent of about 4 "lines," or half the standard street-sale quantity. The law lays out allowable quantities for a large array of other drugs, including LSD, MDA, MDMA (ecstasy, about two pills' worth), and amphetamines.
Life in Mexico is already surreal as it is. Imagine now with peyote and x for breakfast, lunch and dinner... (on the other hand, Mexican bureaucrats on speed or coke: it's a thought)
Of course, people in the United States are already tearing their hair out: what's gonna happen to the innocent youth of America?

Some worried the law would increase drug addiction in Mexico and cause problems with the United States. Millions of American youths visit Mexico's beach resorts and border towns each year. "A lot of Americans already come here to buy medications they can't get up there ... Just imagine, with heroin," said Ulisis Bon, a drug treatment expert in Tijuana, where heroin use is rampant.

Hey, knock yourselves out. Boy, between that and the spic national anthem we sure are rubbing the gringos the wrong way this week.
I must say, I'm the first one to opt for the legalization of drugs, mainly on account of making the suppliers pay taxes and engage in fair trade so the cycles of murder, crime and violence can stop, but somehow I don't have a feeling this law is going to work. Why? Because Mexico is a mostly lawless country anyway. The laws are certainly there, yet with a little hand greasing they can be bent, broken and ignored. The drug cartels are not going to sink into their cushy sofas and watch their profits shrink even a tiny little bit. There are many government officials of all levels in blatant cohoots with the narcos.
So I'd love for somebody to explain to me in Mexican reality terms, not abstract idealized terms like those handled by the pols, if this law really is a step in curbing the excesses of the cartels, or if it's something more mysterious and sinister, with consequences and implications we can't even imagine.

Friday, April 28, 2006

O Jose Can't Chu Sí

For once, I'm siding with Bush. Of course the national anthem should be in English, like the national anthem of Turkmenbashi should be in Turkmenbashi. Why are journalists even asking this question? Have they no brains? Are they trying to incite racial divisiveness? Probably nobody really gives a fuck about the immigrants as long as they deliver dinner, but mess with the Star Spangled Banner and all hell breaks loose.
But what is more hideously offensive, what is grounds for death by firing squad is the version of the anthem itself (listen at your own peril). It is so utterly horrendous, so overproduced, so treacly, so disgusting, so vulgar, so shameless, so vomit inducing that I could feel a pustulent rash threatening to erupt on my skin just by listening to the first few bars. The clueless British producer Adam Kidron who came up with this stupid crap should be taken to Guantanamo and be forced to listen to his brainstorm in an neverending loop until he begs for mercy. Then some Reggaeton and the guy will wish he'd never been born.


The panel "Homage to Juan Rulfo" at the Instituto Cervantes was extremely well attended, despite the Rulfian fact that the Mexican Cultural Institute sent many people to the wrong address, to a phantom panel that wasn't there. How fitting.
As I arrived late, unfortunately I missed the remarks of the moderator Antonio Muñoz Molina but I was right on time to hear my compatriot Carlos Monsiváis. In his inimitable florid and baroque, almost impenetrable style, Monsiváis captured a lot of what makes the work of Juan Rulfo (all of two magnificent works of fiction) so universal, so Mexican and so entrancing. Everything he said was insightful and smart, but he was much better as he spoke off the cuff, much more endearing and approachable through his sharp wit and considerable intellect.
Then it was Alberto Vital's turn, a biographer of Rulfo. One would think that the biographer of a literary star would have some really juicy and interesting bits to share with the audience. Instead this guy, who reminded me of countless Mexican bureaucrats with cultural delusions, proceeded to put everyone to sleep with a completely incongrous recitation of a laundry list of every edition of Rulfo's work ever known to man. I could not believe my ears. Apparently, for a man who wrote two books (among the greatest works of modern literature) there are a bunch of editions of Pedro Páramo and El Llano en Llamas (The Burning Plain) that we must know about.
One of Rulfo's sons was in hand to be very charming and offer his amazement at the response his father's work still generates in readers.
Fortunately, the Argentinian writer Rodrigo Fresán spoke off the cuff and with great charm, insight and curiosity about his relationship with Rulfo's work, Mexican telenovelas, and the immense relief he gets from Rulfo's spareness of language. His dialogue with Monsiváis was fun and enlightening. Muñoz Molina encouraged the conversation with his good questions. Then there was the obligatory discussion about whether Rulfo is considered to be magical realism or not. I'm glad to report, dear readers, that the collective unconscious seems to be not so enamored of the genre anymore (thanks to all those cheap imitators of García Márquez like Isabel Allende). Yes, no, who cares. To me Rulfo is as real as they come, and so is 100 Years of Solitude. What isn't real, what is phony, is when others give you whimsy without a shred of authenticity.
All in all, it was a very entertaining and interesting panel, because the discussion after pretty much centered in Fresán asking Rulfo's son questions about his dad. Why did he stop at two? Did he feel he had shot his wad? Me, I heard that Rulfo had drinking problems, and I do not blame the son for not wanting to go to difficult personal territory, although Fresan was asking in the spirit of true admiration and curiosity.
Monsiváis, who is a major imp, insisted that Rulfo was a terrible screenwriter, he said that he could talk about Rulfo as a photographer only because he himself had been a subject, and he sported an enigmatic sliver of a smile as he heard Rulfo Jr. gingerly answer something dignified to Fresán's probing, refreshing questions. He must have known a bunch of interesting stuff that it wouldn't be polite to talk about with family present.

Brain Sharpening Part II

One of the panels of the Pen conference was about the use of myth in contemporary writing. It was a great discussion, moderated fabulously by Colum McCann.
One of the corollaries of attending panels where writers speak is that you if you like them, you end up buying their books. I bought a book by Jeanette Winterson, a writer I have never read but whose fierce intelligence seduced me. And I bought "The Myth of Samson", by David Grossman because I was transfixed by his thoughts on the myth of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I wish I could do justice to his train of thought. His ideas were profoundly revealing to me.
He compares the biblical myth of Samson the strongman, with the State of Israel. He sees certain parallels:
Grossman said that we were a people without power for 2000 years and now we have huge military power and borders, which we never had before. He feels that Israel, like Samson, does not really believe in its own power and therefore tends to overreact, breaking down like a child every time it's threatened. As an example he mentioned the first intifada. There were hundreds of Palestinians demonstrating violently, true, but Israel has nuclear weapons. That's the kind of disproportionate reaction we're talking about. Grossman said that not only are Jews the People of the Book, but that they are the people of the story. We have a special and unique story and we believe it but this story has also isolated Jews and Israel from the world. What he would love, and he should know because he lives there, is to make Israel a less mythological place, more grounded in reality. Less fraught with "The Story", and the Bible and the myth of the chosen people, and a place more normal, more boring, more real. I was deeply moved to hear him pine for a boring, normal country. He said that he wished that Israel realized that it could respond with options other than sheer might. It's a concept nobody ever thinks about. Other options could be explored. How simple and how sensible. How shocking.
Grossman is unapologetically Jewish. He is unapologetically enthusiastic about the Bible and Jewish history. He is smart to point out to his audience that he is a secular Jew, because many people do not understand the notion of being a committed Jew who is not religious. I noticed that as he was explaining how Jews are unique in the history of mankind, a woman sitting in front of me rolled her eyes and fidgeted with her pen in clear discomfort with such direct pointing out of our specialness, despite the fact that Grossman's point was, if I understood correctly, that all this voluntary mythification has another, destructive side, of being isolated and negatively mythified by others.
In general it was refreshing to hear writers like Amis and Grossman, who were complex in their allegiances. It made me realize that the discourse here tends to be not very shaded or nuanced, but that people expect you to adhere and subscribe to every cliched tenet of whatever political persuasion you espouse. So by definition, if you are left of center, you have to oppose Israel, hate Bush, rationalize the islamists, etc. Then you hear someone like Grossman who loves the Bible but hates the occupation and resents those who put his country in danger for biblical reasons, who wants to write another Jewish myth, one not engaged in so much defensiveness, and he does this not out of self-hatred but of proud identification.
Or someone like Martin Amis who despises the war in Iraq and still believes it is a defensive war, and he cannot countenance rationalizing the unacceptable islamist war of terror against the West. As he calls it, we live in an age of multicultural relativism (a term he rolls off the tongue as if it contained bitter poison in it), of which I guess that paralyzing political correctness is a byproduct. Amis and Grossman refuse to engage in this wishywashy, hypersensitive to every culture mindset, they refuse to conform to the cliche, and I salute them for that.

A brief announcement from the Vatican... a huge deal for mankind. Even the Pope has recognized that the policy of abstinence to fight AIDS in Africa (or everywhere else) is criminally irresponsible.
So now the Catholic Church is thinking of making some kind of dispensation allowing married people to use condoms to prevent an infected partner from spreading the disease. These are extremely important news that will affect the behavior of millions of people in the developing world.
Of course it's not enough to narrow it down to married couples, but the gist of it, that condoms can protect you from death and disease, is extremely significant to huge numbers of practicing Catholics and Christians. Hopefully, even people who are not married will think that if the Vatican says you can use them to protect yourself, your civil status is a technicality. This may save millions of lives.
However, it is the policy of the Bush administration to give financial aid to NGO's that promote abstinence only.
Yesterday, Martin Amis spoke about the perils of Muslim fundamentalism and some people asked about American fundamentalism. To me the obvious response is that we have not started killing people in God's name yet. But then I thought about the abstinence policies of Bush and although we may not be killing people violently, to discourage the use of condoms given the current AIDS crisis in Africa and other countries amounts to murder directly attributed to some cockamamie religious belief.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Literary Rock Stars

My brain feels like it has been honed with the elegant precision of a pencil sharpener. For I have spent these last two days listening to world literary rock stars strut their often brilliant ideas in front of us adoring fans.
The theme of this year's Pen World Voices is "Faith and Reason". Nothing could be more timely or more apt because everybody with a brain between their ears is in mortal fear of the turn towards theocracy and fundamentalism that seems to be gripping the world. And if they are not afraid yet, it is about time they start shaking.
For starters, yesterday night at Town Hall was like the Woodstock of Literature, with writers from all corners of the planet. The one who made the biggest impression on me was E. L. Doctorow and I hope that the amazing speech he wrote for the occasion will be printed and distributed for everyone to read.
He must have made the biggest impression too on Martin Amis and Patrick McGrath since they chose to open their conversation today with something that Doctorow said, something along these lines: Doubt is the great civilizer, not faith, not unshakable absolute conviction. He then went to explain in the most clear, precise and eloquent language why the current trend towards fundamentalism in American political life is anathema to democracy. It is in fact, due to democracy and to the great legacy of religious freedom bestowed to us by the Founding Fathers of the USA.

In this country, people show much too much respect for God and too little for themselves, if you ask me.
I get the feeling that when someone reveals they are atheists, as Nadine Gordimer did in her note read by Salman Rushdie, there is always this weird little hush in the crowd, as if people are somehow afraid to displease or disrespect God, when in fact there should be a growing cheering section with tambourines and tubas. I clapped as I heard Rushdie convey Ms. Gordimer's message and was the only one. A couple brave souls followed suit because Mr. Rushdie kept saying "ain't that the truth" (he is utterly charming).
We needn't be so afraid of God; we need to be far more outraged about other manmade calamities.
I won't tell you the entire lineup of yesterday's event at Town Hall. Toni Morrison and Zadie Smith got the biggest cheers. In my humble estimation, some writers were more brilliant than others. One that made a powerful impression on me, yesterday and today, was David Grossman from Israel, an outspoken critic of the Occupation and an incredibly intelligent guy.

Martin Amis recounted today that somebody once asked his father whether he was an atheist. The answer was (delivered by Mr. Amis with impeccable comic timing) "Well yes, it's more that I hate Him".
Amis said that he was in the atheist fringe of the agnostic, waiting rather impatiently for scientific confirmation that God indeed does not exist. He also said that notwithstanding poverty, injustice, plagues, wars, the endless catalogue of human suffering, the reason why he doesn't believe that God really cares about us is because if he did, he would not have given us religion. And that with belief in a higher power there is no free will. I have always been a huge fan of his sharp, elegant, wit, and now I'm drooling. Today he was impish, brilliant, eloquent and brave and refreshingly politically incorrect. I don't think American audiences are used to listening to people call it like they believe it is, without trying to finesse anybody's sensibilities. Amis claimed that Islamism (not Islam) is irrational and against reason and there were audible gasps from the audience. He has a complex, rational, pragmatic and morally outraged point of view that is much more nuanced than the wholesale USA is Evil and the Muslims are just reacting bullshit. Also, he does not speak out of his ass. He has immersed himself in learning about Islam and seems to know what he's talking about. Besides, he made me immensely happy because he dumped on Jose Saramago, because Saramago said that suicide bombers use their bodies because those are the only weapons they have and all that idiotic crap. God Bless Martin Amis.
There will be further dispatches from my literary groupie stint. But now, I'm going out for a stiff drink.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Marketing Killed The Movies

Memo to Lynda Obst: it doesn't take a two page article to come to the conclusion that the reason that people are not going to the movies is because the movies SUCK.
It's not Netflix, and not videogames, and not ADD and not theaters that stink of popcorn farts where you freeze to death in the Summer, and not 500 TV channels, and all the other lame excuses that Hollywood bigwigs find to avoid taking a good hard look at the unspeakable crap they put out. It's rather stuff like this:
July brought Stealth, Rob Cohen’s $135 million . . . what, exactly? Thriller? Action movie? Starring Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, and Josh Lucas, it opened to a measly $13 million. And October brought Doom literally... Based on one of the most successful video games of all time, it would have to be a blockbuster, wouldn’t it?... If the kids didn’t come to Doom, starring The Rock, we could no longer call anything.
Stealth? Doom, with none other than that respected thespian, The Rock? Based on the best-selling video of all time? This garbage should not even be called a movie. If people want to play videogames, why on earth should they pay 10 bucks to watch them passively in a giant screen?

Hollywood has lost touch with reality. The reason is marketing. Listen to this:

We were seated at small round tables with marketing types from the studios (and many ex-marketers; they are the first to be fired when movies flop—i.e., it’s the marketing, dummy! Not the movie!) and assorted producers like me looking to figure out what was hot and what was not, and why. And the gist of what we heard was this: Young men were too busy to go to the movies anymore. They would rather play video games on Friday nights or be on the Internet playing video games with strangers or hooking up or pretending to be hooking up or playing video games with or without the person they had just hooked up with.

As for the baby-boomers—or the “upper-quadrant audience,” as we know them—the movie experience had so deteriorated (bad food, sound, seats, etc.) that they would rather wait for the DVD. They all now had fabulous home entertainment systems, which their teenagers appropriated when they finally felt like seeing the movie they had missed playing video games.
So for Hollywood types the world is divided into some sort of humanoid constructs called young male teenagers and boomers. There is no one else of interest. In its obsessive segmentation of the audience, marketing completely forgets to ground itself in real life, missing the forest for the trees. As Miss Obst slowly realizes:

...we spend zillions and gear the products to teen boys—the most easily distracted audience. Not only are they the ones with the most choices on Friday night, but they also know within a second of our holding a preview anywhere in the world whether a movie stinks or not. These guys cannot be fooled by marketing anymore. The harder we hype them, the harder we fall.


That year saw the perplexing, terrifying failures of T3 and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Matrix Whatever. We thought it was about sequels, when it was really about word of mouth.

It's not perplexing to me. Those movies SUCK.

So we can’t put a bad blockbuster over anymore, as in the golden era of 2002, when The Scorpion King could open at $36 million, or Blade II at $33 million. And we have to kill our singular addiction to teenage boys. We need to diversify the meaning of “our audience.” We have a few audiences. Baby-boomers have a movie habit and an IV hooked up to pop culture (look at Inside Man or The Interpreter). You would have thought that Something’s Gotta Give proved that older women were worth making movies for, but one strike with In Her Shoes and we’re out. Young girls, reliable last year, have been rationalized off the screen (their tastes this year considered to be entirely driven by boys).

Tell me that this is not Orwellian. Tell me that this language doesn't scare the bejesus out of you. How dare this woman call a Golden Era something that spawned a movie called Blade II?
And then a true Eureka moment, by gosh! I'm glad Ms. Obst noticed. What would we do without such keen insight? There are other kinds of humanoids that may want to sit in a dark theater and watch A GOOD STORY unfold. Women, thirtysomethings, fortysomethings: people.

Did Scorsese, Altman, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Coppola, Malle, Fellini, Schlesinger, you name em, make their movies thinking of snotnosed teenage males? Or because they thought the female 18-35 demographic would tell their friends about it? Or they made movies because film is an art form, not an extended commercial for brands, or a formula for morons.
I know that Hollywood needs to make money. But I don't know how these people can live with themselves, rationalizing the violent, pointless, moronic shit they spend millions on with a marketing bromide or two.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Honk if you hate the Decider

Is this the way to go about handling the oil crisis? By easing environmental rules on oil production? Is this a responsible policy, or another one of Bush's farkakte schemes to protect his cronies in the oil business, which consists, among others, of his entire freaking family.
I'm not a maven in this category (I can't know everything, y'all). But this sounds like really bad news. It just allows oil companies to neglect their environmental responsibility to pump more oil out of the earth. Is it too much to ask the President to tell people to consider modes of alternative fuel and transportation? It won't happen in a day, but this country needs to start taking a good hard look at its criminally wasteful energy habits.

So this is what he proposes:

He also said the country needed to expand its domestic refining capacity by making it easier to get permits for building new refineries or expanding existing ones. No new refineries have been built in the United States in the past 30 years , he said, urging that Congress adopt legislation that would limit the permit process to one year.

But the ultimate solution, he said to an appreciative audience of the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington, was to reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil.

"The long term strategy is to power our automobiles with something other than oil," he said. Although he spoke today about the importance of using ethanol, which is produced from corn and other agricultural products as substitutes for oil-derived fuel, he has suggested in earlier speeches that other methods be tried.

People mention fuel made of corn, hydrogen, dog farts. Is anybody considering providing people with better public transportation systems? Take, for instance, Houston, Texas. Or Atlanta, or LA, or any of those sprawling urban centers that are mired in bumper to bumper traffic. They could be ripe candidates for a good conmuter rail public transportation system, because the only other thing they have besides endless freeways and traffic jams are bus systems that probably takes people a day and a half to get to their destination.
But no, in Houston, new freeways were being built to accommodate more cars as far as the eye could see. It's not only the car manufacturers or the oil industry's fault or the fact that efficient, clean systems of public transportation cost taxpayer dollars (oil companies should pay for them. Aren't their profits up like a zillion percent?). But it's also the drivers' mentality. People who are stuck in satanic traffic in those cities cannot conceive of abandoning their car cocoons for anything. Their cars are such an extension of them that God forbid you ask them to take a train instead. But I imagine a light, clean, comfortable conmuter rail system connecting all of LA County and alleviating the traffic, the pollution and the road rage. Am I nuts?
Meanwhile in New York, I'd vote to ban all private car traffic in Manhattan and just allow cabs, delivery vehicles and bicycles (and rollerblades, if they behave). There is no reason for anybody to use a private car in this island.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Heavyhanded left hand

As I get ready to march with the sock and sandal crowd on Saturday, I suddenly remember this little tidbit that really pissed me off. It's just one of those things that do not endear those pesky liberal lefties to me. I get a sense that some of the people who get so bent out of shape over humanity are not that great as individual humans themselves.
I wanted to get tickets to David Hare's agitprop drama "Stuff Happens". I had put my name on the waiting list at the Public Theater box office. The Public, as its name implies, should be a paragon of unpretentious treatment of its patrons, the public. That it ain't.
Grievance Number One:
The woman who was at the box office of the Public at around 4 pm that Tuesday is one of those people who feels a frisson of satisfaction when you are in dire need for theater tickets and she does everything in her power not to help. She was extremely discorteous as I asked questions about the waiting list policy. When I arrived before the play (I clearly saw I was second on the list and thought it would be a cinch) she told me with a smug, self-satisfied smirk that she had given away my tickets at 4:40. I could almost see her chest puff out when she put my name all the way at the back of the list, half an hour before showtime.
So I have an idea for the farkakte Public Theater waiting list policy. Get people on the list and ask them to be back at the theater at a specific time of your choice and start giving out the tickets after that time. And consider putting someone at the box office who feels no contempt for the humans on the other side of the partition. In protest, I will not get in line for tickets for Macbeth with Liev Schreiber in Central Park. (Not).
Grievance Number Two:
The reason why I was looking for tickets that night was that Amy Goodman from Democracy Now was conducting a panel after the show with Sydney Schanberg and an Iraqi journalist. I thought it would be interesting to hear a discussion of the play afterwards.
Since my name has not been called and the play is about to start, I see a guy who came in with Amy Goodman has several tickets in his hand, and ask him if he has tickets to spare.
"They're sixty dollars each", he tells me.
"I thought they were fifty five at the box office".
"I'm a producer for Democracy Now. This is for fundraising".
"Ah, well then it's for a good cause" I say, my arm duly twisted into a pretzel.
So my friend and I start fishing for cash, trying to scrape together for the tickets. We were like ten dollars short.
"It's allright", he finally says, "give what you can".
After I fork the money out, and we show them to the usher, I look at the tickets, which are thirty dollars each. Am I crazy or is this nisht sheyn (not nice)?
My point being: the guy could have been straightforward and said, they are $30 each but we're fundraising and we urge you to contribute. I think the way he handled the whole thing was tacky and mildly abusive. The word entitled springs to mind. These people feel so embattled by their own quixotic fight against the establishment and what they call the corporate media, that they think they are entitled to a very wide berth. My friend thinks I'm being unfair because they do noble work with puny budgets. Good for them, but I still think it's not right. I expect good manners, even from pinkos.
In any case, the panel left much to be desired. There is something about the solemn, long-suffering tone of Amy Goodman that really makes me cringe. Sydney Schanberg (The Killing Fields guy) made some interesting points about how we have not been asked to make any sacrifices for this war, and then went on a rambling riff about WWII that was way off the topic. The Iraqi journalist was a very interesting young man, and most of the audience wanted to know more about him, but he wasn't particularly articulate.
All in all, my few experiences with these lefty kumbayas are for the most part disappointing.
I find the cliches very irritating, the wallowing in common misery self-indulgent and humorless.
And I am a liberal.

This feels better than yoga

Thanks to Pablo for sending me this hilarious freefalling Bush. Here, YOU get to be the decider. Jerk him around with your cursor. You'll love it.

Civic duty

Thanks to Cynthia for alerting the Enchilada about a peace march this Saturday, April 29 in NYC. Be there or be square.
I don't know what took these people so long, but here we are again, marching against the worst Administration in the history of the US. The good it does.
Now, not to toot my own horn, but I have already participated in some of them anti-war marches. Such as the one in February when it was horribly cold and the NYC police was pushing their big ass horses against the demonstrators and another one in the Spring that was quite delightful and then another one when the Republican Convention came to town (it was hot and I had a stupid conversation with a Trotskyist that put me in a very bad mood). Every single time, I have emerged from these events asking my friends to kick me hard if I ever think of showing up again. And yet...
There is something about the bleeding heart, selfrighteous quality of these shindings that really rubs me the wrong way, despite the fact that many of the people in them are just like you and me; that is, they refuse to wear birkenstocks with socks, and chant Give Peace a Chance (which to me is an excuse for all out war). Still, I remember encountering several loonies, like a woman who was saying that Bush is not the problem, that we should end Capitalism instead (good luck with that, sister) and the aforementioned Trotskyist who tried to convince me to buy his Trotskyist newspaper for a buck. He finally shut up when I told him that my fifteen year old Dad had gone to see Trotsky's body lying in state after he was murdered in Mexico City with an ice pick. I guess that was the closest to his idol this schmuck ever got.
There is no excuse in this day and age for Communists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, Leninists, or Maoists. Marxists get an itty bitty break because in theory the guy said a couple of things I agree with (particularly the opium of the masses thing. I think he was being polite).
The problem with these marches is that they are all over the place, every peace loving hippie comes out of the woodwork with demands: Free Mumia, Solidarity with El Salvador, Legalize Cocaine, Save the Forests, all without a doubt very worthy causes, but it's no wonder the other side jeers with contempt. Frankly, idealism is moronic.
Case in point: this march is called "A March for Peace, Justice and Democracy". Well, how vague can one be? That is three things too many. Have this people heard of the single-minded message? Couldn't we be a little more specific? How about "March to end the Bush regime". "March to impeach Bush and fire Rummy". "March to end the Iraq War".
In any case, given that I keep bitching bitterly about Bush and don't really seem to do anything about it, the march is a perfect opportunity to appear as if I am actually doing something, which is why, despite my past protestations, I will be there. It's my civic duty.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Some people never learn

So Ed Kennedy is saying that if John Kerry runs for President again in 2008, he's supporting him.
Is he sick in the head? I hope this is the equivalent of saying "if my grandmother sprouts wheels, I'm using her as a bicycle". I can't believe this man would even imagine such a thing. Kerry was a disastrous loser who many people voted for not out of conviction or because they liked him but because nobody gave us a better choice. He better not even attempt to run again. I kind of like Joe Biden. This is mostly because I saw him once in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I also like Barack Obama.
Only the Democrats are so incredibly inept as to be wasting the horrible presidency of their adversaries in the way they are right now. They are spineless cowards.
I didn't read Kurt Andersen's suggestion in New York Magazine that this country needs to have a third party. The fact I haven't read the article does not impede me from commenting on it.
I agree we desperately need a third party. A liberal party of intelligent, practical pols that are allergic to focus groups. A party that will show the stupid Democrats how they need to start paying attention to their own frazzled constituents, instead of pandering to the idiots on the other side. New York Magazine keeps intimating that they think Michael Bloomberg should run for President. They love him. I like him too. He is a pragmatist and he's done well by the city. But I think that instead of creating a new Purple party (purple? Who's going to take that color seriously? Black is better and it's so NY), or convincing Bloomie to run for President, New York City should secede from the rest of the USA and be it's own independent Republic and Bloomie can be our president.

A day of rest...

...from bitching. I am quite hungover from the myriads of margaritas I imbibed last night. You should know I made them from scratch with fresh lime juice, triple sec, good tequila and nary a blender. After doing exhaustive research trying to figure out the proportions, I came to the conclusion that any recipe that tells you that it's equal proportions of the three ingredients, you should dismiss.
It's more or less: 1 cup of 100% agave tequila. If you try something that doesn't say that on the label you will not forgive yourself in the morning and neither will your friends.
1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice or even less (lime juice is very intense), and like 1/4 cup of triple sec. Stir with ice and pour on a previously salt-rimmed martini glass. Try to use small martini glasses, not cocktail glasses the size of swimming pools (use a lime to rim the glass, the salt sticks better and it tastes yummy). I used kosher salt.
This makes very potent margaritas. Drinkboy suggests reverse proportions of triple sec and lime. Maybe it works better. Next time, I think I'll use a better orange liqueur, like Cointreau, because triple sec is too sweet and kind of cheapo.
The other day my friend Joe made these unorthodox margaritas with Drambuie, which I forgave him because they were a lovely pink color and they were utterly delicious.

My lovely guests braved the horrible weather and I hope they had as good a time as I did. My incomparable friends picked up the place before I could blink (the kitchen looked like a junior version of some sort of tropical depression) and yet, we last survivors even went dancing to another party after everyone had left. I was quite amazed I could shake my booty relatively proficiently, considering the amount of booze I had in me. I guess the trick was that I didn't mix. Today my stomach feels like there is a crater in it, but yesterday the margaritas did their thing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Gas pains

I had to refill the tank of a car I rented in Houston last weekend and I paid $20 for less than half a tank of gas in a compact car. I was shocked.
Now that the American people are feeling the pain at the pumps, now and only now they are going to start screaming and crying and whining and perhaps even demanding their President's resignation because of how high the price of gas. Because that's the only thing they care about: don't make 'em pay any more taxes and don't mess with their cars.
Perhaps if we are lucky they will put two and two together and realize that this gas hike is a consequence of the stupid war they haven't given a shit about for the last three years.
I don't have a car and I don't feel the pain but every time I see a report on CNN about some guy in Georgia who has to pawn his grandmother's watch to get gas, I get happy. Every time I think about all of those who own SUVs, I almost sallivate. Serves you right, you stupid morons. I hope you all start suffering the consequences of your indifference. Particularly those of you Bush lovers in the Red states. I hope you hurt.


Apparently, there is going to be a general strike of undocumented immigrants this May 1st, which would be truly the real version of A Day Without Mexicans. It would be really interesting to see indeed what would happen if all the illegal immigrants, Mexican and not, did not show up for work that day across the US. As somebody said, forget about dinner!
I'm supposed to shoot a commercial in LA and over there they are already saying that that Monday is going to be a mess. Right on! I hope it happens.
LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens has asked immigrant people here in the States to refrain from making any consumer purchases that day, to show the economic impact the immigrants have in this country. Meanwhile, I got a chain email from a friend in Mexico that says that the Mexicans on the other side of the border have been asked to show their solidarity with their illegal brethren by undertaking a general boycott of everything American that day. This means: no Starbucks, no Haagen Dazs, no McDonald's, no Marlboro, no Coca-Cola, no Wal-Mart, no Krispy Kremes etc. This may prove to be a daunting task. I bet pretty much every household item and most packaged foodstuffs in Mexico, not to say all the electronics, come from American corporations. Are my spoiled rotten compatriots going to leave their American made cars at home and take sweaty public transportation with the rest of la raza? I doubt it.
I have a better idea:
How about if instead of boycotting American stuff, Mexicans at home fight to make the exploited poor of Mexico, those who, I remind you, work for pitiful wages, as your maids, cooks, drivers, waiters: everything they come to do here because it's better paid, how about you pay them more and start treating them as equals, not as your servant class? Perhaps if you did, they wouldn't feel compelled to risk their lives to come over here, where they may suffer the same racism that they do at home, but at least their work has more value that you have ever thought of giving it.
I just have to close my eyes for a second and think of the way most of the haves treat the have nots in Mexico, and the Mexican government has the gall to protest the Georgia laws against illegals for discrimination. That's freaking rich! Why doesn't the Mexican government look at its own discrimination of its own citizens at home? Because they get billions of dollars in remesas from the hardworking Mexicans who send money to their families and communities.
So let's not kid ourselves with our smug, self-serving, self-satisfied little boycott of American stuff. Let's look at ourselves in the mirror and ponder what makes millions of Mexicans want to get the hell out of their country in the first place.

Here goes in Spanish, pa que me entiendan:

Eso de boicotear los productos americanos por un día me parece el colmo de la desfachatez, considerando que dudo que ninguno de ustedes esté dispuesto a subirle el sueldo y el nivel de vida a la clase trabajadora que se explota en México desde hace siglos para la comodidad de las clases acomodadas. En lugar de boicots pendejos, mejor sería que nos pongamos a considerar de qué manera los mexicanos discriminamos económicamente a millones de nuestros compatriotas que no tienen las mismas oportunidades que nosotros y que se ven obligados a arriesgar sus vidas y trabajar como burros en un país ajeno, donde sufren el mismo racismo que en su tierra pero por lo menos sus esfuerzos se compensan mejor. Así que en vez de sentirnos tan heróicamente solidarios con aquellos a los que explotamos diariamente, porqué mejor no nos vemos bien en el espejo y nos preguntamos qué es lo que hace que millones de nuestros compatriotas prefieran largarse de su propio país.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

No: I'm the decider

And I've had it with these people! Now it turns out that the way they are spinning Rummy out of his debacle is to try to discredit the generals who have demanded his resignation. Check this out:

"Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who is a Fox News commentator, said in an interview afterward that the calls from other retired generals for Rumsfeld to resign came up only briefly. "We didn't waste the secretary's time with that," he said, adding that he puts little stock in the criticisms because they come mostly from two-star generals who were not senior enough in rank to work directly for Rumsfeld. Of the six retired generals who have called for Rumsfeld to quit, four were two-stars, one was a three-star and one — Anthony Zinni — was a four-star who had retired before the Bush administration took office".

Who cares if they are one or two or three stars? Is this the Michelin guide? Are they restaurants or hotel chains or freaking military people? These generals have risked their lives in combat to earn those stars. They should know what they are talking about.

And let me remind you, Mr. President that you are NOT the decider. The American people are the deciders and unfortunately half of them are stupid and benighted enough to have decided to elect the most pernicious President in US history. According to the polls right now they are deciding you suck. Perhaps you do not give a flying fuck because this is your last term. You wouldn't be so cocky about being the decider if you had another election to steal. Disgraceful kindergarden bully.

Stuff Happens

I saw it happen yesterday at the Public Theater. It wasn't as exciting as Ben Brantley said but it was highly riveting. A mostly excellent cast in an extremely well directed production (by Daniel Sullivan) of what can only be described as preaching to the choir deluxe. I agree with the drama critic of New York Magazine that the play in the end does not add up to that much. I expected something more Shakesperean, less preachy. I expected more substance to the characters, particularly to the Colin Powell one, because according to Mr. Brantley, who saw the London production, in the one here it was almost like watching some kind of Shakesperean tragic hero. Not quite. Peter Francis James, who plays Colin Powell, has the voice and the looks and it's not entirely his fault that he plays a man whose power and stature diminish as the play progresses, until he's almost a zero. We never understand why he agrees to such tremendous humiliation. In fact we never understand why the meanies (Wolfie, Rummy, Cheney) are as they are. We all know the drill in reality: oil money, private interests, conservatism, the arrogance of power. But if a playwright chooses to make them into dramatic figures, I would hope he would imbue them with more humanity, whether noble or despicable, beyond his political outrage. A playwright as prestigious as Mr. Hare has the opportunity to delve into their characters, to suppose, to imagine their fears and fantasies, and this he does very little of. I know it's a stretch, and Hare is constrained by the fact that these guys are all alive right now, blundering about as we speak, but Shakespeare created characters out of real historical figures that were probably more interesting on stage than in real life. Perhaps Hare thinks these people do not deserve the honor. It doesn't help the play that they are so one-dimensional. Not surprisingly, the only one who seems to have more emotional meat to his part is Tony Blair, excellently played by Byron Jennings. Jay O Saunders channels Bush quite well without resorting to outright caricature (a tall order given that the guy IS a joke). Jeffrey De Munn is excellent as Rummy, but his part is wasted and so is Cheney's. Someone like Powell, like Condi, it could be quite interesting to try to fathom them dramatically speaking. But the play works better as a condensed version of events, that seen like that, feel painfully avoidable now.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Back from Texas

Thanks to all those readers who shared their tips about Houston with me.
Karie: I cannot believe that someone else in this world knows about "Across The Street". I thought I had dreamt it, it was so great.
Some general impressions:
The empty Houston I remembered from childhood has changed. It's not that empty anymore. It has grown. Now, all over the Galleria area (what these people call "uptown". As if), there are many other malls and fancy strip malls. There are all the chain stores you see everywhere, including NYC. So you could feel you are in Orange County or somewhere in inland Florida and you wouldn't know the difference. It is completely generic. Perhaps only the people are not generic. Houston seemed truly multiethnic. There all kinds of people, like you see in NY. Some even sport the charming Texas drawl.
There was no visiting the Enron building, alas, and the BBQ was had at the food court in the Galleria. Since the Menil Collection was closed, I did go to the Rothko Chapel, a block away; an hexagonal or pentagonal concrete structure that houses 14 huge, opaque Rothko canvasses and is a silent place to sit and meditate. It was an oasis of quiet after spending most of the day with the adorable Enchiladitos, one of whom outlasts the Energizer Bunny. Exploring with 2 Small Enchiladitos is not for those who like to plan things in advance.

Now, I have not seen that many Mexicans together since I was last in Mexico City. We went to the Houston Zoo on Easter Sunday and it was almost like being in Chapultepec Park. Lots and lots of Mexican families. I can see why some people who live in the border states feel they have been invaded. They have.
In the condiment section of the hot dog joint at the zoo, besides the ketchup and mustard and relish, there are jalapeño peppers. This is a great contribution to the overall improvement of American culture in general, and the faster people accept this, the better their lives will be.
It is so very interesting that all the Embassy Suites (which deserves a post all its own) all employees who weren't at the front desk were either Mexican or Latino. Many of the guests were Mexican too, the kind that make pilgrimages to shopping shrines like The Galleria at least once a year. You see Mexican affluent families buying not only the entire contents of the mall, but extra luggage so they can carry the loot back home.
To those of you who do not understand what's with the Mexicans going berserk with shopping, here's the anthropological explanation: In Mexico fashion is usually like 5 years behind the times (used to be 15). Clothes made in Mexico are usually extremely expensive and worthless. Wash them once and they turn into rags. Imported brands, the taxes are obscene. There is a dearth of good shopping options in Mexico. Thus, affluent Mexicans are obsessed with brands. Sister Enchilada tells me kids think Abercrombie is the shit. They all wear it, like some sort of Orwellian uniform. All the women are decked head to toe with Coach logos. I told her about how gays here collect the infamously homoerotic catalogs from Abercrombie. I don't think even this info would deter the brand addicted from getting their fix.

I am interested in the exchange between the Mexicans from Houston and the ones hailing from the Land of Bad Shopping. The immigrants came all the way to avoid poverty in Mexico and they see the Mexican rich gallivanting around Houston and behaving to them in the exact same manner as they behave with their servants at home. Yet it is not the same. My dream is that somehow Mexico will become a more equal society (fat chance) so the differences are not so grating. One of the ways in which this can happen is if those who have come here rise above those differences and demand more equality in Mexico. When that happens, who knows, perhaps we may even stop coming here.
You speak to the Mexican Houstonians in English, and now they answer back in Spanish. This was not the case 10 or 20 years ago. Then you spoke to them in Spanish and they made a point of answering back in English, like "I am now from here and don't you forget it". Things have changed. As George, a distinguished Mexican man who was one of the bellhops said, "we speak Spanish here in Houston because Texas used to belong to Mexico anyway". Well, Amen.

The Zoo was great. They had a great collection of truly exotic animals, like a Komodo Dragon (Enchiladito: does he spit fire?) and turtles that look like parrots and tiny, beautiful poisonous frogs and... I must confess, I like going to zoos to see the animals, even if I think that we have some gall boring them silly and putting them there for our entertainment. Most animals, perversely, decide to hide in the shade and screw the gawkers, so somehow, they redress the balance.

I had a great time with my family and I'm glad to be back on Houston... Street.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Off to Texas

Or should it be down with Texas?
Darlings, your very own Grande Enchilada is decamping for Houston, TX this weekend. I, who swore not to visit any red states, am going for family tour of duty to Houston. That is if my plane does not explode or collapse or something horrible happens in the air. Cross your fingers.
I'm actually looking forward to seeing my itty bitty enchiladitos nephews and to revisiting the mythical Galleria mall, which is going to be closed on Easter Sunday. Last time I was there I must have been like 8 years old. I want to see what changed in the life of the mall since then.
Today, I went to Barnes and Noble to look for a tourist guidebook that could enlighten me about what the hell to do in Houston, TX and there was none. There were Texas guides, Austin guides and San Antonio guides, but no Dallas or Houston guides.
I want to go see the former Enron headquarters.
And I want to eat good BBQ.
I won't go to the NASA Space Center because I've heard it's kind of a rip off.
I'm renting a car. Should be fun to drive. As a New Yorker, driving outside the city becomes sort of an extended amusement park ride, since I never do it anymore. I'm afraid the freeways are so huge and straight and boring I am going to crash into the median wall.
To be fair, Houston has a couple of interesting art museums which hopefully won't be closed on Easter Sunday. But then again I have a couple of tiny nephews who will not be interested at all in shlepping to a museum. So I guess that leaves us with the Houston Zoo or the icky covered pool at the hotel.
I used to go to Houston with my parents when I was a child because my dad had terrible allergies and he used to get treatment in Houston. They told him he couldn't eat anything red, potato skins or orange peel, but he could eat potatoes and oranges. No pork, no shrimp, no coke, no chocolate. I don't think he listened.
We used to stay at the big ass Shamrock Hilton and be amazed at the fact that outside there were no sidewalks (or they were very narrow and not suitable for walking). My dad insisted upon walking and everybody looked at us like a relatively well dressed family of homeless. I had the best hamburger I've ever tasted in a place called "Across the Street" which had the magnificent gimmick of a red phone in every table that you picked up and ordered your food into the speaker. In my seven year old mine, this was the coolest.
But I also remember that Houston always gave me the creeps. There were no people, no streets, the downtown was eerie and unwelcoming, and all there was to do was hang out and ice skate at the Galleria. Coming from Mexico City, it did not seem like a proper city to me. Just a jumble of huge freeways, punctuated by solitary, glass enclosed buildings here and there. If you've ever seen Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, there is a scene when Harry Dean Stanton (aka as I Love That Man) arrives in Houston to a bank that has a window for car service. There aren't even human tellers. The isolation and loneliness struck me exactly as I remembered Houston from when I was a little girl.
I passed by Houston recently for some Beckettian focus groups. I remember we drove on the GW Bush Freeway (they also have an airport named after him or his dad) for about an hour and a half and all I saw were megachurches with huge parking lots, IHOPs and Hooters. Still, I'm looking forward to a change of scenery.
So long, y'all.

Me and the generals

People... should never question the dedication, the patriotism and the work ethic of Secretary Rumsfeld
Gen Peter Pace,
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman

Well, nobody is questioning that. What me and the generals are questioning is his utter lack of vision, his arrogance and the bad decisions he has made. He can be as patriotic as a flag and work his ass off and still he needs to go. In fact, this quote sounds to me like damning with faint praise.
Now, a sixth general has said that there is not a conspiracy between generals to overthrow Rummy, and that his putting in his two cents is merely coincidental.
Well, perhaps they should all get together for tea and cakes and discuss how to best criticize him together, so maybe a concerted effort will have better results. You'd think they would know this in the Army.
If you want to know more about Rummy, Wikipedia has a good, scary summary of his career. Here are the Cliff Notes: Eagle Scout and evil corporate asshole.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Good to know I'm not the only one

There are a bunch of Army generals demanding that Rumsfeld resign. They should know.
Me, I am only an outraged citizen, but they fought that war and hate that man's guts for very good reasons:

A fifth retired general, Major Gen. John Riggs, added his voice to those opposing Rumsfeld. In an interview with National Public Radio, Riggs cited an atmosphere of "arrogance" among top civilian leaders at the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld "should step aside and let someone step in who can be more realistic," he said. Of the Pentagon's civilian leadership, Riggs said: "They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda. I think that's a mistake, and that's why I think he should resign."Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni kept up the pressure for Rumsfeld's scalp by telling CNN Rumsfeld should be held accountable for a series of blunders, starting with "throwing away 10 years worth of planning, plans that had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq".

However, Bush, who is either pathologically loyal or completely out to lunch, will not hear any of it. I guess if they don't listen to the generals, they won't listen to poor little me, either.

This is so sad

We all love to kvetch about how things change that shouldn't. We are outraged when neighborhood places with a history and character die in order to give way to offensive chains stores like Duane Reade. This is expected to happen here in the States with far more frequency than other places. Other places, we like to think, have more respect for their history, their past and their culture. They do not turn everything into a franchise. Well, I guess not. That a legendary place like the Hotel Reina Victoria in Madrid has closed to give way, to of all possibly offensive things, a Hard Rock hotel, is just confirmation that one of the worst byproducts of globalization is that the world is turning into a giant corporate franchise. That this should happen in a city like Madrid, a very progressive place which is still proud of its traditions, is particularly shocking. I am not an idealist. I understand the market forces yadda yadda and I understand that things cannot stay the same way forever. But, yikes, does it have to be this obvious? This stupid? This callous?
I went into the lobby of the hotel Reina Victoria about five years ago. It was musty, decidedly unhip, with ugly decor hailing from the seventies or so, and stank, like everywhere else in Madrid, of dark tobacco and musky male eau de cologne, but its walls were decorated with great pictures of famous matadors and legendary bullfights and you could tell some of its denizens hanging out belonged to the bullfighting world. It was one of those places that give you the feel of the whole city and of an essential part of the Spanish character in one memorable instant.
Now, what's to be found worth of attention in the lobby of a despicable Hard Rock hotel that is not a collection of anorexic American celebrity skanks is beyond me. I fear the venerable Cervecería Alemana, a great old atmospheric pub right next door may be next.
What will it be: a Starbucks, a fast food chain, or the first Duane Reade in Madrid?
And just for the sake of argument: I like bullfights. My dad used to take me to the Plaza de Toros Mexico, I believe the second biggest in the world, if not the first, to the bullfights on Sunday afternoons. It was a great spectacle, a great ritual and yes it is cruel and unfair but so is life.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Spring is here...

...why doesn't my heart go dancing..."
My dears, I feel so guilty leaving you for so many days without a fresh post, that I don't know what to do with myself. I scan the headlines and to be honest with you I am tired of kvetching and ranting. Couldn't we have one day where everybody in the world behaved themselves? Is that too much to ask? Ahmanedijad or whatever you are called? Bush? Olmert? Now we need to worry about Iran making nuclear biryani out of the western world, the Israelis are not talking to Hamas, Hamas says something about declarations of war, Rumsfeld is still in office and the last episode of the Sopranos rather sucked. I am sick of Tomkat, Brangelina, Vaughniston et al. So is everybody else, but until we all display a collective gag reflex they are going to continue to shove those mutants down our throats ad nauseam.
As for Moses Martin Paltrow. I like the name. I'm glad they didn't call him Grapefruit. Plus, who knows, he could be the next Messiah.
So happy Passover, the feast of freedom, where for eight days there are so many things you can't eat, I've always wondered about how perverse Jews are. Seriously, may this Passover bring to people's consciousness that there are many oppressed people still in the world, all over the five continents. Oppressed by war, poverty, ignorance and injustice. That is what I choose to believe the spirit of Passover is about. Let my people go!
It's also about hoping that Rumsfeld gets all ten plagues in his pinky.
Happy Easter, too.


My dears, I feel so guilty leaving you for so many days without a fresh post, that I don't know what to do with myself. I scan the headlines and to be honest with you I am tired of kvetching and ranting. Couldn't we have one day where everybody in the world behaved themselves? Is that too much to ask? Ahmanedijad or whatever you are called? Bush? Olmert? Now we need to worry about Iran making nuclear biryani out of the western world, the Israelis are not talking to Hamas, Hamas says something abotu declaration of war, Rumsfeld is still in office and the last episode of the Sopranos rather sucked. I am sick of Tomkat, Brangelina, Vaughniston et al. So is everybody else but until we all don't display a collective gag reflex they are going to continue to shove those mutants down our throats ad infinitum.
As for Moses Martin Paltrow. I like the name. I'm glad they didn't call him Grapefruit. Plus, who knows, he could be the next Messiah.
So happy Passover, the feast of freedom, where for eight days there are so many things you can't eat, I've always wondered about how perverse Jews are. Seriously, may this Passover bring to people's consciousness that there are many oppressed people still in the world, all over the five continents. Oppressed by war, poverty, ignorance and injustice. That is what I choose to believe the spirit of Passover is about. Let my people go!
It's also about hoping that Rumsfeld gets all ten plagues in his pinky.
Happy Easter, too.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The fates of sundry assholes

Just another Manic Monday:

• That insufferably phony Berlusconi, looks like he lost the elections to the left of center party. GOOD. I'm celebrating with a delicious bowl of ravioli from Raffetto's: the best ravioli known to man, at least in New York.

• Jeffrey Skilling, who actually looks a bit like Berlusconi, claims he is "absolutely innocent". I absolutely hope they fry his ass. In lard. In a deep fryer.

• Chirac and De Villepin give their youth job law law up, unable to control the rage of millions of overentitled snotty French youth. They are both loathsome, and it's nice to see the force of public opinion do something, for a change. Apparently, in other countries, it counts for something.

Sy Hersh is always scaring the bejesus out of me

...and this week, I think he has outdone himself.
He wrote a piece about Iran in the New Yorker that should make us all very afraid.
Here's his interview at CNN.

Because any time the words President Bush and Messianic appear together, it's time to freak out. Even more. Than we already are. Freaking.

By the way, it's Monday morning. Do you know where your Secretary of Defense is?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Mission Accomplished

We're well on our way to civil war in Iraq, according to a sobering report in the NYT.
And Donald Rumsfeld is still the Secretary of Defense, despite Abu Ghraib, torture in Guantanamo, bumbling incompetence, unfettered arrogance, general malfeasance and irresponsibility. Congress should be demanding his resignation but they are too busy fucking other things up like the immigration bill.
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I beg to differ

The Writers Guild of America has released a list of the 101 greatest screenplays.
The screenplay for 1942's "Casablanca," by Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein and Howard Koch, was chosen from more than 1,400 nominated works. Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Billy Wilder each have four screenplays on the list. Charlie Kaufman, William Goldman and John Huston earned three mentions each.

The guild's picks for the top 10 screenplays:

1. "Casablanca."
2. "The Godfather."
3. "Chinatown."
4. "Citizen Kane."
5. "All About Eve."
6. "Annie Hall."
7. "Sunset Boulevard."
8. "Network."
9. "Some Like It Hot."
10. "The Godfather II."

Well, I don't get it about Casablanca. It's a really schmaltzy movie. To me, both Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot by Billy Wilder deserve more to be at the top of the list.
Also, Fargo by the Coen Brothers, currently number 32, should be closer to the top. There are some unforgiveable clunkers there like The Shawshank Redemption and other big Hollywood spectacles that should not be on that list: Forrest Gump? Star Wars? WTF? And they only have two foreign movies in the entire list: La Grande Illusion and 81/2. That sucks. What about Rashomon, or The Servant, or Persona, or Big Deal on Madonna St? But that's the problem with lists, and that's the problem with Hollywood. If the writers actually think that Star Wars and Forrest Gump are great screenplays, we're in deep doodoo.

Not like they don't know what it's all about

A Massachussetts correctional officer was reprimanded for showing inmates Brokeback Mountain.
Massachusetts Department of Correction spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said Saturday that the action was not related to the critically acclaimed film's plot involving a gay love affair.

"It was not the subject matter. It was the graphic nature of sexually explicit scenes," Wiffin said.

She said the officer, whom she declined to identify, failed to follow prison guidelines that require staff who schedule films to review them in advance for excessive violence, nudity or sex, as well as scenes involving assaults on correctional staff.

Yeah, right. The sex in Brokeback is really not that explicit, so give me a break.

We regret to inform...

...that Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why is that man still there?

This post is related to the one before it.
I have asked this question before and I will ask it again every day until Donald Rumsfeld is fired as Secretary of Defense for gross negligence, incompetence and willful blindness to the obvious mismanagement of the war that has resulted in thousands of deaths of young Americans and of many more Iraqi civilians. Forget about impeaching or censoring Bush or going after Cheney. Why is nobody asking for Rumsfeld's dimission?


To share my sense of outrage, read the George Packer article in this week's New Yorker or listen to an interview with Packer here.

Even death they fuck up

Well, maybe this article in the New York Times about how the Army is handling the notices of the Iraqi war dead will make us get our butts off our sofas. It is unbelievable.
You may think I'm crazy, but attitude comes from the top. If at the top you have arrogant, uncaring, brazen liars (Donald Rumsfeld), and you are fighting a war started under false pretenses, how can we expect the Army to behave with dignity in this idiotic war? The same disrespect they show to the dead and wounded soldiers, is the same arrogance and disrespect they have shown to the citizens of this country throughout this misbegotten war. Only worse, because those kids have suffered and died for nothing.

Double Feature

Nora Ephron kvetches about an experience she had at a NYC multiplex the other day. My two cents:

1. That's why I live downtown.
2. Going to movies in NY is as obnoxious an experience as going out to restaurants. You pay too much money for not such a great experience.
3. Nora complains at length about the terrible quality of the food sold. I complain about the food. If I ruled the world, which is a secret plan I'm hatching, no food would be allowed in movie theaters. Ever. Imagine: no more smell of popcorn fart ever again. You guys will thank me.
4. She should complain about the price gouging with the food. It is criminal.
Nora, bring your own food, but don't be like that guy who sat next to me as I watched The End of the Affair, chomping on his pastrami sandwich from Katz's. Don't.

Thus, I have a simple suggestion for Nora and for all the abused moviegoers of New York.
No ticket takers? Farblondgetter ushers? Projectionist from hell? Popcorn from the Paleozooic? Make it a Two Movies For The Price Of One night (if you haven't done it yet, you rascals).

Movies are way too expensive, so it only seems fair. Two, if the ushers or managers can't be bothered to check, just waltz into any other of the screens and enjoy your double feature. Serves them right.

In other places they riot, here we put on a play

• In Venezuela thousands of people spontaneously take to the streets after the killing of three abducted schoolchildren.
• In France, everybody's been rioting and striking for weeks because of a new law that threatens to fire young incompetent people from their jobs.
• In our own country, hundreds of thousands of immigrants make themselves heard as they fear a terrible immigration law. By the way, there will be nationwide marches on April 10: be there or be square. (Thanks for the info, Cynthia).
• Meanwhile, the war goes on in Iraq, we have all kvetched about it for years from the comfort of our own sofas and nobody lifts a finger in protest anymore.
But the good news is we can all hit the new play by David Hare and lovingly feed our sense of outrage until we are satisfied. Then we can all go home back to our sofas to kvetch.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Habla español?

If you do, you are in luck my dears, for this link will take you to a recent article of mine that appeared on Dia Siete Magazine in Mexico City. The article is called DF en NY. And it's basically about how this city is resembling Mexico City more and more, to our collective luck.
I will translate this baby for all those who don't speak Spanish. Just don't hold your breath.

Welcome to My PMS

Today, things that make me furious:

U.S. Focus on Abstinence Weakens AIDS Fight, Agency Finds
The US government insistence on abstinence is weakening the battle against AIDS in the Third World. This is criminal.

2. A NY Judge upholds the completely stupid cabaret laws, effectively curtailing my right to shake my booty at a bar when listening to appropriately funky music. That has always sucked and it continues sucking. Meanwhile, the BBC devotes more words to this item than the NYT. WTF?

3. The Extreme Republicans insist on sinking their opportunity for real immigration reform for idiotic politics as usual instead. This makes me fume.

4. American families try to sit down to dinner together at least once a week. What fresh hell is this? Where are they at dinner time? Scores? Note to parents: make dinner after 8 pm instead of at 6, like people do in every other civilized country on Earth, so everybody in the family can be present. DUH.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

They are part of the body count too

As John Cassidy points this week in the New Yorker, some of the immigrants that members of the Republican Party seek to criminalize are parents of children who are now serving in Iraq. Some of their children have come home in body bags.
On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly accused the demonstrators of intimidation. On talk radio, angry callers claimed that the marchers were “anti-American,” citing the profusion of foreign flags and Spanish-language placards. In fact, many marchers were carrying American flags, some of which were emblazoned with pictures of family members serving in the United States military. (For young immigrants, the surest way to secure American citizenship is often to join the armed forces.)

This is for all those oh so patriotic people (like the despicable O'Reilly, despite that puff piece in the same magazine that almost pegged him as a closet liberal) who have this fantasy in their heads that the illegals are some kind of terrible scourge upon this country. These immigrants are only responding to the demand for cheap labor and they are looking for a better life for themselves and their families. Republicans should stop using the excuse of Homeland Security. It has become not only distorted and disgraceful but tiresome. Also, so what if it is an amnesty? SO WHAT?
If people could easily get a visa to come and work here, don't you think they would prefer to stand in line at their local American Embassy instead of risking life and limb and paying thousands of dollars to sometimes unscrupulous people to help them cross the desert? The reason they are here illegally is because they are needed but they can't get in legally. So fix that, motherfuckers, instead of bandying about the word amnesty as if it was some kind of lethal virus. It means forgiveness, for God's sake.
Congress better come up with a sensible compromise and a set of feasible laws that don't punish hardworking, cannon fodder-providers unfairly.

Oy Gevalt!

Last episode of The Sopranos: Tony, risen from the dead, given a second chance at life, is grappling with an existential crisis. So in less than one hour he gets to schmooze with an evangelical creep and a scientist and some Jews. Like that's going to clarify everything. All he needs is Esther (Madonna to you), to come give him a sip of kabbalah water, and he'll be a new man.
I was getting agita just listening to the evangelical saying that the world was created 6000 years ago and dinosaurs lived together with Adam and Eve. Tony and Carmela weren't buying it either, thank God.
But the best part was the Jewish friends who come to visit Tony and have to listen to the pastor's evangelical exertions with expressions of barely suppressed horror on their faces as if they were smelling treyf (lovely touch). Then when the pastor leaves, the woman says something like "These people are good for the Jews. They love Israel". And her husband retorts: "Just wait".
Truer words were never spoken. It behooves Jews and the Israeli government to stop thinking of these evangelical creeps as allies or friends. It behooves the Orthodox to stop beign enamored of Bill Frist and creeps like that. These people love Israel only because they believe that its existence is a historical portent that means JC is coming back. In order for him to come back successfully, the most important people who need to accept him are the Jews. We are first on the conversion line, and if they get into some kind of messianic frenzy, they will try to convert as many Jews as is humanly possible. So they are not really that great for Jews, okay? And if you are so freaking concerned about Israel, instead of leaving it to the Evangelicals to love the Jews, go live there yourself.
Now, today an article appears in the NY Times that describes synagogues and Jewish religious leaders using evangelical techniques to bring more people into the fold. This gives me the cooties. The evangelicals have applied tried and true marketing techniques for making themselves presentable to people who otherwise would not be caught dead in their presence. Hence Christian rock videos, for instance. My objection is not that is Judaism Lite, as some critics point out, having yoga and tai chi and stand up comedy routines on the Shabbat to entice people. One: I don't want Jews sounding like loony evangelists. That is a scary thought. Two: I think it is pathetic that people need to be enticed like that. Hey, now that Esther is looking to buy property in Safed, Israel, maybe you'll be bothered enough to think that Judaism is hip. It isn't hip. It shouldn't be hip. It is what it is. And either you accept that you are a Jew and will be to your dying day or not. If you want your kids to be Jewish then raise them so. Why is this so complicated? I'm a Jew, despite the fact that I haven't set foot in a synagogue ever since I moved to New York. I am no less Jewish for that. I will be a Jew to my dying day whether there is yoga or kabbalah scented candles, or some social on a Friday night with the word lounge stuck on it. And though I'm an atheist, paradoxically, I much prefer the more traditional Jewish observances than the newfangled new agey ones. They are more authentic.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hollywood Babylon

"Erotic thrillers lose steam at the box office", according to a headline in the news today. Directors of bad, cheesy movies like Paul Verhoeven blame this squarely in the evangelical craziness that is sweeping America. That may be the case, but it doesn't help that a movie like Basic Instinct gets trashed by every critic in America. It also doesn't help that Sharon Stone, as good as she looks, makes a complete ass of herself everywhere she goes. I venture to guess that people don't want to pay $10 bucks to see something embarrassing.
People are stupid. It's is a known fact. But they are selectively stupid. They are stupid enough to go see the completely unnecessary and misbegotten sequel to The Pink Panther, or for that matter all the other unnecessary and misbegotten Steve Martin vehicles, but not stupid enough to see Basic Instinct II. Why? Because if you've seen the beaver shot once, why do you need to see it again 15 years later?
In the years between the two (Basic Instinct) films, a string of high-profile flops, including MGM's "Body of Evidence," United Artists' "Showgirls" and Paramount Pictures' "Jade," have all contributed to the cooling off of the erotic thriller, a genre that had once sizzled at the box office.

Excuse me, but all the abovementioned movies are terrible pieces of crap. Had they been any good, perhaps they'd done well. And if I remember correctly, in 2002, as the article I'm quoting points out, Adrian Lyne, fine purveyor of prurient schlock, made Unfaithful with Diane Lane, Richard Gere and Olivier Martinez, which garnered Lane with a Best Actress Oscar nomination (if she won, I don't remember) and did quite well at the box office. Why? Because it was not bad.

However, according to Verhoeven, it's all Bush's fault:

"Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States," said the Dutch native. "Look at the people at the top (of the government). We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends."
Apparently, Verhoeven is a master of understatement when he speaks as well.
Nicholas Meyer, who was an uncredited writer on 1987's seminal sex-fueled cautionary tale "Fatal Attraction," agrees, noting that the genre's downfall coincides with the ascent of the conservative political movement."We're in a big puritanical mode," he said. "Now, it's like the McCarthy era, except it's not 'Are you a communist?' but 'Have you ever put sex in a movie?"

Isn't it a wee bit out of proportion to compare the dearth of good sleazy movies with the McCarthy witch hunt which destroyed the lives of many decent people?
For writers like Meyer, whose credits also include "The Human Stain," (A TOOTHLESS ADAPTATION OF PHILLIP ROTH'S BOOK) "Sommersby" (THE AWFUL AMERICAN REMAKE OF "THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE") and three "Star Trek" films, (I REST MY CASE) the erotic genre has become a tough sell for studios increasingly leery of adult-themed material.

As writers find studios less receptive to the genre, fewer are attempting to craft the next "Body Heat" or "Sea of Love."

Well, that is precisely the problem. Body Heat and Sea of Love were good movies.
Another Hollywood big shot blames it on the internet:
For producer JC Spink, the genre's demise has little to do with politics, scripts or willing talent and everything to do with the Internet, which became ubiquitous in American homes around the same time studio executives were suffering through such debacles as "Body of Evidence," "Showgirls" and "Jade."

"Why pay $10 to see something at the movies that you can see for free on the Internet?" Spink asked. "I think the genre is suffering because sex is more pervasive in our society now than it was 10 years ago, from Vanity Fair ads to reality TV. I mean, there's porn stars on reality TV."

True, but comparing even the worst Hollywood movie with plotless internet porn is like comparing The Brothers Karamazov with Chicken Soup for the Sex Addict's Soul.
Do the cynical bastards who work in Hollywood ever take a good look at the dreck they make and say: "yikes! this is bad shit we're making. No wonder the movies are dying, Bush, Jesus Christ, the Evangelical movement and internet porn notwithstanding"?

Still, Verhoeven said he would be game to direct a studio erotic thriller again if the right script comes along.

"If there would be a script written that had the quality of 'Basic Instinct,' or if Joe Eszterhas would be willing to dig himself into some new material and he would present it to me or a studio, then I would be highly interested," said Verhoeven.
We should be so lucky.

Flying Sucks

2005 was the year when people complained more about flying, a study shows. I don't know what took them so long. Flying has been a miserable experience in this country since 9/11 and it shows no signs of getting better. I don't know how or why people put up with it.
First, you have to deal with the idiocy of airport security procedures, where every two steps some low paid employee with a badge checks your boarding pass for the umpteenth time. Then you have the shoe removal mishegoss and the huge, slow lines. I'm all for security, but there must be a way to make the process both more effective and snappier. Still, one can forgive hassles in the name of security but what is inexcusable is the treatment passengers get from most national airlines these days. Not only are we paying outrageous prices for tickets, once we get on the plane it looks like we're being punished for flying as well. The airlines, some of whom are almost bankrupt, know that people really don't have a choice. What are they gonna do, drive cross country? Start walking? So, for instance, on an 11 hour flight to Buenos Aires on American Airlines, the service on coach class was as if the flight had been from Dubuque to Topeka. Not one measly towelette to wipe your digits, no amenities whatsoever. Disgusting, inedible food. If you go to Europe via Air France, their coach class is like paradise for people with ADD: they have individual video screens with choices of movies and games, they give you relatively decent food, free French wine, slippers, towelette, and a little toiletry bag.
Americans cannot expect service like this anymore from their national carriers, which pack them in like sardines on planes where they add more seat rows where no more fit.
Consumers do well to prefer those airlines that treat them right. The rest, a pox on them all.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Fightin' Irish

I went to see The Lieutentant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh at the Atlantic Theatre today. I tried to get on the waiting list for the matinee and was not lucky and came back for the waiting list at 7 pm and was able to get in. I'd rather see the play in the more intimate stage of the Atlantic. And boy am I glad I did because this play was horribly dark and funny and shocking and well written. The production was great, the actors superb. It was literally a bloody joy.
Mr. McDonagh has said he has been influenced by Quentin "Idiot Savant" Tarantino. I can see some of the parallels in his penchant for completely over the top violence and funny banter. But that's where the resemblance ends. For McDonagh is an extremely smart playwright, whose violence and banter are used with more profound intentions. There are actual humans with actual human feelings in his plays. And though he's dark, he sometimes punctuates the scathing irony with tenderness. He rules.
All I will tell you about the play is that is is a black comedy about Irish terrorists. Not, you would think, the stuff of comedy. Towards the end of the first act I was thinking the play was very funny but rather light and not what I expected, but from the second act onward, which is a tour de force of dramatic escalation, I sat with my mouth open at the sheer moxie of the guy. It is reckless and vibrant and horrid and intensely funny, and it jolts you, which is what theater is supposed to be for.
McDonagh is a master of conflating the horribly tragic with the absurdly comic, he has an amazing ear for language and writes very funny lines. I think I'm in love.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore ends its run at the Atlantic on April 9 and is moving to Broadway on April 18. If you don't want to get on the waiting list while its still at the Atlantic, which you should, go catch it on Broadway, see it at a bigger theater and pay more money. At the very least it will give you lots to talk about.