Monday, July 31, 2006


The inhabitants of Mexico City like to believe that they live in the brink of chaos. They deal with the most horrifying traffic, pollution, lack of safety, widespread corruption, water and power shortages and a host of other surreal problems with clenched teeth and road rage and then they lull themselves to sleep by insisting they are on the brink of chaos but not quite there. I beg to differ. I think Mexico City is already an urban catastrophe, but people get used to everything. The poor are used to a lot of misery and the rich to a lot of inconvenience. Life goes on.
Now they are going to have to get used to the disruptive mass antics of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is already manufacturing absolute urban chaos with his bully tactics. I wonder how long it's going to take all those people who believe the vote was clean and who do not want a recount, to get off their asses and counterdemonstrate. I also think that while the winner, Calderon, has wisely kept a low profile up to now, it's time he starts speaking up more forcefully.
AMLO is busing people to Mexico City to demonstrate, just like the PRI used to do. His tactics are the most crass, cynical manipulation of the poor and the hapless.
Mr. López Obrador, 52, has said his campaign for a recount is not an attempt to seize power, but a selfless drive to save Mexico’s fledgling democracy from what he sees as impure influences, like Mr. Fox’s use of his bully pulpit to help his party’s candidate and attack advertisements against Mr. López Obrador paid for by business groups.

“I want to stress the cause we are defending is fundamental,” he said. “I want to tell you that it goes beyond the fact that they should recognize my triumph as president of the republic.”

Then he added: “I am not a vulgar opportunist. Money does not motivate me nor interest me. Power only makes sense when it is put at the service of others.”

HA! The chuztpah. The nerve. The gall.
Listen, I would love to be wrong about this guy. I would love it that if he ever comes to power he will be a just and wise ruler that will help the poor and still allow the country to progress. I have serious doubts that he is capable of doing both. You have to read Spanish, but this article by Enrique Krauze in Letras Libres, explains quite cogently that AMLO is dogmatic, but not pragmatic; like Bush, he is uninterested in the world at large, and he thinks every criticism is a conspiracy. In short, a bully. His character leaves much to be desired, and that is what I fear in him.

This is going to sound horrible

I have already been chastised twice by friends because of my take on the death of that poor Jersey girl that was killed and put in a dumpster. I am not blaming the victim. If anything I wonder why we have guys like the killer, who had a rap sheet the size of Wyoming, running rampant in our midst. However, her behavior on that unfortunate night is a perfect example of what not to do if you want to get home safe.
I have said this before: Girls: learn to hold your liquor. Even and particularly if you are underage AND driving a car. It is incredible that these girls pretended to drive back in the state they were in.
They arrive at the pound completely wasted out of their wits. Of course the people at the pound refuse to give them the car. Did it cross their pickled minds that nobody would let them near a car in that state? That maybe they could take a cab or a car service and pick it up the next day? Apparently not.
The friend passes out, an ambulance is called, and this girl, instead of accompanying her friend in the ambulance, for reasons that nobody understands, walks out of that ninth circle of hell which is the tow pound on the West Side, alone, drunk, at an ungodly hour, in a desolate, scary neighborhood. In all the coverage that I've seen about this tragedy, nobody has mentioned how utterly irresponsible their behavior was.
New York is a pretty safe town, but it is not Pleasantville. I've been out by myself or with female friends late at night, and the moment you step out into the street you do your best not to encourage predators. You put your friends in a cab. You take a cab yourself. You steady your gait and look fearless. You wait until you are less dizzy and have regained your wits. You ask someone you know to come with you. Whatever. And most importantly, you don't drink so much that you stagger out looking like you're wasted out of your brains. That is very dangerous. It encourages predators and you create the conditions that threaten your safety. You make the city unsafe for you.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

When in doubt.... Baruch Spinoza. I was deeply moved by this editorial about Spinoza by Rebecca Neuberger Goldstein in the NYT. She is a biographer of the great Jewish philosopher.
I will quote extensively from it, because I can't paraphrase it better (the bold lettering is mine):

THURSDAY marked the 350th anniversary of the excommunication of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam in which he had been raised.

Given the events of the last week... the Spinoza anniversary... is one worth remembering — in large measure because Spinoza’s life and thought have the power to illuminate the kind of events that at the moment seem so intractable and overwhelming.

...Spinoza argued that no group or religion could rightly claim infallible knowledge of the Creator’s partiality to its beliefs and ways. After the excommunication, he spent the rest of his life — he died in 1677 at the age of 44 — studying the varieties of religious intolerance. The conclusions he drew are still of dismaying relevance.

The Jews who banished Spinoza had themselves been victims of intolerance, refugees from the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition. The Jews on the Iberian Peninsula had been forced to convert to Christianity at the end of the 15th century....

...Spinoza’s reaction to the religious intolerance he saw around him was to try to think his way out of all sectarian thinking. He understood the powerful tendency in each of us toward developing a view of the truth that favors the circumstances into which we happened to have been born. Self-aggrandizement can be the invisible scaffolding of religion, politics or ideology.

Against this tendency we have no defense but the relentless application of reason. Reason must stand guard against the self-serving false entailments that creep into our thinking, inducing us to believe that we are more cosmically important than we truly are, that we have had bestowed upon us — whether Jew or Christian or Muslim — a privileged position in the narrative of the world’s unfolding.

Because of the war in the Middle East, I get e-mails from Jewish friends which I think suffer from those "self-serving entitlements". I get infuriating, haughty emails about the persecution of the Jews throughout the centuries, emails with an alarming degree of defensive arrogance (which to me are a classic knee jerk reaction to our mortal fear of destruction).
Whatever the psychological reason for this, please spare me; I know the drill by heart. We can support Israel's right to exist and defend itself, but we cannot close our hearts and minds to the suffering of other innocent people. We have to hold on to reason, particularly because the other side won't. We cannot become like them. That is our greatest peril.

...for Spinoza, democracy was the most superior form of government — only democracy can preserve and augment the rights of individuals. The state, in helping each person to preserve his life and well-being, can legitimately demand sacrifices from us, but it can never relieve us of our responsibility to strive to justify our beliefs in the light of evidence.

Spinoza had argued that our capacity for reason is what makes each of us a thing of inestimable worth, demonstrably deserving of dignity and compassion. That each individual is worthy of ethical consideration is itself a discoverable law of nature, obviating the appeal to divine revelation. An idea that had caused outrage when Spinoza first proposed it in the 17th century, adding fire to the denunciation of him as a godless immoralist, had found its way into the minds of men who set out to create a government the likes of which had never before been seen on this earth.

Spinoza’s dream of making us susceptible to the voice of reason might seem hopelessly quixotic at this moment, with religion-infested politics on the march. But imagine how much more impossible a dream it would have seemed on that day 350 years ago. And imagine, too, how much even sorrier our sorry world would have been without it.

Raving Lunatics

I was thinking that Mel Gibson could probably join his fellow megalomaniac lunatics Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. A trifecta of dangerous nutjobs.

In all seriousness, I'm scared shitless about the situation in the Middle East right now. The world has turned against Israel because of the shocking destruction of Southern Lebanon, and I believe that many people, including that idiot who killed a woman and wounded five others at a Jewish community center in Seattle yesterday, do not differentiate between Israel and the Jews. Like Mel Gibson, they think that Jews are to blame for all the wars in this world. I mean, many people already believe we were responsible for 9/11.
Unfortunately, Israel's actions to try to get rid of Hezbollah (since no one else is) will have scary consequences beyond its borders. Most certainly, a strengthening of antisemitic feeling worldwide. But, hell, so what else is new? When you're a Jew, it feels like been there, done that all over again.
I guess we will never be able to escape our ancient role as scapegoats, although it is about high time after thousands of years, but it behooves people to remember that, while Israel may be acting with disproportionate force, it is not the single villain in this story. As always, the hatred is misdirected. Fundamentalist Islam, undemocratic, tyrannical regimes and terrorist organizations that create mayhem and destruction around the world are what the free world should be worrying about.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

STOP Praying at School

This article in the NYT is outrageous. Because it just shows that prayer at school can breed hatred. Who knew?

You want your children to pray to Jesus? Knock yourself out. They can do it at home, they can do it at church, they can do it in the bathroom, in the park, at the Dairy Queen, in the middle of Wal-Mart, pretty much wherever they want. But not in a public school, where there may be other kids who don't believe in Jesus, or God, or prayer.
In a public school you have no right to impose your prayers on the students, even if they are all evangelical Christians. School is not a place for prayer, unless it is a private religious school.
You go to school to learn, not to pray. Why is this concept so hard to understand?
This is still a secular country, last I heard. But if we are not alarmed enough by the coercive, undemocratic, bigoted behavior of the religious right, it won't be that for long.
Religious zealots everywhere get away with murder because secular people let them. Secular people are afraid to mess with religion, as if it was some sort of taboo. It isn't. Religion is not sacred. Religion is not holy. It is something some people choose to believe. If in the name of it, others are discriminated against and harassed, I fail to see why we don't muster enough nerve to fight it. Lightning is not going to strike you if you speak out against religious coercion.

I contribute to Americans for Separation of Church and State. This is my pet cause. I consider it an urgent issue to preserve freedom of thought and democracy in America.
To save this country from the true forces of evil.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I hate people who fidget

I was sitting at a seminar at the Apple Store, listening to a guy explain the miracles of Final Draft (I know, I know, I got what I asked for). I sat between two people who seemed to be of adult age but who could not sit still for two minutes. A woman and a man, one on each side of me, pushing against the backrests like a horde of buffaloes is trying to break out of their backs, pushing the seats in front of them with their legs, fidgeting with their asses this way and that way, not softly, but like walking human earthquakes. The same thing the other day behind me at Faith Healer. The candy wraper, the kicks on the back of my seat, the endless fidgeting. JESUS! Can't people learn how to sit still? You are not children anymore. It is not only extremely annoying; it is extremely rude. Do people have ants in their pants, why so much freaking shpilkes? When I was like 12, my dad would take me to classical music concerts and give me murderous looks if I as much as moved a toe. Some of you may think that is one of the reasons why I turned out the way I did, but at least I know how to sit still in public.

Dracula Rules!

Yesterday, there were mobs to see Phillip Glass and the Kronos Quartet play a live music accompaniment to the original Tod Browning film with the one and only Bela Lugosi, al fresco in Prospect Park. I was amazed it was so crowded and couldn't tell if it was because of the film, Glass or Kronos.
I had never seen the film before and it is a thing of beauty. It was also great fun. People cheered when Lugosi made his famous, debonair entrance: I am Count Dracula. I don't drink... wine.
He, he. He is the most adorable vampire in the history of vampires.
Soon after the film began, with a beautiful, haunting score by Mr. Glass, as if on cue, scary thunder and lightning provided an extra creepiness to the whole thing, which of course made the audience cheer with delight. Unfortunately, the lightning was getting too close and too wild and the concert and the movie were suspended. We were then all treated to a torrential downpour and a thunderous lightshow, no doubt courtesy of the fabulous, magnificent, original Count Dracula.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I don't do Yoga anymore because thanks to trying to turn myself into a human pretzel, with the aiding and abetting of mostly insufferable, mediocre gym teachers who never cared to correct one's posture, I now suffer from lower back pain. But from day one, I took one look at the communal yoga mats and I knew there was no way that I was going to firmly plant my downward dogness in such disgusting, previously profusely sweated on surfaces. Using a public yoga mat is like putting your bare feet into the sneakers of a homeless person, okay? So I bought my own little yoga mat. This act of self-preservation required half a neuron. Far less than it took me to figure out that Yoga class was killing my back.
I can't for the life of me understand people who use those things. The same goes for those people who walk around public showers, saunas, steambaths and locker rooms without flipflops. They are begging for a nasty-ass invasion of the soles of their feet and provoking a mass epidemic of feet fungi and other infections. This article in the NYT is the most e-mailed today. Apparently, the biggest news since there is no peace in the Middle East. Is it because everybody has a mysterious rash down by their toes and they've suddenly found out why?

Faith Healer

I paid full price for the ticket, which is $96.50, and for that price, I thought, this play better be good.
I've paid the same price for other Broadway drama productions that have left me deeply disgruntled, and I usually go to the TKTS booth to avoid feeling ripped off altogether. One such ripoff was Doubt, a Pulitzer winner which seemed to me as bland and irrelevant as a Hallmark Movie of the Week.
Faith Healer, by Brian Friel, did not disappoint. It's a dark, beautiful play, and the production directed by Jonathan Kent reverberates in the memory long after one leaves the theater. Faith Healer is three characters doing long monologues, a la Rashomon. Luckily it's Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and the amazing Ian McDiarmid, all at the top of their game, in different ways. This was one evening of the highest quality theater.
Ralph Fiennes, affectionately also known as "my boyfriend", has the most perfect diction on Earth. Listening to his most perfect diction is like being cast under a spell. Not only does every word ring out loud and clear as a bell, but he also does beautiful, subtle musical effects with his sibillant esses and his rrrrs and his t's and his p's. He does not do wild changes of pitch, but by God, what a joy to listen to him. I've seen him do Hamlet and Richard II and it's the same thing. Gorgeous. A friend of mine, who usually complains, as many of us do, of not fully understanding what actors say onstage, was blown away by Mr. Fiennes' clarity.
However, I wasn't that sold on his performance, although it is a very difficult and wonderful role. He seemed very mannered (at times channeling Olivier in The Entertainer) and a bit stiff. I was thinking that a man who plays a faith healer, in this case a conman with an unusual gift, has to have extremely powerful charisma, of a rundown kind. The image that came to mind was Richard Burton, affectionately also known as "the voice of God". But he is no longer. I also thought of Bob Hoskins, and of Kevin Spacey. I think Ralph Fiennes is too elegant to play a snake charmer, and that rough around the edges, slightly vulgar quality, that at least I associate with people of that ilk, was missing for me. Still, Fiennes bought a brainy, icy arrogance to the role, that became more poignant towards the end. He is still, and will always be "my boyfriend".
I had read some critics complain that Cherry Jones was miscast. I fail to understand why they say that. Is it because she neglects to do an Irish accent? She is magnificent and unbelievable, but one thing stood out, particularly in comparison with her British colleagues. What she has in sheer emotional power, she lacks in musicality. She sounded shrill and single-pitched, and after a while it was slightly grating. Still, she was extremely moving, much more natural, less mannered than "my boyfriend", providing an interesting contrast in acting styles. Then there is Mr. McDiarmid, who I believe, won the Tony for his performance. He rocked. I guess for an actor the role of Teddy, the roadshow manager, is as plum as they get, and McDiarmid milked it for everything it had with great spirit and humor and beautiful sadness.
Faith Healer is about lies, and art and the hurt people inflict on each other. It is satisfyingly haunting and grim, and the way each one of the characters tells the audience "the truth" sheds terrible light on themselves and the others. I'm kind of liking it more and more as I think about it. I love it when that happens. You enjoy it, with some reservation while you are watching, but then it comes back to haunt you. That's what theater should be like every time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Digging their own grave

I read the full results of a NYT poll that asks people their opinion on current national topics such as Bush's performance, Iraq, stem cell research, etc. The poll seems to reflect that Americans are not crazy zealots and favor moderation and common sense in most approaches. What is very encouraging is that when it comes to stem cell research and religion most people opt for the rational. Thus, an overwhelming number of Americans believes the government should increase federal funding for stem cell research and when asked whether they consider themselves evangelical or born again Christians, 69 said no, 29 said yes. I don't know if this is 69 people or 69%, I didn't bother reading the fine print. But it's 70 v. 30.
I would like to think that the Republican party is losing ground and credibility because of its wholesale catering to the religious right. Regular people are fed up with the ridiculous spectacles of Bible freaks trying to impose their medieval "values" on the rest of the citizenry at the very costly expense of scientific and social progress. We should all remember that the Bible freaks make a lot of noise and play rough because they think that their belief in God is an excuse for everything, but they are not the majority of the American people nor do they represent their views.
I think we can safely say that many, many Americans share their distaste for the coercive, hypocritical piety of the religious right with this enterprising (if not wholly charming) individual:

Taco Blasphemies

This article by Mark Bittman in the NYT encapsules as neatly as a taco, everything that Americans don't understand about Mexican food. Mr. Bittman's intentions are firmly in the right place, but it's his reductive understanding of the taco and its derivates that is simplistic and misguiding.
To wit:
Just about anything can be called a taco, which essentially means “sandwich.” You take a tortilla and you put some stuff in it and you eat it; that’s a taco. (If you roll the tortilla, it’s a burrito, which appears to have been created in the American Southwest; if you layer food on top of it, it’s an enchilada; if you crisp it up and use it as a kind of plate, it’s a tostada; if you cut it into pieces and bake or fry it, it’s a chip; and so on.)

Taco does not by any stretch of the imagination mean sandwich, just as sushi does not mean sandwich. A taco is a taco. Period.
"If you roll the tortilla it's a burrito": WRONG. There are many tacos that are rolled and fried that are not burritos. It is a burrito when the tortilla is made of flour, it is the size (and blandness) of Wyoming and it has everything but the kitchen sink in it, without rhyme or reason. A burrito is like an edible cannon. I won't get near one.
The authentic Mexican burrito is actually a normal sized flour tortilla, fit for human consumption, folded like a quesadilla and stuffed with ham and melting cheese, or shredded chicken and cheese. That is a true burrito. What you call a burrito here is an abomination. Don't get me started on the wraps.
It's not an enchilada if you just layer stuff on top of it. That is like saying that a bagel is a pizza if you put tomato sauce on it.
Or that a pizza is a pasta if you just cut up the dough. Every single kind of Mexican antojito based on corn meal has its own unique, and usually complex preparation. That is why it is so hard to find good Mexican food here, because Americans like shortcuts, and Mexican food is labor intensive.
FYI: Enchiladas are usually corn tortillas that have been sauteed quickly in oil to soften them, are filled with cheese or chicken, then smothered with either mole, tomatillo sauce or red sauce (of which there are a thousand recipes with different chilies, etc), then sometimes baked in the oven with melting cheese on top, creme fraiche, never sour cream, crumbled cheese and slices of onion. That's an enchilada.
I felt I had to defend the honor of the fantastic dish I owe my nom de plume to.

I don't think anybody should attempt to make their own carnitas at home unless they are Diana Kennedy or were born in the state of Michoacan. Carnitas are the non plus ultra of pork concoctions. It's pork braised in milk for hours. Carnitas are why I think God told the Jews not to ate pork, because He wanted it all for Himself. Whatever you end up with as a result, it is not going to be decent carnitas, I assure you. Don't even try it.

The article has many other misconceptions, such as that turkey taco is probably the most traditional, because "the native Americans of what is now Mexico" raised turkeys. Are those the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Toltecs? In any case, turkey tacos may have been big 600 years ago but I've never seen a turkey taco in person, and if it exists, it is probably the leftovers after Christmas Eve.
However, everything can be filling for a taco, from beef to brains, eye, cheek, tongue, innards, cauliflower, kale, turkey, etc. There are many different kinds of tacos: dorados, sudados, al pastor, al carbón, de canasta...

Here are some other gross misconceptions about Mexican food:

• Shredded lettuce on everything. WRONG.
For crunch, use chopped onion and chopped cilantro.
Shredded lettuce typically goes on tostadas and on top of pozole.
Shredded cabbage in my view is even worse. Unless you are talking about food from the Yucatan.

• Sour cream on everything. WRONG.
Mexican cream is more akin to creme fraiche than to sour cream and it is used sparingly in some dishes, not all. Almost never on tacos, but yes on stuff that has refried beans on it, like sopes, or certain tostadas.

• Cumin powder in everything. WRONG.
Most Mexican food here reminds me of the Middle East because of the indiscriminate and inauthentic use of cumin powder in the preparation of the fillings, like beef and chicken. Mexican food uses many different spices and cumin sparingly in perhaps some dishes.

Oh, I could go on and on...

• The other day I went to Mercadito. It was appalling. Now it is customary to charge 15 bucks or more for 3 tiny tacos. I paid 10 bucks for a terrible tuna ceviche. Any ceviche in any market in Mexico is better. But what really annoyed me is that if you are charging that for tacos, it would behoove you to put some quartered limes on the table, some colorful salsas for people to add to their tacos. You ask for a lime and they bring you a wedge the kind they put into a vodka tonic, and the salsa comes in a tiny plastic container the size of a thimble. How tacky and how petty.

So my point is, even though the situation for Mexican food has improved in NY, you don't get the sophistication, the complexity, the nuance, the subtlety nor the generosity of spirit of Mexican food. When people ask me what Mexican restaurants I go to in NY my answer is: I don't go for Mexican food in NY.

I have good things to say about two places:
Dos Caminos in Soho has some good antojitos and they put some salsas on the table. Not everything works, but some of it is quite decent. They make amazing chocolate and peanut brittle ice cream.

The tacos at La Esquina can do the trick, although they are not quite there. Their tortilla soup, however, is quite fantastic.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Taxi Road Rage

Sunday, 4 pm. I take one of the few cabs available. I tell the driver I'm going to Williamsburg. He refuses to take me. It's the end of the shift, he's going home. I want to pulverize him and his cab on the spot.
It is impossible to get a cab because of the aforementioned reasons. Every cabbie in NY goes home at the exact same time. Am I the only one who wonders if other cabs should also start their shift at 4, so fresh cabs can replace those that are going home? Is this irrational?
So then I decide to take the subway, only to arrive at Union Sq and find out there is no L train.
Great. I try another cab. Unwittingly (I swear), I grab the cab right out of the outstretched arms of two women loaded with shopping bags from Forever 21. The cabbie does not seem to object to my intrusion, until I tell him where I'm going. Then he gets all holier than thou and protests that I took the cab from the girls. He refuses to take me. The gall. Pulverize the three of them, plus the car on the spot, with fire and brimstone.
I was not about to go to the hinterlands to find a J, or worse, an M train. So you know what? I didn't go.
But I will tell you this much: I hate the cabs in this city. I hate them. I hate the drivers, I hate the cars, I hate the prices, I hate their honking, I hate that they are dirty, their ac doesn't work, they drive like maniacs, they take up too much space and guzzle too much gas and they are butt ugly bananas with an engine. So there.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Middle Beast

As Kurt Andersen points out in New York Magazine, many bloggers are loath to discuss what is happening in Lebanon right now. I don't know about the rest, but me, I am wary, because this topic is getting so tiresome and exhausting, after so many years of strife, who has the strength?
But one has to have an opinion and here is mine:
Sometimes, Israel is not right. This time, it is right to pound on Hezbollah, and not with a delicate slap on the wrist. That doesn't work with pesky Shiite zealot terrorists backed by Iran. It is not Israel's fault that Hezbollah hides its weapons under civilian neighborhoods. That's what illegitimate terrorist organizations do, they use civilians as shields and weapons.
It pains me to see Beirut destroyed again and to see its civilians suffer. I hope for the sake of everyone involved, except Hezbollah, that it ends soon. And that it does not bring about another disaster like the first invasion of Lebanon. There is no guarantee of that.
Still, reading the Andersen piece, I was very disturbed by this:
Yet as Richard Cohen wrote in his Washington Post column last week, “Israel itself is a mistake . . . an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable [but which] has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now.”
This is a terrible misquote. You need to read Mr. Cohen's article in its full context. Otherwise, it's reductive and simplistic to say that the creation of the State of Israel was a mistake. There were many mistakes committed along the way, and not only by the Jews. Had the neighboring Arab countries decided not to wage war against it, perhaps it would have been less of a mistake, no? Mr. Cohen then tries to fix his unfortunate choice of words throughout the article:

In his forthcoming book, "The War of the World," the admirably readable British historian Niall Ferguson devotes considerable space to the horrific history of the Jews in 19th- and 20th-century Europe. Never mind the Holocaust. In 1905 there were pogroms in 660 different places in Russia, and more than 800 Jews were killed -- all this in a period of less than two weeks. This was the reality of life for many of Europe's Jews.

Little wonder so many of them emigrated to the United States, Canada, Argentina or South Africa. Little wonder others embraced the dream of Zionism and went to Palestine, first a colony of Turkey and later of Britain. They were in effect running for their lives. Most of those who remained -- 97.5 percent of Poland's Jews, for instance -- were murdered in the Holocaust.

And, as an article in the NYT points out, those who came back to Poland after the war, were murdered THEN. So when and where would it have been less of a mistake? In the Moon?

The fact today is that Israel exists. It's destruction is not an option. This is what this crisis with Southern Lebanon is all about. Iran is sending a message and Israel is answering back.
It is not in the civilized world's best interests to be even remotely ambivalent about this fact. Unless we want the world to be terrorized and brought back to the dark ages by Shiite madmen.
As always, here's an interesting pov by David Remnick in the New Yorker.

Only in Miami, kids

According to the BBC:
A judge has temporarily barred Miami schools from banning a children's book about Cuba from libraries.

US District Judge Alan S Gold ruled in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU), which wanted to keep the book, A Visit to Cuba.

Last month, the Miami-Dade school board voted to remove the book from libraries after a parent complained it was too positive about life under Fidel Castro.

The Miami Cubans are as keen on indoctrination as that guy they hate so much in Havana.

What's keeping them?

Mexico's Electoral Tribunal should not wait until September 6 to come out with an answer the entire country is waiting for with mounting anxiety. They should make a decision as soon as possible whether they will recount the votes or not.
Meanwhile, Lopez Obrador continues being a humongous asshole:

For now, Mr. López Obrador declines to speculate about his future role. He also will not to say what he would do if the court refuses his demand for a recount, other than to say he will follow the will of his supporters.
“We will go along watching the opinion of the people,” he said. “If the people say that we have to carry out actions of civil disobedience, rough and forceful, we will carry them out. If the people say that we should act with less belligerence, that’s how it will go.”
WTF does that mean? Watching the opinion of the people? He knows full well that his supporters are looking to him to set the tone. The "people" don't spontaneously decide these things. If he incites them to violence, they may follow; if he accepts the results peacefully, they will do so too. So it really is not up to the people of Mexico, who went to the voting booths and spoke their minds already. It's up to him to allow for a peaceful transition of power and to avoid what many Mexicans really fear: social violence. Violence is not going to get him the presidency. But he is a bad loser and a man with past grudges. A real danger for Mexico. Not because he is a leftist, but because he is an asshole.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fried Neurons at the Movies

It's Friday and I am at a loss about what to write today. There is no shortage of stuff to rant about, but I don't feel like ranting.
It's that stupid virus that refuses to leave the premises of my lungs, throat and nose.
OK. Yesterday I saw two movies on dvd: Time of the Wolf by sadist extraordinaire Michael Haneke, and Elevator to the Gallows, by Louis Malle. The first movie is about a post-apocalyptic world in France where people are trying to survive. As all of Haneke's work it is spare and controlled and quite disturbing. The opening of the movie is incredible. Haneke is one of the few filmmakers that knows not to announce violence, so when it comes, it is truly shocking. But then the movie rambles along as the unstoppable glacier also known as Isabelle Huppert tries to survive with her two children in a merciless world. Time of the Wolf is an uneven movie, with a long tedious part in the middle, but it has some truly powerful moments. Haneke likes to put people in extreme situations and reduce them to their human essence. It's tough going, but he's an interesting filmmaker.
I must have been trying to block it out of my head, but the night before I saw A Hole in My Heart, by Lukas Moodysson, and after watching this abject excuse for a movie, any Haneke film is not only like a day in the country, but the epitome of elegance and grace. Sometimes filmmakers get the itch to use film to document the most abject human baseness (see Haneke's excrutiating Funny Games, which he is remaking now, alas, with Naomi Watts for Hollywood). Why do filmmakers go there? Because, like the proverbial dog, they can. In the case of Funny Games, Haneke is trying to blame the watcher for sitting the movie out, basically implying that we have an insatiable appetite for violence. I really hated Funny Games, in fact, I turned it off because I couldn't stand being both manipulated AND then chastised for participating. Not fair. In the case of Lukas Moodysson I'm still trying to figure out the why. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it just seemed a pretentious exercise in shock value and a piece of film vomit the likes of which I have never seen, nor do I intend to ever see again, if I can help it.
If the director is sort of like God, creating worlds on film, I wonder what kind of sick pleasure a director derives from torturing not only the audience, but also his actors. Actors were abused in the making of A Hole in my Heart. The purpose is unclear to me. If it's meant to be an indictment of how low the human race can sink, there may be less atrocious and less pretentious (which is the graver sin) ways to show it. I don't like movies to be sunny and happy and feelgood, but I don't like them to be relentlessly sordid either. A Hole in My Heart is revolting yet tries to have redeeming qualities, like finding the humanity and pathos in its grossly stupefied, depraved characters, but to me it's just an excuse to be sadistic and confrontational with the audience and not an intelligent one at that.
However, 24 year-old Louis Malle came to the rescue with a stylish, entertaining piece of fluff, Elevator to the Gallows (1959), which is completely preposterous but beautiful and cool and has a magnificent score by Miles Davis. It also has Jeanne Moreau and the adorably gruff Lino Ventura and oodles of panache. It was Malle's first feature, (before it he shot fish for Jacques Cousteau) and it makes you believe in the possibilities of film with far more eloquence and verve that some benighted exercise in filth can ever do.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Democracy in Diapers

A friend sent me an online petition against Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the vantz who claims the elections in Mexico were tainted and is asking for a recount. According to the email, the undersigned are too busy working for Mexico to demonstrate against AMLO, but apparently not busy enough to avoid writing mostly idiotic comments right next to their signatures.
I think circulating a petition is great. But reading the petition, I was struck by the immaturity of the language. It sounds like it was written by a not particularly bright elementary schoolteacher. Whoever wrote it uses the word "working" like seven hundred times, to imply that the undersigned are working very hard to keep Mexico afloat, as opposed to those lazy asses who just go to marches, I assume. I don't doubt for a second that these are hardworking people, but methinks the lady doth protest too much with all this work nonsense. If you really care about the outcome, get off your cushy ass and do something about it, like demonstrate peacefully for the election results. The picture of the hundreds of thousands of people that marched for AMLO was in the cover of the New York Times and seen around the world. It wouldn't hurt the other side's cause if they did a counterdemonstration, spontaneously organized, peaceful and legal, just to show how many people support the results of the elections. I bet that would make the cover of many international papers as well. But the rich in Mexico think everything can be done by asking the maid to do it for them, or now via the internet.
The petition also claims that Mexico is getting a bad image abroad because of AMLO's kvetching, that he is embarrassing Mexico in front of the rest of the world, like a misbehaved child in front of the houseguests, despite the fact that the international observers "congratulated" Mexico on the "perfect realization" of the elections. Puhleeze.
Number one, Mexico already has a bad image abroad already for a variety of reasons, and don't get me started because the list is endless, but here are some random words: corruption, impunity and utter social injustice. Secondly, attacking the guy personally with epithets like stubborn and paranoid and ridiculous does not lend credibility or gravitas to the petition. Therefore, I did not sign it, despite the fact that I hate the mofo.

In contrast, I also got a very well written piece by Roberto Blancarte, which appeared in Milenio newspaper, which was the opposite of this petition. Blancarte voted for AMLO and regretted it when he saw the kind of spectacle AMLO is bent on unleashing. His is a cogent, serious criticism and an appeal to the Mexican left to grow up and act responsibly, regardless of ideology. That'll be the day.
I think both right and left in Mexico have a long way to go in order to mature. At least, the level of discourse needs to rise if they don't want to look like utter fools in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Blues

Oy, what a week.
• The Middle East is burning. Israel is accused of disproportionate force. Perhaps. But I don't think kid gloves are required when fighting terrorists like Hezbollah. They asked for it.
As always, many non-radical people pay the price for the few assholes who make all the trouble. I feel bad for Beirut, which doesn't seem to get a break. Hopefully, Israel will be able to thoroughly weaken Hezbollah and Beirut will rise again in peace.
• POTUS just vetoed the stem cell bill. At least he is consistent in his assholeness. It galls me that he showed up with babies at the photo-op. As if they were rescued from a horrible stem cell fate. Nobody was going to kill those cuties in the first place. It's rejected fertility program embryos that are used for stem cell research, embryos that were going to be disposed of anyway. But the creeps from hell from the religious right always know how to mislead and manipulate. A pox on them.
• A slave labor camp comprised of Poles was uncovered in Italy, with horrendous mistreatment of people. Barbaric.
• Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Angela Merkel. Apparently, he loves the epistolary mode. Hasn't heard of email yet. A love letter, perhaps?
• When is the Electoral Tribunal in Mexico going to decide whether to recount? I hope soon. I'm tired of AMLO and his tirades. I hate the mofo.
• This is beyond me: the cruise ship that almost keeled over, in a lame attempt at a real-life Poseidon adventure kind of stunt, was going to show the movie Titanic that night. It's as if they show United 93 on an airplane. What are they thinking?
• I have a vicious virus running rampant from my bronchia to my sinuses. I feel like a landlord who can't evict a horrid tenant. I have not left my house in three days. It sucks.

Well informed

For any of you who are scratching your heads as to what the hell is going on in the Middle East right now, I highly recommend the BBC's coverage of the crisis on the internet. It is comprehensive, easy to follow, well reported and so far, pretty balanced. It is also easier to read than the coverage of the NYT on the web.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I do it for the movies

Alert the media! The critics and the audiences don't see eye to eye. Audiences flock to see movies that critics pan! No shit... really?
And why is that?
1. Audiences are stupid. They are not as stupid as the Hollywood studios think they are, which is the acme of imbecility, but they are stupid enough to buy the moronic trash the studios put out.
No critic is going to come out and say it, but it is a fact. Audiences are stupid because they don't read good books and they watch too much TV. Too much TV makes people stupid.
Also, they want to go to the movies to be entertained. They have come to expect movies to be like a rollercoaster ride in an amusement park, no coherent narrative, but a lot of thrills. You can blame Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas for that.
2. Marketing. I believe the reason why Pirates of the Caribbean II is such a hit is a) because the first one was a goof and people enjoyed it, so they want to see more.
b) I don't know if you've noticed but every single corporation in America seems to have a tie-in with merchandising for the movie. It is relentless.
c) Good luck trying to find good movies outside the major urban areas in this country. It is extremely difficult. The movie offerings in suburbia are a wasteland. People don't have much of a choice.

So AO Scott asks in his article, what are critics for?

Critics are irrelevant. They do not affect in any important proportion whether people go to a movie or not. And that shouldn't be their purpose either. Movie critics are people who love movies and they really serve no purpose but to educate people about movies. So people can expect more out of a film. Perhaps a critic will make an individual impression and someone will go out on a limb to see a film that otherwise they would not see. Now that everything is on DVD, critics can guide consumers to check out worthy movies. Hopefully someone out there will discover the joys of a good film. I think is not for the audiences that critics write, but for the sake of the movies themselves.

Don't talk with your mouth full...

...of shit. I was dissappointed that POTUS only used the word shit. From the shitstorm that was unleashed in the media, you'd have thunk he expleted like a bonafide gangsta rapper.
"Shit", I believe, is relatively mild, and proper under the circumstances.
What cannot be countenanced is:
1) Talking with your mouth full.
2) Not knowing how to use the word "irony".
Of course, it had to be savvy Tony Blair who turned off the microphone. You can't leave Bush alone for 2 seconds. He really is like a toddler bully.

I know people may expect me to comment on Israel and the Middle East. This is what I have to say:
I'm sick and tired of it all. I'm sick and tired of Hezbollah, and Hamas and the Iranians and the Syrians and the Arabs, and just so you know, I'm also sick and tired of the Jews who think Israel can do no wrong.
Israel is right to pound whoever attacks them first, and if you must know, I hope they crush them to a fine dust, but that is not the point. The point is that peace needs to be brokered and respected so that one day, somewhere in the very distant future, the entire world can finally breathe. As long as there is no solution for the Palestinians this is never going to end. Even when there is a solution for the Palestinians, countries like Iran and Syria and our trusted friends the Saudis, will continue supporting and encouraging hateful radical Islamic groups because it is in their best interests to work against peace with Israel. However, there needs to be a start somewhere.
It is impossible to offer simple alternatives. The Middle East is cursed by history. If I was Israel, I would relocate to Hawaii, or some previously uninhabited island where only the sharks in the sea could hate me. Maybe then the hostilities would stop. And the piña coladas would flow like milk and honey.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Rotten Eggs

I hope to God that this farkakte scheme to put advertising on eggshells totally tanks. I'm not buying eggs with advertising on it. And I refuse to watch anything on CBS from now on, just because they think that putting ads on eggshells is a good idea. What is this, 1984?

CBS’s copywriters are referring to the medium as “egg-vertising,” hinting at the wordplay they have in store. Some of their planned slogans: “CSI” (“Crack the Case on CBS”); “The Amazing Race” (“Scramble to Win on CBS”); and “Shark” (“Hard-Boiled Drama.”). Variations on the ad for its Monday night lineup of comedy shows include “Shelling Out Laughs,” “Funny Side Up” and “Leave the Yolks to Us.”

George Schweitzer, president of the CBS marketing group, said he was hoping to generate some laughter in American kitchens. “We’ve gone through every possible sad takeoff on shelling and scrambling and frying,” he said, adding, “It’s a great way to reach people in an unexpected form.”

“At this point it’s too early to tell,” Mr. Schweitzer of CBS acknowledges. “I think it’s like you know good ideas when you see them.”

And this ain't one of them.


Well, I came back from the camping trip almost in one piece. I'm sick as a dog today, but that is because I was already getting sick when I left and the camping trip made it worse.
We went to Watch Hill campgrounds across the water from Patchogue, L.I. It is a beatiful, civilized place, with (cold) showers, functioning bathrooms with toilet paper, grills, a snack bar, a bar, boardwalks, etc. The beach is very pretty. But, the mosquitoes kill all the fun. One needs to be poisoning oneself with DEET in order to survive. I got even sicker from breathing all that poison.
So on the first night, it was the mosquitoes. The next day, the beach was invaded by flies. Big, stinging flies, tiny stinging flies, and every kind of fly in between, except the tsetse fly. These flies are the kind that attach themseves to your skin and nibble. We had to pitch the tent on the beach because you couldn't sit there, surrounded by swarms of flies. So my question is: what is the point of all this schlepping and traveling by train, automobile and ferry to be attacked by hosts of insects?

Luckily, I only stayed there overnight. Apparently, Friday night was so bad for mosquitoes, that two of our fellow campers retreated in a panic and took the last ferry out of the island. I would have probably done the exact same, but I arrived on Saturday morning. Before I could say hello, I had already been bitten by the pests, but the beach was delightful, and mosquito-less. I saw the damage inflicted by the mosquitoes on one of our friends: her body looked like polka dots. So I armed myself with OFF, and with that legendary Skin so Soft by Avon. Total bite count: about nine welts. Not too bad.
The $34 tent I bought at Kmart turned out to be one of the marvels of human engineering. I nominate it for Eighth Wonder of the World. Not one mosquito made it inside. The $11 fleece sleeping bags were great, but didn't do much for the hard camping floor.
At night we went to neighboring Davis Park to a bar where there was dancing. I was amazed to see everybody there was white. There were no other kinds of people, whatsoever. That was a bit shocking to me, coming from NYC. Everybody was wearing sort of LL Bean clothes and looked all-American beefy, which gave me a bit of the heebies. But we had a good time, dancing like maniacs. Then back to our tent, where I did not sleep for one second. Too uncomfortable. At dawn I heard a symphony of birds singing, but I was in such a bad mood that it did not occur to me to get out of the tent and birdwatch. Oh, well. I think nature is highly overrated. Certainly camping is.
Most of us campers come from countries where the beach experience is far more sybaritic, and less punishing. It is not do-it-yourself. In Mexico you don't have to schlepp anything to the beach; everything you could possibly need, someone will sell you there. There are already palapas, for shade, there are delicious Mexican homemade antojitos for snacks, wonderful beers with lime and grains of glassy sand, and even the ocean's temperature and currents are friendlier.
Next time, I'm taking a car, and I'm not carrying anything and I am certainly not camping.

Heading South II

Apparently, the movie Heading South is the highest grossing film at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas these days. Women are flocking to see it thinking it's going to be a hot, sexy film about mature women putting out with hot, young studs. I'm thrilled that the movie by Laurent Cantet is doing so well, but it is amazing to me that everybody seems to be missing a major point of the movie, which is not about December-May romance in the tropics but about the disparity between those who don't have anything and those who do, who think their money buys everything, including love and romance. It's a movie about the enforced blindness of tourists, about social injustice, about the corruption offered by money. It certainly deals with mature female sexuality, but in a rather political way, not a romanticized one.
A woman interviewed by the NYT said she was dissapointed for she expected more sex. How clueless can you be? How can you sit through a film that wears its intentions so firmly on its sleeve and fail to notice it is not an erotic romp?

Friday, July 14, 2006

To quote Randy Newman...

"I'm dead but I don't know it".
The Who are touring again:
That is: Roger Daltrey, child pornography enthusiast Pete Townshend, the Son of Ringo Starr, Zak Starkey on drums, and someone's brother, are touring as The Who soon.
The horror.

I hated the bitch

An Italian tabloid has published a picture of the dying Princess Di, and according to the BBC:

British newspapers have condemned Italian magazine Chi's publication of the photo, which was taken at the scene of her car crash in 1997.
And Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi was also killed in the crash, condemned the "vile publication" of the picture.
This is truly rich... British newspapers like The Sun and News of the World, those bastions of responsible journalism, are all atwitter because some Italian wants to publish a picture of the dying princess. As if she was some sort of sacred subject. If we can see pictures of the poor in the Sudan and the Katrina victims and every other obscene natural and man made disaster, why shouldn't we be able to look at the death of that insufferable pest as well? I don't see what is offensive about it. Her death was news for years, and these same people who are now decrying the publication of the photo and milked it to the last possible drop, are giving themselves purification baths, as they say in Mexico, acting all holier than thou. The chutzpah, really.
Plus, where is the picture? I wanna see it.

Weirder than Bush

...if you can believe it. Tweedledee and Tweedledum now head the government of Poland. They also share a last name with the Unabomber. And we thought we have it bad over here...

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I write this in the spirit of rejoicing in someone's much deserved comeuppance.
I speak only and exclusively for myself.
After about a year and a half of mass demoralization and the destruction (almost) of a once functional, powerful, healthy advertising agency, finally the powers that be, them who had hired the new boss in the first place, decided that enough was enough and they sacked him. It was plain to see that the fabric of a place had been torn, people had left in droves, and many of those who stayed, did so without motivation, dreading to go to work every day, but I guess accounts and income needed to be lost before the proverbial doodoo finally hit the fan. In the end, the guy ran the agency to the ground, but what about the people who kept him there? Did they even know what was really going on?
When his arrival was announced, many people, myself included, were excited and energized and looked forward to a much needed change in the agency, but we were disappointed from the very start. To be fair, there were some improvements, particularly in giving the creative department more prominence. Fresh, young creative talent came in.
However, my brief encounters with the boss and his horrifying management style (petty micromanagement, unbridled arrogance, rudeness, an inability and total unwillingness to listen to others, complete disinterest in motivating personal loyalty, and utter contempt for the people who worked there) persuaded me that life was too short to spend anywhere near this individual, so I left. Months later, people said they were amazed at how lucky I was to have left on time, before things went downhill. But it wasn't luck. I didn't like what I saw from the get go.

This means great news for my former agency, which, despite the losses it has sustained recently, surely stands to recover soon from this unfortunate and unnecessary episode in its history. The widespread perception that it is a doomed place will soon evaporate and although my dear friends may go through a rough patch, I can't imagine it can possibly be worse than what they had to endure until now. Hopefully, the agency will use this new transition to become better, sharper, more creative. Hopefully, it will retain all that was good before this debacle and discard all its bad habits from the past. If it succeeds in doing that, it's going to be a formidable place.
So my heartfelt congratulations to all my dear friends at Bravo. They must be dancing the Conga. If they aren't, they should be. This is the best that could happen.

Mexican Standoff

I get emails from friends sending letters, longwinded and baroque, as is typical of our Mexican writing style, about the transparency of the elections, and the legitimacy of the democratic process, blibliblublu.
It's all well and good. I think it is a good thing that people from both camps, the haves and the haves not, are finally leaving their centuries-old apathy, cynicism and stupor and are becoming politically involved. This will help the incipient Mexican democracy mature.
The people who voted against AMLO are against the recount he is demanding. I believe as well that the elections were clean, but they were really close. Calderon won with less than 1 percent of the vote, which in my book still makes him the winner. AMLO is known to be a reckless agitator.
So this is what I think: if the vote indeed was as pure and white as clean as the finest, grade A cocaine, then let him have his freaking recount (provided it is a clean recount), and let him lose cleanly, again. Hopefully, that would make him shut up once and for all, until the next election.
He dicho.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

NYPD vs Soccer Fans

Who is more obnoxious? Fans of Italy celebrating in Little Italy last Sunday or the NYPD trying to stop them?
You decide:

Zizou Speaks

One last thought (I promise): a friend of mine said that Matterazzi insulted Zidane's mother and sister on purpose, because he knew how Zidane would react and the Italians wanted him out of the game right before penalties. It is not such a farfetched scenario. The reason why I rooted for France is because the Italians are dirty rotten scoundrels.
Now Zidane has apologized to his nation and frankly, even though his lack of self-control was idiotic, I think history will judge him more kindly than we all thought a couple of days ago. Zidane, after all, has extenuating circumstances but Matterazzi has none. What a despicable pig. Personal insults are as foul as physical fouls and other dirty tactics and they should be punishable too. The Italians may have won the cup, but they don't deserve it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bogota or Bigota?

Alert the Media!
The mayor of Bogota, NJ, proposes to boycott McDonald's because it's advertising an ad in Spanish in his town. For further discussion of his honor's stupidity you can check the Huffington Post, where all kinds of morons are posting their respective allegiances as we speak. As if you have nothing better to do, right?
In the interest of full disclosure, I myself translated the original English copy into Spanish, because that is what I do for a living (this here blog is just a labor of love, what did you think?).
So you could safely say I am ensconced in the midst of a controversy with the mayor of Bogota, NJ. How exciting.
Thus, I sent him this missive via email:

Dear Mayor Lonegan:

There are ads in Spanish all over the U.S. These ads are not meant for the recent immigrants who don't speak English; they are meant for most US Hispanics who speak English, but who consider their language a vital part of their culture.
Your feeble attempt to call attention to yourself makes you look not only like a bigot, but an ignorant one to boot.

To borrow a word from another language: what a putz.



ps to my readers:
Disclaimer: the opinions contained in the letter are mine and mine only and do not reflect the opinions of Mcdonald's corporation or any of its suppliers or anybody remotely connected to it (I'm serious. All I need is to lose my job over this).

Heading South

This new film by French director Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out) is an interesting exploration of the sexual tourism of white mature women of means who travel to some banana republic, Haiti in this case, to get laid with strapping, dirt poor young black studs. I saw this happen on a trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. The movie captures the akwardness of these mutually "beneficial" arrangements between the tourists and the touristed. Sexual predatory tourism by males is very common in any underdeveloped country with a beach, yet sexual tourism by women is a slightly different matter. It is certainly less common, though it happens in places like Jamaica, Cuba, the D.R, and probably other Third World "paradises".
The arrangement goes something like this: I pay for your food and drinks and perhaps clothes and entertainment and maybe even buy something for your family, and you sleep with me and keep me company and romance me. I live a fabulous fantasy of sexual freedom and pleasure in an edenic context, far from my job, my relatives and my real life, and you give me your body in exchange for money, in front of your peers, some of who hold decent, hard jobs that don't pay for a living and certainly aren't much fun. What happens in the bedroom is between you and me. Perhaps there I let you have the upper hand. But on the light of day, I boss you around, boytoy, and your studly manhood is somehow compromised.
What is interesting about Heading South is that it seems to bite much more than it can chew. It sheds light on the politics between the sexes, on racism, on the role of mature women in affluent societies, on how life is cheap in poor, corrupt places, and it is also about the personae people shed when in a different place. Laurent Cantet's movies are always about the emotional ramifications of the political and economic imbalances between people, and although it isn't hard to guess which side he is on, he is never preachy. He usually achieves an intelligent, graceful balance of the personal and the deeply political, because the personal stories he tells are strong, and his characters interesting.
Heading South is a quirky movie. At moments it seems a tad melodramatic, with plot twists more suitable for a telenovela. At moments, the main characters talk directly to camera, as if they were being interviewed for a documentary. Cantet got incredible performances from both Charlotte Rampling and Karen Young. La Rampling is an expert on women who piss icewater. Here she plays a woman obsessed with her own power, a major bitch on wheels. It is a credit to her chops that the nastier she gets, the more sympathetic, or rather pathetic, she becomes. Her speech to camera gave me goosebumps. Karen Young is extraordinarily resourceful and surprising as an American woman from Savannah who seems like an innocent abroad and then turns out to be something quite different. Heading South is a disturbing, thought-provoking film about a subject that people would rather not think about: who wants to dwell on poverty and injustice when sipping their pina colada?

I was on vacation at a certain island with a leftist totalitarian regime where this tit for tat between tourists and natives was par for the course. I went with a female friend and the two of us couldn't put one foot in front of the other without a male native approaching us and offering to take us eating, dancing, drinking, etc. This, in translation meant: I take you to the restaurant and you are The Bank of England, open 24/7.
We befriended some very charming guys but they expected, assumed and took it for granted that we were going to pay for their every beer, and more. Their brazeness frankly pissed me off, because I was not looking for romance nor to be their cash cow. After having every seemingly spontaneous encounter end in some kind of negotiation, we were wary of all of them. One bewildering exception was Denis, a handsome black guy we met at a bar on New Year's Eve. We invited him to beers, but he never accepted meals, and he always stopped at one or two drinks. Didn't overdo it. We ran into him downtown, hung out with him a couple of times, had a lovely, innocent, friendly time and he never seemed to ask for anything or expect anything other than hanging out with people who had the liberty to leave their country when they very well pleased. He was very elegant and very dignified. One night we were walking on the street and some guy told him he was our bitch, sort of. He got extremely upset and in his very controlled way, told the guy to shut his yap. He seemed truly offended. In the end, we did pay for his drinks because that's what you do for a friend who can't. And to this day I wonder if that was all he wanted.

Enchilada Goes Camping

And this should be cause for rejoicing, right? Wrong. Instead, yours truly is truly worried about the myriad hazards such a reckless activity can cause. Mind you, the trip isn't until Friday, and I am already hyperventilating about the mosquitoes, the skin cancer, the sun stroke and the lack of adequate food. Most of all, I ain't looking forward to the shlepping that comes with camping. That, I loathe.
My high anxiety notwithstanding, my outdoorsy friends have convinced me that we're going to have a grand old time.
Because of my royal deportment, they don't believe I have ever been camping, but I certainly have. The last time was when I was around 18 years old, and slept (that is, attempted to sleep) under the stars and the udders of camels in the Sinai Peninsula, with the Red Sea at my feet, the stars above me and the majestic Sinai mountains behind me. I loved it, but I was 18.
Before then I went camping in the forests near Mexico City many times. I froze my ass off, slept on top of pebbles that encrusted themselves on my back, got lots of splinters from carrying wood for the fire (and didn't go doodoo for three days). I loved it: I was 8 or 9 or 14.
The only thing that reassures me this time around is that this is American-style camping. Meaning: there are working showers and bathrooms and a general store and, last but not least, a tiki bar (yay!). Otherwise, I would shine by my absence, as we say in Mexico.
If and when I come back from my adventure I will further regale you with tales of the G.E. in the wilderness.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mal de la Tete

How do you say WTF in French? I was rooting for France until that unfortunate moment where Zidane dissappointed me, himself and everybody who ever admired him with the most bizarre, violent, stupid behavior. It was inexcusable and it was a shame.
So everybody thinks it's because the Italian insulted his mother. If this is the case, Memo to the Both of Them: OH, DO GROW UP!!!! You are adults and you make good money kicking the ball to and fro. Behave accordingly.
The spectacle of Le Coach Domenech standing in the middle of the field with utmost sadness combined with some sort of defiant dignity, was weird. The fact that the French took off their medals was stupid.
I'm not glad Italy won, because they are not so sportsmanlike themselves. But I am glad this thing is over.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Jesus is not for Jews and viceversa

I read somewhere today (I'm afraid it was a free copy of the NY Post) that some people are upset at the huge ads that Jews for Jesus have put in subway stations and trains across the city. I'm not upset at the ads, this is a free country and God knows the MTA is always in need of cash. Plus, if we can have those horrid ads about "Pregúntele a Margarita" and a farkakte language school where you can learn Esperanto, we can have the J for J ads. And don't get me started on the horrid Budweiser ads, or some others from the big leagues that totally suck. This is not London, where advertising is witty and amusing, or Paris where there are naked people or unintelligible concepts (usually in the same ad) to distract you. Here we're lucky to have Dr. Zizmor.

HOWEVER, let me make something clear. There is no such thing as a Jew for Jesus. It is a religious impossibility. If you are a Jew and you start believing in Jesus as the Messiah, you are not a Jew anymore. Jews simply do not accept that Jesus was, is or ever will be the Messiah. Period. Which is why, may I remind you, we were persecuted, ostracized, burned at the stake etc, etc, for centuries. Being a Jew for Jesus is almost like being a Jew for the Nazis. Or a Jew for Not Eating. It's a no go.
Hell, I'm not even a Jew for God, and that is more kosher than being a Jew for Jesus.

Truth is, in my humble opinion, that Jews for Jesus is nothing but a Christian evangelical group with great targeted marketing. As you know, the Second Coming cannot happen until the infidels are converted to Christianity. The Jews happen to be the first in line because of Israel, yadda yadda, so some people take the proselytization of Jews very seriously. They decided that the only way to do it is by confusing those of us who are schmucks enough to forget that you cannot ever be a Jew for Jesus.

That's all we need

The New York Times reports that some hate groups are infiltrating the Army. It's not surprising: actual humans have a hard time wanting to enlist right now, what with the catastrophe that "mission accomplished" has turned out to be. Not many are stupid enough to believe in the fight for freedom bullshit, and that includes many of the soldiers that are already there.
So I have an idea: bring back all the decent, heroic soldiers who are risking their lives for squat in Iraq, and draft all those idiot skinheads from Aryan Nation and every other hate group instead. Hopefully, they'll be blown to pieces soon enough. Don't let one of them come back alive. Goodbye and good riddance.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Azzurri v. Bleues

I'm looking forward to the day I don't write about soccer no more, till 2010.
The France-Portugal match was excrutiatingly boring, except for the last five minutes, when Portugal awoke from its bizarre, second-half zombiefied state, to try to score no matter what, including Ricardo, their goalie, leaving his post to help his teammates score. Those last minutes of the game were hair-raising. Yet it was trop little, trop late. France's win was not that spectacular, only a penalty kick by the great Zidane. Nothing to write home about.
The Portuguese seemed to have played better and attacked more, but they didn't nail it. Also, perhaps they were hampered by the fact that almost all of them had prior yellow cards, so they couldn't be as dirty as they are used to. Still, Cristiano Ronaldo, he of the pout, is a great player. And so are some of his teammates. I find them all utterly charmless, however.
I couldn't care less about the Portugal-Germany match for third place. But it may be a good match because the teams are looking to save their honor. Somehow, I'm rooting for Germany (only because I like the coach so much). I really have no sympathy for either.
As for the je ne sais quois against the ma che cosas, I don't know why, but I'm still with France.
Zidane. Zinedine. Yum.
The coach, who looks more like Jean Luc Godard, or an auteur from la nouvelle vague, with his intellectual, professorial air, than a man who has ever kicked a ball in his life. He is so quintessentially French, I want to air kiss him three times in each cheek. I love his gestures. He is too cool for l'ecole, le coach. J'adore him.
As a friend of mine says, who lived and went to school in France, when you are black or an Arab in France you pretty much either end up playing ball or you burn cars. This team represents the part of French society no one wants to see. And somehow it makes the French look bad (which is always fine by me). I know it's slightly convoluted reasoning, but that is why I'm rooting for France.
I just don't think it's right that the national team of a country that has a disgraceful corruption scandal in its soccer leagues should win the World Cup. What message does that send?
However, the Italians are lots of fun to watch. They are extremely expressive, melodramatic, wily and sometimes quite inspired.
Throughout this neverending tournament, I have noticed that I always root against the teams that my friends like. Go figure.

Let the best man win.

POTUS is 60

I am shocked! Because of his behavior and his demeanor, I thought he was much younger (he also looks good for his age, we have to admit). I thought he was in his mid fifties, though he talks and acts like a high school bully. I don't wish him a happy birthday cause I don't like him.

Mañana never comes

So Felipe Calderón seems to have won by 200,000 votes or .57%. It is a narrow margin, but not as if he had won by 15 votes, in which case, as far as I'm concerned, he'd still be the winner. Also, the votes from abroad, reports Reforma newspaper, from those heroic Mexicans who actually overcame the bizarre rules for voting from afar, benefited Calderón by 57% vs. 33.43% for AMLO.

So in typical AMLO fashion, he will not go gently into that good night. He's going to start demonstrations because he claims there were irregularities, even though everything pretty much seems to have been kosher. There were international observers and an independent Federal Electoral Institute that's supposed to be a light unto the nations when it comes to keeping elections clean.
It is entirely possible that Calderón won cleanly. Like Fox won cleanly.
Is AMLO making up the irregularities or do they really exist? So far, except for him, I haven't read anywhere that there were widespread irregularities, like there used to be (people voting twice, dead people voting, stuffed ballots, soldiers voting many times, etc).
Can AMLO be a responsible leader and organize his campaign so that he wins in 2012, instead of throwing Mexico into chaos right now?
Apparently not. He's such bad news.

"Cheato Lay"

I despise The New York Post, but their headline about the demise of Ken Lay cracked me up.
"Cheato Lay"? who comes up with that shit?

Perhaps they're right. Perhaps Lay was the ultimate weasel. Check this out from the NYT:

In yet another bizarre twist to the Enron saga, the sudden death of Kenneth L. Lay on Wednesday may have spared his survivors financial ruin. Mr. Lay's death effectively voids the guilty verdict against him, temporarily thwarting the federal government's efforts to seize his remaining real estate and financial assets, legal experts say.
"The death of Mr. Lay in all likelihood will render the government's hard-fought victory null," said Christopher Bebel, a former federal prosecutor based here who specializes in securities fraud.
But while the death of Mr. Lay may have limited government efforts in his criminal case, he remains the subject of civil lawsuits by the Securities and Exchange Commission and former investors and Enron employees. Those lawsuits could still proceed, with the aim of taking control of some of Mr. Lay's remaining assets.
Unbelievable. By the way, has there been an autopsy?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What's to Celebrate?

I saw the fireworks last night, from a rooftop in Williamsburg. There were lots of people on the streets, a great festive atmosphere. This being Williamsburg, there was a band on the roof playing unspeakably hostile, awful heavy metal punk and it would have been great if only they had moshed themselves off the roof together with their instruments. Luckily for the rest of us, well-adjusted citizens, they only played until the fireworks started.
The fireworks were lovely, as always, predictable as always. I hate the smiley faces, yet the fireworks people seem so proud of them. I love the weeping willows and the ones that look like little cloudy puffs of light.
This being Williamsburg, I have to say, there were all this Latino people having BBQ's on the street and that was way cool. It's the hipsters who have ruined the place.

Watching the fireworks and our communal sense of complacency, I was pondering that really, we don't have much to celebrate this 4th of July, except perhaps that Al Qaeda hasn't blown anyone up in our home turf again (yet). There are American soldiers dying in Iraq, that invasion is a shambles, and we have a President and an administration who all but shit on the Constitution and on the actual principles that make this a great country. This is the most retrograde, incompetent and dangerous presidency in the history of this country. I fail to see what's to cheer about.
Perhaps we may want to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision on the illegality of Guantanamo, but it doesn't matter anyway, since the Bush administration doesn't even heed the Supreme Court's rulings. For a hair-raising account on who the architect of this disgrace is, read Jane Mayer's excellent article in last week's New Yorker about David Addington, Dick Cheney's chief of staff and legal advisor. These two are the ones who rule this country. It will make your blood curl.
So fireworks and a great DuMont burger notwithstanding, I wasn't in such a festive mood yesterday, 4th of July.

Weekend Upsets

• First, the Italians managed to get the home team off the finals yesterday in a game that only got interesting in the last half-hour of extra time. The first ninety minutes were boring. The Italian coach must have told them: I ain't losing to penalties, so attack, bambini, and so they did, quite spectacularly, shocking the entire German nation out of the prize. I only feel sorry for handsome Klinsmann, because he is the cutest coach ever.
This upset is good news, because the outcome is less predictable now, and the vying teams are going to fight like crazy for the title. Hopefully, they will play some soccer while they're at it.
Since I hate them all, I've decided I'm with France. I don't even understand why. Perhaps because everybody in that team is from somewhere other than France, (that is, from the former French colonies) and this should be teaching them a lesson on equalité and fraternité, at least. No, it's because I'm in love with Zidane.
I can't wait for the World Cup to end, my brain is mush and I can't take it anymore.

• Then Ken Lay bites the dust, never to afford the satisfaction to millions of duped investors and other innocent bystanders of witnessing him take his punishment. Of the two Enron bosses, he seemed the less evil one, and it certainly looks like the fall of Enron took a toll on him. For his family it must be a great tragedy, but at least he spared himself the further humiliation of a long stint in jail. Now Skilling is going to have to go it alone. Serves him right.

• Then of course, mañana is when will know who the hell won the Mexican elections. Because Mexico is a country of corruption and widespread, institutionalized cheating, everybody is suspicious of the very close outcome. Now it turns out that more than 2 million votes were "discounted". But they are going to count them back. They better. In Mexico, the last vote counts, there is no such invention as an Electoral College, and even if the margin is .64 percent for whoever candidate, that should be respected. This very close call is a wake up call to the ruling elites to stop pretending they are not exploiting anyone. Mexico is ready to grow into a better democracy, a more just country, with a better life for everyone, not just for the haves.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Love for Sale

I used to love the Beatles. According to my mother, I demanded to be bought my first Beatles record at the tender age of three. She claimed she played it for me so many times a day she almost went crazy, and the record was soon scratched to bits. I was a serious child Beatlemaniac. Stunned and heartbroken when they disbanded, I blamed Yoko and Linda and thought the world was coming to an end. I was shocked by the death of Lennon, but not unduly distraught. The moment he married Yoko, I started disliking them both. Then I outgrew the Beatles (discovered other people like the Stones, and Pink Floyd and the Doors and the Police and Dire Straits, and Van Morrison, etc).
Now I listen to their songs and I cannot summon the awe and joy they used to bring me. Sometimes they seem too chirpy, sometimes they annoy me, like I'm tired of them, but sometimes their songs still seem supreme offerings of pure, beautiful pop.
And now, like we should have expected all along, they've gone all Vegas on us. What's worse, they've gone all Cirque Du Soleil on us. If you think about it, it's amazing it didn't happen sooner. But I think I'd rather have a Beatles show with showgirls and plummage and white Bengal tigers in cages, than the horrible, mercenary new-agey treacle that is the Cirque du Soleil.

Who's the loser?

Brazil, of course. What an undignified way to go. Against France, the Brazilians seemed to play as if someone had paid them not to. They were disorganized, scattered, listless, dirty and diving most ignominiously, and after a while, even I started rooting for the French, who at least played some freaking soccer that day. Plus, anybody who looks and plays like Zinedine Zidane has my immediate, undivided worship.
My favorites, Argentina and Brazil, are gone, stupidly and suspiciously so. I never stop entertaining conspiracy theories: keep the players European (although why, beats me), keep Germany safe from truly threatening competitors. The real final seems to have been the suspenseful Argentina-Germany game, which was lost not by the Gaucho team, who fought fiercely and evenly, but by their handsome coach and his weirdass casting decisions (plus the goalie leaving his post, OMG).
So now, to tell you the truth, I don't care anymore. I don't like anyone at the semis. I don't wish the Germans to win, although I am willing to bet that they will, by hook or by crook, because ces't la cup.
The Italians don't deserve it because they were given the pass by an either stupid or dirty ref, or both, they've been playing badly and they are smartasses and histrionic to boot. The Portuguese are nasty and thoroughly unlikable, though they can play. So that leaves me with France. Who would have thunk? Allez, Zidane!

Who's the winner?

Many Mexicans waited today with a great deal of stomach butterflies for the results of the Mexican presidential election, which is too close to call. The rightist candidate, Felipe Calderón, leads by 3 percent, which to me, correct me if I'm wrong, means he's the winner so far, without equivocation. Of course, AMLO is already screaming victory, although he is 3 percent behind Calderón. This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts about him: his pure, irresponsible demagoguery. Until the last vote is counted, both of them should keep it shut and wait until the final results.
I'm sure, however, I'm not the only one reacting with unabashed glee at the pathetic results for the PRI's candidate. The fact that he trailed way behind is perfect proof of how irrelevant and undesirable the PRI's platform is for Mexicans today.
But you can't teach an old dog new tricks, according to the New York Times:

On the days before the elections, there were reports in Chiapas of PRI leaders using their old tricks to get votes. Residents in the town of Zaachila said party members handed out cement and other construction supplies in an effort to buy votes.

It was unclear whether their tactics had worked.

"The vote is ultimately secret and free," said Marta Rojas Sebastián, a lifelong resident there, "so we'll take whatever they give us and then we'll vote for whomever we want."

That's the spirit.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Mexican politics II

From the NYT today:

There has been a flurry of commentary by scholars and journalists in major newspapers. Jorge Fernández Menéndez, an investigative reporter and columnist, wrote that Mr. López Obrador's candidacy was marked by a "messianic politics" that "does not accept divergence or different opinions, and has not thought twice about ridding itself of the best men and women of his party if they are not unconditional to him."
Sounds like Bush. Same kind of idiot, except AMLO is shrewder.

Dozens of scholars, scientists, artists and cultural figures, including the novelist Laura Esquivel, the historian Lorenzo Meyer and the astronomer Julieta Fierro, signed full-page ads this week expressing their support for Mr. López Obrador. And last Sunday, the political magazine Proceso reported that of 66 writers, directors, dancers and musicians it had surveyed, not one planned to vote for Mr. Calderón.

Well, don't get me started on this one. The intelligentsia in Mexico has always been associated with the left, which is natural and logical. However in many instances, some of them are the kind of people that still think Fidel Castro is a hero. They are used to being fed by the regime. My problem with AMLO is that, to me, he is no different from a Priista; he's a throwback to that kind of Mexican politics, populist, authoritarian, paternalistic, patronizing and incoherent. I don't believe in his promises, I don't like his personality, and I don't think he's good for Mexico, even though the poor of Mexico deserve leaders that stop ignoring and exploiting them.
The one good thing about these elections is to see the PRI a pathetic shadow of its former arrogant self. If AMLO wins, it will be a sign to the ruling elites that they can't keep ignoring the gross inequality and the plight of the poor.
I hope people turn out to vote in force and the elections are won cleanly through their will. Go out and vote!
Y que Dios nos agarre confesados, as they say south of the border.