Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's not Charmin'

Yesterday I was literally stuck in the bowels of Times Square for several hours. I went to buy half-price tickets to The Homecoming (the play by Harold Pinter) and I had time to kill until the performance so I wandered around this appalling place until it was time to go to the theater. You know, I'm not the kind of New Yorker that instantly bemoans what Times Square has become. Or I wasn't until yesterday, when two hours of wandering around the place made me miss the whores and the drug dealers and the pimps and the junkies from yesteryear. This much is clear: they were far less vulgar and crass than what goes on there today. The drop that spilled the bucket was my sojourn to the Charmin toilets. The experience left me deeply shaken, and I'm not being facetious. I will attempt to describe what goes on in there to the best of my ability. It requires a kind of genius that may well elude me: I'm not Dante, people.
First, there are people outside screaming on Broadway (that quiet little street) with bullhorns, as if the garish facade of two enormous cartoon bears squeezing their privates is not enough of a hint.
Now, the idea of a toilet paper brand putting up public toilets in Times Square is actually brilliant. What our City Elders won't do, Procter and Gamble will. Right on. But, by Jove, the marketing overkill!
First, you go up a long escalator. So far, so good. Immediately, you are blasted with an endless happy song about toilet paper that will not soon leave your consciousness. Then you see the lines: it stands to reason that you are not the only human being that needs to pee in the area. You are now in some sort of garish Charmin showroom. There are about 10 to 20 mostly young black males cajoling you and making jokes, (one of them screaming into another bullhorn) and actually checking out the bathrooms after each use, which is the actual reason why they are there, in spite of the enforced merriment and the Santa hats. They are glorified bathroom attendants. The racial and economic implications of this notion are too painful for me to bear out, so to speak, but it did cross my mind that this obviously expensive piece of hysterical marketing is probably paying these guys puny wages. But God forbid anybody think that they are cleaning toilets. Instead, they are cleaning toilet clowns.
As my turn to go came, a blue dancing bear appeared and all the young men cheered him and stomped as he did his silly dance, for what seemed like 1o hours. I felt like screaming "how about you let us pee?" but I didn't. At first, I was mortified that I was going to run into someone I know, but I realized that absolutely no one I know would ever be in this place, barring an episode of dysentery or dire prostate malfunction. Mind you, I'm not usually snotty to tourists. They spend a lot of money in the city and I love it when they ask me stuff. But for the first time I felt like an alien from another race (actually not for the very first time, but that's another story).
To console myself, I thought that the tourists we get downtown are more discerning. Than these people. Who snap pictures of themselves. At a garish corporate bathroom.
There is a space where you can don some pompons and do "The Charmin Dance" as your loved ones photograph you for posterity. Which people did. There is a set of snowy scenery where you and your family can take pictures of you pretending to sit on a sled. And sadly, people were, with careless abandon. There are videos of people dancing clumsily on a white limbo, which I assumed was Charmin's version of purgatory. There is a stand where you can sample the strong Charmin (red) or the softest Charmin ever (blue) and you may win A COUPON!!!!
But what one wants to know, is 1. How fast can I get to the bathroom? And 2. what is behind those doors? The answer is 1. Not as fast as you'd wish. 2. Behind those doors are immaculately clean bathrooms the size of a small studio apartment with an overwhelming smell of bottled "freshness", a place that you don't really want to leave after everything you've gone through. The floors are wood, you could actually sleep on the diaper changing station, which could also double as your dining room. There are Bounty paper towels to dry your hands, there is Safeguard soap to clean your hands, and of course there is an infinite supply of two kinds of Charmin to choose from to wipe your ass.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Second Birthday to Me!

The Grande Enchilada just turned two years old!
The actual date was December 14, 2005, but I'm celebrating fashionably late.
It's been so much fun, darlings! Thanks to all those (six people to be exact) who are my loyal readers, and to all those who in their search to uncover the eternal mystery of the enchilada end up browsing these pages, if only for a second.
Thanks to those who are always in search of shocking nazi photos: you guys beef up my count every day. And to my three haranguers in Fushe Kruje, I can only say, I love Albania and you didn't get the joke.
My unending gratitude this year to Futalongkosaurus. An extremely popular dino he turned out to be.

Keep wasting time at the office. Keep on reading.
And to all, a happy, healthy, sensible, peaceful 2008.

2nd Ave Deli: I'm Eating My Words

This is what I wrote a year ago on the demise of the 2nd Ave Deli:

I know I'm incurring the wrath of many, and I may even be the first subject of a Jewish lynch mob, but boy am I glad that overpriced dump is finally closing its doors. I hope it doesn't reopen. This is a restaurant so obnoxious it has a policy of demanding a minimum charge for lunch! A freaking deli with sticky floors, in the East Village! Last time I went there about two years ago with like six goy friends, looking forward to show them a little Jewish fressen, they made us order more than 8 dollars worth of food PER PERSON or refused to serve us. I vowed never to set foot in that place again. I don't care about their rent. Everybody in this town pays rent. And just admit it: the food wasn't that great. Bland and a freaking ripoff. The Second Avenue Deli deserves to close. In its place bring on some treif chazerai. Ribs with bacon and cream and shrimp and lobster. That'll show them. ps: Now, if anything like this ever happens to Katz's or Russ and Daughters, I'm slitting my wrists.

Well, the joint has reopened close to toity toid and toid and I take it back, okay? And the only reason why I take it back is because the new management is giving people free gribenes (not free grievenes, like it was misspelled in the Times. The Deli may give its customers lots of grief, but that's another story).
Free gribenes is a wonderful gesture. The guy is giving you instant heart attack pellets: it's basically fried chicken fat, or fried chicken skins or both, with sauteed onions, if I'm not mistaken. I've never had them by themselves, but if you cook with them (like in the shredded potato balls my mom used to make) they make food taste heavenly. They are the Kosher version of pancetta or bacon.
I'm glad to hear the old, surly waiters are back. I just hope they don't still charge a minimum for lunch. That is not classy.

Political Comparison Shopping

The Slumbering Giant of Public Opinion, also known affectionately as my dear friend Celia, sent me this fun quiz today. Basically, it is a table to see where the presidential candidates stand on most issues. The more they agree with you, the more points they get.
Everything was coming up roses until I looked at the results (the items listed below are the issues we disagree about):

Iran Sanctions

Iran Sanctions


Edwards 52
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Iran - Military Action, Same-Sex Marriage

Clinton 52
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Border Fence, Iran - Military Action, Same-Sex Marriage

Obama 51
Patriot Act, Border Fence, Same-Sex Marriage


Richardson 45
Death Penalty, Assault Weapons Ban, Patriot Act, Iran - Military Action, Same-Sex Marriage

Dodd 44
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Border Fence, Iran - Military Action

Biden 42
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Border Fence, Same-Sex Marriage

Paul -5
McCain -9
Giuliani -17
Thompson -28
Cox -33
Brownback -49
Huckabee -53
Romney -70
Hunter -77
Tancredo -83

Thursday, December 20, 2007

TV Double Feature: Fame Sucks

Yesterday I caught the final season episode of Ricky Gervais' Extras on HBO. It was brutal.
It was also funny. But it was cruel and brutal and terrible. It was depressing and sad and true and appalling (and very well written). Andy Millman finally is famous doing an extraordinarily stupid sitcom and he becomes a monster of vanity and selfishness and obsession with celebrity. Dark, dark, dark. His pal Maggie, the wonderful Ashley Jensen, just goes through such a rough time, it made me cry. The cast is wonderful. Gervais is a brilliant comic and actor. This is not comedy with an edge, it's comedy with a serrated knife twisting in your gut.

Then I saw another story about the price of fame, "A Star is Born" (William Wellman, 1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. I had never seen it before and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dorothy Parker is credited as one of the writers, and I'd like to believe that many of the really smart zingers in this film came from her pen. The film is pretty funny until it gets melodramatic and schmaltzy, but the performances by the two stars are gorgeous. There is more sexiness and smartness in this movie than in any of the vulgar crap we see today. However, the movie is some sort of fantasy where a small town girl goes to Hollywood and doesn't even bother taking acting lessons or having a job and she is discovered by a famous drunken movie star on his way down. Fifteen minutes later she is winning her first Oscar. AS IF. Still, the movie condenses pretty briskly the bitter price of fame. And except for a very schmaltzy turn at the end, (she will sacrifice her career so he can come back from the brink, with a twist), it's pretty hard edged.
I am now officially in love with Fredric March. Problem is, he is dead. He is so damn SEXY in this movie. What a fantastic actor. Very nuanced, not a ham. Super charming. Bring him back!!!!
I found these two nice quotes from him:

"Stardom is just an uneasy seat on top of a tricky toboggan. Being a star is merely perching at the head of the downgrade. A competent featured player can last a lifetime. A star, a year or two. There's all that agony of finding suitable stories, keeping in character, maintaining illusion. Then the undignified position of hanging on while your popularity is declining."

"I have earnestly endeavored to perform my own share without fuss or temperament. An actor has no more right to be temperamental than a bank clerk. Possibly a very sane bringing up as a child has helped me to retain my sense of proportion in these matters."

Little China Girl

We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China! We're going to China!

To eat soup dumplings! To eat noodles! To the Great Wall! To eat more noodles! More soup dumplings!
The Chinese omelette with chives everybody talks about! Tsingtao beer in China!
It's going to be freezing cold! Beijing is the most polluted city on Earth, and even worse in the winter! Yay!

In Defense of My Pet Luggage

Here's a man after my own heart: Seth Stevenson, valiantly having a good kvetch about the ubiquitous roller luggage we all almost dislocate our shoulders with when we travel. Mr. Stevenson is right, for the most part. The wheels have made our airports into amusement park bumper cars rides. It is true that we pack the bags so heavy, we cannot lift them when we stubbornly want to carry them on the plane. It is true that no foot, ankle, elbow or baby carriage will stop us from dragging the bag behind us towards our scheduled destination. People, who are always guilty as charges, then try to lug an overtaxed rolling bag unto the very limited space overhead.
This ornery lady or gent said it best:

It's not the wheels. There are countless ways in which they are necessary. The problem is in taking wheeled bags where they do not belong. Any bag heavy enough to require wheels ought to be wheeled directly to the baggage check station. American travelers, though, are like a horde of Bedouins, hauling everything they own onto the plane and causing chaos, discomfort and rage as they struggle to stuff it all into the overhead compartments. For God's sake, CHECK YOUR BAGGAGE.

— L. K. Pettit, Helena, Mont.

However, I must speak out on behalf of my bag. I don't have children and I don't have pets. I have my bag. My cherished, loyal Dakota bag. I love her (in Spanish maleta is feminine) like a pet. I leave her at the counter, full of 70 pounds of toiletries, as Mr. Stevenson says, to fend off for herself in that netherworld of luggage abuse that lies beyond the counter. At the mercy of throwers and punchers and people embittered by chronic back pain. Engulfed by all the other overweight, overbearing luggage.
I hope she is safe and sound and not asphyxiated by 50 other bags on top of her. I expect her arrival at the luggage carousel like a mother expecting her toddler from kindergarten, or a puppy from a happy run outside. You can imagine my joy when I see her coming down the bend, sometimes flipped over on her belly, poor thing, quiet and composed. "Hello my darling, are you in one piece? Did anybody try to tamper with you, my sweet?" She's so battered (and she looks exactly like the other gazillion black rolling bags in the carrousel), no one ever pays attention to her. I refuse to decorate her or make her vulgarly identifiable, because I can recognize her a mile away. One day, a stupid passenger almost absconded with her, thinking it was hers.
I recognize her beautifully curved edges, her plump black wheels. She has no hard edges, but she is sturdy, no nonsense. Everything about her screams, "I won't mess with you; don't you mess with me". She is dignified and polite, but a total trooper. She never fights with the other bags, unless they are stifling her. She resents monogrammed luggage with logos as much as she hates cardboard boxes tied with twine. She is resolutely, proudly nondescript, but she has class.
And when I come back to my hotel room after a hard day of being a tourist, she is always there waiting for me. Not a kvetch out of her, ever.
I bought at Altman's in the Lower East Side almost fifteen years ago. She has been with me on every trip, business and pleasure, I have taken since.
And now, I'm taking her to China!

Disturbing News

These are yesterday's news. I'm commenting on them today. Such is the Enchilada News Service: Always at the forefront of what is happening now. Except it happened yesterday.
• Another Spears gets knocked up. She is 16. One would think that with all their hard-earned entertainment money in the 21st Century, they'd have heard about contraception.
• Time Magazine chooses extra large version of Mini Me, also known as Vladimir Putin, as Person of the Year. Time Magazine seems to us totally irrelevant and uncool. Putin is a horrible choice. However, if you ask me to choose between him and runner up Al Gore (Al Bore is more like it) and J.K. Rowling (I cannot begin to tell you how far away from my radar is this woman and her books), I would choose Putin too. He gets brownie points for perversity. And I adore the fact that his wife is a Putina. It cracks me up to no end.
• I saw Celine Dion yesterday on TV (something called the World Music Awards, puke). My aversion for her is physical. I cannot understand who could possibly find her charming or attractive. She is like a tyrant of song.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I heart Huckabees. NOT.

Major brouhaha because of a Christmas televised greeting from Mike Huckabee to the exclusively Christian nation of America. People are up in arms, not because he delivers a religious message that excludes everybody in this country who does not believe in Christ, effectively ignoring the important stuff about separation of church and state (which is the only thing preventing us from utter darkness and barbarism), but because people see a floating cross in the background, which he claims is only a bookcase. In the shape of a white cross.
I had to watch it twice to figure out what in the hell they were talking about. It is that subliminal.
For those people who think that we in advertising add the word sex or secret tits to the ice cubes in whisky ads, here is a newsflash: no one I know in this business has the time or the inclination to deal with such minutiae, ok? This should put the subliminal advertising controversy to rest once and for all.
Now, as for floating crosses that suspiciously look like bookshelves, I would not put it past Mr. Huckabee and his shameless, undemocratic pandering to a bunch of right wing nutjobs.
Thank God I'm not a Republican. Thank God I am an Atheist. And I've had it with Christmas already.

Celine Dion: A Better Form of Torture

Now that her residency at the Caesars Palace has ended, I have an idea for the further employment of Miss Dion. Use her instead of waterboarding. That's how it feels to me when I listen to her. I'm sure it works for enemy combatants as well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Tipping Point

There is a very amusing article in the Times today about the conundrum of holiday tipping. The article is not so funny, what is funny are the comments. I detect a real resentment of having to tip in this town.
There were about 150 commenters, most of which, if I surmised correctly, are very annoyed at tipping.
The whole point of the comments was for people to spill the beans and say what they tip, but very few people were willing to do this. Everybody kvetched and moaned and yakked, but nobody fessed up, except for a person who disclosed her annual income at 2.5 million and proceeded to list in detail all the money they give their servants. Tacky, tacky, tacky. There is always someone like that in NY, that needs for all the world to know how well off they are, if only anonymously.
I have always maintained that the service in restaurants and bars should be included, like it is in Europe. I am tired of disappointing the wait staff when I ask for tap water or when I only order one dish. Some of them look at you funny. Like with contempt. Others feel your pain.
As for tipping the building staff, I come from Mexico, where people make so little money, they actually come here to make more, so tipping is as fact of life. However, because labor is cheap, tips are cheap too. Very few people leave more than 10% tips for waitstaff, for instance. They think 15% is an outrage. Which makes me think that it is true that the more you have, the less you give.
In countries like Mexico, however, it is the law to give company employees a year end bonus, an "aguinaldo" which I think is one month's salary. There is also a law about profit sharing. This is supposed to be received by everyone, whether they did the job or not.
In Mexico everybody who can afford one has at least one maid. The maids always get a Christmas tip. The supers, the mailman, the guys who deliver the gas tanks, everyone gets a handout. At one point policemen were making the neighborhood rounds and ringing my doorbell in Mexico City for a tip (it is yet to be determined what exemplary service they performed). So if you think NY is out of control...
but then again in Mexico people make miserable wages, so tipping does redress that a bit.
I don't mind tipping the super and the handymen and the doormen, but I am a bit taken aback by some of the figures people bandy about in NY. People are such show offs. I think the tip should be a simple token of appreciation for a job well done, not a financial booster. It is a gesture of good will, and it should be voluntary and meritocratic (of course, if you don't tip, you live in fear that the staff will never help you again).
A personal trainer commenter complained that his millionaire client gives him a bag of oranges as a present as a Xmas tip. This promptly became Orangegate, with people coming down hard on this guy for kvetching.
The fact that his client is a gazillionaire does not oblige him to be a generous tipper. And in fact, it does not oblige him to tip. He's already paying the guy his fees. The gesture should be enough.
On both sides of the debate, it seems to come down to greed and not generosity. There are those who want better tips, and those who have a hard time parting with their money on the grounds that the people are already being paid for the job.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shopping is the National Sport

New York in December is a pain in the ass. Everywhere you go there are mobs of people buying stuff. I tried to buy a travel guide yesterday at Borders in the Time Warner Center. The line snaked around the store, so I didn't.
I went down the escalator to the 8th circle of hell better known as Whole Foods. The whole store was a checkout line. Any store I looked in on was mobbed with people.
Shop, shop, shop, shop, shop, shop. It's fucking insane!
I will say this about Americans: they are the most patient, well behaved people in lines. I'm afraid that they may even love standing in line for hours to buy one organic avocado and one hydroponic tomato from Vermont. In other countries the concept of a line is not as civilized. Other countries have not heard of the concept, in fact.
But it's not only stores. Tuesday night we tried to go out for dinner. Tuesday, you figure, should not be so crowded. A most uninteresting night of the week, Tuesday is. Well, you figure wrong. Lupa is mobbed, that new place Smith on McDougal is mobbed; at Bar Pitti, people waiting for a table are almost sitting on top of the people already at a table; Blue Ribbon Bakery, mobbed, the one next door, mobbed. Every freaking decent restaurant in the area, mobbed on a TUESDAY night. We settled on Do Hwa, our beloved Korean, which was pretty full but not mobbed. The hostess had the temerity to ask if we had a reservation when there were five empty tables in front of our eyes. She was lucky she didn't get strangled by a hungry mob of four.
And I haven't even ventured above 14th St.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Another Reason To Love New Jersey

Tony Soprano... Bruce Springsteen... If something else comes to mind, please let me know.
Oh, they just scrapped the death penalty. Way to go, Jersey. That's the spirit.

Enchilada Wisdom for All

Darlings! I look at the most salient keywords my readers log in and I realize that besides shocking nazi photos and futalongkosauri, a lot of people have questions about one of the greatest enigmas in the history of mankind. Namely, the humble but powerful Enchilada. So, always eager to provide a service, I will attempt to enlighten and entertain on, as a reader queries, the culture of enchilada.
To the reader that looked for a Venezuelan Enchilada: No such thing exists, unless you count that fiery Chavista congresswoman who tends to hit journalists with her bare hands on live TV.
The Enchilada is originally a Mexican dish made with corn tortillas, and since in Venezuela there are no tortillas, hence there are no enchiladas. Also, Venezuelans do not eat chile as a rule. So there.
To the reader that asks: why do Enchiladas taste so good? Well, why is chocolate divine? Why does ice cream make you smile? The Enchilada is a perfect example of the genius of Mexican cooking. It combines gracefully a lot of wonderful flavors and textures, and you can find it in many guises.
Why does it taste so good? Here is the answer for the reader that enquired about the science of enchiladas:
For one, the tortillas are briefly fried in oil, (or better yet, lard), so they can hold up to the sauce. If you don't fry the tortillas, they will turn to mush on contact with the sauce. Briefly fried tortilla is the secret of many a Mexican dish. Briefly fried 3 day old tortilla is the secret of Tortilla soup and of the stupendous Chilaquiles, a hangover dish that deserves a Nobel Prize.
Two, the fillings are yummy. Traditionally, Enchiladas are filled with shredded chicken, but you can have melted cheese or beef.
3. They are smothered in delicious green tomatillo sauce for Enchiladas Verdes, which is full of cilantro and onion and sometimes garlic. Or they are dunked in tomato based red sauce, made with a variety of chiles, for Enchiladas Rojas. We even have Swiss Enchiladas (green or red), for those who can't stomach picante. Aren't we the best?
Then you also have Enchiladas de Mole, or Enchiladas Potosinas. (I don't know what they are but I want to impress).
So, to sum up: Enchiladas are basically rolled, briefly fried tortillas with a filling, covered in sauce and sprinkled with queso fresco or Mexican melting cheese (no orange cheddar, please), raw onion rings and crema (not sour cream; creme fraiche).
I am humbled and honored to have the great Enchilada as my nom de plume.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bad travel advice

The most blogged item in the NY Times today is a list of the 53 places the august publication deems it worth to travel to next year. Perhaps it's the most blogged because they mention Algeria, where two bombs exploded yesterday, killing scores of people. I have to say I find major issues with some of the choices on that list. Puerto Vallarta? Prague? Puerto Plata? Las Vegas? All are overrun by tourism and tackiness, Puerto Vallarta being the least offensive, in my view. London, Buenos Aires, Tuscany? People do not need advice for these places; they are almost cliches.
One would think the Times would suggest places that are not under the terrible influence of unbridled tourism, and they do, for instance, suggest you go to Teheran, Libya, Laos or Namibia.
I would add Mexico City, which is doing very well these days. It's very hip and endlessly interesting and the food rules.
My experiences in Prague and Tuscany left much to be desired. Yes, they are beautiful but tourism has ruined them. I'm sure there are less crowded and interesting alternatives, like Budapest or Sicily instead.
The choices of the Times seem really predictable and boring.

You can't have your tamale and eat it too

So the Republican candidates show up at a debate sponsored by Univisión, in Spanish, in Miami, and all of a sudden, they tone down the shrill and hateful anti-immigration rhetoric they have been spewing forth in order to gain votes. I know this is corny, but what a bunch of despicable, spineless liars.
So the Cubans in Miami may vote for Giuliani, so what. The population in Miami is not representative of the majority of Hispanics in this country, so this debate is kind of moot.
Univisión should have done that debate not in Miami, but in LA, which is where the constituency the Republicans most attack actually lives in droves.
The Republicans have lost most of the good faith that some conservative Hispanics had in them because of their racist, hysterical anti-immigration stance. Miami, with its population of very conservative, right-wing Cubans friends of Bush is the less controversial choice. Pussies all.
And while it is true that many illegal immigrants can't vote, there are plenty of second or even third generation Hispanic American citizens in this country that do not appreciate the brazen hostility the Republicans have shown against the immigrants. Even Bush has been much more empathetic to the immigration cause. But history shows that xenophobia and racism (see Nazi Germany, or Communist Russia) are always great inflamers of stupid passions, always great vote enhancers.
Republicans should be ashamed of pandering to stupid voters by harassing people here who are an integral part of the economy and who help much more than they hurt this country.
They make me sick.
Ron Paul got booed in Miami because, amazingly, he said that the US should reconsider its politics toward Cuba. That is tantamount to going to a PETA meeting in a fur coat. He is either refreshingly honest and fearless, or absolutely clueless as a pol, which actually makes him a better man just because of that fact.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Creating a bunch of illiterates

To further offend my sensibilities about my beef with the automatic moronic translator, today at the gym I saw an ad for a voice recognition computer program that allows people to dictate to the computer instead of typing, supposedly in order to save time. So now, not only we can read gibberish on the internet but we don't even have to type an email. I wonder if these supposed technological advances like the GPS navigation systems for drivers and this contraption are not making us lazier and stupider. Using your brain to perform complex tasks like driving and writing should be good for your brain and your overall health. It is also much more rewarding to figure it out by yourself than having a machine "think" it through for you. Call me a luddite, but I'm afraid we're creating a nation of atrophied vegetating morons with all these gadgets.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

At the Speakeasy

This is a perfect example of a club that suffers from acute ADD.
People are watching the Mayweather fight on TV. Everybody is vocally rooting for Floyd. A very mature Latin lady tells me that she prays to God Floyd isn't dead tired. She must be at least 40 years older than anybody else in the joint and effectively makes me the second oldest woman in attendance. She is a dear who apparently loves her boxing (as do I). The room erupts when Floyd sends his British opponent crashing on the mat.
Many people are trying to get drinks. Other people are screaming to get heard, intent on talking in a place where the noise makes it impossible. Others are dancing to the DJ; my Venezuelan guest quite amazed at the serious lack of dancing skills exhibited by most of the gringas. When it comes to salsa they are truly, spectacularly out of sync. They bounce as if in a pogo stick. They do not understand the concept of the alluring and discreet pivoting of the hips.
Still others are playing pool as if they were in the world championships, oblivious to their increasingly crazy and crowded surroundings.
This and much more is what happens on a Saturday night at the Speakeasy, which sadly now sports a name on the door, making it moot, nes't pas?
And even though Vito protests that the huge crowd is due to a birthday party, I'm afraid the secret is long out, and the Speakeasy is now just another bar. One, with an endearing case of ADD.

Google's Automatic Moronic Translation

Readers! I am aghast. Lately I have been noticing that my texts in this blog have been automatically translated by Google into, so far, Dutch and Spanish. I can't judge the Dutch, but the Spanish is a disaster. It sounds like it is spoken by Hal2000 when it was losing its mind, if poor Hal had been born with mental retardation. They even translated this very post. It is ridiculous. I don't know whether I should laugh or cry.

This is the letter I wrote to Google:

I am deeply concerned by your automatic translation program. It simply is incapable of rendering actual language, and it makes me sound like a retard. I have not given you permission to translate the content of my blog to Spanish nor Dutch, as you have done, and I ask you to desist, because it does me no service to be translated by a machine that does not get irony, and doesn't even know when or how to conjugate a verb. The resulting language is not Spanish, it is incorrect and absurd and offensive.
My question is, is Google translating this without the bloggers' consent, or are internet users using this service? If the answer is Google, you do not have my consent to translate my work automatically. If the answer is people, your translation machine is deeply flawed and not capable of real translation. It is beyond belief that you smart people think that a machine can process language like a human being. To judge from the automatic translation you provide, an ape would be more coherent. You are seriously damaging language by submitting it to an automatic translator. It makes everyone look dumb.
I know that it is impossible to control the fate of your texts in the internet. For all I know, there may be people in Fushe Kruje quoting, borrowing freely, God knows what of the unending rants of the Grande Enchilada. But to think that Google would pretend that a machine can translate language, and not only think it but unleash it on the web, is a serious cause of concern for the well-being of any language (and for the mental health of readers and writers everywhere). On top of everything, they have the gall to ask the readers of a translated text to give a better translation, obviously for free (ever tried translating something? It is one of the hardest things to do well), and without any criteria as to who can provide a trustworthy translation. The debasement and corruption of language is complete.
I don't even know where to begin to describe the implications of such use of language. The automatic translation renders every grammatical rule moot and useless. It does not distinguish gender in articles, does not know how to conjugate correctly depending on context, mistranslates words that may have more than one equivalent in English, leaves untranslated words (such as "asshole") when it doesn't know what to do with them, and it certainly wouldn't know irony, humor or nuance if it bit it in the ass.
In short, the outcome is not language. It's just an incoherent jumble of words.
Now, if Google went about trying to refine this monster in a way that would engage the writers to help, I wouldn't be so pissed off, but it seems to me they just do it and expect you to clean up the mess for them. Arrogant and stupid, so far. Smoke is coming out of my ears, dear readers.
I am appalled.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hugo Chavez Raids the Temple

My good friends at Guanabee report that the night before the Chávez referendum, the police burst into a Jewish community center in Caracas, looking for arms and explosives. As if!
I'm sure all the ammo they found was smoking hot latkes and centrifugally spinning dreidls.
Chávez is an asshole in more than one regard, and this one is one of the least endearing. His stance as the new leader of the old-school far-left propaganda does not allow him, by protocol, to like the Jews, because it is a tenet of the revolutionaries to be against the Jews, and by corollary, Israel. It's something that unfortunately has always helped the cause (fascists use it in equal measure, complaining of a Jewish Bolshevik conspiracy, so damned if you do and damned if you don't).
As I was reading the post, I scrolled down to see the comments, a strange feeling starting to flutter in the pit of my stomach. I already knew that some dumb fuck would use this inexcusable pretext to lay it on thick about the Jews and Israel and the Palestinians etc, etc. And sure enough, there it was, in all its stupidity:

Which leads me to discuss Palestine and Israel, one of my favorite international topics! So Chavez aligns himself with Iran which in turn supports Palestine… in case you didn’t know (I’m actually sure you didn’t) Israel is one of the MOST oppressive, brutal, and racist states in existence… Am I advocating random raids of Jews? Hell no, but to look at one side and pick without knowing the whole story is dangerous and DUMB (but totally American as well, I guess)! But thats all for now, I have more important battles to fight… specifically the witch hunt happening right now against Latinos in Arizona (and many, many, many other places)! Ciao!

P.S. I can’t believe how many Latinos believe the crap media! You’d think by now we’d know it to be a little suspect…

It is to the credit of Guanabee's sensible commenters that they told this moron to shut her trap. But man, one can't be having a solitary fucking latke without worrying about this kind of shit.

My favorite response was, by the way:

If the Venezuelan police are true Latinos, they probably left the wedding party with a plato wrapped in foil and a table centerpiece as well.

Just like any self-respecting Jew would do. See? We're not so different after all.

Happy Hannukah, everybody!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tourists Riot in China!

I love this news item today on the BBC. Chinese tourists visiting Macau went on a rampage because their tour guides were not showing them enough sites and were taking them shopping instead.

Riot police in China's enclave of Macau have been called in to calm mainland tourists angry they were being shown too many shops and not enough sites.

More than 20 police armed with riot shields and batons were involved in a five-hour stand-off with 100 tourists from Hubei province, local media say.

The last straw came at a windy beach where the tourists were not allowed to retrieve warm clothing from coaches

The gambling hotspot has become a key destination for mainland tourists.
The tourists had complained to their guides that they wanted to see more of the former Portuguese colony's historic sites.
They said they were being pressured into buying goods.

This is a call to arms to all tour groups everywhere not to let yourselves be intimidated by tour guides who try to force you to buy useless trinkets. Tourists of the world, unite!

Mexican Mercy

As we have reported before, Mexico City's lefty government is passing some liberal laws that put in the esteemed company of places like Holland and those godless Scandinavian countries. Good for them. There is now in Mexico City a gay couples law, legal abortion and now a law that helps the terminally ill to refuse to continue treatment to lengthen their lives. All very civilized and merciful if you ask me.
There is only one little catch: one of the law's provisions is that the patient needs to sign his refusal before a notary public. Well, that is going to kill them right then and there. In Mexico, the notary public is not a $2 in-and-out, easy breezy process, like here. In Mexico, going to the notary public is akin to signing up for purgatory, and it is also quite expensive. I can only imagine how expensive it is going to be for one of those rare species of bureaucrat to show up at a terminally ill patient hospital or home. So maybe the lawmakers are, if you excuse the pun, killing two birds with one stone.

Tax the Pretty

Such is a proposal by an Argentine man so ugly (see above), he is tired of the beautiful people getting all the breaks. So he wants Argentina to tax the beautiful people. So far so good. I propose to tax women with long perfect legs and no evidence of cellulite. A punishing, backbreaking tax, if possible. It's only fair.
People who get surgical tit and ass enhancements should be taxed too, for lying.
Apparently, in Argentina, as in other nations of South America, there is a national obsession with plastic surgery and T+A and you can see many women well on their way to looking like inflatable sex dolls. As always, men can handle ugliness better than women. A man with gray hair is a distinguished gentleman, whereas a woman with gray hair is old.
I don't think plastic surgery necessarily makes people look better. Nicole Kidman is a good case in point. She used to be stunning, and now she is scary. On the other hand, someone like Charlotte Rampling, who is maturing au naturel, is still an interesting, beautiful woman.
But what about the majority of people who are neither stunning nor hideous? What about a person's attractiveness? What about charisma? There are some very attractive ugly people out there. Let's say they are not conventionally beautiful. And some beautiful people are so conceited or boring that if you meet them for more than five minutes (if you are ever that lucky to cross their brightly shining paths), they cease looking beautiful. Personality is what counts. Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican painter, looked like a giant toad, but apparently he was a hugely successful ladies man. Had this Argentinian guy not been so insecure about his looks, perhaps he'd been a ladykiller. In fact, all he needs is a little non-surgical makeover: first and foremost, get rid of those ugly glasses. Trim the eyebrows. Drown yourself in Clearasil. Get some braces and presto! Not so shabby, after all.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

With A Little Help From My Friends

Dear readers:
If you scroll down to the very bottom of this page, you will find a new logo there, below the number that records your visits. This is a site that helps children who suffer from neuroblastoma, an evil form of cancer that attacks children and is very horribly aggressive. At the tender age of 4, my friend Toby Pannone has been leading a valiant battle against his illness already for over a year. I cannot begin to tell you what he has gone through, and I cannot describe the enormity of his tender courage and his hard-earned wisdom. His parents are true heroes, as I am sure are all the parents and all the children that share Toby's predicament. So I encourage you to check the site out, buy some cookies or make a donation. Toby and other courageous children like him will surely appreciate it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Department of Bureaucratic Hilarity

The consulate of a country that shall remain nameless (until I get my visa) has this to say in order to help you secure a visa:

How to Avoid Rush Hours and Save Your Time

May 18, 2005

Applicants are suggested to avoid the rush hours of the Passport and Visa Office to save their time.

1. Applicants are suggested to avoid the following busy dates and the long line:

1) All Mondays and Tuesdays;

2) First 2-3 days after the holidays of the Passport and Visa Office;

3) All afternoons.

Generally speaking, it is less crowded during the first hour of the day, 9:00-10:00. Applicants are suggested to submit the applications as early as possible.

Gee, thanks for the help. This confirms that bureaucrats are a species from another galaxy.

Venezuela: The people have spoken...

...and they used their brains for a change. People are stupid, but not that stupid. This should be the lesson Hugo "Por qué no te callas" Chávez should learn from the results of the referendum. It is to Chavez's credit, at least for the time being, that the vote happened without fraud and that he respected the results. And that it was a vote in the first place. People have accused him of winning fraudulently, and that has not been the case. He has won fair and square in the past and he lost fair and square this time around.
There was far less turnout than expected. All the people who were against the measures showed up, yet many of his loyal supporters could not bring themselves to vote against him but were not going to give him unlimited power. Good for them.
The referendum was poorly thought out. It was abusive. Instead of having people vote on one or two items, such as abolishing term limits and imposing a state of emergency; for instance, many very disturbing terms were bundled in one vote. So maybe you agree to abolish the autonomy of the Central Bank but you don't agree on abolishing term limits or on working only six hours a day (I am still flummoxed by that one). It left the voters no choice.
People were very concerned mostly about two things: abolishing the term limits, which meant he could be president for life, and his license to declare a state of emergency when he deemed it necessary, both frighteningly undemocratic measures. I'd be concerned about the Central Bank issue as well, which takes away its independence in order to have Chávez manage it all as well. Scary.
But I guess that it is also a matter of relevance. It seems to me Chávez is working on a rehashed "socialist" model that is completely outdated and thoroughly unattractive to anybody but the most recalcitrant Marxist (or those hippies who sell handmade earrings across Latin America). Nobody wants to be like Cuba, much less North Korea. China maybe, and China, well, they have updated themselves so thoroughly that their only communist trait seems to be their lack of democracy. As for the rest, they seem to have embraced entrepeneurship with a vengeance. Chávez would do better to present a more updated socialized model that didn't scare the middle class to death, and that would take into account the realities of a globalized world economy. Instead, it is tired sloganeering, embarrassing international provocations, alliances with unsavory regimes and unrestrained demagoguery. In fact, he has done much to win the loyalty of the poor and he should continue to do so, but not at the expense of other equally worthy citizens of his country. Venezuela is not a banana republic, like Cuba is and used to be. I don't see that it is going to be that easy to transition it on this day and age to a tropical mini-gulag. Venezuela is a rich country, rich with oil, fertile soil and natural resources. It could be a model social democracy, like Argentina and Chile, which are quietly going on with their left-leaning lives successfully without the tiresome Commie banter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chinese Tequila: The Red Menace

I am as alarmed as any self-respecting Mexican at the prospect of Chinese tequila. Say it isn't so!
Can you imagine? My national pride is wounded just to think about it. And I have nothing against the Chinese. Some of my favorite food is Chinese. But tequila is from Mexico and should not be from anywhere else. Not China, not Canada, nowhere but MEX. But I am even more upset at this paragraph from the clueless BBC:

Marketing experts have tried to change its reputation from a cheap peasant drink to a sophisticated international spirit like whisky.

Excuse me, but tequila is not and never has been a cheap peasant drink. It is true that it has been a humble and, until recently, when it got fancy, a democratic spirit, imbibed by both peasants and presidents. It has always been the nectar of the gods. It will cure (in moderation) all your ills. Or at least it will make you feel that way for a while.
The misinformation about our esteemed national drink is staggering. Here are some useful clarifications:
No, it doesn't have a worm (that's mezcal).
No, you can't chug it like it's spring break. It is a sophisticated beverage, meant to be sipped and savored.
Yes, it will make you regret the day you were born if you overdo it and if you don't make sure it's made of 100% agave.
There is nothing better than a shot of good tequila with a Mexican beer chaser (do not attempt on an empty stomach)
Tequila is a jealous master. It does not agree with anything but beer. Do not mix.
Margaritas are lethal because of the high sugar content. The higher the sugar, the worse the hangover.
Better to have a clean shot of tequila with lime and salt on the side.
In my ultraorthodox view, if a Margarita comes from a blender, it is heresy. If it comes in flavors, it is blasphemy. If it comes without salt and on the rocks, it is apostasy. If it is not made with fresh squeezed lime juice, good tequila and triple sec, what is the point?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Air Rage

In 24 hours I have been in Caracas, San Juan, Puerto Rico, New York and now Mexico City.
In San Juan, the first point of entry to the US, I caught a bad case of air rage, or rather of mindless security screening rage. I don't know how making people take their shoes off or leave their toothpaste behind is a deterrent to someone blowing up a plane. The taking off of shoes and the half-undressing make me crazy. I am a seasoned traveler and usually I don't carry such dangerous items as a tube of Colgate and anti-frizz hair cream in my carry on bag, but this time I freaking forgot that these are considered terrorist devices. I threw a mini tantrum (in no small part because I had not eaten for several hours and we almost missed the plane), not because of the money wasted in the toiletries but because of being subjected to such a degree of human stupidity. I do not blame the guard, who was nice and patient and "just following orders". I blame whoever genius at Homeland Security decided that all of us are potential terrorists and our toiletries are all suspect. It is fucking impossible to travel like this. I am willing to pay, even though I find the concept obscene, a sum of money to not have to go through the stupid screening process.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Zero Paranoia

We shot our commercials in a zone of Caracas that has an evil reputation. For the tech scout (the visit to the location before the shoot), we had to bring a policeman. For the shoot itself we had about four guards posted about. We closed off a couple of streets. It seemed like a very quiet lower class neighborhood. It's walls had layers and layers of paint, creating instant works of modern art. We spent a sunny day there in full view of nosy but friendly neighbors, who were very happy and curious we were shooting there. At no time did I ever feel threatened or unsafe. So our wonderful director of photography, Gonzalo Amat, and I, both natives of Mexico City, were wondering if the tales one hears about the dangers of Caracas are indeed true, or are, as is sometimes the case in the improved Mexico City crime situation, the result of social paranoia.
The Magnificent Arepa informed us that she spoke to our security guards and they told her they saw members of motorcycle gangs trying to get close to the shoot, but since they were there, they were not able to come in. Had they done so, it is agreed they would have stolen absolutely everything, including the camera. Then later we heard about a couple who left a wedding party and they were accosted by thieves trying to steal their car. They stupidly resisted and lost both their lives in the process. As the thieves couldn't abscond with the car in question, they left that one there and stole another one. Magnificent Arepa, who is a fearless traveler, said there is zero paranoia in Caracas. The fears are all well founded.
In the meantime, Chavez does lots for the poor (who live in the most dangerous neighborhoods). He gives them cheaper food and free eyeglasses, and Cuban doctors, and plenty of tired sloganeering. But he seems unwilling to change the crime situation in the city, which typically affects not the ultra wealthy, (who close off streets and hire private security) but the hard working people.

Postcards from the edge

This is a monumental ad for cotton underwear. The shirt is indeed made of fabric.

There is a kind of lefty, long-haired bohemian you see in Latin American countries selling cheap earrings and incense and Che parafernalia on the streets. They are as ubiquitous and as corny, cliched and anachronistic as any telenovela. I wonder if they are ever going to become extinct.

Saturday afternoon. The Central park of Caracas, almost entirely bereft of people. However, I'm told the government has rescued it back from rampant crime and so it is wondrous to see a couple of kids on bikes and a couple holding hands where nobody used to dare.

The Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art is open until midnight. Like all museums in Caracas it is free of charge. However, at 4 pm on a Saturday, we were the only visitors there. However, later on we saw throngs walking down the streets going to the mall.

Sunday on the Beach with Chavez

Hello, Comrades:
Dispatching here from the capital of the Bolivarian Revolution, where the incongruous rules.
Cliched slogans like "Fatherland, Socialism or Death" (it's apparently a multiple choice question) compete for your attention with ugly ads for beer, Pepsi, Avon, Smirnoff, etc. All of it is visual pollution of the worst order in a city so ugly, a monstrosity nestled in the middle of spectacular nature, I fantasize an extreme makeover for it.
Yesterday, after a grueling and exciting week of shooting my first TV commercials as a director (with the help of the Magnificent Arepa, my codirector), we packed it in and drove to the beach.
As easy breezy as this sounds, you must know that it is an adventure with the highest degree of peril. Not because of dengue fever, or malaria, but because of something even more insidious and intractable: the roads and the drivers.
1. There are no speed limits posted anywhere. This is interpreted by one and all as let's see who gets killed faster. There are drivers with cars put together with dental floss, very flimsy but nevertheless suicidal compact cars, as well as your garden variety SUV wielding asshole, truck drivers and bus drivers, all hurling themselves at one another in what can only be described as an urgent death wish. We witnessed two accidents in one day and in both not only did nobody stop to help (as people were crawling out of an upturned car through the broken windshield), but there was no police, no ambulance, no authorities in sight.
2. The roads would be a hoot if they weren't so damned dangerous. No signals, no warnings, no lights, no lanes sometimes, but yes a huge Smirnoff vodka ad right as you emerge from a tunnel in the middle of the mountains. There is a new autopista, a new six lane freeway that has not been completed yet, but even a roadblock and a huge sign saying ROAD CLOSED, does not deter the SUV wielding assholes from getting on it. I come from the Land of the Enchilada, where the absurd is king and the driving is maniacal, but this here country takes the cake.

However, if you happen to be blessed by a the protection of either fate or a higher power, once you get to the beach, then you can relax, or spend your hours thinking you better enjoy your last day on Earth, before you get killed on the way back.
This is a beautiful country, tropical and lush, and the beaches are gorgeous. They are not overdeveloped and ruined forever, as it happens where I come from, for Venezuela lives from oil and not from tourism. Thus, all tourism is local, and it is all quite rustic.
We went to a little beach called San Francisquito, about two hours from Caracas. It was packed with families. Because we are traumatized by what passes for a beach in NY state, we asked the guy who rents the chairs and the shades if there is food. "Tons of it", he replied. And sure enough, soon someone comes over with fresh red snappers to show off, and we breathe in the good sea breeze. The sea is warm and refreshing, the sun is blinding and killer, and you can't have one beer, because they don't sell them by the bottle, but by the case. When you ask to buy only two beers people look at you like you are demented.
People park their cars right next to the beach, they open the backs and they broadcast, at the highest volume possible, their choice of music, which runs the gamut from reggaeton to salsa.
This means every car is blasting something out, so there is a fierce competition for the noisiest. I fantasized blasting some Mahler, and Magnificent Arepa said that people would probably ask us to kindly turn our volume down (or lynch us for killing the mood). So the atmosphere is beyond festive, colorful and rich.
This is the Caribbean, which means body inhibitions are relatively absent. Nobody goes topless, God forbid, but they almost go bottomless. People were gawking at me, probably blinded by my preternatural whiteness or by the fact I was the only person wearing a one piece. Women wear g-strings despite the fact that most of them have what I call Arepa body (like the Mexican Tamale body, but much curvier and meatier -- huge tits, huger asses). They ooze flesh on all sides. They make the Michelin Man look svelte. They are also all tanned to a cinnamon crisp and they shake their booties to the wind, with not a care in the world.

Then the food comes: incredibly delicious fried red snapper with fresh limes. Mashed fried plantains with white cheese and ketchup (delish), and shrimp drowning in garlic and oil.
After this, going to the beach in Long Island or anywhere in the US, is safe and quiet but pathetic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Viva el Dude Dudamel!

Greetings from Caracas, Venezuela, where yours truly is momentarily turned from a Big Enchilada into a Humble Arepa, since she is about to shoot her first TV commercial as a director tomorrow, if all goes according to plan.
But in an interesting case of synchronicity, one day before our trip, we had the opportunity to witness Gustavo Dudamel, the 26 year old conducting dynamo, with the fantastic Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, at Carnegie Hall.
In three words: I'm in love.
The Dude, as we will affectionately call him from now on, is a very charismatic, exciting young conductor. I was expecting an orchestra that because of age and inexperience would be forgiven for lack of discipline and clarity and I was blown away by the sound of it. Powerful, clear, beautiful sound. I've seen more mature orchestras (like in Mexico) that don't play as powerfully and soundly as this one.
Obviously, the national music system in Venezuela is working wonders and it is something other countries would do well to imitate. And the Dude conducts with great energy and character.
The frist part of the program was Bartok's Roman Carnival, A Piano Concerto by Chopin (with the great Emanuel Ax) and then Beethoven's Fifth, which is so great live. It's pure rock-n-roll. I think my darling Dude excelled himself in all, but the Fifth was gorgeous.
After that, there was a bit of showoffy Venezuelan hanky panky. with the orchestra and conductor donning sports training jackets with the colors of the national flag, and doing some latin numbers while dancing and screaming Mambo and twriling the contrabasses. I do not suffer showboating gladly, but to their credit, they played those things magnificently as well, and ther had the youth, the verve and the exuberance to pull it off.
Dude, you rock.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Department of Newfangled Fears

O, Brave New World that has spawned things like facebook and DNA decoding.
Somebody was telling me she has a friend who is afraid of facebook because anyone can post a picture of you vomiting in the taxi cab and then prospective employers will see that picture and not hire you. The woman in question checks identities for a living. Corporations pay her to find out everything she possibly can about potential hires. Hey, is that legal?
Me, I'm afraid of facebook because it is such an intrusion, not so much by my friends or prospective employers, but by corporations. I'm also afraid of facebook because I don't want to be slapped, hi-fived, kissed, hugged, or bitten. Please leave me alone with those damn things! I am afraid of facebook because the interface is fucking chaotic and drives me crazy.
Listen, I write this blog. My opinions may not be amenable to lots of people. My blog address is in my business cards, and I certainly hope that prospective employers will be kind and smart enough not to use the blog against me. In fact, I'm looking for those who will use it for them, for those are the people it would be cool to work for. I can see I have readers in all corners of the world. It is thrilling and it is also a little scary. Who are they? I realize my posts live forever in the internets. I have people from Albania still complaining about me making fun of Fushe Kruje. This is a new world where we have chosen to open up our identities to millions. And yet, I hope it is all rather banal.

DNA decoding. If you didn't see it coming, I don't know what planet you live in. Now that you can buy sperm or ovules, guess what happens? The buyers tend to pick from people they think are going to be either super smart or super good looking or super athletic. I know someone who had a dilemma whether to pick ivy league egg donors for their brains or California donors for their already genetic Hollywoody looks. People want to know if you have the gene for alcoholism, or homosexuality or, in the case of a despicable white woman from Germany, she wanted to buy somebody with black genes because she loved tanning and she didn't want her baby to have skin cancer. Another idiot wanted a man who had no genes for hair loss in his family, and good eyes so her child wouldn't look like a nerd. Certainly, oversimplified DNA discourse can lead to Nazi sounding shit.
But what if you find an ivy league genius and you don't know that he may have the gene for schizophrenia? Used to be, when you had a kid or you adopted a baby, you could not control the genetic baggage. This randomness is part of life, and as much as genetic science can help us fight disease, we should be very careful on trying to control and change this randomness. The Nazis hated random and look what happened.

This is my brain on politics

Scientists did some brain scans of people as they showed them photos and videos of the presidential candidates. You can read the results here.
As for me, I don't need no brain scan. I can tell you that my brain on politics hovers between anxiety and mild disgust (the Democrats) and sheer disgust (the Republicans). It feels contempt for the entire process and it's wishing the whole thing happens soon because the suspense is killing me.
I feel no empathy for any of them, although Obama somehow makes my heart flutter.

King to Chavez: Drop Dead

Who knows, maybe now all the Spaniards are personae non grata in Venezuela since King Juan Carlos I of Spain told Hugo Chavez to zip it. The circumstances are not really important. Okay: a summit of socialist-leaning Latin American countries (something that was hard to believe could actually happen not too long ago, when the continent was peppered by horrendous fascist military dictatorships; but this is in no small part thanks to the idiotic American policy in the region).
Chavez has achieved the monumental task of making the already impoverished, inane and immature political discourse in Latin America hit even lower standards with his ridiculous rhetoric (the alliteration is unintentional). I think he is a hoot, but he is certainly no laughing matter to his countrymen, who excepting the poor who adore him, just die of shame every time he opens his yap.
In this respect, he is like our own clown at the White House, fishing for sympathy among the non-articulate, fiercely proud of seeming (in the case of Chavez) or being (in the case of Bush) ignorant.
For the life of me, I don't understand how people in Latin America haven't tired yet of the stale, moldy lefty demagoguery which is as immutable as the effigy of Che on any t-shirt. The wholesale adoration of a petty bastard like Fidel and the clichéd anti-US rhetoric are so anachronistic that I wonder how people in Latin America can still swallow it without gagging. It hasn't changed since I was in college a century ago, and even then it hadn't changed since the sixties. Yawwwwwnnnnn....
As for Hugo's response to the shushing, of course he took it in the broadest possible way:
"The one who looked bad there was the one who lost control, who told us to shut up as if we were still subjects from the 17th, 18th centuries," he told reporters".
To Chavez, those "who looked bad" (as in a schoolyard brawl) were the former Colonial empire (meaning Spain), like they are sore losers for having lost the gift to the world that is Latin America. Latin America is indeed a gift to the world in terms of culture and natural riches and history, but not in terms of civic life or politics. It is rife with poverty, ignorance, injustice, and rampant corruption. Meanwhile, Spain has become a better country than it's ever been, a real democracy with an enviable standard of living (and of course, the problems endemic to all other European countries). Instead, here you have Chavez extolling horrible regimes like Iran and Cuba.
But Chavez understands the frustration his more elitist political colleagues feel when dealing with him and he plays them like a violin: he is an upstart, a scrappy soldier; yet he has been able to wreak a certain amount of interesting havoc by his cunning and his chutzpah. That's what the poor love about him: he is one of them, finally having the balls (the oil) to tell the master off, whether it's Bush or the King of Spain.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Irish & Yiddish

I am currently reading Just Say Nu, a very funny book by Michael Wex where he teaches non-Yiddish speakers that any word in Yiddish can be made into a very useful insult instantaneously. Yiddish is a language that relies heavily on irony and you can almost pick any word and turn it into a sharp object with the right context and the right amount of impatience and contempt.
I'm having a ball because I recognize many phrases my Mom and her side of the family used to say (for instance: gay kakn afn yam, "go shit on the sea", and other lovely turns of phrase). My only kvetch about the book is that Mr. Wex has chosen to transcribe a dialect of Yiddish that is not how my family spoke it, and therefore it sounds horrible to me. But I still laugh at some of the expressions. And I love that we even have a word for email! Blitz-post. I think it is possible that the internet, to judge from some sites I've been consulting, may help avert the death of Yiddish, a language that as any good kvetch, has been dying forever, but is still hanging in there.
English has adopted some very useful Yiddish words that are now part of the language, at least here in the States. Putz, Schmuck, Mensch, Shlep, etc.
I'm delighted to read that many wonderful words we have in English actually come from the Gaelic. Like dork, or jerk or "cry uncle". It is these foreign words that help give English its wonderful snap.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Right on Writers!

I'm with the writers. Why should they not get one red cent from all that new media exposure their work is going to get? Writers are like illegal Mexicans: without them the show does not exist. Period. They are like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect.
I hope they tough it out and I hope they come to a fair agreement. And maybe with all this downtime, they will come up with better stuff.

Rocket Science of Sleep

I swear. Sometimes it takes actual scientists to convince people of stuff that nobody needs to be a neurosurgeon to figure out. If I tell it to you, you will tell me it's old wives tales, but if the scientists in the Mogo in the Gogogo Journal of Medicine tell you, I bet you listen to them.
So here it is, what I do every night in order to be able to sleep, (I am easily overstimulated) from exhaustive scientific studies in at least two journals:
The behavioral strategies for better sleep are deceptively simple, and that’s one reason why many people don’t believe they can make a difference. One of the most effective methods is stimulus control. This means not watching television, eating or reading in bed. Don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. Get up at the same time every day, and don’t nap during the day. If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed after 15 minutes and do something relaxing, but avoid stimulating activity and thoughts.

So-called sleep hygiene is also part of sleep therapy. This includes regular exercise, adding light-proof blinds to your bedroom to keep it dark and making sure the bed and room temperatures are comfortable. Eat regular meals, don’t go to bed hungry and limit beverages, particularly alcohol and caffeinated drinks, around bedtime.

I deserve a Nobel prize.

Facebook can kiss my ass

I open the NY Times to find out that Facebook is planning to use me as a product endorser.

Facebook now will give advertisers the ability to create their own profile pages on its system that will let users identify themselves as fans of a product. Each user’s news feed will contain items like “Bobby Smith is now a fan of Toyota Prius.”

News feeds can be linked to outside Web sites as well, so users can tell friends about what they rented at Blockbuster or are auctioning on eBay.

Facebook will offer all of those features to advertisers free.
How disgusting. Well, they should certainly pay me to endorse anything. I have always felt that Facebook is sinister and it is getting more and more so by the minute. However, the minute the IPO comes out, I'm buying stock.
Facebook users should boycott this hideous shit and not fall into the trap of hawking stuff for companies. I'm not a living ad for some fucking product. The gall.
But I seem to be the only person I know that when confronted with the wet dreams of marketers and advertisers about new brand paradigms, such as this one, wants to basically run for cover and hide in a hole on the ground. It's all way too Orwellian for my taste. It is actually creepy and scary in ways I don't think people understand.
Marketers want the world to be a humongous ad that never ends. The world is bad enough as it is, and now we can't even recognize the difference between life and marketing. I think it is horrifying, but I find people looking at me funny when I fail to share their unbridled joy about it.

Nazis are more popular than Britney

...and than Futalognkosaurus and much more than poor King Tut. At least on the internets. I know because plenty of my darling readers seem to have a keen interest on them, which I hope is fueled by antipathy and hatred. Otherwise, we are in trouble.
In any case, what's with the dictators acting up recently? Pervez basically dissolving the constitution and behaving quite perversely. I wouldn't be surprised if he was acting on the friendly advice of our very own VEEP, (aka Satan), who may want somebody to do somewhere else what he has not been able to do here, and not for lack of trying. And Hugo, who wants to change the constitution to reelect himself over and over and over. And then Fidel, who just won't die.
Isn't dictatorship really old fashioned? Doesn't it seem utterly anachronistic for our virtual, globalized times?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tut your own horn

That's Young Tut as he supposedly looked like (pretty, pretty good, eyeliner and all) and that's him today. He looks rather well for his age, no? Doesn't look a day over 3000.

Photos courtesy of the BBC.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Two very different swamps

It is interesting that the main news story in the BBC today are the floods that have put 70% of the Mexican state of Tabasco underwater, while the main story in the New York Times is about overdevelopment in the Everglades in Florida. They even have a beautiful spread with pictures.

Meanwhile, 300,000 people are trapped by the floods south of the border, in the worst natural catastrophe that has befallen Mexico in years. One would think this is big enough news, no?
I had to find two tiny items posted by press agencies to learn about the news in the New York Times.

Prostrate problems

Rudy Giuliani is such a transparent asshole, it's hard to see whether anybody, even those who have been living in a cave since 9/11, could possibly vote for him. Only a complete moron would not be aware of the cheap, self-interested way in which he exploits that date. And then it's impossible to overlook his pathetic pandering to the extreme right, his dramatic changes of mind in terms of guns, his utterly stupid and false comparison between healthcare in Britain and here, and the fact that his two children loathe him, among other things. If you still vote for him after all that, you are a turd.
Given that he is the "best" the Republican party can offer, I'm hoping that people will see the dire consequences of voting for such a ruthless hypocrite, and such a belligerent bully, and choose the more moderate ruthless hypocrite that is Hillary Clinton.

Torre goes to LA

And I hope there is a world series where the Dodgers beat the crap out of the Yankees.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Blog backlog

Dahlings! I have been trying to blog this past couple of days, but since I have to make a living, I was stuck at a couple of advertising conferences, where people pay money to get the shit scared out of them and to exchange business cards with one another. But this is not a topic that interests you (it barely interests me). So yesterday was Halloween in New York City and unfortunately the weather was the balmiest in 70 years, which meant hordes of murgatroids congregating on the corner of ma maison, screaming like banshees all night. I put on the air conditioning to muffle their drunken screeching. It almost worked.
I was going to dress up like Marilyn Monroe, and not like Anna Nicole, who was a popular choice this year. But after all day listening about future trends in advertising, my head was exploding with a combo of interesting info and utter bullshit so I didn't even make it to the party. Plus, I saw a homeless woman on the subway in the morning who apparently got the Halloween memo and she was truly the scariest living thing I've seen on a New York Subway, probably ever. Why she decided to venture out pinkt yesterday is just poetic license.
I am so addled that I don't even know what to write about, y'all. I'm about to say the world is a cruel place, echoing that bard of ours, Britney, who doesn't even understand the meaning of the word "overwhelming", according to the very august New York Times, which does report on such momentous matters.
(Ryan) Seacrest (our new Edward Murrow -- parenthesis mine) apparently woke Spears up when he called her for the interview, and at times she didn't seem to understand his questions. When Seacrest asked Spears whether the intense coverage of her recent troubles has been ''overwhelming,'' she said, ''Wait, what?''

However, she then said: ''People talk and they say what they want at the end of the day, you know in the tabloids and in the magazines,'' she said. ''But you just try to keep on doing what you do, like, you know, and as long as you know what's up and you know what's true, that's all that really matters, you know?''

In a knowing flurry of articulation and eloquence.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stop that Cab!

I'm glad to know I am not the only one that hates the new taxi logos. They are godawful. This city has some of the best design firms on Earth and this is what we get?

Two different typefaces of different sizes, both ghastly. And why circle the T? Horrible. Contemptible.
The Times asked readers to create their own designs and except for a couple of clunkers, they are all way better than the new one.
Here are my faves:

Now, this wouldn't be New York if we were all not bitching about it. That is why we live here.
For instance, some genius decided to paint psychedelic flowers with garish day-glo colors on the hoods of the cabs. Apparently it's related to a charity. Like we give a shit. Refreshingly, every single person I have talked to seems to be deeply disgusted by the flowers. Indeed, the flowers suck. They suck because New York is not yet, despite Mayor Bloomberg's best efforts, a day glo kind of town. We resist flowerification and daygloification and badlogoification. We are unable to resist duanereadeification and dunkindonutsification and nailsalonization, and bankbranchification and ridiculously expensive and pretentious condoification, but that's because of market forces and market forces, unfortunately, are our middle name, and probably the potential for our own well-deserved demise.
I am deeply disturbed, for instance, by the fact that we are not wearing black as much as we used to, in the glory days of crime and crackheads. Now we all look like we belong in a mall in Podunk on a sunny day.
It's terrible.

Elmer Fudd or Satan?

You decide.

Spitzer is a Schvitzer*

I have been following Gov. Spitzer's sensible idea of allowing illegals to have a driver's license in New York State with interest because I was counting the seconds in which hysteria, xenophobia and politics would rear their ugly heads and the plan would come to a screeching halt. About a second and a half is all it took. I guess it is naive of us to expect a good idea to stick, when everything is politics and when the Republicans upstate will do anything to discredit the Governor, regardless of whether he has the best interests of all the citizens at stake. The New York Times gives Spitzer hell for backing down today, and rightly so. He should not have proposed instead a stupid, messy, unfair, ridiculous alternative, which of course, was welcomed with open arms by the Department of Homeland Security, a freaking fiasco, if there ever was one.
Nothing ever gets done in this State. Who votes for people like Joe Bruno? Why are those ancient power hoggers like him still entrenched in Albany? We need to clean Albany up!

*A schvitzer in yiddish is literally someone who sweats buckets, but it's used to describe people who are all talk but no action.

Bad Product Awards

According to,
The world federation of consumer organizations, Consumers International (CI) today announced the winners of the International Bad Product Awards....

This year’s winners* are:

Coca-Cola – for continuing the international marketing of its bottled water, Dasani, despite admitting it comes from the same sources as local tap water.

Kellogg’s – for the worldwide use of cartoon-type characters and product tie-ins aimed at children, despite high levels of sugar and salt in their food products.

Mattel – for stonewalling US congressional investigations and avoiding overall responsibility for the global recall of 21 million products.

With the overall prize going to:

Takeda Pharmaceuticals – for taking advantage of poor US regulation and advertising sleeping pills to children, despite health warnings about pediatric use.

Very evil indeed, but certainly not so absolutely horrifying as everything else we buy that comes in a box. Kellogg's and Coca Cola are not the only companies who do those evil deeds. Every mainstream cereal marketer is guilty of same. Those companies just get picked on because they are bigger.

Here are my nominees:

• The entire cosmetic industry for exaggerating anti-ageing, anti-cellulite, anti-rot and decay benefits that are completely false. And charging over a hundred dollars for a jar of cream that probably has the same benefits as a tub of Jergens. The other day I was milling around at Sephora and I tried one of those extreme collagen lip plumpers, hoping that my Kenneth Branagh lips would immediately transform themselves into Amanda Lepore's. All I got was a nasty minty taste and mild burning.

• The makers of SUVs, particularly the Hummer. Wherefore? Why?

• Food companies that come up with crap like soups on-the-go and cereal bars "with milk". Because we don't have time to park our beleaguered asses down for a freaking bowl of food, we're so busy working so we can afford to buy all your other crap.

• The makers of energy bars. That shit is loaded with calories and it tastes like compost.

• The makers of cold remedies. They make you feel better for a while and then your snot comes back with a vengeance.

• Airlines, particularly American carriers. They all stink.

•Most hair care products have so many chemicals, they damage your hair. Have you actually read the ingredients of the different shampoos supposed to do different things for different types of hair? They all contain the same crap.

Marketers think we're all suckers and they are not wrong. We let them fool us.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Evita, Isabelita, Cristina

I think it's neat-o that Argentina has voted for a female President. They like dynasties over there (see Peron), and so the Kirchners are one. Cristina Kirchner is supposed to be super smart, and her husband bailed Argentina out from major economic disaster, so let's hope she shines.
It's very interesting to me that in countries where machismo is still rampant, like Chile and Argentina, people vote for female presidents. I don't think this could happen in Mexico, for instance.
I've spent around 20 days visiting Buenos Aires, and my interactions with Argentine machos were of this order.
1. A cabdriver who took us to the Boca neighborhood told us that by no means could we go unaccompanied as two women to a soccer match at Boca stadium. He made it sound like we would be torn apart by packs of wild dogs. We decided not to find out whether he was right.
2. Men on the street ogled, but that is common everywhere in Latin America. They were much more forward than anybody is used to here and they were extremely flirtatious, and sometimes hilarious. We're walking around the Recoleta neighborhood, a tony part of town, as two middle aged men walk by us. One of them turns to us and says:
Excuse me ladies, but do you know how we can go out to Avenida Pueyrredon from here?
No idea.
And how can we go out with you?
Compared to the vulgarities you sometimes hear from oglers, this was like Shakespeare. As Larry David would say, "pretty, pretty good".

So felicidades to all of you gauchos down there. Eat a lot of steak, drink a lot of Malbec, and have a great female president.

My blood boils

Reading in the New York Times about the fates of many of the illegal workers caught in the fires in Southern California, I can't believe people can be so heartless and so exploitative. Let me rephrase that: I can believe it, but it makes me want to scream.
Immigrants from south of the border, many illegal, provide the backbone of menial labor in San Diego, picking fruit, cleaning hotel rooms, sweeping walks and mowing lawns.

The wildfires, one of the biggest disasters to strike the county, exposed their often-invisible existence in ways that were sometimes deadly.

Maybe these fires will do what the hateful rhetoric and the racism and the wall and the stupid policies of this administration have not been able to do (although it is working). Maybe Mexicans will figure out they are not wanted here and they will stop coming. Maybe they will start demanding a better life in their own country. I seriously suggest none of you holds your breath while waiting for this to happen. Mexicans would rather literally go through rings of fire and find dignified work somewhere else, than stand up for their rights in their own country. That they are paid for their hard work, both at home and here, with such callous disregard is tragically unfair, but I wonder when will they finally refocus their energies. To fight hunger, these Mexicans don't beg, they don't steal, they look for work that will feed them.

Ms. Trujillo and others who help the immigrants said they saw several out in the fields as the fires approached and ash fell on them. She said many were afraid to lose their jobs.

“There were Mercedeses and Jaguars pulling out, people evacuating, and the migrants were still working,” said Enrique Morones, who takes food and blankets to the immigrants’ camps. “It’s outrageous.”

Some of the illegal workers who sought help from the authorities were arrested and deported. Opponents of illegal immigration, including civilian border watch groups, seized on news that immigrants had been detained at the Qualcomm Stadium evacuation center as evidence of trouble that illegal immigrants cause.

The Border Patrol also arrested scores of illegal immigrants made visible by the fires.

I know this sounds like a broken record, but I just wish that one day that freaking state would find itself without all the hired help.

Some people have speculated, including on the Web, that immigrants might have set some of the fires, as has occurred with campfires lighted in fields. The authorities have not given any causes linked to immigration.
And why would these people want to do such a thing, when their livelihoods depend on those houses and those gardens? Out of frustration and hatred? That is what people who have a nasty conscience would think.

“San Diego likes its illegal migrants as invisible as possible,” Mr. Cornelius said. “So whenever something happens that calls attention to their presence, it is fodder for the local anti-immigration forces.”

For the immigrants, the fires may have dried up some work. But some speculate on strong work prospects like cleanups. By early afternoon near a heavily damaged neighborhood in the Rancho Bernardo area, four men stood on a corner, waiting for work offers.

“It is a shame what happened,” said a man who gave just his first name, Miguelito. “But we think there will be jobs to clean or build.”

That is right, Miguelito. In New Orleans, after the spectacularly coordinated and efficient services of the federal relief agency, the natives wore t-shirts that said:

FEMA: Find Every Mexican Available.