Wednesday, February 28, 2007


OK. I am at my normal news watching position at the treadmill, which I insist on watching without sound for the added suspense, when all of a sudden, I see footage of rats rampaging through a restaurant that looks very familiar and kind of close to where I live.
1. I almost had a heart attack and fell off the treadmill, it was so disgusting.
You can knock out yourself on You Tube, where the footage has been gleefully running ever since.
2. This was at the KFC/TacoBell (serves them right) on 6th Ave and W 3rd St. A hop a skip and a jump away from ma maison. So as my neighbor Glenn told me, now that they get rid of the rats over there, they are all going to come live over here. He neglected to mention the rats that already make our garden building home. More rats.
This is my point: this KFC/Taco Bell is a metaphor for the entire city of New York, make no mistake about it. It is miraculous that given the amount of rats in this city, we don't get to share a communal table with them at dim sum, or stand in the line for pizza together, or sit next to them at the movies (I am always afraid of the dark, and now particularly of the dark at the IFC center).
Just today I saw a very dead rat on the subway tracks: it was the size of a truck. It was obese.
Yet, apartments in New York cost zillions of dollars to rent or buy while we live in a rat infested town. This is insane to me.
I say if we have to share the space with rats, and if it is indeed true that there are seven rats per person in this town, either they start paying higher prices or we get substantial discounts. We should pay much less for housing, who cares about the zen garden and the communal wine rack and all that crap if you have to share it with rats? What good is a 2 million dollar puny studio when your roommates may be rats, or when you step outside your door in your newly gentrified neighborhood and there they are, your friendly neighborhood rats.
As for the City Council getting "symbolically" rid of the n-word and curbing pedicabs, I have a better idea, you sorry nincompoops: get rid of the rats first.
Mayor zillionaire Bloomberg with all your newfangled schemes to turn this city into Peoria: GET RID OF THE RATS, everywhere.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I went to a lecture with F Murray Abraham, who is currently playing both Shylock and Barrabas (The Jew of Malta) at the Theater for a New Audience. It is impossible to get tickets and apparently, his Shylock rocks. So the next best thing is to go see him interviewed by a Shakespeare scholar at the New York Public Library. For those of you who have no clue who I am talking about, the man is famous for his portrayal of Antonio Salieri in the movie Amadeus by Milos Forman. He won an Oscar, justly so, for it.
1. F is looking great. He has enormous charisma. He looks better now than when he was younger.
2. He has a booming, magnificent voice. He sounds like he is on sensurround. He is an AC-TOR.
3. He is very actory, but charming and extraordinarily energetic. I wish I could get a freaking ticket for the damn play.
I was hoping, that this, being a conversation in the Public Library, with a renowned Shakespeare scholar, would be an interesting exploration of the Merchant of Venice, quite an incendiary, problematic play.
Instead, even though it was extremely entertaining, we were subjected to what always happens nowadays in the presence of celebrity: mostly banal repartee and gushing admiration from the interviewer, countered by false modesty and coyness from the interviewee. But what was more interesting was the elephant in the room, which everybody kind of skirted around, which was the issue of the antisemitism of the play. Both plays, actually, because Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is supposed to be even worse, and with none of the redeeming graces of Shakespeare's genius.
F was great because he spoke of what he knew as an actor. He identified with Shylock as an outsider, a man tired of being mistreated. He spoke of how he got to embody the part, of certain details that make him imagine things.
But the Shakespeare scholar didn't do his homework, in my view. He mainly gushed. If you have one of those rare creatures in attendance (a Shakespeare scholar) wouldn't you like him to explain stuff?
Luckily, and for a change, the audience asked good questions and deepened the debate a little bit.
But nobody spoke of what always leaves audiences pondering: is it a really antisemitic play, is it not antisemitic, is it ambiguous, what is Shakespeare's purpose?
I would have loved to hear some of that.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Put on your dancing feets

This kills me. The NY Supreme Court upheld that ridiculous 80 year old law, barring patrons from dancing in bars and restaurants that don't have a special permit. Jeeeeez. What the Fuck?
The law made its appearance in the time of Prohibition (another genius idea) to prevent the proliferation of speakeasies. We can safely say that the times have changed, no?

No smoke, no lard, no dance; what's next? This is becoming a fascist state, this city.
"Recreational dancing is not a form of expression protected by the federal or state constitutions," the court wrote.


City lawyer Norman Corenthal welcomed the court's decision, saying it upheld the city's right to enforce laws that protect residential areas from noise, congestion and safety hazards.


The plaintiffs claimed that in the 1960s, about 1,000 places legally allowed patrons to dance, but fewer than 300 such places exist now. They also had challenged the city's application of zoning laws, arguing it was arbitrary and capricious.

Norman Siegel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he was considering an appeal.

CONSIDERING? You should be moonwalking up the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, or something, Norm. Don't just stand there, do something!

So in the meantime, I suggest we engage in a campaign of civil disobedience and shake our collective booties in protest.


Somebody sent me this Saturday Night Live video and I thought it's the only funny thing they've done in 30 years. I think it's all Borat's fault. Used to be, when someone hated us (like 24/7), we used to wring our hands and rend our garments and call Abe Foxman. Now Jews can make fun of those who hate them, for a change, and people get it. I find it utterly refreshing. Enjoy.

Bring back the draft

The College Republicans of NYU organized a game called "Find the Illegal Immigrant". When they saw the outrage they provoked, they claimed it was to create dialogue, or some rubbish like that. Of course, everybody else had a conniption and there were protests with inane slogans like "No human is illegal".
I congratulate both sides on their stupidity. Perhaps instead of organizing idiot games and stupid marches, they could get back to studying, which is what they are paying the big bucks for.
This, and other examples of the listlessness of our youth, convince me that what this country needs to shake it out of its sugar, fat and TV induced stupor is a military draft.
For instance, the other day I watched, by accident I swear, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch. The show was about outrageously ostentatious displays of wealth in weddings, bar mitzvahs and sweet sixteens.
There was a girl from Florida that had a party that cost like a million dollars, and on top of that her parents gave her a Jaguar and she rode in on a horse, etc. The theme was Mardi Gras. They could have given one tenth of the cost to the people in NOLA, but never mind.
I say bring back the draft and send all these spoiled retards to war. The ones in Florida, the ones in front of the Nintendo, the ones at useless colleges all over the US. Send them all to Iraq and Iran and wherever Bush and Cheney look to profit from murder and mayhem, and you will see how fast everyone wakes up and starts looking at reality in the face.


I don't know what to write about today. Sundry assholes come to mind:

1. John McCain. Now he is saying that Rumsfeld was the worst Secretary of Defense ever. Now. Why didn't you say something when the guy was still in office, you stupid putz?
2. The Anna Nicole judge. One would have thought that the only dignified human being in close proximity to that silicone trash bag would be a judge, but I guess that Miss Smith's greatest talent, even in death, was to surround herself with the absolute bottom of the barrel, way down in the gutter, and so this judge Seidlin is no exception.
And speaking of assholes, what kind of family allows a person to decompose for two weeks before burying her WHEREVER?
This late show host Craig Ferguson gets in the news because he decides to defend Britney Spears from the jeering malevolence of the public. That's very nice of him, but why is this news exactly? I saw it on CNN and on ABC, as if it was some kind of incredible pronouncement. And I can't help but thinking he only said that because no one ever watches his show, so it helps with the ratings. Maybe I'm too jaded. But there seems to be far more interest in the fates of two trailer trash hos than in the fate of American soldiers in Iraq. Man, if I was a soldier in Iraq I would be seething. I don't know how I would feel when I came home to utter indifference and callous disregard for what I was doing over there. I'd feel murderous rage.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


After a year or more of lugging it through airports and struggling with it, I finished Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. HALLELUJAH! I feel like I deserve a medal. I'm so very proud of myself that I stuck to this book, making my other reading come to a grinding halt, while I patiently (not really) tried to get through Swann's Way and like it. Sometimes I loved it, particularly when he was catty, incredibly insightful and mischievous about the social circles that Swann frequents, or about the family of the narrator. And sometimes it worked my last nerve with his endlessly complicated sentences and his impossibly meandering train of thought. There are passages in this book that are absolutely incredible. Then there are many passages about trees and branches and flowers and leaves and the baroque pain in the heart of Swann that drove me crazy. Sometimes I felt like screaming: Get a life, Marcel! But sometimes he made my jaw drop in wonder.
Basically Marcel (after a year I feel I am on intimate terms with him) has taken upon himself the not inconsiderable task of revealing the nature of time and memory. Even when one is wanting to strangle him, one is in awe of his almost scientific approach to exposing how exactly we feel pain, nostalgia, regret, love, how time works upon our memories and feelings, how it defines us and changes us. His investigation is so thorough that I kept thinking about Einstein and the scientists that attempt to do the same but with mathematical formulas.
There are some fabulous passages, but these two come to mind. Not the madeleine, which is deservedly famous. There is a passage about asparagus that goes on for pages, from where it grows and how it gets to his table, and why it reminds him of his aunt, and ends on how he loved the smell of the asparagus in his pee.
Then towards the end of the book, one of the most perverse things I've ever read: He goes on and on and on and on about how excited he is about an imminent trip to Italy with his parents. In his imagination, he has already built Florence and Venice completely in his mind, with full descriptions generously provided. He shares his excitement and anticipation and what he feels and thinks and how he's going to react when he gets there, and the reader is so ecstatic at the thought that this poor sequestered kid is actually going somewhere other than Paris and Combray, that he is going to take us on his journey, you are almost packing your bags to get on the coach next to him, and then one day before the trip, he is so excited he falls ill with fever and the doctor bans his parents from taking him on the trip. So they don't. Just like that. Does he scream and beg and cajole and revolt? No. He stays in Paris, resigned to visiting the Champs Elysees everyday. I can't get over this passage. Seriously, I can't get over it. But then it is at the Champs where he encounters and falls in love with little Gilberte Swann, and that's how he ends the book, the motherfucker, joining probably the most amazing instance of foreshadowing (or is it the opposite?) in world literature, with his recollection of those days of his youth and the realization that time changes everything.
Yesterday, as I closed the tome that soothed my fears on airplanes, lulled me to sleep when restless, and annoyed me rather consistently with its descriptive minutiae and its lengthy digressions, I felt a pang of sadness. I had thought "no more Proust ever again". Now I'm afraid I want to read the next one. But I can't give myself to him and forget everyone else, as he demands. I don't know if I have the mental stamina. I don't know if I have the intelligence. The man requires concentration. He requires abnegation and devotion. I don't know if I have it in me.

Talk Radio!

There is a revival of Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio on Broadway starring Liev Schreiber. It is a very good production directed by Robert Falls. It seems interesting that someone would choose to bring back this little poisoned jewel from the eighties, which has not been updated for our times. At the beginning the references to Iran-Contra and Bush Sr. as Veep seem dated, but as the play goes on, it has the terrific effect that it makes you pine for the days of Reagan and Ollie North. Those were the days! How innocent and enraged we were then! As opposed to how jaded and callously indifferent to much worse events we are now. So that works. If you saw the Oliver Stone movie of the play, the character of Barry Champlain was played by Eric Bogosian himself, who is a fantastic, charismatic performer. As Champlain, Schreiber is excellent, just as he was excellent as Richard Roma in Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, (a similar kind of character somehow) and very excellent as Iago in an otherwise forgettable Public Theater production. Yet I kind of missed the heat and passion of someone like Bogosian. Liev Schreiber is a technically commanding actor. He uses his voice beautifully in this production. He is intense and extraordinarily effective, but he is cold. When you saw Bogosian, you saw a true manic guy, someone who had been losing it since childhood, someone truly on edge. Schreiber brings something different to the role, more of a seething, controlled rage, more of a calculated, reptilian intelligence, rather than just passionate outrage.
The actors who play the callers are extraordinary. They presumably stand backstage and interact with Schreiber over the phone. They are the best part of the show.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vanity Feh

Am I the only person in the world who is tired of Annie Leibovitz? Anybody?
I bought the latest issue of Vanity Fair because I was curious about the Hollywood portfolio. I think I have bought Vanity Fair three times in my life and each time my overall impression is: what a presumptuous and useless waste of trees. There is something about the magazine that gets on my nerves and this last issue is no exception. The articles are always too long and not that well written. The tone is middlebrow with pretensions. It sucks.
But what is it about the Leibovitz photographs that creeps me out? I leaf through this portfolio, which has many very famous actors in it and it leaves me completely cold. Here you have dozens of Hollywood lovelies and they look expressionless, dull, like mannequins.
The pictures are so polished and perfect and contrived and every detail is so belabored that they are absolutely lifeless. They have been drained of all spontaneity, they don't have a sense of moment. Their perfection is scary and uninviting. I have never felt that Leibovitz's celebrity pictures reveal anything interesting about her subjects. They don't reveal anything at all. Rather, they seem centered on the gimmicky craftsmanship of the photographer. They dazzle because she always comes up with a clever concept but they don't say anything real or authentic about the subject in question. Whoopi Goldberg dunked in a tub of white milk? Please.
Her work for the new Disney anniversary campaign is slightly better. Only because it is rather daring that Disney should pick the Hollywood glamor route instead of their inane clouds in the shape of Mickey and their sickening pastel colors. As advertising, the Disney pictures are stunning, and for a change, dark and fun. Scarlett Johanssen as Cinderella, Beyonce as Alice in Wonderland (Oliver Platt is the Mad Hatter and creepy Lyle Lovett is the Rabbit), David Beckham as a Prince on a horse fighting a dragon. Again, all moody and preciously lit and inhumanly perfect, but because they are ads for Disney they are interesting. And they match the brand because Disney is not human either. You can also imagine the meeting where the agency proposed them. The person in charge of the pastel colors and enforced cheer must have had a heart attack.
The Vanity Fair portfolio, however, is a lot of overproduction for absolutely no meaning, no insight, no wit, no fun. If you see it here, it looks much better than on the page.

The Skinny

Because I do not follow fashion, because I love beautiful clothes but I loathe fashion, I have not been paying too much attention to models (also because I hate them, like all women who are not models do).
But I have noticed that they don't look like they used to in their glory days, when Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell ruled the Earth like Tyranosaurus Rexi of the runway. I've noticed that lately they look like emaciated children from a Roumanian orphanage, with a few exceptions like Giselle Bundchen or Kate Moss, who actually look like women. I don't know who decided that models should look like the spawn of the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with huge eyes and translucent faces, but I don't really care. All I know is they look much too young to be modeling and much too skeletal, and if you dressed them in concentration camp garb, Auschwitz circa 1945, you'd be calling an ambulance to Bryant Park. And perhaps the Human Rights Commission as well.
Clothes do look better on hangers, (as anybody who has ever been inside a dressing room trying them on knows firsthand) and models have basically become walking hangers. They have eating disorders, they don't eat, they take drugs, they are as abused as racehorses but without the mercy. And they don't even look good!
So I propose to designers to use actual hangers for their shows. With the technology of stagecraft available today, they could create interesting, long legged, long necked, size zero mannequins that could move or not, that could hover across the runway moved by rails like those at the dry cleaners, and that could make the clothes look as pretty as they want. This way, young girls would not be starving to death and being traumatized by body image complexes and other psychological abuse.
The article in New York Magazine that deals with this issue says that many of these teenagers come from Eastern European countries, whose bigger export seems to be women, be it for the sex trade or the rag trade. I don't see that much difference between a young woman who is enticed to prostitute herself and one that is abused the way runway models are. They are both made to feel worthless except for their looks. But people like that scary Diane Von Furstenberg who rose from the dead not long ago and that other zombie from hell, Karl Lagerfeld, two people who look like human remains in an advanced state of decomposition, are in a total outrage over Madrid and Milan demanding a minimum body mass index from models. Never mind that:
...a perilously thin teenage model, Eliana Ramos, would die in Uruguay, apparently of a heart attack, making it three model deaths in the past seven months. In August, Ramos’s older sister Luisel died after restricting herself to a diet of lettuce leaves and Diet Coke. In November, Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died weighing just 88 pounds.
If Mayor Bloomberg is so concerned about health, why doesn't he take a look at the runways? They should be closed by the Department of Health.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

La vida no vale nada

There is a famous Mexican song that says: "La vida no vale nada".
Life is worth nothing. It starts with tears and so it ends with tears, says the song.
I think about the song now, on the first anniversary of the death of the poor 65 miners that were trapped in an accident in a mine and whose bodies have not been recovered a year later.
According to the article in the NYT, the owners of the mine have spent $30 million dollars trying to recover the bodies. But I bet that the conditions of mining in Mexico leave a lot to be desired and that miners, who are usually fucked up everywhere else, they must be more so in Mexico, where human life and toil are worth less than in other places.
The article points out that the miners' union is divided in two, that one of the leaders is accused of corruption. And so it is... The faction that supports him called for a general mining strike today to commemorate the accident. But I'd like to know, has anything changed for miners since the accident? Are there more stringent safety measures in mines all over the country, are the families of the dead being compensated fairly? I hope so. But I doubt it.

Speaking of Mexico, president Calderón just gave about a 50% pay raise to the Mexican Army because they are fighting the very lawless and terrible Mexican drug cartels, who terrorize entire towns and buy everybody off, and who have taken to dumping heads of people in nightclubs, so that mostly you Americans can get your fixes of whatever it is you get high on. It seems like a good move, but then he'd have to do the same with the Federal police and the Judicial Police and everybody who is at risk of being bought off by the drug dealers, which is everybody. I'm sure he's doing this to be a good neighbor, but as has been said about drugs, the problem lies on the demand side, more than the supply.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Mexican parable

Or, Santa Madre de Dios! I read Mark Singer's excellent article in the New Yorker about the three Mexican fishermen who were adrift in the sea for NINE months and whose boat floated all around the ocean almost all the way to China, from San Blas, Nayarit, in the central Pacific coast, where it originally departed. If you look at a map, it is flabbergasting. They drifted to the other side of the world.
The story is obviously illuminating in terms of human drama, of human resilience and the will to survive, but what is even more illuminating to me was that it is a typical story of Mexico. Had Octavio Paz been alive, he would surely have recognized it as a perfect parable of the Mexican character.
Reading about the saga of the three poor fishermen, who survived in great part because they were fishermen and they knew how to catch fish, I did not for a moment doubt that their story was true and their motives for sailing simple: to make an honest living. However, as Singer reveals, when they were found and the media found out about them, the first reactions of joy and swollen national pride quickly turned into deep distrust. All of a sudden, people were not convinced that these three guys were who they were. Skepticism set in, closely followed by cynicism, and this is why to me this is a deeply Mexican story.
Mexico is a country of distrust. Nobody trusts anybody. You start from the assumption that you are being lied to and cheated on: by your fellow man, by the man who fixes the soles of your shoes, by the government, by the gazillionaires who own half of the country in cohoots with the government. You cannot really trust your neighbor, you certainly cannot and should not trust the police, the law is basically for shit, the country is so mired in corruption that you may actually think there is a corrupt gene in every newborn Mexican baby.
So when you come back alive from nine months at sea, after the warm welcome wears off, the cynical, bitter distrust sets in. You were dealing coke, you ate the two other people who died, you are lying, etc. Singer mentions that the fishermen arrived in the middle of the most contentious presidential election in Mexican history. But why was it the most contentious? Because of distrust. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador threw his giant tantrum (and many, many Mexicans believed him) on the basis that the results could not be trusted.
As Singer narrates the story, some classic elements of the Mexican character stand out. It is possible to simplify what defines it in two words: ingenuity and fatalism. These two traits are what keep Mexico buoyant and sink it at the same time. The fisherman aptly named Salvador, a Bible-carrying Oaxacan, was probably the reason they survived. He was an ingenious, resourceful, and instinctive improviser. However, as Singer points out in this enlightening passage:
Salvador hewed rigorously to the theological interpretation of shipwreck and deliverance, unwilling to entertain, evidently, the implicitly heretical notion that it was actually his own inventiveness, courage and resolve that had kept all three fishermen alive.
Precisely. One important Mexican trait: perhaps because it is fated that we're all going to die eventually and there is nothing anybody can do about it, Mexicans seem to be constitutionally incapable of planning ahead, but absolutely genius in the improvisation department. What is not taken into account will work out somehow, with a lot more complication and drama that is actually necessary, but where is the fun (and the suspense) in a clearly delineated strategy? If you take the elements of fate and of chance out, it may mean you are somehow responsible for what happens, and we have trouble wrapping our minds around that concept.
Perhaps because we don't plan and we don't prepare, and we bullshit our way through any situation, another equally important Mexican trait is we don't believe in ourselves. Or we don't believe in ourselves enough. In this we are diametrically opposed to Americans, who believe in the individual as the first agent of his own destiny and toot the horn of heroic individuality at the slightest provocation. Not us. We believe it is God or chance or fate, but just as we fear responsibility, we give ourselves no credit. Thus, we always think we are worse than we actually are.
Maybe that is why, in moments where national honor is at stake, such as the Soccer World Cup or the NY Marathon, we go through a ritual of grossly engorged national pride which is always coupled with the dreadful, knowing anxiety that we're certainly going to blow it. We have no faith in ourselves. We win, a wild paroxysm of joy erupts; but when we lose, the criticism is always vicious, the national engorged pride turns against the losers with a vitriolic vengeance, with the painful notion that we knew all along we were not good enough and we did not even deserve to be there. The Mexican team is berated (little mice, chokers, achicopalados, etc), guilt is usually blamed on the lack of proper preparation, we go back to confirming that we're not at the same level with the rest of the world.
However, gosh, as these three survivors show, we seem to be at quite the same level if not better. We seem to be capable, by our genius for improvisation, and because of our tolerance for heaping amounts of authority abuse and/or indifference, to be stubbornly resilient and truly heroic. Think of all those people who cross the border and survive the desert and then survive the harrowing conditions of being an illegal worker in this country, with no money and no language, etc. Still, you will not find a Mexican, even if his or her ordeal is the stuff of legend, calling CAA asking to sell their story.
Of course, as I read the article, I thought what everybody and their mother must have thought: this is a great idea for a movie. And of course, I had been long beat to it by two dangerously religious hucksters who promptly contacted the fishermen and ripped them off. Allow me to quote:

A report... placed the value of the deal at $3.8 million. When I asked Kissack about the incongrous sums, he said "Don't believe what you read." Indeed. One didn't have to scrutinize the contracts' fine print to recognize that the castaways' putative future millions would be "net profits" -- money that they would start to see, presumably, around the time McDonald's sold its ten-millionth Three Fishermen Happy Meal. In the meantime, each man would receive a cell phone and a two-thousand-dollar monthly allowance for five months.
Right. My movie idea includes the two hucksters, because that is where it turns sour and disgusting, like it love it. But this is my point, these three unschooled fishermen would have never thought for themselves of the idea of selling their story for millions of dollars, even though at sea they surmised that they had gone farther and survived longer than anybody else in history. Here they were, risking their lives at sea for $20 dollars a day, and now their story was so much more valuable than an entire lifetime of underpaid, dangerous work.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter. The poverty. The lack of schooling. Singer makes little of the fact that the three guys abandoned school for work. He ascribes it to wanderlust, lack of attention, indiscipline. I think it is much more complex. Poor Mexicans simply do not see the connection between education and progress. And it's not because they are dim, but because they look around them and where is the progress? In Mexico the only people who seem to improve their lot are the ones who are already born rich or the ones who run for the border. For everybody else, society is not upwardly mobile, or if it is, it is so in extreme slow motion and with impossible obstacles.
However, Mexicans see the value and utility of work, as devalued as it is in Mexico, even if it is only to afford a roof over their heads. Ambition, born of a strong belief in individuality, is not a natural trait, and in fact it is viewed as proud and arrogant. Parents, unschooled themselves out of dire need, don't see the point of school. Just imagine what these three guys could do with some more schooling.
Life in Mexico is cheap. That's why three men could go out on a boat without a permit, without lifesavers, without an oar, without asking questions and without informing anybody. Because, really nobody cares about the poor in Mexico and they know it. The government is there mainly to rip them off and make their lives miserable with petty bureaucratic mazes. Yes, it will provide insufficient schools, it may give peremptory healthcare but it does so like a grudging handout, and does not really offer options. If you are born poor, this is your lot and you don't matter.
And what happens after the parades end, and the money runs out and the media go home? The three fishermen take up drinking. Why? Because it must all seem absurd, it must be extremely hard to readapt (and I doubt there are squadrons of mental health professionals assessing them or offering help) and they are back to square one. Back to the land of no progress.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Highlights of the week

Kiddos! I missed you yesterday. It was Valentine's Day, an artificial, mercenary "holiday" I refuse to commemorate. I went to Sephora for some skin cream and lo and behold, I beheld several flummoxed boyfriends attempting to buy last minute perfume for their gals. Like PT Barnum said, there is a sucker born every minute, and Valentine's day is particularly adept at making suckers of us all. Still, for those of you who actually had a good time yesterday, mazel tov. If you had a good time despite the utterly obnoxious cold in NYC, chapeau to you.
I need to finish writing an article due tomorrow (and requested Tuesday night) on the Mexican invasion of the Oscars and I am frantically looking for posts to rant about this week.
Here are some highlights:

• Now we know why Ahmadinejad acts like a maniac: according to The New Yorker's always illuminating James Surowiecki, it's because every time he threatens to destroy Israel or build atomic weapons, he sends the price of oil soaring. And because Iran has like the second biggest reserves of oil in the world, well, it works like a charm. By opposing him, we are helping him. My logic works like this: by corollary, it is in the best interest of Bush and Cheney and their pals in the oil industry, to keep oil soaring too. Which explains why, not only did we start a useless debacle in Iraq, but now we are also going after Iran, feeding fuel to the fire, so to speak.

• A CEO in China is going to hang because he duped investors in a giant ant scheme. Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger. He bilked Chinese investors of millions of dollars by promising to raise giant ants. Ants are used for traditional medicinal purposes in China. One investor committed suicide and many more suffered from depression. Welcome to capitalism, comrades! So they are hanging the guy. I am ordinarily against the death penalty, but for people who do that, as for people like Jeffrey Skilling et al, I have to tell you, it seems to me the right punishment.

• Also in the New Yorker (anniversary issue, rather underwhelming) The fascinating article by Jane Mayer on that evil TV show that extols torture and that everybody loves so much, 24. Liberal fans of the show: read it and please let me know how you plan to atone for your sins. Kiefer Sutherland can cry his 10 million a year all the way to the bank. You have no excuse.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's like talking to a child

This editorial in the New York Times sounds so frustrated and desperate when addressing the Bush's administration new claim of WMD's from Iran (that's all we need), that it sounds like they are talking to a child. A retarded, willful, disobedient and unruly child.

If Mr. Bush is truly worried about Shiite militias killing Americans in Iraq — and he should be — he needs to start showing this evidence to Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He needs to demand that Mr. Maliki stop protecting the militias and make it clear that there will be serious consequences if he continues to refuse.

If Mr. Bush is truly worried about Iran fanning Iraq’s ever more bloody civil war — and he should be — he needs to stop fantasizing about regime change and start trying to find a way to persuade Iran’s leaders to help rein in the chaos in Iraq.

And if Mr. Bush is worried that Americans no longer believe him when he warns of mortal threats to the country — and he should be — he needs to start proving that he really understands who is most responsible for the Iraq disaster. And he needs to explain how he plans to extricate American troops without setting off an even bigger war.

It's like: eat your soup, don't pick your nose, do your homework, stop being a pest.

But it's not working. Nobody's listening. The New York Times can have a massive editorial meltdown and it's going to go in one ear and out the other.

Why don't we all just demand impeachment or his resignation on account of incompetence and malfeasance? Something?

Monday, February 12, 2007

A toady down under

At the gym I learn, through CNN's hysterical, shrill coverage, that the Australian Prime Minister has "dissed" Barack Obama on his plan to withdraw troops by 2008.

“If I were running Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Mr. Howard said, “I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats.”

This is how the NYT reported it. The CNN headline read something like: "Howard says that an Obama victory would be a victory for the terrorists".

I don't know what to do about CNN anymore, but that is the subject of a lengthier, nastier kvetch. But how pathetic of the White House and of this penal colony putz, to enter the fray like that, from the other side of the ocean.

Obama responded quite well, according to the NYT:
In a news conference here, Mr. Obama dismissed the remarks, saying it was “flattering that one of George Bush’s allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced.”

Mr. Obama said Australia had sent 1,400 troops to Iraq, a fraction of the American force.

“If he’s ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and send them to Iraq,” Mr. Obama said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of empty rhetoric.”


By the way, why does CNN use the word "dis"? Because Obama's black? Would they have used that word if it was Hillary, or someone else?
There seems to be this atavistic, knee-jerk reaction to undermine the guy. Just out of the gate, a member of Obama's own party talks about his cleanliness and articulateness, the press talks about his name as if it was unpronounceable, there are news out there that he attended a Muslim school, which CNN promptly describes as radical. This is just the beginning of what I predict will be a hellish uphill battle for Mr. Obama.

I hate guerrilla advertising

Regardless of the fact that the citizens of Boston seem to be way too jumpy for no reason, I'm so glad the Cartoon Network's "guerrilla advertising" misfired. We are being bombarded with unwanted ads and this, instead of making advertising better, sharper, more effective or entertaining, is making it worse, as you could all tell from the very underwhelming bunch of recent Superbowl ads. The advertising industry, which is where I earn my bread and butter, I should point out, is killing itself because it is trying to do too many things in too many places and except for some smart campaigns (like the new m&m campaign), is shooting itself in the foot in a major way. The creatives who come up with the ideas, now have to come up with ideas for a multitude of media and in my opinion, for the most part, the creativity is dissolved into substandard messages. People still have a certain fondness for ads that make them laugh, or identify or think, but if they are going to be attacked indiscriminately, they are bound to lose their affection. Now people are fighting to keep ads out of their sight.
Perversely, I couldn't be happier about it.
I go to these events to hear advertising gurus speak about future marketing, and experiential bla bla and guerrilla blublu and branded bloblo and I don't know what creeps me out the most: that if it was up to them they'd run ads in your dreams, or that they are totally oblivious to the Orwellian implications of their unbridled enthusiasm to cover every conceivable surface with ads, or even worse, to sneak the ads into your consciousness without your consent.
We, the consumers, the citizens, the humans, have an unspoken contract with ads. They are not content and they should never be. They are ads and we must recognize them as such. As long as I can identify that the content and motivation of a particular campaign is to sell stuff, I have no problem. Like, for instance, the BMW film series in the internet. But when they create TV series or movies or whatever that are huge commercials for a brand, that's when I cry foul. When they invade my space in public spaces with fake events, or put fake people in a bar drinking some drink to create buzz, it really turns me off, like it turns off Walter Kirn of New York Times Magazine.
I hear your pain, Walter.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

At the Schvitz

And speaking of Russia... It just so happens that my dear friend Marga decided to celebrate her birthday by going to the Russian baths on Avenue I in Brooklyn.
I thought it was very fitting, since I have been badmouthing the Russians on this blog of late, that I should take a good schvitz in their very midst. If you can't beat em, join em.
Well, this is why I love New York. You take the F train and 40 minutes later you are half naked in the middle of Russia.
The place outside is festooned with the following flags: the US Olympic Team, Israel, Russia and the US. So far so good, although the relationship to the Olympics is hard to grasp once you walk in and find hairy, massive creatures dismembering smoked fish with their bare hands.
First thing you see as you walk in is a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. But I don't think the place is just for Jews. For one, they have oysters and calamari on the menu. Yes, the menu.
The baths are co-ed and everybody wears a bathing suit. There are far more men than there are women. The men ogle unabashedly, as if they have never seen a member of the female species.

There are plastic tables and chairs surrounding three pools. A long one, with relatively murky, cool water, a bubbling jacuzzi and a small arctic plunge pool. Around them there is a small steam room and several saunas. Buckets with cedar branches are there for flagellating yourself with them at the saunas. You douse them with scalding water and hit yourself silly. It's supposed to be very good for you. You can also use the buckets at the saunas to dump cold water into your heated body. When you are not doing any of these ablutions, you sit and eat and drink. A man who looks like he could have been a wrestling coach offers us a massage and I can just picture his arms pulverizing my bones and tenderizing my flesh none too tenderly. We politely decline.
Marga had said in the invitation that we could buy beer and food there. Beer and food at the schvitz? These things don't seem to belong in close proximity. Now, I started to warm up to the concept of eating and drinking at the shvitz, were it not for the less than meticulous eating and drinking conditions. There were many empty tables that had not been cleared up of dirty dishes, wherever someone left a wet towel, nobody picked it up, etc. I am not particularly squeamish, but one wonders about all that swimming and sweating after eating smoked fish with your bare hands. Let's say that you have to develop a bit of a stomach for it. Once you do, it is great, anthropological fun. And it relaxes the hell out of you. I defy yoga to leave you more happily relaxed.

There is a "VIP room", full of half naked humongous men having proper dinner (soup, meat, vodka) wearing only their bathing suits. You can see into all of these rooms (except the saunas) because they are encased in glass. The schvitz is a social activity, not a place to meditate and relax, but to see and be seen. Everybody wears a cellphone clipped to the towel around their waist.
There is a room with a huge sign that indicates "No Smoking" where everybody puffs happily away. There is a sign in the saunas that says, "do not pour water on the stones", and there is bound to be a Russian right opposite the sign doing exactly that. It's a great way to learn about a foreign culture.

At the baths themselves, only "finger foods" are allowed. This means a variety of smoked fishes and herrings and something called Siberian dumplings which were the closest to the kreplach my grandma used to make. I went at the Siberian dumplings with a vengeance, as my friends asked what was in them with deep distrust. Whatever it was, they were incredible.
Some of us wanted to go for the whole Russian experience but we ended up ordering non-scary food like French fries and fried calamari and platters of grapefruit and pineapple. All quite good.
Black tea was served with jam and honey; though, sadly, we didn't order it. We drank Baltika beer and as you are also allowed to bring your own food (!), had birthday cake and sandwiches and cava (Spanish champagne).
We mostly sat and drank, and used the jacuzzi, and stared at the fascinating Russian pop videos pouring out of several huge TV screens. They all seem to be singing the same horrid song and using the same director of photography, circa 1990.

The saunas, for those of you familiar with the dainty, Ikea-ish, wooden slats variety, look rather like the dungeons in a fairy tale. They are of brick and stone, and the door to the sauna oven is of heavy iron, like a giant samovar. And the patrons take their steaming seriously. It seems to be a cherished endurance contest to emerge from the sauna after what seems hours, baked within an inch of their lives, and jump into the plunge pool, which is close to freezing. People wear pointy felt hats at the sauna, presumably to retain the heat. They are all glowing red, and I guess this is how they must stave off any puny little virus that comes their way. Burn it and cool it and thrash it and gorge it to death.
The steam bath and the jacuzzi and the kreplach felt so good, I wouldn't mind going back all the way to Mother Russia on the F.

Friday, February 09, 2007

And speaking of malign Jewish plots

And speaking of malign Jewish plots, this one actually cracked me up (although it ain't funny):
In Michael Specter's fantastic, scary piece about Putin in a recent New Yorker, he reports that in Russia there were several theories about who'd want to poison that Russian guy in London with radioactive material.

In Moscow, a city given to conspiracy theories, people could speak of little else: Putin had acted to silence a vocal traitor: no, Putin enemies did it, to destroy the image of the Kremlin...; Putin allies did it... the "Jews" did it, because Litvinenko had converted to Islam... Muslim extremists did it... Berezovsky did it...
Then Berezovsky himself says:

When Litvinenko died, there were a thousand theories: he killed himself, I killed him. Al Qaeda. Jews. Putin. Everybody.
As every antisemitic idiocy that's ever come from that godforsaken land (they are after all, the proud creators of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion), I bet the possibility was considered in utter seriousness by many.
The Jews. Gee, that must include me, and my one year old nephew, and the nice couple who are my next door neighbors, and Larry David, and fill in the blanks. We wanted to kill Litvinenko 'cause the poor schlub changed his religion.
Some countries never change.

Always such a drama

Why is it always such a freaking drama in Jerusalem? The Israeli Antiquities Authority, a respected archaeological entity, is digging a walkway right next to the Wailing Wall in order to protect some antiquities that have not been dug out yet. The Muslims on the adjacent Temple Mount are claiming that the dig will damage the Al Aqsa Mosque. Two religions in such close proximity and of course it's all antagonistic.
If you look at the drawing here, it seems that the walkway is not jeopardizing the mosque at all. It is more than the length of one Olympic sized pool away from the mosque. But if the Muslims and Palestinians want to see this as yet another opportunity to create unrest and spin it into some kind of malign Jewish plot, nobody can stop them. The acrimony there has been seething for ages and there is no such thing as the use of reason.

Saint Anna Nicole

It's the Death of Nixon syndrome. An utterly unsavory character dies and the press just melts and starts spinning them into sainthood. Yahoo News! has a headline that says "Why we cared about Anna."
We? Speak for yourselves, you purveyors of cheesy dreck. I don't care.
Let me rephrase that. I care. I care that an utterly talentless, ignorant slut was able to hold our collective attentions for more than 10 seconds. And on account of what? Her Barbie on steroids looks? Her unabashed, vulgar hogging of the spotlight? The fact that she was happy to make herself into a walking freakshow for celebrity? That she was proud of her ignorance?
Her strange life seemed to veer from one outsized struggle to another. She struggled famously with her weight and with her family. She sometimes even struggled to speak without slurring. She had a TV show that could be so embarrassing you'd want to watch it with dark sunglasses on. Much more tragically, she lost her 20-year-old son. Five months ago she had a baby daughter and now two men claim to be the father.

In other words, she was a perfect pop culture icon. By contrast, another famous creature of Internet celebrity, the chic-er, more sophisticated and chillier Paris Hilton has much less to fascinate us, grainy sex video notwithstanding. It's hard to feel sorry for her.

Of course, compared to Anna Nicole Smith, La Hilton looks like Audrey Hepburn and Madame Curie rolled into one. But that is the problem with vulgarity. There is no sense of proportion.
There is no compassion for Hilton because she happens to be rich, while Smith "overcame" the classic self-pitying stuff that makes this country go gaga: a bad home life, teen pregnancy, poverty.
Well, there are a lot of people born under those circumstances that overcome them with far more dignity and unfortunately far more anonymity as well. Now, should she get a medal because she was craven enough to shake her humongous fake tits in front of an aging billionaire, or of salivating TV executives or Trimspa hucksters? Because she was, like our President, incapable of speaking English? There is absolutely nothing to admire in her, except her idiotic ambition, if you think that ambition without self-improvement is admirable.
I would think that a perfect pop culture icon would have something to give us in the way of culture. Once upon a time, our pop culture icons used to have talent (think Elvis, Jacko, Marilyn, Audrey, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Janis, etc). This oversized trash can had the gall to compare herself to Marilyn Monroe. Some professor had to come out in Monroe's defense and set the record straight:
The compelling mix of beauty and vulnerability is just one quality that has led to comparisons with Marilyn Monroe, another sexy, tragic blonde who Smith liked to compare herself to. The comparison is tempting, but the difference is monumental.

"Marilyn Monroe was an artist, a real performer, able to evoke in audiences a real empathy and a passion," said Richard Walter, a film professor at UCLA. "There is NO comparison." And yet he sees one strong point in common: the simple beginnings, the climb from total obscurity to fame.

And why is a life without fame one of "total obscurity"? Most people aren't famous and we don't live in the dark. We have meaningful, productive, human lives.
If Smith is an icon of anything, it is of what is wrong with this country: the immature, cartoonish sexuality, the willful, arrogant ignorance, the hunger for fame without merit.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Starting to feel like Cuba

Now, this is news: There are shortages of meat and sugar in Venezuela.
Venezuela is a tropical, oil rich country. So what gives?

Chavez blames "unscrupulous speculators, but industry officials say government price controls that strangle profits are responsible. Authorities on Wednesday raided a warehouse in Caracas and seized seven tons of sugar hoarded by vendors unwilling to market the inventory at the official price".

The horror.

She dead

Bizarre. Grotesque. And as American as apple pie.
That thing, Anna Nicole Smith, is dead at the age of 39.
Of grief? Of drugs? Of diet pills? Of too much undeserved fame? Who knows.
Maybe that poor baby is lucky she won't have to grow up in the shadow of her trailer trash tits.

I woke up on the mean side of the bed today, kids.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What a dump!

Here I am, this humble blog, which gets like 6 (loyal, adorable, divine) readers a day. We're happily chugging along the internet superhighway, like the Extremely Little Engine That Could, while a Russian internet site peddling child pornography (including the rape of children) gets 8000 hits.
The material was accessible via a link to a Russian website that offered it for downloading - the site has since been closed down.Within 24 hours, investigators said they recorded more than 8,000 hits on the video and DVD material from more than 2,360 computer addresses in 77 countries. ...the videos were made in eastern Europe and featured children of up to 14 years of age. ..."Girls could be seen being raped, and you could also hear screams" Mr Gremel said, adding that users paid $89 (68 euros, £45) for three month's access to the material.
Which leads me to confirm what I have always known: this world is a dump. Moreover, Eastern Europe is and has always been a superdump. Russia is a dump and has been a dump since day one. Now that communism is over, they have just translated the same disregard for human dignity they've always had into rapacious commerce: white slavery, child pornography, etc. They are seemingly incapable of civilization, let alone democracy and human rights. They deserve the hells they have always lived in, be it with Tsars, Stalins or Putins.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How amusing

I love it. The Hñahñu indians of the State of Hidalgo, Mexico, have devised a tourist attraction that is a fake border crossing, so you can experience illegal immigration first hand. Some may use it as training, other as deterrent. Still, this is capitalist entrepeneurship at its best. But why stop there?
They should build a theme park and do the whole enchilada, so to speak. Maybe they can call it Wetbacklandia or Beanerland. Once you cross the border you can go into the House of Some Rich Gueros in San Diego and take care of their animatronic children, their lawns and their laundry, or you could go into the Busboy ride and see what it takes to make it in the restaurant business. The Valet Guy allows you to park mini beemers to your hearts content, and the Haunted Tenement is a funhouse where you see how many people you can cram into one bedroom. Or you can ride the Lose the Migra game.
I bet it'll be more fun than EuroDisney.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Luckily for us, now you don't have to watch the Superbowl (WHO CARES?) to watch the ads. I just spent like an hour of my time checking them on adcritic. Like I have nothing better to do.
The results are in: I am not impressed.
American advertisers seem to have one thing in common: no wit. Really stupid humor, for the most part.
Those marketers that allowed real people to write their commercials should be hanged by their balls. Almost all of the ads completely sucked, were amateurish and pathetic. If agencies allow civilians to write their spots, they should deserve what they have coming. Annihilation.
The Careerbuilder spots about the office being a jungle were funny, particularly the one in which everybody's trying to skip the training seminar.
The FedEx Moon Office spot was no better (but I'm sure far more expensive) than the absolutely hilarious Caveman spot of last year, which I adore because it is so well written. Caveman employee: "But we don't have FedEx yet!" Caveman Boss: "Not my problem".
Moon Office was kind of the same idea, less funny and far too distracting. But the FedEx Ground spot about not judging things by their name was a hoot. Loved it.
I actually also liked the Latinworks (go homies!) Bud Light spot with Carlos Mencia. It is about immigrants and it is un-pc, like Mr. Mencia is, and it was quite funny. However, most of the Bud Light spots were incredibly stupid and violent, and I'm not cool with that.
Of the stupid animal category, my favorite was the Budweiser spot about the worshipping crabs. The dog and the Clysdales, who gives a fuck? The gorillas? Not that funny. Two talking lions for Taco Bell? Por qué?
I liked the Cliff Freeman Snapple ad with the guy who goes all the way to China to find out what's in the back of the bottle.
The Snickers brokeback mountain mechanics ad started out great and then ended up really retarded. Where's the punch line?
But the most misguided one of them all was the General Motors spot about the robot that gets fired. All it made me think about is how fucked up the American car industry is and how much I would not want a GM car if they gave me one for free.
And now you can return to your original, mindnumbing programming. But perhaps as you vegetate in front of your favorite sitcom you can give thanks you are not in Iraq getting blown up.

Let's blow this joint!

I read with horror Jon Lee Anderson's fantastic piece on Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, on last week's New Yorker. I think this piece should be required reading for all members of Congress, if not for the entire nation. Cheney and Bush should be forced to read it every single minute of their offensive lives.
Basically, it is a portrait of a situation that is simply not worth fighting for, let alone shedding the blood of young Americans. I will give you just 2 examples that appear in the article that will make your blood curl:

Mr. Talabani's bill at the Hotel Meurice in Paris came to "more than half a million dollars. (Talabani's suite alone cost thirteen thousand dollars a night.)"

And that doesn't include his shopping. Not like Iraq is Qatar, if you know what I mean.

Then there are lengthy descriptions of the absolute chaos, rampant corruption and byzantine political backstabbing going on in that hellhole. The people who rule (or rather misrule) Iraq right now are all related to one another, they live in the former Saddam palaces and they spend millions of dollars a day while innocents are blown up in the streets and while Americans are wasting their lives over there.

But this was the clincher. Former Prime Minister Allawi:
"accused people within the Interior Ministry of killing some of his associates; a few days earlier, his chief of security in Baghdad had been tortured to death. "His eyes were taken out and his body was dumped on the street," Allawi said. "And this is the government doing it."
After you read this sentence, you want to bring the troops home in the next five minutes and let this bunch of thieves and criminals continue killing themselves. Instead of watching the stupid Superbowl, the American people would do well to demand to bring the troops back home NOW.

I know I will be accused of naivete. Now it turns out that because of our own unbelievable incompetence and arrogance and stupidity, the entire region stands to be swallowed by Iran. I don't care. If and when Iran misbehaves, there will be ways of dealing with it. As of now, Iraq is a mess that we created and that will not get any less messy if we stay there, if we surge there, or whatever. Given who these people are and what they are used to, it will only get worse.
Let's get out of there.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Makes me want to break out the Marlboros

I was at the treadmill at the gym (which as you all know is my only source of news) when I saw this commercial in mute:
All over NYC, there are overflowing garbage cans on the street. Body parts, hands, feet, are sticking out of them. Real people in the street are horrified. At first I thought it might be a campaign to stop some newfangled atrocity or other in Africa, but then the tagline comes in, and it turns out to be part of the Truth anti-smoking campaign, which I believe is created by Crispin Porter Bogusky. Basically, the tagline said something like, "there are more people who die of smoking every month, than garbage cans in NYC".
Really. What the fuck? What does one thing have to do with the other? Why are dead people being compared to garbage cans? How freaking puerile and immature can we possibly get?
I've never liked this holier than thou campaign. It's "guerilla tactics" have always felt smugly superior to me. I don't care for the faux sitcom ads where they use the real words of tobacco executives with an added laugh track. I admit the idea is very smart, but anybody who has ever been in a brainstorming session in the bowels of the American corporate world knows that marketers actually speak the tongue of Satan, whether they are selling fizzy beverages or cigarettes.
I don't care if the campaign has had great success in making people quit. I resent the tone. With this latest ad, I think they've gone too far in the really stupid, really bad taste department.
1. The comparison is spurious and sophistic. Why relate tobacco casualties to garbage cans? What is the relation between one and the other? If you told me that more people die of tobacco than kids get born, or stuff like that, I'd swallow it. But this is just exploitative, almost pornographic and utterly lazy. I fail to see how the use of exploitation benefits this kind of public service.
2. We don't have to be treated like morons. At this point everybody knows that smoking kills. I was so angry that I really felt like sticking it to them and puffing on a cig. Maybe the campaign is directed to some idiot 16 year old who may buy this solemnly selfrighteous crap, that seems to have come from the mind of a 16 year old. Again, the fact it may be effective, which I wonder if we have any way of knowing, doesn't mean it's good.

She ain't that funny

Maybe I don't get it. But I watched the first episode of the Sarah Silverman Program and I failed to see the humor in it, except extremely occasionally and then all it got out of me was a feeble laugh. This article by Tad Friend in the New Yorker is kind of on the fence about her. Luckily for you, it tells you every joke on the show, so you don't actually have to see it. At times, the article's retelling makes it sound much funnier than it actually comes out in the program.
Outrageous humor is fine, as long as the performer is someone you like. Take Borat, for example. Part of his genius is that he is sweet and adorable, even when he is cruel and says horrid things to people.
Yet if it's an obnoxious, puerile, annoying grown woman who pretends to talk like a little girl it's very hard to want to stick around.
I think the culture is too much in the throes of smarmy humor. And smarmy humor overstays its welcome pretty fast. I used to comment on Gawker, for instance, but lately I find the meanness of the commenters a bit de trop, even for my taste. Luckily we still have comedians like Will Ferrell and Steve Carell who do not rely on smarminess, but on a far funnier and more winning combination of stupidity and charm and obliviousness, to make us laugh.

In Howard's Basement

Thursday night I went to the spectacular Allen Room to listen to Howard Fishman and his band perform some of the songs in Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes. I could have punched myself for not having caught him when he did the entire content of the tapes at Joe's Pub on Memorial Day. Because on Thursday, it felt like he could have gone on playing those arresting songs until he ran out of them.
I've been following Howard since he was playing American standards at Sardi's (never, under any circumstances eat at Sardi's, but do go for a pre-theater drink. It's an order).
I've seen Howard perform old standards, his own powerful, lovely compositions, and now this amazing music by Bob Dylan I knew nothing about. I've seen him at Pete's Candy Store, at Niagara, and more recently, and I'm so happy for him, at venues that will hopefully take him places, like Joe's Pub and Lincoln Center.
Well, it was a beautiful, delightful evening of musical education. I guess Howard is an anomaly: a talented young man with an absolutely exquisite taste for and a deep knowledge of the American songbook. He is intimately familiar with many of the currents of American popular music: jazz standards, blues, country, New Orleans jazz; influences which echo effortlessly through his interpretations. He is not polished and he is not slick (and thus, sadly, not as well known and appreciated as he deserves to be) yet he is nothing but a consummate, passionate musician.
Now, in the Dylan songs that they played, there were playful songs, and strange songs and wonderful songs. What a sheer delight to be surprised by these works, in such a great room, with perfect intimacy, and with a very endearing band.
There were two standout songs for me. Down in the Flood, about levies crashing, was eerily prescient of Katrina and it was arranged and performed in a haunting, powerful way that I haven't been able to shake off. And another song that was arranged as a New Orleans second line tune, and it was raucous and gloriously alive. Unfortunately, I don't have the name of that song with me, which is pretty sloppy reporting, I know.
Howard urged us all to go down to New Orleans, and I completely second that emotion. I'm just afraid to be too sad once I get there.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Biden goodbye

There was a time when I thought I liked Joe Biden, but I can't remember why. I think it was because he was funny on Jon Stewart.
Since yesterday, that is not the case any more. Of all the things he could have said about Obama, he really, really fucked it up:

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who announced his candidacy on Wednesday with the hope that he could ride his foreign policy expertise into contention for the Democratic nomination, instead spent the day struggling to explain his description of Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running for president, as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
And the worst part is he kept trying to spin himself out of the mess, when he should just have said I'm sorry and go hide his head deep in the heart of Africa.

In his conference call, Mr. Biden quoted his mother in trying to explain what he meant about Mr. Obama. “My mother has an expression: Clean as a whistle and sharp as a tack,” Mr. Biden said, showering more praise on one of his biggest opponents for the nomination.

On Comedy Central, he told Mr. Stewart: “What got me in trouble was using the word clean. I should have said fresh. What I meant was he’s got new ideas.”

Yeah, right. And I'm from Missouri. But this is how people think. He just said it out loud. And you know it.