Sunday, April 29, 2007

Turkish Delight

There have been massive protests in Turkey against the islamization of the state. As far as I'm concerned, it's a wonderful thing. Turkey is an anomaly among mostly Islamic countries in that it is truly secular and many people there do not want to follow in the footsteps of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Perhaps this will give other moderate Muslims some inspiration to counter the destructive rise of Muslim fundamentalism elsewhere.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Latin Literary Rock Stars

Yesterday, another panel of the PEN international writers festival, this time with 4 young writers from Latin America. The panel was called "Gritty Realism", as opposed to "Magical Realism", something that at this point we are all exhausted of. We want to get off the literary merry-go-round that seems to imply that anything ever written in Spanish has flying grandmothers and people who eat butterflies. So now we have writers who write about the world that surrounds them: a world in which the absurd is a daily occurrence, but as Jorge Franco (Rosario Tijeras), from Colombia, said, reality in our countries is exaggerated enough, the writer doesn't need to embellish.
Just for clarification, the greatest, and to my mind the only worthy example of magical realism is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and he has always been far more soundly on the side of the real than on the side of the magical. This is something his countless cheap imitators have never been able to grasp. So they come up with people who fly or eat mole with rose petals or see crabs in the sky for no reason.
Guillermo Arriaga, from Mexico, was there. He has written screenplays (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) and novels. Although his movies are highly melodramatic, he counts himself on the side of reality and action. A very charismatic guy, with a big personality. Rather macho.
Daniel Alarcón, a very young US writer who grew up in Peru, impressed me with his coherent, intelligent and terse comments and his refreshing lack of ego. I bought his novel, Lost City Radio, because he seems so smart.
One interesting thing of seeing panels of writers is that the transparency of the writer's ego is intense in person. Writers are a needy bunch and very few of them know how to be truly self-effacing.
Thus, Patricia Melo, a writer from Brazil, for some inexplicable reason, decided to give a lengthy prepared lecture on the source material for her novels, seemingly impervious to the fact that there were other three writers with things to say and that this was supposed to be a plural conversation.
Had invaluable pearls of wisdom come out of her, it was still completely inappropriate and sadly counterproductive. Instead of coming across as an interesting writer, she seemed full of herself. Poor Francisco Goldman, the moderator, didn't know whether to interrupt, which would have been dramatic, but called for. Luckily, after the hostages were freed, the conversation was able to begin. It was interesting but labored. It didn't flow easily. I don't know if this is because in Latin America everything is always very formal, or because this woman effectively killed the mood and the tempo. Also, and this is not the first time, the translator provided for Jorge Franco was a disaster. She interrupted him every second word, and added freely of herself, with a touch of hysteria. He was frustrated, but by Jove, all of us Latin Americans are very well brought up people: he suffered her with great dignity. Still, Jorge Franco, Daniel Alarcón and Arriaga were relatively spontaneous and natural in their responses.
Alarcón told a wonderful anecdote about Peru, that pretty much sums up the tenor of life south of the border:
Apparently the government of Lima decided to enforce a seatbelt law. Peruvians were bitterly unhappy about having to wear seatbelts. So some enterprising guy sold t-shirts that had a black diagonal band printed across the chest. You could wear this t-shirt to protest the seatbelt law, and even better, you could wear it to fool the cops.
And that in a nutshell is Latin America for you.

Ball and Chain Letters

I just realized this is the perfect venue for me to vent my bilious frustration at those people who use emails to send inane, moronic chain letters. No matter what the subject, whether national jokes, Jews in peril, great heroic causes, one can safely say that 95% of chain letters are retarded. If you are a friend of mine who does this and you are reading this right now, you now know what I think. I hope it does not affect our friendship.
I got two today. One claims that the British are going to stop teaching the Holocaust at schools because it offends Muslims. Mr. Ex-Enchilada warned me about this one. He got it in Mexico. I got it from a source here. It is obviously making the rounds. There are no sources for this piece of news. Like manna from heaven, this news fell directly from the sky into the internet. If this is indeed true, I want to know the source, because it sounds like an utter fabrication. My instinct is that it is one of those internet legends for Jews and by Jews that, as far as I can tell, only serve the purpose of keeping Jews safely paranoid about everything.
The other letter was a link to an Israeli video with a rap song about the Holocaust. The sender was concerned that people would find it offensive. What was offensive was not that some Israeli rapper is rapping the story of the Shoah, which is fine by me; what is offensive is the tackiness, the bad taste, the sight of artsy modern dancers smeared in ashes contorting themselves, a woman violinist dressed in some hideous folk dance garb, the entire thing with the look and the sound and feel and maturity of a very bad junior high school production. That is what bottles the mind, as Will Ferrell would say in Blades of Glory.
My favorite internet legend involves a supposed letter written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez at a time when he was very sick. This letter sounded like it was written by a bored housewife who had read way too many Hallmark cards. In it Garcia Marquez told us to enjoy every sunset, smell every flower, look at every seagull. Only an alien from another planet would confuse this sentimental snot with anything that this man ever wrote. Only an idiot would actually believe that this man would stoop so low and write something so hideous. It made the Reader's Digest seem like Cervantes. But that didn't prevent people from forwarding it ad nauseam.
Don't get me started on the ones that threaten you with terrible luck if you don't forward them. You are lucky I don't own a submachine gun.

Eggs Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI is turning out to be a major pain. First he goes to Auschwitz and wasn't going to mention the Jews in his speech except someone in his camp told him he had to (as was reported in the New Yorker). Then he offends Muslims by quoting some obscure medieval text where it says something to the effect that nothing good has ever come of Islam, inciting riots:

...many of the Vatican correspondents who, like Politi, travelled to Regensburg with Benedict doubt that there was anything accidental or inadvertent in the citation. They had received copies of his speech at six in the morning of the day he gave it, and, at ten, they assembled in the university’s makeshift pressroom and informed the Vatican spokesman, a Jesuit priest and Vatican Radio director named Federico Lombardi, that the passage was going to be incendiary. “The point is that at 10 A.M. somebody got the message that the text was explosive,” Politi told me, adding that when the Pope had gone to Auschwitz to speak, last May, “we got copies of that speech, too, and it never mentioned the Shoah, so we said, ‘Hey, where is Shoah?,’ and he changed it.” Putting aside the obvious question of whether reporters should be in the business of saving Popes from embarrassment, the question remains whether Benedict got the message.
Now he wants to go back to a Latin mass where there are prayers for the conversion of the Jews. He wants to backtrack from the reforms of Vatican II, which for the first time in centuries tried to mend the horrific, inexcusable, murderous, antisemitic attitudes of the Catholic Church towards the Jews. The BBC reports:

Concern is now focused on traditional mass's Good Friday liturgy which contains a prayer "For the conversion of the Jews". The prayer reads: "Let us pray also for the Jews, that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ."It refers to their "blindness" and prays for them to be "delivered from their darkness."

Well, I have news for Benedict: You wish. It ain't gonna happen.
Why the hell should Jews convert to a religion that has brought them death, persecution and nothing but grief for 2000 years?
Benedict is supposed to be an intellectual and a theologian, but I just think he is not interested in human beings or human suffering or human reality. His church is on decline. It has become irrelevant for a lot of people, for a number of reasons; from pedophilia scandals, to intransigence about issues of basic human nature, to displays of pomp and power but not of pity. He thinks that making it hardcore is going to make people flock back to it. Whatever.
I just hope that when they pray this stupid prayer, they don't provide translations. The last thing Jews need right now is a Catholic Church that rears its ugly antisemitic head again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Viva Colbert!

Thanks to my new (yay!) friends at Immigration Orange, I was able to see this wonderful bit from the estimable Stephen Colbert, skewering some military idiot, Barry McCaffrey, who has proposed drafting illegal immigrants because nobody in their right mind wants to join the Army right now. Geez...

Literary Rock Stars

A new installment of the PEN festival of writers. This year seems to me quite boring because the theme is "Home". And I just can't get worked up about it. Seems like a bit of a tired cliché to me. In any case, we sneaked into the big Town Hall reading where there were some nifty literary superstars. Unfortunately, we missed our favorite, Don DeLillo. But we saw Nadine Gordimer, and Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman, who is the most rock star of the literary rock stars and commands huge lines of fans. He writes fantastical things which is why I haven't bothered reading him. If you must know, I loathe fantasy and whimsy. Thus, I bought the new book by DeLillo, Falling Man, which is, in typical Delillean fashion, about 9/11. I figure if anybody can write about that day that I can stand to read about without cringing, is him. Libra is one of my favorite books of all time. I bought an autographed copy of Falling Man (duh!) so I decided I just wanted to take a look at the guy. In the flesh. To see if he indeed exists. My friend said: talk to him, why don't you. I wouldn't know what to say except that Libra is a fucking masterpiece and I liked White Noise too, so beautifully paranoid and I still haven't finished Underworld (who has?) and I love him to pieces, so no. He already knows that somehow. In any case, I find the whole book signing ritual slightly creepy and surreal. I want to sleep with writers, eat their brains, steal their talent, not get their signature. Anyway...
So as I turn the corner to see my beloved author, in typical Dellilean fashion, he is not there. Vanished without a trace. God bless him. But Rushdie is there, charming as always, and Nadine Gordimer is there, small, wrinkled and elegant, waiting for fans, and some new other flavors of the month are there, signing away, and Neil Gaiman has a line that goes down into the lobby (which unfairly makes me seriously not want to read him), and Tatyana Tostoya sits there, wanting to die because no one is bringing her a book to sign. This other writer with an Arab name, same thing. I feel so bad, I almost go down there and buy their books so they can sign them for me. Literary stardom is just as silly as any other kind of celebrity or worse.
That is why I eschew it altogether, my dear readers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Do it, Mike!

Mayor Bloomberg wants to charge a congestion fee of $8 to cars that come into Manhattan from 6 am to 6 pm on weekdays. I say do it. I don't understand why people get so bent out of shape over $8. There is enough public transportation for people to come to the city without their cars. This city is not a parking lot. But it has become one. This city should actually be a bike town, making more way for bicycles and less for cars. What's with those horrible politicians in Albany that always hold everything hostage? They've been around since I moved here, Joe Bruno and Sheldon Silver and so far I have never seen them do anything for me or the city of NY. They are corrupt dinosaurs and they should go. Why do we need their permission to levy a city tax?
While you are at it, Mike, make the cabs smaller and less gas guzzling. Now that you are in Mexico, check out the VW beetle cabs. They are small, energy efficient and they work. Just don't import the penchant some drivers have for carjacking their passengers. I once wrote you a letter about this. It is beyond me why we are using those monstrous cars that take up space and waste gasoline. Maybe all cabs should be hybrid cars. Is anyone talking about this?
By the way, now that I have your attention in my fertile fantasy life. The store that used to be Astor Wines on Astor Place is now going to be a Walgreen's. There is another Walgreen's like three blocks away on 14th and 4Ave. How many freaking pharmacies do we need? When you look around Astor Place, this is what you now see: K Mart, Chase bank, Starbucks, FedEx Kinko's , Barnes &Noble and now Walgreen's. It makes me sick to my stomach.
I like you Mayor Bloomberg, but this city has become a chain store central because of you. That is not a good legacy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Poor Are Getting Fat

And it's not because they are getting rich, but quite the contrary. This must be a first in human history: poor people dying of obesity and its attendant miseries because they can't afford to buy fresh foods.
The poor used to be skeletal and emaciated, and in some countries of the Third World, they still are. But in most developed and developing countries, obesity has reached epidemic levels, and populations who used to be of normal weight are now fat.
I'm not the kind of person to blame the US for everything, but I certainly blame it for this.
As this article by Michael Pollan explains, it all comes from processed foods, which are always cheaper than fresh.
A scientist conducted an experiment:

Drewnowski gave himself a hypothetical dollar to spend, using it to purchase as many calories as he possibly could. He discovered that he could buy the most calories per dollar in the middle aisles of the supermarket, among the towering canyons of processed food and soft drink. (In the typical American supermarket, the fresh foods — dairy, meat, fish and produce — line the perimeter walls, while the imperishable packaged goods dominate the center.) Drewnowski found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. Looking for something to wash down those chips, he discovered that his dollar bought 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.

Well, there you have it. And countries that always relied in fresh food preparation, like Mexico, are now inundated with junk and snacks and fat poor people.
Mr. Pollan explains further. The reason why everybody in the world is ballooning is because of the US government's farm bill, which subsidizes mainly carbohydrate crops like corn, wheat, rice and soy. So my instincts were right. The US is totally to blame for this eating crisis:

To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.

It's just depressing. Stop eating Twinkies.

Bees Scare Me

First it was the African Bee. I was living in Mexico City at the time, a place so polluted that sometimes birds would drop dead from asphyxiation. There were news that Mexico was invaded by killer African bees. I was very afraid. I remember seeing a huge black bee, like a wasp, on the outside of my windshield on a hot day in Mexico. Had it been on the inside I would have jumped out of the car. I closed the window immediately, so convinced was I of my imminent death at the sting of an African bee. Ever since I saw my friend Dina take a bite of an orange on which a bee was standing, I've been afraid of bees. Dina's lip was swollen to the size of a lemon.
Now it turns out that bees are disappearing and nobody knows why.
Genetic testing at Columbia University has revealed the presence of multiple micro-organisms in bees from hives or colonies that are in decline, suggesting that something is weakening their immune system. The researchers have found some fungi in the affected bees that are found in humans whose immune systems have been suppressed by the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or cancer.
There is also, according to the NYT, a pesticide that has been banned in France. So we are making bees sick. That is very bad. Selfish as I am, I don't want to leave in a world without honey. But it's not all about me:
Honeybees are arguably the insects that are most important to the human food chain. They are the principal pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts.

Bee colonies have been under stress in recent years as more beekeepers have resorted to crisscrossing the country with 18-wheel trucks full of bees in search of pollination work. These bees may suffer from a diet that includes artificial supplements, concoctions akin to energy drinks and power bars. In several states, suburban sprawl has limited the bees’ natural forage areas.

Don't tell me that even bees are made to eat junk food, because that just blows my mind. That is the last straw!
I hope they don't all come back and sting us.

PC is stupid

It's getting out of control. Now CBS has fired two DJ's that, quite on purpose, called a Chinese restaurant and asked for " shlimp flied lice". So some Chinese-Americans expected them to be fired just like Don Imus, and voilá, they were.
I have neither the time nor the patience to start explaining why the Imus comment was much worse. I'm sure the Chinese have a right to be offended, but if we're going to start firing everybody then we're just going to become a bunch of even dumber fucks than we already are.
America is funny. Let me rephrase that. America is weird. We love our freedom of expression but we are also very sensitive. We are far more sensitive as a culture and far less racist in practice, in my opinion, than our European friends, who treat their minorities like second class citizens pretty much across the board. We here pretend to be nice and we know better than to say horrid things aloud, though we may think them, although I have to say, I've heard people say some stupid ass things about Jews, gays, Blacks, and Latinos.
If it offends you, you should speak up. But if we demanded someone get fired every time we heard an ignorant racist comment, nobody would have a job.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Department of WTF Were They Thinking?

BBC News reports that Miss Mexico is wearing a violent gown to the Miss Universe pageant taking place next month in Mexico City. Not violet, violent. I need to quote, because it is way too bizarre to paraphrase:

Miss Mexico, Rosa Maria Ojeda, wore the dress in public, showing off the billowing, hoop skirt adorned by scenes from the 1926-1929 Cristero War. Among the images were Roman Catholic rebels hanging from posts, and a man facing a firing squad. The outfit was completed by rosaries and scapularies hanging from a bullet-studded belt, topped off with a crucifix necklace and a wide-brimmed sombrero.

Designer Maria del Rayo Macias told La Jornada newspaper: "We are descendants of Cristeros. Whether we like it or not, it's a part of who we are."

Oye, speak for yourself María del Rayo (indeed), and please do abstain from using the royal we. Most Mexicans thank God every day for living in a secular country with separation of church and state. Viva Juarez!

Let me see if I can wrap my ever amazed mind around this one:

1. Miss Universe is taking place in Mexico City.
I didn't even think that Miss Universe was still taking place in this day and age, but what do I know.
I stopped following this contest around the age of nine, a century ago.

2. Miss Mexico has decided to show up with a gown that illustrates a part of Mexican history.
This should be actually required of all countries: just imagine the German gown!
The possibilities are endless: Miss Russia's outfit shows emaciated prisoners eating porridge in Siberia, Miss North Korea's gray gown shows a giant face of their sunglassed leader, etc. If this were to be the case, I'd start watching the event again.

3. The part of Mexican history that Miss Mexico and her intrepid designer are showing is the very bloody Cristero rebellion, a mini civil war between Catholic extremists and the secular government in the 1920's. Can't wait to see the bathing suit!

4. Some journalist moron from lefty paper La Jornada, compares this with miss USA wearing a gown depicting the lynchings by the KKK. All I can say is, huh? I need this comparison explained to me, pronto. If his point is to make clear that wearing a history lesson in your gown for a freaking beauty pageant is irrelevant, absurd and in terrible taste, okay. But if he is comparing the Cristeros to the Klan, I'm lost. Who are the blacks? Who is the KKK? WTF?

5. I'm not Catholic, but if I were, I wouldn't be too happy with the Virgin of Guadalupe showing up between someone's legs in a moronic beauty contest.

6. I just love the earnest bad taste of it all. Tres chic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

They're Always Loners

Yahoo News Headline on the Virginia Tech Massacre: He was a loner!
No shit. It's always a loner who goes postal and shoots everything that moves. I'm waiting for the neighbor to provide the old chestnut: "he was very quiet and he minded his own business and he didn't talk to nobody". (cf. Jeffrey Dahmer, the Columbine kids, the Unabomber, etc). Maybe they were quiet cause they didn't talk to you (so busy talking to the voices in their heads).
I hate that he was an English major (as am I). Just to clear our name, majoring in English doesn't usually create homicidal monsters, just frustrated writers.
He also had a green card and was a legal immigrant who arrived in this country in 1992. Like me!
Yikes, we're starting to have too much in common.
And, as a legal immigrant with no prior criminal record he was able to purchase a handgun, or as many as he wished, because this is the only country on the planet where people think it is some kind of God given right for regular citizens to own weapons. Which is also why we probably are the country where these kinds of awful events tend to happen with way too much frequency.
For those NRA loving people who have the audacity to say that had the teachers and students been armed, this would have played differently: 1. They don't know what they're saying. 2. I hope they never have to be on the wrong side of the barrel of a gun. Or rather, I hope they do, and maybe they will not be so enthusiastic about thinking that everyone should be armed to the teeth in civilian life and we can all act the sheriff. We are not Daniel Boone, this is not the Wild West anymore, okay? Civilization is not Frontierland. Frontierland is barbaric.
Imagine a society where everyone is packing heat. One diss at the traffic stop, one incident of road rage, hell one nasty look from behind a counter and people would be dropping like flies.
Regular citizens have no business with firearms. Period. Guns are for law enforcement: police and the army. That's it.
Also, what kind of police department learns there has been a shooting at a college campus, decides oh it was a domestic dispute and doesn't go in hot pursuit? They ASSUME the killer has left the premises, hey, if I killed two people, they surmise, I would leave the state. Were they even looking for the guy in the two hours that elapsed from the first murders to the other 31?
Obviously, this deranged guy was going to go out on a hail of bullets anyway had somebody come looking for him, but maybe more could have been done to try to catch him. Or is it that in Virginia it's sort of normal to end domestic arguments with guns?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Girls: Beware of "Thin Gandhi Types"

You got to love this lawyer: Defending his client Anand Jon, a purported fashion designer who used his fashion credentials to rape scores of young models, Ronald Richards describes him as a "thin Gandhi type". I find this amazing: you insert the word Gandhi into a sentence involving an Indian guy and basically hope someone will confuse this unspeakable pig with the Mahatma. What a sleazebag.
I wonder what Mr. Richards really thinks of his client. According to the NYT article, the evidence against Jon is pretty damning. But as always happens with sexual assault, just because some of the young women didn't go crying rape to the police immediately, Richards is portraying them as calculating hussies. I just hope the jury doesn't buy it.
However, I am always amazed at the willful suspension of healthy mistrust that some people exercise in the name of fame or attention. Who in this day and age doesn't know that the modeling industry has its own circle in hell? Where are the parents of these young women? Check this out:

The father of a 19-year-old college student in Texas said that Mr. Jon contacted his daughter through her MySpace page in 2005, when she was in high school, and told her she had the fresh look he was seeking in a model. Mr. Jon soon flew to Dallas, where the father picked him up at the airport, and with the girl’s mother, a child psychologist, grilled the designer about his intentions. “We said, ‘We’re worried about this industry,’ ” said the father... Mr. Jon told the girl’s parents, the father said, “I treasure the feminine being. I got all this spirituality from my grandmother and my mom.” But a few hours later, he forced the teenager to have oral sex at the hotel where he was staying, the father said. “I drove him to the hotel, where he raped my daughter,” he said ruefully.

Ouch. So even when people are trying to keep their wits about them, predatory criminal assholes will try to have their way. It is amazing that he was able to do it for so long. I hope they nail the bastard.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Fuck the Olympics

The next Olympic games are taking place in China next year. The Olympics are a country's highest p.r. coup. For three weeks everybody pretends the country in question is full of wonderful, happy, well-fed citizens and the world unites in We are the world bullshit, cue NBC bombastic music. Unless you are a five year old, there must not be a soul on Earth that actually thinks that this is about fair competition and gamesmanship and peace on fucking Earth.
In 1968, the Mexican government massacred hundreds, some say thousands, of students that were protesting the government in Mexico City a week before the Olympic games. The peaceful protests were crushed with snipers on top of buildings and plainsclothes agents in the crowd shooting at unarmed people. The games should have been suspended after that, but they weren't. Business as usual.
Next year the Olympics take place in China, a country with an appalling human rights record. It behaves horrendously towards its citizen dissidents, towards Tibet, and it is apparently in bed with the monstrously evil Sudanese government that has inflicted such horror on the poor Africans of Darfur.
Muslim Arabs killing, raping, maiming non-Arabs and not an Arab sheik doing anything to stop it.
So Mia Farrow (adopter extraordinaire) and Steven Spielberg (powerful guy in Hollywood and consultant to the Chinese) are pressuring China to rethink their support of Sudan or endure a really bad p.r. campaign right in time for the Olympics. Forget the images of hundreds of thousands of people suffering in refugee camps, the stories of inhuman evil. What works is to threaten to put a damper on the stupid Olympic games. Whatever works.
I think that countries that want to host the games should have to show a spotlessly clean human rights record (which probably means that the games could be held only in Scandinavia and Lichtenstein).
If you want the good p.r. you have to earn it. China is a joke.

Go Harvey!

The only thing I regret about this thoughtful op-ed piece by Harvey Fierstein in the New York Times is that we don't get to hear him read it, with his fantastic voice that sounds like he swallowed a burning pack of cigarettes.
I applaud Harvey for mentioning the strange selectiveness that Americans exercise in their prejudices. It's acceptable to be outraged, and rightly so, over vulgar racist comments, but over other equally despicable prejudices, nobody says anything. Harvey is completely right to call out homophobia.

Since I’m a second-class citizen — a gay man — my seats for the ballgame of American discourse are way back in the bleachers. I don’t have to wait long for a shock jock or stand-up comedian to slip up with hateful epithets aimed at me and mine.
Forget shock jocks or comedians, just stand anywhere with your ears open and you'll hear it from ordinary citizens. As Harvey mentions, the President, members of congress and generals at the Pentagon express unbridled homophobia. They want to make it official. Even Cheney with the lesbian daughter condones his own party's prejudices. So the deck is quite stacked. Gay rights are the next frontier in civil rights. As long as gay people are discriminated legally, this country will be living in darkness.
So, how do you people choose which hate to embrace, which to forgive with a wink and a week in rehab, and which to protest? Where’s my copy of that rule book?

I hear you, Harvey. Or rather, I wish I could hear you say it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My two cents on the Imus

The Don Imus thing. Who listens to that pickled, shriveled, anachronism? Has he taken a good look at his tumbleweed hair? Anyway, what he said was despicable, not only because the Rutgers players are black, but also, and nobody has mentioned it, because they are women.
Nappy headed -- hideously awful. Hos -- makes it even worse, because it insults their blackness and their femaleness.
Someone made the point on a letter to the Daily News, that this kind of language is par for the course in rap records and videos. People have complained about that forever, and it doesn't change. In fact, it gets worse. No rappers are getting fired for their indiscriminate abuse of women, in both word and image. Their record contracts are not being cancelled, their appearances are not being yanked, their record companies are not trying to extricate themselves from them. It's a thing that makes you go hmm...
We do subscribe to the wise criteria of "I can trash talk my own people, but you can't." That's how it works. Blacks have the prerogative to use the n-word and debase themselves and their women as much as they want. Others don't. A Jew can jokingly call another Jew a kike, and it will not be that amusing. But others certainly may not. However, one thing is clear, if certain people are in the habit of trashtalking about themselves all the time, they run the risk of making it a commonplace and they make it easy for others to think it's okay to do it as well.
Still, I think that black men calling women hos is not the same as them calling themselves the n-word. It is much worse. Think about it: would you abide anyone routinely calling you a whore? The last time somebody called me that, (it's a long story) I jammed a burning cigarette in their back.
I wish the Rutgers players, who are going to meet with the Imus, (whose contrition feels rather forced, insincere, pathetic and gutless), would take the opportunity to remind all the other people who use those terms, to zip it once and for all.

The Feminist Art Show

I have not seen the Feminist Art show at the Brooklyn Museum. Just the title makes me not want to go. It's as if you invited me to a Soviet Realism show. Similar shit. Similar tendentious propagandistic statements. For the most part, I don't like art that functions mainly as a calculated political gesture. I don't like art that works as a manifesto. One of the main images of the show, is a photograph of a fat, tattooed feminist suckling a fat baby. Why is this photograph worthy of a museum exhibit? It is not particularly accomplished. The easy answer: it's supposed to subvert and update the traditional figure of the Madonna, yada yada. But that is just a gimmick. It could be one of those postcards they sell in tacky souvenir shops in St. Mark's Place in the Village. So why bother? It's not that it isn't art. It's that it is bad art.

The rules of engagement

I know this may be of interest to only the most devoted bloggers but it's been distracting me for days.
I find it a fascinating instance of the difference between the internet medium and the rest of conventional media.
A Gawker editor, Emily Gould, was grilled and creamed by Jimmy Kimmel, substituting for Larry King on CNN and it was painful to watch. Emily seemed woefully unprepared for the onslaught of hostility that greeted her. She reminded me of Nixon sweating buckets in the Kennedy debate.
Why did this happen?
It is one thing, as I'm sure the good people at Gawker can now tell, to hide behind the security and relative anonymity of your computer screen, as we bloggers do, and quite another to appear on TV, where there is nowhere to hide. You are indeed a deer in the headlights. That is the intention. So if you are going to appear on TV to be interviewed by an Olympic-sized asshole like Jimmy Kimmel, you have to be prepared.
It seems to me that Emily's only strategy was to deploy charm. It doesn't seem that the people at Gawker thought they should have specific soundbites to communicate, a brand to represent even, but that is the nature of television, as many politicians have painfully learned. Well, when it immediately becomes apparent that you are met by three hostile bullies, charm alone may not be the best strategy. As you can see from the tape, this interview was a personal Kimmel vendetta against the Gawker Stalker feature of the blog. Somebody said he was drunk one night and all of a sudden he lost his sense of humor. This should have been the message: You are a comedian; Gawker Stalker is meant to be entertaining, ironic and funny, so lighten up, pal. And yes, we do have a right to make fun of the rich and famous, that's the price they pay. They can cry all the way to the bank.
That would have disarmed Kimmel. What comedian, or anybody else for that matter, is going to attack humor? With humor you are supposed to get away with almost anything. That is the concept. Instead, poor Emily used the unfortunate words "citizen journalism" (I can't even start wrapping my mind around that one) and she was unfairly, viciously attacked by three grown goons. She had ample opportunity for turning the tables on their shrill humorlessness and didn't. I don't blame her, since the deck was completely stacked against her. Still, when your site is best known for manufacturing snark, or smart, ironic commentary, if you will, you'd better be at your snarkiest and/or smartest, which was not the case. In the end, these guys were such lousy self-important windbags, and Kimmel was so obviously vindictive that he lost the battle when he cut her off, like a bully. But as a lessons learned for Gawker, next time they decide to venture out into the merciless world of broadcast media, they should do their homework and not send an unprepared, unscripted envoy to the wolves.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

They say the neon lights are bright...

...on Broadway... tarara ta tarara ta-ta.
I was at the Great White Way twice recently. First, with Little Enchiladita and her husband who were in town on vacation and wanted some cultchah at night, after ransacking the stores by day.
We went to see Spring Awakening, a musical that got very good reviews, with music by Duncan Sheik, based on a Franz Wedekind play from the turn of the XIX century. I don't know if it's me, but I was completely disappointed. In fact, I kind of hated it. My brother in law was not impressed either. He said it was like a high school production with sex. He was right. It sucked.
In my view, all the songs sounded exactly the same. They were perfectly nice songs to listen to in your ipod while you're driving, but they seemed to have no dramatic impulse, no real storytelling. There was one song I really liked and the rest, I couldn't tell one from the other. Man, I saw Rent, which is probably the most godawful musical I have ever seen, and this and I'm declaring a moratorium on "rock" musicals. Please. Also, somebody please explain to me why there has to be a ladder going nowhere with people climbing it like monkeys for no apparent reason.
Spring Awakening is supposed to be very risqué because it talks about the budding sexuality of a bunch of repressed German kiddies in the Weimar Republic. Which I think is good considering we are living in the age of an evangelical president and of right wing nutjobs with sexual panic. And it is rather bracing how explicit the show tries to be. But it was pushing the sexuality quite banally just in order to be shocking, while everything else about the play was mired in the most commercial and conventional theater clichés. This made the sexual explicitness quite vulgar, as opposed to eyeopening or moving or even sexy. The kids who perform are all quite talented, and with one glaring exception, likeable. But the play seems half baked and I felt embarrassment. It failed to move me.
So then I got preview tickets to Frost/Nixon.
1. Because Frank Langella is in playing Nixon, and once you see that man on stage, you want to see him again. He is a monster actor. 2. Because the play is by the ubiquitous Peter Morgan, author of the screenplay of The Queen and Last King of Scotland, a smart writer obsessed with the powerful and the media. 3. Michael Sheen, (Tony Blair in The Queen) plays David Frost. Hot ticket.
Well, once more, either I am becoming exceedingly curmodgeonly and hard to please, or I need to get laid. Frost/Nixon is fun and entertaining and you will have a good time, but I expected something darker, less crowdpleasing, more sinister, more satirical. I think the play has been directed with the hope of pleasing all the tourists from Peoria. So instead of sharp and smart, it is just blah. That's a pity, because it has potential.
The production is really ugly, and I don't know if this is on purpose, but it is quite unimaginative.
There is some sort of a chorus that explains either what we are about to see, what we are seeing or what we just saw, and most of these comments, even if nicely rendered by Remi Auberjonois, can be excised and the audience will not miss anything. In fact, the device of the chorus seems to take away suspense instead of adding it.
BUT and this is a big BUT, there is Frank Langella playing Richard Nixon and he ROCKS.
Now, he has made Nixon a rather sympathetic character. This seems to be a trademark of Peter Morgan. His interpretations of historical figures like Elizabeth II or Idi Amin are nuanced and he finds empathy for those in power. Somehow Nixon seems really smart, really articulate, almost likable. He gets the cracking voice and the lumbering graceless movements down pat, but more than anything, he plays a character, not an easy impersonation. He is a wily, cheap loser, a pathetic clownish figure, but Langella finds some grandeur in him still. He has one drunken speech which is worth the price of admission, and his final acknowledgement of error has to be seen, though you are startled with the choice of watching him through a big TV screen, or directly with your eyes.
I was surprised that there was less antagonism between Frost and Nixon than I thought, but one of the points of this play, while anticlimactic, in fact anti-dramatic, is that Frost paid Nixon a lot of moolah for the interview. As is characteristic of the Morgan oeuvre it turns out that both men have much in common. The Morgan thesis being that the media and power are in cohoots with one another. Sad, but true, especially now.
The one thing you think during the entire play, is that we wish we had Nixon and his stupid scandal, instead of the satanic moron we have to endure today. You can see that what he did to disgrace the presidency is still very much alive today: the lack of dignity, the lack of respect for the office, the contempt for democracy and the people, but man, compared to the disaster in chief, at least he was smarter, and much more interesting. Bush somehow will never be a tragic figure because he is incapable of insight or self-examination. He has no hubris. It also makes you pine for the time when the mainstream newsmedia had cojones, and they were not the bunch of smug, kept cocksuckers they are today. Shame on them and their parent whoring companies.
Who could have thought that someone would make one pine for the likes of a Nixon?

I miss my blog!

Darlings... I miss you so much. I feel awful that I simply don't have time to write here anymore because right now The Man is sticking it to me (but paying for it, so I'm not complaining). Alas, I feel like I abandoned my baby and haven't fed him in weeks. So without further ado, a digest of my cultural life this week:

Passover: Great dinner at my friend Cathy's, who is the queen of brisket and macaroons and everything in between. We acquitted ourselves nicely with some singing in Aramaic and much talking about the meaning of the seder and more talking about food. Cathy has adopted my grandmother's recipe for gefilte fish veracruzana style which is a feast for the gods (sorry, the God). And so her seders remind me of home. Yum.

Also, I happen to be invited to an Easter Sunday feast as well, so the stuffing isn't over yet.

I will post separately on my going out to the theater, but I have something to say about the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar Lunch Counter: God Bless it!
As I am working in midtown these days, I find the lunch counter an oasis of real food in a wasteland of delis. Also, the place is probably one of the few left that actually feels like New York. It feels like you are inside an Edward Hopper painting, which is a good thing.
One big bowl of clam chowder (I favor the Manhattan one) will set you back a little over 5 bucks and it comes with a little warm roll and butter and some crisps and it rocks. The waitress today actually offered to give me another roll, I must have looked ravenous.
The fried oyster po-boy is also quite good and humongous. The place is civilized, urbane and very old New York. I adore it. If it disappears, I will rend my garments.

Monday, April 02, 2007

What up, Susan Miller?

Hey it's April 2. Do you know where your April horoscope is? Well it's certainly not in astrologyzone, the Susan Miller online horoscope I consult at the beginning of every month (in protest, I'm not linking you to the site. Do your own homework). What is going on?
Is this a conspiracy to make us pay for the cosmic info? Is it an April fools' joke? An internet glitch? Or worse: Mercury retrograde????
Whatever it is, Susan, I do not appreciate it. I count on you to know my fate, more or less, for the coming month and you have sorely disappointed me. Now I don't know what to expect in terms of romance, or finance or work or health.
A dear friend, who hates horoscopes, tells me, oozing contempt, that she can't believe I profess to be an atheist and yet, I consult Susan Miller. Well, it just so happens that God has never told me what to expect next month, but Susan has. And eerily enough, she quite frequently nails it.
Of course, I love the fact that during the month of March, which coincidentally happens to be the month before tax murder, Susan announces that there may be an unexpected, huge, financial setback coming up. Well yeah, one third of my income going to the IRS! And weekends for some mysterious cosmic reason always tend to be the stellar days for romance (things that make you go hmmm). Yet I consult her, with a giant grain of salt, because it is uncanny. She seems to know.
So sue me.
Where's my April horoscope?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Is Mexico City the new New York?

Recently, Mexico City has passed some very liberal laws, such as gay friendly laws and now hopefully a pro-abortion law. It's about time.
This makes me think that soon DF will resemble NY not only in the copycat trendy restaurants and rising level of hipness, but more importantly in being a center for progressive politics and culture in a country that for the most part is still mired in conservative traditions. I think it's great.
The Catholic church has historically caused much damage to the poor in Mexico with its intransigent, unrealistic policies on family planning which only burden the poor and offer no real solutions. There is no compromise in contraception, no tolerance for abortion in the strident, irresponsible, deeply hypocritical stance of the Catholic church. Meanwhile hundreds of women may die or become infertile every year because of illegal abortions which everybody, both rich and poor, are having anyway. The poor run the risk of horrid illness or death from home remedies and gruesome procedures. The rich walk into private doctor offices, pay a few hundred dollars and get it done safely, though in secrecy. Luckily, Mexico still is a secular state with a strong separation of church and state and the despicable, unwelcome interventions from the Church are met with fierce resistance. But it is had to counter centuries of religious superstition and backwardness, especially among the poor, who have neither the education nor the resources to protect themselves from the thorough brainwashing of organized religion. I hope that the abortion law passes in Mexico City and at last all women in a dire situation will have resort to a healthy, dignified option to their predicaments, instead of the threat of fire and brimstone and premature death that is the Catholic Church's prescription.