Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's not Charmin'

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Second Birthday to Me!

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

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

2nd Ave Deli: I'm Eating My Words

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

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

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

Political Comparison Shopping

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

Iran Sanctions

Iran Sanctions


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

TV Double Feature: Fame Sucks

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

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

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

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

Little China Girl

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

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

In Defense of My Pet Luggage

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

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

— L. K. Pettit, Helena, Mont.

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

Disturbing News

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I heart Huckabees. NOT.

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

Celine Dion: A Better Form of Torture

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Tipping Point

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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shopping is the National Sport

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Another Reason To Love New Jersey

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

Enchilada Wisdom for All

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bad travel advice

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

You can't have your tamale and eat it too

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Creating a bunch of illiterates

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

Sunday, December 09, 2007

At the Speakeasy

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

Google's Automatic Moronic Translation

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

This is the letter I wrote to Google:

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hugo Chavez Raids the Temple

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

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

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

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

My favorite response was, by the way:

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

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

Happy Hannukah, everybody!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tourists Riot in China!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexican Mercy

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

Tax the Pretty

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

With A Little Help From My Friends

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

Monday, December 03, 2007

Department of Bureaucratic Hilarity

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

How to Avoid Rush Hours and Save Your Time

May 18, 2005

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

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

1) All Mondays and Tuesdays;

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

3) All afternoons.

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

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

Venezuela: The people have spoken...

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