Saturday, December 26, 2009

Balls of Fire

Merry Xmas, Free World, enjoy the last days of the year pondering the 23 year-old idiot who tried to explode a Delta plane going to Detroit.
It turns out that:
1. His own father alerted the US Embassy in Nigeria about his son's extremist activities.
2. He was on a counterterrorism list of names (just 500,000 people on that list) but not on the no-fly list.
3. He's got a 2 year visa to the US, which the article points out IS STILL VALID.
Have a pleasant stay in the US, you asshole.
4. He badly burned his balls in the attempt, which is the fittingest punishment imaginable. Couldn't think of a better one, being dragged off the plane with his pants down and his balls in a state of utter chicharrón. Good. Total humiliation. Serves him right, for doing dirty work for evil, cowardly, inhuman bastards.
5. Bravo to the passengers for averting tragedy, saving their own asses and not tearing that idiot to shreds. He ended up sitting in first class, wearing handcuffs.
We are, after all, civilized people.
6. Immediately a new set of inane rules is issued about passenger restrictions on planes.  How about restricting dangerous passengers BEFORE they get on the planes instead? Instead of confiscating my lip gloss, how about you freaking find the asshole with explosives tied to his ass? Amsterdam? WTF?
What good can it possibly do to prevent the passengers from standing up the last hour of the ride or curtail their amount of luggage, if they are fucking terrorists?

If It's Broke, Fix It.

The more I read about the war on drugs, the less I understand why nobody has noticed that it is not working. How long is it going to be until somebody up there in government or think tanks, or wherever policy gets made, gets off their moral high horse and decides to change the rules of engagement? Tens of billions of dollars of drug profits are swimming around the underground economy, not to mention the horrifying revenge violence and the cost in human lives. In Mexico 15,000 people have died from drug related violence. Isn't this worse than terrorism?
Meanwhile, those who buy drugs continue paying way too much for shitty product. They don't seem to make the connection between what they put up their noses and the evil chaos it comes from.
Legalize the stuff already.

Census Madness

I was reading an article in the NY Times about Evangelical churches helping the US Census count illegal immigrants and the comments section was unbelievable. Hysterical anger about illegals being counted. Mostly, the screaming was along the lines of "go back to your own country, you parasites".
People are under the wrong impression that only citizens get counted. Everybody needs to be counted. That is precisely the reason for a Census.
I find it amazing that these hateful, spiteful Americans conveniently forget why immigrants are here. They are hired by people who are also breaking the law. How come nobody is outraged by the employers, but everyone wants to chase out the employees? Racism, pure and simple. And cowardly, to boot. So this is what I had to say:

Wow! Tell us how you really feel about the hard working people who do the jobs that American businesses are not willing to give to legal citizens because the salaries and benefits would become too expensive to pay. People will continue to come here illegally as long as American businesses continue to hire them under the table. If you want that to stop, you should penalize those who hire illegals first.
But you are all a bunch of hypocrites. Why don't you show the same outrage about the corporations who profit from hiring illegals?
Who is going to pick your strawberries, and slaughter your pigs and clean your toilets without charging 7 bucks an hour and expecting insurance and a 401K? Who, do you think, helped clean up after hurricane Katrina? Do you know what FEMA stands for in Louisiana, Senator Vetter?
Find Every Mexican Available.
The Census is a count of the people who are living in the US, legally or not. It is important to know who lives here, because that is REALITY, not IDEOLOGY. And as long as the conditions are here for people to come looking for a better life, they have every right to organize and every right to benefit from being counted.
Meanwhile, that I can buy churros on the street outside a NY subway station is to me, a sure sign of the wonderful contribution of immigrants to this land. To judge from the brisk business going on, I am not the only one. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

The news is that some groups consider this ad blasphemous. I think that is the least of its troubles. The blasphemy is the non-sequitur of the writing. Jesus was born because of the Census? He was born on a burro? And I thought it was because of the immaculate conception. But what do I know? Are all Christians familiar with the  Roman Census business? It was news to me, but then again, what do I know.
Still, it doesn't work as written:
This is how Jesus was born.
Joseph and Mary participated in the Census. Don't be afraid.   
Latino thinking in a nutshell: I participate in the Census, I get crucified like Jesus. Thanks, but no thanks.
Am I nuts or the entire Jesus situation just adds to the feeling of fear and persecution?
If this is the best that the National Association of Elected Latino Leaders can come up with, perhaps we need to elect us a new set of Latino leaders.
I am surprised the Census bureau approved of this. I worked for the Census recently. I can tell you there are hundreds of eyes scrutinizing every word related to the Census.
I can't fathom what happened.

A Pangram

I didn't know these things existed, but boy, are they useful.
A pangram is a sentence that includes all the letters and grammatical possibilities of a given alphabet. It is helpful to language students, but I think even more helpful to graphic and type designers, so they can see how letters look, feel and work. Thus, a Spanish pangram is:
La cigüeña gigante bebió ocho copas de whisky, más quince jarras llenas de fría cerveza rubia, y enseguida huyó en un taxi.
Which means:
The giant stork drank eight glasses of whiskey, plus fifteen full mugs of cold pale ale, and escaped in a taxi right away.
This one, however, is missing the accents on the ú and the é. Long, verbose and surreal, like most things having to do with us Latins.
Now check out a pangram in English. As usual, a marvel of synthesis and no nonsense:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
The reason I know this is because I was asked by a client to find out if there is one in Spanish. Thank God for the internet, is all I can say.
I was having cold sweats trying to come up with one myself.
This is a public service from moi to all art directors and graphic designers who are sometimes challenged and even annoyed at having to put words on their layouts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes, A Great Notion...

If anybody deserved a good zetz in the yapper, it was this man.
I, for one, feel deeply satisfied.
It is sad that the reports claim that Berlusconi's attacker has a history of mental problems. Not that violence is the answer to things, but in this case it seemed like an act of brilliant clarity. We don't know the reasons. They may be all the wrong reasons. But symbolically, the act is perfect.
What is funny about the video is the utter chaos after the zetz. The Italian secret service needs to get their act together. It is amazing to me that Berlusconi sits bleeding in the car, which can't move an inch because there are people not only surrounding it on all sides but even on top of it. Perhaps another fitting symbol of the disorganization and chaos that come from the very top.
What a country!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Here are my two Latkes

1. I'm making latkes (probably tomorrow). Because they are fried and yummy.

2. Jews behaving badly:

a). I read today that some Jews were having a conniption over Obama only having 500 of them to the White House Hannukah party (as opposed to Bush, who invited more). I'll tell you my conniption: there should be no White House Hannukah, or Christmas or Kwanzaa or Ramadan party. EVER. The family of the POTUS can celebrate Christmas as is their personal right. That's it. This is what Obama gets for not respecting separation of Church and State. And Jews, do chill out. The guy is a friend. In fact, a better friend than you think. Enough with the narishkeit.

b). David Brooks wrote a weirdo essay in the Times today about the historical background of Hanukkah. Turns out the Maccabees were a bunch of religious zealots fighting against assimilationist reformers. This information apparently was too much for the sensibilities of paranoid shtetl Jews on Facebook so that when people wanted to post it in Facebook, it was banned because they found the message abusive. You may or may not agree with Brooks, but it's not like he wrote Mein Kampf, so back off.

3. Happy Hannukah! Which is not the Jewish Christmas. In which gifts are not exchanged. In which the coins are made of chocolate. And there are yummy latkes. And jelly doughnuts.

Nobelesse Oblige

Whatever your feelings about Obama's Nobel, I invite you to read the speech. It is fascinating. Why did Obama get the Nobel Peace Prize so prematurely, while waging a stupid, inherited war and a necessary one?
Here's my theory: Europe is scared shitless of the threat of Islamic extremism outside its borders and in its midst. And with good reason. So, who you gonna call? Who is gonna help save your ass (again)? That's right: The good ole US of A, as described in the speech, "the world's sole military superpower". Which now has a rational, intelligent president everyone can love, who makes the world feel good about itself. Let's give him a preemptive Nobel Prize so he can help with the problems we are facing.
Model liberal countries like Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, France, Germany, the U.K. are in a panic over the fundamentalist threat to what they consider their identities as nations, let alone the threat of terrorist violence in their streets. These countries are bastions of liberal social democracy, but they are not quite melting pots. Increasingly, the gulf between the culture of the immigrants and the prevailing European culture seems unbreachable. For immigrants, there is segregation and second class citizenry, despite all that tolerance and liberality. The super liberal Europeans don't take well to burkas, honor killings of women, irrational sensitivity to cartoons, etc. Most Muslims in Europe are moderate and benefit from democracy, liberal values and social programs, but those who don't, those who are alienated and despairing (and cynically benefit from European largesse, liberal values and social programs), are being recruited to wage Jihad (some of the men that perpetrated 9/11 came from Hamburg, Germany). They are irrational, evil and extraordinarily dangerous to the world as we know it. So while here we are not so convinced about the surge in Afghanistan, in Europe they must be thinking "the more, the merrier".

Here's Obama:

The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.
 Hack into and block their websites, is what I say.

 We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
 The global fight against Islamic extremism is such a case.
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
I like this passage.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
I couldn't agree more, except it's not only America you are defending, it is human progress.
This brings me to a second point -- the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

...And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development.

For some reason, fighting against religious extremism makes people weak in the knees. That is, instead of recognizing that Islamic extremism is the biggest human threat in the world today, people don't take it seriously enough. They think it's a bunch of crazy, exotic monkeys in caves. But if we read Jon Lee Anderson's frightening piece about Somalia in The New Yorker, or many other examples of Islamic fundamentalist depravity, where a doctor tending to sick people is threatened with death every day, people are killed for shaking the hands of foreigners, and women are forced to have genital mutilation without anesthetics, we must seriously stop our indifference and our naiveté. These people are a threat to humanity, just like the Nazis were a threat to humanity. The fact that we are not their direct victims (yet) doesn't make them any more tolerable.
Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty (HUH?). The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced.

"Haltingly" being the operative word. I say the fight against Islamic extremism should be, de facto, the Third World War. So I sound like Dick Cheney. The difference between him and me is that I did not divert the human, capital and political resources to fight an unnecessary war and lost the opportunity to inflict serious damage on the real enemy when it was possible. Cheney should be hung by his balls, irresponsible asshole. many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.
But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms... We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
And here, I beg to differ. Enlightened self-interest? What a crock of bull. Is this what made the US give money and arms to the Taliban? Support, at one time, Saddam Hussein? Invade Vietnam, support the Allende coup, etc, etc? The problem with America's self interest is that for the most part, it has not been very enlightened. It has either been stupidly ideological or plain greedy. This corny shit about other people's grandchildren living in prosperity should be matched with some real action. Even in our own country, we don't seem to care whether people fall into poverty.
And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.
This, as lovely as it sounds and as true as it is on paper, remains to be seen.
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.
 Love that phrase: "the continued expansion of our moral imagination". Exactly. Our human, moral, rational imagination. Not dogma, not religion. Ethics. Civilization.
And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.
But in this day and age, those who wish to behave tribally should be confined to their own borders. They should not be coercing the Iron Age back to the modern world. It has taken us a lot to be where we are in terms of human rights, democracy, etc. There is no reason why we should lose it all to a bunch of benighted, ignorant, inhuman savages (and I mean all religious fundamentalists, not only the Muslim ones). 
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Hear, hear, but they have attacked England, Spain, Bali, India, Pakistan, too. They are terrorizing the entire world.
Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.
Why bring the divine into it? It's the live fuse that sparks all the tzuris. See? Religion and faith have no room in politics or nation building. Let's bring the human, the rational, the progressive, into it. The only way to deal with barbarism.
We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.
Sounds great! When do we start?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Fela! and Race

I must confess, we did not stay for the second half of Fela!
Even despite the incredible dancing and the fantastic music, spiritedly played by Antibalas, there is something very unconvincing about the whole thing.
We saw Kevin Mambo in the title role, and not the other guy, who is supposed to be amazing. Mambo is a very good impersonator, a good actor, a fine singer, but he seems to lack energy. But I can't blame my lack of enthusiasm for Fela! exclusively on him.
I thoroughly hate when I am asked to yell back at the stage and participate. These things work only if the audience is already in a frenzy. It is the job of the people onstage to whip up the audience, otherwise the participation is forced and bogus.
I felt utterly uncomfortable (and I do not normally suffer from musical timidity). Making people shake their booties 5 minutes into the play without the requisite amount of excitement somehow reminded me of lame Disneyland entertainers, desperately fishing for sympathy.
Fela's music begs for dancing. Sitting augustly in a Broadway theater is not the right concept for it. As the review in New York Magazine mentioned, there should be a mosh pit in the front, where people can dance. This would be more honest than trying to teach white people to shake their asses and it would better honor the power of the music.
According to Joan Accocella's review in The New Yorker, Fela's story has been glossed over for the play. Well, I didn't know anything about his life coming in and I could tell that there was something overly sanitized and hokey about the proceedings. Fela! feels as authentic as a Hard Rock Café. It's the "Rent" syndrome: the lives of bohemian, revolutionary people who struggle at the edges of society do not translate well into expensive, crowd pleasing musicals for the bourgeoisie.
The writers of Fela! confuse feeble jokes at the expense of white people and little snippets of commie propaganda with provocation or rawness. They are not.
These things remind me of Disney and how they scrub clean all the rawness, the real humanity out of the original stories they adapt until they are unrecognizable.
The play is underwritten. It's a man on a stage reciting his life's story. There is no action, there is just telling, like in some sort of school pageant. I am sure that in the life of Fela Kuti there is enough material for an opera, let alone a Broadway play, but that's not what we get here. I know that people with unimpeachably authentic reputations are at the helm of this play. Bill T. Jones, Jay Z, among others, but they try too hard to please the audience. I don't go to the theater to be pleased. Or rather, I don't go to a show about the life of a genius, royal pain in the ass like Fela Kuti, to be pleased.

Which takes me to the venerable Mr. Mamet, who intends to provoke, as usual, with his new polemical play, simply called Race.
The first provocation, and this is very meta, is that according to Mamet plus ça change, President Obama or not. The issue of race is as thorny, if not worse, than ever. True.
The second provocation: here's a wealthy man, the milquetoasty Richard Thomas (John Boy from The Waltons, the casting has to be on purpose), who is accused of raping a black woman. Why, not too long ago, black men were lynched just for looking at a white girl, so this is a very interesting starting point.
Mamet just comes out and says it: we are baroquely entangled, paralyzed by centuries of prejudice, on both sides. What comes of this is people afraid to speak their minds, people getting tangled in obscure discourses of good intentions and political correctness (and ever blossoming resentments) into utter incomprehension.
James Spader, playing the head lawyer of a firm supposed to defend Mr. John Boy Walton, seems like a paragon of racial virtue when it comes to blacks, but listen to him talk about someone called Rosa González. Race is like the nine circles of hell, concentric and inescapable.
Spader is extraordinary. He is funny, has impeccable timing and is totally natural.  He rocks. The rest of the cast is excellent too, particularly David Alan Grier as Spader's partner.
However, the play seems a little sloppy. I don't expect Mamet, who is one of my favorite playwrights, to repeat the same joke in one play (it's a good joke the first time around only). This disappoints me. I also don't expect him to not dot all of his i's and cross all of his t's. Some of that happens in this play, which feels a little lazy.
We are in for a rollercoaster of ideas and paradoxes on race. Characters are not really developed. They are mouthpieces for provocative fodder. The audience is led to believe it will discover something and that something is forgotten and something else is brought up. Worse, Mamet does the David Alan Grier character a terrible disservice. After all that happens, what does this man think? He doesn't say. This is a major flaw of the play.
However, Race is brisk and fun and shocking without resorting to cheap jokes, and Mamet's direction is better than usual. Another director may have made more of character and that would have added some interesting human nuance, rather than excellent talking points.  Mamet's rhythms and idioms, to which we are now used to, could also benefit from more naturalistic direction. Still, Race is a fun, brisk play with plenty of good zingers. It's short and zippy and bracing. It made me ponder. It made me gasp. It didn't please me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

War Mart

So we are sending 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, in a convenient, if totally unrealistic, mini-surge which is supposed to last one tidy year because we still are under the misguided impression that people who would not know democracy if it bit them in the ass, are suddenly clamoring for one, and we're the ones supposed to give it to them.
Just tell us that we need to kill us some terrorists. Don't start with the stupid values schmaltz. At this point, in the richest country on Earth where people have lost their jobs, their homes, are on food stamps and can't pay for medicine, who could possibly believe it?
Apparently, nobody in the Obama administration has gotten the memo that our military misadventures abroad tend to rather inflame the outrage and the membership ranks of potential terrorists. Merrily we roll along, getting deeper into quagmires of our own devising. You just cannot impose moderation on people; specially not with a military offensive.
Plus, these are people over there who stone women because they look funny at a guy.
I agree that we should pulverize Al Qaeda. I just don't know exactly how to do that without swelling their ranks. I guess that the long slog of financial aid (to deserving and responsible parties, if they exist), better living conditions and "hearts and minds" is inexplicably less desirable than sending American soldiers to fight unwinnable, interminable wars in medieval hellholes.

As I will not tire of repeating: BRING BACK THE DRAFT.
Everybody should pitch in for the sake of freedom, democracy and unbridled, selfish greed. You will see how soon we forget all about the terrorists.

Why do we insist on being the supernanny of the world? Why couldn't we live in peace, and enjoy our largesse to ourselves (or rather the fruits of our corruption) and be like Canada, Norway, or Finland, which don't mess with anybody and don't go where they are not welcome? Tom Friedman thinks we can't stop being the supernanny to the world (and a loopy one at that) because then China or Russia would take our place. Let em. They are so benighted and disorganized, but at least they don't futz around with values. They're just in it for the money.

What I want for Christmas

I don't believe in Christmas but for the sake of argument, I'm entitled to a wish list from Santa too.
1. No more public Christmas music starting after Thanksgiving.
I know this may make me highly unpopular, but no more Christmas music ever, if possible.
2. No more reality shows of any kind. If there is a God, It should ban them from the face of Earth. Total backlash.
3. A conviction of life in solitary confinement for the Salahis, preferably in Gitmo, with Christmas music blasting at all times.
4. An end to the new fashion of people dragging roller luggage all over the streets of Manhattan. Where's the airport, dudes?
5. My new HD flatscreen TV not to look slightly pixelated and everything yellow even if it's not a David Fincher movie (without me having to buy the right cable or a blueray whatever. Just by magic.)
6. The end of Dick Cheney (and Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin and Fox News, and...).
7. The end of human stupidity.
8. A public option for universal healthcare in this country. Yeah, right.
9. Me on the US Supreme Court, replacing Judge Scalia. Fast tracked, no need for law school. I get to sit next to Sonia.
10. Peace on Earth.

Dubai Bye

This article in The Independent appeared in April but it is very timely, now that this idiotic place has been reduced to a pile of useless rubble, with terrible ecological and human consequences. It is harrowing reading.
Dubai was a mirage in the desert, in the worst possible way.
Kind of like White Mischief all over again, a postcolonial colonialist nightmare of vulgarian Eurotrash losers abusing defenseless imported maids (or rather slaves), of people being sent to jail for what I am writing right now, of bogus luxury and wealth. Of cultures clashing in a godforsaken desert at 120 degrees in the shade. 
A petty, dictatorial, undemocratic hellhole.
Goodbye and good riddance. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I know it's past, but I want to alert you to a Thanksgiving experience that has had me contorting with laughter for days
My three favorites are among the winner and the honorable mentions.
There is something beyond hilarious at family dysfunction around Holidays, when everybody is trying so hard not to rip each other to pieces.
People can't wait til Christmas so they can share whatever horror happened then.
God love em. For some reason, this restores my faith in humanity. I don't know why.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Republican Legacy

Well, y'all red states people should be proud of yourselves, now that thanks to the economic and social policies you champion with your tea parties and love for Sarah Palin, we have actually become a welfare state, and I wish I meant Norway.
With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.
Maybe you can all write a thank you note to W. at his lovely ranch in Crawford, TX.
The richest, most powerful country on Earth: Food Stamps and no universal health coverage for no one, way to go!

Swiss Miss

Today I read on the news that voters in Switzerland overwhelmingly approve of a ban on building minarets in mosques. The right wing party that supports the ban claims it is a step to avoid the islamization of Switzerland. They claim minarets are not religious, but political symbols. By the way, the call to prayer is banned in this country. Switzerland, of course, prides itself, besides its watches, chocolates and shady banking, on its strong democracy, so these developments present an interesting conundrum. Understandable reactions are of shock at the intolerance. I find it hard to buy the notion that a minaret is a political tool, particularly if you can't use it to broadcast the call to prayer to begin with. In a way, it's like banning churches from having bell towers. Absurd.
What the ban seems to be saying is, you and your religion are not totally welcome here. And in this here democracy, you are going to toe the line. If you don't like it, go to Iran.
This, I believe, is a corollary from the utter terror Western democracies feel about radical Islam. This equally understandable fear would have never taken hold if Islamic fundamentalists had not decided to go on their murderous rampages against the West. Nobody would think to bother with minarets.
What does not assuage Western fears is that moderate Islam seems ineffectual against the crazies. Moderation is by nature timid; obviously it will have much less impact than a beheading. And I am convinced that even moderate Muslims are deeply afraid of the radicals in their religion. They don't seem to be coming out in droves to condemn them or reject them, and this silence, this lack of moderate leadership (understandable in a religion that also has different warring factions) makes everyone deeply nervous.
Elsewhere in this blog I have opined that if you are a Jew, a Muslim or a member of the Church of Elvis, and you live in a secular democracy, you have to follow the law of the land. Deeply intolerant people take advantage of tolerant political systems, and then the tolerant become intolerant towards the intolerant, which is now the case in places like Britain, France and now Switzerland. 
Unfortunately, this polarization, this lack of a middle ground, seems to inflame religious passions, which doesn't help. I wish it would spur the moderate majority of Muslims both in the West and elsewhere to reject the psychopaths and to profess their faith in peace with the rest of us, infidels.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food Issues

As I consume the Food Issue of The New Yorker, I burp out opinions.

On being a Michelin Inspector:
Something doesn't jell.
1. Why do these people always have to eat alone? If they had a dining partner, they could sample more things and they would not look totally suspicious, for what pathetic individual goes to an extravagant three star restaurant to eat three courses with wine on their own? This does not make sense to me. If I worked in the restaurant and saw a lonely diner doing this I might think they were a Michelin inspector, or a tourist from Michigan (I'll grant you that).
2. If M., the inspector in the story, has dinner with the guy who handles Michelin guides in the US, she's blown her cover, and even though perhaps she may not ever go there again, they should not have done that. Also, if the restaurant knows the Michelin guide guy, it will make sure to give these people the most amazing meal of their lives. Regular humans may not get the same treatment, which is why sometimes one goes to highly touted restaurants and one can't fathom why, since the service is snotty and the food, meh.
3. Which leads me to this final point on the subject of Jean Georges. I've had dinner there. The food was very good. Some of it perfect, some ongepatchket. Not everything worked. Still, I don't remember a single dish we ate and we were 4 people. Not one. I've had meals at other fancy places like Gotham or even A Voce that have been much more memorable.
The service at Jean Georges was good at the beginning (although I don't understand why staff at such places confuses discretion with icy, long faces) and then we were forgotten. I would not have given this restaurant three Michelin stars. Two maybe.
But who asked me, right?

On spit cakes:
I do not appreciate being told that there used to be marvelous German cafés in New York where you could stuff yourself with cake and now they are no more. I haven't decided if this breaks my heart or makes me immeasurably angry.
It upsets me to no end that people don't go to a café to eat cake anymore. I don't either, but I like to have the option. In Mexico City, there are European style cafés with excellent cakes and cookies which also serve tortilla soup or huevos rancheros if you so desire, and they rock.
One of the few things that New York lacks in terms of food is such European style cafés, like they're a dime a dozen in Paris (and disappearing fast), and where you can have a prix fixe lunch or just inhale a Chocolat Liegeois any time of day, or have a cup of coffee and sit there for eighteen hours. I resent this. (Café Select on Lafayette tries to be like this, but not enough cakes). Also, now I want a spit cake.

On Poutine:
Calvin Trillin, a hilarious food writer. Just this description of Poutine had me in stitches: "surprisingly inoffensive". I was in Montreal and didn't dare taste the stuff. It just looks gross.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mr. Good News

Seymour Hersh is the human equivalent of that movie 2012, only he's really, really scary.
Whenever I want to burst into cold sweats, I read him.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ahora Resulta: Chocolate Milk

Ahora resulta is a wonderful phrase in Spanish that means, "now it turns out", usually applied with dripping irony. Well, ahora resulta that, according to science, chocolate milk, which I love but have been avoiding like the plague for years in order not to gain pounds, is very, very good for you.
Move over, red wine. Make room for chocolate milk. A new study suggests that regular consumption of skim milk with flavonoid-rich cocoa may reduce inflammation, potentially slowing or preventing development of atherosclerosis. Researchers noted, however, that the effect was not as pronounced as that seen with red wine.
Scientists in Barcelona, Spain...
Aha! The key to this magnificent discovery is the Barcelonity (Barcelonaness, Barcelonism, Barcelonicity?) of the scientists in question. No doubt fueled by their love of local chocolate miracle drink CacaoLat, they had to come up with better reasons to drink it. 
I bet the people at Hershey's and Quik are already pasting this info on their labels as we speak. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bring back the Draft

I read Obama's speech at Fort Hood yesterday. Lovely, as usual, but he is starting to get on my nerves. As I've said before, this terrible tragedy is an opportunity for us to discuss why we are waging two wars and for how long we expect to do so with a volunteer army. As many have pointed out, the only people who are sacrificing anything are American soldiers. No one else is asked to share the burden and no one else seems to care as long as they can continue shopping and owing money in peace.
The reason why our anti-war movement is pathetic and ineffectual is because we don't have compulsory military service. As long as our precious American youth is  unharmed, who cares? Who cares about those who risk their lives, who for the most part are not children of privilege? The Army in many cases is their way out of poverty or into education and opportunity. So don't give me the bullshit that we are all created equal. If that was the case, all Americans of fighting age would be required to join the military.
The burden on the Army is enormous. I wonder how many people are signing up. Maybe after this incident there will be a spike of emboldened rednecks, but I'm sure it is not enough to support our increasingly costly misadventures abroad.  Our spineless, cowardly Congress prefers to keep abusing American soldiers rather than bring back the draft, surely to be an incredibly unpopular measure. Maybe they are counting on the economic crisis and all those foreclosed and unemployed people to look for Army jobs.
Bring back the draft and I can assure you that there would be ipso facto riots and demonstrations a la Vietnam war, and a surge of popular opinion against our wars.
But as long as we can fall back on the underclass, look the other way and pretend that as long as it's not happening to us, it's not happening, these wars are going to last forever.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Who are Jew?

Interesting article about a case in Britain of a Jewish parochial school who denied admission to a Jewish kid, the son of a Jewish father and a converted mother, because the school did not accept the mother's conversion. This conversion was done in a progressive synagogue as opposed to an Orthodox one. Someone decided this was not kosher. This is wrong.
This woman went through a conversion in order to marry her Jewish husband. This conversion happened in a legitimate synagogue, albeit not an Orthodox one. The conversion should be accepted by the school. End of story.
The refusal to accept this woman's legitimate conversion has nothing to do with religion or faith and everything to do with politics and the power trip that the Orthodox wield around the world. They get away with it because nobody is willing to stop them. Secular Jews think, wrongly, that the Orthodox are needed to preserve Judaism. The only way to preserve Judaism is to be in touch with your roots and your culture, not to expect others to do it for you. There is no reason, religious, legal, moral, historical, or otherwise for the Orthodox to have the sole right to determine who is a Jew and who isn't. Theirs is an interpretation of law and custom among many others equally valid.
Now, this family took the school to civil court on the grounds of discrimination. WELL DONE. However, this has opened a very interesting can of worms with enormous ramifications for Jewish life in the diaspora. The court has ruled that the school discriminated the boy on the basis of ethnicity, which is illegal in Britain. The case affects other religions as well, but since Judaism is the only religion that claims matrilineal descent as proof of Judaism, the implications for Jews are enormous. The British court neglected to take into account, or willfully ignored, (which would be very troubling) this Jewish religious exceptionalism and ruled that defining religion on the base of ethnicity is discriminatory.
Well, this is what Judaism does, and it has always been a problem in our relationship with non-Jews. People ask me, so are Jews a religion or are we a race? If Jewish law says that a Jew is a person born of a Jewish woman, then we are a race. This is why Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. We are not actively looking for converts. We can only expand demographically by having children inside the faith. "Be fruitful and multiply", says God in the Bible (this is why the Orthodox practice no birth control and have oodles of children). However, if someone, for reasons of love or conviction wants to join the tribe, they may do so, after converting. Someone must have noticed early that it would be impossible to restrict our involvement with the rest of humanity so drastically and decided to allow for conversion.
Gentiles don't understand a religion that is also an ethnic group or race. They believe it is discriminatory and racist. It's problematic but it's what makes Jews, Jews; unless we all decide to change the law and agree that a Jew is simply someone who wants to profess our faith, regardless of their ethnic origin. This would change what we've been for over 5000 years and could technically render me (a fervent atheist) not a Jew, and every single hardcore evangelical Christian, a Jew (this by the way, is the spurious premise of Jews for Jesus).
Orthodox Jews, of course, sympathize with the school, saying that observance is no test of Jewishness, and that all that matters is whether one’s mother is Jewish. So little does observance matter, in fact, that “having a ham sandwich on the afternoon of Yom Kippur doesn’t make you less Jewish,” Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, said recently.

That's me, in a nutshell. I agree with that. This is why it is perfectly possible to be a Jew and an atheist at the same time. It's not about faith but about genealogy, history, and culture.
Jewish orthodoxy is not the only legitimate game in town anymore. There are different congregations which have adapted Jewish beliefs and traditions to modern life. They are no less legitimate than orthodoxy. Secular Jews, who are always way too tolerant of the tyrannical designs of the Orthodox, should reject their strongarming tactics.
I remember when the Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel, and the Orthodox were demanding conversions of them. The gall. I know people who went to school with me and live fully committed Jewish lives, and have Jewish kids of their own, that would not be accepted as Jews by the Orthodox simply because their mothers converted in non-orthodox synagogues. This is unacceptable.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fort Hood

I was saddened to hear of the events at Fort Hood, a place I visited a few years ago while filming a commercial in Spanish for the US Army, and which I have fond memories of, believe it or not.  But immediately after learning the name of the psychiatrist who sprayed bullets into a medical center in the base I knew it was going to get ugly, because the guy has an Arabic name. The New York Times has not made much of his Muslim connection yet, except for a link to a CNN video that shows him wearing Arab garb at a convenience store, but Yahoo News is already out with theories about his involvement in Islamic extremism and the word terrorism is being bandied about and apparently someone at Fox News has called for investigating all the Muslims in this country. This should come as no surprise. Within this country's great tolerance for diversity also lies barely repressed racism, which becomes paranoid in times of crisis. We don't have all the facts about the killer now, but what is more troubling is whether we will ever be able to construct a measured factual picture of this man and his motives without the media (CNN, Fox News) distorting them to create panic and ratings.
Still, this tragic incident provides an opportunity for Americans to open their eyes to the two foreign wars that are killing and maiming civilians and American soldiers, far from these shores without nary a peep from society at large and no sign of improvement; on the contrary, with deterioration all around.
It is a fitting metaphor of how insufficient, to say the least, is the Army's handling of the consequences of these wars that one of their own psychiatrists is the killer. That he is a Muslim American with deep conflicts about being deployed is only a reminder that we are a diverse society. Americans have many origins and we are mostly lucky that we have many allegiances to our diverse roots. But unfortunately for some people (you know who you are, Red States), this is a perfect pretext for xenophobia.
This serves as a reminder that we are carrying on two wars, pretending they are happening too far away to notice, yet in a very small world. The chickens come home to roost in our own backyard, and instead of using this as a pretext to terrorize American Arabs, this should be an opportunity to ponder the usefulness of our military involvement where we are not welcome and where we don't seem to be making any progress.
In other words, let's get the hell out of Dodge.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Woe Vegan.

Now that we know how ghastly animals are treated before they become a Big Mac or a chicken nugget, we can decide to make some choices about whether we are going to eat that meat or we are going to buy meat from animals that have been treated more humanely.
I don't eat a lot of meat. I do eat ham, and it turns out the poor pigs really have it very bad. So now I need to look for humane ham. I don't eat chicken, and I don't eat junk food. I buy eggs that have no antibiotics and are cage free.
What I can't abide is people like precious Jonathan Safran Foer taking the holier than thou attitude and deciding that eating meat is immoral. Animals survive by killing and eating other animals. That doesn't mean that we have to do exactly the same. We can make rational choices that animals can't. However, there is something that really rubs me the wrong way about people who feel morally superior to those of us who enjoy good food and eating well.  You want to be a vegetarian, or a vegan? By all means, choke yourself on tofu and tempeh to your heart's content, but don't be expecting me to do the same.

Murder, Inc.

Jill Lepore in The New Yorker has a very illuminating article on why the US has the number one murder rate in the industrialized world. We have almost 4 times the murder rate of France and the UK and 6 times that of Germany.
Why is there so much violence in the US?
Apparently, among other things, because we have a weak government. According to some historians, democracy arrived too soon to these shores, at a time when our incipient society was not ready for it. Europe had many centuries to grow into democracy and to refine its social institutions. We didn't, and hence the mistrust of government that has always been a part of the culture here. Hmmm.
Historians and anthropologists claim that the human murder rate has gone down through the ages, as man changed from a culture of honor to a culture of dignity.
This important distinction is worth noting, as this change accounts for civilization. For instance, right now, the Western world, supposedly deeply invested in a culture of dignity (human rights, democracy, etc) is fighting an ideological and physical war against those who still believe in a culture of honor, be it islamofascists or fundamentalists of all stripes and religious persuasions. All fundamentalists are still invested in a culture of honor (revenge, female oppression, generalized primitivism).
Now, the overwhelming majority of murderers are men. The murder rate always goes down after a war, when apparently the appetite for destruction is sated, at least for a while. People are trying to understand the reasons for such a high murder rate in the US, and why murder rates go up or down.
A great chunk of the blame obviously lies in the fact that this is the only country on Earth where some people believe it is a human right to bear arms. Anywhere else, this is sheer absurdity. Other societies have consented to disarm and to agree that only certain institutions for the public safety are allowed to use arms, like the police and the army. But Americans having arms is not the only cause for murder. Some historians claim that it is lack of faith in government which lets loose the murder rate. In which case, this would explain why we are so trigger happy over here. People are deeply cynical and skeptical of government and with good reason. But this is true in Mexico or Argentina for instance, and I doubt these countries have the murder rate we do. article called “Homicide: Explaining America’s Exceptionalism,” which hypothesized that four factors accounted for the centuries-long differences between American and European homicide rates: mobility, federalism, slavery, and tolerance. Mobility breaks social ties; federalism is a weak form of government; slavery not only rationalized a culture of violence among white Southerners (where the murder rate has been disproportionately high, as it has, and remains, in many of the so-called law-and-order states) but also infected American culture; and American judges and juries have historically proved less willing than their European counterparts to convict murderers, tolerating, among other crimes, racial murders and killings by jealous spouses.
To judge from the political debacles we have witnessed since Obama became president, and the disgrace that was the Bush administration it is as clear as day that indeed, even though we may believe in the fantasy that we are the most powerful country on Earth, this is not because we have a strong government. Quite the contrary. We have a weak, corrupt, vulnerable political system that is prey to powerful business interests. Federalism, which is great in many ways, (as in the dynamics of lack of crippling centralization), is very bad on others, like lack of a national consensus on basic rights and laws. The parties are pathetic. Nobody really has any real power. Just look at Congress. So is this why people feel compelled to kill their fellow Americans?
The article also points out that we are the society that incarcerates the most people (most of them black or brown) and the only industrialized nation that still has the death penalty. As in, this kind of punishment does not bring the murder rate down. It pushes it up.
Excellent food for thought.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Eats me up

The NYT has a list of do's and dont's for restaurant staff.
It has prompted more than 1000 comments (some really nasty ones from disgruntled servers).
Do not get me started on restaurants in NY.
Since the crisis, I think the attitude problems have gotten a little better. Now you don't have to feel like some establishments are doing you a favor by you spending money in them. I have never understood how in a city where there is a good restaurant or more on almost every block, restaurants can afford to treat diners with attitude.
My favorite evil thing restaurants here do is:
"3. Never refuse to seat three guests because a fourth has not yet arrived".
This drives me absolutely insane. It is not welcoming.
Other stuff that drives me insane:
• No one to greet you at the door, but you can't take a table by yourself.
• Idiot hostesses or hosts (especially if they are good looking and useless, like at Coffee Shop in Union Square).
• Reserved tables for no one in particular, just for hype (see above).
• A restaurant full of empty tables and an idiot who asks you for a reservation.
• Empty tables and a line of hungry people outside.
• No smiles.
• Asking for the bill three times (Dim Sum Go Go. Great food, lousy service).
• Asking for tap water and never getting it (Yes you, Bar Pitti).
• When waiters cannot hide their frustration/disappointment/contempt if you only order tap water, or if you order from the cheap stuff.
• "Do you need change?" Who am I, Warren Buffett?
• Restaurants with bouncers.
• Bad food.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Yesterday, yours truly was invited to the launch party of a new perfume from Yves Saint Laurent.
A mask was required and dutifully bought (Made in China, with feathers, $4.50 at the corner stationery), some extra sequins were applied to add that fashionable je ne sais quoi. We arrived at the venue at 9:30 (invite said 9:00) to find a growing line of extraordinarily patient masked people wearing what they considered "stylish attire" as requested by the invitation. This being the fashion world, I could see two trends (neither of which I am to adopt any time soon). One were shoes seemingly designed by the Marquis de Sade, with heels so high that women totter in them, instead of walking. The other were very short tube skirts that made the wearers look like cheap Mexican hookers (I'd say circa 1980, but this is the uniform of the Mexican skin trade to this day). I can understand the fetishistic allure of the cruelly high heel. Wanting to look like a Third World prostitute encased in derma is more of a mystery to me. There were several bouncers at the door and a woman with a nasty punim looking into the crowd, don't know for signs of what. The venue is pretty big so it didn't seem conceivable that it had already filled to capacity. We waited for about half an hour, only because the crowd was so well behaved and like us, thought, despite every evidence to the contrary, that there might be some reasonable reason for the wait. During this time, the line did not move forward one inch. I didn't see anyone checking names on "the list" (which I now believe is a fantastical construct made for innocents from the human world, like me). People were patient until they stopped being patient. People feverishly dialed numbers. Nothing moved. They went to the front, and then came back. Nothing moved. People then decided to mob the entrance, at which Miserable Punim started screaming at everyone to make one single line, suddenly oblivious to the one single line which had been in front of her all evening. After this, we decided to go get us some steaks and some wine at Azul. At 11:30 pm, as we passed by the party on our way home the street was deserted, the bouncers were still there and the gates were closed. The entire thing was extremely unwelcoming, but I guess that's fashion. They get a frisson over such things. I much prefer good manners.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This piece by Paul Rudnick about his favorite candy is very funny.
He likes a lot of chazerai. 
 I disagree with him that chocolate and peanut butter don't mix. I can only eat pb with chocolate. Even though I find that American commercial chocolate is way too sweet and too cheap, this does the trick:
Instead of Raisinets and Goobers, the new fabulous are the little Nestlé Crunch Buncha Crunch balls.
And whoever invented Dibs,  Ice Cream You Can Eat In The Dark With Your Hands, deserves the Nobel Prize for Physics, Chemistry and Joy:

My addiction are rice krispies treats. And moon pies. And the Cadbury Lion Bar. My idea of heaven. Now someone just needs to make the chocolate less cloying. When I was 16, I went to England for a month and I ate like 6 of these a day.

Anything with chocolate and crunch and sweet is good for me.
The Mexican version of the Hostess cupcakes is called Pingüinos Marinela and is way better than the Hostess.  More chocolatey and creamy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Head Is Spinning...

...after two days at an advertising production conference, the Boards Summit, where we heard that the sky is falling but the good news is that it may not fall completely on top of us. The reason for conferences such as this one is for industry people to connect. There are panels where industry leaders supposedly share something of value with the attendees. If they are any good, like graphic designer Stefan Stagmeister, you get inspired. Unfortunately, most of the time, you get self serving presentations of stuff that they have done that you have already seen on internet.
For the most part, I do wish that people would stop transparently shilling their own thing and start giving something worthwhile to the audience. One pays a lot of money to attend these events, and we might as well just hold an open bar for networking and dispense with the fiction of getting something of value other than schmoozing. Out of two full days of panels, I found a total of three to be interesting.
I wonder if it's just me, or my other creative colleagues are very good at hiding their cynicism, but after two days, my brain spins with the amount of BS advertising people are capable of spewing. Used car salesmen got nothing on us.
The one reassuring thing I learned, is that no matter how small the screen, and how intrusive or cool the constantly evolving technology, there will still be a need for writers (yay!). It turns out that more than ever there is still a need for "storytelling" and "narrative". Very reassuring, since these things have been around for thousands of years.
Interestingly enough then, that the new directors showcase showed nothing of the sort. Just mostly young guys doing crazy, non-narrative stuff with some panache but nothing to say. I'm the first person to embrace non-mainstream talent, but the selection this year was dismal. Some of the stuff was sheer stupid shock value, other was selfindulgent, most of it could not tell a "story". Talent is all well and good, particularly if it is exercised in the service of a brand and it still comes out looking like talent. That's what the director's showcase should be about. Either that, or real directorial prowess. There was only one (debatable) instance of that in the entire showcase and that was Cary Fukunaga's ad for Levi's. Now, I hate those pretentious spots (and so does everybody at the movies; people boo them off the screen), but directorially speaking, they are well done.
Now, "content" is in great demand. And what is "content"? Isn't it what we used to call movies, books, music, art: human expression unattached to selling a corporate brand? Now marketers want content, so this has become product as well. Content is really the expressive filler with which marketers expect to get your attention. The word is so Orwellian that it gives me the shivers, but I don't know anyone else that objects to it. Content has become product and product has become content and the lines are totally blurred. My colleagues seem to love this development. Me, I am scared out of my wits if I can't tell the difference between an ad and a non-ad, like a novel or a movie or a TV program or an article in a magazine. I don't mind great advertising, in fact, I love it and deeply admire it, as long as I know it's an ad and it is presented to me that way.
There is a lot of crap out there joining the content-social media-games-apps bandwagon, which is as utterly crappy as it was when it was a TV spot or a print ad (or even worse). The glut of messaging is frankly horrifying. And people are hunkering down and filtering out everything that does not apply to them. How many internet ads do I actually click on any given week? Probably one a month, if any.
The banners I get are totally off the mark. For a time, they assumed I was an Arab speaking lad willing to join the US Army. Lately, it's gotten a little better. Now they assume I have cellulite and wrinkles and am in sore need of Hydroderm. What do they know? How much "viral" content do I get through facebook or other internet media that I actually find amazing rather than stupid and puerile and a waste of time? Very little. I've learned a lot from what people share in facebook that represents their interests. Most of the time it's not ads. Agencies trying to viralize things that are obviously fabricated and artificially spread with useless effort deeply insult my intelligence. Luckily, there are incredibly smart, talented agencies doing awesome work in the new paradigm. The cream will always rise to the top.
Meanwhile, and at the risk of sounding quaint, there is the question of the Snuggie. I leave you to ponder that after all the bells and whistles of the new, this is the one thing that sold like pancakes, with an ugly ass ad on TV and a scary as hell internet page that behaves like an informercial on TV*.

*Which doesn't mean I am not fully embracing the experiential-viral-interactive-social media-mobile apps carnival. I'm just saying.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Latinos in America

So CNN is trying to kiss and make up to Latinos because it keeps making money out of Lou Dobbs and his hate speech. I'm not buying it. I only saw the episode on internet about the teenagers who want to commit suicide because their moms don’t want them to behave like gringa sluts and think that girls should be versed in the arts of indentured labor, just like them. So here come the broad stereotypes and the dealing with Latinos in America as if we had all just crossed the border yesterday.  It is amazing to me that the mainstream American media still treats Latinos (who have been here longer than the peeps from the Mayflower, if you think of it) as a sideshow.
But I have to say that being a Mexican Jew, an immigrant (albeit legal and with every possible privilege, including a college degree and already speaking English when I came), I've had it with the stubborn refusal of certain Latinos to adapt to this country. Most of the time, the reason for this is lack of education. Many newcomers have no high school education. They are busy working hard and making money, and can't be too worried about self-enlightenment.
However, if you don't learn English, you are just marginalizing yourself. You can't have come here looking for a better life and expect your kids to behave as if they still were in the old country. This is the story of every immigrant group to America. You adapt to the new country so you can belong and thrive. This is probably the only country on Earth that allows this with immense tolerance, even despite its racist grumblings. This doesn't mean you have to lose your culture if you know how to preserve it. Preserve the best of it. Get rid of the noxious bits. What an opportunity for improvement! It is up to you to adapt your values and your culture to your new environment so that your culture enriches society at large, and does not become a limitation to you, but an asset. And the first step is to understand that you are living in a different culture with a different language. There may be things you don't like about it, but as many love pointing out, you can go back where you came from if they bother you so much. Nobody is asking you to lose your identity. But you need to acclimate.
To me, there is nothing like contact with the others to open your mind, get a grip and progress. Matters are not helped by the Spanish media, which for the most part seems intent on feeding recent immigrants a diet of retarded and mind wasting programming. Univisión and Telemundo should have cultural and educational programming, and even English classes on TV.  If they were worth watching, Latinos would still tune in, because culture is so much more than language.
I have hope in the second generation children, young American Latinos who bridge the gap gracefully without losing their Latino bearings. I know many people like this, smart, educated, ecumenical, and deeply fortunate to have an extra culture, an extra language, and fabulous food. However, these Latinos are absent from the media and entertainment. They are absent from the public eye. All you see is gardeners and illegals and housekeepers and gang members, both in the news and in entertainment.
I am not even going to go into, "but look at all the successful Latinos like Soledad O'Brien and Sonia Sotomayor and that crazy Costa Rican astronaut and Eva Longoria". It is offensive we have to remind people that the majority of Latinos are successful, well adjusted, interesting Americans. Like everybody else.

God needs a Shrink

I got a concerned report by someone who saw people on TV carrying a sign that read "God hates Jews". I kind of shrugged it off. So what else is new? After like 2 minutes of internet research, it turns out that it was members of the pesky Phelps family, and their cultlike Westboro Baptist Church. It's funny to me that these people seem to know exactly who God hates. According to them, He hates America, the Gays and now the Jews (and the ever popular Fag Nazi Jews). I loath to make more publicity for this retarded extended family from Topeka, but the opportunity to talk about God's hatreds is too rich to waste.
My first reaction upon hearing the claim about God hating Jews was, in a sense it's true. Because if He didn't, He wouldn't have made it so difficult to be one. He would not have been manifesting gross indifference to the persecution of Jews throughout history, to say the very least. The Jewish God is an angry parent. He is like a Jewish mother gone monster. There is no end to the threats and punishments and do this and do that, and don't eat this and eat that. Very controlling, autocratic, volatile, moody and prone to anger. Not much of a sense of humor, and not very warm, which is strange, for a Jew.
By the time Christianity came around, God supposedly became the God of love, of turning the other cheek, etc. That's an improvement until you consider that He was unduly harsh with His only son, allowing that poor guy to be tortured and crucified just to prove a petty point about sin. Not much love there. (And don't get me started on what this did to the Jews...) He is more of an abusive parent (with great P.R., though).
I will not go into the Muslim God for fear of being decapitated or blown to smithereens by some oversensitive fundamentalist. But you get my drift. The 3 Gods of the main religions are the same guy. And He needs a shrink. He needs to chill out.
I have a problem with the Judeo-Christian God because of the concept of free will. Giving man free will was very big of Him, but it didn't quite work out, did it? If you are going to give man free will, you gotta stick around to deal with the consequences; not do it and play dumb for the rest of human history. That's not nice. That's rather irresponsible and callous.
If God is so great, why didn't he make us all cool artists and nice people and fair and just and capable of living together in harmony and respecting our planet, etc, etc?
I think that the problem with the monotheistic Gods is that humans give God an element of power and control He really isn't interested in. We anthropomorphize It, when we should not even be claiming that we can ever know It.
God is only interested in creation and destruction. It does that automatically, through nature. It has no moral essence. It creates things of beauty (like the natural kingdom) and destroys them, because that's how It works. If anything, God is life, It is not law.
I can understand this kind of God better than the neurotic one we insist on worshiping and speaking for, as if some of us really knew It.
Always beware of people who claim to know God and what He thinks. They are really bad news.

ps: does this little theological disquisition turn me from an atheist to a pantheist? Hmmm...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

There is a sucker born every minute

Thanks to facebook I am alerted to the news that 3 people died from heat at a new age retreat where they were at a sweat lodge trying to undergo a "rebirthing".
These people paid almost $10,000 to take orders from James Ray, a swindler and a con man, who sells them Peruvian ponchos in the cold desert night for $250.
How could anything spiritual be so expensive?
I am almost compelled to say, they had it coming. But I hope their families sue the bastard and let's see what New Agey bullshit he comes up with. He should be behind bars.
I hate the New Age mishegoss. I hate spirituality. All that searching and seeking, and spending! Be a decent human being is plenty spiritual for me (and in this cesspool of a world, a worthy challenge).
In the case of James Ray, apparently the ridiculous has given way to mind control and manipulation, a la Jim Jones. Send him to a permanent retreat in jail.

The Middle Beast

I have been scouring the press for interesting things to talk about. I think I have information fatigue. The Middle East is always a convenient source for agita and a never ending topic of impending doom.
Here are two tidbits I found today in the paper.
There's the saga of David Rhodes, a New York Times journalist who was abducted by the Taliban and held for seven months until he escaped. I have not yet read the articles but did follow the interactive videos and the comments and questions of the readers. A detail caught my eye, which is something we should not forget as we grapple with our misguided presence in that hellhole. Here's Rhodes, recommending bibliography on the topic:
 For an understanding of the United States’ role in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, I would recommend Steve Coll’s book: “Ghost Wars.” Coll describes how the United States helped spread fundamentalist Islam in the region in the 1980s and then largely abandoned Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1990s.
So there we have it. We fucked up and here are the results of our idiotic misadventures. Whatever we are doing about it now; that is, attacking militants with drones that kill both militants and civilians, is not really helping, except exacerbate hatred for America in the region. What to do about Afghanistan and Pakistan?
My opinion I will keep to myself, for will not make me very popular in politically correct circles. But it would not be a bad idea to consider withdrawing the unwelcome American presence from there and from Iraq.

Meanwhile, everybody continues to happily dump on Israel.  Here's a refreshing paragraph:
Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored...

This was written by Robert Bernstein, one of the founders of Human Rights Watch. Although I don't agree with his assertion that HRW should just concern itself with the abuses committed in closed societies (what about Guantanamo then?), I agree with that paragraph. Israel is not the enemy anymore, and Israel, instead of continuing being arrogant and defiant, should use this development to its advantage. European countries, who have forever been hostile to Israel, are changing their tune, now that they have also been victims of terrorist attacks by fundamentalist barbarians.
I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard British Col. Richard Kemp defend Israel at the UN for its handling of the Gaza offensive. A British officer defending Israel! How things have changed... Nor is Israel the sole culprit for the terrifying state of affairs between the Western world and fundamentalist Islam, as many like to think.
This doesn't mean that Israel is off the hook. Quite the contrary, this is an excellent opportunity to be on the side of reason and civilization -- that is of democracy and Westerndom. This is the time to fight back fundamentalism with pragmatic policies that will end the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians (unfortunately, and to judge from Fatah and Hamas, their own oppression of themselves will most probably continue unabated).
Imagine that tomorrow Israel and the Palestinians come to an agreement and a Palestinian state is born and peace is achieved. What are the Arab countries going to do when they no longer have a scapegoat with which to delude and distract their oppressed populations? Let's see if indeed then the attacks against Israel by Arab and Muslim countries and others will end. I doubt it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Prize

I open facebook and someone's status update is excited about Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize. I thought it was a joke but just in case, I check out the New York Times, and sure enough, front page, this thing.
It is clear that the award has been given less for achievement than for forcing the recipient to live up to expectations (and as a fuck you to W).
The Nobel committee perhaps thinks that this will extract from Obama the obligation to deserve it. I think it is a naive and dubious strategy and because of its alacrity, a gross miscalculation. Haven't they seen how things work in the United States?
I seriously doubt that Obama is going to end our two wars and achieve peace in the Middle East out of noblesse oblige. The last thing this man needs is to be falsely anointed with yet another responsibility he can't shoulder.
If he indeed rises to the ocassion, which to judge from his performance so far is highly doubtful, the best we can hope for is that he'll stop dicking around and show Netanyahu and the other side who's boss. We can also expect more disrespect than respect for the award. The rain of disbelief and invective started today is not stopping any time soon. It is not Obama's fault to have been given the prize, but it may end up being a very unwelcome burden. Let's hope this won't be the case.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Brush Up Your Shakespeare. Not!

I'm always game for the Bard, but when you start hearing the reviews, it gives one pause. I was excited about Othello with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Iago, only to learn that he sucks in the role. (Joel? How was the production? Was it indeed four hours of banging your head against the wall?)
Then comes Jude Law's Hamlet. Ben Brantley eviscerated the handsome Law in his review. It is a very good bad review. As much as I love the play, I really could not stand 4 hours of:
If Hamlet talks about his mind, you can bet that Mr. Law will point to his forehead; when he mentions the heavens, his arm shoots straight up; and when the guy says his gorge rises, rest assured that he clutches at his stomach. If every actor were like Mr. Law, signed performances for the hard of hearing would be unnecessary.
Shakespeare and his fabulous Dane deserve better. 
Just to show off a little bit with you, dears, I will say that I saw Ralph Fiennes' Hamlet and I liked him. He clocked in at 3 hours (places to go, people to see) yet you could hear every word loud and clear, with that sharp, beautiful timbre of his. He was just a tad impatient and very angry with the rotten Denmark. I saw him too in proto-Hamlet Richard II and he floored me (the play floored me, I had never seen it before).He went from a pompous moron of a spoiled narcissist to a man with a horrifying identity crisis. You could see the dissolution of the self onstage. I thought he was spectacular (but I do have a weakness for him. I love that he refuses to play nice for the audience).
I also saw Liev Schreiber kill as Iago in an otherwise blah Public Theater production. He was outstanding. Perfect. (My favorite Iago remains Kenneth Branagh's film turn in Othello with Lawrence Fishburne, a very decent version of the play).
However, Schreiber's Hamlet... major MEH. Mr. Ex-Enchilada and I ran into him on the street while he was rehearsing and Mr. Ex-Enchilada told him we were looking forward to seeing him in the role, and he said something to the effects of "piece of cake". We were so stunned that if he was being ironic, neither of us got it. Well, onstage it was instant karma. It all sucked.
Saw Ian McKellen as King Lear and thought he growled too much (we were alas, in the very last row, nosebleed section).
Shakespeare will humble the greatest.
So much to my chagrin, I think we are going to stick to the Shakespeare of our mind for the time being.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Mexican food is about the attitude too

There is a veritable plethora of new options for more authentic Mexican food in NYC. When I arrived in 1992, there was a dearth. Most Mexican places had infamous offerings like nachos and slushy margaritas, and having a guacamole mashed at your table with one measly avocado at Rosa Mexicano would set you back an astronomical $9.
Today there are hip taquerías and tequila bars and what not, and the food has improved tremendously in some quarters, but there are certain things that Americans don't get about Mexican food and they drive me crazy.
Where do I start?
Here's a good example. I go to aptly named Pinche Taquería in Noho. They have pretty good tortas.
They have ham and egg burritos, so I ask if they can make me a ham and egg torta. The answer is NO. Why not, I ask, It's the same concept. Nope. They finally ask the cook and he relents. The order taker (a human bastion of imbecility) tells me, "ok, but this is the last time."
Besides the fact they should consider themselves lucky I don't carry weapons, the genius of Mexican food is its versatility. How you can't get this from just looking at it, is beyond me. Mexican food is a generous and accommodating cuisine. Pretty much any filling can be put in a taco that can be put in a torta, a sope, etc. The m.o. is common sense. So refusing to put the filling of one in another is a cardinal sin. You are not getting the generosity of spirit that comes when a Mexican feeds you.
But don't confuse this with putting the rice and beans, which are meant to be sides, inside a burrito the size of a Sherman tank. This is not Mexican food either. 
Another example. Yesterday my friend Alex celebrated his birthday at the new Taquería and Tequilería Los Feliz, on Ludlow St. We were in the space downstairs, a place so dark one could barely see in front of one's nose. The decor of the place has been celebrated elsewhere. Looked like a dungeon to me. There were playing horrible rock music at ear splitting levels. And you could not see your food. Not the most welcoming place.
But I took a picture of my tacos de barbacoa, and imagine my surprise to discover that they actually looked beautiful. What is the point of serving tacos (in a cardboard container) on top of a verdant banana leaf, with a slice of orange powdered with chili, if you can't see it? You will never have a taco in Mexico under anything else than blitzkrieg lighting. I understand here we are too cool for school, but if you are serving Mexican the combination of colors and textures is as much part of the experience as the first heavenly bite. Another pet peeve: nobody bothered mincing the cilantro, so one feels like a cow grazing, and I bet that most people think the stalks of cilantro are for decoration and they push it aside. In real tacos the cilantro is finely chopped so you can eat it, and it adds a fantastic kick to the food. Don't be lazy, is what I'm saying.
On the other hand, the tomato that should be sliced in the torta, is chopped, and falls off the sandwich at every bite. This makes no sense.

I order a shot of tequila. You would think that for a place that labels itself a tequilería, these people would know from shot glasses. You'd be mistaken.

I pay 10 bucks for a little grappa glass of Gran Centenario Plata with a stem that holds half of what fits into a tequila shot glass. I rest my case.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Department of Obstreperousness

I recently signed up for an electronic delivery of financial statements so that I don't have to get all that obnoxious paper in my mailbox. Yesterday I got six different letters in the mail confirming the delivery of the e-statements. This is called defeating the purpose, don't you think?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Turns out the Vantz is a Jew

Oy vey is right!
But perhaps we should have seen it coming. Rabid antisemites are so irrational one always tries to find an explanation for their disorder. Did a little Jew bully them at school? Did they spend too much time listening to hostile clerics?
Unfortunately, there are instances in history of rabid antisemites, like Hitler or the Iranian Vantz in question, who happen to have had Jewish ancestry.  This is both painful and disturbing: such self-hatred, obviously fanned by an already hating world. However, in the case of Ahmadinejad, I find it is some sort of vindication. The revelation of his Jewish ancestry utterly destroys his calculated campaign against Israel and the Jews. It makes him look even more puny and pathetic. The betrayal is exponential. Not only has he turned against his roots with a vengeance (sadly for him, he could have never reached the pinnacle of his power had the Iranian clerics known about his origins), but he has also betrayed those who get feverish excitement from his hatred. He looks like an ass and makes everybody who agrees with him look like idiots too.
It's hard to explain, and Non-Jews must be scratching their heads as we speak, but this is a perverse instance of "It's Good for the Jews" he's a Jew.
Given that this is Iran, the unmasking is serious. Could it put an end to his political career? What is almost a given is the vitriol that is surely to follow. You can count on a Jewish Media conspiracy, for starters. And let's hope he doesn't hold it against the remaining Iranian Jews (who I bet are mortified with fear as we speak).

As I have mentioned in these pages before, official antisemitic campaigns, irrational as they sound, have always been used with very clear strategic ends by those in power. First, they create fear not only in Jews, but in the population at large. If a leader can turn so violently against one group, what prevents him from doing the same with his opponents or other minorities? Better to keep one's mouth shut. Official antisemitism, unfortunately, works like a charm.
Secondly, concentrating hostile emotions against a single enemy is a useful distraction from more pressing problems, which is why antisemitism is an official policy in many Arab countries and was the official policy of the Catholic church for centuries.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

It's Raining Work, Hallelujah!

Which is the reason, darlings, I have neglected you so. After a bit of a professional dry spell over the Summer, Fall has brought with it some lovely labor, which unfortunately does not take it very well if I abandon it for this blog. But I hope to sneak in some words here and there, and I ask you to be patient.
And now, back to work.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hispanic Advertising Awards

Report from Miami:
The level of the winners of the AHAA Ad Age Hispanic Awards this year was consistently high and most of them displayed sophisticated, rigorous creative thinking. None of the ads seemed silly or half baked, which has been the case with some entries in previous years. Quite the contrary, the respect afforded to language and craftsmanship, to thorough creative thinking and quality executions is very encouraging. All of the winners seem to belong in the same range of quality. Moreover, most of the winners are based on actual Hispanic insight. They pass the test of "why is this Hispanic?" with flying colors. This is very good news. It shows that our niche market certainly has room for a high level of creative excellence that still delivers on our cultural nuance.
There were two Best of Shows (which as someone pointed out, is sort of oxymoronic). One was the campaign by Lápiz for Pepto Bismol, a wry take on the foods you love that hurt you (a Spanish pun on hurting both your stomach and your feelings). They are funny and insightful, but talking to Lawrence Klinger, Lápiz's Chief Creative Officer, I mentioned that cheesecake is not necessarily hard on the stomach. He concurred and told me that there will be more challenging foods in the next iterations of the campaign. This is a campaign that could easily play in any Spanish speaking country; even in any country where people love to eat heavy, demanding foods.

It's always good to see women on the stage, and I don't mean the models who give out the prizes and who still, in the dawn of the 21st Century, get whistles from our boys in the audience. I mean female creatives. The fact that an openly gay creative director also gets whistled at really gives one pause. Perhaps we can leave that sort of atavistic, puerile machismo behind? Some day?
Remember Little Lulu's friend Toby who would not let girls into his treehouse? This problem is rampant in advertising in general. And the Hispanic agencies are no exception. We need to see more mixed creative teams which are not "El Club de Toby", like the Lápiz winning team.

The other Best of Show winner was a single ad by Latinworks, for the Cine Las Américas film festival, a hilarious use of real footage of President Menem of Argentina giving a bizarre speech about Argentinian spaceships. The tagline: "if this is our reality, just imagine our movies". The campaign includes other surreal executions like Hugo Chávez talking about getting coca leaves from Evo Morales. It is smart and simple and brilliant.
My other favorites were Adrenalina's wonderful spots for Tecate, which are the strategy come to life but with great casting, excellent direction and a smart, infectious sense of humor. The Mexican parents of a young guy read him the riot act about his drinking bad light beer, instead of Tecate. I particularly liked how Adrenalina integrated radio into the campaign. They could have lifted the dialogue from the TV spots but they created a hilarious ad with a long funny disclaimer about who is not to drink Tecate. Very macho, but that's the beer drinking target. My feeling was that this campaign was flawlessly executed and right on strategy and was a strong contender for Best of Show, but my hunch is that it was too Mexican. Lately, a lot of the best creative seems directed to (and acted by people who look like) the people who come up with it, rather than the actual consumers. Thus, the Tecate campaign has merit for being right on target and still being creative and funny. After the controversial DDB Brazil WWF fake ad, it behooves agencies and award shows alike to take a hard look at creative pieces and make sure they are intended to work in the real world, not just to win awards.
My feeling however, is that there were no "truchos" among the winners this year. The work felt refreshingly honest.
Another great campaign was Grupo Gallegos' campaign for Latin Cable Comcast. It's a very clever spin on preferring to watch TV in language rather than with subtitles. It demonstrates the superiority of in language communications simply and hilariously and it found an ingenious way of translating the very visual concept into radio.
I also liked The Vidal Partnership NFL ad where a guy asks what's a yard and his friend responds with a poem to the game and then shows him with his hands the actual length. Again, it shows Hispanic insight in a clever, creative way.

I will say one thing that drives me crazy: when agencies win CREATIVE awards and instead of sending their creative teams to the show, they send some account executive who has no business being on that stage. It takes the creatives of such agencies blood, sweat and tears to come up with those spots, let alone sell them through the line, and convince the agency to spring the money to enter award shows. They deserve respect and recognition from their creative peers.

As the winners celebrated, I thought that Hispanic agencies (at least the ones who win awards) have come a long way. Yet after over 16 years of working in this market I find it amazing that we still have many hurdles to overcome when convincing clients to advertise to Hispanics. It's as if the agencies have grown creatively in leaps and bounds, yet many clients are still taking baby steps. No matter how much marketing research belies the Latino spending power, many clients are still wary of putting their marketing dollars into Hispanic efforts. These days, the appalling anti-immigration rhetoric is not helping our cause, which is all the more reason to fight harder for brand solidarity and visibility. But at least it's encouraging to know that there are agencies out there doing stellar work, in spite of all the hardships.