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.