Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Siam

I'm not going to find out what they actually serve in the restaurant above.
Talk about sensory overload! Just looking at all the Bangkok street food makes your head spin. There is so much food that looks so good, and some that looks so beautiful and strange, and some that just looks strange, that I actually believe I'm going to lose weight because I get sated just by looking at it.

Beautiful and strange food.
Just strange.
There are hordes of people out here, in certain places, less Thais than all kinds of foreigners, most of whom I have nothing to do with except for the fact that we are tourists. There are certain male specimens that exemplify European colonialist degradation to such an extent that someone should embalm them (alive, if possible) and put them in The Museum of the Appalling.  Have you ever seen Diego Rivera's depictions of deformed, depraved, syphilitic Spanish conquerors? Like that, but three dimensional, alive and thoroughly repulsive. Then there are their more enlightened brethren, who come here looking for Nirvana and they seem to be solemnly serious about it (they also seem to be following my diet of looking at food only). Then there are the backpackers. I backpacked back in the Pleistocene period, and it is amazing to me that people still have not figured out it's a royal pain in the ass. But there is an entire street dedicated to backpackers and their cheap ways and it is one of the tackiest streets I have ever seen, so their sense of superiority somehow seems misguided.
Among the backpackers of both sexes are those that distinguish themselves by dreadlocking their hair into massive, impenetrable beehives. They walk around with elongated necks, like Nefertiti, super proud of their updos, which I'm afraid serve as youth hostels for bats and other creatures.
Instead of their pictures, here are some pictures of beautiful places in Bangkok:

There are many Israeli travel agencies that advertise themselves with huge signs in Hebrew, and this somehow feels perfectly at home with the surrounding alphabets: Thai, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese. Latin script is not the be all and end all, you know. As for the Thais, they are mostly very gracious and pleasant, if rather inscrutable.

As in any underdeveloped country, there is no shortage of polite misinformation, taxis whose meters  decide to stop cooperating, in cahoots with the driver, etc. You would have to be a virgin tourist to confuse a tout with a friendly host, but here they take touting to another level. In fact, in the Olympics of touts, Thai touts would be gold medalists because they make the extra effort: they tell elaborate and quite convincing lies. To be honest, if it wasn't for our detestable Lonely Planet guide, I probably would have behaved like a virgin myself. (My gripes with Lonely Planet are legion, but just to name a couple: 1. They send you to places that are not there. 2. I defy anyone to make sense of the way they number their maps. If you find number 24, or number 85, which is right next to number 13, for instance, I'll erect a statue in your honor).
Bangkok is huge and spread out and doesn't make a lot of sense, with incredible temples and humongous shopping malls, but a river runs through it and I keep imagining what it must have been like in the 30s, when there were no eyesores, and you could run into Sam Spade, or Mata Hari, as you shivered from malaria and typhoid, at the veranda of the Hotel Colonial.

Mata Hari would not be caught dead in this modern monstrosity
They did not preserve much of the old buildings, which is a shame.  But what Bangkok lacks on finesse, it makes up with moxie.  What you see on the street can take an almost hallucinatory character, and I mean that as the highest praise.

Amulet market.
Someone else's dentures for sale.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Greetings from Bangkok!

Well, we finally made it after a cancelled flight, that was actually a non ordeal, as Delta rebooked us for the next day on a better, shorter flight and on a Tokyo-Bangkok segment on business class, (which came on really handy after seating for 12 hours on coach). So no kvetching from me on the weather delays. Plenty of kvetching is to be had on the discombobulating effects of a 12 hour time change, though. But were it not for the fact that yesterday night at 3 am I had lunch cravings, I wouldn't have had a very good pad thai and fried rice with seafood on the street. Yes, I admit, I was chicken and did not go for a mysterious boiling clay pot everyone else was eating, but I did not want to court fate so soon into our arrival. The Chang beer, however, tasted like heaven in a bottle.
At first glance, Bangkok seems to me like a crazy amalgam of Acapulco, China, Caracas, Pino Suarez street in Mexico City, and Blade Runner except with whores and little bars on the sidewalk, and taxis in shocking pink hues. Granted, we've only seen the immediacy of our lovely hotel in Sukhumvit, but that's what it looks like. Acapulco in it's heyday never saw these many tourists from really every corner of the globe (that's the Blade Runner part). Lots of the requisite fat, old and ugly Western guys trolling for beautiful Thai women (and they are beautiful, even when they are men).  So today we are venturing out and about and we will keep you posted. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Tired of This Topic...

...but keep coming back to it, since there is nothing more stimulating to a blogger than ranting on deaf ears. Very interesting and important article by Roger Cohen on AIPAC vs. J Street:
The view that American Jews supportive of Israel but critical of its policies are not “real Jews” is, however, widespread. Israel-right-or-wrong continues to be the core approach of major U.S. Jewish organizations, from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
To oppose the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank (“Zionists are not settlers”), or question growing anti-Arab bigotry as personified by Israel’s rightist foreign minister and illustrated by the “loyalty oath” debate, or ask whether the “de-legitimization” of Israel might not have something to do with its own actions is to incur these organizations’ steady ire.
Debate remains stifled, despite Peter Beinart’s important piece this year in the New York Review of Books describing growing alienation among young American Jews asked to “check their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” Oh, sure, you can find all sorts of opinions about Israel all over the place; America remains an open society. But Aipac has systematically shunned a debate with J Street, the upstart Jewish organization that supports Israel, opposes the settlements and attempts to reclaim the progressive ideals of Zionism by saying that the systematic oppression of the Palestinians undermines Israel.
“These organizations’ view remains essentially that any time you engage in an activity critical of Israel you are trying to destroy the state of Israel,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, told me. “Here are all these Jewish kids being raised on great liberal values at Hebrew schools — walks for the homeless, Darfur, AIDS — but God forbid we talk about what’s happening in Israel! It’s a dynamic that cuts off discourse.” 
This doesn't happen only in the US. This happens in Jewish communities across the world. A Jew cannot utter one word criticizing Israel's policies without being suspected of self-hatred or antisemitism or both. I find this repulsive, offensive and untenable. And this is because (and it galls me to have to repeat it) I love and care for Israel very much and I want it to thrive in peace and stability with its neighbors and with the world. I want it not only to survive, which seems to be the basic goalpost of the "Israel Can Do No Wrong" camp, but to be the great nation it is meant to be: just, democratic, progressive, evolved, in keeping with the highest moral values of the Jewish people. Simple survival is not enough.
The monolithic, unquestioning, cossacks-are-setting-fire-to-the-shtetl approach of the major Jewish organizations is not helping Israel in the least. It leads to increasing international isolation, to Israel's worrisome radicalization and I am convinced that instead of helping assure Israel's continued and hopefully peaceful existence, it leads to more violence and more strife, both inside and outside of Israel's borders.
Israelis are perfectly capable of ruining their own lives, as they have been demonstrating in the recent past. It is their prerogative to democratically decide if they want to continue fighting with their neighbors and building more settlements, giving more and more power to intransigent and obscurantist religious forces, or if they are going to get tired of the endless aggravation and try to look for a solution that secures their borders while it allows for Palestinian life to evolve as well.
But I'll be damned if I am asked to withhold my critical faculties and my sense of values in order to help Israel no matter what. Israelis don't have this problem. They scream at each other with gusto from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum. So why can't Jews in the Diaspora do the the same?
I refuse to help Israel become a theocracy. I refuse to help Israel become a right wing state. I refuse to help Israelis self-destruct. And those of you Jews that think that you are doing great by Israel by doing that should open your eyes, and smell the coming devastation. You are helping to make things worse.
I think Jews of a similar persuasion to mine would do well to leave our nagging fears of betrayal behind (you know you have them), to stop thinking that somehow if we criticize or question, we are undermining, and help a more rational, more forward thinking point of view that supports Israel gain a stronger voice.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

La Gran Tenochtitlán II

Best roast chicken in town they claim, at Gili Pollos. 
The famous strawberries and cream birthday cake from La Gran Vía.
They sell tomato pulque in there!
Candied fruit at lovely Dulcería de Celaya 
An anafre, perfect for cooking marvels on the street. 
Piloncillo: packed brown sugar for traditional sweets, café de olla and more. 
Traditional ice cream vendor. These are new. 
A new invention: jícama on a stick with chili or sprinkles
Conchas: best pan dulce for breakfast.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


I am incensed. First, as you all know, single people, particularly single women and single women with children, proportionally pay more taxes than families. This is wrong.
Now, this is how the cookie crumbles with the new Obama deal, taken from the NYT:
The wealthiest Americans will also reap tax savings from the proposal’s plan to keep the cap on dividend and capital gains taxes at 15 percent, well below the highest rates on ordinary income.
And negotiators have agreed that the estimated $900 billion cost of the cuts will simply be added to the deficit — not covered by reductions in spending or increases in other taxes. That is good news for hedge fund managers and private equity investors, who appear to have withstood an effort to get them to pay more by eliminating a quirk in the tax code that allows most of their income to be taxed at just 15 percent.

In fact, the only groups likely to face a tax increase are those near the bottom of the income scale — individuals who make less than $20,000 and families with earnings below $40,000.
Although the $120 billion payroll tax reduction offers nearly twice the tax savings of the credit it replaces, it will nonetheless lead to higher tax bills for individuals with incomes below $20,000 and families that make less than $40,000.
To the wealthiest Americans, however, an assortment of breaks is available.
The plan includes a two-year “patch” for the alternative minimum tax, which is now paid by about 4 million taxpayers with income in the mid- to high six figures. Without the patch, more than 20 million additional taxpayers would have been liable for that tax.
The estate tax — which was allowed to lapse this year and was scheduled to resume at a rate of 55 percent on most assets above $1 million — will be reinstated under less onerous terms. Estates over $5 million will be subject to a 35 percent tax. (NOT FAIR!)
The proposal will also maintain the current rates on dividends and capital gains, averting scheduled increases to ordinary income and 20 percent, respectively.
The marginal tax rate on high incomes will also remain unchanged. The top brackets had been scheduled to increase to 36 percent and 39.6 percent, from 33 percent and 35 percent.
Under Mr. Obama’s failed proposal, which would have raised the rates on income over $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals, the taxpayers at the top 1 percent of the income scale — those with incomes above $564,000 — would have received an average tax break of $28,000. Under the agreement reached with Republicans, the top 1 percent will receive breaks of about $70,000.
What the flying fuck? Those at the bottom pay too much taxes, while those who can afford to, don't. We don't pay enough taxes in this country, and beats me where the taxes we pay all go. Because I just don't see them really covering infrastructure, education or social services. So what are we paying for? Misadventures against fundamentalist shepherds? Subway stations that are dirty and in disrepair? Insufficient public transportation? Bad schools? Bankrupt hospitals?
We are becoming a fucking third world country. I didn't move all the way from one to end up in one.


How come I pay more than half the amount of taxes as this guy, while I make 4.5 times less money than he does? What the fuck?

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

My thoughts on Black Swan. A horror ballet movie.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

La Gran Tenochtitlán

La Diana from the terrace of the King Cole Bar, St. Regis, Mexico City. 
It's a nice terrace, but the hotel feels way too corporate and generic for my taste. However, a michelada and a blanket hit the spot just right.

Pulquería La Hermosa Hortencia in Plaza Garibaldi
From the upper echelons of the posh St. Regis, to the lower depths of the now swanky pulquería, which boasts outdoor sitting. Of course, there had to be the one drunk ambassador to Garibaldi who saw us and slurred a welcome in Inglish. There is always one.

At the humongous Mercado de Dulces at La Merced
This is one place where it is entirely possible to walk in and never be seen again. Not because anything bad will happen to you, but because it is an infinte maze of stalls that never end. The biggest sweets and candy market in Mexico City. Here is where all the candy vendors and hawkers, from the guys selling on the street, to the mom and pop stores, come to buy their candy. There are endless stalls of traditional Mexican sweets, like alegrías and pepitorias and candied fruit, and then more endless stalls of fabulous Mexican chazerai. A Borgian (as in Jorge Luis) infinity of sugar, salt and chili.

Then right next to it is the humongous Merced food market, with rows and rows of amazing dried chilies and spices, fruits and vegetables... and even a forbidding aisle of the infamous Catemaco witches, who have these elegant and creepy looking mahogany cabins where they perform limpias (they clean up your bad luck and/or bad vibe) or tell you the future. To be honest, I was scared to take a picture. They are all sinister cons.

A woman performing a cleanse right on the Zócalo.

The Mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, has been doing lots of stuff to turn the city into a more urbane place. There is a limited bicycle program in the colonia Condesa like the one in Paris, with the difference, as a Mexican proudly pointed out, that no one has yet stolen a bike. Half the city is under construction of more bus lanes and on Sundays a big chunk of Reforma Avenue is closed to cars and open to people on foot, bikes or skates. Of course, the motorists nag and complain, but I think it is great that Ebrard insists on showing the citizens of el D.F. that the city is more than a hell of pollution and traffic but a magnificent place they can enjoy together.

La Lupita in the restroom of La Botica. Times have changed.

And Then There's This:

The headline: Headache.
Note the photo of pregnant woman next to decapitation. That's Mexico for you.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Mexican Feeding Frenzy

Tuna Sashimi Tostadas at Contramar

Crepas de Flor de Calabaza at Casa de las Sirenas

Mezcal Variety at La Botica

Apple with Tamarind and Chili. Best Chazerai ever. 

Orange with chili, fava beans with lime and chili to go with the michelada and the mezcalito.
The best tacos de carnitas ever, only Saturdays and Sundays at the Mercado de Medellín

El Cardenal and their huevos. Best Mexican breakfast in the world.

I ordered poached eggs in black bean broth with queso fresco. Divine.
Huevos Hacienda de Puebla. Yum, whatever that means.
Pilgrimage to the Pozole at the small food market in Coyoacán. Best Pozole in the Universe.
The classic Margarita from 1945 at swanky San Angel Inn.

Salsas and limes for the tacos
Amazing tacos al pastor at El Califa
The tacos al pastor at El Huequito. Some say best in town. Different and delish.
Quesadillas de queso Oaxaca y flor de calabaza at El Cardenal.
Someone should write an illustrated encyclopedia of Mexican food. It would have to be like 500 tomes. In the interest of science, I volunteer to sample every dish.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

La Grande Mexican Bouffe

Welcome to the land where there can be as many bowel movements as there are hours in the day. And this without Moctezuma's Revenge!
The first leg of The Grande Enchilada's Eating and Drinking Tour of Mexico City has come to an end, quite successfully, if I may say so myself. Except for a brief and painful sojourn in the Mexican equivalent of The House Of Usher, which we fled never to look back, everything was delightful. My gringo traveling companions have earned their badge of honor by having stronger constitutions digestively speaking than this local guide. They ate street food unflinchingly and with great gusto, tolerated much more spiciness than I ever could and were totally game to try funky looking but glorious eats.
They sampled the heights of sophisticated Mexican cooking both in swanky places and markets. A Gold medal to all!
The second leg of the tour continues wherein yours truly will keep sampling all the food she misses back in New York. And the good news is that, either I am delusional, or I think I have actually lost weight eating this most delicious of cuisines. A cultural heritage of humanity indeed.

News flash: even though Mexican food in New York has improved greatly since the days of nachos and frozen margaritas, it still does not hold a measly candle to the marvels found here.
It never will so long as limes are not as sweet and juicy, people insist on using the wrong spices, and refuse to understand the complexity and sophistication of Mexican culinary genius.
No sour cream! No cumin! No cheese on huevos rancheros! No lettuce on everything!
I feel sorry for you all. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cranky News Digest

Blood pressure rising as a result of reading the news:

Body scan or aggressive and insensitive pat down? Well, it's been almost ten years since 911 and we're still idiots when it comes to airport security. Given a choice, I much prefer the Israeli trained agent that looks at you in the eye and asks smart questions. I understand the volume of fliers in this country makes this wish of mine utopian, but the TSA needs to admit they are a disaster. Traveling to and from Israel this summer, no one lay a hand or a scanner on me. I didn't have to take my shoes off. I just had to answer a bunch of questions in a process that was actually faster and less annoying than any gauntlet I've ever went through stateside. Many of the questions were personal. I wonder if Americans, with their concern for privacy, and their sensitivity for political correctness, are willing to subject themselves to this kind of human intrusion. Done correctly, absolutely everyone gets profiled, not just the usual brown and turbaned suspects. I can tell you, it is much more polite, much less humiliating and SAFER than the moronic inferno (to borrow from Martin Amis) we've had for years.
Mr. Hoffman said the administration should move away from adding more layers of security for every passenger in response to every new plot and consider an Israeli-style approach to identify passengers who pose a particular risk, based on advance intelligence, questioning travelers and watching their behavior.
“We’ve had nine years of just grafting security measures one on another,” Mr. Hoffman said. “Maybe it’s time to step back, take a hard look and look for a new approach.”
What the fuck has taken them so long? 

Drivers are incensed about the proliferation of bike lanes in Manhattan
Guess what? I'm incensed about drivers. They pollute, make noise and clog the city with traffic. This city needs to have more space for bikes and less for cars. And people who drive should grin and bear it. I've been saying this for years. Americans need to wean themselves off their love for the automobile. Manhattan should be a mostly car-free zone (except for small taxis, public transport and delivery trucks). What happens in Brooklyn I don't care, because with all due respect to my adorable friends from that borough, I don't give a shit. But Manhattan should be like Amsterdam or Berlin, where drivers don't kvetch about bikes invading their space. The nerve.

Some Noo Yawkers go to specialists to get rid of their accents. Noooo! Why? This is such a pity. I love accents. For instance, I learned today that the twang of our beloved Mayor Bloomberg is actually Bostonian. I always thought he spoke kinda funny. We don't all want to sound bland and indistinguishable from podunk, do we?  In my building there are still several people who have New York accents so rich, I feel like I'm in a movie. I don't drink coffee, but if I did, I'd drink cawfee.

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

For your consideration:
Claire Denis' White Material: not as bad as Denby would like you to think and a weekend at the movies.

Friday, November 19, 2010

So Much For Letter Writing

Oh well, my lovely missive to Mr. Pei was totally beside the point. It turns out that because the community opposed NYU's plans to add a fourth tower to Mr. Pei's design, and he disagreed with the fourth tower, now they are going to punish us even worse, by razing our supermarket and building a much bulkier, bigger and uglier building right on the corner, right across from the only building that does not house NYU faculty.  This is the monstrosity they plan to erect in front of my windows:

They claim Pei's firm likes this plan better. If they do, they are blind and utterly insensitive to the people who live in the area. This is not a victory for the community. This is much worse than the proposed tower, which at least tried to be graceful and blend in with the existing layout and was not really closely obstructing anyone's view. No matter what the plan, the fact that NYU's insistence in building smack on the superblock is horrible.  Now we are going to have to put up with far more people, in an already crowded area, our lovely plaza is going to be deformed and overcrowded and where the hell are we going to go for overpriced groceries? Plus, Greenwich Village is going to look like downtown Detroit. But unfortunately NYU owns the land and they can do whatever they please. They can raze the Village and build their repulsive eyesores all over it as they have been doing for years. I hate that Philip Johnson library of theirs, which looks like a bunker. I hate the Skirball building across it. We already live in their campus. They tried to appease the community, which was fighting not to compromise on anything and this is the terrible result.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Letter To I.M. Pei

Do you know what cranky New York alte cockers like me do? We write letters! I have been known to write to Mayor Bloomberg (rats, the demise of small businesses), to Chuck Schumer (universal healthcare), to American Airlines (a flight to Buenos Aires with not even a towelette), etc.
I wrote this one to distinguished architect I.M. Pei, the man who designed and built the place I live in:

Dear Mr. Pei:

I live in one of your Silver Towers. I have been enjoying my spacious and bright apartment here since 1992. As I’m sure you are aware, NYU is planning to build a 400-feet high hotel tower on the superblock site of your towers. This building will strongly affect what I think is your lasting legacy, which is the lovely harmony of the towers as they stand today, but most importantly, the open communal spirit of the plaza that anchors the towers.  I wish you could see what goes on on our plaza every day. Children play, elderly neighbors huddle together to catch the sun, people have lunch alfresco: it’s a wonderful public space, with an expansive sense of openess, a unique luxury in a city like New York. It is now being threatened by the forced inclusion of a fourth tower in an area that is already quite densely populated.   
So many of us live in the Silver Towers and yet the plaza is never too noisy or too busy. It’s an incredibly civilized urban space, where people come together. Bring in a hotel in the entrance to the plaza and part of the open and spacious spirit of the plaza would be lost.
Since NYU’s expansion plan began, I have been impressed by our community’s efforts to preserve the superblock as it is. It got landmark status, but this does not seem to deter NYU. I am an amateur lover of architecture and I know cities must change and new buildings must arise (as they did in 1960 when you built these towers). But I truly believe that squeezing in a fourth tower here would destroy the wonderful harmony of the space you designed and would impoverish the quality of life of its residents.
If you have any say in the matter, I respectfully urge you to consider the lives of the neighbors that are enriched day by day by the graceful and unique place we live in. This hotel can be built somewhere else.


The Grande Enchilada.
(trying to do my part).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NYU's Grandiose Schemes

NYU is proposing to add 6 million square feet of new space across New York City in the next twenty years, with half the growth taking place in the historic blocks of the Village—the equivalent of three Javits Centers.

Let me translate: NYU plans to add 3 million square feet of construction to my neighborhood (a lot of it on my block) and apparently not much can be done to stop it. The recent landmark status accorded to the I.M. Pei superblock, where I live, has not been a deterrent. They want to build a 38-story new hotel tower on the site. They are going to build a 17-story building on Mercer Street facing the Angelika Film Center, where they intend to put, among other things, 1,400 freshmen. They are going to put two buildings in the beautiful and serene gardens of Washington Sq. Village.
John Sexton, the president of NYU, who confuses himself with Lorenzo de Medici in a bad way, has grandiose words to sell his vision. 
“The analogy that I use is to the Italian Renaissance, when there was Milan and Venice and Florence and Rome, and the talent and creative class moved among those points,”
As if. Yet he talks about the opposition as "demagogues" and "activists". But the opposition is actually mostly neighbors. It's the people who live in the buildings and on the streets where this monstrous expansion is slated to take place. Many of the faculty who live in the Pei towers and Washington Sq. Village are not jumping for joy either. It is not so much about preserving a bohemian and artistic character that, let's be frank, has been virtually lost. It's about NYU not engulfing everything on sight.
Of course the expansion plan is a boon for construction work and jobs and money for the city, which is why Bloomberg and the politicians don't oppose it. In New York City, preservation efforts are massively heroic and mostly doomed to failure. This is the only civilized city in the world where a gorgeous and important landmark like the original Penn Station was torn down, a city that would have torn down Grand Central Station if those pesky activists and demagogues had not fought to stop it. They had Jacqueline Onassis on their side. The neighbors who live in the Pei superblock (which I am not comparing to the train stations) don't have the glamorous power credentials. We are just people. Of the three Pei towers, two are faculty housing for NYU and the other one is a Mitchell-Lama Co-op where middle class people of all ages and races live. There are a lot of elderly residents. It is a community.  And it is a community of Greenwich Villagers.
The irony is that the Pei superblock was an offending eyesore in its day. Together with the Washington Square Village buildings across the street, an entire swath of quaint Greenwich Village was demolished to make way for its brutalist, modernist aesthetic, and at least in the case of my building, for middle income people to have affordable housing. I assume this must have been a concession the city asked of NYU in order to let them build. The buildings were hated in their day (1960), but time has proven them to have been executed with a certain grace, and they provided enduring public spaces for community life. As happens with buildings of a certain age, now they have a retro feel that people are actually fond of and they are architecturally significant (I guess the Pei more than the Washington Sq. Village, but I happen to love the blocky sixties architecture and their peaceful inner courtyards).
I'm not opposed to progress. Cities change. The village is a pathetic shadow of what it used to be. But it should not become NYU. What I like about the Village is that it is full of lively and engaged people who are putting up a fight.
The little people

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

Two good movies about our troubles in Fuckedupistan: the uproarious comedy Four Lions and the outrageous drama Fair Game.

Nazis in America

Perhaps the last words of the American national anthem should be changed to "land of the free, home of the hypocrite".
It's not that it's news that the US sheltered Nazis at the end of WWII. Everybody knew that. But now we get to see a full report. You can read all its 617 pages here.
It is fascinating reading.
We are not only hypocrites in regards to Nazis, though we seem to befriend and then fight Nazi wannabes like Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, among other unsavory regimes the world over.  Sometimes these friends, who at first benefit from our largesse, we then turn into bitter enemies. Why would anybody want to help these monsters in the first place? 
But in many cases they continue their tyranny not only unabated but perhaps even sheltered by the deafening cries of "freedom" and "democracy" that our politicians like to bandy about to the point of meaninglessness.
America has always been deeply hypocritical. We are not the only ones (see France and Britain) but we are certainly the ones who abuse the terms "freedom" and "democracy" the most, both internally and in our foreign policy.
Question: Is America really a democracy? Or is it a corporation ruled by private interests that pretends there is a choice between two increasingly corrupt and ineffective parties, to make citizens think that they have a say in the matter?
The Supreme Court seems to think that it's the latter.
All I'm saying is that I would welcome a moratorium on the freedom and democracy bullshit. It is bullshit.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Today on I've Had it with Hollywood:

I'm having palpitations.

Department of Wrong Priorities

Even though several esteemed members of my family have an adoring penchant for cruise ships, I've never understood the impulse to go float in the middle of the ocean with thousands of strangers, regardless of the all you can eat nature of the adventure (which I suspect is the main reason my esteemed relatives get on those boats).
I kinda feel vindicated by the now ironically named Splendor, where passengers are having the vacation of a lifetime:
The cruise ship, the Carnival Splendor, set sail from Long Beach California on Sunday. It was 200 miles south of San Diego when an engine fire all but stopped it in its tracks on Monday. No one was injured in the blaze, but the flames stripped the ship of its power, knocking out its operating systems and leaving its 3,300 passengers and nearly 1,200 crew members without air conditioning, internet, or hot food or water. 
So that's the way the cookie crumbles nowadays. Air conditioning and internet first, food and water last. And this is The New York Times.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Response To On Bullying

From my friend and excellent blogger Virginia, this thoughtful and moving response:

Excellent post. This entire bullying gay kids situation takes me back to 1973 when I was a freshman in an all girls Catholic high school in San Francisco, Holy Slut High, where rumors spread like fire that I was lesbian.  I endured escalating exclusion, taunts, slurs, and getting shoved from behind when I was standing at my locker.
These supposedly good Catholic girls were starving for someone to hate so they zeroed in on me.  I was also very small, pale and wore glasses. 

I looked like a classic wimp.

I begged my parents to take me out of that school but they told me, “You have to roll with the punches.”  I told my dad that I felt threatened every day, and some kids had started shoving me around.  He suggested, “Let me teach you how to throw a punch.”  I said, “No thanks.” 

Approximately two months into this hell-on-earth daily harassment, the meanest girl in my class, Lori, the daughter of a Tony Soprano-type, was waiting for me with five of her nasty friends.  They were crowding the bottom of the staircase leading to the exit.  Of course, no school officials were anywhere in site.  The Brides of Christ were probably too busy praying for more funding.

When I tried to walk around them, Lori stood in front of me, blocking my path.  She opened a gleaming silver switchblade in front of my face.  37 years later, I can still hear that click.  She uttered a litany of profanity filled homophobic slurs and described in vivid detail why I deserved to die, “What do you have to say about that you fuckin’ dyke?”

I put down my books and opened my arms wide and said, “Go ahead.  Make good on your threat in front of five witnesses.  You have to kill me now because if you leave me with a single breath, I’m going to tell the cops it was you that did it.”

She was instantly speechless.  Her posse looked disturbed.

Addressing her pals, I continued, “And you guys, when the cops question you, you’re all accomplices since you stood there and watched and did nothing to stop her.”

Back to Lori, whose erect knife was looking a little more limp by the second, “And if you make good on killing me, you’ll soon find out, these five aren’t your friends.  They’re all going to blame you to save their own skins.  Also, I fully intend to haunt you to the day you die from my grave.”  To her friends I added, “And I plan to haunt you guys, too.”  Opening my arms in even wider surrender, I insisted, “So, get on with it.”

All of them, including Leader Lori, now looked terrified. 

One of her friends spoke, “Shit!  Let her go Lori!”  Lori mumbled, “You’re fuckin’ crazy.  Get the fuck outta here.”

New word instantly spread throughout my school, undoubtedly from the five witnesses, that I stood up to Lori, and a new rumor spread that I was smart “and probably bisexual” (I wasn’t, but this must have seemed acceptable).  Gloria, a respected Latino girl, who did not participate in bullying me, declared,  “She’s cool no matter what she is.”  The ostracism stopped.  As for Lori, within weeks word spread that she was knocked up.  Tony Soprano took her out of my school.   

Looking back, I know I was lucky to survive that period.  It was the toughest time of my life, and I certainly would not encourage gay kids today to call a bully’s bluff, especially one wielding a switchblade.  Yet, I naively thought that in the 37 years since I wore a lavender target on my back, we live in a much more tolerant world, but it appears the hate-filled narrow minded kids (and grandkids) of the likes of Lori remain intent on being a part of the problem.  There should be a campaign targeting bullies as what they are, a scourge that drags the world down and make it a worse place.  Make them feel like the unwelcome ones.

Monday, November 08, 2010

On Bullying

When I was growing up, you got bullied if you were:
Too fat
Too skinny
Too smart
Too stupid
Too poor
Too rich
Too good
Too mean
Too dirty
Too clean
Too clumsy
Too tall
Too short
Too religious
Not religious enough
Too white
A different color
A nerd
Bad at sports
Great at math
Wearing glasses
Having freckles
Kinky hair
Greasy hair
Big boobs
No boobs
A big schlong
A tiny schlong
A tomboy
A fag
A slut
A "nun"


Bullying is evil and should be eradicated whoever the victim, for whatever the reason.

Now, educators in certain mostly suburban school boards across the country recently decided to expand their guidelines against bullying in schools by including bullying against gay kids or gay parents, as it should be. And now some religious people are complaining that those guidelines are fostering a "hidden homosexual agenda".
I think the problem is in the approach, which invokes the teaching of tolerance to kids. To tolerate is to suffer someone else. We need to be more than tolerant. We need to respect others. Tolerance leaves the door open for plenty of dissent and interpretation. However, if we leave the touchy feely idea of tolerance aside and we use more emphatic terms, there is no argument.  Instead of telling children they need to be more tolerant of everyone around them, somebody should lay down the law:
You are not to pester, harass, harm, offend, threaten or hurt anybody physically or verbally, on the basis that they look, think, behave, believe, speak, dress, act, and love differently than you do.
(Because if you do, The Grande Enchilada is gonna personally show up and rip you to shreds, understood?)
After we lay down the law, we can certainly teach children to respect each others' differences and kumbaya, etc, etc.
Bullying because of sexual orientation needs to be included in every anti-bullying curriculum in every school in the universe, let alone the country. However, as long as we don't have federal laws in this country that protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, how can we expect society at large to follow suit? Our lawmakers are way behind the times in terms of the reality American citizens live in on a daily basis, in absolutely every aspect of their lives, at home, at school, in the workplace, at the doctor's office, in the hospital, in the army, everywhere.
As long as gay people don't have fully equal rights under the law, we are going to witness crazy, unproductive arguments like this until the end of time.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


And now, more ignorant political punditry from yours truly:
Oy vey is mir. This is gonna be ugly.
I hope that the Democrats take ownership of the filibuster they complain so much about, because they are going to need it. What just happened?
It's a combo of so many things, I get tired just thinking about it. But I am thoroughly confused. Some people say Obama has done nothing. Others say he has enacted the most significant legislation in centuries. Others think he is both a Marxist and a Nazi (those people won a bunch of seats).
I think what has happened is a perfect example of the broken politics of Washington. A two party government that is increasingly undemocratic.
In his ineffective pleading for bipartisanship and collaboration where it was clear there was none to be had, Obama ended up with a healthcare bill that pleased absolutely no one. The banks were rescued and supposedly Armaggedon was averted but people do not see it that way. All they see is that the stupid house they had to buy with the money they don't have is now worth bubkes, all they see is foreclosure and joblessness. The banks are still hoarding the money they are not lending to small businesses. They are still behaving like criminal bullies. The culprits of the worst economic crisis in history not only have gotten away scot free, some work for the current administration.
Nobody knows or understands the concrete results of the stimulus package, if any. Obama seems to work hard behind closed doors but it turns out that he does not really connect with most of "the people". He seems aloof and flinty (I'd still do him in a second, though). And then to compensate, he goes to The View and The Daily Show, instead of trying to explain the accomplishments of his administration to the people in a clearer and more presidential way. Whatever happened to press conferences?
And government? As long as they are getting campaign contributions from industry, what can citizens expect?  The system is fundamentally and institutionally corrupt.
If it was up to me, we would have universal healthcare and campaign finance reform and Lloyd Blankfein, Angelo Mozillo, Richard Fuld, Hank Paulson and their hosts of minions would all be sharing a cell with Bernie Madoff for all eternity. Hell, if it was up to me, I'd make New York City secede and become an independent country. Who needs this aggravation?
Meanwhile, the American people, all they want is not to have to pay taxes, everything else be damned. They don't care about the costly wars that are getting us nowhere and possibly making things worse, they don't care if they will lose all the money they save on taxes when they get diabetes or cancer or heart disease, they don't care that thanks to the right wing majority at the Supreme Court corporations are what dictates policy now, even more than before. 
Stick your fucking tax cuts up your ass. I hope you are happy now.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Vs. Day of Dead

Spooky holiday deathmatch!
And the uncontested winner still is the Mexican Day of the Dead! Both holidays, I assume, arise from the same Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve, or Día de Todos los Santos, in Spanish. I'm a Jew, so don't think for a second that I am about to give you the historical context for this asseveration. I'm talking out of my ass. But I can still tell you why Day of Dead kicks Halloween's ass. If this starts the next Mexican-American war, so be it.

Basically, there is a very simple reason: Day of the Dead, which I assume, also out of my ass, has been going on in this continent longer than Halloween, has not yet reached a stage of commercial apotheosis in which its original meaning is totally lost under the maniacal ringing of the cash register. Yes, you can buy pan de muerto, Day of the Day bread, or sugar or chocolate skulls with your name or that of your loved ones inscribed on them, but most of the money spent on Day of the Dead celebrations goes towards buying bunches of cempazúchitl, the orange flower that decorates the altars to your beloved dead, and the stuff that goes in said altars, which is the stuff the dead used to love when they were alive (mostly involving tequila, mezcal, cigarettes, Japanese Mexican peanuts and other sundry pleasures and vices). No need to be gouged on a green itchy wig and a cheap Tinkerbell costume at Ricky's.

Moreover, the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition is a fascinating combo of the indigenous cult of the dead of the Precolumbian cultures with the Christian tradition that was shoved down their throats later on. Whereas Halloween has long ago lost its connection to its original intent, whatever that was, Day of the Dead insists on getting emotionally and spiritually close to the actual dead, not just look like them.  Besides, in Mexico, people are natural artists. They make things with flowers and paper and cardboard, not just plastic made in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, Halloween has made enormous inroads all over Mexico. I spent Day of the Dead in Oaxaca several years ago and kids were dressed as mummies or ghouls and trick or treating for cash, as opposed to candy, which comes in handy when you actually have issues getting enough food to eat. But the beautiful, deeply personal, deeply heartfelt tradition of Day of the Dead prevails.

That's my hero, Benito Juarez in the left bottom corner.
Yes, there were some obnoxious rich Mexican juniors after midnight in the cemetery who hired a band of Mariachis and were disturbing everyone with their drunken hollering (and, of course, if the humble people honoring their dead were as annoyed as I was, they did not show it). But to walk into a cemetery late at night and see the graves lit by candles surrounded by these gorgeous flowers, and see the families sitting at the graves, bringing their dead their atole (sweet corn porridge), and communing with them, that certainly beats the hordes of drunken idiots tottering about the Village in New York City. I'm no party pooper. I used to hate Halloween when I was a child, but I like it in New York because the grown ups get dressed up. I think it's lots of fun. But it has become pointless. And isn't it richer when celebrations actually have a point?

Halloween masks in Oaxaca
"I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round..."
Grave at the cemetery. 
The entrance to Oaxaca's cemetery at night
American plastic ghosts decorate a grave with Mexican panache

"You are dust and to dust you shall return"

A humble cemetery during the day.