Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Now Showing At A Theater Near You

• Check out many reviews of the most talked about movies this year right here.

• If you speak Spanish, you may also enjoy my take on human atrocities on film, a subject dear to my heart.

• And coming soon in I've Had It With Hollywood, my annual list of the best and worst movies of 2013. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Mexican Coke Is It

Art by Andy Warhol, who should be rolling in his grave.

Only a threat of this magnitude could rouse me from my long hibernation in the world of film reviews, dear readers. I am concerned about an extremely frightening scenario I stumbled upon here.
The headline screams "Could This Be The End of Mexican Coke?"
It is not the stuff the nightmares of cocaine fiends are made of. Just imagine: no more mountains of deeply adulterated, cheap and plentiful cocaine, a byproduct of the spilled blood of tens of thousands of Mexicans and of the voracious appetite for blow north of the Mexican border. That coke we don't care about. If that ends, goodbye and good riddance.
We are talking about Coke with a capital C. We are talking about the end of Mexican Coca-Cola, which is the only Coca-Cola worth drinking, in my estimation. It is made with cane sugar, as opposed to high fructose corn syrup, and while it will still make you fat, diabetic, and will rot your teeth just like the other one, the difference in the experience of drinking it is enormous. Plus, as poisons go, it is the less bad of the two.
As you all know, there is a difference between Coke that comes in a can (bad), a plastic bottle (worse), a two liter bottle (the pits), or the very best Coke, which comes in the classic curvaceous glass bottle, either small or medium. So it stands to reason that there is a difference if Coke is made with cane sugar or with corn syrup. You can taste it right away. Mexican Coke is less syrupy. It is less cloying. Less sweet. It is lighter, easier to drink, more refreshing. The very best Coke comes, ice cold, in a medium (probably 12 oz) glass bottle. Pour that cold Coke over a glass full of ice. Open happiness, indeed.
So now that the Mexican government is following the Bloomberg approach and wants to tax soft drinks (Mexico has the greatest consumption of soft drinks in the world and alarming rates of rising obesity and diabetes), Coca-Cola Mexico is threatening to switch to high fructose corn syrup, which supposedly is cheaper than cane sugar.
This is malevolent.  If I were the Mexican government, I would tax them double for making it with corn syrup. If people are already going to pay an extra tax for their coke, why would they want a worse Coke? Coca Cola will win this battle, like it wins all battles, because it is all mighty. But since it claims to be a nice company about happiness, that spends so much money trying to pretend their bottled water is not destroying the Earth and that Putin is a nice guy, they should have a public relations fiasco with this bullying threat.
Unfortunately, the majority of Mexicans won't give a damn if their Coke is made one way or the other. They may revolt at having to pay more for a drink they consume like water. But it is up to fineschmecking foodies like me and my indignant Facebook friends to man the barricades against this blatant attack on taste (and less bad health).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mi Tía Dora

My beloved aunt Dora died last night. She was only 84 and full of life, so the news came as a very sad shock. I imagine she was still teaching yoga. I know she was still interested in movies and books, politics and culture. I got an email from her just a couple of weeks ago, responding to my wishes for a happy new year. 
I am going to miss her generous appetite for life and laughter.
She was my mother's sister. They were very close. When my sisters and I were kids, every time we had an argument, which was often, my mom used to boast that she never ever argued with aunt Dora. I found this impossible to believe (how can anybody not fight?), but indeed, I never saw them argue. I now suspect Mom wasn't bluffing. She could not fathom why we were at each other's throats, while she and Dora were always the best of friends.
Dora was warm, charming, funny, and delightful company. You could talk to her about any subject under the sun. Mom and her fed off each others' robust sense of humor.  They invented a non-existent millionaire uncle from Australia, Uncle Wilbur, who never met us, but was going to leave us his enormous inheritance nonetheless. They made up endless puns in Yiddish, Spanish, English and French. They lovingly nicknamed their podiatrist, "Buster", in honor of Buster Keaton, since he never smiled either. They called Gregory Peck "Peckory Greg", and Tyrone Power something to do with the word for fart in Spanish. And so it went on.
They were always ready to make good-natured fun of things, but they did not have a mean streak. Anita and Dora were sophisticated and salt of the earth. And Dora was always fun. She had a sunny nature.
She made it a family tradition to close the Passover seder by channeling her inner mezzo-soprano at the very end refrain of Chad Gadia, the very last melody of a very long evening. She brought down the house every year. It is safe to say that her wisecracks contributed to make all our family occasions much more fun than average. And in adversity, she rallied, and let that bright sunshine of hers peep out even when she was sad.
She traveled the world and was welcome everywhere. She got along with everybody. I will miss her enveloping warmth, which I think is what best describes her, a radiant, cozy, comfy, warmth. I will miss her big heart, her sonorous laughter, and the mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Gung Ho!

I saw the martial arts film The Grandmaster yesterday and the sage philosophical musings of some of the different schools of Chinese fighting led me to ponder how is it that every time the American government wants to start a war with someone, they waste no time shouting it to the winds. What about the stealth, the element of surprise, the strategy? What about knowing your enemy? (If they did, they would think twice about it).
I do tai chi, which is not, as you may think, a gentle stretch for little old Chinese ladies, but a martial art. My teacher is always saying things like, you gotta have strong legs so the first thing you do when confronted by a possible attack is, run the hell out of there. The first rule of Chinese martial arts seems to be to avoid, deflect, defuse, and discourage confrontation. If that is not possible, however, then that swift, out-of-the-blue, lethal kick will come in handy. But if you let your enemy, (and the enemy of your enemy, which in the case of Syria is also your enemy) know two weeks in advance that you intend to kick his ass, it may not work out as well.
I just came back from France, where the national pastime seems to be to sit in cafés and talk. The French are obsessed with thought and discussion, and having as much paid vacation as possible. The Magnificent Arepa had an epiphany that the reason why there are so many French philosophers is that the French like to sit at cafés, smoke, drink coffee, and think. Like Sartre and Beauvoir at Les Deux Magots.
Americans however, are obsessed with action. No sitting at cafés in the middle of the day for us. We do shit without thinking.
This is the only way I can explain the surreal moment we are having right now about going to war with Syria. First, we don't do anything when it's the time to do it, if ever; we wait until the guy has killed 100,000 people and then, when he steps over "the red line" (which, as Jon Stewart points out, is a dick measuring tape), we bluster and threaten and announce our intentions to attack. Obama whips his dick out, and not to be outdone, many of the putrid vermin that populate Congress follow suit. This is the one issue in which Republicans all of a sudden stand behind a President they have stonewalled every step of the way. They strangle health, education, immigration, economic issues, but war? BRING IT!
Has there been a thoughtful conversation, analysis or debate about this latest hankering for infernal action? Can this President, who promised to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan now say with a straight face that we are going into Syria as well?
The problem with Americans is that ours is a lethal combination of "gotta get things done, but first we need to brag about them". We neither do them when it is advisable, if ever, nor talk or think about them enough, which should be always. So by the time we take action, we do it thoughtlessly, unleashing even bigger messes, more enmity, and more chaos.
There must be an alternate way, a way of reason and brilliance. This takes true brains, and is therefore rarely used, but this constitutes the ideal scenario: people with great strategic thinking come up with smart, complex, unfolding solutions; not gung-ho, easy as a fart, morally abject posturing that is going to get us into a whole world of trouble. Again.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Extra Step

A woman once said that the French think they are like Germans, but they are actually like Italians. Some stuff they do spectacularly well: The wine, the cheese, the bread. The trains work, the roads are pristine and clearly signalized. The bathrooms are spotless clean.
But when it comes to service or process, it's not that they are chaotic, it's that they love bureaucracy. They love steps. If you can do something in thirty steps, as opposed to one or two, pourquoi pas?
If you need a part of a stove replaced because its glass cover exploded in the kitchen (don't ask) and you call the numero de service of the appliance store, the monsieur you are speaking to, who displays an admirable balance of hostility, impatience and propriety, insists on talking of Electrolux when you clearly said Airlux. Twenty minutes later, he throws in the towel and advises you to take a picture of the serial number label to the store, so they can deal with you there. C'est tout he can do for you.
The trip to the store becomes three separate trips to three different stores, because in each one, the person in charge disavows himself from the responsibility of helping you: it's not their department, their phone doesn't work, Madame de Pompadour called in sick. But when you finally make it to the third store, the one they should have told you to go to in the first place, the lady behind the counter knows exactly what you need, and where to get it, and your suffering is over in five minutes. It is uncanny, as if she knew your sad story with the exploding cover all this time and was just patiently waiting, like Proust in search of lost time, for you to show up.

Try doing something on a French website. I tried to reserve a taxi, because I'll have you know that cabs in Paris are always mysteriously absent or have arcane, incomprehensible rules of where they pick up and where they drop off passengers. Why can't it be in the same place? Je ne sais pas. There are empty taxis parked at the TAXI sign. Some of them have drivers in them, but they cannot take you. There is even a hopeful-looking button you press that goes, like something out of Camus, unanswered.
But at home, there is an internet taxi reservation site. They even have an English version! I fill out all the info: name, time, place, and give a final, relieved click, only to run into the little extra step: they want a cellphone number to send me a code to confirm and verify that I, and not the Marquis De Sade, ordered the cab. But then the site won't accept a foreign number, so after a good 15 minutes of filling out forms and trying Kabbalistic number permutations, there is no cab to be had.
I should have called, but what if the guy sent me to the other guy, the one that works for Cardinal Richelieu? Plus, when I dial, a prerecorded female voice tells me something about the nature of the call I am attempting and she scares me off the phone.
Here in the US, you can go on a kafkaesque limbo of customer service hell, sans doute, but it usually takes one interminable step. Over there, it's a waltz. 

Bonjour Tristesse

I was recently in France, where pretty much everyday, like every French person, I put a golden, fragrant, crunchy, chewy baguette under my arm; and unlike every French person, waited to get home before tearing into it in the middle of the street.
Last Sunday, I went into a boulangerie and purchased a ficelle, which is a smaller, thinner baguette (so as not to appear like the grosse cochonne I am).
I ate this glorious thing sans anything. No butter, no jam, no jambon, no fromage. It was so spectacularly good, it did not need anything else. I ate it in the park and could have eaten five more, but I have my dignity.
New York may have pretty much everything the heart desires, but there is no good baguette to be found. Those of you who think there is, are deluding yourselves and should stop immediately.
We have found a very decent croissant and pain au chocolat, and French pastries a block away, but a simple, wholesome, perfect pleasure like a baguette, which is flour, salt, water and yeast, New York cannot muster. This makes me extremely sad.
Some say it's the water. Pourquoi?
I just feel like crying.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

American Shakedown Part II: The Health Insurance Criminal Racket

I recently underwent surgery for a broken bone in my foot. I am insured through a PPO. I pay over $5000 a year for my individual insurance. Before the procedure, I asked repeatedly how much would the hospital cost, how much the surgeon's fee, the anesthesiologist, nobody would tell me. They all said: "But you have insurance, right? Don't worry about it".
I did everything by the book. I used an in-network doctor and in-network facility. I called the insurance company to ask about pre-certification. Yet a few days ago, I get an "explanation of benefits" letter telling me that I owe $20,120.13 for a three hour outpatient hospital stay, not including the surgeon ($3500) and anesthesiologist ($1350) fees, for which apparently the insurance company has deemed I am totally responsible. The reason: they needed more information on what caused the fracture, even though I filled out three different forms at the doctor, the hospital and the physical therapy explaining the issue. Basically, they are trying to see if it sticks and screw me over. Now I have to make calls and contest claims; a frightening and totally unnecessary outcome.
The insurance companies use deliberately confusing language. I had to read my insurance coverage book three times in order to understand what is and isn't covered. What is the difference between and copayment and a co-insurance? What does out-of-pocket mean?
Then you should take a look at the "explanation of benefits". The hospital charges are fifteen line items, "explained" by mysterious procedure codes like 587 and 452. So hell if I know what exactly they are charging me for. A kleenex? Sedatives? What?
This insurance criminal racket is simply armed robbery. Medical expenses are the only instance in human society in which consumers purchase services without knowing the amounts they cost, which are deliberately obscured by the providers. We are getting raped, and no one is doing anything about it. Obamacare was watered down to placate the insurance racket, not to help the citizens of this country.
Of all the absurd injustices in this virulently capitalistic country, the health insurance scam is the first thing that needs to be reformed and regulated, because it affects absolutely everybody. It is nothing but organized crime, and the abominable politicians who line their pockets at the expense of the American people and the bidding of the insurance industry should be skinned alive in the hot sun and hung out to dry. Americans should be up in arms. 

Friday, August 09, 2013

American Shakedown

Attention, Mexicans! Our pride in being undisputed champions of the shakedown is now under mortal threat from our neighbor to the north. You heard right: not from a ravaged country in Africa, not from the Russians, the Chinese, or from our very competitive neighbors to the south (all of them). The latest challenge comes from the good old US of A. You would think that the police stealing cars, money, jewelry and kids (yes) from people only happens in benighted third world countries, but think again.
According to this excellent article by Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker, now you can find the third world shakedown right in America The Beautiful! And as everything that is rotten and corrupt in this magnificent land (corporations are people, the NSA can read your emails, lobbying, you name it), it is perfectly legal. It is called civil forfeiture. It was originally designed to fight drug cartels and organized crime, but ever enterprising, some police departments in some states have decided to expand it to regular, innocent, hardworking people. Because isn't that the way of all progress?
In a nutshell:
In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.
One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence.
Lately, with all these newfangled laws designed to protect us from sundry terrorist evildoers, the US is starting to adopt not only the surreal magical realism that is endemic to developing countries (Texas vs. One Pearl Necklace?), but a frightening Orwellian and Kafkaesque degree of absurdity. We should all be very concerned.
At least in Mexico we have equal opportunity: everybody can be a victim of the shakedown. The rich, because they're rich, and the poor because they're poor. Everybody pays. Not in the US, no siree Bob. As befits the cradle of unbridled capitalism, the rich here are left untouched, no matter their wrongdoings. It's the poor, black and brown who get shaken down the most.
Do you want to take a guess at what states are vying for the world championship in the art of the police shakedown? I'll give you a hint, it's not Vermont. Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. (you know, where the Capitol is) and the underfunded police department in Detroit. By law, the loot goes directly to fund law enforcement, which is a great incentive for police departments to cast a wider net and relieve innocent people of their possessions. As for the kids I mentioned above, the notorious police ring of Tenaha, Texas, has a cash for freedom deal in which they threaten to remove your children from your care unless you give all your stuff up. A termagant called Lynda K. Russell, the racist, corrupt attorney general of Shelby County, Tx, is the one allowing the shakedowns of people to happen.

One difference between Mexico and here, is that at least here people can still find some legal recourse, even if an expert calls U.S. civil forfeiture cases, "the Guantanamo of the legal system". The article introduces several admirable lawyers that have taken up cases to help people fight this outrageous injustice.
I moved from Mexico 21 years ago thinking that I was moving from the developing world into the apex of progress and civilization. I never expected that I would feel like I was back in a third world country, or worse, but I see evidence of the US slipping into moral, economic and political decay every single day.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sochi's Life

Tom of Finland or Vladimir Putin? You decide.
Gazillions of dollars are hanging in the balance. The Russians know this, because now that they have money to burn, they know how thoroughly it corrupts everything.
So I'm sure they are not concerned about the - so far - useless outrage over their barbaric, Nazi-like anti-homosexuality laws. Appalled citizens throughout the world may organize in outrage, as well they should, but unless governments, local Olympic teams and multinational advertisers make a stand and boycott the stupid winter games in Sochi, Putin knows that it's going to be business as usual.
I wonder how much money Russians used to grease the dirty paws of the I.O.C, a notoriously corrupt and revolting organization.
Countries with abysmal human rights abuse issues should not host the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, this would leave only Scandinavia and the Marshall Islands as contenders. President Obama may go on the Tonight Show and wag his finger, but unless he calls for a boycott of the games, he's just appeasing the outraged. Putin could care less.
He knows NBC is not going to piss away almost the $800 million dollars it paid for the rights to televise, plus millions of dollars in ads because of gay rights.
It's medieval, and gross and uncivilized, but it is bully tactics. Russia has always been a crude, merciless bully: to its satellite republics under Communism, to Jews and other ethnic minorities, and now to gays. What a dump. Still, if all else fails, I think the Olympic teams should appear at the opening and closing ceremonies wearing sparkly costumes and feathered headgear a la Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and La Cage Aux Folles. Make these the gayest games in history. Have Putin send all the athletes to the Gulag. I bet this would make that criminal psychopath happy.
In the meantime, here's a petition to transfer the games to Vancouver, so that no one loses money. The nice people of Canada to the rescue.  Add your voice.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stand Your Ground

In which an unarmed minor dies of a gunshot wound wielded by a suburban vigilante, who decided to take the law in his hands even though Trayvon Martin was not breaking any law and the 911 dispatcher told him to stay inside his car.
No one saw the altercation. No one was on the street. In places like Sanford, Florida people live in gated communities in houses where they can go weeks without seeing a neighbor. Then they get in their cars by themselves. They live in fortresses, and because of this isolation, they are paranoid that someone is going to harm them. This is why they feel they need to have guns to defend their property. They act as if there is no one around them, and they are all alone in the world. No society, no community. This is why they have absurd laws like Stand Your Ground. Although we can surmise that had this entailed the shooting death of a white 17 year-old with skittles in his pocket, murdered by the same man, Zimmerman would have fried, his white last name notwithstanding. Because it is about race, but race gets worse in the suburbs.
In a city teeming with people we share the space with all kinds of other people. We feel safer because we don't feel so alone. And we know better than to assume that because someone is black and wearing a hoodie, our lives are in imminent danger. We may think racist thoughts, but we learn to recognize signs. We simply are more in contact with all kinds of people and this creates a certain social cohesion that seems to be missing from less crowded places.
Racism of course, plays a big part. But the more you live in proximity to different kinds of people, from different ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic levels, beliefs and gender orientations, the more you share the space, the broader criteria you have to wield your prejudices. The city provides a saner reality check than the lurid fantasies that come from living in isolation. We laugh about the people we hate in the subway, but we live in peace with them, in very tight quarters.
Living in the suburbs may give you lots of space, but it is isolating and can lead to delusions of blacks coming to rob you, immigrants coming to steal your job and use your hospitals, and you, some sort of lonely Daniel Boone, armed in your own cocoon, fearsome of everything that is out there.
Zimmerman is already rotting in a hell of his own making. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Newsflash: Your Rights and The Constitution Are In The Toilet

One has only to read a paper, or rather browse through Facebook, to come across daily occurrences of blatant disregard of laws and citizens' rights in this country. Ever since 9/11, the most damage those satanic terrorists inflicted in this country has been the rise of a secret police state and the erosion of the legal guarantees and freedoms we all think we still have as we happily watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. It ain't the land of the free anymore.
And guess what? It's a slippery slope. You start with "enemy combatants": no trial, no habeas corpus, no nada, stick them in Guantánamo indefinitely, torture them and force feed them if they go on hunger strike, and next thing you know, every law enforcement department in the country feels free to dump on the Constitution.
A kid in Florida is in jail since February and on half a million dollars bail for making a really stupid comment in Facebook. 
The house of a guy in Nevada is stormed by armed police after he refuses to let them in to conduct a stakeout.
A young woman buys a case of water and is arrested and sent to jail by plainclothes police as if she were Pablo Escobar.
The government keeps track of everything you ever wrote or said, now with broader powers through a secret body of law, etc.
Who's next? I don't ask where's the outrage because it is useless. We are all looking the other way, making no waves, confident that no one is ever gonna come and get us.
Barack Obama pretends to be a champion of change while presiding over the trashing of the Constitution, the disregard for the Geneva Convention, etc.
I voted for the guy twice, as most people I know. His record on immigration deportations is worse than Bush's. Countless human rights abuses happen every minute at the for-profit jails where illegal immigrants fester waiting to be deported. Guantánamo is still there, and not getting any better.
If it were Dick Cheney, you'd be up in arms.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Response To A Long Time Reader

I got a comment from "A Long Time Reader" relating to my post on gender discrimination in the advertising business. You can see the post and the comment here.

This is my response:

Thanks for reading, Long Time Reader.
Don't you find it a little naive to think there are no women out there making it on their own? Have you heard of the gal who wrote the Harry Potter books? Oprah Winfrey? I know several women entrepreneurs that have started their own businesses, totally on their own, without expecting anything from anyone but respect and a fair shake, and they have it much tougher than the guys. Lines of credit don't open as easily for them, people don't listen as seriously. They are hardworking, intelligent risk-takers. They are not any less capable than any guy. In fact, they have to work harder to overcome stereotypes and ingrained attitudes. It is not their fault. We just happen to have a deeply ingrained, millennial culture that assumes that men are natural leaders and women are not, because for centuries, women were not allowed to read, study in universities, vote, have professions, have their own businesses, or simply be independent human beings. They were supposed to stay home, breed, and obey the male. How could one compete? To this day, some men still believe they get to decide on what women do with their own sexuality and their pregnancies. The nerve.
At this point, the discrimination, the patronizing, the looking down on women, are embedded in our cultural DNA. It may not always be conscious, or malicious, but that's the way it is.
Look at porn. Porn is a good example of the imbalance between the genders.
Why is it always the woman who is shown to be acted upon, penetrated, manhandled, increasingly with more violence and alienation? Why isn't there a more equal porn where both men and women are objects of erotic desire? Because that is how men look at women. And men don't want to look at other men. And women have been taught that they can't really express themselves sexually. That they should be pure and chaste and not sluts. It's a man's world. And now, there are entire generations of kids who grow up thinking that the ridiculous, ugly, pounding sex in porn is normal sex. You guys are not doing a good job.
Women who object to this state of affairs are called "whiners" by people like you.
I agree that women have to fight hard for equality and fairness. As I said in my post, we have to start our own fight. But men will defend their status quo tooth and nail. Why? Because men know, as the fanatics of every religion that wants to keep women down know (pretty much all of them), that the minute women have truly equal footing, this will mean real freedom, real democracy, real civilization, real human progress. Keeping women down is the first, most basic, most intimate form of human oppression. It is the essence of barbarism.
The question we should be asking is why women have tolerated and abetted this through the ages.
But in this day and age, when religious belief is utterly irrelevant, and we are not hunting Mammoths and living in caves, women have every right to demand equality, fairness and respect. That is not whining or begging, that is plain dignity.
Modernity, however, is no guarantee of civilization. Look at the Holocaust. Look at every genocide since then. Look at the American South up to the 1960's. Look at two young football players who gang raped a girl recently and bragged about it all over social media. Someone on CNN was sorry that their brilliant future careers were over.
It is still imperative for those who are treated unfairly to fight for equal opportunity and justice.
As for your opinions about begging blacks and grousing Jews, they seem to me pernicious and naive generalizations. There are many successful black people, like our very own President Obama; and there are countless Jews who beg and don't have a pot to piss on.
If certain groups don't have the political, economic, or social power to change their situation, what are they supposed to do? If Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement had not "whined" and demanded, would there still be segregation and lynchings in the South? If women had not demanded the right to an education, to vote, to equal pay? We'd all be attending mindless Tupperware parties in Stepford.
That's not progress. That is regression.
In short, I think we do not protest enough, but I suspect that we have very different worldviews. Thank you for your readership.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Ad Industry is Still in a Mad Men Time Warp

The Art Director's Club has founded an initiative to make the famously boys’ clubbish ad industry more inclusive of women. This sounds unimpeachable on paper.  But wait until you hear what they’re proposing.
I realized how bad things really were when, at the opening party for the Cannes Lions several years ago, the line for the men's restroom circled round the block, whereas at the women's restroom there was no line whatsoever. A first in human history, to be sure. One look at the juries of Cannes and other advertising awards tells you all you need to know. They have one or two token females, but it is mostly guys. Only about 3% of creative directors are women.  This is plain and simple, gender discrimination. 
I am a creative director, and a woman, and I welcome the desire to do something about this problem. But the way the Art Director's Club is going about it seems, well, patronizing. "Women have made great strides", says the current president of ADC.  What strides? To catch up with the guys?  What are we, in a Virginia Slims commercial?
ADC’s idea is to force the industry to have a 50/50 gender ratio at awards shows, boards of directors and events and speakers lineups. How will this be encouraged? Just put a woman in there to make everyone feel better about themselves? This is like applying a band-aid to a festering wound. The reason why no more women are part of these things is that not enough women get hired or are allowed to reach the creative positions needed to be invited to such prestigious affairs. There is a glass ceiling made of guys who hire guys, who give awards to guys. Yes, there are many women in high management in media, account services and production. Many women work hard in creative departments, mostly looking up above at a formidable barrier of guys. Creative still seems to be dominated by the Don Drapers of the world.
So there is an event today calling all women in advertising for a photo-op to break out the campaign. I did not see any important women in advertising there. There were mostly young women with esprit de corps who can perhaps afford to spend their lunch hour posing for a photo.  The president of the ACD speaks and among the things he says is how impressed he was with the women he met at an awards jury panel, how much they had to offer, as if this were news. He is oblivious to how condescending he sounds.  
The idea of a gender ratio, albeit well-intentioned, smacks of tokenism. This should be decided by merit, not gender. Women should be able to compete with men as equals in the creative field. That is, if they are allowed to participate, not in special events, but in the day to day creative work that requires their talent and leadership. And by the way, are women being paid the same rates as men? Don't think so. 
Back in the Dark Ages in 2005, Neil French, then Worldwide Creative Director at  WPP, said that there weren't more female creative directors in advertising because they usually leave "to go suckle something."  “You can’t be a great creative director and have a baby and keep spending time off every time your kids are ill", he said, "everyone who doesn’t commit themselves fully to the job is crap at it.” Which is utter, despicable bullshit. One of the things that strikes me about Mad Men and its gender politics in the office, is the feeling of plus ça change. Yes, we've come a long way, but boy, are we still way behind.
Women can do it, whether they are single, married or suckling. But it would be better if we didn’t wait for the boys to give us the little pat in the back that is going to make everything allright. We have to start the fight to include ourselves. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Dispatches from the Theater

This production of The National Theater of Scotland stars Alan Cumming playing all the major roles in this fabulous play by William Shakespeare. This is a modern adaptation, and so it takes some liberties, like framing the action at a modern mental hospital where a man, Macbeth, relives the trauma of his story. In contrast to other attempts at modernizing the Bard, this one does not feel strained or arbitrary. It allows the thick and oozing darkness of the play to seep through. This is one bloody, ominous, godless, violent and dark play, and that shines through in this production, directed with verve by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg.
The set design is a cavernous cell in a mental hospital with an observation window where a doctor and a nurse keep an eye on the madman. A trio of closed circuit cameras help the witches appear, and the use of simple props like three chairs and a metal table to create the banquet scene; a mirror, to have a conversation between Macbeth and one of his soldiers; or just a towel, to change him into her, is witty and effective. The production is riveting. It is alive, full of energy and power.
Mr. Cumming is wonderful. It is a total tour de force to be on stage for a full two hours with no intermission, playing Macbeth, the Three Witches, Lady Macbeth, Duncan, Banquo and a couple of others. If he sometimes slides into a bit of campiness, this is one instance where indicating with body language actually helps understand which character is being played.
Cumming, thankfully, does not change voices. He does change accents once in a while, sporting a strong Scottish brogue for Macbeth, something more dainty for the Lady and a plummy British accent for Duncan. He is extremely adroit with the text. We were sitting in the next to last row of the mezzanine and we could hear every word, except when he spoke a bit too fast.
It helps to be a bit familiar with the plot, but the program has a synopsis and a cast of characters. If you go, read it. This Macbeth, a play about the violence of ambition, feels like powerful, concentrated, totally relevant Shakespeare.

A lame attempt at conflating Pinter and Mamet, it is beyond me why anybody would want to re-stage this weak, derivative play by Lyle Kessler. But it has a cast of thousands, (actually three) so we went. Alec Baldwin is good as Harold, the gangster who insinuates himself into the home of two brothers, Treat and Phillip, played by Ben Foster and the impressive Tom Sturridge. But this play, albeit entertaining, makes no sense. Phillip (Sturridge, in a tour de force performance of kinetic energy) is mentally feeble; Treat is a petty thief who lords over him. He brings a drunk Harold into the house, finds out he is rich and decides to kidnap him, and then the tables are turned. The whole thing, as directed by Daniel Sullivan, has the feel of a toothless sitcom. And that is not the reason why one goes to the theater. I did not get the point of the play. Ben Foster, who is a talented movie actor, disappoints as Treat. However, he is an extremely welcome substitute for Shia Leboeuf, a man who if I had my druthers, would be banned from appearing on the face of Earth.

The Big Knife
Yes, it's old fashioned, yes, it's none too subtle, but I love hearing the language of Clifford Odets. Even if the play is deeply flawed, there is such heart in the writing, it's as rich as an extravagant dessert. This production is uneven, with great turns by Richard Kind, Rachel Brosnahan and Reg Rogers, and pretty much all the supporting cast, but a very miscast and lost Bobby Cannavale and a stiff Marin Ireland in the main roles, as a huge Hollywood movie star and his wife. We spent the intermission trying to recast Cannavale's part. They don't make them like they used to. 

The Assembled Parties
This was fun, entertaining, if slightly befuddling. It's the story of a goyish Jewish family in the Upper West Side and some of its secrets through the years. The cast is great, in particular Judith Light, the foremost expert in playing Jewish cantankerous matrons. Richard Greenberg's one liners are elegant and funny, but I cannot tell you that I left the theater with much more than that.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Brecht, even in his most feverish agitprop mode, had a rapier wit and a strong sense of irony. But this production with new music by Duncan Sheik feels like Brecht Lite. The lyrics by W.H. Auden still pack a punch, but the music, except for one song, is like generic pop music, totally wispy and forgettable. And this kind of political theater, which is not aging very well, deserves music with far more bite.
The first act is very enjoyable but the second totally fizzles out, and it goes on forever. This is one play that could use a bit of trimming and a much, much faster pacing. The cast seems to need a good jolt of caffeine. Mary Testa plays all her different characters the exact same way, wasting her considerable talent. Elizabeth A. Davis, who plays Grusha, the heroine of the play, is perfectly serviceable, but she should be more formidable. Even though one can understand the casting of the quirky Christopher Lloyd as the singer and the judge, he delivers a rambling, one note fest that gets tiresome pretty fast. He has some moments but he takes forever to say his lines. It's a long slog.

Here Lies Love
Evita Perón is conceived in her musical as a hick from the provinces with a bit of a lethal backbone. Nobody pretends she had a heart of gold (except herself). But Imelda Marcos, who did nothing to inspire the poor people of the Philippines except to go on obscene shopping sprees and carouse at Studio 54, is treated in this musical by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim as some sort of romantic heroine who could not resist the riches her bastard of a dictator husband bestowed on her, and hence turned into an unfeeling, distant, frivolous first lady. There is a lot to be mined in these rag to riches stories of women of low origins who seduce tyrants and then become tyrants themselves. I bet they were all Grade A bitches from the day they were born, but this is not necessarily what makes them great dramatic heroines, and don't look for profound human psychology in this frothy play.
I was down for the ride until the play ended on a sunny, preposterous note, even after the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino. The real Imelda Marcos was a joke, an embarrassment to her country, deeply unconcerned by her country's woes, if not worse. Here she is romanticized, a bystander to corruption and cruelty, rather than a perpetrator, which is troubling. Yes, she denies her origins and behaves like a c--t sometimes, but why does she get the last laugh? If you need to put a disclaimer on the program that the Marcos couple were two evil bastards, what gives?
Some of the music is lovely and the best songs throb with a catchy, funky pulse. The title song is a horror, and unfortunately, it happens twice. The strained staging by Alex Timbers, which has the audience standing on the floor of a nightclub, and being manhandled by production assistants, while immersive and riveting at times, is also annoying. The cast is nimble, young and spirited. They deserve all the love.

Now Showing At A Theater Near You

A modern adaptation of Henry James' What Maisie Knew.
A muddy Mud, with Matthew McConaughey.
François Ozon best movie, In The House.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Obama: Cruel And Unusual Punishment

They are not that different. Photo via Gawker.
Barack Obama is great at giving rousing speeches of consolation after every fresh mowing down of Americans, whether it's toddlers in Newtown or runners and their supporters in Boston, but his presidency is marred by having increased some of the cruelest policies in the history of this country. Those who love him, want to pretend this is not happening. They give the guy a pass they would not dream of giving George W. Bush. After 9/11 and with the pretext of fighting terrorism, this country threw the Constitution in the garbage and set it on fire, discarded the Geneva Convention, and imposed a series of unprecedented measures that strongly curtail the safeguarding of individual rights and the administration of true justice. What is going on in terms of lawlessness is directly proportional to our revolting public discourse about freedom and democracy. Revolting.
1. Guantánamo. Wasn't he supposed to close it? There is a terrible hunger strike going on, in which some prisoners are being force fed with tubes up their noses. Some of these prisoners have been festering in there for more than a decade. This defies the Geneva convention, the American Constitution, and every human rights law in existence. This is an outrage. For instance:
In September 2012, a Yemeni man named Adnan Latif died at Guantanamo in what officials say was a suicide. Latif had been cleared by the Bush and Obama administration, and a federal judge had ordered his release. That order was overturned on the Obama Department of Justice's appeal, however, and Latif died after a decade of imprisonment despite never having been accused of a crime. He was the ninth person to die at Guantanamo.
2. Drone attacks in Pakistan. I'm no fan of islamist barbarians, but these attacks seem to hurt far more civilians than they should. They also increase the fanatical hatred that these people harbor for the US.

3. Mass deportations of undocumented immigrants through a cruel, inhumane, utterly repulsive system manned by the Department of Homeland Security and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which is based on keeping detainees in private prisons that happen to make money by the inmate. This is appalling.
There have been more deportations in Obama's presidency than at any other period in American history. This has been documented extensively, but if you want your liver to collapse, read William Finnegan's piece in The New Yorker about an American man, Mark Lyttle, a unfortunately brown skinned redneck, who was deported to Mexico twice, despite the fact that he is mentally ill, and as American as apple pie and egregious human rights abuses. Out of 400,000 deportees, about 1% are American citizens who are wrongly deported because of a despicable system that is willfully blind to justice and reason.
Since it looks to the rest of the world that we only shed tears, do vigils, light candles, bring flowers and write poems when Americans suffer, think of your fellow citizens. That could be you on the wrong side of the incompetent, sadistic bureaucrats of the DHS and ICE. Hell, with enough bad luck, someone might confuse you with a member of Al-Qaeda and send you to Guantánamo, where you have no rights whatsoever.
These things not only go on unabated in the era of Hope and Change, but they are pursued with unusual zeal, because Obama's greatest fear is to be accused of being soft on terrorism, of being a tender hearted liberal who doesn't have the balls to stand up to the "enemies" of this country.
So next time he brings a tear to your eye with his oratory, remember, there but for the grace of God you go. We are letting this country become a fascist state. It has become worse during this Democratic presidency. Don't whine later when your rights are trampled.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Mexican Food Porn Part Deux

I kept eating everything and everywhere. My good friend, Mr. Michael Parker, and his splendid cook Sra. Araceli, made a fabulous dinner with shrimp stuffed avocados and light, fluffy fried fish and Mexican ratatouille. It was a candlelit dinner, so the pictures of the beautiful table are rather dim.

Here's the table at my family's Seder.

And the traditional Passover plate.

Here's the table at my Middle Enchilado Brother in Law Passover lunch extravaganza.

My last important meal was at very good restaurant La Capital. We started with a refreshing mezcal shpritzer, dusted with sal de gusano, worm salt, which makes everything taste better.

The guacamole and chips here is comprised of thin yuca, plantain and potato chips.
The guac has pomegranate seeds in it. It all works.

I ordered caldo tlalpeño, which is a classic Mexican chicken broth with veggies. This one was elegant and a tad spicy. Mexico is soup heaven, because unlike the US, where apparently no soup is complete without industrial quantities of unnecessary cornstarch, here soups are thin but explode with flavor.  In NY I despair of finding decent soups (the only options are pho, ramens and asian soups - the rest is pathetic).

The Middle Enchilada ordered the now famous tuna sashimi tostadas, originally from restaurant Contramar, but easily copied elsewhere. They are amazing.

I ordered a pescado con chile y limón, fish with lime and chili, that was surprising because it was far more sophisticated than its name implies, and not spicy at all. Behind it you can see a glass of esquites, corn kernels mixed with lime and herbs, and the water in which they were boiled, with mayo on the side, just like on the street, but fancier.

At La Capital they make sopa seca de fideo, which is Mexican vermicelli soup, but dried out, and which I love. You can find this at any cheap fonda as well as in the fanciest restaurants, where they make it more presentable, if equally delicious.

For dessert we had meringue with raspberry coulis and vanilla sauce.


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Mexican Food Porn

I was in Mexico City for Passover and I ate like a monster truck. Moreover, I ate fantastically, splendidly well. At restaurants and at the houses of generous hosts who cook and eat well. Mexico City was almost empty and looks very spiffy. For the first time in years the idea crossed my mind: I could live here (if it means eating well every single day). Without the traffic and without the Mexican drama, I could consider it.
Some of the following pictures may be NSFW, if you happen to work at Weight Watchers, that is.

My beloved family surprised me upon my arrival with lunch at El Cardenal, which utterly rocks traditional Mexican food. I ate like half a dozen homemade tortillas with fresh tomatillo salsa and queso fresco. The green liquid you see in the back is fresh limeade with chia seeds.

Then, I could not resist my all time favorite, sopa de fideos. This is a soup everybody makes at home, yet I insist in ordering it at restaurants. New York may have everything, but it doesn't have this.

I stole the garnish from my sister's tortilla soup: chicharrón, queso fresco and dried ancho chiles. My Middle Enchilado brother in law ordered a masterpiece of a soup, called Sopa de Rancho, farm soup. It was unbelievable.

Then I had one duck carnitas taco left by my nephew, which was awesome, followed by a chile relleno with cheese. By this point I felt like the fat guy at the end of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

For dessert we had crepas de cajeta (dulce de leche crepes) and guanábana sorbet.

That pink thing is a mini pepitoria, which is like a host wafer with piloncillo inside. I love that stuff.

Dinner next day was the Passover seder at my aunt and uncle's where there is gefilte fish with veracruzana sauce and a matzoh mole chicken gratin, which rocks. I was too busy eating to take pictures of the food, but you can see it here.

I was lucky enough to be invited for Passover lunch by Middle Enchilada's mother in law. She is from Veracruz, of Syrian Sephardic descent and she is an unbelievable cook. She makes perfect Middle Eastern food and perfect Mexican food from utter scratch, and thus I want to stay in her house and eat three meals a day forever. I also urged her to write a cook book.
By the way, Sephardic Jews have it easier on Passover, because they are allowed corn and rice. Hence, this paella.

Hence also, this amazing barbacoa de res, with its kosher for Passover corn tortillas.

She also made chicken in a red mushroom sauce.

 And her famous stuffed zucchini with apricots and prunes.

 She makes the traditional Middle Eastern Kebbe but without wheat, for Passover. It's addictive.

Subtle, refreshing jalapeños stuffed with tuna, too.

This woman makes her own chipotle chiles from scratch. And they are divine (they have bits of jicama in them).

There was also guacamole and salad. Which were also good. 
Needless to say, there were other homemade salsas, each better than the next, and more than one dessert. She makes her charoset with prunes and it should be a controlled substance, like her homemade plum jam, which I have no pictures of because I could not stop eating it. I have pined for it every day since. 

I ate everything. It is a miracle I did not collapse. That very night I saw my friend Jack for dinner and all I could eat was a splendid grilled artichoke with some mysterious seasoning at a fancy schmancy place. Oh, and two tequilas, and an anís campechano (dry and sweet anise on the rocks) to aid digestion. The anise works wonders. 

Coming up, Mexican Food Porn, part II.  (What? are you stuffed already?)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Toys R Us

These are only some of the highlights of the bizarre insanity that is the Museum of Old Toys in Mexico City. The museum takes up about three dusty floors of a building near downtown DF and is the private collection and brainchild of an ornery Japanese man who has been amassing enormous amounts of toys, with no discernible criteria, but who also created some of the displays out of abandoned industrial parts. It offers a nostalgic trip to the toys you had, the ones you coveted, the ones you broke and the ones your parents refused to get you. If anything, it is also a panorama into the mind of a man who never met clutter he didn't like, and whose concept of curating is just to stack shit together in vague thematic ways. 
The museum store also happens to sell Japanese food. Only in Mexico.

I have no words
Betty Boop ad infinitum
A tower of ex-president Salinas puppets
Mexico beckons 
Why is this a toy?
Brothers Quay, move over.
Two story tall head that used to belong to a dancehall
"Remember your happy childhood"

Monday, February 11, 2013

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Now Showing At A Theater Near You

The abomination that is Cloud Atlas.
This Is 40... hours long.

This is Everything That Is Wrong With America

Right here:

And in a freaking Subway sandwich, to boot. Why not just Sriracha? Why creamy?
Cause this is America and we love to fuck perfectly good food like Sriracha, up.