Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Face On, Face Off

Oh, there is nothing more exciting in my day than easily obtainable bizarre science news. It is with great joy that I announce the first ever facial transplant, performed by the French, of course, because the woman couldn't eat chocolate or drink wine, poor thing. Seriously, though, it's exciting - we're finally entering the age of Face/Off, which means that anyone who wants to will soon be able to look like either of my two least favorite actors. Oh, help!

Anyway, the AP/NY Times reports that the ethical issues involve performing such a sensitive surgery for non-life-or-death problems such as facial disfigurement. New Scientist, linked above, addresses this whammy:
Likewise, families of the donor must adjust to the possibility that they may see a living person resembling their dead relative.

Just picture it: you're walking down the street, minding your own business, when you walk past someone who looks oddly familiar. It troubles you, you can't be sure who it is, then suddenly you realize: by golly, that man had Uncle Jim's nose, chin and lips! Creepy.

Then they go on to say that this could basically never happen. Sorry for getting you all scared, there. Just thought we'd bring up these weird sci-fi implications that don't exist.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Show Tunes

Now, I know it's not Sunday, and I have an unconscionable amount of work due tomorrow, but I must give you a quick roundup of my evening activities: thanks to the largesse of my roommate and his sister-in-law, my two roomies and I got to go see a live taping of...dum dum dum...The Colbert Report! My summary, in three acts:

Act I: Preshow
When we arrived at the studio the crowd control folks sent us to a line, where it was discovered twenty-five minutes later that we were in the wrong place, because we were actually V.I.P.s. That's right, V.I.P.s. Apparently what happens in the VIP line is that you get yelled at for being late by a stressed out audience coordinator. After that the audience goes through security and waits in a holding pen, where you are subjected to episodes of Jeoparday! and Wheel of Fortune while wondering if this is part of some devious plan to exterminate all the hipsters. Then we all practiced cheering, and we reaped the benefits of our VIP passes and got to go in first.

The studio is small, only about 100 or 120 people, so everyone is close to the action. Just like in your dreams, the desk is in the shape of a big "C." The warmup comedian was very funny, and he even made Stephen laugh (that's right, we're on a first name basis now). Then S.C. came out and answered some questions, confirming that he is a HUGE DORK, which is very charming. He went on a semi-extended riff about Tolkein vs. C.S. Lewis, and I was gratified to realize that even huge dorks can have their own television shows.

Act II: The Show
This was a great episode. You should really watch it. It's on tonight. Highlights were his tribute to "Duke" Cunningham's Things, his assessment of the bubonic plague, including a digression into not getting any action during his cross-Europe college vacation, and the interview with Richard Preston, which brought everyone's understanding of extreme smallpox to new, horrifying heights. Suffice it to say, if you see someone with their skin sliding offf in sheets, coal-black eyeballs, and an expelled rectum, run the other direction.

Act III: The Aftershow
Denouement: Exits to your left.

Besides the great fun of the whole thing, it was so cool to see that the crew appears to find the show funny and they seem to really like Stephen. They're like one big happy family over there at Comedy Central.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Real Duke of a Guy. This heading makes no sense.

I'll admit, I often feel bad for people who start crying in public. I have been known to do it myself on occasion, like every time I go to the movies, and it's embarrassing. But I don't feel that bad for Randy "Duke" "The Duke" Cunningham, who resigned today as a U.S. Representative for California, after pleading guilty to charges of bribery, fraud and tax evasion (I'll admit, I threw in that second "The Duke" myself - but it sounds good, right?). Here's what I know about ol' Randy, all of which I learned today, since I had never heard of him before.

1. He received millions of dollars in bribes from the CEO of a defense contracting company (plus a Rolls Royce and a yacht, which he lived on! anyone who sees any family member of a Congressperson driving a Rolls is advised to immediately contact authorities - they really shouldn't be able to afford them).

2. He then wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer money by underreporting his income by 90% and passing along sweetheart contracts to his CEO friend Mitchell Wade as well as other bribing contractors.

3. This was also bad because it's cheating. Cunningham served on the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee and as chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and human intelligence, and he directly abused those positions.

4. Cunningham is a decorated Vietnam fighter pilot who served as an instructor at Top Gun.

Wait, wait, hold up. Someone be a veteran and an asshole? I am so confused. That contradicts The Truth About Patriotism. My head hurts.

I hope someone with a Wall of Shame for corrupt Congresspeople will put him on it, along with Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and the rest of 'em. I would do it myself, except I don't have one.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday Confidential

Hello! I missed you all so very much. I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was as yumtastic and full of family and friends as mine was. Today I bring you a movie review of The Ice Harvest. Ordinarily I would avoid such a task, because most of the time when people are talking about movies, my only contribution is to say, "I haven't seen it." But I have seen this one, and there seems to be a bit of disagreement on whether it's worth your hard-earned pennies, which was perfectly demonstrated by my own movie companions, who were the b.f. and his parents, whose pennies were generously sacrificed for all of our admission fees. And the results? B.f.'s mom said, "I'm asking for my money back." B.f.'s dad said, "I preferred Pride and Prejudice." B.f. said, "I thought it was pretty funny." I said, "How did that stripper do that thing with the pole?"

In my opinion, The Ice Harvest was funny but only if you can stomach a lot of graphic violence and naked people, and find murder, betrayal, and deception potentially humorous. Which I do. Or did, in this case. Part of what I liked about The Ice Harvest is that it felt novelistic, tightly constructed, which is not surprising, because it was based on a book. And it's not nearly so slapstick as I expected from the trailer. Billy Bob Thornton is serviceable and John Cusack more than serviceable, and he does an admirable job of portraying a character who knows what an asshole he is and regrets it enormously, but is barely aware enough to see what's going on around him, much less resist his many vices. So, in sum, I recommend The Ice Harvest. But don't go with your boyfriend's parents.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Good night, sweet maker of stuffing

Hello, friends. Sorry not to post yesterday, and sorry for the lame-o post I'm going to give you today. But you know, I have a life, people! Actually not really - I've just been journeying through the Northeast by every conceivable mode of transportation: bus, car, train, taxi, commuter rail. I missed boat and bicycle, but you don't want to see me on a bike.

Anyway, in a strange and terrifying coincidence, which I will NOT describe as ironic, one of the inventors of Stove Top Stuffing has died. Ruth Siems passed away just days before enjoying her delectable dish one last time. Oh, cruel fate! On Thursday Ms. Siems will be at that glorious Thanksgiving dinner in the sky, sitting right next to the Big Guy, passing the Stove Top Stuffing.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'll return to the grind after I digest, with a little gravy-soaked Sunday Confidential.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sunday Confidential

Hello boys and girls, today I will tell you a story about a place called Island Park, Rhode Island, right near Portsmouth. I visited there yesterday, and it is a teeny strip of land that at some places is only a few hundred yards across. Back in Ye Olde Days in the beginning of the twentieth century, Island Park was an amusement park, and it had the biggest and best roller coaster in Rhode Island or something. Then in 1938 there was a great hurricane, known, suitably, as the Great Hurricane of 1938, and it leveled all of Island Park and much of the rest of New England. After that, the owner of the amusement park, who no longer had an amusement park because it was all smashed up, subdivided all his land and now there are lots of charming little New England houses in funny shapes with things that spin in the wind outside. He built his own house on the land, and now some other very nice people live there, and they collect all kinds of things, like vinyl records, cigar boxes, and little jars. We went for a walk on the beach, which is covered in rocks the size of ostrich eggs (I think), and found a dead skate and ate it. Just kidding.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I Mean An Octopus

Well. The moment you've all been waiting for. Is here. The winners of the National Book Award have been announced, a mere 24 hours or so ago. Nothing like a blog for up-to-the-minute reporting. If you remember, I have a standing bet with my brother, my friend Carlos, and the rest of the blogosphere that involves some high stakes gambling on the outcomes. Let's take a look at the results, shall we?

Winner: William T. Vollmann
Predicted Winner: Mary Gaitskill

So far I'm 0 for 1, and owing the world a dollar. The winning book, Europe Central, is currently #160 on Amazon. Jesus. When even a National Book Award can't help you break the top 100, it's a sign that something is seriously wrong with the condition of American literature. Either that, or people heard about his last book, Rising Up and Rising Down, weighing in at a massive SEVEN VOLUMES, and they have a fear of commitment. What's wrong with these people?

Winner: Joan Didion
Predicted Winner: Joan Didion

Boo-yah! Pay me a dollar, world.

Winner: W.S. Merwin
Predicted Winner: Vern Rustala

Damn. I've never heard of Vern Rustala. To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure I've heard of W.S. Merwin. I mostly picked Vern because man, that's a cool name. I'm sorry you didn't win, Vern. But you can be consoled with the knowledge that you have the best name on the whole nominees list, hands down. Also by the fact you were nominated for a National Book Award.

Young People's Literature
Winner: Jeanne Birdsall
Predicted Winner: Jeanne Birdsall

Heck yeah! Suck it, Deborah Wiles!

So the final outcome is that I got two right... and two wrong. So you owe me... nothing. And I owe you... nothing. But you can still give me money if you want. You know where to find me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Old-Fashioned Jersey Saloon Shootout. With Bears.

New Jersey has planned a December bear hunt as a way to deal with "nuisance" bears. I'll be honest; I think this is a bad idea. And it's not because I'm against hunting. My family is full of people who enjoy shooting things. And anyway, I'm from Pennsylvania, where the the first day of deer season is a school holiday.

No, friends, the main reason I think this bear hunt is a bad idea is because New Jersey is the most densely populated state. I know what you're thinking: it's precisely because of the dense population of humans that the increasingly dense population of black bears is a problem, thus necessitating the hunt. But really, at 1,134 people per square mile, what are the odds that instead of hitting a bear, hunters will bag a person instead? According to my extremely sophisticated calculation, which involves the innovative use of the formula 1/x-(n^n-1)={(a*c^2)-1/(2b+4ac)}^2c/b, the odds are 1 in 8.765. (Imagine what the odds would be if I could figure out how to make the square root symbol!)

I don't think think this bear hunt is going to do much for the problematic race relations in New Jersey, either. The only bears getting hunted here are BLACK bears. You don't see them going after the white bears, do you? Just wait - a few jumpy cops unload a clip or two into a black bear, and we'll have a fiasco on our hands.

Bears by Thomas Hellberg. Deer by Chris Frewin.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

His Finer Qualities

Sammy, Sammy, Sammy...

Up till now, I've pretty much kept my mouth shut on the nomination of Samuel Alito, except to point out that he is Chief Justice Roberts's shadowy Doppelganger, because, well, that's really the only information I had to add. But now, dear friends, the time has come to break my silence.

Samuel Alito is "particularly proud" of fighting against abortion rights and affirmative action. That's great! I've been really hoping to reverse 150 years of social progress in the United States, and I think Alito might be just the guy to do it. Apparently, he's backpedaling a little on this chest puffery, saying, "I was an advocate seeking a job." So unless he padded his resume, which I'm pretty sure isn't exactly what he's trying to say, I think we can safely eliminate the word "particularly." Perhaps replace it with "beamingly," or "poignantly," or "the crowning moment of my life, with the exception of the printing of my limited edition Alito '94 baseball card."

While I'm happy for Sam for being so proud of his so-called accomplishments, I'm just going to come right out and say it: I believe strongly in the right of a woman to get an abortion, and I also believe that many of the same people who believe a woman should not have that right would also be the first to complain about all the babies being popped out by poor, unwed mothers - because the rich ones, the ones whose parents have cash and influence, will still find a way to get an abortion. I believe equally strongly that affirmative action is not only necessary to redress persistent racial inequalities, but that in creating diverse educational and work communities, it benefits the entire institution, not just minorities.

So there you have it: I'm not voting for Samuel Alito for Supreme Court justice. Yes, he's smart, and clearly he's qualified. But no one ever said, "Oh, Joe McCarthy, sure he ruined a lot of lives, but he was so qualified."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Fun with Headlines

In order to read as little as possible today, I've decided to construct my post entirely out of words from New York Times headlines. Each word clicks through. Can you tell which is the real article?

Abortion of knight sparked assault on Britain

Wild giants hand food to Nicole Richie

Clintons duck probes on pursuit of twin

If you're bored enough to click through on all of these, you know a lot more than I do. And you also know that all of these headlines are made up. Shocking, isn't it? But oh, don't you wish that the second one were true?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sunday Confidential

Ah, New York - the one place in America where you only need six dollars for a manicure but six hundred thousand for an apartment big enough to lie down lengthwise in the living room.

I started this beautiful Sunday morning by venturing out for a manicure. I loooooove manicures! This is only my third one ever - what can I say, I had a deprived young adulthood - and so there's still a tremendous thrill to it. My nails are all pretty and red now, although many of you won't be surprised to hear that I literally couldn't get out of the salon without screwing up the polish. I sat down at the nail dryer and whacked my still-wet nails on the machine. So smooth. But the best part? It cost six dollars! A glass of wine costs six dollars. A sandwich costs six dollars. And me having beautiful shiny nails costs six dollars. How fabulously fabulous.

After my manicure, I went apartment hunting in Brooklyn. Not for myself, since I have enough money in my savings account for like five manicures, but with a friend, to offer advice and consent. What I learned may not surprise you: there are some really great apartments out there. And you can't afford them. But I'll be honest, I was surprised that even in Brooklyn, charging $1000 / square foot is apparently no biggie. In normal parts of the country, people who spend five or six hundred thousand dollars on a residence are rich. Here, that's a starter home.

As for whether I'll be getting manicures or buying an apartment any time in the next million years, I think you can expect my nails to look very nice.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Always a Woman To Me

Well. Liberia has just elected its first woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This is exciting not only because she's a woman, but also because this is the first election in Liberia after 14 years of civil war. While there are some allegations of fraud from Johnson-Sirleaf's opponent George Weah, the observers who have commented so far are calling it free and fair.

So here's the public service announcement: We Americans like to think we are the most advanced, open-minded, accepting people in the world, and that we have the ability to judge people purely on their accomplishments and qualities, because we believe that men, women, and minorities (as Trent Lott so aptly reminded us) are all equal. Far be it from me to pull the wool from your eyes, but, well, THIS IS NOT TRUE. While we get all titillated about a woman playing a president ON TELEVISION, all around the world women have been elected as national leaders for decades, including places that we might reflexively think of as "less advanced." Here is a partial list of countries who have had female heads of state (for the full list, go here): Great Britain, India, Israel, Pakistan, France, Haiti, Lithuania, Bolivia, Philippines, Panama, and so on. There are over forty of them in all, from every continent except, uh, Antarctica. So what makes you think we're so damn special?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Give me a Hummer... Laptop

Sayonara, sista! To no one's surprise, Judy Miller has departed the NYT.

In any case, I can't believe I missed this: Hummer merchandising. To wit:
This [Hummer Fragrance for Men] "olfactive sensation that can only be Hummer," Riviera's Web site declares, "imparts a healthy brawn in a veneer of sophistication."
But this is not just fragrances we're talking about here. There's a laptop that you can throw out of a plane or something, a spring-loaded money clip, for whatever cash you've got left after filling up your gas tank, and logo golf balls, for hitting off the top of the mountain that you'll drive to in your Hummer. What's that? You only use your Hummer to drive around your totally flat town? Oh. To the driving range, then.

For some reason I thought that having a Hummer was kind of embarrassing, like advertising the fact that you have a really small penis or that you lacked the foresight to imagine the spike in gas prices. But apparently I was wrong, and you should dress your family in Hummer apparel from head to toe.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Envelope, Please

Well, the concessions speeches are in, and Freddy's really doin' it up. I just wish everyone could win, don't you?

What should we make of the non-earth-shattering election results? Let me explain; no, no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

1) Bloomberg won handily. The moral: people like Bloomberg, despite his Republicanitude.
2) Democrats Corzine and Kaine won the nation's two gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. The moral: people don't like George W. Bush much these days.
3) Texans ban gay marriage; Maineiacs (?) retain anti-discrimination law for gays. The moral: if you're gay, move to New England.
4) Kansas Board of Ed approves teaching challenges to evolution in science class. For the record, this has absolutely nothing to do with the elections, despite the 6-4 vote. The moral: Kansas has the most highly evolved school system in the country. Because God made it that way.

So no surprises here, folks, no major upsets, and I think we can expect pretty smooth sailing until gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain turns this country on its head come December. Yeehaw, I got my chaps on!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Super Duper Tuesday

I know this is practically all you've been thinking about for the last week, but just in case you've forgotten, tomorrow, Tuesday, November 8, is election day, so don't forget to go to the polls. I consider it my civic duty as a blogger to give you an informed evaluation of some of the major candidates in the tri-state (that's NY-NJ-PA, this time) area for your consideration, but I don't have time for that kind of crap. So instead I'm going to give you a quick and dirty assessment of a few big races.

1) New York City mayoral election, incumbent Mike Bloomberg (R) vs. Fernando Ferrer (D)
-Just because there's no point in voting in this election is no excuse for not going to the polls. For one thing, it's not too late to write in Richie Rich, the richest boy in the world. For another thing, you have to vote on Prop 1, which will make you complicit in the bullshit going on in Albany day in and day out, and the New York State Transportation Bond Act, which you should vote for but with restrictions, and tell them you don't want that stupid rail link from JFK to lower Manhattan. You can't actually do that, by the way.

2) New Jersey gubernatorial election, Doug Forrester (R) vs. Jon Corzine (D)
-I have no idea what's going on in this election, except that it's been mean and nasty and it's running pretty close. Both candidates are vowing to end the rampant corruption in New Jersey and everyone wishes they could vote for Acting Governor Richard Codey, who took over for Gay American Jim McGreevey. Also, Jon Corzine's ex-wife really, really hates him. During my brief tenure as a resident of New Jersey, Jon Corzine was elected to the US Senate. People complained that he'd bought his election. That's all I know. Do what you will.

3) Pennsylvania retention election, Carol K. McGinley (D)
-What can I say, I like this lady. She was the first female judge in Lehigh County. Her top priority is juvenile justice. Plus she's my mom. If you live in Lehigh County, pull the lever for yes!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sunday Confidential

This weather is unnatural and unnerving, but it made for a beautiful weekend, no? I made an impromptu trip to PA this weekend for a date with a special guy... my pops. We checked out the old Bethlehem Steel property, which is the source of much controversy in the city of Bethlehem because ever since Steel closed down shop in 1995, the grounds have been sitting empty and unused; now the Sands casino wants to build a gambling haven there on the South Side. While the city needs the revenue, there is naturally also significant opposition to turning the Christmas City into Sin City. I don't know what I think about all that, except that Lehigh University students would certainly be happy not to have to drive all the way to A.C. to blow all their cash, but the site itself is quite amazing. The grounds of the plant have thousands of acres of low-lying buildings made of brick and stone, covered by rusting roofs or hollowed out, open to the elements, with blown-out, darkened windows. Rusting blast furnaces rise into the air like bent fingers, and the chutes and ramps and rail lines imply a halted potential motion that will never begin again. Everywhere, on all the equipment, there are walkways, and you can almost see the ghosts of the workers who built the World War II battleships and the Chrysler Building; you can almost hear the deafening clang of metal striking metal. This may be a sentimental account of a place that was dangerous and difficult to work in, but it's strange to see a physical place that exists in the past rather than the present, where the old history hasn't been supplanted by something new, where today's abandonment and decrepitude threatens to obliterate the plant's former moxie.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Thicker than POM Juice

I have big, big news, reading friends: my brother, the estimable Paul A. McGinley III, has re-entered the blogosphere with The Gentlemen Revolutionaries. I'm very excited about this because a) we are turning into a blogging family, which is gross; b) we have apparently ended up with very similar senses of humor, which in a way feels strange and somehow genetic, because as kids I don't remember us really developing our humor together; and c) he has a good political mind, but sometimes he is rather misguided... he got the first part of the word right, l-i-b-e-r-, but it's the ending that seems to have him confused. So I can't wait for some good blog-on-blog action, a little sibling rivalry, a dialogue, if you will, in which I toss the nutty half of his libertarian ideas all the way back to the sixth borough! Oh wait, he's already there. Welcome, little bro!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Can't Blame a Guy For Trying

An alert reader (thanks, AG!) pointed me to this article, which describes how an Al-Qaeda operative escaped from the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and will therefore be unavailable to testify against Sgt. Alan Driver, who has been accused of abuse.
Omar al-Farouq was one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants in Southeast Asia until Indonesian authorities captured him in the summer of 2002 and turned him over to the United States.
Oops. Maybe they should've kept a better eye on that one. If not for his highly publicized plans to blow up American embassies this wouldn't be such a big deal, but the other prisoners Driver is accused of abusing are also not going to be testifying:
Driver, a reservist from the Ohio-based 377th Military Police Company, is charged with maltreatment and assault of three detainees, including one who later died, at the Bagram facility in 2002...Other alleged victims in Driver's case also cannot testify. One was released from custody and cannot be found, and the other has died.

Looks to me like Driver is batting about .333. Hey, if they can run away, you haven't hit 'em hard enough, right?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

National Book Endurance Award

A friend alerted me today to a reading two weeks hence, in which the finalists for the National Book Award will read from their books. My first thought was, wow, how cool! (I am well aware, by the way, that this is further confirmation that I am the Biggest Dork Ever.) Anyway, my second thought was, Jesus, are they all going to read? There are twenty finalists, after all, plus Philip Gourevitch, who I'm sure will want to take the opportunity to say a few words, and I enjoy a reading as much as the next person, or even a little more than the next person, depending on whom I'm sitting next to, but twenty readers? Is this some kind of cruel psychological experiment? Whatever, I'm totally going.

But before I do, I'm going to make my predictions on who's going to win the National Book Award in each category. I'll give you the list so you can play along! And don't feel bad about making uninformed guesses: out of these authors' entire oeuvres I've read maybe one book, one story, and three poems, and I've only even heard of 8 of them. But I have a really good feeling about this. Projected winners in bold.

E.L. Doctorow, The March
Mary Gaitskill, Veronica
Christopher Sorrentino, Trance
René Steinke, Holy Skirts
William T. Vollmann, Europe Central

Alan Burdick, Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion
Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers
Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves

John Ashbery, Where Shall I Wander
Frank Bidart, Star Dust: Poems
Brendan Galvin, Habitat: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2005
W.S. Merwin, Migration: New and Selected Poems
Vern Rutsala, The Moment’s Equation

Young People's Literature
Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks
Adele Griffin, Where I Want to Be
Chris Lynch, Inexcusable
Walter Dean Myers, Autobiography of My Dead Brother
Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings

And now I'm going to make a special one-time offer: for each one I get right, you have to give me a dollar. For each one I get wrong, the first person to contact me (through the comments) after the announcement will get a dollar. If I get them all right, you have to give me $10. If I get them all wrong, that first person will get $10. I never used to like gambling, but this is pretty exciting. I'm off to play the ponies!