Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Day's Miscellany

Right at this very moment, the President is giving his annual State of the Union address. I could tell you about it, but just hearing his voice kind of makes my ears glaze over, and anyway, you've heard it four times before, so what the hell.

Anyway, more important things are happening: Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi has announced that he will abstain from sex until his country's election on April 9. Bravo, bravissimo, signore! What a brave, brave man our ally in the War on Terror is. From what I've heard about the guy, he should consider giving up sex forever, so as not to add more little Berlusconis (Berlusconii?) to the earth's already overburdened population.

On a more serious note, Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, has died. Let's hope that the spirit she embodied will be defended in the years to come, and inspire a new generation of people who believe in her vision.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Order in the Court!

Darlings, I am so terribly sorry for my absence yesterday - I know there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth all over the world for the last twenty-four hours. Take a deep breath, everything is okay now.

As the Enron trial gets underway and the Saddam Hussein trial continues to, uh, do whatever it's doing, I'd like to suggest a new reality show: ORDER IN THE COURT!

In this fast-paced show, the Enron and Saddam trials will take place in adjoining courtrooms during the day. At night, the judges, defendants, and lawyers all live together in one big house. Crazy hijinx ensue: is Saddam ever going to do his dishes? Does Ken Lay know that Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman has a thing for the disgraced exec's wife? Which one of the lawyers left the milk out on the counter? Who will win the Hussein-Enron pickup basketball game, and how will it affect the outcome of the trial?

The juries, meanwhile, will of course be sequestered, so as not to be influenced by who looks better in the shower or talks more smack behind each other's back.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


So, just to fill you in, if you're not a big dork like me, there's been this scandal over James Frey's "memoir" A Million Little Pieces, because he made all the good parts up. Probably no one would care, except that the book was selected for Oprah's Book Club and instantly became a best-seller, so now several million people, some of whom have actually read the book, feel angry, conflicted, betrayed, or completely uninterested.

Oprah, on the other hand, is nothing if not interested. When the story broke and Frey went on Larry King - with his mother, of all people - Oprah called to say she supported him, blah blah blah. But then she got to thinking, and started feeling kind of mad, tricked even, and she had Frey on the show today to give him a piece of her mind.

I have to confess that I've never watched Ms. Winfrey's show, except maybe once - I think it was one of those car giveaway dealies - but she's my new favorite person on television. Not that, in the end, it makes a big difference one way or the other. But Frey's whole shtick was about how tough he was - his crazy fights in jail, his Novocaine-less root canal, all kinds of crazy shit - and Oprah made him pee his pants like a little baby. Tee hee.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Avert Thine Eyes

Hello mon cheries! The Pope issued his first encyclical today on the theme of love. That's nice and all, but come on, look at this guy:

I think he when he rides his coal-black stallion over a meadow of grassy spring flowers, all that passes beneath his feet withers and dies - what does he know about love?

But anyway, if you are interested in what this so-called Pope has to say, well, you're going to have to look somewhere else. Because, according to the Times, "The encyclical, called "God Is Love," did not mention issues that divide Catholics, like abortion, homosexuality, contraception and divorce." Without these sexy topics, I can't really be put out to learn more about what God's Voice on Earth has to say.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Busted Skeleton

I was shocked, shocked! to read this headline in the Times:

Skeleton Coach Will Not Go To Turin

My wonder came not at the fact that the coach, Tim Nardiello, has been found by the US Olympic Committee to have committed "inappropriate interactions" just one day after an arbitrator said that he had not committed sexual harrassment. No, it's because, what the hell is a skeleton team??? I picture a seven foot tall pile of bones figure skating or ambling down a ski jump, competing against the undead of Italy, Germany, and China, then awkwardly mounting the podium to receive the gold and the wreath of laurels on his bony head. Go, skeleton, go!

I guess more than anything I'm just disappointed. When I was about sixteen I had to accept that I was never going to be an Olympic champion, as I excelled in no sports and was already getting too old to pick something up. But if only I had known there was a skeleton team, I totally could have rocked that shit! I was a damn skinny kid - a little doping and I could have made skeleton weight no problem. Oh well. Opportunities lost...

Oh, wait. I just looked it up on Wikipedia, which says:
Skeleton is an individual, sledding, winter sport where competitors drive the sled in a prone, head-first position down an ice track on a sled or 'sleigh'.
Uh, that sounds scary. Nevermind.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sorry, Can You Speak Up? The Wiretappers Can't Hear You

The Bush Administration has launched a vigorous campaign to convince the American people that listening in on their phones without a warrant is, in fact, a good thing, instead of a creepy 1984/McCarthy era tactic, as previously believed.

I would like to applaud the President and friends for openly acknowledging their efforts to sway public opinion. Normally, in lieu of press conferences there would simply be tapes from enthusiastic "reporters" mailed to local news stations and supportive columns from journalists receiving undisclosed payouts from the government. So well done, comrades, well done! We've entered a new era of transparency, except for the fact that you are secretly spying on so many people with absolutely no connection to terrorism that even the FBI doesn't want your stupid "tips" anymore. Baby steps, baby steps.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday Confidential

So I decided that, following the success of last week's visit to the Bronx Museum, I would visit each borough's official museum, so today was the day of the Queens Museum. It's an interesting place, because the fact that they're a relatively new institution (created after the New York 1964 World's Fair) means that their collection is more eclectic, less reified and less canonist, if that's a word, than the collections at more established museums. Also, the Queens Museum has filled a function that I have a feeling no one would handle without them: memorializing both the 1939 and 1964 New York world's fairs. The surrealism pavilion, the plaster cast of the Pieta and the like are things that no one else would probably find necessary to document, but that are a really bizarre and fascinating cultural document. All of Flushing Meadows Corona Park is, in fact, basically a testament to the world's fairs. The setup of the park is both nationalistic and continental, with flag-lined plazas and long, broad, boulevards, and mosaics in the walkways documenting time capsules, Elsie the cow, the museum building, and the like. There's the Unisphere, a big globe-type thing where kids skateboard, and all kinds of weird retro 1960s futuristic buildings. And I've never seen a park full of so many people who are so busy: people playing tennis, praciticing dance routines, playing soccer, and whatnot. I was like, where's the barbecue?

The piece de resistance of the Queens Museum is the Panorama of the City of New York, a massive architectural model built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World's Fair that includes every building in every borough. Updated in 1992, it's fascinating, kitschy, and remarkable. If you're not a New Yorker or perhaps a bit Manhattan-centric, the panorama gives you a wonderful sense of the unexpected scale of the city, the unknown islands, the endless density.

All that said, and as interesting as the whole thing was, it took a full hour in each direction on the subway, and while there was some very lovely art, I can't see myself making the trek again soon unless something special goes up. I'll give it 2.7 stars out of five.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Repeater

Osama bin Laden, everybody's favorite fugitive terrorist, released a new tape, promising more attacks against the United States and offering a vague truce of some kind where Bush and bin Laden go duck hunting together on the President's Crawford, TX ranch.
In the tape, Mr. bin Laden addressed the American people directly, saying of his supporters, "Our situation is getting better while yours is getting worse."
The Bush administration replied with the usual schtick: Cheney said, "We don't negotiate with terrorists," and McClellan said, "We are winning. Clearly Al Qaeda and the terrorists are on the run, and that is why it is important that we do not let up, and do not stop, until the job is done," and, "We continue to act on all fronts to win the war on terrorism, and we will. The president is fully committed to do everything within his power to prevent attacks, and to defeat the terrorists. We are taking the fight to the enemy, we are working to advance freedom and democracy, to defeat their evil ideology."

In a surprise development, it was then revealed that the authentication of the bin Laden tape was actually an error, as the CIA realized that bin Laden had made an identical speech one year ago. Just minutes after the announcement, though, it was retracted. A CIA spokesperson said, "Sorry, it wasn't bin Laden's speech that we'd heard before, it was the Bush administration's. Those guys sure know how to stay on message."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

No Head Ted

As the Newark Star-Ledger put it, today THE CORZINE ERA BEGINS!!!!!! (exclamation points mine). Jon Corzine was inaugurated as the 54th governor of New Jersey yesterday, making pledges to restore the public's trust in government. We all know where those promises lead... if he follows the example of promise-predecessors Nixon, Bush 43, and Gay American Jim McGreevey, we can expect to find Corzine blowing rails with his old Goldman-Sachs-turned-lobbyist pals on a copy of the state constitution in the Governor's mansion within a year or two.

Since Corzine had to give up his Senate seat in order to assume the governorship, he appointed House Rep. Robert Menendez to finish out his term. In a moving swearing-in ceremony to install Menendez in the Senate, Alaska Republican and President Pro-Tem Ted Stevens (aka "Bridge to Nowhere Ted") managed to mispronounce the name of every major player, including his former colleague Jon Corzine (Cor-ZEEN, according to BTNT) and future colleague Robert Menendez (or Mendez, if you're the senior Senator from Alaska). Now, it's not like me to get all worked up for nothing, but do you think he would have mispronounced the names if, say, Dennis Hastert were replacing Mike DeWine?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Death With Dignity or Food for Polar Bears?

Well, gosh, today's news is boooooring. The main story seems to be that the Supreme Court won't allow the federal government to block Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

While I understand (sort of) why the idea of physician-assisted suicide rubs some people the wrong way, I guess, actually, no wait, I don't understand. A mere thirty people loosed their mortal bonds through assisted suicide last year; more than twice as many people are executed by the government every year. I think we should look at this more like the not-quite-apocryphal Inuit practice of sending off their old to die on ice floes, or the common practice of some animals to go off and die alone - an individual choice made in the context of society. It's a lonely business: why not let people make their own decisions about it?

Anyway, this seems to be an addition to the funny states' rights issues I was mentioning yesterday. But different. We all want the states to have more control when they're doing things we agree with (in the Republicans' case, restricting abortion rights) and the federal government to take over when they're not (right to die, medical marijuana). And vice versa.

Monday, January 16, 2006

States' "Rights"

I know today is a national holiday, but since every day is Saturday in Gurglyland, I'm going to post anyway. You can all breathe a sigh of relief now. However, I spent most of the day in bed due to a stomach ailment (go ahead, shed a tear), so I'm not sure what I'm going to say, exactly, but let's see what develops.

Well, there's this: the new Medicare prescription program is effed! Not that this comes as a surprise to most people. But the president has chosen to deal with the problems, which include low income people also enrolled in Medicaid being told to pay full price for their prescriptions and pharmacy employees being put on hold for hours when they call the Medicare helpline for answers, by telling other people to fix them for him.
The actions came after several states declared public health emergencies, and many states announced that they would step in to pay for prescriptions that should have been covered by the federal Medicare program.

Ah, the good sense of Republicans. They believe in the power of the states, and they keep proving it over and over, by repeatedly dropping the ball and forcing the states to pick it up. Nice work!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sunday Confidential

Get thee to the Bronx Museum!

I know you've never been there, and neither has anyone else, and the reason I know this is because when I walked in the door, the woman at the desk said, "Can I help you?" like we were the first people to ever visit the museum.

But as a matter of fact, they have a truly excellent exhibit up right now, in a lovely, well-designed space. It's called Irreducible: something blah blah something, and it's a collection of short video pieces, some of which are totally awesome. First of all, I liked the way the different pieces were displayed: different formats - projectors, monitors, TVs - and different sizes gave the show variety despite the uniformity of medium. And there was some really smart, innovative work: the best was Hundredweight, a row of six monitors by Wood and Harrison, each running six different clips (for a total of 36) looking down on a man in a room, a totally white space, where he uses different objects and equipment to construct (and deconstruct) ideas of painting, space, and dimension. It's constantly funny and surprising. Other highlights were Song Dong's Walking Through the Mirror, where he films both sides of a mirror reflecting a naval crew of some kind as he smashes it with a sledgehammer and walks through it; Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla's Returning a Sound, in which a man rides a motorbike through the Puerto Rican town (and former US bombing test site) of Vieques with a trumpet attached to the exhaust, making music as he rides; and Algonquin Park, Early March, by Mark Lewis, in which a slowly receding camera reveals a beautiful and unexpected scene.

So check it out, fellas... I know, I know, you think it's like a million miles away, but if you take the express you can get there in 45 minutes, or your money back! (Offer not available in Staten Island).

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Burp Tree

The world's plants are "belching" methane, reports New Scientist:
Globally, living plants produce between 63 and 236 million tonnes of methane per year, with plant debris adding another 1 to 7 million tonnes. This would make plants responsible for roughly 10 to 30 per cent of global methane production.
Now, leaving the totally unacceptable spelling of "tons" aside, I have to say, I sympathize with the trees. I belch a lot, I'll say between 1.4 and 6.6 million "tonnes" per year, and really, it doesn't make me any happier than anyone else. Do you think I want to be a methane plant? I bloody well don't think so! I mean, I'm killing trees here, and they're killing the planet!

Goddamn trees.

Photo by Frederik Vandaele

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gaza Strip 700 Club

Pat Robertson has managed to insert himself into major news event of the last 5 years by saying that Catastrophe X was a caused by divine retribution (i.e., homosexuals and feminists = 9/11; loose living and being black = Hurricane Katrina; teaching science = Dover, PA's imminent destruction, and so on). But now he's gone one step too far: he's suggested that Ariel Sharon's stroke is divine punishment for pulling out of Gaza.

From the New York Times:
"God considers this land to be his," Mr. Robertson said Thursday on his television program, "The 700 Club." "For any prime minister of Israel who decides he will carve it up and give it away, God said, 'No, this is mine, just like Pat Robertson's gold-plated jet and Swiss bank account are his, so don't let the government take it away from him because he's a fraudulent bastard.''"
Uh, Pat? The Jews are God's CHOSEN PEOPLE, biznatch, and they don't get divine retribution, they give it. Which is what they did when they laid the smack down on you and your kooky evangelical spa or whatever it is.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Alito Lito Bobito

So I've been listening to the Alito Supreme Court confirmation hearings on the radio today, and boy, is it boring. Oh, sorry, I meant, boy, is it an exciting demonstration of the confirmation process. I must have accidentally typed that with my head when it hit the keyboard.

To be sure, there are lots of intriguing issues like the reach of executive power, abortion, individual rights, and stare decisis, but when something's a foregone conclusion, as Alito's confirmation is, as long as no word comes out about his involvement with Rick Santorum in an underground bestiality ring, the back and forth loses some of its... pizzazz. Not to mention the fact that the senators seemed to spend most of their time quizzing Alito on patently congressional issues or asking him whether he likes his mother in law. Oh yeah, and if he'll overturn Roe v. Wade or give the President blanket authority to do whatever the hell he wants, whenever he wants it. Not like the President's waiting for Alito's go-ahead.

Monday, January 09, 2006

News Roundup for Chronic Hiccupers

During my time away, and then for a blessed day after I got back to the States, I did not read a single newspaper, log onto the internet, listen to the radio, or otherwise exercise my responsibility to be an aware citizen. So I thought it might behoove me to do a quick roundup of major news items from the last ten days or so.

1. Ariel Sharon had a stroke and has been in a medically induced coma, from which he is now being awakened.
2. 12 miners died in a tragic mishap in West Virginia.
3. Hundreds of Iraqis and scores of American soldiers have been killed through an intensified suicide bombing campaign in Iraq.
4. Tom DeLay agreed to step down as House Majority Leader because Jack Abramoff has agreed to spill the beans on their sordid arrangements.
5. A rogue CIA agent tried to stop the assassination of a middle eastern royal by his own agency. Oh, wait, that was a movie I saw the other day.

Fortunately it seems I've gotten back just in time for a new burst of avian flu, the plight of chronic hiccupers, Alito's confirmation hearings, and nuclear posturing from Iran. Good times, good times.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sunday Confidential

Bienvenidos! I've missed you, my dearest friends. My absence has been fraught with activity, though: besides the usual holiday hubbub, I took a completely amazing trip to Chile. I sort of don't know where to start, I feel like I couldn't describe it without writing a a really boring book. But here are some highlights:
:: Did you know that Chile, on South America's Pacific Coast, is east of the east coast of the United States? It's two hours later there.
:: It's summer in Chile now, and the weather is warm and dry, in the 80s during the day and cool at night.
:: The wedding which was the impetus for our trip took place on the outskirts of Santiago on New Year's Eve. The bride and groom were glowing (really!) and performed the ceremony in Spanish, French and English for the benefit of their international families and guests. The bride's 97 year-old grandmother came from Nice and instantly bonded with the groom's 90 year-old Chilean grandmother. Then we danced outside under the stars until three in the morning.
:: Chile has a wonderful law that all of its thousands of miles of coastline are public property, and it's stunningly beautiful, with sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, and mountains that look like they'll slide right into the sea.
:: 20 adults can share a beach house for five days in something closely resembling harmony.
:: Fresh fish, delicious fruits and vegetables, and excellent Chilean wine... mmmm.
:: The aforementioned 20 adults are an amazing group of people: artists, architects, philosophers, writers, human rights lawyers, designers, filmmakers, and so on. Impromptu dance parties, pranks, and laughter abounded.