Saturday, September 29, 2007

Iguana post #2

This one sent me a rather attractive picture of herself, in black-and-white, looking very moody and somewhat quietl seductive. Oh, and I found the text of the ad and there doesn't seem to be a reference to English sheepdogs. I may have added that detail later and simply got my facts confused or, more likely, I wished I'd added it in to make it even funnier and then recalled it as fact. Either way, I'm a moron!

Hello, I am responding to your ad on craigslist for your apartment sublease. I am VERY interested!

About me:
I am a female photographer and Art Teacher. I am 25 and have lived in New York for 3 years now. I have a cat named Penelope who is as fat and lazy as can be. I would absolutely love to take care of Herman (hopefully he could forgive me for being a girl). I have attached a photo so that you can put a face with the name.

Here's my catch: My Aunt Linda is hoping to move home to New York (from Florida) because her husband passed away and misses family. I told her that she could stay with me for a year so that she could get on her feet. So basically.. I'm asking if its ok if we both live in the apartment.

Hope to hear from you soon!

All the Best,



$1200 / 1br - Beautiful 1BR brownstone on 46th street and 9th Avenue
Reply to:
Date: 2006-04-27, 12:45AM EDT

Kind of a unique situation: I'm moving to Italy for two years to study on a grant, in Rome, and I need someone to rent my apartment while I'm gone. I own it so there are no fees whatsoever. It's a beautiful apartment in a brownstone building, a first floor walk-up with living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. It's 880 square feet, sunny and very, very cosy. In short, it's a dream. I'm 44 year old attorney, originally from Boston looking for someone I can trust with the apartment and..'s the catch (and the reason I'm offering it at this very competitive price): I'm looking for someone who will be able to look after Herman, my 8 year old pet iguana. He's a smashing little fellow but I can't take him with me. All you have to do is feed him and make sure he gets enough water, sun and so forth. He's very quiet and requires very little maintenance. Since his food is mostly lettuce, it won't cost much and since I won't be charging a security deposit, the money you save on that can go to his upkeep. It's a good deal anyway you look at it.

I'd prefer a single guy (Iguanas prefer men), a professional with solid job references. I'll make my decision based on meeting you and if I get a good feeling about how you'll treat Herman (and my apartment), we'll sign the lease on the spot. I'm sure this apartment won't last long so hurry up-but make sure you're up for the responsibility and willing to sign a 2 year lease.

Dice Stacking Movie

I hear you: Huh? Well, watch this, doubters.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Elvis Duran punks an Egyptian in NY

Thanks to Portia for sending this.

Battle at Kruger

Carmen, remember we talked about this? It's just amazing.

A year of living Biblically

The Year of Living Biblically is, in one word, fascinating. The guy who wrote The Know-It-All, a book about reading the entire Encyclopedia, recently spent a year trying to follow all 700 plus rules he found in the Bible. These rules ranged from the obvious Ten Commandments to the more obscure details of Old Testament laws, which ultra orthodox Jews might follow: leaving side hair uncut, dwelling in huts on certain holidays, strict dietary routines. To give some idea of the physical transformation he underwent, the book offers this photo.

There's a amusing interview with him at Newsweek online, that points to a couple of important things about anyone trying to literally (fundamentally) obey the many rules found in this very long book:

Q: Many women say some passages in the Bible can seem pretty misogynistic. Was that a problem for your relationship?

A: It was. Parts of the Bible say that the man is the head of the household and should make the decisions, which did not translate into reality in our household. She found that a disturbing part of religion. It was something I really had to wrestle with. One of the lessons of the book is, there is some picking and choosing in following the Bible, and I think that's OK. Some people call that cafeteria religion, which is supposed to be a disparaging term, but I think there's nothing wrong with cafeterias, I've had some delicious meals in cafeterias. I've also had some terrible meals in cafeterias. It's all about picking the right parts. You want to take a heaping serving of the parts about compassion, mercy and gratefulness -- instead of the parts about hatred and intolerance.

That has been my experience with both practicing religion and hanging around others practicing it in various degrees, including many who do it wholeheartedly. Everybody is picking and choosing parts they take literally and parts that they take metaphorically, but some admit this and others don't. Or rather some believe the distinction is obvious and necessary rather than arbitrary or personal. However the fact that very few people -- even those who are the most fundamental in any religion -- agree on which rules are fundamental is evidence of the personal nature of the decision.

Q: Once the experiment ends, you write about being feeling unanchored without your list of rules. Were you comforted by the restrictions of living Biblically? And do you think that's part of the attraction of organized religion for many people?

A: Oh, absolutely. We all talk about freedom of choice, but there's something very attractive about freedom from choice. Religion provides structure, mooring, anchoring. Should you covet? No. Should you give 10 percent to the needy? Yes. It really structures your life. After my year I felt unmoored, overwhelmed by choice. I have adjusted, but I'm still overwhelmed by choice, as we all are in America.

This too is profound. Many soldiers leaving the army (especially in peacetime) bemoan the loss of structure a well-regulated army life gave them. There is no doubt this escape from what Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice, calls "the tyranny of choice" is a large attraction of religion. It's joy should not be scoffed at. For instance I find that implementing a strict Never Lie rule in my own life has freed me up from having to weigh the plus and minuses of whether to do so, or keep track of what I said, or manage the blowback from when a ruse slips. Lying is not an option, so I am released from that struggle.

Q: Are you a more religious person as a result of this experiment?

A: Well, I don't want to give away the ending, but let's say I started the year as an agnostic, and now I am a reverent agnostic. Whether or not there is a God, I believe in sacredness. Rituals can be sacred, the Sabbath can be sacred however you choose to observe it.

My take on Burning Man, which I have attended about 10 times, is that it is 50% about supplying a ritual for the non-religious.

Q: Which is the greater learning tool, the Bible or the encyclopedia?

A: That's a tough question. The Bible project was a lot more difficult than the encyclopedia project. The Bible affected every single part of my life, it affected the way I walked, the way I dressed, the way I hugged my wife, the way I ate. The year was the most extreme makeover of my life. In terms of which is the better learning tool, the encyclopedia does contain a lot of biblical passages in the different books, so it might contain most of the Bible in it.

Q: It's been a little over a year since your experiment ended and you shaved your beard. How's the life of sin?

A: It's all right. I miss my sin-free life, but I guess I was never sin free. I was able to cut down on my coveting maybe 40 percent, but I was still a coveter. Flat-screen TVs, the front yard of my friend in the suburbs, a better cell phone, higher Amazon rankings.

Iguana Post #1


My husband and I are desperatly looking for an apartment in this area. And we would love to look after your iguana! We are in our late 20's- I work in retail and am a jewelry designer, and my husband works in movie and TV production.

My husband and I are free Sunday and would love to meet you and Herman. If we sound like the kind of tenants you are looking for, please give me a call at 917-XXX-XXXX.

Thank you,


Beyond the Multiplex

A startling tour of American apartheid; a delightful, ultra-indie tale of call-center love; and a stark look at sugar's not-so-sweet side.

By Andrew O'Hehir

A still from "Banished"

Sept. 27, 2007 | Whether it's an old-fashioned Indian summer or a newfangled Al Gore-fueled catastrophe, the Eastern seaboard is enjoying a glorious autumnal heat wave, just as maple leaves begin to drift into backyards and prestige films begin to drift into theaters. Even in 85-degree weather, nothing signals fall like the New York Film Festival, a semi-official marshaling of the season's "important" cinema events. This year's festival opens Sept. 28 with the premiere of Wes Anderson's new movie, "The Darjeeling Limited" (look for Stephanie Zacharek's review tomorrow), and will end Oct. 14 with Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's animated "Persepolis."

I've grumped sporadically over the years about the NYFF's slightly snooty, Manhattan-centric tone of cultural superiority, so it's time to confess to some warm and fuzzy feelings toward the grande dame of American film festivals (this year is its 45th). For one thing, as festival programmer Richard Peña observed in a recent interview with S.T. VanAirsdale of the Reeler, the NYFF is actively and aggressively curated. "The public really feels that this is a festival that is carefully selected," Peña said. "They might disagree violently with our selections, but they feel like somebody has selected these films -- that somebody has said, 'This film and not that film.'"

Peña is taking a none-too-subtle dig at his neighbors to the south, the programmers at the Tribeca Film Festival, who have jostled their way to some degree of global prominence (and/or notoriety) by seemingly screening any damn movie that's less than four hours long and pretty much in focus. There's a lot to be said for his approach. The NYFF is not trying to be a chaotic, grab-bag global marketplace like Berlin or Tribeca, nor is it trying to be an industry-insider trade show loaded with world premieres, like Cannes or Sundance. Unlike all those festivals, the NYFF is primarily aimed at the public -- a highly selective public composed of upper-end New York aesthetes and socialites, yes, but still the public.

It's no longer true that the NYFF can define the market for imported or independent film in any significant economic sense, but Peña's highly selective roster of titles -- almost all of which have already premiered elsewhere -- still captures a lot of media and audience attention. Some of this year's offerings, like Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" or Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men" or Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" (starring Nicole Kidman), were almost foregone conclusions. Scheduling what the great Eric Rohmer claims will be his last movie, "The Romance of Astrée and Céladon," was also automatic. But every year, the NYFF committee comes up with some wild cards, like the post-Katrina documentary "The Axe in the Attic" or "Mr. Warmth," a film about the legendarily caustic comic Don Rickles. (That's right: Don Rickles. At the New York Film Festival.)

Even on a list of 29 features, there are some mystifying selections, like actress-director Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi's mediocre romantic comedy "Actresses," or B-movie god Abel Ferrara's incoherent "Go Go Tales," which plays like a spoof "Sopranos" episode. But I'll take the weird choices and the glitzy society parties, given that this year's festival is built around an extremely potent and diverse crop of foreign movies, of exactly the sort likely to play blink-and-you'll-miss-'em American engagements. These include Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'Or-winning "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon," Carlos Reygadas' "Silent Light" and Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine," four movies likely to make my personal top 10 this year.

With the festival sucking up much of the media oxygen, this week's release calendar has a miscellaneous, potluck feeling. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to see. Marco Williams' extraordinary documentary "Banished" explores the buried but not-quite-forgotten history of various all-white communities in the South and Midwest (here's a hint: They weren't always that way), while Bill Haney's festival-fave documentary "The Price of Sugar" uncovers one of the Western Hemisphere's darkest secrets, the slavery-like exploitation of Haitian workers on the Dominican Republic's sugar plantations.

John Jeffcoat's "Outsourced" isn't a documentary, even though it addresses a hot-button contemporary issue. Instead, it's a highly enjoyable if lightweight romantic comedy, set in a call center outside Mumbai where Indian telephone workers sell patriotic kitsch to Middle American consumers. You can draw various conclusions from the fact that this skillful, sweet and engaging entertainment is being self-distributed, but none of them are encouraging. Let's see, what else have we got? Apparently some French dude named Truffaut made a movie about a juvenile delinquent in the late '50s. A lot of people thought it was worth seeing at the time. What does it look like now?

"Banished": American apartheid, long after the death of Jim Crow

When the aging retiree in Harrison, Ark., welcomes filmmaker Marco Williams into his home, it seems almost like the setup for a Hollywood comedy. With his mismatched outfit of high-water trousers and flannel shirt, crusty old Bob Scott seems like the irascible geezer who might just have a heart of gold; in his T-shirt, jeans and flowing dreadlocks, Williams seems every inch the big-city African-American intellectual. They sit down at Scott's table and have a pleasant conversation about life in Harrison. Scott likes living there because people are friendly, the cost of living is low and the Ozark scenery is lovely. But one factor was even more important to him and his fellow retirees, he says: "No blacks."

It is not just historical accident that Boone County, which includes Harrison, has only 40 or so African-Americans among its 34,000 residents. Nor that Forsyth County, Ga., Washington County, Ind., Pierce City, Mo., and dozens of other counties and municipalities in the Midwest and South are nearly or totally all-white today. From the end of the Civil War through the 1920s, many rural communities systematically purged their black residents, driving them out with implicit or explicit threats of violence. Sometimes these blacks were allowed to sell their land, albeit under duress and at discount prices. Often they were simply driven off, forced to abandon homes and land and flee for their lives.

Hardly anyone now living witnessed these events, but as Williams' film forcefully demonstrates, the wounds have nowhere near healed. Descendants of displaced African-Americans have passed the stories down as formative family legend, and while whites are far more eager to bury the past, many remain uncomfortably aware that something unsavory lingers at the farthest edges of community memory.

Williams focuses on three areas with distinct and disparate histories: Forsyth County today is a bedroom community on the outer suburban fringe of Atlanta, anxious to present itself as part of the tolerant New South, unshackled from the past. Yet Forsyth was the site of one of the most extensive ethnic cleansing campaigns anywhere in the country; as recently as 1987, a multiracial Martin Luther King Day march was viciously attacked by an angry white mob. Meanwhile, the descendants of black landowners driven out in 1912 have begun to seek restitution or reparations for land that was apparently stolen from them, a movement vigorously resisted by white legal and political authorities.

In Pierce City, Williams follows the painful quest of James and Charles Brown, two St. Louis brothers who discover that their great-grandparents were driven out of town in 1901, to find and remove ancestral remains from the local graveyard. Awkwardly and uncertainly, Pierce City's coroner and former mayor begin to help the Browns, and to approach their own sense of communal responsibility. But when the Browns demand that Pierce City pay for the exhumation and relocation, the tentative sense of brotherhood falls away. Why should we offer reparations, these well-meaning white citizens demand, for something we didn't do?

Back in Bob Scott's Arkansas town, the racism is more overt than in other communities. Williams has a surprisingly polite conversation with Thom Robb, head of the local Ku Klux Klan, who amiably tells him that cross burning is an ancient Scottish rite (not, of course, an act of racial hatred) but that on the whole he thinks Harrison is better off as a white town. At the same time, Harrison's white residents have done more to confront the problem than anyone in the other two areas: Local preachers have held days of prayer and atonement; volunteers helped renovate a black church in a neighboring county; a scholarship was established for African-American student-athletes from other towns.

"Banished" offers a startling tour into an unforgotten history that remains invisible to most Americans, with the erudite Williams, who is simultaneously polite and confrontational, as our host. It would be ludicrous to suggest that he doesn't take sides: Williams clearly believes that a major historical crime has been swept under the rug, and his film is loaded with moments of understated emotional power. When the black Strickland family of Atlanta find a neglected and overgrown family burial ground on white-owned land in Forsyth County, and kneel there in prayer not far from the current residents' Confederate-flag-bedecked pickup, all the legal questions and ethical quandaries fade into the background.

All the same, Williams never shies away from his film's unanswerable questions. Much as I longed for the Brown brothers and Pierce City officials to find some agreeable middle ground, both remain prisoners of history. James Brown springs his demand for reimbursement on the coroner who has befriended him, just after the latter has shipped and reinterred his great-grandfather's remains. In response, the town fathers retreat into specious and sentimental rhetoric (and refuse to answer Brown directly). Someday, perhaps, these century-old crimes will be forgotten and black people will move into places like Pierce City and Harrison, not knowing or caring about what happened there. But not yet, and not for a long time to come.

"Banished" is now playing at Film Forum in New York. Other engagements, and DVD release, will follow.

"Outsourced": Love in the fulfillment house, or the meta-outsourced indie comedy

Look, I'm not going to pretend that John Jeffcoat's romantic comedy "Outsourced" will change anybody's life, but it's an exceptionally likable film made on a shoestring -- hey, it's cheap to shoot in India! -- that couldn't find conventional distribution. If that's not a reason to root for it, what the hell is? Jeffcoat's sideways approach to a controversial social issue -- the relocation of customer-service jobs to India -- is fresh and never condescending, and the film is terrifically acted with above-average production values. Most Hollywood love stories cost 10 times as much and deliver half the juice, at best.

Actually, I wince to think what your average Hollywood director would have done with this setup: An American call-center manager is reassigned to a newly constructed building outside Mumbai, where he has to train his own replacement and ends up falling in love with -- well, with India, actually. Mind you, there is an awfully attractive Indian woman named Asha (the delightful Ayesha Dharker) involved, but acerbic Todd (Josh Hamilton) has to find out a lot about the country and its people -- and yes, about his own intelligence and conscience -- before he's ready for her.

Jeffcoat isn't afraid to make his characters both types and individuals, in the best comic tradition. Todd is likable, cynical and self-involved, while Puro (Asif Basra), the Indian manager who's going to get his job (at roughly one-eighth the salary), is hardworking, fast-talking and ambitious, with an unreadably sunny veneer. But from the beginning, we can see elements of emotional reserve and shifting intelligence in both these guys. They're always more than cultural stereotypes, and even the predictable power exchange between them -- Todd has to teach his call-center employees how to "sound American," while Puro and the other Indians have to teach him how to be a human being -- isn't as clichéd as that sounds.

Jeffcoat's depiction of the call-center world is funny, fascinating and almost anthropological; he never preaches at you on the morality, or lack thereof, of this distinct late-capitalist phenomenon. (As you may have discovered, it can be difficult to get call-center workers to admit they're not really in Chicago or Dallas.) As "Outsourced" gradually and gracefully moves Todd and the luminous Asha toward each other -- and toward the "Kama Sutra suite" of a sleazy tourist hotel -- it remains respectful of the tremendous distance between them. She, after all, has been engaged to a cousin since the age of 4, and he's on his way back to his Seattle condo as soon as the call center is down to six minutes per customer. I guess "Outsourced" is simply too bright and pleasant to become a huge hit, but it's a confident little genre film with near-classic charm.

"Outsourced" opens Sept. 28 in New York, Eugene, Ore., Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and Austin, Texas; and Oct. 5 in Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif., with more cities to follow.

Fast forward: The true "Price of Sugar" in blood, sweat and tears; "The 400 Blows" after almost 50 years
As I write this, it's still difficult to find accurate information about where and when Bill Haney's profoundly disturbing documentary "The Price of Sugar" will be opening commercially in the United States. Partly this is because the Vicini family, sugar barons of the Dominican Republic, have hired Patton Boggs, a major Washington law firm, to try to halt the film's release, or at least paint it as slanted and defamatory. Narrated by Paul Newman, Haney's film follows an Anglo-Spanish missionary priest, Christopher Hartley, as he tries to bring some justice to the slavery-like conditions under which Haitian immigrants cut sugar cane in the Vicini fields.

As Hartley remarks in the film, Americans may be dismayed to learn the true cost of the sugar they put in their morning coffee: Haitian workers are routinely imprisoned by armed guards and underpaid (or go unpaid for long periods), and those who run away or try to insist on minimal legal rights frequently disappear. While Hartley and Haney have succeeded in focusing international attention on the Dominican sugar fields, both the Vicinis and the Dominican population continue to insist that nothing is wrong. Hartley has been reassigned to Ethiopia by his church superiors, and public screenings have reportedly been interrupted by counter-demonstrators. (Scheduled to open Sept. 28 in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities.)

Every critic has their blind spots, and here's one I've never quite been able to explain to myself: I don't especially like the films of François Truffaut. I've often found them a little precious and self-congratulatory, a little too French in the most stereotypically winsome and fatalistic manner. Look, I agree that it's inexplicable, and on seeing Truffaut's prodigiously influential 1959 breakthrough, "The 400 Blows," for about the fifth time, I think I've come to terms with it.

Technically, the picture is superb, with its intimate technique, its many memorable shots -- especially that last one on the beach, when teenage runaway Antoine turns accusingly, or achingly, toward the audience -- and its simultaneously bleak and beautiful widescreen presentation of downscale street life in postwar Paris. For the first few viewings, I think I found Truffaut overly sympathetic to the delinquent hero (played so memorably by the young Jean-Pierre Léaud), and too ready to lapse into a romantic vision of a heartless, oppressive society bent on crushing the soul of the young.

Well, OK, "The 400 Blows" is about those things, but now I can see that Truffaut at least sometimes views Antoine from a dispassionate distance, about the same way he sees Antoine's maddeningly inconsistent, wounded and overworked parents. (I guess society has crushed them too.) I suspect I just didn't see this undisputed masterpiece when I was the right age for it to resound achingly in my soul or whatever. At the very least, "The 400 Blows" is a beautiful film that launched a major career and has shaped all cinematic depictions of rebellious adolescence ever since. Forget my curmudgeonly attitude and see it -- again, or for the first time -- for yourself. (Now playing in a new 35mm print at Film Forum in New York.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The feminist who made me blush

I have a lot of time for anyone not afraid to reveal themselves, warts and all, to the baying hounds. Three people read this blog whereas Pollit faces a potential audience of millions, all of them capable of judging her to the nth degree.

Political columnist Katha Pollitt has been vilified for airing her romantic dirty laundry. What's wrong with serious women writers exposing their soft underbellies to the world?

By Rebecca Traister

Sept. 26, 2007 | As a first-grader, I remember walking into a supermarket one night with my mother, and seeing my teacher manning the checkout line. I froze, red-faced with embarrassment. My embarrassment didn't stem from an understanding that Mrs. Briggs was working a second job at the supermarket because Palmer Elementary wasn't paying her enough to live on. I was way too young to get that. My horror was at the fact that she was my teacher, the official lady who had an official job teaching me how to read and recognize numbers and here she was in the supermarket where real life took place. She was dressed in different clothes and wearing an apron. She was a person! It was embarrassing! People have public lives and private lives. And when the twain meet, it makes you turn red.

That's probably why, a few years ago, when I read Katha Pollitt's New Yorker essays about learning to drive and web-stalking her ex-boyfriend in the wake of a brutal breakup, I was so taken aback: humiliated for her, embarrassed to have bumped into her this way, in different clothes and an apron! Pollitt and I are now professional acquaintances, but at the time, I had not met her. I knew her only as a columnist, having long loved her work as a political and feminist critic for the Nation. But I viscerally recoiled at these tales of her abandoning her pride, wallowing miserably and defensively as she compared herself to her ex's new girlfriend, admitting to her lack of self-sufficiency and confidence. The newspaper where I worked at the time ran pieces mocking both of her stories. I didn't write them, but I laughed at them.

Of course, I also read the essays with the engagement of a Talmudic scholar -- identifying with her in some places, happily and self-congratulatingly distancing myself from her shame in others, and appreciating her perhaps way-too-honest lyricism.

Now those two essays, in which she confessed to debasements like looking the other way after finding another woman's panties in the laundry, to not giving her boyfriend oral sex in the mornings, to the fact that he intellectually belittled her and that she -- the great feminist! -- stayed with him for seven years anyway, until he finally left her for someone else, are the centerpieces (and one of them the title) of "Learning to Drive," a new collection of Pollitt's writing.

Picking up these pieces again in book form, accompanied by other essays about Pollitt's daughter, the Marxist reading group she joined in part to impress her scoundrel boyfriend, and friendships with the women with whom her ex cheated on her, I have a much more intricate reaction than when I first read them. Instead of simply rearing back from them, I wonder: Is there ever a point at which it is a good idea for women, especially intellectual, politically engaged women, to strip off their clothes and caper naked as jaybirds in front of a line of would-be assassins?

Pollitt is used to her share of ad-feminam hit jobs. The publication of a collection of her feminist essays last summer prompted Ana Marie Cox to snigger brattily in the New York Times Book Review about Pollitt's "preserved-in-amber" version of feminism. "Learning to Drive" has already earned Pollitt two scalding reviews of a different sort, one from the New York Times and one from the Los Angeles Times, and both written by women appalled at the sight of a political thinker they both respect in her public life unmasked as, yuck, a woman, in the privacy of her own confessional essays.

The L.A Times' Susan Salter Reynolds is unapologetic about the terms of her disgust, admitting that "watching a feminist I've admired my entire life dissolve into a whingeing puddle in her late 50s is painful," and calling the book "self-indulgent." The New York Times' Toni Bentley is slinkier in her evaluation of Pollitt's "brilliant commentary on welfare, abortion, surrogate motherhood, Iraq, gay marriage and health care" next to this collection in which she "gets personal, and shameless." Bentley, a former ballerina, knows from personal and shameless; her graphic 2004 memoir "The Surrender" explored her devotion to anal sex. In her review, she names other female writers like Laura Kipnis, Daphne Merkin and Maureen Dowd, who have excavated their personal lives (not to say their intestinal tracts) for material, cracking nonsensically that they represent a new breed of "enraged, educated woman (vagina dentata intellectualis)," and wonders whether Pollitt is "giving up her dignity in a generous motion of solidarity toward the rest of us who have already blown our cover?"

First of all, of course "Learning to Drive" is self-indulgent. Memoir is self-indulgent. This hasn't stopped generations of great, serious writers from mining their private existences for wisdom, beauty or humor. As it happens, a number of Pollitt's essays are wise and very funny, and if not altogether pretty in content, then at least fine-boned in style. And in addition to being blood-and-guts revelations about her private devastations, they offer a view of the ways in which her political ideologies -- the things we respect her for -- have been woven throughout her romantic, social and familial life.

In the book's title essay, Pollitt describes her ineptitude behind the wheel of a car, and the infinite patience of her Filipino driving instructor, who calls her "Kahta" and tells her that observation -- of the distance between car and curb, for example -- is her weakness. "Observation is my weakness," she writes. "I did not realize that my mother was a secret drinker. I did not realize that the man I lived with, my soul mate, made for me in Marxist heaven, was a dedicated philanderer ... I noticed that our apartment was becoming a grunge palace ... I observed -- very good, Kahta! -- that ... I had gained twenty five pounds in our seven years together and could not fit into many of my clothes. I realized it was not likely that the unfamiliar pink-and-black-striped bikini panties in the clean-clothes basket were the result, as he claimed, of a simple laundry room mix-up. But all this awareness was like the impending danger in one of those slow-motion dreams of paralysis, information that could not be processed. It was like seeing the man with the suitcase step off the curb and driving forward anyway."

Describing the obstetricians who delivered her daughter, Pollitt writes, "[they] were beautiful, slender, delicate dark-eyed women -- they looked like they had been antelopes in a previous life. They wore high heels and little black dresses under their white coats ... you felt they should be drinking martinis at the Beekman instead of sticking their hands up your vagina." More painfully, she ponders whether, if she had changed as her ex wanted her to -- gotten her license and read Anton Pannekoek's "Workers' Councils" -- they would still be together. "It's a lucky thing I didn't get my license," she writes. "I would still be living with a womanizer, a liar, a cheat, a manipulator, a maniac, a psychopath. Maybe my incompetence protected me." Not the kind of thing you necessarily want to hear coming from a writer whose column this week is about the priority of low-income healthcare on the progressive agenda. But the contrast between the two offers a lesson: Big thoughts do not stave off small feelings.

Bentley gets close to the root of the antipathy toward the book: that maybe women who have serious careers writing about serious subjects shouldn't let their opponents see their soft underbellies, since once they do, their "covers" are blown and they'll never be taken seriously again.

Questions about the wisdom of personal disclosure get thornier if the writer is a vocal feminist. If a woman is critical of patriarchal practices, a stance that will inevitably lead to being called a man-hater, is there any gain or loss in disclosing that she is happily married to a man? Or that she is a lesbian? Or that she has recently experienced a breakup? What if she thinks that a personal betrayal, or a love affair, or a sexual experience, has shifted her ideology? What if she wants to make some extra money writing freelance essays?

I can testify that in a post-Bridget Jones, post-Candace Bushnell universe, the market for sex-and-love confessional remains hot. If you are a female writer, you're likely to get asked to do that kind of stuff -- along with pieces about motherhood and beauty and plastic surgery and weight loss. These days, those invitations come my way because I've done personal writing for Salon. But years ago, when my sole beat was reported stories on the New York film industry, I was puzzled to find that prospects for freelance work relied mostly on my willingness to pen dating diaries or vibrator reviews.

That's not to say that I was pressured to write on these topics any more than Pollitt was forced to write about her breakup in the New Yorker. It's also not to say that personal writing precludes more traditionally serious work: Maureen Dowd's ruminations on her dating life have not kept her off the Op-Ed page, and writing about her wedding menu has not prevented New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor from getting on the presidential campaign trail. The hanging out of Pollitt's dirty laundry has not slowed the stream of acid political commentary emerging from her Nation column.

But it's also true that by choosing to write personal pieces that lay bare some aspect of our femininity, journalists probably, at least incrementally, decrease their chances of being sent to, say, Iraq.

So why would someone like Pollitt -- so far out of the trenches of confessional journalism -- dive in headfirst? Well, perhaps she feels she has a lot to say about the way human beings trust and love and how the smartest among us willingly go deaf and dumb, how the most confident of us go soft, how the savviest get blindsided.

I don't know if it was a bad idea for her to commit these experiences to paper, but I do know that it makes other smart, confident, savvy women very uncomfortable. It might be easier to kvetch, as Reynolds does, about how Pollitt's personal admissions hurt the movement she's spent her life strengthening, making leftist politics look "like a series of silly cocktail parties" and her convictions look "like efforts to impress men."

Um. Yeah? That the American left has in many instances been principally guided by conversations held at swank cocktail parties should come as a shock to no one. And anyone who thinks it off-base to suggest that the development of political interests can be influenced by connections to the people we love is not being honest themselves. It's perhaps not attractive for a woman to admit that her politics have been partly shaped by her romances; such an admission reinforces the classical assumption that women have no head for politics and merely absorb the beliefs of their husbands. But how different is it from confessing, as many people do, that their first glimpses of political awareness were passed on by their parents? And if it were a man telling the story -- imagine Eric Alterman jocularly revealing that he went to his first Labor Party meeting because a pretty girl was walking through the door and he followed her, only to discover that what was happening inside inflamed more than his nether regions -- it would not be so scandalous.

The reaction to Pollitt's book also stinks of another kind of double-talking hypocrisy -- ageism and looksism. The book leaves Pollitt seeming slightly pathetic. But imagine the same book by a lithe twentysomething who writes about getting ditched by some prig, ponders her investment in Marxism, learns to drive as a measure of her independence, discusses how feminism informed and enabled her life as a mother, and ends up remarried, pondering the history of the Communist Party through the stories of her parents. If such a book were as beautifully written as Pollitt's, I bet it would be received with wild enthusiasm.

That, of course, is because critics don't expect young, beautiful women to give a damn about Marxism or communism or feminism. They expect them to write about breakups, hopefully in complete sentences. If one of them were to use her personal life as a lens through which to examine sociopolitical movements, I hazard a guess that critics would deem it quite extraordinary.

But the expectation for Pollitt, who is not twentysomething and not lithe, is that she care about Marxism and communism and feminism and not about breakups. It's surely not a coincidence that the review of her book in the New York Times runs next to a larger than normal photograph of her looking more than a little austere. Ew! Old lady writing about sex!

We frankly don't want to picture the emotional or romantic or sexual lives of non-dewy, non-leonine women. Even Pollitt herself finds it slightly distasteful, writing in the book that "People who despair after a certain age are just depressing. We don't have the looks for it, and besides, we make others uncomfortable: what if we're on to something?"

Perhaps the discomfort it causes is all the more reason "Sex and the Seasoned Woman" author Gail Sheehy and Toni Bentley reflexively crow about the pleasures of aging sexily. It's never been better! Try it up the butt!

Pollitt also faces something of a gender double standard. Where her bold confessional purportedly leaves her looking foolish, few people got bunched up over the excruciating memoir "American Sucker" by New Yorker film critic David Denby, about losing tons of money and all perspective in the wake of his wife's leaving their 18-year marriage. A couple of critics griped that he revealed too much personal stuff, but mostly, his self-exposure was welcomed. Publisher's Weekly printed a review of the book that asserted, "the work is more appealing when Denby focuses on himself ... Denby brutally details his decline, from a night of impotence to an affair with a married woman, then a six-month obsession with Internet porn -- harrowing stuff for a New Yorker staff writer ... More of Denby, and less of the Nasdaq, would have made this good book even better." Nor did Michael Lewis' column about being an inconsistent dad on Slate damage the world's view of him as a journalist who chronicles sports and business. And what about Seth Mnookin, who has written books about the New York Times and the Boston Red Sox, and who wrote extensively (for Salon, in fact) about the depths of his heroin addiction while he was a student at Harvard?

None of these revelations of personal weakness seem to undercut the esteem in which these male critics are held. Nor has there been expressed an air of disappointment that they failed to live up to some bloodless, bileless ideal of who they are. Because stoicism is expected of men, their personal revelations -- the more embarrassing the better -- register as brave and honest. When women do it, they are merely confirming the worst suspicions about their gender. How, then, is a woman to write honestly of her experiences that do conform to gender expectations? If she is to maintain respect in public realms, must her public evocation of her private life be a lifelong performance? A series of lies, or at least omissions, constructed to leave an impression of unyielding strength and impenetrability?

I understand the impulse to censure a writer like Pollitt for fueling her critics, for revealing so much of herself that she imperils her well-earned reputation. What if the next time I read her on single-issue voting or the death penalty or the Supreme Court, I'm actually thinking about how she never liked to give her ex blow jobs in the morning? What if, even worse, the next time I read her on equality in the workplace, I wonder if she's so angry about gender injustice because she always resented the fact that her boyfriend asked her for blow jobs in the morning? When people read Daphne Merkin in the New York Times Magazine, do they flicker back momentarily to an image of her being spanked? When Maureen Dowd butterflies Dick Cheney, do her readers recall the Broadway producer she alleges told her she was too smart to date?

Hoary habits die hard, and I suspect it will be a long time before we stop squirming at the meeting of respectability and femininity, the personal and the political. But it's time we grew up and realized that it is possible to exhibit both intellectual strength and personal weakness simultaneously. And that when a woman chooses to lift her cerebral robes and expose herself in surprising or disconcerting ways, she should be judged on the artfulness and grace with which she does so, not on the body that she reveals.

I wonder how many women have been stopped from literary self-exposure by the fear of incurring a lasting bruise on their previously thick and unblemished skin. Maybe they were right to preserve the illusion of invulnerability, or perhaps in their effort to remain publicly invincible, they have deprived us of what might have been gripping and incisive narrative about their personal travails.

There's no question that vulnerability makes a tough woman more palatable to the American public. America likes its women with an extra helping of emotional powerlessness -- just look at how it worked out for Hillary Clinton, a figure long reviled for her tough exterior. As soon as she got cheated on, she became a less threatening and thus more plausible female politician.

But Pollitt is not running for president. She's not playing to the masses, but to an audience of women who want her to be what they cannot be, to remain steely while they turn to rubber, to steer with unflinching conviction while they stop to ask for directions.

Iguana in a Hell's Kitchen Apartment

Not sure if I ever shared this story before but it's quite amusing and every once in a while, a remnant of that story comes back and interjects itself in my life. For instance, a friend of mine from New York wrote me yesterday and asked me what the name of the iguana was, in that practical joke I'd played on our friend G.

Herman. The iguana's name was Herman.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A friend of mine, G, was looking for an apartment in the city and his preference was Hell's Kitchen. For the uninitiated, Hell's Kitchen is a hood on the west side of midtown Manhattan. In the 70s, you couldn't walk through that place without someone cutting you with a rusty blade or, worse, ejaculating over you. But like most things New York, it became gentrified during the late-Giuliani era and now it's as hip as can be (with a ton of street credibility, which is rare).

Hell's Kitchen is expensive. You can expect to drop eighteen Benjamins a month for a one bedroom that makes my cubicle seem like a mansion. And my friend, while of capable means, was in the process of saving up for the broker's fee, the first and last month and all the other financial penalties one seems to incur upon establishing domicile in Gotham. So G was a couple of months away from actually being in a position to call leeches...sorry, brokers up, flash his cash and get them to find a pad pronto. In the meantime, he would scour Craig's List every day, looking at vacant apartments in HK and torture himself whenever he found something he liked.

"Why are you doing this to yourself?" I'd ask. "Why not wait til you're ready and then start looking"

"I just want to get a feel for what's out there" He'd respond. "Besides, it doesn't bother me" he'd assert, less convincingly.

So of course, evil Basil hatches an evil practical joke. The next day, the following ad appeared in the New York real estate section of Craig's List.

2BR in Hell's Kitchen - $1200

I'm moving to Milan on a grant for a couple of years, to study law which means I'd like to sublet my very cosy Hell's Kitchen apartment to the right person (or persons). Lawyer from the Boston area, fortyish, fully own this property. This apartment is partially furnished and is in remarkably good condition.

So why's the rent so low? Because it comes with a two year commitment and during those two years, I'm looking for someone who can look after my two pets: my English sheepdog, Patsy, and my pet Iguana, Herman. I can't take them with me and I absolutely cannot give them up, so this is the only solution I could come up with. I'd totally reimburse you for their food and any veterinary expenses (they're both in good health, so this would be a checkup every six months or so) but you'd be their primary caregiver while I'm away.

I care more about their welfare than making any money out of this place, so applicants will be asked to demonstrate their responsibility, not their bank accounts.

And I posted it, reasoning that someone who followed CL as diligently as G did would have no problems "stumbling" onto this ad. I then shut down my computer and went home.

The next day, I came into the office and opened my email account:

346 new emails. Four were from friends and 342 were applicants for the apartment. Incredulously, I opened one and read it. The most ingratiating piece of brown-nosing I'd ever read. I opened another one: "I had an iguana growing up, so I think I'd be great at taking care of your iguana". Another one had a picture of an English sheepdog that the sender had apparently grown up with. Yet another told me it would be a "privilege" to look after "Patsy and Herman". My head was spinning at this point.

I skimmed through them and eventually found G's offering to this ignoble affair. His was ingratiating but not as bad as some of the others; he managed to maintain a semblance of dignity, at least. Chuckling, I wrote a reply back to him.

Dear G,

I don't know why but I have a good feeling about you. The fact that you come from my hometown of Boston is, as you pointed out, also a plus (Go Red Sox!). Let's set up a meet-and-greet and see if we can agree on the details.

All the best,

Theophilus S. Hawthorne III

I didn't have to wait long for a reply. My friend wanted to know when we could meet.

Dear G,

Right away! Please get in touch with my representative and he'll set it up. His name is [Basil Fawlty] and his number is [gave him my office phone number].


Theophilus P. Beaushitar IV

Twenty minutes later, G storms into my office. I look at him, wide-eyed but barely capable of containing a wave of laughter that doesn't look likely to subside this century.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "You look like hell!"

"ASSHOLE" he snarled at me. "ASSHOLE!!!"


"Why didn't you tell me you knew him?"

"Who?" I asked, genuinely puzzled by his query. It dawned on me. But it couldn't be...could it?

"The guy with the iguana...he said you represent him!"

I started losing it, of course, but that didn't deter the poor boy.

"You had access to a great apartment and you never told me!" he fumed.

Eventually, I calmed down enough to tell him the scale of my duplicity. He listened and (I swear) his breathing became heavier. He was so pissed off, things weren't right between us for a week.

I'm pretty sure I told this story on this blog before (though I can't find it). But the reasons I'm telling it again is because I just got reminded of it and......I thought it would be fun to reprint, on a daily basis, a new email from the list of responses I got for that apartment. I'm going to start tomorrow. They're all still in a file named 'Iguana' on my Yahoo account and I'd been meaning to print them out and store them somewhere; it seems like a shame to throw away or delete the earnest efforts of so many apartment-hunting New Yorkers willing to suspend their disbelief and parlay their dignity in return for a cheap apartment in a trendy part of town. Not that I would be any different! In fact, I'm grateful that, in this case, the evil genius who concocted this sordid plan and succeeded in dashing the hopes and humiliating so many people, was me.

For a change.

Not that my designs at world humiliation would have ended there, given the right opportunity popping up: my original plan was to do a coffee table book about New York apartments, with images of English Sheep Dogs and Iguanas in a sort of Pink Floyd/ Purple Haze/ Acid-trip design, interspersed with the funniest, saddest, most desperate portions of the email I got. I even purchased the rights to the website in case this thing took off, and even spoke to someone in the New York Times about it.

Needless to say, it never went anywhere.

John P. Halo

As you may already know, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a long history of pranking (or hacks, as they call them) both on their own campus and at other schools. Though there have been some real winners over the years, this new one, captured today by MIT newspaper The Tech, really takes the cake.

To mark the Halo 3 release, MIT students gifted the John P. Harvard statue in Harvard Yard with a Spartan helmet (with "Master Chief in Training" written on the back) and an assault rifle. Love the nerds!

The World's Weirdest/Stupidest Conspiracy Theories

The World's Weirdest/Stupidest Conspiracy Theories

(in no particular order, with each theory's author or main proponent in parentheses)

The driver shot JFK. (the late William Cooper)
The Beatles were designed and sent to the U.S. by the British Psychological Warfare Division, to undermine the morals of American teenagers. (Lyndon LaRouche)
Christ's Crucifixion was staged. (Hugh Schonfield) Christ eloped with Mary Magdalene, and one or both of them fled to France to raise their family. (Baigent/Leigh/Lincoln)
Christ and his disciples were a magic-mushroom cult. (Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Allegro)
HIV/AIDS was created in a lab.
HIV does not cause AIDS.
Man never landed on the moon. It's not even possible. But there is an alien base there. (see Wikipedia; for an artful and very funny parody of how these theories can be patched together from unrelated material, watch the mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon)
The Zapruder film is entirely fake, even though it contradicts the findings of the Warren Commission. (Jim Fetzer)
Stephen King killed John Lennon. (Steve Lightfoot)
WWII was staged. It never really happened. The Illuminati employed elaborate special effects, stage magic, and phony journalism to scare the world into pacifism. (Donald Holmes)
Queen Elizabeth I was a man. The real Elizabeth died as a child.
George H.W. Bush was really George Scherff Sr., a Nazi sent to destroy America as a teenager and adopted by Prescott Bush (Scherff was also an assistant to Nikola Tesla, and stole all Tesla's inventions after he was murdered by Otto Skorzeny and Reinhard Gehlen). Hitler was still alive in Montana in 1997, and Josef Mengele is keeping himself alive and youthful with a regimen of hormones and cannibalism. Oh, and Curious George was inspired by a young George Scherff Jr.; that's probably why Alan J. Shalleck was murdered by two men he met through a gay sex network one day before the movie premiered. (this information comes from a man named Eric Berman, who claims he heard it straight from his girlfriend's dad, Otto Skorzeny, in Florida during the late '90s. Skorzeny died in Madrid in 1975.)
One promoter of the Scherff-Bush story adds that Josef Mengele was the real Zodiac, the Boston Strangler(s), and the anthrax letter mailer. (
The 1939 War of the Worlds radio broadcoast was a psychological warfare study funded by C.D. Jackson on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation, designed to find out how Americans would react to an enemy invasion. Funny... in a trailer for his mockumentary F is for Fake, Orson Welles did say the WoW broadcast had "secret sponsors". (Daniel Hopsicker)
A really old one that just won't die: Jews drink the blood and eat the flesh of Gentile children during Passover. Some Catholics still revere the relics of Medieval child saints supposedly slaughtered and devoured by Jews.
The doomed Franklin Expedition was sent to the Arctic not only to find the Northwest Passage, but to secretly investigate UFO sightings that had been reported since the 1700s. The men were captured, experimented upon, and eaten by giant aliens. (Jeffrey Blair Latta)
Hitler and some associates escaped to the Arctic in a submarine, to live with super-advanced aliens who reside within the hollow earth. (This story originated with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel The Coming Race, was treated as fact by the pre-Nazi Vril Society, was bolstered by the forged "secret diary" of Admiral Byrd, and was adopted by the likes of Ernst Zundel)
Denver International Airport was built expressly to conceal a vast underground complex, headquarters of the New World Order elite. Clues are hidden in the airport's peace-themed mural.
Scientology: Billions of years ago the intergalactic overlord Xenu used a film to brainwash our souls ("Thetans") into believing in the world's major religions, which he invented.
Gnosticism: The entire material world is an evil trap created by the imposter God of the Bible.
Nation of Islam: White people were created in a lab.
Jesuits sank the Titanic to kill some of the world's richest, most powerful Jews.
The early Middle Ages (614-911 A.D.) never occurred. Everything that supposedly happened during those years was either a misunderstanding, an event from a different era, or an outright lie - Charlemagne, for instance, is a fictional figure. And we are actually living in the 1700s. (Herbert Illig's phantom time hypothesis)
Shortly before he left office, Bill Clinton secretly signed into law the National Economic Security and Reformation Act (NESARA). This act would have completely restructured the U.S. government by - among other things - forgiving all personal credit card debt and mortgages, abolishing the IRS, restoring constitutional law, and somehow ensuring world peace - but the Supreme Court placed a gag order on it, and threatened death to any government official who breathed word of its existence. NESARA activists around the world are agitating to get the act announced and instituted.
Aspartame, flouride, genetically modified foods, and vaccines are used specifically to keep us sick and open to suggestion, and/or as part of a secret depopulation plan designed by the world's elite.
Atlanta child murder theories: Victims were used for CDC research into Interferon; KKK Klansmen posed as cops to wipe out young black men (Dick Gregory); white scientists needed the boys' foreskins to produce a cure for cancer and/or a youth serum. (Dick Gregory again)
Jeffrey Dahmer was an actor hired by the Ambrosia Chocolate company to pose as a cannibal killer so no one would object to the factory being torn down and another one built with illegal tax breaks (posted by "manoftruth" on online forums devoted to Rush and Bon Jovi, along with rants on Wicca and Jews; his name might be Mark Zahn, but who knows?).
And here's a fun one: By combining two separate conspiracy theories, you can turn Hitler into Jack the Ripper!

Theory #1: Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence, faked his death to move to Germany and become Adolph Hitler.
Theory #2: Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence (and/or Freemasons acting on his behalf) was Jack the Ripper.
Hence, Prince Eddy might have killed several prostitues, faked his own death, then resurfaced in Austria as Hitler.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Finish the Fight!


So I have to say, this Ramadan has been an unmitigated spiritual disaster for your humble neighbourhood Fawlty. I only fasted the first three days and even those were laced with such a poisonous and negative vibe, I fail to see how they could be viewed as something positive I took part in. I lash out at the drop of a hat, I feel panicky and exhausted all the time, I can't sleep at night (despite being on some very good, unfiltered local drugs) and when I do, I toss and turn and feel as if the room is filled with a thousand whispers, all baying at me with fragments of memories, regrets and hopeless resentment.

Not the way a holy month is supposed to play out.

At first, I thought that my ever-declining faith in anything bigger than myself had been eroded down to nothing, but that's not quite it. True, I have problems reconciling my state and the state of the world with any kind of omnipotent force (good or bad) but the crux of my problems are essentially man-made. And the man in question is me.

Moving here's been challenging. New country, new customs, new frame of reference etc. None of that is a big deal, I've done it all before with fewer resources and acquitted myself well. What's new is that I've realized that I'm alone, poor and doing something I hate.

Now lord knows Fawlty is not a greedy man. The proof is I would be perfectly content with any one of those three, and I have been, at any one time. But to find myself back at a stage where I lack companionship, cash and contentment (the professional kind) is...well, it's so 2003 and I thought I was beyond that.

Boo-hoo, Basil, count your blessings, be thankful, stop worrying/ whining and so on. Fine, I can accept that criticism as your opinion of how much harder I make things for myself. But you don't know me; you know my blog, but you don't know me. I'm not a moper and I'm not a lazy person or someone who becomes paralyzed by circumstances. All the misery and self-lacerating reflection is very personal and not something I exude when I'm with people. I can't stop talking about it here because I'm not really talking. I'm blogging. And what's more, I do it to clear my head.

I'm broke, I'm in debt, I'm alone, I despise my job, I'm 36, I sold out and have nothing to show for it, I'm out of shape, I'm miserable and I'm scared. I'm very, very scared.

I had an epiphany while having fitar (ok, dinner) with a friend of mine I hadn't seen in a few years, an Egyptologist who lives in London now. We were talking about our relative professional and personal lack of development, and I mentioned, rather casually, that from a young age, to combat the poisonous influence of the parents and the rest of Egyptian society's ills, I'd hardened myself and refused to let them or anyone else close to me. Now that most of these parental and societal problems have faded into the footnotes of personal history, my continued inability to open up and let the world in is still costing me many moments of happiness and even simple things like the ability to relax and connect with people.

And I'm not interested in dealing with my problems: forgiving anyone, forgiving myself, loving myself, dealing with feelings...all that stuff is simply not for me. Because it doesn't work. Everyone has problems and as a man, my solution is to be successful and let some of that success drive my failures into irrelevancy. It's the only way I can feel good about things.

I guess I can see some of you recoiling in horror at such an antiquated view of achieving a healthy psychological life. The fact is psychiatry/ psychology doesn't work and everyone knows it. Everyone is damaged in a multitude of unmentionable ways and just because you see the outside of someone who's been through therapy and is 'doing better', doesn't mean you'll ever know what goes inside. Psychoanalysis is something that makes everyone else feel better, except the person in therapy. And when that person is a man...well, psychoanalysis has its work cut out for it.

Ok, so maybe this blog is a form of therapy. But since I'm leading the session and not paying $200/ hour, I don't mind it as much.

Things are slow to happen. And I'm frustrated by this slowness and lonely and bitter and rudderless. The status quo isn't the answer anymore, so I'm making changes. If I go down, I'm going down on my own terms. And if you don't like my choices, good thing you don't have to make them. And if you're bored of this blog, don't come round here no more.

Life is simple in terms of knowing what to do. It's the execution I always have a problem with.

1975 JC Penny Catalogue Scans

Why? Just because.

Bleeeech Redux

Jesus! The umpteenth bad Thai I've had since I got here...what is it with this place? Can't they attract any good Thai cooks at all? I can't live like this..I'm going to have to learn how to cook. In self-defense!

Shut up Hooker.

Always makes me laugh.

Punishing Columbia for hosting Ahmadinejad?

All of the hysteria over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speaking at Columbia University is so tiresome for so many reasons, beginning with the fact that it is all rather transparently motivated by exactly what Juan Cole says: "The real reason his visit is controversial is that the American right has decided the United States needs to go to war against Iran. Ahmadinejad is therefore being configured as an enemy head of state."

In their minds, we are at war with Iran -- even though, in reality, i.e., according to our Constitution, we are not -- and all of the ensuing hysteria is rooted in the fantasy world they occupy in which Iran is our Enemy at War. By their nature, such fantasies cannot be reasoned with.

This desire to prevent people from speaking when they express views that one finds offensive is just always baffling. That is true in general, and includes even pettier though still inane suppression efforts such as this one, which recently resulted in the recission of an invitation to Larry Summers to speak at an event for the University of California regents. Other than converting the individual into a martyr and dramatically elevating their importance, what do people think is accomplished when a person with a certain viewpoint is denied a forum?

In any event, there is not much new worth saying about the "debate" over whether Columbia should have invited Ahmadinejad to speak. People either believe in the value of having academic institutions be a venue for airing all viewpoints or they do not.

Exactly as is true for the First Amendment, it is so often the case that those who claim to believe in this principle when it comes to ideas they like suddenly find all sorts of reasons why the "principle" does not apply when it comes to ideas they hate most. And -- as is true for Osama bin Laden -- nobody has done more to inflate the importance and power of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who, just by the way, is not even the leader of Iran, let alone the WorldWide Evil Axis of Hitlerian Dictators) than those who have focused on him obsessively.

But what is new, and what most certainly is worth commenting upon, is this extremely disturbing report from The New York Sun regarding the threats made by Democratic State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to use state power to punish Columbia for inviting a speaker whom Silver dislikes. Silver -- who, among other things, has long been a leader in efforts to free convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison -- did not even bother to disguise the threats he was making:

As the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, prepares to address Columbia University today amid a storm of student protest, state and city lawmakers say they are considering withholding public funds from the school to protest its decision to invite the leader to campus.

In an interview with The New York Sun, the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, said lawmakers, outraged over Columbia's insistence on allowing the Iranian president to speak at its World Leaders Forum, would consider reducing capital aid and other financial assistance to the school.

Lawmakers warned about other consequences for Columbia and its president, Lee Bollinger, who has resisted campus and public pressure to cancel Mr. Ahmadinejad's appearance today, arguing that Columbia's commitment to scholarship requires the school to directly confront offensive ideas.

"There are issues that Columbia may have before us that obviously this cavalier attitude would be something that people would recall," Mr. Silver said. "Obviously, there's some degree of capital support that has been provided to Columbia in the past. These are things people might take a different view of . . . knowing that this is that kind of an institution" . . .

"It's not going to go away just because this episode ends. Columbia University has to know . . . that they will be penalized," an assemblyman of Brooklyn, Dov Hikind, who also attended the rally, said. The lawmaker said Mr. Ahmadinejad should be arrested when he sets foot on campus.

Silver sounds like two-bit hooligan making not-so-veiled threats to Columbia ("Obviously, there's some degree of capital support that has been provided to Columbia in the past. These are things people might take a different view of") for committing the crime of inviting a speaker whom Silver finds offensive. Is there anyone who fails to see how dangerous and improper this is -- not to mention unconstitutional -- that government officials threaten and punish universities for hosting speakers whom the officials dislike? Do we want our universities to be able to provide speaking venues only to individuals who are approved by the likes of Sheldon Silver and Dov Hikind?

What this really illustrates more than anything else is the true danger to our national character and basic liberties from being in a permanent state of war fighting. When we become a society that just leaps from one New Ultimate Hitler Enemy Who Must Be Destroyed to the next, we ensure that all of our political values and institutions become infected by this bloodthirsty mentality. When we have one Enemy after the next to annihilate, who really cares about dreary luxuries like due process or restraints on government power or the First Amendment? Saddam/binLaden/Ahemdinijad/Assad is Evil, a Hitler, and all power must be vested without limits in our Leaders so they can destroy him/them.

Along those same lines, this "interview" of Ahmadinejad by Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" has to be read to be believed. As Ezra Klein says: "Pelley declined to interview Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and instead popped off aggressive statements as if he were a White House press release with a cardiovascular system."

It would be perfectly appropriate for Pelley to pose aggressive and challenging questions to Ahmadinejad. That is actually what reporters in general are supposed to do when questioning any government officials, not merely the Foreign Muslim Enemy du Jour. Fathom how elevated our political discourse would be if "reporters" like Pelley were even a fraction as adversarial and challenging when interviewing Bush officials as Pelley was when yelling at Ahmadinejad.

But Pelley did not question him so much as make a series of highly dubious war-fueling statements as fact. And far more revealing than Pelley's tone were the premises of his "questions" -- ones which blindly assumed every accusation of the Bush administration towards Iran to be true -- such as these:

PELLEY: Sir, what were you thinking? The World Trade Center site is the most sensitive place in the American heart, and you must have known that visiting there would be insulting to many, many Americans.

AHMADINEJAD: Why should it be insulting?

PELLEY: Well, sir, you're the head of government of an Islamist state that the United States government says is a major exporter of terrorism around the world. . . .

PELLEY: But the American people, sir, believe that your country is a terrorist nation, exporting terrorism in the world. You must have known that visiting the World Trade Center site would infuriate many Americans, as if to be mocking the American people.

AHMADINEJAD: Well, I'm amazed. How can you speak for the whole of the American nation?

PELLEY: Well, the American nation . . .

PELLEY: Mr. President, you say that the two nations are very close to one another, but it is an established fact now that Iranian bombs and Iranian know-how are killing Americans in Iraq. You have American blood on your hands. Why?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, this is what the American officials are saying. . . .

PELLEY: Mr. President, American men and women are being killed by your weapons in Iraq. You know this.

AHMADINEJAD: No, no, no.

PELLEY: Why are those weapons there?

AHMADINEJAD: Who's saying that?

PELLEY: The American Army has captured Iranian missiles in Iraq. The critical elements of the explosively formed penetrator bombs that are killing so many people are coming from Iran. There's no doubt about that anymore. The denials are no longer credible, sir. . . .

AHMADINEJAD: Very good. If I may. Are you an American politician? Am I to look at you as an American politician or a reporter? . . . .

PELLEY: Mr. President, you must have rejoiced more than anyone when Saddam Hussein fell. You owe President Bush. This is one of the best things that's ever happened to your country.

Scott Pelley wants Ahmadinejad to know that -- like all of us -- he "owes President Bush." Almost every word out of Pelley's mouth was a faithful recitation of the accusations made by the Bush White House. Ahmadinejad obviously does not watch much American news because he seemed genuinely surprised that someone he thought was a reporter was doing nothing other than reciting the script of the government.

Apparently, among the American press now, it is unchallengably true that the Iranian Government has the Blood of American Soliders on its hands and is a "terrorist state." I guess our "journalists" have decided that "only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise." After all, even the left-wing Michael Gordon and the NYT admit this, and they couldn't be wrong about such matters.

And besides, our Top Military Commanders in Iraq are making these accusations, and we all just learned last week from Our Senate that we must never question "the honor and integrity . . . of members of the United States Armed Forces." Our media, of course, has been diligently following that Rule for many, many years.

Skepticism of government officials? Media objectivity? First Amendment freedoms? Due Process and Habeas Corpus and diplomacy? Ahmadinejad is Hitler, Our Enemy, and We are at War -- with him and forever. That's all we really need to know.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Modded Steampunk PC Case

A thing of beauty..this thing is actually water-cooled! I love Steampunk. That's why I enjoyed the almost universally panned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Who am I kidding? The problem is that I've sold out and I'm doing things for the money. And now that the money isn't enough to cover my ever-expanding neuroses, I'm forced to face myself and wonder why it is I've done so little.

Fact: I hate advertising pharmaceuticals. I'm only moderately annoyed by consumer advertising but, because I have a real talent for it and a wealth of experience doing it, it doesn't bother me as much.

Fact: I wouldn't mind being poor if I was doing something I truly loved. Because I'm doing something that annoys me, the need for money is magnified and takes on the signifance of being the only measure of progress I have: more money means even though my life sucks, at least I'm raking it in.

Fact: when you sell out, you use money to cover your anxieties, rather than dealing with them. I hate myself. And that's not your typical Basil moment of self-flagellation. I hate myself because I'm a slave and I made myself that way.

Fact: if change is going to happen, it has to happen now. I don't have any more time (or excuses) to give things a few months. I fucking hate this job, I fucking hate selling myself short and I fucking hate that I allowed myself to get this far.

'Turncoat' Terry

Absolutely amazing turn of events at Chelsea. It's a classic lesson in management missteps and micro-management.

Jose Mourinho's relationship with John Terry has broken down completely over the Chelsea and England captain's central role in his departure from Stamford Bridge last week.

The Champions League-winning coach was replaced on Thursday by Avram Grant, a former Israel national team coach with no experience of club management outside his own country. According to many Chelsea sources, Grant will defer on football matters to owner Roman Abramovich, who has already started to take a hands-on role with the first team.

Mourinho holds Terry responsible for charges levelled by Chelsea's board of directors that he had lost the support of his playing staff after Tuesday's Champions League draw with Rosenborg - a match that was followed by club owner Roman Abramovich lecturing a senior professional on his on-field tactics behind Mourinho's back.
Half an hour before the Group B fixture, claims a dressing-room source, Terry told one of Mourinho's assistant coaches that he had 'things on my mind'. Only the intervention of a team-mate put him in the right state of mind to take part in the pre-match warm-up, for which Terry arrived late.

Midway through the first half Rosenborg scored, after Miika Koppinen beat Terry at a set piece. When Mourinho then directly criticised the centre back's defending at half time, Terry refused to accept responsibility for the goal or even to respond to his manager.

Earlier on Tuesday, Terry had been informed that Mourinho had gone to the club's medical department to ask whether there was any physical reason for the player's sub-standard performances in matches this season. Mourinho hoped to find an explanation for a significant decline in Terry's play following an operation to remove a disc from the defender's spine in December.

Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon was made aware of the dispute and, according to the dressing-room source, presented the information to an emergency board meeting on Wednesday as evidence that the manager had lost the trust of key players. The club subsequently asked Mourinho for his resignation, which he refused to tender, but ultimately settled on dismissal by 'mutual consent'. Later on Wednesday, Mourinho sent Terry a text message sarcastically thanking him for talking to the club's hierarchy.

On Friday, several first-team regulars apparently took their captain to task during a 50-minute team meeting called by Terry in the aftermath of Mourinho's dismissal. Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda are believed to have accused him of not doing enough to keep Mourinho at the club.

Terry is England's best-paid footballer after agreeing a five-year, £131,000-a-week contract this summer. In initial negotiations he had requested a 'limitless parity' clause to ensure he was the club's biggest earner for the duration of a proposed nine-year term. According to a Chelsea insider Terry also wanted - and was refused - a contractual option for him to manage the club at the end of his playing career.

As far-fetched as that request might be, Abramovich's actions in the aftermath of the Rosenborg draw were equally bizarre. In front of the entire Chelsea team, but while Mourinho was occupied with press conference duties, the Russian billionaire decided to hand out an impromptu tactics lesson to Michael Essien.

Employing striker Andriy Shevchenko as translator, he instructed midfielder Essien, player of the year last season, to hit passes wide rather than through central areas where the Norwegians had compressed play. Abramovich is expected to take an increasingly hands-on role in the team following the appointment of Grant to replace Mourinho and, according to several sources, will effectively select the side. In a press conference on Friday, Grant insisted he would not tolerate interference but declined to respond when asked who was the most important individual at Chelsea. 'Look, the owner gives the financial support,' Grant said. 'I'm not going to make remarks.'

The 52-year-old is already the subject of significant discontent among a first-team squad predominantly still loyal to Mourinho. Grant, though, is confident he will bring not only more silverware to Chelsea but a more attractive brand of football and said on Friday that he had no problems with the playing staff. 'There's a very good relationship with the players,' he said. 'I like their attitude, how they want to win all the time, even if the last result wasn't like that, but the relationship is good.'

Grant's first match comes at Old Trafford this afternoon, but he did not work yesterday for religious reasons. He must also wait for his Israeli coaching qualifications to be cleared by Uefa before he can be formally approved as a top-flight manager. Chelsea insist the process will be trouble-free.

Though Grant claimed that he had no 'plan to be the manager' until the appointment came about, he had begun requesting clearance from Uefa a fortnight ago.

According to Kenyon, the 'first-team coach' will be involved in all key areas of transfers and team building. He said: 'We are not embarking on the arbitrary buying of players and telling the coach to play them. Avram will be absolutely involved, responsible for picking the team and responsible for the results.'

Kenyon denied that Terry - who declined to comment last night - played any part in Mourinho's departure: 'There is absolutely nothing in stories that the dressing room has been lost. In particular there is no truth in any rumours that a bust-up with one or several of our players led to him leaving the club.'

'Tears, hugs and two icy handshakes'

Jose Mourinho's reign at Chelsea ended emotionally, with warm dressing-room embraces for 23 of his players - and a cold handshake for Andriy Shevchenko and skipper John Terry. His departure, though, was a long time coming. Duncan Castles reports

Tuesday, 10pm, home dressing room, Stamford Bridge. Andriy Shevchenko is taking Michael Essien to task on his performance in the night's embarrassing 1-1 draw with Rosenborg. The former European footballer of the year tells Africa's finest midfielder that he tried to make too many passes through the centre of the Norwegians' formation where '70 percent of their players were'. Essien learns he should have been passing to the wings 'where they only had 30 percent of their men'.

Not the most insightful of tactical advice, but then these are not the thoughts of a Ukraine international, they are those of a Russian billionaire. Standing beside Shevchenko, tactics board in hand, Roman Abramovich is the man telling Essien how to play football. Shevchenko is merely there to translate. In another room, attending to the press, Mourinho is utterly unaware of his employer's actions.
Tuesday, 7:11pm, the home dressing room. Chelsea's squad of 18 are called out for their pre-match warm up. All the players step out for the carefully prepared drill - except one. John Terry remains sitting where he is. One of Jose Mourinho's assistants urges Terry out. Chelsea's captain refuses, swears, and, according to an eye witness, says he is upset and has 'things on my mind'. Terry is said to be furious after finding out that Mourinho had been asking in Chelsea's treatment room whether there was a medical reason for his perceived loss of form over recent weeks. The stand-off continues until a team-mate cajoles his friend out on to the pitch.

The game starts, Chelsea quickly lose a goal at a free kick as Miika Koppinen stretches ahead of Terry to turn in a near-post cross. Chelsea go in at half time 1-0 down and Jose Mourinho takes his captain to task, blaming the defender for the deficit. Terry says nothing but all his team-mates can see the anger on his face.

The pair had once been the closest of footballing allies, but within 24 hours Mourinho is no longer Terry's manager as Chelsea agree to a £10.5million pay-off to rid themselves of a man they describe as 'the most successful manager the club has known'.

'The relationship broke down not because of one detail or because of something that happened at a certain moment. It broke down over a period of time.' - Jose Mourinho, 21 September 2007.

To understand how the winner of two Premier League titles, two League Cups and one FA Cup, a man who averaged an unprecedented 2.33 points from his 120 Premiership games in just over three seasons, steadily became persona non grata at the club he made great, it is necessary to return to the summer of 2005.

'In Jose's first season everything was fine,' said a Chelsea employee who suffered the Abramovich guillotine long before the Portuguese. 'He came in, he won the title by miles, almost made the Champions League final, everyone was happy. But then it all began to go wrong. Peter Kenyon started thinking it was his genius as a chief executive that was important. Abramovich's mates were telling him his money had done it and any half-decent coach would win the league with those resources. They forgot that the most important man at any club is the manager.'

That summer, Chelsea poached Tottenham Hotspur's sporting director Frank Arnesen at a cost of £5m. Ostensibly recruited to revolutionise the club's sub-standard youth ranks, the Dane was actually brought in on the recommendation of Piet de Visser, a well-known Dutch talent scout who had advised Abramovich on football matters from his first months as Chelsea owner.

Arnesen and De Visser, friends and allies from their time together at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, steadily worked to influence Abramovich's thinking on the first team, and, most importantly, player recruitment. Along with the agents Soren Lerby, Vlado Lemeic and Pini Zahavi they sought to steer Abramovich towards the purchase of certain footballers. Their objective, according to one source, was 'to get to Abramovich's money. To do that they needed power at the club, needed a manager who would do what they wanted. Mourinho was not that manager.'

Thus emerged a power struggle in which Arnesen and others seemed to undermine Mourinho by questioning him at every opportunity. When Mourinho went to war with Uefa over the actions of referees they told Abramovich his coach was embarrassing the club. When Mourinho's team dourly won key matches by a goal to nil, they told the owner a better coach would win by more goals and bring him far more flamboyant football. When a Mourinho signing failed to perform on the pitch, they told Abramovich that better players could be found elsewhere.

Within a year, and despite Mourinho's success in claiming a second successive Premiership, the manager had lost control of transfers. In the 2006 summer window, Mourinho asked the board to buy Samuel Eto'o; they spent a UK record £30m on Shevchenko. Chelsea sold William Gallas to Arsenal against Mourinho's wishes, and forced the £7m Khalid Boulahrouz upon him, while Arnesen compounded the error of allowing Chelsea's most effective defender to leave the club by pulling the plug on the £5m purchase of Micah Richards. Inside a season Richards was a full England international, while Boulahrouz was stinking out the reserves until Chelsea paid Sevilla to take him off their hands.

At least Mourinho could easily leave the Dutch defender out of the first team. A personal friend of Abramovich's, Shevchenko played regardless of his performances, and those were usually awful. In his first 26 appearances for Chelsea, the Ukrainian striker scored five goals. His coaches and team-mates often felt as though Chelsea were playing with 10 men and Mourinho was faced with a problem - should he leave out the owner's pal or lose the faith of the rest of the team?

As January approached, Mourinho asked to be allowed to sign a new striker. The board refused. Mourinho asked for a centre-back to cover for Terry, then sidelined with a serious back problem. The board offered him a choice between Alex, a Brazilian bought via De Visser and 'parked' at PSV for two seasons, and Tal Ben Haim, a Zahavi client. Mourinho wanted neither.

Worse still, Chelsea's manager was instructed to sack one of his assistants and add the Israeli Avram Grant to his coaching staff. When he refused, the club descended into open warfare.

Mourinho dropped Shevchenko from his first team, leaking the story to a national newspaper in an open challenge to Abramovich to sack him. On an emotional afternoon at Stamford Bridge the manager first rallied his team around him, then sent them out to overrun Wigan 4-0. Long before kick-off the Chelsea supporters were chanting 'Stand up for the Special One' through standing ovation after standing ovation.

An infuriated Abramovich ceased attending games and instructed his advisors to find a replacement coach. Mourinho let it be known that he would leave, but only on payment of the outstanding value of his contract - about £28m comprising £5.2m per annum for three-and-a-half years and up to £10m in bonuses. In the meantime he kept winning matches, pushing his injury-hit squad to within a few games of a remarkable quadruple.

Ultimately Chelsea won the League Cup and the FA Cup, forcing Abramovich to reconcile with his manager. A consciously 'mellow' Mourinho promised to avoid conflict with opposing managers and football authorities, accepted restrictions on his transfer budget, and reshaped his team in a more flamboyant 4-4-2 formation. Fatefully, he also acceded to the appointment of Grant as Chelsea's director of football.

Though some in Mourinho's camp had Grant pinned as a 'Mossad Spy' from the off, the manager attempted to work with him, holding long meetings with him during the club's staggeringly positive pre-season US tour and letting it be known that he welcomed his arrival as a buffer against Arnesen and route to Abramovich. The early-season optimism, however, swiftly evaporated.

Grant began calling individual players aside to ask them questions.

'You look sad, why?' 'How do you feel in this position?' 'Is this the best place for you to play?' 'Are we using your abilities well?' Because many of them complained about this to Mourinho, the manager decided to cut back radically on team meetings, the only one this season having been arranged for the Jewish New Year when Grant had returned to Israel.

While Grant looked on at training, Shevchenko treated it with disdain. A morose, lonely figure around the camp, he seemed to show more interest in improving his golf swing than his shooting. As the first team prepared for their final pre-season friendly against Danish side Brondby, Shevchenko declared himself unfit with a back problem. A 2-0 victory ensured the £121,000-a-week striker was not missed, but Mourinho was bemused to discover that Shevchenko's bad back had not prevented him from enjoying a round of golf at Sunningdale that day.

The board, though, were not interested and the club's descent continued. Other players began to realise what was happening, that the summer's peace was a false one, that their manager had no support from the top. 'The mentality became weaker and weaker,' said one insider. 'You could feel the team's strength sapping away.'

Mourinho knew his time at Chelsea was coming to an end. At Uefa's forum for elite coaches in Geneva a fortnight ago he allowed Premier League rivals an insight into his thinking. 'Mourinho said he loved Chelsea and he loved English football, but thought he would not stay for long,' said one coach. 'One of us asked him why. He wouldn't answer, but it was obvious something was seriously wrong.'

His next Champions League match brought the end. On Wednesday afternoon the board asked Mourinho to resign, citing his handling of Shevchenko, his attitude to authority and, crucially, his relationship with Terry as reasons why he should go. Mourinho refused to walk, and fought only to maximise his pay-off as Chelsea apparently threatened to call club employees to testify against him at any employment tribunal.

A £10.5m pay-off was agreed and the following morning Mourinho made a final trip to the training centre at Cobham to pick up his possessions and say goodbye to his squad. There was a message in each farewell. For most there was a Latin embrace and warm words of thanks. For Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard the emotions were so strong that both men were reduced to tears, Lampard retreating to the shower room in an attempt to hide his. For Shevchenko and Terry there was nothing but a handshake that, in the words of one observer, could have 'frozen a mug of tea'. No one was in any doubt about who he considered the true captains of his team.

Out with the old, in with the new. Furious at Mourinho's dismissal, senior players describe Grant's appointment as 'a disgrace'. Some at Cobham call him 'an idiot' and describe his coaching techniques as '25 years behind the times'. Abramovich pushes the Israeli around 'without a hint of respect'.

Former academy coach Brendan Rogers has been drafted in to help out with the first team, a promotion that may not be unconnected to the one-on-one training sessions he gave Abramovich's son. Only in Steve Clarke is there the level of football knowledge to deal with a squad full of international superstars. As the sole survivor of Mourinho's cadre of four assistant managers, the Scotsman has an unenviable task.

But then neither he nor Grant will be picking the team. As Michael Essien discovered on Tuesday night, the new manager of Chelsea is also the owner.