Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Apple Mail

Somebody converted this old Apple G4 tower into a roadside mailbox in Auckland, New Zealand. Way to state your Apple affiliations!

Mostly Armful

The mischief that boy could get up to, especially if he's holding a newspaper with two hands, in the middle of a crowded subway. He's really a very cute kid, as well.

Tired Eyes

Ignore the last two entries. They're true but they're also the product of a tired mind. You've only got to look at my eyes today and you'd see that. Still, in the spirit of 'What's worth thinking about is worth blogging about', I've left the entries in.

I've done a lot of work today. Hopefully I can keep it up. Success at work...more like competence, really since I'm never going to be spectacular at my work, is important to me. I really don't have that much else to do besides work and wait for the World Cup.

Boo fucking hoo!

Little Faisal

Two months ago, I had a falling out with yet another close friend: Faisal. I'd known him for three years and we were tight. We argued and I haven't seen or spoken to him since. I'm not sorry about it.

I may have had a point in picking a fight with him. In fact, I know that what he did wasn't right, but I over-reacted in a bid to drive things to a head, as the destructive are wont to do. Three months later, things are much clearer in my head and I know why things turned out the way they did. I guess, on one level, I always knew but now they seem much clearer to me and, hence, much easier to write about.

Simply put, I had no respect for Faisal. Not one bit. He was stupid, thick, dumb, an imbecile, a total moron. No savvy, no culture, no interest in politics or reading or anything remotely mind-expanding, not smart; a complete emotional midget.

And I hated him for it and didn't respect him one bit. Not only that, all my reactions betrayed this lack of respect, culminating in the argument that ended our "friendship". Ordinarily, I'm quite tolerant of other people's stupidity (and they of my arrogance and pomposity) but this was different. I truly despised his ignorance and I let him know it.

Why? Simple. I envied him more than I'd envied anyone else before.

Faisal was an extremely good-looking guy and I resented the attention that garnered him: heads would turn when he walked by and I would be rendered invisible; women would adopt a friendlier tone with him; he got away with more. I could say more about this and you'd call me paranoid, but I have a lot of faith in my ability to read people. I didn't get the attention he got and it really, really killed me.

He was also so damned nice. A genuinely nice person. Kind, friendly, open, vulnerable, wears his heart on his sleeve, filled with this...this joy. Everything that I couldn't and wouldn't be. His niceness added another layer of charisma to him...and that ate me up! Why was he so much better looking than me? And so much nicer than me? Why?? Did I murder nuns in a covenant, in a previous life? What the fuck?

To top it off, he made more money and he was close to his family. He simply had more of it and he used it to make his life better. Money never used to matter to me but it does now. I didn't feel he deserved it, mostly because he was a complete moron. To be fair, I didn't begrudge him the money stuff but when I put it next to the first two reasons I hated him, it was just more fuel to the fire. But I know how it is: money and fame are opportunity and blind-luck, so it doesn't mean anything. It didn't make him better than me. No, it was the family closeness thing bothered me much more. I felt like...he got more love than me. Unconditional love, you know, the kind you don't have to do anything to get. The kind I hear about but never really experienced. The kind that I know (through intellect, not feeling) that you build up with someone over time, you don't just get it handed to you. Unless it's from your parents.

Most of my relationships fail because I can't get to that point. Because I don't believe in it, on an emotional level, and therefore sabotage it before the disappointment hits. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy and nobody self-fulfills like me.

You've heard the old cliche about not being hugged as a child? Well, I wasn't and boo-hoo to that. Suck it up, you say?

I did, asshole. I sucked it up and ignored it and worked around it and hardened up until I couldn't feel anything inside me anymore. I didn't let it get to me until nothing else did either. I'm at this point where I can't feel any closeness to anyone on this earth and yet the wrong traffic light will cause me to break down in fits of crying and despair. I suck it up and all it does is help the people who tell you to suck it up, because they don't have to hear your whining anymore.

Boy, I've come with a doozy of a self-indulgent, self-pitying rant, wouldn't you say? Well, if not on my blog, then where, right? Anyway, don't read it if you don't want to. Or, better still, read it and pretend that you haven't. Less awkwardness for when we meet, faceless masses.

So, the argument with Faisal. With all these feelings simmering beneath the surface, it's pretty cut-and-dried that it was all my fault, no? I mean, a bigger man would just call him up and apologize, right?

Not so fast, Linford..

First of all, I can't help not respecting him. It's innate. I regret not telling him sooner about it, come what may, but I can't help not respecting him. It's instinctual and not the kind of thing you fake. I mean, why would you, even?

Secondly, he's not entirely blameless either: he hates me for being "clever-er" and more assertive than him. He envied my personality...he envied that I have a personality. His envy was no less malevolent and insiduous than mine and he certainly allowed it to manifest itself in our dealings. In a strange twist, he also hated how complicated and problematic and demanding I was, despite the fact that all that stems from my personality too. He envied it and yet he feared it. Very Smeagol and Lord of the Rings, don't you think?

Thirdly, his loyalty wasn't where it should have been, in as much as Catherine was concerned. She of the weak, manipulative and mendacious mind. If we were truly friends, he would have cut off with her, the moment me and her fell out. That's what I would have done, if the situation were reversed. I also wouldn't have asked him not to come to my goodbye party because Catherine would be there. Not what friends do, is it?

So, good riddance to bad rubbish. You can't be friends with everyone, and you shouldn't try. If I saw him in the street, I'd nod and walk on..but not much more. It's ok to not respect someone but it's not enough to hate him and I certainly don't. My feeling is just that if I'm going to be friends with people, it's got to fit in with my expectations and views of the world. I mean, I'm not the easiest person in the world to get along with..but neither is anyone else.

And if they are, then they're not worth knowing, really.

End of rant. Find something to do.

Stress and the common man

So, after much wrangling (mostly internal, though if you've ever slept next to me in the same bed, you know I thrash about a lot during the night), I feel I've arrived at a place where I recognize the enemy within and call him by his name: stress. Stress, stress, stress, stress, stress. That's my biggest problem.

Except that the things that trigger stress inside me are more, shall we say, sensitive than most. Everything sets me off: things going well, things going badly, too little sex, too much sex, not enough food, not enough of the right food, too much bad food at the wrong times, spending too much time alone, spending too much time out, doing things, work, weekends, trying to fall asleep, actually sleeping...

Last night, I finally fell asleep at 3:30 am and woke up (after much interruption) at 7:50 am. I had nightmares as usual, in the midst of waking up every twenty minutes. Once I go back to sleep, the nightmares (not really horror shit..more like stress dreams) pick up where they left off. Like a mini-series on HBO, only not as interesting. It's bad because I feel really stressed and apprehensive going to bed and feel really tired and stressed and worried after I wake up. Not the best way to start your day, is it?

A lot of people think of me as calm and relatively composed, wry and settled. But it's all about being repressed, which I do very well. You could almost say it's my training. If I let myself go the way I do when I'm alone at night, work would call in the strait jacket crew. Recently, I realised that because I believe my work ethic isn't great if I'm comfortable, I'll subconsciously avoid eating or drinking or going to the bathroom if I have work to do. Without even realising it.

I'm sitting there in total discomfort, unable to recognize why I feel uncomfortable because I think I can't get anything done if I satisfy my physical needs: a glass of water, some soup for lunch or a trip to the bathroom. I mean, how fucking twisted and repressed is that? And when do I realise this? Six fucking weeks ago! I'm 34 years old and it takes me that long to realise this? What more don't I realise?

Things are going well for me, citizenship thing aside. Even that isn't a big deal, when you look at the big picture. And yet I can't sleep, get small panic attacks when I leave my apartment, hate my life, walk around with this simmering resentment toward the world and don't feel that I'm in control of anything. How am I going to feel when things start turning sour. How will I deal with shit then?

Hesse said: "Happiness is a how, not a what; a talent, not an object."

I am distinctly devoid of talent, it seems.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Arab-sounding immig? Wait 1,001 nites

Finally! My article appeareth. True, it's got a cheesy-ass name, I got stood up for the photo-op at 7:30 in the morning, they misspelt my last name (committing the same sin the USCIS did: spelling it as 'Nasser' despite me pinpointing it as something they should watch out for) and claiming I worked for, as opposed to on, Citibank..but that's alright. At least it's an opportunity to make some noise and hopefully, get my case looked at. Anyways, buy today's Daily News if you want to read it for yourself or simply go here.


The World Trade Center site was still a raw mound of twisted steel and debris when Muhammad Jawwad applied for naturalization in November 2001. Less than a year later, he was called for both his test and interview - the final step before he was to be sworn in shortly afterward as a U.S. citizen.

"I remember the woman asking me, 'Why is your name Muhammad?'" said Jawwad, 46, a health insurance enrollment caseworker at Coney Island Hospital who came from Pakistan 11 years ago. "I told her that's what my parents put down on my birth certificate."

Jawwad, whose wife and kids already have become citizens, has waited 3-1/2 years for his swearing in even though immigration officials are required to complete the process within 120 days of the interview. They say the holdup is his FBI clearance.

Immigrant advocates say hundreds - if not thousands - of men with Arabic-sounding or Muslim names are experiencing endless delays in what should be the pro forma final step of the citizenship application process.

"I understand the burden that the government has in wanting to make sure that all security checks go through," said Dev Viswanath, a Queens attorney who said he has two clients who have waited years for their swearing-in ceremonies. "But having to wait two or three years ... is just ridiculous."

Azhar Sajawal was unable to join the Police Academy in January because his name was placed on hold by the FBI - delaying his swearing-in ceremony for a year. At the time of enrollment, a cadet is required to be a U.S. citizen.

"I passed the NYPD exam, I even passed their background check, eye exam, plus the hearing exam and other medical exams," said Sajawal, 26, of Elmhurst, Queens. "I just want to serve this city. I want to be a cop."

Mohammed Nasser, 34, an advertising writer for Citibank, has been afraid to travel for a year now, fearing that he'll be called in for his naturalization ceremony and miss the notice.

"I want to know that my papers are okay and they're being looked at," said Nasser, who lives in Astoria, and hails from Egypt.

Last month, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee launched a national legal campaign to get the government to resolve hundreds of cases. More than 40 lawyers filed lawsuits in federal courts, requesting that a judge step in and force U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to complete the stalled naturalization cases.

In response, CIS decided it will stop interviewing people whose FBI background checks have not cleared.

Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman, said the delays began in 2002, when CIS booted 2.7 million names of applicants back to the FBI for additional checks, causing a backlog.

"It's a very complicated process - it involves dozens of agencies and often foreign governments," said Carter, adding that only 1% of citizenship applicants have had to wait more than the 120 days.

Mohammed Razvi, the executive director of the Brooklyn-based Council of Peoples Organization, said he is working with more than two dozen men who don't know what else to do to finalize their citizenship cases.

"These are people who did everything that they were asked to do," Razvi said. "We're holding back our new citizens."

Originally published on May 28, 2006

Easter Eggs with Attitude

Friday, May 26, 2006

The world is a joke

Egypt abuzz over Mubarak fiancée

These people are just living off the fat of the land..

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — When a stunning young blonde turned up this week at a conference of world leaders in this sun-drenched Egyptian resort town, all talk of nuclear rights and democratic reform momentarily was replaced by a single question: Is that her?

It was.

The United States is home to Brangelina. Britain worships Posh and Becks. And now Egypt has Jimmy and Diga, the nicknames that friends have given Gamal Mubarak, the 42-year-old son and possible successor of Egypt's president, and his striking new fiancée, Khadiga el-Gammal, 24.

The couple's public debut at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, a conference that drew top government officials from around the world, instantly set tongues wagging and Web logs blazing as Egyptians debated every tiny detail of the mystery woman whom some already refer to as the future first lady.

In a country whose first ladies have included Cleopatra, a Hungarian countess and the Turkish granddaughter of the last Ottoman sultan, it's only natural that Egyptians clamored for a glimpse of el-Gammal, the daughter of a wealthy Cairo construction magnate.

But interest in her and her fiancé, the son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is more than gossip. Although Gamal Mubarak has denied that he'll follow his father into the presidency, analysts say few other contenders have the political clout to mount an effective campaign.

The ruling National Democratic Party has pitched Gamal Mubarak as a familiar name and face who says all the right things about revamping his father's staid system. He recently was named a deputy secretary general of the party, and this month he made an unofficial visit to Washington, where he met with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

El-Gammal contributes much to his chances of success, analysts say. She adds a glamorous new face to the authoritarian regime and lends a seriousness to the younger Mubarak's reputation. Some note that she shares the name of the Prophet Muhammad's first wife and wonder if an effort to appease Egypt's vast Islamist movement factored into the match.

Her appearance here immediately drew comparisons to Jordan's Queen Rania, the stylish, smart and outspoken monarch's wife who has redefined the role of an Arab first lady and who spoke during the conference's closing ceremonies. A black-clad el-Gammal sat in the audience, whispering to her fiancé.

She graduated last year from the American University in Cairo. Classmates told Knight Ridder that the president's son first spotted his future wife at an upscale Asian restaurant, that she enjoys soccer and volleyball, that classmates sometimes mistook her shy demeanor for snobbishness, and that she doesn't care about the nearly 20-year age gap between her and her betrothed.

Mubarak throws a hissy fit

Mubarak's criticism reflects his anger at Bush's policies -- and uneasiness about his growing domestic opposition.

By Juan Cole

May 25, 2006 | Egypt's alliance with the United States, a cornerstone of both countries' foreign policies since 1978, is under the severest strain it has witnessed in its nearly 30 years. This week at the Davos World Economic Forum, President Hosni Mubarak took a number of obvious swipes at U.S. policy. Mubarak's unusual criticisms reflected both his own uneasiness about the growing opposition to his regime -- for which Washington is partly responsible -- and his anger at Bush's disastrous policies in the region, which have produced an Iraq in flames and under the domination of fundamentalist parties, a deadlocked peace process and a Hamas government in Palestine, and a dangerous escalation of tensions with Iran. It is unclear how much impact on U.S. policies Mubarak will have. But that even America's most reliable Middle East pillars appear to be trembling should cause concern in the White House.

While seldom the focus of U.S. media attention, Egypt remains one of America's more important allies in the region. A string of terrorist bombings of its Red Sea resorts in the Sinai in recent years has caused some to raise questions about its stability. Probably more significant, the regime faces large public protests by both Muslim Brotherhood fundamentalists and liberal reformers incensed by the judiciary's lack of independence. A major protest is set for Thursday, inspiring consternation in the Mubarak regime. The police have arrested 200 members of the Muslim Brotherhood during the past week. A heavy-handed crackdown on protesters, at a time when Washington has pressed Egypt to open up its political system, could damage Egyptian relations with the United States. But Mubarak is more worried about the survival of his regime than his relations with the Bush administration.

The Egyptian president, despite the strains, still has influence in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, paying his first state visit to the United States, had hoped that President Bush would give an unconditional endorsement to his "convergence" plan, which involves consolidating Israeli colonists on the West Bank into a few large colonies, and then taking the land those colonies stand on from the Palestinians and declaring a new border for Israel that cuts into Palestinian territory.

Bush praised Olmert's plan, but did not go as far as the Israelis wanted. He insisted that Israel negotiate with the Palestinians, rather than simply impose the plan on them. Bush's position was in part influenced by President Mubarak's strong objections to Olmert's unilateralist approach. Mubarak announced that he would facilitate talks between the two sides, hosting Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at Sharm El Sheikh. He told the delegates to the World Economic Conference on Saturday, "We shall never relax our efforts with either the Palestinians or Israelis in pushing them back toward the path of negotiations."

Without Egypt, it is difficult to see how the Bush administration's "road map to peace" could hope to go forward. It is true that the road map has essentially been dead for a long time. Nonetheless, keeping Mubarak's support for the "peace process," however stagnant it may be, is an important diplomatic goal.

Despite Mubarak's commitment to negotiations, he has soured on other U.S. initiatives. According to Al-Hayat, an Arabic-language London daily, he complained in his speech before the 1,200 movers and shakers of the Davos conference about the growing tendency toward economic protectionism among advanced countries, which has alarmed developing nations, who fear that their access to markets and global integration will be blocked. He said that globalization offers both potential benefits as well as drawbacks (among the latter, an increasing gap between the world's rich and poor, terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction). Only cooperation between the advanced and developing countries, he said, can lead to globalization with a human face.

He then, however, launched into an implicit attack on Bush administration policies. He called for "a world that deals with weapons of mass destruction -- and in the first instance nuclear weapons -- without double standards." He urged that the Middle East be made a "nuclear-free zone." His implicit reference here was to the pass given by Bush to some countries, especially Israel but also India, with regard to their nuclear weapons programs, while taking a hard line with Iran, which is, unlike the others, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

He went on to criticize heavy-handed interference in the affairs of Middle Eastern states, saying that what is appropriate to the region is internal reform "on the ground, which adopts a wise, gradualist approach that guarantees it will continue." He warned against "sudden, hasty initiatives with hurried results, which turn [reform] into chaos." His remarks were understood by participants at the conference to be a slam at the United States.

He said reform is not an end in itself: The real goal is improving the lives of the next generation. Reform, he said, must be achieved by "releasing the energies of our societies in all fields of endeavor, and respect for human rights, the constitution and law -- not by departing from them, resorting to chaos, and working outside the framework of legality." This passage of the speech also seems to be a criticism of the methods of the Bush administration, though it should be noted that the Mubarak regime has been known to work outside the framework of legality itself.

Mubarak complained that tensions have been raised in the region by the derailing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, "the Iraq war, the conflict over Iran's nuclear energy program, the situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan, and the tensions between Lebanon and Syria." Washington, of course, has been deeply involved in all of these situations, though with the exception of Iraq, hardly created them.

Mubarak criticized "those who believed that pushing for reform in the region is capable in itself of imposing a real solution on the Palestinian issue and a settlement that ignores international law and the practical foundations of peace." He continued, "I have warned repeatedly against this, and have emphasized that the opposite is the truth." He insisted that the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict remain the central issue for the security and stability of the Middle East. He said that a resolution of the Palestinian question will have an unlimited positive impact on all the other issues in the region.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif said before the opening of the conference that reform in Egypt "will not happen in a month, or two months, or six ... It will take years. And we have the time. We are not in a hurry." He pointed to the successes that Islamists had in the Egyptian elections last winter, when they gained 70 seats -- they now have 87 -- in the 454-member Parliament. He rejected the formation within Parliament of a "secret party bloc," a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a proscribed party.

Nazif continued, "As soon as you begin the [reform] process, you find that things happen. You see, for instance, that Islamists have achieved gains in Parliament here, and in Palestine, and in Iraq. For that reason, we have begun reviewing our position on what is happening." He said that despite this reconsideration, he does not think there is any room to reverse course from reform.

The Mubarak government, a hybrid military-civilian regime that mainly champions the interests of the country's newly wealthy and its middle classes, has fought a long struggle against fundamentalists such as the Muslim Brotherhood as well as terrorist splinter groups such as the Islamic Jihad of Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Muslim Brotherhood is forbidden by law from running candidates in elections under its own banner, since recognized parties may not have a religious character. It therefore puts up candidates in other parties that are willing to run them.

Mubarak has clearly had it with the Bush administration's Middle East policies. He had warned Bush not to invade Iraq, predicting that such a move would create a thousand bin Ladens and throw the region into chaos. Bush refused to listen, and Mubarak can take little pleasure in having been right. Mubarak resisted Bush-style "democratization," which focused more on open elections than on the prerequisites of democracy. Bush's policies have allowed Shiite religious parties and now the Iraqi version of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood to dominate Iraq. Mubarak recently caused a stir when he alleged that Arab Shiites are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries.

And, the Bush approach to elections in the region is what allowed Hamas to come to power in the Palestinian Authority, a disastrous outcome, since neither the United States nor Israel will negotiate with what they consider a terrorist organization. This bizarre policy, of pushing for elections but then refusing to deal with the elected government, has doomed the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to gridlock and threatens to punish ordinary Palestinians with food and medicine shortages. Mubarak has spent his political life making sure that fundamentalist parties never come to power in Egypt.

Mubarak has been most hurt of all by the open attacks on him by Bush administration officials whenever he has engaged in his ordinary practices as a soft dictator, such as jailing his liberal challenger, Ayman Nour, on corruption charges. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly chided him into allowing other politicians, including Nour, to run against him in the presidential elections last fall. Mubarak was humiliated by having to let Nour out of prison and countenance his going about the country campaigning against the president for life. Mubarak runs Egyptian elections the way Mayor Richard J. Daley used to run Chicago elections. So, of course, Mubarak won handily against Nour, and then promptly jailed his opponent again.

Then in the parliamentary elections of November and December 2005, Muslim Brotherhood candidates running under other party banners took an unprecedented 87 seats, despite police repression of their campaign rallies and extensive arrests of Brotherhood activists throughout 2005. Some in Egypt believe that so many were allowed to be seated because Mubarak wanted to send a message to Bush and Rice that if they persisted with their pressure for democratization, they would only achieve a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the biggest country in the Arab world.

Ever since it agreed to make peace with Israel in 1978, Egypt has received $1.8 billion a year in military and civilian aid from the United States. According to the Washington Post, Congress, having noted the jailing of Nour, is beginning to think about reducing that amount and insisting that Egypt give a better accounting of how it is spent. (As with most U.S. foreign aid, much of the money has to be spent on U.S. goods and so actually goes to U.S. corporations, though the Egyptian government receives the materiel bought with it.) The Bush administration may have begun backing off its earlier pressure on Mubarak. At a recent hearing Assistant Secretary of State David Welch testified that withholding any of the aid to Egypt "would be damaging to our national interests." Nevertheless, tens and perhaps hundreds of millions may be cut out of the aid package if critics such as David Obey, D-Wis., have their way.

Mubarak appears to be resisting Bush's push for democratization most of all because he is grooming his son, Gamal Mubarak, as his successor. Gamal created a furor at the Davos Conference by showing up with his stunning young dyed-blond Egyptian fiancée, a recent graduate of the American University in Cairo, on his arm. This attempt to project an image of glamour and of having settled down domestically may telegraph a push by Gamal, 42, to assume the mantle of heir apparent. Mubarak once imprisoned sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim for having complained about the system of "repubarchy," or republican monarchy, in the Arab world, whereby presidents for life are often succeeded by their sons.

Gamal Mubarak was sent on a secret mission to Washington on May 12, where he met with national security advisor Stephen Hadley, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney and Rice. President Bush briefly greeted him. The press speculated that Gamal was pleading with Washington to cease its pressure on the regime, which faces the prospect of civil unrest -- in part because of the expectations raised by Rice's rhetoric on democratization.

Certainly there is no evidence that Mubarak is liberalizing. When Judge Ahmad Bastawisi criticized electoral irregularities, he was reprimanded by the courts, a clear signal that the regime would not countenance genuine judicial independence. Other dissident judges have protested being reined in, and have joined forces with popular protesters upset about the government crackdown on liberal opponents. On May 18, police brutally put down a rally in Cairo by the Kefaya (Enough!) Party, and certainly are prepared to deal with Thursday's planned protests in the same way.

Mubarak has survived longer than most rulers in the bad neighborhood of the Middle East. His predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was cut down after only 11 years in 1981 by the bullets of a member of al-Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad. At home, Mubarak has succeeded by a combination of ruthlessness with enemies and cultivation of the army and the new Egyptian wealthy classes. Abroad, he has survived through cooperativeness with Washington. The Bush administration has upended that formula, by making it more problematic for Mubarak to be completely ruthless at home -- with the result that the Muslim Brotherhood for the first time forms a powerful bloc in the Egyptian Parliament. Elsewhere in the region, Bush has pursued revolutionary policies that Egypt cannot support, such as invading and attempting to reshape Iraq, or allowing Hamas to come to power in the Palestinian Authority and then cutting it off completely.

Egypt's political future is unclear. The country has been remarkably politically stable despite an authoritarian government, a high population growth rate, and lack of measurable economic progress. The reasons for this relative political stability are difficult to trace. The regime is careful to please the rural middle classes. Some pressure is taken off the regime by the high number of Egyptian guest workers abroad, especially in the oil states, and the remittances they send home and businesses they later found. Egypt's tourism industry is huge, worth billions every year, and so many people benefit from it that few have an interest in disrupting society in such a way as to scare the tourists off. (Thus, the bazaar merchants in Iran in the late 1970s funded Khomeini, but Egypt's shopkeepers seem to like the status quo, and if they want change, want it to be gradual and orderly.) The government has several sources of substantial "rent" that prop it up -- U.S. aid, tolls on the Suez Canal, Sinai petroleum, and cotton sales. The question is whether this apparent stability is artificial and whether the transition from Mubarak to whatever succeeds him will suddenly roil society.

Mubarak is deeply dismayed at what he considers the mess Washington has made in his neighborhood, and at the way Rice has more or less incited his own people against him.

Since Bush's grand projects in the region have crashed and burned, Mubarak has been emboldened to push back against pressures to open up. Washington's overweening ambition may actually have set back reform. If Iraq is what "democratization" looks like, few in the region would want to buy into it. When push comes to shove, Mubarak will choose the old tried-and-true methods at home over closeness with Washington, especially if that is what it takes to ensure that Gamal succeeds him and that the Brotherhood remains on the sidelines. That is probably the message that Gamal really brought to Washington earlier this month -- and that Washington, for all its lip service to democracy, probably signed off on.

If Washington is returning to realism, after its flights of Wilsonian fancy, it will have made things much worse, raising popular expectations and then once again dashing them. In the end, the United States prefers sclerotic regimes that don't threaten U.S. interests to democracies that do. The people of the Middle East know this, and it is a main source of their anger at us.

Havrilesky on 'Lost' (and why I disagree)

Ok, so the Season Finale of 'Lost' was captivating but I take issue with it claiming it's ANY kind of finale. I mean, seriously, we still don't know jack (no pun intended). Not really. And all this is moot (I believe) because I seriously doubt that any of the writers have a kind of grand design for this show. I think they're winging it and just throwing more and more outrageous shit out there, to make us scratch our heads and say 'What the fuck is going on?'. I'm tired of being strung along. I'm tired of flashbacks that bore the living shit out of me. But most of all, I'm tired of questions that get replaced by even bigger questions.

Though you know what? I'll still be there at season 3, glued to my motherfucking set. Bastards!

Mysterious clues, competing philosophies and tempers collide in a heart-stopping, unforgettable second-season finale.

By Heather Havrilesky

May 25, 2006 | While the headlines focused on the millions of Americans anxiously awaiting the finale of "American Idol" last night, an equally rabid group of fans were frothing at the mouth in anticipation of the two-hour finale of ABC's drama series "Lost." Thanks to a suspenseful second season punctuated by increasingly provocative clues and a few unexpected and devastating plot twists, followers of this multilayered, character-driven drama were already working themselves into a lather when the show's creator, J.J. Abrams, busted out some seriously grandiose proclamations about the finale, calling it "incredible" and "the greatest finale I have ever heard [of]."

Those are mighty strong words to describe a show about a bunch of pretty castaways stranded on a tropical island. But what looked like a slow-moving, character-based monster drama back in the fall of 2004 has evolved in its second season into a dynamic and intriguing maze of story lines, competing ideologies and hidden messages. The last few episodes of the season, in particular, featured some deeply unsettling new developments, from Michael's shocking murder of Ana Lucia and Libby to Locke and Eko's discovery of another hatch, "The Pearl," in the island's interior. While at first it was easy to assume that Michael had been brainwashed by the Others, we learned last week that he had simply struck a deal with them to get his son Walt back. But what did Walt mean when he told Michael that the Others were "pretending"? And did the newly discovered hatch, which was apparently set up to monitor and observe the other hatches, suggest that the button-pushing and the countdowns in the survivors' hatch were all just part of some elaborate experiment in human behavior?

With all of these questions hanging in the air, it seemed tough to imagine a final episode that would provide some satisfying answers, but still leave enough doors open that anticipation for the next season would be stronger than ever. Amazingly, the writers delivered just that, a finale as suspenseful as it was heartbreaking, and the speculation as to the meaning of it all, on blogs and in fan forums and among friends, has grown to a fever pitch, encompassing everything from experimental psychology to Greek mythology to electromagnetism.

Of course, despite the rampant conjecture, the most fascinating aspect of "Lost" lies not in the mysteries of the island, but in the competing philosophies of its inhabitants. Whether the island is a giant magnet or an elaborate invention created by the Hanso Foundation, what we're witnessing, most importantly, is a microcosm, a tiny reproduction of the human experience over the course of history, with each character representing a different approach to the struggle for meaning.

To say that "Lost" is character-driven doesn't really begin to do justice to the layers and layers of influences, personal traumas, and constructed meanings each survivor arrives with on the island. In most dramas, "character-driven" can stand for psychological profiles as shallow as "Sipowicz is a former alcoholic who doesn't like surprises or emotional outbursts" or "Mackey often plays father figure to needy women." On "Lost," characters not only have intense, emotionally taut back stories, which we witness with our own eyes, but their experiences are rarely one-note: They're offered chances at redemption and they refuse them, they're afforded opportunities to set the past straight or to escape their obsessions, and they get distracted or come up short, they struggle with compulsions and obstacles and bad habits that remain as confusing and uncertain to us as they are to them. On top of that, we see each character's worldview, explicit or implicit, forming from this soup of confusion, guilt and hope for the future. This final piece to the puzzle -- the structure of a character's thoughts, the ideology a person forms in order to give a sense of order to a dismayingly chaotic world -- is at the heart of every conflict we see unfolding on the island.

And in this second season, there have been vivid catalysts for the revelation of these ideologies, from the button-pushing routine in the hatch to the management of Dharma Initiative food and supplies to the capture and torture of "Henry Gale." Jack (Matthew Fox), for one, grew up with an unpredictable alcoholic father, which once compelled him to focus excessively on work, and now leads him to want to exert control over every aspect of life on the island. He seems to represent the traditional Western authority figure -- in his mind, as the leader of the group, he should dictate every course of action and be informed of everything that happens at camp. When disaster strikes, Jack repeatedly blames the fact that he wasn't told, as if, with the proper information, he could prevent any negative events from occurring on the island. Locke (Terry O'Quinn), on the other hand, who's named after John Locke, an anti-authoritarian empiricist concerned with human knowledge and the rights of man, seems to feel that meaning and the proper course of action can be determined by carefully observing and cobbling together information about the hatch and the strange occurrences on the island. This interest in evidence makes Locke a rational, reasonable presence, but it also makes it easy for "Henry Gale" and other characters to manipulate him, simply by offering faulty evidence ("The numbers ran out and nothing happened!") that supports their claims. This basic difference in perspective naturally sets Jack and Locke at odds with each other.

And then you throw in Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man of the cloth whose faith is based both in empirical observations and in the personal traumas of his past, which include being responsible for the death of his beloved brother, a priest who inspired Eko to become one. Strong faith alone motivates Eko's actions, from building a church with Charlie (who, as a former addict, needs something concrete to occupy his time on the island) to taking over the button-pushing when Locke becomes disillusioned by the discovery of the second hatch. In contrast to Eko, you've got Sawyer (Josh Holloway), a relentless pragmatist whose parents' brutal murders have made him distrustful of any outlook that's remotely optimistic or faith-based. Sawyer embodies the brutality and contradictions of capitalism, relentlessly insisting on the exchange of goods on the island, maintaining control over the guns and drugs without being swayed by sentimental or emotional appeals. He brings his own sort of order to the camp, but not without underpinnings of greed, guilt and longing. While he's exceptionally good at keeping himself occupied, between reading books and playing poker with mangoes as betting chips, he's an opportunist and a con man who lacks a reliable moral compass. His self-hatred is evident in the name he's given himself -- Sawyer -- the name of the man who killed his parents.

Sayid (Naveen Andrews) represents the rules of engagement -- or lack thereof -- in times of war. He's suspicious and is always on the offensive, sniffing out traitors. He feels certain that, with enough focused effort, he can get to the truth -- at the heart of the island, or at the heart of any man. This approach came in handy in handling "Henry Gale" -- Sayid was suspicious of the man from the outset, became convinced that he was lying after interrogating him, and then took it upon himself to discover the truth about Gale's crashed hot-air balloon -- but it also makes Sayid one of the more brutal and perhaps overconfident members of the group.

Kate (Evangeline Lilly) may be the toughest to parse of all of the island's characters. Like Sawyer she's practical and opportunistic, with a criminal background, but her major crime -- killing her abusive father -- was motivated by years of emotional turmoil and vengeance. Unlike the other main characters, who have elaborate belief systems in place to justify their actions, Kate seems to lack any kind of philosophy or spiritual center, and ends up being led in circles, from anger to guilt, from Jack to Sawyer and back, by her emotions.

As the finale began, all of these very disparate approaches to life on the island were in play. Upon spotting a sailboat on the horizon, Jack and the other men swam out to the boat and stormed its lower deck, guns drawn, only to discover Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), the man who'd been manning the hatch and pushing the button until Locke came and essentially relieved him of his duties at the start of the season. Desmond, who shares Kate's emotional nature, not to mention a seriously heavy dose of sentimentality and fear, was drunk and despondent at having sailed for so long, only to find himself back on the island. Soon afterwards, he tells Jack that he's convinced the island is all there is in the world.

Since Sayid is convinced that Michael "has been compromised" and is working with the Others, he hatches a plan in which he'll scout out the Others' camp from the sailboat and signal to Jack with black smoke when the coast is clear. Along the way to the camp with Kate, Sawyer, Jack and Hurley, whom Michael has been ordered to bring with him in exchange for Walt, the group discovers two of the Others following them, and Michael finds that the gun Jack gave him is empty. This leads to Michael confessing to the group that he's leading them into a trap, and that he killed Ana Lucia and Libby. Soon afterward, they see the black smoke from Sayid, who's discovered that the Others' camp is empty. Just as they realize that Michael hasn't led them toward the shore at all, poison darts fly through the air and they're carried away by the Others.

On a wooden dock, "Henry Gale" appears on the same motorized boat that Walt was kidnapped on at the end of the first season. "Gale" seems to be the highest ranking member of this group of Others, and he sends Hurley back to camp to have him warn everyone not to come after Sawyer, Kate and Jack, who will stay with the Others. Michael is given Walt and the motorized boat, and in a heartbreaking scene, Michael motors off while his shackled friends, on their knees at gunpoint, stare after him. It's a remarkable choice by the show's writers, not only because we expect Michael to have a change of heart and help to rescue his friends, but because Michael has been portrayed as a formerly selfish guy who's been reformed by having taken responsibility for Walt after Walt's mother died. Instead of making Michael, the worried dad, into a hero -- and when is the worried dad not a hero? -- the writers place the demands of parenting at odds with the needs of the group. In this final moment of the season, Michael represents the chaos that results from extreme individualism, the insistence of one man putting his interests above the interests of the entire community. The fact that this outcome matches Michael's original character profile is a testament to the careful planning and attention to detail that's gone into this show in its second season.

Meanwhile, Locke and Desmond are determined to let the clock run down in the hatch without pushing the button. Locke is a man who's lost his faith in destiny and in having any kind of a meaningful role on the island, and Desmond is utterly confused over what the purpose of the hatch could possibly be, despite having wasted years of his life pushing the button. Shut out by the two in the hatch, Eko, who believes that the button-pushing is essential to preventing death and destruction, tries to blast down the door with some dynamite Charlie found for him, but the door stays put and Eko and Charlie are injured. Just as the clock is running down to a few minutes, Desmond checks the logs from "The Pearl" hatch and realizes that the one time he let the clock run down was the same day the plane crashed -- in other words, the release of electromagnetic energy caused by the hatch's system failure was what made the plane crash. Desmond rushes to find a key to try to stop the process that's already in motion -- or to destroy the hatch, it's not exactly clear which -- and Locke looks at Eko and says, "I was wrong."

An enormous blast, a bright light and a piercing sound has everyone on the island covering their ears and blinking, and the lid to the hatch lands on the beach at the survivors' camp. Meanwhile, somewhere icy and cold, two guys stop their game and check a readout on a computer, then pick up a phone to call ... Desmond's one true love? Huh?

Plenty of questions remain unanswered, of course -- Are Locke and Eko dead? Did Desmond survive? Will Walt and Michael return to the island like Desmond did? Will Desmond's girlfriend find some way to come to the island? Are the mysteries of the island all wrapped up in this strange magnetic charge? -- but the finale offered just enough revelations and plot twists to keep fans of the show salivating for the start of the third season.

If this astonishing finale leaves you unconvinced and unmoved and you suspect that J.J. Abrams takes idle pleasure in tossing out big ideas and then leaving them unexplained, maybe it's time for you to peruse Lostpedia, a Web site that lays out the complex web of character profiles and plots set forth in the first two seasons of the show. Then there's The Lost Experience an online interactive game based on the TV show, with clues found during the episodes, or on e-mails or phone messages, making up "an elaborate Easter egg hunt," as the Web site puts it. And if you really want to get bowled over by a labyrinth of theories, listen to the "Lost" podcasts or lostcasts, created by fans who read many of the "Lost" forums online and condense the latest discussions into seriously detailed notions on what's behind the mysteries of the island.

The possibilities are limitless, of course, and even when you start to get the tiniest glance at what could be the guiding paradigm of the island, you pull on some loose end and the whole thing wads up into a big, tight knot that it would take half a lifetime to unravel. But as impatient as we can be, as viewers, with one of the only shows on television that's not spelled out for us every step of the way, would it really be more interesting if it was? Given the big, unruly concepts that the writers bat around -- existentialism, faith, pragmatism, destiny, luck, empiricism -- it may not even be possible to weave it all together into some cohesive whole.

Besides, if the island is an intensified, more dramatic mirror of the human experience, it makes perfect sense that its essential nature should shift in and out of view, and its meaning should be as evanescent and elusive as any philosophy. Our lot in life, after all, is to sally forth without a concrete answer, left only with our own best guesses and most carefully reasoned theories on the nature of our existence. More than any other show I can think of, "Lost" struggles with the biggest, most difficult, most unanswerable questions. Clearly enriched by a wealth of historical, psychological and philosophical perspectives, the show's writers seem to delight in exploring the limits of emotional endurance, the darkness of human nature, and the challenge of a community to govern itself in the face of a messy tangle of disparate dispositions, ideologies and flaws. After an excruciatingly slow first season, my only frustration with the provocative, inspired second season of "Lost" is that it's already over.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Borat the movie

Plot Outline: Kazakhstani TV talking head Borat (Cohen) is dispatched to the United States to report on the greatest country in the world. With a documentary crew in tow, Borat becomes more interested in locating and marrying Pamela Anderson. Release date is scheduled for September 2006. Don't miss it...yilgamesh!!

Tomorrow is Towel Day, for Douglas Adams

Tomorrow is Towel Day, a day of remembrance for Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. Observe it by carrying a towel all day. Check out the site here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth'

Al Gore is releasing a movie later this week based on a brilliant presentation he did about the environment. This is the original powerpoint deck and it's really quite fascinating. This is a site that promotes the release of the movie.

Slow-down chow for dogs

The three prongs in this bowl prevent your dog from eating too fast by forcing him to poke his snout gingerly into the chow.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hobbit Love

Big shout out to Sherien:)

PC case modded to look like a movie bomb

I love this case albeit for an Arab to own one is just asking for trouble.

The WMD is a custom-built PC whose case resembles a shiny, hollywoodized terrorist bomb, straight out of a Bond flick. Bit-Tech has the incredibly detailed, lavish write-up of the build. The attention to detail is really remarkable.

Wine keeps Hungarian apes feeling fine

It works for fat, bespectacled Egyptians too..

BUDAPEST, Hungary (Reuters) -- Monkeys and apes at the Budapest Zoo drink their way through 55 liters of red wine each year, albeit in small quantities each day, to help boost their red blood cells, the zoo said Monday.

Budapest Zoo spokesman Zoltan Hanga said it was the 11 anthropoid apes who drank most of the wine in 2005.

"Obviously, they do not have it all at once and get drunk, but they get it in small amounts mixed in their tea," Hanga said.

"And it's not Eger Bull's Blood or some expensive wine that they are getting but simple table wine, as it's mainly good for their blood cells."

Bull's Blood from the town of Eger in northeast Hungary became one of Eastern Europe's best-known wines under communism.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Blog Envy

This guy's web address is almost identical to mine and his is bigger...I mean, better than mine. He is my sworn enemy. Check it here.

Heather Got Married!!!!

I love Heather Havrilesky. I can't believe she got married. My life (such as it is) is over..

The good hippies of "The Amazing Race" save hippiedom from the bad hippie of "Survivor." Plus: Is "Grey's Anatomy" just elaborate, expensive pornography for women?

By Heather Havrilesky

May 21, 2006 | Dearly beloved chickens, we are gathered here today to marvel at the fact that last weekend, I became legally wed to a man of great courage and optimism, a man whose courage and optimism perhaps outweigh his good sense. For it is a somber and weighty thing, making a commitment to a woman of my temperament and sensibility, a woman who not only insists on watching every minute of every hour of every season of "The Amazing Race," until cancellation shall we part, but who breaks into regular conversation with talk of "The Hippies" or "MoJo" as if any random person is supposed to know what the hell she's talking about.

And who of sound mind would enter into that state deceptively referred to as "matrimonial bliss" anyway, but a fool armed with delusions too mighty to fathom? Who would fancy himself capable of bestriding the certain perils of lifelong commitment, as if he alone has the patience and generosity to endure day after day with the same stubborn troll of a spouse, bouncing as she does between bossy proclamations and discussions of Tyra Banks' latest preening, self-satisfied maneuver?

Pity him, chickens, for he's hopelessly ensnared by my limited charms, and seems eternally grateful to be snagged thusly.

That's right, I got married. But don't think for a second that my new status will hinder my hunger for crappy TV. As many of you know, the structural integrity of any committed relationship depends on a solid foundation of multiple amusements and distractions that prevent one from focusing too narrowly on that smelly human who'll be elbowing in on one's personal space for decades to come. Therefore, a steady flow of televised entertainments is just what the doctor ordered to ward off the contemptuous outbursts, seething silences, spontaneous bickering matches and other nasty ills so common to marriage.

I know what you're thinking: "I can't believe she tricked someone into marrying her." No, not that thought, the other one: "TV is just a drug that keeps people comfortably numb, blocked off from true intimacy!" And to that I say: Precisely. TV is one of the strongest, most relaxing, most effective drugs I know, one that keeps the many unfortunate side effects of "intimacy" -- boredom, irritation, rage -- at bay. Thus does my relationship thrive on the sweet sustenance of television the way the humble lavender soaks up every last drop of pure, delicious rainwater to keep its blooms fragrant and lovely in the heat of summer.

That's right. TV engrosses our minds and souls so that the awkward gestures, rambling anecdotes and offensive smells of those around us become less obvious. Instead, we're shackled by a steady flow of diversions. TV is the force that binds the family, if not the galaxy, together.

Take "Survivor: Panama -- Exile Island." While the travails of those ragged island dwellers draw the family into the living room each Thursday night to feast on pizza and speculate as to whether Courtney or Danielle will be the next to go, the survivors themselves have no such amusements to share in. Without the rich and potent nectar of TV, those poor people are left to annoy the hell out of each other, bore each other to tears, and pick each other to tiny little pieces using their bare hands.

This season's gaggle of survivors were an ornery bunch, too. Aside from Cirie, who seemed to have a healthy friendship with everyone and was thus doomed to get kicked off before the final three, none of the tribemates was very beloved by any of the others. Terry hated Aras, everyone hated Terry, and Shane and Courtney snapped and bickered like small children from the moment they laid eyes on each other.

Were Courtney and Shane madly in love, or did they want to kill each other? Any married person knows it can be difficult to tell the difference. But whether it was love or hate, it hardly matters, for when Love stumbles and skins its knees, Commitment drags itself to its feet, dusts itself off, and fixes itself a stiff drink. Look at most married couples: They may not be able to tolerate each other for more than a few seconds, but thanks to the vows they've made, they'll stick by each other's sides long enough to get what they want out of each other, whether it be children, a warm meal, a hefty pension or a three-car garage.

Unfortunately, as time wears on, couples often discover that underneath their lifelong alliances lies an unfortunate truth: They frackin' hate each other. This is the fragile pact we found between Courtney and Shane. Courtney could barely say two words to Shane without making him grit his teeth and visibly flinch. They bickered and cursed and rolled their eyes and fumed for weeks. Like many of those who quarrel constantly with their lovers, Shane was convinced by this perpetual strife that he should stick by Courtney to the bitter end. After all, who would vote for Courtney instead of him? A reward challenge confirmed that everyone thought Courtney was the most annoying person at camp, which meant that she was the oft-annoying Shane's only hope.

Still, the rest of the camp wisely sniffed out Shane's plan, and Cirie in particular decided that as long as Courtney was beloved for her hatefulness, she would have to go. As empty as camp would seem without a tedious hippie whose low self-esteem led her to tie little flames to the ends of ropes and prance around the beach, undoubtedly conjuring the strains of "Fire on the Mountain" in her Medusa-like head, the survivors would have to make do without her.

Like many a jilted wife, Courtney took the whole thing very personally, but pretended that her spiritual wisdom placed her above the pettiness of mere mortals. This made for a seriously entertaining display of passive-aggression at the final Tribal Council, where Courtney hurled insults veiled in kindness and dropped such faux-philosophical nuggets as "I'm a bird, so I gotta fly" and "My life is to learn." Her words brought laughter and smiles to the entire jury, proving once again that happiness truly is a warm hippie.

In the meantime, Terry had failed to win the final immunity challenge, and Danielle, reasoning that Terry's former tribemates would rally around their hero, chose to take Aras to the final two. Aras had his own flow of empty wisdom, waxing expansively for the jury, and even though no one seemed all that convinced, he ended up with the million-dollar prize.

So, as usual, two relatively dull, cautious players ended up in the final round. Who wouldn't have preferred to see Terry, Cirie, Shane or even Courtney there? Someone with a little personality, maybe? But as often occurs on "Survivor," only the weak survive, while the strong -- athletically strong, strongly adored, strongly loathed -- are left on the sidelines.

Like many a bad marriage that can only be remembered for its low moments, intolerable fights and unbearable, strained silences, instead of looking back on "Survivor: Panama -- Exile Island" with a rich appreciation of the many colorful moments we shared with those scrappy island dwellers, all we can really remember is Shane punching numbers into his imaginary BlackBerry and Courtney dancing with her little flames on the beach. We're left to wonder why we committed to such a fickle, petty bride in the first place, and we'll keep wondering as much until -- you guessed it -- another season of "Survivor" comes along, at which point we'll say to ourselves, "This one is sooo different from the last. This one is in the South Pacific! Look how crystal blue the water is! Everything will be different this time around!"

But no matter how it ends, as Courtney so wisely said, it was a beautiful reflection into life. I'm glad we've all learned something and we're all gonna walk on a higher road, aren't you? There are many more dreams in the future!

Christ, can you imagine being married to someone who talked like that? You'd smile and nod along for years and years and then one day, you'd wake up in the household goods aisle at the grocery store, idly fondling a box of rat poison.

That's where Derek Shepherd aka McDreamy on "Grey's Anatomy" finds himself as the second season finale draws to a close. (Yes, if you haven't seen the finale, you should skip this section.) Shepherd's impatience with his agreeable, attractive, smart wife has been building all season, and the reasons for his lack of interest are as mysterious to us as they are to him.

The primary story line of "Grey's Anatomy" is pretty dangerous and daring in that way: Dr. Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) has an affair with intern Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and doesn't tell her that he's married. Even though his wife, Addison, just slept with his best friend, we eventually learn that Addison was jockeying for attention from her husband and she still loves him and wants to work on the marriage. Instead of making wife Addison a she-devil with a fondness for torturing innocent interns like Meredith, the writers present Addison as a reasonable, capable, strong human being.

This puts Meredith and Shepherd in a serious bind, the kind of bind that most married people don't really like to think about all that much. In fact, by the end of the finale, when Meredith and Shepherd finally respond to the sexual tension they've been feeling all season and get it on in some empty room in the hospital, it's hard not to feel a little bit shocked and prudish about the whole thing. He's taking off her underwear? They're actually going to do it, right there? What if Addison walks in? What are they thinking? It was so much easier to cheer Meredith on back when we thought McDreamy was just your typical insanely hunky doctor with no strings attached. The moral? Insanely hunky, unattached doctors don't exist, girls, so don't worry your pretty little heads about them for another second. And while we're at it -- remember how Stella got her groove back with a man 20-odd years younger than her? Well, he turned out to be gay, so put that one out of your mind, too.

Insanely hunky, unattached guys with severe heart problems do probably exist out there, somewhere, but they might die at any second, which can be more than a little inconvenient for a young lady in her prime. Despite warnings from her fellow doctors about "crossing the line," Izzie (Katherine Heigl) falls in love with her patient Denny and jeopardizes her career trying to ensure that he'll get a heart transplant, only to find him dead from a stroke a few hours later. This was a pretty satisfying story, thanks in part to Denny being almost as hunky as the unnaturally hunky Patrick Dempsey, but it was still pretty obvious Izzie would screw up her career and Denny would kick the bucket in the end.

And then there's Dr. Burke (Isaiah Washington), the insanely hunky surgeon who Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) fell in love and moved in with. In an "ER"-like finale twist, Burke gets shot by a disgruntled restaurant employee and nerve damage to his hand threatens to end his career as a surgeon. Luckily, though, Burke is unnervingly hunky -- particularly when he sheds big, salty tears -- so he'll still be loved and cared for by Cristina, even if she's a little bit flinchy in the face of playing caregiver to a broken man.

Hmmm. So basically, "Grey's Anatomy" is all about incredibly hunky men who need -- really, really, really need and love and adore -- the women in their lives, either because the hunk in question is struggling or he's dying or he's in a crappy marriage. In other words, "Grey's Anatomy" is the most elaborate, skillfully produced pornography ever created for women. No wonder I feel like molesting charming heart patients and sneaking off with pretty married doctors when I watch it.

That doesn't mean it's a bad show or anything. "Grey's Anatomy" is a good, well-written show. It just has the added bonus of being aimed squarely at a female audience prone to daydreaming about hot-yet-needy doctors. (Again, they don't exist, girls. I urge you to refocus your powers of imagination on a pleasant-looking accountant instead.)

Who, me? Oh, well, I landed a hunky professor. But I think you can deduce, from the fact that I get paid to watch TV all day, that I'm a little luckier than your average bear.

But speaking of lucky, how about the finale of "The Amazing Race"? (Skip this if you haven't seen it.) Not only did it come down to the wire in the most satisfying fashion, but The Hippies emerged as the winners of the million-dollar prize!

You'll be comforted to know, too, that I don't discriminate against all hippies, as has previously been alleged by some indignant hippie-lovers out there. In fact, BJ and Tyler of "The Amazing Race" are exactly the sorts of hippies I embrace wholeheartedly: They're fun-loving, they speak Japanese, they're smart, they goof around constantly, they behave good-naturedly even when the other players are messing with them, they don't turn on each other when times get tough, and -- most important of all -- they don't look like they smell (although we'd have to get some confirmation from someone who's smelled them to know for sure). The Hippies, in other words, are the sorts of hippies that give hippies everywhere a good name: They're intellectually curious, cheerful, easygoing and clean. Plus, The Hippies always seemed to make friends with the most likable teams, while alienating the losers. The Hippies loved Fran and Barry and Ray and Yolanda, but they didn't love the Frat Boys (or the Frat Girls, as Ray called them) or Monica and Joseph or those weird girls with the overly plucked eyebrows and the matching pink clothes.

Meanwhile, Monica and Joseph (MoJo) hated The Hippies from the first day, because Monica and Joseph are the types who hate all hippies, good and bad, because Monica and Joseph think that people who don't iron their T-shirts and bleach their teeth are queer (as in strange, but it's not hard to imagine these two are homophobes as well). The Frat Girls started to hate The Hippies, too, because The Hippies were always happy, had insanely good luck, and made the Frat Girls look really square and lame by comparison. Not that the Frat Girls were all that bad. They were dorky and sometimes unethical, but they were also pretty funny and not all that frat-boy-like, truth be told. In fact, the Frat Girls wanted to win so they would never have to work again, because they don't like working. "The Slackers" might have been a fairer name for them -- if not for their carefully chiseled abs and their tendency to hit on every woman within shouting distance.

But shout as they might, the Frat Girls couldn't take home the big prize, thanks to their inability to solve the final flag challenge, where they had to put the flags of all the countries they had visited in the order that they visited them. The second this challenge was introduced, it was clear The Hippies would win, and it was satisfying to see them do so. All in all, this was a really lively, fun season of "The Amazing Race," the kind that strengthens my undying commitment to watch every second of every hour of every season of this show indefinitely, until cancellation shall we part.

I want to end with a special message for all of you young people out there: Don't let bitter old people tell you that marriage is a terrible thing! I've been married for a whole week, so I can tell you from personal experience that marriage is totally, like, the awesomest thing I've ever done, dude! I always thought weddings were expensive and stupid, but you know what? Getting dressed up and drinking and dancing with all of your friends is really fun, plus they all send you expensive gifts afterward. And I think it's pretty obvious that if your spouse is really nice to you right after you get married, fetching you stuff and doing the dishes a lot just like you dreamed about, that means he's going to act just like that for the rest of your lives together.

So what's not to like? Getting married is one of the smartest things I've ever done. Just make sure that, before you get married, you have six or seven long-term relationships, experience several painful breakups, become disillusioned, regain hope only to fall in love with a total jerk, dump him only to spend a few depressing months trying to get into online dating but never getting past the point where you roll your eyes at every single personal ad, and finally resign yourself to living your life alone, totally and completely alone. If, just as you're starting to feel really excited about being alone forever, about never getting married or even owning a high-maintenance house plant, if at that moment you meet the man or woman of your dreams, that's when you know you're ready. Congratulations! A lifetime of happiness is yours!*

*This offer not good when you're pissed off, irritated, busy, tired or longing to sleep with Patrick Dempsey.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Evangeline Lilly is a moron

She just is. Ok, for one thing, she's dating a hobbit. For another, she cried to Esquire that it was tough growing up beautiful. For yet another, I just saw her on Leno and, trust me, she's a moron.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Hottest Woman Alive

Da Vinci Code Review

Conservative critics have bemoaned "The Da Vinci Code" as a subversive attack on moral decency and a shocking challenge to religious tradition. If only.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Dan Brown's 2003 conspiracy mind-blower "The Da Vinci Code" is a prime example of clumsy artfulness, a book that boasts perhaps some of the most idiotic sentences ever laid to paper ("Prominent New York editor Jonas Faukman tugged nervously at his goatee") and yet keeps you turning the pages almost in spite of yourself. Killer albino monks? Pagan sex rituals that defy everything the Catholic Church holds dear? Tell me more! Secret societies that revere Mary Magdalene, Renaissance artists who doodle blasphemous in-jokes in the corners of their paintings, tubby cardinals desperate to make sure the general public doesn't find out that women really are the center of the universe: "The Da Vinci Code," a blend of pseudo-facty information and mischievous, provocative invention, is a flying meringue pie headed straight for the church's kisser.

But "The Da Vinci Code" has also captured the popular imagination in a way few other recent novels have. The novel's faux-scholarly folderol is part of the fun (even if Brown doesn't always seem to be in on the joke). And the fact that Catholic and conservative Christian groups have come out so strongly against the book only make its paranoid visions more believable. If the church is so worried that "The Da Vinci Code" will lead the general public to believe that killer Opus Dei monks actually exist, you start to wonder what the organization is really trying to cover up: Do they eat babies? Host Black Mass hootenannies? The sky, and not merely Brown's extremely active imagination, is the limit.

But everyone knows that more people see movies than read books, even books that are as popular as "The Da Vinci Code" has been. And now Ron Howard's movie version of the novel -- which opened the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night, and begins nationwide on Friday -- is here to stir up more trouble. Vatican officials have been fuming, publicly, that the movie is filled with slander and errors, even though, of course, there's no way they could have yet seen it; one former nun has advised Christian moviegoers to see "Over the Hedge" this weekend instead. Better to embrace the reality of talking animals than the possibility that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have borne children together.

With negative publicity like that, who in their right mind wouldn't run to see "The Da Vinci Code," at least out of curiosity? But the unfortunate reality is that the target of these groups' ire and frustration is a somber, staid movie, too long, too self-serious, and too slow-moving to have the kind of dazzling impact they fear. The movie is by no means a disaster: The performances, particularly those of Tom Hanks (as the hero, Harvard symbology expert Robert Langdon) and Ian McKellen (as Langdon's wry friend and rival scholar Sir Leigh Teabing), are sturdy and -- at least in Hanks' case -- understated. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman did perhaps as well as anyone could have in adapting the book, finding ways to dramatize and compress the explications and digressions that are its lifeblood. And the picture, shot by Salvatore Totino, has a lovely, burnished look -- its palette of soft grays and browns echoes the muted clarity of the Leonardo Da Vinci paintings that play such a crucial role in the plot.

There's nothing assaultive about "The Da Vinci Code"; because it isn't loaded with noisy action, you get the sense that it was at least made for grownups. But its aura of stiff dignity works against it, too. The picture just doesn't have enough zing -- it's so stately that it almost seems to be apologizing in advance for any potential controversy it might cause.

The story goes something like this: Langdon is in Paris, promoting his new book, a study of sacred feminine symbols, when he's summoned to the Louvre to answer questions about a murder that has just taken place there. The body of curator Jacques Saunière has been found lying nude on the parquet floor of one of the galleries. His arms and legs are outstretched, his body contorted in an approximation of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man; his chest has been marked with a pentagram, sketched out in his own blood.

Police captain Bezu Frache (Jean Reno) has reason to believe Langdon is the murderer, even though he and Saunière have never met: They know each other only by reputation. But police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), privy to information that has been kept from Langdon, knows that he's innocent. She shows up at the crime scene and manages to impart a message to him: It'd behoove him to get out of the Louvre, pronto.

It turns out that Sophie is Saunière's granddaughter, although they've been estranged for many years. And she realizes that he spent his last living minutes setting up codes and messages for her, imparting to her the keys to 2,000-year-old secrets that have been closely guarded by an elite group of thinkers known as the Priory of Sion -- a group that counted Leonardo and Sir Isaac Newton among its members, and of which, we learn, Saunière was grand master.

When Sophie and Langdon aren't outrunning the police, they're being stalked by Silas, a crazed albino monk who's part of the conservative Catholic faction Opus Dei. (He's played by Paul Bettany, outfitted in contact lenses that give him the eyes of a malevolent lizard.) They have something Silas and his sleazy cardinal boss (played by Alfred Molina, who gives the movie a needed shot of campy evil) desperately want -- a crucial part of a puzzle that could blow apart everything the church stands for.

And yet, aside from a few semi-feverish car chases, and despite the fact that the characters are required to zip from Paris to London and back to Paris again, there isn't really a whole lot of running in "The Da Vinci Code." Much of the movie consists of Langdon's reading symbols -- squiggles and blips whose specific meanings continue to speak to us down through the centuries -- and explaining them aloud to Sophie, or anyone else who's around and will listen. That means the characters often thrash around with some pretty inane dialogue: "This -- can't be this -- the fleur de lis!" But mon dieu! It surely is.

Howard doesn't move the story along as quickly or as smartly as he should. (It's a sad state of affairs when Hanks' character is actually asked to utter the words "We have to get to the library, fast!") But he does come up with a few nice visual touches. He superimposes a vision of 18th century London onto the modern-day one, showing holographic ghosts of the mourners who showed up for Isaac Newton's funeral: They're translucent, shimmering pedestrians in powdered wigs and heavy dark cloaks, and Sophie and Langdon, who have the benefit of being real and alive, pass right through them. It's a lovely, poetic effect. And although Tautou doesn't have much of a role, she's such a strong visual presence here that she helps anchor the movie: Totino shoots her in a way that makes her beauty feel perfectly natural and unforced, yet disarmingly intense. In some scenes, her skin has the quality of marble, as if the essence of feminine art through the ages had been poured into one living, breathing human being.

But for the most part, "The Da Vinci Code" isn't a picture with a vivid sense of history. In fact, it's guilty of the very thing that makes kids hate history as a subject when it's taught badly: "The Da Vinci Code" makes the past feel like a dull, grainy, faraway thing, instead of something vibrant and alive.

What has the world of culture come to, when religious people are warning you off a picture that only makes you feel as if you're trapped in a schoolroom to begin with? There's a little bit of violence in "The Da Vinci Code," and the picture alludes to sex, even though it doesn't really show us any. But as forbidden movies go, "The Da Vinci Code" is disappointingly tame. I was in Catholic school when "The Exorcist" was released, and one of the nuns warned us that if we went to see it, there was a chance that we could become possessed by the devil ourselves. Naturally, some of my classmates took that as a signal to rush right out and see the thing; Sister Joanne had managed to vest the movie with more power than it could ever have had intrinsically. "The Da Vinci Code" is a big Hollywood movie, made by a big-name director, based on a big, bestselling book that nearly everyone has heard of, but none of those things can guarantee it will be a hit. Its box-office figures may be a barometer of something that no Hollywood executive would ever think to measure: The power of the Holy Spirit as a marketing device.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The growing pains of Egyptian liberty

Two Egyptian judges were recently imprisoned for asserting that the last elections were beset by widespread fraud. This is despite their constitutional right to judicial immunity. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, people are taking to the streets to protest the illegal incarceration of these judges and to decry the rule of the current, corrupt government. See some of those powerful images here.

Scary Ad from McDonald's India

Fuck off, Thierry (Barcelona 2-Arsenal 1)

There he goes again. If you don't want to stay, go. Viera leaving may have unbalanced the team, but your unwillingness to commit did the most damage. First, to the team and secondly to your own commitment. Who knows, maybe if you hadn't played the flirty slapper for most of the season ("I speak to Ronaldinho a lot"), you might have buried those two chances you got, in the final.

I'm fucking sick of mercenaries. When I own a football club, it's going to be open door: you want to leave, you leave. The moment you stall on signing a new contract, you're out. If the fans don't see three years on your contract, you fuck off. Even if you are Thierry Henry.

PS3 boss is an arrogant little s**t

I agree with this. And I wish I knew how to pronounce 'Braggadocio'.

In a disturbing twist, Ken Kutaragi has gone on record stating that the PlayStation 3's $600 price tag is "too cheap." The SCE president has again compared the forthcoming console to a fine dining experience. His argument is that no one calls into question the price differential between some slop at the cafeteria and a meal at an upscale restaurant. From his (deep pockets) point of view, "If you can have an amazing experience, we believe price is not a problem."

Does Sony's braggadocio excite anyone? Because it's turning us off.

After a paltry E3 showing - from a games perspective - it's hard to see the PS3 as anything more than a Trojan horse for sneaking (relatively) cheap Blu-ray devices into consumers' homes. The PlayStation brand is being pimped, and gamers are paying for it, literally. It's ridiculous for Kutaragi to suggest that his company is doing us a favor by launching the PS3 for $600. It's also disrespectful. Who else gets the feeling that Sony is looking down on us?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Trojan War Blog

I love shit like this! It's basically someone writing as Eurylochas, an ancient Greek warrior, were he to blog about his stint in the Trojan Wars. Check it here. Thanks to Chris DiClerico for this.

Bears eat monkey, visitors shocked

Slow news day, folks..

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands-Bears killed and devoured a monkey in front of horrified visitors at a Dutch zoo, officials and witnesses said.

Visitors reported that the grisly scene began as several bears chased the monkey, a macaque, onto a wooden structure at Beekse Bergen Safari Park.

They said a bear tried unsuccessfully to shake the monkey loose, ignoring attempts by keepers to distract it. The bear then climbed up and grabbed the monkey, mauling it to death and bringing it to its concrete den, where three bears ate it.

The park confirmed the killing. "The habitats here in the safari park are arranged in such a way that one animal almost never kills another, but they are and remain wild animals," it said in a statement.

The attack occurred in an area of the zoo that contains both monkeys and sloth bears, a type of black bear found in the Asian subcontinent.

The park said it plans now to move the macaques to another part of the park.

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."

"Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

Crooked Teeth

It's quite unbecoming my status as a bonafide stud-muffin that my favorite position in bed, is the common hug.

It was one hundred degrees, as we sat beneath a willow tree,
Whose tears didn't care, they just hung in the air
And refused to fall, to fall.

And I knew I'd made horrible call,
And now the state line felt like the Berlin wall,
And there was no doubt about which side I was on.

Cause I built you a home in my heart,
With rotten wood, it decayed from the start.

Cause you can't find nothing at all,
If there was nothing there all along.
No you can't find nothing at all,
If there was nothing there all along.

I braved treacherous streets,
And kids strung out on homemade speed.
And we shared a bed in which I could not sleep,
At all, woo, hoo, woo, hooOoOo.

Cause at night the sun in retreat,
Made the skyline look like crooked teeth,
In the mouth of a man who was devouring, us both.

You're so cute when you're slurring your speech,
But they're closing the bar and they want us to leave.

And you can't find nothing at all,
If there was nothing there all along.
No you can't find nothing at all,
If there was nothing there all along.

I'm a war, of head versus heart,
And it's always this way.
My head is weak, my heart always speaks,
Before I know what it will say.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Subliminal Rage

Ok, so this next one isn't rage per se...but damn, they're fine!

I did an interview today with someone from the Daily News, in charge of covering immigration issues. She told me that some guy (also Mid-Eastern, also Muslim) had his citizenship test (which he passed) in early 2005 and his background check is also still pending. 14 months.

A lot of people thought my bout with depression which hit earlier this year, was tied to receiving the news that my citizenship was going to be heldd up indefinitely while the FBI did their little dance. I maintained, at the time, that it wasn't true because I don't get sad when things don't go my way. Today, I'm certain I was right in my little self-assessment. The reason is, when things don't go my way, I become enraged, not sad. Especially when you've done everything by the book. Maybe it's a product of the age of entitlement we live in, where we believe, to a scientific degree of certainty, that if we take 1 and add 1 to it, we get 2. The world doesn't work that way, as prehistoric hunters will attest. You could do everything right and something could appear from a blue sky and stun you into futility.

I'm being philosphical because that's how you're supposed to be when you're disappointed. But the truth is, I'm enraged as hell. Because the truth is, I count my life as a series of disappointments and console myself with the hope (nee aspiration) that other things will come through for me and make it up to me. My own personal misguided sense of entitlement arises from a personal misguided sense that the world owes me for all the shitty deals I've had to put up with.

What a joke. Me, not what the fates have conspired to do to me. I know I'm a ridiculous man. But all that does is fuel my rage and while some people aim that rage out towards the world, I just simmer with endless resentment and self-loathing. Attractive, isn't it?

Great. I guess I've become a hater. Well, why the hell not? Somebody has to be. I mean, if I wasn't a hater, you wouldn't get the gratification of being able to leave me a comment telling me that I'm not. I underline your lack of hater-edness!

Daily News piece appears Sunday or Monday.

Don't think I didn't notice..

..that they put Egypt right where the asshole is. I think the entire world is fucking with me, right now. Bitches.

Monkeys drink like humans

I especially LOVE the quote: "Lower-ranked monkeys and males tended to drink more overall."

A new scientific study reports that monkeys housed alone drink more alcohol than those living in groups. Also, monkeys overall tend to drink after "stressful periods," according to research from the National Institutes of Health Animal Center. From Discovery News:
The study, recently published in the journal Methods, also found that booze affects monkeys much the same way it affects people.

"It was not unusual to see some of the monkeys stumble and fall, sway, and vomit," (researcher Scott) Chen added. "In a few of our heavy drinkers, they would drink until they fell asleep..."

Lower-ranked monkeys and males tended to drink more overall, but certain individuals consistently drank more than others, regardless of status or housing conditions.

"Like humans, rhesus macaques have individual differences in taste preference, stress levels, drug tolerance and genetic background that lead to differences in alcohol intake," said Chen.