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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Peaceful, Prosperous Homestead

Having heard that an pro-illegal immigration rally was planned in Homestead, on the day which has honoured labourers around the world, May Day, I decided to go there the day before to see how things are in that town, for the first time since...

...well, since the day I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity, alongside President and Mrs. Carter, an activity you'll recall I blogged about recently.

That was 1993.

Homestead was a few months removed from the flattening job Hurricane Andrew left behind, in this most working-class, most Southern good ole boy, most Mexican immigrant of towns in South Florida.

You cannot imagine my utter, utter shock transform instantly into a grin full of white teeth, when I turned off the Number 2 exit in the Florida Turnpike, unto Campbell Drive -- Homestead's main road.




Some 14 years after Hurricane Andrew, and Homestead is shining like a brand-new penny!

What a cute little town, brand-spanking new, and revitalised it is!

With all the doom-and-gloom rhetoric that Hurricane Katrina has spawned, even I was conned into believing that no city could ever be renewed, let alone improved, after a major devastation.

This was in 1992, but still the federal government then was blamed for not helping out quicker, a complain which might just have some legs.

After all, our catastrophe took 7 days for National Guard troops to arrive, compared to the 3 of NOLA.

And alas, Bruce Springsteen failed to show up for a concert, to buck our spirits up.

So obviously, I was ramped up to believe that Homestead, always a one-horse town, which was made riderless when the Homestead Air Force Base was virtually closed down, would be a shell of a place, even more miserable than it used to be.

Don't you believe it.

It could be the Homestead Speedway, which hosts its beloved NASCAR rallies, it could be the sprawling extension of Miami-Dade College's Homestead branch, it could be the huge multi-outlet malls which dot Florida City, Homestead's tiwn sister city.

It could be the Publix that was DEMOLISHED by Andrew, but that looks as good, and as active as any Coral Gables Publix around.



It could be even the new Flagship Cinemas which I went to, to catch a teenie-bopper flick this weekend...



...but this city is just fine.

Except for Monday, May Day, that is.

As I type, I am watching the rally of a purported 100,000 people, holding various flags, drapeaux, signs, and posters, expressing their solidarity with "immigrants" everywhere.

Included in the roll-call of nations there is a flag, comically, of Norway.

Damn those illegal Norwegians!

Of course, few native-born Americans like to work in the herring plants, so what can you do?

So take heart New Orleans. It might not be a speedy recovery.

But a speedway recovery, after all. Meep meep!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fly On The Plane -- United 93

[Please only read this quasi-review after you've seen United 93 -- beware, spoilers applicable. This blogpost is also a repost from the one I wrote on IMDB, with more personalised commentary aimed towards my regular Sundries readers. Photos to follow later]

I'm literally minutes away from having seen the film, virtually running from the theatres, to an internet cafe nearby.

I wanted my thoughts to be fresh about the movie, before I could be influenced by reviews (which I didn't read, obviously).

First, let me say to anyone who believes this film is in any way exploitative -- it is not.

I am very impressed, shocked even, at how unsentimental the treatment of the passengers on board, was.

At no point, did director Paul Greengrass overemphasise the individuals of the film, although certainly we got glimpses of their lives, and their personalities.

I consider this point not just about the delicacy of trampling on surviving family members' emotions, since though there is half-a-decade of separation between the event and today, it is still an event anyone over the age of 8 in 2001, will remember with crystal clear recollection...

(In this, 9/11 is an hammerhead of emotion, stuck somewhere between Pearl Harbour, and the JFK assassination, in this nation's history -- one can feel the taut historical importance in this nation's memory, even if you're a foreigner)

...but the strong directorial decision, to emphasise the collective nature of these events.

Since there is no 'star'-actor to anchor this film, we get no exposition that isn't specifically aimed towards unravelling the story, a blessing of enormous proportions.

I am monumentally happy no single character gives a stronger acting performance than the other, since the continuity this gives the film, is that much more powerful.

-- A word about Christian Clemonson, whose broad, earnest face, gives his amazing portrayal of Thomas E. Burnett, Jr., a simple sincerity that hits you right in the gut.

It is obvious that if there is a hero amongst heroes in this story, it is he.

Again, instead of the usual star turn, this veteran of television injects just enough intensity into what could be a hyperbolic portrayal of vengeance, as the film's detractors would have it, that is. When you watch him in action, you suddenly start to remember people in your life, you have met throughout it, who act like him.

For me, it was a priest in Oxford I once knew, named Father Joe, who had served in World War II, and whose ruddy complexion with clear features, was in fact, not unlike Clemonson's...which is already similar to ex-baseball player, Mark McGwire.

These people exude purpose, genuineness, and integrity, beyond what anyone can possibly describe --

Perhaps many would have preferred individuals on the plane, and on the ground, to have been given more detailing, but thinking of the events of the day, to me this decision, is just and makes it more compellingly honest.

On 9/11, all of this nation, and indeed, the world, was rivetted by what was happening, at the moment.

At that moment, though individuals' lives were altered in their entireties, wives losing husbands, children mothers, friends other friends, that day was about a moment in time, which by its very universality, UNITED people (a strange pun on the meaning of the film, which reveals itself only after you see it -- it was indeed an UNITED 93, in every sense of the word).

By united, I don't mean that every single human being was against the tragedies which occured that day.

Alas, there are too many people in this world, who had their own inexpressively repulsive reasons to be gladdened by the events of 9/11.

But whether we all of us liked it or not, that day united all of us, as only the modern age can -- courtesy of mass communication.

What we saw that day, however, was left to our imaginations, which given the wealth of human ideas, hovered all over the place, and still do -- from conspiracy theories, to blame-the-victim mentality, to the sudden irrepressible desire, to inflict maximum pain, on whomever had done this.

This film attempts to give a picture to our thoughts, and though to be sure, as with any cinematic treatment, is personal to the scriptwriters, directors, and actors (amongst the scores of people in charge of a film), it has succeeded beyond what many of us could have hoped for.

Like so many reading this, no doubt, I love cinema verite, and this film, with its harsh angles, jolts and immediacy, offers a truly nervous ride alongside the passengers of United 93.

If I can offer any piece of advice, in case you decided to read this post and haven't watched the film anyway, is that you cannot leave the film even ONCE, because the intensity and storyline is such, that it is made to watched in one fell swoop.

Only 3-4 people in the sold-out audience of over 180 people (according to the box office), left to get snacks, go out to the loo, call on their mobiles, to my certain knowledge, since I was nearest the exit.

A few attempted a cheer, but the gravity of the moment was such, that their voices fell instantly silent.

This wasn't Rocky knocking out Drago.

This was real. These people were real.

Thankfully, this movie is as close to understanding that, and honouring it, as any survivor of these events can make them.

READ

David Beamer's WSJ Op-Ed on United 93 (Via JSU)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Good News

I was away most of Friday, but I wanted to share with you briefly, this U.S. State Department report on the War on Terror:

(A)

The report said Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders are scattered and on the run and Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for the network. In addition, al-Qaeda's relations with the Taliban that once ruled Afghanistan are growing weaker and the group's finances and logistics have been disrupted, the report said.



(B)


East Asian countries made significant progress in 2005 creating a regional environment inhospitable to terrorists, the report said.



(C)

Six countries - Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria - remain classified as state sponsors of terror. Libya and Sudan, though, were credited with continuing to take significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terror.

I too, miss Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News segments.

The news is good out there. It just depends on what you see, why you see it, and how much of it, you want to see.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Blank Canvas Of Larry King's Mind

It was a while since I had tuned in to Larry King Live on CNN, which often conflicts with juicier PBS and sports programmes at that time slot.

But let's face -- I was never a big fan of his, to begin with.

This old radio talk show host from Miami (WIOD, which frequently makes fun of his half-stuttering laugh whenever he calls in), with his made-for-radio sonorous voice, certainly has become the iconic interviewer he is, precisely by being a complete noodzh.

And I don't mean just from his mugshot.



He's so devoid of any discernible intellectual curiosity, that one gets the impression this is how he really is, rather than as a creation of an on-air persona -- one which would hide deeper waters, as is often the case.

Perhaps this is why he is so successful.

Whereas my beloved Dick Cavett was irreverent, witty, charming, and gave off glints of brilliance...

Whereas Charlie Rose, that other PBS legend-in-the-making, is an affable, cheery, unapologetically Southern, but ever so New York Upper East Side elitist...

Larry King is just a regular schmoe in front of an old mic.

Although he's Brooklyn to the nth degree, somehow that side compliments his metier.

It makes him seem hard-hitting, plain-spoken, and raucous (like Joan Rivers used to), but in reality, merely stands for an everyman quality, the poor Jewish boy done good.

Take his Monday show, which I actually recorded, because it was a special on the Queen's 8oth birthday, which of course, I had blogged about and wanted info for possible blogpost updates.

Larry has a very special pedestal with which to see the world, with such ready access to so many people of note, or at least, people who can speak intelligently of these people of note.

But his mind must be a sieve, because he asks the most basic cultural knowledge questions, which surely, he has heard of in previous interviews, at least enough to have sunk in.

He must reek at Trivial Pursuit.

Granted, not everyone knows that Camilla Parker-Bowles' nickname is "The Rottweiler".

Nor, by his obvious amusement at the term, must he realise that "passing out" from our equivalent of West Point, Sandhurst, means graduating from there, not having fainted or being drunk.

But surely to goodness, he knows that the Queen being rich, doesn't mean she can't be frugal as well.

As ever with Larry, you are amused at how he looks at the world, because it just is so unlayered.

Rich means never having to save.

Pretty means that you are always popular and loved.

And being a male royal, means never having to lay down your life for your country. Or wanting to.

(In case you haven't heard, Prince Harry is set to do a tour of Iraq or Afghanistan, the debate of which has reached enormous levels of governmental interference.

His great-great uncle before him, the late Duke of Windsor, when Prince of Wales, was not allowed to fight in the front lines during World War I, because as General Kitchener tartly put it, "If we could be assured of you dying in battle, sir, we would authorise it. But we can't take the chance of you being captured as booty."

Harry is putting up quite a fight about the matter, and has threatened to resign his commission, if not allowed to follow his regiment to Iraq, during their year-long tour. We'll see what happens. Did you know that a member of the royal family has been killed in almost every war Britain has fought, since the 1890s? And certainly, served in ALL of them)

Larry King is just too innocuously clueless to hate, so at best, I dislike him, but mostly, I just ignore him.

He's rather like a well-worn chair in your living room, which is comforting, and ever-present, but you know in your heart, there are better chairs out there to fit your bottom.



P.S.: Every nation needs a man like Larry King though. Whether Lord Frost, or Michael Parkinson, or even half-comics like the late Johnny Carson, they are there to talk, have some yucks, and not to hyper-analyse everything to death.

On that account, I like Larry King.

UPDATE: LOL. Talk about erroneous spider webengine searches.

The Blog, "Booty Talk", just linked to this Larry King post, presumably because their blogtopic is what Sir Mix-a-Lot famously rapped about,

"I like big butts!".

Seems the modern-day, Ebonics flavoured definition of booty, is overtaking the older, greedier version of the word.

And not a moment too soon. Oh. My. God. Debbie.

Worst Photoshopping EVER



Gosh, where does one start?

Photoshop is a way, way cool programme to use, and play around with -- but sometimes people use its manifold tricks like they're on meth.

Pixilate, sketch, cross-hatch, brushstroke, grain, render, mosaic. The choices are endless.

But when you brushstroke Condi, and make her look like Mike Tyson and not Cecily Tyson, you know you've gone too far.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Woman Thing

All this weekend, my mother has charged me with cleaning, refurbishing, and redecorating the guest bathroom.

The purpose is very important.

See, we are having our bathroom completely retiled, and re-tubbed, this coming Tuesday.

Now I know what you're thinking.

"Wait, you're redecorating the bathroom BEFORE fixing it?"

Yes.

Furthermore, my mother will have the flat completely cleaned on Friday by the 1-800-Maid service ...just so that it's nice and neat for the workmen to mess up with their boots, and plaster.

And that my friends, is a woman thing.

Oh, I'm sure the specifics of it, are perhaps not. Eccentrics don't only run in my family, they frolick.

But the general idea is a "woman thing", all right.

It is the same impulse which makes women shout at their husbands,

"Shut the door! You want the neighbours to see inside!?"

A phrase you'll rarely ever hear from men to women.

There are practical reasons for these sentiments, which if you press women they will say it's about privacy, or modesty, or just because women are socialised to be more houseproud than men ('society made me do it!').

But the truth is, women don't like to be judged. Much more so than men.

Maybe inside, we think it's a character indictment -- that you are found wanting as a human being, by something so superficial, as dirty pots and pans in the sink.

And yet, this is not about ego, in my opinion.

The competitive streak that men have, has more to do with ego, with the need to one-up the other guy, the better to make himself superior in masculine-approved ways.

This is why we have stop-light races, and fantasy football.

Not to mention the rare male art of Mr. Peepers comparison.

But with a woman it's different, and it's not that she lacks ego.

It's that she cannot stand other people having something over her. A chance to tear her apart. A moment to gossip about her. A reason to smirk.

In short, it's not about perfection. It's about standards of perfection.

Her ego is just fine. It's that she wants to keep it up by always being thought perfect.

Well, all right. Maybe not perfect.

But whatever perfect means to each and every woman reading this.

Of course, I am willing to listen to counterpoints, such as "Vic, my house is a mess, and I'd still let you in, so what are you talking about?".

But I bet you anything, you'll change your tune, when I open your medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

Victoria's Handy List of Guy and Girl Things

Guy Things

- Any movie with Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson escaping
- Bodily noises and scratches
- Big screen TVs, with the more buttons the better

Girl Things

- Any movie where Richard Gere carries the girl out in his arms
- FDS
- Two tones lighter foundation and face powder. Oh and hair weaves

...so what do you think? Are there really such things which are common to all men and women? Even effeminate men, or masculine women?

Or have I just totally ripped off The View's next Mario Cantone segment?

P.S.: Men tolerate Woman Things, much easier than we do Guy Things.

This is why they promptly close the door when yelled at by their ladies, but women still complain about the toilet seat being up, after 40 years of marriage.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How High?

[Updated below]

Are petrol/gas prices, around you?

(Using both terms, to please me, and my more North American readers)

This weekend was sticker-shocksville for our family, gas-wise.

I filled the tank not once but twice, putting in our usual Premium, the cheapest of which I could find was at:

U$ 3.18 per gallon at a local Mobil station.

I daresay we could have gone to one of those "generic" petrol stations which seem to have popped up these past few years, like Weststar, Monarch, and Hess (although the latter is hardly new), since you have to mortgage your home to go to a Texaco these days -- but I find our cars get all clunky when I fill up with inferior gas.

Now we all know that gas prices always have their seasonal jump around this time of the year, but honestly, this is the earliest I've seen it this high, not having been cognisant of such things in the 1970s.

Speaking of NPR, I did listen to a report on Brazil's total petroleum independence, just announced this past week, by Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva.

The reporter on NPR couldn't help but gleefully compare the US and Brazil's dependence on oil, as ever skewing the story to make the US reflect badly in comparison.

They even interviewed the Petrobras president, about why one country is now independent, whereas the US still chugs gas as if it were Cool-Aid.

He replied that Brazil HAS to find ways to be independent because, and I quote again,

"Brazil doesn't have the United States' resources: neither the economic power, nor the military power, nor the government power that the US has."

Uh-huh.

Yeah, that's certainly true, but here are some other reasons you won't hear on NPR, for whatever reason, that have very little to do with the ones they tried to push you in this story, which seemed to hint at the "bully hyperpower" theory.


Number 1:

Brazil has almost 50% less population than the United States. It's 170 million to almost 300 million people.

Less folks. Less gas. Simple maths.


Number 2:

Brazil has about 60% of their population living in what would be considered grinding poverty here in the US.

The poorest person in New Orleans during the height of the Katrina debâcle, would be almost rich compared to the people who have to live in favelas, with their attendant conditions of rank filth and general misery.

Only about 25% are middle-class, or thereabouts, and a tiny percentage are the truly wealthy.

Contrast this with the 80% of middle-class people in the United States, and well...it's easy to be self-sufficient, when a comparative mere pittance of your population can afford to buy a car.


Number 3:

You know how anyone in the US with access to a car, can take a driving exam, no questions asked how you learnt?

Well, taking driving lessons in Brazil, and passing the driving exam is a question of two things:

Lots and lots of money (about 300 dollars for the State-enforced 12 lesson minimum, from a State-vetted Driver's Ed academy, it goes without saying), plus lots and lots of bribes.

-- In such countries as France, Belgium, state-sponsored driving academies can charge up to U$ 2000 for driving lessons. Imagine the outcry here in the US, if we did the same --

Because you can indeed take the driver's exam without benefit of bribes, but sometimes, they fail you because you didn't grease their palms.

And you have to take it again, and again, and again, until you do.

I need not mention that even those who can afford it, sometimes don't pass this exam, let alone those who are illiterate -- as a huge proportion of those 60% of poor people already mentioned, are.

And how poor people learn to drive, since few of their buds have those reputed US Welfare Caddies at their disposal, is a mystery to me.


Number #4:

As almost everyone knows now, Brazil has been using ethanol in their cars for years.

They call this "alcóol" in Portuguese (yes, "alcohol", and by the way, you can actually drink it, which many thieves do to syphon stolen gas), and more than half the cars in Brazil run on it.

It is true that in the early 1990's, suddenly alcool cars went became unfashionable, but they're back with a vengeance these days.

More alternative fuels -- less need for those Middle Eastern oil barrels.


Number #5:

Petrobras was the government-owned entity which has a virtual monopoly on gas purchased in Brazil, although other companies do have a share.

But imagine if there were only one truly big sanctioned company, say oh I don't know, "Standard Oil" maybe, owned, sponsored and given grants to research by the US government.

And all the gas purchased by consumers, fed back back to this "Standard Oil", in cold hard dollars.

Back in John D. Rockefeller's and Teddy Roosevelt's day, trust-busting was a big deal, and his (Republican, you'll remember) administration tried to break it up, successfully.

But in Brazil, when the government has a hand at the pump, you can be sure that won't happen nearly to the extent it did in the US.

Why would they? They'd be taking the profit from themselves.

Oh, yeah, one last thing.

We US gas consumers are sure hurting right now, no doubt about it.

But won't you spare a tear for the poor Brazilians?

After all, they pay 5-6 dollars a gallon for their automotive juice, fully independent as they are.

Of course, they have a lot less Hummers traipsing through their favelas, so no biggie.

P.S.: Why is it, you think, that NPR can't report on this side of the story, as I have here on my humble blog?

I mean, if I can give you a more fully rounded picture, why can't they, with their...better resources, do the same?

Perhaps the answer lies where it usually does with Mainstream Media:

They don't want to, because it doesn't fit their agenda.

UPDATE: Renato half-heartedly challenged my views on this blogpost on Ethanol, by asking for a reference for the purported $5-6 per gallon prices, which Brazilians are reputed to pay.

I accept the challenge!

This is the NPR report, as heard on Morning Edition, by reporter Julie McCarthy in Rio de Janeiro.

Click on "Listen Now" and scroll to about minute 3:13 of the 4:33 minute segment.

There you will hear her say that prices at the pump, seen on the average Carioca petrol station, are at:

"5.85 dollars per GALLON"

Obviously, they use litres in Brazil, so she had to have that converted to Imperial.

However, I wonder if she is using the "paralelo" exchange rate, which is the black market price for US dollars, or the official one, which is very very low?

Whatever it is, almost 6 dollars per gallon, Renatinho, is enough to choke a horse.

(Especially since so many Brazilians earn what is called a "um salario minimo", which is a little under 100 dollars per month...)

Renato did make a very shrewd point about this general topic, though.

He mentioned that no matter how fraught politics are in Canada -- they have taken to calling Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, "Bush Junior" -- this issue of gas prices, is almost absent in Canadian media.

After all, you'd think it would be the same, since Canadians pay as much, if not more, for their fuel, so what's the difference?

The difference is that our US media are stuck on:

"We want Bush to be blamed for everything, so we push certain stories, the better to make his administration look bad".

And Canadians are stuck on the Stanley Cup playoffs (Go Flames!!).

ANOTHER UPDATE: The World's Richest man is ahead of the curve. Just.

After probably having seen those "Go Yellow" commercials plastered every 5 minutes on TV, Bill Gates decided to splurge some of his hard-robbed cash on Pacific Ethanol.

I actually saw this story first on CNBC today, and it seemed the business show in the mid-afternoon was looking at this move of his, with jaundiced eyes.

Why? I can't recall.

They did mention he bought up about 25% of the company's shares though, so that's a very long-term investment.

By the way, NBC proper may be the most politcally left television network around, but their CNBC subsidiary is the most pro-free-market entity around.

Certainly, a very welcome change from the Abominable Dr. Lou Dobbs, a man I would have to be restrined not to flip off, if ever I were in his presence.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Brangelina

(Belated welcome Name Development readers!)

(Scroll below for more updates, or click here!: The Roof Is On Fire, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, NPR?, Miami Nice N.B.: Blogger has a scheduled outage at 4PM PDT/7PM EDT tonight)

This recent trend of conjoined celebrity couple names is just too daft.

Correct me if I am wrong, but it all started with the infamous mediagasm (another coingage! Two can play at that game) that surrounded the Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck coupling.

That's when the brief, but scorching madness that was Bennifer came into being.

Bennifer! I ask you.

And to make matters worse, Ben Affleck had to go and marry Jennifer Garner, so now this asinine practise already has sequels.

Bennifer Part Deux...

Okay, okay -- we all know this term was coined more in jest than in actual admiration for their antics.

In fact, there is a strong dose of irony mixed with ridicule about the whole name.

But the problem with ridicule is that if you do it well enough, and long enough, wouldn't you know it, but stuff catches on.

Since I am not a faithful National Enquirer reader, I was taken aback by a recent friend's mention of the duo which is setting every tabloid in Namibia alight.

Yes!

Now we have Brangelina to keep us huddled masses entranced.

Aren't you happy we didn't have this quirky name game decades before?

Can you imagine this inane pastime being attempted for old Hollywood love affairs and marriages?

We could have had:

Robertalie for Robert Walker - Natalie Wood!

Or how about, Clarole for Clark Gable - Carole Lombard! That's just too dye for.

Elizabeth Taylor - Richard Burton made Bennifer look like damn pikers, but admittedly, Elichard is very uncool.

And of course, there's nothing to stop non-Hollywood name morphings either.

Jack and Jackie Kennedy are a mouthful, even now.

Why not just refer to both of them as, erm, Jackie?

Okay, so maybe our name game needs a little work.

Maybe I should stick to the familiar, and imagine what a romance between a Sundries reader and I would sound like, a la Brangelina.

What would happen if...

Renato pitched me a little woo? Why Victoriato, of course!

Paul decided to finally plight his troth? Paulia. Oh dear. Sounds like toe fungus.

José and I could become the new media frenzy lovebirds, but Vickysé needs work. (Josia?)

Of course, with lesbians being so chic these days and all, in case I ever decided to play for the other team, and hook up with Ruth Anne, there's Ruthoria to look forward to.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, as you see it, we are now saddled with stalkerazzi and what they specialise in is making an one night stand, the kind long enjoyed by Hollywood celebs, into a coup de foudre of Romeo and Juliet proportions.

And the journos reckon that one-name is instant recognition, as Madonna, Pelé, Cher, and Fantasia can all attest to.

So be ready for more Brangelinas in the VH-1 future.

Why, there's already a Tomkat prowling around, eating placentas and what not.



Kinda makes you pine for the days when Paris and Paris were still going strong, huh?

P.S.: Originally, this post was about Brad Pitt and his unfortunate comments about the whole Namibia deal.

Quoth the better half of Brangelina:

"I love the woman," Mr. Pitt, 42, told an NBC (Namibian Broadcasting Company) reporter. "She completes me. When she said she didn't want to get married, I asked her if she would at least give me a haircut like the one she gives Maddie. I want her to love me the way she loves him."

I can't believe he really said, "she completes me". Show me da barf bag.

In addition to his new haircut, Mr. Pitt has a tattoo, his first, a Buddhist prayer etched on his lower back.

"It's just like the one Angie has on her shoulder," said Mr. Pitt excitedly. "It will protect Maddie from harm. I was so thrilled when Angie said I could get a tattoo like hers, though I was hoping she would let me get it on my shoulder like she has."

Man. That boy is whipped.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Miami Nice

Almost par for the course, whenever Miami is named, to add "nice" immediately afterwards.

But look at this scene.



Wouldn't you think it were nice too, if this is the last thing your eyes see, before you sleep?

I mean, if you had night vision goggles.

I shall be back forthwith, Monday and all this week, with some interesting blogposts, including:

- An update on the University of Miami pro-janitor student strike

- Another travellogue!

- A countdown of some of my favourite women from history (wait, it's not as boring as it sounds...trust me on this)

- Another travellogue! Hint: "Leo and Kate". Okay, another hint: I almost got kicked out taking pics...again!


As the kids say these days, "lates".

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Who Do You Thinking You're Kidding, NPR

I'm fairly sure all the NPR affiliates around the US, are having their little beg-a-thons, so perhaps you can tune in and hear their pledge drives at the moment.

As I have told you countless of times, NPR or rather, my local South Florida affiliate, WLRN, is my favourite talk radio station.

In fact, I have rarely listened to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Michael Medved, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and the whole slew of conservative talk show radio hosts, which practically steamroll the AM radiowaves.

At the end of the day, I know what they are going to say, some of it badly, some of it spot on, but perhaps a little too uneclecticly for my tastes.

Like the New York Times, a paper I stopped subscribing to in 2001 when I finally had enough of their skewed, high-bound tone, but one which I miss for its arts and entertainment section, NPR keeps me coming back, because of their quality programming.

Garrison Keillor, Car Talk, even Fresh Air, all are one-of-a-kind shows, which Rush neither wants to imitate, nor frankly, can.

So fine, 91.3 on my FM dial is my station of choice.

Who's a prisoner of their ideology? Not I, boy.

But this Saturday, I confess, I just couldn't take one more minute of WLRN.

There I was, in my car, listening to a solid hour of two local NPR presenters, trying to get callers to phone in with pledges.

The usual weepy reasons were hauled out, from "listening to NPR without paying for it, is like stealing your neighbour's Newsweek" to "People think the "public" is because of government support, but only 5% is from grants, which are rapidly dwindling anyway" -- oh please.

But then, they mentioned all their great programmes, and I told myself, okay, $65 per year is maybe a 10th of what I spend on my hair per year, so I reached for the cell phone.

I was straining to hear the 866-toll free number, when the two presenters pulled out their guilt trump card:

They decided to drop all pretenses that NPR is anything but a liberal, progressive, counter-culture, tree-hugger, tofu-eating wet dream of a station, and said the following:

"Maybe you're a part of the Power to the People generation.

"Or maybe you feel that recent elections have not gone your way, and your voice isn't being heard.

Well here is your chance to make your voice be heard in the political wilderness of today."

AND I QUOTE, mind you.

I put down the cell phone with a look of utter disgust on my face.

But then I said, screw it, and dialed the number anyway.

The lady operator put me on hold, since she had a donor already on hold ahead of me. Fine. I waited.

And I thought, and thought what I was going to say.

Make it sound logical.

Make it sound dispassionate, even if you're irate.

Make it sound like they just lost a whole bunch of money, due to their blatant, disgusting tone.

And put on your best American accent, because let's face it, Americans like "British" accents just fine, unless you're chastising them. Then, you're just being snotty.

That's when she came on the line.

This is what I said, exactly. My memory is letter-perfect, since this convesation is seared forever in my mind now.

"Hi, ma'am. Thanks for waiting. Would you like to pledge to WLRN today?"

"No problem. Well, in fact, I would, but I have a request first."

"Okay?"

"I am driving in my car, listening to your pledge drive. Now I have to tell you, I am a long-long time listener of NPR ("oh that's great") but I am also conservative."

(pause)

"Okayyy."

"But I still greatly enjoy your programming, so I was about to send in as generous a contribution as I could, when suddenly I hear your two announcers refer to the Power to the People generation.


Later, they mentioned how certain elections may not have gone a particular way, and this is your chance to make your voice heard."

"Ma'am"

"Wait, I'm not finished. When I was on hold, your hold-message said you also welcome suggestions or comments, so let me do so."

"MA'AM! I'M SORRY BUT..."

(speaking calmly over her shouting)

"My comment and suggestion to your station is if they would not be so blatantly obvious in your appeals, that you could get pledges from people like me -- moderates, or conservatives, but who like what NPR has to offer anyway.

But I assure you, you will get not one penny from me today, and I daresay any other person who holds moderate, yet strong opinions, but who finds your blatantly partisan comments, very very off-putting.

Perhaps you can pass that on, to your pledge drive co-ordinator. Thank you. Good day."

*click*


...goodness only knows if this woman delivered the message or not, or even if she skewed our little chat as,

"Hey, some wingnut just called to say we're being too left-wing!! Can you believe that??!"

But so help me God, this time for a change, NPR had to listen to me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Roof Is On Fire

I may be all over Giada as a fan, but let me tell you -- I got nothing on her, as a cook.

I had decided to make some roasted potatoes, the kind I love (potatoes are to my culture, what pasta is to Italians, and arroz blanco is to Latin Americans), but never really knew how to make just right.

When I found out that to make the perfect, but fast roast potatoes, one should fry up boiled spuds in equal parts olive oil and melted butter, put some red onions, and then stick all of this in a 500°F degree oven for 5 minutes, I said,

Yum, why the heck not!

Next thing I knew, me and Schmoopsie were enveloped in smoke coming out from the oven, and when I opened the range door, I saw freaking flames, coming upwards.

I cannot tell you, dear reader, what a terror seeing a nascent fire in your kitchen is...

Especially since, as a child, I remember my mother scooping me up and running out of our home in London, with firemen rushing in after us.

Our small Holland Park pied-à-terre smelt of smoke for months afterwards, eventually prompting a move.

Apparently, bad cooks run in the family.

Thankfully, this time, I kept my wits about me, and chucked a panful of cold water into the gas oven, extinguishing the flames.

(I would've fried myself, had it been an electric cooker)

After the porters came up to see what was happening, and some neighbours were gossipping about the smoke in the hall, I convinced them not to call 911.

It was a little grease fire, is all, I said evenly, though my heart was racing faster than Emerson Fittipaldi.

At the end of the day, all was well, although we did have to call in a handyman to set the oven a-right, again (some valve thingie, apparently).

I admit, maybe cookery is not for me, you know?

Although I still ate the potatoes.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Elizabeth II Turns 80



Born 80 years ago this Friday, April 21, H.M. Elizabeth II is not yet the longest-lived sovereign, nor the longest-reigning one.

Both those Guiness World Book of Record milestones belong to her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.

(Remember that Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother was not a born sovereign, and thus her 101-years of life, bless her, don't count, except for the bookies)

You might also recall that I said I'm no monarchist, and would favour a republic under normal circumstances, in almost any country.

But my makeup also includes being very pragmatic, and a traditionalist.

Though I know for a fact, as republican agitator Stephen Haseler was quoted as saying, that the question of the relevancy of the monarchy in Britain, will be on the the backburner until the Prince of Wales accedes to the throne, I also know my own.

Let's face it:

Without a monarchy, our smallish island of querelous, disparate peoples will seem just another little republic with the same kind of slightly tawdry pretensions to royal elegance that France has, but which she seems unable to embody properly, precisely because there is no Royal Family.

Anyone who has been to the Palace of Versailles and to Windsor Castle, can instantly define this, since one is a magnificent shell of a court, whereas the other seems relevant, and active, because it is.

And here is another unspoken variable in Britain.

It's unspoken, because it's uncomfortable to say outloud -- but as the boilerplate says, I'm all about discomfitting moxie, dammit.

America, who so many people look down upon for many reasons, from the resentful working classes, to the militant chattering classes, to the dismissive aristocracy, will forever lord it over Britain, about finally becoming a republic.

If it does happen, America will have perhaps 150 years of democratic history behind her, and will be the grand dame of established republics, save for Switzerland.

Whereas now, Britain holds the whip hand in the snobbish stakes.

No matter how grand a past America has built for herself in 200 years, with a monarchy being the living reminder of why she broke away from the mother country in the first place, nothing America can do, can erase the fact that Britain is still the dominant cultural partner, because of over 1000 years of monarchical history (give or take a year).

Americans are popularly believed as thinking they can buy everything with money.

But money can't buy you history. That needs year after year of accumulated sands of time to achieve.

Thus, this system of governance adds an immeasurable cache, and lustre to what can otherwise ridiculously become a parody of herself as a republic -- precisely like France has.

Long-time royalist opponent from Scotland, Willie Hamilton MP (a man whose particular bugbear was the Queen Mum, if you can believe that), once decided to put a motion on the floor, to abolish the monarchy, but before it even got to the voting stage, it was scuppered.

The reasons were many, but ultimately it came down to being just too unwieldy a process, to carry the day.

It's a nightmare scenario for any goverment who would try.

They'd have to jump through Parliamentary hoops simply to write the Bill, which by the way, if voted on and passed, the Queen would have to sign.

Then we'd have the pitiful spectacle of the Royal Family being cashiered to Sandringham House, captured by the BBC being hauled unceremoniously into their un-coat-of-armed Daimlers after teary farewells to their staff, since obviously the culture and the times don't have the blood-thirsty tendencies of the French or Russian Revolutions, which butchered their Royals.

People my age, and even older, make fun of the Royal Family, and think it's all a big palavah which should be scrapped.

I remember as a child, during the televised Christmas address by the Queen, being made to stand up by my grandfather (an otherwise politically liberal man), wearing our silly Christmas cracker hats, and having to listen to attention in front of the television set, until mercifully, the 5-10 minute speech was over.

That seems centuries ago, but in fact, as you see, it's within my lifetime. And all throughout, I kept thinking, this is stupid. The woman can't see us.

Certainly the wish for a republic is there.

But when it comes right down to it, no one will do anything about it.

It's just too dismal a process to think about.

Maybe like Emperor Franz Josef, the present Queen is a kind of glue that binds a nation together, without which it would fall apart -- as indeed Austria-Hungary did, spurred on by a World War.

But the one lesson of history is this:

Longetivity smooths over the rough patches of life, and gives perspective.

And as my grandfather, he of the funny customs, once said:

If the monarchy can survive the Abdication of Edward VIII for a twice-divorced American hussy, it can survive anything.

At least, he got that right.

So Happy Birthday, ma'am.

May you live long enough to send yourself a congratulatory telegramme when you turn 100.


FUN FACTS ABOUT ELIZABETH II

Nickname: Lilibet, because she couldn't pronounce "Elizabeth" as a kid

Favourite Television Programme: Kojak

Favourite activities: Dog-calling (the ancient art of guiding dogs to track fallen game); crossword puzzles, the devilishly difficult Sunday Times one, which she is said to finish in less than 10 minutes; gossiping with Palace servants; reading PD James, Dick Francis and other murder mysteries (she especially liked Agatha Christie, and her favourite is said to be Roger Ackroyd, which was inspired by an idea to Christie, by Lord Louis Mountbatten); sent her first email, via a British Army base, in 1976!

Favourite Prime Minister: Harold Wilson, because he made her laugh -- in fact, most of her Labour PMs have been her favourites, and her Tory ones, the least

Favourite Tipple: A sloe-gin fizz

Best Sign You've Upset Her: She twirls her wedding band around, glares at you with her ice-blue eyes, and clams up. Her children call this, her "Miss Piggy" look



Royal Firsts: First female British Royal to learn to drive a car. First to be seen in trousers publicly. First Queen to use the mild, but still coarse epithet "bloody" in public (in Australia, about the bloody wind), although her grandmother, the redoubtable Queen Mary, once replied to a sailor when he asked her if she would ever take another long cruise on a ship -- "buggered if I will"

Funniest Use of "EIIR" Royal Monogramme: On the toilet paper rolls in Windsor Castle -- I know, I stole one

Breast Man

I could have commented on the recent, enormous controversy we had locally here in Miami-Dade county yesterday, when the Board of Education authorised the book "A Visit To Cuba" to be read in the public schools, but I thought, eh.

Sundries readers don't want to be treated to yet another round of Victoria whinging about Castro, and how the liberal educational establishment constantly pander to the lies of Castro's Cuba -- complete with photos of jolly kids in Communist Pionero kerchiefs.



You know what the outcry would be if your local school board had allowed a book called "Let's Visit Hitler's Germany" or "A Fun Day in Soweto", with happy pictures of Hitlerjugend kiddies frolicking around with their newly socialised health care system physiques.

The New York Times and the Miami Horrible would've had a collective fit. But a grade school book portraying the benefits of visiting El Comandante's Cuba, oh that's okay.

Pfff. Hypocrites. Whatever. You know where I stand.

So, instead let me bring you this giggle-inducing story. You CANNOT believe it's true -- but it is.

Imagine you are a woman in a condo, and some elderly guy rings the doorbell. He tells you he's a medical doctor, conducting free breast exams in the neighbourhood, and would you like one?

Let's pretend you are temporarily insane, and say yes.

He proceeds to "examine" your breastesses, and then reaches under your skirts to "examine" your genitals.

This is when it hits you -- hey, maybe he's not a doctor.

Well fact is stranger than friction, my friends.

It happened in Coconut Creek (heh), Florida when a 77-year-old guy named William Winikoff did just that, to not one, but two, and possibly more women Wednesday.

Reports that he doubles as Glenn Quagmire in Family Guy, are as yet, uncorroborated.



Jesus Joseph and Mary...now I know why those Nigerian scammers are so successful.

And yet another reason why men and women are simply "wired" differently.

What are the chances, ya think, that a 77-year old woman would conceive of roaming around apartment buildings, ringing doorbells, asking men if they want a penis exam?

Actually, skip that. I don't want to know.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Give It To Them

One more film blogpost, but with a much more important message.

JSU sent me a link about the desperate reactions to the United 93 film, by some moviegoers in select markets.

As Ace reports, some people shouted "too soon! too soon!" at the screen, and the film actually had to be pulled in some theatres, due to the emotional upheaval caused.

In my previous post, not coincidentally named Too Soon, I sat my derriere firmly on the fence about the timing of the film -- whilst I personally have reasons why watching events from 9/11 might be too soon for me, I don't deny that we need to watch this film, all of us.

On top of that, instead of being typical Oliver Stone abortion of a film, full of contorted conspiracy theories and "blaming the victim" mentality, which is more than debilitating, it's dishonourable, this version will pull no punches about the very real sacrifice those people on United 93 made.

And bully for the efforts to make all those people on that plane, posthumous recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honour!

Are you kidding me that Charles Lindbergh's solo flight from America to Europe, which was indeed very intrepid, would deserve a Congressional Medal Of Honour, but not the people who knowingly risked their lives to save...the Capitol, or the very White House?

Give it to their families, immediately.

Charles Lindbergh survived his flight. These Americans did not.

And to boot, they did it, staring evil in the face.

NOTE: It is the Congressional Gold Medal that is being proposed, to be given to these brave Americans. A technicality -- we all know what it means.

Squids, Bees, And Friends

After missing its very limited release last year, today, I finally watched the Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche film, Bee Season.

Unlike perhaps Reader_Iam, I hadn't read the reputedly excellent novel by Myra Goldberg, on which this film is based.

I honestly thought that it was about a spelling bee -- a kind of Jewish Akeelah and the Bee, which coincidentally debuts quite soon.

By the way, I love the archly American obsession with spelling bees.

I also hope Americans realise a spelling bee is the perfect vehicle for showing off the quirks of their culture.

Think about it:

It's a democratic process, emphasising youth, with random word selection playing the luck angle for all its worth.

The youngster who gets an easy word, could be the son of an Indian immigrant who works at a motel, as easily as it could be the daughter of a Jewish doctor.

No matter how much tutoring is involved, (and anyone who has watched the documentary based on spelling bees, Spellbound, knows that it is rife), it's as nothing if the kid has a memory lapse, or gets stage fright, or cannot handle the pressure during the small moment in time, he or she is "on".

The word could be difficult for one person, and easy for another.

Intelligence plays a role, but so does memory retention, and concentration -- but even after all of that is factored in, some kids just luck out on guessing how a word is spelt.

In other words, it's about democracy, cut-throat competition, and talent, mixed with luck, plus chutzpah.

I don't know a better culture which showcases that particular mixture, than America.

(Contrast this to the contest fare we like in Britain -- there's "University Challenge": a carefully selected panel of University students, who get to show off their uniquely acquired erudition; the creme de la creme which one percent of Britons, belong to. The late, lamented Mastermind and recently, The Weakest Link, which is merely a vehicle for Anne Robinson to humiliate everyone around her, just reinforce that we revel in arcane minutiae and quips)

Little did I anticipate, then, that Bee Season was a rather quirky, elegant, taut but ultimately unsatisfying film, yet one certainly not unwatcheable.

The premise is that a religious studies professor, rather full of himself and his ideas on life (anchored by his belief in Tikkun Olam -- the piecing together of the broken shards of light, symbolic of our distance from God), is married to a Frenchwoman who bears a terrible emotional scar.

Their children are barely aware about the tensions, but they try to seek attention from their narcissistic father, by trying to placate him by excelling -- at anything.

It could be Jewish mysticism, or it could be spelling bees, but it has to be something which is sure to reflect well on him, by association.

Within such situations, there is usually a child who rebels, and one who peacemakes, although not being a child of divorce, I only know this anecdotally.

As I watched the film, I found myself uttering outloud,

"This is like a combination of The Squid and The Whale, and Pi."

And if you haven't seen either film, do.

They're both very intriguing, with TS&TW being perhaps my favourite film of 2005 -- a true gem.

TS&TW is an autobiographical story by Noah Baumbach which is as brutal a look at a crumbling family, as I have seen on the American screen.

Though the acting by the mother, played by Laura Linney, is exceptional, the film is truly is held together by the awkwardly vicious portrayal by Jeff Daniels.

He's precisely this kind of narcissistic man, whose pronouncements and associations, must be of the very best -- the better to make him look good, of course.

I'll never forget the odd gasp of surprise I made, when the Jeff Daniels character called anything he thought was wonderful, "the filet" -- as in mignon.

It was a term he employed with pathetic frequency as his circumstances declined, and yet it is precisely this usage which rang true, and made him very vulnerable as a character.

(I've met people like this. They'realmost all social climbers like Hyacinth Bucket, to a man and woman. Harmless, but very very irritating)

Perhaps this is it with Bee Season.

Richard Gere cannot portray the slightest bit of vulnerability, or let his guard down emotionally, until the very last scene of the film, by which time you don't care.

It could be a moment to shine, like Jeff Daniels, by leaving his ego behind, but you are never unaware it is not the Buddhist poster child up there (as the IMDB forum members so comically put it).

Bee Season also reminds me of Darren Aronofsky's PI, but merely because of the mysticism involved, which however, was treated very well in both films.

Despite making fun of New Age Kaballists and their smarmy ilk, Jewish mysticism greatly interests me, and I'll watch just about film on the topic.

Ultimately, Bee Season perhaps is too unwieldy a topic to adapt for the screen.

It relies on too much hidden secrets, something which tends to creep its audience out -- if not dealt with, deftly.

Now, Friends with Money, which debuts this weekend around secondary markets, will be quite the opposite.

At first, I was astounded it wasn't a Coen Brothers special, but given my declining interest in their films of late, perhaps its just as well.

However, I'm very gratified that at least, the topic is unusual enough, and signals yet again, the continued chatty, "adult" films Hollywood have made in the past year.

I've already heard the uneven reviews the film is getting, but the mere fact that subject matter is a complete departure from hokey formulaic premises, means I'll definitely look foward to seeing it, this weekend.

And blogging about it later.

Watch this face.

Houston, We Don't Have A Problem (Um...)

After monitoring the connexion today, it seems that finally, I am back online at home.

I asked for and got, a substantial credit on our internet bill (last month, $160, down from the $250 I mentioned once, but that will increase due to my adding on the baseball, Extra Innings package for $179, next month).

I urge all of you who are shy, or feel embarrassed about asking for credits/refunds for anything, to do so.

There isn't a pizza that hasn't arrived stone cold, which I haven't asked for a credit.

I've rarely been denied, and the few times I have been, I never gave them my custom again.

Plus, I spread the word about them, to boot.

Heck if I'll pay for bad service, and neither should you.

UPDATE (1:36 AM EST): Too good to be true...no cable TV at the moment, and though I don't exactly know how they can separate the two services, it seems I do have internet at the moment of writing.

At least tonight, my mother got through to their answering service, and it seems they are blaming the long-lasting outtages, now over a week long, on "effects of Hurricane Wilma on the lines".

Whatevah.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Giada -- The Newest Chef Superstar

Tell me:

Have you heard of Giada De Laurentiis?

You may know her, three ways.

One, she's the unforgettable Sylvana Mangano's granddaughter. Va va va voom, right?

Two, she's Dino de Laurentiis' granddaughter, the producer of such films as Serpico; one of my favourite films of all time, La Notti di Cabiria; War & Peace; and erm, Conan the Barbarian. Who knew?

And thirdly, you may have caught her Food TV Network cable channel show, called Everyday Italian.

Until February of this year, I had never heard of Giada.

Then, one fine day, after I had made my New Year's Resolution to learn how to cook (at last), I was channelsurfing around the various Home, Food, And DIY channels, when I chanced on:

Giada's Italian Holiday

Oh. My. Lord.

What a delight this girl is -- soft, feminine, not a whit full of herself, and unbelievably sweet.

And of course, beautiful.

That never hurts, with both the male and female viewers.

Her beauty is not overbearing in manner and presence, but rather is a play between her eyes and the camera, which just eats her up.



I remember telling Renato later, who by the way, told me the name Giada is not unknown (albeit that was the first time I had heard of it -- it apparently means "Jade"), that I have no earthly idea why that raspy-voiced, irritating Rachael Ray is all the rage these days.

She hasn't a patch on Giada.

He told me that apparently, Oprah Winfrey has taken Ray under her wing, and is her latest "project", like Dr. Phil was.

Apparently, I am not the only one who is less than beguiled by Ray, as this Slate article claims there are dozens of blogs dedicated to slamming her.

Might be one of the few Slate articles I read until the end.

Often, I find myself liking a cook or chef on the various shows, despite the fact that I don't like their cookery tips.

Take Rosemary Schrager, whose Michelin Man physique and bat-high voice grates more than a Parmesan recipe.

But, I respond to her earnest love of cookery, although I have yet to prepare anything she's done on her show, Rosemary: Queen of the Kitchen (which takes her around the US), other than the olive oil mashed potatoes.

(They were deee-licious)

Conversely, I don't like Cookin' in Brooklyn chef, Alan Harding's brusque manners, but I adore his recipes, and I've actually attempted more than one dish of his, with success.

Perhaps what I like about Chef Alan, is his no-fuss fussiness, which combines wanting the best ingredients, with good old-fashioned American unpretentiousness.

My favourite episode of his? The one where he forgets his anniversary, and makes it up to his wife, when he secretly invades the kitchen where she's eating that night, sans Alan.

The acting was as bad, as the rack of lamb turned out fabulously, even for me.

Lastly, another television chef I appreciate, is Prince Edward Island's own Michael Smith.

His spur-of-the-moment recipes I find mesmerising, since the one thing I lack STILL, is inspirational, instinctive cookery -- which I fear, one is either born with, or lacks entirely.

But with Giada, I feel that all my insufficiencies, are as nothing.

Her silky presence is as comforting to the novice, as to the professional.

I feel that her dishes are eminently do-able, which gives me confidence.

What is keeping her back from becoming a BIG BIG star, like Rachael Ray is poised to be?

The next Emeril, the next Molto Mario, the next Frugal Gourmet (whatever happened to him? Oh yeah, I remember...)?

Who knows.

Maybe it's precisely her high-flying family connexions that intimidates people, like Oprah, who perhaps sees in Rachael someone who is not unlike her -- talented, but clunky: at first.

Perhaps there is less room for improvement with Giada.

She is, quite literally, impeccable. Not just as a chef, but more importantly, as a woman.

That's a hard act to make greater.

Monday, April 17, 2006

She's Baaack!

What a nightmare.

It's not the first time my ISP go on "break" due to a long holiday. They pulled this stunt on us, two Christmasses back -- only then, it was Television AND internet, together.

Although I have basic cable, there are some "blacked out" channels, and of course, no internet for the weekend. In fact, when I left my home about half an hour ago, still no internet, so I will compose a Tuesday post, just in case.

I hope you all, plus your families have had a wonderful Easter.

I know I did, however stressful these kinds of events can be.

Why do families always get into a snit, during proctracted celebrations, eh, eh?

P.S.: I'm at the University lab, and will be composing posts and updating the comments, so please scroll below! Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Challenge



Despite all the minor vexations of all life, which we all of us experience, some days just bring a kind of radiant joy.

I'm not sure how you experienced it where you are, but Easter Day dawned sunny and gorgeous down here in South Florida.

I even took a trip down to a mall early Sunday, on our elevated subway, the Metrorail, a station of which you can see here.

Why? For no reason.

I love doing things for no reason.

The randomness of life is important -- it's more than just being spontaneous.

It's about being alive to possibilities.

And some days, those possibilities need to be made, rather than waiting for life to happen to us.

I challenge each of you, in the forthcoming week, to do something you weren't expecting to do.

For no reason.

Be it a bubble bath, be it a night of bingo, be it playing Twister naked.

Though you might want to think up a reason for that last one, in case anyone comes in.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Brazil's Got Next

It's long been known that after Germany 2006, some African country, as yet unknown, will get the very next World Cup, in 2010.

And according to Swiss-born FIFA President, Sepp Blatter's new system, this will launch a system of continent rotation, which "started" with:

Japorea 2002

...as many of us half-jokingly call the South Korea/Japan co-bid for the 2002 World Cup, which launched a thousand controversies.

So, after Asia, then Europe, then South America, apparently.

It's been since 1950 since 5-time World Cup champion, Brazil, have hosted their own World Cup.

And as we all know from the extremely painful, Maracanaço (Maracanazo in Spanish), this World Cup ended in bitter tears, when the hometown lads were walloped at home by Uruguay, 2-1.

The deal is, according to the rules at the time, Brazil only needed a draw to win the Cup for the first time, and they just blew it due to nerves -- albeit many Brazilians still blame the black goalie, Barbosa.

To this day, there is a common superstition against a Brazil team with a black goalie being able to win a World Cup. In the five times they have won the World Cup, they have had white goalies. And guess who is the starting goalie this year?

The black as your boots, Dida! We shall see, won't we.

Sepp Blatter even suggested that Argentina and Chile host the South American World Cup, but Chile recently declined to take up the cause -- which earned the CBF's (Confederation of Brazilian Football) deep gratitude to Chile.

Brazil not hosting a World Cup, is loosely analogous to no American cardinal being elected Pope.

You don't put the top dog in charge, since that's just not fair to the others, goes conventional thinking.

But I think that by 2014, those 64 years will be more than enough in terms of fairness.

After all, Brazil didn't win in WC 1950.

Who's to say they will in 2014 if they get to host it?

Apart from everyone, that is.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Blog Québécois Rips Me Off

Great was my woe when I discovered most of my funniest quips had already been said by the great Miss Dorothy Parker.

Well, fudge.

I'm sure it happens to all of us, since I swear to you, I discovered the word "gaydar", and when I started using it, immediately did I hear it all around me.

That was I, tells ya!!

Here's another situation, which may happen to you, with one of your coinages.

I posted this blogpiece on March 21, 2005, with the wonderfully cutesy title of:

Hello Mullah, Hello Fatwa

Pat pat, on my back.

But upon searching the other day, for the correct spelling of the denizens of Quebec, in their froggie tongue, I come upon this blog, with the same blogpost title.

Hello Muttah, Hello Fatwa

This time I am not putting down the punning gauntlet.

Revenge shall be swift, and painful.

Any lawyers in the house?

P.S.: Ugh. Apparently, the legal costs may just bury me. Look at all these copy-catters.

Times like this, PayPal donation cups were made for.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Personality

A small post, just to chew on, until I get back in the saddle.

Wednesday was a funny day. Part frustrating, part boring, part nervous.

Ever since I found out that nutter, President Ahmanejjad of Iran had announced his country had enriched uranium at last, I've been rather edgy and out-of-sorts (what, don't tell me I was the only one here?).

Like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know.

So, since a neighbour-friend of mine has lost her father recently, I took her out to a restaurant, just a few steps away from our condo.

I frequently go there, just to people-watch, and have a delicious meal, but to my astonishment, she had never been.

All throughout the meal, she exhibited the kind of nervy jumpiness, I felt inside -- only the cause of my unease, you already heard about above.

At the end of the evening together, she turned around, and half-whispered,

"You know, I don't feel I belong here. It's too fancy."

"Really? I think it's just perfect. Lots of good-looking people, good food, and a great location."

"Yeah. I'm glad I came. But whenever I come to places like this, I feel like it's too good for me."

I didn't say much, just smiled, so as to not to prolong any kind of embarrasment her admission might've caused her.

But you know, her words have stayed with me all night, until finally, I have written it down here.

I just want to say one thing, if on the off-chance, whoever should be reading this, happens to think the way this lady does.

Don't ever, ever feel something is too good for you.

That's just messed up.

There isn't a person alive who hasn't felt awkward in social situations, or coming into a room full of strangers, or that people are whispering about the get-up you're in.

That's normal.

For all my enormous ego, and by now, you know how huge it is -- I have felt that many times.

But by gum, I've never felt anything is too good for me, or that I'm not worthy of a special treat, or to go to an elegant eatery, because somehow, it's not my "crowd".

Screw that.

Enter like you own the place, look the snooty maitre in the eye, and speak up in a firm voice:

"Table for 1/2/3, please."

...and sit down and enjoy everything good life has to offer you.

Others do. You shouldn't? Why? What makes them so special -- money, looks, breeding?

Give me a break.

What makes people special is what has always made people special:

Personality.

Nietzsche said that "Character is destiny".

But I'll tell you:

Nothing beats a good personality, that knows how to use that character, to spit in destiny's eye.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Here I Am

Waiting for my ISP geeks to get my internet connexion working again...



See. You should always believe Renato.

P.S.: It was unstable until now. I lost two rather delicious idea-posts, so since it's late, I'll try to compose them later Thursday.

You know: not having connectivity SUCKS.

What did we do, before email and Google?? Hmm, hmm??

Do you believe people waited for weeks, to get a snail-mail reply in the post! It seems like ancient history.

Thank you, CIA, for making the internet possible. If it had been down to the KGB, we'd all still be buying beige envelopes. Ugh.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Good Morning

Loss Of Influence: The Black American In US Politics

It's almost understood that as a white person, you cannot opine on almost anything black, without your statements hovering around the "racist" word.

In fact, when Yeaghhhhhh!-meister, and then Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, tried to do it during the 2004 campaign and later, during the televised debates, he was promptly ridiculed to silence by fellow hopeful, Reverend Al Sharpton.

Dr. Dean also got a shellacking in the mainstream press, in a kind of walking on eggshells reaction which many white people self-regulate when the topic is broached openly by a white person, although many black analysts in the more marginalised press, were not so outraged.

Said the Black Commentator in 2003, about his December 7 speech,

"Howard Dean has taken history in his hands by hitching his ascendant campaign to a straightforward, anti-corporate message that does not pander to white racism. He presents whites in the South and elsewhere with the only principled choice they should be offered: to vote their interests, or vote for their bosses’ interests (if they are lucky enough to have a job). Although corporate media called Dean’s statement his “southern strategy,” it is in fact the only position that holds out any hope for a national Democratic victory in 2004 – whether enough southern whites emerge from their racist “false consciousness” or not."

And yet, the topic of race relations today, in the United States, is almost always defined by the target minority -- just as whether a sexual advance is either rape or a welcome approach, is always defined by women.

Since the heydey of the Civil Rights movement, when black Americans had angels on their side, there has been a progressive erosion of black influence in politics in this country.

Instead of the burgeoning ranks of politicians and ever-increasing successors to the message left behind by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there have been instead just pockets of political power, occuring usually in cities where black Americans have a traditionally vocal and physical presence in the structure of the city:

Atlanta, Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles being just some such examples.

Although New York City is a liberal city par excellence, it is noteworthy that only one black Mayor, David Dinkins, has made it to Gracie Mansion to date.

BLACK LEADERSHIP

Likewise, the promise of future Dr. Kings, that is, articulate, commanding and principled men of action, tempered with civility, is today a trickle.

Anyone from the Reverends Jesse Jackson, the above-mentioned Al Sharpton, to Julian Bond, and Kwame Mfume, have diluted the moral thrust of their message by anything from race-baiting tactics, to making comments which can only be described as highly racist, in tone.

This is without mentioning the everyday lunacy exhibited by Louis Farrakhan, whose ascendancy in the black community allowed much of his conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism to prevail unchallenged, when it should have automatically disqualified him from ANY kind of moral or civic leadership.

Much beyond these names, can be listed either fringe but memorable "heroes" like Malcolm X or any number of Black Panthers, and other activists whose hate-filled diatribes were received without much censure by otherwise peaceful members of society -- lost in their own guilt, and remorse of years of abuse towards blacks.

Although I personally deride white Americans' insistence on "spokesmen" from each representative community, which is often seen when opinions are sought by media, or in town hall meetings, almost as if we needed to have an official funnel of information from each group, it is also true that given American history, these men above, do posit themselves as black leaders, and should be judged as such.

They are given their status in the national discourse because of this very legitimacy in their community, so it is particularly galling when their behaviour doesn't correspond to this public trust.

Many black politicians have also failed to rally support to themselves, from other sectors of the American melting pot, not all of them white either.

For every Senator Barack Obama, there have been States in the Union who have never had a black politician elected to higher office, at all.

How galling must it be, then, for certain people to imagine that the most viably popular candidates for higher office, are often cited as Colin Powell then, and Condoleeza Rice, now.

Both black, yes. But both Republicans.

It may well be that if there is an US President who is black, one day, it could possibly be of the political party which many black Americans are antipathic to.

Furthermore, it is often disappointing to many black people that not all "people of colour" see themselves as their natural allies, and thus could form a solid bloc of support which could allow these joint groups, to gain political power in this country.

Historically, few immigrant groups have been the black Americans' greatest supporters than Jewish Americans, but as mentioned, often the anti-Semitic racism thrown around by certain leaders, have tempered the support by bewilderment, and disappointment.

Compounded to this, has been the fact that many black people see Jewish Americans as part of the white sphere, and though a minority, they are judged to be a minority of wealth, influence, and power.

HISPANICS

Perhaps, the most natural ally in political or societal terms would be Hispanic-Americans. Then, again, the situation is hardly anything but complex. Hispanic-Americans are hardly an unified, let alone homogeneous group -- present images of immigration protest, notwithstanding.

There are three very intricate reasons why Hispanics and blacks in the US are often more separated than united:

1- Language and cultural differences.

White Americans often complain of the gradual incursion of the Spanish language, through television and the emphasis of learning a second language in school, into the larger US culture.

Black Americans, however, often feel themselves even more sea at this linguistic incursion since data shows that they are less likely to learn a foreign language, than whites.

2- "Hispanics" are many.

The umbrella term Hispanics or Latinos masks the bald fact that Hispanic Americans often share little other than a common tongue -- Spanish.

Although the majority of Hispanics in the US are people of Mexican origin, Hispanics also include Caribbean peoples such as the often biracial Puerto Ricans, white Cubans, and indigenous or mixed South Americans.

It is common in the US to lump these groups together as a "race", but neither are they a race, nor do they share common political goals.

It is well-known that Cuban-Americans tend towards the Republican Party because of this Party's hardline tactics against Communism, but many of the more traditional mores of conservative politics can appeal to Hispanics, whose overwhelming cultural Catholicism hardly makes them goose-step politically to the Democratic Party.

It may well be the most open-secret in politics today, that the Republican Party has banked heavily on these Hispanic groups to at least quaver on occasion towards the Right.

3- Whites are not the only ones who can be racist.

Many Hispanics do, unfortunately, have views towards blacks which may edge or completely fall into the racist precipice.

How ever much they can be of dusky or olive skin, the mere fact that they are not black makes many Hispanics believe they are racially superior to blacks.

This is hardly the stuff of alliances, even expedient ones.

IT'S THE IMMGRATION, STUPID

Finally, there is one overriding reason why many Hispanics and blacks are often at loggerheads with each other.

It is a truism that immigrants, especially illegals or the very recently arrived, work at jobs the older immigrant groups no longer wish to do.

Since Black Americans were inevitably the ones who used to hold down these jobs, much resentment and competition arose when people felt that those jobs were now going to others -- workers whose unnaturally low wages makes it difficult to compete with them.

Whatever the social tensions, it is in one fact that leaps out today, more than any other.

Black Americans have been surpassed by Hispanic Americans as the largest minority group in the United States.

No longer, then, do politicians have to court black votes as tenaciously as they used to, pre-2000s.

And this stark decline in numbers, does translate into a stark decline in influence, and perhaps even in material relevance, to the greater political life in the US -- although to be sure, the picture is not always as bleak as the polling numbers game make them seem.

Even then, even after all these points have been digested and pondered over by all groups concerned, there is yet another reason why black Americans have a progressive loss of influence in the Amerian political scene.

THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WAS A LONG TIME AGO

Quite simply, the battles of today are not theirs.

The topic of race will always be part of the American cultural fabric, just as class is in Britain, or religion is in Ireland.

But since the great Civil Rights era, when rights were at long last accorded, and then, a system of trying to correct past imbalances were put into place for black Americans, known as Affirmative Action, there has not been an issue which other groups in the US have been able to rally around, in favour of black Americans.

If you think of the major issues facing the US today, at no point, can they be skewed as having a primary or even secondary black emphasis.

(A) The War on Terror

(B) Immigration Reform

(C) Gay Rights

(D) Abortion Question

(E) Social Security Reform

(F) Health Care


Altough it is certain that black Americans all qualify as being affected directly by these topics, they are not black-centric IN THEIR ENTIRETY, as the Civil Rights Era was about (despite other groups of colour or sex having benefited from the laws passed at that time, it goes without saying).

RACISM, DAILY AND GENERAL

Without a rallying flag, without a single-issue cause which can garner supporters from the majority white community especially (and there are no end of white Americans which would readily champion a cause central to black Americans), black Americans have to bring up the increasingly hazy, miasmic topic of 'racism', in their revindications.

But the problem with racism is that the topic has been corrupted, ever since the Civil Rights Era.

Where before the usage of derogatory words was common, no longer is the "n-word" ever EVER possible to be used in public by anyone who is, ironically, not black.

Whereas before there was school and societal segregation of the most demeaning and impossibly uncivilised kinds, such as separate water fountains, back-of-the-busness, and lunch counters which didn't allow blacks, now black Americans talk of taxis which do not stop.

...of sideways glances which can be just as injurious to self-respect, as thoughtless words -- but which nevertheless, can never compare in meaning.

...of "code words" used by whites, or political parties, which stand for racism but can not be pinned down as such, except by explanation.

In short, what was once in-your-face racism, has become the pin prickly, no doubt hurtful, daily but ultimately "just" grievances and slights of a more devious nature.

Nothing is out in the open anymore.

It can't be.

It's progress, in the starkest, most confusing sense.

The irony is that the Civil Rights Era taught people to be "smart" about racism, even people who are not racist, albeit sometimes can inadvertently act in race-conscious ways.

What we have today, then, can even be used against black people to show them up as throwing the race-card into a given topic.

The sad thing about this situation is that though this mindset can be abused by whites (that is, claiming that a race-card has been used, where no racism exists, although it very much can exist), it is indeed, also abused by black Americans, who have seen how society runs a mile when race in the US is mentioned -- and usually in their favour.

This attitude alienates non-blacks enormously, and that's the truth.

You can regulate how jobs seek applicants, how people address each other, where children are taught, but there is no way to regulate interpersonal relations, by government dictate.

It is this which was seen most recently in the Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney case, who allegedly slapped a Congress police officer, when he asked to see identification after not spying the Congresssional pin on her person.

At first, she was sheepish about the incident, but then, she seemed to reconsider after black leaders injected themselves into the matter, and claimed this was racism through "racial-profiling".

Racial profiling is a fact.

It happens on many levels; not just official ones.

It happens whenever a person is seated inside a car, with their windows rolled down, and they roll them up at the approach of a black person.

Although no racist words are exchanged, undoubtedly these types of incidents are racist in tone, and they hurt all concerned -- but especially the targets of such demeaning incidents.

But to the greater American public, what Congresswoman McKinney did was to use her race, or to allow others to use it for their purposes, to excuse or justify an action on her part which was inexcusable.

Again I say, this is where the natural support, sympathy or even tolerance of people breaks down.

It magnifies petty encounters between all people, who then use it in their minds to generalise about people they have dealt with, or know.

Of course, one incident can never stand for a whole social condition, nor explain it.

I only mention it here to emphasise anew my point, that "soft racism" like racial profiling and the lack of adequate taxi driver respect is just not enough a rallying flag towards black Americans.

And without a cause like the Civil Rights movement, the culmination of which was over 100 years in the making, this lack of cohesive argument in their favour, does not translate into a broader political base.

Never would anyone argue that it might even have been better that the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 and subsequent bills of enfranchisement, in the latter-part of the 60's, had not been passed -- just so that they could still have that potent political and societal cause on their side.

But the topics which most grip Americans by the throat today, simply are not about blacks only.

Without that emphasis, black Americans become just one more group, important in many ways, but not numerically-speaking which to be counted on, even amongst themselves, for votes.

BLACK MIAMI

As a very last point, I'd like to mention something about the area I live in:

English-speaking, Black Miamians are possibly one of the most politically voiceless people in a large metropolis, in the United States.

Due to the recent founding and population of this area, no one group of people was able to dominate it until the Cuban-Americans arrived.

Despite a vicious fight between "Anglo" transplants, Southern whites, and newly-arrived Cubans, this tension didn't result in a positive situation for black Miamians.

In fact, their political power in this city has practically eroded to nothing on all levels, save that of local governmental bureaucracy.

Black Miamians, despite some riots in the early and late 1980s, tend also not to have a very politically astute leadership with only one man, Bishop Victor Curry, having anything approaching the Al Sharpton-like authority, the latter does in New York City.

Try as Bishop Curry might, on the airwaves and in certain neighbourhoods, I don't think many people outside of his community even know he exists -- and his resentful anti-Cuban attitudes certainly do him no favours in this town.

Congressman Kendrick Meek, son of political trailblazer Carrie Meek, is one of the few black American politicians of note, and even so, he enjoys not much more than nominal support from either white Americans or Cuban-Americans here.

Corruption scandals dogged the late commissioner, Art Teele, who shockingly committed suicide in the lobby of the Miami Herald, after having been the target of a corruption piece by a journalist there.

I always thought if some black Miamian had a chance to be Mayor, it would be he, but on speaking to others since this unbelievable event, I was told I was very much wrong.

He was not liked, by and large.

There literally, to the best of my knowledge, is no black Miamian who could even be thought to be on the short-list to be Mayor one day, and forget sooner than later.

One might ask, why is this position so important, but if Tip O'Neill was right (at least about this), if indeed "all politics is local", there can be no greater political feather in one's cap, than to lead your city as Mayor.

However, the mayor's office is a Cuban-American post in a lock, and has been for almost two decades now, in the same way that Irish-Americans seized control of the position for the longest time in Boston.

PREDICTION

So, here goes another prediction:

I predict that if Miami were ever to have a black Mayor in the near future, say in the next 25 years, it will be an Haitian-American Mayor, first, than an English-speaking black Mayor.

Haitian-Americans show the same solidarity, and civic duty in voting, than have had Cuban-Americans in 40 years, and for this reason, I believe they can achieve political goals previously dreamt only by black Miamians.

Alas, it is not even certain that many black Miamians would vote for a Haitian-American for Mayor, since the two groups often coexist with animus, on both sides.

Possibly few things could better describe the loss of political influence by Black Americans, than this situation here in Miami, between two groups who nominally have the same skin tone.

But not the same viewpoint, attitudes, and certainly not causes.

Haitian-Americans struggle every day against racism and derogatory remarks, always shaded towards a vision of being thought of as slightly countrybumpkin and inferior, being from a country in constant turmoil, but the sadness here is that the abuse is often from black Americans.

As ever, in America, and therefore Miami, I think one charismatic, or principled, or possibly controversial figure can arise to unite various groups, to gain political power.

But for all these reasons above, the loss of influence felt in the black communities, is one which has no quick fix.

It took a while for black Americans to get a piece of the pie.

Let's hope the recipe can be remembered, before it's too late.


 




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