Saturday, December 30, 2006

Seasonal Love Poem

"Christmas Card to Grace Hartigan"
by Frank O'Hara

There's no holly, but there is
the glass and granite towers
and the white stone lions
and the pale violet clouds. And
the great tree of balls in
Rockefeller Plaza is public.

Christmas is green and general
like all great works of the
imagination, swelling from minute
private sentiments in the desert,
a wreath around our intimacy
like children's voices in a park.

For red there is our blood
which, like your smile, must be
protected from spilling into
generality by secret meanings,
the lipstick of life hidden
in a handbag against violations.

Christmas is the time of cold air
and loud parties and big expense,
but in our hearts flames flicker
answeringly, as on old-fashioned
trees. I would rather the house
burn down than our flames go out.

[Many thanks and love to ZPC for bringing this poem to our attention.]

Hacking Hacking Netflix

Since starting her own blog, Betty has become intrigued by that desktop underground known as the "blogosphere" (though she prefers to call it the "blogalaxy"). In a writing class two years ago, Betty wrote a piece on the word "blog", comparng it to the word "blob", which is what a dedicated blogger may necessarily bloat into, and "blah blah blah", which is all blogs represented to her tired, beseiged eyes. But no longer!

In her latest blogspolrations Betty has discovered blogs that may serve as a truly independent alternate media, run by bloggers who are committed, alert, and as rigorous in their craft as any true artist or civil servant. While most of these exemplary blogs tend to be about one subject, the best of these turn that subject into a world, and expose the infinite variations, threads, and relationships that govern and sustain it. They show you how to look at their singular obsession - whatever it may be - anew, and they do it a way that connects this obsession to the wider world of the non-obsessed.

Because Betty is obsessed with Netflix, it's no wonder she was initially drawn to Hacking Netflix, a blog run by an ardent Netflix fan that has turned into a community affair. This site has taught Betty much more than just the other meaning of "to hack" (which is "to know everything about").

Hacking Netflix is as attractive and easy to navigate as its spiritual predecessor, and its moderator poses thoughtful questions to the readers, often while simultaneously bringing other Netflix-inspired issues and topics to their attention (e.g. the meaning of "ontology", the ethics of DVD burning, and updates on competing technologies and services, whether emerging or still theoretical). He and his interactions with his readers show that Netflix and our relationship to it reflects much more than just our taste in movies. In our relationship with Netflix may be contained our view of community, society, capitalism, the role of art, and our ideas of work and play. I would love to see them tackle more about what drives Netflix obsession, adoration, even love. Is it those big red envelopes packed just for you by a stranger?

While the reader comments can sometimes be inane and reactive and the moderator is at times infuriatingly neutral on the politics and ethics of business deals, the site couldn't be more fascinating or fun to read and to ponder.If you are a devotee or even just a follower of the Netflix revolution (five million members and $300 million in postage strong), this site will suck you in. Add it to your queue; make it a friend.

[Photo courtesy of dubsyuhs]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rhode Island Blithdale Romance

A map of Rhode Island farms. Courtesy RI Department of Environmental Management.

My friend and former teacher Selma Moss-Ward has written an excellent piece on small Rhode Island farms in Tuesday's Providence Journal. She makes you want to visit when she writes:
People drive and bike and walk past every day of the year, always expecting to see something at Fenner Hill Farm. The farm does not disappoint. Besides the strong brown barn with its dark green wreath, besides the calm blue house surrounded by meadows and fruit trees, passersby see sheep that safely graze. They see chickens and peacocks pecking in the barnyard. And nine months a year they see the market cart at the end of the drive, laden with seasonal offerings. But its hibernation begins on the day after Christmas.
Unfortunately, the hibernation has begun for this year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Good Shepherd = The Crap Movie

From the department of Boxing Day Stupor:

We went to see The Good Shepherd, which Betty has been excited about for some time now. She should have been warned off by the sight of an incomprehensible, mumbling and hazy-faced Robert De Niro trying to avoid making eye contact with cameras whenever he is asked about the film, but no; all she could think about were those lucious pictures of Angelina Jolie exiting her trailer in the heydey new adopted family members Brad and Zahara (Shiloh was just a twinkle in their eyes). Really, all I associated this movie with was candid images from magazines that I loved. Brad Pitt toting baby wipes and formula around the set! Angelina in those 1940s dresses that actually look nothing like what people in the 1940s actually wore! It's all good!

Anyway, this movie sucked. It had major pacing problems (or was it just booooring? Time will tell!), introduction and resolution of character problems, music problems, script problems (there is no part for the female lead and no, that is not "the point"). Matt Damon was fine, even good, but Woody Allen's Match Point examined the same character and managed not to suck. So rarely do I feel that time is wasted, but this movie laid to waste some time, and here's how I know: three friends, eight hours of ZZZs, two cokes, and a bag of M&Ms came with me to this movie, and I still wanted to nod off, or least splash some color in there.

Anyway, if you do decide not to listen to me, as I would have decided not to listen to me, tell me this: Are we suppose to believe that this is how swanked-out couples met and mated in the 1940s? Angelina, you have broken my heart a little with your kind of shitty acting and your participation in this run-around.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Altar of Cinema

We waited in the rain for 45 minutes to get into Dreamgirls at the Uptown, and it's one of the best all-around movies - big screen entertainment that sweeps you along in its long but swift view of Motown, pop music, cities and fashion since the 1950s. It was great except for:

- a strange kind of demonization of prefab pop music that also comes off as a somewhat racist idolization of soul music as more "natural" and "real".

- when it broke into balladry out of nowhere (and Jamie Foxx sang).

- the end. While I don't care that it's not true to history, the history may make a better story.

Other than this, it was awesome. There is so much history here, Jennifer Hudson is as amazing as everybody says, Beyonce is great, gracious, graceful and understated (and a national inspiration), Jamie Foxx is classic, Eddie Murphy just reminds me of SNL but the early musical numbers are wonderful, the dancing is ecstatic and precise all at once. The directing is clean, loves details, and is at times dreamlike. Some of the songs are weak, but so are some of the songs they were based on. The ones that stick will last forever. The biggest movie since Titanic.

Holiday Album Part Two: Dreamgirls (and Dreamdogs)


Images of Chrismukkah, 2006:

1) Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson as big-hearted heroines, Jamie Foxx as a perfectly boos-worthy villian. Clapping in the movies!

2) Mami's Cuban black beans for dinner.

3) Hershey kisses from a candy cane container for dessert.

4) A rousing game of "Celebrity" with clues like "Diana Ross", "Cary Grant", "Spike Lee", "Hannukah Harry" and "Ethel Merman".

5) "The Bishop's Wife" on the telly. Cary Grant is an angel!

6) Stockings stuffed.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Feliz Navidad: Reindeer Pedro's Bilingual Christmas


Two ways to celebrate a bilingual Christmas this year:

Augie Rios' "Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus?" - which has the incomparable line, "Oh Pancho, Oh Vixen, Oh Pedro, Oh Blitzen..."

David Rieff's article, "Nuevo Catholics", in today's NYT Magazine, about how Latino immigrants are changing the American Catholic Church.

See you at midnight Misa.

(At right - Preparing for the annual procession for the Virgin of Guadalupe in the parking lot at the Holy Spirit Church in Los Angeles. Raphaël Dallaporta for The New York Times, NYTimes.com)

Friday, December 22, 2006

That Was the Month that Was

Before we sweep out Decemeber and 2006, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater and remember to remember this crowded, swift and pretty snowless month:

* Augusto Pinochet died, Chileans and the world reflected.

* Britney got up to more tricks, but we still like her music.

* Lots of animals entered our hearts, and our homes.

*Some beautifully naive sponge creatures got in there, too.

[Photo courtesy of Ashenzil]

holiday cookies

Betty felt like God the Creator last night as she rolled and pressed, framed and cut out, little men made of molasses and spice.

Making gingerbread man cookies is so fun because you may select the thickness and shape of each individual cookie, then smush the cookie up with a rolling pin if you don't like it! It's the closest some of us will ever get to being sculptors. More constructively, towards the end you may also smush together scraps of spare dough to make a man.

When Betty was buying cookie supplies, she actually FORGOT the name for "cookie cutters" (cookie stencils? she was thinking) - proving that some terms would rather become social cliches used year-round than remain useful seasonal indicators.

Here's the Joy of Baking recipe Betty more or less followed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

holiday dread (or the night of the living dead)

venus infers that the u.s. is a couple-centric fiefdom.
v. has arrived at this conclusion after this last week's string of endofyear parties. well, v did not actually go to that wonderful party in beverly hills 90210 that dearest betty actually happened to go to. so it wasn't in l.a. that v. had this epiphany. however being uncoupled and detached as v. is of late, this could have dawned on us anywhere (even here in houston, where v is blogging from now, and where there is almost none competitive mingling contemplated in the program).

the setting is the museum (as usual: not that one but the other one). the crowd, geriatric-- the usual suspects plus the blue-haired set. v. walks into the atrium (it's apparently called "the great hall," as in "the great hall of the people" but without "the people" in it), and catches up with ks who kindly introduces her sister. and then says-- welll, en-joy! and leaves v. staggering aimlessly among the living dead. was it ks's ploy to ruin v's evening? could she ever be that cunning and evil?

for it was then that it dawned on v. that receiving a paper invitation, with really bad layout and a microsoft office-esque holly-looking garnish on the top margin, didn't occlude the fact that this was a party to have been escorted to, hopefully by someone that could make interesting conversation. luckily v. had actually managed to see the dress code and looked fabulous as always, but what good is fabulous when you are staggering alone and aimless among the living dead?

so, the moral of the story is: even when you get really badly printed invitations, make sure to go to the event with someone to talk to. especially so when it smells of the blue-haired set.

but even if you go with someone, things might go awry. this was the case two nights ago. v happened to infiltrate a party that ended up being one of those parties not to be infiltrated at all. this is, v. spent some two hours discussing issues in population biology and the fabulous flora of the pleistocene.

better yet: avoid endofyear parties. if they are avoidable.

Monday, December 18, 2006

She's Making a List

Betty is in love with many people and she wants them to know it.
But when Christmas, Hannukkah (already underway!), and Christmakkah roll around what to get..

* the mom who gave her light and already owns the world's cutest dog and likes shopping for herself?

* the cute little sister who has enough books to read and good taste in music and lots of cool t-shirts she found for herself at thrift stores?

* the nice friends who make her life brighter and better?

* the beloved Bimbo?

* the various and sundry co-workers?

The key is to strike the balance between symbolism and sentiment, but the task is really hard! Betty will wait for inspiration to strike, and for your ideas.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Malibu Memories

Strapped into her new lipstick-red four-door, Betty drove to Malibu today to meet pal Ben. The driving on Las Virgenes Road was treacherous (just like virginity!), but she made it just fine. The air was crisp but the mountains by the ocean and the light that draped them were heartstopping. Still thinking about Chile because of recent events, including pal NGK's beautiful wedding! - if Los Angeles is Santiago, Malibu is certainly Valparaiso, minus the population and the colorful acensores (hillside elevator trams). Let's just say Pablo Neruda might have found fewer simple objects of inspiration in the 'bu. But the Pacific Ocean in either hemisphere covers all Betty's visual needs.

Ben and Betty munched on sandwiches and cupcakes at Malibu Kitchen as tanned runners and yappy dogs snapped and attacked, stretched out and yawned. Ben is going to be a great lawyer someday, if he can just make it through another year and a half of nonstop study.

After a walk on the soft sands of Zuma, Betty toured the Pepperdine campus, which is charmingly overrun by deer and raccoons coming down from the hills. Betty and Ben stopped to snap this blurry cell-phone photo of a fearless baby dear with big ears (in the background).

On the drives there and back, Betty listened to some KICKASS Chopin piano hits. He's so thuddy and melodic, that Chopin. Betty can't imagine anything better.

Now Betty and Nancy D. are off to eat some latkes and jelly donuts. Happy Hannukah, everybody!!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

I'm in Love with My Car - or am I?

One of Betty's favorite Queen songs is "I'm in Love with My Car". Rock and roll, a genre which Betty sometimes is, and is often aspiring to be, has long revelled in the freedom and independence granted by these four-wheeled chariots. But are cars all they're revved up to be?

Betty drove into L.A. last night and was once again relieved and amazed by the view from the top of the freeway. At last, a real city! City lights! Etc. But then...

The car lost its mind, and started acting like a lying cad, telling Betty she was going 80 when she was going 40, refusing to shine its lights on the road at the same time as it illuminated the dashboard or played the radio, and generally just flipping out. So Betty and Nancy D. drove from downtown to Studio City on the Ventura freeway with one inside light on and all bets off.

Besides being horrible for the environment and keeping us away from each other, cars can suck in a million other little, tiny, life-threatening, sanity-assaulting ways. Nancy D. and Betty will be stopping by the Burbank Airport to trade in their little monster before going to the malls this afternoon, and then to their friend's (and Venus' friend's) wedding in Beverly Hills, 90210! But there will always be - at least for this wandering New Yorker and carless, careless Mainer - something alluring about the anonymity, the speed, and even the rules of the road.

Friday, December 15, 2006

...the end.




absolutely brilliant, as usual, the chacón brigade, formerly one of the propaganda organs of the chilean communist party, launched its own farewell party for the dictator.

the image on the bottom reads (just like my last post's title) "there's no evil that lasts a hundred years..." (the unofficial rest of the proverb says "... and no fucker that sucks it up!"). they placed this on the walls of what looks like the underpass by santa lucía.

the image on top, referencing 19th century chilean hero arturo prat, in turn says, "be strong, mr. satan... 'tis an unequal fight"
this one's apparently up by the brazilian embassy, right by los héroes (you can see the beautiful palace in the background).


images from lanacion.cl

The 25-Year-Old-Denvergin

Howdy and Hola from Denver!
Betty got here late last night and wasted no time getting majorly lost not far from -I am not kidding - "Gun Club Road" while searching in vain for the city center. One funny thing about the drive in from the Denver airport is that downtown shines and beckons like Oz, but the rest of the metro area is SO QUIET. She couldn't see the Rockies in the darkness, but now she can, and they are a comforting presence that reflect the sunlight mysteriously.

When Betty lived in Santiago, Chile, she loved how it would be scorching hot on the ground and you could still see lots of snow in the mountains. Today is unseasonably mild downtown, but there's that snow blanket, outlining the spikes and crags on the horizon!

Downtown Denver is low to the ground and maintains a trading post feel. It's very quiet on the streets during the day. Betty is scared of the Coors-sponsored brand of Republicanism that has great influence, financial and therefore cultural, in Colorado. Ultra-evangelical and right-wing Colorado Springs isn't far from here. The immigrant rights struggle in this state continues to face great adversity from outspoken hate groups and frightened or closed-off politicians. Of course, Betty has not actually MET Denver's boogeymen, and all the Coloradans she has encountered have been startlingly, midwesternly friendly. She misses New York, but not the quiet grimaces.

Today Denver visited El Centro Humanitario Para Los Trabajadores, a unique workers' center and member of NDLON that has members from all of the world (this morning Betty met workers from Mexico, Peru, Australia, Russia, and the U.S.). Betty was inspired by the members' spirit, but dispirited by the lack of financial support the center has faced because people don't want to provoke the Minutemen, who are active in Colorado (which, remember, is the home of Tom Tancredo). The workers have made the space their own (they painted it inside and out and constructed the offices and lockers inside), and although job season has been slow this winter, remained in optimistic spirits. I want to highlight the work of their women's group, which runs successful sewing and cooking business (and let Betty try some yummy Tamales), and beautifies the center with their art, like this awesome Spongebob pinata.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Waiting on a Finicky Fox

Last week Betty got really into flickr, which is like YouTube for artists and people with attention spans.

One photographer (of many) whose work impressed her was Josh Schwartzmann, whose visit to New York City in 2005 yielded some of the only images of urbanity in his collection. I asked Josh about the difference between shooting in nature and shooting in the city, and here's what he said:

As a photographer, the forest will always be more interesting to me than the city, as it is a far more complex and aesthetically interesting place, a place that has no voice for itself – so I feel the desire to capture and share it with others.

Wildlife is much easier to find in the city than in the wilderness. If you’re a wildlife photographer, you must have an infinite amount of patience; you are slave to the schedule of your subject, the elusive owl or finicky fox.

There's one obvious similarity when shooting in built or natural environment. In any photographic situation, whether in the wilderness or on Canal Street, light is the underlying fundamental element. Whether you head out for the local snowcone vendor, or the snow-topped peaks, consciously picking the right the light is the underlying basis to creating visually interesting photographs.

In the end, though, the city will always be less interesting to photograph because it is a solely human environment. The forest is always more intriguing because of the random arrangement of everything, the infinite levels of design, from overall design of the flora and fauna, the interactions of the millions of species, to the infinite tessellations in the macro photograph of a fern leaf.

The fern leaf can’t talk about itself or its unique environment, but as a photographer I can try to capture that and show humans in the human-designed environment that there is something else out there. Something with aesthetic beauty, complexity and interconnection – that I feel as a photographer is more important to share with the world than the built environment.

The Categorical Imperative

Dear Readers and Poster Children,

In the interests of making the site easier to navigate, and archived posts easier to find, we are assigning categories to all blog posts starting today. Please bear with us during this period of transition! Categories will appear on the blog's sidebar soon. If you are a contributor and feel one of your posts has been mislabeled, by all means make the changes you want.

xoxoxo
Love,
Betty & Bimbo

Britney Spears: Yet Another Sincere Appreciation

In recent weeks, it has been easy to feel onceself gravitating towards Britney Spears.

First, she lost that loser husband and the next day he was saying nasty things about her and shopping at Wal-Mart. US Weekly has the pictures to prove it, along with a shot of a triumphant Britney striding through Times Square, as news of her divorce scrolls across an electronic screen behind her. She was so doing well when she debuted that cute brown bob haircut and came to New York. At least 72 hours passed before Britney began worrying us again and making poor choices.

Britney's life story and elusive anti-personality have always compelled Betty, but what about the music that she used to make? It's certainly in danger of being forgotten among the fanfare, Vegas weddings, reality shows and diapers, so Betty dusted off her copy of Britney Spears Greatest Hits: My Prerogative to bring you this report.

Track One, "My Prerogative" is awesome. This is Britney sticking it to the haters! Can you handle her truth?! She gives a preview of the growly thing with her voice that she will pull out again for "Stronger". The production is slammin', with lots of squeaky violins and robot effects on the vocals.

Track Two is "Toxic". Britney is kicking so much ass here. The greatest piece of watered-down hip-hop in the entire history of pop music.

By the time you get to Track 3 a.k.a. "Oops! I Did it Again" you might as well just give up. Britney is ON FIRE! And who the hell is playing bass on this song? He's a freaking genius!! The vocals are also exceptionally well recorded.

I think Track Four is "I'm a Slave 4 U". I love this song for many reasons, but here are the top two: this is the song where Britney spells out how much she loves "dancing", which is what she always used to cite as the chief reason men were attracted to her when pressed by an incredulous media. This song also contains the line: "Baby, don't you wanna dance up on me?". Prepositions can be transcendent that way, and indicate this song might have been written by the Swedish guy who also wrote "Baby One More Time" and "Oops! I Did It Again" (which features the standout, cyptic line "I cry watching the days").
Clearly, Britney is an international phenomenon not just because she sings simple lines that bring English to people ("Crazy" - another great dance song all around - is probably the best example), but because she reinvents the language, which paradoxically makes it more universal and less culture-specific. Britney is like Joyce and Pynchon, but blonde.

"Stronger" is great, and gains poignance post-Kevin. Betty kept skipping back to the beginning to hear Britney growl "Ooooh Yeaaah-hahh!" at the beginning. It also has a magnificent stop-and-start break before the last chorus, and more robot singing (really, one of Brit's strengths).

"Me Against the Music" (with Madonna) doesn't move me, but by this point you're almost to the home stretch: "Baby One More Time", "Crazy", "Sometimes" (one of Betty's personal favorites, which - wait for it - kicks it up a key for emphasis in the last chorus), the slinky sleeper hits "Boys" and "Outrageous" and, the quintessential (though not even close to the finest) Britney song, for better and worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, till death do us part, the ultimate dealbreaker that separates the haters from the acolytes: "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman"!! OK, who saw Crossroads?

Anyway, I think you get the point. I'm not saying there aren't duds in her catalog, but if you buy this album it may bring you real joy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Craig's List shakes its moneymaker for people, not profits

You know how people always say "Well, communism/socialism/wealth-sharing's ok in theory, but it's never worked in actual history because people are too greedy," and then seem to relish the opportunity to prove this claim with their own behavior? We think that's really annoying, too. Well, check this out:

In a culture clash of "near-epic proportions", the perhaps inappropriately named Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, left Wall Street insiders scrambling to understand why maximizing revenue is simply "not part of the goal" of the massively popular (and growing in popularity at 100% per year) agora-type website he runs with founder Craig Neumark. As reported by the New York Times, Buckmaster caused quite a stir at last week's UBS global media conference in New York, plunging at least one UBS analyst into some unintentional mind-expansion, if not soul-searching:

[UBS analyst Ben Schachter asked]: How about running AdSense ads from Google? Craigslist has considered that, Mr. Buckmaster said. They even crunched the numbers, which were “quite staggering.” But users haven’t expressed an interest in seeing ads, so it is not going to happen.

Following the meeting, Schachter wrote a research note, flagged by Tech Trader Daily, which suggests that he still doesn’t quite get the concept of serving customers first, and worrying about revenues later, if at all (and nevermind profits). Craigslist, the analyst wrote, “does not fully monetize its traffic or services.”


[In another fascinating post-UBS conference article, Buckmaster said he would consider running Google ads and funneling all the profits to charity, but only if the users wanted it that way.]

Here at Betty and Bimbo, we have always loved and relied on Craig's List. It has made life easier for us in so many ways, from finding roommates and babysitting jobs to selling musical instruments to giggling at funny "adult services" ads posted by "ruggedly good-looking, John Goodman-esque" naked after-party house-cleaners. Craig's List makes us unafraid of moving to strange places where we don't know anybody or how to find anything. And Craigslist is not just a community catalyst in an informal sense - though Buckmaster and Neumark do relish the locally-based nature of their site - but also runs a nonprofit foundation to help burgeoning community groups all over the country improve their use technology and connect with peers.

Moreover, the unadorned Craig's List site seems genuinely driven to help people connect in the real world, rather than fetishizing electronic encounters, as sites like the self-absorbed buffer that is My Space does. And unlike Google, which is a useful but unabashedly self-promoting, empire-seeking and profiteering brand (and who care what we censor or where?), Craig's List has no interest in taking over the world or making us see its name everywhere. Instead, it has relied on word of mouth from ordinary people in every state in the U.S. and beyond. Craig's List is also a bastion of totally free expression, for better and worse. Above all, it trusts people and promotes democratic values and a stripped-down vision of how technology can improve our lives when it is a means to an end. And it reminds us that that end doesn't have to be money.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More on Pinochet and Chile

Britney Spears has been the #1 hit-getter on Technocrati for weeks now, but today Pinochet has unseated her!

Here is the excellent obituary from the New York Times, which provides a comprehensive look at Chile under both Allende and Pinochet.

The NYT reports mixed reactions on the streets of Santiago, and in the government.

The reaction of Chilean bloggers to Pinochet's death.

My irreverent Chilean friend Montse's blog.

Christopher Hitchens on Pinochet's crimes outside of Chile, and the spectrum of his influence.

For those who can read Spanish, here is Santiago's El Mercurio online, which includes a timeline on Pinochet, and breaking news on the national reaction.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

no hay mal que dure cien años (ni weon que se lo aguante)

but he almost did, didn't he!
since koko has already! done the honors, i guess i am left to editorialize!

anyhoos, the most assertive comment came, as usual from the mouth of that most fabulously divine observer of the tout chili, veteran society journalist totó romero:

"¡pa' qué decirle cerdo al viejo, ahora que está parando la pata!"*

* "why calling him a hog now, when the old man's stretching his foot" (=dying-- the hilarious thing is the consonance of "pata" (an animal's foot) and "chancho" (hog), which in the end is what the viejo is. or was.

and to end with another fabulous quote-- let's drop in some manrique

" Non se engañe nadi, no,
pensando que ha de durar
lo que espera
más que duró lo que vio,
pues que todo ha de passar
por tal manera."

Dictator Pinochet - gone but not forgotten

Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who terrorized Chileans for his 17-year reign, after he led the the coup against Salvador Allende, ending of one of the world's great Democratic Socialist experiments in 1973, died today at 91, denying Chileans and the international community a chance to bring him to justice. I am sure Betty and perhaps Little Hun, who both lived in Chile in the aftermath of Pinochet's rule, will have more to say on this death.

But I believe it is only fitting to refer readers to the words of Marc Cooper, a FOB (friend of the Blog) and one of the great writers of our time on Latin American Politics. Cooper wrote a wonderful piece for the Nation in 2003, "Remembering Allende," to mark the 30th anniversary of the coup, which was, of course, also the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

As Cooper wrote,

Though most often characterized as the "first freely elected Marxist head of state," who proposed a "peaceful transition to socialism," Allende intended something more sweeping. His insistence on the use of democratic means to achieve power and radically reconstruct society was neither a mere tactic nor just a euphemism for minor and moderate reform...

Allende saw a third way--in no way to be confused with Tony Blair's self-declared middle path between corporate free markets and social democracy, but rather an authentically socialist and democratic alternative to meek social reform, on the one hand, and authoritarian "people's democracies"--Stalinist dictatorships--on the other.
It is important to remember that, in addition to his years of terror and criminality, General Pinochet dealt global politics by ending Allende's groundbreaking experiment.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Betty and Bimbo Recommend: Spongebob Squarepants

We're thick in the first half of a Spongebob Squarepants top ten episodes countdown screened by Betty's crass and creative childhood companion, Nickelodeon. This is the channel that taught Betty disdain for homework before she had homework, and that real kids want FUN ALL THE TIME!

Betty probably wouldn't have found Spongebob to be all that fun when she was nine, and it might have even haunted her dreams a little. BUT it is so silly, so campy, and so masculinity-effacing that it is her favorite show on television right now.

We can understand why the American right wing would be scared of this show. Spongebob is not gay (as at least one critic clarified for us, He's a sponge), but the show definitely has an anti-rational, instantly ridiculous, and campy feeling going on. It's not a pointless piece of trash meant to distract kids away from bugging you and sex and drugs, like Yogi Bear or whatever, but it's also no VeggieTales.

Without ever resorting to nihilism (in the old-fashined sense, this show is extremely gay), Spongebob defies all laws of physics, reason, and narrative. As if that weren't enough to perplex fundamentalists and simpletons, the show's characters (even dumb Patrick) are more urbane and encompass more contemporary variations on character than most people we know - put together!

The show is fast-moving, easily absorbs (no pun intended) the language and sentiments of modern life into its (not particularly cute, and functionally flat) underwater backdrop, uses big words like "squalid" and "self-awareness", and doesn't teach easy (or any) lessons to children, other than the lesson that some things (physical gestures, outfits, objects, shapes, situations, attitudes, and ways you can use your voice) are just really funny. No worldly ideology is necessary. Sounds like the kind of show Trent Lott and George Bush could really cuddle up to, huh?

Instead of gay-baiting, maybe the Christian groups that got all up in a huff over a silly, post-modern, endearing and intuitively funny cartoon should have responded simply, as Spongebob did when a pirate ghost appeared in his house: "Just go and scare somebody who isn't me."

Friday, December 08, 2006

No Offense to Beatrix Potter: Rushdie Returns

Even though Salman Rushdie visited us way back on the sixteenth of November, Little Hun believes that the delightful Rushdie quotes she is now revisiting in the depths of university finals season deserve a space on the shiny yellow screen of love that is Betty and Bimbo's blog. Oh, to be read to sleep by this charmingly pointy-chinned, bespectacled and bounty-hunted father of stories every night!

Salman told us that his pal Martin Amis only writes in pencil, and that when Amis edits, whatever replaces a word he has erased must fit into the old word's place exactly. And he told us these things, too:

"There are ways in which Greek tragedy is better than Saturday Night Live."

"My mother developed religion late in life, like rheumatism."

"Sex killed President Kennedy."

"The novel wants to be a woman in France who has an affair."

"If you wrote King Lear, you wouldn't think it was Peter Rabbit."

Little Hun wishes you could all see all of her doodles from this talk as well. They include, but are not limited to: Martin Amis' pencil, a ham sandwich, a dragon in the corner that eats the president, a pig, baby Salman Rushdie on a bike, and a hedge.

D.C. = Damn Cold!

We saw snowflakes last night outside the pizzeria, did you? Probably not if you're one of our loyal California correspondents, but Betty is in Washington D.C. to attend a meeting on Reproductive Health and Justice convened by Choice USA, and to visit her adorable little family.

Washington is a fun, open and walkable city to visit, and the holiday spirit is tangible in the streets downtown, where rushing couples cuddle for practical purposes and strings of light ring big window frames. Today the most frigid air of the season forced Betty into a hat that made her look like Jim Thorpe.

The meeting, though tiring, was productive and enlightening. Choice USA and its Reproductive Justice Coalition partners from around the country seek to integrate reproductive issues into the larger social justice movement that is already addressing frontline issues like immigration, economic and environmental justice, universal health coverage, and community development.

It was fascinating to discuss the way anti-choice forces deny race and history when they compare abortions to the Holocaust and slavery, and the way they ignore contemporary history by condemning pregnant women as society's most dangerous "killers". Betty also learned about 1970s fights for basic reproductive rights, including the efforts of women in marginalized communities to resist government-issued sterilization.

By the end of the meeting, Betty and her collegues were engrossed in planning and strategizing before the 2008 elections. We discussed forming a positive, progressive, pro-active reproductive justice platform that could link up with and support grassroots organizations working on other issues that (like this issue) affect all people, and that may hold particular urgency and poignancy in low-income communities.

Maybe Betty should become a social studies teacher.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Urban Reawakening

This Kerouac cop pulled me in on flickr, a sort of blogspot for budding artists rather than Caribbean vacation souvenir swappers.

Montana-based photographer Josh Schwartzmann has a Robert Frank-like vision of New York that will move you equally as a narrative or as freestanding micro-moments.

Here, take this city that grows from the street.

Collections like Schwartzmann's help me slow down and remember that New York's details are always patient with we prodigal pedestrians who usually pass them right by.

Other images that reminded me of being a child in the urban wilderness [Courtesy of Gothamist phototippers, December 2006]:

Jungle Fever


Interracial dating and marriage is the type of practice that right wing Republicans, Klan members, and religious maniacs point to as a sign that the moral fiber, and ethical codes of conduct that our founding forefathers supposedly fought so hard to establish and preserve have been diseased by "jungle fever." Which I find so ironically funny, because if memory of U.S. history serves me right, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson on several occasions fathered more than just a country. Why do you think there are so many Blacks in the U.S. running around with the last name of Washington and Jefferson?

"According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 1.3 million interracial marriages in 1994. In 1970, there were 310,000 such marriages. Of the 1.3 million interracial marriages in 1994, 296,000 were Black and White."

Jungle fever is a term most commonly used to describe Black and White couples, but I would like to expand the term to include all interracial couples. Truth be told, recent studies have shown that when compared to Hispanics and Asians, Blacks are the least likely to marry outside of their own race. Try telling this to a black woman that wants to date exclusively black men, and believes Black men should only want to date Black women. If she sees a Black man with a White woman, she will swear on a stack of Bibles six feet tall that's the reason she can't find a good man, because they are all dating White women.

Closely associated with interracial dating and marriages are the myths that people do so out of rebellion, status gaining, moral degeneracy , and self-hatred, which is some crap as far as I'm concerned. I have never once felt ashamed about being Black, or thought dating someone outside my race was going to one-up my social status.

Psychologist Maria Root says this: "The fact is that individuals in interracial couples are attracted to each other for the same reasons that individuals in same-race couples are. They consistently state that they get married because they like and love each other." So to each his own, whatever floats your boat or blows your skirt up. Besides, whose freaking business is it anyway?

Now I don't want anyone to get the notion that I'm hating on my Black sisters, because nothing could be further from the truth. I love Black women in all their different shapes, sizes, and colors. Black women are full of life character, strength, cunning, and resolve, and their struggles, dreams, triumphs, culture, and origin are my own. So dating or marring a Black woman has always been a top consideration for me, just not the only one.

When it's all said and done, I'm open to diversity and choice, and there is nothing better in life than a choice. So what's mine? She's a 5 Ft. 3 inch athletic brainy Malaysian, with brown eyes, a pretty smile, a soft touch, and a nice figure, whose race and creed was not a consideration for me when we started dating, but her curves were.


You, Me, Us

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the squatter

so, venus infers blogspot doesn't like macs. because it won't allow to include the picture of our squatter extraordinaire, no matter what v does. and being a person that works talking about images and showing them in slides while talking about them, it is very difficult not to get upset at this technological faux pas. anyways, the squatter's name is pillow, he is himalayan and persian mix, furry and a total sociopath.
which makes v think that he must actually be from the nobility. which reminds v of a dream seen a week or so ago, involving some windsors-- what follows is very hazy, so please apply soft-focus or just squint while you read along. queen lizzy kindly led v along to a restaurant in buckingham palace that was now located on the edge of a cliff, below which there was this rolling lawn with the occasional tree and an olympic size pool. so while queen lizzy, v. and the rest of the party waited, in comes charles, who starts getting extremely irritated at the slowness of the service. v intervenes and makes an impassioned speech to the waiter, chastising him for discriminatory behavior towards royalty. anyways, charles leads v outside and points to the pool down the cliff and says that queen lizzy swims 11 laps every morning. v is completely enthralled-- "i can't swim more than two without feeling dead." charles answers that he himself swims every morning, but as a practicing naturist, he only swims naked. understandably, v woke up feeling extremely indisposed.
by the way this is the second dream involving windsors in the year. the last time queen lizzy was selling horrible lamps in a flea market.

Help Betty (Your Girl) Grab a New Gig

Have you ever been so bored you forgot what joy was?
Betty's job is getting to the brink of unacceptable. Inspiration is being absorbed into the dry glare of the monitor, and she's slowly turning her sights towards a new path in 2007.

Please help Betty land a job she'll like better. Here are the only requirements:

1) Writing or Editing or Interviewing job (or anything)(English/Spanish)

2) Ability to work remotely

3) Won't strangle her soul

Cash prize if you can hook her up with her long-lost relative passion for living!

Bimbo. Betty and Bimbo.

Bimbo is the second-biggest James Bond fanatic ever (right after UK fan David Fearn, who legally changed his name to James Dr No From Russia With Love Goldfinger Thunderball You Only Live Twice On Her Majesty's Secret Service Diamonds Are Forever Live And Let Die The Man With The Golden Gun The Spy Who Loved Me Moonraker For Your Eyes Only Octopussy A View To A Kill The Living Daylights Licence To Kill Golden Eye Tomorrow Never Dies The World Is Not Enough Die Another Day Casino Royale Bond). He's been reviewing all the Bond flicks this week (thanks, Mondo Kim's!). He even made it through On Her Majesty's Secret Service starring the trivia-doomed George Lazenby.

While Bimbo is a true Bond boy, you only need to read the Lazenby write-up to see why Betty is loving being along for this ride. Bond writers, filmmakers and devotees, both cult and mainstream, have created enough behind-the-scenes stories and lore to last a lifetime. For example, who knew that grumpy Kingsley Amis, writing under the pen name Robert Markham, published a James Bond novel in 1968? Or that part of the motive for filming From Russia with Love so early in the Bond movies was that JFK had named it one of his Top Ten favorite books of all time? That 007's like freaking Forrest Gump!

As timeless as the reputation and trivia are, each Bond movie really is a product for and a reflection of its time. The movies celluloid-date themselves so consistently, chronologically, and transparently that they actually avoid becoming "dated". Each theme song, gadget, witticism and Bond girl drop us squarely into a era, even though most of the gadgets (and Bond girls) have yet to be built for non-007 use in 2006.

Betty tends to fall asleep after the groovy credits and initial brush with death that marks most Bond films, but there's one notable exception. From Russia With Love is the classiest Bond film, and also yields the best trivia - Kurt Weill's supercool widow, Lotte Lenya! Pedro Armendariz's tragic story!

Maybe nothing, though, can ultimately top the absurb circus that surrounds, and is, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the Godfather, Part III of Bondiana. Wikipedia diplomatically reports:

The film's producers, perhaps mistrusting Lazenby's ability to carry the picture, took the unusual step of overdubbing Lazenby's voice with that of George Baker in major scenes in which Bond impersonated Baker's character. The technique had never been used in a Bond film for a leading actor whose first language was English.


Poor George Lazenby.

Wealth Bomb

Check out the findings of a new WIDER/United Nations University report: for two percent of the world's people, wealth continues to grow and remains in their locked fists, while poverty remains widespead and difficult to escape on 98% of the human planet.

It is important to note the difference between wealth and income to appreciate the depth of these findings. While income (earnings, salaries) is unequally distributed worldwide, wealth (holdings, property, assets, inheritence, stocks) makes this gap truly alarming and inescapable. In most places, you can't walk out your door without falling into the wealth canyon that divides you from the superrich, and perhaps picking up some scrapes and bruises on your way down. A more vivid illustration? According to the study, if the world's population were represented by 10 people, one person would hold $99 and the remaining 9 would share $1.

In the U.S., anyone can see how wealth gets protected and work gets taxed by examining your paycheck. If you were rich enough to funnel all your earnings into an untaxed trust, you'd be paying no tax on it, and your heirs would reap the green rewards. Or you could get it all back at your rocking 60th birthday party. And if you opened a foundation to support any cause you like, probably causes that protect the economic systems from which you benefit, you'd only be required to pay out 5% a year in grants. And the less money you make, the higher percentage of your net earnings you'll probably pay in taxes.

Changing this situation will require a worldwide shift in values and priorities, and a lot of hard work and thought, but it wouldn't hurt to start taxing the rich more in this country. Last we checked, they drive on roads and go to public and private universities that rely on federal funds, too. Investing more public money in community improvements like public transportation to reduce toxins in the air in poor communities, and in child care, education and health institutions, would go far in a relatively short period of time, and allow more people the chance to start narrowing the U.S.'s grand wealth canyon, not to mention the chance to become happier and more productive citizens.

Unleash some of that looming wealth, America! Local, national and international structures that exist to protect and reproduce wealth indeed play a large role in creating a situation where (italics mine):

In 2000, the top 1 percent of the world’s population — some 37 million adults with a net worth of at least $515,000 — accounted for about 40 percent of the world’s total net worth.

The bottom half of the population owned merely 1.1 percent of the globe’s wealth. The net worth of the world’s typical person — whose wealth was above that of half the world’s population and below that of the other half —was under $2,200.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

FREE FIJI NOW!

Granted I have never wished for a Fiji vacation more than now. Provided I could paddle from Malibu to the island on my own, I imagine that I would get a decent rate on a five star hotel there over the next couple of weeks. They might even throw in breakfast (and the good kind, not the crappy continental ones you get at the cheap hotels) if I put my Bond-like charm to good use.

That said, it is a super sad day when military coups are still going on in this world. Fiji is a relatively wealthy and modernized country too. Somebody should tell Howard to get his act together and free Fiji now! Let the people be governed by a constitution and allow the Fijians now threatened with military force at every moment to seek a peaceful resolution to the social and economic problems facing them.

DIY Symphony

You can do it yourself. You can start your own garage band, your own church choir, your own string quartet, your own symphony.

What a relief! All these ideas were reconfirmed for Betty on Sunday night at St. Paul's German Church on West 22nd St., where she'd rushed on foot to see the magnificent little experiment that is The Chelsea Symphony.

Founded by young musicians Miguel Campos Neto and Yaniv Segal, the orchestra debuted in May of 2006 and made its home in Chelsea. Its members all perform double, triple, or quadruple (!) duty in the group, playing, conducting, composing, and helping to administer the new nonprofit (from selling ads to penning analysis of the pieces they perform for program-readers).

Last weekend's program included one of the most perfect, and yet most eclectic, all-encompassing pieces of Romantic music ever conceived: Brahm's 2nd Symphony. Geoffrey Robson conducted passionately and the orchestra hit all its spots. The audience was freaking out by the middle of the fourth movement, and applauded with real gratitude when it was done.

A nice Mozart concertante followed, featuring four talented, sensitive soloists (on oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon) and crisp conducting and orchestral accompaniment. It was clear that this piece was written in just a few days, as opposed to the heftier Brahms, which was written over four months (this was an outpouring, and perhaps why the piece is so animated and insistent - Brahms had labored over his First Symphony for over 20 years). Oh, Brahms, you're so heavy and great! Oh, Mozart, stop showing off! Apparently, young W.A. just scribbled it down and sold the score in a second. He could remember his composition in his head, should he need it later.

The final piece was a new work by the young local composer Aaron Dai. An accompaniment to "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" ("Twas the Night Before Christmas...") by Clement C. Moore, the poet-gentleman who gave Chelsea its name and Americans their Santa, the piece walked a fine line between tradition and experiment. Narrator Richard Kind (of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame) performed Moore's poem from the pulpit with a similar combination of familiar cadences of quirky innovation.

It's just so great for Chelsea to have this inimitable cultural resource and the energy and talent that's driving it. After the concert, the whole orchestra hung out with the audience at a local bar. Their openness, professionalism, and intention to stay in the community could not be more clear. If you want to hear real classical music and be able to see the players' eyeballs and budding talent up close, go check out the Chelsea Symphony. After a Christmastime collaboration with Clay Aiken (!), their next full performances - which will include Brahms' 3rd Symphony- are in February 2007.

[Photo Courtesy of the Chelsea Symphony]

Liar, Liar - Pants On Fire

Time to explore new options and opportunities. No, I am not thinking about couple swapping or joining the circus, I am referring to updating my resume. In fact, it has been my intention to do this for quite some time now, but I am undecided on the ratio of facts, accomplishments, stretched truths, omissions, and down-right lies to include. After all, you only get one shot to make a good first impression. Whoever coined the phrase, "honesty is always the best policy" was a naive sucker, and the person who said, "the truth will set you free" was certainly out of their damn mind; just ask Martha Stewart.

I grew up with my mother giving me countless lectures on how important it is to tell the truth. But what one says, and what one does is not always the same. Case and example, when I was age five my mother decided it would be a good experience for me to join the YMCA Youth Summer Program. Only one problem, the minimal age requirement was age six. However, this small hurdle did not discourage my mother from placing her son into the program anyway; she merely duplicated my birth certificate and increased my age by one year. Lesson I learned from my mother, it is important to tell the truth 90 to 95 percent of the time, and fudge and or delete the truth 5 to 10 percent of the time. Now I know there are some of you who think deletions are not untruths, to which I say do not kid yourselves. When you intentionally leave out facts that would paint a more accurate description of the truth, plain and simple; you're lying. You may lie occasionally to others, but never lie to yourself.

Now, do not misconstrue what I am saying, I believe honesty and truth are very important. Without these qualities the very fabric and foundations of the relationships between our families, friends, co-workers and society in general would easily crumble. But, yes there is always a but, it is human nature to misrepresent the truth from time to time for the perceived benefit of the the greater good. Reasons include: gaining advantages in the work-place, avoiding legal actions and prosecution, securing entrance into a university or college, avoiding social ridicule (example, admitting you're gay or lesbian), protecting people's feelings, trying to impress, revenge, practical jokes, etc. In fact, most of us lie on a regular basis, much more than we realize, we just call them "white lies."

White lies are untruths that we deem socially acceptable, because they have minimal effects or consequences. These are the anecdotal stories that your grandfather tells while sitting on the front porch smoking a pipe recapping the story about how he helped storm the beaches at Normandy during World War II for the 1001 time. Each account seems to include some extra fabricated fact that was not included the time before. Women try to play the pretty and dumb role to get out of speeding tickets. Parents have attempted to pass their fourteen-year-olds off as twelve to get a child discount on movie tickets; hell, I occasionally still use my college identification card to get the student rate myself. How many times have you heard this one - "this won't hurt a bit?" Yeah right, maybe if I was void of nerve endings. This just goes to show you how much lying and shaded truth have become an acceptable part of our society. I do not think it is even possible to survive or function in today's society being completely (100%) honest about everything you say and do. If you say you can, you're lying right now.

Well with that said, I think my resume will include the following ingredients:
1. 1 cup of education
2. 2 cups of work-related experience
3. 1/2 cup of personal achievements
4. A generous helping of stretched truths
5. A teaspoon of lies for flavoring
6. And omission of all faults and weaknesses

Monday, December 04, 2006

Here they go again: "Conformity" on Campus

It is a favorite complaint on campuses today that the views of campus conservatives are marginalized, oppressed, or whatever. David Horowitz has made a living out of this argument, and it is almost taken as a point of faith among anyone who leans anywhere right of center, and even some of the selfsame liberals who worry about their role as oppressors.

But as Wells Tower pointed out in his article in the November Harper's (not online), the Campus Right is alive, well, and well-funded. Young America's Foundation, and other like-minded groups that support campus conservatism, according to Tower, are funded to the tune of about $35 million per year -while the group Campus Progress, one of the few outside groups dedicated to promoting campus liberalism, had a budget last year of $650,000. More telling, perhaps, is the meteoric growth of groups like the Campus Republicans, which have gone from about 650 chapters six years ago to nearly 1,800 today.

In any event, it is certainly true that the "mainstream" of some campus environments, like that of Brown University (where Koko got his B.A.) leans somewhat to the left. But when I happened to pick up the school's daily paper today, out of curiousity while leaving a coffee shop near the campus, I smiled at the headline on the opinion page which claimed that Brown's dominant liberalism amounted to a "culture of conformity" aimed at denying those with opposing views - for writer Benjamin Bright, those on the Right - a chance to speak.

I'm not sure whether it would be silly of me to respond to Mr. Bright in Brown's paper of record itself, as I must remind myself not to use of my bullhorn on that campus which I left two and a half years ago, tempting as it remains. But the idea he presents, though misguided, is common enough that I believe I should respond to it in some form - hence, thank God for the blog.

There may indeed be a culture of conformity at Brown University, and indeed at many other elite colleges and universities throughout the United States. But Mr. Bright is mistaken, I think, to see that culture as primarily concerned with abortion and gay marriage, topics he is surprised to find little debate over at Brown. In fact, I think Bright's appeal to the notions of the inviolability of free speech and the university as a "marketplace of ideas" are a good place to start.

I wonder how the writer would respond if I proposed that the freedom of speech, in and of itself, is not in and of itself an inviolable good, or that I do not like the idea of a "marketplace of ideas" because I do not revere, above all, models of the marketplace. I might have already so offended his sensibilities, and those of the vast majority of the student body at Brown, that I might go no further.

I am not actually making an argument against free speech, but I might at least suggest that it is not the greatest of all possible goods - or the most necessary. For me, food, clothing, and shelter come before freedom of speech - for you cannot speak if you have not eaten.

But while it is inconceivable to me that someone could argue that everyone should not be entitled to freedom of speech, it is easy to imagine a student at a "liberal" university arguing that everyone does not have a right to food or shelter. To put it another way, must we affirmatively go lengths to ensure that all people have food and shelter, as we must ensure that all have the right to speak? Must we do so even if in order to do so we must tax wealthier people and the corporations they own?

These are far from settled questions. They get even less one-sided when you go beyond those basic three and argue, for example, that all people should have guaranteed health care coverage.
Sure, it "costs" a lot less to guarantee freedom of speech than it does freedom from hunger or homelessness. But the notion that cost poses a problem is only based on the fairly inviolable belief in the good of private property, another totem of the liberal university setting.

For advancing points such as these, Ben Bright might possibly call me a "Communist" -others have done worse. Once, on a Brown Daily Herald forum for advancing the radical view that campaign finance reform should pass congress, I was called a "Communist Fag," in spite of my heterosexuality. But is not this sort of name calling as bad as calling someone a "bigot" because they oppose equal rights for gay and lesbian people? Does it not stem from the same feeling of being threatened, and aim towards the same objective of silencing threatening speech?

The culture of conformity at a place like Brown stretches far beyond the basic building blocks of contemporary American politics - freedom over equality, private property over common good. Because the university has a key role to play in replicating the class structure and confirming the notion of the meritocracy, the vast majority of students have few qualms about entering a competitive workforce - or do not question that they can and should compete, and can and should strive for career success. The culture of conformity does not value learning for its own sake, but rather sees it as a vehicle. The culture of conformity does not instill in students an extreme seriousness of purpose, or suggest that the rare privilege of attending Brown University should be taken with solemn dedication to study. The culture of conformity means that most everyone believes that there is nothing wrong with excessive drinking. The culture of conformity says it is fun to play "Beirut".

Even when it comes to the tenets of liberalism that campus conservatives abhor, the culture of conformity falls short of what's advertised. While it may be politically incorrect to make a racist comment at Brown, it was, at least while I was there, perfectly alright in most quarters to use a term like "white trash." To me, the phrase revealed what was widely considered an acceptable level of contempt for the white working class, and beneath it, for the black and brown working classes as well. The general line of thought seemed to be that racism was a serious barrier, so at least people of color had an excuse for their failures to suceed. But white people not succeeding? What was their problem? No one exactly stated this out loud, but it was there nonetheless.

None of these sentiments describe every student I met at Brown - in fact, I met and befriended a great many who subverted the dominant paradigm, as the old saying goes. But that's not to say that the paradigm wasn't there.

This was never more true, I think, than when I objected to that apparently most inarguable truth of post-9/11 American politics - that the bombing of Afghanistan was not only justified, but good. In columns in the Herald in the spring of 2002, I questioned whether the bombing of the Chinese Embassy was unintentional, and whether, indeed, toppling a regime was the appropriate response to the work of Osama bin Laden and his non-state organization. The deep well of hostility that opened up against these columns on the (admittedly, anonymous) campus forums was impressive - indeed, my being called a "Communist Fag" for advocating a bill supported by John McCain was merely the aftershocks of anger from my pieces about the "War on Terror".

Indeed, as Horowitz suggests, there is nothing beyond the pale when one is criticizing those on campus who condemn American foreign policy in the broadest sense. Calling Rachel Corrie a terrorist because she dared to try to block a military bulldozer from destroying a home - even after she has died - is more than reasonable; it is the duty of a patriotic American!

Some might argue that it is only natural for conservatives to respond to supposed "intolerance" of their views with a bit of intolerance of their own. How else to explain this opening paragraph in an article in the new issue of Brown's conservative paper, the Spectator, other than the desire of its author, Joshua Unseth, to serve as a provacateur:

From accusations of police brutality, and BUDS employees seeking increased wages and reduced hours, to gays demanding the restoration of their constitutionally protected blood-giving privileges, and the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms, this year has been one for the books. I have never seen so much protesting in all of my life. But as I recall, we are nearing the end of the protest season. Which got me thinking: where do all the Brown students go after the snow begins to fall?
Where indeed? Either Mr. Unseth is fiercely resisting the culture of conformity by heroically lampooning it, or he is appealing to a different culture of conformity on campus - a culture of irony that rejects anything earnest and serious as naive.

In any case, there's a lot more to conformity than not arguing over abortion.

Betty's in Love Again

Oh, Helen Mirren! Won't you ever leave Betty's heart alone?
Betty first went gaga for Dame Mirren as a manor maid in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. Then she couldn’t stop recommending Helen's super-sensitive face and diction in one of this year's great movies,The Queen. Now she’s digging Helen's tough, magnetic and whip-smart Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennyson in the show that mothered The Sopranos, and maybe all cinematic television: Prime Suspect.
This gritty 1990s BBC drama can’t be beat. If you like your detective shows laced with tough politics around gender, race, class, credibility, morality, careerism and the Protestant work ethic, then this is the program for you. Bonus points for the tour of England you get free with any rental - Manchester, the London suburbs and rarely-visited neighborhoods like Brixton, and introductions to words like "bedsitter" and "marm". Helen's hair, penetrating eyes and features always look sexy-serious, and she really owns this show, even as she's getting painfully trampled and pushed around by her higher-ups at the police station, not to mention the witnesses she interviews on the murder trail. Tom Wilkinson and a gutsy, fragile Ralph Fiennes memorably co-star in the first season. Watch out for those gnarly plot twists and turns!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Walk to Remember

Still hot on the doggie trail, a fact-finding mission in search of the perfect pooch, Betty and Bimbo took the PATH train to Jersey City to meet (their counterparts?) Mickey and Mara, two "little angels" who were abandoned and left tied to a tree by some bastard.

Jersey City is very cool, like what we imagine parts of Brooklyn were like before we were born. This small city is one of the most ethnically diverse spots in the country, and every few blocks you'll find small parks, trees, brownstones, fire escapes, colorful paint, flags of the world and its movements, libraries, and interesting food. It was a beautiful fall day and Betty and Bimbo soaked it up.

Mickey and Mara, and their foster mom, Linda, greeted us with shin-snuggles at the door. The dogs were super cute and loving. Bimbo took a special liking to Mickey (pictured), who loved to be squeezed, wrestled, and just plain manhandled. We were told beforehand that Mickey was blind and that Mara was his sister and his guide, neither of which turned out to be true, but they still loved each other and played cutely in a tangle of pointy floppy ears, tongues, and small teeth on the floor.

We took them for a walk around the block (and a mid-walk squeeze for Mara); a good time was had by all. Will Betty and Bimbo settle down and commit? Will a twelve-legged household ensue? Tune in next time for the further adventures of Betty, Bimbo, and the dogs of the tri-state area.

[Photo courtesy of Posh Pets Rescue]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Animal Attraction

Betty and Bimbo took a wild and woooly - or should we say fluffy - trip to East Harlem this afternoon to visit New York City Animal Care & Control, where they met lots of new four-legged friends.
The great majority of them were pit bulls - can anyone explain why this is? Are they drop-outs from police training programs? - but Betty and Bimbo went straight for Peanut, a pointy-nosed little chihuahua. Assisted by Greg, a saintly and mild-mannered volunteer who seemed to live for animals, Betty played well with Peanut on the floor for a little while. Unfortunately, things turned weird (kind of like when Borat starts saying nasty things after the initial "softballs") when Bimbo wanted to cuddle Peanut, and the manic little cutie started growling at everybody, dog or human, including his ex-squeeze, Betty. Maybe there was too much testosterone coursing through that quart-sized frame.

Next came December (that's her name), a new arrival at NYCACC, a handsome 1-year-old American Stafford mix (actually, we prefer the word mutt) with almond-shaped eyes, soft grey fur, and a winning temprement, one moment cuddly and malleable, the next chill as a fruit slushie turning gentley in its machine. WE LOVE THIS DOG!! Stay tuned...

The whole NYCACC experience was neat. You can adopt a pet chicken (we saw them, they're cute). And in a well-stocked bunny room, floppy little love balls hopped and rolled across the floor. The cat room smelled totally gross, but seemed popular nonetheless. We didn't check out the exotic animals room. Bimbo imagines the whole experience is like visiting a third-rate whorehouse; the outdoor "walking platform", where you get to know the critters on a leash, is the bordello bar...I guess this means little Peanut threw the drink we bought him back in our faces.

It's hard to reckon the attraction and overwhelming feelings these animals bring up in us against the responsibilities (of time, location, and money) they would pose were we to adopt. Still, we know these beautiful creatures pack a bounty of benefits, including real love, calls to perspective, and snuggles.

[Photo of Jackie the Rabbit and friend courtesy of New York City Animal Care & Control]

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day & Steps to Lasting Social Change

Today, the first of December 2006, is World AIDS Day. As you may know already, there are many things you can do to mark the day, from giving to shopping, to simply lighting a candle, as one of my co-workers has done in memory of a relative today.

Betty and Bimbo think it's both wonderful and urgent that so many people and companies are talking about the global AIDS crisis and lending a small hand to help. Some of the most visible commercial campaigns, like Apple's, Gap's, and Bristol-Meyers' are very original, memorable, and cool. Still, we wonder if more could be done more often-- not solely around AIDS, but in general -- to shift resources, in a sustainable, permanent way, from people who have too many of them to people who need them.

Part of Betty's job is to try to build a dialogue about social change with people who have some extra means. It was through this work that she has been connected to Emerging Practicioners in Philanthropy and Resource Generation, two cross-class non-profits working with young people who want to better align their resources with their values. It is through Resource Generation's book Classified that Betty has been learning more about class privilege and (thoughtful, mapped-out) social responsibility as it applies to all kinds of people, even those of us without lots of money in the bank. It's definitely worth checking out.

To give you a taste of the discussions contained within Classified (which is actually a very user-friendly and approachable book full of cartoons!), below are two examples of ideas that had a big influence on the book's authors. Although the writers are politcal radicals, it may not be necessary to be a political radical to see the truth at the essence of what they are saying, and to act on it.

"In order to have the continued opportunity to express their 'generosity,' the oppressor must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this 'generosity'...True generosity consists preceisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity." - Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum Books, 1997.

"To be wealthy and remain committed to justice is no easy task. We hear little from the wealthy who use their means to further the cause of justice, of economic self-sufficiency for all. Despite their good deeds, this silence maintains their class solidarity with those who exploit and oppress..." - bell hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters, Routledge Books, 2000.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Vag of Honor

As you've all likely seen, our fav pop princess, Britney Spears, recently flashed her rather bare nether-region to one lucky paparazzi. She later did it again.

It seems the time has come to pay the piper. While Brit has been famous for a while now, we are finally starting to see the dividends of the contract that she signed with us all those years ago. That's right, as soon as you start to court the attention of the press--to become a celeb, really (especially such a sexualized one)--you sign on as a willing target of the media's basest impulses. And the degree to which you seek attention is proportional to what the hungry media wants from you. Brit only stoked the fire for all those years playing the virgin, making us lick our lips for some kind of public sacrifice of her ever-so-protected maidenhead. While admission of sex with Justin and knowledge that she's done it with her hubby are one thing, we've not, until now, got really explicit proof that the virgin's days are done. Ladies and germs, may I present the bloody sheet. And as an added wrinkle of titillation it seems that our Ms Spears is no stranger to her Lady Gillette.

But, perhaps this is a cunning, if unwitting, gambit for relevance. The most recent album didn't perform like the last several, the marriage is in shambles and she's become the national symbol for trashy consumption. Unlike celebs whose last gasp at fame comes in a Playboy spread (Tia Carrere and Tiffany come to mind as recent members of that illustrious club. So does Terri Polo, the wife from Meet the Parents. Really, if this is the only way you can manage to upstage Blythe Danner you'd better pack it in), maybe Brit is following old Madonna and giving the pubic public what they want before the slide to obsolescence. Maybe it will even stave it off for a while. It worked for Drew Barrymore too, though neither of them ever claimed to be pure and chaste.

In any case, a momentarily sated public thanks you Britney, for holding up your end of the deal. When we decide that we want some manner of Spears-Colin Farrell sex tape or pics of you picking up your dog's feces whilst flashing a thong we'll give you a call. In the mean time, let's see if we can't get a few pics of Jessica Simpson's rack. She's not playing along.

Farewell, November


Today marks the end of November 2006, a month Betty and Bimbo will remember for:

* Lazy trips to visit my cute little dog in Washington D.C.

* Several worthy novels, including one about shipwrecks and blogs and one about French-style kleptomania .

* A palpable - if still politically inconclusive - national thumping.

* Discovering two new outlaw heros: one a tortured troubadour, the other a hobo.

* Eye-opening - and mouth-opening - food-filled adventures in San Francisco, Anne Hathaway's Malibu, kid-friendly Manhattan, muffin-crazed suburban Illinois, and Brighton Beach, Russia, I mean, Brooklyn.

* Awkward run-ins with literary icons Orhan Pamuk and Salman Rushdie.

*Lots of movies: in fat red envelopes in our mailbox, and multiple views on the new James Bond and his really disappointing car.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Byrne, Baby, Byrne

Did anybody/everybody know that David Byrne has a supercool blog?

While I disagree with my cheekboned hero about Bush ever having believed in his own strategic lies, I love the connection Byrne draws between political collective consciousness and the storytelling impulse (italics mine):

Fiction and storytelling are stronger than fact — we “make” facts out of fiction. We use fictions to order and interpret evidence. The imagination runs the senses. Until the disconnect is overwhelming and we search for a new story.

We do this in our personal lives and in politics. Nations are people, a person even, and the storytellers guide us to realize our secret desires and wants. It feels better if we all tell the same story. The most gripping fiction feels inexorable, inevitable.

I’m obsessed with all this — with how we can do what, either in retrospect or in the cold light of day, is obviously wrong, counterproductive and harmful — both to ourselves, ultimately, and to others.

This crystallization from the man who wrote "The Girls Want to Be With the Girls"! I would really, really, love to meet David Byrne.

Further reading on this theory of storytelling as the dominant force in psychology can be found in the work of Dr. Robert Sternberg, whom Betty once had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing for a story, and then later interviewed his mother (a Holocaust survivor) for a different story! Both were totally wonderful, gracious, light-hearted and insightful people.

In his 1999 book "Love Is A Story," Sternberg posited:

When you talk to two people who have just split up, their breakup stories often sound like depictions of two completely different relationships. In a sense, they are. Each partner has his or her own story to tell.

Most important to a healthy, happy relationship is that both partners have compatible stories--that is, compatible expectations. Indeed, a 1998 study conducted with Mahzad Hojjat, Ph.D., and Michael Barnes, Ph.D., indicated that the more similar couples' stories were, the happier they were together.

Couples usually start out being physically attracted and having similar interests and values. But eventually, they may notice something missing in the relationship. That something is usually story compatibility. A couple whose stories don't match is like two characters on one stage acting out different plays--they may look right at first glance, but there is an underlying lack of coordination to their interaction.

Sternberg for beginners: on Love, Hate, and Stupidity.

Byrne for beginners: "More Songs About Building and Food" by Talking Heads, and "The New Sins", an intriguing little book.
[Readers, please suggest more Byrniana! Betty's an ecstatic newcomer, too.]

Pelosi a Hastings Hater

Has there been a greater political insult in the 21st Century than Rep. Alcee Hasting's riposte after he was denied chairship of the House Intelligence Committee by Nancy Pelosi? The quote, in case you didn't read it, was:
"Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."

There was a big to-do over the potential that Hastings, a 14-year congressman from the Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area, might be appointed chairman of the House Intelligence Committee - because Congress had actually removed him from a federal judgeship in the 1989 after he had been accused of soliciting bribes.

Significantly, Hastings was later acquitted - and apparently, voters in South Florida were convinced enough of his innocence to elect him to Congress just a few years later, and to return him 8 times since.

There was a waft of bigotry in much of the mainstream media coverage of this whole matter, with more than one news outlet suggesting that Speaker-to-be Pelosi was in a tight spot between either choosing a corrupt guy as the new Intel chairman or pissing off the (presumably, unreasonable) Congressional Black Caucus, which strongly supported his bid.

Here's the Miami Herald:

In a test of her leadership, House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi rejected once-impeached Rep. Alcee Hastings as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, a move that could blunt early criticism she is paying lip service to ethics reform.

At the same time, the California Democrat's decision not to promote Hastings could ruffle her relations with black lawmakers.

And the Chicago Sun-Times:

Hastings, currently the No. 2 Democrat on the panel, had been aggressively making a case for the top position, supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But critics pointed out he had been impeached when he was a federal judge and said naming him to such a sensitive post would be a mistake just as the Democrats take over House control pledging reforms.

The Wall Street Journal said Pelosi was "moving to end weeks of damaging speculation" by rejecting Hastings.

Ugh. Apparently, acquittal on charges almost two decades ago is not enough to remove an ethical "cloud." None dare call it racism?


[Rep. Alcee Hastings., Washington Post File Photo]