Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The PARAS & Obama's next attorney general

Sorry for the cut-and-paste, but can't put it better than this.

"The selection of Eric Holder as the next attorney general of the United States is a deft political decision. Holder should face little if any opposition during the approval process given his bipartisan history. This would ensure a smooth transition at a time that requires decisive action. Still, Barack Obama's selection may not be something to celebrate.

The choice of Holder reveals a troubling disconnect between a key statement made by the president-elect during the campaign and views held by Holder. This disconnect must be examined in light of the dismal state of US foreign relations. The issue of direct payments to the justice department by offending US corporations is a worrying trend. It is one that has risen sharply under the Bush administration and was first championed by former attorney general John Ashcroft.

In lieu of a trial, companies are allowed to pay a fine directly to the justice department.

These agreements are readily accepted by companies, as they are cost effective, avoid the stigma of public trial and don't set precedents. None of the money paid goes to affected individuals or communities, which leaves any sense of justice wanting. There is also valid concern that abuse of this system may lead to companies being less scrupulous.

Representing Chiquita, Holder brokered a deal for the banana giant to pay $25m over five years to the justice department. This arrangement was made after Chiquita admitted in 2003 to providing $1.7m over six years to the paramilitary group The United Self Defense Forces of Colombia. This group was listed as a terrorist organisation by the state department. Chiquita also allegedly provided a cache of surplus Nicaraguan army AK-47s through their own transport network. The payments continued unabated for months after Chiquita's admission.

The company claimed the payments were made to protect its workers, but it is unclear who was protected. Colombia's attorney general, Mario Iguaran, roundly rejects Chiquita's excuses. Iguaran believes the payments were made to secure the unimpeded production of bananas and to quell labour unrest. He claims that at least 4,000 people were killed by these paramilitaries. Hundreds of the victims were banana workers and labour organisers. Iguaran wishes to extradite the Chiquita executives responsible for approving the payments and a lawsuit is currently underway representing the families of 173 workers who were killed by the paramilitaries. Holder continues to represent Chiquita in the resulting civil case.

Holder's reaction to the $25m settlement is unacceptable:

If what you want to encourage is voluntary self-disclosure, what message does this send to other companies? Here's a company that voluntarily self-discloses in a national security context, where the company gets treated pretty harshly, [and] then on top of that, you go after individuals who made a really painful decision.

It's not particularly certain what this painful decision was. Chiquita stood to be in a lot more trouble if they didn't come clean given the climate after September 11. The group in question had terrorist status. The paramilitaries were intimidating and murdering workers. If you have to break the law to do business in a region, you simply need not engage in that business. Holder's commentary is difficult to comprehend in light of the facts surrounding this case.

In the final presidential debate, Obama stated that he firmly opposed a free trade agreement with Colombia. He was concerned about the multitude of human rights violations repeatedly levied against unions and other workers there. Holder's views fly in the face of such concerns.

After eight years of Orwellian double-speak and intentionally misleading statements, US citizens must demand what was promised to both them and the world: change. How would Holder's leadership lead to a meaningful rethinking regarding the accountability of transnationals and their behaviour both at home and abroad? Especially when Holder views a deal so clearly favourable to a giant like Chiquita as excessive punishment despite the facts surrounding the case.

Every client is entitled to representation. Holder's roll as council to Chiquita is not questionable. The question is more fundamental: Does Holder represent the change we need and the change we were promised? It is time that someone who chooses to represent and serve human beings over corporations holds the position of attorney general."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Health Insurance Companies Want Mandates

Wow. This news puts our primary season debates about mandates in a new light, huh? I think it's interesting that in this case, the interests of insurance companies and citizens may be aligned (though insurers are still strongly against price controls), given something I recently read (can't remember the source) arguing that insurance companies are in danger of sinking themselves with premiums that are reaching a breaking point. At a certain point, premiums get so high that companies that have already passed on a lot of the cost to their employees figure it's no longer worth it to buy insurance. And then what do insurers do? Mandates look pretty good if they may save your business. Having recently been on the anxiety-inducing open market for health insurance, I do think it would be a step forward to just know that you have a guarantee, regardless of the price.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Early Voting

B&B's Washington D.C. Correspondent Moo filed this report today.

Today was a beautiful fall day, 60 degrees, sunny and the trees turning orange. I went to vote in the DC municipal building downtown. The line went out to the street, but it was very well organized and there was such excitement it was almost palpable. There were lots of young people, a rainbow of colors, ethnicities, people with their children (se acuerdan de cuando votaban con Papi?). Everyone was so pleased and everything ran so very smoothly.

I asked for a paper ballot, taking no chances there, and checked and double-checked that my first arrow was connected, “For President and Vice-President Barack Obama and Joe Biden”.

My heart was racing and my hand was shaking as I handed it to the clerk.

I cannot remember any time in my 20 years or so of voting in the US were I have been so excited and proud.

Everyone here at B&B is looking forward to Tuesday and its attendant celebrations.

p.s. It has been confirmed that Wilco could play at the inauguration of President Obama. He introduced them at Farm Aid in 2005!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Billy Joel

As one tactic to distract herself from the stress of next week's presidential election, Betty has been exploring the ouevre of Billy Joel.

Recent purchases from the Used CD store (soon going the way of the CD itself) include "The Stranger" (1977) and "The Nylon Curtain" (1982). The first one contains the hits "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song), "Just the Way You Are", "Only the Good Die Young," and "She's Always a Woman". The latter is a concept album about baby boomers and opens with the amazingly audacious and awesome trio of "Allentown", "Laura", and "Pressure".

Betty thinks that Billy Joel is stunning in so many contradictory ways. He is a searching, careful, and even beautiful melodist, he always sings in tune, and he plays the piano like a dynamo. He even has vision: some of his songs have more "chapters" than a novel, more "eras" than the twentieth century. Have you ever heard "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"?

But there is also something about Billy Joel's songs that makes Betty start laughing and snort-laugh-repressing uncontrollably when she is by herself on the subway. Is it the theatrical flourishes and unplacable, perhaps completely made-up, accent with which Joel garnishes his singing? Is it the words which go from perfectly cutting ("then these careless fingers, they get caught in her vice") to absurd and hilarious ("and then start bleeding on my coffee table") in a matter of seconds? Is it the idea of the songs and albums having so many chapters that seems so over-the-top? How can someone so gifted also be so cringe-inducing? How can someone so awesomely talented and massively beloved get so little respect?

This topic will be explored in greater depth in the days and weeks to come.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell Endorses Obama

This is an incredibly powerful statement by Colin Powell, especially the second half, where he eloquently addresses the question that has been raised on this blog about allegations of Obama being a Muslim: "What if he were?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Patsy the Chihuahua Needs Our Help

FRIDAY, OCT 10th - The pound called Waggytail Rescue Friday morning - someone had brought this sweet girl in as a "stray" - which is most likely a lie and the truth is no one wanted to invest the time or money to help this sweet baby.

Patsy is so incredibly sweet, but sick and couldn't stop vomiting nonstop, wasn't responding to anything. The only option for Patsy is for a rescue to take her and transfer to vet hospital immediately or they were going to euthanize her. So since Friday she has been at NYC Veterinary Specialists on 55th st.

Of course Waggytail Rescue had no choice -look at that face! She was transferred to a specialist hospital. X rays and a sonogram revealed nothing. She was put on I.V.s and treated with medication, Still incredibly sweet and holding desperately onto anyone who would pick her up. More tests were done and all inconclusive.

MONDAY, OCT 13th - Monday they did more x-rays and another sonogram and thought they saw something - an exploratory surgery was done but found nothing. They did find she was impacted and removed the fecal matter from her colon.

TUESDAY, OCT 14th - Patsy will be transferred to Cooper Square Veterinary Hospital when she is stable. We are all waiting to hear results...

She hasn't vomited in a few hours! We are so excited because it wasn't looking good this morning.

WE NEED YOUR HELP - She is the sweetest tiny 6 lb thing ever & need your help! So far her bill is estimated to be $3700 and growing. We know times are tight for everyone but if we all come together and give just a small donation it will help save the life of this little sweetheart.

Donation by check: Waggytail Rescue – FOR PATSY 170 Norfolk St. #10 NY NY 10002

Or through PAYPAL: (link to Paypal is on Waggytail site)

Thank you for your generosity and love for this sweet little creature! We will keep you updated on her progress in the coming days!

***UPDATE: After a real rollercoaster of hope and fear and tears, Patsy has been cleared to go to a foster home tomorrow afternoon! We are all pulling for this little sweetheart. Things are looking brighter.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Local Politics

Last night I took in a spirited political debate. McCain/Obama? No. I went to see the candidates for my city supervisor seat duke it out at a historic theater in the neighborhood. There were hisses, boos, applause, and plenty of opinions from the audience members. Years-old grudges were aired, making me, a relative newcomer to the city, feel frankly ignorant about San Francisco politics. But it was fun, and invigorating too. One candidate said there was no other place like San Francisco's District 9 anywhere in the country, and another candidate talked about how grateful he was for San Francisco values, certainly not something you'd hear at a political forum anywhere else. And after two years being bombarded with an endless and oftentimes uninspiring presidential campaign, it's great to be able to make a choice in a race where I get to meet all the candidates, and where "reaching across the aisle" is what a Green party member pledges he will do if elected.

I know that several contributors to this blog are very active in local politics. I am thinking of Bimbo and Koko specifically, but I'm sure there are others. So I'm hoping you can help me answer a question that drives me nuts: why is it that so many well-educated people who closely follow national politics have little interest or involvement at the local level? I invited about a dozen friends to go to the debate last night and only one showed up, and he didn't even live in the district. Many of them probably wanted to watch the presidential debate, but all of them are certainly voting for Obama and won't be swayed at this point, whereas many of them don't even know who the candidates are in the local race. This used to bother me a lot when I lived in DC, where many people I knew didn't even read the Washington Post, in my opinion the country's best newspaper and one that provides top-notch local coverage of a very troubled city. Yet they define themselves as politically engaged and are often active on the national level.

I include myself in this criticism: I'm far less informed about local politics than I should be, but the longer I live in a place the more attached I get. Is it because our generation is so transient that we haven't put down the roots that would give us an investment in local issues? Or have national affairs become a sort of entertainment that we follow for fun, without considering the ramifications all the way down chain?

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Betty & Bimbo Challenge

As you've doubtless heard or intuited, hardworking nonprofits are bracing for tough times ahead. Despite the meanness and the leanness of these days, let's show the nonprofits and causes we're passionate about that their work is as needed and valued today as it was before all the money started flying down the sewers -- if not MORE needed and valued.

So - the Betty & Bimbo challenge is: make a donation this week. Spite the times.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

A pig wearing lipstick, exposed.

As Koko posted thoughts and sparked conversation on one lipstick pitbull, in the northernmost frontiers of the United States, 1400 valiant women and men were showing us something we somewhat suspected. A transcontinental intuition, perhaps?

Never, have I seen anything like it in my 17 and a half years living in Anchorage. The organizers had someone walk the rally with a counter, and they clicked off well over 1400 people (not including the 90 counter-demonstrators). This was the biggest political rally ever, in the history of the state. I was absolutely stunned. The second most amazing thing is how many people honked and gave the thumbs up as they drove by. And even those that didn’t honk looked wide-eyed and awe-struck at the huge crowd that was growing by the minute. This just doesn’t happen here.

Needless to say, an intuition only, as the mainstream news outlets would NEVER want one to hear about this-- it upsets their "maverick" narrative too much.

But truth travels. Alaskans know.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The smartest piece on McCain/Palin that I've read

JoAnn Wypijewski is without compare in contemporary American journalism, and her unapologetic take on the political (sex) appeal of Sarah Palin is worth reading, not least for its searing description of McCain as beast in a way that I haven't quite seen captured to date:

At 42 McNasty, as he was called in high school, took up with 24-year-old Cindy, a former junior rodeo queen, and, having boosted his image and his net worth via a marriage vow, soon reverted to the pattern of insults and macho egotism that has typified most of his life. He denigrated her education at USC as a tour through "the University of Spoiled Children." For all but one of several miscarriages, he left her on her own. When she was popping ten to fifteen pills a day to mask her pain and "do everything he wanted," he never noticed. In 1992, in a rage over her gentle teasing about his thinning hair, he exploded, "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt," a one-two punch hurled in front of three journalists and two aides but unreported until recently, by Cliff Schecter in The Real McCain. On the campaign trail in June he joked about "beating my wife" and took umbrage when others failed to grasp the simple good fun in the remark. In early August he said he'd encouraged Cindy to enter the Miss Buffalo Chip beauty pageant at the high-revving, flesh-swinging biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. It might have been a fine quip except that up on the stage with her daughter Meghan, staring out toward the throng where a sign urged Show Ur Tits 4 McCain, Cindy had the thin, fixed smile of endurance, not joy.
This description of McCain is not gratuitous -- because the question of his virility or lack thereof seems to Wypijewski central to understanding the selection of Palin. After all, presidential politics is still about who "does it better":

In Sarah Palin the right has its perfect emblem: moral avatar and commodity, uniting the put-upon woman who gushes, "She's just like me!" and the chest thumper who brays, "I'd do her, and her daughter" with those who have long exploited the fear and sorry machismo of both, with the help of another durable reactionary weapon. Now that it's official, as McCain's campaign manager said, that "this election is not about issues; this election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates," McCain's only live tag appears to be, Republicans Do It Better. Translation: small-town, gun-toting, rough-and-ready, all-American Sarah and Todd versus Barack and Michelle. White Power. (Or, close enough, White-ish.) Palin Power.

The triumph of symbolism in our politics is truly complete.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Update from the Battle for Hearts & Minds

An Obama canvasser and Friend of the Blog writes:

Rolled in late last night from Virginia, and I am no longer high on hope. Renewed determination maybe, but not hope. Palin with her so called "balls" has everybody by theirs. What was so disturbing about canvassing was not that other people had convictions I disagreed with, but that most people don't really have any. Or think they have them but don't know why they have them, and don't care that they don't know why they have them.

This clear-eyed assessment both disturbs and motivates B&B. Strategies for breaking through American Torpor? How are you helping the cause of convictions?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rudy is a pig

I actually didn't realize how awful he was until tonight's speech.

But I have to say, Sarah Palin had the quote of the night, and this is verbatim: "I love hockey moms. They say the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull-- lip stick."

Let's talk about sex.

The most unlikely power sent us all back -kicking and screaming- to our old schoolyard. Thanks to an impossible faux-pas by the McCain camp, we all now know that a certain 17 year-old is knocked up by a less-than-recommendable boyfriend. We were also informed that there will be a wedding. To make things worse, no date is set (yet).

Almost immediately, Obama came out saying that “family, and especially children are off-limits”. The idea was to show that Obama is a real gentleman, and a bundle of good manners. Or it could just be that Obama really, really does not want to talk about abortion, and avoiding taking a stand like the plague.

Now, as when I was 15, I still hate personal gossip. Back then, I could not care a less for who was sleeping with who, or even more intimate details. Somehow, I was always disgusted by unrequested information, so common at the schoolyard. Privacy is privacy is privacy.

However, this is not the moment to act as if we all are part of some Victorian drama.

Obama should –and he somehow must- address the fact that the other ticket CERTAINLY care way too much about other peoples lives. They do not accept abortion, something so easy as sex-ed, and not to mention, basic scientific facts in schools. This means that they put their ideology above the majority’s right to have access to a good education. Or worse, they care too much about mi vagina...

Obama lost the opportunity to lament, the awful way the leaders of the republican political party outed a young girl, making her (insert any virgin-sacrifice analogy here) the table-talk of the whole world. And no one somewhat rational can buy their claim that they did so because they were pressured by “rumours on the Internet”.

Of course, pointing fingers at real subject matters, and therefore putting himself as a person ready to defend the hard-won rights is not recommendable to win this election. But hey, when will it be?

Monday, September 01, 2008

What kind of country arrests its journalists!!!

From democracy now website :

ST. PAUL, MN—Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was unlawfully arrested in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota at approximately 5 p.m. local time. Police violently manhandled Goodman, yanking her arm, as they arrested her. Video of her arrest can be seen here:

full democracy now statement here


Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar Released After Illegal Arrest at RNC

Goodman Charged with Obstruction; Felony Riot Charges Pending Against Kouddous and Salazar


Tuesday, August 26, 2008


First of all, I must say I really admire Michelle Obama for, among other things, not wearing female power suits. Her speech was fine, but what was with that creepy video conversation between Barack and the kids at the end? Apparently it's cribbed from the Reagans? Why wasn't he, you know, at the convention? Every time he makes a speech Michelle has to go out there to hug him, back him up and wave, yet she's left out to dry and corral her kids into a photogenic video conference with their gigantic father? And who was this invisible family he kept referring to? I think he's taking this Kansas thing too far.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Survey of the Recent Cinema

Here is Betty's cinema wrap-up! With letter grades and short reviews using each movie's initials:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Grade: A, Vixens Cow Bardem

Man on Wire - Grade: A-, Made of Wonder

Tropic Thunder - Grade: F, Time Throttled

The House Bunny - Grade: C-, Trite "Ha"s Bore

The Dark Knight - Grade: B, Too Dark (for) Kids

Pineapple Express - Grade: D, Pointless (and) Exhausting

The Rocker - Grade: C+, Time Rider-Outer

Thursday, August 21, 2008


See the excellent docu THE JUDGE AND THE GENERAL by Elizabeth Farnsworth & Patricio Lanfranco on PBS' site until September, 2nd.
Chilean judge Juan Guzmán, a former Pinochet supporter, was assigned the first criminal cases against the country's ex-dictator...

Ver -hasta el 2 de septiembre de 2008- el documental THE JUDGE & THE GENERAL en la página web de PBS, cliqueando acá.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Get thee to the church

I sat down to watch the Rick Warren interviews with the candidate. I got through about 12 minutes total.

Barack Obama: snoozefest. John McCain: dynamo. Barack Obama, please stop your mannered stuttering!

I just had a little vacation with my mom, who predicts Obama will endorse offshore drilling before November, and if so, she will vote for a one-eyed monkey before him. Thoughts?

And..this just in: startling news. The Hillary Clinton women who will now vote for McCain are not a media invention. I have met one in the flesh: my grandmother. She is technically undecided, but definitely leaning that way.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Spirit of Summer

A baby moose in a sprinkler. Wait for it... soon joined by its (twin?) sibling and mom. Frolicking ensues. Dedicated to Moo and Boo.

Friday, August 08, 2008

"America's Loss of Innocence, Chapter A Billion"

I don't care about John Edwards's affair. He hasn't been running for anything for months, he wasn't even a real contender for VP, and he is a C-list public figure at this point. And unlike the many Republicans who drone on about sexual matters and convenient definitions of morality, Edwards stuck refreshingly to policy questions in his latest public campaigns.

But what I DO care about, and the aspect of the story that the mainstream news reporting so far has failed to emphasize (?!?!), is that John Edwards' campaign (to which Betty and Bimbo donated $300) paid his lover's production company

roughly $114,000 in 2006 and 2007 for "Website/Internet services."

Now that's disgusting.

***UPDATE!*** Also, how could he have in good conscience run for President with this very live skeleton in his closet? I don't think it's anyone's business, of course, but he had to have known that if caught John McCain would be our next president. But of course he didn't think he would get caught, like all Super Men.

***UPDATE, PART II!*** So many "of course"s, and yet still kind of unbelievable. Is this a cliche, or a mega-cliche, or a mega-ultra-super-cliche we've got on our hands?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

mea culpa

i did watch paris hilton's video.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Les Video Games de Ma Vie

Are video games little more than a massive time-suck or can they impact our lives in meaningful ways? Betty and several eminent contributors to this site have been playing video games together (this involves button-mashing, yes, but also Power Pad foot-and-toe work and Wii Remote swatting and flailing) since the the late last-century! So she's got a hunch (and a hope) that there's something valuable lurking inside all those pixalated Italian plumbers, their orange-headed Princesses, and their pet dinosaurs.

Here are the ten video games of Betty's life. She is beginning to see video games like she sees coffee - as something you can always look forward to, something that stimulates and facilitates important social time, even if rumors that it stunts growth or whatever will forever circulate. In Betty's particular case, the question of their poignant meaning or detrimental effect is up to you, she thinks!

In semi-chronological order:

1. Super Mario Brothers (a.k.a. "Super Mario Brothers One") [for Nintendo] - I'm not sure what was "Super" about them at this point and I'm not sure why they were called the "Mario brothers" (What did Luigi make of that? Is this why he's so underweight?), but Betty remembers seeing some "big kids" (they were probably 13) playing this at some party she was at with her parents somewhere (Colombia?). The details are lost to history, but it was at night, it was hot, it was hazy, and it was like falling in love.

Yes, Betty could have happily watched Mario jump from treetop to treetop and smash bricks with his head (or is it with his hat?) for hours, so when somebody put that controller in her palm and showed her the new meanings of A & B, she swooned. It was all she could think about for days.

Super Mario Brothers One is also the only video game (besides "Mike Tyson's Punch Out!") that Betty has ever "beaten". But with the the Super Mario Brothers games, unlike just about every other game, beating them was never the point. You'd much rather have it go all over again, take it back to the start, delighting you, with the same scenes and the same mushrooms and the same Koopa Troopas, forever. I think this is what many people did right after they beat it.

2. Super Track and Field [for Nintendo] - Betty and Nancy D. and Koko the Clown and Little Hun and Magwich the Gruff Australian and Ana used to sock themselves away to play this game for hours on a TV the size of a Game Boy in Betty's house in Maine. Nancy tells Betty that one time Betty faked "sports injury" and "amnesia" during one of the more challenging tournaments, but Betty doesn't remember this, probably due to the injury with amnesia.

3. Ken Griffey Junior Baseball a.k.a. "Ken Griffey Junior presents Major League Baseball" [for Super Nintendo] - A major watershed in video game history: the players chewed gum and blew little pink bubbles from it. A perfect detail that cemented our loyalty to "Griffey".

Also new in Griffey: all the teams had recognizable players with recognizable bodies (hey, Cecil Fielder! hey Harold Baines with the muscular butt!) and fake names. Griffey was the only real player with a real name, so playing Griffey for hours (and "seasons!" This was the first game Betty knew of with 162 game seasons!) at the Asen home gave rise to the popular rallying cry "We're Mariners!"-- even among a bunch of Yankee sluts.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog [for Sega Game Gear] - When Betty's sweet parents gave her a Game Gear for Christmas, they included the game "The Chessmaster". Sega included "Sonic the Hedgehog". Which one do you think she played until it broke?

Betty thinks that Sonic looked kind of like the Firefox logo. And as an animalist, she enjoyed being represented in her pursuit of electronic glory by a hedgehog who made his special "curl up in a ball" abilities work for him. An important moment in the history of Darwinism.

5. Super Mario Kart [for Super Nintendo] - This is where Nintendo went post-modern. You could play as Bowser, or Koopa, or Donkey Kong, and that was just as reasonable as being Mario or Luigi. The Princess had been empowered and no mere victim since Super Mario Brothers 2, but still everyone always wanted to accelerate along the Rainbow Road on their way to a Mushroom Cup with her. Was it a little sexist that she was grouped with Yoshi - Mario's pet/work-dino - in this game? It's difficult to read politics into any of these games. They completely disarm that side of my brain. But I think, nah.

6. Rock Band [for Xbox 360] - WHOA! As we have already noted, this game is so freaking awesome. I don't really know what to say about it beyond that. It's all pretty obvious. You feel like you're flying when you play it. It makes you hear rock music a little differently.

7. Guitar Hero II [for Xbox 360] - The cartoonish cousin of Rock Band, and the only education in 70s and 80s glam metal you'll ever need.

8. Wii Sports [for Nintendo Wii, which B&B just purchased and played for the first time]- I believe a review I read when this came out summed it up best: "More fun than a bucket of ferrets". When you hit the tennis ball, when you release the bowling ball, you feel the weight.

9. Wii Fit [for Nintendo Wii] - The smartest most accessible video game ever made? Also super fun and leaves you sweating and wanting to do MORE YOGA. Wii Fit earns big bonus points from Betty for the moral support factor that is built-in with your hunky yet non-threatening "trainer".

10. Betty can't think of a tenth game. These Nervy Nine pretty much capture the meaning and influence of video games on her life. Maybe that Asteroid-hitting-bricks game for Game Boy. Maybe just the Game Boy as an object and a comfort and a red-buttoned companion. And who ever thought to make it that grey color? That was odd and memorable.

Betty believes that all of these games contributed to her personal development and opened her imagination. If she ever needs a disincentive for video games because she needs to focus on the non-imaginative to survive, she will throw on a couple episodes of the Super Mario Brothers live-action TV show.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

parallel worlds paralyze me 1

I reserved my last Saturday in Tokyo to carry out the Visiting of some contemporary art shows. In truth, this was more out of lazyness than principled stance, as tracking shows down has always been a bit of a hassle, and Tokyo's dedicated Contemporary Art Museum is a bit off the radar. On this occasion the selection was mostly orthodox-- yes, yes, yes, the usual suspects...

What was most interesting of the excercise was the discovery (it'd been a while...) that a number of the major galleries, have moved into the three top consecutive stories of an industrial storage building by the Fukagawa river, pretty much in Chelsea fashion. This is, the ones that have international -ie NY- resonance, such as Shugo Arts and Taka Ishii . On the one hand, it was great to see a better suited space opened up, creating more possibilities for display. On the other hand, it is disturbing to confirm that the continuating hegemony of the estheticizing (ie, surplus value-creating) white-cube, which now has morphed into an Absolute Mall of Art, requiring zero foot-work on behalf of the new-new (and not-so-new-new) super-super rich and those of us that facilitate their shopping.

I saw mostly vapid, over-priced paintings by Kawakubo Tohru at the Tomio Koyama Gallery (an early supporter of that Murakami of LV fame, among other biggies of the so-called neopop fad). Koyama is one of the oldest gallerists, having survived unharmed both the economic bubble, it's demise and the arrival of the new-new super-super rich. I presume that these paintings will sell well among such crowd-- mostly well executed, heavily impastoed large-scale acrylics composed of pure-color parallel lines depicting messy interiors (a po-mo return to the atelier d'artiste theme?), Chirico-like landscapes and a series of face-less individuals in school uniforms.

I had a better impression of the two other painting shows at the Mall. At Taka Ishii, Dusseldorf-based Kyoko Murase showed her beautiful, airy acrylics of mystical forests, where a mysterious female figure dances among the delicately colored, almost translucent tree-trunks. At Shugo Arts, I saw the end of Swedish-born, NY resident Ylva Ogland's show. This artist presented three, very very grey works concerned with the notion of the "good death." The first picture was an installation of about twenty monochrome paintings of the same size, depicting a mirror, with the caption "She who shows the way." On top of each painting was placed an 18 ounce crystal. The composition was exactly the same for each painting, with a swift and almost washed-out brush-work, bringing attention to the surface of the mirror where she deftly worked with its irregularities, spots, dirt... This was a clever take on the problem of the vanitas painting tradition and its concern with time and ephemerality. The second work, "She sleeps" was a series of four paintings, of different size, first, a naturalistic portrait of a woman; second, an old woman during her wake; and third, an infelicitous symmetrical pairing of a porcelain Madonna with child figurine and a lily, and a Guanyin figurine with its lotus-flower and a budding rose. While the artist's brushwork is extraordinary, and the first piece was by all means breath-taking, I couldn't help but feel that the second piece undermined the power of the first with its maudlin overtones and mildly kitschy affectation. In any case, this was by far the brainiest piece in a day of disappointments (to be explained soon in my next post).

To sum up, not much new, other than the setting, which I'm afraid confirms that Japan's gallery "scene" is just as hegemonized and terminal as Europe and the US. And why should it be any different? They are in it for the money, right? It was good to see that... things haven't changed that much, despite all that vanity of vanities...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

College buddy in the New Yorker on

I have to take a moment to brag about the first instance of a fellow editor of the College Hill Independent from the 2003-04 golden era being published in the New Yorker. Charles Bethea, who I remember for his goofily smart article about the highest point in Rhode Island, Jerimoth Hill, now brings his goofy intelligence to a Talk of the Town piece on the guy (un)lucky enough to sign up for the gmail account in 2004.

Congratulations, Charles!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fun Times at Election High

Betty and Bimbo have enjoyed watching Barack Obama be Our President all week while John McCain passive-aggressively complains and continues a generally dunderheaded campaign from his couch (if not from a couch in Kansas). We hear rumors from Europe that the Republicans may ask McCain to step down if things keep going this way. It wouldn't be a half bad idea! Then again, when Betty lived in Chile she read in a magazine that Chelsea Clinton's boyfriend at Stanford dumped her for Ken Starr's daughter, so we take all foreign rumors about American political figures with a truckload of salt.

B&B thought Obama did a great job in Jerusalem. The message he wrote in the book at the Holocaust Memorial was beautiful. "Boilerplate beautiful" is a genre Obama dominates, and I mean no disrespect or snark at all when I say that. A public figure who can repeat and reframe old truths in ways that really capture our attention and make us reconsider them is someone to be treasured; I think also of Hillary Clinton's description of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq at the end of one of the debates, and of course Obama's speech on race.

But watching the images of Obama in Berlin today, Betty (at least) felt both elation and concern. It was of course very exciting - palpable emotion and joy, even through the non-HD television set. The images were nothing less than monumental. Almost throwback. Betty felt nostalgia for a time she never lived through.

The problem that struck Betty, as she watched breathless reporters snap pictures of German teenagers climbing all over each other to snap pictures of Obama, is that we are pinning all our hopes on this guy because he presents a real alternative to the last eight mind-boggling years of George W. Bush (Yes.) and because we like the way it feels to get excited (Yes.) about a totally exceptional individual (Yes.). Who doesn't?!

But the truth is that Obama has already become Presidential in ways both good and bad, and only the good ways have been unexpected, which is why they inspire so much joy in nearly everyone who comes across him. As for the bad ways, Betty now realizes that we can all be disappointed in Obama for letting us down and being manipulative and craven and saying the safe things, or we can do the work ourselves that will gather the people power and the momentum and votes to pressure him when he IS Our President, and push him leftward. I really think the latter is the only choice we have. I am done complaining about Obama's rightward drift. I am ready to take up the slack.

Now to figure out what that entails.

We'd love to hear other peoples' impressions of Obama's Tour.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fascinating New Way to Spy

The internet offers many ways to anonymously track the activities of friends and family, rivals and foes. I've just a found a fascinating new one. This web site is a database of Federal Election Committee records of all campaign contributions over $200 made to political candidates since 1980. You can search the name of anyone you know or are curious about, see a listing of all their contributions, and get the scoop on their shifting alliances (assuming they are a relatively well-heeled contributor). Someone being cagey about their vote? Check the money trail.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Star Ledger

Betty and Bimbo got walloped by "The Dark Knight" in Queens last night after taking in some of the most unique and tasty Thai food in the United States! As we recover from both happy shake-ups to our systems, we feel compelled to say just one thing for the record.

Heath Ledger did NOT go crazy by getting "too into the role of the Joker" as Jack Nicholson and others have implied or just stated with a grave and attention-grabbing pomposity.

Don't get us wrong: Ledger is fully awesome in the movie! He's working at full strength, kicking his gifts into high gear, performing at a fever pitch and letting his character bask in the near-nihilistic fun of action movies, synthesizing his talents with the script to give us a gasp-making performance that is the definition of entertainment.

You want him to be on the screen all the time, moving and jittering his limbs and swooping in like an overgrown imp and smacking his drooly lips and intoning the script's best lines in a voice that makes him sound like a demented Al Franken. His greasy green-tinted post-pool curly hair and smeared make-up is the creation of a genius (costume designer, please step up!) and his long coat and tight suit look like they've never been washed or taken off, and hide tightly-wound wounds and smelly chaos. And you gotta see him in a Nurse Betty get-up! He's a live wire, and totally scary and attractive at all times.

This is just to say that all of this thoughtful detail that makes a character who is an atmosphere unto himself is part of a great movie performance - Ledger balancing and deploying many new and old tools to drive us - the audience! -crazy. He is wildly successful, which is a testament to his imagination, his skill, and his sanity.

Like, duh.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Betty back on the Internet?

A few recent telltale signs (receiving a forwarded PETA action email from her, and seeing a green dot next to her name on gchat) indicated to me that Betty might have ended her separation from the world wide web a bit early.

What gives? Does this mean that it's true -- we now need broadband like we need air to breathe and water to drink?

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Yorker Cover: I will not cancel my sub

This cover does not bother me.

What bothers me is that a Fox News commentator called a bump of the Obama's fists a "terrorist fist jab." What bothers me is the persistence of the rumors that Obama is a muslim -- but what bothers me even more is that there would be something wrong if he were a muslim.

What bothers me is that Congressman Keith Ellison, inducted last year as the first ever Muslim member of Congress (and an African-American) provoked nasty responses from fellow congresspersons simply because he wished to place his hand on the Koran while being sworn in. Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia wrote in a letter to his constituents about Ellison:
The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.
Guess what, folks? We have a racist society where it's bad to be black, sometimes even worse to be muslim, and sometimes worst of all to be an immigrant. The Blitt cover doesn't, to me, promote any of these things -- it just holds a mirror up of that society for us to see. Of course we don't like it. But it's much easier to get pissed at the New Yorker than it is to do the hard work on the ground of undoing and fighting hatred among our coworkers, neighbors, relatives and friends.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I love it so much that I don't want to mention it...

But I can't help myself. I am officially a die-hard fan of Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg. When it first appeared on the well-traversed corner of 9th and Berry, I expected it would fill the beckoning void of a poser velvet-rope scene I thought Williamsburg was more than ready for. But months later, I am still shocked when I am not only granted entry, but seated at the best table in the house during prime time (11 pm - 2 am). I can't put my finger on exactly what it is about this place that thrills me. It's not the music (which is barely audible); and the crowd, while nothing to sneeze at, doesn't look or feel much different than the population of the Bedford L subway platform on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The cocktails are way overpriced and the wine list is only par. Sure, the space is beautiful- almost breathtaking - but that's usually the first thing you notice about a place when it doesn't have anything else to offer.

So what is it? The more I think about it, the more I think it must come down to the professionalism of the staff. The owners certainly know Williamsburg well - two are vets of Union Pool and the third hails from The Broadway Diner on the Southside: Both spots have catered with enormous success to the hipster (r)evolution. But there is something about Hotel Delmano that echoes of a far different place and time - and it's not just in the design. For starters, while the doorman will scrutinize your demeanor and ID with calculated precision, once he grants you entry, the hosts welcome you as if it were their own home (assuming it's 1925 and you're a guest of an unexpected guest). The bartenders, who are all men, are handsome but not off-puttingly so, and will coach you through your choice of libation like it's your last cocktail before Prohibition. They have all earned their wings elsewhere, at much more self-important places (like Milk and Honey) and while he might be a bass player in a band still waiting for a record deal, he's more interested in telling you the story behind one of their signature drinks, (like the Commandant's Cocktail), which are all served in champagne bowls circa Casablanca, than he is in trying to get you to one of his gigs. This is the only place I have ever been to that has offered a taste of a cocktail before committing you to a purchase. (This is done by dipping a clean stirring straw into a drink he's already made for someone else). When I left there tonight, I had already been won over many times over, but on my way out, one of the hosts put his hands on my and my companion's shoulders and whispered very discreetly in each of our ears: "Be careful". This was in response to a havoc-maker dancing in the street, shouting profanities having to do with the long-ago death of former neighbor Oznot's Dish. But as long as he wasn't hurting anyone, no one made a move to stop him.

In New York City, the ideas of being nice and being desired are far too often considered mutually exclusive. Hotel Delmano desires to turn this backwards construct deservedly on its head. Three cheers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages."

This is just to say that Betty's self-imposed technology lock-out (lockdown, blockade, technology eaten by loch ness monster) begins this Saturday. So email, post, poke, comment, twit, blog her (even if you hardly even know her) before that. She can hardly upload all her music files to fast enough as the big day draws ever nearer to her laptop and then dumps a big pile of books and scores on top of it.

But let's not make too much of all this Internet-dumpage, lest the Net become taboo "object", because then Betty will just want to go on it all the time! Even more than she wants it all the time now.

This blog is your hands, able friends.

In other news, Betty recently learned that David Sedaris, Umberto Eco, and famous Stanford Computer Science professor Donald Knuth, author of The Art of Computer Programming, also shun the "electronic lady".

Friday, July 04, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Farewell to Memes: Part III

As amateur historians of the funny web, we believe that the trend of stitching together "previews" for movies that never were began with "Brokeback to the Future" and its numberless spawn ("The Empire Brokeback", "Brokeback of the Rings", and "Brokeback Mountain - Christian Edition" among those we have viewed). The original remains the classic, the others inferior knock-offs (if you ask us).

But then along came the guffaw-hockers behind "Must Love Jaws", "Glen and Gary and Glen and Ross", and (posted below for your convenience and pleasure), "10 Things I Hate About Commandments".

Now these people know previews!! Betty and Bimbo have laughed at all three of these little gems so hard they have snorted.

Let the ten day countdown to weblessness begin...for now let us revel in a Mardi Gras of the modem.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blogging for Bucks? or Betty's Ongoing Battles with Technology and Careers

Betty's blogress is on hold this week as she learns all about Ernest Hemingway for an article. BUT BUT BUT a possibly fruitful idea occurred to her today.

Betty realizes that she is a product of her time. This is not good or bad, but it is obvious. Just as Betty laments the onslaught of the Internet, the phasing out of the CD and the ubiquity of cellphones and iPods and iPhones, so too will some fetus of today regret the passing of the fetus technologies of future.

So why not embrace her times? Her habits and addictions? And by "embrace them" she means "make money off of them"!

Not kill two birds with one stone (yuck!), but, but, but --- nuzzle two puppies with one hand?!

In other words, why not put all this Twittering and Blogging and MyFace that scares the Greatest Generation to good use by DOING IT FOR THEM OR FOR THEIR CAUSE?

OR -- Why not write a blog that is a little more professional and polished than this one and scout fans?? And by fans we mean fans who will pay us to blog, and their friends.

Thoughts? Ideas? Impeccably dry witticisms re: doing two things with one hand?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Books of My Life

Betty found an interesting post today about books that have changed your life. Blog author Kevin Kelly calls such books "tools" and asks us to consider the books that have actually changed the way we live and act in the world, helped us make a decision, set a course in our life, "books as levers".

Betty is not used to thinking this way about books, but considers this an interesting experiment. She will post her list soon, and in the meantime, awaits yours.

And while we're at it, let's do this for movies, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wake For the Web:Part II, and Upcoming Blogathon

So today's funny Internet film needs no introduction. It is one of our all-time favorites, but be forewarned that how hard you laugh may influence what happens to you in the afterlife.

In other news, we want to have another Blog-a-Thon before Betty breaks outta the net. Since this blog is nothing if not patriotic, we were thinking the Fourth of July would be a good day to 'Thon. Please let us know if this sounds good to you! Betty likes Blog-a-Thonning for Waggytail Rescue since she knows their work and can vouch for its high (and cute) quality, but she would be open to suggestions of other worthy causes, too!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Enneagram and the Zodiac

Sometimes I feel like Carrie Bradshaw! But I don't have a Mac.

Consider this poignant question I am typing: "Even though the Enneagram and Astrology are silly and bunk (or, as Wayne Campbell would say, "both bogus and sad"), can we learn anything about ourselves from them? Are our fates written in the stars?"

I just threw in that last bit for flair (and fidelity).

I actually think the Enneagram is pretty great. I like that you can easily identify which type you are without taking a stupid test (though they exist if you are stupid, hate spontaneous introversion, or enjoy tests). And because it was invented by humans trying to convince us that their system works, it pretty much works. For newcomers, here are the nine personality types of the Enneagram (adapted from Wikipedia and

Type 1 - Perfectionists, Reformers, Judges, Crusaders, Critics
Life for you is about adhering to your strong internal set of standards. Sometimes, you wish that you could let go and have more fun. This can be hard for you to do because of your strong work ethic. Privately, you may criticize yourself for your shortcomings far more than you ever criticize anyone else. Because you can be so hard on yourself, you long for positive feedback, serenity and happiness.
Virtues: Visionary talents, integrity, high standards, drive
Vices: Resentment, self-righteousness, rigidity, anger
Spiritual goal: Serenity

Famous Ones: Ralph Nader, Ernest Hemingway, Eleanor Roosevelt

Type 2 - Helpers, Givers, Caretakers
Relationship orientated, you reach out to others and are often the first one to lend a hand. A good listener, you focus on the needs and concerns of others. You usually know what people need and feel, and enjoy taking on the kind of role where you can show your giving and generous nature. You have developed the gift of flattery to the level of an art form because you see how this skill can be a currency for creating intimate rapport.
Virtues: Emotional intelligence, kindness, intuition
Vices: Pride, patronizing, bossy, manipulative
Spiritual goal: Humility

Famous Twos: Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Carter, Mia Farrow (I think Twos are probably underrepresented among the famous.)

Type 3 - Achievers, Performers, Status Seekers
You want to be competent, productive, accomplished and dynamic. More importantly, you want to be good at what you do and to look good doing it. Continuously seeking attention and admiration, you aren’t afraid to showcase or promote your talents and ambitions. Because there is no second best for you, you keep trying until you reach your goal. You strive for and often develop finesse. Your high level of self-confidence, enthusiasm and energy tends to rub off on everyone around you. Your positive attitude is often motivating to others. Always on the go and energized by starting new projects, you can achieve a great deal but are also at risk of burning out.
Virtues: Energetic, Positive, Enthusiastic, Industrious, Confident
Vices: Vanity, Confusion, Exhaustion
Spiritual goal: Honesty

Famous Threes: Paul McCartney, Jay Gatsby, David Bowie, Madonna, Barack Obama

Type 4- Romantics, Individualists, Mystics

Motivated by the need to understand and to be understood, you desire experiences that are rich with feeling and meaning. You long to freely express yourself. You feel your emotions deeply and are not afraid to go emotionally where others fear to tread. This includes having an exquisite, intuitive ability to distinguish between subtle emotions that others often miss. Painfully self-conscious, you are often overly focused on how different you are from others. A true humanitarian, you have a natural passion for protest. At times intense and contrary, you are not afraid to think for yourself and voice your point of view.
Virtues: Intuition, Creativity, Transformative abilities
Vices: Envious, Moody, Self-Absorbed
Spiritual goal: Equanimity

Famous Fours: Johnny Depp, Bob Dylan, Angelina Jolie

Type 5 - Experts, Observers, Thinkers, Investigators, Sages

Studious and scholarly, you develop expertise in any area that is of interest to you, often in more than one field. You believe that knowledge is power and feel it is imperative that you be as a means of survival. Often scientific, you have unparalleled powers of mental perception due in part to your ability to remain detached and unaffected by your emotions.You have an inquisitive and observant nature with an insatiable appetite for information. You think things through before offering your perceptive insights regarding systems, people or how the world works.
Virtues: Insightful, Astute, Good Instincts, Loyalty, Kindness
Vices: Greed, Arrogance, Aloofness
Spiritual goal: Transcendence

Famous Fives: Samuel Beckett, Annie Leibowitz, Franz Kafka, Alfred Hitchcock

Type 6 - Skeptics, Heroes/Rebels, Loyalists, Guardians, Defenders

You often exhibit unwavering loyalty and responsibility, but once betrayed, they are slow to trust again. You can be wary and cautious one minute and/or rebellious and courageous the next. You possess an endearing childlike reactivity and often take the position of the devil’s advocate. Depending on the situation, you can be friendly and outgoing or reserved and skeptical. A ‘good soldier’, you prefer the role of buddy, loyal family member or trusted employee. You are attracted to people who are strong, protective or have prestige.
Virtues: Loyalty, Dedication, Courage
Vices: Fear, Paranoia, Persecution Complex, Contrarian
Spiritual goal: Faith

Famous Sixes: Woody Allen, Christopher Hitchens, Spike Lee, Michael Moore, David Letterman

Type 7 - Epicures, Enthusiasts, Adventurers, Sensationalists
You embrace life for its varied joys and wonders, and live for and in the moment. You seek excitement, new experiences, people and travel. Uneasiness is kept at bay by keeping busy with interesting and diverse experiences. Seeking a positive future with unlimited possibilities, you believe that the sky is the limit. You enjoy new ideas and live in the world of your imagination where you can manifest your dreams. You have a talent for squeezing the boredom and monotony out of routine tasks, turning the mundane into the magical.
Virtues: Loving, Creative, Joyful, Visionary Abilities, Kindness, Innovation
Vices: Greedy, Indulgent, Selfish, Flaky
Spiritual goal: Concentration

Famous Sevens: Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Branagh, Mick Jagger, Babe Ruth, Liz Taylor

Type 8 - Leaders, Problem-Solvers, Mavericks
You are charismatic and exude confidence. You have great pride in your ability to face, endure and overcome adversity, believing that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Your assertive stance and imposing presence make you a ‘force of nature’. You like challenges and usually overcome the kinds of obstacles that limit or deter others. You seek control over your life and and fear being controlled by others.
Virtues: Sense of Justice, Honesty, Leadership, Responsibility
Vices: Pushiness, Excess, Myopia, Intensity
Spiritual goal: Innocence

Famous Eights: Martin Luther King Jr., Johnny Cash, Sean Penn, Fidel Castro, Mike Ditka

Type 9 - Mediators, Peacemakers, Preservationists
Considerate and gentle, you have an innate ability to make people feel comfortable and at ease. You are very accepting and readily empathize with others. Focused on the well being of others, you may at times lose sight of your own agenda. More intellectual than you let on, you have a natural gift for seeing many different points of view. Often the strong silent type, you have the power of patience, persistence and resistance. You see yourself as having stamina and take pride in your ability to endure. You tend to procrastinate and take longer than others to make up your mind. When you do make a decision, you are like an unstoppable elephant pursuing its goals. Not one to self-promote, you would rather be discovered than announce yourself.
Virtues: Acceptance, Peacefulness, Openness, Patience, Easy-going
Vices: Inaction, Sloth, Passive-Aggression
Spritual goal: Action

Famous Nines: Bill Clinton, John Goodman, Abraham Lincoln, Ringo Starr

Woo! That's a lot. But I think it's pretty easy to figure out which type you are. And probably which type most of your friends and family members are. And the Enneagram presents itself as a total system, so the types are connected to each other in interesting and plausible ways.

Let me know what you think of all this. Maybe you think it's bullshit. I find it helpful and interesting, in a simple way.

The famous people examples are more obvious caricatures/exaggerations of the types than anything else.

Fun fact! The Enneagram of Personality first reached a mass audience in 1984 when a Jesuit priest named Patrick O'Leary published a book titled "The Enneagram: A Journey of Self-Discovery".

An Irish Wake for the Internet

As you may have heard, Betty and the Internet will part ways for a month this summer. Betty wants to find fun off the screen, and the Internet has plenty of other friends to hang with. In this age of time-suck, Twitter (which everyone should still join), and the "informative" distraction, Betty's seems like an uncontroversial and downright worthy undertaking, doesn't it?



Yesterday the project was challenged from many sides!

Someone in Sao Paolo told Betty (verbatim, via Skype chat) "i think its dumb. are you trying to challenge modern society or something" and then Bimbo cheekily suggested "Why don't you do it for one day?"

MOVING ALONG WITH MY INTENDED JOURNEY OF SELF-IMPROVEMENT, Bimbo is helping me find all our favorite Internet videos that we've laughed really loudly to in our days together. We'll post a new one every couple of days. Mirth city!

OK, so we're kicking off this series (of which you may refer to us as "the curators") with a classic. The most disastrous TV interview of all time. Good thing the Internet was there to make us aware! We hope you enjoy it as much as we always have, and that you find its many insights remain "truetruetrue".

Lights, camera...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Climate Change and the Olympics

As Betty and Bimbo and Cocoa (the dog, not the clown) watched the 7 o'clock news on CNN last night, they caught depressing story after depressing story, each registering a different degree of sadness, but striking a common chord: climate change. From the floods in the Midwest to the fights over Brazilian forests to the latest typhoon in the Philippines, to the tanking (no pun intended) of economies everywhere, we may draw the a common conclusion: climate change is upon us, and accelerating towards an unknown future.

Last week Betty read that the coach of the Australian Olympic Track & Field team would be forbidding his athletes from attending the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Games for the very simple reason that Beijing's air quality is unquestionably harmful to human lungs. International agencies like the World Bank and the United Nations consistently rank Beijing's air among the world's worst. So the Australian coach is forbidding his athletes from arriving in Beijing until the second week of the games, when they'll be competing.

Last year, IOC Chief Jacques Rogge had said that endurance events could be postponed or cancelled to protect competitors' health during the August 8-24 Games. In startled response, hoping to avoid this kind of embarrassment, Beijing announced that it will ban around half the city's three-million-plus cars from the roads during the Games. Plus, many factories will be closed down and all construction work ordered to halt. Needless to say, many Chinese workers who depend on construction for paltry incomes are unhappy about this, and this official temporary ban on construction offers no long-term solution to anything.

More guest-host trouble broke out last week, when even more Australian teams followed the track squad's lead and announced -- with great delicacy -- that they, too, will refrain from the opening week's events, including the opening ceremonies. The teams will either stay INDOORS in Beijing and prepare to compete all week (gymnasts, basketball players) or arrive in Beijing for the second week only (cyclists, runners, and all other outdoor athletes who need to breathe air that is not the color of mud).

The Olympic organizing committee in Beijing is pissed, and has issued statements attempting to guilt-trip the Australian Olympians into appearing (for the world) at the opening ceremonies.

One spokesman said: "We need, as a human family, to be together in a place and not think about all the things in the world that divide us." Click on the link above for more - the same spokesman even suggests that Australia owes China an appearance at the opening ceremonies, since China posed no embarrassing problems as a guest at the Sydney games in 2000!

I can only conclude from all this pussyfooting and the frantic, extreme, and temporary anti-smog measures imposed by the Beijing organizers that the spirit behind the 2008 Olympic games is hollow, hypocritical and corrupt. On the part of the Chinese or the local Beijing government, there is no intention of taking measures to fight climate change in a sustainable way -- say, by encouraging less consumption or discouraging new polluting factories that are spreading like wildfire across the country. Of course, this is all linked to the global march of capitalism that is exploding in China right now, but that's a blog post (or a dissertation) for another day.

Right now, we need to acknowledge the absurdity of sending athletes -- not mere diplomats, but ATHLETES -- to compete in a place that does not have enough clean air for people -- let alone Olympic runners -- to breathe safely. We need to understand that the organizing committee is panicking because one team has decided that they are going to compete with their lungs intact. We need, as a human family, to be together in our constant and vocal opposition to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

And if we do tune in for the sports, let's remember to root hard for Australia -- although they probably won't need it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Disappointed in Obama

Barack Obama has deeply disappointed me by deciding to forgo engagement in the public financing system. Not only does this go back (or "flip flop") on a pledge he made last year, but it also cedes the issue and the political and moral high ground to John McCain.

The most resonant criticism of Hillary Clinton that many Obama supporters and other Clinton critics brought to bear during the primary was the fact that it seemed like she'd do anything to win. That attitude that the means justify the ends is exactly what turns so many people off from politics.
So, to argue that forgoing public financing gives him a better shot to win because of his superior fundraising abilities is - for me - to miss the point entirely. It's not about winning at all costs -- it's about changing the system.

Obama is right that the campaign finance system needs deep change. But he is deeply misleading to characterize his decision to depend entirely on private money as a "declaration of independence" from a broken system. I do applaud his continued refusal to take money from PACs and lobbyists but the fact remains that he is hauling in more $2,300 checks than anyone. The fact that he also is getting hundreds of thousands of $25 and $50 checks doesn't mean that private money should stay in politics.

Hopefully this is not a first step in the morphing of Obama into just another Democratic presidential candidate. We shall see.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Summer Fling

Like you, Betty has some summer goals: read a heap of books, do her album, complete her little jobs, research and write-up her pieces for a top-secret collaborative project, throw out 85% of the contents of her house without accidentally throwing away her dog, general soul-building, etc. But how will these worthy projects go? That soul isn't going to simultaneously harden and relax itself, Betty.

So Betty is adding one more project to the list, one she hopes will prove rewarding and interesting in itself. For one month, from July 11-August 11, Betty will deactivate her e-mail account. Doesn't that sound so short? It really is so short. Betty is looking forward to it. More details to come.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More from Forster, Betty's Latest Flame

He is absurdly young - not twenty-one - and he will be engaged to be married at twenty-three. He has no knowledge of the world; for example, he thinks that if you do not want money you can give it to friends who do. He believes in humanity because he knows a dozen decent people. He believes in women because he has loved his mother. And his friends are as young and as ignorant as himself. They are full of the wine of life. But they have not tasted the cup - let us call it the teacup - of experience...Oh, that teacup! To be taken at prayers, at friendship, at love, till we are quite sane, quite efficient, quite experienced, and quite useless to God or man. We must drink it, or we shall die. But we need not drink it always. Here is our problem and our salvation. There comes a moment - God knows when - at which we can say, "I will experience no long. I will create. I will be an experience." But to do this we must be both acute and heroic. For it is not easy, after accepting six cups of tea, to throw the seventh in the face of the hostess. And to Rickie this moment has not, as yet, been offered.

- from The Longest Journey, Chapter 7

Land of Plenty

Myself, Koko and Magwitch are about to embark on a journey like no other. The LSAT's and Michael Brennan's Congressional race delayed our trip, but we could only wait so long. We are off to Foxwoods.

"Liveblogging" is not an option (no wireless,) but expect an update tomorrow or Friday. Hopefully we will all still be alive and have some money left over to pay our internet bills.

Also, while I have never been to Ledyard, Connecticut, I have no plans to move there (nor will I after this trip.) I think Ledyard is one place that Betty and Bimbo can cross off of their list of places to move.

Lastly, I was thinking we should have a "Pick the VP's" sweepstakes here on the blog. Thoughts??

Jasen, formally known as "Obamarama"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Sex and the City" Not a Dog

Hey! The "Sex and the City" movie was not too awful! Yes, the script was ostentatiously lazy (and relied too much on screeching to convey joy), but visually the movie drew in and held the eye and emotionally it often made sense. Like the show, you can welcome it into your life no matter how you're feeling -- it's like an aspirin taken in ice cream. And there were some funny lines, maybe about 20 of them!

First off, a word to address to those who will charge that the movie is bad for women or bad for everyone. The film, like the show, takes place on a fictional plane of reality and should not be berated for that. Once we understand "Sex" like we understand "The Simpsons," and see Carrie's shoe collection as we see Homer's donuts (or whatever)-- then we can kick back and enjoy the real and sticky jelly-joy that awaits us behind the glazey sprinkley exterior.

Enchantment has its uses. Unlike Anthony Lane, I can only conclude that the writers did a great job stretching the material to cover 2.5 hours. The story, though grand in its events, is simple in its messages: that forgiveness is better than bitterness, and that there a exist a muliplicity of Goods and Good Lives, and that it's up to each one of us -- like children on a scavenger hunt -- to make a Good Life from the Goods that work for us. We must make our own treasure maps.

Though simple to understand, this message is not easy to live by, and it's a good thing the movie is so fun and ridiculous and illogical -- all qualities that make its moral even more memorable, as attractive to contemplate as it is difficult to realize.

All four actresses were good in the film, with Sarah Jessica Parker taking a few unexpected trips into telenovela-acting territory. But Kristin Davis deserves special recognition for her gifts as a comedienne (Yes! Lucy style!), including the jumpiest cartoon eyes this side of Itchy and Scratchy.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Top Ten: An Ode to the Neighborhood

1. The Seward Park Library - Where Betty gets all her books. And this list was born on the occasion of Bimbo getting his library card today!
2. Fine Fare - Our supermarket. Always reliable and stocked with cookies, and cheese.
3. "Cobblestone Park" - where Cocoa runs free behind our house, and where we can read in the shade on benches during hazy days.
4. The basketball and handball courts next to cobblestone park, where we run and play. And where there's a playground and BBQs and outdoor birthday parties for kids. Popular themes include Dora the Exploradora and Spongebob.
5. Full City Coffee (s.k.a. "Roots and Vines"). Weird place that somehow fits into the fabric.
6. The church a few doors down, where there's always something happening.
7. East Broadway's slope through old Jewish New York and Chinatown, down to City Hall. Full of trees.
8. Moishe's Bakery next to our building. Great cookies, nice people.
9. Yemeni convenience store, bafflingly called "Hill Grocery" (hill? what hill?) open 24 hours, across the street, a skip from the old mailbox.
10. So many different people.

Friday, June 13, 2008

E.M. Forster

Well, it is odd and sad that our minds should be such seedbeds, and we without power to choose the seed. But man is an odd, sad creature as yet, intent on pilfering the earth, and heedless of the growths within himself...He leaves it to the specialist, which is as if he should leave his dinner to be eaten by a steam-engine.

-- from Howards End, Chapter 34

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Top Chef Season 4 Finale

The day has finally come. What are we all going to do with ourselves now???

Lisa, Stephanie and Richard Blaise battled it out for the title of Top Chef in Puerto Rico, with the help (sort-of) of world-renowned uberchefs : The woman from Spotted Pig, the guy who runs Blue Hill, and that tall, awesome-looking French dude with the shocking white hair and blue eyes. (Due to a spotty wireless connection, I am doing a bit of a rush job on my front stoop, so certain facts remain unresearched. Three cheers for Time Warner Cable, but at least my TV is still working!)

The requisite curve ball of tonight's competition was the sous chefs not showing up on the day of service. All three simply nodded their heads and stared when the news broke, sighing a silent, collective "Whatever".

Based on the last three season finales, I was prepared for the dinner service to be somewhat anticlimactic – when the judging is this strict and the food (allegedly) this refined, it doesn’t leave much room for high drama. Still, the tension at tonight’s service was the most I’ve felt in four seasons, and it seemed to be extremely competitive among all three. No dish crashed and burned, and no chef had more than one that the judges absolutely died for. Of the three chefs, Richard didn’t elicit an overwhelmingly positive or negative response – which made me nervous for him. I think they could have given him a break for one substandard dish if another was spectacular.

Lisa won the first unanimous praise with her second course, which was a coconut, Asian- style soup seasoned with citrus and lemongrass (I think). Stephanie’s third course – a lamb dish with olives and braised pistachios (? – again, don’t quote me on this) was a happy surprise, and was arguably the most well received dish of the total service. Everyone really liked both Richard’s (again with the banana scallops, Richard?) and Lisa’s dessert, and Stephanie’s was the clear loser. But it wasn’t a total disaster.

In the confessional commentary, Tom seemed – oddly - to be pulling for Lisa, warts and all. He made a point of saying that sometimes abrasive personalities can be an asset for a chef (you don’t say, Tom!), and seemed to be won over by her cool-as-a-cucumber act during preparation. And at the excruciating judges table faceoff, Lisa was palpably faring better than her competitors. While I was sweating bullets.

The judges are careful to remind the audience and the chefs that this game is about each individual competition, not the cumulative performance of each chef. But if they had stood by this at each finale, the outcomes might have been different. Tiffany could have taken Season 1 and Dale Season 3, but they didn’t. There was never been a completely shocking Top Chef finale, and tonight threatened to be the first.

Maybe we can thank the editing room for this, but from start to finish, the undercurrent of tonight’s episode was this question: If Lisa wins tonight’s challenge, does she deserve to be Top Chef?

When Richard copped to “choking”, I nearly swallowed my arm. On the one hand, he forced the judges to recognize that he didn’t present the best meal of the evening, but they knew that already. On the other hand, he challenged them to recognize that up until this point, he has been the most solid competitor. At least in his opinion. But while Richard’s strategy was historically apt, Stephanie could have presented the very same argument, and her meal was better than his tonight. In hindsight, Richard’s confession could have influenced more than just his own fate.

Like past seasons, the judges broke down the meal by the winners of each course, but unlike past seasons, the final decisions for each course were somewhat ambivalent – likely due to the individual preferences of each judge. It ended like this:

1st course: Lisa/Stephanie

2nd course: Lisa/Richard

3rd course: Stephanie

4th course: Richard/Lisa

I always loved Ted Allen, but I never loved him more when he said: “We agree that you liked one dish more than the other in each course, but the question is how much”. Clearly this was a nod to the fact that while Lisa may have edged out her competitors on the course-by-course tally, did she edge them out enough to win?

Fortunately for Stephanie, the answer was no. Phew!

Congratulations Stephanie. I’m really glad you won – even if you didn’t *quite* deserve it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Guy Savoy: "A Meal is a Celebration of Life."

Do foamy little plates of edible Jackson Pollack swirls and Robert Rauchenberg 3-D collages made of beet, lemon, and orange rind sound like fun to you? Then you will like new French cuisine. In Paris, Betty and Bimbo sampled the fare of French culinary artist Guy Savoy, and they can only describe this foray as unforgettable.

Savoy's food is not conventionally tasty or satisfying, but this does not mean that it is not fun to eat. Also, the service at a three Michelin star restaurant is crazy. Betty was actually hurt when she and Bimbo did not get a big wet kiss from the waiter, the host, their personal table-jester ("Hubert", who said he thought we were French but was probably lying) and the three sommeliers (wine, bread, dessert; actually, even the "bus-man" was kind of a sommalier of dirty dishes!) on their way out the door -- 3 hours after they came in for lunch!

The menu was in ten languages. The meal kicked off with toasted foie gras on a silver stick -- Betty passed, and Bimbo thought it "ehh". Next came a cup with homemade gazpacho ("that tasted like it hit a wall of oil -- yum," said Bimbo) with a tomato surprise underneath (!) the cup, and fresh seasoning on the side. Speaking of sides! Did we mention that we got two different kinds of homemade butter in pastel colored globes? And that one was sweet butter and one salted? Let's just say Betty ate a lot of butter.

After the tomato surprise, the bread sommalier came by to offer us breads from her cart based on what we had ordered (which she knew- maybe there was a mic under the table!). Over the course of the meal, we had about five different kinds of bread, and our favorite was the chestnut bread. But of course, they all tasted good -- especially with butter.

Also, Guy Savoy came out in his chef scrubs and welcomed us! He also welcomed the men at the next table who at one point were shouting about Euros and probably deciding the future of France.

Then our appetizers came out -- "canons of vegetables" -- different poached vegetables stuffed with other vegetables with an (optional) "chicken jelly" to spread around on it. The vegetables were delicious and tasted like no vegetables we have ever known - they tasted more like toys! But the chicken jelly was definitely made for chihuahuas to eat with their peanut butter.

Next came "colors of caviar" -- seven layers of different treatments of caviar; one was a green paste. Bimbo found it "delicious and sophisticated" while Betty didn't care to indulge. But she did like that it looked like a small, delicate ice cream treat.

Things took a dip when the famous asparagus and truffles soup arrived. Betty found it strained (literally *and* figuratively!). Bimbo enjoyed his lobster - baked in a sauce of dried fruit and its own coral. Earlier, Hubert had hailed this dish as "the best of the land and the best of the sea" and to Bimbo's buds, he wasn't wrong.

Betty loved her brioche with truffle butter (another butter!) that the bread sommalier prepared to go with her overhyped soup.

Next came an "amuse bouche" to prepare our palettes for "dessert." It was -- get this -- "Earl Grey ice cream" that really tasted like the tea -- including that dry-mouth aftertaste. Eerie!

Then we had a tiny little strip of what looked and tasted like proto-apple-pie. Maybe it was a strand of DNA for an apple pie to be.

Then Bimbo had cherries with sour cream ice cream -- the best part of the meal, he said. Betty had a chocolate thing with a lime powder around it that was off-putting. She could just picture the chefs dusting off lime Tostitos all over her cake in the kitchen.

We were so full at this point, but there was more. The dessert cart came at us, hard. Lemon-tinted weightless square marshmallows ("it would be such a pity to miss it" sighed the waiter), strawberry macaroons, oh! and cheese! Bimbo tried five different kinds of cheese, and by tried we mean gobbled down with gusto.

Overall, the meal was a super experience, and one we will not soon repeat. Betty's taste buds had never been so attentively brushed with such a diversity of flavors and feelings. It was like being four years old again! Remember the first time you rode in a car? It was kind of like that.

Bimbo gives the grub an "A-minus". But he admits that he is incapable of cultural commentary on the place because "it's just my idea of heaven."

Pictured: Guy Savoy, Asparagus and Truffle Soup with Parmesan and Brioche, Colors of Caviar