Thursday, May 29, 2008

Top Chef Finale Countdown: When Nobody Wins, Stephanie Can't Lose

I talk about Top Chef too much. Mostly to people who have far better things to do than listen.

But, tonight, it felt like someone finally heard me. I watched the final-before-the-finale with someone who had never seen the show before; I was his only reference. I pretty much talked right over the first 18 minutes: reminding him over and over again that so-and-so was going to win or lose based on how much confessional air time he or she was given. Only after a gentle nudge did I realize that it was hardly an indicator - based on the sideline stories, my friend assumed that Richard was the weakest link, and Antonia was going all the way. He may be only half wrong.

I had the same reaction to tonight's TC episode that I did when Julia Sweeney started writing for Sex & The City - after, presumably, the focus group feedback forced the SATC producers to feel accountable for the searing cultural impact of their thinly conceived storylines. Suddenly, things got a lot funnier ("I stopped watching TV when people started putting leeches down their pants") and a lot more candid: The diagnosis of Samantha's breast cancer forced a dialogue about privileged America's smug, misconceived association between reproduction and mortality. Finally, the commentary the show created found its way into the script.

While no one (including herself) has expectations of Lisa going any further than she already has, the girl deserves some moxy points for her middle-finger subversion of the established premise. The inclusion of peanut butter into a starch that didn't need any more flavor could only have been a poke towards Stephanie's dish in the Family Budget elimination challenge: a dish that would have sent anyone else home. The judges had no choice but to let Lisa get away with it- and that's probably why she's going on to Puerto Rico. And for the first time, the table addressed what everyone in the audience has been thinking for weeks - that Spike and Lisa might be sliding by on dumb luck. At long last, the dumbest of the lucky got the cut: Once again, Spike's insistence on depriving his competitors of the "money" ingredients blew up in his face. A frozen scallop is even less useful than a lettuce and tomato garnish, when the people you're serving want something they can eat.

For someone as obsessed with TC as I am, you will rarely find me on the edge of my seat until the last second like I was tonight. For better or for worse, I usually have a pretty good notion of how things are going to go down. But tonight, the diners' comments were so universally harsh that I didn't know what to expect outside of Stephanie's requisite win. And even that was dubious - the response to her dishes were so disproportionate that it suggested a red herring. (I wonder if anyone will ever create a spin on that?).

I give Stephanie credit for continuing to seem surprised. With Spike gone, and Richard losing his grip, and an unprecedented 3-to-1 female-to-male ratio, I wouldn't be surprised if we were surprised again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Alito the Red

But Scalia and Thomas dissent.

"The Bush administration was on the side of the workers."

Now, could this be a good thing?


Monday, May 26, 2008

Close Encounters of the Paul Kind

NEW HAVEN, CT -- Betty, Paul McCartney's #1 Fan, who learned to play guitar to his compositions, wrote him letters in high school, and has all his solo albums, even the crap ones, had a meaningful interaction with her musical hero today. She had been waiting for it nearly all her life.

As Sir (now Dr.?) Paul crossed Elm Street in downtown New Haven around noontime, Betty waited behind a neon security gate that was actually there for Tony Blair (his son was graduating from Yale grad school). Betty knew where to wait because she had seen Willie Mays exit that very way the year of her own graduation. In all seriousness, Betty has always regretted not going up to Willie to tell him how much she loves and appreciates him. Whenever she has been on the fence about whether or not to do something scary after that, she just thinks of Willie, and the words that could have been.

Anyway, Betty waited for Paul and then when he came out in his robe and pink sash, chatting casually with the other honorees, Betty called out "Congratulations, Paul!" and the Cute One turned to regard her, raised his hand in a friendly wave, and said "Thank you!". Then he and his new classmates walked at a leisurely pace towards the library. They probably had some studying to do!

The exhange was beautiful, and for this blogger, so special.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Carver vs. Altman

Finally getting to and through Raymond Carver's collection "What we Talk About When we Talk About Love" (perhaps because it is such perfect subway reading, I only read it there). I wish I had read it before, for a number of reasons, but I am finding myself really distracted by the adaptations that are included in Altman's Shortcuts. It's unfair to make comparisons, but I can't help myself - I thought "The Bath" and "Tell The Women We're Going" were more expansive and chilling in the film (having the obvious benefit of context) - but "So Much Water So Close To Home" hits it harder as a standalone. I haven't looked into it, but "After the Denim" feels like it could be a prototype of California Split. Curious what other people have to say.....

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Eerie, Most Enduring Tale

Betty just re-read Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville's 1853 novella and "Story of Wall Street".

Melville is a master of making America and its culture seem strange, and this tale could not be any richer in its provocations and many detailed symbols and allusions. But it's a quick and easy read, too. You kind of want to read it again as soon as you're done! It's easy to understand, yet really difficult to think about and derive meaning from. It is so open-ended, and yet it feels so claustrophobically compelling while you're reading it. I could feel myself get hot under the collar, the room feel suddenly stuffier, and everything in it a little creepier. I looked for an escape hatch. I needed the narrator's tone to keep me calm-ish. There are moments of social awkwardness and rule-defying in this tale as painful as anything from Curb Your Enthusiasm!

Above all, "Bartleby" is memorable -- it sticks on your brain like hot sealing wax on a letter. The style is chatty, funny, and confessional, but the story itself is anything but. This time, Betty thought it was about modernity and economy, but it is really about everything. Do yourself a favor, seize a couple of idle hours, and read it today.

...I closed the doors, and again advanced towards Bartleby. I felt additional incentives tempting me to my fate. I burned to be rebelled against again. I remembered that Bartleby never left the office.

“Bartleby,” said I, “Ginger Nut is away; just step round to the Post Office, won’t you? (it was but a three minutes walk,) and see if there is any thing for me.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“You will not?”

“I prefer not.”

I staggered to my desk, and sat there in a deep study. My blind inveteracy returned. Was there any other thing in which I could procure myself to be ignominiously repulsed by this lean, penniless wight?—my hired clerk? What added thing is there, perfectly reasonable, that he will be sure to refuse to do?


No answer.

“Bartleby,” in a louder tone.

No answer.

“Bartleby,” I roared.

Like a very ghost, agreeably to the laws of magical invocation, at the third summons, he appeared at the entrance of his hermitage.

More Fun Signs from the Lower East Side

On the church parking lot gate near Betty's house:

Jessica needs all the publicity she can get these days.

Hey! He's Not Dead Yet.

Ted Kennedy has a brain tumor. That fucking sucks. And it's human nature to imagine the worst. But should we have our worst expectations broadcast over every media outlet; media outlets that he can and still does read?

Every oncologist - even those who are particularly empirically oriented - will tell you that a positive outlook is an essential component of every patient's prognosis. Positive thinking alone can't save a life, but negative thinking can surely hinder expectations. The mind-body connection has long been proven in terms of the relationship between stress and heart attack/cancer mortalities. If you read below the headlines, you will find that roughly 7,000 males of the roughly 12,ooo a year who are diagnosed with Ted Kennedy's cancer have a positive 5-year survival rate. So why are we assuming he will fall within the slight majority? He hasn't yet. Not even close.

Ted Kennedy has given more eulogies than most of us will ever hear in our lifetime. He has buried more siblings than most of us can count among our brothers and sisters. He did a really, really bad thing once- and it may have been even worse than what it was on paper. Only he and the Secret Service knows the truth (and I'm not even certain of that). But we forgave him that enough to exalt him as a symbol of enduring democracy: Ted Kennedy's red face is the reason that Massachusetts will always be blue in the eyes of this nation. So why is his death sentence the first thing he will see if, tonight, he types his name into a google search?

The light at the end of the tunnel is dim enough. Let's not clog it with the black dress we've already picked out for a funeral that hasn't happened yet. Let's let a man live, for as long as he can. It might be longer than we think.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Top Chef - Double Spoiler Alert /Cry me a River in Africa/Good vs. Evil

At long last, Restaurant Wars! Dale didn't deserve to win TC. But he deserved to make it into the top four.

I'm totally down with the fact that Bravo and the Magical Elves understand that women have been marginalized on this show for too long. But how could the judges overlook the fact that everywhere Lisa goes, a losing team follows?

Her attitude sucks, hard. And so does Dale's -but so then did Hung's, and Marcel's - and they won season three and came in second in season two, respectively. I thought it was about the food - that's what we always hear when a judgment comes down to the dispositions of the competitors. Lisa's dish was the worst of the worst. Bourdain said it himself - it is so.

I couldn't stop thinking about No Country for Old Men (SPOILER ALERT #2!) as I was watching tonight's episode. Anton Chirurgh, for all of his sociopathy, is endowed to the science of chance - he doesn't presume himself to be any more powerful than the toss of a coin. And that's precisely why he is more powerful than someone who, with the best of intentions, thinks he can change the course of nature after nature has made her decision. (Exactly what or who determines "nature" is a question to be addressed in another blog post, or a haphazardly constructed response paper addressed to the chairman of Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research).

As soon as Lisa lost the determining coin toss to Dale, giving him the position of executive chef, I knew he was in trouble. That was one coin toss he should have liked to lose. With Antonia, Stephanie, and Richard on the opposing team, Dale/Lisa/Spike could only hope for a miracle to keep them off the chopping block. That miracle didn't happen. No surprises there.

However, the composite of Stephanie's umpteenth win was surprising indeed - unexpected enough to raise an eyebrow in the direction of a possible subversion of the holy Judge's Table Code. In seasons 1-3, the executive chef of the winning or losing Restaurant War team is categorically awarded the victor's spoils or the ultimate defeat, depending on where their team lands (read: Tre's untimely departure in Season 3). Stephanie's dishes were excellent, as they always are, but Antonia marched her team to victory - and the latter was given nary a nod. I was really disappointed when Stephanie didn't immediately offer to share her considerable winnings with Antonia. And I expect the editors felt the same way - how many times were we reminded that her wine tasting trip included herself "and the guest of your choice"? Richard wouldn't have thought twice about it. And until tonight, I would have expected the same from Stephanie.

It bugs me that the last sound bite from the losing team's faceoff with the Judges' Table was Lisa saying, "You're only as good as your leader." I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when Dale took the fall, but I was, in a bad way. It makes me wonder if Llewelyen was surprised, too. But I kind of dig that the Cohen Brothers never gave it up. Unlike someone we no longer know, Llewelyen never let us him see him cry.

Monday, May 19, 2008

the gliberals

"When is it that we realize that there is something seriously wrong with the economy? When people like you and me start to fear for their jobs!"

Venus feels Jacobin.

Why not start with the Fashionistas at the NYT.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hunk Alert!!

In which Betty offers just two reasons to watch 1962's Cape Fear:

It's a pretty good story and film, too! The music is by Bernard Hermann and the drama is intense! But the Mitchum/Peck yin-yang is the heart of the thing. See it today!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why Betty Loves New York

Today has been a beautiful day in the city. First Cocoa and Betty went to Tompkins Square park to do some reading and blanket-napping. Oh, and don't forget smiling:

Then, as they were walking home, Betty was joyed to be re-immersed in the bustle of contemporary life and technology after a morning of birds and green. She even felt a new admiration for the glorious consumer fetish that is the iPhone:

Avenue B, will you marry me?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rock Band Rocks Bloggers All Night Long

Is Rock Band the Video Game an authentic rock n' roll experience? Hell No. Contemporary technology simply has not evolved to the point where a video game cartridge will emit the smell of cigarettes, beer, desperation, dirty dollar bills, and vomit.

And yet! Is Rock Band super fun to play, and does it make you feel like you're flying when you play it well? Yes.

For her part, Betty has not had this much fun with a video game since "Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball" rocked Koko's SNES. Besides it always being fun to punch buttons into agreement with fast-moving colored lights, the game makes you think about how rock and pop music is made. On one level, this music is really dumb. It's just riffs played over and over again, and then a pause that makes you miss the riff, and then the return of the riff! But on the other hand, the game makes you respect Rock musicians all the more. The parts are always more intricate and harder to play and to play well than they sound. And could YOU think of the riff to, say, "Enter Sandman"?

Betty and Bimbo (who play in a touring band called "The Beans") are improving their Rock Band chops a lot these days, hitting over 95% on most songs on "Hard" mode, and even beginning to explore the intimidating realm of "Expert" plastic toy guitar gods. Bimbo's signature track is baroque anthem "Welcome Home" by unknown legends Coheed and Cambria. Betty rocks her butt out to "Celebrity Skin" by the much-missed Hole. Conclusion: The seventies and the nineties really shine if you throw an Xbox around them.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Happy Vandalism in L.A.!

Professing Desire, Part Two

Betty was at a party last night, and jumped into a conversation with a friend who is taking a class intriguingly titled "Sex and the City," which is not about the show (or the movie)! He is writing his final paper for the class on common sexual fantasies that involve role-playing parts that correspond to hierarchical relationships from in the "real" world, for example nurse/patient, master/slave, and teacher/student.

This got Betty to thinking about her college thesis on sex, death, and the institutional intellect in the work of Philip Roth. Well, she wasn't really thinking about her thesis, but rather why passions between teachers and students open up such rich terrain for looking at concepts of acceptable culture and scandal and social norms and power dynamics and all that stuff.

Sometimes when she's in class, Betty thinks how weird it must be to be a professor, constantly surrounded/tempted(?) by youthful charms, bodies, and minds that look to you for guidance. This is a dilemma Roth's professor-narrators agonized over in books like "The Breast," "The Professor of Desire," "The Human Stain," and (Betty's personal favorite) "The Dying Animal". Has anybody read "Exit, Ghost"? See also: Woody Allen's mature work.

Have you ever had a crush on (or a date with) your teacher or your student? What do you think was going on there?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Shelby Lynne and Dusty Springfield

Do you have a SOUL? If so, this post is for you!

Betty is a big fan of soul singer Shelby Lynne, but she knew much less about Dusty Springfield until...NOW!

You probably know a handful of Dusty's recordings from the 1960s, such as the Bacharach-penned sex serenade "The Look of Love", "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me", "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (also written by Bacharach, it packs a PUNCH...also recorded by Dionne Warwick to spine-tingling effect), "I Only Wanna Be With You", "How Can I Be Sure?" and of course, her anthem, "Son of a Preacher Man". All of these songs are staples on oldies radio stations and you can see clips of Dusty stiffly but still alluringly lip-synching to them on the Ed Sullivan show on Youtube (I assume).

"Just a Little Lovin'" is Lynne's tribute to Springfield, and yet it does not have the forced-march feel of a typical "tribute album." The album is all songs once performed by Dusty, but Lynne performs them as if they were originals, and the influence and affinity between the two singers is natural and transparent, and far beyond superficial. It is amazing to hear songs you've heard a million times de-horned and de-stringed, and more shockingly, as if for the first time. Lynne's feeling-ful (and yet cool) performances call attention to the SAD SAD SAD lyrics of Dusty's songs, all of which are about "love". To be more specific, many of Springfield's songs are about unrequited love WITHIN A RELATIONSHIP! WHOA! JUST KILL ME NOW, DUSTY! If I could post a song here, it would be "I Don't Want to Hear it Anymore". You can hear it here. ***CORRECTION: One song, "Pretend" is by Lynne, but Betty thought is was a Springfield cover! "I think she would have dug it," says Lynne.

Rumor has it that a Dusty bio-pic starring Nicole Kidman will be coming out in our lifetime. Dusty had kind of a tragic life and was reportedly wracked with guilt about the recognition she received performing soul, the music she loved. She was also British!

You can check out Dusty and/or Shelby's tracks for free at The Hype Machine.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

With Democrats Like These...

I literally heard longtime (Bill) Clinton strategist and hack extraordinaire Paul Begala speak these words tonight on CNN's election coverage, about the Democratic Party's chances to win in November with Obama at the top of the ticket:
We can't win with a coalition of eggheads and African-Americans.
Donna Brazile, a black woman with a college education, rightly proceeded to jump down Begala's throat.

Does it bother anyone else that the votes of black people seem to matter less to the punditry than the votes of "working-class white voters"? For example, Obama has a "problem" with working class whites because he only is getting 40-45 percent of them in these primaries, but no one worries about Clinton's "problem" with black voters, who she is getting 10 percent from. There is of course the argument that white voters are more important because there are more of them -- but that arguments leads down some pretty dangerous pathways. And by the way, guess who working-class white voters are going to pick in November, if recent history is any guide? John McCain!

With Democrats like Paul Begala, who needs Republicans?

Monday, May 05, 2008

In the Midtown Hour

Betty met Moo for lunch in Midtown today. It was bright and a bit windy and the tourists were out in droves! Loitering around the skating rink awaiting her maternal date, Betty watched the foreigners squat and flash and endurance-smile, and soon Betty's arm/butt/back-of-head will fly home to Europe and Japan in dozens of blurry Rockefellar Center snapshots!

Then Moo appeared, and the twin-like duo wandered off in search of yummy treats. Then Betty almost bought a slice of Dean & DeLuca Blackout Cake for $6.50, but resisted and thus triumphed in "self-overcoming" like Nietzsche's overman. Maybe all the "Sex and the City: The Movie" advertisements around town went to her head there for a second!

Then, on the way to dropping Moo at MoMA, Betty took Moo to the Nintendo store and made her play Mario Kart Wii. Here is the visual evidence, which also serves as proof that Moo is a good Moo who takes an interest in Betty's passions and joys.

Is There a Pulse?

Now that the race for Guam has come to a dramatic close (Obama by seven...votes!), will you watch the Indiana and North Carolina election returns tomorrow night? Do you think they matter or do you think they will have a minimal impact on a contest that looks like it will soon be homework for a gaggle of superdelegates?

And how is all of this making you feel?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Betty on Myspace

Betty just got a four-track recording machine, and has enjoyed playing with it for the past couple of weeks, though it is not an easy machine to communicate with sometimes!

Anyway, she's recorded a couple of songs that you can hear over on her new myspace page. They're just little tests, but they're pretty little tests. To hear the bass, etc. Betty recommends listening through headphones.

New Betty songs should be up by the end of the month.

More on the Supreme Court & Voting Rights

Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito pitching for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays

From Adam Cohen in the Times:

It is chilling to think that state legislators and election officials would intentionally try to make it harder for Americans to vote, but they always have — with poll taxes, literacy tests and gerrymandering. There was a time when the Supreme Court regularly struck these restrictions down. In 1966, it held Virginia’s $1.50 poll tax unconstitutional. In 1972, it ruled that Tennessee’s one-year residency requirement for voting violated the Constitution.

Now the Supreme Court has switched sides. This week, it upheld a harsh Indiana voter ID law that could disenfranchise many poor, elderly and student voters. The ruling will make it even easier for other states to block voters’ access to the ballot box.

Can anyone answer this for me: what civil rights are more important than the right to vote?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bostonians May Be Racist, But New Yorkers Are...


So I was at the Yankees game last night and had the "privilege" of sitting in the bleachers, something I had never before done at the Yankees game. The game was going well until Andy Pettitte imploded in the sixth inning. At this point, all hell broke lose.

Once the Yankees began losing, fans near me in the bleachers took out their anger on the Detriot Tigers Right-Fielder, Magglio Ordonez. Chants of "FAGGGGG-lio" started to become louder and louder. People also started screaming "Hey, Faglio--does[Gary] Sheffield pull that hair from behind?" Ordonez has hair down to his shoulders... His haircut also had one man in front of me yell, "Hey Fag-lio, what salon do you go to?"

And the homophobia continued. During every Sea Dog fan's favorite song, "YMCA," people in the bleachers started pointing to one Tiger's fan. I was confused as to their pointing, but when the chorus of the song came around, everything became clear. Just try to imagine two hundred New Yorkers screaming "WHY ARE YOU GAY!?" to the beat of "Y M C A"

For the rest of the game, whenever Ordonez turned around and face the bleachers, people would scream "ASS-HOLE" and give him the finger. And later, towards the end of the game, a man behind me screamed at Ordonez, "Where's your fucking Green card? Are you even legal?" Three Latino men next to him chuckled, somehow not offended by the remark. They incidently had been yelling at Ordonez in Spanish. And while my Spanish is a little rusty, I do know the meaning of "Maricon."

Lesson here? Well there are many. But the most obvious is that New York has issues of its own when it comes to racist, homophobic, sports fan. Also, don't bring little kids to the bleachers. This guy next to me was sitting there with his 5 year old and had to leave 3 innings into the game. It made me ashamed to love the Yankees.

Our Dear, Departing Prez

A couple weeks ago, a focus group facilitator visited my political reporting class and did a sample focus group session with a small group of us. She asked us how we felt about how the country is going and our attitudes toward various political messages, like the American Dream and middle class values. Not surprisingly, we all had pretty negative attitudes toward Bush, which she said is typical of all the focus groups she has conducted in the past few months.

But then she asked us an interesting question: is there anything we like about Bush? There was an awkward moment of silence while we tried to come up with things. I said I thought he had tried to make some effort with immigration; someone else mentioned he has increased aid to Africa to combat AIDS. It was an interesting thought experiment because it's something I rarely do. So I would like to invite Betty and Bimbo readers to come forward with the things they appreciate, admire, or don't utterly detest about Bush or his policies. Think of it as a farewell party for our sitting duck prez. I'm not being facetious here; I really would like to hear if there's anything good this anti-Bush crowd has to say about our cowboy leader.