Friday, September 28, 2007

We'll Act As If We Had Never Been Together

I've been wanting to write a bit about a lot of movies I've seen in the past 3-6 months, but for now...

Wednesday I went to see Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris with J. Found it really funny, generally light and entertaining, with many great moments where it evoked that sympathetic recognition of universal human experience. I guess there've been some criticisms of it being self-indulgent or sophomoric, but what the hell, it's 25 times better than most movies released (Jodie Foster, I'm glancing in your direction).

It had a brief scene containing Daniel Brühl, who initially came to notice in one of my favorite films, Goodbye, Lenin. I find him especially attractive, in a very ordinary way. It's not like he epitomizes "my type" (I don't have one), but I wouldn't mind snuggling next to someone like Brühl for several years.

Despite the general awkward hilarity, there were a few moments in 2 Days that cut to the core, like the following bit of narration:

"It always fascinated me how people go from loving you madly to nothing at all, nothing. . . . Always the same for me. Break up, break down. Drunk up, fool around. Meet one guy, then another, fuck around. Forget the one and only. Then after a few months of total emptiness start again to look for true love, desperately look everywhere and after two years of loneliness meet a new love and swear it is the one, until that one is gone as well. There's a moment in life where you can't recover any more from another break-up. And even if this person bugs you sixty percent of the time, well you still can’t live without him."
Yeah, that bit was especially uplifting.

Also: Adam Goldberg is such a cute Jewbear (is that term offensive?).

Worth a Thousand Words

I recently realized one of the drawbacks of electronic newsmedia, at least for me (a stone-age, elderly, hard-copy newspaper reader) is the relative difficulty of seeing editorial cartoons on the op-ed pages. Of course I realize that one can search out a far wider variety of editorial cartoons on the inter-web than one would ever see if one were restricted to those printed in the local broadsheet... but it's just not the same.

Here's the paper-reading routine: Scan the headlines, flip to the letters (in my opinion the most entertaining-yet--sometimes-enraging part of the whole newspaper experience), check out the cartoon in the hope of a chuckle, then go back and read the stories in more depth. (By the way, the Sports section goes almost immediately into la poubelle after I scan the front page photos for hot, athletic menz; and I actually do occasionally read the pro tennis coverage.)

The cartoon carried in this morning's LA Times (above) is by Bruce Plante of The Chattanooga Times, and his take on an unfortunately all-too-common cohort of our fellow "Amurricans" (to borrow a term from the AYM) really summed up for me how sad and sorry the state of the nation is. Then again, I'm a condescending member of the "liberal elite." Long live the tradition of the editorial cartoonist.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Habilatory Diversions

It's most likely just an example of my ignorance, but it seems to me that the word sartorial has had quite a renaissance in the last few years. I see it in print everywhere I look lately, and I honestly don't recall ever having been aware of it prior to the last three to five years:

The same narrow sartorial parameters hold in American politics. Recently, when Hillary Clinton traded her conservative shirt for a (semi) revealing top, she was widely denounced as a cleavage-bearing hussy. (New York Times, 9/16/2007)

City puts sartorial splendor on display: 2nd Fashion Focus expands to 12 days.
(Chicago Tribune, 8/30/2006)

"Arenas Takes Sartorial Stand Against NBA's 'Short-Shorts'"
(Washington Post, 5/9/2005)
In truth, the word is probably enjoying the same level of use as it always has, since it was relatively easy to find the following quote from 1975 in an article about Tom Waits:

His sartorial style is strictly Salvation Army secondhands, and from the sound of his voice his taste in spirits runs to Drano straight--no chaser. (Chicago Tribune, 12/19/1975)
In any case, every time I read the word, it just occurs to me that it feels new to me somehow.

On a side note, I found this little list of adjectives to be something I want to tuck away for future reference...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pro Bono Publicum

Much as I feel like a very old lady when I do so, I have been making an occasional habit of writing to public officials, and sometimes to newspaper editors. Good grief. Anyway, my latest is below. I urge any of you to do the same if you want to get your elderhood on....

Dear Mr. Schwarzenegger,

I am writing as a gay California resident to tell you that with your promise to veto AB 43, you have perpetuated policies and laws that make me feel like a second-class citizen.

Instead of being at the forefront of equality and human rights, you have instead pandered to bigotry, fear, hatred, and divisiveness.

It is a shame -- and a disgrace -- that you did not choose to advance the cause of civil rights in the State of California and the nation.

Instead, you are a coward and unworthy of any respect as a political figure or a leader.

Today, you are teaching another generation of gay and lesbian children that they will continue to be less worthy than their peers and that they are unequal. Shame on you.

Is this the message you want to send to your own children if they are gay or lesbian? Shame.



Thursday, September 13, 2007

Still Life with Queer

Ok, I feel a bit like a nerd admitting that I come home from the market and the cheese shop and the bakery, take everything out of the shopping bags, put the food on the table and... take pictures of it.

But... last weekend's shopping was so great, and everything looked so good (and ended up being so tasty) that I couldn't help but turn it into my own vision à la Jan Davidszoon de Heem: heirloom tomatoes, apples, french prune-plums, jamón, cheeses, and rugalagh.

I am weird. But maybe Lynette's blog buddy Tater needs an apprentice...

Pater Familias

I know that stacks of books have been written about the male psyche and people's relationships with their fathers, so I'm certainly not breaking new ground by writing these few paragraphs.

However, I was prompted into thinking about this again by a recent telephone conversation with a friend in Switzerland, who said she had determined that her husband (and father of their son) was more or less a misanthrope. He doesn't sound "abusive" in a serious way, just cranky and moody a lot, with a dim view of several generalized groups of people. (Interestingly, I have heard that there are people like that in the world.)

She mentioned that their 4-year-old son just that morning had said something like, "Yeah, go, daddy. I don't like it when you watch soccer on TV at home because you yell and sometimes say mean things to mommy." She obviously considered this a red flag and apparently would be talking to the guy about his behavior and not wanting the child to have that kind of role model or relationship with his dad.

Anyway, our conversation was lengthy and ran the gamut of topics dealing with male aggression, moodiness, the gender differences of depression, relationships in general, and so forth.

In the end though, it made me wonder, just because I've heard so many similar stories over the years: Is the misanthropic, "asshole" dad more the rule than the exception?

I do know a lot of people who have great dads, even if they've only come to realize that fact after years of strained relationships or misunderstandings. Sometimes the dads are not very communicative, and certainly not touchy-feely, expressive paragons of modern psychological "self actualization," but still, they would be assessed by their kids as "nice guys."

My father (technically stepfather)? He's an asshole and we have no relationship. We certainly haven't even talked or been in contact for a good 7 years or more, and I don't expect or want that to change. I don't have "unresolved issues," either. I'm fine with things as they are. I admit my situation is perhaps stranger than most people's parental relationships.

So what the hell is it with the dads who are either just "cold" at best, or mean, nasty, abusive, and to be avoided at all costs at worst? Seems a shame for that to be the case, and I pose the rhetorical question to these men as I would to my own father: "Why the heck did you have kids at all?"

Sad as it may be, if my friend's husband doesn't shape up, I'm afraid their son won't be the last kid on earth to grow up saying, "Go away, Daddy!" and really meaning it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Salmorejo Saturday: September 8

Salmorejo is one of my almost-secret culinary pleasures, and I think I like the word almost as much as I like the dish itself.

Salmorejo is an Andalusian — or, more specifically, a cordobés — type of smoothly pureed tomato gazpacho thickened with soaked bread, flavored with garlic and olive oil, and topped with chopped egg and jamón serrano.

I first heard of (and was enamored by the description of) salmorejo through dispatches from D., who lived in Granada from 2002-2005, and whom J. and I visited in October 2003. I was able to to sample it in its region of origin, and I've occasionally recreated it ever since. Since I'm a vine-ripened tomato junkie, this is about as close to perfect a dish as I can imagine, especially on a warm summer weekend afternoon or evening. Stop by and I'll whip up a batch for us, as long as we plan a trip to the farmers' market for the ingredients.

And, yep, that's my own photo.

Just Get On With Things

“What I can say is that having Hep C means that I live with a sharp sense of my own mortality, which in many ways makes life more vivid and immediate,” Dame Anita said. “It makes me even more determined to just get on with things.”
~ Anita Roddick, October 23, 1942–September 10, 2007
I wasn't ever necessarily a Body Shop groupie, but I was saddened to hear of Roddick's untimely passing due to a brain hemorrhage (which maybe was only margianlly related to vascular problems from the Hepatitis C).
I think I saw her speak at an afternoon lecture on global business at UCSB in February 1999. I believe she was a part-time resident of Santa Barbara and thus had forged some ties with UCSB, being chosen as a Regents' lecturer and speaking at at least one commencement ceremony.
Basically, I found her business model to be really cool, and an example of how one could be a fabulously wealthy businessperson and still have some scruples. Some dirt was dug up about how maybe her business wasn't as "green" and PETA-approved as she would have liked to claim, but overall, I think she was ahead of the curve in terms of those now-ubiquitous buzzwords and phrases: "sustainability" and "corporate responsibility."
I think about and read about "business" a lot, and I'm interested in the concept of "ethical business." A lot of lefty types I know love to lump "business" into some catchall category that's equated with evil. I find this very facile and immature, and belies a poor grasp of "commerce" as a human universal (yeah, lazy, reactionary thinking is one of my pet peeves).
The concept of "ethical business" however, does bring up for me a huge conundrum — perhaps my most perplexing conundrum; one that is almost insurmountable in my mind. That is: What good does it do to run a business like Anita Roddick's — one that treats employees well, is concerned about procuring sustainable raw materials, committed to minimally detrimental manufacturing techniques, and so forth — if most or much of the money one earns from one's final product comes from the pockets of people working in the same ol' raping, pillaging, robberbaron-type industries and services that one is committed to working against?
I know that part of the answer is: "Well, if you're gonna make millions in cosmetics, isn't it still better to produce warm-fuzzy-hippie eco-cosmetics instead of petrochemical-bunny-blinding cosmetics?" To which the answer is a simple yes, but I find myself going the next step and saying: "Yes, but probably better still to not make cosmetics to sell to the wives of bankers, oil magnates, automakers, arms manufacturers, and stripminers at all. Right, right?!"
Sigh. I don't have the mind of a businessperson. Not. At. All.

I will close with another quote from Dame Anita. May she rest in peace in her deliciously-scented hippie-esque heaven.
“I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently . . . This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

While We Were Sleeping

Or maybe while we were — collectively — asleep at the wheel... California passed its state budget at the end of August, almost two months past the fiscal "deadline." Somehow I remember state business grinding to a halt when budgets were overdue, but that must have been several years ago, and this budget dragged on so long that most of us forgot it was even an issue, or anything resembling a "crisis."

It's like that saying, "How can I be out of money when I still have checks left in my checkbook?" It's not really a budget crisis if the ladies at the DMV are still unlocking the office doors and sitting there telling you to fill out the forms in triplicate.

In any case, I think every Californian should be disgusted at what was axed:

The impasse lifted Tuesday after Senate Republicans ended their blockade. They won few concessions, except a promise from the governor to veto $700 million from the general fund in an effort to address the state's operating deficit.
Among the cuts: $1.3 million to track hospital efforts to eliminate infections, which kill more than 7,000 Californians a year; $30 million for state parks; and $6 million to compel drug manufacturers to discount medicines for lower-income people.

Schwarzenegger ordered state health officials to find more than $6 million in other parts of the budget to keep the drug program alive, but the cuts will delay the website the state was going to set up to tell consumers which discounts were available.

He also struck a $17.4-million plan to protect seniors.

The overhaul of the state's conservatorship system was approved last year after an investigation in The Times that detailed how a system intended to protect seniors was plagued with fraud and abuse.
None of the cuts elicited a more virulent outcry than the elimination of the [$55 million] program for the homeless mentally ill.

The program had been on the chopping block all summer. Advocates, including the architects of California's effort to overhaul its troubled mental health system, had staged a furious lobbying effort to stave off the cut.

But in justifying it, Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said local governments should step in instead. "We believe if these programs are a priority to counties, they have resources available to them to provide funding," he said.
~ Los Angeles Times; August 25, 2007

Almost all of these cuts are completely and utterly nonsensical (not to mention more than a tad inhumane), but might in ordinary years just be considered the typical budgetary King Solomon's choice. However, in addition to these "nonessential" programs, there was something axed on the revenue side of the budget ledger, namely, the so-called "yacht tax"(also assessed on RVs and planes):

... if you are buying a big, luxury boat -- a yacht -- you do have a choice. It's not as if you need to drive your new toy to work the next day.

You can park that boat in another state, or even another country, until it no longer qualifies as a California purchase. Then, when you bring it home, the purchase is tax-free. Depending on the size of the boat, that deft maneuver can save the buyer -- and cost the treasury -- tens of thousands of dollars.

That is exactly what thousands of people were doing until three years ago, when the state made it tougher to evade the sales and use tax law. It used to be that boat-buyers could bring their vessels home after only 90 days and pay no tax. But in 2004, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger extended that waiting period to a year.

The change worked as intended. The number of boat sales exempted from the tax because they were being moved out of state plummeted. The same was true for recreational vehicles, to which the new law also applied. And the sales and use tax collected on in-state purchases soared. Tax evasion, in other words, was declining. The treasury collected an estimated $45 million a year in new revenue.
~ Daniel Weintraub; Sacramento Bee; September 2, 2007
Of course, the argument for allowing the one-year waiting period to expire is that such a tax will result in a resurrection of Ross Perot's proverbial "giant sucking sound" as the mega-rich yachting classes take their yacht business (and all the attendant yacht-related commerce) out-of-state. Nevermind that if your primary residence is in Newport Beach or Bodega or Coronado, you'll probably want your yacht nearby, instead of having to jet down to Cabo San Lucas every time you want to tool around on the open seas. This economic hardship argument is championed by Republican State Senator Dick Ackerman, from Fullerton, who apparently has no problem with yacht owners getting a financial break while county mental health patients (and their stressed-out service providers) across the state are left with mere crumbs and whatever demons they may be fighting (in a shelter or care facility if they're lucky; on the streets if they're not):

Ackerman said he believes the stricter tax enforcement was costing boat outfitters in his district and elsewhere big business on the accessories yacht-buyers need.

"If you buy a million-dollar boat, you're usually doing a couple hundred thousand in improvements," Ackerman said. "Upholstery, electronics -- you can put a whole bunch of money into these boats real quick. Those improvements used to take place in California. When they changed the rule, that work all went bye-bye." [Sac Bee; ibid.]
Weintraub debunks this with the following:

A study by the Legislature's nonpartisan analyst failed to turn up any evidence of negative economic effects. Yet the effect on state and local tax revenues was clear. Out-of-state exemptions to the sales tax on boat purchases fell dramatically, from 34 percent of all sales in 2004 to 15 percent in 2005. For brokered transactions, which typically involve the bigger, more expensive yachts, exemptions dropped from 1,150 in the five quarters before the law was changed to just 209 in the five quarters after the new rule took effect, a drop of more than 80 percent.

Overall boat sales continued to climb. Boat industry employment grew, and marina occupancy rates in Southern California remained high, with most places keeping waiting lists. Occupancy rates in Mexico, meanwhile, fell, suggesting that more Californians were buying, and keeping, their boats at home. The analysis conceded that there might have been a negligible impact on boat outfitters, but if there was one, it couldn't be measured. [Sac Bee; ibid.]
As always, the professional journalists have done a great job at exposing this budgetary sham for what it is. I especially liked a Los Angeles Times editorial of August 28, which included the following:

We take it as a given that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had to use his veto pen to slash more than $700 million to eliminate the budget's operational deficit and to pick up the two necessary Republican votes in the state Senate. Lean is good. But some cuts seem cruel and gratuitous jabs at California's most vulnerable.

Schwarzenegger also chose to cut a highly regarded program to lift mentally ill people from skid row. The $54.9 million allowed more than 30 counties, including Los Angeles, to help the homeless stabilize instead of returning them to the street or to jail. The governor acknowledged the program's value but told counties they should just backfill with money from Proposition 63 -- a ballot measure that by its terms bars counties from using its revenue for backfill.

Are the state's finances so tight that it was necessary to leave seniors and the homeless unprotected? No. While crafting this year's budget, the Legislature restored a loophole that allows owners of yachts, airplanes and recreational vehicles to avoid what amounts to $45 million a year in sales taxes. In the twisted logic of Sacramento, serving rich yachters is vital. Protecting California's most vulnerable is an unaffordable luxury.
In addition, a column by Steve Lopez (arguably the Times's best columnist) on the subject is also worth scanning before it's locked in the electronic archives.

I'm often not surprised that people get so disgusted with politics that they remove themselves from the game and ignore what can so often cause only heartache and rage.

In the end, if any of my three readers are in California, I would just leave you with a suggestion to drop a line to your state State Senator, Assembly Member, or our Esteemed Governator letting them know your feelings. Damn, I guess that means that I myself need to send an email to the vile Sen. Tom McClintock. Yuck.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Saturday

Ah, Labor Day Weekend... The full-throttle craziness of the summer was pretty much wrapped up last week, so I took a four-day weekend to decompress, and it was [mostly] terrific.

Tried making a strawberry-rhubarb crumble for the first time. I wouldn't call it a super success, and I'd tweak the recipe a bit if I decide to do it again. I think I liked the cooked down, sweetened leftover stalks of rhubarb better — memories of Aunt Jean, who loved it and is the only one I ever knew who cooked it in my childhood. It would make a great, tart side dish alternative to applesauce.

After an excellent Thai dinner at "Your Place" (naem sohd, panang beef, and shrimp pad thai) with J. & B., the crumble made an excellent dessert with vanilla ice cream while we watched a DVD of The Eyes of Tammy Faye at B's house. I thought it was a really well-done documentary, and reaffirms my belief that while so many like to deride devout Christians as mere "wingnuts," there's actually so much more to "them" than that. It's a shame that, admittedly, a huge strand has been hijacked by fear and loathing.

While watching the film, I realized I can even be somewhat of an apologist for the "money-grubbing" of megachurches and televangelists, only insofar as one has to look at people who truly believe in tithing, and the idea that perhaps it's no worse than any other "commerce" (i.e., is it better to "waste" one's money on QVC purchases or collectibles from the Franklin Mint? And yes, it's probably better to not be parted with one's savings at all, but where does "bilking" end and free will begin?). In any case, it was a great night, and I'm looking forward to writing a bit more often and more substantively now that I have time to do more than what has seemed like going to work, coming home to eat a bowl of shredded wheat, and going straight to bed.