Monday, January 24, 2011

New blog address

I am now blogging at Robert David Sullivan. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 07, 2008

I'm moving again...

Same name (Escargo-go), different host (Typepad). It's what I use for my workplace blog (Beyond Red & Blue), and it's easier to use the same host for both.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The War of the Omelets; the (kind of) return of Queer Nation

A couple of items that former Bostonians (who make up a big part of this blog's readership) might find interesting. First, the Somerville News reports on a feud between the owners of two brunch spots in the "best-run city" in Massachusetts, Sound Bites and the Ball Square Cafe. (Thanks to Universal Hub for pointing me to the story.) I've only been to Sound Bites, and the long lines are inexplicable to me. If I'm going to wait in the cold for brunch in Somerville, it's going to be at Johnny D's, where you can get catfish with your eggs as God intended. Second, Christopher Muther reports in the Boston Globe on the Guerrilla Queer Bar, a gay-and-lesbian group that secretly targets a different straight bar on the first Friday of each month and takes it over by sheer numbers. They've turned such places as Somerville's Burren Pub and Faneuil Hall's Bell-in-Hand Tavern into gay bars for a night. (The former, at least, is not exactly frosty toward gay patrons on any night.)

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I am furious (yellow)

Things I Don't Miss: has a history of the phone book, a practically obsolete item that refuses to go away quietly. Even before the Internet, I hated them for the space they took up in my small apartments. I felt like a philistine putting the Yellow Pages next to real books on bookshelves (what would be next, counting Banana Republic catalogs as reading material?), so they ended up in kitchen cabinets or underneath couches, about as unobtrusive as bricks of plutonium. Plus, as someone named Sullivan, I hate anything that's organized alphabetically. (You're not getting my business, AAA Pizza!) The managers of my new apartment building simply put a little sign in the lobby telling tenants that the new phone books were there if they wanted them. I hope that they all ended up in the trash, but I'll bet that if four tenants out of 200 asked for them, that would be enough to guarantee another full shipment next year.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Worst movie ever

Oh yeah, I have a blog. But I've been too busy with my day job and my other blog, not to mention In Treatment and Lost, to keep up with this one. I promise more soon, but for today check out this Joe Queenan essay on the worst movies of all time. My vote goes to Barbra Streisand's The Mirror Has Two Faces, which may be the last movie I paid for and then walked out on. The scene in which the "improved" Streisand sends a classroom full of college boys into a sexual frenzy is perhaps the most cringe-worthy moment I've ever witnessed on film or TV.
Rose Morgan: What, what? Yes, I have breasts. They cannot, however, be the subject of one of your papers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Three cheers for the BoltBus!

The Boston Globe is reporting on a new, Greyhound-run bus service that will undercut the price of the Fung Wah and will offer one-way fares as low as $1.50. Great news for a fairly regular traveller to New York like me. I can now take the regular Greyhound for $20 ($5 more than Fung Wah) and not be bothered by loud college kids saving their money for drinking marathons.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 22, 2008

Stupid spending: Everyone does it?

[Cross-posted from Beyond Red & Blue]

Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New Yorker about all the ways we don't behave as rational consumers. According to "behavioral economists" (as opposed to the old-fashioned economists who believe that human beings are just calculators with arms and legs), we're constantly doing making dumb choices like paying an outrageous amont for a car just because it comes with "free" oil changes for a few years. Kolbert admits that she's padded orders with stuff she doesn't need in order to qualify for free shipping. I've done that, and I've also got a box full of subway fare cards from various cities because I always take the "buy five rides, get one free" kind of deal even when I know I won't be in the city long enough to use my free ride.

The public policy angle in Kolbert's piece comes with she discusses Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Wealth, Health, and Happiness. As Kolbert explains:

[People are] effort-averse. They hate having to go to the benefits office, pick up a bunch of forms, fill them out, and bring them all the way back. As a consequence, many eligible employees fail to enroll in their companies' retirement plans, or delay doing so for years. (This is the case, research has shown, even at companies where no employee contribution is required.)

Thaler and Sunstein suggest that companies enroll employees in retirement plans without their consent but give them the option of filling a lot of paperwork to get out. This point makes me think about the debate between Democratic presidential candidates over universal health insurance. Barack Obama seems to operating on the assumption that if insurance premiums are low enough, everyone will get health coverage because it will be irrational not to do so. And Hillary Clinton's idea to require all individuals to get health coverage seems to rest on the assumption that it would be irrational not to get insurance if there's a penalty (a tax fine, or the garnishing of wages) for failing to do so. But maybe the best approach would be to automatically enroll all uninsured people into a health insurance plan and then say, "If you don't like it, there's a long, complicated procedure for withdrawing from the program." In other words, there would be a de facto mandate, but without the need to come up with a mechanism to enforce it.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What is public TV good for?

The New York Times's Charles McGrath asks whether public TV is worth saving:

The average PBS show on prime time now scores about a 1.4 Nielsen rating, or roughly what the wrestling show “Friday Night Smackdown” gets....

Scanning the PBS lineup, in fact, it’s hard to detect much of a bias toward anything at all, except possibly mustiness. Except for “Antiques Roadshow,” all the prime-time stalwarts — “The NewsHour,” “Nova,” “Nature,” “Masterpiece” — are into their third or fourth decade, and they look it.

If those comments distress you, go to the reader comments, where you'll find plenty of hyperventilating ("In the wasteland of television there are but two channels I want or need: PBS for the quality and depth of shows that exist nowhere else, and NESN to be able to watch the Red Sox."), and it's entirely possible that one or two of the respondents are under 80 years old.

OK, if you don't have cable, you might enjoy being force-fed middlebrow programming by PBS. And even if you have 300 channels, I'm not aware that any of them caters to people with terrible taste in music the way PBS does. Otherwise, its bright spots are so few that it's easier just to forget it exists.


Breaking news: Suzanne Pleshette is still dead!

Dear and Boston Globe:

Yes, I know that Suzanne Pleshette is dead. Please stop using her photo as an enticement to "Take a look back at the notable deaths of this young year" every time I look at anything on your website. (Scroll to the bottom of the home page or look in the right column of just about every Globe story. I'll be happy if this is no longer the case by the time you read this.) I'll wait until the end of the year (and the roll call of the dead at the Oscar awards) to contemplate my mortality. I don't need to perform this ritual every morning beginning on Valentine's Day. Thank you.


Friday, February 15, 2008

London fog

Thanks to Hub Blog for pointing me to this story about dumb Britons who think that Winston Churchill was a fictitious character but that Sherlock Holmes was a real person. It's fun to read about stupidity in other lands, though I am suspicious of the poll that the story is based on. I mean, if someone with a clipboard stopped me in Downtown Crossing and quizzed me, I think it would be great fun to say that the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" was reportage but that Gandhi was a work of science fiction. If I were especially playful, I'd even claim that Lyndon LaRouche actually exists.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Revival of independent bookstores?

Will the Internet kill off chain bookstores and leave the independent sellers to flourish? Matthew Yglesias mulls the possibility.

...what the brick and mortar store has to offer is, increasingly, not practical advantage but a bookstore experience. And though I think the chains actually do deliver a decent experience, they don't really match the better independents and I'm not sure they ever can since part of the experience of a well-liked independent bookstore...

A nice thought, but I'm not sure that an independent bookstore is enough of an anchor for an urban shopping district. The seemingly most successful independent booksellers in the Boston area -- the Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner and the Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square -- are both near larger bookstores (a Barnes and Noble and the university-run Harvard Coop) and movie theaters. Could they attract enough customers if the Internet claims other businesses around them?


Monday, February 11, 2008

There Will Be Deadwood

Maybe three or four times a year I'll go out to a movie. This weekend There Will Be Blood made the coveted short list of films I'll see even if it means associating with other people. Imagine my joy when the central character in the movie, an oil-drilling entrepreneur played by Daniel Day-Lewis, has a long speech about how he hates every other person on in the world! He drinks their milkshakes, in case you haven't heard. Not only was it a great movie, there were similarities with one of my three or four favorite TV series, Deadwood. The second and third seasons of that show also feature a character (mining magnate George Hearst) who has a long speech about his own misanthropy, and how he views other people as pests to be swatted away while he "listens to the earth." If you like one, you should like the other. That is, unless your favorite part of Deadwood is the assortment of stong, distinctive female characters. Not much of that in There Will Be Blood.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wintertime fun in Montreal for those who hate snow

Today there's a scavenger hunt in the Underground City. Alas, the list of items is not available to nonparticipants. I assume that it includes insanely specific descriptions of napkins and straws from the hundreds of subterranean fast-food places, but maybe you also get points for finding abandoned hats, gloves, and half-eaten bowls of poutine. There probably isn't a prize for finding a forgotten man (un homme oublie), but there's sure to be a few of those hanging out down there. Is anyone up for organizing a scavenger hunt in Boston's tiny version of an enclosed city (i.e., Copley Place and the Prudential Mall)? I'd love to see people encouraged to steal those damn TV monitors who sole purpose seems to be plugging bad shows on CBS.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 08, 2008

Do one-way streets kill cities?

In a Louisville Courier-Journal op-ed, Matt Hanka and John Gilderbloom say that one-way streets are bad for pedestrians (because cars go faster on them), bad for businesses (fewer potential customers go by), and bad for homeowners (because they lower property values). They also say that one-ways can cause more crime:

One-way streets also create greater opportunities for crime in urban areas. Having one-way traffic reduces overall use, allowing for negative vacuums to be created. One-way streets are the gun, drug and sex distribution centers for a city.

Why? You need a two- or three-lane one-way street where you can pause to negotiate the deal and get out of there quickly. You can't do that on a two-way street because it slows down traffic. That's why the one-way two/three-lane street works best for pimps, drive-by shootings and drug dealers. If you break the law, it's better to drive 50 mph on a one-way with no obstacles.

I now live on a one-way street, and I don't feel unsafe (maybe because it's not a throughway), but the lack of activity at night is a bit spooky. And the two things I remember from several trips to downtown Lynn were that the place was practically deserted and that almost every street seemed to be one-way. Then again, one-way streets don't seem to put a damper on life in New York City.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Book-CD-DVD-tchotchke-store bans browsing

Yesterday at lunch hour I discovered that the downtown Borders store had put all their television DVDs in locked glass cabinets. That means that if I want to peruse the box for the first season of That Girl, I need to share my shame with the nearest employee who has a key. And I can't grab Are You Being Served? and immediately sandwich it between The Sopranos and The Wire in case someone spots me as I scurry to the checkout. Score one for

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Election Day in Malden Center

I voted this morning, despite the rain, and the only person in front of me was an older woman who didn't understand what the even older poll worker was asking her. ("A dress?" "Yes, address!" "I don't understand. My dress?") I got my ballot, voted for president, and ignored the other stuff on the ballot. As I recall, I was supposed to choose "no more than 35" party committee members and there were only about 12 names on the ballot. Then I fed the ballot into the electronic scanner and worried that my vote won't be counted because I colored outside of the lines of the oval next to my candidate's name. It was all very stressful, and I'm glad I don't have to do it again in the fall, thanks to the Electoral Collage making all votes cast in Massachusetts meaningless.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Patriots lose. HA-ha!

Sorry to get all Nelson Muntz about the Patriots losing the Super Bowl, but I can't take another victory parade trapping me inside my office building. The first time they won, I had a doctor's appointment scheduled on the morning of their parade, and when I went back to the office, I made the mistake of exiting Park Street station through a turnstile that wouldn't let me back in. Too late, I saw that Tremont Street was a solid, if rather doughy, mass of Patriots fans. I had to squeeze my way through the crowd and take refuge in the nearest building (it was cold that that February!), which was the St. Paul Episcopal Church. The church let people in the front door but wouldn't let anyone all the way through the building to escape out the back door (bastards!). So I spent about an hour and a half hiding in there while the Pats fans went nuts. I felt as if I were hiding from a sudden political revolution, hoping that whichever side won didn't have a problem with the church I had joined that day out of pure cowardice. So I hope the Pats lose again next year! It's OK if the Red Sox win the World Series again, though.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Lost" vs. the presidential debate

I watched both last night. The Clinton/Obama showdown tried the patience of the most dedicated policy wonk -- at least in the first half hour, which was all about the minor differences between the two candidates' health insurance plans. So it was a treat to move to Lost afterward, and I was never so happy to be shelling out the extra 12 bucks a month for a DVR. How did I sit through all those commercials back in 2007? As I flew past the chaff with my thumb on the fast-forward button, I noticed that ABC was relentlessly pushing a new show that was premiering after Lost. Remember when a TV network could force a show into becoming a hit by scheduling it after another hit? Yeah, I don't miss that either. No doubt half the people watching Lost live immediately logged on their computers afterward to check the message boards anyway. Good luck, dumb-looking new ABC show! Anyway, Lost is all about the flash-forwards now, which reassures me that the producers actually have some thoughts on how they're going to end this thing in 2010. They're also making it impossible to kill off certain characters before then, which makes me wonder if ABC is assigning bodyguards, chauffeurs, and food tasters to certain cast members.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

I've been forced to wake up and smell the coffee

I guess I'm never going to get an alternative to the two Dunkin' Donuts in my neighborhood. From the AP:

As part of a broad push to revitalize its business, the company said it plans to open about 425 fewer domestic stores and 75 more overseas than previously planned, for a global total of 2,150 new stores. Starbucks has more than 15,700 worldwide.

...the slowdown in U.S. growth will allow the company to make better use of its time, money and staff and could reduce "cannibalization" — easing pressure some stores experience when a new one opens nearby.

So open some stores that aren't near other ones!

Labels: ,

TV diary: better Treatment

HBO's In Treatment -- which is trying to become the first scripted late-night sensation since, I don't know, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in the 1970s? -- got a bit more absorbing last night with the introduction of Wednesday regular patient Sophie, a teenager sent to therapy because of suspicions that her bizarre accidents are actually the result of suicidal tendencies. The first session between a shrink and patient is one of the most worn-out situations in TV and movies, as Tuesday's In Treatment episode with Blair Underwood showed. The patient is always skeptical and even contemptuous of the therapist, who calmly accepts the hostile comments and finally throws out a question that puts a dent in the patient's armor -- just before saying, "I'm sorry, but our time is up." Doesn't anyone on TV ever go into therapy expecting to get some good out of it? But at least Sophie (Mia Wasikowska) was amusingly hostile, peppering the therapist played by Gabriel Byrne with questions such as "Are you this much of a pain in the ass with your daughter?" and "Why can't you just act like a professional?" Maybe the cliche works better with teenagers, who naturally like to test authority figures, rather than adults like Underwood's character. At any rate, hump day seems to be the best day for this series so far.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Attack of the 60-foot Oscar winner

The T now has two recorded announcements before a train pulls into a station. One says that "the next Orange [or whatever color] Line train is now approaching," and about 15 seconds later we get "the next Orange Line train is now arriving." I don't know the purpose of having dual announcements. The "approaching" one sounds like a warning. ("The next gigantic reptile is now approaching, and he's hungry!") So I find myself cringing a bit when I hear that the beast is "now arriving," giving us no time to run for our lives. At least I know longer think of a good friend's impersonation of Katherine Hepburn when I'm on a subway platform. He likes to portray the linguistically proper New Englander at the moment of maximum sexual excitement: "Oh, Spencer! I'm arriving! I'm arriving!"

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A smear against Blue Man Group?

From Boing Boing: A guy in Chicago is suing performance artists Blue Man Group, claiming that they dragged him on stage during a show and forced an "esophagus camera" down his throat while he struggled to break free. Sounds like an absurd claim to me, and he apparently has no witnesses, but a local TV station plays it down the middle (see written report and video). If a local newscast isn't able to offer some clarification on whether it's safe to go to the theater without the protection of a hockey mask, I don't think I trust its weather reports either.


When we get behind closed doors...

Last night HBO premiered the half-hour drama In Treatment, which will run five nights a week for nine weeks, with each episode depicting a therapy session in almost-real time (one character every Monday night, another every Tuesday night, etc.). Based on the first episode, I'm willing to commit, mainly because of Gabriel Byrne as the therapist and because the premise, borrowed from a highly successful TV show in Israel, is intriguing -- even though Monday's patient isn't very interesting so far. One moment I did like: At the end, when the patient runs out of the office in great distress, Byrne starts to follow her but stops short at his own door, as if he's afraid to cross the threshold. Is he a prisoner of his profession? It struck me that most of my favorite TV series show what goes on behind closed doors. The Sopranos, of course, also had the voyeuristic appeal of letting us spy on therapy sessions, and the The Wire lets us see what happens behind the scenes not only in a police department but in a big-city mayor's office and, now, in the offices of a major daily newspaper. That may be why I don't care for reality shows (it's not voyeurism if the participants are actually performing for the camera) or sci-fi series (in an entirely fabricated universe, there's not as much tension between the scenes set in public and those set behind closed doors). And this might explain why, given my druthers, I'll take a movie or TV series with a lot of sex (private) over a lot of violence (well, at least garishly public violence like shoot-outs and car chases). But maybe we all have our own kinks and perversions to explain our TV-watching habits.


Friday, January 25, 2008

I'll let you open my junk mail for only $10!

I'm practically giving away good changes and heart's desires!


But what do I know about politics?

This is one of the more surreal presidential election campaigns I've ever experienced for several reasons, but one that really puzzles me is that I seem to have gained a reputation as a naive dunce who doesn't know the first thing about politics. I memorized Electoral Collage stats before I had ever heard of the World Series, I began campaigning for presidential candidates when I was in high school, and I've been writing about politics for 20 years. But this year friends and relatives have been shaking their heads sadly in disbelief when I share my perceptions of the candidates. The popular consensus is that all politicians are irredeemably corrupt, intellectually dishonest, and completely self-serving, with only minor differences in degree, and only a fool would think otherwise. I'd certainly apply that description to most politicians, but I think it's illogical to believe that the election process never attracts anyone with any integrity. I mean, it's not that hard to get on the ballot; a few people must do it without selling their souls to Satan. Experts on a particular subject are often wrong, of course. Tremendously well-informed people got us into Vietnam, ignored warnings about terrorism before 9/11, and have repeatedly guessed wrong about the stock market. The best doctors make misdiagnoses, and the best chefs use too much garlic. People in ivory towers can know everything about global warning and not have enough sense roll up their car windows in a rainstorm. So I'm not arrogant enough to claim that my political opinions are always right. In retrospect, I can think of plenty of times that I've chosen the wrong candidate, whether for president or for school board member, and I'm sure that I'll keep making bad choices. But one thing that I have learned over the years as a journalist is that politicians do not all have the same character. If I can offer just one idea as an expert, it's that saying "they're all the same" is not a sign of cynicism. Instead, it's the most naive attitude of all.


Fears of a clown

A British think tank finds that kids hate clowns, particularly in hospitals:
"From children's perspectives," the researchers explain, "the babyish feel of hospital décor is something that child patients between seven and 16 tolerated, rather than appreciated." Interestingly, all children disliked the use of clowns in the décor, with even the oldest children seeing them as scary. "Given that children and young people do not find hospitals frightening per se -- and only express fear about those spaces associated with needles and associated procedures -- ­ this finding is somewhat ironic," Dr. Curtis points out.
My theory is that this is part of the mainstreaming of gay culture, as bad drag queens tend to look like clowns. They may be fun when it's late and you've had a few drinks, but they're not exactly comforting under harsh lighting and the looming threat of a tonsillectomy. Clown wallpaper may be especially alarming to young boys, who must contemplate tucking before they're mature enough to handle it. Construction workers, policemen, and American Indians would be far better images for children's ward wallpaper.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fear the wrath of downtown Malden's Christmas lights

When the the city of Malden turned on these lights at the beginning of the holiday season, I assumed that I was looking at a giant ribbon. But since they're still on a month after Christmas, I see that I was wrong. The lights are supposed to represent a giant angry eagle in flight, about to swoop down and gobble up pedestrians (much as the rooftop sunbathers were snatched up in the film classic Q).


Where Shih Tzus rule

The American Kennel Club lists the top 10 dog breeds in the US and in the 50 biggest cities. Shih Tzus are relatively big in Las Vegas (the toy dogs do look like something designed by Liberace), Salt Lake City, and Washington, DC. San Francisco likes poodles and bulldogs, which doesn't exactly dispel sexual stereotypes. New York City is a haven for dachsunds (you do need a dog who can run between legs there), and blue-collar Baltimore welcomes pugs. Rottweilers are popular in the tough towns Chicago, Detroit, and Miami. Something called the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a contender in Atlanta, Dallas, and Honolulu. I don't see dalmatians, collies, or Jack Russell terriers on any of the cities' list, despite their advantages in being all over movie and TV screens. (See 101 Dalmations, the TV show Frasier, etc.) I guess no one wants a potential prima donna as a pet.


Gays for Hillary, journalists for Barack

I'm falling behind on my TV watching, and just about every other activity, as I read everything I can about the presidential campaign. I'm struck by the schism between my gay acquaintances and my colleagues in journalism and publishing. The former group is almost unanimous in its praise of Hillary Clinton, saying that her hardball politics is a sign that she'd be able to win a general election and be a effective president, maintaining an upper hand over Congress. But most journalists I've discussed the race with are more favorably disposed toward Barack Obama, saying that his thoughtful and conciliatory speeches suggest that he'd be better able to bridge the red vs. blue divide in the United States, and that his better relations with the press indicate that he'd have a more open and transparent governing style than either Clinton or the current president. See today's Globe column by Scot Lehigh to get a feel for how many journalists, left and right, view the Clinton campaign. As there are more gay people than journalists in the US, I get the feeling that Clinton will wrap up the nomination on February 5 regardless of what she says or does before then.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Clintons meet the Klingons

Hmm... I watched the Democratic presidential debate tonight, and if the polls are correct I'll have no problem staying nonpartisan for the general election. I expect that any damn I might give for who wins will be eliminated on February 5. In other TV news, I've been catching up on shows I've never or rarely seen in order to come up with a "best" list. Without a Trace is pretty bad, based on the episode I just saw -- which followed the Murder, She Wrote rule that any guest actor who gained fame as a sympathetic character (in this case, Chad Lowe from Life Goes On) is going to have a juicy confession scene. But the original CSI is easier to take, going from the few episodes I saw over the long weekend. Less preachy than Law and Order, less melodramatic than Without a Trace. The original Star Trek is as silly as I remembered it. I can't get over everyone in the universe speaking English.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 18, 2008

"The Wire" moves to Mayberry

The Wire, which is now No. 12 with a staple gun on my in-progress list of Top 100 TV shows, has become more accessible to casual viewers, thanks to the addition of a laugh track. has a sneak preview. Of course, when Bunk accidentally locked himself and McNulty into "the box" this weekend, it was an obvious homage to Barney Fife repeatedly locking himself and Andy into a jail cell on The Andy Griffith Show. I can't wait to see The Wire's equivalent to Opie start earning some money on the corner.

Labels: ,

A blogger's wet dream

A few days ago I revealed what print journalists dream about. Last night I found out what causes nocturnal bliss for a blogger. I dreamed that I went to a popular pizza/sandwich shop for lunch and ordered some kind of pasta that came with a choice of side dish. The guy behind the counter, without asking me, started to put a green salad on my plate, and I interrupted him with "I don't like that salad, I want the steamed vegetables." Twelve or twenty minutes go by (who knows in a dream?) and I realize that people have been moving past me in the line while my plate of food sits on the counter unattended. I finally say something to the guy at the cash register, and he says, "Oh, we decided not to serve you because you said something negative about our salad in front of the other customers." I'm shocked, and I ask, "You weren't even going to tell me? You would have let me stand here forever if I didn't ask what's going on?" "That's right," the guy says with a sneer. I'm outraged by this treatment, and by the fact that my lunch hour is over and I haven't eaten anything, but as I leave the restaurant I'm suddenly cheered. I'll blog about the incident! They'll be sorry they mistreated me when hundreds -- no, thousands of potential customers read my blog and decide to boycott the restaurant. In fact, my post about Panacea Pizza, or whatever it's called, will bring thousands -- no, a couple hundred thousand new readers to my blog. And one day, I'll walk back into the restaurant showing them my stats. They'll be mystified because none of them of heard of the Internet, but in some dim way they'll realize that I had something to do with their descent into bankruptcy. Sadly, I woke up before I could take my revenge. But I've always believed in dreams as a guide to behavior, so I guess I'll have to start looking for abusive pizzeria staff in order to write the greatest bitchy blog post ever. Suggestions welcome.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Michigan primary aftermath

See my thoughts on the plight of the independent voter at Beyond Red & Blue.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Nightmares in Helvetica

A lot of people dream about their jobs, according to an unsurprising survey conducted by Staples. (Click here for psychoblather about the topic.) I can't imagine how anyone could avoid dreaming about his or her job. I dream about pretty much anything that I spent more than 20 minutes doing the previous day. This means that I have a lot of nocturnal thoughts about riding trains that may not have anything to do with sex. (Sometimes a tunnel is just a tunnel.) And if I scrub my kitchen sink during the day, I'm sure to have thoughts involving rubber gloves and Comet that night. More common are my dreams of Excel spreadsheets, coming after a day of entering data at work. And then there is my recurring dream in which the magazine that I co-edit comes back from the printer riddled with typographical errors: misspellings, missing punctuation, and more widows and orphans than the complete works of Dickens. Sometimes my dream self will foolishly hope that no one notices the awful carnage, but even then I'm gripped by the fear of discovery. Is this how Tony Soprano spends his nights? PS: Journalism fans should be sure to catch the last season of The Wire, now running on HBO. In one episode, the city editor of the Baltimore Sun wakes up in the middle of the night, suddenly fearful that he transposed some numbers in a story about shipping traffic in the city's harbor. (As it turns out, he hadn't made any mistakes.) Welcome to my nightmare!


Monday, January 14, 2008

But I've lived here my whole life!

I like to start off the week with a laugh, and Kevin Cullen's column in the Boston Globe today was just the trick. It's about a Charlestown native smart enough to buy a four-story brick house near Bunker Hill for a pittance ($16,500!) in 1963. Her tragedy? Someone is building another house next door:

She is 74 now, and still works as a flight attendant. She expected to enjoy her later years in the house at Monument Square. Instead she is locked in the latest battle of Bunker Hill. When she looks out the back window that for 45 years afforded a view of the city skyline, she sees the house Bill Pizzurro is building.

Doesn't that SOB realize that paying $16,500 for a house entitles you to keep the same view from each window for 50 years? If you don't think so, wait until the poor woman brings out the ultimate Boston argument:

"I've lived in this town my whole life," Pat Ward said. "I've seen them all come and go. When I was a kid, it was the absentee landlords. Then the BRA. Then it was the condo flippers. Now it's these guys filling in every open space. They make money but they don't have to live with what they do."

I've lived in this town my whole life. If only I had the foresight never to move a mile from my parents' house, I'd be on the right side of every debate over development in my neighborhood. Sadly, I made the mistake of seeing a little bit more of the world (well, a little bit more of the East Coast), which makes me an interloper anywhere I choose to live in Massachusetts.

According to Cullen's column, the builder of the new house has told Pat Ward to buzz off, and she doesn't seem to have legal grounds to prevent him from going ahead with construction. I guess we're supposed to feel sorry for her, but how many of us expect to live in the same house, in an unchanging neighborhood, for a half-century? Hey Pat: Just sell your house, take the money, and run!

Labels: ,

Friday, January 11, 2008

Are you having 100 laughs?

Another Top 100 list, this time of the supposed funniest movies of all time, courtesy of the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film. I've copied the list below with my own opinion in code: ** Deserves to be on the list. * Overrated but defensible. ! Undeserving. ? I haven't seen it or have seen it so long ago I forget how much I laughed. 01. Monty Python & the Holy Grail (1975) ** 02. Young Frankenstein (1974) ** 03. This is Spinal Tap (1984) ** 04. Some Like it Hot (1958) ** 05. Bringing Up Baby (1938) ** 06. Airplane! (1980) ** 07. Annie Hall (1977) ** 08. Dr. Strangelove (1964) ** 09. Groundhog Day (1993) ** 10. The Princess Bride (1987) ? 11. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) * 12. Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985) ** 13. The Big Lebowski (1998) ? 14. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut (1999) ** 15. Best in Show (2000) * 16. Blazing Saddles (1974) * 17. Animal Crackers (1930) * 18. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) * 19. Duck Soup (1933) ** 20. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) ! 21. Lost in America (1985) * 22. Fargo (1996) * 23. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) ** 24. The Producers (1968) * 25. O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) * 26. His Girl Friday (1940) ** 27. Hairspray (1988) ? 28. The In-Laws (1979) * 29. Mystery Science Theater 2000 - The Movie (1996) ? 30. The Christmas Story (1983) ** 31. Richard Pryor Live on Sunset Strip! (1982) ** 32. The General (1927) ** 33. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) * 34. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) * 35. Happiness (1998) * 36. Election (1999) ** 37. It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) * 38. Pink Flamingos (1972) ? 39. Flirting with Disaster (1996) ? 40. Nine to Five (1980) ! 41. The Muppet Movie (1979) ? 42. Office Space (1999) ! 43. The Ladykillers (1955) ** 44. Victor/Victoria (1982) * 45. Juno (2007) ? 46. There's Something About Mary (1998) ? 47. Modern Times (1936) ** 48. The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain (2001) ** 49. Animal House (1978) * 50. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) ** 51. The Philadelphia Story (1940) ** 52. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) ? 53. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) ? 54. Noises Off (1992) ? 55. Wallace & Gromit in the Case of the Were-Rabbit (2005) ? 56. Auntie Mame (1958) * 57. La Cage Aux Folles (1978) ? 58. The Tall Guy (1989) ? 59. Raising Arizona (1987) * 60. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) ** 61. Old School (2003) ? 62. City Lights (1931) ** 63. Monty Python's The Life of Brian (1979) * 64. What's Up Doc? (1972) * 65. Bedazzled (1967) ? 66. When Harry Met Sally... (1989) ? 67. Chicken Run (2000) ? 68. Defending Your Life (1991) ? 69. To Die For (1995) ** 70. Ghostbusters (1984) ! 71. Waiting for Guffman (1996) ** 72. Arthur (1981) ! 73. Sleeper (1973) * 74. The Jerk (1979) ? 75. School of Rock (2003) ? 76. The Thin Man (1934) ** 77. Clerks II (2006) * 78. Help! (1965) * 79. Chasing Amy (1997) ? 80. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) ? 81. The Blues Brothers (1980) ! 82. Bad Santa (2003) ? 83. Monkey Business (1952) * 84. All of Me (1984) * 85. Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) * 86. Love and Death (1975) ** 87. The Palm Beach Story (1942) ** 88. Midnight (1939) ? 89. Beetlejuice (1988) * 90. The Saddest Music in the World (2003) ? 91. Miracle at Morgan Creek (1944) * 92. My Man Godfrey (1936) ** 93. Born Yesterday (1950) ** 94. Clue (1985) ! 94. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) * 96. Les Comperes (1983) ? 97. Risky Business (1983) * 98. The Bank Dick (1940) * 99. Walking & Talking (1996) ? 100. The Unbelievable Truth (1989) ?


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I want more than a jewel case!

Today's Boston Globe has another story about how CDs have become more unpopular than the clap. "New year brings new challenges for recording industry," written by AP reporter ALex Veiga, also reminds us that newspapers have got a lot of new challenges -- such as better headlines. Veiga says that the music industry is hoping to turn things around with "experimentation":

Music fans are also likely to see ... more albums pre-loaded onto small, portable storage devices. Consumers may also see a bigger push this year for CD singles, dubbed "ringles," that include mobile phone ringtones and other digital content...

Hey, here's another idea. Why not package CDs with liner notes or, better yet, booklets with lyrics and information about the music we're listening to? Maybe something equivalent to the director's commentary on DVDs? One reason I stopped buying CDs was that I got sick of shelling out $15 for a compilation disc (often of jazz performers) and finding nothing inside that told me when tracks were recorded, who played on particular songs, etc. It seemed foolish to buy CDs when I got nothing more for my money than if I downloaded songs from iTunes. (Actually, I got less, since CDs take up valuable space in my apartment.)

Sorry, I'll take a pass on those ringles.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

The start of a wonderful or terrible new year

Happy new year to my six readers! Sorry for the lack of posts, but I've been: --Putting the latest issue of CommonWealth magazine to bed, and then having nightmares about finding typos all over the finished product. --Getting my Christmas shopping done in one day. --Going to New York for a party and to see a play by this new comic named Mark Twain. --Getting obsessed over the 2008 presidential race and tonight's Iowa caucuses. (Sorry, my day job doesn't allow me to post my preferences.) More to come soon, but in the meantime, television fans should check out this great list of the top 100 series of all time, with plenty of video clips and trivia to go along with the well-reasoned arguments for each show. I have been working on my own top 100; right now, 47 are also on the South Dakota Dark list.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The gift of gluttony

Blogging may be light over the next two weeks, as I'll be trying to copy-edit a 100-page magazine (and write some of it) while eating, sleeping, washing clothes, and reading 1000 blogs on a fairly regular schedule. Another chore at this time of year is holiday (do your worst to me, Bill O'Reilly!) shopping. Along those lines, I recommend this posting on the madness of "gift cards." Some are better than others (Starbucks is OK because I can just buy friends coffee until the card runs out), but in general gift cards are just cash with strings attached. ("No, you may NOT spend this at Liquor Land! Get some school supplies at Staples!") Gift cards do have the advantage of not taking up a lot of room in a small apartment. But the best gifts are in the food-and-drink category. Anything edible or drinkable isn't going to hang around my apartment for too long. If I don't like it, I'll serve it to a visitor, and if none of my friends like it, I'll bring it to the office.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The shocking truth about the Orange Line

I believe that man landed on the moon, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and that Marisa Tomei won an Academy Award fair and square for My Cousin Vinny. But I don't believe that any "signal repair" work is being done on the Orange Line this weekend. Or that there's any good reason for substituting buses for subway trains from Malden to Boston, as the T has done for all but three weekends since I moved to Malden three months ago. Or that there's any legitimate reason for "diversions" of service on the Orange Line to last almost four years so far. I could have single-handedly laid down completely new tracks from Haymarket to Oak Grove in less time. Alas, the MBTA's award-winning Web site doesn't explain why a "fully functional state-of-the-art signal system" should take so long to install. Can we at least get some diagrams on there? If the problem is giant rats undoing most of the day's work after quitting time, I would gladly pay a little extra for my Charlie Card if the T could post a graphic novel about the subterranean battle between orange-vested public employees and rogue rodents. Crocodiles would be good, too. An alternative explanation is that we Orange Line prisoners are unknowlingly dealing with something like this, as reported last month by the Metro:

In the past two months, commuter rail employees have been participating in a covert “working strike” — holding up service and causing significant train delays — in retaliation for what they consider poor treatment by management, according to sources who spoke to Metro.

Conductors and engineers have been refusing to work overtime when the commuter rail is short staffed, or operate trains when there are minor maintenance issues, like a burned out bulb, in order to stick it to their employer — the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad — the company contracted by the T to run the commuter rail, a source told Metro.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Furniture bars

One friend has explained to me that the men who once went to gay bars are now spending all their time at Home Depot and Crate & Barrel. I guess the advantage is that you can see whether a guy clashes with your couch before you take him home.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A good face for radio

I'm scheduled to appear on Michelangelo Signorile's satellite radio show this afternoon at 3:30 to talk about my article on the disappearance of gay bars. I've been warned that Signorile can be a provocative interviewer, but at least I don't have to worry about being outed. I do hope, however, that he hasn't come across my kindergarten essay on how I want to be president someday. I haven't been very good at following up on that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Straight fan of gay bar

Thanks for all the feedback on "Last Call," my Boston Globe piece on the decline of the gay bar. Erik Lindgren, from the group Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, sent the letter below. I agree with him about coffeehouses serving some of the functions of third spaces (I defended Starbucks here), but their early closing hours limit their usefulness, as do the seat-fillers he mentions in the last sentence:

I found your article in the Globe fascinating and very insightful. Being a straight male, I was fortunate to have a gay friend take me as a guest to the Napoleon Club in the early '90s and it was a wonderful eye-opening experience. My pal especially wanted me to hear the two pianists (I am a classical pianist and composer) who had completely different technique and repertoire, and I really enjoyed the cozy atmosphere and warm sense of camaraderie. I was saddened to hear of it's demise (late '90s?) and didn't realize that it was part of a general downsizing trend which you cite. However, one aspect of socialization that you don't mention is the rampant growth of the "coffee house" phenomenon which has really taken off throughout the country during this past decade. Cafes like Cambridge's two 1369 locations, Davis Square's lesbian-friendly Diesel, Newbury Street's Trident Bookstore (which is more of a restaurant), L'Aroma, plus Tealuxe's multiple locations aren't necessarily catering to a gay crowd but are blind to sexual/gender preference, as with their corporate counterparts including the Starbucks, Peets, Caribou, and Au Bon Pain chains. Unfortunately many of those who frequent those establishments feel more comfortable speaking to their laptops rather than their table mates but that is a byproduct of our recent cyber culture. Caffeine for thought.

Cheers, Erik Lindgren


Ladies, please take your boyfriends to age-appropriate films

Last weekend I saw the lip-sync musical Romance and Cigarettes at a Cambridge movie theater, and when there was a close-up of Christopher Walken's rock-music-themed license plate, the guy behind me read it aloud: "BODIDDLY!" I'd like to point out to his girlfriend that the movie may have been too mature for someone who has recently learned how to recognize letters and words. It's quite understandable that he's so proud to figure out something as complicated as two words smooshed together that he has to shout out his accomplishment. But Romance and Cigarettes, with its swearing and frank sexual content, might be above his head. May I suggest Bee Movie?


Monday, December 03, 2007

The South End Is Over

A blog that really gets into the transformation of the South End into a neighborhood for people who like the idea of urban life but can't stand the reality:
Here's the deal: You live in a city. Get over yourselves. As long as there's not a crack house operating next door, you should consider yourself lucky.

Labels: ,

A bucket of good cheer

One thing that didn't get into my Boston Globe story on the disappearance of gay bars was the Use Me team, a group of volunteers from Boston's MALE Center who distribute condoms and safer-sex education at bars. Programs like this have been around for a long time, and I remember being approached by friendly young guys with rubbers when I first went to bars. I have to say I was always disappointed to realize their interest in me was charitable rather than carnal, but it was still better than realizing that the cutie talking to me on the bus was recruiting for his Bible study group. Anyway, one of the Use Me guys made the point that, with fewer gay bars around, the team had to develop "more organic" or "stealth" approaches to safer-sex education. For example, he said, "we have some people who just put out a bucket of condoms in their living room for friends to take." I guess I'm on the wrong side of that generation gap. I'd sooner expect to see a bucket of anti-depressants in the living rooms that I frequent.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why straight people should care when gay bars close

My article on the disappearance of gay bars and the increasing dullness of city life is in today's Boston Globe. Please read it in public while inhaling a Bloody Mary.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In which I learn how to avoid pledge drives and looking like a flag

I've discovered a few new things thanks to friends' emails. First, you can turn off your radio during NPR pledge drives and still get that Nicaraguan chloroform high by tuning into Irrational Public Radio. I recommend Inside the Metal Box; an interview with claustrophobic strangler and outdoor chef Graham Von Shreinhaus. It's as if Bob and Ray collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock. Second, my friend Alan from Albany is deservedly in the finals for "Best Dressed Man of the Capital Region." I'm afraid that I couldn't pull off half of these outfits, but at least Alan showed me how to wear red, white, and blue without looking like a candidate for County Anti-Subversion Commissioner. I think it's the light shade of jeans, along with the watch and shoes. Finally, I learned not to take leftovers home from a restaurant where this happens. I don't want to eat it, but I'm afraid of what may crawl out of my garbage disposal if I try to get rid of the stuff down there.

Friday, November 30, 2007

How to get strangers in Boston to talk to each other

Last night a friend and I, in defiance of Hub protocol, had a brief conversation with a stranger sitting at the next table in a restaurant. And all it took to spark this interaction was a zucchini-sized rat ambling through the dining room. "Whoa! That is one well-fed animal!" and "I wonder how many more they've got back in the kitchen" are not exactly Algonquin Club witticisms, but we've got to start somewhere if we're going to revive civic discourse. The only other thing that seems as effective in prompting Bostonians to talk with each other is a particularly garbled announcement on a subway train. ("What did he say?" "I think he said there's a broken spatula in the gazebo.") So thanks to the MBTA and Boston's vermin population for making this a slightly friendlier city. And no, I'm not going to name the restaurant. I have a policy of not selling out (OK, ratting out) places in Boston that serve dinner after 10 p.m. They're too precious to lose.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mass transit porn

Charlotte's trolley system had a great opening day last week. From the Charlotte Observer's Steve Harrison:

CATS expects the state's first light-rail line will handle 9,100 passenger trips on an average weekday in its first year. Saturday, it handled 34,000 trips in the first four hours -- well above capacity -- and 60,000 by evening, CATS estimated. Trains rolled into stations with people standing nose to shoulder, often allowing only inches for new passengers to board. Riders waited as long as two hours at the I-485/South Boulevard station for free rides.

For photos of people who aren't jaded subway riders, click here. Except for the casual dress, this might be how people behaved when the first electric trolleys sped along Boston's Beacon Street in 1889.

I attended a conference in Charlotte a few years ago and found it to be a friendly city with some charming restaurants, but I was disappointed by the lack of pedestrians on downtown sidewalks. (There seemed to be a lot of indoor passageways among hotels, malls, and offices.) Maybe the light rail will help change that.


Naked Boston Bruins

No one at the Boston Globe can be surprised that this is their most e-mailed story of the day: "Along with non-nude portraits of several hockey players, [Kurt] Kauper's show features an homage to former Bruins center Derek Sanderson, who is painted standing next to his locker with his hockey stick -- and nothing else." (There's also a painting of Bobby Orr in the buff.) Not surprisingly, the Globe also implicitly editorializes that the "realistic" paintings are unfit for public view, since it crops each of the nudes above the waist. (If the Globe was somehow prevented from showing the whole paintings, it should tell us why.) Since neither Sanderson nor Orr posed for the paintings, their genitals stem from Kauper's imagination.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Liquor Land conquered by drug empire

Liquor Land, a veritable Ikea of inebriation for South End and Roxbury residents, will be transformed into another goddamned CVS drugstore after New Year's. David Abel reports in the Boston Globe:
...come January, after 68 years serving everyone from the homeless to college students to millionaires, the liquor store at Harrison Avenue and Northampton Street will close to make way for a CVS. "We used to hear gunshots all the time, but now it's safer, a nicer atmosphere," said [Jackie] Petrillo, 58, who co-owns the store and has managed it since the 1980s. "We worked for this day for so long, and now this? I just can't believe it." Adding insult to injury: It was her cousin, owner of the 75,000-square-foot building, who refused to renew her lease, opting instead for a negotiated deal with CVS.

The reaction among neighborhood activists is mixed, and Abel quotes one as saying, "It's no disappointment to lose a liquor store." Maybe a supermarket would be better on that site, but a CVS? I'll get my Nyquil fix elsewhere, thank you.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The enemy above

I don't think there's much chance of a fire or burglary in my apartment, but once in a while I look up at the three sprinklers and wonder if all my possessions are going to be soaked by a false alarm. At least now I know not to hang my dresses off them.


Monday, November 26, 2007

"What we need is a Starbucks"

The New York Times writes about downtown New Rochelle, but the headline could apply to my own neighborhood in Malden: "A Faded Downtown Gets Luxury Housing, but Retailers Stay Away." Reporter Elsa Brenner offers grounds for optimism:

One glimmer of hope comes from the Gnarly Vine and several trendy restaurants that have opened in a five-block radius in the heart of the downtown. “Often bars, restaurants and small boutiques are the first to signal that a change is actually taking place,” Mr. Beyard said. [Michael Beyard is with the Urban Land Institute.]

I'm hope that's true, since Malden Center has several new trendy restaurants, but I'm not so confident. New retail businesses seem to have a much tougher time in the Internet Age. Significantly, the Times story is vague about precisely what kind of retail stores New Rochelle hopes to attract. Bookstores, music stores, and old-fashioned department stores are dying everywhere, and houseware and furniture stores prefer locations with huge parking lots. But let's worry about that later. For now, Craig King, New Rochelle’s commissioner of development, has an idea shared by many of my neighbors in Malden:

“What we need,” he said, “are upscale boutiques, a Starbucks and some other more interesting shops that will generate more sales tax dollars for the city and give our downtown some real style.”

Labels: ,

Your favorite movie sucks

Andrew Sullivan links to this observation by British actor Stephen Fry (ellipses mine):

I was warned many, many years ago by the great Jonathan Lynn, co-creator of Yes, Minister and director of the comic masterpiece My Cousin Vinnie, that Americans are not raised in a tradition of debate and that the adversarial ferocity common around a dinner table in Britain is more or less unheard of in America. When Jonathan first went to live in LA he couldn’t understand the terrible silences that would fall when he trashed an statement he disagreed with and said something like “yes, but that’s just arrant nonsense, isn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. It’s self-contradictory.” To a Briton pointing out that something is nonsense, rubbish, tosh or logically impossible in its own terms is not an attack on the person saying it – it’s often no more than a salvo in what one hopes might become an enjoyable intellectual tussle. Jonathan soon found that most Americans responded with offence, hurt or anger to this order of cut and thrust. ... Disagreement and energetic debate appears to leave a loud smell in the air.

Maybe I should move to Britain if I want to find a husband. In my experience, the best way to make a bad first impression in America is to criticize anything. It's considered especially bad form to accept an invitation to a movie, play, or concert and then point out the flaws during the post-performance coffee or cocktail. This is being "negative," even though dissecting the entertainment is often the most enjoyable part of an evening out.

I'm not attacking you if I politely say what I find objectionable about your favorite movie or band. I'm just assuming that you're more than eight years old.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My thermostat doesn't go to 11

It's getting colder, and I'm stuck with an efficient heating system in my new place. In every other place I've lived in, it was impossible to maintain a steady temperature during the winter. If I set the heat at 68, the furnace wouldn't kick in until it was about 62 (the alleged temperature reading on the thermostat, minus all the drafts coming through the rickety windows). But when the heat came on, it would stay on until the apartment was a toasty 80 degrees or so. I think that was because it took so long for the heat to make its way through the pipes. So when the thermostat said, "That's enough!", it took another half hour for the radiator to cool down. In my new place, if I set the heat at 68, it comes on before I notice any chill in the air, and it shuts off as soon I get the temperature I asked for, even if it only takes 30 seconds to get there. So I'm never cold, but I never get that redundant, completely wasteful blast of hot air that allowed me to kick off my blankets or walk around without a shirt for an hour or so in the middle of January. Before I'd start freezing again, of course. It's like I moved to Los Angeles or something. I want my four seasons, and I want them all in one day without having to leave the house!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I hate coffee, but I love Starbucks

Seth Gitell has a good column in the New York Sun about the trouble brewing for Starbucks, as rivals like Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's get into the premium coffee market -- without the high prices and precious terminology ("grande" for small) of the Seattle chain. Unlike some left-wing anti-globalists, Gitell doesn't see Starbucks as evil, though he does write, "If Starbucks has been guilty of anything, it is its annoying, almost embarrassing, omnipresence." I agree on narrow aesthetic grounds. There are five Starbucks within a couple of blocks of my office, and it is tiring to see that logo, with its flagrant West Coast sensibility, on the gritty streets of Boston. At the same time, I'm grateful to Starbucks for its omnipresence. If the chain disappeared tomorrow, I doubt that more than two or three of its dozens of Boston sites would be turned into independent cafes. Most would stay vacant or become cellphone stores; it's just not economically feasible, given Boston's real estate market, for anything but a chain to operate businesses at which people can hang out on comfortable chairs for hours at a time. I never drink coffee (or any coffee-like drink) while walking around, and I never take coffee back to my office. The only time I have a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha is when I have time to relax on a piece of Starbucks furniture, preferably with a friend to talk to. That's why it horrifies me to think that Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's could one day drive Starbucks out of business. With their harsh lighting and uncomfortable seats, those chains are designed for quick turnover. I can see why coffee drinkers who get it to go might get impatient with Starbucks and prefer to save a few pennies at a flourescent hellhole. But coffee drinking started out as a social activity, and I'd hate to see yet another place for public congregation driven out of existence at the hands of people who don't like to leave their cars or office desks. And I'm still waiting for a Starbucks in my new neighborhood of Malden Center. Don't worry, there are no independent cafes there anyway. All I've got are two Dunkin' Donuts, and they don't get my business outside of an annual craving for apple-flavored hockey pucks.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 02, 2007

I'd better see flames next time!

My apartment building's fire alarm went off for at least the fourth time since I moved in six weeks ago. (I assume it's gone off a few times when I wasn't home.) This is an unexpected drawback to high-rise living, though I should have remembered it from my days in the Warren Towers dorm at Boston University. The alarm at home is even more intrusive than the one in my office. At least at work, I can't see the flashing lights or hear the "please leave the building" announcements from my little desk in a corner, and I can stay put until our receptionist sends an e-mail to everyone saying that, yes, we probably should head down the stairs. At home, I was once jolted awake at 3:30 a.m. by a female voice telling me that the "sound you have just heard indicates a report of an emergency in the building." It wasn't the alarm that woke me up, mind you; it was the shock of a female voice in my bedroom. (I guess they use women to deliver distressing news for the same reasons that women announcers are used in negative campaign ads.) I was already skeptical about the alarm system, so I took the time to get completely dressed, comb my hair, and put my wallet and cell phone in my coat pocket before carefully locking my door behind me. Sadly, just about everyone had the same idea, and I was not treated to the sight of my neighbors in semi-naked states or in embarrassing sleepwear. And the only real excitement was when we filed back into the building from the sidewalk and the guy in front of me tripped and fell over the suitcase-on-wheels that the woman in front of him was pulling. (It was black, and thus invisible in the dark.) The past two alarms have happened late in the morning when I was on vacation and thus not yet showered or dressed. Both times, I put on shoes as slowly as possible and waited for the alarm to stop so I didn't have to actually leave. My reasoning was that electricity was still working, so things couldn't be that bad. (There should be a manual method to let tenants know that the automated alarm shouldn't be ignored, like cutting the power or sending out bat-signals in the sky.) Anyway, the daytime fire alarms have dashed my dreams of becoming a full-time pajamas blogger. That, and the fact that I don't own a pair of pajamas.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brothers and Sisters and Banality

I think I agree with the Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert on the TV series Brothers and Sisters, though I haven't seen it as much as he has. I couldn't get through an entire episode because of the music, which has the same suffocating whimsy of the Desperate Housewives soundtrack. There's something about the music and directing style of most broadcast network serials (add Grey's Anatomy and Dirty Sexy Money to the list) that make them a completely different animal from cable offerings such as Mad Men and The Wire. The only one I can stand now is House, MD, which has its own flaws but has a mercifully unobtrusive score.


When is a good person a Samaritan?

Today's Boston Globe has a short story headlined "Good Samaritan, 30, dies of stab wounds." I was intrigued since, like most people, I often wonder whether I have enough compassion to help out a stranger in need. But the story is weirdly vague about how the people involved -- the "Samaritan" named Scott Gilbeau, the woman in distress who is not identified, and the attacker with the memorable name of Roy B. Bash -- came to know each other.

Gilbeau, Bash, and two women had been at a bar in Vergennes before returning to the Hinesburg trailer where Bash and his girlfriend lived. The couples had retired to separate rooms for the night when Gilbeau heard Bash and his girlfriend fighting, according to the affidavit filed by Vermont State Police Detective Sergeant James Whitcomb.

Gilbeau was undoubtedly heroic, but I thought a Good Samaritan, by definition, was someone who goes out of his way (or misses church, in the original story) to help a stranger. Here the term just seems confusing, and even euphemistic in a way I can't figure out. Why not just say that the two men were friends or neighbors, or some other vague term that doesn't come from a parable specifically about providing aid to someone one has never met before?


The end of gayborhoods?

The New York Times notes the cancellation of the annual Halloween parade in the Castro district of San Francisco as emblematic of the decline of gay neighborhoods across the US. I've already noted that gay bars recently turned up on a list of "endangered businesses." Is this a good thing? Last week I went to a panel discussion organized by The History Project of Boston, and an older lesbian said that she couldn't deny that things were better now for the gay community, but she still missed the "excitement" of the time when socializing with other gays and lesbians had a forbidden air about it. Maybe there's a parallel with Red Sox fans, some of whom now miss being part of a "cursed" community. I certainly don't want to be cursed, but I do kind of miss the days when all gay people seemed to have something in common. Coming-out stories were always a good icebreaker when meeting someone new; these days, when a 20-year-old says that he just figured things out and told everyone in his life, you're back to talking about sports or TV shows, just as if you were at a gathering full of straight people.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cool demolition photos from Malden

Gabriel Daniels has photos of the old YMCA building spilling its guts all over Pleasant Street. I walked past there yesterday, and those gray clumps of recycled tires (see fourth photo) made me queasy. I guess they served as insulation, but they look like some creature's stomach lining. So we'll have another gap on Pleasant Street. I may have been premature in thinking that things are going to turn around downtown with the influx of apartment dwellers. Starbucks, where are you?


Sunday, October 21, 2007

MBTA says: You Catholic girls start much too late!

At least that's what Billy Joel was telling me in his rendition of "Only the Good Die Young," which the MBTA was piping into North Station while I was waiting for a train tonight. I was offended more by the banality of the music than by any moral message therein, but I ask Bill Donahue and the Catholic League: Doesn't this make you want to join the fight against the commercialization of public spaces? (But lay off the live subway musicians, please.) More news about T-Radio is at Universal Hub.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Civil disobedience on the Orange Line

For the third weekend since I moved to my new apartment last month, Orange Line service to Malden Center is being suspended for the weekend and replaced by shuttle buses. This is all part of a signal replacement project that is taking an incredible four years to complete (assuming it's on schedule). Here are some nonviolent ways for Orange Line riders to rise up and express their dissatisfaction: 1.) Call restaurants and stores along the Orange Line and tell them you were planning to patronize them this weekend, until you saw the mob scene around the shuttle buses and thought better of it. 2.) Carry huge pillows with you on the shuttle buses in order to subtly demonstrate their inferiority to spacious subway cars. 3.) Invite a suburbanite or visiting out-of-towner to take their virgin excursion on the T this weekend. It will also be his last excursion, and maybe he'll write an angry letter to the Globe about his experience. 4.) Inform local candidates and elected officials that your taxi fares this weekend are coming out of your campaign contribution budget. 5.) Keep asking T personnel, "How's that signal replacement coming along? Exactly how many have you got left to do?"


New slogan for Boston Now?

When I declined Boston Now at the Malden Center T stop this morning, the tall black gentleman handing our the free newspaper boomed at me: "Participate, don't discriminate!" So I guess I'm an apathetic racist. The Metro hawkers should respond by adopting the slogan "Take my rag, don't be a douchebag!"


Wednesday, October 17, 2007's maddening brain teaser

Go to Slate's slide show on snapshots and try to see anything other than a car commercial. The cryptic message "Click the link to the lower left to start the slide show" only guarantees that you see the commercial over and over again as you try to figure out which of the many links on the page is the correct one. I still haven't figured it out. UPDATE: Slate has made it clearer where to click in order to get past that commercial. Such is the power of a blog with about 14 regular readers.

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Suburbanism strikes the (reasonably) big city, part two

Wanting a piece of dessert tonight but refusing to cross hateful Route 60, I spent a half hour tonight looking for an open cafe or convenience store in my new neighborhood of downtown Malden. Because it was after 8 p.m., I had no luck until I found a tiny market (a bodegita?) on the ground floor of a nearby apartment building, right next to the entrance to the building's garage. I was the only customer, spending a lot of time agonizing over the large but not very appealing sweets section, until a woman came in and gave a cheery hello to the man behind the counter. "I forgot my pass key to the garage again," she said. "Can I borrow yours?" He wearily handed it over and said, "I'm going to have to start charging you." That seemed to startle her a bit, but she took the key and breezed out of the store. After I made my purchase and left, I passed the garage and spotted her through a window, taking a bunch of bags out of her car -- which, I suppose, she carried with her as she stopped at the convenience store to return the garage key. Lady, I know that convenient stores are more expensive than Costco, but would it have killed you to BUY SOMETHING from the poor guy who's trying to run a business, not serve as your concierge?

Labels: ,

Suburbanism strikes the big city, part one

Some idiot in Brooklyn complained to the city about a 6-year-old's "graffiti." From the New York Daily News:
A 6-year-old Brooklyn girl's family was threatened with a $300 fine after a neighbor complained to the city about the girl's blue chalk drawings. The absurd warning from the city Sanitation Department arrived Oct. 5, a few days after Natalie Shea scribbled a blue flower on her parents' 10th St. stoop in Park Slope.

I understand the "broken windows" theory, but if you're worried that a little girl's drawing of a flower can tip your neighborhood into the slum category, you're probably better off in a gated community.

On an unrelated note, I was intrigued by the last pararaph of the story, which is an altered quote from the little girl's mother:

"I'm a good New Yorker. I like to obey the rules," she said. "If it's really illegal for Natalie to use chalk on her own stoop, if that's really upsetting to Mayor [Bloomberg], I will comply."

Why the brackets around "Bloomberg"? Did she really call him "Mayor Jerkwad" or something? Maybe she thought Rudy Giuliani was still mayor, which makes no sense because Rudy would have made a special trip to Brooklyn to see little Natalie put in handcuffs.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The T takes the mute out of commuting

The Boston Phoenix's Adam Reilly says that the MBTA doesn't care whether passengers like its plan to pump cheesy music and inane commercials into subway stations, and he's probably right. I guess this means that subway musicians are also doomed. All I can say is: Please come back, boom boxes! Maybe I'll be able to hear myself think if enough different sources of music drown each other out. As for the T passengers who now stick their fingers in their ears every time the brakes on a subway car squeak, I'll be able to watch their heads explode.

Labels: , ,

High-rise residents of Malden, unite!

I planned to sit quietly at my first community meeting as a legal resident of Malden, but I did feel compelled to defend the honor of apartment dwellers to what seemed to be a mostly homeowner audience. The “visioning” meeting was part of a process to draft a master plan for revitalizing what is, at least in the downtown area, a pretty dreary city. (See previous posts and my article in CommonWealth magazine) I did feel bad for some of the older residents at the meeting who had the impossible dream of restoring the downtown Malden of three or four decades ago. (“I need something more immediate,” said one such resident when a meeting facilitator asked us what we’d like the city to look like 25 years from now.) Several expressed distaste for the new apartment complexes near the Malden Center MBTA stop, and one complained, “The more apartments there are downtown, the less space there is for new stores.” Since almost half of the storefronts downtown are vacant, I would suggest that the problem is not a lack of space for retail use but a lack of possible customers who live within walking distance of Malden Center. Sadly, the downtown area is never going to attract people from other Malden neighborhoods the way it did when I was a kid; there are now too many big-box stores with huge parking lots just outside the city center. The quickest and surest way to get new shoppers downtown is to offer closet space, central air-conditioning, and nice views; two-for-one coupons aren’t going to do it. When we were asked to decide the most important “key action” concerning residential development to take in the short run, more anti-apartment feelings started to emerge. One resident proposed a moratorium on large-scale residential developments. That was when my hand shot up independently of my brain, and I ended up stammering out a proposal to limit new apartment and condo complexes “to appropriate neighborhoods” as an alternative to banning them altogether. I also blurted out a “Yes!” when the guy sitting next to me (we were a rump caucus of renters) proposed more mixed-use development in the city that would combine residential and retail space. But I ended up joining the bandwagon for a useless resolution to “ensure safe, clean, and secure neighborhoods.” At least it beat out the anti-apartment planks. During another part of the evening, someone proposed that Malden “adopt a simple system for citizens to communicate with the city in a timely matter regarding infrastructure issues, with a required response.” Fortunately, a few of us who had lived in or were familiar with Somerville were able to boil this down to “adopt a 311 system.”

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bay State Puritanism strikes again

After posting yesterday about the extinction of gay bars, I decided to make an effort and go out to a martini place where the bartender once assured me that there's a "gay crowd" on Tuesdays. I was skeptical, since unofficial gay nights are generally on the slowest evening of the week, and they represent wishful thinking on the part of bar owners who hope to attract someone -- anyone -- on a Monday or Tuesday. So after I watched House with my usual mixed feelings of confusion and disbelief (interrupted by an occasional great line by Hugh Laurie), I changed into a non-work shirt (which is a work shirt that hasn't been dry cleaned in a while) and headed out. When I got to the bar at 11:30, there were only two guys there, so I guess it could have been all-gay. Unfortunately, the bartender told me that last call was at 11:15, so I was immediately sent on my way. That's a gay night? I would have been just as happy at a late-night diner, but that would have been an even more fantastic find than a martini bar outside of the Back Bay that stays open past David Letterman's opening monologue.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Gay bars and pay phones on verge of extinction?

So says, which lists 10 types of business that may disappear over the next decade. Here is the verdict on same-sex watering holes:
Gay bars: As The Orlando Sentinel noted in a recent article, around the country gay bars have been going out of business as gay men and women have been gaining greater acceptance in society. What used to be a hangout for people who felt unwelcome elsewhere is becoming less necessary. Odds of survival in 10 years: As with many industries, the very best of them will endure; the rest won't.
Greater acceptance in society as a whole, particularly among younger generations, is indeed one reason for the drying-up of the gay bar scene. (I'm still mourning Dedo here in Boston, but then I'm old enough to remember the Napoleon Club, the 1270, and Buddy's.) Here are the other nine reasons: 2.) The raising of the drinking age to 21 and the prohibition of happy hours in some states (like Massachusetts) has taught young adults to find other ways to entertain themselves at just the time that they're establishing lifelong habits. And $10 martinis don't help. 3.) Neighborhood groups in Boston, New York, and other large cities are increasingly unlikely to tolerate gay bars in their midst, as they fight against anything that might be noisy or bring "outsiders" to the area. This isn't necessarily a form of homophobia, since gay residents are often the loudest opponents to gay bars. 4.) More gays and lesbians are moving out to the suburbs, both because such communities are becoming gay-friendly and because "livable" large cities are becoming so expensive. 5.) Rents and property values in gentrified cities (often gentrified by gay men) are so high that it doesn't make economic sense to open a business tailored to a narrow demographic group. 6.) Manhunt, craigslist, and other forms of online hooking up. 7.) Gay men and lesbians socializing together more than in the past, and the difficulty of figuring out a bar atmosphere that appeals to both groups but somehow doesn't attract a large straight clientele. 8.) Strippers and porn videos are not such a big draw now that bare skin is so accessible through other means. And they turn off a large segment of the gay clientele anyway (some of whom see go-go boys as an occasional treat rather than a weekly attraction). 9.) Musical tastes among gay men are a lot more splintered than during the disco era. Put three random gay men in a gay bar, and two of them (maybe all three) will flee with their fingers in their ears. 10.) Too many gay bars have aggressive patrons, which can turn off guys who just want to meet friends and aren't interested in going home with anyone. Unfortunately, one busy troll (sorry, I can't think of a euphemism) can make his way through an entire bar and ensure that dozens of guys will never come back.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 07, 2007

My unexpectedly decadent bed

I finally put together my Crate & Barrel Pathway bed, and may the Earth forgive me for all the plastic, cardboard, styrofoam, and wood used to pack what had looked to be a simple metal frame. So far I've made three trips to my building's dumpster, and I haven't got rid of half the debris. The sad thing is that all the material used to ensure that the pieces of steel wouldn't shift one millimeter during shipment probably would have made an adequate bed for a homeless person who now sleeps on a metal grate.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 05, 2007

Offensively inoffensive TV

This sort of thing really makes me wary of watching anything on the major TV networks. From the AP:
A scene in TV's Desperate Housewives that used Philippine medical education for a punchline prompted angry calls from viewers, an online petition demanding an apology and criticism from Philippine officials. In the season premiere that aired Sunday on ABC, Teri Hatcher's character, Susan, goes in for a medical checkup and is shocked when the doctor suggests she may be going through menopause. ... "OK, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren't, like, from some med school in the Philippines?" Susan fires back. Viewers called the network to complain but the number of callers wasn't available, an ABC spokesman said Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening, more than 30,000 names were attached to an online petition seeking a network apology. ... ABC said it was considering editing the episode.
If an ill-informed and self-absorbed fictional character isn't allowed to say anything ill-informed and self-absorbed, I don't know why I would waste my time watching the TV show she's on. The chilling effect of ABC's "maybe we'll edit this out" statement scares me away from a series like Dirty Sexy Money, which is ostensibly about badly behaving people with money. I'm afraid it even makes me reluctant to watch Friday Night Lights, given how many story possibilities must be off limits on NBC. (There is, for example, the rule against TV characters choosing to have abortions.) Thank God for even below-par HBO shows.


Competing with myself in the blogosphere

The work-related blog that I'm helping to produce, Beyond Red & Blue, is now up and running. There's lots of stuff about politics, demographics, and just about anything that can be depicted through a map. Not so much with the TV or gay stuff.


Earl goes gay, The Office goes 10 minutes too long

I hope the writers of The Office are reading the message board for their show at Television Without Pity. This is a near-great show, but Michael's extreme stupidity has ruined a lot of episodes. I actually didn't mind the car-in-the-lake scene as much as the scene where he tries to take back "the turtles." But there seems to be a consensus emerging among fans: Michael is funny when he's overbearing, insensitive, and immature. He's not funny when he doesn't have the sense of a five-year-old. But I had a good TV night because My Name Is Earl had the most charming depiction of prison sex since Kiss of the Spider Woman. As someone already pointed out on the TWoP message board, Will and Grace was NEVER this gay.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The price of self-abuse

Today I was given a diagnosis of that thing on my face. It's an "angry zit," probably caused by my overenthusiastic application of anti-acne cream. Let that be a lesson to those of you going overboard with the antibacterial soap. The zit is supposed to go away if I leave it alone, and that strategy seems to have worked with the awful grinding noise the toilet in my new apartment was making every time I flushed, so I'm going to try it. That concludes the obligatory personal health-n-hygiene portion of this blog. Be thankful I was able to make my quota without any mention of my digestive system.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Skin deep

I have something on my left cheek. I think it's from stress, but it's stressing me out more than anything else that's been stressing me out lately, so I guess it will never go away. It's either: 1.) Adult acne. 2.) Cancer. 3.) A little bit of sunburn. (My skin ruptures when I look at a postcard from Provincetown.) 4.) A sexy-looking mole, which mistakenly landed on my face instead of Toby Maguire's. 5.) A welt, possibly from sleepwalking to an S&M party in the neighborhood. I tried various remedies over the weekend, which probably all cancelled each other out. The only thing left is to offer the Internet Gods the sacrifice of online humiliation. Look for me on YouTube soon.

Curb Your Gluttony

Curb Your Enthusiasm seems to be winding down the same way that Seinfeld did: with more emphasis on slapstick and more situations that seem to take place in a little town like Mayberry rather than a big city like New York or Los Angeles. In most recent episodes, Larry David runs into the same two or three people every time he leaves the house. But there was a good scene last week in an ice-cream shop, where a woman ahead of him in line leisurely sampled every damn flavor in the store before finally buying a vanilla cone. This was funny, but I wasn't really sure that this kind of entitled behavior was any more common these days. The next day, I found out. I was at a tacqueria for lunch, and the guy ahead of me ordered a small drink. This particular eatery has several types of fruit drinks and iced teas in addition to the standard sodas at the self-serve counter. So this guy samples every one of them, putting his cup under each spigot for a few seconds, then taking a few sips before dumping the rest of the liquid out. Of course, when he finally filled his cup, it was with Diet Coke.


Pottery Barn is a crockery tease

One of the first pieces of mail I got at my new apartment was a catalog from Pottery Barn, along with a letter that started, "Welcome to the neighborhood!" Wow! Had I failed to notice that one of their stores was in Malden? Or had they just opened that very day? Had my mere presence finally caused the city to reach a tipping point into gentrification? Did I smell burritos? No. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the nearest Pottery Barn is at least two cities away! So what gives them the right to "welcome" me to Malden? Family Dollar and Kappy's Liquors, not Pottery Barn, are paying property taxes to keep my streets clean and to keep police sirens blaring outside my window all night. So save your welcomes for Brookline and Newton, Pottery Barn. Your furniture is too silly for me anyway.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Globe sums up Boston's past 30 years in one headline

"A big step up from the dive bar." Whether this is an unequivocally good thing is, of course, open to debate.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Things I Have Learned From Moving to a New Apartment

1. Don't waste your efficiency skills packing all your clothes into a dozen medium-sized boxes. I had a few shirts left on hangers when the movers arrived, and they just hung them in a portable wardrobe that they wheeled out to the truck. They could have moved everything that way, and I wouldn't have ended up with inconvenient creases in every article of clothing that I own. 2. The people you trust the most lie to your face about Ikea furniture. Two of my closest acquaintances encouraged me to buy couches, chairs, a bed, and bookcases from the Swedish cult. "That would look nice! That's a good deal!" they said as I pointed to things I planned to buy from the catalog. But what did they say when I had second thoughts and cancelled my Ikea order? "Their stuff is terrible! Everything falls apart after a year!" Thanks for looking out for me, guys! Don't bother recommending any heart surgeons to me! 3. Not all electrical outlets are as slutty as the ones I had in my triple decker in Somerville. During the first night in my new place, I thought that I'd have to buy all new lamps because their plugs didn't seem to fit the sockets. I finally figured out that I had to work them a little bit, moving them slightly up and down until they were snugly inserted. In my old place, I slid plugs into the wall without any effort, and everything was good to go. Of course, if a speck of dust fell onto the electrical cord, it would drop out of the socket or just hang there so that the attached light or clock kept going on and off, occasionally producing colorful sparks. Good times!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How to set the wrong tone for a landlord/tenant relationship

In four days, I move to my new apartment in Malden, and all of my worries will disappear, but for now I'm as pissed as ever. Though my place still lacks furniture, I've been paying rent since the first. It's now the 11th, and my name still isn't on the intercom directory. On Saturday I was assured that my apartment would be buzzable on Monday, but it's two days later and I'm still not listed on the tenant roll call. If this were New York, I'd figure out by know that I was supposed to slip someone a $20, but I don't really think Malden has reached that level of sophistication. I do know that this is a bad first impression of the management. If it takes weeks to fix this "problem," how long is it going to take to get action if the garbage disposal starts working in reverse? Remember, boys and girls: Never move into an apartment building with an intercom problem -- or a building where you've ever noticed an intercom that was broken for more than 24 hours. Not only does this speak ill of management, it means that tenants will be constantly propping the front door open with phone books, and you will eventually be burglarized. And a word of warning: Whenever I enter or leave an apartment building, I close the front door behind me, no matter what cute handwritten signs are taped to the door and no matter what whimsical objects are used as doorstops.


Media disappointed by lack of death and destruction

In today's Boston Globe, we learn that it's tough to predict deadly storms:
Late-forming El Niño conditions are blamed for the fact that last year's hurricane season was more benign than forecast, said Philip Klotzbach, a forecaster at the hurricane center of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
I would have thought El Nino deserved credit, not blame, for preventing another Katrina, but then I'm not a Weather Channel groupie.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 25, 2007

And why is the end of everything so bad?

I love to spot statements in the press by people who seem oblivious to the fact that most people don't share their affection for the status quo. This is from the Washington Post, in a story about Florida moving up their presidential primary to January and threatening Iowa and New Hampshire's dominance of the nomination process:
"You now see the end of a system that we've been living with since the 1970s," said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's campaign in 2000 and is a member of the DNC rules committee. "It fell apart in the last cycle, but we kept it together with very interesting glue and duct tape. Unfortunately, this is really out of control."
Let's see, turnout in the primaries has been steadily dwindling since the 1970s; presidential candidates have been withdrawing earlier and earlier each cycle, leaving most primaries with just one serious candidate on the ballot; and the Democrats haven't been able to come up with a nominee who got more than 50 percent of the vote in November since... 1976. What exactly is Brazile worried about?

Labels: ,

“Ace in the Hole”: Bad attitude, worse film

Sometimes a film’s reputation rests more on what it says than how it says it. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) is one example. A critical and commercial failure when it was first released, it has since become a cult favorite because of its extreme cynicism. Kirk Douglas plays a newspaper reporter who sabotages the rescue of a man trapped in a cave so that he can keep the story going for a few days, and practically everyone else in the film (the rescue crew, local politicians, even the victim’s wife) becomes complicit in the plan. I have nothing against cynicism; perhaps my favorite film is Sweet Smell of Success (1957) in which gossip columnist Burt Lancaster describes both another character and the movie itself when he says, “I’d have to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic.” But watching Ace in the Hole, which was just released on DVD this year, is more like trying to drink straight turpentine. It’s made for people so insecure in their misanthropy that they can’t stomach even a glimmer of hope in a movie, for fear that their bleak outlook will be compromised. (They also fear that audiences won’t “get” a movie that doesn’t hold their heads under water for a full two hours.) There are three problems with Ace in the Hole. One is Wilder’s usual lack of subtlety. Characters are constantly describing each other’s bad behavior instead of letting us notice it for ourselves, and the more obvious a satirical image (such as a passing van for “The Great S&M Amusement Corp.”), the more likely Wilder is to repeat it two or three times. This isn’t such a problem when Wilder is dealing with broad comedy (Some Like It Hot), film noir (Double Indemnity) or near-camp (Sunset Boulevard), but it’s a real distraction in what is supposed to be a sly satire. The second problem is Douglas’s character, an asshole who proudly announces that he’s an asshole every chance he gets (for example, taking a job at a small-city newspaper and telling all his co-workers that he’s going to quit as soon as he finds something better). It’s a mystery as to why other characters fall under his influence (oh, that’s right, it’s because almost all of the human race is as evil as he is), and why we in the audience should care about him. I don’t mean that he’s not “sympathetic,” but that he doesn’t give us a handhold to find our own dark impulses in his actions. In Sweet Smell of Success, we can’t help but fantasize about what we would do if we had the wealth, power, and style of Lancaster’s character. And that means that we can’t help but identify with Tony Curtis’s social-climbing publicist, because he wants to become Lancaster too. It also helps that the film begins with Curtis being blackballed by Lancaster for reasons we don’t learn until later — but which we assume from the outset are unfair. Ace in the Hole, in contrast, begins with Douglas draining the film of any mystery by announcing that he’s ended up in Albuquerque because he’s been fired from better newspapers for drinking and for screwing an editor’s wife. A final problem is that Wilder makes his story unbelievable by succumbing to the temptation to make it bigger and bigger. Implausibility isn’t fatal when a film’s characters or themes are fascinating, but here… It doesn’t make any sense that the story of the trapped cave explorer would become a national phenomenon but no one of consequence would point out that there’s a much quicker rescue method than the one Douglas is pushing. A coal miner who visits the scene points out that building a reinforced tunnel through the cave would be quicker than drilling through the top of the mountain, but he’s ignored, and either no one else is smart enough to realize it or every prominent engineer in America thinks it would be fun to keep someone trapped in a cave for a while. I guess either possibility would suit Wilder. Another question that nagged me was: Who the heck is paying for the elaborate rescue operation? A crooked sheriff is nominally in charge, but there’s no way that a county of a few thousand people could finance the operation. I’m sure that the rescue effort would be taken over by the state, if not the federal government, and that would be the end of Douglas having complete control over the situation. Ace in the Hole would ring truer if it were about a local news story that Douglas exploits for the possibility of a minor career boost; indeed, it would be even more cynical if he were willing to essentially kill someone solely to move up the journalistic ladder from Albuquerque to Fresno. But Wilder can’t resist the chance to imply that all of America, and not just one American town, is voyeuristic and amoral. I’m glad that I finally saw it, but I can’t get on the Ace in the Hole bandwagon. If you want 1950’s cynicism, rent Sweet Smell of Success or Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957). Or, if you want to see a journalist manipulate his subjects, check out Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote (2005).

Labels: ,