Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can I Borrow a Copy of Someone's "Gay Agenda"?

As I've said numerous times before, it's a good thing that there's nothing else wrong with the US and the world, so that conservative politicians can save all of us from the scourge of homosexuality and gay people wanting "special privileges." You know, like equal rights.

Take, for example, Eugene Delgaudio, a district supervisor in Sterling, Virginia (the town in which I work). The Washington Note writes of a recent fundraising appeal letter Delgaudio wrote in which he warns that "the Radical Homosexuals are storming through Washington demanding passage of their agenda." He refers to a "Gay Bill of Special Rights," that all of the gay-friendly congressmen and senators are trying to push on those people too tired of standing up for American families.

My favorite part, however, is when he tells of an experience he had at a suburban mailshop:

As I rounded the final turn my eyes nearly popped. Tractor-trailers pulled up to loading docks, cars and vans everywhere and long-haired, earring-pierced men scurrying around running forklifts, inserters and huge printing presses.

Trembling with worry I went inside. It was worse than I ever imagined.

Row after row of boxes bulging with pro-homosexual petitions lined the walls, stacked to the ceiling.

I guess I must have missed getting my copy of "the gay agenda" or "the Gay Bill of Special Rights." But that is what many conservative politicians and others who oppose homosexuality claim exist, that it is being passed, hand to hand, all across this country. And the minute that gay people are allowed the same rights as other tax-paying American citizens, the road to Sodom and Gomorrah will open up in front of us.

If there is a "gay agenda," I would think it would include the right to walk down the street without the threat of being jumped for no reason by hyper-violent thugs. Or the right to have a drink at a bar without being harassed by police. Or the opportunity to take the date of your choice—no matter what sex they are—to your high school prom. Or how about the right to serve your country in the military without having to keep your life a secret?

Radical agenda indeed, no?

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'll Bet the "N' in "SNL" Stands for Nylund...

Is it possible that, well into her 80s, Betty White is funnier than ever? If you saw her acceptance speech during the Screen Actors Guild Awards earlier this year, or any other recent television appearance she's made, you know the answer is probably yes.

Thanks to the power of the internet, Facebook and the sheer Hollywood buzz, White will be hosting Saturday Night Live May 8. Check out her first promo for the gig below. Do you think she'll tell a St. Olaf story as part of her monologue?

You Ain't Seen Nothing Like the Mighty Quinn...

As I mentioned in a previous post, a little over a month ago, we brought home a new puppy, a golden/lab mix we named Quinn. It was, at that point, three months after our dog Zeke died, and nearly 16 years after the last time I had a puppy! Needless to say, this little dog has put us through our paces, and while doing so, totally captured our hearts.

Book Review: "I Am Not a Serial Killer" by Dan A. Wells

John Wayne Cleaver (named for the actor) is obsessed with serial killers. When assigned a paper on a great American, he wrote his paper on the BTK Killer while his classmates wrote about Teddy Roosevelt and George Washington. Yet while he knows more about serial killers than almost anyone, he is afraid of becoming one.

Having been diagnosed as a sociopath, he knows he has the potential to become a serial killer, so he has developed some very strict rules for himself, including complimenting a person immediately after thinking something bad about them. And then a serial killer starts terrorizing his hometown. He tries to figure out what makes the killer tick, and when he discovers who the killer is, does everything in his power to try and stop the killer from killing again, even if that means unleashing the "monster" inside him.

This book hooked me at the start. John is tremendously self-aware for someone so young, and his ability to control a growing power inside of him was really gripping. Unfortunately, the book took a very sharp turn with the reveal of the killer—almost a genre-switcher—so while I was captivated by John's story and raced through the book to see what happened, I was very irritated by the turn of events. As I understand it, this is the first book in a trilogy, so I'll keep my fingers crossed that John's next story stays a little truer to what it could be. Really interesting stuff, though.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review: "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman

In today's world, newspapers and magazines may be finding themselves displaced by the web sites, podcasts and RSS feeds more and more, but there's still an innate fascination in what goes on behind the scenes with those who report the news. And that innate fascination is the root behind Tom Rachman's quite enjoyable book, The Imperfectionists. Set at a fictional English-language newspaper in Rome (think the International Herald-Tribune), the book follows—in somewhat related and connected stories/chapters—reporters, editors, fact-checkers, news directors, copy-editors and management staff at "the paper." (So referred to because you're never told what the paper is actually called.) Interspersed with these stories are anecdotes on the founding of the paper, and how it increasingly falls victim to less-involved family members of the founder.

Almost every one of these vignettes is really enjoyable, and many could even be the source of its own novel. From the opening story of a past-his-prime reporter in Paris still trying to make it, to the almost-makes-you-cringe tale of the paper's chief financial officer flying from Italy to the US seated next to a staffer she recommended get fired, Rachman created some terrific characters and situations, and I really felt as if I got to know a little bit more about what made each one tick. One chapter, which chronicled a novice trying to be a string reporter in the Middle East, grated on me so much I actually skipped it, but I really enjoyed everything else. If you're interested in the human situation and following the foibles of people working together in close quarters for years, I definitely recommend this book.

Yeah, I'm Back...

You know when you don't go to the gym for a few weeks because your life has been totally out-of-control? You know you need to go, and you feel guilty every day you miss, but it gets a little harder and harder every day to motivate yourself just to get back on that horse?

Well, I've been good about the gym but bad about the blog. I've been traveling a lot for business again and work has been totally insane, but also since Quinn came along (and more on that later), there has been precious little time for creative outlets—I've barely had the opportunity to read, and you know how much I like to do that!

A much wiser person than me recently said of his own blog that in order to get more people to read it, you need to regularly add content, even if it's just a paragraph or two. And this much wiser person is an emergency room physician, so if he can blog on a daily basis, who am I to complain of a lack of time?

So, mea culpa. And I'll be back for good, for the most part...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

RIP, Dixie Carter

Sad news tonight with the announcement of Dixie Carter's death at the age of 70. While Carter had a very distinguished career in both television and the theatre, for many (including myself) she will be best known as Julia Sugarbaker, the smart, sexy and damned opinionated lead character in TV's Designing Women. For a number of seasons, Carter, along with Delta Burke, Annie Potts, Jean Smart and Meshach Taylor, kept us laughing at the foibles of a group of friends running an interior design firm in Atlanta. (I've blocked from my memories any of the subsequent seasons with Jan Hooks, Julia Duffy and Judith Ivey. Show killers.)

While Carter, as the mouthpiece of creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, had any number of memorable moments, none captures the essence of Julia Sugarbaker as much as this:

Rest in piece, Dixie Carter. Your talent and grace will be missed, but your performances will live on. And thank God for that.

Book Review: "The Irresistible Henry House" by Lisa Grunwald

In the heyday of college home economics programs (in the 1940s through early 1960s), some schools featured "practice houses," in which students could learn all the basics of how to be a good housewife—cooking, sewing and cleaning, to name just a few. Some practice houses also had "practice babies," babies obtained from local orphanages that were used as teaching tools to help women understand how to care for infants and young children. These babies usually lived at the school for the first two years of life before being put up for adoption at the orphanage.

Lisa Grunwald's fantastic book, The Irresistible Henry House, tells the story of such a program, through the eyes of Henry, one of the practice babies, and Martha Gaines, director of the program. Henry, as he is passed from one practice "mother" to another, learns early on how to charm women and make each one feel important and loved. Except his adoptive mother, Martha, whose need to love Henry and need for his love in return causes her to lie to him, a lie that has ramifications through the rest of their lives.

I thought this was a terrific story. Grunwald's characters are tremendously vivid—Henry is a cipher because he wasn't able to make any permanent human connections at an early age, and instead spends a good portion of his life trying to please everyone but himself, only to find his affections not returned when he first truly falls for someone. I found Martha's plight somewhat heartbreaking, but you can definitely see how smothering her love is to Henry. And Henry's journey as an artist and animator is as fascinating as the rest of the story. A really great book that will make an interesting movie.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: "Everything is Wrong with Me" by Jason Mulgrew

When you look back on your childhood as an adult, things are often much funnier than they were when you were growing up. And if you have the type of childhood that Jason Mulgrew had, a) you have the makings of one hell of a memoir, and b) you're probably lucky you survived.

In his funny and immensely self-deprecating memoir, Everything is Wrong with Me, humorist Jason Mulgrew recounts his childhood growing up in working class Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s. From the auspicious beginning of how his parents met (his mother saw his costumed father marching in a Mummers parade while he was bleeding from a stab wound) to his experiences as a non-athletic child playing Little League baseball or being used as a decoy by his numbers-running grandfather, Mulgrew finds humor both in the ordinary situations he lived through as well as the hard-to-believe ones. And from his anecdotes about his adult life, it sounds as if he didn't learn much from his childhood!

There were a number of times I laughed out loud during this book, but at the same time, I felt as if Mulgrew tried a little too hard at times. And while his constant self-deprecation was funny at the start, by the end of the book you wondered whether his self esteem was really that low or if he thought it would make his story more appealing to readers. But those foibles notwithstanding, this book certainly stands alongside David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs in chronicling dysfunctional family life, although this book is a bit cruder (and, much like the pre-teen and teenage boy it follows, a little more sex-obsessed). Good fun.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review: "The Solitude of Prime Numbers" by Paolo Giordano

Alice and Mattia are misfits. Both scarred (one literally, one figuratively) in their childhood, they meet as teenagers in Italy. Alice is the typical teenage girl, trying to fit in despite her low self-esteem, while Mattia wants nothing more than to disappear into the world of numbers that soothe him and bring order to his internal chaos. The strange relationship they forge together is at the core of The Solitude of Prime Numbers.

The story follows Alice and Mattia from their difficult childhoods to somewhat uncertain adulthood. They have jobs—Alice is a photographer and Mattia is pursuing a career as a mathematician and college instructor. They struggle with life, drawn to one another while at the same time wishing for solitude. They muddle through relationships with others—family, friends, coworkers—and you can't help but wonder whether they are at all fulfilled by their lives.

This is a beautifully written book, but ultimately it is hard to love. Mattia and Alice do such a good job pushing everyone away in their lives, and these characters did the same for me. While I know that there are people in this world who struggle with how to connect with others, as a story, it was very frustrating to invest so much time on characters I didn't feel advanced in any way.