Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscars Make Me the Grouch...

The 83rd annual Oscar ceremony was held last night.

I've been a fan of the Oscars for years, and have done a great deal of research about their history, as well as who has been nominated and won over the years. I also see almost all of the nominated movies and performances in the major categories each year (the only one I missed this year was Best Actor nominee Javier Bardem's performance in Biutiful).

With all of that background, I know that in a subjective competition like the Oscars—or any other film awards program—there will be times when I feel the awards went to the "right" people and times I feel they didn't, but it's only my opinion. However, I enjoy the awards season more when the people and/or films I believe "deserve" to win actually get some recognition. (Most years it's not too bad; some years are better than others.)

As I've commented previously, there truly is a glut of awards these days—Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTAs, SAGs, hundreds of different film critics groups, Independent Spirit Awards, etc. When an actor or a film starts building momentum, their inevitable march toward the Oscars starts to seem boring (unless you're really rooting for them). It seems as if the possibility for a surprise win like Marcia Gay Harden or Anna Paquin, or even Russell Crowe for Gladiator seems less and less likely.

While there's little dispute that the winners of this year's Oscars were deserving, I'm grumpy because they weren't all the ones I would have picked, and also because these are the same people who have won at every awards show. (For those of you who are curious, if I were a member of the academy, I would have voted for Inception for Best Picture, Colin Firth (although if Ryan Gosling was nominated he would have gotten my vote), Annette Bening, Christian Bale and Hailee Steinfeld.)

Hopefully next year all of my favorites will win, and maybe there will even be a surprise or two. But I won't hold my breath...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

You Got Big Dreams? You Want Fame?

One of the television shows I was most obsessed with during my childhood was Fame. On the air from 1982-1987, the show followed many of the same characters from the 1980 movie, who were students at New York's renowned High School for the Performing Arts.

As someone who always dreamed of a career on the stage or screen, watching the ups and downs of aspiring actors, musicians and dancers really appealed to me. I often wished that my own high school's drama and choir programs could be as amazingly dynamic as those I saw on television.

But the high point of the show each week was the amazing musical numbers. Many of the songs were made available on two record albums (remember those?), and excitedly, I was able to find one of the two on CD yesterday through Amazon.

Sometimes simple, sometimes flashy, sometimes quirky and sometimes dramatic, it's amazing how many of the songs I still know by heart. (Well, it would be amazing if this post was written by someone other than me, savant that I am.) Many of these videos can be seen on YouTube, but some of the highlights are below.

Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane as much as I do!

The opening credits, which features Debbie Allen's infamous "You got big want fame" speech:

The school's musical adaptation of Othello included this amazing song, "Desdemona," featuring the immense talent of the late Gene Anthony Ray, who played Leroy in both the movie and the tv show:

A more tender moment, "Be My Music" featured Lee Curreri as sensitive keyboard player/pianist Bruno, who serenaded a love interest. Great song...just ignore the fact that they speak Italian after the song is over!

Book Review: "The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore" by Benjamin Hale

"The thing that defines us rational precisely the fact that we're not always rational."

So says Bruno Littlemore, the narrator of Benjamin Hale's debut novel. Bruno is a chimpanzee, plucked from an ordinary life at the Lincoln Park Zoo by a researcher from the University of Chicago who discovers his above-average intelligence. As he develops a relationship with this researcher, Lydia Littlemore, he starts to feel more like a human than a chimp, and these feelings of privilege continue to grow as Lydia brings him home to live with her, indulges his desire to be an artist, and tries to teach him how to speak English. And that's not all...

Bruno recalls his story while being kept in an animal center, where he is spending the rest of his life as the result of a crime he committed. His adventures are intriguing but certainly make the reader uncomfortable, for as he advances his abilities to speak and read and paint, he can never completely lose his primate instincts. (And let's not discuss his primal instincts.) When a few of his outbursts cost Lydia her job, Bruno and Lydia flee to an animal sanctuary in Colorado for a few years before returning to Chicago, when everything goes strangely—and sadly—awry.

If you've read nothing about this book before, I am not going to spoil some of the more unrealistic and uncomfortable details of what happens, but suffice it to say you'll be intrigued and maybe even a little creeped out. I feel the story drags on far, far too long, and while Hale has a true gift for language, Bruno provides copious background information on everything, and descriptions of situations not quite relevant to the story go on for pages and pages and pages. There were many times I really wanted to stop reading the book but at the same time, was tremendously intrigued about what was going to happen. What The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore suffers from, in my opinion, is that while Bruno's life is interesting, the chimp who thinks he's a man isn't particularly likeable, and reading a nearly 600-page book about an unlikeable character is exhausting. But kudos to Benjamin Hale for one of the most creative books I've seen in quite some time.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Has the World Gone Total Outer Limits?

To modify a quote from Molly Ringwald as Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles, "the world has gone total outer limits."

At a town hall meeting in Oglethorpe County, GA on Tuesday, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) was asked by an elderly man, "Who's going to shoot Obama?"

According to an account of the meeting published by the Athens Banner-Herald (which Broun's office confirmed), the congressman didn't criticize the man for asking the question, instead deflecting it. He told the audience that he understood their frustration with Obama and reminded them that they would have the chance to help elect a new president next year.

Later, Broun condemned the question, and his office contacted the Secret Service, who determined the man didn't pose a threat to the president. In a statement, Broun called the remark "abhorrent" and said, "I deeply regret that this incident happened. I condemn all statements — made in sincerity or jest — that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the president of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated."

Of course, Broun routinely calls Obama a socialist, and said shortly after Obama's election in 2008 that he feared the president would establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship.

One wonders how much the Secret Service has checked Broun out. I cannot believe this is 2011, and I can't help but wonder (although I know the answer already) that if we didn't have an African-American president, would the remark even have been said?

Scary times.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Little Rainbow Amidst A Hateful Sky...

Today the Obama administration said it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage. The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.

Attorney General Eric Holder said President Obama concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act "contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships—precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus" the Constitution is designed to guard against.

Holder also said the department will immediately bring the policy change to the attention of two federal courts now hearing separate lawsuits targeting the Defense of Marriage Act.

As expected, the president's decision met with swift criticism from Republicans, with House Speaker John Boehner saying, "While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation."

And the hatred keeps on coming. The blog Towleroad has a roundup of many conservative reactions to Obama's labeling DOMA unconstitutional.

Additionally, Lawrence O'Donnell calls out FOX News' Monica Crowley for her calling the president "Mubarak Obama," comparing his actions to the Libyan dictator.

While this is a major step forward for the Obama administration, it doesn't automatically allow same-sex marriage. And there are a number of states which, in the past few weeks, have passed laws to ban same-sex marriage, recognition of these marriages in other states and, in Montana, legislation that would prohibit cities from creating non-discrimination statutes to protect LGBT citizens.

So, the sky is still fairly dark, but there is occasional light through the clouds. The anti-gay, anti-equality rhetoric is sure to increase to a fever pitch as candidates begin jostling for the 2012 elections. Ugh.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Can You Help Me if You Can't Understand Me?

If you read this blog even only occasionally you know that I'm basically a screaming liberal, especially when it comes to social issues. But I continually encounter one frustrating experience, and my reaction to that experience is a little less liberal than the rest of me.

I understand how hard it is for people relatively new to this country, especially those who don't speak English well (or at all), to find employment. And I realize that customer service positions, particularly in fast food restaurants, are fairly thankless jobs that don't pay much, so it seems like a natural match to place individuals with little English in these positions.

But stop and think about it. In the very position where English is needed most—people give you their orders and you input them into the cash register—more often than not these individuals lack that comprehension. It is tremendously frustrating for the customer to have to speak slowly, repeat themselves over and over again or correct someone who just doesn't understand.

For example, yesterday I stopped by McDonald's. I ordered a side salad and a large soda. The cashier looked at me like I had spoken in tongues. I repeated myself, a little slower, and then she said "a small drink?"

I can't tell you how many times this happens. You are working in America in an American restaurant. You must know how to speak English! I'm not saying you shouldn't respect your own culture or language, but if you are in a position in which you deal with English-speaking customers, it should be your responsibility to learn English, and employers shouldn't consider on-the-job training to be the primary method of instruction. Ultimately, since the establishment's first responsibility is to serve its customers, hiring people who understand what their customers are asking for should be paramount.

It just reminds me when I used to manage operations for a few nonprofit associations, and I had to hire a temp to fill in for our receptionist. The temp company would send me individuals who had trouble speaking answer the phone!

Oh well, feel free to flame me at any time. I'll go back to my liberal ways now...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You Look At Me...

I recently found a feature on Entertainment Weekly's web site, where the writers picked the 15 Worst TV Spin-Offs Ever. Reviewing this slide show definitely brought back some memories for me, and I couldn't help but agree with the inclusion of a number of shows.

And then I saw Joanie Loves Chachi included on the list. Now, honestly, I don't remember the show being all that good, but what I do remember (and can still actually sing, word for word) is the theme song, You Look at Me.

Watching it again, clearly Scott Baio and Erin Moran aren't the most gifted singers. (Through my 8th grade filter, they weren't that bad.) But the memories that this song brings back go far beyond the show.

And now it's story time:

When I was in 8th grade, a friend of ours had a Halloween party. Her mother always pushed her and her sisters to be overachievers, so her parties always required more than just hanging out with your friends. At this party, we were told we had to perform something—a dance, a song, a skit. For reasons too complicated (and embarrassing) to enumerate, my friend Stacy and I decided to perform You Look at Me. We rehearsed over the phone and in person a lot (not that it was such a complicated song), but honestly, I can't remember if we actually performed at the party.

Ah, memories. For what it's worth, our performances aren't available online, so take a listen to the dulcet tones of Erin and Scott...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Ode to Za...

Growing up in New Jersey, there were certain foods that were a huge part of my life. We ate a lot of bagels (does that surprise anyone?) on weekends, had a great deal of Chinese food (especially on Sunday evenings, when we'd go out to dinner), and Italian food also figured prominently in our culinary adventures. I grew up with a great love of all things parmigiana and, of course, pizza.

New York-style pizza is, in my opinion, one of the greatest foods ever. The crust is the perfect thickness—not too thin like some gourmet pizzas and not too thick like deep-dish—and the amount of cheese should produce a light film of grease on the pizza. Should you choose to have sausage on your pizza, the sausage should be shaved into disks; sausage shouldn't be crumbled on it. I'm still beholden to Romeo's Pizza, Marlboro Pizza and Brio's Pizza (in, of all places, Phoenicia, NY) for honing my love of za.

I've lived in the Washington, DC area for nearly 25 years now. Over those years, I've been able to find reasonably good bagels (although there's still no match for those you can get in NYC), good Chinese food and Italian food to rival what I remember from New Jersey. But for years I've struggled to find pizza comparable to New Jersey and New York's finest, and I've found some real pretenders along the way.

And then, a few years ago, friends found a restaurant about 25 minutes from our house called Ciro's NY Pizza, and I was home. The crust, the sauce, the grease, the sausage—everything is just like I remember it, and I don't have to deal with the NJ Turnpike or the traffic in Delaware to get it! (Of course, we limit ourselves to a visit every 4-6 weeks or it would be very, very dangerous!)

Luckily, we had some pizza tonight, or I would be hungrier than I am just writing about it!

Book Review: "The Terror of Living" by Urban Waite

The crime novel seems to be one of the fictional genres with a tremendous amount of talent. Between successful authors like Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Steve Hamilton and James Patterson, and the constant influx of new talent, there is always a book to get your mind and your heart racing. With his debut novel, The Terror of Living, Urban Waite is a welcome addition to the genre.

Phil Hunt and his wife lead a quiet life, raising horses in the Pacific Northwest. Having served time in prison for killing a man when he was younger, Phil mostly keeps to himself and tries to stay out of trouble, only taking an occasional job running drugs across the Canadian border when he needs to make ends meet. One night, a drug run goes horribly wrong, when he and an associate are apprehended by Bobby Drake, a young deputy sheriff whose father is in jail for drug running. Hunt escapes but loses the drugs, and finds himself in a great deal of trouble. He is ordered to make one last drug run, yet that, too, goes horribly awry, and he finds himself on the run from Grady, a vicious psychopath hired to kill him. Grady is being followed by two Vietnamese men who want the drugs they were promised, which spells more trouble for Hunt. And it turns out the only person Hunt may be able to count on is Bobby Drake, who has his own demons to fight as well.

This book, much like Galveston, which I read earlier this month, has some definite overtones similar to the film No Country for Old Men, especially where Grady's character is concerned. I really liked the characters in this book, even though Grady gave me the creeps. Waite is a writer with tremendous promise; while I had a feeling I knew what twists and turns the book would take, watching the story get to those places was very compelling. I felt the story dragged a bit at times, and I always get a little weary with books or movies that have a killer who is always magically able to be one step ahead of everyone else, but on the whole, this is a tremendously readable book. I think we'll be seeing Urban Waite's name again soon...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Whoopi Update...

As I mentioned yesterday, on the February 14 telecast of The View, Whoopi Goldberg slammed the New York Times for not including her in an article about black Oscar winners.

The challenge with Goldberg's tirade was that although the article was about black Oscar winners, it did not list every winner in history, only those who have won since 2002, when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won for Best Actor and Actress, respectively.

According to Entertainment Weekly, on today's telecast, Goldberg apologized for calling the newspaper's reporting "shoddy".

Not quite the Emily Litella-esque "Never mind" I was hoping for, but it's good to see Goldberg take some accountability for her misplaced criticism. (Now, Whoopi, let's talk about Burglar or Eddie...)

Thank Goodness for Interjections!

As your body grows bigger
Your mind grows flowered
It's great to learn
Cause knowledge is power!

It's Schoolhouse Rocky
That chip off the block
Of your favorite schoolhouse
Schoolhouse Rock!

Growing up, one of my most enduring memories from television was Schoolhouse Rock. Through animation and some of the catchiest songs ever, the series was able to teach children information about grammar, math, science, history, politics and economics.

The series originally ran from 1973-1985, and then was revived (with classic and new episodes) from 1993-1999. While so many of these episodes remain so vivid in my memory, none has stuck with me as closely as "Interjections."

I don't know why—although I certainly like to use interjections (mostly in expletive form) a great deal—but whenever I think Schoolhouse Rock I remember learning that an interjection is usually set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point (or with a comma when the feeling's not as strong).

Enjoy my favorite episode. What's yours?

Don't You Miss Your Horrifying Yearbook Photos?

From kenneth in the (212) via Queerty:

Wow, I hated all of my yearbook photos (I did go to school in New Jersey in the big hair 80s, after all) but I can proudly say none of them was this bad. Good old American Eagle...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Coming Up on "The View": Whoopi Litella...

Early episodes of Saturday Night Live featured Gilda Radner playing a character named Emily Litella, an older woman with a hearing problem who would rant about an issue that SNL's news reporters allegedly covered. She would get incensed that people wanted to cut down on "violins on television" (actually violence on television) or she'd make an impassioned plea to "save Soviet jewelry" (Soviet Jewry). After one of the anchors would point out her error, she'd wrinkle her nose, say something like, "Oh, that's very different..." and then meekly turn to the camera and say, "Never mind."

Yesterday's episode of The View could have used a visit from Emily Litella. Whoopi Goldberg began expressing her deep dissatisfaction with a New York Times article about the dearth of black actors among this year's Oscar nominees, because it did not list her as an Oscar winner.

The article discussed the small number of Oscar nominations and wins for black actors, noting that Denzel Washington and Halle Berry had won Oscars nine years ago. "Real change seemed to have come to movies or at least the Academy, which had given statuettes to a total of seven black actors in the previous 73 years," the authors wrote. "After Mr. Washington and Ms. Berry, there would be Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker (both Best Actors), Morgan Freeman (Best Supporting Actor), Jennifer Hudson, and Mo’Nique (Best Supporting Actresses)."

Goldberg took umbrage with the fact that her name was not included, neglecting to notice that those actors who won prior to 2002 (when Washington and Berry won) were not named. And her co-hosts added fuel to the fire, with Barbara Walters criticizing the paper as well and Elisabeth Hasselbeck noting she canceled her subscription in protest.

Goldberg said she was "dismissed and erased" by the Times' top film critics and described the piece as "sloppy journalism." Addressing the Times, Goldberg said, "You’re supposed to be better than this. This is not some newspaper from Hoochie-Coochie Land." "Dammit, get your facts straight!" she concluded, presenting her Oscar (for 1990's Ghost).

A spokesperson for the Times responded to Goldberg's criticism in this fashion:

"The error lies with those who are reading the story incorrectly. The point of the piece was not to name every black actor or actress who has been awarded an Oscar, it was to draw a comparison between the number who won prior to 2002 (the year Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won) and those who have won since. And the story states very clearly that in 73 years, prior to 2002, only seven black actors/actresses won Oscars."

All together now, Ms. Goldberg? "Never mind."

Monday, February 14, 2011

I'll Take Unnecessary Gimmicks for $200, Alex...

I've discussed before that I'm a huge fan of Jeopardy. It's actually one of very few shows I watch with any regularity. Since I hope to eventually make it on the show as a contestant, I really enjoy matching wits with each day's contestants, seeing where my knowledge and theirs differ, feeling superior when I can get answers they can't. (Whatever.)

I usually don't watch the show during its "gimmick periods"—the tournaments for young children and high schoolers, and when celebrities appear throughout the season. I don't want to know I'm not smarter than a 4th or an 11th grader, or Al Franken.

And speaking of gimmicks, unless you've been under a rock, you've probably heard that Jeopardy is trying to shake itself up a bit, by bringing on Watson, an actual IBM supercomputer, to challenge the show's two most prodigious contestants, Brad Rutter, who has won the most money in the show's history, and Ken Jennings, whose 74-game winning streak was the stuff of television legend.

Maybe the outcome of this gimmick will somehow surprise me, but I'm truly skeptical. Is this supercomputer, which has had its databases packed to overflowing with books, scripts, dictionaries and whatever other material lead researcher David Ferrucci could load in, a worthy competitor?

To me, win or lose, it doesn't seem fair. If Watson wins, it will prove that computers can outsmart human beings, even at a game that requires more than simple knowledge, but also mastery of the show's "punny" clues. And if the computer loses, was it a fair challenge anyway?

I'll be glued to my television, at least for the first night, but I hope I'm surprised by the way things turn out. I just hope this isn't looked back upon as the week that Jeopardy jumped the shark. Or the supercomputer.

Happy Valentine's Day!

It's Valentine's Day, one of the most simultaneously loved and loathed holidays around! Having been in and out of relationships when this holiday rolled around, I certainly understand both the excitement and the dread the day holds, but my philosopy is, it's a holiday built around chocolate and sugar. How bad could it be?

Today I'm thankful for the love of my life, as well as all of my friends and family who help make each day special. Here's wishing that each of you feel loved, because you are!

In honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite quotes about love:

"Love is the answer, and you know that for sure."

--John Lennon

"To love another person is to see the face of God."

--Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

"The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart."

--Helen Keller

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Visit the Creation Museum...

Blogger Joe Sonka of Barefoot and Progressive and his male friend were refused entry into Kentucky's Creation Museum because a security guard thought they were a gay couple. (That evening the museum was celebrating "Date Night.")

According to Sonka, museum staff "explained to us that the Creation Museum Date Night was a 'Christian environment,' therefore the presence of two men eating dinner together would not be allowed. The very sight of this would 'add an un-Christian element to the event' and 'disrupt the evening for everyone.' The Creation Museum rep further informed us that you cannot be a Christian if you are gay, asking 'can you tell me what exactly is Christian about being gay?'

"When asked for the refund on our tickets, which were purchased in advance, he informed us that there would be no refund, since it said explicitly on their web site that 'no gay couples would be permitted to attend their Date Night.'" (An interesting admission, but nowhere on the museum's web site does that information appear.)

Interestingly enough, while the museum feels that banning gay couples from visiting is within God's will, murderers are welcomed. Jeffrey D. Bornhoeft, an Ohio man who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the shooting death of his ex-wife's husband, was granted a court-approved visit to Kentucky so he can visit the museum. It is his first trip outside of the state since the trial in 2000.

If this museum is given any type of state or federal funding, it should be shut down immediately. No public place can refuse admission to anyone who is not engaging in illegal, dangerous or inappropriate behavior, and despite conservative views to the contrary, being gay (or appearing to be gay) is not inappropriate.

This incident leads toward a dangerous path of discrimination that in this day and age we should be long past.

Read more:

Book Review: "Model Home" by Eric Puchner

It's the mid-1980s and Warren Ziller truly believes in the American Dream, so much so that he moves his family from Wisconsin to California to pursue a real estate deal, building affordable homes in the desert. But things don't go quite the way they should, and Warren is trying to hold it together without alerting his family to the impending disaster, despite the fact that his car has been repossessed (he says it was stolen), their furniture has been returned to the company they leased it from (he says he planned to surprise his wife with better furniture) and he is wandering around in a daze waiting for the other shoe to drop.

His wife, Camille, thinks Warren is having an affair and starts enacting her revenge, and his three children have their own issues—Dustin, an affable surfer and aspiring rock musician, finds himself obsessed with his girlfriend's troubled younger sister; Lyle, who has prided herself on being different, is torn between wanting to be popular and maintaining her relationship with a security guard; and Jonas, the youngest, who becomes obsessed with the kidnapping of a local mentally challenged girl. When tragedy strikes, the Zillers must move into one of Warren's model homes in the desert, and then they start to realize the truth about themselves and each other.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I think Eric Puchner is a really good writer, but I found so many of the characters so unlikeable that I didn't care what happened to them. For me, one of the most frustrating things in a book is when characters won't communicate with each other, and every single character in this book wouldn't say what they meant. The story never quite "hooked" me, although some of Puchner's language was beautiful. And while I felt that the Puchner's depiction of the tragedy was done with a great deal of detail and empathy toward the characters, it just felt forced, as if the family needed a tragedy to come full circle.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Do As I Say or Get Eliminated...

The Republicans just released their budget proposal, and, as expected, it zeroes out funding for both National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). This is the worst budget proposal for these programs in over a decade.

NPR has been a target of conservatives for years, but especially since last fall, when commentator Juan Williams was fired for comments he made while appearing on a Fox News program. In a discussion about terrorism with host Bill O'Reilly, Williams said: "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous." (Ironically, Fox News hired Williams shortly after his dismissal from NPR.)

While NPR regretted firing Williams shortly afterward, the die was cast. Sarah Palin and others immediately called for NPR's funding to be cut, despite the fact that very little government money actually supports programming.

PBS has been a target for some time, because programs such as Sesame Street attempt to teach children in a basic way about gay people and how important it is to treat everyone with respect regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Because that is not a philosophy that many Republicans live by, they support cutting funding from the network. (It's okay that networks like Fox News, who purport to be "fair and balanced" are routinely anti-Democrat and anti-gay.)

I'm the same age as Sesame Street. I learned to read at an early age by watching that program. I learned important lessons from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, Zoom and The Electric Company. Masterpiece Theatre continues to expose people of all ages to great works of drama and literature.

We cannot allow these networks to lose their funding because not everyone agrees their messages are appropriate. This is not Egypt or Iran; just because we don't agree with a viewpoint doesn't mean we have the right to shut it down.

To sign the petition to save NPR and PBS, visit's web site at

Don't allow those in power to stop divergent viewpoints from being expressed. This is one of the freedoms that separates the US from other countries.

A Dilemma...

I don't smoke.
I rarely drink.
I don't do drugs.
I don't drink coffee.
Sure, I could stand to lose more than a few pounds, but I'm trying.

One of my few vices is my daily Diet Coke. (Sometimes two.) I used to drink A LOT of Diet Coke (nearly a two-liter bottle every day), but nearly three years ago I cut it out completely, and now only drink one—or perhaps two if it's a bad day—during lunch. As far as vices go, you'd think I'm doing pretty well, no?

Research released earlier this week has apparently found higher risks for stroke and heart attack among people who drink it everyday versus those who drink no soda at all. The study found that daily diet soda drinkers (there were 116 in the study) had a 48 percent higher risk of stroke or heart attack than people who drank no soda of any kind (901 people, or 35 percent of total participants). That's after taking into account rates of smoking, diabetes, waistline size and other differences among the groups.

The good news, if there is any, is that these sorts of studies just observe groups of people and are not strong enough evidence to prove risk. Even the lead researcher on the study, Hannah Gardener of the University of Miami, said "It's too preliminary to suggest any dietary advice," but she suggested other big studies should look at this question. And Dr. Steven Greenberg, a neurologist and vice chair of the International Stroke Conference, called the research "a real-world" look at possible risk.

So what to do?

The wise thing would be to quit drinking diet soda again, even though the risks aren't proven, right? I already drink more than a gallon of water each day, so keeping on that track wouldn't be too difficult.

Ugh. Why is everything that I enjoy not really good for me?

Did They Have to Give Out Munchies Following the Survey?

Did you know there was yet another iteration of Family Feud on syndicated television these days? Apparently all the years of Richard Dawson, Ray Combs, Louie Anderson and Richard Karn didn't suck all of the presumed entertainment value of trying to figure out how a random group of people would answer certain questions.

Comedian Steve Harvey is the new host of the show. And in the video below, he gets a little more than he expected with an answer to "Name something that gets passed around." (I don't know which is funnier, that the contestant thought of the response he gave, or that people the show surveyed actually came up with the response as well.)

All I know is that these aren't the contestants I remember from Richard Dawson's version, that's for sure!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Today We're Gonna Party Like It's 1950...

It's kinda funny. We're one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world yet in terms of social progressiveness we lag behind a number of countries less developed than we are.

After all, many countries have had women leaders but we can't seem to field a credible female candidate for president. And there are a number of countries across the world that have had no problem approving same-sex marriage, yet our politicians here in the "land of the free" can't seem to get past religious objections. (The separation of church and state isn't that big of a deal, apparently.)

Yet this week, we learned two things which lead me to believe many think the US was a better place in the 1950s, when the men worked and the women stayed at home to care for the children.

First, an Ohio State University study found that when parents shared caregiving responsibilities for their preschool children, they were likely to experience more conflict. The study also showed that couples had a stronger, more supportive co-parenting relationship when the father spent more time playing with their child. But when the father participated more in caregiving, like preparing meals for the child or giving baths, the couples were more likely to display less supportive and more undermining co-parenting behavior toward each other.

Really? Did the study also find that parents had a better relationship when the wife, dressed in pearls, awaited her husband's arrival with a martini in hand?

And as if this wasn't inflammatory enough, on Tuesday, two county commissioners in Frederick, MD, advised Head Start mothers to stay married and not hold jobs outside the home. Republican commissioners Kirby Delauter and C. Paul Smith said during a meeting that the best way to help their children succeed in life is to stay married and stay home with their children. Both men touted their wives and the sacrifices they made by not holding jobs outside the home. Oh yeah, and they did this while pulling $2.3 million in county funding from the Head Start program effective March 1.

Needless to say, Frederick women are offended, but Smith doesn't think they should be. After all, he points to his own wife as an example. "As many of you know, I had a lot of kids and my wife stayed home at a significant sacrifice in those early years, because she knew she had to be with those kids," said Smith, who is the parent of 12 children. "I know everybody isn't able to survive doing that, but clearly if we can strengthen marriage, we can decrease the number of children we have to reach."

Ah, there we are. Strengthening marriage will make everything better. And clearly, if these men have their way, stronger marriage means wives will know their place is in the home, not the office.

Where have you gone, Susan B. Anthony? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review: "The Red Garden" by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors because she has the amazing ability to bring a sense of dreamy magicality to nearly all of her books. In The Red Garden, a collection of connected short stories that take place over 300 years in the small town of Blackwell, Massachusetts, that magic is at times overt and at times beautifully subtle.

The protagonists of Hoffman's stories are often average people who suddenly find themselves in life-changing circumstances. Stories are spun in chronological order, with the protagonist of one story being somehow connected to a character mentioned in a previous story. (I like that, because all too often in stories you wonder what happens to the characters once the story ends—did they fall in love, what path did they choose, etc.) Nearly every story has love at its core, whether it's love for nature, another person, a child, the love a dog has for its owner, etc., and just like life, that love is sometimes unrequited. Some of the stories require you to use your imagination and suspend your disbelief a little bit, but that isn't too jarring.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. As with any story collection, some of the stories are stronger than others, and I particularly felt that at times a few of the stories dragged a bit. Even though some are relatively short, these are dense stories that really cause you to think and feel along with the characters. No one does obsessive love (sometimes with a little magic thrown in) as well as Hoffman—see her Here on Earth for proof of that—so I loved those stories best. If you've never read anything by Alice Hoffman, this is a good place to start; if you have, she certainly doesn't disappoint! Beautifully written.

Hypocrisy Will Get You Every Time...

Why do politicians think they're smarter than us?

It's amazing how, in this day and age, so many elected officials think they can take a particular stand on an issue, and then conduct their private lives in the complete opposite way, and still believe they won't get caught.

Today's lesson is brought to you by Rep. Christopher Lee (R-NY). Rep. Lee is an anti-choice, anti-gay Republican from Western New York, who voted against the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

And today, the married Rep. Lee was exposed by the web site Gawker for sending shirtless photos of himself to women on Craigslist. (In the Craigslist "Women Seeking Men" forum, Lee goes by his real name and describes himself as a "divorced lobbyist.")

When first confronted with the photographic evidence, Lee's camp claimed his account was hacked. But later this afternoon, Lee resigned his seat in Congress.

I have no sympathy for Rep. Lee, or any elected official who believes they are free to discriminate against people under the infamous "sanctity of marriage" cloak yet they can run around on their spouses. It's no wonder people have such a low opinion of politicians. How many times do people have to be exposed as hypocrites before they realize the "do as I say, don't do as I do" path isn't the right one to follow?

Oh, and for you would-be philanderers: putting your picture up on a public web site will only ensure you get caught. There's a long list of your fellow political colleagues who can attest to that.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them...

Since I heard this story earlier today, I've teared up a bit every time I think about it.

The LA Gay & Lesbian Center found quite a surprise in their mailbox recently. While an envelope containing a check for $70 with two accompanying letters isn't that rare of an occurrence, what the letters contained was a shock.

One letter was from a seven-year-old boy named Malcolm. It read:"I am sending you this money because I don’t think it’s fair that Gay people are not treated equally."

A letter from Malcolm's mother also accompanied the check. She explained: "To teach the importance of improving the world around him, Malcolm was given $140 to give away to the charity of his choice. After hearing a story on the radio about the mistreatment of gays and lesbians, Malcolm became both upset and curious about the issue. To help, he chose to split his money between the LA Gay & Lesbian Center and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation."

In a world that seems to be so often characterized by parents teaching their children to hate those who are different, Malcolm's generosity and empathy gives me a little more hope for the future of our world.

In mailing his check and letter, Malcolm's mother said he wondered whether anyone would even notice his contribution. She challenged the LA Gay & Lesbian Center to raise $27,000 in Malcolm's name. (You can do so by visiting the Center's web site.)

I hope Malcolm grows up knowing what an amazingly incredible little boy he is, and is surrounded by the love, friendship and happiness someone with such a huge heart at such a young age truly deserves.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Strangeness of Memory...

It's amazing the things we remember. And even more amazing is when you stumble upon memories you didn't even realize you had until something triggers your recall.

I'm not talking suppression of painful memories or embarrassing incidents, or even long-forgotten memories of childhood. What I'm referring to is when hearing a person's name or seeing their picture evokes the memory of a moment you shared, or when a song reminds you of exactly where you where the first time you heard it.

Over the weekend, I saw on Facebook that one of my closest college friends would be attending an event to celebrate the life of local theater legend Jane Pesci-Townsend. After some internet research, I learned that Jane passed away in August after a long battle with cancer.

While this fact seems somewhat random, let me explain:

My friend Helene's sister was a phenomenal singer and actress. While we were in college, she performed in a local musical revue called Mrs. Foggybottom and Friends, which poked fun at political figures and other issues of the day. We were able to catch a few performances while Brenda was in the show, and strangely enough, I still remember a few of the songs, even 20+ years later.

But the thing I remember most about that show was a song sung by an amazing performer named Jane Pesci-Townsend. She sang a song called "Pheromones" (can you guess what the song is about?), which were a fairly recent discovery in the late 1980s. During the song, Jane flirts with a number of men in the audience, and during one of the performances I attended, she sat on my lap during the song, much to my mortification about being the center of attention.

Throughout the years I would see Jane's name connected with a number of local theater productions, and I remember the amazing press coverage she received when she stepped in for Christine Baranski at the last minute and played Mrs. Lovett in a production of Sweeney Todd with Brian Stokes Mitchell. But it has been years since I've thought about "Pheromones" and how much fun she was when I met her after the show and she thanked me for being a good sport.

It's strange how you can feel the loss of someone you never really knew, but reading a few articles that cropped up just before and after her death, clearly she touched so many lives with her talent, sense of humor and inspiration as a theater instructor at the Catholic University of America.

I'd like to thank Jane for the little memory I have. Here she is performing "Pheromones" in 1988. You'll probably agree that hers was a memorable gift.

A Super Bowl...

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, and much to my great happiness, the Green Bay Packers emerged the victors over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ironically, while I've previously discussed my general dislike of sports teams or athletes that win all the time, I'm not too upset about the legendary Packers' win, for a number of reasons.

I'm pleased that quarterback (and now Super Bowl MVP) Aaron Rodgers was finally able to completely shake off the spectre of Brett Favre that has haunted him since Favre's first "retirement" and his subsequent desire to return to the team. But more than that, I'm glad that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't rewarded for his questionable personal behavior off the field, as a second accusation of sexual assault (which was never prosecuted) led to his suspension for the first four games of the year. I'm all for personal redemption when it appears the individual is truly apologetic, but Roethlisberger's dismay was more related to the suspension than the accusation. So I'm thankful that the Super Bowl didn't end with tales of Big Ben's comeback from "adversity" being capped off with a come-from-behind victory. (There. I've said it.)

But of course, my favorite part of the Super Bowl was the commercials. As always, advertisers brought out some of their best—and in some cases, their most bizarre—ads. For me, Doritos scored a one-two punch with its irreverent ads, and Volkswagen's "Mini Darth Vader" ad seems to be the choice of most for "Best in Show." I also really enjoyed the NFL's trip through television nostalgia, a few of the Bud Light ads and Fox's promo for House which spoofed the historic Mean Joe Greene spot from the 1970s.

Here are some of the highlights:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why Do I Have to Age Just Because Everyone Else Does?

Today my youngest brother, Justin, turns 26 years old. While I don't focus on my age all that much because I think age is a state of mind, I'll admit that thinking about how old he is makes me realize exactly how old I am, which sometimes is a little surreal.

Justin is adopted, and my parents brought him home when he was less than a week old. This was during my sophomore year of high school (apparently 26 years ago!) and I was 15 years old. My mother had given birth to a baby the year before, Garrett, who died of SIDS when he was six weeks old, so my parents decided to adopt a baby the following year.

I remember my mother called my siblings and I into the family room to tell us that they would be picking up the baby from Vermont later in the week, and we came up with a name for him. (Justin was my idea.) We weren't allowed to say anything to anyone (I get my superstitiousness from someone, after all) in the hopes it didn't fall through, so it was a surprise when I told my friends the following Monday about my new baby brother!

Although I left home two years after he was born, it was fun to come home and see him growing. I used to take him to the movies a lot as he got a little older, and we saw some really horrible ones—The Jetsons, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Home Alone 3, etc. It was always interesting keeping him in his seat to actually watch the movie, when all he wanted to do was buy more candy, but what makes me happy is that Justin mentioned that he still remembers going to the movies with me.

So, even though it makes me feel super old, happy birthday, Squirt!

Book Review: "The Lover's Dictionary" by David Levithan

Boy, did I love this book. It really made me sad when I finished it, although I raced through it like crazy. Written as dictionary entries, each definition unfurls a little bit about the story of a relationship (although not in chronological order) that has its ups and downs. For example:

autonomy, n.
"'I want my books to have their own shelves,' you said, and that's how I knew it would be okay to live together."

This is funny, poignant, thought-provoking and tremendously intriguing. I wanted to know more about this couple because the dictionary entries only paint part of the picture. I felt like I had so much information at my disposal but yet yearned for more, which is a testament to David Levithan's incredible writing talent and his use of language.

In thinking about this book, I was struck by Levithan's own words from the book: "Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough."

There certainly weren't enough words in this book for me. It is a fantastically creative and quirky book. Read it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What Are People So Afraid Of?

It was never my intention to make this a gay blog per se, although certainly I'm affected by what happens in the gay community. Sadly, I could write at least one post every day that discusses some lawmaker somewhere in the world trying to take equality away, but I try just to stick with the "big stuff."

On Wednesday, a Utah legislator introduced a bill would require all publicly funded programs, laws, and regulations, to ensure they exclude families headed by gay and lesbian couples. Rep. LaVar Christensen said that "marriage and family predate all governments and are supported by and consistent with the Laws of Nature and God, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the World, affirmed in the nation’s founding Declaration of Independence." It also says, "families anchored by both a father and a mother, fidelity within marriage, and enduring devotion to the covenants and responsibilities of marriage are the desired norm."

Whether or not a bill like this will pass even the conservative Utah state legislature doesn't matter. I just don't understand conservatives' obsession with taking rights away from gay people. You don't see openly gay legislators taking rights away from heterosexual people, do you?

In the end, however, what I can't get past is what are these lawmakers so afraid of?

You can't turn gay, so why is there so much need to curtail gay people from being an equal part of our society when they're expected to pay the same taxes as straight people?

Sadly, there are no answers to those questions, except hatred and ignorance. We can only hope both will change over time, but the road gets harder and harder to walk every day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: "Galveston" by Nic Pizzolatto

Read this book. Seriously.

You know how when you watch a horror movie or a thriller, and you know something bad is going to happen, so you watch with your hands almost over your eyes? It was the same way when I read this book—I had this amazingly pervasive feeling of dread because I knew something bad was going to happen, I just didn't know what form it would take or when it would occur.

Roy Cady has had a hard life. Orphaned and raised in foster and group homes, drifting into a life of crime seemed like a natural path for him. A hitman and thug in late 1980s New Orleans, he just found out he has terminal lung cancer. But despite being handed a death sentence, when he gets set up to be killed, he fights back—and takes a witness, an 18-year-old runaway and sometime-prostitute, along with him. Roy and Rocky flee Louisiana for Galveston, Texas. But Rocky has some secrets she's not quite ready to divulge, and Roy is torn between staying and leaving her for a more secure life.

I heard about this book through a recommendation from Dennis Lehane, one of my all-time favorite authors. It is absolutely terrific. It reminds me a little of No Country for Old Men in its sparse yet beautifully written language and the tremendous sense of foreboding I had through the entire book. Roy is unapologetic about the choices he has made in his life yet with every choice he wishes he could choose something else. Nic Pizzolatto really knocked me out with this, his first novel, and I can't wait to see what is next. This will make a great movie, but it's one hell of a book.

A Moment of Zen, Staten Island Style...

Some moments you just can't manufacture on live TV. On the NBC affiliate in NY, news anchors were supposed to speak with Staten Island Borough President James Molinari. Molinari was speaking all right...just not to them, it appears:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Moment of Zen - James Molinaro Phone Call
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog<The Daily Show on Facebook

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review: "The Fates Will Find Their Way" by Hannah Pittard

This was an odd yet beautifully written book that has worked its way into my mind and really left me thinking. I'm grateful to Rakesh Satyal, one of my Facebook friends (and author of the fabulous Blue Boy), who recommended this book last week, as I don't know if I would have heard about it otherwise.

One Halloween, 16-year-old Nora Lindell disappears. No one really knows what happened to her, although a group of boys who went to school with her have a number of theories, given random rumors and alleged sightings they've heard about. Much like how the girls' deaths in The Virgin Suicides colored the lives of those around them, Nora's disappearance has the same ripple effect on these boys, shaping how they view, and act in, the future. They imagine different paths that Nora might have taken, and through the years, supposed Nora sightings occur in the most unlikely of places. As these boys become men, their obsession with all things Nora (and, to an extent, her younger sister, Sissy) saves them from being mired completely in the minutia of their own adulthood. For some, Nora's disappearance is a tiny catalyst that sets them on a self-destructive course that might not manifest itself for years; for others, it is the push toward saving themselves.

This isn't just a book about a missing girl; this is a book about how the disappearance of a peer that many lusted after alters the course of lives in a small town. Hannah Pittard weaves an absolutely beautiful narrative thread, and while at times it is difficult to tell all of the characters apart, the story is at once compelling and off-putting. I don't ordinarily like books where the narrator imagines what happens to other characters rather than actually tells what happens, but in Pittard's hands, that exercise worked tremendously. And while I'd like to know what really did happen to Nora, somehow making up my own version of her story is as intriguing for me as it was for the boys. Really excellent book.