The grand canyon.

Remember what I said the other day about making room in your life for delicious foods of all sorts, because they are wonderful? Today I had to attend a Thing — you know, a Thing — that included a “light breakfast,” according to the invitation. I arrived to find fruit, bagels and doughnuts.

Had a little fruit, ignored the bagels, because if you can’t toast a bagel, what’s the damn point? Most of the doughnuts were the sort I don’t like — chocolate-frosted, sprinkled — but there, nestled among its less-appetizing brethren, a little spotlight from heaven fell on my favorite doughnut of all time: Sour-cream glazed. Hello, beautiful, I thought, and selected it for my own.

I don’t mind telling you that eating it was like manna from heaven, if a little overpowering. I’ve been eating eggs and spinach and yogurt and protein-y breakfasts for so many months, I’d forgotten the simple, now-verboten joy of the Homer Simpson special. My heart soared like a sugary hawk. The program started. Ten minutes into the keynote, my eyelids grew heavy. That sucrose is one powerful drug.

Back to eggs tomorrow. I don’t need this sugar-crack stuff.

So. I was surprised to see myself Twitter-tagged on this story, until I read it and realized one of my tweets had been cited as evidence of the little-known cult of fans of the big-vagina subplot in “The Godfather.” Not the movie, the novel; Francis Ford Coppola wisely left those pages on the cutting-room floor when he wrote the script, although Lucy, the possessor of the oversize vagina in question, is in two brief scenes. As I think we’ve mentioned here before, it’s a strange little diversion in a badly written novel about organized crime. Lucy is one of Connie’s bridesmaids in the wedding, and is filled with shame because her vagina is SO BIG — how big is it? — it’s SO BIG that guys can’t even feel it. But Sonny Corleone has a giant Italian sausage and can please her. He first does so at the wedding; she’s the bridesmaid he’s seen banging against the wall, early on. His death at the toll plaza devastates her, until she meets a nice doctor in Las Vegas, who does vagina surgery on her and tightens her up again. They get engaged.

I read this when I was old enough to know what sex involved, but before I’d actually had any, and I can’t tell you how much this concerned me. Could I, too, have a giant vagina? How would I know? Would I be like Lucy, and just have to glean it from the grumbling of my unsatisfied boyfriends, who would mutter I was “too big down there?”

Do you start to understand how women’s minds work? Find us a topic, we’ll figure out a way to worry about it.

I tweeted the story to Laura Lippman, who once told me she, too, remembered Lucy. She replied: “Meanwhile don’t forget Puzo’s other valuable lesson — the best sex in the world is had by a Sicilian virgin on her wedding night.” We’ll save that analysis for another day.

Today’s unfortunate ad placement. You newspaper people know how this stuff happens. They are endlessly amusing to me.

Finally, some of you who read Bridge know that one of the services we provide during election season is fact-checking campaign ads, mailers, etc. — political speech of all kinds. You are certainly welcome to rummage around the Michigan Truth Squad section of our site, but I call your particular attention to this mailer, which encourages voters to call the candidate and complain about Obamacare. But the number given rings at the bedside of the candidate’s 91-year-old mother, who is in a nursing home. You think you’ve seen ‘em all, and then you see another.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen one of the six “Say Yes to the Candidate” spots, we did that one, too. You may spot a familiar prose style.

Happy downside of the week, all.

Posted at 8:25 pm in Movies, Uncategorized | 75 Comments

Painting by numbers.

I really should be cleaning my bathroom. I want that on the record. In fact, when I finish here? Cleaning that bathroom. Because hair and gunk and the usual. Sometimes I think letting our cleaning lady go was the biggest mistake I made last year, but she was a luxury and luxuries needed to be trimmed.

Besides, like so many cleaning ladies, she was starting to slip. Next time, I hire another service.

So, what a weekend. Lots of work, a little bit of cooking, and a long bike ride in Windsor, because why not? You pop through the tunnel with the bikes in the back of the car, find a park to launch from, and then…discover Windsor isn’t much of a cycling city. There were some nice parks, some decent lanes here and there, but not enough. So we rode here and there and did what everybody does in Windsor — found a good Chinese restaurant and ate dim sum, then stopped at the duty-free for some Niagara-region wine.

“I don’t know about you, but ‘Wayne Gretzky’ doesn’t do much for me on a wine label,” I told the clerk. She said “Dan Ackroyd” did even less for her.

There was also this: “Tim’s Vermeer,” a perfectly amusing little documentary about one man’s quest to duplicate a Vermeer painting, not for fraudulent reasons but just to see if he can figure out the tricks of how Vermeer managed photorealism in the 17th century.

As with great documentaries, it starts out being one thing and ends up being about something else entirely — the magic of art, mainly. On iTunes and Amazon Primenow, soon to be on Netflix, no doubt.

Have a good week, all. I’m going to watch premium-cable Sunday-night TV.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 35 Comments

One too many.

Someone asked about the incident with the gin when I was 19. It’s not much of a story — just one of those afternoons where G&Ts were the perfect drink, until they weren’t. I recall the sun dazzling off the water. I felt like I believe the British must have felt in the last days of empire, and then there was that foghorn of nausea and oh, well.

I’ve mentioned this before about a million times, but Atul Gawande’s long New Yorker essay on nausea changed my whole way of thinking about it. He noted that a person who gets sick tonight on tequila or gin or whatever might never touch it again for the rest of his or her life. Yes and no, in my case. Yes to gin, but I’ve been beer-sick and wine-sick many times, and lived to drink both another day.

I drink less these days than I have in my entire adult life, but I enjoy it far more. Good wine is cheaper than ever, small-batch whiskey is the new vodka, craft beer has advanced past its silly phase — sorry, but I don’t think anyone appreciates raspberry flavors in a lager — and is now hitting its stride with good, deeply flavored brews of all sorts and for all seasons. It’s a good time to be a social drinker.

Oh, sorry: TRIGGER WARNING FOR ALCOHOLICS. Too late, I know.

I guess I’m the last person to have anything to say about the Sarah Palin speech in Indianapolis last weekend, but honestly, what is there to say? I actually found it embarrassing to watch, what little of it I could stand. She’s truly gone down the tunnel of narcissism into some strange reality on the other side. Her hair is messy, her face looks…like she’s been having some work done and her voice? Crazytown. Better to contemplate who I was embarrassed for. Palin? No, she’s incapable of it. The country? Sure, but too vague. And then I thought of people I’d known in 2008 who thought of her as the bee’s freakin’ knees. I don’t really know them well, but if I saw one today? I think I’d have to avert my eyes.

So, the world took Bob Hoskins away yesterday. Y’all know I’m a big “The Long Good Friday” fan, and I watched the last two minutes twice after I heard the news. I’ve seen it a dozen times at least, and it never loses its power. George Clooney did it in “Michael Clayton,” and I hope he had the good grace to admit it was an homage.

A nice quote here from the man, a few years back:

He learned about acting, he says, not from watching other actors but from studying women. ‘Men are completely emotionally dishonest, whereas women have an emotional honesty which is extraordinary. And drama is about private moments, it’s about the things you don’t see in the street, and men don’t show that. So I decided to watch women. I became a stalker, I suppose! It’s got nothing to do with femininity, it’s to do with emotional honesty. If you go home one night and there’s champagne on the table with your dinner and she’s done up but she’s pissed off, you know it. You know where you are with a woman. You don’t know with blokes. And that’s basically how I learned to act – just watching women.’

Oversimplified, but a sharp observation.

Finally, a nice essay by Mark Bittman on the power of comfort food. In his case, lox and bagels. Hello, Thursday, and we are over the hump.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 61 Comments

Jargon overdoses.

I’ve long felt that we should listen to people who have traditionally been shut out of the public conversation. But you don’t have to do what they say. I’m thinking some of the discussion over the “Dallas Buyers Club” Oscars falls into the latter category.

Two pieces on the board today. This one compares Jared Leto’s portrayal of a male-to-female transsexual to Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.” And this one scolds the “Dallas Buyers Club” makeup artists (!!!) for acknowledging the “victims of AIDS” instead of the preferred nomenclature of “persons with AIDS.” Hmm. Apparently these two brush-wielding wrongthinkers didn’t get the 31-year-old memo, quoted within:

In 1983, 11 gay men with AIDS who were in Denver for the fifth Annual Gay and Lesbian Health Conference, gathered in a hotel room and composed a manifesto. The document, which became known as the Denver Principles, began:

We condemn attempts to label us as “victims,” a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally “patients,” a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are “People With AIDS.”

(And capitalize the W, fuckers! The P, too!)

I recall when this discussion was going on, and my fallback position on nearly all these matters of nomenclature: Call people what they ask to be called. It’s good manners. Frankly, in 1983 there wasn’t a lot of difference between an AIDS victim and someone who simply had the disease, as it was terrifyingly fatal. But as time rolled on and the new drugs emerged, it made sense. Not everyone who had HIV/AIDS was a victim, but someone living with a (fingers crossed) chronic medical condition that could be managed and wasn’t necessarily cause to put your affairs in order immediately. This passage overstates the importance of the language shift, I think —

Policing vocabulary is a tricky business—raising a stink about offensive nouns and incorrect pronouns can make outsiders feel defensive and annoyed—but there are times when it’s absolutely essential, and this was one. A 328-word statement penned by a tiny group of guys on the fringes of a second-tier medical conference saved millions of lives around the globe, even though very few people have ever heard of it. That revolution began when the people at the center of the crisis declared that they were not victims.

— but OK, whatever.

The former piece, about Leto, is more obnoxious.

Not long from now — it surely won’t take decades, given the brisk pace of progress on matters of identity and sexuality these days — Leto’s award-winning performance as the sassy, tragic-yet-silly Rayon will belong in the dishonorable pantheon along with McDaniel’s Mammy. That is, it’ll be another moment when liberals in Hollywood, both in the industry and in the media, showed how little they understood or empathized with the lives of a minority they imagine they and Leto are honoring.

Hmm. OK, so make your case, then. The movie takes liberties with the facts, the writer contends, which makes it like about 99 percent of all fact-based filmed dramas; the plane carrying the Americans out of Tehran was not chased down the runway by Iranian soldiers, as it was in “Argo.” Hollywood requires drama; real life isn’t sufficiently dramatic, most times.

Leto’s character, Rayon, was entirely fictional, likely added (speaking as someone who knows just enough about screenwriting to be almost entirely ignorant about it) to give Matthew McConaughey’s character a foil, and to set up his prickly relationship with the gay community Rayon represents. Screenwriting 101: Conflict = drama. The fact Rayon is silly I flat-out disagree with.

What did the writers of “Dallas Buyers Club” and Leto as her portrayer decide to make Rayon? Why, she’s a sad-sack, clothes-obsessed, constantly flirting transgender drug addict prostitute, of course. There are no stereotypes about transgender women that Leto’s concoction does not tap. She’s an exaggerated, trivialized version of how men who pretend to be women — as opposed to those who feel at their core they are women — behave. And in a very bleak film, she’s the only figure played consistently for comic relief, like the part when fake-Woodruff points a gun at Rayon’s crotch and suggests he give her the sex change she’s been wanting. Hilarious.

Again, everyone’s perspective is their own, but I didn’t find Rayon a sad sack at all, and in fact seemed pretty close to my memory of the drag queens and trans women I knew in that era. It was 1981-ish, after all, and just to have the gonads to live your life that way already put you out on the fringe. Another transsexual I knew at the time was still coming to work in a coat and tie. Needless to say, I didn’t know she was transsexual until years later.

And the earliest victims — that word again — of AIDS in that era were disproportionately addicts and prostitutes, after all. I mean, I guess Rayon could have been a super-together lawyer who preferred navy suits, but let’s be realistic. I love that “men who pretend to be women” contrasted with “men who feel at their core they are women” part. I’m a woman, and right now I’m wearing jeans and a sweater, an outfit I bet most trans women wouldn’t be caught dead in.

I think what bugged me most about that piece was its anger, the same that followed some of the Dr. V’s putter coverage, slinging around terms like “cis privilege,” “transphobia” and other jargon as though everyone knows exactly what we’re talking about. Even the sympathetic may find themselves mystified by this world, which I remind you requires no fewer than seven letters to cover all its iterations — LGBTQIA. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual/ally. If you really want to set your head a-spin, check out this video from Stephen Ira Beatty, born Kathlyn, and try to sort out the language. If that’s not too ableist of me.

Sorry, I liked “Dallas Buyers Club” and see it as a step forward, a very human film. I wish people could cool their jets about it.

That said, Lupita Nyong’o was the star of Sunday’s telecast. What a rare beauty, and what a sparkling speech. As Tom & Lorenzo would say: LUH HER.

How do we feel about the Kim Novak presentation? I am mixed. I read a very sympathetic defense of her by a film blogger whose work I admire, but I came away not 100 percent convinced. Novak is 81. I understand the need to feel beautiful, but at some point, isn’t it infantilizing her to blame cruel, cruel Hollywood for driving her to such lengths? The babe ship sailed decades ago; there’s no reason a natural beauty like Novak can’t look at least presentable in her dotage.

I do think this gets it right, though: If you have two X chromosomes in Hollywood, you just can’t win.

A little warmer today, but only a little. Ugh.

Posted at 12:30 am in Media, Movies | 31 Comments

Screen time.

Sunday night, watchin’ the Oscars — at least until “True Detective” comes on. I hate most of this red-carpet silliness, but I have to say, just the glimpse I caught of Charlize Theron in that snaky black number is probably worth all the bullshit.

People get bent out of shape about fashion, and I’ve been among them from time to time, but I think I’ve finally learned to appreciate it for its own sake. I no longer get irritated that the dresses are too expensive or can’t be worn by anyone other than human hangers; I just enjoy them, knowing I’ll never wear one.

Who does buy those things, anyway? Actors get them free, but most are only loans. So who pays $14,000 for a dress? Russian mobsters’ girlfriends? I’m baffled.

Oh, Jared Leto, what a nice speech. But I just realized I’ve been mispronouncing your name for years.

And enough of that, I think.

So, we had snow over the weekend. Because we really needed it, you know. The landscape is positively Siberian; the giant heaps of snow at the end of every driveway and block have been hazards for weeks now. Now they’re 4.5 inches more dangerous. And yet. We’ve had some thaw-y days here and there, and enough has melted to start exposing the winter’s detritus, trash and dog poop and other grossness, so in spite of my thorough done-ness with this winter, when a fresh blanket falls on top of the gray, honeycombed drifts, part of me always says: Sure is pretty.

Current temperature: 2 degrees.

Siberia is probably more pleasant this time of year. They have their winter culture down pat — the glasses of tea, the steaming loaves of black bread, all that stuff. Whereas we have the green banners heralding St. Patrick’s Day, a day for planting peas, as the gardeners say. Not this year.

Sorry for excessive lameness. It was a lame weekend, spent cleaning bathrooms and watching “House of Cards” and on Saturday night there was this:


That’s the exceedingly creative Creative Jazz Ensemble, which this season consists of three violins, four or five guitars, drums, vibes and my little girl on bass. They do mostly original compositions, as I expect it’s difficult to write charts for “Take the A Train” for that particular lineup. Not one horn this year. Fortunately, they’re very creative.

I don’t have much linkage today, but I will say this: “House of Cards” tried my patience this season, even as it whipped me on and on. There were moments of humor, however, among them, spoiler-free:

Claire selecting a dress for her CNN interview from her closet, which is a mass of black, white, beige and navy. “Maybe something less neutral,” she says. As though she owns anything that isn’t neutral. She ended up in black. I guess because it’s not beige.

Claire entertaining the first lady, and she brings a bottle of red wine to where they’re both sitting, on the Underwoods’ white couch. Everything in the Underwoods’ house is neutral, like Claire’s closet, and it’s really weird how not only do they dress to match the furniture, so does everyone else in the show. Anyway, Claire picks up the wine bottle and, no shit, pours them both glasses while holding them OVER THE COUCH. This was a moment far more suspenseful than any plot twist. Don’t spill a drop, Claire!

If autoerotic asphyxiation pays that well to the prostitutes who do it, I may have to consider a career change. That’s serious bank.

I’ll think of some more, just as soon as I take all the red, orange, cerise and other jarring tones out of my wardrobe. I have a takeover of the U.S. government to plan.

So let’s head into the week, and hope we can get to the end without freezing to death or seeing war in the Crimea.

Posted at 7:49 am in Movies, Television | 38 Comments

Old notes I can now trash.

For a few weeks now, I’ve had a draft on my WordPress dashboard that reads “crudity Seth MacFarlane all horror movies.” I don’t think it’s going to get written. As I recall, I started jotting notes while watching the first 20 minutes of “Ted,” the film MacFarlane wrote and directed, but realized if I was going to say anything intelligent about it, I’d have to watch the rest of it, and I couldn’t do that.

It occurs to me that, day after day, Mondays are the hardest to come up with something to say here. Not much happens to me on a Monday, unless you could two gingerly minces around the bock on the treacherous icy lumpy fuck, as well as a few phone calls and 12 million emails. I have but two things to offer today, one stolen from Eric Zorn’s link roundup, but a subject I’ve always wondered about: How do they make the yellow first-down line in televised football? Like this.

And here’s a seven-minute Philip Seymour Hoffman highlight reel, with NSFW language but some of his most memorable scenes:

I loved “The Savages.” Think I’ll Netflix it tonight, if it’s Netflixable.

For now, eh, a weak effort and I’m out.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 48 Comments

R.I.P. Scotty.

I guess I’ll be watching the Super Bowl tonight — confession: Sometimes I knock out Monday’s blog on Sunday afternoon — but I’ll be thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom I suspect was just Phil to his friends. (The three-name thing is probably a quirk of the Screen Actors Guild, because there was already a member named Phil Hoffman. Same with race horses.)

Anyway, I agreed with this observation by David Weigel, that what made Hoffman so great was his versatility:

He was the rare actor who could be cast in a key role without giving away what kind of character he was playing. …You see James Woods in a movie, you know he’s going to end up wearing the black hat. You saw Hoffman — and you had no clue.

That’s right. Lots of people mention “Capote,” but that one didn’t stick with me; it was so much about the voice. Truman Capote was sort of a human cartoon, and as with any cartoon, it’s mostly painted in primary colors.

My favorite Hoffman roles are far darker, with “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” at the top of the list; he plays a traitorous son who betrays his parents for money, a real train wreck of a guy, but as with all his roles, he half makes you root for him. There’s a scene in that one where he visits a high-end drug house — drug apartment, this being Manhattan — that serves as an oasis for well-to-do users. You pay not only for the dope, but for the shooting services and a room to nod in. We see him stretched out on the bed in his underwear (Hoffman had no vanity about his lumpy body), staring at the ceiling with dope eyes, and honestly, it’s all I could think of when I heard the news.

But there was also “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” and “The Big Lebowski.” He played a feckless WASP in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and a WASP-hater in “Charlie Wilson’s War” — see his big scene in the Dave Weigel link, above. Also, “The Savages” and “Moneyball,” and he was the only thing that made “Pirate Radio” worth two hours of your time. Like Chris Cooper, he brought authority to his parts. I saw Cooper play, in the course of a few years, an oil wildcatter, a horse trainer, an FBI agent and an orchid thief, and if I’d met him on the street outside the theater showing “Seabiscuit,” I’d have asked him how to get a horse to bend to the right. Put Hoffman in a baseball uniform, and oh, hey, I didn’t know you were manager of the Oakland A’s, Phil.

Goddamn fucking heroin.

Anyway: Twelve great Hoffman performances, with video clips. David Edelstein on the actor and the man. Feel free to add your own.

Remember when Super Bowl halftime shows were put on by Up With People? Deadspin remembers.

Meanwhile, it looks like another character-builder of a week. It snowed half the day Saturday, then switched to rain, a lot of it. The new wet snow, the melting of the old stuff and the rain left huge slushy puddles everywhere, and then what happened? The temperature dropped, and will stay low all week. Which means what we thought was icy lumpy fuck? This is icy lumpy fuck. It’s awful.

But every day, the days get longer. And now it’s February. Onward.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies | 81 Comments

The natal-day weekend.

Hey, whaddaya know. Now it’s my turn:


Today’s the day, but we celebrated last night in the usual fashion. My present this year was a pair of L.L. Bean moccasins, lined with shearling just to be extra-fancy. Dog-walking boots for every kind of weather.

Oh, and a waffle iron. But that’s more a house present.

Otherwise, a nice weekend. Kate and Alan worked for hours on a project for her physics class. The task was to construct a catapult that would fling a marshmallow 5 meters and land in a bucket. If you know Alan, you know this required multiple trips to the hardware store, math, power tools, drilling, testing, tape measures, more testing and, of course, marshmallows:


My job was to purchase the marshmallows. Wendy handled fielding the ones that missed the bucket. Given the rules — exactly five meters, one marshmallow, landing in the bucket — I feel bad for the kids who don’t have a handy dad. You can make one with a shoebox, rubber bands and a tongue depressor, but it won’t go five meters.

I think there are lots of non-handy dads in Grosse Pointe. One thing I’ve noticed, when I look at estate sales — the more expensive the house, the fewer the tools. And more sporting goods. Many, many more of those, skis and boxing gloves and hockey sticks and high-end bicycles and boat stuff and horse stuff. But rarely so much as a hammer. You hire that shit done.

Otherwise? I watched “Olympus Has Fallen,” and marveled once again at a few things:

1) Great actors can go a long way toward rescuing a dumb script.
2) American movies are just ridiculously violent. Torture and gunplay is really baked into our bones.
3) There’s a reason Melissa Leo is nearly unrecognizable. She probably insisted on that dark wig to conceal her identity.

So, bloggage? Here’s something I wrote, a little different sort of thing for Bridge, for a slow holiday week. Hit it and keep me employed.

We did this — mulch nearly all our leaves — this year, to cover the bare topsoil in the still-unfinished back yard, and hopefully spare us a winter of muddy dog footprints throughout the house. Interesting that policy is nudging homeowners in that direction now:

In the past few years, lawn signs have sprouted in this Hudson River village and across Westchester County, proclaiming the benefits of mulching the leaves in place, rather than raking them up and taking them away. The technique involves mowing the leaves with special mulching blades, which shred them into tiny bits. That allows them to quickly decompose and naturally feed lawns and shrubs.

Officials are encouraging the practice for its cost savings: Westchester spends $3.5 million a year on private contractors who haul away leaves in tractor-trailers and bring them to commercial composting sites in places like Orange County, N.Y., and Connecticut. At the same time, environmental groups and horticulturalists are praising the practice’s sustainability, devising slogans like “Leave Leaves Alone” and “Love ’Em and Leave ’Em.”

The new film “Philomena” tells the story of Philomena Lee and her search for the child she gave birth to in one of those notorious Irish slave-convents, a story I’d been unaware of until reading the pre-release publicity. Here’s a Guardian story about the book the film is based on. It is breathtaking to think this happened in my lifetime. Just awful.

Now, I’m off to have a happy birthday. For you, just another Monday.

Posted at 8:14 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 98 Comments

A gray-haired Saturday.

It had to happen sometime, and it finally did: Alan and I went to the movies Saturday night. Saw “All is Lost.” As the line moved forward, we heard a lot of people ask for two tickets, and be told, “That’ll be $20.”

We got to the head of the line. “That’ll be $15,” the ticket-seller said.

As we walked away, Alan wondered aloud why this movie was apparently priced lower than all the others. I told him to check the tickets. Sure enough, we’d been given the senior discount. Without even asking! We wondered if, perhaps, every single person who cared to watch 77-year-old Robert Redford battle with increasing despair for one hour and 40 minutes that night was a senior, so we just got it by default. I think that might be the answer. It was definitely an old crowd.

But a good movie. I read somewhere that the script was only 31 pages long. The sum total of words spoken wouldn’t fill half a page, single-spaced. The story of how one man, sailing along somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, finds himself in a long, slow battle with the unforgiving ocean would seem to require more of them, but no. Redford is impressive in how he manages to convey the look of desperation, thought and calculation without having to prattle aloud to himself, a la Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” I was surprised at how affecting it was, and how skillfully done.

The rest of the weekend was the usual — a drink or three Friday night, errands galore Saturday, the aforementioned movie, and then the first concert of the year for Kate’s jazz group. Hers is the creative jazz ensemble, where the rule is that if you show up with an instrument, they’ll figure out a way to fit you in. Sometimes these configurations are downright strange: This cycle, they have three violinists, two guitars, bass, drums and percussion. It helps that the most experienced violinist plays like Jean-Luc Ponty. A very enjoyable ensemble.

I hope all the rest of you had the same.

Bloggage? Sure:

We had to leave Wendy alone today for what turned out to be almost six hours. She was very anxious when we returned, which led me to google the Thundershirt, which means that every site I visit now shows me an ad for the Thundershirt. Neil Steinberg considers the implication of this sort of benign Big Data:

Could facial recognition and GPS and drones all unite into some grand web of repression? Sure, but it would be hard-pressed to top the old Soviet-style informant and jackboot repression. Teens are already bored with Facebook, and it’s easy to see why. There’s only so much Farmville you can play. We like technology, but we insist on it being our choice, or seeming to. You can trace an arc of increasing personal liberty for the past 300 years. A new chip isn’t going to change that. We build anarchy into our systems — the speed limit may be 55, but auto speedometers still go up to 160.

Gun madness continues. No comment. America has made its bloody bed — lie in it.

Finally, an illustrated mini-guide to why the world finds hipsters so irritating. After we dropped off Kate at Orchestra Hall, we had about an hour to kill, and went down the block for a drink. I used the bathroom. They were arrayed in the usual way, but hey, not separate by gender:


No, you have a choice. This:


Or this:


Both were occupied, and a man came out of better lighting first. He was wearing sunglasses.

Have a good week, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 83 Comments

Acting up.

On Sunday, trying to distract myself from the throbbing in my knee, I dialed up “How to Survive a Plague” on my iPad. A history of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, aka ACT-UP, it first got on my nerves. My patience for ShakyCam is growing short these days, and apparently no one in the ACT-UP publicity crew owned a tripod.

But that was a quibble, and soon I was absorbed into the bad old years again, the mid-’80s, when gay men were falling ill and at first we didn’t know why, and then we did. And knowing didn’t make it better; there wasn’t a cure, there was barely a treatment and the incubation period was so long — it seemed if you’d been gay and sexually active for any length of time, you were doomed.

And one by one, they were. I lost two close friends, several more in the outer friendship circles. First they lost weight, then came the pneumonia or the Kaposi’s sarcoma, then came the spiral. “How to Survive a Plague” brought it all back, with the overlay of the birth of ACT-UP, which was pretty far from Columbus, Ohio at the time. They, as much as anyone, brought the anger the community was feeling into America’s living rooms, mainly through their outrageous protests. They carried giant condoms up the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They called Jesse Helms “that pig in the Senate.” They were rude and confrontational and made over-the-top demands. They insisted the FDA had drugs that could save them, but was holding back, or not trying to modify the agency’s long timeline for approval.

There’s a scene from a protest where a pharmaceutical company was invaded, an executive summoned forth, and a man hectors him at length: “You have my blood on your hands,” he shouts, and even now, knowing how absolutely justified ACT-UP was in their anger, this seems a bit much. Science has its own timeline. It doesn’t always match yours.

But there are other moments that bring the loss home — an ad executive talking about why we so want to blame people for mistakes they make while “being human.” That they have sex they shouldn’t, swallow drugs they shouldn’t, misbehave in ways that make the rest of us say, “See, it is your fault, after all.” When there is not a single one of us who isn’t guilty of being human. When we all misbehave, at least sometimes.

A lot of the ACT-UP protests set the tone for stuff I quickly grew tired of — the red ribbons, the quilts, all that awareness-raising. But it helped to be reminded, yet again, of what spawned it all, the incandescent anger felt by a community that found itself dwindling, young men dying at 26, 30, 42, the prime of their lives, and almost no one seemed to care.

In other words, Jesse Helms was a pig in the Senate. The Catholic church was preposterously wrong to suggest that condom use would lead to more cases, not fewer. ACT-UP’s tactics you can argue with. But they were right. The times cried out for a furious response. We all should have been acting up. I’m glad they did. Silence did equal death, in the movement’s famous T-shirt. They stood for life.

We haven’t discussed the shooting last Friday at the Los Angeles airport, at least not much. A publication I can’t quite get a handle on,, which has a strange paywall system, is alone in pointing out how loud the anti-TSA clamor has been from both the left and the right, and how perfectly the LAX shooter seemed to be dancing to their drumbeat. I read their story today, but it’s back behind the paywall, and so alas.

What does everyone think? Or am I the only one. I fly infrequently enough that I don’t share in the anger, but it does seem like overkill — the scan, the shoeless shuffle, all of it. There must be a better way to do airport security.

Not much bloggage today, but a good Bridge package drops that might be of interest outside Michigan, about legacy costs for retiree pensions and health care that cities are simply not prepared to meet. Part one is here. It’s happening everywhere, maybe in your town, too.

Otherwise, the week is coming to its denouement. Knee feels better, and let’s hope it continues to do so.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Movies | 82 Comments