Friday, January 25, 2008

Ya Can't Keep A Good Man Down...or, for that matter, Paul Wolfowitz, Dept.

Wolfowitz Picked for Arms Control Panel - New York Times

Well, heck, you can kill off an army of the undead easier than you can put down Paul Wolfowitz. You may recall as of our last installment, Wolfie had been shitcanned from the World Bank on account of some administrative hanky-panky involving his shorty, Shaha Riza. Exiled he was, to the ice planet Hoth American Enterprise Institute to "work" as a "defense and foreign policy studies expert". This is called a "Beltway time-out", not unlike the kind imposed on imploding toddlers. According to the AEI website, Castle Wolfenstein is working on "development issues". Like, "how do I develop an onward gig where I can continue to implement my chickenhawk neo-con crack'd-mirror version of foreign policy?"

And, hocus-pocus alakazam!, here it is! Wolfie is going to head the State Department's International Security Advisory Board, an expert panel "charged with supplying independent advice on arms control, disarmament, nonproliferation and related subjects". Hellz yeah! I mean, sure, his work on pre-emption and Afghanistan and Iraq could charitably be characterized as "a bloody cock-up" or possibly "a disgraceful fiasco" or maybe even "a grotesque abortion". But here in Choc City, we believe in Second Chances. Then, after the recipient fucks up, in Third Chances. Then, after the recipient screws the proverbial pooch, in Fourth Chances. I'm not sure how far down the Chance queue The Wolfinator is right now, but, from where I'm standing, only the top of his head is visible over the horizon.

So, yeah, Wolfman Jackoff is going to be offering his most expertish advice to Condoleeza "the extra long-grain" Rice on some trifling little matters like "pending nuclear deals with India and North Korea and an offer to negotiate with Iran over its disputed nuclear program," so what's the worst that could happen?
Well, besides that.
And besides that too.
And, of course, that.
See? Nothing to worry about.
Sleep easy, America. The Wolf is at your door.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An American Story, Dept.

joey h

By art or nature, by choice or force, Joey Heatherton was a Sex Kitten.

Most memories of her that are still clattering around boomer brainboxes involve a mini-dress, go-go boots, and blonde hair flailing wildly in the energetic execution of any of the dances popular in the days of "discotheques". Here, for example, we see a typical dance number from Ms. Heatherton. She is demonstrating to the audience "The Hullabaloo" on the show of the same name. In the course of her performance, she appears, both in her jerking, thrusting movements and in her facial expressions, to be in the throes of a particularly-intense orgasm. This, I believe, was part of her appeal to a generation of youngsters who had heard a great deal about this thing Sex, but had no personal experience of its appearance or nature. This, I believe, was also part of her appeal to a generation of middle-aged men who knew something of Sex, but nothing of it in connection with a lithe, limber, smoldering blonde Kitten who apparently was Hurting For It, and rather badly at that.

Joey Heatherton had the misfortune of coming to prominence at the end of the era of musicals and near the end of the era of television variety shows, the only two large-scale media venues where a traditional singer/dancer such as herself could ply her trade. The type of music she performed was too "square" by half for the hippies and flower children who had elbowed aside the discotheque bourgeoisie dipping their toes in the pool of Different. The cover of her first and only LP, 1972's The Joey Heatherton Album, finds her in a funky denim shirt and beads, but the songs are a mix of country ("Crazy", "Gone"), pop ("God Only Knows"), gospel ("Shake-A-Hand"), and standards ("Someone To Watch Over Me"). The album photographs are taken by Harry Langdon, Jr., a son of Hollywood (his father was silent film comedian Harry Langdon) just as she was one of Broadway's daughters (her father was theater, radio, and television veteran Ray Heatherton). Langdon and she would work together again in the print half of the ad campaign that sealed her Kitten fate: Serta Perfect Sleeper Mattresses. One of the television spots, with JH in a revealing pink bellbottom'd jumpsuit, is available here, and a two-part mini-documentary about the Making Of these ads is here, then here. The second installment ends with a second TV spot, this one featuring her in a long white négligée, in which she talks about how "firmness and comfort" are the keys to a great night's sleep. This said as her plunging neckline displays the firmness and comfort of her breasts.

And that's what it came down to: Joey Heatherton as eminently-fuckable celebrity. She shimmies and jerks and grinds and works the mattress-top. She stretches and lolls and undulates and works the mattress-top. Hellcat or pussycat. Which one'll it be, buddy?

Which, as in most such cases, was a shame. She had a good voice and could sell a song strong or subtle. She was an energetic dancer who was straitjacketed into one style. She was, by most accounts, a decent actress; reportedly Stanley Kubrick's first choice to play Lolita. But she became a fixture on the Bob Hope USO shows. Whether she did this out of patriotism or out of a desire to be desired by tens of thousands of horny young men is unknowable. Whatever her motivation, she wore the Kitten role for twelve years before many, many uniforms and even more viewers at home.

Two more clips for you. This is an early appearance on The Dean Martin Show, a show she would later co-host in its summer-replacement incarnation. This, a comedy version of "I Get A Kick Out Of You" featuring some classic Paul Lynde muggery. She finishes the first chorus ("I get no kick from champagne"), jumps to the bridge ("I get a kick every time I see you"), then back for a mangled third chorus, avoiding the troublesome second chorus ("Some get a kick from cocaine"). She, unfortunately, was unable to do so in real life, and thence at least part of the story of her decline.

So, Sex Kitten emerita it is. And with the passage of time, memory elides the scandals and the suffering, and showcases the girl who brought Abandon into Middle America's living rooms.
It's An Honor Just To Be Nominated...Oh, Wait..., Dept.

Fred Thompson quits presidential race - Yahoo! News

File this under "historical inevitability": former Senator Fred "but, but, but you liked me on Law & Order, didn't you...?" Thompson dropped out of the race after finishing behind the GOP front-runners, the GOP also-rans, the GOP losers, Rex the Wonder Horse, and Amanda Hugginkiss in early primary and caucus voting.

In bowing out, Fred said, "Today, I have withdrawn my candidacy for president of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort."

I'm sure he meant that in a way that didn't sound like he thought the hopes and dreams of the republic rose and set on his ass.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ridi, Pagliaccio!, Dept.

Don't send in the clowns - Yahoo! News

"Don't send in the clowns

Bad news for Coco and Blinko -- children don't like clowns and even older kids are scared of them.

The news that will no doubt have clowns shedding tears was revealed in a poll of youngsters by researchers from the University of Sheffield who were examining how to improve the decor of hospital children's wards.

The study, reported in the Nursing Standard magazine, found all the 250 patients aged between four and 16 they quizzed disliked the use of clowns, with even the older ones finding them scary.

'As adults we make assumptions about what works for children,' said Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university.

'We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable.'

A word to researchers at the University of Sheffield and any other institutes of higher learning in the English-speaking world: next time, just ask your sobsister.

For I could have told you--for only half the money you spent on this study--that not only sick children, but well children, adults in any state of health, household pets, and even God's little angels fucking hate clowns.

Reason no. 1: clowns are not funny.
Reason no. 2: see Reason no. 1
Reason no. 3: clowns are irredeemably creepy. not as creepy as ventriloquists' dummies, I'll grant you. but, in the words traditionally attributed to Lon Chaney, "A clown is funny in the circus ring, but what would be the normal reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there in the moonlight?"
Reason no. 4: clowns are only funny in the way a pack of rabid raccoons in the neo-natal ward of your local hospital might be considered "funny". which is to say: not at all.

I mean, there's even a phobia centered around an "abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns", called coulrophobia, from the Greek for "I HATE you, joy-sucking painted-face man! I HATE you!!"

So, to sum up: clowns not funny ever.
Don't get me started on the notion of a "clown college".
Or, dear God, a "clown ministry".
Thank you.
"Cruise Control"?"See Cruise"?"Cruising Attitude"?, Dept.

Alright, so the Tinfoil-Hat Spotters are slavering and sputtering at the latest seeming outrage by America's Favorite Celebrity Cult Zealot™, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV d/b/a "Tom Cruise". A video, referred to by as an "indoctrination video", that has surfaced and sunk and resurfaced and resunk shows Cruise waxing enthusiastic about the Church of Scientology (CoS) and its benefits.

Cruise's demeanor in the video will not be unfamiliar to those who have had any exposure to TC in his moments of transport. What may be new--and, choose your term: surprising, disturbing, incredibly-creepy--to readers and viewers is the view of his chosen belief system that Cruise rather vigorously propounds. One set of quotes from the clip gives a wee bit of the flavor:

When you're a Scientologist, and you drive by an accident, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one who can really help. We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind.... We are the way to happiness. We can bring peace and unite cultures. Now is the time.

Unsurprisingly, online commentators are interpreting this as another unwitting-if-revealing peek into the box of crazy that is Tom Cruise. The supposedly-clandestine nature of the video's contents being underscored by the fact that the clip has been pulled from YouTube and other venues several times "at the poster's request". Which most take to mean that the CoS' lawyers have threatened to sink their teeth deep, deep into the offender's ass.

But watch the video here and indulge your sobsister in a bit of speculation. What if this video was not inadvertently leaked but intentionally released under the guise of an inadvertent leak? The usual frenzy of media attention and Schadenfreudlichkeit that accompanies such mask-dropping incidents (whacked-out Britney on a gurney, glassy-eyed Paris on Rick Salomon's cock) is currently in full froth, with everyone from the New York Times to the gossip blogs featuring this latest apparent slip. Which just happens to follow on the heels of the release in the United States of Andrew Morton's unauthorized and unflattering bio of TC himself.

Walk with me here: the Morton bio is released and gets tons of media play; in return, TC/CoS accidentally-on-purpose let slip a promotional video that shows the charismatic worldwide movie star, in a setting where he controls the tone, tempo, and topic, speaking forcefully and persuasively about the power, the prestige, the mission of Scientologists. Now, let me conjure up a parallel scenario: Will Smith, in comparable full-on star charisma mode, featured in a "leaked" video talking about how fucking cool it is to be in the U.S. Army blowing jihadist heads off. Sure, some people would shout "outrage!" and some people would tut-tut the Hollywood crazy...but lots and lots of people who would otherwise never watch a U.S. Army propaganda video might say to themselves, "Hellz yeah, that shit sounds great!".

So, how many people, having watched one of America's Biggest Stars speak supposedly-secretly about how fucking cool it is to be a Scientologist, are saying to themselves, "Wow, this Scientology thing rocks!? The CoS has managed to get tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans to watch a Scientology promotional video and maybe forget all this Morton coverage. If only ten percent of the viewers don't think "eewwww!" and check out their local CoS outlet, then that's "game" for L. Ron's children.

You just have to know how to ride the froth.

Now, this is not to say that the content of this video is not four-ply fatuousness trimmed with sweeping vagueness and textbook smugness. But all you need is ten percent. And, Christ, scads of people watch Doctor Fucking Phil and think he's the second coming of Sigmund Freud and Ann Landers. So, ten percent is a totally achievable figure. Which gives me a Golden Glow of Wonder™ that we've survived this long as a species.

Apropos of all things Cruisean, I found this fascinating entry on a genetics blog regarding both a possible reason for TC's behavior and appearance, as well as the censorious cloud that floats above any discussions of TC that threaten to turn unflattering.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Redefining "Underwhelming", Dept.

Hey, last night your sobsister watched the Golden Globes Awards the announcement of the Golden Globe winners paint dry!

For those of you who may be unaware of the situation surrounding this broadcast, the Writers Guild strike put the kibosh on the scheduled awards show, by dint both of presenters not having "witty" "banter" to exchange before reading the nominees, and of stars boycotting the ceremony in solidarity with their pen-wielding brethren and sistren.

So, instead of the red carpet shmoozefests and the dissing of the outfits and the oohing and the aahing over Brangelina and George and Cate and Johnny and whomever else quickens our merely-mortal pulses, I got to watch Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell of Access Hollywood read the nominees and winners.

Did you know Nancy O'Dell was Miss South Carolina in 1987?! And did you know that Billy Bush, first cousin to Our Globe-Trotting, Peace-Bringing President, was once called "the most annoying man in show business" by Billy Crystal, himself no mean connoisseur of the annoying?!

Yeah, that's all I've got on the "exciting" side of the ledger.

On the "wretched" side, however, I have the on-screen sight for an entire hour of Nancy O'Dell's face seemingly sealed in some kind of NASA-grade epoxy or lacquer. Not only does she have no wrinkles, but she is reported to be able to survive re-entry temperatures up to 1510 °C. I also have the on-screen sight of Billy Bush, who looks and sounds a little like Conan O'Brien's slowish cousin, opining. Opining on who should've won and who shouldn't've won and why. Here's a short list of lodestars I do not care to follow: Billy Bush's taste. Also, on this selfsame "wretched" side of the ledger, I have the televisual experience of two people not particularly known for their wit, charisma, or charm being the only moving objects on my television screen.

Now, I can hear some of you asking, "Hey, sobsister (if that's your real name), why din'tcha just change the frackin' channel, ya big crybaby?!" What, and face Entertainment News Industry Standard™ Mary Hart, herself a former Miss South Dakota, announcing the winners with a voice reported to cause seizures in epileptics and getting her perky on with a force that could bleach muslin at twenty paces? I don't think so. No, I don't think so at all.

So, on it staggered for an hour in objective time. Watching these mannequins read the Golden Globe nominees and winners was a bit like drinking soup through a winter coat. Or perhaps like reading erotic fiction in semaphore. Or maybe like warming one's hands by a photo of a fireplace. At any rate, not an experience I'm eager to try again. Plus, soon-to-be-nonagenarian Ernest Borgnine did not win an award for his performance in The Hallmark Channel production of A Grandpa for Christmas, so you know the fix was in.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

SuperNoVa, Dept.
So, we're patrolling in the superannuated sobsistermobile on Sunday and find ourselves, as we often do, in Northern Virginia.

For those of you outside the Greater Metropolitan Washington Sprawl, a little perspective. Which cities and counties actually comprise Northern Virginia can be tallied in many confusing ways. My own definition is that Northern Virginia extends south from the Potomac until the Korean bulgogi joints and Latino markets cede to bait shops, shooting ranges, and roadside billboards that try to make you feel bad about turning your back on Jesus. That said, however one chooses to define and demarcate the sub-region, one thing is manifestly true: Northern Virginia makes no sense. Roads begin, stop, resume, end, run at angles, then curve back on themselves. It's as if stoned urban planners had Silly String'd a topographic map of the region, then called it a day. If, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, only the dead know Brooklyn, I shudder to think of the entities that can claim to know Northern Virginia.

All this notwithstanding, there we are, driving down the road, looking for masoor lentils for a recipe I'm wanting to try, and we encounter four things within a mile:
1) fine chicken salteñas at a Bolivian bakery, the crisp brown shells brimming with so much unadulterated shortening that it's like applying a fat patch to one's carotid artery;
2) the best baba ghanoush in the Western world at a Lebanese hole-in-the-wall;
3) a thrift store with a large cache of LPs for a buck apiece (about which, more separately);
4) a tiny Vietnamese market where we bought a head of garlic, said head having been completely stripped of its papery skin by the diminutive woman behind the register.

This last was particularly remarkable. An entire head of garlic, denuded. As we approached to pay, she was working on another one with a little paring knife. Just stripping the excess skin away. Leaving an organic sculpture of clustered pink cloves like piglets at their mother's teats.

Thus, for this, the above, and other reasons, we regularly brave a Cthulhian road grid, one that has left lesser men broken and mad by the gravelly side of Route 50, to sample the polyglot pleasures of Northern Virginia.
The rest of Virginia, as I understand it, is peopled by hillbillies who sodomize unsuspecting visitors, then force them to smoke cigarettes and vote Republican.
As a consequence, it remains largely unexplored by your sobsister.
Thought for Food, Dept.

At the risk of having this space become Pollyanna's Paradise, your sobsister thought of something else that tickles my fancy (Crimestopper's Textbook: it's located just next to the uvula). Now, regular readers are aware of the deep and abiding distaste, not to say "full-blown disgust", I feel towards the hosts on the Food Network. The braying Rachael Ray, the unctuous Paula Deen, the unnecessary Ingrid Hoffmann, get the picture. But...there is one person whose show by dint of personality, content, and presentation brings me back time and again, and that person, ladies and gentlemen, is Alton Brown.

I don't talk much about the men of Food Network. They tend to operate under the dark and noxious cloud blown up by the channel's distaff "personalities". And they are not as repellent as their female counterparts, more inclined to focus on content than cute, however mercilessly one need to stretch that latter term to include Ray and Deen. And Alton Brown is the best of them. His flagship show, Good Eats, is a combination of food science, kitchen tips, recurring characters, props, puppets, and smartness that I can only call, in the best possible light of comparison, "Pee Wee's Kitchen". Every episode, Brown focuses on a different dish or ingredient and demonstrates how to buy the ingredients, what kitchen tools to use, what chemical/physical processes underpin the preparation, and, finally, how to make the meal(s), with a lessons learned/best practices approach that, despite the fun and skits, isn't pitched at slow fourth-graders. For that reason, perhaps, he is treated as something like the channel's "intellectual" in its advertising. And a lonely job that must be at Food Network. His two Feasting on Asphalt "movies" have featured him and his crew riding motorcycles, first, across the U.S. east-west, then, up along the Mississippi, sampling the best road food along the way. In each, Brown sets aside the whimsy to present meditations, serious and humorous both, on the history of America's relationship with food and the road. Both quite enjoyable and informative. Both likely to make one want to hop in the car and drive to that li'l B-B-Q stand five states over. Brown also acts as expert commentator for the US version of Iron Chef, which I don't watch as often because I prefer the over-the-top host and dubbed translations of the Japanese original.

At any rate, Alton Brown. Watch his shows, read his books. Like the ten righteous men who might've saved Sodom, he is one of the few reasons not to visit sulfurous destruction on the Food Network.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Double Entendre, Dept.

Ruth Wallis - Cabaret Singer - Obituary - New York Times

Risqué ditty queen Ruth Wallis died on December 22 at the age of 87.

In these days of witless profanity, the notion of finding amusement or entertainment or even titillation from a woman singing
"All night long he's trying to do
what he used to do all night long.
may be hard to understand.

But such was her stock-in-trade in over 150 naughty-but-nice songs she wrote herself. Your sobsister is a big fan of this sub-genre of music whose Golden Age began in the mid-1920s and ended in the late-1950s. An era of classic tunes like "Big Ten-Inch Record" or "Long John the Dentist".

Still not sure what I mean? Go to the source and enjoy this fine collection of her songs assembled by the Internet Archive.

After you've sampled her sonic wares, toddle over to this site for an eyeful of Ruth Wallis album covers.

I mean, you've got to like a woman who can make erectile dysfunction humorous.
"He couldn't get it up,
couldn't get it up.
He had the Cape Canaveral Blues.
To a man, I mean.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String" Aside, Dept.

Occasionally, your sobsister realizes that the tenor of this space tends to the bilious and hateful. This realization is occasionally prompted by messages like one I received recently which read, in part, "'Ey, Sobsister, what for you always gotta be hatin' everything, huh?! what for you gotta be hatin'?!" And while it's always nice to hear from my mother, this particular message reminded me that it's been a good, long while since the last time I'd listed things I'd been enjoying. Back then, I'd even used the old "correspondence" dodge as well, which goes to show you the shocking paucity of imagination with which I lead my life.

At any rate and without any further ado, let me list some things I've been enjoying recently in the hopes that you, Gentle Reader, may perhaps avail yourself of them and likewise be transported into a magical realm of pleasure and delight or, barring that, be transported into a state of dull-eyed stupor which would allow me to relieve you of your wallet or billfold.

1) Stop Forgetting To Remember, a graphic novel by Peter Kuper. Kuper, in the thinly-fictionalized guise of cartoonist Walter Kurtz, recalls and recounts early experiences with drugs and sex as his wife carries then delivers their first child. The writing's funny and fast, Kuper's artwork, by turns, dense and detailed, then spare and lyrical. I enjoyed "Kurtz"' reminiscences more than the current-day story of the impact of his child's birth, infancy, and childhood on his world, largely because those later chapters, also concerned with his career's fits and starts, seemed cramped and rushed. A worthwhile read nonetheless.

2) The Subtle Knife, a novel by Philip Pullman. Revisiting this excellent book, the second volume in the His Dark Materials trilogy, after seeing the recent film adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first in the trilogy, reminded me of how much of Pullman's style was lost on the screen and convinced me of how absolutely impossible will be translation of the second and third books to Xtian-friendly film without an evisceration or malformation that would render the story incomprehensible and the effort pointless.

3) Ratatouille, an animated film by Brad Bird for Pixar. A gorgeous film with a touching story and fine voice acting. I'd been wowed by The Incredibles and wondered if Bird could make this story of a rat with a flair for gourmet cookery as engaging and compelling. Suffice to say that he succeeds in a way that'll have you rooting for the stringy disease vectors by film's end.

4) "Did You See the Words", a song by Animal Collective. It's like The Dream Academy's "Life in a Northern Town". Only more so. The former here, the latter here.

5) Tin Man, a mini-series on the Sci-Fi network. Call it a steampunk retelling of The Wizard of Oz. Featuring a particularly-fine performance by Alan Cumming as Glitch, the man with half a brain, the film cleverly tweaks and adapts elements of the L. Frank Baum/MGM mythos and adapts them to its own ends. A fair amount of debate on the Sci-Fi Network boards on the merits and demerits of Zooey Deschanel as DG, the girl swept into a parallel dimension by a storm. Depends on how you feel about "deadpan". That said, likely the best of Sci-Fi Network's original films.

Well, that's a start, no? Before long, it'll be twittering birds and fluttering butterflies around here. More to come when I, you know, actually like more stuff.