Monday, April 30, 2012


"The Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition," in Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, It's Even Worse Than It Looks (2012).

As well, I might add: increasingly exclusionist; single-minded in the pursuit of extreme financial benefit for the few to the detriment of the many; dismissive of education for the largest number of people and for the poor or middle class; racist; as well as a host of other maladies that pushes out or marginalizes their moderates.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Watched this evening what I believe may be my first Thai movie, Wonderful Town (2007), about a recovering architect (from bar musician and alcoholism) who is seeking a little solitude while on a building assignment) who meets the lovely Na, housekeeper and manager of an older hotel in a small southern Thailand town, recovering as well from the ravages of the tsunami. Of course, they fall in love, and the budding romance is sweet and unrushed. But some in the town, including her minor gangster brother and several street toughs, disapprove (not entirely sure why, other than perhaps regional differences) of their romance. The movie is beautifully shot and slowly paced; mountains tower in the rear, while a wide open ocean expands from the beach to the horizon. Directed by Aditya Assarat, with nice performances by the lovely Na (Anchalee Saisoontorn) and Ton (Supphasit Kansen), it is a delightful movie, although [spoiler alert] it is also a bit of a downer.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


I feel a little blue right now. Not the blue of depression, but a glowing amethyst hue of fulfillment after having finished the delightfully humorous historical-fantasy crafted (or should I say painted) by Christopher Moore, his recent gift, Sacre Blue. His convoluted story follows the long existence of the gnome-like hellion Colorman and his sidekick, a devilishly beautiful muse with the ability to shift time as she inspires, who together stalk artists in order to create a special blue used in the arts. The novel takes place mostly in late-nineteenth-century Paris, and incorporates the true art and lives of a host of well-known artists and even some other historical figures into his fantastical tale. Moore employs his familiar wit, especially in his dialogue, and stays true to his usual fare of naughty repartee and imagery, as well as other witty banter. Fans of Moore will not be disappointed, and I would place this work closer on his spectrum of works at the end anchored by Lamb. Moore seems to have done a lot of excellent research on the arts, especially painting, and anyone with a love for the giants of this period will find the book amusing. Also, try to get the first edition, with the blue print and color reproductions.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Ghosts do not always come from death,
walk this earth under their own breath,
on quiet edges, one can never know
when they will hide, when they will show.
Spectral spouses that forever flit
not quite an ex, but short of obit,
they never call, or visit made,
refuse to leave their fantasy shade,
no card for kids, even one present,
what about them do they so resent?
Even invisible, they cause much pain,
absent, but still tied with eerie chain,
How can one live with this sad force?
Perhaps it is time for that divorce.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Mo Willems has to be one of my favorite children's illustrator/author. Right up there with Kevin Henkes (Lily's Purple Plastic Purse) and Jackie French (Diary of a Wombat). When I struggled a few years back to help my youngest read, and to find books that he could tackle and feel like he had accomplished a solid read while not frustrating him in the early stages, I discovered several of Willems's books---featuring the delightful characters Piggie, Elephant, and Pigeon---and Chimo laughed and laughed. He soon began harder books, and now in fifth grade he is being slated for advanced English (which delights me to no end). He just read two books based on the Odyssey. His older brother Joey took to reading much easier (probably because I had more time off to read with him when he was younger, before I had to take two jobs), and our hours of reading such trilogies as Hunger Games and Maze Runner, propelled him to other challenging books. Not so with Chimo (yet, though he has really made advances this year). Still, because of the early Willems books, even now I delight in picking up one of his new volumes and chuckle as I read it. Pigeon is so frustrated and put upon, and Piggie and Elephant struggle to realize how much they really are friends. Amazingly Willems's cartoon figures are not very complicated, but he manages to wring a startingly varied range of emotions from the drawings nonetheless. Don't Let Pigeon Drive the Bus had both of us in stitches. I hear now that he has added another character, a small duckling, and I can't wait to get a copy at the library. His books are a wonderful treat for four-year-olds and older, and the parents will love them too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


"Name me an Arab country, and I'll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt -- including my mother and all but one of her six sisters -- have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating "virginity tests" merely for speaking out, it's no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband "with good intentions" no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are "good intentions"? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is "not severe" or "directed at the face." What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it's not better than you think. It's much, much worse. Even after these "revolutions," all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian's blessing -- or divorce either."---Mona Eltahawy, "Why Do They Hate Us," in Foreign Policy (May 2012).

An important read, and a call for empowerment of women in Islamic countries (and, I hope, all countries), and a clear indictment of the mysogynistic attitude of Islamic males (and perhaps Americans can also see the emerging strain of this kind of thinking amongst its own radical right elements).


Just read Christopher Moore's "Cat's Karma," a short story he wrote early in his literary life, a delightful little tale that in some ways foreshadows his novels. You can find it online (sometimes) and it is worth checking out.

Monday, April 23, 2012


HOMEBOY, the only work by the sadly tragic writer (he was Janis Joplin's last boyfriend) Seth Morgan, is a wonderful, warped, wild foray into the drug-addled, sex-infused, violence-ridden criminal world of 1980s San Francisco and the penitentiary system of California during the AIDS explosion. Writing about what he knew---drug addiction, strip-club barking, robbery, and prison life---from personal experience, Morgan crafted a tough, eye-opening look at a world few would want to visit, and even fewer would wish to become trapped in. Morgan's prose cannot be sprinted through though; it is best bitten off in chunks and chewed. At times his words come together in beautiful rhythms, paragraphs that frankly are spine-tingling, while it can also become weirdly cramped and slang-filled. And he loves his alliterations, almost too much, like it was some sort of addiciton itself. No doubt the book was meant to shock, although in these jaded times there is little here that will startle anyone but the most isolated or overprotected (though certainly I would refrain from giving the book to anyone under 21). A colorful cast of cavorting criminal characters---including prostitutes, addicts, pimps, dealers, gamblers, convicts, brutal prison guards and thugs, lawyers, strippers, homosexuals, and just about anything you can think of from the denizens of vice---populate these purple pages of pain [Yeah, you see what I am doing! He is guilty, ad nauseum, of this prose, a wild poet gone amuk at times]. The basic story follows the convoluted tale of a small-time barker (Joe) who accidentally steals a diamond during a robbery. The rock was formerly in the possession of a brutal prostitute-killing pimp bent on using it for blackmail, and the pursuit of the stone by (among others) a single-minded hardboiled detective determined on putting the bastard on death row. Unfortunately, Morgan died not long after the publication of this book, and the world most likely lost some amazing literature had he lived to craft more tales, but this effort crackles with energy, opens doors on alternative lifestyles, and questions penal institutions. A brave book. I recommend it for those wishing a challenge, with an open mind to human behavior in all its cravings and perversions, but who also like an interesting tale, well told.

Monday, April 16, 2012


In his defense of orthodox religion, I liked Ross Douthat's take: "it’s useful to think of fundamentalism as a characteristically modern school of thought: It has the weird mix of closed-mindedness, pseudo-analytic rigor (once you’re inside the system, at least), and certain faith that History is about to vindicate its ideas that we associate with certain strains of Marxism. . .the fundamentalist temptation is best seen as one of the many heresies that have flourished in a society where institutional Christianity is declining but religious enthusiasm remains intense."

Saturday, April 14, 2012


My brain hurts. It is a weird throbbing pain, as if I had just glimpsed (while experiencing a massive acid overdose) into the collective brains of Neil Gaiman and Stephen King (with Christopher Moore thrown in for good measure) with glasses whose prisms were ground by whoever directed the movie Phantasm. The drug that caused this mental state is David Wong (Jason Pargin)'s wildly weird, yet funny and grotesque, John Dies @ the End. Like some rubbernecker driving past the scene of a massive pileup, I simply couldn't look away. This fantasy/horror/humor offering is like nothing I have tried before, and am not sure I want to try again. Please someone, let me have the antidote! Still, it is an engrossing read, and you want to find out the reason for the madness (almost like a self-medicating bipolar). No doubt Kafka and Heller are laughing at me right now. Do not pick up this book if you are squeamish, or a member of PETA. For those who enjoy their brains being turned inside out, and smacked with a wit bat, well. . .read at your own peril. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I don’t want worship, I just want love,
praise can be spent on the one above,
a soothing gesture, a calming touch.
Really now, I don’t want too much,
soft skin smooth on a silken sheet,
wicked grin on home return greet,
opinions given, not rancor debate,
good support when too much on plate,
walks on beach, time in hammock swing,
loyalty that’s a granite-like thing,
someone who dances, sings, and reads,
who’ll watch a movie where no one bleeds,
but right now it’s too hard to mingle,
so for a while I’ll just stay single.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Blessed are the truthseekers and truth tellers, especially those who risk not only their own lives and voices, but those of family and friends, in the pursuit of the real story, particularly in the face of vicious, oppressive tyrannies, whether religiously fanatical or simply power hungry. The people of the great country of Iran have suffered enormously under the rule of the mullahs and their basij stormtroopers, and the world was stunned by the execution of Neda on a Tehran street on 20 June 2009. But many more were disappeared that day, both before and after in fact, hidden away in torture chambers of Evin and other terrible dungeons (where assaults included rape and murder), many never to return. In Zahra's Paradise, a graphic novel of power and emotion, the artists expose the ruthless attack against democratic sentiments, as thousands of citizens (many students) have been killed or locked away, and any hints of free thinking squashed. Although the main character, Mehdi, is most likely a composite figure, he stands for all who suffered, and the story of intrepid journalists, citizens, and family members in uncovering the truth and fighting for justice, at great cost to themselves, is a powerful statement. Along with the powerful and better-known graphic work of Marjan Satrapi, two anonymous men have produced a biting, sarcastic, and straightforward critique of the current regime in Iran. No dought a fatwa for their heads would be issued should the Iranian authorities discover their true identities. I wonder if any copies will make it into Iran, but it is a story citizens there are all to aware of any way. No, this is for the rest of the world, so ignorant is it of the true life of average Iranians. The sentiment in the United States is often to demonize Iranians, but I know that in truth a huge segment of the population hates what the mullahs have done. While many ignorantly follow the mullahs's lead, thousand push back against oppression in a myriad of ways, from small gestures to life-risking protest. There will always be brave protestors, who continue to fight for freedom. Allah bless them in their struggle. May freedom one day shine on all Iranians. I strongly recommend the novel to readers everywhere.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


In the vein of Dogma or Clerks, perhaps, comes a nice little romantic comedy about suicide in Wristcutters (2006). After lovesick Zia (Patrick Fugit) kills himself and arrives in suicide purgatory, which looks a lot like a worn-out desert ghost town in which the mountains always seem to be far away and the houses and cars are perpetually rundown, he hooks up with two fellow suicides, Russian rocker Eugene and OD case Mikal (who believes she was wrongly sent to this level of hell), as they each search for something missing (his ex and miracles, a love, and the People In Charge [PIC], respectively). A low key, and likely low budget, gem of a movie; the pacing is great and the situations comical. Several familiar faces have roles. Although there are many messages, most of which I am likely to have missed, I think the main ones are that suicide is stupid, and that love conquerers even the afterlife. It is a very enjoyable film.


Testament (Zapovit)

When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes ... then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields --
I'll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I'll pray .... But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

— Taras Shevchenko,
25 December 1845, Pereiaslav Translated by John Weir, Toronto, 1961