Monday, June 30, 2008

Pride (In the Name of Love)

The excitement of yesterday's pride parade (which, thanks to Emily, I had a spectacular front row view of!) got me thinking about the tenuous position of the LGBT community in India today.  This weekend saw Bangalore and New Delhi's first-ever gay pride marches -- monumental events in a country that has legislated its LGBT community into the closet for many years. From the AP:

While small groups have marched in the eastern city of Calcutta in recent years, Sunday's events were the first gay pride parades in Bangalore and New Delhi. Several hundred people turned out at each of the three events.

The marches came days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era. The law, which forbids sexual acts "against the order of nature," carries punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

The law is rarely enforced, but activists say it sanctions discrimination.
And as the Deccan Herald's terse coverage of yesterday's march in Bangalore suggests, this is just a very small first step.  But an important one!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Whoa, looking forward to seeing this (more pics here). Mayor Mike says, "One of the great things about the best public art is that it encourages us to rediscover — even just briefly — some of the parts of our city that we often take for granted." Yeah!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Dalai Lama's Little Brother

This interview with the youngest brother of the Dalai Lama, Tendzin Choegyal, comes via BoingBoing. Apparently Choegyal is bipolar and a recovering alcoholic -- a "rebellious soul" who dropped out of college and was once a paratrooper in the Tibetan contingency of the Indian army. A slice of the conversation below:

GR: What are your hobbies?

TC: I used to take photographs, and I used to like editing movies. But right now, my hobby is reading. I’m reading a book in English right now on Buddhism and world history. I don’t read fiction—my time is mostly spent reading about Buddhism and inner transformation. I also read The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, and the BBC on the Internet. Oh, and People’s Daily. I want to know what the Chinese are saying!

GR: Anything else you’re really into?

TC: I like useful tools. Until a few years ago, I used to fix my own car—I was a good mechanic. I used to drive an old Land Rover; now I drive a Suzuki station wagon. I used to wash my car every day, and my friends used to say, “Don’t do that, the paint’s going to come off.” When I’m doing something, I do it whole-heartedly. And then when I leave it, I just leave it. Just this evening my son called me an eccentric. I think he’s right. We all have our extreme sides. I used to take an interest in anything that was mechanical, but now, I don’t think these material things are all that important. I’m interested in human beings now.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Left Wondering about the Upper Hand?

Today's New York Sun hones in on an interesting bit of trivia that unites John McCain and Barack Obama: They're both left-handed. Which means that the next president -- like every president since 1974 (except for George W. and Jimmy Carter) -- will once again be a leftie. That's right: Ford, Reagan, H. W. Bush, Clinton and our next president-to-be're all lefties. So what? Well, since only 10% of the population is left-handed, the recent spree of lefties in the Oval Office is a statistical anomolie that may very well have a biological explanation.   The Sun pokes around for evidence linking left-handedness to other presidential traits like ambition or problem-solving skills but comes up only with ... hair whorls:
[Amar Klar's] research shows that the whorl for right-handers curls clockwise in 92% of cases. In left-handers, the distribution is random, with half exhibiting clockwise whorl and the other half spinning counterclockwise. Mr. Klar said he could spot a counterclockwise whorl from seeing Mr. McCain and Mr. Clinton on television and looking at the way they appear to comb their hair.
Also? Apparently those hair whorls have been linked not only to electability in recent decades but also to sexual orientation. This all must mean something, but I'm not really sure what. 

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Pulitzer: What is it Exactly?

Junot Diaz was on The Colbert Report last night. Today The New York Observer linked to the clip and cross-referenced Diaz's triffid allusion -- a reference which spurred Colbert and Diaz to some (cute) bonding over their shared geekiness. If you missed it last night, check it out now!

Microfameballers Unmasked

As more than a few of you know, I have had my share of awkward run-ins with various New York fameballs, including one who lives in my building (our conversation at the grocery story earlier this week was typical: "Hey, what's up?" "Oh, you know, pretty good"). So I was amused to see the phenomenon of microfame get parsed in New York magazine this week: "Though an element of luck often plays a role in achieving traditional fame, microfame is practically a science. It is attainable like running a marathon or acing the LSAT. All you need is a road map." I guess not everyone can content themselves with being just an Average Homeboy?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

(Self-)Reliance is a Blockbuster

So one thing that struck me this past trip to India was the explosion of Reliance Industries -- in 2005, when I was last in the country, the company didn't particularly cross my radar, but three years later, it was impossible to miss. Mobile phones, gas stations, grocery stores -- even Mumbai's IPL cricket team is under the Reliance brand (a fact Royal Challenger fans in the Bangalore stadium pointed out in their signs as Sachin Tendulkar and his buddies womped their team). What, I wondered, was left for Reliance -- or, more specifically, its head tycoon, Mukesh Ambani* -- to take over? The answer, friends: Hollywood. And by Hollywood, I mean Steven Spielberg. From Defamer:
Reliance is apparently taking over Hollywood one A-list player at a time. Its film funding arm, Reliance Big Entertainment, made headlines at Cannes last month when it announced development deals with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and others, splitting with studios the costs of new productions costing up to $1 billion. Reliance's latest venture is decidedly more ambitious, expanding its vast media footprint to claim what will be roughly half of the new DreamWorks: Six or so films a year through a studio to be determined (probably Spielberg's old stomping grounds at Universal, where he still keeps an office).
Under this new venture, the The Wall Street Journal reports, Reliance would provide Spielberg and DreamWorks with $500-$600 million in equity to finance their departure from Viacom's Paramount Pictures. Is your head spinning yet?

*Correction: Hollywood dominance is the plan of Anil Ambani, not Mukesh. From the New York Times:
The parent company, with assets of $29 billion, is controlled by Anil Ambani, the younger brother of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. The elder Ambani runs a conglomerate involved in old-line businesses like oil refining and agriculture. As Mukesh’s company, called Reliance Industries, expands in India, his younger brother Anil has increasingly eyed foreign growth.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Little Civilization

From Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which I read (and liked quite a bit) a few weeks ago:
In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable -- which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bangalore Train Junction

Did I mention that I was recently in India? When people ask about my trip, I'm never sure what level of detail they're interested in -- or how to quickly convey a real sense of the experience without being a bore. Lo and behold, this week BoingBoing comes to my (partial) rescue with this excellent video of a Bangalore train junction. Click to spend 3 minutes and 58 seconds on an intersection in the capital of Karnataka. 

Butt of the Joke

From my brother, via Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Scary Sadshaw

I was out of the country for the Sex and the City movie's grand summer-in-the-city opening, but I read Manohla Dargis's review ("All is right in this carefree world until Big casually asks Carrie if she would like to get married, a question that leads to the usual luncheon postmortem (oh my gawd, he proposed) and then the usual rom-com clothing montage and a staggering number of product placements (Louis Vuitton co-stars.)") from the other side of the globe with much amusement and a twang of homesickness. Now that I'm back, I still haven't seen the movie, and today I decided I probably won't, just because I don't think it will make me laugh harder than Anthony Lane's review -- which I finally got around to reading -- did. In the past I've suspected that Anthony Lane is a bit sexist (turns out I'm not alone in this opinion). The thing is, he's also hilarious. (Lane introducing Carrie and her pals: "there are four of them—banded together, like hormonal hobbits, and all obsessed with a ring"). The start of his review below:

Secrecy has clouded “Sex and the City” since it was first announced. When would the film appear? Who would find a husband? Would one of the main characters die? If so, would she commit suicide by self-pity (a constant threat), or would a crocodile escape from the Bronx Zoo and wreak a flesh-ripping revenge for all those handbags? As the release date neared, the paranoia thickened; at the screening I attended, we were asked not only to surrender our cell phones but to march through a beeping security gate, as if boarding a plane to Tel Aviv. There was even a full-body pat-down, by far the biggest turn-on of the night. Not a drop of the forthcoming plot had been leaked in advance, but I took a wild guess. “Apparently,” I said to the woman behind me in line, “some of the girls have problems with their men, break up for a while, and then get back together again.” “Oh, my God!” she cried. “How do you know?”

Additional thoughts: As I was pulling up the links for this post, I discovered that while I was away, the ostensible misogyny of this particular review generated quite a bit of discussion, neatly summarized here in New York magazine. But in this case, I'm inclined to agree with the commenter who writes, "Lane's review is so far from being sexist that it actually supports feminism." Rereading the review, I kind of got the feeling that Lane, in his weird way, actually had my back. After all, he concludes:

... there is a deep sadness in the sight of Carrie and friends defining themselves not as Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter did—by their talents, their hats, and the swordplay of their wits—but purely by their ability to snare and keep a man. Believe me, ladies, we’re not worth it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Virginia is for Lovers

June 12 is Loving Day! On this day in 1967 interracial marriage became legal across the United States with the Supreme Court's ruling against anti-miscegenation legislation (such as Virginia's Racial Integrity Act) in Loving v. Virginia. "Under our Constitution," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in his decision, "the freedom to marry or not marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed upon by the state." Richard Loving was killed in a 1975 car accident; Mildred Loving died last month. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"A True Dispatch from the Brink of Insanity"

A dear friend (who shall remain unnamed) sent me an email with the above subject line yesterday. Her missive (edited for anonymity) appears below in its entirety.

I am not making this shit up.

It is possible that my bizarre older cousin Marshall will drive me to insanity if he does not leave today. I fear that he will stay until Friday. Last night was his second night here. The first night, I was quite charitable and gracious - EVEN ON THE INSIDE. Even when he tells obvious lies, and rambles on and on about himself, and wakes me up for no reason at 8am by shouting my name loudly a few times. Why, Marshall? What is the purpose? I really want to like you. Why do you make it so difficult?

My attitude changed last night.

He comes home after touring the city, and immediately pops some medicine (methadone and oxycodone) for the chronic back pain that prevents him from working regularly, but not from driving all over the West Coast visiting people. But whatever, we all have our own demons. We chit chat about his day. It becomes obvious that he is just plain lying about certain things. Maybe he isn't. Maybe he did get into a fountain and play with children, and then find a pool downtown and go for a dip. Maybe his friend is building nuclear subs. It just sounds like lies. He talks some more about his duckboat tour of the city. Then, "I've never been to Oregon before. Are we in Oregon?" No, Marshall. We are not in Oregon. I cannot believe you just asked if we were in Oregon. "Oh wait, I HAVE been to Oregon before." Liar.

I ask him if he would like to go out to eat or stay in. He says stay in. He brought some ham and cheese and says he'll just eat that. He also brought a movie, and suggests we watch it. OK. That doesn't require talking. I am down with that. So I set up the projector and finally get my computer to work with it. He brought "What Dreams May Come" with Robin Williams and some pretty actress. So - it's a little cheesy, but I can get absorbed into any story; the CG effects are really good, the movie is kinda fun, and Robin Williams is engaging.

But Marshall won't stop talking.

He waits until the most critical dialog and then - "So how many years did you play soccer?" He is the total master of the non sequitur. Ah - 1 sec Marshall - both kids just DIED in a fiery car crash - I want to catch this crucial bit of dialog between the distraught father and mother. So, after the kids die, Father dies and goes to heaven and Mother commits suicide and travels to hell. Father is unhappy in his idealistic Heaven and against all odds journeys to Hell on a futile mission to rescue his damned wife. At the gates of Hell, he discovers that his trusty guide that has come with him from Heaven and who appears to be a middle-aged black man is actually his teenaged white son! Amazing! And there are Hell zombies they have to battle! With gnashing teeth! Marshall comes in from the kitchen (he can't sit still and makes 5 ham and cheese sandwiches over the course of an hour and a half) right as they start to breach the gates of Hell - "Have I ever told you about my house layout?" Are you fucking kidding? For serious, Marshall? Now? Yes? OK - I'll pause it. So I PAUSE the ephing movie. And watch him draw his fucking HOUSE LAYOUT in the only pen I could find at the moment - a purplish sparkley one I found while cleaning the house before his arrival. For some reason, the purple sparkles enrage me even more. Finally he stops talking. I resume the movie. I only say "Shh!" once. I am a paragon of restraint.

I won't bore you with more movie details. But this farce goes on. And ON. And the ham sandwiches! How many is he gonna eat? Ding! There goes the toaster again! My house still smells like burning ham.

Finally, the movie stops. I sit quietly working on my laptop. Marshall says something about Hell. I make the mistake of mentioning that I don't believe in Hell. A two hour session ensues. You can imagine what it was like. But Marshall - what do you think. "I don't think - it's in the Bible. Reason is from the devil." Really? You're gonna go there? At least in the end it was just him reading to me and me working. Marginally better than actually trying to have a dialogue.

Finally the time has come to go to bed. Speaking of Satan, it is as hot as hell-fire and damnation here. Hotter even. And of course, no A/C. I do have a fan. I actually have two fans, but I can find only one. The gracious host that I am, I install my guest in the living room with the fan, so that he can reap the benefit of the rapidly cooling night air. But there are no native breezes tonight, and I am roasting. My windows are wide open, but there is not even the tiniest puff of refreshment. I've got to get up early to take the cat to get her infected tooth extracted, and I'm tossing and turning and sweating.

Then the cat starts yaking. Not just one puke, but a massive and total voiding of stomach contents, and then some bile and water. Poor baby. It is a bit irksome, but I am more concerned that she feels ill. Yak, yak, yak, all over the house. So I get up, get a wet towel and go clean up all of her vomit. Oops - there goes some more. Poor baby. Finally, she stops puking. I get a clean wet washcloth to baste myself with and return to my miserable little bed. I'm drifting off, and Marshall starts - he really starts - LOUDLY babbling: "Oh Lord Jesus! Our Salvation!
Save us from sin! Lord!" This goes on intermittently over the span of 10-15 mintues.



SHUT THE FUCK UP. Just shut UP! I want to scream this, but I am trying to be the gracious hostess. I can't bury my head under the blankets. It is too hot. The only ear plugs I have are covered in cat spit (they make great kitty toys!) and I need to hear my 7am alarm so I can get up and take the cat to the vet. The last time I look at the clock is says 1:30am. Great. I drift off sometime after that.

"Spssssspssssss!!" A vague hissing noise enters my foggy consciousness. It subsides. I begin to drift off. "Spssssssspsssss." Louder. More insistently. Fuck. What the fuck is that. It's Marshall - trying to get the cats to come lay with him on the couch. Obviously it is not having the desired effect because the noise continues. I am having trouble falling back asleep. But maybe I should get up...there is light streaming through the windows. It's probably 7 already. I fumble for my glasses. "Sppppsssssspppss!"

It's 5am.

I lay back down, not too gently, boiling inside with fury. I genuinely want to murder him.

You think I'm overreacting?! You weren't there. The hissing noise stops, but then he starts PRAYING OUT LOUD. Like he was doing last night. "Lord, our salvation, our hope, save us, Jesus! Salvation, sinners - no NO!...Save us!" It sort of sounds like speaking in tongues except the words are all intelligible; the syntax makes up for this. I am not making this up. I begin having fantasies about getting my Cutco cleaver. I want to creep up behind the couch and slowly enter his field of vision. I will gently press the shining tip into the ruddy flesh of his Adam's apple, and bear down ever so slightly. Bet you wish you were in Oregon NOW, motherfucker. "Marshall," I will softly say, "I am not a morning person. Please try to keep your voice down. It's 5am." I'm surprised at myself. I've never actually imagined threatening someone like this. It's kind of nice. All I do is get up and shut my door, which has been slightly ajar.

The talking continues. "Hey kitty. Spsspspssssss." Then he starts pacing back and forth from the kitchen to the living room. Some humming. I hear the clink of bowl and spoon and the rustle of the cereal box. "Maaarrrssshhallll," I think in my most evil sing-songy mind voice, "if you are using my yogurt, and leave it out on the counter for hours like you did yesterday, I will eeennnddd you..." OMG. SHUT UP. Eat some goddamn cereal, but please, PLEASE, just do it quietly. Please. I'm really starting to feel mentally unstable.

Then, he starts signing the words to my roommate's holiday song that we have stuck on the fridge door. This was gently amusing. Was he puzzled by the command between stanzas to light the Yule log with Diwali match guns? Hmm, having some trouble with that "Then we won't be evil, we'll be good" line? The phrasing IS tricky. Then I hear the sounds of more cereal being made. I hear these sounds 3 more times. Five ham sandwiches. Five bowls of cereal. Five times I want to stab you in the face, Marshall. Then he gets in the shower and begins singing.

I lay there stewing until 6am. I finally get up and go into the the bathroom to brush my teeth and find that he has dismantled my Sonicare toothbrush. I'm not even going to ask. I use another toothbrush. I go into the kitchen for a drink of cold tea, and find one of my little yellow citronella bug-repelling candles that normally lives outside sitting on the kitchen table. WTF?

I come out into the living room and very civilly tell him that I am not a morning person and that he should try to be quiet before 7am. "What, no singing in the shower?" he asks with a big smile." No, I say. I answer in monotone and with monosyllables where possible. "Your cats are hungry." No eating before surgery. "Really, I will pull that tooth for you - nothing to it. Seriously." Thanks, but I'm just gonna take her to the vet.

I begin typing this e-mail. He natters on, showing me cars in magazines and packing for his second day trip into the city. He carries all his cash in $25 rolls of 1 dollar coins. No, this does not enrage me. I am a reasonable person, after all. It does make me think, however, that he is weird. He natters on. Then, a blessing: "Well, I had 5 bowls of cereal. I think I can settle down now."

There is a God.

He puts on his little eye mask and lays down on the couch. After no more than 15 seconds he starts snoring. The snores are obviously fake little stage snores, and they are really, really annoying.

There is no God.

Why am I related to this man? Is he punishing me for not believing in Hell? Why is he doing this? He snores for about 1 minute and then shuts up. I have a blissful 10 minutes of silence. Marshall then sits bolt upright and takes off the mask. "How long was I out?" Only 10 minutes, but it's OK if you want to sleep more, I say. Sleep, you fuckface, sleep, I will silently in my head. He does not sleep. "Nah," he says, "I feel good now." I hate you, I think. "Look at my finger." He has his index finger bent. "Nerve damage - but it goes away." Hmm, interesting, I intone. Ten seconds later, "Oh look, it's gone!" He straightens his finger.

Natter, natter - cars, my gravel company, the state is paying me to get my PhD as a certified financial planner, my IQ is 152, I'm SUCH a fast learner, I can do just about anything, I dug this pond once, my ex-wife is a bitch - she tries to keep my son away from me. Marshall, honestly, I'm beginning to understand why. I do not say this.

Finally it's time to take the cat to the vet. I drop her off at the vet, go work out, and when I come home, he is gone. Thank JESUS. Wait..speaking of Jesus, why is there a giant golden Jesus coin on my computer? Huh. This is a giant golden Jesus coin. On my computer. Marshall is so weird. I set it aside. More citronella candles have popped up on other surfaces. I get online. There are some weird computer screens up. Dear God. Did you give me a virus? Worst of all my Google toolbar is missing from my Firefox browser page! What. The. Fuck. What did you do? I reinstall Firefox. No toolbar. I install a new Google toolbar, but it's in the wrong place, and I can't get that little function where you can search in Wikipedia. I just now realized what is wrong with my browser window - it has no back buttons, or home or stop. That whole top section of a browser window - gone. I try to make them come back. They won't.
I seethe.


I have roughly 6 hours till he returns. Maybe I will crowd the little citronella candles into a group and and immolate myself on their tiny fragrant flames. Maybe I will cut pungee sticks from our bamboo curtain rods, dip them in cat feces, and wedge them in the couch cushions. Maybe I can taint the yogurt.

But maybe, just maybe, I can take that golden Jesus coin to Wal-mart and buy a cross-bow or a toy arrow set with real metal tips or a fish-hunting harpoon. I'm not entirely sure how to use a cross bow, but make just one peep tonight, Marshall Boy, and you'll get to see how fast I can learn...