30 September 2010

More mosque suggestions

Via his friend Kelley, Rico says a guy named Simon offers these suggestions (purely in the name of tolerance, of course) about the Ground Zero mosque:
I am perplexed that so many of my friends are against a mosque being built near Ground Zero. I think it should be the goal of every good American to be tolerant. The mosque should be allowed, in an effort to promote tolerance.
That is why I also propose that two gay nightclubs be opened, one on either side of the mosque, thereby promoting tolerance. We could call them The Turban Cowboy and You Mecca Me So Hot.
Next door should be a butcher shop specializing in pork, which would have an open barbeque with spare ribs as its daily special. Across the street, a very salacious lingerie store called Victoria Keeps Nothing Secret, with sexy mannequins in the window wearing the goods. Next door to the lingerie shop, there would be room for an adult toy shop called, perhaps, Koranal Knowledge, with its name in flashing neon lights, and on the other side a liquor store called Morehammered.
Rico says this guy is gonna get a stoning, too...

Imagine what will happen once this gets going

Clifford Krauss has an article in The New York Times about drilling for oil off Cuba:
Five months after the BP oil spill, a federal moratorium still prohibits new deepwater drilling in the American waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And under longstanding federal law, drilling is also banned near the coast of Florida. Yet, next year, a Spanish company will begin drilling new wells fifty miles from the Florida Keys, in Cuba’s sovereign waters.
Cuba currently produces little oil. But oil experts say the country might have reserves along its north coast as plentiful as that of the international oil middleweights, Ecuador and Colombia, enough to bolster its faltering economy and cut its dependence on Venezuela for its energy needs.
The advent of drilling in Cuban waters poses risks both to the island nation and the United States.
Ocean scientists warn that a well blowout similar to the BP disaster could send oil spewing onto Cuban beaches and then the Florida Keys in as little as three days. If the oil reached the Gulf Stream, a powerful ocean current that passes through the region, oil could flow up the coast to Miami and beyond.
The nascent oil industry in Cuba is far less prepared to handle a major spill than even the American industry was at the time of the BP spill. Cuba has neither the submarine robots needed to fix deepwater rig equipment nor the platforms available to begin drilling relief wells on short notice. And marshaling help from American oil companies to fight a Cuban spill would be greatly complicated by the trade embargo on Cuba imposed by the United States government 48 years ago, according to industry officials. Under that embargo, American companies face severe restrictions on the business they can conduct with Cuba.
The prospect of an accident is emboldening American drilling companies, backed by some critics of the embargo, to seek permission from the United States government to participate in Cuba’s nascent industry, even if only to protect against an accident. “This isn’t about ideology. It’s about oil spills,” said Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a trade group that is trying to broaden bilateral contacts to promote drilling safety. “Political attitudes have to change in order to protect the gulf.”
Any opening could provide a convenient wedge for big American oil companies that have quietly lobbied Congress for years to allow them to bid for oil and natural gas deposits in waters off Cuba. Representatives of Exxon Mobil and Valero Energy attended an energy conference on Cuba in Mexico City in 2006, where they met Cuban oil officials.
Right now, Cuba’s oil industry is served almost exclusively by non-American companies. Repsol, a Spanish oil company, has contracted with an Italian operator to build a rig in China that is scheduled to begin drilling several deepwater test wells next year. Other companies, from Norway, India, Malaysia, Venezuela, Vietnam and Brazil, have taken exploration leases.
New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson, a Democrat who regularly visits Cuba, said Cuba’s offshore drilling plans are a “potential inroad” for loosening the embargo. During a recent humanitarian trip to Cuba, he said, he bumped into a number of American drilling contractors, “all Republicans who could eventually convince the Congress to make the embargo flexible in this area of oil spills. I think you will see the administration be more forward-moving after the election,” Mr. Richardson said.
Despite several requests in the last week, Cuban officials declined to make anyone available for an interview. Currently, the United States, Mexico and Cuba are signatories to several international protocols in which they agreed to cooperate to contain any oil spill. In practice, there is little cooperation between Washington and Havana on oil matters, although American officials did hold low-level meetings with Cuban officials after the BP blowout.
“What is needed is for international oil companies in Cuba to have full access to U.S. technology and personnel in order to prevent and/or manage a blowout,” said Jorge Piñón, a former executive of BP and Amoco. Mr. Piñón, who fled Cuba as a child and now briefs American companies on Cuban oil prospects, said the two governments must create a plan for managing a spill.
Several American oil and oil service companies are eager to do business in Cuba, Mr. Piñón said, but they are careful not to identify themselves publicly because they want to “protect their brand image in South Florida”, where Cuban-Americans who support the embargo could boycott their gasoline stations and other products.
There are signs the Obama administration is aware of the safety issues. Shortly after the BP accident, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the agency that regulates the embargo, said it would make licenses available to American service companies to provide oil spill prevention and containment support. Charles Luoma-Overstreet, a State Department spokesman, said licenses would be granted on a “application-by-application basis,” but he would not comment on the criteria.
Mr. Piñón said it appeared that an American company could apply for a license before an emergency, but that a license would be issued only after an accident had occurred. “We’re jumping up and down for clarification,” he said.
One group— Clean Caribbean & Americas, a Fort Lauderdale cooperative of several oil companies— has received licenses to send technical advisers, dispersants, containment booms, and skimmers to Cuba since 2003. But it can only serve the member companies Repsol and Petrobras, not Cuba’s government.
Economic sanctions on Cuba have been in effect in one form or another since 1960, although the embargo has been loosened to allow the sale of agricultural goods and medicines and travel by Cuban-Americans to the island.
Mr. Hunt of the drillers’ group said that the association had sent a delegation to Cuba in late August and had held talks with government officials and Cupet, the Cuban national oil company.
He said that Cuban officials, including Tomás Benítez Hernández, the vice minister of basic industry, asked him to take a message back to the United States: “Senior officials told us they are going ahead with their deepwater drilling program, that they are utilizing every reliable non-U.S. source that they can for technology and information, but they would prefer to work directly with the United States in matters of safe drilling practices,” Mr. Hunt said.
Mr. Benítez became the acting minister last week when the minister of basic industry, the agency that oversees the oil industry, was fired for reasons still unclear.
Donald Van Nieuwenhuise, director of petroleum geoscience programs at the University of Houston, said that if an accident occurred in Cuban waters, Repsol or other companies could mobilize equipment from the North Sea, Brazil, Japan, or China. But “a one-week delay could be disastrous,” he said, and it would be better for Havana, Washington, and major oil companies to coordinate in advance.
Opponents of the Cuban regime warn that assisting the Cubans with their oil industry could help prop up Communist rule. Instead of making the drilling safer, some want to stop it altogether. Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, is urging President Obama to recall a diplomatic note to Havana reinforcing a 1977 boundary agreement that gives Cuba jurisdiction up to 45 miles from Florida. “I am sure you agree that we cannot allow Cuba to put at risk Florida’s major business and irreplaceable environment,” he wrote the president shortly after the BP accident.

Not the next one, it seems

Rico says with Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke (still with the bad facelift), Arnold Schwarzenegger (out of his Governator suit), and Bruce Willis, how could it be bad? (Well, according to Kelley, whose opinion Rico respects, it's a total POS, and Willis and Schwartzenegger are on-screen for all of five minutes. Yet another case of a lot of money not equalling a lot of movie. But imagine what this cast cost them...)

Not a woman with whom you fuck

The Girl Who Played with Fire is the recent sequel to The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, both by Daniel Alfredson from Sweden. Even more dark and cheerless than Dragon Tattoo, Fire is about women and the men who hate them. Not for the squeamish (unless you like rape and torture), it's a hard look at a very hard girl and how she survives. (Oh, yeah, there are a few nice men in it, but a number of very not nice ones.)

Oops is now a Taliban word

Benjamin Weiser has an article in The New York Times about the failed Times Square car bomb:
After Faisal Shahzad planted a car bomb in Times Square, he returned to his home in Connecticut and contacted the Taliban in Pakistan via computer, telling one of his handlers what he had done, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Wednesday.
Mr. Shahzad later told the authorities that he believed that the attack on 1 May would kill at least forty people, having monitored his target for three months through live video feeds on the Internet, to determine which areas drew the largest crowds and when they would be busiest, the prosecutors said. Mr. Shahzad’s goal was to “maximize the deadly effect of his bomb,” the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, told a judge in a new court filing. Mr. Bharara’s office also revealed that Mr. Shahzad told the authorities after his arrest on 3 May that he planned to detonate a second bomb in New York City two weeks later, and was prepared to conduct more attacks until he was captured or killed, the document shows.
In the filing, prosecutors asked the judge, Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum of Federal District Court, to impose a mandatory term of life imprisonment on Mr. Shahzad, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday. “The premeditated attempt to kill and maim scores of unsuspecting innocent men, women, and children with a homemade bomb can only be described as utterly reprehensible,” the prosecutors said.
It is known that the Pakistani Taliban helped to develop and finance Mr. Shahzad’s bombing plot, but the court filing offers new details about how he communicated with them. It said that, in the period leading up to the bombing attempt, Mr. Shahzad stayed in regular contact with the Taliban over the Internet, using software programs the Taliban installed on his laptop computer while he was training with them in Pakistan. The programs were not identified. He communicated with his Taliban associates about the bomb he was building and the Nissan Pathfinder he had bought, as well as other topics, the government said. The memorandum does not reveal precisely what he told the Taliban the night of his failed attempt, but the communications support Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s assertion last June that “the Pakistani Taliban facilitated Faisal Shahzad’s attempted attack on American soil.”
Mr. Shahzad a former financial analyst who was raised in a military family in Pakistan and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Bridgeport, pleaded guilty to ten counts in June, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
At the time, he told Judge Cedarbaum that he spent forty days with the Taliban in Waziristan last December and January, and received five days of bomb training. It was there that he developed his plot with the Taliban, he told her, saying, “I made a pact with them.” He said he wanted to plead guilty “one hundred times,” citing American military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone strikes and other issues. “We will be attacking the United States,” he added, “and I plead guilty to that.” A lawyer for Mr. Shahzad, Philip L. Weinstein, had no comment on Wednesday.
In its filing, the government also revealed that during Mr. Shahzad’s cooperation with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and police detectives after his arrest, he “never expressed any remorse for his conduct”. They said he spoke with pride about what he and his co-conspirators had done, much as he did in court when he pleaded guilty.
As part of their filing, prosecutors also released a video of a controlled detonation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force last June 29 of a bomb that was built to be “identical to Shahzad’s bomb in all respects”, except that the task force bomb technicians ensured that their device would work. The task force placed its bomb in the back of a vehicle identical to the Nissan Pathfinder that Mr. Shahzad used, and parked other vehicles nearby in order to measure the explosive effects on them, prosecutors said. “While it is impossible to calculate precisely the impact of Shahzad’s bomb had it detonated,” prosecutors wrote, “the controlled detonation conducted by the J.T.T.F. demonstrated that those effects would have been devastating to the surrounding area.”
The government also made public a video produced by the Taliban, in which Mr. Shahzad appeared and which was later released on the Internet. The video depicts Mr. Shahzad firing a machine gun in what appears to be the mountains of Pakistan, prosecutors said. He announces that he has met leaders of the Pakistani Taliban, and that “we have decided that we are going to arrange an attack inside America. I have been trying to join my brothers in jihad ever since 9/11,” he is shown saying later.
In citing the video, prosecutors said Mr. Shahzad, despite a life “full of promise” with his wife and two young children, had chosen instead a “nihilistic path that celebrated conflict and death cloaked in the rhetoric of a distorted interpretation of Islam.”

Nice gesture

The New York Times has an op/ed column about a sweet thing, for once:
The ancient convention for naming newly discovered geographical features is fairly simple: royalty, sponsors, loved ones and crewmates come first, possibly followed by the explorer. That is how most of the landmarks around Antarctica got their names. But now a new set of names is being added; not to geographical spots, which are mostly taken, but to navigation waypoints along the main air routes between New Zealand and McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
They will bear the names of the dogs and ponies used by Robert Falcon Scott and by Roald Amundsen during their great race to the South Pole in the winter of 1911-1912, names like Bones and Nobby, Helge and Uroa. Everyone responsible for the waypoints, civil air authorities and scientific bodies, yielded to a two-year campaign by Ronald Smith, an American Air Force colonel, to honor those animals.
It is apt and lovely. Neither explorer would have succeeded without the aid of their animals. Amundsen, who reached the pole before Scott, relied solely on dogs. Scott chose small, stout Manchurian and Siberian ponies, who found the going hard and, in the end, hampered his expedition. But those ponies were also reminders of home and the object of much care from the men. On the Web site of the Scott Polar Research Institute, you can see photographs of the ponies: four in their stalls above decks, fifteen under the forecastle.
“Poor patient beasts,” they were called by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a crew member and author of the best account of Scott’s expedition. He wondered what they would remember of sailing through Antarctic waters. “It would seem strangely merciful,” he wrote, “if nature should blot out these weeks of slow but inevitable torture.” Most of us will never fly over those newly named waypoints. But we can call up the photos of the ponies aboard the Terra Nova and marvel at their beauty and acceptance.

Just what we needed, another genocide

Rico says Nicholas Kristof (who knows) has the story in The New York Times:
The place is southern Sudan, and the timetable is the next few months. The South, which holds more than 75 percent of Sudan’s oil, is scheduled to hold a referendum on 9 January about seceding from the rest of Sudan. Here’s how it might unfold:
December 10th: Word trickles out of massacres and widespread rapes by tribal militias from the North in the boiling borderlands between North and South. The North denies responsibility.
December 15th: The chairman of the referendum commission (from the North) calls on the South to postpone the vote for “just one month,” pointing to insecurity and to inadequate preparations for voting. The South insists that the referendum will go on as scheduled. The North angrily responds that the vote would then be illegal.
January 9th: The referendum is held in secure areas of South Sudan. But it is poorly planned, and there are widespread irregularities. There is no voting in Abyei, an oil-rich area at the border of North and South, partly because the North has moved in 80,000 Misseriya Arabs who must be allowed to vote, it says, swamping the permanent residents.
January 18th: The South declares that 91 percent of voters have chosen secession. The North denounces the vote, saying it was illegal, tainted by violence and fraud, and invalid because the turnout fell below the sixty percent threshold required.
January 20th: The South issues a unilateral declaration of independence.
January 25th: Tribal militias from the North sweep through South Sudan villages, killing and raping inhabitants and driving them south. The governor of a border state in the North, Ahmad Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and organizing the janjaweed militia in Darfur, denies that he is now doing the same thing in the South.
January 28th: Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, dispatches armed forces to seize oil wells in the South. “The breakdown of security impels us to take this action to protect the nation’s natural resources,” Mr. Bashir says. “We will continue to share revenue with the South while seeking peaceful solution of our disagreements.”
February 10th: With hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the attacks, South Sudan collapses into chaos. “How can those people think that they can run a country?” asks Mr. Bashir. He calls for “peaceful negotiation with our brothers to resolve these problems and restore unity.”
February 15th: Warfare ripples through the Nuba Mountains and then Darfur as well. Militias now cover up massacres by hiding bodies in wells to reduce the risk of war crimes prosecutions.

Okay, my one prediction is that events won’t unfold precisely like that. But President Bashir seems emboldened, and I fear we’re on a track toward Sudan being the world’s bloodiest war.
The Obama administration is, belatedly, now heavily engaged in Sudan. I met Mr. Obama and his aides last week to talk about Sudan, and the White House seems as focused on Sudan as on any international issue, with daily meetings on how to avoid war. That’s terrific.
The carrots being offered to Khartoum by Mr. Obama are juicy and smart. The White House has lined up other countries to apply pressure on North and South, and it now is twisting arms for a deal on Abyei. All this is a huge step forward.
But there’s a fatal flaw: I see no evidence of serious sticks. Put yourself in President Bashir’s shoes. It may still be in his interest to plan a genocidal strategy in the coming months, if that will enable him to keep the oil. Even privately, we haven’t laid out strong enough disincentives.
In contrast, the Bush administration mapped out exactly what would happen to Sudan if it did not share intelligence on Osama bin Laden. CIA officers met in a London hotel with two top Sudanese leaders. An excellent new book from Yale University Press, Sudan, reports that the CIA officers explained that America would use bombers or cruise missiles to destroy the oil refinery at Port Sudan, the port itself and the pipeline carrying oil to the port. Sudan decided to cooperate.
Likewise, a former special envoy for Sudan, Ambassador Richard Williamson, suggested in memos to the Bush White House a series of other tough sticks to gain leverage. The Obama administration still hasn’t picked them up. Why shouldn’t we privately make it clear to Mr. Bashir that if he initiates genocide, his oil pipeline will be destroyed and he will not be exporting any oil? Yes, that would be a dangerous and uncertain game. But the present strategy appears to be failing, and the result may be yet another preventable genocide that we did not prevent.

Quote for the day

I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges

And you think you've got it bad

History for the day

On 30 September 1938, British, French, German, and Italian leaders agreed at a meeting in Munich that Nazi Germany would be allowed to annex Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.

Another good one gone

Anahad O'Connor has the sad story in The New York Times:
Greg Giraldo, a comedian famous for his stinging insult humor, disgruntled rants, and frequent appearances on Comedy Central’s highly watched roast series, died on Wednesday at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was 44.
Mr. Giraldo had been hospitalized since Saturday night after he was found unconscious in a hotel room in New Brunswick, where he was scheduled to perform at a club. Mr. Giraldo had suffered a drug overdose, The Home News Tribune of East Brunswick, New Jersey, reported, citing New Brunswick police. The precise cause of death on Wednesday was unclear. A hospital spokesman said the family declined to release that information.
A former lawyer who gave up a job at a law firm to pursue comedy, Mr. Giraldo became a wildly successful stand-up comic, touring the country as a headliner at many clubs and dispensing his own brand of sharp and often brutal humor. As Mr. Giraldo’s following grew so did his presence on radio and television. He performed more than a dozen times on The Late Show With David Letterman and Late Night With Conan O’Brien and become a radio regular on The Howard Stern Show.
Mr. Giraldo was particularly known for his clever and exasperated rants, which he used to great effect on Comedy Central shows like Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn and Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil. But it was his regular appearances on that network’s roast series, one of Comedy Central’s most successful shows, that drew particular attention. Mr. Giraldo was a mainstay on that series, taking the stage in more than a half-dozen shows to mercilessly ridicule pop-culture figures like Pamela Anderson, William Shatner, Chevy Chase— “I could only dream,” he told Mr. Chase, "of making three good movies and forty horrible ones"— and, in 2009, a fellow comedian, Larry the Cable Guy. “Some people say Larry’s only successful because he’s pandering to the lowest common denominator,” Mr. Giraldo said. “Don’t listen to these people, Larry. They’re just bitter and jealous and right.”
Mr. Giraldo’s fame grew quickly, and by 2010 he was making prime-time appearances on network television. Earlier this year he was a judge on the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing and a panelist on The Marriage Ref, the Jerry Seinfeld brainchild that also airs on NBC.
But Mr. Giraldo’s humor had a dark side, which he sometimes referenced in his stand-up act. He had been a heavy drinker, but in interviews in recent years he spoke of being sober with occasional slip-ups.
Mr. Giraldo was born in New York in 1965. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a law degree from Harvard. He was divorced with three children.
As something of a running joke, Mr. Giraldo was often needled by fellow roasters on Comedy Central for being the comedian no one had ever heard of. But, on Twitter on Wednesday night, R.I.P. Greg Giraldo was the top trending topic, and his fans posted countless notes and tributes on his YouTube videos and Facebook and MySpace pages.
Mr. Giraldo’s last major appearance on Comedy Central was in August during The Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff, in which he hectored Mr. Hasselhoff about his own alcohol abuse. “You used to have a car that started when you talked to it; now you have a car that won’t start when you blow into it,” he said. Mr. Giraldo was one of the most widely praised and talked about comedians on the roast that evening. The show drew 3.5 million total viewers and was the highest-rated cable show of the night.

Another good one gone

Bernie Schwartz, better known by his stage name of Tony Curtis, died on Wednesday at the age of 85. Dave Kehr has the story in The New York Times:
Tony Curtis, a classically handsome movie star who earned an Oscar nomination as an escaped convict in Stanley Kramer’s 1958 movie The Defiant Ones, but whose public preferred him in comic roles in films like Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Great Race (1965), died Wednesday of a cardiac arrest in his Las Vegas area home. He was 85. His death was confirmed by the Clark County coroner, The Associated Press reported.
As a performer, Mr. Curtis drew first and foremost on his startlingly good looks. With his dark, curly hair, worn in a sculptural style later imitated by Elvis Presley, and plucked eyebrows framing pale blue eyes and wide, full lips, Mr. Curtis embodied a new kind of feminized male beauty that came into vogue in the early 1950s. A vigorous heterosexual in his widely publicized (not least by himself) private life, he was often cast in roles that drew on a perceived ambiguity: his full-drag impersonation of a female jazz musician in Some Like It Hot, a slave who attracts the interest of a Roman senator (Laurence Olivier) in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960), a man attracted to a mysterious blond (Debbie Reynolds) who turns out to be the reincarnation of his male best friend in Vincente Minnelli’s Goodbye Charlie (1964).
But behind the pretty-boy looks could be found a dramatically potent combination of naked ambition and deep vulnerability, both likely products of his Dickensian childhood in the Bronx. Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on 3 June 1925, to Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Emanuel operated a tailor shop in a poor neighborhood, and the family occupied cramped quarters behind the store, the parents in one room and little Bernard sharing another with his two brothers, Julius and Robert. Helen Schwartz suffered from schizophrenia and frequently beat the three boys. (Robert was later found to have the same disease.)
In 1933, at the height of the Depression, his parents found they could not properly provide for their children, and Bernard and Julius were placed in a state institution. Returning to his old neighborhood, Bernard frequently found himself caught up in gang warfare and the target of anti-Semitic hostility; as he recalled in many interviews, he learned to dodge the stones and fists to protect his face, which he realized even then would be his ticket to greater things. In 1938, Julius Schwartz was hit by a truck and killed.
In search of stability, Bernard made his way to Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During World War Two he served in the Navy aboard the submarine tender USS Proteus. His ship was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945, which Signalman Schwartz watched through a pair of binoculars. “That was one of the great moments in my life,” he later wrote.
Back in New York, he enrolled in acting classes in the workshop headed by Erwin Piscator at the New School for Social Research, where one of his colleagues was another Seward alumnus, Walter Matthau. He began getting work with theater companies in the Catskills and caught the eye of the New York casting agent Joyce Selznick, who helped him win a contract with Universal Pictures in 1948. After experimenting with James Curtis, he settled on Anthony Curtis as his stage name and began turning up in bit parts in films like Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross (1949), Arthur Lubin’s Francis (1950) and Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, alongside another Universal bit player, Rock Hudson.
At first, Mr. Curtis’s career advanced more rapidly than Hudson’s. He was promoted to supporting player, billed as Tony Curtis for the first time, in the 1950 Western Kansas Raiders, and became, he recalled, first prize in a Universal promotional contest, Win a Weekend With Tony Curtis. With his next film, the Technicolor Arabian Nights adventure The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), he received top billing. His co-star was Piper Laurie, another offspring of Jewish immigrants (born Rosetta Jacobs), with whom he was paired in three subsequent films at Universal, including Douglas Sirk’s No Room for the Groom, a 1952 comedy that allowed Mr. Curtis to explore his comic gifts for the first time.
In 1951 Mr. Curtis married the ravishing MGM contract player Janet Leigh, whose beauty rivaled his own. The highly photogenic couple soon became a favorite of the fan magazines, and their first movie together, George Marshall’s Houdini (1953), was also Mr. Curtis’s first substantial hit. Perhaps the character of Houdini, like Mr. Curtis, a handsome young man of Hungarian Jewish ancestry who reinvented himself through show business, touched something in Mr. Curtis; in any case, it was in that film that his most consistent screen personality, the eager young outsider who draws on his charm and wiles to achieve success in the American mainstream, was born.
Mr. Curtis endured several more Universal costume pictures, including the infamous 1954 film The Black Shield of Falworth, in which he co-starred with Ms. Leigh but did not utter the line, Yondah lies da castle of my foddah, that legend has attributed to him. His career seemed stalled until Burt Lancaster, another actor who survived a difficult childhood in New York City, took him under his wing.
Lancaster cast Mr. Curtis as his protégé, a circus performer who becomes his romantic rival, in his company’s 1956 production Trapeze. But it was Mr. Curtis’s next co-starring appearance with Lancaster, as the hustling Broadway press agent Sidney Falco, desperately eager to ingratiate himself with Lancaster’s sadistic Broadway columnist J. J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success in 1957, that proved Mr. Curtis could be an actor of genuine power and subtlety.
The late ’50s and early ’60s proved to be Mr. Curtis’s heyday. Taking his career into his own hands, he formed a production company, Curtleigh Productions, and in partnership with Kirk Douglas assembled the 1958 independent feature The Vikings, a rousing adventure film, directed by Richard Fleischer, that has become an enduring favorite. Later in 1958, the producer-director Stanley Kramer cast Mr. Curtis in The Defiant Ones, as a prisoner who escapes from a Southern chain gang while chained to a fellow convict, who happens to be Sidney Poitier. The film may seem schematic and simplistic today, but at the time of its release it spoke with hope to a nation in the violent first stages of the civil rights movement and was rewarded with nine Oscar nominations, including one for Mr. Curtis as best actor. It was the only acknowledgment he received from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during his career.
Mr. Curtis began a creatively rewarding relationship with the director Blake Edwards with a semi-autobiographical role as a young hustler working a Wisconsin resort in Mister Cory (1957), which was followed by two hugely successful 1959 military comedies, both co-starring Ms. Leigh: The Perfect Furlough and Operation Petticoat, in which he played a submarine officer serving under a captain played by Cary Grant. Under Billy Wilder’s direction in Some Like It Hot, another 1959 release, Mr. Curtis employed a spot-on imitation of Grant’s mid-Atlantic accent when his character, posing as an oil heir, attempts to seduce a voluptuous singer, Marilyn Monroe. His role in that film, as a Chicago musician who, with his best friend Jack Lemmon, witnesses the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and flees to Florida in women’s clothing as a member of an all-girl dance band, remains Mr. Curtis’s best-known performance.
Success in comedy kindled Mr. Curtis’s ambitions as a dramatic actor. He appeared in Mr. Douglas’s epic production of Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and reached unsuccessfully for another Oscar nomination in The Outsider (1961), directed by Delbert Mann, as Ira Hayes, a Native American who helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima. In The Great Impostor, directed by Robert Mulligan, he played a role closer to his established screen personality: an ambitious young man from the wrong side of the tracks who fakes his way through a series of professions, including a monk, a prison warden, and a surgeon.
Mr. Curtis’s popularity was damaged by his divorce from Ms. Leigh in 1962, following an affair with the 17-year-old German actress Christine Kaufmann, who was his co-star in the costume epic Taras Bulba. He retreated into comedies, playing out his long association with Universal in a series of undistinguished efforts including 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), Captain Newman M.D. (1963) and the disastrous Wild and Wonderful (1964), in which he co-starred with Ms. Kaufmann, whom he married in 1963. In The Great Race, Blake Edwards’s 1965 celebration of slapstick comedy, Mr. Curtis parodied himself as an impossibly handsome daredevil named the Great Leslie, and in 1967 he reunited with Alexander Mackendrick, the director of Sweet Smell of Success, for an enjoyable satire on California mores, Don’t Make Waves.
Mr. Curtis made one final, ambitious attempt to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor with The Boston Strangler in 1968, putting on weight to play the suspected serial killer Albert DeSalvo. Again under Richard Fleischer’s direction, he turned in an effective, rigorously deglamorized performance, but the film was dismissed as exploitative in many quarters (“An incredible collapse of taste, judgment, decency, prose, insight, journalism and movie technique,” Renata Adler wrote in The New York Times), and failed to reignite Mr. Curtis’s fading career. He divorced Ms. Kaufmann and married a 23-year-old model, Leslie Allen, that same year.
After two unsuccessful efforts to establish himself in series television, The Persuaders (1971-72) and McCoy (1975-76), Mr. Curtis found himself in a seemingly endless series of guest appearances on television (he had a recurring role on Vegas from 1978 to 1981) and supporting performances in ever more unfortunate movies, including Mae West’s excruciating 1978 comeback attempt, Sextette. A stay at the Betty Ford Center followed his 1982 divorce from Ms. Allen, but Mr. Curtis never lost his work ethic. He continued to appear regularly in low-budget movies (he played a movie mogul in the spoof Lobster Man From Mars in 1989) and occasionally in independent films of quality (Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 Insignificance, opposite Theresa Russell as a Monroe-like actress). He took up painting, selling his boldly signed Matisse-influenced canvases through galleries and department stores.
After divorcing Ms. Allen, Mr. Curtis was married to the actress Andrea Savio (1984-92) and, briefly, to the lawyer Lisa Deutsch (1993-94). He married his sixth wife, the horse trainer Jill VandenBerg, in 1998, and with her operated Shiloh Horse Rescue, a nonprofit refuge for abused and neglected horses, in Sandy Valley, Nevada.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Curtis is survived by Kelly Lee Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis, his two daughters with Janet Leigh; Alexandra Curtis and Allegra Curtis, his two daughters with Christine Kaufmann; and a son, Benjamin Curtis, with Leslie Allen. A second son with Ms. Allen, Nicholas Curtis, died in 1994 of a drug overdose.
He published Tony Curtis: The Autobiography, written with Barry Paris, in 1994 and a second autobiography, American Prince: A Memoir, written with Peter Golenbock, in 2008. In 2002 he toured in a musical adaptation of Some Like It Hot, in which he played the role of the love-addled millionaire originated by Joe E. Brown in the film. This time, the curtain line was his: Nobody’s perfect. His final screen appearance was in 2008, when he played a small role in David & Fatima, an independent budget film about a romance between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim. His character’s name was Mr. Schwartz.

Civil War for the day

General Ulysses S. Grant and his staff of fourteen.

29 September 2010

Ugly truths

Rico says a friend (anonymous for his protection) sends this one:
In South Los Angeles, a four-plex was destroyed by a fire.
A Mexican family of six, all welfare recipients and gang members, lived on the first floor. They died.
A group of seven welfare cheats, all Muslims illegally in the country from Kenya, lived on the second floor. They, too, all perished in the fire.
Six Hispanics, gangbangers & ex-cons, lived on the third floor. They, too, died.
A white couple lived on the top floor. They survived the fire.
Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, furious, flew into LA and insisted on meeting, on camera, with the fire chief. They loudly demanded to know why the blacks, black Muslims, and Hispanics all died in the fire, and only the white couple lived?
The fire chief said: "They were at work."
Rico said it would be even funnier if it weren't quite so politically incorrect...

Probably not Letterman, but funny nonetheless

Top ten reasons why men prefer guns over women:
Number Ten: You can trade an old forty-four for two new twenty-twos.
Number Nine: You can keep one gun at home and another somewhere else for when you're on the road.
Number Eight: If you admire a friend's gun and tell him so, he will probably let you try it out a few times.
Number Seven: Your primary gun doesn't mind if you keep another one for a backup.
Number Six: Your gun will stay with you, even if you run out of ammo.
Number Five: A gun doesn't take up a lot of closet space.
Number Four: Guns function normally every day of the month.
Number Three: A gun doesn't ask: Do these new grips make me look fat?
Number Two: A gun doesn't mind if you go to sleep after you use it.
And the Number One reason men prefer guns over women: You can buy a silencer for a gun.
Rico says this may not make you popular in certain circles...

More cowboy shooting fun

Double-barreled takes on a new meaning

Rico says it's a little-known aspect of cowboy action shooting...

Get used to it

Rico says they proposed it for Nantucket Sound (though it hasn't happened yet, alas), but Elisabeth Rosenthal has the story of the Italian version in The New York Times:
The towering white wind turbines that rise ramrod straight from gnarled ancient olive groves here speak to something extraordinary happening across Italy.
Faced with sky-high electricity rates, small communities across a country known more for garbage than environmental citizenship are finding economic salvation in making renewable energy. More than eight hundred Italian communities now make more energy than they use because of the recent addition of renewable energy plants, according to a survey this year by the Italian environmental group Legambiente.
Renewable energy has been such a boon for Tocco that it makes money from electricity production and has no local taxes or fees for services like garbage removal.
A quintessential Italian town of 2,700 people in Italy’s poor mountainous center, with its well-maintained church and ruined castle, Tocco is in most ways stuck in yesteryear. Old men talking politics fill gritty bars, and old women wander through the market. The olive harvest is the most important event on the calendar.
Yet, from an energy perspective, Tocco is very much tomorrow. In addition to the town’s wind turbines, solar panels generate electricity at its ancient cemetery and sports complex, as well as at a growing number of private residences.
“Normally when you think about energy you think about big plants, but here what’s interesting is that local municipalities have been very active,” said Edoardo Zanchini, in charge of Legambiente’s energy division. “That this can happen in a place like Italy is really impressive.”
Italy is an unlikely backdrop for a renewable revolution. It has been repeatedly criticized by the European Union for failing to follow the bloc’s environmental directives. It is not on track to meet either its European Union-mandated emissions-reduction target or its commitment to get seventeen percent of its total power from renewable sources by 2020, experts say. Currently, only seven percent of Italy’s power comes from renewable sources.
But the growth of small renewable projects in towns like Tocco, not only in Italy, but also in other countries, highlights the way that shifting energy economics are often more important than national planning in promoting alternative energy.
Tocco was motivated to become an early adopter, because Italy already had among the highest electricity rates in Europe, and nearly three times the average in the United States, and it could not cope with the wild fluctuations in fossil fuel prices and supply that prevailed during the past decade.
At the same time, the costs of renewable energy have been falling rapidly. And as in much of Europe, the lure of alternative power here was sweetened by feed-in tariffs: government guarantees to buy renewable electricity at an attractive set price from any company, city or household that produces it.
In the United States, where electricity is cheap and government policy has favored setting minimum standards for the percentage of energy produced from renewable sources rather than direct economic incentives like Europe’s feed-in tariffs, stimulating alternative energy has been only mildly successful. But in countries where energy from fossil fuels is naturally expensive— or rendered so because of a carbon tax— and there is money to be made, renewable energy quickly starts to flow, even in unlikely places like Tocco.
With its four wind turbines (two completed in 2007 and two last year), Tocco is now essentially energy independent from a financial standpoint, generating thirty percent more electricity than it uses. Production of green electricity earned the town 170,000 euros, or more than $200,000, last year. The town is renovating the school for earthquake protection and has tripled the budget for street cleaners.
Kieran McNamara, Italian desk officer for the International Energy Agency, said that although small renewable energy projects were not enough to sustain an entire industrial economy like Italy’s, they were important. “These small projects have their own intrinsic value and make a very, very positive contribution in countries where electricity prices are high,” Mr. McNamara said.
High electricity prices in Italy are a result of various forces, according to the International Energy Agency: Italy has almost no fossil fuels of its own and, until last year, it banned nuclear power plants; new plants will take a decade to build even if strong public opposition can be overcome. Although Italy has officially opened the former state electricity monopoly, Enel, to private competition, the country does not yet have a functioning market, the energy agency has found. Large renewable projects are still rare in Italy compared with other European countries because Italian planning and permitting procedures are so complicated.
The type of renewable energy coming from small towns like Tocco depends on local resources. In the northern Alpine counties there is a heavy reliance on hydropower and the burning of agricultural waste. Italy’s scorching south tilts a bit more toward solar, although wind, too, is important there because it is by far the most cost-effective renewable technology, the energy agency said.
Tocco itself was primed for success. In a mountain valley that serves as a thoroughfare for passing winds, Tocco was chosen as the site for an early European Union demonstration project in wind power in 1989. It had two inefficient wind turbines installed that lasted about a decade and were not replaced, meeting at best 25 percent of the town’s electricity requirements. Residents called them “sacks of noise.”
But, in recent years, with improved technology, silent turbines and a meager public purse, town officials took another look at wind. “We knew what we were doing and where to put them,” said Riziero Zaccagnini, the town’s popular blue-jeans-clad mayor, who came back from studies in Rome to start agitating for new turbines and was elected in 2007.
As is common in both Europe and the United States, the new turbines are owned and operated under a contract with a private energy company. The company installed the turbines and sells electricity to the national grid. Tocco profits because the company leases the land on which the turbines stand and gives the town a cut of the profits it makes from selling electricity generated with local wind.
Though more electricity is produced than consumed in Tocco, its residents do not use the electricity it produces directly, because relying entirely on local wind energy could leave the town vulnerable to blackouts during periods of calm.
Impressed with their new turbines, Tocco’s residents have lately turned to renewable resources to resolve other civic problems, like a financial scandal at the town’s ancient cemetery, a riot of pastel stucco tombs, festooned with flowers and photographs of departed elders. In the past decade, one management company went bankrupt and another absconded with residents’ upkeep fees. An installation of solar panels now lights walkways, powers the office and generates an income of 1,500 euros a year, or $2,000, to pay for maintenance. The project has also created new types of work for local electricians. A growing number of wealthier homeowners are paying these experts to install solar panels. The stucco home of Domenico Marini, a dental technician, has roof panels in addition to a koi pond and garden gnomes. His monthly electricity bills have dropped to $0 from as much as $700.
Tocco has won awards from international environmental groups for its efforts in renewable energy. But, said Mayor Zaccagnini, that is not really a strong motivation: “We’ve gotten lots of kudos from outside, but people here care more that we now have money to fill potholes.”

Sure, you can say it, but can you back it up?

Rico says Adam Cohen has an article at Time.com about anti-gay 'speech' at military funerals, and whether it should be made illegal:
After Matthew Snyder, a Marine, was killed in Anbar province in Iraq in 2006, some uninvited guests showed up at his funeral at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Maryland. The Reverend Fred W. Phelps Sr. of the Westboro Baptist Church and several family members came from Kansas holding signs reading Thank God for Dead Soldiers, God Hates Fags, and You're Going to Hell.
There is no question it was hateful stuff. Phelps' self-styled church preaches that God is punishing America because of its tolerance for homosexuality, especially in the military. The Phelps family makes its point by holding protests at military funerals. The Phelpses also posted an "epic poem" online entitled The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, which, among other things, says to his parents, "you raised him for the devil".
Snyder's father, Albert Snyder, sued. He said that the protests, at the funeral of his only son, made him violently ill. He prevailed on his claims of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress and won a large damage award, but that ruling was reversed on appeal.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case. As the court begins its term— the traditional first Monday in October— the Phelps case is only one of several important ones on the docket. In Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Justices will consider whether a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors violates the First Amendment. In NASA v. Nelson, the court will weigh whether government workers have a constitutional right not to answer personal questions asked by their employers. There are also significant sex-discrimination and citizenship cases.
But for drama and emotion, and formidable constitutional issues, none rivals Phelps v. Snyder. Phelps is a toxic force; the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled his church a "hate group". The Snyders could hardly be more sympathetic. Albert Snyder said the Phelps protests aggravated his diabetes and his depression. He said he vomited when he read the "epic poem".
After his case went to trial, a jury awarded Albert Snyder $10.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The judge reduced the award but stood by the verdict. In reversing that decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the church's speech was protected. Much of it involved matters of "public concern", the court said, "including the issue of homosexuals in the military" and "the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens". The "epic poem" did not purport to be literal facts about Matthew Snyder but rather relied on "loose, figurative or hyperbolic language".
There is, not surprisingly, a groundswell of support for Albert Snyder's case before the Supreme Court. Majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell and forty other Senators, ranging from Barbara Boxer on the left to David Vitter on the right, have signed a friend-of-the court brief urging the court to reverse the decision and reinstate the verdict against Phelps. Another brief is signed by the attorneys general of 48 states and the District of Columbia.
Albert Snyder's claim can be framed so it does not seem to intrude too far on freedom of speech. There is no need, some of his supporters say, to hold that speech like Phelps', horrible though it is, is not protected by the First Amendment. It is enough to say that this is a special situation: that funerals are unusually private, that the death of a child in the military is uniquely worthy of respect, and that a special zone of privacy should be carved out.
It is an emotionally appealing argument; who can read these facts and not hope that Phelps is gravely punished and Albert Snyder is comforted in his loss? The trouble is, once courts begin making exceptions of this sort, the First Amendment quickly gets whittled away. There are those who argue for creating free-speech exceptions for Nazis marching through the town square or for the burning of holy books of one sort or another. Almost everyone has some kind of speech they regard as intolerable, they just do not agree on what that speech is.
It is always perilous to guess what the Supreme Court will do, but earlier this year the Justices ruled that horrific videos of animal cruelty are protected speech. That 8-1 ruling suggested that the current court is not inclined to create new categories of unprotected speech.
Even for the most committed civil libertarian, it is hard to get excited about defending a hate-spewing minimob that targets the funeral of a dead soldier or signs saying God Hates the USA. Thank God for 9/11. Still, it is important for the court to rule that this kind of expression lies within the First Amendment. We defend it not because these ideas are particularly worthy of being protected, but because all ideas, even the most loathsome, are.
Rico says it shouldn't be made illegal (free speech is a good thing, after all), but they just should decline to prosecute any family members who decide to beat the crap out of these quasi-religious people...

That good ol' time religion

Rico says Jim Yardley has the story in The New York Times of the on-going dispute over a religious site in India:
The case has existed almost as long as independent India itself. Dating from 1950, the legal battle between Hindus and Muslims over a religious site in the city of Ayodhya began as a little-noticed title dispute. With a ruling finally expected on Thursday, the case has become something altogether different: a test of India’s secular soul.
The test is not so much in the verdict, which will deal with a handful of issues, including the central question of which side controls the site of a 16th-century mosque known as the Babri Masjid. Rather, the test will come in the public reaction. In 1992, an enraged mob of Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque, asserting that the site was the birthplace of the Hindu deity, Ram. Riots erupted, claiming about 2,000 lives, mostly Muslims, and horrifying a nation founded on the ideal of religious tolerance.
For the past month, the Indian government and leaders of major political parties, including right-wing Hindu leaders who stoked the 1992 violence, have asked people to remain calm and refrain from violence. Thousands of security officers have been deployed to Ayodhya, though the authorities concede that riots could occur anywhere. The verdict is considered so politically combustible that an emergency appeal to delay the verdict until after the Commonwealth Games in October was sent to India’s Supreme Court last week, and was rejected on Tuesday.
Later on Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on the nation to “maintain peace, harmony, and tranquillity”. Perhaps the only person eager for the verdict is Hashim Ansari, a Muslim tailor in Ayodhya who is the case’s oldest surviving plaintiff. He is 90 and tired of waiting. Mr. Ansari, who joined the case as a plaintiff in 1961, said in a telephone interview that he did not want any tumult or violence, just closure. “It has taken on a political color,” Mr. Ansari said of the case. “We are just waiting for a verdict. Whatever judgment comes, all of us Muslims will agree, whether it is in our favor or not.”
The verdict could determine whether the mosque is rebuilt on the site, or if a Hindu temple is erected there instead. Yet, despite the official concern, many analysts believe that India has matured since the violence in 1992. Hindu nationalism, a potent political force in the 1990s that fueled the campaign to tear down the Babri Masjid, is now far less potent. Last year, when the government released the findings of a long-awaited investigation into the violence, the public response was largely a shrug.
“Urban India is not so closely tied with the Hindu nationalists today,” said Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University who has written extensively about Hindu-Muslim relations in India.
Ayodhya is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh. India’s first Mughal ruler, Babur, constructed a domed mosque on the contested property, which became famous for its acoustics and for a drinking well whose waters were said to have curative powers. Uttar Pradesh is also considered the birthplace of Hinduism, and many Hindus believe that a temple originally existed on the site to commemorate the birthplace of Ram. Some historical accounts suggest that for many years Hindus and Muslims both worshiped inside the mosque complex.
But when the British took control of India, they eventually erected a barrier to divide religious worship at the site. Muslims were allowed inside to pray; Hindus worshiped on platforms outside the enclosure. There were periodic squabbles, but this arrangement remained intact until after India’s independence in 1947. In December 1949, someone slipped in the mosque and left idols of Ram and another Hindu deity.
The authorities closed the building and the matter soon went to court. A local Hindu filed for title in 1950. Mr. Ansari was a regular in the courtroom, monitoring proceedings, and his name was later included among the plaintiffs when a Muslim group filed its own lawsuit in 1961. In all, there are four title suits to be decided.
“What is at stake here is whether the Hindus have any right to this particular place,” said Prashant Bhushan, a prominent legal advocate in India. “They are going to decide whether there was a temple there before the mosque, and whether it gives them any rights.” Mr. Bhushan said the verdict should not be delayed any longer, regardless of concerns about violence. “Public reaction, whatever it will be, has to be faced one day or the other,” he said. “This can’t be delayed because of fear.”
A three-judge panel in the capital of Uttar Pradesh is scheduled to hand down the verdict on Thursday afternoon. Speculation about the outcome varies widely, with some analysts hypothesizing that the judges may try to render the equivalent of a split decision. In Ayodhya, local residents are weary of the case, and the way it has come to define their city. Should his side lose, Mr. Ansari said he did not plan to appeal, but other parties may ultimately choose to take the case to India’s Supreme Court. Mr. Ansari said he got involved so many years ago because he and his father had once prayed at the mosque. He said he remained on good terms with local Hindus who were involved on the other side of the case. “I expect it will go in our favor,” he said of the verdict, “but it is up to the court.”
Rico says it smacks of Jarndyce and Jarndyce...

The answer to a question no one was asking

Rico says that would be the new cookbook, just released in Israel, of pork recipes. Jeffrey Yoskowitz has the story in The New York Times:
Any author has to deal with bad reviews, but how about the wrath of God? Dr. Eli Landau has written The White Book, touted as the first Israeli pork cookbook.
With eighty mainly Mediterranean recipes and Eastern European dishes, The White Book tries to reveal the secrets of the pig for cooks who have never prepared it, nor perhaps even tasted it.
Since the mid-1950s, Israel has had laws restricting the sale of pork and banning its farm production, in deference to biblical proscriptions. But, because of legal loopholes, it was possible to raise pigs for science or in areas considered Christian. Pork buyers included secular Jews, Christian Arabs, and more recently, immigrant workers and the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who don’t keep kosher.
Now it is up to individual municipalities to determine whether pork can be sold in each neighborhood and whether shops will incur fines for selling it, much as they would for staying open on the Sabbath. Many Jews who ignore other kosher rules will not eat pork for cultural and historical reasons. Observant Muslims also abstain from it.
Even more than other non-kosher foods, pork is seen by many Israelis as an affront to Jewish nationalism. Pork sellers routinely face protesters, and in recent years, arsonists have attacked shops in cities like Netanya and Safed, where Orthodox Jews live near secular immigrant communities.
Dr. Landau, a 61-year-old retired cardiologist and food writer from Tel Aviv, likes pork and thinks there are many Israelis who shy from it not so much because it’s taboo, but because they don’t know how to prepare it. “People are reluctant to cook pork at home,” said Dr. Landau, who is not an observant Jew. “I want to make it easier for chefs and personal cooks to bring it home and to the menus. If that happens, I’ll be more than happy.”
Rabbi Shimon Felix, an Orthodox rabbi and religious educator in Jerusalem, said he thought Dr. Landau’s intent was “let’s stick it to the religious tradition. There’s something childish to being so naughty,” the rabbi said. “It’s more mature and adult to look at this as an ancient tradition.”
The book, which Dr. Landau self-published in January, has not caused much of a stir so far. Dr. Landau said that ultra-Orthodox Jews, who would be most likely to protest, haven’t heard of it because they don’t watch cable news or read the mainstream press.
Oh, it’s not that they’re unaware of it, Rabbi Felix said, it’s that they just don’t care. “It’s perceived as being from Tel Aviv,” he said of the secular city, “and what goes on in Tel Aviv, nobody cares.”
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, the head of the Orthodox Hesder Yeshiva in Petach Tikva, said, “I’m very disappointed by this book.” He added, “I’m very sorry and it hurts me.” But fighting pork consumption is not at the top of his list of priorities for “improving Jewish identity in our society,” Rabbi Cherlow said. Asked on his Web site what Orthodox Jews should do in reaction to the book, Rabbi Cherlow answered “nothing,” explaining, “by advertising it, you are helping it.”
According to the book’s distributor, Keter Books, 2,000 copies were printed and 1,100 to 1,200 have been sold. Ami Ashkenazi, the company’s marketing and sales manager, said a best-selling cookbook in Israel sells about 6,000 copies, but for such a niche topic, 2,000 to 3,000 copies sold would be considered a success.
Pork is a sensitive subject, said Daniel Rogov, the food and wine critic for the newspaper Ha'aretz. “In Ha'aretz, we’re allowed to write about it, give recipes for it,” he said, “but I will say this much, when you do, you get dozens of emails to the editor, accusing the writer of the recipe of all sorts of treason and damning him to the eternal flames of hell.”
In Israel’s leading daily, Yediot Aharonot, the food writer Guy Rubanenko said Dr. Landau’s work could be seen as much as a provocation as a cookbook.
Mr. Rogov disagrees. “I do not think the book was written at all as a provocation,” he said. “It was written with the love and care he feels for the dishes.”
As a child, Dr. Landau said, he developed a taste for pork when his family was given some by a kosher butcher. Dr. Landau said that his mother had cared for the butcher when he was a boy in the Lodz ghetto in Poland during World War Two. She ate no pork, but she got sausages on the black market to keep him alive. Years later, when the butcher grew up and his benefactor had a boy of her own, he sent her family sausages to remember her kindness.
Dr. Landau loved eating that sausage as a child, but he couldn’t find pork in Israeli restaurants as a teenager. Then a grill man told him the secret: order “the white steak”, a common euphemism for pork in Israel, and one of the inspirations for the name of the book.
Dr. Landau, a food columnist for Ha'aretz and the author of three cookbooks with Mediterranean recipes, found the pork of his dreams in Italy, where he studied medicine near Parma and tasted his first real prosciutto. “Pork meat is to a cook like canvas to a painter,” Dr. Landau said. “You can draw on it your own tastes and the meat will accept, unlike lamb or even beef.” In one of his favorite recipes, for spaghetti with pork loin sauce, “the loin of pork is cooked together with tomatoes— my interpretation of an Italian dish. There’s a chunk of meat with the bone and it’s cooked for a long time, until the meat falls off the bone.” Dr. Landau also touts his Viennese-style pork neck schnitzel, cut very thick. “What people have in mind is chicken schnitzel,” he said, with a hint of disparagement, about most Israelis. “But they don’t really know schnitzel made of pork, especially this size and thickness, which keeps the juiciness.”
Yuval Ben-Ami, an author and former online food critic for Ha'aretz, said the recipes in the book were contemporary. “It can compete with pork cookbooks or pork recipes from countries that are not pork-deprived,” he said.
At Yoezer, a high-end restaurant in Jaffa, the chef Itzik Cohen has held dinners for as many as ninety customers exclusively with the book’s pork recipes. Dishes included frittata with bacon, prosciutto and zucchini; cabbage filled with pork and polenta; pork scaloppine with risotto; pork-cheek soup with hummus; spaghetti carbonara; pork ribs marinated in yogurt; and pork meatballs with fennel seeds. “They were good evenings,” said Mr. Cohen, who has since incorporated three of the dishes into his everyday menu. “Everyone was enjoying the food. It all came out beautiful.”
Meir Adoni, the chef at Catit in Tel Aviv, enjoys pork but won’t cook it, in consideration of his conservative parents. Younger chefs are less likely to be so deferential. “The younger generation keeps less and less of the rules,” Mr. Adoni said.
Dr. Landau said he hopes his book will resonate with young people who have become less observant Jews, and with his peers who have embraced an internationalist perspective. “It was not possible twenty years ago,” Dr. Landau said. “In twenty or thirty years, it will be a natural thing. I don’t think I will be around to see it.”
Rico says a kosher butcher even touching pork is unbelievable, but you never fucking know, do you?

Just in case you missed it

Jay A. Fernandez and Kim Masters have the story at HollywoodReporter.com:
Sources indicate that George Lucas is set on re-releasing the Star Wars franchise in new 3D conversions, beginning in 2012. Although 3D versions have been rumored for some time, Lucas purportedly was waiting until there were enough screens available to make the release a sizable event. Fox, which released all six original Star Wars films, also would release the 3D versions.
Episode I, The Phantom Menace, would be first out of star-dock during early 2012. After that, each film would be released in order at the same time in consecutive years, depending on how well the first rerelease does.
Each conversion takes at least a year to complete, with Lucas overseeing the process to make sure each is as perfect as possible. He has said that the Avatar experience convinced him that Star Wars is ready for the state-of-the-art 3D treatment.
Starting with Phantom Menace, Lucasfilm would use several higher-end conversion houses to work on the project. By late winter or early spring of 2012, the exhibition industry should have all the 3D screens anyone could want for such a release.
At present, pics are limited to 2,000-2,500 3D locations owing to an insufficient installed base of projectors and screens. Movie theaters are adding 3D screens at a clip of 500 a month in the U.S. Foreign exhibitors also are pushing into 3D as quickly as possible now that financing for the installations is flowing.
Also pushing the timetable is a potential breakthrough in 3D television technology. With Samsung penetrating the market with 50,000-plus 3D-equipped sets and Sony recently sending its version to market, the home-viewing experience could be primed for 3D DVD versions of the films by the time the new 3D theatrical releases have run their course.
Lucas purportedly is lining up the theatrical rereleases as a lead-in to the ultimate home-viewing experience. Beyond that, the property would launch to other 3D media. In the meantime, Lucas plans a comprehensive Blu-ray Disc set of the six films next year, which would include upgraded picture and sound quality, new deleted scenes, and special features.
Rico says he's unconvinced (not having seen one yet) that the whole 3D phenomenon is worth the time and money, but it'll be interesting... (And, given that he normally covers one eye with a patch, he doubts he'll see one any time soon.)

Another internet scam

Rico says they come in as spam, but some are more classic than others, including this one:
Dear Customer:
We wish to inform you that your Automated Teller Machine Card (ATM CARD) is now ready for transfer to you. This card is for the sum of Fourteen Million Seven Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$14.7, 000 000.00), owed you by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for your contract/inheritance payment. We regret any inconvenience the delay in this payment may have caused you. We wish to notify you that this fund (US$14.7 Million Dollars) has been deposited in our bank and we were instructed by the CBN to deliver this fund to you through the ATM CARD service to prevent complications that arise from wire transfer of funds into the United States and to equally avoid confistication by various Law Enforcement Agencies. Be informed that you can only make a withdrawal of US$20,000.00 (Twenty Thousand United States dollars) per day.

Your card have been sent to the FedEx courier service office in Abuja and you are required to contact the FedEx courier service with your full contact details for the immediate delivery of your ATM CARD to your home address. Contact the courier office with this information below:

Contact Person: Mark Johnson
Email: courier10020@live.com
Phone: +234-802-823-1202

Let me know once you receive your ATM CARD.

Yours faithfully,
Mr. Phillips Oduoza
United Bank For Africa (UBA).

Disclaimer: The United Bank for Africa (UBA) will not be held responsible for the loss of your ATM CARD so you are hereby advice to insure this card with any insurance agency of your choice before transfer to your home address to enable immediate replacement in the case of loss and endeavor to claim this card as soon as you can to avoid loss due to multiple claim.

Civil War for the day

General Orlando Bolivar Willcox (a recipient of the Medal of Honor) and his staff, including Colonel McElroy & Captain Christian Roth, at Antietam.

28 September 2010

Peacefully, what a surprise

Dina Kraft has the story in The New York Times about Gaza and Israel:
Israeli navy commandos peacefully commandeered a catamaran sailed by an international group of Jewish activists trying to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza. The ten activists, from Israel, the United States, Britain, and Germany, including an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor, responded defiantly to the Israeli navy when it hailed to them from a frigate demanding they identify themselves and give their destination. “We are going to Gaza,” the group responded from the deck of the thirty-foot catamaran, Irene, festooned with peace flags and carrying humanitarian aid, according to its website.
The Israeli military said in a statement that the vessel was boarded without incident, and that “no violence of any kind was used by neither the passengers onboard nor the Israel naval forces.” The military nicknamed the boat, the Provocation Yacht.
The boat’s voyage from Cyprus was another attempt to thwart the blockade, after an Israeli assault on a Gaza-bound aid boat on 31 May in which Israeli commando forces opened fire, killing nine Islamic activists, all Turks, on board and setting off an international dispute.
Israel maintains its forces operated in self-defense after they said they came under attack by a group of passengers. Last week a United Nations Human Rights Council investigation concluded that Israel violated international law in the raid. Israel dismissed the report as biased.
The Jewish activists, whose cellphones were confiscated when the boat was seized, according to an Israel-based spokesman for the group, were being taken by the Navy to the southern port of Ashdod. A well-known Israeli passenger was Rami Elhanan, a peace activist whose daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.
The one American on board was Lillian Rosengarten, 75, a practicing psychotherapist from Cold Spring, New York, who fled the Nazis as a child in Frankfurt. “I was very reluctant to see her go out of my own anxiety, but I find myself increasingly impressed with her bravery,” her daughter, Lydia Rosengarten, 46, said in a telephone interview from Cold Spring.
Yonatan Shapira, 38, a former air force pilot, was part of the crew. Mr. Shapira is now an activist with Combatants for Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian peace group, along with his brother Itamar, 30. Their mother, Tzvia Shapira, 68, waiting for them at the Ashdod port, said in a telephone interview she was relieved the army had not used force. “That was my fear,” Ms. Shapira said. “Yonatan and Itamar are against any violence. Itamar was a combat soldier and now he is opposed to wars.” The group’s goal had been to try to reach Gaza and unload aid cargo in what the group said in a statement was a “nonviolent, symbolic act of solidarity and protest and a call for the siege to be lifted to enable free passage of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip.”
In the wake of the massive condemnation that followed May’s deadly flotilla raid, Israel partly eased its land blockade on Gaza, which it imposed three years ago after the militant Hamas seized power of the sandy coastal strip. Its naval blockade, however, remains in place, Israeli officials say, in an attempt to prevent the smuggling of weapons. “The IDF regrets that it must divert the Israel navy’s attention from its regular operational activity defending Israel and its citizens because of acts of provocation such as this,” the army statement said of the episode at sea.

Slant-eyed Tudors

Rico says the ladyfriend likes to wake up to NPR, and the lead international story this morning was the anointing of the ruling family of North Korea with yet-more august titles. (You can check out their website here; what, you didn't know that, according to The New York Times, "the last Stalinist dictatorship" had a website? neither did Rico.)
The Washington Post has the story:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promoted his son and his sister to top military positions in the hours before the country's largest political conference in thirty years, demonstrating anew his reliance on family bloodlines to protect his reclusive regime.
The elevation of Kim's son Kim Jong Eun to the rank of general verified his status as the Stalinist dictator's heir apparent.
But, according to experts, it was the tapping of sister Kim Kyong Hui to a similar position that offered a glimpse into Kim Jong Il's strategy for protecting power as his health declines and his untested son emerges. To put it simply: He plans to rely on his family.
Politics is the Kim family business. Staying in business is the Kim family's latest challenge. Though the Kims have always used North Korea as an expansive family headquarters, "The entire bureaucracy is just a personal staff for Kim Jong Il," Seoul-based analyst Park Hyeong-jung said, experts have noted that Kim Kyong Hui's new job reinforces the bloodline-over-party priority. She has no military experience, but she was made a four-star general.
"When things really get tough, when the leader gets ill, it's the family that starts to circle the wagons," said Ken Gause, an Alexandria-based analyst specializing in North Korean leadership.
"We've seen this in Iraq, in the last years of the Saddam regime. And that's the case here. It seems to me not an accident that the day before they make party appointments, they make the bloodline appointments," Gause said. "That is a clear signal to what's happening here: the Kim family is still in control."
Analysts in both Seoul and Washington offered mixed theories on the implications of Kim Kyong Hui's promotion, but several said they suspect that she will play a prominent caretaker role as her nephew learns about the top job and tries to convince Pyongyang's ruling party and military members that he is fit for it.
Even before Kim Kyong Hui received her new title, the father-to-son power transfer was a family job. Kim Kyong Hui's husband, National Defense Commission Vice Chairman Jang Song Taek, is widely viewed as a regent for Kim Jong Eun. He could also serve as an interim ruler if the Dear Leader dies or falls seriously ill before Kim Jong Eun has adapted to his designated role.
Kim Kyong Hui and Jang Song Taek have been married for 38 years, falling in love despite the objections of her father, the late Kim Il Sung. Some experts believe that Kim Kyong Hui was promoted to help legitimize her husband; she can act as a prominent link to the Kim blood, if ever Jang needs public support.
Others believe that Kim Kyong Hui was promoted, in fact, as a counterweight to her husband, checking him from growing too ambitious. "By giving Kim Kyong Hui power, Kim Jong Eun's succession can be solidified," said Cheong Seong Chang, senior analyst at Seoul's Sejong Institute. "Even though she became a general, that is just a title, and it does not mean she'll start controlling and ordering troops. But it would be a base for her to be involved in case of Kim Jong Il's death. She can use her title to persuade the elite power in the military to select Kim Jong Eun as the next leader."
Examining the inner workings of the world's most secretive state requires an element of guesswork, with information based on foreign intelligence, North Korean propaganda and rare accounts from high-level defectors. Accurate details about the workings of Kim's inner sanctum, and the lives of those within it, often do not trickle out until years later.
Most who analyze North Korea, though, believe that Kim Jong Il shares a fiercely close relationship with his sister, younger by four years. Raised primarily by distant family members and nannies, they spent their childhoods together. In the past two years, Kim Kyong Hui, now 64, has emerged as Kim Jong Il's top companion on guidance tours. According to a recent essay by Yuriko Koike, Japan's former defense minister, Kim Jong Il once told the Central Committee of the Workers' Party that "Kim Kyong Hui is myself, the words of Kim Kyong Hui are my words, and instructions issued by Kim Kyong Hui are my instructions."
Kim Jong Il has also asked Kim Kyong Hui to do many things that sisters rarely do for brothers. She currently heads North Korea's light industry. She has previously been involved with aspects of North Korea's surveillance machine. According to Gause, Kim Kyong Hui helped to establish a network of contacts in Europe, particularly Switzerland, that the family used to stash its private millions.
For several years during the mid-2000s, Kim Kyong Hui disappeared from public life. North Korea analysts, in a popular but unproven theory, often attribute her absence to a struggle with alcoholism.
Since its founding in 1948, North Korea has occasionally created personality cults for its most important women, most notably for Kim Jong Suk, wife of Kim Il Sung, who was revered as the Sacred Mother of the Revolution, and often referred to as a general. Though North Korean political power remains male-dominated, as illustrated by the recent photos of dark-suited delegates arriving in Pyongyang, its regime cultivates what author B.R. Myers calls a "coddling mother" image, which can apply to both women and men.
In propaganda artwork, founder Kim Il Sung is bathed in pinkish hues, and children nuzzle his bosom. Propaganda has described Kim Jong Il as "more of a mother than all the mothers in the world."
Within the past decade, North Korean women have grown in status. In 2003, North Korea started drafting all-women military units.The percentage of women in the military has since increased, though accurate numbers are hard to find. Meanwhile, the private market economy is sustained largely by women, who operate food stalls while men maintain government-approved employment.
"That's led, generally, to a rise in status of women," Myers said in an interview. "They can be responsible for their own earnings and their own fate."
Though delegates met Tuesday as part of the rare party conference, North Korea revealed no further significant developments. A promised "major announcement" turned out to be the renomination of Kim Jong Il as head of the ruling party.
No matter the party leadership reshuffling that ensues, experts view the military promotions as a telling sign of Pyongyang's succession plans. The announcement of the promotions, carried by the state-run news agency, was the first time Kim Jong Eun's name ever appeared in a public North Korean report.
In contrast to his inexperienced son, Kim Jong Il worked for roughly a decade behind the scenes before emerging in the public as his own father's heir apparent. Now, two years removed from a stroke and still dealing with myriad health problems, Kim Jong Il is rushing to reorganize his country so his family can retain power after his death.
"What we can say is, Kim Jong Il is putting his ducks in a row," said Jennifer Lind, a North Korea expert at Dartmouth College. "From the standpoint of this week's events, the regime has taken a step to make itself more stable. It's pretty clear that Kim Jong Il is gathering the people around him who are closest to him."
Rico says the notion of a staunch Stalinist maintaining a secret Swiss bank account is worthy of a John Le Carré novel. (If it was Marx, it would have to be Groucho...)

It's one solution

Rico's friend from Holland sends along this note:
Greg Gutfield, from Fox News' Red Eye, announced today via his blog that he is actively speaking to investors and plans on opening a gay bar next to the controversial mosque being built near Ground Zero in New York. The bar will be specifically designed to cater to homosexuals of the Islamic faith. God, this is going to be exciting...

So, the Muslim investors championing the construction of the new mosque near Ground Zero claim it's all about strengthening the relationship between the Muslim and non-Muslim world.
As an American, I believe they have every right to build the mosque; after all, if they buy the land and they follow the law, who can stop them?
Which is, why, in the spirit of outreach, I've decided to do the same thing.
I am planning to build and open the first gay bar that caters not only to the West, but also to Islamic gay men. To best express my sincere desire for dialogue, the bar will be situated next to the mosque, in an available commercial space.
This is not a joke. I?ve already spoken to a number of investors, who have pledged their support in this bipartisan bid for understanding and tolerance.
As you know, the Muslim faith doesn?t look kindly upon homosexuality, which is why I'm building this bar. It is an effort to break down barriers and reduce deadly homophobia in the Islamic world.
The goal, however, is not simply to open a typical gay bar, but one friendly to men of the Islamic faith. An entire floor, for example, will feature non-alcoholic drinks, since booze is forbidden by the faith. The bar will be open day and night, to accommodate men who would rather keep their sexuality under wraps, but still want to dance.
The bottom line is, I hope that the mosque owners will be as open to the bar as I am to the new mosque. After all, the belief driving them to open up their center near Ground Zero is no different than mine.
My place, however, will have better music.
Would it be insensitive to put one up next to the mosque, given their beliefs against homosexuality? Anyway here are a few ideas for the name of the bar:
"You Mecca Me Crazy"
"Turban Cowboys"

Here are a few other contenders:
30. Honor Drillings
29. Jihard
28. Filthy Omar's Rusty Trombone
27. The Arabian Queen
26. Dune Biters
25. Goat's Night Off
24. The Pink Prophet
23. The Leather Burqa
22. Git Mo
21. Pig in a Poke
20. Sheiks & Freaks
19. Sodom and Gonorrhea
18. Osama Bin Dover
17. The Exploding Goat
16. Weapons of Ass Destruction
15. Alla Assbar
14. Anderson Cooper's Apartment
13. The Sticky Prophet
12. The Sphinxter
11. Grind Zero
10. Nuclear Fuel Rods
9. Hassan's TestostoRoom
8. Turbuns
7. Bunker Busters
6. The Tali-bone
5. Al-Jizzera
4. The Gaza Stripper
3. The Sandy Gerbil
2. The Camel's Hump
1. Hide the Minaret
Rico says he has no idea how truly serious this guy is, but he predicts blood in the streets if any of it ever happens. (Given that stoning is the preferred method of executing gay Muslims, look for the guys from the mosque 'getting their rocks off' over this...

Civil War for the day

General Samuel W. Crawford and his staff of seven.

27 September 2010

C'mon, you know you want one

Rico says they're beautiful, they're historically correct, and they're not even expensive. Go here and order one (or two, what the hell). Do it today.

Oops is now a French term

France's ex-justice minister Rachida Dati mixed up the words fellatio and inflation, which sound similar in French, during a television interview. She told Canal Plus: "I see some foreign investment funds looking for returns of 20 or 25% at a time when fellatio is close to zero." The French word for fellatio is fellation, which sounds similar to the word inflation.
Within hours, the video was an internet hit on websites such as YouTube.
Ms. Dati, now a Euro MP, later laughed off the whole episode saying she had spoken too quickly. Ms. Dati also said she was happy to have provided some entertainment. Ms. Dati left the government last year amid criticism of her management style, and gossip about her clothes and love life. She is now an MEP and serves as mayor of Paris's seventh arrondissement.
Rico says he can certainly see her having familiarity with the concept, in any case...

Money won't buy you smarts, apparently

Rico says it's a classic story of hubris, and the BBC has it:
The millionaire owner of the UK Segway company has died after apparently riding one of his company's motorised scooters off a cliff and into a river.
Jimi Heselden, 62, crashed into the River Wharfe while riding the vehicle round his estate in Thorp Arch, Boston Spa, in West Yorkshire. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The Segway was found in the water.
Mr. Heselden, who founded Leeds-based company Hesco Bastion, acquired the Segway operation in 2010.
A spokeswoman for West Yorkshire Police confirmed Mr Heselden's identity, saying: "Police were called at 1140 yesterday to reports of a man in the River Wharfe, apparently having fallen from the cliffs above." She said a "Segway type" vehicle had been recovered.
Mr. Heselden had worked as a miner before losing his job in a wave of redundancies in the 1980s. His engineering business went from strength-to-strength and he was estimated to be worth £205m.
Rico says that's $324,000,000, which Mrs. Heselden will now undoubtedly enjoy...

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