Thursday, December 22, 2005

On a Break

The next few days will bring houseguests, a holiday concert at Orchestra Hall, two days of family celebrations, and preparations for still more guests. As I'll be too busy to write it, and you'll be too busy to read it, there won't be any new content here during the coming week. So enjoy the picture above, from my favorite scene in Brokeback Mountain, and go see the movie!

Have a happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Rapid Expansion

Brokeback Mountain @

Operation Wide Release appears to be in full swing. If you want to see Brokeback Mountain over the holiday weekend, there are going to be plenty of places to see it. In Chicagoland alone, the movie looks to be expanding from 4 theatres in the entire area, including 3 in the city, to at least 6 in the suburbs alone, including Yorktown, Northbrook, Cantera, South Barrington, Lincolnshire, and Woodfield.

What better way to celebrate a holiday about procreation without sex than by watching a movie about sex without procreation?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Test Case

Box Office Mojo > News > 'Brokeback' Wrangles Strong Numbers in Expansion

Turns out I helped Focus Features decide to roll out Brokeback Mountain faster than planned:
Foley said that the expansion will be more aggressive than previously planned, with around 275 theaters set for Jan. 6 and about 400 for Jan. 13. The original intent was to be in 300 venues by the end of January.

Among Brokeback Mountain's encouraging numbers, Foley noted two theaters in conservative markets that Focus used as an experiment for the picture's crossover appeal: the AMC Yorktown 18 near Chicago and the Cinemark Legacy 24 in Plano, Texas—"one of the biggest grossing theaters in the nation for The Passion of the Christ," explained Foley. Brokeback Mountain ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the complexes, respectively. "[The movie] is playing to the smart set as well as the boomer set, the senior set and the gay community," Foley said.
Feel free to thank me when you see the movie at a theatre closer to your home!

Monday, December 19, 2005


Brokeback Mountain (2005): Reviews

After all the anticipation of these last few months, it would have been easy for Brokeback Mountain to fall short of my heightened expectations. And while I was slightly disappointed at how tame the love scenes between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal turned out to be, that is all the more reason why this movie deserves a wider audience than any mere "gay cowboy movie" could expect.

It seems likely to get it: The suburban Chicagoland theatre where we saw the film had its small share of obviously gay and lesbian patrons, but the overwhelming majority of our companions were straight couples of all ages, skewing toward the older range. (We saw the movie at 5:20--the last matinee time--which may account for the early-bird-special appearance of the crowd.)

And without exception, the audience seemed to react appropriately to the material. That is, there were no gasps of shock when, 25 minutes into the film, Gyllenhaal and Ledger roughly dove at one another, clearly conflicted, and Ledger rolled Gyllenhaal onto his stomach to enter him. A few (off-screen) thrusts later, the most sexual scene in the movie was over.

That paragraph, by the way, was more graphic than the film. In case you were wary.

The rest of the film played out perfectly, with the music underscoring the majesty of the mountain surroundings that provide many of the scenes between the two lead actors with additional drama. And I know I was not the only person in the theatre reduced to tears by the end, watching Ledger deal with his regrets.

The final scene between the two actors--which you won't realize is just that at the time---adds an emotional heft to their entire relationship, showing both how connected they have been and how their internal conflicts about their relationship--particularly Ledger's--have denied them the only chance at happiness that life will ever present to either of them.

Heath Ledger's performance is a small miracle. While Gyllenhaal is more than competent, it is Ledger who is called on to convey the difficulty of being two people at once, and it is his character, against the odds, whose life shows more scars as a result of their separation. His sorrow--and, for a few moments with Gyllenhaal's character, his joy--is worn on his face, in his body, and behind his eyes, and Ledger manages to capture all of it. When he finally acknowledges these feelings to himself in the film's closing moments, using, appropriately, only three words, the pain is palpable.

It would be unfair not to mention the acting of Michelle Williams, who plays Ledger's anguished wife, or Anne Hathaway, whose Texas princess character brings a lift to the movie and Gyllenhaal's character that, of course, cannot last. Hathaway's facial expressions during a minor family dinner scene and during the all-important phone call near the film's conclusion contain oceans of information about her relationship with Gyllenhaal, and the final confrontation Williams has with Ledger demonstrates quite clearly the pain his frustrated life inflicts on those around him.

To say that this is the best movie I've seen in 2005 is probably unfair for two reasons. First, I haven't seen enough of the critically-hailed films of the year to know whether this is really the best. And second, I haven't seen a movie this good in a good many years, perhaps since American Beauty. It's that good. Go see it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Losing a Lion

'West Wing' Actor John Spencer Dies at 58

This is terribly sad news. I may have hated his character, Leo, at times, but I've always enjoyed the way John Spencer played the role. His Emmy acceptance speech in 2002 is, for me, one of the signature moments in the history of that award.

This does raise a question, though: What will The West Wing do about this? I suppose Leo could have another heart attack--in a way, that would be fitting, as that's how Spencer died--but his role had just gotten a lot juicier, as he was not only running for vice president but being asked to take the reins of the campaign from Josh. Maybe this sad event will inspire John Wells to call Aaron Sorkin for help in solving this problem, and Rob Lowe will be asked to return to run for VP as Sam Seaborn?

Then again, maybe not. Whatever happens, this much is certain: John Spencer will be missed.


Robert Novak Leaving CNN for Fox News

Suddenly all seems right with the world. And very right-wing at Fox News.

Major Defeat

Senate rejects reauthorization of Patriot Act

Well, this is quite a kick in Bush's craw.

As he would say, Let Freedom Reign!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

One More Good Thing


Forgot to mention this, but it's one more good thing that happened in the last week. Click on the link above and read the first correction. You may ask yourself, "Who would submit such a correction to Slate?" Wonder no longer: That was me. I've got an e-mail from Emily Bazelon to prove it, too!

Good Week

Brokeback Mountain @

It's been a very good week for me. I'm a good student--I got an A in another grad class, meaning my B-free streak is approaching a decade. I'm apparently a good employee--the normal raise announcement this week turned into a promotion. And now I know I'm a good gay man, too, because I have two tickets to a Saturday afternoon showing of Brokeback Mountain. I suppose I could have been a better gay man and flown to New York or San Francisco last weekend to see the movie, but I think helping the gross as the picture goes into slightly wider release qualifies, don't you?

We now return to your regularly-scheduled, slightly-less-boastful blogging.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Growing Buzz

'Weeds' scores second season on Showtime

Well, some networks know how to treat a good show, even if it has a small following: give it another shot. Showtime, rumored today to be looking into saving Arrested Development, has also picked up a second season of Weeds, meaning that the small but dedicated band of followers of the show will get to find out how the main character deals with the fact that her new beau is a DEA agent.

Won't you join us? It's not out on DVD yet, but I'm betting Showtime will release season one before the second season airs this summer. Don't you have five hours for a good show?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Shining Stars

Golden Globe Nominations

Ah, sweet Golden Globes. You toast the best movies AND television shows, and your tastes and mine frequently collide.

Look, for example, at the best comedic TV actress category! All four housewives and Mary-Louise Parker from Weeds were nominated. That's a clean sweep for shows I like. (Weeds also grabbed a nod for Elizabeth Perkins for her supporting role as a bitchy suburban mom whose perspective is changed when she finds out she has cancer, as well as a nomination for best comedy series.)

Or consider that in the best TV drama category, Rome got a nod that no one probably expected--and that Polly Walker got a nomination for playing Atia!

Of course, the big news this morning is that Brokeback Mountain is the early Best Picture favorite after nailing down 7 nominations, including best drama, best director, best actor, best supporting actress, best screenplay, best score, and best song. The overall Globe list seems a bit off, though, and I expect we'll see a few bigger movies (in terms of budget and Hollywood backing) pick up steam ahead of Oscar time. Still, leading the pack here bodes well for the gay cowboy movie...which opens Friday in Chicagoland.

I think the big surprise of the day, by the way, is how little attention Munich got. Steven Spielberg grabbed a best director nomination, but the movie itself got only one other nod, for best screenplay.

The season is upon us!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Top Ten Albums of 2005

Here they are: My choices for the ten best albums of 2005. Don't forget to check out Paul Allen's list at PopLife, and remember, there's always a chance I'll make a few revisions before making the list final early in 2006.

1. Fiona Apple:
Extraordinary Machine
From the first spin of the Jon Brion version, there was little question in my mind that this record would make the top ten, but it has more than earned the top spot. Weeks have gone by when I've had a hard time listening to anything else. I know all the words (pity the poor person who rides in my car when this is playing). Apple has done something remarkable here, stripping down her sound and her previously inflated language and arriving at something that still communicates all the emotion she needs to convey. Catchy couplets, great beats--this record has it all. Which is why Fiona is the first artist to capture the crown for two different years of my top ten list.

2. Antony and the Johnsons: I am a Bird Now
The first song on this album will give you chills. Antony's story of gender confusion (in Britain, the statement "I am a bird" can be taken to mean both the creature that flies and a woman) is dramatic and bold, and he has the voice to match, a trembling instrument that unites the record amid multiple guests, including Boy George and Rufus Wainwright. Not everyone will enjoy this--"Fistful of Love" is probably the most accessible song and even it might throw people for a loop--but those who enjoy it will adore it.

3. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
In breadth and depth, this record outshines everything else on this list, and it's tough not to give Sufjan the top spot based on effort alone--so many lyrics that so specifically evoke something about Illinois, so many instruments both written into the music and then played by one person. The research for this album, which is the second of a proposed 50 (one for every state), was clearly voluminous. And the music itself is sheer beauty, so much of it that it can sometimes be hard to listen to the whole album in one sitting. But it all flows, and it pretty much all works, too. When you see this somewhere on every critic's list in the country (it's already number one on the editors' list), don't say I didn't warn you.

4. Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Conor Oberst had the audacity to release two new albums not in one year, but on one day this January. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn was good but uneven, but this album is flat-out great. He's found a folksy style that works with his odd voice, and even the partly stuttered storytelling he uses to open the album works better here than it did on Lifted. The final song, "Road to Joy," aping Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, is one of the year's true delights.

5. Martha Wainwright: Martha Wainwright
Apparently the Wainwright family is determined to dominate my CD shelves and my top ten lists for years to come. While the stunner on this album is the shocking and beautiful "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole," I think of it not in terms of songs but as a whole experience: haunting and lyrical and aflame with passion.

6. Garbage: Bleed Like Me
OK, this pick has none of the artsy cred of my first five, but it's still something special: a good, solid rock record that gets into your head and jangles around for months. I knew I loved this album when I was on a flight from D.C. to Chicago, equipped with my discman (I know, how retro of me) and several CDs, and I chose to plug my headphones into the armrest instead because United was featuring this album and I hadn't packed it.

7. Iron and Wine: Woman King EP AND Iron and Wine/Calexico: In the Reins
Releasing a six-song EP and a seven-song mini-album is about the same as releasing a full album, right? Mr. Consistency Sam Beam has made three solid records in the last two years, and as a result he finds himself at number seven on this list for the second year running. The EP is probably the better of the two, but in combination, these thirteen songs make a statement: Iron and Wine has the potential to be on this list for years to come.

8. Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better
An album that at first doesn't seem like an album at all, because every song could be on the radio. This is weird because it doesn't "build" to anything--it just keeps going strong for 13 songs. Folks who talk of a sophomore slump haven't actually listened to this record more than once or twice; it digs in and takes hold in a way their debut, for all its shiny songs and perfect beats, never did.

9. Aimee Mann: The Forgotten Arm
This wasn't supposed to be on this list. But as I listened to it again to pick a song for my possibly-to-be-produced compilation of the year, I found myself crying during the song "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas" and I knew I couldn't ignore that. This album tells the story of a relationship between a boxer, John, and his lover, Caroline. Like the last Aimee Mann record, Lost in Space, it dwells on addiction issues and the difficulty any two passionate people have in making it work with one another. And while some of the songs sound wispy at first, in the end the power of the album, when given a chance, is undeniable. For a lyrics person like myself, I guess there's no way to leave this album out of the top ten.

10. Sigur Ros: Takk
And yet, I can pick this album, sung in Norwegian, to follow Aimee Mann. I don't know what Jon Thor Birgisson is singing about, but I know that he sings with emotion and power. Those qualities come through in any language.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Every year I hope to see something I really like threaten to dominate the Grammys, and almost every year I'm disappointed. Yes, I own the Gwen Stefani and U2 albums that came out late last year, but I never listen to them anymore, mostly because they're just not that great. Yet there they are, holding down 40 percent of the album of the year slate, up against Kanye West, Mariah Carey, and Paul McCartney.

Poor Fiona Apple got a single nomination (for best pop vocal album, where she's up against McCartney, Stefani, Sheryl Crow, and Kelly Clarkson), and while there are several categories where I own all the nominated songs or albums, only the best alternative album category could be called exciting for me, with Arcade Fire, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, and the White Stripes duking it out. (Even there I have qualms--they couldn't find a better fifth album than the mediocre offering from DCFC? I can think of several off the top of my head: Bloc Party, Sufjan Stevens, Antony and the Johnsons, Bright Eyes, Martha Wainwright, Sigur Ros...)

I suppose I should accept that my tastes and those of both the public and the Recording Academy don't dovetail. Let this serve as fair warning that the list I post tomorrow will bear little relation to the one the Grammys have posted this morning.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

2005's Best of the Rest

It's that time of year again--time to unveil my choices for the best music of the year. The top ten albums list will appear on Friday; today I'll note my choices in some special categories. A similar list appears on Paul Allen's music blog, PopLife.

Best Soundtrack:
TV Series: Six Feet Under, Volume 2: Everything Ends
TV Movie: Bob Dylan, No Direction Home
Motion Picture: Brokeback Mountain

Six Feet Under, Volume 2: Everything Ends: An excellent collection of songs from the last three seasons of a great show. If you’ve seen the final season, you’ll want to own this just for the recording of Sia’s “Breathe Me,” though songs from Radiohead and Arcade Fire that closed pivotal episodes in the show are also included, as are the songs used in the show’s stylish pre-season promos.

Bob Dylan, No Direction Home: A great portrayal of Dylan’s growth during the most “important” part of his career. The most accessible of the seven volumes of the Bootleg Series, though volume 4 is also indispensable.

Brokeback Mountain: A very recent album, and haunting to hear even without seeing the movie that it accompanies. The tender “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” sung by Teddy Thompson, will put tears in your eyes. Original songs written by Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin, including that one, add to the experience of an album that conveys a remarkable amount of emotion. Gustavo Santaolalla’s acoustic contributions are also excellent, as is Rufus Wainwright’s “The Maker Makes.”

Best Greatest Hits:
Melissa Etheridge: Greatest Hits--The Road Less Traveled

A strong retrospective of Melissa’s career that focuses most of its attention on her early work, much to its benefit. A few too many brand-new songs mean a few too few old ones, including none from the underrated Skin, but if you were to have only one CD from her in your collection, this would definitely be the one to get.

Best Reissue:
Belle & Sebastian: Push Barman to Open Old Wounds

I’ve taken quite a liking to B&S recently, and this neat double album gave me a cheap and easy way to get seven of the band’s EPs for less than $15. Not quite If You’re Feeling Sinister, but still well worth having!

Best Live Album:
Morrissey: Live at Earls Court

I feel bad for the new Bob Dylan bootleg recording, Live at the Gaslight 1962, and for the new Wilco live album that is still growing on me, but this Morrissey album is incredible and would probaly win this category no matter what the competition. It gives new life to a bevy of songs from his most recent album and revives several old Smiths songs as well. Indeed, while I’d usually push a studio album over a live one any day, this might be the best way to really get into Morrissey. It’s done the trick for me!

Biggest Disappointment:
Weezer: Make Believe AND Dave Matthews Band: Stand Up

When I saw these two albums scheduled for release on the same day this spring, I thought, “Wow! It’s a late-‘90s revival!” Turns out it was a chance for two artists who did great work and attracted great followings in the ‘90s to put out some less-than-stellar stuff that almost immediately found itself sitting on the shelf.

Best Cover Art:
Aimee Mann: The Forgotten Arm

This isn’t cover art—it’s a book! Complete with painted illustrations of the story told by this concept album, this is the most attractive CD package of the year. And the music isn’t half-bad, either.

Best Album Title:
Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better

Considering that the band initially planned to call this Franz Ferdinand, just like their last album, this certainly wins the award for most-improved!

Best Surprise:
Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine

The surprise isn’t that it’s good, it’s that it exists at all. After all the record company drama surrounding this album, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that it would finally see the light of day a few months ago. How pleasant a surprise? Find out Friday!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Red-Blooded Males

The straight dude’s guide to ‘Brokeback’

Dave White offers some good advice for all my hetero friends who will be dragged--or will drag themselves--to see Brokeback Mountain when it finally expands beyond its annoyingly limited release this weekend. It's pretty funny, but to it I will add this: If you've ever watched Six Feet Under, you've probably already seen more than this film will throw at you. And if you've caught an episode of Queer as Folk? It will be years before they find a way to get that much man-on-man action on the big screen.

To Volvo or Not to Volvo

Animal Therapy: The Good and the Ugly

Earlier today I commented on Jon's blog that I was "willing to give Ford the benefit of the doubt and believe that this is just bad timing of an announcement they would have made no matter what." But I now have reason, based on this from Marty Kaplan at The Huffington Post, to believe that Ford, in announcing that it would dramatically reduce its advertising in gay publications, really did sell the gay community out to protect itself from an American Family Association boycott.

It's depressing to think that a company that has been honored for its commitment to gay rights would backslide like this in order to pander to the far right, but that's apparently what we've come to in America. Just this morning Andrew Sullivan remarked ruefully that when he left Britain 21 years ago for the United States, "there was no question that America led the way in equal rights for gays." Today gays in Britain are registering to enter into civil partnerships that both the law and the populace treat as equal to the marriages that they are in everything but their legal name. And in America, automakers are afraid to advertise to the gay community for fear of reprisals from a vocal and backward-thinking minority of people who believe in fairy tales.

Canada, England, South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandanavia: every day the list of places to which I'd willingly move if not for family and friends I prefer not to leave behind grows longer. Because if the AFA can do this with Ford, it can do it with plenty of other companies, too. There are plenty more religious-righters than there are gay folk. Who will stand with us?

'Tis the Season

All Recipes | Cookie | Big Soft Ginger Cookies

I bake many things, but only two typically inspire recipe requests. As I'm taking my chocolate chip butterscotch cookie recipe to the grave, I'll offer a link to this one, which I got from my best friend, the internet.

I should note that the dough for these cookies is just about the stickiest substance imagineable--good luck actually getting the cookies onto the baking sheet. Forget about the old two-spoons method; you'll be using your hands. Fortunately, the dough tastes great licked straight from your fingers--just be sure to wash your hands before you keep working.

Also, where the recipe calls for two tablespoons of white sugar (for rolling the dough in prior to baking), I substitute, oh, a healthy third of a cup split evenly between red and green sugar sprinkles and white sugar. This makes the cookies more festive for the holidays and a little bit sweeter, and they still stay incredibly soft for days and days.

Don't be surprised if you end up doubling the recipe the second time you make these--they're that good!

Curing What Ails You

Seniors Seeking Medicare Info Get Sex Line

The headline pretty much sums up what the Medicare drug plan has been since the day Congress passed it by one vote: one big clusterfuck. Will fiascos like this prompt any changes, though?

Probably not in the program. But very likely in the makeup of Congress next term...

Monday, December 05, 2005


If you're like me, waiting on pins and needles to finally be able to see Brokeback Mountain, then this may help you to deal with the long days ahead, waiting for the limited release schedule to open wide enough to reach, in my case, Chicago and its suburbs. If you enter this URL-- the "Open URL" window on Windows Media Player, you can listen to the entire soundtrack--free. The tracklist is available here if you want to know what you're hearing.

Force of Nature

Animal Therapy: Best Friends

Jon's post--and specifically the picture of his (male) dog humping another (male) dog--reminded me of last night's Desperate Housewives and some questions it raised. Andrew, Bree's son, finally returns after being sent back to camp near the start of the season. And with blame for his mother for his father's death in his arsenal, he has no trouble deciding that he's above Bree's authority--so much so that he has Justin, his sometime paramour from last season, come over to spend the night.

Here's where the questions come in. Andrew explains his hatred toward his mother by saying that when his mom told him he would go to hell if he didn't change after he told her he " liked guys," he realized she would one day stop loving him and he decided to stop loving her first. This is an interesting mental process, certainly, but I doubt it's one with which many gay men relate. And yet it's happening on a show created and controlled by Marc Cherry, who has made no secret of his homosexuality or his strong relationship with his mother, who he credits with giving him the idea for the show.

This revelation is preceded by Andrew's attempt to kiss Justin, which Justin rebuffs for fear that Bree will walk in. He promises to make waiting until Bree is asleep worth Andrew's while--and then this concept is dropped. I know this is a very prurient question, but what happens between these two?

The question is important not only because I wanted to see two men making out on network TV, but because of the way Andrew constructs his talk about his sexuality. He doesn't say he told his mom he's gay--he says he told her he "likes guys." This is not the same thing. I've said before that I think bisexuality is often just a stop on the train to gay, but in this case it's important to know whether Cherry is espousing the same view. Andrew told the priest last year that he's not gay--he's just not going to stop fooling around with guys when the mood strikes him. But Justin appears to have real feelings, and not just carnal desires, for Andrew--feelings he expressed to Gabrielle last season. Is Andrew manipulating Justin? Will he go so far as to seek Justin's help as he tries to send his mother for a fall?

This, finally, is important because while there has been a flowering of gay characters on television in the last decade, the bloom is currently very much off the rose. A show with 27 million weekly viewers that features a gay or sort-of-gay character is one of TV's few windows onto gayness for most of America (by which I em>mean the "most of America" that doesn't subscribe to HBO or Showtime, didn't watch or Queer as Folk, and probably won't buy a ticket to see Brokeback Mountain, either). And so it matters quite a bit how that show's "gay character" is portrayed. Right now, the only main character who dabbles in the love that dare not speak its name is also up to some rather unspeakable deeds, including attempting to destroy his own mother and quite possibly manipulating an innocent person into having sex that is based not on love (as the innocent seems to believe) but on simple, base desire. Lest we forget, Andrew also hit Mrs. Solis while driving home last season, and showed no remorse afterward.

I'm concerned, then, that Cherry is taking his grand opportunity to offer some sort of positive portrayal of homosexuality and not merely squandering it but turning it on its head to show same-sex attraction as part of a pathological personality. I realize that Cherry's mission is to make good TV, not to subtly change the hearts and minds of viewers. I realize that DH probably isn't on the must-DVR list of many folks who harbor great hostility against gays, as their churches have already warned them of its sinful nature. And I realize that the show has featured a great many screwed-up characters, only one of whom has shown interest in making it with a member of the same gender. But there's a difference between portraying Andrew as a gay guy who lies about his sexuality sometimes, hates his mom, and feels no remorse about killing an old woman with his car, and portraying him as a sorta-bi guy who pretends to be gay to get a little no-strings attached action from a guy who clearly wants more while engaging in the aforementioned other negative behavior. For the sake of tried-and-true gays everywhere, I hope Andrew is bi and playing on Justin's hopes. Making that cruelty another aspect of his pathology, rather than simply making him both the bad guy and the gay guy on the show, would enhance both the show's portrayal of gays (by playing up Justin's innocence at the hands of a lying manipulator) and the show's storyline. That's a win-win Cherry should grab with both hands.

If he does it after a scene where Andrew and Justin make out on camera, well, so much the better!

Bought and Paid For

Corrupt Intentions - What Cunningham's misdeeds illustrate about conservative Washington. By Michael Kinsley

You've got to love Michael Kinsley. He takes a depressing subject (Congressional corruption) and makes it funny without losing the point.

Kinsley notes what I've often thought when I hear about the paltry amounts for which our representatives seem willing to sell out their principles:
Members of Congress are among the world's greatest bargains: What are a couple of commodes compared with $163 million of Pentagon contracts?
What indeed? Why do people making the maximum contribution of $2,000 to a campaign buy influence worth so many times that amount? Why will members of Congress sell out their nation so cheaply?

I think it's a cultural phenomenon. Members of Congress are people, too. They circulate in crowds with money, often more money than they themselves possess. As wealthier folks leave the private sector loaded with cash to "represent" their fellow citizens (often by reducing the taxes of their corporate pals), those in Congress who don't come from such backgrounds are forced to scramble to keep up or look like paupers on the House and Senate floor. "Why should I have so little while they have so much?" these members of Congress must wonder. They calculate all the long hours spent traveling, reading arane language, being pilloried by the opposition, and wonder why their salaries aren't higher.

And then they realize it--they have access to the biggest pool of money in the country, the federal budget! Who could resist? It's so big no one can read it all, so loaded with additions from colleagues that no one will notice one more. And it's the one thing they can sell without giving up their gig in Congress and the feeling of "giving back" that comes with it. (The only faster way to make a buck is to get a book deal, but unless you've got name recognition like Obama or Clinton, that's hardly a viable route, plus you face all manner of pesky questions of influence--just ask Newt Gingrich.)

I'm not pardoning what Duke Cunningham and others--on both sides of the aisle--have done. (I leave that to President Bush, whose last weeks in office will no doubt be very busy ones.) I'm just asking, should we really be surprised?

Friday, December 02, 2005

5 Weird Habits

Animal Therapy: 5 Weird Habits

Jon has forced me to discuss five of my strange habits. Don't be surprised if you see some relationship between mine and his.

1) I hate to go into any restaurant on my lunch hour to pick up food that I'm not going to eat at that restaurant. I will eat food I'm not really excited about rather than get out of my car, especially in the winter. Corner Bakery, Chipotle, Subway, Quizno's, Jimmy John's, and Panera would get a LOT more of my business if they had a drive-thru window. Indeed, I might never go to a McDonald's or Wendy's again.

2) Related to item 1, I will do anything to complete as many possible errands while getting out of the car as few times as possible. This could mean walking across a very long parking lot to get from one store to another if they're located somewhat close to one another. It could mean altering where I buy certain items. But I hate to drive around aimlessly, or feel like I've spent 30 minutes in the car to accomplish only one thing. This is why my plans for a shopping trip often sound as if I'm headed off to war. In both this and in item 1, you see my desire to start my car as few times as possible; I think someone told me when I was learning to drive that starting a car wastes more gas than letting it run for a little while, and that stuck with me in some deep part of my brain.

2.5) While driving I also seek to avoid left turns, particularly unprotected ones but also ones that involve a restrictive turn arrow, at all costs. I hate trying to figure out if I have enough space before the next oncoming car to turn left AND trying to figure out if there's room for me on the other side of the road at the same time. And I hate knowing that there's enough room for me to turn and being forced to listen to an arbitrary red arrow rather than my own eyes.

3) In direct contrast to Jon, I am e-mail obsessive. If you write to me, chances are you will get a reply, often so fast you'll wonder if I was just sitting and waiting for your e-mail, possibly with a reply half-written. I wasn't, but I have my e-mail set up to tell me when I receive a new one, and when I do I will drop whatever I am doing to read it. Then I'll realize what I want to say in reply, so I'll just write back immediately. If I don't, though, you will never get a reply. I will put a star next to your message, or flag it for reply, but though I will see it ten more times I will never answer. So if you've been waiting more than two days for a reply, you should probably send your message again.

4) I panic when I am without water, even when I'm not thirsty. There must be water at my desk (at work and at home), water on the coffee table, and water in my car at all times. The only exception is when I eat breakfast; after orange juice and tea, a glass of water might seem a bit obsessive and also rather redundant.

5) I eat dessert for breakfast. A lot. If I make a pie or cake or cookies for a special occasion and there are leftovers, I will eat the leftovers every day for breakfast until they're gone. Many a post-birthday week has seen me eating chocolate cake, complete with vanilla ice cream, day after day at 6:30 in the morning. What's worse--I feel no remorse while doing this and often question why others don't do the same.

I'm not going to "tag" anyone else to do this, but feel free to list your own weird habits in the comments below--or comment on mine.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Abandon All Hope

Fox guestimates

My notion that Fox's standing pat with Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday could somehow save Reunion is now defunct, based on this new information: That '70s Show and Stacked will air in the post-O.C. timeslot on Thursday nights. Which makes sense until you remember that '70s stopped being good a long time ago and Stacked has no appeal to the audience of The O.C. (or anyone with half a brain). Couldn't Fox have made a deal with the producers: We'll keep your show on the air all season if you share the DVD profits with us? Looks like it's too late now.


South Africa's high court approves gay marriage

There's no shame in being behind Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands on the social curve; they're enlightened countries and one expects them to lead the way in social progress. But South Africa? This is a country that had apartheid what, 11 years ago?

Spain has gay marriage. Some form of recognition of same sex unions exists throughout Scandanavia, and much of Europe, including Britain, France, and Germany. And yet here in the United States, a piddling four states offer anything with any teeth in it (marriage [without the federal benefits] in Massachusetts, civil union or domestic partnership in Vermont, Connecticut, and California). This is a shameful state of affairs. Perhaps seeing people they've actually heard of (Elton John, George Michael) getting hitched in Britain will make a difference in America? I'm not getting my hopes up.