Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of '07

Over the past week, Riley has sent me several year's-best media roundups:

Taken together, I'm not sure what they say about society -- in fact, I'm not even sure I want to know. But they make for an interesting snapshot.

Surgeons in Taiwan have reattached a vet's arm after it was bitten off by a crocodile at a zoo in the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung as he tried to give the crocodile an anaesthetic injection.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bad Santa

Before fingers start pointing in my direction, let me state that I had absolutely nothing to do with this.

I'm not saying that 11-year-old had it coming, but he was way too old to be writing Santa in the first place.
A man feeding seagulls on the Thames Embankment
in London in 1929. (Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Quickie

From the matchless Wet Spots.
In February 2007 four new white lion cubs, Casper, Kiara, Lara and Toto play in the snow at the West Midlands Safari Park. They are the first to be born in the UK; the total world population only numbers 130. (David Jones/PA)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Notable Knockdowns

From Riley, a (very) brief look at some erstwhile British landmarks.

Castles and Caves

My mom sent me this resource for travelers tired of Hiltons and Hyatts. Great browsing.
Onlookers view this pipe-smoking dog with amusement as he accompanies his owner to work in Brussels circa 1960. (Keystone/Getty Images)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sitting Pretty

What did you get for Christmas? This queen finally got her own throne -- or at least the promise of one.

Our bathroom project* has been moving along fitfully since the summer, the estimated cost shooting up early on, then bouncing around in the mid five figures. Now that it's more or less settled, the Queen Mother, who put up the seed money, has upped her investment -- including an earmark for the turlet.

God love the Japanese and their obsession with bodily functions. They are to commodes what the Germans are to cars. Like a devoted (or desperate) lover, the bidet seat on this pricey potty will do ... well, just about everything.

We made an unexpected discovery during the planning phase. As a group, only politicians are less reliable than contractors, yet the latter actually get huffy when you seek multiple bids. I don't buy a pair of shoes without shopping around; why would we do less with stakes like this?

Anyway, we finally picked someone, and he expects to get started in the second half of February. Stay tuned ...

* I have plans in Adobe format if you're curious.

Class Distinctions

Melanie sent me David Sedaris's latest piece, a classic.
Like most seasoned phonies, I roundly suspect that everyone is as disingenuous as I am. This Polish man, for instance. Given the time it would take him to buy a ticket and get to J.F.K., his mother would have been dead for at least six hours, maybe longer. Wasn’t he over it yet? I mean, really, who were these tears for? It was as if he were saying, “I loved my mother a lot more than you loved yours.” No wonder his former seatmate had complained. The guy was so competitive, so self-righteous, so, well, over the top.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Praise of Eccentrics

John Fothergill, the celebrated landlord of the Spread Eagle Inn in the Oxfordshire town of Thame ..., would sometimes add an unspecified charge of a few pounds to the bill. If any of his guests queried it, they would be gruffly told that it was “Face Money.” And if they persisted in asking, they would have it bluntly explained to them by Mr. Fothergill that he charged extra for those customers whose faces he didn’t care for. Apparently, nobody ever refused to pay.

This little piece is one of the most amusing things I've read in months.

And on the same general topic is this A.A. Gill rumination, shared by Riley, on the venerable British tradition of cross-dressing at Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Picture This

Two nifty BBC slide shows, forwarded by Riley:
An aquarium staff member dressed in a Santa Claus costume hugs a moray eel as he swims with fish at the Sunshine International Aquarium in Tokyo last Friday. (Koji Sasahara/AP)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holiday Spirits

My old office hosted many a boozefest, but we never required an ambulance. Our parties were Amish socials compared to the bashes described here.


Having just caught Atonement, I was touting it on Kay's blog yesterday, whereupon she pointed me to this fascinating article on the house where much of the story took place.

Lean on Me

Juchitan, Mexico: A man sleeps on the shoulder of an unidentified muxe, which means homosexual in the indigenous Zapotec language, at the annual Muxe Festival. (Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

An inspired article about an evidently inspiring new film of an inspirational story.

I loved the book; can't wait to see the movie.

Fall Guy

Another vivid example of irony, this one contributed by Marty:

Culture Shock

"Sex in the City: The Golden Years."
A British holidaymaker poses with a soldier carved out of ice in the Jungfraujoch Ice Grotto, in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland in July 1946.
(Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Granny Got Game

Imagine your mom doing stand-up. You might be surprised. Clip here. Official site here.

Thanks to Melanie.

Not Nancy

The late lamented Marjorie Williams was best known for her incisive profiles of public figures. In this 1992 piece, she took a look behind Barbara Bush's warm, kindly persona.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ladies' Man

I caught this story on "Countdown" the other night. Klassy.

Angry White Guys

The most depressing thing about the Republican presidential race is that the party's rank and file require their candidates to grow meaner with each passing week. And now, inconveniently, inconsiderately, comes Christmas, a holiday that couldn't be better calibrated to expose the Republicans' rank, fetid hypocrisy.
A young boy opens the car door for his sister after returning from a Christmas shopping expedition in 1935. (Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Well Said


Every American should read this.

Special Delivery

Nothing's as much fun as messing with someone's mind -- and this idea, sent by Terry, is simple yet diabolical. The bidding began at five dollars just five days ago, and look at it now.

Remember: Everyone looks young and innocent in the gentle glow of gaslight.

Knock, Knock

Shared by Sean, who never knocks something before trying it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Seeing the Light in New Jersey

If you'd asked me a year ago to name progressive states, I'd probably have said Vermont, Massachusetts, and maybe California. The list is woefully short. But then New Jersey distinguished itself by allowing civil unions -- and now this.

Thanks to Riley for tipping me off to the piece.

'Tis the Season

They just keep coming:

Knock, Knock

© 2007 Prunella

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Child's Play

This little project is about as appropriate as putting Paul Wolfowitz back on the WMD beat.

Beware the Baptist

Is the thought of Mike Huckabee as president just vaguely scary? Or have we learned enough about the man that we should be hair-on-fire alarmed at the prospect, still pretty remote, that he could actually win?

If an op-ed isn't enough and you want to be truly galled, check out this profile from today's New York Times Magazine, recommended by Kay. I didn't realize Huckabee "considers liberalism to be a cancer on Christianity." Jesus would be so proud.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Killer Gifts

Another idea for holiday shoppers, this one from David. If you don't feel like braving the mall, you can just make your own.

And Dan pointed me to this and this.

Dubious Honor

The Foot in Mouth award.

Thanks to Riley.

Marc Jacobs Takes a Stand

Context here.

Thanks to Marty, who 's always on the lookout for camel toes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Ill Wind

"I live in fear."

My sister forwarded this Craigslist post, sure to become a classic.

Claire de Loon

Riley has an appreciation for the offbeat, and he knows I do too.

I used to like the young Princess Anne. I was a great fan of hats and head-scarves and all-buttoned-in-ness. And I liked to see a woman who isn't blessed making the most of herself. I have never been a great fan of natural beauty. Because I am a tranny, I like to see a plain woman who piles on the make-up and who wears really sexy clothes. I'd rather see that than someone who has just scrubbed up, who is just gorgeous without doing anything.

Snow Angel

Sent to me by James, who wears a more practical outfit for shoveling. As far as I know.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

O Is for Obnoxious

Can somebody tell me why Oprah Winfrey's every utterance is reported by the media?

Presumably it's because she has such a big following, but that's even more of a mystery to me. I've watched her show a few times*, usually when she had an interesting guest, but Oprah herself reminds me of the colleague or sister-in-law you take pains to avoid -- way too peppy and always pushing something, especially her opinions.

I don't give a rat's ass what books she recommends, much less which candidate. Yet I'm forced to hear about it if I watch the news or read the paper, which has my knickers in a twist. If people really base their presidential choice on the endorsement of a talk-show host, things are even more depressing than I thought -- and that's really saying something.

* Most recently this episode, which was equally horrifying and riveting.

Beware the Moralizer

Maybe this explains my instinctive distrust of strident conservatives, especially politicians.

By corollary, I'm defiantly louche, so you know I'm honest.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

In this photo from 1938, a piglet is treated with a sun ray lamp by the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Animals) in Ilford, England, to cure a skin ailment.
(Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Never Chopsticks

I like pointing out to every guest how I went out of my way for them. I like showing them my three tip jars.
More party tips from the cupcake lady.

Mom's Favorite

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Autistic Within

Whenever I read the symptoms of a medical condition, I think: Oh my God, I totally have that!

I know I'm not alone. Everyone gets nervous when they learn that the hallmarks of diabetes* are frequent thirst and urination. Come to think of it, this tendency is probably a recognized condition itself. "Suggestible hypochondria," maybe, or "self-diagnostic hysterical disorder."

That said, I identified quite a bit with the author of this article. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I had a touch of Asperger's syndrome along with my undiagnosed OCD and ADD. It would explain so much.

* Here in Butt Hollow, we like to channel Wilford Brimley and call it "the diabetus."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mystery Woman

I often see the term Renaissance man, but never Renaissance woman. Why is that?

Over the years, a few of my friends' parents have become friends in their own right. One is Mariann Tadmor, mother of Karen. A one-woman U.N., Mariann had a Danish mother and a Swedish father, and she married an Israeli diplomat. She speaks five languages and has lived in nine countries and visited many others.

Though I've known Mariann for nearly a quarter-century, I'm still learning about her. Like several others, she worried that I'd be bored when I took "early retirement." She passed along a stream of videos, including every episode of "Upstairs, Downstairs," casually mentioning at one point that she'd worked as an au pair for one of the actresses. In later years, a country declared her persona non grata (for whistle-blowing) and she was stoned by indigenous South Americans (I still don't have the full story on that), among other exploits.

Always encouraging the pursuits of others, Mariann tends to have several pots simmering on her own stove at any given time. She has one of the most inquisitive minds I've known, so I wasn't unduly surprised when, years ago, she started referring to "my novel." For most people that would be an aspiration, but for her it was another adventure to experience.

Murder at Machu Picchu turned out to be the first in a series that currently numbers four, all carried by Amazon. (No. 3, Murder in San Francisco, was dedicated to me, a great honor.) All feature an intrepid P.I. named Jamie Prescott, but the settings are as diverse as Mariann's own, allowing readers to play armchair (or wheelchair) detective and traveler simultaneously. The latest takes you to New Orleans in August 2005. Rowboat not included.

Noteworthy Names

Ruby Green
Fannie Gray
Fanny Mailer
Meetu Singh
Dr. George Trusty
Dr. Juanita B. Ware
Jack Besore
Peter Slim
Peter Kok
Richard A. "Diamond Dick" Golden
Louis Schwizgebel-Wang
Precious Pringle
(Mr.) Shalom Auslander
Harry Bonnett
Rosie Lee Love
Leopoleon Davis
(Mrs.) Wiser Harry
Dawn Herb
Dawn Breakall
Havangela Spears
Columbus Boston
Blanche Bland
Ann Mann
Rommel Geronimo
Susie Etta Harley
Joette Pusey
Velva Blevins
Dr. Creflo A. Dollar Jr. (pastor under investigation by Senate Finance Committee) (wife: Taffi)
Vista Medley
Solomon King
Starlet Wagman
Maybelle Schnautz
Vernice Boulware
Beaver Detwiler
Sadie Dingfelder
Travis Dinkelberger
Princess Funn
(Mrs.) Fuzzy Billings
Rose Burns
Virginia Foxx
Virginia Flagg
Alfonzo Capers
Armpie Carpenter Jr.
Candy and Rusty Booth (siblings)

New Category: Pretenders
D.R. "Desi" Arnaiz
John F. Kennedy
Cindy Williams
Shirley Jones
Shirley McLane
Martin L. King
James Taylor
William Frawley

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Life of Reilly

"I was told that I would never be allowed on television, and now I gotta try to figure out, who do you have to fuck to get off?"

I must see this. Review here, official site here. Check out the trailer.

"It's that kind of show."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Charmin Story

A few summers ago, when we rented a cottage in the English countryside, Tesco was a happy discovery. They had just about everything we needed, including gas. Didn't see one of these, though.

Plugging Away at Crafts

I generally regard crafts with a fair amount of scorn. Gluing macaroni onto a cigar box is fine for kindergartners, but if you're doing that kind of thing in your 30s, you might want to expand your horizons. I know, I know -- your découpage hatbox is très soignée, but it's really the same thing.

There's a fine line between hobby and obsession, and when someone calls it "crafting," I know they've crossed over. These are the ones who never pause to consider whether those pinecones really need the glitter. The ones who get pissy if you don't lavish enough praise on their popsicle-stick crèche.

Imagine my surprise when a subscriber passed along this link. Such creativity! I'd give it a try, but you'd probably rag me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"There is no sin except stupidity."

Oscar Wilde

My Point Exactly

One of my pet arguments was well stated in this letter in today's Post:
Michael Gerson's excitement about the two recent reports of stem cells being created from skin cells is widely shared ["Stem Cells, the Right Way," op-ed, Nov. 23]. But I find his implicit distaste for obtaining stem cells from human embryos hard to understand. He wrote that "it is not a superstition of the Dark Ages to believe that [an embryo] should be valued, instead of discarded like cracked pottery."

In fact, unused embryos from fertility clinics are often disposed of by being incinerated. I invite Mr. Gerson or anyone who shares his opinion to explain why incinerating unused embryos is morally superior to using them as a source of stem cells.

St. Louis

Opponents would have you believe that evil scientists are trying to snatch the very embryos that (churchgoing Republican) couples want to "adopt," which is not the case. The "controversy" is a specious manufacture, and there's nothing pro-life about it.

These people don't believe in evolution, so I shouldn't be surprised that they're still peddling the same junk they were six and a half years ago, when I wrote this:

So I dragged my tired carcass over to Capitol Hill yesterday on an especially muggy afternoon for a hearing on stem-cell research convened by some House subcommittee whose obscurity was matched only by the length of its name. The session was so packed that I had to sit in an overflow room upstairs.

I knew it wasn't going to be smooth sailing the moment I realized the subcommittee was chaired by Dan Burton of Indiana, who is not exactly known for his progressive views. Still, most of the members who spoke were strongly in favor of government funding, including Orrin Hatch, who'd made a special trip over from the Senate just to make the point. Last year I was astounded to find myself on the same side of an issue as Arlen Specter, about the last thing I ever expected to happen, and now I've woken up in bed with Orrin Hatch. It's a funny world.

The real fun began after the members' interminable thank-you-so-much-for-holding-this-important-hearing speeches. Two starry-eyed women explained how they had conceived children – all named after saints, of course – from frozen embryos that might instead have been destroyed in the genocide of evil stem-cell research. (Apparently they didn't realize that the embryo donors would have had to sign a release in order for that to have occurred. Oops.) It seems that their God finds it more natural for the embryos to incubate in a petri dish with all sorts of chemicals while the mothers are shot full of hormones, then injected with the embryos, some of which will die, instead of finding ways for thousands of living people to continue doing so. Their God might want to sit down and have a chat with mine, because they're not on the same wavelength.

That wasn't the best part, though. The highlight was when Mary, Mother of God, asked to introduce her husband. It was totally out of order, but they allowed it. They shouldn't have. Dad held up Matthew and Luke, the miracle babies, and demanded, "Which one of my boys would you kill? Which one?" I was so offended by this cheap ploy, I swear, if I'd been in the hearing room, I would have raised my hand and asked, "Which one cries more?"
©2007 Caroline Stopyra Leibovitz

Monday, November 26, 2007

¡Viva Zapata!

Socialite, tyrant,
Love sponge and whippetmaster
Zap’s thirteen today

The senators were in a state of intense frustration and kept asking what we thought they could do to prevent the President from further escalation. One's suggestions were lame -- a fund cut-off bill; demanding a meeting with the President; going to the country. One can understand their sense of impotence and their rage.

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., May 11, 1972

Why anyone ever supposed that Vietnam so involved the American national interest or so threatened the security of the United States as to justify the frightful slaughter and destruction we have brought to this remote and alien country And what it also displays, at interminable length, is the frightening combination of certitude, misjudgment and ignorance that went into the making of decisions. . . . It is not a record of wickedness or criminality; it is rather a record of glibness, illusion and intellectual mediocrity.

July 13, 1971


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wet and Wild

A nifty little pictorial survey.
Sancho, an emperor tamarin, is on view at a Berlin zoo. The tiny primate with the big moustache was allegedly named for its resemblance to German Emperor Wilhelm II.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Gritty Look Back

Sesame Street before gentrification. This explains so much about my worldview.

Mirth and Mystery

Many moons ago, at my first real job, a colleague was reading Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, one of my favorite novels. My friend, like me a newly minted English major, saw parallels between the heroine's struggle to secure a place in society and our own efforts to make it as entry-level drones at a publishing company.

One day she left a note on my desk. While I don't think of myself as a pack rat, I've kept it all this time even though I lost touch with her years ago.

Michael --

Just a few quotes to help you keep everything in proper perspective.

"The truth was that her funds, as usual, were inconveniently low; and to neither Dorset nor his wife could this vulgar embarrassment be safely hinted."

"She had been brought up in the faith that whatever it cost, one must have a good cook and be what Mrs. Bart called decently dressed."

"Mrs. Bart's worst reproach to her husband was to ask him if he expected her to 'live like a pig'; and his replying in the negative was always regarded as a justification for cabling to Paris for an extra dress or two...."

-- The House of Mirth

Alas, there was no French couture in my life then or now, much less a cook.

A couple of summers ago, I was thrilled to visit The Mount, Wharton's estate in the Berkshires. What sparked this little reverie, though, was a fascinating article sent the other day by another Wharton-admiring friend. Check it out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

Not that there was ever any doubt, but I knew my friend Caroline wasn't going to be a run-of-the-mill soccer mom when she planned her son Sam's first birthday party as a canned-goods drive and held it at a food bank.

I had the pleasure of escorting her mother's elderly next-door neighbor, who contributed some fruit cocktail with an expiration date in the Carter years. In the food line, she dug through the chicken nuggets with singular focus. "Can I help you, Nancy Ann?" asked Caroline's brother. "I'm looking for a drumstick," she replied, blissfully unaware of the futility of her quest. Nancy Ann has since retired to the great buffet in the sky, where I hope she has all the drumsticks she wants.

Those of you who know Caroline won't be at all surprised to learn how she teaches her boys the concept of Thanksgiving. Their tradition was captured by not one but two local TV stations. Printed article here. I couldn't be prouder to know her.

Jackals Annual Report

The pattern is predictable: Every November I get impatient waiting for the official Walk to D’Feet ALS tallies, and I go ahead and write my report. How can I pass up an occasion as appropriate as Thanksgiving? Maybe if I didn’t have good news to report – but thanks to you, I always do.

Each year the Jackals set a new record, only to surpass it the following year. For 2007 our goal was $30K. We reached it well before the walk and kept right on going. As of today, our team total is an astounding $44,631. (Last year, for reference, the figure was $39,108.)

For those of you who couldn’t be there in person, Walk Day was perfect – not a term I use lightly. The weather was warm and sunny, the mood equally so. First-timers are invariably amazed by what a cheerful occasion it is. Many of them become regulars, and so the Jackals grow. We also have an incentive that no other team can offer: the postwalk brunch at Jane and Barney Finn’s, which has become as much a tradition as the walk itself. (Truth be told, it’s probably the real draw.)

I’ve described ALS as a family disease, and the same is true of this event. The Jackals wouldn’t be so successful without our strong tribal network. Besides my family, Dan’s, and the Finns, there is Kay Adler, a fundraising force of nature. She and her mother, Karel, set a high standard for everyone else, and it works beautifully. Then there’s Caroline Stopyra, who not only drove up from North Carolina for the walk, she returned the following week to run the Marine Corps Marathon, also to benefit the Jackals. Her mother, Claudette, provided our team T-shirts for the fourth (!) time – a big hit this year in lavender. And of course, the Jackals themselves are a family, with some of the same people walking for eight years now and new ones always joining.

When you consider all that, it’s not so surprising that I’m still skulking around nearly 11 years after that onerous diagnosis. Thank you so much for supporting me and everyone else served by the ALS Association. May you have as much reason for gratitude this Thanksgiving as I do.