June 30, 2007

Getting Kinky at Kinko's

Here's something that I was surprised to see enlarged in a public place: several days ago, while scanning some documents at Kinko's, I noticed a man bouncing back and forth between two Sony photo printing machines. When I went to make some copies a few feet away, I saw him proudly holding up and inspecting his prints -- 8 by 10 inch color glossies of him posing with nearly naked hookers at the Bunny Ranch, as well as Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof. Or perhaps he met them at the giant Erotic Expo that took place a couple of days earlier at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
How do I know about the subjects of these pictures? Because the distinctive- looking Hof (think Mr. Clean meets Tony Soprano) and the Bunny Ranch are prominently featured on a television program, HBO's The Cathouse: the Series.

The fact that this man was so openly brandishing his photos is, I think, a commentary on how mainstream and acceptable all this has become.

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June 28, 2007

Are You Helmet or Armadillo?

Helmets for pole vaulters? Are you effing kidding me? At least four state high school athletic associations and one state college athletic association now require pole vaulters to wear helmets. I wonder what happens when the next pole vaulter is paralyzed after his helmet slips over his eyes and causes him to run full speed into the the upright standard. What's next? Helmets for hurdlers? Why not just require students to wear helmets all day long, since they might get hit in the head by an opening locker?

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June 24, 2007

And Echoes With the Sounds of Salesmen (Car Buying Lesson Number One)

The first lesson of car buying is: salesmen lie. That this is no newsflash proves the point. Now, I'm sure that most car salesmen are well-intended folks who are just trying to put food on the table. I also understand that most of them don't make much money on each car they sell. But why is it that, for everyone else (randy Presidents, obsequious Vice Presidential chiefs of staff, alcohol-addled heiresses), lying is a punishable offense, yet for salesmen, lying is rewarded?

Case in point: I'm test-driving a certain Teutonic titan yesterday, with the salesman in the passenger seat beside me. He mentions that one of his customers just returned an even nicer car after only one month and a thousand miles because the customer is being "relocated." He says the car is like new. Beeeep! Lie number one. It's a demo model. We all know how prospective customers abuse those demo models during test drives, just the way the salesman is encouraging me to do that very moment. Then, when I ask the salesman how many thousands less the "returned" car is selling for, he says it's worth even more money than a new car, because the dealership has given it "Certified Pre-Owned" status which includes a longer warranty and an extensive "reconditioning" that adds $3,500 to the price of the car. Brrrnnnggg! Lie number two. "Like new" cars that are one month old with a thousand miles don't need extensive reconditioning. When I point this out to the salesman, I get The Tell. The way to tell that a salesman is lying is simply to push back with a factual retort and watch what happens. He will move his lips, and a stream of words will emerge, but they will make no sense. Because he has no answer.

A few minutes later, I complain to the salesman that, as some magazine and online automobile reviewers have pointed out, the car hesitates annoyingly from a dead stop. His reply? "That's deliberate." Gonnnnggg! Lie number three. When I ask him why a car maker would want its cars to hesitate, then lurch forward when the driver hits the accelerator, he again gives me The Tell -- a mealy-mouthed answer that I cannot decipher.

A few minutes later, his supervisor, the Assistant Sales Manager, tells me lie number four. He says that his dealership would offer me the Edmunds True Market Value (TMV) Price. At the Edmunds.com web site, it is explained in boldface type that "Whenever there is an advertising fee, we take it into account when calculating TMV." These advertising fees are often referred to as DAG or MAKO (both of which are acronyms, I believe). However, when the manager writes out an offer for me, he puts down extra fees on top of the Edmunds TMV price, and mentions that he was adding a "MAK fee." Zzzzzaaaapppp! That means that he was trying to charge me twice for the same fee.
Eventually, I lost count of the lies, and pulled away in the car in which I had arrived -- a shiny, like-new model that I have only driven to church on Sundays.

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June 23, 2007

Cracking Up at the Dress Code in LA, New York City

A recent article comparing dress codes in Los Angeles and New York City had me ROFL, because it was so dead-on. The Wall Street Journal article, "Cracking the Dress Code in L.A., New York," was accompanied by some very telling photos (some of the photos in the print version, especially the one of the high-powered bald L.A. executive in jeans, long sleeve t-shirt and flip- flops, are different than those in the online version).

I grew up near New York City and still visit occasionally, and now I live not far from L.A. at the beach. I thought that the article's author, Christina Binkley, nailed this one on the head, other than allowing her New York City bias to show by referring to her city as "New York." Remember, New York is a very large and diverse state. If one wants to be even more precise, one should refer to Manhattan rather than New York City. Anyone who has seen the films "Working Girl" or "Saturday Night Fever" knows that folks in the boroughs outside of Manhattan (derisively described by Manhattanites as the "bridge and tunnel crowd" or "BBQs" [Bronx Brooklyn Queens]) may dress very differently than people who live in Manhattan. And then there's the hair, which has tended to be big for women on Staten Island and "zippered" for men in Brooklyn.

Her New York City bias aside, Ms. Binkley accurately describes the very opposite signals sent by the exact same clothing in Los Angeles and Manhattan. Binkley writes that, while a man in a quality suit and tie exudes power and status while lunching at a Manhattan restaurant, the same man in the same suit and tie would be mistaken for "a worker bee -- someone's accountant or agent" -- in Los Angeles. In contrast, recently I saw a man in his sixties wearing a t-shirt and shorts in a restaurant here. He looked pretty disheveled, practically homeless, and even the servers snickered at him behind his back. We both left at the same time, and I saw him get into an expensive Mercedes. He's probably a movie or record executive.
After moving to Southern California from Washington, DC last fall, I wore a black suit to my first museum event out here. Big mistake. The jeans-clad denizens stared at me, and it wasn't because they thought I was George Clooney. I think they were waiting to see me carrying a tray of drinks so that they could order one from me. Since then, my jeans, which I rarely wore in DC, have gotten a strenuous workout. But even when I wear jeans, I'm still overdressed compared to the guys wearing jeans with holes in them. Likewise, as I indicated in a recent post, my tasseled lawyer's loafers from DC are collecting dust while my growing sneaker collection cannot keep up with rapid wear and tear.

For women, as Ms. Binkley notes, clingy clothes to show off that buff bod are de rigeur in L.A. In towns like mine near the beach, the amount of skin revealed would result in the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. Ms. Binkley also mentions pantyhose for women. What are those? I don't remember. Not a problem.

Does anyone want to buy some previously owned double-breasted Armani suits? I'll even brush off the dust beforehand.

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June 18, 2007

Mid-Century Modern Marvel

Yesterday I was treated to an exclusive tour of the birthplace of mid-century modern design. Tucked away on a private lane in Pacific Palisades, California, at the edge of a meadow and steps away from a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, sits a home that pioneered both loft-style home design and prefabricated home construction. It is known as Case Study House Number 8, or, alternatively, the Eames House.

The house was one of 25 commissioned as part of an exercise by Art and Architecture Magazine in 1945. The idea was to have prominent architects and designers of the day design and construct the ideal postwar American home. After an original design collaboration with their buddy Eero Saarinen (of Dulles Airport fame), husband and wife Charles and Ray Eames came up with this Bauhaus beauty. They built their home and adjoining studio from industrial materials (steel, glass, concrete, plywood) purchased from construction and fabricators' catalogs (and, in the case of the spiral staircase, from a shipbuilder's catalog). The Eames' proved how livable their house was by living and working in it themselves for the rest of their lives, and designing their iconic Eames Lounge Chair and other famous pieces in the on-site studio.

But a funny thing happened along the Bauhaus way. Young GI's returning from World War II and their wives rejected these radical, Teutonic-flavored designs in favor of frilly-detailed Levittown-style ranch homes. So, the Case Study Houses became one-off academic exercises.

Today, many of the Case Study Houses, especially House No. 8, are prized museum pieces that have greatly influenced current home design. The Eames House is highly unusual in that the children and grandchildren of Charles and Ray Eames administer the Eames Foundation to keep the house, the artifacts, and the design principles of Charles and Ray Eames alive. The Eames House, the interior of which is not open to the public, looks exactly as it did when Eames and Charles lived there, down to the books, sofa pillows, artwork and collectibles scattered about.

Yesterday, Ray and Charles' daughter Lucia, and her children (including family namesake Eames Demetrios, who can be seen in the top photo), most of whom are in their 40s and 50s, held a special event to honor the 100th anniversary of Charles' birth. They gave tours of the house, studio and grounds, and spoke about the work and design philosophy of Ray and Charles, and about meals, playtime and everyday life in this unique home. I was one of the lucky few to be able to attend this event, and will never forget it.
While you cannot purchase the Eames House, many of the Eames' designs, including their Lounge Chair, are still made in the U.S. by Herman Miller Inc. and, true to the Eames' democratic principles, are available for your own home.

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June 15, 2007

The Secret, a Karma Chameleon Like a Prayer

I recently watched "The Secret" on dvd. It was interesting and, in some ways, truly enlightening. Granted, Tony Robbins and other self-help gurus have been talking about the "law of attraction" for more than 25 years. "The Secret" was, however, presented in a visually entertaining way, reminiscent of "The Da Vinci Code." Apparently, this presentation connects with many people.

To me, the "law of attraction" discussed in "The Secret" (what you put out to the universe, by asking and then believing [through visualization], is what you will attract) was strikingly reminiscent of two different religious concepts. Karma is typically defined as the belief that "the effects of all deeds actively create past, present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain and joy it brings to others." Isn't that the same thing as the "law of attraction" put forth in "The Secret"? Likewise, prayer is generically defined as "an action or practice of communicating, commonly with a sequence of words, to a deity or spirit for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, confessing sins, or to express one's thoughts and emotions." Isn't that the same thing as the process of the "law of attraction" in "The Secret"? Is it all really that simple?

In fact, one memorable aspect of "The Secret" was the discussion of how spirituality, a universal force or higher power (whether called God, deity, "the force" or something else) that binds us all together, and organized religion are all the same concept. Are they all really the same? If so, then couldn't thousands of wars and hundreds of millions of deaths throughout the history of mankind, all in the name of God or religion, have been avoided?

Too bad they didn't have dvds six thousand years ago.

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June 09, 2007

V For Victory

Here is what Chris Matthews said on his MSNBC-TV program "Hardball" two days ago: "I agree with what Fareed Zakaria wrote in 'Newsweek' this week, which is terrorism isn‘t explosions and death, terrorism is when you change your society because of those explosions and you become fearful to the point where you shut out immigration, you shut out student exchanges, you shut people out of buildings, you begin to act in an almost fascist manner because you‘re afraid of what might happen to you. That‘s when terrorism becomes real and frighteningly successful. That‘s what I believe, and that‘s why I question the way Giuliani has raised this issue. He raises it as a specter. In a weird way, he helps the bad guys."

Matthews' comments are the reason why the film "V For Vendetta" is a must-see. It is set in a dystopian English future where an authoritarian government, usurping power in a war against terrorists, rules by fear (of terrorism and disease), surveillance of its citizens, and oppression. In such a security state, individual liberty is a thing of the past. Against this backdrop, a masked vigilante with an axe to grind, in the tradition of the original "Batman" but with a twist, tries to blow up London's symbols of power and, in turn, the government behind those symbols.

In its subject matter, "V For Vendetta," written by the Wachowski Brothers (who brought us "The Matrix" films) and based on a graphic novel written in the early 1980s by Alan Moore, follows the tradition of novels and films such as George Orwell's "1984," Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," "Soylent Green," "Logan's Run," "The Omega Man," "The Matrix" series and "Brazil." However, most of these dystopian books and movies have a quaintness about them. The stories were interesting, but, at the time, unrealistic. What sets "V For Vendetta" apart from the others is that, due to recent real-life events and government reactions to these events, its story is not so quaint anymore.

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June 08, 2007

Life Imitates Art, or A Tale of Two Senators

I find this rather eerie:

G.D. Spradlin as Senator Pat Geary, The Godfather Part II (1974) --

"For years now a growing number of my constituents have been of Italian descent, and I have come to know them well. They have honored me with their support and with their friendship. Indeed, I can say that some of my very best friends are Italian Americans. Now, Mr. Chairman, at this time and unfortunately, I have to leave these proceedings in order to preside over a very important meeting of my own committee. But before I leave, I do want to say this: that these hearings on the Mafia are in no way whatsoever a slur upon the great Italian people, because I can state from my own knowledge and experience that Italian Americans are among the most loyal, most law abiding, patriotic, hard-working American citizens in this land, and it would be a shame, Mr. Chairman, if we allow the few rotten apples to give a bad name to the whole barrel, because from the time of the great Christopher Columbus, up through the time of Enrico Fermi, right up until the present day, Italian Americans have been pioneers in building and defending our great nation. They are the the salt of the earth, and they are one of the backbones of this country. "

"My friends, we know what we're talking about is the latest wave of migrants into this country. We have to stop the illegal immigration. But we've had waves throughout our history. Hispanics is what we're talking about, a different culture, a different language, which has enriched my state, where Spanish was spoken before English was. My friends, I want you the next time you're down in Washington, D.C., to go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You'll find a whole lot of Hispanic names. When you go to Iraq or Afghanistan today, you're going to see a whole lot of people who are of Hispanic background. You're even going to meet some of the few thousand that are still green card holders who are not even citizens of this country, who love this country so much that they're willing to risk their lives in its service in order to accelerate their path to citizenship and enjoy the bountiful, blessed nation. So let's, from time to time, remember that these are God's children. They must come into our country legally. But they have enriched our culture and our nation, as every generation of immigrants before them. Thank you."

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June 05, 2007

Profanity Insanity

How about a legal case involving sex, drugs and rock and roll? How about two out of three? Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan struck down a new Federal Communications Commission policy that penalized the broadcast networks whenever they aired an utterance of a "fleeting expletive." Here's a bit of background, and I promise that it's fun:

The FCC's rules prohibit "obscene" and "indecent" (very naughty but not quite obscene) language over the airwaves to varying degrees. "Indecent" language is restricted to the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. time slot. The definition of "indecent" includes a sexual element. In other words, the profanities uttered by the soldiers in "Saving Private Ryan" or by Bob Vila when he hits his thumb with a hammer generally are not prohibited. This is intended to strike a delicate balance with the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from making any law restricting free speech.

But along comes the Bush Administration, and, surprise surprise, it panders to the right wing by upsetting this balance and going overboard. During the 2003 Golden Globe Awards broadcast on NBC, Bono joyfully exclained, "this is really, really f***ing brilliant!" After receiving viewer complaints, the FCC overruled its own staff and found NBC in violation of FCC rules. According to the FCC's new interpretation, any use of the f-bomb is automatically sexual. Really, I think Tony "f***ing cock-a-roach" Montana would be surprised.

Since the Bono incident, the Bush FCC has rendered more such absurd rulings. After the famous 2004 Super Bowl halftime incident involving Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," this FCC effort picked up steam. Last year, the FCC ruled that Fox Television Network violated the rule during the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards telecasts when, respectively, Cher and Nicole Richie dropped the f- and s-bombs in individual exlamations similar to that of Bono. Fox sued the FCC, arguing that the FCC's "fleeting expletive" policy contradicted its rule and the First Amendment. NBC, CBS and ABC joined Fox in the lawsuit.

In yesterday's decision, the Court of Appeals agreed with the tv networks, and struck down the new FCC policy as arbitrary and capricious. My favorite part of the Court's ruling is where it picked up on NBC's argument that the fleeting expletives for which the FCC found the networks in violation were no worse than expletives recently uttered by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Bush last year was caught on videotape uttering "s**t" to Tony Blair at the G-8 Summit. In 2004, Cheney yelled "Go f**k yourself!" at Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor. Presumably, NBC argued that, as a matter of Equal Protection, the same Bush Administration that had fined the television networks for their "fleeting expletives" must also fine Bush and Cheney for theirs. Delicious.

The FCC could appeal the Court's decision, possibly even to the U.S. Supreme Court, which we know now has a 5-4 majority in favor of anything the Bush Administration wants, the Constitution be damned. But for now, at least, an Appeals Court in Manhattan has brought us one step closer to Constitutional sanity.

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June 04, 2007

What to Do When the World is Coming to and End Part Deux? Laugh Even More

How to do that? With Ali G, of course. The Baron of Cohen with his leather track suits, yellow-lensed Bono goggles and Jamaican/East End accent is available on Netflix or at your local video store. I watch him on YouTube, and wind up ROFLMAO. Ali G specializes in interviewing old uptight white guys (Andy Rooney, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump) who apparently have no clue that it's all a put-on. Some of Ali G's interviewees walk out of the interview in frustration. In one case, a rural veterinarian is continually chafed when Ali G keeps confusing "veterinarian" with "veteran," and keeps asking the doc why so many soldiers who served in Vietnam became veterinarians. The doc's facial expressions are classic.

Ali G, another surefire remedy for these stressful times.

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June 01, 2007

Depp Goes Deep in "Finding Neverland"

The Netflix festival continued this week with "Finding Neverland," and it's a much nicer place than "Hollywoodland." This is due primarily to the presence of Johnny Depp rather than Ben Affleck. Depp and Affleck are opposites on the acting spectrum. Unlike Affleck, Depp subsumes his personality and ego until they disappear into his characters, and instead portrays the pure essence of the character.

In the case of Depp's J.M. Barrie, the Scottish creator of "Peter Pan," the character is a creative genius who is so in touch with his inner child that he befriends a widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her young sons and spends nearly all of his time play acting with them. Their interactions, desires and wishes result in Barrie's creation of "Peter Pan," which, to the surprise of Barrie's producer, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman), becomes a smash hit among adults and children alike. At the same time, Barrie has to deal with a crumbling marriage to his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) and the disapproval of Sylvia's mother, played by Julie Christie. In handling these situations with varying degrees of success, Barrie is shown to be not an irresponsible man-boy, but rather, a complex, creative, loving person. Johnny Depp tackles all aspects of Barrie with complete success, and fully deserves his Oscar nomination for Best Actor (contrast that with Affleck's Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor in "Hollywoodland").

"Finding Neverland" had me laughing, smiling and blubbering like an idiot at different points. This film is a tribute to the sense of wonder that, although sometimes deeply buried, is present in all of us.

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