Monday, April 26, 2010

Nobody asked

Amynah and Sana are in Edmonton right now. I am not. This state of affairs, already three days old, will continue to this Friday. This is both the first time I’ve been alone in Los Angeles, and the first time I’ve spent any time away from Sana since she was born.

In their absence, I’ve made certain discoveries. This apartment apparently functions like an ecosystem, in which every niche must be filled for it to function. Amynah, Sana and I all fill specific niches.

Ordinairily, when Amynah is away, I need only fill her niche and mine. I didn’t think filling Sana’s would be so important: she’s only been around for .01 percent of my life, so how crucial could her role be?

Apparently, very crucial. Someone, it appears, has to be the one that doesn’t feed or dress themselves and sleeps at weird hours, and only when forced too. And that someone is now me.

Accordingly, I been spending too much time on the Internet, thinking about things that are not the least bit important or original. So, does anyone care what I think of the whole South Park thing? No? Here goes anyway. In response to a couple of extremists threatening the creators of the South Park cartoon for implying that they had drawn Mohammed in a bear suit (important note: it was actually Santa Claus in there), the Comedy Central Network censored the episode.

Predictably, in response to that, a few Facebook geniuses have decided to make some kind of point by creating an “everyone draw Mohammed day” and encouraging people to post images of the Islamic Prophet on their profile pages.

This is very, very, stupid.

There are three parties involved in this dispute: the South Park guys, the network, and the crazies. Posting offensive cartoons does not help the South Park guys. Nor does it send any cogent message to the network. It does, presumably, anger the crazies, but only in the course of offending millions of other, non-crazy Muslims.

On the surface, that might still be appealing, but it doesn’t really make any sense.

Take the Don Imus scandal from a few years back. A jack-ass radio announcer, he called a college women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy-headed hoes” on air. There was an outcry, and eventually his broadcaster fired him. His defenders yelled themselves hoarse over censorship, to no avail.

Now, at that point, would it have made any sense to defend Imus’ right to say what he wanted by repeating his words? Of course not – all that would have done would be to repeatedly insult a group of women that had almost nothing to do with his firing.

The same holds here: repeating South Park’s [non] offence, won’t have any effect on the ultimate censors – the network. And it won’t have any effect on the crazies either - the only thing, at this point, that would deflate them would be if Comedy Central reversed its decision. But posting a Mohammed cartoon because of this tempest in a teapot will serve as a middle finger upthrust in the face of every Muslim who believes both in their faith, and in not murdering people (which I am confident is the vast majority – especially on Facebook).

That, in the end, is what is at issue here: the crazies are not in the wrong because they’re Muslim. They’re not even in the wrong because they’re offended. They’re in the wrong because they threatened to kill people. The response effectively subjects anyone who peacefully belongs in the first two categories to a punishment that should rightfully be restricted to those in the third.

Of course, while such distinctions should matter to the “draw Mohammed” crowd, they don’t, because the middle finger approach requires far less thought. But reactionary contempt has noxious follow-on effects. To deliberately insult all Muslims for the offence of a very few is to agree on some level with the crazies that they speak for their coreligionists, when they most assuredly do not (I know at least one Muslim group actually accused them of being a front organization to make real Muslims look bad). Striking back at the crazies in such a broad fashion is to grant them an authority they do not deserve.

Beyond the pat-yourself-on-the-back feeling from having made “a statement,” (however meaningless it be) who other than the crazies themselves, does it serve to afford them such credibility?

(Incidentally, if you want to make fun of religious crazies, there are much more targeted and clever ways to do so).

Friday, April 09, 2010

Meryl Streep's star was the next one over.

Mann's Chinese Theatre

Hollywood is famous for many things, but reverence for the written word is not one of them. Its entertainments are, by definition literal, without being literary: most brutally, in a recent case, by removing the Wonder from Alice in Wonderland by making it “underland.” Because it’s underground you see, and Hollywood wouldn’t want you to be confused or, heaven forfend, be left wondering.

It’s strange then, that two of the most visited sites in Hollywood aren’t just word based, they’re literally just words – the Hollywood sign, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As someone who works with words for a living, I don’t want to discourage this, but I couldn’t help but be curious about the appeal. The sign is not particularly distinguished – an unadorned font, plain white, running across the crest of some unspectacular mountains, it looks like what it originally was: a real-estate billboard.

As to the Walk, what precisely is the difference between seeing the words “Harrison Ford” on gum-encrusted brass plaque on the sidewalk upon which the multimillionaire actor may never have trod, and seeing it on the credits of one of his movies which he actually had something to do with or, say, dropped arbitrarily in a curmudgeonly blog post?

My experience of the Walk didn’t illuminate matters for me. There were a lot of names – not all of which I recognized, and none of which got my blood pumping. Some that I observed weren’t even real people: like Big Bird, The Simpsons, or John Tesh.

Yet, the sidewalks were crowded with people taking photos of people’s names, squealing with excitement when they happened upon a particularly famous one. I wondered if there was a market in simply charging people five bucks for their people their favorite celebrity’s name printed on a Post-It note – it would be somewhat more tangible, after all.

As I cynically pondered this, the experience, suddenly, though perhaps inevitably, became what the cool kids might call meta-textual, when I stumbled across this star:

Anne Shirley is, as my Canadian readers will know, the heroine of the Lucy Maude Mongomery “Anne of Green Gables” novels. The first book was made into a film in 1934 and a rising young actress, born Dawn Paris.* was cast in the part. Apparently unafraid of being typecast, she adopted Montgomery’s creation’s name as her own, and spent the rest of her career as Anne Shirley. And here I was, taking a photo of the not-name of a starlet who'd been in a movie that had taken its story from a book – whose main character would have been preferred have been called Cordelia.

We’re through the rabbit hole people. Into UnderWonderland.

* Before adopting Anne Shirley as a stage name, Dawn Paris performed under thoroughly awesome stage name of “Dawn O’Day."

Monday, April 05, 2010

The big cheese

I was going to do a big post on visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but my beloved daughter has been possessed by a shrieking goblin that will only be exorcised by being held and cuddled, non-stop.

Instead, I will present you with, courtesy of Brian Busby at
"The Dusty Bookcase," a poem from Canada's history, singing the glories of a 7,000 pound cheese made for a 19th century World's Fair that I would look up if I didn't have my apoplectic offspring attempting to revenge herself upon me for not predicting and catering to her infantile whim to not sleep in any of the sleep-dedicated infrastructure we have cluttering up the apartment.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Vegas. Baby.

I’m not superstitious, but I should have known our Vegas trip was not going to end in riches when our hotel booked us into rooms on the thirteenth floor.

While we were looking forward to our first road trip with Yann and Felicie since Provence there were omens that luck was not with us: the enjoyment of our night gawking at the Strip was considerably reduced by Earth Hour, during which most of the major casinos turned off their ridiculously garish light displays in the spirit of environmentally sustainability. Who the hell goes to Vegas to be reminded about the needless excesses of consumer society?

The untimely restraint meant that the hour Amynah spent waiting for the famous Bellagio fountain show was wasted* – we gave up our primo viewing spots five minutes before it started, meaning we only caught a glimpse of it over a bunch of frat boys heads. (*Not entirely wasted - she found people's reactions to the gang of pamphleteers with their "Jesus Saves You... FROM HELL!" t-shirts to be pretty entertaining).

Strip with the lights on. Upon reflection, a less clichéed photo would have been the Strip with the lights off. Maybe next year.

As long as Sana was with us we were a little reluctant to enter the casinos either. Regretfully, the abundant smoking, drinking, and scantily-clad go-go dancers (not to mention the surfeit of Tea-Party types in town for a protest) didn’t seem conducive to creating and atmosphere for responsible parenting.

Of course, bare flesh was hard to avoid: every corner on the strip was populated by half a dozen guys handing out calling-cards for “professional companions.” At one point, Felicie complained that no one was trying to give her one, so I – chivralrous gentleman that I am – took one for her.

This was a big mistake: as soon as the rest saw that they had a willing taker, I was swarmed by half a dozen card snapping prostitute-proselytizers, shoving pictures of naked ladies in my face, into my hands, even directly into my pockets. For those keeping score at home: Susan, Veronica [the lone brunette], Kimberly, Mariah, Tina, and Victoria and Tiffany, who appear to be package-deal twins. To my disappointment, there wasn't a Honus Wagner in the bunch. It occurred to me that Vegas would be a very strange city in which to go through puberty.

Felicie awaiting her Philly Cheese steak. That tower on the table behind her? Beer.

That’s not to say we avoided sin entirely. On our first night, we inadvertently enjoyed quite possibly the most American – or least French, anyway – dinner of our lives. It was at a NASCAR-themed restaurant, with filled with March-maddened college basketball fans yelling at the half-dozen large screen TVs. Felicie and I had Philly cheese steak sandwiches, Yann had a pound-of-beef burger, and Amynah – eating light – had a Southern-style chicken sandwich with what appeared to be a hectare of fries. Though we were tempted, we refrained from ordering the two-foot long burrito that was the restaurant’s “challenge dish” – finish it, and you eat for free. “Bathroom breaks are monitored - vomiting voids the competition” said the announcer, drily.

Yann and his pound-of-beef burger

When Yann and I finally managed to hit the tables, we were a little tired and overwhelmed. Our practice games of Blackjack had only left us certain that we wanted to be the house. Nonetheless, (once Amynah had retired with Sana) we found a table with a sympathetic looking dealer, close to a lucky-looking go-go dancer, and bought some chips. Felicie went upstairs to change, but promised to return.

Somehow, despite our attempts to look worldly and Euro-sophisticated, the dealer, and our fellow players, spotted us for the hopeless rubes we were immediately. Every second hand, when one or the other of us would tap for another card, the dealer would look us, puzzled:

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” we’d reply, full of machismo. And then we’d lose.

At one point, Yann was up nearly one hundred bucks, while I was down to fifteen – the minimum stake for the table. Then he drew a pair and –with considerable guidance from an exceptionally inebriated man with horn-rimmed glasses – split it. I had no idea what was happening, and I’m pretty sure Yann didn’t either, but between Friendly McDrunkerson and the helpful dealer, Yann basically had his hand played for him. He lost. Then he lost a few more times, and pretty soon he was out.

Me, I went up as much as $45 dollars, but mostly floated between $15 and $30 – winning a little, immediately losing it, then winning it back. I never had as much as Yann did at the dizzying heights of his success, but I played longer. In the end though, I lost just as much, burning through my stake.

And while I tried to play it cool, Yann and I were both itching to get back on the tables: Yann’s goal was to win enough to pay off a parking ticket he’d incurred the day before, while I wanted to show that I could walk away even with “only” a fifteen dollar win (which, incidentally, would have required winning back my initial stake as well). We were both convinced – all evidence to the contrary – that we were on the verge of a breakthrough. We headed out of the casino, towards a bank machine. On the way there, we ran in to Felicie, on her way to join us.

“You’re done already?” she asked, incredulously.

“Errr…” we said, suddenly realizing we’d blown through our stated limit in less time than it had taken for her to change her pants. Perhaps, we decided, it would be better to simply have a drink, watch the go-go dancers without the distractions of babies or cards, and then turn in for the night.

However, if there’s a next time, I’m requesting a room on a different floor.