Blizzards and blowhards, part II


Where were we yesterday? So Providence mayor David Cicilline was blamed for not averting the 2007 “December debacle” by former Providence mayor (and convicted felon) Buddy Cianci.



Let me tell you about Buddy.


Buddy was the most corrupt mayor Providence ever had, and that’s saying something.  He got out of jail a few years ago – he was in for racketeering, by the way – and has since repositioned himself as a political commentator on radio and TV. He holds forth daily on how he “saved” Providence when he was mayor, and how terrible the current administration is.


People actually listen to this lump of soggy polenta!



But here’s the great thing about him: his predictions are wrong with great regularity.


I followed his political prognostications during the local 2010 elections with great interest.  He had very strong opinions about everything. He knew what was going to happen.



But he was very often wrong.



For example: Buddy said Angel Taveras, the Democratic nominee for mayor, was going nowhere.



Taveras won in a landslide.



(Oh, Buddy changed his mind right before the election, when the polls showed Taveras with an unstoppable majority. I can’t blame Buddy for illiteracy. He can at least read the paper.)



Anthony Gemma, a local (and completely politically inexerienced) businessman, ran for Congress against the adorable David Cicilline.  Cicilline won easily. Gemma made a mess of his whole campaign, and lost badly. Cianci championed Gemma.



Guess what? Cianci was wrong again.



So why do people listen to this dope?



Well, have you ever had a really ugly old dog, with terrible bad breath?



Sometimes you just put up with it.



Cianci still thinks and acts as if it’s 1980. There was still a regimented Democratic political machine in the state in those days, and things happened according to plan.  Also, the ethnic balance in the state has changed enormously.  Also . . . 



Times have changed.



But people still listen to convicted felon Cianci on the radio and on TV.



To paraphrase Cindy Adams: Only in Rhode Island, kids, only in Rhode Island.




Blizzards and blowhards, part I

Rhode Island just had another “blizzard.” It was a scrawny little blizzard, let me tell you. We had maybe ten inches of powdery snow, although it looked ferocious, what with all the blustery wind and such.



You must understand that Rhode Island has a thing about snow. Back in early 1978, there was a big unexpected snowfall that brought the state to a halt for several days. People were stranded everywhere – at their offices, in their cars, in their homes. I arrived in the state six months later, and everyone was still nattering about it. Now, thirty-two years later, they’re still nattering about it.



To this day, when there’s snow in the forecast, people go mental. “Milk and bread” is the catchphrase. The supermarkets are insane asylums; I went into the local market on the day before this year’s “blizzard,” and it looked like a riot scene. There was broccoli on the floor in the produce department. People were fighting over broccoli!



So we’re crazy. Okay. We’re a small state, we exaggerate things. A few years ago, there was an early-December snowstorm that turned out a little worse than expected, and hit slightly earlier in the day than predicted. People got stuck in their evening commutes, and a couple of school buses were delayed. It was the Rhode Island version of the Apocalypse. It is still referred to, several years later, as the “December debacle.” I’m not kidding. People blamed this, if you can believe it, on the mayor of Providence. (That mayor, David Cicilline, a very nice openly-gay fellow, is Rhode Island’s new First Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives as of 2011, by the way.)



Actually, there was one particular local personality who kept yapping about it: ex-Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci.



More about Buddy tomorrow. Stay tuned.




The dumbification of America


There was a recent piece on about the new Spider-Man musical.  The blogger was okay with the musical, but didn’t like the idea that the villains are mad scientists.  Why make scientists the bad guys?

I usually have little sympathy with people whining about fictional victims. Fiction has featured mad scientists for a long time, and the USA doesn’t have a monopoly on them: Doctor Faustus and Doctor Frankenstein come to mind.



But it’s true that science, and scientists, aren’t respected in our culture very much. We as a country, as a people, don’t put a premium on education.  The glory professions are all flukes and shortcuts: entertainer, singer, athlete, Kardashian.  You don’t hear kids talking about wanting to be doctors and lawyers and scientists anymore.  What modern kid would ever want to be a pointy-headed smartass?



There are people – let’s be ingenuous and call them “anti-educationists,” though I think we all know who we’re talking about – who encourage this galloping charge toward the dumbification of America. They are great believers in “common sense” and “native intelligence,” which is (according to them) a whole heap more valuable than book larnin’.



Anti-educationists dismiss science as a “belief system,” neither more nor less worthy of credence than any particular religious belief. (Never mind that it’s based on empirical research rather than feelings and religious texts and I-say-so.) They’ve put evolution and “intelligent design” on a par with one another; if one’s worthy of respect, then so is the other. They’re both “theories,” after all.



However, as one particular judge in Dover, Pennsylvania can tell you, they are not both “theories,” and anyone who says so betrays his own ignorance of the meaning of the word “theory.”



Anti-educationists say that science is a useless smartypants charade, a way for sneaky people to waste money. I recently watched Senator Coburn of Oklahoma listing some wasted-money projects: one was “the study of cow farts.” How silly, right?



But science is always silly, girlfriend. Coburn would have had a lot of fun at the expense of Alexander Fleming fooling around with moldy bread in search of penicillin.  Because, hyuk hyuk, this guy’s spending money experimenting on rotten food!



As you can tell, I have little patience with the anti-educationists. I do not believe that there is any such thing as “native intelligence” or “common sense,” or “God speaking in the heart” for that matter. God may speak to you in your heart, but just try asking him to calculate a tip sometimes and see how much math he knows.



I will predict right now that, in that instance, God will know exactly as much math as you know yourself.



You’ll see I’m right.  I have weird powers of prophecy in these matters.






The royals

Partner and I saw “The King’s Speech” on Sunday. Geoffrey Rush is especially notable as the nonconformist speech therapist who says disrespectful things, but says them with love. Firth is the Duke of York / King George VI, full of bottled-up rage, but a pukka sahib nonetheless. It’s probably a harder acting job than Rush’s, but it isn’t as flashy.



There are lots of fun actors in the bits-and-pieces roles: Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew from the Harry Potter franchise), shaking his jowls like mad as Winston Churchill; Anthony Andrews (babe, where have you been since “Brideshead Revisited”?) as Stanley Baldwin; Derek Jacobi as the unbearable Archbishop of Canterbury; Helena Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, plump and sugar-sweet and sure of herself; Michael Gambon, dumping the Dumbledore routine to portray a nasty crusty George V; and Guy Pearce, playing the Prince of Wales as a Jazz Age creep.



I commented to Partner on the way home, as we slogged through the snow, that I remembered something called “The Woman I Love,” which portrayed the Prince of Wales (the ethereal Richard Chamberlain) as a misunderstood romantic. In “The King’s Speech,” the Prince is a dimwitted simp, thoughtless and easily manipulated.



Funny how attitudes change.



I recently watched “The Queen” again. Watching Helen Mirren is like watching QEII herself; she has exactly the right reserve, the dry pursing of the lips, the very light touch of coarseness (deerstalking, corgis, big ugly scarves).



But she’s a myth.  All of the royals are myths. I think Americans like me mythologize them more than the British do. They personify whole periods of history: the Victorian Era, the Edwardian era, the Tudor period for God’s sake!



But they don’t always personify what they want to personify.



If you asked Elizabeth II what she thought she stood for, she’d say something stolid and proper like: England. The United Kingdom. The Commonwealth. Traditional values.



And the real answer would be: The stubborn maintenance of outdated attitudes. The necessity of being polite to your grandma, even though you disagree with her about everything.



And, most of all, the importance of always carrying a handbag.




Coming attractions: art-house edition


Partner and I slogged through the snow up to the Avon Cinema to see “The King’s Speech” on Sunday afternoon.  The theater is very cute, very close to the Brown campus, with the usual wacky / eccentric college-town crowd. They’ve been playing the same recordings of Chopin and Scarlatti and Mozart piano favorites before the feature since at least 1978. And to confirm their ironic / hipster status, they use the 1950s animated “Let’s All Go To The Lobby” clip, and a No Smoking / Enjoy the Movie notice from around 1989.




And now: your coming attractions, art-house edition.



Blue Valentine. Is that David Arquette playing the ukulele? No, Ryan Gosling. And Michelle Williams of “Brokeback Mountain,” tap-dancing on the sidewalk. Random scenes of love, loss, yearning, infatuation, city skylines. Enough said? Coming, um, whenever.


I Love You, Phillip Morris. Jim Carrey, who is a pretty odd duck, may have finally found the right vehicle: he’s a gay con man who falls in love with his prison cellmate, Ewan MacGregor, who is very fetching as a blond. Carrey gets to flail and shriek as usual, but somehow it seems . . . in character. The last image is of Carrey jumping into a dumpster. I like it! Coming soon.



(Partner and I look at one another and nod. This one we’ll make a point of seeing.)



Mademoiselle Chambon. For some reason, a man is bashing through a wall with a hammer. Also, for some reason, they keep the hammer sound-effect going through most of the preview. Also a blond woman – the title character? – who plays the violin. Finally Hammer Man and Violin Lady speak, and it’s a good thing they used subtitles; I thought I spoke French, but, man, evidently I need a refresher course. Basically, however, it’s “Blue Valentine,” with a violin instead of a ukulele. A paraitre janvier/fevrier.



And now, mesdames et messieurs, Damen und Herren, ladies and gentlemen: your featured presentation.







Sunday blog: The great pumpkin

For me, pumpkins were always decorative accessories. Carve them, or perch them on a fencepost, and then throw them at the neighbor kids on November 1.


I’m partial to pumpkin pie, but the transition from Big Orange Doorstop to soft gooey pie-filling seemed like too much work. Besides, you can buy a nice can of One-Pie for a very reasonable price.


But I had a brain wave this year. I bought a nice trim little sugar pumpkin and put it on the dining-room table for an ornament, but I thought: I’m gonna cook you this year, you little sumbitch.


And I did. And it is surprisingly easy. I split my little cabbage-sized pumpkin into quarters, scooped out the seeds, sprinkled each quarter with salt and a little sugar (and some love, naturally), wrapped ’em in aluminum foil, and baked them right on the oven rack at 350 degrees for an hour.


The result was soft and tender and very toothsome. Once they’re roasted, you can use them right away, or you can pop them in the fridge and use them later; they warm up very nicely. And the skin peels right off


Bobby Flay said recently on TV that pumpkins have no flavor of their own. Bobby Flay is a horse’s arse. Pumpkins have a very nice flavor, savory and faintly earthy.


The pumpkin sections are nice just the way they are, served hot, with some maple syrup drizzled on them.


And I’ve actually been making tacos, using roasted pumpkin, cheese, and guacamole, with a spoonful of salsa, sour cream, and some lettuce. No beans or meat necessary. They are heavenly.


But pumpkins are getting hard to find. The stupid supermarkets stop selling them after Halloween!


Listen, if your neighbors are like mine, they still have their jack-o’-lanterns on their porches, even now in late December. Go raid them. Liberate those pumpkins.


And then roast ’em.


Viva la revolucion!



Christmas blog: Happy holidays with Run DMC

Wishing everyone a very happy Christmas 1987: new sneakers, and macaroni and cheese, and a dog with reindeer horns, and Mom chasing an elf out of the house with a broom.






Repost: Minty, the candy cane who fell on the ground

I posted this new Christmas classic last Sunday, but I used the YouTube link, and it got nuked by the copyright police.


So I did my homework, and this link seems to be legal.


“Never fear / ‘Cause Minty’s here / And he’ll make Christmas excellent . . .”





Christmas Eve blog: Santa Baby



Blogger’s rule: if it’s a Sunday, or a holiday, or anything even remotely resembling a holiday, I can post something unoriginal and interesting.



This is very interesting.



Ladies and gentlemen: Miss Eartha Kitt (of blessed memory), performing “Santa Baby.”







Bad Santa

As a kid, I loved Christmas: toys and lights and reindeer. But I was also vaguely aware that my mother hated Christmas, and I never quite understood why.

Now I am all grown up (and then some), and now I understand my mother’s point. Blighted hopes. Overblown expectations. Social obligations.

Evidently my mother and I are not alone.

For some time now, television has been acting out against Santa Claus. Here’s a very incomplete incident list, just off the top of my head:

  • 1966: The Grinch. Sort of the Antichrist version of Santa.

  • 1987: Married With Children. A skydiving Santa crashes on the Bundy family’s roof, dies, and is carried away on a gurney, sleighbells jingling.

  • 1998: Just Shoot Me. “How The Finch Stole Christmas.” David Spade as the evil Finch spoils everyone’s Christmas.

  • 1999: Futurama. Santa in the year 3000 is an evil robot (voiced by John Goodman) who kills everyone who hasn’t been good during the past year.  And that’s everyone.

  • 2003: Billy Bob Thornton as Bad Santa. And Lauren Graham, who has a sexual Santa fetish.

  • 2009: Modern Family. Santa is a homeless ex-con who punches out Cam’s hated rival.

  • 2010: Family Guy. Stewie goes to the North Pole to kill Santa. It turns out, however, that Santa is a haunted wreck who hates his own life.

From Graham Greene’s “Travels With My Aunt”:

‘It’s the festive season,’ Major Charge said. He blew another raspberry. ‘”Hark! The herald angels sing,”’ he said in a tone of savagery, as though he were taking some kind of revenge on Christmas Eve and all its impedimenta of holy families and mangers and wise men, a revenge on love, a revenge for some deep disappontment.”

Ho ho ho.

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