The New York Times Magazine, 1 January 2017


Comfort the mind with this wonderful excerpt from Jonathan Mahler’s “Search Party,” in the 1 January 2017 New York Times Magazine.

Our most famous self-investigator is, of course, our incoming president, Donald J. Trump; perhaps no one is more committed to embracing and trumpeting unproven claims from the internet. Six years ago, as he flirted with the idea of running for president, he became especially preoccupied with a theory being advanced by a right-wing extremist named Joseph Farah. A self’described ex-Communist, Farah presided over a nonprofit organization, the Western Center for Journalism, which was dedicated to promoting “philosophical diversity” in the news media, and now runs a popular website, WorldNetDaily, which bills itself as “America’s Independent News Network.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors U.S. hate groups, has a different point of view, calling Farah “the internet king of the antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement.

Farah had floated plenty of specious arguments in the past, among them the claim that gay men orchestrated the Holocaust, and that Muslims have a 20-point plan for conquering the United States by 2020. But the Farah campaign that captured Trump’s imagination held that America’s first black president, Barack Obama, might have been born outside the United States.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Reading Manohla Dargis in Paris: a Review of “Magic Mike”

It is starting to get dark.  Self is in Bonnie’s living room, on her red couch, reading the International Herald Tribune.  In the building directly across the street are banks of picture windows, some of which are lighted, all of which have little ironwork balconies.

So this is what she’s spent the last 10 minutes reading:  Manohla Dargis’ review of “Magic Mike,” the beefcake movie of all beefcake movies.

Before self left Scotland, she happened to read a Guardian story on Matthew McConaughey (“From Himbo to Highbrow”).  Oh my goodness, there was one shot of McConaughey taken from a scene in “Magic Mike,” and —  let’s just say self was never a Matthew McConaughey fan (though she did like one recent movie, “The Lincoln Lawyer”) but that shot was absolutely fabulous.  McConaughey’s rippling abs are on full display; his right hand is raised to the ceiling, two fingers fully extended.  He’s wearing a cowboy hat.  My God, self thought, if McConaughey looks as good in that movie as he does in this picture, self is rushing out to catch a screening, the minute she gets back to California.

And, wow, can you believe it?  Channing Tatum, who Entertainment Weekly once referred to as “an animate Bologna column” was the movie’s co-producer.  Self thinks the guy’s career does have legs.

The Manohla Dargis review is accompanied by a photograph of Tatum and his co-star, Alex Pettyfer.  The picture is a nice picture, of course.  Tatum is bending forward, caught in the middle of delivering an admonition or advice to the other fellow.  Until she saw that picture, self had no idea who this Alex Pettyfer was.  But, boy, does he ever outstage Tatum in the “hotness” category, at least he does in that picture.

Here are a pair of excerpts from the Dargis review:

  • ” . . .  few directors can sell the goods —  whether it’s Che in Cuba or Mike in a thong — as shrewdly as Mr. Soderbergh.  A restive talent who toggles between big-studio and low-budget work, he has a genius for wrapping tricky ideas, like capitalism and its discontents, into commercial packages.  Never before has he put them into cheek-baring chaps.”
  • “Those cheeks, smooth as a hairless Chihuahua, will receive considerable attention, as will the rippling muscles . . .  “

The owner of the club is called Dallas, and he’s played by McConaughey, who Dargis says gives a “spectacular, amusingly sleazed-out” performance.

Dear blog readers, the iconic beef-cake shot of a few years ago was of Tom Hardy, in a still from a scene in “Inception.” Hardy is wearing a kind of pink-ish, tailored shirt, and he looks like he’s contemplating the odds —  no other actor can pull off that kind of look, not even Michael Fassbender.

Self used to make fun of McConaughey because he was always in People Magazine with his shirt off.  But in the shot in the Guardian, it’s not McConaughey’s chest we’re riveted to, it’s his hand.

And self is so grateful to Dargis for finding a way to describe male cheeks without sounding prurient.  “Smooth as a hairless Chihuahua!”  That’s priceless!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Forget the Pulitzer! Here’s the Orange Prize Shortlist

The mighty Pulitzer declined to award a prize to any of the novels on the 2012 shortlist, which then made — according to a headline in the Arts section of the Wednesday 18 April 2012 issue of  The New York Times — the publishers of the shortlisted books “cranky.”

Who cares?  The Pulitzer is so yesterday.  Let’s turn our attention to more important things, such as who is going to win The Orange Prize, “an annual prize in Britain that is awarded to a novel written by a women in English” (which is how the “Arts, Briefly” section of the Wednesday 18 April 2012 Times described it)

Here are the novels that made the Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist.  Self browsed the web and found that “Four Northern Americans, including Booker-Prize winner Anne Enright, made the list” and that Georgina Harding is “the only one” of “six nominated authors” who is British (quoting from THE WEEK)

  • Canadian Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues
  • Dublin writer Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz:  (Self doesn’t know why the Times article abbreviated the title of Enright’s novel to The Forgotten)
  • Georgina Harding’s Painter of Silence:  Self thinks this title is pretty fab.
  • American Madeline Miller’s debut novel, Song of Achilles
  • American Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies (Ozick’s seventh:  According to the British paper The Guardian, Ozick is “the favourite” to win the Orange Prize)
  • Previous Orange Prize winner (10 years ago, for Bel Canto) Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder

The winner, says the Times, will receive “a bronze statue and about $48,000.”

BTW, three of the shortlisted share the same publisher:  Bloomsbury.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Still the First Wednesday Post-Washington DC Trip: No Longer Cleaning the House

The house is reasonably clean.  That is, the living room doesn’t have any dog hair balls.  But now self notices that the hardwood floor is badly in need of refurbishing.  And the house plants by the window facing the street look a little peaked.

Instead of cleaning further, self will water (Later, when it cools down a bit).  And then she will do laundry.

Self did a couple of errands, which took her to Menlo Park (Guy Plumbing & Fixtures, El Camino Real; the dry-cleaner’s), then to Sequoia Station in Redwood City, where she:

  • Looked up Yasmina Reza’s novels in Barnes & Noble:  nope, they don’t carry any of them (Self knows of two)
  • Went to Safeway and bought a bag of mesquite charcoal briquets in preparation for next week’s visit of sole fruit of her loins (She also bought four huge avocados:  $5 for 4.  Self loves these, mashed with evaporated milk and drizzled with sugar.  BTW, there goes self’s diet!)

Self discovered that Safeway no longer stocks The New York Times.  This presents a small problem because now she will have to get her Times from either:  a)  Starbucks, and they only carry about five copies a day:  If self doesn’t go early enough in the morning, they are usually sold out; or  b) Whole Foods, which she has avoided like the plague since getting back from Bacolod, because the cake display is right by the entrance (!!!@@##)

Well, self does make it to Whole Foods.  She believes she deserves a pat on the back for restricting herself to buying only one small dessert (fruit tart), which she is saving for the husband.

And then she opens the Times, and in short order discovers the following:

  • The name of Michelle Obama’s initiative to counter childhood obesity is “Let’s Move.”  The whole country is very admiring of how slender the Obama girls are, and we are constantly reminded of this by Mrs. Obama’s emphasis on how unhealthy fat kids are.  Not to mention:  un-attractive.  Self speaks from personal experience because she was once a Fat Kid herself.  And she had no dates in high school.  Though that may have more to do with the “nerd” factor than with her weight.
  • The Kurds, according to an article by J. Michael Kennedy (p. A6), “are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state.”

Here are the countries featured in the rest of the “International News”:  China (missing persons; a British national dying in Chongqing under suspicious circumstances), Palestine, and Egypt.

Self is mighty interested in the case of the dead British national.  His body was cremated before post-mortem, his friends described him as a “light” drinker (even though Chinese authorities attributed his death to “excessive alcohol consumption”), and the prime suspect is a local politician’s wife, who the British national had inadvertently angered by – – – doing what, exactly?  Self reads almost to the last paragraph, and she never discovers what the British guy did to make the wife of the local Chinese official so angry, angry enough to want to murder him.

And then there is an article about the trial of the Norwegian mass murderer.  Thankfully, this doesn’t show him raising his fist in some kind of Nazi-like salute, which self finds extremely sickening.  In some photos, he is even smirking.  But she has only the utmost respect for the Norwegians, who did not “tighten up” their security restrictions in the aftermath of the tragedy, even though the number of murder victims (77) is horrifically large, particularly for a country whose entire population is only 5 million.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Of Interest in the Arts Section of Yesterday’s New York Times (Tuesday, 10 April 2012)

Self feels moved, for the first time ever, to quote from a Michiko Kakutani review.  This one’s on the recent publication by Famous Publishers of Only The Best Fiction and Poetry (Farrar etc) of The Complete Poems by Philip Larkin.  Here’s how the review begins:

“Deprivation is for me,” Philip Larkin once observed, “what daffodils were for Wordsworth.”  He was right, of course:  unhappiness, loss, disappointment, boredom and fear of death are the bread and butter of his verse.  Larkin was the Eeyore of poets, the Debbie Downer of modern literature.

(It is really really funny that Kakutani compares Larkin to Eeyore and to Debbie Downer, but she gets even funnier with the very next sentence, which self will refrain from posting, as she realizes she is wading into muddy waters)

On p. 2 of the Arts section, self begins reading what sounds like it’s going to be a glowing review, by Brian Seibert, of a new ballet by Avi Scher, performed by ballet star Herman Cornejo. Self is intrigued by this sentence:

The young choreographer Avi Scher likes to say that he has a mission:  presenting top-quality ballet dancers in intimate spaces at affordable prices.

For that alone:  All Hail, Avi Scher!

Alas, the rest of the piece laments that Mr. Cornejo’s “gifts” were “wasted” by the choreography (“Emotional incoherence,” Mr. Seibert writes, is “typical” of Mr. Scher’s work):  “For no apparent reason,” Seibert continues, “Ms. Kuranaga (partnered with Mr. Cornejo in the piece “Phased”), kept curling up on the floor like a pill bug . . . ” Uh.  Self will stop right here.  She feels so bad for Mr. Scher.

And then there’s The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, which self decides to skip, because only once in the past almost four decades of doing the Times Crossword Puzzle has self ever managed to solve a complete puzzle, and it is just mighty frustrating.

And then, in the “Arts, Briefly” column comes the real smasheroo:  David Byrne and Fatboy Slim have collaborated on a new musical, which is purportedly (Self is so proud of herself:  it’s not easy slipping a word like “purportedly” into a blog like hers) a “deconstruction of the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines.”  Why oh why oh why oh why did David Byrne and Fatboy Slim decide that Imelda was a worthy subject for their sublime talents?  Worse, what led them to feel that it should be staged at the Public, an icon of theater-dom, to presumably enthusiastic reverence and widespread applause?

When self was just a struggling 22-year-old administrative assistant, she used to live right around the corner from the Public, in a sublet on Eighth and First.  How she saved and scrimped her miserable $800/month salary (Thanks much, Famous Accounting Firm of Ernst & Whinney!)  just so she could watch every single one of the productions!

Of course the article is accompanied by a visual:  there is Imelda in her trademark terno with —  is that a peacock on the front?  OK, some type of bird appliqué — and a hair-do that is something of a cross between the Amy Winehouse bee-hive and the Doris Day flip, of course lacquered to helmet-like perfection by the strenuous application of salon hairspray.

But wait — didn’t David Byrne, several years ago, decide to bike around Asia, and wasn’t one of his stops Manila?  Self knows because the book he wrote about that experience was reviewed in The New York Times.  So in his biking around Manila, he did display a very adventurous spirit, because, as dear blog readers well know, someone like David Byrne could have sat around all day in the lobby of the Peninsula sipping Remy Martin, if he had wanted to.  After all, he is David Byrne.

And he probably likes Filipinos — as, who wouldn’t?  Filipinos are the best, absolutely the fun-nest people on the entire planet!  And he must have gotten to know a number of ordinary people —  self means while he was biking around.  He presumably didn’t tell people he met while biking:  “Hello, I am David Byrne, famous lead singer and songwriter.”  They probably thought of him as just another white adventurer, of the kind that are becoming more and more common in places like Bacolod and Dumaguete and Siquijor.

Self, haven’t you ever heard of the saying, Quit while you’re ahead?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

P. 1, India’s DAILY POST, Monday 6 February 2012/ P. 1, New York Times, Sunday 12 February 2012

Page 1 of India’s Daily Post of 6 February 2012 bore this headline:

3 More Tibetans Set Themselves on Fire

Three Tibetans set themselves on fire on February 3 in the under-siege town of Serthar in Eastern Tibet.  Since Tapey’s self-immolation in 2009, 19 Tibetans have set themselves on fire demanding the return of the Dalai Lama and protesting China’s occupation of their country.  A Tibetan in exile with contacts in the region said on Sunday that two Tibetans survived the self-immolation but one is feared dead.

“The three Tibetans called for the unity of the people and protested against the Chinese government,” the Tibetan who didn’t want to be named, said.  The two who have reportedly survived have been identified as Tsering, around 60 years of age and Kyari, around 30.

And here are two items that were on the front page of The New York Times today:

War’s Risks Shift to Contractors

by Rod Nordland

More civilian contractors working for American companies than American soldiers died in Afghanistan last year for the first time during the war.

American employers here are under no obligation to publicly report the deaths of their employees and frequently do not.  While the military announces the names of all its war dead, private companies routinely notify only family members.  Most of the contractors die unheralded and uncounted —  and in some cases, leave their survivors uncompensated.

And, self is still unspeakably sad about Whitney Houston.  Her death, too, was on p. 1, in an article written by Jon Pareles and Adam Nagourney:

Whitney Houston, R & B Superstar, Dies at 48

Whitney Houston, the multi-million-selling singer who emerged in the 1980s as one of her generation’s greatest R & B voices, only to deteriorate through years of cocaine use and an abusive marriage, died on Saturday in Los Angeles.  Her death was confirmed by her publicist, Kristen Foster.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Cold, Gray Thursday (January 2012)

Self feels in no way inclined to step out of doors. Good thing her current Netflix rental, “The Conspirator,” is pretty good (James McAvoy, Robin Wright). She was going to go to German Haus Staudt in downtown to get sauerkraut to go with the corned beef simmering in the crockpot, and also drop by Peet’s for more French Roast. But that can wait.

It’s Sinulog Time in the Philippines. She was there last January. Oh what a difference a year makes.  A year ago, she remembers one of her Bacolod nephews returning from a smaller version of the Sinulog, in Kabankalan. Now he works for Qatar Airlines.

The mail thumped into the box a few minutes ago. The cover of Sports Illustrated is our very own 49ers. Self views the cover with mixed feelings. On the one hand, she loves what Alex Smith and the rest of the 49ers are doing. On the other hand, she clearly remembers telling the husband, “Whoever’s on the cover of the next Sports Illustrated will lose.” And you know, she successfully called the game for the 49ers last weekend!

Anyhoo, fie with the gloomy thoughts! Self is at the moment still reading last Sunday’s New York Times. After several days, she has slowly worked her way to the Art & Leisure section, and has paused to peruse an article on a new show, “Revenge,” which the Times critic Alessandra Stanley has called one of the Top 10 Shows of 2011.

It’s set in the Hamptons (What? Another show set in the Hamptons? When will it all end?) and one of the main characters is played by a tall, skinny, blonde actor named Gabriel Mann. The role is supposed to be that of a high-tech billionaire.

Self doesn’t recognize him from the Times picture, but the article cites a previous acting credit as being the Bourne movies, and she thinks, she thinks he just might be the guy who plays the assistant to one of the Treadstone bad guys (“Danny”), the one who gets off-ed near the start of Bourne II (a hunch later confirmed)

In “Revenge,” he plays, according to Times writer Megan Angelo, “the Eleanor Rigby of tech billionaires: brilliant, prickly, and palpably alone.”

What? Surely Ms. Angelo could have thought of a better parallel. Eleanor Rigby is the LAST thing on self’s mind when she looks at a picture of Gabriel Mann. But, to return to the matter at hand —

Ms. Angelo asks Mann who the models for his character are. Mr. Mann modestly declares that “there were definitely some names thrown at me, like Zuckerberg, but nobody’s going to do that better than Jesse Esienberg in The Social Network. The only description for Nolan in the script was that he’s a very bad dresser. (For the audition) I put on a red windbreaker and every other ugly, ill-fitting thing I could dig out.”

Angelo: There’s something unsettling about him onscreen — magnetic, but unsettling.

Mann: … Nolan just snakes his way through these events. I wanted him to be unreadable.

Angelo: Nolan’s a loner, and the Hamptons is a strange place to be a loner.

Mann: It’s an interesting dichotomy. He has built this castle made of money that separates him from everybody else. He doesn’t have social connections. People meet him purely because of his money. What does that do to a person over time?

Which is indeed a very interesting question, Mr. Mann.

*     *     *     *

(Several hours later)

Self inveigled the husband to search for an episode of “Revenge” on Play on Demand.  He dredged up Episode 6.  Wow!  That is indeed the most crazy, cheesy, entertainingly absorbing soap self has seen on network TV since “Dallas”!!!  She almost bust a gut seeing Gabriel Mann’s blonde, Beatle haircut!  Is he playing metro-sexual?  She loves the bitterness around his mouth.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The New York Times: “75 Things New Yorkers Talked About in 2011”

No, self is not going to list the 75 things.  Yes, there was the presence of a Kardashian (Also:  Anderson Cooper.  Also:  Meryl Streep).  But here are the items that truly interested self:

8.  Princess Beatrice’s fascinating headgear at the Royal Wedding (raised $131,000 for charity)

12.  Steve Jobs.  “Fittingly, many people learned of his death on their iPhones.”

15.  Ellen Barkin on Twitter.  “Never has unbridled profanity been so entertaining.”

18.  “Homeland”:  “Angela Chase grows up into a pill-popping, bipolar, line-crossing C.I.A. operative.  The most compelling character on television in 2011.”

24.  “Keith Olbermann leaves MSNBC to go to Current TV, is never heard from again.”

25.   “Zooey Deschanel:  adorable or irritating?  Discuss.”

51.   Planking

57.  “Michael Fassbender.  And not just because of the frontal nudity in Shame.”

74.  “The now officially annoying James Franco.”

(The “75 Things” was in the Thursday, 29 December 2011 issue)

Random Thoughts on a Sunday (2nd Sunday of November 2011)

Hubby and self just could not agree on whether to take Bella to the groomers or to see “Margin Call.”

Brother-in-law, R, Dad of Niece G, has one speaking line in “Margin Call.” Self knows he is definitely in it because the movie was filmed in his office, and they had him sign a release form, stating that it was OK to use his “image” and “dialogue” in the movie.

Self also wants to see it because Zach Quinto, who despite not being on self’s team, is sooo magnetic — is in it. And it was rated 89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the last time self checked.

On the other hand, Bella stinks —  much.  This is what happens when you achieve great old age.  Of course, it is a triumph to have achieved 16 dog years, which would be the equivalent of 100+ human years.  But you also have this deterioration of bodily functions, and if there is not a nurse or a loved one to constantly be cleaning after you —  if, for instance, your human minders are less than patient —  you will live out your last years in a mess of filth.

But self will never permit that to happen to The Ancient One.  Never, never, never!  (If Gracie had just given self a chance, self could have been equally vigilant with her.  But instead Gracie got a huge episode in the middle of the night, and when self found her the next day, she was just barely alive.  Which then led to her having to be put down, in April.  Which then led to a very depressing spring. Possibly the most depressing spring of self’s entire life)

Anyhoo, to return to the topic at hand, and the ostensible reason for this post, hubby finally took himself off to see “J. Edgar,” and self decided to make herself a lunch of mashed avocado, sugar, and evaporated milk.  Then she continued reading the New York Times Sunday magazine of 30 October.  And lo and behold!  There is a very interesting article about the graphic artist Lynda Barry, who as self knows is half-Filipino.

It seems Lynda loves to teach, and her students travel long hours to sit in her writing workshop, and on this particular day, the day when the New York Times reporter was sitting in, Lynda started off by singing, to the tune of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” :

I was born a meat cutter’s daughter
My mom was from the Philippines; she was a janitor
I ate TV dinners at night
I grew up by the TV light
While Dad drank vodka in the basement and Mom hollered.


Barry’s next trick is to tell her students: “I’m gonna work you like the mules on the Erie Canal.”

Self can see now why they love her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Gates and Jobs: Walter Isaacson Reflects

Below is the first half of an opinion piece written by Walter Isaacson, author of the bestelling biography of Steve Jobs.  The piece was in the 30 October 2011 Sunday Review section of The New York Times:

One of the questions I wrestled with when writing about Steve Jobs was how smart he was.  On the surface, this should not have been much of an issue.  You’d assume the obvious answer was:  he was really, really smart.  Maybe even worth three or four reallys.  After all, he was the most innovative and successful business leader of our era and embodied the Silicon Valley dream write large:  he created a start-up in his parents’ garage and built it into the world’s most valuable company.

But I remember having dinner with him a few months ago around his kitchen table, as he did almost every evening with his wife and kids.  Someone brought up one of those brainteasers involving a monkey’s having to carry a load of bananas across a desert, with a set of restrictions about how far and how many he could carry at one time, and you were supposed to figure out how long it would take.  Mr. Jobs tossed out a few intuitive guesses but showed no interest in grappling with the problem rigorously.  I thought about how Bill Gates would have gone click-click-click and logically nailed the answer in 15 seconds, and also how Mr. Gates devoured science books as a vacation pleasure.  But then something else occurred to me:  Mr. Gates never made the iPod.  Instead, he made the Zune.

So was Mr. Jobs smart?  Not conventionally.  Instead, he was a genius.  That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius.  His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical.  They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor.  Trained in Zen Buddhism, Mr. Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis.

And that is just about all self can manage to type of the article, dear blog readers, as she has loads of errands to run today.  Stay tuned.

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