Sad News

Just read on the WELL the sad news that Molly Ivins is near death, from the cancer she’s been fighting for so long.

Later: Rest in peace, Molly Ivins.

Still later: Quite a tribute on the front page of the Texas Observer‘s website.

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Quote of the Day

From Eugene Robinson’s Washington Post column the other day:

Cheney acts as if he’s willing to go to any lengths to keep people from learning that on the subject of homosexuality, he’s probably pretty enlightened.

(Context: In a television interview a few days back, Wolf Blitzer asked Dick Cheney how he could oppose equal rights for same-sex couples at the same time his lesbian daughter and her partner are expecting a baby. Cheney replied that the question was “out of line” and he wasn’t going to answer it.)

Unhappy Meals

Nifty and informative article in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine. A few excerpts:

Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.

And:

Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”

A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to “eat less” of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them called “saturated fat.” … Henceforth, government dietary guidelines would shun plain talk about whole foods, each of which has its trade association on Capitol Hill, and would instead arrive clothed in scientific euphemism and speaking of nutrients, entities that few Americans really understood but that lack powerful lobbies in Washington.

And:

By comparison, the typical real food has more trouble competing under the rules of nutritionism, if only because something like a banana or an avocado can’t easily change its nutritional stripes (though rest assured the genetic engineers are hard at work on the problem). So far, at least, you can’t put oat bran in a banana. … The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. …

Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.

Clunky Metaphor of the Day (or at Least, That’s How It Appears to My Eye’s Camera)

An article in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune, about an unusual case of amnesia, begins:

Joe Bieger walked out his front door with his two dogs one morning last fall a beloved husband, father, grandfather and assistant high school athletic director at a Catholic school. Minutes later, all of that would seemingly be wiped from his brain’s hard drive.

Evidently We Changed Constitutions Somewhere While I Wasn’t Paying Attention

Nice collection of quotes at Glenn Greenwald’s blog Unclaimed Territory from Republican senators back in October 1993 as they forced Clinton to withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia.

Of course, that was back when the Constitution gave Congress the authority to mandate a withdrawal; nowadays, as some of those same Republican senators are currently arguing, our Constitution gives that authority only to the president.

For example, Sen. John McCain said back then:

What is the criteria and what should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal from Somalia. And if we do not do that … then I would say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution of the United States and mandate that they be brought home quickly and safely as possible ….

Omigod, Please Don’t Make Me Want to Go See Legally Blonde

Stuart Bousel — who wrote and directed Troijka last year which I enjoyed — actually liked Legally Blonde, the musical that is playing right now at the Golden Gate Theater. Now, okay, I haven’t seen it, so maybe I shouldn’t venture an opinion just in case I decide to go see it and realize that it’s totally brilliant and thus will be unable to pretend that I’ve been an advocate of the show right from the start. But it sounds like a one-joke idea for a musical to me, and the two songs on the SHN website sound like one-joke songs to my ear, and I had already made up my mind not to see it. Now I’m warily curious.

But maybe I’m just too old for this kind of stuff: Mr. Bousel writes:

It also is one of those rare birds in modern musical theater: something geared to appeal to my age group, and for that I’m actually pretty grateful. It’s getting harder and harder to find fun, entertaining, smart new musicals for the Gen X and Y crowd.

Believe me, it’s pretty hard to find good new musicals for the Gen W crowd, too. But in another blog entry, he wrote that the music for Spring Awakening didn’t sound like “musical music”, and I sort of had that feeling about the two songs from Legally Blonde. It’s attractive, pleasant pop music but it doesn’t convey specific emotion to my ears. But maybe I’m too old and listen to too little of this kind of music to hear nuances in it, I don’t know. It often takes me several listenings before I get a piece of music. First time I saw a Kurt Weill musical, all the songs sounded exactly the same to me; now I wonder what was I thinking? Bruckner still sounds that way to me, every movement of every symphony sounds like every other, yet Dave is a major Bruckner fan and insists that if I listened more, I would get it.

Mr. Bousel adds:

THE WILD PARTY is grand, of course, but it’s more of the arty pursuasion, like PARADE, and feels like it belongs to an older tradition of serious operetta.

Ouch. You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’d drop everything and buy orchestra seats for a good new serious operetta.

My vibes about Legally Blonde have been that it’s going to be yet another story in which the writers spend three quarters of their time relentlessly mocking their characters for being stereotypical and shallow (and whose fault exactly is that, anyway?) and then expect us to feel genuine emotion for them when they get into some kind of crisis and tug on our heartstrings. There are so many movies and plays that try to work that way, they never work on me like they mean to and leave me feeling irritated rather than moved, and Legally Blonde has been looking to me like another one of them.