Monday, November 06, 2006

A bit harried

Whew, sure have been busy.

Jesse was up here for dinner last Wednesday, amid his fall visit to the USA. In response to my request for British foodstuff oddities, he brought me a few items. The highlight, I'd say, is a can of "All Day Breakfast," which is a tomato-based concoction containing baked beans, pork sausages, mushrooms, bacon slices and -- wait for it -- an omelette. The picture on the label shows a fat little sausage and a half-moon omelette floating in tomatoey beans. Eeew. Well done, Jesse.

This weekend I went to NYC to visit Alex again. It was good; taking advantage of his free museum admission, we went to MoMA and the Brooklyn Musuem (which had a fabulous exhibition by sculptor Ron Mueck, who started his career with the Muppets. (His stuff doesn't translate to photos well.) MoMA also has a couple theaters that you can also get into free on Alex's card, so we saw Midnight Cowboy, which was quite impressive.

We also verified David Byrne's claim that this arch in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn

does in fact contain a large number of cool puppets. Byrne was himself varifying the claim of a friend that this was true -- I think it's just the sort of thing that doesn't seem like it should be true. But I'm glad it is. The New York Puppet Lending Library takes up the leg of the arch, and they have a small performance space in the top, no joke.

I also did a lot of eating this weekend, including my quota of three Doughnut Plant doughnuts. (Vanilla bean, strawberry jelly with vanilla bean glaze, and tres leches cake style, in case you were wondering.)

In the Annie Leibovitz exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, there was a posed picture of the main movers of the Bush Administration -- W, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, etc. looking at the camera steely-eyed and purposeful. The galleries were extremely crowded, and the picture was exerting a forcefield of political distortion in the room. Unlike the other photos, it had created a little half circle of empty space. As people stood and looked or milled past, everyone was forced to acknowledge it. A man sighed loudly. A woman rolled her eyes. Another woman made a sarcastic remark to her companion about how the crew really looked like they had it together. There was visible displeasure on the faces of many of the people walking by as Bush suddenly intruded on their pleasant afternoon of art photography.

Not exactly an unbiased sample of the voting public, but hopefully a similar dynamic of repulsion will be at work in the elections today. I've got my races I'm paying particular attention to, and a few of us will be gathering at John's place to watch returns. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Here’s to the State of the Union

By Kat Hyland

I saw some of the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness as they listened to President Bush deliver his latest State of the Union Address. Tearing their way through the halls of college dorms looking for a television screen, students across America gathered to watch the annual spectacle. At a time when many consider the average American to be politically apathetic and uninvolved, you may have gotten the impression that the students were interested in something other than presidential oratory. And you would have been right.

Were these students grieving for their fallen comrades in Iraq and hoping for a new development in U.S. foreign policy? Were Yale students intrigued by social security reform? Were Harvard students curious about cloning? The sad truth is that America’s promising youth were gathered not to listen in rapture to words of wisdom, but to gulp a shot of alcohol every time George Bush said words like “compassion” or “freedom” or “oil.” That some college kids needed to infuse themselves with cheap vodka to sit through the President’s speech speaks volumes about what we as a nation are willing to stomach.

Popularity polls speak volumes as well. At the time of his speech, Gallup polls reported that Bush’s presidential approval rating was at only 46 percent. More dismally, 62 percent disapproved of the ‘State of the Country.’ It almost goes without saying that a sizable number of Americans gathered not to applaud President Bush but to confirm their doubts about his leadership.

What did the President actually say? After his tribute to Coretta Scott King and the inevitable publicity stunt involving the family of a fallen soldier (whose last written words were in support of Bush’s war effort), he launched into what could have been a repeat of his last State of the Union Address. He brought back classic Bushisms such as “spread democracy abroad” and “we are winning Iraq.” After Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran once again received honorable mentions in the next-to-invade list, Bush closed out the foreign policy report with a defense of his plan for warrantless surveillance in order to end terrorism. But since he announced this on an internationally aired program, are people really likely to reveal secret terror plots over the phone and Internet?

Then, on the domestic front, Bush recited a laundry list of policies, many of them designed to fatten the bank accounts of the K Street lobbyists. When the President lacked substantive plans, he simply substituted words like “commission” or “initiative.” Policy proposals ranged from redundant to obscure, for while he created another commission on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and mentioned moving toward energy independence for the sixth year in a row, he also warned America of a dangerous new breed: the human-animal hybrid. Yet as strongly as he denounced cloning and stem cell research, Bush promoted faith-based organizations and funding for HIV/AIDS, so it seems not all worthy causes will go unnoticed in the years to come, except for those that do not survive the discretionary funding budget cuts. And these are, after all, a pittance to pay for a “revolution of conscience.”

In its aftermath, it is no small wonder that America’s young scholars transformed a once-prominent national occasion into a popular drinking game. Sadly, they seem able to predict the words the president will speak and prefer to be intoxicated for their delivery. While this may be a mockery of civic duty, those of us who maintained sobriety for the duration of the speech and came away disappointed may wish that they too had entertained Jack Daniels instead of George Bush.