Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rep. Anthony Weiner: We are going to solve this problem...DEAL WITH IT!

The Republican party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the insurance industry...

They can try to erase his words--as if the medium you're interacting with right now did not exist!--and they can keep sending him to the corner as though he'd just irritated Sister Mary Evangeline by chewing gum in algebra. But they can't silence this guy, and thank your deity of choice for that.

May I just add my own hearty Hear, hear to the many who are already praising Congressman Weiner's powerful words today. How I wish we had forty more Democrats like Anthony Weiner and Alan Grayson.

(H/T Toast)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday avoidance therapy: the good, the bad, and the utterly gobsmacking

Sorry seems to be the weariest word: Tiger Woods' apology x 10n.
For embarrassing all those squeaky-clean sponsors, I guess.
(photo via Gawker)

Let's see...gazillionaire golfer/Alpha male has extramarital affairs = fourteen-minutes of internationally-televised apology.

Former Justice Department lawyer issues legal advice to Bush administration that okayed the wanton massacre of civilians; at first faces disbarment for "violating professional standards", then has infraction downgraded to school report-card-like comment: "(used) poor judgment" = hours and hours of... *crickets*

The OPR report included an exchange between an OPR investigator and Yoo regarding what he referred to as the "bad things opinion," what Yoo felt the President could do in wartime.

"What about ordering a village of [resistance] to be massacred?" an OPR investigator asked Yoo. "Is that a power that the president could legally—"

"Yeah," Yoo said.

"To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?" the questioner replied.

"Sure," Yoo said.

But Margolis, who suggested Yoo and Bybee's flawed legal work was due to efforts to prevent another 9/11, dropped OPR's "misconduct" conclusions.

It's not all depressing and disheartening news on the legal front, however. I'm pleased to report that in Saudi Arabia, matters are inching toward equality for women. To western sensibilities, this might seem a small step, but I've a feeling that Saudi women are of the mind that any and all movement in this direction is a very good thing:

Saudi Arabia is planning to bring in a new law to allow women lawyers to argue cases in court for the first time.

Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa said the law was part of King Abdullah's plan to develop the legal system.

The law - to be issued "in the coming days" - would allow women to appear in court on family-related cases, including divorce and child custody.

At the moment, they can only work behind the scenes in government and court offices.

The new legislation will also allow Saudi women to complete certain procedures without the presence of a witness.


Walking tall with heavy hearts and even heavier shoes: British models mourn the passing of Alexander McQueen and stand up for Haiti, raising £1 million for relief efforts in a single evening while showing off pieces from the brilliant and troubled designer's final collection.


Did you really need a scientific excuse for grabbing your favorite blanket and curling up by the fire for spell? I didn't think so. But here's one anyway:

A nap during the day doesn't just beat tiredness, but actually improves the brain's ability to absorb new information, claim US scientists.

Volunteers who slept for 90 minutes during the day did better at cognitive tests than those who were kept awake.

The results were presented at a conference in California.

A UK-based expert said it was hard to separate the pure "memory boosting" effects of sleep from those of simply being less tired.

The wealth of study into the science of sleep in recent years has so far failed to come up with conclusive evidence as to the value of a quick "siesta" during the day.

The latest study, from the University of California at Berkeley, suggests that the brain may need sleep to process short-term memories, creating "space" for new facts to be learned.

"Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," said Dr Matthew Walker, UC Berkeley.

Study, schmudy--next time, just ask a cat.
It's not for nothing I'm called the King of the Jungle.

-- Marley Salvatore Tornello

Friday, February 19, 2010

The revolution of revolution, and the rewriting of its violent and tragic symphony

"The Revolutionist is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion - the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose - to destroy it."

-- Sergey Nechayev, nihilist from The Other St. Petersburg, in his 1869 tome Catechism of a Revolutionary. Nechayev--and his deeply fascinating and frightening story--represent the earliest record of a non-state-directed individual or group encouraging, and engaging in, terrorism* as the word is currently defined.


"I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother all the French beaches I'd never see. I wanted to breathe smoke."

-- The Narrator in Fight Club (played by Edward Norton), which 1999 movie was based on Chuck Palahniuk's similarly-titled novel, itself a catechism of a revolutionary.


"Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn't so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. The cruel joke is that the really big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing at, and using this awareness against, fools like me all along.

I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well."

-- Joe Stack, software engineer, in an online suicide note. On February 18, 2010, Stack is alleged to have intentionally crashed a plane into an Austin, Texas building that housed the local offices of the Internal Revenue Service.


* ter·ror·ism
Pronunciation: 'ter-&r-"i-z&m
Function: noun
1 : the unlawful use, or threat, of violence, especially against the state or the public, as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion (from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996)

We can't live in fear. Certainly most of us can't, not every minute of every day; the angels and warriors among us, well, they simply refuse to live that way at all. For the rest of us, though, it's a feeling we know well, even as we also live with those omnipresent and self-imposed reminders that there are things we need to get done. At some point, in short, you have to commute to work and wash the dinner dishes and carry out whatever quotidian tasks you need to carry out in order to maintain the reasonably smooth rhythm of being alive. The time for heeding those noisy demons will be later, when you're under the covers--after the children are soothed to slumber and before the camomile tea or Xanax has kicked in.

Despite the numbing agents and the partial deafness of sleep, the drumbeats of fear are always there, aren't they? Sometimes, for some people, they're too loud to ignore. The drums will mingle with the cacophony of Righteous Anger's string section; then, Helplessness and Despair will add their insistent percussion. And all the while, Media and Culture take turns conducting: there they are, standing at the fore and waving their arms, keeping the strange and horrible symphony going (and going and going).

Terrorism is not the act of a single religion or race or ideology. I submit it is a form of mental illness, an inability to drown out the unbearable; an insufficient supply of Reason's calming balm; an injured or incapacitated frontal cortex; a twist of mind wherein a murderous or destructive impulse overrules the survival instinct so vital to man and species alike.

Restoring harmony--achieving it in the first place, really--will require hard, detail-intensive work on the part of every player.

But first and foremost, we must hold accountable the ones who conduct these violent symphonies-in-situ from their vast electronic podiums; we must point to the men and women with the flailing batons and say, J'acuse. We must fire or replace them; or else, ignore them. After all, they need us more than we need them.

And then, we must do the work. We must address the music in front of each of us, and study its past and present, paying close attention to the clues and tiny directions scribbled in history's margins, and strive to learn--to make, and to make better. We must shun the opportunists and instead share our insights with one another, ever mindful of improving everything for everyone, not just a politically powerful few. And despite rancor and discord and walkouts and tantrums--despite the impulse to destroy that ingnites and often burns away relentlessly in the soul of every creative being when he fails--we must resolve to try, try again.

What we cannot do--what we must not do--is live in fear. And we cannot expect anything good to come from fear's never-ending deployment by the morally bankrupt, the despairing, and the despotic.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday avoidance therapy: On Love, Tina Fey, Frank Zappa, and the First Amendment

Happy Sunday, and Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

In Escondido (Spanish for "hidden"), love (and chocolate) is in the air. And in Lincoln, MA, love is in the garden:

Two Big Black Hearts, by Jim Dine (American, b. 1935)
at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA


Presidents, senators, governors, and half-governors have long been parodied by the talented comedians of Saturday Night Live, none of whom has attracted voluminous quantities of hate mail and threats like actor, writer, and producer Tina Fey, famous for her spot-on portrayal of the ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. Ironically (which is part of the problem with Palin's fans, right there), Fey would often only recite, verbatim, the very words Palin herself uttered. So this part of the interview with Fey for the upcoming issue of American Vogue was disheartening to read (H/T Bree):
[...] She also bought a "little house" in the country, but she won't say where, because "I don't want anyone to come there and try to kill me." Ever since her devastatingly funny Sarah Palin impressions, she has for the first time in her life attracted unwanted attention—and hate mail. "People started projecting politics onto me," she says. "There are people who hate me now because of that." Fey's parents are Republicans, and she herself is an Independent. "The partisan nature of politics continues to appall me. I'm almost paralyzed by my inability to see things in black-and-white. I encountered a lot of hard-core Democrats who are just as rabid and hateful, and I found that just as shocking. It was scary to be in that world of politics. I felt uncomfortable to be in that discussion. The weird thing is, when Darrell Hammond or Will Ferrell or Dana Carvey did an impersonation of a president, no one assumed it was personal, but because Sarah Palin and I are both women and people think women are meaner to each other, everyone assumed it was personal."

I originally posted these at Ezra Klein's blog, back in the day, and given all the recent hullabaloo about doing away with certain perfectly good English words because someone, somewhere might get offended, I thought it might inspire readers--especially new ones who missed this the first time around and who might not be aware of the late Frank Zappa's profound interest in politics and First Amendment issues--to see our hero FZ pointing out the then-nascent rightwing trends ("toward a fascist theocracy", as he aptly described it).

What you're about to see is a video clip--in three parts--of Maestro Zappa appearing on the CNN program Crossfire. Also appearing are On the left! Tom Braden, On the right! Robert Novak, and along with Mr. Zappa--In the crossfire!--is Washington Times columnist John Lofton. Enjoy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Analyst points out facts to Bush flunkie who accused Obama of inviting terror attacks; Joe Scarborough:We're going to break right now...

O'Donnell: Isn't it true that the president YOU worked for invited the first attack? You just admitted, "We didn't know who hit us", yet you were TOLD who--before we were hit on 9/11--and YOUR administration invited the first attack, for Which. You. Should. Live. In. Shame.

Fresh off the MSNBC video press is an amazing exchange I witnessed live this morning when Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, author of a newly-published book charmingly entitled Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack (the Amazon page of which I would not link to if you paid me all the chocolate in Switzerland) appeared on Morning Joe to promote his bullshit premise.

Rather than do the usual media-tiptoe around All Things Bushian and allow Thiessen to spew his lies unchallenged, MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell pinned him down. Throughout the exchange, Thiessen smiled the smug smile of a practiced liar; meanwhile, Scarborough, as usual, attempted to talk over O'Donnell, saying Lawrence, Lawrence, Lawrence! over and over, and eventually cut his mic. At which point, to my surprise and delight, O'Donnell shouted his questions sans mic, and the show then cut to a commercial.

When they returned, O'Donnell was still on air (hey, Son One worried they might have whisked him off to some CIA black site!), his mic restored. Scarborough admonished O'Donnell to "stay in the corner" and sort-of completed the interview, and amazingly, O'Donnell piped up again and asked--after pointing out that Thiessen hails from the wealthiest ZIP codes in America, that he attended a private boarding school with its own golf course and then Vassar, and that he never served a day in the military--what, exactly, did he (Thiessen) know about torture?


It was must-see teevee and then some. More like this, please, MSNBC.

(If you would like to send a note to the network in praise of O'Donnell's all-too-rare line of questioning, please go here.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Wonderfood: litbrit's Turkey and Bean Chili

My boys--including the (sort-of) grown-up one--absolutely love this dish, and I'm happy to make it for them, as it's delicious and warming; it's adaptable to different palates (we like it hot); and nutritionally speaking, it packs a nice wallop of lean protein and fiber while keeping fat and calories to a minimum.

If you're going to keep things healthy, I'd recommend using low-fat (not fat-free, yuck) sour cream and low-fat sharp cheddar as toppings. This will serve about eight adults; if you're cooking for a roomful, as I was during the Superbowl, you can easily double the quantities, too (and leftovers are wonderful for breakfast when added to scrambled eggs in tortilla wraps). Cornbread is the classic accompaniment, whether you make it from scratch, use a pre-fab mix, or send someone to the supermarket bakery.

I want to say I adapted this from one of Martha Stewart's recipes; I'm about 99% certain I found the original version in one of her magazines several years ago. Given the chilly outlook, so to speak, this seems to be the perfect thing to kick off a home-bound weekend. So...let's cook!

You'll need a big, heavy-bottomed stock pot, a sharp knife, a long-handled wooden spoon, and a cutting board.


* 3 pounds ground (or finely-minced leftover) turkey (if using already-cooked leftovers, I like to use a mix of dark and light turkey; otherwise, buy the fresh ground turkey that's about 7% fat, as the fat-free kind will be too dry.)
* olive oil
* 1/2 sweet onion (i.e. Vidalia or Maui), finely chopped
* 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely minced (note, that says head, not one measly clove! Hey, you need lots of garlic in your life if you're going to ward off heart disease and vampires; besides, garlic is delicious and it sweetens when you cook it.)
* 3-4 large fresh jalapeño chiles, ribs and seeds removed for less heat, minced (wash your hands well before you touch your face or anyone else's, okay?)
* red pepper flakes to taste (we like a lot; start with a pinch or two if you're not sure)
* 3 tablespoons chili powder
* 3 generous rounded tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (very important!)
* 4 teaspoons ground cumin
* 2 cans (28 ounces each) whole tomatoes in puree (I use the Cento brand)
* 2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (it might sound counter-intuitive to use something so sweet in chili, but trust me, it all works)
* Coarse salt
* 3 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) best-quality pinto beans, organic if you can find them, drained and rinsed
* 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped


1. Pour a little oil--a tablespoon or two--into your stock pot or Dutch oven and place over medium heat; roll the pan around to coat bottom as the metal warms. Add onions and jalapeños, lower the flame a little, and cook until the onions are beginning to turn translucent; then add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes (again, go easy at first; you can add more toward the end if you want serious fire), and cook until everything is soft, stirring occasionally. Add the ground turkey and break it up with a wooden spoon, cooking and stirring until no longer pink, about 8 to 10 minutes (if using already-cooked leftovers, much less time is needed, obviously; just warm through).

2. Stir in chili powder, cocoa powder, and cumin; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute. Things will start smelling really good now, and you may notice children, neighbors, cats, and dogs wandering into your kitchen.

3. Break up tomatoes with a spoon or your hands, and stir them in along with the puree. Add molasses, 1 cup water, and 2 teaspoons salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, partially covered, 30 minutes.

4. Add beans and continue cooking, uncovered, until turkey and beans are very tender, and chili is thick, about 30 minutes more. Stir in the cilantro. Serve in your favorite ceramic bowls, with some shredded cheese, sour cream, and corn bread on the side.

Enjoy! Stay warm--and stay off the roads.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rachel Maddow on the GOP's stunning hypocrisy: Trash the stimulus, vote "No", then claim credit for the beneficial effect in their districts

Going through the matter fact by fact--and exposing legislator after slimy, two-faced, hypocritical Republican legislator--Rachel Maddow demonstrates how the Party of No is utterly full of shit and how its members don't care about constituents or country, but rather, seek only one thing: to try to break President Obama.

Quoth Rachel: "Grow up, Democrats: face the music; do it alone; you're the majority".


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Teabagger Watch, Part Two: The shining puppet (with crib notes)

They paid her over $100K for some teabagging, but all they got was a lousy hand job.*

"These stupid peasants, who, throughout the world, hold potentates on their thrones, make statesmen illustrious, provide generals with lasting victories, all with ignorance, indifference, or half-witted hatred, moving the world with the strength of their arms, and getting their heads knocked together in the name of God, the king, or the stock exchange---immortal, dreaming,hopeless asses, who surrender their reason to a shining puppet, and persuade some toy to carry their lives in his purse."

-- Stephen Crane, American author and poet


Teabagger Watch, Part One: Rahm apologizes

Hear, hear.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

President Obama quotes Roy Edroso

President Obama, speaking today at the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Issues Conference:
"Those problems haven't gone away. It's still our responsibility to address them. All that's changed in the last two weeks is that our party has gone from having the largest Senate majority in a generation to the second largest Senate majority in a generation. And we've got to remember that. There was apparently a headline after the Massachusetts election; the Village Voice announced that Republicans win a 41-59 majority. (Laughter.) It's worth thinking about. We still have to lead."
He's referring to this piece, by Roy Edroso of The Village Voice and Alicublog, both of which are daily reads at this desk.

I'm going to take a wild (but, I suspect, accurate) guess that Roy is too modest (or too cool, or both) to brag.

So I will.*

Hey everyone--how awesome is this?!

Imagine, if you will, that you're a liberal political writer whose fighting spirit somehow survived the Bush years, and on the morning after the fall of yet another disappointing Democrat, which in turn set off a party-wide crisis of confidence, you write a column. The ironic truth of the matter compels you once again to call it like it is, and you go to your keyboard and do just that, with characteristically pithy brilliance. And days later, the President the United States, a witty man himself, quotes your writing in a speech that's broadcast live around the world and posted on the White House website shortly thereafter.

Bravo, Roy! Bravissimo!

*Fomenting embarrassment is all part of growing up and being British. It's people like me what cause unrest.

Today in fortuitously appropriate radio

Rage Against The Machine: Bulls On Parade*
Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium

It happens frequently enough as to be something I've come to fully expect: I'll be obsessing about one current events narrative or another and lo and behold, the perfect soundtrack for said reverie will flow (or blast) from the car radio.


Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes
Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal
I walk the corner to the rubble that used to be a library
Line up to the mind cemetery now

What we don't know keeps the contracts alive an movin'
They don't gotta burn the books they just remove 'em
While arms warehouses fill as quick as the cells
They rally round the family
With a pocket full of shells

They rally round the family
With a pocket full of shells...

Bulls on parade
Bulls on parade
Bulls on parade
Bulls on parade
Bulls on parade.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pee-wee gets an iPad

Back in the day--which is to say, before the Tornellini were born and our Saturday mornings were a bit more laid-back--Robert and I never missed an episode of the Playhouse. We've really missed him, and we continue to be inspired by his interior design prowess. Great to see you back, Pee-wee!

(As a Mac fan, I'm definitely looking forward to checking out the unfortunately-named iPad, though I'm admittedly a bit less excited than I was before learning of its limitations and, oh yeah, there's that puzzlingly steep price.)

(H/T Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Because litbrit needs cheering up today, damn it: Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev; Swan Lake, 1966

Genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic
is that it is inexplicable. -- Margot Fonteyn

Thanks to our beloved Internet, we've got so many gorgeous (if sometimes too brief) modes of escape right at our fingertips these days, haven't we? When even the relentless and dark evening drizzle can't compete with the inside of my head for sheer despondency-value, I often turn to YouTube and poke around until I find something lovely, something transporting. It never takes me long.

Such as it is, this dreary February day.

But here is some Monday grace, and I hope even a few ballet newbies will watch and enjoy it: the incomparable and legendary duo, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, dance a pas de deux from Swan Lake at the Vienna Opera. Music, of course, is by P.I. Tchaikovsky.

I promise--any tears you shed will be the good sort, the ones that flow upon experiencing pure beauty and truth, upon being lifted into a moment and held there, weightless, until you remember how good it actually is to be alive.*


* Both legends have since left this earth, and much too soon: Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, who'd spent her final years in Panama, caring for her husband--who'd been left quadriplegic after being shot during a coup attempt--died of cancer in 1991 at the age of 71. And Rudolf Nuryev, living in Paris by then, succumbed to AIDS just two years later at 54, but not before shaking up the dance world with his expressive and passionate style; he completely--and forever--changed the landscape for male ballet dancers, who'd previously only served as supporters and partners to the ballerinas. It has been said many times that despite their differences in age, and obviously in their nationalities and respective styles of dance schooling, Fonteyn and Nureyev seemed as though they had been born to dance together, so perfectly, lyrically, and artistically matched were they.