Jan 7, 2018

Checking facts

We're reading the Fire and Fury book by Michael Wolff that came out on Friday, and it's much better than expected, much deeper than the usual collection of scabrous/scandalous anecdotes. Wolff really proffers insight---Krugman, in his Friday column in the NYT wonders rhetorically whether he needs to read the book---yes, Paul you do, trust us. 

And here, just in between, the funniest thing we came across so far, and by our reckoning still unaccounted for in the weekend news cycle of this publication...

Steve Bannon and you-know-who

(Dramatis personae: (a) Anthony Scaramucci,  (b) Steve Bannon, adviser to Donald Trump; (c) Ryan Lizza, a journalist with The New Yorker; Place: US East Coast; Time: July 2017)

Anthony Scaramucci

Having lobbied desperately for a White House Job for seven months, Scaramucchi has been appointed White House Director of Communication. There is a party to celebrate, and Scaramucchi ("The Mooch") has had one too many, apparently. He gets on the phone with Ryan Lizza and unloads about a few people, including Steve Bannon, we quote: 
"I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not trying to suck my own cock."
So Ryan Lizza writes this up (he publishes roughly one piece per day on the NY blog about Trump and his White House). Next thing, the Fact Checking Department of The New Yorker contacts Steve Bannon and asks, hands down, whether he has the habit to suck his own cock.

(That was the punch line).

Reince Priebus

You may remember what followed. Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff of the White House, throws in the towel, citing Scaramucci's appointment. Priebus is replaced by John F. Kelley, a retired 4-Star Marine general, whose first order of business is to fire Scaramucci.  

Jan 5, 2018

He won't go away

You've possibly heard of the book by now. Michael Wolf's Fire and Fury---inside the Trump White House

Here's one quote, just one:

"Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate . . . . Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television.
But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention."

Jan 4, 2018


(not photoshopped:)

Murder on the Orient Express

So we finally went to Cannes to watch the movie.The box office gal was very happy to see us, since we had tried four days ago, but then we'd gotten the opening hour wrong. 

Us (our hills) seen from Cannes; all pictures by Chang (Jason Yoon)

Well...not a bad movie, although I enjoyed the previous "Murder..." more---which I saw forty years ago. Kenneth Branagh directs this remake and stars as Poirot.

Still almost the same angle. It's about 3:10 PM. We're in a hurry.

Jan 3, 2018

The bigger button

You have the BIGGER BUTTON, you say? What? You don't even sleep with your wife.

Dec 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Harem Rock

By Michael Ampersant (text) and Theo Blaze (art)

Michael Ampersant had dreamed of using some poetry in THIS IS HEAVEN---one character speaking in verse, say---but nothing came of it. But then he discovered that the first part of Chapter 33, "Harem Rock" would actually work as poetry if reformatted as a stanza. Nothing up to Shakespeare standards, but still. Next, the formidable Theo Blaze put up an invite on his site, asking authors to come up with a brief story to illustrate one of his pictures. Michael reacted, and they got a deal; Michael would write a story, if Theo would create an illustration for "Harem Rock." And there we are:

Why couldn’t you,
At the end of a page-turning,
Adverb-packed day,
Of unparalleled heat levels.

Why couldn’t you,
Just down the third ‘fortification’ the lady of the house was handing you,
And chuck your dirty shorts one more time,
And let the sex slave fix the Magic-Mike collar around your neck.

In view of the advanced hour,
We’ll keep the strip-tease to a minimum.

Dec 30, 2017

Yesterday---a clear day

We went to Cannes to see the new Murder on the Orient Express movie, and this is what we got:

Yes, this really is Cannes, or at least the western part of it ("Cannes la Bocca"). The snowy background is the "Mercantour" which constitutes southern-most part of the Alps, with peaks up to 3,300 meters. It was a clear day.

Dec 26, 2017

Peace on earth

Our friend Glenn sends this from America and writes: "My grandson gave me this for Christmas."

Dec 24, 2017

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer --- guest post

Last week I decided to find a new home for my fake Christmas tree. Formerly it resided in an awkward and difficult-to-navigate corner of the basement, and I’ve finally relocated it to the upstairs closet with the rest of the Christmas stuff. Logically I know I ought to just get rid of the stupid thing. It’s a pain to put up, the branches are all bent way out of shape, a chunk of the topper is missing, and it’s still wearing tinsel from 2006. Yet somehow I’m never able to do it. It always surprises me how attached I am to that tree, even though I know full well the reason why – it’s because it’s exactly like the one my family had when I was growing up. I’m ordinarily not the nostalgic type, but to me that big ol’ fake tree with its pretty, colorful blinking lights is what makes Christmas Christmas. That and my one other indispensable holiday tradition –- 1970s Christmas specials!

Yes, it’s true – Christmas was never more meaningful than it was during that wondrous era in which we celebrated the most important holiday of a child’s year not by going to church, not by singing carols, not by hitting the mall at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but by plopping our butts down in front of a nineteen-inch black-and-white at eight pm on Saturday nights in December and losing ourselves in these classic tales of childish wonder.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of an outcast who saves Christmas.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the story of an outcast who invents Christmas as we know it today.  How the Grinch Almost Stole Christmas, the story of an outcast who… Wait, I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

Now, I am not going to confess that I still watch these specials every year, and sometimes more than once, even with no children in sight. I will decline to admit that I have all of my favorites on both video and DVD, or that the one day of the year in which even I will almost certainly tear up is when I witness The Grinch having his big change of heart. I will, however, be happy to share my thoughts on that most thought-provoking of Claymation creations – the story of Rudolph.

Yes, because there’s more to the  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than the patently obvious lesson about the worth and value of misfits. This 1964 Rankin and Bass drama is chock full of enough subtext to satisfy the most diehard of film enthusiasts, and it is still, nearly fifty years later, remarkably evocative of the socially progressive era in which it was born. Let’s look at how.

Dec 23, 2017

Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe
She'd been drinking too much eggnog
And we begged her not to go
But she forgot her medication
And she staggered out the door into the snow

When we found her Christmas morning
At the scene of the attack
She had hoof-prints on her forehead
And incriminating Claus marks on her back

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe 

Now we're all so proud of grandpa
He's been taking this so well
See him in there watching football
Drinking beer and playing cards with cousin Mel

It's not Christmas without Grandma
All the family's dressed in black
And we just can't help but wonder
Should we open up her gifts
Or send them back (send them back)

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe

Now the goose is on the table
And the pudding made of fig
And the blue and silver candles
That would just have matched the hair on grandma's wig
I've warned all my friends and neighbors
Better watch out for yourselves
They should never give a license
To a man who drives a sleigh
And plays with elves

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe

Dec 18, 2017

Net Neutrality --- The Machiavelli Chronicles Part MMXVII --- Our excursion to St. Raphael

We went to St. Raphael with our Korean friends, and your reporter was just thinking...

...the revocation of NET NEUTRALITY (providers allowed to prioritize certain sites to the disadvantage of other sites), as voted by some FCC panel along party lines...

...we should nail this to the door of the White House like Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral...

Dec 14, 2017


We have friends of Chang coming over from Korea, and so we took them to Nice. Here's yesterday's view of it's beach, with an expansive view of the Promenade des Anglais (where modern tourism was invented during the 19th century).

Dec 9, 2017

It doesn't make sense --- teaser --- This is heaven

It doesn't make sense, but then we rarely make sense. Here's a picture by Guy Billout, which beautifully sums up This Is Heaven:

Louis of Versailles and the Titanic in the same frame? Let's start with Louis of Versailles, one of our best neologisms, invented by Greta Wetten Dass, the award-winning romance author, in steamy Chapter 14; Greta recounting last night's adventure with Ben Fletcher and Jane Trumpleton, (Alex and John listening):

“The pursuit of love-making, gentlemen, has a practical component. Despite the best efforts of my pen-colleagues, a male person can have only so many ejaculations during a limited period of time. We would have Ben three, at most four times during the night. Letting him come at that moment would have meant that a quarter of his lust had already been consumed while we weren’t quite undressed.”

“It’s funny,” Alex says, “how your voice oscillates between the practical and the romantic.”

“It’s the same with love, Alex. The sensual and the physical, it’s not an easy marriage. Women, you may have noticed, are more practical when it comes to the inevitable; they bear children, they live longer. So, Jane shakes Ben’s maleness knowingly, more precum oozing in all directions, then whispers, ‘He’s bursting, no way he can hold this, he would explode at the very moment of penetration. Let’s enjoy this fountain while it lasts. He has enough ejaculations left, at least one for each of us, trust your sister.’

Dec 7, 2017

Beethoven, Sonata 32 --- Evgeny Kissin

Us --- Robbie, the robot

This was meant as an illustration for our review of "Call me by your name," but there you have it.

So, today I continued my quest for the right Jeeves---meaning I have this butler in this play I'm writing but he---Robbie---that's his name---is a robot---as you might infer from the fact that we're using first names here (old-school butlers always have traditional Anglo-Saxon last names, like "Parker"). We've been on this play since 2010. 

It's a drawing room comedy with Sarah, as an aging psychoanalyst, in the lead, set in the near future. So Robbie---we're not sure about the name---is a present from Sarah's former lover, the founder of RobotsAreUs, now the leading manufacturer of household robots. Robbie was his prototype and wrapped into a present for Sarah's 25th birthday. 

The play opens. Today's her 50th birthday, although we wouldn't know. There are no signs of an anniversary. Does she remember her birthday? Does Robbie remember her birthday? What's Robbie's voice? Does he speak like a computer from the '80s? Or like the perfect butler? Something in between? 

Nov 28, 2017

Call me by your name (3) --- our review

So, here, finally, is our review of Call Me by Your Name---André Aciman's book, not the new movie made from it.

Title & author

Most reviews of the book are fawning, and the few critical ones typically censure it for its not-so-happy ending---Aciman having apparently listened to his agent who told him that "the American public is not ready for a gay relationship that doesn't end in tears." Or he listened to his inner voice, which is Proustian by vocation (he's the director of the Proust Project at CUNY). Anyhow, this is not one of the books that "get stronger towards the ending," as a judge of the Booker Price once put it. But its finale is not the only issue here, so let's do a little bean-counting and separate our critical pluses ("+") and minuses ("-") accordingly.

(+) There's something unique about the combination of high fiction and graphic expressions of longing and desire in the book. Ignorami that we are---we do believe this combination hasn't occurred in world literature before. THIS MAKES THE BOOK STAND OUT.

No? Well, here, Elio, the narrator (on p. 8), just warming up: 
"I know desire when I see it---and yet, this time, it slipped by completely. I was going for the devious smile that would suddenly light up in Oliver's face each time he'd read my mind, when all I really wanted was skin, just skin."
Okay, you say, that's just an example of erotic literature done well (more examples on our Handsheet for the Erotic Writer). Ampersant could have done it if he'd be a better writer. But...but little Elio (aged 17), is really a paragon of high fiction; he's inconceivable in any other kind of literature. Here (p. 29 now, Elio conversing with Oliver):
"And yet here he was in his third week with us, asking me if I'd ever heard of Athanasius Kirchner, Giuseppe Belli, and Paul Celan.
'I have.' [Elio replies]."
A paragon of high fiction

(These are all writers, we suppose, because Paul Celan was one). Okay, let's try to find a better example. Next page:
"I was Glaucus and he [Oliver] was Diomedes."
Not good enough? Here, Elio daydreaming (p. 39):
"Did you [Oliver] know that I came in your mouth last night?"

(+) Elio is blessed to grow up in an intellectual Acadia of the 1980's. Father's a renowned professor of something, there's money, an understanding mother, Jewish heritage, and an understanding house keeper (who inspects the bed sheets each morning for stains). There's also a villa on the Italian Riviera with a tree-lined driveway, a pool, and a tennis court (one wonders, given the hilly, seaside topology of the place). And there's TALENT. E.g., Elio is a serious musical prodigy who improvises Busoni improvising Brahms improvising Mozart on the piano, much to Oliver's delight. And this Oliver (aged 24) has already finished his Ph.D. on Heraclitus and come over to supervise the Italian translation of his thesis (among other things).

And there's TALENT

Nov 25, 2017

Handsheet for the erotic writer --- Call me by your name (2) --- updated, reposted

So, the movie Call Me by Your Name is out this week to rave reviews. Most of them regrettably fail to mention that it's based on the homonymous novel by André Aciman, a book that became something of a cult-hit in the literate gay community since its appearance in 2007. We got hold of the title while writing the first part of the GREEN EYES, and read it with thieving expectations: lifting a few ideas, maybe, or at least a few turns of phrase from Aciman's oeuvre. And in preparation for doing so, we created this Handsheet for the Erotic Writer with steamy quotes from the book. Enjoy... 

(Click to enlarge)

Much to our regret, we never managed to lift anything of substance, but...the idea of the Handsheet took hold. And so, in THIS IS HEAVEN, the award-winning author Greta Wetten Dass---while recounting last night's erotic encounter with the ravishing John ("Ben") Fletcher---suddenly holds a Handsheet for the Erotic Writer in her hand...

Here's a fragment from Chapter 14, titled accordingly "Handsheet for the Erotic Writer"---Greta recounting, John and Alex listening/interrupting:

“And there we go. While Jane holds onto his shoulder, yours truly tugs at Ben’s trouser legs until the jeans come off. There’s the minor issue of the underwear proper, which is dispatched by a forthcoming sister in one swift gesticulation. She then buries—don’t blush—her nose in the loosened pouch of the garment.

‘Aah,’ she affects with a knowing voice. She hands the cloth to me. For the first time in my life do I sniff willingly and voraciously the scent of male hidden treasures, a scent so unbuttoned and rustic, so intimate and strong. A touch of Marquis de Sade gets involved.”

Nov 10, 2017

Sam Smith---Too Good At Goodbyes

You must think that I'm stupid
You must think that I'm a fool
You must think that I'm new to this
But I have seen this all before

I'm never gonna let you close to me
Even though you mean the most to me
'Cause every time I open up, it hurts
So I'm never gonna get too close to you
Even when I mean the most to you
In case you go and leave me in the dirt

Nov 9, 2017

Mot du jour

"Remember Whitewater, remember Benghazi? They could see a rerun on the fertile grounds of Trump's international financial involvements, including Russia and many other dodgy states, if the Democrats win the House in 2018."---Michael Ampersant


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