Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Rewind: The Dearly Departed

Let’s not spend too much time analyzing why we watch the Academy Awards. We just do. Yes, the show is always way too long. Yes, the majority of the speeches are always way too dull. Yes, the actresses always make me feel way too fat. No, there are never enough surprises. But we watch because we love. And love to hate.

The Red Carpet:
The talking Barbies on TV Guide’s pre-show predicted lots of neutrals, metallics, minimal beading, and scaled-back flowing goddess gowns. Damned if they weren’t right. Among the night’s best: Cate Blanchett and Jada Pinkett Smith shone in silver and gold, respectively. Penelope Cruz and Rachel Weisz took care of neutral. J. Lo and Kate Winslet covered goddess. Gwyneth Paltrow broke ranks in what I can only describe as a diagonally-pleated, dusty mauve-colored thing—I know it sounds awful and bizarre but was a personal fave of mine.

Most improved goes to Naomi Watts, who showed up last year in couture origami, but turned out last night in a lovely yellow strapless gown with a black sash. Reese Witherspoon, who looked oddly truncated in vintage last year, went for sleek and modern this year, in a strapless midnight-blue/purplish number.

In the loser column: I know I’m not allowed to say anything bad about Jennifer Hudson (dubbed, prematurely IMHO, by Andre Leon Talley, Vogue editor-at-large, as the “new people’s princess.” How about we save the coronation for when she makes a decent second movie.) But the “Dreamgirls” starlet fell victim to what can now only be thought of as “Hudson Syndrome”—as in Kate Hudson, who also, on her first nomination, opted to wear a strange bolero jacket. Granted, Jennifer’s was metallic (so points there), but belonged on the Starship Enterprise. Meryl Streep was her usual mess, accenting her pajama-like kimono and skirt with a chunky Southwest-style necklace (“older” actresses can still be knock-outs—see Helen Mirren). Cameron Diaz, all dressed up in asymmetrical white, but no prom to go to. Kelly Preston in a horrid animal print. Kirsten Dunst—so close in neutral dove gray with silver metallic accents—but yet so far, with ill-fitting Peter Pan collar . Beyonce in key lime pie that matched Kate Winslet but added a thigh-high Miss America slit and rosette shoulder strap.

Surprisingly AWOL from the worst-dressed: Diane Keaton, who left the hat and gloves at home and opted instead for basic black in the form of a tailored skirt and blouse. It wasn’t a knockout but it also wasn’t kookie, and when it comes to Keaton and fashion, that’s saying a lot.

The Show:

I like Ellen Degeneres, but she was so focused on making the nominees feel comfortable, she forgot to entertain the people watching at home. Maybe John Stewart was too biting for some people’s taste, but a little topicality would have gone a long way. Instead, we got a riff on recycled jokes (as an homage to Al Gore), and an actual recycled joke. Twice, after a knock-out production number, Ellen went with “I’d hate to follow that” before introducing the next pair of presenters. Once was semi-amusing, the second time and I began to fear I was trapped in a déjà vu flashback episode of “Lost.”

But the host is actually largely irrelevant to the pacing of the show. It’s the montage-happy producer who needs to go. I counted six of these sleep-inducing clip jobs, including one celebrating 50 years of foreign films at the Oscars and then, just to be fair and balanced, a tribute to American films exclusively (no French allowed). Another saluted composer Ennio Morricone and nothing screams excitement like footage of a man conducting an orchestra. There are plenty of commercials built into the Oscar telecast—we don’t need more bathroom breaks. Stop the montage madness. Now.

Alan Arkin’s upset win in the Best Supporting Actor category provided momentary excitement. I wondered, might this signal a derailment of the inevitable Hudson-Mirren-Whitaker march to victory? Or just that enough voters caught a glimpse of “Norbit” to knock Eddie Murphy out of contention.

Alas, the rest of the evening proceeded as planned. But Whitaker finally threw down the acceptance speech we’ve all been waiting for, something about “the moment of a lifetime, to carry to the end of this lifetime and into the next lifetime.” It was all very passionate and inspirational—and written down a piece of paper, proving once again that behind every good actor is an even better script.

My own personal highlight came during the smash up of the three nominated songs from “Dreamgirls.” I haven’t seen the movie, which might explain why I’m the only person on the planet still immune to Jennifer Hudson’s charms. But while I can’t speak for her acting ability, the girl can sing. Beyonce, in a one-on-one comparison with her co-star, can not. Judging strictly on vocals, which is not how Beyonce is used to being judged, Hudson blew her off the stage, out of the Kodak Theater and all the way to Nebraska. Ms. Knowles wound up resorting to dramatic body contortions and distracting hand gestures as substitutes for depth and talent. I was not fooled.

Other random observations: Whither all the studly men? For the female audience, we had blonde Bond-shell Daniel Craig and Sexiest Man George Clooney but precious little other eye candy, unless you count Leonardo DiCaprio. And I don’t. I know the pundits are convinced Leo is the reincarnation of Cary Grant, but this only leads me to believe that none of them have ever seen a picture of Cary Grant. Give me some Christian Bale. Some Hugh Jackman. And if J. Lo can snag an invite every year despite never appearing in a film remotely worthy of Oscar attention, then so can Eric Bana.

Am I the only one who remembers the ‘80s? How else to explain that no one—not Ellen, not Joan Rivers, not Ryan “King of All Media” Seacrest”—called out Best Song nominee Siedah Garrett, who oddly enough does not try to hide (at least not on her official web site) that she once duet-ed with Michael Jackson on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” She also penned the Gloved One’s hit “Man in the Mirror” and I can’t decide which is the bigger crime against humanity.

Jodie Foster deserves an Oscar for Best Presenter. She’s the rare actor who actually emotes at the podium and manages to deliver even the most perfunctory telepromptered script with intelligence. On the other end of the spectrum, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt made a perfect case for banning presenters from categories in which they have a vested interest. The two were on board for Best Costume, and when their “Devil Wears Prada” colleague failed to take home the statuette, they were visibly disappointed for the winner.

Robert Altman won the “In Memorium” applause-o-meter as most beloved dead person.

Comic Relief, Intentional and Otherwise:
Degeneres got off one good bit, vacuuming the Kodak carpet under the raised feet of Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, et al. But most of the really big laughs came well before her opening monologue.

Robert Osborne, the Academy’s official Red Carpet greeter to the stars, to TV Guide’s Barbies: “When did the designers take over the Academy Awards?” The Barbies pretended to agree that the night was about more than “Who are you wearing?” and then threw it over to Joan Rivers.

Joan Rivers to “The Queen” actor Michael Sheen, “I know, Wales is in England.” No, Joan, it’s not.

Richard Roeper’s comment about the Oscar’s international flavor getting lost in translation on Catherine Deneuve, who responded that Australians speak English.

TV Guide’s Greg Proops on J. Lo’s gown, which featured a neckline crafted from multiple strands of diamonds: “Hidden amongst that is one of those ‘Blood Diamond’ [protest] pins.”

Rivers, again, to Melissa Etheridge’s “wife,” Tammy Somethingorother, who recently gave birth to twins: “The breasts are looking good.”

Best Picture, Or Not:
Because, as the Academy and Robert Osborne continue to insist, the Oscars are all about achievement in film, Best Picture is still the most coveted award of the night. This year, the honor went to “The Departed.”

I beg to differ.

Yes, the movie is well-acted (though for my money, the film belongs more to Matt Damon than Leonardo DiCaprio), well-directed and well-scripted. But what’s the point?

I saw the “The Departed” a few weekends ago and then completely forgot about it the moment I left the theater. Well, apart from trying to figure out how to snap my cell phone shut with the same panache as the lead characters. Otherwise, there were no themes to ponder. No life lessons to be learned. (Unless you count this one: If you’re going to blow someone’s brains out when they open the door to their upscale apartment, be sure to wear paper booties over your shoes to cover up any evidence. Because you know CSI: Boston will be all over this case.)

“The Departed” is violent, but that’s nothing new in the genre of gangster bloodbath. As these sorts of flicks go, it’s not even particularly shocking or fraught with tension. Because its characters exist so far outside the realm of what most of us experience as everyday reality, it was difficult for me to drum up sympathy—or antipathy—toward any of these goodfellas (either the cops or the robbers).

Contrast this with “United 93,” which I recently saw on DVD. When the film was initially released in theaters last year, the consensus seemed to be that Americans weren’t ready yet to relive the events of 9/11. But yet we are completely comfortable watching some wise guy get his face smashed in with a coat rack?

I knew the outcome of “United 93” before I pressed the “play” button, yet my stomach still clenched from the opening scene through the final credits. I got so involved in the unfolding drama that I found myself, at times, talking back at the screen—cursing the hijackers, urging the air traffic controllers to put together the pieces of a monumentally confusing puzzle with a little more speed.

Director Paul Greengrass also wrote the screenplay for “United 93.” There are no showy speeches, no verbal pyrotechnics. The language is striking in its normalcy. Early in the film, we see the passengers—hijackers among them—waiting to board their flight. Greengrass eavesdrops on snatches of cell phone conversations that sound like snatches of cell phone conversations.

Such everyday-ness gives this one scene more power than any of the polished brutality found in “The Departed.” It stuck with me for weeks. Any one of us could have been on that plane. (Whereas precious few of us will ever sit across from Jack Nicholson as he removes a wedding ring from a decapitated hand.) The fact that the actors playing the passengers are all relative unknowns only heightens this sense. We identify with these characters and their plight—their story takes on a greater poignancy.

Yes, Greengrass is working with material that for most of us already carries a good deal of emotional heft. But “The Queen” and “Little Miss Sunshine”—also Best Picture nominees—manage to perform similar tricks.

A filmmaker would be hard pressed to find a less relatable character than the Queen of England. Lives in palaces. Carries a sceptre. Yet by the end of the movie, we see her not as a monarch but as an older woman struggling to remain relevant in a society that prizes youth and beauty over experience and loyalty. She’s become one of us. (Heck, who doesn’t have issues with their in-laws.)

In the same way, “Little Miss Sunshine” presents us with characters and situations that are at once exaggerated yet at the same time universally recognizable. No, the average teen doesn’t completely stop talking for months, but they can be mighty moody. We don’t usually take Grandpa’s dead body on a road trip, but we do have difficulty dealing with the loss of a parent. And we frequently make illogical decisions under duress.

I’m not going to argue that either of these films should have won Best Picture. “The Queen” is performance driven, and in the hands of a lesser actress than Helen Mirren, hard to say if it would succeed as well as it does. “Sunshine” lacked the gravitas the Academy likes to recognize (though if there were an award for funniest final 15 minutes ever, this would win hands down).

But I am going to argue against “The Departed.” In a year that featured not one, but two trips to the winner’s circle for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to ask for a recount.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tube Talk

Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes is prepping a possible spin-off for actress Kate Walsh, who plays Dr. Addison Montgomery on the popular hit TV show. (I’ve seen others reference Addison Montgomery-Shepherd, but the character herself pointedly dropped her ex-husband’s hyphenate at least a half dozen episodes ago.)

Bully for Kate Walsh, who I think is the best thing about Grey's, and I’m not alone in that opinion. I don’t doubt that given the right material, she can carry her own show, especially if she’s surrounded by a similarly talented cast.

Boo for viewers. Walsh’s Montgomery anchors a show that’s often adrift on a sea of characters lacking self-awareness or direction or common sense. I liked her budding friendship with Callie, her relationship with the Chief, and her will-they, won’t-they romance with Karev. But now that ABC has spilled the beans regarding a spin-off, what incentive do viewers have to invest themselves in Addison’s storylines?

* * *

Oh, my favorite guilty pleasure, Dancing with the Stars, is back. I ever-so-briefly toyed with giving up TV for Lent, but if God really wanted me to make that huge of a sacrifice, he wouldn’t have cast Heather Mills (who apparently has pointedly dropped the McCartney). I smell a train wreck and there’s no way I’m averting my eyes.

Dancing is one part talent competition, two parts popularity contest. Mills may draw the sympathy vote for her brave attempt to tango with a prosthetic leg, but I have to think that Beatles’ fans—and Mills hate-ahs—will outnumber the pity patrol or those hoping for some sort of freak show. I predict she’s first to go.

By now I know the casting drill: Former athlete, check—basketball’s Clyde Drexler. Former teen heart throb, check and check—‘N Sync’s Joey Fatone and 90210’s Ian Ziering. Schlub likely to have two left feet, check—the Soprano’s Vincent Pastore, who’s also probably pulling double duty as “the old guy.” Person who stretches the boundary of the term “Star,” check—Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey (aka, the one who didn’t enter rehab).

Among the contestants, I was most surprised to see: Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, former Entertainment Tonight anchor Leeza Gibbons, and ex-supermodel Paulina Porizkova. I didn’t realize any of them considered themselves nearly that washed up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Politics Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry

I hear voters in New Hampshire aren’t 100% satisfied with Hillary Clinton’s defense of her voting record on the Iraq war. Seems “If I knew then what I know now, I never would have authorized the president” is not quite good enough for those New Englanders. They want to hear “I made a mistake.” I don’t quite get the difference or the importance, but apparently New Hampshire-ites (New Hampshirians?) are big on semantics.

What I’d like to know is, how many members of the American public are willing to fess up to the same misdeed?

Back in 2003, what percent of Americans were all for bombing Baghdad and kicking Saddam Hussein’s butt? What percent thought Pres. Bush was just the kind of “take no prisoners” cowboy we needed to lead our nation in a time of crisis? A big, fat whopping majority. I know this because I was in the minority, and clearly made to feel so.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t, as in this past November’s elections, “send a message” to Congress that we’re tired of Iraq and want out. And then accept no blame for sending them the very opposite message four years ago.

A lot of voters thought invading Iraq was a darned good idea at the time and demanded their representatives in D.C. think likewise and act accordingly—or face the electoral consequences. Now we want them to turn around and say “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake” without looking like a flip-flopper. Hey, fellow Americans, you want to see a flip-flopper, look in the mirror.

So here’s what I propose. Hillary: Say you’re sorry. Say you made a mistake. And in return, every person who asked for this war and voted for George W. in 2004 to continue this war has to apologize too.

Then we’ll call it even.

* * *

On a completely different note, I see Beyonce continues to further her bid for world domination of all media—she snagged the highly coveted cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue.

Normally I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for supermodels. They get paid exorbitant amounts of money just because they’re pretty and they make the rest of us women feel like crap about ourselves. But the S.I. cover is one of the modeling world’s premier gigs. It’s a star-making opportunity. And Beyonce stole it.

Like she needs more exposure.

I believe I’ve mentioned that I’m not a fan of Beyonce’s. Mostly because I’m fairly certain there are other women out there with far greater talent—both as singers and actors—who aren’t quite as bootylicious, and hence, not nearly as famous. Posing in a bikini for Sports Illustrated does nothing to disprove my theory that she’s more about style than substance.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

Sometimes there’s such a thing as too much choice. Like debating between Like It- and Love It-sized portions at Cold Stone Creamery.

My current dilemma: Barack vs. Hillary.

I’m excited about Obama’s run for the White House, and not just because it would be cool to have the president hail from my hometown. I’m excited because in his speeches, Obama frequently comes across as an inspired leader rather than a career politician.

I’ve often wondered how it is that a country that boasted an embarrassment of brilliant minds at its founding—Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams, Hamilton, Washington, et al—has since suffered a dearth of genius, only occasionally broken by rarities such as Lincoln or Roosevelt (take your pick). Does a senator with scarcely two years of national service under his belt belong in such company? I’d love to find out.

On the other hand…Hillary. For a good portion of voters, she’s weighted down by more baggage than Paris Hilton takes on a trans-continental trip. Personally, I don’t care if Hillary’s warm and cuddly—I’m not auditioning her for the role of my mom. And I don’t care about the state of her marriage with Bill—it didn’t stop us from electing him twice. I do care about where she stands on the issues. And more than anything, I care about the message that electing a woman to the presidency of the United States—the most powerful position on the planet—would send to little girls everywhere. And to women everywhere. And to leaders of countries where women are treated like third-class citizens. Now that would be inspiring.

Decisions, decisions.

Monday, February 12, 2007

You Don’t Have to Sell Your Body to the Night

OK, so I couldn’t just tune into the Grammys, catch a glimpse of the reunited Police, and then flip the channel or, god forbid, turn off the TV and read a book. Nope. I was a captive for the next three hours. Sort of like how you can’t just duck into Costco and grab the free sample of chocolate chip toffee cookies—you always walk out with $200 worth of cold tablets, chicken breasts and toilet paper.

It’s been eons since I’ve cared about the Grammys and the first award reminded me why: It went to Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder. Nothing against these two legends, but I don’t think their duet (which I wasn’t even aware of until last night) exactly rocked the music world in 2006. I’m just guessing. Because like pretty much everyone else, I haven’t heard the song.

But the Grammys aren’t so much about awards as they are about performances. I’d say 90 percent of the trophies are handed out off-screen, before the telecast even begins. Otherwise, the show would’ve started yesterday at noon and run into next week. Right now, we’d be listening to the winner of Best Liner Notes thank his publicist. Alas, this also means we did not get to see Joaquin Phoenix (& Various Artists) pick up their Grammy for Walk the Line, Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media. (And apart from this award begging the question, whither Reese Witherspoon, I also have to ask, what other visual media requires a compilation soundtrack?) Had this award been judged telecast-worthy, we might have witnessed Mr. Phoenix point his Grammy in the direction of Jamie Foxx and utter, to borrow from Natalie Maines borrowing from “The Simpsons,” “Heh, heh.” Maybe it’s just me, but if you are going to win an award for impersonating a famous singer, be it Johnny Cash or Ray Charles, a Grammy seems more fitting praise.

Speaking of Natalie Maines, the Dixie Chicks were the big winners last night with five awards. I like the Chicks (although Emily Robison’s “I Dream of Jeannie” ponytail should have stayed in its bottle). I like that last night’s show was one gigantic “we’re sorry we blacklisted you and burned your CDs” apology. I didn’t so much like the bitter tone in the Chicks’ acceptance speeches. I guess if my livelihood and life had been threatened, I’d be pissed off too. But. It’s. Time. To. Move. On.

Fittingly, on a night ruled by chicks, the most electrifying performance came courtesy of a woman, albeit not from Mary J. Blige, as many might have expected, but from Christina Aguilera. I’m not a huge fan of X-tina, but the woman has pipes. Which she used to stunning, raw effect during a tribute to James Brown. Somebody match her with the right material and get her to keep her clothes on and she could be a legend.

The polar opposite of Christina would have to be James Blunt, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. I guess I am the only person left on the planet who doesn’t writhe in aural pain at the mere sound of the opening chords to Blunt’s ubiquitous “You’re Beautiful.” No matter, the song itself is irrelevant to my point. Which is that all Blunt needed to flawlessly perform his song live was a microphone, a guitar, and a back-up dude on piano. No dance troupe. No gospel choir. No fireworks. No marching band. And there’s something to be said for that. (And now, to completely contradict myself, I thought Gnarls Barkley’s almost operatic treatment of “Crazy” was one of the most powerful moments of the night.)

Which brings me back to The Police. When I wasn’t completely freaked out by Stewart Copeland’s gray hair (no, it is definitely not still 1985), I was blown away by Sting’s biceps. And then his voice. Was Andy Summers even on the stage? I can’t remember. But why just the one song? And why did it have to be “Roxanne”? I mean, I knew that it would be. I just kept hoping for it to turn into a medley or “Synchronicity II.”

Guess I’ll have to wait for the concert tour. Because you know I can’t just tune into one semi-disappointing walk down memory lane during the Grammys. I’m in it now for the whole three-hour show.

Friday, February 09, 2007

But Seriously Folks

I had something funny planned for today but then I saw this headline from the Chicago Tribune, “Man killed by CTA train slipped on ice.”

Naturally, CTA is investigating. Naturally, they have turned up conflicting accounts from witnesses as to whether the deceased lost his footing on an icy platform (which would make CTA at fault) or coffee that he spilled himself (which CTA would prefer).

I wasn’t there, but I’m having an awfully hard time visualizing scenario B. I am, however, all too familiar with slick CTA platforms. My own (I frequent the Rockwell Station on the Brown Line) turns to glass whenever it rains and the temperature dips below freezing. I once saw a fellow rider point this out to the “Customer Service Assistant” and mention that he might want to throw some sand on the planks for safety. “Grunt,” came the response.

So I’m blaming the transit agency whether there was spilt coffee or not.

We have a mayoral election coming up next month in Chicago. Yawn. Mayor Daley is basically running unopposed. I can never decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, Daley thinks big. Scoff if you will at Millennium Park, which opened four years behind schedule and gazillions over budget. But no one can deny that it’s a stunning addition to the city’s lakefront and the sort of large-scale public works project that residents will applaud for generations to come.

On the other hand, Daley’s detractors would argue that his stranglehold on the top spot has produced rampant corruption and cronyism.

As Exhibit A, I give you the CTA.

The CTA sucks. (And when I say CTA, I speak mainly of the “L.” I stopped taking buses years ago.) At $2 per one-way trip (or $1.75 for Go Card carriers), it’s pricier for riders than most other mass transit systems in the U.S. Many’s the time I’ve chosen to walk two or three miles rather than pay full fare to advance three stops down the line.

So you’d think we’d get more bang for our buck. Instead, we are treated to constant service disruptions and delays (granted, sometimes these are legitimate, as when crews have to remove dead bodies from the tracks, after said individual slips on spilt coffee). When I commuted downtown daily, scarcely a week went by without one mishap or another. Rail car doors that wouldn’t open, no air conditioning during a heat wave, 20-minute waits between trains during rush hour (when they’re supposed to run 4-5 minutes apart), or trains that inexplicably turn “express” and blow past stations crowded with long-suffering passengers. And those are just the misdemeanors.

Raise any of these issues with CTA, and they cry “Underfunded!” But common courtesy doesn’t cost a penny.

Much as I would love a refund for every crappy ride I’ve ever suffered, I already know the answer to that—“Underfunded!” Bare minimum, simply improving communication between CTA personnel and passengers would alleviate much of the disgruntlement and anxiety riders experience when, say, they are stranded on a train for two hours without any clue as to why. Seldom, if ever, do conductors take the time to explain a situation. Just once, I’d like one of them to come clean and say, “Looks like we’ll be stuck here for the foreseeable future. Crews are removing a dead body from the tracks. I will now begin a dramatic reading from ‘War and Peace.’ Thank you for your patience. P.S.: Everyone make sure your beverages are tightly sealed.” Instead they play the same canned announcement—over and over: “Beep, beep, beep. Attention passengers. We’re experiencing delays, waiting for signals ahead.” After a couple dozen “beep, beep, beeps,” no one’s buying the signal defense. Give us the truth.

So how is this Mayor Daley’s fault? Because his pal Frank Kruesi runs the CTA. And has yet to be called on the carpet—much less fired—for his inability to run an efficient, customer-friendly organization.

People ride the CTA for a variety of reasons: Some are doing their part to save fossil fuels. Some can’t afford to fork out $20 a day to park downtown. Maybe others are undercover specialists in biohazards, collecting germ samples for their experiments.

But a lot of CTA regulars don’t own a car. If they want to get around town, it’s CTA or bust. And the CTA knows this. In the absence of competition or any directive from the mayor to improve service—or else—CTA has no incentive to treat its riders with respect. Instead, they behave as if we’re an inconvenience, not their entire reason for being.

I wasn’t on that platform yesterday. I don’t know what caused the rider to fall. But I do know that as long as Daley is mayor and Kruesi is in charge of CTA, the next time someone asks to have an icy platform cleared, the answer will still be “Grunt.”

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Too Much Information

You can’t make up stories this good. I’m referring, of course, to the one about the “astro-nut” who traveled cross country to confront her rival in a bizarre not-quite-love triangle. Personally, I’m all for any news item that distracts the media from a presidential election that’s still nearly two years away or the mysterious paternity of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter.


Did investigators in this botched kidnapping case have to release the details about the diaper? You know, the undergarment the alleged perpetrator wore so as not to have to stop for potty breaks on her demented road trip. (Having once driven through Montana, where rest areas are inconveniently placed at 100-mile increments, I can sort of appreciate the logic here.)

Granted, it adds to the entertainment value of the story. Leno, Letterman and the gals over at “The View” have already played it for yuks.


We are talking about a seriously disturbed woman. While everyone else zeroes in on the diaper, I keep coming back to the garbage bags. In my CSI handbook, when you add up the evidence—a steel mallet + knife + garbage bags—you’re left with body parts. There’s nothing particularly amusing about that.

Or how about this: the astro-nut has three children, one of them a teenager. It’s bad enough to have your mother go all Fatal Attraction on the 10 o’clock news. But which would you rather have yelled at you on the school bus: “Your mom’s a murderer!” or “Your mom wears diapers.” I’m guessing 9 out of 10 kids would prefer to be associated with a killer.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Don’t Mess With Texas

I have not, over say the last 6 years, looked fondly upon the state of Texas. Then came the announcement that Gov. Rick Perry had signed an executive order requiring girls to be vaccinated against HPV, the virus found to cause cervical cancer. That struck me as downright enlightened. Hooray for Texas.

Now Perry is under attack and opponents of the order want to have it rescinded. Because, the thinking goes, once little 12-year-old girls are no longer afraid of contracting HPV (which is transmitted through, stop reading if you’re squeamish, genital contact) then they will start having sex with wild abandon. Boo for Texas.

Fear of HPV is not stopping kids from having sex. Heck, fear of pregnancy doesn’t do the trick either.

Let me boil this argument down to its most basic question: Are we more worried about young women in this country having sex than we are about them dying?

Each year, 10,000 women in America are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 die from the disease. HPV causes 70% of those cases. This ought to be a no-brainer.

Imagine if we were talking about a vaccine for breast cancer. Parents would be lining up around the block to save their daughters from a potentially fatal disease. And that should be the bottom line.

Cancer is a frightening word. I hope never to hear it as a diagnosis for myself or anyone I love. For decades, we have pushed the medical and scientific communities to develop better treatments and identify cures for this killer. They did their job.

Trouble is, Perry’s opponents don’t think it’s his job to mandate the vaccine for Texas tweens. They think the decision should be left up to parents.

So do we leave it up to parents to decide whether to use an infant car seat or not? Whether fluoride in water is a good thing? Whether their kids should be allowed to obtain a driver’s license at the age of 10? Do we trust parents, in the case of the HPV vaccine, to view this as a health issue, not an opportunity to take a moral stance?

Perry’s executive order would ensure that all the young women in his state receive a potential lifesaving vaccine—not just the daughters of liberal Democrats.

To the anti-vaccine crowd, I pose this scenario: One day your little girl is all grown up. She’s 33 years old, married, has two small children. And she’s just been handed a death sentence. Cervical cancer. That could have been prevented, but you wouldn’t allow it.

So you lose a daughter, her husband loses a spouse. Her children get to grow up without a mother. Hey, but at least you can take comfort in your ignorant, self-righteous convictions.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Frankly, I’m relieved the Bears lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl. Because if we hadn’t, then there would have been some sort of ticker tape parade through downtown and did we really want to line the route and watch each other's nose hairs turn to icicles in 20-below temps?

I know some of my fellow Chicagoans would answer that with a resounding “Hell yes!” And these would be the same people that every news station has managed to scare up for the always popular sound bite: “I love the cold. It’s Chicago. It’s winter. We live for this weather.”

Oh, shut up already.

This weekend I was standing in the AMC Theatre lobby, the one just blocks off Lake Michigan, and I could see my breath—indoors!--as we waited for our parking validation. My facial epidermis was sheared off by the wind just walking from our car into Trader Joe’s. Right now, our drafty condo is so chilly, I’m thinking of packing up and heading to one of the city’s “warming centers.” I do not live for this. I would kill for it to be 70 degrees. I would kill for Illinois to be Hawaii.

* * *

How about the poor suckers who paid thousands of dollars for Super Bowl tickets, just for the privilege of getting drenched by the only downpour ever to descend on the Big Game? Personally, I would have taken advantage of every excuse to go to the bathroom, buy a hot dog or otherwise get the hell out of my seat.

* * *

First the Fiesta Bowl, now the Super Bowl. Twice this year, Dave and I have watched our favorite teams play for a national football title. Twice we have watched them field the opening kickoff and return it for a touchdown. Twice we have had our early exuberance fade to despair as both our beloved OSU Buckeyes and Chicago Bears had their asses handed to them on a platter. This does not bode well for the Cubs, but then again, that’s nothing new.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Friday Hotlist: Synonyms for “clean” in case Joe Biden’s speechwriter is interested

  • Spic and span

  • Hygienic

  • Sanitary

  • Neat as a pin

  • White