Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Check out all his majesty

The facades of Italian churches -- especially Tuscan churches -- hold all sorts of surprises. A close study of the inlaid marble images on the facade of the Cattedrale di San Martino, in Lucca, reveals the Medieval origins of one of the internet's most fearsome creatures...

Holy crap! It's Trogdor! I mean, TROG-DORRRRRR! I made sure to get my rather dashing husband in the photo so you would believe me that this totally awesome image is also totally legitimate. Now let's move in for a close-up.

This puts the "holy" in "Holy crap!" Does it not? No beefy arm, of course. And I don't see any consummate V's. So let's say it's an early prototype... But he was still TROGDOR! And that is just one more reason why Catholicism is awesome.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What do we do? We fly!

I'm back from my travels in Italy! Yesterday's nine-hour flight was pretty brutal, but we made it in one piece. Today I have lots to get done -- I start a new job tomorrow! -- and the fact that my poor body is still catching up with the clock doesn't help. (Isn't it bedtime yet?) So, fresh from the streets of Florence, I give you this "odd shot," certainly worth at least a thousand words. It's a composition I'm rather proud of, even though all I did was walk past it and pull out the camera. I think it sums up my whole Tuscany experience pretty neatly.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The city of naked marble boys

Posting will drop from "seldom" to "not at all" for the next week or so, as I am off to Tuscany for a week of tourism and art and sunshine and, I hope, spiritual edification. Not to mention pasta and gelato and possibly hot chocolate (thanks, other Mollie, for the tip!). Given my level of obsession with (and dismay over) the current political climate, this trip couldn't come at a better time. Just think, we'll be that much closer to November when I get back... I'll think of you all tomorrow evening, as I'm enjoying la passeggiata. Ciao!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Straight talk

Besides talking politics, another thing I don't do often on Restricted View is post clips from The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, because everybody else is already doing that... and once I got started I'd probably never do anything else. But today over at HuffPo's Eat the Press blog, Rachel Sklar (who does post clips from the aforementioned shows quite often) flashed back to a piece The Daily Show ran in 1999, when John McCain first launched the Straight Talk Express.

Back then, I admired McCain. He actually seemed to be an honorable man, or at least as close as a lifelong politician can be to "honorable." I might have voted for him, given the chance; I certainly wouldn't have minded seeing him get the GOP nomination. At many points during this campaign, but especially during the last couple weeks, I've found myself reflecting ruefully on what could have been, and how far we've come since 2000. If McCain had any claim to "honor" left at the start of the month... Well, it's a lost cause now, isn't it. Just the last couple days I've been wondering, What will be left of him by November?

All the more reason to flash back to 1999! Besides giving us a glimpse of McCain at that time, this clip is a chance to look back at TDS when Jon Stewart was younger and more absurdly coiffed, and Steve Carrell was a correspondent. (Oh my, the Carrell-Colbert days were the glory days, weren't they?) Oh, and Cindy McCain looked much better back then -- Jon's hair looks silly, but Cindy's is great.

The check is in the mail, whether you like it or not

You know those "checks" your credit card company probably likes to send you? I get them attached to my monthly bill, and under separate cover too. They look like ordinary checking-account checks, except of course you write them against your line of credit, probably incurring some kind of fee and agreeing to a very high finance charge in the process. I don't really know how it works, because I've never used one myself. That's what my actual checking account is for. I just have a hunch that there might be a downside. Anyway, I know a guy -- a friend of the husband's -- who got one of those credit-card "checks" in the mail and tossed it in the trash can at work. A member of the after-hours cleaning staff dug it out and used it to buy a car.

I thought of that story when I got my most recent bill from Citibank and found one such check attached. There was also an insert, which said:
A check that makes it easy to access your credit line -- who wouldn't sign off on that?
Well, I wouldn't, for starters. My husband's sadder-but-wiser friend probably wouldn't, either.

"You've probably noticed the balance transfer check included in your statement," the insert continues. Why, yes, I have, because it makes for one more thing I have to be extra-careful to shred. Shredding papers is a regular household chore at our place, like doing laundry or taking out the recycling. We had to buy a more powerful shredder after I moved in, because the old one broke. It's such a terrific use of our time! "Use it for pretty much anything you want," Citibank adds. Why, thanks! That's so generous of you! How convenient that will be for anyone who might happen to find it in my trash!

I wouldn't mind so much if I only got "balance-transfer checks" with my statement. But I get them between statements, too, in unmarked envelopes that add to our shredding burden. It makes me question Citibank's commitment to protecting my vulnerable account information. And the thing that really pisses me off is when Citibank turns around and questions my commitment to the environment -- my monthly bills now come in an envelope that says, "Help the environment and get paperless statements." My credit-card bill is the only statement I still get in the mail; I haven't switched to paperless because I want to remember to pay it on time. So I refuse to feel guilty about that. And what they really mean is "Help us make money." But their little reminder makes me want to write back and say, "Help the environment by not sending me checks I don't want, not to mention paper inserts explaining how they can be used." Now, if I had any reason to believe they'd stop sending balance-transfer checks if I switched to online-only statements, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But something tells me that's not how it works.

Speaking of banks wasting paper: I did "turn off" paper statements for my regular bank accounts a long time ago. But occasionally I get a letter from Washington Mutual informing me that an email they sent me bounced back, and threatening to cut off access to my account if I don't update my profile with accurate contact information. They have the right email address -- I've checked more than once -- so I'm more than a little annoyed that they keep blaming me for the fact that their emails are evidently so suspicious that Yahoo won't even let them through to my spam folder. At first I thought maybe I really was missing some important communique, but sometimes I do get WaMu emails. The "important message" they want to deliver? My online account statement is "ready." Wow, it would be a shame if I missed that. I mean, I check in at least once a week, but there's nothing like looking at it on an arbitrary monthly basis to really keep me informed. Oh, and since I have two linked accounts (checking and savings), I get two letters every time this happens. Two more letters to shred. What identity fraud? What global warming?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Obligatory joke about Explaining It All For You

In the newest issue of Commonweal: my review-slash-critical essay on Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo and the current -- er, make that "recent," since it closed yesterday -- Roundabout Off-Broadway revival. Looks like it's too late for a box-office bump, which is just as well, since the web version of the article is available to subscribers only.

Much of what I wrote focuses on Durang's artistic relationship with the Catholic Church. Look for a hard copy to find out more! Here's a taste of what I said about the Roundabout's production:
Not all the cast members seem comfortable in the play’s world. Bette’s sister Emily, played by Heather Burns, is too one-dimensional, constantly hysterical to the point of tedium. The other sister, Joan, is a grouch, but Zoe Lister-Jones makes her incongruously sarcastic where she ought to be simply bitter. And Matt’s earnest speeches tend to drag, while a few come off as wan stand-up routines. But Victoria Clark is a marvel as Margaret, straining to keep smiling through one tragedy after another, and she is nearly matched by Julie Hagerty’s giggling, heartbreaking Soot. With a subtle shift of the eyes, Christopher Evan Welch carries Boo from earnest young bridegroom to middle-aged, addlebrained drunk, surveying his failures with a haunted stare. And Kate Jennings Grant steps nimbly through Bette’s distracted monologues, gradually adding depth until her nonsensical prattling seems pitiful and real.
I also said Terry Beaver was "splendid" as Father Donnally. That reminds me... I already told you about the dreadful behavior of the first audience I saw the play with. I saw it again, weeks later, with a much more attentive audience -- including an elderly priest! In his clerics! I wonder, would I have seen that in 1985?

P.S. I didn't know my Commonweal piece would be called "Bleak House" till I saw it in print. But it's a good title, not least because it echoes one of my favorite Durang jokes, from the Woman's monologue in Laughing Wild:
"My favorite book is Bleak House. Not the book, but the title. I haven't read the book. I've read the title. The title sounds the way I feel."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I try not to be political here...

But my head is about to explode. So: What is with the repeated GOP attacks on Obama's experience as a community organizer? Where do they get off sneering at community organizers -- especially while touting Palin's "Oh-I'm-just-a-hockey-mom-who-joined-the-PTA" background? And who applauds at that kind of mean-spirited, out-of-touch garbage?

...Okay, that was the thing that got me fired up enough to post. But now that I'm here, I can't resist offering a few more thoughts on last night's display. I won't bother with the distortions and lies about Obama's and the Dems' actual plans and policies -- other people can cover that better, and anyway that's politics as usual. But some of this stuff in Palin's speech just made my jaw drop:
To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters.
Where I'm from we call that kind of effort "community organizing."
I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.
Unless you're poor! And/or uninsured!

Okay, this is from later, when she'd transitioned fully into snide attack mode:
This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting, and never use the word "victory" except when he's talking about his own campaign.
Obama hates America because he won't glory in our might! Americans don't go to war regretfully, out of duty -- we go to win! Am I right, folks?
But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed ... when the roar of the crowd fades away ... when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot...
Oh, you're just jealous because you have to speak in front of a fugly green screen showing a waving flag -- and they couldn't even show your little intro movie! Seriously, that screen behind the speakers looks absolutely awful, especially on TV but also (I'm guessing) in person, whereas I thought the DNC stadium set actually looked quite good on TV. Guess all the good set designers are liberals. But there's no reason to be jealous, Governor Palin, because you too have a roaring crowd in front of you! Well, to be accurate it's more of a rabid, chanting crowd. But still. She goes on:
...what exactly is our opponent's plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet?
Yeah! Stupid liberals, always trying to heal and fix and improve and inspire! They think they're so great! Screw them! USA! USA!
Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?
Oh my God, do you think she actually believes that? I don't know which is the scarier prospect: that she truly doesn't understand the difference between "detainees" and "Al Quaeda terrorists actively plotting against the U.S.," or that she gets it and is already cynical enough to act like she doesn't.

Okay, now it's my turn to be snide. I'm taking these quotes from the transcript of Palin's speech at This is not a transcript put together as she spoke, but rather one that was provided to them before she spoke, at least according to what it says at the top: "The remarks, as prepared for delivery, of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in her address to the 2008 Republican National Convention accepting the party’s vice presidential nomination." So I simply must call your attention to a few interesting things I found in these prepared remarks:
Long ago, a young farmer and habber-dasher from Missouri followed an unlikely path to the vice presidency.
Terrorist states are seeking new-clear weapons without delay...
So maybe I'm just a mean old elitist, but I am nevertheless going to snicker at the fact that whoever prepared these remarks spelled out the "hard" words phonetically for Palin, so she wouldn't pronounce them wrong on national TV. (Of course, the speech was written by a Bush speechwriter, so maybe it's just force of habit... Oh, and the helpful spellings are in the transcript at the GOP Convention's official site, too, so don't go blaming the liberal media.)

And how about the bizarre spectacle of Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, sneering at the idea that Wasilla, AK, isn't "cosmopolitan" enough? (I'd give you a direct quote, but that was one of the many places he strayed from his "prepared remarks.") Besides which, and more important: in no way is "Being mayor of a town with fewer than 6000 people in it is perhaps not the most impressive preparation for being vice president of the entire U.S." the equivalent of "Small towns are worthless and risible!" Giuliani knows it. Palin knows it (one would hope). Hell, everybody knows it -- right? I mean, everyone can smell that BS, right? Please tell me I'm right.

Some things that have helped me keep my sanity this week: First of all, Rachel Sklar's Eat the Press post on the ridiculous "the media is out to get Palin" accusations. Right on, sister. Then, enjoy this Peggy Noonan screw-up, which is a refreshing chaser after you've watched something like, for example, Laura Bush's incredible gall in praising the McCains for adopting a daughter from India, as though her own husband's campaign had never tried to spread the smear that McCain had an illegitimate black child. (Not just an illegitimate child, you understand. A black one!) There's also this wonderful clip of Campbell Brown interviewing Tucker Bounds and pressing him for one example of Palin's executive authority in connection with the Alaskan National Guard -- the media doing its job! Which, by the way, McCain thought was so unfair he backed out of Larry King Live in retribution. (Please. No. Don't.) Oh, and I've been checking out Wonkette lately, especially this liveblog of Palin's speech. And finally, let's not forget the most hilarious (and honest) moment of that speech:

Ah, it feels good to get all that off my chest. I promise I won't do that again. At least not after November.