Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On the NBA, Donald Sterling, and the right to hate

So this week we were again reminded that racism is alive and well in the good ole United States. Is anyone really surprised?

Sure we feign -- or legitimately feel -- moral outrage, or disgust, at the likes of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who thinks black/African-American people would be better off as slaves, and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who doesn't like the idea of his alleged girlfriend, his African-American-Mexican girlfriend, going to basketball games with black guys.

And we should feel outrage, or at least disgust. Hate speech of any kind is abhorrent.

But while there are laws about discrimination in the work place, it is not illegal to say racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic things in private or in the privacy of your home -- though it is a crime in the State of California "to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call,without the consent of all parties to the conversation."*

To quote billionaire entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:
I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It’s a very, very slippery slope.

...[t]here’s no excuse for his [Donald Sterling's] positions. There’s no excuse for what he said. There’s no excuse for anybody to support racism. There’s no place for it in our league, but there’s a very, very, very slippery slope.

If it’s about racism and we’re ready to kick people out of the league... then what about homophobia? What about somebody who doesn’t like a particular religion. What about somebody who’s anti-semitic? What about a xenophobe?

In this country, people are allowed to be morons.
But... if we're taking something somebody said in their home and we're trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that's not the United States of America. I don't want to be part of that.
Cuban also tweeted that he "100% agreed" with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's decision to ban Donald Sterling for life from associating with the Clippers organization or the NBA and fine him $2.5 million, the maximum fine allowed under the NBA's constitution.

Watching ESPN's live coverage of the Silver/NBA presser and listening to the immediate post-conference media coverage, it seems that many people (i.e., basketball players, coaches, owners, and reporters) were happy with the verdict (though wondered why the NBA hadn't done anything sooner).

Does that mean that the NBA has eradicated racism (and hopefully other forms of hate speech) from basketball? Hardly. But it does send a powerful message, at least to basketball team owners. (Though I worry that the message could be interpreted as, make sure no one records you!)

Now if only the FCC -- or Clear Channel Communications -- would ban Rush Limbaugh from broadcasting and fine him millions of dollars. Ditto all the hate spewers on Fox News. But as any dittohead will tell you, that would be un-American.

UPDATED 4/30/14: If you haven't read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's great opinion piece re Donald Sterling and racism on Time.com, go read it now.

*Though I doubt V. Stiviano will be arrested.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I've been reading: Books I liked, books I didn't

Maybe it's me, but it seems like there a lot of bad and/or overhyped books out there right now -- more so than usual. And while I dislike dissing authors, knowing how hard it is to write a book and then get it published, I feel compelled, as a public service, to mention a handful of books to avoid (IMHO).

So I have two lists this go round. The first is a list of fiction and nonfiction books I liked, including one starred selection (for a favorite book). And the second is a list of books I did not like. At all. Whereupon finishing them I stomped around the house muttering to myself, and the spouse and the teenager, and the cats, about the amateurish prose, vapid plots and/or characters, and/or totally unsatisfying ending.

In both cases, I have listed books alphabetically by author, with just a brief description. No links to Amazon this time. If you want more info, Google the title. (To see previous Book Recommendations, click the link or on the label at the bottom of the post.)

Books I Liked (Fiction and Nonfiction)

*Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Fascinating (somewhat fictional though based on fact) biography of Fanny Vandergrift Osborne Stevenson, the wife of author Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Impersonator by Mary Miley. Well crafted mystery about a missing heiress and her actress doppelganger set in the 1920s against the backdrop of vaudeville and Prohibition.

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley. Beautifully written story of an introverted young French woman's search for answers about her glamorous yet mysterious family, set in the South of France during the late 1990s and World War II.

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley. The poignant story of an impoverished but noble Indian woman's quest -- even after death, via her beloved blue-eyed great grandson (the grandson of her daughter) -- to find the lovechild/son she was told had died as an infant. The story alternates between the British Raj, modern-day India, England just before, during, and after the First World War, and modern-day England. A love story that spans continents and generations.

From Scratch: Inside the Food Network by Allen Salkin. Biography of The Food Network. Lots of gaps but a must read for Food Network watchers.

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone. Fun, fast-paced read/memoir about a young man's love of (or really obsession with) magic. Very entertaining and informative (though I may never play poker or black jack again).

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen. Memoir by James Beard award-winning food/travel writer Anya von Bremzen about her childhood in the former Soviet Union (in Russia, mostly), her parents and grandparents, and the things they ate and drank (good and bad) and still remember and cook fondly.

(I also read several mysteries and historical romance novels -- hey, it was a long, cold winter -- which I'd be happy to tell you about if you are interested.)

Books I Really Didn't Like (and Wanted to Throw Against the Wall but Didn't)

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay. Marketed as an adult novel, but really should have been shelved in the YA section. Totally unrealistic romance about an orphaned girl who grew up in foster homes who is "forced" to attend Northwestern's School of Journalism on a scholarship and the wildly successful (and do I need to add handsome?) mystery writer she has a secret crush on (and who falls madly in love with her). Puh-lease. (Still can't believe I read the whole thing.)

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert. A tale of love and loss set against the backdrop of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. But I was so distracted by all the red herrings in this novel (what's up with all the allusions to the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, dude?), I could never figure out what the book was really about -- and found the characters unsympathetic.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield. Proof that second novels often fall short of the first, especially when the first (The Thirteenth Tale) was great. Started out like a good ghost story but went nowhere.

The Color of Light by Helen Maryles Shankman. Does the world really need another love story about a rich, good looking vampire and a pretty, naive virgin (in this case an artist who resembles the vampire's long lost love)? No.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. OMFG, did any of those people on Amazon who gave the book four stars actually read the book? Or maybe they were friends of the author, or drug addicts. Reminded me of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, if it took place just after 9/11 and the following 10 years, and instead of being amusing was depressing as hell, and 300 pages longer. Can't believe I read the whole effing thing. Total disappointment.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ewe gotta be kidding

I wish I had come up with that title -- "Ewe gotta be kidding" -- for this video of a baby goat-sheep hybrid, known as a geep, recently born in Ireland.

A lot of people think the farmer, Paddy Murphy, is full of blarney. But I gotta admit, having seen a fair amount of goats and sheep -- and zedonks -- that lamb, or kid (lid? kamb?), does look like a geep.

According to Wikipedia (and other sources), sheep-goat hybrids are possible, though unlikely. And interestingly, those offspring that do survive are known to be, uh (I feel a little sheepish even typing it), horny as goats.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The artist formerly known as Pres

Some might say that the artistic stylings of the former president known as "W.," whose first art exhibit, titled "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy," opened today in Dallas, are strictly bush league. And they would be correct.

But I have to admit, I kind of like George W. Bush's artwork*, particularly this painting of a rescue cat...

and this portrait of Bush's deceased Scottish terrier, Barney.

I even like some of his portraits, including this one of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi...

And this self portrait.

(I refuse to show the shower scene. That would be psycho.)

Sure, sure, if his last name wasn't "Bush" or he hadn't been President of the United States, George W.'s artwork would probably not be shown in a gallery. But hey, I have seen much worse art shows (at actual art galleries and museums) -- and having a hobby, especially one that doesn't harm people, is always a fine idea.

Make art, not war, I say.

So what do you all think of former President Bush's artwork?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A brief guide to cat and dog petting

Have you ever wondered if there was a right way or, perhaps more importantly, a wrong way -- or place -- to pet a cat or dog? A way that would not result in the cat or dog hissing or growling, or swatting or biting the hand that pets it? Well, wonder no more, people!

Thanks to the handy "Petting Chart for Your Cat" and "Petting Chart for Your Dog," you will never have to worry about how -- or where -- to pet your (or another's) cat or dog ever again.

(Okay, maybe you should worry a little bit about cats. After all, felines are notoriously fickle.)

Thanks to the spouse, who learned the hard way how to pet a cat, for sending me these charts.