Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Terrible news from Mumbai...

I hope everyone in my personal blogosphere is okay....

Monday, November 24, 2008

The widow's mite

Last week, I went in to my Place of Employment and found an envelope in my in-bin that was addressed to my colleague, SpyGirl. It was emblazoned with the message "The widow's mite represents the key to unlocking one of God's most powerful promises..." Some sort of new variation on the Prayer Hanky, I thought, and squealed with glee. (Which I then had to explain to the newish girl, who doesn't know me as well as SpyGirl does). I was especially delighted with the see-through part of the envelope, showing a little fake coin, a reproduction widow's mite.

The odd thing was the return address: Jewish Voice Ministries International. Of course, even the word "Ministries" rings a little false, but my first snap question was, since when do Jewish organizations resort to the sort of dubious mail-order fund-raising I'm used to from "Christian" churches who exist only as PO boxes? I can't prove they don't exist, but I've sure never gotten their mailings. For a second I thought, maybe some other religions are deciding to give up and start soliciting. Maybe thinking, why should those churches get all the money?

My next thought was: the widow's mite? Isn't that from the New Testament? (Answer: yes. See Mark 12: 41-44 and/or Luke 21:1-4).

When I opened the letter, it emphasizes that "every person who blesses the Jewish People will receive a blessing in return." Okay, I'm all for blessing the Jewish people. (And, well, everybody, for that matter. But I digress). The Jewish Voice Ministries, however, specifically thinks that the way to bless them is "to help them find their Messiah Yeshua!"

Yup, they're Christians, so the world hasn't gone all topsy-turvy. Calling themselves the "Jewish Voice" is a bit disengenuous (I imagine a group of mythical atheists who want to deprogram evangelicals, calling themselves the "Christian Voice"). But I was happy to add the mite to my collection of peculiar trinkets.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sexiest Men in Show Business, 2008

Wow, this is my third annual Sexiest Men in Show Biz blog, in which I show People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive issue how it's done. And let me tell you, thank god for Bollywood, where they're equal-opportunity objectifier. I had a hard time scaring up five new men last year, and now I'm back to a full complement of ten. Frankly, I could probably have done an all-Indian list, but I like to keep it a little more diverse than that. I've even got a record number of American actors this year!

People picked Hugh Jackman this year, so for once, I can actually respect their taste. Still, he hasn't bumped anyone off my list.

In the top slot:

1. Irfan Khan.
Oh, come on, if anybody in the world didn't see that coming, then you haven't been paying any attention at all, and I need to start running some pop quizzes or something. Oh, the Irfan! He can be a psychotic villain, he can be a nerdy businessman, he can throw extra letters into his name, and he's almost ... almost ... gotten me to see an earnest Angelina Jolie movie about contemporary political issues. Maybe once I've exhausted all his Hindi films. I've been saving The Warrior (one of his starring roles) for a rainy day, so for now I'll say that the best starting point is the Irfan/Tabu knockout double feature of Maqbool (steamy sexy) and The Namesake (realistic romantic). Maybe with a dollop of The Killer on the side. It's not the best movie, but Irfan looks great in a suave suit.

2. and 3. The men of Omkara: Saif Ali Khan and Ajay Devgan.
Director Vishal Bharadwaj has an interesting niche: adapting Shakespeare plays as gritty but literary Bollywood crime dramas. Starring some very handsome men. After Maqbool, there was Omkara. Okay, Saif Ali Khan is not handsome looking in Omkara itself. As the Iago character, he's filthy, obnoxious, and he has terrible teeth. Nonetheless, he is mesmerizing in his villainy, and you don't forget him; those are sexy qualities, only without the accompanying physical attractiveness. It was quite a shock to watch Omkara and then Kal Ho Naa Ho, where Khan plays the swoonily handsome, slightly metrosexual Rohit. Wowza!

As the title character, Ajay Devgan gets to brood and glower and smolder, which doesn't sound terribly promising, but I assure you, he does so while sporting a terrific moustache. I like that Devgan has such a distinctive nose, which sets him apart from the prettier boys. In addition to Omkara, I recommend Bhoot as a showcase for his manly but sensitive charms.

4. Robert Downey, Jr.
There are always guys I've seen around forever and never thought much of, and suddenly I fine myself forced to reevaluate them. This year it's Downey's turn. I've been seeing his movies for over twenty years, and that whole time, I've never thought he was cute, or really understood why he was so critically acclaimed. I had to admit he was pretty good in the recent Zodiac, so I developed some new respect for him as an actor. Then along came Iron Man. Not only didn't debauchery Chet Baker-ize him (the documentary Let's Get Lost is largely a study of how to destroy one's good looks with drug abuse), but age and (relative) maturity are really suiting him.

5. , 6., and 7. The men of Dexter: Michael C. Hall, Erik King, James Remar.
Here we have a television show with a serial killer for a protagonist: one who attempts to satisfy his bloodlust within a moral code. Since it's on cable, one might expect that it would be carnage candy. It doesn't sound like a natural forum for eye candy, does it? Ah, the importance of casting! In the lead, Michael C. Hall is hilarious as the narrator (always an attractive quality), and cleancut, boyish charm has never been so creepy and disturbing. If I didn't know I had compatriots in finding Dexter sexy, I'd worry a little about my psychological well being.

It's especially fun watching him square off against his nemesis, the hardcore, deadpan, smokin' hot Sgt. Doakes (Erik King). When they glare and plot against each other, and occasionally get to duke it out, it reminds me of the revelation I had during the Obi-Wan/Jango Fett throw-downs in Attack of the Clones: Ahh, this is why guys always like to see two chicks brawling. It's relatively rare that two male adversaries are both hot, but when they are, you get all the fun you'd get out of any fight scenes or tense thriller scheming, but, you know, with multiple hot guys!

As for James Remar: I know he had a lot of fans on that show, but he didn't thrill me on Sex and the City. The arrogant tycoon is 100% not my type, and SATC already had one of those. But when he showed up, a little craggier, as Dexter's flashback foster father, I was very happy to see him. It's good to know that the beautiful young Ajax (from The Warriors, one of the best films of all time) grew up into such a fine specimen of older manliness.


8. Gerard Butler.
Speaking of underwhelming, poor Butler seemed like a total loss to me in Dracula 2000. Most boring Dracula ever, I damned his performance, although it was probably the fault of a generally lackluster film, with Butler hampered by a bland accent. When I saw Reign of Fire, I was like, who's that yummy fellow with the great Scottish accent? I couldn't believe it was the same guy. More recently I've seen him in the action-movie leads of 300 and Beowulf and Grendel, and I can't remember off-hand what sort of accents he did for them. All I know is that he was plenty expressive in them, and I was, possibly, distracted by his fine (albeit computer-enhanced, at least in 300) physique.

9. Jeremy Northam.
Here's a guy whose career couldn't be more British. He's made a respectable number of Hollywood movies, mostly typecast as a guy who looks good in glasses (a la Mimic) or as part of a classy ensemble cast, without ever making much of a splash. Just plugging along, doing the sort of reliable, low-key sexy work that keeps the world turning. Recently, I was watching the 1987 British TV show Wish Me Luck, and thinking, "Who's that cute lanky youngster?" And lo, it was Jeremy. So I think it's time he got some props.

10. Idris Elba.
Even though he did three seasons of The Wire, I've only seen a handful of episodes (along with his supporting role in 28 Weeks Later) so for me, he's still an up-and-comer that I haven't seen enough of, and am keeping my eye out for. Annoyingly, he guested in that No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency TV movie with Sexiest Man in Show Biz alum David Oyelowo -- you know, the one that's never aired in the U.S. or been released yet on DVD.

So there you have it, the class of 2008! Feel free to weigh in with the men I've neglected, and, although my criteria are very strict (and very mysterious), they may make the cut next year...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Not to Pick Up Girls

So, you're a lonely single guy, and you see a group of two or three women sitting in a booth at the bar. You want to go over, buy them drinks, sit with them. What's your best means of approach?

Well, sorry to tell you this, but we women know that the only reason you're doing this is because we're women and you're a guy. There's really no reason for you to pretend otherwise. Try to be ... nice. A little bit flattery, a little bit of look of appreciation in your eye. Nothing gross, nothing over the top. Be pleasant. Just a "Hey, you're some very attractive women. I'd like to buy you a drink." Even, if you must, "I'd like to get to know you."

This will save untold time and annoyance on everyone's part. If you're reasonably good-looking, or having any selling points at all, it gives any women in the group who might be in the market a chance to send you "potentially interested" cues. And it cuts to the chase for the completely not interested. We can say, "Gee, that's sweet, but: boyfriend. Husband. Talking about stuff. Not a good time."

Sub-category tip: this won't help you if you're in town for one night and want to get laid, but if you can afford it, and you're coming back to this bar again, it never hurts to say something polite ("Those are lucky guys!") and offer to buy the drinks anyway, no strings attached. If you do this, you have to mean it: NO STRINGS ATTACHED. It does happen, that guys buy you the drinks, they bid you adieu, and disappear into the bar. This, friends, is an investment on building good will, and everybody needs goodwill. You don't want to be chatting up a girl months later and have someone in the bathroom tell her, "Yeah, that guy's not bad looking, but he's an asshole."

Similarly, your WORST strategy is to try to buy women drinks and sit with them, all the while disclaiming how you're not hitting on them and you're not trying to pick them up. You are, and you are, and it just makes you passive-aggressive. That's not highlighting your best quality. Guys with this approach seem to think that if they bully you into letting them sit in your booth, then they're in, which is, frankly, delusional. And far too often, they turn into jackasses when you don't flirt with them. We're not there to flirt with you, and if you'd followed my belated advice, that would have been clear from the start, freeing you to try your luck elsewhere.

Think logically, for a second, through the beer and the hormones: your whole approach was based on the fact that you weren't interested. The target audience is women who are cool with your not being interested in them, because they're not interested in you. These are the ground rules that were established in the beginning. Then you get mad because you're not getting anywhere.

I imagine this approach must have worked for some of these guys at some point, but it almost seems guaranteed to lead to encounters where somebody is going to be pissed off the next day.
At any rate, the guy who tried the losing strategy last night at the dive bar did make up for the annoyance in amusement value, because he told me I was "laid back" and reminded him of his sister. He went on to drunkenly tell me that she's a Lutheran Sunday school teacher with eight kids. Now, if that isn't me, I don't know what is!

Friday, November 14, 2008

VOA: Voice of the Anarchivist?

Or VOV: Voice of the Velvet Flamingo? I have too many aliases, and yet, no anonymity. One of those modern-world conundrums!

Came home sick yesterday, called in again today, with the phrase, "It's really annoying." And it is! Especially since it casts doubt on my cavalier attiude of "I'm not worried about germs; they're good for the immune system!" I don't want to start rushing for the hand sanitizer. But the nose-throat-cough-sneeze-struggle to swallow cold symptoms are downright irritating. The balloon of stuffiness in my head seems to impair my cognitive abilities, and if I'm home, I'd like to be able to DO stuff, not just lie around.

Anyway, my hobby for the day is the Voice of America Radio: http://www.voanews.com/english/webcasts.cfm. The easiest way for me to get in is via this link, and then to select a language on the drop-down menu on the right. (I'm assuming you people with actual podcasting experience will find more convenient routes). Each language brings up a menu of shows; for the "Live" ones you have to concern yourself with Universal Time, so I'm listening to the "On Demand" programs. I've listened to Pashto, Shona, Amharic, and now Burmese, and there are many, many new languages to listen to. All I understand is an occasional phrase like "Bush" and "Obama," or a reference to the Taliban, but it's still vair interesting.

What a job, to attempt to speak for an entire country. I can barely coherently present the point of view of a single individual, who happens to be me.

If anyone can find a way to listen to All-India Radio online, let me know. They don't have any audio available through their website, and they don't broadcast specifically to North America, that I can tell, so catching them on my actual radio would be quite a feat...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A spoonful of sugar

I'll probably never watch any of those American dramas about September 11th, but now I don't need to, having watched Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota. Mainly because I saw a trailer, and it looked like Irfan got a sexy scene. And yes, he did; although it wasn't up to the Maqbool level (people just aren't exploiting his hotness enough for my taste), I was happy anyway. He also did some actual kissing. Woo!

This is one of the movies in which he's billed simply as "Irffan." I was saying last night, he seems to be sticking with this 2-F thing, so I suppose I should follow suit. It's just that sometimes it's one way and sometimes the other: I have the accuracy hang-up that I feel I should spell it however the film does, so I think I resist the inconsistency. I do, however, love it when he's billed by the single word, the one, the only, Irffan!

Konkona Sen Sharma also starred (when is she going to be discovered by Hollywood? She is, after all, Irfan's female counterpart. See, there I go again with the instinctive single-F). Lots of other good actors were in it (ensemble piece), and I was pleasantly surprised with Ayesha Takia. She seeemed so very lightweight in Sunday, young and cute, and -- that's it. Here she played young and cute and privileged, the rich girl of her circle, hanging out with her friends and having fun, but then she got to eventually show more depth, and it really worked. It probably helped that she didn't have to do any cute silly voices.

The movie follows four storylines involving people who are traveling to America. There's a medical student who's unsure whether leaving India is the right thing to do; a girl whose mother will sacrifice anything to get her the hell out; Irfan is a heart-broken stockbroker who has to flee the country after a business acquaintance gets murdered in his vicinity; and Konkona is a newlywed, waiting for her visa so she can join her husband in L.A., and being driven mad by her in-laws. (I liked the fact that the unstable mother was an American, and clearly relishing the thought of getting a traditional Indian daughter-in-law to push around).

As the stories went along, I kind of forgot about what was going to happen, and the way they converged, with different fates for different characters, was quite effective. Especially (SPOILER! O Spoiler!) for the person who misses the plane. The way it's set up, it seems clear that this is the person, in their situation, who would most feel that missing the plane is the worst possible thing that could happen. That's juxtaposed with the hoops other characters had to jump through to get their visas, to get the money, all they went through to get on this plane that's never going to land.

I know, usually I like my Bollywood fluffy, with the maximum in glitter. I prefer to leave my seriousness for the news. But I'm glad I watched this, so I decided to bump that Gandhi assassination movie to the top of my queue. Hey, it has Shahrukh in it! It's gotta be worth watching.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Late Night Hyderabad

The curious thing about listening to the radio live from Hyderabad: yesterday, I spent the afternoon working in the back office at my Place of Work. I tuned into Radio Hyderabad after lunch (sometime after one p.m.), and since other people kept coming and going, nobody else really settling in to work for a long time in the same room, I just left it on. (Usually, when there's more people there, I try to make sure we alternate our music, so I don't drive them all crazy). When I was shutting everything down at six, I realized that it was getton on six a.m. in India, so I'd pretty much listened to Radio City all through the night.

This seemed especially strange when I walked out the door to find the world black as midnight at six p.m. Time is one of those things that it would be so easy to take for granted: it's fall here, so it's fall everywhere. It's morning here, so it's morning everywhere. Not just us and what we do, but our whole context, the exernal structure of nature, seems so arbitrary. A fluke of fate, and everything would be different, even the things human beings don't control....