Monday, July 31, 2006

Today Only: Keeping It Light Fantastic

The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks (1780-1849)
All the bad news out there makes me want to do hard drugs. That's not gonna happen, but what Kiko's House will do in the wake of our wildly successful Day Without Iraq and Week Without Dubya turns of recent months, is excorcize the usual demons for a day and keeping it light fantastic.

It will be back to reality tomorrow.

-- Enjoy, SHAUN

Happy Birthday, Tony Bennett

T.B. and k.d.: Natural together
Tony Bennett, the singer's singer and brilliant interpreter of the American songbook, turns 80 on August 3.

Happy birthday, Tony!
I grew up listening to Tony Bennett (and Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee and Mel Torme), but he was background music to my Motown and Beatles. I knew that I would come to appreciate Bennett because I am such a music freak, and did realize when I lived in the Bay City in the mid-1970s that his interpretation of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" was something special.

But it wasn't until 1994 when Bennett first collaborated with k.d. lang, of whom I was enormously fond, that I finally fell under his spell.
(Here's a somewhat dated but really nice interview with k.d. about Tony.)

* * * * *
Your favorite local jazz station will be playing a lot of Tony Bennett this week, or ought to be.

If you don't have a favorite local jazz station, I recommend that you link to WBGO-FM in Newark, New Jersey, the best anywhere.

Didja Hear About the Zombie Dancers Who . . .

There's the Parent of the Year who had to return his award because he's on probation for arson. The "Girls Gone Wild" bus tour running over a bicyclist. McDonald's honoring the man who came up with the idea of the Egg McMuffin. Nine thousand turkey chicks suffocating in a jetliner's cargo hold. Police finding a severed hand in a jar at a stripper's home . . .
I could go on, but you get the idea. If you groove on true but oddball stories like these, then don't walk . . . run to Jim Romenesko's Obscure Store & Reading Room, which has been an Internet fixture for almost as long as there's been an Internet.

My personal faves are the stories, posted with stupefying regularity, about people finding weird stuff in their food and motorists mistaking the accelerator pedal for the break pedal.

Wile you're there, drop a duckat or two in Jim's tip jar.
Click here for more.

Miss Malkintent Gets Her Just Desserts

Traffic to Michelle Malkin's blog for the last 6 months

An Ode to the Blueberry

It's blueberry season at Kiko's House, which means that the blueberries I stirred into my yogurt this morning came from nearby southern New Jersey, where the sandy soil is perfect for producing lush plants with delicious fruit.

Blueberries were once a summer-only treat, but are now available nearly year round, although at exhorbitant prices. And they're not nearly as tasty if grown in some faraway clime, treated with preservatives and then shipped thousands of miles, so I bite my lip and wait for Jersey blues. Mmmm.

Depending on your locale, blueberries are quite easy to grow, according to gardening expert Constance Casey, who ruminates on them in a Slate essay.

Then there's blueberry grunt, a concoction favored by colonial settlers that is made with blueberries, sugar and water and served with dumplings. It inspired this bit of doggerel from an Anonymoose:
Feeling low, feeling blue?
Don't know what you're gonna do?
Feeling dull, in a funk?
Well make yourself
Some blueberry grunt!

Lousy day, rotten luck,
Almost run down by a truck?
Feeling just a little punk?
Just make some hot blueberry grunt!

Grunt, grunt,
Gooey, sticky, yummy, grunt.
Mmm! Eww! Just the thing
when you're feeling blue.

Broken leg? Broken arm?
Did you loose your lucky charm?
Brother lock you in a trunk?
Have some more blueberry grunt!

Lose your job? Can't find work?
Someone treats you like a jerk?
Have to lead life like a monk?
Try some more blueberry grunt!

Grunt, grunt,
Gooey, sticky, yummy, grunt.
Mmm! Eww! Just the thing
when you're feeling blue!

An Open & Shut Case For a Beautiful Swede

Volvo, my ride of choice for many years until I was drawn to Audi and its quattro AWD system, has finally shed its stodgy image.

The beautiful babe on the left is the C70 T5 convertible, which has a beyond clever retractable hardtop, the first to include side-curtain airbags. It also has real rear seats, not a bench barely suitable for your mother in law's luggage.

The damage? 320,000 Swedish krona (that's US$44,000).

'The Sidewalk Smokers Club'

When folks ask what Kiko's House is all about, I explain that it's a current and cultural events blog. This usually sends me into paroxysms of guilt because I seldom post anything cultural beyond our monthly book club and compact disk picks. Oh, yes, there's also the Gratuitous Kitty Shot of the Week.

In a modest effort to begin righting this imbalance and offer a leg up to Stephen Siciliano, a fellow blogger, I'm going to pitch his new novel, "The Sidewalk Smokers Club."

Here's the back jacket blurb:
Stephen Siciliano's Sidewalk Smokers are driven outdoors by the most selective kind of lawmaking, resisting the increased regulation of American life, a cabal of rootless cosmopolitans on the make for the big break. The Smokers are united behind one of their own, taking on a media giant over the publishing of some dated, nude photos. Lethargic sensualists, craven in their drive for publicity, the group's saving grace is that they are uncommonly kind to one another. Do we really know people like this? Probably not, which may, in the end, be what Mr. Siciliano is after.
Click here to read the first chapter and order a copy for your very own self.

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt to whet your appetite. It involves Randall, one of The Club's members, who takes advantage of his new found celebrity and attends a party at an A-list actress' home:
He felt a little nervous and was forced to take a deep breath before sauntering up the walkway with the tin of expensive (for him) cigars under his arm.

Randall rang the bell and was half-surprised to see the A-list actress open the door all on her lonesome. Stripped of so much stage setting she could have been any other of the ravishing muses in the world. Out a corner of his eye – the rest of it being occupied with her – he caught a glimpse of at least three A-list actors and actresses whom were daily fare on the covers of magazines in supermarkets across the land. He opted for a cool play and stumbled a little on the intricate Persian rug that covered the floor of A-girl’s anteroom. The stars didn’t mind; they were used to that kind of thing. They’d read the accounts and viewed the telereports of the benefit/press conference for Yvonne.

They were totally behind her in the battle against an exploitative media megamonster because, rich as they were, it was to a large degree their fight, too.
He dumped the specially purchased and overpriced cigars on his hostess who then escorted him up to a pair of well-known buddy actors and introduced him thusly:

“Here’s the leader of The Sidewalk Smokers Club!” The two handsome, thin, utterly charismatic young blades smiled kindly and gave manly pats on the shoulders. She smoothed over her departure with a primer on where the booze and food might be found and then shimmied away leaving a bit of heaven lingering behind.

Randall struck the egalitarian note by pointing out that he was not, in fact, the leader of The Sidewalk Smokers Club, a non-hierarchical organization in which the creative impulses of its ever-changing ranks were never oppressed by someone’s weightier status. Randall had forgotten that those in whose company he now found himself were very dependent upon repeated recognition of their weightier status, but unwittingly recovered when he said, “As bum philosophy holds, he who leads sometimes dies first.”

Bum philosophy did not, up until that moment, hold any such thing, but it would thereafter, for the system was an elastic one that shrank and grew with the necessities of its creators.

And besides, he was playing a role. He was invited as a bum philosopher and by gosh he’d better bum philosophize if he wanted a return trip to this little Eden.

It took him a few minutes to get his bearings. After all, it could have been a dream.
Everybody present was young and famous and it rather rattled him to think such people actually hung out together, unbeknownst to him. The guys, with a few colorful exceptions, were good-looking and practiced in the small gestures of the feigned or real boredom that say C.O.O.L. None were quite as original as Randall, just excellent in meeting a pre-established and (almost) universal standard of manhood. The girls were of course beautiful, some less so than on screen and others beyond compare in person. They were not guarded, for they were among their own guild of the gilded and Randall almost fooled himself into thinking their openness had to do with his good looks or beastly magnetism.

He felt a bit the dancing bear. But in the end there was empathy and admiration, for what were any of them but dancing bears of one sort or another?

His hostess, the A-list actress – had invited him in that moment when her social antennae informed that the event at Joya’s was a dirty, nasty, funky hit and the people who had pulled it off were comers. Everyone there wanted to know about Randall’s friends, about the sexy girl who had showed up in the magazine and was stealing all their air time with her gutsy story of taking on the same concentrated media companies in whose hands their bank accounts resided.

In short, The Sidewalk Smokers Club was doing the dirty work everyone present fantasized over, but were too compromised by personal pleasures and possession to act on. Having been summonsed to the head of the class like good little students, each fearfully awaited the day of summary dismissal.

Anyhow it didn’t matter. Not at the moment. The party was raucous. Fabulous stringy, sandy-haired, honey-voiced, loosey-goosey girls grabbed him by the hand and took him from magic room to magic room where it is best to let mystery sprinkle its own insinuations rather than deflate the imagination with demystifying, clinical detail.

One or two of them suggested he stop smoking, but Randall was a delegate from the other world, carrying a banner, and these were the people whom he wanted under that banner. They didn’t know this. They did. They cared. They didn’t. They were taken aback and admiring of the fact he would deign to tell sirens such as they “no” (much as it killed him).

He maxim-ized in his mind: “Saying no to a beautiful woman will get you either nowhere or everywhere,” and promised to do his best to remember it “morning next” as the British refer to the morrow.

R. was having a blast, flirting with drunken effusiveness, but in the end too keen of purpose to blow it with giddiness. And besides, things turned out to be rather natural.

One star turned out to be a delicate guitarist, accompanied by the surprisingly heartfelt vocal stylings of what Randall had thought was a rather meretricious comedian. A sit-com silly-girl danced like a crystal nymph with another feature-length actress of higher status, and he was stunned to learn that they were not fakes.

No, these people were special, finely honed instruments. Their having been reduced to commodities for sale was but the ransom for a life of riches. They were worth more, it seemed to him, than the sum total of things they were known for. They were deeper than their tabloid dimensions. So, mindful of their reduction and massification, and given his long past of disdainful rebellion against such things, why did Randall want to be involved?

Because he did.

Rebellion, he’d decided, was stupid if nobody knew who you were or why you were doing it. The only revolution worth its salt was that acted out upon the stage of conformity. Doomed to failure, it at least provided those with free-spirited temperaments a distinctive role in the battle for success.

The actor Hat Midone, who’d been subjected to this particular discourse, agreed wholeheartedly. Randall gave Hat his card. Hat gave Randall his publicist’s.
R. chose a moment just after the party had peaked – when the A-list actress had opened a pantry revealing case after case of a quality tequila – to depart and, with his head held high lest everyone who was anyone be watching, rejected all pleas and temptations that he stay.

Heading out, the hostess caught up and intimated that this was not the last of it, that there would be more. He kissed her goodbye and coughed roughly enough for those in proximity to notice. Nonchalantly sweeping the room before exiting (stage left as it were) Randall saw that all the cigars he’d brought had been put to use.

Sometimes the world comes around to us.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Gratuitous Kitty Shot of the Week

Photographs of kitlers are all the rage these days on the Internet. David Farrar posted this particular kitler at his Kiwi Blog.

There's even an entire website devoted to them that asks:
Does your cat look like Adolph Hitler? Do you wake up in a cold sweat every night wondering if he's going to up and invade Poland? Does he keep putting his right paw in the air while making a noise that sounds supiciously like "Sieg Miaow"?

* * * * *
Apologies to the folks who expected to see Science Saturday in this space today. We thought we'd take a week off in deference to President Bush and his gang, who don't believe in science -- or at least the science that gets in the way of their views.

In the meantime, would you like your kitty or kitties to be world famous? Send us a photo in the form of a jpg to and we'll make that happen.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Iraq I: The War Is Turning Us Into Cowards

Americans Invited: Another Baghdad weenie roast
On Tuesday, President Bush and Prime Minister Al-Maliki announced a major new security sweep of Baghdad that will accomplish nothing except kill even more Americans and Iraqis.

This strategy is not a carefully thought out initiative but rather a hastily thrown together reaction to the mounting carnage in Baghdad.
Yes, once again the Bush administration hopes for the best but won't plan for the worst.
No amount of troops will be able to pacify the vast stretches of the capital that are controlled by militias backed by the local police forces.

Worst yet, U.S. troops will have to engage in door-to-door combat with an enemy who not only knows the battlefield well but has support of the locals. Such close-quarters fighting has been a disaster from Saigon to Mogadishu to Kosovo to Baghdad itself, most recently during an abortive security sweep in June that made the situation worse and prompted the new strategy.
What is even more upsetting than this wrong-headed move is the muted coverage of -- and absence of debate over -- the new strategy in the mainstream media and blogosphere.

I had initially written this off to three factors:
* Fatigue over the intractability of the war.

* A shift of focus to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict despite the fact that many more Iraqis have died in the last two weeks than in that series of battles.

* It's summer, and at least figuratively speaking, everyone's at the beach.
But as I gave this more thought, I zeroed in on a fourth reason:
With the full encouragement of the Bush administration, the U.S. has become a nation of cowards.

On the one hand, the White House has done a fairly effective job of tamping down criticism of the war, while the MSM has compliantly sanitized it by filtering out almost all images of its ravages when Americans are involved.

On the other hand, the White House has done a superbly effective job of asking Americans to make sacrifices because of the war while in reality requiring none whatsoever.

Except for those ubiquitous "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers, there is no sign that the U.S. is in a time of great national testing. There is no belt tightening, no tax increases, no rationing, no other forms of deprivation.