Understand You Understand

The neighbors are rebuilding a fence that recently failed to resist gravity in any meaningful way. An older, shirtless man I don’t know is directing a teenage boy in Hungarian. It is a beautiful language, full of nuance; I grew up hearing Hungarian spoken by my next door neighbor, a ballet teacher who fled Europe during the Revolution. The teenage boy, who last fall was the subject of an exciting police raid, is kind of handsome and thoroughly stupid. Yesterday, I took a vacation day and attempted the highly difficult mid-week sleep in. The boy’s car alarm went off at 8:00 and after an eternity, he finally shut it off. I hope it’s a good fence.


Pander To My Taste For Candor

Today, I’ve been preoccupied with Topaz’s labored breathing. The poor darling makes the same face people do when we have headaches. Mostly, she stays upstairs in the attic, where it’s warm and she has fresh water. At the moment, she’s walking around on the counters in the kitchen like nothing’s up. Yesterday, she curled up on my lap for a couple of hours, which she has never done, so things are up and down. Cross your fingers, Madame just has a cold.

So I made pizza for dinner and cut the kinds of corners busy people do. Stop & Shop sells inexpensive 12″ whole wheat crusts, two crusts to a package. The crusts do not have much flavor. Think of them as blank canvases that won’t kick your digestive tract’s ass. I brush each with olive oil, then flavor with garlic, basil and whatever rocks my boat that day. The toppings: chopped spinach, a broccoli crown, half each of a red, orange and yellow pepper, 1-1/3 pieces of turkey sausage, 2/3 cup ricotta, salt, pepper, grated parmesan cheese. I forgot the diced tomato but didn’t miss it. If you can operate a pairing knife, you can make this pizza for yourself and – and here’s the key – it’s actually good for you. If you’re a vegetarian, leave off the sausage. Still good for you. You can eat it for breakfast without regrets.

In the meantime, I devoted my time to making special chicken stock for cats. Georg recommended gravy for dogs I’ve had zero luck finding, but suggestions are still welcome. With boiled chicken and special stock, I’m in grave danger of becoming the Mama Celeste of the cat world.

Tell Each Other Fairy Tales

In a cyclical fashion, I get sick of dealing with someone. Recently, it was Verizon. I currently hate Verizon with such fiery passion that I forgot I hate Cablevision. I currently love Cablevision. When I think of Cablevision little hearts float over my head; such is my hatred of Verizon. So Pete and I canceled a bunch of services and went with Cablevision’s bundled cable/wifi/phone package, involving three of the four televisions in the house. I don’t have to plug my laptop into a phone line. Joy! We saved a bunch of money. Joy! Our one compromise was the attic TV, which used to get satellite TV. I used to row loudly and watch soap operas and cooking shows at an unholy volume. Surely, everyone benefitted from the wisdom of Pepin, whom my neighbors could not help but hear. I imagined them picturing his mother’s rustic corn pancakes. Anyway, now the attic TV is on one of those converter boxes everyone with a cable show urges you to get. I forget the absolutely-last-chance-no-more-freaking-chances deadline. It might be June 12th. If that’s true, June 13th is going to be a hell of a day, because these converter boxes don’t pick up much. We’re up pretty high. We get three NBC channels, and the best is Telemundo. Fortunately, I like Telemundo.

The morning show on weekdays features very excitable women talking about who the hell knows what in a language I don’t speak. In other words, it’s exactly like watching The Today Show. The other morning, I was plugging away on the exercise cycle and I looked down at the meters for a long minute. When I looked up, a completely different group of women were hopping up and down glamorously. The one on the right was freelancing with the choreography. Suddenly, everything went to commercial. Cue an old-fashioned girl gang beat down.

In the afternoons and evenings, I don’t know what I’m in for. One day, Caso Cerrado introduced the idea that a TV judge might sing her show’s introduction. A dating game – 12 Corazones – matches women of different zodiac signs with men of startling machismo. I think. I don’t speak Spanish but I know Miss Scorpio wanted to know about each Mexican wrestler’s pinning technique. Meeeeow! All of this is to say my gooey teenage love of Cablevision and hatred of Verizon brings me a good reason to listen luxuriously to Spanish almost every day, and if I listen I hear words, and when I hear words my brain is embiggening. Good for me! I am not sure the same happiness will happen in homes where airwaves fail to deliver strong signals and a wide variety of channels. A large number of small-scale disasters may be just around the bend. It’s hard to know if this will be important.

Red Rain Is Coming Down

It is better to see the truth than to live with lies.

Fifteen of the sixty photographs the administration seeks to conceal may be seen here. Some closely resemble images you may have seen before from Abu Ghrahib. Many reality-based bloggers are posting these images this morning, each with her or his own reason for doing so. I will tell you plainly these pictures did not shock me on sight. I had to think about what I was seeing, about the people in the pictures. This image in particular rang a distant bell for me. I was reminded of Phoolan Devi.

In the 1994 movie The Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi’s gang rape is horrible enough to sit through, but worse immediately follows as Phoolan is forced to walk naked and filthy through a town and her rapists. This degree of suffering drives people to madness. You see it in the film. You know it in your heart. What you must also know is that while Americans pretend nothing unusual is happening in these pictures, rage has already taken hold among the victims of Bush and Cheney’s imperial adventure. You see: the people know what we have done to them. The rest of the world knows what we have done. The only people still blissfully unaware may be Americans.

I am having trouble forming a sentence about this picture. I’ve erased several because they weren’t quite right, and that’s really the problem. The picture as we see it is a problem. What interrogators are doing is a problem. What the interrogators mean for the prisoners to feel is a problem. The intended sexualized domination is a problem. That there are now people walking around among us who did this is a problem. Nearly 100 people died in custody, many were probably tortured to death. That the serial killers who ordered this are not in chains is a problems. It’s hard to form a sentence with so many problems.

So these pictures reminded me of three women: Phoolan Devi, Valerie Plame and Liz Cheney. Perhaps you’ve never heard of Phoolan Devi. Her story is relevant here, and worth knowing for what it predicts. Violence begets violence, and the people we tried to subjugate will rise against us. That is the real lesson. History books tell it over and over again. Then there are the headlines. Greg Sargent:

Liz Cheney Claims Victory In Obama Detainee Photo Reversal

On Tuesday, Liz Cheney was widely quoted bashing Obama for being prepared to release the detainee photos, a move she said would be anti-troops. “When did it become so fashionable for us to side, really, with the terrorists?” Cheney asked.

Yesterday, of course, Obama reversed his decision, citing national security. Now check out this nugget in today’s Washington Post piece on Dick Cheney’s ongoing torture tour:

“This isn’t about partisan politics, it’s about what’s right for the country,” said Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter and a former State Department official. “Every American, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent, would agree that before critical decisions are made about national security of the nation, we ought to have a full and fair debate.”

Cheney’s daughter was among those who pointed to yesterday’s White House reversal on the detainee photos as evidence that a vocal, public debate over the new administration’s policies can make a difference.

So Liz Cheney is claiming victory, and clearly, this will only embolden the Cheneys to keep up the assaults.

By saying that he has now concluded that releasing the photos would endanger the troops, Obama is reinforcing the idea that he was originally prepared to do something that would endanger the troops, and only reversed himself after conservatives called him out on it. Whatever the merits of Obama’s decision, its political impact is that it lets the Cheneys continue to frame the ongoing debate, and to continue casting a full torture accounting as a threat to our national security.

Liz Cheney should go fuck herself. We can’t shout FIRE! in a crowded theater when the theater already burned down. Sargent is also right to say our president has made a very dangerous statement when he said his earlier position endangered the troops. The Cheneys control the conversation, so it will never end.

But what of Valerie Plame? This is still a puzzlement. I started reading newspapers when I was eight or nine, during the Vietnam War, then through Watergate. The CIA became the shadowy, brutal, power-mad villains of my childhood. The outing of Valerie Plame by Dick Cheney has always perplexed me. Yes, I’ve read the reports and followed the trial but still it’s never made sense. I’m still angry that for a brief moment I had some sympathy for the CIA – not that that’s important. I am not sure why I thought of her when I saw these pictures, but perhaps because she made CIA agents look so civilized. So pretty. So urbane. So civilized.

It is better to see the truth than to live with lies. Back to the pictures: it would be better for us to see what everyone else already knows.

The Gypsy Swore That Our Future Was

This kitty, with her handy false mustache, knows you cannot resist her, yet she remains mysterious! You are lured by her charm, yet you cannot really know her. The beautiful pussycat! With the mustache! Note her taste in lovely velveteen pillows, made more wonderful by her presence! Who is this beauty? Why, it is our lovely Sweetpea!

Did you guess?

How Right It Is To Care

It took me a whole day to stop hyperventilating.

The Bloomberg administration has quietly begun charging rent to homeless families who live in publicly run shelters but have income from jobs.

The new policy is based on a 1997 state law that was not enforced until last week, when shelter operators across the city began requiring residents to pay a certain portion of their income. The amount varies based on factors that include family size and what shelter is being used, but should not exceed 50 percent of a family’s income, a state official said.

I’m speechless.

Dear Ask.com,
What percentage of my budget should go to housing?
Nauseous in New Brunswick

Dear Nauseous,
There’s a chart.

30% Housing
18% Transportation
16% Food
8% Miscellaneous
5% Clothing
5% Medical
5% Recreation
5% Utilities
4% Savings
4% Other Debts

This is if one’s situation is stable and one is looking to miraculously cut one’s medical costs to 5% and spend less on pizza delivery. Evidently, even numbers are different in New York.

Vanessa Dacosta, who earns $8.40 an hour as a cashier at Sbarro, received a notice under her door several weeks ago informing her that she had to give $336 of her approximately $800 per month in wages to the Clinton Family Inn, a shelter in Hell’s Kitchen where she has lived since March.

“It’s not right,” said Ms. Dacosta, a single mother of a 2-year-old who said she spends nearly $100 a week on child care. “I pay my baby sitter, I buy diapers, and I’m trying to save money so I can get out of here. I don’t want to be in the shelter forever.”


“I think it’s hard to argue that families that can contribute to their shelter cost shouldn’t,” Robert V. Hess, the city’s commissioner of homeless services, said in a telephone interview Friday. “I don’t see this playing out in an adverse way. Our objective is not for families to remain in shelter. Our objective is to move families back into their own homes and into the community.”

I think it would be hard to argue that there’s a bigger dick anywhere than Robert V. Hess, Commissioner of Homeless Services, who plainly has never missed an expensed meal in his life. His argument is precisely, on its face WRONG. Isn’t it fortunate that he has a public office from which to broadcast his dickishness, and you can call it?

Robert Hess, Commissioner of Homeless Services:

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City:

You can help Mr. Hess conclude that he is full of MATH FAIL. It’d practically be a good deed to get him fired. Maybe he’d develop some compassion!

A flier posted in one shelter last week warned residents in bold, underlined type, “Failure to make the required contributions could result in the loss of your family’s temporary housing.”

But advocates for the homeless said the new policy was punitive and counterproductive, and some shelter residents, in protest, have already refused to sign the documents acknowledging receipt of the rent notifications.

“Families have been told to pay up or get out,” said Steven Banks, the attorney in chief for the Legal Aid Society. “The policy is poorly conceived, but even more alarmingly, it’s being poorly executed. What is happening is that we have seen cases of families being unilaterally told, without any notice of how the rent was calculated, that they must pay certain amounts of rent or leave the shelter. We’ve already had a case of a survivor of domestic violence who was actually locked out of her room.”

Mr. Hess acknowledged that if a family does not pay the required rent, it could be told to leave the shelter, but he noted that residents can contest the rent required through a state hearing.

Ms. Dacosta, for one, said she had spoken with her caseworker and demanded a hearing. Martha Gonzalez, who is 49 and lives with her 19-year-old son in a rundown shelter in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, said she was informed last week that she owes $1,099 in monthly rent on a $1,700 monthly income as a security guard in Midtown. She said she planned to contest the rent demand in court.

…Because the working poor have plenty of time to take take off for pointless, dickish hearings pointing out that dickish New York City is extorting rent from the poor. If there’s one thing the homeless need it’s being told that unless they pay up they’ll be EVEN MORE HOMELESS. More homelesser. Man, I hope they splash those on superglam NY1! I still don’t know what to say, but it’s Limerick Day. That seems promising.

A homeless commissioner named Hess
thought the homeless should have even less
he charges them rent
dumb money spent
when saving up worries us hairless.

That sucks, but I write a blistering email. Hope you will, too.

Update: That guy is such a motherfucker I can’t believe I got through this post without saying motherfucker.