Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lying About Leaving

As should be clear from the previous post, I'm not sorry to be saying goodbye to Alberto Gonzales, perhaps the worst Attorney General we've ever had. However, I do feel compelled to cut him some slack from a particular charge that is being bandied about. It seems that reporters were asking over the weekend whether Gonzales was going to resign, and Gonzales, thru his press secretary, denied the rumors, even though they were in fact true. I read blogs that complained about him "going out appropriately with one last lie", and even the veteran reporter Daniel Schorr centered his commentary today on this lie as an epitomy of the dishonor we've sunk to expect from government officials. While I am appalled as anybody at Gonzales' dishonest testimony to Congress, in this particular instance, I just don't get what's wrong. This is what anybody does when leaving a job, and it seems to me completely standard, above-board protocol.

If you're leaving a job, you have some private conversations about it with your boss, and if your leaving might be the cause of any disruption, you agree with your boss when and how you're going to break the news to everybody else. If somebody happens to ask you prematurely whether you're leaving, you don't just jetison the plans you've made about the timing of your departure announcement. If you're particularly skillful, you might adroitly evade the question. (Note that Gonzales has not proven himself skillful in this manner.) Since a clumsy evasion may be taken as an admission, to be safe, it may be best to deny what you know to be true. It's a lie to be sure, but a harmless one, since the truth will come out in due time. Sometimes lying is a necessary part of tact and decorum. It should be noted that the person who asks such a question is being rude, since one knows a priori that it's not a question that the questionee could appropriately answer, and it puts the questionee in an awkward position. Such a rude questioner doesn't deserve an honest response.

The name of Alberto Gonzales may justly be piloried for a great many injuries to the reputation of the US Government, but denying on Sunday what he announced as planned on Monday is not one of them.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rats From A Sinking Ship

Hearing about Alberto Gonzales resigning so close on the heels of Karl Rove, I thought to myself, was ever the phrase "rats fleeing a sinking ship" so apt? Rove, whose achievement was to make American politics more bitterly polarized than ever, and Gonzales, whose achievement is nicely summarized by Hilary Bok:
Alberto Gonzales helped to destroy the good name of our country. He wrote the legal opinions that allowed the administration to disregard laws it did not wish to follow, and in so doing did real damage to the structure of our government and to the separation of powers. He took a department that was, by all accounts, superb, and trashed it. And by being so transparentl interested only in advancing the interests of George Bush at the expense of the laws he swore to uphold, the Constitution, and the national interest, he deepened cynicism about government at a time when we badly needed leaders worthy of our trust and our confidence.
Listening to Gonzales' brief farewell remarks, I threw up in my mouth a little when he spoke of "public service". Public dis-service, more like.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Inn Love, Maybe, But Not Inn Business

We were looking for a place to stay in the northern San Diego County town of Fallbrook, for a family event. Turns out that Hollywood couple Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott have opened a bed-and-breakfast inn in Fallbrook, and are using it as a vehicle for a reality TV show on the Oxygen network called Inn Love. I did some reading up on it, and it turns out that the place has gotten some nice reviews from those who have stayed there, though others had reported difficulty even getting a response to inquiries about staying there. Tori has been reported as insisting that the place is not a gimmick, and that they really do want to make a go of the inn business. (As all the Hollywood gossips were wagging about how she was shorted on inheritance from her late father, and on the outs with her mother, she may really be looking for an honest income.) Thinking it would be fun, we decided to check it out. As a business, their website, which for us as for most people, is the first impression, leaves a lot to be desired. There are no photos or descriptions of the inn's rooms, no address or location, no prices, not really any information at all. The one-page website has rather low-budget graphic design, and the only means of contact for more information is an email address (which is not even a clickable link). We sent an inquiry to that email address several days ago, but never received a reply. If they really do want to make a go off the inn business, they really should start with the basics. Like spending a modest amount of money on a real website. And answering their email. Color me uninnpressed.

FOOD: Murano

Props on the new Murano Ristorante on the west end of Melrose. We were invited there by our neighbors for a celebration of their daughter's graduation from The Art Center College of Design. (Congratulations, Alex and Addison!) What an appropriate place to do it. The trendy new eatery, located in the shadow of the Pacific Design Center, in the heart of LA's design district, is strikingly done, using mostly white and clean modern lines, setting off the Murano glass chandeliers in reds and classical shapes. The bar features an archipelago of low white rectangular islands and benches for spontaneous social configurations, where we mixed before dining. Dinner was hosted in a private back room, around a large square table configuration with four people on a side, a most convivial way to arrange a party of sixteen. That kind of attention to detail, not only in the visual design, but in the "social architecture", is much appreciated. In another signature "attention to detail", once everyone is seated, women in black dresses are offered black napkins in place of the white ones, so as not to get any white lint on their dress. Happily, they did not forget that restaurants are about food (one can't take these things for granted, especially in trendy glam spots like this), and chef Kristi Ritchey (lately of Pinot Blanc, Patina Group's Napa Valley venue) is doing great things in the kitchen. I started with a fresh salad of endive and water cress, in a gorgonzola dressing, accompanied by candied walnuts and fresh mission figs. It was beautifully arranged and a fine way to start a summer meal. This fresh greenery nicely introduced the earthy flavors of my spinach and wild mushroom ravioli, accented with ground walnuts and white truffle oil. The ravioli were savory and superb. I also had a taste of the perfectly-prepared flatiron steak, cut in strips full of marinated beef flavor. This fine meal was finished with a rich flourless chocolate cake, decadently topped with vanilla gelato and cherries. The restaurant's owners, Robin Gans and Sandy Sachs of GirlBar fame, along with Jeffrey Sanker of White Party fame, are experienced pros at dance clubs and entertainment events, but I believe this is their first foray into restaurants. Well done!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

FOOD: Zabaglione

This evening we had a family birthday celebration at Buon Gusto, an Italian restaurant in North Hills near where my parents live. I was excited to see zabaglione on the dessert menu, a rare treat. When informed that the zabaglione had to be ordered ahead, I knew that this was the real deal and not the made-ahead pseudo-zabaglione that some places pass off. A proper zabaglione requires attention, skill, and effort to get it right, and absolutely cannot be made ahead. (Which is why so few places offer it.) Done right, it uses only eggs (whites and yolks separated), sugar, and marsala, with a lot of air whipped into it, and gently heated so as not to cook the egg yolk. The result is a very frothy custard perfumed by the sweet wine, served in a goblet and savored with a spoon. At Buon Gusto, they pulled it off perfectly, and it was divine. Bravo!

FILM: Hairspray

I have to admit I was a bit reluctant about going to see the new Hairspray movie this evening. Not that I didn't love the original film and the Broadway musical, just that I worried whether a new film couldn't live up to its inspirations. (Or that it could even live up to the charming one-man rendition of it by Mark Indelicato on Ugly Betty.) And I was also having trouble wrapping my mind around John Travolta filling the size 14 pumps of Harvey Fierstein or Bruce Villanch. Turns out I worried for naught. This new version totally rocks. It is a delightful 1950's kitsch-o-rama (haven't seen so many cars with fins since visiting Havana), and instead of being "stagey", the film takes full advantage of its medium to deliver creative visuals during the energetic numbers. The newly-minted star Nikki Blonsky had me at "oh oh oh" as she danced through the streets of working class Baltimore singing good morning and arriving triumphantly at school on top of a garbage truck. And to my surprise, Travolta gave Edna Turnblad a vulnerability that really grew on me. Queen Latifah delivered a star turn (but I expected no less), and Michelle Pfeiffer was excellently frosty as the scheming villainess you love to hate. Christopher Walken (whom I usually think of as a villain-type) was a mensch of a dad and showed some nice footwork in a charming dance sequence with Travolta. Zac Efron was perfect (and adorable!) as an Elvis-in-training heartthrob, and James Marsden (speaking of adorable) with his wholesome good looks and big white smile was a great dance show host Corny Collins. Amanda Bynes was very fun as Tracy's lollipop-sucking sidekick Penny, with the majorly uptight mother (Allison Janney). Elijah Kelley added great moves as Seaweed, and Jerry Stiller had a nice turn as Mr. Pinkey. The cast was all excellent, but I give the real congrats to director Adam Shankman who did an outstanding job of so creatively re-realizing this fun story. It was a rollicking romp for the eyes as well as the ears.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

STAGE: Zanna Don't

Last night we joined a couple of friends to see "Zanna Don't", a musical being staged in one of the many tiny theatres hidden around Silver Lake. Small theatre can be hit or miss, but at only $20-30 a pop (as opposed to upwards of $100 these days for a big theatre musical show), it's worth the risk to find the hidden gems. Fortunately, LA is chock full of very talented actors and singers, so you can encounter high-quality talent performing even in a 60-seat house. In the case of the West Coast Ensemble production of "Zanna Don't", we were handsomely rewarded and consistently delighted. This show delivers foot-tapping tune after tune, propelling a whacky but engaging story that had me grinning ear to ear almost the whole time. The premise rests on the story setting in the high school of Heartsville, a wholesome midwestern community in an inverted universe where everyone is gay and heterosexuality is the love that dare not speak its name. In this world, the chess champion is the big man on campus, and being in the high school musical is way socially cooler than being on the football team. The play mines the humor inherent in its theme very creatively, with many elaborations that surprise and amuse, but never wear it down to one-gag repetition. Amidst the laughs, a couple of numbers ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and "Do You Know What It's Like?") plumb some unexpectedly serious and moving undertones about what it means to have to hide and lie about love. Prancing through this fanciful backdrop like some cross between Tinkerbell, Cupid, and Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu is the title character Zanna, whose magical mission is to make sure everyone (except himself?) finds love. That sounds over-the-top (which it is), but don't let the Xanadu reference fool you. Zanna Don't is more than just a gimmick to string together a bunch of fun tunes, and the second act surprises, not just in the denouement, but in the way it deepens.

The cast were all strong, with fine comic acting, singing, and dancing all around. Danny Calvert (Zanna) moved magically and had some serious pipes. Rebecca Johnson (Kate the overachiever) and Natalie Monahan (Roberta the lesbian with attitude) have the moves, voices, and expressiveness perfect for this kind of musical comedy. Brent Schindele (Steve the quarterback) and Brian Maslow (Mike the chess champ) were both talented and well-cast (Maslow was an understudy but we didn't feel shorted). Brian Weir, Justine Valdez, and Matthew Rocheleau complete the talented cast, skillfully juggling multiple character roles. Given the very limited size of the theatre, a special kudos to Christine Lakin and Paul Nygro for their choreography, and the backstage folks who were able to make much with little. This play has been running on Off-Broadway for years, where it probably has a bit more budget behind it, but this production successfully packs all the magic into a tiny local space. You'll find the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre on the corner of the same name, just a couple blocks east of Casita Del Campo or west of Trader Joes. Fun, fun, fun. I'd enjoy seeing it again.