Archive for the ‘Guest Author’ Category

Guest Post: The Fashionable Lady Gaga

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

by Erin O’Brien

Before she had an audience, it was just Gaga and her mirror.  And for a while, it got weird.  Four years ago, she was living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, after leaving school and her parents’ financial support.  In her shitty little apartment, she would order a bag of cocaine from a delivery service, get high, and work on her hair and makeup for hours.  She’d get it perfect, and then come down from the coke and do it all over again.

—-Rolling Stone[1]

”The biggest misconception about me is that I’m a character or a persona.  That when the lights and cameras turn off, I turn into a pumpkin.  It’s simply not true.  I make music and art and design all day long.  Yes, I wash my face and go to sleep but when I wake up, I am always Lady Gaga.”

—-Sydney Morning Herald[2]

“Lady Gaga has been sent to Earth to infiltrate human culture one sequin at a time.”

—-“Transmission: Gagavision” from the weblog at


Over the last two years, a small young woman has appeared in popular culture, asserting her riddling persona in ways that have nearly every critic engaged. I have scrutinized hundreds of photographs of her, and I am still not sure precisely what she looks like off-duty, as it were, such is the extremity of her disguises. Her plainness (she lives on the border of beauty and not) gives her viewers the satisfaction of serious feeling (since her appeal is not universal) and gives her an immediate passkey to the world of High Art (her appeal is exclusive). Her extraordinary costumes, so nutty and witheringly chic, so embarrassing and fascist, so meticulous and creative, transform a quick dash from the limo to the television studio into performance art. You never see her photographed in jeans and a tee-shirt, or bouncing through Central Park in a track suit. Only recently has she hired a permanent stylist. Instead, she has an obscure group of helpers and designers called the Haus of Gaga, a place where I imagine that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno mans the phones.


Lady Gaga is better than traditionally beautiful: she is genuinely riveting to look at. (As Karl Lagerfeld remarked about Anna Piaggi, elderly resident of the avant-garde and a revered editor at Vogue Italia: “She’s not pretty, she’s worse.”) It is a rare thing to get an unobstructed view of her face, which is covered in distracting makeup and decals, a collection of sunglasses of considerable antiquity or extraordinary construction, and scene-stealing hats and hairstyles (including hats made of hair). Appropriately, one of Gaga’s great heroes is the ultra-reclusive, ultra-fashionable Belgian designer Martin Margiela, a former assistant to Jean-Paul Gaultier, another Gaga icon. Maison Martin Margiela goes so far in its effacement of the perfect faces of its models that it often sends them down the runway veiled. Lately, the Maison has created the Islamic Revolution-esque censor bar sunglasses (“L’Incognito”), which cancel the eyes in a vaguely Star-Trekky way as much as they shield them. In the improbable setting of the 2009 Malta Music Week, Gaga met the press in a studded black dress, her face covered by a black S&M mask, which she called a “contemporary art piece”. Likewise, at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga sported a red Alexander McQueen crown with lace face mask.


“There is certainly a performance art element to all of this,” says Gaga. “I get challenged in interviews all the time, people asking me whether the clothes distract from the music. They’re not separate; it’s not one or the other. I dress the way I do to demonstrate my commitment to show business.”

In public appearances, Gaga never wears the same outfit twice, and never borrows from the Armani-Prada vocabulary of pre-fab good taste beloved of most public figures. Every detail, from hat to hair to shoes, is unlikely. For a modern-day celebrity, Gaga must produce at least one new outfit per day, and the most astonishing feat is the relentless good quality of her constructions. Gaga’s loony, wonderful outfits have become one of life’s few constants, like death and taxes. Some of her most famous ensembles have been constructed on the fly, literally within an hour of a photo shoot. As a marketing device, it works brilliantly, guaranteeing weekly Gaga coverage in all the magazines, and daily coverage from the bloggers. Gaga has achieved in only two years a kind of global ubiquitousness that would have taken half a decade at least in the 1990s.

Like Marilyn Manson, Gwen Stefani and even Boy George, Gaga is a fashion designer before she is a singer. Where other singers fuss over the personnel of backup bands, Gaga has costumers. Each outfit has clean lines and is well-organized: constructed, high-concept, not expressionist. The hard-edged work of Thierry Mugler is an acknowledged, obvious influence; she has lifted his entire syntax, consisting of legless leotards, crystalline growths, and a massively shouldered silhouette. In fact, he is the Ur-influence. His vocabulary (mirrors everywhere, crystals everywhere, robots and aliens) is the foundation for Gaga’s fashion. Often, subsidiary details to an ensemble will turn out to be Mugler, while she wears a dress by another designer as the focus.


Her importance is to fashion much more than to music: she transforms everything she touches. In her odd, riveting video for “Paparazzi”, directed by Jonas Akerlund, nearly every detail from a shoe to a ring (that conceals poison, like Lucrezia Borgia’s) is jarringly rare, engaging, special. This is the first work of Gaga’s sole official stylist, B. Akerlund (wife of the director), which results in an extraordinary Gaga Gesamtkunstwerk. Famously, she transforms herself into a sinister Minnie Mouse. The influence is surely Marilyn Manson’s “Golden Age of the Grotesque” images of 2003, made in collaboration with Viennese artist Gottfried Helnwein.



The strong influence of Helmut Newton in “Paparazzi” could be described as a weirdly effective “cripple chic”. Gaga’s broken form rises, covered in metal Thierry Mugler plating, from a souped-up wheelchair and does a dance with a cane. Some of these images of crumpled and crushed women verge on copies of a disturbing but brilliant series that ran in American Vogue with model Nadja Auermann as invalid with a spectacularly broken leg.

Gaga’s sexuality is notional and unconvincing because it is more schizy than sleazy. (Though she is loudly bisexual: of course, of course.) For one, she is as friendly and kind as Madonna is not. Lady Gaga wears fetish gear but gives hugs. Also, her costumes are too cerebral, even studious. (She talks fluently, like a fashion historian, about the Mugler and Gaultier archives.) She is an agreeable lunatic not much more cravenly seductive than Vogue Italia’s Anna Piaggi, Boy George or even Cyndi Lauper. Gaga is comfortable in public appearing unappealing, incomprehensible, unsexy. A woman happy to sport a Jean-Charles de Castelbajac “Kermit” jacket on German television (as a comment on the evils of wearing fur, as she explained on Oprah) is not interested in the conventional stylings of seduction.


Serious photographers flock to her, inspired by her commitment to self-effacement and her talent for unselfconsciousness. Considering that Gaga’s career is essentially only two years old, she has worked with a shocking number of top, even art photographers: Hedi Slimane did her “Fame Monster” (2009) album cover; Annie Leibovitz shot her in a montage for American Vogue (Gaga is the witch from the Hansel and Gretel story); and David LaChapelle shot the Rolling Stone cover (June 2009) on which she wore a copy of Hussein Chalayan’s celebrated bubble dress.


She was, of course, briefly and ironically a go-go dancer, which was obviously an excellent career move, in the vein of Madonna’s loss of her virginity. There is nothing like public exhibitionism to teach an unsentimental, cold-eyed evaluation of one’s assets. Gaga’s weird poise is surely informed by her mastery of a limit-experience (dancing nearly naked in front of a crowd of strangers) which is about as unusual as murder. She has recently graduated to posing topless in genuinely artistic venues from Vogue Hommes Japan to V Magazine, shot variously by Nobuyoshi Araki, Mario Testino and Ellen von Unwerth. While she is clearly uninhibited, Gaga’s fashion manifesto would not have allowed her to opt out of nudity, as a response to fashion, a continuation of fashion, and a strategy of fashion. Whether wearing shredded dresses or the famous Orbit hat by London milliner Nasir Mazhar, Gaga covers and uncovers body parts like squares on a fashion chessboard.


Gaga has no one resembling a Svengali in her career making either creative or business decisions. Even the identity of her ex-boyfriend is casually negated by reference to a dubious-sounding nickname: “Speedy”. She is certainly a knowledgeable collaborator in her own construction, a borrower of avant-garde fashion references that sometimes border on pedantic. A certain Matthew Williams, described as her best friend and Creative Director at the Haus of Gaga, is credited with overseeing the singer’s daily look, though he is not presented to the public. When Gaga calls him her Jean-Paul Goude, she is paying him extraordinary hipster tribute, for Goude, an exceptionally accomplished graphic designer, was once the lover and stylist of Grace Jones who transformed her into a disco-era living artwork. One might say that Goude had better material to work with in Jones with her awesome cheekbones, brutal beauty and perfect mannequin body. Jones was already Art just walking down the street, but Goude contributed the geometric frame that made her an essential magazine image of the 1970s and 80s. Jones consisted largely of a snarling mouth and an air of sexual menace, so much the better to turn her into a sculpture or even, in the remarkable “Slave to the Rhythm” video (1985), a piece of architecture (a garage).

Gaga is only 5’1”, usually a death sentence for a couture lover, and she is without a single show-stopping physical feature. What she lacks in external attributes, she makes up for in the kind of oblivious commitment to avant-gardism that seems to onlookers to be an obscure object lesson. In this, she is a spiritual sister of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Dada artist, provocateur, and loon. Silliness is freedom, and Gaga is able to expand the limits of her fashion repertoire by disdaining any commitment to elegance or sexiness. This is not a woman who dresses to get laid or to please Best Dressed list-makers.


Gaga is a woman who travels in a bubble of her own making: it is Gaga all over the world. In television interviews, she has the vibrating, scattered air of a woman recovering from a shattering mental breakdown. Gaga mimics Warhol’s detached, alien habits of speech, sounding in recorded interviews often vague, confused, with a little bit of Marilyn Monroe dingbat thrown in for good measure. (In printed interviews, interestingly, her speech is much crisper and more complex.) The Gaga persona is fragile, even psychotic, a word she herself uses. (In her signature “Just Dance” song and first Number One hit, she calls herself “psychotic synch hypnotic”.) Her mid-Atlantic accent, a bit of self-improvement as phony as Madonna’s clipped Briticisms, is another bit of nuttiness.

In reality, No Drama Gaga is professional, stable, consistent. She seems much older than her 23 years. She is punctual and reliable, only getting criticism for the eminently sensible move of recently cancelling a concert (she cited illness) in order to perform on Oprah. Her Haus of Gaga parallels Warhol’s Factory, only apparently with less self-destruction and decidedly more efficiency.

For a time, Gaga appeared carrying an empty teacup and saucer everywhere she went. The gendered teacup (“She”) would be presented to Gaga by an underling on the sidewalk as she stepped out of a car and carried it into a television studio, as if by a mid-century English lady retreating to a drawing room. The whole mad production heightened Gaga’s air of fragility, and called to mind the British aristocrats in wild Gaga-esque hats who bubble to the surface every year at Royal Ascot. (Inevitably, the teacup also alludes to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.) Gaga claimed that she carried around her brilliant device, a sweet little vessel with an interior and matching saucer of peculiar acid purple, for comfort, like some pop stars did with their small dogs. Now the teacup has its own page on Facebook, and I received a greeting from it only yesterday. (In the ultimate meta-Gaga moment, the teacup liked this article and recommended it to others on her site.)

While Gaga’s fashion is strikingly well done, well fitting and well constructed, her attitude is not elitist. With a pretty teacup and a wacky wig, you too can be a Lady. You can recreate her preposterous outfits at a craft fair and fabric store, and Gaga your way through life. She still does her own hair and makeup. Even fame itself is democratic to Gaga: “the fame”, a quasi-mystical term, “comes from within” and is something that can be claimed or projected by anyone, despite actual obscurity. On Oprah and Barbara Walters, Gaga discusses her philosophy of individualism, feeling “like a freak” as a teenager, and hoping to “liberate” her audience. Madonna’s existence at the summit of the A-list, in a position of fame so privileged that she rightly sensed herself alone once Michael Jackson was dead, is something that the singer takes entirely seriously. Next to Gaga, her wardrobe of Versace-Prada is haute bourgeois. Tellingly, Madonna has been to see Gaga in concert not once but twice (in 2009 and 2010); Madonna’s anxiety of influence visits to trendy young artists have provided her own creative turning points.

Gaga is in excellent artistic shape if the point of comparison she unceasingly evokes, at age 23, is Madonna, even if she comes out shy of the mark on nearly every point. Madonna, at age 51, can be safely said to have reworked Western habits of mind regarding femininity and human sexuality, particularly for women. Madonna has spent over a quarter century consuming the finest, most exclusive cultural productions of humanity, usually at their source, from visual artists, fashion designers and film directors. Gaga only spent a semester at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, though she is significantly more learned than Madonna, veteran of a dance program at the University of Michigan, was at the same age. Gaga’s youthful frame of artistic reference is infinitely broader, showing a promising obsessive-compulsive, scholarly character. Madonna is every way an athlete (fitness, technique, crushing discipline). Gaga appears to be pure artist—a word she uses constantly along with terms like “art project” which are foreign to the music industry.


A naked body, a pair of handcuffs, and a crucifix are the central elements in Madonna’s symbolic vocabulary. Western culture does the work in providing pre-existing narratives and meaning. More recently, she has added the Kabbalistic hocus pocus that doomed Guy Ritchie’s film “Revolver” to obscurantism and obscurity; Kabbalah may be enormously rich in symbolic value, but only a handful of people on earth are qualified to decode it. Madonna began her career with Catholic symbolism worked out over a lifetime of a pretty girl’s hostile provocations, all set in motion at birth by the name “Madonna” itself. Madonna represents tranches of the body politic (women, gays, blacks, Latinos). Gaga represents only the individual, millions at a time. It is easy to imagine the program to unfold from Madonna’s attempts at liberation (women’s, gay, racial): indeed, one could campaign on it. Gaga’s iconography, unlike Madonna’s, is largely empty. While her black-painted lips, for example, refer to Geishas and to German opera singer Klaus Nomi, what does this fact actually mean? The danger with inventing a language of symbols is that, for a while, you may be the only one who speaks it. What is Gaga actually communicating? Is there content or is style the only content? Has Gaga mastered modes of communication without anything to communicate?

A quarter century ago, Cyndi Lauper, her wild fashion sense, and her Yonkers honk first faced a marketing challenge. In 30 seconds of song, Lauper was capable of blowing out your speakers with her awesome imposition of a voice. In her heyday, a displacement of focus was encouraged onto her kooky outfits, at the expense of her musical accomplishment. (Boy George, also possessed of an exceptional voice, was her male counterpart.) Her deliberately mismatched clothes gave her an appealing, Raggedy Ann quality. The emphasis on style over very considerable substance produced heavy media coverage in the short term, but contributed to an unnecessary shortening of their careers. Today, Lauper is a maternal figure for Gaga: they posed together for a MAC Viva Glam campaign for Fall 2009, and Lauper takes a close, friendly interest in her career. Lauper’s promotion (and management) was a mistake; Gaga may be the corrective. She shows every sign of being able to stay a few steps ahead of the media for some time to come. As designers reach out to collaborate with her, her task of constant metamorphosis becomes easier, allowing the focus to shift more decisively to the music, where Gaga’s career will ultimately live or die.

[1] Brian Hiatt, “New York Doll” in Rolling Stone.  Issue 1080 (11 June 2009), 59.

[2] Andrew Murfett, “Lady Gaga” in Sydney Morning Herald (15 May 2009).

(c) Erin O’Brien 2010

Ask a Man

Friday, September 2nd, 2011


“Why are so many men homophobes? Why do they feel so threatened by gay men?”

“It can only be seen as funny that demagogues give speeches denouncing men who insert their penises into other men’s anuses – and then go home to insert their own penises into their wives’ vaginas!”
Wallace Shawn

I hail from the Bible Belt where we don’t cotton much to sexual education. Everything I know about sex I learned from Japanese cartoons and Sunday school.   Penis monsters don’t want to ravish schoolgirls but they just can’t help themselves and Baby Jesus comes down and sends them all to Heck for doing it. Then the schoolgirls will summon the penis monsters back out from Heck on the night of the full moon. This is because the girls are actually werewolves and won’t be able to do their homework on account of they have to be running around on all fours in their sexy schoolgirl outfits all night. At first the demon ghosts of the penis monsters will try to help out with the advanced trigonometry but invariably end up in an accidental orgy of hyperbolic werewolf schoolgirl rape. The next day the headmaster becomes enraged because none of the girls have done their homework and he has to tie them up for discipline and the rope makes him break out in hives so he gets even madder and he takes out his whip but he must be allergic to that as well because his hives get worse and worse and worse until he turns into a penis monster. Then Baby Jesus comes down and sends everybody to Heck, even those of us who were just watching the cartoons for educational purposes.

So really the marital act in all its many iterations and permutations is just a bunch of horrifying hairy gooey swollen abominations that make Baby Jesus cry unless it takes place in the sanctity of the marriage bed. There, in the marriage bed, the same miracle of transubstantiation that turns saltines and grape juice into the body and blood of Jesus Christ also transforms the smelly gruntings, the swellings, the humid orifices, and ungainly herky-jerks of animalistic copulation into the soft-focus roseate sunsets, the burgeoning orchids, the smooth jazz, and delightful conversation over brunch at one of the better hotel restaraunts that’s known as lovemaking. This is why there have been so many crazy weather disasters lately: God is pissed because we haven’t married up enough gays. Having all the gays and lesbos running around and living in sin distracts God from the important work of inventing new guns for us to shoot the French with.

But none of this answers your question about the homophobia. Here’s the deal: we’re not really afraid of the gays. We’re afraid of being gay or, worse, being mistaken for gay. Because for many straight people gayness is the grown-up version of cooties or herpes. There aren’t necessarily any symptoms but once you have it you can never un-have it and if people find out you have it or just think you have it you’re subjected to fear, revulsion, and humiliation. As every kindergartner knows tolerance of people with herpes is the fastest way to get herpes yourself so whatever you do don’t be nice to the gay kid with cooties and herpes.

Also because when you’re chilling with your bros, drinking beers, farting, and cracking dick jokes while watching a bunch of animated penis monsters running amok in the all-girl werewolf high school, having a gay dude there would just make things weird and uncomfortable.

Question answered.

 © 2011 Anthony Robert Russo

Ask a Man

Friday, August 26th, 2011


“How do I get my boyfriend to clean a little? I’m a realist and I know he’s never going to seriously clean something but he works half the hours I do and I’m sick of being a bitch around the house.”


“Do it very slowly and don’t confuse him.”

-Charles Mingus Cat Toilet Training Program

Never underestimate the power of pride of ownership. Every man has some thing, some totemic object of power that’s super super important to him and yet isn’t part of his anatomy. Unless a man is fully prepared to protect his Holy Grail with violent force his spirit, sensing its vulnerability, will curdle up to half its normal size and retract into his ab-domen (this may not be the proper way to pronounce “abdomen” but if you try it out for yourself I’m sure you’ll  agree  it’s better). I’m guessing your man has suffered a loss of his Holy Grail or is not fully prepared to defend it, so why should he care if those dirty dishes have been sitting in the bathroom since Labor Day?

Now if it’s the latter case, if he still has his Grail but is not fully prepared to defend it, just go out and buy him a firearm already. I personally never bed down without my 9mm Uzi Pistol (fully loaded, safety off, and home-tooled bayonet attached) but production of this bad boy was discontinued in 1993 so even if you can find one you’ll be ponying up a big bag of pretty pennies. You’ll probably need two ponies to heft all those pennies around, but one sturdy mule could handle the load so you should just use the mule. If you don’t have the pennies or the livestock, you can’t go wrong with the Colt M1911 or the Glock 22, both of which are the single most popular gun. Since you can’t purchase bayonets for handguns, I had to make one myself using the forge and anvil I keep in my kitchen where the oven used to be and would be happy to provide you with helpful tips in bayonet forging techniques.

So anyway, once he has the means to defend himself your man will realize that life is indeed worth living and that although vermin make for great target practice around the house they tend to attract the French. As we all know, the French are not only an inferior species but their very inferiority endows them with an animal sexuality and techniques that enchant and corrupt the fairer sex, so unless your man is the kind of subhuman dude who actually wants his woman to be ravished by some beret-wearing mime then he’ll start tidying up toot sweet.

If your man is that kind of subhuman or, just as bad, if he has been deprived of his Grail, then you’re better off getting a new man or living in separate apartments like Woody Allen and Mia Farrow did. That whole deal seems to have worked out well for them.

Question answered.

 © 2011 Anthony Robert Russo

Ask a Man

Friday, August 19th, 2011


“How do I make it sound less like nagging and more like reminding?”

“It is of Hebrew origin, and the meaning of Samuel is ‘God heard’. Also possibly as ‘requested of God…’”

While I’m no expert in regards to dude-on-dude relationships, I’m going to assume that your domestic partnership is just like the traditional male-female relationship only with 100% more man parts involved. Actually since monogomy is as mythical and rare as the female orgasm, most relationships have more knobs involved than your typical mosh pit but fewer than a Congressional session.

Since you’re asking the question instead of giving out answers I’m guessing you take on the female role in your partnership so my advice to you is to use your supernatural ability to imagine ways to improve interior decoration schemes, but use this skill to imagine yourself as the dominant partner. Imagine yourself running around and doing things, making decisions, dealing with immediate situations like bear attacks or “bear” attacks, driving well, and staving off the advancement of the French by recreating log traps you saw in that Swiss Robinson movie. I think there were net traps as well, but few things are as satisfying as felling trees and trimming them down to their trunks, then arranging them using your Y chromosome-endowed engineering skills in a precariously balanced heap in order to crush your enemies like so much foie gras! I don’t know for sure what foie gras is, but it sounds as if it’s mushy and French, so that’s what I meant by that last simile.

So anyway, imagine yourself out there doing things like stacking up gigantic logs and suddenly this person who knows everything but can’t stack logs and doesn’t even uderstand why you’re out there stacking logs in the first place, this person comes out to remind you that… Look, it’s like I can’t even imagine what would need to be reminded about because everything that’s important is being dealt with.

So what you should do is bring out a beer or, in your case, a wine cooler, because stacking logs is sweaty work, then praise the progress on the log trap, hand over the wine cooler, and then as your “husband” takes a swig, look with love and longing at the bulge in his plum-smuggler shorts, and then remind him of whatever it is you happen to think is so important that you have to interrupt the all-important task of shoring up domestic defense against the incursion of foreign threats.

And even though this is the best possible way to “make it sound less like nagging,” it’s still nagging and you shouldn’t do it. He heard your request the first time.

Question answered.

 © 2011 Anthony Robert Russo

Ask a Man

Friday, August 12th, 2011


“When they met one another, there was an uneasy moment as each watched the other’s right hand. If it went to his sword or gun, there was a battle, but if it went to his hat it was a salute of friendship or respect.”

The Boy Scout Handbook

Doubt and uncertainty will get you killed. An indecisive driver is more likely to cause a collision than that jerkhole who just deliberately cut you off (if you’re reading this while driving, your GPS told me to tell you to unfasten your seatbelt, accelerate, and make an immediate hard left turn exactly… now). If the month-old milk in your fridge smells like it might have gone bad, don’t drink it until you’ve tricked someone else into drinking it. If you’re not sure that the firearm you wear to bed is loaded and the safety is off then the Chinese have already invaded your home, devoured your pets, and you and your family have become slave labor in one of those sweatshops where the little letters that appear on computer screens are assembled one pixel at a time. In a social situation, the handshake provides a shorthand determination of who’s who and how steady or shaky their character is.

But the question at hand is how do guys know which handshake to use and, when it’s your standard fist bump pas de bourrée, whose fist is on top? It turns out that the top fist is determined by an extremely complex equation developed by the heretical 14th century Portuguese mathematician Aperto de Mão. Fortunately the equation with all its arcane symbols can be summed up as “who hast initiated ye fist bump is on top, unless ye initiator is a dwarfe or ye totally precocious baby.”

As for how we determine exactly which handshake to use, the magic of the Y chromosome has endowed men with a specialized gland that emits and detects identifying pheromones.

This gland  coupled with our ability to recognize types of headgear allows us to know in advance of physical contact whether the other fellow is a Lakers fan, a Freemason, a gang banger, or French, and we adjust our handshake/aim accordingly. Scoffers: this is science, dammit, and cannot be disproven by any method known to Man.

So the next time you see a couple of bro’s or homeys engaging in complicated modes of manual hierarchical determination, remember that you are witnessing just one beautiful thread in the grand tapestry of snips, puppy dog tails, farts, and dick jokes that makes being a dude so totally totally awesome. Question answered.

 ©  2011 Anthony Robert Russo

Bulletin From the Gulf Coast

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

From Heidi:

Thank you, Sister Wolf, for inviting me to blog about the Gulf Oil Catastrophe. None of the words I use seem powerful enough to convey the complete and utter horror of the situation. Catastrophe will have to suffice. It is certainly not a “spill.” PLEASE stop referring to it as a spill. It is a hemorrhage.

I live in Metairie, which is a suburb of New Orleans, and about 80 miles north of the Gulf Coast. That’s close enough to smell the oil when the wind is blowing in from the south. Some days it’s worse than others. I was pretty freaked out the first time I smelled it; I can’t even imagine how intense it is down there in all of the coastal communities.

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading about the controversial chemical dispersant BP is using to break up the oil. It’s been banned in the UK, but BP already had stockpiles of it and couldn’t use it at home, so they’re using it here. The EPA has ordered them to stop, but they refuse. I saw a local news interview with a fisherman who has been helping spread boom, and he said he felt like he was going to die. He went to a doctor, who upon examination said the man’s lungs looked like he’d had 3-pack-a-day smoking habit, but the man had never smoked in his life. Corexit 9500 can cause central nervous system depression, nausea, and unconsciousness. It can cause liver, kidney damage, and red blood cell hemolysis with repeated or prolonged exposure through inhalation or ingestion. A friend’s parents live in Grand Isle, and she said they’ve all had sore throats for weeks. And suspiciously, many people that I know in the New Orleans area have been complaining of increased headaches and respiratory problems. Here’s a link to a Daily Kos piece about the horrors of Corexit:,-Oil,-just-Add-Water-Column

Then there are the repeated failures on BP’s part to stop the oil. Containment Dome, Top Hat, Junk Shot, Top Kill — all of it, about as cleverly planned as if a 5th Grade Science class were in charge. Why oh why was there not a tried and true emergency protocol in place before the drilling even started? How is it even possible that anyone allowed the first deep water oil well to be tapped without a reliable disaster plan? The plan they did have was irrelevant boilerplate that mentioned seals and walruses!!! This isn’t the sort of situation where “winging it” is acceptable! The amount of corruption involved here is staggering. So now, they’re going to try to cap the blowout preventer (we get lovely technical drawings on the front page of the paper every day), which will be another failure, no doubt. And BP regrets to inform us that in the process of undertaking that measure, more oil will flow than usual for a few days. Oh joy! Meanwhile, they are drilling two lines down on either side of the busted pipe so they can intercept the oil at the base of the well, effectively cutting off the leak before it starts. And then they claim they’re going to pour cement down the pipelines, sealing the well forever. While I find that about as believably as the Tooth Fairy, we’ll have to wait until AUGUST to even see if they can drill to the right location.

And guess what yesterday was? The start of Hurricane Season! Hooray! This year was already predicted to be more active than usual, but now there are serious concerns about the effects that the oil will have on any storms that develop. For one thing, the oil is keeping the water warmer than it would be, and the warmer the water, the stronger the storm. Then, there’s the bonus question: what will happen if any hurricanes hit land while carrying all the oil and dispersant toxins? Here’s what Russian scientists thinks about that: For those of you who didn’t click the link, here’s the opening line to the article: “The British Petroleum oil spill is threatening the entire eastern half of the North American continent with ‘total destruction,’ reports say.”

So we have the disaster, the failure to fix it, and the ominous predictions for future effects, and to compound that, we have the esteemed Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, and his insulting lies. The endless stream of toxicity that comes out of his mouth mirrors what’s happening in the Gulf. Sometimes he sounds like a spoiled brat, “I want my life back!” And other times, he sounds like a doddering buffoon from a Monty Python sketch: In response to allegations that the toxic dispersants and oil were making people sick, he had this to say:

“I’m sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill,” Hayward said. “You know, food poisoning is clearly a big issue when you have a concentration of this number of people in temporary camps, temporary accommodation. It’s something we have to be very, very mindful of. It’s one of the big issues of keeping the army operating. You know, armies march on their stomachs.”

Finally, people keep asking why Obama hasn’t taken charge yet. While I do agree that the government does need to take a heavier hand, they don’t have the expertise or the resources to solve the problem. Apparently, BP doesn’t either, but they are supposed to! I’ve read a few articles and heard on NPR that Saudi Arabia had a situation in the early 90s a lot worse than this. It was kept secret from the rest of the world until recently, but their solution was to get supertankers out there to suck up all the oil on the surface. They were even able to salvage 85% of it. I can’t for the life of me understand what in the hell BP is waiting for. That seems like the easiest, most obvious solution ever. While we’re waiting until August (or later, which is more likely), why can’t they at least dispense with the dispersants and suck out that oil as fast as it’s bleeding out???

Thousands of people have lost permanently their livelihoods, many are damaging their health every day, and countless animals have died. When will BP stop wasting time and fix this???

Netflix Imbroglio

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

The following  email exchange between Netflix and my nephew Duncan  makes me glad to be alive!    

Problem With Your Recent Return  
Dear Duncan,

We received an empty white sleeve in your recent return. If you haven’t already sent back the DVD you intended to return, please include it with your next return along with a note including your name and email address so we can match the movie to your account.

If you returned the DVD and white sleeve in its envelope, please visit the Shipping Problems page ( <> ) and select “I returned a DVD but Netflix has not received it.” We apologize for any inconvenience.

-The Netflix Team


To: Netflix <   <> >
Subject: Re: Problem with your recent return

To the brave patriots of The Netflix Team:

Your email is intriguing, particularly in the light of your recent service history.   Please indulge a brief review of my interaction with Netflix over the past few weeks.  

About a month ago, having returned an environment-themed documentary called An Inconvenient Truth, I was anticipating the next title in my queue: an old comedy called The Party.   The next Netflix package I received, however, was just another copy of An Inconvenient Truth.   Well, the Netflix shipping center must be a busy place, I thought– no biggie.   I sent back the second copy of An Inconvenient Truth and didn’t notify your Customer Service department, the apparent depth of my own inconvenience perhaps tempered by the looming menace of climate change.

The appearance of the next Netflix package restored my enthusiasm, the text on the sleeve promising my eagerly awaited copy of The Party.   Without looking at the disc I put it in the player and it turned out to be– you guessed it– porn.   Now, I’m not some puritan or something, but this was creepy.   I ejected the disc, which turned out to be called Up In Your Brown.   (I don’t specify that title to endorse or, as it were, “plug” it; I thought I’d include that rather distasteful detail to give texture to my recounting.)

The next day, with maximum trepidation, I mailed Up In Your Brown       back to Netflix from a mailbox at my place of employment.   I had also enclosed a letter expressing disappointment that (a) I had unwittingly subjected myself to untold seconds of Up In Your Brown, and (b) that I still had not received The Party.   With all deference to “Wild Life Productions” (the creative force behind Up In Your Brown, as one learns from the text on the disc itself), I would have preferred to have viewed The Party.  

And now the icing (let’s hope that’s what it is) is your ill-written and grossly unjustified email below.   Perhaps at this point my expectations are a bit lofty, and I should simply congratulate The Netflix Team on identifying a “problem with [my] recent return,” though the problem isn’t the one that the Team describes.   I don’t know what happened to Up In Your Brown     after it reached the Netflix shipping center.  

And I don’t care.   Here is how we’re going to resolve this situation.   I’d like:
-a retraction of your email below, and an apology (nothing fancy, a form letter will manage nicely)
-a promise to ship me a copy of The Party post-haste
-fulfillment of the above promise

I think those are reasonable requests.   Please contact me if any of them prove more than The Netflix Team can shoulder.   I would much prefer ten minutes strategic planning over the phone than to once again be confronted with the ghastly specter of Up In Your Brown.


(310) XXX-XXXX

Trip to the Vatican by Riesa Reznor*

Sunday, April 9th, 2006


i have been to the vatican. I have to say, the tour was quite hard to enjoy. it was not a tour. it was a line down the street to get in, and athen once you get in there is a line to pay and then there is a line to get up stairs and then all the sudden you are packed like sardines with about 30K people and you can’t move unless they do and everyone smells like some different kind of ethnic underarm odor and they are all talking another language in your face in back of your face next to your face on your face and kids are crying and parents are yelling in who knows what language. and you move through each room of the vatican following all these people and the signs that keep reminding you the sistine chapel is in this building, somewhere.

and then you are spewed into the sistine chapel wehre all of the sudden it is prohibited to talk. and you look up and its like, FUCK THIS IS AMAZING BUT THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE HERE FUCKING UP MY EXPERIENCE.

i’m glad of course that i saw it and managed to take one blurry picture (and got caught and reprimanded) but it would take the promise of a private tour to get me back in there. my friend, who didn’t care to go in the first place, was mighty pissed off. we both hate people to begin with…that is like the worst place for someone who hates people to go. glad you asked?

we also went to the colleseum, which was A FUCKING MAZING. words can’t describe that structure and pictures don’t do it either. we went to a bunch of museums and this great place where monks are buried and displayed and they take all teh dead monks bones and make artwork out of it. it was like nothing i have ever seen before. you can see it if you click the link


* uncorrected email from Riesa, who graciously allowed me to share it. Her pix, too.