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Friday, March 08, 2013

Book trouble

I'm having a terrible time finding a book to love this year.  I've started and discarded at least 3 books since January. Part of the problem is YA novels that sound great, but disappoint.  (At this rate, I'm never going to meet my reading goal of 50 books this year - I think I've finished 4 books in the first 2 months of 2013.)


I put these dystopian/fantasy YA novels into 2 distinct categories.  The ones written pretty much exclusively for teenagers, with lots of angst, and teenager elements like mean girls and cafeteria pow wows, including The Predicteds, Die for Me (blatant Twilight knockoff), A Great and Terrible Beauty (strong title, weak book), and the one I'm struggling through right now, Adaptation (should be excellent, just based on the title).

Then there are the ones that appeal to a wider audience (in other words, adults), like The Hunger Games, Pure, Enclave, and Divergent. The latter category tend to hit the ground running and maintain that pace, while the former tend to be more meandering (coincidence, I don't think so).

SIDE NOTE: I would put books (series) like Uglies, Matched, Shatter Me, and Delirium somewhere in the middle of these two categories because they appeal to adults but the lean towards the teenagery in their character development and plot lines.

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Saturday, March 02, 2013

Misunderstanding the news

I had the most annoying experience tonight at a small party. One of the guests, whom I don't know well, dominated the conversation rather unforgivably, and said a lot of silly stuff besides (I can't imagine talking on and on for 10 or 15 minutes to [at!] a bunch of people, most of whom don't know me - news flash: that's not a conversation!)

Among other things, she said that Dennis Rodman has been sent to North Korea by the Obama administration. I hadn't paid much attention to the details of this story in the news, but that assertion kinda didn't pass the smell test. Of course, I looked it up as soon as I had the chance, and quite the opposite is true - the administration was less than thrilled with Rodman's impromptu diplomatic venture.

I thought it was interesting that she had concluded that (obviously, she doesn't pay close attention to the news - proving that old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing).  I suspect that a lot of casual observers (as opposed to news junkies like me) assumed the same thing.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Deadwood



As with Battlestar Galactica, I watched this series mostly over the winter break, when very little of interest is on regular TV (most shows are on extended hiatus).  I had been meaning to watch this series for years, for basically 3 reasons - it has a devoted cult following, it got strong critical acclaim, and Timothy Olyphant.


I had a hard time getting into this series - the first few episodes are uneven in tone and don't introduce the main characters as strongly as other beloved series like The Wire and Battlestar Galactica.  But about halfway into the first season, they seemed to sort out some of their difficulties, and I got more caught up.
There's a lot to like - the actors are wonderful and colorful. The evocation of the place and time is so authentic and fun. But I have a bunch of complaints.

Chief among them is the Seth-Alma relationship. Of course I'm a total shipper, but this relationship was such a cheat. They got the viewer completely invested in the couple and then rather abruptly tore them apart. That was, of course, rather inevitable (since Seth was married) and is pretty standard stuff in TV drama. My objection is that the two pretty much go their separate ways subsequently. There's a couple of tense scenes between Alma and Mrs Bullock, but that's about it. This just totally violates a cherished audience expectation - that the torn apart couple will openly yearn for each other and surreptitiously reunite amid much guilt. But not in Deadwood - Seth especially seems to make his peace with the new arrangement with a minimum of emotion. No fair! All I'm asking for is one furtive kiss a la Brokeback Mountain or even an agonized brushing of hands a la The Age of Innocence. C'mon - you can see how it's done in plenty of films - give us something!

Another complaint I had is that the show is just downright depressing. I had just finished watching all 5 seasons of The Wire, which I adored. That is not exactly a feel good series, but it somehow manages to strike a much better balance, with some humor and some hope. This series is pretty relentless. People are just murdered and murdered and murdered. And most of the characters seemed generally miserable. It might be accurate, but it's not that fun (for me) to watch. I especially disliked the way female characters were regularly killed.

Another frustration I had was the way they constantly introduced new characters. This is probably accurate, in a boom town, but there's no way a series can effectively juggle that many story lines. Again, I found that although The Wire introduced a number of new characters each season, they kept the main characters front and center, and managed a better balance overall.

Case in point is the character of Saul. He was so interesting, and John Hawkes is a wonderful actor. But other than a few scenes each season, the series did very little with him. He was often limited to reaction shots, which is just a criminal waste of the actor.

The bad guys got worse and worse as the series progressed. Al started out mean and cold, but developed  a much more nuanced persona, to the benefit of the series. But he was replaced by increasingly sociopathic, one-dimensional, evil cretins (first Cy and then Hearst). I thought the series would have been better if the bad guys had been more nuanced and therefore more complex and more interesting.

Of course the foul language went overboard. The series was famous for this - even though the "f" word was not widely used at the time, they included it to create the right scatological tone. But it was too much. And it wasn't just that word - it was pretty dirty in general. Of course cable shows think they have to go that way, because they can.  I was embarrassed more than once, knowing that the kids could overhear the show, even though they were in the other room.  Not just the endless use of "cocksucker" - several other colorful phrases got a serious workout as well.

And the language in general was a barrier. Some characters, especially Al, but others too, spoke in a convoluted style that could be fun, but just as often made an entire scene hard to understand. There were times when I really had no idea what was going on, between the myriad characters, sometimes convoluted plots, and impenetrable language; it could get kinda frustrating.

The series only ran for 3 seasons (cable seasons - 13 episodes per), but a fourth had been planned and unexpectedly never materialized, much to the consternation of fans. The final episode of Season 3 is definitely structured as a cliff hanger rather than a wrap-up. (Even though I knew this, it contributed to my general frustration.)

I really wanted to love this series, but instead I was left with pretty mixed feelings. The acting is wonderful and I look forward to seeing everyone in other shows and movies. But it won't stick in my head or heart the way that other series will.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Generation gap

The president's editorial in the bulletin struck an interesting tone this month, and I must admit that I found it a rather odd message to give to parents. She basically suggested that they force their kids to participate in temple activities.  

One of the most formative Jewish experiences I had was at a meeting at Hillel at Temple University. Of course I didn't grow up in a temple youth group and didn't go to Jewish summer camp, etc, etc. (I pursued Judaism as an adult, mainly through attending worship services, and feminist seders, with Jewish friends.)  So I'm sitting in this meeting and everyone there, almost to a person, is expressing their alienation with the synagogue experience of their youth, where everyone was more concerned with what other congregants were wearing, rather than what kind of spiritual experience they were having.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Now I belong to a synagogue, even sit on the board, and the leadership is complaining because my generation (represented by those alienated Hillel students) is not raising their children the same (misguided!) way that they were raised.

My question for the leadership is this: wouldn't it be better to put your efforts into making temple activities appealing to the children in our community, so that no forcing would be necessary? Wouldn't it be better to tell parents that we are working very hard to ensure that their kids will have a different experience than the one you had as a child, because we want the temple to be a place where the children in our community feel welcome, accepted, and engaged? That Judaism is worthwhile because it's deep and beautiful and meaningful for all ages, not that it's something you must suffer through now, in the hope that you will later come to appreciate its value.

While there have been many changes in American Judaism in the last few decades, clearly there is still a major disconnect between the goals and perceptions of the current leadership and the goals and perceptions of the (younger) congregants.  That gap is where much of my dissatisfaction resides, and my own frustration with the experience of board, where the decisions and influence still reside in a small clique of people (but that's another entry entirely).

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Judaism is not for kids"

IF SOMEONE WANTS TO CUT AND PASTE THIS INTO AN EMAIL, AND SEND IT FAR AND WIDE, FEEL FREE.

Pretty much totally disgusted by the 7th grade service this morning because, despite repeated feedback, the kids just sit there and listen while the adults conduct the service, which is boring for them and for the parents. The leadership thinks it counts as "participation" because the kids can keep up with the book and know the songs and prayers. #unclearontheconcept   The kids could, and more importantly, should be leading at least some of the selections, and at the very least, should get to pick readings, and/or tunes to songs. It's so easy to involve them in a minimal way.  Of course it would be even better to fully involve them, and really let them own the service, but that is just completely outside the comprehension of the leadership (even though my friends and I have brought this to their attention more than once). This is not my only complaint about my religious experience but if they fixed that, it would go a long way towards changing the whole atmosphere at the synagogue.

Even more bizarre than this archaically run event, was the rabbinical aide stating at one point toward the end that "Judaism is not for kids." I actually think I understand what he means - that it's mystical and complex and requires sophistication. But to say that aloud AT a service which includes kids, which is ostensibly a "kids' service" is distinctly odd and tone deaf.

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Friday, January 04, 2013

New job

So I never got to enjoy that time off - I got a new job almost immediately, at Welch Allyn. I called a former Upstate employee to see if she knew of anything at Upstate and, lo and behold, they actually had a couple of positions open there. (Though they had lay offs in 2012, they were also in the process of consolidating several sites into the HQ and several people did not want to move from the remote sites to upstate NY, hence creating positions that needed to be filled locally.)

They had been looking for what amounts to a research assistant and  hadn't been having any luck, and I fit the bill pretty closely. Almost everyone in the research unit is trained as a nurse, but the "research specialist" doesn't really need that background. And after they talked to me they upgraded the position (from what to what, I don't actually know).

There is actually some decent opportunity for advancement because they tend to promote from within and there is more turnover in the research unit than many of the other units (case in point, the person who referred me has already returned to Upstate).  Plus, they are expanding their marketing research and that's an area where they will need more people in the next couple of years. It would be highly ironic if I ended up in marketing research since I started there (my first "real" job and one that I left because it wasn't what I wanted to do . . .)

I feel insanely lucky and blessed to land a job at a great company, not far from home, and at the same salary I had - all more than I was hoping for!

I got to spend the winter break with the kids, which was fun. I never got to collect unemployment, but that's okay too. I'd rather have the salary and especially the health insurance.

I feel like I dodged a bullet!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ammunition control

Good point!

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