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Monday, July 31, 2006

More thoughts on the Middle East

The situation in the Middle East (between Israel and Lebanon, in Iraq, and even with Al Qaeda) keeps making me think about that scene in the movie, The Untouchables, that everyone likes so much, where Sean Connery's character gives the speech "if he pulls a knife you, pull a gun" - asserting that the way to win this thing is to out-bully the bully. But of course that's not what actually happened at all - Eliot Ness lost a lot of good people and they nabbed Capone on tax evasion. They didn't out-muscle him, they never could have out-muscled him - he was a savage, brutal man - it wouldn't have been possible to sink as low as he was willing to go. I agree with John McCain that the winning approach cannot reflect the character of the enemy but must reflect our own character. I know winning wars isn't pretty - Hitler wasn't defeated with tea parties and Sunday brunches. And I know there are things that go on in wars that are never discussed. But the idea that conflicts are always won by the most firepower is just a lie - it ignores history and it ignores reality and it's an insult to all of us.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The sorry state of feminism after 25 years

I've been a feminist since at least 1980, and I must say I get more and more discouraged by the state of our culture these days. Of course, access to abortion is being chipped away all around the country and in some cases the world. And the way that feminism is blamed for the ills of our society is truly shocking to me. But it's on a more personal level that I find myself unpleasantly surprised these days . . . most recently by an article I read where women who are breast-feeding their own babies are still scolding other women for the "disgusting" practice of breast-feeding in public. I am equally surprised by women who have commented disapprovingly to my face over the years about keeping my maiden name when I got married - this was not a choice I struggled with at the time because maintaining my own identity seemed like the only reasonable, the only possible, choice. I have also been taken aback at the vehemence with which stay-at-home moms criticize women who work outside the home - asserting that they are selfish and bad mothers. Frankly, it is beyond my comprehension that an educated woman who had a career would want to devote herself exclusively to motherhood. I love my two children dearly and both my pregnancies were planned, however, the mere thought of staying home and submerging my Self in caring for them is repulsive to me, unthinkable. However, I would never use the sort of personally denigrating arguments about stay-at-home moms that they use to criticize me. I really can't wrap my mind around this situation - women being so disrespectful of other women's choices. That's what feminism is for me - the validation of additional choices for all women. Of course I judge women who stay home with their children, of course I think my choice is superior, but I would never write tirades about how selfish or foolish or immoral those women are. I keep my thoughts to myself. I think women make their choices for their own reasons and I must respect that, even if it mystifies me. It is misogynist, and I don't use that term lightly, to publically castigate other women for the choices they make. This constant invalidating of women's choices by other women is harmful to all women and to our society as a whole.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Middle East developments

July 28, 2006
Tide of Arab Opinion Turns to Support for Hezbollah
DAMASCUS, Syria, July 27 — At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.
Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.
The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.

* * * * *
After reading this very discouraging news in the NY Times, I was struck by the pandering behavior of these Middle Eastern leaders and their similarity to the pandering leaders of the U.S. - it seems like leaders in Saudi Arabia and Jordan are doing exactly what Bush and many Republican Congressional representatives are (so successfully) doing, which is catering to and encouraging the most ill-informed members of our society. These citizens use the most simplified logic to draw conclusions and respond to the simplistic slogans and messages offered by their leaders. Of course, I believe this is bad for the Middle East, just as it has been bad for the U.S. As the "man on the street" in Arab countries starts to see Hezbollah as the triumphant underdog, the governments must respond with their support - even if they know this course is disasterous. Similarly American leaders (like John McCain) pander to right-leaning constituencies who have a simplistic understanding of the cause and effect of important issues (like the invasion of Iraq), partly because our leaders have encouraged our ignorance. No doubt public ignorance is the used to greatest advantage by leaders in the Middle East as well. Rather than using their position to educate their citizens, all these leaders just allow their countrymen to react from their gut and don't engage their higher faculties. And the world suffers for it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Box office expectations and other movie troubles

My friend Suzanne is really annoyed that Superman Returns, which she really liked, is getting dismissed as a failure. She and I agree that box office expectations have just gotten so out of whack - if the movie doesn't blow away the previous record, it's written off as a failure. It's just not fair to perfectly successful movies that don't make all their money in the first weekend, which is where all the focus is these days. When X-Men 3 broke Spiderman 2's opening weekend record, it's place in history was assured. And then Pirates 2 came along and crushed X-3's numbers and now it's the only movie worth talking about (my husband and I saw it and we were both disappointed and agreed it isn't nearly as fun as the first one). Yet there's plenty of movies that make perfectly respectable returns, just not in the first 2 or 3 days. It's ridiculous.

Another topic we've discussed (and has been discussed on movie talk shows like Sunday Morning Shootout on AMC) is movie budgets and the observation that there's so few movies made anymore with mid-sized budgets. What's left are independent or smaller (and, by defintion, niche) movies made for under $25 million (like Brokeback Mountain) and movies with massive budgets, aiming for blockbuster glory (Pirates 2 was estimated to cost $250 million!) Our conclusion is that what's missing from Hollywood's offerings is exactly these mainstream, mid-size budget films (with budgets of around $40 million) that appeal to a wide audience, but not to the teenage male audience (that are typically required to send a movie into the financial stratosphere). In short, we bemoan the lack of ordinary films made for us.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Helpful movie rating system

I blatantly stole this scheme from my friend Terri Welch, though I modified her original 7-point scale to accomodate the way I rate movies:

a. adored the movie, must own it as soon as it comes out on DVD
b. liked the movie a lot, if I could get it for around $8 on (used) dvd, i'd buy it
c. liked the movie, never need to see it again
d. hated it; wasted my money
e. would never go see it in a million years, and would leave the room if it came on tv


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Transplant completed

We finally made the move from Philadelphia to upstate New York and it was a total drama - we got to Liverpool (northern suburb of Syracuse) on Tuesday night, June 20. However, we had found out a few hours earlier that we couldn't close on our new house the next day as planned because the seller thought the closing was still set for June 30th (the original date) and somehow our mortgage company never communicated the change. We had arranged for the moving company to store our packed truck overnight (for an additional fee), so that we could close on the new house in the morning and then meet the movers in the afternoon for unloading. Larry spent hours on the phone on Wednesday trying to find a reasonable solution somewhere in this mess, but after all that, he met our moving truck at a storage facility and watched them load our entire house into a 10' X 30' storage unit. Even the moving company guy felt sorry for us. After rushing to pack up everything by the 20th (10 days earlier than originally planned), we spent four days cooling our heels in the hotel (instead of just one night as expected). It was almost surreal. We spent the time getting to know the area, eating in lots of restaurants and swimming in the hotel pool. Luckily, our two cats settled in quite well to their limited surroundings, and of course the kids thought the whole thing was great fun (and to be honest, after weeks of packing non-stop, the break probably did me a world of good). We finally closed on our house on Friday, June 23rd, the absolute last day that our interest rate was guaranteed. The mortgage company waived their fee to compensate for the inconvenience. Then the second moving company moved our stuff in on Saturday, June 24th. It was all extremely frustrating and upsetting at the time, but now that we're in, it doesn't seem like that big a deal.

We've been a flurry of activity since we moved in, especially since Larry had to go back to work on the 10th. We had ceiling fans put in the bedrooms and had a fence put around the back yard (we promised Caleb we'd get a dog, but we haven't done it yet). We have found that there's a lot of stuff in this house (built in 1983) that has been done poorly - we've had to fix closets and shelves, and both the front and back doors have problems and even the garage door isn't working properly, plus there's some really odd arrangements with light switches (e.g., the switch on one dining room wall turns on the kitchen light, but the only switch for the dining room light is on the opposite wall). The joys of home ownership, I suppose, but our real estate agent told us this house was well-built, or rather, he said it was better built than some of the other houses we looked at. Maybe it is better than some in the area, but his comments raised our expectations, perhaps higher than was reasonable.

Mostly these things are annoyances, and hardly ruin the fun of having a larger house and a nice-sized back yard. The house is mostly set up, but of course there's still boxes to unpack and some reorganizing to do. After three weeks of doing nothing but packing our Philadelphia house and three more weeks of unpacking, I'm sick to death of it of it all. I've taken to running errands and other stuff to avoid finishing it (though of course that stuff genuinely needs to be done too). But at the same time, it's driving me crazy that it's not completely settled. Pretty psycho and yet probably typical.