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Monday, December 31, 2007

Catching up on the Oscar fodder

Had an utterly perfect visit to Albany, including a delicious dinner at Van's Vietnamese restaurant and a TRIPLE feature, all great year-end movies:

The Savages. A very low key movie, a little less than I was expecting, but wonderful performances, especially the always superb Laura Linney, and many good scenes. It slowed down a bit in the middle but the end is worth the wait.

Juno. The movie everyone should see this year. The theater was unexpectedly packed - we couldn't even sit together. Adorable movie, incredible writing and Ellen Page is one to watch.

Atonement. Not a perfect movie (adapted from a similarly imperfect book) but gorgeously filmed, with pitch perfect performances and it really stuck with me - I thought about it a lot after I saw it.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Click and Munch Time"


Click And Munch Time
by tristero

Yesterday, I saw Denzel Washington's excellent new film,
The Great Debaters, the inspiring story of a debating team from a tiny black college in Texas in 1935. [snip] But I had an odd thought, after seeing it, connected to my previous post. While watching "The Great Debaters," I was struck by how everyone is actively, intensely involved in the cultural and political concerns of the film. The world in which "The Great Debaters" takes place is a world that has no place for slackerism. No one, not a single student, parent, sheriff, lyncher, shrugs a shoulder, and "whatevers" the situation. And that got me imagining what a movie about the current strange American cultural moment would look like.

Think about it for a second. The tube's on, they're flashing picture after picture of torture and even murder from Abu Ghraib. We cut from the tv screen to reaction shots of the couple watching the news, jaws hanging slack, absently munching from his 'n hers matching canisters of freshly-wrought Pringles. The husband blinks twice, points the remote at the camera, we hear a click, then the sound of Jack Bauer's voice threatening some baddie who Doesn't Look Like One Of Us. But it's only for a moment, as the music swells, denoting a 6 or 7 minute break from simulated torture in order to tout the subtle advantages accrued to the viewer if she deploys a particular brand of vaginal douche on her nether regions. Another click, and the grooviest computer graphics imaginable are superimposed over grainy footage of a guy in a gorilla costume while a narrator intones, "As the computer analysis makes clear, it is impossible to tell from the gait whether the creature shown here is human or some species not known to science." Another click and we're back to the newscast. The correspondent for the Abu Ghraib story signs off, a pensive look marring the studied vapidity of his boytoy face and we dissolve back to the newsroom, carefully decorated to create the appearance of competent reportering. "In other news, the primary race heats up. And it all comes down to haircuts. When we come back, two professional barbers will speak with our senior correspondent in Iowa on what it takes to snip and cut when the leadership of the Free World depends upon the placement of every follicle."

Click. Munch. Click. Munch, munch. Click.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fatal tiger attack

Horrible story and a parent's worst nightmare - an innocuous trip to the zoo turns deadly, on Christmas day no less. The first thing I thought was "BIG lawsuit," but now it sounds like the boys may have taunted the tiger or even helped it get out, though probably inadvertently (not surprisingly, they're not talking). The San Francisco zoo, and many others no doubt, will be installing security cameras. What a sad commentary. And of course this raises larger issues about keeping predators in cages and expecting them to suppress their natural instincts (when clearly they do not).


Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday movie season kicks off

Saw two movies this weekend, very different:

P.S., I Love You

Rather disappointing. Not as romantic as I was expecting, or as romantic as it had the potential to be. Great cast, fine performances - I have no complaints on that score. But the last half hour or so was almost completely pointless, and many important moments were so contrived that it was distracting. My friend Dawn and I agreed that if you're going to make it, make it work. I wanted to root for Holly, but it was hard to get caught up in her. I think this was partly due to the way the movie went back and forth in time - it was somewhat disjointed and made it harder to feel involved. And you're waiting (and waiting and waiting) for Holly to move on and fall in love again, but that's not really what the movie is about - it's more about her mourning and her remembering why she loved Gerry, but the film didn't devote itself completely to that either. It just wasn't very emotionally satisfying and that's a shame, because they had good people and wonderful locations, but it just wasn't enough.

Charlie Wilson's War

Exceeded my expectations, which were low, even though the screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin. I got the impression that the film was kind of dopey and that the subject was old and therefore not timely, but I was quite involved while watching and found the performances and the story to be very interesting. It was certainly revealing about the way that Washington works - all back room deals and end runs around the press and any kind of accountability. And I especially enjoyed the way that they drove home the very timely point that everyone is willing to fund a war, but they all get bored and distracted when it's time for the rebuilding. I don't believe that I've laughed this much at political satire since Wag the Dog. CW's War was funny and thought-provoking, and that moves it to the top of my 2007 movie list.


I also watched Jesus Camp on video over the weekend.

I was quite disappointed in this film, though I'm a fan of documentaries. Maybe because I had already heard about the movie and expected it to be more shocking or upsetting than it was (reading on imdb.com I discovered that the filmmakers were trying to be "objective," though I thought the result was rather bloodless). I found much of the information in the film to be old hat and not very revealing. It's not like it's any great secret that evangelicals are homeschooling their kids and that they reject Darwin and that they align themselves with conservative politics. Maybe I'm more informed than most. Bottom line, I felt sorry for those kids because they're already so frozen in their perspective, despite being awfully young - it's a shame they aren't allowed to have a broader understanding of the world and then draw their own conclusions. Most of all, I wanted to laugh when Becky Fischer said "God hears the cries of children." Hah! Tell that to the kids in the slums of Buenos Aires or Calcutta. Or for that matter, I wonder what Elizabeth Smart thinks of that assertion. Whatever. The film just added to my cynicism, especially the appearance of Ted Haggard, one of many, many high profile religious hypocrites. I could only wonder what depravity these young believers would ultimately engage in while hiding behind their extravagant public devotion.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

This is my uncle!

My uncle Al was featured prominently in a story in the Boulder paper. Below is the link and an excerpt:

Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Daily Camera
The long haul: A few carry the restaurant tray for their whole working life
Cindy Sutter

Schock says a good waiter must be willing to work hard and care about the job. He or she should have knowledge of what the restaurant serves and a good sense of timing. “You have to know when the food is going to be ready and when the customers are going to be done eating,” Schock says.

And, most importantly, you have to be able to establish a quick rapport with your customers. “If you have a relationship with the customer and there’s a problem, you can talk about it,” he says. “If you have no relationship, then you’re nowhere. You stand there and get beat.”
Once you’ve got those basics, you can relax and do the job, he says. “I’ve read so many times that waiting is a stressful job, all those reports you see,” he says. “To me, it’s not. Almost everyone who comes to the restaurant is there to have a good time. All you have to do is stay in party mode with them. You make really good money. You don’t have a lot of responsibility. When you walk out of the door at the end of the night, you don’t have to take it with you.”

Friday, December 21, 2007

Conservatives promote anti-intellectualism

Read this terrific piece at the Talking Points Memo website (quite by accident - I was looking for something else) and just loved this comment by "FredM" - he's SO right and so concise - he took the thoughts right out of my head and covered all the highlights in just a few well-chosen words:


The Right's problem is even more fundamental than you say. In fact, they owe almost their entire success over the last quarter century to anti-intellectualism. It's been demonstrated and commented on for years that their core platform of tax cuts, market fundamentalism and corporate welfare would not earn them electoral victories, so instead they promote "values" issues and a blockbuster action movie vision of foreign policy. Indeed, Frum's own "axis of evil" meme is profoundly simplistic and anti-intellectual. For twenty five years, it's been high-concept marketing masquerading as governance. How disingenuous of Frum to deride the "just folks" populism the Republican candidates have been forced to adopt to play to the base. He is among those that conditioned the base to such brain-dead messages.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Termination shock

I can't help it, I think this is fascinating and weird. I read in the Post Standard this week that Voyager 2 is approaching the termination shock, and I just had to look up such a dramatic phrase. Here is a pretty technical explanation from Wikipedia:
The point where the interstellar medium (the gas and dust that pervade interstellar space; the matter that exists between the stars within a galaxy) becomes subsonic is the bow shock; the point where the interstellar medium and solar wind pressures balance is at the heliopause; the point where the solar wind becomes subsonic is the termination shock.

Like a soft orange that fell just a bit too hard from its tree, the giant bubble that protects [our]solar system from interstellar space is squashed on one side, new data show.

On 30 August, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft — which has been sailing through space since 1977 — crossed the ‘termination shock’, the boundary between the bubble in space dominated by the solar wind coming from the Sun and the transition region beyond that lies between Earth and interstellar space.

Voyager 2’s twin, Voyager 1, crossed this same boundary in December 2004. But Voyager 2 did it while almost 1 billion miles closer to the Sun, suggesting that something — such as an interstellar magnetic field — is compressing the bubble of the solar wind on that side.

The twin Voyagers headed out of the solar system in different directions, with Voyager 1 taking a northern path and Voyager 2 a southern one.
Voyager 2 actually captured the crossing at least five times, as the termination shock washed back and forth over the spacecraft like a wave on a beach.

Within a decade, both spaceships will move out of the transition region and into true interstellar space — becoming the first manmade objects to fully exit the solar system. Radioactive generators aboard each spacecraft, powering their electrical systems, may allow them to transmit through the transition and beyond.

Voyager 1 is currently nearly 10 billion miles from the Sun, travelling nearly a million miles a day. Voyager 2 is nearly 8 billion miles away, and moving just slightly slower.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

John Edwards love child

This morning was the first I heard of this story, but apparently it's been swirling around for at least a couple of months. The woman, Rielle Hunter, was a campaign worker.

And here's a twist - Jay McInerney based his character, Alison Poole, in his novel, Story of My Life, on this women:



Rielle Hunter Carrying John Edwards Love Child?

The baby is John Edwards! At least that's what a former aide to the 2008 US Presidential candidate, , Rielle Hunter (aka Lisa Druck), is claiming. The woman linked to Presidential candidate John Edwards in a cheating scandal is more than six months pregnant and telling a close confidante that Edwards is the father of her unborn child, The NATIONAL ENQUIRER has learned exclusively.

The NATIONAL ENQUIRER’s political bombshell comes just weeks after Edwards emphatically denied having an affair with Rielle Hunter, who formerly worked on his campaign. But The ENQUIRER has now confirmed not only that Rielle is pregnant, but she is also living in Chapel Hill, N.C. in a gated community, just a few streets away from Andrew Young, who has been a key official in Edwards’ campaign.

Young has been in charge of looking after Hunter, according to sources, and she has been careful to stay out of sight during Edwards' campaign. A former Director of Operations for Edwards' campaign, Young's last official position with the campaign was North Carolina Finance Director. He left that job about a month ago — nearly the same time Rielle relocated from the New Jersey area to Chapel Hill. In a bizarre twist, Young, a 41-year-old married man with young children, now claims HE is the father of Reille's baby.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Colorado shooter was bi-sexual

I heard about this today quite by accident. He was kicked out of the seminary because of it. I wonder if this will get any traction in the mainstream press. And I wonder if the fact that he was gay will be played up in explaining his violent rampage.


Church Shooting Gunman's Writings Reveal Inner Struggle
Monday, 17 Dec 2007

DENVER - On-line postings from a man believed to be 24 year old Matthew Murray reveal an angry, depressed young man struggling to fit in.

And now, FOX 31, with help from Westword Magazine, has discovered postings that reveal new information about Murray's possible sexual orientation.

Last summer, he wrote, "People like us are going to go to hell, according to Christians." He lists several reasons why. Reason number seven is bluntly stated, "I'm bisexual." In other postings, Murray wrote, "... I can never get a female date. I am at least able to get some male action."

And later, he wrote about confronting his mother about his bisexuality. Murray wrote that he told her, "Using drugs, alcohol and having gay sex, I'm just trying to do what any Christian pastor would do. At least I'm not doing meth like Ted Haggard."

Mike Jones is the former male prostitute who exposed former New Life Church pastor Ted Haggard as a homosexual.

Jones says, "Many of Murray's writings are right on target. It is about hypocrisy. It isn't fair to forgive some people and not others."

Murray noted that the Church forgave Haggard. He posted, "I want to know where was all the love, mercy and compassion for my supposed imperfections?"

Murray attended YWAM training at Arvada's Faith Bible Chapel. Earlier, the Director explained they let Murray go from a missionary program because of what he called "issues related to his health."

Jones says , "The Church looks at homosexuality not only as a sin, but as an illness. And so immediately when I heard that, I went, you know, he got kicked out because he was gay."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Witness for the Prosecution

Watched this video over the weekend after it was recommended to me by my friend Suzanne. Such fun - boy, they don't make them this witty anymore, that's for sure. And I completely got the ending wrong - I had a whole theory about where the plot was heading and I couldn't have been more off the mark. So fun to be surprised. And I was so struck by how utterly gorgeous Marlene Dietrich was - I had only seen a couple of her movies from when she was older - still beautiful, but very remote. Here she is unadulterated beautiful. They don't make them like that anymore either.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

"The food was lousy and portions were too small"

Based on Woody Allen's famous quip about dinner, this guy makes some interesting observations about attitudes toward the Democrats in Congress. Below is the link and a brief excerpt:


It seems to me that this comment may be applicable to another conundrum that's been bugging me lately. "The Democrats in Congress are spineless, useless, strategically challenged, bought off by corporations, etc. - and there aren't enough of them."


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Golden Globe Nominations

I'm startled to find that of all the movies in the major categories, I've seen exactly 4 of them (if you don't count animated ones, and I don't), so I'm really in no position to judge whether the right films and performances have been selected . . .

Here's the complete list:



Friday, December 14, 2007

Thanks for nothing Mika

I was shocked while watching Morning Joe this morning on MSNBC. Not by anything Joe Scarborough said, but by Mika Brzezinski. The conversation concerned the buzz around Mike Huckabee's endorsement of the Southern Baptist Convention's stance that women should "submit graciously" to their husbands. Of course Joe dismissed this and went on to explain that the culture in the south is different and Willie Geist agreed. All this was as I would have expected. What I didn't expect was Mika contribution: she said she has "no problem with it" and went on to explain that her mother, though a well-respected artist, still spent her life helping her husband. She also made a veiled reference to her own marriage.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this literally changed the way I think about her. At first I thought she was being facetious. I have always found her to be a sensible and reasoned voice and a nice contrast to Joe's bombast and Willie's shallowness.

I'm completely appalled at her complacent tone while discussing this issue and her apparent ignorance of the real implications of the phrase. The bible doesn't say "support" or "help," it says "submit" and that concept has been used to perpetuate some appalling abuse of women, not in the past, but right now in modern America. Mika says she has no problem with it, but I would suppose that Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and forced into marriage by a man old enough to be her grandfather when she was just 14 years old probably has a problem with it, and Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter, who were brutally murdered by her own brother-in-law for the heinous crime of speaking her mind probably has a problem with it, and Elissa Wall, who was forced to marry her own cousin at the tender age of 14 probably has a problem with it.

I really resent that Mika, who comes from a powerful family, has a superb education and an extremely prestigious job, can be so glib about this topic. I had expected her to at least offer some balance to the perspectives of the two male voices on the show, or maybe even acknowledge that this particular bible passage has had dire consequences for women.

Shortly after this segment, she stormed off the set because Joe and Willie continued to discuss Paris Hilton. This is something of a running joke on the show, but I wonder why she reserves her outrage for such a meaningless issue. I guess that makes for better TV.

In any event, I was gravely disappointed in a person I have always considered a Woman of Substance.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Suicide among soldiers

I heard on MSNBC this morning that Congress has been holding hearings on the mental health services offered to veterans and the general conclusion is that the services are grossly inadequate. Add that fact to these staggering numbers: on average, 120 soldiers committed suicide every week in 2005, or 18 suicides a day, which is double the rate in the general population [these figures are cited in a CBS News investigation; this is what I found online: a total of 109 suicides of Army soldiers would equal a rate of 18.4 per 100,000, compared with the civilian suicide rate of 11 per 100,000 in 2004, though the VA admits that the tracking is inadequate]. Whatever figures are correct, it's substantially more than are dying "in country" - in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is sickening and terrible. We owe these people much, much better than they're getting.



Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"How America Lost the War on Drugs"

This is a long article (reading at night before I went to sleep, it took me several nights to get through it), but it's totally worth reading - it's completely riveting and extremely informative.

Takeaway points: we never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity AND many judges and law enforcement personnel are starting to agree that reducing demand (i.e., providing, gasp, treatment) is a real key in "winning" this "war."



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I can't believe what I'm hearing

What a day it's been.

Lou Dobbs, who always has pearls of wisdom in his one-man crusade to eliminate Hispanics from American life, was in top form last night. Apparently he finds it completely "crazy" that anyone could question the right of Joe Horn to shoot two unarmed men in the back after they stole some stuff from his neighbor's house. People are even crazier to suggest there might have been a racial element to what went down in Pasadena Texas (a suburb of Houston). When his guest said people are objecting to Mr Horn serving as "Judge, Jury and Executioner," Lou just ignored him, as if that observation was beneath consideration. Crazy, indeed.

On to Tony Perkins, the head of the hilariously-named Family Research Council (an overtly political right-wing religious group), who wasted no time in declaring the tragic shootings in Colorado to be the fault of the liberal media's "hostility toward Christians." Huh? The shooter was a devout, home-schooled (and clearly deeply disturbed) boy who had been kicked out of the ministry program where the first shootings occurred. Apparently Tony doesn't let the facts get in the way of his proclamations.

What I find particularly fascinating about Perkins' assertions in this case, is that conservatives, especially religious ones, typically reject "liberal" interpretations of society's role in tragic events, insisting instead that responsibility lies with the individual. However, in this case, Perkins is quick to use a sociological explanation, when it suits his purposes to do so. (I'm thinking, for example, of the outrage expressed at "liberal" explanations of Abu Ghraib - suggesting that a culture of inhumanity existed which facilitated the humilation of prisoners. I had a conservative Christian friend berate me for not accepting that the entire unsavory situation was due to a few bad apples who needed to be held accountable for their behavior, not excused by foolish intellectual rationalizations.)


Monday, December 10, 2007

Political rant

The cable news shows are abuzz with Oprah's events for Obama this weekend, but of the 60K people who attended in South Carolina, most have never voted and most probably won't next year either. We love our celebrities a whole lot more than we care about our government.

In the report I heard, they were doing a man (or rather, woman) on the street thing, and one woman who had the microphone stuck in her face said that she attended because, though she's a Republican, she didn't like any of the candidates so she was looking at the Dems. I was struck by the absurdity of this - how can she call herself a Republican and at the same time consider candidates like Obama who represent the polar opposite of everything that Republicans stand for in terms of the role of government and government priorities. It just proves that the platforms of the parties are irrelevant to the vast majority of people (who bother to vote at all), who (I believe) make their choice based almost exclusively on personality. This is at least partly a result of the way that the media cover the political contests, with much emphasis on money and on various irrelevant faux pas (speaking sharply to an audience member, getting an expensive haircut, not leaving a tip for a waitress), instead of covering with any regularity the substance of the candidates' positions, policies and priorities. I've said it before and will no doubt say it again: IT'S A CRAZY WAY TO PICK THE LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Kitten and crow are friends

My friend Bette sent me this wonderful news report (7 minutes long) about a stray kitten and a crow that hang out together (crazy, but it's true!) Their story seems like a metaphor for something (positive), especially this time of year. Watch with your kids or grandkids (if you have any):


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Watched a video tonight that I just grabbed off the shelf at Hollywood video b/c it looked interesting, though I'd never heard of it. It's a Canadian film. This description is by a commenter on imdb:
The title, STEEL TOES, is derived from the name of the combat boots worn by Skinheads, the band of racially intolerant men who strive to re-enact the tenets of Nazi theories. The film opens in Montreal with a group of these warriors, led by Mike (Andrew Walker in a career-making performance) who gruesomely kicks an Indian man repeatedly for no apparent reason except racial hatred. Mike is arrested, placed in prison, and faces a charge of homicide when the hospitalized Indian man dies of his wounds. Danny Dunkelman (played by David Strathairn, recreating his role from the play) is the court appointed lawyer assigned to defend Mike. Danny is Jewish and acknowledges a loathing for Skinheads, and it is the confrontation between Danny and Mike that energizes the relationship between two men who innately hate the symbol each stands for. Danny is a committed humanist and tries to overcome his prejudice by carefully preparing Mike for his courtroom appearance.

Larry and I liked the film very much, but the ending was surprisingly flat after lots of powerful scenes between the two actors. Odd, but it doesn't ruin the experience.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Menorah trumps tree

My friend Terri sent this story to me - residents of a small town in NY got upset b/c the menorah on the town square was much bigger than the Christmas tree - they said it was an insult to Christians. How insecure do you have to be about your faith to get upset about this? Kinda funny but mostly pathetic - get a freaking life! ;-)


Thu, Dec 6, 2007
Residents: Menorah dwarfs Christmas tree -

Yahoo! News

LONG BEACH, N.Y. - Residents didn't want to have themselves a merry little Christmas tree. They wanted a big one.

When city officials planted a 7-foot-tall Christmas tree next to a 20-foot-tall menorah in the plaza in front of City Hall, some residents barked. They telephoned City Hall, wrote letters and testified at a public hearing that the tiny tree in the shadow of the huge Hanukkah symbol was an insult to Christians.

"What's up with the giant menorah and the Charlie Brown Christmas tree?" resident Rick Hoffman asked.

City Manager Edwin Eaton said he had looked far and wide — all the way to Canada — for a bigger tree but couldn't find one."This year is going to be kind of a 'bah, humbug,' Christmas," Eaton had said.

But on Wednesday the city of about 35,000 residents 25 miles southeast of midtown Manhattan found a tree to match the 20-foot menorah: a 20-foot blue spruce. The old tree, a Bacheri spruce, was pruned of its lights, dug up, and taken to a mall. A lighting ceremony for the new tree is scheduled for Friday.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christopher Hitchens on Christmas

This is an excerpt from a longer essay in Slate (online magazine) in which he's actually complaining about Hanukkah, but I thought this part was the most interesting:


We are about to have the annual culture war about the display of cribs, mangers, conifers, and other symbols on public land. Most of this argument is phony and tawdry and secondhand and has nothing whatever to do with "faith" as its protagonists understand it. The burning of a Yule log or the display of a Scandinavian tree is nothing more than paganism and the observance of a winter solstice; it makes no more acknowledgment of the Christian religion than I do. The fierce partisanship of the holly bush and mistletoe believers convicts them of nothing more than ignorance and simple-mindedness. They would have been just as pious under the reign of the Druids or the Vikings, and just as much attached to their bucolic icons. Everybody knows, furthermore, that there was no moving star in the east, that Quirinius was not the governor of Syria in the time of King Herod, that no worldwide tax census was conducted in that period of the rule of Augustus, and that no "stable" is mentioned even in any of the mutually contradictory books of the New Testament. So, to put a star on top of a pine tree or to arrange various farm animals around a crib is to be as accurate and inventive as that Japanese department store that, as urban legend has it, did its best to emulate the Christmas spirit by displaying a red-and-white bearded Santa snugly nailed to a crucifix. This is childish stuff and if only for that reason should obviously not receive any public endorsement or financing.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Teddy Bear Tyranny"

Like many people, I was a bit puzzled by the furor over naming the Sudanese teddy bear "Mohammed," but this is an interesting take on the story - it's political, not religious! Below is an excerpt and a link to the full essay:


Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Washington Post
Teddy Bear Tyranny
By Anne Applebaum

What do a British novel, a papal speech, some Danish cartoons and a Dutch movie have in common with . . . a teddy bear? If that sounds like the beginning of an elaborate after-dinner-speech joke, it isn't. All of the above have at one time or another sparked serious confrontations between the Islamic world and the West, causing major riots (Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses"); attacks on churches ( Pope Benedict's foray into Byzantine history); mass boycotts (Danish cartoon depictions of Mohammed); even murder (the death of Theo Van Gogh, director of "Submission," a film about Muslim women).

The most recent, still ongoing saga fits neatly into that pattern. It began when a British teacher, Gillian Gibbons, asked her 7-year-old pupils to vote on a name for the class teddy bear. Gibbons was teaching at a school in Sudan, and most of her pupils were Muslim, so they chose, not surprisingly, one of the most common of Muslim names: Mohammed. As a result, Gibbons was denounced by the school secretary, arrested for blaspheming the prophet, tried, threatened with 40 lashes and sentenced to 15 days in prison before being pardoned yesterday for her "crime" by the Sudanese president. While all this was going on, organized mobs, allegedly "outraged" by her lenient sentence, stormed through Khartoum, chanting for her execution.
In fact, the Great Sudanese Teddy Bear Controversy, like its Dutch, Danish and papal precedents, was not actually a religious or cultural affair: It was purely political. Nobody -- not the other teachers, the parents or the children -- was offended by Mohammed the teddy bear (who received his name in September) until the matter was taken up by a totalitarian government, handed over to what appears to have been a carefully orchestrated mob, and briefly turned into yet another tool of domestic terror and international defiance.

The Sudanese government, which pursues genocidal policies in Darfur when it is not persecuting British teachers, is under pressure to accept peacekeeping troops from the West. At least some of the Sudanese authorities thus have an interest in building anti-Western sentiments among the population and intimidating those who disagree.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Movie scorecard

Here's my list of Movies to See (from my Sep 2nd entry) and how I've done so far:

*FEAST OF LOVE - missed it
GREAT WORLD OF SOUND - not available yet
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON - not available yet
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH - saw it, loved it
*IRA & ABBY - not available yet
THE KINGDOM - saw it, liked it
LUST, CAUTION - missed it
SILK - not available yet
*DAN IN REAL LIFE - saw it, loved it
GONE BABY GONE - not yet
GRACE IS GONE - not available yet
*MICHAEL CLAYTON - saw it, liked it
MUSIC WITHIN - not available yet
RAILS & TIES - not available yet
RENDITION - missed it
THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE - saw it, disappointed
CROSSING OVER - not available yet
LIONS FOR LAMBS - saw it, liked it

Movies I saw that weren't on my list:

FRED CLAUS - better than expected
ENCHANTED - utterly adorable
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - good but unsatisfying


Monday, December 03, 2007

This is what I do!

We had another paper accepted for publication! How exciting does this paper sound (that's sarcasm!):

Manuscript #07-1105 "Systematic Review of General Thoracic Surgery Articles to Identify Predictors of Operating Room CaseDurations"

Fascinating stuff right? I spent HOURS going through articles to identify the "predictors."

Our next paper, which I also spent many hours on, is currently going through much editing:

"Alignment Between Operating Room Nurse Managers' Incentives and Anesthesia Group Operating Room Productivity"

I went to school for 12 years for this?! ;-}

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Movie weekend

Saw two Important Movies this weekend:

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - Along with having a very bad title, I was pretty disappointed in this movie. It was beautifully filmed, interesting, and had uniformly great performances, but there just wasn't enough "there" there - when the movie ended, I wondered if that was all the filmmakers had to say: "people suck and then you die." Sheesh!

I would have liked, and really expected, more background on the characters, more "back story" as they say, *especially* the women (who were barely more than props), and more interaction among the people. It seemed so sparse, which made it beautiful but unsatisfying.

I'm not the sort of person who needs a happy ending, but I expected and wanted more about the life of the family, instead of just watching them all be horrible to each other. I'm not some Pollyanna - I know that people can be evil, and of course dysfunctional people make good drama, but this crowd was a bit much.

I don't think it's enough to make a visually appealing movie - the audience needs to be invested in the characters. In this film, the people are kept at a distance - you want to sympathize with them, but your instinct to do so is thwarted by the film's structure.

It's just a little too relentlessly dark, almost gratuitously so. It's worth watching because it's a very well made film, but only if you're in a misanthropic mood.

No County for Old Men - Tommy Lee Jones deserves all the accolades that he's getting - he really is the heart and soul of this movie, though it's very much an ensemble. And Josh Brolin is a revelation - he's one to watch. It's a a very dark film, but with some charming humor (rather typical of the Coen Brothers). However, despite some great moments, my film-going companions and I agreed that while we liked it, the end was very unsatisfying, and the last 10- 15 minutes almost seemed unnecessary.

Of course critics are raving and predicting Oscars all around, but we agreed that this is exactly the sort of movie that critics swoon for (very arty and important), but that people stay away from in droves. It deserves a viewing, but not many people want to invest in a movie that is so completely lacking in escapism, and has such a dismal view of humanity.

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This year's Oscar fodder is shaping up very much like last year's - lots of grim and gruesome fare. I still plan to see quite a few of the upcoming films, but I certainly don't anticipate that any of them will thrill me like American Beauty or Gosford Park or Ordinary People or other character-driven stories that I have so admired in years past (and have watched over and over again).


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Yet another presidential match quiz

Over the last couple of months, friends have sent me several of these, but this one definitely has the coolest graphics. My friend Bette sent this to me, it's from USA Today. It's 11 questions and you're forced to choose a single answer, which is tough, and probably not valid, but fun.