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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Generation Diva"

This article in the latest Newsweek, about little girls obessessed with beauty, is just totally depressing. Of course I think nothing of my own daughter's participation - she's gotten professional manicures several times, to her delight. And her recent obsession (due to her school friend, Emma) is the calorie count of everything. But hopefully I balance these influences with plenty of reality checks about what is truly important . . .


Monday, March 30, 2009

"The Myth of Early Detection"

Sharon Begley's column in the current Newsweek is so fascinating - about the convincing evidence that early cancer detection does not improve the chance of survival. But it's also about statistics and the way that people ignore evidence that doesn't fit with their beliefs. I found it so informative.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

STILL blaming the victim

In all the ink about Rihanna and Chris Brown, I missed this story about students in a Boston poll - HALF said the incident was HER fault. We have failed our children!

Of the 200 Boston youths (ages 12 to 19) surveyed, 51 percent said Chris Brown was responsible for the incident, 46 percent said Rihanna was responsible and 52 percent said both were to blame. In addition, 52 percent said the media was treating Brown unfairly; 44 percent said fighting was a normal part of a relationship; and a “significant” number said “Rihanna was destroying Chris Brown’s career.” Women blamed Rihanna as much as men did.

ADDENDUM 4/13/09

Really enjoyed this interesting feminist commentary in Slate on abusive relationships - why do we keep asking "why did she stay with him?" and does feminism help us understand this?


Friday, March 27, 2009

Thank you Dr Masursky

Got a "shout out" in the acknowledgements of this article for my help with editing (this is the kind of crazy stuff I have to read!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Music videos

I don't watch a lot of music videos, but every once in awhile the kids want to see one, or I'll like a song so much that I'll watch the video just to hear the song. The former was the reason that I saw the video for Katy Perry's insanely catchy song, I Kissed a Girl, which concerns a rather innocent kiss shared between two girls at a bar. The video, however, takes place in a whorehouse filled with teddy-wearing women writhing around on couches and chairs. Luckily the kids recognized that this was for grown ups and we stopped watching. But WTF? The song could have been made into an adorable video if it had stuck to the lyrics - why sex it up so excessively? I can understand videos like that for overtly sexy songs like Lollipop, but not for songs that are not really about sex. Take Beyonce's famous video for Single Ladies, which shows her and two other women dancing very provocatively in leotards on a bare sound stage. Not as excessive as Perry's Girl, but rather inexplicable, considering the song lyrics. I also watched the video for Rihanna's song Umbrella, which has rather lovely lyrics (if you can figure out what she's singing). So why does she spend much of the video in a sort of sexy maid costume, dancing around with the umbrella like it was a stripper pole? Finally there's the video for Pink's wrenching Sober, a song I really like. The video is quite atmospheric and I was enjoying it until she made out with herself on the bed. Seriously. Double WTF! Kinda creepy. Who thought that up? It totally doesn't fit with the song lyrics or with anything else for that matter. My husband notes (fairly) that they're trying to sell records. But what bothers me is that most videos are not viewed by adults - my son is 8 and he regularly watches them online. Shame on the record industry and shame on the artists.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Understanding the bank crisis

I started with this one - The Giant Pool of Money on NPR's This American Life. It was recommended in The Week magazine and like everything they do, it's very good. Well worth the investment of 59 minutes.

Then Larry's Rolling Stone arrived and, HURRAH, Matt Taibbi has taken on the topic. He created an analysis of the banking crisis that you can actually understand. It's long, but it's edifying. And it's a great read. But you WILL want to strangle someone when you're done reading. You might even agree with Senator Charles Grassley that some Wall Street types should commit hari kari.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Obama is no socialist. I should know."

This is almost funny (Billy Wharton in the Washington Post):

. . . we also cringed as the debate took on the hysterical tone of a farcical McCarthyism. The question "Is Obama a socialist?" spread rapidly through a network of rightwing blogs, conservative television outlets and alarmist radio talk shows and quickly moved into the mainstream. "We Are All Socialists Now," declared a Newsweek cover last month. A New York Times reporter recently pinned Obama down with the question, "Are you a socialist, as some people have suggested?" The normally unflappable politician stumbled through a response so unconvincing that it required a follow-up call in which Obama claimed impeccable free market credentials.
[ . . . ]
The funny thing is, of course, that socialists know that Barack Obama is not one of us. Not only is he not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a liberal. Socialists understand him more as a hedge-fund Democrat -- one of a generation of neoliberal politicians firmly committed to free-market policies.

The first clear indication that Obama is not, in fact, a socialist, is the way his administration is avoiding structural changes to the financial system. Nationalization is simply not in the playbook of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his team. They favor costly, temporary measures that can easily be dismantled should the economy stabilize. Socialists support nationalization and see it as a means of creating a banking system that acts like a highly regulated public utility. The banks would then cease to be sinkholes for public funds or financial versions of casinos and would become essential to reenergizing productive sectors of the economy.

The same holds true for health care. A national health insurance system as embodied in the single-payer health plan reintroduced in legislation this year by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), makes perfect sense to us. That bill would provide comprehensive coverage, offer a full range of choice of doctors and services and eliminate the primary cause of personal bankruptcy -- health-care bills. Obama's plan would do the opposite. By mandating that every person be insured, ObamaCare would give private health insurance companies license to systematically underinsure policyholders while cashing in on the moral currency of universal coverage. If Obama is a socialist, then on health care, he's doing a fairly good job of concealing it.


Monday, March 23, 2009

How to tell when the recovery starts

I thought this was a riot. Alan Greenspan always watched cardboard sales. Then there's cupcakes . . .


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Look who's attending a seder

If this is true, it's pretty cool:







Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Two Lovers"

What a huge disappointment. I had no complaint about the performances, which were all very good, and the tone, though bleak, was consistent. I knew it was a story about a "fragile" man choosing between two women, but the execution was not at all what I expected. I thought it was a maddeningly male view of love - a man who was ditched by his fiancee becomes obsessed with a dysfunctional and unavailable woman while keeping an uncomplicated and loving woman in the wings. The man's fragility is just an excuse to behave foolishly and cruelly, and worse, the three major female characters (the two lovers and the man's mother) are mere prototypes, with no real depth or character of their own. After stringing the kind woman along while he pines after the unavailable woman, he returns to the kind woman when the woman he really wants finally rejects him completely. The kind woman has no idea that he was about to dump her for another woman, that he already cheated on her with this woman, that he's only with her, has only been with her all along, because he can't have the woman he really wants. Many assert that in the end, the man is "choosing happiness," but I think that's a very generous interpretation. He only went with the kind woman when he couldn't have the woman he wanted - is he really going to be "happy" with her now? That seems very unlikely. And what about the woman? She doesn't know him at all - how can she be happy with him? I found the movie to be misanthropic and even misogynist, and completely unsatisfying. (Also, the sex, and especially the nudity, were completely gratuitous.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The current issue of Newsweek is just packed with terrific articles.

This fascinating profile of the #1 children's book creator of all time - Eric Carle, whose debut book, The Very Hungry Catepillar, is celebrating 40 years since it's original publication. He had a very difficult childhood in Germany in the 1940s after living his first 6 years in the U.S. (in Syracuse!) He has a museum for "picture book art" in Amherst, MA, just a few hours from here - I tell people about it all the time and I plan to go sometime soon.

This riveting account of Islamists in London is disturbing and thought-provoking. As is this account of drug cartel violence moving across the Mexican border into Arizona and beyond (Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of America).

This brief essay on being a vegan really made me think.

And George Will, who I always say has never written a single word I've ever agreed with, has a very reasonable essay about education reform that I actually enjoyed reading!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson, R.I.P.

I feel so crushed by this. Such a sad and senseless loss. She was younger than I am! And her two boys will never be the same. This is a nice profile.

ADDENDUM 3/24/09

This essay in Newsweek made some good points:

. . . we learned that she waved away an initial offer of medical care after her fall, we understood. I'm sure that if one of Richardson's children had bumped his head she would gone to an emergency room immediately, and stayed for as long as it took to be absolutely sure that the boy was fine. But how many parents, if we'd taken a small tumble, would have looked at the day's plans and said, "No, I don't want to ruin everyone's vacation only to spend hours at the hospital over a minor bump. We don't have time. I'll be fine."

We find it easy to postpone our own doctor's appointments, but not the ones for the kids. We helmet them, but not ourselves. This is why airlines still have to remind parents to put their own oxygen masks on before they take care of the kids.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cassandra's Dream

What a huge disappointment. Seems like the entire message was "don't kill people for money." I would have thought that Woody Allen had more to say than that. Really dull, and for such a stellar cast there were no outstanding performances to speak of. Barely entertaining, if you can imagine. Larry got bored and went to bed halfway through, but I stuck it out until the bitter end - I think he got the best of that deal.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Mayyim Hayyim (Living Waters)

I heard about this during the primer on the orthodox temple. I'd much rather take a field trip here! Some feminists, including Anita Diamant (author of The Red Tent and the book I used to plan my wedding), have come along and reframed the concept of the mikveh! This is outside Boston, in Newton. Sounds delightful, both in concept and in execution. As an aside, this article is partly about the possibility of creating a similar non-orthodox mikveh in L.A. and my friend Tammy's father, who's a big deal rabbi out there, is quoted extensively.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Judaism redux

What a frustrating day. The women's art showcase went really well, but it was so much work, with so little help, and almost no acknowledgement (I've been trying to model gratitude with the other WRJ officers, saying "thanks for your help" and "thanks for taking that on," etc etc, but so far, absolutely no one has reciprocated).

Then to top it all off, I felt obligated to sit through a "primer" on the orthodox synagogue, because our women's group is planning a field trip there next month. Gag. Here are some of the high points: except for worship, the shul believes in equality for women (in reference to their president being a woman); women are allowed to sing but quietly; unlike most orthodox temples, the rabbi brings the torah to the women's section so that they can touch it. It went on and on like this. What frustrated me even more than this parade of misogyny was the complete lack of outrage. I was absolutely fuming by the time it was over, but as far as I could tell, no one there was bothered at all. All these years of feminism and the women's movement, and these seemingly enlightened ladies have no trouble with men telling them when and how they are allowed to worship God. It almost literally made me sick. I made one comment early on to a friend, but after her lack of response, I left it alone. I genuinely don't judge how others worship and what they find acceptable, but I want nothing to do with it. And keep that shit away from my kids. I don't want them exposed to any kind of religious practice that values women's participation differently from men's. That is my line in the sand.

I left there feeling defeated and lonely. All those lovely women's seders I attended over the years with like-minded souls, and all the late night conversations with Jewish feminists, this is where I've ended up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Body of Lies"

I had expected something more "guy" oriented - with lots of tough guys and action, and it had those things, but in addition, it's super intelligent (how can you not like a movie that starts with lines from a poem by W.H. Auden*?) and I thought it was perfectly cast. I thought Leonardo Dicaprio gave another bravura performance. Sort of cross between his characters in The Departed (though he's less twitchy and strung out here), and Blood Diamond (though he's less arrogant and less cynical too). I think the movie combines the best elements of previous films on this topic - for example, it's less Hollywoody than The Kingdom, less deliberately confusing than Syriana, more satisfying than Traitor. Turns out it's based on a novel by Washington Post reporter David Ignatius, which would explain why it's so smart. And directed by Ridley Scott, who can generally be depended on to make a very watchable movie. It's a tiny bit long and the violence is very realistic (not a problem for some, but I covered my eyes more than once), but overall, it's really worth seeing.

*Here's the Auden quote: ""I and the public know what all school children learn: Those to whom evil is done do evil in return."

I read this about it: It's a line from his poem September 1, 1939, written in response to the outbreak of the Second World War, and often quoted since the September attack of 62 years later.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The road back

I was taken aback by this starry-eyed column by Yuval Levin called The Republicans' Road Back, especially by his laughable assertion that conservatism is an "unusually intellectual political movement." That may have been true 30 years ago, in the heyday of Buckley, but it certainly is no longer the case, and hasn't been since Reagan's ascension. The party that spent the last few decades overtly manipulating voters' basest fears (including racism, homphobia, and the "Evil Empire" of Russia) has relinquished it's claim to superior intellect. Witnessing the cultivated folksy appeal of the party's latest rock star, Sarah Palin, confirms that Levin's assertions are wishful thinking at best and more likely completely delusional. Shame on Newsweek for providing a platform for this nonsense. Creating balance isn't simply a matter of airing contrary opinions - certainly there are conservative writers out there with a more sensible presentation. Newsweek should try to find some for subsequent issues.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"The Kindness of Strangers"

I picked this up at the library and I've stayed up VERY late SEVERAL nights in a row reading it. It's not that I exactly LIKE it, because it's quite painful to read (I've cried several times). But it's compelling, both the structure and the people. The voice in the chapters alternates among three characters, all of whom have very interesting perspectives and each who is dealing with their own issues. I can't really RECOMMEND it, because it's very hard to read about child sexual abuse. But if you can handle it, it's a good book.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Economic "rally"

Wow, I'm really happy to read this, since I've been scared and worried lately.

Dow surges 379 in year's biggest rally
By Charley Blaine and Elizabeth Strott

Financial stocks set off a big snap-back rally after Citigroup says it's been profitable so far this year. Fed chief Bernanke says the government won't allow big banks to fail. Gold falls below $900.

Stocks soared to their biggest one-day gains since mid-November after Citigroup the troubled banking giant, disclosed that it was enjoying its best quarterly performance since 2007.

The Dow Jones industrials closed up 379 points, or 5.8%, to 6,926. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 43 points, or 6.4%, to 720, its first close above 700 in five sessions, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was up 90 points, or 7.1%, to 1,358. It was the best point for the Dow since Nov. 24 and the blue chips' largest percentage gain since Nov. 21. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq enjoyed the best point and percentage gains since Nov. 24.


Monday, March 09, 2009

More statistics abuse

I'm not sure what's going on here . . . this is the story, from that venerable publication, USA Today:

Sales of Girl Scout cookies are down 20% this year. "If a customer was purchasing 6 to 8 boxes, now they're purchasing 3 or 4," said Marianne Love, the groups director of business services.

What is 20% of 6? What's 20% of 8? In case you haven't figured it out, the example she gives is a 50% decrease, not a 20% decrease. She's either deliberately inflating the reduction in sales or she needs to go back and repeat 4th grade math.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Disturbing statistics

Like many, I was struck by this widely reported statistic, from an analysis by Texas State University: congregation growth at evangelical churches increased 50% during each recession between 1968 and 2004.

However, note this commentary:

This has to do with numbers, and how journalists use them.

Let's look at the sentence. Growth RATES increase by 50 percent. It's cited just like that in the Times article. Sounds impressive. Except it's not. Well, not that impressive.

I Googled the actual study, [PDF] which found a correlation between economic downturns and an increase in Evangelical growth. The growth rate increased from .98 percent to 1.52 percent in recession years. Now that lands with a turd-like thud on the page, doesn't it? Citing it as a percent change will sex that right up.

A 1 percent to 1.5 percent increase is indeed a 50 percent rise in the rate. (Ex: If your church has 1000 members, it would grow by about 10 people in a non recession year, or 15 during a recession.)

. . . expressing the change in growth rate as a 50 percent "jump" gives people the impression that Evangelical churches GROW by 50 percent in recessions [which is exactly what I thought when I read it the first time]. At best, it makes the issue unclear. At worst, it distorts the truth.

If you're going to report the percent change, I think you owe your readers the raw numbers, too.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

My "firsts"

Another Facebook exercise~write down your "firsts" . . .

1. FIRST person you thought of this morning? my son (I thought he was up)
2. FIRST person you talked to today? my son (he was!)
3. FIRST person you texted today? Matt
4. FIRST date you ever went on? school dance
5. FIRST alcoholic drink? wine cooler
6. FIRST job? busgirl at chinese restaurant
7. FIRST car? AMC Ambassador
8. FIRST prom date? never went to the prom
9. FIRST grade teacher? Mrs Harris
10. FIRST movie you remember seeing? Snow White or Bambi
11. FIRST state you lived in? California
12. FIRST ride on an airplane (to - from)? Phoenix to Anchorage
13. FIRST foreign country you went to? Israel
14. FIRST concert you ever went to? Loverboy
15. FIRST tattoo? butterfly on my back
16. FIRST piercing? ears, when I was 14
17. FIRST roommate? Polly, freshman year of college
18. FIRST love (do you still talk)? Adam, yes
19. FIRST best friend (do you still talk)? Terry, no
20. FIRST wedding were you in? Diane's
21. FIRST sleepover? Nancy's
22. When was your FIRST detention? for a goody-goody like me? uh, no
23. What was the FIRST thing you did this morning? patted the dog who sleeps on the bed

Friday, March 06, 2009

I am crazy

So, I'm reading this totally random Newsweek article about this Korean taco truck. Now, this truck is in L.A., a place I have NO reasonable expectation of visiting in the foreseeable future. And I live in Syracuse, a place that this truck will NEVER be, even if the guy manages to successfully franchise it (as he plans to). But the ENTIRE time I'm reading, I'm thinking "I wonder if he uses corn tortillas. I wonder if his fillings are GF."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Too much youthful death

A local friend told us on Tuesday that her 8 year old daughter's best friend died suddenly over the weekend (the newspaper said she had a heart condition). The next day I heard from a high school friend that a guy in the class above us just died of cancer at the age of 47.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

More space news

The Cassini space probe (my Dad worked on that one!) discovered another moon orbiting Saturn.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Space news

Earth had a close call with an asteroid which might be as big as a ten-story building! "The object, known as 2009 DD45, thought to be 21-47 meters (68-152 feet) across, raced by our planet at 1344 GMT on Monday."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Living in the suburbs

Sometimes I worry about moving away from an urban area. Here's a story. Today I went to the bus stop (I take a commuter bus between work and a Park-and-Ride near my house) and two ladies who normally ride the bus were standing about halfway down the block. I thought it was weird, especially since it was freezing cold, but whatever. Sitting in the bus shelter is a youngish man, maybe hispanic, maybe light skinned black. When a bus comes (not mine) he asks if it's going downtown and I tell him that downtown buses leave from a stop around the corner. He limps off (this is the hospital bus stop after all) and as soon as he leaves, the two women come and stand in the bus shelter. I was flabbergasted. Were they avoiding him??? He hardly looked threatening. This is 4 o'clock in the afternoon, in broad daylight, on a busy street. These are my neighbors. Sad.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Struggling to make sense of the economy

My friend Russ regularly sends me articles about nationalizing the banks and so forth, which I try to read, but can't make heads or tails of. Mostly I just feel depressed and a little scared as I listen to talking heads on cable news who don't know where the "bottom" is. Meanwhile, more friends have lost their jobs and wonder if they can find new ones.