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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Two friends, completely independently of each other, recently mentioned to me how damaging caffeine is to your adrenal system. Intriguing, especially since I drink more caffeinated beverages than I used to. and I've never slept worse. Not sure I completely buy this, but I'm going to cut back. The following is from a general health website called Natural News:

. . . just one caffeinated drink – whether it's a soft drink, caffeinated tea or coffee – will put your body on the caffeine rollercoaster. When you consume caffeine, the drug begins its effects by initiating uncontrolled neuron firing in your brain, according to Stephen Cherniske in his book, Caffeine Blues. This excess neuron activity triggers your pituitary gland to secrete a hormone that tells your adrenal glands to produce adrenalin.

Adrenalin is what gives athletes that winning burst of energy and Good Samaritans the ability to rescue people by lifting cars. Adrenalin is also the source of our "fight-or-flight" response, which enabled our prehistoric ancestors to escape from saber-toothed tigers and other predators. By stimulating your adrenal glands to produce adrenalin, caffeine puts your body in this "fight-or-flight" state, which is useless while you're just sitting at your desk. When this adrenal high wears off later, you feel the drop in terms of fatigue, irritability, headache or confusion.

At this point, you may reach for another "hit" of caffeine, followed by another, and another and maybe even one more. If you constantly keep your body on a caffeine high, you're constantly keeping your body in "flight-or-flight" mode.

. . . Cherniske calls your body's constant state of alert "caffeinism," which is characterized by fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbance, irritability and depression.

After prolonged "caffeinism," your body enters a state of adrenal exhaustion. Your caffeine consumption has simply pushed your adrenal glands so much that they've burned out. Ralph T. Golan, ND, describes this unfortunate state in his book, Herbal Defense: "Caffeine forces your glands to secrete when they don't have much left to give, and they have to keep digging deeper and deeper, making you more and more tired over time. And over the years, it takes more and more coffee to get the same result. Some people reach the point of drinking half a dozen or more cups of coffee to get the same result and it's barely keeping them awake. That's severe adrenal depletion."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Health care reform bill is law

Today I watched Obama sign the healthcare reconciliation bill. So great. And I loved his purple tie.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Political love

I'm a little bit in love with NY Congressman Anthony Weiner. As he says, he leads with his chin more than most (that comment in response to violence against Dems after the health care bill passed - he received a threatening letter containing white powder).

He's so smart and so articulate (and so Jewish, a bonus!) and I just love a person who unapologetically stands for something, especially if that something is something that matters to me.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Twilight (the movie)

Ahhh. I'm not obsessed or anything, but I must admit that Robert Pattinson is delicious. A fun movie and quite a faithful adaptation of the book. My only complaint is that they left out a few of my favorite lines, and some of those lines had to do with how enthralled Edward is with Bella. I think the movie gives you must less sense than the book does of him falling in love with her. But most, if not all, of the people watching the movie know exactly what's in the book, so I suppose it's not a real problem.

I think Kristen Stewart is a wonderful actress. I have heard her described as "wooden" which I think is bizarre. Especially in this role, where her performance matches the character as described in the book, who is quite restrained and internal, and a little overwhelmed. I thought she was pitch perfect. And her and RP's chemistry is wonderful and exactly what the movie needed to translate successfully from the page.

In fact, Bella's personality is why I think comparisons to Pride and Prejudice are not too apt (despite the intial, though very temporary, emnity between the main characters). Elizabeth Bennett is very lively and proactive, quite the opposite of Bella. I think Jane Eyre is a much better template for Twilight.

Anyway, I was very glad to have watched the "Making Of" featurette on the DVD. Wow, they worked hard. Amazing the effort that went into scenes that lasted 20 or 30 seconds on screen. Even post production - digitally adding trees and rain and other details to scenes that I never would have noticed, even if I watched over and over (as many have).

I must mention that I thought the music was terrific. That doesn't tend to be a part of movies that I pay a lot of attention to (though bad music can really screw up a scene - I resent heavy-handed and overly obvious music in a movie; I don't need to be cued how to feel!) In this movie, I felt like every note really enhanced the film's many important dramatic moments . . . a musical score is not part of the reading experience, so it's really up to the filmmaker to make that work and I think they did.

I can certainly see the appeal of the whole business. However, I'm less excited about the next book/movie, as Edward is almost completely absent and it mostly concerns the town's werewolves. Fun, but not especially compelling (my most Twilight-obsessed friend is really pushing me to catch up in time for the release of Eclipse in June). We'll see.


Friday, March 26, 2010

"Are we there yet?"

Nice piece in Newsweek about how far women have come and how far we haven't come, quoting among others, Susan Douglas (see my entry from yesterday). It's interesting overall, but what most resonated for me was this section, because this is exactly my experience with my women's group (and those comments came from other women, who seem like they can't wait to tear other women down when you act like a leader)!!

A recent Girl Scouts study revealed that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they'll be labeled "bossy" . . . This generation has had it ingrained in them that they must thrive within a 'yes, but' framework: Yes, be a go-getter, but don't come on too strong. Yes, accomplish, but don't brag about it," says Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl. "The result is that young women hold themselves back, saying, 'I shouldn't say this, ask for this, do this—it will make me unlikable, a bitch, or an outcast.' "

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Enlightened Sexism"

This is some seriously hot shit. It's like this author, Susan J Douglas, took the thoughts out of my head and put them on the page. Always gratifying to feel like you're not completely crazy - seeing your own experiences in an actual published book. Here's a few paragraphs from the kick ass first chapter, which I read on the NPR website.

Something's out of whack here. If you immerse yourself in the media fare of the past ten to fifteen years, what you see is a rather large gap between how the vast majority of girls and women live their lives, the choices they are forced to make, and what they see — and don't see — in the media. Ironically, it is just the opposite of the gap in the 1950s and '60s, when images of women as Watusi-dancing bimbettes on the beach or stay-at-home house wives who needed advice from Mr. Clean about how to wash a floor obscured the exploding number of women entering the workforce, joining the Peace Corps, and becoming involved in politics. Back then the media illusion was that the aspirations of girls and women weren't changing at all when they were. Now, the media illusion is that equality for girls and women is an accomplished fact when it isn't. Then the media were behind the curve; now, ironically, they're ahead. Have girls and women made a lot of progress since the 1970s? You bet. Women's college basketball, for example — its existence completely unimaginable when I was in school — is now nationally televised, and vulgar, boneheaded remarks about the players can get even a money machine like Don Imus fired, if only temporarily. But now we’re all district attorneys, medical residents, chiefs of police, or rich, blond, So-Cal heiresses? Not so much.

Since the early 1990s, much of the media have come to over-represent women as having made it — completely — in the professions, as having gained sexual equality with men, and having achieved a level of financial success and comfort enjoyed primarily by the Tiffany's-encrusted doyennes of Laguna Beach. At the same time, there has been a resurgence of retrograde dreck clogging our cultural arteries — The Man Show, Maxim, Girls Gone Wild. But even this fare, which insists that young women should dress like strippers and have the mental capacities of a vole, was presented as empowering, because while the scantily clad or bare-breasted women may have seemed to be objectified, they were really on top, because now they had chosen to be sex objects and men were supposedly nothing more than their helpless, ogling, crotch-driven slaves.

What the media have been giving us, then, are little more than fantasies of power. They assure girls and women, repeatedly, that women's liberation is a fait accompli and that we are stronger, more successful, more sexually in control, more fearless, and more held in awe than we actually are. We can believe that any woman can become a CEO (or president), that women have achieved economic, professional, and political parity with men, and we can expunge any suggestions that there might be some of us who actually have to live on the national median income, which for women in 2008 was $36,000 a year, 23 percent less than that of their male counterparts. Yet the images we see on television, in the movies, and in advertising also insist that purchasing power and sexual power are much more gratifying than political or economic power. Buying stuff — the right stuff, a lot of stuff — emerged as the dominant way to empower ourselves.4 Of course women in fictional TV shows can be in the highest positions of authority, but in real life — maybe not such a good idea. Instead, the wheedling, seductive message to young women is that being decorative is the highest form of power — when, of course, if it were, Dick Cheney would have gone to work every day in a sequined tutu.

. . . So what's the matter with fantasies of female power? Haven't the media always provided escapist fantasies; isn't that, like, their job? And aren't many in the media, however belatedly, simply addressing women's demands for more representations of female achievement and control? Well, yes. But here’s the odd, somewhat unintended consequence: under the guise of escapism and pleasure, we are getting images of imagined power that mask, and even erase, how much still remains to be done for girls and women, images that make sexism seem fine, even fun, and insist that feminism is now utterly pointless, even bad for you. And if we look at what is often being said about girls and women in these fantasies, what we can and should do, what we can and can't be, we will see that slithering just below the shiny mirage of power is the dark, sneaky serpent of sexism.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Calm down

I've been a bit shocked at the aggressive reactions to the passage of the healthcare bill. Doesn't seem at all appropriate or justifiable. Someone on FB said that "the People" are angry because their voices are not being heard. To which I replied:

I'm part of "the people" and this is exactly what I voted for. In a democracy, nothing is going to make 100% of "the people" happy. I've been angry about a lot of things in the past 3 decades, but I never broke anyone's window or spit on anyone or left a profanity-laced death threat on anyone's voicemail. If you want your government to be different, then go and vote. That's how we express ourselves in a civilized society.

Funny what Obama said the day after the bill signing:

“I’m not exaggerating. Leaders of the Republican Party called the passage of this bill Armageddon. Armageddon! End of freedom as we know it,” he told a rally in Iowa City. “So after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling, some cracks opening up in the earth? Turned out it was a nice day. Birds were chirping. Folks were strolling down the Mall.”

Pretty ridiculous the level of hysteria about this relatively minor legislation. Loved his response. I wish I could show such aplomb instead of getting enraged all the time.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More on the healthcare bill

My brother Leo made some excellent comments about the recent healthcare reform bill:

. . . Obama has exhibited leadership. He kicked their asses by using the powers of his office to benefit a huge swath of us. Most of the protesters will enjoy direct benefits from the new law (which simply uses their/our money to offset health care costs).

. . . I mean, it's our money, and the President has lead us to rearrange how we spend our money. Healthcare is not an "entitlement" any more than the interstate highway system or the national parks. It's a rational use of our own funds. The middle class pays the most tax.

Their [Republicans'] whole power structure rests on taking the money we pay and using it for their own ends. Obama has realligned that distribution.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Time out for some humor

I stole this photo from the NPR website - Nancy Pelosi and other legislators walking from the Congressional office building to the Capitol for the health care vote yesterday afternoon. Someone on the site wrote, "They look like the world's least threatening street gang." Someone else said, "The gavel may be normal size - politicians are deceptively small people, like actors." Tee hee.


Political fallout

My friend Suzanne sent me this excellent column from the NY Times that covers some of the political fallout (or lack of it) that might be expected from the healthcare bill. Although a recent poll showed 45% of Americans oppose the bill, I'm convinced that once the average American actually hears what this legislation does (and mostly doesn't do) a lot fewer people are going to be buying what these nutjobs have been selling. I would go so far as to say that legislators were ahead of the people in this case, as with desegregation - you can't always go by polls when deciding how to govern on important issues.

. . . Republicans also face the question of what happens if the health care bill does not create the cataclysm that they warned of during the many months of debate. Closing out the floor debate on Sunday night, the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, warned that the legislation would be “the last straw for the American people.” Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, proclaimed several hours earlier, “Freedom dies a little bit today.”

Yet there are elements of the bill, particularly in regulating insurers, that could well prove broadly popular, and it could be years before anyone knows whether the legislation will have big effects on health care quality and the nation’s fiscal condition. Indeed, most Americans with insurance are unlikely to see any immediate change in their coverage, and several Republicans warned that the party could pay a price for that.

When our core group discover that this thing is not as catastrophic as advertised, they are going to be less energized than they are right now,” Mr. Frum said. He warned that the energy Republicans were finding now among base voters would fade.

The head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, offered a similar argument. “When this bill goes into effect, and none of the things Republicans warned about begin to happen — none of the death panels, none of the government takeover, none of the socialism — Republicans will have no credibility,” Mr. Menendez said.

. . .

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee said Democrats would soon find themselves saddled with blame by Americans whenever they ran into a problem with an insurance company, even though Democrats have made a point of criticizing the insurance industry in the debate and asserting that without legislation the nation faced never-ending increases in premiums that would make health coverage less and less affordable.

“Insurance premiums are going to go up normally, and millions of Americans are going to experience higher premiums,” Mr. Alexander said. “All this is going to be coming, and the health care bill is going to get blamed for a lot of it.”

But Mr. Menendez said that he was advising Democratic Senate candidates to challenge opponents about whether they would vote to repeal the bill — particularly, an expansion of prescription drug benefits for the elderly or requirements that insurance companies not deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

“We will challenge them,” he said. “What parts of this bill do you want to repeal?”


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dems - 1, Idiots - 0

Thrilled that the healthcare reform bill passed the House, but of course the bill is so watered down and contains hardly anything that I think is essential, it's a little hard to be too optimistic. But at least something got done and at least we're moving in some general direction. And at least idiots who shout "nigger" (at Rep John Lewis) and "baby killer" (at Rep Bart Stupak) lost this round. That's worth something right there.


Even Larry commented on this being over the line. And he also said Republicans like John McCain and Michael Steele should be coming out and saying "We're not about this!"


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Revenge and health care critiques in film

Recently, Larry was watching Law Abiding Citizen. I was in the other room, but I got the gist. Wow. I just love a movie that uses the rape and murder of a 5 year old girl as a plot device - just to get the main character into turbo-vigilante mode. Requiring, among other things, that he cut a man into pieces with a chain saw. Yes, the audience gets to watch. After that, he starts to target the DA and other people involved in this miscarriage of justice (the killer only got 10 years in prison as part of a plea deal). What an incredible waste of a terrific cast. I didn't think Jamie Foxx was this desperate for money.

And what is the point of all this? Yes, the justice system is imperfect. Plea deals can seem like they let someone off easy. But extreme vengence is hardly better. If someone murdered my daughter, I would, of course, want them dead. But watching this for entertainment is very odd. Among other things, the audience does not have the same feeling as the parent, so witnessing the revenge is not cathartic, it's just indulging in sadism. Really gross. Even Larry commented that it was not quite what he was expecting (the chain saw and other scenes were certainly not included in the previews for the movie). Side note - it has a 7.2 rating on imdb, which is pretty high, so someone enjoyed this.

On Friday, I happened to catch the NPR reviewer talking about Repo Men, wherein Jude Law and Forest Whitaker (both classically trained actors) play bounty hunters who reclaim transplanted organs when the recipient fails to pay. The reviewer suggested that it's an allegory for our financial crisis and a critique of our tendency to live beyond our means. That seems like a stretch, both because it's clearly a blood soaked action movie with minimal commentary of any kind, and, more to the point, it's not like the repo men are collecting luxury cars or sailboats or Florida condos. Not sure how you make the case that someone who needed a new kidney that they couldn't afford is just fiscally irresponsible. Sounds more like a critique of our ridiculous health care system, which is based way too much on generating income and not nearly enough on keeping people healthy.

Weird, weird culture in Hollywood these days. I'm waiting for The Runaways, about women rock and rollers and How to Train Your Dragon, an animated movie that's getting great buzz. Also Julia Roberts, headlining a movie (which she doesn't do that much these days) in Eat Pray Love, based on a book (always a bonus, IMO) - a memoir about a woman's quest for meaning in modern life. These may have some redeeming value!


Friday, March 19, 2010

Another successful Sisterhood event

Sisterhood-sponsored shabbat service was a big success. Potluck was dee-lish (tiramisu was a hit) and the sanctuary was packed (over 70 people attended). The vast majority of people enjoyed it and found it meaningful, so all the extra work was worth it. It was certainly meaningful for me - I'm extremely proud of the service that Rachel and I constructed by spending several hours going through past services and putting together what we considered the best material. I enjoy the readings in the service, more than the official prayer books. And I almost cried reading the intro to the kaddish, just thinking about Noah.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

More on healthcare

This piece on NPR's Morning Edition gives an excellent rationale for why we need government to have a larger role in health care in this country:

Anthem Blue Cross of California has become central to the political debate over controlling and regulating health insurance companies. Critics say the company is an example of what happens when federal or state regulators don't or can't control them. California regulators have tangled with Blue Cross for decades but the company has had many reincarnations

It may be hard to imagine now, but back in the 1930s, membership in a Blue Cross plan was practically a civic duty. Boy Scouts handed out enrollment brochures and preachers urged their congregation to enroll.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans formed as not-for-profits to give communities access to medical care and protect against personal financial ruin. All members paid the same amount no matter how old or sick, and no one was turned away. The Blues became one of the most trusted brands in America.

By the 1970s and '80s, though, Blue plans faced competition from for-profit insurance companies. Because the Blues accepted all comers, regardless of health status, their rates were typically higher. These new insurers who didn't offer universal coverage attacked younger, healthier people with better deals. In response, most Blue plans started charging sicker and older people more. Even so, Blue plans around the country were losing market share.

Many Blue plans saw the stock market as their savior. If they became for-profit, publically traded companies, they could sell stock and raise a lot of cash. So in 1994, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association made a big change. For the first time, they would allow their franchises to convert from nonprofit charities to for-profit public companies. Blue Cross of California was the first to do so and became WellPoint Health Networks.

WellPoint used the capital that they raised from stock sales to acquire other companies to grow, to get bigger, and in so doing, put them in a position where they could sell to national accounts, 'cause that's where a lot of the money is in the group health insurance market.

WellPoint bought non-profit Blue plans in Missouri, Wisconsin and elsewhere. At the same time, Anthem, the for-profit owner of Indiana's Blue plan, went on a multi-state buying spree of its own. Then in 2004, WellPoint and Anthem merged and became the largest health insurance company in the country. And that meant the non-profit Blue plans that remained faced an even tougher marketplace.

As Blue plans across the country went for-profit,
the original mission of Blue Cross Blue Shield, to provide affordable, accessible health care to people in the state, has been lost. And now the mission is to make money for stockholders.

In a written statement, the National Association that controls the Blues trademark said all Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are committed to providing affordable, quality health care. Still, some believe the only way to insure the Blues make good on that promise is to return them to their origins -sort of. Under the proposed health care bills, all insurance companies, for-profit and not-for-profit, would have to accept everyone and couldn't charge sicker people more . . .


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The beauty of the music

At the Lunch and Learn today (also called the Downtown Lunch Group) with Rabbi Ain and Rabbi Fellman, we ended up discussing Jewish education, especially how to balance learning the "rules" of Judaism and developing a spiritual connection to it (because the reading, on Passover, commented on the judgemental tenor of Judaism and someone in the group commented on that). Rabbi Ain asserted that it's like learning a piano piece - you have to practice and practice, even if it's boring, but then you get to the "beauty of the sonata." I had to disagree. Because obviously many Jewish kids are exposed to the piano lesson, but never develop a love of the music.

(My family is case in point. Leo, Lisa and I all experienced the same Jewish education, went to the same Hanukkah parties, the same community seders. But they both completely abandoned Judaism, Lisa for Christianity and Leo for atheism. I'm the only one who hears the sonata. What's the difference? I don't know.)

After my remark, Mark commented that learning the rules is still necessary and I said, necessary but not sufficient. I think that rabbis are still overemphasizing the rules rather than the spiritual connection, to the great detriment of the community. Rabbi Ain is of course correct that a lack of knowledge stifles many people's participation. But, on the other hand, it's painfully clear that learning the "rules" doesn't by definition create a connection. How to do both?


Timothy Olyphant

So I watched the pilot of his new show, Justified, last night, and I thought it was a snooze - not bad, just boring. Not my cup of tea, all that hard ass law man crapola: "If I pull my gun, I'm gonna put you down." Yawn! I had to watch a few scenes of Catch and Release just to remind myself how cute and sexy TO can be (still some of the hottest kissing I've ever seen in a movie).

I love Elmore Leonard - I've read a bunch of his books and I love the movies Get Shorty and Out of Sight. I heard this was so "witty," but I didn't think so at all. Not a single quotable line, though I remember laughing twice (both at lines delivered by the "bad guy" Boyd Crowder, played by Walter Goggins: "There's always a Plan B" and "Damn, woman, do you only shoot people when they're eating supper?") Of course I loved Ava, who's completely unapologetic about shooting her abusive husband, but she's so otherwise pointless (and kinda slutty), it's hard to imagine identifying with her over the long run. I hope it's a big hit for Tim's sake, but it's not worth 60 minutes of my life each week, unfortunately.

Ha! Here's what the WaPo reviewer says:

. . . The first impression made by the series is particularly disappointing because it was produced for the FX network, where standards aren't artfully high but where the specialty is edgy, cryptic, potty-mouthed dramas that mutilate the old proverbial envelope ("Nip/Tuck," "Damages"). Although "Justified" qualifies as cryptic, and its mouth is plenty potty, it definitely lacks edge, the most important quality of the three.

In fact, it can get downright sleepy between killings. It moseys. It meanders. You might want to shout, "Git along, little doggie!" The narrative stops in its tracks for long, stretched-out scenes that are remarkably uneventful.


Tiger Woods

Someone on Morning Joe said that if Tiger Woods wins the Masters, he won't be invited to the White House. I was completely taken aback by that. It's not like he's harbored terrorists or something serious, he cheated on his wife. Not that I don't think that's serious, but goodness, it's rampant. And he's one of the most famous athletes in the whole world - the idea that he would never stray seems extremely quaint. I'd go so far as to say that any woman who marries a celebrity athlete (or, really, any celebrity at all) is awfully naive if she expects him to remain faithful. There's just too much opportunity and those people are encouraged to think of themselves as above the rules. Anyway, I don't really think his personal life is anyone's business, or relevant to this athletic accomplishments. If he wins the tournament and the winner is usually invited, then he should be invited. At least IMHO.


Elmore Leonard

Great interview on NPR. This guy is 84 years old and a total pistol. I hope have this much piss and vinegar when I'm that age!! Here's the first few paragraphs:

For six decades, Elmore Leonard has been sitting at his writing desk, first in Detroit, then in the suburbs, creating robberies and murders for books and movies. Hollywood has tried many times to translate Leonard's work from page to screen: Get Shorty, Out of Sight, two versions of 3:10 to Yuma. Leonard has written several screenplays too, and worked on the recent, short-lived ABC television series Karen Sisco.

Tonight, another television network — FX this time — takes a shot at bringing Elmore's World to life. Leonard himself is an executive producer of Justified, but he says there are a whole bunch of those, and he doesn't have script approval.

But Leonard's happy. He's met the writers, and they're keeping their source close at hand. "They said, 'We all have this little plastic bracelet on that says WWED — What Would Elmore Do?' " Leonard says. "It seems to me that they sound like my writing."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Class warfare

In this blog post, Taibbi is complaining about a David Brooks column on populism, but he makes a bunch of really sensible points about how we got here:

What’s so ironic about this is that Brooks, in arguing against class warfare, and trying to present himself as someone who is above making class distinctions, is making an argument based entirely on the notion that there is an lower class and an upper class and that the one should go easy on the other because the best hope for collective prosperity is the rich creating wealth for all. This is the same Randian bullshit that we’ve been hearing from people like Brooks for ages and its entire premise is really revolting and insulting — this idea that the way society works is that the productive ” rich” feed the needy “poor,” and that any attempt by the latter to punish the former for “excesses” might inspire Atlas to Shrug his way out of town and leave the helpless poor on their own to starve.
That’s basically Brooks’s entire argument here. Yes, the rich and powerful do rig the game in their own favor, and yes, they are guilty of “excesses” — but fucking deal with it, if you want to eat.

And the really funny thing about Brooks’s take on populists… I mean, I’m a member of the same Yuppie upper class that Brooks belongs to. I can’t speak for the other “populists” that Brooks might be referring to, but in my case for sure, my attitude toward the likes of Lloyd Blankfein and Hank Paulson has nothing to do with class anger.

I don’t hate these guys because they’re rich and went to fancy private schools. Hell, I’m rich and went to a fancy private school. I look at these people as my cultural peers and what angers me about them is that, with many coming from backgrounds similar to mine, these guys chose to go into a life of crime and did so in a way that is going to fuck things up for everyone, rich and poor, for a generation.

. . . It’s not pessimism or “combative divisiveness” to talk about these problems and insist that they get fixed. On the contrary, it’s a very positive view of what citizenship is to believe that everyone has a real role in fixing his country’s problems, and that when we identify problems, we should try to do something about them because we might actually succeed.

On the other hand, telling oneself that when powerful people “rig the game” one should just tolerate it, because one’s best hope for seeing the situation fixed rests in hoping those same powerful people fix it themselves — I would describe that as pessimism, or something worse than pessimism. The whole point of America is that we are all supposed to be our own masters, never viewing anyone as being by birth or situation inherently better or more capable than ourselves, and so the notion of relying upon some nebulous class of investment bankers to “channel opportunity” from on high strikes me as being un-American.

And besides, the fact that a lot of these guys have made a lot of money recently doesn’t make them “upper class.” They’re the same assholes we all were in high school and college, except that they made some very particular moral choices in adulthood, and became criminals, and have now arranged things so that they’re going to be tough as hell to catch. And when they fall, which a lot of them will - I mean a lot of these guys are ten seconds from losing it all and spending the next ten years working the laundry room at Danbury or pushing shopping carts under the FDR expressway. And they know it. These people aren’t the nobility. They’re people just like us, only less ashamed of themselves.



Man do I HATE daylight savings time. Day 3 and I still feel like I got kicked in the head when my alarm went off this morning. I grew up in a state (Arizona) that has the good sense not to participate in this archaic process.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Health care reform bill

Everyone on cable tonight is saying that the bill is going to pass. I'm in shock, I didn't think we were going to get here. It's not enough, but it's a start. And at least the Dems are getting something done. It's awesome.

Now the attention is turning to financial reform. Even if the Dodd bill is inadequate, at least we're seriously having the conversation. I feel good about it!


Taibbi on the health care bill

LOVE me some Matt Taibbi. Makes me laugh, and that's always good, because otherwise I would be in complete despair over this crap. His blog post pretty much captures my attitude perfectly:

We’re going to hear an awful lot of hand-wringing in the next few weeks if the health care bill sneaks through the House and ends up passing in the Senate via reconciliation — as though using reconciliation were somehow immoral, or cheating.

I’m not sure I get what the issue is here. No Republican Senator is ever going to vote for the health care bill under any circumstances. It could have a rider in it mandating biblical readings up through the junior college level and you still couldn’t get even a very God-fearing Republican like Tom Coburn to vote for an Obama health care bill. Chuck Grassley wouldn’t vote for it if you moved the U.S. Naval Shipyard to an Iowa cornfield. They’ve locked arms on this bitch like soccer players on a free kick.

From the start, the only way this was going to pass was with 100% Democratic votes. So if there are 60 Democrats, you can do it without reconciliation. If there are 59, you have to use reconciliation. “Sympathy” has nothing to do with this; it’s math.

I also don’t get how anyone could have watched the Senate over the last year or so and not concluded that this thing is better passed with 50 votes than 60. With 50 votes, you have 10 fewer Senators to bribe, which according to my calculations should bring the overall cost of the bill down by about at least 50 trillion dollars.

I hate this bill and have since the beginning — to me it seems like a radical and dangerous step to start forcing people to become customers of a seriously overpriced, inefficient product, thereby removing the last incentive for an already antitrust-exempted, horrifically-performing industry to improve itself in any way.

But I’m beginning to come around to the idea that if we do pass this thing, sooner or later Congress is going to get around to complaining about subsidizing the profits of WellPoint and Aetna and all the rest of them. Naturally the first place they’ll cut in future budget crises is the “affordability credits” for low-income earners, but there’s a slim chance they’ll get around to chiseling the fat from the insurance companies, too, which might in turn lead ultimately to a sane revamping of this ridiculous system.

Or maybe not. I’m trying to find a way to feel good about this thing. Is there a way this thing doesn’t suck?


Gotta read faster!

Ever since Interstate 81 was closed, my commute home on the bus has pretty much doubled (from 20 minutes to about 40), so I've been making progress on my backlog of magazines (Newsweek and The Week). I thought I was doing well, but I underestimated how far behind I'd gotten - when I sorted through the stack tonight I realized just how many I still have to go! Now it looks like the road will reopen by the end of this week, so I'm back to the shorter commute and I'll have to find more reading time somewhere else.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Latest movies

The Last Station. Good, not great. Terrific performances of course. But James McAvoy is the most interesting person in the movie. I learned some Russian history, but it wasn't a terribly satisfying movie. Sad. The most compelling part of it was the dilemma of Helen Mirren's character - she was obnoxious, but the movie did a great job (mostly through James McAvoy's character) of showing her legitimate frustration with being treated as so unimportant after she helped and supported her husband all those years. There are many similar famous couples (like Einstein and his wife) where the wife was a major help to the husband, but he got all the credit and she basically got screwed. So that was thought provoking, but it's not like it was the major point of the movie. And I wondered how James McAvoy's character could have any idealism about love or marriage after watching the Tolstoys self-destruct. My friend Suzanne pointed out that you never see the end of love portrayed in a movie, only the beginning, so that comment helped me see the value of it. I'm glad I saw it, but I don't know that it will stick with me.

Tin Man. I didn't see this Sci Fi channel mini series a couple of years ago when it was on TV; it's a remake of the Wizard of Oz story. Quite fun, much more so than I expected. Awesome cast. Lots of sly references to the much more famous movie. We (me, Matt and Cal) all enjoyed it, though Cal had nightmares about the flying monkeys. I love Zooey Deschanal, but she relies just a bit too much on wide-eyed reaction shots in this one. A minor complaint about a really weird fun entertainment. We want to check out a similar retelling of Alice in Wonderland called Alice.

Closing the Ring. WWII melodrama from 2007. Christopher Plummer and Shirley McLaine are played as youngsters by Gregory Smith (from Everwood) and Misha Barton. It's genius casting and I think it improves a rather overly sentimental and somewhat uneven movie (strange and out of place IRA violence in the modern story - sort of confusing and unnecessary). Overall a pretty affecting romance and family drama about love and forgiveness and all that good stuff, but not quite as good as it could have been.

I've been watching some older movies with the kids. We saw Caddy Shack, Ghostbusters, and Short Circuit over the last couple of weeks. They liked them all. Caddy Shack is not really for kids - I didn't realize there was nudity in it (I'd never seen it, though it's one of Larry's favorites). Even Short Circuit is a little too old for them - there's quite a bit of cursing and some sexual references; I wonder if it would get a PG rating now. They are remaking that, supposedly; I'm sure they will clean it up considerably. And what will they do with the funny, but totally offensive Indian character? Hmmm.


Saturday, March 13, 2010


I have several Twilight-obsessed friends, so I finally knuckled under and started to read the first book. It's good, I like Bella's "voice" and it's definitely pulling me in - I want to know what happens. But I've read much more compelling books.

One friend, to explain her obsession, said "it's like a soap opera" and she meant that in a good way, but it made me less interested - that's not really what I like in an entertainment, almost the opposite. I'm just curious about it, but not fascinated. Now that I'm reading the first book, I find myself wondering about the casting and such. But it's not like I can't put it down. Another friend recently read the entire series (4 books) in a week. I guess it really strikes a chord with some people.

New Moon (the 2nd film in the series) comes out on video this week. I haven't seen any of the movies, so I can't really judge, but it's hard to get excited about a teen flick when there is so much else out there. I'm certainly not paying a babysitter to watch that, though I know several adults that adore the movies.

Vampires have been a dependable genre for many years - Laura was obsessed with The Hunger - the movie with Susan Sarandon and David Bowie as vampires. I saw it and it was o.k. I guess I'm just not that tweaked by the whole idea. I watched a couple episodes of True Blood, which was weird and sexy and not bad, but it was super violent and the S&M sex is really off-putting to me. So I gave up on that.

It's not that I wish I was as caught up in this as others, but it does leave one feeling a bit flat - like listening to people talk about American Idol when I just couldn't care less. I want to feel passionate and I want to speak passionately, I'm just not passionate about this.


After a couple nights staying up way too late, I finished the first book. Fun. When I read something as hyped as this, I don't expect much, so I was pleasantly surprised. I don't think her writing is bad or overly florid. Just a solid book for what it is.

And I can definitely see the appeal - all that destiny, destiny, destiny (Stephenie Meyer cites Jane Eyre as a major influence, as well as Pride and Prejudice, and the parallels are quite apparent). Edward's been alone for a HUNDRED YEARS, plus, the supposedly dorky girl is the object of this god's affection. Pretty obvious why it's so popular. I actually thought the author included some nice touches. Some of the ideas about vampires were fresh - the sparkly skin, the venomous bite. Clever. And I loved the baseball game, that was great (what do gods do for entertainment anyway??) The story didn't follow quite the arc I expected - I didn't know the high school milieu was abandoned so early on. But it kept my attention, and it certainly eradicated my skepticism.

Not sure if I need to read all the books. It's still teen fiction, even if it's good teen fiction. I am intrigued by how Edward and Bella's devotion could possibly be challenged. I've heard about "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob" but that seems almost impossible, at least at the end of this book. So solving that mystery might make it worth it. Plus, where the author is going with Bella being sickened by the smell of blood - that was never explained and it's rather interesting.

I definitely need to see the movie. I wondered all through the book about the casting and how certain scenes would be portrayed (or eliminated). So that's next on the agenda for sure.

One more note, on the role modeling. I certainly approve of a popular entertainment that doesn't portray all teens as sexually active. That's refreshing and a good thing. On the other hand, the series has gotten a lot of criticism because Bella is such an old fashioned heroine - supposedly all she does is love Edward, her character doesn't exist for any other purpose. I can't really agree - at least at the end of the first book, she addresses their unequal status quite explicitly, and she asserts herself and her preferences quite regularly. But I guess I can't really judge until I've read the other three books.


It's funny to go back and read my half-hearted words, because somewhere between seeing the first movie and reading the second book, I got totally hooked, and now my neutrality seems so laughable.


Snow totals

According to the Golden Snowball website, we're only about a foot short (106 inches) of our average snowfall (120 inches) this year. And we still beat the other cities by a sizable margin. Of course, we're likely to get more snow, but unlikely to get a *lot* more snow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Medical care WASTE

Eye-opening report in Newsweek about the BILLIONS of dollars wasted on unnecessary medical care. Everyone should read this! Here's an excerpt:

. . . "doctors rip off the system with inappropriate care," says Brody. An estimated one fifth to one third of U.S. health-care costs, at least $500 billion a year, goes toward tests and treatments that do not benefit patients like routine CT scans in the ER . . .

"I hate to say it, but it's true: doctors sometimes do things that do not benefit patients and can even be harmful," says Stephen Smith of Brown University medical school, who is spearheading the effort. Nominations, all from physicians, include antibiotics for upper-respiratory infections (the drugs kill bacteria, not the viruses that cause colds), Pap tests for women under 21 ("solid research shows that they find things that lead to unnecessary interventions but would clear up on their own," says Smith), and me-too drugs that are no more effective than older versions (anything other than diuretics for first-line treatment of high blood pressure).

Smith's group is also considering nixing X-rays and MRIs for lower-back pain: the scans often spot something that is unrelated to the pain. . . Although lower-back pain typically resolves within six weeks, many patients refuse to wait, and surgeons and radiologists have financial incentives to see that they don't. A 2009 study found that Americans spent $85.9 billion for imaging, surgery, drugs, and doctors' visits for lower-back pain—most of it for no benefit. "The use of MRI within six weeks of the start of lower-back pain is not only not useful, but it increases the number of surgeries, treatments, and costs," says anesthesiologist Ray Baker, president of the North American Spine Society, whose members do those very things.

. . . at least 351,000 spinal fusions were performed in 2007, reports the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, at a cost of $26.2 billion. Yet except in the tiny fraction of cases in which the pain is caused by fracture or tumor, they're useless—but financially irresistible, points out Shannon Brownlee in her 2007 book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer. At $75,000 per spinal-fusion procedure, medical-device makers, hospitals, and surgeons have every reason to keep the gravy train rolling. "We doctors are extremely good at rationalizing," says Brody. "Somehow we manage to figure out how the very best care just happens to be the care that brings us the most money."


Books to read

Heard some fascinating authors this week:

Today it was this guy on NPR, Bart Ehrman, who wrote Jesus Interrupted. He was a very devout, fundamentalist Christian for many years, and studied the bible in Greek. But the more he learned, the more he was forced to face the inconsistencies. His book catalogs those - the subtitle is "Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)." Now he considers himself agnostic. I'll bet his book is terrific.

I also heard this author, Diane Ravitch, who wrote The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She is deep! She helped create No Child Left Behind and now she completely disavows it. Very interesting and compelling speaker, and I'm sure her book is a great read - maybe she can shed some light on this difficult but extremely important topic.

Also heard the author of The Blind Side and Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis, talking about his new book, about the financial meltdown (which I am just starting to understand), The Big Short. Sounds very illuminating.

Also this week, my friend Janet sent me a link to a book that she's reading now, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Cheryl WuDunn, about women around the world - the subtitle is "Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." I've heard about this many times now and know of several book clubs that read it. I put it on my To Read list - way overdue.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Democracy in Iraq

I'm kind of shocked to read Bush being given credit for democracy blooming in Iraq, now that they are somewhat successfully holding an election. I think whatever is happening there, 7 years after we invaded, is more despite Bush rather than because of him.

Watch No End in Sight for a pretty clear examination of all the missteps during the first year after we invaded.

Also, read Thomas Friedman's column today, where he points out that an election does not equal democracy (though he gives Bush credit for his "vision"). There was an election in Iraq in 2005 and things did not miraculously stabilize there.

I supposed the most offensive part of this assertion is that establishing democracy in Iraq was like the 4th or 5th reason given for the invasion, after 9-11 and WMDs, etc. So I find it almost laughable that we accept that democracy was Bush's "vision" all along.


Latest movies

Thanks to the library and Netflix, and a quick trip to the multiplex, I've seen a bunch more movies. The stuff I'm finding on video is totally under-the-radar, and all the better for it.

Valentine's Day - I had fairly low expectations, so I was pleasantly surprised. Really sweet and fun and entertaining. SPOILER ALERT! The film managed the extra large cast masterfully and I especially liked that so many different kinds of love were included (teens, an older couple, a middle-age married couple, an interracial couple, a gay couple, new loves, and even parents and children). Very similar to Love Actually, but I found this one less uneven. One of my favorite aspects was that both teenage couples were waiting to have sex - you sure don't see that in movies very often and it's refreshing when it doesn't come across as smug or preachy.

The Deal (2005) - the book by Peter Lefcourt is better (I read it years ago), but this is a very fun adaptation, with a spot on performance by William H Macy and Meg Ryan is terrific as always (though her overly collagened lips are freaking distracting). Great supporting players, like Elliot Gould as the rabbi, Jason Ritter as the naive nephew, and LL Cool J as the black action star recently converted to Judaism. A less expletive drenched version of 1995's Get Shorty, it also made me think of State and Main (2000), another droll movie about making a movie, also featuring William H Macy. Definitely worth watching, though the humor is sly rather than gut busting.

Weather Girl (2009) - I saw this without knowing anything about it and I loved the actors, the story, and the humor. Terrific to see a woman grappling with real life issues like her future employment, and even better to see a romance between a (slightly) older woman (35) and younger man (28) without all that "cougar" baggage. It's formulaic, but it has that indie feel which makes it seem a lot fresher than bigger movies with bigger stars. The sibling relationship was an especially nice addition. I'm a huge fan of the romantic comedy genre, but so much of it is recycled and cringe-worthy. Most Hollywood rom-coms are a few good scenes amid barely watchable dreck (see for example The Wedding Date, The Wedding Planner, 27 Dresses, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, the list goes on). This was totally watchable and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who likes a happy ending.

Lie With Me (2005) - a sexy (to put it mildly) romance, with great performances by the always compelling Eric Balfour and Lauren Lee Smith (who made a strong impression as Lara in early seasons of The L Word). The sex is more explicit than I really require, but I found the romance touching and realistically portrayed. Not a movie I would watch over and over, but I'm not sorry that I saw it.

Food, Inc - finally watched this doc from last year. Very well done, though less shocking than I expected and therefore maybe less compelling but more watchable. Makes the point without getting too in-your-face. Not new information for me (I probably learned more from Super Size Me), but well done. Should be watched by everyone.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Banking bill

Brad, my favorite poster at Sadly No! made these succinct comments about the bullshit banking reform bill that is currently being considered in Congress:

At this point I’d rather financial reform not pass. Because if the Senate passes a bill that “the industry will love,” then it means we’re heading for another crash no matter what we do. And I’d much rather have the post-crash narrative be, “The government didn’t do enough to rein in the banks” and not “It’s the government’s pesky regulations that caused the banks to fail!”

Just to point out, dudes, I’m not really hoping for another economic collapse. I’m saying that it’s coming no matter what and we’ve gotta position ourselves to win the narrative battle when it comes.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Schizophrenic Academy

Suzanne sent me this excellent piece from the NY Times, which points out some obvious problems with the Oscar telecast:

The Academy Smiles With Both Faces By BROOKS BARNES

This year the entertainment industry woke up to a clear if troubling realization: the Oscars telecast exposed an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in full-fledged identity crisis. Almost everything about the ceremony was big and commercial; almost everything about the winners was small and arty.

The Oscars show, ever since the decision last fall to expand the best-picture field to 10 movies, was overtly put together as a summer blockbuster. Camera crews milked George Clooney for all he was worth, repeatedly cutting to him sitting glumly in the audience, a comic bit that appeared to be planned in advance. “Avatar” was woven deeply into the script while smaller best-picture contenders like “An Education” were treated more like embarrassing relatives.

The Las Vegas-style opening number, the Pretty Young Thing roster of presenters (Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner) and the montage paying tribute to horror movies — not exactly a black-tie genre — were all designed to get eyeballs. Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, the producers of the telecast, said afterward that changes and cuts had been made up until the last minute, as they looked for every possible way to boost ratings.

It worked. Over 41 million people watched the telecast on ABC, a 14 percent increase from the year before, according to preliminary ratings data from Nielsen Media Research. It was the largest Oscar audience since 2005, when 42 million people watched “Million Dollar Baby” win the top award.

But the trophy winners were largely in sharp contrast to the broadcast’s big-tent ambitions, revealing an Academy with a split personality. Given the impressive ratings bump, some agents and producers predicted that the split would remain: it was awards and a show — not an awards show.

“It isn’t the public who votes, it’s the public who cheers,” said Tom Sherak, the Academy’s president, referring to the ceremony’s function as entertainment. As for the awards themselves, Mr. Sherak said: “I think the Academy voters did what they do. You and I might disagree with one thing or another. But they did what they needed to do.”

Missing for many industry insiders was the organic sense of drama that came with past shows in which a popular film like “Titanic” or “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” built to a climax by picking up prize after prize — or when “The Aviator” built momentum through the minor awards in 2005, only to see the major Oscars slip away as "Million Dollar Baby" claimed the top prize. In those shows the awards actually were the entertainment.

By contrast, Sunday’s entertainment value was in many ways grafted on in a process that could seem vaguely dishonest at times. If “Up in the Air” was so worthy of monologue attention, why was it snubbed in all six categories in which it was nominated?

Spotlighting the incongruence, “The Hurt Locker,” the big winner with six trophies including best picture, was also one of the least-watched films in its theatrical run to ever win the top prize. It sold about $14.7 million in tickets in North America and about $6.7 million overseas.


Monday, March 08, 2010

Oscar red carpet fashion

No major disasters, IMO.

I loved so many of the gowns, especially the metallics and beaded ones, and the frothy ones:

Kate Winslet
Tina Fey
Helen Mirren
Kathryn Bigelow
Cameron Diaz
Queen Latifah
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Kristen Stewart
Rachel McAdams
Carey Mulligan
Amanda Seyfried
Demi Moore
Anna Kendrick
Penelope Cruz
Meryl Streep
Sandra Bullock (though she looked too thin)

Not a fan of several, mostly because they were just too much:

Vera Farmiga
Jennifer Lopez
Zoe Saldana
Diane Kruger
Sarah Jessica Parker
Virginia Madsen
Myley Cyrus (pretty but the bodice was unflattering)
Elizabeth Banks (ditto)
Charlize Theron (gorgeous dress, but bodice looked like someone was cupping her)
Sigourney Weaver (surprisingly frumpy)


Oscar show seemed to drag

I totally agree with this LA Times writer (except that I liked the Precious video game joke). I thought many of the speeches were moving, but the co-hosts were under-utilized.

Oscars show has no sense of timing - there were funny and poignant moments, but the evening seemed to drag because of poor pacing.

An hour into the telecast of the 82nd Academy Awards, you couldn't help but hope that somewhere backstage at the Kodak Theatre someone was waving a script and yelling: "Tempo, people, tempo."

Despite everyone's best efforts, this year's Oscars seemed to suffer from a crisis of confidence. Although studded with entertaining and emotional moments, it just never seemed to get going.

The pacing problem began almost immediately. Although we knew going in there would be two hosts, we weren't prepared for three openers: An introductory tableau of the lead actor and actress nominees was followed by a lamentable song-and-dance number by Neil Patrick Harris. (It wasn't his fault; the song was just terrible, though the feathered Vegas showgirls were fun.) Then hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin descended from the sky to warm up the audience with a little insider teasing.

The two were, as expected, the best hosts the show has had in years. Martin could have been in his living room and Baldwin, who at first seemed a bit nervous, calmed down the minute his first big line landed: "That cutaway of James Cameron just earned $3 million."

They worked their way through the nominees with moderately edgy jokes that sometimes worked ("In 'Inglourious Basterds,' Christoph Waltz is obsessed with finding Jews. Well Christoph," gesture to the audience, "the mother lode") and sometimes didn't (" 'Precious,' it really was the only film that lived up to its video game").

Yes, there were too many Meryl Streep references and shots of a stone-faced George Clooney, but Martin and Baldwin were fine and funny throughout. They were unafraid to appear in a double Snuggie backstage and introduced presenters with flair -- "He directed 'A Single Man,' she weighs a single pound, Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker" -- and did their best to keep things moving.

Only things didn't quite. And though it would be easy to blame the decision to honor the original score nominees through interpretive dance, the show's heavy-footedness instead appeared to be simple stage management.

There was a lot of incremental dead air, and not just during Jeff Bridges' acceptance speech. It's a big stage and we seemed to spend a lot of time looking at it empty. Presenters took a long time to enter and exit, and there seemed to be a rule against this happening simultaneously. Occasionally people didn't seem to know quite where to go.

With the exception of the cinematography nominees (which, ironically, had no visuals), the film clips were long, and with 10 best picture nominees, numerous.

On the other hand, the acceptance speeches were so exceptionally short that one wondered what sort of threat had been made at the nominees luncheon. Which was too bad -- one of the best things about the Oscars is watching the short film and sound editing winners bellow their way through the musical cues.

It's too bad because, for the most part, producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic delivered on their promise to deliver a more youthful and streamlined Oscars. In contrast to last year's show (and its second opening number), this Oscars was not trying to be the Tony Awards or the Ziegfeld Follies; it was content to be the Oscars.

With the exception of Ben Stiller presenting the award for best makeup in full Na'vi, down to the tail, the show was remarkably uncluttered, free of pre-taped segments and non-sequitur skits. Decisions to show the actual script over clips for the screenplay categories as well as illustrating what a sound editor does were simple and effective.

As for dragging young eyes to the screen, teens and tweens got a fun tribute to horror and presenters so young that several of them haven't quite learned the importance of good posture, particularly at the Academy Awards (Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart, I'm talking to you).

For the fortysomethings, there was a lovely John Hughes memorial, in which we were reminded how young we, and James Spader, once were (although the omission of Farrah Fawcett from the list of those who died this last year was particularly glaring).

Where last year the nominees for lead actor and actress were serenaded by older stars, this year the compliments came primarily from costars past and present, which made the speeches much more moving. Watching Gabourey Sidibe's face bathed in Oprah Winfrey's praise was undoubtedly the high point of the evening. Sandra Bullock's emotional and hilarious speech, in which she thanked, among many others, those who supported her when "it was not fashionable," was certainly a close second.

As always, the last half-hour of the show seemed to move the fastest, with the big awards, and surprises, occurring one after the other. (What Barbra Streisand would have said if Kathryn Bigelow had not won the director award is something only Streisand knows.)

But even then, pacing was an issue -- Tom Hanks announced the best picture winner so abruptly that it took a few seconds for even those who made "The Hurt Locker" to realize they had won. Martin fed the elephant in the room a peanut in his closer, saying that the show had run so long that "Avatar" "now takes place in the past."

And that did not seem outside the realm of possibility.



Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscar fancast

I like this guy's commentary - hits lots of the high points.


My (misguided) Oscar picks

I came in last place in our Oscar pool. I'm always a bad guesser, but I took it to new heights (or rather depths) this year.

Avatar (I decided at the very last minute, partly because of the email "scandal" over producer Nicholas Chartier's email which included a mild dig at Avatar - I thought late voters might have been influenced; even if I had been right in this category, I still would be have been in last place)

Kathryn Bigelow

Sandra Bulllock

Jeff Bridges


Christopher Waltz

Jason Reitman/ Sheldon Turner (Like many, I thought this was Up in the Air's consolation prize - Precious was a complete surprise)

Inglorious Basterds (I thought this would be Tarantino's consolation prize)

Food, Inc (I figured it was the best known)


The White Ribbon (by far the most talked about film in this category)

Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus (I just figured Avatar wouldn't get this prize because of all the computerized aspects of the movie - I thought the Academy was more traditional; I took a wild guess on this)

Harry Potter (ditto)

James Horner (I thought this would be one of Avatar's consolation prizes, plus Horner is a fave)

The Weary Kind

Coco Before Chanel (I thought the traditional costume drama would not win - I should have paid attention to the designer not the movie)


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Ghosts of war

Amazing essay in the NY Times, written by a soldier who served in Iraq. He says he is speaking out to honor the lives that he took there. Below is just the first 3 paragraphs.

February 22, 2010
Distant Wars, Constant Ghosts

SINCE the two recent NATO-led military strikes that accidentally killed dozens of Afghan civilians, I have been thinking a great deal about the psychic toll that killing takes on soldiers.

In 2007, I was an Army lieutenant leading a group on a house-clearing mission in Baquba, Iraq, when I called in an artillery strike on a house. The strike destroyed the house and killed everyone inside. I thought we had struck enemy fighters, but I was wrong. A father, mother and their children had been huddled inside.

The feelings of disbelief that initially filled me quickly transformed into feelings of rage and self-loathing. The following weeks, months and years would prove that my life was forever changed.

Friday, March 05, 2010


More great stuff in Newsweek, this time about books:

Fun, scolding piece about knock-offs of Jane Austen. Here's an excerpt:

For too long, even orthodox "Janeites" have blithely accepted the appropriation of Jane Austen's books, so long as it meant more to greedily gobble—a far cry from strict constructionists of Shakespeare or, say, the Bible. Modern Austen pastiche is practically an industry, and business is booming. Quirk Classics saw a surprise sales coup (1 million copies in print) with last spring's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which naturally has given birth to a sequel—actually a prequel: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, out March 23. In theaters next year, Zombies will star Natalie Portman as a nunchuk-wielding, undead-slaying Lizzy.

. . . The publishing momentum is too great to stop—not that critics are trying. They chortled with Zombies, not at it, and the book sold out on the strength of flattering coverage in Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, and beyond. To be fair, Quirk's covers do promise some zippy intellectual gamesmanship. The front of Zombies—a serene Regency woman with a bloody, half-eaten jaw—is a very credible ad for Duchampian wit. Unfortunately, the 320 pages murder the joke. But a funny cover is to books what a good trailer is to movies—more than enough. As the cash poured in, Quirk broke out its finest vintage of grand pretense, claiming it was doing no less than reviving young-adult reading.

[It ends with this call to arms] . . . Yet, in a mashup marketplace, familiarity with authentic Austen seems on the verge of fading—unless someone speaks up. So where are you, harrumphing English teachers with Austen-filled syllabi? Old boots with poodles named Darcy? Crazy person who paid $11,000 at auction for a lock of Jane's hair? Consider this your conscription notice.

And really terrific piece discussing Alice in Wonderland. The whole article is great, but this is the part I found myself thinking about most, especially since I work a few blocks from the Syracuse Stage, where the current show is based on guess-what-story, called "Looking GLass Alice."

This [Burton's very "literalized" interpretation] is especially disappointing when you consider how elastic Alice's imaginary Wonderland has been over the years. Her story has been made (and remade) into ballets, puppet shows, an opera, and even a pornographic musical. It's also been the template for any number of children's tales. L. Frank Baum changed Alice's pet from Dinah the cat to Toto the dog and transported her from England to America to create The Wizard of Oz. (In the book, Oz isn't a dream, but the 1939 movie version even swipes that from Carroll.) Children's author Maurice Sendak has a photograph of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Carroll's tale, in his studio. Is it because Where the Wild Things Are is a variation of the same story with monsters? The rabbit hole is replaced by an oversize closet in the Narnia books and a train platform in Harry Potter. Grown-ups liked her too. She helped give voice to John Lennon's trippiest lyrics and gave John Mayer his most popular song (Mayer haters, you can blame his fame on Alice). It's not an exaggeration to call Alice in Wonderland the most influential children's book of all time.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Last meeting

Whew! SO thrilled to have gotten through the last officers meeting for my women's group. We may meet one more time with the new officers, but we are essentially done. We only had 6 at the meeting, so it was even more manageable than usual - we've had as many as 10, which is a big group to keep on task. I'm very sad that we don't seem to have a strong group of people who will continue our momentum, but I can't stay invested - the group will go where it goes. I did my stint and I did my best, and that's all I can contribute. It's for others to ensure the group's continued vitality. I'm just SO happy and relieved to finally be moving on.



My proposal for a roundtable topic at the next medical writing conference was accepted. I get bonus points toward my certification for being a presenter. Plus, it raises my profile and helps me get to know more people. I'm excited! The conference this year is in Milwaukee, but they moved it from mid-October to mid-November . . . I'm not too excited about Wisconsin in the winter - all the other locations since I've been attending have been south (Atlanta, Lousiville, Dallas).


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Liberal influence in government

My friend Suzanne was excited about this WaPo article because it's relevant to the division of the Census Bureau where she works. It's also a very good example of why it's so important to have a person like Obama as president. Even if you're mad at him for not doing everything he promised, he puts people like Rebecca Blank into positions of authority and that really matters. She's been advocating for a redefinition of poverty for over a decade. So her presence at the top of the food chain (so to speak) has tremendous policy implications. Just like Reagan's and Bush's appointments to the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy (respectively) had long-term ramifications for clean air, alternative fuel development and so on.

Consider some of these outcomes:

The Obama administration's marijuana policy is considerably more relaxed than Bush's, no surprise. Liz Cheney has raised quite a ruckus about attorneys in the Justice Department who previously worked at Human Rights Watch - you can bet the previous administration wasn't using attorneys with that kind of background. The EPA under Obama is taking a different approach to climate change and appointments include well-respected climate scientists. Arne Duncan's educational reform efforts, called Race to the Top, is considered creative and promising. The list goes on and on.

I would argue that the president's appointments are much more significant than his legislative initiatives. As it should be - Congress is the legislative branch; the president is the administrative branch. Unfortuately, the implications of a particular person's philosophy is so rarely the focus of political campaigns, even though that is what has the greatest impact on our government and our everyday lives.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The earth shook!

The earthquake in Chile was the 7th strongest ever recorded (8.8 on the Richter scale). It shortened the day by more than a millisecond and it changed the "figure axis" of the earth by 3 inches (8 cm). WOW! Kind of scary.


Monday, March 01, 2010

Hyundai ads during Oscar telecast

Heard this story on NPR about how Hyundai ads with Jeff Bridges doing the voiceover cannot be broadcast during the Oscars because it's against Academy policy. I have to admit that I wondered what the conflict of interest could possibly be - the votes will already be in.