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Monday, May 31, 2010

Weekend movies

Not too thrilled with my entertainment this weekend.

I watched Prince of Persia with the boys and was pretty disappointed. It's well-made and Jake is terrific of course and the princess kicks ass. But, my word, there's a lot of killing. I didn't expect that at all. Swords through the throat, spears, arrows. I thought there would be a lot more adventure and a lot less death. Not my favorite movie of the year for sure.

I plowed through The Hunger Games, reading every night and at the beach. I liked the book a lot until I got to the end. It just wasn't what I expected. Meredith had said it has "political" aspects, but not really - at the very beginning, it tells a little about how the post-apocalyptic world is organized, but that's about it. And I thought there were distinctive hints about rebellion early in the book, but they never materialize. We meet Katniss, she fights in the games, she wins, of course, and the book ends. Huh? That's it? I thought it was pretty brutal, which you would expect, I suppose, but I thought there would be more "there" there. And what's with the love triangle? In the beginning, it's very clear that Katniss does not consider Gale romantically at all, but by the end it's all "what will Gale think of all that kissing?" Huh? I mean, it's not for me to say how the book goes along, but I felt like it contained a fair amount of sleight of hand that I didn't really appreciate. I was all hot to read the sequel until I got to the end, and then I felt a little used and abused and I'm not sure I want to bother. Very frustrating, because I've started about 5 books before this one that I didn't finish because they just weren't interesting. This one was super interesting, but I felt cheated at the end.

The high point of the weekend was probably The Accidental Husband, which is a deeply flawed Uma Thurman vehicle, but which had a few really great scenes that made it rather memorable. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is sexy as hell and should do a LOT more romantic comedies.

I also watched Julie Johnson (from 2001), with Lili Taylor as a frustrated NJ housewife who takes charge of her life with mixed results. Lili is terrific as always, and Courtney Love does a fine job as her friend Clare. I liked it a lot and I'm glad I saw it, though I'm not sure it will really stick with me.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beach baby


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Appeal of Twilight

Suzanne sent me this great Q&A from Time magazine with Catherine Hardwicke, from back in 2008. I followed some links on the page to other Twilight content and read this terrific essay "Mother-Daughter Obsession" which included this excellent description of the appeal of the book:

Much has been made of these stories as abstinence parables for a new age; Edward would like nothing more than to sweep Bella off her feet, and she'd love to be swept, but anything beyond first base could cost her her life, if not her immortal soul. So he climbs into her window at night and holds her as she falls asleep, and protects her from the various other fiends who for reasons not worth explaining are looking to kill her. It's possible, as many commentators have suggested, that the chivalrous Edward is a teenage girl's dream date: not just sophisticated and powerful but tender and soulful, he's the 100-Year-Old Virgin, able to wait a century till he finds his soulmate, his conscience a constant chaperone that keeps things from getting out of hand. As my colleague Lev Grossman put it, "It's never quite clear whether Edward wants to sleep with Bella or rip her throat out or both, but he wants something, and he wants it bad, and you feel it all the more because he never gets it. That's the power of the Twilight books: they're squeaky, geeky clean on the surface, but right below it, they are absolutely, deliciously filthy."

And this, which I think is exactly right, from the Richard Corliss review of the original movie in the same magazine:

Twilight also observes movie laws as aged as Edward, who was initiated into the realm of the undead in 1918. Defiantly old-fashioned, the film wants viewers to believe not so much in vampires as in the existence of an anachronistic movie notion: a love that is convulsive and ennobling. Bella could be any Hollywood heroine in love with a good boy whom society callously misunderstands. She's Natalie Wood to Edward's James Dean (in Rebel Without a Cause) or Richard Beymer (in West Side Story). Cathy, meet Heathcliff. Juliet, Romeo.

This brand of fervid romance packed 'em in for the first 60 years of feature films, then went nearly extinct, replaced by the young-male fetishes of space toys and body-function humor. Twilight says to heck with that. It jettisons facetiousness for a liturgical solemnity, and hardware for soft lips. It revives the precept that there's nothing more cinematic than a close-up of two beautiful people about to kiss. The movie's core demographic is so young, its members may not know how uncool this tendency has become. But for them, uncool is hot. And seeing Twilight is less a trip to the multiplex than a pilgrimage to the Lourdes of puberty. It's the girls' first blast of movie estrogen.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Is Sarah Palin a "feminist"?

Here's the last few paragraphs of a terrific WaPo piece sent to me by my friend Stessa:

Of course, deciding who gets to call themselves feminists is a tricky business. Even some people who seem to generally disagree with Palin have found it difficult to bar her from the feminist ranks. Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz wrote that she won't "quibble with her" over the label, and Meghan Daum said in the Los Angeles Times that if Palin "has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she's entitled to be accepted as one."
Now, there's no grand arbiter of the label, and the tremendous range of thought in the movement means there isn't a singular platform one can look to as a reference point. And the sad reality is that there are plenty of self-identified liberal feminists who exhibit not-so-egalitarian ideals, such as racism or homophobia. So is it possible to exclude women such as Palin from feminism if we don't have a conclusive definition?

Absolutely. If anyone -- even someone who actively fights against women's rights -- can call herself a feminist, the word and the movement lose all meaning. And while part of the power of feminism is its intellectual diversity, certain things are inarguable. Feminism is a social justice movement with values and goals that benefit women. It's a structural analysis of a world that oppresses women, an ideology based on the notion that patriarchy exists and that it needs to end.

What Palin is peddling isn't feminism -- it's a manipulated buzzword being used to garner support for a party that time and time again votes against women's rights. Palin isn't trying to further a movement for justice or equality; she's shilling for women's votes -- a "stampede of pink elephants," she says -- for the midterm elections.

And it's working. The conservative "sisterhood" responded passionately to Palin's call. Blogger Lori Ziganto swooned over Palin and the other "true feminist" candidates she's supporting. "They are the new faces of feminism," she wrote. And Kathryn Jean Lopez at the National Review criticized those who would doubt Palin's feminist credentials.

But feminists -- or anyone who cares about women's progress -- need to stop Palin from turning feminism into yet another empty slogan. Because "sisterhood" and meaningless rallying cries aside, American women need real feminism in their lives, not just the f-bomb.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why am I surprised?

Man oh man, people like to call me a control freak, but I never kept a meeting secret so that someone I didn't like wouldn't be there. I wish I had the balls to do that! It would have made my life so much easier. But I'm a grown up, so I just deal with the people who show up. It's not always pleasant, but that's life.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" gets closer to repeal

This is a small ray of good news amidst the insane and endless parade of bad news:

Congress could vote as early as Thursday to repeal the controversial "don't ask don't tell" policy that prevents gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. armed forces.

The White House on Monday signaled its support for a compromise amendment that would expedite a vote on the policy in Congress, but delay the implementation until the Pentagon has completed its almost year-long review of how to implement the repeal.

The amendment was spearheaded by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen. Joe Lieberman , I-Conn., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa, an Iraq war veteran who will introduce it today as part of the House version of the defense authorization bill.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had requested that Congress not begin the legislative process to repeal "don't ask don't tell" until after the Department of Defense conducted its year-long review, which is expected to be completed by Dec. 1, 2010. In a letter to the House Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago, Gates urged Congress "in the strongest possible terms" not to repeal the law before the completion of the review.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Sestak offered a bribe by the WH???

I heard this being discussed on Morning Joe and I don't know what to think. Is this one of those issues that the talking heads will dissect ad naseum, but that regular people won't care about, or is this a real concern? This is a summary from the NY Times politics blog:

Congressman Joe Sestak has maintained that the White House, which backed Arlen Specter, offered him a job in exchange for dropping out of the PA Senate race. He did not leave the race and went on to defeat Mr. Specter last week for the Democratic nomination.


Hair repair

I fixed my dark roots over the weekend, with a different brand of highlighter than I've been using. It came out very light, almost white blonde. Just not a flattering color for me. So I used the brown rinse that I got the last time I screwed it up (though that time it was a really hideous brassy orangey blonde). Now it's toned down and looks more golden in regular light, but in the flourescents at work, it has a distinctly greenish tinge. Maybe I should quit doing this myself and get it done professionally!


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rand Paul

Some excellent analysis by Frank Rich at the NY Times. I find it bizarre that Rand Paul can say these things, though he is a doctor and the son of a man who's been in Congress since 1976 (when Rand was a teenager). Rand went to Duke for med school - not an Ivy League, but a very good university. Who exactly constitutes the "establishment" if not him? And does he include himself among the "rabble" - hilarious and infuriating! Like GW Bush, who grew up in Texas, but went to both Harvard and Yale, and grew up in a powerful political family, and was able to build his political persona on being an outsider and a down home guy. Why do people let them get away with this???

. . . it’s Paul’s brand of populism, not his views on Jim Crow or Iran, that are most germane to the Tea Party’s birth and its future — both within the G.O.P. and as a force that will buffet Obama and the Democrats. Paul most abundantly embodies the movement’s animus when he plays on classic American-style class resentment. His campaign loved to deploy the full name of his opponent, Charles Merwin Grayson III, a Harvard-educated banker’s son. In his victory speech Tuesday night, Paul said the voters’ message was to “get rid of the power people, the people who run the show, the people who think they’re above everybody else” — or, as he put it on an earlier occasion, the establishment who “from their high-rise penthouse” look down on and laugh at the “American rabble.”

That Paul gave his victory speech in a “members only” country club is no contradiction to white Tea Partiers. Their anger is directed at a loftier club that excludes them as well: the big-government and big-money elites partying together in that high-rise penthouse. At the Utah state G.O.P. convention this month, the mob shouted “TARP! TARP! TARP!” as it terminated the re-election bid of the conservative Senator Robert Bennett. It was Bennett’s capital crime to vote for a bailout of Wall Street’s high-flying bankers.


Thought-provoking quote

"To make relationships work, focus on what you appreciate about other people, and not your complaints. When you focus on strengths, you will get more of them."

A FB friend posted this a couple of days ago and it's been going around my head ever since. It's so true, but it's so hard for me. I go the extra mile for people, for everything really. I can't help it, it's my nature. I never say no, no matter how outrageous the request. But I end up feeling let down and disappointed so often, because others just don't hold up their end. I mean, I loaned someone my car. Who would say yes to that, besides me? Who would ask anyone that, except for me - knowing that I never say no. Another example - I kept someone's kids overnight at the very last minute. Because I never say no to anything. But what do I get in return? A big fat nothing, if I'm lucky. More often, I get a knife in the back.

I don't want to be so judgemental, but I end up feeling like a patsy, like I'm being taken advantage of. I'm so damn dependable, but instead of just being that, and being fine with it, I'm too aware of how NOT dependable other people are. And how much certain kinds of people will just use you, as soon as they realize how accomodating you are. It's such a crazy burden. I wish I could just purge those thoughts from my head. I wish I could just see people's strengths and not notice their weaknesses - I would be SO much happier!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weekend movies

Shrek Forever After - I took the kids to see this (supposedly) final chapter of the Shrek series. I only saw the first one in a theater - I'm not sure I even saw the 3rd one. But we all enjoyed it very much. Sort of a knock-off of It's a Wonderful Life - Shrek is aggravated by his mundune life and he gets to see what life would be like if he'd never been born (thanks to Rumplestiltskin). It was cleverly done and quite poignant.

The Secret In Their Eyes - This won the Oscar for Best Foriegn Film, so my expectations were pretty high (too high, as it turns out). Not sure what aspect of the film garnered it the award. It's essentially a crime drama with a few complications thrown in (including a rather odd romantic side story). I found it uneven and not terribly satisfying. It reminded me a little bit of The Lives of Others, but I thought that was a much better movie. I kept thinking of Cache, another widely-lauded movie that I didn't really enjoy and thought I didn't "get" - I think this was just like it, in the sense that you need to understand the history of the country to get some aspects of the story - the film does not totally stand on its own. Not a bad movie, not a waste of time, but not a terrific film going experience. On the up side, I had dragged Rachel to see it, and she actually liked it more than I did, so I was glad that she saw it because of me. Best line: "If you keep going over the past, you're going to end up with a thousand pasts and no future."

Near Dark - Finally watched this video, which we've had for weeks. Not as much "there" there as I had expected. Great cast, but pretty formulaic, and the ending was sort of clever, but also sort of ridiculous (good vampires cured by transfusion). It struck me as the opposite of Twilight, with vampires behaving excessively badly, reveling in their opportunities to be brutal. Not a bad movie for what it was, but something I could just as easily have lived without.


We're all going to Eclipse

On our way out of Shrek, we're talking about the various summer movies that we want to see and Caleb announces that we're going to Eclipse with mom. I'm rather taken aback. I'm perfectly happy to take them, but honestly, I think they'll be bored. I warned Caleb that it's not like watching at home, on video, where we can skip the love scenes and talking scenes, and go straight to the fight scenes. But he's not deterred. I feel a little guilty, pushing my tastes on them, but I'm also pleased that they're interested. Schizophrenic much?

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Older parents

John Travolta and Kelly Preston are having another child. The news segment I watched focused on the trend of older parents, but more relevant for them, I would assume, is the loss of their son last year. Lots of people, at any age, have another baby when they have lost a child. I'm sure more older women are having kids too, but I thought it was in very poor taste to use this couple to introduce that topic. Their intense grief puts them in a completely different category.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Father Boyle

I really enjoyed this interview on NPR today. Father Boyle, a Jesuit priest, started Homeboy Industries to create jobs for gang members and has employed about 10,000 people over about 20 years. In the interview, he said a lot of really moving things (like telling a story about two members of rival gangs that work for him and were texting a joke to him and each other and he said, "they used to exchange gunfire and now they exchange text messages").

I read the book excerpt on the website (his memoir, Tattoos on the Heart) and I would definitely like to read it. He's done something so positive in a place that people think is hopeless. The super sad part is that his business is failing and he's had to lay almost everyone off. Tragic.

This is one of my favorite stories:

. . . we had lots of enemies in those early days, folks who felt that assisting gang members somehow cosigned on their bad behavior. Hate mail, death threats, and bomb threats were common, especially after I wrote Op-Ed pieces in the Los Angeles Times.

We used to joke during this period of hostility that emanated from those who opposed the very idea of Homeboy that with so much vitriol leveled at us, we ought to change our voice mail message after hours: "Thank you for calling Homeboy Industries. Your bomb threat is important to us."

From my office once, I heard a homegirl answer the phone, and she says to the caller, "Go ahead and bring that bomb, mutha fucka. We're ready for your ass."

I ask her who's on the phone.

She covers the receiver, nonplussed, "Oh, just some fool who wants to blow the place up."

"Uh, kiddo, um," I tell her, "Maybe we should just say, 'Have a nice day and God bless you.'"


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chaperoning Cal's field trip

They didn't really need me as a chaperone, since there were tons of parents along on the trip. I rode in a car with two other ladies, so I was happy not to drive. The weather was insanely nice, just perfect. The Genesee Country Village is like a mini Williamsburg - living history of the US circa 1820. Very interesting to me and even the kids enjoyed it (though not as much as collecting caterpillars beneath most of the trees). In this photo, I'm playing with the clogging man as part of a demo on toys of the era.


Immigration issue

Sort of glad that this child's question to Michelle Obama has dramatically raised the issue of what to do about families in America who are here illegally. It's easy for conservatives to focus on border security, which no reasonable person can argue against, but it's quite another to deal with the messy and difficult aspects of this, especially splitting up families when one or more member does not have legal status, while others, usually kids, do. I'm glad we're having the conversation, but this family is in for a world of hurt and trouble.


Feds say they won't pursue the family.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Proud presidents

Dawn and I really enjoyed presenting the WRJ Community Service Award to Sara Griffiths. The confirmation service was also terrific.
I'm a little appalled at how unflattering this photo is of me. Besides the demon eyes, which I always seem to have when a flash is involved, I look so fat and so dowdy. I love this skirt and sweater together, and thought they looked nice on me, even slimming, but in this photo, not so much!


Weird election day

All the local school budgets passed, which was good, and a little bit of a surprise.

Arlen Specter lost in the PA primary, which I guess wasn't a surprise, but I thought he would pull it out at the last minute.

Overall, the results are not disastrous for the Dems. Here's what Politico said, posted on Hullabaloo:

All the evidence pointing to monster Republican House gains this fall—the Scott Brown upset win in Massachusetts, the scary polling numbers in once-safely Democratic districts, the ever-rising number of Democratic seats thought to be in jeopardy—was contradicted Tuesday.

In the only House race that really mattered to both parties—the special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha in Pennsylvania’s 12th District—Republicans failed spectacularly, losing on a level playing field where, in this favorable environment, they should have run roughshod over the opposition.

Given the resources the GOP poured into the effort to capture the seat and the decisiveness of the defeat—as it turned out, it wasn’t really that close—the outcome casts serious doubt on the idea that the Democratic House majority is in jeopardy.

I also liked what Digby said in this same post - this is exactly how I feel:

Evidently, Obama can no longer appeal to "centrists." Which means he's a "liberal." Which makes me a leftist revolutionary.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Ready for Arizona


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Religious school brunch

Pouring chocolate milk for students


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Eclipse preview

I saw a movie in a theater tonight for the first time in quite awhile (Letters to Juliet, more on that later), and I was completely blown away by the audience reaction to the Eclipse trailer that they showed. I've been to hundreds of movies in theaters and I've probably seen thousands of previews, and I don't ever recall a reaction like this - as soon as "Summit" came up on the screen, there was a noticeable ripple of excitement in the theater. And even though it was the more action-oriented trailer, not the more romantic one (I've watched both online), there were applause afterwards. I can't ever remember an audience applauding a trailer in my entire life. Why have I not noticed this phenomenon before? I don't even remember seeing previews for Twilight and New Moon. Is there more excitement now or have I just been oblivious for 2 years?

As for Letters to Juliet, it was adorable. It was also formulaic, predictable and cliqued. The couple is super cute and you are totally rooting for them, and that's the sine qua non. But as with so many movies in this genre, you don't quite get why they fell in love. But the denoument was cuter than most, and the setting in Italy was so gorgeous - quite a bonus. And even though the set up was incredibly contrived, they made it work. And there was a great kiss (this is so important for a satisfying rom-com experience, but it so often is not quite there). It was worth $10 and 2 hours of my time, especially since I didn't have to pay a babysitter. And I might even watch it again when it comes out on video.


Cavemen on NPR

Caught the second half of this show this afternoon. Fun and super interesting.

In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge - Caveman. We'll discover how the Ice Age gave birth to the first modern humans. And, the real secret of evolution…cooking. Also, the founder of today's caveman movement. He grunts in a more modern way.


A recent study of DNA from Neanderthal bones changed everything we thought we knew. Paleo Anthropologist John Hawks tells Steve Paulson the new information reveals that modern humans are one to four percent Neanderthal. And Brian Fagan tells Jim Fleming the rest of us is something else - Cro-Magnon. In his book "Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans," he argues that they were just like us - anatomically modern humans.


Sir Ian McKellen is heard first, reading from the novel "Wolf Brother" by Michelle Paver. It's part of her "Chronicles of Ancient Darkness" series, set 6000 years ago. She tells Anne Strainchamps how she got interested in the Stone Age.


Not all cavemen are in the past. The Modern Caveman Movement involves men in urban gyms, grunting and sprinting on all fours, lifting heavy stones, and running barefoot. They're eating a Paleolithic diet of meat, often raw, with no grains or beans or bread or dairy. 72 year-old Arthur De Vany is an economics professor whose physical accomplishments could awe a 20 year-old. He tells Anne Strainchamps it's all about mimicking what our cavemen ancestors would have done. Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham says the big question is WHEN did we become human? He tells Steve Paulson it's clearly when we started cooking [he wrote a book called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human]. Otherwise we never would have survived.


Friday, May 14, 2010

My brain is trying to kill me

I generally wake up for no apparent reason around 5 a.m. I go back to sleep, but not deeply asleep, so it' definitely affecting how rested I feel (which is not at all!) So today I had to get up at 5 to go into work and conduct doctor surveys. I'm thinking, this is cool, because I'll sleep soundly until 5, when I tend to wake up anyway. But noooo. Instead I wake up at 4 for no apparent reason and get the same dozey sleep for the last hour that I get every day. What the heck???


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Alana and Twilight

Tonight Alana says to me:

"You know that guy that everyone likes, in New Moon. Why do people like him?"

I just loved that she asked me. Of course, in a few years, she won't have to ask, because she'll have a crush (or lots of crushes) on whoever is the flavor of the month at the time. So that made me smile. And I tried to explain [I started with "he's so noble"], but I ended up going in circles, because she's just not clear on the appeal.

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Twilight all the time

Matt's never even seen Twilight, but he told me about these mashups on youtube:

Buffy v Edward. Some people have WAY too much time on their hands!! But this is so clever. Just be warned, this was made by a Buffy fan, NOT a Twilight fan! 6 minutes long.

Twilight Modern Warfare. Only 3 minutes; it's worth watching just for the last 25 seconds!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Another terrific Lunch with the Rabbis session. A smaller group than usual - just 10 people. The reading was a short chapter on personal versus communal prayer from a book called Making Prayer Real by Rabbi Mike Comins.

We talked about why we attend services, and what constitutes prayer. It was one of the best sessions yet.

As for me, what I said in the group is that this reading really pushes my buttons because it's at the crux of my own ongoing spiritual crisis that I'm been facing for years now. But that I participate in communal prayer, despite my internal struggles, in order to set an example of Jewish worship for my kids. I got all choked up while I was talking, for about 10 different reasons, including the fact that my siblings have rejected Judaism. It makes me so sad that we can't share this at all, and it makes me sad that my nieces and nephews have no connection to Judaism. And it makes me feel even more obligated to make sure my kids do have a connection. Even if they go down their own paths eventually, it won't be because I didn't take a decent shot at giving them a Jewish identity.


I'm not surprised that I got choked up during this discussion, because I seem to be on the verge of tears constantly these days. I got teary-eyed driving by a funeral procession over the weekend. Not sure why I'm so sensitive right now. It doesn't feel like depression, just being sentimental and affected by everything.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Cullen" increasingly popular baby name

Suzanne sent me this article from the NY Times. Hilarious! [Especially funny because SM made up a name for Bella & Edward's daughter: Renesmee. Wonder when that will hit the list.]

. . . for people who track babynames, it was the year of the vampire. The Social Security Administration released its annual rundown of the most popular names for newborns on Friday, and flying up the list was an ancient name with modern fame: Cullen, the surname of one handsomebloodsucker, Edward, in the frighteningly popular vampire films“Twilight,” based on the best-selling novels by Stephenie Meyer.

Cullen materialized at 485, leaping almost 300 spots from 2008 for the biggest increase of any boy’s name; it wedged firmly between Braiden and Kason.

. . . Cullen was the choice of an eerily repetitive 555 couples. They included Brad Lafferty and Michelle Mikkelsen, who live in the Bronx. Ms. Mikkelsen said she read the last book in Ms. Meyer’s series, Breaking Dawn — which includes the birth of a half-vampire, half-human child — while pregnant. “I like old names,” said Ms. Mikkelsen. “And most of those characters in there are vampires. So they are really, really old names.”


Monday, May 10, 2010

Elena Kagan for SCOTUS

WOW! Princeton, Oxford, Harvard Law, clerk for Thurgood Marshall, Clinton's Counsel Office, first female dean of Harvard Law School, first female Solicitor General, and now only the 4th woman nominated for the Supreme Court. Impressive! Rock on Elena!

Oh yeah, and she's only 50 years old. Makes me feel like SUCH a slacker! (And she's Jewish, which of course I love - there are alread SIX Catholics on the the Court.)

She's never served as a judge. There's plenty of precedent for Supremes not having that experience, but not in the last few decades. This is one of several objections that will be raised, but she is expected to be confirmed, hopefully before the Congressional break in July.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Young adult fiction

So I spent over an hour at Barnes and Noble with my Twilight-obsessed friend Meredith today. She reads a lot of YA fiction now, so she recommended a few that are a cut above the usual offerings of the genre (most have no vampires).

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins; with an interesting "political" angle - dystopic future, Brave New World type stuff, definitely more substantial than typical teen fiction - The Hunger Games & Catching Fire & Mockingjay

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, and the sequel, The Iron Daughter, and the third book, due in early 2011, The Iron Queen; these may be the most fun - the young lady in the story turns out to be the daughter of the "faery king" and faces many adventures and challenges; very popular on goodreads

My vote for best title: The Forest of Hands and Feet, and the sequel, The Dead Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan; more dystopian future, this time with zombies, but apparently very well written
These two are a bit lighter, part of the burgeoning "supernatural romance" genre ~

Evermore by Alyson Noel; this time the girl turns out to be the immortal! Sounds promising, but it got a lot of one star reviews on goodreads - "cliched" and "poorly written" were frequent comments

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater; this is basically Jacob and Bella without Edward; apparently very popular in the genre

So I've got my summer reading list all set. She's going to loan me some of these, but she reads a book in about 3 hours, while it probably takes me closer to 30 hours, so her loans will keep me busy for the rest of the year at least!

I am so inappropriate

Got my hand slapped today, that was interesting. Over this blog, of all things. Who'd have thought. I didn't realize anyone was interested in my ruminations on Twilight and healthcare reform. But of course that's not it. There are actually people out there pathetic enough to comb through my personal reflections trying to find something they can use to embarrass me. I dutifully removed the offending remarks, since it was requested in the spirit of "friendship." But I have an announcement to make: I'M NOT EMBARRASSED. Not about one word I have ever written. Ever. Cut and paste that into an email bitches.


The hand that rocks the cradle

Last stanza of the poem by William Ross Wallace:

Blessings on the hand of women!
Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,
And the sacred song is mingled
With the worship in the sky—
Mingles where no tempest darkens,
Rainbows evermore are hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Great quote

"There is a future for you. The resistance encountered predicates hope. Only as we rise do we encounter opposition." -Frederick Douglass

More health concerns

Saw my endocrinologist this week. She did a bunch of blood tests and called me back saying that my cholesterol is high. Of course, it's the same number I've had for a couple decades - 203 - but my HDL is borderline (41, but it should be 50+), so I guess now (as I'm getting older) it's time to start being concerned. My LDL is borderline too - 121 - in the acceptable range, but it should ideally be closer to 100. She recommended Zocor, but I don't want to start taking statins yet. I'm going to do some recommended stuff, like increase my cardio exercise and my fiber intake, and see if I can get that number to move - my next appointment is late October. If I can't get that number up a bit, I'll start the drugs, maybe next year.

Other recommended actions:
Less transfats
More fish
More wine
More cranberry juice
More monounsaturated fats (peanut butter, olive oil)

For the cardio, Larry and I went to the Zumba class at the YMCA this week. We didn't love it, but decided that Thursday will be Family Exercise Night at the Y - we can hit the gym or whatever.

ADDENDUM 7/10/2010

I finally got a copy of medical records from my last doctor in Philadelphia. The cholsterol news is not good - the numbers from 2002 were better than now: HDL = 46 and LDL = 105. So both have declined over 8 years. Makes it harder to argue with my doctor against starting drugs, but we'll see what the numbers look like in October.


Friday, May 07, 2010

"New alarm bells on chemicals & cancer"

The President's Cancer Panel released their report this week and they were willing to be pretty bold, stating that chemicals threaten our bodies and asserting that our lackadaisical approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our health.

The panel calls on America to rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals. Nicholas Kristof's NY Times column sums up the report very nicely; here's an excerpt:

Traditionally, we reduce cancer risks through regular doctor visits, self-examinations and screenings such as mammograms. The President’s Cancer Panel suggests other eye-opening steps as well, such as giving preference to organic food, checking radon levels in the home and microwaving food in glass containers rather than plastic.

In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that: “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’ ”

. . . The report blames weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary.

“Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says. It adds: “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.”

. . . . The President’s Cancer Panel report will give a boost to Senator Feinstein’s efforts ban BPAs (bisphenol-A), commonly found in plastics, from food and beverage containers. It may also help the prospects of the Safe Chemicals Act, backed by Senator Frank Lautenberg and several colleagues, to improve the safety of chemicals on the market. [I saw Lautenberg on the news this week, saying he wants this bill to be his Congressional legacy.]

. . . One reason for concern is that some cancers are becoming more common, particularly in children. We don’t know why that is, but the proliferation of chemicals in water, foods, air and household products is widely suspected as a factor. I’m hoping the President’s Cancer Panel report will shine a stronger spotlight on environmental causes of health problems — not only cancer, but perhaps also diabetes, obesity and autism.

. . . Chemicals strike me as a bit like tobacco in the 1960’s: the evidence of danger was growing but not 100 percent conclusive, and regulators were painfully slow to act. What is changing now is that the mainstream medical establishment is embracing the concern that the fringe food and environmental movement has always had.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Rock and pop music continues to revitalize Broadway

This story in the current issue of Newsweek is really interesting and very well written. Below is an excerpt:

If you could unscrew the lids of Broadway's theaters around 9 o'clock tonight, this is what you'd hear: the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, the Europop of Abba, doo-wop from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, proto-rock from Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, and mixed-up hits from hair bands like Foreigner, Journey, and Whitesnake. Then there's the music written explicitly for the stage: the soul of Memphis; the hip-hop and salsa of In the Heights, which won the Tony Award for best musical; and the rock score of Next to Normal, which just won the Pulitzer Prize. Like never before, the traditional sound of a Broadway orchestra shares the Great White Way with all sorts of once-anathema pop styles, packed together like stations on the dial.

Two recent shifts have allowed Broadway to catch up to the music of the last 50 years. The first is generational: the people putting on shows, and buying tickets to shows, have grown up with rock. (In fact, the most telling sign of a new audience's arrival wasn't a rock show per se: The fact that Avenue Q, a dirty puppet show that riffed on Sesame Street, could sustain a six-year Broadway run meant that something major had shifted.) The other reason that pop musicals are thriving is that gifted artists have worked out a production style that suits the new material—no small feat when you realize how ridiculous the phrase "the new Broadway musical from Green Day" would have sounded just a few years ago. Even now it's a little crazy.

To understand how a trio of rock stars from Oakland could be good for Broadway, it helps to appreciate what a filthy art form the theater is, and has always been. Exorbitant ticket prices conceal—but can't erase—the wonderfully vulgar DNA of every show that reaches these stages: they're descended from the satyr play, the leggy blonde kick line, the seedy vaudeville routine. Theater is a magpie art that needs to refresh itself constantly with the energy that's sloshing around society. When it doesn't, you end up with the Broadway musical of the last few decades: an era in which Sondheim couldn't write his darkly brilliant musicals fast enough to arrest Broadway's slide into a bloated, self-referential style that made the place verge on being a punch line.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

American Jews and Israel

In April, the synagogue Lunch and Learn discussion group considered J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami (from a profile in Moment Magazine). J Street is a "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby group that he created after working for Howard Dean, and a comment about the Middle East peace process set off a firestorm: "The thing that struck me was how many people quietly would say the same thing that I was saying, which is, 'I can’t believe this is the way the Israel issue plays out.' These were big donors in Democratic Party politics, Jewish donors. So I was convinced there was a large group of people who just didn’t have a vehicle for engagement in American politics to express their views."

Obviously his position totally resonates with me, as it did with several other people in the lunch discussion. However, several other people were completely insistent that if American Jews question Israel in any way, then American will withdraw it's financial support and Israel will cease to exist. I think this is a bizarre leap of logic, but it's pretty prevelant.

Anyway, what do you know, but the NY Times has a very interesting article today about this very issue:

On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree
by Paul Vitello

Criticizing Israel has long been the equivalent of touching a third rail in many Jewish families and friendships, relegating disagreements to a conversational demilitarized zone where only the innocent and foolhardy go.

. . . “You raise a question about the security forces or the settlements and you are suddenly being compared to a Holocaust denier,” said Phillip Moore, 62, a teacher in a Detroit suburb. “It’s just not a rational discussion, so I keep quiet.”

. . . Many other prominent Jews, representing the conservative organizational leadership that has been the dominant voice of the Jewish community for decades, have also recently criticized the Obama administration’s pressure on Israel. Some have even accused the White House of sabotaging the foundations of the Jewish state.

. . . But while those voices have been strong and their message unmistakable, a newly outspoken wing of Israel supporters has begun to challenge the old-school reflexive support of the country’s policies, suggesting that one does not have to be slavish to Israeli policies to love Israel.

“Most Jews have mixed feelings about Israel,” said Rabbi Tamara Kolton of the Birmingham Temple, a secular humanistic congregation in Farmington Hills. “They support Israel, but it’s complicated. Until now, you never heard from those people. You heard only from the organized ones, the ones who are 100 percent certain: ‘we’re right, they’re wrong.’”

. . . “People are tired of being told that you are either with us or against us,” Jeremy Ben-Ami said. “The majority of American Jews support the president, support the two-state solution and do not feel that they have been well represented by organizations that demand obedience to every wish of the Israeli government. If you had taken their word for it, Obama should have gotten 12 percent of the Jewish vote. But he got 80. That should say something.”

. . . The questions that Jews are now facing are rooted not in being for or against Israel, but in the shadings of difference over how to achieve peace, and the complexities of the relationship between Israel — a state whose government is now dominated by nationalist and ultrareligious politicians — and the predominantly liberal-leaning and secular base of Jewish support in the United States.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"Blind Dating"

I really wanted to like this 2006 movie. Chris Pine (of Star Trek fame) is adorable and gives an appealing performance as a blind man looking for love. It's such a compelling story - how can you not root for this guy?

But the movie doesn't know how to pick a tone! First, it's a ranchy, sexed-up comedy, with Danny's therapist (Jane Seymour, wife of director, Stacy Keach) stripping down to her underwear for no discernable reason, and one of his blind dates pushing his face into her breasts and another doing an unsexy strip tease, which, of course, he can't see.

Meanwhile, he's fallen in love with the lovely receptionist (newcomer, Anjali Jay) at his doctor's office, where he is contemplating an experimental surgery to partially restore his sight. This story is full of drama, and a bit of melodrama, as the surgery doesn't work out quite the way it was planned, and the romance hits a snag when Leeza, the receptionist, decides to honor her Indian family traditions rather than follow her heart.

It's like there were two movies that got crammed into one. The first is aimed at teenage boys and the other is aimed at people like me, who actually like movies about real people and real emotions. If you can ignore the sophomoric stuff, it's not a bad romance. And I guess if you just came for the breasts, there's enough of those for you. But it could have been a far better movie if they had just decided which one they wanted to make.


Conflict style

Went to a terrific workshop today, partly on conflict styles. I took a short assessment survey (Thomas-Kilmann) and came out equal parts "competitive" and "compromising."

In the conversation that we had after we figured our scores, I objected to the term "competitive" - I really don't think my motivation for sticking to my guns has anything to do with "winning" in the competition sense.

Three things: 1) If I'm spending my very precious time and energy on a committee, then I'm not just there to rubber stamp other people's ideas - I have my own views and I came to express them. Even if it's a one-on-one interaction, I feel the same way - if I'm investing myself, then I'm bringing the real me to the conversation. 2) If I have an opinion, it's usually because I've considered the issue(s) and I think I have valid points that accompany whatever conclusion I've reached. 3) It matters. Whatever "it" is. Lives will be affected. Often, money will be spent. It's not esoteric or abstract to me - I'm always almost painfully aware of the implications of whatever is being discussed or decided, and therefore I feel strongly about what I'm advocating for.

Of course I think I'm "right," but it's more than that - I trust that I've soberly and seriously considered whatever the decision is and I'm convinced that I have good reasons for my choices. Furthermore, I can clearly see that others have often not comprehensively considered the situation, they don't have the big picture and/or they haven't bothered to understand the underlying issues. I'm often just more thorough than others, so I feel justified in being assertive about my perspective.

Obviously, that's frequently annoying to others and often perceived as arrogant. But I don't know how I can possibly back down when I really believe that I'm standing up for what's best and that I'm the most prepared and knowledgeable and diligent person in the interaction.

So I would prefer a different label - "competitive" leaves the wrong impression. "Principled" would be better. Or even "convinced" or "determined." Something like that.


Monday, May 03, 2010

Breaking Dawn

I hate you Stephenie Meyer! I am so damn tired. I have stayed up late too many nights, reading your books! Last night I read Book 1 of BD, and skimmed through at least half of the rest of the book, to see what happens with the baby and with Bella's post-transformation relationship with Edward. (I know Suzanne did not approve of this final installment, but it's been a fun read so far; pretty sexy, though not explicit - I approve - and it reminds me a little of being young and in love - that seems like a long time ago now . . .) Please don't write any more books about these characters so I can get some rest!

ADDENDUM 5/14/10

I finally finished Book 2. I have to admit, I got a huge kick out of it, and I didn't really expect to (partly because Suzanne wasn't impressed). I've always liked books that had chapters written from the perspectives of multiple characters. I liked hearing Jake's "voice," especially regarding Edward. Probably my favorite paragraph was the one where he says "I'm just a child, I'll have to live a long time to experience what I'm seeing in Edward's face" (that's not a direct quote, just the essence of what he said) - I found it was quite moving, that he could still be empathetic (or at least perceptive) about the feelings of someone he disliked so much.

And I like the stuff about the wolf pack and their relationships and dynamics. It feels like Stephenie worked hard to flesh out that storyline and make it credible.

I also loved the chapter titles, which I thought were hilarious, like Too Much Information Alert and Good Thing I Have a Strong Stomach and Why Didn't I Just Walk Away, Oh Yeah, Because I'm an Idiot. So different from the Bella chapter titles, usually just one word.

It feels like a long book already and I'm barely half way through. I can't imagine how they can cram this whole book into one movie without leaving out massive amounts of important stuff or making it 5 hours long. It was bad enough with the first book/movie [whole chapters reduced to a minute or two of screen time]. I actually really loved that What the Buck review of New Moon - since I'd read the book, I had no trouble following the movie, but he made a good point about not knowing what the heck is going on most of the time. BD will be much worse.

And I know there's a lot of conjecture about how you maintain a PG13 rating - you can sanitize the sexual content [which is pretty minimalistically portrayed anyway - one of the major fan complaints], but how can you show the birth scene? Almost impossible, because if you sanitize it, it misses the whole point. Hmmm.

ADDENDUM 9/15/10

I never actually finished this book - I read all but the last couple of chapters. Weird, I'm not sure why. But now they're working on the movie and I've been thinking about it more. I've gone back and reread some sections, especially the honeymoon, and the scenes where Jacob visits the pregnant Bella, and Charlie's first visit (I love all that emotion roiling about).

Suzanne and I also talked about this final installment. Here's part of what she wrote on goodreads.com, which I think is valid:

" . . . there’s just too many transformations of Bella in this book. She goes from love-struck teenager, to courageous mother-to-be, to newborn vampire with the strength of a transformer robot and the looks of "a freakin' supermodel". So far so good but the changes keep coming. Bella has no identity crisis and every human in her path is safe. Too bad. She is gifted and fortunate in so many ways **and** is destined to save her family and liberate her kind from tyranny of the ruling clan. Really? It gets harder to recognize the inward & lighthearted teenager we knew from book 1. Plus she gets lost in the crowded cast who takeover this book."

She also mentions that Alice disappears early in the book, which was odd. I actually thought Alice in BD was almost unrecognizable - she was surly and bossy and obsessed with appearances in a way that I thought was completely at odds with her character in the previous books. I wondered if SM needed a female antagonist, since Jessica was gone, and just refashioned Alice to fit the bill.

Stephenie Meyer has said that she decided to invent Renesmee for the final book because she thought Bella was difficult to "relate to" once she transforms into a vampire (she wrote a final sequel called Forever Dawn which was never published; in it, Edward and Bella get married but do not have a baby). I have children and found the experience of becoming a mother to be very intense emotionally. But I thought Renesmee was kind of an excuse, and I found the whole baby thing a little over the top. Bella's perspective on Edward and her new perceptiveness after she changed, etc, etc, were very interesting, and I had no trouble "relating" to her - this is what she's wanted for 3 books - I was right there with her. As I was reading BD, I was wondering why someone whose primary (though not only) audience is girls and teens, would basically promote early (and accidental!!) motherhood. Bella doesn't want to get married throughout the previous book - she knows everyone will assume that she's "knocked up," but then the author knocks her up the second she gets married? I thought it was odd and a little, almost, hypocritical. I think the book could have been just as interesting if she'd skipped the 1-month pregnancy and icky birth. I thought at the time I was reading it that she needed a sufficient reason for Edward to change Bella (a really compelling reason for him). But to be true to the story, I think he should change her because he promised to do it if she married him. Why not follow that narrative thread instead of going off in a totally new direction? I wanted her to focus more on Bella's feelings for Edward now that they are both vampires - instead, much of the emotion in the book revolves around this brand new character who is completely phony (e.g., she can communicate perfectly even as an infant, by projecting her thoughts into everyone's heads) Also, she creates a completely artificial method of resolving the Bella-Jacob relationship. I really disagree that SM needed to create sympathy for Bella - after 3 books, the audience adores Bella and I really can't imagine that any readers would have been put off by a lack of sympathy for her. But who am I to say the author is wrong - she tried it one way (in Forever Dawn) and decided she needed to go another way. I have to respect that. But I still thinks she's wrong to think her audience wouldn't relate to Bella. In fact, I'm willing to bet that more people couldn't relate to the baby storyline than would have had trouble with Bella the supermodel. For example, I loved the scenes where she went to get papers from "J" and she's aware of how him and his sidekick see her - as so beautiful and magnificent. Could I "relate"? Of course not, but it was still fun to read.

Suzanne said that she thought SM rushed the final installment and that she should have taken the time to create a book that really satisfies the fans and finishes the story the way it deserved. I enjoyed BD, but I do wonder about what another version would look like.

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Sunday, May 02, 2010


Two very happy co-presidents, enjoying the election and passing the baton to the next group of officers.
The event was pretty much what I expected. We all got 3 lavendar roses, which was very nice. I had hoped (against hope) that there might be some acknowledgement of my efforts, which went well beyond the rest, but it was not to be. I was not surprised, but I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed.
Though several people approached me to tell me how impressed they were with all that WRJ has been and has done these last 2+ years, so that was wonderful. Being acknowledged by people I respect and care about is far better than some empty gesture from people who have made their feelings quite apparent.
And here's the icing on the cake - I didn't bring flavored creamer, as I have all year, because I was not in charge of the food this time, but I did bring milk, because I prefer it in my coffee. But when I went to get some, it was already gone because some asshole (I think I know which one) drank the milk as a beverage, so there wasn't any left for coffee. The perfect end to this 2 1/2 years - I go the extra mile, as always, but I don't get to enjoy the benefits, while others, who do nothing, do. Just epitomizes my entire experience with this leadership group.
I'm just so, so glad that it's over now. It's been so painful and so frustrating. I have learned so much about what I don't want to do and don't want to be. I'm glad I can just show up for the activities when I feel like it, like everyone else, and don't have to feel responsible, and don't have to feel so disgusted with what others have not done. Now, when balls are dropped, I don't have to pick them up. And next time, I'll put milk in my coffee first thing, so I don't get screwed out of that too!


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Kind of speechless

Totally horrified by potential car bomb in Times Square. Awful. But totally awed by Good Samaritan who reported suspicious SUV and probably saved any number of lives. This guy, a tshirt vendor named Lance Orton, is a hero. God bless him always.