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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shirley Sherrod

As usual, Newsweek does a great job of addressing the story du jour, about Shirley Sherrod's NAACP speech, selectively edited to sound racist. Here's editor Jon Meacham's summary:

You know the story by now. A conservative Web site posted a misleading excerpt of remarks Sherrod made to a meeting of the Georgia NAACP earlier this year. The video was edited to suggest that Sherrod, who is African-American, had discriminated against a white farmer back in 1986. The moment of purported reverse racism roared around the Internet, onto Fox News, and into the mainstream media.

There was one problem, however: the story was not true. Sherrod had been sharing an account of redemption, telling her audience how she had overcome racism (in 1965 her father was killed by a white man; an all-white grand jury refused to return an indictment). The white family under discussion said Sherrod was instrumental in helping them keep their farm; they were perplexed by allegations that she had been racist.

Then regular columnist Ellis Cose commented on the repercussions, including the role Obama plays in the national conversation about race:

In the long run, I believe Obama’s presidency will have a powerful and positive impact on race relations. The presence of a thoughtful, competent black man at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation cannot help but change attitudes for the better. The irony is that in this area, as in no other, he is barred from using his eloquence. For him to speak honestly, in ways that really could contribute to intergroup understanding, means risking the wrath of the right. Despite his platinum tongue, Obama’s most important contribution to race relations will almost certainly have to be in what he is, not in what he says.

It's so discouraging that so many people believed that she would use her speech to brag about discriminating against a white farmer, and they missed the actual content, which was really inspirational. Larry said she should have kept her mouth shut - he didn't see the blame belonging on the person who misquoted her. Odd that he (Andrew Breitbart) would be considered a credible source, considering his prior actions to discredit by ACORN posing as a pimp. Just a sad incident all around. Everyone but Shirley comes off looking like a fool.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Premature mourning

I was so sorry to hear that Newsweek was sold by the Washington Post company to businessman Sidney Harman, and that the current editor-in-cheif, Jon Meacham, would be leaving. But then I read an article quoting Harman strongly stating that he would maintain the quality of the magazine and that his goal was not to make a profit, but to try to balance the books (saying that "break even" would be a great place to be).

Meacham tried unsuccessfully to put together a purchase deal, so he is leaving after 4 years at the top post. In one article, it describes his time at the helm thus:

. . . Meacham tried but failed to remake the magazine into what some termed an American version of the United Kingdom's Economist: heavy on opinion, high-brow and, he hoped, attractive to affluent readers who would attract advertisers.

I certainly found the magazine highly readable and highly valuable during his time as the editor. (He's barely 40 years old, makes me feel like a real underachiever!!)

I do have hope now that it will continue to be a great weekly read, if Harman is true to his word.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

This week we watched 2 movies retelling this story.

Time Burton's Alice in Wonderland was a lively, imaginative movie, recasting Alice as a savior of Underland, a la the children in the Narnia series. It incorporates many aspects of the original story, but adds some weight and substance, and a surprising amount of humor. It was better than I expected, not least of all because Mia Wasikowska, who plays Alice, is quite, well, wonderful.

Alice, the TV mini series that first appeared on the SyFy channel last year, was also clever and intriguing. It's a complete reimagining of the story, with a somewhat darker tone. In this version, Alice as a grown woman, pulled into a mysterious parallel universe that routinely kidnaps humans and drains them of their emotions. I liked it, but it was overly violent and it felt a little padded, especially toward the end (though I might not have thought that if I watched in 3 parts on TV, rather than all in one sitting). I enjoyed that the "Hatter" was recast as a love interest for the mature Alice, and the search for the absent father was a interesting addition (though I didn't like the resolution of the former subplot much more than the latter).

Both are worthwhile adaptations and show how much this complex story resonates, even many years after its debut.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Letting Go"

Another terrific article about the way that we approach the end of life in our society (badly!) This one is in the New Yorker but I heard about it on NPR. Here's a selection of paragraphs that cover the main ideas. (I cried when I read the full article.)

"Letting Go"
by Atul Gawande, M.D.

People have concerns besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding suffering, being with family, having the touch of others, being mentally aware, and not becoming a burden to others. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The hard question we face, then, is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health-care system that will actually help dying patients achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.

. . . For all but our most recent history, dying was typically a brief process. . . Dying used to be accompanied by a prescribed set of customs. Guides to ars moriendi, the art of dying, were extraordinarily popular; a 1415 medieval Latin text was reprinted in more than a hundred editions across Europe. Reaffirming one’s faith, repenting one’s sins, and letting go of one’s worldly possessions and desires were crucial, and the guides provided families with prayers and questions for the dying in order to put them in the right frame of mind during their final hours. Last words came to hold a particular place of reverence.

These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition—advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age. In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t. So everyone struggles with this uncertainty—with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost. As for last words, they hardly seem to exist anymore. Technology sustains our organs until we are well past the point of awareness and coherence. Besides, how do you attend to the thoughts and concerns of the dying when medicine has made it almost impossible to be sure who the dying even are?

. . . The difference between standard medical care and hospice is not the difference between treating and doing nothing, she explained. The difference was in your priorities. In ordinary medicine, the goal is to extend life. We’ll sacrifice the quality of your existence now—by performing surgery, providing chemotherapy, putting you in intensive care—for the chance of gaining time later. Hospice deploys nurses, doctors, and social workers to help people with a fatal illness have the fullest possible lives right now. That means focussing on objectives like freedom from pain and discomfort, or maintaining mental awareness for as long as possible, or getting out with family once in a while. Hospice and palliative-care specialists aren’t much concerned about whether that makes people’s lives longer or shorter.

Like many people, I had believed that hospice care hastens death, because patients forgo hospital treatments and are allowed high-dose narcotics to combat pain. But studies suggest otherwise. In one, researchers followed 4,493 Medicare patients with either terminal cancer or congestive heart failure. They found no difference in survival time between hospice and non-hospice patients with breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Curiously, hospice care seemed to extend survival for some patients; those with pancreatic cancer gained an average of three weeks, those with lung cancer gained six weeks, and those with congestive heart failure gained three months. The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer. When Cox was transferred to hospice care, her doctors thought that she wouldn’t live much longer than a few weeks. With the supportive hospice therapy she received, she had already lived for a year.

. . . Hospice has tried to offer a new ideal for how we die. Although not everyone has embraced its rituals, those who have are helping to negotiate an ars moriendi for our age. But doing so represents a struggle—not only against suffering but also against the seemingly unstoppable momentum of medical treatment.

. . . You’d think doctors would be well equipped to navigate the shoals here, but at least two things get in the way. First, our own views may be unrealistic. A study led by the Harvard researcher Nicholas Christakis asked the doctors of almost five hundred terminally ill patients to estimate how long they thought their patient would survive, and then followed the patients. Sixty-three per cent of doctors overestimated survival time. Just seventeen per cent underestimated it. The average estimate was five hundred and thirty per cent too high. And, the better the doctors knew their patients, the more likely they were to err.

Second, we often avoid voicing even these sentiments. Studies find that although doctors usually tell patients when a cancer is not curable, most are reluctant to give a specific prognosis, even when pressed. More than forty per cent of oncologists report offering treatments that they believe are unlikely to work. In an era in which the relationship between patient and doctor is increasingly miscast in retail terms—“the customer is always right”—doctors are especially hesitant to trample on a patient’s expectations. You worry far more about being overly pessimistic than you do about being overly optimistic. And talking about dying is enormously fraught.

. . . “It has become, in my view, a bit too trendy to regard the acceptance of death as something tantamount to intrinsic dignity,” author Stephen Jay Gould wrote in his 1985 essay. “Of course I agree with the preacher of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to love and a time to die—and when my skein runs out I hope to face the end calmly and in my own way. For most situations, however, I prefer the more martial view that death is the ultimate enemy—and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light.”

I think of Gould and his essay every time I have a patient with a terminal illness. There is almost always a long tail of possibility, however thin. What’s wrong with looking for it? Nothing, it seems to me, unless it means we have failed to prepare for the outcome that’s vastly more probable. The trouble is that we’ve built our medical system and culture around the long tail. We’ve created a multitrillion-dollar edifice for dispensing the medical equivalent of lottery tickets—and have only the rudiments of a system to prepare patients for the near-certainty that those tickets will not win. Hope is not a plan, but hope is our plan.

. . . The program’s leaders had the impression that they had simply given patients someone experienced and knowledgeable to talk to about their daily needs. And somehow that was enough—just talking. . . The explanation strains credibility, but evidence for it has grown in recent years.

. . . It boils down to four crucial questions - at this moment in your life:

1. Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops?
2. Do you want aggressive treatments such as intubation and mechanical ventilation?
3. Do you want antibiotics?
4. Do you want tube or intravenous feeding if you can’t eat on your own?

. . . The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shutter Island, Inception & Leo

I'm a big fan of Leo DiCaprio. I think he's a very talented guy. Last year, I was quite impressed with The Departed and Blood Diamond - in both movies, his performance greatly exceeded my expectations. But this year, I'm having exactly the opposite experience. I was quite disappointed in both Inception and Shutter Island. His performances were good, but the movies just didn't do it for me.

I've already written about Inception, which I thought was visually arresting, but emotionally unsatifying. I had a similiar reaction to Shutter Island. Actually, they were surprisingly similar - (SPOILER ALERT) both involved a troubled man who grapples with guilt over his wife, who is dead, and both turned out to take place inside the mind of that man. Both had terrific casts and were entertaining, but neither were as substantial or as satisfying as I had been lead to expect.

With Shutter Island, which is based on (and apparently very faithful to) a novel by Dennis Lehane (who wrote both Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, so you know this isn't going to be the feel-good movie of the year), (SPOILER ALERT) I started to guess that the action might be inside "Teddy's" mind, mostly because of Inception, but also because it seemed so ponderous or something. I thought it was a little unlikely that the facility would let him run around blowing things up and hurting people, even in a last ditch attempt to return him to reality. But I did like the very end, where he chooses to be lobotomized so that he can't feel his pain anymore, or risk being delusional - I thought that was deep! Overall, I thought the movie needed to be at least 20 or 25 minutes shorter - it felt like way too much of an investment once you found out it was "all in his mind." I actually would have enjoyed the movie a lot more if it turned out that the facility was doing secret mind experiments! It just felt too complicated once you found out it was a patient's delusion. It wasn't a bad movie, but just not a terrific one.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Men is back!

Mad Men is finally back for Season 4 after 8 long months of hiatus. I already watched the first episode twice, to catch every juicy line and sidelong glance. And I get to read great comments and commentary on the Basket of Kisses blog. Heaven on earth.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Weekend movies

Weird coincidence - all the movies I watched this weekend start with the letter R - Remember Me, The Runaways, and Ramona and Beezus. Funny. Of the three, I actually liked Ramona best. It was quite touching - both Matt and I cried (!) But it was too serious - EW said "where's the spunk?" (which captures it perfectly) - and I think Alana was kind of bored.

Remember Me was a very good movie, with good performances, but it was too depressing and too manipulative. SPOILER ALERT. I was really shocked when they killed off RP at the end, though of course this was the whole purpose of the movie. If you want to make the point that "real people" died on 9-11, did you have to pick such sad, damaged people to focus on? If you want to make the point that every life touches many others, did you have to kill off another member of a family that had already lost so much? Not a bad movie, but just too dark - not one I would watch again.

The Runaways was also decent, with terrific performances of course. But it was too episodic and impressionistic for my taste - when the movie was over, you didn't feel like you really knew these people or understood what they had done. Some good moments, but not great overall and not something I would watch again.

(True confession - it's not completely coincidental that I watched movies that were vehicles for the Twilight stars. Hmmm.)

Interesting side note - family movies have done well this summer, but Ramona and Beezus tanked! This is from Box Office Mojo:

The weekend's other new nationwide release, Ramona and Beezus, garnered little interest, making $7.8 million at 2,719 locations. That was in the same league as titles like Aquamarine and Nancy Drew.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Inception facts

In this brief article from The HuffingtonPost, a psychologist, Matthew Edlund, explains what is true and what is false in the dream world of Inception. He says that an outside person cannot insinuate themselves into another person's dream, but that's not correct. Maybe not in the way showed in the movie, but if you hear music or running water or a barking dog, etc, etc, while you're dreaming, you will incorporate that into the dream.


I went back and looked at the original article again, and the author says that you can insert content into a dream, so I guess that's the distinction that he's making - content like music, but not your whole self.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Film credits

Terrific commentary from NPR movie critic David Edelstein, about the dying art of the opening credit sequence.

I'm of two minds. I love creative opening credits, because, as David notes, it can set up the movie and pull you in. But I also love it when a movie just plunges in and starts without the credits, because it helps you get lost in the world of the film. Sometimes the credit sequence just reminds you that what you're watching required hundreds of people to create, and it makes the artifice more salient.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Carrying the ruin

How true is this! Makes me think very much of my own family.

From Stay With Me by Garrett Freymann-Wehr

"When things end, what matters is not that everythings in pieces," Janie finally said. "It's how you carry them."

I thought that as nonanswers go, this one was pretty cool, because she was miles away from saying that when love died, you picked yourself up and made the best of things. That you carried ruin with you was surely something I already knew from watching my father, but it seemed more believeable spelled out by Janie.

. . . I arrived when Rebecca's life was more than half over, and my share of what she leaves behind is therefore small. Just big enough to carry.


Monday, July 19, 2010

So much for the "brainy" blockbuster

I'm terribly disappointed in Inception. I'd been looking forward to this movie for months. But it was just not what I was expecting at all. It's been promoted both in trailers and interviews as brainy, brainy, brainy, but there's a LOT of action. In fact, it was hard to follow the "brainy" (or you could even say convoluted and deliberately confusing) plot amid all the explosions, shoot outs and car chases, which I found really distracting and ultimately really irritating. Larry loved it, so that tells you all you need to know about where it fell on the continuum of brainy to action.

Maybe even more frustrating was that Joseph Gordon Levitt's and Ellen Page's prodigious talents were mightily wasted. They had a couple good scenes each, but overall, they were given very little to do. Ellen Page seemed to mostly be required for reaction shots, looking puzzled or concerned. Someone with a lot less gravitas than her could have managed this meager role. Of course Leo gave a tour de force and Marion Cotillard had a chance to shine also. But the rest of the characters were just types, or props, or projections if you will. Ken Watanabe was a presence, but his role was seriously under-developed.

It wasn't a bad movie (the first half was definitely better than the second half). If you adored all 3 Matrix movies, or Nolan's hyper-violent The Dark Knight, you were probably quite taken with this. It keeps you guessing about whose reality and whose dreams you are experiencing, and that's fun and entertaining. But I got so weary of the violence, which felt really gratuitous and tacked on and wholly unnecessary. I wouldn't have even bothered to see this in the theater, if they had been honest in the promotions. I can't recall a single gunshot or explosion in the previews that I saw. It was presented as quite mind blowing, but not as an action movie per se. I actually feel a little snookered, as well as disappointed. It's fine to make a movie like this, for those who want to see it, but don't pretend to be something you're not - I wouldn't have spent my very valuable time.

And the ending was a bit annoying too. Larry loved that Nolan "left it up to the audience," but I'd say it was pretty obvious that Dom Cobb dreamt the whole thing (how long has he been gone and his kids haven't aged one day?) Which made my efforts to figure it out feel sort of wasted. Just a totally unsatisfying movie experience for me.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

DiCaprio's career

I just loved this article from Newsweek, suggesting that Leo DiCaprio is ruining a whole generation of young male actors. Of course it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that DiCaprio is somehow responsible for all these actors' choices.

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most respected actors of his generation (he’s 35), so why is he always so pissed off in the movies? It’s not for lack of admiration. Last year, Zac Efron and Chace Crawford were separately asked whose careers they’d like to emulate, and they both confessed their man crushes on Leo. A few weeks ago, The New York Times singled out DiCaprio as the rare star who escaped his tween past to become a real actor, as a kind of comfort to Twilight’s Robert Pattinson. The Guardian threw its weight behind a Brit in Harry Potter, asking: “Is Rupert Grint the new Leonardo DiCaprio?”

He might be, because the old Leo has clearly moved on. DiCaprio got his start on TV’s Growing Pains, earned an Oscar nod for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and then achieved titanic stardom in 1997 in a movie about a sinking ship. But then, instead of trading on his heartthrob looks, he leveraged his box-office muscle to work with A-list directors including Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Sam Mendes, and now Christopher Nolan. For those of you counting at home, Inception is the third movie in a row in which DiCaprio’s crazy wife suddenly dies. (The other two: Revolutionary Road and Shutter Island, which, from the first shot, echoes Inception so closely it’s odd that DiCaprio made both films back to back.) DiCaprio’s career has been engineered to make audiences forget Titanic, but he has swung so far in the other direction that he has alienated the female fans who made him a star. That’s undoubtedly the idea, though that doesn’t make it a good one. He seems interested only in characters who project a certain kind of masochism, and misogyny. His best film of the decade, The Departed, featured a nearly all-male cast.

. . . That’s not to say that DiCaprio should stay away from dramas, but he would help himself tremendously if he lightened up, costarred with an actress like Reese Witherspoon, or at least did a movie where his wife survives until the closing credits. What’s worse: DiCaprio has spawned a whole generation of actors who are so serious they’re making movies only for people on antidepressants. Efron dropped out of the Footloose remake to do Charlie St. Cloud, about a guy who talks to the ghost of his dead brother. Pattinson’s first post-Twilight movie, Remember Me, took place on September 11. Daniel Radcliffe took a break from Harry Potter to get naked with horses in Equus, and Shia LaBeouf, Tobey Maguire, and Jake Gyllenhaal are in some kind of mega–scowling contest.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Defending Twilight

My friend Marty posted this quote on FB:

‎"The Harry Potter books teach the importance of honesty, friendship and striving to do good even if it might cost you your life. The Twilight series, on the other hand, teaches the importance of having a boyfriend."

Not only do I think that's totally unfair, but it annoys me on several levels. And not just because I like the Twilight books myself. They are very different series, designed to appeal to very different audiences. Why do they have to be compared at all? More to the point, why is a series that appeals mostly to girls somehow automatically inferior? Because that's the bottom line in this comment.

In addition, I doubt the person who said this actually read the Twilight series, because, of course, their dismissive summary is untrue. The Twilight books might not be as complicated or as deep as the Harry Potter books, but the series has plenty of "messages" that are fine and positive, such as overcoming your fears and fighting for what you believe in. Plus Bella and many other characters are loyal, unselfish, caring, principled and determined. All good qualities. And what's wrong with a book for young people that suggests that love matters? I don't think that's a bad lesson at all.

I think if someone were to watch the movies and judge the books based on them, they might greatly underestimate the series. The movies are fun, but they leave out a lot of the substance of the stories, and a great deal of the character development. So it would be a lot easier to be dismissive (like the quote above) if you didn't bother to read the books.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Some people should consult Emily Post

Hard to imagine how someone who has been openly insulting to me on many occasions, and with whom I don't have a civil relationship, could possibly think her sympathy wishes would be welcome at this difficult time. Incredibly gauche and in very poor taste.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Failure of the American Jewish establishment"

Wow. Peter Beihart's article in the NY Review of Books is a very thought-provoking piece about the schism of American Zionism and Israel's trend toward the right. I heard about this article because it was referenced in another excellent article in Newsweek called "the Cost of Being Jewish." Here are some key paragraphs, but the whole article is excellent:

. . . Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

. . . What infuriated critics about Lapid’s comment was that his grandmother died at Auschwitz. How dare he defile the memory of the Holocaust? Of course, the Holocaust is immeasurably worse than anything Israel has done or ever will do. But at least Lapid used Jewish suffering to connect to the suffering of others. In the world of AIPAC, the Holocaust analogies never stop, and their message is always the same: Jews are licensed by their victimhood to worry only about themselves. Many of Israel’s founders believed that with statehood, Jews would rightly be judged on the way they treated the non-Jews living under their dominion. “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority,” Knesset member Pinchas Lavon declared in 1948, “and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority.”

But the message of the American Jewish establishment and its allies in the Netanyahu government is exactly the opposite: since Jews are history’s permanent victims, always on the knife-edge of extinction, moral responsibility is a luxury Israel does not have. Its only responsibility is to survive. As former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg writes in his remarkable 2008 book, The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes, “Victimhood sets you free.”

This obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s. Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year 2010 is not, as Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed, 1938. The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce.

But there is a different Zionist calling, which has never been more desperately relevant. It has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets,” and in the December 1948 letter from Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others to The New York Times, protesting right-wing Zionist leader Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States after his party’s militias massacred Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin. It is a call to recognize that in a world in which Jewish fortunes have radically changed, the best way to memorialize the history of Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power . . .

And here is Beihart's credentials:

Peter Beinart is Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York, a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, and Senior Political Writer for The Daily Beast. His new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, will be published in June.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

more Fresh Air Fund thoughts

I feel bad for my comments on Monday because things have been better & less stressful since. But I'm still not sure I would do this again - it's too much, having another person 24-7 for 2 whole weeks.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More movies

I've watched several movies this week. All are disappointing in their own ways.

It's Complicated. Had some cute scenes and of course all the performances were terrific. But I read a review that said the reason Nancy Meyers dominates this category of movies is because she's the only one making these movies. I tend to agree. It's not that her movies are so great, it's just that there's no other choices. In this film, I was especially put off by what a cad Alec Baldwin's character is. I didn't qustion Meryl's physical attraction to him, but how can she get over his betrayal of her, and the fact that he's now betraying his current wife for the exact same reason he betrayed her - that's he's an immature jerk who can't stand dealing with any adult commitments or responsibilities. In the Making Of featurette on the video, one of the (male) actors says, you weren't sure who she would pick. But I thought that was ridiculous. Her ex-husband was and continued to be a very bad bet.

The A Team. I heard this was funny, so we all went to see it at the drive-in. I'm glad we had the drive-in experience, but I could have skipped this movie. VERY standard action film, with a few funny moments, but nothing that distinguished it from every other movie in this genre - stuff contantly exploding, the heroes constantly escaping just in the nick of time. The plot was rather muddled, and Jessica Biel was way too insubstantial for her role - she's pretty, but poorly cast in this case. Just not satisfying.

The Book of Eli. Much more substantial than I had expected, with meditative passages on faith and religion. But extremely and gratuitously violent and vile. Not my cup of tea, as I had expected. I read an interesting user comment on imdb.com, where the writer asks why the Hughes brothers had to pad their meaningful message with hyper-violent scenes. He suggests that it allows the audience to enjoy the gratuitous violence and still feel virtuous for watching a movie with a message. I'd have to agree.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Second thoughts

I'm very sorry to say that I'm finding the Fresh Air child more stressful and less fun than I had expected. She's very assertive, and she competes with my kids, so I'm constantly mediating for who gets the pink plate and who gets to sit next to me, etc, etc. Ugh. It's really gotten me thinking that kids are annoying, but you cut your own kids a lot of slack because you love them so much. After having a scout for a week last summer, and having Danny around so much, and even the process of integrating Matt into our family back in 2007, I thought we would accomodate a non-family member rather easily, but maybe I gave us too much credit. She's very nice, it's more her impact on the overall dynamic that's difficult. At this point, I can't imagine doing this again next year.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Weekend movies

Watched 2 Hallmark movies on video from the library this weekend, both quite unsatisfying. Both sounded good, but neither lived up to my expectations.

Fallen Angel. Seemed solid, with Gary Sinese as a man who returns to his hometown after many years away and reconnects with a woman (Joely Richardson) from a local family with a dark secret. Very Harlequin romance, but it ended up being so syrupy sweet (with a long lost father and a blind adopted daughter), it was too much for me. Solid performances, pretty scenery (snow that was probably fake) and good kissing could not redeem this.

A Painted House. Even worse. Based on a book by John Grisham, with a great cast including Scott Glenn, Robert Sean Leonard and Melinda Dillon. Some good moments, but mostly a dull and sentimentalized remembrance of a childhood in rural Arkansas (based on Grisham's actual childhood of course, and quite obviously, with lots of shots of the wide-eyed boy experiencing life). The family picks cotton, goes into town on Saturday night, and sits on the porch making pithy observations about the stereo-typically portrayed hillbillies and Mexicans that work their farm. A migrant worker staying on their land kills a man in a fight and the boy lies about it to his parents and the local sheriff. Later, another migrant kills the first migrant, which the boy again happens to witness. He eventually tells his grandfather about this second murder, who encourages him to keep it a secret between the two of them, as no good could come from telling. While all this is going on, the mentally deficit brother of yet another migrant worker paints the family's house for no discernible reason. And the family discovers that the (inexplicably gorgeous) daughter of the poor sharechoppers down the road has had a baby secretly fathered by their beloved older son who is off in Korea. Oh yeah, and Our Hero sneaks a peek at a grown woman bathing in the creek; later she tells him she knows he was watching, but she doesn't mind, that's just what boys do. At the end, the cotton crop is destroyed by a flood and the family moves to Chicago so the father can get a job in the Buick plant (secured by a cousin whose "Yankee" wife they intentionally humiliate when they visit from "up north"). Not sure what the moral of this story was supposed to be, but I was pretty disgusted by the end of it. The consistently bad behavior of the Chandler family is portrayed with a rosy hue that makes it seem all very salt-of-the-earth and downhome. It certainly wasn't condemned in any way. I found it repulsive and not at all entertaining. I understand that it's supposed to be a coming-of-age story, where "reality" intrudes on the child's idyllic life, but the way it was presented was quite off-putting to me.

I'm certainly done with Hallmark movies. I have fond memories of them from my chidlhood, but they've either gotten much worse or I've completely outgrown them.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

I join the digital age!

I had to download the KINDLE ap onto my Blackberry so that I could read Winter's Passage. It's a novella that's book 1.5 of the Iron Fey series (a bridge story between the first and second novels). It's only available as an ebook, so I had to figure it out! I asked Larry about how to read an ebook if I don't have a Kindle and he said, use the ap!

Meredith had given me the first book (along with a huge stack of books) and I read it on vacation. It was very good. The second book comes out next month.

Kinda blows my mind to think about reading a book on my PHONE, but I'm game. And this is a good one to start with, because it's very short. It just took a couple of minutes to download the ap and another couple minutes to get the book from Amazon. Larry's been offering to get me a Kindle for awhile and I've said no, but now I'm thinking I might want one. Ebooks are cheaper, and man, oh man, the convenience.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Store fire!

Fire at the store I shop at yesterday. Some construction materials on the roof ignited and the store filled with smoke. It's open today, and I went shopping there, but I coud feel the smoke burning my throat in one section of the store.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Vacation books

I read several books during the vacation and watched almost no movies. Hmmm.

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler. I read this because it was the Syracuse Book Club selection for July (though I ended up not going to the meeting because our Fresh Air Fund child came a week earlier than planned due to a paperwork mistake by the area coordinator). It's not a perfect book, but I really enjoyed it (and I was really looking forward to discussing it!) I loved the way that it switched voices several times throughout, giving the reader different perspectives on what was going on over the years. And it was quite poignant. And it's my hands-down favorite genre - dysfunctional family drama. Definitely a good read.

Pretties. The second in the series by Scott Westerfeld. At the end of the first book (Uglies) the first chapter of this book is included as a bonus. I hadn't really planned on reading the second book, but since I read the first chapter, and I found that I kept thinking about it, I picked it up at the library to take on vacation. It's a perfect book to read in a car/airplane. Plus, I really did want to find out what happens to Tally and her friends. And I like the messages about outer beauty and ecology, etc Considering that I didn't even plan to read this, I got quite caught up in it, and now I want to read the next one in the series, Specials.

The Iron King. Yet another book loaned to me by my friend Meredith. It looked quite charming and the reviews on the goodreads website were all raves. (Everyone seems to think the sequel, The Iron Daughter, is super too, though it won't be released to the general public until next month - apparently many people get the chance to read proofs and advance copies.) I can see why people like this. Very vivid descriptions of a fascinating world and a fine, fierce protagonist (the extremely ordinary young lady turns out to be the daughter of "the faery king" and must rescue her half brother from the faery world). Plus very aggressive messages about the natural world and the impact of technology run amok. At the end of every single chapter, you want to keep reading - the book is very hard to put down (I stayed up way too late finishing it). It's very heavy on the descriptions of places and I got a tiny bit bogged down in the middle, but, just when I was getting frustrated, the plot took off and I really got caught up in the characters and the story. Clever, evocative ideas about dreams and creativity as the source of the "fey" world, and the destructive nature of "progress." Overall, a perspective that is not too innocent and not too jaded. Just right, to borrow a phrase. I really can't wait to read the next one. And, bonus!, the author wrote a bridge story which is available as a free ebook (called Winter's Passage). So that will keep me somewhat occupied until the next novel arrives.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bree Tanner

I started reading Stephenie Meyer's novella online, but it was only there (for free) until July 5, and now that date has passed, and I didn't finish it. I guess I'll wait until I can get it at the library, because I don't really want to buy it, even though she's giving a dollar from each book sold to the Red Cross (cute charity to choose). I probably read about 4 chapters (out of about 18) and I can't say I loved it, plus we already know the fate of the main character (death!) It's only $7.50 at Amazon, so I'll have to think about it.


Monday, July 05, 2010

I'm just tired

Godammit. It's just all too much. We drop Larry in Phoenix halfway through our vacation so he can fly home to see his dad, and thank God we did, because he died the next day. We drive down to Tucson for 36 hours, which I never wanted to do; it's insanely hot and the whole idea was to spend this vacation NORTH, not drive up and down the state and spend the vacation in the car. Then we spend all day traveling on Sunday, though thank goodness all our flights were on time. We get up and repack and drive down to NJ on Monday so that we can attend the funeral on Tuesday (the burial is on Long Island, 2 hours - each way! - from the service). Then we have to RACE home to Syracuse to pick up Jasmine on Wednesday, who is coming a week earlier than I had planned because the CNY area Fresh Air coordinator made an error on our paperwork. I need this like a hole in the head. Plus I have to spend $20 to change the YMCA camp date. And I have to miss the book club meeting that I signed up for that I was REALLY looking forward to. It feels YET AGAIN like "no good deed goes unpunished." Why is everything so complicated?


Friday, July 02, 2010

A giant finally gives in

Holy crow. Burt died tonight. He was doing very badly over the weekend, but seemed to rally last night and today, and then, boom, he had a seizure and died. He had a DNR, or they might have tried to keep him going. A mercy for all concerned, but so damn sad. I really can't believe he's gone. My heart aches for Larry - I'm so sorry that he has to join the Dead Father's Club.