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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dog drama

Huge drama at the park last night.  As usual, kids were playing, and I was walking Roxy off the leash.  She was being good, staying near me.  We did a big circuit, like we usually do.  Towards the end of our circuit, there was a woman walking two dogs on leashes.  Roxy started to run toward them, but I called her, and she ran past them, and ran past me and towards the kids.  I caught up and put on the leash, and we collected our stuff and got in the car.  We fooled around a little, so it was at least 5 minutes, probably more like 10, before we started to drive away.  The woman with the two dogs was walking toward the parking lot, but she was still in the park.  Right then, a man in the parking lot, who was talking on his phone, started yelling at me - "What are you going to do about it? Your fucking dog bit my dog."

I was completely shocked.  I had watched her - I didn't think she even stopped when she passed those dogs, or maybe she stopped for just a second.  And she's never bitten another dog, in all these years (even when she was attacked by Lucy, and by Angela's dog, she barely even defended herself).  And I hadn't heard any sounds at all - no snarling, no yelping.

The guy was big, and acting really aggressive, so I just drove away.  He said he was calling the cops, but I didn't care - I was more afraid of him than them.  Almost as soon as I left the park, a cop car pulled behind me, apparently coincidentally.  I got about halfway home (we live less than 5 minutes away), when he pulled me over.  He told me that he heard the call on the radio with my license plate, and then went back to his car for about 10 minutes. 

At some point, another cop car pulled up, and then another one.  Three cars for my oh-so-dangerous dog, and of course me, public enemy #1 - suburban mom with 3 kids in her Ford Fusion. Caleb was completely freaking out, terrified - he's such a sensitive little soul. 

A different cop came up to my window, he said that Roxy had nipped the other dog's nose, though I still didn't believe it.  He scolded me and acted firm, but he easily could have written me a ticket (for violating the leash law) and didn't.  I got the impression that he wasn't taking it all that seriously.  He said *if* the guy took his dog to the vet, he would be contacting me about paying the bill.  (By then I was geting sort of annoyed - I didn't believe Roxy had done anything bad, and this was starting to be a lot of fuss over nothing.  Why does it take 3 cops? Don't they have better things to do?  Also, that park has a lot worse things going on - I've repeatedly seen kids smoking pot there, and I've passed more than one fire pit in the woods, which is actually quite dangerous.  Why doesn't the county take these things more seriously?)  In retrospect, I wish I had insisted on seeing the other dog's supposed injury.  I never think straight in these situations.

I'm still mystified about what happened.  All I can figure is that Roxy may have run into the other dog - she does that all the time - she gets all excited and spastic.  She's knocked me over a couple of times and run into me several times - one time gave me a bruise on my leg the size of my palm.  She ran into me again just the other day.  Maybe she ran toward that dog and bumped noses with it.  That's the only thing I can even imagine happening in such a short moment and without any fuss from the dogs.

The weirdest part was that I woke up this morning in the middle of the nicest dream, where I was sitting in the park with the lady who was walking the dogs, and we were talking and the conflict was all cleared up.  I can't remember the last time I had a positive dream like that.  All my dreams are anxiety dreams - being lost, forgetting things, being ostracized.  I feel sad and discouraged this morning, but the dream helped me feel a little better.

I guess I have to find somewhere else to go.  I've had Roxy for 5 years, and for the first 4 years, I ran into lots of folks walking their dogs off the leash in the park, and it was fun and friendly.  This is the second incident in the last couple of months with dog walkers (the other was a woman shouting over and over at me, "there's a leash law!")  It's not fun or friendly any more.  And the truth is, the police have my name now, so if someone else reports me for having her off the leash, it could be a problem.  I wasn't too worried last night, but it's not like I want to get in trouble either.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What does it mean to be a Jew?

I skipped over this article in the May/June issue of Moment magazine the first time I flipped through the issue, I suppose as a measure of how cynical I've become.  I've considered this question many times over the years, especially since becoming a parent, but I can't say I've arrived at a satisfactory answer. 

I did go back and read the comments from 15 "rising stars" in the Jewish community, including political writer Ezra Klein, Groupon founder Eric Lefkowsky, and author Alison Krauss.

Here's a few of the remarks that struck me:

I think being a Jew today means pretty much the same thing as it always has: responsibility. Responsibility to give back, to look forward, and be an example of a community that serves others before themselves. - Rachael Neumann (founder, non-profit)

Being a Jew means living a life committed to “doing the right thing,” inspired by the idea that we are all one, created in the image of God. It means to walk through this world knowing that whatever I do to my neighbor, it’s as if I’m doing it to myself. - Michelle Citrin (singer/songwriter)

My Jewish heritage has given me a lot: Jews bring resistance, will and commitment, and I apply that to my everyday life. I have a will to succeed in life, and when things are bad, I march on forward. - Spike Mendelsohn (chef)

Being a Jew today is being an engaged human being with a moral code. We must study and understand our values. Judaism must enter into us, and we must work with that knowledge through our individual prisms. We will take away different lessons and project what we understand back into the world, trying to do Tikkun Olam, to make it a better place for everyone. - Shyne (rapper)

20 years ago I would have swooned over these lofty words, they would have resonated in my very soul.  Today, I literally roll my eyes.  I don't think any of this is true.  Jews are no more committed to repairing the world than are other people.  Jews have no stronger moral code than others.  Jews are no more determinied than others.  The Jews I know spend no more time contemplating the meaning of their heritage than do the members any other ethnic group.  Certainly most Jews I know are just as self-involved as other middle class Americans.  At least the rapper is saying that this is what we should be, rather than what we are.  I actually agree with him.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Being left "wing"

I was listening to NPR this afternoon (Talk of the Nation), and there was a rather brief discussion of what constitutes the "base" of the political parties.  I'm quite interesting in this, because it's something I've thought about a lot over the last few years.

I've always been part of the Democratic "base" because I consider myself a Democrat, and  I vote in primaries, and I always vote Democratic in general elections.  Also because I'm a committed ("kneejerk"?) liberal, and I support "liberal" positions, like a woman's right to choose, immigration reform, and gay "rights" (this is, equal rights for everyone). 

But I've always found it odd to be considered the "left wing" of the party, and therefore the mirror of activists on the right.  Because my positions are very mainstream and are held by the majority of Americans.  Meanwhile, the "right wing" of the Republican party are the people who insist Obama is a Muslim, and think the government is trying to destroy their lives, and indulge in all sorts of conspiracy theories.  In other words, much more marginal positions.

And what is the difference between me, a committed Democrat and supposed "far left" representative of that party, and "moderates" or independents?  They don't affiliate with a party, but we share the same values - I consistently hear their political positions described as coinciding with my own, both in terms of social issues like abortion, and in terms of our perception of the appropriate role of government (e.g., regulating industry and providing a safety net). 

At least that's how it seems to me.  Maybe my perception is skewed, but it does always strike me when I hear some comment about the left wing or the far left or something along that line, because I just don't see myself and my political contemporaries in that way, and it's hard to imagine other people seeing us that way.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Michele Bachmann

She's said some incredibly stupid stuff, and it's funny, but what's not funny is that her supporters don't care at all. When she announced her campaign in Iowa, she said that John Wayne grew up in her hometown, but it was John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, who grew up there. She acknowledged the mistake later, but, just like with Sarah Palin, the people who like her aren't bothered at all by the fact-free zone surrounding her. I find that worrisome, especially with the press fawning all over her and treating her like a legitmate political voice.

Matt Taibbi wrote an excellent profile of her in Rolling Stone (with surprisngly little profanity), where, among other things, he notes that she's never lost an election after the first one, for school board. She's not the cream puff that the left would like to think she is. She's a lot more troubling that Sarah Palin, because SP is lazy and has no interest in governing anything. MB, on the other hand, is a tireless campaigner and a very ambitious politician. Matt Taibbi makes that point that the worst thing the left could do is write her off as a joke. His description reminded me a lot of GWB - I was surprised that he was taken seriously as a candidate, but he appeals to the same people she does, and we ended up with 8 long years of him.

Here's some key paragraphs from MT; the last one is the one that sent chills down my spine~

In modern American politics, being the right kind of ignorant and entertainingly crazy is like having a big right hand in boxing; you've always got a puncher's chance. And Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy — crazy in the sense that she's living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she's built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies.

Bachmann's entire political career has followed this exact same pattern of God-speaks-directly-to-me fundamentalism mixed with pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying. She's not a liar in the traditional way of politicians, who tend to lie dully, usefully and (they hope) believably, often with the aim of courting competing demographics at the same time. That's not what Bachmann's thing is. Bachmann lies because she can't help it, because it's a built-in component of both her genetics and her ideology. She is at once the most entertaining and the most dangerous kind of liar, a turbocharged cross between a born bullshit artist and a religious fanatic, for whom lying to the infidel is a kind of holy duty.

It has taken just over 10 years for Bachmann to go from small-town PTA maven to serious presidential contender, a testament to both her rare and unerring talent for generating media attention, and to her truly astonishing energy level and narcissistic tenacity. Minnesota politicians who have squared off against Bachmann all speak with a kind of horrified reverence for her martial indomitability, her brilliantly fortifying lack of self-doubt, even the fact that she hasn't appeared to physically age at all in 10 years.

. . . getting herself elected is pretty much the only thing she has accomplished in politics. That's not an exaggeration: As both a state senator and a congresswoman, Michele Bachmann has never passed a piece of meaningful legislation. Her time in the Minnesota legislature was concentrated in two lengthy and unsuccessful protest campaigns. The first was a jeremiad against school standards, which fizzled out when Ventura's replacement, then-governor and current presidential rival Tim Pawlenty, backed his own version of school standards with the coming of No Child Left Behind. The other was a hysterical campaign against gay marriage that involved some of the strangest behavior ever attributed to an American elected official.

Images of Michele Bachmann squatting behind a bush or hiding from lesbians in a bathroom would seem to be punch lines of funny stories, but they are not. The real punch line is that rather than destroying her politically, these incidents helped propel her into Congress. In her first two races, in 2006 and 2008, she defeated experienced, credible opponents who failed to realize what they were dealing with until it was too late. Her 2006 win was an especially extraordinary testament to her electoral viability. In a terrible year for conservatives, with the death-spiraling Bush administration taking Republican seats down with them all over the country, Bachmann won a fairly independent district by an eight-point margin. In her runs for Congress, Bachmann discovered — or perhaps it is more accurate to say we all discovered — that a total absence of legislative accomplishment and a complete inability to tell the truth or even to identify objective reality are no longer hindrances to higher office.

Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can't tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you're a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they're even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Movie weekend

I guess I did a lot of cooking and washing up this weekend, because I managed to watch several movies on video and I liked them all.  I got to the theater the last couple of weekends as well - I'll start with those~

Bridesmaids - My expectations were probably a little high - it was definitely funny and I laughed quite a bit, but I think coherence was sacrificed for comedy - it was a little uneven and a little contrived. I thought it needed more Maya Rudolph, and more focus on the relationship between her and Kristen Wiig.  An entertaining movie, but could have been better.  Side note - Chris O'Dowd is someone to watch - he was utterly adorable as Officer Rhodes.

Midnight in Paris - I saw Woody Allen's latest last weekend and I enjoyed it very much.  I had no idea what it was about, I had just heard good buzz.  It's light as a feather and lots of fun, definitely glad that I saw it - all those great actors, like Adrien Brody, playing all those famous people, like Salvador Dali.  My only quibble was the male lead ending up, yet again, with a gorgeous young woman half his age.  =(

Thor - I saw this movie 2 weeks ago, only because Bridesmaids was sold out.  It was more entertaining than I expected, with a terrific cast and content that rose above it's comic book source, perhaps partly due to Kenneth Branaugh at the helm.  (Cal had told me I would like it because "it has a plot!")

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Made in Dagenham (2010) - This is not quite the giggle fest that the promos lead me to think it would be. It's more along the lines of A League of Their Own - a light touch in some places, but some poignant scenes as well. I would say the movie is almost as good as Iron-Jawed Angels, in terms of giving a sense of what we owe the women that came before us and paved the way with their determination and their commitment to principles. A real tour de force for Sally Hawkins, but there's not an off performance in the entire movie. Rosamund Pike is luminous as always, and Miranda Richard, though not in many scenes, reminds us yet again of just what a jewel she is.  The men were good too - Richard Schiff as the American representative of Ford, cutie pie Rupert Graves as the put upon plant manager, and the always wonderful Bob Hoskins, who disappeared way too early in the movie.

The Yellow Hankerchief (2008) - I admit I saw this mostly for Kristen Stewart, but William Hurt is wonderful as a man facing his biggest regrets.  Maria Bello is also terrific in a smaller but important role.  The relationship of the younger couple, KS and Eddie Redmayne, is not as well developed, and is really the only flaw in a lovely (if quiet) movie.

Keith (2008) - not quite what I was expecting, but a very affecting movie about living life in the present.  Terrific performances and a very pretty, if sad, story.  I'm really glad I didn't see the preview for this movie (which I watched after seeing it) - it totally gives away the mystery, and I was glad to learn that from watching the film.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistance (2009) - based on a graphic novel; it's not my usual genre, but I found it inventive and entertaining with lots of terrific performances, and of course I loved the message about "freaks" being people too.  They set it up for a sequel, but I don't know if there will be one.

Gulliver's Travels (1996) - A TV miniseries with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen (their first film together after their marriage).  I wasn't that familiar with Jonathan Swift's story, other than the most famous first journey to Lilliput.  This movie covers all 4 journeys, and I was impressed with the clear-eyed social commentary.  Of course, it went over the kids' heads, but they still enjoyed the movie for the oddities that Gulliver encounters.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Alternative medicine

I really enjoyed this article from The Atlantic, about alternative medicine.  I found myself thinking about it a lot, and telling several people about it, after I read it.

It was mostly about the mainstream medical community's wider acceptance of alternative practices, partly because it's incredibly lucrative, and because the NIH has grants to support it.

But the article also addresses the troubling issue of the placebo effect, suggesting that many mainstream medical practices also benefit from the placebo effect, and that more medical and mental health practitioners are seeing the placebo effect as a positive outcome rather than a confounding alternative interpretation.

The article also discusses the failures of the mainstream medical model and the gap that these failures have created.  There are two simultaneous problems - current practices were developed based on the infectious disease model, which is now outdated, and the problems presented by today's patient are predominantly chronic ailments like pain and gastric trouble, which drugs and surgery are not as effective at relieving.

It was terribly interesting and thought-provoking.  Here's a couple of key paragraphs:

The medical community knows perfectly well what sort of patient-care model would work better against complex diseases than the infectious-disease-inspired approach we’ve inherited. That would be one that doesn’t wait for diseases to take firm hold and then vainly try to manage them with drugs, but that rather focuses on lowering the risk that these diseases will take hold in the first place. “We need to prevent and slow the onset of these diseases,” says Blackburn. “And we know there are ways to do that.” Aside from getting people to stop smoking, the three most effective ways, according to almost any doctor you’d care to speak with, are the promotion of a healthy diet, encouragement of more exercise, and measures to reduce stress.

Medicine has long known what gets patients to make the lifestyle changes that appear to be so crucial for lowering the risk of serious disease: lavishing attention on them. That means longer, more frequent visits; more focus on what’s going on in their lives; more effort spent easing anxieties, instilling healthy attitudes, and getting patients to take responsibility for their well-being; and concerted attempts to provide hope. Studies have shown that when a doctor speaks to a patient about quitting smoking or losing weight, the patient is more likely to do it. A 2008 study on physician-patient relationships found that physicians deemed “exemplars” based on their reputation and awards received were likely to create an emotional bond with patients; to convey to patients that their commitment to caring for them will endure over time; and to imbue patients with “trust, hope, and a sense of being known.” Hippocrates put it this way: “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”


Friday, June 24, 2011

Not feeling quite so discouraged

I often say that even though I now live in upstate NY, it's still NY - people are aggressive, whether driving, or standing in line, or whatever.  People don't let you merge when you're in your car, or cross the street when you're walking - it's everyone for themselves most of the time.  Quite a difference from the small town life that I grew up in, in northern Arizona, even though the population density is low, and Syracuse is not very urban or crowded.

But lately, I've had a few experiences that have forced me to reconsider my sweeping generalization.  When another car and I were approaching an open spot in a parking lot, the other driver actually waved me in and drove past to find another spot!  That has never happened since I moved here!

Just a couple days later, I bought a small bookshelf for Matt, and was working to put it into my car, and not one, but two people, offered to help me.

It's almost enough to restore my faith in humanity.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Teen fear

I've been thinking lately that I need to get a really excellent book about parenting teens because I'm basically terrified.  Parenting is rather an undiscovered country for me anyway, not having access to that all important village that they're always talking about.  And starting so darn late.  But the teen years are looming before me like that black obelisk in 2001 A Space Odessey.

Perhaps it's because of my anxiety and minor preoccupation, but I feel like I'm barraged by teen fear.  For example, I recently read this excellent article about parenting in The Atlantic magazine.  One of the online comments said that people always talk about how hard it is to have kids, but they're always the parents of little kids, and they have no idea how hard it's really going to get when their kids get older.

A couple days later I turned on Morning Joe and Mika was talking with some politician, I think Pawlenty, and I guess they'd been swapping stories on parenting teens, and he said to listen to Martina McBride's song called Teenage Daughter, which talks about how "you used to like me but now you think I'm a fool" and stuff like that.

Even on the bus, just this week a guy was talking about how easy his younger boy is, but the teenager is so difficult.

Ack.  I'm completely surrounded by validation of my deepest fears.  I know we'll get through it, everyone does (except the occasional parent who commits teen filicide, like Julie Schenecker).  Of course it doesn't help that Larry and I are rarely on the same page when it comes to the kids, and teens have radar for that sort of thing.  They'll exploit the heck out of it. 

All I can really do now is lay the foundation for a decent relationship with my kids and then wade into the tempest when it arrives.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jewish view of immigration

Our lunch discussion group read two rabbinical perspectives on the immigration issue, one, Amy Eilberg, citing the admonition to care for the stranger, and the other, Bonnie Koppell, citing the requirement to respect national borders (the latter is a Reform rabbi, the former represents the Conservative movement).  Of course I found Eilberg much more compelling than Koppell (who said, among other things, that "we must have confidence in our law enforcement professionals [to comply] with the letter and the spirit of the law.")

However, it was a statement within the latter commentary that bothered me the most - that basing policy solely on compassion (as opposed to justice) results in "little motivation to do what is right."  I don't even know what that means, but it strikes me as absurd and rather offensive.  I think compassion leads to correct action must more often than a preoccupation with justice does (a common theme in literature and film, by the way).

In fact, the most interesting comment in the very lively (though poorly attended) discussion came from Victor, who asserted that making the sensible choice often leads to the making the "right" choice - such as supporting medical marijuana, which is both the compassionate position, as well as the economically sensible one. (He had a whole list of examples, but that's the only one I can think of right now.)  He made the case for compassion before I even raised my objection to the author's point.

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Side note - next month, the rabbis will be absent, so Mark Field and I are picking an article, something about the Jewish response to the "Arab spring."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Actor's performance enhanced with CGI

This is rather eye-opening:

From a welling tear to a wounded stare, the ability to project convincing emotions in close-up is the test of a cinema actor. But now it appears that there is more to some star turns than meets the audience’s eye.

Directors have started to manipulate actors’ performances in postproduction. Modern visual effects technology allows them to go beyond traditional cosmetic changes, such as removing wrinkles and unsightly hairs, and adjust actors facial expressions and subtly alter the mood of a scene.

 . . . Visual effects experts privately admit to changing actors’ expressions: opening or closing eyes; making a limp more convincing; removing breathing signs; eradicating blinking eyelids from a lingering gaze; or splicing together different takes of an unsuccessful love scene to produce one in which both parties look like they are enjoying themselves.

At the Visual Effects Society’s recent conference, Jeff Okun, the organisation’s chairman, told The Times: “What used to cost £40,000 is now only going to cost you £6,000. It’s cheaper than reshooting a scene. We are put in a difficult moral position when directors ask us to change an actor’s performance. The performance is sacrosanct and to alter it is creepy. But we don’t get hired by actors. We get hired by directors.”

. . . Actors are understandably concerned. According to Variety, the leading industry publication, a proposal to give actors approval of digital alterations was first put forward in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in 1998. Tom Le Grua, of the Screen Actors Guild, told the magazine: “The proposal said no part of a performance may be altered digitally or otherwise without the performer’s consent.” It was rejected and has languished since in committee discussions.

Some actors such as Tom Cruise have begun to write clauses into their contracts granting them full control of their own digital assets, Mr Okun said. “They are saying: if you make me look better, then it’s fine. But if you are dealing with the subtleties of a dramatic performance it’s not fine.”

However, Matt Johnson, a visual effects supervisor at Cinesite in Soho, London, who worked on King Arthur and V for Vendetta, said: “Actors have always known that directors would manipulate their performances [by clever editing in postproduction]. Now they are realising that visual effects can give directors even more choice. But I think it would be quite challenging to take a performance that wasn’t working at all and completely revolutionise it digitally. Audiences would be able to spot that.”

“Acting is all about honesty, but something like this makes what you see on screen a dishonest moment,” said a leading technician. “Everyone feels a bit dirty about it.”


Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Unnatural Selection"

My Uncle Dan sent me a link to a news collecting website, that included a piece on Jonathan Last's review of Mara Hvistendahl's book Unnatural Selection in the Wall Street Journal.  I had definitely heard of this book before, probably on NPR.

I don't agree with Jonathan Last's conclusion at all , i.e., "there are only two alternatives: restrict abortion or accept the slaughter of millions of baby girls and the calamities that are likely to come with it." The underlying problem is not the availability of abortion or even the ability to identify the sex of a baby - both have been occurring for centuries, long before modern medical methods made them easier and more efficient. And both will continue even if modern medical methods are made unavailable through legal prohibitions (or should I say "attempts to make them unavailable"). The underlying problem is the consistent and persistent devaluing of female children. When that stops, selective abortion will also stop.

It's also worth noting that the calculations should account for the loss of girls when abortion is not available - people have always (and continue to) rid themselves of unwanted girls by drowning them or just leaving them on church doorsteps, etc.  Also, when women are forced to carry every child to term, they are much more likely to die in childbirth.  It's not an equivalent number of course, but the loss is not insignificant and should be acknowledged.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Anthony Weiner resignation

I'm so sorry to see him go because he was an important voice for liberal issues.  I really thought he would hold on, since he did nothing illegal, just embarrassing.  Several Congressmen have held onto seats despite their sexual shenanigans, and, of course, Clinton got reelected despite his. 

I heard some interesting discussion on MSNBC's Ed Schultz show, and their points made sense to me:

  • One person noted that the media frenzy seems to have died down and there hasn't been all that much interest in the story once the initial discussions played out, something I had been thinking myself.
  • Another person wondered why Weiner was pressured so much by the leadership - "he wasn't elected by Nancy Pelosi or Debbie Wasserman Schultz."  They also noted that even the president weighed in, and wondered why he would bother.

I would have liked Weiner to finish his term and let his constituents decide his future.  I hope he runs for office again, because he's young and I think he has so much to offer.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Caylee Anthony case

I had been noticing how much coverage CNN has been giving this case (detailed daily updates) that seemed all out of proportion to how important the case is. Then this article appeared in Time and helped me to see why they would keep the case in the foreground - namely, because the public is fascinated.  And why would that be?  The dead girl is so cute, the crime so gruesome, and her mother is such a steadfast and creative liar.

This article enumerates something else about the appeal - it appears as if the young pretty mother, Casey, killed her daughter just because she couldn't be bothered to parent her, and that has tapped into a deep vein of outrage amongst the Nancy Grace crowd.  It violates "social norms" about parenting and maternal instrict.  Comments that follow news article border on glee at the prospect of Casey getting what she deserves.


Casey Anthony was found not guilty today.  A lot of people, maybe even her attorneys, were surprised, but the evidence was circumstantial, and the standard is "reasonable doubt."  I'm not sure if this is a triumph of the justice system or a sad miscarriage of justice, though I lean toward the former, for a couple of reasons.  One of the jury members interviewed on TV said that the prosecution did not prove their case, and that's really the bottom line.  And it's a relief to know that the court of public opinion had no influence on the outcome, because it shouldn't. There was a lot of outrag over the outcome - someone in this article asked "Who will pay for Caylee's death?"  But that is not the question that a trial answers!

As an aside, I read a very provocative article in Rolling Stone over the weekend about Amanda Knox that strongly suggests that she's innocent, which I don't believe is the perception of the general public, nor is it implied in the recent TV movie.  It also suggests that the Italian justice system is often very harsh in the initial trial because the appeal is where the final verdict is really determined, so Amanda has some hope for a different outcome in the next round.


I heard a jury member in a TV interview say that the jury did not think Casey was innocent, and that some were very upset with the verdict, but they felt that the prosecution did not make the case.  There's speculation now that the prosecution should have indicted her on lesser charges. 

I also heard her lawyer saying that they fear for her safety, once she leaves jail, which I had been thinking myself - her life is probably ruined - it seems unlikely she could possibly live a "normal" life once she rejoins society.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

TV quality

I finally had to replace my little kitchen television set, as the picture was going.  I got a sweet little flatscreen that actually takes up less space, but has a larger screen.  Larry, who regularly watches in HD on his 52 inch flat screen in the livingroom, complained about the poor picture quality of this new TV, but I don't have a problem with it.

In fact, I find watching in HD to be incredibly distracting.  You can see so much detail in people's faces, I find myself focusing on those details instead of seeing the larger picture.  I understand why people like the vividness of HD, but so far, it just doesn't enhance my enjoyement of what I'm watching.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dahmer's morality

I happened to catch a bit of the MSNBC broadcast of an iterview with Jeffrey Dahmer and his father (who recently wrote a book).  I have no particular interest in the topic, and I lack that gruesome fascination that so many people have with serial killers and crime sprees.

However, I was struck by one thing that JD said, that if he'd had some kind of religious upbringing, he might have had a better ethical grounding and would not have committed the heinous crimes that he did.

Of course I understand that he was "saved" in prison and has probably been told this by his spiritual mentors.  I don't really take his claim at face value, but at the same time, he's suggesting something I find especially appalling, namely that religion is the only source of morality, which of course I completely reject (there plenty of moral people who have no religious practice to base their choices on). 

Also, to state the excruciatingly obvious, his crimes hardly fall on some blurry ethical line - he didn't cheat on his taxes after all, he murdered many people and kept their body parts as souvenirs.  It seems a stretch to believe that if he'd only gone to Sunday school he would have realized this behavior was wrong.

It stuck in my mind for several days, because it represents something I find quite troubling - believing that non-religious people are less moral is an attitude that I think damages our culture and complicates our political discourse.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Movie wasteland

I thought there was going to be a bit more counter-programming this summer, to give those of us who don't care about comic book adaptations something to watch.  Doesn't seem that way.  Looking at the upcoming releases, there's virtually nothing compelling until late July.  I think that explains why Bridesmaids was sold out last weekend, even though it's been out for several weeks.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Slut Walks

I've been following this topic for a few weeks, because these street marches remind me of old fashioned feminist activism, which seems to be a thing of the distant past, but at the same time, seem like a totally current take on the issues confronting women. 

I heard the original organizers on NPR a couple of times, and was impressed with their story - after the Toronto police officer made the comment (in a public safety presentation he told the audience that they could avoid being raped if they didn't "dress like sluts"), they organized the walk; they hoped to get 100 people.  Instead 3000 came, and the idea has spread across the world, literally, with walks in the US, Britain and Australia.

Then I read this commentary in a British newspaper, with all the usual tropes about how feminism has ruined the world and this is just the latest proof.

Of course the writer, Melanie Phillips, doesn't understand the purpose of the Slutwalk at all.  The original organizers noted (in a radio interview that I heard) that dressing provocatively was not part of the original march.  The purpose of the original walk was only to point out the absurdity of suggesting that a woman's clothing has anything to do with rape, and to bring attention to the persistent myth that women "ask for it" by how they present themselves.  That some women choose to attend the walk in provocative clothing is basically irrelevant. 

Most disturbing to me is that this writer criticizes women for not taking responsibility for their own actions (i.e., dressing in such a way that provokes men), but she simultaneously absolves men of responsibility for their actions (i.e., rape) because, you know, they can't help themselves when presented with these aggressive images of sexuality.  Someone drew the analogy that you don't let the people off the hook for shoplifting because the store is so full of such wonderful stuff.  Which is a funny way of describing what is a really horrifying reality - that men use sexual assault to assert power and express violence and hatred, and the way their victim is dressed is not a factor.  When women clearly don't understand this dynamic, it's scary, and weird, and frankly, infuriating.

Of course, the way young ladies dress these days aggravates the hell out of me, and I think (as I have said previously, e.g., in my Kiki Kannibal commentary) that they often do not seem to understand the message they're sending.  On the other hand, women can dress any stupid way they want - that's part of feminism.  Not my favorite part, but there it is.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Male audience appeal

I recently watched an early trailer for the upcoming film I Don't Know How She Does It, based on the best selling book by Allison Pearson (which I loved, and so did a bunch of my friends).  I was sort of taken aback when I read this casting news from last year (which I came across by accident, while I was looking for something else):

In“Male Fantasy Turned Reality News,” Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks and The Daily Show’s Olivia Munn have both signed on to I Don't Know How She Does It, an adaptation of Allison Pearson's novel. In “Crushing Blow to Male Fantasy News,” the film stars Sarah Jessica Parker as a businesswoman simultaneously raising two children, a situation which apparently even in 2010 is so implausible that it causes one to exclaim, “I Don’t Know How She Does It!”

This was on a website called AV-Club.  While attempting to ignore the snide comment on Sarah Jessica Parker (indicating exactly the target audience of this site), I think it's bizarre to suggest that the casting of these two actresses was done to appeal to male viewers (which is explicitly stated in an LA Times article linked to the AV Club).  a) Men aren't going to watch this movie, no matter who's in it. b) Those actresses also have female fans.  c) Can't women have some movies made unapologetically for them?  We buy movie tickets too.


Monday, June 06, 2011

Book bias

I was chatting with a goodreads friend about my tendecy to ditch a book if I'm not interested in the characters, and it got me thinking about what exactly is motivating me.  I suppose I'm pretty impatient with books - I want them to grab me in the very first sentence, though I'll allow them the first chapter, but that's about it. 

And I want to like someone, and identify with someone.  I don't want to just get plopped down in the middle of the action without having that connection to a player or a couple of the players.  When I have a problem with a book it's usually an interesting scene, but I really didn't connect with the characters, and I didn't feel like that was going to happen.  A good example is the Incarceron sequel.  Even though I'd spent a whole previous book with these characters, after a couple of chapters of Sapphique, I just couldn't relate to anyone and didn't see that happening.

The books I've enjoyed the most are always the ones where I get to identify with the main character immediately and intensely, like Poison Study, and The Hunger Games, and Twilight.  I suppose that makes me quite unsophisticated in some very basic way.  Plus, I probably miss out on all sorts of great books because of this bias.  But, on the other hand, I've read so many books that I've adored because of it.


Sunday, June 05, 2011

MTV Movie Award Show

The show didn't seem quite as ridiculous as it struck me last year.  I enjoyed some of the guests, and a few of the jokes.  I only watched last year for New Moon, but this year, I wasn't really rooting for Eclipse.  Partly because it was going to win certain categories anyway, including Best Kiss (which it did), and partly because I didn't think it was a great movie.  Good, but not outstanding.

Of course, I was especially excited about the Breaking Dawn trailer that they were going to premiere, which I thought was f-ing brilliant - it had everything the fans wanted to see (as indicated by the screams from the audience), namely, Jacob's bare chest, the wedding, the headboard, and the baby bump.  The only thing they left for later - the feathers (and Summit released a photo a few months ago of Kristen's hand covered in feathers, so . . . been there, done that!) 

As for the show, I must say I thought Jason Sudeikis as terrible.  Ricky Gervais was criticized when he hosted the Golden Globes, for being too mean, but at least he was funny.  Jason S was just mean, without the humor.  I guess that appeals to MTV's target audience, but I couldn't wait for him to shut up.  I especially thought his comment, "I might be a dad soon." was in extremely poor taste (his former girlfriend, January Jones, is pregnant and she has not publically acknowledged him, or anyone else, as the father).  He came across as a major asshole and not very funny either. 

Rob Pattinson gave part of the tribute to Reese Witherspoon, who was getting the Generations Award.  He is so odd.  He's not a very good presenter, and he boggled his punch lines.  Weirder and funnier was him dropping the F bomb and the censors completely missing it (they managed to catch Jason S's many obscenities, and they caught it when Reese said "motherfucker"!)  Matt and I wondered if MTV would get a fine for that, but a quick google search showed that cable channels are not regulated by the FCC. so they police themselves (even The Daily Show bleeps curse words).

Kristen Stewart was her usual awkward self.  Her acceptance speech for Best Female Performance was further evidence of why some fans think she's a jerk - she said "Twilight has the best fans," but then said it again as if mocking them.  I don't think she meant to seem like she was mocking the fans, but you could take it that way.  She just sucks at acceptance speeches.  Weird, because she's a terrific actress.

Final note - I just loved Reese Witherspoon's speech (as always) - she pointed out that she "came up in this business without a reality TV show or a sex tape."  She said she was trying to make it "cool" to be a good girl.  It was great!  She's swimming against a very strong tide, but if anyone can do it, she can.  Hurrah for the effort!


Saturday, June 04, 2011

A lady now heads "The Gray Lady"

I actually think it's pretty cool that a woman, Jill Abramson, is now the executive editor of the New York Times.  While they certainly included her gender in the plus column, it's more likely that her choice to head the paper has more to do with her experience with the electronic edition. 

Here's some commentary from the LA Times media column:

All Abramson has to do when she takes over from Bill Keller in September is manage one of the world's most prestigious newsrooms under a tight budget, urge a tradition-bound print institution toward a digital future and make a compelling case for the enduring value of the authoritative, literate voice in an era when anyone with a high-speed connection has become a publisher.


Friday, June 03, 2011

John Edwards indictment

I was a little surprised that the Justice Department decided to pursue a criminal case against Edwards, who's accused of using campaign contributions for personal expenses (payments to his mistress and mother of his child, Rielle Hunter).  I've heard a number of commentaries that suggest this indictment is unfair and a waste of time.  Joe Scarborough, who's hardly a Democratic shill, suggested it was unnecessary to indict someone whose political career is over, especially since there are plenty of people whose misbehavior is effecting current political races.

I also heard an exchange on Tell Me More between Michele and one of the "barber shop" guys where she said something like "When someone throws you a lifeline, you don't really care who they are" [meaning that it was worth overlooking some pecedillos because of Edwards' advocacy for poverty issues], but her guest said that "everything in his life was a lie" so we couldn't take his advocacy as sincere. 

I actually think this is an important issue  . . . I've noticed for some time that it's very difficult to influence voters by a legitimate discussion of a candidate's positions on issues, partly because voters don't really understand issues.  Also the candidates make generic statements in favor of the Constitution, and "middle class families" and "jobs" and so on, so it's hard to distinguish the MEANS they plan to use to get to the ENDS that they all support.  So one of the only ways to really influence voters' perceptions of legislators and candidates is to catch them in some scandal or misbehavior.  And I think this radio comment is making an important point about this phenomenon - that our disappointment in their personal behavior translates into an invalidation of their political principles, though in reality, the two have nothing to do with each other.  Also, many politicians escape that effect - case in point is Bill Clinton, who clearly behaved very badly in his personal life, and yet many people still admire his political principles and accomplishments.