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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Downward mobility

I have to admit that I found this Time Magazine column by Rana Foroohar really scary - we're losing financial ground as a nation and it won't be easy to get it back.


Monday, September 26, 2011

More health talk

I went to my gyn for my annual exam, and she said my last blood test, in July, revealed very low iron (hematocrit=32; it should be 40).  And I said, no, it's an artifact of having just donated blood and having had my period just prior to the test.  But she was pretty insistent, even after I asked her to check the previous test, from January (hematocrit=39).  For maybe the first time ever, I'm just going to ignore her.  I love both my doctors (good thing, since I see them a lot) and I totally appreciate them being proactive about my health.  But it's starting to feel like they find something every single time I go in, requiring follow up visits and more meds or supplements.  Larry goes to the doctor once a decade and at his appointment last week, his doctor said everything looks good.  Holy crap!  I eat better than he does, he drinks gallons of coffee and smokes cigarettes!  But I take a pile of pills and have a new problem every six months!  It's not fair.  I think the contrast of his clean bill of health along side my doctor finding yet another problem is really too much.


Absolutely no schadenfreude intended, but Larry did not get off scot free.  His cholesterol is pretty high, 305 (LDL=239) so his doctor prescribed lipitor.  I'm not happy, but at least I'm not the only one who's actually showing signs of aging!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekend movies

Spread (2009) - I watched this mostly for Ashton Kutcher, who I think is a much better actor than he's given credit for.  Plus it's a different role from the likeable doofus that he generally plays.  In this, he's Nikki, a somewhat world-weary pretty boy in LA, almost a gigolo, who trolls for suseptible weathy women as well as beautiful babes - he never spends a night alone.  The first half was quite good, evoking the LA party scene, with witty voiceover from Nikki.  Then Nikki falls from grace (quite abruptly and, I thought, quite improbably) and falls hard for Heather, a women working the same grift that he is.  Of course things don't end well, but that's not why I thought the last third of the movie wasn't nearly as fun as the rest - the first half+ is compelling, but once Nikki gets earnest, the movie gets forced.  Not a waste of 90 minutes, but not as good as it could have been.  Maybe worthwhile - lots of very hot sex, if you like that kind of thing.

Babies (2010) - I heard good stuff about this one, and it was interesting.  However, on the box it says "no matter what parenting style you use, if a baby is surrounded by love, they thrive."  So apparently that's the point.  But I don't think the film really communicates that - there's lots of shots of babies falling over and crying, with no one responding, and a long scene where an older brother hits the baby over and over again, making him cry repeatedly, and another scene that really bothered me, of a baby laying face down in a shallow puddle, sipping water.  I'm not super overprotective, but drowning is the number one cause of death in babies under the age of 1.  Also, the showered with love aspect is really missing.  Right after the babies are born, they show mommies cuddling with them, and there's some Mommy and Me classes and such, but for whatever reason, the showering is quite absent.  During the closing credits, there is a scene with each mommy and baby where they are kissing and cooing, but that's the only time you see that.  Maybe if the box description hadn't set up my expectation, I wouldn't have noticed so much.  Maybe I'm quibbling, but while I found this movie interesting, I didn't find it compelling or especially satisfying.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

New TV season

So far, not so much.

I made a point to watch Pan Am, which looked so promising, but I thought it was underwhelming.  They don't use the situation in an interesting way, and they're trying way too hard.  And what's with the whole espionage aspect - super silly.

I watched The Playboy Club, pretty much by accident, and it wasn't bad (my expectations were very low), but I can't see it being a Can't  Miss show for me (one of the commentators on NPR said, "They don't even have last names!" - I thought that summed it up very well).  Plus the mobster angle is just so tired.

[Side note - both these shows are supposedly attempts to cash in on the nostalgia that proved so popular with Mad Men, but I think the creators of these shows are quite unaware of what makes MM so appealing.  MM takes a pretty unvarnished view of the 1960s - all the sexism, racism and classism of the era are on full display; these new shows are timid in comparison; plus the acting on MM is world class.]

I even watched a little bit of Charlie's Angels, just to see what they did with it.  It wasn't bad, but certainly not appointment TV for me.

I watched The New Girl with Zooey Deschanel, probably the buzziest show this fall, and which I expected to love, but I thought it was pretty ho hum.  I might give it one more week, but maybe not even that.  [Addendum - I gave it another week and didn't alter my opinion - just not that funny.]

I watched the first episode of Up All Night, with Christina Applegate, which has also gotten a lot of buzz. It was cute, but not as funny or fresh as it should have been. Might check it out again, but I might not bother. [Addendum - I gave it another week and wished I hadn't.  Stupid and not funny.]

Also watched Raising Hope, which we had seen in reruns over the summer and enjoyed, but the premiere episode was kind of stupid, and definitely not something I would make a point to watch.

I checked out Two and A Half Men (both episodes) and I thought it was sort of funny, and sort of stupid and over the top.  I wasn't a huge fan of the show when Charlie Sheen was starring, and I can't see watching it now, but I wish them luck.

Suburgatory (on ABC) is being hailed by critics, so I gave the pilot a look.  Cute-ish, but not as good as I expected (with Jeremy Sisto in a much lighter role than I'm used to seeing him in).  I'll check out another episode before I decide.

It wasn't all dross, however.  I discovered that a lot of shows are available On Demand, so I watched a bunch of pilots that I wouldn't have normally seen.  Some highlights~

Prime Suspect is quite good (on NBC).  (I missed the pilot the night it aired because we were watching The Lion King at the Civic Center, but I taped it.) I didn't expect to love it because the tone of ads were not that appealing to me, but I kept an open mind (Maria Bello commands that) and I'll definitely continue to tune in.

Homeland with Clare Danes, and a bunch of other great people, is weird and compelling (on Showtime).  I'll definitely keep watching that.

Hank Azaria's comedy, Free Agents (on NBC), is funny and grown up (I didn't realize that it's a remake of a British comedy).  I'll bet it's the very first show to get canceled, but I'll watch it til then. [Addendum - it was the 2nd show canceled, after The Playboy Club; I got to see 4 episodes.]

2 Broke Girls is quite funny, and Kat Dennings does not disappoint.  CBS is not pushing this very hard at all (though they gave it the lead-in spot before Two and A Half Men), which surprises me, considering it's pedigree: Sex in the City creator Michael Patrick King at the helm.  I can't imagine why this hasn't gotten more of a marketing push; but they're probably counting on it's schedule spot to bring viewers.  I thought the second episode was less catchy than the premiere, but I'll still watch it out as long as it lasts (which may not be long).

The critics have not been kind to Whitney (who also produces 2 Broke Girls), which NBC has promoted heavily, and I had no interest in.  But once I watched it, I found that I laughed quite a bit.  It's a lot less forced than the promos made it seem (and not nearly as forced as The New Girl).  One of the very few shows filmed before a live audience, with some fairly adult humor.  I hope it lasts.

I actually enjoyed How To Be a Gentleman on NBC, which I watched for Kevin Dillon, but found myself smitten with perennial dork, Rhys Darby (Yes Man, Pirate Radio).  [It's been cancelled already as well, the highest rated show so far to get the ax, according to EW.]

Friday, September 23, 2011


Decided it was time for a haircut, partly because I think this style it looks better when it's a bit shorter, and it's nice to start into the high holiday season with a fresh hairdo (since I'm not one to buy a new outfit!)  But the main reason is that I just can't stand dealing with this severely damaged hair!  Ever since I had it highlighted last spring, it's been a mess.  I will never do that again!!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The next big thing

Listening to Chris Matthews and his guest (Matt something, I forgot), talk on Hardball about tonight's Republican debate.  And the guy is saying how the field is (still) dull and that it needs a candidate that will get people excited, like Marco Rubio or Chris Christy or "even" Paul Ryan.  And I have to admit, it made me so happy. When it was just Romney, early on, everyone said that exact same thing.  And Michelle Bachman got in the race and everyone was infatuated with her for about 5 minutes.  And then they started saying that if only Rick Perry would get in.  And he did.  And everyone swooned over him for 5 minutes.  And now they're saying if only if only.  And I think this is why Obama is going to win (no matter how discouraged progressives are) - because the Republicans just don't know who they are anymore. 

ADDENDUM - 9/26/11

Wow!  Jon Stewart made my exact point tonight on The Daily Show!  I'm so proud.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The article for the Lunch and Learn was a transcript of a round table discussion with several rabbis as they chewed over the meaning of the binding Isaac story, which is traditionally read on Rosh Hashanah (though Bereshit, In the beginning, is probably more appropriate).  Of course I hate this story, where the father is willing to sacrifice his beloved son, and I hate that it is held up as the ideal of faith.  As they say, God didn't ask Sarah to do it, because a mother wouldn't even consider it.  I thought the reading was super interesting, and my favorite comment was (maybe not surprisingly) from the female rabbi, who noted that perhaps we are supposed to understand the story as a condemnation of Abraham, that he went too far (she notes that his life falls apart after that - Sarah dies, Isaac leaves).  Another rabbi notes that the lesson is in the end of the story, when God lets Abraham off the hook - suggesting that God would never truly ask us to do that; rather than the lesson being about what we are supposed to be willing to do for God.  All these commentaries were very helpful to me - I can now see more clearly the value in the story, rather than just cringing over it. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bat Mitzvah

I started an adult bar/bat mitzvah class this fall at our synagogue.  The plan is that the adults in the class will have their own bar or bat mitzvah in the summer of 2013.  It won't be the same weekend as Caleb's, of course - his is June 8.  (I even asked him how he felt about me doing it and he said fine, as long as it's not the same weekend!) 

I've thought about this for many years, ever since Beverly and some of the ladies at Lev Ha-Ir had their adult bat mitzvah and it was clearly so meaningful to them.  Since I had the kids, I've thought about piggy-backing on their preparation, but now that it's here, I feel a little ambivalent.

I never felt especially strongly about not having had a bat mitzvah when I was 13, because even though it's an important rite of passage, once you've been practicing a religion for your whole life, it seems a little silly to go back and participate in a ritual that welcomes you into the religion.  I mean, I'm in the religion already, as an adult, so I don't really need to mark my passage into adulthood.  On the other had, it's never too late to become official.

The other issue is the cohort of people I'm studying with.  Theoretically we're doing this together, and I always imagined it would be like the group Beverly studied with - they clearly established a big bond.  But the group I'm with are mostly strangers to me, so I wonder if it will be that same bonding experience.

When we went around and introduced ourselves, and explained (briefly) why we were taking the class, one of the women said she wasn't "kosher" yet (she converted as an adult, so of course never had a bat mitzvah).  But I have to admit that I hate that attitude.  Hitler would have sent us to the gas chamber, so that's freaking kosher enough for me!  Again, I'm a Jew, I've been practicing and participating in Judaism my whole life.  I've explained it to people and represented it all these years.  I do not feel like I need a specific ritual to make me a real Jew!!!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Women are taking over!

I've heard this theme covered in several contexts recently - in terms of the economic downturn affecting women less, in terms of college attendance and graduation, and even in terms of popular TV shows (interesting article in The Atlantic about the portrayal of male-female relations in TV shows was discussed on NPR last week).

I experienced the embodiment of this trend today, at the Temple Concord rededication ceremony.  (The congregation is over 150 years old, but the building is celebrating its centennial this year.)  100 years ago, women held no leadership positions inside the synagogue or outside it.  But the ceremony was almost an all-female parade of dignitaries- the president of our synagogue, the mayor of Syracuse, the County Executive, the City Council representative, the president of SU, and the representative of the URJ.  A noticeable exception was the rabbi.  It was kind of fascinating.  I don't know that it would have struck me quite the same way if I hadn't heard all these recent discussions.

Centennial group photo

Here's the official photo from the event. I think I'm in the second row under the banner's "2nd."


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elizabeth Warren "class warfare" viral video

Love this so much - "There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own"!  I wish I lived in Massachusetts, so I could vote for her!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ethics and morals in America

My friend Suzanne posted David Brooks' latest column from the NY Times on FB.  Here's some excerpts:

During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog and others have been conducting on the state of America's youth.  Smith and company asked about the young people's moral lives, and the results are depressing.

The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, "Lost in Transition," you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don't have the categories or vocabulary to do so.

When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn't answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.

''Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked," Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn't enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. "I don't really deal with right and wrong that often," is how one interviewee put it.

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. "It's personal," the respondents typically said. "It's up to the individual. Who am I to say?"

Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: "I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel."

Many were quick to talk about their moral feelings but hesitant to link these feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation. As one put it, "I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn't speak on behalf of anyone else as to what's right and wrong."

It's interesting, and I get his point about the prevalance of moral relativism.  Of course I don't necessarily think that moral absolutism is preferable - after all, it's responsible for witch trials and the Spanish Inquisition, and centuries of human misery, and the subjugation of women, minorities, the diabled and diseased. 

What I found myself thinking about was the talk I heard Peter Beinart give (discussed on 2/25/11), and his wonderful 2010 essay about current American Judaism failing to connect with young people, who consider social justice more important than other values.  Which is noticeably not reflected in the Notre Dame research, but I think that comes from how the survey was conducted. 

I also think that the values communicated by the young people in the Notre Dame survey reflects a lack of religious affiliation, which the census shows is growning every year in America.  Churches and synagogues are the source of much of this "moral" language, and without exposure to it there, many young people don't get it.  No one talks about morality outside of religious contexts, and the American education system certainly doesn't include much discussion of ethics.  You're not going to get any exposure to ethics unless you take a college course in it.  Which is a shame. 

But it comes down to parents, ultimately.  You have to talk about these things with your kids, or they're not going to get any exposure to this type of thinking.


Monday, September 12, 2011


I went to Alana's back-to-school night tonight.  The kids has done these family portraits with descriptions, and some of the kids put their parents' ages in the description (including Alana).  One of the moms was teasing another mom - I didn't know you were 40!  And they were laughing about it.  But I'm almost 50!  It made me kind of cringe - they think 40 is getting old, but I have almost a decade on them, and my daughter is the same age.  Yikes!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

"We have become what we loathe"

Chris Hedges 9-11 anniversary column is a bit bitter even for my taste, but he hits some nails squarely on the head.  Here are some passages that especially resonate:

. . . The images of the "jumpers" proved too gruesome for the TV networks. Even before the towers collapsed, the falling men and women were censored from live broadcasts. Isolated pictures appeared the next day in papers, including The New York Times, and then were banished. The mass suicide, one of the most pivotal and important elements in the narrative of 9/11, was expunged. It remains expunged from public consciousness.  The "jumpers" did not fit into the myth the nation demanded. The fate of the "jumpers" said something so profound, so disturbing, about our own fate, smallness in the universe and fragility that it had to be banned. The "jumpers" illustrated that there are thresholds of suffering that elicit a willing embrace of death. The "jumpers" reminded us that there will come, to all of us, final moments when the only choice will be, at best, how we will choose to die, not how we are going to live. And we can die before we physically expire.  The shock of 9/11, however, demanded images and stories of resilience, redemption, heroism, courage, self-sacrifice and generosity, not collective suicide in the face of overwhelming hopelessness and despair.

Reporters in moments of crisis become clinicians. They collect data, facts, descriptions, basic information, and carry out interviews as swiftly as possible. We make these facts fit into familiar narratives. We do not create facts but we manipulate them. We make facts conform to our perceptions of ourselves as Americans and human beings. We work within the confines of national myth. We make journalism and history a refuge from memory. The pretense that mass murder and suicide can be transformed into a tribute to the victory of the human spirit was the lie we all told to the public that day and have been telling ever since. We make sense of the present only through the lens of the past, as the French philosopher Maurice Halbwachs pointed out, recognizing that "our conceptions of the past are affected by the mental images we employ to solve present problems, so that collective memory is essentially a reconstruction of the past in the light of the present. … Memory needs continuous feeding from collective sources and is sustained by social and moral props."

. . . the growing nationalist cant and calls for blood that would soon triumph over reason and sanity. Nationalism was a disease I knew intimately as a war correspondent. It is anti-thought. It is primarily about self-exaltation. The flip side of nationalism is always racism, the dehumanization of the enemy and all who appear to question the cause. The plague of nationalism began almost immediately. . . The ceremonies of remembrance were skillfully hijacked by the purveyors of war and hatred. They became vehicles to justify doing to others what had been done to us. And as innocents died here, soon other innocents began to die in the Muslim world. A life for a life. Murder for murder. Death for death. Terror for terror.. . . What was played out in the weeks after the attacks was the old, familiar battle between force and human imagination, between the crude instruments of violence and the capacity for empathy and understanding. Human imagination lost. Coldblooded reason, which does not speak the language of the imagination, won. We began to speak and think in the empty, mindless nationalist clichés about terror that the state handed to us. We became what we abhorred. The deaths were used to justify pre-emptive war, invasion, Shock and Awe, prolonged occupation, targeted assassinations, torture, offshore penal colonies, gunning down families at checkpoints, massive aerial bombardments, drone attacks, missile strikes and the killing of dozens and soon hundreds and then thousands and later tens of thousands and finally hundreds of thousands of innocent people. We produced piles of corpses in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and extended the reach of our killing machine to Yemen and Somalia. And by beatifying our dead, by cementing into the national psyche fear and the imperative of permanent war, and by stoking our collective humiliation, the state carried out crimes, atrocities and killings that dwarfed anything carried out against us on 9/11. The best that force can do is impose order. It can never elicit harmony. And force was justified, and is still justified, by the first dead. Ten years later these dead haunt us like Banquo's ghost.  "It is the first death which infects everyone with the feelings of being threatened," wrote Elias Canetti. "It is impossible to overrate the part played by the first dead man in the kindling of wars. Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim. It needs not be anyone of particular importance, and can even be someone quite unknown. Nothing matters except his death; and it must be believed that the enemy is responsible for this. Every possible cause of his death is suppressed except one: his membership of the group to which one belongs oneself."

We were unable to accept the reality of this anonymous slaughter. We were unable because it exposed the awful truth that we live in a morally neutral universe where human life, including our life, can be snuffed out in senseless and random violence. It showed us that there is no protection, not from God, fate, luck, omens or the state.  We have still not woken up to whom we have become, to the fatal erosion of domestic and international law and the senseless waste of lives, resources and trillions of dollars to wage wars that ultimately we can never win. We do not see that our own faces have become as contorted as the faces of the demented hijackers who seized the three commercial jetliners a decade ago. We do not grasp that Osama bin Laden's twisted vision of a world of indiscriminate violence and terror has triumphed. The attacks turned us into monsters, grotesque ghouls, sadists and killers who drop bombs on village children and waterboard those we kidnap, strip of their rights and hold for years without due process. We acted before we were able to think. And it is the satanic lust of violence that has us locked in its grip.

. . . We could have gone another route. We could have built on the profound sympathy and empathy that swept through the world following the attacks. The revulsion over the crimes that took place 10 years ago, including in the Muslim world, where I was working in the weeks and months after 9/11, was nearly universal. The attacks, if we had turned them over to intelligence agencies and diplomats, might have opened possibilities not of war and death but ultimately reconciliation and communication, of redressing the wrongs that we commit in the Middle East and that are committed by Israel with our blessing. It was a moment we squandered. Our brutality and triumphalism, the byproducts of nationalism and our infantile pride, revived the jihadist movement. We became the radical Islamist movement's most effective recruiting tool. 


Friday, September 09, 2011

JDRF fundraiser

I signed up for the Junvenile Diabetes walk that is being held later this month.  It was 2 years in July since Noah died, but it doesn't feel that long at all.  It made me so sad, to be doing this again, reminding me how ridiculous it is for him to be gone.  When I signed up for the walk, they have a place to write a personal story; this is what I posted~

People think that diabetes is a manageable disease and don't realize how much people suffer with it. My brother, Noah, was diagnosed when he was 14, shortly after our father, who also had juvenile-onset diabetes, died at the age of 67. He coped for many years, but when he reached his 30s, he became discouraged, and he let his health decline. He lived alone, so when he wasn't careful about his insulin, there was no one there to help. He died in July, 2009, of kidney failure secondary to diabetes, at the age of 34.  In his adult life, he came a wonderful photographer, and even won an award at the University of Arizona for a series he did representing his struggle with diabetes. His photos survive him and are some of my most cherished possessions.At his memorial service, I read the last 2 stanzas of Kahlil Gibran's On Beauty:

[Beauty] is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes
and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels forever in flight.

. . . beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Thoughts on book series

My friend Suzanne says "there's nothing like a good series."  Which I sort of agree with, and sort of don't.  When you like a book and a character, it's so sad when the book ends and you have to part company.  So it's great to be able to continue on the adventure with them in another book.  That's the obvious benefit.  But the downside is that I think it's a crutch for authors in some way.  They don't have to resolve the issues they created, because they can always return to them in another book.  Or they can ignore them and pursue other, new complications in subsequent books.  I think the pressure of a single novel forces an author to structure the story arc toward closure, and, hopefully, create a tigher narrative.

What I'm discovering with regard to series, is that I prefer to read them after all the books are written.  I've done it both ways.  I recently read 2 popular YA novels that are clearly intended as the first in (at least) a trilogy - Matched by Ally Condie and Divergent by Veronica Roth.  Both books were very good and I'm looking forward to the sequels/subsequent books.  But the wait may be long, and who knows how I'll feel about devoting the time to them, once they finally arrive.  I had this experience with the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa - when the 3rd book came out, I started it, and then took it back to the library because I just wasn't invested in the characters anymore.  With the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore, the release of the 3rd book (Bitterblue) has already been rescheduled twice, and I'm starting to hate the author and publisher for torturing me with these delays - not really the frame of mind I want to be in, when I crack open a highly anticipated story.

With many of the series that I've read all at once, including Twilight, The Hunger Games, the Poison Study series, and The Mistress of the Art of Death series, I think the continuity of reading them in relative proximitry really kept the characters, and their situations, fresh in my mind, and my heart.  And I love and recommend these series, and hold them in high esteem.

The Uglies/Pretties series by Scott Westerfeld is an exception - I read the first 2 and then ran out of steam, even though there were at least 2 more books available, and I think there's a 3rd (5th) now as well.  I liked the books, but not enough to keep reading about the same characters and situations.  I think this is what I mean about an author crutch.  I think he said what there was to say about this dystopian society in the first book, and there wasn't enough "there" there for my reading taste, to invest in continuing.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher is also an exception - I got the sequel (Sapphique) almost immediately, but I still lost interest after a few chapters.  It's a great story, but the writing style, which I think keeps the reader a bit detached from the characters, is just not my cup of tea.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"Republican cult"

My friend Janet sent me this terrific essay by Mike Lofgren, a former Republican staffer who is appalled at the current Republican party.  It's long, but here's some of my favorite paragraphs:

. . .  It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.

. . . The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions - if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.

This tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document. This is not to say that there is not some theoretical limit to the size or intrusiveness of government; I would be the first to say there are such limits, both fiscal and Constitutional. But most Republican officeholders seem strangely uninterested in the effective repeal of Fourth Amendment protections by the Patriot Act, the weakening of habeas corpus and self-incrimination protections in the public hysteria following 9/11, or the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. If anything, they would probably opt for more incarcerated persons, as imprisonment is a profit center for the prison privatization industry, which is itself a growth center for political contributions to these same politicians.

. . . Undermining Americans' belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy. But if this technique falls short of producing Karl Rove's dream of 30 years of unchallengeable one-party rule (as all such techniques always fall short of achieving the angry and embittered true believer's New Jerusalem), there are other even less savory techniques upon which to fall back. Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students.

This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don't want those people voting.

You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not "Real Americans". Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn't look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama's policy of being black.

Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some "other," who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in America: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.

. . . I do not mean to place too much emphasis on racial animus in the GOP. While it surely exists, it is also a fact that Republicans think that no Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate. Republicans also regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that Republicans traded among themselves). Had it been Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, who had been elected in 2008, I am certain we would now be hearing, in lieu of the birther myths, conspiracy theories about Vince Foster's alleged murder.

. . . While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations' bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let's build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it's evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. "Entitlement" has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is "entitled" selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them "earned benefits," which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the "estate tax," it is the "death tax." Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted, and that politicians be kept on a short leash.

[NOTE: Obama's proposed legislation is called "the American Jobs Act," and I heard someone last week referring to "earned benefits," I forget who, but the Dems seem to be catching on to the language issue.]

It was not always thus. It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him. An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. But that is not the case in the present economic crisis. After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors' looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media? At "Washington spending" - which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade's corporate saturnalia. Or the popular rage is harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: death panels, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest.
. . . Republicans have attempted to camouflage their amorous solicitude for billionaires with a fog of misleading rhetoric. John Boehner is fond of saying, "we won't raise anyone's taxes," as if the take-home pay of an Olive Garden waitress were inextricably bound up with whether Warren Buffett pays his capital gains as ordinary income or at a lower rate.

Another chestnut is that millionaires and billionaires are "job creators." US corporations have just had their most profitable quarters in history; Apple, for one, is sitting on $76 billion in cash, more than the GDP of most countries. So, where are the jobs?

Another smokescreen is the "small business" meme, since standing up for Mom's and Pop's corner store is politically more attractive than to be seen shilling for a megacorporation. Raising taxes on the wealthy will kill small business' ability to hire; that is the GOP dirge every time Bernie Sanders or some Democrat offers an amendment to increase taxes on incomes above $1 million. But the number of small businesses that have a net annual income over a million dollars is de minimis, if not by definition impossible (as they would no longer be small businesses). And as data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research have shown, small businesses account for only 7.2 percent of total US employment, a significantly smaller share of total employment than in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

. . . a psychological predisposition toward war and militarism on the part of the GOP. This undoubtedly arises from a neurotic need to demonstrate toughness and dovetails perfectly with the belligerent tough-guy pose one constantly hears on right-wing talk radio. Militarism springs from the same psychological deficit that requires an endless series of enemies, both foreign and domestic.

The results of the last decade of unbridled militarism and the Democrats' cowardly refusal to reverse it, have been disastrous both strategically and fiscally. It has made the United States less prosperous, less secure and less free. Unfortunately, the militarism and the promiscuous intervention it gives rise to are only likely to abate when the Treasury is exhausted, just as it happened to the Dutch Republic and the British Empire.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Weekend movies

Terrific movie weekend.  I saw 2 movies in the theater, on the same night!  My friend suggested we stay for the 2nd movie (something Larry and I used to do regularly), and since I used a free pass for the first movie, I actually saw both of them for free.  Naughty, but delicious.  I also saw a couple of good movies on video.

Crazy, Stupid, Love - very fun; the cast is marvellous and the story is engaging; I did not see the big plot twist coming either, which is a testimony to the restraint of the marketing campaign; the only thing that keeps this from being a perfect movie is a couple of key scenes that occur in public, which felt very contrived, and took me out of the story, but this is a quibble and a minor complaint.

One Day - this was well done, but not excellent; the structure is clever and used to good effect, but the overall story feels disjointed, and you don't get to know the people as well as you could; also, the male character is such a pill that you're not really rooting for the couple, so when they (finally!) get together, it's not as satisfying as it should be, and when the inevitable tragedy occurs, it's not as moving as it should be either.  Not a bad movie, but it won't stick with me, and it wasn't engaging enough to make me want to read the book.

HappyThankYouMorePlease (2010) - adorable rom-com, typical of all independent rom-coms, in that it's actually romantic and actually funny, bonus is that it's moving too; terrific cast and a clever story about a commitment-phobic young novelist who takes in a boy abandoned on the subway; the only thing that keeps this from being a perfect movie is that the writer/director/star (Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother) includes too many reaction shots of his own face - he's cute, but it got a bit distracting; this is a quibble though - this movie is wonderful.

Flipped (2010) - utterly charming coming of age movie about a lively young lady and her years-long crush on the boy next door (the movie switches perspectives between the two main characters - one of the reasons for the title); perfectly cast and full of quite lovely messages; very enjoyable (no fart jokes at all!); based on a book I would want my kids to read.

Globehunters (2000) - another offbeat animated movie that I picked from the Netflix Instant Queue; fun, with great animation and surprisingly catchy songs (far better than the saccharine numbers in most straight-to-video fare); even Caleb, who considers himself above this type of movie, got caught up watching.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

More on wheat and health

My friend Janet sent me this interesting commentary about wheat gluten:

Wheat contains the lectin Wheat Germ Agglutinin. At levels achieved during bread eating, WGA acts as an adjuvant for gut contents - targeting glycosilated food or bacterial products to the mucosal immune system, and stimulating those immune cells via toll-like receptors to produce inflammatory cytokines and antibodies against the antigen. If a bit of your body's proteins happen to look like that food / bacterial protein, you're risking autoimmunity. Wistar rats raised without wheat germ have white blood cells half as active at rest, and half as responsive to less-noxious stimuli, despite retaining the ability to respond fully to genuine infections. WGA is a recipe for autoimmunity and inflammation. If you have any autoimmune condition, from rheumatism to vitiligo, cutting wheat and other lectin-bearing plants out of your diet is one of the best steps you can take.

WGA also interacts with leptin and insulin receptors, and may play a role in the 20-30% hyperphagia (involuntary overeating) seen in diets that contain grains. Yup, if you eat grains, you're eating 20-30% more calories per day to feel full, than you would if you cut them out altogether. This is a robustly repeated finding of published Paleolithic diet trials, along with the restoration of insulin-sensitivity.

Wheat proteins are also broken down to peptide sequences that fit and activate mu and delta opioid receptors. Incredibly, it's been observed (by a cardiologist) that up to 30% of people stopping eating wheat abruptly go through a withdrawal syndrome that may last days.

Not forgetting the phytic acid that grains have in abundance, which binds many minerals in an insoluble form preventing their absorption. Non-grain eating societies (rare though they are now) are reported to lack the endemic anemia found in subsets of the western population.

None of these described effects are an "allergy" in the true sense of the word. It's just we should never have been eating this lectin-laden, inflammatory grass seed in the first place, but a lot of us can appear (appear) to be getting away with it for so many years that the alarm bells don't go off.

Friday, September 02, 2011

"Just say no to your doctor"

Another terrific article by Sharon Begley, Newsweek's science writer, about the limits of modern medicine.  This time she tackles the questionable medical value of medical tests, which more and more studies show lead to no improvements in health, and occasionally worse health outcomes, in the form of side effects and unnecessary surgery.

This would make an excellent companion piece to the alternative medicine article in The Atlantic that I wrote about earlier this year (June 25) and Begley's excellent article on the placebo effect, that I wrote about back in 2008 (March 31).


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Best chat

Great conversation with my friend Suzanne tonight. She's still my very favorite person to talk about books and movies with.  We agreed on the Kindle too - we like the portability, but we're waiting until library books are available for it, before we get one for ourselves.