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Monday, October 31, 2011

Sexy Halloween costumes

Every year we have to have this conversation!  I enjoyed this essay on HuffingtonPost (from the UK), which makes the point quite well:

. . .  somewhere between the Thriller video and Kitty Brucknell humping that dartboard on X Factor at the weekend, Halloween became the get-out-of-slutty-free card - a chance for nice, normal girls with a tasteful line in Uniqlo cardigans to crank their assets up to their chin and embrace their slaggy alter egos for a night.
And what's wrong with that, really? Fancy dress has always been a chance for escapism - be it as a teary five-year-old inkeeper, or a hobbit in live action roleplay in a wood somewhere in Norfolk. If your heart's desire is to spend the night as a lascivious incarnation of Little Bo Peep, then by all means go for it. But watch where you put that crook, you'll have someone's eye out.
The problem, you see, isn't so much that Halloween offers the chance to dress slutty, but that recently it seems to have become the only option. It started small enough, with sexy she-devils, minxy vampires and the 'underwear with arbitrary animal ears' get-up so well illustrated in Mean Girls. But then (probably as all the fancy dress shops started selling out of red PVC), it spread. And lo, we were forced to sluttify every costume we could, just to keep up. Nuns, literary characters, historical figures - all now have to come with a side of knee-socks and pouting.
. .  . It's a part of the much wider question, continually plaguing us womenfolk - why can't we just wear normal clothes? Proper, functioning clothes, that cover us adequately and don't garrotte us in intimate areas. For the modern woman, day-to-day life can sometimes feel like a feeble battle against the landslide of booty-bearing, quasi-stripper expectations gradually falling in on our heads. Halloween is the epicentre of this.  

Of course, I don't care personally about societal expectatio­ns because I'm a frumpy middle-age­d woman who isn't going to look truly sexy no matter how much pouting and knee socks I add to my costume. But I worry greatly for my 20-somethi­ng niece and my young daughter, because the message about parading your sexuality is so LOUD and unavoidabl­e.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Free coffee day at Bruegger's!

 I had their pumpkin spice coffee today - it's pretty good.  And  I can get a cup for free on my birthday!  How fun!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Latest movies

Somewhat disappointing films lately ~

Contagion - I had been looking forward to this movie, but it was a bit disappointing.  Not quite as much "there" there as all the build up suggested.  The first half is better than the last half - several storylines fizzle out, including the one about the scientist who discovers the virus, the kidnapped WHO agent, and the blogger who manipulates the market to make money (all of these could have been better developed and much more exciting).  There's plenty of great moments, but just as many wasted opportunities. User reviews on imdb.com had similar complaints, and not surprisingly, Suzanne had the same reaction that I did.  Not a bad movie, but could have been so much better - not in the league of Traffic, which it could and should have been.

Autumn Hearts (2008; aka Emotional Arithmetic) - based on a novel (by Matt Cohen) about survivors of a little-known French internment camp (Drancy, which mostly served as a waystation for Auschwitz), with a great cast and gorgeous setting in Canada.  But the ending was sort of odd and even a bit of a head scratcher.  Not a bad movie, but not really satisfying (other imdb reviewers felt the same); it reminded me a bit of Adam Resurrected - a valiant effort but not a perfect movie; in any event, I'm not sorry I saw it, for excellent performances and a history lesson.

Brush with Fate (2003) -  A Hallmark movie, also adapted from a novel (by Susan Vreeland) which tells the stories of several owners of a beautiful lost Vermeer painting (Girl in Hyacinth Blue) across several centuries.  The stories are interesting and well done, but I wonder if the filmmakers realize how misogynistic it seems - we have a woman who feeds her family the seed potatoes, virtually destroying the family farm, then a woman who encourages her nephew to abandon his pregnant girlfriend to protect the family's name, and finally a woman who kills her newborn baby daughter, and then of course there's Cordelia, the character played by Glenn Close; it's like a tour of evil female stereotypes. I think they're trying to say that the painting brings out the best and the worst in people, and depicts what they were willing to sacrifice for the painting (though I would argue that most of the characters' behavior was really independent of their feelings for the painting, except Cordelia, of course, and maybe the farmer's wife).  It wasn't a bad movie, but  I got pretty fed-up with the way women were portrayed, and I think it ruined otherwise fascinating historical fiction.  


Friday, October 28, 2011

Record spending on Halloween

Halloween spending is basically recession-proof: about $7 BILLION dollars this year, up every year since 2008 (when the current recession began).  That's about $2 billion on costumes, $2 billion on candy, and something approaching $2 billion on decorations.  Here's the kicker: that includes more than $300 MILLION on PET costumes!

"According to the annual National Retail Federation Halloween spending survey, some 161 million people will celebrate Halloween – the biggest number in the 10 years the NRF has conducted the survey."


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Too much history

I just loved Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  Coincidentally, the sections of the textbook for my b'nai mitzvah class, Jewish Literacy, that we're reading now, concerns the same historical time period - namely, the Middle Ages.  And I recently started reading Dara Horn's The World to Come, which includes some flashbacks to pogroms in Poland between the world wars. And of course I just finished The Book Thief and recently saw Sarah's Key, both about the Holocaust.  It's not that I don't know this history, but I must admit that it's getting a bit overwhelming to read so many accounts of Jewish slaughter.  It's not just war or killing either, it's burning people alive, torturing them during the Inquisition, cutting babies from living women's wombs, and on and on like that.  I realize the Jews have not been the only victims of these horrific acts.  But it does start to feel oppressive - Jewish history is so full of this aggressive and vicious destruction, motivated by searing and inexplicable hatred.  I always think of that line from The Chosen: "How the world delights in killing us."


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dramatic sky

We seem to regularly get these clouds that cut straight across the sky - I assume it has something to do with the lake effect.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rick Perry's "birther" comments

A lead story on all the cable news shows last night was Rick Perry's vague endorsement of the birther theory that Obama was not born in the US.  I kept wondering why we're talking about this at all.  Besides the fact that no one with an ounce of political credibility seriously believes this ridiculous charge (so why is the media still giving it headlines???), but much more to the point, who cares what Rick Perry says?  He's no longer a viable national candidate and his poll numbers have totally tanked.  Nobody reports on Michelle Bachmann anymore, so why is this guy still getting any attention?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Taking "his" name

This story on HuffingtonPost came to my attention because it appeared on Facebook, and I read it because I've been thinking about this issue quite a bit lately.  The writer is a young (30 year old) "feminist" who's planning to take her husband's name when she gets married, and she's feeling guilty about it, and is somewhat surprised that she wants to.

Of course, I didn't change my name when I got married almost 20 years ago.  And mostly, after 2 kids, it's been a big hassle.  It might have been different if we'd stayed in Philadelphia, a bigger urban area, but I find in Syracuse that I constantly have to explain or clarify my relationship to my kids.  It's just not very common, apparently, for a mom to have a different name.  And I have to admit, it's making me increasingly uncomfortable.  I suppose I thought I was maintaining my identity, especially with regard to my professional life, but since my professional life hasn't had that much life in it, it now seems, well, unnecessary.

There were quite a few comments at HuffPost to this story - I think mine was about #250.  So it's clearly still an issue that troubles people.  Many comments that I read basically said, do whatever works for you.  And, of course, I agree with that.  But there were also comments about building a new family instead of maintaining your connection to your original family, and those are the ones that most resonate with me at this point in time.

Not that I would bother to change my name now, but my feelings about my reasons for not doing so are definitely evolving.  I suppose it's also a factor that my father's death is 2 decades past now, whereas when I got married, his passing was rather fresh, and maintaining that connection felt rather urgent.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday in the park with Roxy

Enjoyed a lovely walk in the park, in all it's fall glory.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back in CNY

I got home from Florida around 5 p.m. and headed almost immediately over to the park to walk the dog and get some fresh air, after all day in airplanes and airports.

Weird thing is that I lost my phone right after I took this photo.  I've worried about dropping my phone in the park, but it's never happened, and I always thought I was being paranoid.  Turns out, not so much!

What happened is that it fell out of my pocket when I jumped over a small stream.  I checked there, but the phone had fallen into some bushes, and I didn't actually find it until I went home, collected the family, and Larry called my phone repeatedly until we heard it ringing.  Close call.  Thank goodness for Twilight theme song ring tone!


Friday, October 21, 2011

Choose two!

My friend Beth posted this on Facebook.  So, so, SO true!  I'm not sure I'm even managing 2 most of the time.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

More on Twilight quote

Someone who can only be described as quite an intellectual giant felt the need to weigh in on this Facebook conversation:

Twilight seems to appeal to those that have a higher level of immaturity and are quite pathetic. It's teen girl driven simply because it's boring and you lose brain cells with every page.

The delicious irony of this comment is that my very last interaction with this person was last year at a book club meeting.  We were supposed to be discussing Dara Horn's excellent civil war novel, All Other Nights, but this person hadn't even read it.  We spent half the time listening to her yammer on about all the reality TV shows that she loves, like Sister Wives and My Super Sweet 16 (talk about the loss of brain cells!!)  Her and another woman in the group managed to fit in a little Twilight bashing that night (see my entry on January 28, 2010).  I didn't comment at that time, because they were only trying to get under my skin, and I couldn't care less what they think, since they haven't read the book. Ditto this Facebook exchange.  The whole thing definitely falls under the category of "pathetic".

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Writing conference travel

Arrived in Jacksonville, FL, and this is the view from my hotel room on the 10th floor of the Hyatt - the St John's river - one of the only rivers in the US that flows south to north.

Posted a funny comment on FB about the Reagan airport: "I always hated Reagan and it turns out that his airport is a clusterfuck."  It was really the oddest thing - when I arrived, the departure gate of my connecting flight had changed (from 37 to 23), and to get to the terminal where the new gate is, I had to go through security again.  I got to the new gate and I was told, along with several other people, that the board was wrong, and the original gate was correct.  Turns out, I didn't have to go through security, because there's a shuttle between terminals.  But the shuttle entrance is literally behind one of the departure gates, and almost impossible to see from the hall.  I've never seen such a crazy set up.

Another weird side note - someone told me that Reagan National used to be BWI.  I said, "I don't think so," but they insisted.  Of course it's not (Reagan is in Virgina, BWI is in Maryland); I wonder where they got that idea.  BWI is Baltimore-Washington International, which, by the by. is now officially Thurgood Marshall Airport!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anatomy of a Twilight quote

This week, a friend posted this quote on FB, comparing Harry Potter to Twilight.  (Another friend had posted the same quote about a year ago, and I got quite incensed, because I think it's rather misogynistic to dismiss a popular book just because the target audience is girls - see entry from July 17, 2010).  Here's the quote:

"Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend." 

This quote is widely attributed to Stephen King, and I sort of wondered about that, so I looked it up.  Turns out that Stephen King did not say this.  He's certainly on record criticizing Twilight, but this quote comes from a woman named Robin Browne.  Her rant about Twilight was quoted on Tumblr by a music critic named Anthony Futral.  Through the magic of the internets, and as so often happens, the quote has come to be associated with a much more famous person.

I liked this response on the Snopes discussion thread, by a poster named RivkehChaya (nice Jewish girl!) - I couldn't have said it better myself:

Regarding the [original] quote, which is more along the lines of social commentary than literary criticism . . . well, so? Unless Twilight was supposed to be about all the things the critic claims that Harry Potter is about, but failed, and ended up just being about boyfriends, it really isn't a fair criticism. We can debate the worthiness of writing books for adolescent girls that are about the importance of boyfriends, but that doesn't matter. If the book is supposed to be a romance, and it is a romance, and people enjoy it as such, then it is successful.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

"I am not the 99%"

A friend of mine on FB posted this photo.  I can see where this person feels like they've made good choices and others can do the same.  And, of course, there is at least a kernel of truth in this.  But this commentary reflects the prevalent American myth of meritocracy - that everyone who succeeds got there through their hard work and everyone who fails did so because they are lazy or deficit.  And of course reality is so much more complicated.

Unexpected bad things happen to people all the time, despite their best attempts to prepare - health problems that insurance won't cover, damage to homes and cars that insurance won't cover.  Job losses, family crises, and all sorts of other unanticipated events that put extreme pressure on people's ability to land on their feet.

Do we really want everyone who "fails" to just fall by the wayside?  Do we really want to just step over people who fall on hard times, and move on, averting our eyes?  Is that really our national value?  Is this the Middle Ages?

And I propose that a safety net is required for more than compassionate reasons or moral reasons - when others "fail" (however you define that), the entire society is affected.  A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link!  If we help people at the bottom, it makes the whole country stronger.  I really believe that.

I also believe, like many others, that "Wall Street" made a lot of money by cheating, and then the taxpayers bailed them out when the cheating caught up with them.  So, while we always had a vested interest in their behavior, we have even more reason to pay attention, and criticize, now.


Turns out that this is professionally produced by some right wing group, rather than being the real thoughts of an actual individual.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend movies

Moneyball - Larry and I went out to see this while his mom stayed home with the kids after Alana's birthday party; fun and interesting, quite a tour-de-force by Brad Pitt.  Not sure it will really stick with me, though.

Win-Win - I'd heard raves about this Paul Giamatti vehicle and the praise is well deserved; a very involving story about ambition, relationships, the limits of forgiveness, and the scope of the modern family

Mars Needs Moms - one of the few animated movies from the summer that the kids missed; glad I watched it with them; it was fun, and of course Mom is a major factor!

The American - surprisingly dull and rather pointless; way too much nudity for my taste too.  Not sure why George Clooney felt the need to bring this story (from the novel, A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth*) to the screen, except that he got to film in Italy near his villa.  So glad I didn't make the effort to see this in the theater.

Scorpion King 2 - Cal and I watched this straight to video prequel while he was home sick during the week.  Not amazing but fairly entertaining for what it was.

*This is from the Booklist review on Amazon.com: "Haunting, shocking, and tense, Booth's story is a charismatic blend of psychological thriller, vivid drama, searing morality tale, and profound psychological study. His writing is crisp yet lyrical, simple yet intelligent. Readers looking for thought-provoking literary fiction can't do any better than this."  They did not manage to translate this onto the screen!


Friday, October 14, 2011

Committed v involved

A friend on FB posted this question-of-the-day:

What is the difference between "involvement" and "commitment"? A bacon and egg breakfast! The chicken was "involved," the pig was "committed."  In your life, what are you committed to? Or are you just involved?

This was my response:

Involved in my job, committed to my kids.
Involved in my synagogue, committed to my faith.
Involved in my book club, committed to lifelong learning.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Teens and sex

I heard this report on CNN this morning.  I was struck by how misleading the lead sentence is.   A large minority of teens say they are waiting to have sex because of moral or religious reasons - that does not neatly translate into "fear the wrath of God."  Many, if not most of, religions teach ethical and moral choices based, not on the fear of God or retribution, but on positive outcomes and self-respect. And I am very curious about the breakdown of moral v. religious reasons, which were combined in this report (it sounds like they were also combined in the survey).  I think CNN missed an opportunity to say something really meaningful with this reporting - teens embracing a higher sense of morality is great news, and fascinating.  Dismissing this with cute but misleading language is rather beneath them, IMO.

Teenagers do not fear warts and bodily havoc caused by sexually transmitted diseases.  The ones who abstain from sex are more worried about the wrath of God.
A report by the National Center for Health Statistics that surveyed 4,662 teenagers, asked those who abstained why they had chosen not to have sex. The top reason for both males and females between the age of 15 and 19, was that sexual intercourse was “against religion or morals.”  They were least likely to be concerned about STDs.
The report on teenage sexual activities released Wednesday found that the rate of teenagers having sex has declined slightly from the last report released in 2002, but this change was not substantial.  It follows an overall trend of decline in teenage sex in the last 20 years.
The data came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national survey.
“This study helps inform public health and to try to understand the factors behind teen pregnancy rates and birth rates,” said lead author, Gladys Martinez, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics.  
The report also found increases in male teens using condoms and females using injectable birth control such as Depo-Provera,  contraceptive patches at the time of their first sexual intercourse.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Defending "Breaking Dawn"

It's started already, the bashing and trashing and thrashing of the next Twilight installment.  I just don't understand the hostility.  You hear very little fussing about the latest movie made from a Nicholas Sparks novel, which are incredibly formulaic and terribly sappy.  And tremendously popular.  But somehow acceptable in a way that Twilight just isn't.  What is it about this particular story that incites such fury?  It can't just be the fact that there's 4 books and 5 movies.  Look at any popular comic book franchise - Batman, The Hulk, Iron Man, now The Avengers, combining nearly a dozen superhereos.  There can be dozens of books, and many movies.  Look at the mother of all franchises - Spiderman.  They're "rebooting" the series yet again.  No one screams and cries and shakes their head and says "Why the hell do we need more of this?"  Every new comic book that's made into a movie is met with rapture, and no complaints.  Obviously every new Twilight movie is greeted with rapture, but also an outpouring of derision that I just don't understand.  It's not like they aren't making movies for other people.  It's not even like there aren't any other vampire movies, for those who are offended by the soft-pedaling of the genre - Underworld, for example just came out with the 4th in their series.  There's so many movies made for the fanboys, why are they so pissed off about Twilight?


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"All the good you can"

  I've always loved this quote and someone posted this beautiful version of it on FB recently.  One of the comments were "Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone lived by this."  And the short answer is, yes, it would.  But I've been thinking about it, and I think that part of the problem is that people define "all the good" in very different ways.  I think many people do try to live by this, but their goals are not the same as mine.  An extreme example struck me from the reading I've been doing: most of the Inquisitors probably thought they were doing "all the good" they could.  Hitler probably thought he was doing all the good he could.  It depends how you define "good."  I remember talking to a friend a decade or so ago, who thought we should quarantine people with AIDS, not to punish them, but to protect everyone else.  That person was certainly motivated to do "good."  It's just more complicated than it seems, that's all I'm saying.  Maybe that's why I love these dystopian novels so much - because they show different societies which have tried to create something good that's gone awry, or that's ended up with unintended consequences that were arguably worse than what they started with.  Food for thought. 


Monday, October 10, 2011

JDRF fundraiser

Surpassed my goal of $500 again this year.  So grateful to all my friends and family who help me honor Noah in this small way.  We love you, Noah, and we will never forget you.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

"Cilantro - love it or loathe it"

This is so interesting to me, because I'm firmly in the hate column on this popular herb (though I had no idea that my distaste was so widely shared).  Sadly, it's used ubiquitously in two of my favorite cuisines - Vietnamese and Mexican.

. . . But what is it about cilantro that some people find so intensely offensive? To begin to find out, Wysocki has used gas chromoatography, a machine that uses heat to separates a complex mixture of molecules -- like cilantro -- piece by piece, allowing researchers to identify each individual compound, by using both the machine and their own noses. The GC, as it's called, warms the cilantro, and as it heats up, that "soapy" smell is released. About 10 minutes later, the pleasantly herbaceous cilantro smell is emitted -- but the typical cilantro hater still can't smell it. 
"What we think might be happening is the person who hates cilantro is, in fact, detecting the soapy odor. But what they seem to be missing is the nice, aromatic, green component," says Wysocki, who thinks the smell of cilantro is quite pleasant. "It’s possible that they have a mutated or even an absent receptor gene for the receptor protein that would interact with the very pleasant smelling compound."
Hear that, cilantro haters? You're mutants, says a scientist. (We kid, we kid.)
As the theory goes -- and Wysocki is quick to remind that this is still speculative -- cilantrophobes may not be able to pick up the scent of a compound called dodecenal, which gives the cilantro that lovely fresh scent we cilantrophiles know so well. It's even possible, Wysocki allows, that those soap-smellers may have something called specific anosmia, which is the lack of perception of an odor for a specific compound, when the smell is otherwise intact.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Weekend movies

Watched some terrific movies this weekend ~

50/50 - the "cancer comedy" with JGL and Seth Rogan.  Not as funny as I expected - the previews contain almost all the jokes.  Darker and more poignant than it was promoted to be, but very good. (Though you could make the case that it was a tiny bit underwritten - maybe another draft or two could have ironed out a few weaknesses, but I'm quibbling, it was very enjoyable.)  Great performances all around, including Angelica Huston and Anna Kendrick, and JGL proves yet again that he can inhabit any role.  Side note - I tried not to identify too much with the mom character, because the story is told by her son, but it was hard - I really felt for her.

The Burning Plain (2008) - I got interested in this movie because I wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence in an early role.  But, wow!  A totally riveting film that reminded me a bit of Lone Star - multiple stories that occur in 2 time periods and overlap in very poignant ways (as you see events through the perspective of several different people).  The film is stuffed with excellent performances, including JL, Kim Basinger, and a scorching performance by Charlize Theron.  It was also beautifully and carefully constructed so that you gradually learn what happened and how it affected these characters.  It's a crying shame that this wasn't seen by more people.

Prom - this Disney offering was better than I could have hoped, with some decent acting and less saccharine than expected.  Kids enjoyed it too.