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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Discussions of Israel

This is the 3rd time in less than a year (see 5/1/11 blog entry) that I've attended a discussion of Israel at my synagogue with an "Israeli" present (though in this most recent instance, the woman is American, but lived in Israel for 15 years as a young adult).  In all 3 instances, the Israeli took the standard hard line against the Palestinians. I realize there's plenty of Israelis who feel this way, but there's also plenty who actually favor a 2 state solution and actually think Palestinians are human beings deserving of dignity and consideration . . . none of those people ever seem to visit us though.

I've gotten to the point where I'm actually bored listening to American Jews trot out the same tired arguments about how superior we are, and how no one has suffered like we have, so we should get a pass on, well, everything.

I thought it was the height of irony that the section of Israel history that we read prior to the class makes extremely clear how divided the various factions of early Zionists were and how much they despised each other.  Why should things be any different now?  But we sort of glossed over that aspect.  As soon as the discussion got a bit heated, the rabbi defused things with a long lecture about Harry Truman's role in the establishment of Israel (he wrote his thesis on this, or something).  I suppose he didn't want us coming to blows, but I think we need more discussion about these issues, not less.  I don't think disagreements should be avoided, though I realize this is not prevailing opinion.

Less than 2 weeks later, I heard Jeremy Ben Ami, the founder of J Street, speaking in Syracuse.  There was a respectable sized crowd, and the questions were noticeably lacking in hysteria, rather to my surprise.  It's so refreshing to hear a committed Zionist make the case for a reasonable and equitable solution, without demonizing the other inhabitants of the area.  It's an uphill battle to change the conversation of American Jews, but there's clearly substantial interest in Syracuse for a chapter of J Street, and I look forward to being involved with other Jews who share my more nuanced view.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Girls becoming women

Soraya Chemaly is my new hero.  Love this Huffington Post column on the requirement of female actresses to debase themselves as an essential part of their transition to womanhood.  Below are a few choice paragraphs:

. . . As Frank Bruni detailed in a NYT article making this "good girls gone bad" transition is practically a female celebrity rite of passage. I would add specifically, self-debasement, is an essential component. For girls to get their tickets stamped and become famous women, they have to very publically enact one or more of the following: rape, stripping, pole dancing, prostitution, sexual abuse. Want a list? Here's a very short one of recent actresses or performers who made their transitions in that way.
Kristen Stewart
Britney Spears
Christina Aquilera
Lindsey Lohan
Miley Cyrus
Dakota Fanning
Hilary Duff
Diana Agron
Lea Michele
Jessica Simpson
Vanessa Hudgens
Jessica Beil
Elizabeth Berkley
Abigail Breslin (who may have to go through a Round II)
Even Anne Hathaway, who's made a valiant go of it, played a phone sex worker in Valentine's Day (which meant she was available anywhere, anytime by the men who wanted her). And, this is nothing new, Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, Brooke Sheilds. The list is endless. Every single one of them: rape, stripping, pole dancing, prostitution. Success! 
. . . So, having to "prove" you are no longer a girl means proving you are no longer "good" whatever THAT means.  . . How screwed up is that?
The damage done by these images and the unbalanced portrayals of female sexuality (which almost always pivots, btw, around vulnerability to male violence (such a great image of boys' and men's sexuality) is like the damage done by second hand smoke. Girls and women subjected to these images (that would be... everyone) all experience, to varying degrees, self-objectification. The American Psychological Association report on it's effects on girls is detailed and clear.


Monday, November 28, 2011

What matters to women

My friend Suzanne sent me a terrific piece on Oprah by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic.  It's interesting, but the very best paragraph is pure CF, and really captures what makes women tick:

There are certain things about women that men will never understand, in part because they have no interest in understanding them. They will never know how deeply we care about our houses—what a large role they play in our dreams for ourselves, how unhappy their shortcomings make us. Men think they understand the way our physical beauty—or lack of it, or assaults on it from age or extra weight—preys on our minds, but they don’t fully grasp the significance these things have for us. Nor can they understand the way physical comforts or simple luxuries—the fresh towel or the fat new cake of soap—can lift our spirits. And they will never know how much our lives are shaped around the fear of bad men and the harm they can bring us if we’re not careful, if we’re not banded together, if we’re not telling each other what to watch out for, what we’ve learned. We need each other’s counsel, and oftentimes it comes when we’re talking about other things, when we seem not to have much important on our minds at all.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post feminist domesticity

Emily Matchar wrote a piece in the Washington Post, about the weird fad of home canning and wool making and other activities that we associate with pioneer women - activities that modern life make unnecessary, but to which young and middle-aged women are flocking.  What's the deal, she asks.

Then Maggie Arden wrote a spirited (if somewhat defensive) defense, suggesting that it's all completely innocent.

I think Maggie misinterpreted Emily, who said that these domestic activities have started out as hobbies, but it could be a short step before they again become the obligation that they were for women in the age of Betty Friedan.  While trends come and go, as Maggie wrote, there is still something disturbing about so many highly educated women snuggling down and enjoying all these tasks that many (not all, of course) of our mothers and grandmothers were very happy to relinquish.  I certainly don't think it's anti-feminist to enjoy knitting or baking, but their prevalence is one of those things that make you go "hmmm" . . .


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Local sex abuse scandal

Shortly after the Penn State kerfluffle started, a story came out of SU, about a student who claimed he was molested by the assistant basketball coach for the team, Bernie Fine.  Apparently, the young man reported his abuse in 2003, but, surprise, the story was suppressed.  I was even more taken aback by several people I know (who shall remain nameless) who said they thought there was nothing to this story, that the accuser was just jumping on some twisted band wagon, or just wanted the publicity. (Of course, the venerated head coach, Jim Boeheim, expressed similar sentiments.) Needless to say, I was appalled at their reaction, but didn't really counter their assessment.  Then, a couple weeks later, an audiotape emerged, of the accuser talking with the coach's wife, Laurie, wherein she says, she knew exactly what he'd done - that he was in denial and she felt powerless to stop him.  Since then, 2 more accusers have come forward.  The coach was immediately fired by Chancellor Nancy Cantor, and the head coach expressed regret that his initial remarks were "insensitive" to the victims.  What makes me even more discouraged than the abuse is the dismissive way that people still treat the brave people who speak out about it.  People seem shockingly unaware that the courage to speak up often only occurs after someone else has spoken out first.  Hence the supposed "band wagon" effect.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Madame Bovary

I read this book for my book club.  Interesting and thought-provoking.  I didn't really expect to like it, but I enjoyed reading it, especially the second half.  It's a little hard to get "into," but a lot of books are that way.  I might not have persevered if I hadn't been motivated by the book club, so I'm glad I had that to keep me going.

I read the Francis Steegmuller translation, which is considered the most authoritative.  I got a gorgeous copy of the book at the library - a real treasure, with a ribbon bookmark built in.  The saddest thing about ebooks is that we won't have these lovely books to hold and read anymore (they're virtually extinct already).

In the Steegmuller intro, he says that Madame Bovary is considered a "perfect" book.  Flaubert apparently crafted every sentence with deliberation.  It has some beautiful passages, though the descriptions can get a bit tedious, and I admit to scanning more than a few paragraphs.

One of the things that struck me was how modern the book seemed.  Other than the descriptions of clothes and transportation (and medical treatments, ugh) you could almost swear you were reading a 21st century novel, which is a testimony to Flaubert's skill.  It's also a testimony to the incredible universality of the themes in the book, which occur so frequently in literature that they are almost cliche - boredom with modern life, the search for love, the petty cruelties of friends and neighbors.

I found the character of Emma to be both sympathetic and highly aggravating.  I went back and forth, feeling for her situation and then feeling annoyed with her.  She makes many bad choices, and succumbs to self-pity (and of course the ultimate self-pitying act), but she is often aware of her own foolishness, and some of the best passages are her questioning herself: why am I so unhappy, why can't I take pleasure in my life?

I was a bit surprised that she commits suicide, not over lost love, but due to her financial ruin, and her general cynicism about life.  In general the book is not romantic or passionate the way I expected it to be, but that's not ultimately a flaw.

The question is always raised about whether this is a feminist novel.  On the one hand, I would say, definitely not, because Emma is such a victim of her circumstances and her melancholy nature.  But there's also an amazing passage fairly early in the book, talking about the dilemma of women, that could have been penned by Betty Friedan, right out of The Feminine Mystique.

As I read it, I often found myself wondering: where are her female friends?  It seemed almost an oversight on the author's part - women always have friends in novels written by women.  Emma does not seem especially anti-social and I had to think that her story would have ended very differently if she'd taken the trouble to cultivate some girlfriends.

I also thought the author's gender was apparent in the short shrift that Emma's relationship with her daughter was given.  The child is almost an afterthought throughout the book.  It's possible that a woman of such strong emotions would have so little connection to her child, but I thought it was improbable, and one of the few weaknesses of the story.

I also thought some of the secondary characters could have been developed more.  For a story that was so carefully crafted, this seemed something of a missed opportunity.

Overall I enjoyed the book and thought about it more than many books I've read.  I was left with the thought that there are so many "classic" novels that I never read, and the ones I read in school I didn't probably understand or appreciate. Added to my Bucket List: take a literature course!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feminist defense of Twilight

I was pleased to come across this writer's commentary on the strangely rabid criticism.  Great stuff.  Below is the first few paragraphs.  In addition to her calm assessment, many of the comments at the Time website (as far as I read, certainly not the many hundreds there), are reasonable and reasonably intelligent.

The Harsh Bigotry of Twilight-Haters

Time. com

Hating Twilight is so 2009, and with the newest installment, Breaking Dawn, ruling the box office, the juggernaut hardly needs defenders. But the virulent seriousness of the haters is surprising. Many of the reviews have heaped disproportionate and moralizing scorn on an Oscar-winning director’s fantasy enactment of a young girl’s dreams and fears. Kristen Stewart and her co-stars have been excoriated for their “sullen” and “wooden” performances despite receiving respectable and sometimes highly favorable reviews in other movies in which they have starred.

The negative reactions fall in two camps: The dismissive camp simply mocks Twilight’s incorporation of silly, “moony” elements like undying love and the surprisingly authentic portrayal of wedding ritual, honeymoon jitters and the shock of unintended pregnancy; the topics are apparently too boring and unrelatable for most reviewers. The deluded camp, conversely, takes Twilight far too seriously, faulting it for leading young girls to mistake fantasy for reality in dangerous, disempowering ways.
It makes you wonder if some people missed the memo that hundreds of millions of females, like their male counterparts, enjoy their fantasy life straight-up weird, sexy, and implausible.
Why is it that female fantasies are such a source of derision and fear? The male species is allowed all manner of violent, creepy, ludicrous, and degrading movie tropes, and while we may not embrace them as high art, no one questions them seriously as entertainment, even when sometimes we probably should. (Violent imagery is, after all, associated with violent behavior.) You want to saw someone in half or put their head in a vise? Showcase naked strippers as a fake plot device? Pair a beautiful and successful career woman with a slovenly, unemployed man? Pretend you are Wolverine? Go right ahead. We know you can’t really be serious. But watch a tender wedding night between a virginal, undead superhero and his teenage, human bride, and the scolds come out in force. Are parents worried that their teenage daughter actually wants to be impregnated by a 100-year-old vampire who can crush a headboard with his hands (and perform an emergency C-section with his teeth)?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

(Even) more on Twilight

I'm still annoyed about the fan boy fuss directed at Breaking Dawn in particular and Twilight in general (as the juggernaut consumes the world's movie dollars, breaking the $300 million mark in less than a week), and I had a new thought, about the source of their spite.  I know part of it is the co-opting of the vampire genre, which clearly annoys a lot of folks.  But I'm also convinced that an unspoken irritation is Bella/Kristen Stewart, who is not portrayed as nearly sexy enough.  True, in the latest installment, she appears in a couple of honeymoon scenes clad in a bikini and negligees. But the ship has long since sailed on her persona - she's not "hot."  I really think that if she had been portrayed in a more traditional sexy and available way in the movies, the first one especially, much of the hostility toward the series would be muted.  Fan boy films require a hot girlfriend character, not jeans and hoodies and sensible shoes.  If they'd put her in a low cut top and a push up bra, tight jeans or a mini skirt, and slathered gloss on her plumped-up-with-collagen lips, I really don't think they would (still) be howling so loudly about how "stupid" these movies are.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Commentary on Breaking Dawn

This feminist analysis makes some very good points, and the fact that the series is so widely read by young women means that it's very likely influencing their attitudes, whether you think it's pop culture "crap" or not. I like the series, including the final book, and obviously I consider myself a feminist.

I think the appeal has a lot to do with good old-fashioned romance, because Edward is a very old-fashioned figure - polite, considerate, protective, etc. Lots of adult women still fantasize about such a man! The entire romance genre is hugely popular, and profitable, and many, if not most, of these standard romance books (and movies!) portray relationships pretty much exactly like Edward and Bella's (whether historical romance or modern chick lit or young adult fiction).  And portray women/young women desiring the same things criticized by the author of this critical article - a thin body, a good man, children . . .

The other, more disturbing elements of Twilight, oft-discussed, like Edward's attempts to control Bella (though rarely successful) are valid points. Sexist tropes are extremely prevalent in today's books and movies, even if more alternatives exist now compared to when I was a teen. I think this is a valid discussion - I worry greatly about the self image and expectations that my own daughter and other young ladies will develop in a culture that still communicates a very stunted message to them about who they should be.  Though I'm more concerned about the shallow consumeristic role models like the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, and the Housewives of Whatever, than I am about Twilight!  At least young ladies are reading books!

The Bloody, Twisted, Inverted World of Twilight

Violent Vampire Sex, Demon-Babies and Overwhelming Female Desire

by Sarah Seltzer

. . . Every time a new installment of the neverending Twilight film franchise comes out, I have to reassess this massively popular tale that is such a paradox: it’s centered around a young woman’s desire, yes, but it’s a desire for all the wrong things (by feminist standards as well as by normal social ones). There’s no question that Twilight is saturated with sexist tropes--to the point of being disturbing. But there’s also no question that that disturbing element is compelling, too. Deeply so.

There’s a reason teenage girls are obsessed with this story, after all, and it’s not because they’re shallow consumers of pop trash: over the course of four books and five movies, Bella’s needs, wants and impulses are by the strongest power manifested -- stronger than the vampires and werewolves combined. Her inmost wishes are the steady heartbeat that propels the action forward to an absurd degree
She wants to date vampire Edward, she dates Edward--even though he is dangerous. She wants to keep her second suitor, werewolf Jacob, in her life, she keeps him in her life--even though he keeps messing with her relationship. She wants to sleep with Edward (a lot) even though he might accidentally kill her, and she finally gets to, and she loves it. She wants to deliver her dangerous baby despite the fact that it is literally destroying her body and she gets to. Everyone loves her baby, too, including Jacob, who will one day marry it, but that’s another story.
Bella wants to be a vampire even though Edward and Jacob hope she can stay human and have a good human life, but her suicide by demon-childbirth leaves them no choice but to turn her vamp (the final shot of the latest film in which her new vampire eyes open is a stunning one), so now she’s a vampire--and she loves it! And (spoiler alert) in the second installment of Breaking Dawn, her desire to hang with her human relatives despite her new thirst for their blood will win out, as will her desire for the bad vampires to leave her family alone. She ends up being the strongest vampire around, too; now that she’s immortal her desires take physical, supernatural form and allow her to shield her loved ones. But this new power is an afterthought, almost redundant. For the entire series, what Bella wants, Bella gets.
. . . But as for the substance of her wants, therein lies the perversely haunting twist. I’d argue that Bella's desires are direct responses to the patriarchy we actually live in. In fact, Meyer has created for her heroine an inverted version of our unjust society.  In this invented, inverted world, Bella is allowed to want sex, and vocalize it, and initiate it, while her partner is the gatekeeper who makes sure she is safe and married before she gets “hurt.” In her world, the men around her urge her to abort her fetus for her own safety, but she gets to “choose” to deliver it even though it kills her. In her world, her boyfriend can urge her to attend college and better herself while she can push for an early marriage--and be right! In her world, she can reject her body and trade it in for a new one that is agile, strong, lithe. Her choices are consistently to fall into the arms of the patriarchy and trust that it will catch her, and her faith is validated: she gets a perfect husband, angelic child, new body. 

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Breaking Dawn box office

From Box Office Mojo:

While it wasn't quite able to reach the series high mark, The Twilight Saga:Breaking Dawn Part 1's outstanding estimated $139.5 million opening is second-best among Twilight movies, behind 2009's New Moon ($142.7 million). That's a small gap, though, and Breaking Dawn still managed to claim fifth place on the all-time opening weekend chart behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Dark Knight,Spider-Man 3 and New Moon. As is typical for the Twilight movies, its weekend was incredibly front-loaded with 51.6 percent of the gross coming from Friday showings (including its midnight tally).

Breaking Dawn Part 1 earned an incredible $30.25 million from 3,521 locations at midnight, which is about even with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse($30.1 million) and up from the last November movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($26.3 million). It wasn't quite enough to beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2's $43.5 million midnight record, though that movie had the advantage of being the final installment and had a 3D boost.

The audience was 80 percent female and 60 percent over 21 years old. That's more female-skewing than Eclipse (65 percent), but the same as New Moon (80 percent). Also, the audience was younger for those movies (only 50 percent over 21 years old), though it's logical for the crowd to age along with the series. Breaking Dawn received a "B+" CinemaScore, which improved to an "A-" among females.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Breaking Dawn"

I don't quite get the midnight show appeal. I went because Larry's boss's wife asked me to go (and asked and asked!) Now I can check that off my Bucket List.

I really enjoyed the movie, but my advice is don't go to the midnight show if it bothers you when people talk during the movie. Holy cow. You'd think people who go to that much trouble to see a movie would show it more respect. And I'm not talking about whispering either.  Super annoying.

I'm sort of embarrassed, but not really, to admit that I went again on Sunday.  I hadn't planned to, but a friend who didn't want to go to the midnight show with me on Thursday was planning to see it with a third friend on Saturday, but they didn't end up going.  So I went with her on Sunday, just to be nice, but I didn't mind seeing it again.  I definitely got more out of it without the distracting audience.  (Bonus - my friend paid on Thursday and I used a gift card that I got for my birthday on Sunday, so I saw the movie twice for free!!)

I thought that the movie was really beautiful.  I thought so when I saw it the first time, and still thought so when I saw it again.  Bill Condon made a very pretty film.  He made excellent use of the locations (Brazil and Washington), judicious use of aerial shots, and he just has a great eye, or a great DP (probably both).

I thought the wedding and honeymoon were lovely and romantic and satisfying.  Overall, the first half of the movie was wonderful.  The second half had more flaws, but was still enjoyable.

As always, I thought they left out important elements, and I thought they underplayed some key moments.  One example is the Morning After conversation that Edward and Bella have on Isle Esme - in the book, they're lying together in bed talking, in the movie, they're standing in the bathroom (!); and how could they leave out one of the very best lines in the book - "Why am I covered in feathers?" and his answer - "I bit a pillow or two."  I felt robbed.  Another good example is when Jake first finds out that Bella is pregnant.  It's a very effective scene in the movie, but in the book it's much more wrenching.  Maybe they think the book is too melodramatic, or maybe they think it will come across as too melodramatic on film.  Or maybe Melissa Rosenberg is just a dope (case in point, I heard in an interview she said her favorite moment was the wedding toasts she added, which I thought were awful, except for Edward's.)

I thought the birth scene was very effective, but it was also way overly sanitized.  Twice the camera pulls back to show Bella afterwards and it wasn't nearly bloody enough.  Even a normal birth would be messier than that, but in the book it's described as a river of blood.  I understand their constraints, but I would have preferred that they keep the camera close in, rather than making the scene so unrealistic.  It took me away from the moment, which couldn't have been their intention.

I loved the place and the way they ended.  The exact cut-off point between the 2 films has been the source of much speculation, and I think they chose, and executed, perfectly.  The way they depicted Bella's transformation was wonderful and very effecting.

I also have to say that I loved the music.  Several pretty songs, and just superb reuse of songs from the first movie, especially during the wedding, and Bella's theme, later in the movie. I read somewhere that Carter Burwell, who wrote music for the first movie, was back this time, so the music is closer in sound to the first movie - must be at least part of the reason that I like it. It's definitely on my holiday wish list!

The only really bad thing is having to wait a whole year to see the rest!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

David Frum reaches his limit!

I always hated Frum because I thought he should know better - he wrote speeches for GWB and coined the (utterly misleading) phrase "axis of evil." It's a relief to hear that he's hit the limits of his tolerance for the kooks who have hijacked his party.  Below are some key paragraphs from his excellent NY Magazine essay:
When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?
. . . I’ve been a Republican all my adult life. I have worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, at Forbes magazine, at the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, as a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John ­McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticized the major policy decisions of the Obama administration. But as I contemplate my party and my movement in 2011, I see things I simply cannot support.

. . . I can’t shrug off this flight from reality and responsibility as somebody else’s problem. I belonged to this movement; I helped to make the mess. People may very well say: Hey, wait a minute, didn’t you work in the George W. Bush administration that disappointed so many people in so many ways? What qualifies you to dispense advice to anybody else?

Fair question. I am haunted by the Bush experience, although it seems almost presumptuous for someone who played such a minor role to feel so much unease. The people who made the big decisions certainly seem to sleep well enough. Yet there is also the chance for something positive to come out of it all. True, some of my colleagues emerged from those years eager to revenge themselves and escalate political conflict: “They send one of ours to the hospital, we send two of theirs to the morgue.” I came out thinking, I want no more part of this cycle of revenge. For the past half-dozen years, I have been arguing that we conservatives need to follow a different course. And it is this argument that has led so many of my friends to demand, sometimes bemusedly, sometimes angrily, “What the hell happened to you?” I could fire the same question back: “Never mind me—what happened toyou?”

. . . On the day of the House vote that ensured the enactment of health-care ­reform, I wrote a blog post saying all this—and calling for some accountability for those who had led the GOP to this disaster. For my trouble, I was denounced the next day by my former colleagues at The Wall Street Journal as a turncoat. Three days after that, I was dismissed from the American Enterprise Institute. I’m not a solitary case: In 2005, the economist Bruce Bartlett, a main legislative author of the Kemp-Roth tax cut, was fired from a think tank in Dallas for too loudly denouncing the George W. Bush administration’s record, and I could tell equivalent stories about other major conservative think tanks as well.

I don’t complain from a personal point of view. Happily, I had other economic resources to fall back upon. But the message sent to others with less security was clear: We don’t pay you to think, we pay you to repeat. For myself, the main consequences have been more comic than anything else. Back in 2009, I wrote a piece for Newsweek arguing that Republicans would regret conceding so much power to Rush Limbaugh. Until that point, I’d been a frequent guest on Fox News, but thenceforward some kind of fatwa was laid down upon me. Over the next few months, I’d occasionally receive morning calls from young TV bookers asking if I was available to appear that day. For sport, I’d always answer, “I’m available—but does your senior producer know you’ve called me?” An hour later, I’d receive an embarrassed second call: “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.” 

. . . I refuse to believe that I am the only Republican who feels this way. If CNN’s most recent polling is correct, only half of us sympathize with the tea party. However, moderate-minded people dislike conflict—and thus tend to lose to people who relish conflict. The most extreme voices in the GOP now denounce everybody else as Republicans in Name Only. But who elected them as the GOP’s membership committee? What have they done to deserve such an inheritance? In the mid-sixties, when the party split spectacularly between Ripon Republicans, who embraced the civil-rights movement, and Goldwater Republicans, who opposed it, civil-rights Republicans like Michigan governor George Romney spoke forcefully for their point of view. Today, Republicans discomfited by political and media extremism bite their tongues. But if they don’t speak up, they’ll be whipsawed into a choice between an Obama administration that wants to build a permanently bigger government and a conservative movement content with permanently outraged opposition.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Police response to "Occupy" movement

This is so freaking depressing. And really crazy. Seems like the public objection is so muted. Is this what people think America should be about??? "Peaceable assembly" is in the very first amendment to the Constitution, not to mention a cornerstone of democracy. Where are all those politicians and commentators who love to embrace the Constitution? Where is the outrage?

They look pleased with a job well done.

At least this asshole was suspended.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cloud design provokes negative reaction

Yonhap / Reuters

I originally heard this story, about a Dutch company's design for a high rise apartment building in Seoul, on the radio*, so I hadn't seen the building design. I see the "cloud" but I can see what people are upset about also. Note that this is a proposal for a building that has not been (and now, probably won't be) built.

*I heard this on Morning Joe on Sirius - Joe Scarborough was almost apoplectic about it, which seems a bit of an over-reaction to me, now that I've seen the design.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The history of time

Terrific essay by Adam Frank on the evolution of time. His book, About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang, was released in September. Below are some of the key paragraphs:

Today hardly anyone notices the equinox. Today we rarely give the sky more than a passing glance. We live by precisely metered clocks and appointment blocks on our electronic calendars, feeling little personal or communal connection to the kind of time the equinox once offered us. Within that simple fact lays a tectonic shift in human life and culture.

Your time — almost entirely divorced from natural cycles — is a new time. Your time, delivered through digital devices that move to nanosecond cadences, has never existed before in human history. As we rush through our overheated days we can barely recognize this new time for what it really is: an invention.

It's an invention that's killing us.

. . . So did 1:37 p.m. even exist a thousand years ago for peasants living in the Dark Ages of Europe, Song Dynasty China or the central Persian Empire? Was there such a thing as 1:37 p.m. across the millennia that comprise the vast bulk of human experience?

The short answer is "no."

But 1:37 exists for you. As a citizen of a technologically advanced culture, replete with omnipresent time-metering technologies, you have felt 1:37 in more ways then you probably want to think about. Waiting for a 1:30 train into the city you feel the minutes crawl by when the train is late. The same viscous experience of these minutes (and seconds) oozes into your life you each time you wait for the microwave to cycle through its 2-minute and 30-second cooking program.

You feel minutes in a way that virtually none of your ancestors did. You feel them pass and you feel them drag on with all the frustration, boredom, anxiety and anger that can entail. For you, those minutes are real.

Measured against the long arc of human evolution, that experience is something new and utterly radical. In 2000 BCE or 850 CE there was no culturally agreed-upon 1:37 p.m. It simply did not exist and it could not have existed. We invented it and all of the time-behavior that goes with it. Then we used that time to imagine entire new ecosystems of human activity into existence.

There is no doubt that this new time we invented has brought us many benefits. If we start at the beginning, however, we can also see its darker, more dangerous side. If we track the bright line of its development through two centuries of science, technology and culture we can see this "modern" time pushing us all to the edge.

Once that vantage point is gained, this new version of time becomes obviously complicit in so much of our unbalancing: economies driven into dangerous waters; Earth's altered atmospheric chemistry; the manic consumption of our natural resources.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Women and minorities in movies

The title of this article, "5 old-timey prejudices still found in every movie," on Cracked.com no less, made me think it was silly, but it's actually quite thoughtful and makes some very interesting points - I pasted a few key paragraphs below.

#4 Only pretty girls are allowed to live

. . . Take Aliens. There are two main female characters: Ripley and Private Vasquez. One is a hardened soldier with combat experience, a butch haircut and a Rambo-esque bandanna tied around her forehead, and the other is a more traditionally feminine civilian who has no real business being in a combat zone at all. Guess who dies? Here's a hint: It's the one TV Tropes named a section after.

So What's the Deal?

. . . [Michelle Rodriguez has] limited her roles to interesting, strong characters. For a male actor, that means "action hero." For a woman, it means she has to die -- over and over and over again, each time making way for the petite model to take down the villain with her Waif-Fu instead. That's the phrase TV Tropes coined to describe the martial art that allows a woman to thrash trained soldiers twice her size while having no musculature on her frame at all. It's considered empowering when Joss Whedon includes ass-kicking females in everything he writes, but when he needs a badass kung fu killing machine, he casts the pretty, wispy Summer Glau.

The women who develop careers as action stars are not just pretty, but are pretty in the most feminine way possible: Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Uma Thurman, Milla Jovovich, Michelle Yeoh and Halle Berry. We're guessing that 70 percent of the people reading this article can take each of those women in a fight because we're guessing at least 70 percent of you are not unnaturally thin wisps of humanity. Doesn't matter. The only women we'll consistently let star in action movies also happen to be women so beautiful they get their own cosmetics campaigns, like, all the time. Michelle Rodriguez is pretty, but she's not might-be-an- alien pretty, and so she has to die.

We've convinced ourselves that there's such thing as "ass-kicking supermodels" for the same reason female slasher movie survivors tend to spend the last hour of every film running and screaming at the top of their lungs. There is so much psychology behind that concept of the lone female slasher movie survivor that there is an entire book about the phenomenon and what it means (Men, Women and Chain Saws). The author points out that when the last person standing in a horror movie is a man, you never see him screaming or crying with fear (imagine Arnold's character in Predator doing that), but with women, it's required. For the most part, we won't sympathize with her unless she spends a certain amount of time helpless and terrified.
Joss Whedon can pretend like the ass-kicking supermodels were created as a reaction to the helpless victims, but he's just substituting one weird male fantasy with another. It's as if there's nothing in between "beautiful victimized woman crying while splattered in blood" and "beautiful invincible woman kicking people while wearing skintight fetish gear."

#2 The star has to be white (or Will Smith)

Pointing out that black characters die in movies isn't even clever anymore -- it's the kind of obvious, trite joke that bad movies make about other bad movies. But, inexplicably, it keeps happening. In the original Terminator, every black character shown on screen dies. In Transformers, the "black" robot who speaks in inner city slang dies.

So What's the Deal?
Even in the 21st century, with a black president and posters of black athletes adorning bedroom walls all across the world, white audiences still prefer to watch white characters.
It would be easy to argue that the box office numbers are skewed because, say, Fellowship of the Ring was simply a better movie than Big Momma's House. But you can get the same results from focus groups with everything else being equal. In this 2011 study, white undergraduates were given the synopses of 12 made-up romantic comedies. Along with the summaries, they got cast pictures and fake IMDB pages, which were manipulated so that each movie had six versions of the cast; an all-white cast, an all-black cast and four different versions in between.

Same plot, same characters, same everything -- just different cast members. And unfortunately, the whiter the cast, the higher the likelihood of the students wanting to see the movie.
So how does this play out in real movies? Black characters end up in supporting roles, instead of being well-developed characters. They're just there so we can "judge the other (white) characters by how they treat them." In other words, we certainly don't root for racist characters, and we'll boo racist stereotypes. But our open-mindedness usually stops at the point of actually paying to see a black leading man. Other than Will Smith.
Look at that list of the top-grossing actors again. Other than Murphy and Smith, the only names in the top 50 are Chris Rock, Billy Dee Williams (because of Star Wars) and Morgan Freeman. How many of them were the stars of their big movies? For Morgan Freeman, in his top 10 most successful films he was the lead in only one (Driving Miss Daisy-- a movie about race relations). Was Chris Rock the lead in any of his top 20 biggest movies?
. . . Even if you don't care about racism or moving forward as a culture -- even if you just care about seeing good movies -- this sucks, because there are really cool true stories that would make really awesome movies. Like this one about Haitian Revolutionary Leader Toussant Louverture. Danny Glover's been trying to get it made for years, but he can't get funding because producers keep saying, "Where are the white heroes?"

Again, we can blame the studios all we want. But they've learned from hard experience that for the most part, if they don't play to our prejudices, we simply won't go see their movie.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Upcoming movies

My friend Suzanne and I were bemoaning the lack of buzzy Oscar bait and holiday movies, so I went onto imdb.com to refresh my memories about what's coming up in the next couple of months. I actually found a pretty decent list of upcoming films.  Nothing that I'm over the moon about, but some potentially very good stuff (the list below is the movies I want to see, not everything that's coming).  I'm including 2 movies scheduled for January 2012*

Like Crazy (great buzz)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne [Sideways] directs George Clooney)
J Edgar (Clint Eastwood directs Leo DiCaprio) 
A Dangerous Method (great cast, interesting story)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (based on a best-selling novel, bring kleenex)
New Year's Eve (I'm a sucker for these multi-story rom coms)
Carnage (adult satire with awesome cast, incl Jodie Foster)
Young Adult (another satire, with Charlize Theron, who I'll watch in anything after The Burning Plain)
The Darkest Hour (apparently brainy sci-fi action movie, with Emile Hirsch, and my current crush, Max Minghella)
Contraband (for cast only - I'll see Lukas Haas in anything)
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (for comparison purposes, plus Mara Rooney; teaser trailer was brilliant, best tag line of the year: "The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas")
MI: Ghost Protocol (for cast only - I'll watch Jeremy Renner in anything)
The Iron Lady (for Meryl Streep)
War Horse (bring a lot of kleenex)
Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut)
Another Earth (looks fascinating)
Melancholia (visually stunning and great performances)
*One for the Money (Katherine Heigl as Stehanie Plum; I haven't read the books but the preview makes it look terrific)
*We Need to Talk About Kevin (awesome cast - Tilda Swinton is getting raves, and I'm crushing a little on Ezra Miller after City Island)