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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prayer and belief

Because Mormon posthumous baptism of Jews and Holocaust survivors was in the news, Lisa sent Leo and I an email about her own participation in this, or lack of it.  Then she wrote a long message about her spiritual beliefs (including Marianne Williamson, The Four Agreements, and the Dalai Lama) and invited us to reciprocate.  Leo wrote a message talking about Buddhism being great but kind of isolated, and that his kids believe in God, so he should probably going to a non-sectarian church (there are several he would probably like).  But I never sent a message, for several reasons.  One being that Lisa is always much more interested in what Leo has to say, so I wasn't sure she was really asking me.  Another is that Leo at least, maybe both of them, think I'm some kind of fanatic because I actually belong to an organized religion. Another is that I have no idea what to say, since I don't know what I believe, and I've been in the throes of an existential religious crisis for at least 20 years. (There are so many things about Judaism as a culture and a religious tradition that awe and inspire me, and there are so many things about it that disgust and embarrass me.)

Then, just a few days later, my friend Janet posted an article about prayer and the brain on FB, and wrote a long message about praying regularly, even though she's not religious.  For some reason, her message elicited an immediate and visceral response from me:

I think human spiritual experience is so much more complicated than the fundamentalists and religious fanatics who dominate the conversation in this country would have you believe.  I joined a synagogue for the sense of community and belonging, but my experience of God and my participation in prayer is very personal.  I feel more connected to a higher power when I walk in the snowy woods with my dog than almost anywhere else.  And I'm not actively praying or consciously meditating while I'm walking - I'm just being . . .

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

School shooting in Ohio

Abruptly bringing me down from my Oscar high on Monday morning - a shooting at an Ohio high school.  One student was DOA, 2 more died in the hospital during the following 2 days. I heard a student being interviewed who said that boy with the gun walked through the crowded cafeteria to a particular table, and one of the students there got under the table, trying to hide his face. School officials insist that this incident is not related to bullying and that the shooting was "random," but I have a strong tendency to believe the student rather than the school administrator.  I'm sure more details will emerge soon.

This morning I read an excellent essay by Marlo Thomas, which captures the issue very well:

Bullying is not, as some allege, some mandatory rite of passage that young people must endure on their journey to adulthood. This is not "kids just being kids." This is a murderous game that young people are playing all across this country, and without immediate intervention by adults -- parents, teachers, community leaders -- we will continue to see more and more deaths, and the slow and painful obliteration of a generation.

It is tempting to call the horrid news from Ohio a wake-up call, but that is both disingenuous and naive. We've had far too many wake-up calls already.

If we are not awake by now, something is seriously wrong.

. . . Obviously, the system isn't working. The kids who are in the thick of today's bullying epidemic -- victims, bullies and bystanders alike -- are lost, and they urgently need adult guidance. Most kids believe that there is nothing they can do to stop it; whether they are being bullied or standing by, watching, they are helpless.

An important first step to untangling this dilemma, says Herzog, is changing how we treat the bullies. "We need to take the anger out of our response," she says. "Making villains of kids who bully does not create a positive environment. We need to teach all kids empathy and bring them together, inclusively."

Among those trying to do exactly this is Kevin Epling, co-director of Bully Police USA, who became an "accidental activist" for bullying-prevention legislation after his son Matt committed suicide. "Kids are our best tool for turning this around," Kevin says, and he calls on parents and educators to seize control of the problem by creating programs that bring together students, teachers, principals, parents and the community to tackle bullying head-on.

I recently watched videos for two of these initiatives -- Hero in the Hallway and Team Urban -- and, for the first time in a long time, felt a glimmer of hope. Here are kids who are not fighting, not name-calling, not spreading hate, but instead banding together -- even dancing -- to celebrate their childhood, not fear it.

It is time for us to dedicate ourselves to listening carefully to all of our children -- victims, bystanders and bullies -- and stop abandoning them to face this problem alone. Nothing short of their lives is at stake.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar show

Quite entertaining, better than recent shows, and my expectations were rather low, thinking Billy Crystal would be boring or something. It dragged a tiny bit toward the end, but it general felt like it moved along a a decent clip.

I enjoyed the more gentle humor; maybe that's Billy's influence, or just the absence of Bruce Villanch. The only joke I thought was mean was Billy grunting while the camera was on Nick Nolte (that whole "what are they thinking" bit should have been skipped entirely).

I thought other people were funny too - Will Farrell and Zach G were hilarious introducing the music awards, Emma Stone was hilarious (and Jonah Hill trying to shut her down), and Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow's intro to the documentary award was a stitch.

Some lovely speeches, especially Octavia and Meryl, who had the audience tearing up.

Some fun new touches - I loved the musicians in the balconies, and Cirque du Soleil was wonderful (though sometimes I was distracted by the film clips showing on the screen behind them).

Too many montages, as always, but several were very good. I enjoyed the stars talking about films, but I thought that was overused. I got a huge kick out of the 1st montage including the Twilight kiss - finally Oscar acknowledges a movie that made half a billion dollars!

I didn't like the focus group bit, it felt really forced and went on too long. Also having the last line, in reference to Gone with the Wind, be "I hope it has monkeys in it" could actually be considered racist - I thought it was a huge mistake to include that line - that's what I'll remember about it. 

Learned some trivia: The Artist was filmed enitrely in LA! And I had no idea this was Gary Oldman's first nomination - how is that even possible?

Some cool records: first French actor to win, and Christopher Plummer becomes the oldest winner, at 82 (his speech was perfect - funny and gracious).

I lost my Oscar pool, as usual, but not as badly as the last couple of years.  I had a feeling Meryl would win, but I also thought George would win, so it's not really a good idea to trust my gut.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar fashions

The fashionistas were raving, but I found a lot of the dresses to either be boring (too much beige and neutral tones - I prefer more color), or too fussy - for example, Viola Davis picked a gorgeous shade of green, but it looked incredibly tight and uncomfortable, and the skirt was overly decorated, Glenn Close wore a beautiful dress, but it had a huge bustle that ruined it, Michelle Williams wore a lovely red dress but the ruffle on the hip wrecked it, and Emma Stone wore a stunning red dress, but the huge bow at her throat was too grandmotherly.  My favorites~

Jessica Chastain (my favorite, just wow):
Oscars dresses: Jessica Chastain
Meryl Streep (classy and glamorous):
Oscars dresses: Meryl Streep 
Natalie Portman (polka dots!!):
Oscars dresses: Natalie Portman
Gwyneth Paltrow (don't hate her because she's beautiful):
Oscars dresses: Gwyneth Paltrow
Penelope Cruz (stunning!):
Oscars dresses: Penelope Cruz
Milla Jojovich (sparkly but not too much):
Milla Jovovich in Elie Saab on the red carpet at the 2012 Oscars in Hollywood, California. February 26, 2012.
Ellie Kemper from Bridesmaids (another sparkly dress that works):
Ellie Kemper in Armani Prive on the red carpet at the 2012 Oscars in Hollywood, California. February 26, 2012.
Busy Phillips (gorgeous and suits her perfectly):
Busy Philipps in Dolce & Gabbana on the red carpet at the 2012 Oscars in Hollywood, California. February 26, 2012.
Angelina (amazing):
Oscars dresses: Angelina Jolie


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Independent Spirit Awards

The nomination lists are quite different from the Oscars, but there's a lot of the same winners (including Christopher Plummer and The Artist in multiple categories) - is it like this every year???

Best Film: The Artist
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Best First Feature: Margin Call

Best Female Lead: Michelle Williams
Best Male Lead Award: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Supporting Female Award: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Best Supporting Male Award: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Screenplay: The Descendants
Best First Screenplay: Will Reiser, 50/50

Best Cinematography : The Artist
Best Documentary: The Interruptors
Best International Film: A Separation


Monday, February 20, 2012

Zombie Mohammed case

Here's the basics: an atheist wore a costume of Mohammed as a zombie in a Halloween parade, and a Muslim spectator grabbed him.  A policeman arrested the grabber and charged him with harassment (pretty much the most minor charge possible - he could have easily charged him with assault).  The judge dismissed the charges and lectured the VICTIM on his offensive behavior, calling him a "doofus."  (The judge also claims there were no witnesses to illuminate what happened, which seems odd, considering this happened a large public event.)

I heard the judge in the case speaking on CNN  and I was really shocked when he said the 1st Amendment does not apply here.  He said the Founding Fathers did not intend the 1st Amendment to protect provocative speech (that's not a quote, just the gist).  He even gave an example: even though you're allowed to parade around in a white sheet, it doesn't mean you should.  Of course, I agree that it doesn't mean you should, but I'm appalled that a judge, a judge, would suggest that the law will not protect you if you do, especially since the Supreme Court has said that it must.  This is in Mechanicsburg PA, just west of Philly, very near where I used to live.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Latest movies

This Means War - Kinda tricky to combine the rom-com and action genres, and they almost pull it off here; this is a fun movie, with some genuinely humorous stuff, and winning turns by reliably appealing performers (Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy and Chris Pine), but it's a bit difficult to root for anyone because they're all behaving rather badly; I think it would have worked better if they had tipped their hand a little sooner - I was a little surprised by who Lauren picked, which I think was deliberate, but it wasn't totally satisfying to the audience (at least not to me and the friend I attended with). Not a classic, but a perfectly entertaining night out.

Journey 2: Mysterious Island - Great family entertainment, and it made me want to read Jules Verne books - what movie ever has that effect on the audience???

On video:

Quid Pro Quo - I picked this up at the library, having never heard of it, just because it sounded interesting.  It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was really excellent - original, thought provoking, and with a big, fascinating twist at the end.  Great performances by Nick Stahl, and especially Vera Farmiga, who never disappoints.

Every Day (2010) - If possible I'm even more in love with Ezra Miller now than I was before - he's wonderful in this movie; Liev Schrieber and Helen Hunt are both favorites of mine, and they were excellent, but both seemed rather understated here, especially Liev, so their performances are not as memorable. A decent movie overall, about every day life, but not mind blowing.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Parenting a troubled teen" video

It created an internet sensation, with many millions of hits on YouTube - a disgusted father (Tommy Jordan in North Carolina) videotaped a lengthy rebuttal to his 15 year old daughter's profanity-laced Facebook post (an example from her post: "Get off your ass and get your own damn coffee.") and then fired 9 rounds from his pistol into her laptop computer, laying in the grass nearby.

Of course, many parents feel unappreciated and irritated with their teens, and many imagine taking similar action. And many have applauded him. But just as much of the reaction has been appalled, calling it child abuse and worse.

My first thought when I watched the video was, what a typically stupid American reaction - why waste a perfectly good laptop computer that way? Why not force your daughter to take it to a local school or homeless shelter and donate it? Also, what a bizarre message to send your child, to take out your frustrations in this primal way.

My other thought was wondering why the father didn't consider that there's something fundamentally creepy about a parent shooting a proxy of his own child. Kind icky. He claims he would do it again, and he's rejected offers for a reality TV show (good to know that he draws the line somewhere).

More wonders of the internet age!


Friday, February 17, 2012

"Put me in charge" letter

My uncle sent me this letter from a retired Army sergeant, supposedly printed in a Texas newspaper (though it doesn't necessarily represent his own opinion). I find it utterly repulsive - someone who has no doubt enjoyed every conceivable privilege possible has nothing but hatred and derision for people who need help. What would Jesus say? Not this. And I would rather have my tax dollars go to help people (whether or not they use drugs!!!) than see one penny go to bailout billionaire bankers or provide subsidies for oil companies.

I'd go even further - those banks and oil companies who get "our" money don't have to follow any rules, but wouldn't it be great if they did - like, hey banks, how about you have to put the money into loans and refinancing, rather than your own bonuses and bottom lines, and oil companies, if you take our money, you have to clean up your own damn messes.

Below this screed is a fabulous response I found online.


Put me in charge of food stamps.  I'd get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho's, just money for 50 pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away.  If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

Put me in charge of Medicaid.  The first thing I'd do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal legations. Then, we'll test recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine.  If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, or smoke, then get a job.

Put me in charge of government housing.  Ever live in a military barracks?  You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair.
Your "home" will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried.  If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your own place.

In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week or you will report to a "government" job.  It may be cleaning the roadways
of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you.  We will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and your blasting stereo and speakers and put that money toward the "common good."

Before you write that I've violated someone's rights, realize that all of the above is voluntary.  If you want our money, accept our rules.  Before you say that this would be "demeaning" and ruin their "self esteem," consider that it wasn't that long ago that taking someone else's money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self esteem.
If we are expected to pay for other people's mistakes, we should at least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices.  The current system rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.

AND, while you are on Gov't subsistence, you no longer can VOTE!  Yes, that is correct.  For you to vote would be a conflict of interest.  You will
voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a Gov't welfare check.  If you want to vote, then get a job.

Reply posted on Independent Realist blog:

This is brilliant. Whoever said that only cab drivers and barbers know how to fix the country is dead wrong.

Humiliating and punishing poor American children because their parents can't or won't find work that pays a living wage will encourage them to chose better parents in the future. We could go one step further and require them to wear welfare clothes and welfare shoes so that everyone else could see immediately that they are on public assistance, and other kids in school could humiliate them into making their parents get off welfare.

And putting unemployed and poor Americans to work for their welfare check would enable the Government to eliminate even more overpaid, lazy American government workers, or just eliminate their jobs, and put them back to work doing the same job for their welfare check. And if there are left over workers, the Government could lease them out to private corporations to do jobs that are now being done by lazy, overpaid employees.

Can you imagine how much this country would prosper if we were able to replace lazy, overpaid American employees with press workers living in military barracks and eating beans and rice? We could build camps around the country, preferably in industrial areas, to house these lazy unemployed Americans. Lose your job, get sent to Welfare Camp in a boxcar. Now that's a motivator to keep people working harder for even less.

In addition, if the Government seizes half the total assets of the bottom 50% of this country, which could coincide with them losing their jobs or applying for public assistance, we will obtain the same 700 billion dollars we would get by raising the taxes of the top two percent to where they were before the Bush tax cuts created all those trickle down jobs that the poor were just too lazy to accept.

Many lazy and poor Americans on Food Stamps and other government assistance are already working. A lot of them at Walmart, the Nation's largest private employer, where the majority of lazy workers with children live below the poverty line. Fortunately, there is someone there to help these lazy employees find and apply for Government benefits they are eligible for because they don't make enough money to support themselves and their families working at Walmart. Do you wonder how many people would go off food stamps and other public assistance if Walmart was in a financial position to pay their lazy employees enough for a 40 hour workweek to actually support their families? Sadly, Walmart just doesn't make enough money to do this.

Instead of taking away the vote of lazy unemployed and poor American Citizens, which only Scalia and Thomas might find to be vaguely constitutional, the Government could sell votes for a dollar to Citizens and Corporations. The poor American Citizen might vote once, but the Wealthy and Corporations could vote thousands, or even millions of times. This will raise money that could be used to fund a large internal police force to keep the lazy unemployed poor working cheerfully for their daily beans and rice instead of taking to the streets and complaining about imagined injustices, because the voters who count are going to elect people who will cut their taxes to nothing, and the formerly employed won't be paying any income taxes, so the Government will be pretty much broke. And then they can't foolishly waste my tax dollars making The United States of America the greatest experiment in liberty, prosperity and personal freedom the world has ever seen.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Love this!

I heard his say this on his show, and I was tickled to see this, what is it, postcard, so I could post it.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

More on Republican nomination process

The only benefit to Santorum's bizarre and head-scratching rise is not having to hear Gingrich bloviating - none of the news sources that I pay attention to (NPR, CNN, MSNBC, Newsweek, Time) have featured Gingrich at all in the past week.

As for Santorum, I really think that as people hear more of what he actually thinks, he will lose ground fast. He seems so innocuous in his sweater vests, but as many commentators have noted, he's the most conservative person to ever run for the presidency, and they're including Barry Goldwater. In fact, last night on Lawrence O'Donnell, Chris Hayes (I think) said that after Goldwater ran, there was a huge surge in liberal legislation - I'm hoping for a similar backlash after this madness, I mean, election. Santorum could be the greatest gift Obama and liberals have ever gotten!


Monday, February 13, 2012

Whitney Houston

So sad that the singer has joined a growing group of celebrities to die, most likely accidentally, from prescription drug abuse (or just mistakes; I'm counting, for example, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, and Michael Jackson).  Reports from friends and family suggest that she was doing quite well and was optimistic about the future.  A tragedy.  Sad also to see commentary, suggesting that she wasted her gifts and deserves no sympathy.  Jamie Lee Curtis wrote a wonderful essay addressing this, noting that addiction is terrible and so difficult to overcome.  I hardly think Whitney chose her path, in any real sense of that word.  Dying at such a young age - younger than me!! - is sad, regardless of the reason.  I've been humming her songs ever since I heard the news.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Feminist Judaism

I had such a surreal experience at my Hebrew class this week. A page in the book presented various translations of the Sh'ma, and for some reason, the teacher, a woman in her 20s working on her PhD at Syracuse, felt compelled to tell us that she doesn't like the gender neutral language that many modern prayer books have adopted.  In response, a classmate, who is highly educated and maybe 40 years old, said that she prefers the "masculine language." I was completely nonplussed.  I spent so many years with Jewish feminists, throughout my 20s and 30s.   In fact, I would credit them with maintaining my connection to Judaism during that time - without them, I would have felt no connection at all and I would have left Judaism, probably replacing  religious practice with, well, nothing.  To hear women, women younger than myself, casually reject something that has been so very important to me, was sort of jarring.  I didn't say anything at the time, because what's the point - it's not going to change their perspective and it's not going to make me feel any better.  But I left the class feeling out of sorts and rather sad.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Shameless on Showtime

In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, there's a little sidebar in the TV section, with point-counterpoint views on Shameless: "Love it or Loathe it."  The love side talked about how fun it is to watch people behaving badly, while the loathe side objects to the show playing "a lack of love and moral guidance" for laughs.

My own love, nay, obsession, with the show has to do with how compelling I find the characters (due to stellar writing and insanely great acting).  I adore the way that Kevin, contrary to expectations, is so sweet to Ethel, and how fierce the practical Debbie is in trying to protect Fiona from "Jimmy." And they completely break my heart as well - I could hardly stand to watch Fiona cry in the bathroom after her confrontation with Craig's wife, or to watch Ian's face fall when he realizes that the recruiter came for Lip, not him.  I just want to gather them all in my arms and give them a hug (except for Frank and Karen).


Friday, February 10, 2012

Interfaith program

I attended a wonderful panel presentation, on the intersection of social justice and religion, at SU this week. I expected to feel encouraged and reenergized by a group of religious leaders talking about this topic, which is almost the raison d'etre of my life.  Instead, I left feeling utterly depressed and discouraged. For one thing, there was hardly anyone in attendance - I've been to several of these faith topics lunch presentations, and the turnout has always been good, but there wasn't a dozen people at this one.  Also, it felt like all these leaders have been doing this work for decades, and what good has it done - we are more selfish and less interconnected as a society than ever.  To put the final nail in it, a retired professor in the audience was the last to speak, and he talked about teaching these ideals in classes for decades and feeling like students in the class listen attentively, but it doesn't affect their behavior outside the class at all - that he doesn't really change anything.  And of course he's right - we all see it, all the time.  I feel like my values and my ideals are just dying on the vine, despite wonderful people who continue to fight for them.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

Birth control/insurance rule

I was initially sympathetic to the groups protesting the imposition by the Obama Administration of new insurance coverage rules (specifically, the Catholic Church), until I started to listen to various proxies speaking on the issue. Then I just got sort of disgusted. The claims by speakers are ridiculous and wrong, and they exaggerate the situation hugely, to score political points. Claiming that the 1st Amendment is being violated, and religious freedom is attacked, are a stretch, but, more to the point, organizations are not being required to provide services or care, they are only being required to provide insurance coverage that includes birth control and other health services.

There seems little interest in the fact that 28 states have similar laws already, including 8 without the religious exemption contained in the federal rule.

I've heard repeatedly that the outrage is a much a reaction to the process than to the outcome, as some religious representatives involved in the compromise feel they were betrayed during the final phases of the negotiation.

I'm sure this will get worked out to everyone's satisfaction eventually, though not until the left, and the especially right, have wrung all the political capital they can from the issue.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Komen and Planned Parenthood

I was so shocked by Komen's decision to defund Planned Parenthood, but so thrilled with the uproar that resulted in their reversal just a few days later, and the resignation of the architect of the move, Karen Handel.  If feels like a triumph for the left and for women's issues.

In the brouhaha, I learned a several things that make me less inclined to support Komen in the future, despite their reversal on PP funding:

* Komen lawyers regularly harass small charities into removing the word "Cure" from their name, e.g., "Biking for the Cure" or "Kites for the Cure," even if the charity is not related to breast cancer.

* Despite their name ("for the Cure"), Komen spends less than 35% of their proceeds actually funding research (maybe as little as 15%, depending on how the figure is calculated).

* In order to secure corporate sponsors, Komen allows all sorts of questionable "pink washing" including a pink hand gun produced by Walther.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

"Keep the Faith"

Besides the fact that this essay by NYU professor Liel Leibovitz in Tablet magazine seems mostly intended to sell the author's book, Aliyah*, I find his treatise, about the wrong-headed "leftist" rejection of religion,  very odd, especially this key statement:

"Increasingly, it is governed by a humanist ethos that sees the occupation and the horrific acts committed to preserve it as an affront to universalist values. But there is a very strong argument to be made that the occupation is also an absolute violation of Judaism’s core tenets, and it’s an argument that those 70 percent of Israelis who believe in chosenness should hear."

It's actually the identical argument, with a slightly different rationale (based on Jewish values rather than universalist values), which hardly seems substantial enough to solve the entrenched problems in Israel.

One other point - I'm shocked by the repeated assertion in the comments that a "leftist" Jew is by definition self-hating.  How absurd.  To desire that Israel should embody Jewish values and democratic values is the greatest, deepest, and most sincere form of love that could possibly exist.  A person can disagree with my position, but you cannot fairly suggest that I'm not an authentic Jew!

* Final note - the topic of his book, immigration from the US to Israel seems so odd, considering he immigrated in the opposite direction.  In his column, he notes that he agreed with the Left until he wrote his book, and thereby discovered that he actually disagreed with them.  Hmmm.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Class differences define America

I'm not a big fan of Charles Murray and I'm not sure I totally buy his argument (proposed in his new book, Coming Apart), regarding the impact of policy makers having no idea how the other half live:

"The people who run the country have enormous influence over the culture, politics, and the economics of the country. And increasingly, they haven't a clue about how most of America lives. They have never experienced it. They don't watch the same movies, they don't watch the same television shows — they don't watch television at all, in many cases — and when that happens, you get some policies that are pretty far out of whack."

I wonder if you really need to watch Real Housewives of Orange County to make good decisions about American life. But this especially caught my attention:

Murray's findings proved counterintuitive, at least to the political narrative that characterizes the affluent classes as liberal and secular. It turns out that they are actually the group most likely to get and stay married. They go to church and synagogue more often and feel more strongly affiliated with their religion than the white working class. They are the keepers of "traditional" American values.


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Weekend movies

Big Miracle - surprisingly well made, showcasing a bunch of talented performers, and of course a great story; what impressed me was the way they respectfully presented all sides of the issue, without demonizing anyone, without creating a "bad guy" at all, really - it made a good movie even better.

On video:
Limitless (2011) - Almost exactly what I expected - an entertaining story, with good performances, but a somewhat muddled "moral" at the end; worth watching, but it won't change your life.


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Appealing to stupidity

Yet another lucid article about how the right wing is basing its election strategy on lies and misinformation.  Here's a succinct section:

Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that "conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics". The result is a "shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology" which has "ominous real-world consequences for American society".
 Lofgren complains that "the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital centre today". The Republican party, with its "prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science" is appealing to what he calls the "low-information voter", or the "misinformation voter". While most office holders probably don't believe the "reactionary and paranoid claptrap" they peddle, "they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base".


Friday, February 03, 2012

Teen kills young neighbor, claims it was "ahmazing"

OMG.  I didn't even hear about this story - a 15 year old girl killed her 9 year old neighbor, just to see what it was like.  Of course, she was publicly falling apart for months before this heinous crime.  My question is the same as it always is - where were the adults in this girl's life? Parents? Teachers? She says she went to church - didn't her pastor or youth adviser notice how troubled she was? I'm not excusing her horrible crime, of course, I'm just wondering wtf is wrong with adults these days, that they let the children that they are responsible for deteriorate before their eyes while they do nothing to intervene. They are culpable too!!!

Journal read during sentencing phase of Alyssa Bustamante trial 
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri teenager who admitted stabbing, strangling and slitting the throat of a young neighbor girl wrote in her journal on the night of the killing that it was an "ahmazing" and "pretty enjoyable" experience - then headed off to church with a laugh.
The words written by Alyssa Bustamante were read aloud in court Monday as part of a sentencing hearing to determine whether she should get life in prison or something less for the October 2009 murder of her neighbor, 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten, in a small town west of Jefferson City.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

CA elementary school closed after sex abuse charges

I'm sort of speechless, listening to this story - there were complaints at this school for THIRTY YEARS, and administrators did nothing to protect these kids. First Penn State, now this.  WTF is wrong with these adults????

Entire staff to be removed during probe at US school

The Associated Press

The entire staff at a U.S. school where two teachers were arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct will be removed while the school district investigates, the Los Angeles school superintendent said Monday night.
Superintendent John Deasy told parents and media that 88 teachers and 40 support staff at Miramonte Elementary School are being replaced because a full investigation of allegations is disruptive. They will be paid. Officials didn't know how long the investigation will take.
An entire staff has been trained to come into Miramonte's classrooms to take over teaching, and there will be a psychiatric social worker in every classroom.
"The last thing I'm worried about is a budget issue," Deasy said. "The No. 1 thing I'm worried about is the students."
The move follows the arrest of two Miramonte teachers. Mark Berndt was charged last week with committing lewd acts on 23 children, and Martin Springer was arrested Friday on suspicion of fondling two girls in his classroom.
More than a quarter of the students at Miramonte were absent from school Monday while parents demanded more protection at the school, with attendance reaching just 72 percent, according to figures from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
About three dozen parents and supporters protested in front of the main doors of the school earlier Monday, some carrying a banner that read, "We the parents demand our children be protected from lewd teacher acts."
The protest was an unusual event in the poor, overwhelmingly Latino neighborhood, where many parents and students struggle with the English language.
Berndt, who worked at the school for 32 years, was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. The acts cited by authorities include blindfolding children and feeding them his own semen in his classroom in what children were allegedly told was a tasting game.
Berndt, 61, remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.
Springer, 49, was being held on $2 million bail. The school board is scheduled to discuss firing him in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.
Investigators said they know of no connection between the Miramonte cases. Berndt and Springer know each other and took their classes on at least two joint field trips in the past decade, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Romney on the very poor

Journalists and activists are gleefully dissecting Romney's comments about the "very poor," but the real story is his proposed policies regarding the safety net he claimed he would "fix."  The only reporting I heard that went beyond the sound bite to the substance behind it was on Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show.  We need to stop focusing on the horse race and spend more time learning about what these candidates really plan to do if they're elected.

Here's one commentary on Romney's actual policy proposals regarding the safety net:

Democratic operatives are pouncing on Mitt Romney’s statement to CNN that he’s not concerned about the “very poor.” His context is that we already have a safety net for the very poor, and he wants to focus on the middle class. This may be unstated, but it’s the dominant perspective of everyone who runs for President. That’s because the middle class votes at higher rates than the very poor. Furthermore, about 80% of the country considers themselves middle class, a logical impossibility but one that gets exploited by Presidential campaigns. If you say you want to focus on the middle class, you’re effectively talking to the whole electorate, regardless of whether or not they will be helped by your proposals.

In this case, however, I think it’s fair to say that Romney isn’t concerned about the very poor because his policies exhibit a lack of concern for the very poor. Despite the fact that the full quote was “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it,” a glance at his policy prescriptions shows that he wants to “fix” the safety net for the people who pay it, not for those provided services from it.

. . . Mitt Romney thinks the problem with the safety net is that it’s too generous and the rest of the country cannot afford it. So he would cut Medicaid, gut the part of the budget that includes Section 8 housing and a host of other federal safety net programs, and reduce the workforce that provides the services, making it more difficult for recipients to get the benefits. Cutting programs to the poor, then, is the goal. That’s how benefits in general terms from federal spending, which is what Romney wants to cut significantly (by about 25%).

In fact, Romney brought up almost all the programs cited above, the ones he wants to cut, as a reason why the safety net is working: “We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it, but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers. We have programs to help the poor, but the middle-income Americans there are the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get the economy going for them.” Right, and so he has as major parts of his plan the block-granting of Medicaid, which will drastically reduce spending on it, and cuts to the budget that includes housing vouchers and food stamps, and cuts to the workforce administering those programs.