Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Conundrum of Bisexuality

I read the Opinion page of my newspaper. I read it sometimes to get myself really angry; I read it sometimes in order to see if there are any sane people in my area writing letters to the paper - those people who don't write in to say that Obama is a Muslim socialist who is going to wreck our economy, take away our liberties, and turn us all into communists. And I read my paper because I do have a genuine interest in the conservative viewpoint. I should probably pick a better paper to read for the conservative viewpoint, but the Republican-American is easily accessible (as it comes to my door - or more accurately, my paper box) and I am heart a lazy person.

Mona Charen's "In Defense of Rick Warren" is one of those examples for why I should find some other paper to read. Barring anything else, her discussion of bisexuality is not only flawed but simplistically separated from the rest of us. She says,
"But what about bisexuals? I ask this not to poke fun or to hurt anyone's feelings, but in all seriousness. How does same sex marriage help a bisexual? I assume if you are bisexual, you believe you need to have sexual relationships with men and women."
Except, that isn't bisexuality; bisexuality isn't needing to have sexual relationships with men and women. It is being attracted to both men and women. Not all men, and not all women. Bisexuality is not only dictated by the actions a person takes but the desires a person feels. A woman can be a bisexual and never have a sexual encounter with another woman; a woman can be a bisexual and never have a sexual encounter with a man. Just like a heterosexual person can be attracted to blondes and brunettes, and yet never have a sexual relationship with a blonde.

Charen goes on to postulate:
"If you are a bisexual man married to a woman, don't you need to break the marriage bond to express your bisexuality?"
No more than a person attracted to both blondes and brunettes would need to break his marriage bond to a brunette to express his interest in blondes. Bisexuals can engage in fidelity, just like every other person sublimates their attractions once they are in a committed, monogamous relationship does. And I'd again refer to the first point, that being that one doesn't need to express bisexuality in order to be a bisexual.

I would like to assume that Mona Charen is being sincere in her ignorance of bisexuality; but that ignorance, and questions over how action is necessary for identification - along with the continued idea that bisexuals are somehow just selfish and won't choose one of the two binary positions we have allotted (one, albeit, slowly, begrudgingly, and not yet fully) - are real issues for those marginalized by these assertions.

Bisexuals are oftentimes treated as the hyenas of the sexual orientation crowd. They aren't one thing or the other, and so at times are treated suspiciously by both. There are the "bi-curious", the girls who engage in bisexual behavior for the attention, and those identifying as bisexual as a stepping stone toward fully coming out as homosexual; and those variables help delegitimize the bisexual orientation. And there is consistently present this idea of a binary code existence in almost every area of life, but definitely present in sexual matters. Then there are the obtuse wonderings of people like Charen, people who have no problem accepting and expecting fidelity and monogamous relationships even while accepting that attractions will occur outside of those heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Bisexuality is largely ignored. It gets one of those letters in the LGBTTIQ; and it is used as a ratings gimmick on shows when the gimmick involves a conventionally attractive girl - like Marissa Cooper's couple of episodes-long relationship with Alex Kelly on The O.C. - but it is quickly abandoned or ignored. After all, even Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer went from being in heterosexual relationships to declaring, "gay now", and this was after a long time crush on best friend Xander and a long term relationship with werewolf Oz.

But the true answer to the question that Charen asks,
"How does same sex marriage help a bisexual?"
is a simple one. It allows them to have full and legal rights with the partner of their choice. It doesn't help the world understand bisexuality any better, but it does help with some of those practical matters for the bisexuals who have found lasting love among their own gender. We don't make those entering into a heterosexual marriage take sexuality tests to make sure they are indeed heterosexual - and not homosexual, or bisexual. The same can be said for those entering into homosexual unions. And so, access to same sex marriage helps bisexuals in the same way access to marriage helps anyone and any group.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Calvin" and His Whedoneque Snowman

An ode to Calvin & Hobbes and the movie Serenity:
I'm not going to lie; I'm kind of in awe.

Groups, Not Individuals

Last night, I watched Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, because I have yet to accept the fact that at 23 I should be watching a different type of news program. But Nick News is both informative and comforting, like a warm old blanket that is just perfect to be snuggled against. And Linda Ellerbee has been and continues to be one of the best kids' show hosts I've ever seen, in that she respects her audience and values their intelligence. She seems genuinely interested in kids and their opinions, while at the same time presenting a story without seeming to downplay their ability to understand the matter at hand.

Last night's episode was about schools, and separate ones for girls and boys. The first schools shown were ones that had all boys' classes and all girls' classes; and right away, my antenna went up. It isn't just because I wouldn't have enjoyed the girls' classes, what with the emphasis on group work, but because gender essentialism is at its heart a rudimentary theory that refuses to take into account how society shapes the individual. I'm not fully a nurture advocate. I don't subscribe to the idea of a tabula rasa state. If nothing else, my sisters would have rid me of that notion right quick. But I do believe that our interactions within our society can modify our behaviors, and can influence the way we respond to and react with the world - and from incredibly young ages. From the moment girls and boys leave the womb, we as a society gender them. As the study "Maternal behaviour and perceived sex of infant" tells us, how we react to an infant is determined by what we presume to be the gender of the infant. In the experiment above, a group of mothers interacted with "Beth", and another group of mothers interacted with "Adam". The babies were described differently, and given different toys to play with depending on their gender. But "Beth" and "Adam" were really the same infant; those in the study projected their own beliefs about gender and babies onto "Beth-Adam". So too do the teachers highlighted by Nick News react to the students based on their own assumptions about gender. The social studies teacher claimed that he would find himself slipping into "Dad-mode" (paraphrased) while interacting with the girl class, but "Drill Sergeant" when interacting with the boys. That is a behavior that emerged based on what this teacher saw, and how his own perceptions of the situation influenced the situation. He became gentler with the girls, because that is what we are culturally indoctrinated to do. He became more authoritative with the boys, for the same reason. This reasoning - that girls are more docile, more temperate, more emotional, and more eager to please while boys are rambunctious and rowdy and disruptive - is based at least in part upon our social narrative. And it crops up in the darnedest places, like an article about presidents' children and why so many have been girls, theorizing:
"Campaigning and raising sons are mutually exclusive. Campaigning requires lots of travel, enormous amounts of time in the public eye and months and months of sitting down quietly and listening to the same guy talking while wearing your good clothes... ...It's torture on adults, let alone children. But it's worse for boys. Try this experiment: next month ask your son to be on his best behavior in front of other people, from now until November 2009... ..."Boys are generally more competitive, risk-taking and defiant, which makes them less manageable," says Meg Meeker M.D., author of Boys Should Be Boys and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters... ...The Obama campaign was noted for its discipline, its rigor, and its self control: three things most young boys are not noted for. Of course, Obama didn't take Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, everywhere he campaigned. But long fatherly absences make the boys even more likely to be unhelpful. "If dad's away on the campaign trail a lot, [boys'] tendencies towards defiance and impulsivity are exacerbated," says Meeks."
This is the kind of attitude that is reflected in the separate classes with separate teaching styles for the two genders. But let's look at this logically, starting with the idea that campaigning and raising sons are mutually exclusive. Duh. You know what else is mutually exclusive? Campaigning and raising daughters. Because campaigning is a long ass job, and it sucks up a lot of time and energy; it requires the campaigner to be away from home for huge swaths of time. Without being home, and without having time to devote to the kids, a person cannot parent. Thus, the idea that it is only in the case of boys that parenting and campaigning is mutually exclusive jut isn't realistic. As is asking a child to be on his or her best behavior in front of other people through an entire year. It isn't going to happen. There will be a meltdown at some point; and the younger the child, the sooner that meltdown will probably happen. Because kids - boys and girls - aren't going to be able to do that, to sublimate their own desires and own responses in front of other people for an entire year. And parental absence won't do any child any favors, because feeling like you've been abandoned and your daddy isn't there to do all those things he did before is going to create a less than ideal situation no matter what gender the child is.

But there's this: boys may be more defiant and more impulsive and more rowdy on places like campaign trails and classrooms because there is already the expectation in place that they will be. This is not an attitude they encounter only on campaign trails and classrooms, but at home and in public as well. "Boys will be boys", and so boys are socialized into a certain role. We as a society expect boys to be rowdy, so we see them as rowdy. Kind of like how if you get a red car, you are more likely to notice the red cars on the road to the point where it appears that red cars are suddenly more prevalent; but in reality, we are just attuned to red cars and so are seeing more of them. We become drill sergeants, and in some cases we become more permissive. And because we have this idea in our head of how boys behave, evidence to the contrary - like moments of sweetness or calmness or emotionality - are either swept under the rug or we correct that behavior with the likes of "boys don't cry". Same thing with girls. I have no doubt that some girls are naturally passive creatures. But if boys are rowdy and girls are sweetly attentive - if boys prefer to compete and girls prefer to work cooperatively - then when a girl is rowdy or a boy likes group projects, they are deviating from the norm. They are more likely to be subject to negative reinforcement; and their behavior and their personalities do not threaten the overall meme of "boys=this" and "girls=that". That is the problem with the essentialist argument in a nutshell; it is concerned with demographics and not individuals. And these types of classrooms only reinforce the notion that girls are from Venus while boys are from Mars; they indoctrinate kids with the idea that boys and girls are so incredibly different that they are almost foreign to one another; that girls and boys really and truly can never understand each other.

There are other public schools experimenting with the all boys and all girls system. And in situations where the teaching styles are not tempered by gender but by student or class, I have less of a problem. There have been studies done, and the studies concluded that sometimes same-sex schools are better and sometimes mixed schools work better; but that seems to be because of the already existing quality of the school itself. A prestigious all girls school is going to be better than a mediocre mixed school. But the issue still remains, as one girl forced into an all girl class said, that the world is not gender divided. Girls and boys both need to learn how to interact in "work" environments; and schools, along with teaching academic subjects, also facilitate social learning. We learn how to stand interacting with people we don't like, we learn how to work with people of differing viewpoints, and we (hopefully) learn how to work through embarrassment over doing things like reading poetry in class in front of a group of people who may contain a crush-worthy subject. Because that's life.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Street Gang

Michael Davis' Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, is well constructed and thoroughly researched. Although we don't actually get to Sesame Street's premiere until page 199, more than halfway through the book, Davis' focus on how we got such a television show in the first place was entertaining, involved, and understandable. It is impossible for me to now think about how the book could have - or should have - been constructed. It seems obvious that the different key players' journeys to Sesame Street had to be highlighted and examined, how working on Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo helped form several of the key players responsible for Sesame Street's ultimate vision and aesthetics.

The book doesn't make any particular person out to be a saint or a sinner; each has strengths and weaknesses. Jon Stone didn't get along with David Connell, and he didn't like Carroll Spinney. But that doesn't say anything horrible about Stone, or Connell, or Spinney. Street Gang even examines how Sesame Street itself failed in some areas, how it at first ignored the Latino community, focusing instead on the African-American community and only recognizing its error and rectifying it by adding Maria and Luis after the Latino community protested. It (briefly) touches upon NOW's issues with Sesame Street's portrayal of women, though it does not really grant any of the feminists' basic concerns. It explores the demons present in some of the cast most affected by racism, like Matt Robinson, the original Gordon, whose sister died because several hospitals in the area would not treat her due to her skin color. And Northern Calloway, who abused cocaine, was bipolar, and who deeply resented his lack of success as being a product of his race.

What the book depicts is how a group of singularly talented people but radically diverse people came together for a common cause, that being to produce an entertaining and educational show. It details how these people, some of extraordinary ego, worked in tandem for years in order to achieve that goal, how they went about forming that goal, and how they developed and tested that goal. It examines the other child education programs of the time, and how Sesame Street deviated from the norm by not being set on a ship or in an idyllic place; how Sesame Street sought to help bridge the gap in education between the most disenfranchised populations of the inner cities and their middle-class, white suburban compatriots, and how it chose as its set a more realistic city setting. How it was integrated, how it had more than one primary host, and how the program was free from in show advertising of its tie-in products. And along the way, Davis closely examines the different important people who made Sesame Street what it was. Joan Ganz Cooney's familial history is assessed, her penchant for getting jobs she wasn't necessarily qualified for, how she was able to succeed in those jobs, her interest in public television, and her marriage to Tim Cooney and dissolution of that marriage, and her ability to be both the laissez-faire boss and the intrepid ring-leader of the Sesame Street project. The book starts with her walking up to Jim Henson's funeral, and appropriately so. Henson's Muppets were an integral part of the show's success, but the show itself was borne from a question asked at a dinner party of Ganz Cooney's, and it was her work - along with several of the other dinner guests - that both established the potentiality of a show like Sesame Street and Jim Henson's own involvement in Sesame Street (which adequately explains Count von Count's "Hi Mom" as Ganz Cooney's name scrolls by in "Follow That Bird").

Certain cast members are also described more fully than others; we are given quite a lot about Bob McGrath, who played "Bob", and his success as a singer in Japan - along with the fan clubs that sprung up there in his honor. Also highlighted were performers such as Carroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar), Sonia Manzano (Maria), and Loretta Long. And while quite a lot was written about the first true Gordon, the second and third Gordons got nada. Over all though, the book is an interesting read for anyone who is at all interested in Sesame Street, public television, children's programming, or even just the combined story of a few passionate individuals who succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations. For that alone, the success story and the genius and inquiry of those involved is worth the pages the book is printed on.

Read: √

Skim:

Toss:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Space Consumption

There is an interesting community post at Feministing called "Own Your Space!" about how men and women utilize public space. It is especially interesting to read after taking a ride on the train with several men I work with the other week. I'm tiny, and the man I ended up seated next to was tall. I tried valiantly to defend my little parcel of space allotted to me by Metro-North; but my colleague kept slamming his right knee against my left one. I acquiesced a little of my space, and his knee was still pressed up against my leg. By the end of the ride, I was pushed as close to the wall as physics would allow, and my legs were taking up about a quarter of my leg room. The rest was being occupied by my sprawling seatmate. It was more than a little uncomfortable for me. The same sort of thing happens when I walk down the street. I sometimes get plowed right into, and knocked off balance. And though I would love to follow Rachel in WY's example and call to arms to own my space, it is easier and faster (and less bruising) in most cases simply to slide through the crowds by changing the way I'm walking or the path I'm following than to fight that battle. Not very feminist of me, I suppose. I should work on changing that; I should push back against someone's leg when it is encroaching on what little space I have for myself. I should not shift and minimize my own presence on the sidewalk. And maybe I shouldn't be so willing to shove myself into the corner of the elevator when several guys get on and take up about two feet more than they need to. But, I probably won't. It is, however, an interesting fact that women are generally expected to alter their course if they are crossing paths with a man. I find it somewhat illuminating that gender inequality comes across even in something as seemingly random and innocuous in who pauses for whom in a hallway or on a sidewalk. 

(Fictional) Feminist Icon(s): The Fraggles

I had planned on highlighting only Boober, the launderer and cook for Fraggle Rock, due to his gender-bucking job and his willingness to listen to and follow the girl Fraggles as much as he is willing to listen to and follow Gobo (which sometimes, due to his worrying ways, means not). And maybe I should split up the Fraggles into their own separate, equally important posts. After all, Red Fraggle deserves her own (fictional) feminist icon post. But one of the reasons why these two are able to be seen as feminist is due to the society in which they live. Another reason would be because each Fraggle is really only one part of the whole, with each representing a different and emphasized aspect of a full personality. And besides, I can probably do a separate post about Cotterpin Doozer as a feminist icon, so not all is lost.

Fraggle Rock is an egalitarian society (it can also probably be seen as being an example of idealized socialism, but that is for another post). And along with being an egalitarian society, it is also a society that eschews gender roles in determining which Fraggles do what duties. Boober isn't automatically disqualified from sock washing duty because he is a boy Fraggle - never mind the fact that washing socks shouldn't even be a concern because the Fraggles don't wear them. Red isn't barred from her more adventurous and athletic pursuits. Both are celebrated for what they can do, and what they enjoy doing. So Boober gets to talk about his dreams being prophetic nightmares as he washes socks without it being mock-worthy, and Red gets to be at times abrasive and the best swimmer in Fraggle Rock without her femininity being called into question. They are viewed on an individual basis, separate from other concerns. Sure, Red learns that she can't do it all on her own all of the time in "Let The Water Run", but that isn't based on the fact she's a "she"; instead, it is because none of us can be fully independent all of the time. We all need help from family and friends. There is no having it all and doing it all, even for an intrepid young Fraggle.

This idea of gender noncomformity is further shown in Wembley, whose name is turned into the word "wemble" - a word that literally describes indecisiveness. Wembley wembles on everything, even on which of his two identical banana tree shirts to wear on any given day. And that is partially because Wembley is a bit wishy-washy, but also because Wembley is in tune with emotions, and he doesn't want to hurt any one of his friends. Because even if he says "yes" to one Fraggle, he has implicitly said "no" to another one. That sort of emotional openness is not often attributed to boys; and even though Wembley's wembling is at times irritating to the other Fraggles, it is still not truly seen as an undesirable trait. And it does demonstrate that an emotionality is not only acceptable but desired in people, though maybe not to the extent Wembley takes it (just like with the other Fraggles). Wembley's also the Fraggle who has a crush on Red - which is kind of like Xander's crush on the more assertive, more athletic, in charge Buffy. Both of these roles demonstrate that not only can guys still be fully and wholly guys with nothing to be ashamed of even if they aren't the Arnold Schwarzeneggers or Sean Connerys of the world, but girls can still be wholly girls - and not just considered nonsexual because they deviate from the gender norms - when they aren't fully engaged in the passivity we normally see as the ideal for women.

Mokey Fraggle and Gobo Fraggle are the two Fraggles that best fit normal gender norms in that Mokey is artistic and gentle and most obviously the 'den motherish' one out of the five prominent Fraggles. Gobo is head-strong and adventurous and the de facto Fraggle leader. But even with that, both of them help balance out this gendered equality; boys and girls can still be interested in traditionally boyish and girlish activities, as long as boys who are more into "girlish" activities are still seen as equal and girls who are more into "boyish" activities are seen as equal, as well as the traditional "boyish" and "girlish"activities existing on the same plane as well. Mokey and her activities are just as respected and honored as Gobo and his activities. And the same is true for the rest of the Fraggles. Wembley's job of sounding the Fraggle Fireman siren is just as important as Boober's sock washing and cooking jobs, which are just as important as Mokey's job of picking the radishes, which is just as important as Red's job of cleaning out the Fraggle pool and teaching young Fraggles how to swim. And that - along with the grander theme of Fraggle Rock, the one about three separate societies coexisting in a symbiotic fashion even as the residents of each society are ignorant of their interconnectedness - is the enduring message of Fraggle Rock. That each person should do what they love, and be respected for it.

(Parts one, two, three and four of the series.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Gentleman Mouse


Here Be Spoilers!

So if anyone is looking forward to The Tale of Despereaux, stop now.

Despereaux is a tiny mouse with large ears and an unending supply of bravery. He was a children's tale, and then graduated to a big-screen, CGI'd adventure. And although the details in the story of Despereaux and Roscuro the rat have been slightly altered, the general trajectory is the same. There's a mouse who loves a princess and is determined to save her; there is a rat who is hurt by the prejudicial treatment toward rats; there is an abused servant girl; and there is a passive princess who plays the role princesses normally play - look pretty, get in some sort of predicament, and get rescued by the prince.

Aside from the fact that the kingdom of Dor is white-washed, the biggest problem for me was the lack of an actual active role for women. Princess Pea is kindly, and passively accepts her father's soup ban, passively stares out her window, and (though not entirely her fault) is ultimately passive in her rescue - acting only to kick a helmet close to trap a cat after the battle has been waged and won by Despereaux and Roscuro. Mig is a homely, far from intelligent girl who wants to get to the castle, is sold along with her pigs by her uncle to serve as a servant in the castle (passive movement), is used and manipulated by Roscuro during his angry period, locked in the dungeon, is discovered by her grieving father, and ends up back on the same farm at the end of the tale. The Queen of Dor dies as soon as she discovers a rat in her soup. And Despereaux's mother passively accepts her husband's assessment of the Despereaux being brave and talking to humans situation.

Meanwhile, most of the cast of characters - large and small, prominent and background - were men. Some of it is understandable; like the ship's crew. It makes sense for those roles to be men, especially in the historical setting of The Tale of Despereaux. But when even the town dog turned out to be a boy, I was getting more than a little jaded. Most of the townspeople appeared to be men; most of the mice appeared to be men; most of the rats appeared to be men; and the chef and his anthropomorphic fruit and veggie friend are men. It did have a woman narrator, but that is about as far as an authoritative female figure in the film goes. The movie semi-fails the Bechdel Test as well, because although both Pea and Mig share a couple of scenes, nothing that happens between them could be considered much of a conversation. Along with all of this was the assertion that every little girl wants to be a princess; this movie does absolutely nothing to challenge that, and offers no other real opportunity. After all, even Mig was a princess in her father's eyes, so even when she was back on the farm she was still a princess. This was all kind of depressing, though not wholly unexpected.

Not that the movie was a failure; Matthew Broderick as Despereaux was inspired. No matter how old that man gets, he still sounds more than vaguely like a kid. Dustin Hoffman also has a wonderful voice for film, and his Roscuro was inspired. The messages of the film were good as well. Despereaux was always himself, and did not allow any naysayers or unexplained and all important rules (or even threat of banishment) to derail his dreams, ambitions, and his personality. He wanted to be a knight and a gentleman, and he was. Even though he was swimming against society's tide, he was ultimately vindicated. He didn't see the point in scurrying or hiding or being fearful of carving knives and pictures of cats, and - aside from the cat fear, which ultimately kicked in - not being afraid of pictures didn't adversely affect him.

Roscuro is adversely affected, though, by the reactions he receives just because he is a rat. His gentle nature goes unnoticed due to his large rodent and furry exterior. He accidentally sets off the original chain of events by unwittingly falling into the Queen's soup, which ends in her death due to fright and the kingdom being soupless and ratless, along with being sunless and rainless and drab. He wants to be a knight and a gentleman like Despereaux, but unlike the cute and big-eared mouse, his presence evokes screams and things being thrown at him. After his apology to Pea ends with guards chasing him, he becomes slightly twisted and more than a little angry. He becomes tired of what he is dictating people's reactions. And in usual twisted fashion, he uses a simple servant girl to kidnap the princess and delivers her to the rats - which obviously proves her wrong about his nature. But while the movie does warn about the danger of prejudicial mindsets and the harm it does to those subjected to those mindsets, it also talks about forgiveness. Roscuro forgives the princess for her less than hospitable reaction, and both doesn't take his revenge on her but also helps facilitate her rescue. Mig forgives her father for leaving her with an abusive man. And the princess seems to forgive Mig for her part in the kidnapping scheme, as Mig and her father go back to the farm.

Perhaps the oddest message in a children's film was that about authority figures. The king blamed soup and rats for his beloved wife's untimely demise. Because of that, he banned both soup and rats. For reasons not quite made clear in the film, this caused the sun to not want to come out, the color to become muted, and the rain to stop coming as well. He also summarily neglected his daughter and didn't come to help in her time of need after being kidnapped by the rats from the dungeon. Instead, he basically ruined his kingdom's economy and played his music to the detriment of everything around him. The mouse high council is not portrayed in a much better light, having seemingly arbitrary rules and banishing a mouse for not fitting into their society. Despereaux's parents don't faire to well either, willing to give their youngest child up to the high council out of fear that the council would find out in other ways and then punish them as well. But the worst of the authoritative figures is the ruler of Ratworld, who wants to stamp out any love or attraction to light from Roscuro and every other rat. His world is vaguely reminiscent of Rome during its most hedonistic days. Brutality rules, and only by rebelling against the leader either covertly or overtly. Roscuro rescues Despereaux by pretending to want to eat him, and later helps Despereaux rescue the princess by a full-fledged outward rebellion. And the kingdom is only rescued with the chef and his veggie-and-fruit friend begin to make some soup in rebellion of the king's decree.

Overall, the movie was cute, but ultimately worth waiting for it to come out on video.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Watching: Part 2

So, 11 options just aren't enough for me. I'm crazy like that, and there are so many more brilliant Christmas specials to go.

12) Chuck's "Chuck vs the Crown Vic": Lester cheating at dreidl makes the entire episode; but Sarah and Chuck sweetly deciding to be friends and not letting Jeff pressure them with the mistletoe is also great. Plus, it includes Casey's prized car getting blowed all up.

13) Rugrats' "The Santa Experience": I love how Angelica gets a little piece of coal in her Cynthia dream house thing.

14) Rugrats' "Chanukah": Yeah, not Christmas; but it is still in the holiday spirit, and I personally love the pop up Torah and lines like "A Maccababy's gotta do do what a Maccababy's gotta do" and "It's hard to find the meanie of Chanukah". Plus, I love Santa versus the Aliens - which is very much like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

15) The Muppet Christmas Carol: This one is from John, and he's right. No list is complete without Gonzo reciting the back of his hand, and Statler Waldorf as Marley. Michael Caine is pretty terrific as well as Scrooge. And the Spirit of Christmas Day is awesome.

16) Bones' "The Man in the Fallout Shelter": The Jeffersonian gang gets stuck in the lab due to the bio-hazard alarm going off. And Christmas is celebrated through a glass partition, and later at a Chinese restaurant. Between a solved murder and a fortune given to those left behind and Bones opening the Christmas gifts from the year her parents disappeared under Angela's holographic Christmas tree.

17) Bones' "The Santa in the Slush": Santa's dead. And apparently people have made shanks out of Christmas trees. Plus, Caroline's feeling Puckish. Also, it is not morally wrong to lie around the Christmas holidays. It is kind of wrong for the death of a Santa to be so much fun.

18) Doctor Who's "The Christmas Invasion": Another John recommendation! Now, I'm a fan of the 9th Doctor; but Rose having to deal with the newly regenerated 10th Doctor being out of commission during an invasion and homicidal Christmas trees.

19) Frosty the Snowman: A holiday classic, for a reason. Even if Frosty is a moron for going in a greenhouse.

20) Elf: My family loves this movie, but I think it is worth watching for Zooey Deschanel and some great quotes.


A-a-a-and there'll probably be more to follow tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Watching

Christmas is probably my favorite holiday, and one of the reasons why it is my favorite holiday are the specials - the Christmas movies, the television specials, the Christmas episodes of television series', I love so many of them. Throughout the Christmas season, I watch my favs, and ignore the ones I don't love. So, just like Thanksgiving, here's my list:

1) A Muppet Family Christmas: The 1987 television special featuring all of the different muppet creations and Jim Henson is my absolute favorite Christmas special ever. We had it on tape for years and years, until my father recklessly threw out a bunch of VHS tapes and lost it forever. Now, I watch the subpar legal release, which is missing such classic scenes as Fozzie singing with his snowman and the muppet babies in movie form and part of the ending medley of songs. But even the subpar Christmas special still has memorable lines, and Doc seeing the muppets and asking Sprocket if those were anything like those Fraggles he was always talking about. The Sesame Street gang is all there, and make "small talk"; the Fraggles are in the basement, and pass around a lucky yellow pebble. And it is full of good, Christmas fun.

2) The Nightmare Before Christmas: This is both a Halloween movie and a Christmas film. It works as both, and it is brilliant. Jack visiting Christmastown is wonderful, and the very idea that a holiday would get tired of doing the same thing year after year is exciting - especially when he steals someone else's holiday. Santa Claus is wonderful, and the kids reacting to their "presents" are great too. It also manages to be both creepy and oddly heart-warming, so kudos to Tim Burton for that.

3) The Santa Clause: I like Tim Allen; and although vaguely morbid (a woman at work had to explain to her five year old that Santa doesn't really die like that and that it was just a movie), it is fun and spreads good holiday cheer. Yes, Santa can be crassly commercial; but he also inspires kids to leave out soy milk because he's lactose intolerant. And Christmas, at its best, is really about family. The way Scott Calvin reconnects with not only his son but his ex-wife and her new husband warms the cockles of my heart.

4) Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer: No list is complete without Rudolf. Bumbles that bounce, the island of misfit toys, Rudolf lighting the way and getting all of those misfit toys new homes, and the message of accepting differences in others is holiday joy. Plus, it has Yukon Cornelius, one of the best creations ever. We certainly quote him a lot in this house. Throw in a story where the mother and girlfriend set off to find the young buck even in 1964 and an extremely tall elf in sunglasses, and I'm there.

5) A Christmas Story: Jean Shepherd's childhood tales are timeless. Just today I labelled a gift "FRAGILE: It must be Italian". Electric sex, laying there like a slug to avoid bullies, not getting in trouble at school after making your friend stick his tongue to a pole, "You'll shoot your eye out", manipulative and disheartening advertising, and Chinese turkey make A Christmas Story beyond awesome. It has sweetness, but it isn't cloying. It is about Christmas, but not just about Christmas; it is about life in that particular family and community that just happened to take place in that time of year. I'm sure Ralphie and the others could have run from Scut Farkis in the spring or fall as well (and that they did), but having it in the constant snow of the Christmas season just further highlighted the juxtaposition of life.

6) Sports Night's "Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee Tech": Aaron Sorkin delivers on Christmas; not only does the logo get a little Santa hat, but I think this end scene sums it up:
Casey: That's all for tonight, but before we sign off, we felt that with Christmas only a few days off and people making up lists and checking them twice, it was as good a time as any to mention some people who are important to us here at the show. It seems that quite a few of you, for instance, like the way Dan and I dress on the air, and you should know that we're dressed by Maureen Gates and Joseph Roveto. Maureen and Joseph are assisted by a young woman named Monica Brazelton, and Monica is not to be trifled with. 
Dan: Our camera operators are Ray, Wayne, Bruce, John and Jerome, who wishes we'd do more features on hockey.
Casey: Not gonna happen, Jerome. Every time I pick up a pencil or put down a coffee mug, that's Jody Mann, and her trusty aide John Frantz, and if you've ever wondered what a gaffer was, or a best boy, you should ask Keith and Mark.
Dan: We've got some people who don't get paid much, but that's okay, 'cause the hours are terrible. They're our PA's, and their names are Lauren, Victoria, Jake, Lee, Ashley and Brad.
Casey: This is a script. Dan and I write it and then two people come along and put it together so that we can also read it. Their names are Joan and Chris and they, us and everyone else here are pretty much at the mercy of the script supervisor, Carol McKechnie, who's got
a little thing for me, and I think it's time she admits it.
Dan: Keri McIntyre--
Casey: Nicole Burke--
Dan: Shawn Manley--
Casey: Jeff Wheat--
Dan: Mark Johnson--
Casey: Cajun.
Dan: Cajun.
Casey: How 'bout Skip Cook--
Dan: How 'bout Phil Heath--
Casey: How 'bout Karen, Julie and Angela in make-up--
Dan: How 'bout Brenda, Cammy and Jody in hair-- We've got film on this show. You know who cuts it?
Casey: Janet Ashikaga. You know who her assistant is?
Dan: Laura the Wonderful.
Casey: We've just named a small fraction of the people who put this show on television, which means we've left out many more and we'll try and rectify that as we head toward December 25th. But for now, I'm Casey McCall alongside Dan Rydell, wishing everyone in your home, along with everyone here at my home a very happy Christmas.

Sorkin has a tendency to get meta, to draw directly from his life; and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I know that I disliked Kristin Chenoweth before I worshipped her due to Harriet Hayes of Studio Sixty being based on her, and Harriet not containing one iota of the sparkle and poise and charm and sweetness Chenoweth herself has. But some of his best moments come from that meta-tendency as well. Isaac's stroke stemming from Robert Guillaume's own stroke; fights with the network over Sports Night; and this. Those names Dan and Casey rattle off there at the end of this episode the show within a show Sports Night are names of people who worked on the actual show Sports Night - the one that did air on ABC. That is incredibly sweet and very cool, especially coming from an atheistic Jewish man.

7) Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip's "The Christmas Show": I've got two words for you, and those are "Nazi Santa". Seriously. It is awesome and funny. Actually, I've got a couple of more for you. An atheistic Jewish man bringing Christmas spirit to a sketch comedy show that doesn't want any, leading to fun and friction. Also, Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. And for the sweet and moving part, a storyline involving band members from various TV shows taking sick days in order to get musicians displaced by Katrina work - and a band made up of New Orleans musicians displaced by Katrina playing "O Holy Night" at the end:

It also brought attention to Tipitina's Foundation, an organization meant to foster New Orleans' continued musical heritage. Those musicians? Are from Tipitina's.

8) Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Amends": Okay, so it's hokey. But it is BtVS, and no holiday of mine is complete without it. Plus, I'm a sucker for miracle snow and Buffy and Angel's romance. I also love Willow's Jewishness, Xander getting the Channukah spirit, and the fact that not everything is white-washed. Xander's still sleeping outside of his house in an attempt to avoid his family's drunken gatherings because his home life sucks, and the snow isn't going to change that. Angel's still guilt-ridden, and snow isn't going to change that. After all, "Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together". But Christmas, at its best, offers a respite from the fight and from the hard painfulness of life. It isn't about the presents or nog or what religion your giving and charity come from, but about the people we surround ourselves with and whom we choose to buoy up and who we are buoyed up by. And that is what Amends, even with its saptastic ways, gives me.

9) A Charlie Brown Christmas:
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'." That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
I'm with the guy on NPR's Talk of the Nation: that sounds better being spoken with a bit of a lisp. Or maybe it just sounds better by Linus.

10) The West Wing's "In Excelsis Deo": The choir boys singing Little Drummer Boy intercut with the burial of Toby's homeless soldier is incredibly moving. And its The West Wing.

11) The West Wing's "Noel": Yo-Yo Ma and Josh dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder makes an interesting Christmas episode combination. But it works, especially with the interconnectedness of Josh and Donna, and Josh and Leo.

There will probably be more to come.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Striving For The Cool Kid Table

"Only Democrats, it seems, reward their most loyal supporters - feminists, gays, liberals, opponents of the war, members of the reality-based community - by elbowing them aside to embrace their opponents instead."

President-Elect Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation is one that stumps me; it puzzles me; and it angers and annoys me. I would like to believe that Obama was trying to get Rick Warren in deep trouble with his evangelical colleagues - which it has - or that he did so in order to say that he is a "fierce advocate for gay and lesbian Americans" with a modicum of cover, or that he hopes to trade this symbolic gesture for a very real concession on gay rights issues like a reversal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as Steven Waldman of Beliefnet (last Thursday's Talk of the Nation guest) suggests. 

But I'm in the pack of the "some people" Neal Conan describes when he says, "Some people see it as a continuation. President Bush at his inauguration had some speakers, some evangelical speakers from the far right". Waldman responded,
"That's what makes this such a bold move by Obama. Bush had Franklin Graham, as conservative evangelical, and the parallel thing for Obama to do, I guess, would have been to have a liberal preacher; and instead he has another conservative evangelical. So he's making a very different statement. Bush had picked someone who agrees with him. Obama is picking someone who disagrees with him on a lot of things. It obviously fits his theme of... ...working across party lines and with people you disagree with to achieve common goals. And I think it is an effort to depoliticize prayer, almost a spiritual bipartisanship."

First, I suppose it is a bold move by Obama; he won promising change and a departure from Bush - and instead he's sticking to the same path of highlighting evangelical preachers who preach intolerance and hate. That's fairly bold, although not the bold and fresh action I was looking for when I voted for the man. But perhaps my biggest problem with Waldman's take on this is that picking Warren is not depoliticizing prayer. Yes, this is a man who has criticized other evangelical pastors of being too political. But he is also a man who joined in the fight to pass Prop. 8 in California and who reiterated untruths like the idea that if Prop. 8 failed, preachers could be charged with hate crimes. That is a political stance, and it isn't one far enough in the past that picking Warren to speak as a definitive speaker comes across as depoliticizing spirituality. You know what could have done that? Picking a preacher who wasn't involved in politics for a while. 

Mostly though, I feel as if Keith Olbermann has got my mood right:
"The idea of compromise, though, from the people who got Obama elected; for eight years under the current president, compromise has meant, in essence, everybody who is not on the far right needs to concede something to the far right and then they'll call it a compromise. So now the first compromise for president-elect Obama, and at least in this case, it is everybody who is not on the far right still needs to concede something to the far right and that's compromise. Setting aside the issue here, just focusing on the politics of this occasion, why shouldn't the left and much of the center be upset about this?"
This idea is echoed by Mike from Salem, Oregon, calling into Talk of the Nation on the 18th, when he said,
"I think I understand why Mr. Obama is doing this; he wants people to reconcile and reach toward the middle, and that's fine. But so far with his appointments, he's appointing people and he's asking the Left or the progressives to reach to the right and I'm looking for an appointment or some statement or something that'll ask the right to reach toward the middle - toward the left. And this certainly doesn't do that."
It certainly doesn't. I'm actually fairly happy with Obama's appointments so far. I know that there has been some contention about his appointing many Clintonites to posts instead of innovative and really progressive newcomers as both a way to infuse new ideas into the White House and to revolutionize Washington DC politics; but I feel like if you've got good, experienced Dems who can help you avoid the pitfalls they themselves stumbled over and into then that is who you appoint. I also understand that going too far to the left has been a problem for Democrats in the past and helped Dems lose seats in the Congress to Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution in 1996, and that one could say going too far to the Right helped cost Bush and the Republicans as well - though I would chalk some of that up to out and out stupidity. I understand the need for incremental movement in many areas, saving the seismic shifts for rare issues of importance; incremental movement is one of the reasons I like the electoral college. I even think that Keith Olbermann is not describing the true political climate but the overall feeling liberals have been experiencing for the past eight years - and I would say he would concede that as well. But it is the second of Mike from Salem Oregon's point that really gets me:
Mike from Salem, Oregon: If he's looking for reconciliation in more of a progressive approach toward religion, there are much better ministers and religious people who could be giving this invocation other than Rick Warren.
Neal Conan: But not those who invited him to speak at his very politically powerful church in California.
Mike from Salem, Oregon: That may be the case, but Obama is a very intelligent man... ... the presiding bishop if the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, she's very inclusive; and that's what we're looking for here, I think, is inclusiveness.
For too long a time now, I've felt like the Democratic Party was that pathetic not-cool kid in high school desperate to sit at the cool kids' table - the one who would abandon his long-time friends on a moment's notice after receiving a scrap of good will from one of the popular students, the kid who would slink back to his table and to his deserted friends after the popular kids tripped him down a flight of stairs. The Evangelicals are not going to like the Democrats; and inviting someone like Rick Warren, a man who has compared homosexuals to perpetrators of incest and pedophiles, a man whose church perpetuates the idea that a woman should be subject to her husband instead of equal to him, a man who believes that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, to speak at Obama's inauguration is going to do nothing to change that. What it does do is spit in the face of those who voted for Obama - the gays, the women, those who respect scientific thought, etc.

Rick Warren may not be the worst evangelical; Warren has, as Steven Waldman writes in his defense of the man, reverse-tithed 90% of his income, living off of 10%. He cares about fighting poverty, and AIDs, and he is adamantly against torture. And I can see emphasizing that and reaching out to him through the White House on those issues; I can see meeting with him and working with him on issues of shared concern. I even think Rick Warren could do some good in those areas amongst his conservative crew. But just because the man isn't as far to the right on every issue as Pat Robertson or as odious as Rush Limbaugh does not mean inviting him to speak on a day that celebrates the signing in of a new President for all Americans since Rick Warren doesn't represent all Americans and is decidedly and vocally opposed to many of those Americans who helped carry Obama to victory in the first place. Compromise of this sort seems to be a compromise of principles instead of representing a rise above the political fray or politics as usual. Because unfortunately, the swill Warren has been spewing is politics as usual.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thinking Makes It So

I've been remiss about posting updates recently; there's no real excuse for it, especially on the weekends. Hopefully, I'll be getting back into the daily posting routine sooner rather than later, and posting on things of substance. This, however, may make my life easier. It is a clip from Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse, premiering February 13th, 2009. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly and Dr. Horrible and Serenity, and like Angel: the Series - and would build the man an alter if I were someone who worked with her hands.

Dollhouse seems like it is going to be awesome - and probably cancelled after 9 or so episodes, if history is any judge for how long Joss Whedon projects existing in the Friday night at 9 timeslot fare. I'm a little concerned for Eliza Dushku's acting ability; I don't think she's the worst actress in the world, but she hasn't done anything to truly impress me either - or that demonstrates she has the kind of range necessary to pull off what Dollhouse needs her to, namely, becoming a different character every episode. The clip itself is incredibly cool, and quotes Shakespeare. I'm interested in how philosophically heavy Dollhouse is going to be, and what its message will ultimately translate to. BtVS and Firefly were both at their heart about the individual and the individual's importance in relation to society, as well as being about tiny girls who could and did kick major ass. I see Dollhouse being a continuation of that theme, along with an examination of what the individual is. Since Echo gets a new personality downloaded for every mission and then wiped clean, what is the state of her as an individual? Is she, even in that state, "a person, actual and whole?" I tend to think the show is going to come down on the side of yes, but I look forward to actually watching it and dissecting it. And, of course, reading the philosophy books written about it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has produced some very good books on its subject, most notably for me Rhonda Wilcox's Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I can't wait for a similar one exploring Dollhouse.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ralph Nader's Gotta Be Pissed!



Although Bush has turned into less of an ideologue over the economy - where he never truly was a fiscal conservative or anti-big government anyway (just for all those little people) - he is still doing a number to our country and those of us who have to live in it. When Keith Olbermann posed his question, he was discussing Bush's last minute environmental policies. But I think this sort of thing applies to the "doing as much damage to the country" thing as well. Call me crazy, but I would like my roof to not collapse on me in the event my car rolled over; and if my roof happened to, I would want the company responsible for such shoddy construction and design to have to pay - big time. Aside from my on-going intellectual crush on Chris Hayes, I do think he has a point in that one needs regulation or litigation in order to maintain a balance of power between corporations and citizens. I tend to like a mixture of both, but having neither is less than acceptable. Ralph Nader must be furious right about now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Soul Compromised

So, I went to check my e-mail, and something tickled my fancy. Namely, this headline:
Which obviously led me to ask myself, "Then what did he compromise his soul for?" And that, my friends, is the problem with a badly written headline. Or, in this case, as the direct quote is "I didn't compromise my soul to be a popular guy", a rather inarticulate president. But I would think that the person putting together the news items could have cleaned the grammar up a little bit for the president. Like, "President Bush says popularity not worth compromising his soul for". I came up with that in about 5 seconds. It is sad that the people being paid for this didn't. Although, I must admit that ill-advised headlines are something I love to read and ponder. What deemed worthy of compromising his soul for will be one of those things I wonder about throughout the day tomorrow.

Top Podcasts

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine listed his top five favorite podcasts and why he liked them; and since I spend a goodly portion of my day listening to a number of different podcasts, I thought it would be interesting to do the same. I also thought about expanding the "top 5" to a "top 10", since I listen to a lot of podcasts - like, 34 different podcasts - but I decided against it. That would be giving me too much leniency. So, my top 5:

1) MPR 89.3 The Current: Musicheads - Hosted by Bill DeVille, this once weekly podcast takes a couple of different colleagues of Bill's, and they discuss the music they have been playing on the radio recently - and see, as the podcast continually reminds me - if its working for them. I found a new love (David Safar), and I find a lot of really cool bands through Musicheads. I especially like a lot of the bands that cross-pollinate on the second podcast on the list, that being:

2) All Songs Considered: I love All Songs Considered; I especially love the range of topics Bob Boilen covers on the show. A couple of weeks ago, he discussed the White Album turning 40; what it meant then, what it means now, and what it represented for the Beatles as a band and as individual members. Bob Boilen also introduced me to The Fireman, Paul McCartney's newest project; I learned about the book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. I heard Erik Satie on All Songs Considered; I heard of Blitzen Trapper on ASC (and then heard about him again on Musicheads), and I heard about Conor Oberst's solo project on ASC. It makes Wednesday more than just a hump day for my week; it is the day my favorite podcasts come out.

3) Talk of the Nation: Every day, for two or so hours, I listen to Neal Conan talk about what's going on in the nation. Wednesday is the day of the political junkie (though I hear it on Thursday), and Science Friday actually breaks down science in a way that I can almost understand. Aside from the sometimes cringe-worthy phone calls (and that one time Mike Huckabee was one), Talk of the Nation brings experts together to discuss the day's issues. Which is good.

4) Planet Money: No economic jargon here; Planet Money breaks down the economic themes of the day in about 20 minutes or so. They bring up interesting points - like the banker who has loans with the Amish. And they manage to be upbeatly depressing. Which is a good talent to have in today's economic climate.

5) Addicted to Race: This last spot was hard to decide upon. This American Life? RHRealityCheck.org? The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe? Philosophy Bites? But I decided on Addicted to Race because I think that Carmen Van Kerckhove manages to not only discuss issues that I have very little expertise in (unlike being skeptical or American or reproductive health or philosophical musings), but frames those issues in an inclusive way. She discusses questions I have either never fully been able to articulate or that had never occurred to me at all. And that, aside from the sometimes not-work appropriate convos that derive from a frank and earnest discussion of those questions, puts her Addicted to Race firmly on the list. Because I'm not just listening to someone I automatically and almost blindly agree with, but am learning and reconsidering my own views and positions. And that is incredibly important while one goes through the mind-numbing work of putting an insurance binder together; even if it means listening to the iPod with the headphones on.

As an aside, a majority of my podcasts come from non-profit media organizations. I'm highlighting them here because NPR and Chicago Public Radio (the station that produces This American Life) have also been hit hard by these current economic conditions. So, if you listen to NPR frequently or semi-frequently or happen to have a few bucks laying around and want to get rid of them and lack the imagination necessary to otherwise do so, think about donating to some nonprofit media organization like NPR or CPTV. These are places we can go and chill and find something that interests us. For my friend, it is Car Talk. For me, it was Sesame Street, Mr Rogers' Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, This Old House, and bass fishing (don't ask about that last one). Now, it is four out of my five podcasts and UConn Women's College Basketball. They get government funding, but that isn't really enough to keep them chugging. So, if you have fond memories of public broadcasting or would like the opportunity to make them in the future, think about it. And if that doesn't convince you, please consider donating just to make the contribution drives stop. They alternately make me feel guilty or irritated when I hear them, depending upon whether or not it is near pay day and if I'm wrestling with the automatic mail opener thing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This Should Be An Olympic Sport



I'm actually kind of impressed with how well Bush dodged those shoes. I totally would have taken one or both to the face. A side note to this is to wonder what the proper protocol for the Secret Service is in the event of shoe throwage. Are they supposed to try and protect the president? Or do they just figure that he could live after being hit by footwear?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Crying Wolf

"If we don't do this, we will be known as the party of Herbert Hoover forever."

That's Dick Cheney discussing the bail out of the Big Three auto makers. Now, aside from the bit of hyperbole, I can definitely understand why, if a Republican wasn't so keen on this bill, they would not be swayed by Cheney. After all, this is the dickweed who visited everyone on the Hill he could think of to drub up support for a war that wasn't necessary, citing facts we didn't have, and making it seem like if they the Republicans did not fall in line not only would Cheney and the Bush Administration be upset but America herself would be in danger. Now, after all of that, would you be inclined to believe this guy when he started waxing poetical? I mean, he has a lower approval rating than Bush, who is holding steady at around 28% (and who are these people?!). He is part of one of the most maligned administrations; he lied straight to Republicans faces before, and his war and his administration is part of the reason why the Republicans have been losing so badly lately. If I wasn't inclined to bail out the auto makers anyway, nothing this man could say to me would make me change my mind. In fact, had I been inclined to vote to save the auto industry, I would be rethinking my position if it agreed with Cheney's. Because the man is, to be frank, an asshat.

But what gets me here is how some people are up in arms over the fact that the Republicans on the Hill have broken with the Republicans in the White House. Because now that we agree with Bush and Cheney, obviously everyone should see the light as well. There are valid reasons to not want to bail out the Big Three. I don't happen to agree with them, because as interesting an idea a self-correcting market is, I care more about the hundreds of thousands of workers who will be laid off than I do about how laissez faire economics is best for the economy; and how certain companies should fail because they are a blight and a tumor upon said economy. I don't disagree in theory; but in practice, I think we should also consider those who would be adversely affected by the removal of this blight. And how that adverse affect would then reverberate in an already bad economic situation.

But I don't blame the Republicans on the Hill for this; not entirely, anyway. Because the White House should have been smart enough to send someone with less political baggage - and less negative history - than Dick Cheney if they were serious about having their point of view considered in a fair and unemotional fashion. They should have learned from their childhood tales. Eventually, the boy who cries wolf isn't rescued, but gets eaten. And Cheney and the Bush administration are guilty of crying wolf too often.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Presidential Motivations

Last night, I got to sit down and watch The Countdown. I know all the cool kids like Rachel Maddow better, but I love Keith Olbermann. It may have something to do with the fact that they tend to cover the same topics, and Keith is on first and after that first run I get a little bored of the topics they discuss. I was all excited, because it was 8 o'clock, I was home, and no one else was home who had the power to take the remote away from me by virtue of being the person who actually pays the cable bill. And at the end of "Bushed", Keith Olbermann posed this question:
"I'm going to ask you something, and it's going to sound like a joke but I'm serious. In those quiet moments when you contemplate this extraordinary administration - without anger, without bitterness, just with a kind of centered awe - do you ever wonder if Mr. Bush's goal was to become president so he could spend eight years doing as much damage to this country as time and his own energies would allow?"
And to that I say - actually, no. I take a different view, either kinder or even more damning, depending upon one's perspective. 

One thing I flash on whenever Bush does something indescribably indefensible is Roger Mudd's question to Ted Kennedy - that being, "Why do you want to be president?" Kennedy froze, and was unable to give a straightforward answer even though he had a ready-made one in that whole "My brother John was president, and was assassinated before his grand vision could be enacted. My brother Robert was running for president because he saw the continued injustices present in the world, and was assassinated before the primaries were over. I want to carry their vision of a better America to fruition" thing. In those moments when Bush does something incredibly stupid or short sighted, or when his verbal ticks really start to bother me, I wonder what his answer would have been to that question - because I honestly don't think he had any other reason for running for president other than to be president. [As an aside, I give Ted the benefit of the doubt there; I assume he had visions of his brothers, both dead in the course of being or becoming president, and decided that maybe that whole 'president' thing just wasn't for him - and that he would be happier in a crowd of 99 other people.]

I tend to think that in order to even run for president, a person must have either an incredible, indefectible ego - or craves the recognition of the presidency as a way to inflate his ego. I also tend to think that two motivations more than any other come into play, those being believing one can do great and glorious things with the presidency and wanting the grand and glorious stature of the presidency. Generally, there is a grand interplay between the two. John F. Kennedy ran for president because it was his father's dream to see his oldest (living) son to be president. He was a good president because he not only embodied the dreams and visions of America and her citizens in his Camelot White House, but because he had the gravitas necessary to recognize the good he could achieve once he was president. Lincoln seems to encompass much of the first motivation and less of the second, though the second is still present; same thing with George Washington. And being more in tune with the first motivation instead of the second does not ensure a good president; Jimmy Carter is a perfect example of that. As would Herbert Hoover. Being more in tune with the second motivation does not ensure a bad president; Teddy Roosevelt was definitely someone who wanted the stature of the presidency. But what is needed is some sort of underlying understanding of the world no matter which motivation is more present - a philosophical undertaking, and the finesse to bring that philosophy into legislation. It takes intelligence; it takes gravitas; it takes a curiosity, a pragmatism, and an ability to know when to hold 'em and to know when to fold them. And I don't think George Bush really had any of that. The problem with number 43 is that he didn't seek to do damage to the country or the world. It just - in oddly sitcomish fashion - happened that way. 

If he had intended to create half of the chaos he has, then that would be at least something. After all, I don't agree with much of Reagan's philosophy or many of his policies, but I respect that he was a good president because he had that knowledge of when to be pragmatic and when to push for the conservative ideologies he believed in. He was able to enact the change he wanted to see; I don't think George W. Bush can say the same. And that is what made him a particularly bad president.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Redefining Marriage

Jon Stewart smote Mike Huckabee. And it was a wonder.

And since Jon Stewart smote Mike Huckabee in a way that Rachel Maddow did not and Neal Conan did not, I love him more than ever. But even from an atheistic liberal perspective, Mike Huckabee's arguments just seemed weak. Like when he said, "It's not that they have tried to say they're going to ban something as much as they are going to affirm what's always been." Way to play the semantic argument there, Mike. That is kind of like saying that every time women were denied the vote in different states until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, those men weren't banning women from voting; they were just affirming what had always been. Also, "Religious people don't have the right to burn others at the stake"? That's a convincing argument for whom? I mean, really now. "Oh, since I can't cause you bodily harm due to your heresy, you can't be privy to all the rights of those straight citizens. You understand, don't you? I mean, how fair would it be if you were allowed to do something that hurt no one when I can't commit murder?" I also liked the part where he blew right past the argument Jon Stewart made about polygamy in the Bible, and about how what constitutes as 'marriage' is continually in flux.

The other thing I really liked was the way Jon Stewart made clear that might doesn't make right. The thing about an equitable society, one in which all citizens are equal, is that the minority is subject to the same rights and restrictions as the majority. That institutionalized -isms, especially those perpetrated by law, are not acceptable simply because the majority of citizens finds that denying someone rights and privileges they themselves have is a grand idea. I stand by my assessment that if we as a society waited until the majority came around to the opinion that they should grant rights to the disenfranchised, we'd all be waiting much longer for progress in making those profound philosophical pronouncements of the founding fathers a reality.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nearly 8 out of 10 People Like Obama

I don't really understand how people can really form an opinion of how good a job a president is doing when he is still only the president-elect. I fully and openly acknowledge that Obama has been doing some good and great and cool things as president-elect. And I fully and openly acknowledge that part of Obama's ability to speak to the country knowledgeably comes from President Bush and his transition team. If and when Obama succeeds as president in his first year in office, Bush will be partially responsible for that success; which is ironic, considering his utter failure during his own two terms. Anyway, 79% of the people approve of the job President-Elect Obama has been doing. Says CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider, "That's the sort of rating you see when the public rallies around a leader after a national disaster." That kind of thing always makes me wonder about those holdouts, that last 21% of the nation. Since Obama hasn't really been able to do anything that shows him as less than capable, what are those 21% holding out for? Are they just curmudgeons?

Let Joe the Plumber Go

This is a message to the media: Please, for the love of all things holy and unholy and everything in between, let Joe the Plumber go. Let him sink quietly into that good night. Let him fade away. Let us forget there was ever a time when the popular phrase of the day was [Name] the [Signifier]. Let us forget that this man was flung from obscurity to a debate topic. Let's all forget that he was never going to be able to buy that business this year or the next, and that he wasn't a licensed plumber. Let's all just ignore that bit of hysteria, and chock it up to the fact that our presidential campaign season ran just a little too long. Let's take this as a valuable lesson, and recognize that maybe - just maybe - the long campaign season led us all into a weird state of punch-drunkenness, like if we'd all collectively stayed up for more than 48 hours. And that in that weird state, we obsessed over things and people who never should have seen the light of day. Asking Joe the Plumber's opinion about McCain would have been acceptable, oh, 3 weeks ago. But the time for that shenanigans is over. And it would really do us all a lot of good if we could all just put that period of insanity behind us. So, Joe the Plumber was appalled by John McCain. Okay. Well, I was and am appalled by Joe the Plumber. Does anyone want to interview me? No? Okay then. Find something actually worthwhile to report. Please.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Kennedy for Clinton's Seat?

How cool would this be? Caroline Kennedy is reportedly interested in Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, which was once her uncle's. It would be pretty awesome to have Caroline Kennedy get Robert Kennedy's seat.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Awesomeness

This is great. It is a marriage manifesto. Says Tom Ackerson,
"I no longer recognize marriage. It's a new thing I'm trying.
Turns out it's fun.
Yesterday I called a woman's spouse her boyfriend.
She says, correcting me, 'He's my husband.'
'Oh,' I say, 'I no longer recognize marriage.'"

I like this idea of not recognizing marriage. And I love anyone who sincerely uses the words "flip floppy". I'm thinking of joining in, partially to raise awareness of how much it would suck to have people not recognize the state of your relationship and partially to be obnoxious. It is also partially why I want to start referring to bunches of people "you gals" or "you girls" instead of "you guys". I have to admit that for all of my issues with gendered language, "you guys" doesn't bother me in the way that it should. Neither does "that takes balls" or "man up". These are things that pepper my every day conversation; but I kind of want to mix it up. Start referring to bunches of men as "girls" (my mouth doesn't sound right saying "gals", but maybe that is just another thing I should work on), and saying "that takes overies", and telling a guy or girl who need to just screw up some courage to "woman up". Partially because even though it doesn't offend me on a visceral level, it is still negating women and is still making men both the only recognized sex and the only positive one. And partially just to make the people around me screw up their faces and try to recognize what's happened. And hell, maybe I'll actually offend someone with my girlie rephrasing. And then we'll have a grand ole convo.

Christmas Ornament Controversy

Okay, so Laura Bush asked each member of the House of Representatives to go amongst their constituents and find an artist to design an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. Nice right? Wrong. Because some crazy person out in Washington state decided to use this opportunity to glue strands of an impeachment resolution to a Christmas ornament. I'm pretty anti-Bush to the point where I don't understand people who voluntarily state they voted for him again in 2004 (fooled you once, I can almost deal with), but there comes a point in time when the etiquette rules of Emily Post do apply - and when the First Lady asks you to decorate her Christmas tree, it is more than a little rude to use that opportunity to attack her husband. This is a time for good cheer, and not the time to draw attention to a resolution that has a snowball's chance in hell of being even considered, let alone seriously. The man's out of office in little under 50 days. Let's just enjoy that fact and not do anything that makes him look sympathetic.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Gay Marriages Will Save The Economy!"

Holy friggin' crap! Allison Janney and Neil Patrick Harris?! And a nonannoying Jack Black as a shellfish eating Jesus?! Could life get any better? I submit that it cannot!
See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die


And I think it is funny that Allison Janney is playing another uptight Christian after playing Penny's mother in the new Hairspray.

Depression and Quizzes

My chances of becoming depressed in the next 12 months is 4.633%. How do I know that? I took this handy-dandy depression quiz!

Aside from now feeling pretty damn good that I beat out the Europeans, whose average chance of becoming depressed in the next 12 months is apparently 7.73%, I also had an odd moment when I went to pick out my country. It wasn't there. I can't remember the last time I went to choose the United States from a drop down list and had it not be there, and usually right at the top and out of alphabetical order (which alternately annoys me and makes me happy, depending on the OCDness of my mood and how much patience I have to scroll through a list of country names). It was kind of surreal. And that lead me to thinking about how having your country at the top of a list when it clearly should be nearer to the bottom or even having your country on a list at all is a weird sort of privilege. It says something about the width and breadth and scope of your country, its significance not only in its own mind but in the world. No wonder most Americans have an America-centric view of the world. Not only are we more isolated than many other countries, sharing our border with only two other countries, but we also don't have to even normally see the other countries' names on a drop down list.

I suppose another problem with many Americans' knowledge of the world may come from our educational system as well, and that is probably more to blame than any drop down box. After all, the maps in my high school still had "Zaire" instead of the "Democratic Republic of Congo". We had an industrious student who cared enough to cross out Zaire with a sharpie and try to squeeze in the entire Democratic Republic of Congo name - a valiant but nonetheless fruitless effort that accidentally led to an unfortunate invasion of Tanzania and Zambia - but the fact remained that apparently Africa's tumultuous political climate did not warrant the school board springing for some new maps. I'm sure mine was not the only school in which this occurred. And I'm certain my old high school is not the only high school using text books from 8 years ago (and I know this because my sisters, who are 8 years behind me in schooling, still get books with the names of me and some of my classmates inscribed on the inner book cover along with their relative condition when we got them).

I had come to the strange and paranoid conclusion that the lack of a truly great educational system was all part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, stemming partially from the fact that my hair dresser was appalled by the bailout bill because it stunk of socialism without recognizing how the history of the United States is littered with examples of socialist-esque programs, like social security. It is easy to manipulate a population when they have very little understanding of the past. But I've come to a much kinder, but at the same time more depressing, view: we're all just complacent in a broken system.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Frog

It is more than a month past Halloween, but I just couldn't not share this video; and I know that if I wait until next year, I will have forgotten about/lost it. So here it is:
Sums it up quite nicely, don't you think?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Clinton Named Secretary of State

Well, I'm pretty happy with today's news. I've avoided commenting about the "will they-won't they" aspect of the news of the past couple of weeks about this appointment, but I do think Obama's team of rivals idea is a good one and can work. I also, as I've said before, really do admire Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Jessica" Isn't Clean

Risk® has decided that it would be better for business to exclude women from its base. Seriously. The board game now asks if you're "man enough", and the on-line version does something... ...rather strange. From Sociological Images
First of all, you have to choose a nickname. I tried a series of names: "Fred", "Thomas" and "Patrick" went through fine, but if I tried "Melissa" "Jessica" or "Natasha", the system wouldn't accept them, and I was told to "Keep it clean, please."
Whoa. I didn't know "Jessica", "Melissa", "Natasha" or "Lisa" are in any way dirty - unless, of course, being a girl is dirty.

I don't play Risk. The only game I'll play that takes more than 6 hours to finish is Monopoly®. I get bored, restless, and lose all interest. But a lot of women I know truly enjoy games like Risk.  And it sucks that they are being completely excluded from this world; it sucks that a game that had previously been neutral in its box has chosen to become genderized, and has chosen to play to the basest cliches of what guys are interested in. I especially liked one of the comments, which declared "I'm sure it's not their attempt to alienate female customers. this game is a slow game in some circle [sic] and they are only trying to win people over". Brilliant deduction! Of course, women don't count as "people". That would just be silly. And making women feel completely unwelcome is the best way to win them over. Obviously, this is some nifty marketing tool based on reverse psychology.

What really miffs me is that this isn't even the first time Hasbro has blatantly played to gender stereotypes. I was already upset with them over the Queen Frostine thing, where they downgraded her to "Princess Frostine", sassed her up, and made her skinnier and way pink. Who thinks "pink" when they think of frost? Who, I ask you? No more. I've already written my angry letter about Candy Land, but now I'm writing another one about Risk. And I'm boycotting Hasbro, until Risk returns to being overtly gender neutral and possibly until Queen Frostine once again looks like she's ruling over a frosty land of winter and snow and hasn't accidentally fallen into a vat of cotton candy.

It's going to be Apples to Apples from here on out.

H/T to Feministing.

Dr. Horrible DVD

Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog is available for pre-order, to be released on December 19. The run time is listed at 100 minutes, meaning tons of extras! YAY! I've been jokingly telling my friends and family that they're all getting clothing from The Gap this Christmas, due to my getting cash back if I order through E-Bates and the fact that my Gap Card gives me gift certificates. But now, they will be getting Gap sweaters and Dr. Horrible! I'm not entirely sure if each of my immediate family members actually needs Dr. Horrible, but that is kind of beside the point. Right?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Why Feminism Is Still Relevant: Upskirting Incidents

One of the first Friday Feminist Fuck You videos I saw made by the women of Feministing dealt with public perverts. I think it may have been one of the first ones they actually did. I loved it. I was horrified by the first incident they talked about, that being a 16 year old who put on a skirt, went to a Target, had a man stick a camera up her skirt, and then had no legal recourse because she had no "reasonable expectation of privacy":

As Tracy Clark-Flory makes clear in her recent article addressing the subject, "In non-legalese: Wear a skirt in public, and you might just get a camera in the crotch." The article is incredible, both moving and scary. It definitely makes me want to think twice about wearing skirts or sundresses, and while I've always been more at home in a pair of jeans, I do love my skirts and dresses. And what makes matters worse is that concerns about "upskirting" are often boiled down to the most ridiculous of arguments. Like this one from John Morris, general counsel for the Center of Democracy & Technology: "If you don't want to be photographed walking down the street, don't walk down the street - it's a public street". That is the kind of response that minimizes the impact this has on women, on their autonomy, on their feelings of safety, and their rights as human beings not to be reduced to body parts and sexual objects as soon as they step out of the door in the morning. The idea that there is some debate about whether or not upskirting (or "downblousing") actually violates privacy and privacy laws is ludicrous. As Harper Jean Tobin writes at Polymorphous Perversity,
"Of course they do. How do we know? Consider the analogous situation of the bathroom stall. The bathroom itself is a public place. The stall is, typically, not completely closed off from the rest of the bathroom; its walls do not extend all the way to the floor or ceiling. Others could certainly peep over or under. Yet most of us would agree that there is a general, reasonable, and fairly strong expectation of privacy in the closed stall. This has often come up in Fourth Amendment cases, and court generally agree that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the stall (though they sometimes disagree about how it applies to many situations involving law enforcement searches and surveillance).

When you wear a skirt on the street, the parts of your body covered by the skirt are like all of you when you're in a bathroom stall. Your deliberate concealment creates a reasonable expectation of privacy as to the parts concealed, even if someone could go out of their way to peek. This doesn't seem to me to be a difficult question."
What upskirting demonstrates is something many women know all too well: that women are still considered, in some way shape or form, to be public property. That women are still second-class, are still worth less, and whose thoughts and feelings and autonomy still remain unconsidered by a whole swath of society. No, not every man is someone who would stick a camera under a girl's skirt and click. I would venture many men don't fall into that category. No, not every man is someone who would even contemplate catcalling a woman or thinking it is a complement. Again, I would venture that many men wouldn't. But that doesn't change the fact that it is not considered a societal issue, and the men who do engage in these activities are more often than not left out of the equation as we once again discuss women and women's behavior as being the root cause of their own strife. That is what John Morris' comment does; it puts the onus on women not to be made victims of upskirting. It says, "Well, you should expect to be photographed (or harassed, or catcalled, or leered at, or touched) if you leave the house."

And unfortunately, that is the dominant viewpoint of society; for instance, there are comments on Feministing from a man (KeithIrwin) who claims "There are times when I consider myself very proud to label myself a feminist male" but who had previously said on the same thread, "saying things like 'I don't want someone to take a picture of my crotch, so they shouldn't be able to, period' is why people sometimes assume that feminist is a synonym for fascist". Wha? Saying that I have a right to my privacy and to not be violated by someone sticking a camera in a place that had I been walking down the street with it exposed I could be charged with indecent exposure is fascist? How fucking clueless can a person get? Seriously now. How fucking privileged can a person be to not recognize that women have a right to be enraged by the very thought that they are susceptible to this sort of violation, to be enraged by the act of this sort of violation, and to declare unequivocally that this violation is unacceptable? How is that in any way fascist? Oh, this must be a definition of fascism I'm not aware of, where just by suggesting that a man doesn't have the automatic right to my body means that I am exercising strong autocratic or dictatorial control! The idea that this man may otherwise hold feminist notions is slightly frightening to me, because this one statement - along with conflating someone taking a picture of your hair with having someone shove a camera toward your crotch - belies the very truth of feminism; that being the radical idea that women have a fundamental right to personal autonomy, that women have the right to walk down a street without being accosted or threatened, and that women - as human beings - have the inherent right to be seen first and foremost as human beings and not simply as sex objects or dismembered body parts there for male pleasure, the male gaze, or male approval (or, for that matter, female approval).

Here's the thing: I'm not one to pull the "you don't know what it is like" card, because I find it more than slightly wall-building and a bit condescending and doesn't exactly open up the conversation toward a more mutually satisfactory debate. It basically shuts conversation down; and I am, beyond all else, a conversator (and a word maker-upper, but that's a whole other post). But guys like Keith really don't know what it is like. Guys in general usually have a hard time understanding what it is like to live in a world that constantly seeks to strip bits and pieces from you throughout your outdoorsy travels. I don't think I've ever been upskirted. But that doesn't mean that I haven't been, and it doesn't mean that I don't now worry about it happening. It doesn't mean that Karen Simoncelli, who was upskirted, hasn't suffered from it, describing her situation as:
"'I had to have my fiance for about a whole year walk me in and out of our house... ...I have had a loaded gun next to my bed ever since. I constantly think someone is following me.' She says she'll stare at a small sliver of her bedroom window that isn't covered by the blinds and become convinced that 'someone is watching me, someone is looking'."
Upskirting is just another way of asserting power over a subject, as Professor of political science Susan Gallagher states. It is another way of making women feel, like Karen Simoncelli, unsafe. It is just another example of what Gwen Stefani described in "I'm Just a Girl". This world continually seeks to force women to hold a man's hand. And although every individual upskirt picture snapper is individually to blame, this is also a societal issue. Because we as a society do not take these assaults against women very seriously. Because these assaults, in their various forms, have become engrained as normalized behavior. And that is the bigger issue. Because even if we manage to do what Japan did and require every single camera phone to make an extra loud shutter sounds, the reasons why this behavior is prevalent (and in some cases rampant) are still very much present. And so, I leave you with "I'm Just A Girl", both because I like it and because it is still so very relevant:



Part 1 of the series.