Monday, June 30, 2008

Why I Love Joss Whedon

So, as many people know, I love Joss Whedon. Mastermind and writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, and writer of Toy Story (betcha didn't know that), Joss has had my eternal devotion for as long as I can remember. Actually, only since 6th grade. But still. That is a long time. So why am I blathering on and on about it now? Well, that would be because my love has blossomed anew. After years (years) of nothing from the man himself, we are suddenly being gifted with not one but TWO projects in the next year. And one of them is of an internet-premiere variety: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. *GASP* It is another musical! And it is about a guy who wants to be a supervillain. How much cooler could it get, I ask you? Well, being the geek I am, I immediately added the project to my friends on Myspace, and also became a fan on Facebook. And through myspace, I (and countless other fans) got a message from the man himself, which I will now reproduce in its entirety to share the hilarity and the enthusiasm for the Dr. Horrible project:

"Dear Friends,

At last the time has come to reveal to you our Master Plan. BEWARE! Those with weak hearts should log off lest they be terrified by the twisted genius of our schemes! Also pregnant women and the elderly should consider reading only certain sentences. Do not mix with other blogs (BLOGGER'S NOTE: OOPS). Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this blog. You must be this tall to read.
'Kay?

It is time for us to change the face of Show Business as we know it. You know the old adage, "It's Show Business - not Show Friends"? Well now it's Show Friends. We did that. To Show Business. To show Show Business we mean business. (Also, there are now other businesses like it.)

ONE WEEK ONLY! AN INTERNET MINISERIES EVENT!

"Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" will be streamed, LIVE (that part's not true), FREE (sadly, that part is), right on drhorrible.com, in mid-July.
Specifically:

ACT ONE (Wheee!) will go up Tuesday July 15th.

ACT TWO (OMG!) will go up on Thursday July 17th.

ACT THREE (Denouement!) will go up on Saturday July 19th.

All acts will stay up until midnight Sunday July 20th. Then they will vanish into the night, like a phantom (but not THE Phantom -that's still playing. Like, everywhere.)

And now to answer a few Frequently (soon to be) Asked Questions:

1) Why, Joss? Why? Why now, why free, why us?

Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kinds and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, we all know, there are far too few.

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap -but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

2) What happens when it goes away? Does it go to a happy farm for always like Fluffy did when mommy was crying and the neighbor kept washing his fender?

No, Dr horrible will live on. We intend to make it available for download soon after it's published. This would be for a nominal fee, which we're hoping people will embrace instead of getting all piratey. We have big dreams, people, and one of them is paying our crew.

And somewhat later, we will put the complete short epic out on DVD -with the finest and bravest extras in all the land. We'll go into greater detail about that at Comiccon, but we're changing the face of Show Friendliness a second time with that crazy DVD.

3) Joss, you are so kind, and generous, and your forehead is like, huge, like SCARY, like I think I can see Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint hanging off it... what can WE do to help this musical extravaganza?

What you always do peeps! What you're already doing. Spread the word. Rock some banners, widgets, diggs... let people know who wouldn't ordinarily know. It wouldn't hurt if this really was an event. Good for the business, good for the community- comunitIES: Hollywood, internet, artists around the world, comic-book fans, musical fans (and even the rather vocal community of people who hate both but will still dig on this). Proving that we can turn Dr Horrible into a viable economic proposition as well as an awesome good will only inspire more people to lay themselves out in the same way. It's time for dissemination of the artistic process. Create more for less. You are the ones that can make that happen.

Wow. I had no idea how important you guys were. I'm a little afraid of you.

4) Joss, do you ever answer a question simply or coherently?

Shledzguohn?

There'll be more questions, and more long, long answer, but for now I'm just excited that we're actually making this happen. We (and a lot of other people -- gushing to comence soon) worked very hard on the show and we hope/think you guys will be pleased. Until July 15, I remain, your truly -j. of the firm j, j, m & z."

Is it any wonder that I love this man? So yeah, this blog entry is to fulfill my obligation to #3 on the (soon to be) FAQ. There will probably be pandemonium and more entries -reviews of the thing and the like- as July 15th comes nearer. And in case you think my gushing about this is simply due to a Joss-induced fever, here's a Matt Roush review for you to read.

Joss is back! Woot!

And don't forget to check out Dollhouse, coming to FOX... ...at some point in time. Until then, watch the trailer.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

WALL•E is Wondrous

Some time after Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo, critics stopped beginning (or ending) their reviews with the question of when Pixar would get it wrong, when Pixar would stumble, or when Pixar would lose that magical quality that allows it to continually put out hit after ingenious and lovable hit. Like Anton Ego, Pixar has reduced film reviewers to simply fans; instead of contemptuously wondering when it would end, they began to wonder how much farther Pixar could go. And with good reason. WALL•E, the newest Pixar creation, does nothing to fall off course. It tackles more, and succeeds in every possible way.

It is a "G" rated children's movie that encompasses everything from politics to environmentalism to the nature of love, and yet doesn't feel preachy or as if it is imparting a lesson from on high. And it does so by, in the words of the New York Time reviewer AO Scott, acknowledging that "the paradox at the heart of "WALL•E is that the drive to invent new things and improve the olds ones -to buy and sell and make and collect- creates the potential for disaster and also the possible path away from it". It is the classic nature of a tragedy: that which is our greatest strength is our greatest weakness. At the beginning of WALL•E, we are presented with the end of the tragedy; after we have destroyed the planet and abandoned it. But it would not be a children's film -or at least not one released in conjunction with the Disney name- if it did not end in triumph.

The movie, though, does contain some fairly eery scenes and images. First up is, of course, the earth; covered in trash skyscrapers on the ground and surrounded by bits of space junk; our beautiful planet is thoroughly trashed. Massive dust storms threaten our hero and his pet cockroach. And it is utterly deserted. The most chilling Twilight episodes featured futures of this nature; as do the most frightening horror films, the ones where no one is left. And then there are the people, when we do find them. Doughy-fat and impossibly disengaged from their peers, these humans have lost the ability to walk. A scene that is both funny and alarming is one that shows what happens when one of them falls off of his hover-recliner. Unable to lift himself up, he lays helplessly for robot assistance; meanwhile, traffic is rerouted (and we may be able to take some lesson about traffic control away from this), and a robotic voice soothingly says, "Please remain stationary". Then there is what seems to be the degeneration of the education system, with youngsters being taught their ABCs via the Wal-Mart-esque corporation, here called Buy 'n Large, and the Captain not understanding how to work a book. And, of course, the robots. In a world that pulls from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the robots take orders from a long-ago given protocol.

Pixar has done what it has done in the past, and delivered a child's film with adult themes. The love story and the cuteness of WALL•E, his devotion to EVE, will keep kids engaged. As will the overall message of environmentalism and the indomitable spirit of humans -once it has been activated, of course. But for adults there is the repeated message of "Stay the course", used repeatedly by President Bush and echoed by BnL's CEO and the world's president. Pixar also highlights the wasteful laziness of consumer culture by having WALL•Rs, larger WALL•Es for the space ship, simply box up our junk and catapult it into space, and by having the continued message of the BnL Corporation be that Earth has become uninhabitable and not worth saving. It is the captain, educated by his computer as to the beauties of earth and dancing, and WALL•E and EVE and other rogue robots who champion the opposite message once hope of life has sprung up in the form of a tiny plant.

In the end, Pixar does what it does best. It makes WALL•E, EVE, M-O, and even the cockroach seem interminably human. It makes the humans that as well. And it cleverly references and alludes to other aspects of popular culture, like WALL•E's obsession with "Hello, Dolly". It has a philosophy beyond fun and hijinks, though there are plenty of those as well. And it focuses on the goodness that exists within us, even if it is sometimes subdued or atrophied. The humans of the future aren't evil; just ignorant. And Pixar manages to make going outside seem cooler than sitting home and playing with the Wii or Playstation, makes talking to the person next to you on the subway seem more fun than talking on a cellphone or listening to an iPod. It stretches the boundaries of what a child's film can be, what it can say, and what mediums it can encompass. In short, WALL•E succeeds in almost every way.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Why Katy Perry Sucks

Katy Perry has the #1 song in the nation with "I Kissed a Girl", a video that sees her provocatively dressed and that has such gems of lyrics like:

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it.

Come again? You hope your boyfriend "don't mind it"? Issues with grammar aside, that is a horrible sentiment! Look, I'm all for sexual exploration. I'm down with the theory that most people on earth aren't entirely one thing or the other, totally straight or totally gay, and that sexuality is more of a gradient or sliding scale than it is a binary code. I myself have a Gay Island of Celebrities, famous people I would think about putting aside my straight-and-narrow ways for. But seriously now. Katy Perry and her ilk of "bi-curious" girls with high school mentalities make me angry, Incredible Hulk style. If you have a boyfriend, you can't explore your attraction to women -just like you can't explore your attraction to other men. That, unless the situation has been discussed and approved of by BOTH parties (and, for my money, actually applies to both parties), is called "cheating". Just because there are two girls involved doesn't make it a lesser offense.

This song, and this behavior, exemplifies the heteronormative ideals of our society. First, there is the assertion that kissing another girl is "not what good girls do"; I would give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she was referring to the cheating, but she already hopes her boyfriend won't mind it and later describes the event as "innocent", so no dice there. Lesbians, therefore, are "bad". And while this girl may think she's being bad by kissing another girl, her plan to return to her boyfriend only furthers the ideology that lesbian encounters are missing something fundamental and vital to a fun and happy and fulfilling sexual encounter: a penis. Same thing goes, by the way, for the girls who think watching their boyfriend suck face with another guy is "hot". Because they don't feel threatened that their boyfriend may suddenly decide that this vagina thing just isn't for him. Songs like this and the behavior it espouses diminish and denigrate the validity of homosexual relationships and feelings. Katy Perry's boyfriend shouldn't worry; she's not going home with a GIRL. Furthering that line of thought is the idea that this encounter is somehow "innocent", and thereby not threatening to the accepted heterosexual relationship. Had her loss of inhibition led to her kissing a boy, the song would probably be a more angst-ridden tune.

And that is the kind of attitude that is absolute crap, that allows men to find two women engaging in sexual acts "hot" as opposed to "threatening" or "disgusting" when two men are engaging in the exact same behavior. Because as long as "bi-curious" women treat their homosexual liaisons as "cute" and "innocent" and "not threatening", as long as these women get hot and bothered and then return to their boyfriends and insist that there is nothing wrong with it, these girls will be doing a disservice to every gay person who seeks to have their relationship considered on par with a straight one.

So, to Katy Perry and girls like her, just stop it. Stop kissing (and doing other things) with girls and then going home with your boyfriend. What you're doing is just greedy, and engages in a horrible double standard. If you want to explore your sexuality, then break up with your boyfriend and actually explore it. Actually treat the relationship you develop with a woman or the encounters you have with a woman as just as important and viable as you would had these occurred with a guy. Otherwise, you're a cheater. And like every other cheater, you're pretty much just an asshole.

Friday, June 27, 2008

George Stephanopoulos and the Godfather Test

There's a cool article written by George Stephanopoulos about voting in America. I think he makes several good points about how to pick the best president that work for conservatives and liberals and all those who fall in between. I especially like his defense of the flip-flop, with his historical example of Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. But what I liked the best was his advocacy of the Godfather test. When I first opened the article, I was almost afraid it was going to be an homage to The Godfather, the film.

Instead, George suggests switching our criteria for president from "guy (or girl) we would most want to drink with" to "guy (or girl) we would entrust our children to". Sometimes they are the same person. It is hard to give your child's welfare over to someone you don't like. But what confounds me is the amount of people who vote for the candidate they find most personable or most like them. I knew someone in college who voted for George W. Bush because W. wasn't a good public speaker and neither was this particular student. That line of reasoning seemed stupid then and has only continued to cement itself as particularly idiotic in my mind. People who vote for president based on whether they would want them for a neighbor or drinking buddy confound me because as much as I love my drinking buddies (and like my neighbor), I would never want them to be president. Because of that, I hope that Stephanopoulos' test is widely accepted as the better criteria.

Top Ranked Animated Films

In anticipation of WALL•E, the cutest movie robot ever, I thought I'd give you my feelings on a list of top ranked animated films that appeared on the Yahoo! homepage about a week ago. The entire list is there, so I'm going to concentrate on the films I feel have been grossly neglected or overly praised.

First up: Happy Feet, coming in at #22. I was so excited for this movie. I love anthropomorphic animals in animation, I love tap dancing, and I love penguins. Penguins even look like traditional tap dancers with their little tuxedos. The animators even got Savion Glover, the love of my tap dancing life, to actually tap the part of Mumble through motion capture technology. So what went wrong? Well, to start with the movie did not come close to matching the emotion of that other penguin movie, March of the Penguins; or even the fun of Surf's Up (not that Surf's Up should be on this list, so I'm not complaining that it isn't). It was akin to a bad drag film. Good drag films (Kinky Boots, Rocky Horror Picture Show) are excellent; bad ones are beyond torturous. And Happy Feet was beyond torturous. Convoluted, long, and boring, it contained few characters anyone would really give a good damn about. And its messages of love, equality, and environmentalism were great notions but poorly examined. So why, in the name of all things holy, does it come before such classics as Mulan (#27), and Lady and the Tramp (#26)? Why is it even on this list?!

Next up: Toy Story. There is no way Toy Story should be only #14 on this list, being beaten by the likes of Cars (#7) and Shrek (#8) (and Shrek 2). Cars was a good animated film, but in terms of Pixar film hierarchy it was one of their more mediocre efforts. I loved it, but it didn't reach the emotional highs and lows, or the pure imagination, of Toy Story. There was no scene that rivaled the "Mrs. Nesbit" scene. And Shrek, though a wonderful and cliche subverting film, didn't have one of those either. Not to mention that Shrek 2, though the highest grossing animated film, didn't come close to matching Toy Story 2 in terms of content and deliverance. Toy Story 2 was one of the best sequels to a film ever, containing all that made the first movie brilliant and adding new -funny and heartwrenching- elements as well. So why does Shrek 2 beat out even the first Toy Story at #11, and Toy Story 2 is nowhere to be found on the list?!

Kung Fu Panda makes the #2 spot. I can't say much about that, as I haven't seen it yet. The "Skadoosh" of the previews doesn't exactly thrill me. But I can't help but feel as if this is the shine of the New taking over instead of an actual look at this film's content. I don't think it could possibly be better than Ratatouille (#6) or The Incredibles (#3), films that rival live-action "grown up" films in terms of dealing with more adult problems.

And Enchanted, a film that makes the #10 spot, shouldn't even be on the freakin' list. This is a movie with about 10 minutes of animated sequence. And it may be a wonderful movie, but 10 minutes of animation doesn't make for a Top Ranked Animated Film. A film that could have replaced this one would be Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That film is also left off of the list.

I do agree with Finding Nemo in the number 1 spot. And I do like how the top 10 is a mixture of different film studios instead of simply being a gay old romp in the Disney (or Disney affiliated) film archive. Spirited Away (#4), Nightmare Before Christmas (#9), these films deserve to be there.

But there are other films that were left off the list that deserve to be there as well. Instead of Over the Hedge (a movie I loved), how about Chicken Run? Where was The Triplets of Belleville? How about James in the Giant Peach instead of Enchanted, if Roger Rabbit was thought to be too adult? How about Monster House, which was raw and dirty and had characters that were more human (and dislikable) than most animated films have without those characters being the villain?

As with all lists of these kinds, there are always going to be controversies in the rankings; I'm not going to nitpick each film I think should have been ranked higher or lower, because it is personal choice instead of objective fact that make up a majority of our conclusions in matters like this. I'm not even going to get into what I think about The Simpsons Movie being #16, for instance. But as a consummate viewer of animated films, it was important for me to rant about this particular topic.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Obama & Women

I plan to discuss this more fully in the coming weeks, but Anna Quindlen covers why Obama needs to reach out to women too well for me not to highlight it, especially in her final lines of the piece when she says, "For many American women, Hillary was their surrogate".

And I think that is profoundly true. Even women who supported Obama from the start had to be appalled at the treatment Hillary Clinton suffered from the media; and women who were voting for Hillary are probably filled with bitter disappointment that once again that the focus was often not purely on her politics but the fact that she was a woman. Hillary was more than our political surrogate, a sort of "look how far we've come that a woman could have a viable chance at being president of the United States", but a personal surrogate; because even as she highlighted the distance we've traveled in gender discrimination, her journey also detailed how far we've left to go. And I know I'm pissed about the distance left to travel, and would like someone to acknowledge (other than The Daily Show and feminist websites) how much that just sucks. Even better if the person doing the acknowledging is the Democratic frontrunner.

Buddhism and Inmates

Normally, my newspaper has editorials that make my blood boil. Vitriolic rants against feminists, homosexuals, liberals, global warming, and everything else that isn't inherently conservative under the sun, the paper's Opinion section is more like a long winded vision of Mallard Fillmore's comic strip than anything of intelligence or relevance. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson would fit right in. It is the lowest of the low of Republican opinions, so far to the right and so poorly written as to play into the worst stereotypes. And, as my hatred of Mallard Fillmore may suggest, I am not only unabashedly liberal but also a hater of stereotypes -even those about the people I disagree vehemently with.

I scan, and sometimes find an article to get good and angry about. But today, their rant was actually... ...funny. And true. The world is apparently coming to an end, because I agree with a Republican-American editorial. Entitled "Let them eat tofu", it discusses an inmate's "right" to vegan meals. As a Buddhist, Daniel Yeboah-Sefah, formerly Henry K. Boateng (and who picks a hyphenated name if they choose their own?), requires a strict vegan diet in order to conform to the rigors of his faith. He contends that the vegetarian meals the prison provided were not sufficient, and a US District Court judge agreed. Serving only vegetarian meals was tantamount to "cruel and unusual punishment", and Mr. Yeboah-Sefah's lawyer stated that "The statute [regarding religious persecution] is designed to protect these people who are stuck in an institutionalized setting".

I quite enjoy that statement for a number of reasons, number one being that it infers that inmates are not guilty of a crime so much as picked up off the streets and forced to live in the prison system. But I would love to know how the opposing side argued the case. Since Mr. Yeboah-Sefah was a prison-converted Buddhist, and since his crime was a particularly brutal one (he violently murdered his 5-week old son when he "threw him onto the hardwood floor, and repeatedly stomped and kicked him"), had I been the attorney for the state, I may have mentioned that Mr. Yeboah-Sefah gave up the rights to a purely vegan meal -as opposed to the vegetarian option- when he violated another person's right to life. 

I would have potentially also pointed out that the statute was to prevent religious persecution, and that Mr. Yeboah-Sefah was allowed to practice his Buddhism to the fullest extent of the state's ability, that no one was preventing him from conforming to his religious beliefs. That there are weekly meditation sessions offered to Buddhist inmates, and that at a certain point in time an inmate's rights to religious freedom are tempered by his crimes against humanity. Succinctly put, inmates should not be tortured or starved or placed in inhumane conditions themselves; but they also should not be coddled. And, if I were feeling particularly whimsical, I would point out that given the nature of the crime, it was highly unlikely that Daniel Yeboah-Sefah would reach Nirvana in this particular life anyway; so potentially eating some dairy products wasn't exactly the deciding factor here. The Buddha isn't down with the killing.

The Republican-American makes note that "[i]n a just nation, the rights of crime victims would be paramount and Mr Yeboah-Sefah would be reincarnated by now". Which, after an almost entirely reasonable editorial, was particularly funny. I guess I'm just a sucker for Buddhist-reincarnation jokes. It's a quirk. I may not fully agree with what the Republican-American thinks would make up a "just" nation; but it is rulings like this that make the left look crazy-stupid. This is the sort of thing that makes people elect conservatives; this is the sort of thing that makes me want to smack my own head into the wall, because it is just so ridiculous and makes us look bad. And it is rulings like this that make the blow-hards of the Republican American seem just a little more reasonable to many people. And that, frankly, is unacceptable.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pregnant Teens

A controversy of the past week has been that a Gloucester, Mass. high school has 17 pregnant girls this year. This is four times the amount the school had last year, and a rather large number. It should be a controversy in and of itself; except a great deal of attention has been paid to the superintendent of the school district's claims that the girls made a pact to get pregnant instead of acknowledging the fact that the nation as a whole has experienced a 3% rise in teen pregnancies. The waters became muddied and the information convoluted when the superintendent's statements were contradicted by the mayor of the town.

Why anyone would make claims about a group of girls getting pregnant on purpose is fairly simple to figure out: if the pregnancies happened independently of one another and with no real purpose, then the dialogue would focus on things like the failure of abstinence only education (or, God forbid, parental interaction with children). However, if the girls deviously and purposely were intending to get pregnant, then the dialogue becomes once again the trite and overly repeated version of "kids today". The focus is removed from the programs and societal mores and it simply becomes about this group of girls with a hankering for changing diapers.

But the mayor's "outing" of the superintendent's lies (and a 164 page report) put the focus back where it should be: abstinence only education programs just don't work. Perhaps they did, once upon a time, work. I doubt it though. There have always been homes for unwed mothers, girls who would disappear to "Europe" or their grandparents for about 9 months and then come back, and there have always been people like Bobby Darin -who discovered late in life that his older sister was in fact his mother. In Puritan societies, that beacon of moral propriety, many girls got married during their pregnancy. And the term "shot-gun wedding" isn't a part of our verbal lexicon because girls and boys weren't having sex.

And why should they work? Especially now, we as a society focus on sexuality. We demand it. We embrace it. Teens see sex everywhere, see their bodies as marketable commodities to be advertised and used. So, for that matter, do the rest of us. Television, movies, magazines, etc. tell teens that sex is good and sex is great and that with sex comes power -power to buy, power to sell, power to get their way- and we expect them to listen to a teacher (or nurse) who tells them "Don't"? Who shows them pictures of genital warts and tells them that sex ALWAYS leads to pregnancy and that they had best save themselves for marriage because virginity is something to be treasured (if they discuss any of it at all beyond the initial "no")? Abstinence only programs are out of touch, and were probably always out of touch, because they do not take into account (a) the world outside of the classroom, and (b) students' own sexual desires.

I don't want 15 year olds having sex; I certainly don't want them getting pregnant. But I do think that when schools (and parents, and government, and society) refuse to acknowledge that these feelings are real and powerful and that 15 year olds think they know everything, we are bound to have more 15 year olds having sex and more 15 year olds getting pregnant. Teenagers aren't stupid, even if they behave stupidly when not given all of the information. Sex and drugs are things we have to, as a society, have serious and complex discussions about. We have to look to the route of the reasons for why kids want to try them and how we can convince them not to. Telling them "no" doesn't cut it. Establishing a dialogue with them, teaching them about emotional maturity in sexual matters, showing them how to properly use a condom (and dispelling myths about Mountain Dew or jacuzzis), and all the while emphasizing why it is better to wait while listening to and respecting them and the validity of their opinions and emotions and reasons is the better way.

We can simply sit our children down as parents at the age of 5 (or as soon as they ask) and tell them where babies come from, in graphic detail and with books. We can start discussing these things at a young age, and be active parents. We can limit their exposure to shows like One Tree Hill or Gossip Girl. We can read Judy Blume books with them. We can dress our kids in age appropriate clothing instead of high heels for babies. And we also need to accept the fact that teenagers have sex; teenagers had sex when we were in school, when our parents were in school, and more than probably when their parents were in school. We should remember that fact, and then think about how a lack of knowledge about contraception doesn't limit sexual activity. It just limits safe sexual activity.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nestle Tollhouse

So does this clip from The Daily Show remind anyone of the debacle over Pheobe's grandmother's cookie recipe on Friends (3:29 in)?

Also, we're obsessing over cookie recipes as an issue in a presidential election? Really? It is now obvious why Hillary lost the primary: she doesn't have a wife to show up on The View or contribute recipes for sweets to national magazines. That, my friends, is the true test of a candidate's character; not his policies, but his wife's ability to fit the feminine mold and show off those toned arms and oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipes.

By the way, Jon Stewart is hilarious as usual.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Problems with "People You May Know"

I am a little disgruntled with Facebook's "People You May Know" function. First and foremost, I am often unable to discern if I know the people who show up on the side of my screen -or not. Being terrible at faces and not much better with names, I can't tell if I am actually acquainted with one out of the three people who show up on the side of my screen; or if we just by some coincidence -same college, same home town, etc- happen to have enough of the same friends to warrant a place in each other's "People You May Know" category.

Perhaps even worse than that are the people I do happen to recognize. Facebook and other social networking tools are good for reconnecting with people; or even just reestablishing some sort of a bond with them, however tenuous and superficial it is. Instead of actually making contact, we now keep track of them by way of shared photo albums and status updates. But the people from our past we have friended or were friended by were people who made some sort of impression. They were our school friends, crushes, or someone we wish we had gotten to know better. We had to remember their names, or actively search for and hope to recognize them among the network. There was a bit of effort involved.

Now, there are people showing up on the side of my screen of whom I have the vaguest memories, who I would never seek out on my own to talk to or friend. These people hold no interest for me. They do not inspire me to press the "friend" button on the side of the screen. Then, I feel guilty for not wanting to friend them because they have done nothing deserving of the snub. And some people are people I do have a greater grasp of, but who I don't really have any inclination to friend; sometimes I don't even like them. But now, every time I sign on to Facebook, I see their faces asking me to recognize them and friend them. And it causes a weird kind of anxiety. I am in all probability showing up under their "People You May Know" function; if I am, and if neither one of us sought the other out, do we have an obligation to friend simply because we knew each other? Are we committing some sort of social faux pas if we don't, like walking in the opposite direction when we see someone we recognize in the grocery store?

Ultimately, I can't help but feel as if friending someone should take some form of effort, and less of a need for antacids, than the current "People You May Know" function provides. Friendships, even superficial ones, need a level of involvement, of actual positivity. I should not feel pressured into friending someone, or worry that someone felt pressured via electronic probability into friending me. There is enough anxiety involved in accepting a friendship of someone you either don't know or don't know well -or possibly don't even like. Adding it to the other end as well seems more than a little sadistic.

Fun History Facts Via National Geographic

My family has been getting National Geographic for years; it piles up around our house in various locations, never to be thrown out or recycled -or even in many cases organized. Most people know about their fabulous photography:
but their writing is top notch too. My favorite at the moment is from May 2007's issue, one I just now found a year and a month after it arrived at my house:
"In the spring of 1929, a man named Patrick Murphy left a bar in Bisbee, Arizona, to bomb the Mexican border town of Naco, a bunny hop of about ten miles. He stuffed dynamite, scrap iron, nails, and bolts into suitcases and dropped the weapons off the side of his crop duster as part of a deal with Mexican rebels battling for control of Naco, Sonora. When his flight ended, it turned out he'd hit the wrong Naco, managing to destroy property mainly on the U.S. side, including a garage and a local mining company. Some say he was drunk, some say he was sober, but everyone agrees that he was one of the first people to bomb the United States from the air."

Awesome is the only word that properly describes this. The article is about the wall standing -and being expanded- at the US-Mexico border, aptly titled "Our Wall".

Our Top Story...

After being gone for a few days, I was catching up on a few of the blogs I frequent. A good friend of mine has been traveling in Europe, and her observations have been amusing, erudite, and witty. And what comes across, especially in her most recent post, is an affection for and pride in America -most specifically New York City. What is also stated is a critique of American media, something I consider the greatest form of love. It is easy to love something blindly, to not notice or care about the faults or cracks or issues. That kind of love is easy to maintain until it is shattered. A much more transcendent and hardy and useful love is a love that recognizes faults, and accepts them for the present time while hoping to better the situation as a whole. And this is what she does, and what I appreciate about her commentary. I especially find this line to be especially true: "American media is very insular, and we rarely care about anywhere else, at least not for extended periods of time". It is what made this comic strip from today:
particularly congruent with her blog posts. We as a nation would rather learn about the next American Idol winner -or contestant, or possible contestant- than about the natural disasters that are currently ravaging the world. And why wouldn't we? American Idol is fluffy and fun and isn't a downer like floods and tornadoes; and America is perpetually considered the world's adolescent. It is, like traits found in traditional narratives, our greatest strength and greatest weakness. Because we are arrogant, we succeed. Because we are arrogant, we alienate. Because we are a nation perpetually looking forward with an almost contempt for our history, we are not burdened with could nots. We only see in can do. Because we are amnesiac in terms of our own history and world history, we have no basis for which to judge our actions and how our actions will be met; as Daniel Boorstin put it, "Trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers". We are not so great at planning ahead because our concern is mainly the immediate present, and that is a problem. Not that it is a recent one by any means.

We -humans- like to look back at previous generations and see them as larger than life; we like to look at the generations that follow our own with contempt mixed with a dour sense of disappointment and betrayal. Principal Flutie on Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it best when he remarked, "See, the problem is you kids today have no school spirit... ...When I was your age, we cared about the school's reputation and the football team's record, all that stuff. Of course, when I was your age, I was surrounded by old guys telling me how much better things were when they were my age."

Our insulation is not a problem of the present; we come by it naturally as a nation. It is there in President Washington's farewell address when he states, "Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others should be excluded"; and echoed in Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address when he said, "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none". It was there in the neutrality acts we passed and honored while Europe fell to Hitler in World War II. It has only been after 1945 that we as a nation have continually made an effort to be seen and heard on a global scale, transcending parties and administrations.

This belief structure, and one we as a nation tend to wish to revert to on any given day, was made possible due to the geography of our situation. Separated from Europe and Asia by oceans -and covering about 1/3 of our own continent- gave us the buffer needed to make alliances unnecessary. Because we are so large, many of our needs could be met by our own country. Unlike France or Turkey or Spain, we weren't constantly under threat of being attacked or overrun or taken over. Unlike Poland, we weren't conquered every fifty or so years by a new force. We had security built in isolation, and prosperity that came from self-reliance. But that is no longer the case; 9/11 proved it as assuredly as 12/7/41 did half a century earlier. With our dominance comes integration. With our music in every gift shop and with our military stationed on every continent, we do have to make the world and the world's problems a priority in ways we have not previously done. We are doing quite well, considering we really only got into the game 60 years ago. We are playing catch up in a game that the rest of the world has always been a part of. And we have to learn fast if we are to succeed. What we need, then, is a moment in history when that information and knowledge is made a priority. We need someone to stand up and place an unmatched importance on this issue on a national level, much like JFK did with math and science when he proclaimed that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. It is going to be difficult; history and sociology and global political understanding aren't exactly as sexy and exciting and awe-inspiring as being shot into space. But we need it to happen. Hopefully, it happens soon. Because the world doesn't care that we are a young nation, and a nation that is just learning how to balance our own arrogance and self-involvement with their interests. They aren't grading on a curve.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Oops

So I missed a couple of days of posting, due to taking a short trip out of Connecticut. I'm hoping to hit a couple of posts a day to catch up, so stay with me and hopefully I'll continue posting at least one post a day!

3:10 to Yuma

I've seen more westerns than I can count. I have watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I've seen The Magnificent Seven. I've seen a lot of spaghetti westerns, mostly starring Clint Eastwood. And I've seen a lot of Christian Bale movies. I've watched Batman Begins; I've seen I'm Not There. And I've endured American Psycho. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, as sure as the day is long, I hate westerns and think Christian Bale is a horrid actor. So why then is 3:10 to Yuma incredible?

Christian Bale actually acts, for one thing. Unlike in Batman Begins, where he was only good as Batman and terrible as Bruce Wayne, Bale emotes. As Dan Evans, he brings the audience into his pain, and his feelings of inadequacy. He is a man driven by desperation and by honor, a man who refuses to give up even after it becomes clear that he cannot win. He is a man who is only in the west in order to protect his family, whose ranch is threatened by townsmen who control the water supply and whose only hope is to deliver Ben Wade, played by Russell Crowe to the 3:10 train to Yuma. Promised 200 hundred dollars at the start, the journey leads to an understanding between the two men.

Russell Crowe, always an excellent actor and charismatic man, plays Ben Wade to the utmost. He is a breaker of the law, a killer of men, but still contains some goodness inside. His is the story of a man abandoned at the age of 8, who is a straight shooter and a robber extraordinaire. He is an empathetic figure, and an enigmatic figure. He is the wild card, and Russell Crowe plays him with finesse and ease.

The actual movie is both surprising and formulaic. It isn't exactly surprising who lives and who dies. It isn't surprising that it ends up as a morality play. It is indeed a Western. But it is well written; it takes what I hate most about westerns and makes it more than palatable. The film also has surprises in its cast. A cameo by Luke Wilson, more than fit for the old west, is a pleasant -if completely unexpected- surprise. As is Alan Tudyk of Firefly and Serenity fame as the posse's doctor. And Ben Wade's second in command is driven and focused in a slightly endearing way, even as he is as evil a character as the day is long.

Overall, 3:10 to Yuma is not a ground breaking feature. It doesn't even really push the boundaries of the western ouvre. But it is incredibly well made, and well acted. And well worth the 2 hours it takes to watch it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Homicide: Life on the Street

In 1993, a show premiered after the Superbowl. It was Homicide: Life on the Street and its first and second season episodes were shown sporadically, equalling 13 in total. It is considered the precursor to the HBO show The Wire, as it was created by the same people and centered around the same town. It is one of the best shows ever produced on television. Well-written, excellently acted, and realistic, the show didn't have the sexiness of NYPD Blue; it wasn't a soap opera in any sense of the word, and it differed from Law & Order (a show that premiered 3 years earlier) and procedural shows of that ilk in that the murders investigated were not always contained to a single episode, or even a pair of episodes. The show was gritty; cameras were handheld, shaky, and scenes were often cut with a "jump" effect: characters would be in the same scene, standing in the same place, and the camera would have changed positions.

What the show runners did was create a television program could be sophisticated and dark and smart without being on a premium channel, without playing to people's baser desires, and without making the show sensationalistic or even terribly personal. The show's dynamic comes after the titillating action has occurred. There are no high speed chases, no shots of a grotesque and mutilated corpse for shock value, and no murders on screen. We come in after the homicide has taken place and our detectives are called on the scene, and the show is all the better for it. The show also does something incredible: it posts realistic outputs in terms of how many homicides the detectives solve. On a show like House or Bones, the audience has an expectation that the disease would be found or the murderer would be apprehended, because House and Bones are the best in their respective fields. But Law & Order's solved crime rates are incredible; as are CSI's, Cold Case, and numerous other cop shows. And I refuse to believe that every single detective in every department spanning Law & Order's franchise is the premiere in their field. Homicide had excellent detectives, those who were the best of the best, and it had a white board: unsolved homicides in red, solved in black. And the ratio between the two wasn't huge. Most detectives had as many or more red cases as they did black. And many cases we were introduced to in the course of the show went on unsolved, because that is the true way of a Homicide department.

Homicide's characters were not PC; they weren't always likable or nice or easy to route for. They were at times racist, sexist, wrong, or just plain assholic. But the thing we see day in and day out is how normalized their job really is to them. At one point, a character tells the husband of a victim that every detective remembers his first homicide, but no one remembers their 40th, or 50th. Because of that, the episodes themselves play more mundanely than one would ever expect a crime show's episodes to be. And this type of show is the precursor to Sports Night, or The West Wing -shows that also concentrated almost solely on characters at their jobs who do their jobs well and whose personal lives are left on the periphery of the screen even as we learn details about them. And because the show is so well-written, because it stands up against the shows of today in its intensity and its maturity and its ability to enthrall the audience, it doesn't matter that its first episode aired 15 years ago and its last original appearance on television was 8 years ago. Everyone interested in quality television should be prepared to watch it, and be amazed by it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

McCain=Bad Vote

Let me be clear: I genuinely like John McCain. He is a man of integrity, of passion and reason and strength. I do not think that a vote for McCain is a vote for what would essentially be a third Bush term. The two diverge on too many points, including but not limited to the environment and compromising with democrats in Congress. I admired him when he first appeared on The Daily Show, and earlier this year when he appeared on Ellen and engaged in a dialogue about gay rights. That sort of moxy and the ability to disagree with the other side with integrity and civility is why I admire the man. If he does win the presidential race in November, I won't end up bursting into tears. I could even be proud of him. That being said, I do vehemently believe that a vote for McCain would be a bad vote.

I'll start with the good. John McCain has a different view on environmental policy than many Republicans. His lifetime percentage with the League of Conservation Voters is "26 percent, compared with an average of 16 percent for all Republicans. As recently as 2004, when his rating for the 108th Congress reached 56 percent, the league endorsed him for re-election to the senate". He introduced the first bill ever to regulate carbon emissions in the United States with Democrat -kind of- Joe Lieberman (go Connecticut!) in 2003. At the same time, his environmental policy is nebulous; it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will not seek to go as far as the Democrats, and he is supportive of using nuclear power. Against other Republicans, he is a breath of fresh air. Against a different democrat or with different policies in regard to taxation or women's rights, and he would still be a viable candidate. But Obama has a lifetime percentage of 96 from the LCV, and he "aim[s] for a reduction of 80 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050, which most scientists think is the minimum necessary to head off the worst effects of climate change". He also "set a target of 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and 60 billion gallons of biofuel annually by 2030". As admirable as McCain's environmental policy is, Obama blows him out of the water.

But McCain has an absolutely abysmal record when it comes to women's rights, and I'm not just talking about Roe v. Wade. In an attempt to garner some votes from women who had previously supported Hillary, McCain is attempting to soften his image and play to the frustration of some of Hillary's supporters over the sexism she met during her campaign. But if women vote for McCain out of exasperation over Hillary's treatment, they will essentially be cutting off their noses to spite their face. As with many Republicans, McCain believes Roe v. Wade should be overturned. That is basically a given. But he also opposes efforts to ensure equal wages for equal work among men and women, he has voted against requiring healthcare plans to cover birth control, and voted against Medicaid funding for family planning for low-income families. And he voted against funding to prevent teen and unintended pregnancies. He garners a 0% rating from Planned Parenthood, and that is only because there is no negative percentiles on the scale.

McCain also opposes gay marriage, but I do respect his belief that it is a state rights issue and that he voted against a constitutional ban on gay marriage. I also give him kudos for voting to expand the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation. And although I do think he would be more responsible about war in general than Bush and although I agree with McCain about the dangers of pulling out of Iraq too early, I am concerned with his statements that the terrorists are more afraid of him than of Obama. The lack of understanding from Republicans in general that many terrorists do not arbitrarily hate America for our freedom and values (though some do) and that we have increased hatred for America through many of our policies abroad is truly frightening. I do, however, deeply respect his opinion that the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center should be closed.

His view on taxes, which was "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of the middle-class Americans who need tax relief" in May 2001, now unfortunately mirror Bush's view on tax cuts. Given the recent downturn in economic development, and given the recession we experienced under Reagonomics, I would prefer to prime the pump rather than allowing the tax cuts to trickle down.

The problem with this year's primary season and this year's presidential race is that after having a dearth of decent candidates on both sides for years, we now have a plethora of viable and respectable and wonderful candidates. McCain pledges to run a clean campaign, and I would love for a Republican who does so to win political office. But Obama's views on women's rights, on the environment, on taxes and gay rights and our position in the world, are much more progressive than McCain's. And McCain is much more of a conservative than the media attests to in their portrayal of him as a maverick. We need real change in this country, and although McCain would inch us forward, Obama promises feet of progress.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Changing Perceptions Through Parenting

When I was little, mothers used to chuckle when I asked for recipes with the stated intent of giving them to my father. My teachers would look at me oddly when I told them my dad would be able to chaperone field trips or would be coming to some school event. And when I saw that there was a town-sponsored breakfast at the firehouse on Mother's Day, I thought it was sweet but wondered why. It only occurred to me later that most mothers do much more than the primary cooking, and that this town breakfast was an easy way to give mothers the morning off. My perceptions have been radically altered by my parenting. My father was and is the cook; my father was the one to vacuum; my father was the one who sang me to sleep and read me stories and who would most often come to school functions. His job was flexible, and my mother's was 9 to 5. He wanted a neat house, and my mother didn't place as much emphasis on it. He liked cooking -and grocery shopping- whereas my mother disliked both.

My mother was an active parent as well; and she definitely did her share of chores like laundry and cleaning of the bathroom. But the division of labor was much more equitable than in many of my friends' houses. In the average household, the ratio of division of labor is 2 to 1, no matter what the working situation is. In an average household with a stay-at-home mother, child-rearing takes up 15 hours a week of her time and 2 of his. In the average household with two wage-earners, her hours go down to 11; his go up to 3. And according to the New York Times, that ratio has not changed in the past 90 years. Women going into the work force has radically changed the face of American corporations, but it has done little to influence the views of what should be happening inside the home. Which is why this new conscious decision on the part of some parents to go for equal parenting, or shared care as it is also called, the New York Times is reporting is a giant step forward. It is not enough to know intellectually the way things ought to be; actually being a part of the process, being raised in that environment, having shared parenting and shared chores be the normative standard of behavior from the time a child is born, is the process that will make this change be a natural part of life and not a conscious effort to enact progress.

Children who are raised not only being told that women are equal to men but actually see their fathers make dinner and clean boo-boos and scrub floors, see their mothers taking out the trash and doing the yard work; and then seeing mothers make dinner and clean boo-boos and scrub floors while their fathers take out the trash and do the yard work will help erase the idea of gender-divided labor before it is even written upon the child's psyche. And that will make for a far more equitable society.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Superhero Movie Done Right

Although my parents like to tell me that I am the Clive Barnes of cinema, I am actually quite picky about which comic book superhero movies I give my gold star of approval to. Some of this may stem from the fact that I was terrified of the Tim Burton Batman film when I was young (and mistakenly called it "Fatman"). Some of it may stem from a period in which I devoured the old school Marvel comics, my favorites being Spiderman and X-Men, until the fracturing of the 'verses into too many different comic books and story arcs and AUs to keep track of and a certain soap operaish quality that took over. Prepubescent boys have more in common with middle age housewives than they ever would contemplate given the stories their chosen mediums choose to tell.

I love (now) Tim Burton's Batman films; the first was one of the truest and most engrossing adaptions comic books have ever experienced. It wasn't just a comic book movie. It was a movie anyone could enjoy, based on a comic book character. X-Men was a movie that stuck true to the philosophy of the characters and meaning of the comic while playing around with the internal continuity. Rogue with Iceman? Iceman being in a class of students of new mutants and not on par with Cyclops and Jean Gray? But it worked because it respected the fundamental draw of the 'verse and the characters. The second continued along that line, even though the third went a bit off course by being a bit more modern soap opera for me to take seriously. Spiderman suffered the opposite problem by being too faithful, especially in terms of dialogue, to the original text. The Fantastic Four was a campy movie; fun and very similar to cotton candy in terms of what the audience walks away with. 

The new Superman was flashy but held no real heart. Its villains were more engrossing than its heroes, always a problem in a movie. Batman Begins had an excellent Batman, but its Bruce Wayne was a little weak. I'm still looking forward to the sequel for Heath Ledger's Joker (the previews are absolutely chilling) and the arrival of Harvey Dent and the eventual evolution of Two-Face. I would be more inclined to see The Incredible Hulk if the Hulk remained closer to his counterpart Bruce Banner's size, like they were able to do with The Beast in X2 and Thing in Fantastic Four. Edward Norton looks like he put together an excellent portrayal of Bruce Banner, and it to the detriment of the film that the Hulk is so incredibly unbelievable.

Iron Man was actually a comic book that I was never able to fully delve into. It seemed like Marvel's answer to Batman; millionaire who becomes super through the help of technology. The movie, however, is engaging. It has a gravitas that transcends its medium, both of them. It pulls in from real world issues of corporate responsibility, issues with culpability, how innocents are the ones who are most hurt when nations cannot or will not step in. It has a wholly human protagonist, though a genius. It has an intelligent woman, played expertly by Gwyneth Paltrow. It is, like its only rival Tim Burton's Batman, an excellent movie. Period. No need to qualify it with what it had previously been before. It was humorous. It had compelling characters. And it was hands down an incredible origin tale. The transformation from Tony Stark: Playboy to Tony Stark: Superhero is an incredible one, filled with gambling, drinking, and then a capture by terrorists and a refusal to build a weapon for the enemy. Watching Downey Jr, one understands why Woody Allen was willing to put up the insurance money to work with him. Inside the robotic Iron Man suit, Robert Downey Jr goes to work, actually making the audience believe he is inside the wholly CGI'd affect. This is Marvel's best production yet, rivaling X-Men. It is better than any of DC's Supermans. In the end, it isn't about a man in a suit, but a man who sees the wrongs of the world, and who can't help but try to use his resources -his money, his intelligence, and his contacts- to right them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Where Have All The Good Father's Day Cards Gone?

Card shopping, in the best of times, can suck. You have to find a card that matches not only something you would want to send, but that the other person would want to receive. There are hundreds of bad ones, and it takes quite a while to find that gem of a card, and those usually turn out to be around four dollars. And there seems to be a dearth of actually decent Father's Day cards. There are "funny" cards, turning dear old Dad into nothing more than a beer-swilling, television-watching, grunting fart machine. And maybe that is all some people's dads are, but do you really want to remind him of all of that with a card on "his" day? I mean really. How many people in the world want a card that emphasizes their faults as a human being? And how many fathers are out there with no redeeming qualities we can harness for cards who should be getting a Father's Day card in a less than ironic fashion anyway?

Then, there are the cards for fathers and daughters. And these are terrible too. None of them actually look at the nature of a father-daughter relationship. They instead play to old gender cliches. Ones where the daughters are so car-retarded that they didn't know they had to consistently fill the car with gasoline. Ones where the daughter's present is not asking the father for money. Ones that emphasize the fathers "putting up" with tea parties and playing with barbie dolls, as if no father in the history of the world has ever enjoyed sitting down with his daughter over a cup of fake tea -or as if there has never been a daughter who would rather play wiffle ball or touch football or fish than play with dolls. These cards make a mockery of the parent-child relationship, and make the daughter seem diminutive and less than what she is. Instead of teaching girls that fathers love spending time with them, even if they get stuck in tiny chairs, these cards emphasize that "girly" activities are below men, and that girly activities are all girls want to do. And that makes a less than great Father's Day card too. "Thanks for putting up with me and my less than masculine ways, Dad! I'm sorry I don't have testicles."

Where are the cards that accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative? Where are the cards that celebrate dads instead of denigrating them? Dads are important. And dads deserve to be recognized as such. Instead, through cards and sitcoms, we belittle and criticize them, and whittle them down to their least admirable "masculine" parts; and we ignore that not every man doesn't know how to change a baby's diaper, that not every man freezes when faced with pink barbies and tears, and that not every man only wants sons. We would never think of minimizing mothers on Mother's Day; so why do we do so to fathers on Father's Day?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bring Back Queen Frostine

While surveying the blogs and information sites I often find to be most thought-provoking, fun, or just plain ire-inducing, I found an interesting entry on Feministing (a site helpfully linked on the side of this very blog page) about Strawberry Shortcake -the cartoon character, not the food item. The blogger was lamenting the changes wrought to a dear character from her childhood. The impression I got by looking at the pictures side by side:

was the Powers That Be saw fit to age her from what I would assume to be around five to preteen/young teen, got rid of her Raggedy Ann hair style, gave her one hell of a nose job (in that she no longer has one), slimmed her down, hipped up her outfit, and made her incredibly pink.

I personally like Old Strawberry Shortcake (OSS). First, she was cute as a button. Secondly, she was more recognizable as, well, a strawberry when she had some red to her. Now, she's more of a postmodern or ironically named character than an actual allusion to a piece of fruit. And she didn't seem as "cool"; more lovable, more squeezable, more fun. Feministing focuses on the fact that she's been made thinner, which is a bad -especially when toys and characters and images are marketed to pre-teens. But what about the fact that she's in a passive pose? OSS looks ready to take on the world. New Strawberry Shortcake (heretofore known as NSS) looks like she's prepared to gossip about boys and paint nails. Plus, she's just so incredibly pink. But I don't have a huge attachment to OSS, or NSS, so the distress this particular blogger felt over the change was a little silly to me. Distress over the message being presented, sure. Distress over the bastardization of a cartoon character? Not so much.

But after chuckling slightly about the description provided about the blogger's OSS bicycle, it suddenly hit me. A jolt, a shock, a realization: months and months ago, I was reintroduced to Candy Land, the game of my childhood. And they friggin' changed Queen FROSTINE! Queen Frostine was my favorite! The point of Candy Land for me wasn't to win but to get Queen Frostine's card. And apparently, I'm not alone in that sentiment. She was pretty and regal and oh so adult. She was powerful and blue:

She was, in short, perfect. She was Queen; she was cool. She ruled the Ice Cream Sea. I remember a very deep attachment to her; one I apparently still have because I threw a fit when I saw what she had been turned into, what all of my characters had been turned into:
First, she's apparently been downgraded. She's now "Princess Frostine", which works because she's been made younger -quite the opposite of OSS. And Princess Frostine just isn't attractive. She is like a demented barbie-doll. There is no sweetness, no serenity, no regality. The nature of the game has changed, my friends, from winning Queen Frostine to getting the hell away from her usurper. And she's friggin' PINK! Frost isn't pink! I have never once seen pink frost in my life. But although the box is now more multicultural than the original two little blonde children, the colors for its female characters appears to have become more rigid, gender-wise. Princess Lolly used to wear an orangy-yellow number; now renamed just "Lolly" (and aged just like NSS), she's in purple. And while I like the inclusion of a red-head, I do kind of wonder about her anime appearance.

In fact, every single character's appearance has been changed drastically. Go to Milton Bradley site that reintroduces the characters, and then go to see the original characters here. The change is startling. Poor Plumpy didn't make the cut and instead was replaced by Mamma Gingertree, who isn't nearly as cute. King Kandy lost, like Queen Frostine, all sense that he actually is royalty, and instead looks like a perverted Santa Claus. Lord Licorice, so delightfully sinister looking in the original game, is made to be less so now though they did allow him to keep the mustache. It is a disappointment, and a shock. And I guess I can't fault Feministing for getting up in arms over Strawberry Shortcake, because I'm willing to storm the castle on behalf of my Candy Land characters.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Yeah, We're Doing Really Well

China is hacking our government computers. At least, that is what some lawmakers claim, among them Virginia representative Frank Wolf. Wolf has said that four of his computers have been illegally accessed since 2006, leaving me to ask a few questions:

1) How many computers does one representative need?

2) Why wouldn't Wolf have brought up his concerns after the first or even second computer was compromised?

3) Is Wolf simply technologically incompetent and in killing 3 computers over 2 years decided that instead of 'fessing up to blame the Chinese?

4) Why doesn't the US government just switch over to Macs?

These allegations come amid speculation that Chinese officials copied the information present on a government laptop and was trying to use that information to hack into Commerce Department computers.

The Chinese, of course, deny all allegations of wrong-doing. Apparently, they don't have the technology necessary in order to perpetuate such crimes. Not that they wouldn't; they just haven't progressed that far yet.

Meanwhile, England seems to have decided to take out the middle man by leaving confidential files just laying around. And instead of pulling straight from the plot of the next Coen Brothers film, Burn After Reading, the person (or people) who found the files didn't try to blackmail the government and instead took them to the BBC. The BBC has, after conferring with lawyers, decided not to expose the information that had been clearly marked "For UK/US/Canadian and Australian Eyes Only". Good for them.

This comes after a laptop, containing 600,000 prospective military recruits' religions and banking information, was stolen from a car; and after tax officials lost disks that contained information on half the population of Britain, including their banking records. Back in America, the Pentagon acknowledged last month that its computer network is "scanned or attacked by outsiders more than 300 million times each day".

The whole thing just kind of makes you want to live off the grid, doesn't it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Earth First

Gas prices have finally hit and surpassed four dollars on national average, and our president is going on his final European tour to remind everyone that we "are all too dependent on hydrocarbons" (and seriously, who would blame a European leader -any of them- for responding to that gem with a solid punch to Bush's nose?). So let's talk about energy, the crisis, and the affect the whole deal will have on our economy. First, I must say that I am incredibly angry that we Americans had to wait until gas prices became unbearable economically to have a majority of us -and our government- seriously consider alternative fuel sources. Prior to this, it was Willie Nelson riding around in an ethanol powered bus and Prius owners who seemed to actually be taking steps forward -and the Prius people were doing so partially because the car became synonymous with "cool". The rest of us? Well, we killed the electric car early on in that model's lifetime; and although many companies were paying lipservice to finding alternate fuel sources (I can't open my Newsweek without seeing bp advertising that "There's energy security in energy diversity"), it seemed more like a PR campaign than a real attempt at change. Kind of like Phillip Morris sponsoring anti-smoking campaigns. There just seemed to be something incredibly disingenuous about the whole thing.

We have been told for quite a while "we have reached our peak oil production and some oil geologists [believe] that 90 percent of the world's oilfields have been tapped". But America kept on gobbling up energy resources, kept on buying SUVs, and kept our collective head under a rock. Because as long as it wasn't affecting us economically right that second, then we could deny any validity to claims that it would adversely affect us in the future. We could believe that some solution would magically appear at the right moment without us having put money, time, or energy into finding it. And we are paying for our short-sighted idiocy: "When gasoline was selling closer to $1 at the start of the decade, American households were spending some $300 billion each year to drive their cars and heat and cool their homes. They are now spending some $700 billion a year on energy. Household gasoline bills in the coming year will rise about $100 billion -even if the national gas prices stay near $4 a gallon through 2008". And gas prices staying at $4 a gallon now seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, the gas prices "are threatening everything from summer vacations to Meals on Wheels deliveries" and are also responsible for the ingredients that make those meals becoming more and more expensive as well. What Americans forgot, or never learned, or didn't find relevant, is that "oil goes into making virtually everything, including steel, aluminum, plastics, rubber, fabrics, transportation ...and food. People don't generally associate food and petroleum, but petroleum is used to make fertilizers and in vehicles used for planting and harvesting, storage and processing, and the trip to the market for the final sale from the freezer in store to the freezer in a home". Great.

I can't blame everything on ordinary Americans' spending habits though; I can blame some of it on their voting habits. Republicans blocked even discussion of a tax bill aimed for oil companies who were making "unreasonable profits". By the way, Exxon made $10.89 billion profit in the first three months of this year. I can definitely see where taxing them -or even talking about taxing them- is a bad thing. And in the past, our government has apparently "created a disincentive for new technologies and new ideas" by doing things like "mandating that so much ethanol is made and that it has to come from corn sugar" thus diminishing the exploration of creative solutions. Doesn't that just take the biscuit?

Now Americans are finally getting into the swing of things, doing things like trading in their SUVs and carpooling to work, and possibly even thinking about buying a hybrid. We drove 11 billion less miles in March 2008 than in March 2007. And maybe -maybe- we've learned our lesson. Because if we had been investing in and investigating alternative fuel and energy options seriously, we probably would not have gotten to the point where food and gas prices are rising to the further detriment of our economy. If we had been serious about voting people into office who would have fought to have the automobile makers actually work toward more fuel efficient vehicles; who wouldn't have made "light trucks" exempt from such laws; or went after automobile companies who began designing other vehicles to fit the "light truck" definition in order to circumvent the regulations for higher fuel efficiency, we would be farther away from this position today. If we begin to cultivate a mindset recognizing how potential negative effects of our actions that may accumulate in our future are important to consider and work to prevent, maybe our current situation will not have been for naught. Unfortunately, I don't believe it has. I think we will do our best to get ourselves out of this situation in the short term, and then continue along with the mindset we have always embraced and has best been summed up by a bumper sticker my father had three cars ago: "Earth First: We'll Strip Mine The Other Planets Later".

Random Thoughts

In Newsweek's article Joining the 'Out' Club, Lisa Miller writes,
"America's Christian colleges may be the last bastion of traditional values -places where parents can continue, in absentia, to protect their children from the corrupting influences of the world and where the kids themselves often promise... ...to abstain from premarital sex, adultery, and inappropriate fondling."

What would fall under the category of "appropriate" fondling for a Christian college?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Legally Blonde as Reality Show?

They're making a Legally Blonde reality show, centered around finding the next Elle Woods for the stage. Seriously? I love the movie; it is one of our "most reached for" films in my house, up there with Moonstruck, Gross Pointe Blank, Raising Arizona, and You, Me, & Dupree. But the key to the film is Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, which makes the stage version much less of a "Must See" for me and making a reality show about it even less so. Luckily for me, I've got a friend who's written a snarktastic review of it. Read her thoughts, even if you would sooner fly to the moon without any protective gear (very dangerous according to the Discovery Channel's documentary on NASA's quest for space travel) than actually deign to watch reality television in general and this show in particular. I know I did.

Chronicles: Volume One

Bob Dylan's talents apparently spread well beyond the writing of songs, though anyone who has ever listened to "The Hurricane" should know that the man knows how to weave a tale. Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One is a book that entwines its reader to the words of its writer. It isn't a tell all. It doesn't examine many of the mistakes Dylan made; and it doesn't even really delve into his music, at least not the music we remember him for. He makes vague allusions to situations ardent fans will be aware of; but even without that knowledge, without knowledge of Bob Dylan as anything but a 1960s political folk singer, the book still possesses a magic in its telling. Dylan spends some time on the characters that populated his life, but very rarely the ones we know well; Richard Pryor gets name-checked early on in the book when he discusses the clubs he played. Joan Baez's relationship with Dylan gets one line in the book: "Joan was born in the same year as me and our futures would be linked, but at this time to even think about it would be preposterous". 

The chances of Dylan actually delving into any of the emotionality of their romantic endeavors in a possible Volume Two (or even Three) is slim given how little he allows the book into the corners of his world. And that is a good thing; instead, whatever little scraps we are granted are made all the sweeter. He details how he falls in love with Suze Rotolo, who shared the cover of his Freewheelin' Dylan album and who has a memoir of her own out about that time, and the affection he still holds for her in that time rings clear. His anger is still palpable when he writes of how he would have been responsible for the safety of the intruders of his Woodstock property, how the press and constant attention and adulation and vocal disappointment from his fans turned his life into a circus attraction. These are two of the scant instances we are actually privy to real situations.

Somehow, Dylan makes that work to his advantage while protecting the privacy he holds dear; instead of allowing the reader into an endless stream of salacious events, he instead turns his attention to what is important to him: the music that inspired him, the books he enjoyed (and some he didn't), and the method to his artistry. In this way, we see more of the real Dylan than if he'd explained about his conversion, about the hows and whys of Blood on the Tracks, about his feelings regarding Jakob Dylan's pursuit of a musical career. We get pages waxing poetically about Woody Guthrie, about Guthrie's (and other artists) influence on Dylan, and how Dylan would take the train into Jersey once he made it to New York City in an effort to keep Guthrie company during his last couple years alive. We learn of his own relationship with his music; my favorite part of the book is when Dylan describes the funk he'd fallen into. How he went on a tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and would not deviate from the 20 or so songs he had played consistently for years. How he was no longer motivated by performing his own songs, how he wasn't inspired to write. And how he was able to recapture all of that -and then how he promptly broke his hand.

Dylan's style of writing isn't formalized. It is very much like the Beats he admired, without the drug-induced madness or weaving tales of sex. His book has an ebb and flow all its own. In parts he is irreverent. In other parts incredibly poetic. Sometimes funny. At times he is able to capture all three at once. And although it isn't strictly linear, it has a thread that keeps the reader from being thrown off the course Dylan sets. There is an affection pouring from Dylan, both for his tale and for the person who picks it up. It isn't a book that requires serious contemplation; but it is a most enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, almost like reading a packet of letters from an old friend with whom contact had been lost years before and only recently re-established.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Grammar Problems in the Computer Age

Facebook has a function that allows its users to compare people, appropriately titled "Compare People". And the program helpfully sends e-mails that alert the user as to how they indeed compare to other people. It is a weird, weird, weird program -and I would delete it but I have an odd fascination with how my ranking in the categories continually goes down. I kind of like to watch it; and it is also interesting -though slightly (only slightly) insecurity building- to see how other people rank. By my estimate, one girl I'm Facebook friends with is #1! in every single bloody category. Hottest? Yup. Best probable mom? Yup. Most desired? Yup. The entire program, like high school superlatives, is nothing but one big popularity contest. Just more proof that we never truly leave high school. We users also get e-mails that show us our individual general strengths and weaknesses. Mine break down like so:

Strengths
hottest
prettiest
most kiss-able

Weaknesses
most entertaining
most reliable

When did those two things become weaknesses? I would consider humor a much better strength than hotness. It is easier to maintain, for one thing. And reliability is something we generally seem to hold up as a gold standard. The girl at the office who shows up to work every day on time, works well, and makes few mistakes gets promoted. The guy who calls his friends and girlfriend when he says he will gets to keep both. These two traits are good things, and it is beyond odd to me that a Facebook program thinks otherwise; and also that ninth graders are competing for "hottest", but that is a wholly different rant.

It also occurred to me -albeit much later- that the source of my outrage may merely be a syntactical error; that what the program is truly intending to convey may very well be that although I'm hot, I'm neither entertaining nor reliable. And that is upsetting on a whole other level, most because I am completely entertaining! I am a laugh-riot, and it is slightly off-putting that others wouldn't think so. Unfortunately, my unreliability is something a prosecutor could make an iron clad case for -and the source of my epiphany, actually. Only a fool or someone with a pool of absolutely atrocious friends would vote me consistently the most reliable. 

But it is also depressing because of the whole "English language is a dying art" aspect of it. Who else is depressed by Blogger saying that a particular blog entry has "1 comments"? Because it upsets me every time I see it. And I know it is because these things are computer generated -that the computers do not have the ability to understand that "0 comments" and "2 comments" are grammatically correct, but it needs to be changed to "comment" when there is only one. However, there are programers responsible for developing the language. How hard is it to program these things so that they follow some of the laws of the English language? Because sometimes it isn't a matter of grammar nazis simply being cranky people intent on making life more difficult for the rest of humanity, a category the eye-twitching "1 comments problem" falls under. Sometimes it really is a matter of clarity; and although clarity in a Facebook e-mail is not a matter of the utmost importance, lack of clarity in writing is something that is becoming an epidemic; and not solely amongst things generated by machines. And that, my friends, is a rather large issue and one we need to work to correct.