Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Art of Tipping

Shakesville, a blog I sometimes haunt but don't comment on (because I, at my heart, am still the Luddite still somewhat frightened by technology and by not seeing the people on the other side of the box to whom I'm typing), had what I thought was an interesting Question of the Day:
Who do you tip? Are you a good tipper?
I tip. I tip almost everyone you could think to tip. If check out people had tip jars, I'd probably end up tipping them too.

I'm also an extremely good tipper. I have never worked for tips, and I've yet to feel the want of money. Which helps feed the white-liberal-faux-Catholic guilt I've picked up through the course of my life (this is also why I give to a lot of different charities). I leave 20%, both because I think 20% is a good tip amount and because it is soooo much easier to figure out than the standard 15%. I can't do that easily, so I figure unless the server was particularly bad, I'm not going through the extra math work to get to the proper figure.

But I have known people who just didn't tip. I got into a heated debate with a friend of mine once about tipping, and I have to say I thought less of him after the debate was done. This guy was (is) a straight up crazy liberal, and I couldn't understand how he couldn't understand people depend on tips - and that as a crazy "the entire world's in on the conspiracy, maaaaaan" liberal, how he could in all seriousness dispense the "If they can't live on the wages they're getting, they should just get another job" schtick. Which he did. Repeatedly.

I understand that places are supposed to supplement their wait staff's wages if they don't make minimum wage. I also understand - having had plenty of friends actually work at places like restaurants - that doesn't always happen. So, not tipping the wait staff because you support them receiving at least the minimum wage seems kind of like shooting someone in the chest so they can get a flu shot. It hurts that person more in the short term. And if something like paying rent is on the line, what might come about in the future doesn't seem to be the best thing ever, or something that person should truly be appreciative of. Plus, he seemed to think that the wait staff at these various establishments should agitate for change themselves, instead of writing to his congressmen himself about his own distaste for the necessity of tipping.

What really gets me about the not tipping argument, though, is that it seems like the basic premise - people should get paid enough in the base salary - gets mixed up in the idea that leaving the tip is paying someone else's wages, and that isn't the customer's job. Except, that is exactly the customer's job. In a lot of situations, the customer doesn't directly pay the worker, but the price paid for the service or product is part of what pays the worker. Likewise, the price of the meal should cover the worker's wages; but since it doesn't, the customer is, by not tipping, simply not covering the true cost of their meal. If workers did agitate and did manage to get minimum wage, the cost of the meal would go up to cover that new expense in service.

Even barring that, though, I like tipping. It feels good to acknowledge someone's service to you. There are probably other ways to do this as well, but tipping seems to be the most convenient.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "Echo"

When Dollhouse first came out on DVD, I vacillated about buying it. I'm someone who needed to purchase every single season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the day it was released, so my not so urgent need to get Dollhouse was a bit... odd. I blame, mostly, "Omega" - an episode I now realize I never got around to reviewing.

But, it's Joss, and I love Joss, and I liked Dollhouse, and I thought Dollhouse could improve, and my Whedon collection must be complete at all costs to the point where I bought the seasons of Angel I adamantly disliked, so I went ahead and got the series.

And then I ignored it for a while. Until a friend of mine (this friend, actually) asked me if I'd watched the unaired pilot and/or "Epitaph One" and that I should watch them back to back. So I went on vacation, came back, waited a week, and then did it. Which, obviously, as yesterday's post pointed out, blew my mind. Well, "Epitaph One" blew my mind.

"Echo" is illuminating, entertaining, immensely frustrating, and a bit disconcerting. It was disconcerting, because so many scenes that had been flung into different episodes were found here; and since I'd already seen those actually aired episodes and in some cases quite liked the way those scenes were integrated into those other works, seeing them here in rapid succession was a bit strange. And yet, I'm pretty sure I liked it, a lot. Echo and Sierra weren't quite as annoying as Actives during their lunch meet here as they are later in the season, because the episode moves so fast. Ballard's rusty flirting with Loomis does more to illustrate who he is than the fight montage of the first aired episode. Topher and Boyd's bison conversation lets us into a problem (for the Dollhouse, and them) already in progress. Which is where the 'immensely frustrating" part of this comes in.

A conversation that doesn't take place until episode four is already in full swing midway through this episode. Likewise, there is something very 'gah' worthy over having the last word spoken in your pilot episode be the same word spoken (by the same person, in basically the same circumstance, because it is the same freaking scene) last in your (aired) season finale. This? Is the problem with "Echo". Or, more specifically, the problem with Dollhouse. "Echo" puts it all out there, succinctly. It isn't the best pilot I've ever seen, or even the best Whedon pilot I've ever seen. But it is a pilot that quickly moves down the line to not only introduce the characters and the major interpersonal and philosophical issues the show hopes to ruminate upon, but also drops us into a story already set in motion. This Echo? We can care about her right off the bat because she's already evolving. Echo, Caroline, whomever, is already making her presence known to us because she is already affecting the world around her. She is already making choices and connections, even if those are ones she doesn't fully understand. If the series were to have started from this point, we could have potentially ended up lightyears down the line (on the other hand, the show could have been cancelled). Since we didn't start at this point, we were basically spinning our wheels all season long. The end is, quite literally, the beginning. Musing over the missed opportunities is enough to give the serious fan (ie, me) a coronary.

It also is a pilot that begins by putting forth Whedon's most asked question. Echo, as an unnamed person, tells Hayden, a drugged out girl who's pusher has been pimping her out, "This is why I'm here. To save you", and Hayden questions, "Well, what if I'm not worth saving?"

For Whedon, when humanity is not worth saving anymore seems to be the ultimate question. His answer? Seemingly, it is that humanity is never not worth saving. No matter what we do to degrade ourselves, no matter what degrading thing is done to us, we are, all of us, always worth saving. Because he operates, like Mal ("I've staked my crew's life on the notion that you're a person, actual and whole") and like Dr. Saunders ("Dr. Saunders is operating under the radical theory that those people are still people") under the theory that there is an inherent worth to people, that because there is no great god in the sky or overarching plot to the universe, we as individuals matter. And no one can strip us of our worth, because no matter how much the world tries to makes us (mostly, in Whedon's fictional world, us=women) into objects to be used and discarded, there is still a spark present. River, Buffy, Echo/Caroline are all still people, actual and whole, even though the worlds in which they operate treat them as tools.

Which is why Topher is easily the most interesting person in the pilot. At the Cambridge forum, Whedon said:
It's very easy to look down on faith when you have none. Just as it's very easy for every single religious person I've ever met to laugh in my face because they assume that because I do not have a a belief system they understand, I don't have a system of belief. I don't have a moral code. I do. I try to be a decent person. I do this because I think what I do matters. Because it's what I did. And not because it's in a grander scheme, that's just what I think. I think, uh, if I hurt somebody, whether or not I'm ever punished for it, I hurt somebody. And in order for our species to continue, there has to be something in us that goes, 'That's not okay, because somebody might do it to me', and also because as we evolve we realize, 'Oh, that's also not okay because I just don't want that. I don't want to hurt people'.
Topher is, or is presented as, a guy (not a man, as Boyd said they weren't men) without a system of belief. He is the Joker's mask to Whedon's intense humanist belief. Topher is the guy without faith in a higher power, and he is the guy we have to fear because he doesn't have that faith in a higher power. During this exchange:
TOPHER: Does that tie keep you warm?
BOYD: What? No.
TOPHER: No, it's just what grown-up men do in our culture. They put a piece of cloth around their necks so they can assert their status and recognize each other as non-threatening kindred.
BOYD: So what is this, the 60s? Are we gonna burn our draft cards?
TOPHER: You wear the tie because it never occurred to you not to. You eat eggs every morning but never at night. You feel excitement and companionship when rich men you've never met put a ball through a net. You feel guilty, maybe a little suspicious, every time you see that Salvation Army Santa. You look down for at least a half a second if a woman leans forward. And your stomach rumbles every time you drive by a big golden arch even if you weren't hungry before. Everybody's programmed, Boyd.
BOYD: Damn. You really spent some time on your self-justification.
TOPHER: Not the case. I don't care. Tis is an awesome gig. This is cutting-edge science in a house full of hot chicks. Morality is programming too.
he is the prototypical atheist. He is the reason atheists can't get elected to public office. Because he believes that we are all programmed, and he mistakenly believes - because he has not yet grown up - that he is if not above the programming then he is still more aware of it. After all, he never wears a tie, and eschews things like stairs as the proper mode of transportation. And therefore, superior. And because he is superior, then he holds some measure of control over those who are not aware of the programming.

This is the dark side of the humanist's dilemma. Both because it is - generally - what the world sees when it looks at us, and because none of us have the easy answers for why people matter. Religious people have their book, and have the faith that God wrote morals onto (or perhaps into) men's hearts. Those of us without it? Well, we don't have the easy answers of "some great omnipotent being told us to". We have, generally, a lot of questions and not many answers. I may espouse to Whedon's life affirming "We matter, because our insignificance makes each life infinitely significant", but just like religious fervor has an extreme negative side, so does a lack of religious belief. For every Whedon, there might very well be a Topher. Even lurking inside a Whedon.

What becomes interesting is the fact that although Topher is extremely immature, he is still amazingly aware. His potential self-loathing, brought out into the light in Epitaph One and even earlier in Omega (and possibly in Spy in the House of Love) is illuminated earlier here, when he asks Dr. Saunders if she thinks he's a monster. His own revulsion of Saunders, and Saunders' face, are interesting considering that he built her. He built her to wear that face, and to hide in the shadows. And perhaps most importantly, he recognizes what all the players in their little conspiracy theory are:
BOYD: This whole operation is based on not being reckless.
TOPHER: Nonsense! We walk the wire, man-friend. We live in the Dollhouse, which makes us dolls and the people playing with us little children. Children break their toys, Boyd.
Topher lays it down on the line for all of us. He's up front with the notion that all of them will be, in some way, broken. Because they are all not only complicit in the Dollhouse, but objects of it themselves.

It could have been a hell of a show. Hopefully, now it will become that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I just watched the original, unaired pilot of Dollhouse. That thing kind of rocked. And then I popped over to Epitaph One.

Whoa. Whoa!!!!

There'll be two posts (at least) in the coming week about both of those episodes. Epitaph One kind of blew all of my synapses away. It was just. that. freaking. good.

In other news, Joss Whedon's entire acceptance speech for Harvard's 2009 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism is on-line here. I strongly suggest watching it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Guns & Freedom

...for most gun advocates, this is fundamentally about freedom...
I've had a couple of margaritas, so be prepared for what I'm about to write to make not a lick of sense (for instance, writing "write" there was a bit of a mental block - was it really "right" or "write"? This is the sort of thing I'm warning against).

With that caveat in mind, my oft-quoted friend (who blogs at Triangulations) is someone I like having around, because he makes me think. There are other reasons I like him as well. But. He makes me ponder and reassess. He makes me reevaluate. He makes me think about political things when I'm in the middle of enjoying a delicious Mexican dinner and drinks. And at the end of it, I generally think I'm still in the right. But I - generally - have a stronger argument for it.

Here's my problem with the "for most gun advocates, this is fundamentally about freedom" line of reasoning: it ignores the gun's very function. It's very raison d'etre. Guns are, at their most basic, a thing of violence. They are an object of death and destruction. They aren't built for freedom's purpose. They can be utilized in defense of freedom, to obtain freedom, but they aren't pure symbols of freedom. Their use is - at times - instrumental in preserving freedom. But at their very core, they are produced not to be a symbol of freedom but a means of decimation. They used to be almost fundamental in obtaining food; Lewis and Clark would have been lost without guns by their side. Guns are still heralded as necessary for protection. Guns are still protected under the 2nd Amendment.

But. But a gun is no more a symbol of freedom than a bomb is. The gun can be a weapon of oppression. The gun can be used as a weapon of a totalitarian government. The gun can be the tool of a crazed person who seeks to kill a democratically elected leader. The gun is a thing we imbue with the principles of freedom because it was essential to our own revolution more than 2 centuries ago. That doesn't mean it is a thing of inherent freedom.

For those who can't tell the difference, who are offended that their own entirely legal gun carrying ways distribute the wrong message when they carry those guns near a president, especially a president who's election has meant more gun owners and more death threats, it is their privilege which blinds them to the fact that for too long a time, even in America, the gun was not a weapon of freedom but the tool of oppression. Guns are the weapon of the killers of Emmett Till as surely as they were the weapons of Alexander Hamilton. And unlike words, guns can kill with an immediacy. Which is, ironically, also represented by Alexander Hamilton.

This is the difference between the right and the responsibility of a thing. Guns, as a destructive a force as they've been built to be, have been a right of the American public for as long as there has been an America and are seen (possibly rightly) as a tool for maintaining American citizens' freedom from oppression. The responsibility of gun ownership is in recognizing where the gun's user's cries of freedom are drowned out by its oppressive past where it has been used to kill or intimidate American citizens, some of whom where president.

Because the gun is merely a conduit of freedom, not truly representative of freedom itself.

Saturday Sesame Street

These martians are adorable! I love how they hide by bringing their mouths above their eyes.

As an aside, for the first couple years of my sisters' lives, they did think eating books was a swell idea. My children's lit collection was almost halved by their insistence that they should consume the hardcovers and gum the pages within. It's still a point of contention in our relationship.

As Long As It's Out of "Love"...

Here's the thing. I have this idea in my head that I love television and television shows a lot more than I actually do. When the television is free in my house (which happens once in a blue moon, since my parents get up earlier than I do, my sisters and my father get home before I do, and my sisters stay up later than I do), I will sit there and desperately attempt to find anything on worth watching. I'm here to say - there isn't much.

I also watch a lot of shows on Hulu, because I don't spend *enough* of my time in front of a computer screen. This mostly happens when I should be writing something but am too tired, should be writing something and am awake but have no ideas, want to be writing something but have nothing gelling, or when my family has descended into chaos beyond my bedroom door. That last one happens quite a bit, what with the "two teenagers in the house who share one tiny bedroom" thing.

So, what invariably ends up happening is that I watch some bad television, like Dark Shadows, and some television I would never watch if it contained the normal length commercial breaks, like Royal Pains.

I started watching Royal Pains because it had Cliff Calley from The West Wing. Or, more precisely, the actor who played Cliff Calley. Who also played Simon Stein in In Her Shoes, and Isaac in Defiance. I really like all of those things, and I really liked Cliff/Simon/Isaac in all of those things. This may not be a great reason, but since I like the newest addition of the Cliff/Simon/Isaac line up - Hank - it's working out okay so far. But Royal Pains has never been a show I'd sit down at 10 o'clock on a Thursday night to see 'live'. And it is quickly becoming a show I will stop watching on Hulu, because it sucks. It sucks, specifically in its portrayal of the male-female romantic relationships among the minor characters.

Take, for instance, the relationship between Sofia and her husband Javier in "Crazy Love". Javier pays for Sofia's breast augmentation - and does so in order to plant a radioactive GPS tracking device without her knowing inside her body. The scene where Cliff/Simon/Isaac/Hank confronts Javier with the evidence is pretty okay:
HANK [Holding up a glass tube with the tracking device inside]: What do you know about this?

JAVIER: Nothing. What is it?

HANK: A piece of metal that almost killed your wife.

JAVIER: What? It was supposed to be completely safe.

HANK: Yeah, not when you put it inside a magnet 50,000 times more powerful than the Earth's magnetic field. We're lucky it didn't rupture a major organ. Just one of the safety hazards when you implant metal in someone without their consent.

JAVIER: I asked the surgeon to put in the GPS, but he said she'd be fine. He said she'd never find out.

HANK: Well, sure. Otherwise putting a GPS in your wife's implant would just seem crazy.

JAVIER: You must understand. Haven't you ever done anything foolish for a woman?
Except it takes a turn for the worse when Cliff/Simon/Isaac/Hank doesn't call Javier the fuck out on the fact that paying a surgeon to implant a GPS in your wife's breast without her consent isn't a foolish fucking thing he did "for" her. It is something he did "to" her; it is something he did "to" her without her consent, and it is something he did "to" her that nearly killed her, and it is something he did "to" her because his "need" to keep track of her overrode her humanity and her ability to decide that she might just want to dump his lying ass.

Instead, Hank looks slightly chastened. Not put upon, not "you fucking psycho, I'm calling the cops", but "yeah, I guess I've done something foolish for a woman" - which completely fucking fails to acknowledge that doing something like planting a GPS in a woman's body without her consent isn't 'foolish'. Well, it is. But it isn't a benign act of foolishness. It is an act that would be reprehensible even if Sofia never found out about it, even if she'd never in her life needed an MRI, even if the tube never broke and gave her radiation poisoning. Hank ignores the fact that Javier's 'foolishness' is a criminal one, one that not only put Sofia in grave danger but one that failed to recognize Sofia as an autonomous human being who is deserving of the truth and of respect. Javier's 'foolishness' was an act of violation, and it should have been treated as such by the doctor standing before him. Because even if he were only a relatively decent human being, Cliff/Simon/Isaac/Hank should recognize behavior that is this profoundly fucked up as profoundly fucked up. However, Cliff/Simon/Isaac/Hank is presented not as a relatively decent human being but a out and out good one, one who will doctor the sick regardless of who they are or their ability to pay. And because of that, his lack of adequate response to the situation before him is even more galling. Because I think we can all agree that surgically planting loved ones with tracking devices is just not cool.

Except. Maybe we can't all agree on that. I can so see Edward Cullen doing that to Bella. After all, when this starts showing up on bedroom walls (ganked from Mzbitca's What A Crazy Random Happenstance):
obviously our ideas about proper male romantic partner behavior is fairly screwed up. This is even furthered by Sofia's reaction to Javier's atrocious and potentially deadly behavior. When Javier comes to see Sofia when she is recovering from radiation poisoning in the hospital, all is swept under the rug:
JAVIER: I didn't know that thing was poison. I was just so afraid of losing you.

SOFIA: I can't believe you did that to me Javier. I had no idea you loved me so much.

[HANK and DIVYA smile]
To which I say, "Whaaa?" Again, Hank just stands there and offers tacit approval for a continuing relationship where the guy almost killed his wife (accidentally) because he was a big enough jackass to believe he was in the right to know exactly where she was and where she was going even if she didn't tell him. And Hank, our Hero, accepts the continuing of this romance. Sofia, our patient, almost revels in this gross violation and the fact that Javier couldn't just be a Big Boy and talk to his wife about the problems he was going through.

Earlier in the episode, Sofia gives a description of her rings:
He bought me this one [giant, expensive ring] because he stayed away too long on business... And then this one [another giant, expensive ring] just because he thought I looked beautiful one afternoon. You want to know what I see? I see this [small, inexpensive pink ring]. When we met in Caracas, this was the only thing he could afford. He bought it from a street vendor, and I love it.
It is sweet, and demonstrates that Javier's fears in regard to Sofia leaving him once he has lost his fortune are ungrounded. But that doesn't mean she shouldn't leave him for his crappy treatment of her. And it was, beyond crappy. It doesn't mean Javier should be forgiven, just because she loves him. What it does mean is that if Sofia had left him, or had even just suggested that planting a GPS in her chest without her knowledge was a not okay thing to do and that they would probably have to do something like get Javier's ass into some intensive therapy sessions, it would have been fairly obvious is was because of Javier's duplicitous, dangerous, and dismissive behavior in regard to his wife. It would have been hard to argue that Javier lost the woman he loved because he lost his money, instead of losing the woman he loved because he took Edward Cullen-esque stalking up a few notches.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Random Ten

1) Sweet Home Chicago - Robert Johnson

2) In The End - Linkin Park

3) I Know What I Know - Paul Simon

4) Fast Buck Freddie - Jefferson Starship

5) Cecilia - Simon & Garfunkel

6) Kisses Don't Lie - Rihanna

7) Rats - The Kinks

8) The Best Things - Filter

9) Another Girl - The Beatles

10) Somebody to Love - Queen

Paul Simon is only counted once for the "Men" count.

Male Bands: 8

Bands with Women: 1

Female Bands: 1

Men: 32

Women: 2

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Unplanned Children & Guilt

"My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, 'You may regret not having the baby.'"
I am the product of an unplanned, unexpected, and - in the beginning - unwanted pregnancy.

I've known this for, oh, more or less forever. I've also had the suspicion, though not confirmed, that an abortion talk happened somewhere in that early period when my mother was still freaking out and desperately wanting her sporty two door convertible. My parents are both ardently pro-choice, so it would be strange if there weren't the barest minimum of a conversation about it.

This hasn't had much of an impact on my life. At least, not the negative kind. Because even though I am the product of an unplanned, unexpected, and initially unwanted pregnancy, I was (and am) a beloved child. I am also a wanted child, and it has always been easy for me to recognize that the two issues - unwanted pregnancy versus wanted and valued child - are separate and very different.

That doesn't mean, however, that my parents don't have regrets, regrets directly relating to me, and my being born. My mother, for instance, still can't get over her loss of the sporty two door. My impending birth was also the reason she missed the funeral of her favorite aunt, and then I didn't even have the common decency to be born that day. No, I waited until my due date, because I'm generally punctual but not excessively early. I'm pretty sure they regretted having me that time I got a D in English and then burned my report card in an effort to destroy the evidence. I'm also fairly certain the time I didn't come home or call was another one of those "regret ever having her" times in my parents' lives. There were other moments of regret. Trips they couldn't take, money they didn't have, time they no longer had to work on their relationship. And although I know I'm not the center of the universe and that my parents would have in all probability found other things to fight passionately about if I didn't exist, I'm sure there were many times when they were fighting about me one or both of them wondered if their lives - their (potentially not legal) marriage - would have been better off if instead of having sex they just watched some television that fateful night.

This isn't to say that my parents don't take a certain amount of pleasure in being parents. They do. They revel in it. And because my parents weren't ready to be parents, our relationship has a weird, slightly dysfunctional, side to it where we are and have been friends as much as I'm their daughter for most of my life. As a side note, this whole side to my relationship with them is one of the reasons I never rebelled.

So, even though I have a ridiculously good - if dysfunctional - relationship with my parents, even though (Ds in English aside), I have (generally) been a rather low stress venture for both of my parents in terms of parenting, even though my parents love me and respect me and, almost more importantly, really like me, they have still had regrets. Some big, and some small. Some more long term, and some that were more like flashes. Because part of life is regretting the path(s) not taken.

This is why I find the response Kourtney Kardashian recounted her doctor as saying, the one at the top of the post, as being so entirely disingenuous. Because it simplifies life. It makes it seems as though children never cause regret, and as though abortion always does. That isn't true. Children, even wanted, planned for children, come with frustrations and pains and - yes - regret. As much as children bring light and life and joy and love and wonderment and fulfillment, they bring a lot of the negative stuff as well.

More than pushing birth, though, claiming that going through a pregnancy will result in no regrets is harmful because it creates an environment where the women who do experience regret are shamed for that completely natural feeling. It creates an environment where women keep those feelings bottled up, don't talk about it because it is so unnatural, because to talk about it is to be a bad mother. And that is the last thing a doctor should be pressing upon any woman. Because it contributes to a view that motherhood is an inherently pleasurable act, an act all women gain fulfillment from and enjoy doing. An act that in no way at times makes them want to rip their hair out or wonder when they get to go shopping for their own clothing, when they get to take care of themselves and get their two door in the midst of bottles and surly teenagers and mini vans.

We need to recognize that most decisions carry with them a bittersweet realization of the path unchosen. And if that bittersweetness comes when we order a chocolate-mint chocolate chip ice cream cone and then lust after the vanilla-mint chocolate chip ice cream in a cup, then it comes in conjunction with more important decisions. We need to fully recognize the effects of parenthood. We need to talk about them, air out those particular facets of life, and still remain positive that for a lot of people - most people - children are well worth any of the regret they bring. That is an adult conversation. The other one is stuff of fairy tales.

Betty vs. Veronica

I rarely - like, very rarely - find The Colbert Report funny. Usually, I find it funny when Stephen Colbert breaks character slightly, but normally the actual character Colbert plays doesn't do anything to tickle my funny bone. This, though? Is amazing:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Arch Enemies
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Protests

Not only do I love the description of why it would be bad if women were to stop fighting one another, I especially love the defense of Hillary Clinton. Funny, and erudite.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who *Wouldn't* Bring An Assault Weapon To A Political Rally?


At the town hall meetings President Obama held, protesters arrived armed with weaponry like assault weapons. Which is totally cool, right? So not threatening. After all, carrying weapons to a political event in full view of other citizenry is totes fine. It's not like African-American men - or presidents - have historically been victims of gun violence. It's not like we live in a country where this specific man, this specific president, has had "kill him" shouted out during political rallies.

Oh, wait.

That is exactly the country we live in.

We live in a nation where "one out of every eleven presidents has been shot and killed, and more than twenty percent of presidents have had shots fired at them". We live in a nation where prominent African-Americans have been murdered because they dared become prominent, because they dared to rise above what White America had delineated as their station, because they dared fight for the right to be treated as a full and equal citizen under the law. Because of that, I have to agree with Jeff Fecke when he says, "it’s impossible to view this as anything other than a direct threat on the president’s life".

If we were a nation where the implicit violence of the gun was mostly theoretical, where people have not been cut down because of their viewpoints or their skin color, then perhaps carrying guns to political rallies would not be as bone-chilling and as stifling as it is. It would still be stifling. It would still be silencing. It would still hold that threat of death and destruction (what else is a gun truly for when shown to others, other than to scare those around you into *not* taking a specific action?), because it is still a mechanism used first and foremost to destroy - whether it be bullseyes, deer, human beings, a gun alone is a neutral destructive force, but a destructive force all the same - but it wouldn't be as bad.


We don't live in that kind of nation. We live in a nation where gun violence isn't a small thing, where "in 2006, there were 30,896 gun deaths in the U.S: 12,791 homicides (41% of total deaths), 16,883 suicides (55% of total deaths), 642 unintentional shootings (2% of total deaths), 360 from legal intervention (1.2% of total deaths) and 220 from undetermined intent (.8% of total deaths)."

We live in a nation where threats of violence have been used to stifle political debate. We live in a nation where we have the freedom of speech, but the words "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" carries a particularly harrowing message, with a relatively recent and violent allusion I can't imagine we're supposed to miss.

Even if we were to give these particular gun-toting protesters the benefit of the doubt, even if the argument can be made that these particular protesters are obtuse and bereft of historical knowledge (and that argument, at least for one of these men, cannot be made, because as Bill Moyers pointed out on last Friday's Journal, his Myspace page makes it clear "he admires white supremacists"), it doesn't change one fact.

The freedom to bear arms is a right, but it also carries with it a responsibility. Even if none of these men would ever point a gun at President Obama, even if none of them would pull the trigger, they are still playing a deadly game. Because there are those out there who would, who wish to. And to add more guns - even legally displayed - to a crowd when the President is present, is at the least highly irresponsible and at the most incredibly dangerous. In their willful arrogance, they may not recognize that fact. They may actually believe that they are merely expressing, as the man carrying the assault weapon stated, that they "still have some freedoms". But they are responsible for being yet more people who could qualify as legitimate threats. They are responsible for the effect they have on the debate as a whole, a debate not even about guns or their control. They are responsible for racheting up the intensity and the fear and the uneasiness surrounding this particular issue. And they are responsible for their gross negligence of historical precedent.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: Julie & Julia

TOBY: I was raised on Sesame Street. I was raised on Julia Child. I was raised on Brideshead Revisited. Their legacies are safe in my hands.

[C.J. is standing in the doorway, giggling]

TOBY: You've got a problem?

C.J.: You watched cooking shows?

TOBY: I watched Miss Julia Child.
Let me start right out front and say that I think Meryl Streep is very possibly the Best. Actress. Ever. I recognize serious competition from the person who has occupied the spot of Best. Actress. Ever. for most of my life, that being Katharine Hepburn, whom I also love.

So, Julie & Julia is amazing. Meryl Streep is amazing. Part of what makes Streep so amazing, aside from how she got the role of Child in the first place, is how she - a 5 foot, 6 inch woman - fills the space of a 6 foot 3 inch woman. Part of that is, of course, movie magic. But part of it is just being that good of an actress.

I did enjoy the Julia Child parts of Julie & Julia more than the Julie Powell parts of the film. That isn't because the 'Julie' part is weak. It is that the Julia Child part is just that wonderful. Part of this is because Child, even before she was synonymous with French Cooking, is so much larger than life. And with Streep portraying her, she practically explodes off of the screen itself. When she bursts into her French Cooking class with a glee filled, Bonjour, when she is on screen at all, the atmosphere of the movie theater is altered. A regular person, Julie Powell for instance, can't hope to compete with that force of nature. She does try, though. And her portion of the film is amply wonderful, even if I would almost have preferred if Nora Ephron had made two films, companion pieces, to create these women instead of smushing them into one.

One of the reasons I loved the Julia Child sections and only liked the Julie Powell sections were because of the relationships the two women had with their respective husbands. Julia and Paul (played deftly by Stanley Tucci) were so many things, and fun was a big part of that. They joked, they seemed to genuinely bask in each other's company, they were at ease together, and their sex life was readily apparent if not explicitly portrayed. In comparison, Julie and Eric don't seem to share the same joy in each other. There are certain scenes where they do. Eric's rendition of "Psycho Killer", substituting "Lobster Killer" is one such scene. It comes in waves and patches, but it isn't a pervasive presence as it is for Julia and Paul. That doesn't make their relationship off or wrong or bad; it just means that it may have been better if their more subdued relationship had a larger degree of separation from the Childs' exuberant one.

That being said, I do see the appeal in combining the two. It makes Julie's obsession and admiration of Julia Child much more palatable if we are shown what is to obsess and admire about Child herself. If all the audience had to go on were the clips of Child's shows and Dan Aykroyd's Saturday Night Live sketch and the factual snippets Powell mentions throughout the course of the film, Child would probably remain outside of the viewer's grasp. And in contrasting Child's own struggles in creating and publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Powell's struggle to get through all 524 recipes contained within the cooking tome, it becomes apparent that a person doesn't have to be larger than life, to be extraordinary, in order to be worthwhile of admiration and focus. Because while Julie Powell is, more or less, ordinary, while Powell doesn't have the same spark, the same fearlessness, the same wonderment of her idol, she has still done something incredible. She has still done something with her life, and created enjoyment for all of those who followed her along her journey in real time as well as those of us who are only now aware of her feat.

Now, though, I've got to get some books about Julia Child. And maybe pick up Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.

Grade: A

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock's 40th Anniversary

Forty years ago yesterday, Woodstock began. I have a bit of a love affair with Woodstock. I wouldn't qualify myself as a hippie. I'm more materialistic. I love showers. I'm not really nonviolent. I'm not into drugs. I like tie dye, but not that much.

And yet, Woodstock and the '60s fascinate me. They fascinate me in part because I am absolutely in love with the music of the period. I can't tell you how many days my stereo blasted Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, or The Band. I like the whole optimism of the scene, the idea that music really could change the world, that love was all it took. I find it much more inspiring than the healthy dose of cynicism that seems to plague even the most intrepid of activists.

But what truly fascinates me about Woodstock, the concert, is the fact that it shouldn't have been a success. We're talking about a field that was not planning on housing that many attendees. There were sanitation issues, a lack of food, and a lack of adequate first aid. And then there was the weather. The weather that prompted a couple of people my father knows who had actual tickets they paid actual money for to not attend. The weather that threatened lightening and turned the field into a muddy mess. There was the fact that the Richie Havens had to play a 3 hour set because many of the other acts scheduled to perform had been delayed and weren't on hand.

And yet, it was.

I love the museum at Bethel Woods, at the actual site of the concert. I love how it demonstrates not only a whole perspective of the 1960s social and music scene, but also why Woodstock was a success. And the reason why it was so successful is the reason why I think it still has relevance and resonance today. It was successful because the concert goers, implicitly, formed a social contract.

There were only two deaths at Woodstock - one drug overdose and one unfortunate person who was run over by a tractor. There were no reports of sexual assaults. And many of the concert goers pulled their own weight. There were tents for people suffering from bad acid trips. Those who recovered stayed in the tents in order to help the next group of people suffering from bad trips. I remember learning that and being surprised. I remember watching the film and thinking that I wouldn't have stayed. I wouldn't have wanted to help the next poor schmuck strung out.

But that's what the Woodstock crowd signed up for. They, for the most part, didn't pay for the festival. They came by the carload. And when they got there, they dealt with the lack of food, the lack of water, the lack of first aid, and the incidents of badness resulting from the brown acid. They gave back. Maybe not as much as they took; Max Yasgur's farm, and the neighboring farms, were worse for the wear after the 3 day concert. But I think what Yasgur said then still stands now:
I'm a farmer...(interrupted by cheering from the audience)...I don't know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world — not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you've proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you've had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you're taken care of... they'd enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, the important thing that you've proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God Bless You for it!
What Woodstock offers is the hope that we, as a group, can create something almost uniformly positive. That it is possible to live in a world where the deaths are accidental, where people are inclined to give some of their time to the next hapless victim of a bad trip. It may not be achievable. Woodstock '99 stands out as a staunch counter example with its high prices and its rape and violence. But Woodstock '69 shines in the distance as a distinct possibility - though hopefully with modern plumbing and enough food for everyone.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

This is one of my favorite Sesame Street sketches. I know, I say that a lot. Because what's the point of having a schtick if you don't like most of that schtick? But this one is really, really good:

I should mention that Big Bird is my favorite Sesame Street character, and that I'm always contemplating stalking Carroll Spinney.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Where Am I Going To Be?

In a little clip art thing.


I decided that, instead of my usual deal where I disappear for days without any indication about what's going on, I'd give an indication of what's going on.

And that is, I'm on vacation. Maybe I'll be able to sneak a post or two in, maybe I won't. But hopefully, that big pile of books near my bed will get read!

Friday Random Ten

1) My Wife - The Who

2) Compared to What -Dee Dee Bridgewater

3) Ghouls - We Are Scientists

4) My Old Man - Joni Mitchell

5) Swaying - Train

6) You're Wondering Now - The Specials

7) Celebration Day - Led Zeppelin

8) It'll Come To You - John Hiatt (No Video)

9) Pavlov's Bell - Aimee Mann

10) My Happiness - Ella Fitzgerald

Male Bands: 6

Bands with Women:

Female Bands: 4

Men: 25

Women: 4

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

I just listened to episode 1030 and I love the idea of sighted people using
canes to text or whatever on their iPhones. I'm a totally blind person in
Austen, TX (go Horns), and anything that reduces the stigma of the cane I would
consider a good thing. There is nothing more annoying than having strangers try
to drag you where they think you're going cuz they see the cane. (*in the
background* "Oh, no".) Now I can just hold my phone while using my cane and
I'll just get dirty looks -which I won't notice.

Thomas, writing in to the podcast Buzz Out Loud, read on episode 1032, Chat room says no, aired on 8/3 and that I am just now getting to.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Another Must Read

This post is incredible:
So we learn the rules will protect us. We learn that, when we step out of line, somebody around us might very well turn crazy. Might hurt us. And we won’t be defended by onlookers, who think we’ve provoked the crazy somehow. So, having your ass grabbed at the bus stop, having to go out to dinner with a guy you fucking can’t stand, maybe even having to fuck him once or twice, it’s a small sacrifice to avoid being ostracized, insulted, verbally abused, and possibly physically assaulted.

It’s a rude fucking awakening when a woman gets raped, and follows the rules she has been taught her whole life — doesn’t refuse to talk, doesn’t refuse to flirt, doesn’t walk away ignoring him, doesn’t hit, doesn’t scream, doesn’t fight, doesn’t raise her voice, doesn’t deny she liked kissing — and finds out after that she is now to blame for the rape. She followed the rules. The rules that were supposed to keep the rape from happening. The rules that would keep her from being fair game for verbal and physical abuse. Breaking the rules is supposed to result in punishment, not following them. For every time she lowered her voice, let go of a boundary, didn’t move away, let her needs be conveniently misinterpreted, and was given positive reinforcement and a place in society, she is now being told that all that was wrong, this one time, and she should have known that, duh.
Well worth the time it takes to read.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Street Harassment

I don't make eye contact with people I don't know. At least, I try really hard not to. About a month and a half ago, I was at a club/bar with two friends of mine, accidentally met eyes with a guy as I scanned the crowd, and then looked away. I was drunk, and didn't quite realize what was happening when he took hold of my arm and started pulling me toward the exit. I couldn't pull myself out of his grip. Nor could my friends hear me when I cried out, owing to the fact that the band we were there to see was playing. I managed to whack at my sober friend's arm, who had the presence of mind to grab me. What ensued was a short tug of war, and that ended with my head slamming into the bar and my friend's victory. That, in short, is why I tend not to make eye contact with people I don't know.

I stopped making eye contact with people when I started realizing that eye contact initiated comments. I realized that the same tactic my father taught me when I was little of not making contact with pamphleteers and crazy people worked, about 50% of the time, for men. Normally, men don't try to grab me and cart me away when eye contact occurs (though the bar scene wasn't the first time that has happened, and it probably won't be the last); but the comments eye contact started to elicit when I was about 12 haven't exactly been pleasant.

Twelve was how old I was the first time I was cat called. I remember it vividly. I was walking downtown to the library to drop off some books and pick up some new ones. I was walking past the soft serve ice cream shop, and a guy in a pick up truck asked if I wanted to suck his dick. I really didn't.

I also didn't go anywhere alone again that summer. If I wanted to go to the library, I bribed one of my friends into walking with me or I waited until someone could drive me. The next summer, I biked more. But that didn't stop passersby from honking or shouting at me, and I still preferred to go places in tandem.

Going somewhere with someone else, by the way, doesn't stop street harassment. My walking/biking companion didn't stop the honks, the shouts, the "hey baby"s, the requests that I sit on, suck, lick, "take", fuck, etc. guys' dicks. What it did do was provide another warrior. It allowed for a better sense of bravado. It took away some of the vulnerability.

Just this weekend, I was Hey Baby'd while I was out with a friend. On the scale of cat calling, this was admittedly low. However, my friend was seemingly horrified, and said the guy was creepy. "No", I corrected him. "That guy's a creep. He's not creepy."

I've dealt with creepy. Creepy doesn't shout "Hey, baby" from 5 feet away. Creepy is the security systems guy who gave me a slow thrice over and then leaned way in to ask my chest if I was the new secretary. Creepy is the old man who asked me to teach him how to dance, and who, after I refused, continued to come around to dance with me and my friends, and then leaned in to tell me that I looked sad and should try to smile more. Creepy is the guy at the bar who grabbed me. Creepy is the guy who pulled me around the video store when I was 14, talking to me about his ex-girlfriend and trying to get me further and further to the back of the store (in that instance, I nearly garroted my best friend with her hoodie in my insistence she not leave me alone with Creepy 20-Something). Creepy is the guys who come up to me and make sexual comments when I'm trying to pump my gas.

When I first heard of Rape Culture, probably early on in college, I was put off. "I'm not one of those feminists", I thought. "That kind of thing is what gives feminism a bad name." But more and more, it occurs to me that the changes I make in my behavior in order to not be cat called, to not be subjected to dehumanizing harassment, is a product of a culture that does make it so men can ask 12 year olds, jokingly or not, to suck their dicks.

It means I try not to wear skirts if I know I need to get gas. It means I try to get the pump closest to the convenience store when I do get gas, and that I try to get fill up my tank in the morning before work rather than in the evening after work. It means that I don't make eye contact with people, and don't go out alone very much. It means that I've developed a 'radar' for 'sussing out who is creepy and who is just a creep. Admittedly, as evidenced by Bar Guy, the radar is more of a coping mechanism than any true method of discerning who may be an actual threat and who isn't.

I'm lucky in that I haven't been subject to anything worse than street harassment. I'm lucky that, aside from the odd grope, my physical person has never been truly violated. But that doesn't meant that street harassment isn't a Big Problem. For me, and for others.

Probably the worst thing about it is the fact that it is so prevalent I don't truly notice the minor stuff anymore. Stuff that would have freaked out 12 year old me now doesn't make a dent unless someone else points it out - like the "Hey baby". Without my friend being there and reacting -reacting the way I used to react, the way I wish I would still be able to react - I probably wouldn't have acknowledged it. It would have just flown right over my head, and it wouldn't have sparked this post. I've become desensitized to it; I've become desensitized to the fact that men - not all of them, but more than enough of them - think that I'm in some way public property; that as public property, I can be commented on and touched. And I shouldn't be. I shouldn't be desensitized to it, and I certainly shouldn't be subjected to 'hey baby' or anything else. Because, hey, it does lend to an atmosphere of fear. It does lend to the feeling that the public sphere is still not a safe place for women - for me. It does lend to feeling humiliated, feeling small, and feeling vulnerable.

There have been times I've been tempted to yell back, to do something - anything. But I stop. Because the last thing I want is an angry man on my hands who can actually take things further than a "Wanna take a ride on my dick?", who can actually, you know, press the dick-riding issue. And that just adds to everything else, because it creates a feeling of impotency, along with an actual need for someone else to be there in that space with you, to bear witness to the attack (verbal, physical) and to offer a bit more security against a possible escalation. What street harassment does, aside from leaving me off-balance, is to threaten my very autonomy. So.

I don't make eye contact with strangers. I wear sunglasses. Like, all the time. I travel in twos or more. I don't wear skirts often if I'm out alone. I wear shoes I can run in if I'm out alone. I drive places I could easily walk to. Street harassment slowly steals from me my ability to fully be me, in public. And that's why street harassment, catcalling, whatever, is not a compliment.

Related readings:

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Better Check That Calendar On The Fridge To Find Out If Its YOUR Birthday!"

It has been a long time since I posted a Sarah Haskins video. I'm a terrible person. But here's the latest one, which I (of course) love:

Crankosaur had a great post about this very thing a long while ago, and I think that between the two, both she and Sarah Haskins sum just about everything up.