Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I'm not one to get all ooey gooey over family sentiment, but I think this time I'll make an exception. Also, this is one of the only times I'll blog about a personal experience. I usually like to keep this blog dedicated to commentary of things political and science-y.
Anyway, here's my one and only personal family blog. My parents split up shortly after I was born, right around the mid-70's. They never got back together, but there was a nasty custody battle in the mid-80's when I swapped a father-centered youth for a mother-centered adolescence. My father re-married and had two wonderful, beautiful girls, my half-sisters, Kara & Ailee. They and I are now grown, and now my parents are old fogies.
I had my 35th birthday party last Saturday. (See the slide show here.) I invited both parents and my sisters, but I didn't know for sure if they were coming. It turns out they did, and for one wonderful, slightly awkward moment, my mother and father found themselves in the same room at the same time, and I managed to snap a picture.
Believe it or not, this is the first time I've taken a picture of my mother and my father together at the same time. I mean really, the first time in my life, like, ever... and I'm 35. That's huge.
So I took this picture, and it turned out great. Such a strange confluence of events. I am now my parents age when I was a tot, and I was able to spend time with them together for the first time since that awful custody battle. And it was wonderful.
I'm not saying it wasn't weird. If I had a therapist, she would be getting hourly texts from me every day. My step-mother was there as well, and I wasn't sure how that was going to play out. Strangely enough, my mother and my step-mother had a perfectly nice chat. (It was a giant step forward from the last time they exchanged words.) I'm sure all three had private doubts that the evening would proceed without psychic pain, but it seemed to all go smoothly. And I'm so glad.
So thanks, Mom & Dad. My birthday party was fantastic. And my life is pretty cool so far, too. You guys rock.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Last week the City Pages reported that being a real life superhero is finally achievable. All you need to do is hoard comic books until you turn 45, sell everything off on e-bay, and buy yourself some self-defense classes, some numchucks, a tailor-made superhero outfit, et voilà! You can go enforce some vigilante justice.
Mind you, these are people who spend way -- and I mean way -- too much time in dark places on sunny days. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Who doesn't want to escape into a fantasy world? But when fantasy turns into fetish, it should be a clue. These are special people. They are so divorced from reality that to them it actually makes sense to strap on a mask and fight crime on the streets like their favorite superhero. (They call themselves Reals.) Plus they have a whiff of the underdog to them, so they wind up on the cover of our local happer-than-thou newsweekly. (Never mind that actual superheros put their lives in harm's way every day without looking like they're striking a pose -- or breaking the law.)
It's too bad the Reals don't have a local chapter in Cleveland, Ohio. According to this morning's New York Times, a young goth couple, inspired by role-playing games themselves, decided to kick up some real-life crime. Here's the money shot:
One suspect, the authorities say, spent nine months working for an armored car company, learning its employee-shift patterns and the access codes for its safes. By the police account, he and his girlfriend waited until the Monday night after Thanksgiving, when the year’s largest receipts from retailers were in those safes, then looted them and drove to the remote hills of southern West Virginia.
There, joined by his mother, they holed up in a mobile home they had found on a scouting trip in October, and counted their haul: $7.4 million in cash and checks.
Dude! We like totally made it! Apparently the boyfriend spent so much time lost in dungeons with dragons that role playing in the great outdoors seemed like a good idea. Delicious! And by the way, I'd like to underline my favorite part about this story. In the second paragraph above we learn that the Bonnie & Clyde (& Clyde's mother) holed up in a mobile home in West Virginia while they counted their booty. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. This trio has goth cred, D&D cred, and white trash cred all at the same time. Talk about a trifecta. Oh, and the girlfriend at one point worked as a stripper, so that kind of gives the whole thing a Tarantino spin.
You can't make up shit like this. You have to reach deep, deep down in the dark recesses of human pathology and desperation. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging. I totally understand the allure of doing something spectacular with your life, of escaping the mundane. But that's why it's a good idea to have goals and ambitions, and to work for them out there in the real world. Spending years in fantasy land can distort your sense of equilibrium. Telling a good idea from a bad one becomes iffy, and it's apparently not hard to confuse yourself into believing that you can truly beat the odds. The Reals in last week's City Pages article sincerely believe that they can get the better of street villains. Really? (How long until one of them winds up dead, do you think?) And Roger Dillon -- Ohio's Clyde -- asked breathlessly upon apprehension, "How’d you get us so fast?" How indeed. It's called hubris, dudes.
These are what comic genius Mr. Deity refers to as cautionary tales, and I'm ever so grateful for them.
Monday, January 21, 2008
The New York Times reported this morning that Christine Argo can communicate telepathically with household pets, and she will take your money to do it. If there are New York celebrities stupid enough to pay someone for this service, then they deserve to be relieved of their cash. I'm wisely stopping just short of calling Ms. Argo a scam artist, because I could get sued for defamation. But I am certainly free to express my opinion about Ms. Argo's claim. In the great tradition of Penn & Teller, I declare that pet psychics are bullshit!
I suppose pet psychics falls under the whimsy department of skepticism. We've seen many, many examples where belief in the supernatural or paranormal has been life threatening, mostly in the area of alternative medicines and treatments. It's quite likely that nobody will get hurt taking grumpy Mr. Meowsworthy, III to see Ms. Argo for a reading, although she is trying to bust into the nascent field of divining the inner thoughts and feelings of infants. (Creepy.)
This is what Spanish speakers euphemistically refer to as "a booger in the ocean." Ms. Argo is hardly one in a million. But because this article just appeared in today's paper, let me be the first to scream out loud to Ms. Argo, "Why aren't you taking the James Randi Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge?"
That's right, Ms. Argo could really win $1,000,000 by proving she can do what she claims she can do. The money is there for the taking, so why isn't she taking it? Why isn't she running to make an appointment to prove under controlled, double-blind conditions that she can psychically communicate with pets and easily win the cash? Wouldn't you? Even if she doesn't want or need the money, she could easily donate it to her favorite charity. I'm sure there's a pet shelter or animal rights group somewhere that could use a million bucks. In a way she has an ethical obligation to do so, since she owes her good fortunes to "diligent managing of her energy." What better way to score a grip of good energy points than by donating a million bucks to PETA?
By the way, I was very disappointed by the tone of Susan Dominus' article, in which Ms. Argo is portrayed so glowingly. There is an aura of reverence and credulity one might find at a local psychic fair. Words like "chakra," "energy," "clairvoyant," "healer," and something called "kimset" twirl by with nary a wince. Even the cliché paragraph of token skepticism was missing. Not once was it suggested that the idea of psychic communication with house pets is, well, totally ridiculous. Doesn't the New York Times pride itself on its razor-sharp intellect as much as its dry-as-melba-toast wit? Part of the genius of Ms. Argo's strategy is that it's next to impossible to tell if she's really communicating with animals or if she's just making shit up, and I can't believe the New York Times missed an opportunity to point this out.
I tried to track down Ms. Argo's website to send her a link to this blog, because I want her to see the words James Randi Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge at least once in this, her five minutes of fame. But curiously, a Google search of her name brought forth no pet psychic website. Instead I found dozens of press releases for animal rights workshops, in which we are told to expect a presentation by "Christine Argo, MBA, BFA, Ordained Minister of the Universal Life Church, Doctor of Naturopathy, Master Irodologist and Master Herbalist." Oh dear. OK, let's take that title apart one chunk of crap at a time.
We're not told who awarded Ms. Argo's MBA or BFA, but we do know that the Universal Life Church, according to their website, isn't too picky about who gets to be an ordained minister. "This church will legally ordain anyone who asks and we will never charge a fee for doing so." Being a Doctor of Naturopathy isn't all that impressive, either. You can only get such a degree from a school that was started for the sole purpose of promoting alternative medicine bullcrap, schools like the National College of Natural Medicine, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, and Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. You can't, in other words, get a doctorate in naturopahy from Harvard, or Yale, or even the California State University, and that's a big clue right there. We're dealing with hokum.
And a "Master Irodologist"? Yet more hokum. I couldn't find an entry in Wikipedia, but I did find this amusing article that describes what irodologists claim they can do. Apparently they think they can look into your eyes and diagnose what ails you -- even if what ails you is something real doctors need advanced medical technologies to detect. This one could also win her the James Randi Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. Just put her in a room with a Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, have her look into his eyes, and see if she can divine his ailment. Wow. Not only could she win $1,000,000, she could also win Nobel Prizes in biology and physics at the same time. So what's holding her back?
Oh, wait. I think I know.
Having business cards with the title Pet Psychic must be a heavy load to carry. You try saying it out loud without snickering. I honestly don't know which bugs me more; people who pretend to have psychic powers and know they don't, or people who are idiotic enough to think that a pet psychic can help relieve Mr. Meowsworthy, III of his crankiness. Just make sure he's been to a vet recently for a checkup, keep him well watered and fed, give him some tender loving care, let him lap up the milk from your empty cereal bowl every now and then, and for heaven's sake, let him take a nap.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I don't want to give too much away, so I'll avoid plot points and spoilers. I just wanted to post my initial reaction on this blog and sing the praises of JJ Abrams, Matt Reeves, Drew Goddard, and the entire creative team behind this great modern American monster movie.
Anyone who's interested in this film probably already knows that the entire movie is shot through a cam-corder, ala Blair Witch Project. My friends and I were fortunate enough to get seats all the way in the back of the theater, because this effect gets a little hard to watch after a while. (There was much running and dropping of the cam-corder, and lots of swirling chaos to endure.) I was fine, but my seasick-prone friend wisely dropped a tab of Dramamine before the lights went down.
Now about the decision to use a cam-corder. In making this one small, novel choice about how to shoot a monster-in-metropolis movie, the makers of Cloverfield did away with two staples of modern action/horror that usually make films like this unwatchable -- music score and editing. There was editing done to be sure, excellent editing, but it was to cleverly couch the film in its unfamiliar surroundings of a dude's cam-corder, later captured and categorized by the Department of Defense. I guess what I mean is that there wasn't any perspective editing, and this is a good thing.
This film wouldn't have worked at all had it been run through the regular Hollywood machines. The scenes would have appeared boring, listless, disconnected, and devoid of much plot. But the reason it works here is that the audience (thankfully) isn't dictated to for one second. The camera doesn't hang on to character A long enough to register he's feeling remorse or flip back and forth between characters B and C during a confrontation to register the emotional tension is building. We're not told how we should feel, period. We're thrust into the moment, and we have to make up our own minds as we go. The overall effect is breathtakingly real. I think this is the only high budget movie I've seen that is bold enough to do away with such industry-standard bread and butter, and we are the luckier for it. You really are trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge with seven hundred other people.
The only objection I had was personal. In the first hour we see what it looks like from down the street as the Empire State building collapses. The viewers, along with the principle characters, rush inside a convenience store and watch the rumbling ashes roll past the storefront. When they (and you) emerge, there are coughing New Yorkers walking around in a daze, and everything is covered in dust. Not a comfortable moment to live through, despite the fact that the scene was beautifully executed and breathtakingly realistic. If I had been a 9/11 survivor, I'm not sure I wouldn't have walked out at that point.
Make no mistake, this is a Godzilla movie. (The first 20 minutes of the film revolves around a Generation Y VP who's attending a going-away party before he leaves for... wait for it... Japan.) There are other deadly creepy-crawlers that the beast seems to bring with him, there is much blood and mayhem, and there is quite a bit of damage done to Midtown Manhattan. There is a wonderful sequence that involves the principle characters (and you) negotiating the rooftops of halfway collapsed high rise apartment buildings sixty stories up as fighter jets roar overhead. The acting is passable, the writing is clever and sparse, and the special effects are nothing short of amazing.
This is the ultimate reality TV monster movie.
Monday, January 14, 2008
For two centuries we've had nothing, nothing but white men in the Oval Office. Shortly after the civil rights movement we started seeing minorities in local governments, in the House and Senate, and eventually in presidential appointments. But we've not once seen a minority sworn in as president. (If you think JFK counts as a minority, you need to go stick your head in a bucket of ice water.)
I understand that this is a defining moment in American politics and in American history. I am overjoyed that the Democratic Party has come up with a diverse field of likable (not to mention electable) candidates. But let's not miss the forest for the trees, hmm?
The race to the White House has been hijacked by the race to break barriers. People are not having the reaction Senator Obama was hoping for when he called for unity in his Iowa victory speech. There is a nasty divisiveness on the horizon. Women are pitting themselves against African Americans, and African Americans are pitting themselves against women. (How must this all look, I wonder, to female African Americans?)
Gloria Steinem whined last week that women have it harder. Women have a difficult time in this society to be sure, but makes absolutely no sense to complain, our minority has it tougher than yours. I've never understood this mentality. Why not make it about equal rights, access, and responsibility for all? I'm a minority (gay) and I don't for one minute think about where I fit in some ridiculous caste system. Why is it so ridiculous to fight for the rights of all Americans? Shame on anyone who makes this presidential race about blacks vs women!
Martin Luther King Jr. argued that the last thing we as a society should be doing is using superficial characteristics as yardsticks to evaluate candidates for a job -- even the job of the president. What matters, he took such pains to point out, is the content of one's character. Of course this can only happen in a world free of racism, sexism, and all other forms of bigotry, so let's work to usher in that world. In the meantime, I think we're overdue for some honest character evaluation. When this terrible, exciting, whirlwind of a presidential race is all but over, we will still have to ask ourselves one question: Who will be a better president? We have to use something other than color and gender to make this distinction.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
I will not stand by and watch this great republic go down in flames. We took it up the ass without lube when Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, and after a trillion dollars spent and over 4,000 American lives lost, we still haven't found Osama Bin Laden. No more. We may witness the waning days of the world's sole superpower, but I will not just stand by and watch. I'll go down fighting. (Feds: Better red-flag me now.)
In case you haven't noticed, we've been gearing up for the next phase in our Middle Eastern adventure from hell for about five months, now. It's like that moment just before you sneeze. You know it's coming, you've braced yourself for it, and now all you can do is wait -- frozen -- for the inevitable catharsis to come. We are going to invade Iran before 2009. I can guarantee you, it's already been decided.
The first hint came this last September when we learned via The London Times and The Huffington Post that the U.S. military was one eye twitch away from attacking Iranian targets. (We didn't.) But then in December we learned via the NIE that Iran was much farther away from attaining nuclear weapons than we thought. Doesn't matter, Bush told us, we're heading for World War III, anyway. Then we had that little snaggle with our Naval convoy in the Strait of Hormuz earlier this week, and now Bush, legacy shopping in the Middle East mind you, is trying to gather support for yet another attack on a country that has done fuck all to threaten the security of the United States. The mind reels.
(A wonderful blog on the actual level of Iran's threat to the U.S. can be found here. Thanks for the fantastic clip art, guys.)
While chatting with my boyfriend last night, I realized as I spoke out loud that the fate of the world for the next century could conceivably rest entirely on who wins the White House this November. I was referring to global climate change, but I could have just as easily been talking about the fate of the United States. We are one military exercise away from a precipitous peak from which there is no return. If we stick our thumbs in too many pies, if we piss on too many already fragile allegiances, if we greedily acquire too many colonies nouveau in the oil rich deserts of the Middle East, we will find ourselves stretched very, very thin.
And it won't take much to topple us over then.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Now that the opening contests of the 2008 election cycle are over, let's take a moment to reflect on what we have accomplished. A woman and an African-American are locked in a dead heat for the democratic presidential nomination.
Imagine going back in a time machine to 1968, grabbing an average Joe of the street, and bringing him back to the present day. Imagine his utter astonishment. In just four decades we've made it possible for two of the most persecuted minorities in this country to run for the highest office in the land. Think about that. No matter who wins the nomination, no matter who wins the presidency, this has been an epic moment in U.S. history.
Much work remains to be done for true gender and racial equality in this country. Women still press against the glass ceiling and institutional racism makes it exceedingly difficult for African-Americans to get ahead. But a terminal blow has been dealt to the forces of racism and sexism today. The fact that a woman and a black man have made it this far is a testament to the greatness of our country, and it reinvigorates the claim that we can be a land of opportunity for all.
There is one less reason to hate the United States of America today. We've sent a message to the world that America is not all about George W. Bush, it's not all about unilateralism, and it's not all about the Old Boys Club. We couldn't have sent a better message, and it couldn't have come a moment sooner.
I am proud to be an American today, and I join in a growing chorus that is being heard around the world at this very moment: Don't underestimate us.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
The war hawks might be breathing a sigh of relief this season, but the respite won't last for long. We cannot split the issues so neatly. It's not possible to speak of economic concerns without acknowledging the money pit that the War On Terror has become.
Of course people's pocketbooks are hurting. According to an article in the Washington Post we spend $720 million every day on the Iraqi boondoggle. In the same article we learned that in "2006, [Linda J.] Bilmes, who was an assistant secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton, and [Joseph E.] Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, placed the total cost of the Iraq war at more than $2.2 trillion, not counting interest." If that's the estimate as of 2006, and it's going up by $270 million daily, where does that put us today? How about on election day?
Issues at home often trump issues overseas. That's how it should be. But in this case the issues are inexorably linked. The rising cost of oil is one of the largest contributing factors to our jittery economy, and an argument can be made that our misadventures in the Middle East are partially responsible. Pair that with the staggering amount of money we've wasted on a failed effort in Iraq, and you have a recipe for unrest.
The public will express their frustration over both the economy and the Iraq war, and they will do it by voting for democrats in record numbers. Even if the average American doesn't see a connection between the Iraq war and the size of her paycheck, it will be plain as day that eight years of neo-conservative rule has wreaked havoc on the nation's economic health, and no one is feeling the pinch more than the middle class -- home of the swing voter.
This country will send a democrat to the White House in November. The democratic majority in Congress will only get stronger. Whether it's dissatisfaction with the War On Terror or nervousness over the economy at home, or both, republicans had better hang on to their britches.
The neo-con party is like so totally over.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Give me a break. It's one thing to wonder what direct good a degree in literature or art history can do for the economy, but it's another to declare the humanities -- all of them -- useless.
The essence of his argument is that it is not the job of the humanities to "save us." He whines that universities are schools and not ministries. Agreed. But to posit that the humanities are of no use is to turn a blind eye to the evolution of our society, and a tenured professor should know better.
I agree with Mr. Fish's objection to Anthony Kronman's assertion that science, technology, and careerism are blockades to the human spirit and distractions from the larger meaning of life. (Talk about whining.) It's hard to ponder the meaning of life while one is dying of small pox. The truth methinks is somewhere in the middle.
The humanities are crucial to the evolution and survival of our civilization. It's how we tell each other the story of who we are. It's how we challenge each other to climb higher vistas of morality. It's how we access five thousand years of collective wisdom to confront old problems in new times. To turn away from such a rich resource is to stumble blindly forward in a hostile and complex world devoid of obvious meaning.
A young child watching Robert Zemeckis' Contact might be inspired to pursue a career in astrophysics which leads to new discoveries and technologies that benefit medical science. A teenager moved by a novel about the apartheid struggle might grow up to work for social justice in third world countries, bringing clean water, electricity, and dignity to the darkest corners of humanity. An allegorical dance performance can inspire peace talks. Familiarity with ethics and philosophy among diplomats can avert a world war.
Don't discount the humanities. They might not be able to "save us," but without them we are lost.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
For those of you who haven't heard it, listen to Obama's victory speech on the night of the Iowa Caucus. This is the speech I've been waiting to hear since this race began one year ago.
There are many consequences that arise from eight years of neo-conservative control: tobacco, oil, and military-industrial powers had their day in the sun; industries were free to pollute as they saw fit; gays & lesbians continued to cower while selflessly serving the country they love; unilateral adventurism in the Middle East alienated what few allies we had around the world.
But the single most important consequence of eight years of neo-conservative control is mounting impatience on the left, and growing uncertainty in the middle.
We saw the outcome of this impatience in Iowa last Thursday. I have a feeling we will see it again in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Giuliani is out because he "never had a doubt" that invading and occupying Iraq was a good idea. (Check.)
Hillary is out because she's a back-stabbing snake and a cheater. (Check.)
Romney is out because he tried to strike a JFK pose without trying to make it look like he wasn't trying to strike a JFK pose. (Check.)
Dodd and Biden look like elder statesmen compared to their colleagues, but who wants to support a third-tier candidate? (Check, check.)
Huckabee is out because he doesn't believe in evolution, he thinks gays are partially responsible for school shootings, and there's that whole Wayne Dumond thing. (Check, check, check.)
I can get past the de facto religious litmus test nonsense, because the American public likes to know they have a president who shares their values. Whatever. As long as a candidate doesn't appear to let religion trump science, as long as he or she can get the facts right, I'm interested. Honesty, integrity, and legitimacy are the criterion, and there's that whole War On Terror thing. So let's move on.
What about Barack Obama? He's against the Bush Doctrine, he has a decent lock on the south, and he's doesn't have to pretend to look like JFK. He appears well-read without seeming smug. He has the rare twin qualities of being electable and palatable at the same time. He's the guy for me.
Oh, god dammit!
At a rally in Harlem on November 29, Mr. Obama made the following remark:
"I don't want to wake up four years from now and discover that we still have more young black men in prison than in college."
Here are the real stats, according to the Washington Post:
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 106,000 African American men ages 18 to 24 were in federal or state prisons at the end of 2005. An additional 87,000 were temporarily held in local jails in mid-2006. According to 2005 census data, 530,000 African American men in this age group were in college.
Mr. Obama's racial disparity gaffe is equally as distressing as Giuliani's ridiculous remarks about prostate cancer survivor rates in the United Kingdom. I understand that presidential candidates are under enormous pressure to be both quick and compelling, but there's no excuse for serving up mangled statistics. A candidate making this kind of mistake looks either lazy or manipulative, and at this point in the game I'm not sure which one is worse.
(The Washington Post has a wonderful page called The Fact Checker. You can find out how political rhetoric stands up to reality, and you can see the top fibs of 2007.)
I can't bring myself to vote for a candidate who can't get the facts right, especially on the issue of institutional racism. (It's a tender subject these days.) The only viable candidate who hasn't fallen victim to this viral outbreak of reality-dissing (so far as I can tell) is John Edwards, and so I switch allegiances yet again.
I guess I'm not all that upset about ditching Obama. His promised charisma of late 2006 didn't play in 2007. His refusal to really go after Hilary is distressing. I got the feeling last year that Edwards was trying too hard while Obama wasn't trying hard enough, and I'm starting to wondering if the former isn't preferable to the latter.
Besides, I have a brand new reason to love him. A suddenly stronger Edwards told the New York Times today that when he becomes president he will bring most of the troops home from Iraq within 10 months. Here's the money shot:
“I absolutely believe this to my soul: we are there propping up their bad behavior. I mean really, how many American lives and how much American taxpayer money are we going to continue to expend waiting for these political leaders to do something? Because that is precisely what we are doing.”
I'm sold. For now.