Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas! and Movies!

Since we last talked..since you last read know what I mean, since then I have seen The Fighter and Black Swan. Interesting pairing, to be sure, and not just because Darren Aronofsky was/is connected to both. I didn't see them on the same day. I liked The Fighter better. I didn't dislike Black Swan, but I didn't love it. For something that is getting a lot of breathless wow-that's-so-amazing talk, it's pretty predictable. A lot of it is shocking - but very little, if anything, in it is surprising.

Natalie Portman, who used to bug me, officially does not annoy me anymore, because she has been entirely swept away by Anne Hathaway, whose very existence at this point is like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard for me. That said, in this movie, Natalie Portman is kind of annoying, in a psychotic-annoying way. You want to slap some sense into her, tell her to stop with the high-pitched little girl voice, tell her to speak from the thoracic diaphragm (the same diaphragm we later get to see prodded and poked like a water balloon), and tell her to run far, far away from her equally(?) psychotic mother and the decorated-in-pink bedroom in mother's house. Of course, if Natalie Portman's "Nina" did any of these things, we wouldn't have a movie, so you don't really want to tell her to do them.

But what you really DO want to tell Natalie Portman, Darren Aronofsky, and any sound mixers who might be listening, is to knock it off with the sniveling fear breathing in Every.Single.Scene. You know - that quick inhale kind of thing like when the about-to-be-offed horror movie character is slowly walking down the dark basement stairs and isn't saying anything, but you know they're scared because of their quick, quiet, shaky inhales. Natalie Portman does an awful lot of that in this movie. I'm sure all her acting was heartfelt, but when you watch the film it comes out more like a remix of all the times she did that one on top of the other, like you might see in a Daily Show collection being forwarded around You Tube of every time Fox News said some crap over a month.

I rather enjoyed The Fighter. I liked the Massachusetts-ness of it and the way certain lines and bits and ideas were hit pitch perfectly, and I liked that it made me care about what goes into a boxing match (because nothing previously in life has made me care about this), and I liked hearing "Saints" by the Breeders, which catapulted me back to the mid-1990s. But most of all, I liked Christian Bale. Whoa! Christian Bale, man! He absolutely, completely, totally, 100% blew me away with the awesomeness that he brought to this performance. There is one confrontation scene between him and Amy Adams that is close to perfection. I'm a little sad that he is going to be, obviously, put out there as a Supporting Actor, because he was really more of a co-star in the film, but you know how it is.

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams might both get supporting actress nominations, and I'm not sure who would win out of those two. Perhaps they'll cancel each other out and Jacki Weaver will win. I really don't think Mila Kunis should win. No offense to Black Swan, but just no. It was really quite fluffy in a way, a kind of Baby-Jane way. Not lighthearted by any means, but not totally seriously dark, if you see what I mean.

This is my Christmas Day prediction of which films will get the ten Best Picture slots, roughly in the order I am sure (roughly!), with the ones I've seen in bold:

The King's Speech
The Kids Are All Right
The Social Network
127 Hours
The Fighter
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
Black Swan

Part of me thinks The Town replaces Black Swan on this list. Maybe tomorrow I will post another list with that prediction. I don't think either one should get a Best Picture nom. Here are the films I think SHOULD get Best Picture nominations, admittedly only out of what I've actually seen:

127 Hours
The Fighter
The Social Network
Inside Job
The Ghost Writer
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Maybe Winter's Bone

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Ghost of Awards Season Past

Sometimes it is hard to see the Oscar-nominated documentaries until they are released on DVD. It is sad but true that many theaters don't play the Oscar-nominated documentary films, even during awards season. Those that do play in theaters have brief stints and are rarely promoted much, so you probably missed some of this year's possible nominees such as Restrepo, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Inside Job, or even Waiting for Superman (which did get more attention than others, since everyone likes to complain about public schools and suggest that abandoning them for charter schools is a "solution.")

Anyway, if you're feeling sad to not be watching this year's potential Academy Award-nominated documentaries, I suggest you do yourself a favor and watch an Oscar nominee from last year, the excellent The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. It tells an essential story about our remarkable recent history that has been all-too-soon forgotten. I can only offer my profound thanks to Daniel Ellsberg, who is still out there trying to right wrongs, and to those who are helping to spread his words and other truths - including truths about our government.

In light of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the Dubya & Co. lies that have killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our government's continuous stream of lies to the American people about military destruction around the world, you owe it to yourselves to watch this film. If you're on Netflix, you can stream The Most Dangerous Man in America on "Watch Instantly." What are you waiting for?

For those who (for some inexplicable reason) don't believe my recommendation, I'll share a few quotes from the film, which are eerily similar to things you are hearing in the media right now about Iraq, Afghanistan, and attempts to prosecute Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. There are also great bits in the film where you see four presidents in a row lie about the importance of us fighting in Vietnam to support "democracy." Ahem. The U.S. government is still up to those same rhetorical shenanigans.

  • For the anti-WikiLeaks crowd, you have a tricky leader, who is not a crook - right?
    "Now listen here: printing top secret information - I don't care how you feel about the war, whether they're for or against it-you can't and should not do it. It's an attack on the integrity of government, and by god I'm going to fight that son-of-a-bitching paper. They don't know what's going to hit them now." - Richard Nixon
  • For those who voted for Dubya (or failed to vote against him in 2004), who believed the U.S. media's WMD cheerleading in 2003, who accept Obama's decision to keep Guantanamo open and who look at all the evidence of torture and still say our soldiers and spies are "defending our freedom," this one's for you.
    "I staked my freedom on a gamble: if the American people knew the truth about how they had been lied to, the myths that had led them to endorse this butchery for 25 years, that they would choose against it. And the risk that you take when you do that is that you'll learn something ultimately about your fellow citizens that you won't like to hear, and that is that they hear it, they learn from it, they understand it, and they proceed to ignore it." - Daniel Ellsberg
  • For everyone:
    "The courage we need is not the courage, the fortitude, to be obedient in the service of an unjust war, to help conceal lies, to do our job by a boss who has usurped power and is acting as an outlaw government. It is the courage at last to face honestly the truth and reality of what we are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it." - Daniel Ellsberg

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's High Time to Talk About Flicks!

Movies, movies, movies! What's the only thing that's better than going to the movies? Going to the movies during AWARDS SEASON!! It's that time of year, and I'm happier than a pig in slop. (Hey, this is still a family blog. A Communist family, maybe, but a family nonetheless.)

Those of you not keeping up with all the jokes/allusions/sardonic wit in the previous paragraph, this one's for you: behold, my first crop of 2010 Award Nominee movie recommendations. I will now share my opinion about the Golden Globe-nominated films I have seen thus far.

  • 127 Hours: This movie was better than I thought it was going to be. And I wasn't expecting anything too shabby. This movie worked on so many different levels. This movie was about so much more than That Scene - you know the one, the one everyone is writing about and clearly I'm guilty now, too. But here's the thing: after all the build up for That Scene it actually went by so fast I was like, "Oh, is that all?" Which is not to say James Franco was not all kinds of awesome in every second of the film, including That Scene. Anyway, the canyonlands are beautiful, life is beautiful, humans are capable of amazing things, humans connect in amazing ways, Jesus Lord & Savior had nothing to do with it, and Danny Boyle sure knows how to make a film that says all that. And you should all run right out and see it.
  • Inception It's between this and 127 Hours for my favorite 2010 flick so far. Inception was intelligent and gorgeous and intriguing and riveting and I was so spectacularly impressed at how well it pulled off everything it did. I was breathless and I could barely move while sitting in the theater watching it. We all overuse "riveting" but this one really was.
  • The Social Network: I don't have much to add beyond what anyone else has said - yes it was great and witty, yes Justin Timberlake is really an actor, yes all but, like, two of the females were depicted as stupid/sluts/stupid sluts, but the larger point there is that the World of Big Business still functions that way and that's part of the deathly competitive b.s. problem, you see, of all the male venture capitalists who think everything and everyone is their property... I will add that Andrew Garfield is quickly becoming one of my new favorites. Between this and Never Let Me Go he blew me away this year. I had thought no one was paying enough attention to him, but now I see that the drunk Hollywood Foreign Press has been paying attention to him, so good for them!
  • Winter's Bone - This movie just kind of quietly sits there, and then certain piercing moments reach up and grab you and shake you up a little bit, and then you mellow out again but you're a tiny bit on edge, now, and wary of everyone around you, and you contemplate loyalty and fierceness and survival, but it's still all so understated, which I really like. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence is great. I don't think she'll win an Oscar or anything, but I like the way everyone in this movie really comes across as how people really are. Which includes, for many of us, messed up but struggling along the best we can.
  • Animal Kingdom - I hadn't really thought about these two having anything in common, but now that I think about it both Winter's Bone and Animal Kingdom explore the concepts of family, survival, and family survival all intertwined with family loyalty. Good stuff. Good performances, nothing particularly mind-blowing about the story, but well crafted and holds your interest and builds the drama and all that. I liked it. You really feel the tension at certain points and want so desperately for the characters who have had the misfortune to stumble across this creepy world of crime to get out alive.

(which does not mean the same thing as "I didn't like it")
  • The Kids Are All Right The singing Joni Mitchell dinner scene? Stunning. I liked many things about it, but I was actually weirded out by how people were falling all over themselves to praise it the most. It was like they were really proud of themselves for loving it, which is really ironically funny in light of the magnificent scene in the film in which Annette Bening's character takes overly-proud-of-themselves-organic-farmers'-market-shoppers to task. I loved her character. Julianne Moore's character was a flighty bitch who I daresay does not deserve the forgiveness she asks for. Good flick. Just everyone try not to pat yourselves on the back quite so much when you walk out of the theater after seeing it.
  • The Town So like, I wanted to love this, but I did not love it. The main plot, the thrust of the drama, the I'm-not-spoiling-anything-because-this-is-the-entire-premise, that these two characters fall in love is - um - why? Why are they in love again? We have no idea. They have no idea, and we have no idea, and it really kind of ruins what otherwise might be a great movie. Jeremy Renner is wild. Lots and lots of guns, especially at the end there - hoo boy! I enjoyed knowing from personal experience exactly where in Boston they were pretty much every scene.
  • The Tourist Oh, Angelina and Johnny, you barely held my interest. At least you had sweeping vista-like shots of Venice to help take our breath away. It's hard to say which is the crazier move on the part of the Golden Globes, nominating this for Best Picture or putting it in the Comedy category.
  • Red Also inexplicably nominated, also inexplicably in the Comedy/Musical category. I'm not even sure that Helen-Mirren-holding-a-gun is enough for me here, as it apparently is for many, but she does do that, if that's enough for you. I kind of wanted this to be better, like I wanted it to be even more fun-better. It held my interest better than The Tourist, though, I'll give it that.
And yes, that's all I've seen, of the Golden Globes anyway. I'll be kicking into Awards Season high gear soon. Like, this week and next. I'm kind of in denial about the animated movies I have to see - Tangled will surely get an Oscar nom, and I've actually never seen any Toy Story and now I have to figure out whether I watch all three, or just this one, or what. But I am all kinds of eager for this new animated feature from The Triplets of Belleville dude that is just coming out and which I hope gets the third nod.

I love awards season!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let's Get a Few Things Straight

Red herrings abound! Julian Assange sits in prison on sexual assault charges that may have been cooked up by a CIA operative, and now we are all supposed to stop talking about truth and the imperialist U.S. and write off WikiLeaks and call Assange a bad man? Not so fast. But also not so fast: those of you who hurl the word "feminist" around as some sort of accusation? You disgust me too. To be clear, the disgust goes in basically this order:

1.Rapists, murderers* and other torturers are the most digusting
(*please note: "murderers" includes those in charge of the war in Iraq etc.)

2. Anyone, CIA or otherwise, who would use a bogus rape charge to distract the rest of us from an issue is an affront to actual rape victims everywhere

3. Slightly below them are jingoist, knee-jerk right-wingers who never met a false dichotomy they didn't like and have divided the world neatly into with-us/against-us or Christian/terrorist or "pro"-military/anti-military categories (that last category being highly suspect, since the "pro"-military people are also apparently the ones who want the troops to keep getting killed in bullshit operations in Afghanistan and Iraq? yes, that part is definitely confusing)

4. Anti-feminists in general - I would rank them higher, but so many of them fit into one of the above categories that I needn't bother

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Afraid to Speak Truth to Power

During most of my daily activities, I have very little occasion to feel fear. Even when I have a bizarre, creepy dream - ahem, last night - in which two giant tarantulas take up residence in my bedroom and Stephen King comes over to help me deal with them, I wake up not so much afraid as just shaking my head at what it all means.

Yes, I am aware that this makes me extremely lucky. There are people all over the world, here in the U.S. and in every other country, who feel fear every single day. I live a remarkably easy life, even when it's not being compared to that of someone who is abused, trafficked into slavery, denied basic human rights, or subjected to bombing/marauding/killing by military forces.

In light of the foregoing, I find it interesting that the thought that makes me a little afraid today, the only thing kicking in those stomach butterflies of trepidation, is: what will my government do to me if I speak my opinion about WikiLeaks? The answer is supposed to be nothing, right? We're all supposed to have freedom of speech, and we're supposed to be able to express our opinions without any government law stopping us. We're "free." Right?

It's disgraceful that I am afraid of what U.S. government forces are going to do to people who speak out in favor of WikiLeaks. I have not done anything illegal. I am not a "hacktivist." I haven't even read most of the leaked cables. But I can't believe the campaign of bullying and intimidation being used to try to stop WikiLeaks from releasing information.

INFORMATION. Words. Speech. What is the U.S. government so afraid of in those leaked cables? What could be worse than the video of murder by Apache helicopter soldiers that was released last April? Although, seeing as there is apparently Guantanamo info in upcoming cables, I hesitate to even ask that question. You'd think it couldn't be any worse than what we already know about torture by the military and CIA, but who knows? And why do all these "patriots" like Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell (who called Julian Assange a "terrorist") and apparently every mainstream news editor issue a nonstop stream of I-bleed-red-white-and-blue rhetoric while overlooking the fact that speaking an opinion in favor of WikiLeaks is now seriously frightening?

I think about human rights defenders around the world (including those featured in Speak Truth to Power) who face the fear and speak out anyway, often resulting in harsh punishment, "disappearance," and death. I admire their courage.

I hope everyone continues to speak the truth and calls out the intimidation of WikiLeaks (and Amazon, and PayPal, who apparently succumbed to the bullying) for what it is. Three cheers for Daniel Ellsburg for boycotting Amazon and calling for a whistle blower to reveal the intimidation that led to them barring WikiLeaks from the site.

I feel a little afraid. Interestingly, we're planning to go see Fair Game later today. That is probably not going to make me feel any better.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #5

Today I am thankful that I can walk. I went for a walk, in fact, today -- a lovely jaunt of about two and a half miles around Brian's Grand Rapids neighborhood (where we are holed up for this holiday week). I love walking. Lately, I have been going for more brisk walks, setting out to do so, because working from home as a freelancer has me a little stir crazy. I never used to be one for spending much time at home. I always enjoyed my commute, moving around and doing things. In evenings I liked to be out and about, even for random things, instead of plopping down on the couch. I still prefer this. But working from home and being behind in work and organizing and finances and accomplishments really puts a damper on my preferred lifestyle. So at the very least, I walk.

There are walkabouts, there are walks-for-hunger-and-breast-cancer-awareness, there is walking the dog. There are artists' walks, a la Julia Cameron (love those!) There are lots of random reasons people walk. And then, there are people who can't walk. Also, there are people who can walk, but don't walk.

I am very thankful that I can walk.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #4
(And, this is my 500th blog post!)

What an exciting milestone! I started this blog a little over five years ago when I resigned from my Borders career (ahem) and went to Korea to teach English, hence the triple entendre of the title. And now, here I am, on post #500 - and thinking about heading back to Korea soon! Isn't life interesting?

Today I am thankful for - you probably could have guessed this - reading! If you check out my literary supplement blog you know I have been known to babble to the interwebs about the books I read, but even without the bloggage I just love, love, love books. I also am thankful for being able to read other things - magazines, directions, road signs, contracts, maps, and so on. I am routinely blown away, if I stop to think about it, that humans created written language. I even love to read about reading and language. I marvel at how writing is a talent and a skill and a love of mine, and what that means about the physiology of my brain. I marvel at how much enjoyment a book can bring. I can't imagine a world without War and Peace, among other great works of literature. Reading. Reading reading reading!!!! I am thankful for it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #3c/#3d

Grandpa Curtis September 1915 - September 2010
Is it weirdly cosmic that three of my grandparents were born in August except the one born September 1st? I'll leave that to the astrologers. I actually just recently blogged about the passing of my mother's father, because he died two months ago. I can't even believe it has been two months already. Grandpa Curtis was a legend. A golfer extraordinaire, a faithful companion to his dog(s), a man who supervised the construction of power plants across the nation and may well be partly responsible for the electricity powering the computer on which you read this. A jokester (in a sly, sardonic way), a teller of stories, a man who famously "hasn't been to a movie theater since Patton in 1970" but was among the first in our family to pop up with an AOL address back in 1996. A man who has seen much of the seas (in the Navy) and all of the U.S., except that he doesn't count Texas. Grandpa has pined away for Grandma from the day of her death in 1997 until his dying day this fall. Grandpa made us all frustrated and sad when he acted as if he was alone on his island of suffering that no one understood, but we also were grateful to him for keeping her memory alive. I can honestly say that on some deep, cellular level I thought Grandpa would be around forever, and also that I am glad he got to live as much life as he did.

Grandma Napikoski
August 1922 - May 2007
I moved to Boston in November of 2002, and after a life in the Southwest/West I was now close to the New England side of the family for all sorts of holidays - they even get together for Easter and stuff, good Catholics - and other random occasions. The only regret here is that I didn't have a car while in Boston. Now that I knew the way (can we say Route 2?) I could have zipped out to Millers Falls every other week on my days off. Instead I was forever hitching rides with my aunt or cousin who lived elsewhere in Massachusetts. Anyway, I got to spend time at Grandma N.'s house with actual adult conversation. It was the sad time of her life, because Grandpa was gone and her health started declining more rapidly as well. But we talked. Many of the things I did were not part of her world: I constantly jabbered about Dante or traveling to Cuba or politics or teaching in Korea or whatever. She would comment matter-of-factly about career, marriage, saving money, settling down and other traditional notions of success, but she certainly listened and offered support to everything I said. I was glad that we reached a point of laid back, comfortable conversation.

Grandma Napikoski liked to knit. She was a talented, prolific knitter. She did other crafts, too - very crafty, especially with the fabrics. When I entered the downsizing portion of my life, the t-shirts I never wore had to go, but I wanted to somehow keep the ones from special events, high school plays, and the like. Grandma made me a fabulous quilt out of my t-shirts. I think she really liked the project. She was involved with her church in that tiny little New England town and made a gazillion crafts every year for their holiday sale.

Thanks to my sister, who now has three kids, I got to watch Grandma Napikoski be a great-grandparent. I liked seeing the delight in her eyes around multiple great-grandchildren, and I'm glad my sister made the effort to travel across the country to see her. Grandma really wanted to stay in that house in that tiny town up to the very end. She was basically the last holdout to not get online and join the emailing, but we always exchanged tons of letters and cards, and I'm glad we kept doing that. I like letters. We kept writing when I left New England for New York. Grandma N. passed away at the end of my first year of law school. I'm sad that my aunt saw to it that the big old house got cleaned out and sold right away, because the visiting-Millers-Falls era of our life truly came to an end.

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #3b

Continuing my thankfulness for grandparents, here's...

Grandpa Napikoski August 1919 - July 2002
I knew Grandpa Napikoski, my dad's dad, less than I knew any of my other grandparents. I feel bad about that. They lived in New England and I lived in the Southwest until the year he died, actually. Grandpa loved fishing and he loved the Red Sox. My early memories of him are going out on the fishing boat (with no idea what I was doing, really, but it was still fun) and him smoking his pipe. I totally have no problems smelling pipe smoke - maybe because I have pleasant associations with it.

I was fascinated by their New England house which from my perspective had four stories (including attic and basement) because in Arizona almost everything was on one level only. I was most fascinated by his cellar full of tools and just lots of stuff. I am sad that he died just two short years before his beloved Red Sox broke their curse to win the World Series. The first time I went to a Major League baseball game (not counting spring training) was when he took us to Fenway Park. I wish I knew more about his wants, hopes and dreams in life. He worked for years at the paper mill there in Millers Falls, Massachusetts, and made sure he provided for his family and sent his five kids off to college. When I visited them at age 3, 8, 11, they would always plan fun activities like big lobster dinners or a boat ride up the Connecticut River. He asked the usual questions, "How's school?" and the like, but I was shy and didn't know what to say beyond a few answers. I realize now I should have just babbled. Why not? Babbled and listened, too. They flew out to Arizona to see us a few times during my teen years, and I'm pretty sure I sat through the obligatory dinners and then rushed to the other room to call my high school best friend and talk about dumb stuff. I did attend the grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary party in 1997, the first time I really related to my grandparents and the aunts/uncle/cousins on that side of the family as a person and not as a silly child. I'm glad I had that experience.

I was on a road trip, coincidentally, from L.A. to Boston in the summer of 2002. When the traveling companion and I reached Boston, where she was moving, we planned to drive out to western Massachusetts to visit my grandparents before I had to fly back to L.A. One thing led to another and after a couple days in Boston we had only one more evening. Meanwhile, my grandpa had gone into the hospital. He had been in and out of the hospital for a few things, and I thought nothing of it, except that it was a little weird to bring a friend to introduce to them to the hospital, but still, we tried to make a go of it. It was raining, those long summer New England rains. I didn't have a clue that I should take Route 2, so we took the Mass Pike to Route 9 somewhere in the middle of Massachusetts and then drove on that as the wet and visibility got worse. I had a vague idea, based on being driven around by my dad on various visits, what to do when we got near Amherst, but it was taking us forever and getting later and later. I was confused at Deerfield, even though I kind of recognized a parking lot, where we stopped to ask directions and call them. It was 9 o'clock and I wondered if it was too late to even go to the hospital. I called the house but got no answer. After more fretting, we ended up driving back to Boston, aware that we had blown the plan, but I knew I'd be back in Massachusetts in the next few months and I would just see my grandparents then, when we had more time. The next morning, as I was packing my suitcase, my grandma called and I got on the phone, ready to babble an apology for not making it out to visit the night before. Instead, she told me grandpa had died. I called my boss in L.A. and said - Yo, I am going to this funeral, sorry I've already been on a three-week vacation but it's getting extended.

My grandpa's father and grandfather came from Poland. They shortened the name Napierkowski to Napikoski in the U.S. A lot of that family didn't have offspring. My dad's sister's kids have all sorts of different last names, and my sister changed her name when she got married. I wouldn't change my name anyway, but I do feel like I'll be one of the few people with the name Napikoski in this world, and I like to think I will leave some creative legacy that spreads it far and wide.

Next up: Grandma Napikoski

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #3a

Today I am thankful for my grandparents, all four of them, and thankful I got to know them while they were alive. They died in 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2010; therefore I was at very different stages of adulthood for the final years of each of their lives. I was also suspiciously available (i.e. with no full-time job to which to report) at the time of each of their deaths--I'm not sure what the cosmic significance of that is, but it certainly meant that I was able to go to each of their funerals and reflect on their lives. (This was going to be all one blog entry, but I discovered I had a lot of babbling to do about each grandparent, so I'm splitting it up into four.)

Grandma Curtis August 1918 - October 1997
My mother's mother, Geraldine Curtis, was a fantastically accomplished musician, particularly as a piano player. From a young age, she dazzled the people in and around her home in Payson, Utah, with her talent. She could play anything and everything, she could play by ear, and she sang quite a bit with my grandpa, too. She also suffered from severe arthritis that wreaked havoc on her hands and fingers, eventually bringing her to the point where she could no longer play. When my sister and I were young, we spent lots of time at the grandparents' Sun City, Arizona, house and always wanted her to play the piano. She would do so on Christmas Eve, playing any Christmas song we wanted to sing as if it were the easiest thing in the world. I play a little piano - it's not the easiest thing in the world at all, for me, and I certainly can't bust out everyone's requests without blinking an eye. I imagine she was already in great pain during the 1980s, after years of arthritis, but she pushed through it to at least make Christmas Eve magical and special for her granddaughters. Eventually that stopped, and we would all sing or do other Christmas Eve stuff, and everyone mourned the loss of Grandma's music and they still talk about little else when she is mentioned.

There was even more to her, though. She was funny in a quiet, offbeat way. For example when my mom informed her I was traveling off the beaten path to Cuba, news that provoked responses in others ranging from angry political to cautious I-would-never-do-that homebody, Grandma's comment was, "That Fidel Castro is so ugly." Hey, she was entitled to her opinion, eh? Grandma also kept up on the pop culture of the day via People magazine and she had an impressive command of soap operas. One day as a bored adolescent I was at her house and decided I was going to start watching a soap opera. This was going to be a diligent project, so I had to get all the facts from the beginning. I selected The Young and the Restless, probably because a)it was on and b)it was not General Hospital or Days of Our Lives, the ones all my friends/classmates/their sisters/their mothers watched, and I wanted to be different. I turned on Grandma Curtis' TV and she totally started telling me the back story of each character that appeared. I think she hadn't watched it since the 1970s, but it's really easy to pick up with those things, as any soap opera viewer knows. She had all the dirt - it was a great time.

I was still a young, young adult when Grandma died, and I was just getting my life in L.A. started. I felt terrible that I had not got to know her even more than I did. At the same time, she was there for every phase of my life: she made up a mini-mythology with a legend for each family member that just thrilled me as a toddler, she came to my elementary school and junior high band concerts, she cooked roast beef and got out the box of wind-up toys when I came over, she attended my play at the high school summer theater workshop I attended in Utah and a friend of mine who was also there heard her whispering excitedly to my grandfather "There's Linda!" when I made my entrance, and she and my grandpa came to sing with me and my mom in the Messiah chorus one December, probably the last time I (willingly) stepped foot in a church. I remember sitting in Barnes & Noble for hours the week after her funeral reading about arthritis and trying to figure out what life meant.

Next up: Grandpa Napikoski

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #2

Today I am thankful for airplanes. I didn't mean to make this so technological invention heavy; tomorrow I'll do one about people. But I am really, really thankful for airplanes. Every time I fly I sit in quiet, grateful awe that I can get to any country in the world in one day. It's ridiculous. The airline passengers around me and their complaints and stress are so unfounded, and so unfortunate. I wish they would "stow it" as Mel would say. If they are unhappy about their security checks, their airfare, their leg room, their stupid carry-on bags, their precious few minutes of delay sitting at the gate, and so forth, why don't they just go to the bus station? Seriously. Get over yourselves, folks. You can go ANYWHERE. Fast. It's a miracle, and you should be thankful for it, too.

This year, in May, I was able to realize my goal of traveling to Tajikistan with Habitat for Humanity. Tajikistan! If I had attempted to travel there from Chicago in May 1910, I might still be on my way back in November. If I had set out in May of 1810, or 1710, I might still be on my way *there* in November. I owe my world travel to airplanes. I think about this all the time. I think about the Mark Twains and the Thomas Jeffersons and the Marco Polos and the marauding forces of the Roman Empire who had to invest far more effort and time than I do to travel the world.

I am completely, totally, enthusiastically thankful for airplanes.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #1

A lot of people are using their Facebook status updates this month to post each day a different thing for which they are thankful. I am not doing this because not only do I tend to keep my FB status a bit less sentimental than that, but I also don't generally do anything that predictable with my status updates. However, with the actual week of Thanksgiving upon us, and because I need to write a blog entry to procrastinate some other work I'm trying (not) to do, I decided that I could use this blog to say thankful things.

Appropriately enough, today I am thankful for --> the internet. Email. Wireless networking. Our whole glorious global age of communication. I was thinking about this earlier as I stood in my kitchen eating chips and salsa. (The chips and salsa have nothing to do with it, really, but I'm just setting the scene.) I dislike talking on the phone. It's not something I dislike because it's unpleasant (like carrot cake) or stupid (like Twilight) or because I'm morally opposed to it (like war, or WalMart), but I just really freakin' do not enjoy the telephone. I grudgingly use it to conduct business, as efficiently as possible, but I just can't tolerate phone-calls-as-leisure-activity.

Of course, to some extent calling a friend or family member can be a "task" in the sense that it is a necessary thing to do in order to accomplish something else -- such as finding out how they are doing, or making plans. However, almost everything I need to do in this lovely, fabulous world in which we live, I can do with a specific email or a text message. And a great deal of keeping up on others' lives in a general sense is accomplished by Facebook (and blogs, for those of us who are really awesome). There are those pesky few who can never seem to reply to e-mails or who - seriously - still don't send/receive text messages. But overall, I am saved by the internet from having to use a telephone to invite people to events, find out about the birth of babies, ask for advice, network, let people know I'm thinking about them, recommend a book, find out someone's current address, etc. I LOVE IT. I can dimly recall the world in which friendships were maintained largely, if not only, via telephone. Ugh. Back then, I wrote a lot of letters. Is it any surprise that I so greatly enjoyed the gang-of-friends life in the college dorm? We just wandered out into the hall to see what was happening. None of this pesky telephone stuff.

Thank you, internet! And no offense, Alexander Graham Bell. It's nothing personal.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

To All Who Say Their Desire for "Change in Washington" Motivates Their Voting Choices Today

First of all, if you want to "change" everything and therefore you cast your vote for Republicans, all Republicans, and only Republicans, then your logic fails me. What it seems you really should be doing is voting against every incumbent. Logic: get some! It's free! And yes, I also made fun of Democrats who voted for "change" in 2008 (and used it as a campaign slogan) here and here because it sounded just as dumb then.

Secondly, another great way to change Washington? Third-party candidates, my friends. Or, third and fourth and fifth. The Greens and Libertarians come to mind; stop dismissing them and then complaining that Washington is "business as usual."

Finally, when I hear my friends and people on the radio and other random squeaky-wheel strangers talk about how after these past two years they are tired of it all and just need to vote the "ruling" party out, I think back to 2002 and 2004 when we had a murderous administration headed by monsters who were not only profiting from wars they had lied their way into (and which they had plotted from their first days of taking power), but also actively torturing people around the world and who to this day continue to detain, torture and kill thousands illegally, unethically and unconscionably. Then I realize that these crimes were not enough to motivate my friends, people on the radio, and random squeaky-wheel strangers to "change" things and vote those thugs the hell out of D.C., and I am shocked and saddened to see where everyone's priorities lie.

No thanks to anyone in the U.S. "news" media, I might add, for all of the above folly/murder.

Happy election day!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why It's OK For Jon Stewart To Have a Rally

The self-righteous people who are trying for this whole "Well, now, gee, he's a comedian and a political satirist and I just don't know if that boy should be involved in some 'Merican politics, there" are really bugging me. Who came up with this crazy idea that political satire is somehow separate from politics?

Voltaire - who wrote one of the best books of all time, Candide, which contained brilliant satire - was so political that he got banished from Paris and while he lived in exile he certainly gave the powers that be a piece of his mind. He and his friends basically invented human rights activism. He was outraged by the death penalty after becoming involved with the case of a wrongfully convicted young man tortured on that awful wheel thing.

Swift - who modestly proposed - was also politically active and he totally hung out with government insiders and was even a pamphleteer. (Which, for those of you who think "media bias" is something you invented, means he disseminated one party's viewpoint on purpose - and that happened in the U.S. newspapers of the 18th/19th century too, by the way. They took a political stand on behalf of their chosen candidates.)

Henry Fielding - Tom Jones and much more - was politically active and held government positions! Like chief magistrate!

Why would people who write and talk about society, politics, and the ideas therein not have a rally? It makes no sense to me. Besides, have you even listened to Jon Stewart talk about it? I have. He was fascinated by the way Glenn Beck's and others' rallies - the rallies themselves - were communication tools! The rally IS the medium - which IS the message!

AND - and! and! and! - why does it bother you if a "comedian" wants to have a rally but not when Republican actors become governor of California and one of them even became president?

I have a lot of work to do today (and I am not at the rally, not in D.C., wasn't necessarily planning to go anyway) so I'm going to make this quick. I am sick of people dividing everything into two categories and then trying to shove everything into those two categories. I was sick of "Republican/Democrat" and "With us/against us" years ago. I am sick of "You either like Obama or you want Bush back" (and the vice versa). NEWS FLASH even though we've been over this already two years ago but OBAMA DIDN'T RUN AGAINST BUSH! Bush didn't even have a protege running for prez. It's not as if it's Andrew Jackson with his little friend Martin Van Buren, when the national election was a kind of vote of approval on a previous president because MVB was seen by many as an extension of Old Hickory. What is with all the people longing for Dubya to be back in D.C.? Dubya Bush of all people?! For heaven's sake! Are you kidding me? He's a monster. And why are they focused on his economic policy? He lied his way into evil wars and supported murder and torture! This is not OK! Everything else pales in comparison!

OK but none of that is the point. The point is that of COURSE Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have the right to have a rally. And, to "be" political, as political as they want to be, as if that's somehow distinct from skewering politicians. I am so tired of people who say it's somehow OK to talk about everything "except politics." Don't they know that the personal is political??!?!

My advice to you is that you stop saying stupid crap and go read a Mark Twain book. Or any book, really.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Damn Yankees. I refer, of course, to the NYY. As if they weren't problematic enough, with their mega-payroll and their superstars and their snotty attitude and their just generally epitomizing the worst things about New York, namely, the belief held by all most all New Yorkers that New York is the best! the greatest city in the world! there's no other place worth living! you must be joking to say you would live somewhere else! why would I live anywhere else! I'm from here! here is great! it's New York! it's the only place worth being! I've been out West; I went to Pennsylvania once! wait, how many other states are there again? -- yeah, as if the New York Skankees weren't problematic enough just inevitably showing up in the MLB playoffs and causing me to weep and wail and gnash my teeth, my policy of rooting for whatever-team-plays-against-the-Yankees is being seriously tested for the second year in a row because starting tonight they are playing in the ALCS against Texas.

Texas? Texas?! I have a general sports policy of rooting against Texas at all times in all things. College football? The University of Texas is in serious contention to be my least favorite team, only giving me fits of neutrality if they play Alabama. Basketball? The San Antonio Spurs are pretty much the nemesis of this Phoenix Suns fan, and it certainly isn't difficult to wish losses upon the other Texas NBA teams as well. NFL? I couldn't possibly care less about the Dallas Cowboys, and I roll my eyes every time I have to hear about them or their billion dollar stadium or their fans or their claim to be "America's team." And there is never a good reason to root for any Texas team in baseball, either, least of all one that has been owned by George Dubya Bush for the love of god.

But now we find ourselves with an ALCS of the New York Yankees vs the Texas Rangers. Shudder to think. And I have to figure out whose loss I want more. And you know what? I kind of think I want the Yankees to lose more. So there you go. I mean, once the World Series comes I will be rooting for the National League, regardless, even though either the Giants or the Phillies will simply remind me that they crushed my Atlanta Braves to get there... One way or another, the Yankees just need to get off their high horse and not repeat their World Series championship.

It's such an unfamiliar position to be in, but - let's go, Texas!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Grandpa Rondo Curtis, R.I.P.

Early last week, I got the unexpected news that my grandfather had died. He was 95 years old, and he had been in a physical decline, but it nonetheless took me by surprise, if nothing else because my mother, uncles, cousins, sister, and I were all still emailing one another every couple days trying to decide what to do about whether and how we should get additional in-home assistance for him as his health was declining beyond what even his part-time aide/friend could handle.

Grandpa Rondo was a stalwart, sardonic, and kind gentleman. He was full of stories about the past and commentary on the present, he was always ready with a joke or a snack when people came to visit, and he was a golfer extraordinaire. And I do mean extraordinaire, hitting holes in one and winning senior tournaments and "shoot-your-age" tournaments and getting new golf clubs for his birthday at age 92. We thought he would never stop golfing - but, as I said, then came this year's decline in physical health that took us by surprise, even though it shouldn't have.

Grandpa always had a faithful canine companion by his side, but he also suffered a severe loneliness during the past 13 years (almost exactly) since the death of his wife, my grandma, Geraldine, the piano prodigy who wowed her family and all of Utah with her musical prowess before the rampaging arthritis wrecked her fingers too badly for her to play anymore. Grandpa has reminded us since she died, daily, about the void her passing left in his life.

I am glad that our family got many chances to visit him over the past few months, including filling his Utah house with a couple dozen friends and family members for his 95th birthday party a couple of weeks ago, complete with bagpipes! And yet, I will always wish I had spent more time - just one more visit per year, perhaps, or one more phone call this month, or a few more letters and cards this summer, in addition to what I did.

Rondo was my last surviving grandparent. I lost them in 1997 (Grandma Curtis), 2002 (Grandpa Napikoski), 2007 (Grandma Napikoski), and now 2010, Grandpa Curtis. I am really grateful that I got to know all four of my grandparents, something I know not everyone in life gets to do. I am also glad that I got to know them, although some better than others, as an actual adult, and not just a shy child or petulant adolescent with better things to do than go to grandma's house.

I am also glad that Brian and I got to travel to Utah and participate in Rondo's funeral service with loads of family members, his neighbors, and his golfing buddies. I am grateful that my cousin made a slide show of pictures and music that gave us a chance to look back on a life that spanned a mind-boggling century. It was a reminder that all century-long lives are mind-boggling, too.

The days of this past week and a half since getting the news have been a whirlwind, with funeral and travel arrangements, the family gathering, the time spent at the mortuary and the grave, and the trip back home to Chicago. Now I settle into my world without grandparents, and watch their legacies live on through me, and try to honor them.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Fifteen Artists Who Have Influenced You" Meme

The RULES: Fifteen artists who have influenced you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than five minutes. Tag friends (including me, because I am interested in seeing what artists my friends choose). Quickly, and in no particular order. Go!

  1. Vincent Van Gogh
  2. Leo Tolstoy
  3. Virginia Woolf
  4. Amy Ray
  5. Rene Magritte
  6. Voltaire
  7. Erin McKeown
  8. Lucinda Williams
  9. Meryl Streep
  10. Leonardo Da Vinci
  11. Henry David Thoreau
  12. Herman Melville
  13. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  14. Margaret Atwood
  15. John Lennon

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Sometimes I really hate people. Well, that's mean to say "hate." (Rhymes with crate, go figure.) Perhaps I should just say, sometimes people really disgust me. Well, this is one of those times: I'm thinking about this trendy new phenomenon of "crating" dogs. I am not entirely sure who got the bright idea of locking up sentient beings in even smaller spaces than they were previously being locked in, but I would like to slap that person, if I weren't a pacifist.

When dog owners, mostly urban young professionals and young parents that I've seen, but perhaps it's other dog owners too and I just don't know them, start talking about crating their dogs, I feel uneasy. It all comes back to the basic idea of my disgust for people who get pets and then act sort of bewildered that the pets aren't like cute little stuffed animals that can be a cute addition to the decor or can be ignored for weeks at a time. No, real pets have needs and feelings, and they need to eat, drink, play, sleep, MOVE AROUND, walk, run, defecate, and exercise. *yes this includes cats, who need to walk and run and roam free and not be trapped in a few rooms their entire lives* But someone somewhere got the bright idea that when they need to leave home for 12 hours a day (or more) they can stop their dogs from "damaging" things or from "being anxious" or "causing trouble" by safely putting the dog in a crate. Then, they went and made "crate" a verb, which is a sure sign that you have someone doing something insidious and wanting to cover it up with double speak or corporate-like jargon.

After living in New York City and now a densely populated part of Chicago, I have vast amounts of disdain for city dwellers who just HAVE to have a dog even though they do not find it equally mandatory to have room for this dog to roam, exercise, go in a yard, etc. But the crating phenomenon is so not limited to dogs locked up in city apartments. The crating is a typical delusional self-important thing that extends to small towns, suburbia and the like.

And why am I so upset today about the crates? Even more than usual? Why is my blood boiling just as it does when the selfish delusional cruel monstrous cat owners start trying to justify declawing their cats? I'll tell you why. Because in the course of one of my freelance jobs copy editing article title selections for a web site, I have the distinct privilege of coming across actual web searches that people have done. Honest-to-god sentences (or, often, sentence fragments) that people have typed, looking to the internet for answers. Sometimes these are just amusing (e.g. "How to Git Your GED") ([sic], very much [sic]) but other times, like today, they are infuriating. I just came across:

"How to Cure Your Puppy Soiling in a Crate"

Cure? It's not a freakin' disease, but here's an idea genius. If you want to "cure" your puppy from soiling in a crate, maybe you should try not locking it up in the goddamn crate for hours and hours! What a concept, you selfish moronic fools. God I hate people. Don't even get me started on birds in cages. Seriously, don't.

I just get so saddened when I realize that these idiots are the "good" ones, that is to say, the ones who make some semblance of "liking" animals in the first place. God help us. God help all creatures great and small.

Well, then

"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
-- Hermann Goering

Just a little something to think about next time you're busy simultaneously doing the following:
1. Jabbering about how the U.S. must unfailingly support "Israel"
2. Badmouthing every German, Dutch, French, etc. person who was alive during the 1930s/40s but did not personally house Anne Frank in his/her attic
3. Claiming you of course are entirely innocent and righteous with regard to the atrocities perpetrated by Dubya/Cheney/Halliburton et. al.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Oprah for Mayor of Chicago

Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley has announced he will not run again. Oprah Winfrey is ending her beloved daily show this year. Coincidence? I think not!

Here in Chicago, there has been lots of talk for the last 48 hours about Who Will It Be? Who of the many contenders will be the next mayor? Daley has said he won't endorse any candidate to succeed him, but the newscasters of Chicagoland have breathlessly pontificated on which other influential Chicago figures will offer up their opinions. That's when it hit me: Oprah shouldn't just offer up her opinion. She, herself, should be the next mayor!

I had this epiphany yesterday evening. This morning, Thursday, I picked up the Chicago Tribune (of course we get it home delivered! we love our paper!) and naturally the lead story is Daley: "A Daley-less landscape" reads the headline. But above that, in the little top-of-the-page preview of what's in another section complete with smiling Oprah picture, it says "THE FINAL SEASON - she is promising farewell moments, but what is daytime TV going to be like without Oprah?" She's pointing, and in the picture of Daley right below her he is is's like some cross-town anyone listening?

Oprah for Mayor!! Who's with me?

Monday, September 06, 2010

LSAT, Schmell-Sat

Law school really should be harder to get into. Much, much harder. And I'll tell you why I say this. I say this because I was randomly reading the blog today of some twentysomething lawyer who kept mixing up "astronomy" for "astrology."

I could also reiterate here some of the many clueless things uttered over the years by law school classmates of mine, such as "Without spell check I would never have made it out of undergrad!" or, always a classic, "I've never even heard of Liechtenstein." I would not want anyone who utters the above mentioned confusion representing me in a court of law, or anywhere.

A lot of people in the law association/forum/newsletters/blogosphere worlds float the idea that law school admission should be more competitive because soooo many graduating JDs are unemployed thanks to the (scapegoat) recession. It has been big news over the past few years that the Big Law Firms to which many a law student aspires to sell his/her soul have been laying off people left and right, deferring or outright canceling job offers they extended the previous summer to law students entering the final year of school, and finally just ceasing to hire as many people, period. With non-profits and many a government agency also struggling to come up with hiring and operating budgets, freshly graduated JDs are pretty screwed, and lots of people are pessimistic about the profession and how it has operated for so long. The answer, some say, is that law schools need to stop admitting endless numbers of students, which saturates the job market and creates way too much supply for too little demand.

Now, I do agree with this. Law school is a complete and total racket. Law schools charge an ungodly amount for tuition and they basically are the profit makers for their university. They don't cost anywhere near as much to run as, say, a medical school or even many other graduate programs. So, universities love it because they bring in millions from the law school tuition, and the law students pay it because they believe they are becoming educated and credentialed for a promising career. Really, even if they get a law job they are likely to be miserable, but they are also potentially going to be working at McDonald's while owing $100,000+ in student loans. So, many people agree that the situation sucks. Law schools really should cut in half the number of students they admit each year. But they will never do it, because they would be giving away like a billion dollars. It's hard for anyone to say no to a billion dollars, even people who don't consider arguing for things they don't believe in to be an admirable trait.

But why I really think law school should be more competitive is that as with anywhere else I have found myself in life, with the only possible exception being my job in public radio, there was so much mediocrity there! Now, granted, I took the route that many people don't take. I actually never doubted for a second that I would get into law school, and I ended up choosing the lower-ranked school that offered me a full tuition scholarship over the partial scholarship offered by a top 25 school. Many applicants go to the highest ranked law school they can get into, period. Law school applicants live and die by The Rankings. (Another part of the racket; US News plays along, too.) I didn't care that much about The Rankings because I was never interested in getting a job in a law firm, and I knew this way back when I took the LSAT (the law school admissions test). I just wanted to get a formal legal education because I was interested in it and I wanted to use it to strengthen my international humanitarian work and provide background for my potential run for Senate one day. So instead of applying to the five or ten or twenty or however many schools those who have to worry apply to, I applied to two, and then almost as an afterthought after being accosted by them at a law school forum I applied to Hofstra (who waived the application fee) and went there thinking it'd be cool to live in New York and blah blah blah.

So anyway, the point is that yes, while I did foolishly end up spending more time on Long Island than anyone needs to in one lifetime, which accounts for some of the mediocrity I encountered (two words: Jersey Shore), I wasn't thinking about my classmates in particular when I started thinking about this today. I was definitely thinking about the lawyers out there who find spelling among the more difficult things they have to do with their day and who don't know the difference between astrology and astronomy.

Sometimes I wonder if medical school is like this, too, but I tell myself it's not. I tell myself that my doctors really and truly do know things. I'm not sure I want this illusion to be crushed if it isn't in fact truth.

The LSAT will continue to strike terror into the hearts of many, and people will continue to debate whether it should be as important as it is in the admissions process, and so on and so on. I personally enjoyed taking the LSAT (more than I enjoyed many things about law school, actually), but I also think it's the least of the problems with the law school admissions process. If I were a law school admissions committee, I would require a good GPA, letters of rec, and some sort of LSAT score, but I would also put people who had work, volunteer, and travel experience in the yes pile, and 22-year-olds with none of the above who have lived in the same 30-mile radius their entire lives in the no pile. As for the maybe pile? I think I would give them IQ and spelling tests. And maybe for a tie breaker they could point out Liechtenstein on a map and define astrology.

I would rather have a Scalia representing me, no matter how violently I disagree with his politics and his general attitude, than someone who lacks native intelligence. That, it seems, is the essential conundrum of law school and the legal profession: much of the time, you're forced to choose between the idiots and the assholes.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Waylon Jennings and John Lennon Were Cool - Together!

Everyone should be listening to Fresh Air's "Country Music Week" this week on NPR, even if you think "Oh, not me, I don't like country music" or some other such foolish thought. First of all, there's the fact that Fresh Air is one of the best interview shows and best radio shows ever and (much like a Charlie Rose) Terry Gross does awesome interviews that are interesting whether you take some silly stand against the career of the interview subject or not. I don't listen to (much) rap but I would listen to an interview of a rapper on Fresh Air in a heartbeat. Secondly, these are bona fide for real country peoples, not Nashville pop stars, with archived interviews from people like Willie and Waylon, Merle Haggard and George Jones, and the daughters of Charlie Haden singing three-part harmony, and the like. Third, you might learn something - it's good for you!

For example, I learned one of the coolest things ever. I learned that Waylon Jennings and John Lennon were hanging out together "cutting up," as Waylon put it, at the Grammys one year. (I think it was the Grammy Awards. Some music award event like that.) As if that in itself is not awesome enough, Waylon then told John Lennon, "Hey, you're funny! I didn't know you were funny. Thought you were all serious and stuff." Which, admit it, isn't that the same thing you were thinking when you read the line about them "cutting up" together? And John tells Waylon that he didn't know Waylon was so cool either, since everyone in England thought he was just an Outlaw running around shooting people in the studio (based on a legend in which he - jokingly? - brought a shotgun after threatening to shoot the next musician who played pick-up notes. Apparently Waylon hates the pick-up notes.)

Waylon Jennings and John Lennon hanging out together in a mutual admiration society, probably doing shots and just blathering on about life. HOW AWESOME IS THIS TO IMAGINE?! And I never would have known, but for Country Music Week on Fresh Air. Even Waylon told Terry at the end, and you could almost hear the surprise in his voice after a lifetime of repetitive interviews that all asked the same thing, that he had really enjoyed the interview, because she asks "some good questions!" Damn right.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I hereby enlighten you - twice!

Honestly, there are two things you should check out right now that will be time better spent than random internet perusing and Facebook checking:

Worldview 8/19/2010
Andrew Bacevich, the most brilliant person I have heard in quite some time. He's not a pacifist. He's not a warmonger. He is a retired colonel. He critiques Obama's policy. He critiques Dubya's policy. He critiques Eisenhower's policy, for goodness' sake. He probably knows more about U.S. war policy than every squawking head put together. I was privileged to hear him speak live in Chicago last night. I want more of him. Much, much more.

There is no "Ground Zero Mosque"
Tons of bonus points for using my favorite quote, by Pastor Martin Niemoller. (Now if we could just stop using the stupid term 'ground zero' as a description of where the WTC twin towers used to stand, that would be awesome....sigh, a girl can dream.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And so in conclusion...

OK, ready? Here's the entirety of my thoughts on the whole let's-build-a-mosque-and/or-community-center-near-where-the-World-Trade-Center-was "controversy." Ready?


Is that clear enough? Do we need specifics?

  • "This country was founded on freedom of religion..." DON'T CARE
  • "But radical Muslims were behind 9/11..." DON'T CARE
  • Obama said... DON'T CARE
  • They have the right, but is it wise... DON'T CARE
  • An affront to New Yorkers... DON'T CARE
  • The families of 9/11 think they should... DON'T CARE
  • "Hallowed ground" OH GIVE ME A FREAKIN' BREAK + DON'T CARE

This is the lamest controversy ever! (Well, wait. No it's not. I take that back, universe. I'm not testing you, I promise.) But I Just. Don't. Care. Build a mosque, don't build a mosque. Invite the community. Protest. Scream. Yell. Pretend you even know on which street the thing is proposed to be built. It's so not interesting. It's just more 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 which is all anybody can ever fall back on to say or do about anything ever. Look, New Yorkers have a weird, creepy, fairly annoying sense of having each been individually, personally attacked on September 11, 2001 (stemming from their inability to ever actually leave New York, I guess? somehow?) but even some of them think the community center which includes a mosque can be built wherever. How long do we have to keep this totally boring debate going? I'm just curious.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Well, obviously...?

OK, I love Amazon's targeted recommendations as much as the next person, but really? Today I received this in my inbox:

"As someone who has purchased or rated The Portable Voltaire or other products in the Specialty Boutique - New & Used Textbooks category, you might like to know that Sharpie Liquid Mechanical Pencil is now available. You can order yours for just $3.59..."

Seriously, I don't get bothered when internet commerce tries to make connections to sell me more stuff. I'm not one of those privacy freaks who's all, "Oh my gosh my PRIVATE INFORMATION that I've put on the WEB to make my life more convenient is totally being LOOKED AT" or whatever. But I would at least like the connection to be, well, a connection! Come on, Amazon. The Specialty Boutique has both textbooks and pencils and you thought you'd email us all? No. No, I don't think so. Stick to recommending me Indigo Girls albums I already own when I check the price on their new one; that seriously has a better chance of success. Try as you might, you cannot convince me that Voltaire has anything to do with this best of all possible mechanical pencils.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Authors, party of six!

I never duplicate entries between this main blog and my literary supplement blog, but this one I just had to share in both places...

Everyone knows Some people know that one of my favorite little games to play with myself is to imagine all of the celebrities who share my birthday (May 13, btw) at one big birthday dinner party, because it's quite an eclectic mix: Harvey Keitel, Stevie Wonder, Bea Arthur, Dennis Rodman, Mackenzie Astin, Stephen Colbert, and the latest addition, Robert Pattinson. Well, tonight I just happened to glance at my Goodreads profile (paying attention to something else entirely) and there's a whole "Linda's favorite authors" section where the first six who happen to default to the front page, complete with pictures, are: Fyodor Dostoevsy, Virginia Woolf, Nelson DeMille, Leo Tolstoy, Anna Quindlen, Gloria Steinem.

Suddenly, I was playing a new imaginary dinner party game. Imagine the possibilities! I mean, obviously, Fyodor and Leo could go off in a corner speaking Russian, but I don't think either is the type to do that. Nelson would obviously have to talk to Leo about how he totally used War and Peace in The Charm School. Which man would hit it off with which woman? Virginia clearly had opinions about Leo and Fyodor; what would she make of Nelson? They might be surprising friends. What would Virginia think about the latter century feminists, Gloria and Anna? Would Anna act like a journalist, or a novelist? And with Leo and Gloria at one table?! Two of the wisest people ever. Ever! World peace might just spontaneously come into being, just from them existing in each other's presence.

God, this is a fun game. Endless fun.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The one thing I must have to be truly alive

The other week I listened to Atul Gawande on NPR's Fresh Air. He was talking about a recent article he wrote for The New Yorker about what medicine and doctors should and shouldn't do to make the end of life more humane. It was fascinating stuff. I mostly know of Atul Gawande from his book Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, which I touched many times in my Borders days, but this is the first time I've listened to him talk.

In the Fresh Air interview, he talked about how taking lots of drugs and having lots of medical intervention when one is old and/or terminally ill often do nothing to prolong life any longer than a non-drugged hospice route. He also talked about how hard it can be when it falls to family members to make end-of-life decisions, especially when the patient's wishes are unclear. He gave an example of one son or daughter - I think it was a daughter? - who asked her father what was his minimum quality of life for which he would actually want to be saved. The man said that as long as he could still eat ice cream and watch football on TV, that would be sufficient for him and he'd still want to be alive.

Atul Gawande pointed out that this ice-cream-and-football life may not be enough for some people. They might insist that they be able to walk around, or cook for themselves. This made me think about my minimum standard. I mean, I generally want to be able to travel, and go out, and write and run and swim and hike and explore. Sure - these are all things I want from my life. But if it came to that kind of decision about the minimum acceptable quality of life? The answer was instantly clear to me: as long as I could still read books, I would still want to be alive.

Note that this does NOT mean being read to. I hate being read to. No books on tape, and I would obviously have to be able to see, and be able to hold a book. But that is my answer. Reading. What's yours?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just a short blog entry today

Seriously, when are you people going to stop being shocked by "grim" news from Afghanistan? Seriously! When?

It's grim. Sending young men and women somewhere to kill other people is grim. (So is sending old men and women, but reality is we basically mostly send young ones.) Stop being shocked by this! Stop! I wish you would act a little more shocked at yourselves for being hoodwinked into thinking any war is "righteous" or "necessary." War = murder. Government-ordered murder that profits people who already have power, giving them more money and power.

Three cheers for WikiLeaks! May it continue to release documents that describe reality. And maybe one day, you will stop finding grim reality "shocking" and start changing it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Goes Through the Minds of Internet Users

One of my part-time freelance jobs involves editing online content. In the course of this gig, I get some pretty amazing insight into humanity, because I get to see what people search for on the internet, in all its raw, eyebrow-raising, sometimes horribly misspelled glory. I assure you that this is often not pretty. Not pretty at all. I'm totally not going to repeat some of the disturbing searches here for many reasons, not the least of which being that some of them are illegal and I quite frankly don't want the frightening individuals who search for those things to land on my blog. However, I will share with you two that delighted me.

One person asked:

"Is the Juno hamberger[sic] phone edible?"

Which is just awesome, really. Another had this simple query:

"Stuff to Think About"

It's kind of interesting, and kind of wistful. Somewhere in the world, a person sat at his/her computer and wanted to find some Stuff to Think About. I would venture to say that there are a lot of options out there to fulfill that request.

Monday, July 12, 2010

GPS, Schmee-PS

I recently had the privilege of spending a few days in Indiana. During the time I was there, I had the chance to sit on a front porch swing, see many cornfields, and contemplate the use of GPS.

The first two are pretty straightforward, so I will just skip to what, for me, was the most fascinating part of the visit. It was not the ubiquitous use of GPS, but how it was no longer even noted by the users. Five years ago, when my first friend or two had a GPS navigator in their cars, it was pretty much the center of attention of the ride because it was so novel. It was also annoying, and it generally caused more problems than it "solved." Two or three years ago, when a few more people had a GPS telling them where to turn and such, especially when they went Out of Town (aka "No! Don't make me look at that big scary map! Waaaaaaah!! Mommy!"), it was officially becoming a pervasive part of the landscape. People began to joke together about the perceived personality of the guiding voice and the symbolism in "recalculating."

But this month, on my visit to Indianapolis, there was no comment whatsoever upon the use of GPS, as opposed to not using it, other than in my head. It was accepted as a given, you see, by multiple people in multiple situations. And I am wondering when we crossed that line.

I dislike that line. I have no use for a GPS, and I'll tell you why: because I know how to read a map/figure out where I'm going/ask for directions/read context clues/use problem-solving skills. There are several things I can think of off the top of my head that I dislike about GPS dependence, but I'll just concentrate on that main one here. When I see someone so quick to pop an address into his/her GPS, I know something about that person. It's not necessarily that s/he doesn't know how to get somewhere, but that s/he doesn't know how to figure out how to get somewhere. That disturbs me.

It's not only the people we happened to see in Indiana, of course. I commented on some random blog just the other week because I was astonished at how amused the blogger was by herself and her utter inability to drive anywhere without GPS - even in her own metropolitan area! And when we were in Istanbul, one of my Habitat trip mates was all about using her handheld GPS to find her way to Istanbul landmarks, which were generally right in front of her once she looked up from the device.

Also, what I want to know is: are the people in the GPS cult even half as aware as the rest of us that it's not foolproof? That in the same way being able (usually!) to check your bank balance online is no substitute for knowing how much is in your checking account, being able to (usually!) get on-the-spot directions from a "magical" technological voice is no substitute for knowing where you are.

Important note: It is possible that my GPS-lovin' friends who read this blog will think this is an "insult" that is "directed" at them. I have already stated that this is a commentary on the widespread use of GPS, therefore not directed at anybody in particular. Also, oh well -- we are in fact adults now, and there are some things you should be capable of when you are over 25. Reading a map is one of them.