Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Opposable Thumbs (Adventures of the other voluntary cat)

"SEKHMET:Ancient Egyptian CAT/GOD Is On Left"
My wife and I were in the living room watching a movie, one that I didn’t review, when we heard the sounds of the world’s most inept cat burglar .  First, our front door was unlocked.  Second, this guy was so loud that we couldn’t hear the dialogue through the television.  A few days earlier, we had come home to find the front door left wide open but nothing valuable in the house seemed to be missing.  The only sign of actual entry was that a dish of cat food in the entry way had gotten knocked over.  Before, I could go to the kitchen to grab my airsoft gun and call 911 , our front door popped open.  My wife instinctively pulled the sofa pillow in front of herself.  I headed to the spot behind the entryway table where I could see, but whoever was coming in our front door couldn’t necessarily see me.  Cat, of course, was the operative part of cat burglar. It was our gray cat with the E.T. alien eyes, Luna, who has figured out how to open a closed front door without human assistance

As you can see from the photo above, we have door hardware that makes it possible to open the door without benefit of opposable thumbs . Having thumbs would make the task much easier, but all the cat has to do is jump thirty inches in the air, land on an inch long flange with enough force to disengage the latch mechanism ( amazing how many everyday objects don’t have everyday names , then push the door forward at exactly that moment with enough impact to clear the latch from the slot in the frame.  I have a hard time getting our border collies to play fetch and we have this cat who could be in the housepet Olympics.

Personally, it would be much more fun than most of the events in these last Winter Olympics. Opening doors, dog teasing, leaving dead vermin parts on front doorstep,stealing food off counters, hiding spore behind bookshelves, disappearing into closets, finding the one loose thread in master’s favorite clothing. Those are just the cat events. Add in the dog events like getting out of closed backyard, knocking things over, barking continuously, and you’ve already got something more interesting than say curling or cross country skiing. Some of you may remember, that for several months we dealt with our voluntary cat my daughter rescued from the pound. That cat never wanted to stay in our house and would wander to different parts and homes in town where someone else would adopt her, rename her in one case, and then have the vet identify her as ours through a microchip implanted in the back of her neck I suppose the reassuring thing about Luna is that this cat obviously wants to be in our house.

You see, we’re in a bit of a bind.If we leave the door, unlocked she gets in and the front door gets left open until she figures out how to quietly close it behind her as she lets herself in for the sake of food and warmth. If we use the deadbolt, she jumps on the door handle for hours making so much racket that none of us can sleep through it. In other words, she not only figured out how to open the door, she’s figured out how to make us open the door for her if we try to keep her from doing it herself. I started looking for pet doors in one of those online catalogues.

They’re not cheap and a lot of them are seriously unattractive and it takes actual carpentry skills to install them without leaving gaps in your doorframe. Besides, if it lets your cat or dog come in and out, what’s to keep raccoons, rats, and skunks from figuring out the same trick? Our pet door not only looks better, it makes for a much better story. Last week, I left my car window cracked open and found the other cat seated in the driver’s seat staring through the windshield. Fortunately, my car has a manual transmission. In the meantime, we came home the other day to find Luna on the couch with the TV on and my digital video recorder set to play. I just don’t remember recording all those Little Friskies commercials back to back like that.

Human beings are killing each other in sectarian struggles, abusing the environment, invading other countries for trumped up reasons. After Dick Cheney was implicated in a pheasant holocaust, I pointed out that those quail probably set him up down in Corpus Delecti, Texas. My neighborhood is filling up with flocks of wild turkeys. As I mentioned, the movie The Birds was filmed about 15 miles west of where I live. I’m pretty sure that these animals are telling me something here. Back in Egypt, in the time of the Pyramids, they say that cats sort of had a joint tenancy over civilization with the humans.I suspect they kindly stepped aside to let us evolve a little for our own good. My guess is that they’re not happy and the eviction is happening sooner than most of us think. (yikes, I’m turning into pogblog here)
link to more voluntary cat stories


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Sunday, February 26, 2006

NCVA League 1 (2006) volleyball

"All NCVA 16's Team will be Getting a Vision Check over the Next 3 Weeks"

I’m thinking about what George Bush senior called the "Vision thing".  Sure, I was sitting in the Bladium at close to six PM on Saturday while my daughter’s team reffed the ultimate bragging rights match in Norcal under 16 for the year between Vision 15-1 and Vision 16-1.  So, yeah, any non-Vision parent has to be sitting around asking himself what’s Vision got that my daughter’s club doesn’t have other than three quarters of last year’s City Beach 14’s team.  I’m also thinking about the fact that for the first time in my three years of recapping this stuff, I had two other parents come up to me and ask me if I was “Boris”.  Both very nice people by the way, but what use is a pseudonym if everyone can figure out who you are anyway?  I spent three years telling people at tournaments that I was an international energy analyst, yet now everyone seems to know that I’m a covert volleyball parent all because I volunteered to meet with the NCVA.  Either that or it was Scooter Libby and Bob Novak’s doing.

Confessions of a Dangerous Volleyball Parent

How did I really drift from cartoon character chasing moose and squirrel to the Erin Brockovich of the junior spandex set?  The simple answer is that I have no friggin idea.  You might as well ask me about chairs in Fresno or tree hugging in Campbell or flip flops.  I have no idea what that stuff is about nor do I know who Marcie is.  I do take solace from it though in that it tells me that even my stranger jokes aren’t necessarily out of the mainstream on prepvolleyball not to mention volleytalk.  The trickier answer is that it seemed to start with a couple seemingly unrelated events.  

Almost a year ago, I got this idea to write an article about my daughter’s now former high school coach (Elsa Stegemann Binder decided to take a run at the AVP)  and her club team that had won JO’s exactly 10 years ago.  I had figured that it might be really interesting to find out what happens to junior players after they stop being juniors and Team Mizuno had this intriguing mix of Doctor, Singer, AVP player, teacher, Fitness consultant, etc.  Instead the article detoured into volleyball and club philosophy by contrasting the “inner athlete” approach vs. the “discipline” coach-centered style embodied by Sports Performance.  

I have no idea about anyone’s politics in this sport and I don’t expect the analogy to work on that level, but Rick Butler in certain ways is the Bill Clinton of our sport.  Some insist that he disgraced his position and should have been forced out of office. ( before I get flamed on this, I would make the distinction though that while supervising interns was part of the President's job, it wasn't to most an essential part of the job. I do believe that a volleyball coach's main job is to provide guidance to his/her players both on and off the court)  Others say that he’s done enough good for so many as an actual volleyball coach/club director and his club has been so successful that we need to move on about the other thing.  In any case, the issue never quite dies on volleyball message boards, but every now and then a thread breaks out about the evil corrupt Great Lakes Region that is in some sort of sordid partnership with Butler and thus willing to turn a blind eye in the name of profit.  In the meantime, rumor has it that Dubai Ports World has bought the Great Lakes Center.

Anyway, when I wrote the article, John Tawa asked me to put my real name on the article rather than the one given to me by Jay Ward.  One of the saddest things about being outed was that one parent even figured out that I wasn’t Pottsylvanian or at least didn’t look Pottsylvanian.  I would, however, never appear on national television in a white hat and white shoes while singing three minutes in falsetto.  To be honest, I’m not Pinoy either.  That was a first step.  A controversy broke out and suddenly I was talking to club directors from other parts of the country.  Not long after that I found myself indirectly exchanging e-mail with Don Shaw, Russ Rose, and Pat Powers.  Even more exciting to someone as odd as I, I’m back to exchanging messages with Ravi Navarisham and Joe Arkin who arguably are the fathers of posting on the internet about volleyball. I had slipped out of the realm of being your everyday ice chest and folding chair toting parent.

Eventually, I saw this long thread that made the 18’s qualifier sound like the NCVA version of Katrina, (well they both involved large numbers of people stuck in a convention center)  and Ed Cohen, an NCVA board member and the guy who runs Golden Bear, said something like “Well,I've never seen any parents come to our board meetings.”

You know how Jay Ward Boris can’t resist chasing Moose and Squirrel for the glory of fearless leader?  For five years, I had this strange job where I was supposed to help organize parents in inner city schools by having them assert their right to see their children’s classrooms and schoolwork and make their own judgments.  I learned two things.  First, very few schools actually were comfortable at all about letting parents see and evaluate classrooms.  One of the favorite lines was “What do we do if the parents show up drunk or high or start abusing their kids at school?”

It wasn’t a “race” thing by the way.  The teachers/administrators saying this stuff were often the same race as the parents.  It was very much a class thing, not as in algebra class but social class, but since a rigid class structure doesn’t exist in America…

The second thing was that it was very hard if not impossible to actually organize parents if you don’t live in their community.  We had a grant for me to wander from Strawberry Mansions in Philadelphia, to Anacostia in DC, to the West side of Chicago and reach out to parents.  Foundations give the money to organizations that write compelling sounding grants.  Foundation officers often come out of certain schools and places.  The people who write grants that appeal to them…..One of my private jokes was that in five years I think I met every black and Latino person who ever went to Andover, Swarthmore, and NYU law school in the Boston-DC corridor.  I didn’t, however, ever meet Condaleeza Rice or Bryant Gumbel.  Actual parents often literally spoke a different language from the folk on the Foundation track.  The other thing is that while some of these areas aren’t say as safe as hanging out in the NCVA office, it’s not constant gunfire and drug deals.  People from Hinsdale and Evanston don’t visit the former Robert Taylor projects or say Westinghouse High School nearly enough and vice versa.  

Just an aside here, one of the fascinating things about Anacostia is that you can get a cab from Connecticut Ave to take you there, you just can’t get a cab to pick you up anywhere in Anacostia.  

That’s my long answer about how Ed Cohen said the thing that inevitably led to my calling NCVA for the first time after fourteen years as a volleyball parent.  After all this money and time, I simply always assumed that there were these gnomes running around the regional office who made everything right more or less like the House Elves at Hogwarts.  I figured everyone just did it for the “good of the girls” etc. It had never occurred to me after five years of asking these sorts of questions in my work life to ask the simple vision questions.  

  1. How do the bylaws work?

  2. How does one get on the board and when and where do they meet?

  3. What do they meet about?

  4. What’s the budget look like?

  5. Is this stuff non-profit, for profit?

  6. Who exactly does listen to concerns about length of tournament, safety, brining food, etc.?

  7. What if a parent has a problem with his daughter’s club?

  8. What do we really know about the scores of clubs and hundreds of coaches who serve our kids other than what our clubs tell us?

  1. What is the real cost of all these tournaments and what do we get for it as the folk who pay for them directly?

I genuinely had no idea.  I think this may be because most of us consider this our family recreational time.  When we take the kids to Disneyland, we generally don’t ask to see the annual report. On the other hand, while I do understand that one of my club directors actually goes to Disneyland quite regularly, I’ve never personally spent tens of thousands of dollars of our family’s discretionary income at Disneyland, Disneyworld, or Euro Disney.  There are times though when I have wondered about the number of Buzz Lightyear items that my daughter has collected over the last two years.  Please also understand that Mrs. Boris and I are genuinely disturbed in some ways.  Partly because we do have an older daughter who does this for a living now, we actually do have dinner table conversations about recruiting opportunities, the virtues of various offenses, which girl is playing where and doing what, and the advanatages of Jos vs. Festival.  

     In that time, I’ve been getting “deep throat” like warnings (Mark Felt does live in Santa Rosa) on the prepvolleyball message board to watch my back, etc.  So that one started with tape on a door at the Watergate Hotel.  I actually hope this one begins and ends with a 2% grade under a tent in the San Jose Convention Center.

The Volleyball Stuff

     Oh geez, how do I get back to the whole Vision thing?  How’s this, my daughter’s started doing Beach and she’s learning from Kelly Van Winden who once played 3 man beach with Gabrielle Reece and a former UOP via Petaluma High player named Katie Eldridge?  Ripp away the curtain and the volleyball world is shockingly small with fewer degrees of separation between even random parents like me and pretty much anyone in the sport than say a setter’s scrunchie chasing a tight set into the net.  

     The first Gold league tournament started with 5 teams from 2 clubs.  My daughter’s Empire Mizuno team had to play the Empire 16-2s in one pool.  Three Vision teams were playing one another in a second pool.  I think the powers that set the seedings at qualifier knew that this was sectarian violence month so there obviously some sort of conspiracy that led to these drive an hour so you get to play the girls you scrimmage against in practice thing.  I believe it’s very difficult to play a team from your own club.  The two team in particular is generally out to prove something and the one team is in this odd position of having nothing to gain from winning the encounter and months of teasing if they happen to lose.  The Empire 1 vs. 2 match was exactly that.  I would guess that more points were scored on missed serves in the match than actual well hit kills because both teams were profoundly uncomfortable in the situation.  A similar thing happened between Vision 16-2 and 16-1 with 16-2 actually winning the first game and pushing the one team very hard.  In any case, I did notice that neither of the “Is this practice or is this a real tournament?” pools produced sterling volleyball.  
     Empire 16-1 did save face some by beating Yahoo, the incoming 1 seed in two close games.  Sadly, some Yahoo parent spoiled it for us by telling us that their setter has mono and that one of their lefts broke her collarbone.  With all that, Yahoo still has a very strong pair of lefts.  I suspect that the middles might have been hampered by not having their regular setter.  There was a stellar 1 blasted late in the second game that made me wonder why I hadn’t seen more sets to the middle even before I knew about the missing setter thing.  It’s hard to say if “healthy” if they deserved to be the 1, but this group at this point was less consistent and tenacious than some of the really strong Yahoo teams I’ve seen in the past.  That may be because large parts of the really strong yahoo 15’s from last year were wandering the gym in non-yahoo jerseys, but who knows.

I should mention that Empire 16-2 fought hard and showed tremendous heart in getting into gold at qualifier, but once there they suddenly seemed to be asking themselves the wrong question as in “Do we belong here?” rather than “We earned this and we’re going to show everyone.” This isn’t my thought.  It was actually my daughter who mentioned it to the 16-2 coach who then relayed it to me.  One of the interesting things about being a parent is that my daughter is much more profound than I am and much smarter in too many ways to count.  It doesn’t necessarily show up in ways that school folk recognize easily (though she’s a good student) and part of why we love volleyball is that it’s been a place for some of that to come out.  Of course, it’s also been a place where the fact that she’s just 15 also comes out at times. :}

Anyway, my daughter’s team was unexpectedly holding the number one seed and I found myself looking around the gym scratching my head because there were so many scary teams out there who we hadn’t played.  On the court next to us, there was a very imposing and strong-armed Force team that was struggling with a scrappy Delta Valley 16’s team.  Through the day, Delta kept scratching in its matches.  They’re a quick tenacious team that doesn’t have the big gun hitter types that usually catch people’s attention like Golden Bear’s Kyle Lamet (their roster doesn’t have numbers on it) or say Yahoo’s Bridget O’hara.  Delta came from behind in the third against Force without once hitting a hard ball in the last 10 points.  Lots of jousts in the middle with Delta’s very intelligent middle just slipping the ball around the block and in front of the ten foot line and refusing to make obvious mistakes. A similar thing happened in Delta’s match with Golden Bear with Delta coming back from 10-14 in the third to win the match.  Gold Cal has a couple huge middles and one of my favorite players, a setter Cora Harms (hope I have that right) very slight looking but explosive blonde haired girl who I think might still be a 9th grader) and I watched them in a very tight match with Golden Bear (is that right?) in which one of the games went 30-28 with some great points.  I didn’t see a lot of Norcal other than they had good size and for whatever reason I didn’t see City Beach play at all yet again.  It’s my fate in life never to meet SouperDave or Chris Crader in person.  

My daughter’s teams first playoff match was with Vision 15-1.  I looked up and the score of the first game was 10-1 Vision.  It’s bad to lose to a 15-1 team, it’s really bad to lose like this.  Vision 15-1 does not have a single player taller than 5-11.  They maintain an extraordinarily high energy level on or off the court.  If you remember Sarah Hughes, it’s like they’re too young to know that they’re supposed to be nervous playing an older team.  Of course, most of these girls beat the current Empire 16 one team when they were City Beach 14’s at Bayview last year.   Grrrrr….blah…. It was interesting to watch Ashley Bjorklund, an assistant coach who looks not much older than her players, more or less going with that 9th grader energy level with her players literally jumping up and down during the match and doing these too frequent “roof” celebrations on the sideline.

At the time, from our point of view, we were saying why can’t our team return serve or block either Katherine Fisher or Candace Silva-Martin from the left?  This is a nightmare match! We’re just not ourselves! Since our players didn’t have any injuries this week, we decided to blame it on the Turnabout Dance at three of the high schools.  Surely it was because too many of our players were thinking about making the dance on time with the soon to be breathalyzed young man of their choice just a couple hours away instead of focusing on the rockets coming from this much shorter team on the other side of the net.  It hadn’t quite dawned on the assembled Empire parents that Vision 15-1 was just really good regardless of whether this was a good day for my daughter’s team or not.
The second game started better, but Empire was victimized by a service run and despite a 10 point stretch where Vision 15 actually looked like 9th graders, Empire could never quite take the lead back and Vision 15 won easily.

     Two hours later, one problem with the format is that once playoffs start there are some very long waits.  I then watched Vision 15 do exactly the same thing to Delta that they had done to Empire.  It occurred to me that Vision 15 was actually just good.  Katherine Fisher in particular seems to have great timing and at 5’8 hits effectively from the backrow and hard enough to overpower double blocks at times and disable DS’s who are right on the ball.  Molly Bagshaw sets very cleanly and Elizabeth Trambley has a very consistent jump serve.  Lauren Bajtos gives them a very credible threat from the other side as well.  Worse yet, the whole team plays defense and they all seem aware of the ball at almost all times which suggest that Mike Shulko’s doing a great job with this group thus far.  One consequence of this is that Vision 15 has really loud enthusiastic dads on the sideline.  

Btw, I was able to do the name thing here, because Vision has all the info on its website.  
It’s, however, even cooler that Gold Cal has the finances for each team up with its rosters.

My daughter’s team then waited another two hours to play Golden Bear which I think in some ways will be sort of a bellweather team in Gold this year.  They have a big hitting left in Lamet, a very good no nonsense setter in Sarah Taggert, a very good libero in Molly Abel, and a DS in Audrey Kuan who I saw have more of an impact on a couple games than one normally expects a DS to have.  I don’t know that this was a memorable match for Empire either in that as much as any team there the Empire 16’s looked like they were still getting used to playing in real tournaments.  I suspect that’s part of the price of not having been pushed very hard on our end of the qualifier bracket.  Up to yesterday, my daughter’s team had only played one really tough team, Delta Valley 18’s thus far.

The days final wound up being Vision 15 vs. Vision 16-1 and my daughter’s team got the dubious distinction of getting to ref the last match in the gym, what better consequence for worrying more about Turnabout than volleyball (I’m kidding, really).  Unlike most matches between the Williams sisters in tennis, this was a great match.  Vision 16-1 is bigger and obviously more experienced than the 15’s, but there were points when the 15’s were literally outhitting them.  16’s has a much more been there done that presence and at the beginning of the match they went about the business of building a slight lead which disappeared at 10-10.  There was a blocking sequence with 16’s very good left-handed right Taylor Smith where both teams exchanged full force swings, blocks, digs, and the 15’s didn’t blink.  At one point, the ball spun wildly off the net on the right side and somehow the point stayed alive.  In another early sequence, Katherine Fisher was set in the back row and delivered a full on swing that left the Vision 16’s backrow just sort of shaking their heads.  At the 12 point mark, it became obvious that the match was going to be about more than the 15’s just trying to keep it respectable.  Ultimately, the 15’s combined with the 16’s going long a few times on big swings (there was an ongoing discussion during the day whether the blue squares on the lone non-hockey rink court there signified out or in) pulled away late in the first game and there were all these not too tall 9th graders celebrating on the sideline.

For most Norcal folk in this age group, the Prang twins may be the most recognizable players in the region who aren’t named Murray or Gill.  Part of that is that they’re very good setter/leftsides respectively who play with intensity and intelligence.  Another part is that they’ve never been with the same club two seasons in a row in the last four when my daughter first faced them when they were on City Beach Black 14, the next year they were with Vision 14’s, then last year’s strong Yahoo 15’s, and now they’re back with Vision.  Clubshifting is a way of life in present day Norcal and because they’re twins and quite good, it’s easy to notice that the Prangs move around a bit.

The second game was a combination of Tanya Schmidt, a tall middle who looked to have a very quick second jump, and Taylor Smith both started to assert themselves and their size advantage more consistently.  There was also a great point where Lisa Prang hammered a left full force only to see it dug by I think it was Ashton Senner.  The point went on for a few furious exchanges then Prang roll shotted on the same side.  Middle of the second game the 15’s either started to tire so slightly, I’m wondering about their high energy level throughout the day, or the 16’s just started taking care of business.  Some of the hard swings that were going through started getting soft-blocked or dug by the 16’s Katie Ring and Lainey Gera while Smith in particular was ending points effectively.

There are these moments during every season when you have to take stock of where your daughter’s team is.  It was clear to me that my daughter’s team and most of the rest of the Gold divison is not currently at this mental or physical level.  The two Vision teams were bringing a high level of intensity and execution to the court in this match.  Another one of my team’s parents put it simply enough, “This was the first match of the day that looked like serious volleyball.”

Neither team had players make runs of three mistakes in a row.  Both teams played the majority of the match letting the other team know that it would have to earn its points the old-fashioned way.  Vision had 3 teams in gold for a reason.  I honestly expected the third game to be an exercise in the 15’s deciding that they’d made their point and could go home now as happy freshmen who’d scared the big girls.  16’s kept pushing out to a  slight lead and 15’s would even it, but suddenly the score was 14-12 in favor of the 16’s.  
On 13-14, the Vision 16’s hitter went up to close the game out on what looked to blast through the middle.  I can’t remember remember which 2 15’s players went up for the block, but the ball went straight back down in the 16’s court like something out of a D1 college match.  I point out that 15’s has middles who are 5’11 and 5’9 and neither of their lefts are taller than 5’8.  What’s that say to people who insist that the height really begins to matter in 16’s?

Those of us who were left were stunned by that moment because it was literally very young players stepping up at a very big moment in a match where they were supposed to be the ones who would’t stand the pressure.  The upset, however, was not to be as the 15’s player missed her serve (finally one of them looked like a 9th grader for just a moment) and then the match ended with a short soft roll from Tanya Schmidt.  

At this point, Vision has the rest of the region in the 16’s rear view mirror.  Empire goes to 2 qualifiers before it attends the next league dance.  It’s going to get more competitive, but I have to say that the top two teams deserve to be there and I feel a lot better about my daughter’s team losing to a mere 15’s team.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

The Not So Straight Green Line

"Achilles and Patroclus on the Left. Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery WW2 leader of British forces on the Right"

One of the many reasons I blog is that mainstream media frequently doesn’t connect the dots between stories.  I came across this story about a court martial of 7 soldiers in the 82nd airborne for posing for money in what appears to be a gay porn website that plays on the fact that these are real soldiers 82nd Airborne story . It’s certainly very tempting to make jokes about this, but the 82nd is highly decorated and has a deserved longstanding reputation as an “elite” unit within the army.  Here are my dots.

  1. Abu Ghraib :  the MPs and other military working the prison were alleged to have forced male prisoners to feign sex with one another as a way of shaming them.  Naked photos were taken and one of the more famous photos is a human pyramid of naked prisoners forced to rub up against one another.

Official version:  these were a handful of guards who weren’t qualified and got out of control.  This despite similar allegations at other detention centers.

Semi-Official version:  These were the least-trained units in Iraq overwhelmed by the conditions.  There’s no pattern of any kind here and there are no orders from any higher ups.

What I think:  I believe that the civilian contractors in charge of interrogation either were directing or encouraging the practices as a way of “shaming” their Moslem prisoners.  I believe they were carrying through a policy from higher up.  I also feel strongly that it reveals more about the psyche of those who devised the “torture” than those being tortured or mistreated.

  1. Jeff Gannon Guckert:  mystery journalist becomes a White House press conference favorite who persistently asks softball questions about the War and the Administration.  It later turns out that the Talon journalist was also maintaining gay web sites like “Hot Military Stud” etc.  

Official version:  The White House doesn’t check credentials all that carefully and Gannon never had a regular credential just a temporary pass.  The press secretary simply called on Mr. Gannon frequently out of respect for Mr. Gannon’s work as a journalist.

Semi-Official version:  No comment from Mr. Gannon but he promised to tell his side of the story real soon.  He has since stopped attending White House press conferences.

What I think:  There are a lot of gay men and women who sometimes use Hard Right politics as a cover for their own conflicted feelings about their sexuality.  I’m not talking about Log Cabin Republicans or Andrew Sullivan: there are many gay people who just happen to be very conservative.  I mean characters like the former mayor of Spokane, Gannon, and a few other individuals who aren’t currently out.  I also can’t help but note the strange and very “straight” line between Mr. Gannon’s alleged web site and the 82nd Airborne case.

  1. Don’t Ask Don’t tell:  The pentagon opposed overtly letting gays into the military primarily because they felt it would affect morale and thus the effectiveness of troops in the field.  The 82nd airborne, as far as I know, remains a very effective unit in combat and non-combat operations.

Official version:  Openly gay members of the military would not be productive.  Gay marriage would lead to moral decline.  American soldiers are the best and most efficient soldiers in the world.

Semi-Official version:  There are some gay members of the military, but they keep quiet about it and that’s a good thing.  It’s not very common and everyone is very discreet about it.

What I think:  I don’t see that big a problem with being gay and serving in any branch of the military.  I do see some issues with posing for gay porn sites for money as a “military stud” while on active duty.  I’m no expert, but having gays actually in the 82nd airborne probably hasn’t threatened the effectiveness of the unit.  
     I believe that there are a lot more gay members of the military than anyone admits to regardless of official policy. I believe there are more than 7 gay members of the 82nd airborne.  I believe there is something of a subtle homo-erotic psychological connection between Military discipline and potency-sexuality for many individuals that no one in the Pentagon would ever dare acknowledge.  I believe these sites exist because there are enough people who feel that psychological connection for the sites to make money.

4. Service Academy Heterosexual Rape Scandals

Official version: There've been a few problems with sexual harrassment and beyond among our finest examples of patriotic leaders of our future military.

Unofficial version: They're strikingly similar in tone to similar scandals like Tailhook and somewhat uncovered stories about female military personnel in Iraq having to fear being raped or harrassed not by terrorists but by male soldiers. In one case, women died from dehydration because they were afraid to have to go to the bathroom at night.

What I think: Eros and Thanatos are directly linked and American culture is disturbingly dishonest about both.

I’d love to see what would happen if you asked certain members of the administration how they might connect these dots and what the resulting “straight” line signifies about traditional values.  

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

American Idol 5 round of 24 (review)

"Easter Island Idol Judge Simon from 875 AD"
Okay, I’m going to get attacked in every conceivable way for this, but what do I make of the fact that there’s a good chance that this year’s female American Idol Constestants could probably literally beat up this year’s males?  Put Brenna Gethers and her claws in a steel cage wrestling match with Kevin, Radar O’reilly does Ted Mack, and what do you think’ll happen?  

Let’s try a little thought exercise. It’s clear that the Amazon Idol women would have the makings of a very good basketball team.  They have two for real basketball players in Becky Maxim Twin and Ayla “You Don’t Need This” (see Nikko Smith) Brown.  Paris Bennett and Lisa Tucker could easily be the names of point guards in the SEC.  Mandisa could stand in for Charles Barkley.  Did anyone see the arms on Heather Cox?  If it was between her and Gedeon for the rebound, who do you think comes down with the ball?  

Now part two, do any of these guys look like anyone you’d pick in a football or basketball game.  How do I say this?  You let 12 guys pick any song they want as America’s first impression of their Idolness and the choices include Michael Jackson, George Michael (Father Figure no less), Elton John, Barry Manilow, and Melissa Ethridge (who actually is the only one on the list who appears to have much interest in women).  

I know that American Idol might regret having let Matt Rogers into the competition, but the whole football player thing had a certain appeal that was until they showed the clip of the guy taking a bubble bath.  Bucky Covington looked like he was rescued from the set of a Deliverance remake.  I don’t know what to say about Elliot, other than he looks more like the kids who might have been shooting up at one time instead of shooting baskets.

Beyond that, do I even need to go down this list that starts with Peter Makar Brady and includes Sway, shorter than Ryan,  in a White Hat and Shoes singing falsetto for three very long minutes.  Maybe I could get some minutes out of Bobby Bennett maybe covering Mandisa in the paint while comparing manicures, but yikes !  I wouldn’t call this a group of guys’ guys, not that there’s anything wrong with that. :}  

Compare this to last year when it came down to Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood as singing representatives of their gender.  I mean whatever one has to say about Scot Savol, gender bending was never the question. Identity as a space alien was always a possibility though. Even Constantine and Anthony seemed like the sort of guys who might at least pretend to care about who won the Super Bowl or maybe in Anthony’s case the World Cup if the Ukraine made the qualifying round.  I’m not as sure about Anwar My Space. Robinson. I’m also almost certain that none of the current guys had to worry about a potential conflict with the NFL combine tryout in Indianopolis this week.

I’m not at all sure what’s up with this gender inversion thing this year.  About the only theory I have at this point is these guys were chosen to prevent another Paula scandal.  If any of about 9 of these guys came forward claiming to be another Corey Clark, there’d be some serious credibility issues to deal with first, not that Clark didn’t have a bunch of his own.  I’m still trying to imagine a secret rendezvous between Paula and David Radford with Paula maybe giving the guy dance tips.

I think one possible reason for this is that while AI seems to have opened up to the white rocker thing, and let’s think real hard here about the actual sexual identities of say David Bowie and Mick Jagger, it’s closed out the most “macho” current male musical style hip hop/rap.  I don’t know what that leaves exactly, but I don’t get the impression that any of the male finalists are fantasizing that they going to win this then chase them some super models.  Then again, the single most successful male star to come out of the show is probably Clay Aiken.

In the meantime, you get a few of these teenagers pretending to be young Sinatras, but the big missing ingredient is that there’s none of the sexual swagger that made Frank a star with the bobbysoxer generation.  Well, oddly, these guys seem to appeal to that generation it’s just that they’re now in assisted living facilities.  So if I’m getting a game of flag football together, Chris Daughtry might be the first guy chosen and that’s after I choose like three of the women.  If on the other hand, they wanted to recast for this generation’s Village People, several of these guys look ready for training camp or at least likely to get a call back.  

I’m still amazed that Pride Groups were mad at Simon for attacking all the potential drag queens during the auditions and accusing the show of being intolerant of gays.  I know Stonewall supposedly help break down prejudices both among gays and the population at large against drag queens, but think about the male finalists this year, think about Ryan Seacrest, Barry Manilow and Elton John as guest artists, AI might be anti-drag queen, but it’s hardly anti-gay.  Actually, when Simon and Ryan get into it at points, my mind can’t avoid but go there.  

While I’m in this vein, I have to mention this.  I think there’s been some talk that while Gedeon, the Shout guy, with the 46 tooth smile and the strangely careful elocution, could actually sing but seemed vaguely creepy.  I just ask that you think about the real Jackie Wilson and  Michael Jackson who copied Jackie, Little Richard,  or Chuck Berry. If you put any of them on American Idol, they’d have sent off similar vibes.  In their day though, we mostly knew them through records and an occasional very managed appearance on American Bandstand or something like it.  The real stars may very well not have stood up to Reality TV. had they been pushed through the same process.  

I suspect for instance that someone like Diana Degarmo would have a totally different image sans her “bot” exchanges with Simon.  Had she appeared in the mid-fifties, they could have fixed up her album covers, given her a better back story, and bribed some DJ to play her records over and over.  Though in Diana’s case just ten years later in the sixties, she probably would have been Julie Budd.  Think though about what would have happened to a young Elton John or the slightly odd Brian Wilson had either artist shown up on American Idol as a teen-aged unknown.  

I don’t know how many ways I’ve been politically incorrect in the above paragraphs, but I should probably talk about the actual singing and choose a team for that. So in no particular order, here goes. Please understand that I’m not one of those people who claims to have extensive musical training or anything resembling perfect pitch.

Judging from the message boards, this year’s buzz is about Gray Charles, aka Taylor Hicks who is some odd caricature of Randy Newman or network tv’s notion of an “original”.  When I think musical original in the pop vein, I tend to think more along the lines of Tom Waits.  Taylor Hicks claims Joe Cocker, but I can see him with much longer hair and white suit as a very very hyperLeon Russell, which is not at all a bad thing to be in a show like this where I generally don’t remember half the finalists. He’s distinctive, competent, and seems driven by his own sense of what he likes vs. trying to fit some AI mold.

This is weird while I thought she was very good, I don’t remember Katarine Macphee’s actual singing other than she did a Barbara Streisand song.  What I do remember is that she had a really appealing goofiness after the judges did their thing.  I also think the whole body image thing she has while looking perfectly attractive is actually going to play well.  It gives her this scent of vulnerability.  Yes, she has a voice teacher mother but she’s ever so slightly self-conscious about it.  She has the look for album covers and videos, but she lets us know that she’s ever so insecure about her lower body.  Beyond that she can actually sing though I’m not sure she connects emotionally when she’s singing as well as she seems to pull it off when she’s not.  

Lisa Tucker looks and sounds vaguely like Irene Cara’s daughter.  She took on this huge pained ballad from a soon to be Jennifer Hudson movie and her voice surprisingly had the depth and layers to bring it off.  She’s also a confident performer and I think she’s very very talented.  Still though, she was a little young for the material as if she was singing about pain she could only imagine happening some day.  Let me ask this one provocative question about her though.  If she were white, would we be accusing her of being a prettier version of Diana Degarmo?

Ace Young apparently can’t decide whether he is a Bee Gee or George Michael’s stand in for a reconstituted Wham.  The camera likes this guy.  He’s pleasant enough as a singer/entertainer.  I think the 19E people are already convinced they can make some money off this guy regardless in much the same way that they pre-figured that Carrie Underwood would sell.  This is a horrible thing to say, but if you locked Ace in a room alone with Becky O’donahue, why do I get this weird feeling they’d come out talking about how to maintain their hair in front of the spotlights?

Paris Bennett makes me think she’d be a great candidate for a “teen” version of idol.  She also has a great voice, but why would I buy Paris Bennett when I can still listen to Gladys Knight? She mined the vein really well and managed to throw in some more contemporary-looking dance moves, but no I don’t buy for a second that the love of her life is leaving on a train for Georgia.  If it comes down to 16 year olds, I just think that Lisa Tucker is the only one out of Paris, Kevin, and Peter Brady who might seem credible rather than this kid who’s really poised and sings well.  

I don’t include Bobby Bennett as an actual voice.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that he’s William Bennett’s clandestine Las Vegas love child.  I imagine between ten thousand dollar bets at the roulette table, Mr. Virtues had some tryst with a showgirl and Bobby spent his childhood watching lounge acts in second line casinos.  Eventually, something like Stockholm syndrome happened and we got this reincarnated but less talented version of Jackie Gleason.  My wife pointed out that we both started laughing uproariously when this guy started into Tony Clifton (Andy Kaufman) does  Copa Cabana and that we hadn’t laughed together like that in quite some time (wow scary thing to admit about my marriage  there :}).  That’s got to be worth more than endlessly listening to people who sing well but not really really well.  Again, how many name pop singers actually sing well every time?  Can you say Ashlee Simpson?  I say give the guy one more week and let him do the Fanny Brice thing and come out and sing a ballad straight up that makes Randy  cry.  I almost said makes Paula cry, but after three sesons of watching I’ve concluded that that’s completely unpredictable. In the meantime, he’s a better Miykalah Gordon stand in than that Claws Girl singing Sunshine of My Life for her mom.  

I can’t decide whether Mandisa is doing a stint on American Idol or making a run at being the next Oprah.  She can definitely sing and while I’m not a big Heart fan, I thought she pulled off the trick of getting across the I’m not just Jennifer Holliday, Nell Carter, Shug Avery (the book version) or even Jennifer Hudson (now playing Jennifer Holliday), but repackaged and given a single name.  Even better, she’s one of the few female finalist who doesn’t qualify for conventional babe status.  If you put about five of them together and made them a couple years older, I think you’d be thinking they were waiting for a rose at the end of the show instead of for people to dial a toll free number.  Better yet, she had that Oprah moment with Simon that would have made Doctor Phil proud.  If it wasn’t scripted, it should have been.  

Some others I’d like to hear again.  Elliot, when he hit the a capella bits of the Stevie Wonder, I was honestly kind of impressed.  Chris seemed fine and Patrick Hall I think maybe chose the wrong song because they told him it was gay icon theme night for the guys.  On the female side, Ayla Brown, Kinnik Sky (just for the name if nothing else), and Melissa Mcghee.  

Candidates for Survivor 12 Tone Scale, Tonedeaf Island.  David, Bucky, Stevie, Heather, Brenna, and Earth, Wind, and Falsetto.  

more American Idol reviews

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Port Noise Compliance

"Lepanto was the last major naval battle between Christendom and Islam. Cervantes was wounded at Lepanto."

I had a spare moment today and had to look up the United Arab Emirates on a map to see both where it was and if it even has a port.  It’s directly on the Persian Gulf and yes Dubai is a very significant, though recently dredged, deep water port.  It was one of those reminders to self that I don’t know much.  The fascinating thing about blogspace is that certain topics definitely light up the net and the takeover of 6 American ports by DP World, a company owned by the UAE is unquestionably one of them. Suddenly, there are all these experts on the history of the UAE, its history of links to the Taliban and relationship to Israel, the financing of terrorists, and the details of port security.  I was feeling that little urge to jump on the blogwagon here and the truth stared right back at me:  I don’t know much of anything about either the United Arab Emirates, except they could have picked a better name for their country (it sounds like they’re owned by Benetton) and until John Kerry started talking port security in 2004 I’d honestly never given it much thought.  

Well, there was Tom Clancy’s the Sum of All Fears which got turned into a pretty good movie with Ben Affleck and a bunch of neo-nazi South Africans.  I do remember something about a dirty bomb posing as a coke machine and getting into Baltimore Harbor.  I honestly have no idea if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that DP World runs our ports.  I do know that it’s a bad idea for me to pretend to be an instant expert.

What I do notice though is that no one seems to have paid much attention to the ports issue.  The president strongly defended the deal and then the very next day claimed not to have really known about it until the weekend (now that makes me feel a lot better).  I don’t think the country of origin of the port operator necessarily is that big a deal, but the simple fact is that a number of people have been saying for some time that there is no manpower between customs, the coast guard, etc. to inspect the thousands of containers that make it through US ports on any given day. I'm not sure that this has anything to do with who runs the port, but it has a lot to do with people finally having to think about what it means to "secure" a port and the fact that the administration has been openly cavalier about the issue ever since W didn't really refute his debate opponent but chose instead to go all whiny and say "Geez, this is really hard work keeping you guys safe."

I point out that a bunch of the pundits who are all excited about this UAE thing are some of the same people who insisted that W did fine in that debate or good enough.

  One could easily put a weapon of mass destruction on a ship and bring it into  the United States undetected.  Of course, they want to listen to all your phone calls and look at your e-mails, but as for checking for bombs and biological weapons in places where they might actually make it over here, don’t count on it.

The War on Terror amounts to the following.  We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on flypaper in the Middle East.  You get inspected a bit more often while waiting for planes.  We all know what the Department of Homeland Security is, but no one knows what they actually do.  There are a bunch of people in Guantanomo, but most of them quite clearly aren’t terrorists at all.  We torture prisoners.  We pay for articles in Iraqi newspapers to share the good news about our efforts.

In the meantime, anything serious that has to do with actually making the United States more secure hasn’t happened at all.  I would bet that eighteen guys could still come to this country on faulty visas, enroll in flight schools, and do whatever.  You remember those simulations they ran around New Orleans pre-Katrina.  I bet if they ran some terrorist simulations, the result would depress all of us.

Perhaps this ship has already left port, so to speak, but the other thing that hits homeland for me is that while we're spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the name of "security", this is another sign that U.S. Companies aren't competitive in yet another field. There's no American company with the six billion dollars to buy these port operations. Other countries appear to be better at running ports than America. Since longshoremen remain one of the enduring images of America hard at work, I feel the same sense of sadness that I do when I buy cars these days.


Although the Cheney shooting incident in Corpus Delecti, Texas has begun to slip out of the news, I can’t seem to erase the little Dickruder video inside my head.  I’ve even thought about staging my own reenactment.  I figured I’d go to a baseball field since home to first or third is exactly thirty yards and take my airsoft gun since I don’t own a shotgun.  Big controversial incidents always seem to have lingering facts that bug me.  I still puzzle over the plane that flew into the Pentagon in 9/11.  Okay, I get why nothing could be done about the WTC planes, but nearly an hour passed before D.C.  and like port security there honestly really isn’t any air defense for the White House and the Pentagon?  

With this whole passing the buckshot thing, people have been making a big deal about the fourteen hour delay, but I’m stuck on the fact that he was shooting at a bird, but had to shoot perfectly level to hit a man in the face at thirty yards.  Shooting bear or rabbits sure, but how many birds fly at eye level and if you are aiming dead level with people around you…..well you get the picture. It makes me feel like Mr. Magoo has been serving as our vice president for the last 5 years.

I have to say, the one weird picture I still have is all those women in a hunting party.  Are there really that many middle-aged Republican women who hang out with other women’s husbands and spend the weekend shotgunning quail?  If Mrs. Chancelucky told me, “Dear, hope you don’t mind but I’m going hunting this three day weekend with the vice president.”

I’d be convinced that I’d slipped into some lost episode of the Twilight Zone.  Next she’d be dragging me to Infineon Raceway to watch NASCAR with her.  

Again in 9/11 no one seemed to be in a rush to make sure the W was rushed to safety.  This time, no one thinks it’s that important that the W knows that Uncle Dick shot someone.  I definitely believe the president when his people insist that he knew nothing about the port deal until last weekend if even then.  How is it that we keep hearing from this administration “trust us” or "we had to do sometohing or other in secret" and then when anything happens “they don’t know anything about it”?  The real WMD in America is ignorance, both the White House’s and ours.

I did have this weird dream last night.  First, W was running around telling everyone the ports deal is really no different from all that computer technology that Bill C supposedly let us sell to them Commnist Chineze. Then, I dreamt that Michael Chertoff resigned and the President made Harriet Miers head of the Department of Homeland Security.  If I remember correctly, she’s carried a gun in her purse for like thirty years and has never shot anyone in the face.  

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Desert Sushi

My stepfather’s family was picked up in a security sweep a few weeks after Pearl Harbor.  He spent the bulk of his high school years unable to return to the Sacramento area because he had committed the crime of being a Californian who had ancestors in Japan.  At the end of his time away from home, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and thus went from being a security risk to security asset in the middle of his teens.  At the time, the single most terrifying image of Japan consisted of a kamikaze pilot strapped to hundreds of pounds of explosives bearing down on an American target.  The image symbolized a commitment of Japanese fighters and the utterly alien quality of Japanese culture to Americans.  Sixty years later, within my stepfather’s lifetime, America has embraced Japanese culture to a degree no one in 1942 would have imagined.  We no longer fear the Japanese flying into buildings.

When I was a child in the sixties, it started with judo, aikido, Sony televisions and radios, and zen meditation.  By the 1980’s, the emergence of Japanese high tech had Americans not only buying Hondas and Toyotas along with walkmen, but we were talking about imitating Japanese work teams and quality control.  Now it’s anime and sushi.  While Japanese and American culture remain separate, any modern observer would note the extent to which the two cultures have intertwined.  We don’t just both play baseball.  If you live on the west coast of the United States, it’s hard to tell with many everyday items which is American and which is Japanese in origin.

It’s possible that this level of peace won’t go beyond the next generation, still I’d like to believe that this is what “peace” looks like.  Yes, there is the matter of World War 2 and dropping weapons of mass destruction on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but there is something about the level of mutual cultural respect between Japan and the United States that I have seen grow in my own lifetime that tells me that U.S.-Japanese relations have found a path to extended peace.  

Over the last year, I’ve been constantly reminded that the war on “terrorism” is primarily military in nature.  We understand it as a mixture of explosions, troop commitments, and “intelligence” gathering.  Lately, the current administration has been insisting that it can play Constitutional Maxwell’s Demon without damaging either the first or fourth amendments and thus keep us “safe”.  In the meantime, the Department of Defense and the White House keep issuing National Strategies that appear to combine a military approach used to secure the spread of western style democracy across the Islamic world.  
I’d like to argue that it’s just as important to think about a cultural strategy.

I do recognize that the Administration has had something of a cultural strategy that eventually took the form of Karen Hughes’s work with the state department, but I’ve wondered what a serious cultural strategy might look like.  How many Americans known any Arabic or have ever read any part of the Qu’ran?  How many significant Moslems can we name?

I remember many years ago riding in a cab to Midway Airport just before the 2000 election with two others who had attended the same conference with me.  Not surprisingly, since we didn’t know each other that well, the conversation turned to politics.  We got caught in traffic.  The cab driver turned around and said, “Why do you Americans always talk about politics so much?”

It turned out that he was a displaced Palestinian engineer who claimed that he could earn more as a Chicago cab driver than he could as an industrial engineer on his side of the border in his homeland.  He then segued into a monologue about the political state of Israel/Palestine that was far more intense and obsessive than our talk in the backseat of his cab.  The only thing that stopped him was my interjecting the fact that I had once tried to read the Qu’ran in English.  

For some reason, this made our driver very happy.

“Five years in America and you’re the first American I’ve met who ever told me that he had tried to read the Qu’ran.”

I made it clear to him that I couldn’t make any sense of the book.  

“Why did they call a whole section of the book the Cow and yes everyone talks about how Abraham, Moses,  Noah, and Jesus all appear in the Qu’ran, but no one exactly told me how different their stories sound there.”

Our brief cultural exchange did make for a better cab ride and it did remeind  me of a time when I had a student whose family came from Egypt and who had just turned thirteen.  She was a very pretty girl and quite popular, but her family decided that it was time for her to wear a burkha.  It had the immediate effect of making her look like an elderly woman.  Two African-American girls in the class took to walking with her around school to make sure that no one said anything to her about it.  I was genuinely impressed with that symbol of cross-cultural friendship.  A couple weeks later, the student started taking her burkha off a few minutes after arriving at school and putting it back on  shortly before having to go home.  A couple weeks after that, the family decided to move back to Egypt.  

In other words, we’ve got a long way to go before we can even have any idea what a serious cultural strategy might look like.  Obviously, it has to be more than a couple Ridley Scott movies about the Crusades or Khalil Ghibran poetry slams.  There may be some clues out there though.  I suspect the most famous Moslem in the world still happens to be an American, Muhammad Ali. There’s also this fascinating relationship between the original Crusades, the Moslem breakout that led to a takeover of Spain, the Inquisition, and Columbus.  

As someone who doesn’t identify with any of the three monotheistic religions of the Middle East, I’ve long been struck by how poorly European style Christianity has done in its hometown.  No current country in the Middle East is  predominantly Christian.  The closest the world has come to that has been the Crusades when European Crusaders took and held Jerusalem for many years and post-Ottoman colonialism when European nations militarily and economically brokered Middle Eastern politics down to both the creation of Iraq as a country and the formation of Israel.  

Oddly, the Christian west over an eight hundred year span has never quite won the cultural war.  For more than a thousand years since the fall of the Byzantines more or less provoked the first Crusade, Islam has stayed the dominant religion in that part of the world.  Something about the region stubbornly resists the kind of reciprocal cultural exchange that has become the norm between the United States and Japan.  

This clearly makes me an outlier, but I remain convinced that cultures don’t ultimately win wars with the barrel of a gun or IEDs.  I believe that long term differences get settled through things like sushi, baseball, karaoke, rock and roll, and Allah forbid Coca Cola. Perhaps this one will take the form of falafel or architectural styles based on the dome, but my biggest fear is that Arab culture and U.S. culture are becoming more foreign rather than more familiar to one another.  Though I would point out that California has made “algebra’ as universal high school graduation requirement :}.  

The only sign that we Americans are becoming more Islamic in outlook is actually coming from the Bush Administration which seems intent on turning the Bill of Rights into the most intricate imaginable kind of arabesque.  If we look closely enough, we recognize some of the words, but they have become so abstracted and stylized that it’s become a wholly different form of art that only vaguely resembles the source. How’s that for a zen paradox?


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Friday, February 17, 2006

In Her Shoes (movie review)

I wish I could tell people that my wife ties me to the living room easy chair and forces me to watch chick flicks with her.  Come to think of it, that’s not exactly a chick flick image, more like a Tim Allen movie.  I certainly don’t tell the guys I play basketball with that these are the sort of movies I watch a lot of the time ?  How do I explain that if I watch action movies, my wife refuses to stay in the living room and then forces me to turn the volume down so low that I can’t enjoy any of the explosions? I’m a guy who happily watches the Bachelor, American Idol, and even occasionally cries during chick flicks.  I also watch basketball and football on television, but I don’t hunt or fish unless you count my turkey shooting adventures with my various airsoft guns.

If there is a secret support group for men who cry during chick flicks, Curtis Hanson’s In Her Shoes would look to be made pretty much to order.  This is the guy who directed L.A. Confidential with a pre-gladiator Russell Crowe beating people up while chasing Kim Basinger.  Much of In Her Shoes includes Cameron Diaz in multiple scenes in some combination of a bikini and high heels, so there is an excuse for real guys to watch.  I do have to say though that Cameron Diaz has always struck me as the women’s version of what guys are supposed to physically like in women in that she’s so blonde and so skinny that she’s more what women like Jennifer Weiner (the author of the original novel) fear than what average men actually respond to.  I’ve had a similar take on Uma Thurman who also got repeatedly cast as the “perfect woman” in a bunch of her pre-Ethan Hawke movies.  My own sense is that guys actually fixate more on the likes of Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie, or Jennifer Aniston, or even the pre-commander in chief Geena Davis.  I’ve even met a few guys who have a thing for Toni Collette.

In Her Shoes includes the not actually dowdy Toni Collete, who because of Muriel’s Wedding gets cast in these emerging wallflower roles repeatedly.  One would almost have to have a 6th Sense to believe that Collete is supposed to be the “Fat” sister of In Her Shoes.  She looked pretty normal to me, though that’s along the lines of the whole Cameron Diaz thing.  The ultimate warning sign though is that the grandmother of all chick flick actresses, Shirley Maclaine, is incarnated here as a get this, a wisecracking grandmother forced to skip a generation and mother her grandchildren while reviving her own dating life. If Terms of Endearment was the grandmother of the modern chickflick/dramedy, Maclaine grandmother reincarnations are the ultimate chickflick guarantee that you will be expected to laugh, cry, and take note of women’s body or age issues at multiple points in the movie.  

Hanson has a history of being rather good at bending genres.  One of his early good films, the Silent Partner fooled with a nerdy leading man in a heist plot, Never Cry Wolf was one of the first notable attempts to blend documentary and comedy, Eight Mile blended rap with the more traditional psycho-drama musical biography, and LA Confidential both satirized and homaged film noir. Hanson in this one though sticks mostly to getting performances out of his main actors, the heart of what makes chickflicks work.

In Her Shoes, is no Ridley Scott, Thelma and Louise, attempt to interpolate buddy movie with chick flick though that movie has a place in chickflick hall of fame because of the shirtless Brad Pitt scene.  Other than the opening sequence of Diaz doing it in bathroom then puking and the repeated trips up Diaz’s long thin legs and not very prominent rear, Hanson takes a surprisingly straight “tears to laughter to moment of growth” by the numbers approach to the material. He even doesn’t back off of the increasingly de rigeur have character read serious poetry at some point in movie that ties chick flicks to their culturalcousin the women’s reading circle.

Partly because she does mostly comedy and partly because the publicity machine has made her out to be an “It” girl, Diaz has always been underrated as an actress.  Here you can see Diaz's knack for physical comedy in an early scene where she makes a lazy person's chocolate shake by pouring milk into a mostlfy full ice cream container than dropping it on the shoes she "stole" from her sister. In a later scene, she subtly echoes the earlier scene when she spills a can of soda on her grandmother's kitchen floor and also signals a change in the character by showing a slight tweak of awareness when her grandmother calls her on it. Hanson makes you feel the change in the character by shifting from a slightly jitteryhandheld camera to the stability of tripod and brighter lighting.

  Collette is always good, but Hanson brings out the sense of sadness she naturally projects through her eyes and slack-jawed mouth while still getting her to seem convincingly caught up in the exuberance of love and basketball. This time Hanson does it less with physical changes than with shifts in Collette's diction and length of utterace as she grows more spontaneous. Mark Feuerstein also does well as a lawyer/love interest who goes by some name like “Simon the token Mensch”. (chick flick note, the nice guys in these movies are always marked by the fact that they encourage the female characters to enjoy food) It’s much more textured than Collette’s turn as the depressive hippie mom in About a Boy.  

While Maclaine has played the acerbic grandmother role a bit too often, Hanson keeps her toned down and the Golden Girls section of the movie stops just short of too cutesy, though it crosses the line more than a couple times as it seems he brough in half a dozen Estelle Getty impersonators to do three or four of the scenes.

One misconception about chick flicks is that average guys (I don’t claim to be one) despise them because the ratio of long glances to explosions is intolerably high.  The more usual guy complaint is that they suffer from Stockplot Syndrome.  Stockholm Syndrome was this thing where hostages start identifying with their captors. In Her Shoes honestly does suffer from Stockplot Syndrome in that the best-friend sisters who are outwardly opposites but deeply tied to one another plot generally always has a big “One Way” sign written all over the movie.  They’ll break apart, learn new things about themselves, each other, and their family, then heal while deepening their bond in the process.  Guys like movies where things happen and tend to be more about the destination than the journey.  Chick Flicks are all about the journey.  Hanson possibly wisely doesn't fool with the formula.

The test of any chick flick is whether or not you cry at the big sentimental moments near the end.  For whatever reason, I did in this one.  If you can make it past a fifteen minute intro that works too hard to establish the differences between Diaz and Collette’s characters that might have easily been telegraphed in a single scene with Diaz trying on Collette’s shoes and if you can make it past Dr. Auschlander from St. Elsewhere as a reading teacher who’s literally blind to Diaz’s other charms, In Her Shoes actually does get you to that warm fuzzy place without making you feel like you need an insulin shot.  Please be warned that I also liked Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (can you imagine anyone liking a movie that combined Bend it Like Beckham, Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Kid with Cancer meets Too Cool for her own good Teen plots all into a 2 hour vehicle), but I give In Her Shoes four pairs of Pradas. If your wife/girlfriend insists on picking the movie,  this is one you might even survive.  

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Passing the Buckshot

Some of the right wing bloggers have suggested that the media is making too much of the fact that Dick Cheney shot another man.  I agree. We should remember that this is the same guy who nominated himself for the vice-presidency, assured us that Saddam had ties to Bin Laden, insisted that Iraq had WMD, told us the insurgency was on its last legs, and who five years ago was charged with “fixing” the administration’s energy policy.  In that context, Mr. Shoot First Answer Questions Four Days Later’s most recent adventure does indeed seem very minor.  I haven’t even mentioned that this is the guy who Lewis Libby, currently indicted for obstruction of justice’s, reported to directly.  Really, why sweat the small stuff?  Has anyone noticed that the vice-president appears to be blatantly incompetent?

There are certain things I have noticed over the last couple days.
  1. the vice president actually does have at least one friend with a heart.

  2. No one knows what happened to the Ambassador to Switzerland these last couple days.

  3. I really wouldn’t object if the VP wants to take Justice Scalia hunting again.

  4. That wasn’t much of a spread for a shotgun shell at that distance, he should consider asking the ammo company for his money back.  Just imagine if the VP really had to protect himself from rampaging game birds.  

If nothing else, the events of the last four days once again brings home the power of narrative in shaping public opinion.  You’ve had five years, actually a whole career, of one guy who has established a record of being repeatedly wrong on most everything down to picking a chief of staff, yet it’s been as if the general public was completely unable to notice.  It didn’t matter how many reports there were out there about Halliburton contracts or how obvious it was who must have directed Scooter Libby.
What matters is that there is now this movie in the public’s head of the vice president shooting hundreds of little birds then firing without looking first.  Suddenly, once it gets the movie, the public sees all the other stuff.  If you want to win the war of public opinion, you have to get the sequence right.  

We have mid-term elections coming up.  It isn’t that often that the movies/stories get handed to us.  Is there anyone out there who is going to give America the story it needs to see that this has been a .28 guage administration? ?    

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Schrodinger Presidency

I passed up an invitation to go quail hunting this weekend with Dick Cheney to attend “A Showcase for Intelligent Design” , a conference for right-minded scientists.  I do think the vice-president gets a bad rap from time to time and now that he’s the first vice-president to shoot someone since Aaron Burr, I imagine there will be jokes about the 18 hour delay in reporting the incident and the relationship of that to maybe making sure there was no alcohol in the vice president's system by the time anyone knew about it.  I wish I’d been there to protect the vice-president’s reputation personally and I’m sure that Karl would have made certain that I was issued the necessary body armor to go hunting with the man who is just a heart attack away from making Dennis Hastert second in line to the presidency.

If you read the story, you may wonder why guys this age were wandering around with shotguns, full emergency medical crew at the ready, hunting that most predatory of all game birds, the quail.   My image of men in their seventies used to be a bunch of guys playing shuffleboard and gin rummy in Miami.  This is where my ties to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (VRWC) come in handy yet again.  The Vice President wasn’t really hunting.  Ever the patriot, he was personally field testing combat conditions for a senior branch of the National Guard.  If the US wants to maintain the necessary military presence in the Middle East, it may have to raise the recruitment age limit.  When he was younger, the vice-presisdent lost his chance to serve because he was a serious student and thus was forced to seek deferments.  Since his daughter has already “told” before she was asked, he remains the one member of the Cheney family who might serve the noble cause of protecting us against terrorism by serving in Iraq.  While he didn’t exactly shoot a terrorist in this field exercise, he did manage to hit the next best thing, a lawyer. Talk about sending a clear message about tort reform!  

Just because I missed the excitement of seeing the vice-president shoot someone doesn’t mean that I didn’t have an interesting weekend.  The First Annual Intelligent Designers’ Showcase had plenty of fascinating displays.  While I mostly want to tell you about the particle physics breakout section, I do want to mention the two page pamphlet they were passing out on Intelligent Design itself.  Can you believe that someone was able to fit all of the scientific basis for intelligent design onto  a two page pamphlet in twenty four point type complete with pictures, graphs, and a list of seventy five sponsors?  Second, I attended a seminar called “Global Warming Phooey” sponsored by a dozen of the most prominent energy companies in America.  There was “Why Tobacco does not Cause Cancer”  presented by a group of scientists who had spent their entire lives working for cigarette companies.  Who would know better than these folk?  
There was an excellent ethics debate that compared stem cell research to the experiments at Dachau and environmental protesters to terrorists.  The president often gets criticized for ignoring mainstream science, but here was a conference filled with researchers who had been very generously sponsored and even been given key government scientific posts during the W presidency.

Most exciting of all, it turns out that the president himself is on the cutting edge of particle physics research.  He hinted at it recently when he announced that he had used his “super powers” granted in a hidden clause of the constitution to protect Los Angeles’s “Liberty Towers” from destruction by terrorists just months after 9/11.  As the first president with super powers, he is exceptionally modest about his gifts.  In fact, he took care to not even tell the Mayor of Los Angeles that he had saved his city for him.  Some members of the press have speculated that the president really meant the Library Tower in Los Angeles, thus underscoring  the importance of those library searches in the Patriot Act.  In doing so, they simply missed the fact that the president was making a significant announcement –He was subtly letting us know that he’s now free of the conventional time space continuum.  We never knew about the thwarted attack on Liberty Towers because there no longer ever was a Liberty Towers in Los Angeles.  In fact, Liberty in the Unitied States may soon be just a distant and possibly faulty memory where we will be left to wonder if any of our freedom was ever “threatened”.  

As a fan of Batman Begins, I happen to like the concept of a president with superpowers.  Instead of being infinitely stretchable like Reed Richards or the budget deficit, this president has the ability to hear anything and know immediately whether or not it threatens freedom.  It’s clear to me that no one in Congress, no one on any Federal Court where some of the judges were appointed by Democrats, and no one on that silly FISA court can properly appreciate that level of super powers.  They won’t be able to save Gotham for us until it’s too late.  

Now, I think the thing that prevents the public from grasping  or as my friend Pogblog prefers to say “groking” the notion of the super powers-based presidency are some of these snapshots of another kind of president.  There’s the one who ignored that August 6, 2001 memo, the one who didn’t order Rangers into Tora Bora to capture Bin Laden, the one who read “My Pet Goat” to a group of school children, the president who claimed to know nothing about the dangers Katrina posed to the City of New Orleans.  There’s even the Mission Accomplished president landing on that aircraft carrier to announce the end of the War in Iraq two years ago and that guy who was too chicken to meet with a group of mothers who’d lost their children in the war because they wanted to know “Why their kids died?”.  If the president has had these super powers all along, who was this idiot dude also claiming to be the President?

For those of us with a classical conception of presidential physics, these two presidents can’t be reconciled.  In our limited understanding the only explanation that makes sense is that the guy is some combination of idiot and poseur, sort of like one of those guys who wanders around town in a Tom Brady jersey.  He might be 5’4” tall and 300 pounds, but he wants us to believe for a second that he could win three Super Bowls.  I confess.  Even though I work for the VRWC, even I had strongly considered this possibility.
If you really have super powers, shouldn’t you be able to pronounce words like “Nuclear”?  

The Schrodinger Presidency breakout session was genuinely mind expanding.  Twenty years ago, if you wanted to impress someone with your knowledge of modern physics, you would find a way to make a joke about Schrodinger’s Cat.  The “cat” is Schrodinger’s answer to that peacenik-liberal Albert Einstein and is particle physics' equivalent of whether or not the light bulb in the refrigerator goes off when you close the door.  Schrodinger posited the cat as a creature who would either be dead or perfectly healthy whenever one might be able to look inside the box, but somehow no observer could see the moment when the cat became one or the other.  I had never once imagined that our President was so directly involved in research to strengthen our understanding of our universe.

As one of the breakout session leaders explained, “The President volunteered for this experiment when still a very young man and a pilot in the National Guard.  During his tour, the President’s disappearances were frequently unaccounted for because he was already involved in this sequel to the Philadelphia Experiment.”

Apparently one of the side effects of participating in the experiment was that the president often appeared to be drunk.  A cover story was developed, similar to James Frey’s, that George W. Bush was able to cure his alcoholism without the benefit of a 12 step program.  The truth was that he never needed one.  Think about the president's plans to cure our addiction to oil and how at other times in his administration he has appeared to have absolutely no interest in the issue.  

Since that time, the President has jumped back and forth between states of appearing perfectly competent and essentially clueless.  At times, that adds to the sense that the president is confused and incoherent, something that even occasionally worries his supporters.  The president’s super powers have been a product of the Schrodinger presidency.  While it has been extremely valuable to have a president who is capable of listening to every conversation and monitor every e-mail that presents a danger to freedom, justice, and the American way, it also has significant drawbacks.  One such drawback is that the president reacts strongly to criticism and sometimes confuses honest dissent with treasonous activity. The explanation is simple, it literally hurts the president’s super sensitive eardrums.  Some fear that the experiment will ultimately damage his health.  In the meantime, he needs rest to recover which explains his many extended vacations in Crawford and his refusal to meet anyone but his closest advisors last summer.  In the meantime, advisors have counseled him to repeat key phrases to preserve the illusion of constancy between the two states.  You will thus see both the president with super powers and the other guy both perseveratively use words like “Freedom”, “9/11”, “Proud”, “100 percent”, and “Greatest country/army/people in the world.”

I wish I had the clearance to attend the classified portion of the Schrodinger Presideny session, but all Americans should be proud to have a president so willing to occasionally appear incompetent for the sake of protecting us from terrorists who hate freedom.  Now that he has spent 35 years of his life involved in this cutting edge research, W has a deeper understanding of weapons of mass destruction than anyone else in America including Judith Miller.  If you haven’t guessed by now, it is also the reason he appears to have such difficulty pronouncing “Nuclear”, modesty covers up his intimate knowledge of quantum theory.  It is said that 20th century physics helped to end World War 2.  I suspect the Crawford project, also known as the Schrodinger Presidency, will help end terrorism.  Should anything happen to the president in these experiments, we have the comfort and security of knowing that the vice-president is locked and quite possibly loaded.  

link to an old Texas story about how common these accidents really are as in they aren't


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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Does Terrorism have a Religion of Choice?

Photo is from Reuters. "Am I the only one who sees the irony in this picture of American presidents honoring the legacy of the King family?"

I guess some folk aren’t too happy that the Coretta Scott King funeral turned slightly political.  While the president went there to get some photo ops as a kinder gentler kind of guy who would never purposely leave a Superdome full of black people without food, water, bathrooms, or competent FEMA director, he also caught some not so oblique criticism in the other speeches made there.  It’s interesting that this happened in the week of widespread rioting over the Danish cartoons that depicted Mahomet.  There’s been a lot of talk that the anti-Danish riots in various Moslem countries are further proof that Islam is a religion of violence which segues into all Moslems are really terrorists.  While we seem so obsessed with Moslems being terrorists who “can’t take a joke”, the death of Mrs. King should remind people of a couple not so long ago incidents of American arguably Christian terrorism.  Coretta Scott King and her children were almost killed when someone planted a bomb in her house.  You can tell me that Malcolm X was killed by other Moslems, but somehow I don’t think it was Moslems who tried to kill the King family.  I also point out, that instead of being provoked by a cartoon these particular American terrorists tried to blow up children because their father opposed racial segregation. I also don’t need to remind you how MLK died at age 39.  

One other somewhat haunting fact is that someone in Alabama has been burning down Baptist churches lately.  link to Alabama church burning stories  Unlike the 1960’s run of church bombings, the modern version includes a mix of black and white Baptist churches.  Somehow though, I have the feeling that it’s not Moslems burning down churches in Alabama or shooting up gay bars in Massachussetts.  What a way to honor the memory of both Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King though.  I just point out that America has its own share of home grown non-Moslem terrorists who run from Columbine, through Oklahoma City , to planned parenthood clinics across the country, to Alabama Baptist churches.  When we had our own very political terrorists in the Civil Rights era, I swear that the people hacking up Emmitt Till, killing Civil Rights workers, and blowing up little girls in churches would all have insisted that they were very sincere Christians.  The problem isn’t a particular religion, the problem is “hate” and the way we slyly send messages encouraging people to hate one another over things like religion, race, etc.

In the meantime, other right wing commentators seem to be using the death of Corretta Scott King to remind people that Bobby Kennedy once authorized a wiretap of Martin Luther King himself.  This is remarkable in a couple ways.  One, it’s the first time in my life that I remember conservatives trying to cite anything Bobby Kennedy did as precedent.  Two it reminds you how right wing talking points will say just about anything.  Think about it, so RFK was wrong to wiretap MLK as a possible communist.  I’m a huge RFK fan yet I have no trouble saying that the guy was mortal and thus made some significant mistakes in his public and private life.  If the RFK wiretapping of MLK was wrong, then how does that make warrantless wiretapping  sans FISA (don’t leave your homeland without it) okay.?  Their logic seems to flow like this: RFK was a liberal and RFK wiretapped an American saint so therefore you darned liberals can’t say anything bad about W reading all our e-mails without any restraining authority.  You notice how they never distinguish between wiretapping in general and failing to follow FISA in any significant way wiretapping and having no authority to answer to wiretapping?

I do find this whole Republican listening thing fascinating.  J.Edgar Hoover, who may well have been a southern Democrat back when it was democrats who wouldn’t say much about segregation until LBJ broke ranks and converted all those southern democrats like Strom , Stennis, and Jesse Helms into Republicans, loved to profile people with dossiers and wiretaps in the name of hunting down communists.  Nixon got caught because he recorded all those Oval Office meetings without letting people know they were being taped.  Now W wants to read all our e-mails and listen to our phones to hunt down terrorists.  For a party embraced by so many libertarians, what’s this obsession with invasion of privacy thing?  

Coretta Scott King spent her adult life working for racial equality, the rights of the poor, and human rights in general.  She attended the 2001 inauguration but later appeared to have second thoughts particularly around the War in Iraq which she opposed.  She endorsed the idea of gay marriage.  You honestly think that the bulk of the people who came to honor this woman’s actual life and beliefs are going to have a lot of nice things to say about this administration’s policies.  

One last stray thought, did you see that photo of all the living presidents at the funeral along with their wives.  You notice that since we ended invidious segregation some forty years ago, the White House remains the most segregated public housing in America.  Am I the only one who found the photo a bit ironic?

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