Who I am…
I am a former lawyer, former mother of teenagers, and a quixotic seeker after and champion of factual truth.
I make the best damn brownies you have ever had that are not regulated by the federal government.
I love movies, Broadway, and intelligent conversation.
I think in song lyrics and movie and television quotes.
I believe in the use of proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar even in text messages. I am willing to debate the use of the Oxford comma, if you know what the Oxford comma is. It also makes me very happy if people use the subjunctive mood when appropriate.
I have been told I intimidate people. I am really just a fluffy-centered teddy bear. Really.
- It's all my fault. No, really. The views expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone and in no way whatsoever represent the views of anyone else, including any past, present, or future employer.
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Words to live by ….
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8.
“Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living.” Mary Harris (“Mother Jones”).
“Don’t boo. Vote.” Barack Obama.
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Reinhold Niebuhr.
“No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.” Sir Terry Pratchett.
“Damning facts are still facts.” Steven C. Holtzman.
“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re tested, they’re not values — they’re hobbies.” Jon Stewart.
“Writing is a form of mischief.” Stephen Sondheim.
“An idea is not responsible for the people who believe it.” Don Marquis.
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” Joseph Campbell.
“Truth is our strongest ally, our biggest weapon, and our best defense.” Me.
“Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Stephen Colbert.
“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” Jonathan Larson.
“We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love;
Cannot be killed or swept aside.”
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Emma Goldman.
“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett.
“I believe that the God who made (among other things) light, and space, and number, and time, and the spiral curve of Fibonacci numbers, must be acknowledged to understand more than I do about why there’s pain in the world.” Teresa Neilsen Hayden.
“No, it’s not fair. You’re in the wrong universe for fair.” John Scalzi.
“Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t work, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.” Lawrence O’Donnell
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.” Molly Ivins.
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On Sunday, April 1, NBC showed a live version of Jesus Christ Superstar, I suppose to celebrate Easter. While I have no quibbles with the performance — it was quite good, with Alice Cooper and Sara Bareilles being standouts (for Herod and Mary Magdelene, respectively) — I am puzzled about this choice of entertainment.
Jesus Christ Superstar is not an Easter musical. For one thing, it ends with the crucifixion, and ignores the resurrection, thus leaving the question of Jesus’s divinity open. (According to Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, this was a deliberate choice on the part of him and Tim Rice, the lyricist.) If anything, this is a musical for Good Friday, following as it does the liturgy of the Passion.
The musical is dark and cynical. Jesus, an ineffectual messiah, is overwhelmed not merely by the burden of his impending death but also by the demands made of him by people needing healing. The segment of the last supper which has found its way into Catholic and Anglican liturgy (“this is my body, when you eat it remember me”) comes across less as a profound statement of his status as the Son of God than as as an annoyed rebuke to his empty-headed apostles.
Where are his teachings? Where are his parables? Jesus is not only not divine in this musical, he is only marginally anything other than a cipher.
The apostles are more interested in their public image (“When we retire we can write the gospels/and they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died”) than actually listening to Jesus. Judas, through whose eyes the story is told, is a frustrated revolutionary angry at a man he viewed as a friend but who is not following him down the road of overthrowing Rome. Judas’s betrayal seems inevitable, but his remorse seems unmoving, as though he was more invested in not being blamed than what he actually did.
Judas’s clearly doesn’t believe in Christ’s divinity: in the first song, “Heaven on Their Minds,” he sings of the followers of Jesus looking skyward rather than at Rome. Not all of them, though, an apostle gets up on a table and calls for rebellion against Rome, a call which Jesus repudiates.
I find both Herod and Pilate interesting, but they are villians. The only thing this musical has approaching a fleshed-out and sympathetic character is Mary Magdelene. Of course, Sarah Bareilles is both a wonderful singer, and an adept actress, so that helped.
The final song, “Superstar” puts the cynical exclamation point on the whole enterprise. Not a paeon to Jesus, it is instead a pointed commentary on his life and death. “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ/who are you/what have you sacrificed?” and even more “Jesus Christ, Superstar/Do you think you are what they say you are?” The unspoken question is “And does it matter?”
Don’t get me wrong: I think Superstar the best thing Lloyd Weber has ever done. It is the only musical of his that I like wholeheartedly. I’m just unsure how it was received by people unfamiliar with the show, who have a theology that views Jesus as a “Superstar” instead of a man of the people.
A musical exists which would have been wonderful Easter fare: Godspell. Steven Schwartz’s* musical telling of the Gospel of Matthew covers Jesus’s entire ministry, not merely the last week. No, it doesn’t name its Christ-like figure Jesus, and whether or not it musically covers the resurrection remains an open question, but its songs call people to justice, love and community, not darkness.
I love songs from both these musicals: “Everything’s All Right” and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Superstar, and oh, about six different songs from Godspell are in heavy rotation on my iTunes. Both present profound questions of how we view the Christ.
But I know which one draws people towards God, and it’s not the one they showed on Sunday.
*Best thing that Schwartz has ever done, for that matter, and I include Wicked in there.
At some point in my life, I became a Marvel superhero geek. Not the comics, but the movies. In the last year I have had extensive discussions (with people other than my children) about the Black Panther, and Dr. Strange, and how the events in Captain America: Civil War will lead into what’s going to happen in The Avengers: Infinity War (including who’s likely to die), and why Marvel movies are so much better than DC movies, with the exception of Wonder Woman (short answer: they’re better written), and so on. I have also discussed how relieved I was that Wonder Woman didn’t suck (a very low bar indeed, which it greatly exceeded), and that Black Panther was as exceptional as it was, and that the person who did the visual design for Black Panther needs to win an Oscar. (I also discussed who was hotter, Chadwick Boseman or Michael B. Jordan, although really the answer is Danai Gurira Okoye.)
I even saw several of the movies before my kids did — Captain America: Civil War, Dr. Strange, and Spiderman: Homecoming, for example. I would say that I felt not the least bit smug about this, but I’d be lying. For once, not spoiling movies became kind of difficult. I usually see Disney movies before they do, but they generally don’t care.
So, just a few observations:
The Black Panther is as phenomenal as it is not because it is a great superhero movie, but because it is a great movie, period. You can watch it having not seen any other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie, and be totally engrossed. In fact, you’re better off if you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War, because it contains the one major logical and chronological inconsistency that I have seen in the movies.
Possibly the best thing about Black Panther is the amazing women of Wakanda. Forget settling for passing the Bechdel test, they steal every scene they’re in. Given that the male leads are Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, that’s pretty impressive.
As much as I love Black Panther, and I do, my favorite of the MCU movies has to be Dr. Strange, for three reasons: 1) Benedict Cumberbatch; 2) street origami! and 3) one of the major heroic characters is … the librarian. I feel I should be more troubled about the whitewashing of the source material, though. There are a large number of Asian actors who could play The Ancient One — they didn’t need to hire Tilda Swinton. The director’s argument that there was a lot of Asian stereotyping in the comics (which was what they were trying to avoid by casting Swinton) rings hollow — is he saying they could not have rewritten the part so it wasn’t objectionable?
Having just rewatched Iron Man 2 and Captain America: Civil War, I remembered exactly why I started watching the movies in the first place. I was talked into going to see the first Iron Man movie because I love Robert Downey, Jr. What I love about him is simple: he is a very attractive man who nonetheless does not try to appear younger than he is. Downey is proof that people can still stay sexy after they pass their 30th birthday. After that, I was hooked.
Having suffered through three different Spidermen (Andrew Garfield, Tobey McGuire, and the guy who played him in the television show in the 70s), I am both relieved and happy that somebody finally got it right. Tom Holland looks like a teenager, and moves like one, and swings through the air with grace and power. Of course, I am sure that Holland was one of the leads in the West End production of Billy Elliot doesn’t hurt.
Speaking of that, Holland falls into the “actors we never realized were British (or Welsh, or Aussie) until we saw them at the Oscars” category.
Speaking of the Oscars, or awards in general, at the Independent Spirit awards I heard actress make a cutting comment about “action movies starring guys named Chris.” Which I guess covers Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth, (Thor), Chris Pratt (Star Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy) and Chris Pine (James T. Kirk). If you stretched your definitions, that would also include Christian Bale (Batman). The next MCU movies has three Chrises in it: Evans, Pine, and Pratt. I am looking forward to it, nonetheless.
Only six weeks to go.
Mental institutions were, in some cases, horrible places. And if Trump had his way, you could “nab people like [the shooter] because… they knew something was off.”
People would be tossed in a mental hospital if others thought “something was off.” This loose standard has been used in American history to institutionalize not only the severely mentally ill but also troublemakers, many times being women.
I’m lucky, I have family who would not ever place me in such an institution. But what about others? How would they cope?
How would the asylums be administered? Would they be another get-rich scheme abetted by the government, like the prison industrial complex? Would there be financial incentives for holding on to patients? Would the asylums be like nursing homes, with the same possibility for abuse that so often escapes accountability?
I know I am in no danger of being carted away, but the increasing stigma in society as demonstrated by attitudes following various shootings (including by the administration) makes keeping to my commitment to living as an “out” mentally ill person harder.
That this suggestion comes from an administration which made it easier for the severely mentally ill to get guns and which has shown no commitment to adequately fund care for the mental illness and substance abuse is the rankest hypocrisy. Of course, Trump is not suggesting reopening mental institutions from any actual concern for the mentally ill — that’s not part of the equation here. No, this suggestion comes from the mistaken and bigoted belief that the mentally ill are violent and a danger to the rest of society. It doesn’t matter that most of the mentally ill are not violent and that mentally ill persons are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Some shooters are mentally ill, so let’s lock all of them up.
Because an individual commits an act of violence does not by itself mean that they are mentally ill. But while most of the mass killers may or may not be mentally ill, they are undeniably pretty much all male, and white, and young. Maybe we should just lock up all young white men.
That would make about as much sense.
If you have seen the movie The Monuments Men (which I loved, although the critics didn’t), you know that the Nazis seized the Ghent altarpiece from St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. The movie showed this as evidence of the evil rapaciousness of the Nazis as they mowed their way across Europe.
What the movie doesn’t tell you, although the book upon which it is based briefly does, is that at the time of the First World War, several of the panels from the wings were owned by the German state. In the 19th century, the cathedral had pawned the panels, which after a couple of owners had been bought by the King of Prussia.
During World War I, the Germans seized other panels, but not the entire work. At the end of the war, the Germans were forced to turn over all the panels they had, including panels that they had rightfully owned prior to 1918 to Belgium as war reparations. This act of (arguably) cultural looting by the Allies was part of the driving impetus behind Hitler’s coveting of the work.
I am not trying to exonerate the Nazis for their looting of Europe. But history is strange, and the Treaty of Versailles really was a cruel and unforgiving document.
And it is useful to remember that the sins you commit can come back to you, either as an individual, a nation, or a group of nations.
I had thought of writing a post condemning Mike Pence’s appallingly boorish behavior at the opening ceremonies but decided I didn’t want to waste that many words on him. Suffice it to say that he insulted our allies, embarrassed our country, and showed a lack of appropriate decorum and understanding of the international norms of proper behavior in such situations.
True confession: I love curling. I love curling so much that I felt motivated to look up and see if there was anywhere around me that gave curling lessons. I mean, this area produces loads of figure skaters and it has a hockey team, so ice sports come naturally, right? Alas, the only curling club I could locate is in Oakland, which is too far.
I should be in bed, but as I write this I am sitting up watching the men’s gold-medal curling match between the US and Sweden. I’m yawning so hard I’m leaking tears, but I can’t seem to tear myself away.
I try not to use terms like “crazy” or “insane” casually. They are too loaded. But damn if the big-air snowboarders don’t make that hard. I watch them fly off the end of what looks just like a ski-jumping hill and twist and turn and corkscrew, and the only thing I can think is “Jesus, that looks just insane.”
Dave Geherty, a golf commentator which for some reason was in studio to give his views, gave his explanation of how ski-jumping started. According to Geherty, it had to have involved someone saying “Here, hold my beer.” This accords with what I’ve always thought.
I have a hierarchy of who I root for:
The host country, usually.(Not the Russians in 2014, though, and possibly not the Chinese in 2022.)
The Canadians, except in ice hockey.
Athletes from countries that aren’t Winter Olympic powerhouses, like women bobsledders from Nigeria and Jamaica and figure skaters from Kazakhstan.
Athletes whose medals will be significant for their countries: I was delighted at Javier Fernandez’s bronze, the first-ever figure skating medal for Spain.
Athletes from countries that are dear to my heart: the Spanish, the Kiwis, the Brits, and the Dutch. I root against the Dutch in speed-skating, though, because no country should have that much of a dominance in a discipline. (We’ll not talk about the US and snowboarding.)
Biggest disappointment of the games: the revelations about Shaun White’s history of sexual harassment. It always hurts when someone you thought of as one of the good guys proves not to be so.
Biggest delight of the games: a three-way tie between Adam Rippon’s performance in the team figure skating event, the US women’s hockey gold, and Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall’s gold medal in the cross-country sprint relay. It was the first gold medal ever for the US in cross-country skiing. It was also the most exciting finish to any event I’ve watched this Olympics.
Favorite US athlete: that’s hard, but it’s probably Adam Rippon. Or else Erin Jackson, the speed skater who started on ice in 2016. (She had been an inline skater, but still… to go on ice skates for the first time in October 2016 and be skating in the Olympics 18 months later is impressive.)
Favorite non-US athlete: Hannah Ledecka, the Czech snowboarder who also won the women’s Super G. Her look when she saw she had won by .01 of a second was priceless. Or perhaps the aforementioned Nigerian bobsled team, who didn’t medal but who did perform respectably.
Favorite event I only heard of in the past two weeks: team relay luge. Of all the sports that you have relays in, luge strikes me as making the least sense. Therefore, I find it fascinating.
One of the things I love is the sound of the Olympics: the swish of skates on ice, the rattle of bobsleds hurtling down the run, the clash of hockey sticks, the broad Midwestern accents of the men’s curling team.
Ah, well. Another 48 hours, and I’ll have to wait four more years to get such a concentrated dose of very athletic people spinning on the ice or flipping through the air.
I can hardly wait for Beijing, 2022.
I have a whole lot of thoughts about the Olympics (among them, if ski jumping is amazing, which it is, then snowboard big air (which is ski jumping with a snowboard where you turn corkscrews in the air while you drop) is unbelievable) but that can wait for another post. Instead I want to talk about one of the major cultural touchstones of the 20th century: Woodstock.
I was only eight at the time of Woodstock; not being in a hippie family with a bus but instead a somewhat conservative Roman Catholic family in Florida, there would have been no way I would have gone. I strongly suspect that my older brother would have wanted to go, had he the means, but he didn’t. My exposure to the festival came from the documentary, as I supposed most people’s did. TCM showed the documentary as part of their “31 Days of Oscar” programming so I took the opportunity to DVR it.
The first time I watched it recently, I watched solely for the music. One of the numbers, Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice,” is on my “Music that’s not better than sex but comes really close” list. It showcases, among other things, The. Best. Drum. Solo. In. The. Entire. History. Of. Rock. And. Roll by Michael Shrieve. (Railfan’s opinion when he watched it with me recently was a simple “Damn.”)
The most recent time I watched it I paid attention to what I think of as the “sociological” content, perhaps because I was watching with Railfan, who had never seen it. Perhaps because I am older, and allegedly more responsible, I came away with a much different impression than before.
Firstly, the guys who put this on were idiots. While estimates of crowd size varied throughout the documentary, it is clear that the facilities they had planned were insufficient even for the 200,000 that they said they expected, and given that they got at least twice that many, the conditions were ripe for a major disaster (even more than they got). Too little food, water, and toilets could have resulted in rioting. I wonder how many people went home bringing disease with them — and I don’t mean STDs.
The pictures of young people standing barefoot in mud makes me feel itchy, and I’m not even a neat freak. I don’t want to think what people did when they couldn’t get to port-o-potties. And the impact on that lake, yuk.
Even security was terrible. A random guy ran up on stage during Canned Heat’s set, and the band just let him be. During the thunderstorm, the announcer implored people to get off the speaker towers. But, really, why had they been allowed to get up on there to begin with?
I understand that Woodstock was pretty much the first of its kind, but I still think they could have seen that the crowds would be unreal. (Given that lineup? Wow. Even given that some of the acts were not well known at that time — it was only the second time Crosby, Stills, and Nash had performed in public — just the sheer number of acts would be an attraction.) I entirely sympathize with the young woman who freaked out because “there is just too many people” and she, like everyone else, was simply stuck.
Secondly, if I had been one of Max Yasgur’s neighbors, I would have been on the phone to my lawyer the day after the festival ended. These people suffered actual economic damage, as can be seen by the interview with the man working on his car. In a rural farming community, such losses could have a significant impact on farmers’ financial well-being.
Thirdly, everyone talks about how great the kids were, but what about the adults? With the exception of one man who was appalled by the whole thing (and I think he may have had a point), the adults spoke of how well the kids behaved, and, for example, brought them food when they heard they the kids had none. Even the angry farmer, when three young women came up to see if they could use the farmer, did not react with anger towards them. His wife explained, in a very upset tone, that they hadn’t had phone service for a day, but neither of them told the young women to get the hell off their lawn.
Finally, I was struck by how white the festival was. Yes, they showed the occasional person with black or brown skin, but taking out the performers, the festival was really about young white people (presumably mostly middle class or better).
Woodstock could never happen again; we’re too jaded, too divided. Still, it was pretty amazing it happened once. I’m glad it did.