Friday, November 27, 2009

Valention: The Last Emperor

The other night I watched Valentino: The Last Emperor on Netflix and I learned many things. I learned that a Countess may bring her own vodka to an elegant post-couture show party and a major domo may slice open windows in the plastic tents so that the guests at the same party might not sweat. I learned that there's nothing more disgusting than an evening gown that shows a woman's ankles and sometimes, a person might become exactly what he might have once wished most to be. The movie is as much about Valention's longtime life and business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, and their incredible relationship. Early in the film there's a scene backstage at a couture show when an Italian journalist asks Giametti what it is to live one's life in the shadow of a great man. Giametti smiles smoothly, pulls a hand across his perfectly cut blazer, and says (in Italian) "Happiness." With the kids asleep and my husband at a basketball game, the movie was the same for me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Day Before Thanksgiving

If I don't have to travel, I have to admit that I like the day before Thanksgiving more than the holiday itself. That feeling of things folding up, of people gathering in, of the calm before the storm, I just love it. Today we're taking the kids to the Big Apple Circus as a pre-holiday, post-school treat. It should be fun for us all. Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Mommy Hate Thing, Again

When I began reading this post on Jezebel, written in reaction to a piece on Salon about mommy hating (which I have not read) I was ready with a response after the first paragraph. Then I went for a run, came back, and finished the post so as not to work. Having actually read, not skimmed, the whole post, I can say that Sadie makes a good point: "In sum, no one reasonable hates parents. What people don't like is inconsiderate self-absorbed parents who expect the world to be reordered? Of course, what's hard is that defensive, self-righteous and oblivious parents are more than matched by total assholes on the other side of the aisle, who shout their kid-hate from the rooftops."

Since just yesterday I myself was complaining about parents like the ones Sadie describes, I couldn't very well marshal my anecdotal evidence of how this culture hates children in response. I'm sure someone else will, though, if you throw a pebble into the blog-world.

PS. A day later I would like to apologize for all the typos in this post. I don't know what happened to me!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Palin Situation

I have a kind of strange fascination with Andrew Sullivan's deeply held obsession with Sarah Palin. Reading him stew about her, however intermittently (which is how I do it), is like watching one of those single subject documentaries about some kind of isolated savant dedicated to one obscure subject -- like cardamom or the decline of the semi-colon. Anyhow, today on Sullivan I read this quote on Sullivan from Matt Taibi about Palin and how she appeals to people in a very visceral way and it seems spot on if also a cause for despair for our political system.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Good Guide

I just found out about The Good Guide from Very Short List. VSL writes: "Founded by Dara O’Rourke, professor of environmental and labor policy at UC Berkeley, GoodGuide provides detailed yet easy to understand evaluations of the health, environmental and social impact of consumables."

While I'm at it, let me recommend (again) Catalog Choice for reducing the number of catalogs you get in the mail (it works!) and Reusable Bags for your, you know, reusable bag needs.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Top Chef Bad Guy

There's a bad guy on Top Chef. I think his name is Michael. I confuse him with his brother, who's not a bad guy at all. The bad brother wears a backward baseball cap for all his interviews, he has a flat affect and a sneer. Worse than all that, there's nothing compelling about his badness. Last season Stefan was such a prick, but he was animated and in hopeless love with the fantastic and gay Jamie, and he cried. Even Hong the winner from a few seasons ago was full on competitive and arrogant, but he had a very compelling life story and wept about his family and their pride and how far he'd come. The greatest bad guy on Bravo's reality TV roster was, of course, Santino Rice from season 2 of Project Runway. He was funny, he was brilliant, he was full of himself, he was flawed, he was real. This guy on Top Chef has nothing - no sense of humor, no willingness to learn, no backstory, no nothing. He just thinks he's the bomb and even though we all know from high school those guys are insecure (so we were told) it doesn't make a guy like that any more pleasant. Truth be told, he's almost ruined the season for me. I don't like anything that reminds me too much of those guys high school.


Jeffrey Toobin wrote an urgent, rational comment on the Stupak amendment to the health care reform bill for this week's New Yorker. He writes:

"In his (Obama's) book “The Audacity of Hope,” he describes the “undeniably difficult issue of abortion” and ponders “the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion.” Elsewhere, he announces, “Abortion vexes.” The opponents of abortion aren’t vexed—they are mobilized, focussed, and driven to succeed. The Catholic bishops took the lead in pushing for the Stupak amendment, and they squeezed legislators in a way that would do any K Street lobbyist proud. (One never sees that kind of effort on behalf of other aspects of Catholic teaching, like opposition to the death penalty.) Meanwhile, the pro-choice forces temporized. But, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights “center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.” Every diminishment of that right diminishes women. With stakes of such magnitude, it is wise to weigh carefully the difference between compromise and surrender. "

Of course, those who oppose a woman's right to a safe, legal and affordable first trimester abortion aren't interested in her autonomy. They don't care about a woman's life course or her citizenship. The woman who finds herself pregnant with a child she can't have made her bed, she lay down in it, and even though there was a man there, too, now she has to live with her choices. The embryo, however, is a tabula rasa, a precious opportunity not to be squandered whose mother (and father) will nonetheless not be given a reasonable maternity leave and will not have access to consistent government-funded child care or insurance.

But we know all that. The question now is, what do we do? There was a time when I would have answered that question unequivocally. Fight now, fight hard, fight until you win. Maybe with the Republicans tying up health care in the Senate, someone will come up with a reasonable strategy to fight the Stupak amendment. I'm ready to march, but I'm also ready for the public option.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Family Pictures

I don't post a lot of pictures, mostly that's because I'm not the family picture taker and I never upload photos myself. Plus, if I added pictures or grabbed images here, I'd really never ever get anything else done because I'd spend so much time looking for pictures. That said, we had to take a picture of the four of us for a school project that Elliot was doing and I wanted one for Helen's school cubby, too. I like this picture, and I'm way behind in my blogging and reading and writing and working, and so, here it is. David, Helen, Elliot, me. Saturday night.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stranger than Fiction

Why did I just read this piece on Slate about Sarah Palin and her new book? For the same reason that I read the Megan Fox profile in the Sunday Times Magazine? Do I like stories about women making up stories to make themselves matter to people who buy movie tickets or vote? Will this help me make of stories of myself so I can turn myself into a whole other person? Who would I be? Let's see: I would have better skin and a better back. I would still practice yoga and volunteer somewhere at least once a week. I wouldn't be annoyed every time I had to select the state I live in from those drop down boxes on an online form. In fact, I wouldn't even shop online so I wouldn't have to be annoyed by those drop down boxes. I'd also compost and be a member of a community garden and I wouldn't yell at cars when I'm crossing the street with my kids. I guess that's all well and good, but none of it is going to get me votes or sell any movie tickets to movies I'm not in either as myself or someone else. So it goes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Weekend

Friday night I was making a version of the salad I like to call "fun with a mandoline" --this one had celery and apples sliced thin with walnuts and various greens -- when my thumb had a not so fun encounter with the mandoline's blade. Then, in the middle of Friday night, I woke up with a not so fun feeling in my belly which required that I stay awake at night and then sleep the next day. I'm just now recovering, thanks in no small part to a batch of my friend Ceridwen's chicken soup. Right now, the new week is looking mighty good to me. Here's to a good week for everyone!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Trouble for Women

Birth control. Conservative lawmakers don't want it covered by health care legislation and Democrats have to get the deal done. This is outrageous. Read all about it here on Slate's XX.

Sports. Trouble for Boys?

I have a friend who not only ignores sports but actively doesn't like them. She points out that in her midwestern public high school, all the extra money went into sports, leaving almost nothing for music, art, drama, never mind library books. I went to a high school were sports were important, but not THAT important. I don't think I can even remember any one boy who was on the football team. So, I'd listen to her argument and nod and say, "But sports build a sense of teamwork and create opportunities for individual success."

This morning, however, I read this in The Trouble with Boys:

"Today, parents from every economic background urge their daughters to pursue their dreams and obtain the credentials they'll need to ensure lifelong economic independence. (Once a woman enters the workplace, the messages we give her about society's expectations are much more cloudy. But that's another book.)
In contrast, the only unified message that we regularly send to boys has nothing to do with doing well in school or achieving economic independence. The main message we deliver to our young men is that they should do well in sports -- particularly team sports such as football, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse. Schools that barely have enough money for textbooks build stadiums for their (largely male) teams."

Right now, I could eat my words for breakfast.

NOTE: Now that it's after lunch I'd like to clarify that I don't think sports are bad for boys. I think encouraging sports as the primary (and secondary) locus for success in school is not good for boys. Sports are important and can be life-changing, but they're not everything.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Trouble with Boys

I've been reading a book called The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre. A journalist, Tyre gathers data from a range of sources to make the the case that boys of all races and economic backgrounds are not performing well in most schools, which means that most schools are not meeting the needs of boys. I was holding off on blogging about the book until I had actually finished it, but yesterday I read this post on Jezebel which uses as its jumping off point an NPR report "that the US Commission on Civil Rights is investigating whether colleges are violating Title IX by favoring male applicants. But is such favoritism necessary to keep colleges from becoming "overwhelmingly female?""

Before reading The Trouble with Boys I might have wondered all kinds of things about this story. Like, "Oh, here's one more instance where girls have to work harder than boys," or, "Why are they doing that?" or, "WTF?"

Now that I'm two-thirds of the way through the book I know that Kenyon, the college discussed in the post, isn't the only school that quietly makes it easier for boys to get in. Many do. Why? Because boys don't do as well in school and doing anything about the poor performance of boys in school is complicated for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the political hot potato of gender discrimination.

Putting aside the basic question of whether school is easier for girls period or if girls behavior and learning style is better suited to the demands of most public schools as they work to meet the federal regulations imposed by No Child Left Behind (I know it's a lot to put aside), a big problem with feeling like something needs to be done about the low levels of reading and math achievement of a great many boys is while school may be harder for boys, life in the workplace seems easier (anecdotally at least). Not only do more men than women have powerful jobs, men aren't expected to feel conflicted about the demands on their time made by their powerful positions, time they can't spend with their kids.

That said, children, and, it seems, especially boys, need to be better served right now regardless of how the grown-up world works. There's too much that's too obviously wrong about school and what's happening to boys while they're there not to give change a go. Sure in the working world the glass ceiling is firmly in place. The subtle preferences of corporate HR decision makers may be hard to change and golf-course deal-making may be impossible to undo, but so what? Getting preschools to stop with the workbooks, getting recess back into elementary school, not giving up on achievement but saying enough to testing, testing, testing, this can and must be done for boys and girls, because when it comes to school, the world is still half-changed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

All Too Certain

On Socrates, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Glen Beck, Peter Struck (a friend for years) has this to say.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What's Inside You

Because of Dr. Ingall, I sign the line for "anatomical gift" on the back of my driver's license. Marjorie reminds me that I'm woefully overdue to give blood and get cookies. (For a long time I gave blood regularly because my dad taught me to do it. He used to get a lot of free mugs from the Rhode Island Blood Center. Who doesn't need another mug?)

Don't Tell My Kids:

"The bed is an instrument conceived for the nocturnal repose of one or two persons, but no more."

From Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (translated by John Sturrock), via Light Reading.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Want to Make Pie

I don't even like pie that much, but this one, I want to make.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Go Barbara

I don't know if politically speaking it was the "right" thing to do to push a climate change bill through committee without Republicans or Max Baucus (don't get me started on the Senator from Montana), as Barbara Boxer has done. But, it was the right thing to do for the planet. There's no time to waste.

Food Confessions

The other day I got an email from Daily Candy telling me how to make sure my kids eat a healthy well-balanced diet. Have you seen Daily Candy? Its logo of a sticky lollipop is just right. Hawking $75 dresses for 2-year-olds, $200 knit necklaces for grown-ups, the emails serve a very specific purpose in my day (sometimes), but that purpose has nothing to do with health or balance. And yet, there I was reading the same old tips about offering new foods and not being a short order cook in Daily Candy and I was feeling badly once again. Because when it comes to feeding my kids, I've made all the mistakes in the book. When my kids stopped eating their sandwiches on whole wheat bread, I bought white (from Whole Foods! but still). They eat a lot of snacks that aren't carrots. When they ask for mac and cheese night after night, I often give it to them, from the box. (I've made the homemade kind to no great effect.) I make separate food for the grownups. (They're welcome to try it and sometimes do! Elliot especially.) And, yes, I've been known to be a short order cook from time to time.

Truthfully, the thing that gives me hope on the food front is the memory of my SUV-driving brother. He ate nothing -- NOTHING -- until he was maybe 11. Truly, I don't know how he stood on two feet. (He was quite spindly.) Then, he started to eat everything. Everything. Then he started to cook. And by now, the old gas-guzzler has spent the better part of his life on a big food adventure. So I can only hope that slowly but surely, my kids will try new foods. Eventually, I'll make meals the four of us can tuck into. Maybe my kids will try and like asparagus and not demand peas and probably if they do demand peas I'll tell them they'll have to wait until tomorrow. We'll all have learned our lessons by then.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

If Not Her, Who?

I have yet to see By the People, the HBO documentary about the campaign, but thanks to Marjorie Ingall, I saw this clip from it yesterday on Jezebel. My favorite moment in the clip is the look on Michelle Obama's face after she says, "and now we're running for President." It's so perfect, rueful, amused, a little amazed -- life brings you places, right?

After watching the clip a couple of times, I still want to ask this: Was their kitchen in Chicago always that neat or did they just clean up for the film makers? Does Michelle have a junk mail pile? A bill pile? I bet Michelle Obama does not pile, I bet she files, without thinking twice about it. When she feels like she doesn't want to file anymore, she just sighs and finishes the filing, because it has to get done and before she moved to the White House, if she didn't do it, who would?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

There's No Back Burner

So some in the Senate are now saying Climate Change legislation may have to wait? Because things are going so good on the earth and so not so good for the Democrats? I don't think so. There's no time to waste. Barbara Boxer has it right (scroll down for the story): Forget about the Republicans and save the world. Actually.

The Running

This morning I went for a run at 7, which was actually a little late for a before school run. As I was getting ready to leave I said to David, "Ask me how much I want to do this." And he said, "That really isn't relevant."

This is much easier to blog about than how grumpy I am about the New Jersey governor's race, not that I was following it, but I still can't believe Corzine lost. I will not read any post-mortems on what this means for Democrats because I heard Mara Liasson on NPR last night and she said the races are local and not really meaningful for national politics at this point in time. I'm going with what Mara said this time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day

It's a long way from last year but today, New Yorkers have the chance to vote in an historic election of sorts -- the one for which Michael Bloomberg, our lord and mayor, overturned all voter endorsed regulations to buy what he wants, a third term. I plan to vote for the mayor, in spite of the fact that I don't want to. I always vote and he's the better candidate so there it is. On this topic, let me recommend Hendrick Hertzbereg's Talk of the Town on Mayor Mike. After reading I thought, "What he said."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Obama's Marriage

Was I the only who found Jodi Kantor's Sunday Times Magazine cover story on the Obama's marriage a bit of a snooze? I haven't poked around the web for commentary, and there were a few details that were, you know, interesting, but in general, meh. Maybe it was boring because even with rehashing their trouble spots (it was hard when Malia was born and Barack was away!), there was nothing all that surprising in it. Because I think the thing that's amazing about the Obamas as a couple in public life is they just might be exactly what they seem to be--two people who are genuinely interested in each other and committed to each other for the long haul, no matter what that might mean. The article didn't add anything to how I perceive them, it just made me tired of how the Times uses the word "brand" and glad for the family snapshots.