Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hasn't She Heard of Cloth Napkins?

Apparently Sheryl Crow hasn't heard of cloth napkins and has come up with the idea that we should use removable sleeves to wipe our mouths after dinner.

But where are kids going to hide the vegetables they don't want to eat?

Back when I was trying hard to be the "good mom," we ate at the table and used cloth napkins (with napkin rings!). Depending on how messy dinner was, we could reuse the napkins several times. Okay--they were dark colors so the stains didn't show. But still...

Ms. Crow's Bright Idea is right up there with another one I heard this summer. At one of the Girl Scout camps, the counselors came up with a great idea to conserve paper towels: they taught the girls to "air-dry" their hands after washing them.

When I heard that, I burst out laughing. "You had to teach them that? They didn't know how to dry their hands on their jeans?"

Fortunately, I was not alone in thinking that this was weird.

I guess some people have just led sheltered lives...

Book Review: The Wizard of Oz

When the Planning Committee decided that The Wizard of Oz was going to be the theme for our Girl Scout Association's Winter Camporee next year, I decided that someone on the planning team had better read the book because there was more to Oz than Kansas, the Emerald City, and Judy Garland.

So I bought one of the "literature" versions (i.e., inexpensive paperback) available at Barnes & Noble. It has a longish introduction about the Importance of This Book in Literature and footnotes. Footnotes? On Oz?

Apparently you can write a dissertation on just about anything... But I digress.

I'd forgotten that Dorothy's slippers were originally Silver Shoes. And the Wicked Witch of the West controlled the Winged Monkeys by wearing a Golden Cap and chanting the charm inscribed inside. And that Glinda the Good is a redhead.

Hmmm... I see a job for DD#1.

The Wizard of Oz was written by L. Frank Baum as the first fairy tale for American children. They would know about Kansas and the prairie and cyclones, as well as Scarecrows.

The book starts out with a description of Kansas--gray and flat. The sun has blistered the paint from the walls of the farmhouse and bleached and burned the grass. Even Aunt Em has turned gray. Dorothy is definitely not gray, due primarily to Toto, whose antics keep her laughing.

Although Dorothy's exact age is not mentioned in the text, from the pictures by W.W. Denslow and from Mr. Baum's comments, she is about five or six--still at an age where it's possible to believe--truly believe--in witches and wizards and fantastical worlds. As an only child, Dorothy is resourceful. After she has landed in Oz and finds out about the Wizard, she decides to go see him. But first she changes into a clean dress, puts on her sunbonnet, and packs food in a basket for herself and Toto. She follows the yellow brick road and comes across the Scarecrow, who was quite literally born yesterday. They discover the Tin Woodsman, who was originally a flesh-and-blood human man, in love with a real girl. He becomes tin piece-by-piece, due to the evil witch. And, of course, there is the Cowardly Lion.

Most of the chapters are short and the vocabulary simple, making this a good book for reading aloud or for a beginning reader. (There's a great story in Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages where her youngest daughter, Sally, discovers she can really read the Wizard of Oz.) In fact, The Wizard of Oz might also be a good book for older children who have difficulty reading, especially if they have some familiarity with the story.

However, there are notable differences between the book version and the movie. The movie has, for most of us, become the version from Ruby Slippers to "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

Besides there being a few more countries, Dorothy's journey is real in the book, not the by-product of a bump on the head. The Wicked Witch, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wizard have no real life counterparts. The Good Witch of the North, a friend of the Munchkins, tells Dorothy the reason there are no witches in Kansas is because Kansas is "civilized country." And is there a child who hasn't looked at a china shepherdess or milkmaid and wondered what it would be like if the figurine were real? (Although that might have been more likely when Dresden figurines were more popular.)

Mr. Baum wrote 13 more books in the series and it was continued on after his death. I haven't read any of them, so I can't comment on the quality of those or if the internal logic of Oz remains consistent.

I read Wicked a couple of years ago and I was not particularly impressed. I might change my opinion after reading The Wizard of Oz--I didn't find anything particularly consistent between the two versions of Oz, other than the Wizard, Emerald City, and Glinda's name.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Weekend Update

So last Friday I took four girls from my troop and one of my assistant leaders to Camporee in the charming town of Woodside. This particular Camporee is a competitive one, testing the girls' knowledge of basic outdoor skills.

Our first challenge was packing everything in one car while still allowing me to drive and the passengers to wear their seat belts.

The second challenge was to get the tent up before dark.

The site was beautiful. We could see part of the Bay and wooded hills surrounded us. We were up on a slight knoll which meant we were totally exposed to the brisk spring wind that came up around 10:00 p.m.

It was a cold night.

The next morning was also cold. But at least it wasn't raining. We met for opening flag, flown at half-mast in honor of the victims at Virginia Tech. And then, because the next day was Earth Day, one of the AICs (Adults In Charge) spoke about recycling and how we should all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint.

My response was to mutter, sotto voce, "I pledge not to take my private jet to any conferences on Global Warming."

Apparently my voce wasn't quite sotto enough as the gentleman next to me snickered.

The events started. The girls first event was the pancake flip flop. They had to light charcoal, using a trench candle and a chimney, mix the batter, cook the pancakes over the charcoal, flip the cooked pancake over a string 6' in the air, catch it, and add it to the plate. They could not touch the pancake with their hands.

All the Assistant Leader and I could do was cheer.

This was not their best event. Turned out not to be their worst, either, but we didn't know that until Sunday. Note to self: remind DD#2 that coals give off heat without flame.

Orienteering was their Waterloo. Turns out DD#2 can't read a map with a compass. Youngest team member thought they were going the wrong way, but didn't say anything. What should have taken 30 minutes took 60 and we had just sent out someone to look for them when they returned.

They griped about the other events, but were fairly satisfied with how they did. They were in the top four for Girl Scout Facts and were in the "Jeopardy Round." I was rather impressed with what they knew--I didn't think they'd been paying attention at meetings when I'd blather on about Girl Scout history.

The real challenge, though, came Saturday night. The rain started about 3:00 p.m. and became heavier and heavier. And it was still cold. We were in one of the few sites that was completely in the open--there was no way to rig any kind of tarp over the tables. Thank goodness, dinner was simple, so they cooked under umbrellas and tried to keep from tracking mud into the tent.

And then Assistant Leader had a bronchial attack.

Her daughter called me in. I tried the tricks I knew from growing up with asthmatics. I stayed calm. I shooed the girls out of the tent. When it became apparent that this attack was not going away, I sent two girls to get the official First Aider who took Assistant Leader to the hospital. Turns out she was really sick and she ended up going home.

We ate dinner in the tent and I decided that we were going to deal with the dishes in the morning when, hopefully, it would not be raining. We left the dishes and pots out in a zippered "porch" area, along with our shoes (we were still trying to keep the mud to a minimum).

Sometime around 0-dark-thirty, I was asleep and warm for the first time in about 24-hours (my fingers and toes had finally thawed), the girls woke me up to point out that the tent wall that had been 6' away was now considerably closer. The wind had battered the front of the tent so badly that the stakes had been pulled out. Our shoes were in a damp pile hidden in a mass of netting that had been the "porch." The Assistant Leader's daughter came outside with me and she held the flashlight as I re-staked the tent and straightened the poles. Fortunately, nothing had broken or been bent.

However, now awake, we stayed that way, listening to the wind and wondering if the tent was going to collapse on top of us.

Before we had gone to bed the first time, I had told the girls that, upon awakening, they were to "pee and pack" their personal gear. We would load their clothes and sleeping bags into the van to keep it dry and then deal with the rest of the wet gear.

They giggled. I think we have a new shorthand phrase in our troop because, come the morning, they went to the bathroom, then came back and packed their stuff immediately.

Other troops were not quite so fortunate. One troop had a tent collapse completely AND the tent for their female leader had been flooded. They ended up sleeping in their van.

At the Awards ceremony, the girls were quite surprised to find out they took First in Girl Scout Facts. But that was not their only ribbon: they were Fifth in the dreaded Pancake Flip Flop, First Aid (which they had guessed their way through), and Knot Tying. They were Fourth in Tent Pitching (a timed event which includes stringing a tarp between two trees and using the proper knots to secure the corners of the tarp to the stakes).

Then they said the words I love to hear: "Next year..."

More Prayers Needed...

...for Ann's sister who went to the doctor to be treated for the flu and discovered she had pancreatic cancer that's metastasized to her liver. She has decided that she's not going to let this news stop her from living her life her way.

...for Arnold who is leaving for a six-week military commitment. All he can tell us is that he's not going to Iraq. (It seems there are other dangerous areas of the world requiring the presence of the U.S. military.) We pray that he will return home safe and sound.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Please Pray for...

...the repose of the soul of the husband of a co-worker and for his family. I've worked with the wife for many years, both as a customer and now as a co-worker. They have one grandchild who is the apple of their eye--instead of a "brag book," grandma has pictures on her laptop! The husband had beaten cancer once, only to have a recurrence that, ultimately, proved overwhelming.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When Bullets Fly

Why didn't the students at Virginia Tech rush Cho when he started firing? Why were so many of them so passive?

I've been reading that question on several of the conservative blogs I follow. And many are blaming our culture and "government schools" for making those who fight back in self-defense as guilty as the instigator.

My family is painfully familiar with phenomenon, which is not limited to public schools. In fact, I've told my children as they've grown up that "he who throws the second punch gets caught."

101 California Street is not too far from where I work. In July of 1993, 55-y.o. businessman burst into a law firm on the 34th floor of that building and killed eight people and himself. Six others were injured. Along with earthquake safety and fire drills, we now have instruction on what to do when someone comes in and threatens your office.

The accepted wisdom is to lie low and lie still so you are out of sight of the shooter. Shooters seem to have tunnel vision, shooting what is directly in front of them or what "catches their eye" in their peripheral vision. Taking cover takes you out of the scene.

Or so the theory goes.

Are school shooters, who tend to be teens or young adults, have a different mode than adult shooters? We know that adolescent/young adult brains are not completely myelinated--could that cause differences in how shooters choose their targets? Office furniture is more solid appearing than school desks and would hide a person more completely. Or does hiding only work if the shooter doesn't realize you're there in the first place?

Maybe we do need to teach our children when fighting is an appropriate response. Perhaps bullying is on the increase because our children have been encouraged to "tell an adult" and let the adult handle it rather than take care of the situation themselves. Beating up (either physically or verbally or strategically) a bully empowers a child. They realize they can handle the situation. Telling an adult keeps them children. And makes the adult authority figure the referee, responsible for righting all wrongs in the world. (You can't do it--I've tried.)

What would I do? Probably duck and cover. If children were involved, I think--I hope!--I would attempt to protect them. No matter how old the children are.

Meanwhile, I think I need to have a discussion with my children about what to do when crazy people attack.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Booked by 3 Meme

Julie D., over at Happy Catholic, tagged me with this because she knows I'm a biblioholic! But... just 3???

Name up to three characters . . .

1) . . . you wish were real so you could meet them.

  1. The Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)
  2. Peter Pan (Peter & Wendy, J.M. Barrie)
  3. Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen)
2) . . . you would like to be.
  1. Tuesday Next (The Eyre Affair and others, Jasper Fforde)
  2. Morgaine (Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley)
  3. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling)

3) . . . who scare you.
  1. The Vampire in 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King
  2. Norman Bates (Psycho, Robert Bloch)
  3. Sauron (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien)
I am tagging:

Deb at ukok's place (who complains she never has time to read anymore!)
Karen at The View From My Chair (who also complains she doesn't read much anymore)
TBG at Listen to Uncle Jay (he must have read something while sitting on the plane!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Boys, Guns, and the Stress of School

One of my favorite toys growing up was a Dick Tracy (tm) cap gun. It was bigger than a derringer but smaller than a Wild West "six-gun." It fit neatly into the pocket of my jacket or my pants, which was quite handy when I was running around the neighborhood with the rest of the kids, robbing banks or catching bad guys. Or playing Army in the jungles of our backyards.

Of course, that was before the enlightenment of 1970's child-rearing, where "experts" declared that children should not be raised with "war toys". War toys taught impressionable youngsters that violence was the only way to solve problems.

My parents, by then veterans of raising both boys and girls, merely commented that boys would then use their thumbs and first fingers to make guns and shoot people.

But, when DS#1 was born, Hubs and I tried to "do the right thing," so war toys were not encouraged.

Did I mention that Hubs was a fan of Hopalong Cassidy and had a complete Western set, including two cap guns, complete with holsters? Didn't think so.

What we discovered was... my parents were right. DS#1 made "guns" using his thumb and first finger. Or with Legos. Or by eating a right-angle into a piece of toast. By the time he was old enough for Cub Scout Day Camp, he had a set of cap guns. At Day Camp, he learned to shoot a BB gun.

So did DD#1 and DS#2 (DD#2 wasn't interested at the time).

They all discovered they were pretty decent shots, just like Dear Old Dad.

Both boys have their Rifle Merit Badge.

DS#2 loves to go "paintballing" with his buddies. This weekend he went with a group of friends and came back boasting he doubled his "kill rate" and that one guy he managed to hit was a ranked player.

He is also one of the most mellow, laid-back kids I know.

I mentioned this on our commute to school this morning--despite a long campaign against toy gun violence, it seems that there is actually more real gun violence than when I was growing up and I wondered if there was a connection.

DS#2 mentioned he had read that school has become increasingly stressful for most teens. You have to do well in school in order to have a chance at a good job. The cost of failure is too high. Boys, especially, seem to feel the competitive pressure and need a form of release--be it Scouts (his words, I swear!) or sports or paintball.

I think he's on to something. I think that boys, especially, need some kind of physical release: running, jumping, shouting. Or, conversely, being still and quiet when they need to. A friend of mine always kept a woodpile and would send her teen sons out to chop wood when she felt they need to blow off some energy. Midnight basketball was a similar, physical outlet in the flats of Berkeley and Richmond. Gave the young men something to do that burned off some of their energy.

This could also explain why males--at least, most of the ones I know--can't sit still while playing a video game or while watching a sporting event. They're up, down, shouting, gesticulating. Their entire body is involved.

Would the number of mass shootings decrease if we encouraged more males to take up shooting sports, paintballing, fencing, martial arts?

I don't know. But it seems like outlawing toys isn't the answer, either.

See also: The Anchoress, La Shawn Barber's Corner

Please Pray for...

...the health of The Anchoress. She's been laid low by a chronic illness--so low that she is unable to blog. Which means, she must be in a bad way.

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them, O Lord...

...and perpetual Light shine upon them.

May they rest in peace.


Please remember the victims, their families, the students and faculty, and even the murderer and his family in your prayers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Movie Review: 300


Just. Wow.

300 is based on a graphic novel, written by Frank Miller, who also wrote Skin City. 300 is a highly stylized account of the Battle of Thermopylae between the Greeks and the Persians in 480 B.C. The 300 Spartans and about 700 Thespians (remember Greece was a collection of independent city-states), led by King Leonidas of Sparta, hold back the Army of Xerxes I of Persia for three days. They were betrayed by a local resident who showed the Persians a back trail, allowing the Persian Army to surround Leonidas and the his men, but not before suffering huge losses.

The first part of the movie sets up the conflict. We learn how Spartan warriors are trained for combat from infancy. We learn of the test Leonidas had to pass as a teen before he could become king. We next see him training his own son, telling the boy that a warrior must use his head as well as his brain.

Xerxes, who has conquered most of Asia and considers himself a god, sends a messenger to Sparta. The messenger brings a string of skulls wearing crowns--the heads of the kings who have opposed Xerxes.

The Spartans are not impressed. Leonidas is not intimidated. There will be no negotiation, no surrender. If Xerxes wants to conquer Greece, he'll have to come through Sparta.

There is treachery afoot, however, as not everyone agrees that fighting the entire Persian Army is the best thing to do. Leonidas knows his army will be outnumbered, so he uses the geography of Greece as well as the skill of his warriors. He is not allowed to take the entire Spartan Army, but only 300 volunteers--men who already have sons to carry on their family line--to the mountain pass. Leonidas bids his wife good-bye, who gives him the classic line, "Spartan! Return with your shield or on it!"

(Afterwards I told Hubs, who was a Marine, I knew where the Corps got its start.)

The Spartans meet up with the Acadians, who also have come to fight the Persians. There are more of them, but they are citizen-soldiers: potters, blacksmiths, poets. Leonidas knows that his Spartans are trained not just to fight, but to fight as a unit, protecting their comrades as well as themselves.

The battle begins and the Spartans and Acadians make a valiant stand. The filming of the slaughter is almost poetic, in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon kind of way. This type of war, this type of fighting is personal, face to face, man to man for the most part.

But the Spartans and the Acadians know what they are fighting as and what they are fighting for. They are fighting as free men and they are fighting to keep their sons, their daughters, their wives, their elders free as well. (No mention is made that the Spartans themselves enslaved those they defeated in battle.) They fight with real weapons against myth and trickery. They are fighting for their civilization against those who are forced to fight by the lash.

Back at home, there is treachery and treason afoot that the queen must deal with.

There is some controversy about this movie. The Iranians don't like it (which, frankly, made that a recommendation to go see it), claiming the movie distorts their history and their culture. I'm sure it does--it distorts the Spartan culture as well. (Somehow, I don't think their women were quite as outspoken as the queen was.) There is much talk about freedom and the price of freedom. There is glorification of the warrior culture. (I've got to admit there is something sexy about men who go out and do their duty without question or hesitation, knowing they will die. The six-pack abs, the "Speedos", and the swirling crimson capes didn't hurt either. I wonder if there's something hardwired into the female brain that makes us respond viscerally to a man in uniform. Any uniform!) You can see this movie as a wake-up call to Western Civilization that we face annihilation from a madman from the East and we'd better make a stand. Or you can see the U.S. as Persia, unable to defeat a band of dedicated partisans despite superior numbers of men and materiel.

Or you can sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

My kids have all seen it, even DD#2. They've all enjoyed it and thought it was a great movie. The movie's origins as a graphic novel are especially pronounced at the beginning. And the CGIs are awesome. The actors are excellent. There is some nudity and much violence, most of it stylized.

Unfortunately, it seems that the only way our children are going to hear about any of the history of the beginnings of Western Civilization is through movies like this one and like last year's Troy. (300 is much better, by the way.) Stories like these transmit not only history but values, the values that this country was based on. ("Give me liberty or give me death!") What stories are we telling our children that illustrate our values? What are our culture's common myths?

We used to have them. I'm not so sure we do anymore.

I worry about the holes in the education of my children and whether it's too late to fill them. And how can I fill them. What stories have I neglected to tell them that they will need as adults?

Scary thoughts to have after watching what's supposed to be a "popcorn movie!"

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets. 4.5 if you can appreciate the stylized violence.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Book Review: E.E. Cummings: a poet's life


E.E. Cummings

I discovered the poetry of e.e. cummings (as I saw it published then) when I was in high school. His whimsy of thought appealed to me, as did his use of the white space of the page. Many of his poems look the way they sound.

But I hadn't thought of his poems in years until I saw this book, by Catherine Reef, in the library. Ms. Reef writes primarily for young people, so her style is rather simple and straightforward. This is not a bad way to be introduced to a poet I knew little about.

Cummings was born in Cambridge, MA, in 1894. He grew up there and went to Harvard. He received a classical education in liberal arts and he knew how to write poetry in the traditional forms.

This is important. E.E. Cummings chose to break the rules for a specific purpose. (Unlike some of today's poets and writers who I suspect break the rules because they don't know any better.) And he wrote and rewrote his poems until they were exactly what he wanted.

In addition, Cummings was a painter. In fact, early in his career he made more money from his paintings than he did from his poetry.

He volunteered as an ambulance driver in France during WWII and was, in many ways, one of the Lost Generation of the 1920's. (The Lost Generation are the grandparents of us Baby Boomers--and I think we have a lot in common with them. But that's a subject for another post.) He lived in Europe, an allowance from his parents supplementing his meager earnings. He fell in love with his best friend's wife, who didn't seem to mind all that much. She bore Cummings' child. Later she divorced her first husband and married Cummings only to divorce him 9 months later. He was devastated, especially since she took complete custody of their daughter (who grew up believing her mother's first husband was her father). He married a second time; that also ended in divorce. He never officially married his third "wife," and their living arrangements were rather odd, to say the least.

Ms. Reef notes that Cummings preferred his name be capitalized correctly--even if his poetry wasn't.

The poems printed in this biography are used to illustrate what Cummings tried to accomplish with his poetry: either a comment on the state of the world or a way to make the poem visually reflect the action or thought described. Cummings did not receive recognition for his poetry until close to the end of his life (he died in 1962). He believed a poet should embrace Life and so all experiences--pain, sorrow, joy, hope--were important.

I was very happy that Ms. Reef, probably mindful of her audience, did not indulge in psycho-sexual deconstruction of Cummings poetry, his relationship with women or his father or his friends, but just presented the facts of Cummings' life. As much as possible, she quoted Cummings own words.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Movie Review: Walk the Line

I'm not particularly a fan of country music, so I didn't know much about Johnny Cash before watching this movie. I knew he had problems with drugs and alcohol. I knew he sang Folsom Prison Blues. I knew he hung out with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings as part of a group called The Highwaymen and they all wore black. And I knew he was married to June Carter, whose family played a pretty important part in preserving folk songs from Appalachia.

So I was interested in learning more about Johnny Cash and where his music came from.

I was not disappointed.

Like Jamie Lee Foxx in Ray, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon channel Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. The fact that they actually sang the songs and played guitar and autoharp made the difference--much of what Johnny and June were about was the music and if you don't sing it or play it, you can't feel it.

The movie is mostly about Johnny Cash--how his father's drinking affected the family, how he learned to sing from his mother's hymnal of gospel songs, how his brother's death impacted his relationship with his father. After the death of his brother, Jack, Johnny (known as JR), retreated into himself. To get away from his father and the Arkansas cotton farm where he was raised, Johnny joins the Air Force and is stationed in Germany. He's able to buy a guitar and write his first songs, but he also marries Vivian, a girl from back home he had just started dating before he left. He tells her he wants to wake up and see her face every morning--but it's not love. It's loneliness. And that loneliness dogs him for years, despite marriage, three daughters, and a successful career.

The only thing that makes the loneliness leave, the only time Johnny is at peace, is when he's playing his guitar and singing.

Vivian doesn't understand that music is Johnny's true first love. She wants him to settle down, take a job with her father's company so they can lead a "normal" life. Instead, Johnny talks his way into an audition. He's signed--and thus begins the definitely not-normal life of a touring musician. Johnny and the boys play small venues all over the South, traveling by car, staying in cheap motels. Their companions are Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley and they are redefining music, although no one quite knows it.

Also touring with them is June Carter, who has been performing since she was girl. Johnny has had a crush on her since he listened to her sing with her family on the radio and it's kind of sweet how he's all shy and bashful when he first meets her.

But touring takes its toll on Johnny and Vivian. Johnny becomes addicted to amphetamines to give him the energy to carry him through yet another show, followed by alcohol to bring him down after. He is able to buy Vivian a nice house, a nice car, nice clothes, but he's seldom home. And when he is, he is thinking about the tour and the music. Vivian sets up a new rule: no talk of the tour when he's at home. But Johnny feels that his life is completely bound by rules and schedules. He rebels by touring longer, drinking more, taking more drugs, looking for comfort in the arms of the young female fans who offer themselves to him after the concerts.

The one stable person in his life is June Carter. But she has problems of her own as well. Her first and second marriages have ended in divorce and she has two young girls of her own to care for. She doesn't have the time--or, she thinks, the strength--to cope with Johnny's emotional demands. Johnny persuades her to tour with him and Vivian realizes she has yet another rival for Johnny's affections.

Johnny finally does hit bottom and June is there to bring him out. She believes him to be a good man and that he has worth as well as music. And from there, it's the story of how he persuades her to marry him.

The more I see of Joaquin Phoenix, the more impressed I am with his acting talent (and now his singing!). Reese Witherspoon plays airhead and strong, competent women equally well--useful since part of June Carter's role was to be the "funny one" in her family's act.

Good people often do stupid things. But we can be redeemed.

This movie is rated PG-13. And I'd let DD#2 watch it but probably not in the theater. At home with Hubs or I in the room, probably. There are some challenging issues: drug addiction, infidelity, child neglect, a couple of emotional screaming matches. How much of the darker side of life does a young teen really need to see or to learn about?

Walk the Line does a terrific job capturing the era as well as Johnny Cash and June Carter. I'm going to miss their music.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Where Have All the Black Folk Gone?

Headlines from The San Francisco Chronicle:

S.F. moves to stem African American exodus

Critics say effort to reverse longtime trend may be too late

Gee, could it have anything to do with the cost of housing? The lousy public schools? The fog?

"Hans Johnson, the demographer, said many African Americans leave San Francisco for outlying suburbs when they have the means, just like members of other racial groups, in search of more of the trappings of middle-class life. Although it is virtually impossible to track where people go, he said it is safe to say that Bay Area cities with growing black populations are seeing those gains because of San Francisco's loss."

But it turns out that San Francisco isn't the only city in the Bay Area where African Americans are leaving.

"From 1995 to 2000, Oakland and neighborhoods of Los Angeles lost tens of thousands of black residents. Not one West Coast city made a list of the nation's top cities for African Americans compiled last year by Black Enterprise magazine based on income potential, the cost of living, proximity to employers and housing costs. Most are in the South and most -- coincidentally or not -- have black mayors."

But, of course, The City that can't keep a mass of bike riders under control one Friday night per month, has to do something!

"San Francisco officials are now calling the thousands of black people who have moved away "the African American diaspora," and the mayor's office is putting together a task force to figure out what can be done to preserve the remaining black population and cultivate new residents."

I was surprised to read this, however: "Though San Francisco is still often seen as diverse, it was 53 percent white and 33.5 percent Asian in 2005, with Chinese Americans accounting for about two-thirds of Asian residents."

The article doesn't indicate how many of these are in traditional families. Nor does the article point out the overall decline in San Francisco's population over the years. Nor does the article mention Hispanics/Latinos and Pacific Islanders/Filipinos--both groups with a significant population.

Even the Social Planners admit they may not be able to do much about the problem.

"'This is a concern because this city values having a diverse population,' said Greg Wagner, a program director at SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. 'But even if you can identify the causes, it is hard to know what you would do to stop it. It is economics combined with cultural things that are tough to sort out. There are restrictions in this state about what you can do that is racially based.'"

Not only are there restrictions on what you can do, there are restrictions on what you can't do. You can't force people to stay if they want to move. You can't force people to stay in San Francisco.

Of course, no one worried much about the Irish leaving the Mission District or the Italians leaving North Beach or the Chinese moving out from the Chinatown ghetto to the Richmond District. Many of the Filipinos in my parish moved from San Francisco to the near suburbs, then crossed the Bay.

Why did these groups move?

For many, it was affordable housing. They wanted a house with a yard and the weather to sit in the yard without wearing a winter jacket and stocking cap. Jobs moved when commercial real estate became too expensive in San Francisco and it was cheaper to build a new "campus" out in the boondocks. Plus, companies like Chevron and AT&T and PeopleSoft discovered that suburban cities didn't charge them a payroll tax. So they could add more workers. There is a new "Silicon Valley" along I-680, as well as new homes and better schools.

Growing communities need truck drivers and teachers and sanitation workers. They need utility crews and grocery store clerks and car salesmen. They need doctors and dentists and orthodontists and chiropracters. They need front office workers and dental hygenists and medical records technicians.

Follow the money. And the weather. It's as simple as that.

Oh. And another thing...

A couple of weeks ago my Girl Scout troop participated in an Orienteering run. At the run were about 50 or 60 high school kids from San Francisco. They were well-behaved, polite, and they not only picked up after themselves, they picked up the entire picnic area.

They were members of Junior ROTC. You know, the group that is being forced to disband at the end of the year because "it's too militaristic."

Better, I guess, that these kids learn tolerance and compassion from the nimrods at Critical Mass, yeah?

Happy Easter! Alleluia, Alleluia!

May the joy of the Risen Lord be with you and yours during this wonderful season. 40 days of fasting and penitence is followed by 50 days of celebration. Good lesson about how to live in there, doncha think?

As for the Warren, DD#2 received many compliments about her competence as thurifer. She may have the job for the next four years. I don't know if the sacristan is ever going to get the smell of incense out of her robe, though. DS#1 and DD#2 made it to Church before Mass started and sat in the front with the rest of the family. (Our usual pew is in the back, but I was a lector and I don't like the long walk!)

The weather was spring-like. The Easter Bunny came on cue and left baskets on the dining room table so The Dog wouldn't eat the candy. (Thank God, she's not allergic to chocolate!) We gathered at Mom's for a family dinner where it was pointed out that "the babies" aren't really anymore. The "little boys" aren't little, either, so we may just have to bump everybody up to "the boys" (who can be any male in the family, adult, teen, or child).

I really enjoy these low-key, family-oriented holidays.

Friday, April 06, 2007

E Pluribus Unum

Last night Hubs and I took DS#2 and one of his friends to the Giants vs. Padres baseball game. I knew I'd be prayin'--sure enough, with a 5-2 lead, the Giants brought out Armando Benitez who managed to walk the tying run on base (with a runner on) and bring the go-ahead run to a 3-2 count.

37,000 people (okay--it was a little bit less by that time) were on their feet, yelling. Most of them were wearing black and orange. Some of them were yelling in a language other than English. But we all had one focus, one common goal.

Throw a strike, Benitez!

(Did I mention that this is the third game of the season and the Giants had lost the first two to the Padres?)

During the game, the camera pans the crowd. Young and old, rich and poor, business executives in suits and manual laborers sat cheek by jowl. When the Giants scored I high-fived the Hispanic-looking guy next to me who drives four hours up from the Central Valley to catch about three games a month. I high-fived the black-couple behind me. I high-fived Hubs and the boys, who were, of course, high-fiving everyone around them.

It was almost like the Kiss of Peace in my parish.

This is part of why baseball is America's Pastime--this interaction across cultures and generations. Baseball is, essentially, a pretty simple game. One guy throws to a guy who tries to hit it. He either does or doesn't. If he does, the other guys try to catch the ball before it hits the ground. They either do or they don't. If they do, he's out. If they don't, they try to get the ball to the base before he does. If they do, he's out. If they don't, he's safe.

Watch an inning of baseball and you'll probably figure most of the game out. Watch a quarter of football and someone will still have to explain what's going on. (When I was a kid, the concept of four downs confused me. It didn't help that my dad did a poor job of explaining it! :)

And there's tradition--a stadium full of people singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th Inning Stretch. Maybe that should be our National Anthem!

For some insight on the game of baseball before live television, check this out: http://www99.epinions.com/content_3851460740. (The Seals were the San Francisco team in the old Pacific Coast League. The current Giants mascot, Lou Seal, is in honor of them.)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Movie Review: You've Got Mail

I ordered this one from On Demand by accident. Fortunately, it was free. And I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this piece of fluff.

Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, the owner of a children's bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner. Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, whose family owns the big, evil, discount bookstore, Fox Books. So you already know that this is a David vs. Goliath story.

The twist is that Kathleen and Joe have met in a chat room and have established a relationship via e-mail messages they send to each other. Both Kathleen and Joe are also in serious relationships with People Who Are Obviously Not Right For Them.

Kathleen and Joe "meet cute" when Joe happens upon Kathleen's bookstore during a street fair where he is escorting his aunt (the child of his grandfather) who is about ten and his brother (the child of his father) who is about four or five. Joe is smitten but doesn't want to admit that he part of Fox Books.

They later meet at a party where the truth comes out. Kathleen is outraged that Joe lied to her. Joe is outraged that Kathleen liked him well enough until she discovered who he was. They each return home and e-mail their cyberpal about the disastrous evening.

Kathleen tries valiantly to keep A Shop Around the Corner open. During her struggles, she agrees to meet her cyberpal IRL (In Real Life). When Joe see who it is, he doesn't admit that he is NY155, but instead comes in to taunt her. For the first time, Kathleen is able to say what she feels about him, but it's a hollow victory.

Eventually, Kathleen faces the truth and sells A Shop Around the Corner. Joe faces the truth about his store--his employees really don't know much about the books they're selling.

Separately, Kathleen and Joe both realize their current partners are not The One.

Joe realizes Kathleen is and sets out to woo her.

Nora Ephron directed this movie and, like Sleepless in Seattle, much of it is based on an old standard; in this case, A Shop Around the Corner. And, much like Sleepless, references to the older movie are sprinkled throughout the film.

So why isn't You've Got Mail sold as a two-pack with A Shop Around the Corner? Or Sleepless in Seattle with An Affair to Remember?

Meg Ryan looks incredibly thin in this movie. DS#2 joined me for part of it. Although the movie is only nine years old, he didn't get the "You've Got Mail" references (and we still have AOL!).

"Why didn't they just IM each other?" he asked.

Chat rooms are not part of his experience.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Tickets. A pleasant piece of fluff, good with popcorn. Also good for indoctrinating 16-y.o. males into what women like. :)

Kids As the New Accessory?

First it was Chiuaus, carried everywhere by celebrities, peeking out of oversized purses, dressed in outrageous clothes.

Now it seems to be children.

According to the headlines, Angelina Jolie is thinking about adopting another child, this one from Chad, so that "Zahara won't be the only black face in the family."


That Ms. Jolie and Mr. Pitt have plenty of money to pay for help around the house is undoubtable. But adding so many new children so quickly? Is that really the best way to build a family? Frankly, I was surprised when I heard Ms. Jolie adopted Pax with Shiloh only being nine months old. Pax has to cope with a lot of changes, going from rags to riches, and I suspect that he will need a lot of attention. Meanwhile, Shiloh is growing and changing, learning to crawl, talk, and also requiring more attention as she explores her environment.

And what about Zahara and Maddox? What do they think about all the attention surrounding their mom and dad and their siblings?

(The stories also seem to emphasize that Ms. Jolie is the one pushing the adoptions and that Mr. Pitt is going along with it. That could be editorial bias and I hope that Mr. Pitt is truly an active, engaged father.)

Britany Spears married Kevin Federline, popped out two kids, and divorced Mr. Federline almost immediately after the birth of child #2. Madonna has reportedly made plans to adopt a child from the Third World as well.

Shades of Joan Crawford and her four kids...

And, speaking of Joan, I wonder how Rosie O'Donnell's children are doing? Parker, the oldest, should be close to the age where parents, no matter how cool, are an embarrassment. I wonder how he feels about his mom and some of her very public pronouncements (and her very public lifestyle)?

Can a case be made that these stars are exploiting their children? As goofy as Tom Cruise is, he does seem to be doing a better job of keeping his kids out of the headlines. I respect that.

Ms. Jolie, please stop adding children and make sure that you are building a close relationship with the ones you have now. Let them grow up. Let them bond. Don't worry about "balance." That's not as important as love and bonding with them now, because they will challenge that love and those bonds down the road.

If you want uncomplicated affection and adoration, get a Golden Retriever.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Price of Genius

I finally got around to watching Walk the Line, the film biography of Johnny Cash. I'll do a proper review later, but what struck me was how hard it must be to be the child of a genius. While Mr. Cash was out playing his music and following his vision, his girls were at home. They could hear daddy on the radio, but he wasn't there to share the daily triumphs and tragedies that occur in every household. Even when Mr. Cash was home from the tour, he wasn't there.

The same could be said about Ray Charles and Albert Einstein. A friend of mine interviewed the daughter of a renown author for a biography he's writing and discovered the daughter had mixed feelings about her father because he was so wrapped up in his work, he often didn't seem aware that she was in the room with him.

I'm currently reading a biography about E.E. Cummings and he, too, had an awkward relationship with his daughter, although in his case there were several extenuating circumstances, including an ex-wife and a jealous wife.

What kind of effect must it have on a child's ego to hear, over and over, how great and wonderful and important your parent is? To hear that your parent is a genius? If your parent is a genius, the question that must come next is, "Why aren't you?" No matter how good you might be, you'll never be as good as mom or dad, especially if your talent lies in the same field.

The trick is, of course, for the parent to find a balance between the demands of their genius and the demands of their children. To learn to be really present for the child. To appreciate the child's own gifts and to let the child know that s/he is appreciated. But I'm not sure that can be done.

One of the mistakes (according to the movie) that Mr. Cash made with his first wife and family was to think he had given his wife "everything she wanted" when what he had given her were merely the material things: nice house, nice car, fancy clothes. She really wanted his attention. She really wanted to be the Most Important Thing in his life. And he couldn't give her that because, quite simply, Music was the Most Important Thing. At least, at that point in his career.

The price of Genius, it seems, is quite high.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Harry Pottermania

I have to admit it--I'm bummed. The new covers for the last Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling hasn't updated her website.

I keep checking back to see if the "Do Not Disturb" sign is no longer hanging from the doorknob, but it's still there.

Pottermania is slowly going to get worse around these parts as the new movie and the book release are scheduled for the same month. And I may not have a chance to read the book before I leave for Japan. There's a 65 lb. maximum weight, so packing is at a premium.

Until then, let the speculation begin!

(My own personal theories: Harry defeats Voldemort but loses his magical ability and becomes a Muggle. Aunt Petunia does something heroic to justify Dumbledore's faith in her "blood oath" agreement to care for Harry. I think that Harry, Hermione, and Ron are too young to become the Defense Against Dark Arts professors, but Hermione might become the assistant. Or she'll assist McGonigal.)