Friday, August 29, 2008

The Heat Is On--Politically

That darn John McCain! He didn't follow the script! He was supposed to choose some boring, sober white guy as his running mate. This is the Democrats' time! They're supposed to resume their rightful place running the world. They're the Progressive Party--they nominated an African American, for cryin' out loud! That'll impress the masses and the Europeans.

/sarc off

I was so jazzed when I heard John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate! Not only was the choice inspired, his timing was superb.

When I read "10 Reasons to vote for Sarah Palin," (apologies for not posting the link--I'm writing on the fly), I had to send it to Hubs. She hunts, she fishes, she has five kids, she's outspoken. In other words, she's a lot like me--so, of course, Hubs will love her! (He does. ;)

The Heat Is On--Climatically

I'm not talking politics. I'm talking about the temperature outside. It was hot enough that I've been going bare-legged. And I'm an old-fashioned gal--going to work sans-hose is a serious decision.

So we're at the end of the summer. And my legs are ivory-white. So white that my colleague thought I was barefoot because my legs matched my shoe color!

Of course, it hasn't been this warm for most of the summer. The kids started back to school this week, so we traditionally have a heat wave now. (The other traditional time for a heat wave is just before school lets out in June.) And, rather than walking, I've been taking an aqua-aerobics class in an indoor pool. So, the color of my legs is no surprise.

I do have one question: how in the heck do women wear regular shoes without stockings and not get blisters? The shoes I wore yesterday are a pair I've had since I was pregnant with DD#1, so it's not the fact that they're new. But I see women wear pumps and no stockings all the time. How do they do it? Take them off when they get home and cry?

Movie Review: Tropic Thunder

Update: Legitimate concerns have been raised about how the mentally challenged are portrayed in Tropic Thunder. I don't think Ben Stiller is making fun of those who are challenged per se; rather he is making fun of the fact that the movie industry often rewards actors and actresses who take on those roles to gain "gravitas" within the industry. In fact, there is a scene between Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus where Kirk explains why actors such as Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man), Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), and Sean Penn (I Am Sam) did or didn't get nominated for the Oscar for these roles. During this discussion, Kirk utters the line, "They didn't go full retard."

Unfortunately, someone in Marketing thought "Don't Go Full Retard" would be a terrific line to license for t-shirts, etc. And it's now showing up at local malls. And, yeah, I can understand why that line would appeal to a certain segment of the population, especially young adult males who are not noted for their subtlety and empathy.

Apparently Ben Stiller is among them.

Mr. Stiller could have made his point about the movie industry honoring only those actors who make "serious" movies, about "issues" using a different example. In fact, he missed a great opportunity since Jon Voight, who made his film debut in Midnight Cowboy dealing with male prostitutes, makes a cameo in Tropic Thunder. He could have used gays or films where physically beautiful actors or actresses get into the gutter. Mr. Stiller would have upset a different population, but it would have been a population that could fight back on their own. That would have been the braver choice.

Also, Mr. Stiller mocks current celebrities adopting children from the Third World, fulfilling a need within themselves rather than any need of the child. Because Tropic Thunder is a spoof, this all goes horribly wrong and Tugg Speedman seems to be throwing a child off a bridge who, at the time, was stabbing Tugg in the back. To me and DD#2, it was obvious that he threw a dummy--but still.

Again, parts of this movie are funny. Again, I would not rate this movie a "must see." But there will be teens and young adults who see this movie and the above are issues that should be discussed.

Hubs saw Tropic Thunder first and then dragged me to theater to see it. DD#2, who is now 15, came along, too. Commercial reviews of the movie were mixed. But Hubs was adamant that I'd enjoy it, so we went.

Looking back, I didn't realize the movie was rated "R." Had I paid attention, I might have been more cautious about bringing DD#2 along.

The movie opens with a "commercial" for an energy drink and a series of "trailers" that are so seamless done I didn't realize the movie had started. My first clue was that they were really over-the-top. My second clue was one of the trailers featured Ben Stiller, only he wasn't called Ben Stiller.

Then comes a voiceover, reading the opening lines on the screen about a mission to Vietnam. Ten men went in, four came out, two wrote a book, only one was a bestseller and this is a movie about that bestseller. Jump to the movie s The director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is shooting key scene and the leading actor, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) can't bring the right emotion to the fore because the other actor in the scene, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) is spitting on him. Cockburn has a meltdown, which causes the special effects director to blow up the jungle.

The movie is two months behind schedule and it's only the second day of shooting.

After Cockburn is royally chewed out by the studio head, the author of the book the movie is based on, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), suggests that they go for more realism by setting up cameras in the jungle, dropping the actors off, and shooting the film as they make their way back to the helicopter. Cockburn thinks this is a wonderful idea.

At the dropoff, he collects the actors' cellphones, hands Speedman the outline of the script and a map, tells them he has the only radio that can summon the chopper, and steps on an old French landmine, blowing himself up. The actors are appalled--except for Speedman, who thinks this is a stunt. But he needs to make this movie, so off the band goes.

And a what a band it is. Tugg Speedman is the star of a disaster movie franchise who also played the lead character in Simple Jack, who is retarded--a performance ignored by the Academy. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is noted for playing multiple characters in a series of comedy movies where the main jokes--the only jokes--revolve around farts. He's also a drug addict. There is a young black rapper, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) whose only acting experience is in music videos and advertisements for an energy drink called "Body Sweat." He resents that Lazarus is playing a black man when he is, in fact, white and an Aussie. Lazarus is a "serious" actor and never drops out of character, even when the cameras are not rolling. Problem is, his character is a stereotype. Finally, there is Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) who is the straight guy. He's read the book, the script, the in-flight magazine. He's also been in the Army and is the only one who can read a map.

They are not alone, however. They have been dropped in the midst of territory controlled by the Golden Dragons, a drug cartel who think the band of actors are D.E.A. agents.

What happens next is pretty predictable. The band splits up, with Speedman insisting that this is a movie set and the helicopter is one way and the rest of the crew going the other. Speedman is captured and taken to the headquarters of the drug cartel. The rest of the group finds him by accident.

Meanwhile, the special effects guy and Tayback go looking for the Cockburn and the band, finding only the site of the explosion and the walkie-talkie.

At the drug cartel HQ, Speedman is recognized as the lead in Simple Jack. Turns out it's the cartel's favorite movie and they want him to reprise his role. In turn, Speedman re-evaluates his life and decides to "adopt" a cute little toddler living at the compound.

Has the movie taken a turn toward the Serious and Introspective?

C'mon! This is Ben Stiller!

Tropic Thunder is rude and crude. The "F-word" is used liberally. Ben Stiller uses a sledge hammer to make his point about race, sex, drugs, and Hollywood.

I found myself laughing out loud. Several times.

The actors look like they were having fun on the set (I'd love to see the outtakes--this was filmed in Kau'i). Lots of cameos by different actors who played off their public personas. Nothing is sacred; no one is safe.

Did Tropic Thunder deserve an R rating? Yes, due to language, over-the-top violence, and portrayals of drug use (although those were not sympathetic--Jeff Portnoy is shown as being out-of-control). Although there are no scenes of explicit sex, there is much discussion about it, usually at the "locker room" level.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, though I wouldn't rank it as a "must see." DD#2 enjoyed it as well, although I'm glad she's not any younger.

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quote of the Month

Live your life so that when you put your feet down on the floor in the morning, Satan says,
"Oh, CRAP! She's awake!"

(Change the pronoun for males. :)

Prayers Requested...

First for Anthony, whose battling cancer and having bad reactions to the medication. Anthony was one of the first friends DS#2 made when he moved to a new high school his sophomore year. Anthony is short; DS#2 is tall. Anthony is extremely smart and articulate; DS#2 is more laid back and often struggles to put his thoughts into words.

After conquering cancer in grade school, it came back last year. On top of that, Anthony had a bad reaction to the medication and spent most of the school year in the hospital. He did make it to Junior Prom. Bald, but in a tux and with a date.

Now, his senior year, he's moving to a medical facility in San Diego (about 500 miles south of us) to try and beat this thing. Those of you who have had kids graduate from high school understand how difficult it will be for Anthony to move away and miss all the fun and excitement of the last year in high school. DS#2 will miss him as well, even though they keep in touch electronically.

My second request is for Corrinne, who is battling pneumonia and a bacterial infection that has affected her heart. Her doctors don't think there is any damage, but they are not sure. Corrinne is an amazing woman and the linchpin of our local Girl Scout neighborhood as a Girl Scout leader, Day Camp Director, and Neighborhood Chair. Oh, and she doesn't have any children of her own.

Book Review: A Pocket Guide to the Bible

Written by Scott Hahn, this Guide is part of a series of Pocket Guides published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. And this Guide truly is pocket-sized.

First is a short explanation of what the Bible is: the Word of God in human words. Mr. Hahn then discusses the organization of the Bible into the Old and the New Testaments, who wrote the Bible (meaning the human authors--he notes right off that God is the Author), how the different books were chosen to be included--and why the Jewish Old Testament and the Protestant Bibles are different from the Catholic Bible--finishing the first section with the relationship between the Bible and the Church.

Mr. Hahn next discusses how to understand the Bible. The Bible is literature and can be read that way, but it contains many different types of genres. There are the stories, the history, the laws, the census count, the poems, the advice column, the letters, and the prophecies. I especially liked Mr. Hahn's explanation that the Bible is the history of our salvation and can be seen as a series of covenants between God and humanity, beginning with Adam and ending with the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. I had never thought of the Bible that way before, but it makes great sense.

There is a section about reading programs, specifically mentioning three: reading straight through, following the Lectionary, or reading your favorite stories. It really doesn't matter which one(s) you choose. The important thing is to read the Bible.

The longest chapter covers all the different books of the Bible with a brief synopsis of what each book covers. The last chapter is titled "Where to Find..." and then has several sections with the corresponding book, chapter, and verse. Mr. Hahn includes the Mysteries of the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Mass in this section, which is handy for apologetics. I also find this type of listing useful because Catholics don't place as much emphasis on quoting chapter-and-verse as some of our Protestant brethren do. Often I know there's a section dealing with the subject under discussion in the Bible; I just don't quite remember where. "Where to Find..." will help.

(BTW, I think it's more important to read the Bible and understand it as a whole than to memorize bits and pieces. The difference in emphasis might be why many Protestants think that Catholics "don't read the Bible." --Ed.)

Mr. Hahn manages to cram an awful lot of information into 79 pages the size of a quarter-sheet of paper. The language is simply, the size is not intimidating--this Guide would be excellent for Middle School and High School faith formation classes, such as Confirmation. In fact, DD#2 (a sophomore in high school) will be starting her second year of Confirmation preparation soon and I'm going to "test" this Guide out with her as well as share it with our parish Youth Minister. But I'm going to buy another copy--I'm keeping this one next to my Bible!

On the March Hare scale: 5 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on A Pocket Guide to the Bible.

(cross-posted at Catholic Media Review)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Guilty Pleasures--Olympic Version

Yes, I know China has a horrid human rights record. I know that they are trying to destroy the people and the culture of Tibet. I know their environmental record is abysmal. I also know that winning is a cultural obsession.

Still, I'm enjoying the Olympics.

The Olympics is the only time women's sports get significant air time. The first set last night between the U.S. Beach Volleyball team and the underdog team from Belgium was a nailbiter. Would Misty and Kerri actually lose? The set went to 24 points before the American team won.

(By the way, has anyone else noticed that, with the exception of swimming, the women's competitive uniforms seem to be getting smaller? While the men wear big, floppy shirts and shorts?)

DD#2, just returned home from Japan, was watching the women's volleyball match between the U.S. and Japan. She was at an International Jamboree in Japan during the opening days of the Olympics, so had some catching up. She was able to watch some events with her Japanese host family--like the volleyball match between Japan and Argentina. Oddly enough (!), the Japanese Olympic broadcast was not all Michael Phelps all the time. (Not to detract from Mr. Phelps--he is truly amazing to watch. But I do want to stuff a Speedo in the mouth of the commentators.)

She cheered when the U.S. team missed a difficult shot. "I'm rooting for the Japanese," she stated matter-of-factly.

"I thought you would," I answered.

I rooted for the Korean who won that country's first gold in swimming. I enjoy watching talented athletes from smaller countries pull off upsets. There's something so... I don't know... American about rooting for the underdog. And I enjoyed watching the women's individual saber fencing finals. We had a lively family discussion about what the scoring rules were.

I still want Michael Phelps to break records. :)

My favorite moment of the Olympics is the Parade of Nations at the Opening and the Closing. Because I've worked in the shipping business, I've got a pretty fair idea of where most of the countries are geographically and I've worked with citizens of several of them. I especially enjoy looking at the native dress. And the fact that, for a change, the U.S. women did not have the most tacky attire--that award goes to Hungary. (Sorry, Hungary!)

Am I surprised there is controversy? No. Olympics and controversy seem to be synonymous. Am I surprised that the IOC and the various international sporting federations are doing nothing? No. I mean, really, this is the body who accused the U.S. women swimmers of being "bad sports" when they complained there was something odd about the East German women back in the '70's. And has not apologized when it was revealed that the East Germans were using steroids.

The Swiss are the premier men's beach volleyball team in the world? Really? Who would have thunk it?

And then there are the personal stories. Lopez Lomong, the flag bearer for the U.S., was one of the "lost boys" from Sudan, kidnapped from his family, adopted from a refugee camp. He watched the Olympics in Sydney and became inspired.

And now he's an Olympic athlete. In Beijing. Capital of the country that helped bankroll the strife in Lopez's native country. The irony makes me smile. No overt protest. Just a subtle dig.

And I just heard that Lopez has been reunited with his birth parents who had no idea he was still alive. That's really good news.

So I'm addicted. The T.V. is tuned to NBC and I'm watching whatever they're showing. I have my favorites--swimming, crew, gymnastics, volleyball--but I'll watch anything that's on. Really.

And, yes, I'm the same way about the Winter Olympics

Monday, August 04, 2008

Book Review: 1776

David McCullough begins 1776 on October 26, 1775. His Royal Majesty, George III, is addressing the opening of Parliament on "the increasingly distressing issue of war in America." The King and Parliament see the war as rebellion. The Americans, in contrast, really do not want to be independent from Britain. Rather, they want their rights as Englishmen to be recognized. They want representation. They want their concerns heard. The idea of independence has been whispered, but has not yet taken hold.

The year 1776 proves to be a pivotal year. By July, independence from Britain is declared and those who sign the formal Declaration fully understand the cost. The American "rabble" have proven themselves equal to the British Army, then the finest in the world, on several occasions. But they also have made serious strategic mistakes and, but for the grace of Providence, the rebellion could have been over in a year. And these men and women do believe the hand of God is guiding their affairs.

Mr. McCullough uses many primary sources: letters, journals, memoirs. But he includes not only those of the famous men and women--Washington, John Adams, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox--but those of the common soldier, the ordinary men who left home, their fifteen-year-old sons who joined them, the twelve-year-old drummer boys and fifers. We read the frustration of Washington who pleads for money from the Continental Congress, who is unsure of what the British Army and Navy are planning, who waits almost too long before evacuating Brooklyn Heights, who plans an audacious raid on Trenton and succeeds. The British generals and admirals underestimate the courage and tenacity of the common American; still, had the weather cooperated or had they been a bit bolder, the British would have defeated the colonials.

At the end of year, Washington has learned much. Still the war doesn't end until 1783 and the Treaty of Paris, six and a half years later--a fact we present-day Americans tend to forget.

The Revolutionary War also laid the foundation for the "American character." Washington was a self-educated man, a fact that he felt keenly, especially among the Virgina aristocracy. But he had tremendous strength of character: whatever doubts or misgivings he had, he kept private. He also promoted men of talent, no matter their age, experience, or station in life. He inspired tremendous loyalty which held the Continental Army together through defeat and privation. He was also a consummate politician and established the tradition of civilian oversight of the Army.

Washington also learned from his mistakes. And he made plenty of them--another fact we tend to forget. Wars never go as planned.

France and the Netherlands offered financial assistance as well as troops and ships to the young American colonies, but only after it seemed that the Americans might win.

Mr. McCullough's decision to concentrate on one year--and to focus on the military battles, rather than the political ones--keeps the narrative from being overwhelmed. Using primary sources from those in the trenches as well as the generals brings an immediacy and intimacy that is often lacking in standard history texts. I find Mr. McCullough's style easy to read and absorbing (although I wish he had included modern maps of the battle fields as well as the contemporary ones drawn by the British and American armies). 1776 might not be your typical "beach book," but it's not your dry history tome, either.

Most importantly, this book reminds us of the cost of our freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was paid for in blood and in the personal fortunes of many of those we now consider patriots. Families were torn apart, with many Loyalists fleeing to England, leaving behind their friends, family members, livelihoods, property. The cost in lives equaled 1% of the population, a figure that would not be exceeded until the Civil War.

In my not-so-humble-opinion, 1776 should be required reading for every high school student taking U.S. History.

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

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

My "Olympic" Moment

This morning I took DD#2 to San Francisco International Airport. She's off to Japan, again, to participate in an International Camporee sponsored by the Osaka Girl Scout Council to celebrate their 60th Anniversary. She is one of three girls and one adult representing the U.S. at this event, along with 900 Japanese Girl Scouts and 45 Girl Guides/Girl Scouts from other countries. Last year we went together as part of an exchange program; this year, I'm staying home. She was excited and a little nervous--just like I was.

Did I mention she's only 15?

While we're waiting for the rest of the group, we check out fellow travelers in the International Terminal. There is a large group of young women wearing light blue warm-up jackets with "USA" on the back. Their luggage consists of various boxes and bags, including navy blue daypacks with red trim, bearing the Speedo brand name and USA embroidered in white.

"I bet they're going to the Olympics," I said.

"What event?" DD#2 answered.

"Swimming?" I guessed. Okay, the Speedo logo was a giveaway.

We had walked over to cases of Victorian majolica ceramicware on display in the concourse since we had time to spare. On our way back to our meeting spot, I noticed that one of the young women had a navy blue jacket that said "Synchro" on it.

"They're the Olympic Synchronized Swim Team," I said.

"How do you know?" DD#2 was a bit impressed until I told her about the jacket.

We watched them for a bit and I have to admit, both DD#2 and I were a bit starstruck. I mean, real Olympic athletes were only about 100 feet away! "Take a picture," I suggested, thinking she would take a picture from where we were standing.

But DD#2 surprised me. She took out her camera, walked over to the group and asked the coach (a woman my age) if she could take a picture. And confirmed that, yes, this was the Synchronized Swim Team. The coach suggested DD#2 wait until all the team members were there. When everyone had arrived, the group gathered for pictures (there were several proud parents and friends to see them off) and DD#2 got her picture. (I was watching her luggage.) Unfortunately, I didn't think to take one with my cell phone, so her picture is currently in Japan.
We did notice one piece of the Synchronized Team's luggage bore a tag that read "Too Heavy to Steal." And they didn't wait in the usual baggage check line.

Later, when the group walked to Security someone started to chant "U-S-A!" And there was a round of applause as they passed by. I said, "Good luck, ladies!" and one team member said, "Thanks!" They looked excited and giddy and happy--just as young adults off to the Olympics should look.

So I'll be watching the Synchronized Swimming competition with more than my usual interest and DD#2 asked that we record it for her, in case she's not home.

For those who think Synchronized Swimming is not a "real" sport, I beg to differ. I took Synchro for PE in college. Not only did I build up my arm strength--almost every move uses only your arms--but I had to remember to point my toes, move to the beat of the music, and smile at the same time. I gained new appreciation for the sport and it wasn't nearly as demanding as it is now.