Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Golden Globe nominations bode... not so well

They're out, and they're more disappointing than usual, I think. The omission of Milk from the Best Picture (Drama) shortlist is an outright schande (as is the omission of Gus Van Sant from Best Director), and the inclusion of the The Reader in that same list is insult added to injury. Yes, Holocaust movies have serious clout at awards time, but usually they score better than the low 60s at Rotten Tomatoes. And though I'm glad to see Slumdog Millionaire among the nominees, and for all I know Frank Langella's turn as Tricky Dick makes Frost/Nixon worthwhile, the fact that Benjamin Button was written by the same guy who adapted Forrest Gump gives me pause, and Revolutionary Road... I dunno. At least Doubt isn't there.

I know it wasn't the best year for movies, but this list is so predictable and middlebrow-posing-as-highbrow that it saddens me a bit. Streep and Penn probably have the Best Actor/Actress (Drama) statuettes locked up (unless Winslet nabs Actress, which is possible); the Best Actor/Actress (Comedy) categories should be more interesting. And if you think Heath Ledger won't win Best Supporting Actor, you're as crazy as the Joker. (Sorry, I had to.) In Best Pic (Comedy), I hope Vicky Cristina Barcelona savages Burn After Reading. One thing's for sure: If Oscar slights Milk the way the Foreign Press Association did, I'm going to be seriously upset.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Can't stop the music

As usual, Kate's year-end mix is cause for celebration. The Kanye track and "Young Love (Shoes Mix)" by Mystery Jets are among the highlights, IMHO. Extra kudos for making it easy to download!

Geoff's photostream

It's looking good these days, as always.

Out with the old, in with the new

This past Sunday night, I attended my weekly Buddhist meditation group and participated, after our usual 45-minute sit, in a ritual to mark the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. We all wrote down things we wanted to let go of from the past year and burned the scraps of paper in a fire (in a cast-iron pan, while the owner of the house looked on nervously), then made a list of what we wanted 2009 to be about. Most people only talked about one or two of their things to let go of and things to strive for, and some didn't talk about them at all. It was a subtle and communal way of making what are normally called New Year's resolutions, and I felt for the first time that I might be able to let these statements guide me, at least a little, in the coming year.

The main thing I burned and desire to let go of is anger -- at myself and at other people, for things that seem important and things that I know not to be. What I want 2009 to be about: fitness and exercise, an area I've long struggled with (I'd add nutrition to the mix, while I'm at it), and setting and working towards goals, including my plan to go back to school (perhaps for an MFA in creative writing). Both lists included other items (self-centeredness and shelteredness on the first one; deepening community ties and doing good work on the second), but anger, fitness, and goal-setting are the "headlines," the main things I want to work on. I hope that all of us see better things in the year to come, in our own lives, in the lives of those we love, and in the troubled world that surrounds us. I hope we see at least some of the change we need.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cutest puppy in the world?

A relative of my mom's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Wilbur may in fact be the most adorable young canine our planet has ever known.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Online Application Mashup Syndrome (OAMS)

When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth -- and when we've thought of all the online applications we possibly can, we'll have to start combining them. Hence,, a nifty mashup of Twitter and Muxtape. Thanks to Kate, I now have my very own Blip account. Next up, perhaps: a combination of Facebook and Overheard in New York called "I Read It On Facebook." (Sounds dull, I know, but if I could get it to work like Craig's List's "Best Of" section, I might really have something.)

My new Flickr account

After the Yahoo merger, I had the damnedest time figuring out how to access my old account to add things and make changes. Finally, I gave up and made a new account, and it's here. The images are mostly ones I've already posted on Facebook, but my recent surge of Internet mania demands that I post them at Flickr as well. Plus, it's much easier to browse my friends' photostreams that way.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This just in: Obama's abs are rockin'

The San Jose Mercury News reported today on the decidedly non-pressing story of Obama's abs, though I think it's hard to miss the subtext: a failing auto industry and a corrupt Illinois governor aren't as good for headline and caption writers as a buff president-elect:
The blogosphere joyously erupted when the topless photos began circulating with cries of "Commander in Beef," and the paparazzi Web site posted the shot with a caption that said, "President-elect Barack Obama is still humble enough to do laundry — ON HIS ABS!"

Zadie Smith's father

The British author has a nice piece in the current New Yorker about her dad's sense of humor, and a certain strain of class-based British humor in general. It's just the kind of thing I'd like to write about my own father someday.

"Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!"

May your holidays be peaceful and bright.

This is how I roll

Thanks to Sarah for letting me know about a Slate article that captures my experience of Christmas uncannily well. Especially this:
My father was raised in a devoutly Jewish home, but he always adored Christmas.
And this:
My father passed away when I was young, but my family's holidays remained much the same. We focused on the togetherness and celebrating my father's memory on his favorite holiday. The miracle of Jesus' birth was far from our minds.

An interesting take on the Rick Warren controversy

In his latest column, E. J. Dionne Jr. posits a little-heard notion: that speaking at the Inauguration is a risk for Warren, too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The year in buzzwords

The New York Times' annual list never fails to amuse and delight. It has a lot of visual pop this year, too.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are covered in snow

Be careful out there, kids. I thought my toes were going to freeze off earlier tonight, as I made my way back from a walk down the Ave. My fellow Kibbutznik Deborah and I encountered various eccentrics in the U District, including a guy who shouted "Get away from my car!" at some students playing in the snow and then told them he was kidding, it wasn't really his car. He laughed and laughed. Then there was the portly guy who engaged strangers at the bus stop in conversation about Vikings and the bubonic plague. Oh, and the Native American who claimed to be "Eskimo" and told a string of jokes about Native Americans ("Indians") that would have been offensive if he hadn't been Native American (and pretty much were anyway). He also told a joke about toilet paper that was harmless, if somewhat gross. (By the way, I didn't take the above photo of a stuck bus; it came from a P-I reader.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The rise of cell-phone novels

Dana Goodyear's article on cell-phone novels in The New Yorker brings up age-old questions about high vs. low art, but it also demonstrates that high-tech convenience can make it easier, psychologically, for someone to write a novel. To a writer like me who struggles mightily to escape his perfectionist tendencies and actually write, the cell-phone novel makes sense, if not as a genre than certainly as a way of making writing both more accessible and less high-pressure. (Shades of NaNoWriMo, come to think of it.) Blogging, which has an air of informality that opening a blank Word document does not, is a pretty good way for nervous writers to make the leap on a regular basis, but the article's image of a depressed young woman lying in bed on her side, typing away, really drives the point home. Now there just needs to be a J-Horror movie about a cell-phone novel that kills you seven days after you read it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Get ready for a tall glass of Chanukah

It's not a Photoshop prank, kids -- it's the real deal. Drink up!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More snow

As usual, Blogger is taking forever to upload my pictures, and I lack patience. But here are a few taken around the Kibbutz. Click on 'em to make 'em bigger.

My new favorite word

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the transitive verb scupper means "to defeat or put an end to." Its etymology is unknown, but it's used mainly in British English, and it seems to have been born at the end of the 19th century. James Wood used it recently in The New Yorker, and it caught my eye:
The book’s form is a solid delight of symmetry and repetition. Just as April’s first pregnancy scuppered the original European escape (but didn’t really, because Frank never intended to go), so her third scuppers the later one (but doesn’t really, either, for the same reason).
And while we're on the subject of favorites, here's a charming musical interlude from Elf, featuring my new favorite winter song:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

KEXP soundtracks the cold weather

I've noticed that Kevin Cole, host of KEXP's "Afternoon Show," has a real knack for picking songs that go well with the cold, sunny weather we've been having. Yesterday, the Long Winters' "Cinnamon," from their album When I Pretend to Fall, exuded a jangly acoustic warmth that felt extremely welcome, and the title alone seemed to cut through the cold. Today, Bishop Allen's "Like Castanets" evoked a warmer place (Chile, to be precise), especially during the horn parts, and emphasized the all-too-brief afternoon sunshine while creating a lovely counterpoint to the snow on the ground. These are songs that make my car radio like a little sonic fireplace.

Richard Yates and "Revolutionary Road"

The recent New Yorker article on Revolutionary Road author Richard Yates is outstanding and makes me want to read the novel. Not sure I'll see the Sam Mendes-directed film adaptation starring Leo and Kate in their first post-Titanic pairing, but hey, who am I kidding? Of course I'll see it. Jeez.

The future of newspapers?

It's starting. My mother just received the following e-mail from The Detroit Free Press, and I imagine other major papers, including our embattled Seattle Times, will hatch similar plans (emphasis mine throughout):

I wanted to alert you, as one of our best customers, to ground-breaking changes at The Detroit Free Press. They've been announced on, and other media have covered the news as well, but you might not be aware yet.

In early Spring, the Free Press will change from offering seven days' home delivery to offering three days -- Thursday, Friday and Sunday. We now also offer a digital subscription on so you have the option of seeing the newspaper pages online exactly as they appear in print.

And you will still be able to purchase the Free Press any day at stores, newsstands and newspapers racks -- that won't change. We will maintain our strong news report, and we will redesign the newspaper to provide an easier-to-use format -- as well as retaining the exclusive reporting and depth that we're known for.

We are not taking our changes in delivery lightly. We've spent many months developing our plans, which are unique in the country. As many other newspapers cut their news-gathering operations drastically, we remain committed to the kind of strong news report that Detroit and Michigan deserve.

We take these steps for two reasons:

First, the newspaper industry must completely transform its way of doing business in order to survive. With generations of readers and advertisers using digital media more and more, we simply cannot continue to bear the cost of delivering the ink-on-paper newspaper every day.

Second, we need to invest in new ways to deliver information digitally, whether on our Web site or on the mobile devices so many people carry now. The changes we're announcing will enable us to do that. We need to move even more rapidly into the digital age.

As editor of the Free Press, I promise you this: Not only will we continue to provide a strong, contemporary news report in print and digital formats, we'll enhance our live updates and multi-media information on

We'll stay in touch with you on when the delivery changes will be implemented. For updates and discussion, you can go to You can also look for updates in the Free Press and

I want to personally ask you for your understanding as we make these changes, and I thank you for reading the Free Press.

Sincerely, Paul Anger
Editor and Vice President
Detroit Free Press and

Monday, December 15, 2008

My dad's explanation of "Wxmas"

From an e-mail sent Dec. 15, 1998:
Shortly after Jesus' birth, a group of Jews (the original Jews for Jesus) made the decision to follow him and form a new religion. The day of his birth was celebrated as Christmas. The letter X soon became a symbol for the name "Christ" and was often used as a replacement for the word, so that Xmas became the name of the holiday. In the meantime, the other Jews, who remained authentic Jews, liked to celebrate Xmas, when they would decorate a fir tree by hanging potato latkes and gold and silver coins from the branches. So as to maintain and proclaim their religious differences from the new Christians, they called the holiday "Wxmas." The "X" remained in this new form to remind all that Jesus was a Jew (Orthodox, yet) but partly hidden by the "W," which is the last letter of the word "Jew."

And so it goes.

Jews have no business being enamored of Christmas

For the first of this season's Nextbook literary salons, my co-organizer, Elana Kupor, selected a piece of short fiction by Binnie Kirschenbaum titled "Jews Have No Business Being Enamored of Germans," in which the female protagonist expresses her vehement belief that Jewish people and German people shouldn't tangle. She bases her theory on both historical issues (for example, the Holocaust) and a peculiar personal event, in which a lusty German hippie sneaks into her room and tries to get into bed with her.

While I think the reader isn't expected to come away from the story convinced that Jews and Germans shouldn't interact, I do find that some Jews I know have a dim view of Christmas, and while I can understand why, it doesn't square with how I was raised. That's something that has become particularly apparent to me this year, since I'm a resident of the Ravenna Kibbutz, where a Christmas tree in the common space wouldn't fly. (I've decided to forgo my annual acquisition of an evergreen, since the idea of a little tree in my room doesn't appeal to me.)

I wasn't raised religious, although I attended Sunday school from a young age until my bar mitzvah, after which I co-led services from time to time at T'chiyah, my family's lay-led congregation (which has since acquired a very nice rabbi). I floated away from Judaism during high school, happy to be freed from the intensive work of Sunday school and bar mitzvah preparation, and in college all I could muster by way of Jewish involvement was a disastrous semester as Hillel's treasurer and participation in Kosher Co-op's annual Chanukah blowout. After a few years in Seattle, I wanted to find a way to get involved in the Jewish community that would fit my personality and my take on Jewish life, such as it was. I tried going to shul and attending Jconnect events, but neither setting felt quite right. The Kibbutz is the first Jewish organization I've found -- in Seattle, but really anywhere I've been -- that seems (almost) made for me. It's a good feeling to find a place like that, especially after such a long search.

Anyway, back to Christmas. My father, whose first wife wasn't Jewish, loved celebrating the holiday so much that when he married my mother, who is Jewish, he didn't want to give it up. (He liked to call it "Wxmas" -- pronounced "Wux-mas" -- because the last letter of the word "Jew" is "W." It's kind of a long story.) I was raised with a Christmas tree, angel chimes, stockings hung by the chimney with care, cookies and milk for Santa, carols sung by the fire, and on and on. When I was very young, I once asked my father, before bed, whether I could convert to Christianity, so enamored was I of Christmas. "We can talk about it when you're older," my father said in a conspiratorial whisper. "For now, just don't tell your grandmother."

I know that my father's view of the winter holidays was that they all seek to bring a little light and warmth into a dark time of year, and what could be wrong with that? I also know that many Jews I know now and have known over the years resent America's de facto cultural Christianity, and the way the Christian mainstream routinely steamrolls minority cultures, or pays them condescending lip service. I know that maintaining Jewish identity in a nation dominated by Christians is a challenge, and that an oft-oppressed people can become sensitive about cultural colonialism. But I can't shake my love of the trappings of Christmas -- the music, the lights, the merriment -- in much the same way my dad couldn't. I went yesterday to St. Stephen's for an hour of carol singing with organ and harpsichord accompaniment, and it was a truly marvelous experience.

We sang classic songs like "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," and during the program the music director, Les Martin, showed us how the mighty organ works and walked us through the church's collection of other instruments, including a lovely mini-organ and an incredibly beautiful harpsichord, which he used to accompany us on "Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming." Though it put quite a strain on my untrained throat, it felt great to sing out as part of a drop-in choir of enthusiastic neighbors and their children. After the singing, we all had hot cocoa with tiny marshmallows, hot cider, and Christmas cookies shaped like snowmen and holly and whatnot. The interim rector, the Rev. Janet Campbell, was very friendly to all of us.

As I sang songs about Jesus' birth in the manger, I thought about the implications of singing lyrics about a plainly Christian story in a setting as Christian as a church. My father believed that he could be perfectly Jewish and still enjoy Christmas in a non-religious way (it helped that he wasn't very religious in general), and I seem to feel the same, even though I live in a very (culturally) Jewish setting. When I sing Jewish songs or prayers, they don't mean anything more to me, spiritually, than the Christmas songs do, but they have the warmth and sweetness of familiarity -- they make me remember childhood -- and offer comfort in that sense. Buddhist ideas resonate more with me spiritually than Jewish ones, at this point in my life, but Buddhism doesn't have as many good songs as Christian tradition does, and it doesn't have as much good food as Jewish culture (though if you consider Indian food Buddhist, Jewish cuisine has a fight on its hands).

When a young Jewish woman I know recently commented that she hoped others would join her in "avoiding the Christmas cheer," I saw where she was coming from but noticed how different my feelings on the subject are. My father's death in 2003 has given Christmas a new association for me -- celebrating it, albeit as secularly as he always did, is a way to feel connected to him at a time of year that directly precedes his birthday (Jan. 2). Largely as a result of living at the Kibbutz, I feel more Jewish than at any other point in my life, because my Jewishness is now a chosen thing, not something I have to do because it's expected of me. And I happen to think that my recent surge of Jewish identity can withstand a little Christmas cheer.

"Slumdog Millionaire"

I realized this morning that what Danny Boyle's new film most resembles is the 2002 Brazilian slums-to-riches epic City of God, the directorial debut of The Constant Gardener and Blindness director Fernando Meirelles. Like that film, Slumdog portrays extreme poverty with both grit and arresting visual style, and a sense of humor that reflects universal truths about childhood even as it depicts children growing up in the worst conceivable conditions. The first half of the movie is harrowing, since it follows the protagonist, Jamal, his brother, Salim, and Jamal's crush, Latika, as they try to navigate the treacherous reality of the slums. (The film is set in Mumbai, which is either a strange coincidence or simply a reflection of what a turbulent place that city is.)

In his review, Anthony Lane notes that Slumdog isn't big on subtlety, but the film's conclusion -- an exuberant, Bollywood-style production number in a train station -- tells you all you need to know about why. Despite the tough-minded portions of the movie, which include torture and the intentional blinding of children (sensitive viewers, beware), this is an epic romance of the kind that India has long excelled at producing, and in that sense the film is less an Indian work than an homage to that country's cinematic sensibility.

The story feels a bit long during the film's final third, but Boyle is a master at keeping things whizzing along, even when the subject matter is grim (see 28 Days Later or Trainspotting for proof), and the flashback-intensive structure is, if not ingenious, certainly highly effective. Since Jamal eventually finds himself on India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the movie's conceit is to reveal how he knows the answers to the show's questions, which it does via scenes from his rough-and-tumble life.

Lane observes that the script unrealistically turns Jamal's torturers into relatively civil interrogators, and the film ends on a weak note before the dance number, but the pure joy of that number excuses a multitude of sins. Best of all, Slumdog reflects Boyle's knack for striking a fine balance between grittiness and sentimentality -- and entertaining the hell out of you in the process.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Karma's a bitch, George

My day is officially brightened

By two things. First, a graphic brought to my attention by Geoff:

Second, the description of World Kissing Day '08, a Facebook event my friend Dana just RSVPed to (and you should, too), translated endearingly from the original Italian:
30.12.08 WORLD KISSING DAY '08
Just for one day let's put aside all kinds of hostility, let's move away from our head all

negative thoughts and all rivalries between colleagues or friends!
Let's end 2008 in a great way! How to do that? That's easy!..let's kiss everyone we know!
It doesn't matter what kind of kiss it's gonna be. You can choose the one you like! It could

be a kiss on the cheek, a kiss on the lips, on the doesn't matter the way you

kiss each others!
To take part to the World Kissing Day '08 you need to invite most of your friends on

Facebook! Who knows, maybe we'll be able for a day not to hear bad news on TV and we'll be

able to end 2008 with a good laughter!!!


Since it's a Red Blue Green tradition to celebrate the season's first snow with pictures, a poem, and an iTunes mix, here's this year's crop. First, the photos:

Next, a poem by Mary Oliver:


The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain-not a single
answer has been found-
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

And, finally, an (edited) iTunes mix, the result of using "snow" as the search term:

1. Snow Crush Killing Song -- The Mountain Goats
2. Velvet Snow -- Kings of Leon
3. Snow Cherries From France -- Tori Amos
4. Snow (Hey Oh) -- Red Hot Chili Peppers
5. Angel in the Snow -- Elliott Smith
6. Snow Camping -- Laura Veirs
7. Snow Lion -- Readymade FC feat. Feist
8. 20 Years Of Snow -- Regina Spektor
9. Snow On The Sahara -- Anggun
10. Snow -- Loreena McKennitt
11. Snowden -- Doves
12. Snow On The Sahara -- Stanford University Harmonics
13. Snow Is Gone -- Josh Ritter
14. Snowflake Music -- Mark Mothersbaugh

Actually, since that's a partial repeat of last year, here's a "winter" mix to grow on:

1. Faded From The Winter -- Iron & Wine
2. The Winter Solstice -- Sufjan Stevens
3. Wait For The Wintertime -- Yeasayer
4. Winter Wonderland -- Aimee Mann
5. Winter -- Tori Amos
6. Winter Is Gone -- Nick Drake
7. In Winter Still -- Dot Allison
8. In The Bleak Mid-Winter -- Shawn Colvin
9. Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind -- Barenaked Ladies
10. The Winter Song -- Eisley
11. Dead Of Winter -- Eels
12. Summer Dress 1 (All Her Winter Clothes) -- Plus/Minus

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Comment of the week

In response to my short post about Naomi Klein, an anonymous commenter made this observation:
The Shock Doctrine is the most thoroughly discredited public policy book of the last 10 years. It’s been destroyed by right-wing statists, left-wing statists (e.g., [T]he New Republic), and even non-statists (e.g., Cato). It is truly astounding that anyone still takes this woman seriously. She’s Mao in mak[e]up — just the kind of smiley-faced statist that George Carlin warned us about. Much more dangerous than the socialists in the tanks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My chemical romance

I've been on Lexapro for almost exactly six weeks, and as far as I can tell, it's helping me. I first noticed its effects the day before Thanksgiving, when I spent hours on a plane in front of two people who insisted, while everyone else tried to sleep, on having an animated conversation. I'd forgotten my earplugs, and I felt it wasn't my place to tell them to hush so I could try to get some rest. So I boiled and bubbled with frustration, as I usually do in such circumstances, and shot meaningful glances their way from time to time. (Meaningful to me, that is; evidently, not so much to them.) Finally, I put on my headphones and distracted myself with the soundtrack from Avenue Q. When I finally left the plane, I noticed that my frustration over the in-flight annoyance was melting away; it was harder than usual -- nearly impossible, as a matter of fact -- for me to hold onto it, nurse it, make it into something that could ruin my morning. I didn't think too much of my unexpected ability to release my tension, but it was the beginning of a string of changes to my normal way of thinking that would continue throughout the weekend, and that would follow me back to Seattle.

I'm not always aware of what my daily dose of 10 milligrams is accomplishing. Last night, I spoke warmly to a friend who was about to go on vacation, and I detected something in my tone -- an unusual generosity, a carefree quality, a greater concern for another person than for myself. A short but memorable trip outside my own personal travails, in short. It's a wonderful feeling, to be the kind of person you've watched others be for years. I've also recovered, partly, the feeling I had about writing as a teenager, and to some extent as a college student: that life is too rich with incident and meaning to go unanswered, and that the best way for me to answer is in writing. Writing, in other words, as a necessary, vital activity, not something I have to drag myself into. Also: writing without crippling perfectionism. It's like Roger Ebert's description of why characters burst into song in musicals (he was talking specifically about Everyone Says I Love You): They simply don't know what else to do. There's nothing else they can do, no other form of expression that's conceivable. That sense that I need to write, that I can't let life go by without responding to it, is a welcome sensation -- one that I hadn't felt in years.

I've also been experiencing an increased sense of gratitude for my friends, and I've tried to show it as best I can. I know that what I'm able to feel and do thanks (in part) to the medication is stuff that was already inside me -- tendencies I had in the past and lost touch with. During a particular evening of my Thanksgiving visit to Detroit, I felt a bit adrift, unable to connect with anyone the way I wanted to. In the past, such a turn of events might have plunged me into (unproductive) despair of the teenage-melancholia sort: Why am I such a hopeless case? Why can't I make connections like normal human beings? Why does everyone smile when inwardly they must be roiling the way I am? And so on. Of course, some people smile precisely because they're happy, not because they're "phonies" in the Catcher in the Rye vein, but that fact used to escape me. Now I kinda get it, because sometimes I'm actually one of them.

As surely as I know that Obama isn't the Messiah and won't solve all of America's problems, I know that Lexapro isn't a panacea that can make life's every difficulty evaporate. But that's not what I expect it to do. I felt stuck and needed a push, and now I'm more able to give myself that push. Like so many things we consume -- food, shoes, clothing, alcohol, cars, jewelry, travel, cultural experiences, and on and on -- this kind of medication is a mixed bag. Do I feel, sometimes, the sense of emotional mutedness that's often cited as a drawback of SSRIs? I do. Does it trouble me more than my depression did before I got started with the drug? No, it does not. I believe life is full of trade-offs, and we don't always know what to give up and what to hold onto. Our principles naturally evolve over time, and while we may cling to some -- vegetarianism, teetotalism, religious faith -- even they can and do change in small ways. For now, this medication has given me a sense of capability and hope that I appreciate, and as long as I dutifully observe its influence as best I can, I think I'm doing what's right for me. There's no certainty, of course, but that's something I'm trying to learn to live with, too.

Move the center

If you, like me, have long been intrigued by Naomi Klein (and have long intended to read No Logo), you'll likely appreciate Larissa MacFarquhar's recent New Yorker article about her. For one thing, I had no idea Klein was Canadian. And as both a staunch Obama supporter and someone who has been involved in many a debate about whether revolutionary politics are more useful, more often, than reform-minded tactics, I find that the piece raises a lot of questions without trying to answer any of them patly. Which befits Gen X, according to Klein's husband, Avi Lewis:
Suspicion of people who know what the answer is—that’s very characteristic of our generation, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve never gone into politics.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

YouTube is to television addicts as a packed fridge is to compulsive overeaters

I grew up watching a lot of TV -- maybe not by those "average American" standards you're always hearing about (six hours a day? Really?), but certainly a decent bit by any other measure. I regularly watched a solid block of cartoons from approximately 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, and I was a big fan of sitcoms (as were my parents, especially my mom): Family Ties, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Roseanne. Though in the past I consulted YouTube mostly for wacky one-offs (Dramatic Chipmunk!) and Obama campaign clips, over the past few months I've begun to realize the medium's true potential as a television (and, to a lesser degree, movie) archive -- and it's as addictive as the proverbial crack.

This is no news, but it is becoming a problem. (The New Yorker's current article on luxury rehab helped put my behavior in the context of addiction.) I find myself staying up too late, sometimes way too late, watching -- what, The Class? The Big Bang Theory? I think the habit started in the spring, when I was still reeling from my breakup with Emily. I began watching Quarterlife, the endearing Web series that made a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to cross over to prime-time TV (and subsequently died one of the quickest deaths in television history). I stayed up late to watch one episode -- sorry, "Webisode" -- after another, like a chain smoker who lights the next cigarette with the current one.

TV on YouTube is comforting in a way that on-air TV and even rented TV isn't -- it's free (so no financial guilt), and it's available anytime (so your every whim can be catered to, provided you don't mind having some episodes of certain series chopped into "best bits" highlight reels). In my life in general, I've been doing a bit better lately in terms of self-discipline, and that includes trying to get to bed earlier. But every so often, especially after a couple of productive days, I feel a strong, almost insuperable need to "wind down" before bed -- and occasionally, winding down lasts until the middle of the night, or even the morning. I try not to get too down on myself for it, but I'd like to make it happen less frequently.

My desire to be soothed by something drug-like finds tremendous fulfillment in YouTube's nearly unlimited supply of old TV shows. After reading Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander's landmark treatise against the medium as a whole, I began to rethink my assumption that TV is inherently neutral, a blank slate that can be used for either benign or destructive purposes. Now I think the Internet, despite its interactive nature, may have an even greater potential to addict us and dumb us down. Again, no news, but something I'm struggling with firsthand right now. Just as a compulsive overeater has to deal with food every day, someone who works as a freelance writer and is looking for a day job needs to use the computer on a daily basis. The challenge is knowing when to stop.

Oh, and this just in: A YouTube commenter remarks, in response to the pilot episode of Quarterlife and the series' protagonist, Dylan Krieger:
A genetically perfect, healthy American woman lies on her bed and moans about her life into her $2000 Mac. Our western society has never been more affluent and never been more dull. Where are the real intricacies, hardships and wonderment of being human? What is this endless vanity, faux psychology, surface emotion of internet blogspeak? We are a generation locked in a time-warp of high school crushes and teen angst naval gazing [sic]. Time to grow up and start being the adults that we are.
Ain't that the damn truth. Ms. Krieger, c'est moi!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Marc Shaiman's "Prop. 8: The Musical" feels the burn

The sagging economy leaves no business untouched, it seems, and my former employer is no exception. R.I.P., dining and entertainment coverage; it won't be the same without you, travel and recreation content. Pets articles, I think I'll miss you most of all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


If it isn't the best film of the year, it's damn close. Milk succeeds on many levels, from the tightness and intelligence of Dustin Lance Black's script to what it does for Gus Van Sant's famously/notoriously meandering directorial style. The efficiency and fine pacing of Black's writing reins in Van Sant's tendency towards excess. While the director enters one of his trademark musical/stylistic reveries during Harvey Milk's first sex scene with his true love, Scott Smith (played with understated excellence by James Franco), his mark as an auteur is most recognizable throughout the film via idiosyncratic, often revealing camera angles, and of course the subject matter -- gay culture -- which he's dealt with since his earliest films, including his breakthrough, My Own Private Idaho. Van Sant's disciplined yet always engaging take on gay politics, however, is a new approach for him, and since Black balances the personal and the political with extraordinary skill, there's never a moment when you're liable to think: "All right, already, let's get back to Milk's personal life," or: "Enough about his relationships; let's have more politics!" Everything is interwoven in the film as in life, and as it certainly seems to have been in Milk's life.

I predict Oscar nominations for the film, for Van Sant, and for Penn, and I think Penn has a strong chance of winning. (Van Sant should have a good chance, too; the film, if it wins, could somewhat avenge Brokeback Mountain's wrongful loss to Crash a couple years back.) But Josh Brolin, who plays Dan White, one of Milk's fellow city supervisors, also deserves a lot of praise, particularly for what must be one of the best drunk acts I've seen in movies. At one point fairly late in the film, White crashes Milk's birthday party, and when he first enters the scene it's unclear what's wrong with him -- is he simply in a state of emotional tumult, or is he drunk? As I mentioned to one of my friends, this is how it is with drunk people you don't know very well; it takes a few moments, or even longer, to determine whether they've had too much to drink.

The scene is a turning point in Brolin's performance, because White's drunkenness gets him close to revealing things he's been tightly guarding, and the actor does a superb job of taking his character right up to the edge of confession without ever letting us believe he'll actually do it. Other performances in what amounts to an ensemble are strong -- Emile Hirsch is spot-on as a young prostitute whom Milk unexpectedly recruits and turns on to politics, and Alison Pill is sharp as the sole female operator on Milk's staff -- and it's a testament to Black, Van Sant, and Penn that the leading man is able to give such a full-bodied, full-hearted performance (well described in David Denby's review) without overshadowing everyone else -- instead, he generously draws them closer to him, and they achieve greater heights by working off his energy.

Milk doesn't dumb down politics or sex or love, and though Anita Bryant and California state senator John Briggs aren't presented in particularly complex terms (Bryant appears only in historical footage), Milk's philosophy of trying to make allies out of enemies resonates throughout the film, checking the audience's impulse to direct at Milk's rivals the kind of unthinking hatred they themselves are spouting. The film also succeeds in being timely, in light of California's recent Prop. 8, which bans gay marriage -- so much so, in fact, that a friend remarked that it's a shame the film wasn't released before Election Day. Milk seems especially poignant in the context of the protest marches that recently occurred across the country, including here in Seattle (I attended the one on Capitol Hill). Watching Milk, in the film, lead angry protesters through the Castro and down to City Hall, I couldn't help but notice how similar their march seemed to ours.

There's cause for despair in the fact that such marches are still necessary, and though Prop. 8 might not seem quite as heinous as Prop. 6 (which sought to rob gay teachers of their jobs), its intent is just as hurtful, wrongheaded, and dangerous. But as Hendrik Hertzberg notes in The New Yorker this week, the anti-Prop. 8 protests seemed less angry than the street marches that Milk led; there's a growing sense that the problem is no longer as much societal as generational, and that when the older set dies off, today's young people -- ready to accept gay people as, simply, people -- will have all the power they need to keep measures like Prop. 8 off the books, or to repeal those that are already law, on the simple basis Milk would have pointed out: They defy the Constitution.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Craig's List personal ad from hell

Thanks to Leyna for pointing out this gem.

Actual Detroit radio ad

I was driving to Ann Arbor and listening to 96.3 FM, Detroit's equivalent to Seattle's KNDD (The End), when I heard an ad for a station promotion/contest thing called -- I kid you not -- "Breast Christmas Ever!" The lucky lady who wins first prize receives free breast augmentation surgery.

I love you, Detroit, but it's good to be back in crunchy-granola Seattle, where such a thing would be unheard of.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dinner in Greektown

As usual, click to enlarge 'em. (They're ginormous because I uploaded the wrong files, but whatever. Enjoy the microscopic detail!) They were taken in and around Pegasus on Monroe Street in Detroit's Greektown.

The author of No One Cares What You Had for Lunch would hate me for posting these.

Fun with Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

My mom's dog, Juliet, joined her daughter, Miranda, and another relative, six-month-old Wilbur, for a bit of social time in the kitchen. Behold the cute overload that resulted!

Weekend update

I had a great time at the Class of '98 reunion, and tomorrow I'm going to shul because my mom is co-leading services and I want to interview the rabbi for my upcoming article about Jewish views of the afterlife. Then a former teacher, Barry Lepler, is coming over for tea, and after that I might get to see my college friend Lauren before my mom and I go to Greektown for dinner. (Happy-Go-Lucky didn't work out today after all -- the projector broke, and we got our money back. I'll have to catch it back in Seattle.) Sunday morning I'll drive to Ann Arbor to have brunch with my friend Rebecca, who recently bought a condo, and I'll spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening with my mom before heading to the airport. It's been a great trip so far, though I do miss the Kibbutz and look forward to returning to its welcoming embrace.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Things I'm thankful for

Many, many aspects of the Ravenna Kibbutz, including my amazing housemates, excellent food on a remarkably regular basis, and the Kibbutz community -- the first community I've really felt a part of in Seattle.

Small but encouraging breakthroughs in the search for a job.

My mom.

Greek food in Detroit.

The good movies that get released between now and Dec. 31.

Glimmers of hope that emerge from places both expected and unexpected.

All the good things about Seattle, including beautiful water (and the city lights reflected in it), first-rate Thai and Vietnamese food, ahead-of-the-curve environmental awareness, and sunny days that revive your mood after a series of rainy ones.

Obama's victory.

How funny and cute small dogs are.

All my wonderful friends.

Having spent almost 30 years on this planet.

A hunch that 2009 won't be quite as hard as 2008, or at least hard in more manageable ways.

Thanksgiving dinner in pictures

Click on 'em to make 'em bigger.

I might upload more (including some of actual people) when Blogger stops taking forever to do it. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Tomorrow my mom and I are off to Greektown for lunch, and then to Happy-Go-Lucky, our annual holiday movie excursion. She's likely to enjoy it a lot more than I'm Not There, which was last year's. Oh, and tomorrow night I'm off to my second high school reunion in as many years -- I just can't get enough! I know a decent number of the Class of '98, so it ought to be fun (and a bit less anxiety-producing than my own). I wonder how many people throughout the night will say: "Weren't you in the Class of '97?"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Farewell to Dubya

I wrote a goodbye letter to President Bush for a group blog that collects them. You should, too!

No idea how I missed this during the campaign

Late is definitely better than never, though. (You'll probably want to stop the video after you've watched the whole sequence a couple of times; it's on loop.)

I made it to Motown!

The married military man and the elderly lady in the seats behind me on the plane talked for three and a half straight hours, preventing me from sleeping (though admittedly I spent at least an hour of that time reading The New Yorker, and another half-hour listening to the Avenue Q soundtrack on my iPod), but I'm here! And my mother's dog is as cute as ever, and my mother herself is mildly obsessed with Trader Joe's (the fridge is filled with TJ's stuff, and it's almost frighteningly well organized), and I'm making stuffed mushroom caps for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, and all is right with the world. Oh, and Calvin Trillin's piece on barbecue in the New Yorker food issue is every bit as good as Michael claimed it was. Mimi Sheraton's ode to brodetto is great, too -- makes me want to go back to Italy. (I still remember meeting Ms. Sheraton at Salumi, with Roger Downey providing the introduction. Those were the days...)

Where I am going, for sure, is the Inauguration! I'm very excited. I'll probably spend about ten days on the East Coast in total -- several days in New York before Jan. 20, and several days after. I can't wait!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Okay, so I'm a few days early. I'll be leaving for Detroit around 10 p.m. Tuesday night, and I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging from Motown this year -- though last year I posted on Turkey Day, so who knows? In any case, I figured I'd better wish you all a happy holiday in advance. May your meal be filling and delicious, may your dinner conversation be sparkling and witty, and may you spend enough time with every family member and friend you've been dying to see. (Expect a photo-packed post upon my return.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hold the mustard

Thanks to Monica for sending this my way.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On horror movies

When I was a kid, even the trailers for horror movies kept me from sleeping.

At the age of 10, I was scared absolutely silly by a preview for Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. (Why this was showing before something I would see, I don't know.) Until The Fisher King, which came out when I was 12, I didn't see R-rated movies. It wasn't because my parents forbade it -- it was because I associated the R rating with scares. (In 1992 and 1993, I saw The Crying Game, The Piano, and Schindler's List in the theater, so I clearly had an easier time with frank sexual material and violence in the context of historical drama.)

Over the years, I developed a natural curiosity about scary movies, and by seeing Scream in a dorm lounge during freshman year of college, I became Someone Who Watched Horror Movies, even though Scream's intended effect -- it's a playful but violent spoof of slasher movies -- was lost on me. I was petrified and upset, especially by the opening sequence, during which poor Drew Barrymore suffers a horrible death, along with her unfortunate boyfriend. During college vacations, and especially after graduation, I peeked at horror movies on my parents' deluxe cable -- HBO! Showtime! -- until they scared me beyond a reasonable measure. Eventually, after sufficient training, I started watching them whole. This M.O. hit a snag in 2003, when I rented The Ring -- yes, the American remake -- and frightened myself so badly that it took me a couple weeks to recover.

Which brings me to a night not too long ago. I was having a hard time sleeping, so I went online and came across the Canadian werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, which I'd heard about -- it won a fair amount of critical acclaim for a horror film -- and was curious to watch a little of. You know, just a little, to see what it was like.

An hour and a half later, I'd seen virtually the entire movie -- I skipped a few minutes here and there, not because of violence or gore but because I was tired and impatient -- and had actually liked it. And though I was a bit creeped out (at the time, I lived in a mother-in-law cabin, and cabins become exponentially creepier after you watch a horror movie), I wasn't going to lose weeks of sleep -- anyway, I was already kind of doing that, so nothing much to lose. The next day, I watched the sequel to Ginger Snaps, which is considerably grimmer and less funny, to its detriment. I flinched a bit here and there, but not too much.

In the last few days, I've been watching zombie movies on YouTube -- quite a few have been uploaded mostly or entirely, including the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, which is pretty fun, the amusing spoof Shaun of the Dead, and plenty of inferior genre entries (like Diary of the Dead, which is hokey and not especially scary, and the 2008 direct-to-DVD Day of the Dead, which is less hokey than just plain dull). (28 Days Later, easily my favorite zombie movie, isn't online in one piece, as far as I can tell.) Watching horror on YouTube is kind of ideal -- you have to keep asking for the next portion of the movie, which prevents you from getting sucked into the film's reality too much, and you can pause it whenever you want in order to take a breather. Also, the small screen is less intimidating than a big one, or even a TV screen.

Tonight, however, I decided to take my life in my hands and watch a bona fide horror film at the theater: the new Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In. (The last horror movie I saw in the theater may have been Trouble Every Day, whose scenes of violence were so agonizing that I closed my eyes and my ears during them.) As critics have been saying, Let the Right One In is a sweet coming-of-age love story that just happens to include vampirism, and it strikes an excellent balance between originality and age-old vampire lore. The players are good (especially Lina Leandersson, the young actress who plays Eli, the vampire), but it's the mood of the film -- unforced melancholy that seems to emanate from both the characters and the snowy Stockholm setting -- that makes it haunting.

As the credits rolled, I turned to Reed and said: "I must be getting desensitized to horror movies, because that wasn't so bad." The truth is, Let the Right One In doesn't traffic in gratuitous violence, which is part of why it's successful (and, I'd argue, part of why any good horror movie works). When the mayhem does get graphic, it has a purpose, and that purpose isn't always to shock you -- sometimes it's to make you sad, or to make you laugh and gasp at the same time. So while there's plenty out there that can still frighten or upset me -- I have particular disdain for Cabin Fever and Hostel director Eli Roth, who is partly responsible for the rise of the "torture porn" genre -- I feel as though I've turned a corner. I can see a horror movie on the big screen, without a pause button at my disposal, and not end up strongly suspecting that at some point during the night my blood will be rapidly drained from my neck by a small but insistent vampire.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama's personal transition

I've been sick for almost a week, so I haven't been posting much. But here's an interesting New York Times article, brought to my attention by Jill, about the president-elect's personal transition process since the election. It's a reassuring account, I think. Especially this:
“He seems to be very, very focused on the transition,” said his friend, John W. Rogers Jr. chairman of Ariel Investments, who lent office space to Mr. Obama until the federal space was available. “It doesn’t seem to have changed him at all. He’s the same relaxed, in-control, engaging Barack that he’s always been. I’ve been struck by that, that it hasn’t shifted him.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we did!

Last night on Capitol Hill, at the intersection of Broadway and Pike, there was a rally the likes of which I'd never seen. People of all races and ages held Obama signs and American flags. Complete strangers hugged and high-fived each other. Some people sprayed the crowd with champagne, while others lit fireworks that shot high above us and exploded beautifully against the night sky. Chants of "Yes we can!" alternated with "Yes we did!" and, as several of my friends pointed out, hipsters shouted "U! S! A!" and sang the national anthem -- the national anthem! -- without a trace of irony. As Kim noted, eight years of pent-up frustration transformed last night into a wild, unstructured expression of pure joy. Whatever the Obama administration achieves or does not, there's no question that he has galvanized and energized a great many people who had little or no interest in politics before. I should know, because I'm one of them. An older man in the crowd said he hadn't seen anything like last night's rally since 1968, and one older woman, her large Obama pin attached crookedly to her coat, was on the verge of tears as she hugged us all. The kind of love people showed for their country and for each other last night was remarkable, and no development in the coming four years can take anything away from that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I'm not a praying man...

...but tonight, I'm about as close as I get.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm SO seeing this

Yep, it's NaNoWriMo time again

Heaven help us all. I've got 1,719 words so far. Let's see if I can win my third consecutive year!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My new shopping article for

It's live!

Who knows how I missed this...

...but here it is now, better late than never:

Thanks to Jill for tipping me off. I'm really going to miss this year's election-themed comedy shenanigans.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"I don't know if you're going to use the word 'terrorist' there..."

Read it and weep. And pray, if you're that sort.

I rode a motorcycle today!

First time ever! The related article, a profile of a local Jewish motorcycle club, should go live the second week in November.

In other news: Happy almost-Halloween, everyone!

The Kibbutz has seven -- count 'em! -- jack-o'-lanterns at this time, and if I want to have a costume, I'd better get cracking. Sarah Palin? The economy? Headless John the Baptist? These are all possibilities.