Thursday, September 28, 2006

Climbing up the Hill

This election year is a little odd, in that I know two people runningfor Congress. Both are running as Independents, and both face incumbent Democrats. The first is the father of a friend from college, running in Maine's 1st District; I stayed with the Kamilewiczes for many a Thanksgiving, Fall Break, and random weekend, and Dexter's bid for a seat in the House was fueled by Ben getting shipped to Iraq. The second is a friend from various civic engagement projects, running in Washington's 7th District; her campaign is all about fresh blood, fresh ideas, fresh approaches to politics.

Linnea's ad campaign is sheer brilliance. Called The Daily Report, it's a parody of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. With a significantly smaller pocket than a candidate backed by a political party, the Daily Report is airing not on TV stations but on myspace and youtube. There are five parts: the intro, a "field report" on ineffectiveness, a hilarious segment called "Where in the hell is Jim McDermott?" (Seattle's 17-year Congressman), part 1 of the interview with Linnea, and part 2 of the interview. It's a creative, awesome way of reaching an ignored demographic.

Linnea's campaign resonates with me not just because I know her and she's cool and intelligent and super-savvy and fun, but because I don't like the party system. Hell, I'm up on Dem party happenings, especially locally; I root for most Democrats in their races and end up going to their election day celebrations. I fully understand the role of political parties in American democracy. But understanding a system because you have no other choice but to work within it doesn't mean you have to like it. I've only donated money to one candidate in my nine years of political participation (not to be confused with legislative interest, that's entirely different), and that was the '04 primary candidate seen as a political outsider. It's weird, but everyone always assumes I'm ardently pro-Dem simply because of my left-of-center stances on issues. But issues don't translate to party loyalty for me. There are good ideas and policies and legislative pieces out there that need to get passed, and for the most part I think partisanship gets in the way. My voting record is actually pretty independent: depending on the office and the race and other strategic factors, I've voted Democrat, Republican, and Green before. And this year I'll vote for an Independent. =)

Dexter and Linnea are both running to make statements. More power to them!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Going to the Chapel

Basically, I don't go out of my way to go to the theatre, symphony, or concerts unless it's a free ticket or I tag along with someone. Tonight I got a friend's free ticket to the Seattle Rep's opening night production of the John Patrick Shanley's prizewinning play Doubt.

It was brilliant. The play is set in a the 60s in the Bronx, in a Catholic school. There are only four characters -- two nuns, the priest, and one parent. The other characters (students, parents, bishop, etc.) are just talked about so much that it seems like they're real.

There's an incident, an allegation, and then it just explodes in intrigue. Throughout the play, the audience doesn't really know what has really happened. The priest could be innocent. But then he's so good at convincing people he's innocent. The nun could be wrong. But she's so clever. Meanwhile, in the background, there are the Vatican II reforms and the Church trying to make itself more accessible. There's the whole hierarchy of the Catholic order, where gender dynamics are key and women are shut out of most decision-making roles. The boy whose welfare is in question is the first black student at the school -- so when his mother talks to the nun, there's an entirely different dynamic at play.

Witty dialogue, too. And bitingly ironic jokes.

The "doubt" is so ambiguous and yet so brilliant -- is Father Flynn's guilt in doubt? Sister Aloysius' motives? Her faith in the Church? It was an awesome play, and the Seattle Rep did a fine production of it.

And . . . on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I watched Hitch the other day. It was cute, if formulaic. It was also a tad misogynous: women don't give nice guys/geeks/dorks a chance, women who've been hurt before never trust men, even when the guys are well-intentioned. So Will Smith helps nice guys get the girl of their dreams (who is, of course, hot).

But in movies that are the other way around (popular or hot guy gets geeky/dorky/weird girl) the girl is always secretly a bombshell, and just needs to put on heels and a dress for her to realize her true self. In movies like Hitch, guys like the Kevin James character just need to be given a chance on their own merits, and women in general are superficial, evil hypocrites for not doing so in the first place.

It's always the women that have to change. I hated Grease for that (and became a bitter, cynical 14-year-old). But I digress. Or maybe I'm just projecting. Either way, Hitch did have its funny moments. I usually try to have one comedy and one drama out on Netflix, and this was a decent happy-ending comedy.

Monday, September 25, 2006

All about the fruit

Woo hoo, I can make a decent sangria! I think I ended up drinking most of it, but that's fine. I also fudged the recipe. It turned out okay.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


For some inexplicable reason -- perhaps related to the previous post, perhaps because someone sang it at karaoke on Monday night-- I have "Take on Me" stuck in my head. It has a very cool video.

Free Food Trumps Free Film

Actually, free food trumps everything. Even a free ticket to the advance screening of a documentary on film ratings.

Somehow got suckered into being the alumna in charge of the sign-in sheet, nametags, school banner, and door prize for tonight's 3-college gathering. I thought about just dumping the materials on a table at the venue, then denying all knowledge while grubbing. But then if it means standing on a table and shouting the winner of the raffle, that would be cool. Or at least the standing on a table part. I'm sure there'll be music playing. I can get my groove on.

The door prize is just a coffee mug. But hey, the mascot's been all modernized.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A.D.D boater

Went kayaking yesterday. I figured out early on that I had this weird tendency to get distracted by planes, helicopters, and birds; my head would look around, and then I'd flail wildly to regain my balance. The first time that happened, I realized the boat rental staff hadn't gone over what to do if you flip over in a kayak, and I had visions of myself drowning upside down, trapped in the kayak. Then I realized I could unsnap the plastic seat cover and survive. All was well.

Also, I didn't realize kayaks could have pedal-controlled rudders. It was actually pretty cool, except that I was numb from the knees down for the first hour before realizing what the best pedalling method was. Still, we walked like horse-weary cowboys for a while afterwards.

Yamming and Amming

When you spent two nights in the hospital once because of e-coli, and then there's a nationwide spinach recall five years later, your mama tends to freak out and call you twice, then email you, then share your experience as an example for her coworkers and the ladies from her church.

Especially when spinach is your preferred leafy green vegetable.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hips Don't Lie

Saw an excellent bluegrass band last night, and will probably be seeing them again tonight. Their lyrics are clever, and so were their transition dialogues onstage. Of course, as an Austin-based band, they had to dedicate a song to their former Governor: "I Don't Like the Look on Your Face." The Meat Purveyors' beats also inspired immediate toe-tapping, foot-stomping, and shoulder-bopping. Except for their covers of Madonna and Elvis, which took some people in the audience a few lines to recognize. Brilliance.

Ahem. I mention the Meat Purveyors only to redeem myself because I am currently listening to brotha Enrique. I swear, most of his songs just have a good hip-swaying beat. The melodies are predictable, the lyrics unabashedly cheesy. But the hips can't stop!!! It makes the chores I've ignored for days all the more fun. I mean, my floor is clean enough now to dance across. . . . I just won't slip, sail across the kitchen, and hit my chin on the stove like I did once when living in Worcester, also while listening to Enrique.

The Ninth Symphony

Someone told me once that A Clockwork Orange had a particularly disturbing rape scene, and I think I've been reluctant to watch it because of that. But just like Bad Education, it took deciding for myself. Also like Bad Education, I ended up liking the film. A few days ago, I thought I could watch it while doing chores. But the ironing and dishwashing never got done.

Turns out there were actually several gang rape scenes -- unsure if it's Kubrick the filmmaker or Burgess the author that favored so many images of naked women being shoved around by laughing men. But the whole film is so stylized that everything is presented as fairly unrealistic. (The music, costumes, and almost dance-like choreography accomplish this .)

The too-trite summary: Alex, who comes from a nice two-parent family, skips school, picks up girls, and runs around committing a host of crimes with his gang. Alex gets double-crossed and sent to jail, where he volunteers for an experimental treatment that will release him. The treatment turns out to be brainwashing, and upon his release when Alex summarily encounters every person he's wronged, he's been so programmed against violence that he can't even defend himself. His rehabilitation becomes politicized.

Naturally, I liked the latter half of the film because it raised controversial, debatable topics of conversation. It also brought back flashbacks to college units on the sociology of "deviance" (defined simply as social non-conformity). What is "evil"? What is nature/nurture? How does rehabilitation work? Crimes break laws, but what else can be considered a crime? I appreciated the progression of the storyline from an individual's crimes to the ethics of different sorts of institutionalized crime. Deeply ironic. Nobody is excused, and at either the micro or macro level, everybody is somehow responsible.

It reminded me of both The Incident and The Manchurian Candidate. (Mainly because the former is about urban "hoodlums," and the latter is also about brainwashing. )

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Holly Golightly

My bus goes through downtown every morning, and even through my blurry self-caffeinating haze, I am rather disturbed that Gap's new "Keep It Simple" marketing campaign is using Audrey Hepburn in its ads for its "skinny black pant."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


For various reasons, I haven't been to any book club meetings. But I finally read one of the books! It felt a little like cramming for a class discussion, rushing to read 850 pages before tonight's book club meeting. (So book club peeps, stop reading if you want.)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is about two magicians who bring back magic to England. Norrell creates a magical monopoly, becomes Strange's tutor. Strange helps Britain conquer Napoleon with magic. Norrell and Strange quarrel about the future of magic. Meanwhile, there are sinister things happening in the fairy world.
Norrell wants to hoard knowledge, keep it elitist, control it, and regulate it; Strange wants to share the magical love.

I found it fascinating how Susanna Clarke basically rewrote British history, but kept some parts. She invented an entirely new Northern England kingdom that was half faerie, but incorporated it into the general (real) history of England. She even wrote the book as if it were a quasi-history, complete with annotations and footnotes. I got bored by the accounts of the war in Spain. But I loved how she incorporated Lord Byron into the plot (ah, middle school memories.)

Towards the end I got irritated by the two magicians. Right in front of them are two women and a black servant who are under a fairy's spell, but they're both so caught up in their own field of study and in determining the history and future of magic in England that they don't recognize its presence in their everyday lives. So they ignore these marginalized people. It was a realistic attitude for the time, I know. It was just a little painful to read.

The character descriptions are brilliant; Clarke writes with great wit. What I thought the characters lacked was development. The story takes place between 1806 and 1816, and though the characters experience a lot of world-shattering changes, I didn't get the impression that they were changed. At least, their actions didn't really reflect that. It seemed they were all somehow part of a great and ancient prophecy, and that development's narrative took precedence over their individual psyches.

And then the ending. I irrationally shed a few tears! It could have been because my eyes were already stinging and blurred from reading the book in the wee hours of the night, in dim lighting. But I was also not expecting such a dismal ending.

In all, it's a dark tale. Overly long in the telling, perhaps, but overall clever and well-written.

Friday, September 08, 2006

"Dude, pick up a rock and throw it"

I guess I'm not a real Seattleite; I can't relate to some of the key "Where Were You?" stories from the Emerald City. I missed the grunge scene because I spent most of my teenage years in the library. I missed the Big One because I was in Maine interviewing for MassPIRG. And I missed the WTO riots because I was in Scotland following Sergio Garcia around.

But that's all okay. I make up for missing music trends by listening to techno and bad pop hits. I'll probably make the next earthquake. And within a few years, I'll be able to watch the WTO happenings from the homeland on the silver screen:
Lights! Camera! Tear gas! WTO riots to be a movie
Charlize Theron will play a pregnant bystander who loses her baby in Seattle's WTO riots. Susan Sarandon may take the part of a newscaster sympathetic to the protesters. ...

Former Mayor Paul Schell just hopes the movie re-enacting one of the worst chapters of his political life tells "the whole story about the 21st-century Boston Tea Party." ...

Mary Aloe, one of the film's producers, said "Battle in Seattle" will be an independent film with a budget under $10 million. The crew may spend a week shooting in Seattle, Aloe said, and Townsend hopes to use real WTO protesters as extras.

Aloe compared it to last year's Oscar-winning "Crash," in that the script will weave together the stories of an ensemble cast while dealing with serious issues.

I wonder if they'll mention the fact that the police set up a free-speech-smothering "No-Protest Zone."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I finally watched the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp. I liked it better than the '70s version. (For one, that annoying "Oompa Loompa" song wasn't in it.)

It's been like 20 years since I read the book, so I don't remember off the top of my head which movie is closer to it. But Roald Dahl did have a kind of dark humor, and I think that comes out more in this film more than in the happy adventure with Gene Wilder. The cartoon goth effects from Tim Burton worked really well with the overall tone of the film.

The children in the story still serve as cautionary tales: don't be greedy, gluttonous, TV-addict, me-me-me all the time (that's almost half of the seven deadly sins right there)! Keep it real like Charlie! Each of the kids was such a caricature, and there were a few ethnic stereotypes (the fat German kid, the prissy English girl, the weirdly combo Indian/African/South Pacific Oompa Loompas), but overall it was a decent film. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. I think I just felt compelled to watch it. Actually, I put it in my Netflix queue because I added Pirates of the Caribbean, and then decided to put some other Johnny Depp movies in there.

Thoughout the whole movie, I also couldn't get the notion out of my head that Depp looked eerily like Michael Jackson: the pale face, the high-pitched voice, some of the mannerisms. Depp is a brilliant, brilliant actor. But since it's a children's movie, it kind of creeped me out.

And, like Chocolat (also, weirdly, another Johnny Depp movie), I had severe chocolate cravings long before the credits started to roll.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Saved by the bell

Spent an hour today with my sister, the freshly certified teacher. She'll be teaching ELL for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Highline district, a 10-minute walk from home.

Her new classroom is a converted teacher's lounge, which can be good and bad for an ELL class. There's a sink, kitchen area, and a big balcony. I can be good because you can take advantage of these non-classroom areas by labelling all the objects and providing more vocabulary opportunities for the kids. But it can be bad because it's not a real classroom; there are no cubbies for the kids to put their coats and backpacks, and she'll have to keep reiterating that they shouldn't turn on the stove or the oven. (I was reminded of the entrances to the Department of Education in D.C. a year ago: little cartoonish schoolhouse doors, with "No Child Left Behind" emblazoned on top. Maybe they're still there.)

One of the challenges of teaching ELL will be using the state-approved curriculum for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders for students who are much older but are reading English at those levels. Obviously, you can't play the little kids' learning games with the older kids, without insulting their intelligence and emotional development. Also, she'll have to have 5 different interpreters for her parent-teacher conferences later this fall.

I learned a few things by revisiting an elementary school ... granted, a newly renovated one. For instance, elementary school children are still required to say the Pledge of Allegiance (my sister taped up a card with the word "flag" on it over the Stars and Stripes, and then briefly wondered how she was going to explain some of the more difficult words in the Pledge to the kids. Like "allegiance." Apparently each classroom eventually gets a chance to lead the Pledge over the intercom, and by the time her kids' chance comes around, she wants them to know the words and not just the phonetics). Playground equipment is no longer made out of wood and metal. Bathrooms are set up so that hall monitors can see whether or not the kids are washing their hands.

There were a few other teachers getting their rooms ready today. Another thing I learned: teachers play Lord of the Flies too, scavenging for desperately-needed desks, chairs, and shelves. We spent a lot of time roaming the hallways, searching for furniture that the custodians hadn't either put into classrooms or storage yet. Apparently sometimes furniture that's not really up for grabs gets taken, and then teachers become paranoid about which peer of theirs stole their property. That can't be a good way to start the school year.

It was all kind of fascinating.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

When You're Good to Mama

Listening to the Chicago soundtrack while cleaning and doing household chores, and I just realized there's a possible anachronism, depending on whether or not the film takes place in a specific year.
Come on, babe / We're gonna brush the sky
I bet you lucky Lindy / Never flew so high
'Cause in the stratosphere / How could he lend an ear
to all that Jazz?
Lindbergh made his famous transatlantic flight in mid-1927 (and afterwards, of course, the Lindy Hop became the dance craze of '27.) Anyways, that only leaves less than 2 and a half years for the Chicago storyline to take place. Not that it necessarily matters. I'm just particularly nitpicky about things like that. Since I don't own the movie, I don't know if it flashes "Chicago, the 1920s" or "Chicago, the Roaring Twenties" (as a rule, I hate generalizations like that but tend to excuse them if it's the '20s unless they reference something specific). Oh well. It's still an amazing film and soundtrack.

On another tangent, the post-'20s obsession with the '20s is a field in and of itself. Since I devoted a year of my life to studying the '20s, I also love cultural pats on the back like Chicago and Singin' in the Rain.