Saturday, December 29, 2007

We Can Do It!

I really love the Massachusetts affiliate's design for its annual meeting. Then again, I like any homage to Rosie the Riveter.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Desperately in need of a dram...

Picture, if possible, a PTSD-suffering plesiosaur escaping towards the open ocean and jumping à la Free Willy over a net barrier, to escape the bombs being fired at it by trigger-happy British soldiers who think it's an invading German submarine.

That, in a nutshell, was The Water Horse. My sister was really excited to see it. Pregnant women should not be allowed to pick movies for their relatives to see in theatres on Boxing Day, amidst dozens of small children. They shouldn't be allowed to drag their Kiwi husbands, either, especially if the guy can't stop laughing loudly (making me laugh) through various parts of the film, much of which was filmed in New Zealand.

The film asked viewers to pretend the tale of the Loch Ness Monster didn't exist until World War II. The famous (and fake) photograph, which I believe was taken in the 1930s, is the center of this very predictable
and clichéd storyline filled with bad accents.

I'm still traumatized.

There are, however, images of Ben Chaplin to comfort me...

Monday, December 24, 2007

So This is Christmas

It's time for the annual posting of my favorite Christmas essay. In past years I've posted it along with another favorite tale, that of the Christmas Truce (a product of my pre-adolescent obsession with the Great War ...which, granted, led to studying it in college.) However, the Christmas Truce story and the lyrics to "Christmas in the Trenches" seem a little too uncomfortably close to "Christmas in Fallujah," this year, so I'll omit it this year and link to John Lennon's classic, "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" instead.

Well, and also I need to get a political fix out of my system: I didn't know there was some unspoken rule about not talking politics at a bar (or just that one in particular), and got "reminded" about it at karaoke last night while "talking" to a person with ...interesting... political leanings. Oops! So here's a blatantly political statement, in a space where I know it's welcome. =)

And here's the perennial favorite affirmation of holiday hope and magic:
Is There a Santa Claus?
(Francis P. Church, from the Editorial Page of The New York Sun, September 21, 1897)

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

"Dear Editor--I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety-fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Every Time a Bell Rings...

Apparently zombies are everywhere. Just when I thought they didn't quite *go* with the holiday season, a la I Am Legend, they popped up in the Christmas book I just read. It was a little unexpected.

Back when the Seattle Public Library briefly offered personalized reading lists, I filled out the online questionnaire and got a list of suggested books that I'm now re-reserving for my holiday break reading. For some odd reason, based on my answers, the resident librarian recommended a bunch of books with bizarre, bizarre plots and scenarios. The Stupidest Angel was one such book.

Turns out, until the zombie part, it was also pretty funny. The basic plot is: an angel whose mission is to grant a child's Christmas wish ends up creeping out the residents of a small town in northern California. Christopher Moore draws on familiar Christmas stories -- the angel, obviously, is similar to Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life. My favorite and hilarious homage: the town's pot-growing cop sells his marijuana crop to pay for a Japanese sword for his kitana-loving wife, who practices martial arts in part to stay sane; she, in turn, saves money by going off her anti-psychotic meds in order to buy him a really expensive and beautiful bong. ("Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi." O. Henry would be, um ... proud ... )

The book also has a murder plot. And then there are zombies. But it's all pretty funny, and Moore's writing style is, well, sarcastic and brilliantly irreverent. I found myself laughing almost as hard as I did while reading David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice at a bus stop. Almost. There's just something about the madness of the holiday season that makes it ripe for parody.

And then a friend's family's annual holiday party promptly got zombies out of my mind. Woot.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

From Cathedrals to Catastrophe

I had just finished reading the fourth book in Sharan Newman's medieval mystery series when La Otra Hermana y su marido dropped by the house to forage for food; finding none, they suggested going to see I Am Legend. So I went.

It was terrible. Except for Men in Black (and possibly Enemy of the State, depending on my mood), I'm not generally a big fan of Will Smith's movies; I Am Legend was no exception. I didn't read the book, but the film's plot was horribly unoriginal. It essentially combined 28 Days Later with Castaway, and threw in a scene from Old Yeller for good measure. There was even a sad and badly thought-out attempt at theology: Will Smith says at one point, "God didn't do this. We did." (Therefore, what, don't try to find a cure for cancer? Because it might create zombies and destroy the world?)

The movie did have its moments, though. Some of the gestures and behavior patterns of Smith's character are funny and yet heartbreaking, like talking to mannequins and reciting dialogue from Shrek. The routinization keeps him sane in his isolated existence as the last man left alive in a post-apocalyptic New York. (The amazing set of overgrown, deserted city streets is the only other cool thing about the movie.)

The fourth book in the Catherine LeVendeur medieval mystery series, however, was quite good. It's been a few months and countless boring articles on research methodology, so I forgot what happened in the third book. But the great thing with a mystery series is that the reader is quickly caught up to speed on the relevant histories of the main characters.

Strong as Death was a different spin on ye olde story of a group of pilgrims making a journey of faith and finding out that they're all connected in sinister ways. The Crusades usually figure in there somewhere. There's usually a monk with an unholy past and a rich widow. Did Chaucer start this trend, I wonder? Regardless, it's a standard scenario in any medieval mystery series. Newman just added some good twists involving secret Jewish heritage (more came out of the woodwork! Just when we thought the drama died down! And of course, it being a murder mystery, anti-Semitic mobs keep coming after half the characters in the book.)

So now, of course, I'm re-hooked and have to wait for Book 5 to arrive from the library.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I watched The Good German while wrapping Christmas presents, which is again not the best holiday scenario. Need to work on that.

Stylistically, it's brilliant. It's shot the same ways as an old film noir. The ending and the poster imitate Casablanca. I haven't read the book, so I don't know if the movie is based on it or not, but the plot is also rather similar to Casablanca (American guy goes to politically charged area, meets his old girlfriend, who is now married to a politically important guy who needs to escape. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship...) The ostensibly neutral eye of George Clooney's journalist character even parallels the apolitical attitude of Humphrey Bogart. At any rate, Casablanca is a great movie, though propagandistic, and I could rave about it forever. Suffice to say The Good German gets major points for not just its homage to it, but for its dedication and adherence to the entire film noir genre.

Howeer, it falters a bit in the question I think it wants to pose, about whether or not there could have been (or can be) "innocent" citizens when atrocities are committed under their noses. The film takes place in postwar Berlin, when the city is divided into sectors by the Allies, and a black market where food, people, information, and other goods fuels the city. Enter George Clooney, who's just trying to report on the Potsdam conference. There's a murder. There's the legacy of the Holocaust. There's the issue of survival, and what people do to survive in wartime. There's a disturbing rape scene. Lastly, there's the issue of guilt. In theory it's all very good. But I think those themes all could have been a little stronger.

So then I read Connie Willis' collection of Christmas stories, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. It fit with the post-wrapping activity, but not with all the heavy post-film thoughts still running through my head.
Though I've only read about four of her books, I still don't quite know why Willis is considered a science fiction writer. (I know, I know, time travel counts as science fiction. That's my own bias.)
At any rate, I liked her collection of Christmas stories. They ranged from bizarre to cute to more bizarre. The cute ones were predictable and truly saccharine, in the holiday spirit, of course. I appreciated the more bizarre ones, like "Epiphany," about a minister who gets this weird feeling to just head west in search of Christ's Second Coming. You spend the story thinking he's gone off his rocker and also wondering why it's a Christmas story -- then suddenly on the last page, when there's no real resolution, you realize it's an allegory for the Three Wise Men. "Hats" was funny and bizarre, too -- aliens take over people at Christmastime, making them all nicer, and people wearing hats are the ones who are possessed.

One more Xmas present left to buy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Baby, it's cold outside ...

I was multitasking, writing holiday cards and watching Cool and Crazy earlier today. (Note to self: don't multitask while watching a movie that's in Norwegian with subtitles. You miss half the movie.)

Cool and Crazy, which I could not convince Mi Hermana and bro-in-law to watch even though I dragged the DVD all the way to Michigan for Thanksgiving, is a short documentary about a men's intergenerational choir in a small Norwegian fishing village. Essentially, the choir is their livelihood. The film interviews various choir members and ends with their singing tour in Russia.

I don't recall how this got in my Netflix queue, but what the hell, I worked with it. The Norwegian folk songs were a great soundtrack for holiday card-writing. The times I looked up to read the subtitles, I discerned that a lot of the older guys in the choir considered themselves ladykillers back in the day (and were very excited to go to Russia), that there was a token communist singer who made choir practice and the road trip to Russsia reeeeally interesting, and that the landscape and town shots were very well done (the stark contrasts in colors were amazing. But other than that, I'm not sure that it tried to say anything political or economic (though a few of the conversations for the camera were Cold War-related), and I always look for some political message in documentaries. Need to stop doing that. I think this one was just about guys from a small economically depressed town, who sing.

Kind of like The Fully Monty, but Norwegian fisherman instead....

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Need to operationalize our variables a little better next time...

(Research Methodology paper due tomorrow by email....)

Hypothesis 1 proved true for the first three hours. However, our results might be questionable because my bro-in-law decided we should tell La Madre I either got kicked out of school or evicted from my apartment for not paying rent, and he ended up telling her both. The result was that La Madre saw me, said "Oh, it's you. Hello. But you're supposed to be getting here next week." (Polite hug, then bro-in-law presented his scenarios that we forgot to include as control variables.) "What? But you have money in your bank account. Why didn't you pay your rent? Bink, are you flunking your classes? Why are you flunking your classes?" All incredible ironic statements, of course, though La Madre was serious....

Then, of course, the bro-in-law decided to be funny and say "So can we go get him out of the car now?" and La Madre rushed out onto the porch to see if there indeed was some random guy I brought home waiting in the car. I was not amused.

Later in the evening, though, after La Otra Hermana and I went over to Grandma's to talk politics and baseball, I returned to the house to find La Madre rushing around wailing "Now I have to do laundry! And go grocery shopping! How long have your sisters known you were coming today? Haaaaaa, why do you girls do this?" --thus lending validity to Hypothesis 2.

Also, words I never though I'd hear La OH say: "Oh! I'm a swing voter!" (This was after I told Grandma I didn't think Clinton would be able to pull in enough swing voters, and I had to respond when La OH said "What's a swing voter?" But regardless, words I never though I'd hear her say. Must share with Nuestra Hermana en Michigan...)

Friday, December 07, 2007

One semester down, three more to go

Back in July, when I bought my roundtrip ticket to Beantown, my original return date was Dec. 15. However, in September, when I realized I wouldn't have to sit for an exam (just slave over papers I could email), I switched the date to Dec. 8. Mis Hermanas know this -- in fact, one of them (La Otra Hermana, the one that's still preggers) is picking me up from the airport.

La Madre, on the other hand, is unaware that I'm flying in tomorrow. In fact, just yesterday, she emailed me to say "BINK! What is your itinerary for the 15th? I NEED your flight information ASAP, Bink!!!! Why have you not emailed it to me? Are you okay in Boston? Are you busy with school?" (She's an uber-organized scheduler....)

So we thought it would be funny not to tell her. I asked La Otra Hermana to feign a craving for lasagna (my favorite homemade meal, which La Madre made every college homecoming for me), but she refused, thinking that would be a dead giveaway.

However, La Madre also famously does not take surprises well. After much consulting with Mi Hermana en Michigan and La Otra Hermana, we agreed on the following hypotheses (to use the research methodology terms for a paper I have due next week)...

Hypothesis 1: La Madre will stare in happiness masked as annoyance, say something like, "Oh, it's you. Hello. What are you doing here?" and lock herself in her room to cope. (This is what she did when Mi Hermana's then-boyfriend/now-husband brought her avocados, her favorite fruit, as a gift when he visited for the first time.)

Hypothesis 2: La Madre will sigh in happiness masked as drama, and declare, "Why do you girls do this to me? Why? Why??? Now I have to go grocery shopping! And vacuum your room! And this house is a mess! Ahhhhh! Why do you girls do this??? Oh, why me???" (This was what she did when her church elected her as treasurer, even though she refused to officially run but had a lot of ideas for re-organizing the financial records.)

Nosotros Las Tres Hermanas honestly don't know which will prove true...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lessons learned the hard way no.s 1738 and 1739

#1738: Always check the weather forecast before breaking in new shoes, especially if you're attending an event where you'll be standing for two and a half hours.

It wasn't the standing, in and of itself. It was the fact that when I walked to the T it was merely cold outside, and when I exited the underground station downtown, there was a full-on snowstorm, icy brick streets and all. It took me 10 minutes to stagger 5 blocks to the event, and it was worse two and a half hours later.

Unfortunately, heels don't double up as ice picks. I tried.

#1739: There is no such thing as overdressing.

I also had my Northwesterner complex about underdressing, so I decked out in what I thought was overdressing for a friggin' rally. (A rally, people! Local politicians get up, tell you why they endorse so-and-so, there's usually some child who's trotted out, and then the candidate gets up and guilt-trips you into signing up to canvass in New Hampshire before the primary, which you will try to get out of by volunteering to phonebank instead. Very different from a fundraiser, where you look snazzy to convince fellow donors you're important.) At home, the elected officials themselves frequently speak in public in jeans and a T-shirt. This time, I was Banana Republic head to toe, except for the shoes.

Turns out, I was dressed entirely appropriately, but underaccessorized (not to mention bedraggled, with snow-wet hair), and thus still under-attired.

Who knew?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Verily, Ventriloquism

Mi Hermana used to watch America's Got Talent, but I've never seen an episode. However, a friend sent me the youtube links for all five of the performances of the guy who won the cycle this summer. Awesome!

Here's my favorite: