28 April 2017

Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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Here's my review as it appears on Goodreads.

The Princess DiaristThe Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a little disappointed with this book. I'm not quite sure what I expected. But the main realization that Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford had an affair during the filming of Star Wars had been released with the book and there were no other real surprises within. Some readers have said they're disappointed to learn that Ford was so quiet and aloof, but I already figured that about him. He's always been a fairly private figure. Have you ever seen him on a talk show?

Thirty-three-year-old Harrison Ford took advantage of a nineteen-year-old Carrie Fisher. Maybe there's even more to it than Ms. Fisher revealed but from her telling of it I can't see Mr. Ford in a more flattering light over the affair. I know affairs happen. I'm not naive. Ms. Fisher tells us that Mr. Ford isn't a bad guy and that we should take her word for that despite all the evidence she provides that leads me toward not having any sympathy for Mr. Ford in that situation.

I also found the actual reprinting of her journals written when she was nineteen years old to be as tedious as any other nineteen year old's journals, including my own. I'm not sure what they added other than the thrill of voyeurism. I didn't find any deep insight in them.

I didn't hate the book. I found some of the personal details interesting although I found myself skimming through many paragraphs to find one of those interesting details. I'm still a fan of Carrie Fisher and of Princess Leia. I'm just maybe not a fan of Ms. Fisher's writing.

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Trying to Figure Out Why This Commercial Bugs Me

When I first saw this commercial I appreciated the girl-power-ness of it, being a mom myself who cruises through the neighborhood in a black car with a daughter who's going through a black-and-purple phase (and who never had much of a pink phase to begin with). My daughter would definitely choose the black and purple paint and peel into the driveway if given the opportunity.

But then I realized, these girls appear to be my daughter's age or older, and they are riding Big Wheels with helmets. They are riding Big Wheels, a toddler toy. And they are wearing helmets while they ride huge plastic three-wheelers close to the ground with very little risk of falling. Are we so overcautious that helmets on Big Wheels is a thing now? And why aren't they riding bicycles? Or skateboards? Something a little less babyish?

Maybe I'm so involved in our own style of parenting that we've missed Big Wheels for 6, 7, 8 year olds being a thing now. Our six year old is excited to go mountain biking this weekend (with her helmet on, of course). A friend's six year old just had a skateboarding birthday party on the halfpipe the dad built in their backyard (with their helmets on, of course). Are we the odd parents out? Or are commercials reflecting some nonexistent overly protective society that they think parents want to see?


I wrote the above a few days ago. Since then I've Googled "helmets on Big Wheels" and I've found that, yes, many parents insist on their toddlers wearing helmets on Big Wheels, when riding in wagons being pulled by an adult, and some parents have rules about helmets when kids are on anything with wheels. While I can understand this for some circumstances, at some point doesn't it seem overprotective for the general population of toddlers? The risk of a fall from a Big Wheel bike is slim. Most toddlers aren't going to be allowed to leave their yards or driveways without adult supervision so there's no risk of being hit by a car on the street. Many parents monitor their children outside even in their own yards so the risk of any danger is very, very low. Parents argue that helmet wearing is a good habit for children to start as young as possible and I agree with that for certain activities. Riding a bike, even a balance bike. Skateboards and scooters. Anything that requires a certain amount of balance and coordination. At some point though aren't we going a bit too far in wrapping our kids up and protecting them from every single bit of pain and discomfort? By making them think the world is always dangerous but if you always take these precautions everything will always be okay?

I also learned that some states require helmets any time a child is on public property on a foot-powered vehicle. So a parent cannot decide that it's safe for their three or four year old to ride a Big Wheel on a dirt path in a park without a helmet.

Let me point out again that the children in this commercial are not toddlers. They are old enough to have the balance and coordination to be on bicycles or scooters. I can sort of understand the visual because the Big Wheel moves more slowly so is more of a cruising vehicle than a bicycle. Every child I know who's around my daughter's age, if given a Big Wheel to ride, they'd be in the backyard crashing them into each other for fun because it's a babyish safety toy. I'd rather see this girl cruising by on a skateboard. Or rolling into the parking lot at the park on a mountain bike, pulling up to her mom's car, speeding past the girls with pink streamers on their bikes, if that's the message they're trying to get across. Why put them on toddler toys?

25 April 2017

30 Day Movie Challenge Days 5, 6, 7, and 8

Day 5: Your favorite drama
This is one that I had to think about. I was this close to naming something else after going through my DVD collection and scrolling through Netflix and Hulu to remind myself of all the movies I've seen. Somewhere I saw an ad for Terms of Endearment and I realized this was my favorite drama. It was the first movie I remember being a "grown-up" film that made me emotional, rather than a children's film (like E.T. or Old Yeller). I don't own this film in any of its forms and I always relied on finding it on television randomly. I'd plan afternoons or evenings around watching it, or I'd be flipping through and find it halfway through and drop everything to watch. Now that I do less channel flipping I need to find a source for watching this on demand.

Day 6: Your favorite comedy
I debated this for a long time and, see below, where Day 7's film could easily have been switched with The Royal Tenenbaums. Despite some bizarre and low moments in this film I always find it funny, whimsical and irrelevant in just the right spots.

Day 7: A movie that makes you happy
I almost put this one for Day 6 but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that The Big Lebowski makes me happy when I'm feeling down, whereas The Royal Tenenbaums makes me snicker in places but can also leave me feeling low in places. The Big Lebowski, despite any greater message you try to find it in, ultimately is smart and silly at the same time.

Day 8: A movie that makes you sad
I considered another Jake Gyllenhaal film for this category, Donnie Darko. I realized, though, that while Donnie Darko makes me feel pleasantly melancholy, Everest makes me cry my eyes out. I've read the book Into Thin Air twice and I've seen Everest several times and even knowing who died before I'd read the book the first time, I still bawled. Every time. Climbing season started on Everest this week. While I have no desire to climb the mountain myself, I always keep an eye on news from there. And I'll probably watch the movie again in the near future because I'm a sucker for a good cry.

21 April 2017

30 Day Movie Challenge Days 2, 3, and 4

Day 2: The last movie you watched

I used this prompt as an opportunity to watch something new that I've been meaning to watch since it was released several months ago: Hidden Figures.

I'm so glad I took the time to watch it and I can't wait for Muffin to see it. Over the spring break we took a Virginia road trip and learned a few things about civil rights history in Virginia that were really brought home by the film.

Day 3: Your favorite action/adventure movie

Hands down, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And since I'm pretty sure you've all seen it, instead of a clip I'm going to show one of my favorite GIFs.


Day 4: Your favorite horror movie

I don't watch enough horror movies to really have a favorite. I don't care for them much. But the most recent horror-like movie I've seen that I really liked was The Witch.

I wasn't going to bother watching this film until a friend posted about it on Facebook, saying he needed to turn on the subtitles because the seventeenth-century New England English was too difficult for this California boy to understand. I exclaimed that seventeenth-century New England English was practically my second language and he replied I would probably really enjoy this film, for reasons other than the language. He was right. I appreciate how they incorporated so much of the folklore and the different reasons given for episodes like the witch hysteria in Salem, such as the children faking it for fun, or the mold on the rotten corn. (Rotten lamb stew is also used as a reason for Lizzie Borden's activities a couple hundred years later. So if you live in Massachusetts, make sure your food is always fresh and free of rot or you'll be held responsible for some horrible stuff.) There's also a creepy rabbit and a creepy goat, which makes me feel betrayed because I love rabbits and goats so much.

18 April 2017

30 Day Movie Challenge Day 1: Your Favorite Movie

Because I don't have enough challenges in life I decided to take on a new one. (I'm kidding. I'm just not blogging or tweeting or Facebooking about every single challenge.) I've seen a number of friends on my Twitter feed doing a 30 Day Music Challenge lately, and I may do that one, too, but when someone suggested a movie challenge yesterday I realized it was much more my style. I'm not going to blog my movie selection every day but I will be tweeting it daily and maybe I'll follow-up with weekly posts or every few days.

Number 1 on the list easy. My favorite movie is The Philadelphia Story, starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. It's got fast-paced, witty dialogue. Comedy. Romance. Strong, independent women, some of them wearing pants. Reading. And drinking. So many things that make a perfect story for me.

I can't remember when I first this film it but for many years it's been my absolute favorite. I watched it last night, thinking of this list. I watch it every six months or so. I always want the ending to be different even though I know it's not going to be and it ultimately does have the right ending. This moment always has me on the edge of my seat in anticipation even though I know exactly what's going to happen:

This may seem like a spoiler but it's not. And really, the film came out in 1940 so the statute of limitations on spoiler alerts has pretty much run out.

If you're in the mood for what I consider to be one of the origins of romantic comedy in cinema, give this a chance.

Here's what's to come in the following days:

31 March 2017

Who actually represents women in this administration?

Interacting with members of the opposite sex is a part of life.  Dining alone with a woman other than your own wife or being at a function where alcohol is served without your wife is only a threat to your marriage if there are trust issues and insecurities to begin with. If you don’t want to cheat on your spouse, don’t cheat on your spouse. That’s it. It’s so basic it shouldn’t even have to be a religious mandate.

How many women have worked for or with Mike Pence? He’s never had so much as a coffee meeting alone with any of them? Sometimes you have to work late and get dinner. What does it say that he’s willing to do this with his male staffers but not his female employees or coworkers? It says that he fears women as sexual objects and does not value them as equals in the workplace.

Attitudes like this strengthen the belief among religious conservatives that sex is a woman’s fault and men are helpless beings. She was raped because she wore attractive clothing. She was raped even though she wore a burka because a man found her to be tempting. She was raped because a man was threatened by her making more money than he does. Women can’t be in the military because the strongest, most disciplined manliest of men will lose all control of themselves if a female body is anywhere near them and it will be the woman’s fault for simply being present.

Some conservative op-ed writers are saying liberals are blowing this out of proportion. That liberals defend this kind of practice among Muslims because we care more about Muslims than Christians. Um, no. The fact that in several Muslim societies women are not allowed to be out of the house unless they are accompanied by their husband or a male family member is pretty frickin’ abhorrent to this liberal. Before I read that sort of criticism of liberals I was thinking about how much fundamental Christians and Muslims have in common with that view of not being alone with women or allowing women to be in the company of other men.

I’ve also read that he should be commended for making this decision to protect his marriage. It’s true that this could be a private decision between Mr. and Mrs. Pence. But Mike Pence also made a decision to be a politician, and politicians have to attend social functions, where alcohol might be served, and, see my example above about working with women. If protecting his marriage is that important maybe he’s chosen the wrong line of work.

The Billy Graham rule that Pence’s personal decision is based on also only acknowledges heterosexual intercourse, as if male members of the church and male politicians have never been caught sexually assaulting boys or having affairs with men.

I also wonder, if Mike Pence has made this decision for himself, does the same hold true for Karen Pence? If she feels that she can safely have a meal with a man without sleeping with him is she allowed to do so? Is she sheltered from furthering any of her own goals, or simply having male friends, without bringing a chaperone along?

I have a problem with the vice president being afraid to be in the same room as half of his constituents, especially when so many of those constituents are terrified to be in a room alone with the president. Who actually represents women in this administration?

For further reading:
The Religious Reasons Mike Pence Won't Eat Alone with Other Women Don't Add Up

Ah, Nostalgia for the Days of Coal

Billy Joel sang about the depressing steel manufacturing economy in the 1980s. “Allentown” became a blue-collar anthem, especially for miners and manufacturers who were losing their jobs in the Rust Belt.

If that song wasn’t warning enough, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the coal industry has been in decline for the last 30 years, long before the regulations of President Obama’s era were put into place. Miners have had a long time to think of a back-up plan in case coal mining didn’t work out. Instead of welcoming new research, innovations, inventions, or opportunities, however; instead of thinking outside the box or pulling themselves up by the bootstraps they claim to celebrate as part of the American spirit, coal miners decided to wait for the day that time would turn backward. That day came earlier this week with the rollback of the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan was never fully put into effect because it’s been held up in legal battles, which means it can’t fully be held responsible for a decline in the coal industry. Also, eliminating the plan is going to take several more years so it’s unlikely to bring many new jobs in during the current administration reign. And, true to character for any of this administration's policies, it is light on details and likely to face legal challenges.

The plan was rolled back for the sake of nostalgia more than anything else. Innovations have reduced the number of actual workers needed for coal. It’s also ironic that a population of people who claim to loathe government interference sat around waiting for more government interference to get their jobs back.

The current administration is full of macho men with frail egos, or at least they’d like to think they are macho and they would like to appeal to that demographic of voters. In their minds, white men still rule this world and the idea of anyone else earning more money or having more economic power is threatening.

One excuse people use for wanting these jobs back is that they or their families are tied to the land. But America was built on people moving to where new opportunities are. It was built by people who found new land, a new place to start or settle their families. If it’s that important to be manly and support a family, figure it out. Move. People in the military do it. People in law enforcement do it. Even the representatives sent to Washington on our behalf make that sacrifice to either move their families or live away from them to get a job done.

With a party in power that’s happy to deregulate industry and seemingly indifferent to adequate health care, what’s going to happen when cases of chronic bronchitis and other coal dust-related illnesses begin rising? If it’s anything like what happened to oil-industry workers in Louisiana, the coal industry will hire lawyers to prove that it’s just a coincidence that there’s an abundance of these diseases among coal miners.

America was built on change, ingenuity, and exploration. It was built by people who moved forward to forge new paths rather than go backwards to outdated technologies. I have very little sympathy for a group of white men who feel sad that their health-risk and pollution-causing industry is no longer relevant because most Americans want progressive change, not regressive policies.

For further reading:
Trump Takes Aim At A Centerpiece Of Obama's Environmental Legacy (NPR)
What Trump Misses About Energy Jobs In America (NPR)
Coal Mine Dust Exposures and Associated Health Outcomes (Report by HHS, CDC, and NIOSH)
The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s (Washington Post)

28 March 2017

Book Review: Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

After you've read something, please consider leaving a line or two on Goodreads and Amazon. The authors appreciate it!

Here's my review as it appears on Goodreads.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American RightStrangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a liberal who was not surprised by President Trump's election victory. Sad and angry, yes, but I always knew it was a possibility because I do not live in the "bubble" that the media placed many of us blue-state people in. I am as equally aware of the economic situations in the Midwest and South as I am of the poverty-line populations in cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

Dr. Hochschild focuses on the Tea Party supporters around Lake Charles, Louisiana. The oil industry has destroyed the environment, people's health, and ways of life for at least a generation. Yet the residents of these areas continue to support it because they believe oil brings in jobs. Dr. Hochschild provides research to show that that is not actually the case yet people continue to vote for oil and against regulation. One statistic she brings up over and over again is that Louisiana receives 44% of its budget from the federal government yet everyone she talked to wanted less federal government intervention. Governor Jindal gave away money from the education budget as incentives to oil companies but that investment was never returned in any significant way. They bring in foreign workers who don't spend money on the local economy. Much of the the company makes money goes back to a corporate headquarters in another state rather than investments in Louisiana. Tourism is sinking because it's not safe to go into most of the water. No one wants to eat the fish. Yet people persist on believing in oil.

I want to tell people that the American Dream we were sold a generation ago, two generations ago, has changed. One of the great things about Americans is that we adapt. However, this segment of people refuse to do so. And with President Trump's revoking of environmental regulations today -- I literally got the news alert as I was typing this review -- we get to regress instead of grow.

As I skimmed the other reviews for this book, however, I felt like I was joining a tide of like-minded people, and it's Trump supporters who might actually benefit from reading this book and opening their minds to some facts rather than going along with ideology. (At least read Appendix C, if nothing else. It will only take about fifteen minutes.)

This book is clearly well-researched. Dr. Hochschild considers many of the people she interviewed and visited with friends even though they are about as far apart ideologically as can be, because as humans there are more things that bring us together than tear us apart, ultimately.

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10 March 2017

Book Review: Highland Pursuits by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

After you've read something, please consider leaving a line or two on Goodreads and Amazon. The authors appreciate it!

Here's my review as it appears on Goodreads.

Highland PursuitsHighland Pursuits by Emmanuelle de Maupassant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this after reading Emmanuelle de Maupassant's short story of the same name in the Because Beards anthology, but I would have read this novel anyway because I am a fan of hers. This story did not disappoint.

Ms. de Maupassant creates such a rich world in the Scottish highlands. In real life I've only spent one day in the region but I feel like I spent my entire summer vacation there after living in her world through these pages. I've always loved the humor that Ms. de Maupassant brings to her worlds, as well. Life is funny sometimes, and love and sex are part of life. Ms. de Maupassant brings us to a rich, sensuous place that I look forward to visiting again and again.

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19 November 2016

I'm Not Giving Up My New Balance Shoes

Thanks to some idiot fringe of the alt-right, I know find myself in the awkward position of saying, "I'm not a racist, but..."

I'm keeping my New Balance running shoes.

A vice president at New Balance praised Trump's rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came out against TPP as well. Some white supremacist group took one sentence from a New Balance executive about supporting one sentence of Trump's platform, in an interview for the Wall Street Journal where it should be obvious it's a business discussion, and turned it into a symbol of their white-power group.

And without understanding the facts, people started burning their New Balance shoes in protest because they assume New Balance supports white supremacy.

New Balance still makes its shoes in the United States when other major shoe manufacturers have moved their business overseas. I fail to see how, by supporting American workers, I'm now a racist because some other white people, who are racist, have stated they will start wearing New Balance shoes. Either they don't understand the statement was made about trade policy or they don't care. They wanted to say something ridiculous so they could watch liberals overreact and laugh at us. So they could distract us from actual issues of civil rights and equality.

New Balance as denounced this hate group more vigorously than President-elect Trump has, by the way.

New Balance executives supported one part of Trump's economic plan, which many people believe makes sense for American workers. Whether I agree with the trade policy or not, or whether it's going to actually benefit workers or not, isn't important right now. I can't blame someone for voting for what they think will offer better job opportunities and business opportunities for Americans. And if Trump's plan doesn't work out, I'll be there to listen and to be a good friend to those who are disappointed.

We need to not let some of the worst idiots on the right take over the conversation and lead us away from facts and reason. New Balance shoes are the only ones that fit me properly. I've been running for over half my life, I've put in a lot of miles, and I've tried a lot of shoes. I can honestly say that ethically I have no problem continuing to buy them. Go ahead and protest and boycott, but do your homework first.

Forbes: New Balance Gets Political
Washington Post: We live in crazy times: Neo-Nazis have declared New Balance the ‘Official Shoes of White People’
The Post Game: New Balances Support of Trump Win Triggers Sneaker Burnings


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