Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sunday afternoon at the movies......

[I was going to write this Sunday night, but a family crisis (my son accidentally nearly set the house on fire -- long story) shoved it out of my mind. Everything's better now, if still a bit smoky.]

The family went with friends to see Happy Feet. Herewith, a report:

The trailers:

Charlotte's Web looks like it actually might not suck, which is all you can hope for when a filmmaker takes on a classic. You think LOTR fans are rabid? They're nothing compared to former little girls who adored E.B. White's arachnid and who will be out for blood if this thing is bad. And of course Steve Buscemi has to voice Templeton. Of course. It's like Alan Rickman playing Snape: there are some casting decisions so obvious it would be folly to disregard them.

Speaking of Snape, The Order of the Phoenix trailer looks good, too. Alan Rickman looks like he is playing Snape as actually human, going for a nuanced portrayal. Hurrah! I've always had a soft spot for Snape, probably because I have adored Alan Rickman ever since he first sneered at Bruce Willis in Die Hard. And the Harry Potter movies are uniformly well-cast, with actors well-known (Rickman, the wonderful Emma Thompson -- and by the way, weren't they so great together as a married couple in Love, Actually?) and the less well known, at least to American audiences (Mark Williams, Imelda Staunton as Umbridge -- I can hardly wait to see it, she's such a wonderful actress).

Oh. My. Goodness. The Nativity Story? They cast an olive-skinned, dark-eyed, dark-haired, teenager as Mary. They cast an Iranian actress as Elizabeth. And to my untutored American eye, Joseph looked like he was born in Palestine (he's actually Guatemalan). Finally, a religious themed picture that did not cast the holy family as freaking Europeans. (Jim Cavaziel in The Passion of the Christ? Give me a break!) It's not my ideal religious movie casting (Naveen Andrews -- Sayid from Lost -- as Jesus) but it's pretty darn good. And the flashes they show of Mary in labor? She looks like a woman in labor -- absolutely panicked and in pain.* Catherine Hardwicke, who directed this, also directed Thirteen, one of the scariest looks inside the mind of adolescent girls ever.

The movie:

Much better than I expected. Was not the rip-off of March of the Penguins I feared, and has a killer soundtrack. The voice work is uniformly good.

It's the music and the dancing -- yes, I know it's animated, but the dancing matters** -- which carry this movie. The "you have to be yourself" message, which could have been disturbingly cloying, was carried of with humor and restraint. There is also a subplot in there about religious fundamentalism, which is sufficiently subtle that two of the three people I talked to about it missed it -- until I pointed it out to them.

And, after seeing this movie, you may become obsessive about cutting the loops open on your plastic soda can holders before you throwm them away, if you're not already. Which is not a bad thing.

All in all, I give it three and a half stars.

*Of course, there is such a thing as taking Method acting too far: Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young actress who played Mary, had to miss the premiere because she's pregnant and can't travel.

** The dancing was done by Savion Glover, the premier American tap and modern dance artist. Glover won a Tony in 1996 at the age of 23 (!) for his choreography of Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, a show he co-wrote and starred in. His dancing on Happy Feet was transferred to the screen using motion-capture, and the result is that Mumbles the penguin has some really sweet moves.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

It's that time of year again.

I jumped the gun again, and started listening to holiday* music, even though it is only the day after Thanksgiving, and not even Advent yet. And that includes a fair amount of actual Christmas music, even though I know I should not be listening to Christmas music until CHRISTMAS (sorry, Maly).

My tastes in Christmas music tend to run to traditional carols and humorous secular songs. My favorite secular Christmas song is Barenaked Ladies "Elf's Lament," mainly because it takes the cult of Santa Claus (to which we do not adhere in our house) down a notch or two.**

Last year a friend sent me "The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams. It's a lovely little song about ecumenical understanding, about gathering together and looking past differences to celebrate family and time together. I really like it.

Except for this one line: "She said 'Christmas is like Solstice.'"

No, it's not.

I don't have anything against Solstice. It's a wonderful idea for a holiday -- to celebrate the turning of the year, the joy of Creation and the passage of the seasons. What better time to mark the gift of time? To recognize the blessing of the fallow time of winter, and to prepare for the rebirth of spring? Maybe it's just that I'm hazy on the pagan theology here, but I don't object to Solstice.***

But that's not what Christmas is about. Yes, there was a Christ child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, if we are to believe Luke. Christ comes to earth to redeem mankind, and will walk upon the earth not for a year but for over thirty and when he dies he will not be a small babe wrapped in swaddling clothes but a man tortured and broken who goes unflinchingly to his death. A willing sacrifice for all the world. I don't understand it, but I accept it.

Solstice is for a season, a year. Christmas is for a season, but is a symbol of the eternal.

*Holiday, not Christmas, because there are a fair number of generic cold-weather songs such as "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and some Hannukah songs, such as the Velveteens "Get Your Channukah On."

** One notable exception to my liking for humorous secular songs is "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer": I can't stand it.

*** The early church fathers did, but handled it by appropriating much of the symbology of Solstice or Yule celebrations, such as trees, and holly or mistletoe, and the date of Christmas itself. The Bible doesn't indicate what time of year Jesus was born, but it's a fair bet it wasn't on December 25th.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving.

Things I have to be thankful for:

The boys: the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy, the Wrestler, the Red-Headed Menace, and the Rocket Scientist.

That I don't have to worry about having a roof over my head or food to feed my children.

That we live in relative safety, with car accidents being the biggest threat to our well-being.

For my friends, who keep actually talking me, even when I withdraw from the rest of the world.

For health insurance that provides me with the care I need to be able to function.

For yams with marshmallows on top and cornbread stuffing with red peppers.

For Starbucks Venti Nonfat No-Whip Peppermint Mochas.

For the Bill of Rights.

For the Nineteenth Amendment.

For the color blue.

For Presiding Bishop Katherine Jeffords Schori.

For Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi.

For flowers.

For the LiveJournal and Blogger the rest of the blogosphere, which allows me to interact with people in many counties on different continents.

For the music of Stephen Sondheim, Eric Clapton, and The Who.

For the Pacific Ocean.

For art.

For love.

For life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, wherever you may be, whether in your country you celebrate on this day or not, may you have joy and many blessings.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Parental evaluation.

Parenting is a bitch. There is no instruction manual, and no exams or performance evaluations to tell you how you're doing, so you can fix your mistakes.

The worst part? You're trying to mold young minds into growing up to be thoughtful, compassionate, faithful human beings with a thirst for social justice, when all they seem to be interested in is playing video games and annoying the crap out of their brothers.

Me: "Did you hear about that political commentator who almost accused that new Representative of being a traitor simply because he's Muslim?"

Rocket Scientist: "Yeah. That was just incredible. I can't believe what some of these people say."

Red-headed Menace (who's ten): "What's a Muslim?"

Me & RS: Explanation of what Muslims were, and how most Muslims were peaceful but that there were some who were violent and that the 9/11 hijackers and the insurgents in Iraq had been Muslims, and that some people viewed all Muslims as being an enemy.

Red-Headed Menace: "You mean he was accusing this guy of being a traitor based on nothing more than his religion? That's terrible! That's like what we did to the Japanese-Americans in World War II!"

Political awareness and critical thinking skills, both at the age of ten. We need to work on nuance -- Glenn Beck did not come out and say Keith Ellison was a traitor, merely implied he might be, and that Ellison needed to prove he was not -- but still, I must be doing something right.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More probably uninteresting tidbits about my musical tastes. Mainly because I'm bored.

I have a lot of playlists on my iTunes, which make more or less sense. There's "Broadway," and "No Garth C0untry," and artist-specific ones such as "Great Big Sea." And then there are the rand0m-organizing-principle playlists, such as:

"The Name of the Game" (songs in no particular order):

"My Baby's In Love With Eddie Vedder " Weird Al Yankovic
"Come On Eileen" Dexy's Midnight Runners
"The Downeaster “Alexa”" Billy Joel
"Tango: Maureen" Rent:Original Broadway Cast
"A Boy Named Sue" Johnny Cash
"Sloop John B" Beach Boys
"Sweet Baby James"* James Taylor
"Guinnevere" Crosby, Stills & Nash
"Amazing Grace" Judy Collins
"Maggie May" Rod Stewart
"Old Polina" Great Big Sea
"Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" Paul Simon
"Gee, Officer Krupke" West Side Story: Orginal Cast Recording
"Lady Madonna" The Beatles
"Layla" Derek and the Dominoes
"Layla" Eric Clapton**
"Boston and St. John's" Great Big Sea
"Bruce's Philosophers Song" Monty Python
"The Moon And St. Christopher" Mary Chapin Carpenter
"Matthew" John Denver
"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" Bruce Springsteen
"Uncle John's Band" Grateful Dead
"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" Elton John
"Cleopatra, Queen Of Denial" Pam Tillis

and so on and so forth -- that's about half the list.

I also have playlists called "Professionally Speaking," "H2O" and "By the Numbers," not to mention the more boring "Geography."

Oh, and Mad Priest, if you read this? Unlike your musical tastes, this list is seriously unhip, and I recognize that. I embrace my unhippness... I'm a mini-van driving, stay-at-home mother of three, you don't get much less hip than that. It's only in my other life that I am in fact an international espionage agent and racontuer.

And after all, somebody's got to listen to all those John Denver and Billy Joel albums.

* The rocket scientist insists that I named the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy after this song. He's wrong.
** Which is better? I don't know. The first (which is horribly mixed -- the piano completely drowns out the guitar solo in the second part of the song) is a young man's song, all full of passion and "I'm going to die if I don't get you;" the second is the song of a guy who's been around the block quite a few times and knows full well that if she turns him down he'll live, and even probably hit on the next pretty face at the party. I love listening to them back to back.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

God's music?

I was at my church's yearly "Women's Retreat" this year -- a weekend of sisterhood, spiritual growth, and, as always, chocolate. It was a bit more stressful than past retreats: I had roles to play in the drama (used as a springboard for discussion on the spiritual themes), and had written the bible studies for the small groups and was as usual nervous ab0ut how they would be received. Also, the site was a problem: it was hilly, and I have been in an extended fibromyalgia flare for the past several months. I bought a walking stick, but by the time I left I was in considerable pain.

During one of the workshops, a discussion arose about the importance of Christian music. I kept my mouth shut, mainly because I just didn't have the bandwidth to put forth my views, which were mainly that Christian radio was a waste of good frequencies that could be put to better use, such as listening to crickets chirp. After the exchange of information about good local Christian radio stations, another woman in the room, bless her heart, spoke up and gave the opinion that she had grown up in a household that really didn't play much Christian music, and that a lot of secular music had strong spiritual messages -- she referred to U2 as a good example. After the group ended, I went and thanked her for saying what I was thinking.

My feelings on contemporary Christian music range from indifference to disdain to deep dislike. The best -- which includes most, but not all -- of the worship music we use in our contemporary services, is decent. The worst, such as much of what is played on Christian radio stations, is overblown, saccharine crap.

Jesus deserves better.

I have a "Spirituals" playlist on my iTunes. There is not one "Contemporary Christian hit" on it.

Don't get me wrong -- there is religious music. There are traditional hymns sung by contemporary vocalists: "Down to the River to Pray" by Alison Kraus, "Amazing Grace" and "Simple Gifts," by Judy Collins, "Morning has Broken," by Cat Stevens. Don't ask me why, but traditional hymn are so much better written than contemporary Christian music.

But the rest of it is "secular" music. Some of that music mentions Jesus: "Travelin' Thru" by Dolly Parton, for example. (And then there is "Kyrie" by Mr. Mister, which doesn't mention Jesus but which lifts its refrain from the Catholic Mass.) Most of it does not.

But the music is spiritual nonetheless -- for example, what else can you say about a lyric which include the lines "Tonight I feel like all creation/ is asking us to dance"? ("Asking Us to Dance," written by Hugh Sherwood, performed by Kathy Mattea).

There is the music with no words: "Fanfare for the Common Man," "Appalachian Spring," Beethoven's Ninth, "Rhapsody in Blue."* Oh, and "Soul Sacrifice" -- the eleven-minute live Woodstock version. Have you seen the painting "The Dance" by Chagall? "Soul Sacrifice" is what they were dancing to. Had to be. Even though the painting was created fifty years before Woodstock.

The rest of it is mostly just songs you might have heard on the radio at some point -- crossing genres: pop, rock, country, a little blues, a little jazz, and because I'm who I am, show tunes (even aside from Godspell). Some Beatles, a little Clapton, Randy Newman, CSNY. No gospel per se, although I am firmly convinced that Aretha Franklin is, in fact, the voice of God.

And two of those secular songs have appeared in worship services at our church: "The Garden Song" (written by Dave Mallet) and "Stand by Me" (written by Leiber & Stoller). We've also sung "I Can See Clearly Now" (Johnny Nash), and at the retreat itself we sang The Judds' "Love Can Build a Bridge," and Bill Withers' "Lean on Me."

All of that music fills something in me that could be called spiritual: either joyous and thanksgiving ("Good Morning, Starshine," "Happiness"), or full of lamentation ("Louisiana, 1927," "Wish You Were Here.**"). It's about seeing God in nature ("Colors of the Wind," "Morning has Broken"), and God in each other ("Matthew"). There are prayers ("Will I?" from Rent, "Let the Sun Shine In"*** from Hair). And there are a lot of songs that make me strong and fill me with resolve, and a lot of songs that I can't even classify. Sometimes it's the words that move me, just as often -- or more -- it's the music.

My choices would not move everybody, possibly even not most people. But that's okay -- there are a billion songs out there in the world, and some of those will say something to someone.

What songs speak to your spirit? Where do you hear God? Where can you listen to the voice of the divine?

* Without "Bohemian Rhapsody" attached.
** Not quite on topic, but one of the ways I knew I would like our church's new rector is that in his bio he listed Dark Side of the Moon as an important early spiritual influence.
** A few years ago, we sang the second half of "Let the Sun Shine In" at our Easter services. I was really annoyed. First of all, it's only half a song: the first half, called "The Flesh Failures," is about death and despair. The second half, the familiar "let the sun shine" is a prayer for deliverance, not rejoicing at resurrection. My friend Jennifer said it didn't matter, that a) most people wouldn't know and b) using it in the context of Easter changed the meaning of the song. Poppycock. Context is context, and "Let the Sun Shine In" is a Good Friday song.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rock on.

In December '84 March '85, Eric, a college friend of the resident rocket scientist and me, blew into Atlanta on business. We went out for the evening -- Eric wanted to see local talent, so we checked out a show at Emory of several one-act Sam Shepard plays and a local folksinging duet. (Yes, we were cheap -- we were living off a grad student's stipend. Serious entertainment costs money.)

There were seventeen people in the audience. Pity, because the folksingers were really pretty good, I thought. I told Eric this, and he said "Nah, they're too derivative -- they'll never amount to anything." As it turned out, he was wrong.

I caught the same duet in concert tonight. The venue was quite a bit bigger -- the Warfield Auditorium in San Francisco, and the audience much larger -- the place was packed, and the repertoire was more extensive, but they were indeed the very same Indigo Girls.

Over the years one of their songs has become an anthem for the rocket scientist ("Closer to Fine"), and another has become an anthem for me ("Prince of Darkness"). I had not followed their career, though, and thus much of the music they played tonight was delightfully new. I look forward to rediscovering them.

It doesn't seem like it should be over twenty years, but it is. They're my age -- well into their forties -- and rockin' on, making a lovable combination of earnestly romantic and politically progressive music. Strong women -- gotta love 'em.

You go, Emily and Amy. You go, Girls.

ETA: There has been a dispute between the rocket scientist and I about when that concert happened. He said December '84, I thought February or March '85. (Thinking about it later, I decided it was March.) I went with his date when I originally wrote this (because he usually has a better head for dates than I do), but NPR other online sources indicate that they started playing together under the name "Indigo Girls" in 1985. Whichever, it seems clear that we had a rare chance to see something being born.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's insanely beautiful today. The sky here in Northern California is that almost surreal shade of blue -- too bright to be found in nature, almost, and yet too intense to be replicated on canvas. The light is as golden as butter and as sharp as broken glass. The breeze has died down, but before it was making the trees toss their locks like girls primping before the prom. The air is cool and clear and crisp.

Wonderful. Aching, joyful, lovely.

That election thing? Why, that turned out okay, too.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Voter Rights

This comes very late, being only the day before the election, but I thought I'd pass it along. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has a handy-dandy page with pdf's of a "Voter Bill of Rights" for 45 states. They've developed these by combing through state election law. In several cases, they have the same information in Spanish as well as English. In addition, I have state sites which contain either a "Voter Bill Of Rights" or a "Voter Rights and Responsibilities" (same thing) listed below. Finally, for the three states that fall outside either list, there is the AFL-CIO page, which has VBRs for several states, including Tennessee, and the Massachusetts VBR [pdf] prepared by the Massachusetts chapter of the League of Women Voters and posted on the website of the Town Clerk of Lexington. Rhode Island? You can look at the Voting FAQs on their general election site, but there is no one single page to print out and take with you to the polls.

The voter rights differ from state to state. Some are universal: if you are disabled, you have the right to have assistance in filling out your ballot, while others are not: you have the right to bring your children into the ballot booth with you. It's also important to know what the I.D. requirements are, although you should be fine if you have a driver's license. (The sociological and political ramifications of requiring a driver's license is a post best left for another day.)

Important reminder: North Dakota has NO registration requirement: you can walk up to the polls with the proper I.D. and vote. In Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming you can register to vote at the polls tomorrow. In Montana, you can register at county election offices. In New Hampshire, you have to register at the town clerk's office. Maine likewise. But in any case, it is still possible to register and vote in those states if you have not already registered. You can find links to registration information in my "Are You Registered?" post.

Arkansas [pdf]



District of Columbia

Florida [from Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website]


Iowa [pdf]




Michigan [pdf]

Minnesota [pdf] [audio version]



Nevada [from the Election office site for Douglas County, but applies statewide]

New Jersey
[by counties]

New Mexico



Last word on this topic?