Monday, December 31, 2007

I Will Not Be Doing Anything On New Year's

Except watching my new favorite obsession: Rifftrax. It's the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang but commenting on current movies. I can't think of anything recently that has made me actually laugh out loud as much as these have. So far I've made my way through Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Transformers, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

I realized, in its own way, its actually much better than the original MST3K because the movies themselves are generally more interesting to watch (and more familiar) than films MST3K riffed on. (Let's face it, some of them were boring to watch, even with Mike and the 'bots riffing on them.)

But what I also realized that was missing from my decades-old tapes and DVDs of MST3K was relevancy. Most of their references were, well, old. (I mean they were current in the 80s and 90s...) Its awesome to hear references to Steve Spielberg's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Ron Paul. I didn't even realize I was missing that contemporariness in the old tapes.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: The Lovers

Sorry with the delayed Friday Cat Blogging folks, although it technically still is Friday.

Although I called this one "the Lovers" the reality of what you're seeing is Al (the one on top) is dominating his sister. Al does this quite a bit. First it starts off with licking and then biting. Mostly this is done to move Lena off her spot.

Anyway I know I've been short with the blogging as of late. As I told a friend once, "Sure, blogging is all fun and games until you realize it's been two weeks since you've posted anything." Rest assured my readers I never intend to fully abandon this blog. But sometimes the daily self-induced mental admonition to "post, damnit, just post SOMETHING" does get a bit worrisome.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

J. Edgar Hoover and The Aborted Mass Arrests

Over the holidays there was a little noticed story published about recently declassified papers showing that in July 1950, only a few days after the beginning of the Korean War, J. Edgar Hoover wanted President Truman to round up and detain 12,000 American citizens.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about that period of American history. What J. Edgar Hoover’s relative power vis-a-vie Truman’s at the time. FYI, while Hoover submitted this plan to the White House in July, it was only on February 9 of that year that Joseph McCarthy made his famous Lincoln Day speech in Wheeling, West Virginia that began his Communist witch-hunts.

I’m curious what is the story behind that order and why, exactly, wasn’t it put into play. There must be a story there.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.
Years...Hoover had been collecting those names for years. I’m curious who some of the names were. Koreans Americans? Your typical line-up of '40s lefties? Were there any “famous” names? (It’s an interesting question because if the quality of the targets was perhaps too famous it could be a reason that arrests never happened.)

I’m wondering if Truman balked because, unlike the Japanese internments, the majority were citizens. (A significant percentage of the Japanese-Americans who were interned happened to be citizens, but I’m certain the backlash was lessened because of outright racism. White Americans probably simply didn’t think that Japanese-Americans were or could be “citizens.”)

Perhaps though, the memory of the internment though kept Hoover’s plans at bay? Or maybe there was no way Truman was going to follow Hoover’s plan.

I’m curious because I feel like there’s a story here that begs to be told.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Changing Minds About Abortion and Other Issues

RH Reality Check has a very personal essay by Anna Clark about her switch from calling herself pro-life to pro-choice.

What if I told you that I used to call myself pro-life?

What if I said that I once believed abortion was murder, or that I suspected women used the procedure to bypass the consequences of sex?

If I told you, would I lose your respect? Would you be suspicious when I say that today I'm committed to the right to reproductive health, access, and choice?

If so, you wouldn't be the first.

I'm a person who changed her mind. And no, it didn't happen with cymbal-crashing drama -- no unexpected pregnancy of my own or anyone I'm close to (that I know of). It didn't happen with abrupt college-age fervor; though I entered the University of Michigan as a progressive, I held onto my belief that abortion was wrong (though I got quieter about it).
Although it's a personal story in a way I wish it was a bit more personal. I wish she had described a bit more of the kinds of incidents that changed her thinking about the issue.

I'm always fascinated by stories of how people flipped on issues and even entire identities. There's typically not "one moment" of realization. It's a series of moments of having mental discordance between your stated beliefs (ie "I am pro-life/Republican/Mormon/straight/for the Iraq War") and your niggling doubt about your actual beliefs.

I went to grad school specifically to learn how to do you move people's beliefs. I'm no longer convinced that it's about adding to their knowledge. In some cases, perhaps. But if someone feels they are reasonably well-informed about a subject, "new" information that does not mesh with their beliefs will often be rejected.

But I will add a caveat. While initial "rejections" might happen I do think that over time "new" information can sink in. The best example I have is my own change of mind about Israel.

Being an American Jew (and one who was kicked out of Hebrew School at age 11) I had a very typical uninformed "position" about Israel. And the position was something like Israelis are the good guys and Palestinians are always unreasonable and any news that I heard about Israel was filtered through that viewpoint. I didn't have any particular basis for this other than some early Hebrew schooling that taught me how the Jews were the Chosen people and Israel was given to us by God. (How many American Jews, even agnostics, still somehow think that Israel "belongs" to Jews. And I mean not that it belongs specifically to Israelis, but to Jews. Like somehow their American-born asses have some kind of ancestral claim on the land even if they outwardly reject the religion in all other cases?)

In all of the stories I heard from my rabbi and my Jewish summer camp growing up, Jews are victims and righteous. It's not a little unlike how a child learns American history thinking that all of our history shows that we're some kind of unique country of perfect values, the best of the best of the best that ever existed.

Then, about a year ago, I started working in a small office with an American-raised, half-Israeli coworker. He was younger than me, but sometime in his teens he went to Israel, in his words, "looking for answers." Instead he said he came back having more doubts. He eventually went to Cairo to learn Arabic, partially to understand more of what he experienced in Israel from the Palestinians’ viewpoint.

Since I worked for an organization that dealt in politics, it wasn't long before we started having heated discussions about Israel. And very quickly I was in my fallback position which was something along the lines of "sure Israelis sometimes aren't perfect but the Palestinians are even worse." (Meaning I guess it justifies all of Israel's actions.) But the problem was that I didn't know shit about Israel. And it took me a while to figure out that I actually didn't know what I was talking about.

Now part of the reason that my coworker's arguments sunk in over time was that I had a lot of respect for him personally. I might have thought he was mistaken about his interpretation, but I trusted his "facts" in the sense that I believed he saw what he saw and experienced what he experienced. It was when I realized that I had no equally compelling "facts" to counter him (because I was not an expert about Israel) that I started to realize that my understanding of the situation might be wrong.

It didn't happen after our first argument. Or after our third. And the reality is I can't remember when I had my moment of clarity. But I do recall us debating some other issue and I abruptly told him he's "won" over the issue of Israel. That I had come to see things more his way than mine. I remember how shocked he was.

The thing is, had I been locked up with another person, even his own brother (who had radically different beliefs) maybe this would have been a story about how working with someone firmed up beliefs I was primed to accept. But I did realize that despite the fact that I initially rejected the "new" information I was presented with, by constantly having my beliefs "tested" it helped me realize the weaknesses I had with them.

So, to that end, maybe dialogues are helpful, even if on the surface they seem to come to an impass. In this situation, I was willing to accept a new understanding because I acknowledged my original understanding was based on limited information.

But on more esoteric issues (such as abortion) I'm not sure that "information" is what changes mind so much as experience. That's why I wish Anna Clark has talked more about her experiences that made her reconsider her position. Because it wasn't necessarily someone telling her something she didn't know that changed her mind. It was experiencing realities that clashed with her beliefs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joe Francis In Jail Still Warms My Heart

The New York Times has a profile of Girls Gone Wild Creator Joe Francis and all his legal troubles. It’s basically a portrait of a person who did everything he could to turn charges into major feuds. But even if there are some prosecutors who are trying to build careers on prosecutions (even if they are valid), its not worth weeping for Joe.

If you play in mud, you get dirty. He is reaping a lot of what he is sowing. And if you have thoughts that he’s someone that doesn’t belong in a jail cell for something, here’s an except of the infamous LA Times magazine story. (Amanda at Pandagon also had a very astute analysis of Joe.)

Footage from that night shows a close-up of Szyszka's driver's license, proving she's not a minor. The camera then captures Szyszka lying on the bed. Her nails are chipped, her eyes coated with makeup. Following a cameraman’s instructions, she shows her breasts and says, "Girls Gone Wild." She seems shy but willing. She smiles. The unseen cameraman asks her to take off her shirt, her skirt, then her underwear. She sprawls on the bed, her legs open. At his suggestion, she masturbates with a dildo, saying repeatedly that it hurts but also feels good. Francis enters the room at certain points and you hear his voice, low and flirtatious, telling her, "You are so adorable." When she says she's a virgin, he responds: "Great. You won't be after my cameraman gets done with you."

When I talk to Szyszka seven days later, she says she "didn't quite realize" she was being filmed. "But I didn't care because I was drunk and who cares?" Then she adds: "It didn't feel good to me at all, but I was totally faking it because I was on 'Girls Gone Wild.'"

Eventually, Szyszka says, Francis told the cameraman to leave and pushed her back on the bed, undid his jeans and climbed on top of her. "I told him it hurt, and he kept doing it. And I keep telling him it hurts. I said, 'No' twice in the beginning, and during I started saying, 'Oh, my god, it hurts.' I kept telling him it hurt, but he kept going, and he said he was sorry but kissed me so I wouldn't keep talking."

Afterward, she says, Francis cleaned them both off with a paper towel and told her to get dressed. Then, she says, he opened the door and told the cameraman to come back, saying, "She's not a virgin anymore."

Szyszka says Francis told her that what happened had to stay between them. She says she agreed, and they walked to the front of the bus. Szyszka remembers that one of the crew returned her driver's license. Another asked if she wanted to hang out on the bus. She declined, she says, but asked for three pairs of "booty short" underwear that Francis had promised her for appearing on camera. "They gave me a weird look like that was too much," Szyszka recalls. "They were, like, 'Three of them?' and I was, like, 'Yeah, three.'"

Within days, Szyszka says, she told her father, who was angry about what she said had happened but kept quiet at her request. A month after the incident, she says, she told her sister and mother.

She's confused, she admits, about what happened. She feels guilty, she says, for getting herself into the situation in the first place. She says she never would have undressed for the cameras if she hadn't been completely drunk. And she is adamant that she said "no" to Francis. She says she's haunted by that night.

"I feel like it was planned," she says. "Sometimes I'm driving along, and I think about it and all of a sudden feel weird."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: Light Chasing Cat

I've seen videos of other cats doing this, but until a few months ago I never suspect Al was one of those cats you could spin into a fuzzy fury chasing a bead of light.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

NewsCat is Helping Women At the Moment

Sorry about the lack of updates. My office is putting on a training conference this week to help women break into the opinion-based media and this is taking all of my attention at the moment.

Cat blogging Friday however will return so stay turned!