Hot Girls Wanted

When I noticed the documentary Hot Girls Wanted on netflix I knew I had to watch it. Of course I love documentaries- I could happily watch a documentary about mold- plus I have a longstanding fascination with sex workers. What makes a woman cross the line to engage in the oldest profession known to man?

Hot Girls Wanted focuses on the internet-spawned “amateur” industry of very young women, most only 18 or 19 years old, trying to forge their way into online porn. Answering an ad in craigslist they are invited to the home of a “talent agent” who rents out bedrooms, and assists the girls in getting shoots. The girls advertise themselves on twitter (which does not censor pornographic content) and most have lofty plans to make it big in the industry.

As for their motivations, most express a desire for a quick escape from their parents; at upward to $1000 per shoot they amass sums of money that, from their teenage vantage point, appear vast. Some express a desire to feel “liberated” or “free.” Miriam Weeks, aka Belle Knox, the Duke University student who famously financed her tuition by working in porn, waxes poetic about the feminist empowerment she experiences on the set.

However all that glitters is ultimately not gold for these women. While the docu does not necessarily have an anti-porn bent, it starkly illustrates the paradox of supposed female empowerment against the degradation they are subjected to at work, including abusive fetish acts, and uncertainty about their contractual obligations if they’re not comfortable with a particular request by a producer. The film also exposes the heartrending conflicts of young women trying to come to grips with their choices, while remaining loyal to the values of family and loved ones.

In terms of raunchiness the film is relatively tame, at least considering the subject matter. There is some brief topless female nudity, and non-nude clips from disturbing “abuse” videos. So if you’re looking for titillation you’ll come away disappointed, as the film focuses on the psychological and logistical factors in the lives of fledgling porn actresses.

One thing that amazed me is that none of these women seem to be on birth control, and, filming in Miami, they don’t use condoms (which are mandatory in films executed in Los Angeles). One girl blithely describes getting “paid extra” for Plan B at Walgreens! This makes me think porn stars are not the most forward-thinking bunch, and are probably not considering the long term implications of their career choice.

Your Beauty Brought out the Sun

I’m sure there are people who, like me, were huge X Files fans in days of yore. And I’m sure like me you remember Gillian as being a pleasant, but somewhat frumpy, actress in the role of Scully.

Well no longer. My husband has been watching The Fall on Netflix and Anderson is drop dead gorgeous in her role- at the ancient age of 46. Moreover she doesn’t appear to have undergone much “work.” Her face looks like the real thing as does her body (except maybe her boobs, but if she had a boob job it’s a tasteful one).

the fall
lovely and lovelier

I’m not into serial killers, but my husband, ever the murder mystery enthusiast, has been watching it and I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous and artful Anderson was as the detective-superintendent overseeing the murder and mayhem caused by her nemesis. All with a fake British accent that is surprisingly convincing.

So how is it that Anderson grew more beautiful with age?! Don’t all women hit THE WALL somewhere mid-thirties where they look ghastly and despicable?

Yesterday I went to fetch bagels for the kids. NYC has experienced bizarre weather as of late; pouring rain one minute while sunny the next. As I drove to the bagel store it was a downpour; once arrived it was sunny. As I emerged with sixteen bagels in hand a (very, very young) guy unloading ice from an ice truck said to me: You see miss, your beauty brought out the sun!

Wait, who? It took me a few moments to realize he was calling ancient ME “miss.” I stopped briefly in my tracks to process it. Finally I laughed and said simply, “Thanks.”

The 20 year old me wouldn’t have said thanks. I might have processed a quick feminazi thought- how dare he assault me while I go about my daily routine!…  But the 41 year old me just thought it was sweet, and complimentary. I grinned all the way to the car.

People in France believe women reach their zenith of beauty in their 40s. How different from Americans who believe everything goes to hell by that point. I recently tried watching the netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted but my husband flipped out. You can’t watch that! he cried. The kids will see it in “recently watched” (never mind he just spent hours watching Gillian Anderson combat serial killers). But a quote from that docu (I was able to watch the first 20 minutes) stuck with me: a girl turns 18 every minute.

But maybe there is some worth to us “older” ladies… Gillian being a case in point.

Thoughts on Reddit

Some years ago I noticed my son browsing what looked suspiciously like a message board.

“What’s that?”

“A content aggregator,” he replied, not looking up from the screen.

“You mean a message board?”

“No, a content aggregator.”

“Aren’t they the same thing?”

He turned and glared over his nerd glasses. “Hardly,” he hissed.

But I knew better. Call it what you will but reddit- by all appearances- was a message board. As a hopeless message board addict I stayed away, avoiding any link to reddit and covering my ears at its mention.

I did manage to break my message board addiction (that’s the reason I began blogging); I mean I did occasionally crack and peek in on one message board or another, but by and large I stayed clean.

Until a couple months ago when I noticed a link to a subreddit I couldn’t refuse. I clicked on it, and clicked some more, and more and more and more. I was like one of those rats in a cocaine experiment.

Thankfully I snapped out of it and remain message board addiction free, but I have garnered some thoughts on reddit. Namely:

  • reddit is remarkably efficient and organized, particularly when you consider its contributors are unpaid (as far as I can tell, reddit mods and admins are working for free)
  • the average post is surprisingly high caliber. Reasons for this might be the law of rediquette (you have to actually use correct punctuation and grammar) and/or the upvote/downvote system is too confusing for stupid people
  • the /r/conspiracy subreddit is hardcore. Sandy Hook never happened, the Boston Marathon bombing never happened,  and every, EVERY terrorist attack in the world is a Mossad-based false flag. Because, you know, jews are evil and control the world.
  • reddit is liberal. There’s an /r/conservative sub but beyond those shores it’s every Social Justice Warrior for himself.
  • reddit is young. I felt ancient reading about teenagers and 20 somethings complaining about their love lives.

As anyone who follows reddit knows, there was recently a great deal of reddit-drama with the banning of “harassing” subreddits. This follows the SJW ethos, and if anything, I’m surprised those subreddits survived as long as they did. Apparently voat is the place to go for those who desire true freedom of speech, but since I’m trying to steer clear of the habit I’ll abstain.

Confessions of a Homeschool Dropout

It was with heavy heart I received purportedly happy news yesterday: my three old received a placement in the pre-k program at her siblings’ school. Up to the final hour I convinced myself I would homeschool her through 8th grade, and talked myself into withdrawing her two next older siblings (the wild 6 year old and the 9 year old with developmental delays) in order to tutor them through 8th grade as well. I even got my husband on board with the idea.

But yesterday afternoon, sat outside with the baby while the three year old shuffled around the yard looking bored, I asked myself: Who am I kidding? How am I going to keep three whiny girls entertained and educated for the next eight years (if you count the baby, twelve years)? And if I’m so committed to their education, why can I count the number of times I’ve helped them with homework this year on one hand?

I’ve homeschooled my kids before. My son was homeschooled for eleven years before he decided to give high school a try. Throughout those years some of his younger siblings were also home. Back then I was committed to the philosophy of home education, but somewhere around year 9 I cracked. The kids didn’t take me seriously, and on the rare occasion they did, I felt ill-equipped to meet their needs. Each day was an eternal tedium of begging, bribing, threatening them to complete a modicum of work. Around age 12 my son lost all interest in me as a teacher and blew off anything I asked of him (yet he still didn’t want to go to school). Eventually my husband and I decided enough was enough, and within 24 hours his younger siblings were registered at a nearby Catholic school. I marched them across the street one chilly morning, asked if they knew what grades they were in, and dumped them on the doorstep.

However my son was still home, ignoring my efforts to advance his education. He spent the subsequent years doing three things. He wrote endlessly, mostly on message boards and blogs, but I noticed over time that his writing was remarkably good. He read through the entire history section of the local library branch, then moved on to a different branch. He read voraciously, and when finished with that history section proceeded to fantasy novels like Game of Thrones. And, thirdly, he played strategy games. Keep in mind during these years he never studied any math or science, which had me in sheer panic. But when he finally did decide to enter school as a high school sophomore, he did quite well in math (and not surprisingly nailed a perfect score on the global regents at the end of that first year).

There were some good points to homeschooling. My girls got very good at geography. I forced them to play a geography game each day, where they named countries on a blank world map (entering 7th grade, my oldest daughter shocked her Liberian Algebra teacher by pointing out his home country on a map). They had a solid education in basic math, a skill seemingly of little importance in a post-common core era. And, thanks to the Amish handwriting workbooks we used, the overachiever developed handwriting so beautiful I occasionally do a double take, wondering if it’s in fact computer generated font. My other kids have atrocious handwriting, so it was of little use to them.

So that’s why I don’t help the kids with their homework: I burned out a long time ago. Whatever quotient of tutelage I was born with, it was expended over the long years of homeschooling. To this day, when I get too close to a grubby hand clutching an ill-sharpened pencil, I cringe.

I also learned, thanks to my son, that my efforts probably won’t make much difference in the long run. Even the NYtimes acknowledges that parental involvement in education is overblown. Surprisingly, it can even have the opposite effect of depressing student grades!

That all being said, in the name of being a good parent I’ll force myself to go over the basics with the younger girls this summer. I may even crack out the Amish handwriting books to grant my 6 year old a jump start to 2nd grade cursive- yes they still teach that in Catholic school. And the three year old, despite not talking much, is showing signs of reading, so I’ll try to capitalize on that before sacrificing her at the altar of Mayor DeBlasio’s pet project. He likes to do photo ops at their school because it has a picturesque grassy field complete with an American flag. So who knows, she might get to stack blocks with him come next September.

Spanish Downton Abbey 2

Season 3 of Grand Hotel has been added to Netflix streaming. Since season 2 ended on a whopper cliffhanger, it was with delight that the 7 month old and I sat down for the next incarnation of Downton Abbey, Spanish style. Season 3 offers copious Alicia-Julio snogging, so much so it’s utterly implausible they haven’t been caught yet by hotel staff, guests, or Alicia’s husband.

muchosbesos
muchos besos

My overachiever asked, if I had to pick one, who would I rather, Julio or Diego? Julio is a sensitive romantic while Don Diego is brooding, sinister and domineering.

julioJulio: I like married women, bar fights, and styling my hair.

diegoDiego: I like murder, subterfuge, and amassing power.

I told her neither. I’d rather have the Inspector!

inspector
let’s solve a mystery

She was horrified. But he’s old! she protested.

Well I’m old too, or at least, he’s not as old to me as he would be to you (I told her). Plus, he’s intelligent, funny, and attentive to details.

I maintain the Inspector is the best character in this well done series, as he navigates the endless mysteries, murders and mystique surrounding the hotel. Also excellent is Adriana Ozores as Doña Teresa, the oft-bedeviled matriarch of the hotel clan. It’s rare to find an outstanding female villain on television or in film, but Ozores plays the role beautifully as a seething, cold-blooded power player.

The sex scenes have been ratcheted up compared to previous seasons, including what I can only describe as a female-to-male rape (if you didn’t think such a thing was possible, watch it!), the first I’ve ever seen in this kind of media. However, the smut is punctuation to an otherwise gripping plot featuring perpetual- and addictive- twists and turns. As I’ve stated previously, Grand Hotel is actually better than Downton Abbey, in part because it includes crime puzzles woven into its commentary on class, and gender roles, of yore.

Before I Disappear

Before I Disappear was one of those random finds on netflix. Since I am still chained to the couch, boobs exposed for my voraciously nursing 7 month old, I’m watching a lot more screen entertainment than normal. I watched all of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which was horrible and NSFL, to borrow an acronym from reddit) and all of Young and Hungry (less horrible but still NSFL) while my son chomped away at my less-than-voluptuous chest. It is actually quite amazing these size-challenged boobs have added 12 pounds of baby to his barely 6 pound newborn frame.

So I wasn’t expecting much from Before I Disappear yet was exceedingly surprised by its artistry and excellent acting. An indie film written by, directed by, and starring Shawn Christensen, Before I Say Goodbye imparts the melancholic tale of a suicidal heroin addict yanked back to life by uncle-duties to his precocious, overachieving niece. All set to the background of NYC and Brooklyn nightlife.

Perhaps Mr. Christensen reads my blog because the niece (played by Fatima Ptaeck) is a carbon copy of my overachiever. Snappish, goal driven, conscientious beyond her years, precocious Sophie shepherds the drug-addled Richie- played by Mr. Christensen- back to reality while complaining of her obligations to a next-morning test. I was a bit stunned to find such a family affirming, even conservative ethos in a movie steeped in hipsterdom and New York City. Not only does family bring redemption in Before I Disappear, but all the characters are heterosexual (shockingly, Richie is also pro-life, at least when it comes to his niece). Compare this to Schmidt and Hungry which both star uber-gay characters and make jokes about unwanted babies.

Even more remarkable, the film manages all this without saccharin or melodrama. The pacing is melodic and understated, rare things in current cinema. My only complaint is that the film tries to portray Manhattan and hipster Brooklyn as “gritty” while we all know those areas have become hyper-policed playgrounds for the rich and progressive. This is the same problem Daredevil encountered, at least according to my husband (I didn’t watch Daredevil; he did); they try to portray Manhattan as an abrasive locale, whereas in truth it’s been a cushy area writ large for quite some time.

All in all the film is well worth watching, even if you’re not interested in indie films. The acting is superb and the writing surprisingly good. It even features Hellboy’s Ron Perlman as a wizened, conniving club owner.

beforeidisappear
Christensen and Ptaeck contemplate ontology. 

Beach Partay

I love the beach. Not for suntanning purposes, nor swimming purposes- I’m a weak swimmer, despite years of lessons. Going to the beach always makes me happy. I’m not sure why: is it the reassuring perpetuity of the ocean, the free seashells, rocks, and smoothed over sea glass, the nostalgia of childhood (I spent my early childhood in Florida with a father who likes to fish)? Unfortunately, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been to the beach. In between miserable pregnancies, nursing infants, miscarriages, and citywide advisories of chemical spills, I just never made it there post Hurricane Sandy.

Today my daughters, minus the insane 16 year old, and I partook of the Memorial Day weekend beach opening. As you can see from this picture, Midland Beach was packed towel to towel with the unwashed masses of Staten Island:

midlandbeach

NOT. As usual- and I assumed it would be different, given it is Memorial Day weekend after all- the beaches of Staten Island remained near vacant. There was a guy fishing nearby; he kept catching seaweed. Another family dotted the shore in the distance. And a shirtless gentleman flitted in and out of the scene doing complicated exercise maneuvers (he was probably utilizing the resistance offered by sand- my own thighs ached once home).

midlandbeach3
left to right: amadea, the overachiever, shirtless guy

The non-verbal 3 year old, who has miraculously begun talking, sort of, was thrilled to dig through sand and stick her feet in the “pool.” “Mommy, pool,” she kept saying, dragging me to the incoming tide that washed over her pale legs.

adiemidlandbeach
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in background

So why are Staten Island beaches always empty? I suppose because most Staten Islanders with cars go to New Jersey for beach enjoyment, and those without cars find the trek to the south shore- or from outer boroughs- too arduous. Either way, we reap the benefit with four lifeguards to ourselves.

Staten Island beaches were destroyed during Hurricane Sandy and had to be largely rebuilt. I initially didn’t recognize the terrain and lost my bearings, unsure where to park. Of note, this area is rife with Russians, and for the first time I am noticing Russians who are obese. Russian emigres, at least around here, used to stand out as seemingly immune to the encroaching obesity epidemic that has become emblematic of the “fat american.” But today I saw more than one russian-speaking family with obese representatives in tow. I would have taken pictures for you, but it seemed tacky.

I forgot the suncreen at home so bundled up the kids after 90 minutes. Once home, they neatly sorted the seashells and rocks then packaged them in a bag for future use. What can I say, we are a family of hoarders.

seashells

My husband hoards comic books; my kids hoard pretty much everything, and I hoard kids.

The Jewel in the Crown

The Jewel in the Crown is a PBS aired miniseries from 1984 depicting the transitional years of India shifting from British to self-rule. This, of course, would include the partition of India and Pakistan. I actually watched this series when I was a kid and I realize now it was my first introduction to India and Hinduism, topics that would remain lifelong interests. I’m surprised my mother let me watch it, as it’s rife with risque scenes and taboo material, though watching it now as a 41 year old I realize most of it went right over my head at the time. For instance there is the ongoing theme of repressed homosexuality- to the extent that it begins to feel contrived and gratuitous, but I didn’t really “get it” as an 11 year old. There are also very disturbing themes of suicide, despair, and war-induced PTSD (though it’s not called that in the series) all set to the background of World War II and a threatened Japanese invasion of the country.

The series does not lend itself to binge watching; it took me two weeks to plow through it (my husband kept saying, “You’re still watching this?”). There are fourteen ponderous episodes, all of them about an hour long; the first episode is 1 hr 45 minutes. At times the script feels more like a stage play, with lots of introspective and philosophical dialogue, though the slow pacing is punctuated with high and tragic action- particularly in the first and last episodes.

The acting is by and large outstanding. Tom Piggot-Smith is especially good as the icy Ronald Merrick, the one character who appears in most of the episodes. The scene where, clad in a tuxedo, he robotically asks Daphne for her hand in marriage is painful to watch. Likewise Charles Dance (who would later appear in Game of Thrones) is excellent as historian-turned-spy Guy Perron.

It is fascinating to watch the depiction of an affluent, secular Muslim elite. I suppose this still holds today as the majority of secular muslims are highly educated and come from privileged backgrounds (though not all privileged muslims end up secular).  It was also fascinating how seemingly laissez-faire muslim rulership was to foreign interlopers, though of course this could be artifice constructed  by Paul Scott (author of The Raj Quartet) but it makes for a compelling narrative nonetheless.

If you have about 15 hours to spare then The Jewel in the Crown is well worth watching. A few scenes are boring, but that’s what the fast forward button is for.

Floating Bridge

This is a great song I heard on the ancient contraption known as the radio. Gregg Allman had to have been in his 60s when he recorded this- not bad. He sounds great. As I’ve mentioned previously I (briefly) attended high school with his sons, until they were kicked out for drug use. Knowing what I now know about private schools, they must have had a DEA worthy stash for the school to forfeit so much tuition.

I’m puzzled by the lyrics. Are they about a suicide attempt? If so, I’m glad it wasn’t successful. I really hate suicide. It’s just about the saddest thing in the world. This is a cover of an Eric Clapton song, but this version is better.

Fed Up

I finally got to watch the much touted documentary Fed Up, co-produced by Katie Couric, yet another film about the obesity epidemic in the United States and its supposed causes. Maybe because the film was so hyped I had unrealistic expectations, but I came away disappointed because not only is this a poorly executed documentary, but we get the same confusing and contradictory information that The Weight of the Nation and A Place at the Table offer.

Fed Up decides to place the obesity blame squarely on junk foods and the sugar they contain. “Sugar is immediately converted into fat!” quoth the film. Gary Taubes (who is surprisingly dorky and a tad creepy, that disappointed me too) is briefly interviewed… why I’m not sure, because the film doesn’t explore, much less endorse, low carb diets. And once again we’re told that “real food-” lovingly grown organic fruits and vegetables- will keep the populace thin and fit.

There have already been several refutations of the “science” presented in the film, such as this one by Harriet Hall. To be clear, no one, including me, is claiming sugar is a health food, only that sugar cannot be pinpointed as the sole cause of obesity over the past 30 years. I’m increasingly convinced that the junk food vs. real food debate is status signaling not based in real science. To call pizza junk, while enjoying your quinoa-cherry tomato-goat cheese salad signals to everyone around you that you are erudite and classy, even though both dishes are the same at a nutritional level: grain, tomato, cheese and olive oil. Even the first lady famously scoffed at the notion of tomato sauce in pizza being considered a vegetable, and Couric makes the same mocking reference when interviewing a senator in Fed Up. Yet the few tablespoons of sauce on each pizza slice contain at least an entire tomato (remember sauce is reduced in volume during cooking, so is essentially compacted tomatoes), and cooked tomatoes are considered healthier than raw tomatoes due to their increased lycopene content. Tomatoes are technically a fruit anyway, but I digress.

Another food in the Fed Up cross hairs is infant formula. It’s too sugary! Babies are being conditioned to inhale junk food! Couric must not have breastfed her kids, because human breastmilk is extremely sweet with a higher sugar content than cow’s milk. Out of curiosity, I’ve tasted a couple drops of breastmilk over the way too many years I’ve spent breastfeeding, and it tastes like sugar water. In short, babies are supposed to consume sugar, and infant formula manufacturers are copying the content of human milk.

Those issues aside the film just is not good. The pacing is choppy, neither here nor there, and bounces between different pundits seemingly randomly. The obese children featured in the film, while heartbreaking, are not examined in depth nor are their diets. We get glimpses of what they eat and see a few grocery trips, but it’s unclear how much of exactly what kinds of food got them to their large girth, nor what factors compel them to overeat. If the film had dropped its preachiness and instead examined their histories exhaustively, it would have been better overall and more informative.

Kinda Man No More

Way back when my husband and I first married, I decided to buy a dining room table. Up to that point we’d used the floor or a wobbly card table for our evening feasts. This was back when we still ate dinner as a family; work obligations have made such dinners a thing of the past.

So I peregrinated to Port Richmond where a fly-by-night used furniture shop had set up business. A bunch of burly guys, sat round a cash register, greeted me heartily and I wandered the floor looking for just the right table. I discovered it tucked in a corner: dark wood, sturdy, and on clearance special.

I paid the burly guys $50 and inquired as to delivery.

“Well,” they said authoritatively, “Do you have a man in the house who can help us get it in the door?”

I hesitated, imagining my husband- comic book nerd extraordinaire- hauling weight with these guys. The image just didn’t gel.

“Uhh.. kind of.”

Well that was just too much for them. They broke out into barrels of laughter. “KIND OF!” they exclaimed, gasping through chortles. “She KIND OF has a man at home!”

I rolled my eyes and made my way back to the house, where I related the tale to my husband and warned he was conscripted into manual labor.

“Kinda man? You called me a kinda man?” And it stuck. For the next nearly two decades he jokingly, if snidely, referred to himself as “kinda man” whenever he failed at a manly task such as starting a dead lawn mower, or fixing an unhinged kitchen cabinet.

“What did you expect my dear? You married a kinda man.”

Until last weekend. Saturday night, with the baby and non-verbal three year old asleep, I decided now would be a good time to plant the Costco azalea I’d purchased that morning. I donned my boots, grabbed a shovel, dug a hole as deep as I could, and trundled across the lawn with the hefty azalea in a bear hug.

CRACK! My ankle twisted violently beneath me while the azalea went flying. The next thing I knew my face was in the lawn and my arms were splayed out. I realized, blinded by the azalea, I had stepped on the edge of a shallow but wide crater left from the above ground pool hauled away shortly after we moved to our home.

My ankle’s life flashed before my eyes. I relived that same ankle’s sprain as a teenager, and how dreadfully slow the healing process had been. Crutches, limping, pain: in fact I still felt pain from the initial sprain at age 41. And here I did it again! Heartsick, I somehow got back inside and collapsed into bed (but not before crawling to the azalea, to set it upright).

I woke in the middle of the night to agony. The ankle was grossly swollen and throbbing. I fumbled through my bureau for the percocet from my back surgery and swallowed a pill without water. The next morning- Easter Sunday- I crawled up the stairs and begged my husband to drive me to urgicare.

The facility was empty at 8am Sunday. I was ushered into an exam room where a doctor, whom I later learned was Pakistani (he offered up that information) looked at my ankle and glared ferociously at my husband.

Did you do this to her?!

It took both of us some moments to realize what exactly the doctor was asking. Now I was the one who burst out laughing.

Him?” I said, not realizing I might be insulting his manhood. “Did HE do this to me??” I was laughing so hard, I briefly forgot the pain shooting from my foot.

The doctor calmed down as I explained this was a gardening accident. As it turned out he was a plant enthusiast himself, and he wanted to know exactly what kind of azalea, where did I buy it from, for how much, and he advised I collect tuberoses; he ordered them off the internet.

Three hours later (the physician reading x-rays was offsite), brace on my ankle, I hobbled behind my husband back to the car. “What the hell was that all about?” I asked. “Do I look like a battered wife?”

“I don’t know,” replied my husband. “But I think I’m officially no longer a kinda man!” He smiled broadly.

I have three theories as to the doctor’s inquiry. One, he was obligated to ask this of any woman showing up with an injury. Every time I’ve been pregnant, I’m asked repeatedly: do I feel safe at home? Am I the victim of domestic violence? I assume this is hospital policy, if not outright law.

My second theory is the doctor was trying to be funny, but if so he needs serious help in his comedic delivery.

The third theory is that we live in a culture where men are routinely villainized while women victimized, even if reality does not reflect said scenario.

Maybe it’s a combination of the three.

azalea
the azalea

The Reproaches

The Catholic Church continues to surprise me. I’ve attended a lot of church services, but not a lot of Catholic ones, and I’ve been to Good Friday services, but never a Catholic one. Until this year. I took it upon myself to bring my 3rd grader to services as I knew the teachers, after Easter break, would be asking the class who went to mass and who didn’t. The mass attenders raise their hands while the heathens sit in shame, hands on the desk.

The Good Friday service started out with a passion play. The priest read the part of Jesus, the nun read the part of Pilate, a guy with a charming british accent read the narrator, and us parishioners played the part of the Jewish rabble (“Crucify him! Crucify him!”). It was like Jesus Christ Superstar but without music. Then came a series of prayers, including ones for the conversion of Jews and atheists. Then came the veneration of the cross, which I have to admit was a very emotional and moving ceremony. The cross is brought through the congregation and parishioners line up to kiss it, touch it, or make the sign of the cross. More than a few women in the crowd were crying, and the music ringing down from the choir balcony was solemn and heavy.

While my 3rd grader lined up for her turn at the cross, I leafed through the missal and saw that the choir was in fact singing “The Reproaches” while people venerated the cross. Hmm, never heard of that before. As I read down the page a chill ran through me and my stomach knotted up. I quickly closed the missal and stuffed it back on the rack. Wondering if I might be imagining things, I grabbed it back and opened it up anew. No, I wasn’t imagining it. This really was a lengthy list of reproaches against the Jews for rejecting and crucifying Jesus. And this was the cleaned up, post-Vatican II version of the church!

I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.

I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.

I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.

I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.

I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.

I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.

For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.

I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.

I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.

As it turns out The Reproaches, also known as the Improperia, date back to the 9th century. They were abandoned by Anglican liturgy (which explains why I never heard them) but are still used in the Catholic and Lutheran churches. Of course, these days Christians are no longer the reigning antisemites on the earth; Islamists have handily taken up that torch (viciously persecuting Christians too while they’re at it). But I couldn’t help but feel unnerved by this relic in the modern liturgy, and the historical association between antisemitism and passion plays suddenly made a whole lot more sense.

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is a surprisingly enjoyable 2002 film featuring Steve Irwin wrestling crocodiles, chasing perenties, and handling venemous snakes in unscripted takes that were later written into an espionage thriller. If it sounds cheesy, it definitely is, but somehow it all fuses into a funny, family-friendly movie.

crochunter

Irwin’s ebullience is contagious as he sings the praises of Australian wildlife. We also get to meet his soft spoken American wife, and his real-life pet dog Sui who died in 2004, 2 years before Irwin himself died in a stingray accident.

I had no idea Irwin ever starred in a feature length film. My now-teenagers loved Animal Planet as toddlers, so I’ve seen more than a few Crocodile Hunter episodes. While Irwin was a superb naturalist, he was, above all, a circus style showman and clearly relished the role. He was criticized by animal rights groups for his theatrics with dangerous animals, and was universally hissed for feeding zoo crocodiles with his baby son tucked in the crook of his arm. However, I was hard pressed to label him a buffoon during the breathtaking Collision Course scenes where he deftly and enthusiastically handles snakes, tarantulas, and crocodiles. There is a particularly astonishing sequence midway through the film where Irwin chases a 12 foot crocodile through swampy waterways, wrestling it onto his boat; it’s worth watching the film for that scene alone. There’s even a cute rendition of Crocodile Rock over the end credits, performed by the Baha Men.

An interesting idiosyncrasy of the film is that it was filmed with two different aspect ratios- one for the “documentary” scenes and another for the “movie” scenes. On a widescreen TV this leaves a dark “frame” around the former with the latter appearing as a typical movie. But the best thing about this film is that it’s perfectly family friendly, with no sex or significant violence- so if you have little kids in the house, grab some popcorn and hit the couch. Collision Course is available on netflix streaming as of this posting.

Low Carb for Type 2 Diabetes

It was with great surprise during my last pregnancy that I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I started out the pregnancy on the edge of underweight and had gained all of five pounds when diagnosed. What’s more, I was eating like a health nut, as I’ve been doing for roughly the past 8 years. My only risk factor for gestational diabetes was that I was pregnant at age 40.

I was even more surprised when my diabetic reaction to glucose didn’t go away after I delivered my son. In fact, it got worse. At five months post partum my glucose tolerance results were even worse than when I was pregnant, and I was officially diagnosed as type 2 diabetic. However, my A1C was normal which didn’t surprise me: by that point I’d been eating a low to moderately low carb diet for ten months. I averaged 50 net carbs a day, and never more than 100. The typical American eats at least 300 carbs a day.

It didn’t take me long when I was pregnant to figure out the “healthy” foods I’d grown so fond of while a health-conscious vegan made my blood sugar shoot sky high. What’s more, these were all foods recommended by ADA guidelines: whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, and fresh fruits. The only foods that kept my blood sugar in check were low carb ones, namely meats, fish, eggs, fats, hard cheeses, non starchy vegetables (salad greens and cruciferous vegetables), tofu (including black soy bean products) and nuts.

This is when I stumbled across the strangest dietary mystery of our time: low carb diets are specifically not recommended for type 2 diabetics! Why? I’m not sure. Reasons I’ve seen range from “you need carbs for energy” (not true) or “diabetics wouldn’t follow a low carb diet” (maybe true) to “diabetics shouldn’t be ‘punished’ by following a different diet from the rest of America” (I guess true, but it feels far from punishment to eat lamb, roasted tofu, or almond butter by the spoonful).

Thinking I must be missing something I checked out some diabetic cookbooks from the library. Upon perusing them at home I noted they contained very few low carb recipes and were more of the same- whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables and fruit. Many recipes contained sugar. I tried a batch of a brown rice & kidney bean recipe only to find my blood sugar at 200 two hours later. How could this be considered healthy for diabetics by any stretch of the imagination? When I ate low carb, my blood sugar rarely cracked 100.

I’ve narrowed it down to one of three conclusions.

  1. I’m simply out of touch with how america eats. Admittedly, I’ve been a foodified health nut for a while now. For me it was easy and natural to give up anything with sugar. For the rest of america, not so much. In this respect the ADA is being realistic in how actual people actually eat and isn’t asking too much of them beyond switching to whole grains, from refined grains
  2. This is a deliberate conspiracy by big pharma to keep people dependent on their drugs. Because if all type 2 diabetics ate low carb diets and were able to keep their A1C in check, there would be little need for the various medicines they promote for treating diabetes.
  3. 90% of people with diabetes are overweight to obese. People like me, who are thin but diabetic, are the minority. So encouraging any kind of food restriction in this group might result in weight loss, which might in turn result in less glucose sensitivity. Again, this would be a case of being realistic and pragmatic.

I don’t know which answer is correct, or perhaps it’s a meld of all three, but all I can tell you is that following some degree of carb restriction is almost guaranteed to have a positive effect on A1C over time.

There is an exception to all this. Certain starchy foods will develop resistant starch if they are cooked, cooled, and reheated. For instance you could cook potatoes, cool them in the fridge overnight, then reheat them, a type 2 diabetic can eat them with less danger than eating them freshly cooked. This is phenomena only recently being explored, so if you are type 2 diabetic, proceed with caution. From my own trial and error I’ve found quinoa and potatoes have less impact on blood sugar once cooked, cooled, and reheated, but if you are seriously disabled by type 2 diabetes I wouldn’t recommend venturing into this realm if you can at all tolerate eating a low to moderately low carb diet.

Additionally, if you are meat averse like me (I love lamb, but not every day) rest assured that there are copious low carb choices for vegans and vegetarians. Eating low carb does not mean eating slabs of meat with each meal. In fact today I’ve eaten mainly greens and nuts, with a frittata in the oven for dinner. Many days I still manage to eat exclusively vegan between nuts, greens, guacamole, and vegetable oils.

So if you are type 2 diabetic and happen to come across this blog, I implore you to explore low to moderate carb options for eating. It may well save your life in the long run.

Birth of the Blob

After much anticipation I underwent the lipoma excision yesterday morning. I took a cab way way down to the south shore; my driver was a cantankerous Russian emigre who railed the entire 30 minute trip about Obama and liberals. He left the Soviet Union for a reason, he said, only to find himself in the up and coming version of it. He wished me luck as I hopped out of the car, and I made my way to admissions.

All the other patients in the surgical unit were old and sick. My brief roommate was an elderly Italian lady who smoked a pack a day. She chatted with her husband in Italian in between answering nurse questions in english. They did a finger prick on her. “180!” scolded the nurse; “I bet you ate pasta last night.” (Fasting blood sugar should, ideally, be in the 90-120ish range for type 2 diabetics). My heart sank for her as I’ve recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes myself (that’s another post) but I’ve managed to control it completely with diet. My fasting level that morning was 75.

Eventually I was rolled down to the operating room. They flopped me onto my stomach, knocked me out, and the next thing I knew I was shown my new “baby” in a metal specimen pan. I stared in amazement at the lump I incubated on my back for the better part of seven years: about 4 by 7 inches, it looked like a globby, raw pork chop. They turned me face up and to my sheer delight I could feel the whole surface of the operating table against my back. I haven’t been able to lie completely flat on my back for years.

But my joy was short-lived. A few hours after being discharged, and while reluctantly filling a prescription for Percocet at Walgreens, the area around the incision became hideously and abruptly swollen. I somehow managed to drive back home and called the nurses’ station in mild panic, then called the surgeon’s answering service. They said to go to the ER.

Instead of heading back to the south shore (I have a nursing baby to worry about) I went to the local ER on the north shore. That ER was packed and I waited, and waited, and waited. Why not try one of those percocets? I thought to myself, and downed one with a gulp of bottled water. While I felt a relaxing haze within the hour, I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about. These were the pills that became the scourge of Staten Island, driving the south shore into a heroin epidemic? Honestly, wine is much better!

The ER was clogged with uninsured persons seeking medical care for mild complaints. The girl next to me had a stomach ache. The Chilean couple behind me had a headache. The pack of kids sat across from me looked the portrait of health. I shifted back and forth in the plastic chair, hoping the fierce pressure wouldn’t crack open my stitches. In light of my recent diabetes diagnosis, I observed with horror the foods being eaten all around me. The pack of kids downed chips and soda. The sign-in attendant ate Cheetos washed down with Coke.

er

cheetos

In the corner of the waiting room loomed a series of vending machines offering yet more treacherous foods. After three hours of waiting I stumbled to the sign-in lady and asked where I was on the list. She scrolled through names and said she wasn’t sure. I scanned the screen myself and she snapped at me, in between bites of Cheetos, to stand away from the monitor.

“Well you see…” I said with some effort, feeling dizzy- maybe the Percocet hit me harder than I realized- “I have a breastfeeding baby at home, and I can’t remain here… indefinitely.”

She looked at the screen again. “I dunno,” she shrugged.”Maybe you’re next.”

And I was next. She ushered me to a private curtained room that, compared to the miserable waiting room, felt like a luxury hotel. Using my sweater as a pillow I lay sideways on the exam table in an effort to relieve the relentless swelling. Eventually a resident appeared and examined my back. Her verdict was it was severe post surgical swelling, but not a hematoma. She later returned with the head of surgery- a tall and ridiculously handsome guy, and looking at him I felt I’d been transported into a soap opera- but he decided it was indeed a hematoma. They ordered blood work to see how severe it was, and I knew that meant another two hour wait. So I took another percocet.

By this point it was “quiet time” in the hospital as announced over the intercom. Lights were dimmed. The poor soul parked outside my room on a gurney snored quietly.

gurney

I stared at the ceiling for a long time

ceiling

and noticed the vitals monitor still registered the year as 2014. I hand expressed breastmilk onto paper towel

breastmilk

took a selfie

selfie

and prayed my son at home would take the formula offered to him. A nurse popped his head in. “I recognize you!” he said, and sure enough he’d been the nurse for the vascular surgeon when I had my ablation done. The ER was his second job. I asked if he could check on my blood results, which, happily, were normal. I could go home.

This morning the swelling is still bad but not nearly as ferocious as yesterday. Here is a picture of my back as of two hours ago. I guess this is the closest I’ll ever come to a topless picture. It does sort of look like a boob!

hematoma
ceci n’est pas une boob

Thoughts on the Mouse Experiment

A few months ago I blogged about a weight loss experiment where mice were fed the same amount of food over different time windows. One group of mice was restricted to 12 hours a day, while the other group of mice was allowed food access 24 hours a day. The seemingly surprising result was that time restricted mice lost weight while their open access peers did not, despite the fact that both groups consumed the same number of calories. That latter group also exhibited signs of diabetes. At face value this appears to refute the calories-in-calories-out theory.

As I lay in bed last night it dawned on me: the restricted mouse group was probably more active, thus burning more calories, than the open access group. Animals fed a restricted diet (at some point over those 12 hours the mice were bound to be hungry) are known to be more energetic and active than more generously-fed comparison groups. This has been documented in calorie restriction experiments on monkeys and is a natural reaction to hunger; if an animal is agitated and energetic it will put more effort into foraging or hunting for food. The same could be said of humans: people who fast often report an initial “burst of energy” before the eventual onset of weakness and lethargy.

The explanation of excess energy expenditure is so obvious that one wonders why it wasn’t brought up in the nytimes article. As far as I know, researchers didn’t adjust for activity level in the described study.

But the takeaway for dieters might still be salient: make sure you go a certain stretch of time not eating such that you feel at least some hunger. This will probably trigger increased physical agitation even if you’re not aware of it. “Fidgety” people burn as many calories as joggers- so intentionally putting yourself in a restless state might have a positive (or, negative as the case may be) effect on the scale.

mouse2

House of Cards Season 3

(spoiler free)

I marathon-watched the third season of House of Cards over the weekend and into Monday. Sitting around nursing a baby affords a copious amount of time to stare mindlessly at screens (I’ve also watched Bosch, available on Amazon prime, and the last mini-season of 24. Both were excellent.). By and large I came away impressed. Spacey’s acting is, as always, superb, and Robin Wright is outstanding as the chilly and enigmatic Claire Underwood. I even started to like Remy (played by Mahershala Ali) this time around.

This third season is less plot driven than the previous two seasons, with fewer twists and turns or cliffhangers. Instead these episodes are atmospheric, philosophical, and brooding, with lots of time spent on weighty issues like gender, marriage and the corruptive influence of power. The topic of gay rights is also pushed heavily, so much so that it starts to feel a bit implausible and ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, there is a bizarre scene toward the end of the season where Ms. Underwood encounters a frazzled stay-at-home-mom. As I’ve mentioned before, housewives have lost their status in popular culture and are now usually depicted as unstable, pathetic women dragging down womanhood. House of Cards does not diverge from this profile. There’s even a brief breastfeeding incident, while a horrified Ms. Underwood shoos away the secret service guy and tries to flee herself. But this is a magic Hollywood baby who only needs a few seconds to nurse (even the most efficient nursing baby needs a good five minutes per boob) so the horror is over quickly.

I was surprised by how dark and depressing the third season is. It’s literally dark- most scenes are dimly lit interior shots, and the overall effect is one of claustrophobia and entrapment. But if you’re a House of Cards fan like me, you won’t come away disappointed as this new season is well worth watching.

The Blob

I don’t care how natural it is: I will never get used to breastfeeding in public. I even get the willies when I see other women nurse in public. I was once on the subway and a mother with huge boobs yanked up (on both sides) her already skimpy tank top for the baby to slurp away. I’m not saying women shouldn’t breastfeed in public, or even that they should be discreet about it- some babies are picky, and I know from experience there are times you have little choice. The baby’s screaming, he won’t or can’t take a bottle, and the only source of nourishment is straight from the tap. I used to hide in bathrooms, but it’s disgusting staring at a toilet bowl for 20 minutes while the baby nurses, and bathrooms aren’t always an option depending on the circumstance. But no matter how trendy breastfeeding might be, I’ll never be comfortable flashing my tatas to complete strangers, and if that means I’m repressed so be it.

Yesterday I was at another doctor’s appointment, this time to see a surgeon about the ever-growing lipoma on my back. In the waiting room it was just me, the baby, and a burly guy in workboots. And sure enough the baby started squirming and complaining. I glared at the baby. Seriously? I nursed you right before we left! 

I stared at the burly guy, stared at his workboots, stared forlornly at the Monet prints above his head, and reluctantly unbuckled my offspring. As discreetly as possible (let’s face it, there is nothing “discreet” about lifting your shirt up in public) I latched the baby onto my boob. I stared miserably at those workboots, trying to avoid eye contact with this poor guy who woke up that morning not knowing he’d have to watch a tiny human lap milk off another person’s chest. There’s a reason I didn’t become a stripper, I fumed inwardly. And this is it!

Finally the nurse called me in; I rebuckled the baby and made my way to the exam room where a very pleasant surgeon examined my back. “Oh wow,” he said upon sight of the lump (edge to edge it’s at least 5 inches). He explained it could be removed but the incision would be large and leave a scar.

“I don’t care about scarring,” I told him. “This thing is driving me crazy!”

Once home I looked up lipoma excisions on youtube. Youtube is remarkable in this respect: if you can comb through the stupidity and pornography there is a treasure trove of knowledge to be had. I found a video showing a lipoma the size of mine being removed and it was like watching a c-section birth of The Blob. I think I’ll be five pounds lighter when this thing is out.

My husband keeps joking it’s a sentient being, like those Star Trek episodes where one of the crew discovers his arm has been impregnated via alien contact. So it looks like my son will have an irish twin in the coming weeks. At least I won’t have to breastfeed it!

The Flat Tire

Yesterday started out as an unusual day. My two high schoolers had off, as did my younger children. My husband worked from home due to snow, despite little accumulation. After watching my 6th grader scrounge through a bag of hand-me-downs for a gym t-shirt, I decided today would be a good day to hit the uniform store for the much procrastinated new gym shirts, gym pants, and cardigans. I nursed the baby, bundled him into his car seat (he prefers his car seat to the crib for some reason), left him under the not-so-watchful eye of his 7 older siblings and headed off to the uniform store in my husband’s car. I’d only be gone 30 minutes. What could go wrong?

I was in the zone driving. I admit I enjoy the occasional break from the swarm of children I gave birth to. No whining, no germy hands yanking my clothes, no one begging for their tenth slice of cheddar cheese, no teen drama (“I ate five cookies, I’m sooo fat!!!)” nor my oldest son’s condescension. Just me, the road, and the radio. Until WHAM. I hit something turning into the parking lot.

Immediately the “tire alert” lit up on the dashboard. I’d hit the curb which was obscured by recently fallen snow.

I jumped out of the vehicle. Hissssssss…. air gushed from the front tire. I fumbled for my phone and dialed home. “I’ve got a huge problem,” I sputtered to my husband, who’d just replaced these tires at great expense. “I hit… hit… the curb and the tire’s dying before my eyes.” By the time I hung up it was completely flat, deflated hard against the pavement. My husband assured me he’d call AAA but the gravity of the situation quickly hit home: I had a breastfeeding infant miles away who was used to nursing every 45 minutes, and 30 minutes had already elapsed since his last meal.

See, this is the problem with breastfeeding. Unless you’re copious at the breast pump (I’m not) and unless your baby likes to drink from bottles (he doesn’t), a hiccup like this quickly turns into an emergency for both of us. For him, because he can’t eat; for me, because here I am producing milk in abundance with no baby to drain it. I tried to stay zen, bought the cardigan, gym pants and shirt, and asked the girl at the counter if I could wait in the store until AAA appeared. The AAA phone lady assured my husband a tow tuck would be at my service “momentarily,” but momentarily turned into half an hour, an hour, two hours…

A fellow customer took pity on my plight. “If you tell them you feel threatened, AAA shows up faster,” he advised. “Say you’re in a neighborhood full of white people- and you’re terrified for your life!” The store broke out in a chorus of guffaws.

But the minutes kept ticking by, and this is where the mommy brain kicked in and I began to panic. Each time I called my husband, the baby wailed piteously in the background. I talked my 12 year old through the steps of preparing a bottle of formula- our largely ineffective stop gap measure when I had leg surgery- but he doesn’t like it and always spits it right back up. At the three hour mark I begged my husband to say or do anything to get that tow truck to appear (he has the gift for the gab, I don’t). I’m not sure what he said but a tow truck did indeed materialize 10 minutes later.

It may as well have been a white steed in lieu of a beat up truck, and the pot bellied, disheveled driver was suddenly the handsomest man I’d ever seen: he would take me back to my baby! I watched with joy as the car was loaded up…

flat tire

… and, advising him I’d never ridden in a tow truck before, hopped in the cab. There were empty McDonald’s wrappers and soda bottles everywhere, and what looked like a bottle of some kind of homeopathic remedy in the ashtray. I noticed he had a Batman tattoo so I had to ask- Are you a comic book fan? Turns out he was, so we chatted about comic books as we rumbled through the familiar Staten Island streets.

I inquired: was he originally from Staten Island, and did he like it here? Yes and no respectively; Staten Island is no place to raise kids, he said grimly, not with all the heroin. He had plans to escape to Virginia. I macabre shiver ran down my spine as he described rampant heroin use on the South Shore, though I tactfully pointed out I grew up in New England and the kids there did plenty of drugs too.

“I watch a show filmed in England!” he said excitedly. “It’s called Skins.”

This isn’t the first time a native Staten Islander seemingly doesn’t know what “New England” means, and instead thinks I’m British. So I just went with it and said I’d check it out.

I practically ran home from the auto body shop where my new friend and I deposited the car, tore up the stairs despite my sore leg, and there was my 12 year old dutifully cramming a bottle into my chubby baby’s mouth. I gathered him up as though it had been weeks, not hours since last we met, and popped him on my breast while I relayed the tow truck adventure to my husband.

“I’ve never been so glad to be home,” I sighed, a la Dorothy. As though in reply the baby melted against me and guzzled down milk.

Russian Ark

I was delighted to see Russian Ark is currently on netflix streaming. This is the most remarkable film I’ve ever seen, not only for the fact that it was filmed in a single 96 minute sequence shot (perhaps the only film ever made is such a manner?) but also for its understated pathos and beautiful acting.

This is a tough film to describe. I’m not even sure if this deserves a spoiler warning, because there really is no plot per se. The “narrator,” whom we never see, abruptly finds himself in Russia’s Hermitage after some kind of accident. Time “bends” in the Hermitage allowing him to observe salient points of Russian history, including Catherine the Great and Tsars Nicholas I and II. Along the way he encounters a 19th century European diplomat (based on the Marquis de Custine) who becomes the “narrator’s” critical tour guide through the palaces and their treasures.

While this may all sound very highbrow the film is in fact charming, visually stunning, and easy to watch. It is also imbued with the mysterious aura of a ghost story; the insertion of modern day Navy sailors browsing the collection is almost certainly a sad nod to the Kursk submarine disaster which occurred two years before the film was made.

This is a scene where the grandson of the Iranian Shah ceremonially apologizes to Tsar Nicholas I for the murder of Russian diplomats at the hands of an enraged mob. There are no subtitles in this clip, but it’s pretty self-explanatory.

The film never comes out and states that these events are taking place in some sort of afterlife, but it sprinkles breadcrumbs through the narrative suggesting that the Hermitage has been transformed into a purgatory or way station of sorts for souls of the departed. For instance, in one scene the marquis complains a man “smells of formaldehyde.”

Sergei Dreiden is brilliant as the temperamental and opinionated marquis who glides through the palace, effectively embodying the splendor and ceremony of a bygone era.

The Interview

~spoiler free~

I’m ashamed to admit I enjoyed The Interview, currently on netflix streaming. Despite the incredibly, massively, shockingly gratuitous amount of scatological humor (I don’t think five seconds of the film transpire without mention of bodily functions or genitals) I found myself cackling with laughter throughout.

The general plot is probably well known thanks to the Sony hack, which, incidentally, I still don’t believe was instigated by North Korea. Perverse tabloid TV host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his brofriend/ producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) snag an interview with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), the CIA gets involved, and international mayhem ensues.

ciainterview
Franco and Rogen conspire with the CIA

The acting was surprisingly good- Franco plays Skylark as a likable Satan incarnate; Rogen’s Rapaport is satisfyingly three dimensional with inner clashes of arrogance and self-doubt, and Randall is especially compelling as a blustering Kim Jong-un. The great performances are all the more remarkable given how stupid and trite the script is.

The pacing is well done and the film’s overall moral or message- well I’m not sure what the moral is- but it’s generally positive and patriotic, which almost makes me believe Rogen’s mea culpa concerning his tweet about American Sniper. If they’d wanted to trash America, there was ample opportunity to do so in The Interview but it maintains a pro-American stance, even giving a nod to the Navy SEALs.

I do wonder how offensive Kim Jong-un himself might find the film. So much of the film rests on wordplay, and lowbrow American cultural capital, that he might simply find it utterly incomprehensible and bizarre.

 

“Frozen” as Anti-Male Manifesto

[spoiler heavy]

As I’ve mentioned previously, I didn’t really like the film Frozen. The plot doesn’t make sense. The animation is weird, especially the big eyeballs on the female leads.

bigeyedelsa
Demon Elsa

The music is cute but so-so. And the underlying anti-male stance of the narrative is disturbing, though in my immediate circle no one other than me seems to notice or care. My husband thought the film was fantastic, even my uptight son gives it two thumbs up. Nevertheless Frozen has seized the heart of pretty much every girl on the planet, including my own daughters. The non-verbal three year old- whose fourth birthday is fast approaching- is obsessed with the film. She actually does have about ten words on a good day, among them: Anna (“Ahh… nahh”), Olaf (“Oh-woff”), Sven (“Fen”) and the occasional Let it Go (“Edit Oh”). Thanks to her I’ve had the dubious honor of watching the film at least a hundred times, so I now consider myself a Frozen expert, and my opinion of the film remains unchanged.

There are no positive male roles in the movie; men in Frozen are evil, useless, or chumps. Grandpappy is nice, but he’s, well, a troll. Olaf is funny, but other than his name he’s not exactly a man, sounds androgynous, and his body is always falling apart (granting the audience lots of “my butt” jokes). Prince Hans is evil to the core, and we have a Duke from the repeatedly mispronounced “Weasel-town.” Kristoff is sweet but he’s what the manosphere calls a beta- he lets Anna order him around and even goes so far as to deliver her to another man (Prince Hans). In the song “Fixer Upper” sung by his adoptive troll family, we learn that Kristoff is: clumsy, grumpy, has weirdly shaped feet, smelly, mentally touched, and leave it to Disney to make an overt reference to bestiality.

His thing with the reindeer…
That’s a little outside of nature’s laws!

The song goes on to call him socially impaired, cowardly, unmanly, and makes fun of how he pees in the woods (where else is an outdoorsman supposed to pee?). In other words, even though the song sounds cute and upbeat, it does nothing but bash Kristoff, the only decent guy in the film, as a perverted loser.

The movie has strong underpinnings of lesbianism (not that there’s anything wrong with that), further sidelining men. At first I thought I was imagining it but the more I watched it the more obvious it became. Elsa is born with a “shameful secret” that her parents urge her to suppress (Don’t let them see/ Be the good girl you were always meant to be/ Conceal/ Don’t feel/ Don’t let them know…/Well now they know!) even going so far as to cover up her hands so she can’t touch anything- especially her sister. When she learns of her sister’s nascent relationship with Prince Hans she freaks out and goes on an ice frenzy, even recoiling from a baby (i.e. the quintessential emblem of heterosexuality) encountered outside the palace. When Anna is about to marry Kristoff in the impromptu troll wedding, she faints just before the words “I do” because of the “ice” her sister placed in her heart. At this point it isn’t much of a stretch to reread the title of the film as “Frigid.”

Then we have the “act of true love” which is the only remedy for Anna’s ice affliction. She interprets this as a potential kiss from Hans- “true love’s kiss.”  Even though Kristoff has selflessly put himself at risk any number of times for her benefit, the kiss doesn’t come from either him or Hans, but instead is the act of Anna sacrificing herself to save Elsa (remember Elsa has been nothing but cruel to Anna throughout the whole film!) And then, when they embrace in a near-kiss, Anna is saved too.

elsaanna
Not quite a kiss, but close enough.

So instead of a guy-girl climax we have a girl-girl one. Once they embrace and cling to each other for a while, the kingdom is set right, with Hans getting punched in the face by Anna and Kristoff getting a lousy peck on the cheek.

Since the film is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” I was curious if all this gender stuff might be found in the original tale or if it was grafted on by Disney. The original story has been revised beyond recognition for Frozen, but the “search” in the original is a girl searching for a boy kidnapped by the Snow Queen. The girl then embarks on an epic journey to rescue him, so in that respect Disney maintains the brave female protagonist (Anna) but gets rid of the boy as the girl’s objective.

Make of it what you will, but if you have daughters you’re probably stuck with Frozenmania. Just this morning I had to break up a fight between the three and six year olds over an Elsa doll, which they carry around, in turns, like a totem.

Time Restriction for Weight Loss

The NYtimes recently reported on a study where time restricted eating (TRE) produced interesting results when applied to mice.

Mice fed a high fat, high sugar diet were divided into two groups: one that could eat whenever it wanted over a 24 hour period, and another that could eat as much as it wanted over just 12 hours.

While both mouse groups gained weight on the high fat/ sugar diet, the mice allowed unrestricted eating gained twice as much despite eating the same number of calories. These fatter mice also developed symptoms of diabetes while the time restricted mice did not. Even more remarkable, the obese mice lost weight when a TRE was applied to them, even if they continued to consume the same number of calories! This certainly flies in the face of the calories in/ calories expended model, which I’ve always thought was the most legitimate explanation for weight gain or loss.

There has been much speculation over rising obesity statistics, with couch potatoes and high fructose corn syrup typically targeted as usual suspects. Could it be, though, that the loss of traditional family mealtimes has been the primary cause? Once upon a time families ate together at set times, with meals prepared by the women of the house. With mom “guarding the gates” people were restricted to what they could eat and when. Fast forward to today, with less food being made from scratch and more women applying their efforts outside the household, and snacking and convenience foods have increased exponentially. Convenience foods like chips, crackers and packaged cookies are easy to snack on, whereas a homemade dessert served by mom after dinner doesn’t lend itself as well to around the clock snacking. And once mom closed up the kitchen after dinner, it was lock stock and barrel. Not so much anymore, and definitely not in my house. People grab what they want, when they want it, and we have no set mealtimes. However as I’ve mentioned before, my children are strangely effective at regulating their own food intake and none are overweight.

When I was a young child my mother was very strict about food. Diving into the fridge or cabinet for a snack was unheard of, and if I didn’t want what was put on the table I didn’t eat (and indeed I didn’t eat much of the time). As I got older, though, they lightened up and let me eat between meals and allowed different foods beyond the main course. For me this was a good thing as I’d grown quite underweight, but I can see how a kitchen gatekeeper might be beneficial for people prone to obesity.

So how should this translate for adults who want to lose weight? I don’t think it needs to be too complicated- just make sure you go 12 hours out of any given 24 hour period without food intake of any kind (except water, obviously). What I’d like to know is if the 12 hours can be staggered, or if the body needs a straight 12 hours without calories to replicate the mouse study effect (I’m going to assume the body is forced into brief ketosis during this period without food; this is why we can go to bed hungry but wake up feeling full).

I’ve always had a rule with myself that I don’t eat between 12 noon and 5pm. Sometimes I go 11am to 5pm without so much as a lettuce leaf. In addition I try not to eat after 7pm, so I’m technically restricting more than 12 hours- probably 17 to 18 hours a day. But I sleep a lot- and eat heartily when I do have a meal, so I’m not eating low calorie by any means.

The Great Monkey Chase

Nomads of the Rainforest is a 1984 documentary about the Huaorani people, an indigenous society dwelling in the rainforest of Ecuador. When this documentary was filmed 30 years ago, the Huaorani had only recently abandoned a life of constant infighting; up to that point fully 70% of Huaorani men died prematurely in spear attacks from rival groups. The Huaorani are the tribe famous for killing five evangelical missionaries who visited in 1955. Today, Huaorani men spend their days hunting while the women weave hammocks and tend small garden patches, and the children care for household pets such as monkeys and harpy eagles.

Like most indigenous cultures, the Huaorani devote a massive amount of time to the procurement and preparation of food (compare this to Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals). The best part of the documentary begins at 42:00 when the camera follows the 60 year old tribal patriarch as he embarks on a wild monkey hunt. Armed with a blow gun and poison darts, he tracks the monkey for three hours, expends 30 darts at targets ten stories above him, more than once climbing trees just as high- all this for 20 pounds of monkey meat. Watching him hunt, it occurred to me that he was probably expending more calories catching the monkey than he would obtain from eating it, as the monkey would be divided between his extended family back at the hut. With the women growing casava, peanuts, corn, plantains, sweet potato, and turnips you almost had to wonder why the men bother chasing wildlife in the first place. I guess it keeps them out of the women’s hair, and with spear attacks a thing of the past they have to pass the time somehow.

The more I learn about indigenous Amazonians, the more I am struck by how remarkable it is that my paternal great uncle emerged alive- much less unscathed- from his stay with the Yanomamo so many years ago. The Amazon has historically been referred to by explorers as “Green Hell;” not only do visitors face violent and unpredictable tribes, but the vast assortment of poisonous and carnivorous wildlife stands poised to maim and/or eat you at any moment.

Nomads of the Jungle is available in full on youtube, but be forewarned that as with most documentaries about indigenous people, the film contains nonstop nudity. At least Huaorani moms are spared the toil of three loads of laundry a day.

Lost in Conspiracyland

A couple weeks ago a friend suggested the film Snowpiercer to me. I watched a few minutes but was quickly turned off. Too much violence and gore. But it stuck in my head and I eventually revisited it.

I’ve discussed so-called Illuminati symbolism before, and as I said then I don’t particularly believe in it. Yes, there are weird symbols and hints in popular culture, and yes, some are so bizarre and “coincidental” I can’t explain it, but as I said before: if I were an evil genius bent on world domination, the last people I’d entrust with my mission would be a bunch of stupid actors and singers. And I’m hard pressed to believe the government is so organized that it can dictate the minutiae of Family Guy. They can’t even de-bug the healthcare exchange for cripes sake!

Yet as I watched Snowpiercer it became clear the film is filled with precisely this kind of symbolism, so much so it is less story (most of the “plot” makes no sense) and more “conspiracy allegory…” for lack of a better term.

This led me to the fertile fields of youtube to look for videos on the occult symbolism in the film, and down the rabbit hole I fell. I’ve spent the last week watching endless of hours of conspiracy theories, youtube style.

One of the stranger conspiracy theories I came across is that Michelle Obama is, in fact, a man. At face value this seems plausible: she sure looks like a dude in women’s clothing

michelleaman
c’est un homme!

… (she is 5’11,” and hefty as of late, after all) plus my highly accurate gaydar has gone off for President Obama since he was a wee state senator. But the conspiracist’s “proof” for her maleness is that Michelle’s ring fingers are longer than her pointer fingers. Uggggh. That’s very lame evidence indeed, as my own ring fingers are longer than my pointer fingers, especially on my left hand

hand

… yet I’m very much female & have the breastfeeding newborn to prove it.

breastfeeding2

Jennifer Aniston’s ring finger’s are likewise longer than her pointer fingers (same for Serena Williams) so this too, according to the conspiracy video, means they were born male. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Not to get too conspiratorial but there is the theory that there are operatives within the conspiracy community who intentionally plant stupid theories to make the rest of the theorists look stoopid. So I’m going to have to chalk the “Michelle Obama is a guy” theory up to a double agent. I mean, we all know some women look mannish, and if Obama is gay it would make sense he selected a masculine woman as his face-value life partner.

However Joan Rivers- not long before she died- blithely told a reporter that Obama is gay and the first lady a “tranny.” Two months later she was dead. Coincidence? Go to youtube to learn more… at your own peril.