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Suspended Disbelief

3 March 2009

SPOILER ALERT: This post may contain very small spoilers about Lost. Nothing big, but you should know that if you did not watch the end of last season or any of this season, you may wish to skip this. But, seriously, if you’re that far behind in Lost, do you really think you’re going to catch up? It’s not like it’s Battlestar Galactica and Comcast made the Scifi Channel a “premium,” so you can’t watch it unless you pay more. B***ards. (Why, yes, I am trying to keep this blog family-friendly. Thank you for asking.)

Moving on…

In this blog post, I respond to my dear friend Tracy’s recent post about her television viewing habits. It’s most likely not necessary, but you might as well read her entry first. Plus it might up her readership numbers and make her feel good. Which, since she is directing a play I’m in, would not be a bad thing and maybe keep her from going ballistic when I totally screw up my lines.

So, in Tracy’s post, she notes that she doesn’t get the whole Lost phenomenon. Knowing Tracy, I get that, and I won’t give her crap about it. Because I know we’re different. And I’m not going to hold it against her.

In her post, she recommended a show she does like – Lie to Me. Now, at first, my interest was piqued when she mentioned Tim Roth. I have enjoyed that man’s acting since sophomore year of high school and Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead. But then she said they bring the real world in. Erm, no thank you.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a huge fan of reality. No, I don’t mean reality TV shows.* I mean, reality. Period. When I watch TV, I don’t want it to remind me of real life. In fact, the less connected to the real world, the better, I say. And I want the show to be upfront about it – make it clear that this show has no connection to reality and they’re not going to pretend either, like some shows (ahem … Grey’s Anatomy).  I like to see vampires slayed, FBI agents hunting aliens, a man who can bring the dead back to life for one minute, fighter pilots searching for earth, international super-spies, and islands that disappear.

Please do not base my show in a hospital or police station or, the worse of the worse, a courtroom. Because, eventually, all of those shows screw it up. When you pretend your show is based in the real world (or that your stories are “ripped from the headlines”), you are telling me that I should expect it to be like real life. But, c’mon, as a lawyer, I am fully aware that people do not actually confess on the stand, Law & Order. And technology has not come as far as any version of CSI would lead you to believe.  (I have made exceptions for incredibly superior television, such as Homicide: Life on the Street, but it is rare.) So I just steer clear of these shows – it helps me keep my blood pressure in check.

However, I must say that the worst situation for me on television is when my TV shows try to bring in reality. That just drives me crazy. For instance, (possible spoiler warning), a couple weeks ago, the following scene occurred in my home:

Me (watching Lost): Oh c’mon!
Mike (watching World of Warcraft): What’s wrong?
Me: There is no way that both Jack and Kate could find any parking in the middle of the day in downtown L.A., let alone right across the street from each other.
Mike: So an island disappearing and the dead coming back to life, you’re okay with. But you can’t suspend disbelief to allow for parking in L.A.?
Me: Well… yeah. Is that so wrong?
Mike (to fellow Warcrafters): Sorry, guys. I was distracted for a moment there by my wife’s insanity.

So, when it comes to television, I prefer to suspend disbelief. But it only goes so far. I have to draw a line somewhere, and apparently it’s about the same place as the lines on the streets of L.A.

*I must admit, before someone calls me out in the comments, that I have been known to enjoy my fair share of reality TV. But I need these shows to contain a competition or a makeover. Because that is not, in fact, reality. After all, fairy godmothers do not exist, and no real restaurant would ask a chef to create a gourmet meal from scratch with no forethought and a strange theme in 60 minutes.



11 February 2009

So I haven’t been around here much lately, but I’ve been thinking. Thinking a lot. One think I have been thinking is about my last post – one sentence of my last post in particular.

In that post I wrote:

I wasn’t going to write about Blago and his crazy pity party … because I know the real world is rolling their eyes at these comparisons just as much as I am, so there isn’t anything new to say.

But then I found out I was wrong. The day after I wrote that post, I was listening to the Blagojevich impeachment trial on NPR. I turned on the radio slightly after his impassioned plea to the Illinois Senate, in that lull right before all the Senators had their say for three hours. At that time, the NPR anchor discussed the trial with a few, obviously learned commentators, but most of this conversation just went in one ear and out the other. But then they took calls from the audience, specifically from the audience in Chicago. The anchor took three calls, and every one of the callers said something on the order of “I don’t think what he did was all that wrong, Blago was just trying to help the people of Illinois, and sometimes the ends justify the means.” One woman in particular who has three children on the AllKids program said (I’m paraphrasing here), “This is politics as usual in Illinois; every politician is underhanded and cuts corners. At least Blagojevich did something good with his under-the-table dealings.” The anchor challenged her and asked, “Even if everything he did was illegal, do you think it was still all right and he should stay in office?” She answered emphatically, “YES.”

After I heard these interviews, I found myself in a bit of shock. I wanted to call up and ask how those people would like it if I taught their children that they can do whatever they want in life, break as many rules as they want, as long as, in the end, the scales weigh a little heavier on the “good” side (or at least the “benefits the people I think deserve it” side). And, as a Chicagoan, I was a bit miffed that these people were talking for me. I expect more and do not want politics as usual.

Now I’ve never been a big believer in the ends justify the means. After all, I’m pretty much a Goody-Two-Shoes. And a lawyer who actually believes in the power of the rule of law. I have had arguments with a number of people about this – they ask, “But what if the ends are really, really good and there is no legal way to get there?” Nope. Sorry. Doesn’t work for me.

I never even liked the story of Robin Hood. That whole steal from the rich to give to the poor never sat right with me. Yes, I am a bit of a socialist and would like to see more equality in socio-economics, but I don’t think stealing is the right way to go about it. And the story of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables – stealing a loaf of bread because his family was starving. I get it, I really do, but my feeling about it all is that the society should have done something to help him before he had to resort to stealing. And that’s why we need the rule of law. And trust me – I think this rule of law should be applied evenly. Loopholes need to be closed so that the rich do not steal from the poor anymore either.

Of course, I also know I’m living in a dream world. As noted by Renee Martin of GlobalComment:

When we decided to live in a soulless capitalist system, we agreed that the needs of the individual outweighed the needs of the community. To expect a politician to put on a halo simply because a large group of people checked her or his name on a ballot is ridiculous.

So maybe that is at the heart of all those comments made by the callers: When a politician actually decides to use his power to benefit the community in some way, we can more easily turn a blind eye if he is also taking a little for himself on the side. The bad, illegal, special-interest-pandering means happen around us all the time. But we will decide that the ends justify those means only if there are actually ends with which we can agree.

But who should make that decision? Who decides what end – what benefit for which community – will justify the means?

Peeves: Not just a Harry Potter ghost

29 January 2009

One of my major pet peeves, something that really gets me riled up, right there under “toothpaste in the sink,” is a person who compares him/herself to great humanitarian leaders when there really is no comparison.

I mean, if MLK, Jr., had said “Gandhi, he and I are a lot alike, you know,” that would not have bothered me. Because it’s true. But, say, when Rod Blagojevich starts whinging about his life and how persecuted he is and how he’s just like Gandhi, King, Nelson Mandela, etc., I want to give him paper cuts with a copy of The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Then maybe he’d know what persecution really is. (I’m really not violent and would never do this, but, oooh, does he get my goat!)

The verdict’s still out on whether this same level of disdain applies when someone else compares two people. Take, for instance, when people say, “That Angelina Jolie, she’s the Mother Teresa of the 21st century. But with bigger lips.”  I have heard these exact words said, by the way. Okay, maybe not the bigger lips part – that’s just a tape that plays in my head whenever anyone mentions her. Mother Teresa was one of my heroes, and her life continues to act as a testament of what it looks like to truly sacrifice for other people. Angelina, eh, not so much. Yes, yes, she’s done some good things, I’ll give you that, but c’mon – Mother Teresa? I don’t think so.

Now, Angie’s not going around calling herself “Mother Teresa Reincarnate” or anything like that, so I’m not going to hold it against her personally. (Though I am holding many other things against her personally, such as Gone in Sixty Seconds and allowing Brad to grow that ridiculous mustache. Yes, I did mean allowing – you think the man has any say in that relationship?) While it does irk me quite a bit when people make this comparison, I’m not to the level of involving famous pieces of human rights literature with this one.

I wasn’t going to write about Blago and his crazy pity party (yeah, just like I wasn’t going to write about the cold – clutching at straws here, it appears) because I know the real world is rolling their eyes at these comparisons just as much as I am, so there isn’t anything new to say. And, by “the real world,” I am not referring to the ladies of The View, by the way. I don’t know if I can ever forgive Whoopi for not just smacking Blago upside the head during that interview. (Man, maybe I am violent.)

However, then came that one person who I can always count on to provide the fodder when I need to rant. Of course, I’m talking about Kanye West. According to Paste magazine, Mr. West has tired of his own blasé name and has decided to combine the illustrious names of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Louis Vuitton to form a moniker. From now on, thou shalt call him “Martin Louis the King, Jr.”

In The King’s own words:

I understand that this is likely a joke, but, joke or not, my peeves are being petted the wrong way. Now, please excuse me while I go share a copy of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” with that webbing between Mr. West’s thumb and index finger. And I’m taking my goat back.

Make a Difference Monday: HELPSudan

26 January 2009

HELPSudanOn Saturday night, Mike and I attended a fundraiser for the organization HELPSudan. I have known about this organization for a while, but this event was the first time I really learned about HELPSudan. And now I think it’s time you knew about it too.

Three “Lost Boys” started HELPSudan to build a school and dig wells for fresh water in one of the communities they were forced to leave many years ago. You may have heard something about the Lost Boys. No, I’m not talking about that vampire movie from the ’80s with the Coreys and that guy from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure who isn’t Keanu Reeves. I’m talking about the 40,000 boys between the ages of five and fourteen who walked thousands of miles to flee genocide and civil war in Sudan in the 1980s (only point of commonality with the vampire movie, I assure you). After these boys spent years walking and more years living in a refugee camp in Kenya, a number of governments around the world welcomed the Lost Boys who survived into these countries. (If you want to learn more about the history of the Lost Boys, I recommend two excellent movies: Lost Boys of Sudan and God Grew Tired of Us.)

A number of them ended up in Chicago, and I remember how, many years ago, some of them attended my church. (It was definitely strange to me that people referred (and still refer) to them as the Lost Boys because few of them were still boys at this point. I guess it works though.) A few of the members of our church began working with these some of these guys. My lack of knowledge until Saturday proves that I most likely was not paying attention at this point.

Eventually, one of the Lost Boys, Jok, came up with the idea to start an organization to help the community he left so many years ago in Sudan. He recruited his friends Michael Ajang and Duot, as well as some Americans – a few from my church – and, in March 2005, HELPSudan was born. Since its inception, HELPSudan has started a school in the town of Bor. As of December 2006, this school now has more than 1,000 students.

The one problem is, and the reason this is my Make a Difference Monday pick, the school does not have a permanent school building. Every year, they build mud huts for classrooms, and every year the rains wash away the mud huts. Can you imagine that? You go to take your kids to school, and there’s no school. The teacher is hanging out under a tree and welcomes the students to join him for class, but there is no protection from the rain, sun, flies, mosquitoes, anything. I think most of us would just turn around and take the kids home. Yet these students in Bor, they keep coming. And they thirst to learn.

As you probably know, if you’ve stuck with me for any amount of time, I spent October 2007 – February 2008 in Zambia. I met many humanitarian workers from numerous NGOs, and they were all doing great work. However, what always made me a little sad was that so few NGOs focused on education. And, from the work I did and the families I encountered, it seemed to me that quality education was lacking in the lives of so many children in Africa. And I believe, and after Saturday I now know HELPSudan agrees, what will really make the difference in Africa is quality education. Sure, you can hand out condoms to help prevent AIDS, you can string up mosquito nets, you can even send in peacekeeping troops – these are all important things. Without proper education, however, I believe the cycle of hunger, violence, death will just continue and continue.

HELPSudan is mounting a defense against this cycle in the form of a school and at least a thousand more educated children. And these Lost Boys, they deserve our help.

So when you have some time, check out the HELPSudan website, watch this short documentary, and give generously.

Stir-Crazy a.k.a. Cabin Fever

25 January 2009
tags: ,

A.K.A. if this winter were a wimpy fourth grader and I were a schoolyard bully, I’d totally beat him up and take his lunch money.

But, as it is, this winter is obviously the bully, and I’m the wimpy fourth grader. The wimpy fourth grader with Coke-bottle glasses. The wimpy fourth grader with Coke-bottle glasses who wears floods. The wimpy fourth grader with Coke-bottle glasses who wears floods and plays the oboe.

You get the point.

I told myself I wasn’t going to write about the cold – it’s so cliche, kind of the “how about them Reds?” of blog small talk. But we’re going a bit stir-crazy around here, and it’s all I can think about. Even my insane husband admitted that the cold was getting to him just a little. Not that he’s changed any of his crazy habits because of it. Chili and I, however, are shunning the outside, and we’re not talking to it until it promises to shape up. The silent treatment, that’s our modus operandi.

Unfortunately, our current stance has cut into my productivity. Lounging on the couch does not lend itself to getting stuff done. So, in case you didn’t notice, I went cold turkey  (HA! Get it? Cold turkey?!) on the blog to force myself at least to apply for one job, answer a couple emails, and go to the gym. (Yes, that did require going outside, but I did not talk to the outside while I was there – no sir, I am still slapping it with silence.) Next week I’m even planning to brave the treacherously icy back steps to the laundry room so that we have clean clothes again.

For all of this attempted increase in productivity, though, both Chili and I are still stir-crazy, with an emphasis on the crazy. I often have long conversations with Chili where she just cocks her head and stares at me with that “whatcha talkin’ ’bout, crazy lady?” look of hers. Or my brain will just shut itself off, and it takes me forever to realize I’ve just watched a full episode of the Real Housewives of Orange County or, worse yet, five minutes of FOX News.

Chili, well, she’s really going nuts. She’s started attacking her food, inanimate though it may be. And she’s taken to burying bones under blankets since the frozen ground refuses to yield to her claws.

It’s all a bit squirrelly around here. And as we all know, anything related to squirrels just terrifies me. Please send help.

VIDEO EVIDENCE #1: Fearing that it may surprise her by suddenly coming to life, Chili attacks her Jumbone.

VIDEO EVIDENCE #2: Now that she has successfully vanquished the foe, Chili buries her kill.

Scenes from a Treadmill: Inauguration Day 2009

20 January 2009

Where were you when Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th President of the(se) United States? What were you doing when our country saw, for the first time ever, someone who is not a white man become our Commander-in-Chief?

My answer for all future generations: Attempting to run on a treadmill at the gym.

I thought it was a great plan. My gym has TVs on every treadmill; I had to go to the gym anyway to work off some of the weekend festivities; watching something will take my mind off how utterly out of shape I am. Right?

Honestly, what was I thinking? I’m unemployed. It’s not like I had important appointments to keep. I could have been anywhere. I mean, not D.C. – that would have been hard what with the no plane tickets and no place to stay – but at least downtown or at the DuSable Museum of African-American History. Somewhere other than at a stuffy gym surrounded by sweaty strangers.

But really, maybe it wasn’t that bad of an idea. I had the TV all to myself, with headphones so that the grunting bodybuilders posing and preening to my right wouldn’t bother me. That little ditty by John Williams had a pretty good beat to it, so that helped keep me on track for a few minutes. (How much do Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman rock? And I don’t normally like the clarinet, but I have to find more by Anthony McGill. Loved it!)

And, I realized at the end, I was not as alone in all this as I had thought. In the midst of sweaty strangers, I was able to share this moment in history with other people. As President Obama spoke, I noticed the three people surrounding me on the other treadmills were also watching. The woman to my right even clapped at one point. As Reverend Lowery shared the benediction, the man to my left laughed slightly.

And then, right at the end, when Rev. Lowery beseeched all those who do justice and love mercy to say “amen,” I found myself unconsciously saying amen out loud. The three people around me did the same. We all glanced around at each other and smiled, a little embarrassed but happy that we were not alone in this moment.

So, yes, it might seem silly and a bit cheesy – living through this historic moment while going nowhere on a treadmill – but I’ll never forget it.

For those of you who cannot read Hungarian, Chili's Obamaicon-me reads "Yes We Can." I wanted to put "Yes We Did," but Chili says we still have work to do and chided me for not listening more closely to Prez Obama's speech.

For those of you who cannot read Hungarian, Chili's Obamaicon-me reads "Yes We Can." I wanted to put "Yes We Did," but Chili says we still have work to do and chided me for not listening more closely to Prez Obama's speech.

Make a Difference Monday: International Justice Mission

19 January 2009

As I stated in my New Year post, I want to try something a little different every so often with this blog. So, every Monday from here on out, rather than waxing philosophical about myself, I will use this space to share about an organization, subject or cause that I believe is important or worthy of note (and how apt to start on MLK Day – really did not do that on purpose and just realized it now). For those of you who have known me for a while, you probably will not be surprised to learn that I have decided to start this series with International Justice Mission (IJM).

Contrary to popular belief, International Justice Mission is not what Superman and his friends call their weekly brunch meet-up. (By the way, that is the Justice League of America – as the title insinuates, in no way international.) (Though when I was an intern for IJM way back when, a fellow intern created a t-shirt design for us that incorporated the Green Lantern with the IJM logo – needless to say, printing approval on that was a no-go.) Rather, as it says on the organization’s website:

International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local governments to ensure victim rescue, to prosecute perpetrators and to strengthen the community and civic factors that promote functioning public justice systems.

As some of you know, I have been involved in some way, shape or form with IJM for about ten years now. Back in 1998, this then-fledgling organization visited the church I attended in Boston for a full-day seminar on social justice. Being a college student at the time, I at first had no desire to go to a full-day seminar at church on a Saturday – after all, I had a boyfriend to see, Belgian waffles to eat in the cafeteria, repeats of The X-Files to watch and analyze, and one of those papers about which I continually threw tantrums on my friend’s floor to finish. But a friend pushed me to go saying that she thought I would enjoy it. And she was right – I did enjoy it and found a whole new direction for my life to boot (from international correspondent for The New York Times to human rights lawyer in 6.8 seconds!).

Since that day at Park Street Church, I have followed IJM, attending conferences, sharing with friends, even volunteering for a little while. And the organization continues to grow and grow and grow, rescuing people and fighting abuse in twelve countries at last count.

So, while the staff of IJM may not hang with Batman or fly in Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, every single IJM investigator, lawyer, aftercare worker, driver, admin person, etc. is still a superhero in my book. And the best part? They’re actually real.

Please check out International Justice Mission at its website