The year of women living dangerously (in movies)


The game is a men’s game, all the rules are made by men, the feminine is not honored. A remembered, probably badly, quote from Coco Gonzo after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road (in 3D).

Michele and I saw Pixar’s Inside Out  last weekend. It was one of those children’s movies that are as much fun for an adult as for the intended audience. I thought it was excellent and, unusual for Pixar, the protagonist was female (for only the second time, the first being Princess Merida of Scotland in Brave, a movie I didn’t see). I say that the protagonist was female, but she – her name was Riley – could have just as easily been a boy. Her favorite sport was ice hockey and I’m not sure if there was anything particularly feminine about her.

A day before Inside Out, we saw  Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck. If you don’t know Amy Schumer, she is that girl from the television that talks about her pussy all the time – to quote from the opening sequence of the first video below – and she is pushing the limits of comedy and what is sayable in public (BTW, isn’t all  good humor pushing what is acceptable?) The two clips below are pretty typical of what she does and, if you haven’t seen her, these are a good place to start.


Trainwreck , is both a parody of a rom-com and an homage. It is also a string of joke set-ups that don’t always go together, but it is very funny. Amy plays the role of a womanizing heavy drinker, commitment-phobic and profane; it is the kind of role that would have been the man’s part five years ago (the body language in the picture on top of the post is a good demonstration). Bill Hader plays what would have been the woman’s part with LeBron James playing her best friend.

A couple of months ago, we saw Melissa McCarthy transmogrify from the Penny Moneyworth part to the James Bond part in Spy and before that it was Charlize Theron being the toughest sonofabitch around in Mad Max Fury Road.

Months ago, over dinner after Mad Max Fury Road, several of us got into a discussion over what makes a feminist movie and if Mad Max Fury Road was one (Mad Max and the other three movies pass the Bechdel test, BTW, if that was a question).  I think Mad Max is a feminist movie, but there was alot of disagreement and I am not as sure as I once was. Charlize Theron is the hero as well as the instigating agent in the movie but much of what she does is a woman acting as a man rather than through the feminine.

The operative words above is much, as opposed to all. Throughout the movie Theron is acting out of empathy for the Brides and she brings a humility and vulnerability that we don’t usually see from a man. When she talks about redemption, we sense it is because she almost lost her soul to become Imperator Furiosa. And Melissa McCarthy isn’t all testosteron either, she is reticent to step forward, a woman who has accepted her station. When she becomes the macha spy, she is still a team player, and – in the end – she shares the glory. In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer is only playing the man’s part in public, at home she is a softer, more feminine, Amy.

These four movies have got me thinking about women in a man’s world. When I say man’s world, I really mean the western, public, world in which the rules are men’s rules and the women have to conform. Both politics and business are basically run by men’s rules. They are combative, hierarchical, the rules are stable, and the main concern is for short-term gain. Women like Diane Feinstein do well because they, essentially, act like men.

What we need, it seems to me, are more feminine institutions (if that isn’t an oxymoron). Modern corporations measure success in how much they contribute to the top officers and big shareholders –  not in how much they contribute to the collective – and that takes perpetual and unsustainable  growth. What we really need today is a model for sustainability and that will require women engendering their feminine characteristics like coöperation and inclusiveness and long-term thinking.



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I’m sceptical of Sceptics

Sceptics (1 of 1)Any new theory of reality is indistinguishable from magic. paraphrased from Arthur C. Clarke

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. Max Planck.

Funeral by funeral, science makes progress. Paul Samuelson

I don’t want to say that  I believe in magic, but I do believe in a world that is much more magical and alive, much more complicated, than that which is accepted by most establishment scientists. Today’s – and, as I think about it, probably any time’s – conventional wisdom is that we live in a world in which we know the basic outline of everything and that all is left is to fill in the details. Calling it conventional wisdom is really a misnomer, in much of today’s science, conventional wisdom is a euphemism for Faith.

Four hundred years ago, in the Western world, the conventional wisdom was that God had created the world in six days and left everything, except humans, to run on automatic, now the conventional wisdom is that the Universe is a Machine, somehow self-created about 14,000 billion years ago at the moment of the Big Bang, and now controlled – unintelligently, rotely, mechanically – by Universal Fields and Constants like  Gravity and The Speed of Light. As an aside, I love Rupert Sheldrake’s quip on this: It’s almost as if science said, “Give me one free miracle, and from there the entire thing will proceed with a seamless, causal explanation.” The one free miracle was the sudden appearance of all the matter and energy in the universe, with all the laws that govern it. End aside. The 500 year old conventional wisdom and today’s conventional wisdom are closer positions than one might, at first, think.

Both are dogmas that are not based on all the available evidence. Both believe that the world is without consciousness except, in one case, for God and we humans created in his image, and, in the other case, just we humans (or advanced life on a planet similar to Earth). The second position, we are told, is based on science and logic and is absent any superstition, any magic. But what we are told is wrong, science, today, is a belief system no different than any other religion. To quote Sheldrake again, For more than 200 years, materialists have promised that science will eventually explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry. Believers are sustained by the faith that scientific discoveries will justify their beliefs.

Dark Matter is a belief. Nobody – on earth, atleast – has seen or measured dark matter any more than anybody has seen a black hole. I’m not saying that black holes don’t exist, they might and I think that they probably do, but we don’t have any direct proof, just conjecture based on observations of light bending. We think that we have come to a logical answer but, people who believe in Jesus as their Personal Savior, think that they have got there by logic also. Are Black Holes, or Dark Matter, more logical that The Resurrection? Maybe, but they are no easier to observe (and the cynic in me says that the postulation of Dark Matter is only a device to make expansion-of-the-universe rates work mathematically) .

My concern is not if Black Holes or Dark Matter are real, it is that they have become part of an established belief system and are not to be questioned. About ten years ago, maybe twenty, I was driving home, listening to an interview with a Skeptic who was pitching his book. About half way through the interview, listeners were invited to call in and ask questions. That devolved into listeners recalling different para-normal experiences and having the Skeptic prove them wrong. I only remember two callers.

The first caller, I remember, told about driving down a winding mountain road with lots of blind corners. He had the top down and the sun was warm, just the kind of day and place to be driving a little too fast and have alot of fun. Out of nowhere, he had a premonition of a skull on fire. It rattled him and he slowed way down. A moment later, he turned a blind corner and there was a wrecked car, lying on its side. The caller thought he would have run into the car if he hadn’t slowed down.

The Sceptic pointed out that the driver might have seen a whiff of smoke, or, maybe, a dust cloud, or some other trigger that didn’t conscientiously register, but triggered the subconscious to signal danger. The answer seemed dodgy but this is the problem with anecdotal evidence, it can’t be tested. It can’t be proven or, really, disproven.

Later, another guy called in to get another debunking. He told about a experiment in which he was a part. A group of people saw two movies together. One part of the group saw movie A first and the other part saw Movie B first. Then they randomly split the two groups into two new groups. One group watched one of the movies and the second group, in a different room or different building away from the movie, meditated on what movie the first group was seeing. When asked which movie, the first group saw, the second group was correct something like 58% of the time.

The caller said that the experiment had been done several different times with a total of about eleven hundred subjects, so 58% is a statistically a significant number. The debunker offered a couple of comments on how the experiment was done wrong and the caller said No, that was covered by…. Finally, exasperated, he debunker said, Well I don’t know the details but something was done wrong because the results are clearly impossible, next question.  I don’t want to argue over whether the experiment proved anything or not because I don’t remember all the detail – and the caller may not have given them – but I do want to point out that skepticism is NOT debunking anything we don’t understand.

Skepticism implies not knowing and the willingness to be open to not knowing, it is what is presumed to be at the foundation of science. However, too often, Skeptics – and I’m talking about professional arbitrators of Reality who say they are Skeptics – have bought into, completely, mainstream thinking. They are only skeptical of ideas out of that mainstream tradition. These are Skeptics are supposed to be my peeps and it bothers me when my peeps act from unsubstantiated Faith, just repeating the old dogmas.

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After four years, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is free to leave China

Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-2Until I saw Ai Weiwei’s Alcatraz show, I knew him more as a dissenter than as an artist. I am not normally a fan of message art – for lack of a better term – but this show was a surprise.

To back up, last April, we went to Alcatraz – for the first time, Alcatraz being one of the many, many, Bay Area attractions that we would see if we were tourists here, but have never gotten around to seeing because we live here – to see an Ai Weiwei installation. I’ve struggled whether to call it a show, protest, art installation, art show, or what, because it is really all of that.

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist who was jailed and released but then confined to China for his art, well, actually for his activism. His show at Alcatraz was put on, in absentia, by the For-Site Foundation, a nonprofit that commissions artwork in public places, and the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy which run  Alcatraz now that it has been decommissioned.

It was a beautiful spring day in San Francisco and on the Bay when we went to the show and it was easy to feel superior about an art installation – to settle on one descriptor – that is being put on in the United States by a guy who is deprived of his freedom in China. But the show, itself, put a lie to that. After all, the installation was at Alcatraz, one of the most notorious prisons in the world, and the thick walls and ever present bars constantly reminded us that the United States is the World Champion of putting people in prison.     Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-4Walking around the island with its view of San Francisco, tantalizing close, seemed so pleasant. However, once inside the cellblock, the view shrunk to an unobtainable dream. We are free and can leave on the next ferry and the inside-out fortress still felt oppressive. Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-5 Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-6For me, the most powerful part of the installation was…well, here is the description from Weiwei’s website:

This sound installation occupies a series of twelve cells in A Block. Inside each cell, visitors are invited to sit and listen to spoken words, poetry, and music by people who have been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs, as well as works made under conditions of incarceration. 

Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)I listened to part of Study for String Orchestra which was written in Auschwitz by Pavel Haas Terezín, an unknown to me, Jewish composer. The music is disturbingly and beautifully upbeat  and, sitting in the empty cell, I wondered how anybody could keep themselves together in those conditions. A couple of cells over, I listened to Pussy Riot’s Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away, and then Martin Luther King, Jr’s plaintive call for an end to the war in Vietnam, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.  

Outside the cell, people were talking, some even laughing, and it was frustratingly hard to hear King’s speech. Sitting in that oppressive cell, with the paint peeling off of thick concrete walls and hard steel bars, prison felt real, less abstract. It is not just being locked up, prison is about having our humanity taken away. Prison is about having control of our own life taken away, it is about living without privacy or power or influence; even over ourselves. That is the point.

Michele and I both left the prison subdued. The size of the infrastructure required to sustain that kind of brutality is horrifying. I suspect that a visit to Alcatraz would always be disturbing but Ai Weiwei’s installation has given the passive ruins a new life.


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The Woodside Junior Rodeo and Heritage

4th (1 of 1)-6Michele and I went to the Woodside Jr. Rodeo on the 4th and I kept thinking Nobody can look at this and not think that California is a western state in a way that I should have realized was already trying to talk myself into liking it. Less than 5 miles from our home is the home to The Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County and every year they hold a junior rodeo that Michele and I went to for the first time this year.

The parking lot was full of oversize SUVs and pickups towing horse trailers and people wandering around wearing cowboy hats.4th horses and parking (1 of 1)4th horses and parking (1 of 1)-34th horses and parking (1 of 1)-4As an aside, this was probably the first time in, atleast, ten years that I have been to a California event that the trash barrels were not segregated by recycling and trash. End aside.

California’s Rodeo Heritage goes all the way back to the late 1700’s when we were a province of New Spain. Less than a year after we became a state in 1850, the legislature passed the 1851 Act to Regulate Rodeos formalizing rodeos as part of our culture. As another aside, I grew up saying ro-day-oh  and people still use that pronunciation, which comes from the Spanish, when talking about the San Francisco Grand National Rodeo or the California Rodeo in Salinas, or the Beverly Hills street, but most of the time, rodeo is pronounced ro-dee-oh which comes from the Texan mispronunciation. End aside.

As Gail Cousins said, Rodeo is great entertainment, at a horrific cost to the animals. I’m not so sure about the great entertainment part, but it was hard for me to sit there, watching a rodeo and not think about racism and animal abuse.

For starters, when the contestants are introduced, the ones on foot are mostly Mexican-American and the ones on horses are mostly European-Americans.4th (1 of 1)-2I assume that is because, owning a horse is a rich person’s enterprise and, if you want to do something in a rodeo but don’t have a horse, you are left with bull riding (or calf riding since this is a junior rodeo). Calf riding seems terrifying for the kids and calves alike. Its one redeeming factor is that it has a long heritage – going all the way back to bull riding in Crete about 4000 years ago – going back to a time when we , humans, had a different sensibility. In my book, that doesn’t offer much redemption.4th (1 of 1)-44th (1 of 1)-5The horse events are more fun to watch, not because they require more skill, but because everybody, animal and rider alike, seem to be having a better time.  4th (1 of 1)-64th (1 of 1)-8Then came the pig scramble in which young children chase even younger piglets. This being Woodside at the hyper wealthy, northwestern, edge of Silicon Valley, the piglets were heritage – Red Wattle and Berkshire – free range, pigs from a local farm. My hope is that they return to a more peaceful life on the farm, but, while they were here, the squealing piglets were tracked down, for our pleasure, by the marauding children. It was fun in a sort of Why am I enjoying watching these pigs get terrified? way.  4th piggies (1 of 1)4th (1 of 1)-2Watching the rodeo, I kept thinking rodeo is part of California’s heritage, but I kept saying to myself, But it’s not our only heritage. As even another aside, rodeos are not just a Western US thing, somehow, the Germans became fascinated by Cowboys and Indians, over a hundred years ago, and now have their own rodeos as the picture of Gina Schumacher, the daughter of the great German Formula One driver from Germany, Michele Schumacher, riding in a rodeo on their family ranch in Switzerland, testifies to. End aside.Gina S

When I started this, the Confederate Battle Flag was in all the headlines and Heritage not hate was the shibboleth of the day for those people still flying that hateful flag. The combination of the rodeo and the flag got me thinking about heritage and, especially, California’s heritage. When the Europeans discovered California, it was already occupied by people who had discovered California about 15,000 years earlier.

There was no European Native American Thanksgiving, in California the opening sequence of our contact was for the Europeans to set up a series of slave camps. The indigenous people were rounded up and forced to build the Missions that we so love. When I was a kid, somewhere around the fourth grade, we were taught that the Spaniards were here to bring Culture to the Indians. Now, I am glad to say, the fourth graders – approximately –  are being taught the real story; that these were slave camps.

We must have liked those camps, however, because we re-instituted rounding up people and putting them in camps when World War II started. Once again, the people rounded up weren’t Europeans. This time, they were Japanese. To be clear, these were American citizens , most of their families having come to California before the Immigration Act of 1924 banned the immigration of almost all people from Asia, so they were second or third generation Californians (I am sure that alot of their families had been Americans and Californians longer than my family which only came here in the 1890’s).

Everything I read tells me that racism in California was and still is milder than most of the country, but we still redlined housing for all people of color until integration was shoved down our throats when the Feds started enforcing the The Fair Housing Act of 1968. All in all, much of my heritage, as a Californian and an American, is pretty shameful.That collective heritage is not something for which I am proud and I wonder why anybody would be.

I want to think that all the people who fly, wear, decorate their car or jet ski, or otherwise let us know their Mission Statement with a Confederate Flag, aren’t racists, but they make it hard. They keep talking about heritage, but that heritage is nasty, misogynistic, homophobic, and racist, pretending that it isn’t doesn’t change it. Still, as bad as I think our California heritage is, I am still very proud of being a Californian and I suspect that is the same for many Southerners.


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Lewis Hamilton, Barack Obama, and black role models

Lewis-Hamilton (1)I was watching the British Grand Prix a week or so ago and the camera panned to a small boy holding up a sign that said It’s hammertime Lewis. This was a home crowd for British driver Lewis Hamilton who is generally considered  the best race car driver in the world – as an aside, I say British but I am not sure of the British/English rules, so I only suppose he is British and not English. I once introduced Marion Kaplan, Michele’s cousin who was born in England, as English. Later she corrected me, saying It is not like America where you are American if you are born there, I am British, not English. She went on to explain that English means one’s heritage is English and her heritage is eastern European. End aside – but Hamilton is a crowd favorite almost everywhere.

When I was a boy/man getting interested in cars and racing, my hero was Stirling Moss who was pasty English white guy and my President was primarily Eisenhower, another pasty white guy. Today, my idol would probably be Lewis Hamilton – well, duh! even as an adult, he is – and my president would be Barack Obama, two black guys. I keep thinking how much different this would be growing up than when I was a kid.