Tag: Julia Sweeney

2014: The Year In Things That Didn’t Suck

The general consensus is that 2014 sucked for many reasons. My lame list includes everything from the Congressional election results, to money woes, to the Oakland Raiders’ Commitment to Excrement, to my recent bout of shingles.

But 2014 didn’t serve up only stinkburgers. There were some aspects of this year that I actually liked. I’ll list the ones that might have some meaning for you here.

Favorite Movie (blockbuster): I haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy, so I can’t join the chorus in support of that flick. Instead I’ll sing a note for Live, Die, RepeatEdge of Tomorrow. It’s still a rotten title for a very good, and refreshingly original, sci-fi action movie.

Favorite Movie (non-blockbuster): Among the movies I saw in the theater, I’d have to go with The Obvious Child. But of the movies 2014 introduced me to, I’d have to go with one I’d inexplicably left unseen for a couple of decades: Do the Right Thing. I’m sure Jenny Slate won’t mind losing out to Spike, just this once.

Favorite Book: Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. One of the best books I’ve read on the many ways we fail to recognize what’s in front of us. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Favorite Public Policy Initiative: The Affordable Care Act. This was the year that my health insurance allowed me to see a doctor without sweating the bill, which came in handy because, for the first time in some time, several issues came up for me that required a medical mind. All of them have improved, and none of them hurt me financially. It’s not the greatest health care arrangement I can imagine–as Han Solo would say “I can imagine quite a bit”–but it’s way ahead of where we were a year ago. Thanks, Obama!

Favorite New (To Me) Comedian: Jenny Yang was winning this going away right up until November, when I saw someone else lurking in the Seattle comedy scene who I hope will eventually become too expensive for me to watch: Tyler Smith. This guy killed at the benefit for Mona Concepcion’s son. His set was tight, and his bit about consulting with an old woman on her first legal weed purchase made me laugh hard. If you get a chance, check him out.

Favorite New (To Me) Youtube Channel: Steve Shives. I’ve linked to some of his stuff over the last few months. His 5 Stupid Things series is incredibly addictive. And his Steve and Stuffy videos make me feel less odd about the voices I assign to my teddy bears. (Yes, you read that.)

Party I Actually Liked Attending: Kristen Young’s annual pig roast. Great food, great weather, social without being overwhelming or exhausting. Thanks, Kristen.

Favorite New Friends, Associates, Cronies, People on Social Media I Actually Hardly Know, or What You Will: Eileen Goudge, Scott Whitmore, Casey Raiha, Tiffany Wan, Nina Burleigh, Barry Crimmins, Kelly Carlin, Julia Sweeney, the Woman Known To Me As Penny Dreadful, and Mrs. B. Natural.

And of course the incomparable Venice Buhain, who kept me alive.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget Inklings bookstore in Yakima, WA. If I had a thousand people like their events manager, I’d be ruling the world right now.

If you got to know me this year and you’re not on this list, you should ponder all the ways you might have disappointed me.

Happy 2015, everybody!

Lezlie Moore’s 30 Since ’84

A while back, inspired by the light sketch comedian, one-woman show genius, and greatest sword in all of France Julia Sweeney, I compiled a list of my forty-two favorite movies since the year of my birth, 1971. (With my birthday coming up, Hollywood is sadly NOT desperately sending me gift baskets and gewgaws in hopes of securing the 43rd spot.)

It seems that I have inspired another to do likewise: the actor, arctic explorer, and greatest sword in all of Lichtenstein Lezlie Moore. Having worked with this lovely and talented person on several occasions, I’m happy to pass along her contribution to this meme: 30 since ’84.

My blog may very well never achieve greater influence than this, so mark this date.

42 Since ’71 (Part 1)

Julia Sweeney, she of Saturday Night Live and Letting Go Of God, describes a fun idea for a best movie list in her latest blog post:

I went on a Mike Leigh bender during May – I’ve seen all those films before, but it was lovely to see them again. Topsy Turvy is one of my all-time favorite films.  The audio commentary by Leigh is just delightful, almost as compelling as the film itself.  Nakedis so dark, so disturbing, and so beautifully shot – it’s such a mind-blower.  Topsy Turvy – is this my favorite modern film?  It might be.

When I say modern, to me that means a film made after 1959, the year of my birth. I have a plan that I hope to execute in the next months, on this website. I want to list and describe my favorite 59 films made before 1959.  My favorite films made in 1959 (which happened to have been a spectacular year for film: North by Northwest, Anatomy of a Murder, Rio Bravo, Some Like it Hot, Floating Weeds – to just name a few!  Then I was going to do this too: My Favorite 54 Films made after 1959.  (Why 54? Because I’m 54. Then I’d add one every year…) And then a few top-top-top lists and a favorite.  I’ve been noodling with my choices for over a year, but I haven’t organized them to post – yet…

In a comment, I told Julia I’d have to steal her idea and do my 42 favorite films since 1971 (the year of my birth). I’ll follow this with my favorite 42 films made prior to 1971, and my five favorite films of 1971. (Even in Hollywood’s best year, I’m not likely to find more than five to ten films I can classify as favorites.) Julia encouraged this theft, so here we go.

My favorite 42 films made after 1971 (in no particular order, in case you were wondering):

1. The Godfather

We almost have to begin here. There’s no way to talk about the last half century of cinema without talking about The Godfather and its sequel, The Godfather Part II. It’s a family saga, an immigrant’s epic, a meditation on the morality of capitalism, and a playground for the best American actors of their generation. It resurrected the moribund career of Marlon Brando, and it introduced us to Al Pacino. It even changed the way mobsters talk. Not bad for a pitch Mario Puzo gave to Robert Evans so Evans could justify giving Puzo $10,000 to pay off his gambling debts. Most important to all of us, three hours with this film feels like thirty minutes of most others (or 1.37 seconds of any given Michael Bay flick). That’s how entertaining The Godfather is.

2. Chinatown

I debated whether I should go with this one or Nicholson’s other post 1971 triumph, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But even though I admire that picture, it comes in second behind Roman Polanski’s tale of corruption and greed in ’30s era Los Angeles. All mysteries end with the villain unmasked and order restored, but few have the guts to leave the unmasked villain in charge of that order.

3. The Conversation

When Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather proved to be an unexpected smash hit, Paramount wanted a sequel. So Coppola made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. In addition to a car and a pile of money, Coppola wanted financing to do any movie he wanted. The movie he wanted to do: The Conversation. It’s a thrilling story of paranoia and surveillance all based on a seemingly simple question. Did the people that Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul was bugging say “If he knew, he’d kill us” or “If he knew, he’d kill us.”? Is Caul listening to potential murderers or potential victims, and is his wealthy client either their target or their hunter?

4. The Godfather Part II

Often called the best sequel of all time, The Godfather Part II deepens and broadens the story of the Corleone family, linking the tale of Don Corleone’s rise in America to his son Michael’s efforts to keep the family business strong fifty years later. Most movies have two or three good scenes. This movie has dozens, from the kiss of death to Kay’s abortion revelation,  from Senator Gehry’s extortion threats to Fredo’s last trip in the boat, from the first shot of the empty chair to the last shot of Michael, graying, sitting alone in wintry desolation.  The movie is an extraordinary look at how the system that fueled Don Corleone’s rise and sustained his wealth also led to the physical and/or moral destruction of his sons. The price of The Family is his family.

5. Network

To watch Network is to watch a work of supremely gifted comic insight. Paddy Chayefsky, the peerless satirical mind behind The Americanization of Emily, wasn’t a prophet, but he could certainly see what television was becoming, and how it could serve the interests of soulless hustlers whose only skill was taking any genuine emotion and molding it into something that can turn a quick buck. A key quote:

Diana Christensen: Look, we’ve got a bunch of hobgoblin radicals called the Ecumenical Liberation Army who go around taking home movies of themselves robbing banks. Now, maybe they’ll take movies of themselves kidnapping heiresses, hijacking 747s, bombing bridges, assassinating ambassadors. We’d open each week’s segment with their authentic footage, hire a couple of writers to write a story behind that footage, and we’ve got ourselves a series.

This was satire. Now, in TV, we do it for real.

6. Superman: The Movie

Much as I adore the cynical, satirical films of the 1970s, I also love Hollywood’s attempts to repackage a feeling of innocence and common purpose for an audience jaded by Vietnam, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and Watergate. Star Wars was one example of this, but though I look upon that movie fondly, as time has passed I’ve grown to like Superman better. Of the two, Superman has the more literate script, the deeper emotion, and a star in Christopher Reeve who truly commanded the screen. The part of the Man of Steel was thought to be impossible to cast, but in Reeve they found someone who could not only recreate the icon, but making him modern and relatable. That no one has really pulled this off since in live action is a testament to Reeve’s performance.

7. The Spy Who Loved Me

The best of the Roger Moore Bond pictures and still my favorite of the Bond movies made in my lifetime, The Spy Who Loved Me was, like Superman and Star Wars, an attempt to repackage the idea of a common purpose during a divisive time.  James Bond has to team up with a Soviet agent and the U.S. Navy to stop a rich lunatic from using captured nuclear submarines to ignite World War III. The movie boasts the best opening Bond stunt (the ski jump off a cliff), the best villain lairs (Atlantis and the Liparus), one of the best cars (the Lotus Esprit submarine), and the best villain’s henchman (Jaws).

8. Tootsie

How do I love this movie? Let me count the ways. I love the scene where Bill Murray’s playwright character spouts drunken pretentious bullshit at a party: “I don’t like it when people come up to me after my plays and say, ‘I really dug your message, man.’ Or, ‘I really dug your play, man, I cried.’ You know. I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later, and they say, ‘I saw your play. What happened?'” I love Michael Dorsey’s arguments with his increasingly impatient agent, (played by Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack) “You were a tomato! A tomato doesn’t have logic! A tomato can’t move!” “That’s what I said! So how can a tomato sit down, George?” I love how when Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels, he not only learns how much bullshit women have to put up with just to get through the day, but he realizes just how much bullshit he’s put women through. And I love the reveal. It’s magic.

9. The Shining

The Shining is one of the rare horror movies that scares you more the second time you see it than the first, and even more each subsequent time. I can understand why Stephen King didn’t care for Kubrick’s adaptation. King looked at the story of Jack, Wendy, and Danny and saw a metaphor for alcohol’s corrosive effects on the family. Kubrick was more interested in examining a man whose desire to lose himself in the past compels him to try to murder his present. In Kubrick’s formulation, that Jack seems mentally unbalanced from the beginning is beside the point. In the early scenes, Jack seems to fit life poorly because he’s trying to be something he isn’t–a decent modern man. The hotel seduces Jack into murder by offering him the prize of the life he really wants, one where, yes, he’s a servant of the toffs in the tuxes, but he can still swill free whiskey, abuse his wife and kid, boink the occasional guest, and use all the racial slurs he likes without consequences. Booze isn’t the real intoxicant offered to Jack Torrance in The Shining; it’s white male privilege.

10. The Empire Strikes Back

Of the six current Star Wars pictures, only this one gets my unreserved admiration. Star Wars was a triumph of production design and special effects, and the charm of its lead actors managed to elevate Lucas’s often incredibly corny dialog. (Honestly, a cocky pilot who insists on calling the movie’s only woman “Sister”? No one had done that in a movie in 30 years, for good reason.)  Still, it wasn’t Empire, which brought much better writing (thank you, Lawrence Kasdan) and a much more interesting approach to Darth Vader to the proceedings. (Even Han Solo’s sobriquets for Leia got an upgrade. He stopped calling her “sister” and instead referred to her by the wittier nicknames “Your Highnessness” and “Your Worship”.) Kasdan and Irvin Kershner fill Empire with thrilling set pieces which tie together into a narrative that enriches the Star Wars universe without ever bogging it down in exposition. (I’m looking at you, prequels.)

11. Raiders of the Lost Ark

When it comes to wish fulfillment fantasy, it’s hard to beat one that ends with the Nazis getting their faces melted off by the Ark of the Covenant. Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas teamed up with Lawrence Kasdan to both pay homage to and hugely surpass the adventure serials of the 1930s with Indiana Jones, a character who is compelling at least in part because he is a spectacular failure. Unlike 007, who always wins and gets the girl without sustaining so much as a bruise, Indiana Jones takes endless, cut opening, skin bruising, bone crunching beatings in his efforts to grab or hold on to objects that are constantly slipping from his grasp.  In Raiders, Indy never actually wins the Ark of the Covenant. Once he finds it, the Nazis take it from him. He chases after it and gets it again. Then he loses it, again. He chases, tries to bluff the Nazis out of it, and fails. Finally, after the Ark kills the Nazis off, we think he’s got it, but he loses it again, this time to Army Intelligence, who lock it up in one of the most famous parting shots of the 1980s. Harrison Ford’s Indy may be a loser, but he’s a brilliant, indefatigable loser whose defeats I never tire of watching.

That’s it for part 1. Part 2 will be all about disco, lonely gunmen, heroin, hot Brooklyn days, and the Holocaust.

UPDATE (8/2/2014): Here are links to the other three parts.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Dudes and Doubitability

Reading Rebecca Watson’s Slate article on sexism and sexual harassment in the skeptical community depressed me this morning. (And with a cold coming on and a car in the shop, I wasn’t in the market for anything more to be depressed about.) I don’t consider myself a member of the skeptic community, or indeed, of almost any community, but my admiration for many of skepticism’s leading lights–Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner, the Mythbusters, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lindy West, Julia Sweeney–is beyond question. I am an atheist and freethinker who believes that if the human race is ever going to stop being a moral embarrassment, we’re going to have to develop humane replacements for the habits of mind that lead us to accept sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

I’ve always thought that skeptics and freethinkers were in the best position to lead on those issues. We pride ourselves on our ability to set aside hidebound ways of thinking, to question traditional assumptions, and to bust long-standing myths. And there is nothing more hidebound than sexism and the patriarchy it bolsters.

The patriarchy emerged in the neolithic era, when women’s work was restricted to crop harvesting and the production of offspring, while men grabbed the more glamorous jobs of trading, toolmaking, and warfare. Though human society was, in past epochs, more egalitarian, seven thousand years is a long time to inculcate the sexist divisions of labor and cultural habits that the neolithic peoples’ bronze age descendants committed to stone tablets and papyrus. Priests and potentates, to bolster their own patriarchy-based legitimacy, saw to it that religion and culture modeled and justified a sexist view of the world, rehearsing the ways in which they’d later use it to justify racism and homophobia, sexism’s younger siblings.

What hold should the social attitudes toward women of late stone age/early bronze age peoples have on those of us living in the 21st century? That is an issue that skeptics can address, for there is a world of cultural and religious mythology to explore, and a great deal of bunk in need of debunking, when it comes to the excuses people give for why women shouldn’t do certain kinds of jobs, shouldn’t be educated, shouldn’t dress as they like, shouldn’t control their bodies. The area is way too rich for skeptics to ignore.

But instead, when confronted with a skeptic with XX chromosomes, some male skeptics appear comfortable with not only with holding stone age attitudes about women, but also defending or excusing them. In doing so, they employ arguments that they’d laugh out of the room if the topic were God, Holocaust Denial, or UFOs. A quote from Richard Dawkins, taken from Rebecca Watson’s Slate article, in which he slags on her conference discussion of misogyny in the skeptic world:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so …

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.


If Dawkins can’t understand that a Rebecca Watson might enter the environs of creepoutsville when a stranger invites her, apropos of nothing, to his room, his imagination rests on a smaller plot of land than I thought. But let’s leave that aside for a minute. Dawkins missed, out of either ignorance or malice, what was clearly Watson’s larger point:

In June of 2011, I was on a panel at an atheist conference in Dublin. The topic was “Communicating Atheism,” and I was excited to join Richard Dawkins, one of the most famous atheists in the world, with several documentaries and bestselling books to his name. Dawkins used his time to criticize Phil Plait, an astronomer who the year prior had given a talk in which he argued for skeptics to be kinder. I used my time to talk about what it’s like for me to communicate atheism online, and how being a woman might affect the response I receive, as in rape threats and other sexual comments.

The audience was receptive, and afterward I spent many hours in the hotel bar discussing issues of gender, objectification, and misogyny with other thoughtful atheists.


Dawkins ignores the issues of rape threats and harassment, choosing what he takes to be the least serious of Watson’s examples. And he does this in order to…what? To suggest that because Saudi women are treated abominably that Watson has no cause to complain? It’s the kind of logic I might expect of the miserable prick who stole my car: “Dear Cambodian Refugee, I know that two millions of your brothers and sisters were tortured and brutally killed by the Khmer Rouge, but stop your fussing. Look what this poor American whose car I stole had to put up with.” Dawkins’s rhetorical trick is brilliant at shutting down the conversation. Look at the miserable Saudi woman! Isn’t religious oppression awful? And let’s not pay too much attention to the woman an atheist harassed. It’s the appeal-to-emotion red herring, and if Uri Geller used it, skeptics would rightfully fry him for it. But any person of moral sensibility should get that the other people’s felonies don’t excuse our misdemeanors. Women should have the right to proceed through life without having their genitals mutilated, but they should also be able to speak their minds in public without having members of their community threaten to rape them, either in person or in website comments. One form of abuse may be more severe than the other, but women in either situation have ample cause to feel abused.

In at least one sense, the misogyny of some in the skeptic community fails to surprise me. Sexism is old, far older than any religion currently practiced, older even than written language. It’s infested our culture, our politics, our language, and our lives on a deep level. Freethinking movements prize reason, and that’s good, but they also evolved from a culture steeped in gender bias.

Skeptic groups, because they needn’t fret over the implications of upending tradition, should be better at purging misogyny from their movement than religious groups are. The tools are at their disposal. I hope they follow Rebecca Watson’s example and set about using them, because this shit’s really old.