Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Doesn't anyone care about accuracy anymore?

File these under "D'oh":

A few weeks ago, Victoria's Secret started selling its take on college sports t-shirts, with a cute, sexy Michigan State t-shirt.

Nothing objectionable about this shirt, right? It has the Michigan State name, the Spartans logo, the color is correct...The problem, however, is that the tagline "Hail to the Victors" is actually from the University of Michigan's motto/fight song. Guess there must be a Wolverine fan in VS's product design department...

Not one to be outdone, Old Navy recently tried their hand at women's college t-shirts, with similar results.

With these three shirts for the University of Iowa, University of Colorado, and University of Arizona, the team names are correct, but the founding years for each of the universities is off. The shirts list the founding dates as 1820, 1878, and 1881, respectively, but the actual dates are 1847, 1876, and 1885, which means that the date on Iowa's t-shirt is 27 years off.

Has no one at Old Navy heard of the internet? Has our society always just been content with mediocrity, or is this something that has come along with the general malaise from which we all seem to suffer these days?

Hope the individuals responsible for these errors don't leave their jobs to pursue positions in pharmaceutical or medical supply communications...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's time...

This video has made its way around the web, but in case you've not yet seen it, check out this amazingly moving commercial for marriage equality, thanks to GetUp! Australia.

Whether or not you're an emotional cripple like I am, there's no denying the power of this message. I just wish the whole world could see it this way.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Movie Review: "The Muppets"

When a new installment of a movie franchise is released after a number of years have elapsed since the last one, there is always concern whether the new movie will be able to capture the magic of the series. Where The Muppets is concerned, the answer is a resounding yes.

It has been nearly 13 years since the last movie starring the Muppets, the middling Muppets from Space. The world certainly has changed since 1999—puppets, when they exist at all, are edgier and more satirical (think Triumph the Insult Comic Dog or the characters from Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Crank Yankers)—they don't wonder why there are so many songs about rainbows, they don't sing with chickens or tell corny jokes. And it is precisely that world that The Muppets is set in, which probably adds to its appeal.

Gary (lifelong Muppet fan Jason Segel, who co-wrote the script), his Muppet-obsessed brother, Walter, and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) set off for a trip to Los Angeles to visit the famed Muppet Studios. When they arrive at the rundown landmark, Walter overhears the plans of evil oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to tear down the studios and drill for oil...if the Muppets don't raise 10 million dollars in two weeks. Walter and his pals track Kermit down, and it turns out that the Muppet crew hasn't been in touch for a long time. Kermit is at first reluctant to try and track everyone down, but eventually joins Walter, Gary, and Mary on an expedition to reunite the old gang and put on a telethon in the old Muppet Show model to raise the money. But things aren't as easy as they seem—there's one key holdout among the Muppets, no network wants to give them a chance because they're no longer relevant, and then there's the matter of finding a celebrity host...

Will the entire Muppets gang reunite? Will they be able to raise enough money to foil Tex Richman? (Cue maniacal laugh...) Will they be able to find a celebrity host? And will Walter decide whether he wants to return to his home in Smalltown or join the Muppets? Well, needless to say, there's not a lot of suspense to be had, but that doesn't detract from a second of the movie's appeal. It's campy, funny, corny, and heartwarming, from the celebrity cameos (Selena Gomez, Modern Family's Rico Rodriguez, John Krasinski, Neil Patrick Harris, etc.) to the kitschy musical numbers, but ultimately, the movie had me from Statler and Waldorf's first insults, not to mention The Rainbow Connection.

Having eagerly anticipated the Muppets' return for months, I can say that the movie wasn't quite as great as I had hoped, but it was tremendously enjoyable. Definitely a fun trip down memory lane...

Book Review: "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks was a poor Southern woman and mother of five children who died in 1951 as the result of a remarkably aggressive form of cervical cancer. While undergoing radiation treatment, doctors at Johns Hopkins took samples of her cells without her consent, to better study the cancer. These cells, known as HeLa, became an important scientific and medical tool—they were the first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, and they are still alive today. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. But very little was known about the woman from whom these cells came, and her family was unaware of Henrietta's contributions to science for many, many years.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells Henrietta's story and chronicles the struggles of her family, most of whom never had the opportunity to even finish high school, to understand what cells were taken from her and what scientists were doing with them. Rebecca Skloot also gives a great deal of background into scientific research, particularly where cell and tissue study is concerned, and the challenges both the scientific and medical ethics communities face relative to "donations" of cells taken from patients. But in the end, this is the story of Henrietta's family and the emotions that the discovery of her role in science uncovers.

While the subject of this book is very scientific, much of it reads like a novel. It is a fantastic story—sometimes shocking, sometimes heartbreaking—but Skloot gives depth not only to Henrietta and her family, but the researchers who both studied and questioned the HeLa cells through the years. When this book was released last year to tremendous acclaim, I didn't think it would interest me much, but a friend recently recommended it, and I'm glad I was motivated to pick it up. Don't be put off by the subject matter; in the end, this will pique your curiosity and tug at your heart. And you'll definitely look with a different eye at the next medical procedure you have!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review: "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach

It has been said that "baseball is life." Whether or not you agree with this statement, for the characters in Chad Harbach's fantastic new novel, The Art of Fielding, baseball may not be life, but it certainly is at the crux of their lives.

Henry Skrimshander is a scrawny, aspiring baseball player whose effortless talent during a summer league game attracts the attention of Mike Schwartz, an athlete at Westish College, located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Mike gets Henry enrolled at Westish and becomes his mentor, coach, torturer, and biggest advocate, and Henry finds himself turning into a superstar, being mentioned as an early draft pick in the major leagues. And then one errant throw sets a chain of events in motion that affects the lives of not only Henry and Mike, but also Guert Affenlight, Westish's president, who finds himself caught in the grips of an obsession he never imagined; Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, who returns to Westish after escaping an impulsive marriage, and wants to start anew; and Owen Dunne, Henry's roommate. This is a book about baseball that transcends the sport itself—it is a book about how frightening realizing your dreams, and falling short of them, can be.

Amazon chose The Art of Fielding as its best book of 2011. And while I'm not ready to bestow that title on it just yet, I can unequivocally say it's one of the best books I've read this year. Harbach has created an unforgettable bunch of characters, and while the situations he puts them in may not be unique, the way he tells their stories and how they handle what comes their way is truly fantastic. He is a terrific writer and at times, a sentence or two would make me pause and read it again, just to marvel at his word choices. This is a book of over 500 pages that read like a much shorter novel, yet when I finished it, I wished I had more of it to savor. Truly fantastic.

Giving thanks...

Once again, the year has flown by at unbelievable speed. It seems impossible to think that yesterday was Thanksgiving and today—the equally beloved and dreaded "Black Friday"—marks just one more month until Christmas.

We celebrated Thanksgiving back in New Jersey with my family, and I cooked the meal. It always amazes me how the fruits of two days' worth of cooking can be devoured in less than 30 minutes, but it's clearly a good sign, no?

As I cooked and we ate, I realized that once again this year I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful to have been able to celebrate the holiday surrounded by gamily. I am thankful to have the opportunity to continue watching my nephews grow and be amused by their antics.

I'm thankful for our dog, Quinn, and I'm thankful we discovered doggie day care so Quinn can channel some of her boundless energy! And of course, I'm thankful to spend every day with the love of my life, because every day is more special and more meaningful.

I'm also thankful for the opportunity to express my opinions through this blog, and I'm tremendously grateful that you visit from time to time to see what I have to say. This is so much better than the alternative of talking to myself!!

Hope your holidays were truly special.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: "The Detachment" by Barry Eisler

Into everyone's life, a little John Rain should fall. John Rain is the deadly yet sensitive assassin who has been the protagonist in six of Barry Eisler's previous novels. He finally returns after a hiatus of several years, during which Eisler wrote two stand-alone novels. Happily, Rain—and Eisler—are at the top of their form yet again.

After deciding to get out of the life as an assassin-for-hire, Rain has returned to Tokyo and resumed his old habits of martial arts training, listening to jazz, and enjoying fine scotch. But when black ops veteran Colonel Scott "Hort" Horton tracks Rain down and tries to convince him to take out three targets in the national security realm in order to prevent a coup which could essentially suspend the U.S. Constitution, Rain finds the offer too dangerous, and too good, to refuse. He enlists the services of his old ally, Dox, and joins forces with two of Hort's men, Treven and Larison, each of whom has their own secrets to hide. And then Rain discovers that Hort might not have been completely truthful when laying out the rationale for the planned assassinations...and at least one member of Rain's team has plans for some sidework that might have dangerous repercussions.

Barry Eisler is a terrific storyteller, and even though the world he has created for John Rain and his other characters is nothing like I can imagine, he quickly engrosses you in nonstop, crackling action, suspense, and exceptional character development. I always find myself rushing through these books, pushed along by the plot, fascinated by the details that Eisler includes, and transfixed by the fact that he has been able to make a deadly assassin with a conscience a realistic and sympathetic character. If you like this type of thriller, you won't go wrong with any of the John Rain novels—each one reads like a movie, but they're better written. Hope the next one comes sooner!

Friday, November 18, 2011

And speaking of Christmas traditions...

Too good to pass up.

The Santa problem...

Grumpy parents and movie villains often joke about canceling Christmas, but at the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, SC, that nearly happened.

Earlier this week, the Center's administration decided that because of its state affiliation (it is part of the Medical University of South Carolina), they weren't going to have a "Santa presence" this year. And that meant telling hospital volunteer Frank Cloyes, who has spent the last two years dressing as Santa and spending time with chemotherapy patients, that his services were no longer needed.

Center leaders also decided to make decorations "more secular and respectful to all beliefs," said Hollings spokeswoman Vicky Agnew. "We don't want to offend a volunteer with good intentions, but we need to think of the bigger picture. People who are Muslim or Jewish or have no religious beliefs come here for treatment," she said.

This decision, of course, caused a great deal of public outcry all over the country, leading to more criticism that political correctness had gone too far.

The Center received so much negative feedback that Agnew released a statement saying, "We’ve received a number of strong responses to the Santa story, and it prompted another discussion on our end. As a result, we’ve decided to allow a Santa presence this year." But Agnew did clarify that the initial decision to end Santa's visits was made after complaints from patients.

Being Jewish, clearly Santa doesn't have the special meaning to me that he does to those who celebrate Christmas. But that's fine with me. I've always viewed Santa as more of a representative of the commercial nature of the holiday than the religious one, so the presence of Santa doesn't offend my religious beliefs or anything. If emphasis was placed more on Jesus Christ or the Nativity scene, I would have more of an issue with it, especially if equal weight wasn't given to other religions.

The holiday season is a traditional touchstone for many, especially those dealing with stressful situations, such as undergoing chemo or having a family member with cancer. If the presence of "Santa" brings comfort, then I see no reason to ban him from a cancer center during the holidays, unless his presence is making more patients unhappy and uncomfortable. And if you don't want a volunteer dressed as Santa to spend time with you, it's easy enough simply to say "no, thank you."

Sometimes political correctness for political correctness' sake isn't correct.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sometimes only a hamburger will suffice...

We've all been there. You're completely in the mood for fast food, so you head to the drive-thru, only to find that they're still serving breakfast or, if you have a craving for hash browns, that they've already switched over to serving lunch.

Take Shanaya Edgell, for example. According to The Smoking Gun, the 22-year-old and her boyfriend arrived at a Janesville, Wisconsin McDonald's around 3:00 a.m. the other day, and she was jonesing for a Mickey-D's cheeseburger.

The challenge: McDonald's had already switched over to their breakfast menu. This enraged Edgell, so she turned on her boyfriend, Darrell Page, biting him on the arm and tearing off his shirt. Page and Edgell drove away, but then she apparently changed her mind, and directed Page to "return to McDonald’s so that she could get breakfast."

Then it appears Edgell got a little loopy, and allegedly began striking Page in the face and biting his right arm. Page also told police that when he pulled his car over during the assault, Edgell got out of the vehicle and climbed atop the hood to keep him from leaving.

Edgell, who was arrested for disorderly conduct, told police she became "upset" after discovering that McDonald’s had "switched over to the breakfast menu and she wanted to order food off the regular menu." She said she was "freaking out over this," adding that Page was trying to calm her down over the matter of the unavailable cheeseburgers.

Lucky she wasn't after the elusive McRib sandwich or a Shamrock Shake. Those are limited-time items, you know...

I am an excited fanboy...

That squeal you heard around the world yesterday, the slow-down in productivity everywhere came courtesy of the official trailer for The Hunger Games, the much-anticipated movie adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy.

As I've written a number of times previously, I loved these books, and cannot wait for the movie to come out next March. While many of the series' younger fans questioned nearly every casting choice, from Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss ("she's not tall enough" and "she's blonde") to Josh Hutcherson as Peeta ("he's short and not blonde"), the trailer delivers convincing glimpses that all of the choices made by director Gary Ross—in concert with Suzanne Collins—were on target.

Admittedly, I'm most excited about Lenny Kravitz playing Cinna, the stylist who turns Katniss into an icon during the Hunger Games. (If you've never read the books, you won't know what I mean, but suffice it to say, he's a terrific character.)

Read the books if you haven't. And enjoy the trailer! Can't even count how many times I've watched it already...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wanna feel old (and maybe a little bit creepy)?

While 1996's Jerry Maguire may be best known for the lines "Show me the money!", "You had me at hello," and "You complete me," little Jonathan Lipnicki, who played Renee Zellweger's nerdy son, often stole the movie, with lines like, "The human head weighs eight pounds."

Well, today Lipnicki is 21(!) years old and looks a bit, well, different. And if the human head does weigh eight pounds, clearly Lipnicki has been lifting a lot of human heads to get a physique like this.

I know I have no real reason to feel like a creepy old man given that Lipnicki is 21, but I kinda do. Still, this is quite a transformation...

Movie Weekend: "Being Elmo" and "J.Edgar"

I had the opportunity to see two great movies this weekend, and they couldn't have been more different. Being Elmo chronicled the journey of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer most famous for Sesame Street's Elmo, and how a boy growing up in a lower middle class suburb of Baltimore became passionate about puppeteering and was able to turn that love into his life's work. Clash clearly wears his heart on his sleeve (or at the end of his hand) when he takes on Elmo's childlike persona, but those who know him say that Elmo's loving nature is a pure manifestation of Kevin's heart.

Being Elmo was a beautiful documentary about finding and following your dreams, and never letting anything stand in the way of what you're passionate about. And it's also the story of how you can never expect the impact a person may have on your life, just as you cannot anticipate the impact you may have on another's. Spectacular.

From Elmo to the FBI. Interesting transition, no?

This morning we saw J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood's new biography of famed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a fantastically nuanced performance of the power-hungry, paranoid, approval-craving Hoover, as the movie follows him from the early 1920s through his death in the 1970s. Some believe Hoover to be the embodiment of all that is wrong with law enforcement, that his unwavering focus on whom he considered America's enemies was often motivated by grudges. Others believe that his focus on forensics, evidence collection (early police cases saw detectives simply throwing evidence away), and centralizing fingerprint records revolutionized the fight against crime.

While Eastwood certainly allows viewers a glimpse into the psyche behind the dogged crime fighter, he doesn't beat you over the head with his opinions about the man. And Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's (Milk) script shows you both the henpecked man dominated by his mother (Judi Dench) as well as the man wishing he could follow his heart but knowing that to do so would be disastrous. Armie Hammer, who with some digital enhancement played both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, needed no visual gimmickry to play Clyde Tolson, Hoover's second-in-command and, if the rumors are true, his longtime companion. Hammer and DiCaprio have immense chemistry, and their scenes have both a power and a poignancy.

The movie jumps back and forth through the decades, under the guise of Hoover's dictating the story of the FBI to various agents. The time shifting is a little confusing, because while all of the characters are saddled with age-appropriate makeup, until the plot advances you aren't quite sure where you are in the plot. And the film, like many of Eastwood's recent movies, moves a little slowly at times, but the performances will keep you riveted.

I think Leonardo DiCaprio has always been one of those actors who gives strong performances but is never quite taken seriously despite his talent. I hope this performance nets him another Oscar nomination, and I would also love to see Armie Hammer be recognized in the Best Supporting Actor category as well. J. Edgar is definitely a movie worth seeing, for even if Hoover wasn't the most popular of men, he certainly was one of the more intriguing ones of the 20th century.

Book Review: "Zone One" by Colson Whitehead

The literary world over the last few years has been somewhat obsessed with the undead—novels featuring vampires, zombies, werewolves, mythical creatures, etc. are more popular than ever before. Yet there hasn't quite been a zombie novel like Zone One, Colson Whitehead's thoughtful and thought-provoking new book.

It's a time in the distant future and the world has been hit by a pandemic (referred to as the Last Night) which divided its citizens into two classes—the living and the living dead. While an initial military operation killed many of those who turned into zombies following the Last Night, brigades of citizen soldiers, at the behest of the provisional government in Buffalo, have been tasked with clearing out the rest of New York City so it can eventually be resettled. Mark Spitz is one of those citizen soldiers, and over the course of three surreal days, Zone One follows his efforts and those of his fellow recruits as they sweep city buildings and kill any remaining zombies that had been able to hide, or were trapped when the plague hit. The book cuts between the present day and accounts of Mark's attempts to survive in the early days of the pandemic.

I've referred to this as an "intellectual zombie novel," because while there is no shortage of lurid violence as the zombies attack and are captured, the book spends more time exploring themes of survival, courage, mediocrity, and the fight to distinguish yourself in a world characterized by unique people. Whitehead is a tremendously gifted writer and his use of language is mesmerizing at times, but I felt at times that the book moved very slowly, because despite the action, everything unfolds at a fairly meditative pace. This is a book worth reading, but it's important you keep in mind that this is a book much heavier on contemplation than action. But Colson Whitehead has made a worthy, if somewhat unique, contribution to the zombie "genre."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Be cool, boy...

I'm a sucker for all things West Side Story, perhaps because I still haven't gotten over that we didn't perform it in high school. (My sophomore year we performed Grease, and so it seemed the most natural follow-up for junior year, but it never happened. We did Carousel instead, and gone were my dreams of playing Tony. Sigh.)

Anyway, to celebrate West Side Story's 50th anniversary (and the upcoming release of a new Blu-Ray DVD), a group of dancers created a flash mob in Times Square. Flash mobs may be a little overused, but this one had me at the first snap of the fingers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thought for the day...

Enough said.

Say it ain't so, Joe...

When it comes to Pennsylvania legends, Joe Paterno probably ranks somewhere just under Ben Franklin and above William Penn and "Mean" Joe Greene. Head coach of Penn State for 45 years, most people figured his tenure would end in a similar fashion to Supreme Court justices.

But with the increasingly disturbing allegations of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up swirling around Penn State, it's becoming infinitely clearer that the time for Paterno to step down as coach may be sooner rather than later.

Has he run a clean program as far as NCAA rules are concerned? Yes. But while protecting your players, your reputation, and your school certainly are admirable actions (and somewhat rare in the do-or-die world of college athletics), doing so at the expense of innocent children makes you a coward and a monster, not someone to be revered.

Yes, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. But as the number of children that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly sexually abused grows, so does the sadness and anger that university officials aware of the allegations for years did nothing to ensure it stopped. While Paterno informed Penn State's athletic director of one instance of alleged abuse he was told about, Paterno was happy to stay out of the fray. And that included turning his back when university officials continued to do nothing regarding the abuse accusations, and allowing Sandusky to continue to use school facilities to run his foundation for at-risk children, where he met those he allegedly abused.

Paterno taught his players courage, teamwork, sportsmanship, and drive. Sadly, it appears that the teacher did not heed his own lessons. It's time for Paterno to bid farewell to Happy Valley and think more about the lives changed because of things he did not do than those changed by the things he did.

Those children allegedly abused by Jerry Sandusky at the very least deserve that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stop the population...

Clearly any concerns about the world's population exceeding 7 billion last week were lost on Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar, who announced that baby #20 was on the way earlier today.

Baby #20.


This, despite the fact that their last child, Josie, was delivered at only 25 weeks (and weighed less than 2 pounds) because of Michelle's preeclampsia. (Nearly two years old now, the Duggars say Josie is showing no signs of complications due to her premature birth.) This, despite the fact that Michelle is now 45, requires the care of a high-risk pregnancy doctor, and is a grandmother to two children.

All because this is "God's plan." (Oh, and the fact that they have a reality show on TLC.)

I am not a fan of telling women what to do with their bodies. But in my opinion, having 20 children is absolutely unnecessary, especially when there are thousands upon thousands of children in the foster care system or in orphanages, desperate to find families of their own. If the Duggars feel the need to share the love they have with more and more children, couldn't they adopt a few? Imagine the joy that a family this size could bring to children longing for their own families. And why jeopardize your health and the health of an unborn baby simply to have a 20th child?

Wouldn't you think God would rather people find homes for all of the children in our country and the world who need families? Wouldn't that be more of God's plan than forcing the world to support more children being born unnecessarily?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Review: "Like Crazy"

Admittedly, I've been really inconsistent in reviewing movies on my blog. The truth is, I've seen some pretty fantastic movies so far this year, and as the end of the year approaches (which is the time all studios start premiering their "Oscar-worthy" movies), I know I'll see a ton more great films.

Two weekends ago, in fact, we saw two terrific independent movies—Take Shelter, an odd, somewhat disturbing movie with breathtaking performances from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain (in her fourth movie of 2011, after Tree of Life, The Help and The Debt), and Weekend, a wonderful, emotionally compelling movie about two guys who meet at a gay bar one Friday night and then spend the weekend together, talking about life and relationships, and trying to decide how much of themselves to share and lay bare.

But to get back to the subject at hand—Like Crazy. Having been to the movies so much these past few months, I think we saw the preview for this movie at least 10-15 times, so I had been eagerly anticipating it. This story of young, all-consuming love, and how it can and cannot flourish from a distance, was absolutely mesmerizing to me, although, as I've disclosed numerous times before, I'm a total sap (or hopeless romantic, depending upon how you look at it).

Anna (Felicity Jones, bringing steely strength and wavering emotion to her performance) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin, truly coming into his own) meet in their last year of college, while Anna is on a student visa from the UK. They fall utterly, completely, obsessively in love, until visa issues upon Anna's return to England force her to stay there. Caught between two countries, torn between needing to stay together and wanting to move forward with their lives, the movie flows through time quickly and chronicles the ebbs and flows of their emotions.

I found out after seeing the movie that director Drake Doremus based Like Crazy on a long-distance relationship he once had, but that there was no actual script for the movie; rather Doremus worked with Jones and Yelchin and the other cast members to improvise everything. And you'd never know it: the dialogue flowed naturally, the emotions were never forced, and not everything had tidy resolutions.

Some people have been lukewarm on the movie, but most have really loved it. I am firmly in the second camp. Especially if you love star-crossed love stories, see this. And in case you haven't seen the trailer, here it is:

Friday, November 4, 2011

You Cannot be Serious...

It seems as if every time I've turned around the last few days, there's been another bewilderingly prejudiced decision made by a state legislature, another presidential candidate taking an appalling stance, or some other shocking incident that makes me shake my head.

Here are just a few things that make me want to either weep or break out into a John McEnroe-esque rant:

It's okay to bully as long as you really, really believe in what you're bullying about: Michigan is one of only three states in the US that has not enacted anti-bullying legislation. And now that the state legislature is finally getting around to thinking this is a problem, the Republican-led state senate has passed a piece of legislation so toothless, some say it actually condones bullying. Matt's Safe School Law, named for Matt Epling, a 14-year-old Michigan student who committed suicide after sustained bullying from fellow students, was passed after Republicans added an amendment stipulating that it does not abridge First Amendment free speech rights or impinge on the expression of religious or moral views. So, in essence, if you object to someone's sexuality on religious grounds, it's okay to bully them. The law is so pathetic, Matt Epling's father, Kevin, wrote a letter of protest that state Sen. Glenn Anderson read on the chamber floor during the debate over the measure on Wednesday.

But it was Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer's reaction that rings the clearest.

Separation of church and state? Nah. There's already been abundant proof that many of the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination are trying to appeal to the highly conservative factions of their party. A number have taken pledges that if they are elected president, they will push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, reinstate Don't Ask Don't Tell, and make other moves against equality.

Then there's former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. His anti-gay tirades are legendary; many have even commented that he seems almost obsessed with gay people and what they do. And in a recent speech in Iowa, Santorum's obsession has caused him amnesia where the issue of separation of church and state is concerned. You see, according to Santorum, "God's law trumps civil law," especially where issues of equality for gay people are concerned.

Granted, I'm just a wee bit more liberal than Santorum, but I find it really distressing that he and several other Republican candidates keep addressing the issue of God and God's laws. These individuals are running to be president of the entire country, not just one religious group. The laws of my God are different from the laws of Santorum, Bachmann, and others, so does that mean that if one of them are elected president, they'll only represent those who worship their God? These are scary questions to be asking in late 2011.

Take care of your gay kids: keep them in the closet. Such is the advice of Houston Chronicle columnist Kathleen McKinley, whose recent column suggested that parents of LGBTQ teenagers should convince them to stay in the closet, for their own safety, of course. And she came by this epiphany while reading a People magazine article about gay teenagers being bullied and committing suicide.

"Am I mad at the hateful mean kids who bully and tease these teens? You bet I am. But I am just as mad at the idiotic adults who force our adult views on kids, and pull them into our adult world long before they are mature enough to handle it. The 13 year old that killed himself told his Mom he was gay. She said she already knew and hugged him. She said she just assumed that everyone else would be as accepting as she was.

"Really? Have you been around teenagers? They are cruel and mean. They constantly tear each other down. It was bad when I was a teenager, I can only imagine what it’s like now. No, I don’t have to imagine how it is now. This is how it is now. Why in the world would you give teenagers a REASON to tease you? Oh, yes, because the adults tell you to embrace who you are, the only problem? Kids that age are just discovering who they are. They really have no idea yet. The adults tell you to “come out,” when what we should be telling them is that sex is for adults, and there is plenty of time for figuring out that later."

McKinley then proceeds to say that gay-straight alliances are harmful ("The idea of a high school club based on who you want to sleep with is absurd to begin with."), accuses LGBTQ kids of "flaunting their sexuality" and says the "It Gets Better" campaign designed to prevent bullied youth from committing suicide is actually causing more of them to do so, because "it will never get better."

I hope no kids commit suicide after their parents tell them to stay in the closet, because this column is as close to malpractice as it can be...

Bieber's baby? Say it ain't so. From the infuriating to the somewhat ridiculous. Nineteen-year-old Mariah Yeater claims that her baby, Tristyn, was fathered by none other than supposedly squeaky clean teen sensation Justin Bieber. (I might have thrown up a bit in my mouth on this one.)

I don't know what's crazier in this entire scenario: the fact that authorities have said they'd pursue filing statutory rape charges against Yeater if her claim is true (Bieber was 16 years old when the alleged encounter occurred), or the death threats Yeater has gotten from the legions of angry Bieber fans. (Seriously.) Eager to clear his name, Bieber has consented to a paternity test. The whole thing makes me shudder, but I guess it takes all types...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Review: "Domestic Violets" by Matthew Norman

I love it when books surprise me. Quite often while reading Domestic Violets, Matthew Norman's terrific debut novel, I expected the plot to go in a certain direction and I was disappointed that the book would head in that direction, but Norman's storytelling ability surprised me nearly every time. This is one of those books that made me sad when I finished it, because in the few short days it took me to read the book, I became very invested in the characters and their lives.

Thirty-five-year-old Tom Violet is in the midst of a midlife crisis. He and his wife are having relationship issues stemming from their desire to have a second child, he hates his job except for the opportunity to flirt with his younger employee (and antagonize a colleague), and his famous novelist father, Curtis, just won the Pulitzer Prize, and is staying with Tom's family as he abandons yet another wife. Oh, and Tom has written a novel of his own, but no one will read it, mostly because they expect it will be horrible. And this is the high point of Tom's current situation.

I really enjoyed this book because while the dialogue is certainly sharper and funnier than people talk in real life (at least the people I know), I felt as if the characters were very real, experiencing realistic problems and responding in genuine ways. While I found the ending a little too pat given the rest of the book, at least it resolved (somewhat) what happened to all of the characters I had grown attached to. I expected this book to be reasonably good based on the reviews I read, but it far exceeded my expectations. It is funny, compelling, emotionally astute, and really enjoyable. (Yeah, I kinda liked it.) Read it!