29 July 2008

Rendition,....not really a review

We watched Rendition the other night. It was my first HD rental from the iTunes store, and the picture quality was indeed impressive. And Jake Gylenhall is still really hot, even when he's playing a straight guy. That's the extent of my movie review. On to the putative moral message of the movie, concerning torture.

On my reading, the movie was making some sort of impassioned moral plea, attempting to motivate its audience to take up a position of opposition to torture, and particularly to the current US administration's tacit (and sometimes more explicit) sanctioning of interrogation techniques that clearly amount to torture and to the practice of extraordinary rendition. 

OK, that's a bit on the nose (the movie plot, not my summary of it), but fair enough. 

The movie infuriated me, however, because of the lengths it went to to rig the moral game (the game that makes you think torture might be bad). To wit:

The guy being subject to rendition has lived in America for 20+ years, went to NYU, speaks perfect American-accented English, is married to an 8 months pregnant Reese Witherspoon, has the perfect white-person house in the Chicago suburbs, and is just obviously an all-around nice guy. 

I see, so I'm supposed to not want the CIA and its foreign intelligence minions to capture him at O'Hare, put a bag over his head, fly him to Africa, strip him naked, lock him up in a dirty hole, waterboard him, beat him, and subject him to electrical shock?

Wow, however will I be moved to feel that way? 

Please - if we're going to make a movie that opposes torture on moral grounds, is that really the best we can do?

Torture isn't wrong only when it happens to nice (almost) American guys. It's wrong when it happens to human being (and animals too, but I'll leave that aside), any human beings. 

I want to see the movie that seeks to mobilise opposition against torture in which the person being tortured doesn't speak English, doesn't look like an all-American guy, isn't obviously and clearly innocent - and isn't married to an 8 months pregnant Reese Witherspoon. 

The implicit message of Rendition seems to be: let's not condone explicit policies of torture, because we might end up torturing this guy - and that would be bad and probably wouldn't catch us any terrorists. But on the unturned obverse side of that coin we still find the notion that it might be OK to torture a really bad guy, if they had some information that we really needed.

Is there anyone still saying 'no!' to this latent message? Am I in a significant minority of Americans now in thinking that torture (which I would define rather broadly) should be rejected, criticised, and eschewed at all turns and at all costs, not because it's not effective (although that's true) and not because we might do it to a good guy (although that's true too), but because it violently and irrevocably undermines the most sacred principles of democracy?

28 July 2008

Spending money (and other tales of moving)

Moving is kind of like Christmas for those who celebrate the holiday. Not in the tree and gifts and Santa kind of way but in the way that it impacts your budget/fiscal planning for the following 2-6 months. Having done this several times in the last few years, and now doing it the second time across the Atlantic, you get used to it. We don't know what our 'normal' monthly budget/outlay will be because that won't really occur until about November, at which point Christmas will kick in, and thus it will be about March April-ish when things should 'normalize'. At which point the likelihood of us moving next summer will be high, for it is summer and based on past history this means we move, so place your bets ladies and gents.

We are now doing the purchases of the ineffables like insurance (car, renters) and the effables like said car, iPhone (obviously), non-i-related phone for me, furniture for F's office (weird) and clothes. For we have no clothes for this weather (hence my rant about pregno-chic earlier). There is another rant about men's shorts that I believe has already been done over at FFB. Future purchases include anything you use on a daily basis that plugs in: espresso maker, iron, blender, food processor, coffee grinder, hair dryer, lamps, TV, subwoofer, other AV type stuff. And there's the endless research on each of these items (have you met us?). And then the services that go with them (sell soul to Comcast? Nooooooooooo!)

We are getting the inevitable breaking in to the capitalist machine that is US living. We will be good cogs soon. I promise.

22 July 2008

Things Brits might learn from Americans

The other side of the coin, based on 10ish days in country, observing the natives.

un: have a happy, positive outlook! Why not? Chin up, head high, hair back, embracing the world! No more hunched shoulders apologizing for existing! No more mumbling! Laugh loudly, don't chuckle! Use exclamation points!

ail: chat more. with people on the street, with waitstaff, with your drycleaner. show your interest in other people by connecting with them verbally. Without introduction.
recent example:
In REI, from behind, while I'm trying to find a non-materno-fashion shirt: "Love your bag" [me: beat, hestitate, was she talking to me? oh. um...] Thanks! [proceed to chitchat about backpacks, single v. double shoulder, aging computer bags, and then get recommendation on fab running socks that I must have. I buy them. Because we talked, obviously.]
Note to British people trying this out: you have to practice the chat. It takes some doing to generate streams of verbal exchanges that are *not* about the weather. I find commerce facilitates such practice and chatter. Americans connect via the shopping. It's all very friendly.

tre: two words: iced tea. I know I know--it's too cold in Britain for this sort of thing. And sure, tea in its Platonic form is obviously hot, preferably black with cream/milk, and served whenever anyone arrives at your house. These things are all true. But there's something about iced tea that we can separate from tea-ness and put in a different category of icy goodness on a hot day. Of course, you'll need to wait until there is a hot day, and also work out how to do ice trays in drawer-based freezers, so there are infrastructure issues. But still. Iced tea. Genius.

19 July 2008

Good things British Life Taught Me

One: Eat more cream and cream-based products. Low fat is blech. And clotted cream, particularly of the Cornish variety (with the yellow crust on top...) is divine. As is double cream. As is single cream. Any of the creamy goodness varieties really. And yogurt is no good unless there's fat in it. This the British know. They may be the fattest country in Europe, but they are thinner than Americans, and frankly it's not the clotted cream that's getting 'em. It's the McDonalds and the chippies.

Dos: Take holidays. Multiple, often, get-away-from-home type holidays. Maybe even dip your toe in someone else's culture. Mind you, not far enough to be more than about a two minute walk from the nearest Irish/English/Welsh/Scottish pub. But this is easily done in most countries around the world. Sure, the Brits go to somewhat horrid resorts in Spain where you don't really leave the British isles. But they go. And in droves. And regularly. They also invented the 'mini-break' in which you go somewhere for four days. Often last-minute. Americans should do more of this.

Due prime: Work less. On purpose. Fewer hours. Maybe even part time. On purpose. It helps to have your healthcare covered. And more than 2 weeks a year off. But let's just settle for this: take weekends off. By this I mean: don't check the email, hang out with the family, go down the pub with the friends, stay up til 2 am talking, go see a local castle (okay, not as easy in the US, but substitute 'castle' with 'large ball of twine' and you're good to go. My point is: work less.

These are some of the things in the mini capsule of Britishness I'm trying to keep as we move across the Atlantic. We'll see how it goes.

17 July 2008

Too much too much

to blog about.

the bullet points that follow do not exist:

arrived US 10 July with dog in tow. note to self: customs office closes at 4:30, and you need to clear your doggie's papers, so if your flight comes in at 2:30 you better hoof it over there. minor sweat broken.

10th July--T-shirt seen in Whole Foods, Logan Circle: America is Scary. agreed.

Noted: shirts available for humans of the female variety in this land emphasise 'pregnant' look. Conclusion: culture values fertility (especially in its 'junior' girls) and can be considered akin to early 15th century Flanders. Van Eyck would be proud.

petrol is very cheap here. and yet petrol stations must still apologize. poor US drivers.

Realization: we are no longer graduate students. this means we must have washer dryer in the apartment. designated, and preferably covered parking. nice hardwood floors. a bathroom that, well, you'd want to use on a daily basis. a kitchen that doesn't make you want to poke your eyes out. small things. little things.

Spotted: best euphamism for carpetbagger. ever.

And, I am a sucker for a good door. This final image also marks our current stress: given that we're not grad students and thus have trouble finding a decent apartment, should we rent or buy?

07 July 2008

stuff and things

Our things have been packed, aside from the books in our offices which, of course, comprise the majority of the *weight* of our shipment, if not the volume. We are told we had the highest density shipment the movers had ever seen when we moved from CA to Wales, and we were told that we literally had a ton of books at one point in the past, which, well, isn't surprising. Have you met us?

Somehow it feels better now that things are in boxes--it's not our house anymore without our stuff and things. And again, why do we need all this stuff? Could we live in a world where you just move and get a furnished place? Would that drive us insane? You could look for apartments based on size and approach to decorating. Or you could do the Japanese pod-vision of the world, in which your entire apartment is the size of a shipping container, and so you simply detach it from the building and ship it to the new place you're living. Or we could just promise to decorate one house per lifetime. and then thereafter switch around with folks. Or we could just have less stuff.

We did ponder selling everything and not shipping anything. But then when you move, what makes the new place home is the old stuff in the new place. And nomads move their whole house, right? Sigh. 6-8 weeks without our stuff (again), which we will now be calling a 'freeing' experience. That's it, exactly.

03 July 2008

Taking the Long Way 'Round

This is my theme song of late, because I listen to it while rowing. Because it's my state of being. Because it's a great song. and so.

Big news: after almost 5 months on the market, the house has sold! Huzzah! And yay for capitalism, in which we lost the equivalent of my entire year's salary! Huzzah again! But hey, it's only money, right? Yes. Yes. Only money. My pretty.

Big news II: we sold the car on ebay! Huzzah! they are coming by with cash in 10 minutes to pick it up. Sad to see April go. But cash money! Huzzah! We are now carless for a couple of weeks, during which time we will rent/borrow/hijack cars (except the last one, not so much with that).

Both things happened today. I am spinning, unsure whether to be stoked or very very afraid.

T-6 days.