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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Happy Tarot by Serena Ficca Review

Simple, childlike art can be profound. Serena Ficca's Happy Tarot exemplifies this. The Happy Tarot is adorable. You want to pinch the cheeks of its smiling faces. Landscapes are sun-shot and scattered with candy landmarks. In the Fool card, a lad steps, not off a cliff, but off a cupcake. Cartoon characters, mostly eyes and smiles (only a few of the characters have noses), rejoice, mope, and struggle. The Happy Tarot became one of my favorite decks right out of the box. It delighted me in its use of color, its appealing characters, and its insistence on exploring even the darkest Tarot cards to discover what in them holds a unique key to happiness.

The Happy Tarot's images would tickle a child, or lower the defenses of an adult querent edgy about Tarot's spooky reputation. Seeing childlike characters in grown-up clothes taking on the challenges each card presents, using candy as symbols for life's rewards and setbacks, might loosen up the questioner and help him or her to gain perspective on the game of life.

Ficca combines earthier tones with brights and pastels in a sophisticated way. An example is the High Priestess. The rich, deep maroon of the pomegranates pop out from their sunset yellow and orange background. Solomon's pillars are somber purple-gray and taupe-ivory, but their subdued quality provides the perfect backdrop for the card's brighter accents: the pomegranates, the Priestess' blue robe, and her pink throne.

Ficca's use of light is never better than on the Hermit. The Hermit stands alone on a deep forest-green hilltop sprinkled with jimmies and topped with a maraschino cherry. Fruit-flavored clouds float through the night sky overhead. Stars twinkle, brightening tiny pinpricks of darkness. The Hermit is a child in an old man's costume beard. He holds a staff and a lantern. The lantern illuminates his face and his beard, but nothing else. Ficca's use of light here, in this whimsical little illustration, is masterful. It's a cute picture, a funny picture, and also, as much as any other Tarot card in any other deck, a picture that prompts reflection and interior searching. The Moon is another card that shows masterful handling of color. Its blues, olives and ghostly, aurora-borealis-green-white moon combine for a striking image.

In discussing something dubbed the Happy Tarot, I must turn to the Death card. It is beautiful, aesthetically perfect within the deck's system of colors, characters, and composition. The image is traditional: death on a pale horse inexorably approaches its victims, including children and a mitered bishop. These diverse victims are symbolic of universal powerlessness in the face of Death: neither innocence nor position allows escape to any mortal. No one is smiling in this card, but the card does emphasize, through color intensity and placement, the rosy, if distant dawn. Further, this Death is riding a rocking horse. Close inspection reveals that his skull face is merely a mask worn by a child. These touches suggest that Death is part of the game earthbound creatures must play to achieve transcendence. I admire the courage Ficca displayed in creating an image of death, in childlike symbols and references, that doesn't flinch from one of the hardest cards in the Tarot deck, but does not depart from her theme: "You can find happiness by accepting endings as inevitable," the Happy Tarot's little white book assures readers. In fact, all the card explanation begin with, "You can find happiness by…" followed by the gift Ficca discovers in each particular card.

The minor arcana are as well done as the majors. The coins are predominantly olive green, representing earth and money, the cups are predominantly light blue and placed near bodies of water, the wands are predominantly red, pink, and purple, the colors of fire, and the swords are predominantly pale blues and greys, representing air.

There are many lovely touches: the wizened face of the old woman in a babushka in the five of coins, the overwhelmed kid throwing a teary tantrum in the five of cups, and the spring-loaded seahorse being ridden by the knight of cups.

Given that the swords in this deck are wooden and have cross-shaped grips, the three of swords inevitably will call to mind to Christian viewers iconic depictions of Jesus' crucifixion on a hill between two thieves. The four of swords is one of the best versions of that card that I have seen. The ceiling is made of those thin slats of wood one finds in buildings that are hundreds of years old. Light – symbolic of knowledge and inspiration – filters through the stained glass window and falls on the warrior in repose who has laid down his swords, and is, perhaps, seeking guidance from his ancestral heroes, depicted in the stained glass.

The cards in the Happy Tarot follow the Rider-Waite-Smith pattern quite closely. The Fool and Death both have red feathers in their hats. The woman in the nine of coins holds a bird on her wrist, one far too flamboyantly colorful to be a falcon, but perfect for this candy-themed deck. The two of wands character appears to be holding a globe – or a large gumball. The staff in his hand skewers three marshmallows.

The cards are 2.5 inches by 4.75 inches and they shuffle easily. The color coding of the minor arcana aids in getting a quick, bird's eye view of a reading. The minor arcana cards feature their symbol at the top of the card: wooden swords, candy canes (for wands), covered vessels emblazoned with a heart for cups, and pentacles in the center of a coin. The knights have hobby horse heads at the bottom of their cards; the kings and queens have crowns, and the pages have their symbol which looks like a magic wand. The card backs are fully reversible. They depict deep mauve clouds floating near an eyed moon. Lollipops, candy canes, strawberries and an owl float amidst the clouds.

You can purchase the Happy Tarot at Amazon here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Spy: Funny and Worth Seeing

I was really surprised by "Spy." I was surprised because it's billed as a comedy, and I actually laughed out loud, and there was laughter in the theater throughout the film. I can't remember the last time I went to see a new release comedy and that happened. The humor in "Spy" is surprisingly gentle and light hearted. That's surprising because the filmmakers apparently felt it was necessary to build a violent, obscene movie around jokes that a ten-year-old could enjoy while watching the movie with her grandmother. Melissa McCarthy is famously fat, and female, and there is no way males are going to go see a movie starring a fat woman in the numbers box office bean counters want, so the filmmakers added lots of violence and obscene language. That's unfortunate. I know some people who could and would enjoy this movie but they'll never see it because of the violence.

Plot: Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who is the voice in the earpiece of glamorous field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Fine is obviously based on James Bond. The joke is that every move he makes is directed by Cooper, sitting behind her desk at CIA headquarters.

Events conspire to get Cooper out from behind her desk and in the field in glamorous European capitals. She must prevent Chechens from buying a nuclear bomb. It's a James Bond style plot built around Susan's funny character.

A good number of the jokes in the movie concern Melissa McCarthy's weight. Again, I didn't think I'd find these jokes funny, but I did. The butt of the joke is not McCarthy, but how skinnier and prettier people treat a fat woman. The butt of the joke is their stupid prejudice against fat women. The CIA assigns Susan a series of aliases all built around her being a fat loser. One is an "unemployed telemarketer with ten cats." Susan, though, is really heroic and competent. McCarthy is very charming and lovable. You root for her and you are happy when she succeeds.

Jason Statham is hysterical in a small role. He is a living combination of Chuck Norris / Most Interesting Man in the World jokes. Jude Law is a perfect stand-in for James Bond. Peter Serafinowicz, whose distinctive last name I remember from a Holocaust memoir, is very funny as a stereotypical Italian. (Serafinowicz is the grandson of a war criminal.) Alison Janney is terrific.

This movie is good enough that I've already decided to go see the inevitable sequel.

PS: the posters that depict McCarthy as a secondary character are misleading. She is the film's star. Just goes to show you how fearful the marketers are that no one will go to see a movie with a fat, female star. That's a shame. McCarthy is a gem.

Jurassic World: Pretty Dinos; Mediocre Storytelling

"Jurassic World" was a letdown. The dinosaurs look as real as cinematic dinosaurs have ever looked. The storytelling is thuddingly dull. I loved the Steven Spielberg / Michael Crichton 1993 "Jurassic Park." During this film I kept looking at my watch. Even the music is used badly here, something you notice in the first five minutes of the film.

The plot: Jurassic Park has been updated to Jurassic World. Two cute boys visit without their mother. Their aunt is Bryce Dallas Howard, spokeswoman for the park. Vincent D'onofrio wants to weaponize the velociraptors, to use them in the fight against Al Qaeda. Chris Pratt is a velociraptor trainer. Jurassic World has genetically modified dinosaurs into indominus rex, a larger version of a tyrannosaurus rex.

Chris Pratt is hot and masterful and deserves a better movie. Bryce Dallas Howard is pretty but lacks charisma. Vincent D'Onofrio's twitchy, creepy opportunist is the single most interesting and menacing performance in the movie, and that includes the dinos.

None of this – the two cute boys, the absent mother, the aunt-nephew relationship, Pratt's animal training skills, the weaponization of velociraptors – matters worth a darn. Each subplot is given approximately five lines of dialogue and four minutes of screen time. BD Wong pops up at the last minute and he acts like a mad scientist for about ninety seconds; that subplot goes nowhere like all the rest.

There are many scenes of people in a control room staring at a large video screen. Sometimes onscreen action is presented in a color-bleached format, to resemble the image on a computer screen. This control-room-point-of-view device serves only to break up the action into smaller, shorter bites, because in the internet age we all have shorter attention spans and we see reality as on a computer screen, don't ya know.

The opening scenes show visitors enjoying the park. Then of course something goes wrong and the I-rex escapes. The I-rex eats a bunch of people. Some escapees find a twenty-year-old Jeep from Jurassic Park days and drive it away from the I-rex. I don't know much about cars but I do know that there is a car in a local parking lot that's been there for three months and two of its tires have gone flat. I would believe that you could make dinosaurs out of amber before I could believe that a twenty-two-year-old Jeep could be driven.

People outrun dinosaurs, if they are people the movie wants to survive. If they are extras or bad guys, no such luck. And why is it such a bad idea to use velociraptors to fight Al Qaeda?

Bryce Dallas Howard outruns dinosaurs while wearing spike heeled shoes. Really.

It's amazing that dinosaurs have one goal in life – to eat as many people as they can – given that dinosaurs and people didn't inhabit the earth at the same time. An aviary containing pterodactyls is broken. The pterodactyls swarm out of their aviary and have one goal – to eat people. All the pterodactyls immediately fly to the park full of humans and start snapping them up as if they were potato chips – you can't eat just one. This is especially ridiculous given that pterodactyls were lightweight dinosaurs who evolved to eat fish.

Animals in nature kill to eat, to defend their young and their territory, and to establish dominance. Killing is hard work and animals conserve their energy. They don't burn up any more precious calories than they absolutely need to. Timothy Treadwell spent thirteen years annoying one of earth's largest land carnivores, Kodiak bears, before one couldn't take it any more and finally broke down and ate him. Dinosaurs in Jurassic World race through forest, swamp, and parking lots, top speed, mile after mile, passing up other potential prey, in order to eat one particular human being. No real animal has ever behaved that way.

I just didn't care about this movie at all. I missed the original. Wayne Knight, the obnoxious fat guy, and Jeff Goldblum, and his priceless pronunciation of "chaotician." I missed Spielberg's magic touch in moments like the impact tremor in the footprint and "objects in mirror are closer than they appear."

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Idiot's Guide to Surviving a Machete Attack

Kay Wilson survived a machete attack. Her TED talk is superb. I wrote to her and asked for a transcript. She doesn't have one, so I typed up a few of her words as I watched. I didn't get the entire talk. Here is what I got:

The forest rings out with this cosmic symphony
They scream Allahu akbar,
My Christian friend, Christine, cries "Jesus help me."
I hear my own pathetic whimper "Shma Yisrael"
His knife missed my heart by four millimeters

I knew I wasn't in hell because I couldn't hear any country music

How can two men who were once little boys hack at innocent, defenseless women without blinking an eye and smoking a cigarette afterwards.
Choose life. There's more to you than being stabbed. You don't have to live your life in perpetual victimhood.
How can I absorb something so evil into my soul without it consuming me or defining me?

As I trudge through the valley of the shadow of death I have to choose to look to the light
I choose to listen to the songs of the birds and not just the whimper of my friends

Life is the sound of a cork popping out of a 2010 Golan Heights cabernet sauvignon

You can watch her stunning talk here: 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

If Emma Sulkowicz Had Been Raised Christian and Home-schooled

Emma Sulkowicz is the child of two psychiatrists – Sandra Leong and Kerry Sulkowicz – and the product of a highly elite education.

Sulkowicz attended the Dalton School, an elite private prep school. She then attended Columbia, an Ivy League University.

Sulkowicz claimed she was raped by her fellow student, Paul Nungesser. Columbia investigated and found him not responsible.

Paul Nungesser produced online messages from Emma in which she explicitly said to Nugesser, "fuck me in the butt." See quoted material below:

"Emma: fuck me in the butt

Paul: eehm

maybe not?


I miss your face tho

Emma: hahahah

you don’t miss my lopsided ass?

Paul: ido.

just not that much

good I am actually too tired to choose a movie


also to tired to spell apparently"

Sulkowicz continued to interact in a friendly manner with Nungesser after the alleged rape, as texts show.

Sulkowicz, after the alleged rape, carried a mattress around the Columbia campus. She carried it everywhere, including to class and to graduation. She said she would carry it until Nungesser was punished. She became known as Mattress Girl. She called her "performance" "Carry that Weight"

Sulkowicz received numerous prizes and awards. See material, below, quoted from Wikipedia:

"The art world generally responded with enthusiasm to Mattress Performance. Artnet cited it as "almost certainly ... one of the most important artworks of the year," comparing it to Ana Mendieta's Untitled (Rape Scene) (1973) and Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz-Starus's Three Weeks in May (1977).[32]

Performance artist Marina Abramović praised it.[33]

New York Times art critic Roberta Smith described it as "strict and lean, yet inclusive and open ended, symbolically laden yet drastically physical," writing that comparisons to the Stations of the Cross and Hester Prynne's scarlet letter were apparent.

Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York Magazine, included it in his list of the best 19 art shows of 2014, calling "clear, to the point, insistent, adamant ... pure radical vulnerability."Robert Fulford considers that "meaning and value dissolve and art becomes hopelessly debased" in certain works. He mentions Mattress Performance among others.

Nato Thompson, chief curator of Creative Time, said he could not think of another case where art had triggered a movement in the way Mattress Performance had.

Hillary Clinton told the DNC Women's Leadership Forum in September 2014: "That image should haunt all of us ..."

A group called "Carry That Weight" organized a "National Day of Action to Carry That Weight," during which students carried mattresses on 130 US campuses and several elsewhere.

Sulkowicz received the National Organization for Women's Susan B. Anthony Award and the Feminist Majority Foundation's Ms. Wonder Award.

In January 2015 Senator Gillibrand invited Sulkowicz to attend the 2015 State of the Union Address."

On June 6, 2015, Sulkowicz posted a graphic, lengthy, and detailed pornographic video, starring herself, online, at the website linked here:

In this video, shot with four cameras, Sulkowicz is completely naked. Her anatomy is shown without any editing. A fat man is also naked. You see his anatomy clearly. Sulkowicz and the anonymous fat man perform various graphic sex acts, again, all shot with four camera: fellatio, vaginal and anal rape. It appears genuine, not simulated.

At this point, many people are concluding that those who rushed to champion Sulkowicz should have thought twice.

Why didn't they?

If Emma Sulkowicz had been raised by two devout Christians who had homeschooled their child, rather than by two psychiatrists who sent their child to elite schools, she would be on the front page of newspapers all over the country.

People would be labeling her as mentally ill, and they would be condemning and examining the upbringing that produced her.

Instead, we are told we need to bend our consciousness and come to learn how a false rape accusation combined with public sexual exhibitionism is something our society should reward in young women. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner: What We Aren't Talking About

He was the teacher's pet. I was the teacher and he was my pet. Why did I favor him? He had a sixth finger on each hand. That made him stand out. But he was my pet because he was dyslexic. I didn't praise him more than I praised other students, I didn't give him presents, I just took extra time to teach him to read. I did this because I myself am dyslexic. One day he gave me a marble. That was astounding – we were in Nepal, one of the poorest countries on earth. He probably owned just the clothes on his back, canvas sneakers, and this marble, and he gave it to me.

I still have that marble. For years I carried it in my backpack. When that backpack died, I placed the marble in a clear glass container I keep on top of my refrigerator. I never want to forget that student, though I don't even remember his name.

He died in spring of diarrhea. The monsoon starts in spring. People have been defecating in out-of-the-way places all winter. The rains wash a mass of fecal matter into water supplies, and people always die in spring with the onset of the rains.

"Globally, an estimated 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrheal diseases," UNICEF reported in 2013.

I left Nepal decades ago but it's with me today. I think of Nepal and the recent earthquakes. I think of some of the kindest and most beautiful, inside and out, people I've ever met. I think of victims crushed and helpless and very far from help.

When I was a Peace Corps teacher in the Central African Republic, I used to buy my peanut butter in an open-air market. African women made the peanut butter by crushing their harvest of peanuts on smooth rocks with old cans.

I bought my peanut butter from one lady who was about my age – 21 – and who always had a baby tied to her hip with a piece of cloth.

I tried to converse with her in French and Sango, the lingua franca. Her native tongue was a tribal language, neither French nor Sango.

I learned through these stop-and-go conversations that this woman had lost two previous children to scabies. Scabies are mites that burrow under the skin. The scabies themselves don't cause death. The children have dirty fingernails. They scratch at the scabies bites. The scratches become infected. The children die.

This new child also had scabies.

I had no medication. I jumped on trucks; I traveled to a couple of distant towns. I talked to snotty American aid workers who didn't want to help because they thought I was asking for myself. I made it clear that I was asking for an African woman and finally I got my hands on my some medication, brought it back, gave it to my peanut butter lady, and demonstrated through sign language, French and Sango how to use it.

She was so grateful she gave me a chicken and never allowed me to pay for peanut butter again.

I think of the Central African Republic, where two years ago Muslims began a genocide of Christians, and Christians retaliated with a genocide against Muslims, and the world looked on and watched.

I think that this is a beautiful ideal: "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."

I think about the unequal distribution of resources every day. Once you've watched a child starve, I can't imagine that you wouldn't think about these things as I do.

I don't say anything, but when someone tells me that he or she just spent some ridiculous sum on some ridiculous toy, I scream inside.

I once had a boyfriend who thought it made sense to spend a thousand dollars on a pool cue. We fought over this. That relationship died.

I'm thinking about all this this morning because the other day Dr. Anne G Myles, who teaches at the University of Northern Iowa, and who received her own degrees from Bryn Mawr and the University of Chicago – very elite schools – called me an "utterly selfish and mean-spirited asshole on the wrong side of history and justice."

She and I have never met. We were not engaged in a conversation. She read something I wrote about Caitlyn Jenner. You can read that essay here. What I said was that switching pronouns for transgender people is not a good idea. And the good professor, rather than address me with any respect, rather than discuss the ideas at hand, snapped at me as if I were her cleaning woman.

I googled "transgender pronouns" and on the first page of results I found a page saying that "cis gender" people should "shut the fuck up." See that page here.

So, no, we aren't supposed to discuss the fact that we are being asked to change how we use language to accommodate less than one percent of the population that identifies as transgender. We must go along. If we do not, if we think and speak, in however courteous and responsible a way about this societal development, people in power will immediately label us "assholes," and tell us to "shut the fuck up."

We have a right to think and speak. If we redefine "woman" to mean "someone who has cleavage and wears spike-heeled shoes" and appears on the cover of Vanity Fair, non-traditional females like me, who have never owned spike-heeled shoes, or who have had breasts, wombs, and other feminine body parts removed because of cancer, or who are not Vanity Fair cover model material, will be defined as not female – which of course is the fate we suffered under the Feminine Mystique. We worked for decades to say that a woman in a flannel shirt is still a woman, that a woman engineer or mathematician is still a woman, that a woman who isn't pretty is still a woman. The Anne G Myleses of the world want us to change that, and not talk about it before we change it. We have a right to talk about this because it is our language, and our jobs if speech codes come to apply in the workplace, and our money. Obamacare pays for sex change surgery.

People are demanding that I change what pronoun I use, and that is why I am suddenly aware of Bruce Jenner / Caitlyn Jenner, someone I otherwise never thought about. I do not have a TV and I have not watched "Keeping up with the Kardashians" and I just now required both Google and Wikipedia to discover the name of the show.

I care about language because I speak. I care about what society says about gender because I'm a woman who has always been given a hard time because I am what used to be called a tomboy – I'm taller than average, I've never been pretty, I don't wear makeup, I spend my free time in the woods, and I unscrew my own jars. At the same time, I am bad with math, machinery and computers and I really do need a man to rescue me at least once a month, and men are generally kind enough to do so.

I like that feminism encouraged society to embrace and support tomboys like me. I lived in Poland and while there I felt societal pressure to be more feminine than I am and I hated it. So, yes, this all matters to me. When people in power like Anne G Myles insist that we have to define "woman" as "someone fluffy and feminine and self-trivializing" I see society take giant leaps backward and I don't want to go along.

So, yes, I have been reading about Caitlyn Jenner.

Here's a little Caitlyn Jenner fact that very few people are talking about: cost.

Some say the new face cost $70,000. Some say the complete transition cost four million dollars.

I have no idea if any of those numbers are correct.

In any case, Caitlyn's appearance is not cheap.

In a Facebook conversation, one poster said that Caitlyn was a great role model for seven-year-old transgender children.

I'm not supposed to question that, because if I do question that, the gender gestapo will descend.

I'm questioning it anyway.

Is a four million dollar transformation really a role model for a seven-year-old child? Or an adult who identifies as transgender? According to the Movement Advancement Project, transgender people are disproportionately very poor. Is dangling an unattainable, multi-million-dollar makeover in front of them a responsible thing to do? Even basic gender reassignment surgeries, without all the refinements Jenner enjoys, can costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Can we talk about this allotment of resources? Or if we do will we be arrested and thrown into Politically Correct thought crime jail?

The Daily Beast published "Obamacare Now Pays for Gender Reassignment" on August 25, 2014. You can read it here.

In it, forty-something Devin Payne said that he felt uncomfortable in the role of husband to his wife and provider to his four children. "I was just horrible at it because it wasn't who I was." "He felt increasingly anxious, and in late 2012, a therapist helped him to realize that he was meant to live as a woman. Payne said his entire outlook on life changed when he started taking female hormones."

Taxpayers footed the bill.

It is not established science that gender reassignment surgery is the only course to health for some people. On June 12, 2014, Johns Hopkins psychiatrist-in-chief Paul McHugh argued that gender reassignment surgery is so questionable that Johns Hopkins, "the first American medical center to venture into 'sex-reassignment surgery'" "launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not." On the basis of that study, they stopped doing gender reassignment surgery. You can read his account in the June 12, 2014 Wall Street Journal here.

On July 30, 2004, The Guardian, a liberal publication, wrote "There is no conclusive evidence that sex change operations improve the lives of transsexuals, with many people remaining severely distressed and even suicidal after the operation, according to a medical review conducted exclusively for Guardian Weekend tomorrow."

On November 11, 2014, The Federalist published "Trouble in Transtopia: Murmurs Of Sex Change Regret: Transgender People Who Regret Their Sex Changes Typically Get Buried in Venom Rather Than Loved."

The article contains sobering testimonies from those who regret having had gender reassignment surgery, including this one, "What's scary is you still feel like you have a penis when you're sexually aroused. It's like phantom limb syndrome. It's all been a terrible misadventure. I've never been a woman, just Alan . . . the analogy I use about giving surgery to someone desperate to change sex is it's a bit like offering liposuction to an anorexic."

And this, "I get a lot of letters from people who are considering having this operation…and I discourage them all."

The cost, way out of the range of what most can afford. The reports of regret. The lack of established science. The demand to change language, and to change the definition of woman back to the feminine mystique version.

We need to talk about this. And we need to respectfully overcome those who would shout us down.