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November 2005
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January 2006

My top ten movies of 2005

I watched 142 movies in 2005 many of which I briefly reviewed on this blog. My top ten are:

  1. Aileen Wuornos: The Life And Death Of A Serial Killer
  2. Southern Comfort
  3. Be Good, Smile Pretty
  4. The Human Stain
  5. Koyla
  6. Hotel Rwanda
  7. The Sopranos, the fifth season
  8. Sex Feet Under, the third season
  9. Rory O’Shea Was Here
  10. Embedded/Live

And if I could choose one more for extra credit it would be

   11. Crash

My top 5 books of 2005

Here's the list of books which I finished in 2005. I read a lot more than this, but many I don't finish.

Books 2005


The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-time by Mark Haddon

The Broker by John Grisham

In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Shattered Dreams by Catherine Butler

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld         

Witness by Karen Hesse

Blues and Trouble by Tom Piazza

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Darkness Is As Light by David B. Seaburn

The Rule Of Four by Ian Caldwell

Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi

The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre

Heart Songs by Annie Proulx


Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Lucky: A Memoir by Alice Sebold

Life’s Journeys According To Mr. Rogers by Fred Rogers

Like Shaking Hands With God by Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer

Grand Central Winter by Lee Stringer

The Fight Within by Norma Miller

Bush On The Couch by Justin Frank

The Road To Seneca Falls by Judith Wellman

Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut

Republican Like Me by Harmon Leon

My top five are:

1. The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-time by Mark Haddon

2. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

3. Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut

4. Darkness Is As Light by David B. Seaburn

5. Witness by Karen Hesse

I choose them for various reasons not necessarily literary merit but more so because they moved me in some way and I find them memorable.

My book choice for extra credit would be:

6. Lucky: A Memoir by Alice Sebold

It's class warfare in the U.S.: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer thanks to Republican congress

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put an article on its web site on 12/28/05 which begins..........

Sometime early next year, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the budget reconciliation legislation that the Senate passed on December 21 and the House passed in a slightly different version on December 19. That legislation would make significant cuts in a number of programs serving low- and moderate-income families and individuals, including Medicaid, child support enforcement, and student loans.

Supporters of the legislation defend the cuts as “tough choices” that need to be made because of large and growing budget deficits. These claims are undercut by the fact that, in the last six weeks, the House has passed four tax-cut bills that together cost more than twice what the budget reconciliation bill saves. The claims are further undermined by Congress’s unwillingness to rethink any previously enacted tax cuts as part of its supposed reevaluation of priorities in light of deficits.

To see a pie chart of what percentage of these new tax cuts go to what income groups click on the link below.

View this photo

Link: Two Tax Cuts Primarily Benefiting Millionaires Will Start Taking Effect January 1, 12/28/05.

Contextual therapy: a model based on fairness

I am reading "Doing Contextual Therapy" by Peter Goldenthal in which he reviews a model for therapy pioneered by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy called Contextual Therapy.
One of the things that has always attracted me to Contexual Therapy is its ethical framework.   This ethical framework is also integrative in that it applies to individuals, couples, families, commnities, nations and globally. Perhaps it is in this ethical perspective that we tie together the clinical and the political. The overrriding question always that a Contextual Therapist would ask is "Is it fair?" This is a facilitative questions for the parties involved in the consultation to answer, not the therapist. Here is what Goldenthal says on pg. 6 of this book,
"...In contextual therapy the superordinate framework is not theoretical, but ethical. The fundamental defining goal is to help people be more considerate in their relationships with those closest to them, give more spontaneously and freely of themselves to those in their families, and state their own needs and wishes in a spirit of open dialogue."
The two main goals of Contextual therapy is to help people acknowledge the positive things other people do and have done by "giving credit" and by acknowledging current and past injustice. This leads to a repair of harm and an acknowledgement of strength and resource that is validating and enhancing.
        At a political level it reminds me of the bumper sticker which reads "If you would have peace, first seek justice."
        Justice or fairness is brought about in the contextual therapy model by accountability not by revenge and retribution. Accountability, in my mind, is the middle way, not violence and domination fueled by revenge, nor laissez-faire permissiveness, letting things go, but calling a spade a spade and taking things by the the horns.
        "Fairness" is always multilaterally defined and requires systemic awareness and a level of consciousness not always available to decision makers or participants. Therapists attempt to facilitate the creation of that higher awareness and consciousness. This, of course, is a collaborative process, not the enlightened master or expert shedding light.
Contextual therapy is also very sensitive to power relations and recognizes that power corrupts in the hands of the unaware and immature. There are plenty of examples of that. Hubris, arrogance, "steadfastness" meaning rigidity or stubborness in the face of new information is always cause for alarm. One of the definitions of addiction is continuing to do the same old thing, hoping for a different result.
         Setting boundaries often is a sign of wanting things to be more fair especially in the face of what the contextual model calls "destructive entitlement" and "invisible loyalties". Goldenthal says on p. 16, "...there is always the risk that such individuals will justify hurting others or be unmoved by the suffering of others based on their own past injuries." When this form of injustice occurs and attempts at accountability fail, the setting and enforcement of boundaries often becomes necessary for the health of both parties.
        I will continue to post some thoughts on Contextual therapy as I continue to read and reflect on Goldenthal's book.

Quote of the day

"Of course, all close relationships involve a measure of taking care of the other, but there is a dramatic difference between relationships in which this caretaking balances out over time and those in which one person does all the giving all the time"

Peter Goldenthal, Doing Contextual Therapy, p. 20

The Year Of Magical Thinking, part 5

In Joan Didion's book, The Year Of Magical Thinking, which she wrote after her husband, John Dunne, died suddenly of a heart attack, and her daughter, Quintana, was hospitalized twice for life threatening illnesses, she speaks about the self pity that can occur after the death of a loved one.

Why, if these were my images of death, did I reamin so unable to accept the fact that he had died? Was it because I was failing to understand it as something that had happened to him? Was it because I was still understanding it as something that had happened to me?

Joan had written a poem shortly after her husband's death that goes like this.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

She then says, "You see how early the question of self pity entered the picture." p.77

Self-pity it seems to me to some extent is appropriate and legitimate. The loss does happen to the mourner. The problem is that it is not JUST about them. The loss affects other people too. And it is Okay to seek some sympathy, but to become narcissistically absorbed to the point where one cannot relate to other people's pain as well does strike me as not only "self-pity" but uncaring and maybe even exploitive of others.

Death for peope inclined to self-pity can become high drama and it can be milked for attention in dysfunctional ways that become unfair to other people. To the drama queen or king you would like to say, "Everybody dies. Get over it."

As Joan describes her experience, it doesn't seem to me that she indulges in self-pity. She is well aware of this trap and can write about it in a candid fashion. This self awareness prevents the dysfunctional aspects of self-pity.

Shortly after the deaths of Brigid and Ryan, I was driving somewhere and I noticed a car with a bumper sticker which read "Mega shit happens." I had seen the bumper stickers, popular in the early 90s, which read "Shit happens", but I had never seen one before that read "Mega shit happens". I figured that what had happened to me and my family as the result of Brigid's and Ryan's deaths met the criteria of "mega shit". I felt an urge to follow the car so I could talk to the driver and find out where he had gotten the bumper sticker so I could go buy 1,000 of them. I realized that the desire was full of self pity because I wanted to broadcast to the world my tragedy, our tragdey, but I wound up laughing at myself for the imagined self indulgence. The world doesn't need to know my pain through "Mega shit happens" bumper stickers because it already has enough of its own and most people are well aware from their own experience that "mega shit" happens. They don't need to be reminded. They might, however, want to share a bit of their own grief.

Perhaps the better bumper sticker would be, "Grief happens. Tell me about yours."

Quote of the day

"When do "strong" leaders become pig headed and tyrannical? It's when their little minds become threatened by other views of a situation that doesn't fit their paradigm. At that point, their anxiety rises and they become dangerous or implode."

Harry Holleywood

Fun with Dick and Jane, the film

Fun_with_dick_and_jane Fun With Dick and Jane starring Jim Carey and Tea Leoni is Jim Carey slapstick but with a satirical joke on Enron, Worldcom, Healthsouth, and other corruption scandals of the 90s and early 2000s.

Dick Harper gets laid off as Globodyne goes bankrupt due to corporate corruption. Poor Dick and Jane can't pay the mortgage to sustain their affluent lifestyle so they turn to crime. In the end they really are Robin Hoods whose intentions are good because they really favor wealth redistribution.

As I was watching this film, there were preteens running in and out of the theater and poking each other because they didn't understand the story and the humor. In 20 years, unless there are some structural changes in the U.S. economy, they will get the humor but they might be in positions where they won't find it funny.

This movie is simplistic but it does work on several levels. It is not just a slapstick comedy. It also has a point. For Americans who lost their pensions and got hosed by the corrupt corporate practices, you either laugh or cry. If I had lost my whole retirement and life savings, I'm not sure this movie would be enough to make me laugh. If I had not lost my retirement and savings and wanted a good laugh at the expense of the some of the thieves running these corporations and the country, then this movie is good for some chuckles.

I am wondering what it says about our pop culture when horrendous white collar crime which affects hundreds of thousands of people is portrayed as comedy while street crime where only a few people are affected is portrayed as thriller high drama?

What does it say when smart, affluent, powerful people who engage in white collar crime are viewed as celebrities to be emulated if possible? Is there no honor and virtue any more in America among the well educated, connected, and affluent upper classes?

I recommend Fun with Dick and Jane.

Link: Fun with Dick and Jane (2005).

The civilian deaths in the war with Iraq

The estimate of civilian deaths in Iraq up to September 2004 is 100,000 according to a scientific public health study published in the Lancet in October 2004.

This American Life has an excellent show, number 300, which aired on 10/28/05 entitled "What's In A Number?" in which this study is discussed and the question is asked how many innocent civilian casualties is too many?

What do we do with these numbers anyway? So if in fact 100,000 Iraqis died because of the war, and that number's a year old ... what do we do with that number? It instantly brings you to all these imponderable questions about what's worth 100,000 dead. In a way, this doesn't seem like a helpful question to think about.

You can listen to this show on line and it is well worth it if you are interested in this topic. To go to the This American Life website click below and scroll down to the show which aired on 10/28/05

Link: From WBEZ in Chicago | 2005 Show Archive.