Monday, July 30, 2012

The Olympics Has Overtaken My House (As Has a Rogue Yankee Fan)

My 13-year-old daughter has been consumed by serious Olympics mania and it's threatening to overtake the house.

However I'm having a hard time putting the kibosh on her enthusiasm because the Olympics are the one time when women's sports receives even close to the volume and quality of media attention as the male athletes receive, so I've decided I'm going to try not to sweat her watching the events too often on TV (or on my iPad that she's slyly squired away from my office).

In the process, I'm kind of getting into the Olympic games too. Loved the Queen-James Bond thing during the otherwise yawn-fest known as the Opening Ceremonies. (I Tweeted all manner of snark during the ceremonies but couldn't stay up to the end. The Girl put herself to bed that night.) The Olympic events have been relatively exciting fare, though I could do with fewer shots of U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte's flashing his ridiculous diamond-encrusted American flag grill. (What a way to ruin a good photo of the talented swimmer.)

Now that we're several days into this, it's growing tough for me not to get on my daughter's case as she's watching events for hours. But I have to keep in mind somewhat inane house rule that I decreed many moons ago in a weak moment: Watching sports or news doesn't really count as the sedentary evil known as "watching TV." (That way they won't harass me when I'm watching hours of the now sad Boston Red Sox or am riveted to Morning Joe.)

The same, however, won't go for my now 11-year-old son who'll demand the opportunity to watch a gazillion episodes of wholesome fare like The Simpsons or Family Guy that he's recorded on our DVR. He will and in fact has argued that, hey, ya know, if she's watching TV he should get to watch TV too. (My response to his protests, "Dude, you can watch the Olympics too.")

Speaking of the 11-year-old and the Olympics . . .  I remain curious about for which country he'll be rooting during the games. It's not necessarily a given that he'll be rallying 'round the Stars and Stripes. You see, he's been in a rather defiant stage when it comes to sports teams for several years now, with no sign of easing up.

Many years ago, the kid decided, for some unexplained reason, that he was going to be a Yankees fan . . . when he lives in the heart of Red Sox Nation and hails from 100 percent Red Sox lineage. After I got over my initial shock, I argued with The Spouse that it was just a phase and that if we fought it or tried to persuade him of the error of his ways, his faux affection for the Evil Empire would become even more strident. So when we allowed him to get a Yankees cap, as much as it went against every that is good and holy, I figured this infatuation would be short-lived.

I was wrong.

In fact, his Yankees fan taunting has become more vocally grating this season as the Red Sox have fared about as well as Michael Dukakis' presidential general election campaign while the Yankees sit smugly atop the AL East. And The Youngest Boy, he's reveling in the mire of this Sox season, gloatingly calling my attention to the standings as I read the paper while drinking my morning coffee each morning. (Yes, I'm a dinosaur. I still read an actual, paper newspaper.)

So when we all sit down, as a family, to watch the Olympics together, I'm never certain for whom the kid'll be rooting. (Watching Sox-Yankees games have been rather unpleasant as of late as you might imagine.) But if he chooses to root for the team that's playing against the U.S. women's soccer team, he'll be on his own facing the wrath of his super-fan of a sister.

Loyalties aside, the grousing The Girl has done -- about the officiating at the U.S. Women's soccer game, about what she sees as an injustice done to Jordyn Wieber who'll be ineligible for the all-around gymnastics competition because the Olympic rules limit eligibility to two gymnasts per team -- has been epic. But it's only because of her unbound affection for all things U.S. women's soccer and U.S. women's gymnastics. The posters she made and placed in our family room featuring great female U.S. Olympians, while she's been donning her Abby Wambach jersey and eating the red, white and blue cupcakes she baked just for the Olympics, are visual reminders to her dedication. Crossing his parents and rooting for the Yankees is one thing. Crossing his sister and rooting against the U.S. women's soccer team is another thing entirely.

Go team.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Notes on Pop Culture: Periodical Beach Reading, The Newsroom & Political Animals

*Cross-posted on Notes from the Asylum*

I spent the past week on a Cape Cod family vacation where I swam, biked (rode a bike for the first time in many, many years), enjoyed sunsets, fresh seafood and got thoroughly and embarrassingly crushed on a farm-themed mini-golf course. (The Youngest Boy handily kicked my behind.)

But when we weren't scanning the seas for seals, the favorite snack of sharks  -- we were a few miles away from that Cape beach where a shark chased a kayaker -- I was gorging on the heaps of reading material I brought along (an academic book and Lord of the Rings, both for a research project I'm working on, along with a bunch of periodicals). Here's what kept me entertained (other than pretending I didn't hear my children's bickering and pleas for me to intervene and referee):

New Yorker: For a Boston area resident, I was rather sickeningly Gotham-centric this past week. I got substantial sunscreen and sand all over the July 9/16 issue of The New Yorker and enjoyed the long review of Douglas Brinkley's new Walter Cronkite biography by Louis Menand which included a fascinating debate over whether a Cronkite comment, coupled with the anchor's pessimistic view about American success in Vietnam, prompted LBJ not to run for a second term.

An article that sparked a beach-side conversation with The Spouse was by James Surowiecki about businesses that aren't hiring new employees because, the article asserts, employers are being too picky despite ample options:

"When companies complain that they can't find people with the right 'skills,' they often just mean that they can't find people with the right experience . . . Thanks in part to the sheer number of applications, screening of applicants is automated, with computers evaluating resumes according to pre-set criteria. Fail to meet one of those standards, and your application gets tossed, even if a good H.R. director might have spotted your potential."

How depressing.

Speaking of depressing . . . I was also riveted by "The Hunger Diaries," excerpts from American writer Mavis Gallant's journals written in 1952 when Gallant was literally starving for her art while living in Spain.
New York Magazine: The July 9 cover story, "Does Money Make You Mean?" ignited another lively debate with its provocative accompanying art (some of which we hid from the kids).

Citing various work by researchers who are delving into whether money causes people to be less humane and whether people who seek money share those same traits or whether the entire "less humane" question is bogus baloney, writer Lisa Miller worded her central query this way: "How does living in an environment defined by individual achievement -- measured by money, privilege and status -- alter a person's mental machinery to the point where he beings to see the people around him only as aids or obstacles to his own ambitions?"

New York Times: In between the pages of the Old Gray Lady, I greatly related to a Sunday Styles section meditation, "Friends of a Certain Age," about the challenge of making and keeping friends as we get older:

"In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children's play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends -- the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis -- those are in shorter supply.

As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends."

The article also addressed how the parents of your kids' friends wind up being your friends too . . . only as long as the kids all get along.

In the same section, I found a scary story by Lee Siegel who accidentally sent Linked In friend invitations to all 974 contacts in his address book including deceased people, "lawyers, landscapers, accountants, literary agents, babysitters, window-installers, art dealers, ex-girlfriends, the ex-boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend . . . obstetricians, dentists, ophthalmologists, gastroenterologists, urologists, psychologists, pediatricians, billing offices for all of the preceding . . . my ex-wife [and] two litigious former landlords."

The Newsroom: As for TV, I saw the latest two episodes of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama The Newsroom which, I've decided, has officially hooked me with its cutting dissection of contemporary cable TV news. Yes, it can be preachy, annoyingly preachy and smugly sanctimonious as well. The second episode irritated me with its relentless focus on two of the female staffers falling to pieces over their love lives. But by the fourth episode -- "I'll Try to Fix You," which I reviewed here -- that got me.

Political Animals: I also caught the first installment of USA's mini-series (the network is calling it a "limited series event") Political Animals where Sigourney Weaver plays Elaine Barrish, otherwise known as Hillary Clinton had Clinton dumped Bill right after she lost her 2008 presidential bid. It also features a tough reporter, who wrote nasty pieces about Barrish's ex, shadowing Secretary of State Barrish around for a week for a story. The show felt crisp, the relationship between the reporter and Barrish is promising and the political manipulations entertaining (better than the boring, real life presidential race we've got goin' on right now). Looking forward to seeing more of this "limited" event.

Image credits: Amazon and New York Magazine.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Taking a Blogging Break

I'll be spending some "quality" time with the Picket Fence Post family over the next week . . . whether that will include refereeing sibling spats, arguing with my offspring about what movie we should see, making fresh meals the juveniles won't eat and being accused of being a parent who's "mad with power" remains to be seen. What does that mean for the Picket Fence Post? No new entries 'til next week, Tuesday July 17 to be exact.