For My Mother, on the Eve of the Public Impeachment Inquiry

My mother was glued to the television every minute of the Watergate hearings when PBS began broadcasting them on May 17, 1973. I was a senior in high school then, and although I’m sure I must have left the house from time to time that summer before college, I was often alongside her, riveted. My mother had spent a lot of the preceding years chain-smoking and cursing every time Richard Nixon showed up on TV, and I lived with equal parts admiration and fear that one day her turquoise glass ashtray full of butts would go hurtling across the living room and shatter the screen.

The testimony itself proved shattering enough: John Dean’s complicity turned into conscience; Alexander Butterfield inadvertently revealing the White House taping system that eventually led to the “smoking gun” tape proving Nixon’s direct involvement in the cover-up and obstructing justice. I don’t remember at what point we put a bottle of champagne in the fridge in anticipation of celebrating the president’s demise after invincibility slowly turned to inevitability. But I remember popping it the night of August 8, 1974, when Nixon announced his resignation, effective at noon the next day.

Those times seem long ago and in a galaxy far, far away. They’ve been beautifully captured by James Poniewozik, chief television critic for the New York Times. I’ve been aching for my mother all day long, and his account makes me ache even more for a time in which accountability and truth mattered.

My mother would have turned 96 just last month, but she’s been dead since 1995. I often look up into the stars at night and think, “Thank God you’ve missed this, it would kill you.” I was grateful that my mother died with her adoration of Bill Clinton intact, unsullied by his impeachment scandal. I could imagine ashtrays hurtling once again through the air when the Supreme Court declared Bush the winner in 2000. Although I’m sorry she missed the Obama years (she would have been equally thrilled by Hillary), I was thankful she missed 9/11, Iraq, endless wars. Trump’s election would surely have finished her off. (I feel that way myself much of the time, and do not have my mother’s habit of smoking to relieve the anxiety.)

But I do wish I could have her on the couch right now, riveted, alive with fury. I love to imagine her devouring then adding to her shelves all the books about Trump (and his fall) to her extensive Watergate library.

Right now, the prospect of popping champagne seems dim. But if and when it comes, I’ll raise a glass to you, Mom.

Let Us Eat Cake!

Five minutes after the power came on after a three-day outage, I started baking an ice cream cake. Not the usual kind, with yummy layers of Mocha Almond Fudge and hot fudge sauce layered into graham cracker crust and left in the freezer, but my own invention–a variation of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Fans of Shrinkrapped may recall that our emergency preparations for the “safety” power outages PG&E implemented as fire control mostly involved grabbing a spoon and enjoying our dozen or so pints of premium Haagen Dazs. We lost our power a bit before 8:30 Saturday night, and since I failed to set my alarm to get up at 2:00 to dig in, my Sunday breakfast consisted of a fantastic, very thick Chocolate-Chocolate Chip and Cookies and Cream ice-cold milkshake, rivaling the Creamy Dreamies we used to get at the Lagunitas market on our way back from a day at the beach.

Jonathan, insufficiently committed to self-destructive acts for the greater good, left most of the dirty work to me. But between the two of us, we managed to polish off close to three pints while the ice cream was still in this near-perfect state of soft serve. I nobly continued for another pint or so after the melted stuff resembled chilled creamy soup. But hey, if people get excited about vichyssoise, what’s the difference? Eventually, however, even I had to admit that suffering indigestion and weight gain for this salvage operation might not be the best idea.

“It’s mostly cream, isn’t it?” Jonathan asked as we forlornly surveyed our losses. “Couldn’t we use it to make cake when the power comes back on?”

Right away I thought of my recipes that used milk. The one that uses the most—chocolate chip cake—is also Jonathan’s favorite. I figured the melted ice cream also contained a fair amount of sugar and butter, so before we could reset our clocks, I was measuring out ingredients. I wanted to get that sucker into the oven in case we lost power again.

“I’m not making the frosting until we know how it’s turned out,” I told Jonathan. We had a test slice after dinner—our first meal not cooked on our Coleman camp stove in three days. Yum! I wasted no time in making the frosting to complete my masterpiece. Unfortunately, I had only one-quarter of the amount of confectioners’ sugar required—not because of power outages, but because of a lapse in my usual hoarding of staple ingredients (i.e., anything used for baking). So I made glaze instead of frosting, and the cake was even better. The only improvement would be to serve it up with a big scoop of ice cream.

Which, unfortunately, we no longer have.

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Here’s the original recipe, with comments for how to improve it, with or without salvaged ice cream:

Real Chocolate Chip Cake—12 servings (make in a 10-inch high-quality Bundt or tube pan; if poor quality, there’ll be hell to pay in the form of a lot of yummy chocolate-laden cake top sticking to the pan, which you then have to pry loose and patch onto the rest of the cake. Or eat from the pan, and call it a day.)

3 cups flour                                                 1 tsp. vanilla

3-1/2 tsp. baking powder                          1 cup butter or margarine, softened

`1 tsp. almond extract                                ¾ tsp. salt

1-1/3 cups milk                                          1-3/4 cups sugar

4 eggs                                                        12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips–mini best

Preheat oven to 350. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In large bowl, combine butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually add in flour mixture alternately with milk. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured 12-cup bundt or tube pan (approx. 10-inch). Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes (I recommend checking at 50—it’s invariably overbaked if it goes for a full hour). Remove from oven and cool in pan 10-15 minutes. Then turn onto serving plate. If you have failed to use a high-quality pan and it doesn’t come out in one beautiful piece, enjoy the patching or gorging job ahead of you. Cool completely, then top with chocolate frosting or glaze (I recommend either doubling or at least increasing by 50% for good coverage of the cake; or, if you use less sugar to keep it at glaze consistency, you can attractively drizzle it over the cake assuming you don’t need to disguise broken cake from using a cheap pan).

Chocolate Glaze: Combine ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, ¼ cup boiling water, ½ tsp. cinnamon, and 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar. Blend until smooth. I find it easiest to do in a food processor or blender, but if you double it, be careful so it doesn’t blow chocolate liquid all over your kitchen. (I doubled all the ingredients before I realized I had very little confectioners sugar, so only used about half cup of that–it made a fine glaze, though good to refrigerate it a little bit before topping cake so it isn’t so runny.)

Waste-Not, Want-Not Adaptation: Instead of the milk, I used 2-1/2 cups melted Haagen Dazs ice cream (I used Cookies and Cream, but any vanilla-based ice cream should do. You’re on your own if you favor minty or fruity flavors.) I used only one cup of sugar, and about 12 tbsp. of butter. I baked it for 60 minutes, and wish I had taken it out at 50 or 55 minutes—it will bake a bit longer as it cools in the pan.

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Also, the best things to have during a power outage: a portable solar phone charger; a Coleman stove; a sense of perspective; and a profession that doesn’t depend on electricity–in my case talk therapy.

Emergency Preparations

We’re a little bit on edge in California these days, what with earthquakes, Trump’s vendetta against the state, and, of course, wildfires. Massive numbers of alerts arrive telling us our power may or may not be shut off, for some indeterminate length of time. Lines for gas and bags of ice are long. Ire at Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility everybody loves to hate for good and not-so-good reasons is mounting.

We live in an area where the power rarely goes out, and we can make a dash by foot and be at the main drag in 30 seconds if necessary. Last night we practiced opening our garage doors manually. I pointed out the easily evacuated boxes of Christmas tree ornaments I’ve been collecting for the past 30+ years, and Jonathan rolled his eyes. We determined that our battery-powered lanterns are dead, but located three flashlights, put out a bunch of candles, found our solar phone charger and respirator masks, and have a full tank and a full charge for our cars. We have about 30 bags of chocolate chips in the downstairs cupboard. And maybe a can or two of tuna, plus several cans of beans. Our mostly empty go bags are at the ready, which probably indicates that our evacuation plan involves looting rather than preparation.

BUT, we’re totally ready to observe the #1 rule of power outages if you kind of ignore the one about not opening your refrigerator and freezer: Grab a spoon and eat all that ice cream before it melts!

Stay safe, everyone.

In Remembrance

Candle in the dark

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I wrote this post on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and offer it again today in commemoration. I hope we can some day live in a world where the best of humanity prevails.

As usual, I went to yoga Sunday morning, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mostly I go for the effect on my muscles, not my spirit. But on this solemn day my yoga teacher lit a candle in remembrance, and invited us to practice Tonglen, breathing in all that is troublesome in the world, acknowledging it, then transforming it into compassion and peace on the exhale. After a few minutes, the class continued with its typical focus on backs, necks, and hips, or, as one member put it, “the usual overall soreness.”

At the end of the class, after the stretching and the Namaste, another member shared what happened to her Turkish and Egyptian friends ten years ago. They owned a restaurant in Manhattan, which they managed to keep open after the towers fell despite the chaos and lack of customers. Late at night three white men came in. They trashed the place. One of the owner’s friends managed to slip away and call the police. Soon the men who had destroyed the restaurant were apprehended and brought back to be identified before they could be charged.

“Yes, those are the men,” the owners told the police, who were eager to throw the book at them.

But the owners refused to press charges.

“This is a difficult day,” they said. “We understand their grief and rage. Let them go.”

Incredulous, the police did so reluctantly.

A few hours later, the three men came back with some of their friends, pressing upon the owners fistfuls of cash for the damage. The men helped clean up as best they could, and continued to come for the next several weeks until things were put right again.

Sometimes forgiveness is the most effective kind of justice. It is much more likely than hatred or revenge to spawn atonement. This is the lesson so often lost in our decade of fear and grief and war. But it is one worth remembering as we light a candle; breathe in trouble and sorrow; breathe out compassion and peace; and seek to ease the overall soreness of the world.

Break (almost) from Reality

“It’s so surreal hiking through these meadows in the morning then reading about mass shootings in the afternoon,” remarked my husband, Jonathan.

We were in Mt. Ranier National Park, which had no cell phone service and very spotty wi-fi only at the visitor center. It took forever to download anything because of all the hundreds of tourists, including us, not quite sold on the idea of a totally unplugged vacation, desperate to log on. We persisted until the crowds thinned, triumphantly downloading email and the New York Times. That’s how we knew about the murders in El Paso and Dayton. That’s how we knew why the flag in front of the visitor’s center was at half-mast.

Hell might have been breaking out, but here we were in Paradise. That’s what this main area of Mt. Ranier National Park is called. And it truly was. In case you need a break from the real world, enjoy!

Jonathan said it looked like Mt. Ranier was projected on a blue screen. The mountain loomed everywhere we looked. We were walking around in a 3-D postcard. I felt we had stepped right into the pages of my Sierra Club engagement calendars, which always feature the unbelievable flower meadows carpeting the flanks of the sleeping volcano.

There were lakes and more flowers . . .

. . . and even some wild (and not so wild) life:

We spent several more days in the Sunrise area of Mt. Ranier National Park:

With more incredible wildflowers:

Alas, after ten days, we needed to return to reality. Which reminds me of a great T-shirt I saw on the trail–very helpful for the transition back to what we now face:

Moon Dreams

Moon and poppy collage (colored paper and toner, hand-cut and layered in quarter-inch strips), early work by my artist daughter

Fifty years ago today, I was 14 years old and standing with my parents in central Copenhagen, looking up. So were thousands of others–Danes and tourists from all over the world, jammed into the streets, craning our necks to see.

Our collective gaze fell not on the moon (it was the middle of the day), nor on a TV screen (there were no nearby stores with banks of televisions, and Jumbotrons hadn’t been invented yet). Instead, we were plugged into the moon landing through one of those electronic billboards flashing the news, the pixellated words chasing each other around the top of a skyscraper.

The crowd gasped, and my parents and I were caught up in the excitement. Only slowly did it dawn on us that we didn’t exactly know what was happening. We could make out obvious cognates like “Apollo” and “astronauts,” but we had no idea if the men had crashed or landed safely.

There was no confusion about the unity of the crowd, however. Even though the Apollo mission was born out of intensive nationalistic rivalry, all divisions and ill-will ceased to exist in that moment. We were one people–fearful, hopeful, awestruck–transcending the bounds of petty earthliness.

This is what I remember of the moon landing. That unity, good-will, and collective purpose feel scarce today when we need it more than ever. I dream of its return.

April, Before She Goes

“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot

“April, come she will,” Simon and Garfunkel

April did indeed come, and with certain cruelties this year: acts of violent hatred around the globe, from Sri Lanka to a synagogue near San Diego; another devastating cyclone in Mozambique, and the climate catastrophe it portends; the daily anxieties of a harrowing news cycle in a fracturing nation and world. And for us personally, a dear friend died unexpectedly.

April may be the cruelest month, but it is also the month of spring wildflowers. This year’s ample rains in California have yielded a magnificent display, and we’ve been taking full advantage. They’ve provided respite for us, and here are some highlights should you, too, be in need of respite.

Big Sur Coast to Cambria Area:

Sunol Regional Park/Ohlone Wilderness. This is one of our favorite Bay Area parks. It holds special meaning since it was where our friend spent a wonderful day doing what she loves before dying from a stroke.

Jenner Headlands Preserve–except for the ridge line, it was totally socked in, so we’ll have to return. My husband got a pretty good shot of the ghost cows, though!

Oat Hill Mine Road in Calistoga. This is one of our favorite hikes–we return every couple of years. This year’s wildflowers were spectacular. Oat Hill Mine Road and most of Calistoga escaped the fires of 2017, although we could see a lot of fire damage in other nearby parts.

Skyline Park in Napa:

And, because there’s no place like home:



Weathering the “Total Exoneration” BS Storm

I’ve been sheltering in a secure, low-news bunker since Robert Mueller handed over his report to Attorney General William Barr last week. That’s so I can avoid getting caught up in the powerful cyclone of spin put out by Trump’s propaganda machine and amplified by mainstream pundits.

For the record, Mueller explicitly stated that the evidence does not exonerate the President regarding obstruction of justice. His investigation, besides concluding that Russia definitely meddled in the election, yielded 34 indictments, with several close Trump associates pleading or being found guilty and facing time. It’s also been a money-maker for the United States, netting more in fines and forfeitures than the investigation cost.

But what are facts in the age of spin?

I had fortified myself in advance thanks to Pod Save America’s Dan Pfeiffer, who offered a pre-report rant before he himself disappeared into his hidey-hole.  Pfeiffer predicted that unless the Mueller report resulted immediately in Nancy Pelosi donning her sunglasses and sauntering from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office in her new role as President following the Constitution’s prescription for succession, the media would declare a huge victory for Trump and a huge loss for the Democrats. As the Pod Save hosts have been reminding listeners since just about forever, defeating Donald Trump and his Republican enablers will require the hard work of organizing to win the 2020 election—in House, Senate, and state races as well as the White House. It was never going to be through a Deus Ex Muellercha.

In any case, with my news consumption down as I wait for the Total Exoneration Bullshit Storm to pass, I’ve freed up a lot of time for other things. If you, too, want to limit your exposure to the Mueller Report Obsession, here are some suggestions:

  1. Do your taxes. Ready or not, April 15th is just around the corner. Why not just get it over with? Be sure to think about how Trump’s biggest legislative accomplishment has been to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut benefiting mostly the super rich and big corporations while blowing up the deficit Republicans pretended to care about under President Obama.
  2. Schedule a doctor’s appointment. You might want to do this really soon, since once again the Republicans are going after your healthcare with a vengeance, not just via death by a thousand cuts, but with wholesale elimination.
  3. Calculate how long it will be before you’re eligible for Medicare. Oh, silly me! Republicans do care about deficits again, which is why they are now threatening Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, and other vital social programs.
  4. BTW, just as you shouldn’t have been holding your breath for the Mueller Report to save us, don’t hold your breath for Medicare-for-All anytime soon. Be sure to instead work toward it via any of the avenues being proposed by Democrats, but for heaven’s sake don’t insist on any purity tests!
  5. Have sex! Following the news is not only a time-suck, it’s a libido-killer. Put that device down and snuggle up! But if your time until Medicare eligibility is substantial, first make sure to . . .
  6. Stock up on birth control. Already the Trump Administration, under the guise of “religious liberty,” has made it easier for employers to refuse to provide free contraceptives as required by the ACA. The aforementioned threat to the ACA will only make things worse in the family planning department.
  7. Speaking of which, make a donation to Planned Parenthood to counteract the Republicans’ war on the organization. Bonus activity points for donating in Mike Pence’s name.
  8. Be careful, though! If you don’t want to have a baby but followed #5 while failing to follow #6, you may find yourself needing an abortion. This has become more and more difficult and is about to become even more so as states like Georgia pass so-called “heart-beat bills.” Besides banning most abortions, often before a woman realizes she’s pregnant, the goal of these clearly unconstitutional laws is to trigger a Supreme Court hearing with the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade.
  9. Ah, yes! Remember the Supreme Court? One of whose seats was stolen by Mitch McConnell? The branch of government that motivates Republicans to vote more than Democrats? When I made calls to Nevada for the 2016 election to see if people supported Clinton or Trump, one man told me, “I think they’re both idiots, but I’m a conservative, and I want conservative justices on the Supreme Court so I’m voting for Trump!” Impeccable logic. People who are alarmed by the rightward lurch of the Supreme Court might try it. Planking in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s 86th birthday is nice, but insufficient.
  10. Hug your children. Give thanks that they have not been wrested away from you and put in cages. Spare a thought for those who have.
  11. Take a hike. It’s good to get out in nature. Do it while it lasts–it won’t be too much longer if Trump and his fellow climate deniers remain in charge.

Refreshed by your alternative activities to reading about Trump’s “exoneration” by Robert Mueller as interpreted by Attorney General Barr? Here are a couple of other suggestions once you’re ready to emerge from your bunker:

  1. Call for the release of the Mueller report.. But please, relinquish any vestigial hopes for a savior. Instead,
  2. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

This Vox article describes how people did just that for the 2018 mid-terms. They knocked on doors, made phone calls, registered voters, and talked to people about their concerns. Contrary to what you may have heard about Democrats in disarray because they’ve been taken over by wild-eyed lefty purists, they did so with a high degree of pragmatism and personal engagement. As someone who’s knocked on a lot of doors and made a lot of phone calls in a lot of campaigns, I can attest that what happens on the ground is quite different from what media hype would have you believe. People I talked to in the swing district I visited every month in the run up to the mid-terms worried about healthcare, good jobs, traffic, and affordable housing and education. Russia and the Mueller investigation never came up.

Besides which, criminally guilty or exonerated, we’ve never needed evidence beyond what Trump and his Republican enablers display multiple times a day. From despicable character to destructive policies to deep corruption, it’s there plain as day. As George Conway (husband of Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway!) writes in the Washington Post, “If the charge were unfitness for office, the verdict would already be in: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Let’s do something about that. Mueller Time must now be Our Time.

Bye, Bye, Birdie

“I hope this doesn’t cause you to want a divorce,” my husband, Jonathan, began a recent conversation.

I braced myself. Was he about to confess an affair? Insist we relocate to New York City? Register as a Republican?

Jonathan continued: “I signed up for a birding hike with the Sonoma Land Trust.”

No wonder he was worried. Early on in our relationship, we vowed never to become birdwatchers, a pact that was threatened several years ago when we accompanied our good friends on an outing to see the sand hill cranes. You can get the full report of that marriage-jeopardizing venture here. You can also get a better way to see the cranes–from the comfort of your own home–here, courtesy of Google Images and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Relieved that Jonathan’s announcement wasn’t all that dire in the scheme of things, I threw caution to the wind: “Why don’t you sign me up too?” At least this trip was only 20 minutes away, and we had our own escape vehicle, since we’d be meeting the group at the levee. Plus, they were strangers–who cared what anyone thought of us? The worst that could happen was that only one of us might have a good time. Or that rain would cancel the outing. Which we were both secretly hoping for anyway.

When the Big Day arrived, the weather forecast indicated a 30 percent chance of rain starting at 10:00 a.m. The outing began at 9:00 a.m., and we figured we could leave if the rain materialized. So we went, the sun burning through a heavy layer of fog to blue sky.

About 30 people were gathered. About 28 of them actually seemed to be birding enthusiasts, if the field guides stashed in pockets, high-tech binoculars, and tendency to stand about exclaiming at tiny specks were any indication. I was bored already, but at least the wetlands and green hills were pretty enough to keep my loutish tendencies in check. Plus, I felt reassured when Jonathan said to me in a low voice, “I thought it would be covered with birds.”

Our interest picked up when the Sonoma Land Trust guide recounted the history of the restoration projection. Everything around us, including the highway we’d come in on and the ground we stood upon, was once below sea level. Then, we learned, during the mid-19th century, a “Drain the Swamp” movement quite unlike Donald Trump’s version led to a frenzy of levee-building to create rich farmland. As the tidal bay waters receded, the land sank six feet. Now that people have come to appreciate the vital role wetlands play in protecting ecosystems and mitigating sea-level rise, a few years ago reclamation began with a breech in the 5-mile-long levee built by the Swampland homesteaders. The tidal waters and their natural silting process have returned, along with a rich feeding stopover for birds.

Some of said birds we could even see, either as specks with the naked eye or dots through binoculars and scopes. The guide remarked that our presence would ensure that the birds kept their distance, which seemed to defeat the whole purpose until I remembered that the real purpose was to see how resilient our marriage was.

After about 10 minutes of standing still, the guides picked up the scopes and we all walked about 50 feet to the next spot for standing still. The wind picked up, the clouds rolled in. Without the requisite birding passion, Jonathan and I were freezing.

“Ready to walk?” I suggested in a low voice.

Jonathan checked in with the guide to see if we’d scare off the already scarce birds if we went on ahead. He assured us it would be fine.

“If I had to choose between nature-hike-Hell,” I said to Jonathan, “I’d choose wildflowers over birds. At least you can see them.”

“Yeah, and they don’t get up and leave as you approach,” he agreed.

We walked briskly to the end of the levee and back, admiring the view, seeing more birds than we’d seen as part of the group, not caring what they were called. Two women also left the group, so we weren’t the only apostates.

At 10:00 a.m. on the dot, it began to rain. We returned to our car, damp in body but not in spirits. Once again, our marriage had survived the call of the wild.

And the Nominees Are . . . !

It’s Oscar time! Let me just say that 2018 was a really weak year for movies. I don’t think any of the Best Picture nominees deserves to win. My personal picks—Blindspotting, Eighth Grade, Leave No Trace, and Searching—didn’t even make the cut. Plus, I am still brooding about the failure to even nominate The Florida Project for Best Picture the year before. But, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, you go to the Dolby Theater with the nominees you have, not the nominees you wish you had.

So here goes, in order of most favorite to least favorite, Top Critic Shrinkrapped’s take:

Vice – If you, like me, are the kind of person whose favorite bumper sticker is “Cheney-Satan ’08,” then this is the movie for you. Brilliantly acted with several clever-but-sometimes-overdone innovations (like the reel-‘em-in fly-fishing motif), Vice is a tragi-comic depiction of the pursuit of power. Like Adam McKay’s earlier tour-de-force, The Big Short, complex theories like the unitary power of the executive are explained in entertaining ways that are depressingly relevant for our times. Lynn Cheney is even more evil than Dick. But I could have done without their Lady-and-Lord-MacBeth foreplay scene. We get it, already!

A Star Is Born – I have never seen any of the Stars That Have Been Born before this one, partly because I have an allergy to Barbra Streisand. It developed in college because my roommate whose father had recently died spent all of sophomore year crying on the couch, listening to her Streisand albums over and over again. Also, I’m never really clear who Lady Gaga is. I keep confusing her with Madonna and Dame Edna. But I like Bradley Cooper, and who am I to resist Oscar buzz? I enjoyed Star 4.0 a lot, particularly the music. A solid B+.

Green Book – If you view this movie within the context of a Buddy Road Trip or a Christmas movie, as my husband does, you will really like it as a well-crafted, well-acted, engaging story that incidentally might teach a white audience a little bit about racial discrimination. If you view it as an incisive commentary on race, you will find much to be disappointed (or enraged) about. If you view it as a movie about S&H Green Stamps (as I initially did), you will be baffled. I really enjoyed it, and really agree with a lot of the critiques.

BlacKkKlansman – Here’s another mass-appeal movie about race that seems primarily directed to a white audience. I happen to think that such movies—and I count films like Marshall, Hidden Figures, and The Butler among them–play an important role in educating and sparking discussions or at least thought about race. I liked this one okay, though it was a pretty mixed bag.

Black Panther – Halfway through the movie, I texted my friend to ask if it got better in the second half. “Are you thinking of leaving?” she texted back, then gently reminded me about what a huge cultural phenomenon Black Panther is. I stayed, possibly because it got a bit more interesting, and certainly out of shame. I am as thrilled as anyone to see a classroom full of African-American kids going wild with joy when they hear they’re going to see the movie. I was also reading Homegoing at the same time, and I liked how both the novel and the film depict the different experiences of being in Africa versus America. But I don’t like the Marvel Comic/Action Hero/Adventure genre, or the spectacle of fantastically costumed and choreographed warriors. Just not my thing.

Bohemian Rhapsody – After a 16-hour plane ride to Queenstown, New Zealand, in November, my husband and I thought we might kill time by seeing a movie since it was raining and we wanted to fight jet lag by staying awake until bedtime. This was one of two movies playing. I’d seen many Facebook posts from people who love Queen’s music and loved the movie. A life-long pop-culture illiterate, I’d be hard pressed to recognize any Queen song, but I did love Rami Malek in Mr. Robot. As it turns out, my husband and I decided we’d probably just fall asleep in a movie theater, so we instead walked around Queenstown in the rain before returning to our hotel. The day after Thanksgiving, we were searching for a movie the whole family could enjoy. Emma, a huge Queen fan, desperately wanted to see Bohemian Rhapsody. Ally did not, but uncharacteristically agreed to go along to keep the peace. Emma, my husband, and I were unimpressed. Ally loved it. Go figure.


Roma – I don’t get why people like this film. I found it incredibly boring. All I can say is that I’m glad we watched it on Netflix rather than paying to see it on the big screen. And no, I don’t think the screen size is why I didn’t like it. I won’t be surprised, however, if Roma wins Best Picture.

The Favourite – “Did Nike pay for product placement for the swoosh-shaped abrasion on Rachel Weisz’s cheek?” This is one of the questions I asked myself during the film when I wasn’t wondering whether or not to walk out and why The Favourite has gotten such acclaim. Is it because of that high-brow “u” in the title? Okay, I grant that the movie is visually sumptuous, with good costumes and fine acting (especially Olivia Colman as Queen Anne). But rather than a wickedly fun romp through power plays in the palace, it’s a two-hour immersion in degradation with thoroughly unlikable characters. On the plus side, Lady Sarah and Abigail make Lynn Cheney seem downright lovable.

Mercifully, the Academy Awards will soon be over. But the 2020 presidential race is just beginning, with nine Democrats jumping in so far and plenty more about to take the plunge. Unlike the Oscars, there’s any number I’d be happy to see win. Also unlike the Oscars, this contest matters.

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What were your favorite movies this year? Presidential candidates?