Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wow, this is big

"Senior U. S. defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.
The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women." 
Last year they opened up 14,500 positions to women and removed the ban from allowing women to live in combat zones. It's big because women in the military have already been serving in combat zones with the way modern warfare works; but because of the prohibitions, they aren't allowed to do the same duties or get paid the same as their male colleagues. I realize there's still some controversy about women serving in combat, but if they're already essentially serving in combat because of grey zones, and doing it well, it's about time they were recognized for doing so.
And for the record, I don't see the problem with extending the draft to both men and women; I mean, I do in the sense that I don't like our military industrial machine and would like a significant scale-back on our military and for us to stop with the chest-beating and banner-waving that leads to unjust wars. But I don't in the sense that women have served in combat for thousands of years. Sometimes openly, sometimes in secret; and I think if they do choose to serve in the military, any restrictions on where they can serve are wrong. And for all the talk about how the different physical tests for men and women are causing a weak military, blah blah blah; but upper arm strength and taller height didn't exactly win us the war in Vietnam where the people were shorter and skinnier on average than the American soldiers (many of those Vietnamese soldiers just so happened to be women by the way). A small number of countries already do extend the draft to both men and women and have been doing that for some time. Even if this ban were still in effect I would support the draft being extended to both, countries like Israel, Cuba and others draft both genders and may have prohibitions on where women can serve; so the women drafted were still serving, but in a different capacity.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, and a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, released the following statement on Panetta's decision: "This is an historic step for equality and for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defense of our nation. From the streets of Iraqi cities to rural villages in Afghanistan, time and again women have proven capable of serving honorably and bravely. In fact, it's important to remember that in recent wars that lacked any true front lines, thousands of women already spent their days in combat situations serving side-by-side with their fellow male servicemembers. I commend Secretary Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their decision and look forward to working with them on quickly implementing the end of this ban."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 in Review

According to Goodreads, I read 276 books in 2012. Which actually isn't true...I only put the highlights on Goodreads, and keep everything on a spreadsheet. The real number is 410 books read in 2012, which actually isn't even my record, that would be the 451 I read in 2010. I regret nothing. I rated only 5 books in 2012 with 5 stars, while rating 14 books with 1 star, 84 books with 2 stars, and I think that's my record number of 1 and 2 star reviews. It was a cranky year in reading apparently. I think because I go through periods of trying to broaden my reading, which is probably weird, because I already read just about everything anyway. So currently I've been trying to read the Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners, "best" modern books adapted to movies, "best" mysteries, and a few genres that I might not normally read much out of. I've found some good stuff this way, and I don't force myself to finish a book I'm not enjoying--which is usually why the majority of my books are usually 2 stars or above. I probably start but abandon at least a third more or perhaps even double more of the total I finish. So what gets a 1 star? Usually it's that the writing is good enough to keep me going, but I don't like the plot/characters; or else it was good up until a horrible ending (Bitterbynde trilogy I'm still so mad at you 10 years later). And for 5 star reviews, those are generally just as rare, I'm more likely to give 4 stars--a 5 star is a book that if I don't own I immediately want to go out and buy it so that I can handle it lovingly and stare at it creepily in my library. 4 stars are books that were very good, and I'll probably read again, but I don't necessarily need to hug them daily.
It looks like I read the most books in the "other" category--which I think is mostly random nonfiction that wasn't history, like health and current affairs or travelogues and possibly fiction genres that didn't go anyway? (I don't know, Goodreads classification is weird.) Biography, history and young adult followed, in that order. The longest book I read was My Soul has Grown Deep ed. by John Edgar Wideman at 1280 pages. Although truthfully this was a collection of several early African American memoirs and I'd read a few of them before, so I didn't read it cover to cover. But I did read the majority, so it counts.

As for movies, I watched 186 in 2012 (since I don't get any TV stations, I watch TV shows on DVDs, so I count them in with my movie watching), which is the fewest since I started keeping track. 53 movies got 1 star reviews--I'm a lot more lenient about finishing a movie I don't like vs finishing a book I don't, probably because of the time factor. 27 movies got 4 or 5 star reviews. I also keep track of which country the movie is from, surprisingly France topped the foreign language list, followed by India, then China--it's weird, since I started keeping track of the movies I watch (only since 2009, where I've been keeping track of books since 2001), France keeps popping up in my top three most watched foreign language countries almost every year. But if you were to ask me what I watch the most, I'd always say India, China, Iran & maybe Japan. I don't know how France keeps sneaking in there. Actually, never mind, looking through the movie list, it looks like many of these are movies set in a former French colony, and if it's a situation where several countries are listed as having made the film, I'll put the the first one listed down, which is usually the funding country. So France sneaks in on a technicality.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Gabby by Mark Kelly & Gabrielle Giffords

So, I felt like a total grinch when rating this on Goodreads/Amazon. The vast majority of the reviews are four and five stars, and then I come along with my two star review and crap all over it. Figuratively speaking. The issue is definitely not the woman herself or her story. Even before the shooting (and isn't it kind of torture/misery porn how we like to define people by their tragedies?), she was a remarkable woman. A young democrat representative elected in Arizona, one of the most conservative states in the U.S.; a woman who moved to elect John Lewis as Speaker of the House (and if you don't know who John Lewis is,, he's a national treasure and even though she was the only one to vote for him, it was a beautiful way to show him honor and respect); who was passionate about helping her state/district and making a difference in Washington. So what's the issue?

Well, it's the book itself. And the writing. And her husband's involvement, or perhaps over-involvement. The book bills itself as the biography of Gabrielle Giffords...but that's not really true. It's the biography of Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly. And while most biographies will devote portions to a spouse, this one devoted a good half of the entire book, at least, possibly even more than that, to Mark Kelly. And you know what, I'm sure he's an interesting guy. Astronaut, first astronaut to have a brother as an astronaut, his biography would be interesting. But this isn't his biography. Or at least, it claims otherwise. So it's misleading. And there are tangents that I find kind of inappropriate, like Kelly complaining about NASA and the way things are run--again, I might find that interesting in a book about Mark Kelly, or a book about NASA, and I have no doubt that things aren't perfect at NASA...but to complain, in more than one place about your employer/former employer, in a book supposedly about your wife. Yea, really not the time or the place. Same with how Kelly takes us through his whole career and various jobs he had before NASA...again, not about you dude.
And the setup of the book was odd--each chapter usually starts with the day of the shooting, generally something about how Kelly heard about it, or where they were taking Giffords, her in surgery, etc. And then it will do a flashback to either of their childhoods, or their marriage or either of their careers. But it doesn't actually get to the shooting itself until over 170 pages into the book. If it were a straight chronological story, it would make perfect sense; but where every single chapter starts out on the day of the shooting, it just seems really odd to take that long to get to the event itself. Like this poor attempt to prolong it or create tension where none is needed.
But finally my issue is the title. And I know this may just be me being a overly sensitive feminist, but I don't think so. So Gabby is Gabrielle Giffords' childhood nickname. However, she was always very adamant that it was a nickname only to be used by her family. In any professional setting, or with anyone outside of the family, she always corrected them if they tried to call her Gabby. She felt it infantilized or patronized her for others to use that diminutive. Which is why it's really baffling to me that Mark Kelly would choose to title her biography that way. Especially because this is a woman with a brain injury, who at the time the book was written could barely speak more than a few words, who was having to relearn everything she had once known. So she's already in a sense infantilized, and then you choose a title which only reinforces that? I don't know, it feels kind of wrong.

2 stars out of 5

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A New Year's Walk

The weekend of New Years, sister E and her husband J and I went up to Mt Hood for a few nights. We went snow hiking at Government Camp. It's a little known fact that Hood and I have a love affair going, and the only hard thing about winters in the Northwest is that the mountains are never out so you can go for a few months without ever seeing them. And that is discouraging. But when she breaks through and you see her...all is right with the world.  (Mountains being out is probably only a phrase used here, meaning there aren't any clouds so you can actually see them.)