Monday, October 22, 2012

How the Corleone Brothers are Voting

Fredo: Fredo hasn't been watching the debates, but he's pretty confident that he'll be able to make a good decision come election day. A Fredo voter resents his lack of influence and is overeager to show how smart and important he can be. He tries to do things, such as getting the car with his dad, that he's not ready for. He's also easy to manipulate, and we all saw how his initiatives turned out in Part II.
Sonny: Santino is the most passionate of the Corleone brothers and gets very worked up about politics. He's well informed, which would make his views convincing if he weren't so hotheaded. Instead, his quickness to anger makes him very vulnerable. Sollozzo says of Santino "You can't talk business with him." You can try to talk politics with a Sonny voter, but you won't convince him of anything.
Michael: Michael might know who he's voting for, but there's no way you do unless you're Tom Hagen, the only person Michael trusts. Michael is a cold blooded realist who won't vote on one issue but will carefully weigh the pros and cons of each candidate. He's not concerned about making the moral vote; he'll vote for the guy whose policies will help him personally. While he has no interest in bipartisanship, he can feign one pretty well. He keeps his true views to himself while convincing both Republicans and Democrats that he believes their version of the story. Just as he did with Frank Pentangeli and Hyman Roth, he'll hear how you defend your story and use that to make a decision. Michael is the most respected and feared among the brothers. Politicians, even the ones who disapprove of him such as Senator Geary, work hard for his approval.
Tom Hagen: Tom is much more idealistic than Michael and wants to see the two parties working together to improve the country. He's very smart and extremely well versed in the law, which makes his opinions highly valuable. He's not spineless and is more than willing to stand up to a Sonny voter. There is a great level of mutual respect and trust between Tom Hagen and Michael, but Michael holds all the power, and Tom will ultimately vote for whomever Michael chooses.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Case for Robin Scherbatsky

How I Met Your Mother's Robin Scherbatsky, played exquisitely by Cobie Smulders, is on the very short list of my favorite female characters ever. Some of this is has, as personal preferences tend to, a lot to do with me: I'm also into sports and highly competitive, and I spent three years on a college newspaper and worked at a tv news station one summer so I enjoy hearing about Robin's career in news.
But from a less individual standpoint, I think Robin is a unique female character who displays strength of character without being perfect, ambition without being heartless, and moments of struggle and doubt without being weak.
A few highlights:
1. While Robin is ultimately successful at her job, we appreciate her for her personality and character long before her journalism dreams are reached. What this means is that her career path is  presented as an important part of the show. While some (e.g. here and here) have criticized the show for making Robin struggle so much in her pursuit of journalism greatness, this has a lot to do with the fact that Robin has chosen broadcast journalism, a very difficult career in which advancement comes not only with persistence but also with a lot of luck. Don Frank, for example, only got his job because the more qualified and more professional Robin turned it down. Moreover, Robin's struggles make her ultimate success even more of a testament to her perseverance and her ability to act with confidence even when she herself feels great doubt.
Moreover, the fact that we meet Robin long before she has much success in her career or personal relationships means that we actually come to respect and admire her for her strength of character and strong sense of self. Imagine appreciating female characters not because they're more successful than others but because they are people with convictions and thoughts and feelings.  Additionally, and this is very important for me, Robin is consistently portrayed as at least as intelligent as any of the male characters in the story.
Finally, the portrayal of Robin's coworkers in journalism suggests that it is easier for men to make it in her career than women. Nora is the coworker we know best because she dates Barney. Like Robin, Nora has very strong sense of self, morality, and conviction. Meanwhile, Robin's male coanchors, Sandy Rivers and Don Frank receive great opportunities despite being unprofessional and far less motivated than Robin.
2. Robin doesn't want to have kids, and this isn't portrayed in a way that makes her uncaring, unattractive, or robotic. Even before Robin connects with a little kid in "Little Boys" in season three, she shows her nurturing side by taking care of Barney when he is sick and looking out for her little sister when she comes to visit. She's very committed to her friendships, even caring about Ted greatly as she rejects him.
In "Symphony of Illumination", Robin is shown to have a more complicated relationship with the notion of children that she had previously thought and is actually saddened when she finds out that she can never have any. But when Kevin notes to her in "The Drunk Train" that there are other ways of having kids, she reaffirms her commitment to not having children.
Whether or not a character wants kids can be a sensitive subject, especially since the pop culture has been criticized for assuming that all women want children, and not surprisingly, Robin's character has drawn criticism from some who resent that the show might somehow imply that a life without kids cannot be full (apparently not sold by Ted's description of Robin's incredibly full life at the end of "Symphony of Illumination"). This, however, is unfair. Because so many tv characters are shown as wanting kids, no single character is tasked with representing the entirety of mothers. It's seen to be a nearly universal experience, and each character represents just one take on it. Robin's feelings similarly should not be seen as a representation of the emotions all women experience when they decide that they do not want children. As this blog post shows, Robin's spectrum of emotions was relatable to at least some.
But to me, whether or not Robin's experiences speak a universal truth is secondary. More important is the fact that Robin is shown as a full character who contemplates the issue thoughtfully and with an independent mind and because her decision is not shown as placing a limit on her potential for happiness.
3. So what if Robin has "daddy issues"? Four of the five characters have major issues with their parents. Jason Segel's Marshall is the only one who does not seem to have any emotional residue from his upbringing. His family is mocked extensively but for their quirkiness and wackiness. Moreover, Robin emerging as confident as she is despite her traumatic upbringing is a tribute to her strength of character.
4. While Robin is very strong, she's not perfect. Robin is a realistic character because she doesn't do everything right. She smokes (though she will eventually quit), she can have a hot temper, she makes bad decisions sometimes, and she shows occasional signs of trauma from her upbringing. Yet it is her strengths that stand out more than her weaknesses, a credit to the show and to Smulders' acting. Robin is independent, intelligent, thoughtful, and loyal. And that strength is what makes her a great character.
5. Oh, and this:
Let's Go to the Mall!
excerpt from show
full video

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Can't teach kids? Just drug them instead

It doesn't take a research expert to detect America's obsession with drugs. Just start watching football and after the fifth Cialis commercial in the first quarter alone you may find yourself remarking, as one of my friends did, "How can people criticize athletes for taking performance enhancing drugs when every other commercial is for performance enhancing drugs?"
But in professional sports, athletes are drug-tested. And even when they manage to pass every single drug test they've taken, they can still be banned for life based on witness testimonies (which, by the way, I find highly problematic). In academia, there is neither drug testing nor a universal consensus around the need for one. In an article in The Harvard Crimson this May, Quinn D. Hatoff details how some Harvard students have become dependent on various study drugs, especially Adderall, in order to meet deadlines and examines the consequences they have faced. As one student acknowledges, “There is no way you can take a drug to make your brain work at twice the speed and intensity as normal without having some consequences.”
These instances of collegiate drug abuse are troubling enough, but as Jezebel writer Katie J. M. Baker says of her own experiences, "at least I was a 20-year-old adult at the time able to make my own decisions, not a little kid with a developing brain." (Baker decided against continuing to use study drugs, as she also notes.
There are arguments to make in favor of allowing legal adults to abuse drugs as they so choose (though the practice is currently illegal), and with caffeine abuse a socially accepted vice, it is fair to question why caffeine is acceptable but Adderall is not.
That being said, when doctors are prescribing study drugs to children, a trend described in The New York Times, who do not medically require them, something is very, very wrong.
1. Children are having their physical health and well-being put at risk just because their parents wanted them to have better grades. Doctors should not be complicit in this.
The stories of drug abuse speak for themselves. Here's one from the Crimson:

She found herself hospitalized in ninth grade. Two months of daily use had taken their toll: her weight had plummeted from 130 to 94 pounds, and she had not had a full night of sleep in weeks.
“By the time I was actually hospitalized, I was kind of f---ed up,” she admits with a slight laugh. “I wanted more weight loss—that was one reason for taking it—but I also had become psychologically dependent on it. I really loved it.” 
Even more disturbing is the Times' story of the Rocafort family, who put their 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son on Adderall even after observing that it made their son Quintn suicidal (and have hallucinations).
For doctors and teachers to knowingly put young children at risk where there is no medical need just so parents can take pride in their children's academic performance is unacceptable.
Both the Crimson and Times article neglected to include examples of people who actually had ADD or ADHD and did not abuse their prescriptions. I have decided not to argue for or against the use of these drugs by children and teens with medical needs, as I lack the medical knowledge to do so.
That being said, I will comment on the faulty nature of the diagnoses Dr. Anderson administers as they are "teacher reports [that] almost invariably come back as citing the behaviors that would warrant a diagnosis, a decision he called more economic than medical." Since teachers are not medical professionals, I take issue with Dr. Anderson using their descriptions of children's behavior as a substitute for more rigorous undertakings to understand the brains of these students. I also take fault with teachers looking to doctors to "teach" their students.
Moreover, I am disturbed by the way children and teens with real ADD and ADHD could be lumped into a group with students with other study issues, thereby hindering their ability to have their medical needs addressed properly.
2. Doctors and teachers have very different jobs, and they should not be confused.
In the opening paragraph of the Times article, Alan Schwarz links this trend to suffering schools:
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
While I agree that there are major problems in the inequality of education in America, I would disagree with Schwarz's argument that he doesn't have a choice. As a doctor, his job is to treat his patients' health, not their report cards. All he needs to do is state his job description to these parents. They have no choice but to understand. Instead, Dr. Anderson is trying to stretch his influence too far and to control things that really aren't under his domain. And by refusing to prescribe drugs to students with As and Bs, he is medically manipulating the academic hierarchy of the schools his patients attend.
The role of teachers is not articulated as thoroughly in this article. No teachers are interviewed, and for that reason, I can't develop a strong opinion on what I think of them. If teachers really are looking towards doctors to solve their students's academic needs rather than devote their own attention to them, that is of course problematic. But it is also possible that teachers know that they don't have the medical knowledge to diagnose specific cases and in the interest of helping any students who might need it, they are reporting any symptoms to doctors assuming that these doctors will be thorough enough to distinguish between medical condition and academic issue. In the latter scenario, teachers would likely be highly disturbed to hear that their qualitative descriptions of kids (kids for whom they have genuine concern) are essentially drug prescriptions.
Now I don't think it's fair to vilify most of these parents: they want to see their children succeed and they trust their doctors to make informed decisions that will not endanger their kids.
That being said, I think the incentives to solving falling grades with drugs need to be examined.
A. Have these parents considered the possibility that by medicating their kids to succeed in one area, they may be missing an opportunity for their children to find a different and unique passion?
B. What other methods did you try before resorting to medicine to solve these studying needs?
C. What will happen if these kids switch doctors and the new doctor finds a lack of medical need? How will these kids adjust to no longer studying with the assistance of drugs?
D. What good are the opportunities good grades afford if children will be too busy reeling from drug side effects to embrace them?

I would like to note that I have utmost respect for doctors and teachers and don't mean to degrade these professions in any way. Rather, I am a firm believer in the good both can do and in the responsibility that both hold.

My heart goes out to all of these kids, and my hope is that there will be more rigor and integrity in understanding kids' academic, personal, and medical needs both so that people with genuine ADD and ADHD will not be trivialized and so that children's health will not be ignored, especially by the doctors who have sworn to protect it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Were the 1995 Cleveland Browns the Freaks and Geeks of Football?

The 1995 Cleveland Browns weren't a very successful football team. Freaks and Geeks was not a very successful tv show. But what talent they both produced!
Critically acclaimed if not financially lucrative, cult favorite Freaks and Geeks  has obtained posthumous famous and now the Browns are getting attention with the NFL Network's "Cleveland '95: A Football Life".
Now the fact that there are highly successful alumni from two separate failed business ventures doesn't necessarily mean that the members of each group have coordinates in the other. But since I thought the world would be more fun if they did, I decided to make some comparisons. Some of then, okay all of them, are pretty far-fetched, but here we go.
Judd Apatow and Bill Belichick:  Belichick was fired from Cleveland in '95, just like Apatow's Freaks and Geeks was cancelled. Both did better in their new locales--Belichick in New England and Apatow in film. Apatow is Belichick's closest comparison not only because they were the two men in charge at the time, but also because making Belichick into an actor seems taboo even if I'm more than willing to compare other serious football figures with guys who appear in Knocked Up and Pineapple Express. But like Apatow has worked behind the scenes as a producer (and director and screenwriter), Belichick would loom ominously in his hoodie and terrify his actors into great performances. Just don't expect any stoner flicks.
Jason Segel and Nick Saban: Okay so maybe Segel is more successful as a movie actor than Saban was as an NFL coach. But both of these guys have established themselves in a different industry than the rest of their famous co-workers (even if Segel made his name in both). While most of this list of football braniacs hold court in the NFL whether as coaches, GMs, or analysts, Saban dominates the college circuit instead and has won three BCS titles one at LSU and two at Alabama. My choice of Segel as a tv actor and not a movie actor is pretty much all personal bias, I'll admit. I've watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I prefer How I Met Your Mother. Besides, TV gets my vote because they're on season eight, making Marshall Eriksen Segel's main time commitment. And of the three most best-known actors from that show--Segel, James Franco, and Seth Rogen--Segel is the outlier as the one in a sitcom.
Side note #1: the title of the NFL Network's special, "Cleveland '95" is misleading: Saban was a defensive coordinator for the Browns in 1994 and coached at Michigan State for the '95 season. But if Saban can be used in promotion for the tv documentary, I can use him in my blog post too. Congratulations Nick, you are now an honorary member of the 1995 Cleveland Browns football team. No, they weren't good.
Side note #2: Jason Segel is an ordained minister.
Seth Rogen and Ozzie Newsome: You probably get a good vibe from both of these guys. In the Baltimore GM's case, it's probably because he was a 7xAll Pro and 3xPro Bowl selection at tight end and winner of the 1986 Ed Block Courage Award and 1989 "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award. With Rogen, it's probably because you liked Knocked Up and felt like Ben Stone seemed like a generally well-meaning guy, because you're a Dr. Seuss fan and appreciate that he did work in "Horton Hears a Who", or because you appreciate him raising Alzheimer's awareness. Either way, these are guys you probably like.
James Franco and Scott Pioli: After Belichick and Apatow, these are your smart guys. Or at least the guys who try to appear that way (clearly Saban and Newsome are pretty smart too). Pioli was the General Manager of the New England Patriots for three Super Bowls and the 16-0 season (one which I, a Patriots fan, always acknowledge grudgingly). Franco, meanwhile, has received a Golden Globe for James Dean in the fittingly titled 2001 movie James Dean and has appeared in movies such as Milk and 127 Hours that focus on real people and real events. But neither of them have been that exciting lately, making counterparts. The Kansas City Chiefs haven't been especially threatening, which has put Pioli's managerial skills under question, and Franco has taken a lower profile by doing volunteer work and teaching at NYU (both great things but for better or worse not as buzz-inducing as starring in movies).
John Francis Daly and Steve Crosby: While these guys live in the shadow of their colleagues, at the time of the show/season, they were actually the stars. And while they may not be the biggest names, both are journeymen who have been able to consistently make a living. Daly has ventured into screenwriting and is a drummer in a band, but his main money maker has been his role as Dr. Lance Sweets on Bones (coincidentally, a show I watch frequently). Crosby has similarly bounced around, with most of his career in the NFL. Having won the 2007 Special Teams Coach of the Year, Crosby is a little more decorated that Daly. But both of them found their niche and got the job done.
Linda Cardellini and Rick Venturi: Like Daly and Crosby, both are relatively obscure after being the stars at the time of Freaks and Geeks/the 1995 season, but Cardellini and Venturi aren't quite as accomplished. I give Daly the edge over his former tv sister because his show is currently airing whereas ER finished in 2009 (and, also, I like Bones). And unlike Crosby, Venturi never won a coaching award and "coached the beginning segment the Northwestern Wildcats' NCAA Division I record 34-game losing streak." And besides...
Offense = Geeks. Defense = Freaks. Compare Ray Rice to Ray Lewis. Both tremendously talented. But who would you be more freaked out to face? In its preview for Super Bowl XLI, Sports Illustrated argued "This isn't brains vs. brawn" when comparing Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher. Nonetheless, Manning has earned his reputation as a thinking quarterback and as the humble dorky guy in commercials, whereas Urlacher is simply terrifying. In The Blind Side, Michael Lewis tries to argue this about coaching the two sides as well, saying that offense is about thinking creatively and finding new ways to use seemingly athletically limited quarterbacks like Virgil Carter and on defense you either have talent like Lawrence Taylor or you don't. I happen to think this is a huge oversimplification of coaching defense which clearly takes a lot of talent. (Dick LeBeau, anyone?) But, whether accurately or not, offense is often perceived as the more cerebral discipline. I don't know if it's actually nerdy to enjoy watching Arian Foster. But there's certainly nothing intellectual about Jacked Up.