Roman Polanski, Julian Assange Battle For America’s Most Hated Figure

November 30, 2010

Amid the furor surrounding the WikiLeaks scandal, you’ll be forgiven for not remembering that the European Film Awards will be given this coming Saturday, Dec. 4, in Talinn, Estonia. What may also have escaped your notice is that Roman Polanski’s new film, “The Ghost Writer,” has the highest number of nominations.
Roman Polanski — remember him? He’s that really creepy European director who raped and sodomized a 13-year-old girl 33 years ago and remains a fugitive from justice in the United States . (If you want a quick primer on the case, read this excellent summary by my Politics Daily colleague, Eleanor Clift.)
When we earlier checked in with Monsieur Polanski, he was living under house arrest in Switzerland, after he left his home in France to attend the Zurich Film Festival in September 2009. In July, the Swiss authorities decided not to ship him back to the U.S. for trial on the grounds that American authorities had failed to provide confidential testimony about Polanski’s original sentencing procedure. As a result, he was declared a “free man” and he returned to his home in Paris (albeit with an outstanding Interpol arrest warrant in 188 countries).

Needless to say, it seems unlikely that Polanski will venture forth to Talinn to collect any prizes, should he win some. (The film is nominated in seven different categories, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.) Earlier this year, “The Ghost Writer” (titled “The Ghost” in Europe) won Polanski a Best Director Award at the Berlin Film Festival, although he was under house arrest at the time and was unable to attend.

Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

*****

Speaking of Wikileaks, here’s my round up of European reactions to the scandal on Politics Daily.

Image: varios 84 by fotos de camisetas de SANTI OCHOA via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

November 26, 2010

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I always love the posts over at Communicatrix, but I especially enjoyed this meditation on the little things in life that make your day run more smoothly (life hacks, for those in the know). Be sure to read the comment section for loads more suggestions!

2. I found this first-hand account of what it’s like to ghost write student term papers over at the Chronicle of Higher Education to be absolutely chilling. I literally had to stop reading half-way through because of the pit in my stomach.

3. This send-up of Sarah Palin by Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post may well be the funniest thing I’ve read to date on our friend from Alaska. (And Lord knows there’s been lots of material!)

4. Loved the Ikea Guide to Baby-Making, courtesy of the ever-amazing Guy Kawasaki at Holy Kaw!

5. For the Americans out there, two Thanksgiving posts I really liked a lot. The first is the fabulous Deb Ng’s list of all the things she *isn’t* thankful for. (I’m not thankful for brussel sprouts either.)

6. The second is a thoughtful post in the New York Times on gratitude (and moral progress) by one of my favorite American writers, Robert Wright.

7. Finally, for those following events in the U.K., here’s my latest post from Politics Daily on what the latest round of student protests means for the future.

 

Have a great weekend!


Tips For Adulthood: Five Life Lessons From My Yoga Teacher

November 24, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been awhile since I posted about yoga. And I think the reason is that just when I thought I’d found the right teacher – the one I *really* clicked with – she got pregnant and went away to have a baby. (How dare she!)

Like most things, yoga is all about the teacher. You can be doing the most amazing sun salutations on earth, but if you aren’t with a teacher who really speaks to you, it just isn’t going to work.

Fortunately for me, I’ve developed a new yoga teacher-crush. In fact, I’m so in love with this new person’s teaching method that I’ve completely upended my schedule so that I can take her class every Thursday morning from 9:45-11:15, which is normally when I’m sitting at my desk.

But it’s totally worth it. I come out of there feeling like I’ve taken a drug. In addition to the stretching, here are five things I’ve learned about yoga – and life! –  from working with her:

1. Be prepared. One of the reasons I knew that this lady was the one for me was when I noticed her note cards. Some yoga teachers come in with a few things scribbled on the back of a napkin. Others come in with absolutely nothing and wing it. But my yoga teacher comes in with about 5-7 incredibly detailed note cards upon which she’s written down precise instructions for exactly what she’ll teach that morning. And you know what? It shows. Her classes have a logic and – dare I say it? – a flow that is the product of strict preparation and hard work. I’m not exactly a slacker. But it’s nice to be reminded – outside of a work context – that there’s a pay off for working hard.

2. Push Yourself. In addition to her preparedness, what I really love about this new teacher is how she structures the class. She starts out really mellow and gets you thinking that it’s going to be a gentle class. But as you go on, you start repeating the poses over and over, each time with a bit more difficulty. And you realize that she’s actually extending you quite a bit from where you started. I think the reason she does this is to show us all that we can and should do more with our bodies (and ourselves). And sometimes, it’s that extra little push that really matters. Not just to really get the most out of a given stretch, but to have the confidence to know that you are capable of doing more.

3. Be Encouraging. At the same time, she’s hardly a drill sergeant. She’s incredibly supportive of the class and really goes out of her way to praise the students, as long as she sees that they are trying. As someone who’s currently struggling with how to motivate and encourage my kids to do their best without turning them into pressure cookers, this teaching method is highly instructive.

4. Be Self-Aware. Normally, I hate it when yoga teachers talk too much during class. If it’s not about the poses, I really don’t want to hear all the poetry and other gobbledy-gook about self-development, etc. It’s too distracting. But this lady won me over the time during Savasana (corpse pose) when she told a story about how she’d lost her temper with one of her kids. She narrated how she’d lashed out at her child for doing something silly with an art project because of the teacher’s issues with her own parents. It was the way that she told it – and the way your heart ached for both her and her child – that reminded me, once again, that the very first step towards fixing attitudes and behaviors in yourself that you don’t like is – per Alcoholics Anonymous – to recognize them. Which is so very, very key to parenting, among other things.

5. Breathe. I think it takes awhile when you’re doing yoga regularly to understand why the breathing is so important. At first blush, it would seem that doing the stretches correctly is way more important than remembering to breathe. I’ve been doing yoga for nearly four years and it was only a week ago that the breathing thing really sunk in. As my teacher noted, “Your breath is what centers you. It is what makes you present and anchors the entire pose.” And just like that, a light bulb went off. Focusing on the breathing helps you to really zoom in on the here and now, something which some of us (cough) struggle with at times.

Image: Hatha Yoga Video Lunge Pose – Hanurasana by myyogaonline via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Cleaning Up After Your Dog: Welcome To Adulthood

November 23, 2010

It would seem, on the face of it, to be another one of those cardinal sign posts of adulthood: cleaning up after your dog.

After all, it’s the very first thing we teach our kids when we give them a pet, isn’t it?

“Now, honey. If you want to have a pet, you need to learn to be responsible for it. You need to walk it. You need to feed it. You need to clean up after it.” Right?

So why is that basic lesson seemingly lost on so many adults?

Or maybe it’s just here in London where I live. As I ranted a few weeks back upon returning from the pristine, dog-poop free streets of Berlin, many Brits just don’t seem to get the whole dog mess thing.

A few statistics to back that claim up. According to Keep Britain Tidy, in 2008 the UK dog population was estimated to be 7.3 million, with dogs producing approximately 1,000 tonnes of excrement each day. In a recent survey of over 19,000 sites, dog fouling was present in over 8% of these sites. The highest level of dog fouling can be found in areas where people actually live.

It’s not because there aren’t plenty of signs around telling you to clean up after your dog. There’s even a 50 pound ($75) fine for not doing so, which can go as high as 1000 pounds ($1500) if you need to go to court.

But how do you enforce that penalty, short of cycling around Hampstead Heath and chastising random strangers when they let their dog crap all over the place? (Trust me: I’ve tried it. One lady responded “Oh, I didn’t see it.” Um….excuse me, lady, but isn’t that precisely *why* we take our dogs out in the first place?)

Please know that this is not an anti-pet rant on my part. (I’ve actually grown more fond of pets lately, at least cats, ever since that crazy lady up in Coventry casually tossed one in a bin.)

This just seems like a matter of civility and community…not to mention public health. (Read this charming little explanation of all the lovely diseases you can get from dog poop, even long after it has disintegrated.)

But unfortunately, it does rely on establishing a set of norms around this practice, and I’m just not sure how one goes about inculcating a culture of cleaning up dog mess.

In my old house, I lived in what’s known as a Mews, which is somewhat akin to a courtyard. Every day for a two month period, some person (not one of us) was apparently getting up really early in the morning, taking their dog for a walk, letting it poo right in front of our Mews and then leaving it there. The amazing thing about this little period in our lives was that the dog did his business in *the very same spot* – literally – every day. For two months. It was absolutely outrageous.

It really bothered all of the residents of the Mews and we talked about setting up a patrol to bust this person in the act, even if that required creating shifts to man the watch tower at all hours of the day. But we never got that far.

Because a 90-year old resident of our Mews – literally, someone’s Grandmother – took the law into her own hands. One night she got out some chalk and went and circled all of the poop left by said dog. And then, in huge capital letters, she wrote the following: “Shame on you! Naughty Dog! CCTV is watching you! We know where you live!”

And just like that, it stopped.

Granny’s tactics might seem a bit draconian to some, but I think she had it just right. And – tellingly – there’s actually a town in Buckinghamshire that’s using high-tech surveillance techniques along highly trafficked dog walking routes to film dog poop offenders in the act and then follow them home and bust them. (Interestingly, the person who developed this surveillance method previously used it on cheating spouses. Yikes!)

But I’ve got another idea. You know that whole Great Society thing that David Cameron and Co. are actively pushing as the signature initiative of their new administration? It’s all about volunteerism and civic virtue and getting citizens taking over some of the things that local government previously did for them.

To which I say, Hooray, Boys. And here’s your first charge: let’s develop a citizen’s brigade to go out and clean up our streets and free them of dog feces. It ain’t pretty, but somebody’s got to do it.

I know I’ll raise my hand.

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the latest egregious human rights abuses in China. Have a look…

 

Image: no dog poop by monicamuller via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

November 19, 2010

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Sorry to be a party-pooper, but I couldn’t help but lead off with my own Scrooge-like take on all the royal wedding coverage over here in the U.K. at http://www.PoliticsDaily.com.

2. After the British government announced that it would be collecting data on the subjective well-being of its citizens earlier this week, The Guardian’s Tim Dowling came up with some sample questions.

3. Here’s the marvellous Gretchen Rubin over on The Huffington Post with 9 zany assignments to break up your ordinary routine. I *love* the idea of talking for 15 minutes without using the words “I” or “me.” (Good blogging advice too!)

4. Also love, love, love this cartoon at The Oatmeal about what it’s like to work from home, especially the bit about its effect on relationships.

5. Take a look at Erin McKean’s insightful piece in The Boston Globe about what phrases like “I hate to tell you” really mean.

6. Finally, the week wouldn’t be complete without this hilarious piece by Brittany Hunt at The Miscellany News about how to date a Women’s Studies major. (Hat tip: Salon Broadsheet)

Have a great weekend!

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When Your Child Comes In Second Place

November 18, 2010

In that competitive, fast-paced, land of over-parenting that we all now inhabit, encouraging your child to come in first place is a no-brainer. But what about when your kid comes in second? How do children – and parents – deal with that?

I had reason to confront this question myself recently when my son told me that he was a finalist in an annual reading competition at his school. Every autumn, three children are selected from each year group to stand up before a roomful of parents and teachers and read a passage from their favorite books. My son won the competition last year with a selection from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Return of the King,” so he was already the defending champion. But what if he didn’t win this time?

It doesn’t help that my son goes to a school where — because they’re all boys and because they’re 9 — the kids rank each other on everything they do: who’s the best soccer player; who can recite his times tables fastest; who can play two instruments and at what level. One of his friends even phoned me up one day to announce that my son was his “third best friend, so could he please stay for dinner?” (Gosh! I wondered. What do the first and second best friends get? Dessert? A movie?)

My son chose a particularly challenging passage to read. It was a scene from Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” one that required him to produce both a credible American Southern accent as well as some 19th-century slang. (We live in London, so neither of these things is exactly familiar territory.)

As the date approached, we rehearsed the passage several times a week. As a veteran of many high-school theatrical productions (and the daughter of an actress), I coached him on pacing, intonation and accent. We re-read the passage over and over, homing in on the really tough bits of dialogue until he got them right. The night before the finals, I felt that he finally nailed it.

Read the rest of this post at the New York Times Motherlode blog

Image: What’s this I hear about over-parenting? by Kevin L. Moore via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Edit Productively

November 17, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve got writing on the brain these days. I’ve recently joined a writing group and I’m about to turn back to my own manuscript in a few days. (Drumroll, please…)

So I’m thinking again, about the craft of writing. Not the initial creative burst that yields a blog post…an article…a novel. But that potentially stomach-churning, roll-up-your-sleeves and stare-the-beast-in-the-face process commonly known as editing. (I think Ernest Hemingway summed up the distinction between these two phases best when he said: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”)

Fortunately for me, many of the blogs and e-zines I regularly peruse are devoted to precisely this topic: the craft of writing. So I’m constantly being bombarded with new ideas about the writing process, which I dutifully file away for when the time comes.

Accordingly, this week’s tips list goes out to all of you fellow travellers who have something you need to edit – it could be a poem…a short story…heck, an office memo…and, like me, you need to find your mojo.

Here are five things to keep in mind when you edit:

1. Take time off after the first draft. This crucial piece of advice comes from Stephen King in his fabulous, incredibly useful, not-to-be-missed book, On Writing. (Did I tell you how much I liked it?) King recommends that novelists take 4-6 weeks off after finishing a manuscript so that they can come back to it fresh. But I’d say that – if you can manage it, subject to deadlines, etc. – take even longer than that. The reason for waiting to begin the re-writing process is that you want to be able to open your ms. up and read it like anyone else would. You don’t want to be able to recite it line by line. And there’s another reason to let your story sit. As a friend of mine who’s a screenwriter once told me, “You’ll surprise yourself. There will be things that will be better than you thought they were and things that will be worse.” And that’s exactly the point:  to be surprised. Because that’s the only way you’ll figure out what works, what needs fixing and what should be tossed in the bin.

2. Find ways to make the material new. If you’re like me, you find writing the first draft of anything far more fun than slogging your way through the edit. That’s natural. The first draft is all about throwing stuff out there, while the second (and third…and fourth…) drafts are about refinement. (See again, Hemingway.) So when you’re in re-write mode, it’s really important to come up with devices that help you make the old draft feel new. If you’re writing fiction, you might decide to write a biography of all of your characters to make them come alive…again. One of my favorite writer/bloggers, Christina Baker Kline, has a host of suggestions for how to jumpstart a revision. My favorite? Write three new openings. In each opening, start from a different moment in the story – maybe even at the very end. Wow! What a great idea!

3. Trim excess words. One of the best writing assignments I ever got was in a high school English class. We were told to write an essay of 1,000 words on a given topic. The next week, we came in and the teacher told us to write the same essay, this time in 500 words. But while we all *know* that cutting excess verbiage is one of the cardinal tasks of the second draft, how to wield the axe is another story entirely. In a guest post on the amazing Write To Done blog (a must for all you writers out there), Fekket Cantenel offers very specific advice for how to clean up your narration. Under trimming excess words, she offers the following remedy: Start with the first sentence. Take out the first word and read the sentence. Does it still make sense and carry the same idea across? Yes? Then leave it out. Repeat. Skeptical? Try it. I just went up to the intro of this blog and cut out several words.

4. Read your writing out loud. This tip is brought to you by none other than David Sedaris, whose views on the writing process were generously shared by another great writer/blogger, Lisa Romeo Writes. On the topic of reading your work aloud, Sedaris says: “When I hear myself reading out loud, I hear things I don’t hear when I read (silently) to myself. When I read aloud, I always have a pencil in hand. If I feel I’m trying too hard, or I’m being repetitive, I make a mark.” Another reason to read your writing aloud is that it also helps with voice. You not only hear the repetition and the over-writing. You can also hear whether or not you sound too stilted, too casual, too funny or too sharp. I think this is why I like Sandra Tsing Loh so much as a writer. (Not incidentally, both she and Sedaris frequently perform their work on radio.) They are writers who have really honed their voice. And I’m sure that it took a lot of re-writing to get there.

5. Don’t send it off too soon. Stephen King has a great metaphor for the writing process. He talks about writing “with the door open” vs. writing “with the door closed.” I think what he’s getting at is that the first draft is really for you, the writer, to get your thoughts down on the page however they come out. But at a certain point, you need to bring in other people to read what you’ve got and offer feedback. One of the biggest mistakes writers make (Lord knows I’m guilty of this) is to spend endless amounts of time on the “closed door” phase of writing, but fail to spend enough time on the “open door” phase. And this can be catastrophic. Here’s the blogger/writer/editor, Victoria A. Mixon, with a cautionary tale on what happens when you send your draft out too soon, taken from her own life. Read it and weep (I’ve set it apart because it made that much of an impact on me):

You know what my first agent said about the draft I sent her of my first novel?

“I love this paragraph.”

Months later, after the manuscript had cooled off, I re-read the whole thing and was absolutely horrified.

I called her to apologize, and she responded (rather callously, I must say), “See what I had to wade through?”

 

Yikes.

What works for you when you’re editing something?

*****

I’m over on http://www.PoliticsDaily.com today talking about the British Government’s latest initiative: measuring citizens’ happiness.

 

Image: How well I could write if I were not here! by Madampsychosis via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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