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Wallpaper image: free download from www.x-menorigins.com/us

Wallpaper image: free download from http://www.x-menorigins.com/us

I went to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine last weekend, and aside from the fact that Hugh Jackman is my kind of hot, as is the character Wolverine, (Yes, I’m the kind of geek who’s had a crush on a comic book character since at least high school. My dream guys include Wolverine, Aragorn, and Neil Gaiman. Sigh.) I really enjoyed the movie. Now I find myself thinking more deeply about the film than its campy comic-book nature deserves:

Some comic fans have complained about the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but I think those that do are holding him up to an unreachable ideal. No movie actor can do justice to a character that has lived so fully inside our heads for so long. Nobody in The Lord of the Rings looked like the people who lived in my head as I read that book, and nobody in comic book movies looks like what we imagined when our minds translated the cartoon drawings to living characters. Jackman’s look is as close to the spirit of the comic as we can realistically expect—and a very nice treat for that minority of comic book fans that is made up of straight women—and his acting brings out that charmingly snarky attitude and tragic nature that make Wolverine such an intriguing character. I say we should give the guy a break.

The film’s take on Wolverine’s origins, condensing and rearranging ideas already put forth in the comics, reminded me surprisingly of a more serious and better done comic remake V for Vendetta. Both stories revolve around a corrupt government’s attempt to increase its power by rounding up people who are different from society’s image of “normal,” then subjecting them to torturous experiments. Both bring up the question of whether a person consumed with the drive for revenge can really be a hero. Both feature a hero naturally endowed with superhuman strength and physical constitution, and although this is the reason he survives, it’s also the reason why he is subjected to greater suffering than anyone else can imagine.

And, to my great surprise, both movies seem to be critiques of the administration of President George W. Bush. V for Vendetta smashed us over the head with obvious satire, but Wolverine made a few subtle, but still disturbing comments on how low America’s reputation has sunk in the past eight years: I remember, my brother (a much bigger Marvel comics fan than I) remembers, and the author(s) of the Wikipedia article on Wolverine remember(s) that Wolverine got his super-strong metal bones and claws from an incredibly cruel secret experiment run by the Canadian government. The movie attributed the torture to the U.S. military, and went on to tell about the same U.S. experimenters rounding up mutant teens and imprisoning them on an island, where they ran further cruel and unusual experiments. The scene of kids in orange jumpsuits, straining at the bars of row after row of prison cells on the island, reminded me disturbingly of a scene from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanimo Bay. And really now, when you think of a government that tortures people, that rounds up people for being different, then imprisons them indefinitely without trial, who comes to mind? The writers of the movie did pick the most believable villain for these times. It makes me sad for what Bush did to America’s reputation. I only hope the new administration will help us repair the damage, and let us rewrite our stories in a better light.

Yes, I realize that I may be reading too much into a campy, fluffy, comic book of a film, but even our silliest entertainments reveal a lot about our society, and I admire that the movie has layers of interest. The X-Men franchise overall has even more to it, more mythic themes and lessons for real life, but I’ll save those musings for tomorrow’s post.

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purple-sweater1I’ve been knitting almost daily, almost compulsively, in all sorts of situations—in cafes, on road trips, while playing chess, while watching movies, while editing manuscripts—for nearly 25 years now. For even a small project, let alone a large one like a sweater, it’s impossible for me to remember where I was and what was happening every time I worked on it, but some pieces soak up special memories of the times and places they were created in. For example, I have a green and blue shawl that is precious to me (even though I can never find an appropriate time, place, and outfit in which to wear a shawl, so it spends its life on a shelf) because I began knitting it in Québec City, while gazing out over the Saint Lawrence River, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I expect to someday treasure my blue/green/purple hat (once I get around to knitting it) because it will be made from the funky yarn I bought on my road trip to Portland, Oregon. And so on.

Then there’s the purple sweater. I didn’t choose the color to be symbolic. I just happen to really like purple, and the yarn at my local yarn shop that seemed just perfect for the pattern I’d fallen in love with in Interweave Knits magazine happened to be a heathery, dusty purple. It was only when, while sitting outside the polling place where I was serving as a polling place lead (a sort of manager and liason for the poll watchers inside) this past Election Day that it dawned on me: “I’m knitting a purple sweater!”

I was worried at the time. At our training, all poll watchers and polling place leads (volunteers, both Republican and Democrat, there to make sure the election judges were fair to every voter, and every voter who needed help or information got it) were warned not to wear or carry anything that could suggest any political affiliation, which meant, for all practical purposes, any color at all. Blue and red, of course, were taken by the Democrats and Republicans, but there was also a Green candidate on the ballot. Many colors together could be construed as a rainbow in support for gay rights. Yellow meant something, though I don’t remember what. And purple, of course, was a blend of red and blue, a call for peace between the parties, or in Colorado, an often quoted call to “Turn our state purple!” by bringing out more Democratic votes in a traditionally Republican state. So I wore all black (though I included a black hoody, a nod to Eminem’s 2004 anti-Bush campaign), hoping that nobody but the most ridiculous of racists could imagine I was campaigning for anything…until I pulled out my knitting project.

I had chosen to work on a complicated, cabled sweater because I wanted to look approachable and alert (so reading or writing wouldn’t do), but I knew that I’d be sitting in the hallway of an elementary school from 6:30am until 7pm, and I needed something to keep my mind, or at least my fingers, occupied. Nobody complained about the polling place lead sending secret messages through her sweater, though. By the end of the day, I’d added several inches to the body of the sweater, and become quite proud of its symbolic purpleness. Yes, I do hope that the divisiveness our country has suffered from for these past eight years will finally end, that we’ll all be able to work together, political leaders and everyday folks alike, to solve our country’s problems. That, and I just really like purple.

Now I’ve added another memory to my sweater: I’ve started on the sleeves now. I’m nearly done with, well, let’s call it the left sleeve. Still, my sweater will soon have a right, a left, and a center. This sleeve though, I’ll always remember, is the one I was knitting while I sat in my living room, watching Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America. Like the teary-eyed masses gathered around the Capitol this morning, I have high hopes for this man, and for what all Americans can do together under his inspiration and leadership. I am cautious in my optimism—I cannot believe that anyone can live up to all that we’ve come to expect from him, and as my favorite web comic, Sinfest, reminds us, we must resist the temptation to follow anyone blindly—but our new President has impressed me so far as being consistently well-intentioned, and powerful in his intelligence and his charisma. Hey, there’s reason for some hope.

My purple sweater has soaked up some impressive history already. I hope the rest of its life will make me even more proud.

Now is not a good time to be staying at my mother’s house, but after poll watching from 6:30am to 7:30pm, I was too tired to safely drive myself anywhere else. My mom’s recent political comments have led me to question her mental health. I can respect the fact that she’s a lifelong, devoted Republican, even though I’m a smelly hippie liberal, but she regularly declares that “those damn Democrats” are wholly to blame for everything from the existence of internet banner ads, to acts of Congress made five years ago, to the war in Iraq, to the recent stock market crash, to the entire income tax system, to global warming, to all identity theft and credit card fraud. The Democrats have the power to steal your money over the phone, to completely override the President, and to retroactively enact laws.

Earlier this week, we were watching David Letterman’s opening monologue on The Late Show, and, apparently still smarting after John McCain stood him up weeks before, Letterman was ripping into McCain with joke after joke. My mother changed the channel for the first time in probably a month, (She has the TV on for most of her waking hours, but almost never notices what’s on it.) complaining again about “Those damn Democrats.”

“McCain must have really hurt his feelings,” I suggested, Democratically.

“No,” said Mom. “He’s one of those Hollywood types. He’s always had it in for McCain.”

I bit my tongue. I was tempted to ask where her tinfoil hat was to protect her from the Democrats she was so sure were in charge of all entertainment, all news media, all government, all businesses, and all weather patterns.

Then it occurred to me: She was right, in a way. There is a Democratic conspiracy, pulling strings to get Barack Obama elected President. It’s huge. It’s pervasive. It’s nationwide. It’s very, very powerful. And as my mom suspects, I’m part of it. I’m referring, of course, to everyone who was inspired by Obama’s message of hope, and who gave money and time, who used whatever kind of influence each of us had, to get Obama elected. He didn’t do it just with money, or shiny special effects. He did it with thousands of people, each using their own everyday influence to chart the course of history. Barack Obama isn’t the only one who won tonight. We all did it, and I’m proud to be part of the conspiracy that has so much power to change the world. I’d like to take this moment to thank just a few members of the conspiracy:

• To David Letterman,

• to Tina Fey,

• to my latest movie star crush, Kal Penn,

• to Oprah Winfrey,

• to all of the other celebrities who toured the country, using their big names and beautiful faces to encourage their fans to vote,

• to every citizen, of every age, who got out and voted for the very first time,

• to Madelyn “Toot” Dunham, who proved the importance of planning ahead and voting early (may she rest in peace, and may she have known in her heart how this election would turn out),

• to the Boulder Democrat who suggested we all say, several times a day, the affirmation “President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden,”

• to Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and all the others who worked to secure my right to cast my vote,

• to all the civil rights activists of the 1960s who risked their lives to ensure that all of the citizens of the United States would be able to stand up and be counted,

• to Shepard Fairey,

• to every individual who gave 50 bucks each to make Obama’s campaign one of the best funded in our nation’s history,

• to every 18-year-old who celebrated one of the most important perks of being a full-fledged adult,

• to the moms and dads who brought their children along to the polls so that they could watch their parents make history,

• to the new citizens who rewarded themselves for all of their hard work by making their voices heard in their new home,

• to the women of Alaska who loudly and proudly declared that Caribou Barbie did not speak for them,

• to Tatsuya Ishida, who writes and draws the marvelous webcomic, Sinfest,

• to the 85-year-old lady in my neighborhood who proudly said that she voted for FDR, and she voted for Obama for the same reasons,

• to Jon Favreau,

• to every ordinary citizen who spent hours knocking on doors and calling up their neighbors to thoughtfully discuss the issues that mattered to them all,

• to the 11-year-old boy who spent hours in my local campaign office, packing up copies of news articles to be mailed to the neighbors who had asked for more information,

• to the volunteers who traveled from Utah, California, Texas, and other non-swing states to make a big difference campaigning in states like Colorado,

• to the families who welcomed those traveling volunteers into their homes for two months,

• to Amy Goodman,

• to the Obama girl on YouTube,

• to the 13-year-old blogger who eloquently dissected the problem of Sarah Palin,

• to the high school girls whose senior prank was covering their school’s lawn with Obama yard signs in the middle of the night,

• to every Facebook friend who changed his or her middle name to Hussein,

• to the Black Eyed Peas,

• to the British citizen, a legal resident of Los Angeles, who spent her last dollar traveling to Colorado to spend months of 12-plus-hour days organizing campaign volunteers, and who is now wondering how she’s going to get home,

• to the wonderful, knowledgeable, fair, and friendly election judges I worked with today,

• to the mothers and grandmothers who lovingly packed sack lunches of peanut butter and jelly, and sack dinners of tuna fish salad, for those of us working the polls today,

• and to the thousands of other hopeful, active, delightful people who I don’t know enough to name here,

I send out my heartfelt thanks. Thank you for being part of the conspiracy that just changed the world. Yes, we can, and yes, we did!

For as long as I can remember about such things, the number-one dreamboat movie star for me has been Christian Bale. I’ve loved him since Empire of the Sun—this should worry you if you’ve seen the film, but let me explain. Christian Bale is exactly three days younger than I am, (I just looked him up and found that out. I knew he was about my age, but how cool is that?) so when that movie came out in 1987, he was a little boy, and I was a little girl, just the right age to go gaga for him. When we were teenagers, I swooned over Swing Kids. At 20, I knew just what the Little Women were so excited about. Then there was American Psycho (starring an Englishman, oddly), The Machinist, and the disturbingly bad Reign of Fire, but even that wasn’t enough to crush my ardor. And now I have the cowboy version of Christian in 3:10 to Yuma, and of course, Batman, Batman, Batman… Sigh!

Kal Penn speaking to get out the vote on Auraria Campus, Denver, Colorado

And yet, I have to admit that Christian Bale is now my second biggest movie star crush. Christian has looks, and he’s certainly got talent, but I’ve now heard Kal Penn speaking for himself, seen him in action in the real world, and I’ve even had the chance to see him in person. (See my crummy cell phone snapshot, left. I couldn’t find my camera that day. My apologies.) I loved the Harold and Kumar movies, and House, M.D. He’s certainly cute, and the boy can act, but I didn’t truly fall for Kal Penn until I saw him out in the real world, gushing in his own words about the integrity and brilliance of Barack Obama. He’s clearly an idealist, (Kal, I mean. Well, Barack, too.) but he states his case with intelligence and conviction that makes his enthusiasm contageous. He’s cute, he’s smart, he’s passionate… How could a girl resist?

My crush began when I saw this interview on The Late Show with Craig Ferguson on September 5:

Yes, Kal, you can take me into a little room and do things, too… Ahem. Where was I? Ah, yes. Smart, enthusiastic, idealistic. What a guy! What I found most touching is that this bona-fide movie star, prime-time TV regular, and cult hero (for Harold and Kumar) said that he was volunteering to wear an orange vest and usher people around because he felt that this “could really make a difference.” In an industry and at a level of success that encourages self-centeredness and self-congratulation, Kal Penn has spent most of 2008 working like crazy for a cause that he truly believes (or so he’s convinced me) will make the world a better place for everyone.

Last Saturday, I got to see Kal Penn in person, along with Eva Longoria (of Desperate Housewives) and Adam Rodriguez (of CSI Miami), speaking at my old stomping grounds on Auraria Campus in downtown Denver. (Auraria Campus is home to three schools: Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and my alma mater, the University of Colorado at Denver.) He gave a speech similar to the one in the video below, which is from Cleveland, on his pre-primary campus tour. Of course, since I saw him two days before the deadline for Coloradoans to register to vote, he was pushing us specifically for that, but most of the examples and analogies were the same. (The specifics of Obama’s plan for college financial aid weren’t in Saturday’s speech, either. I wonder if Obama’s plan has changed. I’ll have to go check on that.)

I was quite impressed with Kal’s intellect, passion, and speaking skill. (For context, I’m a Toastmaster and a former high-school debater, and I gave the sermon at my church when I was 16 years old. It takes a bit to impress me.)

And finally, check out this interview with Kal on the primary campaign trail in January:

Yum! Look at that hope, that beautiful enthusiasm! As one of the YouTube commenters said, “And it doesn’t hurt that he’s cute.” Not at all, though actually, I can’t remember how cute I thought he was on the big screen, when I knew nothing of him as a person. But now that I can see his excitement, his speaking skill, and that big, big brain, well… I’m sorry, Christian. We’ll always have high school, and college, and all of my twenties, but there’s a new guy making my heart go pit-a-pat. Sigh…

And Kal, in the unlikely event that you’d see this: Yes, I’ve registered to vote. Yes, I’ve told others to register, too. Yes, I, a registered Independent like you, am volunteering for Barack, too. Thanks for everything you’re doing. All joking aside, you have my respect, and my heartfelt thanks.

I’ve learned that deadlines vary by state, but where I am, in Colorado, and in many other states, TODAY is the deadline to register to vote in order to be eligible for the November 4 election. If you’re mailing in your registration, in most states, the deadline is the day your registration has to be in the mail and postmarked, but please check your state’s rules to be sure.

You can find state-by-state information and a mail-in form at the United States Election Assistance Commission’s web site. You can also find a mail-in form, plus helpful information on special circumstances (like how to register if you don’t have an address!), registration for U.S. citizens overseas, how to request a mail-in ballot, and more at the web site of the League of Women Voters. The League of Woman Voters is my favorite resource for all kinds of non-partisan information for voters. Also check out their site for unbiased information on the candidates’ stances on specific issues, and the lowdown on what all of the ballot issues in your area are really about. Also, to find out if you are already registered to vote, and to check your status (Are you set to get a mail-in ballot? What party are you registered with? and so on), Google “County Clerk and Recorder” for the county you live in.

It should be clear by now which candidates I’m pulling for in this election, but whoever you support (or if you haven’t decided yet), please, please make sure you’re registered to vote, study the issues and the candidates to be sure you’re voting for what you truly believe in, and get out there and vote! I’ve been touched in the past few weeks to see how many people, Democrat, Republican, and other, are working to get record numbers of voters registered this year. They all seem to believe, as I do, that if every eligible citizen registers to vote, then votes for what he or she truly believes in, we will get the right people in office. So again, please register, please think carefully, and please, please vote!

Courtesy of Colorado Women Against Palin

Courtesy of Colorado Women Against Palin

All joking aside, I’ve spent all of my fully-formed, outside-of-someone-else’s-body life as a Colorado resident, so I’m proud to see Coloradoans speaking out just like the Alaskans. Last weekend, Colorado Women Against Palin held rallies in Lakewood (at Belmar shopping center, a few blocks away from the house I grew up in) and Westminster. Go, ladies, go!

Still, I think the best arguments against Sarah Palin for Vice President have been coming from an Alaskan woman: Palin, herself. From the Katie Couric interview (so laughable that Saturday Night Live could make a skit by repeating it nearly verbatim) to the debate full of factual inacuracies (Who really needs to know how many troops we have in Iraq?) and winking at the camera (Britney Spears for Vice President! Woohoo!), Palin has made our point more clearly than any of us could.

I’ve just discovered the marvelous blog “Mudflats: Tiptoeing Through the Muck of Alaskan Politics,” which, I think, has a lot to teach all American citizens who are trying to decide whether to elect Alaska’s governor as our understudy for a 72-year-old leader of the free world. I have to say that, while I want to thank Sarah Palin for all she’s done to prove that women with glasses can be sexy and fashionable (though my hero, Tina Fey, has done much more for myopic ladies like me), the more I learn about what Palin actually stands for politically, the more she scares the hell out of me. I’ve been hoping to hear more from the people who have real experience with Palin, though, so I was delighted to read Mudflats’ coverage of the “Alaska Women Reject Palin” rally, which immediately followed Palin’s “Welcome Home” rally in Anchorage on Sunday, September 14. It also kicked that rally’s butt, with a conservatively estimated 1400 supporters attending, compared to a generously estimated 900 at the pro-Palin shindig. [Note: The photos on this post are copied from the Mudflats blog, which gave permission to share them if I included links back to their blog. Thanks, Mudflats!]

As an Alaskan woman, I’m very sorry I wasn’t able to be there. Oh, you didn’t know I was Alaskan? Well, according to Sarah Palin, I am. You see, my parents met and married in Anchorage, and lived there until August of 1973, when they hopped a plane and moved straight to Colorado. I was born in Denver in January of 1974, so, according to Palin (and an upcoming resolution on Colorado’s ballot, which also scares me), my life had begun and I was a person in Alaska for about four months. I just didn’t get to enjoy the view.

Does this explanation sound ridiculous to you? Well, try charging rape victims for the “rape kit” procedures that collect the evidence of the crimes, as the city of Wasilla tried to do while Palin was mayor. How about a pregnant 17-year-old’s mother continuing to tell the country that abstinence-only education works? How about a person living in Alaska, watching the weather change and the glaciers shrink and the tundra melt, and telling the world that global warming isn’t a problem? Yes, Palin scares me. Apparently, the people who know her best are scared, too. I’d like to thank the majority of the women of Alaska for standing up for me, and to say: Even though I’m not really an Alaskan woman, and even though I’ve never been to your beautiful state, I wish I were there to stand beside you. Thank you for speaking up.

For more from outspoken Vagina-Americans (as Samantha Bee called us on The Daily Show‘s 8/29/08 episode), check out this essay by Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler.