December 02, 2005

Recognizing and Dealing With Hidden Agendas

Some people have hidden agendas: Goals that they wish to accomplish at some cost to others. To the astute, these agendas can quickly become quite obvious. (If someone wishes to accomplish a goal and it is not at some cost to others, then that isn't an agenda, but just a goal.)

What kinds of hidden agendas can people have? They might want to

  • Make themselves feel better about themselves by putting other people down.
  • Achieve a position of power or prestige at the expense of others.
  • Control other people.
  • Make other people feel bad about themselves.

How can you recognize a hidden agenda? Pay attention to what a person says or does, and see how you feel in response to it. If someone says something that may seem like some kind of compliment, but feels like a put-down, then it could be an action arising out of a hidden agenda. If you confront that person about it (lovingly, of course), and they deny it or try to explain it away, give them the benefit of the doubt, but keep an eye on them. If the same kind of behavior continues, and you confront them again on it and they still deny it or explain it away, but continue acting the same, then the likelihood is high that it is a hidden agenda. (Sometimes a person's agendas are hidden even from themselves, because they are in denial about it.)

At that point, you need to decide what you want to do about/with that person. Do you want to keep associating with them? If it is a friend, you can drop the friendship—after all, what kind of friend continually tries to undermine you, control you, or make you feel bad about yourself?

If it is a family member or co-worker or, worse yet, a boss, it can be a little trickier—it is harder to just drop such people, but you are free to do everything you can to minimize contact with that person, and to also develop some defense strategies of your own.

If you are the book-reading sort, there are some excellent books you can read that can help raise your awareness about other people's hidden agendas and how to deal with them. Here is just a sampling (with links to, though you can also try your local library):

One thing to be aware of is that it takes time to learn to recognize hidden agendas, and even more time to learn the skills required to deal effectively with these agendas. A recent study has shown that being compassionate with yourself is actually more important when dealing with difficult situations than having good self-esteem. So be kind and gentle with yourself while you are learning, and know that there is always more to learn.

October 30, 2005

What NOT To Name the Baby

Every time I come across this Web site on baby names, I end up laughing so hard tears come out of my eyes. This site reveals just the tip of the iceberg concerning the crimes some parents commit upon their children by way of naming them weird, odd, horrible things.

Mind you, some of the "humor" on this Web site isn't very kind. Still, some of it is dead-on.

Which reminds me of a book I once read long, long ago called People Named Smith, by H. Allen Smith. It is very funny. Long out of print, it is still available in some libraries. If you can't find it there, it is certainly on the used book circuit for very reasonable sums. I just ordered it for myself, because over the years, every now and then, I find myself wanting to quote from it but, not having it to hand, unable to share the humor with others with anything like the original sparkle and wit that H. Allen Smith brings.

December 09, 2003

That Almost-Forgotten Thing: Honor

I just saw the best movie of the year.

The two Matrix movies were highly enjoyable, but I've never been fond of devastated-earth stories--they make it seem as though humankind can somehow survive without any other life on earth also being alive, which subtly fosters the idea that we can do what we want with our environment and everything will still be hunky-dorey.

And Finding Nemo was a delight--I even own it--but it would not have been nearly as good without Ellen Degeneras's voice acting. Take the character of Dory away as she brought her to life, and it was, yes, the most beautiful animation I have ever seen, and yes, the rest of the characters were fun and the story was good, but without Dory, the movie sinks to a more modest level. (It astounds me that the filmakers themselves show no awareness, in their director's commentary, of how important she was to the success of that movie.)

And yes, I expected to enjoy Harry Potter 3, though it has been delayed, and I definitely expect to enjoy The Return of the King, though the trailers make it look like it was lit by some ghastly neon-grey-green graveyard lighting, which would make it pretty darrn gloomy through most of the movie. (What is it with filmakers who film an entire movie in a limited palette of greys? Couldn't afford the color film, could we?)

And granted, I suspect that Mystic River is another solid, impeccable offering by Clint Eastwood, but it isn't the kind of story I like to watch, so I probably will never see it.

In fact, I thought Pirates of the Caribbean was going to be the best movie of the year. But The Last Samurai just blew that away. I foresee a strong contender for some Oscars here, and I sure hope it doesn't get shorted because someone thinks The Return of the King should win an Oscar for Best Picture because Jackson et al were slighted in previous years. This is just the sort of problem you get when people wait to vote for a movie to be Best Picture because they think something better will come along in the series. Something else even better may come along, and in this case, it just did. If The Last Samurai doesn't get Best Picture, it will only be because The Return of the King got it because it was too late to go back and award it to The Fellowship of the Ring, which definitely did deserve it.

Anyway, it is late and I have things to do, so I will just sign off by saying that this is Tom Cruise's best work, and the other actors, such as Ken Watanabe, are likewise incredibly good. It is about honor and respect and doing the right thing despite the fear. Go see it.

November 19, 2003

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie

Caution: Strong and disturbing adult themes are discussed in this post. Please do not read if you are under 18.

My daughter and I are both very fond of Japanese anime. Although there are some differences in taste between us, there are some we all enjoy, such as Rurouni Kenshin, Trigun, and Cowboy Beebop. (My host daughter from Japan, Manami, is also very fond of anime, and she is also a big fan of Kenshin.)

One of the differences in taste is that my daughter prefers the Revolutionary Girl Utena series, which I have not been so fond of. However, the Utena movie is a different matter. We currently have it rented (from NetFlix; if you haven't discovered NetFlix yet, do yourself a big favor and check it out). I watched it once through before my daughter had a chance to, then watched it through again with her.

The first time I found a lot of story to be puzzling. Things and scenes didn't seem to make sense. The second time I found arising unbidden in my mind a theory of what is happening that completely explains everything in the movie. When I told the theory to my daughter, whom I can normally count on to immediately find the weak points in my theories, she said it made sense, and, she says, the more she thinks about it, the more sense it makes to her. In fact, she says, it explains some things that she cannot find any other explanation for. With this theory, far from being a weird fantasy story that makes little sense, Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie is in fact a very wholesome story of healing and integration.

Continue reading "Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie" »

October 27, 2003

Anne Geddes--Secret Baby Hater?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Anne Geddes' work, she is famous for dressing babies up in flower costumes and putting them in flowerpots and other surroundings, then taking pictures of them. She also has dressed them as snails, fairies, bears, and even food in a bowl. (You can see some examples here.) I don't like her art. It makes babies into just so much furniture.

For her latest book, perhaps meaningfully titled Pure, she has extended her baby art into a whole new area of uneasy weirdness. Here are some examples: She wrapped a baby and a woman in a tight mesh to make it look as though the baby was still in the woman's womb, though the message conveyed is more one of the devouring mother who cannot let her baby free. She surrounded a baby with weird stuff to simulate a womb, ending up with the effect that the baby, instead of looking enclosed in a mother's comforting warmth, looks isolated, lost, alone and uncared for. She hung babies like so many sacks of cottage cheese in knotted cheesecloth sacks on a line, giving the impression that babies are just an assembly-line object, plenty more where those came from, and all of them alike, none unique, no need to worry about individuals.

She has an entire line of products based on both her earlier and her latest work—books, posters, calendars, clothing, plush toys, gift wraps with her images on it, and whatever one can put the images on. She has also influenced a whole crowd of women who should know better.

Ms. Geddes is undoubtedly a gifted photographer and a canny marketer. And judging by her success, many people find her work to be adorable and cute. I just have to wonder whether these are the same people who found The Nanny Diaries "hilarious," "funny," and "a light read." Do they actually look at what they are praising?

Continue reading "Anne Geddes--Secret Baby Hater?" »

June 21, 2003

My Favorite Movie Site

I don't have a lot of Web sites that I return to regularly. Normally, when I use the Internet, I am working or doing research of some sort or another (I know—shouldn't I be using it for fun?). But there are a few Web sites I visit consistently, and Tagline is one of them. I pop in there at least once a week (unless I am wading through an incredible work load, as I was this past week), and I always find something to amuse or challenge me. I actually post comments and send in movie quotes to this site, and you can too. I even consider myself a fan girl of this site, and that will totally startle those who know how very far I am from being a fan-type person and how extremely rare it is for fact, aside from my hero-admiration-from-afar of a certain someone, I consider myself fangirl to nobody. Except the excellent brothers Steven and Al who maintain Tagline.

May 16, 2003

Dark Side of the Moon

National Public Radio celebrates the 30th anniversary of Pink Floyd's album, Dark Side of the Moon.

There's a discussion, among other things, of the use of this album as a soundtrack for the movie, The Wizard of Oz. I tried that once; it really does work. You have to start the album at the right time (the third roar of the MGM lion), and let the album loop (because it isn't as long as the movie). If you get it just right, the transitions and associations are eerily accurate.

Listen to the short audio commentary at the above Web site for much, much more on this topic. The interviewee says he spoke with Alan Parsons (who was the sound engineer for Pink Floyd at the time the album was made). If you read between the lines and listen to what Alan Parsons did and did not say, you will notice that Mr. Parsons never actually denies that there is a connection or that the coordination of the album's music with the movie's scenes and themes was deliberate. To which I say, interesting, very interesting. I had always assumed it was a coincidence until I heard this audio commentary. Though of course it could be one of those things where an intelligent man (which Mr. Parsons is) wants to maintain a certain mystique.

Also, you absolutely must listen to the clip from Pickin' On Pink Floyd: A Bluegrass Tribute. I think I have to own that CD. For that matter, I also want the reggae cover and the string quartet cover of the entire album. Absolutely maximally cool.

April 02, 2003

Half Past Dead

I rented Half Past Dead today and watched it this evening. With some trepidation. I had wanted to see it when it came out in the theaters, but couldn't find anyone who would go with me (I much, much prefer seeing a movie with someone), and then it was gone, vanished in the dust of critical disapproval. So I was worried that I wouldn't like it--that I would find a Steven Seagal film that I didn't like. No need to worry. The critics, as usual, were wrong.

I can see where the film might have lost the critics. There is a warmth in the midst of the action, a bond between men, understandings that passed with a look between characters without being spelled out in words, that might have confused the critics. It isn't, in short, an easy movie, and one must have some modicum of sensitivity and understanding to get it. Although this may sound like an odd thing to say about an action film, one isn't spoon fed in this movie, nor is it totally just an action movie. In short, it is hard to classify, and most critics hate things that don't fit easily into one bucket or another.

So how can one classify it?

  • Action? Undoubtedly. But that isn't all there is to it and the fights are, surprisingly, fewer, or at least seem fewer, than the usual fare, and rely more on suggestion than out-and-out blood and gore.
  • Hiphop? Yes, to an extent. The soundtrack is heavy on the hiphop, perhaps hoping to draw in those who love Ja Rule and Kurupt, but is perhaps the weakest part of the film. Nothing wrong with the soundtrack or hiphop; it just got in the way sometimes. Though the film editor did his or her creative best to match the cutting to the music.
  • Thriller? Some. You think one of the characters is going to be a Hannibal Lectorish-type character (from Silence of the Lambs), and he isn't. Smart and principled in his own way, observant of things that are said and unsaid, and acting on those observations without having to say why he is acting as he is.
  • A buddy film? Sort of, but not the simplistic sort of things that try to make us think that two men can be friends without there having to be some work and some give-and-take on both sides. It was refreshing to see the relationship between Steven Seagal's character and Ja Rule's character be tested, be stressed, and yet make it.
  • Mystical? Yes, it is that too. The title refers to the fact that one of the characters is clinically dead for a while, and then comes back to life with a greater understanding of What It's All About. This plays a key role in later events in the film in an almost coincidental way, though as Jung said, there isn't any such thing as coincidence, and instead what seems to be coincidental is all part of a beautifully choreographed dance that we all participate in, half-unknowing.

Aside from Steven Seagal, who is much underrated as an actor (and who shows some particularly fine acting in this film), one of the things I really like about this movie is that its makers actually respect their audience enough to trust that the audience will figure some things out on their own, without having cue cards and crayoned signs. In fact, though most might miss the resemblance, I see a strong thread of the understated Japanese ethos running through this film, where much is said in looks and actions, and not as much in words.

That is probably what bugged the critics the most--they couldn't figure it out, and so they dismissed it, making the usual sneering, unoriginal comments about Steven Seagal's acting abilities. Yes, it is an action film and yes, it is pretty experimental in many ways, but I admire the fact that the filmmakers were willing to take a few chances.

Of course, I could be totally wrong and the filmmakers could be laughing up their sleeves at my take on this movie, but that's the beauty of any artistic work: One can take what one likes out of it, regardless of what was meant. Which reminds me of something that happened when I went to see The Game (starring Michael Douglas), where my date turned to me and said, at the end of the movie...well, I'll save that anecdote for another post.

March 03, 2003

The Cairo Trilogy

I just finished reading The Cairo Trilogy, by Naguib Mahfouz, which won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. I read all 1,313 pages in one day, starting at 10 AM, taking a break from 6 PM to 10 PM, then returning to complete it by 4 AM--so, 14 hours in toto, making it a fairly fast 93 pages an hour. I've impressed myself; perhaps I've set a new reading landspeed record for myself, though I am humbled by the reading achievements and abilities of others, who can read an astonishing 2.500 words a minute or more.

But vanity or humility aren't the topic of today's essay. The book, and everything it represents, is.


The book, written by an Egyptian man who was born in 1911 and starting writing when he was 17, follows the lives of a Muslim family through three generations in Egypt, from World War I on into the 1940s. The focus throughout is primarily on the first and second generation (the parents and their childen), with some smaller focus on the following generations born in that time span.

Although one might be tempted to compare the work with anything by James Michener in terms of size and scope, there really isn't a parallel. Though Michener also sweeps through generations, he gives a much wider historical perspective and follows the fortunes of more families, though perhaps with much less initimate detail. This book focuses more narrowly on the one family and on the small, everyday details of their lives and interactions, though Egyptian politics do come into it throughout.

Two Things About This Book

I will say up front two things about this book:

  1. Anyone who wishes to understand the Muslim and Middle Eastern cultures could learn a great deal by reading this book
  2. I found many aspects of this book repellent, both in the attitude of the writer toward his subject matter, and in many aspects of the Arab culture itself. I say that as someone who has studied many cultures of the world, and as someone who is in general positive, optimistic, open-minded, and generous-hearted toward other cultures.

This is not to say that everything is wrong about the Arab culture, for there is much to praise and admire. The Arabs carried the torch of learning and education when Europe was maliciously burning "witches" and their "familiars" (usually cats) at the stake, usually so that the Christian church or some man could obtain the so-called witch's property, while others ignorantly stood by or even rooted the perpetrators on. (Of course, they paid for it, because the "witches" had a lot of healing herbal knowlege that was lost, and cats kept the rodent population down, and we all know about the Black Death. Fools.)

And if it hadn't been for the Arabs, the works of Plato and other ancient Greeks would have been irretrievably lost, thanks to our savage, book-burning ancestors. It was the Arabs who admired and preserved works from the Greek culture while Europe went down in flames into the Dark Ages, and it was Arabs who made many mathematical advances. Many magnificent works or art and literature came out of the Arab culture as well, even though Western Europe tends to marginalize or trivialize those works.

Nonetheless, arts and sciences aside, this book starkly portrays an unlovely side to the Arab culture that needs serious scrutiny.

Continue reading "The Cairo Trilogy" »

August 08, 2002

The Nanny Diaries

I just finished reading The Nanny Diaries, which I think should be required reading for everyone, whether they are parents or not. Whether, even, they ever intend to be parents or not. But I will warn you, this book is not the lighthearted, fluffy read that the reviewers say it is. I don't know where those reviewers have been or what alternative dimension they've been reading the book in, but this book is far from lighthearted. Instead, it is a dark condemnation of the kind of person who is empty inside and doesn't even know it, and the kind of damage they can do, not just to their children, but to everyone they come into contact with, as a consequence of that emptiness.

Continue reading "The Nanny Diaries" »