A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Friday, July 13, 2018

Believing Women

Reading this blog post got me thinking about stories in the bible where men fail to believe women. I recently got called as a primary teacher for the 11-12 year old girls in my ward. Last week, I taught my first lesson, which was Lesson #25 in the Primary 6 manual about Samson. Reading Judges 13-16, there is a lot there which is probably not appropriate to share with young girls (the whole Samson-gets-his-wife-killed-in-an-ethnic-war thing is PROBLEMATIC to say the least). 

One aspect of the story was something I had forgotten about. In Judges Chapter 13, Manoah's wife (Note 1) gets a visit from an Angel, who tells her that she's going to have a son, despite the fact that she's barren (Note 2). The Angel tells Mrs. Manoah that (a) her son will be a Nazarite (one dedicated to the Lord) and (b) her son is going to deliver Israel from the Philistines. The Angel also communicates how to care for the child - telling her not to drink strong drink while she is pregnant, and not to cut the child's hair. This is a pretty remarkable experience - the Angel appears to her alone and gives her some Pretty Important News that will impact not only her life, but the course of her entire nation.

Naturally, Mrs. Manoah communicates this to Mr. Manoah (Judges 13:6). Now, the text is unclear, because it doesn't actually contain any of the words that Manoah spoke to his wife. But his immediate reaction to the news is to pray and ask God what they should do with the child (Judges 13:8). What is clear is that at least he believes his wife is going to have a child - so I guess he *partially* believes her. But he somehow doesn't believe what they should do with the child (which, remember, the Angel told Mrs. Manoah!). So Manoah prays to God and asks what they should do.

At this point God hearkens to Manoah and sends the same Angel to...Mrs. Manoah! So rather than appear to Manoah in answer to his prayer, the Angel appears again to Mrs. Manoah. This time, she goes and gets her husband. It's important to note that when Manoah asks the Angel what they should do, the Angel says the same thing in verses 13-14 that he did in verse 7 back when he was speaking to Mrs. Manoah alone. In fact, the Angel specifically says "Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware" - basically, "Dude, I already told your wife this, but if you need to hear it from me, here you go."

What's interesting annoying about the LDS Primary Manual is that it asks this question: "When Manoah heard what the angel told his wife, what did he do that showed he had spiritual strength?" I mean, sure, it is important to pray and receive our own testimony. But to me, that isn't the key takeaway from this part of the story. My takeaway is that Manoah didn't trust his wife to receive spiritual revelation impacting the life of their child. So, needless to say, I did not ask this question during my lesson.

Manoah and his wife named their baby boy Samson, and he...had some issues. But that's another post, the moral of this post is: Believe Women! They have amazing spiritual experiences. Mrs. Manoah's experience has echos in the stories of Jesus and John the Baptist. Zechariah didn't believe Elizabeth, but at least Joseph did believe Mary (although...come to think of it, he did have an Angel appear to him to help him out too...). Seems like maybe men need some repetition over this message for the past few thousand years!


Note 1: Samson's mom isn't given a name in the text, though Wikipedia suggests it was either Hazelelponi or Aselelphuni. We'll just call her Mrs. Manoah. Interesting how women are so often defined in relation to the men in the story - which is why I'm excited I get to teach about Ruth and Naomi this week!
Note 2: It's always the *woman* who is barren. In reality, it's possible her husband was the infertile one. This is just a symptom of the larger point.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Woman's Hour

One childhood memory I have is being caught reading multiple times on the same night AFTER lights out. I don't remember what I was reading, but I do remember the secret thrill of re-opening the book, getting out a flashlight, and trying to squeeze out a few more minutes of reading. Adults often say that they don't have time for reading, which is true for me too, but every once in a while, a book comes along and sucks me in - when that happens, I usually have a compulsion to finish the book. At that point, all I can do is enjoy the ride and be grateful for great books.

That happened to me this weekend, when, amidst other things that I *should* have been doing, instead I read all 330 pages of "The Woman's Hour" by Elaine Weiss in less than 24 hours. It's a book about the battle to ratify the 19th Amendment in Tennessee in 1920. Remember, the 19th amendment is the one that "gave" women the vote. That passive phrasing belies the thousands of hours and hundreds of campaigns that women waged in order to get their rights.


Most Americans may learn a little bit about the suffrage movement during their high school American history course. They may learn about Susan B. Anthony and even Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But beyond that, we typically don't spend a lot of time discussing the suffrage movement. This book brings alive the characters and forces that shaped this moment in time. It's a gripping story with a lot of twists and turns - even though I knew the outcome, it kept me engaged right til the bitter end! It talked about the grand strategies and plans, but also had a lot of great details (Get Women the Vote was translated into the colors Green, White, and Violet).


Instead of another Transformers/Avengers/Fast & Furious movie, I started thinking about the fact that this book HAS TO BE MADE INTO A MOVIE. Or even a Netflix multi-episode series. Once I started thinking about that, I started to cast the movie/mini-series in my head. So, without further ado, here is my casting dream team for "The Woman's Hour" movie - if we start filming now, we can get it released during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment's ratification in 2020!

At the beginning of the story, three women are boarding trains - all headed to Nashville to fight their chosen battle, as Tennessee could be the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, thus enacting the amendment.

First up, Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA). This is a role that Meryl Streep was born to play, and she MUST DO IT.
Compare Carrie Chapman Catt's photo to Meryl Streep in the movie "Suffragette," and you'll agree this is fate
Our second train passenger is Sue White, a militant suffragette who was part of Alice Paul's radical "Women's Party" and was also a native of Tennessee. For this role, I'm casting Brie Larson - she's got to be tough and smart.
Brie Larsen / Sue White
The third train passenger is Josephine Pearson, head of the Anti-suffrage movement in Tennessee. It may shock you to know that there were many women who were against suffrage, but it's true. One of them was Josephine Pearson, an educator from southern Tennessee, who led the charge in 1920, and was *almost* successful. In my mind, Kathy Lee Bates would play this role with gusto and empathy to Pearson's concerns.
Kathy Lee Bates / Josephine Pearson
These three women converge for a multi-week battle during a hot summer in Tennessee. They are joined by loyal footsoldiers from the suffrage and anti-suffrage movements, including:

- Catherine Kenney, a Catholic redhead who headed the Tennessee Women Voters' ratification committee. I see Amy Adams in this role.
- Anne Dudley, a society woman and mother who made suffrage socially acceptable, to be played by Felicity Jones.
- Betty Gram, who left a Broadway career to become a suffragette (and confronted and publicly shamed politicians who double crossed the movement). Jennifer Laurence can portray her.
- Juno Frankie Pierce, an African American suffrage leader who addressed the first meeting of the Tennessee League of Women Voters in the statehouse. This role is for Octavia Spencer.
- Anita Pollitzer, a veteran political operative who combed the hills of Tennessee to find out politicians' stances and convince them to vote for suffrage. Carey Mulligan would do a good Anita, I think.
- Nina Pickard, President of the Southern Women's Rejection League. Reese Witherspoon is from Alabama, and Nina was too, so this is meant to be.
- Charlotte Rowe, a professional anti-suffrage speaker who spoke out across Tennessee. I would love to see Allison Janney play this role.

These women have to contend with double crossing politicians, wily presidential candidates, journalists eager for sensationalism, and the racist/sexists attitudes of the times. I really like how this book places the fight in the historical context, and draws out the issues swirling around these women. While it focuses on the 1920 fight in Tennessee, the book also lays out the history of the movement, going back to the Seneca Falls Women's Rights convention in 1848. I also like that, while the book obviously talks about the male politicians and journalists, it focuses squarely on the women, and their gumption and determination.

Helen Mirren / Febb Burn
The last character I'll mention is Phoebe (Febb) Burn, who wrote a pivotal letter to her son, the youngest state legislator, urging him to "be a good boy and vote for suffrage." Febb was college educated, and ran the farm after her husband died, while raising her kids. (Spoiler alert) Her son, Harry Burn, the youngest state legislator, ended up casting a deciding vote in the Tennessee House for suffrage. My vote is for Helen Mirren to portray her in the movie. So, Netflix and Movie Studios - it's your move. Make this happen for me!!!!
Couldn't resist casting one of the men in the story - Harry Burns, to be played by Chris Pine

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Expecting Big Things

As you may or may not know, the LDS Church will have two new Apostles this weekend. The governing body of the church is the First Presidency (a President and two counselors), and 12 Apostles. The last time vacancies happened was in October 2015, when three new Apostles were called. To the surprise of some, all of the Apostles were white men* from Utah. This time, many are hoping that the new Apostles will be a bit more diverse. As the Church has grown over the past few decades, there are more international members than domestic members, yet the only non-American Apostle is German Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

This post is part of my thought process the last time new Apostles were called. I want to posit that maybe these white men are an opportunity for us to expect more of ourselves. This might just be me "making lemonade with my lemons," but some of the talk around diversity seems to think that only if the Quorum is ethnically diverse can they lead an ethnically diverse church. In a way, this expects very little of white people - it assumes that they cannot empathize or understand the struggles of people of color. 

What should we should ask of our leaders (and ourselves)? That they only represent or understand their own race? Or should we expect more? Maybe we should expect BIG THINGS - that they talk to and understand many viewpoints different from their own. We should expect them to reach out to everyone, to examine their own biases, and truly seek to know God's will. Taken to an extreme (and this is probably a straw man), it would mean that I as a white person would not be well represented by an African (or African American) prophet. That's bogus - I think we should expect more of our leaders. Empathizing with the experiences of others requires listening, and I think that skill transcends race.

All that being said, I am personally rooting for more diversity. I do think there are great benefits to have a more diverse leadership, and it would be healthy to have a bit more diversity of thought and experience in the Quorum of the Twelve. But, if it is two white men, I will be praying for them that they will seek to understand the struggles and challenges of members in *all* situations. For the record, I would choose Gerrit Gong and Joseph Sitati as the new Apostles, but since I don't get a vote, I will just have to watch Conference this weekend!


*Male Apostles were kind of a given, but the whole gendered dynamic of church leadership is a whole 'nother post (or series of posts!).

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reflections on Hillbilly Elegy

One of my book clubs decided to read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance as our March selection. Vance's book is a memoir about his self-described hillbilly upbringing in Kentucky and Ohio with a dysfunctional but (sometimes) loving family. The book has been a New York Times Bestseller and is highly acclaimed by many seeking to understand Trump voters and "Middle America." I finished the book a few days ago, and I've been struggling to articulate what it is I didn't like about it. So, I am doing a blog post to see if I can capture some of the reasons I found it problematic.

To start with, I should say that writing a critique of someone's heartfelt memoir is problematic in and of itself. This book was a well-told story of a painful upbringing, and it was written compassionately about people who otherwise might seem crazy. It would be wrong of me to critique someone's life story - it is Vance's lived experience, and I thought he told his truth well. I know much less about Appalachia than Vance, so it is of course presumptuous of me to criticize Vance's experiences. However, I think the book goes awry when it extrapolates Vance's family's experiences to a culture at large, and proscribes "solutions" that involve people just trying harder.

I should also say that there is much that I liked about the book - Vance does a good job of painting the picture of a kid who is a fish out of water at Yale and in the military. I definitely think there are issues that this book illuminated for me, which I wouldn't have thought about otherwise. But, my "hot take" awaits! Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I didn't enjoy about the book. I've tried to use examples that I remember from the book, but I'm bad at finding and citing them, so I do apologize about that.

Poor People Deserve to Be Poor
While not found on every page, in some of the stories that Vance tells, there is a whiff of Social Darwinism. By that I mean, he often ascribes poverty to people's own poor choices. He describes working in a tile warehouse where a young man who was hired was lazy, took long breaks, and was ultimately fired. Vance uses that story as an example of why hillbilly people ultimately don't deserve to prosper, yet within the same story he also admits that most employees of the company have been there for years, which undercuts his claim that it's hard to find non-lazy employees. I don't think he adequately explains the role of luck, which I think has a lot more to do with our success or failure than we care to admit. 

Welfare Queens
Related to the point above, Vance tells some stories about people who game the welfare system. He's understandably frustrated to see people sell their food stamps so they can buy cigarettes and booze, or who have late model cell phones yet use government assistance. Yet I was annoyed that he used this as a sweeping indictment of the welfare system for everyone. Are there people who misuse welfare? Yes, of course! Is that a reason to dismiss all welfare recipients as undeserving moochers? Of course not! These types of judgments allow us to feel morally superior, but don't have a basis in reality, because most studies show a pretty low level of fraud in the welfare system. Not to mention, most food stamp recipients are getting $1 - $1.25 per meal per person, which is hardly enough to get wealthy on!!!

Us Versus Them
The narrative is often driven by a rhetoric of grievance - "coastal elites" versus "hillbillies." While of course there are many many many differences between those groups, I firmly believe that both groups have selfish and selfless souls. Rather than seeking to unite us, the book seems to push the narrative that the snobby elites can never really understand or empathize with the hillbillies. Nor does it seem to acknowledge that many of the problems affecting hillbillies also impact other marginalized groups (immigrants, African Americans, etc.).

It's Up to Us (the Hillbillies) to Fix It
In one anecdote, Vance derides hillbillies who don't or won't recognize that children's teeth rotting from drinking soda is a problem. This is understandably terrible, but I think he fails to recognize the many ways society contributes to this problem. For example, we subsidize corn, which makes corn syrup, used in many sodas, a cheap ingredient, thus making soda very cheap to buy. Vance finishes his book with a declaration of the inadequacy of government solutions, and a call to each of us to think about what we can do to individually to solve this problem: "These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them" (Page 256). I think that analysis is fundamentally flawed in a lot of ways. It lets me off the hook - since I don't live in Appalachia, there is nothing I am required to do to help my fellow citizens.

I posted earlier this week about "big government" and this is one of those areas where I do believe that government can play a role in addressing systemic poverty. We can adequately fund drug treatment and trial diversion programs. We can address housing inequality, an overworked social worker system, gun violence, lack of educational opportunities, inadequate minimum wage, and other barriers that prevent people from rising above their circumstances. To do this, we have to recognize that we are all in the same boat - this is a problem that affects all of us, and we need to come together to find societal solutions. None of this is easy, but to address these problems we need the recognition that there is a problem, and I do think Vance's book helps explain the scope of the problem on a "micro" level.

Some Links
Here are some links that I thought about while reading, or found while looking up points for this post.
Just How Wrong is Conventional Wisdom About Government Fraud? - From The Atlantic
I Drove my Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps - OpEd from Newsday
Who's Missing from College Education? Rural Students - From NPR
Living on Food Stamps - A Twitter Thread about the Realities of Being a Food Stamp Recipient (read the whole thing!)
EITC Promotes Work - Report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the effectiveness of the "Earned Income Tax Credit"

So, have any of you read Hillbilly Elegy? What are your thoughts? I won't pretend that my opinion is the only one that matters.




Saturday, March 17, 2018

BIG Government

Well hello there! It's been a while since I blogged about politics, and in related news:


Hahahahaha, but seriously. I don't really feel like blogging about the dumpster fire that is the current administration. So this post is of a more general nature about the role of government.

In one episode of The West Wing, Toby Ziegler, President Bartlet's communications director and chief speechwriter, rages against a phrase that some people want to include in the State of the Union address: "The era of big government is over." He makes one of my favorite speech-lets of the series after President Barlet asks if he wants to cut the line:

I want to change the sentiment. We're running away from ourselves, and I know we can score points that way. I was the principle architect in that campaign strategy...But we're here now. Tomorrow night, we do an immense thing. We have to say what we feel. That government, no matter what its failures are in the past, and in times to come, for that matter, the government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one gets left behind, an instrument of good. I have no trouble understanding why the line tested well... but I don't think that means we should say it. I think that means we should change it. (From The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 12, "He Shall, From Time to Time")
One of the things that makes me a liberal is a belief in government. I really struggle when I see people posting on social media things like the Ronald Reagan quote "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." What they are really saying with that quote is that they don't trust themselves. In a democracy, "we the people" are the government. I believe that government can and should be a place for us as a people to come together - to "self-rule."

There is, of course, such a thing as too much government - I'm by no means suggesting that every aspect of government is perfect (or needed!). But I do think that a government that reflects the best of us, and our popular will, is an important part of society.

When he accepted the position to serve as Energy Secretary, Rick Perry took some ribbing, considering that he famously wanted to abolish the Energy Department but couldn't remember it during a Republican primary debate (okay, I guess this is a *little* bit about the current administration). But he came to see why it was an important government agency once he learned about what they do. I think there-in is a kernel of wisdom - everyone is against government until they learn about the important functions it serves.

I saw a bumper sticker today with a quote of PJ O'Rourke that said "Republicans say government doesn't work & then they get elected and prove it." Democrats can be just as bad at making government effective, but the special disdain Republicans have for government makes it more than a bit ironic that they continue to seek to run for office. So, yes, I am a fan of "big" government - a government big enough for all the people to come together and work towards making our society a better place.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ring Out The Old, Ring In the New

Goodbye, 2017, and hello 2018! The New Year can be a bit guilt inducing for me - it's usually one of the times that I realize I didn't accomplish last year's New Year's Resolutions, and also know it's highly unlikely that I will accomplish this year's resolutions too. Which of course won't prevent me from making resolutions.

Taking stock of 2017, I wanted to do a bit of a "journal entry" blog post on all the new things I did during 2017 - some succeeded, some failed, and some were just silly. I tend to be a pretty strong creature of habit, so I wanted to document some of the things I did to try to break out of my rut.

Here are the Top 17 of 2017! With the exception of the top 5, these aren't really in any particular order.

17. Tried to grow an herb garden. It started out promising, and then got left outside in a major rainstorm and died. I have some extra seeds and will try again in 2018. I would love to try and grow tomatoes and other garden stuff, but I have some voracious neighborhood squirrels who would probably eat it all.
16. Expanded by wardrobe by trying a clothing rental service. I tried "Gwynnie Bee" for a month, and it was fun. Pros: expanding my wardrobe without the commitment of buying clothes and avoiding the hassle of going to the store. Cons: limited selection (especially work appropriate clothes with sleeves!) and you can't choose which of the items you selected you will get. Plus, pretty expensive to do on a regular basis.
15. Visited Seattle! I had never been to Washington State before this, and I will definitely need to go back. I got to go for a work trip and stayed over the weekend to do some fun things. Delicious food, lovely natural beauty, colorful Pike's Place Market, and even got a few sunny days in.


14. Hosted a family full of energetic kids at my house. One of my former mission companions was in town, and she and her adorable family stayed with me for a few days. It's one of the benefits of my new-ish house that I have way more space than I need and can share it with others. I've had people stay before, but this was the first time a full family stayed with me.
13. Biked all around Central Park. Another work trip took me to NYC, where I stayed for another weekend to do some fun things - saw a good show (Groundhog Day), great show (Oslo), and best show (Come From Away - such a wonderful message. See it if you can!). But the highlight was biking around Central Park for a few hours on a lovely morning after a rainstorm.

12. Tried a paint nite. Let's just say I'll be keeping my day job, as I don't really have any artistic talent, but it was relaxing to try something different than staring at a computer screen.

11. Two words: Escape Room. We did a work event at a local escape room, which is basically a room full of puzzles you try to solve in 60 minutes or less. I don't think I need to do one again, but it was a fun activity to do with co-workers in the name of team building. And yes, we made it out in under an hour!
10. Visited the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History. It's stayed with me, and this is another one I will need to go back to. The pop culture exhibits were fun, but the historical/civil rights section is one I will need to re-visit and let sink into my soul. Also, I didn't get the chance to try the cafeteria, and I hear it is phenomenal.

9. New recipes. This year for the first time I made Kim-chi, swiss chocolate buttercream, pupusas, and a bunch of other new recipes. It's a nice break from my go-to meal of tacos (mmmm, tacos...delicious).
Swiss Meringue Buttercream for a friend's birthday
8. Ted Talks in real life. I have a friend who is a big Ted Talks fan, and so we went to the local live TedX event. It was an interesting mix of politics, inspiration, and new ideas.

7. Sent real physical Christmas cards. I decided that since I love receiving "real" mail, others might too, so I sent out a real live batch of Christmas cards. I kept it to a small list, which I think made it more enjoyable than a marathon 200 cards.
6. Political Parties. I had two political discussion parties this year - one on overall political bias ("Politics and Pizza") and one on the local November elections ("Discussion and Donuts"). I enjoy the chance to discuss politics with friends who have different opinions. I feel like I need to do more of this in our hyper-polarized political climate, so let me know if you want to be included in 2018's "Immigration and Enchiladas" discussion.
Dessert Pizza for "Politics and Pizza" night
5. Dinner En Blanc. It's a big festive outdoor picnic party, with a secret location that is revealed just minutes before the event, where everyone dresses in 100% white. I have a friend who has done it the past few years, and she let me in this year, with my brother indulging me in my eccentricities and coming along. If I ever do it again, I need to wear more comfortable shoes!
4. Friend dinners. I've been trying various meal delivery services (Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh, etc.) and invited several friends over for one-on-one dinners to enjoy together. It was a good chance to catch up, and while my friends may have thought it was weird (if I ever write a book, a good title would be "Do My Friends Think I'm Weird?" with subtitle "And Other Totally Random Abnormal Anxieties"), I enjoyed the chance to share a good meal and chat. I should probably do this again in 2018, since I have a few more meal delivery services on my list to try.
3. Solo trip to see the fall colors in southern Virginia. I typically take a solo vacation somewhere in the US each year, and this year was a fall trip to southwestern Virginia. Highlights included a waterfall hike, 18 mile bike ride through magical woodlands, driving major portions of the Blue Ridge parkway, and visiting a mill my great-grandmother painted before I was born.



2. Went on a trip with my brother to NYC and saw Hamilton! Seriously, such an amazing Broadway show. Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and it was fun to do a trip with my brother, who is a gregarious and adventurous travel buddy with a passionate love of trains. Also: always make sure you check your ticket times! We thought we had tickets to the Hamilton evening show, but luckily figured out it was the matinee before the matinee started. Otherwise, that would have been a disaster. We also got to visit an interesting Emily Dickinson exhibit at the Morgan Library (such a cool museum), eat much delicious and non-nutritious food, and see two other shows - Dear Evan Hansen and Amelie, which were also both good.
1. Trip to Iceland! This was something I had been building up in my head for a long time, and luckily it did not disappoint. My friend and I drove the entire Ring Road around the country in 10 days, and despite a cold for the last three days, it was BEAUTIFUL and LOVELY and FANTASTIC. Go to Iceland if you possibly can.




Other good things that weren't new in 2017, but still brought joy to my life: Cookbook Club, Book Club, summer baseball games, family dinners, 4th of July in Park City, many many MANY games of Nertz (aka the best card game in the world that I love despite being terrible at it), The West Wing Weekly podcast (not to mention re-watching The West Wing for the millionth time), so many musicals and plays (Into the Woods, The King and I, Sound of Music, Crazy For You - so many other good ones), 8th Annual Friends Shakespeare trip, crafts (including a Christmas Tree Skirt), temple trips, and Cherry Blossoms.


Friends, 2017 has not been perfect. I've struggled with political and personal events, and I'm aware that the list above makes it seem like life is all roses and sunshine, when it's NOT. But, I am extraordinarily blessed to have friends and family who love me (heaven only knows why) and far more goodness than I deserve. May your 2018 be blessed and happy!
Finally used my Fancy Glasses for a family dinner

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I Got 99 Problems, But...

Recently, I have been watching a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies while working on a craft project. For those not familiar with these movies, they are "made for TV" movies that generally involve (1) Christmas and (2) a predictable romance with a happy ending. During November and December, the Hallmark channel is pretty much wall to wall Christmas movies.

Prior to this year, I think I may have seen one or two Hallmark Christmas movies, but I hadn't been exposed to them in any depth. Watching at least 10 of these movies over the past few weeks has been an eye-opening experience, and has lead me to ponder why I dislike these movies, and why I keep watching them anyway.

A Story about the Top 10 Problems with Hallmark Christmas Movies
To begin at the beginning, all of these flicks contain (10) Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Acting. Even if they contain actors or actresses you've heard of or liked in other contexts, the people in these films seemed to be trapped in a maze of...(9) Dialogue worse than the acting. I realize that it costs money to hire quality writers. Unfortunately, it appears Hallmark is not willing or able to pay what it costs to hire people who know how to craft dialogue that sounds like humans talking instead of Christmas bots. Instead these "writers" rely on...(8) Tropes, Tropes, and More Tropes! There is the Too-Ambitious-Career-Woman who is too caught up in big city life (or The-Small-Town-Girl-Who-Loves-Christmas-At-All-Costs). There is the Big-City-Dude-Who-Hates-Christmas (or there is the Small-Town-Guy-Who-Knows-The-True-Meaning-of-Christmas). In most movies, someone is trying to get The Big Promotion. Someone is also usually trapped in...(7) Predictable Occupations. We've got Lawyers! Lots of Them! With "Fancy" Offices! We've got Doctors! The most common occupation seems to be "Christmas Tree Farm/Shop/Bakery owner." And they all seem to live in or travel to... (6) Small Towns ©. In the Bible, nothing good can come out of Nazareth. In Hallmark Movies, nothing good can come from the Babylon of the Big City. I've yet to see one of these movies that finds anything positive about life outside of a Norman Rockwell Small Town where Everyone Knows Everyone. Usually the Big City Person sees the errors of their ways at the end of the movie and moves to a small town, all the while they are...(5) living in an HGTV dream home, whether in Alaska or Ohio. Each kitchen has granite counter tops and each home is always tastefully decorated with matching Christmas ornaments on the Christmas tree. The houses are almost as perfect as the people - (4) everyone is having a flawless hair/make-up day, every day. These people look plastic - their hair is always perfectly coiffed, their make-up is always without a smudge, whether they are carrying in Christmas trees from the forest or ice skating or cookie decorating or any other "normal middle class" Christmas Activity. Which brings us to yet more egregiousness: (3) WHITE (like REALLY WHITE) Christmas. All, and I'm talking ALL of the main characters in these stories are Caucasian. I don't really know how to explain this, other than it's a deliberate choice. I know that Hallmark can find actors and actresses of color because actors and actresses of color are allowed to play "Sidekick" characters, but never the main character. This is simply awful, but in my mind that's not the even the worst message of these movies. (2) All of these movies have that element of predictable romance. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good predictable romance as much as the next Jane Austen girl, but these have a special element of craziness: these people are falling in love and getting married within WEEKS. That is nutso-crazy-pants. These romances are built on obviously unrealistic expectations and I feel like this just increases the divorce rate in the real world. Unfortunately all of the things I've mentioned aren't the worst of it. That honor goes to (1) asymmetric sacrifice by women characters. If there is a character who is Giving Up the Big Promotion, or Leaving the Big City Job, it is INVARIABLY the woman. This BUGS me. Why does the woman always have to be the one who gives in? Why does she have to bow to the whims of the man who wants to live in the town with terrible cell service? Or why does she give up the opportunity to work in Paris when the man is eminently employable there and could move there to support her? This is gender dynamics at their worst, and I could go on and on about this, but I just don't want to, it's too depressing. The message to little girls of (1) and (2) above is that she shouldn't follow her dreams, instead she should find a MAN and give everything up for him. How about him giving up anything for her? The male characters never have to sacrifice a thing. 

Hey, I'm not the first to document the problems with Hallmark movies, nor will I be the last. I got 99 problems (and more) with Hallmark Christmas movies, BUT I'll probably keep watching them, sadly. It's a good mindless activity that I can do while crafting because I won't miss anything when the sewing machine is loud.