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Archive for December, 2011

I’ve been hooked on Fantasy for about a year and a half now, and the closest I’ve come to enjoying a series as much as George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire is by reading the trilogy I’ve just finished.

David Anthony Durham’s Acacia Trilogy is the most well-done, best thought-out series I’ve yet read. He started a trilogy and ended as a trilogy. Questions asked in the first book were answered in the second; any new questions that arose in book two (The Other Lands) were answered by the story’s conclusion in The Sacred Band.

The world-building was spot-on and the character development was fascinating.

Don’t get me wrong; I still love Martin and am enthralled by the scope of his world. But it was a wonderful thrill to spend three weeks immersed in a world that was both fully realised and quickly resolved with elegant story themes. If you are at all interested in Fantasy or Historical Fiction I urge you to dip into Durham’s work.

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After about a month of every libertarian I know telling me I had to watch this movie, I finally did. The women who came over for our Game of Thrones viewing party were big fans of the film, and so we viewed it as an appetizer.

The movie purports to be a hollaback to That Idiot Morgan Spurlock’s award-winning Super-Size Me. The movie also purports to be a myth-busting outing that takes on the “bologna” of governmentally-approved (hence the libertarianism) nutritional facts. The movie also purports to be about a new way of eating.

And there you have your problem.

I liked about two-thirds of the movie very much, even though they were merely recounting things that all of us Health At Every Size advocates know and have blogged about.
–The obesity epidemic was contrived by organizations pushing for government funding and/or class action lawsuits.
–Obesity watchdog groups are often fronts for trial lawyers and veg*n vigilantes, both of whom have agendas far different from the benevolent wishes of good health for the nation.
–It is possible to be at the right end of the BMI scale and still be in overall good health.
–Much of the Obesity epidemic is racially-motivated, demonising populations who genetically trend larger and are also non-white.
–There is little difference between those who seek to ban transfats and soda and the Temperance crusaders of yore.

If you’ve read any of the Fat Acceptance or Health at Any Size writings, you are very familiar with these points. But it is fun–after hours of bombardment with anti-fat propaganda–to have an hour of upbeat music and snazzy graphics telling you the other side of the story.

The parts of the film that were meant to satirize Super Size Me were sometimes funny and sometimes strained. But Super Size Me was seven years ago. It was sort of odd to be watching Fathead discussing some governmental or nutritional fact only to break into a scene that didn’t make sense unless Pink Kitty was sitting next to you explaining that the scene was a take-off on one from Super-Size Me. Satirizing something in the dim and distant past is harder than you may think, especially when one of the women in the audience (that would be me) fell asleep during the original movie. Still, I admired both the points that the film’s creator Tom Naughton made and that he attempts over the course of the film to lose weight on a McDonald’s diet.

So what didn’t I like?

The last third of the film was a typical nightmare for your basic Health At Any Size advocate. Because after two-thirds of the movie talked loudly and long about how Diets Can’t Work and are doomed to fail the filmmakers do what every diet hawker in the history of time has done.

They start promoting their own diet.

Fifteen years ago it was Susan Powter in her blonde buzzcut, striding across the stage talking about how Fat Makes You Fat and carbs save your life. She piled on the hate for previous low carb diets and then told you to buy her book.

Ten years ago it was Dr. Atkins telling you sweetly from behind his white coat that carbs were how they fatten cattle for slaughter and proteins were the way to go. And then he told you to buy his book.

A few years after that another white-coat seized on Atkins’ death by heart attack and offered a modified version of that diet complete with “healthy carbs”. You can read about it if you buy the South Beach Diet Book.

So after an hour of jaunty music and fun graphics and jokes about how we’ve all been fed a lot of Bologna by the government…

Yes. You guessed it. Fathead tries to promote another Way Of Eating.

If the film had stopped before delving into their take on the latest WOE fad (gluten-free, wheat-free, paleo dieting) I would have been completely charmed. But I have a hard time embracing someone who poses as an Agenda Buster once they turn around and throw their own agenda at you.

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I used to have a rule for myself when I started the blog that I wouldn’t delete things. I wanted a place to write from total honesty, because when you write fiction the temptation is to always make your factual stories “better” by embellishing them. It’s also necessary to sometimes separate yourself from the world you’ve been letting your mind live in. So I promised myself two things: this blog would tell the absolute truth and I wouldn’t delete things.

I have to say that while I’m still absolute truthing it, I’ve been Moving To Trash like a madwoman. I’m starting to lose count of the partial posts I’ve crumpled up and discarded into vapor. Then again, it’s not like any of them are that profound. I just usually realise about two hundred words in that the post is either not at all interesting or may be offensive to someone. My goal is to intrigue people without hurting their feelings. (Although, sometimes, I have to say something that may just offend someone but I have to say it anyway. One of those things is coming up in a paragraph or two.)

I can’t delete this post because I’ve already thrown out one partial and the ideas for three others. I’ve got to get something down, and even though the two things I want to say are only kind of related, I need to put them somewhere. But now as I get this far I realise that I DO have enough for two posts. So we’ll save my writings on the movie Fathead for later. Right now I’m going to talk about something I have pretty high standards about.

DATA.

Not that robot guy from Fake Star Trek. The actual points of information.

A few years ago in the comments on a blog (this one or someone else’s–the origin is lost to time) someone introduced me to a word that I love and now use constantly. That word–anecdata–is loosely defined as “A personal story someone tells about themselves or someone they know which they expect to serve as a fact to settle a discussion”. Anyone who has been around the internet for any time at all knows exactly what that is. You’re having a conversation about, say, whether or not vaccines cause autism*. You–or someone like you, assuming you are a factswonk like me–present a lot of scientific studies to support your case. Then along comes another commentor who says something along the lines of “My cousin Heather Anne vaccinated her son and now he’s autistic.”**

The sad truth is that most people find stories about Heather Anne to be more compelling than, say, actual science. So these junk arguments stick around to clutter up the world.

I will never change my mind about any held position based on anecdata. Appeals to emotion do not work on me. So don’t try to get me to support gay marriage*** by talking about how heartbreaking it is that your cousin Leroy can’t marry his life partner Thad. Don’t try to get me to support aid to foreign nations by showing me little kids with flies on their face. And don’t ever ever think I’m going to change my position on the overdiagnosis of High Functioning Autism, ADD and ADHD by telling me about the people you know who “really have it.” I personally know people who Really Have all of those things, but that doesn’t mean that the numbers lie.

*they don’t.

**just a reminder: My favourite statistical axiom is that Correlation Does Not Equal Causation.

***as a libertarian I support a separation of Covenant Marriage–the religious concept–from Civil union. I support homosexual civil unions and think all churches should have the freedom to decide who in their church can receive a covenant marriage recognised by the church. And I think those Covenant Marriages should be more strictly regulated than the state regulates civil union. We in the church have gotten far too lax about marriage and need to stop asking the government to fix what we broke.

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I think both of you could find a place in your hearts for this fellow:

The Huggable Cthulu: Love Him Before He Destroys All

You can have your very own by shopping here.

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I just started getting into this show a few weeks ago after folks in the comment section of Alan Sepinwall’s blog kept relentlessly talking it up.

I’ve now seen about seven episodes cherry picked from the second season. (Their the ones my TiVo has recorded that I have remembered to watch before they vaporise.) And something sticks out to me.

They steal jokes. A LOT.

The first episode I ever saw was the one featuring Megan Mullally as Penny’s mother. The action centers around a boat show and two characters talk about the boat they want to have…named “Yeah, Buoy”. Funny. Funnier when that same boat line was a punch line a year ago on Raising Hope. That left a bad taste in my mouth.

Then just a few moments ago I was reading the article about the show in Entertainment Weekly. That article attributed a joke from Community to the ‘Happy Endings’ scriptwriters, specifically: “Brought to you by the girl yogurt Jamie Lee Curtis uses to poop.”

There are at least a dozen other stolen jokes that I can’t recall off the top of my head. But it’s bad enough to make me wonder if ABC’s comedy division is run by Carlos Mencia. Modern Family is often guilty of the same sin. Then again, so is 30 Rock, and they are on NBC.

I can’t think of a good concluding statement for this post. Excuse me while I go read a bunch of other blogs to find one to steal.

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‘Tis the season to wade through a lot of things about what the season means and whose meaning should hold sway in the public domain. Unfortunately for us, ’tis also the season where we begin the largely futile effort to pick a new short-term leader for this passel of cats we call a nation. So that means we get a lot of opinions disguised as facts.

It also means we’re in for a ton of assertions about The Right Way To Do Things. What to say, who to say it to and when it should be said are now the purview of what we do. Including, it would seem, this very post.

Christianity is many things. It is a faith. It is a discipline. Most importantly, though, it is a RESPONSIBILITY.

If you choose to be a Christian, you are declaring your likemindedness with the aims of Jesus. Going to heaven is a nice end point, but it’s not why we do this. We do this because we like the message of Grace and we want to be more like Christ himself. That is a huge, not to mention impossible effort. It’s one that takes more than a lifetime; I don’t think any of us will be the people Christ asks us to be, even at our death. Our lives are a mission to take up that cross daily and follow him. To learn to love others so much that we would sacrifice our comfort, security and even our very earthly lives for them. Our mission is to feed and clothe the world so that their physical needs are met. Our mission is to love the world so that their emotional needs are met. To tell the world about the bounty of Grace, that there is someone who loves them so much that their soul was worth his life. That no matter who they are or how wretchedly they live, that love is there for them.

That’s what Christianity is.

It is NOT a continual stamping of feet about how others should live. If we want them to live like us, we should act the way we’ve been told to act. Humbly, turning the other cheek. Then they might become one of us. But we ourselves are not under the law, we’re under grace. How we expect to use the _law_ to force others to act as if they are under Grace is beyond me.

We are responsible to Christ for the message we carry into the world. If that message is one of fear, of cruelty, of dominance, we are betraying Christ. We are slapping his name onto Satan’s charge. And of course we aren’t perfect. The desire for power, for wealth and for glory will always tantalise. But even though Christians Aren’t Perfect (Just Forgiven) that is no excuse for acting as though we’ve never even once read or heard the words of Jesus.

We aren’t perfect. But we are to be striving for perfection. We owe at least that much to the God who redeems our souls.

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Two photos taken a week apart. The one of me was taken first to show my haircut. I am NOT posing like him after the fact.

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I have been more sick than usual this week, limping from room to room and inwardly whimpering when every step is like barbed wire twisting into my feet. I itch all over; when I scratch the touch of my nails feels like a second-degree burn. It’s decidedly unpleasant.

But I tell you, nothing makes you more grateful than spending five minutes on the internet. Because as bad as I have it with this pain-wracked body I love a good man who loves me. According to about 40% of what my friends post on Facebook, that’s a rarity. I have a home–several are losing theirs. I have kids who don’t make me crazy, who don’t send me to Facebook to complain about how awful they are.

It’s good to have reminders of the ways in which you have good things. Especially when so much of your life is driven by the necessary self-centeredness that severe chronic illness brings. Everything a person like me does is dictated by the parameters of pain and exhaustion. After a few years of this you forget what things are like for Regular People. I’ve been reading so much fantasy lately that when I dipped into a Christmas novella the other night I was struck by how much the book’s characters could do. I forgot what it was like to be able to work a job, fix a meal, go to church and then visit with friends afterward. By the end of the book I was in a self-pity funk. Here were characters in their fifties and sixties who were working, cooking, volunteering and loving. I stopped living such an active life in my early thirties. Now, in my early forties I wonder if there will ever be a time when I can both fix a meal AND have the energy to eat it afterward.

Really, though, I do know how lucky I am. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this post. I’ve got to go on record reminding myself that there are more than enough blessings to counteract the lesser blessings. And, truly, illness and pain aren’t curses as much as they ARE lesser blessings–blessings whose meanings aren’t immediately clear, blessings that seem like something you could do without. But any close examination of a lesser blessing shows the wing-strengthening potential of the situation. Do I have a better empathy with all sorts of people? Do I get the privilege of enjoying my dogs’ company all day? Am I able to hone my craft as a writer? Am I able to help people all around the world as the internet puts me in touch with recently-diagnosed people who are scared and unsure of what the road ahead will look like? Things like these diseases are less a derailment and more a change in trains.

I say though, that love is the thing that makes the difference for me. Love makes the pain bearable and shapes my outlook. Love I receive and love I give. Love turns the clanging cymbals of discord into the lovely music I march along to.

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Stacey Campfield has put up a bill insisting that we drug test for unemployment benefits.

State Senator Stacey Campfield said in an interview Wednesday that Tennessee has one of the highest rates of fraud for the unemployment program. So Campfield is pushing to make sure everyone on the program, actually deserves to be getting the help, by making them take a drug test.

This idea is not original to him; other states have mounted the same bill lately. I can only imagine there is some sort of Breton Woods type place where these representatives sit around and get cockamamie privacy-violation ideas to make sound bites that appeal to the more conservative voters. There’s this stereotype floating around that says potheads are going to work in six-week chunks and then collecting unemployment so they can sit around and get paid to smoke pot. Meanwhile I think of all the people I know who are collecting unemployment. A few may smoke pot–I’m not sure. We don’t discuss it. But they all are grief-stricken about being out of work and busting their humps looking for something else. Not one of them collects her check with a Simon Legree laugh and a Montgomery Burns smirk.

Anyone who has collected unemployment can tell you that it quite simply is not enough to live on. It buys your groceries and maybe–maybe–pays a utility bill or two. But it doesn’t cover the expenses that make a life. If it couldn’t even cover our electric AND water bills when my husband drew it for six months, I fail to see how it’s going to underwrite an illegal drug habit. Those things aren’t cheap.

But all of that is beside the point.

We are testing for illegal drugs because, well, they’re ILLEGAL. That means that taking them is a crime. In this country it’s a crime punishable by everything just short of death. If you are found to be taking illegal drugs you can go to jail. Your property can be seized by the government. Your MAMA’S property can be seized by the government if they find drugs there. It’s a bigger deal to be caught using drugs than it is to be caught with child porn on your computer.

So from where I sit, it looks like the government’s tests for illegal drugs is pretty much a way to convict someone of a crime without a trial. And what happens when the police get a list of all the violators who couldn’t drop clean? I’ve seen how the State Police jump to conclusions around these parts. I’ve seen how they handle people they think are doing something wrong. I have visions of a despotic governor in the hazy future trying to earn points with the people of this state by announcing a crackdown on drug users, handing the list over to the cops and standing back while folks are dragged from the homes they are struggling to pay for…all because they peed into a cup to get some money they have coming to them.

No, I don’t trust the government. I don’t buy that because we have a high rate of unemployment fraud we need to violate the constitutional rights of everyone in the State of Tennessee.

This is the Fifth Amendment. I’ve bolded a couple of clauses.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Having someone pee in a cup to prove they didn’t commit a crime IS the exact definition of “be [ing] compelled to be a witness against himself.” Having someone not receive benefits to which the law says he is entitled is the exact definition of being deprived of property.

Here’s an idea: find the folks you claim are already guilty of the crime of fraudulent collection of benefits. Try and convict those people under the legal system of this country. It may sound like a nice idea to villainise drug takers. But when you crap all over the Constitution, YOU are are the bad guy.

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You know, I’m not sure how to feel about this season finale. They’re dumping on it over at Sepinwall’s blog but I have to be honest. I don’t see how it could have gone any other way.

I know folks wanted to see certain things happen; I had my own wish list. But realistically knowing what a big deal this has become for FX and knowing also that there are three seasons left I don’t think those wishlist things could have happened right now.

Unlike most of the hardcore fans I’ve seen posting, I’m not done with the show after this. Then again, I never expected this to be Breaking Bad or The Wire. Those shows were trying to do something different. Sutter is trying (and mostly succeeding) to stretch a three hour play into 75 hours of television. I think if he’s made any mistake it’s that he hit the Hamlet analogy way too heavily in the beginning. I know it was necessary to convince folks that it was okay and kinda arty to watch a show about a one-percenter motorcycle club. But now there are so many viewers playing ‘Spot the Shakespeare’ and so many episodes trying to shoehorn this story into that one that I’m uncomfortable.

The worst problem the show now has is that it has given us too much time with these characters. We are attached to the Sons in ways the groundlings at the Globe never were to the rotten Danes. So when everyone in Hamlet ends up dead at the end it’s a tragic lesson in the perils of power and the sacrifices required by duty.

Can this show have everyone dead at the end? Perhaps if it had only run three seasons. But now it’s outgrown Hamlet. And the problem is that a lot of viewers want that Hamletesque show back.

I’m not sure that I do. I’ve read Hamlet and seen it performed at least a dozen times. I’m fine with SOA borrowing tropes but being its own thing growing from a different soil.

Frankly, I’m not sure I want everyone dying at the end.

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