Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Not Since Carrie?

The Lord of the Rings: The Musical will be opening in London in 2005. I'll admit I'm skeptical, although certainly huge, epic novels have been succesfully adapted into musicals before this (Les Miserables, anyone?). There just seems to be so much potential for things to go wrong, in the most embarassing, hysterically funny ways possible.

Geek Test

How geeky are you? I scored 40.8284%.

Extended Breastfeeding

It's nice to see a positive article about extended breastfeeding in the mainstream press. Usually mothers who nurse their children past one year are depicted as weirdo earthy granola types. Rebecca R. Kahlenberg interviewed several "normal" seeming women and debunked some of the common myths about extended breastfeeding, all while avoiding the hectoring tone that sometimes accompanies information about breastfeeding (and other hot button parenting topics).

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Home Truths from the Parenting Frontlines

Adrienne Martini's column in austinmama is always great, but I particularly enjoyed the most recent one on the secret boredom of parenting.

More From Whedon

Brief interview regarding Charisma Carpenter's status on Angel next year. Obviously, spoilery.

Friday, May 23, 2003

A Mystery Solved

My book discussion group has a rule that we don't read anything that's not available in paperback. Because of this, I'm acutely aware of the variations in paperback release dates. We've been waiting forever to read The Lovely Bones, and I've been wondering why it's taking so long for a paperback edition to come out. Sara Nelson makes it all clear.

Joss Whedon on the end of Buffy

Good, fairly short interview with Whedon. Contains the infamous casting spoiler for the next season of Angel. Rumor has it that he'll be discussing Charisma Carpenter's status on Angel next week.

I've noticed that I tend to write more about the hard times with my kids than the good stuff, so I want to make sure and brag on Drew (or Andrew, as he's decided to call himself at school). He was honored at the Character Ed assembly this week for determination - he got a medal and everything. He didn't know about it until that day, and the grin on his face could have lit up the entire city. Later, in an surprising burst of self-awareness, he told me in the car, "You know, you can be too determined."

It's hard to believe that school is almost out (Franny's last day was last week, and Drew will go 3 days next week). Of course, our brief Austin spring is long over - the bluebonnets have been replaced by yellow orange mexican hats and black eyed susans, and even those are mostly gone - only the tall brown cones from the centers of the mexican hats remain. The green spring grass has grown tall and brown in the medians, and we've already had a few days of over 100 degree temperatures.

I'm looking forward to the summer, despite the heat (although if I have to hear one more person say, "oh, you're going to be pregnant all through the long hot summer!" I won't be responsible for my actions). It will be nice to live at a slower pace for a while. We're all tired of rushing around in the morning, and I think Drew's ready for a break from school. We'll be spending lots of time in the water - swimming at Barton Springs or in my mom and dad's pool, and going out on the boat with my parents. And of course, I'll be in the home stretch of my pregnancy. I'm excited to meet this little boy and find out what he's like. Only about 2 1/2 months to go. . . .

Blogrolling In Our Time

Apparently most blogs are political, and most bloggers are right wing (you'll have to take this on faith because I've lost the link where I read this). Democracy Dave and Will of the People are a refreshing change from this trend - unapologetically liberal, articulate and well-informed.

Full disclosure: Dave and Will are friends of mine, and Will has plugged my blog in his personal blog - But What I Really Want to Do Is Direct. . . .

Bonus random link: An editorial from about the pros and cons of logrolling.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

You Can’t Go Home Again

AKA My Obligatory Response to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Series Finale

Warning: this review may contain spoilers for any and all episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It also contains a fairly major casting spoiler for next season's Angel. Quite honestly, I can't imagine how anyone is going to avoid this spoiler all summer, but if you're trying, good for you, and don't read this entry.

I loved it. Whedon struck the perfect note of ending the series, but keeping the franchise alive. Because of this, it didn't feel that much different than any of the previous season finales, all of which could easily have served as series enders (especially "The Gift," the season 5 finale, in which Buffy sacrifices herself to save the world).

The big surprise was that so few people die in this finale. All of the original Scooby Gang survives, although they'll feel the loss of Anya and Spike keenly. But the deaths we got were significant and emblematic for those characters' arcs. Anya's fear of mortality has been a critical part of her personality since she became human. Fear of death drives her to leave Sunnydale rather than fight alongside the Scoobies in "Graduation Day" and it leads to her poignant reaction to Joyce's death in "The Body." In "End of Days" (the second to the last episode), she faces her fear and commits herself to fight to the death. In "Chosen" she does exactly that, redeeming herself for centuries of vengeance by doing her part to save the world. Which is why Spike has to die as well. He’s on the path to redemption as well, but he's the king of the big gesture. Unlike Angel, his soul won't compel him to suffer years of penance and brooding, but it will inspire him to make the ultimate sacrifice, grinning defiantly as the light consumes him.

But the most important death is that of Sunnydale itself. It's the end of an era, and the hole in the ground that used to be Sunnydale is ultimately what differentiates this finale from previous season enders. The Scoobies are still standing, and with any luck, we'll see more of their further adventures, but Sunnydale is gone. Just as the noir mythos of Los Angeles informs Angel and defines the parameters of the series, the bourgeois suburban exterior and the seething Hellmouth beneath it is the core of BTVS. The Scoobies celebrated their high school graduation by blowing up the school, now four years later, when they would be graduating from college, had various supernatural events (guardianship of newly acquired sister, being dead, turning evil, etc.) not intervened, they go one better by blowing up the town.

Sunnydale and BTVS are gone, but Whedon left himself some loose ends to propel the franchise forward. The most obvious one is all those newly activated slayers (and what a gorgeous and moving montage that is). Presumably someone is going to need to locate them and help them harness their power. Will the Scoobies be the genesis for a new and improved Watcher's Council? It's a logical next step in the hero's journey - after you win the revolution, you must find a way to govern without becoming everything that you fought against (Angel will be facing a similar dilemma next season). And speaking of Angel, what about James Marsters joining the cast next season? We all know that dead doesn't necessarily mean gone in the Buffiverse (especially for those Order of Aurelius vamps - they resurrect themselves with amazing regularity), but the big question is how? My pet theory is that he's going to get Angel's shansu. The prophecy didn't specify Angel, just a vampire with a soul, who will play a large part in the apocalypse and be rewarded by becoming mortal - sounds like Spike to me.

Buffy’s love life is both resolved and left open. Whedon refused to satisfy either the Buffy / Angel shippers or the Buffy / Spike ones – while Buffy didn’t completely discourage Angel, her feelings for Spike seem genuine as well. Her “cookie dough” speech to Angel at the beginning of the episode is dead on – she’s spent most of the series convinced that one or another of her boyfriends was The One, and being disillusioned when it didn’t work out (kind of like most teenagers, myself included). It’s refreshing to hear her admit that she’s “not done yet” and until she finds out who she will be, she can’t know who she will want to share that person with. It’s also a sly response to those who criticized the show for focusing too much on Buffy’s relationships and not showing her content to be alone.

The one loose end that I wish had been resolved is Giles’ odd behavior this season. I was convinced he was possessed or evil or someone else in disguise because his actions were so out of character, and I had high hopes that the writers’ fake out (Is Giles really dead? Is he the First Evil?) and the subsequent “reveal” would turn out to be a double cross. I expect something more than “gotcha!” from a plot thread that the writers spent that much time developing.

Overall, though, I’m satisfied. Most of the major story arcs are resolved and the central characters each completed a stage of their journeys, but the story isn’t over yet. It’s the best of all possible worlds for this narrative junkie, and I'll be there 'til Whedon turns off the lights and locks the doors, watching to see where this story goes. Like Spike, "I wanna see how it ends."

All the Cool Kids Are Doing It

My friend Merideth, an insightful and gracious person, now has a blog. You should read it - she's only written one entry and she's already making all kinds of sense.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Blog Survey

Take a few minutes and help these researchers determine who reads and writes blogs.

American Attitudes Towards Homosexuality Changing

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, more Americans support legal protection for homosexual couples. This doesn't surprise me one whit. In my lifetime (I'm 32), homosexuality has become increasingly more "mainstream," with popular entertainers outing themselves, gay characters on movies and tv shows, and many more average Americans willingly identifying themselves as gays or lesbians. Of course, there are still many homophobic people out there (I'm looking at you, Senator Santorum), but it's increasingly viewed as inappropriate to "gay bash" or malign homosexuals in polite company.

I believe this is indicative of a profound shift in our culture, which can be tied to many more Americans having friends and family that they are aware are gay. It's easy to demonize or stereotype "the other" - someone you have little contact with, and who you believe is completely different from you. But once you are exposed to the other, either through desegregation (in the case of African Americans and other minority groups), or through an awareness that someone you care about is a part of the maligned group (in the case of homosexuality), then the illusion of difference is destroyed. Vehement and extreme bigots may resist this knowledge, but most people are bigots through ignorance, not hatred, and their attitudes can and will change.

This is certainly true of white Americans' attitudes towards African Americans - in the past 40 years, racism has gone from being widely accepted and ingrained in our culture to something that is widely perceived as tacky and rude. Even most of those who still have racist attitudes realize they can not express them in public or without using very veiled language - to overtly make racist statements is to make yourself an outcast from polite society. This change in perception has not erased racism, but it's an important first step - by changing the way people use language, you are changing the way they think, and thus they way they act. I have high hopes that the similar changes in the way straight Americans think about homosexuality will ultimately result in legislative changes, up to and including marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

More on Buffy

Very nice article about the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (incidently, written by a Buffista).

Also, a funny (but spoilery for the 2nd to last Buffy) cartoon.

Thanks, as always, to Julie for all the cool links. (When she gets a blog, I'm totally screwed. . . .)

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Disillusioned Buffy Fans

I sympathize. I really do. It's hard when the show you love changes and the special spark isn't there anymore. But I'm really tired of the gloom and doom being spread by former Buffy fans, like Jaime J. Weinman (salon article, you know the drill).

These anti-fans aren't just critical of the new directions the show has taken; they resent the fact that the show's formula has changed at all. They want Buffy the Vampire Slayer, circa 1997 - bookish Willow in her "softer side of Sear's" costumes and loser Xander crushing on bitch Cordelia, preserved under glass forever. Here's a clue, guys: the show has been on for seven years - no television program can maintain the same focus and style for that period of time, especially not one that originally centered on high school students. Does anyone really want to see these actors (many of whom are pushing 30) still playing 17 year olds?

Weinman longs for the good old days when the show was about Buffy's relationships with geeky Willow and Xander and he reduces the complicated themes of the show down to "it's ok to be uncool." (Possibly betraying some of his own issues?) A better way of looking at the show might be to think of it as a series of supernatural metaphors about life. Whedon began with an undeniable premise - high school is hell - and asked himself what that metaphor would look like if you took it literally. This idea drove the first three years of the show and produced some fabulous episodes, such as the girl who becomes invisible because no one notices her, and most famously, Buffy's boyfriend losing his soul after they have sex for the first time. Even then, the show was about much more than popularity - the main characters are brainy and different (something Whedon certainly endorses as "cool" and which also makes for more interesting plots - I'm convinced everyone loathes high school, but the freaks and geeks certainly experience it as more hellish than the in crowd), but they weren't at the bottom of the social heap by any means.

The naysayers generally agree that BTVS's decline began in season 4, the first season post-graduation. The show certainly changed after the characters graduated, but the basic premise was the same - take the ordinary trials of life and translate those into supernatural terms. Buffy's obnoxious room-mate is a demon, Willow's high school boyfriend finds someone with whom he has more in common (they're both werewolves), Giles, feeling useless and unwanted, is temporarily turned into a demon who the others don't recognize and can't communicate with - the types of scenarios changed to fit the stage of life the characters were in, but the approach stayed the same. Admittedly, it's harder to sum up the later seasons as neatly - there's less of an overarching metaphor - but this reflects real life, where things become significantly more complicated after high school.

Weinman's primary complaint is that the show is too focused on Spike. Weinman complains that making Spike the anti-hero undermines the message that it's ok to be an outsider, because Spike is such a cool dude. Now Spike is certainly cool, but if Weinman can't differentiate between Spike's outsider bad boy charm, and the frat boy / football player / big man on campus, he's been out of school too long. Spike (as we've seen him in the current time line) has always been the kind of guy who skipped school and smoked cigarettes behind the dumpster, not the one who'd escort the homecoming queen to prom. He's every bit as much of an outsider as the core characters, both in the type he's meant to evoke, and in his relationships on the show. In the vampire world, Darla and Angel were the homecoming queen and the quarterback, while Spike and Drusilla were the geeky losers. This is made clear not only in their interactions with one another, but also in their origins: Darla was a successful prostitute and Angel was a hard drinking party boy (almost a proto frat boy), while Drusilla was a meek wannabe nun, and Spike was a mild mannered Victorian poet. After Angel was souled, Spike's status increased, but he was never the insider that Angelus was.

The most interesting consequence of the changes Whedon has made through the years is that they mirror a major cognitive change that most of us experience in early adulthood - the loss of certainty. In childhood and high school, it seems that everything is black and white, but as you get older your eyes tune into all the shades of grey. It becomes more difficult to figure out who's right and wrong and to untangle motivations and responsibilities. Similarly, on early BTVS the lines are clearly drawn between the good guys and the bad guys. Other than Angel, the exception due to his souled status, vampires and demons are uniformly bad and deserve to die. Giles teaches his proteges that vampires retain nothing of their former humanity or personalities - the vampire isn't your friend, it's the thing that killed him. By season 3, cracks are beginning to appear in this facade, and it's becoming apparent that vampires retain some of their human characteristics and that not all demons are necessarily evil. The converse is also true - humans are capable of great evil, despite their souls.

This more complicated world view becomes increasingly entrenched in the series in later seasons, culminating in the ongoing Spike / Buffy plotline. Far from betraying everything that BTVS stood for, this development has confirmed the inherent optimism that underlies BTVS - everyone has a shot at redemption. It doesn't matter how horrific your past deeds are, or whether or not you have a soul, if you want to be a hero, you can be one, provided you want it badly enough and work at it hard enough. I don't know about you, but I find that a hell of lot more interesting, and more relevant to my life than a show about how it's "ok to be uncool."

Monday, May 12, 2003

Advice My Mother Gave Me (most of which turned out to be absolutely true)

Put on some lipstick, you'll feel better.
Drink a coke, you'll feel better.
A sinkful of dirty dishes makes the whole house look dirty.
Make your bed first thing in the morning and you'll have already accomplished something.
People judge you based on your appearance - it's not fair, but you should take it into account.
Don't forget to take your pill! (My mother's "sex talk" on my wedding night.)
Silk flowers are tacky. If you have silk flowers at my funeral, I'll come back and haunt you.
Never wear white shoes before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.
Don't buy white underwear and bras - they show every little stain, and they show up under your clothes. Buy flesh toned ones instead.
If you don't have some food leftover, how do you know you had enough?
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Get your hair out of your eyes - you have such a pretty face, when we can see it.
Your shoes, your hose and the hem of your dress should match in tone or intensity of color - it makes your legs look longer.
Never wear horizontal stripes - it cuts you in half and makes you look shorter.
You can't make a child eat, sleep or go to the bathroom.
Never order something at a restaurant that you make at home - it won't be as good.
If you've got it, flaunt it!

Don't you hate it when she's right? Happy late Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Oh, this is too, too funny - a postmodern analysis of The Fellowship of the Rings as if done by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. It's rather long, and the joke runs thin after a while, but the concept is hysterical.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Oh, the Horror!

MTV is making a musical of Wuthering Heights. Now this offends my sensibilities, and I'm not even a particular fan of Wuthering Heights (I enjoyed it when I read it as an angst ridden teen, but a recent reread made me want to throw the book across the room - Catherine! Heathcliffe! Get some freakin' therapy already!). Is there any way in which this could be less than a disaster?

Comic Books - for Geeks Only?

This article about comic book culture and the recent failure of comics to attract children as readers is a mixed bag. Renshaw has some accurate insights into why kids aren't picking up the comic book habit. However, the article is chock full of the standard stereotypes about comic book readers, right up to and including the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Apparently, the author visited one comic shop, one time, and decided, "wow, all those stereotypes are true!" (This, despite the fact that two of the avid comic book readers he interviewed are women.)

I agree that it's unfortunate that comic publishers aren't producing more child-friendly comics, but I can't really lament a trend that brought us The Sandman, The Invisibles, and Planetary. There's room for adult material and kiddie stuff - why should be have to choose one or the other? My kids somehow find comics to read at our local comic shop - they each have a subscription to one comic and frequently pick up others. Many of the super hero titles that once would have been appropriate for kids have upped the sex and violence (and I have to monitor my kids' purchases fairly carefully because of this), but there are still plenty of titles specifically geared for kids (i.e. The Power Puff Girls and Scooby Doo). I think Renshaw's nostalgia for the comics he read as a kid is affecting his perspective on this (also, he doesn't really seem to have taken the time to familiarize himself with the new, more adult lines, so it's hardly a fair comparison).

But, Renshaw is onto something when he talks about the obsession with narrative that fuels comic book readers. This quote, especially, is dead on: "I begin to recognize something else familiar about that comic book fan 'accent,' because I’ve heard that same manner in theater people. The members of both groups probably weren’t the Big Men on Campus or the prom queens, but they were people whose fascination with storytelling transformed them. The hands, the diction, the voice—they’re all part of continuing that conversation about intoxicating narrative."

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Check out Will's new blog - he's a smart, funny guy and it's sure to entertain!

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Does Being Overweight Significantly Increase Your Risk of Cancer?

Apparently not, according to this rebuttal of recent reports of a weight / cancer link. This is par for the course for this sort of research. Typically, a study is released which indicates that your risk of some horrific health problem is increased by being overweight, the media picks up on it and widely publicizes it as proof that being fat is bad for you, regardless of what you eat, or how much you exercise; subsequently, it is discovered that the researchers didn't control for lifestyle or activity level, and that there is a slight correlation, but little indication of causation.

What is this obsession with forcing everyone to be skeletal? People are born with different frames, different "set points" for their weights, and different body types. Trying to reduce health down to one number (weight) is useless, especially when you consider that muscle weighs more than fat. The less sensationalized studies have indicated over and over again that the most important thing you can do for your long term health is lead an active lifestyle and eat a variety of healthy food in moderation. If you do this, you shouldn't have to obsess about how much you weigh or what size clothes you wear - you will be a healthy person.

Yes, a woman who is 4'11", weights 250 lbs, never exercises, lives on steak and icecream, and drinks a fifth of scotch and smokes 2 packs of cigarettes a day is in poor health. But this kind of research would have you believe that her risk is similar to that of a woman who is 4'11", weighs 150 lbs, exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet, drinks in moderation and doesn't smoke.

By the way, height and weight charts vary drastically on what they consider "ideal weight." In my quick google, I found figures ranging from 93 lbs. to 134 lbs for 4'11" woman (apparently 148 lbs. is "obese" for a woman of this height). Many of these charts give ranges based on "frame size" but there's no consistent standard of what constitutes a small, medium or large frame.

Bad Baby Names II: Gothic Boogaloo

When Julie sent me this link (why, yes I do get all my good links from Julie), I initially thought it was a joke. After reading the site, I'm convinced it's for real (although the preponderance of posts from parents of twins and triplets leads me to believe that some of the posts aren't legit - are there really that many Goth parents of multiples?). Name That Goth is full of helpful suggestions for naming your Spawn of Satan. Unfortunately, it offers no help in paying his or her future therapy bills. . . .

A few of the most outrageous names:

"One of my best friends just had twin girls. She named them Wynter-Grace and Wisteria." (Winter seems to be a particularly popular choice for boys and girls.)

"Shattenjager (pronounced shawn yager) is German for "Shadow Hunter"; it is my son's name."

"I named my daughter Cleopatra (after my father, Cleon). Her full name is Cleopatra Napeta Gaea Blackthorn."

"I named my daughter Aesthetica (Aes for short)."

Friday, May 02, 2003

A fun article about menu language. I can't decide if I'd rather write menus or name makeup colors. They're both just clever uses of semiotics to manipulate the consumer, right? I mean who would buy "Red" lipstick when she could get "Reckless Passion" instead? Rimmel - a British makeup line available only at Wal-mart in the US (well worth the trip to Wal-mart, and that's pretty much the only time you'll ever hear me use those words) - has the best color names ever. My favorite lipsticks are "Provocative" and "Snog."

Do You Have an Empathising or a Systemizing Brain?

This is an interesting article, despite it's sensationalist insistence on referring to the two brain types as "male" and "female." Yes, women tend to score higher on empathising and men tend to score higher on systemizing, but that doesn't mean that you can accurately predict what type of brain an individual has based on his or her sex. The author admits that you can have be a man and have a "female" brain and vice versa, so why use sexed terms at all? It's inaccurate and threatens to bury the important points raised by this research under a pile of outdated gender stereotypes. It also ignores the third brain type, balanced, which apparently is not strongly linked to sex.

Take the tests and then find your scores on the graph to see which brain type you have. I came out balanced but tending slightly more toward empathizing.