Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How not to argue

Has anyone else ever noticed that internet arguments either extremely stupid or extremely pedantic? What I mean by this is that I rarely see any kind of argument that doesn't eventually end up with either people just trying to troll the shit out of each other, or people trying to prove the other one is AN UTTER MORON by pointing out some kind of logical fallacy or syntactic error.

So here is one type of argument:

And the other is something like this (though usually much, much longer, more pretentious, and more insufferable):

"You stated that people who get up early are more likely to like the colors orange and pink, since they are the colors of sunrise. Well, correlation does not equal causation. Where is your evidence?"
"First of all, I never said that. You're misrepresenting my words and creating a straw man argument. My exact words were: most people I know who get up early like orange and pink because they remind them of the sunrise."
"That's anecdotal evidence. That doesn't prove anything. Can you cite a study that backs up your claims? Until you can, I'm going to continue to assume you don't know what you're talking about."
"You're completely incorrect; anecdotal evidence is absolutely admissible in many cases, not the least of which includes witness testimony in court. You're being deliberately obtuse. Are you always so stupid?"

And so on, and so forth...  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Book review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

As in all of my recent reviews, and especially the ones that people have already reviewed a few times for Cannonball, I’m going to Amazon for the 10-second plot summary before I go on to talk about other themes: "It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her."

I’ve seen Fire alternatively described as either a prequel or a “companion” to Graceling. Indeed, they are two separate stories in the same universe, but Fire does actually spoil Graceling a bit. Basically, reading Graceling first is recommended, not because either story is required for the other to make sense, but because a fairly pivotal reveal in Graceling is given away in the prologue of Fire with little fanfare. In any case, I surely enjoyed Cashore’s second foray into the fantasy universe she constructed for Graceling, and as with that novel, much of Fire’s strength comes from its wonderful characters. I love that Cashore is seemingly relishing the opportunity to write as many different “strong women” as possible, while demonstrating that there isn’t some kind of mold that these women need to fit into in order to be considered “strong.” Within Fire alone, we meet Fire herself, Princess and Clara, members of Fire’s guard Musa and Mila, and more. All of these women are admirable, intelligent, capable human beings who are also obviously different, personality-wise, from one another.

I also love that Cashore does not shy away from some “political” issues. She candidly discusses birth control and abortion (without using those words, but there are explicit descriptions of herbs that can do these things,) and sex is treated as — shockingly! — a pretty normal course of action for relationships. Amusingly, on Amazon, this is always brought up in reviews as a “parents beware!” kind of thing. I understand to an extent; if there are really younger kids reading this, it may be a bit inappropriate, but as a slightly older “young adult,” I can only think it is a good thing that there is good literature out there that is encouraging these kinds of discussions and not pretending that sex doesn’t exist.

I only have one complaint about this novel, and it does involve the SPOILER FOR GRACELING. Basically, I kind of thought that the whole subplot with Leck was kind of unnecessary. It may be that Cashore’s intent was to weave this character into Fire in order to make the Graceling connection more obvious, but all things considered, his involvement added up to very little that couldn’t have happened in the context of the war that was already going on. For me, this subplot broke up the pacing of the rest of the book and was an unnecessary distraction from the more compelling story in the main plot.

Overall, I obviously liked this (I definitely wrote enough about it.) I’m going to stop reviewing so that I can tear into the final book in the series!

Book review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

From Amazon: “Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.”

Thank you Cannonballers for clue-ing me in to this one! I really enjoyed Graceling and now have Fire and Bitterblue on hold at the library so I can dive into more of Cashore’s world. I loved the alternative takes on love and marriage presented here, as well as the fabulously nuanced and normal (well, inasmuch as supernaturally gifted royalty can be “normal”) female protagonist. This is the the type of “strong female character” I really like; there is a lot of discussion around the net if taking a girl, and giving her all “traditionally masculine” qualities and taking away anything “traditionally feminine” really makes a “strong female character,” or just the same kind of masculine character we are always supposed to root for, but in a dress. (Sorry for all the scare quotes in that last sentence. Geez.) Anyway, Cashore doesn’t do that here. Katsa is a fighter, and fiercely independent, strong-willed, and certainly no delicate flower, but she also loves, has maternal and protective qualities, and has deep, powerful emotions that she doesn’t care to suppress. She’s well-rounded, a complete human. It’s awesome.

And, on top of all that, the story is well-paced, gripping, well-written, and satisfying. Everyone does seem to live happily ever after, but not in the saccharine, cliched way we’ve come to expect. When YA is done well, it is so, so good.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blog Star -- I'm Amanda.

I found this fun thing over at my friend MS3's blog, which seems cool because I'm always looking for new stuff online! And because I think more people need to encounter my genius (duh.)

Anyway, let's see. At the moment, my life revolves mainly around my graduate program in genetics, but when I'm not at school, I actively pursue reading as much as I can (both online and novels,) drinking craft beer, exploring music, and catching up on TV shows I forgot to watch the first time (recently concluded: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) I also love eating food, but I'm not too great at cooking. I'm working on it though!

On my blog, you're likely to find book reviews, feminist musings, science-y rants, random reflections and introspections, and, if I'm lucky, the occasional laugh or too.

I also really like bunnies.

I've described this blog recently as my "word dump." If you have found me here but think you may be more interested in either of my other two Internet Stations, feel free to check those out. At one of them I exclusively write about beer, and at the other, on Tumblr, I post songs, photos of nail polish and art, things I've cooked, random internet flotsam... and bunny pictures.

Here's a colorful photo from a show I was at recently, because... colors.

Netflix gettin' to know me


Monday, June 11, 2012

Speaking up about harassment: a good thing

I recently had a spike in views on my responses to feminist critique post. It looks like I was linked on an Icelandic news site, which isn't the kind of meta-news a legit blog would be excited about, but since I'm just a baby blog I thought it was kind of cool. I have only the most vague idea of the context in which I was linked, since Google's Icelandic-to-English translator is, well, special.

Anyway, since speaking out about online harassment appears to be a hot topic here and elsewhere, I wanted to go ahead and share someone else doing the same. I have followed Anita's videos at Feminist Frequency for a long time, because I appreciate the depth of research she puts into her videos, and I also am generally interested in the topics she chooses to tackle. Recently, Anita requested funding on Kickstarter to complete a video series about sexism in video games. The post I've just linked includes over 100 stomach-turning, awful comments she received in response to her request. Some are much, much worse than others, in terms of violent sexism. Collectively, though, even the more mild ones contribute to an environment that just says "Shut up. Stop talking. How dare you talk about this. Fuck you for having an opinion."

If my summary seems hyperbolic, just please go look at her video. Notice her demeanor. Notice how calm and normal and smart and not angry and not man-hating she seems. Then, read as many of the comments as you can stomach, and imagine receiving those comments on every single thing you post online, and let me know if you still think that I'm exaggerating.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Unsolicited advice

"You have great legs, but you should get a tan."

This is one of those things that guys should keep to themselves. I know I'm pale, and I'm not insulted that he pointed it out, but I'm just not that interested in anyone else's thoughts about my color (or my legs in general, really.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

10 Books Every Girl Should Read in Her Twenties

I came across this post of 10 Books Every Girl Should Read in Her Twenties and, like many commenters, felt that I could make a much better list. Here is her list, and then my revisions. I tried to select replacements based on theme or category, but I wasn't always successful, so don't give yourself a headache trying to understand my logic if it doesn't make sense.
  1. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Shopaholic, #1) by Sophie Kinsella
    DROP -- What a banal, frustrating book. Maybe, as someone who doesn't really lose her shit over designer scarves, I wasn't the target audience for this one, but
    reading this nearly gave me an anxiety attack. I just wanted to grab her and shake her and tell her stop spending all of her damn money. Anyway, I'm really not sure why this would appear on a "must-read" list, other than it's generally a go-to for chick-lit. But I think we can do much better: my suggestion? Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding. I'll stick with the British chick-lit for this particular entry; without getting too much into it, Bridget Jones is superior in so many ways. The humor is funnier, the romance is more believable and better, the protagonist is more interesting, and the quality of the writing outmatches Shopahaolic completely.

  2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    KEEP -- this is fine.

  3. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
    DROP -- I haven't read it, so I can't really recommend or caution against it, but the premise kind of sounds a bit like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, minus the pants. So, I'll pass. Instead, I'll recommend Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This also follows a group of friends throughout their lifetimes, but there is a heartbreaking and riveting twist. It's quality writing AND a page-turner.

  4. The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
    KEEP -- also fine. Funny short stories.

  5. Bitches on a Budget: Sage Advice for Surviving Tough Times in Style by Rosalyn Hoffman
    DROP -- another one I haven't read, so I can't say either way. Again, though, the premise kind of makes me gag. It looks like someone turned the "Look for Less" section in Cosmo into a whole book. Sound financial advice is probably always a good thing, but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that what women DON'T need is more recommendations about how to chase fashion, even frugally. Instead, I think women should give something new a shot and read more books that have nothing to do with fashion. Try Neverwhere or Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Both are fanciful and imaginative, with interesting female leads or co-leads.

  6. What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins
    KEEP -- I've never read this, but it sounds fine. A collection of letters from a variety of different professional women, espousing wisdom. Cool.

  7. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
    DROP -- this isn't a bad book, but it seems like everyone thinks women should read this so we can learn to get along better with our mothers, or something. Quite frankly, it's a suggestion I'm bored of! Instead, try The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It's not an easy read -- it's a recollection of the period in her life following the unexpected loss of her husband. You'll gain a deep sense of appreciation for your living family through her beautifully-penned grieving.

  8. What Did I Do Wrong? by Liz Pryor
    DROP --This appears to be a guide to helping women understand why their BFFs suddenly drop them, and advice for how to move on from that. Well, I have a suggestion that doesn't need a whole book: get new friends! I'm kidding. Kind of. Anyway, I'm going to get kind of obvious with my replacement:

    How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Seriously! My dad read this to me when I was younger, and it's a lot less Machiavellian than it may sound. It's just good life advice for how to get along with people and all of their different personalities.

  9. 20-Something, 20-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction by Christine Hassler
    DROP -- If I want to read about my quarter-life crisis, I'll look at any online news aggregate ever. It's free! Instead, if I want to read about getting older, I might look to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This was such an important coming-of-age book for me when I first read it, not because I particularly identified with much of it, but because it felt so real and so different at the same time. I've always been into fantasy, sci-fi, and off-kilter type books, but at the time I read this one, it was one of the first books to resonate with me that clearly could have been a real story about someone else's life.

  10. Single: The Art of Being Satisfied, Fulfilled and Independent by Judy Ford
    DROP -- I'm all about encouraging independence, but I like to do it with a side helping of examples of great independent role models. Why not cap this off with everyone's current favorite badass, Katniss Everdeen, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? I'm not going to get into a lot of original territory describing THG here, so I'll just hope that everyone has read this by now! You totally fail at pop culture if you haven't.
What do you think about my suggestions? Obviously I like them. And! I managed to keep female authors in 4/7 of my revisions, for a total of 7/10 on this list. Not too shabby, I don't think!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book review: Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Amazon: Sixteen-year-old Molly Dix has just discovered that her biological father is Brick Berlin, world-famous movie star and red-carpet regular. Intrigued (and a little) terrified by her Hollywood lineage, Molly moves to Los Angeles and plunges headfirst into the deep of Beverly Hills celebrity life. Just as Molly thinks her life couldn’t get any stranger, she meets Brooke Berlin, her gorgeous, spoiled half sister, who welcomes Molly to la-la land with a smothering dose “sisterly love”…but in this town, nothing is ever what it seems. 
This was a snappy, short read, and good fun. A devotee of GoFugYourself, I had wanted to pick this one up for awhile, and it was pretty much what I expected — chock full of witty one-liners and good-natured jabs at celebrity culture. I think, though, I was hoping for a bit more. GoFugYourself is, of course, ultimately just about making fun of celebrities’ horrible outfits, but the writing itself is intelligent and clever. The Fug Girls’ voice in Spoiled definitely comes through clearly, but the novel never quite rises above its shallow premise the way that GFY does.

As I said earlier, the Girls’ trademarks are there: hilarious commentary on outfits and witty pop-culture references, snarky take-downs of gross Hollywood caricatures, and quotable one-liners make this overall a very quick and entertaining read. Part of the reason it reads so quickly, though, is because we race through the plot without much description of the scenery, which may not seem important in a book like this, but to me it stuck out. I’ve read in interviews that the Girls really wanted this to be an “Only in LA” type story, and that they wanted to use their experiences and lives in LA to influence the setting. Despite this, other than throwaway references to the sunshine and obvious Hollywood stereotyping, LA wasn’t really that much of a character.

Taking a bit more time with setting the scene and improving the character depth a bit more could have really added some meat to the story, and I’m really not talking about trying to transform a beach read into War and Peace. I think you’d see what I mean if you read it. It’s fast and funny, moreso than many other entries in this category of summer reads, but it relies on the same stock characters and weak story as we’ve seen before in many other YA chick-lit. I’ll still probably pick up the sequel, because at the end of the day it made me laugh, and that’s not a bad way to spend a few hours!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Zhang Ziyi

Usually I read Hollywood gossip, smile to myself, and move on. But this week's salacious story about Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi is a bit more interesting, with its allegations that she was paid more than $100 million (!!) to sleep with several high-ranking Party officials.

It's more interesting, yes, but I still didn't give it too much more thought until I read this article today. It's a fascinating perspective. And I couldn't help but love the way it wrapped up, which is why I'm talking about it here:
Given the disgusting nature of the Chinese entertainment industry and how they’ve always treated their talent, I don’t doubt that she was passed around. And she would have been FORCED. So instead of hating on her for it, calling her a whore, and labelling her a loose woman, consider the circumstances of the country that owns her. What are the choices for Chinese women born to low pedigree in China? Google Foxconn right now and read about the working conditions of factory employees making iPads and iPods every day for less than a dollar, living in cramped quarters and dismal conditions. The word OPTION is a f-cking luxury. 9 out of 10 women at Foxconn would have done what Zhang Ziyi allegedly did. I recommend a lot more sympathy for her before calling her a hooker. She’s caught in a mess between international governments and media interests that have everything to gain by bringing her down.
I have no insight, personally, into the Chinese entertainment industry, but if what this article says is mostly true, then yeah. Sign me up for Team Give Zhang Ziyi a Break.