Saturday 30 June 2012

Disney's Brave (Spoilers)

Today was sensory-friendly screening day at our local theatre and I took the boys to see Brave.  We've gotten better since our earliest outings.  I brought a paper bag full of bread bits for Alex, since he won't tolerate popcorn.  We showed up less than ten minutes before the movie started, so neither of them had time to get bored.  And most importantly, I knew the movie would be a good one.  Pixar has figured out the magic formula to keep both children and their parents entertained.

Brave is no exception.  A nice bit of Scottish pride.  They even got the Mackintosh tartan right (at least to my admittedly inexpert eyes), although the clan standard didn't look like anything I'd recognize.

I enjoyed how they switched around the coming of age story.  Merida doesn't spend the movie on her own, trying to solve her problems.  Instead, she and her mother have to work on solving their problems together.  And it wasn't a unidirectional mom-learns-to-reject-her-fuddy-duddy-ways-and-embrace-youth.  Merida learns to appreciate her mother's gentle ways and wisdom instead of just her father's flashy warrior prowess.  But she still gets to remain an independent and vibrant young woman. 

The story could have easily fallen into boring and offensive traps but the writers navigated the thin line between cliches.  I think the only one they failed to avoid was the inept husband constantly being rescued by his wife and daughter.  And even then, I still liked it.  The story was about the women.  Not everyone can be a multidimensional character.

Billy Connolly does a hilarious job as Fergus, the bold yet clueless father.  And my other favourite Scotsman, Craig Ferguson, is Lord Macintosh.

It's well worth seeing.  I wish it had been out for Mother's Day, since it's such a perfect mother and daughter bonding story.  It's rare to have a mother-daughter story where one doesn't get swallowed up by the other.  Often either the mother dominates and the daughter is broken into conventional paths or the daughter convinces the mother to reject everything.  To see a daughter learn respect for her mother's point of view while the mother does likewise is fabulous.  It allows the daughter to draw on her mother's experience and wisdom without being flattened by it.

Friday 29 June 2012

I'll Have What She's Having

This is what happens when you only check on the news sporadically.  I missed the announcement that Nora Ephron died on Wednesday.

There are a number of articles talking about how she paved the way for women writers, for comedy writers, for comedies about women and dating.  Without When Harry Met Sally there might not have been a Sex and the City.  Without a doubt, she was talented and funny, with a gift for turning her pain into other people's laughter.

I find myself wondering if she 'performed' for other people because she didn't want to be an object of pity.  Was there a point in her life when she actually started thinking of these painful events (like her husband having a very public affair) as funny rather than hurtful?  Most of us have a little comedy routine about subjects which are otherwise too sore to handle.

I think it's one of the best gifts you can give.  Letting other people see the dark humour in their own pain.  For me, it's always been true that I can either laugh or I can start screaming.  Most of the time, I choose laughter.  Otherwise the world is just too dark and awful to face.

That's the lesson I'll take away from Nora Ephron.  The gift of bandaging pain with laughter, the freedom of admitting your fears in a witty way.  I'll have what she was having.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Sympathetic Devil

I’ve always enjoyed the song “Sympathy for the Devil”, the sheer subversiveness of it.  It’s a Devil who exults in his own evil and asks for sympathy because he’s always thwarted and looked down on.

In Midnight Nation, JMS gives us another sympathetic devil, one who claims he’s working for the benefit of mankind against a cruel and bored God.  God created misery, to add drama to what would otherwise be boring bucolic bliss.  The Devil claims he’s trying to overload the system, cause it to have a fatal collapse to force God into a better version of creation.  It’s actually a believable motivation.  After all, how many real world monsters turned to violence and genocide to create a “better tomorrow”?

But what makes it more than just a plausible series of lies are the tiny glimpses of regret we see.  There are hints of love between him and God’s champion, Laurel.  He tells her that what he misses most about Heaven was being with her.  He begs her to just say no, as he did, rather than obey orders marching her down an endless path of torture and death.  He bitterly observes that this is how God punishes him.  By putting the two of them in conflict and forcing him to choose between obedience to an unfair Deity or hurting someone he cares about.

JMS’s extraordinary talent is creating characters which defy shallow stereotypes.  His bad guys are not simply evil.  They’ve made a series of choices, some of which the audience can sympathize with.  His good guys are not universal heroes, they make mistakes and bad choices.  They all get caught up in circumstances beyond their control, in conflicts between ideals and practicality, in selfish desires and foolish hopes.  And yet, he doesn’t fall into the trap of moral ambiguity.  The choices the bad guys are making are still wrong.  But the internal struggle is clear, redemption is possible, no matter how “bad” the character.

In Babylon 5, there is an episode called “Summon the Inquisitor” in which one of the characters must make a choice.  Hold to personal ideals, the belief that they have a destiny to fight great evil and achieve universe-changing things, or save a single life in the darkness, alone and unsung, forgotten by history.  This is the same choice God is offering the Devil.  He can set aside his world-quest and return to obedience, return to heaven.  And all he has to do is spare the life of the champion, who he loves.  Or he can continue his battle against God and accept Laurel as a necessary casualty.  It’s not explicitly laid out in the story, but I think it’s a valid interpretation.

Could you sacrifice a life to change the world?  Does the end justify the means?  It’s a choice JMS returns to frequently in his work and he’s had characters come down on both sides of the question.  We praise and honour some self-sacrifice, like someone giving up their seat on a lifeboat, or the rather obvious example of Jesus.  But we abhor the self-sacrifice of suicide bombers.  It’s not a simple black and white question.  And that’s what makes the stories, and the characters, interesting.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Dominance Struggles

I’ve been reading a book by Dario Maestripieri: Games Primates Play, An undercover investigation of the evolution and economics of human relationships.  The man has some interesting theories worth thinking about (although I think a lot of them will be wrong).  One theory that I’m having some trouble swallowing is that marriages work better when one partner is consistently dominant.

I’m betting a lot of people have a problem with that statement.  It practically demands a red-alert siren howling in the background.

Dr. Maestripieri is a primatologist who works with rhesus monkeys.  He noticed that all the monkeys in the group had a great deal of stress when there was competition between several would-be alphas, meaning that alpha status was traded back and forth between two or more individuals.  The group stress would also be high if the alpha was negotiating with lower-ranked monkeys for support, allowing them more privileges than they’d usually have.  Stress levels dropped when there was an accepted dominance hierarchy with predictable behaviours.

So far, this isn’t anything terribly new.  Everyone knows that uncertainty is far more stressful than predictability.  Even people who have been through horrible systematic abuse can end up feeling much more stressed after they’re rescued because they no longer understand the rules of the universe.  And it doesn’t take much empathy to realize that being in an unstable dominance battlefield would suck.  Ask any kid whose parents are divorcing after years of bitter, public fights.

Here’s where the conclusions get a little more slippery.  Having observed that switching alpha roles back and forth is stressful and constant negotiation is stressful, Maestripieri suggests that relationships work better when one partner is accepted as the dominant.  He cautions that dominance must be benevolent or else the submissive partner will become resentful.  He’s also very clear that cases of abuse cannot be tolerated.

My problem is that I don’t think it’s possible to consistently give someone else their way without feeling resentful.  And if a couple goes into every negotiation like Donald Trump, then resentment would build even faster.  Couples have to accept that most decisions (where to eat, what entertainment to visit, etc) aren’t that important in the long run.  As long as both sides have respect, then it’s no big deal.  We eat at the restaurant I like and go see the movie you want.  Next time, it’ll be your restaurant and my art gallery.

I think every couple has one partner who tends to be more decisive than the other.  If you make decisions faster, you’re more likely to make the decisions.  I see that as something different than dominance.  Maybe it’s hair-splitting, but just because one person makes more of the day to day decisions doesn’t make them dominant in the relationship.

In the movie Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Michael Douglas spouts off this sad little philosophy: Whoever cares the least has the power in the relationship.  Hard to argue with since someone who doesn’t care about the other person’s feelings is going to be more relentless about pursuing their individual desires.  But power isn’t everything.  It certainly isn’t a model for a good relationship.

Maybe that’s where everything breaks down.  One-way dominance might be effective but it isn’t good.  If you want emotional satisfaction, then it has to be give and take.  You have to be vulnerable and also be willing to be the shelter.  The two of you become one, protecting each other’s backs and being the soft place for your partner to fall.

Not quite as efficient but of the two, I know which one I’d prefer.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

The Final Days

As of tonight, there are two days left of school.  Nine weeks of unstructured time lie ahead with precious few gaps for personal use.

Holidays are always a dilemma.  My boys, particularly Alex, do best when they have a predictable, varied routine.  Too similar a routine day after day and they get bored.  Too irregular a routine and they start acting out because of anxiety.

Summer is particularly tricky because it lasts so darn long.  And because I don't want the seasons to blur together under a burden of constant work.  I want my kids to remember summer as a fun time, a time when the rules got relaxed a little and we explored the world around us.

Maybe I'm idealistic but I don't think I need to give up that goal just because our children have autism.  But at the same time, I can't get so caught up in my ideals that I don't see what their actual experience is.

I've learned over the years that having an ideal vision in mind can actually hamper my enjoyment of an event.  The plans become overwhelming and everything starts to become an irritant in my rose-coloured contacts.  If I want to enjoy myself, I have to be willing to experience the magic as it happens, not half-kill myself trying to set up magic-worthy circumstances.  I'm still proud of myself for having an enjoyable wedding.  Despite family clashes and catering difficulties, I never cared that it wasn't picture perfect.  Instead, it was fun.

I think I've set things up for a fun summer, too.  Alex will still have a daily tutorial but only for the mornings.  Afternoons will be for fun experiences.  And his tutor is more than happy to go along with an exploratory program of 'field trips' to the park and woods and hands-on science experiments.  I had a plan for Nathan as well but we've sadly had to cut some of what we'd planned due to expenses.  But he'll still get a weekly martial arts lesson and a creative arts lesson, we'll still go to the library and I've set things up so that he has the opportunity for regular play dates.

Will it work out the way I see it in my head?  Probably not.  But will it be fun?  That I'm willing to bet on.

Monday 25 June 2012

Ridiculousness in Advertising

Advertisers like sponsors, especially famous sponsors.  It save a lot of time and energy.  You don’t have to be creative.  Simply put a famous person with your product or service and people pay attention.  Easy money.

But it does get silly on occasion.

The Avengers have an official car.  The commercial airs in front of the movie and is quite amusing (possibly because I haven’t had to see it twenty or thirty times), featuring a voice GPS unit giving instructions like “Turn right at explosion”, “Swerve left at falling car” and my personal favourite: “U-Turn, U-Turn, U-Turn” as the giant flying space worm comes down the street.

Then comes the product identification and the bombastic announcement that this is the official car of the Avengers.  And if fictional comic book characters endorse it, we know it must be good.

Except … even on a fictional level, it doesn’t make any sense.

None of the characters drive cars.  Not one of them.  The closest we see is when Bruce Banner shows up on a dinky motorbike.  They drive futuristic jets and fly under their own power.  The flying invisible aircraft carrier is quite cool, but that’s not what this company is selling.

The only thing we see the Avengers do with cars is fling them at bad guys.  Is that why they’re endorsing this car?  Is it easy to fling?  Aerodynamic when thrown?  Sufficient weight to actually smush the enemy?

The ability to be thrown one handed by a superhero is not exactly top of my list when it comes to features I’m looking for in my next automobile.

Most commercials don’t make any sense.  The goal is to get people to recognize the name and associate it with a positive emotion (a test I fail since I almost never remember the actual product).  I recognize the goal but a little plausibility should be maintained.

Now if a company wanted to sell me one of those funky jets .... or my own personal Hulk .... then the Avengers would be good sponsors.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Ender's Game

I’ve been rereading Orson Scott Card’s Ender series.  And I think he is very much off in the ages he gives his children in the books.  I love the concept of children playing a simulation which proves to be an actual war.  Children do have faster reflexes than adults, they’re more willing to take chances and try weird strategies.

But I have spent time with six year olds and I would not be counting on any of them to save the world anytime soon.  Teenagers I might buy but not pre-teens.  Teenagers have the nice obsessive interest levels which would help them in training, they have the drive to prove themselves better than the adults around them.

I still like the concept though and I find his view of the political world interesting.  Right now I’m going through the Shadow series, which focuses on Bean and the events on Earth after Ender’s great victory.  I’m no political theorist but the model of the world that OSC is manipulating makes sense to me.  Nations, like people, get complacent in success and comfort.  Unification would be possible, but not by conquest.  Conquest leads to resentment.  A charismatic enough leader might well be able to unify the world in a single lifetime, especially with the thrust of a charismatic villain to play against.

But could such a unification hold past a single lifetime?  We’ve never had a historical example of voluntary unification on a mass scale.  Alexander the Great, the Romans, the British, China, they all conquered their expansive territories.  And the empires of conquest invariably fall apart.  It may take centuries, but it happens.

Then there’s the problem of rulership.  A single leader can be efficient and effective, particularly if he doesn’t have to worry about public opinion.  But that kind of power inevitably attracts bullies and despots who are hungry to use the power as a hammer against their enemies, both real and imaginary.  OSC recognizes this and has his Hegemon give up power to committee rule after his lifetime.

Except that committees make crappy rulers.  Consensus turns quickly to tyranny of the majority and fear of unpopular decisions, no matter how right and necessary.  Eventually bureaucracy overwhelms effectiveness and governments become easy prey for the charismatic bullies once again.

Maybe the knowledge of sentient extraterrestrial life would make a difference, forcing us to band together.  But I think humanity still has a lot of growing up to do before a truly beneficial world government would be possible.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Confidence and the Cut

I watched the So You Think You Can Dance Vegas week now that I'm no longer curled up in bedridden misery and I was struck by a curious pattern.

Again and again, dancers went into the rounds feeling confident and they were cut.  It surprised me.  Isn't confidence supposed to be desirable, inspiring others to like you because you like yourself?  Some of it was likely an attempt to play up the drama for the camera but what if there's something more to it.

When you aren't confident, you question yourself and your choices.  You're searching constantly to make things better.  Of course, if you really aren't confident, you won't have the internal strength to stick to your decisions about what's better, so you have to have some faith in yourself.  But what if the dancers who were confident stopped pushing themselves to improve as much?  Stopped searching for those tiny edges that can transform a performance into something extraordinary?

I've seen this pattern in novels.  The first novel is ruthlessly attacked by the editor and the rasping refines the story into something greater than the author could achieve alone.  But by the third or fourth book in a popular series, I imagine the editors become more reluctant to mess with the author's vision.  Thus the stories are a little sloppier, without the fine edge. 

I don't think it's possible to achieve greatness without someone else to bounce things off of.  Someone who challenges our blind spots and wears away the unnecessary roughness.  I don't think it's a coincidence that brilliance tends to come in packs (think Plato and Aristotle; Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry; the great trinity of George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Jim Henson).  The mind can't think around its own corners.

Friday 22 June 2012


I've been sick as a dog with the stomach flu for the last few days.  However, now my body has decided to cautiously accept that food might be a good thing again, I can start catching up on life.

I want to thank my husband for taking over while I was sick.  Especially since the boys were sick as well.  He's not always comfortable with everything which has to be done but when push came to shove and he was needed, he stepped up to the plate without complaining.  I'm not a particularly good patient (control freak that I am) but it was good to be able to let go of some of the responsibility and know it was being taken care of.

Everyone is more or less on the mend now.  I seem to have been hit the hardest by the bug.  That's how we explained it to Nathan, when he was upset and confused about why his tummy hurt.  We explained there was a germ-bug in his tummy and he was throwing up to get the bug out.  When I was stuck in misery, he was worried and came to check on me.  He told me he did a little dance and wiggled and the bug flew out of his tummy and if I did a little dance then I could feel better too.  It was very sweet and if I had the strength, I would have tried his advice.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Dangers of a Fairy Tale Ending

We were watching the Wiggles today and one of the sketches was a fairy-tale type story called “The Girl With The Black Velvet Band”.  It’s a simple story, the prince sees the beautiful maiden with her hair in a black velvet band, he loses sight of her in the crowd, he asks a bunch of people where to find her, he finds her and asks her to marry him.

I’ve seen it many times and it still grates my teeth.

He asks her to marry him when he doesn’t know anything about her.  Not even her name.  He sees a girl he likes the looks of and decides to make a lifelong commitment.

Now, I’ve heard complaints about this format before from feminists.  They object to the fact that the girl is selected only for her beauty and complain this gives little girls the idea that being beautiful is more important than any other quality they possess.  They say the message is: good things only happen to beautiful people.

I have a complain from the male side of things.  What a horrible message for little boys to choose their partners based only on looks or to imply that physical beauty guarantees compatibility.  Speaking as a woman, I can tell you with authority that beautiful women are not exempt from being nasty, manipulative or vicious. 

I looked back over some of my favourite fairy tales and I have to admit, none of them are good role models for adult relationships.  In Puss in Boots, the young miller’s son becomes a prince based on lies and the cat’s behind-the-scenes violence.  In both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the prince falls in love with an unconscious woman.  In Cinderella, they do spend some time together but not enough for the prince to recognize her face. 

Of course, these stories aren’t intended as serious role models for relationships.  They’re quest stories, tales of adventure.  The fact that the object of the quest is marriage doesn’t make the story a guide.  Flip it and make the quest about treasure.  Everyone knows there are easier ways to earn money than to descend into the underworld and kill dragons and trolls.  We don’t talk about how these stories set up unrealistic plans for personal finance.  We assume the real world models will balance out fantastic tales.

Banning stories or trying to rewrite them to make them into moral-guidance tales doesn’t work.  The solution to bad free speech isn’t silence, it’s more free speech.  Find examples of good relationships and use them as counter-examples.  It’s a little harder because stories about happy couples who work out their disagreements peacefully don’t tend to be best-sellers.  Personally, I like Beauty and the Beast (the original, not the Disney version) because Beauty is an active character.  She saves the Beast at the end just like he saved her.  I like the original because the Beast always acts with gentlemanly courtesy right from the first scene.  He may look hideous but he’s not a beast on the inside.  East of the Sun, West of the Moon is another good counter-example where the girl saves the hero.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Is Progress Real?

I love JMS.  He’s a brilliant writer and when I don’t have time to go through the hundred some hours of Babylon 5, I can enjoy his comic Midnight Nation, the story of a struggle between God and the Devil over a single human soul.

In the tradition of all the best Devils, this one has some great speeches that contain just enough truth to twist the perception of reality.  This is one of my favourites where he denounces the “lie of progress”:

“Creation is built upon the promise of hope, that things will get better, that tomorrow will be better than the day before.  But it’s not true.  Cities collapse, populations expand, environments decay, people get ruder, you can’t go to a movie without getting in a fight with the guy in the third row who won’t shut up.  Filthy streets.  Drive-by shootings.  Irradiated corn.  Permissible amounts of rat-droppings per hot dog.  Bomb blasts and body counts.  Terror in the streets, on camera, in your living room.  AIDS and Ebola and Hepatitis B and you can’t touch anyone because you’re afraid you’ll catch something besides love and nothing tastes good anymore and Christopher Reeve is in a wheelchair and love is statistically false.”

No one can deny there are a lot of terrible things in the world.  How many heroes have looked out over the world and wondered if it can be saved, if it’s even worth saving?  Check out the Internet and you can find plenty of fringe groups who believe only a massive reboot can help.  Who believe humanity is beyond saving.

And yet, there’s always the other side of the pancake.

People do fall in love.  They fall in love with people who aren’t logical choices and experience the crazy bliss of being with someone who makes you laugh and who thinks you’re one of the most amazing people to ever exist in all of history.  Christopher Reeve may have spent his last years in a wheelchair but his money and celebrity opened up vast new areas of research that are bringing hope to paraplegics everywhere.  Besides, Steven Hawking is in a wheelchair too, but his mind is able to wander the vast expanses of the cosmos.  There are terrifying new diseases out there, but we know how to defeat the ancient scourges of tuberculosis, diphtheria and influenza, which once cut our lives so short.  We are capable of great violence and hatred, but we are also capable of great understanding and compassion.  We are coming to understand ourselves and our impulses, we can reach across the globe to offer support to others.

Life is pinball.  The reward for doing it well is the opportunity to keep doing it.  The alternative is to walk away and not get a chance to play.

You can make the argument go any way you want.  Because the truth isn’t simple and straightforward.  We are both awful and wonderful.  We gave the universe both Hitler and Beethoven.  We destroy and we create and if destruction is faster and easier, there are still those who struggle to create.  We make our own choices and sometimes we choose bad things for both ourselves and the world.  But sometimes we choose good things.

In Midnight Nation, the Devil drives the hero mad by making him aware of all the misery in the world.  But he isn’t given an opportunity to feel all the happiness, all the contented sighs of parents holding sleeping babies, the first kisses, the jumping up and down excitement of getting concert tickets, the laughter among friends.  Would it outweigh the misery?  None of us is likely to be in the position to know which gives us the freedom to choose what we want to believe.

And I choose to follow another JMS character who proclaimed: “I take great comfort in the unfairness of the universe …. Wouldn’t it be awful if we deserved all the horrible things which happened to us?”

Monday 18 June 2012

A New Addition

For the last few weeks, I've been working on getting a new site up: Corner Pieces Autism.  Last year I wrote a book intended to help parents with newly diagnosed children.  I wanted to give them the same basic skills which have made such a difference with my son Nathan's progress.  I wanted to offer them a chance to understand some of the emotional maelstrom that a diagnosis of autism can bring.

It can be very isolating to have a child with special needs, especially in the beginning.  There isn't a standard treatment plan for autism.  Some children respond to special diets, some don't.  Some respond to standard behaviour therapy, some don't.  Parents are left very much on their own to try and figure out what they should do.  And while they're figuring it out, precious time is being lost.  The sooner you can begin intervening with an autistic child, the better their prognosis.

I had hopes of getting my book published and providing parents with the help I would have liked to have had.  Because I haven't been able to get the publishing world interested, I'm putting selected chapters into the Corner Pieces site.  Parents need this information and I'm not going to hold it back from them.

People have asked me why I called the book Corner Pieces.  Here's why: the symbol for autism awareness is a puzzle with all different brightly coloured pieces.  Learning how to help your child with autism is like learning to put together a puzzle without the picture on the box.  And just to make it interesting, sometimes there are pieces from multiple puzzles mixed together.

The first step to solving the puzzle is to find the corner pieces.

Sunday 17 June 2012


An article in this months Romance Writer's Report talked about the importance of theme in your writing.  The author suggested every writer has an overarching theme which is detectable in all their work.  That made me start thinking, what would be the themes of some of my favourite writers?

Joss Whedon: the power of friendship.  His hero characters always have a group of supportive people around them while the bad guys fight alone.  The friends keep the hero going when the hero is ready to give up.  Together, they can overcome whatever is in their path.

J. Michael Straczynski: the importance of choice.  His characters always have difficult decisions to make and they become defined by their decisions.  No one is good or evil but that their choices make them so.

J.K. Rowling: believing in yourself.  Harry Potter has to struggle against his teachers, his friends, the public and his enemies.  He's continually being told he's wrong but he keeps on doing what he thinks is right and it works out in the end.

Mercedes Lackey: never surrender.  Her characters get overwhelmed but even when they've had everything taken from them, they don't give up.  They keep on fighting.  No matter the odds, they're always working away at finding a solution.

Jane Lindskold: accept yourself.  Her characters get into trouble when they pretend to be something they're not and the situation is only resolved when they find peace with who they are.  Her villains are often trying to overcome fears of inferiority through excessive control while her heros are able to bring their full talents into play because they've become comfortable with themselves.

Melanie Rawn: the power of lies.  Again and again, she explores the damaging effect of long held secrets and lies on her characters.  Almost every character I can think of has a secret protected by lies and the revelations are always painful and devastating.  I'm not honestly sure whether you could say she was for keeping the secret or telling the truth but she certainly recognizes that some truths can cause great pain even if they set you free.

As I write this, I find myself wondering what the authors would think.  Would they recognize it?  Would they tell me I had it wrong?  Are these themes subconscious?  Is it something which has played out in their own lives, prompting them to replay it again and again in their fiction?  Obviously, I don't have the answers to those questions.  But I'd love to find out.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Stupid Girls?

My son, ever the musical connoisseur, has decided he likes Pink's Stupid Girls.  I'm not quite sure how he got to the video on You-tube, but he did and now it's a fairly constant feature in our home soundtrack.

I'm discouraging him from watching the video, since I'm not sure he would understand the message is supposed to be ironic.  But I don't have a problem with the song itself.

It bothers me when I see women pretending to be helpless and foolish in order to get ahead.  The message that a smart woman will have the world against her still lingers.  I remember being told to hide my bookshelves since it would give the impression I was "too smart".

And yet, I think the opposite problem is starting to creep up on us.  I saw one of these matchmaker shows where millionaires are set up with men and women (mostly women).  The woman who runs the business explains that these men pay a premium in order to get premium wives and girlfriends.  They want a woman who is beautiful enough to be a model, possesses one or more graduate degrees, can run a business and is willing to give it all up in order to take care of the man and his house (and possibly children).

Frankly I was initially shocked to discover they find any candidates at all.  But then I realized it's still the old marriage market game.  Women who wish to marry well now have more qualifications to pile on their resume.  But there have always been women who sought power and security by being professional wives.

I'm starting to come to the conclusion that we're thinking too much about this.  Like women's sexuality, our intelligence is starting to be a bad thing no matter where we put it on the spectrum. 

But in the end, I still tell my son that he doesn't want a stupid girl.

Friday 15 June 2012

You Get What You Pay For

I'm slowly (and reluctantly) starting to explore the world of e-books.  I still prefer to have paper in hand when reading, but there's our trip coming up and it will be easier to carry digital books on a tablet than a lot of physical ones.

I'm trying out the different e-reader programs and right now, I'm using iBooks because they had free ebooks on offer.  (This is one of my major problems.  I've got over two thousand print volumes here at home and ordering them all as ebooks is prohibitively expensive.)

There seem to be three categories of free books available: classical literature whose copyright has long since expired, children's books and romance novels.  This works great for me since I want books for the boys and I like classic literature and romance novels.

Except that the books themselves so far are awful.  And I'm not just talking about predictable plots, uneven characterization and cliched descriptions.  I'm talking about basic spelling and formatting errors.  Stuff which even spellcheck would pick up like "tme" for "the" or the heroine jumping "into" her motorcycle.  Clearly either she drove a car in an early draft or the writer missed the obvious "onto" in the sentence.

This really bothers me.  Romance novels have a bad reputation in terms of the writing and I believe it's undeserved.  There's a lot of really great writing happening in the community.  Witty stories, sharp dialogue, realistic three-dimensional characters, intricate and well-woven plots, we really do have them all.  And the warm satisfaction of a happy ending, too.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Good Girl vs Bad Girl

I was reading a review of Madonna’s latest CD, MDNA, and the reviewer was complaining about the unbelievability of her song Girls Gone Wild.  The song begins with a prayer to God: 

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee
And I detest all my sins
Because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell.
But most of all because I love Thee
And I want so badly to be good.

And follows up with lyrics like:

Girls they just want to have some fun
Get fired up like the smokin’ gun


I’m about to go astray
My inhibition’s gone away
I feel like sinning


Good girls don’t misbehave
But I’m a bad girl anyway.

The reviewer was complaining that the juxtaposition of the prayer was obviously only intended to shock since the lyrics don’t show any real repentance.  She’s reveling in being a “bad girl” not trying to reform into a “good girl” in any meaningful way.

But is it really impossible to enjoy both being a bad girl and a good girl?  Especially if we define “good” and “bad” specifically in terms of sexual freedom.

Good girls get the privileges of respectability and societal approval and protection.  Bad girls get the freedom to act on their desires and impulses.  Why shouldn’t we want both?  Why shouldn’t we enjoy both?

Call it a conspiracy or just a convenience for society, but there have been people wanting to label women as either the good girl or the bad girl for a long time.  The concept of having the best of both worlds has been lost to us for a very long time.

When society decided it had a vested interest in controlling women’s sexuality, it had to contain our natural instincts and interests.  It did that by calling them evil and telling us that “good” girls neither acted that way nor wanted to.  It split women into the good Madonna-virgins and the bad whores.

It bothers me that there’s still an underlying belief that women fit into either the good or bad category.  A pop song may not change the world, but at least its exploring the concept.  Much more interesting than sticking with something which got old and tired a thousand years ago.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Catching Up On My Reading

When I went to university, I took a degree in the humanities, studying religion, philosophy, literature, history and the classics.  I enjoyed it a lot (despite the lack of job practicality) but there was a lot of material to cover.  Sadly, being a typical university student, I had other important claims on my time like watching Star Trek and Buffy, hitting the on-campus pub and spending time with my friends.

This may come as a shock but sometimes I did not do the required reading.  I'll pause for all of you to gasp in horror.  At the time I felt a vague sense of guilt but not enough to actually do anything about it.

Looking back, I'm of a more forgiving mind.  The requirements were impossible.  At the time, we figured out we would have to read over 600 pages a day to keep up, no holidays, no breaks.  That's one half of the problem.  The other half was that the books themselves were often so boring and badly written that they defied imagination.  The material itself was interesting ... just not the writing.

I still have those dozens of volumes from my school days.  Lately I've been looking at them and thinking I should give reading them another shot.  After all, I paid for my education.  Shouldn't I have read the books that went with it?  Besides, perhaps the books wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't having to rush through them.  If I took my time to really absorb what was in them, my brain might not check out in self-preservation.

The answer is: yes, most of them are really that bad.  Right now I'm reading one which covers the history of scientific thought, views on how various cultures through history have understood the natural world.  It's right up my alley, looking at different cultures and different perceptions.  But it's so densely and dryly written that I can only read three or four pages before my eyes start rolling and I start falling asleep from boredom.

Why on earth do academic works have to suck the interesting out of their subjects?  I remember one of my professors dismissing a book as "nothing but pop-history" when it came out.  Someone asked if it distorted the facts or mislead the reader to create drama and the professor replied that it didn't but it had none of the dignity of a true academic work, being "written-down" to appeal to the common folk. 

Why shouldn't history, literature and everything else be accessible to everyone?  Personally, I think it comes down to snobbery.  People like to feel better than those around them and if you're smart, then you can rub other people's noses in the fact that you understand something they don't.  But all it does is create a distrust in knowledge and a belief that these things don't really apply to everyday life.

I'm a democratic knowledge-distributor.  I think everyone has the right to understand how we've gotten here, to this society in this time.  It's one of the reasons I love fantasy and science-fiction, for their ability to bring things to light in a way people welcome.

Meanwhile, at least I have something which helps me sleep.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

A Great Quote

From Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography:

"Some argue that women can have a satisfying sex life without orgasm; an argument as convincing as saying that some homeless people like living outdoors."

I think that about sums it up.

Monday 11 June 2012

Origins of Marriage

I’ve been rereading Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography, a book I recommend every female over the age of fifteen read.  One of the parts which struck me was her theory on how marriage came to be.

She complains a great deal about the assumptions of evolutionary psychology and she’s got some valid points.  Women aren’t inherently more monogamous and less sexual than men.  If this were the case, men and society wouldn’t have to work so hard to control female sexuality.  And there’s good evidence that the standards of men wanting young, beautiful women and women wanting rich, older men are more social constructs than inherent biologically driven urges.  Men may like younger women but younger people tend to be more attractive to both sexes.  Stability and commitment are also equally attractive regardless of gender.  Choice may depend more on what’s available than personal ideals.

In Angier’s theory, before agriculture, women could afford be more promiscuous and independent because they and a network of female kin likely provided all the food a woman and her children needed.  Gathering supplies the majority of calories in hunter-gatherer cultures.  Large kills tend to benefit the group as a whole rather than the hunter’s biological family.  No matter how vigilant and aggressive a potential mate was, she had lots of time to pursue alternatives and the independent wherewithal to walk away.

With agriculture, food became a more communal effort and thus community peer pressure became more effective.  As the need to wander to gather food vanished, it was much easier to restrict a woman’s movement and claim an exclusive sexual partnership.

It would be easy to build these facts into a conspiracy where evil men enslaved noble women but that ignores a simple fact.  Women aren’t stupid and since they already had power, they wouldn’t have been coerced into a negative situation.

Angier’s theory suggests forcing everyone into greater proximity made harassment into a bigger problem than it had been previously.  If everyone is working together in the fields or pastures all day and then living together in a communal compound all night, that’s a lot of time for an unwelcome suitor (or two or three) to push for a woman’s attention.  Anyone who has done the bar scene knows how persistent some men can be even when a woman has said no repeatedly and firmly.

By establishing formal public pair-bonds (marriage), a man got the right to exclusivity without having to risk potentially lethal physical competition with other men on a regular basis.  And women got freedom from harassment of unwelcome suitors.  Of course, both sides could violate the pair-bond if they chose.  Affairs probably began right along with marriage.  Both sexes probably indulged but the socially-reinforced ideal of an exclusive relationship forced such behaviour into quiet grounds.

From there, you can see how our “standard” preferences probably grew.  Women would want someone who was both strong enough to intimidate others but also committed to the relationship.  No sense in having the king if he’s likely to toss you out for another woman after a few years.  And it doesn’t matter how loving and committed your husband is if he doesn’t have the status to protect you.  Historically, nubile women were considered part of the booty during raids.  You would want to make sure there was a strong, intimidating male who was eagerly, if not fanatically, devoted to your personal safety.

On the other side, men can never been entirely sure if their wife’s child is theirs.  Until DNA testing came along, paternity was a matter of hope and guesswork.  By getting a young woman (preferably a virgin), he can not only benefit from her extended time of fertility, he can claim her exclusive sexual services.  This minimizes his chances of raising someone else’s genetic children.  The more na├»ve and inexperienced she is, the more she’ll rely on her husband as a go-between for the rest of the world.  Easier to control and less likely to stray, it’s a winning combination in a cold-hearted Darwinian kind of way.

This sort of theorizing is interesting.  I love learning about different cultures and societies.  It’s fascinating to me.  But in the end, it doesn’t mean anything more than an interesting theory.

Human beings are blessed (or cursed) with brains which let us overwhelm just about any instinct nature cares to throw at us.  So our “evolutionary preferences” are not iron chains binding us to any particular destiny.  I see them more as the equivalent of wall around five feet tall.  It’s easier to stay inside the boundaries but a determined effort will get you out every time.

Missed A Post

I knew it would eventually happen.  Sorry to everyone out there who follows me.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Brilliant But Boring

I've been watching the So You Think You Can Dance auditions and once again I'm struck by how repetitious the contemporary auditions are.  Maybe I don't know enough to recognize the nuances, but I see the same legs lifted into vertical splits, rolling shoulders and en pointe spins in all of them.  They're beautifully executed and the judges are certainly impressed, but I'm bored.

I've been watching the show for a few years now and the contemporary pieces rarely move me.  Sometimes there's something brilliant, like the piece illustrating a couple dealing with terminal cancer or the one illustrating someone struggling with addiction.  But most of the time, it just doesn't work for me.  There's something too precise, too obviously choreographed about the movement.

Art is artificial.  But I don't think it should ever feel artificial.  The best of art creates an illusion of sponetaneity and good fortune.  It feels natural and organic.

Friday 8 June 2012

Nosy or Neighbourly?

I'm a community-minded sort of person.  I think communities are like relationships, you're either contributing or contaminating.  There's no such thing as a neutral neighbour.  So I try to be a good community person.  I volunteer for things and try and say hello to the people I pass on the sidewalk.  I try to learn people's names and recognize which house they come from.

I think that's part of being a good neighbour.  But I'll admit my paranoia also drives me.  If I know who's a regular part of the neighbourhood, then I also can recognize someone who isn't.  I'm not a call-the-police-for-every-stranger sort, but if I see a strange man coming out of a house where I know a family and their children live, I'll pay attention to him.  I've even made notes on occasion so that I could remember what a person looked like.  If I'm well acquainted with the family, I'll ask them if they have someone visiting.

I'll make a note if I see a strange licence plate sitting in a driveway.  If I see a car running in a driveway, I'll linger for a few minutes to see if someone is coming out to it.  A few months ago, I saw a car come rushing up to the local school.  One man got out, leaving two other adults in the car.  They all looked very anxious, which caught my attention.  When the man came out and rushed a little girl into the car, I pulled out my notepad and noted rough descriptions of the man, the girl and the car, including the licence plate.  I knew there was probably a perfectly legitimate explanation (medical emergency, running late for an appointment) but I feel as if it's my duty to be aware and make sure my memory is reliable.  Just in case it isn't legit.

Sometimes I worry I'm crossing the line into creepy territory.  And sometimes I worry my thinking is influenced by too many cop-dramas.  But I also think it's good to be aware of what's going on.

I'd love to hear what the rest of the world thinks.  Is keeping an eye on your neighbours part of being a good neighbour or is it just nosy?

Thursday 7 June 2012

Are Guys Declining?

With Father's Day rapidly approaching, men are getting a societal once over.  What surprises me is that I'm seeing a lot of books and columns talking about the demise of the guy.

There are a lot of different complaints.  Some mourn the fall of the father-knows-best alpha males from their youth.  Others point at the lack of ambition and motivation in today's young men.  They're complaining about lack of role models.  But it all adds up to a bewailing of a loss of masculinity.

I'm not quite sure I buy that.

The role of the man in the workplace, family and society at large is certainly shifting.  No question about that.  We aren't in the Victorian age, where men were the sole barrier between their families and the heartless world.  We aren't in the fifties, where men had accepted roles as the bread-winner and patriarch.  Now men are expected to be a little bit of everything: cook, involved parent, repair expert, relationship partner .... the only thing off the table is pregnancy and breast feeding.  Anything else can be shared.

There's a bitter feminist in me which laughs sourly and says "Suck it up!" since women have had to be adept multi-experts for the last five decades. 

But that's not fair.  We know how horrible it feels to be overwhelmed by superwomen expectations.  We should do better at preventing men from falling into the same trap.

At some level, we seem to be failing this basic test.  Eating disorders and body image disorders are rapidly rising among young men.  Confidence is no longer a male birthright, many fear the potential of failure too much to try.  Men are rapidly acquiring the second and third shift of childcare and personal enhancement regimens, but still often expected to be the same breadwinners as before.  There are points when I wonder if rather than taking on the positive points of male privilege, we're achieving equality of the sexes by burdening men with the negative points of female insecurity.

And yet I don't actually think men are declining.  I think they're becoming more than interchangeable cardboard cutouts delivering a paycheque.  They're becoming multi-dimensional people.  It's becoming okay for guys to admit they don't always know what they're doing.

The main character from Castle would have been unthinkable thirty years ago.  He cracks jokes instead of firepower.  His female partner routinely physically saves him.  And yet I don't consider him an unmanly character.  He's a male role model for the new generation: working as part of team with his partner rather than holding the fort all on his own.

I don't think it was healthy for men to spend their lives in emotional deserts, working continuously for someone else's benefit until they retired or died.  And if not all young men want to be CEOs, great!  It'll give all those ambitious career women their choice of a househusband to help their career and raise their families.  And if there's no clear role model any more, it's because men have a lot more new roles to fill.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders Trilogy

I reread Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy this week (Ship of Magic, Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny).  I had read them several years ago but when I went back to read them, I found myself painfully slogging through the first few chapters and setting them aside.  It's the middle trilogy in a continuing series and I would read the Farseer trilogy and then skip to the Tawny Man trilogy.  Those two had my favourite characters (Fitz, Chade and the Fool).  The Liveship series deals with the Fool, but I didn't realize it until the end of the last book (he's in disguise).  Other than that, it's a new cast of characters and a new section of territory in the world Hobb created.

This time I decided to slog it out.  And after the first hundred pages, my decision was rewarded.  I no longer felt like I had to skip over sections just to keep my interest going.  The characters and story gripped me.

The question I ask myself as a writer is: why don't the first hundred pages work?  To me, it's just as important to look at what doesn't work and why as it is to look at what does work and why.  Things can be very close and yet miss by a critical margin. 

When I was in high school, I read an absolutely horrible fiction book called Tomb of the Christ or something like that (it was bad enough to have been banished from the memory of the Internet).  It featured an archaeologist who finds what is proven to be the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth.  From there, we go on a mad romp around the world peppered with a pathetic love story and Vatican hit squads.  It was awful.

But the story is close to Dan Brown's highly successful Da Vinci Code.  Things which struck me as horribly implausible in the first end up working in the second.  I don't remember enough to actually do a comparison but the point is that Brown succeeded where the other author failed.

Back to Liveship Traders.

Going back, I think the reason why I had to push myself was the characters.  Every single one of them is highly unpleasant.  We have Kennit the pirate, a sociopath with grand megalomaniacal dreams of being a King; Malta, Scarlett O'Hara without the veneer of politeness; Wintrow, constantly whining about wanting to be back at his monastery but unwilling to take action; Kyle Haven, a bullying father; and Keffria, his beleagured and spineless wife.  Almost all of these characters have great growth in their arcs, but when we first meet them, there aren't really any redeeming features.

The closest we have to attachable heros are Brashen, the first mate; Althea, the captain's daughter and Ronica, her mother.  Brashen has a great underdog story: his captain is dying and the new captain thinks he's scum.  But when he's cast off from his ship, he immediately turns back to the drug use which got him in trouble in the first place.  Ronica struck me as a strong woman at first, but then she uses her strength to convince her husband to displace Althea as the heir to the family ship.  Althea takes this betrayal and storms off in a selfish huff.

There isn't anyone taking action I can sympathize with.  It takes them all awhile to decide to try and claw their way back to a happy ending rather than slipping further into disaster.  I can see how a writer would have enjoyed this story, there was a lot of meaty character development to sink your teeth into.  But I think there was too much despair too soon.  It's a good lesson.

I still recommend the Liveship Traders.  Push past the beginning and you'll find it well worth your effort.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Science At Home

Something very cool is happening right now which won't happen again for one hundred and five years.  Venus is crossing over in front of the sun, making the planet visible as a tiny black dot against the sun.

Obviously, you can't look directly at the sun to see this but we rigged up a homemade viewer by putting binoculars on a tripod and holding up a piece of white paper behind.  We could see this tiny little dot in the circle of light and it was incredibly awesome to know that it was a planet.

Here's a picture of it:

I like it when we can bring science into our home.  When I was a child, "science" was something that really smart people did with incredibly expensive machines in remote locations.  It was something to be admired and respected, not participated in. 

I'm trying to give my boys a more hands-on approach.  We've done experiments with water and cornstarch to make goop, a fluid which turns hard under pressure.  We've shown the explosive reaction of Mentos and Diet Coke.  We've done kinetic experiments, anything I can think of.

I want them to think of science as a way for them to understand and explore the world around them.  Maybe they'll find it more accessible than I did.

Monday 4 June 2012

Truth in Advertising

One of my university professors once told me that if I wanted to see society as it truly was, I should look at ads.  Because advertisers have twenty seconds to make their point, they have to play off current stereotypes and expectations.  There's no time to build up unique characters and personalities. 

If we see a woman walking into a house with children, we assume she's a mother.  She might tell us whether or not she's a stay at home mom or if she has a job, but we don't wonder if she is babysitting her sister's children or if she has opened her house to the neighbourhood children.  It's simple and basic.  We then can put further assumptions on her, that she cares about her home, her appearance, her children's health and safety, that she's pressed for time, working on a budget.

It's interesting to consciously look at the implied roles in these little twenty second dramas.  A lot has to be conveyed and it's best done by using our own prejudices and beliefs.  I can always tell at a first glance whether it's a Pepsi or Coke commercial, even though both logos are displayed.  Whichever side has the most attractive people is the one which paid for the commercial.  There's one running right now in which the pudgy and poorly-groomed middle-aged man (Coke) is rescued by the young and interesting crew of the Pepsi truck.  It's all laid out very clearly: only boring, unattractive people like Coke; the vibrant and young choose Pepsi.  Laid out consciously, the silliness of the parallel becomes clear.  No one ever became cool exclusively because of their soft drink choice.  Yet that is exactly what the commercial tries to suggest to us.

I have noticed some worrying trends over the last few years.  If a man and a woman appear together in a commercial, the woman will be the one to correctly use the product or service, often with amusement at the man's befuddled confusion.  It's part of the trend of the "harmless but useless" man character being used.  You'll see it often in sitcoms, where the women manage the situation while the men muddle through.  As the mother of two boys, this worries me.  I don't like the idea of their prevalent role model being the butt of the joke.

I've also noticed that overweight people are being put into the "loser" spot in ads.  Again, it bothers me because it firmly ties appearance to intelligence and competence. 

Advertisers aren't going to change their ads to encourage self-esteem or make the world a friendlier place.  They're paying money to get business.  But I think it's important to think critically about the type of world we're being shown and the implied promises made.

Sunday 3 June 2012

The Pleasures of A Quiet Day

Usually weekends are fairly hectic at our house.  Lots of chores to be done and things to be taken care of, not to mention two active little boys demanding attention.

But this weekend has been fairly quiet.  And it's been nice to have the time to sit around and play a board game with Nathan or take Alex out for a walk.  I've been working on Nathan's counting skills (and gracious competition manners) by playing Monopoly with him.  We don't bother with the money.  It's just a race around the board to see who can land on the most properties.  He did very well today, remembering to count the pips on the dice and the squares on the board before pretending to zoom his little car around the corners.  And he didn't get upset when my piece moved ahead of his.

Alex had a peculiar fixation with getting to go to the grocery store.  He asked and asked to go.  Dave and I were both hesitant.  He gets very excited about the automatic doors and refuses to stay with us.  He's also not above throwing a lie-down-on-the-floor-and-kick-and-scream temper tantrum when thwarted.  At eight, that's a lot of kicking and screaming.  However, he's been doing much better about understanding consequences lately.  There was a short list of things to be gotten, so we decided to give it a try.

I laid out the ground rules very clearly.  He would get two minutes at the beginning of the trip to look at the doors but then we had to do the grocery shopping.  If he stayed beside me, then he would get to spend a little time with the doors before we left.  If he threw a tantrum, we would go directly home and he would go to bed without his toys.  It's always hard to figure out how much he understands but he stayed with me.  He needed a few reminders when something caught his attention but he wasn't dashing off to get away from me.  I think he might be able to handle more of these trips, if they're very limited scope and expectations.

It's nice to be able to finish an errand without feeling awful, both because of the looks and comments from others and because I hate it when I feel like I'm constantly correcting him.  Alex is doing very well these days and I don't hesitate to tell him so.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Victim Hero Villain Triad

I was reading a collection of essays when I came across this concept.

Every story, including our perceptions of our own lives, need a hero, villain and victim to maintain a stable triad.  A story with just a hero and a victim would be unsatisfying, as would one with just a hero and a villain.  Stories with only a villain and victim are depressing as well as unsatisfying.

The triad doesn’t have to be obvious.  In the movie Twister, the weather itself is the villain, the scientists are the heroes and the Mid-western townspeople are the victims.

You can make things even more interesting by setting up competing triads.  In The Matrix, the humans see the triad with humanity as victims, the machines as the villains and our main characters as the heroes.  However, the machines see themselves as victims, humanity as oppressing villains and their agents as defending heroes.  In The Avengers, Loki presents himself as a hero to humanity, freeing them from the oppression of self-determination.  By allowing the bad guys to see themselves as heroes, it gives them substance and reality.  Otherwise they’re just Evil, in the tradition of nineteen-twenties melodrama.

I can see the triad being useful in setting up your characters and their story arcs.  As the story progresses, they can change their perceptions of the triad.  A character who was seen as a victim might become a villain as the story unfolds and we learn more about them.  A villain might become a hero when the truth is revealed (like Dr. Kimble in The Fugitive.  To the Marshals, he is a convicted felon who has escaped but eventually they realize he is an innocent man struggling to prove his innocence). 

It’s a different and interesting way to think about stories.  Bringing these concepts out from instinctive to conscious thinking tends to make people better writers.  Instinct always has blind spots and sometimes those blind spots are big enough to drive a truck through.

Friday 1 June 2012

Moral Dilemma: The Greater Good

Could you do something that you considered wrong for the sake of preventing a greater wrong?

I was watching a television show and there was one character who was about to precipitate a global catastrophe in pursuit of his own power.  The main character had a moment alone with him and I half expected her to shoot him in order to prevent the crisis.  She didn't and they had to use a much more hand-wavy technique to solve the problem.

But it left me thinking.  Often in stories, the characters put aside what is generally accepted as "right" in order to achieve greater goals.  They fight, they kill, they commit illegal acts.  Very little is outside of accepted behaviour.  But we cheer for them.  We feel emotionally satisfied by their actions.

Writer Alan Moore and director Zack Snyder attempted to dispell the glamour in the comic and movie The Watchmen.  They didn't leave us any illusions about what was happening so the audience felt sickened rather than triumphant.  There were no good guys in those stories, only varying levels of bad guys.  While the story was hard to watch, I think there was certain artistic merit in trying to show how accustomed we've become to dramatic violence.

So here's my question to everyone who reads this blog:  What would you be willing to do to prevent a disaster?  How big would the disaster have to be?  I'm hoping people will respond in comments.

It's easy to say that any loss of life would justify illegal action to prevent it.  It's the instinctual response.  And yet, I'm strongly opposed to the idea of torturing suspected terrorists.  The concept of deliberately hurting someone else disgusts me.  Leaving aside the problem that information obtained through torture is incredibly unreliable, it just strikes me as wrong on a gut level.  Is it because the danger isn't immediate enough?  Hasn't been presented dramatically enough?

It's an interesting question and I look forward to hearing answers.