Thursday, April 30, 2009

How To Be Well

I can't be the only one who is skeptical whenever I read, hear, or see something about what's good or bad for me to eat. Chocolate is really good for you? Honey Nut Cheerios is good for your cholesterol. Something about walnuts. Am I supposed to eat no carbs at all, or some carbs as long as it's been at least an hour since I've had protein, or am I supposed to avoid meats and fats instead of carbs? I honestly don't know what to eat anymore. And has anyone else noticed how often they make a scientific advance that has to do with toothpaste? I mean, where are these guys who can crank out three discoveries a year and why aren't they curing disease and solving the oil crisis?

The Healthy Skeptic is a book by a science writer who is sick of all the junk science that is passed off on the public. I'd say "these days," but you have no idea the kind of bunk that Messrs Kellogg and Graham (of the crackers) believed in. The point of this book is that pretty much anything about your health that you see on TV--commercials, the news, anything--or read in a magazine is biased and oversimplified, biased, and inadequately supported by the research.

It was a really great book for the first half. He talked a lot about how "independent" research groups are funded, and how news shows often use video press releases from interested parties like drug companies without editing or even investigating them. He gave some examples of respected news organizations like 60 Minutes buying into the hype and tearing companies apart over "problems" that sound scary but don't mean anything. He made some great poionts about paranoia, and how, with health, it's possible for too much information to be a bad thing; demanding screenings for ailments you have low risk for results not only in wasted time and money, but sometimes in greater risks associated with screening and preventative treatment than with the ailment itself. (If you're 80 and your cholesterol is high, there's almost no chance that's going to cause heart disease or kill you. You don't need low cholesterol--or meds for it--if you're 80.)

But he lost me at sunscreen. I can't argue with his science--sunscreen protects against common, highly treatable forms of skin cancer, but not against the somewhat more rare and much more dangerous melanoma. And I can't argue with his assertions that the universal "wear sunscreen" message has been introduced into public consciousness by nonprofit organizations that are funded by sunscreen manufacturers. But I have to balk at his assertion that wearing sunscreen is pretty stupid--we should just none of us ever go outdoors. Seriously, that's pretty much his arguments--long sleeves, stay inside. Not that I'm lying on the beach with a reflector under my chin, but isn't he the one railing against oversimplification?

Speaking of which, I think the point where I really started to disagree with him is the point where he derided even impartial groups for oversimplifying public health messages. On the one hand, I know that's true and that it can result in wasted time, money, and worry. On the other hand, I'm sorry, but you DO need to dumb these things down for us. I'm not going to research, care about, or remember every piece of advice that I get. If I should be wearing sunscreen, you're going to need to drill it into my head. You need to make it something that I know deep down--meaning it has to be simple. And repeated. And then I won't remember why I know it, I'll just know it.

In the end, his suggestions for how to approach health information are pretty useless. Whenever someone says something is good for you, find out who's behind the message and what research their claim is based on. So, when I see a commercial about how Cheerios are good for my cholesterol, I know who's telling me that, but I should go look up the study they're citing that proves it and read it myself to decide. And if it's based on ten studies, I should read the literature. If the news tells me that I might be at risk for getting cooties because I live next door to a cat owner, I should figure out who gave that info to the news and what they based the assertion on.

Seriously? Never gonna happen. Eat right, get exercise, don't smoke. And apparently stay out of the sun. I don't even really do these things. You want me to add to my health regimen, I'm sorry but you're going to have to provide me with a catchy slogan. Maybe rhyming. A cute mascot would be nice. Then we'll talk.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Someone Else's Meme

Can you name a book you've read beginning with each letter of the alphabet? Rules: 1) A, an, and the don't count, 2) a title that begins with a number is alphabetized as though the number were spelled out, and 3) for X, you only need a book that has X somewhere in the title, not at the beginning. Though Mike and I had both read a book beginning with X, so bonus points if you can do it.

I won't bore you with my list--it's a fun exercise to go through, though.

Next time: why The Healthy Skeptic had me in the palm of his hand for a while, but now just sounds like a bitter old crank.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Towards a Philosophy of the Undead

I think I may have recovered from the loss. And there's a lot of ground to cover here, so let's get started.

I think I may have mentioned before that I prefer my vampires to be more like monsters than sex machines. I have no interest in the love lives of the undead, or really in any story that hinges so strongly on convincing me of the IRRESISTIBILITY of someone. I think this is a place (one of so many) where Twilight falls apart for me.

There are a lot of stories that depend on the weight of their love story to work. That is, depend on my believing that the lovers really need to end up together--emotionally, practically, whatever--and that whatever crazy stuff that either impedes them or results from their fighting for their love makes sense. In some stories, it works--Romeo and Juliet is a great, iconic example--and in some it doesn't--see Star Wars Episode III: Vader is a Dink. Twilight wants to be a book where this works, wants me to believe that these two people have a mystic connection. It takes a good writer to prove that--someone who can use words other than "attractive" to describe the main character's voice, and whose idea of soul-baring conversation does not involve questions about favorite colors and flowers.

I can believe in the lust--she throws that at me enough. But I can't see it as a bond, something that holds them together in the face of, you know, his undeadness and society's disapproval and whatever else they're going to run into before the book blessedly ends. I won't bother you with all the ways in which he's emotionally abusive and kind of creepy, either. But she just hasn't sold me on why being with a vampire is so yummy.

Interestingly, the author claims she didn't read many (or maybe it was any) other vampire books before she wrote hers. (This explains why they can go out during the day,though not why they bother attending high school.) But she seems pretty well plugged into the idea that Vampires Are Sexy. Which brings me back to: why?

Vampire people are different than zombie people. After death, vampires become more, stronger, faster, sexier. Maybe even smarter and richer and more talented. Zombies become less--slower, dumber, a void where people used to be. Vampires are better than people, except for the morality bit--zombies are less than people in every way. To put it Freudianly, vampires are about sex, zombies are about death. Vampires are about something better, zombies are about something worse.

The vampire model doesn't make sense to me. You're dead. In most of these stories, the absence of morality (and the ability to eat garlic) are really almost no loss at all--vampires just live the sweet (if dark) life. I can't buy into that, somehow, and I'm not even sure why it's fun to read about.

Zombies, on the other hand, are SCARY AS HELL. They are death incarnate, and they're coming for you. With the added bonus of wearing the faces and dessicated bodies of people you maybe used to know. And they're trying to eat you. Not just drink your blood like some sort of froufrou aperatif. Chomp chomp like a turkey leg at the fair. They're messy, and scary, and, as such, represent more of what there is to be afraid of in the world. I'm not afraid of sexy. And it's hardly worth it to be afraid of inhumanly fast and strong. Death by vampire would be pleasant--either swift, or sexy, or becoming one of them (well, I'd argue that as pleasant, but still). There is nothing less than awful about being eaten by a zombie.

This post is going off the rails a bit; I'm sorry y'all missed the one that Blogger ate, because it was much more coherent. We'll wrap it up with a few quick observations.

1) Twilight is mediocre at best.
2) The Forest of Hands and Teeth was a good, if flawed, story, that did the zombie thing REALLY well.
3) I like my vampires more like zombies.
4) Looking forward to 99 Coffins, the sequel to 13 Bullets, by David Wellington. Now those are vampires.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Philosophy of the Undead

I wrote a whole long great post about the difference between zombie people and vampire people and Blogger ate it. I can't even tell you how angry I am.

So I'm sorry that I don't have anything to say about this subject. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Okay, so let's talk about this Twilight thing.

First, I'm listening to the audiobook. It had become clear to me that the writing was going to be so bad (I'm sorry, fans, I really am) that I would just be irritated to be reading it. On the minus side, I probably would have finished reading the book by now, while I'm only on chapter 3 of the audiobook. On the plus side, Adam is little enough that he doesn't know when the audiobook playing in the background while he's eating is trashy.

Secondly, Stephanie Meyers is a faithful Mormon. This is not a criticism, but a point about the whole sexy vampire thing. If getting bitten is sex, a devout Mormon is going to have a complicated relationship with that. Really, a true Mormon is going to have a take on gender issues and relationships that I'm not 100% about.

Next, let's address the sexy vampire thing. Sexy vampires out in daylight. Who, presumably, eat garlic bread, or at least hang out at the local pizza joint with those who do. I am not into sexy vampires, but if you're going to go that way, you at least have to obey the rules of vampirism. If they're not afraid of daylight, what on earth makes them vampires instead of some kind of intensive carnivores on a liquid diet?

Fourth, Edward's voice is described as "attractive." This is NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION about a voice. Call a guy attractive and being vague isn't so bad--I can build my dream guy. But what the hell is an attractive voice?

Fifth, why does Bella so hate the fact that the cute, popular, friendly kids all like her. She seems overwhelmingly annoyed at the three guys who like her, at least one of whom has really nothing against him. Also, why exactly did they all fall for her instantly, when no one in Phoenix appears to have cared much about her one way or another? What is up with this girl?

I think it would be awesome if it turned out that she was an unreliable narrator and she was some kind of freaky outcast or reverse vampire or something, but I know it's not going to be that interesting.

Sigh. I'm sorry to be so critical lately. I'll read something great soon, I swear. I've got a zombie book and a Bloody Jack book on deck--it can't be all bad.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Feels Mean to Say It

So I'm finally getting into the meat of Beneath the Vaulted Hills, and the story is getting really good. But my GOD is it slow reading! It's not hard, but the font is weird and the sentences are strangely hypnotic, so it becomes hard to jump ahead. Honestly, the action is pretty good, so I kind of wish it was in a more streamlined book.

The book began about six times. Each of the first six chapters felt like the first chapter of a book, introduced a new character (in medias res, of course), and ended on a tense note. I was 50 pages in and had barely begun.

And there are so many characters. Starting from a random point in the plot: Bryce is a mysterious figure who provides information to Sir John, allowing him to foster an antagonism between Moncrief (and his ally the Sea Lord) and Lord Skye, who employs two young men in a research capacity, Hayes and Kehler. (Deep breath, and--) Hayes is in trouble, and is being aided by his friend Erasmus, who is being dogged by Deacon Rose (who's looking for Kehler), aided by Randall, and wooed by the Countess of Chilton, who was hung up on Lord Skye and is advised by her friend Marianne and pursued by an artist named Kent. All these are only the living characters, and only some of them. Let's not talk about the priest Baumgere, the mysterious Teller, the child Percy, the painter Pelier. Let's not talk about the mage who is the focus of the book.

And that's the thing--the conflict they're all tangled up in (which isn't really a MacGuffin, but isn't really coming together) doesn't quite make sense to me. So the mages want to get rid of all magical knowledge, but there are folks who don't want them to be able to, and the church which has some unclear third position on the subject. Also there are people who can do magic but aren't mages. So what is a mage? It's all a little fuzzy.

But mostly it's a spelunking novel. And if you ever saw the movie The Descent, and thought it was much scarier before the creepy cave people appeared, then you'll see what I'm liking about this book.

Brenda, I really want your opinion, when I'm done.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Plan of Action

Okay, a person has to map these things out. I find myself scribbling these things in random moments, which means I need to get it documented to get them settled in my mind. So:

Currently reading:
The Wisdom of Whores, by Elizabeth Pisani.
The Healthy Skeptic, by Robert Davis.
Beneath the Vaulted Hills, by Sean Russell.
The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett.

On deck (i.e. Out of the library):
The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie.
Under the Jolly Roger, L.A. Meyer.
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan.

On reserve:
It Sucked and Then I Cried, by Heather Armstrong.
Perfect Fifths, by Megan McCafferty.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan.

Audiobooks in my near future:
Survivor, by Chuck Paluchuk.
Twilight, Stephanie Meyer.

And finally, Books I Own That Will Be Read Soon, Honest:
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.
The Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell.

Whew. That's a lot. I'm glad I have it on record. Sorry if it's boring for everyone else, but I feel satisfied. I think I'll go take a nap.