Less Complex than the Boy Scouts

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One of my most popular reviews on Goodreads is my trashing of Divergent, which I read a couple of years ago on the recommendation of someone who unfriended me on Facebook because I hated the book so much--and since the movie adaptation is in theaters now, I thought I would post it here.

Even Boy Scouts, who are supposed to be "Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent," are more morally and intellectually complex than this entire society, where you're allowed one defining trait, one primary virtue--and that's it.

Code Name Bullshit

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I was so excited about Code Name Verity. I have a thing for war literature in general (I've taught college courses on the topic) and combat literature in particular, and I'm always looking for something that explores women's roles in the military.

But then I actually cracked open the book.

here was me on page 1: Is this a joke?

me on page 2: Is this a sick joke?

me on page 30: Oh god, it's not just a sick joke. It's a sick BORING joke.

Code Name Verity can be summed up as Hogan's Heroes (a cheesy, late 1960s sitcom about how fun it is to be in a Nazi POW camp, in case you didn't know) meets Life of Pi.

It's Hogan's Heroes because the Nazis in CNV are NICE Nazis! Sure, they torture our heroine the narrator (OHTN) because she's a spy and they're trying to extract useful information from her. But they also really care about her--how can they help it, given how witty, clever, cultured, beautiful and sassy she is? Sure, she calls them names and mocks them, but it's just a sign of what a free spirit she is, someone who deserves their admiration and respect.

It's Life of Pi because OHTN has a plan, which both the Nazis ans the reader figure out right away! Her confession is going to take as long as possible and be filled with as many details and bits minutae as possible, ostensibly so she can "keep it straight in [her] own mind" (3) but really to buy time and point her captors in the wrong direction. And the really smart ones among her captors like it! Again, it just shows what a special, exceptional POW OHTN really is:

Vote for Me in the Brodies!

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So, yeah. One of the reasons I didn't blog much here in the last year or so is that if I had something to say about Mormonism, one of my standard topics, I generally chose to say it someplace else.

One of such place was Main Street Plaza. In the process of writing about Mormonism there, I produced two posts that have since been nominated for Brodies. One is "My Ordain Women Testimony," up for Best Religion-and-Gender Discussion. The other is 'Because They Couldn't Very Well Say "Sorry We Insisted You Waste All that Time and Money",' up for Best Post Title. Please go vote for me, and while you're at it, check out the other contests!

My Review of "The Soong Dynasty"

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So, I've had grand plans about my blog--all these ways I'm going to revive it, all these things I'm going to post, some of which are already written.

And then I just don't.

But today I just am posting. And what I'm posting is a review I also posted on Goodreads.

These days, I write a review of every book I admit to reading on Goodreads. (There are a few books I don't care to publicize that I've read. And there's not really a way to announce that I've reread a book, and I do reread books.) I started out using Goodreads as a way simply to keep tracks of books I've read--but I actually like some of the reviews I've written and had the occasionally interesting conversation as a result.

So here's the most recent review I've written. I'll work back from it.

The Soong Dynasty
by Sterling Seagrave

Riveting, harrowing, tragic: rarely do I exclaim, "My god! Oh my god!" or "Jesus Christ!" over and over while I read a book, sometimes more than once on a single page, but I did with this one. What else can do you when you encounter sentences like "He was no match for military man whose troops enjoyed disemboweling young girls and winding their intestines around their naked bodies while they were still conscious"?

I'm just so flabbergasted. I'm not a complete ignoramus when it comes to China: I was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan in the 1980s, for starters. The Taiwan part was not by choice, even if the missionary part was: I volunteered to be a missionary, but I had no interest in Asia; I wanted to go to France or Italy. But missionaries have no say in where they serve, so when I got a letter informing that I would be going to Taiwan and learning Mandarin, I got out a map and thanked the powers that be that at least I wasn't going to Alabama.

I didn't learn much about Chinese history during my 18 months as a missionary except for the existence of Double 10 Day and who both Chiang Kai-Chek and Sun Yat-Sen were. The cult of personalty surrounding both thoroughly freaked me out. OK, I also learned that there were people who HATED CKC; I had a friend whose uncle was incarcerated in a notorious prison, convicted of the crime of sedition for fighting against CKC when he showed up after WWII and took over the island with help from the US. And I became fluent in Mandarin and grew to understand certain Chinese sensibilities.

In the early 1990s I went to Shanghai to teach English and HATED IT. The Mainland was just awful after Taiwan: my bosses and colleagues were so mean! I couldn't understand why at first.

Then I saw things like the sign on the Bund declaring its famous park off-limits to dogs and Chinese. Or the palatial homes Westerners built for themselves while the locals lived in squalid huts. I started to understand why.

Reading The Soong Dynasty, I really understand why.

Much of The Soong Dynasty is set in Shanghai, because it was wHere foreign powers held most sway. Then and now, that is one of the reasons for Shanghai's wealth--and the fact that so much of that wealth was concentrated in the hands of foreigners and Chinese unwilling to share with the average 中国人 was one reason said average 中国人hated them.

Photoshop Is for Wimps

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Here's something I just saw on Facebook:

I watched it, and then I watched it again.

I looked out my window at the yellow leaves on the horse chestnut trees in my neighborhood, one of the only things brightening the sodden gray way October is ending. I tried to think up a clever comment to add to the thread about it. I felt a leaden mixture of recognition and dejection in my lower abdomen.

Everything in the whole world managed to tell me by the time I was twelve that I had to find ways--razors, tweezers, dyes, cosmetics, clothes, exercise, diets--to do to my own body what the computer did to this woman's. If my legs weren't long, I had to use the right clothes to make them look longer. If my ass was too big--and I found it striking that fixing her ass was the very last thing they did--I had to find a way to shrink it. I had to reshape my eyebrows and cover any imperfection in my skin.

I love the scene in Pulp Fiction where Fabienne, attempting to explain why she wishes she had a pot belly, says, "It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same." I dated this guy once who had kind of a big ass for a guy. I remember looking at a picture of him on Facebook and thinking, "He's got kind of a lot of junk in his trunk for a guy." I wouldn't say it wasn't pleasing to the eye, but it was definitely pleasing to the touch: muscular and firm, with plenty to hang on to.

The last few weeks have been hard on me. I relied on magical thinking to survive them. I convinced myself that if I didn't get in any huge fights with anyone (especially family members), and if I watched every single episode of The Daily Show and The Rachel Maddow Show, and caught a few episodes now and then of smart liberal commentary via Now with Alex Wagner or Up with Chris Hayes, and checked Nate Silver's 538 blog at least once every single day, everything would be OK.

And everything WAS OK, so either my magical thinking worked or all that fuss and bother wasn't necessary for anything but my own ability to cope.

Now that it's over, I would like to thank Nate Silver for helping me survive. Like so many progressives, I relied on his blog. It kept me relatively calm and reassured. Nate, I wish I could endow a math department in your name at my alma mater and give you a foot rub.

Not that I was too sanguine yesterday. I tried to find ways to stay away from my computer: it made me crazy that I couldn't start checking results first thing in the morning. So I went to work. I ran errands. I went on an eight-mile hike. I washed all my dishes. I took a really long bath. I made hot chocolate, and then I sat down to start dealing with the results. I was hopeful, but I was also prepared for bad news. At least, I told myself I was.

I'm just not one to count my chickens before they hatch. I'm not even one to count my chickens AFTER they hatch. In my book, it's still to early to count them when they are cute little fluffy yellow things. I wait until they have molted all their down and grown feathers and started laying eggs. THEN I count them.

I don't know if it's basic skepticism or wise caution or a somewhat malign distrust of good news, but I just can't believe any good outcomes until they're really confirmed. I just can't. I can only hope. It's sort of a hard way to approach the world, but it's the nature nature gave me.

New Uses for Feathers and a Hot Glue Gun

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I loathe Microsoft Word like an evil and stupid coworker the boss won't fire because they 1) are related or 2) used to sleep together or 3) belong to the same BDSM-scrapbooking-birdwatching club or 4) all of the above or 5) something equally gross I don't even want to know about.

This, of course, is why I still use WordPerfect for my own work. But you still have to deal with what everyone else uses and sends you attachments as.

Pumpkin Curry Soup

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It's been three years since I've posted a recipe here, which is a billion years in blog time.

You can find plenty of variations of this recipe online, but mine's better: more pumpkin-y, with a trick to make it less messy.

I'm enjoying a mug right now--it really is pretty perfect for an autumn afternoon. And I'm not even that crazy about soup--in general, I like to chew rather than drink my food. But this is quite substantial.

Filthy Habits

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Talking about how other people will be happier, better people if they accept your religion is like smoking: a filthy habit that offends and disgusts most people, an addiction we'd all be healthier if we kicked. If you simply cannot give this filthy habit up once you've acquired it, it's best avoided unless you are in a group of people who also share the same filthy habit. If you want to be considered polite, agreeable company, don't do it in public or in mixed company.

Cruelty and Suffering

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There's this statistic I encounter every so often about how conservatives donate so much more money to charity than progressives. I guess it must be true since there's supposedly hard data to back it up, but I wonder how much religion pays a role. After all, conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals, and donations to churches count as tax-deductible charitable contributions. Mormons, for instance, are expected to donate 10% of their income to the church. That's a lot of charity.

That's a lot of charity even for me personally, considering that I started paying tithing before I turned eight. When I was a poor college student with a part-time job, after I wrote that big monthly check the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I didn't feel like I had a lot of money left over to give to other organizations.

When I quit going to church and could give specific amounts to specific groups, I found that I favored organizations that took care of animals. But instead of saying, "Well, I care a lot about animal welfare, so I'm going to give money to groups dedicated to that," it was was more like I figured out that I cared a lot about animals because I preferred donating to the Humane Society over writing a check to the Red Cross. It's not like I never give money to organizations dedicated to taking care of people; I just give more to groups focused on animals.

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