Why this vegan feminist is red hot for Green Porno.

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

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I’ve heard mention of Isabella Rossellini’s latest project, Green Porno, here and there – ecorazzi, The Colbert Report, CNN even – but never bothered to follow up, seeing as I don’t get the Sundance Channel and all. But an article in Bitch magazine’s Spring ’09 issue (No. 43, appropriately titled “the buzz issue”) made me take a second look.

In “Wings of Desire: Bug sex as a gender revolution,” Katura Reynolds examines the subversive nature of Green Porno (as well as British evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson’s alter ego, Dr. Tatiana): by depicting (non-human) animal sex in all its kinky, decidedly non-vanilla glory, these projects challenge our traditional views of what “natural” sexuality and gender expression look like in the animal kingdom.

“Bug sex” is so much more then heterosexual, missionary style pairings: bugs may be male, female, or hermaphrodites; heterosexual, homosexual or asexual; reproduce through sexual activity, parthenogenesis, or an alternative combination thereof; etc. (Some, like the preying mantis, even engage in sexual cannibalism, consuming their partners during coitus.) The same holds true for many animal species, humans included; for example, in his 1999 book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (which I highly recommend, by the way), Bruce Bagemihl reviewed existing evidence which points to observed homosexual behavior in nearly 1500 animal species.

Green Porno, which is currently in its second season and airs on the Sundance Channel Tuesdays at 9 PM ET, is a bit cheesier and cheekier than its British cousin, – which is so raunchy that it’s not even available on Region 1 DVDs, let alone running on U.S. television. (You can, however, view a few clips of the show on You Tube.)

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Writes Reynolds,

The eight short films in [season 1 of] Green Porno were written by Rossellini and codirected with Jody Shapiro. They feature Rossellini acting out the sex lives of flies, praying mantises, earthworms, dragonflies, gees, fireflies, snails and spiders. The films are simultaneously hilarious, scientifically accurate, unrepentantly corny, compellingly sexy, and completely bizarre. […]

Rossellini strives for a simple, childlike atmosphere in the films. She starts each in a bodysuit, saying, “If I were a [type of bug],” and then her costumes gradually build as the film progresses: extra arms, compound eyes, snail shells, you name it. The props and supporting characters are made from giant cut-paper sculptures, like she’s wandered into a kindergarten classroom plastered in giant paper flowers.

The schoolroom setting is chosen very deliberately – it’s a foil for overtly sexual content. Rossellini gets it on with huge paper models of flies, mantises, and bees; she gasps and moans in orgasmic ecstasy as a firefly and a snail; she runs around waving hands covered in paper cutouts of sperm as a spider. As stated in the press release, “If human, these acts would not be allowed to air on television. [Indeed, Dr. Tatiana’s human reenactments and live non-human animal footage is not.] They would be considered filthy and obscene.” But the silly costumes and absurd props distract audiences from the flagrantly, graphically sexual content. Comedy often serves as a harbor for the unspeakable. By laughing at the silliness of it all, we can disarm the taboo.

(More below the fold…)

Happiness is a ‘pumped and dumped’ gun.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

First, the bad news: That rider to the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights, introduced by asshat extraordinaire Tom Coburn, which would allow visitors to carry loaded guns in national parks? Passed both the House and Senate – with the help of plenty of Blue Dog Dems, natch.

But on the bright side, Stephen and his fiancé, Sweetness, can take that honeymoon in Yellowstone that they’ve always dreamed of:
 

 
Also, this provides our park rangers an excellent opportunity to earn some extra funds, to prop up the crumbling national park system.
 

 
$20k on AK-47’s, anyone?

(More below the fold…)

Bob Woodruff on boiling humans.

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Journalist Bob Woodruff made an appearance on The Daily Show last night in order to promote his latest project, Earth 2100:
 

 

I find it interesting that Stewart and Woodruff open the discussion with a clip of Earth 2100 that invokes the anecdote of the frog submerged in a pot of boiling water: namely, if you put a frog in a pot of water that’s already boiling, she’ll jump right out, having sensed the heat and danger. But if you place her in a pot of cold or lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature, she’s none the wiser, and will remain in the deathtrap until she becomes frog soup. In this metaphor, humans are the frogs, and the pot is earth.

Which is all fine and good, except according to Snopes, this is a folk tale:

Like a fable, the “boiled frog” anecdote serves its purpose whether or not it’s based upon something that is literally true. But it is literally true? Not according to Dr. Victor Hutchison, a Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology, whose research interests include “the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles to include determinations of the factors which influence lethal temperatures, critical thermal maxima and minima, thermal selection, and thermoregulatory behavior”:

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

The “boiled frog” legend is a ubiquitous one – one that, given its falsehood, is both speciesist and completely inappropriate for what I assume is supposed to be a scientific documentary. The latter point is a given, but allow me to explain the former: central to the anecdote’s premise is the idea that a frog is so utterly stupid that, given subtle but entirely discernible cues, “it” would remain oblivious to the increasing danger and allow “itself” to be boiled alive. “Let’s not be like those lesser animals!” the tale cautions. Except. In denying climate change and poo-pooing slight increases in average global temperatures as “insignificant,” the human species is actually exhibiting less sense than Dog gave a frog. The frog isn’t earth’s complacent village idiot – we are.

Also of note: Jon alludes to the presumed vivisection which led to the “discovery” that frogs might allow themselves to be boiled alive, given the right circumstances. Both Stewart and Woodruff appear to think that such gruesome experiments probably took place years ago, in the distant past. Except.

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

While I can’t locate citations for these experiments, Wiki suggests that they’re more recent debunkings of “research” performed in the late 1800s (“research” on which the legend is apparently based).

So, yeah, we boil frogs alive – or attempt to, anyway. And that’s not even the worst of it.

Anyhow, back to Earth 2100.

(More below the fold…)

The History Channel makes the case for VHEMT.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

The History Channel - Life After People

Last January, The History Channel aired Life After People, a one-part documentary that imagined what a world suddenly absent humans might look like:

In the program, scientists and other experts speculate about how the Earth, animal life, and plant life might be like if, suddenly, humanity no longer existed, as well as the effect humanity’s disappearance might have on the artificial aspects of civilization. Speculation is based upon documented results of the sudden removal of humans from a geographical area and the possible results that would occur if humanity discontinues its maintenance of buildings and urban infrastructure.

The documentary features the gradual and post-apocalyptic disintegration of urban civilization in a time span of 10,000 years after humanity suddenly vanished. The hypotheses are depicted using CGI dramatizations of the possible fate of iconic structures and landmarks (i.e. the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Space Needle, the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Hoover Dam).

Having just received Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us for FSMas, I was super-psyched about the documentary (which aired as part of a block of similar programming, such as Last Days on Earth) – and Life After People did not disappoint. The graphics were amazing, and the time projections – from 1 to 10 days after our disappearance, to 1 to 10,000 years post-h. sapiens – were quite impressive. Perhaps most importantly, and much like The World Without Us, Life After People gave me great hope for the future – or rather, for a future without us. Many of humanity’s so-called “greatest achievements” will prove a small match for the forces of nature, particularly once we’re no longer around to beat nature back. Those species which we haven’t yet driven to extinction will be given a second chance, and the earth will regenerate, reclaiming the land and resources we’ve stolen from it.

As I wrote in a review of The World Without Us,

Environmentalists – indeed, any person [with a] modicum of decency – will be happy to know that much of what we’ve done to the Earth, can be quickly undone. With the exception of those species we’ve already managed to eradicate, many endangered and threatened animal species do stand a fighting chance in a world without us. Many of our “greatest accomplishments,” from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Hoover Dam, will eventually crumble without humans around to maintain them. Forests, grasslands, and jungles will recover lost ground, though native species will be forced into competition with exotic ones introduced by humans. Global warming will slow and the ozone layer will regain molecular equilibrium. Our most enduring legacies will be our most unnatural creations: nuclear waste, plastics, and petrochemicals. Hopefully a world without us will evolve microbes to digest the more than one billion pounds of plastic we’ve dumped into the environment since the late ‘50s. […]

Whether it happens tomorrow or in 900 million years – when our Sun enters a red giant phase and begins to expand and contract, thus heating the Earth and evaporating our surface water – we will disappear. In this regard, we’re no better than the great megafauna of the Holocene epoch – or the lowly cockroaches and rodents that congregate in our fragile urban areas. It’s not a question of if we will vanish, but when; perhaps we should make our exit a graceful one, taking no more of our fellow earthlings to the grave than we already have.

Call me a hopeless cynic if you’d like, but it’s worth noting that Life After People was the History Channel’s most-watched program ever, with an estimated 5.4 million viewers. Something resonated.

Anyhow, while flipping around the teevee this morning, I was happily surprised to stumble upon Episode 2 of Life After People: The Series. Apparently last year’s documentary proved so popular that the History Channel commissioned a 10-part mini-series:

(More below the fold…)

The Colbert Bump (Now with Tofurky!)

Monday, May 25th, 2009

At the risk of making this blog a shrine to Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, allow me to follow up yesterday’s otherworldly thought experiment with yet another clip from The Colbert Report.

Last month, Colbert interviewed Kanishk Tharoor, son of “Friend of the Show” Shashi Tharoor, who was at the time running for an MP spot in India’s General Elections.

Stephen endorsed Tharoor the elder thusly:

Colbert: Now, your dad, Friend of the Show Shashi Tharoor, is running for position as an MP in Kerala, correct? OK, let’s move his numbers right now. I can’t endorse in this country, but I can in India. I hereby endorse Shashi Tharoor. He will put a chicken in every pot. Or – at least – at least – a chicken in every tandoor.

Tharoor: I’m afraid he’s not going to do anything of the sort. He – like me – is a vegetarian. So it’s not very likely that he’s going to do anything like that.

Colbert: Then he’ll put a vegetable korma in…whatever you wish to eat it out of.

At the time, I noted:

What’s so beautiful about this brief exchange is how Tharoor so casually dismantles Colbert’s preconceptions about Indian dietary preferences. Like most Americans, probably, Colbert “naturally” assumes that people the world over do things the American way – or aspire to, anyway – including slaughtering sentient beings by the billions for no reason other than convenience and selfishness. Even though, at +/- 30%, India has “the highest rate of vegetarians for any country worldwide,” Colbert just assumes that Indians want nothing more than plates filled to overflowing with animal corpses. As Tharoor points out, not so much. Colbert normally strikes me as someone who does his research (or has his writers and interns do his research), which makes this particular flub all the more interesting.

A few readers noted that “a chicken in every tandoor” is a play on the political slogan “a chicken in every pot,” a point not lost on me (though I suppose I could have conveyed it better in the post). Even so, I argued, since Stephen was spinning the phrase in order to make it more relevant to Indian culture, he could have spun it further: instead of “a chicken in every tandoor,” “a pound of tofu in every tandoor.” Given India’s high rate of vegetarianism, ‘twould be the odd politician who promises to put animal flesh on the plate of every Indian, methinks.

Anyhow, Stephen offered an update on Thursday’s show; despite steep odds, Shashi Tharoor

defeated his nearest CPI rival P. Ramachandran Nair by a margin of around 100,000 votes when the results were announced on 16 May, 2009.

Tharoor’s victory, of course, being due in no small part to The Colbert Bump.
 

 
During the segment, Stephen replayed his endorsement of Tharoor:

I hereby endorse Shashi Tharoor. He will put a chicken in every pot. Or – at least – at least – a chicken in every tandoor.

which he interrupted thusly:

Of course, since many of his constituents are vegetarian, he could promise a Tofurky in every tandoorky.

I feel like a totally deranged egotist in saying this, but…could that possibly have been directed at me?! Does one of The Colbert Report writers frequent my humble blog?! ZOMG, could it be the Sonic guy?!

Nah, I don’t think so, either. Either way, I love it.

(More below the fold…)

An otherworldly thought experiment.

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

This first video clip isn’t really related to animal advocacy, but it’s a nice setup for today’s thought experiment (and also echoes some of the sentiments found in “They’re Made Out of Meat“).

On Wednesday’s episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen interviewed astronomer and alien “hunter” Seth Shostak. During the course of the conversation, the two discuss the likelihood that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, speculate what form this life may take – and wonder whether these Others might be more evolved/advanced/sophisticated than humankind.
 

 
Which brings us to the aforementioned thought experiment: What if powerful aliens wanted to “serve man”?*
 


 
Via YouTube user BlackGuitar1313 (and discovered while searching for a full-length video of the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man,” natch.)

(More below the fold…)

The "right" to guzzle gas.

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Tom Coburn is fast becoming my pick for Douchebag of the Week.

See, for example, minute 2:30 of this Daily Show clip:
 

 
Coburn’s complaints re: CAFE standards: “What if you want to drive a gas hog? You don’t have the right any longer in this country to spend your money to drive a gas hog?”

Yes! And should I be struck with the desire to toss a barrel of arsenic in my pond, who is the government to tell me I can’t? It’s MY arsenic and MY pond, goddammit, and my grandfather fought and died in WWII so that AMERICA THE FREE would remain FREE from this sort of BIG GOVERNMENT FASCISM.

What’s better/worse, Coburn defends the “right” of individuals to pollute and consume to excess while also working to strip women of the right to bodily autonomy and privacy. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and supports the death penalty for medical doctors who perform abortions. (Nor does he care to reduce the need for abortion by increasing the availability of and access to contraception.)

In Tom Coburn’s mind, a person has a greater “right” to decide what car to drive, than a person woman* has to decide whether or not she will lend her body and organs to another being – a potential being, which in its early stages exists as a tiny clump of cells – for nine months.

Car purchase > Bodily integrity

Seriously, what a douche.

(More below the fold…)

Your moment of Zen.

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Update, 6/2/09:

Stephen announces Tharoor’s victory, this time with a vegetarian option.

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Okay, so Stephen Colbert’s interview with Kanishk Tharoor (featured in Thursday’s episode of The Colbert Report) has little to do with animal rights – nevertheless, there’s a delightful bit of awesomeness squeezed in at the end, starting at the 4:18 mark:
 

 

For those who can’t view the video, Colbert interviews Kanishk Tharoor, son of “Friend of the Show” Shashi Tharoor, who’s currently vying for a seat in India’s General Elections.

Colbert: Now, your dad, Friend of the Show Shashi Tharoor, is running for position as an MP in Kerala, correct? OK, let’s move his numbers right now. I can’t endorse in this country, but I can in India. I hereby endorse Shashi Tharoor. He will put a chicken in every pot. Or – at least – at least – a chicken in every tandoor.

Tharoor: I’m afraid he’s not going to do anything of the sort. He – like me – is a vegetarian. So it’s not very likely that he’s going to do anything like that.

Colbert: Then he’ll put a vegetable korma in…whatever you wish to eat it out of.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Myth of Lost: Solving the Mysteries and Understanding the Wisdom, Marc Oromaner (2008)

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Fun theory – but could we lose the sexism, please?

four out of five stars

Spoiler alert: This review contains spoilers for LOST through Season 5, as well as a brief description of the theory set forward by Marc Oromaner in THE MYTH OF LOST.

Like many diehard LOST fans, Marc Oromaner is convinced that he’s found the answer to LOST’s mysteries. In THE MYTH OF LOST, Oromaner shares his theory about the island and its supernatural properties. He also explains how and why the Losties, the Others and the DHARMA Initiative found their way to such a strange world.

The crux of Oromaner’s theory is that the island isn’t a “real” place at all. Rather, it’s virtual world, and most of what the audience sees on LOST is actually a computer simulation. The Losties, the Others and the DHARMA Initiative are actual people in the “real” world, who have entered the computer simulation for various reasons. Some are psychologists, scientists and computer programmers (the Others, the DHARMA Initiative), who “live” on the island in order to ensure that the program runs as intended and/or perform research. Meanwhile, other individuals (the Losties and the Tailies) have either been committed to the program, for example, to serve a prison sentence (Sawyer, Kate) or have voluntarily entered the simulation in order to work out their “issues” (Jack, Sun, Jin, Claire, Rose, Bernard) – for a hefty fee, of course. Still others have been thrown into the program against their will; Desmond, for instance, might have been placed on the island by Mr. Widmore in order to keep him away from Penny. Once the castaways’ issues have been solved, they’re “killed off” by the program, after which they reawaken in the “real” world.

Naturally, the scientists and researchers realize that they’re part of a simulation, whereas the castaways truly believe that they’ve landed on a mysterious island. To this end, their memories of the crash are false, programmed into their minds by the makers of the simulation. Many of the castaways’ “flashbacks” may be similarly implanted.

Oromaner incorporates many of the larger pieces of LOST’s puzzle into his computer simulation theory, including the numbers, the Black Rock, the four-toed statue, the whispers, Walt’s seeming astral projection, the smoke monster/security system, time travel, the Adam and Eve skeletons found in the cave, the island’s fertility/pregnancy issues, etc.

Oromaner wrote THE MYTH OF LOST during Season 3, and published it in September ’08. As such, his theory only covers LOST through Season 3 – and he does a pretty good job of incorporating and explaining the various aspects of the show up to this point. However, throughout Seasons 4 and 5, you can see his theory unravel, particularly vis-à-vis the flashforwards in Season 4, and the real-time action in Season 5. Even so, THE MYTH OF LOST is a fun exercise, if you can take the book for what it is – namely, a slightly out-of-date book on LOST. (Which is a BIG IF, considering some of the other reviews posted on Amazon.)

Oromaner’s theory itself deserve five stars, however, he loses major points for engaging in casual sexism. For example, he constantly refers to the women actors’ bodies in juvenile, beer commercial-esque terms. Sure, this might not *seem* like a big deal, but as a woman, I encounter this type of objectification everywhere: in television shows, tv commercials, ad campaigns, at the movies, in the grocery store, at work, online – everywhere. One of the many reasons why I love LOST is because Abrams & Co. treat the women just like the men – namely, like human beings. As a woman and a LOST fan, listening to some fanboy drool over Kate, Claire and Juliet is the last thing I want to do when reading a book about LOST theory.

Secondly, Oromaner offers his opinions on what “issues” the castaways might be “working out” in the computer simulation. In Kate’s case, he surmises that she needs to “embrace her femininity” and stop trying to act like “one of the guys.” The best way for her to do this, Oromaner says, is to have a baby and submit to authority. Um, ‘scuse me!? Does Oromaner actually mean to suggest that women who aren’t sufficiently “feminine” – i.e., donning frilly dresses and makeup, mothering children, obeying male authority, etc. – are somehow defective and in need of treatment? Seriously!? What is this, 1945?

Finally, and most insultingly, Oromaner discusses mythological archetypes and categorizes each of the characters accordingly. His breakdown includes Heroes (Jack, Locke, Sayid, Desmond and…Boone!?); Damsels in Distress (Kate, Claire, Sun, Penelope, and possibly Rousseau); Wizards (Boone and Eko in their spirit forms; Walt’s doppelganger); Tricksters (Hurley, Charlie and Walt); and Mavericks (Sawyer, Jin, Michael, Shannon and Juliet).

That’s right: Oromaner defines useless idiot Boone as a Hero, while kick-ass Kate, Sun, Penelope and Rousseau are all silly lil’ damsels in distress. Remember, Oromaner’s analysis includes events through Season 3 of the show. At this point, Jack had been forced to rescue Boone from drowning in the ocean, thus resulting in another castaway’s death – even though Boone is supposedly a lifeguard. Boone also proved useless in retrieving his sisters’ asthma medication, whereas Kate was at least able to eke out the truth from Sawyer. The same sister who, in the “real world,” conned Boone repeatedly. Ultimately, Boone died of stupidity, blindly following Locke’s instructions to climb into a plane dangling, headfirst and by vines, 25 feet off the ground.

Meanwhile, Damsel Sun accompanied Heroes Jin and Sayid to the Others’ camp by sailboat, in order to save Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Hurley – and shoots and kills Other Colleen in the process. We also learn through flashbacks that Sun isn’t the diminutive little wallflower that she appears to be; in fact, she’s somewhat conniving and manipulative, and had a hand in her husband’s corruption. Penelope, another so-called Damsel, spent years tracking down her lost love Desmond, defying her father’s wishes. (Ultimately, Penelope rescues Desmond and the other survivors, though this doesn’t happen until after Oromaner penned THE MYTH OF LOST.) Rousseau has done a mighty fine job of protecting herself over the past 16 years, evidenced by the fact that she’s the sole survivor of her research group (the rest of which were men).

And then there was Kate. Even though Kate’s gotten herself into more than a few pickles, oftentimes this is due in part to Jack’s stubbornness and (sometimes misguided) attempts to protect her. Kate is athletic, tough, smart, cunning, strong-willed; she doesn’t need a man to look out for her. Kate’s “issue” isn’t that she bucks authority, rather, it’s that men keep trying to impose their will on her. On more than one occasion, Jack commanded Kate to stay put, even though she could have been of great use on the mission at hand. Placing the blame squarely on Kate for tagging along against Jack’s orders misses the point – namely, that he wouldn’t give such orders to Kate if her name was Kevin.

Either way, in what world/computer simulation does Oromaner justify classifying BOONE as a HERO and KATE (et al) as a DAMSEL!? Does not compute – unless you add a healthy dose of misogyny to the equation.

There’s also the little problem of gender distribution – no men are classified as Damsels, even though a few are in need of rescue at various times (Boone, Charlie, Walt, Desmond; of these, Charlie and Desmond are rescued by women, so-called Damsels!). Of the seven women mentioned, five are categorized as Damsels. Men are somewhat equally distributed among all of the archetypes, save for Damsel, while women only fit into two of the categories.

Taken together, these three issues are quite offensive to this female LOST fan. As an atheist, I also found Oromaner’s New Age God-talk eye-rollingly and mind-numbingly silly and boring, but most of this is confined to the first and last 10-15 pages, and thus is fairly easy to avoid. Oromaner’s arrogance is another drawback; he continually asserts that this is how the show “should be” or “must play out” in order to “stay true” to mythology. Sorry, but I’ve loved the show thus far, and will trust LOST’s writers and producers – the same writers and producers who have created a mystery so stunning that it’s inspired so much fan speculation, ahem – to dream up a satisfying ending.

These complaints aside, I quite enjoyed Oromaner’s theory, even though it’s been discredited by the subsequent two seasons. In fact, I think it speaks to the theory that I only knocked off one star for some extremely unfortunate and off-putting issues evident in THE MYTH OF LOST.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Alias: Recruited, Lynn Mason (2003)

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Sydney Bristow 90210

three out of five stars

When it comes to my favorite tv shows, I’m not really that into novelizations or prequels written by third parties – rarely do they live up to the standards set by the series’ writers and production crews. Even so, when I spotted an audiobook version of ALIAS: RECRUITED at a garage sale, I decided to give it a try.

As you can probably surmise, ALIAS: RECRUITED is a prequel to ALIAS – essentially, the novel is author Lynn Mason’s imagining of how Sydney came to work for SD-6. The story takes place during Syd’s freshman year in college, which finds her a shy, nervous wreck. By school year’s end, she’s been recruited by SD-6, trained in Krav Maga and weaponry, worked her way up from a desk job to field work, successfully completed her first mission, even killing a man – and spurned the hot guy from her English class who spurned her back in September. All in just 192 pages (or two short CDs)!

Overall, the writing is so-so. The book’s Amazon listing says that it’s for grades 8 and up, which might explain some of the juvenile focus on hot dudez (as mentioned above). In addition to the Beverley Hills 90210-like college scenarios, I found Mason’s portrait of a younger, less self-assured Sydney to be a stretch – an unbelievable stretch. College freshman Sydney has never dated, never had a boyfriend, is in fact an utter tool around guys, and seems to have no social skills whatsoever. While this is attributed to the stress of losing her mother at a young age, I don’t buy it. Certainly, I agree that absentee father Jack Bristow might have deflated her self-esteem – and the loss of Laura/Irina only added to Sydney’s stress – but she’s also smart (a genius, actually), athletic, and beautiful. She’d be able to get a date wearing nothing but a potato sack and speaking in tongues. I understand why Mason painted such a sorry picture of young Syd – in order to contrast her with secret agent Syd, thus illustrating the changes she undergoes under the tutelage of SD-6 – but still, the whole thing comes off as hackneyed. Meh.

I probably wouldn’t have wasted my time with ALIAS: RECRUITED had I not been able to find an audio version of the book. It’s a fun enough listen – it made my vacuuming fly by, at least. My only complaint with the audiobook is that narrator Amanda Foreman’s Francie imitation makes Francie sound like an annoying, idiotic Valley Girl. Seriously, you wonder why Syd would hang out with such a ditz. Ditto the college-age guys – Foreman tries to masculinize her voice, but she just sounds like a dumb surfer, or an even dumber Valley Dude. Quite annoying.

I probably won’t go out of my way to buy any of the other prequels on CD, but at its best, ALIAS: RECRUITED made me want to break out Season 1 on DVD.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

In which the right wing celebrates an act of terrorism.

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

 

 

What I most love about these tea party protests – aside from their being an unintentional comedy goldmine – is that much of their support comes from the right wing: Republicans and conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity (all of Faux News, really), Alan Keyes, and Missouri’s own Peter Kinder. The same group of people who are quick to label acts of theft and property destruction acts of eco- or animal rights- terrorism are – wait for it – emulating an old-school protest which would most certainly qualify as an act of terror under their definition of the term.

And then we have Chuck Norris, right wing godbag extraordinaire, advocating an armed revolution against President Obama on World Net Daily.

Oh, the irony, it burns.

(More below the fold…)

From animal liberator to animal hunter: Life and death in the Dollhouse.

Friday, April 10th, 2009

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Caution: Spoilers ahead! (More specifically, after the blockquote.)

Firstly, I’m extremely happy to report that, as promised by Ms. Dushku, Dollhouse has improved by leaps and bounds since last I blogged about it. Not only have we gotten to know Echo – our hero – a bit better, but more importantly, the show has addressed “the consent issue” head-on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s a brief summary via Wiki:

Eliza Dushku plays a young woman called Echo, a member of a group of people known as “Actives” or “Dolls”. The Dolls have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments (referred to as engagements). The new persona is not an original creation, however, but an amalgam of different, existing personalities. The end result incorporates some of the flaws, not just the strengths, of the people used as templates. The Actives are then hired out for particular jobs – crimes, fantasies, and the occasional good deed. On engagements, Actives are monitored internally (and remotely) by Handlers. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed “The Dollhouse”. The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.

As I noted before, the Dolls’ lack of agency in both their “wiped” and “programmed” states makes it impossible for them to give meaningful consent – for any of their actions, including sexual relations. When a doll “has sex,” she (or he) is actually being raped. Usually the rapist knows full well that he (or she) is “having sex” with a programmable “doll” – so it’s rape with intent. Occasionally, however, the “doll” is sent on a covert/undercover mission – for example, to seduce a certain FBI agent – and sex becomes a tool she (or he) uses to that end. Such cases still constitute rape, but…well, it’s hard to say who the rapist is when the “doll’s” partner believes that the encounter is consensual. The Rossum Corporation, perhaps?

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Ingrid Newkirk & In Vitro (Sh)meat on The Colbert Report

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Last night’s episode of The Colbert Report included a segment on PETA’s $1 million reward for the successful development and marketing of in vitro meat.
 

 
Though The Colbert Report is usually animal-friendly in its coverage, I was more than a little disappointed by this particular segment. Throughout the report, Stephen appears to be mocking the idea of in vitro meat as both disgusting and infeasible, rather than mocking, say, meat-eaters who might think cultured meat is disgusting and infeasible – when, in reality, the “meat” on their plates is cobbled together from the parts of many previously living animals, crowded together in filthy factory farms and pumped full of antibiotics, then slaughtered, sometimes while fully conscious, by the billions, and that such a system is environmentally destructive and unsustainable. Instead, the ick factor is reserved for the “bloody egg yolk,” without any sort of follow-up “gotcha!” moment aimed at the meat-eating culture Stephen introduces the segment with. Or am I missing something? Thoughts?

On the plus side, the Mr. noticed a “chill” come over the crowd when a slaughterhouse worker was shown “shaving” (for lack of a better word) the top layer of skin (fat?) from a raw, hanging animal corpse. Perhaps Stephen managed to convert a new vegetarian?

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The horrors of modern fetus farms.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

The (d)evolution of animal agriculture sounds so much more insidious (and comical, natch!) when applied to human vs. non-human animals!

(Cue fetus frenzy at 1:10.)
 

 
If only they could grow in vitro embryos. Oh, wait.

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Tonight on HBO: Death on a Factory Farm

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Death on a Factory Farm

Just a friendly reminder: HBO is premiering Death on a Factory Farm tonight at 10PM EDST (you can view a full schedule here). Directed by Tom Simon and Sarah Teale – the people who brought you Dealing Dogs, another animal-friendly documentary – Death on a Factory Farm follows an undercover investigation of an Ohio factory farm by the Humane Farming Association (HFA).

Here’s the synopsis from the film’s website:

Each year, ten billion animals are raised for consumption in the U.S., mostly on sprawling, industrialized farms, where virtually no federal laws mandate how the animals are treated – though guidelines exist – and state laws are ineffective. As a result, animals are frequently subjected to what many consider cruel treatment and inhumane conditions in the interest of economic efficiency. DEATH ON A FACTORY FARM chronicles an investigation into alleged abuses that took place at a hog farm in Creston, Ohio. This shocking documentary is produced by Tom Simon (a seven-time Emmy® winner) and Sarah Teale, producer of the 2006 HBO special “Dealing Dogs,” which received two Emmy® nominations, including Best Documentary.

Three years in the making, DEATH ON A FACTORY FARM follows the undercover investigation of Wiles Hog Farm by the animal rights group The Humane Farming Association (HFA), and the resulting court case against it. The organization received a tip from an employee at the farm that animals were being abused, including a claim that hogs were being hung by chains and strangled to death as a form of euthanasia. HFA then turned to an undercover investigator (also featured in “Dealing Dogs”) going by the name “Pete,” who wore a hidden camera while he worked as a farmhand at Wiles.

Over the course of six weeks, Pete secretly filmed numerous disturbing scenes, including piglets being tossed into crates from across a room, impregnated sows held in pens that don’t allow them to move, an unhealthy piglet being slammed against a wall to euthanize it, and a sick sow being hung by a chain from a forklift until it choked to death. Having obtained this key evidence, Pete concluded the investigation and quit his job.

HFA brought the footage to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, which subsequently raided the farm. Prosecutors filed ten criminal charges of animal cruelty against Ken Wiles (the owner of the farm), his son Joe, and Dusty Stroud, a farm employee who participated in hanging the sow.

In the trial that followed, prosecution and defense waged a tense battle over the legality and morality of practices rarely seen by the public and described by the presiding judge as “distasteful and offensive,” but defended by Ken Wiles and other members of the tight-knit Ohio farming community as the commonplace reality of producing livestock for consumption.

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Mark Bittman, Peter Singer & Jay Keasling on The Colbert Report

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

I’ve been a little lazy in blogging the animal-related segments on The Colbert Report lately – mostly because the guests haven’t much impressed me. But, seeing as Peter Singer appeared on Thursday’s episode, it’s probably time.

First, there was Mark Bittman, a food critic and “vegan” advocate – but only before 6 PM. Yup, you heard me right; Bittman is vegan – for a variety of health, environmental and animal welfare reasons (though methinks non-human animals rank very low on Bittman’s list) – but only up until dinnertime. Then, anything goes.
 

 
That’s like a dude saying that he’s kind and respectful toward women, but only until the nighttime – then he beats and rapes them with glee. (Or rather, he hires a third party to do so, and enjoys the hunt through a vicarious thrill.) Hey, one can only be expected to exert willpower and behave ethically for so long, then something’s gotta give, dontchaknow!

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Veg*nism & Pop Culture: But does Costa Rica have an extradition treaty?

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

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Very minor spoilers ahead.

I’m a few months late on this – for some inexplicable reason, my DVR “forgot” to record this Very Special episode of CSI, and for an even more inexplicable reason, it took the Mr. and I months to notice – but in the interest of closure, I just have to mention it anyway.

Early on in Season 9 of CSI, vegetarian and animal advocate Jorja Fox left the show; a few weeks after her departure, the writers dropped a subtle hint that her character, Sarah Sidle, had joined up with Paul Watson and his band of sometimes-merry eco-terrorist pirates at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (if you’re not a regular visitor to Sea Shepherd’s website, you probably would have missed the URL).

Fast-forward a few months, to the Season 9 episode “One to Go” (9×10). Sarah’s on-again, off-again, is-he-her-fiance-or-isn’t-he? love interest, Gil Grissom (William Petersen) is quitting CSI as well. Most of the episode focuses on Grissom’s last case with Las Vegas CSI, and also serves to introduce Gil’s replacement, Dr. Langston (Laurence Fishburne!?).

However, in the last few minutes, we see Grissom

walk the halls smiling to himself as he looks in each room at the lab and sees Brass, Hodges and Wendy, other CSIs, Robbins and Riley, Stokes and Greg. He catches Catherine’s eye in one room and she winks at him. He smiles broadly and turns and walks away. The screen blurs, fades to white and cuts to Grissom wandering a jungle, dressed in a hat and sweaty gear examining a GPS marked Costa Rica. His eyes light on a bug for a moment. He walks into a clearing where a woman, whose back is to the camera, is taking a picture of a monkey in a tree. The woman turns and it’s Sara (Jorja Fox). They take each other in for a moment and then embrace and kiss, passionately.

As Cindy pointed out in the comments to a previous post, Sarah mentioned in an earlier episode that she planned to travel to the Galapagos; and indeed, Sea Shepherd’s activities include an effort to save the Galapagos, so that’s probably where she was (or was heading) when we saw her email Grissom. So why on earth are the two now in Costa Rica, hmmmm?

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Hunting "Tail" on Dollhouse

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

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Caution: Major spoiler warning below the jump!

I’ve been a Joss Whedon fan since his Firefly days, so when I heard that he was working on a new project, Dollhouse, I immediately got all giddy like a schoolgirl. That is, until I hear that Eliza Dushku would be starring. Ugh.

Even before the hunting flap, I disliked Dushku. Perhaps it’s because she came off like an entitled snot in a very early episode of Punk’d; even before she was faux “arrested” for “shoplifting” in a local retail boutique, she copped a huge ‘tude over all the free swag she was obviously owed for being a celebrity. That, and Tru Calling looked absolutely dreadful. Well, and I’m also weird like that; Dushku isn’t the only celebrity I have an irrational, knee-jerk dislike for. Take Ben Affleck, for example: clearly, he’s a funny, charming, altruistic guy, but there’s just something about him that I want to hate. He’s smarmy, but not. Did I also mention that I have a crazy aversion to feet? So maybe it’s just me, after all.

Anyway, the aforementioned hunting flap gave me a reason to dislike her – a good one, actually. In an August appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Show, Dushku discussed her love of hunting – you know, that sadistic leisure activity which involves murdering innocent animals for “fun”:

Here’s the gist of the interview (via ecorazzi), in case you don’t want to sit through the whole video:

A couple night ago on Jimmy Kimmel Live Dushku revealed that she loves to hunt elk and deer. Not only did she brag about it, but she also showed off her bow and arrow skills and boasted about killing a deer in Oklahoma last Christmas. WTF, Eliza? Why are you such a jerk?

Even the studio audience turned on Dushku forcing her to joke, “My mother called me herself and said, ‘You’re a liberal from New England, what the ‘f’ are you doing in Oklahoma shooting things.” Backpeddling later she said, “When you’re in a relationship with somebody you have to, like, experience things that they do. A lot of people eat meat… and I eat what I kill.”

Dushku’s hunting isn’t so much the point, though, as it is a set-up for the rest of this post. Despite my ambivalence, I started watching Dollhouse on my DVR last week. It’s alright, certainly no Firefly, but also not the complete stinker I was afraid it’d be. The second episode, “The Target,” is of particular interest from an animal rights standpoint.

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Violence, compassion and vegetarianism on Lost.

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

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Proceed with caution: Moderate spoilers ahead. Specifically, I’ll be discussing Sayid’s flashbacks in the Season 3 episode “Enter 77” (3×11). There may also be a few small spoilers through Season 4, but none for Season 5 – promise! (Although the external links may lead to more current spoilers.)

The husband and I became Losties rather late in the game. We picked up Season 1 on DVD on a whim during the writer’s strike last winter; within the first five minutes of the pilot episode, we were hooked.

Lately, I’ve taken to consuming pop culture with a more critical eye. I’ve always been somewhat sensitive to how women are portrayed in the media; increasingly, I’ve consciously tried to expand my “circle of compassion” vis-à-vis pop culture to other marginalized groups, including non-human animals. While animal welfare issues rarely surface on Lost, one episode in particular has stuck with me – “Enter 77” (3×11), a Sayid-centric episode.

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Truth in Advertising: HUMANS ARE AMONG US!

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

This series of retro ’50s monster movie poster adverts for the SciFi Channel has little to do with animal advocacy – but why let a lil’ thing like that stop me from putting an animal-friendly spin on ’em?

Each “poster” depicts an iconic movie monster recoiling in horror as a human invades his space:

Sci Fi Channel - The Thing

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