Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Perspective, let's have some

So I live on the East Coast, and I have lived in Virginia my entire life.

While the weather is kind of different now than it was when I was a kid, the basics are still the same. We have four seasons (though Spring and Fall are fading fast) and the summer is very hot and very humid and prone to thunderstorms. The winter is very cold, and we're prone to snowstorms.

None of these weather events are extremes of their type. So when I say we get snowstorms, I mean "we get a few inches of snow." So people in Maine and Canada can laugh wholeheartedly at our snowstorms, that's cool.

The thing with weather is that it's impact on your life is all about what you're prepared for. When I was a kid, we were always pretty ready for the various things that came through, including thunderstorms, hurricanes, snowstorms, and ice storms and even a couple blizzards. My parents weren't crazy survivalists or anything, they just knew what needed doing so that you could bunker down for a couple days and then just go about your life when you were done.

Which is why the last year or so here in Northern Virginia has been driving me so crazy. Yes, the weather has been a bit abnormal, and it's been a lot of extremes one after the other. But for the most part, there's been an overwhelming sense that the people in the Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland area have forgotten everything about preparedness. And I'm not entirely talking about individuals, there's been a failure of governments and corporations too.

Why is it that whenever there's a strong windstorm, the power is out for at least two or three days in DC? If it was just this one time, I would say that people are probably working as hard as they can, etc. etc.

But the people I know who live in DC are constantly complaining about their power company, and every time I hear about a major outage I also hear a report that it will be two or three days to get it back. So they apparently can't handle a small outage, when millions of people's power failed because of the storm last weekend they were in over their heads and that's SHAMEFUL. Power companies have monopolies, and since they don't have direct competition I thought they were held to standards of service. I read a quote where someone said that this was like a repairing after a hurricane only with no warning.

I'm sorry, but I think that the power company should be prepared for a hurricane at all times. There should be policies in place, and they should know exactly how to implement them in order to restore power because lack of electricity can KILL PEOPLE. Especially in the heat we've got right now. Besides the fact that if you're prepared for a hurricane (the time to prepare is not when the weather channel is waving graphics in your face it's when there's nothing going on) then you're prepared for smaller storms or most things that might be thrown your way.

The government isn't doing much better, but at least I can give them the excuse that everybody wants tax cuts so their budgets are slashed repeatedly until they're mostly ineffective. But the departments of transportation around here did not come out of this looking very good, and the fact that the entire 911 system for my county went down in the storm is a big, big problem.

Yes, this was a "derecho." This was a "land hurricane." This was unexpected and there was a lot of powerful wind.

But you know what? We get hurricanes here. We get thunderstorms. We get windstorms. We should have been more prepared for this. We should have been ready and this should NOT have paralyzed everything the way it did. When we got hit with tornadoes last year, I completely understood that people didn't know what to do because Virginia doesn't get tornadoes. But my hometown, which was hit with an F3 and an F2 within an hour of each other, still rallied and got everything together and did an amazing job recovering. Meanwhile, we have a windstorm and can't even get the traffic lights working four days later.

Part of the problem is that people here on the East Coast LOVE to exaggerate their weather, probably because it is relatively mild. Like I said, when I say we get snow I mean a few inches. The two worst storms I can remember were the Blizzard of '93 and Snowmageddon (which refers to a specific set of storms, no matter what the stupid people are walking around saying about every tiny little snowfall). Both of those were the kind of thing Michigan just calls "Tuesday."

My town had a 500 year flood last year and the biggest damage was that a commuter parking lot got flooded and trashed a bunch of cars. Meanwhile in the Midwest, houses are floating down rivers. We had an earthquake last year, and while it was an interesting geological event it was a 5.something. The same week, California had a 5.something and I don't think people even looked up from their iPads. And all of these things I mentioned became HUGE news stories, people talked about them for weeks and months. The "derecho" has brought out all of the "where were you" type posts and videos and photos of the damage.

In some cases, the damage is severe. I'm not going to lie, this storm was bad. But in a few cases the "damage" is a few branches torn out of trees that landed on a sidewalk or a yard. And people expect sympathy? Over a dozen people DIED and you want me to feel sad because a little bit of siding blew off?

The weather is getting worse than it was five or ten years ago. But it's not worse than it was twenty or thirty years ago, as far as I can tell. We still have some of the mildest weather in the country, we just get each type and other places have more extremes of one thing or another. So there's no real reason for our government and service companies not to be prepared for this, and people shouldn't be surprised that we get a bad storm now and again. This shouldn't be news because we had a storm, it should be news that we were so ill equipped to handle it.

And your trampoline getting blown over isn't worth any sympathy points.

Ethan of Athos

Ethan of Athos will probably be the first and only time I'll ever root for a society that thinks women are demonic. So seriously, kudos to Bujold on that one.

The basic premise: Athos is a planet that was founded by a group of men who wanted to escape from women completely. They founded the planet and organized it based on a religion that is basically Christianity but with all of the "women are the source of sin" stuff amped up to one million. The men reproduce with uterine replicators, and the plot of the book is that their ovarian cultures are dying and one of their doctors must go out into the wide world (of women) and find more.

Trust me, I have no idea why the very nature of the book didn't have me wanting to chuck it across a room. When I wrote out that paragraph I was like, "but, wait, what?" Because nothing in there is false, that is the plot of the book. The Ethan of the title basically ends up embroiled in a ridiculous galactic conspiracy through no fault of his own, and is constantly being saved by a really awesome woman named Elli Quinn. Figuring out the conspiracy is half the fun, so I won't go into it too much.

But basically, even though Ethan of course figures out that not everything his religion taught him was correct, he doesn't suddenly go "OMG, I want to sleep with this chick!" There's no transformation of meeting the right woman, he's gay and perfectly comfortable with that (not that he knows any different, really, but that's not the point). I thought that was a nice change of pace, and that was the main reason I didn't want Ethan to figure out everything was wrong and lead Athos back to the ways of heterosexuality.

The only qualm I had with the book is it suffered from Sci-Fi Naming Syndrome, if only a mild case. There were two or three planet names in the book that I could never pronounce even for cash, and every time the name came up it made me completely stall for a second before my eyes passed over it, my brain still trying to figure out what it was. Seriously writers, don't get weird with your names unless they only happen once! And even then, you still probably shouldn't.

In general, Ethan of Athos is a good hard sci-fi comedy. Which doesn't sound like a genre that exists, but it's definitely hard sci-fi, and it's definitely funny just as often as it's full of action, so there you go. I recommend it to people who like sci-fi, like stories about sexuality or gender politics, and people who enjoy a good laugh that still makes you think.

Side note: ignore the covers, they're apparently all terrible. The one I have doesn't even fit the book, I think they got it mixed up at the cover factory.

Brave (kinda)

I feel like there's no point in reviewing Brave because apparently nobody else has bothered to.

Apparently, the memo that I missed detailed that all reviews of Brave should instead be either sexist or about sexism. Or, absurdly, accuse Merida of being a lesbian. Because, you know, that's important.

I can see why some people are going off on other tangents. Brave is a movie the wouldn't really inspire people to wax poetic about it or build a major fandom, or anything like that. It's a good movie, it's indeed a very good movie. But that's about all it is.

Personally, I think that's okay. I enjoyed the film, I thought the visuals were beautiful (though it took time for the animation style to grow on me) and the voice acting was amazing. Merida was a fun character, I enjoyed her, she reminded me of me.

Only, you know, if I was any better at archery. But that's another point for another day.

My point for today though, is that it takes two combinations of things for Brave to hit home: you have to be a girl that can identify with Merida on some level and you have to have a specific kind of relationship with your mother, and probably be old enough to understand why your mother was how she was when you were a teenager.

I saw one post that got it right, Brave is a movie that doesn't shy away from the fact that teenage girls aren't perfect and are often terrible. And that mothers of teenager girls are often terrified for them and don't know how to communicate with them. And that in the end, once you get through the teenage years, everybody can see the other's person's perspective a little better and it forms a particular kind of relationship. If you've lived through that, and felt that, then Brave will probably make you cry (it did me, that's for sure).

If you haven't, then there's nothing wrong with you, you just had a different type of family and that's awesome.

The problem lies in the fact that outside of masterfully presenting this mother/daughter dynamic (which is rare enough to be worth praise), the movie doesn't really press the envelope anywhere else. Which is why critics are so distracted.

About half the reviews talk about how poorly the movie treats men. Most of the rebuttals to those comments are "that's how women have to live every day, qq more newb." Which is fair, except for the fact that Brave doesn't marginalize it's men. They're all pretty well drawn out for supporting characters. Merida's suitors are comic relief, but they all have charms to go with their faults. The triplets are crazy and "get away with murder" but they're also really smart and resourceful and even without lines they have a depth when you think about their relationship with Merida.

As for the people trying to make a case that Merida is a lesbian because she likes to shoot arrows and doesn't want to marry a guy that she probably couldn't even carry on a conversation with...there's just nothing for those people. I've got nothing, I can't even contemplate how stupid and terrible life must be for them, having so few brain cells. The point of the movie was about choosing your own fate and your own life, and creating it yourself. To force Merida into a stereotype because it makes your brain feel a little better is to go against everything it stands for. Who knows what kind of person Merida is attracted to, I doubt she even knows. But she'll figure it out and it might be one of the guys and it might be another princess, and the world will keep turning on.

Oh, and to the person who said that Merida still wasn't a good role model or a positive step for women for being the protagonist because she's still a princess...go lock yourself in a tower. In fiction, women can be depicted as princesses as a metaphor for the responsibilities and struggles we face because of stereotypical gender roles. One would think a media or literary critic would understand that much, that's like Women's Lit 101.