December 29th, 2007

John Robbins, _The Food Revolution_

My brother-in-law had this on the shelf in his office near the box of pens that T. was utterly enamored of. I read _Diet for a New America_ a while ago (which I appear not to currently own, altho it might be in a box back in Seattle), and thought it would be interesting to see what he'd been getting up to in the interim. About what you would expect.

For those who have not previously experienced Robbins: family Robbins is the Robbins of Baskin-Robbins. John walked away from the money, the lifestyle, and animal products in general. He wrote a book about why animal products including dairy were a really crappy idea (from individual health, ecological and social justice perspectives, plus, not cool for the animals at all) that, among other things, seriously impacted the veal industry. He talks the talk and walks the walk and is all about the opening of dialogue with non-converts. The primary effect of that is that he sometimes sounds kinda woo-woo. Which is mostly okay.

This book covers a lot of the same ground, with relevant updates including BSE/nvCJD (mad cow) and a variety of other food safety issues that have gotten much more serious since he wrote the first book. He also is pushing hard on the ecological issues, connecting consuming animal products to depletion of the Ogallala, fossil fuels, and global warming. It is enlightening to see comparisons of what you can save by not eating meat versus some other, substantial lifestyle changes such as driving less/driving a more fuel efficient vehicle.

This book, as well as his previous book, suffers from some source problems. A lot of his citations are to secondary news coverage, and not good secondary coverage, either (Time, Newsweek and the like). Where he cites original research in reputable journals, sometimes his summary is a bit misleading. For example, the Yale study about Alzheimer's that found the people actually had CJD was all patients who had weird Alzheimer's anyway. None of these problems detract from the overall message in a substantive way, because he has so much stuff to back up each point, but it is distracting to a careful and picky reader. (This is probably why I don't own _Diet for a New America_ any more).

All that aside, this is a fast, enjoyable, potentially life-changing book. When I read Robbins, it influences my eating patterns for months and years thereafter, even when I'm around a bunch of people who are still doing pseudo-Atkins diets. I consider this an extremely good thing. YMMV, of course.

He has a more recent book. I'm debating whether to buy it or not.

_Halfway to the Grave_, Jeaniene Frost

I've suspected for a while that quite a lot of paranormal romance was about authors with Extremely Religious Backgrounds working through some of their Issues. With Feehan, for example, there are a lot of thematic elements that SCREAM mormon. I could go on, but why?

Frost supports the thesis. Thoroughly. Cat (Catherine Kathleen or something like that) is the child of a human woman raped by a relatively new (and therefore still carrying around sperm) vampire. Born at 5 months fully formed with weird powers, Cat's mum never let her forget what she was, or that vampires are Teh Evil. So, one day, after a painful defloration experience, she decides to do something about it: Kill Teh Evil. No, not herself; that'd be a very short book and wouldn't have the requisite Happily Ever After that is the ONE aspect of the romance genre that Shall Never Be Violated.

After offing a dozen or so vampires, she bites, er, off more than she can chew with Bones, aka Crispin, who has her number. Bones thinks she is HAWT and offers her a deal: I won't kill you if you train with me and we'll go kill Teh Evil Vampires (as distinct from the neutral-to-good vampires) together. After a while, Cat realizes maybe she's kinda ignorant and bigoted. The Plot involves a vamp/human conspiracy to disappear young women into a rape/suck/etc. ring (what the evangelicals have always loved to get worked up about: nubile young women being trafficked.). It's not much of a plot, and is strung along primarily by Cat inadvertently killing (repeatedly) the vamp they need to tell them who the next guy up the chain is. This enables the even thinner device of Cat-as-bait to be played out repeatedly.

Whatever.

Moderately entertaining. First book in a series. If you don't normally care for romance, but like paranormal fantasy, this is _NOT_ your book. If you don't normally care for paranormal fantasy, but do like romance, this is _NOT_ your book. But if you like paranormal fantasy romance, this might while away an hour or two while you wait for Kim Harrison or Maryjanice Davidson or whoever to write another book you are excited about.

blocking, fighting words and violence

In a friends-only post, I have related a story from Christmas. The details are not important for this discussion.

The short form was: four-year-old blocked me repeatedly. I said this is really bad, and he has to be convinced not to do this, or he's going to be beaten up and no one will go after the people who beat him up because he provoked it.

Interestingly enough, I've gotten two major responses to this. First, well, he'll get beaten up and then he'll learn not to do it. I don't like this solution, personally. The other response was, how is blocking someone from going where they want to do considered provocative/aggressive/justification for violence?

There are several ways to think about blocking. First, if you are in the way of the exit, and someone wants out, you are trapping them. That's pretty clearly aggressive. Second, if you are between a mama bear and a baby bear (which was the case in this story), you're supposed to expect to be mauled. In the course of trying to explain that violence is often considered provoked BEFORE a blow is struck, I drew analogy to "fighting words" which is one of the limitations on freedom of speech. Nursery rhymes about sticks-and-stones to the contrary, the law does recognize that some speech is so offensive that violence is expectable.

Further interestingly, the women who didn't really get the blocking-is-aggressive ALSO did not get the fighting words thing.

What's up? It's possible the women in question are so beaten down that none of this would provoke them. It's possible they've never been in this situation and lack empathy and so while they might react with violence, they would not correctly anticipate that they would react with violence. I recall that R. said the exercises that Home Safe (Alive? I forget the name of the class) had her do surprised her with her reactions. Any ideas?

language stuff

My dear, dear husband R. has a vile habit of making puns. Like, cannot leave them alone at times. Turns out that he's very sensitive to ambiguity and multiple meanings of words and phrases and so forth. He typically guesses correctly what a person meant, but even when he guesses wrong, he's at least aware that he was guessing. I think it is often the case that we (humanity at large) guess, guess correctly, and have no idea we did guess.

Turns out his entire family (both parents and at least his sisters; dunno about his brother) all have a weird ambiguity thing, only they consistently guess wrong. We had not ever noticed this until this trip, and came to this conclusion after thrashing out several conversations that had occurred over our Xmas visit.

The general format of one of these conversations is: O. (family last name) asks a question (like, what does T. like to eat). I attempt to answer (by listing some of the things he likes to eat). A very short way into the list, O. interrupts and attempts to summarize the category of things T. likes to eat. Really, there isn't an accurate summary, so I propose numerous additional things that do not belong to that category. O. does not feel heard and figures out a way to wrench those items into that category. I get frustrated and angry because I can't figure out what the hell happened, and start looking for a graceful way out of the conversation. O. follows me around persisting in misunderstanding because they do not feel heard. Etc. By the end of a given trip, I basically would like to beat the shit out of the entire group.

Lately, I've taken to working very hard to never, ever, ever answer a question from one of these people, because it's so freaking hard to communicate with them. As long as they're talking and I'm responding with short little, I understand what you are saying kind of remarks, everything is good. I've also quit trying to get clarification when I don't understand what they are saying, because that's a disaster, too, and they talk enough that if you just wait them out, you can usually figure it out. If you can't, you can ask their spouse later, and they can explain because they don't suffer from this problem.

Might be genetic. Weird.

The new theory/strategy is as follows. They ask me a question. I answer. They summarize incorrectly. I make sure they feel like I understood what they said. When that's extremely clear, I say, as bluntly as humanly possible, that is very interesting and I'd be happy to talk about that, but that isn't what I said, then let them choose whether they'd like to hear what I said again, or would rather talk about whatever other crap they introduced into the conversation. And don't be in a hurry to get through a story, because these people are far too fucked up to understand anyone outside their family, and may or may not be doing well within their family.

R. suspects this is somehow related to why they are lawyers.