Seriously, Hunter x Hunter?


Hisoka gets "turned on"I don’t even want to tell you the context of this image.

I mean, I guess people exist who become sexually aroused by fighting strong opponents (who are twelve years old), but do we really want to be normalizing that behavior? (What do you know, I managed to tell you the context.)

More importantly, who is the target audience? Hunter x Hunterfeels like a cute kids’ show with a tad too much emphasis on fighting for the most part, but then you get stuff like this. What are kids supposed to learn? That it is cool to have some older guy obsessed with you to the point of wanting to get off on hurting you? Or are adults supposed to learn a more sinister lesson?

Aw, look at the cutesy way Gon and Killua imitate Hisoka in the “Hunterpedia” portion of the episode! There’s nothing disturbing about this at all. :P

Gon and Killua do their own schwing

Getting more Japanese language input with Flutterscape

One of the most important factors in learning a new language is getting good input. Interacting with other speakers of Japanese, watching Japanese-language videos, reading Japanese-language books and websites, and listening to Japanese music are all ways you can ramp up your learning.

There are lots of free resources out there for Japanese input. One simple way to find Japanese language content is simply by searching the web for keywords in Japanese.

But sometimes you want something you can hold in your hands, or something that isn’t available digitally. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Kinokuniya or a Japanese specialty store that offers more than groceries, you might be able to find what you’re looking for there. But let’s say you’re really interested in a certain band, and you want to find all their CDs. Or you used to read a translation of a certain manga, and now you’d like to give the original a shot. It’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to walk into a store and find exactly what you’re looking for.

Enter Flutterscape.

Flutterscape is kind of like Craigslist for Japanese media. The site connects people outside Japan who want Japanese products with people living in Japan who have better access to those products. Often the sellers will already have items posted for sale, but what I’ve found most useful is Requests, where buyers can post exactly what they want and then let different sellers bid on the sale. So far I’ve used Requests to purchase two artbooks and two complete sets of out-of-print manga.

The buying process is simple and secure and guaranteed by Flutterscape. Your personal information is not sent to the seller; instead, the seller sends your item to Flutterscape’s Tokyo location, and Flutterscape ships the item to you. You can find more information on buying here.

Obviously, ordering items from another country is going to be a little pricey, especially when you add shipping. Unfortunately, Flutterscape does not currently have a way to combine multiple orders to lower shipping costs; each requested item will be shipped on its own. (I ordered my mangas in sets rather than volume by volume, which would have been cost-prohibitive.) If you like the idea of having media direct from Japan to consume but are leery of the cost, you might consider sharing the cost of materials across a group of Japanese-learning friends in your area.

Regardless, having the option to import items you wouldn’t normally have access to really opens up your language-learning possibilities.

If you are actually in Japan, you can earn a little extra money by being a seller on Flutterscape. You won’t make anything on shipping, but you can (and should) charge the buyers a little more than what it costs you to purchase the item they want. You then get the satisfaction of sharing Japanese language and culture with people around the world while accumulating a tidy little sum for yourself. There’s more about selling here.

As interest in Japanese language and culture continues to grow, Flutterscape has emerged to provide a much-needed conduit for obtaining raw materials. For the right price, you can snag the original manga for that show you were obsessed with as a kid, or out-of-print CDs from that band you heard the first time you started getting into Japanese culture. If there’s something out there you know will keep your interest, it’s excellent fodder for Japanese language study. After all, if you like it, you’re more likely to consume it, which means you’re maximizing your Japanese input. It’s win-win.

Cottage cheese conundrum

I have always loved cottage cheese, and I’ve always been a little picky about it. Since having weight loss surgery, I’ve depended on cottage cheese to help me get enough protein. Unfortunately, I have trouble finding a brand I really like. There seem to be too many things that can go wrong with taste and texture. Here’s a breakdown of all the brands I’ve tried.

Brand Rating Notes
Great Value, large curd, 4% milkfat passable Walmart’s brand is the best I’ve found so far in terms of taste and texture, but it doesn’t bring me joy.
Great Value, small curd, low fat gross Small curd is too dry for me now.
Kroger bleh I can force myself to eat this, but it’s tasteless.
Breakstone’s disgusting Dry, tasteless…why anyone would do this to themselves is beyond me.
Dean’s okay Dean’s is actually better than Walmart brand, but I haven’t found it sold locally, so it doesn’t really help me much.
Mayfield yuck Way too salty. I didn’t think cottage cheese could be salty!
? – Hyatt Place breakfast bar cottage cheese awesome I don’t know where they get their cottage cheese, but I want it.
? – Steak ‘n Shake cottage cheese awesome Another delicious cottage cheese of mysterious origin.

I think Dean’s is the brand I used to eat back in Kentucky. I found it in Augusta the last time I visited; it was the first time I’d ever seen it there. Naturally I bought some and tried it, and it was good. But since I’ve been home I haven’t found it anywhere. Le sigh.

Will the perfect cottage cheese continue to elude me?!

Fringe finale disappointments

There are copious spoilers in this post.

Let me first state that the two-part finale of Fringe was generally enjoyable. There was a nice Fringe event featuring one of my phobias–nanobots (you can’t see them!)–and it was awesome to see Leonard Nimoy return as William Bell, especially in the second half. His performance was excellent. I was intrigued by the notion that David Robert Jones got what he wanted in this timeline: recognition by Bell, even if it meant self-sacrifice. And the new explanation for why Walter had parts of his brain removed was shocking and perfect. I also loved Bell’s escape at the end, which hearkens back to Olivia’s first meeting with him in the original timeline. Makes you wonder if he rode out of there inside someone’s head. The various character wrap-ups were nice too. I appreciated seeing Nina doing some science and being recognized for it. You could tell that the writers had been planning things so that they could end the series here if they hadn’t gotten a season five. (Which perhaps would be better, since season five seems destined to follow the horrid totalitarian Observer plotline.)


The heroes of the day, ultimately, were Walter and Peter. Olivia’s main contribution was to get her and Peter onto Bell’s ship, which seemed more “oh, Olivia should do something heroic too” rather than “Olivia is a vital member of the team”. In fact, it was Olivia, or rather Olivia’s victimization at the hands of William Bell, that threatened to destroy the world. And she had no way of fighting this. All she could do was stand there freaking out. She didn’t even think to kill herself–Walter had to do that for her. (Self-sacrifice would not have been an empowered choice, but at least it would have been her choice.)

Nina makes a big deal about how compassionate Olivia is, and how Bell is using that against her. It is Olivia’s compassion that allows her to become powerful. But based on the events of this finale, we may well conclude that compassion is weakness. Olivia is so compassionate, she can only react emotionally, and is stymied when faced with a dilemma more complex than protecting one person in front of her. She’s powerful, but ultimately she’s weak. She’s just a woman.

That’s the message I was getting.

I would have liked to have seen Olivia control her powers. We saw her doing it in the future of the original timeline, the future that Peter ultimately ended up erasing. The difference with the season four scenario is that she had been dosed with cortexiphan more recently by Evil Nina, to get her up to par with her original timeline self. This probably led to the instability and rapid release of power, provoked by the events Bell put into place around her. But think back to seasons one and two. Olivia–original timeline Olivia–had already dealt with her victimization, with taking care of other victims. She’d found her strength. She’d turned weakness into power and her past into a mission. Would this Olivia really have been flummoxed by William Bell, once she knew what was really going on?

I say no. I say that our original timeline Olivia would have stared Bell down, folded her arms, and calmly turned it off like a light.

Heck, if they’d played their cards right, the writers could have left in the headshot scene, which was actually pretty cool. Just as Olivia figures it out, Walter shoots her in despair. Peter freaks. But the bullet goes all the way through and Olivia’s cortexiphan-infused brain self-repairs instantly. Bell, about to flee, stops to gloat as the universe-destruction starts up again. And then Olivia drops the hammer on him. Later, in the denouement, Olivia undergoes a series of tests and discovers that excessive use of her powers causes an enormous drain on her body and might threaten her life, so they should be treated as a last resort.

(I’d like to keep the part where Walter removes the bullet, because that scene is just crazy, but I’d also like for Olivia to be able to stare William Bell down as she’s turning off her powers, and I’m not sure he’d stick around after he thought she was dead.)

My rewrite would allow Olivia to keep her powers without becoming some sort of overpowered superhero. It would give her an advantage in a universe populated with (male) scientific geniuses, other than her photographic memory and detective skills, which haven’t really seen much use lately. It would also bring back the feeling from seasons one and two, when the main character of Fringe was a strong woman who fought her own battles rather than feeling like a victim and waiting for her white knights (or rather, Bishops) to save her.

My new anime love: Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope坂道のアポロン (Kids on the Slope) is a story about jazz-loving high school students in Kyushu in the 1960s. I’ve been watching it on Crunchyroll. The series is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who you may remember from the fabulous Cowboy Bebop, and the music is by Yoko Kanno, whose amazing music is everywhere–Bebop, Macross Plus and Frontier, and Escaflowne, just to name a few. (There’s even an iPhone alarm clock app from UNIQLO featuring original Yoko Kanno music now.) The art is nice and the animation flows well, and of course the voice acting is top-notch.

The show’s got plenty of the pieces I look for: an interesting setting, believable characters with pasts that are revealed as the story unfolds, a purpose bringing the characters together. I love that it’s not set in Tokyo. I love that it’s the past, and that it feels so well-researched. I love that everything is infused with jazz music. I love all the “love” relationships that at first seem so simple and then get more and more complex, just as real relationships do.

And I love that this is a show that is unafraid to go there. In the fourth episode, our heroes are playing their first live concert, and they’re really getting into it, when all of a sudden a surly drunk American soldier starts yelling at them to “stop playing that [expletive] music and play white jazz”.

Of course that would happen. It was completely realistic. And the characters’ reactions are just as realistic. Sentaro, the drummer, who is half white, half Japanese, is extremely sensitive to this sort of issue. He yells something like “Fuck that segregationist shit!” and storms off the stage. Another character, Jun, calmly rallies the piano player, Kaoru, and the two of them perform a soft jazz tune, which placates the drunkard.

I feel sort of bad for being so surprised at the scene. I’m just not used to seeing racism so blatantly portrayed in anime–especially with Japan as the setting. In an imagined setting, you can more safely explore this sort of theme without implicitly accusing a culture of bigotry. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Japan is by and large a homogenous country, and racism does exist there, as you can see in the story of what happened to a guy today on a train in Nagoya. Having racism as a story element is an extremely brave thing to do because it’s going to make people uncomfortable (as it should). You could argue that having the racist be a white American absolves the Japanese characters, but he’s just the loudest example of racism. You see plenty of quiet, cruel racism towards Sentaro from his own family members in flashbacks. I think putting in the soldier, having him be blatantly racist, makes the other racism more obvious, and makes Sentaro even more relatable.

It’s rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a show after only having seen four episodes. It took me a long time to process how I felt about that last episode in particular. I love that this is a show that takes the time to do character development well, but doesn’t actually waste any story time. Plenty of stuff happens; time seems to pass quickly. But at the same time I feel like I’m slowly untangling a glorious mess of thread and seeing how it all ties together. This is not shut-my-brain-off entertainment; this is the kind of engagement that comes from true storytelling. And I love it.

Feminism and Fringe

Fringe has been one of my favorite shows ever since it began. I loved the focus on a strong female lead who attacked problems head-on and who, at least in the beginning, provided direction for the group as a whole. But I’ve recently started to notice a few troubling details that make me wonder whether the writers are working with unconscious sexist assumptions.

Really, it all started with the horrid episode 4.19. It struck me as very odd that Olivia and Peter’s daughter should be, essentially, a clone of Olivia, and not have any of Peter’s scientific genius. This made me start to think about the female characters in Fringe in general, and I realized that none of them is really a match for Peter, Walter, William Bell, David Robert Jones. There are no genius woman scientists in Fringe.

Nina is said to be a scientist, but we rarely see her doing anything related to science. More often she is managing Massive Dynamic or directing others to perform scientific experiments. She can’t even repair her robotic arm on her own.

Astrid has a gift for computers, languages, and code-breaking, but more often than not she is relegated to the tasks of lab assistant and babysitter. We have never really seen her take the lead on a project, though she may make small observations that help the show’s featured geniuses arrive at a conclusion.

Other than that, we have the Fringe events of the week, some of which involve women, but usually those women are either pawns or are using technology they got somewhere else. We have had no main scientific antagonists who were female.

Do the writers of Fringe believe on some subconscious level that women can’t be genius scientists? Is this why there are no female Observers? (If what September said was true, and the Observers are the future of humanity, this implies that humanity evolved away from, or forcibly shifted itself away from, having two sexes. Are we to believe this is because women were inferior scientists and could not “keep up”?)

This all comes as the show has shifted its focus away from its protagonist, Olivia, to focus on Peter. Suddenly Peter is the one who has remained the same throughout all four seasons, not Olivia. Our base of “normal” is no longer Olivia, but Peter. We don’t see Olivia directing the action anymore…instead, she reacts. Things happen to her. At the very end of 4.20 she started to take control again, but after a full season without that strength, it didn’t feel like enough to re-cement her protagonist role. And we already know that in the ridiculous totalitarian Observer future, Olivia isn’t even there.

It’s just all very troubling, and I wonder if the writers see it.

Fringe 4.19 [SPOILERS]

I am disappoint.1

For the most part, I have been enjoying this eclectic season so far. It’s difficult to completely alter reality, and every character’s situation, and have the show feel like “home” to a viewing audience. Eureka kind of lost me, for example, when the main cast went back in time and changed the course of history. There were just too many differences in the new reality. I never regained that sense of “normal”.

Fringe has always been pretty mind-bending, and I was truly impressed with what the writers had done with the characters and history in the alternate universe. So I held out hope that our reality, the foundation we’ve been building for the past three years, would come back strong in season four, merging with the new timeline…that somehow, everyone, or at least everyone aware of Fringe events, would remember both.

Instead, the last handful of episodes have indicated that the only ones who will remember what the viewers remember are Peter and Olivia, and presumably the Observers, who worked to erase that timeline.

This climactic battle with the Observers in the future may yet lead to a restoration of the original timeline. It’s possible; anything is. But if that’s it, if that’s all, if that’s the resolution I’ve been waiting for, then what a letdown.

First of all, putting text on a screen to quickly explain an all-new story concept right in the middle of a show that’s already working within a different reality than the one previously established is heavy-handed. It might have been more confusing to be thrown into the episode with no explanation, but it certainly would have felt less awkward and B-movie sci-fi.

Second…Observers, in a nightclub, acting like gangsters, forcing themselves onto women. Uh, what? This is the first time I have ever seen an Observer do anything remotely sexual, and what a cliche way to add that to the story. I realize there are no female Observers–I’ve wondered about that for a long time, actually–but it doesn’t follow that upon wresting control of Earth from their ancestors, they’d start behaving like thugs from the 1940s.

Speaking of the 1940s: human enforcers of Observer law, dressed up like Nazis! Really! Yes, let’s invoke Nazi Germany in our already trope-heavy dystopian dictatorship.

I guess one thing that really drives me crazy about this is that the future September showed Peter seemed so bright. Humans would evolve and grow and eventually be able to go anywhere and Observe anything. This seemed Good. He never mentioned anything about destroying the planet in the future and then going back into the past to take it over. That, to me, sounds like some hack writer’s drunken “Dude, wouldn’t it be awesome if?”

But September fervently warned Peter that it was imperative he and Olivia get together, because their child would be essential. (If it wasn’t obvious to you that Etta was their kid, the millisecond she first appeared on screen, you haven’t been paying attention.) I had assumed at the time that this meant Peter and Olivia’s child would be part of building the bright future that led toward human expansion into the galaxy…not that she would be vital to stopping the Observers because her mind could somehow not be read by them. Snore.

And did it annoy anyone else that while Etta is practically a clone of her mother, she doesn’t seem to have picked up any of Peter’s scientific genius? What’s that about?

Speaking of clones: last night, I was convinced that this future must be some alternate timeline that would inform our own story, but did not doom our characters to its realities. My main support for this belief was the fact that William Bell was there. Only this morning did I remember that Walter didn’t bother to take William out of the amber…he simply removed his hand. This could imply that he intended to clone William, which could further imply that the William in the amber was also a clone. So that turns out not to be proof after all, much to my dismay. And come to think of it, I don’t think we actually know what happened to William Bell in this timeline anyway. He died in the original timeline, not this one.


Already this season I’ve had many of my assumptions challenged or overthrown (I thought Evil Nina and alt-Broyles were shapeshifters, for example), so maybe things aren’t as doom and gloom as I think. Maybe something good can yet come out of what for now appears to me to be a very trite, uninteresting story. There are little things that intrigue me, like Walter having his brain back, Etta’s life and how she managed to hide the fact that she’s Peter and Olivia’s daughter (her last name was never mentioned in the episode), what happened to the other universe (is the bridge gone?), and whether David Robert Jones is still around somewhere. I’m not so keen on watching another episode without Olivia. Etta does a good Olivia impression, but, you know, Olivia is the main character. Kind of like having her around. It sounded like something happened to Olivia, though, which implies she may not be in this little dystopian future story arc at all. Blerg. [Edit: Looks like I don’t have to worry about the next episode not featuring Olivia, as we are apparently leaving the future storyline unresolved and going back to the present next week.]

At least we already have established precedent for Peter going forward in time, then back in time to change the results he saw. It’ll be totally cheesy if he does it again, but I won’t complain.

I think what bothers me the most about this episode is that my entire understanding of the Observers has changed. I used to think of them as, well, observers. They watched and didn’t interfere. They were scientists and historians. They were interested in their own past and were lucky enough to be able to go and see it in person. September, our most sympathetic Observer, made a big mistake by changing the timeline in two universes, and that touched off all the events where Observers started interfering (except that one where an Observer decided he didn’t want a particular young lady to die). Olivia had an affinity for the child Observer they found, and I felt that this indicated the promise of future friendship. While I knew the Observers were willing to sacrifice people for the sake of the timeline, I always felt they were working for the greater good.

This episode would have me believe that everything, all of it, was the Observers preparing to take over, and just watching and preparing for the best time. And that one big piece of their puzzle was making sure no Peter Bishop ever had a child with our universe’s Olivia Dunham. You might ask, “Why not just kill them, then?” I’m sure a writer somewhere can come up with an explanation like “It would affect other things in the timeline too much.” Never mind all the other timeline changes the Observers kept making, including trying to erase Peter. Did they ever think to stop our Olivia from getting treated with cortexiphan, or is that too obvious?

I’m just disappointed. I’m unhappy that the Observers are nothing more than ruiners and conquerors. I’m unhappy that basically the writers are saying humanity can’t evolve past our petty greed and selfishness in 600 years, even as we make astounding scientific discoveries (and apparently eliminate all women :P).

What this episode is telling me is that even if Peter or someone else from the cast is able to prevent the Observer takeover in 2036, that won’t necessarily stop the Observers themselves from being evil. I’d grown rather attached to them, and I didn’t want them to be evil. I didn’t want this to be so freaking black and white. I wanted a nuanced story with hard situations and tough decisions for everyone.

It’s naive to think that totalitarian regimes can’t exist, obviously, and I probably shouldn’t dismiss them as cliche in stories. I guess I was just expecting more from a civilization 600 years older than our own.

Gintama and the denial of one’s own atrocities

I recently started watching Gintama on Crunchyroll. It’s a very funny show about a guy named Gintoki who lives by his own odd code of honor while performing odd jobs to get by. He seems lazy and unreliable, but he’s always true to himself and his friends. The show is filled with references to other anime like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Prince of Tennis, and probably many more I don’t recognize. Overall I have really been enjoying it.

However, as the story continues further into the overarching premise, I’m more and more aware of the obvious allegory. While at first I simply thought of it as an interesting intellectual exercise, it’s become more troubling to me in light of recent events.

In a nutshell, the plot of Gintama is this: in the Edo period, when Japan was known as the nation of samurai and Tokyo was still called Edo, aliens came to Earth and subjugated the people. The opening narration mentions that the aliens forced Japan to “open their country” and also that they cowed the government through a show of superior force (they fired a huge beam weapon and at least partially destroyed a castle). Subsequently a “no sword” law was enforced, and all the former samurai were forced to find other ways to support themselves, often unsuccessfully. Now the aliens live among the people of Edo, blatantly oppressing them, hiding behind diplomatic immunity.

The parallels with Japanese history are pretty obvious, if you omit certain inconvenient facts. The “opening” of the country recalls Commodore Perry’s black ships, which frightened Japan into agreeing to trade freely with other nations for the first time. The show of force and sword ban bring to mind Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the subsequent signing of the US-mandated constitution forbidding Japan to engage in warlike activities, including the formation of an army. And the aliens’ oppression of the Edo people calls to mind the Occupation.

What there aren’t parallels for, at least not yet, are the atrocities Japan itself committed in its history. The closest thing are the wars the Edo people fought for over ten years trying to cast the aliens out…but in the context of Gintama, this war is honorable, as the warriors are the victims, not the aggressors. The Anti-Foreigner group that Gin’s war buddy Katsura runs, which depending on your perspective can be called a terrorist group or a group of freedom fighters, seems like something more out of modern Middle Eastern history than Japan’s.

Through all of this, Edo is painted as the victim. And yet the similarities to Japan’s history are too striking to be coincidence.

At first, I thought there wasn’t really much harm in this. It’s an anime. It’s for fun. It’s an interesting story. I’m still not sure the author is trying to make a political statement with his premise. But I do wonder if this premise doesn’t indicate something about Japanese culture, about people’s perceptions about their country and history.

The mayor of Nagoya recently stated that he’s not sure that the rape of Nanjing actually happened. From the Japan Times:

Speaking Monday to a group of Chinese Communist Party members from Nanjing, Kawamura said he was skeptical about whether the Imperial Japanese Army actually raped and slaughtered thousands of Nanjing residents during the war.


“I don’t have any intentions of retracting my comments or apologizing,” Kawamura told reporters Wednesday.


Disputes over the Nanjing Massacre are a constant source of friction in Sino-Japanese relations, and Kawamura’s comments are merely another example of the skewed perceptions held by Japan’s politicans.

This made me wonder if the premise of Gintama doesn’t imply a sort of culture of denial, a general feeling that Japan is a blameless victim.

This sort of thing doesn’t just happen in Japan. Recently, a Japanese translator I follow on Twitter posted a picture from the American History museum in Washington, DC. It was a board on which visitors could stick up Post-It notes with their thoughts about the US’s use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Among the varied opinions, I spotted this one and others like it:

Well…they did attack PEARL HARBOR.

In this case, rather than deny the atrocities happened, people are trying to justify them, but it comes down to the same thing: people seeing what “they” did as horribly wrong, but what “we” did as right and proper. Anything can be acceptable if you assume righteousness is on your side: war, rape, torture, profiteering, prejudice, ignorance, silence.

Everyone wants to believe they are doing the right thing. It can hurt to take a step back and evaluate whether or not that’s really true.

Do we have anything to gain from entertainment that perpetuates our feeling of self-righteousness? Wouldn’t it be better to improve ourselves?

Edit March 22: Tofugu has an interesting post about Japanese textbooks that goes along well with this topic.

Greek yogurt

A number of duodenal switch patients discover after surgery that they are lactose intolerant. In order to avoid the more unpleasant DS side effects, the ones that are often mentioned as cons to having this particular procedure versus another form of weight loss surgery, these patients must avoid dairy products for the rest of their lives.

Fortunately, this was not true in my case. Lactose intolerance would have severely crippled my efforts to get enough protein, as milk products such as cottage cheese, cheese, and milk itself have been essential joys in a world where suddenly I am very picky about food.

One of the greatest sources of protein (and deliciousness) I’ve found is Chobani’s plain Greek yogurt. I buy it in huge tubs. Recommended to me by my aunt, one measuring cup of the stuff packs 26 whopping grams of protein. Being plain, there are no additives to mess me up. Most flavored yogurts have lots of added sugar, and I have to avoid (or at least minimize) all sugars, even natural ones. The only sweetener I can really use is sucralose, and I can’t find any yogurts that are sweetened that way.

So I do it myself, at home.

At first all I did was throw a cup or a half cup of Chobani into a bowl and mix in some Splenda. However, lately I’ve tried a few variations, and it’s been rather nice.

Hershey's cocoa in Greek yogurt

The first thing I tried was putting in some Hershey’s cocoa. Worked like a charm. You have to be careful not to put in too much cocoa, but otherwise, it makes for a nice creamy chocolate dessert.

The next experiment was raspberries. I know, I know, natural sugar…but I only put a few berries into the cup of yogurt, then mashed them up and mixed them in. The swirls of tartness made me suck in my cheeks with delight. I obviously can’t eat a lot of fruit all the time, but a little here and there shouldn’t destroy me.

My latest flavoring is cinnamon, and I think it might be my favorite. I’ve always loved cinnamon, but I never really thought about it. When people would ask what my favorite treat was, I’d probably say “chocolate”…but to be honest, chocolate is getting a little old these days. I like a tiny bit here and there, but it’s not how it used to be. I don’t want to eat a whole box of Oreos (not like I even could).

In any case, cinnamon and Greek yogurt go together really well. I haven’t really been measuring anything but the yogurt as I’ve been making my concoctions, but I think it turns out to something like 1 cup Greek yogurt, 2 T Splenda, 1 T cinnamon. Experiment with it…I think you’ll like it!

cinnamon in Greek yogurt
cinnamon in Greek yogurt

Women’s clothes sizes

Shopping has always been a pain for me. I’ve tended to only go to a few stores, where I’m reasonably confident I can find things that fit and flatter. I never really thought about why it was so difficult to find clothes; I just assumed it was because I wasn’t proportioned like a fashion model. But it turns out that the stores themselves make things unreasonably complex by each using their own sizing system.

The Guardian’s DataBlog has a new piece: What’s your perfect fitting top, skirt and dress on the highstreet? Author Anna Powell-Smith, frustrated by how difficult it is to shop for women’s clothing, gathered data from all the shops she could and compiled them into an online application that tells you what sizes to look for in each store. It’s called What Size Am I?

What Size Am I website screenshot
What Size Am I? website screenshot

This is going to be very useful to me when I hit my final weight and finally go on that shopping spree I’ve been planning. All you do is pick whether you want UK or US stores, inches or centimeters, and then put in your measurements. Right now the app tells me,

Your closest fits are probably:

  • Top: Express size 16
  • Skirt: New York & Co size 18
  • Dress: Express size 16

Being supremely unfashionable, I wear pants most of the time, so I wish those were included. Maybe the skirt size works for pants too? [Edit: Ms. Powell-Smith let me know on Twitter that skirt and pants sizes were the same at most stores.] Regardless, it will be neat to put my measurements in as I continue to lose weight and see what my sizes change to.

The US stores included in the app are Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Ann Taylor, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Express, Forever 21, Gap, H&M, Hollister, J Crew, New York & Co, Old Navy, The Limited, and Urban Outfitters. I am pretty sure I have never bought anything from any of these places! I think I remember trying on a blouse in Ann Taylor once. And I walked into a Gap one time, but all their sizes looked too small, so I walked right back out. So yeah…when the time comes, this is going to be an adventure.

Smallville season 11

Smallville Season 11 digital cover by Cat Staggs
Smallville Season 11 digital cover #1 by Cat Staggs (DC Comics)

DC has announced a new digital-first comic that picks up six months after Smallville leaves off. The series will be illustrated by Pere Perez (interiors), colored by Chris Beckett, and written by Brian Q. Miller, who the news release identifies as a former Smallville “series scribe”.

I looked Miller up on IMDb, since I didn’t recognize his name. It turns out he wrote nine episodes between October 2008 and the end of the series, and in the last season he was the executive story editor.

Sean and I only recently watched Smallville season ten. When it aired, we kept missing episodes, so we waited until it was on Blu-Ray to catch up. This took a long time; the Blu-Rays didn’t come out until late November, and then I decided to wrap them as a Christmas present when they arrived, so we actually didn’t see how things ended until after the new year.

The pacing felt very uneven. There were several very interesting themes raised right before the series ended, then never properly dealt with. Maybe those themes will come out in the comic series? One example is how Lois starts wondering what happened with Lana, and discovers that Lana made one hell of a sacrifice, and then…nothing. No closure. You could argue that Clark and Lois’ relationship should have nothing to do with Lana, and I’d agree, but I’ve also always felt that having Clark and Lana be star-crossed lovers, rather than having their relationship fundamentally not work, was a mistake. It mars Clark and Lois with the whisper of what could have been. If you step back and don’t think of Clark and Lois as having a “destiny”, and you evaluate purely based on the story you were given in the show, then it really seems like Clark and Lana have a larger destiny than Clark and Lois do.

Really, I never liked the “destiny” idea anyway. I always thought Clark and Lois were about flouting destiny and fate. I mean, Superman is not human. His “destiny” is not to have a human love; it is to be a solitary savior. What I wanted to see from Smallville was not a shoehorning in of Lois into a “destiny” that only exists because the audience knows the original story, but a conscious choice on the part of two individuals to throw caution to the wind and accept that they love each other, despite all the reasons they shouldn’t be together. Two people who realize all the good they can do together. Two people who intelligently assess the situation and transform an oppressive fate into hope. I would have liked to have seen this happen between Clark and Lois because Lois is too bullheaded and passionate to accept that fate can’t be changed, and her optimism would drive Clark to do greater things. And this would have shown that she was superior to Lana as his love interest, because Lana could only see herself as a burden to Clark, not as his inspiration.

I felt like this sort of thing could have happened in the show, but didn’t, and it was pretty disappointing that a starker contrast wasn’t drawn between Lois and Lana. In truth, it sometimes wasn’t clear why Clark loved Lois at all. (Because he was supposed to?)

But I digress.

While I wasn’t extremely impressed with how Smallville ended, Miller did write some cute stand-alone episodes, like Committed, Hex, Echo, and Warrior. (Bulletproof was also good, but a little too on the nose.) I do see from DC’s website that he’s a comics writer, and apparently his Batgirl is pretty popular. I’m liking the examples I’m seeing, at any rate. What concerns me is Miller’s ability to craft a compelling overarching story; I don’t really get that from his stint on Smallville. But maybe he’ll be more comfortable writing Smallville in his native medium. And Pere Perez, who works with Miller on Batgirl, puts out some fun and cute art, which for me is important.

So I think the new Smallville Season 11 comic series will be worth checking out, at least. Maybe it’ll deal with some of the TV series’ problems. We can always hope!

Quasi-Review: A Song of Ice and Fire

This quasi-review contains spoilers through the first part of book five.

I can’t really review George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga until it’s complete, but I’ve been wanting to talk about why I’m reading it in the first place, what I’ve found compelling about it, and why I’m afraid I’m going to ultimately wind up disappointed.

First of all, there’s the general writing style. I tend to be very picky about writing, as longtime readers of this blog probably know. I like prose to flow, to either be so lovely or clever I can’t help but notice it or to be completely unnoticeable. A piece of writing should only be enhanced, and never encumbered, by how it’s written. I would not call Martin’s writing beautiful, but it never trips you up, and it is occasionally clever. The only thing I might complain about would be the long lists he likes to include of what people ate at a feast, but to be honest, I enjoy reading those and imagining how all the food might taste.

Structurally, the series is a masterpiece. The detail, the richness, the depth of the world-building is astonishing. It’s a fun mental game keeping track of who all the characters are and what they’re doing, and trying to figure out the politics of all the different corners of the world. One time I was quite thankful to be reading on my Kindle, as I was absolutely certain a character was dead, and I was able to do a word search and confirm it. But mostly I’ve been trying to rely on my memory and Martin’s skill at bringing in references to events and people just as you need to recall them…a spaced repetition approach that I’m finding very effective.

I have only barely gotten into the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. The fourth and fifth books differ from the others in that they occur simultaneously; this somewhat simplifies the story threads but also allows for some pretty dramatic revelations by keeping certain information hidden from the reader. For example, if we’d been following Quentyn Martell throughout book four, it wouldn’t have been very dramatic when his mission was revealed to Arianne at the end of the book. Similarly, one of the main characters of the first three books is completely absent from the fourth, save for in the mind of his sister, who is terrified of him. If we’d been watching what he was doing the whole time too, we’d know that he was no danger to her at all, and that would have diminished the tension. So while at first I was dismayed that I would be getting “less story”, I ultimately ended up impressed with how the two halves of the world were split into different books; it realistically shows how slow information would flow between the two and adds to the suspense. We’ll see if my feelings change as I continue through book five.

Beyond the way Martin organizes his characters and settings and plots, I’ve been very impressed by the characters themselves. Each chapter is written from a different perspective. There are some characters whose perspectives you never see. There are some characters who are intensely boring. There are some characters who are loathsome, and whenever their name heads a chapter you want to hurl the book across the room. And there are some characters who are good, and who suffer, and you suffer with them. There is one character who goes from loathsome to good, and another who goes from good to something horrific. Regardless of whose perspective you’re seeing, you’re seeing a person. The character is real. For years I’ve considered myself a student of human behavior, and I love that I can see why these characters are acting the way they’re acting. I can see who they are. I can understand them, even if I hate them.

This understanding leads me to a hope that I’m worried is false. You see, I tend towards optimism, and I like to think that people can be saved. As I’ve read A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve allowed myself to imagine that the story is building to a resolution that will right many wrongs and perhaps even redeem some characters. There has to be a meaning for all of this, I thought, or what’s the point?

When I first started reading the series months ago, it was on a whim. I kept hearing about the HBO series Game of Thrones, and that made me curious. I got a good deal on a bundle of the first four books for Kindle and dove in.

I fell in love with the Stark family, with Winterfell. Like Arya, I thought Sansa was silly, but I didn’t hate her. I admired Catelyn’s beautiful strength and adored Bran. Ned was my favorite character of all. As things got worse and worse for the Starks, all I could think was that somehow they’d all survive and find each other again and everything would be okay. Bran probably wouldn’t walk again–the setting felt too realistic for that–but then again, this was fantasy, so you never knew what might happen.

Then Ned was beheaded.

I was so upset I literally thought I would throw up.

It was a long time before I started the next book, A Clash of Kings. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. All bets were off. Was A Song of Ice and Fire nothing more than The Calamity of House Stark? Would I be forced to watch them all die, one by one? But I was in too deep. I had to know. Would the truth come out? Would justice be served?

Of course, as the series progressed, “justice” became more and more muddled. You might argue that Joffrey had as much right to the throne as Robert. Neither was descended from the line of kings that had ruled for centuries. They were both “usurpers” in their way. And even the dragon kings were conquerors, laying claim to land that wasn’t theirs. Even as I started to wonder whether true justice could even exist in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, civilization began to break down in the story.

Now it’s not just a matter of whether or not there will be justice for Ned Stark, but whether or not Westeros itself can survive. Will a new king (or queen) be able to mend all that’s been broken? How many more will die in the struggle? What will be left when it’s over?

This, more than anything else, is why I keep reading, despite the fact that by now I’m sure there’s no deeper meaning, no happy ending to come. I have to know how it ends.

Categorized as Review Tagged


Up until recently, I had never really watched the Star Trek series Enterprise, which tells the story of the first warp 5 vessel. When it originally aired, I was turned off by all the sexuality in the pilot, and after that I only saw two more episodes–one in season three and one in season four–because a guy I went to high school with had become one of the background ensigns and I wanted to check it out. But “Hatchery” wasn’t a good stand-alone episode, and the other episode I watched was the Orion slave girl episode…so you can see where I might not have been interested in checking out more of the series. Now, however, Enterprise is available on Netflix, so I figured I’d give it another chance, go back and watch it from the beginning. I started while Sean and I were in New York, and we just finished the four-season series last night.

I loved it. Once I got past the pilot, things started to click for me, and I devoured the first two seasons. I grew to love all the characters. Archer is awesome, of course. I really enjoyed Dr. Phlox, with his open mind and congenial personality and solid ethics. He might actually be my favorite character. And then there’s Hoshi Sato, with whom I had a love-hate relationship that I couldn’t help but try and dissect on Twitter. I wrote that I was glad to see a female character who didn’t fit the modern bad-ass chick stereotype–Hoshi was very smart, and her talents were extremely useful, but she had weaknesses too. She got scared and often started to panic and had to be talked down. Her weakness also frustrated me, of course; I wanted her to just get it done. But it was realistic. She was real. She was a person, and I appreciated that a great deal in this media universe of stock female supersoldiers (and characters of any gender who can somehow handle anything).

The first two seasons introduced the universe to the crew of the Enterprise, focusing on exploration and first contact situations. Those two seasons are my favorites; they embody the soul of the opening credits, which I’ve come to consider a love song to the space program. Faith, strength, curiosity, the need to reach the stars…that’s what Enterprise was about to me.

It was a little jarring when, all of a sudden, Enterprise turned into a show about saving the Earth from an alien Death Star.

It took me some time to adjust to season three. The probe attack on Earth and the following few episodes felt rushed; there were moments that were supposed to be evocative that simply fell flat due to the awkward pacing. I knew I should care about Trip’s sister, but I was still reeling from the abrupt change in format. If I’d been watching the episodes as they aired, I would have been very distressed–and if I’d missed even one episode from the beginning of the Xindi storyline, I would have wondered whether I was even watching the same show. The confusion and unhappiness might have caused me to stop watching. From what I hear from friends, that’s not far from what happened to the Enterprise audience.

But I wasn’t watching as it aired; I had the luxury of going straight to the next episode. I’ve found myself far more forgiving of a show’s foibles when I watch it in marathon sessions. So it wasn’t too long before I got used to season three and even started to enjoy it. I think the writers needed time to adjust as well; the story of each episode felt stronger as the season progressed. By the end, I was totally on board and thrilled to be there. It was intense and the final battle was totally epic and I loved every second of it.

And then there was a mini story arc that I wish had never been inserted, because it did nothing but deus ex the entire Temporal Cold War plotline in the silliest, sloppiest way imaginable. The episodes “Storm Front” and “Storm Front, Part II” are by far the worst episodes of Enterprise, and possibly the worst episodes in all of Star Trek. The cliffhanger that introduced these episodes was inserted into the last few seconds of the final, triumphant episode of season three; it felt like the writers were trying to ensure their survival to another season. I’ve come to abhor this tactic, as it throws real storytelling out the window in favor of audience blackmail. TV writers, I implore you: just write good stories. That’s what we want; that’s what will keep us watching. We don’t want to be coerced. We’re getting tired of it. Eventually there’s always one cliffhanger too many. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this farce lost Enterprise the viewers who had adjusted to the Xindi arc.

After the tale of the time-traveling alien Nazis is over (I told you it was terrible), season four goes right into a very strong, multi-episode arc involving Noonian Soong’s ancestor Arik and some leftover Augments (human supersoldiers). These episodes feature the wonderful Brent Spiner, and Sean and I watched them all at once. The story was wonderful and there was a cute nod at the end to cybernetics being perfected “in the next generation or two”. There are episodes like that in the first two seasons, where things that happen in other Star Trek series are foreshadowed, and it’s always fun. (There were probably many examples I didn’t recognize; I plan to continue watching the Trek series to see what I missed.)

Despite how much I enjoyed the Soong arc, though, I was starting to get a crawly premonition. Enterprise was starting to feel like a different show again. Rather than going back to the season one and two mission of exploration and discovery, or into another war like season three, season four seemed to be transitioning rather rapidly into a show about intergalactic politics and peacekeeping.

Fine, I thought. I could handle a few stories like that. It made sense. The series had to deal with everything that had happened, including new alliances and temporal agent Daniels’ promise that one day Archer would help to form the Federation. But I had a sinking feeling that it wasn’t going to be a few episodes here and there–that the series I’d come to love was lost forever. And I was right. While there were a few stand-alone episodes that evoked the first two seasons, for the most part season four was a series of long story arcs tying humanity into other species and Enterprise into other Trek series. It was good, at times great, and always interesting, but it wasn’t what I’d come to love and expect.

There was another problem with season four that really got on my nerves, and that was retconning Hoshi into a poker playing aikido black belt. There was no indication before season four that Hoshi knew martial arts (other than standard Starfleet hand-to-hand), and she didn’t seem the type to organize ethically dubious poker games and break her CO’s arm over them. I could understand Hoshi gaining confidence in herself after going through what she went through in the Xindi storyline (though honestly an emotional breakdown would have been more in-character), but making self-confidence changes and retconning badassery into her past was going a little too far. It’s possible the writers were responding to criticism of Hoshi; one reviewer apparently dubbed her the series’ “screamer”. But they should have stuck to their guns and continued delivering a believable character rather than succumbing to pressure and resorting to the military chick/Asian martial artist stereotype. (They did backpedal a little toward the end of the show by having Archer and Hoshi recall her former timidity; she admits that she’s just gotten better at hiding her fears. This felt consistent with seasons 1-3 Hoshi but not with season 4 Hoshi.)

While the Terra Prime story arc felt like something out of Babylon 5, I wasn’t unhappy with it. It had a tragic but realistic ending. At that point I just wished I could watch more episodes, see Trip and T’Pol work through what had happened together. I guess they actually didn’t do that, though; if the capstone episode is to be believed, their relationship pretty much ended with that tragedy.

I didn’t have a problem with Riker and Troi (and Data’s voice, and a mention of Reg) being brought into the final episode. The Next Generation was always the most accessible Star Trek to me, optimistic and curious, so it felt almost like coming home to have them round out the show. Thinking about it, I can see where it might be something of an affront to the Enterprise cast; they weren’t allowed to finish their show by themselves, in “real time”, but were instead relegated to a holodeck program for a completely different cast. In that light it might have almost been better to just end one episode sooner. But I liked getting that feeling of continuity, of feeling that what Archer and T’Pol and Trip and Malcolm and Travis and Hoshi and Phlox did existed in the “real” timeline. I don’t want to say it gave the show credibility; I think Enterprise was pretty credible (and in many ways incredible) on its own. But it cemented Enterprise‘s place in Star Trek history, and that was nice to see.

I did sort of wish the show’s conclusion had been more open-ended, though. I’m not the type to flip to the back of a book to see how it ends, so it was a little depressing to learn how Trip dies, and when Enterprise is decommissioned and the adventure is over. The six years between the final two episodes allow room for more stories, but now that I know what ultimately happens, there doesn’t seem to be a point in hearing them. They seem futile and pointless. (Obviously, the idea of “fate” turns my soul to lead.)

I think in season four the show lost its balance; where before it foreshadowed the events of other Trek series, in its final season Enterprise almost became the other Trek series. Too much changed at once. It was almost like skipping ahead a few decades in the timeline. They were good stories, but I’m not sure they matched the people at that point in time. At the beginning of the show, humanity had only just gained the ability to travel to distant systems at a decent speed, and by the end–before the seven-year jump ahead in time–they were brokering peace agreements between species they barely knew. It just seemed a little odd that a crew so reliant on the Vulcan database would suddenly have the knowledge and expertise for the kind of missions seen in The Next Generation, and that the original mission of exploring and increasing Earth’s understanding of the universe would be so quickly bumped down the priority list.

But maybe I’m being hard on season four because I liked the earlier stories better.

In the end, I’m left loving seasons one, two, and even three despite its faltering start…and liking season four a lot, though not on the same level. I wish the show could have continued from season two into more stories about exploration, but I’m happy to have gotten what I did. Thanks to everyone involved with Enterprise: you made a great show with wonderful characters. I look forward to continuing to the other Trek series.

Why Flight of the Navigator is awesome

I watched Flight of the Navigator, a 1986 Disney feature film about a boy abducted by aliens and returned home eight years later, about fifty billion times as a kid. I saw it on TV as an adult a few years ago, and a recent Shortpacked! strip inspired me to watch it again. Never does the awesomeness fade.

The movie plays on the fact that it’s about aliens by teasing you several times with what seem to be straightforward alien encounters, but then turn out to be normal things like a silver frisbee being thrown at a dog competition, a blimp passing overhead, and even a silver water tower during the part of the movie when you just know that this time, the aliens are coming! When the aliens actually do come, you don’t even see it; our protagonist passes out, then wakes up, and the abduction is over.

This is brilliant because it builds suspense–when will we see the spaceship?–and also allows the you to experience events alongside the protagonist. David doesn’t remember being abducted, so you live through that discovery with him. And it’s completely realistic. David doesn’t immediately adjust to being dropped eight years into the future. He’s lost, scared, and confused. When he finds his house with a different family in it, he completely shuts down.

(I’ve got to tell you, that child’s acting is amazing. He far outshines some of the adult actors in bit parts, like the NASA security guards.)

This was the first time I’ve watched the movie where I noticed when Max described himself as a “drone ship”. I guess that should be obvious, but it struck a chord for me this time. Max has a personality, even before he scans David’s brain and gets a sense of humor. He’s very proud, and he seems to care about the creatures he’s tasked with “sampling”. But he’s a drone–a servant of the aliens we never see. This is an example of another way the movie is brilliant. It isn’t just a straightforward action adventure. There are different levels you can experience at different times in your life.

Another example of the movie’s nuance is how the antagonists aren’t really bad guys. Sure, they aren’t particularly sensitive to David’s needs and fears. But they’re not trying to hurt him. They want to know where he’d been, or how he’d been sent through time. And they want to know what his connection is to the spaceship they found. As a matter of national (and planetary) security, you could argue they need to know those things. So a little brusqueness is perfectly understandable. I almost feel sorry for them at the end!

David and Max’s relationship is great, too. They don’t get along right away. They take time figuring each other out. But in the end, they’re friends who care deeply about each other. David’s relationship with his little brother Jeff takes a similar path, as meeting Jeff’s older self shows David that his brother isn’t such a bad guy after all. This is a movie about evolving relationships and growing up–much deeper than just a jaunt on a spaceship.

Despite the complex themes, the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are some extremely funny moments, including when David and Max stop at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and a group of tourists think the spaceship is part of a display.

Beyond the amazing storytelling, there’s just the coolness of it all. The spaceship set was awesome, but I was also enthralled by all the computers, wondering how they worked and wishing for my own set of computerized star charts. And Flight of the Navigator was my introduction to the idea that time slows down as you approach the speed of light. Beyond that, there’s all the beautiful aerial video, making you yearn to take to the skies in your own ship from outer space.

If that’s not enough to convince you…the music rules. Seriously, just watch the scene where David is riding inside the R.A.L.F. unit. It’s impossible to keep from dancing in your chair.

Farmers markets: Earth Fare and downtown Augusta

Yesterday I decided to check out two local farmers markets: the Earth Fare Farmers Market in Columbia County, and the downtown Augusta Market. Since Earth Fare’s market runs from 9 a.m. to noon, and it was 11 o’clock, I went there first; after that I headed up Riverwatch to Augusta’s market, which is open until 2 p.m.

The Earth Fare market is just getting started, which may explain why it seemed small. There were only a handful of stalls; it was intimate enough that I didn’t feel comfortable using my camera, so instead I bought some tomatoes ($2.50/lb) and a watermelon ($2) and left. There were other items for sale, but I only remember the local honey.

The Augusta Market, on the other hand, felt like a mini festival. At least 50% of the stalls had nothing to do with produce. There was pottery, woodworking, clothes, jewelry, and plenty of junk food.

Augusta Market

I purchased two potatoes and two green peppers (total: $2) from a vendor who didn’t strike me as a farmer. Later my friend Kelly told me that most vendors at the Augusta Market are regional distributors trying to get rid of excess inventory.

I then wandered over to Garden City Organics‘ booth and got some green beans ($2) and an eggplant ($4; they gave me both items for $5 total).

Garden City Organics

In all, I’d say the markets were a good experience. I think if I’m looking for local veggies at low cost and I happen to be able to go somewhere on Saturday morning, I’ll hit up the Earth Fare market. Otherwise, I’ll just go to Garden City Organics’ shop on Broad Street.

More pictures here.