Thursday, September 27, 2007

welcome back, Gary!

Gary Taubes, the journalist who wrote, "What if it's all Been a Big Fat Lie?" for the New York Times back in 2002, has a new book out, Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I intend to buy and read as soon as possible. "Big Fat Lie" was the article that touched off the most recent upswing of low-carb dieting, with the attendant articles, studies, convenience food products, and controversy. It was also the article that made me realize why the nutritional information around me was so different from the Health and Nutrition teachings I remembered from grade school, not to mention my own observations.

Taubes' book is about the research he did for the Times article and the research he's done since; more than that it's about the politics and infighting of medical research, and how "low-fat=health" became a meme in America.

Taubes talks about those politics, and the backlash to his article, in a PBS interview:
But [now] everyone agrees that insulin is the hormone that controls the deposition of sugar and carbohydrates and fat in your body. They agree that if insulin levels are high, you'll preferentially store calories as fat; and that as long as insulin levels stay high, you won't be able to get to that fat to use it for fuel. They agree that carbohydrates will raise insulin levels more than -- fat doesn't have an effect on insulin, although if you force-feed enough calories, you can [raise] it. All of that is given.

What they don't agree is that somehow the carbohydrates, the actual macronutrient content of the diet, will do this. [Scientists] will say a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. They'll admit that a calorie of carbohydrates has an entirely different effect on your hormonal system than a calorie of fats. They'll admit that your hormones can control your weight; that insulin and estrogen have effects on weight, hunger, and body weight regulation. But they will never go from the step where they say: Hey, maybe the amount of carbohydrates and the kind of carbohydrates in the diet will have an effect -- through their effect on insulin, through insulin's effect on the deposition of calories, through that effect on hunger -- [on] being a functional diet.

I've been backsliding lately, I admit it. I live in a hippified college town, and I read foodie literature about where food (esp. meat) comes from, and much of the information out there comes from vegetarian or animal-rights sources, who pull no punches in their crusade to make carnivores feel like greedy amoral elitist murderers of doe-eyed animals and third-world children.

While I'm in no way ready to give up eating meat, I do worry about the safety of what I eat, its availability in the face of shrinking farmland, and its environmental sustainability. I worry whether the benefits of being a carnivore (good height, good muscle and nerve development, good teeth) are enough to outweigh the threats of chemical and hormone poisoning. And the cost gets worse all the time, with feed corn being used for biofuels and other Unholy purposes.

But I don't for a minute believe that to stop eating meat is the ethically or environmentally appropriate solution. Raising a pig or a goat or a flock of chickens uses a helluva lot less land and water than growing an acre of soybeans, not to mention the energy needed to process the crop vs. the carcass. Ergo, it's the farming methods, not the product, that needs modification, if you want to feed the multitudes while preserving the soil (goats, pigs and chickens make more soil, too, whereas soybeans merely deplete it). Furthermore, one can eat far less meat (versus vegetable matter) per poundage of human and still be adequately nourished. I will never believe that a child raised vegetarian is getting enough protein for healthy brain and skeletal-muscular development. Period. They may live to grow up, but they will be rickety, weak, and vague. We have canines. We are omnivores. Deal with it.

Occasionally I think I should quit my job and become a radical nutritionist and proactive farming activist, since these topics stir me so strongly. Perhaps one day I will. But for now I'll go order that book, so I have more ammunition at my disposal next time someone sneers at my cheeseburger.

Meanwhile, a Coda: Yesterday I found a headline in Time about low-carb diets and cancer research. Read it. Be enlightened. And lay off the damn soda.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

3:10 to Stupid

Okay, I have to say something about 3:10 to Yuma. I read all these glowing reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and there are precious few new Westerns coming out, so we went to see it for the SP's birthday.

The acting is great. Really. Christian Bale is scrawny and beaten, Russel Crowe is self-possessed, charming and dangerous, and the supporting cast all fits together seamlessly.

But the things they do and the things they say are eight kinds of stupid. As the SP put it, "A whole bucket of stupid. Indiscriminately sloshed and ultimately upended."

Why exactly does Crowe's outlaw linger behind to get caught by the posse? Why does the sherrif send off two of his men as a decoy knowing they will be slaughtered by Crowe's gang--and then linger at the farmhouse through the night? Why do they let Crowe eat dinner with them at the table? Why do they not search him to make sure he is unarmed? Why isn't he in leg shackles? Or tied to the horse, or god forbid, shoved in a sack and tied across the horse? Why is Bale's character, who is supposed to be a sharpshooter, dinking around with a sawed-off shotgun? Where does he get all these guns he keeps pulling off his person in moments of crisis? Why is Peter Fonda's character, who's supposed to be an experienced tough guy, a Pinkerton gun-for-hire, stupid enough to ride within arm's reach of Crowe and get pulled off his saddle? Much less tell Crowe where they're taking him, in case he chances to get word to his gang?

All of this boils down to what I call "sacrificing character for the sake of plot." In other words, your characters are doing things that are unjustified (or inadequately justified) by their earlier behavior, just because the writer needs to keep the plot moving forward.

And we haven't even gotten to the climax yet. That's where things really start breaking down. Crowe and Bale are supposed to have developed a rapport by this time, but I couldn't see it. And I sure couldn't see why Crowe would even budge from his cozy hotel room to be walked down to the station amidst a hail of gunfire. And don't get me started about the scene with the bandits all clustered together beneath the window where the good guys were hiding out, calling for their blood, but none of the good guys thought to take the opportunity and thin the opposition. When Bale's character was supposed to be a freakin' sharpshooter. Seriously, it sucks being a good guy. You can't ever do the sensible thing.

Then, in the middle of the climactic running around, our hero and anti-hero pause to have a little heart-to-heart. And there's a line in there that's supposed to justify everything, but it doesn't. It doesn't because it's basically a non-sequitor to everything that's come before. It's a smirk, a quip. "I've escaped from Yuma prison twice already."

All of which led me to complain that Hollywood writers are so sheltered from real problems, they have no concept of how real people behave when faced with disaster and strife. I guess that's what it was. This screenplay was based off an Elmore Leonard story, and I KNOW Elmore understood what made people tick, and understood that character and plot are interdependent.

As I said above, the acting is great. And I'm inclined to think that's why the characters come off as great. But something got lost in the assembly; maybe on the cutting-room floor, because there were at least two lines in the trailer, good weighty soundbites, that didn't make it into the movie. The result is a lot of characters you really want to love, who stay with you and haunt you like a child or friend gone wrong, a soul you know you can't save from their own stupidity.

the perils of sewing for supervillians

Well, I sold another Harley costume on ebay this week. I was smarter about it this time. I set a reserve and put a Buy It Now price slightly higher than the reserve. And somebody did the Buy It Now. Kind of strange how perceived worth can work in one's favor.

Of course people are still cheapskates. I had a couple of bidders ask whether--if the Reserve was not met--I would offer Second Chance deals to non-winning bidders. I assume that means they were hoping to underbid my reserve and still get a deal for less money. I guess some sellers do this, but since I'm selling something that's not made yet, essentially bartering away my time, I have no incentive to do this. I know everybody wants to get a good deal, especially on something as frivolous as a costume, but if you really want something that bad, cough up the dough.

Similarly, Ebay has a policy against shilling--getting an accomplice to drive up the bid for you. I guess this makes sense, but the bottom line is, either you can afford it at that price or not. And if you can't, maybe you weren't meant to have it. So shilling may be somewhat unethical, but no more than haggling for handmade work when the price is right there in front of you. And if some buyers are deliberately bidding lowball in hopes you'll give it up, and your friend is shilling the bids, but somebody keeps topping the shill, who's really in the wrong? Especially when the Buy It Now option is already there, and one committed fan goes right ahead and scoops it up? Who's the clever one there?

There are indeed those who are willing to pay. I've had at least three emails asking for custom costumes, but I'll probably only have time to do two more before Halloween. One woman wanted hers done in black and silver, so she can wear it to Oakland Raiders games. That sounds like fun to me. I hope she emails me back.

Aside from that, I'd also like to do a Harley Quinn gothic Lolita dress; kind of a little-girl party dress with crinolines underneath and puffy sleeves, only made in red and black. Look cute with fishnets and wrist gloves. I wonder how that would sell. Doubt I'll have time to try it this year.

Anyway, I've sold two costumes and a pattern in the last two weeks, and made about $400. I figure it takes me about 12-15 hours to complete a costume, so I'm still not making a living wage, but in terms of work-hours, my sewing is still more profitable than my writing. And a helluva lot easier to find buyers for.