labingi: (riki)
Trigun, the Manga -- No Punch-Pulling Here

Rem is a Nazi, and this pretty much sums up Trigun. That's right: I am going to make a Holocaust analogy, with many caveats (and spoilers) under the cut...

Caveats, Spoilers, Review, and Meta... )
labingi: (Default)
(light spoilers, not cutting)

In church today, we had the Earth Day service, which consisted of singing about gratitude to God for the glories of the Earth and about our responsibilities steward the Earth. Because I've been obsessing about Trigun, I found myself contemplating how Trigun's Plants function as a metaphor for ecological awareness.

There's something odd about locating gratitude for the Earth in God. There's nothing wrong with it per se, but it has a tendency to crowd out gratitude to the actual living beings that enable our lives every day. The putative ultimate cause of the biosphere gets praised while the myriad proximate causes get framed more like pretty presents someone has given us.

In Trigun, life on a harsh desert planet is enabled by sentient (power) Plants that generate the energy and chemical constituents necessary to wrest life out of this hostile environment. They are not God, nor are they a functioning biosphere unto themselves, but they are beings whose entire lives are devoted to ensuring human beings survive, and they are almost totally ignored--if not willfully exploited--by the humans who depend on them.

In this respect, they are a powerful metaphor for our dominant human attitude toward natural processes in general. We treat them--as the humans in Trigun do their Plants--like lab experiments we can manipulate at will and use with impunity. In the 21st century, most of us know better: we've certainly had no dearth of natural disasters to remind us of our smallness. But still we live as if we didn't see the lives inside the light bulbs.

labingi: (Default)
Gungrave as an Asexual-Positive Text

The anime, Gungrave, offers a refreshingly balanced view of sex. While acknowledging sex as important, it is a rare example of a text that does not exaggerate the importance of sex within a healthy society. (Mind you, Gungrave in no way presents a healthy society, but its narrative stance does show healthy attitudes toward sex.) In addition to modeling balanced attitudes toward sex as an aspect of human society, the anime provides a strong asexual role model in the character of Brandon.

Spoilers Follow )
labingi: (Default)
I'm weighing in on the Orson Scott Card kerfuffle, the one where he rewrites Hamlet to be about the evils of homosexual parents and this brings further to light his homophobia, as on display in this 2004 speech. I wasn't going to comment because if ever there was preaching to the choir, it's here in this corner of DW/LJ. But then, [personal profile] umadoshi linked to this other kerfuffle about YA novels being rejected for writing gay characters, and I realized that outside my little fantasy corner of the world the prejudice remains so glaring that it behooves as many voices as possible to speak against it.

So, to Card's 2004 speech: his basic contention is that anything other than a married man and woman raising children in the pre-1960s model is destructive to civilization because a married man and woman are needed to provide children with a stable family and role models of both genders without which children are very likely (though not, he acknowledges, guaranteed) to grow up troubled and low-functioning. There is a germ of a point here. As someone facing low-income single, adoptive motherhood with a 90% female social circle, I know intimately that my life will be less stable than if I had a full-time, live-in partner. I will have to search for male role models, who are important to children's understanding their society (and to just not feeling deprived relative to their peers).

Card's fallacy, however, is to mistake correlation for causation. Read more... )
labingi: (ivan)
Today said to me, "Some of the biggest Republican donors are AT&T, Verizon, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan Chase. Can you tell these companies, 'You could lose my business if you keep funding Republicans as they crash our economy'?"

Well,, no. At least not in any way any of these companies would believe. As far as I know, I don't do business with Verizon and Chase, so no business to lose there. As for AT&T, well, it's about to buy out T-Mobile, which is my cell phone provider, and my only other option for cell phone service, realistically, would be Verizon, which I categorically refuse to do business with until they are they only monopoly left given the way they used contractual small print to charge me more than twice as much as I have ever paid from any other equivalent service for crappy "high speed" internet that froze routinely several times a week, despite the fact that my use of the service was pretty minimal: email and casual surfing really, no major downloads or uploads.

You see, in the US, it's virtually impossible to tell both AT&T and Verizon you won't work with them unless you're willing not to have a cell phone, and your not having a cell phone will hurt you significantly more than it will hurt them. (I guess Sprint might be some sort of option maybe?)

As for Bank of America*, I've spent years trying not to do business with them, only to have my "socially responsible" credit card company, Working Assets, bought out by them. I suppose I could do a massive search for other credit card companies and try to ascertain which of the two or three mega-conglomerate banks own their various front organizations, but I even if I found one, I have no say in whether B of A or Chase buys them out the day after I sign up.

So, no,, I can't really tell them they'll lose my business. Furthermore, for all the folks who do, I think they'll understand well enough that those folks, of necessity, are lying.

*In the interest of fairness, though, I will say that when my credit card showed a suspicious charge recently, B of A was absolutely professional, efficient, and user friendly in handling the problem. I have to give them full marks there.
labingi: (Default)
I seldom read non-fiction but, on my parents' recommendation, have been ferociously skimming two books by physician, Gabor Maté, that I want to rec to the world: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and When the Body Says No.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts discusses addiction (very broadly defined) as an ineffectual coping strategy for finding external solace for an inner need. The inner emptiness is generally traceable to childhood stress absorbed from parents' stress, distance, etc. On one level, this is not news: it should come as no surprise that drug abuse is correlated with having been abused as a child, for example.

The phenomenal thing about this book, though, is how it applies, on some level, to nearly all of us. Maté uses himself as an example of an addict. In his case, the addiction is to music and a need for professional success. Sounds fairly harmless, but by his own admission, it's not. Rather, like any addiction, it has caused long-term stress for himself, his family, his colleagues, etc. Workaholism, he notes, though lauded in our society, is an addiction. By Maté's definition, I certainly qualify as an addict. Most of us would. We are nearly all victims of some sort of childhood lack, exacerbated by a society that puts increasing socioeconomic strains on parents while disintegrating the structure of extended family and stable community that has traditionally helped with parenting. We nearly all respond, on some level, by grasping after something we fix on as the comfort that will fill the void.

This book is invaluable on two levels: 1) sociological: it's a searing indictment of the War on Drugs and the absolutely counterproductive and psychologically idiotic way American society, in particular, addresses drug addicts by treating them as willful criminals rather than wounded individuals in need of psychological support to help reprogram their brain chemistry. 2) Personal: I suspect that most anyone could learn something about themselves or family or friends or some positive coping strategy through this thoughtful analysis of the construction of our emotional needs and identities.

When the Body Says No, an earlier book, explores the relationship between stress and illness. Maté brings to bear an impressive amount of research showing correlations between serious illnesses (cancer, ALS, asthma, MS, chronic fatigue, etc., especially illnesses with an autoimmune connection) and overwork, specifically the kind of psychological overwork of people who take on too much responsibility for supporting/comforting/pacifying others. Correlation is not causation, and the "math" of some of these observations may be imprecise. But the thesis rings true to me.

Of course, people who spend a lifetime subordinating their own needs to others' will feel unwell. It begins with emotional hurt and ends with physical illness (or death). The take-home message is that moderation is good: in work, in responsibility, in selflessness. At one point, Maté invokes a psychologist who counsels that given a choice between guilt (for not helping out) or resentment (for being put upon), choose guilt every time. I'm not sure I agree with that, but it's worth consideration. We cannot care for others if we don't care for ourselves. And, yes, we do need space and relaxation. It's not a luxury; it's a physiological need.
labingi: (Default)
"Boston Partnership: A Defense of Primary Friendship"

"The only thing lacking in Izzy's life was a romantic relationship, but even that wasn't enough to spoil the sense of peace that had settled over her. So many of her friends were single that it didn't seem odd for her to be that way as well. They filled up the holes in each other's lives and managed to pretend, most of the time, that they didn't need anything else."

--Charles de Lint, Memory and Dream. New York: Tot, 1994. p. 334.


Our dominant cultural narrative pretty much thinks friendship is unimportant. The de Lint passage I've quoted, in fact, comes from a novel that is notable in emphasizing friendship over romance. Even so, it gives us lines like this, just like 90% of the songs on the favorite radio station of the teenage girl I mentor. Just like one of this season's Doctor Who episodes, in which the Doctor protests, in the age-old words, that he and River are "just friends."

So convinced is our society that one's greatest loves (aside from one's children) must be based on sexual attraction that the movie, Troy, all but erased the second most important character in the Iliad because if Patroclus looked like the love of Achilles's life, it must mean they were sexually in love (and would, thus, frighten the audience with their "gayness"). So convinced are we of this that even the spectacularly toned down scenes of affection between Frodo and Sam in the Mordor segment of the Return of the King movie earned jibes of "faggots" from certain moviegoers in a Serbian theater, according to a friend of mine. My point is not that these relationships necessarily preclude sex, but rather that our society immediately assumes that if two people are deeply loving, they must love sexually (either overtly or unconsciously) because "true love" is "sexual love" by definition.Read more... )
labingi: (ivan)
When I was three, I wondered at how my mind came to be stuck in my body. Now that I'm nearly 36, I still wonder at it, though differently. Then, I was startled by the revelation of self-awareness. Now, I am startled by the awareness that my existence is more than a third over.

This awareness resonates for me differently depending on my mood. Sometimes, it's frightening because I want to continue to exist. It's particularly frightening when I'm aware of the evidence of the damage: in gray hairs, wrinkles, creaky joints, my bad foot, my bad shoulders.

On the other hand, as time goes by, I better understand why the people who most impress us with their selfless love and joy in the world are often the very old or terminally ill (if they are not actively in great physical distress). Often, I've heard it said how remarkable it is that this or that child dying of leukemia is such a mature and good-willed, happy person. It's not really so remarkable.

The end of life requires one to stop planning the future and live quintessentially in the moment. But more than that, it brings an awareness of your connectedness to the billions of years that have gone before you and the billions of years that will pass after your death. It is the radical selflessness of being taken outside of yourself into the world in which you exist as a speck and finally must prepare to surrender yourself to your minute role in its immense wonder.
labingi: (ivan)
For the Easter service in church today, they sang the "Hallelujah Chorus"--very well. I was surprised, given that completely unrehearsed people from the congregation were invited to come sing with the choir. It sounded almost professional.

It also resonated with the Easter theme for the continuing, timeless presence of Christ. I don't mean the words. The words are not brilliant; they basically boil down to, well, "hallelujah!" But that's the thing: the song is pure adulation; it is musically perhaps the best encapsulation I ever encountered of unbridled rejoicing.

It helped me understand Easter better, a holiday that has always bemused me. The death of Christ I understand, in the sense that its power has always spoken to me. The resurrection of Christ has always made me scratch my head; if anything, it's seemed to knock the force out of the sacrifice story. But today, I felt caught up in the rejoicing.

The song itself spoke to me of the persistence of joy in the world. It was written c. 1750 and has well passed its 250th birthday. Handel is long dead, but his expression of rejoicing remains. If he had done nothing else in his career, he would be well vindicated by this song. Generation after generation rejoices to it: it keeps uplifting hearts, as the idea of the resurrected Jesus does. It reminds us that in a world that seems bound to the endless repetitions of sorrow, there is an equally endless return to joy.

The moment in my life when I felt most inspired to sing this song (well, in my head) was when I heard that Obama had won the presidential election--not that I wanted him to be king of kings forever but because I felt a need to express rejoicing. For the first time in over 30 years of life, I felt like integrity had won over corruption.

I was proved wrong within about 6 months, and while I still personally like Obama, his near incapability to enact any meaningful reform has shaken my faith in the capacity of the American government to be reformed far more than Bush's presidency ever did. In the Bush years, we could blame Bush. But Obama is smart and fundamentally moral, and there's nothing to blame but the system. The smart and moral apparently can't win.

And yet, my memory of that evening miraculously remains unsullied. I don't feel betrayed that my brain sang several choruses of "Hallelujah," because the feeling itself was as precious as it was unprecedented, and the feeling had value, even if it presaged little practical good.

(P.S. Sorry, Ivan icon. I mock you, but I love you.)
labingi: (Default)
When I get home after several hours away, my lonely little kitty likes to assail me and sit on any available part of my anatomy, purring loudly. This makes it tricky to sit down at my computer and immediately start checking email, doing DW/LJ, updating my online class, etc.: it's hard to type with Kitty strategically placed between me and Keyboard.

Instead, I have no choice but to sit down and watch a video or read or something not so incompatible with the requisite petting. Thus, Kitty reminds me to slow the heck down and take breaks between bursts of "being productive." She knows what really matters.


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