Friday, March 16, 2012

Occupy Your Body: What You Can Do To Stop The War Against Women

In case you’ve spent the last few weeks with your fingers in your ears and your eyes closed, humming loudly, here’s what’s been going on in the news:

--Texas lost $40 million of federal Medicaid money, which funded 90% of the state’s Medicaid Women’s Health Program, because Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from its program. The institution was excluded because, in addition to birth control, cancer screenings and mammograms, Planned Parenthood also provides abortions. This broke federal Medicaid rules, which state that qualified family planning providers cannot be discriminated against. Now, the 130,000 low-income women who benefited from the WHP have nowhere to turn for their medical and contraception needs.

--Arizona is trying to pass a bill which would allow employers—not just religious organizations, but pretty much any employer—to a) deny coverage for female employee’s contraceptives, and b) fire a female employee if they find out she’s using contraceptives.

--And this is on top of Republican presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum making snide, sexist and downright derogatory comments about contraceptive coverage for women.

Let me start off by saying this is not a pro-life/pro-choice rant. This—especially what’s going on in Arizona—trancends that debate. Quite simply, it is an attack on women and their right to gender-specific health care.
I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on the birth control issue by saying, “But some women need birth control for medical reasons (ovarian cysts, heavy/irregular menstruation, etc).” 

You know what? Shit on that. Shit all over that. We shouldn’t have to qualify our need or desire for birth control by necessity of a medical condition. Every woman deserves birth control simply because we have the right to choose whether we want to conceive a child. Period. This issue isn’t going to be resolved by ranting or tongue-clicking, though. We need to take action. Here’s what I suggest we do:

First, write to the state legislators who are authoring and supporting these bills. If you live in an area directly affected by this legislation, write to your representative and tell them in no uncertain terms that, if they support these laws, you will not vote to re-elect them. If you don’t live in these areas, write to Texas’s Lieutenant Governor and the President of the Arizona State Senate, and tell them that you’ll withdraw all revenue from their state (by not ordering from businesses based in their state, or vacationing there, etc) until the bills are scrapped and/or the laws repealed. Even if you don’t live in a state affected by these laws, it’s important to express your adamant displeasure with their actions. It doesn’t matter where you live; we’re all Americans, we’re all women, and we’re all in this together.

Second, write to your representatives on the national level, and urge them to draft and support legislation and close the loopholes currently allowing laws which restrict women’s access to birth control and healthcare to be passed on the state and local level. If you don't know who your lawmakers are, is a great resource which will even send your message for you.

I know it can be intimidating to write letters like this, so I’ve included the letters I’ve written below. Feel free to use these as a guideline, or just copy and paste. Send it to your friends, post it on Facebook, do whatever you want to get the message out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman past childbearing age, or even a man. Please, just write.

Dear Federal Legislator:

Recently, states like Arizona and Texas have either drafted bills or passed laws which restrict women’s access to birth control and appropriate healthcare, like mammograms and other cancer screenings, because either the institutions which provide these services also perform abortions, or because the state is choosing the rights of employers over those of employees.
I’m writing to ask that you sponsor—or, at least, support—legislation which guarantees women affordable access to their healthcare rights on a federal level, so that states like Arizona and Texas cannot circumvent or deny those rights to their residents.

Dear State Legislator:  (non-resident)

I recently learned that your state has either passed or is attempting to pass legislation which would restrict women’s access to gender-specific healthcare such as birth control, cancer screenings, and mammograms. I am not a resident of your state, but please know if your government continues to back such laws, I will be as careful as possible to make sure that none of my money ends up supporting businesses in your state. Women have the right to affordable healthcare, including birth control, and your rights as a lawmaker don’t include restricting those specific rights.

Dear State Legislator: (resident)

I recently learned that you have either passed or are attempting to pass legislation which would restrict my access to gender-specific healthcare such as birth control, cancer screenings, and/or mammograms. As a resident of your state, please know that your continued support of such laws will guarantee my lack of support at the polls next election. Women have the right to affordable healthcare, including birth control, and your rights as a lawmaker don’t include restricting those specific rights.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Why Amazon Is Not The Enemy

I’m getting a little tired of people ganging up on Amazon. It’s the Internet’s version of the Antichrist, as far as some critics are concerned. The publishing community is quaking under its shadow, and according to most, it’s the reason Borders and numerous other small bookstores have folded.
            I don’t agree. Aside from groceries, I do a good 90-95% of my shopping on Amazon. Because Amazon offers me the widest selection with the lowest prices, the best customer service, and the fastest shipping.
            Do other online stores offer me a $75/year membership  to have all my merchandise shipped to my house in two days for free? No. Do they offer the most competitive prices on the Internet? No. Have they, on the very few occasions when I’ve had an issue, offered me customer service which solved my problem in a matter of minutes? No. And that’s not Amazon’s fault. It’s the fault of its failing competitors.
            How did Amazon manage to become the number one online retailer in the eighteen years since its founding? By giving customers something different, something they wanted, and doing it better than anyone else. Just like Google, and Apple, and Walmart. Remember all those little browser systems, like AltaVista? Remember IBM? Betamax? Blockbuster? All losers in the same types of wars.
            We live in a capitalist country, and capitalism is war. Businesses must fight to earn the consumer’s money. The only way they can win is by, a) offering the same product in a better way than its competitors (lower price, higher-quality product, faster shipping, etc), or b) offering something completely new and desirable, and making sure that, over time, it remains the most desirable of its type on the market. The best companies, like Apple and Amazon, do both.
            Consumers are fickle beasts. And no matter how much brand loyalty they supposedly have, if they’re given the right incentives, they will defect. I’ll give you two examples. The first is Redbox. Now, Redbox knew they couldn’t compete with Netflix on open ground. Instead, they exploited Netflix’s weakness—the unavailability of brand new movies on Netflix’s streaming service. Rather than wait two days or more for Netflix to ship a new movie they were in the mood for now, customers could take a short drive to a conveniently located Redbox kiosk and get that movie right now. Two years ago, no one had heard of Redbox; now there’s one at virtually every gas station in my area.
            The second example is a personal one. Last year, when Maureen Johnson’s book The Name of the Star was announced, I preordered it months in advance for my Kindle. Then Ms. Johnson tweeted that anyone who ordered from Books of Wonder in NYC would receive a signed copy and a fridge poetry magnet set she’d designed herself. Even though it was ten or fifteen dollars more expensive, even though I had to delay gratification a week while the book shipped, I canceled my Kindle preorder and placed my order through BoW. Because BoW and the author collaborated to offer something Amazon couldn’t. That’s how you stay in business.
            Put simply, in my opinion, the burden of staying in business is on the business, not on the consumer or on other, larger businesses. If the market changes, business must change with it; adapt or die. Once upon a time, Amazon was the little guy; so were all the big kahunas out there. But they earned their place and fought their way to the top by setting themselves above and apart from the competition. And it’s up to their current competition to do the same. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why you should, sometimes, talk to strangers

            This morning…oh, this morning. I should have known when I started off the day by pouring my Cheerios into my tea mug instead of my cereal bowl.
         Around 7:15, I’m on my way to work and I get a text on my phone:

Unfamiliar number: Hey baby
           Clearly, this text was not meant for me. Still, I respond:

Me: Though I appreciate the endearment, I think you have the wrong number.
            Five minutes later:

Unfamiliar Number: You sound really nice. I’m Brenda. (I’ve changed the name, just in case this person would happen to come across this and get embarrassed…though somehow I get the impression that “Brenda” is embarrassed by very little.)
Brenda: I like the way you talk.
            I'm feeling a certain sense of admiration for Brenda. She seems like a real “lemons to lemonade” kind of girl. A wrong number isn’t going to stop her from trying to make a deep human connection.

Me: Well, Brenda, I’m female and married. Have a great Friday!
Brenda: You to Hun. You are so cool! Have a great wonderfull day! (note: I’ve kept the misspellings in, as I feel it pays tribute to the rustic charm of her dialect.)
            Thirty minutes later, I’m in the midst of texting my friend Valayre and telling her all about my conversation with Brenda when I get another text:

Brenda: Are you bi?

Val: OMG. What are you going to tell her?
Me: What do you think? I’m scheduling my first clandestine lesbian interlude as we speak!
Me again: J/K of course, I told her no, sorry.
            But Brenda is no woman scorned:

Brenda: You are awsome!
            As much as I’ve laughed—and continued to laugh all day—I think we could all learn something from Brenda. I mean, talk about rolling with your punches! Wrong number? Hey, love the one you’re (texting) with. Wrong sex? It’s cool. Let’s compromise! Still rejected? That’s okay. Because you are AWSOME.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Review of Tomorrow, When The War Begins, by John Marsden

Tomorrow, When the War Began (Tomorrow, #1)Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Actual rating, 4.5 stars)

When Ellie and her friends go camping, they have no idea they're leaving their old lives behind forever. Despite a less-than-tragic food shortage and a secret crush or two, everything goes as planned. But a week later, they return home to find their houses empty and their pets starving. Something has gone wrong--horribly wrong. Before long, they realize the country has been invaded, and the entire town has been captured--including their families and all their friends. Ellie and the other survivors face an impossible decision: They can flee for the mountains or surrender. Or they can fight.

On Friday afternoon, I read an article on about a movie which was "Australia's answer to the Hunger Games." That sure as hell piqued my interest.

Even though the article wasn't terribly complementary, I was intrigued by the synopsis, and, since it was based on a book series, potentially opening up new reading territory for me...yeah.

So, I watched the movie (which, for interested parties, is only available on VOD at this point)with my husband. And we were both. Blown. Away.

(I should also mention that I'm highly suspicious of Australian film; the few Australian movies I've seen all seem to have been based on the bad acid trip someone experienced after reading about a significant event in Australian history.)

I immediately downloaded the book afterward and, well--let's just say that this was one movie adaptation which lost nothing in translation.

What I Liked: This book has earned a lot of well-deserved comparisons to The Hunger Games--but, if anything, it's grittier and more realistic. The whole book is like a Hunger Games situation which could actually happen. And that's what makes it so scary.

It was slow at times, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing--it contributed to the real-life feel of the book. The world, even a post-invasion world, isn't all explosions and gunfights. A lot of the time, it's sitting somewhere trying to catch your breath and process it all. And the pacing sort of added to the tension--when things were quiet, you, along with the characters, were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Characters in novels are always talking about how much they're changed by events, or, rather, the author's always trying to point out to you how much they've been changed. No big red blinking arrows necessary here. The change is as apparent in Ellie's voice as it is in the choices they make.

What I Didn't: Though, as far as I can see books #2 and #4 are available on Kindle, book #3 isn't. And it's out of print, so it's semi-impossible to get ahold of without plunking down brand-new-Stephen-King-hardcover kind of money. However, I liked the first book enough that I'm actually bidding on a set of the next two on eBay, since that's the only place I can find them at a reasonable price.

The other thing--and this is why I'm recommending you read the book first--is that, in my opinion, the movie was actually a little better than the book. That meant that, at a few points, I had moments of mild disappointment when things weren't as spectacularly dramatic as they were in the movie. But I got over those moments pretty quickly.

Overall: A satisfying dose of literary methadone for those suffering from Hunger Games/Divergent-type withdrawal.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

My Review of Born Wicked, by Jessica Spotswood

Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles, #1)Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Blessed with a gift..."cursed" with a secret."
Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship - or an early grave.
Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother's diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.
If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood - not even from each other.

What I Liked: Born Wicked has an incredible atmospheric presence that sucks you right in and holds you under its spell. Some of the other reviewers complain that it's a little slow in the beginning, and it's true, but it was almost like being in a beautiful museum--there might not be much going on to start off, but the architecture is so striking you barely notice the time pass.

Going back to the slow start--YA as a genre has trained us to have a short attention span, always beginning by dropping us in the middle of a war or a plague, but Spotswood is just taking her time to set up the layers which will really, REALLY matter later on. Trust me, it's worth taking your time to read.

On the subject of those layers, the conflict is deliciously multi-faceted. Cate isn't just stuck between a rock and a hard place--she's stuck between a rock, a hard place, the frying pan, the fire...she can make no choice without tremendous sacrifice. I didn't even realize how completely involved I was until she finally did make her choice, and I jumped up out of my chair and walked away, clutching my head.

What I Didn't: The Sisterhood could have used a little fleshing out. I understood the obvious influence and power of the Brotherhood, but I could have used a few more examples of the malevolency of the Sisterhood, so their threats didn't fall so flat in my mind.

Overall: A solid, beautiful book. I'll be continuing with this series for sure.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Review of AMC's The Walking Dead, Season I

When TWD first started, I was so ready to hop on that train. I had the premiere date stored in my phone’s calendar for months. I checked my DVR about sixteen times to make sure the recording would go off without a hitch (I wasn’t home at the time of the premiere). I was ready. Ready for zombies.

The following Saturday, I sat down in front of the TV with some Cheez-its, pressed Play…and was so disappointed I promptly deleted the series recording from my DVR.

But I watched as the buzz grew on Twitter and Facebook. My husband told me his friends at work couldn’t stop talking about it. My cousin expressed sheer horror that I’d thought TWD was boring.

I decided to see if I’d been wrong about the show. A few weekends ago, my husband and I watched all six episodes of Season I on Netflix. And I found out…that I wasn’t entirely wrong. Granted, the show did get better. But the issues which originally made me turn it off never completely went away.

First: It’s boring. Which you would think is difficult to achieve, what with all the zombies, and the screaming. The problem I found is that this isn’t just a zombie apocalypse—it’s the same damn one I’ve been watching in movies and reading about for years, only on television. In places, they don’t even pretend like they’re not completely ripping off other film and written works. The stalwart man of authority, on a quest to reunite with his son, the father unable to find the heart to kill his zombified wife, the violent, bigoted redneck with a lust for power, the last scientist who has given up all hope and tries to take the hope of others…not only have I seen all these storylines before, but in terms of the apocalypse, zombie or otherwise, they have been beaten to death. Unfortunately, though, they clearly weren’t shot in the head. And yes, I know…supposedly, there are no new stories. The fix for that, though, is to tell the old stories in new ways. And there’s very little new in the plotlines of TWD.

Also contributing to the boring is the pacing. My husband says they’re taking the time to set up, since they have more time as a TV show as opposed to film, but I say that time can be better used. Anyone who’s a writer or even an avid reader knows that you have to hook ‘em early. Hook ‘em, give them the Cliff’s Notes, and then sprinkle explanation evenly throughout.

Second: The people, they are stupid. And if I want to watch stupid people for an hour, I can go outside and sit on my front steps. They make ridiculous choices I doubt even my dumb-ass neighbors would make. One of the biggest problems I have with that show is the so-called gun shortage.

Oookay. Number one: you live in Georgia. Not Rhode Island. This is a state where most pickups come standard with a gun rack. Number two: you have passed enough dead soldiers to outfit yourself and your stupid friends sixteen times over. Number three: Where do guns come from? From the gun store! Get a brick, break into one, fill your purses, pockets and backpacks. If I, as a female living in Pennsylvania, know the whereabouts of four gun stores within a thirty mile radius of my house, well, guess what? I bet you have a few, too. Check the yellow pages. Number four: If, for some inexplicable reason, you are unable to find a gun store…or a Walmart…break into a house with a pickup truck in the driveway and take their likely vast collection of firearms. You live in Georgia, remember? Leave a note, if it makes you feel better. 

Also, random pet peeve…they call them Walkers, and Geeks. People, you are clearly dealing with zombies. Call a spade an effing spade, will you?

So, yeah, TWD got better, but not enough to make me say, “Wow…this is a good show.” It has potential, though, and for that reason I’m going to keep an eye on it and catch up on Season II this Sunday. “Potential” in this context, though, simply means there are a lot of things that could and should be happening which aren’t. I expect them to start.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Review of Dead To You, by Lisa McMann

Dead to YouDead to You by Lisa McMann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It's a miracle... at first. Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn't going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he'd be able to put the pieces back together. But there's something that's keeping his memory blocked. Something unspeakable...

What I Liked: From page one, I was engrossed. Any time I had to step away from the book—to drive, to shower, etc—I was thinking about it. The story was electrified with suppressed chaos. And I had no idea where it was going. Well, no, that’s a lie. But I ignored the arrows, because the author wouldn’t do that, would she? No way.

What I Didn’t: Except she did. She totally went there. Which, by itself, isn’t a bad thing. There are few things I love more than staring open-mouthed at a book, gasping and clutching my chest in complete shock. It’s pretty hard to surprise me. But you can’t drop a bombshell like that and then just walk away. Which is exactly what McMann did. The bomb hasn’t even finished exploding, and the book ends. And I’m sorry, but if I’ve walked along with you all this way in the story, you can’t end the book in the middle of the climax and leave me to wonder about what happens to the people you’ve made me care about.

Overall: The book was great. Except for the last five pages, or, rather, the fact that the last five pages were the last five pages. I originally had this book as a four-star, but lowered it to a three after a night of thinking about how the abrupt ending spoiled the entire book. Which is sad, because the first 19/20ths of it was stellar. I wouldn’t recommend that people not read Dead To You…I’m just saying Buyer Beware.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live.

Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition - the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

This is my first Stiefvater book. I don't know why I didn't read her werewolf series; maybe because the market was a bit saturated with werewolf/vampire stuff at the time. After The Scorpio Races, though, I'll definitely be checking them out.

What I Liked: Lord, what didn't I like? The characters, to start. Sean, Puck and the supporting cast were beautifully done, both rugged and independent, which fits the setting and the story. Especially Puck, who rode the knife's edge between vulnerable and tough throughout.

I loved the water horses, too. I don't know if Stiefvater is a "horse person" in real life, but the water horses' authenticity is going to hit home for anyone who knows horses. Because real horses do have that sort of wildness and unpredictability in them; Stiefvater just magnifies it to make a truly terrifying creature.

Authentic is a word which keeps popping up when I try to describe this book. Even though it contains supernatural creatures, the world is so real, so well-crafted, that you fall right in and lose yourself.

What I Didn't: There was only one thing that stuck in my craw on this book, and it's a tiny, nitpicky thing--the use of the term capaill uisce for the water horses. Even though there was a pronunciation slipped in early in the book, I forgot it, which meant I couldn't pronounce it in my head, which distracted me.

Overall: Loved it. A new favorite I will definitely go back and read again.

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