Archive for January, 2013

Yesterday I saw a bunch of vegans I know online sharing this article, “The 19 Most Annoying Things About Being Vegan,” and it was pretty good for a laugh. It’s sadly true that most vegans I know (including myself) have experienced most it not all of the items on that list, including dealing with the hand-wringing of people who become suddenly concerned with our protein intake, or obviously take some sort of bizarre pleasure in playing “gotcha” by pointing out that abstaining from cheese and meat is (allegedly!) pointless because there’s pig fat in tires and animal by-products in plywood. It’s also an amusingly self-aware article about veganism, for friggin once, since instead of taking the but why do you refuse to think about the screaming of murdered baby pigs and cows you omni asshole tone so rampant in internet articles about veganism, even the “funny” ones, it instead points out that yeah, some of us do miss the taste of cheese sometimes, and yeah, we do laugh at jokes aimed at vegans because we do have a sense of humor, and yeah, while it’s frustrating to be fed plate after plate of grilled veggies at catered events, it’s super-nice of people to ensure there’s a vegan option.

But another reason that Buzzfeed piece made me laugh so much was that last week I saw at least (at least!) fifteen thousand people posting and reposting a Guardian article called, absurdly, “Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?” Upon seeing it for the first of far-too-many times, I immediately felt my expression becoming frown-cat face because I’ve been vegan for nearly 7 years at this point and I can smell a finger-pointing, smug-but-misinformed locavore article a million miles away. It’s a talent, what can I say?

Anyways, the article starts out with a description of quinoa, a grain-like seed native to South America, and talks about how it’s become increasingly globally popular in recent years because it’s good for you and tastes pretty okay too. It’s also a “credibly nutritious substitute for meat” (reputable nutrition journalists without an obvious bias against vegans would simply call quinoa a “good source of protein”, btw).

It then talks about how the global appetite for quinoa has begun to affect Peru and Bolivia negatively, alleging that farmers in those areas no longer can afford their staple food and are eating less healthy, more processed alternatives. If accurate, this is obviously extremely distressing. I say “if accurate,” as it turns out that NPR ran a similar article in November of last year, but there has been some question about the truth behind some of their claims, which are similar to the concerns raised in the Guardian article. I don’t know for sure which side of the story is true; both sides raise interesting issues. Regardless, this concern for Bolivian and Peruvian farmers is certainly something I’ll be considering when making future food purchases.

Yet, setting aside the core of the article for a moment, I think it’s fascinating that the finger in the Guardian article is pointed directly at vegans. Vegans, it basically says, can you handle the truth that you’re also morally suspect when it comes to making ethical dietary choices?

Yes?

Duh?

Protip: That’s exactly why many of us vegans are vegan in the first place! (Shockingly enough, it’s not just that we hate fun and bacon and also really enjoy being a giant pain in the ass to everyone when traveling or deciding where to go to dinner!) Thus, the finger-pointing (and finger-waggling) the author utilizes to make the various points she’s trying to make beyond the whole quinoa thing that defined the first part of her exposé is kind of … stupid. Like this, for example:

Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction. Embarrassingly, for those who portray [soy] as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.

What’s actually embarrassing is that even the Guardian, who ran that dumbass article, can’t even stand behind the author’s claims—they have, since publishing the piece, added a footnote to the above quote I cited clarifying that, in their own words, “while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN report of 2006 – is used for animal feed.” Yep, it’s not actually those pesky vegans ruthlessly destroying the rain forest with our appetite for fake bacon bits and plant milks! Because—again, another protip—as vegans, we eat neither the animals fed with soy beans nor do we consume the products of animals fed with soy beans. (We just eat the soy beans. Yum!)

Additionally, the notion that such a small group of people out there—vegans are, I think, less than 2% of the population in the U.S.—could be the ones responsible for this problem is deeply silly. The bias in the Guardian article is so absurd, so obvious, so pointlessly, misguidedly accusatory, that it’s pretty cringe-worthy that this was presented not as an op-ed but as environmental/world news. Because, despite our efforts to vote with our dollars, vegans simply don’t have enough economic clout, enough large-scale buying power, to impact such an enormous change on the world. (The reason there’s ten jillion kinds of plant milk at the natural food store isn’t the vegan clientele—it’s that vegetarians and omnivores also like hemp milk.) While it’s true that I bought one bag of Bob’s Red Mill Quinoa a year and a half ago, and I have genuinely no idea if it’s South American or not … I’m still using it. Compared to, say, Whole Foods’ (omnivorous) salad bar, or the Boulder yuppievore restaurants around here who serve it alongside elk steaks and farm-to-table chicken and whatever else, I’m statistically insignificant. Not that my insignificance excuses my actions—like I said, I’ll be considering this issue whenever I think about buying quinoa in the future—but as a vegan, I simply don’t matter as much as the vastly larger population of rich omnivores who control the market for “health foods.”

Why am I bothering to point out this article’s bias against vegans? Surely the issue as regards farmers in South America is more important? Yes, definitely! And because of that, I feel that it’s important to note that the author’s ridiculous sputtering over those people who make different ethics-based dietary choices than she does is so extreme that she herself gets away from her point, wasting valuable space and time ranting about those troublesome vegans instead of doing actually good investigative journalism on what seems like a major issue. Instead of keeping her focus, her article devolves into an attempted ha-ha about soy, and asparagus, and how locally-raised meat and dairy are so much better for the earth and for humans (though she is just plain wrong about that … at least, so says the extreme leftist vegan propaganda engine called, uh, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)

Anyways. I guess my overall point is that when it comes to talking about global food markets, shortages, economics, and the ways we can be better people … unless one’s goal is simply to get as many hits and comments as possible, surely focusing on the truth behind what our appetites are doing to the planet and the people living on it—and what we can do to change things for the better—is probably a better way to raise awareness about those issues?

I continue to be overwhelmed and amazed by the enjoyment people are getting out of my humble work(s) of fiction about incestuous flaky fops. As of now, A Pretty Mouth still has a five-star rating on Amazon, I’m gearing up to do a Q&A in February over at The Next Best Book Blog (which should soo be putting up my recipe for an Infernal!, my Calipash Twins-themed cocktail), and just a day or so I noticed that A Pretty Mouth had made a best-of list—to be specific, Black Heart Magazine’s Best of 2012.

Gabino Iglesias, their poetry editor, was kind enough to say about my book:

Fun, unique, sexy, Lovecratian literature of the highest caliber. I wanted to paint my walls with some of the lines in this book. It’s simultaneously classic and new and the prose is undeniably authoritative. This is the kind of book that weak writers read and decide to stop writing because they’ll never be this damn good.

Wowza. Seriously. And the fact that I’m on the list with Stephen Graham Jones, Tom Piccirilli, and several other amazing writers makes my inclusion even more pleasing. Pleasing being an understatement. See, that’s the kind of “undeniably authoritative” prose that gets me this kind of praise!

Thanks again, Mr. Iglesias! And if you, dear reader, would like to own your very own copy of A Pretty Mouth, well… 

I know I’m in the minority here, but I’m not a huge fan of Tsui Hark’s films.

I should like them, I know. Hark directs lavish kung fu/wuxia epics (yay) with lots of female kung fu masters in them, very often female kung fu masters dressed as men (a favorite of mine, which should come as no surprise to anyone), but something about them just falls flat for me. I didn’t bother finishing Green Snake (1993), wasn’t impressed by Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame (2012), which despite having (1) a lady kung fu master dressed as a boy and (2) friggin Detective Dee, a favorite literary character of mine, was a disappointing mess of bad CGI plus “and then (gasp!) and then (gasp!)” plotting. Once Upon a Time in China (1991) was totally good, and it’s probably my favorite of his films that I’ve seen, but it can’t keep up after the initial OMG FUCK YES of Jet Li (as Wong Fei Hung) saving Chinese New Year from evil English imperialists by lion dancing up the rigging of a ship to pluck the greens.

DragonInnAnyways, so yeah, Dragon Inn. Accuse me of drinking a big glass of Haterade, or perhaps baking up a nice fresh batch of hater tots, or whatever, but … I just didn’t think it was all that great. I know it had audiences cheering at the Sundance Film Festival, but like Detective Dee and Once Upon a Time in China, it’s a film that I came away from feeling like it was far better in theory than in execution.

The premise is totally great: An evil, power-crazed eunuch (is there any other kind in film?) murders an uppity minister and the minister’s whole family save for two kids, whom he saves to lure rebel general Chow to him. Members of Chow’s army, including Chow’s awesome cross-dressing lover Mo-yan (Brigitte Lin, I looooove you!!) free the kids, and then take them to a desolate inn near the Dragon Gate Pass to try to smuggle them over the border.

Then they get to Dragon Inn and … oh dear. Maggie Cheung is there, being a shady brigand and a sort of … desert-criminal-kung-fu-master-Mrs. Lovett (again, good premise!) called Jade, but unfortunately, she’s super-duper obnoxious. Her cook Dao is pretty tight though, with his ability to flay anything ruthlessly. At any rate, Jade figures out that Chow’s girlfriend is a girl through your typical Perceptive Feminine Wiles™ and then sets her cap for Chow when he arrives. And by set her cap, I mean that, even after seeing how much Chow loves Mo-yan, Jade aggressively and frequently attempts to seduce Chow, up to and including trying to force him to sleep with her to obtain her help once the eunuch’s hit men show up. Uncool.

Anyways, so yeah, it’s a great setup! Genderqueer-ish stuff! Sword battles! Handsome Tony Leung Ka-Fai being handsome! Wuxia action sequences!

And yet … the by-the-numbers catty nonsense between Jade and Mo-yan is a boring entanglement that really doesn’t make the star, Jade, particularly endearing. So that set my attention a-wandering … plus, the directing is sub-par. There is little artistry in the filming of Dragon Inn overall, despite the beautiful sets and costumes, and action sequences are often wasted due to poor framing. What should be tense desert battles are a zoomed-out mess of people stampeding around on horses with no discernable purpose; other sequences that would have benefited from a wider angle feel claustrophobic and cheaper than they should. Many of the kung fu battles feel simultaneously crowded and disjointed, with the exception of the Maggie Cheung vs Brigitte Lin sequence, which was definitely the best part of the film.

For me, Dragon Inn gets 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. I’d give it a solid 4 but for the annoying ending. Ah well! I’m glad I saw it, and it’s certainly worth watching. It just didn’t quite live up to its reputation, which is common enough with 90’s Hong Kong films.

Next time: Probably Golden Sparrow. Yay for Cheng Pei-Pei!

It’s a new year! I intended to do one of those wrap-up posts that everyone does, but it’s already January 2nd so no one cares anymore. Suffice it to say that 2012 was a year of some pretty major ups and downs. On the ups, I published some stuff, including my first book, got an amazing agent which means my novel is now in excellent hands, and became involved with an extremely rewarding (and time-consuming) martial and cultural arts community. On the flip side of things, I lost a beloved parent, and as nothing else even comes close to that in terms of sadness, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

In re resolutions, one thing I’ve decided to do in this new year is blog more—but less about myself. To that end I’m going to start both posting my ongoing experiments with mixology, and also review kung fu movies. There’s nothing particularly thematic there, except that I like to mix cocktails and I watch a lot of kung fu movies. I’d love to inspire others to do more of both, so … okay!

But first, some (mildly hypocritical) housekeeping.

First! The Next Best Book Blog is hosting a giveaway plus an author/reader discussion of A Pretty Mouth. Basically you put your name into a hat for a free .mobi copy, then if you win it you read it and all through February I’ll be engaging in discussions/answering questions about the material. So pop on over and see what’s up! This reminds me to remind you that yes, the kindle edition of A Pretty Mouth is available, so tell any of your friends who mentioned being given Amazon gift cards for the holidays!

Next! “Herbert West In Love” is, as I mentioned, available for free along with the entire December edition of the Lovecraft eZine. But! You can also support the amazing work done by the eZine by either purchasing the podcast version of the issue or buying the ebook. I listened to the podcast of my story and it was an interesting experience! I’ve never heard anyone else read my work before.

Finally, I sold a story! “Tantivy” will be appearing in Steve Berman’s anthology Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages, out in 2013 from Prime Books. Mine’s about devious 18th century fops eschewing fox-hunting for hunting zombies. Well, of course it is!

Ho-kay! Now on to stuff not about me!

For Christmas I asked for a bunch of ridiculous wuxia/kung fu DVD sets, and my girl Raechel got me one that includes Vengeance is a Golden Blade, Have Sword Will Travel, The Water Margin, and The Wandering Swordsman.

I began last night with Vengeance is a Golden Blade, because great title. Too bad the title turns out to be misleading, just a bit. The golden blade is actually the MacGuffin of the film, and less the instrument of vengeance. Ah, whatever.

It begins with a bunch of shady fuckers, aka The Vicious Long Brothers, who are pissed at a marginally less-shady fucker and want to ambush/murder him because the Long Brothers provide “protection” for traveling merchants, but they rob their clients. The marginally less-shady fucker also provides protection but, you know, doesn’t rob his clients, so he’s gotten all their business. They are many but he is few, but he has the Golden Dragon Sword so he fights them and they lose and just get more pissed off.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Lead Shady Fucker of the Vicious Long Brothers has been carrying on a longtime affair with the wife of Marginally Less Shady. When Marginally Less Shady finds out about the affair, he tells his wife that because of her philandering she must kill herself. She doesn’t really think this is a particularly great idea (go figure) so instead she poisons Marginally’s eyeballs, temporarily, and he is forced to flee with his toddler-aged daughter Xiaolang. They take refuge with a crazy old herbalist and his son.

Fast forward to 18 years later, Marginally Less Shady is crippled and can’t do kung fu anymore so he has trained Xiaolang in swordplay and taught her that one day she must avenge him with the Hanglong Blade he’s been forging for 18 years, coincidentally. But he won’t tell her who will be the object of said avenging so she mostly hangs out practicing and flirting with the herbalist’s son in the bucolic Chinese countryside.

Then one day she begs to go to town and is allowed to for the first time, whereupon, because of course, she falls unwittingly into her now-a-Madam-of-a-whorehouse mother’s hands. But Madam Mother doesn’t know who Xiaolang is, so she tries to sell her body to a foppish magistrate who saw her doing kung fu against some dudes and was “impressed.” After a narrow escape from worse than death and learning that her mom’s a bitch, Xiaolang is pretty eager to wreak some goddamn havoc, and it’s a good thing too because Mom has realized that Xiaolang is her daughter, Marginally Less Shady is still alive and conveniently close-by, and her lover is still pissed about that shit way back when (even though he is in possession of the Golden Dragon Sword, quizzically). In the end, things get really real in the form of Xiaolang murdering improbable numbers of brigands with a sword, so basically my bread and butter.

I enjoyed the film, but I can’t give Vengeance is a Golden Blade more than 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. The herbalist motif is awesome, and Daughter Avenges Father is a favorite theme of mine … but the film is a bit slower than it needs to be, even for a Shaw Brothers kung fu epic, and the girl who plays Xiaolang isn’t all that great of a martial artist. Like, distractingly not that great. Still, definitely worthwhile!

Happy new year, everyone!