MaddAddam: A Review
Aug 30th, 2013 by Dr Karma

This Tuesday, September 3rd, will see the release of the third and final installment of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam TrilogyMaddAddam.

Although I read the book several months ago, I decided to wait to review it until more of you could get your hands on it, so as not to make you hate me (more) for getting it early. Where did this great gift come from, by the way? Let’s just say I have a friend at the bookstore.

maddaddamI was able to read the book in almost one setting, as I got hold of it when I was recuperating from my surgery in May. It was absolutely the best thing about being laid up.

The MaddAddam triology is a dystopic fiction of a post-apocalyptic world in which a very smart young man has unleashed a virus that has killed almost all of the world’s human population. This smart young man designed another race to take our place–yet they’re vulnerable to the few remaining humans.

Atwood’s vision demonstrates her unique ability to see trends before the rest of us do. She wrote about body image before it was popular to do so, about girl on girl crime before Mean Girls, about the oncoming debt crisis before it hit. The technologies and trends in the trilogy are all based on things that are in development, have been developed, or are logical extensions of things in development. Some of these things are scientific, some are religious, some are ecological, etc.

I’m going to try not to spoil anything in this short review of the end. The most important thing to know is that it’s a good read. Fast, solid, funny, and touching all at once.

Most of the book comes from Toby’s point of view (whom we know from the previous book). We learn more about Zeb’s past and about Adam through her storytelling to the Crakers. In this fashion, some blanks are filled in. And the story does end–you get a sense of how the lives of our characters will end and how life will go on from where we are.

However, not every hole is filled in. While we get a few more fragments of Crake–a few more sightings–we end the series without ever going into his non-neurotypical head. Thus, we still have to put together the pieces of why he did what he did from the pieces Atwood gives us. Did he ever love Oryx? Was that Oryx? Why did he kill her? What did she know? Did she enjoy Jimmy’s company or was she sent to him as a distraction?

I have my own ideas about these questions–as I’m sure you do.

And that’s why I’ll enjoy re-reading these texts from years to come. I have a whole story–but not the WHOLE story. And I’m fine with that. (If I weren’t, I couldn’t be an Atwood reader and scholar.)

Every time I read any of Atwood’s texts, I see new things. (Each time I read Alias Grace, I change my mind about whether she’s guilty or not.)

Her books keep me guessing, keep me working, but they don’t disappoint–I don’t feel like I’m missing any thing just because some viewpoints are incomplete–indeed, that’s what makes her writing so intriguing and so realistic.

A final note. Oryx and Crake focused on the science and the powerful. The Year of the Flood focused on the faith and the powerless. MaddAddam focuses on a world beyond science and faith and their ethical quandries* and on pragmatism and survival. This survival is all about storytelling, which is how knowledge will be passed on, how the Crakers will understand their place in the world, and how future generations will understand their human and Craker progenitors.



*It is not, however, a world of superscience and sorcery, which is what you’re supposed to get after an apocalypse, as I learned from watching Thundar the Barbarian (which, by the way, claimed that the end of the world came in 1994).

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Missouri leader inspires lawsuits
Aug 16th, 2013 by Dr Karma

Missouri Representative Paul Wieland made news this week by suing the federal government. Wieland’s state health insurance includes the option for birth control. Previously, he would have been able to opt out of having this option. In statements to the press, Wieland conflates birth control with abortion: “I see abortion-inducing drugs as intrinsically evil . . .” While his family could simply not ask for birth control, Wieland argues that it’s against his faith to even have the option in his insurance plan. His attorney says that the precedent Wieland is trying to set “will be of great value to other families.”

Indeed, other families are already lining up to file lawsuits arguing that having access to products or services that go against their religion is offensive. Many diners have noted that, while they are never forced to order food they aren’t allowed to eat, it’s wrong to have the option to do so in the first place.

A few conservative Jews are banding together to have “Red Lobster” banned from their neighborhoods, as Leviticus clearly states, “Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” “Red Lobster could still serve fish,” one customer argued. “But since I can’t eat lobster or shrimp, it shouldn’t be on the menu of options.”

Wieland, whose picture ironically deters birth-control necessitating activities.

Wieland, whose picture ironically deters birth-control necessitating activities.

Restaurants, bars, cafes, and grocery stores near heavy populations of Mormons are bracing for demands that alcohol and caffeinated drinks be pulled from stock since having these items for sale may offend Mormon customers, who aren’t allowed to partake.

Pork products will likely come under fire, as both Jews and Muslims are forbidden from eating them. One young man at a pizzeria said he was unlikely to sue, since lawyers “cost a lot,” but noted that it would be easier (“I mean, less offensive”) to resist the temptation of pepperoni (“which I’ve heard is the bomb!”) if it weren’t offered to him in the first place.

The servers unions in some states have already been dealing with similar issues for months, following health care providers, such as nurses and pharmacists, who want to be able to opt of out dispensing medications or giving prescribed care to their patients that they “don’t believe in.”

“Why should I be required to bring you pulled pork sliders,” asked one Hooters waitress in Houston, “when the Bible, like, forbids it and stuff. It’s not my job to bring you sinful meat, not when I don’t believe in eating it.”

Naturally, some of these cases might be dismissed since restaurant workers could opt out of working or since customers could opt out of eating out or grocery shopping. Rep. Wieland, after all, simply wants his health insurance coverage to refuse to cover a required, basic medication that 99% of American Catholics admit using due to his Catholic faith. He argues, cogently, that it’s better to not be covered at all or to not have this option for the women in his family rather than to simply not use the product, which would demonstrate his faith in a private way (as the Bible recommends) through personal prayer and private choices.

Equally problematic in terms of health insurance mandates, however, is the coverage of emergency blood transfusions. Jehovah’s Witnesses, following Wieland’s stance, want personal exemptions from such coverage in their insurance programs because of a line in the Bible that forbids ingesting blood. However, they’d like to do Wieland one better, demanding that hospitals they may be taken to in an emergency do not have supplies for such a procedure, as that would still give them the choice to have one.

Rep. Wieland’s lawsuit has prompted other families to consider a suit he will surely support. Some atheists families have noted, with evident distress, that American religious freedom guarantees that there are many churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other religious centers in every town in the U.S.

“You see,” one concerned mother from Nebraska explained, “the only tenant of our belief system is that we don’t believe in God and thus that we would never go to church. It’s offensive to have the choice to do so–guaranteed by the federal government. It violates everything my family does–and doesn’t–believe in. What if my children one day wander in to the Lutheran church down the street, just because they can? My aunt already has to attend her AA meetings at the Baptist church–why should she be confronted with the choice to accept the higher power who’s supposed to change the things that she can’t? The government can’t mandate that she have options that she doesn’t believe in.”

If the class-action suit filed by the Nebraska families succeeds, Rep. Wieland will surely be relieved. His religious choices will then be moot, as they will no longer be protected by the government, as the right to insurer-provided birth control is.


True Blood and PTSD
Aug 15th, 2013 by Dr Karma

[Warning: Spoilers follow. If you’ve not seen the August 2013 episodes of True Blood, you don’t want to read this.]

I’m grateful The Daily Show for its coverage of and attention to the ridiculous treatment of our returning veterans as they attempt to apply for benefits. When we think of these benefits, we usually think about medical coverage for physical injuries from combat. We think less about mental injuries from combat.

The term PTSD (or, as it will be called here, in honor of George Carlin, “shell shock”) has moved into our vernacular, and some tv shows featuring characters in the military (or other dangerous services) do address it. SVU had an episode recently called “PTSD”; characters on BSG, M.A.S.H., Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, etc. have exhibited symptoms of the disorder.

There are some films (fiction and documentary) that address the issue as well.

However, most depictions of shell shock in the media do not address a common outcome–suicide.

2012 was a record year for military suicides. We lost more soldiers to PTSD than to combat. In fact, we’re losing them at a rate of one about every 18 hours.

The fact that we’re not talking about this made this week’s True Blood, featuring the funeral of one of the most beloved characters–and some of the revelations of his shell shock leading up to it–stand out.

I watch True Blood with a group of friends. We eat, drink, and laugh. In fact, we’ve started taking a drink each time a character says something that could only be said on this show (like “Who the fuck is Mary Poppins, and can I please kill her?”). It’s our Vampire Porn Soap Opera.

But this last episode, “Life Matters,” lingered on Terry’s life and his death in a poignant way. Characters die on this show all the time. So many, however, that we rarely get to morn them. And we haven’t had a beloved character die in a while. This mourning, though, wasn’t just because we’ll miss Terry. It was because we needed to grapple with what killed him.

It wasn’t a serial killer. It wasn’t a supernatural force–a were-whatever or a vampire or a vampire virus.

Terry chose to die. And he chose to do so because he couldn’t live with what the war had done to him and with the things he’d done.

And we’ll miss him.

When True Blood came out (and before that, when the book series came out, which I’ve read (and reviewed here), it was interesting because of its vampire characters’ analogy to the gay rights movement. It hasn’t really done anything moving or intriguing in a while.

Until now.



P.S. The book series recently came to its conclusion.

Here’s an update to my earlier post. One anonymous commentator on my post mentioned that she agreed with some of what I said. The books that have come out since my post have not repeated the problems I listed. Coincidence? Or did I unintentionally manage to give Harris some writing feedback? (I mean, I don’t get anonymous commentators. You all know me, which is why you read this. Unless you’re searching for reviews of your own work, which a few people who don’t know me have done on this site.)

Sookie makes her peace with her vampire lovers and ends up with the man she should have ended up with the whole time. Loose ends are wrapped up. The danger seems to have passed. A good end to a good series.




Recent Plays
Aug 12th, 2013 by Dr Karma

Okay, recent maybe isn’t the best word. But I’ve seen some good stuff over the past few months.

A.C.T. (The American Conservatory Theater) imported The National Theatre of Scotland (whom I got to see at Mondavi earlier this year) to perform Black Watch. The Black Watch is a famous Scottish regiment (formed in 1725, first comprised of Highlanders). This play not only gives us a bit of their illustrious history, but also details their controversial tour in Iraq as part of Bush’s coalition. The play was heartbreaking and beautiful and possibly the best thing I’ve seen at A.C.T.

Two weeks ago, I saw a very abbreviated Hamlet at the Francis Ford Coppola winery. Justin Ashforth adapted, directed, and starred. And I think that was a problem. It’s a bad idea to be that close to a production, to not have the distance to see when other actors are messing up (by simply being flat, as one was) or when you’ve cut too much/not enough (e.g. why have other characters talking about Hamlet going mad when you cut out Hamlet acting mad?).

I’ve been able to see two shows by Common House productions this summer. Common House is a relatively new company in Davis. Their repertory shows this summer (out on the Wyatt Deck) were The Importance of Being Earnest and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Earnest has long been one of my favorite plays (I even taught it once, years ago). LLL isn’t one of the great ones (in terms of Shakespeare’s other works), but this production brought out the what comedy and cleverness there is in the text.

Othello: The Remix at The Globe

Othello: The Remix at The Globe

When I was in Chicago in May, Denise and I hit the Chicago Shakespeare scene, which featured an AMAZING adaptation of Othello. Othello‘s always hard to watch, but this show was a joy. Othello: The Remix is a modern adaptation of the show, done by only four actors and a D.J. The show is completely sung in hip-hop style and is about hip-hop artists (Desdemona, whom we never see, is a diva). A few of the audience members took a while to warm up to the concept, but Du and I had our hands up in the air from the very first (and got a smile from one of the writer/performers).

Not only was the show wonderfully sad and funny and old and new (complete with geek references from both renaissance and 21st century pop culture), but it was actually really close to how a Shakespeare play would have been to its audience–men playing all the roles, minimal props and sets, a focus on the sounds (audiences are called audiences because they went to “hear” a play).

Also, it was fun because one of the actors, Jackson Doran, looks a lot like our friend Ben, so we kept imagining him doing all the numbers.

In London, I got to see a few shows:

Children of the Sun at the National. I didn’t know anything about this show going in, but I’ve never seen anything bad at the National. Andrew Upton revised Gorky’s play. It’s still very . . . Russian. There’s a lot of tea, of depression, of thwarted love, of class boundaries and barriers, of servants with their ears (and hands) at the door. It ends with the rich destroyed due to what one of them did. It ends, literally, with fire. I was in the front row and I could feel the heat. (And it was surprising–London is very paranoid about fire, especially in theatres).

One Man, Two Guvnors is also an adaptation. The Commedia dell’arte play, A Servant of Two Masters, has been updated by Richard Bean. It was everything it was supposed to be–funny and farcical, with a little bit of audience participation thrown in. My one complaint is that the end of the first half is so good, that the rest of the show is anticlimactic.

One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man, Two Guvnors

The Taming of the Shrew at The Globe. Taming is another problematic play. This was my fourth time seeing it. Long ago, in Tallahassee, and a couple of years ago, at Cal Shakes, I saw “modern” adaptations in which Petruchio rode motorcycles. My favorite rendition was in Regent’s Park in London 2006. The actor playing Petruchio was older than we expected, but he was amazingly charismatic and genuinely seemed to be taken with his Kate. I saw that with my friend John Boe. Seven years later, we sat down for this all-female production. The women did a great job (especially since there were only eight of them). However, the end was a downer. Petruchio does indeed break (tame) Kate. And she remains broken. His face falls when he realizes this won’t make for a happy or lustful union. It’s probably more realistic than other versions, but I want my smart Petruchio–the one who loves her all along–despite herself–back.





It’s August (I survived June and July)
Aug 10th, 2013 by Dr Karma

Summer classes are crazy. My students sign up, thinking that the classes they’ve feared the most will somehow be easier in a shorter amount of time. And then I explain that we have to do the same amount of work in six weeks. And then we struggle together. And then a few complain that we’ve done so much work. Sigh.

Last summer session, which ended a week ago, I had three classes running. At the same time, I was coming off Spring, off the London wedding, had that fractured tailbone, and was working to get the Prized Writing edition off to the printer.

I’ve survived. I told myself that if I did, I would reward myself in some significant ways. I would go to Ashland with V. I would have an amazing birthday weekend. I would do a little less work in summer session 2–reading more for pleasure, trying new recipes, getting some of the sillier stuff off the to-do list (eye doctor, finally printing out pictures, etc).

So now I have a trip to Ashland scheduled. This week, I’ve made four new recipes already. I’ve dusted most of the house for the first time since my Spring surgery. Went for a short walk and read a short section of a book this morning.

And my birthday was awesome. The winery I belong to, Kenwood, threw a paella party on my special day. The paella was amazing, the pours were generous, and the band serenaded me. And then I got to see friends who live near there.

Alex and I have been surviving together now for 20 years. And sometimes there are problems, but they’re fixable (except the ones that aren’t). And sometimes there’s wine and paella and music and friends.

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