Addendum to my post about shoes

Part Aladdin, part Vegas, mutant pointy cowboy boots create a craze in Mexico town

I have no explanation for this.  This is the most impractical thing ever to happen to men’s footwear for a generation. It also proves the cyclical nature of fashion to a rather absurd degree.  It’s hilarious.  Cowboy boots (and other equestrian footwear) are the last vestige of usefulness in high heels (heels stopping the foot from going through the stirrups are a sort of inverse seatbelt on horses) but these insanely long toes destroy any possible equestrian utility for a cowboy boot.  Oh well.  Very few people who wear cowboy boots these days actually ride horses.

Someday I must ask my dad if he ever wore, or wanted to wear, platform shoes.

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Movie Review: Mutants

We recently ditched our overpriced cable subscription in favor of Netflix.  We are currently enjoying a free trial month of the basic $8/month streaming video service, and so far we’re reasonably happy with it, but we will probably pay the extra  $2 to upgrade to the DVD-by-mail option because there is so much more available that way.  Most of the science fiction films available by Netflix streaming are SyFy Originals, which are universally terrible.  (If anyone can contradict that last statement and cite examples, I would love to be proven wrong.)

So a few days after we get it set up, I’m lounging on the couch scrolling through the offerings, and find this French zombie film called Mutants in the horror and foreign films lists.  Cool.  I wasn’t a horror fan at all as a teenager, but I’ve developed a taste for the occasional zombie movie in the last few years, cheerfully helped along by my fellow Humans vs Zombies players– I’d originally come to the club for the Nerf battles, but the story aspect of the game is loads of fun, and after two weeks of paranoia, treachery, heroism, and cheerful mock-cannibalism, it is our tradition to have a party and watch zombie movies.  The best way to watch any horror film is with a lot of friends, NOT at a movie theater, so you can all heckle the characters when they do stupid things.

So.  Mutants.  French zombie film.  Netflix summary:
With an unstoppable virus turning the populace into violent zombies, Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles) and her husband, Marco (Francis Renaud), scramble for safety. When Marco becomes infected, Sonia stands by his side and desperately searches for a way to prevent his mutation. But as Marco slowly transforms into one of the mutants, Sonia begins to fear for her life — and for the future of their unborn child.  Rated R.  (Are there any PG-13 zombie movies?  I’d be surprised.  It’s a very blood-splattered genre.)

There are four kinds of characters in a zombie movie:  Hero/Survivor, Sacrifice, Protected, User, and Zombie/Food.  (All characters have the potential to become Zombie/Food, including the Hero/Survivors in the last fifteen minutes of the film.  However, I reserve this category for those characters who are too stupid to live and do not fit better in any other category.)  Most zombie movies that I’ve seen so far (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (original), Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Snow, Fido, Land of the Dead, I Am Legend) feature either a mix of male and female Hero/Survivors, or have just one male Hero/Survivor.  Women in a mixed Hero/Survivor group may move back and forth between Hero/Survivor and Protected.  There is no logical reason for this pattern; brute strength isn’t all that relevant in a zombie movie, as any character, male or female, that gets closer than machete-swinging range to a zombie is usually facing his or her imminent end.

Warning:  Spoilers ahead.

I was glad to see that Mutants wasn’t like any of those movies.  Sonia is a Hero/Survivor character; Marco, her husband, quickly moves into the Protected category when he gets shot and bitten during a fight with a Zombie and a User fifteen minutes into the movie.  Sonia, a doctor, takes him to an abandoned hospital where she sews up his bullet wound by the light of the flashlight mounted on the gun that Sonia took from the User (whom she killed), then keeps Marco from killing himself when they discover the bite wound.  She does this by showing him a two-week-old bite mark on her side– she’s immune to the zombie pathogen.  (Which does not, of course, mean she’s safe– she can still be killed outright like anyone else.)  Sonia has to protect herself and Marco from the zombies, another group of Users, and each other.  She tries to cure him using a blood transfusion, but it eventually becomes apparent that it isn’t working.

This movie, by the way, features the slowest on-screen human/zombie metamorphosis I have ever seen.  It’s heartbreaking to watch– Sonia is desperate to save her husband, seeking alternatives at every turn in which Marco would have been shot if he’d been in a different zombie movie-eventually, when she’s on the verge of euthanizing Marco with a series of injections, she changes her mind and locks him in a closet instead of killing him because she can’t safely stay near him anymore, but maybe all he needs is another day for the disease to run its course.  She eventually does kill him, but not until the last few minutes of the movie, and that scene is heartbreaking too.

I was largely unimpressed by the pregnancy twist; Sonia’s pregnancy is new enough that her belly is still flat, and she doesn’t seem to suffer from morning sickness.  She’s also not in a situation where she can afford to think about things like “don’t get into a knock-down fight with Users or Zombies, you might miscarry.”  So it has no direct effect on the plot.  I think it’s meant to increase the urgency of Sonia’s situation, but that’s perfectly believable without her being pregnant– the day-to-day nature of Zombie Apocalypse Survival, and its instability, mean that by the time her belly grows to a problematic size she’ll either have successfully called in a helicopter a while ago, or she’ll be dead.  The only really effective function it seems to have is to show how sick Marco has become when Sonia tells him that she’s expecting and he doesn’t react in any way.

Unlike Babylon 5, Mutants does not pass the Bechdel test.  There are four female characters in this movie:  the first one is Food, there to show that There Are Zombies and Things Are Bad, when she runs from zombies and then gets hit by the ambulance in the first two minutes of the movie.  There is Sonia herself, the Hero/Survivor, and two female Users: Perez, a soldier who threatens to kill Sonia and Marco over the ambulance keys after refusing to let Sonia and Marco take on an additional passenger; and Dany, the rather stupid hanger on/girlfriend of a particularly cruel User named Frank. Dany doesn’t say much, except to Frank.  However, there is not much conversation in general in this movie, so this is a minor point.

In conclusion:  ★★★★★★★☆☆☆.  Good marks for an impressive female lead character and unconventional handling of the genre.  Points deducted for ineffective plot twists and failure of the Bechdel test.

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The Trials of Being Trendy

One of the most enduring features of women’s fashion is the high heeled shoe.  Originally worn by both men and women to add inches and keep feet out of the muck, men eventually stopped wearing them due to their impracticality.  (Except on cowboy boots, because heels are an important safety feature for equestrians whose worst nightmares involve being unseated with a foot stuck in the stirrup.)

They’ve stuck around in women’s fashion because of the way they exaggerate a woman’s figure– lengthen the leg, thrust out the bosom and buttocks, curve the spine– and because so many women are absurdly patient when it comes to suffering for fashion.  Just think of what tight-laced corsets did for women’s figures in the 19th century, and the awful effects of all that squeezing on the respiratory, digestive, and reproductive tracts.  (What, did you think that that stereotype of Victorian women fainting all the time came from nowhere?  They weren’t vapid fluffheads– they weren’t getting enough oxygen!)  And yet that trend endured for decades.

High heels aren’t harmless fashion either.  They can cause foot pain, hammertoes, bunions, corns, blisters, knee problems, lower back problems, and they increase the risk of sprains and fractures.  And one has to learn how to wear them– if you don’t know how to walk in heels, the first time you wear them will be really awkward, and it shows.

According to my mother, my own love affair with high heels started before I could walk.  She tells me that I started walking late because I learned to walk on my toes, because she wore high heels most of the time and I wanted to be Just Like Mommy.  When I was little I associated the click of high heels on the floor with Authority– my mother and my teachers wore heels, so it was a grown-up sound.  My mother, as it happened, stopped wearing heels entirely while she was carrying my brother, her third child, and she never got back into the habit after giving birth.  Pregnancy and high heels don’t mix well at all.

Victoria Beckham, pregnant in sky-high heelsUnless you’re Victoria Beckham, who seems to manage pregnancy (about 6 months along when this photo was taken), high heels, and a little boat-shaped hat perched like a bird on her forehead all at once.  Don’t ask me how.

I was always a little on the midget side, with correspondingly small feet, so I was in kids’ sizes for a distressingly long time– almost all the way through middle school.  Eventually though, I did graduate to women’s sizes, and I convinced my mother to buy me two pair of fantastic chunky high heeled boots at Payless.  (It wasn’t hard.  She was delighted that I was growing.)  The height boost was pretty cool, but they were disappointingly uncomfortable.  I ended up not wearing those shoes very often, and I didn’t replace them when i grew out of them.

I have collected several pieces of fashion wisdom over the years:

1.  Styles change much too quickly, damnit.  I can’t afford to be trendy.  I wear what I like, to hell with the runway.
2.  Some styles are just plain stupid.  Like those string-backed halter tops that were popular when I was in 9th grade.  Sooner or later there’s some inevitable jackass who grabs one of those strings and goes yoink!
3.  If it’s not comfortable, it’s going to collect dust at the bottom of my closet, no matter how pretty it is.
4.  I can still have pretty shoes!  Here are my dress shoes:

Naot Kayla sandalThis sandal is made by Naot, an Israeli shoe company that makes shoes as comfortable as Birkenstocks (they both use cork/latex footbeds that mold to the feet with use) , but prettier.  The sole is about half an inch thick in front and an inch and a quarter thick in the back, so it’s effectively a 3/4 inch heel.  I can manage 3/4 inch heels.  Naot makes several styles with this sole; this particular style is called Kayla. Naot shoes are a bit expensive (these are typically about $130,) but they will last several years.

Calvin Klein Kyoko flat shoeThese are Calvin Klein flats, Kyoko style.  I have some trouble fitting flats, in that they usually either pinch my toes or my heels slip out of them every time I take a step.  But the elastic edges in these means that they stay on without pinching.  Being flats, they pack very nicely in a suitcase when I’m spending the weekend at my parents or my in-laws or somewhere more distant.  And these go with everything my Naots don’t. I don’t think CK still makes these– I got mine off the Last Season’s Shoes 50% Off rack– but you get the idea.

If you can’t stand high heels but are desperate for elevation:  Platforms.  They tend to go in and out less predictably.  But from a can-I-wear-them standpoint, some of them can be good.  If you’re reasonably sure-footed and not prone to twisting your ankle, total elevation doesn’t matter nearly as much as the difference in elevation between the heel and the toe.  Look again at Victoria Beckham’s shoes:  The total elevation is what, six inches?  But the platform in front is about three inches thick.  So she’s effectively wearing three-inch heels, and getting a six-inch boost out of them.  Now, I do consider three inches unwearably high, but if you can find platforms that are two inches in the back and one inch in front, they’ll be a lot more wearable than two-inch heels.  But wait for chunky platforms to come back.  They’re less ankle-twisty than stilettos.

So what’s your favorite shoe, and why?

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Springtime Holidays

A lot of holidays happen around now.  Easter was last weekend, Mother’s Day is the Sunday after this, I’m graduating in less than a month, and it seems like half the world went nuts over Will and Kate’s wedding this morning.  Preparation rituals seemed to include the development and sale of an alarming array of kitsch, up to and including refrigerators.  Who is still going think those are a neat idea five years from now, I have no idea.  Anyway, mazel tov to the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  (Fancy titles make spiffy wedding presents, but I thought the tandem bicycle from the Mayor of London was sweeter.)

And of course there’s Passover, which I celebrated along with my family and the worldwide Jewish community.

Like all the most fun Jewish holidays, Passover is in the “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat” category.  (A conversation with my Israeli brother-in-law revealed that this joke about Jewish holidays is an international one.)  We spend about a week celebrating G-d’s triumph over our ancient Egyptian oppressors, and our subsequent exodus from Egypt.

Passover is the most preparation-intensive Jewish holiday there is.  With the other holidays, there’s a meal, and maybe one could go crazy setting up the World’s Most Awesome Costume for Purim, (which happens one month before Passover and I’m sorry I didn’t put up a post about that because that’s such a fun holiday and the story has a fabulous heroine) but that’s optional (though I did this year, my husband and I masqueraded as Elves), and even for Sukkot, setting up the Sukkah only takes an afternoon.  But during Passover, one is not permitted to eat, own, benefit from, or risk that any chametz (leavened grain products) might contaminate one’s food.  That generally means turning the apartment upside down.  Naturally I waited until the last minute– I am an expert procrastinator, or maybe I’m just crazy.  So I spent all of the Sunday before last cleaning all the things.

By the way, I found the weirdest thing in my old Hebrew notes while going through a pile of papers on my floor:  The word לכבוש (lichbosh) means both “to conquer” and “to pickle.”  What conquest has to do with cucumbers, I have no idea.  Neither does my sister’s husband, and he’s Israeli.  My sister suggested that perhaps it refers to the preservation of the heads of vanquished foes in jars of vinegar.  However, as she didn’t mention either scriptural or archaeological references, I think it was a wild guess.

Then comes the cooking.  As my husband and I went to my parents’ house for the beginning of the holiday, we escaped much of this burden, but the first two nights of Passover have feasts, and SOMEBODY has to cook them.  Preferably several somebodies.  I helped prepare a carrot-pineapple salad– my parents used to employ a Filipino housekeeper, and she taught me how to prepare a pineapple.  So when my mother asked me to finish turning the bowl full of shredded carrot into a carrot-pineapple salad, I said yes.   This may have been an error in judgement, as I had cut myself on the hand super-early that morning while removing all the hair wound around the inside of the vacuum cleaner.  (My husband and I both have long hair.  It’s a style choice that is not without consequences.)  Pineapple juice on an open wound stings.  But the pineapple-carrot salad sure was tasty.

Then comes naptime, if possible.  Not technically a formal ritual, but it’s a good idea, because we’re all going to be up late.

Then just before sunset we light the candles– Jewish women begin all major holy days this way– and once darkness falls an hour later, we begin the seder.  This is easily the most elaborate Jewish holiday ritual, which sounds onerous, but it really isn’t.  This is how it goes:
Kadesh:  A blessing is recited over the first cup of wine, and it is drunk.  (There will be three more cups of wine, drunk at other points during the seder.)
Urchatz:  We wash our hands.
Carpas:  A vegetable (typically parsley or celery) is dipped in salt water, which represents the tears of our ancestors while enslaved in Egypt.
Yachatz:  There are three matzahs (flat unleavened bread– flour and water mixed, rolled flat, and baked all within 18 minutes) on the table, stacked up.  The middle one is broken in two.  The larger piece is put aside;  this is the Afikomen, which is eaten after the meal.  The children steal it and hide it.
Maggid:  The youngest person at the seder who is capable of doing so asks the Four Questions.  (My youngest sister is 13 and hates doing this alone.  During the second seder, she was joined by every guest at the seder who is the youngest of their siblings.)  Then the entire story of the Exodus is discussed– the journey to Egypt, the enslavement, the Ten Plagues, the hasty exit, the splitting of the Red Sea, everything.  The haggada (seder instruction book) contains traditional passages that are read at this time; some of them are sometimes substituted for natural discussion, according to the custom of the host family.  My family does this.  It is also my family’s custom to perform some kind of play– my father scours the internet for a new one each year.  It’s good for keeping the children everyone involved, especially when some of the seder guests are either very young or not very religious.
Rachtza:  We wash our hands again.
Motzi:  We say the blessing for the matzah.
Matzah:  We eat the matzah.
Maror:  We eat a bitter herb (typically Romaine lettuce or horseradish) to symbolize suffering in Egypt.
Korech:  We make a sandwich of the matzah and the bitter herbs and eat it.  This is because of a dispute over the proper way to observe the commandment, “with matzah and maror shall you eat it,” referring to the Passover sacrifice that was made in the times of the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Shulchan Orech:  Dinner.
Tsafun:  The leader of the seder discovers that the afikomen is missing, and asks the children for it.  The children ransom it for a gift, generally something small, although I am told that years ago my father-in-law, while at his girlfriend’s family’s seder, infamously ransomed the afikomen for his girlfriend’s father’s blessing on their upcoming marriage.  Surprise!  What a way to break the news.
Barech:  The blessing after eating a meal is said.
Hallel:  The songs of praise recited during every holiday are said.
Nirtzah:  More traditional Passover songs.  One of them is חַד גַדְיָא (Chad Gadyah, “One Little Goat”) a singsong tune similar to “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.”  Each verse adds a line and then repeats the previous verses.  It’s in Aramaic, and somewhat fast-paced the way my family sings it, so it’s a bit of a tongue-twister.  I call it the “Seder Sobriety Test.”  After four cups of wine, if you can sing this, you can walk home safely.
Zzzz:  (Not technically part of the seder.)  It’s after midnight.  (Remember what I said about taking a nap?)  Go to bed.

This is repeated on the second night outside of Israel.  (It’s complicated.)

Anyway, it’s just about time for the Sabbath, so I’m signing off now.  Shabbat shalom!

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What the hell, New York Times?

Wow, two posts in one day.  Don’t get used to this, people.

A month ago, the New York Times published an article about the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl.  It talked about the clothes she wore (provocative) and her makeup (too mature) and her mother (“where was she?”) and how horrible it was for the community and the rapists.  Never mind that raping someone at any age and wearing any clothing is wrong.  Never mind that the the perpetrators should have known better than to even think about having sex under any circumstances with a child.  This scurrilous excuse for journalism ignited so much outrage that the editor had to order a whole new article.

Two days ago, NYT published a review of the new HBO series, Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s book by the same name, which comes out today.  It included this paragraph:

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Really?  Women only read fantasy for the sex?  How interesting.  I like fantasy that doesn’t have sex scenes.  I must be a man then.  The logic is undeniable.  Or maybe the author of the review is just full of crap.  A lot of people seem to think so.  More here, concerning the NYT article and a similarly insulting Slate review written by someone who just doesn’t like fantasy but at least is willing to admit it.  (Thanks to ignipes for those links.  I can always rely on her for Game of Thrones news.)

A word of advice to the New York Times editor:  Don’t publish stupid, sexist things.  And when seeking a review of a book, movie, or TV show, deploy a writer who has a little respect for the genre.

And never rest on the laurels of your reputation as a Paper of High Repute.  Your credentials are something that has to be renewed continuously.

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In a Word: DDOS

Not really a word- it’s an acronym for Distributed Denial Of Service– but it’s one that’s been haunting my life lately.

An explanation:  A Denial of Service attack is an attack on a web server done by having a computer generate repeated requests for information from that server.  The barrage of requests uses up processing resources and bandwidth.  Service to legitimate users is slowed down or stopped entirely.  A Distributed Denial of Service attack is done by having many computers generate these requests; the capacity for resource-hogging is correspondingly greater.  This is generally done by infecting computers with malware.

It started three weeks ago, when Livejournal was hit by a DDOS attack.  It got bad enough about two weeks ago that I decided to leave my old blog location at Livejournal and move everything here.  It’s pretty widespread (it has to be, lj is huge) and it’s taken a while for the lj staff to clean things up; apparently it’s a politically motivated attack.

And remember how I mentioned that I’m the webmaster for a local Nerf game club that runs Humans vs Zombies?  Well, a few nights ago, I got a message from our server manager saying that traffic at our website is slowing down his entire server.  Besides being an inconvenience to us (I had noticed that the website had been a tad sluggish recently), it was slowing down all of the other websites he hosted, which was just cause for righteous wrath on his part.  At first he thought it was the search page on the forum, which was not very well written;  this problem was exacerbated by the fact that I’d embedded the forum’s “view active topics” page on the website’s homepage.

However, after a deeper examination of the server logs he discovered that we were under attack.  He sent me a list of all of the IP addresses that had pinged the website since the server move last February (we’ve got a small enough user base that this data is easily analyzed) and one of the IP addresses had over 18000 hits.  Just for comparison, as a game moderator, I have to stay on top of what’s happening on the forum (a lot of planning of game tactics happens there and I have to make sure no rules are being broken) so I check it pretty obsessively.  I love the game, but it kind of eats my life during the two weeks in which it runs.  I had about 1500 hits from my home IP address.  Another moderator, similarly vigilant, had about 2000 hits from her IP address at her dorm.  So the user who generated over 18000 hits either has no life at all or has set up a robot to go to the website repeatedly.  And it’s definitely a robot.  The IP address in question was in the middle of a block of 20 almost perfectly consecutive IP addresses that had been to the website (maybe 1 in the series was skipped), about half of which had over 1000 hits each:  behold, the botnet.

Grrrr.  This makes me mad.  Especially during the game; it’s when the forum gets used most.  And the server manager had to shut down the website to protect the other sites on the server while devising a solution to the problem.

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“I have come to the conclusion…”

“…that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!  And by G-d I have had this congress!”
William Daniels as John Adams, 1776

Particularly the Republicans.  As I type this, there is a battle going on in the House of Representatives over the budget.  If it is not resolved today, the government will shut down.  The Democrats have decided to compromise on the EPA (it will no longer regulate emissions or receive funding for a whole lot of other projects) the ATF (it will no longer keep track of multiple firearm purchases by the same person) and plenty of other things– I don’t know how much, and really, I’m afraid to find out.

The final hangup is Planned Parenthood.  For those of you who don’t know already, Planned Parenthood does more than abortions; it provides birth control, cancer screenings, STD tests, and general health care services.  The Republican Party is so hung up on abortion– as if women having control over their uteruses will destroy the country!– that it is willing to hold the government hostage, with women’s health as their ransom demand.

Here‘s a petition to John Boehner and the Republicans to tell them that their behavior is absolutely unacceptable.

CORRECTION:  The EPA has not been gutted.  The republicans were still morons for demanding it, though.

UPDATE:  At about 10:30 PM Friday, the budget passed with Planned Parenthood funding intact and the EPA still functioning.  No doubt the GOP will do its best to look magnanimous now, having yielded at the last minute to prevent a crisis.

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