Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Oatmeal cookies

Well, it's that time again...Christmas cookie time! Below is one of my favorite cookie recipes (seen here, from my latest batches, along the left and mixed with the peanut butter balls along the middle bottom).


Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Oatmeal cookies

¾ cup butter
½ cup peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup milk chocolate chips
Melted milk chocolate
Peanut pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl beat butter and peanut butter together. Add sugars, baking powder and baking soda, and mix. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, mix thoroughly. Stir in oats and chocolate chips. Drop rounded teaspoons of cookie dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.
When completely cool, dip one end of cookie in melted chocolate; immediately dip coated cookie end into peanut pieces. Return to rack to set.


Legally fired for being too attractive...

If this doesn't make you shake your head, nothing will. According to the (all male) Iowa Supreme Court, a boss can fire a female employee who has committed no infraction for the offense of being -- wait for it -- too pretty. And that is not unlawful discrimination. 

The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an "irresistible attraction," even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. Such firings may be unfair, but they are not unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.

An attorney for Fort Dodge dentist James Knight said the decision, the first of its kind in Iowa, is a victory for family values because Knight fired Melissa Nelson in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman.

If a woman is too pretty, she is a threat to her boss' marriage and can be fired accordingly. The boss has no responsibility to keep his own "feelings and emotions" under control, because it isn't unlawful discrimination if  he fires her. I'm sure that, though, like pay inequalities between the genders, is ultimately just the fault of women. If only Mrs. Nelson had the good sense to be unattractive, or not her boss' type, then she would still have her job.

Oh, and the icing on this cake? The firing was sanctioned by Knight's pastor.

The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.

Not only is it not the man's legal responsibility to control himself, it's also apparently not his moral responsibility. Now there's an anomaly...religion holding women accountable for men's behavior...imagine that!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hobbit: the good, the bad, and the awesome

Or, a long awaited review ;)

As you may have guessed (by, for one thing, my blog name), I am a big fan of Tolkien's The Hobbit (and LotR). So I was very excited to see Peter Jackson's first installment of The Hobbit last week. And very annoyed when the flu postponed that viewing. But, after an excruciating day and a half, I got to the theater. I chose 2D because I still had a headache and couldn't bear the thought of 3D glasses (which give me a headache even when I'm not sick). Yes, I was in pretty humble condition; but this was The Hobbit we're talking about. (And if you're afraid that such a level of devotion will find its way into my review/thoughts, you are probably right. But I will strive very hard to keep it as objective as possible.) So here's what I thought – late, I know, but better late than never.

The good

Screen adaptation – In general, this was very well done, especially considering that The Hobbit was written as a children's book, so it has some moments that would be very hard to represent on the screen without seeming excessively silly. There was a slew of variances from the text that the nerdy side of me took umbrage with (why, Jackson, why did the meeting at Rivendell have to be unpleasant, when it was so very pleasant in the book?!), but that, objectively, weren't bad and furthered the story well (although I still say the Rivendell meeting could have been more like it was written, without changing the story...but I digress). Jackson worked hard to give a bit of character to each dwarf, with mixed effect. On the one hand, many of them have distinct personalities (an improvement to the missing personalities for many characters in the book, heresy though it is to admit), which I like; on the other, Peter Jackson seems to have a very cheesy and somewhat juvenile sense of humor. We got glimpses of it in LotR, but it is exercised with much greater liberty here. This also true of his flare for the absurd (more on that later). All in all, however, the story is well told, and moves along quickly – once you get past the lumbering beginning (more on that as well).

Bilbo/Martin Freeman – Martin Freeman plays the lead role in this as Bilbo, and I thought he did a very good job. I have to admit, this Bilbo is not how I imagined Bilbo when reading. I saw him as more of a stuffy fellow, a county bigwig who is very self-important. Which isn't to say there isn't some of that; there is, and it is very well done. I cannot think this role was easy – to play a proud, somewhat cowardly yet surprisingly brave person. Excuse me, hobbit. Freeman did a very good job (he was particularly good against Smeagol, but more on that in a bit), and I look forward to his continuation of the saga.

Gandalf/Sir Ian McKellan – this, for any fan of LotR, practically goes without saying, but Ian McKellan was, as always, excellent. The only reason I have not put him in the “awesome” category was because I thought the character at times not very consistent, particularly when weighed against the Gandalf portrayed in LotR. Like, for instance, when he grimaces at the sight of Saruman – when, 60 years later, he will speak with deference and the utmost respect.

The bad

Flare for the Absurd – The dwarves' costumes are one example of this, but there is a much better one.

Radagast the Brown – ...which brings me to Radagast the Brown. What Peter Jackson was thinking with this, I will never know...but a wizard with bird poop running down his face? Really?! And I'm not even going to get into the bunny-drawn sleigh...

The Goblin King – This is another continuation of the above. But the rotund king of the goblins, complete with his foot of swaying chin fat, hardly brings to mind the ferocious goblin Tolkien wrote about, or anything ferocious. Maybe I'm being picky, but I thought he was just too...absurd.

Time – the movie, particularly the beginning, stretches on for too long. I'm not saying I didn't like seeing the first chapters adapted for the screen. But, objectively, it just drags on too long, and doesn't do much to further the story.

Characters that added nothing – Galadriel and Saruman, anyone? For all the awesomeness of seeing them again, they added nothing to the story, and ended up seeming like a tacky way to include beloved characters from LotR despite the fact that they are irrelevant to the movie.

The awesome

Thorin Oakenshield/Richard Armitage – anyone familiar with Armitage's work (North and South, Robin Hood, etc.) will know what caliber acting to expect. And this is no exception. Armitage brings life into the proud dwarf, Thorin, and you can understand both Bilbo's respect and his trepidation of him.

Smeagol/Gollum/Andy Serkis – Again, this is no surprise to any fan of LotR. But Smeagol is as good – dare I say, better? – this time around. And, as Andy Serkis remarked, 60 years younger, so that much sexier. ;) He is not onscreen for a long time, but he will manage to scare the daylights out of you, and move you to compassion in the next minute.

All in all, I liked the movie. I didn't love it, but I did love portions of it. I will certainly see it again.

4/5 “stars”

Placing blame where it belongs...or anywhere it'll stick, as long as it isn't over here!

Anyone listening to the conservative blogosphere or talking heads, or the typical conservative POV expressed on social media and elsewhere, is by now pretty clear as to where conversations can go regarding the Sandy massacre.

A discussion about limiting accessibility to assault weapons is verboten, for instance. There is no practical way to keep guns out of the hands of violent, mentally ill people, because that would infringe on the rights of good guys. We do not need a discussion about a culture that conflates masculinity and gun ownership, and what impact that has on insecure, mentally ill young men – a culture that is, coincidentally, fostered by the companies producing these weapons (like the following ad by Bushmaster – who produced one of the guns Adam Lanza used).

But you must understand that guns are not the problem here, unless it be that there are not enough guns floating around. To say otherwise is to be akin to Hitler, Stalin, and pretty much every other evil dictator out there – to want to leave the people defenseless to the wicked whims and evil machinations of tyrannical government. (Nevermind that, for all the villains you can dig up who disarmed the populace, there are plenty of countries who have implemented very strict gun control laws without butchering their people; you must be afraid, very afraid, that anyone who talks about in anyway regulating your right to bear arms [curse those fascist founding fathers!] wants you to be defenseless against the government. Because you, good American, with your cache of assault weapons, are the valiant guard of freedom, against the tyranny of our government...and their tanks, jets, drones, and everything else. That's a charge not to be taken lightly! And ignore, for that matter, that almost no one is talking about disarming the populace [you know, what those dictators actually did], but about limiting the types of guns that people can own to ones that are, say, well suited for hunting, self defense and target practice, but that aren't well suited to, say, taking into a public place and massacring large numbers of people or outgunning the police who have come to stop you). Guns, after all, do not kill people. People kill people, and they would do the same whether they had assault weapons or not; pay no heed to the fact that there were multiple gun massacres this year alone, because we can dig up a few people from the last century who managed to put together bombs and kill people (and we'll very disingenuously ignore that we tightened restrictions on the materials that went into making those bombs after the fact, because we want no such tightened restrictions on the weapons used in these massacres). We can point to people committing crimes without guns, like the assailant who attacked twenty-some kids on the same day with a knife in China; again, we'll ignore that all of those kids survived their wounds, while none of the Sandy Hook victims did. Yes, you may be able to inflict vastly more damage with an assault weapon than a knife, but you could still hurt people with a knife; and if you're going to restrict the one, you'll have to restrict the other. And since everything can cause damage (even flat screen tv's!), we'll be in a lot of trouble if we go down that slippery slope.

So we know what we can't talk about – where absolutely no blame lies and no discussion can happen. But the inevitable question, when such a senseless taking of innocent life occurs, is why, and how can we prevent it in future? Since none, absolutely none, of the discussion can involve guns, let's look at the creative ways that conservative/gun-rights activists have tried to explain the massacre, and where they've put the blame. (Warning: you will be weeping for humanity by time you're finished. Also, don't read if easily pissed off, because sensitive or compassionate these Grade A obfuscators are not).

Women and femininity. Charlotte Allen writes for the National Review that the real problem was that there wasn't enough “male aggression” at the school. You might be tempted to think that there was exactly one aggressive 20 year old male too much, but you'd be wrong – because, while “[w]omen and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers,” “male aggression” would have, Allen would have us believe, miraculously carried unarmed men to victory against a skilled, armed assailant. Because they're men. Aggressive men. It's hard to tell who she's more offensive to in this piece – men, who are, by her accounting, raging, aggressive magicians who can apparently withstand gun fire unlike mortal women (because they're men!), or women, who, even when performing feats of heroism, are given a tepid tribute of “seemed to have performed bravely” “according to the reports”. Well, yes, I do. Heroic women gave their lives to defend others (not through a failure on their parts, but because, as human beings, we are all – even men, believe it or not – susceptible to bullets), and they are all but dismissed as being not only useless but the problem. Still, I can't imagine too many men thrilled at being nominated for the honor of bullet absorption by virtue of being born male.

Video games. Newt Gingrich sees the issue as lying with less church and more video games. Specifically, “war games”. Unless something's changed recently in the Party that I'm not aware of, joining the real military and killing actual people where necessary is still a good thing; it's when you do it in make-believe that it's an issue. Violent video games, then, where you take fake guns and kill fake people (or aliens, or monsters) are bad. (Interestingly enough, it's video game legislation that made it to Congress before anything to do with guns).

Teachers and teacher's unions. Yes, you read that correctly. You know those heroes, who gave up their own lives to protect children? According to Tea Party Nation, the solution lies with taking power from the “radicals in the classroom” and busting teacher's unions. How or why doesn't matter. Only know that “if people are serious about stopping this sort of thing,” we need to eradicate the power of those “radical” teachers and bust their unions. Or so goes tea party logic.

Abortion and God. God is angry about abortion, thus, as a “consequence”, 20 children are murdered. That may not make sense to you, but it did to James Dobson, who listed as other sources of God's murderous rage gay marriage and atheism.

Not enough God. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association declared that “God is not going to go where he is not wanted” – and the solution to school shootings, in his eyes, is morning prayer. One can only wonder what sort of feeble minded deity would avenge himself on elementary students who were insufficiently sycophantic, but such musings are probably best kept out of Fischer's earshot.

God's been fired. Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and fountain of sanctimony, declared that we've “systematically removed God from our schools” and turned them into places “where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability”. Which might have been a better argument if Adam Lanza was or had been recently a student at the school. But considering that it was an elementary school, and he was a 20 year old man with a mind of his own, blaming the victims really doesn't achieve much here.

Abortion, and not enough God! Huckabee again. The issue is, according to him, that “we’ve escorted [God] out of our culture and marched him off the public square and then we express our surprise that a culture without him reflects what it’s become.” This would be a better argument if the places where God reigned supreme were in a better state; if, say, churches weren't rife with pedophile scandals. If, historically, Christian lands weren't bastions of cruelty, paranoia, superstition, and ignorance. If Christians didn't, say, wage the Crusades, or eradicate peaceful “heretics” like the Cathars, or kill scientists and physicians, or burn so-called “witches”, or torture confessions out of people; if there were less massing killings and wars between the Huguenots and Catholics, and “Papists” and protestants, and every sect of Christianity; etc., etc. See, for this sort of argument to be valid, the instances where Christianity reigns and secularism is banished have to be the good times. They have to be better then what we're talking about. And, quite frankly, they're not.

Gun control advocates have blood on their hands. And other such nonsense, put forth by various gun advocates. Again, the solution isn't to keep the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them; it's to put more guns in the hands of more people who should. A ton of cure is totally better than an ounce of prevention, you see.

So there you have it. Women, gun control activists, teachers, video games, abortion and gay people...we can have conversations about how much those things are to blame for school shootings. But not a word about guns.

Monday, December 17, 2012

From the Facebook group "Stop the World"

A look at, and word to, the worst-of-the-worst of the Connecticut massacre pontificators

It didn't take long after the Connecticut mass-killing of children and teachers for the accusations to start flying. There were the predictable responses, across traditional media, social media, and by word of mouth: there are too many powerful guns too readily available to the mentally ill; there aren't enough guns in society. Sometimes people phrased those things in reasonable manners, and sometimes it seems like they deliberately tried to be as abrasive and obnoxious as possible (like, suggesting that the victims were partially to blame because they weren't heavily armed or in the vicinity of weaponry – as if that is or should be a normal expectation for life – while at the same time ignoring that the only victim who was near arms was murdered with her own weapon by her son; or suggesting that said victim, Nancy Lanza, was responsible for and even deserved the massacre because she owned a weapon).

Then, of course, there were the people who threw any shred of decency to the wind, and decided to exploit the murders of multiple children and adults to the fullest degree in order to push their religious or political views.

I'm not even talking about the widely shared screen cap of the Christians on Facebook “observing” that the murdered children were actually getting the “BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER” by being shot – so that they can be with God, of course. While I've got my opinion of anyone who could look at a child's murder as a positive, much less 20 kids' murders as good things, random nitwits, one would hope, are not representative of a larger problem.

For the larger problem, we look to the talking heads, the thinkers (and I do use the word lightly) and the movements whose thoughts become the beliefs of their faithful followers. And we needn't look far.

Tea Party Nation, for instance, was happy to oblige with this screed on the Tea Party Nation blog (there are other posts there in a similar vein; one, for instance, is entitled, “Liberals are responsible for the tragedy”):

If people are serious about stopping this sort of thing they will take a number of steps:

1. Homeschool. Take away the power of the radicals in the classrooms. Makes your kids safer, too.

2.Back Right to Work legislation for the public sector. Teacher’s unions have helped cement much of this in place. As long as we have group think in the classrooms we will never see the end of this.

While there are a number of interesting points addressed in the piece (including the need for a “frank discussion of race” -- from which discussion we learn the ever important lesson that no tragedy is exempt from conjuring the specter of “black thugs,” even if the perp in question is an “evil white kid”; or the bit about how George Zimmerman, had he been there, would have kept those kids safe), these two are particularly noteworthy because of the sheer, callous irony of blaming “radical” teachers and “teacher's unions” for tragedies where teachers died to protect their students. The very same people that he vilifies as being responsible for these types of tragedies were the ones who died to save those kids. Whether the author appreciates the absurdity of his point or not, I cannot venture to guess; but he and others like him are pushing these ideas as if they should be taken seriously: we need only to get rid of evil teachers and teacher's unions, have more “George Zimmermans” around kids (because that worked out well), go to church more often, etc., and voila! Problem solved. Nevermind that teachers' unions have absolutely nothing to do with this, nor did, as far as any one can reasonably ascertain, race: this is where we need to look. Don't ask why (because you won't be answered). Just believe. And, of course, be afraid of those “black thugs” (actual quote).

But it wasn't just the Tea Party Nation at work showing its' “heartless asshole” bona fides. Prominent Republican and former (potentially future?) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and other Christians, were hard at work doing the same, being the Scarecrow to the TPN's Tinman in this scenario.

In the response to the shooting, he said:

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability?

Unsurprisingly, attempting to conflate an atmosphere respectful of all faiths with a godless carnage breeding machine, particularly in an instance where the perpetrator was an adult, not a student of the elementary school where he committed the massacre, raised some eyebrows. Which isn't to say that it was not widely repeated. Of course, it was. Social media and religious outlets were abuzz with similar pious nonsense, spouted by a bunch of people who apparently miss the contradiction between a merciful, loving god and a god who sits back to make a point to completely unconnected people while elementary students are being massacred. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association had an even more pointed explanation: “God is not going to go where he is not wanted”. 
 His remedy is to start every morning with a prayer. Fischer's God, it would seem, is indeed a petty, cold-hearted creature, if a few words of praise and adoration each morning will turn his head enough to ignore the whole “free will” bit in order to stop the shooter (which, really, turns on its head the classic answer to the question, 'why doesn't God stop evil if he exists?', but I digress), but he'll condemn to death a bunch of innocent kids because he didn't receive his daily dose of flattering.

At any rate, Huckabee had no intention of backing down from his comments. On the contrary, he reaffirmed them, and took them to an even more astonishing height. Not only is Huckabee's God on strike when it comes to answering the desperate pleas of elementary school students as they're being murdered because he's mad at some secularists or atheists somewhere else, but he's also teed off about “tax-funded abortion pills”:

Christian-owned businesses are told to surrender their values under the edict of government orders to provide tax-funded abortion pills. We carefully and intentionally stop saying things are sinful and we call them disorders. Sometimes, we even say they’re normal. And to get to where we have to abandon bed rock moral truths, then we ask “well, where was God?” And I respond that, as I see it, we’ve escorted him out of our culture and marched him off the public square and then we express our surprise that a culture without him reflects what it’s become.

It would be interesting to remind Huckabee that we've also stopped calling a lot of things that he would probably not consider sinful sinful, if only to hear his response: like eating with forks, being left-handed, having migraines, being a woman who practices medicine, etc. At any rate, the problem seems to be that Huckabee wants to be able to cast guilt-free judgments on particular persons. Excuse me: God wants Huckabee to be able to cast guilt-free judgments on particular persons. And as a result of that not being the case, he will sit idly by and let school kids be murdered. But, let us not forget, this god, whose opinions coincidentally align so well with Huckabee's, and who will let kids die over the “abortion pill”, is a merciful, loving, benevolent god. And I suggest that you let go of any thoughts that that is contradictory...because I've no doubt that too is a grave sin.

But never fret. Huckabee isn't alone out there on the "God's letting kids die because he hates abortion" limb. Social conservative James Dobson's god is also ignoring the pleas of dying children for the same reason. Much like the pro-lifers who are content to see children around the world starve and die while they fight for the "rights" of non-sentient fetal tissue, Dobson's God is willing to let elementary school students die as a “consequence” of the destruction of zygotes, embryos and fetuses. And the fact that we allow people to exercise their free will (that he supposedly gave people) to believe, or not, in God. And, of course, the gays!

I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition.  Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.

Ultimately, for these people, it all gets down to this: if only we had more God in government and public life, he'd be saving us from carnage, horror and death. I imagine the crusade, jihad, inquisition, witch trial, and heretic-burning victims of history would beg to differ. I imagine the Cathars and the protestants massacred by Catholic governments, and the Catholics massacred by Protestants, would disagree. Indeed, I imagine any of the victims of theocracy, past or present, Christian or otherwise, would have something to say about the joys of theocratic realities.

So please, people tempted to spout off that your god would have been happy to protect innocent kids if only we did what you say he wants; remember that he's not protecting innocents even in his own house (think: sex abuse victims), nor has he ever. Pretending that your self-serving, snake oil solution will make it all better only fools the already fooled; but it exposes your own cynical motives to the rest of us, and clearly. The same goes for those of you who think that spouting off about the evils of teachers while discussing hero teachers who sacrificed their own lives for their students. You don't have an argument there; it's simply rhetoric. Some people will nod along; but those are the people who already believe what you're saying! If that's your goal, to assuage the troubled consciences of the base that virulently attacks teachers as well as any attempt to regulate weapons, consider yourself successful, at least amongst the willing-to-believe. If your attempt is to sway others to your way of thinking, you're going to have to try a little harder. Formulating a cogent argument, and actually illustrating how your solution applies, would be a good start. 

And until such time as you can offer pertinent input, please, for the love of all that is good, shut the hell up. No, I'm not trying to take away your freedom of speech. You have the right to talk. But please remember that there are people, real, living, people, who are grieving dead mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons. You might score some points with your followers; but you do so at the expense of dead innocents and living sufferers. Please show some humanity. That too would go a long way in making the rest of us take you seriously.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A few days old, but if you haven't seen it...Hobbit clips

Six clips from The Hobbit. Some more exciting, some less. The "Not talking to you" one is especially good.

Watch at your own discretion, though, as there will be some sequences spoiled (nothing huge story-wise, but still...).