Posts Tagged ‘Review’

No Preamble: Eating Animals

February 29, 2016

Eating-Animals

I have struggled with the ethical dimensions of eating animals for most of my life. It first came to my attention when my high school crush, Katie Loughran, shared PETA’s “Meet Your Meat” video. I was appalled, like most who see the short (horror) film. Thus followed nine months of capricious veganism, and then many years of relapse. Even yesterday, my boss cooked up turkey chili in the breakroom and brought me a bowl: I ate it with relish, as he is a fantastic chef. But in the back of my mind lurks the ever-growing concern: The question of what kind a person I am in eating animals.

I write this brief reflective essay regarding a book I just finished, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. Speechless, or rather, so full of words I can’t contain them, I write this rambling account of the ways in which his book moved me; personally, socially, ethically, etc. the depth of Safran Foer’s argument cuts right through me. Personally, I’ve acted via the “conscientious inconsistency” Foer evokes regarding vegetarianism. Socially, I’ve found myself accepting meat from my manager/coworkers because they’re proud of their cooking and want me to share in their delight. As Safran Foer notes, it’s often more rude to turn away the meat than it is to stick to my principles. Ethically, I vacillate between thinking (1) it’s wrong to kill animals, and (2) it’s not inherently wrong to kill animals for consumption, but it is obviously wrong to kill animals in the manner of the factory farming system; this book does wonders to complicate that picture even further, as the author repeatedly suggests that there is indeed genuine ambiguity about killing for necessity. The list goes on ad nauseum, but Foer’s mantra that “Stories about food are stories about us” rings true for my own life.

The brief section titled “Battery Cage,” early on in the book, startled me to my core. Until reading that meager little page, I surprisingly hadn’t performed the thought experiment of being, myself, an animal confined to a cage for slaughter. The horror had gripped me in the studium (intellectual life), but never heretofore in the punctum (emotional life). The way Safran Foer turns the second person into a reinvisioning of the hierarchy between humans and animals is unnerving, to say the least. This is the first motivator for my now vegetarian/vegan-leaning ethical stance (if not yet in practice).

The section titled “Environmentalism” also shook my foundations, in the sense that my higher education is aimed towards Applied Environmental Ethics. In the light of his analysis, I must conclude that being a “casual omnivore,” as Foer puts it, is environmentally inexcusable (again, that difference between the studium and the punctum). It’s one thing to read about the environmental degradation resulting from our agricultural practices and, implicitly, my food choices. It’s another thing to see it phrased so bluntly: “omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do.” I don’t want to say something cheesy and (temporally) insincere but, in reading this book, my turbulence about the question of eating animals was absolutely slaughtered (pardon the pun). I can intellectually commit to reducing my meat intake–perhaps to zero–but habitually retraining myself and, in some cases, going out of my way and others’ to behaviorally commit, is another matter.

And, though Safran Foer doesn’t outright name it, his provocation for a “democratic” farm system reminds me much of what I’ve explored this semester regarding Food Sovereignty. I hadn’t heretofore transmogrified that movement into political terms (surprising considering how often I bloviate about American politics). To do so would require replacing “corporate” concerns with “civic” ones and, thus, extremely effort exerting. But, as with the work of John Dewey regarding the philosophy of education, redirecting the means and aim of any system towards democracy seems–to me at least–a noble, fruitful, optimistic endeavour.

I only maintain one worry regarding Safran Foer’s compelling narrative/argument: I find it interesting–if not frustrating–that Safran Foer neglects to mention artificially grown meat. For those unfamiliar, we are now on the cusp of scaling up meat tissue, grown without any animal to raise or kill. If our concern is, as Safran Foer writes, “all of the time […] between cruelty and ecological destruction, and ceasing to eat animals,” then I wonder how our concern would change regarding this “animal-less” (for lack of a better term) meat. That is, if we eliminate the suffering and killing of animals, but still eat “meat,” do we still have an ethical travesty on our hands? The only foreseeable objection to this innovation would be akin to arguments against homosexuality, one of squeamishness: “That makes me feel uncomfortable/That is unnatural, thus, wrong.” If this harmless new method of growing meat becomes scaled in the way the innovating company wants it to be, then how does Safran Foer’s argument shift?

(Link to a podcast in which “Meat Without Misery” is discussed at length: https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/meat-without-murder)

In any case, I highly recommend this book, Eating Animals, to all. It’s the kind of book I had to read in one sitting, the kind of book that is a perfect storm of the personal, social, and the ethical. Give it a read, and see where you stand in regards to the question of eating animals.

I’ll tempt you with this brief excerpt: “We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?

Advertisements

No Preamble: Never Shout Never “Recycled Youth” (Volume 1) Review

March 2, 2015

This album is part one of a three-part set of releases. I write this on the eve of the record’s release. Follow this link to tune in alongside my commentary.

On the Brightside: Harking back to the animated music video several years back, its hard to swallow this rendition of the previously chipper tune. There isn’t much to complain about in regards to this track aside from the fact that the original version exists. And, at the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, there is just a disconnect between the timbre of Christopher Drew’s vocals and the tone of the instrumentation (most notably the violin). I enjoy the evolution of NSN but I’d argue this intro to be the weakest track on this record. Yet, this assessment is not a barrier-to-entry for most other tracks on Recycled Youth. 6/10

Sacreligious: I didn’t expect much from this track; this song always reeked of semi-commitment. In re-recording this, the band bears down on the melody and adds previously-nonexistent depth to an already familiar track. This song’s structure flows more openly in Recycled Youth. The occasional guitar pauses, the choir-esque floating harmonies, and the picking pattern across the chord progressions all contribute to a much more palatable version than the original. Of course, I don’t condemn the original. But if we’re picking between the original and the revision (?), the recycled version fares better. 7/10

Love is our Weapon: Track 3 is a genuine transition between the original and RY, unlike many others on here. Great flow. Good alterations. It feels organic. Drew’s vocals are at their best in conjunction with other harmonies–Again, Drew’s altered singing style has its weak elements. This song’s theme and instrumental march almost demand the harmonies/layers. 8/10

Black Hole/Liar Liar:  If I remember correctly, this came as a B-side on the Summer EP and I wouldn’t have expected this (great) song to make it onto this album. That aside, I couldn’t be happier that it did. The original will always maintain a special place in my music library, but this recycled version just feels right. The surf-guitar tones really chill down the song, and the light kick drum spruces up the lack of high energy. Didn’t expect Drew to hit the high notes, but he rocked it out quite splendidly. The guitar solo and light chorus at the end really wrapped it up nicely. 10/10

Robot: This track is nothing short of the conclusion to a musical. It feels less angsty than the original, which has its strengths and weaknesses. With just a touch more of piano (lead vs. rhythm), I think this recycled version would be impenetrable. Amazing bridge and instrumental. In fact, I almost wish the bridge/instrumental ended the song. Other than for the sake of mirroring the original, the final chorus serves no genuine purpose. Near miss with this track. It was almost amazing, but not quite. 8/10

Here Goes Nothing: Thinking back, I only now realize that this is the third version of this song I now own. There was the myspace demo in 2007(?), followed by the Yippee EP rerecording. For whatever reason, the older tracks seem to translate much better into these new versions. As I’ve noted, Drew’s voice and singing style have altered considerably in the intermediary period between the original and recycled version. I have never met a NSN fan who doesn’t point to the Yippee EP as NSN’s golden age (and I have to say its hard to disagree, despite loving each succeeding release). There is something trance-y going on in this, perhaps because the kick/hi-hat placements sound like something straight out of Fruity Loops. Definitely a highlight track on this record. 10/10

Sweet Perfection: Again, what a great rendition. If it weren’t for the fact that I already loved the original version, this might have sold me. Luckily the amazing harmonicas were kept, accented with a little more vibe than the original. The peppered surf-guitar sounds like something that would appear in the Hawaii special of The Brady Bunch. The chorus harmonies in this version really buttress the otherwise meandering tone of this track. Great, silly ending. 9/10

Trance-Like Getaway: These final two tracks had more to live up to than the other seven combined. Off the bat, the whistling and harmonica so wonders to set the stage. I’m a little disappointed at the lack of overpowering Time Travel-esque harmonies; a lot of the vocal layers have been cut out. In a way, I can see how this would have (more or less) been the original growth of this song. There is something more authentic about the way this song progresses than the original. Yet, the bridge fizzles out in a way that the original completely succeeded in accomplishing. There is a feeling of release and relief at the end of the cyclical buildup and, in this version, that aspect is lost. 7/10

Lost at Sea: Time Travel holds a place in my heart that is unmatched by very few records. This is the definitive song off that record, in my mind, and, that being said, I will critique from a position of assuming you understand that I love this song. The “recycled” version begins in a way that is so great that the remainder of the song nearly fails to accomplish that same level of emotion. The harmonies are mixed in a way that feels fresh, open, and independent of the rest of this song. The verses just do nothing to bolster the impact of the choruses. There needs to be more than one looping acoustic guitar for such a heavy-handed track as this. And then, what? A couple plucks on the acoustic just end the song (and the record)? Hmm. Hard not to furrow my brow at this lackluster rendition. 8/10

Overall: 73/90. This record has its strengths across the board. I’ve never seen an artist go down this route of reinterpreting, “recycling,” one’s past recordings. It’s both a treat for fans and an opportunity to bring consonance to the ever-evolving style of music NSN produces. While some of these songs are bogged down by comparison, this album stands quite well on its own. I highly anticipate volumes two and three in the near future.

No Preamble: The Legend of Korra: “Day of the Colossus/The Last Stand” Finale Critique

December 20, 2014

Obviously Spoilers: Be warned, it’s better that way.

It’s no secret that the Legend of Korra has been deeply overshadowed by the Last Airbender in many ways. I’ll avoid a summary of these past four seasons and dive into my thoughts on the two-part finale of the series that aired today.

Day of the Colossus

“Day of the Colossus” has some cool action scenes, but the pacing just feels awkward and imbalanced. Most of the appealing moments in this episode deal with Kuvira’s massive mech suit. We are led to believe that this massive platinum creation is about to efface Republic City from the map–not exactly an original plot device (see every mech anime ever)–and the previous episode leads us to believe that Kuvira just blew the warehouse, and those inside it, to bits.

This series has been saturated with Deus ex Machinas at every turn. This episode is no different. A brief, undetailed example would have to include Milo and his paint-balloons being…windshield wiped randomly? Kuvira must have, I guess, thought of everything. Or a better example is the “plasma saw” which we just now find out about in the nick of time. LoK constantly introduces new technology immediately before it is used to solve everything, i.e. hummingbirds, the EMP Varrick uses, etc. Additionally, the random zoo we’ve never seen or heard about just happens to have two very compliant Badger Moles. Convenient. Or simply lazy writing. A more careful and patient writing team would have slipped in a zoo scene three or four episodes ago, casually showing us that it exists. Instead, we just have to swallow an instantaneous, clean solution.

It’s difficult sometimes to discern where the line is being drawn between this being a kids show and a fanservice for the ATLA generation (teens/adults). But the line clearly exists, or at least is intended to. It’s great that a kid-friendly show can be dramatic, complex, ethically nuanced, and culturally diverse. LoK stands well there. But ATLA was so well-written, well-animated, cohesive in its own universe, and actually developed its characters in unusual and believably human ways. LoK just kind of forgets about its characters and breaks its own rules. ATLA’s unique “anime” style was meticulously honed from real martial arts forms and it seem that we have lost that model. Inventive bending? Seductive settings? Character individuality? Very few of these in LoK, if any, hit their mark. Point is, if you’re going to use a character as a plot device, let’s get to know and care about these characters, settings, and battle techniques.

The most redeeming thing about this series is the fact that it’s willing to allow meaningful action to take place. This is a rather morbid analysis of what’s “good” about this show but, being honest, fights and battles should be meaningful; we should not just blow off action without consequence–especially in a kids show (still questioning that). Action should have real stakes for the characters and for us as viewers. There weren’t any moments in this episode where the action seemed to be leading to the downfall of any character we’re invested in. This is true especially the protagonists: They end up virtually unscathed.

Hiroshi Sato’s death was actually written and placed within the story well. It hurt to see him go so altruistically. However, this is the one consolation. After we’ve seen buildings torn apart, explosions the size of naval ships, our characters blown out of the sky, knocked out, beaten up, etc. we get ONE death. Casualties: 1

There are admittedly some cute moments between Varrick and Zhu Li, some nifty bending choreography, etc. But overall, not a very impressive lineup of plot and character development, especially for part one of a finale.

The Last Stand

First, where did Mako come from in this episode? His character is simply dead weight after season one, and the way they’ve tried to write him back in at the last minute begs some ponderous questions. It’s cool seeing Bolin & Mako team up as brothers, but we’ve seen that. Bolin is such a more likeable, complex, well-written character which leaves Mako an embarrassment. Comparatively, I’d argue the Cabbage guy from ATLA has more complexity.

Su/Lynn’s sibling fighting style is just so much more interesting and action packed than Mako/Bolin’s. The Beifongs rock it out in every fight scene they are involved in and I really wish they had more screen time. However, a note to the animators, when disarming the weapon, the spirit cannon exploded upwards and Su/Lynn just ducked backwards out of the way unscathed. That’s um…not how explosions work. They would have been singed, at best.

Which brings me to my next qualm with this finale: The world’s most slightly inaccurate mega-weapon. These two episodes have at least seven near-misses, where BUILDINGS are taken down and our characters just barrel roll out of the frame. Again, good writing demands consequences. I, personally, can accept about two near-misses in a high-stakes fight, and then it gets insanely cheesy. In the words of the YouTuber JonTron: “Fool me once, I’m mad. Fool me twice, how could you? Fool me three times, you’re officially that guy.”

All irritations aside, there are some genuinely cool action scenes. It was pretty brutal to see Kuvira just casually tear off the most important limb off her mega mech suit. Then the mech eventually gets blasted into pieces from the middle. We see Mako almost die (seriously, if he died there exploding the spirit vine, that would have been AWESOME and SIGNIFICANT). We needed more scenes like these with weight to them.

But then everything goes back into Deus Ex Machina territory. The broken spirit cannon arm just happens to be in working condition, tangled along down Kuvira’s escape path. The Avatar State just happens to be a panacea which not only blocks the spirit cannon, but rips another spirit portal into the world preventing any casualties. (“Yayyy, peace and prosperity and flowers.”)  Seriously. The explosion goes into a spirit-nuke which engulfs half the city and EVERYONE IS OKAY?! Boo. You cannot just write this level of violence and have everyone be safe, just ducking behind walls by the breadths of their arm hair. I don’t want anyone to die, but if you’re going to introduce a weapon with the alleged capability (and willpower behind it) to wipe a city off the map, show me. LAZY. WRITING.

And then the line drawn between kid/adult audience is made pretty glaringly obvious in the final moments of this episode. Korra just befriends Kuvira. We get a few brief lines of, “You don’t understand my problems. I was an orphan!!” Weak sympathy, poorly executed, with scant setup. Having never formally been invested in Kuvira before her rampage this season, her character evolution feels stale, forced, and puerile.

This episode just wrapped up like the seventh Harry Potter book (of which, admittedly, I am still a fan): We see Korra go into purgatory, or what looks like it, see the villian, and then suddenly compassion happens and we see her come back to life (so to speak). Everything gets wrapped up with a pretty bow, no one except Hiroshi dies, and everybody literally lives happily ever after. Yay.

I was worried at the end. It looked like they were setting Makorra up again (Mako & Korra as a couple), which seriously is the worst pairing in Avatar history. Luckily, we see a hint, a pretty direct hint, at Korrasami (Korra & Asami as a couple). I am a huge proponent of the Korrasami ship, and we’ve clearly been getting flirting glances at the potential there. It would be fantastic to see some deviation of heteronormativity on the show, given how much the fans have vocalized their yearning to see it happen. There was even a Change.org campaign to make Korrasami cannon. And lets be honest, they’re so cute together. Realistically, one chaste kiss between them would have been all we needed to see without being “in your face” and “offensive” to conservative viewers/parents. We don’t need a makeout session. But they just hold hands. We’ve seen every other couple kiss (when appropriate) and here we just get a suggestion. Not happy. Cowardly writing. Nickelodeon, I’m assuming, shut this one down.

Overall: I’ve seen far worse from Korra (the filler/recap episode this season still makes me cringe). I still don’t see why she deserves the “Legend of Korra” title; the only legendary thing about Korra is her impeccability to lose a fight. In fact, LoK has kind of called the title, “Last Airbender,” into question given how many airbenders come back. I understand the team behind the show got repeatedly shafted by Nickelodeon and that their budget was more than slashed. Though it sucks that they were taken off the air, I’ll go ahead and say, releasing a TV show over the internet for free is a much more convenient/effective system. The lack of respect the Avatar team received with LoK makes me really sad because given what we’ve seen this show to be capable of at times, the iffy parts really stick out, leaving a sore spot of what could have been. From season 1, most fans expected another ATLA. This became quickly apparent to be a pipe dream. Instead, we get something that staggers across the finish line. Regardless, it will be sad to see such a long, fruitful, cult-fanbase die down at last.  I may not be satisfied on every account, but I can safely say I will return to LoK again some day. Long live the bending universe.

Edit: Having taken some time to rewatch and reflect upon this entry, I have to say that I was a little harsh in my review. I’ve noticed a lot of things I was complaining about this finale missing–my mistake. Korrasami has been officially confirmed by the creators and so I feel more satisfied with the ending at this point. There are still some action gripes I maintain, but aside from those, this finale bumped from a 6/10 to an 8/10 in my mind. Even sadder now.