Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Favorite Peanuts Strip

Still experimenting/enjoying the new scanner. Here's my favorite Peanuts strip of all time, a Sunday strip from August 1960:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What I'm Reading: A Family of Value

A Family of Value is a practical, hands-on book by John Rosemond on how to raise respectful, resourceful, and responsible children. John Rosemond is a child psychologist who believes that most of the child psychology of the past several decades has been counter-productive, and that old-fashioned methods in raising children are generally preferable to modern approaches.

That doesn't mean beating your children or sending them off to the orphanage or whatever Dickensian images "old-fashioned child-rearing" might bring to mind. Rather, he points out that until the 1960s, grandparents passed down to new parents a set of time-worn adages for child-rearing that worked perfectly well. Adages like, "You made your bed, now lie in it;" or, "I'm going to give you enough rope to hang yourself;" or, "A watched pot never boils." These age-old methods had wisdom behind them, but the best part was a parent didn't have to understand why they worked, didn't have to become an expert themselves, they simply had to follow the adages.

The book is divided in three parts. The first part is background on how Rosemond came to believe modern child-rearing methods are ineffective and is something of a rant against a lot of trends in modern society. I felt this was the least interesting part, and as the book was written in 1995, somewhat outdated as well. This part can be skipped without losing much. (By the way, I just checked on Amazon, and the book is still in print.)

The second part is where the good stuff starts. He puts forth how modern parents can revive the old-fashioned methods. I don't want to give away all his secrets, but he makes a lot of good points here. One of his main principles is that a family with a child who has problems that are worrying his parents is putting the worry in the wrong place. Many of his recommendations are for taking various problems (not doing homework, talking back, etc.) and putting the worry on the child. By making it the child's problem rather than the parents' things tend to get solved a lot more quickly.

Another principle of his I like is that children are resilient, not fragile. He thinks in most cases, if you treat a child as a responsible person (within the limits of his age) rather than a victim he'll be fine. Chores, homework, relations with friends and siblings are all things children could and should be handling for themselves, and parental involvement only causes more problems than it solves.

One thing I have already started doing is assigning more chores. Rosemond stresses that chores involve a child in the family, indeed, they give him a stake in family life by making him responsible for helping the house function. In fact, Rosemond thinks children should have one or more chores to do around the house every day. We already made our kids clean their rooms, help clear the table, and a couple other tasks, but this very week we have started upping their contributions to keeping the house clean.

The third part is a series of specific situations Rosemond has culled from parents he's counseled and letters he's received, and how he recommends dealing with them. As in the second section, we've already found a helpful approach for our daughter, who is a picky eater. He doesn't believe you should force a child to eat something she doesn't want to, but neither should a child be allowed to complain about her food (rude!) nor does the parent need to go to the trouble of making extra dishes for a picky eater.

Rosemond recommends you simply give your picky eater very small portions of all the same food the rest of the family is eating. If she complains, take an hour off her bedtime. If she eats it all, she may have seconds, dessert, or snacks the rest of the family is having. But if she doesn't finish it, set it aside. If she says later she is hungry, bring out the food again and say after she finishes it she may have snacks, dessert, etc. Otherwise, she must not be really hungry. The main thing is not to make a big deal about it. Over time, increase the portion size until the child is eating normally for her age.

Starting tonight, we put this plan into effect. Our daughter didn't eat much, but it did eliminate the complaining. Halfway there!

I heartily recommend this book for parents of children who could be more respectful, responsible, or resourceful, and are looking for a fairly straightforward way of dealing with it, without a lot of psychological theories or terminology.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

More Scary Movie Rankings

OK, let's do two more. Last night, as per the schedule, the family watched Village of the Damned (1960). I'll also rank John Carpenter's version of The Thing (1982), which I re-watched with my stepfather this past summer.

This British movie is about a village in southeast England where one strange day in the late 1950s, everybody fell asleep. The British army moved in to investigate, and found drawing too near the town caused any intruder to fall asleep as well. A few hours later, everybody woke up, and so far as anybody could tell nothing was any different, except for one thing: all the women in town of child-bearing age were pregnant.

They gave birth five months later (!) to a dozen children. The babies developed rapidly and without any of the normal childhood sicknesses. These children stuck together and when one learned something, the others learned it as well, without needing to speak to one another. As they grew, they developed powers to read others minds, and to control others as well.

I don't want to say too much more, except that when I first saw this in high school, I think, it became one of my favorite horror movies, and upon seeing it again so many years later, my opinion remains.

Story/Plot/Characters--Acting is great, pacing is perfect, story is compelling. (4 points)
Special Effects--Already this movie challenges my system a bit, for there are few special effects. I can't count that against the movie, simply because it chose not to use them, can I? The trick with the children's glowing eyes is effective. On the other hand, there is a scene where a house catches on fire that is clearly a model, and also, cars do not explode simply because they hit a brick wall. (1 point)
Scariness--My daughter, 6 years old, says it wasn't that scary. On the other hand, my son, 10, covered his eyes at a couple points. I found it moderately scary. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness--This movie is chock full of atmosphere and freakiness. (2 points)
Total=8 points

John Carpenter remade the Thing From Another Planet (1951) in 1982. I wonder if this was the first example of the sub-genre of action-horror? Certainly, Aliens (1986), Predator (1987), Pitch Black (2000), and the 1999 remake of The Mummy, fall in this genre. But I can't think of any examples before The Thing. The first Alien (1979) may have been close, but not quite.

Story/Plot/Characters--Acting is great, pacing is fine, but the characters are thin. Also, a key plot point is ridiculous. When the station biologist, Blair (played quite well by Wilford Brimley!), performs an autopsy of the disfigured corpse, he realizes it must be an alien creature. Fine. But then he runs a computer program that calculates the alien, which can take the form of any creature it takes over, will overrun the earth within a matter of weeks? What? Did Blair just happen to have that program on his computer? Or did he program it himself while on break from the alien autopsy? This makes no sense, and is a major hinge in the movie. (2 points)
Special Effects--This has some of the best effects of any horror movie I've ever seen. (2 points)
Scariness--Some scary scenes. I feel the very nature of the movie as a hybrid between action and horror undermines some of the scariness, though. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness--The creature's transformations are pretty freaky, and the isolated nature of Antarctic outpost makes for a nice feeling of isolation. But again, the action aspects undermine the atmosphere. (1 point)
Total=6 points
Here's the master list of horror movies I've rates so far:
Village of the Damned=8 points
Jaws=7 points
The Thing=6 points

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ranking Scary Movies

I've love horror movies. I always have, ever since I was a little kid. Not sure why, there's just something primal in them that appeals to me.

In my house, we have movie night every Saturday. We cycle so that my son picks the movie one week, my daughter the next, and my wife or I on the third week. However, in October I take over the movie decision-making for a selection of age-appropriate scary movies. I even make up a flyer and everything! Here's this year's:

As we've done with the James Bond movies and the comic book movies, let's rank the horror movies. As this blog topic continues in coming weeks, we'll do the ones I'm watching with my family this year, as well as last year's. In addition, we'll do some other ones I've seen in the past few years.

As with the James Bond movies, we'll come up with a little rubric so this is scientific. Let's score it out of ten points.

Story/Plot/Characters--Is it coherent and logical? Are the characters realistic? Acting, directing? (4 points)

Special Effects--This will be on something of a curve, so that movies from, say, the 1930s will be graded against other movies from the same era. (2 points)

Scariness--Duh, a horror movie should be scary. (2 points)

Atmosphere/Freakiness--This seems separate from sheer scariness to me. A lot of movies might not be that scary but are appealing as horror movies because of the atmosphere. (2 points)

Let's start off with Jaws, a movie I watched with my kids during October last year, and which my daughter asked to watch again on her movie night just a few weeks ago. She's six years old, by the way, so already her taste in horror is impeccable. I suppose my judgment as a parent might be more questionable, but that's another topic....

Story/Plot/Characters--Characters are right out of real life, plot is plausible and flows naturally, directing and acting are superb. (4 points)
Special Effects--Steven Spielberg famously limited the amount of time Jaws is on screen because the robotic shark he had made up looked too fake. It was a good decision, because you can hardly tell, and mixed with real shark footage this is totally believable. (1.5 points)
Scariness--Medium scary. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness--Not especially atmospheric, but it has its moments, especially in the scene when Chief Brody and oceanographer Hooper are out on Hooper's research boat in the middle of the night. Certain moments on board Quint's boat, the Orca, at the end, also count. (.5 points)
Total=7 points

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What I'm Reading: Roundup

Hark! A Vagrant This is a collection of comic strips by Kate Beaton, who creates erudite, smart-ass, and occasionally foul-mouthed comics revolving around historical and literary themes. Let me use our new scanner to give you an example, this one from King Lear.

Pretty funny, right? Her cartoons have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications. So if smart-ass and foul-mouthed New Yorker comics sound as awesome to you as they do to me, you'll probably enjoy this book. I understand she has a new collection coming out in the near future, as well.

Island This is a new comic anthology series published in magazine format. The editor of this project is Brandon Graham, who did the art on the revival of the Prophet series, which I reviewed here. As you might expect from that, this could be characterized as weird science fiction. Other artists taking part include Emma Rios, Farel Dalrymple, and many others. I think my favorite story so far was Simon Roy’s piece on a floating space station where humanity has regressed to the stone age, but with remnants of technology still around. Ludroe's story about a skateboarding mummy was also fun.

The Spire I’m a sucker for giant, intricate, labyrinthine cities/buildings and the adventures that take place in them, so I've really been enjoying this new fantasy comic series. As per usual in this type of series, the elite humans live on the top level of the humongous Spire, while the less-privileged immigrant outlanders, who seem to be various types of monstrous humanoids, populate the lower levels. One of those less-privileged, Sha, has risen to be head of the Queen's guard, and she's investigating a series of murders that seem to involve the very highest ranks of Spire society. Well-written and with lots of fascinating little world-building details.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Recent short story published online

The blog maintained by the Writers of Chantilly recently posted one of my short stories. I actually meant to include the link weeks ago but I kept forgetting... Anyway, here it is now. It's titled Favor in Thy Sight.

I should add the WoC blog also has several other stories by other members of the group. Some of them are quite intense and moving. If you have never visited there, it will be worth your time to go and read some of them!