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Rachael
Stress Gives You Daughters, Sons Make You Liberal: We affect our children’s gender, and it affects us back.
Fascinating bit of socio-biology. (Content note: mention of rape.)
I wondered about this bit: "Weitzman finds that fathers of boys who are ages 12 to 18—but not dads of girls that age or of boys at other ages—are more likely to hold extreme views such as believing that it is okay to force sex upon an unwilling woman. They are also more likely to go outside the marriage for sex and to bring back sexually transmitted diseases to the family. This is perhaps the best evidence for parental socialization by children—the dads’ incentives are not likely to have changed as a result of their sons’ blossoming sexuality, just their mindset."
I don't know enough biology to know if this makes sense, but could this effect be due to pheromones or something, as opposed to social factors? Like when a group of women live together and their menstrual cycles sync up; if a group of men live together, including some teenage boys going through puberty, they might all exhibit high-testosterone behaviour?

The Problem of Susan
Various people object to Susan Pevensie being barred from Narnia because she's into "lipstick and nylons" which is apparently code for mature female sexuality. I don't get that from the text - firstly it's not maturity or sexuality, it's immaturity and superficiality, and secondly she's not barred as a punishment for liking those things, she chooses those things over Narnia and calls Narnia a silly childish game - and neither does the writer of this essay.

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<a href="http://nautil.us/issue/31/stress/stress-gives-you-daughters-sons-make-you-liberal-rp&gt;Stress Gives You Daughters, Sons Make You Liberal: We affect our children’s gender, and it affects us back.&lt;/a&gt;
Fascinating bit of socio-biology. (Content note: mention of rape.)
I wondered about this bit: " weitzman="Weitzman" finds="finds" that="that" fathers="fathers" of="of" boys="boys" who="who" are="are" ages="ages" 12="12" to="to" 18—but="18—but" not="not" dads="dads" of="of" girls="girls" that="that" age="age" or="or" of="of" boys="boys" at="at" other="other" ages—are="ages—are" more="more" likely="likely" to="to" hold="hold" extreme="extreme" views="views" such="such" as="as" believing="believing" that="that" it="it" is="is" okay="okay" to="to" force="force" sex="sex" upon="upon" an="an" unwilling="unwilling" woman.="woman." they="They" are="are" also="also" more="more" likely="likely" to="to" go="go" outside="outside" the="the" marriage="marriage" for="for" sex="sex" and="and" to="to" bring="bring" back="back" sexually="sexually" transmitted="transmitted" diseases="diseases" to="to" the="the" family.="family." this="This" is="is" perhaps="perhaps" the="the" best="best" evidence="evidence" for="for" parental="parental" socialization="socialization" by="by" children—the="children—the" dads’="dads’" incentives="incentives" are="are" not="not" likely="likely" to="to" have="have" changed="changed" as="as" a="a" result="result" of="of" their="their" sons’="sons’" blossoming="blossoming" sexuality,="sexuality," just="just" their="their" mindset."="mindset.&quot;" i="I" don't="don&#39;t" know="know" enough="enough" biology="biology" to="to" know="know" if="if" this="This" makes="makes" sense,="sense," but="but" could="could" this="This" effect="effect" be="be" due="due" to="to" pheromones="pheromones" or="or" something,="something," as="as" opposed="opposed" to="to" social="social" factors?="factors?" like="Like" when="when" a="a" group="group" of="of" women="women" live="live" together="together" and="and" their="their" menstrual="menstrual" cycles="cycles" sync="sync" up;="up;" if="if" a="a" group="group" of="of" men="men" live="live" together,="together," including="including" some="some" teenage="teenage" boys="boys" going="going" through="through" puberty,="puberty," they="They" might="might" all="all" exhibit="exhibit" high-testosterone="high-testosterone" behaviour?="behaviour?" <a="&lt;a" href="http://nautil.us/issue/31/stress/stress-gives-you-daughters-sons-make-you-liberal-rp&gt;Stress Gives You Daughters, Sons Make You Liberal: We affect our children’s gender, and it affects us back.&lt;/a&gt;
Fascinating bit of socio-biology. (Content note: mention of rape.)
I wondered about this bit: ">The Problem of Susan</a>
Various people object to Susan Pevensie being barred from Narnia because she's into "lipstick and nylons" which is apparently code for mature female sexuality. I don't get that from the text - firstly it's not maturity or sexuality, it's immaturity and superficiality, and secondly she's not barred as a punishment for liking those things, she chooses those things over Narnia and calls Narnia a silly childish game - and neither does the writer of this essay.

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Coming Home - Annabel Kantaria
The Disappearance - Annabel Kantaria
These were quite interesting novels which dealt with the ageing and/or death of one's parents, and various problems in the relationships between adults and their parents. But I felt they both failed as thrillers. They both had what were intended as twists and revelations, but they were generally very predictable and unsurprising, especially the main twist at the end of The Disappearance. I think I'd have enjoyed them more, especially The Disappearance, if they were presented as ordinary contemporary-realistic novels, rather than twisty thrillers.
They were also badly edited, with SPaG errors, and garbled idioms like "the white elephant in the room", which would be a clever turn of phrase if it referred to something which was both a white elephant and an elephant in the room, but in fact it was only the latter.

Closing In - Sue Fortin
This was more of a generic thriller, with the basic structure there is danger - the danger gets worse - then it's all OK. It didn't really do anything interesting with that formula. There was also a large romance subplot which I didn't find engaging. There was the potential for twists which could have happened but didn't. For example, the protagonist has left her boyfriend and changed her name, and got a job as a nanny; and it's strongly implied that the boyfriend was abusive and she's in hiding from him. I was kind of hoping it would turn out that she was the one to blame in the relationship and that she'd changed her name to escape the law; but instead everything was as it seemed. (Still, I can add the alternate version to the list of stories I could maybe write.)
This one would have also benefited from better editing - for example, it described something that "lauded over" rather than "lorded over".

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Zoe is two and a half now!

She's incredibly articulate, and speaks in complex sentences. (Some of her funnier quotes are here.) Her grammar's arguably got worse recently, because she's reached the developmental stage of noticing grammatical rules and over-applying them, so she'll say things like "We goed to the shop and buyed some ice lollies, and then we eated them."

She loves stories, and has a great grasp of plot and emotion, and will intelligently explain what's happening in a book or film. (Even before she was two, she was saying things like "Daisy and Poppy are sad because their daddy took their wands.") Bethany at this age had no interest in stories yet, and preferred to read picture books (like "apple, banana, carrot") and watch videos about counting, colours, or the alphabet.

She plays really well with Bethany, and they love to play role-playing games, where they'll be characters from the Lion King or the Jungle Book or Numberjacks. She also usually plays well with other children - friends or strangers - playing co-operatively with them rather than just parallel play.
She can play some preschool board games, and she can even play Guess Who - she always needs reminding whether you flip down the ones which do or don't have glasses (say), but she can choose a character and answer questions about it correctly, and ask mostly sensible questions about her opponent's character. She also enjoys jigsaws.

She likes to climb (although I think she's not quite as confident in that as Bethany at the same age) and bounce on the trampoline. She can play catch with a balloon, and likes trying unsuccessfully to play catch with a ball. She's learning to ride a scooter and a tricycle.

She can count to 20, recognise all the digits, recite the alphabet, and recognise maybe about half the letters. She knows how to spell her name, and which letters a handful of other words begin with.

She enjoys helping with cooking, and helping with some chores if she's in the right mood.

She's out of nappies in the daytime (although not completely reliable with poo yet) and she's mostly given up her daytime nap. She's good at walking, and we don't need the pushchair much any more.

She's very sweet and affectionate, and loves to be with all of us, and is sad when any of the other three of us aren't there. She'll often spontaneously tell us she loves us, and she loves to kiss and cuddle. She's extremely ticklish.

She loves to sing. She's not as tuneful as Bethany, but she's very good at remembering words, and it's lovely to hear them singing together. Although sometimes she gets cross because she wants to sing on her own and doesn't want Bethany to sing with her.

She watches far too much TV and film, but it doesn't seem to be harming her intellectual or emotional development.

At the moment she's really intoslugs and snails, and enjoyslooking for them in the garden.

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These are the "leaders" you can play in the four ages in the game Through the Ages:

Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Hammurabi, Homer, Julius Caesar, Moses
Christopher Columbus, Frederick Barbarossa, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo
Isaac Newton, James Cook, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Maximilien Robespierre, Napoleon Bonaparte, William Shakespeare
Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Charles Chaplin, Mahatma Gandhi, Sid Meier, Winston Churchill

There's only one woman in the whole 24. (This doesn't bother me - I just noticed it on about my fourth game and thought it was interesting. I'd probably have been less likely to notice if there were zero women.) I was wondering, if you did want to have more female leaders, who would you put in? Who are the most famous women who ever lived? (I think "famous" is a better criterion than "important", where there's a difference.) The people in the list above have a fairly good case for being the most famous people, apart from Meier, who is there as an in-joke because the game was inspired by Civilization; and perhaps Chaplin, who Alex tells me is Elvis in a different edition of the game, which makes more sense.

Some ideas: Cleopatra; The Virgin Mary; Jane Austen; Florence Nightingale; Margaret Thatcher?

Mary wouldn't really work because she's only famous because of her son, so it would be weird to have a card for her and not for Jesus, unless you came up with a clever game mechanic that was specific to Mary. Austen wouldn't work because she'd be functionally equivalent to Shakespeare.

Thatcher is probably not famous enough outside of the UK. But she would offer potential for snark - there are already some jabs in the game, like if you build the Kremlin or implement Communism, you get some civil or military benefits but your people are less happy, and if you implement Fundamentalism, your military gets stronger but your science suffers. So Thatcher as a leader could give you some civil or economic benefits but make you disband a mine?

What obvious famous women have I missed?

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Through the Ages
This is a serious, long, resource-management game. I'd got the impression it would be something I would like, but I was putting off learning it until I had the time and energy to cope with a three-hour game plus rules explanation. That finally happened a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. It is unfortunately quite long, but apart from that it's a really interesting and enjoyable game of the kind I really like and don't get to play enough of any more (others in this category are Terra Mystica, Tzolk'in, Caylus, and Agricola). Luckily there's an online implementation, so there have been a few evenings recently when Alex and I have played two-thirds of a game in real time, and finished it off as a background activity over the course of the next day. That's less satisfying than playing the whole thing in real time on a real board, but it's a very valuable substitute when you don't have the time. There's also quite a bit of fiddly bookkeeping, so it's nice to have the computer do that.
It has things in common with 7 Wonders, although it's more complicated. There are three Ages, and there's card drafting, and you can build resource-making buildings, which allow you to build the other kinds of buildings, which include point-scoring cultural artefacts, science buildings, military units, and multi-stage Wonders; and if you have a primitive building in a certain category it's cheaper to upgrade it into a more advanced building in the same category.
There are a lot of very interesting mechanics, and lots of different things to balance and juggle, and I like it. The flavour and mechanics are tied together well (I think if you had a list of the real historical people and wonders used in the game, and a separate list of the mechanics those cards provide, you could do a pretty good job of matching them up). And there's pleasing structure and patterns in the set of cards you can play.

Creature College
Alex kickstarted this and we tried it out at GamesEvening this week. There are nine bidding rounds in which you bid for monsters in five suits with various strengths, and every third round you have to fight your neighbours.
I didn't like it. It reminded me of King of Tokyo - I think it's aimed at pre-teens who will be excited about the cool/funny monsters and not care about the gameplay. I felt there wasn't enough game there to justify the length and complexity. To be fair, we did play it 6-player with people who were all new to the game, so it took longer than it otherwise would (1 1/2 hours plus rules explanation; box says 45 mins). The length of the bidding round squares with the number of players: if someone puts a higher bidding token on the monster you wanted, your token is kicked off, and you can put it on a different monster which someone else wanted and kick them off and so on.

Hot Tin Roof
This is about cats, which is a big plus.
It's a nice quick game with simple rules and interesting gameplay. There's a map of disconnected roofs, with places where they can be connected with catwalks. There are five action spaces, and every turn you have to seed all of them with fish coins from your own supply. Then you take one of them and all the fish on it (so the less popular spaces get more attractive over time). Three of them are for placing a pair of cats on a pair of distant roofs, one is for placing a catwalk, and one is for placing a shelter (an ownership marker on a roof, which doesn't affect the catwalk topology). You have to get your pair of cats to meet up (which earns 10 fish and gets those cats back), and you have to pay rent to the owners of any catwalks or shelters you traverse.
You can't take the three cat-placing actions when all your cats are already on the board (you have two pairs of cats), so when everyone's cats are on the board, the coins on those three action spaces pile up, and if you can get your cats back soon you can get a big payout that way.
There are a lot of interesting decisions, and it's quick to play and explain. The only flaw is the visuals. It's very pretty and atmospheric, but they've decided to go for realism over functionality. So the board is drawn at night, and all the player pieces are in realistic cat colours: light and dark grey, and light and dark brown. So it's hard to tell which opponent you're supposed to be paying rent to. It reminds me of La Strada, where everything's in different shades of brown. The other issue with the graphic design is that it's very hard to read the board and tell what's connected to what. It's like On the Underground or TransAmerica in that you want to know which spaces are connected to the general network and which aren't yet, but it's harder to parse that than it is in those games. I'm not sure whether that's deliberate or not - whether it's a graphic design failure, or a deliberate part of the skills needed to play the game.
I'd quite like to make a home-made reskin where the connections are more obvious and the player colours are red, yellow, blue and green. It would be less pretty but more playable.

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Watched 101 Dalmatians with the girls. I hadn't seen it before. Pongo and Perdita are having their first litter of puppies, with the women of the house in attendance, who come out and report to Roger that there are 8 puppies. But more puppies keep being born and they keep revising their count - 11, 12, 13, 14, 15! which the girls found hilarious.
Then there's a bit of Mood Whiplash - a revised count, "14, we lost one" and they bring out a tiny bundle wrapped in a yellow cloth and hand it to Roger, who sadly opens it to look (not showing the audience). I thought, eek, puppy stillbirth, that's a bit of a heavy topic to explain to the girls. Then Roger tries rubbing the lifeless puppy to restore it to life, and it works, and a little white nose peeps out of the bundle, and they all rejoice and exclaim "15!"
But then when Alex got home, Bethany described the plot to him, and she thought they'd lost the 15th puppy, as in mislaid it. She thought it was really funny that the missing puppy turned up in the very same yellow cloth the lady was holding when she said "We've lost one" - like, it was there all along and the lady didn't realise!
I wonder whether this ambiguity was intentional on Disney's part, so that young children can understand the film on one level and adults on another.

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Bethany (singing): "Without meee... No one can come to the Father..."
Zoe: "Bethany, who's the Father?"
Bethany: "God."
Zoe: "Oh. But I thought Jesus was the Father."
Bethany: "No, Jesus is the Son."

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The Accident - C L Taylor
Sue's teenage daughter is in a coma after being hit by a bus. Eyewitnesses say she looked like she stepped in front of the bus on purpose, and Sue peeks at her diary, which reveals she was hiding some kind of secret, so Sue tries to get to the bottom of it (believing this will help her daughter wake up), but Sue's husband Brian thinks it was just an accident and she should stop upsetting herself by investigating.
Sue is quite a paranoid character and doesn't know who to trust. Is Brian hiding something, or her daughter's school friends, or teachers?
This book was quite good, but didn't stand out as much as some I've read recently. We get flashbacks about Sue's abusive ex from when she was a young woman, and I thought he was badly portrayed - he didn't seem like a three-dimensional person, just a textbook case study of an abuser.
I also disliked the way it wasn't clear what happened at the end, but that's just me, some people like it that way.

The Good Mother - A L Bird
Wow, this is astonishingly good (and quite dark). It's really gripping and really well-crafted, with a paradigm-shifting twist.

Susan wakes up in an unfamiliar locked room, and hears the voice of her daughter Cara from the next room, but doesn't know why she and her daughter are there or what their captor wants with them. She longs for her husband Paul to come and rescue them. As well as Susan's POV, we also get narration from Cara's school friend Alice, and from the unnamed man on the other side of the door. His sections are very sinister. He talks about his obsession with Susan since he bumped into her in the supermarket years ago, the photos of Susan and Cara on his walls, and his sexual desire for Susan - but he doesn't want to take her by force, he wants to get her to the point where she'll choose him willingly, and so he's drugging her food. He talks about how much he longs for them to be a happy family, and he knows deep down this is what Susan wants too even if she won't admit it to herself at the moment. And in fact, although Susan fears and hates him, in the chapters she narrates she finds herself feeling a disturbing undercurrent of desire for him too.
We also get a brief flashback narrated from Cara's POV, where she got into a car with a man who'd told her to look around and make sure her mother wasn't watching. He put his hand on her knee and told her some disturbing things, and took her to a cafe to meet up with another strange man, who kept looking her up and down intently and wanted to get to know her better at his home.

And then there is a huge twist.

I read the book in one day (it was very gripping), and then I literally went back and reread it the next day, because I had to reread everything in the light of the information at the end. It's a masterful piece of misdirection, like The Burning Air.

*** Spoilerific discussion follows - only read on if you don't plan to read the book but want to appreciate the writing craft with me ***
Spoilerific discussionCollapse )

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Primer
I'd heard that this one was complex and hard to follow, so I saved it for a time I was feeling reasonably alert. The actual time travel plot was quite complex, and that was fair enough. But what made it hard to follow was that it was told in a needlessly obscure way, with a lot of important events happening off-camera and having to be inferred. This is orthogonal to the complexity of the plot and the interesting time travel (it would have worked just as well, or badly, in a mundane rom-com or something), and while I like complex time travel if I can follow it, I thought the obscure narrative style was pointless and offputting. Also, the characters all mumbled quite a lot (there was a low-budget home-camcorder aesthetic to it) which made it even harder to follow. I've since read plot summaries, and there's a good story in there somewhere, but it was badly told.

Peggy Sue Got Married
This is about a middle-aged woman in the process of a divorce, who faints at her high school reunion, and wakes up to find herself a teenager again (dating her husband-to-be). It's a good premise, with potential to put right things she did wrong the first time, or learn new things she missed before; but not much of that happens.
I didn't like the character much. She was very drippy. As an adult she moped around and seemed always on the verge of tears, and had to be steered through life by her daughter. As an adult in a teenager's body, she gushed effusively about how amazing and overwhelming it was to see her school friends as they used to be. And then her mother. And then her sister. And then her grandparents. I get it, but it got a bit monotonous. (And it is a criticism of Peggy Sue, not of Kathleen Turner. I liked her a lot in Romancing the Stone.)
I realised partway through that the plot was a bit hamstrung: she had married a jerk who made her miserable, but she couldn't end up not marrying him the second time around, because she had two children whom she loved and missed very much and whose existence she wouldn't want to erase. So she couldn't end up with Michael the intense poet (who, to be fair, turned out not to be that much of a catch, because he wanted her to be one of his multiple wives and work to support him so he could write) or Richard the geek (who was a bit stereotyped, but very likeable: he was always kind and respectful to her, and shared his intellectual passions with her, and as a bonus he ends up rich and famous). Instead the best that could happen was that she could make some changes which would make her future relationship with Charlie a better one. (It worked for Marty McFly's parents.) But that didn't really happen. She was a bit more assertive with him and tried dumping him, but they got back together, he had an entitled yell at her about how he was so good-looking so why wouldn't she want to be with him, and she saw him performing in a gig (which she hadn't seen first time round, as opposed to all his other gigs which she had) and that somehow made her appreciate him in a new way, which I didn't understand. I think the idea was that by going back to when they were first together, she fell in love with him all over again; but it didn't really come across, and there wasn't much about him even as a teenager to fall in love with! (The books What Alice Forgot and The Man Who Forgot His Wife do this much better. Both have protagonists who are going through a divorce, lose their memory, and fall in love with their spouses again. But in those cases the past-spouses are more likeable, and the protagonists were at fault and learn from their experience and grow to treat their spouses better.)
As far as I could tell, she made use of her second chance by trying some things she felt she'd missed out on first time round (namely, smoking pot and shagging Michael) and having experienced them, now felt more willing to settle for Charlie?
It just didn't feel like enough happened in this film, or like her journey to the past had any point to it.
The film naturally invites comparisons with Back to the Future: both were made and set in the mid-eighties, travelling back to high schools in 1960 and 1955 respectively. But BTTF is fun and uplifting, and does very cool things with time travel, whereas Peggy Sue Got Married is a bit depressing and anticlimactic.

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