What I Learned About Character Development, I Learned from Joss Whedon

Had an epiphany when revising my YA book of how much Joss Whedon's "Buffy" was an influence on me as an artist. Here's a bit of me praising the man and noting some key episodes you may want to check out of "Buffy." Please also not spoilers if you haven't watched the entire show.

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"Outrage" over inequality and hypocrites

"Outrage" Documentary Early this month HBO premiered Kirby Dick's documentary on hypocrisy in government from politicians who boldly vote for anti-gay legislation while leading a closeted life as homosexuals. Outrage focuses on various politicians, many Republicans, who have been outed by members of the press, in particularly Blogactive.com founder Mike Rogers.

The outrage is over politicians who can be so strong in their convictions when it comes to voting against equal rights such as same-sex marriage, gays in the military, same-sex couples being able to adopt, AIDS/HIV funding, etc. yet have no problems with entering into a sexual relationship (be it NSA or long-term) with someone of the same sex. It boggles the mind of everyone who speaks on the matter as to how one can be so blatant when it comes to condemning a part of themselves and hiding it by living a "normal" life that is accepted among their conservative majority.

Politicians such as former Senator Larry Craig (Idaho), Representative Ed Shrock (Virginia), Jim McCrery (Louisiana), and David Dreier (California) are some of the people who have been outed on Blogactive.

Dreier is a "confirmed bachelor" who is potentially having a relationship with his chief of staff. Someone who is noted to travel with him to some exotic places.

Senator Craig may have entered into a marriage of convenience and spoke at length with Matt Lauer refuting any inkling of homosexuality in his being with his wife at his side. Both Mr. and Mrs. Craig state how ridiculous it would be to enter into a false marriage for the sole reason of helping boost his career in the Republican party.

McCrery is bashed by those who knew him way back when for having been an athiest and cursing the government for being immoral and not pushing through bills that would give gays and lesbians equal rights.  McCrery has ads starring him and his wife urging voters to trust him as a man looking out for their best interest albeit denying his compromise of his liberal standards once he got backing from the Republican party and a church financially for his political career.

One of the most disturbing stories is the ongoing one of Florida Governor Charlie Crist who continually blocks gay & lesbian equality laws and openly states that he is against marriage that is not between a man and a woman. There's been many accounts of homosexual trysts that Crist has engaged in, but because he is currently in office (and more than likely has quite some pull) those who know the truth are not willing to go on record. Crist does not agree with same-sex couples adopting children in Florida even though a Florida judge ruled it unconstitutional. Crist has seated two judges onto the Florida Supreme Court who are highly opposed to same-sex marriages. Crist has been a bachelor for a very long time getting divorced about 30 years ago after six months of marriage. He recently wed a young woman last December and is currently looking to join the U.S. senate in 2010. His website states: "He proposed and worked to pass Florida's landmark civil rights legislation, the Marvin Davies Civil Rights Act of 2003, to pursue those who engage in willful discrimination against others." Seeing that he's an advocate for civil rights but not gay rights seems hypocritical in itself.

There are some interviews with politicians who have since come out and are very relieved to have done so. Democratic representative Barney Frank (Massachussetts) admits that it is a relief to not have to hide who he is or to try to act as a moderate when it comes to gay & lesbian rights for fear that someone will think he is one. Former representative Jim Kolbe (Arizona) came out in the 1990s after being threatened by an opponent that they'd out him. Kolbe's honesty turned out to be "the most lifting experience I ever had." And further to the point he stated that friend and fellow representative John McCain didn't care about his sexuality because he thought Kolbe a good politician further stating that he "was always gonna be my friend." Hearing such uplifting remarks one would hope that others would follow suit in not only coming out of the closet but for others to openly accept them for the person they are and not the bedfellows they choose.

Former NJ governor James McGreevey concurs in the fact that finally coming out of the closet relieved him of a huge burden in having to live a double life. McGreevey connected homosexuality with lewd and disgusting behavior because of the ways he hid it. Having sex in back alleys and at rest stops enforced a feeling of wrongness that wasn't true but that he couldn't come to grips with when he was younger. It's through support and education that McGreevey can see the reasons for his shame and acknowledge how much happier and better his life is now that he's being honest with everyone, including himself.

Taking a peek at the other side Dina Mattos McGreevey was interviewed with hostile feelings being evident in her stern speech and facial expressions. "What part of my marriage was real?" she asks, wishing that McGreevey's uncertainty hadn't lead them to the alter. The women that are hidden to the fact of their husband or fiance's conflicted feelings do become victims themselves of entering into a relationship that is based on falsities from the very start.

There are comments from those who've been fighting for gay & lesbian equality to those who hid their truth away for years before being able to come "clean," their stories relay intriguing and harrowing tales of how far gay & lesbian rights still has to go across the country. One commentor piggybacks Harvey Milk's statement that if everyone came out of the closet and accepted their truth then "we'd win." It's many people's hope that with a handful more U.S. States allowing same-sex marriages and other equal rights for gay & lesbian couples and individuals that sooner (rather than later) we'll see progress all over. Which means that there'll no longer be a reason for politicians and people alike to feel a need to hide or hate.

Could you be the next Food Network Star?

Food Network logo For the past two seasons my husband and I have been addicted to the reality show The Next Food Network Star airing, of course, on Food Network.

Now in its fifth season The Next Food Network Star has produced new Food Network shows, some memorable personalities, and many non-memorable ones.

While watching a cooking show or a food travel show, like Road Tasted with...[insert Food Network personality here], I figured it couldn't be that that hard to host a show on the network that's steadily grown and whose only focus is something we all have in common...food. I could be bubbly, humorous, quirky, extroverted, and any other adjective synonymous with out-going and likable. I could eat dish upon dish of food and explain how good it tastes. I could give people tips for how to eat on a budget. Forty dollars a day! That's easy! Having spent no more than $10 a day on food most days, I placed my fingers in a pyramid of evil and seethed that Rachel Ray could eat-my-dust.

I think many people look at or read or hear something and think to themselves: I could do better than that! Without the complete understanding of how much work and know-how (in most cases) goes into any art form. No, one doesn't have to go to the Culinary Institute to know how to make succulent chicken or moist cakes (look at FN stars Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Ina Garten, Paula Deen, or newest member of the FN family Aaron McCargo Jr.). Of course it doesn't hurt (see Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, or Giada DeLaurentiis). But one does need something, a certain je ne sais quoi to make the art of cooking interesting and enjoyable for those of us watching. For the host it may be work, but for the viewer it has to be entertainment and being informative couldn't hurt either.

For those of you who aren't Foodies or interested in cooking shows a la Food Network, lemme give you a quick breakdown. Various types of people and foods are represented on Food Network. They have the Southern Belle single mom who's down home comfort food has made her a staple (Paula Deen). There's the decadent woman that came into her own with natural, classic flavors and style (Ina Garten aka The Barefoot Contessa). They have a young woman with culinary expertise and close ties to her Italian heritage and family (my personal favorite personality, Giada DeLaurentiis). The city boy with a flair for keeping it real and spicy with a background of being a bit of a hard-ass (Bobby Flay). Who can't resist the knowledgeable & scientific nerd who can break down the hows and whys of food preparation (Alton Brown)? There's the blonde, overly cheerful and perhaps organizationally compulsive lady that has a place for everything and everything in its place, while helping you customize meals in a semi-homemade fashion (Sandra Lee). FN even has a place for the quirky cook who wants to make dishes quick and easy for those of us in a hurry (my least favorite personality, Rachel Ray). As time has gone on Food Network has branched out to include more ethnic differentiation from Ingrid Hoffman's Latin flair, The Neely's down-home grit, Sunny Anderson's sweet demeanor, and fourth season Food Network Star winner Aaron MacCargo Jr's "Big Daddy" mentality with big flavors.

My husband and I have tried recipes from numerous people from Food Network and various recipes from the site. We've had hits (Giada's Simple Bolognese, Sandra Lee's Cafeteria-style Mac & Cheese, the Neely's Get Yo' Man Chicken) and misses (Rachel Ray's Sesame Seed Chicken Fingers, Rachel Ray's 30-minute Coq Au Vin). We've broadened our horizons to try new dishes, work overnight to impress family & friends, and conquer simple recipes for desserts, sides, and entrees. A couple of times I've found myself pretending to talk to a camera as I folded my batter or melted my butter or marinated my chicken.

"I could definitely host my own show," I've thought to myself time and time again when a dish came out the way I anticipated.

However, watching Food Network Star it was made evidently clear that I'd probably buckle under pressure; freak out; throw stuff around the kitchen leaving a olive oil trail behind me; or vomit consistently before having to go before a TV, panel, or audience as I attempted to BS through cooking and presenting myself as a culinary expert. As we got into the fourth season of Food Network Star our egotistical thoughts were quickly shutdown at seeing people--who like us probably thought getting a show on FN would be a walk in the park--get their culinary butts kicked week after week.

Explaining a dish in 30 seconds upon tasting it? Not as easy as you may think. Words like "delicious" and "tasty" need to be removed from your lexicon. Moist, spicy, sweet yet not too sweet, bitter; these are the specific types of words that explain how food tastes to the viewer. "A hint of lemon makes all the other flavors pop out." "The musky smell from liquid smoke makes this taste like a hickory dream." Vivid. "Delicious, creamy ice cream." Not so much.

In the past two seasons of Food Network Star I have seen grown men and women cry on a regular basis. I've seen grown ups and young people alike get chewed out by Bobby Flay and Co. A comedian lost all humor as she attempted to back up her dish. And most recently a man lied under pressure so he could last at least another week, thereby throwing his partner under the bus. Of course these are amateurs! And the reality set in that I am one as well.

On Iron Chef I've never seen Chefs Flay, Morimoto, Cora, Batali, or Symon buckle under pressure. I've never seen them throw a towel at their competitor and say "F*** this!" whether the secret ingredient was apples or catfish. They went to work and a majority of the time are successful in completing the task presented to them. Even after losing the Iron Chefs are graceful and kind knowing they put their all into the five dishes they had to prepare & plate in 60 minutes or less. Now that's pressure. And if I couldn't make a signature burger or present kid-friendly veggies to a bunch of eight year olds how in the hell could I think I'd ever be able to deal with the big dogs on FN?

Food Network Star, you'd think, would be a reality check to the posers like myself who'd like to think as long as you can cook, think on your feet, and talk it'll all be gravy. We see the strongest competitors get put in their place when they're told they have to serve a dinner party of 12 on a $60 budget or that they have to make a grown up version of chicken fingers, while making a kid-friendly version of brusselsprouts or to think of and create a dish within 30 minutes. And don't get me started on the Dinner Imposible missions they have some of these people going through with tiny ovens/kitchens, limited ingredients, etc. Last season a contestant broke a glass of juice over a grill plate with food on it, duck confit no less, which ultimately became trash leading to her ouster. Oh it gets hard core, my friends. The FN Gods want to rock you to your core to make sure you-can-handle-it. And once a year only one person is deemed able to.

However, it seems if you have personality enough you may end up with a show anyway. Perhaps you'll be like last year's runner-up Adam Gertler and get a show where you're sent around the country to do odd jobs that are food-related at their own discretion because you were pretty peppy--and at times funny. Maybe you'll luck out like season three semi-finalist Nathan Lyons with his own show on FitTV. Or season 4's finalist Kelsey with a show on upstart Food2. Just because you didn't win the title, doesn't mean you're out for the count. And this is true for many reality shows like the most recent Bachelor where said bachelor picked the semi-finalist to marry instead of the "winner" or the runners-up on America's Next Top Model (one of two I've seen model at Bryant Park in Project Runway). And look at American Idol. At least half of the top ten finalists get their own record deal once the show ends for the season. You may grow with the competition leading you to better understand yourself as a potential food host. Or you can fade away and go back to the life you had beforehand.

The cards aren't always aligned to help you live your dream. And if you aren't overly interesting then you may want to kiss the chances of having your own cooking show good-bye, right quick. However, I'd like to think I'm an optimist and say that as long as you work hard at it your dreams may come true at some point. Of course, I've come to realize that I'll need a lot of preparation before I can host my own show. Needless to say, I'm not going to be quitting my day job anytime soon.

Extreme Eats: Everyting is bigger in the U.S.

World's Largest Burger

The Travel Channel is going EXTREME today with a marathon of shows with the word 'Extreme' in the title. My husband and I caught Extreme Pigouts, which focused on restaurants that catered to the ridiculous in portion and idealogy yet making viewers mouths water nonetheless.

Reader(s) you know I am a self-pronounced foodie and that I enjoy the finer things in life. But deep-fried pizza? Fourteen thousand calories in a tub of Ben & Jerry's? A faux doctor, who used to be a nutritionist opening a burger joint with ridiculous portions? America is indeed the land of the free, but a place where obesity trends have increased heavily from 1985-2007. Internationally the US is the first (We're #1, We're #1) nation in regards to percentage of population that is obese. And watching a show like Extreme Pigouts today further explains how we got that way.

Healthier eating and a healthier life have become a wave that many cable channels, cooking shows, and QVC segments have focused on a lot more in the past decade or so. There's a channel devoted only to fitness (FitTV) as well as a handful more shows on healthy cooking, and a slew of reality shows focusing on weight loss (The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club, Bridal Bootcamp, etc.). There are many vegan cookbooks available catering to that culture and books on macrobiotic diets and so forth. We still hear the promises of quick fixes with pills and workout DVDs and energy drinks or anything that has the word 'Special K' on it. So how is it that we're still an obese nation?

Because of supply and demand. Watching Extreme Pigouts and even Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, or anything with Paula Deen, one cannot deny that the deep or pan fried dish looks tasty and from what we're being told by the idiot box is extremely tasty. I won't feign disgust at the thought of deep fried mac n' cheese because I've tasted it from The Cheesecake Factory. I can't say that ice cream with brownies, cookies, nuts, and whipped cream on top doesn't appeal to me. And I certainly won't say that a big ole flavorful burrito doesn't make me drool a little. What I find to be the problem, and as Nutri-system commercials state, is that it's about portion control as much as it is about what you eat. The problem in watching Extreme Pigouts is seeing the lengths that these already-bad-for-you foods go to become a staple on the U.S. map. As the owner of Jack-n-Grill stated he always had a mindset that his stuff had to be the biggest since he was from Nevada originally and apparently there were some turf wars between the state and Texas in terms of which one really has the biggest stuff. (Just an extension of the male ego if you ask me, I mean look at how big all these new NYC condos are being built; extension of something, perhaps?)

In the words of the ladies in Gypsy "you gotta have a gimmick." And so on Extreme Pigouts places like Big Mama's and Papa's Pizzeria can't just make good pizza, but the largest pizza. A pie is 54 inches in length and width and has to be delivered in a flat bed truck. Suitable for parties yes, but what if someone just figured they could live on the food staple for a while and now has to down pound upon pound of pizza or else it's just a waste?

Places like The Chip Shop will deep fry almost anything and everything edible, except some animals I suspect. Deep fried egg, egg sandwiches, pizza, double fried donuts, twinkies, the list goes on and on. The announcer on the show said that a couple deep fried twinkies or other desserts go over the daily caloric intake of an average individual.

Ben & Jerry's in Vermont will provide you a tub of 14,000 calorie goodness with a bad ass brain freeze on the side in the form of a tub of ice cream with a brownie, three choco chip cookies, four scoops of walnuts, a ton of whipped cream, all residing on a bed of 20 scoops of ice cream that comes up halfway in the tub. On Pigouts we saw 8 teenagers take on this 8lb mass of sugar and fat, garnering about a pound per person, unless you have that greedy friend. And you know we all do.

And in the video in the link provided you see The Heart Attack Grill where patrons over 350lbs get to eat for free everyday and everyone else gets to enjoy the fry bar with a burger named after heart surgery. I won't even go into the waitresses dolled up as hotty nurses and the owner dressed up as a doctor touting a motto of prescriptions of deliciousness or whatever, even though he used to be a nutritionist and found that people were happier gorging on fat. Everything here is cooked in lard, lard people! Pure fat! As delicious as it may taste fat on fat is not cool, especially on the hips.

The gimmick is that we must be the biggest and the best because we're entitled as Americans to free speech and free reign. Yes, women fought for the right to make decisions on what happens to their bodies via Roe v. Wade. And yes, not all neighborhoods are equipped with the healthier resources we'd need to make our bodies big and strong. But proprietors of such places that go overboard in thinking they're giving you what you want need to be able to stand back from everything and say to themselves: "Hey, maybe a seven pound burrito is a bit extreme."

Of course individuals need to be responsible for what they're putting in their mouth and I wouldn't be so bold as to say go on strike from tasty treats like Krispy Kreme or Popeye's or for the love of God your local Chinese food joint. I just think that the fact that some could think that the gimmick of "bigger is better" is always a good thing think things over a bit. No one needs that much more of what we can get nearby. In New York City seeing the nutritional facts for most chain stores leaves me wondering why I'd want to Supersize anything if it meant I couldn't eat anything else for the rest of the day without seeing some nice cottage cheese thighs develop. I've backed away from Dunkin Donuts or IHOP after seeing the caloric count for foods I ate without a second thought in the past.

I was raised to eat everything on my plate and sometimes that thinking pervades still today. When going to fancier restaurants that aren't chains I look at the meat, carbs, and veg on my plate and think I won't be filled by this at all. Screw that, lemme hit up Applebee's and get the large chicken fingers and fries. But lo and behold at Bar Americain or Josephina's or Peep or Babbo I become amazed at how much my stomach contracts at my attempt to put in any more food. By Job those portions were just right and I might even have room for dessert!

Bigger does look better. Especially if it means you're getting more for your money. And hell yeah that's a great deal when in a recession! But, when looking back and thinking on how much gluttony has become a part of our culture I have to aire on the side of caution and say that when your tummy says stop, stop. And as good as that eighth piece of pizza looks or as tasty as the sound of deep fried snickers rings in your ear to try and think a bit about the gimmick and consider whether or not it's in your best interest.

I mean, doesn't this look tasty?!?

Fruit!