Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"Doctor Sleep": review


2019's "Doctor Sleep" is written and directed by Mike Flanagan and stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, and Cliff Curtis. It picks up after the events of both Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie "The Shining" and Stephen King's 1977 novel The Shining. Flanagan has said that he had deliberately set out to reconcile the disparate stories found in the decades-old film and novel. In this new story, young Danny Torrance is now Dan Torrance, a man in his forties who has followed his father's path into alcoholism, although in Dan's case, this is a way of coping with his unasked-for gift, "the shine," i.e., the ability to connect telepathically with people, spirits, and objects imbued with psychic energy. Dan's alcoholism reaches its near-nadir and, realizing he needs to start over, Dan travels to New Hampshire to begin a new life. While there, he befriends Billy Freeman (Curtis), who gives Dan a job, arranges for Dan to have a modest apartment, and acts as Dan's sponsor at the local branch of Alcoholics Anonymous.

While Dan is getting his life together, young Abra Stone (Curran) is proving to be a psychically powerful child. Not only gifted with the shine, Abra is capable of telekinesis and the "push," a telepathic ability seen in Stephen King's novel Firestarter. The "push" is like a Jedi mind trick: it's a powerful psychic shove that, when done right, can make another person do the "pusher's" bidding unquestioningly. Abra somehow encounters Dan's mind while she's trolling the psychic sea, and she and Dan become long-distance friends long before they ever meet face-to-face. Abra also becomes aware of a malevolent group of seemingly human beings who call themselves The True Knot. Their leader is Rose the Hat (Ferguson), whose nickname comes from the distinctive magician's top hat she likes to wear. The True Knot is essentially a coven of soul-eating vampires who have a special craving for people gifted with the shine. For these vampires, though, the purest form of psychic energy—which they call "steam"—comes from children not yet blunted and corrupted by the world. It's not enough simply to eat these children's souls: the steam is made more delicious by pain and fear, so children caught by The True Knot are first tortured before being killed.

Dan ends up working at a nursing home as an orderly. Along with a cat that can sense when residents are about to die, Dan provides spiritual comfort to the elderly, many of whom fear the moment of their passing, which Dan describes as being like falling asleep. In this way, Dan earns the moniker "Doctor Sleep," and he finds a way to use his rusty telepathic gift to help others. Dan gets occasional visits from the revenant of Dick Hallorann (played by Scatman Crothers in 1980, and by Carl Lumbly here), the aged psychic who helped him as a little boy during the events of The Shining. The ghost gently admonishes Dan at certain ethically crucial moments of Dan's existence, and he ultimately provides Dan with the motivation to help young Abra, who is powerful and confident, but also vulnerable.

And so "Doctor Sleep" is the story of the convergence of these three plot lines: Dan's, Abra's, and Rose's. Rose gets wind of Abra's raw psychic power and immediately aims to claim Abra's soul. Abra finally meets Dan in person, and the two try to figure out how to stop Rose and her evil commune. The movie strongly implies that, like classical vampires, many members of The True Knot are centuries old and have been feeding off souls for ages.

This is going to sound strange, but "Doctor Sleep" struck me as containing plenty of Star Wars tropes. We can start with the fact that Ewan McGregor starred in the prequel trilogy as a younger Obi-wan Kenobi. More than that, though, "Doctor Sleep" features many Jedi powers from all nine Star Wars films. We see the already-mentioned telekinesis; we see a type of psychic projection reminiscent of the "Force projection" done in both "The Last Jedi" and "The Rise of Skywalker." In that latter film, we also watched Emperor Palpatine suck the life-energy out of Rey and Kylo Ren, regenerating himself in the process; at a certain moment in "Doctor Sleep," Rose performs much the same trick. When members of The True Knot die, they disappear much the way the Jedi do. Finally, the very notion of the "push" is reminiscent of the "Jedi mind trick," which causes people to do whatever one asks, even numbly repeating parts of the instructions being given.*

There are a couple tropes, though, that don't come from the Star Wars universe. Dan's ability to "lock" ghosts inside a prison in his mind reminds me of a similar trick used by a character in Stephen R. Donaldson's The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. In those books, a powerful-but-abused character learns how to "bury" opponents in the ground of a metaphysical "cemetery" that exists only in his mind, thus taking away their potency. Another trope occurs in about the middle of "Doctor Sleep": Rose the Hat projects herself across the American countryside in her search for Abra; we see Rose, or her psychic avatar, flying over the landscape and finally alighting inside Abra's bedroom. This strongly reminded me of Randall Flagg's demonic ability to project his Eye across the landscape in King's The Stand. So I associate this particular form of privacy-invading projection with a satanic ability. This isn't merely a radar sweep: this is a remote drone that also acts as a bug for espionage. Another trope is The True Knot's collection of souls, which are, hilariously, kept in what look like thermoses. These soul-thermoses have push-open caps that allow a victim's "steam" to escape into the air and be breathed in by any vampires surrounding the thermos. I was obliquely reminded of King's Needful Things, in which Satan-surrogate Leland Gaunt possesses a suitcase that, it turns out, contains all the souls he has collected through his diabolical work.

"Doctor Sleep" also has much more self-consciously deliberate callbacks, especially to 1980's "The Shining." Without throwing out spoilers, I can say that the film's final reel mostly takes place in the ruins of the Overlook Hotel, a haunted patch of ground that Dan and Abra hope to use to their advantage against Rose. So we see the Overlook some thirty or forty years later, and we get flashbacks (these happen periodically during the movie's run time) of Dan's past. The Overlook looks different thanks to the passage of time; the characters populating Dan's memory of the past also look different because everyone has been recast: not only has Scatman Crothers been replaced by Carl Lumbly, but Shelly Duvall—who played Danny's freaked-out mother Wendy—has been replaced by the very different-looking Alex Essoe. Perhaps the weirdest replacement of all was that of Jack Torrance: originally played by Jack Nicholson, the axe-wielding Torrance is now played by Henry Thomas—yes, the guy who played Elliott all those years ago in "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial."

Does this work? Well... yes and no. Each of the replacement actors (I forgot to mention Roger Dale Floyd as this film's version of young Danny) proves capable in his or her assigned role, especially Carl Lumbly as the kindly Hallorann.** I think I had the hardest time swallowing the idea of Henry Thomas filling Jack Nicholson's shoes, even for brief moments. Thomas does what he can; at first, I didn't even recognize him in profile, although he did seem strangely familiar. It wasn't until I looked the cast list up online that I had my holy shit moment. It was a brave choice by the director not to rely on trendy deep-fake and de-aging CGI technology; Flanagan is on record saying that he thinks the tech hasn't evolved enough, by this point, to be totally convincing. So he went old-school and simply recast the roles.

And how does "Doctor Sleep" work overall? Well, like Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," the new movie also deviates in very important ways from the novel: one crucial character who survives to the end of the novel dies in the movie version. I found the movie's conclusion to be satisfying, and the movie overall was enjoyable, although about thirty minutes too long for my taste. That said, I did enjoy how the film took its time allowing the three plot lines to converge; this helped crank up the suspense a bit through character development, although on the whole, the movie wasn't particularly scary. I like how sympathetically the story treated the issue of alcoholism, as well as the parallel theme of redemption. The movie also—and I might sound like a sicko for saying this—thankfully pulled no punches in its depiction of child-killing. Even many R-rated movies, despite their "R" rating, are apt to go easy when it comes to depicting the harming of children. No, this film definitely goes there, and by the time the story ends, the body count includes a few kids.

Ewan McGregor, a Scotsman, handles the American accent ably (he's done this before, of course); the same goes for veteran Kiwi Cliff Curtis, who has done many US films with an American accent (e.g., "Live Free or Die Hard"). Both actors also play their roles as former drinkers convincingly and sentimentally. Kyliegh Curran does a good job as plucky little Abra (I'm pretty sure you're supposed to think "cadabra!" every time you hear her name). I was a bit worried about having Rebecca Ferguson play the big bad, possibly because I'm in lust with the woman, and I worry that her beauty might be a sign that she's only good for action-movie roles that don't require much emotional subtlety. Happily, I was wrong: Rose the Hat, our head vampire, is a memorable villain. Ferguson plays the role with relish, allowing herself to be vulnerable when she encounters the sheer might of Abra's psychic abilities, and she somehow manages to look scrumptious while being evil. Ferguson is Swedish, and her slightly "off" accent works to her advantage, reinforcing the impression that she is a long-lived vampire who has traveled great stretches of time and space to be where she is now. Hats off to the whole cast, really, and hats off to writer-director Mike Flanagan as well. While I might chide him for his pacing, I think Flanagan largely succeeded in welding together the stories from Kubrick's movie and King's novel. I don't know whether that trick can be repeated: with important characters dead in the movie and alive in the novel Doctor Sleep, I have no idea what shape a sequel might take. For the moment, though, it's enough to say this was an enjoyable watch—not very scary, but filled with characters you'll care about.



*Stephen King's novel Firestarter, about a pyrokinetic girl and a dad with the ability to psychically "push" people, came out in 1980. "Star Wars" came out in 1977. Was King influenced by Lucas? Hard to say. It's possible that King came upon his idea for the push completely independently of George Lucas. For all I know, King has featured the push in even earlier novels. To be fair, the notion of pushes and Jedi mind tricks springs out of the concept of hypnotic suggestion, which is why I go no further than to suggest that King's push is reminiscent of the Jedi mind trick and not influenced by it.

**Lumbly was a memorable guest star on a particularly good episode of "Battlestar Galactica."



tales of Barrett the old gunslinger

So here are two more short pieces of fiction I'd written for Gravoca. Both are about Barrett the old gunslinger, a man who's seen his share of death and is now old and weary. The two passages appear in the same unit and give the student an idea about pacing and rhythm. The first piece is calm, slow, and meditative; the second piece is pure action.



     The wind was blowing hard and autumn-cold when Barrett and his horse reached the mountaintop. The angry afternoon sun glared down from a crystal-blue sky, as hard and cold as the wind. All around the old, tired gunfighter, dry leaves rattled and clung desperately to the trees; some leaves lost their grip and flew away sadly into the void like abandoned children. Barrett slid off his horse, sauntering over to a tall boulder that gave him a grand view of the fall-colored valley below. He sat on the rock’s hard surface and just watched as the trees writhed in the wind like souls in hell, their agony echoing the agony in Barrett’s own heart.



     Barrett was old, but he was fast and experienced. He had already counted his enemies: five gangsters—Brody, Chuck, Dwayne, Maynard, and Collier—surrounded him. The little town was quiet and scared, waiting for the fight to start. Quick as a snake, Barrett drew his gun, whirled, and fired twice at Brody, striking him in the heart. The man coughed once as he died. Barrett’s next shot took Chuck between the eyes; Chuck said nothing as he fell onto the dusty ground. The remaining three men moved quietly around Barrett, trying to confuse the old gunfighter, but Barrett understood his enemies too well. Another shot, and Dwayne was struck in the stomach; the bullet hit his spine, paralyzing his legs, and the brute fell onto his side, groaning loudly like a wounded bear.
     Barrett saw Collier’s leg poking out from behind a carriage. He shot Collier’s knee; the boy was only eighteen, and he screamed like a girl as he fell over, exposing his face to Barrett’s gun. Barrett fired again, and the young man died in a pool of blood. Only Maynard was left. Barrett stood perfectly still, guessing that Maynard would jump out and try to shoot. That’s exactly what Maynard did, and Barrett pulled the trigger... but his gun was empty. Six shots—gone. Completely unworried, Barrett calmly holstered his gun, drew his knife, and went for the last gang member.



walking: the pain update

I once again forgot to take painkillers before last night's 15K-step walk. That in itself is a good sign because it means I'm less conscious of pain in general. I tend to self-medicate when the pain is bad enough that I can't ignore it. Last night, unfortunately, the pain did reach that level about halfway through my walk. Once I got back to my place, I took some aspirins and some ibuprofen to chase the ache away, but the pain was a warning sign, I think: 15K steps is probably going to be my max for a long while yet.

My right foot remains slightly, frustratingly swollen; I might visit the ortho clinic again to get a followup X-ray done. In the meantime, I take last night's pain to mean that I shouldn't push too hard. That's a dispiriting realization, but I also don't want to damage my foot permanently, so this may be a good time to listen to what my body is telling me.



a spot of fiction for you

I wrote the following story as an example of four-paragraph narrative writing. The boss has me working on the final volume of our nine-book Gravoca series, which deals with grammar, vocabulary, and the art of writing. Specifically, the following story demonstrates how a writer can take a five-paragraph narrative and squeeze it into a four-paragraph structure by fusing the falling action and the dénouement together in the fourth paragraph. I'm bizarrely proud of some of the writing samples I've written for the Gravoca series. Here's hoping you enjoy this little spot of fiction.



     October. And once more, I came home bloody. My mother saw me and cried, “Claude! Why does this keep happening? Did you fall off your bike again?” I couldn’t tell my mother the truth: gigantic Billy Baxter, another student at my school, was a nasty bully, and Billy had been beating me up and stealing my lunch money. My father also saw me, but instead of looking horrified like Mom, he looked disappointed, and I could see that he knew what had really happened. “I already told you,” he said later, when Mom wasn’t around, “that if you let that kid beat you up, and you never fight back, he’ll never stop picking on you.” I saw no sympathy in my father’s eyes, and I realized that this was a problem I would have to solve myself.
     The next day, at school, my friend Cody tapped me on the shoulder and took me aside. “Hey, Claude,” he said. “I know you’ve been having a lot of trouble with Billy. My dad teaches self-defense classes. Wanna join?” Depressed, I thought about Cody’s proposal for a second, and then I said yes. And that’s how I met Cody’s dad, Mr. Hunter. Mr. Hunter looked a lot like a hawk—steely eyes, a piercing stare, and absolute seriousness. To be honest, I was more scared of Mr. Hunter than I was of Billy the bully. But Mr. Hunter proved to be an excellent self-defense teacher, and over the next few months of training (my parents gladly paid for the sessions), I learned a lot about fighting and how to stop being afraid, and more importantly, how to avoid fights. I also became closer friends with Cody, who was pretty cool. As I trained, my self-confidence grew.
     February. I was in the boys’ bathroom, washing my hands, when Billy Baxter walked up behind me and violently slammed my head into the bathroom mirror. Without thinking, and with almost no anger at all, I instantly ducked and spun around, trapped my opponent’s knees, and toppled Billy to the ground. He stared up at me in utter shock, and I stood over him, fists clenched, feeling victory flood through me. I could also feel myself starting to tremble as fury crept into my mind, and a desire to beat Billy into a bloody pulp—right there on the bathroom floor—came over me. But then I remembered what Mr. Hunter had said about controlling your emotions: “Angry fighters always lose. Control yourself, control the situation.” I took a few deep breaths, calmed myself, and extended my hand to Billy, offering to help him up. Without saying a word, and still looking a little frightened, Billy surprised me by actually taking my hand. I helped pull him to his feet, and for a quick second, we looked at each other. I gave Billy a quiet nod; he nodded back, and then he left the bathroom.
     June. We students were getting antsy because next week would be our last week of school before summer vacation. No one had seen me take Billy Baxter down, but somehow, the rumors spread that I had beaten Billy up. It was true that Billy no longer bothered me. In fact, he no longer bothered anyone, and maybe that’s why the rumors had been flying. Anyway, it was a warm, sunny Friday, and I was sitting on some steps by one of the high school’s many doors. Quite without warning, Billy Baxter, the giant ex-bully, quietly sat down next to me, saw the book I was reading, and said, “So, what’s that book about?”




I need to see whether I've blogged the pieces I did for earlier volumes re: Barrett the old gunslinger. If I haven't blogged them, I might slap them up.

ADDENDUM: you wouldn't be wrong to sense the influence of "The Karate Kid" on this story.

ADDENDUM 2: my boss, in reviewing my work (he's our editor-in-chief) criticized one aspect of the story. He didn't buy what may be the best part of the piece: "...Billy Baxter walked up behind me and violently slammed my head into the bathroom mirror. Without thinking, and with almost no anger at all, I instantly ducked and spun around, trapped my opponent’s knees, and toppled Billy to the ground." According to my boss, the protag can't duck if he's just had his head smashed into the mirror. I countered that ducking doesn't necessarily mean you've successfully avoided a blow. You can duck (i.e., crouch and gather yourself) as a precursor to a counterattack. I mimed what I meant, showing the boss how what I'd described in the story was not just possible but plausible. The boss replied that people who get their heads smashed into mirrors don't usually have the wit or the reflexes to execute a martial-arts move perfectly. I responded that I wasn't trying to make Claude (the protag) into an all-seeing ninja who can now anticipate all attacks from behind; to me, it seemed more realistic to let Billy the bully get a good blow in before Claude could reply. Claude's self-defense training didn't make him infallible. The boss, though, remained stubbornly unconvinced, so I shrugged and told him what I usually do regarding company-related work: I don't take ownership of anything I do for the company, so if he wants me to reword it such that Billy only attempts to smash Claude's head into the mirror, then he'll get what he wants. (Seriously: I don't care.) The boss seemed mollified, but it wasn't as though I'd been arguing adamantly not to change the story; ultimately, I don't give a fuck, so changing the story is no problem for me. My only real purpose in that office is to keep the boss happy so I can keep receiving a paycheck. Cynical, but there we are. At the same time, I still don't think the boss's criticism is all that valid, but I'll leave it up to my readers to decide.



Monday, March 30, 2020

appendicitis update

My French brother Dominique is finally out of the hospital after a month there (and two surgeries) because of appendicitis. The poor guy says he lost 12 kg thanks to muscle loss (he was in bed most of the time) and a meager diet consisting of liquid food and an IV drip. In the final week of Dom's time in hospital, he was mercifully allowed to eat slightly more substantive things like yogurt and oatmeal, and even some vegetables. Now that Dom is out, he still has to convalesce: his stitches need another month to heal, so he's been told to go take gentle walks around his small town. He can't overstuff himself on food, nor can be do more intensive things like weightlifting as a way to regain muscle mass: all that comes later. For now, it's baby steps. Well, at least he's out of that damn hospital. I'd been worried that he might catch something nasty while there, but he seems to have dodged that particular bullet, thank Cthulhu. I'm sure his family is happy to have him back at home. I had written Dom's kids separately to ask how they've been holding up, but thus far, no response. Ah, well. Kids are kids, and it could be that the French have as little use for email as do the Koreans.



walking: a wee change in plans

I'll be doing a 15K-step walk tonight, but I won't be moving to a MWF schedule quite yet: my right foot got achier on Sunday, and it's still somewhat achy, so I don't think I'm as ready as I'd thought I was to move to a three-times-per-week walking schedule. So I'm upping the step count to 15K steps per walk, but I'm keeping the frequency of walks at twice per week.



your word of the day

Just learned this word from my boss and coworker: smombie.



Sunday, March 29, 2020

Honest Trailers finally skewers "Skywalker"

At long last, Honest Trailers has come out with its hilarious takedown of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," which manages to skewer the movie in ways not done by other critics:






walk report for Friday, March 27

I successfully walked a total of 16,379 steps Friday night. My right foot hurt because I'd forgotten to take any ibuprofen before starting the walk. That turned out to be a good thing, though, because it allowed me to gauge my pain levels more accurately. End result: the pain proved tolerable, and on Saturday, when I woke up, I was able to move around just fine without limping—and still without taking anything for the pain. There was indeed some residual achiness, but nothing intolerable. Despite the continued swelling, which is more annoying than worrisome (it's certainly not debilitating), I think I'm ready to ratchet my walks back up to a minimum of 15K steps from now on. And since I seem to be recovering fairly quickly from those walks, I can move from walking only on Mondays and Fridays to walking on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. I don't think I'll push my luck by trying to walk more frequently than that, at least for the next few months. Instead, on my off-days, I might cycle hither and thither a bit.

On Saturday, April 4, I'm going to be naughty and meet up with my buddy JW for a hike along the Han River from Yeouido Station to the Gayang Bridge. I'm slowly turning JW into a distance-walking addict, and I'm trying to introduce him to the entirety of the Incheon-Seoul-Yangpyeong axis, a 120-kilometer stretch that takes me four days to walk. We've already walked from Yeouido to my place, and from my place to Hanam City, so JW already knows about 45 km of the whole axis. The April 4 walk from Yeouido to the Gayang Bridge is short: a total of 12 km once we reach the bridge, turn south into town, and walk to Gayang Station, where we'll take the subway back to our respective homes. (We might hit lunch before riding home.) After we do the Yeouido-Gayang walk, we'll tackle the Gayang-Incheon walk, which is a full 30-kilometer stretch. I think my foot will have healed enough for me to do that trek. After we conquer that stretch, the only segment left to do will be the one from Hanam to Yangpyeong. That one's a beast at 35 km, but I'll be sure to rest up before tackling that.

Upshot: things are looking up. It's good to be walking for real again.



Saturday, March 28, 2020

truth in advertising







scenes from a nighttime walk

I successfully managed to walk 15K steps Friday night. Along the way, since the cherry blossoms are out, I took a couple shots of the blooms. It was a very breezy night, so once again, I've got nothing but blurry images.







this ad is awesome

The following pic is part of an ad that hangs on a message board in the old building where I work. I love this ad. Our building also has a couple small hagweons, and I can only imagine what the horny pre-teen students are thinking as they tromp up the stairs past this image.






I want to steal this

One of my neighbors left a lovely pottery piece out in the hallway, across from his/her apartment. I wish the focus were better so you could appreciate how beautiful and how disciplined the calligraphy is. I do want to steal this. And maybe one day, I will.






"Picard," Season 1: Jeremy Jahns's take

Here's Jeremy Jahns's spoiler-laden review of "Picard," Season 1:






Friday, March 27, 2020

a burning question is finally answered

Qu'est-ce qui différencie un thé, une tisane, et une infusion?

The answer, dear friends, is here. (In French.)



'nuther Cajun Fraintch-speaker

And below, here's another dude speaking Louisiana French. Like the previous guy, this gent is perfectly understandable. As some people are saying in the comments to these videos, this style of French simply sounds like Amurrican-accented French. I'd have to agree, although the guy in the video below seem to flap his "R"s off the tip of his tongue more than the previous guy did—shades of Québecois!

It's very tempting to lump these folks in with US learners of French, given their strongly American accents, but they obviously speak with a level of comfort and fluency that shows they can already function quite well with the French they have. Far from learning the language, they're living it, and I'd say they'd have no trouble traveling in France.






awesome video essay re: Monty Python and filmmaking

In the following video, you learn that the animated face of God used in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was based on the photo of a then-famous bearded cricket player. Very educational video, with plenty of filmmaking-related insights, and rather poignant at the end:


Part of the video essay deals with a scholar (Erik Kwakkel) who searches out medieval-era doodles, e.g., on illuminated manuscripts. That scholar's site—a Tumblr blog—is here.



in these troubled times...

It's good to remember how puerile and stupid we sound when we're texting, chatting, or otherwise communicating with each other in the modern idiom:


KEYWORDS: James Earl Jones, Malcolm McDowell, obvi, hottie, adorbs, cray-cray, amazeballs, totes McGotes, Sprint commercial



why I don't normally leave comments elsewhere

People are fucking twats in the comment sections of posts. It's been years since I engaged a stranger in any sort of lame-ass flame war, but two moments of conflict—not quite at the level of a real flame war—burbled up today.

PART 1

The first one occurred over at Tim Urban's fine long-form blog Wait But Why, where Urban writes ultra-lengthy, thoroughly researched essays. Urban had just written a fanciful post about a fictionalized Tim who gets shrunk down to 1/10,000 his normal size and finds out there's a whole other universe of people who live at that scale—people who are much more advanced than our civilization is because time, for them, moves a hundred times faster, thus allowing them to evolve (from our perspective) far more quickly. Tim's guide in this "miniverse" then shrinks him and herself down again to 1/10,000 of their miniverse size, such that they now find themselves in a microverse that's not quite flirting with quantum reality. The story is a bit preachy: it's about how these tiny—and tinier—beings have solved all sorts of civilizational problems that still plague regular humans who exist at the normal anthropic level, and how all this applies to the current pandemic, which the miniverse and microverse civilizations had actually put into motion as a way to wake us regular humans up. I thought it was a cute, if overly didactic, story, and I wrote the following comment:

"Ant-Man" meets "Watchmen," but with slightly more optimism and less cynicism than "Watchmen."

Shrinkage stories always lead me to wonder what happens to the atoms inside the body of the person who's been shrunk. Atoms' properties must necessarily change when the atoms are forcibly scrunched in that way. The universe has certain inviolable forces and constants that it would be unwise to jigger with.

Me, I think being shrunk to the size of a quark would plunge me into a hell-realm where there's nothing but violent, buffeting mists and tornadoes of color... and the horrible sound of reality roaring and shrieking.

For my trouble, I received the following retarded reply from a "Dmitry PissKopf," who turns out to be a 72-year-old man. Dmitry wrote in response:

Dude, it is not a physics lesson. It is a story to bring some clarity to the current human condition and our predicament, with a pinch of hope that the corona pandemic will force change to save mankind.

[NB: Dmitry's comment has 3 likes and 5 dislikes thus far. Other people obviously think he's being an old, crotchety asshole.]

So Dmitry made the mistake of thinking I had somehow missed Urban's point in order to focus—wrongly—on a technical matter that isn't germane to the story. Dmitry, like so many others, refused to credit me with any intelligence, and in so doing, proved himself to be the dumber cunt. I replied to Dmitry with sarcasm, and Dmitry has refused to take the bait:

Thank you for clearing that up.

(Frankly, I'm unsure whether Dmitri understood my reply to be sarcasm.)

No more replies from Dmitry PissKopf in that thread, but in a different thread, we mixed it up a bit more. Another commenter, a woman, wrote the following comment:

Nice little story read! :)

However, how the atoms that make up your body can still exist in a tiny form in the tiny world, and coexist next to the same but larger sized atoms of the virus, is beyond my knowledge. ;)

So I slipped in a response to the lady, mainly to test whether Dmitry was scanning the comment threads for more BigHominid. He was. I wrote:

Careful! I wrote a similar comment two hours earlier and got an unpleasant response about how "This is not a physics lesson" from a cranky old guy who hypocritically complains about negativity in the comments section, then turns around and spreads his own negativity. If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing.

Anyway... I, at least, applaud your comment! Be a free thinker!

A few minutes later, Dmitry replied:

Not a cranky old guy at all, old yes, cranky no. You cannot bring physics into this story to justify your lack of understanding the author's intent. I am a free thinker, you, however, are rigid and without imagination.

Indeed! Calling someone "rigid and without imagination" = not cranky at all!

One of the reasons why I normally stay away from comment-thread exchanges is that they involve a regressive descent into childishness for all parties involved. I call this an ego-vortex, which sucks you in for as long as you wish to indulge in the stupid behavior. Granted, by responding at all, I had chosen to enter the vortex, so I accept my share of blame for this entire stupid exchange. Anyway, I replied to Dmitry:

And it never occurred to you that I did actually get the author's point, but had critical thoughts, anyway. Who lacks imagination, again?

Dmitry shot back with a laughable irrelevancy, a total straw-man attack that had me scoffing at its pitiful nature. He wrote:

Please reserve your critical thoughts for the bible and Brother Grimm fairy tales.

At this point, I knew I was dealing with one of those stick-up-the-ass liberals who consider themselves oh-so-enlightened, oh-so-evolved beyond the Bible and religion, and who like putting opponents into conceptual boxes that are embarrassingly asinine caricatures of conservatives. The implied equivalency of the Bible with the Brothers Grimm was a major hint, and Dmitry has left comments elsewhere on the page in question that confirm his liberal stance. Here's one (addressed to "s g"):

s g - the only type of person who would vote your comment down may be labelled a "deplorable" Trump supporter, some rigid nationalist who wants a closed border society where all doors and opportunities are shut.

Anyway, I replied to Dmitry with the following, using both the mocking "mirroring" technique as well as another psy-ops technique that I'll explain in a moment:

Please reserve your desire to repress free thinking for people who actually care.

You may have the last word. Life is too short to waste time with small-minded people. Bye, hypocrite.

The idea was to leave Dmitry in a psychological bind. The final "Bye, hypocrite" was an obvious ploy to get Dmitry to respond—a final poke of the stick at the angry dog. At the same time, I grandly ceded the last word to Dmitry, offering him the chance to end our exchange on his terms. But I knew he wouldn't do that: a man that childish and small-minded (age doesn't entail wisdom) isn't going to accept a handout from an opponent. While I can't get inside Dmitry's head, I'd like to think he spent a few minutes debating whether to reply. In the end, it seems, he's decided not to. The exchange—at least for now—appears to be over. 72-year-old Dmitry probably agrees that life is too short to waste on undesirable people, and I'm sure he believes me to be as small-minded as I believe him to be.

Anyway, there's no doubt the fucker is a hypocrite. Here's what he wrote elsewhere:

A few negative thinkers here. Thanks for a wonderful piece of hope that this crisis will awaken humanity and bring some justice into our "big" world. Yes, greed and selfishness (the root of greed) bring out the worst part of humanity. At 72 there is not much encouragement for the survival of our species in my head, but you make me smile.Many thanks!

So that's Dmitry, vainly separating himself from the "few negative thinkers here" in this comment thread. How sunny he is! How averse to negativity!

And then he turns around and acts like a royal cunt. What a dumb fucking hypocrite.

PART 2

I was watching one of Styx's "bonus" videos on BitChute, his alternative video platform. Styx expanded to BitChute (he's still on YouTube) because of YouTube's increasingly repressive policies. What he does now, to attract more viewers to his second platform, is create "BitChute exclusive" videos. Anyway, I was watching one of those exclusives when, once again, Styx mispronounced a word. I don't normally leave comments on Styx's videos, but he said "shuts-puh" while trying to pronounce chutzpah. So here's the comment I left:

Oy, gevalt! Did I hear "shuts-puh" at the end, there? Chutzpah is pronounced "hoots-puh," with a raspy "h" that sounds like the German "ch." https://www.dictionary.com/browse/chutzpah?s=t

For my trouble, some idiotic white knight with the screen name of "imp69" nobly decided to step in and defend Styx's honor. The imp squeaked:

Thank you Dr. Grammar. That certainly makes a difference in the overall message.

This was so lame (and no vocative comma, the fuckhead!) that I kept my reply minimalistic:

Pronunciation, not grammar.

I haven't heard a peep from the imp since.



So in both cases—and this is a major reason why I don't usually involve myself in comment threads for popular online personalities—we're seeing instances of so-called "white knighting," i.e., people who arrogate to themselves the role of defending the person they admire, thereby acting as part of an "immune system" within the comment threads. I don't know why certain people have the impulse to address those who never directly address them, but this is a psychological problem that I've seen all over the online realm, and not just in certain comment threads. Trying to voice any sort of sentiment "aloud" under a popular post means risking attack by the local immune system.

I guess I'm done... unless either Dmitry or the imp should pipe up yet again. If they do, well... I already told Dmitry he could have the last word, so if he does write anything, I'll feel all sorts of Schadenfreude in the knowledge that he finally gave in to temptation and couldn't help himself. As for the imp: I wonder if s/he even realizes how cutting my response was. I didn't even need to add the word "idiot."

Not that I can gloat, for I was one of the idiots for a brief while.



Thursday, March 26, 2020

click if you dare

A poem I wrote. With a secret message.



when you don't understand
supply and demand

Went to a local chicken place for lunch today. The meal I was looking to get would have cost me, in normal times, W17,000. But these are not normal times: the current pestilence has driven customers away; no one wants to congregate in restaurants, it seems, so in-resto business has dried up—or such was my impression today. The guy at the cash register told me I could sit down wherever, and that I could pay upon leaving. So I ordered the meal I normally get from this place, then I ate it... and when I went to pay, I was charged a whopping W21,000. I asked why the price had gone up so much, and the guy gave some explanation that involved the current situation. Mentally, I was going, Huh? When I told a coworker, later on, about what had happened, he blurted, "But that's not how supply and demand work!"

Exactly. High supply but low demand normally means lower prices to attract customers, for that's how you increase demand. What's going on here? If I'm to be charitable, I'm going to guess that the management is reasoning that whatever customers come in must be desperate to eat the restaurant's chicken, so they'll pay a higher price for it. In my case, well... I guess I paid the higher price. But that strategy works only once: I won't be coming back to this place until the crisis is over, and prices have gone back down.

Before I left the resto, the cashier lamely added that there's a 10% discount for take-out and delivery. That would have put the price at around W19,000, which is what a person would have paid for delivery back in the day (W17,000 base charge + W2,000 delivery surcharge). I won't say "Never again!" regarding this resto, but I will, sadly, have to say, "Bye for now."



and let this be a sign unto you

Remember back when I asked a supervisor about how the food-delivery people find our office despite the lack of a door sign with our office number on it? Remember how the supervisor interpreted my innocent question as a call to action, and how one of his staffers said he'd get on the problem right away?

Well, we now have a door sign. I didn't notice it until just today, so for all I know, it's been up for a while. But the point is: we now have a door that's actually labeled. We finally exist.

To the delivery guys, anyway.



how not to solve the garbage problem

Almost every kid wonders this:





a dog's life

Two videos of the further adventures of Stella, the Lab who loves jumping full-speed into leaf piles. This first one might put a lump in your throat:


This one's pretty funny:






Commas, Part 6

Commas, Part 1
Commas, Part 2
Commas, Part 3
Commas, Part 4
Commas, Part 5

Once you're through today's discussion, you're halfway done with this 12-part series!

Today, we talk about commas and parenthetical expressions. Let's start with the latter before we talk about the former. What is a parenthetical expression?

Sometimes just called a parenthetical or even a parenthetic, a parenthetical expression is a group of words—walled off by commas, em dashes, or parentheses—that adds nonessential information to a sentence. There are different reasons to wall off words in this way: to make the reader privy to an aside, to emphasize an idea, to add a bit of drama, etc. Parentheticals are often associated with appositives, i.e., words or phrases that identify a noun, acting like adjectives. When the appositive contains essential information, no commas are needed. When the information is nonessential, you surround the appositive with commas... and a parenthetical is born. (In other words, as mentioned above, no parenthetical will never contain essential information! This is good to remember. Strip a parenthetical out of a sentence, and the sentence's essence remains.)

Here are some appositives that are also parentheticals:

• Sheila, the boss's wife, was the wank fantasy of every guy in the office.
• Principal Simmons, the family cat, loved burying his face in tuna.
• Phil McKraken, the banana-stealing macaque, was about to get his comeuppance.
• Superman (that horny bastard) face-raped a marble statue of Jefferson Davis.
As for the punctuation: em dashes make for more dramatic parentheticals. Compare:
• The reason you felt nothing was that Dr. Trump used his hands—not his penis—to probe your tonsils.
• The reason you felt nothing was that Dr. Trump used his hands, not his penis, to probe your tonsils.
Parentheticals can appear at the beginning and at the end of sentences. In such cases, only one em dash or one comma will be necessary. To wit:
• In the beginning, the cosmos was a giant wormhole called The Great Fallopian.
• Crotch-scratching Marvin was a virgin—or so the legends said.

IMPORTANT: remember that a parenthetical doesn't count when you're considering subject-verb agreement. Look at the following examples to see what I mean:
• Sam's dick—and his balls, too, for that matter—was covered with claw marks.
Claudia, and also her loopy sister Olga, claims to have impregnated a giraffe.

In each of the two sentences above, I've bolded the simple subject and the simple predicate so you can see the subject-verb agreement in action. In the second sentence, you might be sorely tempted to treat the parenthetical as part of a compound subject, but this is not the case.

NOT COMPOUND: Jim, as well as his dog Lassie, has an unhealthy fascination with sheep.
COMPOUND: Jim and his dog Lassie have an unhealthy fascination with sheep.

Introductory expressions, which we already talked about in Part 1, are arguably a type of parenthetical.
Five years ago, I unleashed a fart that moved California a meter to the west.
To Hilda's great shame, Torrance the bulldog had defecated yet another pentagram.

To sum up: parentheticals are usually marked by commas, em dashes, and parentheses. They normally contain nonessential information, and you shouldn't consider them when trying to figure out subject-verb agreement. Introductory expressions and appositives can also be parentheticals. When parentheticals appear at the beginning or the end of a sentence, they are marked off by only one comma or em dash, not by a pair of either.

We good?

QUIZ
In the comments section or on a different writing surface, rewrite the following sentences with commas if needed. Also, correct any incorrect grammar. Do not rewrite if there's nothing to correct. Highlight the space between the brackets to see the correct answers.

1. Nancy Pelosi no stranger to adversity gamely kayaked along a river of mucus on her way to the main river of hell.
2. Confident in his own abilities Max dramatically removed his codpiece and ordered Charlotte to fire the bean-bag gun at his crotch.
3. The elf who saw Santa naked was immediately struck blind and afflicted with leprosy.
4. The Yorithra a dreadnaught-class battle cruiser searched the vast Deferens Nebula for the last remaining Scroton ship.
5. Silas's cat and also his dog scampered over with Silas's wife's eyeballs in their mouths.
6. Pastor Bowers and maybe his nephew as well were presumed eaten by a gay anaconda.

ANSWERS
[1. Nancy Pelosi, no stranger to adversity, gamely kayaked along a river of mucus on her way to the main river of hell.
2. Confident in his own abilities, Max dramatically removed his codpiece and ordered Charlotte to fire the bean-bag gun at his crotch.
3. NO CHANGES NEEDED.
4. The Yorithra, a dreadnaught-class battle cruiser, searched the vast Deferens Nebula for the last remaining Scroton ship.
5. Silas's cat, and also his dog, scampered over with Silas's wife's eyeballs in their mouths.
6. Pastor Bowers, and maybe his nephew as well, was presumed eaten by a gay anaconda.
]






Wednesday, March 25, 2020

the other moratorium

Well, fuck me. I guess this counts as a moment of virusblogging, but so be it.

I've got a month's worth of meds left, and I have no particular desire to find myself in my doctor's office, waiting alongside a bunch of sick people just so I can get re-prescribed. It might affect my health, but I'm going to stop taking my meds until May, at which point I'll resume. Perhaps, with the warmer weather in June, we'll see a fall-off in infections and deaths, and the chances of picking up the virus in the doc's waiting room will have gone down by then. This will put the onus on me to eat healthily and to exercise, achy foot or not. But since everyone is advising us citizens not to visit the doctor in person, I'm going to follow that advice, even at the expense of my blood pressure and blood sugar.

We'll see how the moratorium goes.



is the Bible "wildly pro-slavery"?

In his fine review of "Harriet" (which I'll be reviewing soon myself once I've had a chance to watch the film), friend and fellow blogger Steve Honeywell makes the claim that the Bible (by which he means, I think, the Christian Bible) is "wildly pro-slavery." Does this claim hold water? Should we examine it more closely? Keep in mind that Steve's writing a movie review, not a theological treatise. It would be unfair to scrutinize Steve's claim without at least noting this. The claim has a hermeneutical aspect to it, but it shouldn't be considered an example of bare-knuckle hermeneutics.

That being said, I'm not sure I'd call the Bible "wildly pro-slavery." It's definitely got plenty of passages that can justify slavery, and that have certainly been used to do so, so no argument there. But there's a reason why there's a whole branch of theology called liberation theology. With verses in the Bible like Isaiah 61:1-2 (which Jesus quotes later on), it should be obvious that the Bible also contains plenty of freedom-from-oppression language.

If I were to attempt a fair-minded, modern assessment of the Bible, I might frame the situation this way: the Bible is a product of its time and circumstances, and in those unenlightened days, slavery was a given—a harsh reality that was part of everyday existence. (Since slavery still exists today, even within the USA thanks to sex trafficking, we might still call it a given.) The Bible, which is already a messy jumble of contradictions, reflects an ensemble of historical mindsets. Can it be read as a pro-slavery document? Absolutely, and as I wrote above, this has already been done. But it's by no means an objective truth that the Bible, taken as a whole, is definitively pro-slavery. Yes: it contains verses that clearly promote the acceptance of bondage (or that take it for granted), but it also contains narratives about leading a people out of bondage. The Exodus story focused on this very theme, and much later, Jesus seized upon this imagery in his message to the people under Rome's thumb... although for Jesus, the liberation he was preaching had little to do with the mortal world and everything to do with the spiritual—hence his "render unto Caesar" exhortation.

Those of us who traffic in the comparative-religion side of religious studies will sometimes use the term salvation-liberation to describe that toward which many, if not most, religions aim. Many* of the major religions paint a picture of existential strife or unsatisfactoriness: something is not quite right with this world—something about it is fallen or illusory or otherwise lacking. This reality isn't the realest reality, nor is it the reality in which the highest human fulfillment is possible. Salvation, in many religions, often entails some form of liberation, e.g., the Hindu notion of moksha, or release from samsara, the painful wheel of existence. Christian notions of salvation include the idea that "the truth will set you free." Buddhism, taking its cue from Hinduism, also preaches a praxis that releases one from the bonds of karma (the law of action and consequences) and samsara.

But just like the Bible specifically, religion taken as a whole presents a mixed bag. Different religious traditions preach liberation, but they also preach a kind of bondage-through-orthopraxis (correct practice), partly because religious institutions have an interest in acquiring and retaining membership. The notion of yoga is interesting to focus on for a moment: the word comes from the same proto-Indo-European root as the modern English word yoke, and in fact, yoga implies a yoking of oneself to one's orthopraxis.**

This brings us back to a theme I've written on before (e.g., see here, last paragraph): the idea that freedom isn't possible without strictures. Real fulfillment comes from sacrifice and self-discipline, from the stripping-away of frivolously random, unmindful activity and the cultivation of focus and specific, methodical effort. Is this the same as slavery? Obviously not: the self-discipline and sacrifice that I'm talking about are done by choice, which is a fundamental difference. And yet... religions, taken as large, cumbersome institutions, often seem to preach the theme of submission or submissiveness (I recall the youth at our church once innocently singing a song titled "I Just Wanna Be a Sheep")—a sort of Slavery Lite that keeps the cash flowing into the churches and temples from the pockets of the masses who, yoked in by tradition and social pressure, have a hard time breaking away from the institution.

Getting back to the question that prompted this meditation, though, I'd again affirm that the Bible, taken as a whole, is not "wildly pro-slavery." Too many verses in the Bible contradict this contention and make the situation less than obvious. Much is a matter of interpretation, not of objective truth. Slavery, as a historical notion, is an odious blight on human history. Slavery, as a very abstract concept, is a different animal entirely, and might have some overlap with the concepts of yoga and orthopraxis. The second type of slavery includes an element of choice not found in the notion of chattel slavery, but even when we focus again on the first type of slavery, the Bible overall doesn't clearly come down on the side of the slave-owners.

The Bible is a harsh and often off-putting book. I think that makes it a fine document for adults to reckon with. Non-biblical stories that offer morally complex or ambiguous characters and situations—such as what we find in the works of Shakespeare, for example—do much the same thing: they require us to wrestle with their message, and to realize that the important thing is the act of wrestling, not necessarily the message itself. The message itself, which is a function of a person's relationship with a text, can change over time because, well, people evolve. This is why, if we take the notion of living truth seriously, we have to understand such truth to be dynamic in nature, changing right along with us. When a document like the Bible comes along and exposes us to the ugly side of humanity, as well as to the ugly side of ultimate reality (even an atheist can affirm that Nature, as a sort of ultimate reality, is red in tooth and claw), this is good: it's an opportunity for internal struggle, for learning, and for the salubrious evolution of one's character. I therefore wouldn't advocate dismissing the Bible because it contains passages that seem to laud slavery or to promote a slavish mindset: quite to the contrary, I'd advocate facing the unpleasantness head-on, contending with it, and coming out stronger. You might argue that humanity has grown beyond its need for Bibles, or that the Bible is immoral and therefore ought to be tossed aside. To such a claim, I'd reply that, Bible or not, people continue to generate literature that disturbs, provokes, and offers deep insights, so there's no escaping the question of wrestling with the text. You may as well include the Bible among those texts. Struggle with it, struggle against it, and grow from the experience, always in the knowledge that the struggle never really ends.

ADDENDUM: you'll note that I didn't go the scripture-quoting route in the above essay. That would be useless: if I were to find 36 Bible verses that affirmed my point of view, Steve could easily find 36 verses affirming his point of view. Where would that leave us? That, by the way, is an utterly fruitless way to debate scripture in any situation, but a lot of idiots engage in just that exercise. Yeesh. Also: it's easy to Google "Bible verses about liberation." And to be fair, it's equally easy to Google "Bible verses about slavery."



*Taoism and Zen Buddhism (which has some roots in Taoist thinking) come to mind as world-affirming exceptions to this line of thinking. The here-and-now is all we have, according to the Taoist/Zen perspective, and being mindful of this fact, as well as participating in it fully, is the goal of spiritual practice.

**The word subjugate also has the -jug- root, which comes from the same root as yoke. To subjugate someone is to put that person under the yoke.



a good reminder from 2017

Myths about Trump, per the intrepid John Stossel:






Tuesday, March 24, 2020

God is speaking to me

On Instapundit, some commenter quite randomly slapped this map up:


Below that chart, someone else wrote:

Looks like Wyoming is a nice place to live.

I'll say. Remember when I mused about Wyoming as a new home?

Peace and quiet, baby.



Monday, March 23, 2020

Dr. V on introverts

From "The Introvert Advantage":

We introverts make up about a quarter of the population. No surprise, then, that we are poorly understood. We are not shy or anti-social. Extroverts abuse us, but there is no need to reply in kind since the present turn of events will do the job for us. They will suffer. We will have no trouble maintaining our social distance. We have rich inner lives and welcome the opportunity to have an excuse to withdraw from the idle talkers, the unserious, the spiritless, and the superficial. Call it the Introvert Advantage.
From "Are You an Introvert? Take this Test!":
A former colleague, a superficial extrovert, once described me as 'lone wolf.' 'Superficial extrovert' smacks of pleonasm. An extrovert is like a mirror: nothing in himself, he is only what reflects. Is that fair? Fair enough for a blog post. Or an extrovert is like an onion: peel away the last skin and arrive at -- precisely nothing. The extrovert manages to be surface all the way down. Or you could say that he is merely a node in a social network. He is constituted by his social relations, and nothing apart from them; hence no substance that enters into social relations.
I do think that extroverts define themselves by their relationships with others. Deprive them of social context, and they wither into nothing because, as Dr. V says above, they lack substance. Self-sufficiency and independence are high virtues by my reckoning. You can't be fully self-sufficient or independent when you're an extrovert. Granted, you can never be totally independent: you're part of a cosmic web of intercausation, so there is no such thing as "me, in and of myself." That said, needing people, while not shameful per se (you wouldn't be human if you needed absolutely no one), is shameful when what you really need is a crutch in human form. A crutch is an object, an aid, a means to an end. A crutch gets used. Keep in mind Kant's injunction not to use people as a means to an end: people are ends in themselves, and should be treated that way. Relationships rooted in notions of servitude and/or codependency are inherently inauthentic, even toxic. Don't be needy!



foot report, 3/23/20

My right foot is still slightly swollen; this state of affairs hasn't changed for a month, and it's becoming frustrating. My foot aches if I sit cross-legged, i.e., such that my other leg is pressing down on the foot. That my foot is still so achy is also frustrating. Upshot: I don't feel ready to do any serious distance walking. Monday night is a walking night, though, so I'll definitely do my 10K-or-so steps tonight, and I'll do the walk again Friday night. Meanwhile, there's biking. I didn't bike over the weekend, but I'll get some miles in this week.

ADDENDUM: I walked almost 11,000 steps again tonight, and I survived, albeit with the help of some ibuprofen. Clinically speaking, I'm in decent shape: even a couple hours after walking, the ache isn't bad enough to make me limp, so that's a good sign. I might actually try a 15K-step walk this coming Friday. We'll see how that goes.



Sunday, March 22, 2020

zee Cajun Fraintch

If this is a good example of Cajun French, then I have to say it's way, way easier to understand than rural Québecois. I understood this guy perfectly:


I've given an example of incomprehensible Québecois before. See here.



who uses the bridge?

It's a veritable Star Wars cantina of alien life out in Pennsylvania!






the bitch loves leaf piles

I can't remember whether I blogged this before, so at the risk of repetition:






painful to watch

College kids, who are most likely to advocate for socialism, are the group that's least likely to know what socialism actually is or entails. The following vid is a painful watch:


As you see, an angry leftist student calls campus security on Will Witt for the mere act of asking questions. The student claims Witt is "terrorizing" fellow students. The police, whom Witt gets on audio, sound perfectly reasonable.



"The Peanut Butter Falcon": review

You don't often hear stories about Down syndrome people who are assholes. I've never personally known anyone afflicted with the genetic condition,* but from what I've seen over the years on TV and video, most Down folks are naturally predisposed to be sweet, kind, optimistic, and funny. Actor Zack Gottsagen is just such a person, and he's friends with writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Nilson and Schwartz decided to create a story just for Gottsagen, who had long said he wanted to be an actor, and this is, from what I've read, the legendary birth of the 2019 dramedy-adventure movie "The Peanut Butter Falcon," which also stars Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, Yelawolf (a rapper), Jon Bernthal, and Thomas Haden Church. The film took six years to create and develop, and it's obvious that the story is a labor of love.

Zak (sic—the character's name lacks a "c") is a 22-year-old with Down syndrome who has been placed by the state in a retirement home where, like an elderly resident, he is tended to by staffers including harried-but-kindhearted Eleanor (Johnson). Enraptured by old VHS tapes of pro wrestling, Zak longs to leave his current life of confinement and become a wrestler. Every now and again, Zak tries breaking out of the home, but he is normally caught and brought back, where he faces the removal of certain privileges. Eventually, Eleanor officially labels Zak a flight risk, but Zak—with the help of his elderly roommate Carl (Dern)—escapes one last time and actually manages to get away, stealing off into the Southern night wearing nothing but a pair of tighty-whitey briefs.

Tyler (LaBeouf) is a struggling fisherman who lost his much-beloved older brother Mark (Bernthal, seen in flashbacks). Desperate to earn an income, Tyler has been stealing crabs from other workers' crab pots, incurring the wrath of fellow fishermen Duncan and Ratboy (Hawkes and Yelawolf), who mean to do Tyler bodily harm for filching thousands of dollars' worth of income. After one altercation ends with Tyler being severely beaten, Tyler responds by quietly setting fire to Duncan and Ratboy's crab pots and nets. Unbeknownst to Tyler, his fire spreads until all the docks are ablaze, but by that time, Tyler has skedaddled on his old boat. What Tyler doesn't realize at first is that Zak has made his way to the docks and hidden himself under a tarp on Tyler's rickety craft, and this is how the two runaways meet and begin an adventure together: Tyler is now heading to a hoped-for new life in Florida (the story begins in the Outer Banks of North Carolina); Zak wants to meet his pro-wrestling hero, Salt Water Redneck (Church), who supposedly runs a school for aspiring pro wrestlers. Tyler reasons that Zak's school is along the way to his final destination, so he promises to get Zak to Salt Water Redneck as best he can.

Eleanor desperately chases after Zak. Her boss has shrewdly decided not to report the young man missing, thus avoiding certain repercussions with the authorities and the legal system. Eleanor does what she can, canvassing the local neighborhoods in search of any trace of Zak. She randomly bumps into Tyler in a general store, and she meets up with Tyler and Zak a few days later. By this time, Zak and Tyler have deeply bonded, and Tyler feels protective of Zak. Tyler might think Eleanor is rather pretty, but he resents what he sees as her over-cautious, condescending attitude toward Zak, whom Tyler has taught how to swim and how to fire a shotgun. Early on, when Zak told Tyler that "I am a Down syndrome," Zak dismissively replied, "I don't give a shit." Tyler is willing to treat Zak simply as a person—something Zak hasn't experienced during his time in the elder-care facility. "You might not be saying the word 'retard,' I'll give you that, but you're damn sure making him feel retarded," Tyler tells Eleanor. Eleanor angrily counters that Zak has no idea who she is or what she's done. He knows nothing about the string of old people to whom she has dispensed care and companionship, and whom she has had to watch die, one after another, over the past two years. Tyler respects this, and when Zak impulsively throws the keys of Eleanor's truck into the nearby water, Tyler invites Eleanor to come with him and Zak on their journey. Not planning on letting Zak out of her sight again, Eleanor says yes and joins the team.

The movie strongly evokes Mark Twain's along-the-river adventures of characters like Huckleberry Finn, and sure enough, our crew of three meets a variety of colorful individuals along the way, including a blind man who gives Tyler and Zak a baptism and allows them to scavenge his property so they can build a raft. The rest of the story involves what happens as the group approaches Zak's destination: the fabled home and wrestling school of Salt Water Redneck. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I hope you've read enough to be interested in seeing this good-hearted film.

And it is a good-hearted film. The presence of Zack Gottsagen, who is a legitimately talented actor, makes it so. Beautifully paced and shot, with elements of comedy and drama, the story of "The Peanut Butter Falcon" (Zak's wrestling name, which he gives to himself) will draw you in. Gottsagen's performance has a nice counterpoint in Shia LaBeouf's turn as a gruff, troubled, but ultimately good seed. While one of the movie's main themes is about following one's dreams, another theme, the one that I immediately latched onto, was brotherhood. Early in the film, old Carl at the nursing home tells Zak that "friends are the family you choose." As the plot unfolds before us, we see a wonderful thing happening: a family coalesces as Tyler, Eleanor, and Zak all bond, but the bond between Zak and Tyler is at the core of this: Tyler, who lost his older brother Mark, now has the chance to be an older brother to Zak. Caring for Zak brings Tyler's chaotic life into focus, giving him purpose and a sense of self-worth. Dead inside after his older brother's death, Tyler finds that caring for Zak brings forth little shoots of life and hope from the fallow ground of his soul.

The movie made me think about my relationship with my two younger brothers. I was never much of a teacher to them, nor was I any sort of wisdom figure. If anything, I was often just a tormenting jerk who occasionally did things that made them laugh, like driving with deliberate wildness while we were all in the car together. These days, my brothers and I all have completely separate lives, and while we keep in contact, there's no sense that our lives are intimately intertwined or bound together by a sense of mutual caring. We love and respect each other, but at a distance that is more than just physical. I think I envy the bond that forms between Tyler and Zak. Both men care for each other, and by the time the story ends, we're given to believe that this will be a friendship that lasts forever. I dare you not to cry when Zak tells Tyler that he plans to give Tyler all of his birthday wishes.

There were elements of this film that called to mind Robert Duvall's incredible movie "The Apostle," about a preacher on the run from the law who attempts to start a new life for himself. The Southern ambience, the slow journey, the mostly invisible presence of Jesus and redemption—these tropes also infuse "The Peanut Butter Falcon." This is a road movie that mostly takes place on the water, and the film has a classically American feel to it, evoking nature, a big sky, and an open future filled with hope and opportunity.

This review wouldn't be complete without a discussion of the movie's flaws, of which there are a few minor ones. You do quietly wonder where on earth Tyler is getting the money to pay for certain purchases; the money issue makes more sense once Eleanor—who actually has money—joins their group. There are also scenes that are deliberately filmed to be cartoonish, and while I felt this violated the overall tone a bit, I could also see that, because this was largely a story being told from Zak's innocent point of view, the cartoonish moments made sense from that perspective. The movie also leaves plenty of loose ends; a hard-bitten realist will wonder, as the credits roll, whether the situation in the film's final moments is really going to work out for the best. The filmmakers obviously want you to look at things that way: this is supposed to be a happily ever after sort of ending, and maybe realism is beside the point.

Ultimately, "The Peanut Butter Falcon"—so-called because Zak adopts his wrestling persona partway through the film, calling himself "Falcon" and smearing peanut butter on his face as a sort of war paint—is a good old, classic feel-good film. Its purpose is to restore your faith in humanity, and unless you have a heart of stone, it'll do just that.



*There may have been one person named Christie, back when I was in high school, but I'm not really sure that she suffered from Down syndrome, specifically.



how Dr. Lorianne deals with e-classes

See here for Lorianne's sage advice re: e-classes.



ululate!

Country singer Kenny Rogers has died at the age of 81. He was already in hospice care when he passed away, so it's unlikely that his death has anything to do with the current global crisis.

I'm not a fan of country music when it involves twangy guitars and equally twangy accents. I'd rather listen to rap music. But there are some musicians who have been labeled "country" whose stylings I appreciate, and Kenny Rogers, with his famously smooth-yet-gravelly voice, is—was—one of them. In my personal pantheon of Tolerable Country Singers, we have Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and very few others.

Here are a few of Rogers's songs that form part of my childhood:



I had trouble hunting down this last one, but it's thoughtful and optimistic, and might just be my favorite of the Kenny Rogers oeuvre. I remember it for the "raindrops" in the background:


RIP, Mr. Rogers. You brightened the world while you were with us.



Saturday, March 21, 2020

Ave, Charles!

I hope this doesn't count as virusblogging, but Charles over at Liminality has just posted an entry in which he talks about what it's been like at his university, conducting classes without being physically face-to-face with his students. Spoiler: it hasn't been easy.



"Pan's Labyrinth": review

If you took out the goriest scenes from "Pan's Labyrinth" ("El laberinto del fauno" in Spanish), you'd be left with an enchanting and sad tale for children. But the gore in this movie is part of its horror aspect, and the horror is essential to the story, so removing it is out of the question. Intertwined in this narrative, like a double helix, are the twin strands of brutal realism and the equally brutal pagan mythos.

Written, produced, and directed by the talented Guillermo del Toro, "Pan's Labyrinth" is the story of ten-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who is traveling with her sickly and pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to be with her stepfather, the cruel Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a Falangist officer of the Franco regime in Spain. It is the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and the Falangists are still fighting the republican guerrillas. Captain Vidal has taken up residence at a large estate in the middle of a forest, and this is most definitely a war zone. Several of the household's servants and helpers are secretly rebels, including a friendly doctor named Ferreiro (Álex Angulo) and a housekeeper named Mercedes (Maribel Verdú).

The story opens with a bit of fantasy: there is a legend that the king of the underworld had a precious daughter, the princess Moanna, who left her eldritch kingdom and came to the surface world—our world—where she was blinded by the powerful light of our sun and deprived of her memories. Along with her memories of who she was went Moanna's special powers and her immortality, and so it was that, now mortal, the princess lived the rest of her life away from her father. But her father was convinced that Moanna would return, reborn, to the underworld, and this is where Ofelia's story merges with that of the eldritch kingdom.

Unhappy to be in her new home, Ofelia and her stepfather are tense and wary of each other. Ofelia is also distressed by her mother's sickness, but Mercedes the housekeeper does what she can to care for Ofelia, almost as if the girl were her own daughter. Ofelia, meanwhile, follows a faerie/insect into a nearby ancient labyrinth. There, she meets a tall, imposing faun (think: satyr) who addresses her as "Your Highness" and tells her she must complete three tasks before the full moon. The tasks are written in a magical book that the faun (Doug Jones) gives the girl, and the object of the mission is to restore Princess Moanna to her rightful place in the kingdom of the underworld. The faun sees Ofelia as Moanna reborn.

And so it is that "Pan's Labyrinth" moves smoothly between the earthly, horrific story of life just after the Spanish Civil War and the magical, unearthly story of Ofelia/Moanna's attempts to complete her three tasks. Ofelia's adventures will take her through magical portals; she will encounter various creatures ranging from charming to disgusting to horrifying; she will fail, at times, but find ways to soldier onward. In our normal world, Ofelia will do what she can to help ease her weakening mother's suffering, occasionally pressing her head against her mother's belly to whisper comfort, advice, and solemn requests to her as-yet-unborn little brother. Captain Vidal, meanwhile, will torture, maim, and kill people, all in the name of war. As for the secret rebels employed by the Falangists... the net will close ever more tightly around them until escape becomes impossible.

I have no desire to spoil the ending of this lovely film; the most I can say is that the ending ought not to be surprising once you accept the fact that this film is, among other things, about the undeniable horrors of war. The story moves at a stately pace—not too slowly, but not in the manner of your typical horror film, either: this is, after all, a film that mixes genres, folding in elements of fantasy, drama, and even some action. The transitions and interactions between the terrestrial world and the magical one are carried out with narrative smoothness and care, and while the viewer might, by the end of the movie, wonder whether any of the fantasy elements were real, there are, in fact, bits of evidence that, even in the hell that was 1940s Spain, our crass material reality overlays a much deeper, older, subtler reality.

I have yet to see "The Devil's Backbone," the film that put del Toro on the map. Del Toro calls that movie the spiritual predecessor to "Pan's Labyrinth"—or rather, "Pan's Labyrinth" is the spiritual sequel to "The Devil's Backbone"—so part of me thinks I should have seen that one, too, and then written a two-fer review. For the moment, though, I have only "Labyrinth" to go on, so that will have to suffice. I have, however, seen some of del Toro's other movies—enough to know that the man's head is alive with a parallel fantasy universe that routinely informs his cinematic work. If you were to watch "Pan's Labyrinth" and then watch both of del Toro's Hellboy movies, you would see right away how deeply this alternate universe influences him. This is clearly a case of an artist who doesn't so much create as act as a conduit through which another power pours out into our world. And our world is better for it.

The lighting, set design, and cinematography for this movie are all impressive and evocative, as is the musical score. The creature effects are a combination of practical and CGI, and despite this being a movie from 2006, the effects have aged fairly well. The gore is fairly intense: Captain Vidal brutally murders one peasant with a wine bottle; he later stitches his own face back together after it has been slashed. That moment of self-surgery might be my only complaint about the film: the wound itself is almost completely bloodless while Vidal is stitching his cheek closed, but it suddenly bleeds profusely the moment he takes an agonizing swig from a bottle of alcohol. Also, the shape of the wound, which goes from the corner of Vidal's mouth to about two-thirds of the way across his cheek, made me mutter to myself, "You wanna know how I got these scars?" Aside from that, the movie is a technical marvel.

Above and beyond the technical, though, was the movie's dramatic aspect, and all of the stars were excellent in their roles. Ivana Baquero made for a winsome and sympathetic Ofelia/Moanna, and Sergi López was evil incarnate in the role of Captain Vidal. I should also note the performance of Doug Jones, whom del Toro tends to use in most of his films (Jones played Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, and he was the Amphibian Man in "The Shape of Water"): here, Jones played both the faun (who, according to del Toro, was merely a faun and not specifically the god Pan, hence the film's Spanish-language title) and a horrifying, child-eating creature called The Pale Man, with eyes in the palms of his hands. In both mythical roles, he was obviously in his element.

You'll have to watch the movie and decide for yourself whether Ofelia really is Princess Moanna, and whether the world of faeries, fauns, and pale men actually exists. What I find fascinating is that, even though the movie smoothly and gracefully interweaves its fantastical and real-world scenes, the story's parallel plot lines remain distinct—so distinct that there's never a question about which world we're in as we witness events unfold. So for this film, the question isn't so much "What is real?" as it is "Which world is more real?" As with the novel Life of Pi, which poses a similar question and offers a similar choice, you may find your heart tending toward one answer while your head tends toward another.

[Interesting trivia: according to Wikipedia, Guillermo del Toro wrote the English subtitles for the film himself. He was unhappy with the subtitling of "The Devil's Backbone."]



Black Rifle Coffee shenanigans

You need to watch this just to see and hear a country singer do an impromptu rap:






Friday, March 20, 2020

a grammar-related stumper for me

The word for is, among other things, a coordinating conjunction. When used as a coordinating conjunction (i.e., as a link between two independent clauses), it's preceded by a comma, as is true in general for comma-conjunction scenarios (see Commas, Part 1). In this context, for basically means "because" (def. 34). Below are some examples of for—the conjunction (not the preposition, e.g., "She did that for me.")—being used to mean "because":

Brad ate his pet turtle, for he was hungry.
Karen smeared the rim of the toilet seat with dung, for she was a misunderstood genius.
Here's my question, then: the word for seems to have about the same logical/semantic value as the word because... so why the comma? Because is a subordinating conjunction, and we all know that subordinating conjunctions don't take commas when the clauses they introduce aren't at the head of the sentence (Commas, Part 2).
Brad ate his pet turtle because he was hungry.
Karen smeared the rim of the toilet seat with dung because she was a misunderstood genius.
We can all sense that there's a nuanced difference between for and because; for seems a bit more elevated, flowery, poetic, and dignified—even somewhat tweedy and pretentious. Because seems more straightforwardly utilitarian.

In fact, why is for a coordinating conjunction at all? This bears looking into.


au revoir, Tulsi!


How sad. Tulsi Gabbard was the dog who ran after the speeding car and caught it. With her jaws, she hung on to the rear bumper for as long as she could, bloodshot eyes glaring with determination, desperate saliva streaming from her mouth, her body whipping wildly in the car's buffeting slipstream. She'd been running a distant third behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in recent days, but she has finally bowed to reality and dropped out of the presidential race. Unfortunately, she's made the mistake of endorsing Joe Biden, but I suppose most of these dropouts feel they need to endorse somebody as a show of solidarity.

This just wasn't Tulsi's time. Give her another four years, and we'll see her again in 2024, when the Democrats will be less interested in running a slate of old white guys and will actually listen to their own rhetoric about how supposedly open and pluralistic they are. (I fully expect a Democrat to become president in 2024. American politics is pendular, a basic fact that I forgot in trying to predict the results of the 2016 election.)

Sorry, Tulsi. Better luck next time. Thanks for not voting to impeach.

Styx on Tulsi's disappearance:






Mike's thought experiment

My buddy Mike the Maximum Leader over at Naked Villainy writes a post that includes the following amusing Gedankenexperiment:

Assume the former/late [p]residents of the United States were alive and in their retirement after leaving office, but living in 2020. What vehicle do you think they would drive?

Well, Mike clearly said "vehicle" and not "car" or "truck," so here are my thoughts on some of the past presidents.*

1. The George Washington question has already been asked and answered by a YouTube video that went viral years ago. Done in the salty-tongued spirit of a traditional American tall tale, the video musically claims that Washington patrolled the land on "a horse made of crystal." I'm sure that wouldn't change for 2020-era Washington.

2. As for John Adams... well, I've been influenced by Paul Giamatti's excellent performance in the HBO series about America's second president. Given how roly-poly Giamatti is, I'd say John Adams would drive a VW Bug.

3. James Buchanan would ride an enormous piece of artillery. Get it?

4. Abraham Lincoln was a tall, spindly fellow, so I see him prowling the streets of Washington, DC, on the back of a giant spider. Maybe a black widow. But some humorless liberal somewhere would complain that the image of "Lincoln riding a black widow" was racist.

5. Ulysses S. Grant would travel the land on a giant bottle of whiskey. With mounted lasers.

6. Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt would definitely roar around in an F-16 Fighting Falcon, retrofitted with VTOL capability. That would fit his bomb-bastic personality.

7. Heavy, rotund William Howard Taft would get around in an M-1 Abrams tank.

8. Herbert Hoover would shuffle the streets wrapped loosely in a stinky tent for homeless people while riding a rickety shopping cart.

9. FDR? Well, I think you can guess. Wheelchair. But supercharged and armed with missiles, with a bumper sticker on the back that reads, "FEAR ITSELF."

10. Horny, wayward JFK would (cough) tool around on the back of an enormous dildo.

11. Lyndon B. Johnson would get around in a palanquin carried by Vietnamese slaves.

12. Richard Nixon would proudly ride a penny-farthing whose wheels are the reels for a 70s-era tape recorder.

13. Jimmy Carter would rove the asphalt on the back of a boulder-sized testicle. The nut thing.

14. Bill Clinton would steal Kennedy's dildo.

15. Donald Trump would ride around DC on a tackily gold-filigreed Nancy Pelosi.



*Then again, Mike did also clearly say "drive," so I guess, technically, the vehicles all need to be driveable and not merely rideable. Oh, well.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

French bro update

My French brother Dominique is still in the hospital after a bout of appendicitis; he underwent surgery a second time, and he tells me that, barring any new problems, he ought to be leaving the hospital in five days, after which he's to be confined at home—partly for his own convalescence, and partly because of the current outbreak. I hope he remains safe and exits the hospital soon. The poor guy—who is a thousand times more athletic than I am—has had enough problems up to now. Three weeks (and counting) on an IV drip is getting a bit silly.



Sudoku dethrones chess as my go-to addiction

It used to be that, every time I took a trip to the men's room for a zesty intestinal session, I would whip out my cell phone and play a quick game of chess. I'm not much of a chess player, and I only ever play the computer on Level 2 (out of 10, with 10 being close to grandmaster level), so these bouts never last longer than two or three minutes, which is not as long as the time it takes for me to drop the kids off at the pool. (I promise not to go into any detail.)

A few weeks ago, though, I finally downloaded a decent Sudoku app, and I've been addicted ever since. I had tried Sudoku once before, years ago, but the app sucked, and so did its tutorial feature. It wasn't until I downloaded my current Sudoku app that I learned how to play the game, and these days, I've moved up from "beginner" to "easy." I've played one "medium"-level game and didn't find it impossible, but I'm obviously not quite ready to jump to that level yet. Beginner takes me about two minutes to play; my fastest game is around 1:40. Easy takes around ten minutes on average; my record (which I just hit today) is 8:18. The one medium-level game I played took me around half an hour. The app has a few "hand-holding" functions—not exactly hints, per se, but things that help you muddle through the mathematical logic by allowing you to leave yourself reminders of where you've been on your twisting path through the puzzle—and these make thinking through the game easier; at some point, I'll need to figure out how to drop those functions so as to have a "pure," unaided Sudoku experience. A kid learning to bike needs to lose the training wheels eventually.

I play Sudoku pretty much anytime I have a free moment: in the restroom, in bed before sleeping, in a bus or cab or subway. It's very addictive, at least for now. I realize that the game has been around in some form since the 1800s, and that it enjoyed a resurgence in popularity—what—around two decades ago, but I'm a late bloomer with this as with other things that most people find popular. If you've never tried Sudoku, go read the Wikipedia page on it, then download a free app and give it a whirl. As addictions go, I can think of far worse ones.