Weekend Update/Pointless Post

Unless you like pretty pictures of food and second thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s no excuse for this post, and no reason for you to read it. Just being upfront.

A. Did get a bunch of reading in last week, will do a couple more book reviews soon. I could get used to this. In addition to the client visit/long plane flights/boring evenings in hotels providing opportunity to read, I felt well, which reinforced how not well I have been feeling since about November. Nothing in particular, just draggy, sleepy, unfocused. Might be blood pressure meds – but those have been the same for years. Will be seeing the doctor soon, but, as usual, I always feel better after making an appointment. (If only this worked for dentists – chipped teeth and decaying fillings just heal themselves once you’ve got a date to get them fixed. No?)

B. Saw Guardians of the Galaxy II a second time because it’s Father’s Day, it’s 105F outside, and my younger daughter had not yet seen it. Gotta say: as goofy as the action is, as unnecessary 90% of the (slight, I’ll admit) potty talk is, this movie works so well on an emotional level it’s shocking. Yondu steals most scenes he’s in, manages to convince you you’ve misunderstood him all along, and gets you crying (well, I, at least, had something in my eye) near the end – and then they ratchet it up from there – and it works. One of the reasons I wanted to see it again was exactly that: had I just fallen for cynical manipulation the first time? I kind of think not – I think they really understood that the only stakes worth raising were emotional stakes, and they went at it with everything they had, and it worked.

C. Speaking of pretty pictures of food: this year, my basil crop has been and continues to be outstanding. If you’ve got basil, make pesto; if you have fresh homemade pesto, make pasta; if you have homemade pesto pasta, you must bake fresh bread. I do understand that wasting people’s time with pictures of food is lame. I’m making an exception this once (well, except for my daughters’ cakes – but those are art) because my family kept going on about how beautiful this particular loaf of bread was:

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So, yea, it’s a picturesque loaf, I’ll grant. It’s the simplest loaf of yeast bread I know how to make – this one just came out particularly beautiful after the manner of its kind.  Tasty, too.

D. On the flight back from Atlanta, got to see lots of snow. There was plenty in the Rockies near the New Mexico-Colorado border, on  into Utah (especially considering I was on the right side of the plane heading west, meaning I was mostly looking at south-facing and thus less snowy slopes) .

The real snow action was the Sierra:

 

We seemed to be flying right over Yosemite, so my view was of Mono Lake (too low for snow, just north and east if Mt. Whitney and just north of the Long Valley Caldera), Hetch Hetchy, which is the valley on the western slopes just north of Yosemite and which contains San Francisco’s main reservoir, and the high granite domes which make up the bulk of the high southern Sierra.

Lots of snow, even in mid-June. Several ski areas have announced that they will be open through August! The pictures are too small to see this, I suppose, but even from the air you could see areas above 8,000 or 9,000 feet just buried in snow. Along the western side, I could see white-water waterfalls coming off those high granite domes down into the valleys, and all the rivers were likewise white until well into the foothills. Spectacular.

E. My son asked long ago for me to make him a shield. After googling around, I decided to try fiberglass. Just because I’ve never done it before. So I made a hardboard form, if you will, gave it three coats of varnish to seal it, had my son apply 4 coats of wax to it. I’d attached some 3X2 boards along the sides, screwed in a couple big hooks, had my son lean on it in the middle, them wired between the hooks to get the curve:

 

Then we applied the world’s sloppiest gel coat – hey, it was our first time! As soon as we can get 2 uninterrupted hours, we will put on 4 layers – 2 mat, 2 cloth – and epoxy in a handle and adjustable strap. Then let cure over night.

And pray we can get it off the form!

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy II

Brief status: I’m done with Star Trek and Star Wars. Probably done with Avengers, Thor, Iron Man and whatever other Marvel properties I’ve never heard of that they’re making movies out of. Haven’t seen a Bond movie in decades. I was done with Harry Potter & Pirates of the Caribbean after a couple movies. We shall not speak of the abomination that is the Jackson Hobbit.

Now, a really good trailer and especially really good reviews and word of mouth might move me – but I doubt it.

I don’t like to be talked down to, I don’t feel loyalty to a franchise, I don’t like seeing a beloved book bloated and mauled for a buck.

But mostly, I don’t like being bored.  I like being entertained. Movies are entertainment. Since I read a lot of history, I don’t find slaughter, mayhem and misery entertaining. I’ll go read about communists if I for any reason need a dose of that.

So: went to see Guardians of the Galaxy II with the family, for the simple reason that I found the first movie quite entertaining. Mindless fun, but pretty to look at, witty in places and well-paced. So, I gave II a shot.

Image result for guardians of the galaxy 2It was good. Not great, not perfect, but I didn’t get the urge to walk out at any point, which has happened a lot with movies recently. So, yea, good.

GG II somewhat avoided the main issue with sequels, which is the gravitational pull of BIGGER. While one might imagine that, having saved the galaxy, they’d next need to save the universe, or at least a couple galaxies. But no, they merely save the same galaxy again.

Instead, they went bigger on the emotional stakes, in all sorts of surprising, twisty ways.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!

 

Unlike many sequels, most egregiously in the execrable Pirates of the Caribbean follow-ons, the main focus, the main thing made bigger, is the relationships between the characters. Between the usual ridiculous yet entertaining cartoon action sequences, which were kicked up a little, we get all sorts of moments where the characters come into emotional conflict, ratchet it up, and resolve them to a greater or lesser degree. The script is meant to be tear-jerking at many points – a pretty major departure from the usual tragic backstory/cartoon validation-revenge sort of plot characteristic of just about all comic book movies.  We’re supposed to feel sorry for Yondu – and it works. We’re supposed to buy Yondu and Rocket bonding and heroically willing to sacrifice themselves for the team – and we buy it. The sister issues set up in GG I between Gamora and Nebula need to get worked out satisfactorily – and, again, it works.

Thus, when the final boss is battled, all these emotional traps are sprung, so that we’re cheering and gripping the seat arms, wanting things to work out.  Yondu’s heroic death was a surprising and surprisingly effective resolution.

The effects were as dazzling as we’ve come to take for granted. The pacing was pretty solid, after the opening sequence, which frankly dragged a bit. And the conclusion was suitably epic and satisfying.

Now onto the less than good, starting with a relatively minor complaint. I was reminded during the movie of a story told of Groucho Marx. The Marx Brothers would take their shows on the road prior to filming. As old school vaudevillians, they wanted to work out the timing and test the material. Groucho most often got the zingers and put-downs, and he was legendarily good at them. But, as a pro, he knew there was no substitute for delivering those lines in front of a live audience to see if they really worked.

Groucho also had a whole bag of tricks to get a laugh: the eyebrow raise, the funny walks, the incredulous looks. So, when testing material, he left those out. If the audience still laughed, he knew the material was good.

I wish somebody would have run the GG II script through the same process, chiefly to field-test the body and sex humor. With a few exceptions, it would not have made it. It got the sort of cheap laughs hammed up things tend to get, but left me wondering why it was there in the first place. The exceptions, of course, are the couple times Drax the Destroyer waxed poetical about sex in his faux-Shakespearean-ish language. That worked a couple times. In general, it just wasn’t fun enough to warrant the distraction. Having goofy characters deliver the lines tended to get laughs the material itself didn’t warrant.

The greatest issue isn’t a problem so much as a modern foundational myth. The plot hinges on Peter’s biological father abandoning him, finding him, explaining why he abandoned him, courting him – and then using him for evil. His father killed his mother after he begat a child on her, for his own completely selfish reasons.

Such a plot would have horrified the ancient Greeks, who were no softies. A god seduces and impregnates women solely to create little demigod Herculeses only so that he may use them to do his bidding, which is the destruction of the world. He kills off the mothers, and child after child who fails him.

Finally a human woman, who he later kills with a horrible illness, bears the son he wanted. But a highwayman, hired to retrieve this final useful son, betrays the god and hides him,  and makes him into a highwayman after his own heart. The son later escapes the highwayman, gathers a band of stalwart companions and, after many adventures, becomes a great hero by defeating yet another god.

After years of searching, the god finds the son, and whisks him and his stalwart companions away to his realm, where they discover the remains of all the previous children slaughtered by their own father. An epic battle ensues, during which the evil father-god is killed and the world saved, but only at the cost of the life of the highwayman who saved the son.

Now, that’s not a bad story, at least not when sanitized as myth. But putting it in this world, even by means of a comic book story, invites comparisons. This is not a unique horror, but a common occurrence, metaphorically speaking. It rings true not as a cathartic myth, but rather as something we see every day: men using women, discarding them, arranging for the deaths of offspring they don’t desire. Then, if any child is found useful, he is loved exactly insofar as he is useful.

The fantasy of millions of children today it some combination of finding their loving father, and killing the monster who abandoned them.  GG II does the trick by having Yondu turn out to be that loving father, albeit not the biological father, and sacrificing himself to save the son and kill the biological father. Also, the years of abuse and mistreatment of Peter by Yondu are explained away: Yondu was trying to save Peter the only way he knew how, and, besides, Yondu had a tragic backstory of his own.  That makes it all better.

I’m no comic book nerd, but no superhero I can think of came from a happy, intact family. GG II takes the concept down further: a Batman or a Spiderman may lose parents (or stand in parents in the case of the web slinger) tragically, but they were good parents it was a tragedy to lose. Star Lord finds a father it is a tragedy to find. Gamora and Nebula had their parents killed before their eyes by – their stepdad, who is a monster they now want to kill.

If only this were just make-believe. Every child of divorce I’ve ever known fits into at least one of these slots. That a plot built on such disastrous and tragic relationships seems instantly believable is a frightening thing.

I left the movie having thoughts that were not entertaining. This is not a good thing for a popcorn movie.

 

 

Movie Micro-Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where Did the Story Get To?

12 year old son wanted to see this before it left the theaters, so off we traipsed to the theater after an afternoon spent planting the second of our two cute little avocado trees.

For the first hour of this flick, I was frankly bored out of my skull. The best that can be said is: the special effects are exactly what we’ve come to expect from years of government training high-budget hollywood sequels.  Newt Scamander was – well cast? Quirky? The protagonist? Funny-looking English dude? The magical animals were – cute-ish? Destructive in a way that would get them grimly shot by wizard or muggle alike? Generally immune to the ubiquitous magic in ways that were never even hinted at?

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Newt, amidst the surprisingly mortar-free bricks of a building that just happened to have gotten destroyed.  

This last point bears expanding. The magic in Harry Potter-verse has always had an arbitrary nature that was, in the original books and movies, (1) masked somewhat by its use as comic relief. As Roger Rabbit answers Eddie when asked if he could always have slipped out of the handcuffs: no, only when it’s funny. Thus, magic things and spells have funny names and do funny things, most of the time. It breaks down when taken seriously – we never really know why dueling goes the way it does, why wizards don’t just, say, liquify the earth beneath their opponents or drop a house on them or whatever – no, it’s always some lame-ish spells introduced earlier except when it isn’t.

But we look past it because it’s fun and we care about the people. In Fantastic Beasts, Newt unleashes some Grade-A magic to break into a bank and zip through walls and repair destroyed buildings – but can’t do anything to stop a kleptomaniacal platypus from wreaking havoc – until, suddenly, he can. Lame. Distracting. BOOOOORING.

So I got up, used the men’s room, checked my email and blog stats, took a deep breath, and went back in. I came back just in time for Newt and Tina to be condemned to death by the extraordinarily good-looking bad guy Percival (yeah, he was the bad guy from the get go). Something interesting probably happened in there that I missed.

The second hour was much better, rising to the level of distracting enough fluff. What saved it from total disaster was the ensemble good guys: The odd-looking Newt, the semi-prim and often worried-looking former Auror Tina, her flapper babe with a heart of gold mind-reading sister Queenie, and, most of all, Jacob, the token Muggle (No-Maj? Huh? LAAAME!) who gets caught up in the adventure and proves, like the handsome driver in The Magician’s Nephew, to be stalwart, kind and game.  To paraphrase Mathesar,  their courage, teamwork, friendship through adversity saves us.

Except – not quite. You see, the immediate bad guys are two, who in a way need each other and want the same thing: war between wizards and muggles. Percival/Grimwald (Spoiler Al… ah, forget it.) on the one hand, and Mary Lou Barebone, an evil, evil Calvinist witch hunter and child abuser because Christianity (however thinly veiled) and child abuse go together like social justice fanaticism and projecting bread and butter. She wants the mundane world to seek out and destroy witches. Christianity and its condemnation of witchcraft must be Eeeevil because look how nice – and misunderstood! Never forget misunderstood – the real witches are, kindly destroying and rebuilding our building and manipulating our minds to their advantage.  Or something. Newt is a nice guy, after the manner of somebody who’d carry the equivalent of glass vials of anthrax through a crowded city because magical creatures/deadly airborne pathogens are – here’s that word again! – misunderstood.

Anyway, the danced-around issue of *why* Puritans (and the Spanish Inquisition, etc.) had it in for witches is conclusively proved to be bigotry and hatred because witches – well, some witches – are just like you and me! Witch hunts are bad, and, historically, driven by envy and revenge more often than not, but the disgust and horror with which witches were historically viewed might – might! – have *some* more rational, less hysterical basis, just maybe?

Nope. Witches, like sparkly vampires, are just Misunderstood, and Christians are the real bad guys.

The not-at-all-Puritan named Credence, a young man adopted and raised by the sadistic Mary Lou, snaps and unleashes his pent-up and suppressed witchy superpowers and all but destroys New York, until Love gets him to calm down enough for the Witch FBI to kill him. Huh. And then one of Newt’s super-cool magical creature, using a conveniently-mentioned-earlier-in-the-story magical creature extract, Obliviates the entire population of New York while remarkably well-dressed Magical Untouchables rebuild the city (a city in which hundreds of building get destroyed without, one assumes, killing anybody – unless there’s a Resurectiones spell, or something, off camera). So, it’s all good! (2)

Boys and girls, don’t go suppressing Who You Really Are, or you might end up destroying a major metropolis. Anyone who tells you otherwise is Eeeeevil!

The denouement involves a Stupid Rule: no fraternizing with the muggles! which means Queenie, who has fallen for Jacob, has to let him go, in the sense of letting him have his mind obliviated of any memory of her and the magical world. And Jacob, swell guy that he is, just accepts that. No mind-rape there! Newt, the limey bloke in whose country such fraternization is permitted, never mentions the possibility of the lovebirds moving to the Old Country and living happily ever after.  Huh.

The chemistry between the 4 main characters was touching. But, ultimately not enough.

  1. I’ve only read about the first 3 books, heard snatches of the remaining books as read out loud to the kids, and seen maybe 3-4 of the movies. So if the magic system gets explained in a satisfactory manner somewhere I missed – so sorry. I don’t care.
  2. That Obliviate spell would come in real handy for a wizard who might, say, date hot Muggle women… Nah, that would never occur to anyone!

End of Advent Updates

1. Added to the growing pile of drafts – as always, the post I haven’t written is the best post I ever wrote – but, alas, caught my first full-on cold in years. Why is it when your nose gets stuffed up, so does your brain? Would like to finish a draft or two, but can’t because my thoughts are clouded and confused. More than usual, I mean.

2. Because of this cold, which settled in Saturday, I’ve only caught 2 Simbang Gabi 5:30 a.m. masses. Tomorrow and Saturday are the last 2 – let’s see if I can man up, and share good cheer and cold viruses with my fellow Christians. Or not…

3. Another Orwellian euphemism in the service of modern education is ‘exposure’. The assumption is that if you don’t hand over your kids to the schools, they will somehow fail to be exposed to all the right stuff, and grow up with a narrow view of reality and thus be unable to realize their full potential. That if you let your young children pursue whatever interests them instead of micromanaging their every minute, they will grow up stunted. That if you don’t send them to school and act in loco schoolmasters and enforce all homework without question, you are a Bad Parent who has Ruined their own child.

But War is Peace. The actually effect of all the ‘exposure’ is that our kids are unlikely to ever hear a clear explication and vigorous defense of any position not held by their school masters. They are then trained to reject any other opinions out of hand – this is called ‘critical thinking’. The stunning willingness of people to embrace the most outrageous caricatures of those we disagree with increases with the level of education, so that a PhD pretty much immunizes the victim against ever entertaining an idea that they have not already accepted.

This is the world in which business people, some of whom certainly do buy political influence in order to get richer, are a greater evil than communist dictators, who without exception abuse, rob and eventually murder their own subjects. The rich man’s greed may motivate him to steal, and may even motivate him to murder in order to steal; the communist dictator’s lust for power disguised as efforts to bring History to its inevitable conclusion, motivates him to murder anyone in his (History’s) way; murder in the 10s of millions in the cases of Mao and Stalin. The billions a very rich man(1) controls make him an irredeemable villain; the nation-state level wealth controlled by a communist dictator, on the other hand, has no effect on his actions whatsoever, which are conclusively presumed  to be sweetness and life itself, no matter how many are enslaved, impoverished or killed by them.

Such discussions are evidently unknown among the enlightened. Few well educated people have been exposed to them, and certainly not in the schools. At best, the well-educated are familiar with the accepted caricature, which exists only to aid summary dismissal of the ideas being caricatured.

4. Trying to work on world/tech/family background for the Novel Which Shall Not Be Named, but it’s hard when moments of clarity (such as they are) are like island in a cold-induced fog. Insofar as I can do it, it’s fun – knowing who these folks are, what they want, why they’re on the generational longship in the first place. So far, my muse, if I have one, has been quiet but not discouraging: the stuff I’m outlining fails to trigger the ‘lame’ response.

I’m counting that as a positive. That may be the virus talkin’.

I’m such a newbie. Spent some time worrying how I’d come up with all these complicated relationships in such a way as to make them work with the story arc, when I remembered: I know a boatload of family stories, both from history, literature and real life. Just use them! What a novel idea! (nyuk) Being careful, of course, with the real life stuff, which is far less realistic than fiction is allowed to be.

5. Got about a dozen books to review here and at Amazon. Got 11 days off coming up, with only maybe 60% of the time already spoken for. So – maybe! In short: L. Jagi Lamptighter’s In the Lamplight and Rachel Griffin stuff, John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son series and Brian Niemeier’s Soul Dancer are all highly recommended. When Prophecy Fails – not so much. Interesting ideas poorly supported. And I need to be seated at a table, pencil in hand, head clear, to finish Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. It’s very good so far. Vindication of Man and Secret Kings are next on the pile.

  1. Well, billions make *their* rich guys into evil incarnate, while *our* billionaires act solely out of pure civic altruism.

Quick Reading Update

A. Just got back from a industry conference and a pilgrimage – more on that later – which provided a bit of sitting-on-a-plane and stuck-in-a-hotel-room reading time. When reading Brian Niemeier’s books – Nethereal and Souldancer – it is *essential* that one be wide awake and paying attention. Reading either in bed as sleep stalks and takes you – not going to work. Far too much going on. BUT: reading them on the plane home, after getting 9 hours of sleep (unheard of for me) and a brief nap on the plane – well, MUCH better, much more engaging and followable. In a way, this is unfortunate, since I tend to use my small, uncertain and therefore valuable wide-awake reading time for stuff like Fichte and Hegel and education history, while fiction, mythology and short stuff like Chesterton essays get the 30-60 minutes it typically takes me to fall asleep.

B. I’ve mentioned Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club a few times on this blog, generally very favorably.He writes elegant and pithy prose that is a joy to read. His knack for telling details and ability to draw fascinating connections that others might miss are wonderful, and led me to rethink some stuff with which I was already familiar and explore other issues of which I was not yet aware: for example, the role of Puritan Calvinists in the founding of Harvard and thereby in the fabric of American higher education; the (mis)use of statistics at the very foundations of American science; the ubiquity of Pragmatism in American thinking; and, less felicitous and perhaps not entirely intended by Menand, the prevalence and ultimate dogmatic orthodoxy of bone-headed irrationality masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Examples of this abound. Most strikingly, those following Charles Sanders Pierce, as Menand’s examples amply illustrate, took his Pragmatic Maxims as meaning ‘the ends justify the means’ pure and simple, despite their protestations otherwise. Dewey’s defence of Trotsky (not discussed in the book, although Dewey himself gets plenty of ink) states emphatically that any appeal to conscience or ideals in determining what is ethical is delusional, that all that matters is the outcome of the actions – bring the Worker’s Paradise closer, and your actions are ethical in any meaningful sense.  Continue reading “Quick Reading Update”

Taking a Trip Out to L.A.

A. #1 Daughter, fresh off collecting her bachelors (magna cum laude – hey, if I don’t brag, who will?) from Benedictine in Atchison, in music and theater, is down in Hollywood doing a one-woman show based on her senior project (which, in turn, was based on Taming of the Shrew) in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Her brother and sister, who, in turn, are just in from their freshman year at Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More, respectively, were pressed into service as, again respectively, tech and stage managers (if one can properly be said to be managing a crew of one that is also one’s self). Daddy has, so far, taken tickets and handed out programs. 2 shows down, three more to go. P 3744 i 2534242

The show is amazing. She had to cut it down to 50 minutes to fit the Fringe requirements. This on top of the cutting she did to get it down to 90 minutes for her senior project. (Her professors are who encouraged her to take it to Fringe.) So you have this one young lady with a single prop – a mustache on a chain around her neck that is used to indicate someone in disguise – and a stage manager (if that’s the right term for this) who sits off to the side and writes scene changes and characters on a whiteboard (including little mustaches if said characters are in disguise). All she then has to do is to convey the different characters somehow, all while delivering what amounts to a 50 minute monologue (and she must remember what she cut out from the 90 minute version!) while leaping around the stage and from character to character.

*I* was impressed – it’s pretty darn funny, and amazing. Which I already said. The amazing part.

So, if by some chance you find yourself in or near Hollywood tomorrow or next Friday/Saturday, and have $10 and an hour to spend, come on down! I’ll take you out to lunch.

B. This weekend, the shows were set for Friday and Sunday, which is how I find myself sitting in a cheap (well, by Hollywood standards) motel typing a blog post on a Saturday afternoon. Teresa and I stayed over Saturday rather than put another 800 miles on the cars. The other kids took my car back home to attend graduations for their friends. My wife and the Caboose (12 year old David) stayed because she works at the school and was giving a graduation address, and David wanted to attend the end of the year party – a hoary tradition at Diablo Valley  School tracing all the way back (barely) to the last century!

So, at about 5:00 A.M. tomorrow morning, the wife and kids will be making a bombing run down to Hollywood – we’ll catch the 11:00 Mass at Blessed Sacrament (where I went to mass sometimes in my youth when staying with my Aunt Bea and Uncle Art and cousins – but that’s another story), then the Show Must Go On and all that. Then, it’s the 5-6 hour drive home! Wheeee! And then we’ll do something very much like this again next weekend!

Yes, I and we are insane. This wasn’t obvious already?

C. Today I spent several hours walking around Hollywood, but not as one might think. As mentioned above, I spent weeks at a time in Hollywood with my cousins growing up, where we’d catch movies at the Grauman’s Chinese like you’d catch a picture at your local cinema – because it *was* the local cinema. That high school dance scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? My cousins went to that high school (Hollywood High).  And so on.

Anyway, it is, as mentioned, another story. Suffice it to say that Hollywood never held any mystique for me – it was just where my cousins lived. Emotional underpinnings laid in childhood can be very persistent. So no Walk of Fame or chasing down celebrity homes or gawking at studios for me.

So, instead, after hunting down a passable cup of coffee, I walked up to the Monastery of the Angels and did some Adoration. Then, took a nap, worked on a story, and took a walk to Immaculate Heart of Mary to go to confession. It was good. I was on my own as my daughter wanted to catch some shows, and on foot because my car went north with the middle kids.

D. Hollywood is interesting seen from the ground. It’s like one giant run-down strip mall – miles and miles of roads that could use some work flanked by businesses that, more often than not, are housed in commercial buildings past their useful life expectancies.

It goes on like this for miles and miles. Frankly, it’s a dump punctuated every once in a while by a landmark or show of wealth in the form of an expensive building. Even the few studios left in town look like light manufacturing tilt-ups – which I suppose they are, in some sense.

About every 25th to 50th person one comes across looks like they belong in the movies – snappily dressed, made up, showing too much skin or wearing too tight clothes (mostly but not entirely the women) (1)

E. Freeways are a sort of societal low spot or gravity well. Absent countervailing forces, weak and dead things and people seem to sink to them, or rather to the scars and voids they create. When walking around L.A. on foot (and what sort of nut would do that? I think Bradbury identified the problem in Fahrenheit 451. He did live around here, after all) you notice how unnatural and disruptive to a city the mere physical presence of freeways is. My wandering took me over and aside the 101 at various points. In some places, access and egress to the freeway took up entire city blocks: you’d cross the two lanes of exiting traffic, then the bridge that spanned the freeway, then two more lanes of traffic existing from the other direction. Only most of this expanse is paved or walled freeway – the rest are little islands and long strips of land where everything from weeds to trees spring up – and homeless encampments and their open-air toilets, to give it too dignified a term.

Thus, it also seems to happen that those willing to build here don’t seem to want to build too close to the freeway, unless, somehow, they can shield their customers from the reality that these lacunas attract. There’s pretty much nothing else to be done – these areas are an inevitable result of the traffic engineers art, and society is no nearly confident enough to say: homeless is crazy. (2) You want to live in a strip of feces-laden dirt 5 feet from freeway traffic? We say: No. You will stay in facilities provided even if we have to make you. And so we look the other way, and civilization in the form of people doing peaceful, legal commerce or even taking a walk retreats a bit.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused a number of freeways in San Francisco and Oakland to be removed. I, for one, was very surprised at what a vast improvement the affected areas underwent. Blighted areas got revitalized, foot traffic returned, and so, therefore, did businesses. Perhaps the cost of freeways is too high for a civilization worthy of the name to pay.

F. Finally, I’m considering staying up late and writing a bunch of book reviews I’ve been meaning to write. What they heck, sleep is overrated. That’s the ticket.

  1. You know those times when you think of the perfect thing to say when it’s too late to say it? Today, I had a sort of Mobius inverse of that: I actually thought of the snappy thing to say – something about one can never be too ready for the next wet t-shirt contest – and actually had the presence of mind NOT to say it. Yeah, me. Although it would have been fun, in a stupid comedy sort of way, to see her reaction. On the other hand, I’m alive now to wonder….
  2. Had some run-ins with homeless people today. Mostly, they are just sad people, and their state is easy enough for me to imagine being in myself. Any number of things can cause a soul to lose whatever it is that makes us get up and do those things we call ‘sane’. I did run into a frantic woman at the Monastery when I went back to get my hat I’d left on the pew. I spoke with her – rather, I listened to her – for a long time until she seemed calmer, all the while praying for guidance. My general rule, which I sadly do not live up to all the time, is to give people who ask money if I can, and to try to be pleasant and treat street people like people – smile, return hellos, that sort of thing. This lady was sure she’d just died – that her heart had stopped – but somehow she’d recovered. Her tale included much current sci-fi, including how she needed to find the secret entrances so she could get back to her job at Area 51, and how her sister had died just as she was making a drop-off as her last assignment before retiring – that sort of thing, phenomenal imagination and often right on the edge of coherent. Eventually, I excused myself and wished her well (what else can one do?) which she accepted fairly graciously. I prayed a rosary for her on my walk back to the motel. Again, what is one supposed to do?

Movie Review: Zootopia

Just in time for you not to be able to catch it in the theaters. The book reviews are coming, I promise, but they take longer to write…

The temptation to view this piece of pretty fluff as just another harmless kiddie cartoon should be resisted. Maybe 90% of the messages in this movie is, in fact, harmless to good: we should all get along, do not judge people by appearances, dream big and work hard and your dreams can be yours, Mom and Dad are hopeless yahoos who just want to hold you back – the usual.  Well, that last one, a recurring theme in Disney flicks since whenever, is a little off, as is the idea that wherever you find yourself is WRONG – you must leave family and home to achieve what Destiny has in store for you. There’s even an extended scene in which Mom and Dad explain how dreams are OK, but one must settle – and, boy, how they’ve settled.

Judy, with her erudite and sophisticated parents

That Mom and Dad (still together, at least – I guess that’s part of the bumpkin vibe they’re selling) run a successful farm and raise a huge family is not viewed as having succeeded in any real sense, not like, say, running off to the big city to be a cop. Judy, out rabbit protagonist, has a little soliloquy in which she counts down all that’s sad about the room she’s renting in the Big City – greasy wall, lumpy bed, insane neighbors, etc. – and then says: “I love it!” But she’s not settling.

All this is, as mentioned above, pretty much standard Disney fare.(1) As such, I suppose it’s tolerable enough – if, for example, the charm and beauty of Snow White, an orphan living under a witch, or  Sleeping Beauty, where the only father figures are incompetent ninnies, can get you past those drawbacks (works for me) then the awesome visuals and often witty dialogue and characterizations could get you past the claptrap in Zootopia.

But then there’s this exchange between Judy and Benjamin, the cop at the front desk, an overweight big cat of some sort:

Judy: – Excuse me!

Benjamin: – Hmm?

J: Down here! – Hi.

B: – O… M… Goodness! They really did hire a bunny. Ho-whop! I gotta tell you,
you’re even cuter than I thought you’d be.

J: Ooh, ah, you probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny ‘cute’,
but when other animals do it, that’s a little…

B: Ohhh. I am so sorry! Me, Benjamin Clawhauser. The guy everyone thinks is just
a flabby donut-loving cop, stereotyping you.

J: – Oh.

B: – No, it’s okay.

So, Judy is breaking it to Benjamin: it’s not just a matter of a cute bunny being tired of being told she’s cute, it’s a SYSTEMIC problem, wherein it’s OK for any rabbit to tell any other rabbit she’s cute, but not OK for any non-rabbit to ever tell a rabbit she’s cute.

‘Cute’ is here being equated with the ‘N’ word. Right? Am I missing something? The trials of being a cute rabbit – not being taken seriously and being denied certain jobs(2) – are here being equated with being reminded you were considered and may still be considered subhuman.

Judy has removed the problem from just something that might (and no doubt does) change depending on the particular people involved – some rabbits may not mind being called cute! – to something that Society Must Deal With. We are to learn, it appears, that it’s not enough to simply tell someone you’d prefer not to be called ‘cute’, or, even better, that grownups suck it up rather than take offense when it can plausibly be assumed the other party meant no harm, but that the World must change to preserve ME from perceived microaggression. The excessive groveling apology from Benjamin, hammer-like, drives the point home.

To be fair, it is a fun little story, a who done it/mystery with any number of amusing characters and the fabulous artwork we’ve come to expect from modern CGI geniuses. At the time, all I did was figuratively roll my eyes and keep watching. I was often entertained, and our 12 year old seemed to like it.

But now, the next day, that jarring, stupid scene keeps leaping to mind.

  1. Which is why I love Mulan so much – actual heroic, loveable dad and a daughter who wants nothing more than to spare him, and then come back home. I cried at that scene – I’m a dad with daughters, after all. Point being, this sort of thing is very, very rare in Disney films.
  2. And for good reason: is she really bringing in a miscreant rhino or polar bear? If wolves are attacking you, you call for the cops and a rabbit shows up, are you going to be happy? Is justice going to be served? Or will it be more like this?