Flotsam: Twenty Years Later

1. I try not to talk politics much here. I don’t have the background or knowledge as yet to say anything really worthwhile about it. So don’t ask me for a rundown of how the past twenty years have gone and what we as a nation have to show for it all, though I don’t think anyone would deny that we’re worse off than we were in just about every way. It looks to me like America’s entered a full-on decline, which is accelerating fast, but where that will lead, I haven’t the foggiest.

2. That day twenty years ago marked the end of the heady, hopeful interval of the 1990s following the end of the Cold War: the time where, for many people at least, it seemed we’d reached the happy ending of history, a golden age born of the triumph of the Baby Boomers. It was always an illusion, of course; merely the penumbra of a sin, between the commission and the consequence, when it looks like you’ve gotten away with it after all.

I’m speaking generally. The consequences were already being felt on an individual level, but hadn’t yet penetrated enough into the public conscience to cause the sense of unease and disaffection that they do now. At least, that’s my impression of the era.

In any case, that time came to an end on September 11, 2001.

3. Hard to believe it’s been that long. I remember it quite well. I was in sixth or seventh grade at the time. We were kept in at recess for no reason whatsoever, then at the end of the day there was an announcement: “We in this country sometimes forget how much more fortunate we are than some other people….” That’s how it began. Which, in retrospect, is a kind of disgusting way to break the news that thousands of your fellow citizens have been murdered: rather like beginning the news that a family member was killed in a drive-by with a comment on racial injustice. Bit of a herald of things to come.

As I recall, rumors were beginning among the students even before the announcement. Then I remember going home and turning on the news and seeing a big hole in the side of the building. At first I thought ‘oh, that’s not too bad.’ Then I found out that was footage from earlier in the day. It was a process of realizing what actually had happened: big holes in the building. One building’s partially collapsed. One’s collapsed entirely, the other damaged. Both are completely destroyed. It was odd to my twelve-year-old brain to realize that a great landmark like that was actually gone for good.

4. I also remember footage of people dancing and cheering in the streets in…I think the Palestinian parts of Israel it might have been? Somewhere in that area. I never forgot that over the next few years as ‘tolerance’ and ‘oh, how sad it was that Middle Easterners are being profiled’ replaced outrage and patriotic zeal. I remember how quickly that happened, by the way, and how little there was to go on. I may have missed something, of course, but I only ever heard of a few minor incidents of that sort of thing actually happening. Though it was common enough in TV shows.

5. I was a pretty enthusiastic supporter of the subsequent wars, of Bush, and so on for a long time. I wanted something to be done. I wanted America to reassert its dominance in the world, and I was then still fully onboard with the American creed. Quite a bit has changed since then, and I’m not entirely sure how.

Looking back, I’m still not completely against the wars, at least in principle. But then, I’m not against imperialism. But modern America is not cut out to be an empire. To be an Empire, you have to truly believe in your right to rule. That was true when Americans saw themselves as the shining city on the hill, the beacon of freedom to the world. Conquering large swathes of Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, and so on were, therefore, a way of spreading freedom to more people.

We don’t believe in that anymore, at least the majority of the population doesn’t. We’ve been raised on tales of Vietnam and the movements of the 1960s and 70s, conditioned to regard imperialism as an insult, something that bad people and bad countries do out of greed and arrogance. So we had the ridiculous spectacle of America trying to do an empire’s job while insisting that it wasn’t an empire: that we weren’t ruling Iraq and Afghanistan, we were liberating them, and that they would be eager to accept democracy and so forth once it was offered to them, because who doesn’t want to be free?

I rather think that if we had acted as an empire, if we’d put down in these places and simply said “we’re in charge now, deal with it,” and claimed them as territories, that may have gone off better. A fait accompli is generally accepted better than a patronizingly half-hearted ‘we’re just going to rearrange the furniture a bit and make things better for you and then we’ll let you alone’. Because for most people, stability is far more important than the specifics of law or government. A settled and enforced rule as the new status quo is easier to accept, whoever the rulers are, than an indefinite and hazy promise of improvement.

But all that’s academic, and I may be completely wrong. I haven’t studied the situations either Iraq or Afghanistan, so I don’t know.

6. For me, the past twenty years, especially the past few, have brought considerable disillusionment. I don’t believe in the American creed anymore, for one thing: the notion of ‘the last best hope of mankind’, the ‘shining city on the hill’ and the rest of it. I view it in much the same way that I see classical mythology: beautiful as a story, but false and dangerous to believe in. But that doesn’t mean I’m no longer invested in my nation. I feel towards it much the same way that, say, a Catholic Jacobite in 18th England or a Christian in Japan might feel: precisely insomuch that I want it to survive, thrive, and be great, I see that it needs conversion.

7. A rather grim and downbeat retrospective, I’m afraid. Here’s an Mst3k short to lighten things up:

Flotsam: ‘Coco’ and Such

1. I missed seeing Coco when it came out in theaters, since I was by the disillusioned by Pixar’s deteriorating quality. Last week, upon seeing it recommended, I pulled it up and gave it a watch.

My goodness, that is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Certainly one of the best recent films. Not to mention one of the most Traditionalist / Reactionary films of recent years, being all about family tradition, family piety, recovering lost heritage, subordinating personal desires to obligations, and so on.

It’s also the first movie in a long time to legitimately make me cry. Not just tear up, but full on weeping.

I’m going to hold off on doing a full essay for the time being, because I want to see it again first, but I heartily recommend it.

2. Most of the related thoughts springing from the film and other things that have been on my mind lately are frankly too big to get into in a Flotsam. I want to organize them better and work them out first.

3. One thing that occurred to me while watching, however, was this. Everyone seems to love the Day of the Dead: it’s become the Mardi Gras of Mexico (e.g. the event that people think of when they think of the place and that always seems to brought up). Nothing wrong with this, except that I notice there’s always a particular emphasis on the pagan elements of the holiday, to the exclusion of the Christian ones.

This is what I call the ‘isn’t it interesting?’ approach: “Oh, the Mexicans have a tradition of such and such, and the Japanese say this, and the Irish have a story that yada yada, and isn’t that interesting?”

But there is one culture and one tradition that is never given this treatment, that always, without fail, is regarded as illegitimate, imposed, and generally not worth bothering about (even when it’s an integral part of a culture, it tends to be ignored in favor of folklore and pagan stories). Of course, it’s Christianity and the Church. Funny that, isn’t it?

4. This isn’t a criticism of Coco itself, or of Grim Fandango or any of the other works that have used the folklore around the Day of the Dead to good effect (Fandango, I would argue, is probably the closest to a Christian view of things of the one’s I’ve seen, since there the world of the dead is explicitly a transitory state that the good get to cross through almost instantly and the bad have to work and earn their way across, thus being more explicitly akin to Purgatory). It’s a criticism of the cultural attitudes that relegate the Faith to the sidelines and gleefully tries to sever us from our heritage, then regards us as defective when we try to preserve it.

5. One thing I am trying to develop (it’ll help when I get my own place, I’m hoping) is what I call the ‘shopkeeper mentality’. Again, Coco reminded me of this and helped it click in my mind: the mentality of “we have a family enterprise that is keeping us fed and gives us a place in the community. You’re part of this family, so you are going to help in it. Get up, do your chores, say your prayers, help in the shop, don’t complain if you don’t want the slipper.”

Thomas Sowell touched on this as well, describing how successful ethnic groups – e.g. Jews, East Asians, etc. – would practice this sort of behavior: start a commercial enterprise that the family would run, everyone pitch in and work their fingers to the bone to make it a success. Kids do their chores in the morning, then go to school (and they’d better get good grades), then come home and help with the shop.

That’s the kind of attitude I want to have: that this is a trade that gives me and my family a place in the community and supports us, and so it’s expected that we work at it like our lives depend upon it, because they do.

Basically, I don’t want to be a starving artist sacrificing all to his muse, I want to be a shoe shop that happens to make books.

Flotsam

1. I am continually amazed, not just at how stupid, incompetent, and immoral our current societal elites really are, but also at the fact that so many of us continue to take them seriously. “Dr. Fauci says so-and-so.” Okay, and why do you care what that careerist moron says, exactly?

To say “I heard it on the news” is as much to say “I have the word of ignorant liars who hate me.”

2. If I were to take a stab at guessing why this habit of thinking that someone being featured on TV must be reliable, I would say it’s mostly an application of the ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ principle. We naturally tend to accept an explanation simply because it is an explanation, or a description simply because it is a description in lieu of simply admitting ignorance. If we are going to think of a thing at all, we have to think of it from a certain perspective and with certain names and forms attached to the mass of sensory data we receive to give it some kind of structure. But most people aren’t in a position to know what is going on at the national level, or lack the education, time, or interest to hunt down such information as they could find in order to discern the necessary forms. So any explanation whatever is accepted simply because it provides a structure to the unstructured, and we would much rather have that than be in the dark.

The fact is, though, that for most of us in most cases the answer to ‘what’s going on in the world?’ is “I don’t know.” This is one reason why subsidiarity is so important: baring extreme or very specific circumstances, local concerns are really all the matter or have an capacity to affect the people of a given town or community, so of course they should have as much authority to manage them as possible.

3. Okay, enough gloomy thoughts of current events. I’ve actually found myself growing a good deal more sanguine about world events lately, simply because the people in charge at the moment are so stupid, so desperate, and their ideas so contrary to reality that a crash seems to me inevitable. The only question is how violent it’ll be when it comes.

Wait, that was supposed to be the not-gloomy entry, wasn’t it? Oops.

4. From a co-worker: “If Stackoverflow crashes, half the world would lose their jobs.”

(Really have to be in IT to get it)

5. Interesting fact: I’m reading Herodotus’s History at the moment (short version: all cultures are different and most people are horrible). At one point he recounts how the king of Egypt wished to know the extent of ‘Libya’ (what the H-Man called Africa), so he sent out a crew of Phoenician sailors to circumnavigate it. And, as a matter of fact, they did it! It took them three years, stopping at planting time wherever they were, growing food, and then resuming after the harvest. Herodotus mentions a report, which he himself does not believe, that during their voyage they saw the sun on their right hand side, traveling South-Southwest. As a matter of fact, this little detail more or less proves the story true, since traveling into the Southern Hemisphere, the sun would appear on the right hand side going Southwest or West: something that sailors of Herodotus’s time and place would not have considered or made up as part of their story. So, men circumnavigated Africa in the time of Ancient Greece. Cool!

6. Another Herodotus anecdote: King Cambyses, son of Cyrus the Great, was, according to H, an absolute psychopath. At one point he asked one of his chief servants what the people were saying about him. The man diplomatically said “O king, they admire you in all things, except that they consider you are a little too free with the drink.” At which point Cambyses became furious and said, “Oh, they say I’m mad with drink, do they? That I’m a lunatic? I’ll show them!” So he picked up a bow and arrow and shot the servant’s son (who happened to be standing a little ways off) through the heart and proudly declared “Could a madman have made that shot?”

Needless to say, this wasn’t quite as convincing an illustration of his sanity as he probably expected it to be.

7. And I’ll take the liberty of parasiting off of David Stewart again:

Feast of St. Louis

https://serpentsden.files.wordpress.com/2021/08/05da2-iu.jpg
King Saint Louis’s
Last Instructions to his Eldest Son, Philip III

1. To his dear first-born son, Philip, greeting, and his father’s love.

2. Dear son, since I desire with all my heart that you be well “instructed in all things, it is in my thought to give you some advice this writing. For I have heard you say, several times, that you remember my words better than those of any one else.

3. Therefore, dear son, the first thing I advise is that you fix your whole heart upon God, and love Him with all your strength, for without this no one can be saved or be of any worth.

4. You should, with all your strength, shun everything which you believe to be displeasing to Him. And you ought especially to be resolved not to commit mortal sin, no matter what may happen and should permit all your limbs to be hewn off, and suffer every manner of torment, rather than fall knowingly into mortal sin.

5. If our Lord send you any adversity, whether illness or other in good patience, and thank Him for it, thing, you should receive it in good patience and be thankful for it, for you ought to believe that He will cause everthing to turn out for your good; and likewise you should think that you have well merited it, and more also, should He will it, because you have loved Him but little, and served Him but little, and have done many things contrary to His will.

6. If our Lord send you any prosperity, either health of body or other thing you ought to thank Him humbly for it, and you ought to be careful that you are not the worse for it, either through pride or anything else, for it is a very great sin to fight against our Lord with His gifts.

7. Dear son, I advise you that you accustom yourself to frequent confession, and that you choose always, as your confessors, men who are upright and sufficiently learned, and who can teach you what you should do and what you should avoid. You should so carry yourself that your confessors and other friends may dare confidently to reprove you and show you your faults.

8. Dear son, I advise you that you listen willingly and devoutly the services of Holy Church, and, when you are in church, avoid to frivolity and trifling, and do not look here and there; but pray to God with lips and heart alike, while entertaining sweet thoughts about Him, and especially at the mass, when the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are consecrated, and for a little time before.

9. Dear son, have a tender pitiful heart for the poor, and for all those whom you believe to be in misery of heart or body, and, according to your ability, comfort and aid them with some alms.

10. Maintain the good customs of your realm, and put down the bad ones. Do not oppress your people and do not burden them with tolls or tailles, except under very great necessity.

11. If you have any unrest of heart, of such a nature that it may be told, tell it to your confessor, or to some upright man who can keep your secret; you will be able to carry more easily the thought of your heart.

12. See to it that those of your household are upright and loyal, and remember the Scripture, which says: “Elige viros timentes Deum in quibus sit justicia et qui oderint avariciam”; that is to say, “Love those who serve God and who render strict justice and hate covetousness”; and you will profit, and will govern your kingdom well.

13. Dear son, see to it that all your associates are upright, whether clerics or laymen, and have frequent good converse with them; and flee the society of the bad. And listen willingly to the word of God, both in open and in secret; and purchase freely prayers and pardons.

14. Love all good, and hate all evil, in whomsoever it may be.

15. Let no one be so bold as to say, in your presence, words which attract and lead to sin, and do not permit words of detraction to be spoken of another behind his back.

!6. Suffer it not that any ill be spoken of God or His saints in your presence, without taking prompt vengeance. But if the offender be a clerk or so great a person that you ought not to try him, report the matter to him who is entitled to judge it.

17. Dear son, give thanks to God often for all the good things He has done for you, so that you may be worthy to receive more, in such a manner that if it please the Lord that you come to the burden and honor of governing the kingdom, you may be worthy to receive the sacred unction wherewith the kings of France are consecrated.

18. Dear son, if you come to the throne, strive to have that which befits a king, that is to say, that in justice and rectitude you hold yourself steadfast and loyal toward your subjects and your vassals, without turning either to the right or to the left, but always straight, whatever may happen. And if a poor man have a quarrel with a rich man, sustain the poor rather than the rich, until the truth is made clear, and when you know the truth, do justice to them.

19. If any one have entered into a suit against you (for any injury or wrong which he may believe that you have done to him), be always for him and against yourself in the presence of your council, without showing that you think much of your case (until the truth be made known concerning it); for those of your council might be backward in speaking against you, and this you should not wish; and command your judges that you be not in any way upheld more than any others, for thus will your councillors judge more boldly according to right and truth.

20. If you have anything belonging to another, either of yourself or through your predecessors, if the matter is certain, give it up without delay, however great it may be, either in land or money or otherwise. If the matter is doubtful, have it inquired into by wise men, promptly and diligently. And if the affair is so obscure that you cannot know the truth, make such a settlement, by the counsel of s of upright men, that your soul, and the soul your predecessors, may be wholly freed from the affair. And even if you hear some one say that your predecessors made restitution, make diligent inquiry to learn if anything remains to be restored; and if you find that such is the case, cause it to be delivered over at once, for the liberation of your soul and the souls of your predecessors.

21. You should seek earnestly how your vassals and your subjects may live in peace and rectitude beneath your sway; likewise, the good towns and the good cities of your kingdom. And preserve them in the estate and the liberty in which your predecessors kept them, redress it, and if there be anything to amend, amend and preserve their favor and their love. For it is by the strength and the riches of your good cities and your good towns that the native and the foreigner, especially your peers and your barons, are deterred from doing ill to you. I will remember that Paris and the good towns of my kingdom aided me against the barons, when I was newly crowned.

22. Honor and love all the people of Holy Church, and be careful that no violence be done to them, and that their gifts and alms, which your predecessors have bestowed upon them, be not taken away or diminished. And I wish here to tell you what is related concerning King Philip, my ancestor, as one of his council, who said he heard it, told it to me. The king, one day, was with his privy council, and he was there who told me these words. And one of the king’s councillors said to him how much wrong and loss he suffered from those of Holy Church, in that they took away his rights and lessened the jurisdiction of his court; and they marveled greatly how he endured it. And the good king answered: “I am quite certain that they do me much wrong, but when I consider the goodnesses and kindnesses which God has done me, I had rather that my rights should go, than have a contention or awaken a quarrel with Holy Church.” And this I tell to you that you may not lightly believe anything against the people of Holy Church; so love them and honor them and watch over them that they may in peace do the service of our Lord.

23. Moreover, I advise you to love dearly the clergy, and, so far as you are able, do good to them in their necessities, and likewise love those by whom God is most honored and served, and by whom the Faith is preached and exalted.

24. Dear son, I advise that you love and reverence your father and your mother, willingly remember and keep their commandments, and be inclined to believe their good counsels.

25. Love your brothers, and always wish their well-being and their good advancement, and also be to them in the place of a father, to instruct them in all good. But be watchful lest, for the love which you bear to one, you turn aside from right doing, and do to the others that which is not meet.

26. Dear son, I advise you to bestow the benefices of Holy Church which you have to give, upon good persons, of good and clean life, and that you bestow them with the high counsel of upright men. And I am of the opinion that it is preferable to give them to those who hold nothing of Holy Church, rather than to others. For, if you inquire diligently, you will find enough of those who have nothing who will use wisely that entrusted to them.

27. Dear son, I advise you that you try with all your strength to avoid warring against any Christian man, unless he have done you too much ill. And if wrong be done you, try several ways to see if you can find how you can secure your rights, before you make war; and act thus in order to avoid the sins which are committed in warfare.

28. And if it fall out that it is needful that you should make war (either because some one of your vassals has failed to plead his case in your court, or because he has done wrong to some church or to some poor person, or to any other person whatsoever, and is unwilling to make amends out of regard for you, or for any other reasonable cause), whatever the reason for which it is necessary for you to make war, give diligent command that the poor folk who have done no wrong or crime be protected from damage to their vines, either through fire or otherwise, for it were more fitting that you should constrain the wrongdoer by taking his own property (either towns or castles, by force of siege), than that you should devastate the property of poor people. And be careful not to start the war before you have good counsel that the cause is most reasonable, and before you have summoned the offender to make amends, and have waited as long as you should. And if he ask mercy, you ought to pardon him, and accept his amende, so that God may be pleased with you.

29. Dear son, I advise you to appease wars and contentions, whether they be yours or those of your subjects, just as quickly as may be, for it is a thing most pleasing to our Lord. And Monsignore Martin gave us a very great example of this. For, one time, when our Lord made it known to him that he was about to die, he set out to make peace between certain clerks of his archbishopric, and he was of the opinion that in so doing he was giving a good end to life.

30. Seek diligently, most sweet son, to have good baillis and good prevots in your land, and inquire frequently concerning their doings, and how they conduct themselves, and if they administer justice well, and do no wrong to any one, nor anything which they ought not do. Inquire more often concerning those of your household if they be too covetous or too arrogant; for it is natural that the members should seek to imitate their chief; that is, when the master is wise and well-behaved, all those of his household follow his example and prefer it. For however much you ought to hate evil in others, you shoud have more hatred for the evil which comes from those who derive their power from you, than you bear to the evil of others; and the more ought you to be on your guard and prevent this from happening.

3!. Dear son, I advise you always to be devoted to the Church of Rome, and to the sovereign pontiff, our father, and to bear him the the reverence and honor which you owe to your spiritual father.

32. Dear son, freely give power to persons of good character, who know how to use it well, and strive to have wickednesses expelled from your land, that is to say, nasty oaths, and everything said or done against God or our Lady or the saints. In a wise and proper manner put a stop, in your land, to bodily sins, dicing, taverns, and other sins. Put down heresy so far as you can, and hold in especial abhorrence Jews, and all sorts of people who are hostile to the Faith, so that your land may be well purged of them, in such manner as, by the sage counsel of good people, may appear to you advisable.

33. Further the right with all your strength. Moreover I admonish you you that you strive most earnestly to show your gratitude for the benefits which our Lord has bestowed upon you, and that you may know how to give Him thanks therefore

34. Dear son, take care that the expenses of your household are reasonable and moderate, and that its moneys are justly obtained. And there is one opinion that I deeply wish you to entertain, that is to say, that you keep yourself free from foolish expenses and evil exactions, and that your money should be well expended and well acquired. And this opinion, together with other opinions which are suitable and profitable, I pray that our Lord may teach you.

35. Finally, most sweet son, I conjure and require you that, if it please our Lord that I should die before you, you have my soul succored with masses and orisons, and that you send through the congregations of the kingdom of France, and demand their prayers for my soul, and that you grant me a special and full part in all the good deeds which you perform.

36. In conclusion, dear son, I give you all the blessings which a good and tender father can give to a son, and I pray our Lord Jesus Christ, by His mercy, by the prayers and merits of His blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, and of angels and archangels and of all the saints, to guard and protect you from doing anything contrary to His will, and to give you grace to do it always, so that He may be honored and served by you. And this may He do to me as to you, by His great bounty, so that after this mortal life we may be able to be together with Him in the eternal life, and see Him, love Him, and praise Him without end. Amen. And glory, honor, and praise be to Him who is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit; without beginning and without end. Amen.

Saint Louis, pray for us, particularly that nobility and chivalry may return to our world.

Mauler vs. Black Widow

A melancholy step: I was really hoping this movie wouldn’t be horrible. And I would say that it was still possible Mauler’s being too harsh on it, except…the prison break scene. How the heck did that make it through production without anyone saying “wait, our heroine just condemned hundreds of people to horrible deaths…”? And what does that say about the writers, director, etc. of this movie?

(Also Taskmaster being a girl is stupid, and him being the willowy Olga Kurylenko is stupider: like having Jason Voorhees take off his mask to reveal *gasp* it was Amy Steel the whole time!).

But for a comparative rush job, Mauler’s in good form, emphasizing just how badly the film assassinates and undermines its protagonist (and it takes four hours to dissect this one: twice as long as Captain Marvel. Yikes).

Money line: “Why the **** does Daffy Duck have a better grasp on espionage than Black ****ing Widow?”

No Aspirational Heroes, Huh?

Apparently, the star of the latest Marvel film – Shang Chi and the Ten Rings (yeah, I forgot about that movie too) – claimed that this is something he “didn’t have growing up,” namely an aspirational Asian or Asian American hero.

Ahem:

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https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fhypebeast.com%2Fimage%2F2015%2F12%2Fcrouching-tiger-hidden-dragon-2-trailer-0.jpg&f=1&nofb=1
Cineplex.com | Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Mulan 1998 Film Characters - Disney S Live Action Mulan ...
Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai (2003)
Toshirô Mifune in Shichinin no samurai (1954)
“Three weeks top of the US Box Office. I doubt you will be so fortunate.”

Hell, not even going that far:

American Dragon: Jake Long (2005)

And all that isn’t even touching on Anime, video games, most of the Japanese film industry, or the innumerable superhero and fantasy film’s / franchises. Like you may have heard of this obscure little franchise:

Ultraman: Monster Movie Feature (1967) - Posters — The ...

That’s really one of the more obnoxious things about these ‘representational’ films and such: the fact that they’re always trying to ignore or hide the people who have come before. Because everyone today is trying to be Sydney Poitier slapping the racist rich jerk in In the Heat of the Night, because that’s all they know how to value in a film: being ‘socially important’ (neglecting the fact that it was also, you know, a good movie). So they have to keep trying to reset the clock and hide the work of those who came before to give themselves the chance to pretend to be pioneers.

Flotsam: Various Writing Observations

1. A few observations on different works:

2. When Uncle Walt adapted Alice in Wonderland, he and his writers ended up giving it a bit more of a plot than the book had. Not much, but a little. And if you notice, the plot they gave it was pretty much lifted directly from The Wizard of Oz: an imaginative girl living what seems to be a dull life wishes for something different and is whisked away to a world of magic and strangeness where she incurs the enmity of an authoritative female antagonist and soon comes to wish for nothing more than to return home. In the end she wakes up to find it was all a dream, leaving her with new appreciation for the mundane world she wanted to leave.

But the interesting point is the one big difference between the two: Dorothy doesn’t only have to deal with the Wicked Witch of the West and the general strangeness of Oz. She also gets to enjoy the friendship and help of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, as well as the protection and guidance of Glinda, and even the avuncular kindness of the wizard.

In contrast, Alice doesn’t get anything of the kind. No one in Wonderland is Alice’s friend. There is precisely one character in the film who is consistently helpful to her, and that’s the doorknob. And all he can do is give her some information. Everyone else is, at best, barely aware of her presence and at worst actively malicious toward her (interestingly enough, the doorknob is the only character in the film that wasn’t in the books).

(Meanwhile in the books, the only character who might count is the White Knight from the second book, who is at least consistently kind and helpful to her, even though he’s pretty hapless himself and she spends most of their time together trying to help him stay on his horse).

For me, this is one of the things that makes the story unique and compelling: that it doesn’t sentimentalize or cheat with Alice’s dreams. They’re weird, chaotic, and ephemeral full of mad people, with all that implies.

3. Again, I haven’t seen the film, but from what I can tell this is one of the things that really bugs me about the Tim Burton version: the Mad Hatter is not Alice’s best friend. The inhabitants of Wonderland are not her childhood playmates happy to have her back. They don’t care about her. This isn’t Narnia or even Oz: this is a world of madness and nonsense.

4. To switch gears (so to speak), I’ve also found myself revisiting Transformers: Beast Wars, at least as far as reading about it and re-watching some clips. Really, as I recall, that was a surprisingly well-written show, where the writers actually thought through the implications and consequences of the events of the story.

For instance, in that incarnation Megatron is played as being a dangerous radical / terrorist with no official standing in the Predicon hierarchy. He had a grand scheme that he’s trying to put into action, but one that is both an extremely long shot and spectacularly dangerous and potentially destructive (to the point where he himself holds off on carrying it through until he gets backed into a corner because it’s that risky).

Now, no one in his right mind would follow someone like that, right? Right. And almost no one in his right mind does. Megatron’s troops are, to a man, either a). intensely stupid, b). looking to betray him for their own ends, c). completely insane, or d). some combination of the above.

He has precisely one competent, rational, and reliable lieutenant – Dinobot – who is later revealed to have joined him for personal reasons…and who almost immediately defects once it seems those reasons no longer apply.

5. This actually achieves a number of things. In the first place, it helps to establish Megatron’s position in this world: for all his arrogance, he isn’t important or high-ranking, he’s a loose cannon following his own agenda. In the second, it allows him to consistently lose his engagements without undermining him as a villain, since however clever and dangerous he is, he has to entrust the execution of his plans to either the idiot, the lunatic, the traitor, or the lunatic-traitor. Finally, it actually makes him a much more imposing villain, since it gives him scope to demonstrate his cunning without pitting him directly against the heroes. So he’ll do things like work the fact that his minions are plotting against him into his own plans, allowing him to turn their treason to his own benefit. Or another episode has Terrorsaur successfully usurp Megatron’s place and throw him in the brig…whereupon Megatron reveals he programmed an override into the cells to let him escape whenever he wants and proceeds to let Terrorsaur lead the Predacons in battle to let them see how incompetent he really is.

The structure of the show also answers the question “why does he keep people around the he knows would betray him the first chance they get?” Because he only has four or five minions and simply can’t afford to lose any of them unless it’s absolutely necessary.

6. Something else I noticed this week: I really like Princess Peach as a character. I mean, she’s just such a delightfully nice character, so pleasant to be around, but also with a bit of an undefinable edge to her (and this isn’t a new thing, either: she was adventuring all the way back in Super Mario Bros. 2 and then again in Super Mario RPG). She’s a perfectly sweet, wonderfully feminine character, but all the while she’s got an underlying pluck and courage that comes out every now and then, all the more amusing for its rareness.

I especially like in the first Paper Mario game where she’ll periodically sneak around Bowser’s castle to try to spy out information that’ll be useful to Mario. That, it seems to me, is exactly what a character like her would do in that situation and gets her involved in a more elegant way than just have her trying to take on Bowser herself (though that can be fun too). I also love how she insists that her closet full of identical pink dresses are ‘all unique and all very fashionable.’

This is something we almost never get these days: a thoroughly and emphatically feminine character who is positively portrayed and allowed to remain so throughout.

Flotsam: Slumming It

1. For one reason or another (none reflecting well on me), this is Sunday flotsam. And Sunday flotsam on the Feast of the Assumption at that, yet I currently have nothing edifying to say about Our Lady.

2. So instead, I’m just going to slum it and drop a few of my favorite riffs from Mst3k and Rifftrax: ones the I’ve found myself referencing or quoting most often or that seem to contain a bit of hidden practical wisdom, or are just plain funny.

3. On Raising the Stakes:
Movie Character: “They say it could blow up the universe.”
Tom Servo: “Or worse!”
-Epsiode 3:18 Fugitive Alien II

4. Where the Blame Lies:
(Discussing with a teacher how one of his high school basketball players is illiterate)
Coach: “If he can’t read, how’d he get through school?”
Mike: “That would mean we absolutely su…oh.”
-Reading: Who Needs It?

5. Best Laid Plans…
Soldier: “The electrical shocks don’t seem to bother Gamera at all!”
Tom Servo: “Hm, and I was counting very heavy on them….”
-Episode 3:02 Gamera

6. Practicality:
Mike: “My lunchbox can withstand a nuclear blast.”
-Episode 8:22 Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

7. Goes Without Saying, Really
Sheriff: “How long would it take you to get to Springdale?”
Deputy: “Maybe an hour, maybe less.”
Crow: “Longer if I die.”
-Episode 3:13 Earth vs. the Spider

8. Call it What it Is
Tommy: “Trumpy! you can do magic!”
Crow: “It’s called ‘Evil’, kid.”
-Episode 3:03 Pod People

9. Good Advice:
Customer: “I’ll remember you if you just…”
Bill: “Do your ****ing job.”
Customer: “…remember me.”
Bill: “And do your ****ing job.”
Remember Me

10. Embarrassing
Mike: “We have got to get organized! We should not be losing to grasshoppers, people!”
-Episode 5:17 The Beginning of the End

11. Logic
Kevin (as Lupita): “Did Daddy really think he was going to find a job at 4am on Christmas morning?”
Santa Claus

12. Humble Beginnings
(Upon seeing Clint Eastwood’s first onscreen film role)
Crow: “Ah, this guy’s bad. This was his first and only film.”
-Episode 8:01 Revenge of the Creature

Interpretive Tech Companies

I somehow keep thinking about The Transformers: The Movie lately. In particular, I found myself rewatching the attached clip more than once, mostly for the sheer joy of Welles’s performance.

But today it occurred to me that it isn’t just a scene of Orson Welles turning Frank Welker into Leonard Nimoy for marketing purposes (though goodness knows that’s interesting enough when you put it that way). It’s also an interpretive illustration of what dealing with Amazon or Google or Apple or one of the other tech companies is like: a monolithic, all powerful entity offering you what seems like a sweet deal…except that “your bargaining posture is highly dubious” and the alternative to acceptance is to “proceed on your way to oblivion.”

And in any case, the evil, world-devouring monster doesn’t actually have your best interests at heart and is almost certainly going to betray you once it gets what it wants anyway.

And come to think of it, Unicron kind of looks like an abstract version of the Apple logo (okay, that’s a stretch).