Flotsam: Of Kings, Clothes, and Inspiration

1. Yesterday was the anniversary of the martyrdom of King Louis XVI, so I made sure to go to Mass to ask his intercession, and that of all the royal saints, that we might have good leaders in Church and State. Or, failing that, at least leaders who aren’t brain-dead swine.

Appropriately enough, the first reading was the incident of King David sparing Saul in the cave, cutting off a piece of his cloak to show him that he had no intention of “harming the Lord’s anointed”. This even though Saul was actively seeking to kill him. An image of true nobility and proto-chivalry from the origin point of Christian Monarchy.

2. By the way, some of you might wonder why I’m asking King Louis for good leaders when he himself was, well, not a very good king (from all I can tell, he was undoubtedly a good man and cared for his people, but was weak, indecisive, and let himself be influenced into some very poor decisions). No, but one, I’ll take a weak, vacillating fool who understands his duty to his people over cunning, opportunistic sociopaths who see their role as a chance to glorify themselves any day.

More importantly, of course, he’s now beyond the point where second-rate abilities really matter. And anyway, as Americans, the poor man lost both his throne and his life largely because he made the mistake of helping us, so the least we can do is pay homage to him now.

3. Speaking of leadership, Larry Correia gives his typically moderate and gentle take on the first year of the phony President of the United States (Language warning).

Biden has accomplished exactly one thing. And that’s demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt to all reasonable, thinking Americans that democrats are total shit at governing. They talk a big game, but it’s all just platitudes, wishful thinking, and magic unicorns farting free shit. Their claimed philosophy is childlike and disintegrates when it touches reality, exposing their actual philosophy, which is draconian control freaks who are compelled to meddle in everything. And the less they understand something, the more they feel the need to fuck with it.

Even with big tech and the media doing everything in their power to cover for Biden’s multitude of failures, it’s so bad that the most technologically advanced propaganda engine in human history simply can’t keep up.

Okay, actually to be fair, Biden has accomplished two things. He’s been so shitty that he’s also forced the media to shoot their wad, and destroy the tiny bit of credibility they had left with the most gullible Americans. Everybody else wrote the media off previously, but even the low information mushy moderates know they’re getting lied to when the media says things are great, but they go to their empty stores to pay outrageous prices for basic essentials.

Read the rest here and enjoy

4. One thing that a lot of people miss is that the experience of viewing a photograph is actually very different from seeing a thing, or a person, in real life (and this includes moving pictures). The photo or film is flat, while the real object is in three dimensions. This means that things or people that look good in photographs do not necessarily look good in reality and vice versa.

At my work place, a number of women seem to be putting on an object demonstration of this fact by wearing leather pants. It should be said; these do not work in real life nearly as well as they do in pictures. Though just look uncomfortable, tacky, and odd, more like bits of costume than real clothing. In fact, they have the exact same flimsy, out-of-place appearance as most costumes do, rather like wearing a cape about.

I mean, I can conceive actually, substantial leather pants looking good, the kind you’d wear on your motorcycle, but not mixed in with otherwise ordinary clothes.

5. Clothes, remember, are part of language. What you wear expresses, in part, your personality and your place in society. Most of us, it seems to me, convey an “I don’t know what my place is and I don’t care” message, while many women convey a message of “my place in society is ‘sex appeal’.” (And no, unfortunately, I’m not an exception in this)

Though to be fair, I have met one or two people who knew how to dress really well; not ‘look at how sexy I am!’ but actually wearing clothes that were vibrant, interesting to look at, and complemented them well. Alas, it’s a rare skill. We today are mostly clothing illiterate.

6. Inspirational message from my company message board:

“A closed curtain doesn’t mean the show is over. The next scene of your life is getting prepared! Don’t Quit!”

I really, really wanted to comment:

“A closed casket, on the other hand….”

7. Though really, sometimes a closed curtain does mean the show is over. In any case, how am I supposed to know whether this particular set back in my life is only a closed curtain or the chandelier falling and crushing the whole cast and half the orchestra pit, while a theater critic is scribbling ‘highlight of the performance’ in his notebook?

I don’t think I’m the target audience for inspirational messages.

Flotsam: A Hodgepodge Ending in Lovecraft

1. I try to hunt up simple, straightforward points where ideas make contact with reality in order to judge their truth or falseness. Preferably reality I can see for myself, or which is at least clear and concrete enough to be resistant to rhetoric.

For instance, a question that occurred to me this week: has anyone ever successfully bred a given species to the point where the new breed is unable to sire fertile offspring with the original branch, but can sire fertile offspring in its own, new branch?

If yes, then natural selection is a viable way to bring about new species, at least in principle. If no, then it isn’t and the theory of natural-selection driven macro-evolution is simply false whatever else may be said of it.

I would legitimately like to know which is the case, though I strongly suspect that if this had ever happened, the newly-created species would be as famous and talked about as Dolly the sheep. Still, I’m not well-versed in scientific literature, so it might be so.

2. Another example: What is the Earth’s climate *supposed* to be like at the moment, and how did you determine this?

3. Something occurred to me the other day:

You have a wheelchair-bound old man who, through cunning, high-position, and unscrupulousness takes advantage of the desperation and fear of people facing hard times in order to seize control of more and more of the community and ultimately re-make it in his own image. While those fighting against him use local institutions, relationships, and entrepreneurial spirit to prove they don’t need his ‘help’.

Is Mr. Potter a caricature of FDR?!

(Seriously, I highly doubt it, though both Capra and Stewart were conservatives. Especially since Potter being in a wheelchair was only due to the arthritis-stricken Lionel Barrymore being cast in the role. Still, I can’t help finding the parallels amusing)

4. Something to keep in mind when discussing how and why a given piece of work appeals to someone or doesn’t, why it’s popular or not, is that there are two sides of the equation: the content of the work and state of the audience. It’s a question of harmonizing the composition of the work with the composition of the reader / viewer: almost like getting medicine right, where you have to make sure the chemical composition of the medicine interacts with the chemical composition of the body in such a way that it will do what it’s supposed to do in most cases (though it will almost certainly not interact the same way in all cases, because everyone has different factors going into their bodily composition, which is why we have government-mandated legal shields rigorous long-term testing).

Anyway, whether a given story ‘hits a note’ with people is dependent, in part, on what the people themselves bring to the table. Something to keep in mind while writing: what kind of person would this story appeal to? What ‘elements’ are your trying to react with in a person?

5. This is also why some stories are gigantic hits when they first come out and then fade to obscurity or become punchlines later on. Their success was not due primarily to whatever merits they have as stories, but due to the surrounding cultural or social factors present in the audience. The Billy Jack films are a good example of this, becoming massive hits at the time by tapping in the youth zeitgeist of the moment, while now they’re almost forgotten because that particular geist ist abgefahren.

I think you can tell what this means for much of today’s film woke, even those that make money.

6. I think I’ve said this at some point, but any list of the greatest American writers that does not include H.P. Lovecraft is immediately suspect. Not just for his drippingly-rich prose and titanic imagination, but also just in terms of sheer influence. When you look at science-fiction horror stories that have had any kind of impact, you can see Lovecraft’s fingerprints everywhere (Alien, the works of John Carpenter, Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, Half-Life, etc.).

The only branch of that particular tree that really evades it (sometimes) would be cyber-horror, like The Terminator (though it would not at all surprise me to find a Lovecraftian ancestor there as well). Lovecraft’s general approach is “some ancient, almost-forgotten nightmare is uncovered in the modern, scientific world, exposing an entirely new and horrible understanding of reality”. ‘Cyber-horror’ is more “we’ve created something brand new…and it’s far worse than anything that’s come before.” Past-focused versus future focused.

7. I’ve even heard rumors – though I haven’t yet been able to confirm it – that Prof. Tolkien himself was an admirer of Lovecraft’s work, and that his influence even found its way into Middle Earth: e.g. the ‘nameless things’ that gnaw the Earth in the deep places, of which Gandalf will ‘bring back no word of them to darken the light of day.’ Creatures like Shelob and Ungoliant also have a Lovecraftian tone to them, in their weird, ancient, utterly destructive and almost otherworldly nature.

I would like to find out for sure whether it’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me much.

Friday Flotsam: Thoughts on ‘No Way Home’

1. It being New Year’s Eve, I suppose standard practice would be to give some kind of a retrospective of the year gone by or speculations of the one to come. But we have more important things to talk about today; namely Spider-Man!

I’d thought I was done with the MCU, but the word-of-mouth on No Way Home was so good that I couldn’t resist checking it out. And, well, add my mouth to the word, because yeah, it is really good. I think, on reflection, that I’d still rank Spider-Man 2 above it as the best live-action Spidey flick, but this is a pretty clear second-placer (though, full disclosure, I haven’t seen Far From Home or the two Amazing Spider-Man films…which kind of renders the above meaningless, as that’s nearly half the candidates right there. All I’ll say is that I haven’t seen anyone saying anything that would challenge it).

So, there will be some spoilers, but not really anything you didn’t see in the trailers.

2. I don’t want to go into the plot too much; the short version here is that a plot device courtesy of Dr. Strange brings several classic Spider-Man villains into the MCU from other universes, not to mention two alternate versions of Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Meaning that we have all three live-action Spider-Mans working together against five classic bad guys.

But the thing that makes the film work is the fact that they don’t just trot these characters out for cheap nostalgia. The writers clearly took the time to sit down and consider where each character is in his respective journey, what he wants, and why he is the way he is. The result is that they actually manage to build on the returning characters, bringing out new dimensions and reaching new conclusions. To put it another way, these aren’t just fan-baiting props trotted out to make the audience squeal (e.g. most of the stuff in the Star Wars sequels), the writers treat them as actual characters with arcs and motivations.

3. The one exception is, unfortunately, my personal favorite Spidey rogue, Sandman. He has some good moments, but his motivations and actions really don’t make sense by the end of the film: he has no reason whatever to side with the villains given his history and motives (which the film alludes to). Of course, if Sandman were on the heroes’s side, the baddies wouldn’t stand a chance, but it’s still something the writers are clearly hoping you’ll just go with.

4. On the other hand, Willem Dafoe knocks it out of the park as the Green Goblin, reminding us that, no it’s not just nostalgia talking: he really was and is that good in the role. If anything, he’s even more vile, dangerous, and downright frightening than he was before, and he recaptures the creepy ambiguity of the split personality as if he’d played the role yesterday. Plus he features in some of the most restrained, yet brutal fights in the MCU between him and Peter (apparently still doing many of his own stunts).

Alfred Molina likewise is just as good as ever as Doctor Octopus, every bit as commanding, arrogant, and yet tragic as he was before (there’s a downright beautiful moment between him and Tobey Maguire near the end). Again, like Dafoe it really feels as though he stepped straight from the earlier film into this one.

Props also to Jamie Foxx as Electro. I remember when I found out he was cast in the role way back when I was interested; he’s a very good actor and I thought he’d be a great fit (an instance of race swapping where it doesn’t really matter). But from all I can tell, he unfortunately wasn’t given much to work with. Here, though, he really goes to town in the role: power hungry and with a definitely dangerous edge even when he seems to be calm and helpful. And, of course, I’m delighted they worked in the character’s trademark ‘star-shaped head of electricity’ image.

5. But good as it is to see the baddies again, the real story is the three Peters. Tobey Maguire is, of course, the oldest and in many ways the most important of the three, and he comes across as definitely a more mature, wiser Peter than when we saw him last. Andrew Garfield, meanwhile, almost steals the whole show as a Peter still haunted by his failure to save Gwen Stacey, but also the one who seems most excited to be meeting the others (“I always wanted brothers,” he says at one point, which is kind of perfect). Though he also has his share of fun moments, like when he reluctantly proves his identity upon first joining the cast.

(Garfield is so good, in fact, that he does the impossible: he makes me want to see the Amazing Spider-Man films)

These three actors have spectacular chemistry, and their interactions all feel pitch-perfect as they support one another, compare notes, share hard-earned wisdom, and so on. Each one of them contributes something, some unique experience or perspective. And again, the story actually develops on builds on their characters from the previous films, especially Garfield, who gets a wonderful redemptive moment in the final act, bringing some closure to his character. Though, fittingly, the biggest moment of ‘what it means to be Spider-Man’ goes to Tobey Maguire.

That’s another thing, I love how positive the film is regarding its cast. There’s no effort to tear down one or another of the three Peters or to take pot-shots at earlier versions of the story. The three men get along well, like each other, and appreciate each other. Even a brief, reactionary fight between Maguire and Garfield when they first meet is both very quick and ends with mutual respect and admiration rather than insults. It all feels, well, very nice.

(Oh, and I very much appreciated it that, though Kirsten Dunst doesn’t appear, Maguire’s Peter confirms that yes, they got their happy ever after and made it work. See, that’s what we want when a hero returns to the screen after a long absence: to know that all his struggles and adventures were not in vain after all).

In a word, the returning cast are treated as people, real characters with motivations and histories, not just walk-on fan-bait.

6. Besides all that, it’s just a really good Spider-Man story; one that really gets the core of the character as a normal man trying to balance his great power and responsibility, who is a hero because it’s the right thing to do and who doesn’t receive any reward for it. Tom Holland, I feel, really grows into the role here, being forced to make real sacrifices and come to terms with real consequences as he struggles to do the right thing.

It also gracefully corrects course on some of the baggage of the previous films (well, Homecoming at least: again, haven’t see the other one). As in, MJ and Ned actually act like human beings and are legitimately likable this time around! Both the romance and the three-way friendship actually worked and I found myself genuinely invested in them! I still don’t like the race and name swapping on Mary Jane at all, but they work with what they have and they made the lemonade!

7. There are some other problems with regards to how the whole multiverse concept works and the rules of who goes through and why, not to mention some, ah, timing issues regarding the villains (can’t say more without spoilers). Oh, and I thought the after credits scenes were a missed opportunity (though the first one is admittedly funny).

But my biggest concern is just that this is going to be the next gimmick; pulling older, beloved versions of franchises into new ones in order to shore up viewership. It’s well done here, but I’d hate to see it become a standardized gimmick the way the MCU crossover cameos did. Expanding the crossover and nostalgia train ever further outwards until everything interacts with everything else.

There is also something I felt just seeing the trailers: that sense of admitted defeat. As if the current overseers of the franchise were throwing up their hands and saying ‘yeah, we can’t do it. We can’t make characters the way that Sam Raimi or even Marc Webb did. We just need to use what was built before in order to make our version work.’ Like the natives in ‘King Kong’, dependent on the wall that they could never have built themselves, but can only maintain.

8. Well, that’s a topic for another day. For now, I’m going to focus on the positive: I actually went to the theater to see a new movie and enjoyed myself again. It really did feel like, for those two and a half hours (which went by remarkably fast, by the way), I was back in the days of Sam Raimi, or even the early days of the MCU; just happy to be entertained by the creativity, hard work, and good will before me on the screen. Contrary to the title, it felt a little like coming home again.

It felt good.

You know, I’m not so sure that this wasn’t a suitable piece for New Years. It makes me think that at least some of what’s ahead might actually be as good as what has been.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday Flotsam: Class Values and Rudolph

1. Something many people forget or miss is the fact that different social classes or castes or what have you have different value structures. This isn’t the same as having different values as such: the same religion and the same moral ideals are liable to be preached across all classes. Rather, it’s a difference of emphasis and perspective, so that things that would, in an academic sense, be held by all to be good and just may be socially enforced in one stratum of society and ignored in another, or will manifest in different ways (C.S Lewis touched on this point in a number of his essays).

For instance, the middle class, city-dwelling or mercantile class would emphasize innovation, education, practicality, and hard-work, because these are the values that lead to success in that environment. Expanding the family enterprise, bringing in the daily custom, keeping customers happy, and so on means that the family thrives. On the other hand, the aristocracy would emphasize manners, courtesy, ‘impractical’ virtues (that is, ones that are liable to give you a disadvantage if your opponent is less honorable than you), loyalty, continuity, and so on. An aristocrat inherits his property, and generally does so because some ancestor did some service to the sovereign. Thus, the two most vital points are maintaining the good-will of the sovereign and passing on the legacy intact to the next generation.

2. This is obviously an oversimplification presented as an illustration. If you want to see this illustrated very well, see The Lord of the Rings and pay attention to the different ways the different characters think and react. Just as an example, note how the Gaffer describes Bilbo teaching Sam to read and write: “Meaning no harm, and I hope no harm will come of it.” Working class values include suspicion of anything that looks like ‘giving airs’ or showing dissatisfaction with the worker’s lot.

3. Anyway, I bring it up as a reminder to fellow writers: when considering how your characters think and what they value, remember to consider what their social class and position is and what that would likely mean for the question. If your hero is the son of a blacksmith, he had better have a very good reason for expressing the sentiment that it doesn’t matter where a man comes from provided he is a good man or that nothing is more important than education. Not that he can’t, but it requires something in his backstory or the story itself to have it make sense, because those are generally not working class values.

4. Another point in this regard; the fact that we live in a society that tries to ignore class distinctions means that these differences can be very easily used to manipulate people, as much of the population tries to cling to all different value structures at once. So if you want to push something immoral, stress practicality and ‘going along to get along’ (middle-class values). If you want to push something impractical, talk about moral obligations and national honor (aristocratic values). Jumping back and forth from different perspectives and trying to convince the population that they need to try to adhere to all of them at once can get you more or less whatever practical results you want.

5. Re-watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my niece and nephew for the first time in ages. Overall, I thought it actually holds up fairly well; the story-book tone of the proceedings helps to cover a multitude of sins, and Rudolph is a likable hero. Plus we have the added benefits of the strong personalities of Hermey and Yukon Cornelius (the latter of whom is probably the best character in the film). As I’ve argued before, in making ‘good characters’ the point is not necessarily to make them deep or multi-dimensional, but to make them ‘strong’, emphatic, strikingly themselves. Whether the audience feels that they are ‘realistic’ or not is less important than whether they remember them after the story is over. Hermey and Yukon, as well as Rudolph himself, are not ‘deep’ characters, but they have strong personalities and are fun to watch.

Biggest problem is everyone’s reaction to Rudolph’s nose seems way too overblown, with Santa even exclaiming that Donner ‘should be ashamed of himself’ for it. Why? Kids making fun of him on the playground is one thing, Santa Claus issuing moral condemnations for a glowing schnoz really doesn’t make any sense at all.

Likewise, the timeline seems all wrong, with Rudolph’s parents and girlfriend searching for him for so long that he grows up and then almost immediately knows to look for them in the abominable snowman’s cave and arrives just in time? Why would he even think to look there? But, like I say, things of that sort are somewhat mitigated by the story format, so it’s not too big a deal. The absurd cruelty is the biggest problem.

(And don’t try to pull the ‘people are like that in real life’ card. People – adults – are that cruel when there is some kind of reason behind it: a cultural prejudice, for instance, or moral judgment. Not necessarily a legitimate reason, but a reason. What, are glowing red noses a mark of the untermensch in reindeer society or something?

Hermey’s ostracization makes much more sense, as I can absolutely believe that elves would consider it just shy of blasphemy to not like making toys).

In any case, it’s a good film and I enjoyed it overall. Would certainly recommend.

6. By the way, did anyone else notice that there are only six other reindeer when Rudolph joins the team at the end? And that Donner conspicuously is standing off to one side and not being hitched up with the others? Maybe he and Comet get fired to take the fall for the red-nose debacle.

And has anyone ever figured out what was supposed to be wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys?

Friday Flotsam: There’s Really No Through-Line for This One

1. As I understand the matter, modern corporations are descendants of the religious orders. The idea is that property does not belong to any particular member, but rather to the imaginary ‘corporate’ self. In the religious orders, this was to allow for a vow of poverty: yes, the abbey had a lot of property, but none of the brothers owned any of it, only the order as a kind of imaginary person (not that that stopped some of the monks any more than it stops some of today’s executives). In modern corporations, this is a liability shield: if the company loses money or goes into debt, none of the actual workers or executives are personally liable for that money. This incentivizes growth and speculation, among other benefits.

I’m not sure whether this idea of the ‘corporate self’ in economic transactions was ever employed before the Christian era or outside of it (be interesting to get info on that from an actual economic historian), but at least as far as the west is concerned, that seems to me to be the lineage.

(Modern banking even has its origins with the Templars: rather than carting sacks of gold all the way to the Holy Land, pilgrims would deposit the amount with their local Templar house, who would then provide them a bill of lending which, once they got to the Holy Land, they would present to the Templar house there to draw out that same amount of gold. But note that this is itself dependent on the ‘corporate self’, as the idea is that a house in England having gold is the same as the house in Jerusalem having the gold. The Order has the gold, and so it can hold it and give it out for the pilgrim at either end of the journey).

2. Anyway, a modern corporation operates on the same principle: it is the company that owns the property, it is the company that you serve, not any particular executive, and it is the company that provides the service.

This, I think, is precisely why the corporate experience is so miserable. You’re following a pattern that was created for the sake of subordinating the self to the Divine, and instead you’re subordinating the self to something thoroughly material and even mercenary. Of course it’s a dreary, soul-sucking experience. When someone says “I gave my heart and my soul to this company!” I just feel a great sense of pity for him.

On top of it all, we also don’t have nearly the same job security that the lay brothers (serfs) did. At least, as far as I can tell, they never got turned off their land in order to raise the stock price a few percent.

“Sorry Francis the Miller’s Son, but I’m afraid we’re gonna have to let you go….”

3. By the way, this is what I consider probably the stupidest point of Marxism, especially contemporary Marxists: “Corporations have too much power. The solution is to give absolute power to one corporation. That’ll fix everything!”

4. As both politics and the entertainment industry amply demonstrate, the advantage of having a majority population of amoral monsters is that any time someone ceases to be useful, it’s really easy to destroy him by hypocritically exposing one or two of his crimes and lamenting about how terrible it all is.

Another advantage is that it’s good practice for the members’ post-mortal experience.

5. I’ve started watching Cowboy Bebop. You know, a corgi in zero gravity is one of those things you don’t realize you needed to see until you’ve seen it. I now think that the entire space program will have been wasted if we fail to send at least one corgi to the ISS and just let it float around for a bit, trying to walk on air with its stubby little legs and getting nowhere….

“There are three things I hate: kids, animals, and women with attitude. So tell me, why do we have all three on the ship?!
“And we didn’t even get the bounty….”
(Few shows summarize themselves so well in a single exchange, at least so far as I’ve gone).

6. I’ve also begun reading Ivanhoe for the first time. Sir Walter Scott’s style of storytelling definitely takes some getting used to for a modern reader, as he will preface nearly every scene or even every part of a scene with long, precise descriptions of the setting, dress, and historical context of just about everything and every person he mentions. They’re good descriptions, but they do drag on and tend to bring the story to a screeching halt.

His depiction of the period is definitely mixed in terms of historical accuracy (he didn’t have very many good sources to work off of at the time), but in any case he’s clearly doing the best he can and one can see that a good deal of our concept of the Middle Ages proceeds from or at least through Sir Walter (the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood especially draws a lot from this novel).

In any case, barriers to entry aside, it’s a good story and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Besides which, of course, Sir Walter is an English writer of the old school and his style is as far in advance of the bulk of modern authors as the medieval mail-clad knight was in advance of his barbarian war-chief forbearer. Keep in mind that Sir Walter was a favorite of St. John Henry Newman, who developed his own style off of his, so that should tell you something.

7. And diverting into the completely frivolous and slightly obscure: one ‘Versus’ matchup or ‘Death Battle’ I’d like to see would be Saitama vs. Maple, One Punch Man vs. Bofuri, Unstoppable Force against Immovable Object. Of course you’d have to cheat a bit to get him into the game world with powers intact somehow, but it’d be worth it.

Honestly, I think I’d peg Saitama to win easy. Maple’s ridiculously powerful, but she isn’t invincible. Sooner or later, I figure he’d wear her down, 5-digit vitality or not. Though if I were writing it for my own amusement I’d probably try to find a way to give it to Maple nonetheless, because that would be funnier (of course I’d play fair: no random new abilities that she got just that morning and happen to be exactly what she needs. Canon skills only).

And the best part is that it’d all be inside a video game, so no one really gets hurt! I can just picture her inviting Saitama over to party at her guild house afterwards, and he’d be happy to do it because someone finally gave him a good fight….

Friday Flotsam: Whither Milo Murphy?

1. BW Media Spotlight posted a good piece defending Milo Murphy’s Law, the sequel series to Phineas and Ferb that, alas, failed to find the same audience its predecessor did and lasted only two seasons.

Me, I’m a big fan of Phineas and Ferb: it’s one of my all-time favorites, and I really liked Milo Murphy a lot as well. Both those are very strong, very creative shows and both hit my taste in humor pretty hard with a blend simultaneously weird and intelligent (“Our mascot is Murray the Middleman, who buys products from manufacturers and sells them to retailers at a hefty profit!”). Reading BW’s post made me wonder just why it is that PnF was so much more successful at finding an audience than Milo (this despite Milo starring the priceless Weird Al Yankovic himself in the title role).

2. Part of it, I suspect, is simply a form of sequelitis. PnF set the bar so high in the minds of its fans that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible for Milo to match it (especially when you remember that PnF actually took a while to get really good: it wasn’t until near the end of the first season at least that they really found their stride). Besides, audiences had four years or more to get to know and love the PnF characters; going from that to a new show set in the same world with all-new characters is just not going to be the same experience.

Come the second season of Milo and the addition of the reformed Dr. Doofenshmirtz as a series regular, there was also the perpetual problem that the creators ran into while trying to spin off Doof and Perry into their own show. Namely, that Doofenshmirtz simply isn’t as much fun as an incompetent good-guy as he is as an incompetent bad-guy. His stupidity and bumbling comes across as less funny and more pitiful when he’s trying to be heroic, and he and Perry don’t play off each other as well when they’re allies (actually, I think their best bet would have been the ‘Doof teaches high school’ option, since then he would be able to show a degree of competence while his brand of mayhem would be livening up a dull and pointless environment rather than causing havoc in an otherwise positive one, but that ship’s long sailed).

But I don’t think either of those were the main reason; if anything, they were only a catalyst exacerbating other issues. Having seen both shows multiple times, I think the main difference comes down to a few rather complicated factors. I’ll do my best to explain.

3. Both these shows are very optimistic, upbeat stories. On reflection, though, I think Milo might be a little too consistently sweet and optimistic. I don’t mean that Milo himself is too optimistic or a flat character or something (he isn’t: he’s actually quite well-written and performed, with a full emotional range). What I mean is that there isn’t enough emotional ‘texture’ going on. I don’t mean just conflict, but a variety of different audience reactions.

I’ll see if I can clarify what I mean.

In PnF, for all its cheery good-will, you had several notable points of conflict and tension among the main cast: Candace was always trying to ‘bust’ her brothers. Buford bullies Baljeet. Isabella is in love with Phineas, who is blissfully oblivious to her feelings. And, of course, Doofenshmirtz is always trying to take over the Tri-State Area or exact petty revenge and Perry tries to stop him without blowing his cover.

These problems were never resolved, or were resolved very slowly and only at the end of the series, and we didn’t expect them to be, but they provided points of interest and what I’m calling emotional texture: points of differing audience reactions to specific characters and with it alternating tension and release.

Candace’s role is especially important in this regard, where she is simultaneously an antagonist and a protagonist, with her antagonism lying on the surface and her sympathetic qualities underneath. If I can judge from my own experience, we the audience come to really like Candace, despite the fact that she’s vain, petty, and kind of a brat. The show, despite being called Phineas and Ferb, is really more about her and her back-and-forth struggles with maturity. The fact that she can be both the main obstacle or threat to the brothers and their loving sister, chief ally, and the show’s heroine helped to keep things consistently interesting. It provided a continual ebb and flow of engagement as she sometimes does the right thing, sometimes doesn’t.

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Doofenshmirtz played a similar role, in that he was a ‘villain’, but we quickly could see that he wasn’t really a bad guy, just an extremely immature and petty one, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Like Candace, we soon come to like Doof and want him to succeed, just not to succeed at his stated goal. Plus he has his charming, but strained relationship with his daughter, Vanessa (their relationship being one of the most notable instances of the fact that the characters do develop over the course of the show) and his odd ‘frienmity’ with Perry.

What I’m trying to get at is that, even with a very formulaic structure and relatively static characters, the nature of those characters provides a variety of emotional experiences wherein we’re not really sure which one we’re going to get from scene to scene: is Candace going to be in ‘jerk’ mode or ‘sympathetic’ mode? Are we going to get one of Doof’s petty spiteful moments or one of his loving affectionate moments? This is what I mean by emotional texture: the characters move in and out of eliciting now one reaction, now the other.

4. Now, in Milo, there really isn’t anything like the above, or not to the same extent. Milo has a smoothly comfortable relationship with his friends Zack and Melissa, his family is supportive and loving, his sister patiently puts up with his curse (the closest she comes to antagonizing him is anxiously asking him to stand back), and even most of his classmates are friendly, if cautious towards him. The only hostile characters are Bradley, who is simply a jerk and doesn’t get much development, and Eliot the crossing guard, who does get some development and eventually warms up to Milo, but doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities or enough of a relationship with Milo to make him really sympathetic or interesting. For a while it looked like they were going to do something with Cavendish when he briefly thought that Milo was the villain, but it’s dropped pretty quickly when Dakota suggests that they simply ask Milo if he’s trying to destroy them. Likewise, Cavendish and Dakota have a bit of friction in their bickering, which is fun, but not really the sort of thing described above since it’s usually just standard ‘vitriolic best buds’ stuff, rather than, say, Buford and Baljeet oscillating between genuine friendship and genuine hostility (Dakota’s not going to be flying Cavendish into some cacti just for fun, for instance).

The conflict is almost entirely external, from Milo’s curse and various antagonists. Very rarely are the main characters in opposition with each other or in complicated or difficult positions with each other.

The result is that the emotional landscape of Milo is much flatter than that of PnF. Conflicts get resolved a little too quickly and the characters are uniformly likable and affectionate, except for when they’re supposed to be more or less just plain jerks and villains, or else they grow out of their contentious attitudes within a short amount of time (e.g. Melissa’s dad doesn’t like Milo, but learns to appreciate him over the course of a single episode). It’s all charming and pleasant, but it has considerably less bite than PnF.

The long-term conflicts include Milo’s budding relationship with Amanda (a hyper-organized girl at his school) and Cavendish and Dakota’s various time-related adventures, particularly involving the pistachio plants. There is also a low-key romance between Zack and Melissa that remains largely under the surface until near the end. These are all perfectly fine and charming, but none of them really create enough waves to give the show much texture.

Milo and Amanda in Milo Murphy's Law - YouTube

Now, a show doesn’t have to have this kind of thing – e.g. sympathetic pseudo-antagonists who are also protagonists and move between different emotional responses from the audience – to be good or to gain an audience. But thinking over the two shows, I think that is something that PnF had that Milo lacked and, what is more, lacked anything suitable to replace it with. It’s certainly not bad – again, it’s a very good show – but it’s less interesting.

5. The next factor is even more ephemeral, but I think equally important. It’s that PnF has more of an immediate appeal to it than Milo. It takes the form of an almost generic Saturday morning cartoon: kids have adventures in their backyard while their secret-agent pet battles evil scientists, their mother is oblivious to it all and their sister tries to reveal it. At the same time, that package is used to indulge the fantasy of kids who are able to do what real kids imagine doing: building roller coasters, being superheroes, flying rocketships, etc. Whether by design or accident, you end up with a show that captures the imagination of childhood and of the carefree games of summer, presented in the form of something like the very sort of cartoon that would go along with those imaginary games. The central idea of the show is embodied in its very structure, you could almost say. It’s basically a show all about childhood and the carefree experience of childhood.

Milo, on the other hand, is a bit more specific and less immediately appealing: about a kid who brings impossible disasters down upon himself wherever he goes, but soldiers on optimistically nonetheless. It’s a good premise, touching on optimism, persistence in the face of bad luck, and so on but it doesn’t tap as deeply as the other.

Childhood and childhood imagination is something everyone’s experienced and many people can still remember, and that kind of ‘boy’s adventure’ story is a familiar story-type. It slots neatly into the imagination, allowing its more specific characteristics to shine out better. Milo is a lot less familiar and a lot less ‘apt’ to the imagination; it feels more like a very personal, “let’s just go crazy” kind of story that the creators did because it was what they specifically wanted to make. It’s fun, but it doesn’t make an immediate or clear appeal the same way that PnF did.

6. Adding to these two factors is also the fact that Milo is a much more serialized show than PnF. Each episode follows its own plot and its own pattern and, apart from the three-to-five core characters, (Milo, Zach, Melissa, Cavendish, and Dakota), the casts vary considerably from episode to episode, and most of the characters are introduced piecemeal, coming and going unevenly across the two seasons.

In PnF, the show deliberately follows a fairly tight formula most of the time, and the same main characters recur and play more or less the same roles in every episode (Phineas, Ferb, Candace, Perry, Doof, Isabella, Baljeet, Buford). This was part of the joke, but it also had the effect of giving the show a very strong sense of identity, as well as solidifying the characters in the audience’s mind.

7. The net result of all these points is that Milo felt a lot less focused and a lot less, hm, sturdy than PnF, especially coupled with the aforementioned rapid conflict solving. It came across a little flatter, a little lighter and more superficial (ironically enough, considering how much lower the stakes in PnF tended to be). Both shows are delightfully crazy, but PnF concentrated its craziness through its strictly formulaic episodes, keeping the show familiar and grounded even as it went off the walls. Milo didn’t have that same kind of structure and so feels more fluid and scattershot. It isn’t so much that it does anything much worse than the earlier show, it’s more that it was just harder to connect with.

I still think it deserved to find more of an audience than it did (it’s much better than, say, Gravity Falls, not to mention more wholesome), but that’s my theory as to why it didn’t.

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I’m glad we have them both

Friday Flotsam: Free Thinking, a Review, and the End of the World

1. One of my co-workers has a sticker on his computer that says ‘Danger: Free Thinker’. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and he seems like a decent guy, but in my experience legitimate ‘free thinkers’ (to the extent that such creatures exist) do not proudly identify themselves as such.

‘Free thinker’ or ‘think for yourself’ tends to be nothing but a form of branding; a way to lend unearned weight to opinions. It’s the intellectual equivalent of ‘organic’ or ‘made with natural ingredients!’: usually not true and of dubious utility when it is.

When someone describes himself as a free thinker, he usually means that he is free of long-outdated forms of popular opinion and instead follows one or another contemporary trends without realizing it’s a trend.

2. It is one of the odd traits of a culture such as ours, which prides itself upon its advanced nature and defiance of ‘established modes’ that its people usually fixate their critical faculties, not on genuinely established opinions or current dogmas, but on those that were or are supposed to have been held several generations before.

This, of course, is inevitable; a society needs an established creed to guide its actions and values, and you can’t have the populace legitimately in perpetual revolt against the current climate of opinion, otherwise it wouldn’t be the current climate. So a society that holds independence of thought and rejection of dogma as its defining characteristics and feeds its people on myths of bold reformers who courageously stood against tradition will have to have a kind of false bogey ‘establishment’ for the people to feel they are boldly defying.

Hence the phenomenon of ‘free thinkers’ who all think according to how those in power wish them to think. Hence too the even more ridiculous assertion that children do not learn to think for themselves from their parents, but from the paid indoctrinators of the State.

3. I’d say I’ve only encountered a few writers whom I would class as legitimately independent thinkers. That is, who actually appear to me to subject all or most of the ideas that come under their view to critical examination and draw conclusions from that. They tend to draw the ire of both ‘sides’ of the actual establishment and to critique those assumptions that are held to be unquestionable by all.

In any case, they do not usually boast of being ‘free thinkers’, they simply offer their observations and let them stand or fall on their own merits. Rather like how if you get freshly-slaughtered pork from a homesteader, he doesn’t feel the need to put ‘organic’ on the package.

(By the way, none of that was meant as a back-door attempt to assign myself the label. Though it is hard to declaim it without seemingly invalidating everything I say. “One cannot be too careful not to think about it,” as Prof. Lewis put it).

4. If I were to tell you that I spent some time watching an old man spreading goop around, you would come away with the idea that I had perhaps spent time with a senile relative, or even in a mental institution. You’d likely feel pity and sympathy for me.

If I were to tell you that I had spent time watching M. Bouguereau paint (ignoring the time factor for the sake of the example), however, you would react with awe and envy to find that I had been privileged to see a genius artistic hand at work.

Yet the two statements are both true versions of the exact same subject. Indeed, the first one is a more factually specific, describing the action rather than containing it in the more abstract concept of ‘painting’. Nevertheless, the second is the more accurate way of describing it, because it conveys the nature of the event more correctly and evokes more appropriate responses.

Similarly, I think that, whatever the factual sequence of events that made up the creation of the world and the descent of species, it will always be more accurate to describe it as “in the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth,” and “God formed man out of the clay and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”

5. The Terror has gotten an entirely-too-flattering review from Caroline Furlong. Read it and then check out her blog if you haven’t already.

6. Some people say, and have been saying that it’s the end times. Technically, it’s been the end times for 2000 years now: with the coming of Christ we’re in the final age of the world regardless. But as for whether we’re approaching the actual Last Judgment, well, my own thoughts are, why would that matter? What difference does it make? We’re all heading for judgment, final or personal, and it can come at any time for any of us. We’ve been told that repeatedly. Worrying and wondering about the end times seems to me a waste of time. The important thing is to be ready and have our lamps timed and full of oil when the time comes.

(For what it’s worth, personally I don’t think we are, but again, who cares?)

Friday Flotsam: Fan-Art with Commentary

I started doing some more substantial entries, but I was tired after a long week and didn’t have the energy for it. So, since I don’t feel like talking about religion, philosophy, and such today, the next logical subject is My Little Pony fan-art.

I made these a long time ago and have been meaning to share them. The idea was to Gimp up images of what the mane cast and a few others might look like in live action (and as humans). Presented with commentary.

(I didn’t try to do Spike or the CMC because I was kind of uncomfortable searching for child or adolescent models. Thought it might put me on a watchlist of some kind)

1. Twilight Sparkle

Still pretty pleased with this one, though in retrospect it might have been better to give her glasses. But on the other hand, I think the model captures the reserved, intelligent, slightly-awkward look well enough that she doesn’t really need them.

Biggest problem was that she was wearing a necklace in the original photo, which would have been a disaster to try to remove, so I made it into an Equestrian Crest medallion. Not something I can recall Twilight ever wearing in the show, but it fits her character. Beyond that, it was just a matter of changing some colors, adding in the cutie mark (which I made custom and didn’t pull from a screenshot) and putting her in a library setting. I think I might have also added in the bangs. Owlowicious fills out the scene.

Really, in terms of the style of face and expression, this is pretty much exactly how I picture Twilight.

2. Fluttershy

Fluttershy was actually the first one I did and this photo was the inspiration for the series. Something about the model’s face, pose, and environment made me think ‘Fluttershy!’ So I did a few tweaks to make her fit more and the whole thing snowballed.

Still pretty pleased with this. It helps that she was one of the easier ones, since she’s the only one who didn’t need to be pasted into a new environment. All that was really necessary was to change her hair and dress color, make the hair longer (not that it was short to begin with, just that Fluttershy’s hair is very long), and add in the cutie mark. Then I decided to stick Angel Bunny in there with her, just to add more interest to the scene.

By the way, it’s surprisingly easy to extend hair in Gimp / photoshop. Though it doesn’t always turn out this well as we’ll see in a little bit….

3. Rarity

I think Rarity turned out one of the best of the bunch overall (which is good, since she’s my favorite character). The model had pretty much the exact pose, look, and expression that I wanted, and, of course Rarity’s one of the few whose coat color is likely to be already being worn, so no need to change the dress at all. Again, I changed the hair color and added some length (Rarity’s hair is even longer than Fluttershy’s), added the Cutie Mark and stuck Opal in (with a nice reflection to boot).

Only thing is that I kind of wish I had her in a more opulent environment. This one’s a little bare. Oh, well.

4. Applejack

Applejack was another fairly easy one, once I found a suitable model (“Cowgirl model” was at least a meaningful search term). She mercifully has an actually natural hair color! Changing her shirt color was a pain, however, as was positioning her against the fence. As I remember, the model was originally leaning on something else: I think maybe a metal gate leading into a barn. I wanted her in an apple orchard, of course, so first I had to put the fence in, then the model, and then there was a good deal of shifting and adjusting to make them both sit naturally in the scene, then drawing in the shadows (which, now that I look at it, are still off: I didn’t take good account of the direction of the light).

On second thought, I take back what I said about her being an easy one.

Still, all in all, I think she turned out pretty well.

5. Pinkie Pie

Hoo boy, Pinkie was a nightmare!

She’s the only one who’s a composite figure. After a lot of searching, I finally found an excellent image of a laughing redhead…except that it was a portrait and I needed the whole body (and why do so many models pose with that same blank, neutral expression? And if they are smiling, it’s usually an arch, knowing smile of the kind that Pinkie would never use in her life!). So I found another picture of a model sitting on a counter (which worked with the pastry shop background) and stuck the head of the one on the body of the other.

Blending the hair in was extremely difficult, especially since the body model had locks running down her front, and very loose locks too, with a lot of stray individual hairs. It took a lot of work and I eventually gave up trying to color correct those and just covered them up by making the head model’s hair extra long and bushy. The result looks pretty flat and smudged, and you can still see some of the body model’s hairs sticking out.

And to top it all off, Gummy looks really awkward and I forgot to give him a shadow.

(She then caused more trouble just now by stubbornly refusing to upload for a long time).

Oh, well, at least the face is still good.

6. Rainbow Dash

I have mixed feelings about this one. I think the model was a good choice: she’s got a nicely focused, confident look to her that fits Rainbow Dash. But I don’t like the environment. My thought was that her setting was the sky, so I should have as big a sky as possible, but in hindsight I should have put her in a stadium or on an athletic field. It looks too empty and bare like this. Also, Tank is pretty wonky here; he looks like he’s about to fly into her.

Though I think her hair turned out remarkably well, considering how complicated it is. And her cutie mark looks pretty good too, despite having to be assembled almost from scratch.

7. Starlight Glimmer

This is another one that I think turned out almost perfectly. The model’s expression, pose, and whole look seems just right to me! Though I could have done a better job on her stripe….

Still, really pleased with this one.

8. Sunset Shimmer

This is the one I’m least satisfied with. The model’s got a suitable look, and I like the leather jacket, and the fact that I put her Cutie Mark on her chest rather than her hip (reflecting the fact that she’s the only one who spends most of her screen time as a human).

But her shirt looks awful (changing the color when there’s a big dark shadow on part of it is a nightmare) and the image resolution on the model is much too low: I should have found a bigger picture to work with. Oh, and the environment is hideous, and while that fits for a public high school, I don’t like it in my pictures. Should have tried to find one that was at least moderately photogenic.

9. Trixie

So, with Trixie I learned that making hair actually white is all-but impossible. Or at least, it requires a more advanced technique than the ‘desaturate and fill’ one I was using. I remember being really unsatisfied with her when I was done, but looking at her now I don’t think so anymore. Her hair is still off, but it’s got a decently silvery look (though it’s really ugly at the tip), and the model has an excellently smug and mischievous expression. Call this one better than I remember.

10. Derpy

Last but not least, we have darling Derpy. She’s the only one I actually looked for a specific actress for: Rose McIver from I Zombie, whom I’d seen screenshots of and thought to have exactly the right faded-blonde, slightly ditzy look that Derpy needed. So I hunted up a suitably bewildered-looking photo of her (from a Lifetime movie called ‘Petals on the Wind‘ of all things), then I greyed down her clothes, crossed her eyes, and put her in a post office. Presto! Everyone’s favorite animation-error-turned-running-gag!

Friday Flotsam: In the News, Invisible Man, and Folk Song

1. I have barely looked at the news in weeks and have frankly been much happier for it. After all, I have no power to affect anything that is in the news, and it’s going to affect me I’ll find out about it sooner or later. Not to mention that most of it is either outright lies or distortions of one sort of another. So, really, I don’t see much point in keeping up with it.

2. That said, I’ve heard that there was an election in Old Virginia, and that the (comparative) good guys seem to have won big. Good news of any kind is welcome, so hooray for that.

3. Being a Monarchist in a liberal republic is like:

4. You know, I like to call myself a Monarchist, but that’s a bit of an oversimplification. I’m not against Republics, provided they’re set up with some degree of sense (e.g. non-democratic. Actually, the original design for the US was, unsurprisingly, considerably better considered than the current system, but that’s another story). I think ‘Integralist’ is probably the closest active term I’ve found: the idea that, since you have to structure society around some philosophy or another, it may as well be a true one.

Thing is that the quality of a given system of government is largely a question of the quality of the people who operate it. A Monarchy operated by liberals is no better than a republic, and worse than a republic run by Christians (as the Vatican offers daily proof). The problem, as always, is one of conversion.

5. I’d forgotten how good a movie the original Invisible Man with Claude Rains and directed by James “Frankenstein” Whale really is. I got to see it on the big screen in a double-feature with The Wolf-Man (also features Claude Rains, though in a very different role) and I was continually impressed by the writing: how logically everything progresses and how reasonably everyone reacts, except for the people who are supposed to be acting irrationally. The only major gaps I noticed were an unconvincing hand-wave of why they can’t use dogs to catch him (“they’ve lost the scent”) and the fact that no one seems willing to take advantage of the times when he’s actually grabbing someone to catch him by touch, which was a continual problem for the character in the book and even led to his final defeat. But the whole sequence of the story, the reactions of the police and the populace, and the progression of the Invisible Man himself follow a clear and well-considered progression all the way to the conclusion.

There’s also the still-impressive special effects, which are deployed with a surprising prodigality. For instance, there’s a bit where the Invisible Man goes skipping down the road in a pair of stolen trousers singing ‘Nuts in May’. It adds nothing to the plot, it’s just a joke (and a sign of his continually-deteriorating sanity), but they took the time and money to make it happen in 1932. And whether through lighting or effects, they even took care that Rains’s eyes aren’t visible even on careful examination during close-ups of him in his bandaged-up disguise.

6. By the way, this is a surprisingly brutal film: the Invisible Man has easily the highest on-screen body count of any of the classic Universal Monsters, coming in at over a hundred confirmed kills (he wrecks a train at one point just because he can). Yet even so, and despite only killing one or two people, the character in the book is far more vile than his film counterpart.

7. And let’s end with a Cossack folk song (think I might have posted this video before, but it’s worth revisiting):

Flotsam: Self-Examination, Plot Holes, Halloween-ness, and a Joke

1. I notice that I have a bad habit (and perhaps you do as well) that when I start to pray and try to meditate upon God that I tend to fall into criticism of modernity: thinking of how far the contemporary world is from the majesty of the Divine plan and how many ways we depart from this holy road.

Of course, what I should be thinking about is how far I am from all that. If we’re to do comparisons under such a circumstance, it ought to be regarding the one thing we can actually control and bring a little close to the standard in question. Endlessly thinking about how horrible other people are – however true that may be – is spiritual junk food; it’s momentarily satisfying, but empty at best, harmful at worst. At the end of the day, it’s only ourselves and our own that we’ll be held finally responsible for.

2. Re-reading The Lord of the Rings. Something that occurred to me this go-round is that Peter Jackson introduced a significant plot hole in Fellowship. Namely, that there’s now no reason for Gandalf not to accompany Frodo from the Shire to Rivendell.

In the book, the plan is for Frodo to slip quietly out of the Shire after settling his affairs so as not to attract notice, and Gandalf fully means to accompany him for safety. About midsummer, though, Gandalf is away in Bree when he meets Radagast, who warns him that the Nine are abroad and that Saruman has something he urgently needs to speak to him about. Since he knows it will take the Nazgul many weeks to reach the Shire, Gandalf considers running back to the Shire to warn Frodo to change his plans and leave sooner, but decides he doesn’t have the time since Radagast was already late in finding him, so he tries to send a letter instead. Saruman reveals his true colors (so to speak) and imprisons Gandalf, ad the innkeeper forgets the letter, and the result is that Frodo leaves the Shire much too late, with no help from Gandalf, and with the Nazgul are almost literally at his doorstep.

In the film, Gandalf has Frodo leave almost the moment he confirms what the Ring is, saying that he’ll run off to Isengard to consult with Saruman and then meet him at the Prancing Pony in Bree.

Now, first off this is an example of Jackson’s rather absurd telescoping of Middle Earth, which is severely shrunken from its book form (if you look at a map, Isengard is several hundred miles from the Shire, away at the bottom of the Misty Mountains: that would be like telling someone in Ann Arbor to make for Detroit and that you’ll be waiting for them there after you run to Nashville and back).

Not to mention that Rivendell, obviously the safest place for many miles, is on the way to Isengard. Given how important the matter is, and how much he cares about Frodo, there’s no adequate reason for Gandalf not to first accompany him to safety and then go see Saruman.

3. None of this is to say that the film is bad, of course (though honestly the compression of Middle Earth – and consequently of the timeline – is one of my biggest criticisms, even though I understand why they did it). Just something I thought was interesting to note.

4. Alas, it is again Halloween and I’ve not had the time or attention to sample any good horror films or get into the spirit of the season. I do like Halloween, but it’s a holiday that really takes time and attention to properly soak in: the atmosphere of autumn leaves rustling in a chill wind, cloud-wrapped moons, graveyards, and creaky old houses where, if anything walks there, it walks alone. It’s hard to really feel ‘Halloweeny’ in a populated suburb. You need a small, semi-rural town with woods about it and at least a few hundred years of history to do it properly. Or at least be somewhere you can forget about modern cars and strip malls and the like.

5. Though you could conceivably make a good strip-mall-based horror film out of ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’, assuming you find a way to correct the plot hole of “why would anyone go back for another shift once they realize what the score is?” I don’t think they will, but it could be done (me, I would have it be that the guard realizes something bad happened / is going to happen and is trying to solve the mystery before he gets his head bitten off by the jump-scares. Simple and obvious, so they probably won’t do it).

6. And to finish off, I heard a version of this story many, many years ago and it stuck in my mind, though most of the details are long lost so I had to fill them in myself.

There was a married couple who planned to vacation in Florida one summer. Then, at the last minute, the husband found he had some work to take care of and had to miss the trip. But he insisted that she should go on anyway, since they’d already bought the tickets and she’d been really looking forward to it.

So, she went on the trip. But her flight had hardly left when the husband learned that the work wasn’t going to be nearly as bad as he thought and he decided to text her that he’d be able to follow her almost immediately. Only, he then remember that she’d just gotten a new phone and he couldn’t remember the number. But they had some friends living down there, who were to meet his wife and take her to the hotel, so he called them and asked them to let her know that he’d be coming soon.

The woman landed and was met by the friends, who told her the good news. She was, of course, delighted and as soon as she got to the hotel she went and texted her husband on her new phone.

Trouble was, she couldn’t quite remember his number either, since she’d just been using the stored contact all this time. But she was a hopeful kind of woman and, after thinking about it a bit decided she could remember it after all and confidently sent her text.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong number. Even more unfortunately, it was actually the number of a preacher whose wife had just passed away. They were holding the wake at his house, and everyone was being very decorous and sad, when suddenly he looked at his phone and screamed.

This is what he read:

“Beloved,

Just arrived. Delighted to hear you’ll be joining me soon.”

Then, just as the assembled guests were wondering what to make of this message from the other world and whether they dared respond, her next text came in.

“It sure is hot down here.”