Gotta Nuke Something

It seems that the Trump administration is determined to bring back the Cold War and its arms race, only this time they’re on the same side as Russia. Or are they? I’ve been trying to get through my old e-mail, and came across a New York Times article (I get headlines sent to me daily) that says Russia’s modernization of its nuclear arsenal is the main reason the American government plans to do the same. Does Trump want more nukes so he can stop sucking up to Putin? And don’t we already have more than enough nukes to destroy the world? Are the extras in case we want to decimate other planets as well? It could just be part of Trump’s general tendency to undo everything Obama did, even if it means bringing back old conflicts. Apparently he hasn’t actually done anything about the nuclear deal with Iran, though, despite repeatedly talking about how terrible it is. It seems like the Republican response to it was, “The Iranians might break the deal!” Well, sure, but if they do, we have proof that they went against their word. What do we have otherwise? It’s bizarre that someone can say he makes great deals when he also repeatedly insults the rest of the world, but a lot about Trump is contradictory like that. When it comes to nuclear war, the stupid leaders might be the ones we have the worry about the most. It doesn’t take a whole lot of intelligence to understand mutually assured destruction, but the impression I get is that some leaders just don’t care.

But even then, we don’t really know for sure. Just because Kim Jong-un is enough of a wacko to try to convince people he never uses the bathroom doesn’t mean he’d have no problem having his country destroyed. I’ll admit I haven’t researched this much, but I’ve come across indications that Japan tried to surrender BEFORE the atomic bombs, but the United States didn’t agree, despite the fact that their conditions were mostly ones we ended up honoring anyway. Maybe I’m not remembering this entirely accurately, but I think I remember learning in high school that the bombing was necessary because surrender just wasn’t something the Japanese did, which, in retrospect, is pretty insulting. It’s one thing to say the concept of shame is prevalent in Japanese culture (and I’m not even totally sure how true THAT is, although it’s certainly what Americans are told), and quite another to suggest nobody in power in the entire country is familiar with the concept of cutting losses and negotiating. But I suppose othering political enemies is part of war culture, which seems more prevalent than ever with Republicans refusing to legislate guns in even the most minor ways, and Trump’s desire to have a military parade.

But it’s hardly only Trump fans who participate in this.

It seems that there’s a general tendency for propaganda to present enemy leaders as both total goofballs AND serious threats. I remember watching some cartoons from World War II, and they often made Hitler about to be a gibbering lunatic while also encouraging Americans to make sacrifices for the war effort. But why would we need to do that to fight a mindless idiot? Of course, it IS possible to be both too crazy to properly function in society and able to cause real harm; people aren’t always stupid or mentally ill in the same ways, as I pointed out with Trump himself. The anti-Japanese propaganda was even crazier. You might have heard of the Popeye cartoon You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap, where a Japanese battleship falls apart (because shoddy Japanese products, although that’s actually somewhat less effective when you remember Popeye can destroy just about anything with his bare fists anyway), and a Japanese commander commits suicide by swallowing gasoline and firecrackers so he won’t “lose face,” going back to that stereotype of the Japanese being a shame-based culture. World War II was probably necessary overall, but that doesn’t mean the Allies didn’t make some major missteps.

Posted in Cartoons, Cold War, Current Events, History, Japan, Politics, Popeye, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Disney Does Dali

Mickey and Donald: The Persistence of Mickey – The lead story in this volume is based on the real-life collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. They worked on an animated short called Destino, but due to cost issues, all that resulted were an animation test and a confusing storyboard. While working on Fantasia 2000, Walt’s nephew Roy hired people to finish the short.

It’s apparently about the ill-fated love of the personification of time for a mortal woman named Dahlia, and includes a lot of melting and morphing, and references to themes Dali used pretty often. I had a poster of an unfinished Dali painting of a girl with a flower head when I was in college.

I guess I had pretty typical college kid tastes, as I also had some M.C. Escher. The thing is, I had these same tastes before and after college as well. I became interested in Alphonse Mucha because I came across some of his pictures in the school store. The theme of separation by time has only become more appropriate with the gap of over fifty years before the cartoon was finished. Anyway, the original release of the short was in 2003, but the comic was made to coincide with the release of the Blu-ray in Italy. It proposes a more fantastic explanation for why the short wasn’t finished back in 1946: that Donald Duck tried to take a stack of drawings from Goofy right when Dali’s plane was taking off, resulting in most of the pages blowing away. The three cartoon stars are presented as animated actors who work for Walt, and he and Dali are both human, yet there’s a dogface airline stewardess at Lockheed Air Terminal. Most of the story consists of the triad, along with Pete, who’s working as a studio security guard, being sucked into Dali’s paintings and interacting with some of his most famous creations, including melting clocks, the New World and Narcissus eggs, long-legged elephants, the lobster telephone, the lip couch, and the tigers from the pomegranate.

There’s a nod to the story taking place in the past in the design of the characters, although it’s really TOO much of a throwback for the time period, as Mickey having all-black eyes and Donald the more squat appearance with the long bill were both phased out in the thirties. There’s another nod to the time period with Donald saying he needed to see his uncle on a mountain in fourteen months, as the Carl Barks classic “Christmas on Bear Mountain” was published in 1947. I don’t know whether this joke was in the Italian or added as part of the translation. Some of the other stories in this collected volume continue the theme of characters trapped in an alternate world, with Donald accidentally taking a virtual reality chip from Gyro Gearloose and Mickey and Goofy ending up inside a comic book with rogue text boxes. As might be expected, the latter is quite meta-referential.

There are also two tales of Donald in food-related competition with Argus McSwine, who owns the Duckburg equivalent of Five Guys.

2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke – It took me a while to finish this one. That’s mostly due to the fact that I usually switch between books at a certain number of chapters, and the chapters in this are very short. The year was chosen as that is when Halley’s Comet will again be visible from Earth, and part of the story is concerned with a crew landing on the comet itself. As the book was written before the fall of apartheid, Clarke predicts a revolution in South Africa that results in much of the white population leaving the country, and the resulting politics play a role. Most of it, however, deals with the exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Heywood Floyd, now 103 years old, reappears as a major character, and ends up reuniting with Dave Bowman in energy form. Overall, though, the plot seemed a bit disjointed. There’s a stewardess who tries to hijack the ship, but we never learn her motivations, and her name isn’t even consistent. While it had some interesting ideas, it’s my least favorite of the series so far. I’ll have to see if 3001 is an improvement.

Posted in Art, Book Reviews, Cartoons, Comics, Revisiting Disney, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guinevere Out of Control

Arthurian literature hasn’t often been kind to Arthur’s wife Guinevere, presenting her as having an ongoing affair with his favorite knight, sometimes even goading him into it when he doesn’t really want to go against the king.

It’s pretty much become an integral part of the legend, partially leading to the downfall of Arthur’s golden age, although with his own unwitting affair with his half-sister. The moral is don’t ever cheat, ever. It wasn’t always part of the mythology, however, and some versions paint as less a case of Guinevere being a slut than of her and Lancelot truly being in love but unable to show it in a legal and moral way. Not that that makes it okay, but it’s not like Guinevere could have gotten a divorce in the society shown in the mythology.

T.H. White’s take in The Once and Future King presents Arthur not so much totally oblivious as just not wanting to know because he loves both Guinevere and Lancelot. It’s also interesting that the saga as it generally stands has Guinevere never bearing children with either Arthur or Lancelot, while both of the men impregnated another woman with a one-night stand. There actually are some earlier tales that give Arthur children, presumably with Guinevere, but they usually die before he does. Various sources attest that Arthur himself killed one son, his foster brother Kay another, and a wild boar a third. There seems to have been a general sense that Arthur had no immediate heirs. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed that his successor was his cousin Constantine, whom he identified with a historical King of Dumnonia (a territory comprised of modern-day Devon and Cornwall and parts of Somerset and Dorset) of that name. There are also accounts of Guinevere having had two children with Mordred when he usurped the kingdom in Arthur’s absence. Since Mordred was, as you probably know, Arthur’s son and nephew, this is pretty messed up. In fairness, I think these stories predate the identification of Mordred as Arthur’s son, although they sometimes also make Guinevere a willing participant in Mordred’s rebellion instead of a victim, as she generally is in later versions. There’s a similarity there to King David’s son Absalom sleeping with his father’s concubines. Some versions avoid the whole mess by having Guinevere lock herself up in the Tower of London to avoid Mordred.

One particular reason I wanted to write about Guinevere was so that I could address the idea of there being several of her. I hadn’t heard about this until fairly recently, but there are a few tales that mention multiple Guineveres. One of the medieval manuscripts known as the Welsh Triads or Triads of the Island of Britain claims that Arthur was married to three different Guineveres, the daughters of Cywyrd of Gwent, Gwythyr ap Greidawl, and Gogfran Gawr, the last of whom is a giant. I guess that’s not totally impossible, as King Henry VIII was married to three different Catherines (and two Annes), but it’s also important to note that just about everything in the Triads comes in threes. Another Triad mentions Guinevere’s sister Gwenhwyfach, and cryptically claims that their enmity was what led to the Battle of Camlann, where Arthur and Mordred both fell. It’s been suggested that Gwenhwyfach might have been Mordred’s wife, but it’s not clear. The sister may not seem particularly relevant, but the thirteenth-century French Vulgate Cycle appears to have taken both of these odd mentions into account when creating a character known simply as the False Guinevere, although I’m sure she didn’t call herself that.

She was the real Guinevere’s half-sister, the story being that their father King Leodegrance of Cameliard (which, by the way, isn’t the name of any of the fathers mentioned in the Welsh source) knocked up both his wife and a serving maid on the same day, and both children were also born on the same day and looked identical. I had considered referencing this in with my Oz story where it’s revealed that Jenny Jump has reincarnated many times in the same family, especially as the names Guinevere and Jennifer are variants of each other, but couldn’t figure out how to work it in. Anyway, the False Guinevere took the place of the real one for a significant amount of time due to a plot with a knight named Bertholai. Arthur ended up claiming his real wife was the impostor, and it was only due to Lancelot hiding her that she survived. Presumably to make Arthur seem like less of an idiot since he couldn’t recognize his wife (just because they look identical doesn’t mean they’re going to act the same or have the same memories, and it’s said that the False Guinevere had a birthmark on her back that the real one didn’t), a love potion was involved. Still, from Guinevere’s perspective, Arthur is messing around with her sister while Lancelot demonstrates his loyalty to her, which would help to explain why their affair lasted.

Posted in Arthurian Legend, British, England, History, Magic, Mythology, Relationships, Welsh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Are No Coincidences, But Sometimes the Pattern Is More Obvious

Jollity Farm: The Official Story of the Bonzos in Their Own Words, by Bob Carruthers, edited by David Christie – The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band is one that I didn’t get into until later in life (well, okay, my thirties), but that definitely fit into my interests. This book tells the sometimes complicated history of the band, incorporating many quotes from the band members themselves, including a lot of information from interviews with the late Vivian Stanshall. It can be a little difficult to remember what the line-up of the band was at any given time; Stanshall was essentially the leading man throughout, but there were several members who joined back when it was still a loose, anarchic project but left when it started going in a different direction, and others came and went for personal reasons. Neil Innes was one of the later members to join the original line-up, but the fact that he was already a skilled musician made him emerge as one of the more prominent members once they started putting out albums. It started out as essentially a bunch of art students getting together and goofing around to make audiences laugh, playing mostly covers of old songs they discovered in music stores and using a lot of props. Members played instruments they knew pretty much nothing about, not to be confused with occasions when they played intentionally badly on instruments they were good at. Although much of this carried over to their albums, it sounds like a lot of their performance was visual, so it’s a testament to their versatility that the records are still funny without that stuff. The book points out how some of their releases lose the joke without the visuals, particularly “Music for the Head Ballet” and “Noises for the Leg.” Stanshall is a fascinating individual, sort of a mad genius type who was incredibly creative but also prone to bouts of extreme depression and often difficult to work with. There were interesting anecdotes about other members as well, like how apparently “Legs” Larry Smith came up with the nickname BEFORE learning how to tap dance. The story of the band ties into something I’ve thought about fairly often, that of whether silly and serious or chaotic and orderly can co-exist. As a lover of absurd humor, I’ve noticed that some things that seem totally random are hilarious, while others aren’t even remotely funny. I’ve come to the conclusion that there has to be a certain order to the chaos, that things that appear to just be out of nowhere generally have to have thought and work put into them to make sure they’re appealing; but it’s not like I can pin down how this is done. Still, the Bonzos’ dedication to the chaotic (especially Stanshall’s) perhaps made it a foregone conclusion that they wouldn’t last that long as a group. And there are times where I can still enjoy something even when I’m sure there’s a joke in it I’m really not getting. The book paid a fair amount of attention to how some of the Bonzos’ references to English pop culture really didn’t work well in the United States. In particular, I knew the title Keynsham referenced a radio commercial, but I wasn’t aware of just how much of it was parodied on the album. It’s never as funny when you have to have the joke explained, but I’ve also gained some extra appreciation for just how far they were willing to take the gag. There are anecdotes from the recordings of all their albums, and an appendix that goes through them one song at a time. As a book, I thought it was mostly just an overview; they could easily have gone into more depth on several occasions, and sometimes the order in which things were discussed was odd. As another Goodreads reviewer mentioned, “Could be better, but then it wouldn’t be as good”; you’d expect a book about a chaotic band to be somewhat chaotic itself. There were also a LOT of typos, although I don’t know if these were present in the original printed edition or a result of the formatting for the e-book version (which is what I read).

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Meatless Mortality

We know that flesh-and-blood people and animals are pretty much functionally immortal in Oz. They can be potentially be destroyed, but won’t die of old age or disease, and even being torn into pieces isn’t necessarily fatal. What I sometimes wonder is how much this applies to other living things. It does appear that plants still die, as seen in several examples. The Powder of Life and the background magic of Oz won’t stop Jack Pumpkinhead’s heads from spoiling, although he can always replace them with new ones.

Tommy Kwikstep lives in “a hollow tree that fell to the ground with age.” The Mangaboos, who are vegetable people, only live about five years. Their home isn’t in Oz proper, but in Melody Grandy’s The Disenchanted Princess of Oz, the Mangaboo Gilo still dies after coming to Oz. Zim Greenleaf does extend the lifespans of the Mangaboos, but they do die eventually. He also later reveals in Tippetarius that he and his sister Fern were originally made from plants and animated with magic powder, but they soon started to spoil, and the Wizard Wam’s magic fountain could only stave this off briefly. Wam therefore asks Lurline to make his creations human. What I’m wondering is what that means for Carter Green, who’s made out of vegetables while still retaining vestiges of humanity, most notably his eyes.

As I mentioned before, he is able to pick new corn ears after his old ones pop, and perhaps he’d be able to do the same with his turnip nose. On the other hand, a beet wouldn’t just grow with eyes, so what about when his head goes bad? He does start growing mold on his nose in the Nome Kingdom, so it’s unlikely any of him would last forever. I suppose it’s possible that his body lasts longer than vegetables normally do, but would that be all that long when around people and animals who generally don’t age at all? His own explanation for how he gained his odd form in the first place was because he ate a lot of vegetables, worrying that they’d die if he didn’t. I guess eating them doesn’t count as killing them?

Incidentally, on the original endpapers for Hungry Tiger, Carter is shown hoeing a garden full of small versions of himself.

Is he raising a family, or are these replacement bodies? And how did he grow them in the first place? This isn’t necessarily canonical as it isn’t based on anything in the text, but it’s one possibility for how he could continue to live. Or maybe he just has a really good way to preserve himself.

In Jim Vander Noot’s short story “The Ice Cream Man of Oz,” a Quadling village pharmacist has access to Spine Chillers, Temperature Stabilizer, Meta-mega-nymbol-ambyl Dextrose, and Spice of Ice, all of which she uses to try to keep the titular ice cream man intact. She mentions having gotten the Spice from “a traveller from the far-off town of Iceburgh,” and the chemical with the long name makes the resulting Ice Cream Man able to regenerate to some extent. Any of these compounds could have been instrumental in keeping Carter in good health, although we don’t really know how common they are. In the story, the pharmacist accidentally uses something called the Spice of Life to bring the man to life, but if it’s that easy, why was the Powder of Life so valuable?

I’m considering addressing the Vegetable Man’s way of extending life in one of my own stories, but I’m not sure how best to do it. Along the same lines, what about Ozites made of other foodstuffs, which presumably don’t last all that long even in Oz? The gingerbread man John Dough is able to incorporate new gingerbread into parts of his body that had been eaten, but he needs a potion from the Fairy Beaver King to do so, and that’s not the same as if he were to go stale or something.

In Emerald City, Cinnamon Bunn introduces Dorothy to Johnny Cake, “a cheerful old gentleman” whom the bun describes as “a trifle stale.” So the inhabitants of Bunbury presumably do age somewhat, but exactly how it works isn’t stated.

Posted in Characters, Food, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Metropolitan Mythology

I try to space out book review posts so my blog isn’t inundated with them, and I’ll often include a few books in one post. I really should start writing the reviews right after reading the books, however, even if I don’t intend to post them for a while. Both of the books here are ones I finished a while ago, but hadn’t gotten around to reviewing yet. This is especially true of the first one; I think it’s been about a month. Well, not according to GoodReads, but I think that was just when I listed it as something I was reading instead of when I actually finished it. I need to get on the ball here.

Renegades, by Marissa Meyer – By the author of the Lunar Chronicles, this novel takes place in a city ruled by superheroes, who took over law enforcement duties after an age of anarchy. The main character, Nova, joined up with her anarchist uncle in an attempt to overthrow the Renegades and restore more personal freedom after the superheroes didn’t save the rest of her family. She’s allied with a group of other anarchists with super powers, and on their advice, she joins the Renegades to serve as a spy. Once in with them, however, she starts seeing their side, at least until she learns that they’re trying to come up with a way to sap the powers from non-Renegades. She also strikes up a relationship with Adrian, the son of two of the most prominent superheroes. I thought it was kind of long considering not a whole lot happens; it’s mostly just an introduction to the world and its characters. There’s obviously more in the works, though, since it ends on a cliffhanger. I do have to wonder what will happen with Nova’s loyalties, as both the Renegades and Anarchists seem totally corrupt overall, although they both have good people in them.

Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire – I believe I saw this recommended in a list that included a lot of other stuff I like, but I really knew nothing about it other than that it involved cryptids, which isn’t a bad start. It’s the first book in the InCryptid series, and the main character is Verity Price, part of a family of cryptid hunters who broke away long ago from the larger Covenant of St. George because of their intolerant views on mythical beings. Verity is a bad-ass fighter, although her true passion in life is ballroom dancing, and she works as a cocktail waitress in a strip club run by a bogeyman. McGuire brings a lot of different sorts of supernatural creatures from folklore into modern New York City, and even makes up her own. I was particularly interested in the Madhura, humanoids from India with an affinity for sweets. I don’t know of any mythical basis to them, but “Madhura” is Sanskrit for “sweet.” Then there are the Aeslin Mice, comic relief characters (although perhaps not so much to those whose homes they live in) who celebrate religious festivals pretty much all the time. I looked it up, and “Aeslin” means “dream” or “vision” in Gaelic, which fits, although I couldn’t help thinking of the the mice of Narnia and their devotion to Aslan. The main plot involves a dragon discovered living underneath the city, and the attempt of a snake cult to wake him. Verity reluctantly teams up with a Covenant member named Dominic De Luca, further complicated by the fact that they’re attracted to each other. I have the next book on electronic reserve at the library.

Posted in Book Reviews, Humor, Monsters, Mythology, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Racing in All Different Directions

Every once in a while I see an article about something crappy going on with the Trump administration and plan to work it into a post, but I usually don’t because how many times can you really say “the President is a dangerous idiot”? It does bother me how many people still aren’t bothered by him, though. They’re not always supporters, but they’ll say, “Oh, he’s not THAT bad.” Well, no, he’s really racist, and that IS that bad, even without taking the rest of it into account. Then you get the people who think they can reach Trump supporters with rational arguments, like people who think the reason they’re out of work is because of immigrants have any desire to be rational. I don’t think I’d seen this quote from Martin Luther King until this month: “It is important for the liberal to see that the oppressed person who agitates for his rights is not the creator of tension. He merely brings out the hidden tension that is already alive. Last summer when we had our open housing marches in Chicago, many of our white liberal friends cried out in horror and dismay: ‘You are creating hatred and hostility in the white communities in which you are marching. You are only developing a white backlash’” I never could understand this logic. They failed to realize that the hatred and the hostilities were already latently or subconsciously present. Our marches merely brought them to the surface. How strange it would be to condemn a physician who, through persistent work and the ingenuity of his medical skills, discovered cancer in a patient. Would anyone be so ignorant as to say he caused the cancer?” It really seems like this “hey, don’t scare the racists” attitude is still disturbingly present today. Can we really be too surprised in a society where people insist that Dr. King shouldn’t be politicized?

Artist: Watson Mere
Anyway, I recently came across a list of points from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury that haven’t been discussed that much, and one of them is that Trump planned to lose the election and was horrified when he won. That makes sense, but I have to wonder how it fits in with his family and campaign staff colluding with Russia to get him elected. He said, “I don’t really want to be President,” and Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner said, “Sure you do!”? Still, we’re dealing with Trump, who’s remarkably inconsistent on many things. Is it that hard to believe that he did whatever he could to get elected, then realized he was in over his head when it actually happened, but his ego wouldn’t let him just resign? I’ve seen it questioned how Trump can be painted as both a total idiot AND a master schemer, but why not? There are many different kinds of intelligence, and maybe Trump being a successful scam artist is intelligence of a kind, but it’s not the sort you need to run a country. For one thing, I always have to wonder what his endgame is. What does he actually hope to accomplish with his travel bans, walls, and general fearmongering? Some of what he’s done comes across as directly contradictory. And when you’re doing things without considering the consequences beyond the most immediate ones, that seems pretty stupid to me. But then, that’s the way things often seem to go these days. The George W. Bush administration got the country into two wars with no real exit strategy. Climate change denial is promoted by those who don’t care about long-term consequences as long as they can make a lot of money in the immediate future. What do white supremacists really think will happen if they succeed in making the United States a nation of just white people?

My guess would be that they start fighting amongst themselves, declaring certain people not white enough, just as they frequently have historically. But then, I don’t see how you can believe in the superiority of white people and NOT be incredibly stupid; there’s just no basis for it whatever. I have to wonder at the tribalism involved, as it goes way beyond the subconscious racism that’s ingrained in our society. That’s obviously bad as well, perhaps worse in some cases (remember Dr. King’s identification of white moderates as more damaging to his cause than the blatant racists), but it’s easy to understand how it happens. Are the people who complain about immigrants taking jobs okay with it if another white man gets a job they think they should have had?

Getting back to Russia, I’ve seen it questioned why the Democrats are focusing so heavily on this. I agree it’s far from the worst thing Trump has done, but it’s also the one that seems most likely to lead to impeachment. I don’t think you can impeach someone for just being an ass, even if you really should be able to. Not that impeachment would necessarily help all that much, since that would just mean Mike Pence as President. Also, it’s weird how often the word “collusion” comes up nowadays. It seems like there’s often some term that just spreads around the media for some reason. Was anyone saying “weapons of mass destruction” before 2001? Maybe in certain circles, but it became omnipresent when I hadn’t heard it much if at all before that. That kind of thing is always fascinating to me.

Posted in Current Events, Language, Politics, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment