Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Monday, December 11, 2017 10:34 am
This is a figurine I display every Christmas. I showed it in a recent blog post. I originally described it as from the early 1960s. But then it seemed to me that the figurine might be a tad older than that. The polka-dot outfit, the feet that aren't feet, and just the general look made it seem more evocative of the 1950s.
Well, I inspected it, and saw that its bottom was marked JAPAN. So it was made in Japan. Now, from my slight forays into the antique world, I knew that during the occupation of Japan by America after WWII, exports had to be marked OCCUPIED JAPAN. I knew that the Occupation ended in the early 1950s — 1952, as I confirmed. So this figurine, which lacks the mandated OCCUPIED, is at least post-1952, and the 1950s saw a lot of figurines exported from Japan.

So, "late 1950s" might be the better guess for this pretty little elf. You know: back before everything got ugly.
Favor the Heart Over the Tail
Hacksaw Ridge  Is an Amazing 40 Minutes
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 9:14 pm
Beware! Spoilers follow.

For its first hour or so, Hacksaw Ridge is very disappointing. For another half hour it is active, if not exciting. And then there is a scene that is transcendent; and the remainder of the movie is wonderful. 

If you haven't seen the movie yet, still do so. But a little advice: As soon as there is text on the screen noting that Doss died at age 87, stop the movie. What follows the note are snippets of genuine documentary — still shots and actual interviews — that, like all documentary postscripts to "true-story" movies, yank you right out of the wonder. And considering that the wonder of Hacksaw Ridge was great and long in coming, it's a shame to let it be killed at last.

The transcendent scene comes after the "active" half hour, after we've been watching Doss's company assault Hacksaw Ridge.

The combat is decently choreographed. There is a clear plot of advancing on bunkers and being driven back. Yet somehow it wasn't exciting. It was only agitating. Every death is sudden. The deaths accumulate like falling marbles. We're given no time to feel any loss. Even the overnight mid-combat respite in the foxhole was not especially anything. Perhaps I had been numbed by the first hour of the movie, but I kept waiting to be moved by the combat.

I will say this, though. The suddenness of every death made everything relentless. Thus, one could get a proper sense of chaos. And futility.

So when the company has retreated to the cliff's edge, and every able man but Doss has retreated down the ropes, the tiring brutality has been presented. When Doss looks back on the devastation, we at least know what we're supposed to be feeling.

Now, here's an important point about Doss. I'll touch on this again, but even in the disappointing parts of the movie, Doss is a solid and interesting character. It is established well that he is a godly and patriotic medic who refuses to carry a weapon. I believed everything about his courage and conviction. So when he looks back and starts despairing, I believed he was despairing. I despaired only because he did. In the chaos he has not been killing the enemy; he has been scrambling to save his fellows. Some he saved; some he didn't. He is crouched over the corpse of one he didn't.

There were so many he didn't. Though he tried so hard!

And despairing he says, "What is it you want of me?" He is of course speaking to God. He gazes on the field of failure and complains, "I don't understand." Finally he laments, "I can't hear you."

And across the shattered ground, out of the smoke and silence, someone calls, "Medic! Help me!" More voices say the same. There is even a cry of "Help me, Lord!"

The moment is so well constructed, that of course we infer that God has effectively spoken to Doss. And Doss hears. He no longer despairs. He rises and purposefully sets out into the devastation. The scene is simply transcendent.

Then comes a genuinely thrilling quest, as Doss seeks out the wounded and, one by one, brings them back to the cliff and lowers them by rope. The danger is acute, of course, because Doss is unarmed and will not kill. He must evade the scouting enemy. And even as he becomes exhausted, he repeatedly gasps, "Please, Lord, help me get one more."

I did wonder why no one simply joined him up on the ridge to help him. There had been only two sentries at the base of the cliff; but once the wounded men started appearing from above, others came to ferry them back to the base. To be sure, Doss's quest would have been less thrilling if it had not been solo, and I realize that his solo quest is what actually happened; but it did seem odd.

Still, it was thrilling. There was a heroism and excitement that I had missed in the earlier chaos of combat. Again, though that combat was good, there was something rote about it — much like the rest of the movie.

How I wished I could simply remove the rest of the movie! The last forty minutes — even after Doss's quest has ended and he returns with his company to take the ridge (and, not incidentally, heroically save his captain from a grenade) — deserved better than what preceded it.

The particular weakness of the first hour is exemplified by Doss's time in boot camp. It is one cliché after another, right down to the melting-pot-of-America cast of soldiers and the barking from the sergeant about not calling him "sir." The tension with the other soldiers, their bullying and such, reminded me of everything from Pvt. Pyle's troubles in Full Metal Jacket to any nerd's troubles in some 1980s teen comedy. It was flat. Even the scenes of Doss's wooing of his wife, or the scene of his drunkard, abusive father (in Great War dress uniform) soberly interrupting Doss's court martial to save his son, were just checking off Hollywood expectations. I wanted it all gone.

And yet, without the information provided by these scenes, that transcendent moment wouldn't have had any foundation. The quest would not have been credible.

The key mistake of Hacksaw Ridge is in making Doss's quest the tail of the movie. Every part is developed too much for its own sake, all equally weighted, as we work through one to another until we reach that tail. Instead the quest should be the heart, the beginning and the end, with everything else attached only enough to explain and illuminate that heart.

There is a great vignette of Doss as a boy, violently harming his brother and then, in his dismay, gazing upon an illustration of the Ten Commandments and coming upon Thou shall not kill. Yes, this vignette is in the disappointing first hour; but it is an exception to the clichés. It is also a clue to a better construction of the movie. Rather than progress conventionally to the combat (checking boxes as we go), decide what is most relevant about, for example, Doss's wooing and present some vignette succinctly. We need only enough information to achieve that coming transcendence. Hack off the rest.

Every vignette could be embedded in the narrative frame of the combat. Or, if that proved cumbersome, the vignettes could still be presented serially, but with each presenting a rather specific facet of Doss's character. Because, in the end, it is Doss's character that matters. One could radically not even name the other characters and still have a complete and powerful movie. Doss is just that interesting.

Even as it is, the movie is good. It succeeds at depicting Doss and his heroism. Ultimately, Hacksaw Ridge is that sort of art that completes it most important act so well, its many other shortcomings should be endured.

Not Quite Decking the Halls
But a Very Pleasant Array
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 12:12 pm
In years past, my curmudgeonly sadness was such that I refused to decorate my home for Christmas. In recent years, however, this year included, I have been quite in the spirit. And much as this is not really a personal blog, I'd still like to share my usual Christmas decor. 

My home is rather spartan; my decor likewise. Here is my mantle. You can see some figurines, a stocking, and some Christmas postcards. The postcards are real and actually mailed, but are not from my own family history. I bought them in an antique shop. They are evocative. The newest is dated 1925; the oldest 1913.

This figurine I also bought in an antique shop. It is pretty and offers a lovely flavor of the early 1960s.

These figurines are antique, too, and also from the 1960s, but are from my family.

This manger was built by my dad for me, I think before 2005. Isn't it great? And my mother bought me the figurines, one or two a year, slowly fleshing out the crowd around Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. (You can't quite see it, but the place for Jesus is empty. I don't put him out until Christmas Eve.)

Here is my tree. A proper bachelor's tree; a gift from my mother. I've had to restring the lights once. The original lights died.

The angel at the top I inherited after my dad died and my mother faded. My mother bought it for their first Christmas as man and wife, in 1962. It cost $1.25. That was apparently a lot in 1962, especially since my parents, middle class or not, were poor at the time. This angel was at the top of every one of my family's Christmas trees. Here it is in 2017. It is truly an article of family history.


My Grandchild Is a Cat?
A Pet Has None of the Value of a Child
Sunday, November 26, 2017 1:46 pm
Today I saw this sticker on a bumper. It is evil. I mean that. The person who displayed this — who apparently should be a grandparent to a human being — instead can claim only a cat. While it is possible that she is expressing some bitterness — "I gave my child life and all I got was a lousy cat!" — I imagine, rather, that she is cheerily joining in the maudlin elevation of a cat.

It is pleasing to Satan when you call your pet your child. It is pleasing to Satan when you treat your pet like a child. It is pleasing to Satan when you settle for a pet instead of a child. Satan hates children. Satan hates people. He revels in the barrenness of modern women. He delights in the non-existence of new people, of new souls made in the image of God, of new creatures oriented to the knowledge of God.

Equating a cat to a child is sentimental nihilism. It is a retreat from family and from human life. If all you have is a cat, then all you have is a cat. Don't imagine that you are the equivalent of a mother. You own a pet. You own an animal. You are caught in narcissistic affection. If, in unconscious recognition of your wasted fertility, you dare to call your pet a child, you serve only those who hate the perpetuation of man.
No, Not That Kind of Pulp
Here's the Kind I Mean
Tuesday, November 21, 2017 10:53 am
Old pulp has a reputation as vulgar, trashy, lurid, and low; and in their apologetics, the proponents of new pulp are usually quite aware of that reputation.

Sometimes the apology is an outright apology. Some proponents, for example, explicitly disavow the "racism" and "misogyny" of old pulp. Well, okay. I'm not here to hate races or women, either. But declaring against "racism" and "misogyny" is a concession to the very Stalinist conformity that has been destroying our fiction. Those words are no longer reasonable; the enemy has defined them. These days, putting a woman in a dress and saying she is not the same thing as a man is considered "misogyny." Virtue signaling is not the path to better fiction. 

But generally the apology is an affirmation. It is not trying to stay in the good graces of the modern zeitgeist but simply reminding people of the excellence to be found in old pulp; an excellence that is grounded in the pulp style.

Even so, there was something a bit vulgar about pulp. Consider the extent to which the Good People of the time sought to suppress pulp as injurious to morals. The Good People had a point. Scantily-dressed women and salivating killers are not precisely sublime.

But two things can be said.

First, there is a sense in which some vulgarities are better than others. George Orwell, in considering the naughty postcards of Donald McGill, noted that the cards, though obscene and (in Orwell's view) rebellious, were only funny because they presumed a stable society of indissoluble marriage, family loyalty, and the like. I myself have noted that pulp presumes the natural order. So long as the salivating killer is the villain and is so precisely because he is salivating and a killer, morals are not necessarily injured.

Second, even if one were to concede that a lot of old pulp was total trash and beyond redemption, there's still a lot that wasn't. As I read it, the Pulp Revolution has never been about total reversion to the past. It idealizes pulp. And ideals are not bad. Every revolution idealizes. A revolution is only guaranteed to be bad when its ideals despise the past. One can embrace old pulp and still set aside the vulgarity; for it is rather the wonder and excitement that guide new pulp.

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