Weblog of the plague years

Robbo:

… Ol’ Robbo can really get behind this “social distancing” thing. Hey, I was a misanthropic shut-in before it was cool to be a misanthropic shut-in!

“Social distancing” is one of the methods by which I’ve preserved my sanity through the years. With a well-stocked freezer, I won’t need to go anywhere for weeks, perhaps months. Coping with this week’s apocalyptic threat requires no changes in my behavior. At worst, I’ll miss a few meetings. That is not a problem.

J Greely:

Um, if all you’re buying is water, toilet paper, and rice, you’re preparing for a very peculiar apocalypse. What, you’re gonna sit on the porch in the dark boiling bottled water over a toilet-paper stove to cook your rice as the zombies roam the neighborhood looking for brains? Relax, you’ve just proven that you’re safe from them.

Before anime

My Crunchyroll subscription lapsed a month ago. I’m pretty much done with anime, though I’ll probably always retain some interest. Possibly someone might like to read about my experiences and thoughts, so I’ll write a few summary posts, starting with some pre-history.

I quit watching television when I realized that I could accurately predict the events of an action/adventure/spy show from the first five minutes. This was ‘way back in prehistoric times, when there were only three channels.1 The rest of the family remained addicts, and there was usually a television on in the house at all waking hours and halfway through the night.2 I typically spent my evenings alone in my room, reading, while my parents sat in front of the television.

Movies were a novelty in the small city where I spent the largest portion of my childhood. There was one theater, with just one screen, and one drive-in. You had little choice in what to watch. Consequently, I saw few movies when I was young, and those were mostly thrillers at the drive-in, when my parents tossed me in the back of the car expecting me to sleep while they watched. I had insomnia even then, but I usually found the films more annoying than interesting. (I had nightmares about crop-dusting airplanes after they saw North by Northwest.) Later on in other places we lived, there were multiple theaters available, often with several screens. Unfortunately, movie-going was a family activity, and by then I had had enough of family. With a few exceptions (the Marx Brothers, Ealing Studios comedies, Ray Harryhausen), I never learned to like movies much.

There were a couple of items that presaged my interest in Japanese animation.

First were Saturday morning cartoons. Back in ancient times when I still watched television, my friends and I woke up at dawn on Saturdays and turned the television on, even though at that hour stations just broadcast test patterns, so that we would not miss anything once the programs started. Eventually our parents would wake up and throw us out of the house, but not before we had watched several hours of animation.

Cartoons fell into three classes. The least interesting were the innumerable Hanna-Barbera productions and similar. Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Top Cat, etc., they were all just mere entertainment: formulaic, cheap-looking and bland. They were better than a test pattern, but not by much.

Vastly better were the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These were superior in every respect to HB productions: voice acting, character design, art, animation, music, and particularly the writing. Bugs Bunny was far more vivid and alive than Yogi Bear could ever be. Bugs made me a Raymond Scott fan, too, though I didn’t know that at the time.

The best were the Jay Ward productions. Rocky and Bullwinkle looked even cheaper than Yogi Bear, but it didn’t matter. When the scripts were good, they were brilliant, and they were good more often than not.3 George of the Jungle was consistently good; Hoppity Hooper was downright trippy, as I recall (it’s hard to find; the episodes I’ve unearthed are decidedly eccentric, but I need to see more.) Although the shows were presented as kids’ entertainment, they were written for adults rather than dumbed down for dull children. Bullwinkle is one of the three great comic characters of the 20th century, along with Groucho Marx and Ignatius Reilly.

The other harbinger was Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke. This was the first animated Japanese movie to get a proper release in America, under the title Magic Boy. It turned up one Saturday afternoon at the kids’ matinee, and it blew away all the Disney movies I had ever seen. I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. I later saw Forbidden Planet, and that was the greatest movie ever made, and I eventually forgot Magic Boy.

Some years back, I tracked down a fansub of the movie. By every objective criterion it’s inferior to Disney products. But it had wildness and strangeness absent from its carefully-polished occidental counterparts, and it excited my imagination as no Disney movie ever had.

Books and music took the place of movies and television for me.

Half a lifetime later, I read a news article about a new children’s show being imported from Japan. It had something to do with girls who identified with the planets of the solar system and wore sailor suits. It sounded silly, but I was curious.

Several years after that, I read a review of an animated movie called Perfect Blue. It seemed worth seeing. Too bad it would never come to Wichita. Princess Mononoke looked interesting, too, but it also was unlikely ever to be shown here.

Not quite 20 years ago, a bodhran-playing friend turned out to have a DVD of Princess Mononoke. I asked to borrow it.

Update: I was annoyed to find that recent reissues of Rocky and Bullwinkle on DVD substituted different music for most of the openings and endings. Fortunately, you can find the correct music here. Pianists looking to enlarge their repertoire might consider assembling the incidental music to Dudley Do-Right into “silent movie” suite.

***

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the next installment.

Wayback and forward

Jorma Kaukonen’s Catholic joke, via Stevie Coyle1 of the Quitters:

Q. How many Catholics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. (Raises hand, extending three fingers) One.

I discovered a couple of acts worth investigating at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival. Muriel Anderson, who wrangled chickens for Chet Atkins, plays a hypertrophied harp guitar that combines guitar, bass and music box into a single instrument. Feel like dancing? Can you count thirteen?

Continue reading “Wayback and forward”

Not exactly Spanish castle magic

Fillyjonk triggered one of my stranger memories. A long, long time ago I spent a summer in Spain. One day my group traveled to Segovia (by bus, not dragonfly) to see the Alcázar. It was a spectacular place, everything a Spanish castle ought to be. My most vivid memory, though, is not of the Alcázar itself. I spent some time on the terrace at the top of the tower surveying the region. While I was there, someone with a tape recorder played two songs over and over, loudly. One was “American Woman,” and the other was “Spirit in the Sky.” I felt a certain slight dissonance between what I saw and what I heard.1

(yawn)

I injured my leg a couple of weeks ago, which has limited my photography. The doctor is upbeat and says I should recover fully in a few more weeks, but until then don’t expect much to look at here.

None of the current anime have held my interest. When I do feel like watching something, it’s an old show such as Shingu, where you can find the largest human yawn in Japan, above. I might give Sarazanmai another try, though probably not during my lunch hour at the office. Josh notes, among other things, that “[t]he art is often very pretty.”

As I mentioned earlier, I finally persuaded myself to get a Kindle. I’d like to say that real, physical, print-and-paper books are clearly superior in every respect, but in fact the Kindle has one overwhelming advantage: I can make the type larger. I can read for hours now before my eyes get tired, and I’ve been taking advantage of that. Beside The Lord of the Rings, I also read Honor at Stake on Joseph Moore’s recommendation; it’s fun. I followed that with Dracula, which I hadn’t looked at since high school. Whatever your academic obsession is, you can pursue it in Stoker’s book (from Wikipedia):

In the last several decades, literary and cultural scholars have offered diverse analyses of Stoker’s novel and the character of Count Dracula. C.F. Bentley reads Dracula as an embodiment of the Freudian id.[42] Carol A. Senf reads the novel as a response to the New Woman archetype,[43] while Christopher Craft sees Dracula as embodying latent homosexuality and sees the text as an example of a ‘characteristic, if hyperbolic instance of Victorian anxiety over the potential fluidity of gender roles’.[44] Stephen D. Arata interprets the events of the novel as anxiety over colonialism and racial mixing,[45] and Talia Schaffer construes the novel as an indictment of Oscar Wilde.[46] Franco Moretti reads Dracula as a figure of monopoly capitalism,[47] though Hollis Robbins suggests that Dracula’s inability to participate in social conventions and to forge business partnerships undermines his power.[48][49] Richard Noll reads Dracula within the context of 19th century alienism (psychiatry) and asylum medicine.[50] D. Bruno Starrs understands the novel to be a pro-Catholic pamphlet promoting proselytization.[51] Dracula is one of Five Books most recommended books with literary scholars, science writers and novelists citing it as a influential text for topics such as sex in Victorian Literature[52], best horror books[53] and criminology[54].

Considered simply as a vampire story, it’s not bad, though the plot occasionally requires that the characters act like idiots.

Other fiction re-read include The King of Elfland’s Daughter and The Time Machine, both good despite their authors’ quirks.

Little Muddy

The Little Arkansas River, which runs north, west and south of me, is as high as I’ve ever seen it. The next round of storms should be here in about an hour.

The magenta flowers in the foreground are Callirhoe involucrata.

Update: Although my area has been continually under a flood warning for about three weeks now, neither the waters nor the recent tornadoes have affected my neighborhood.

One place that got soaked much worse is Winfield, about 40 miles southeast of Wichita. Here’s a video of areas affected by the overflowing Walnut River last week. The fairgrounds are where the Walnut Valley Festival is held every September. The spot where I pitched my tent back in my camping days is under more than ten feet of water here.

29 years ago

Evening classes at Wichita State University were abruptly cancelled Tuesday evening, March 13, 1990, because of a tornado warning. There was no obvious threatening weather visible from the campus, so the Fortran instructor and I chatted for a while in the student union basement. Back in Michigan where he came from, he told me, they had real monster tornadoes, not the tame little wimpy ones that frolic on the prairie.

Yeah, right.

In the lair of the mouse

Strelitzia reginae: a novelty in Kansas, ubiquitous in Anaheim

I spent most of the week before Christmas in California visiting family and seeing Disneyland. It was an excessively memorable experience, thanks to the blunders of United Airlines,1 the astonishing traffic in Los Angeles,2 Tracfone’s buggy website, and the 10,000 oblivious people wandering around Disneyland. It was worth it to see my sister and her family, but I’m not eager to repeat the experience.

Token Disneyland panorama. Right-click and open in a new window to see at full size.

If I had been ten years old, Disneyland would have been terrific. However, I’m several times older than that now, and roller coasters are less exciting, particularly when you have to make an appointment to ride or wait an hour and a half in line. I was more interested in the plants there, some of which are greenhouse exotics in Kansas but ordinary bedding plants in the subtropical climate of the southern California coast. These are mostly what I took pictures of.

Continue reading “In the lair of the mouse”

Winfield, at last

At the Beautiful Music booth

I thought I’d grabbed just a few snapshots at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival two weeks ago, but when I got home I discovered I had over a thousand frames. I finally sorted through them all. Here are a couple; there are more here and here.

Contra dancing

The fiddler in the contra dance band Friday evening was Roger Netherton, whom I’ve mentioned here many times. His first CD is finally available. If you like old-time fiddle or just enjoy good music, check it out.