Never believe someone who tells you “You’re not like other guys/girls” because by golly, you are. Some day, that person will find out you’re just as much of a jerk as everyone else, and if you’ve already sworn off your gender and your friends, who’s going to help you survive the oncoming wave of resentment?
Archive for February 2004
“How can two people look at the same picture and see completely different things?” In today’s “Doonesbury,” Garry Trudeau laid out the things he’s looking for in a President of the United States: humility, compassion, fairness, curiosity, unsanctimoniousness, “thoughtful, moderate, nuanced positions,” and someone who “won’t bully or recklessly lead his country into an unending war.” That’s beautiful, but even if I thought, as Trudeau does, that Bush lacked these things, I’d still quibble with his list of desirable traits because it’s different from my own. Sure, these are all great things to have, but how about intelligence, fortitude, dedication to principles, etc.? I’m not looking for a friend; I’m looking for a leader. This doesn’t put me in danger of voting for Hitler, but it does mean I would have voted for Truman, Nixon (pre-Watergate), Reagan, and Lincoln (what? Habeas corpus you say?). I hate De Gaulle because he was such a pain during the Cold War, but I would’ve loved to have him on my team. There’s a lot of value in having a strong leader. Mr. Rogers, as nice as he is, would not have made a good President of the United States.
In this information society, one can find a news niche for any point of view. This is convenient but slightly insidious. If we only accept information that coalesces with our points of view, then what are our opinions based on? How can we say “Just the facts” if we can’t handle the truth? The truth has nothing to do with party lines (and while we’re at it, this applies to a lot more than just politics). I hope the current presidential and James Smyth administrations curb their tendencies to ignore dissident intelligence and scientific studies before it’s too late.
Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar” and its cinematic adaptation “Child’s Play” are similar in their usage of Man Vs. Man and Man Vs. Nature conflicts to develop the four major characters and the themes that love is a power struggle, people use religion to make up for their own inadequacies, and religious rites and ornamentation lend legitimacy to prayer.
In both versions of the story, the settings of the manor and tool shed are the strongholds of Mrs. De Ropp and Conradin, respectively, in their Man Vs. Man conflict. The plots are also similar: the toothache, removal of the Houdan hen, and prayers to Sredni are part of the rising action; Mrs. De Ropp’s fateful visit to the tool shed is the clima; the servants’ search for the mistress is the falling action, and Conradin’s “slow enjoyment of eating” forbidden food is the resolution. In both tales, Mrs. De Ropp experiences glorious victory in her Man Vs. Nature conflict with the hen and mortifying defeat in her Man Vs. Nature conflict with Sredni.
In each story, Conradin is the protagonist, a weak but imaginative youth diagnosed to “not live another five years” and whose religious fervor degenerates into ferocity with his war prayer:
Sredni Vashtar went forth,
His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white.
His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.
Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful.
Mrs. De Ropp is the antagonist, an overbearing cousin who symbolizes “those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real.” Sredni Vashtar is a ferocious polecat-ferret which Conradin purchases from the butcher’s son and which personifies physical power and violent aggression. The hen is an innocent bystander who becomes a pawn in the battle between Conradin and Mrs. De Ropp. His disappearance from the tool shed is the catalyst for Conradin’s hatred of Mrs. De Ropp evolving into homicidal feelings; every night after, he prays at the altar to his beast, “Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”
Because the primary conflict of both stories in a Man Vs. Man struggle between family members, each presents the theme that love is a power struggle. Both include Conradin’s worship of and fanaticism for Sredni Vashtar in the rising action and climax of his conflict with Mrs. De Ropp and thus present the themes that people use religion to make up for their own inadequacies and religious rites to give their prayers legitimacy.
“Child’s Play” is different from its source material, “Sredni Vashtar”, because it intensifies the Man Vs. Man conflict between Conradin and Mrs. De Ropp and the Man Vs. Nature conflict between Mrs. De Ropp and the hen and uses different scenes to develop Conradin’s Man Vs. Self conflict with his loneliness to strengthen the characterizations of Conradin, Mrs. De Ropp, and the hen and to sharpen the theme that love is a power struggle.
The movie adds many intriguing details to the Man Vs. Man conflict between Conradin and Mrs. De Ropp. The woman uses ostensibly insignificant domestic activities like tickling, asking for kisses, mocking Conradin’s bare body, and pulling him back from the windowsill to assert her control over him. She also tells the boy the story of his parents’ death and particularly of her hatred for his mother in order to crush his self-esteem, and she even implies that she played a role in their deaths.
Conradin plays a much more sanguine role in the climax; his spirit and Sredni’s seem to combine as they tear Mrs. De Ropp apart, hence the dramatically ironic title “Child’s Play”. Mrs. De Ropp’s Man Vs. Nature conflict with the hen is also more vicious; Conradin gives it a name, “Cackler”, to increase the viewer’s emotional attachment to the beast, and his guardian truly tastes victory when she slaughters Cackler and serves him for dinner.
The movie uses different scenes to portray Conradin’s Man Vs. Self conflict with his fears and alienation. Whereas the story notes that Conradin has “peopled [the tool shed] with a legion of familiar phantoms, evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from his own brain” and “without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago,” the movie includes scenes of Conradin releasing butterflies so he can feel the power of mercy and flexing in front of a mirror to feel proud of his body. The increased intensity of the Man Vs. Man and Man Vs. Nature conflicts make both Conradin and Mrs. De Ropp more malicious characters and Cackler more sympathetic. “Child’s Play” has more passion and backstory than the original and thus makes a stronger presentation of the theme that love is a power struggle.
It’s interesting to read Sports Illustrated articles about a game that I’ve watched. The author and I seem to see different things. To the victor goes the spoils as far as the accolades go; if the Panthers had stopped the Patriots’ final drive, we’d be reading about how much more brilliant their plan was, and how much better of a team they were, and so on and so forth, though really the outcome was very, very close. My last-second defeat in Brain Game, not so much different from all my last second victories, has helped show me the truth about victory.It’s a disease. When I win, you don’t think about all the failures as much because it doesn’t really matter. I drink the wine of champions, and the alcohol builds in my system until I’m too drunk to stand up. Complacency kills. Several of the world’s great authors have hundreds and hundreds of rejection slips, and perhaps that’s why they’re great. If I were to fail 90% of the things I tried, I’d be a train wreck by now, but I think realizing this could bring a valuable change in attitude. I should be tough on myself after victories and easy on myself after defeats. Yep, I think this could work.
“Why doesn’t God give us definitive proof that he exists?”
There are a lot of good answers to this question, but here’s one that occured to me a while ago: it’s impossible. The human mind will rationalize everything. I’ve seen videos of bleeding Eucharists, pictures of a massive Virgin Mary that suddenly appeared on a car-dealership building that won’t wash off, and photographs taken by friends of angels. Three people in my youth group can pray in tongues. This seems to be a pretty strong case that God exists, but it’s not going to change your minds, and the reason I believe in God I don’t even remember anymore. It’s just a fact of life, something as certain as breathing. The truth is that belief in God has nothing to do with outside proof. The human mind can rationalize anything. “Well, maybe he was miraculously healed by the power of positive thinking.” “Maybe that spray-painted wall is just a dirty rotten trick and the story about the thousands they spent trying to get it off is a lie.” “Maybe those trumpets in the picture are just messed up photography.” “Well, Jesus just stepped down out of the sky, played a game of Madden with me, told me that he really did exist, and then ascended to heaven through my window and back into heaven..but I think I was probably just hallucinating.” God cannot prove that he exists. We must decide.
It’s not the things I can’t control that upset me; it’s the things I can. When I’m losing, I think far more about flaws in my strategy than about low numbers on the dice. It’s easier to know I never had a chance than it is to know I made the wrong decision. Sometimes I take responisibility for things I do that aren’t even wrong because a miscalculation can become a sin if the preacher is convincing enough. Ultimately, I learn from all this and become a better person and don’t agonize over such silly things, but is only after I’ve spent two minutes staring at the board after everyone else has left the table.
The most irascible part of my computer is, was, and always will be the A Drive. The printer which works half the time and the internet connection which works two thirds of the time are also major sources of annoyance, but they are frustrating in a much different way. Since I never know when the printer or internet connection will shut down for the month, I have come to accept their failures as part of my destiny; it is the Hand of God torching the electrical outlets of my life and forcing me to temporarily rewire everything. When these things are fixed, I feel safe and assume that they will never break again. I do not get this feeling of security from the A Drive because I know that every time I use it, something will go wrong. Using a floppy disk should take only seconds, but for some reason I lose 20 minutes every single time.The first problem is that my siblings and I have been using the same eight floppy disks for the last ten years. Dad never bought us any; he just gave us floppies he used at the office (do you remember the days when installing a program required 8 disks? I do), and when we needed to use one, we’d wipe all the files off the disk and paste our .doc in their stead. This system worked until CDs became popular, and Dad stopped bringing the disks home. Over the years, our supplies simply dwindled away (my experiences with floppies and video games have convinced me that matter can be destroyed, and it vaporizes quite often). For now, they are all organized, but most of the time, using a disk means hunting through all the cupboards and shelves of the basement to find one.
Problem number two is the age of the A Drive. It is the only part of the computer that has not changed in the last twenty years. Whenever I run it, it makes strange noises that should be coming from an old sewing machine, not a valiant, mighty machine with thousands of times more power than the tin buckets we used to send man to the moon. Every computer I’ve used has required half a minute to read the A Drive and a few seconds for everything else. Sometimes I sit for two minutes in agony as it scans and scans for the thing and then tells me the computer doesn’t have a disk in it even though I could clearly see one sitting there. Once I had a drive that was so abused it was bent in the shape of a parenthesis; the disks would only fit halfway in because they did not feel like contorting their spines for my benefit. When I think about the A Drive, I envision a short, bald, fat, angry Chinese man dressed in red. This is not the sign of a healthy relationship.
The newest computer we have down here (there are three, and two of them are mysteriously screwed up this week, lacking Internet and printing capabilities; the printer doesn’t work right now, either) has Windows XP, the latest and greatest operating system. How does it feel about floppy disks? When I had to write my IR paper on it, the response was positive. Somewhere along the line, though, something went terribly wrong. Tonight I saved my AP Government paper onto a floppy and then transferred it to the new computer to see if I could print from there. It didn’t even have the guts to tell me it couldn’t read the disk. It thought and thought and thought and thought, and finally I said “The hell with it” and took my disk back. Then I tried it on the computer I’d started with, and for some reason the disk didn’t work there, either. I tried another precious floppy and got the same result. My only conclusion is that the new computer is a sadist. It doesn’t just reject floppy disks; it crushes their spirits so much that they will never work on any computer ever again.
This is not a good sign for the future. Like it or not, the A Drive will never go away. How else could we read valuable 1980s data? We can only burn CDs with special programs, but floppy disks are a cheap, portable memory conductor unlike anything else we have. I love it, and I need it, but I certainly do not like it. It is a festering sore reminding me of my powerlessness in the face of technology. Tomorrow, I will take this third disk to school and print out my paper there, and then I will toss it in my backpack and hope I’ll never have to use them again. Eventually, the printer and Internet will get back on track, and they will never malfunction again. Yeah, that’ll show’em. ….I guess.