Thursday, April 26, 2012

Disney Villains: A Commentary on Growing Older

Stop for a second and think of your favorite Disney movie, and, if it has one, its villain.

Of the 51 feature-length, theatrically-released animated movies that are the ‘canon’ only the following don’t have a typical hero/villain dynamic:

Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
Make Mine Music
Fun and Fancy Free
Melody Time
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Fantasia 2000
Chicken Little
Winnie the Pooh

Of the remaining 38, all of them have something in common: the hero is almost always younger than the villain. Check it out, with the warning that here be spoilers:

Obvious examples:

The Queen in Snow White
Honest John/Stromboli/The Coachman in Pinocchio
Lady Tremaine in Cinderella
The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland
Captain Hook in Peter Pan
Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp
Maleficent in Cinderella
Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians
Mad Madame Mim in The Sword in the Stone
Shere Khan in The Jungle Book
Edgar in The Aristocats
Prince John/Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood
Madame Medusa in The Rescuers
Slade in The Fox and the Hound
The Horned King in The Black Cauldron
Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective
Sykes in Oliver and Company
Ursula in The Little Mermaid
McLeach in The Rescuers Down Under
Jafar in Aladdin
Scar in The Lion King
Ratcliffe in Pocahontas
Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hades in Hercules
Shan Yu in Mulan
Clayton in Tarzan
Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove
Rourke in Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Captain Gantu in Lilo and Stitch
John Silver in Treasure Planet
Alameda Slim in Home on the Range
Bowler Hat Guy in Meet the Robinsons
Doctor Facilier in The Princess and the Frog
Gothel in Tangled

Never is the villain portrayed as younger. The few examples of the hero and villain being the same age are:

Ronno in Bambi
Brom Bones in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Gaston in Beauty and the Beast
Denhai in Brother Bear

Note: All four of the villains who are roughly the same as age as the protagonist are young men (or, you know, a young male deer).

So remember kids: Villains are either people with grey hair (about half of the above) or strong, misguided young men.

As for protagonists, I’d say the oldest is maybe Mr. Toad, who is functionally an eight year-old. None of the others could be past 25. Yes, once your twenties are over you will become evil (if you haven’t already, as a man).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly blog hop hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. I got it from The Bathroom Monologues by the fabulously talented John Wiswell.

This week, the inaugural edition, goes to "Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather.

"There was also the snake story, reported by the early explorers, both Spanish and American, and believed ever since: that this tribe was peculiarly addicted to snake worship, that they kept rattlesnakes concealed in their houses, and somewhere in the mountain guarded an enormous serpent which they brought to the pueblo for certain feasts. It was said that they sacrificed young babies to the great snake, and thus diminished their numbers."

Not the sentences I was hoping for, but I don't think I could've chosen any better all the same. I'm loving this novel, and want to make it as frequently read in high school as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Catcher in the Rye."

Everyone is welcome to Teaser Tuesday. The rules are as simple as:

• Grab your current book
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• Avoid spoilers! Don't give too much away or you'll ruin it for the very people you're suggesting it to.
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Nobel Prize for Literature

Over the years the Nobel committee has weathered criticisms that the prize doesn’t accurately reflect the innovations of literature. Notably Joyce, Borges, Proust and Henry James were snubbed. Frequently Scandinavian authors seem to take a disproportionate slice of the pie (7%, which would be globally proportional if they were equal in population to, say, the U.S. and Nigeria combined, rather than that of Texas alone) while incredibly not awarding it to Ibsen. So I wanted to take a moment and review which Nobel-awarded authors I’d read, and which I wanted to read, while considering if they were, indeed, good choices. This is due, in part, to my lacking understanding of 20th century literature.

Due to the above considerations I have no desire to read all of the authors. A sampler would be in order. To be fair this means the final list should be somewhat skewed to reflect the realities of the Prize.

So far I have read works by:

Rudyard Kipling (1907). I’ve read his ‘Just-So Stories’ and poetry. I intend to read ‘Kim’.

Rabindranath Tagore (1913). I’ve read his book of prose essays ‘Nationalism’. I’d be interested to try his poetry.

William Butler Yeats (1923). I’ve read his collection ‘The Tower’.

George Bernard Shaw (1925). I’ve read ‘Pygmalion’, ‘St. Joan’ and ‘Major Barbara’.

Sinclair Lewis (1930). I’ve read ‘Main Street’.

Eugene O’Neil (1936). I’ve read ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ and intend to read more.

Herman Hesse (1946). I’ve read ‘Siddhartha’.

T.S. Eliot (1948). I’ve read his collections ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ and ‘Ash Wednesday’ as well as ‘The Waste Land’.

William Faulkner (1949). I’ve read ‘The Sound and the Fury’, ‘As I lay Dying’, ‘Light in August’ and ‘Go Down Moses’ and the short story ‘A Rose for Emily’.

Bertrand Russell (1950). I’ve read ‘A History of Western Philosophy’ and the essay ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’. I intend to read ‘The Philosophy of Leibniz’.

Par Lagerkvist (1951). I’ve read ‘Barabbas’.

Winston Churchill (1953). I’ve read his speeches and intend to read ‘The Second World War’.

Ernest Hemingway (1954). I’ve read ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and the short story ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’ and intend to read ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘A Farewell to Arms’.

Albert Camus (1957). I’ve read ‘The Stranger’, ‘The Fall’ and ‘The Plague’, and the essay collections ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ and ‘The Rebel’.

John Steinbeck (1962). I’ve read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1964). I’ve read ‘Being and Nothingness’, ‘Nausea’, the plays ‘No Exit’, ‘The Flies’ ‘Dirty Hands’ and ‘The Respectful Prostitute’, the short story ‘The Wall’, and the essays ‘Portrait of an Anti-Semite’, ‘Self-Deception’, ‘Marxism and Existentialism’ and ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’.

Samuel Beckett (1969). I’ve read ‘Waiting for Godot’.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1970). I’ve read ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’.

Pablo Neruda (1971). I’ve read many various examples his poetry.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982). I’ve read ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, the short story ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ and the essay ‘Word Are in a Hurry, Get Out of the Way’.

William Golding (1983). I’ve read ‘Lord of the Flies’.

So I’m a little familiar with 21 of 104, or 20%, and no one since 1980s (The most recent publication is Marquez’s ‘Cholera’ from 1985). I’d like to double the number. On my list to be read is a mix of non-English writers, famous names not yet gotten to, and a few losers to make it fair.

Knut Hamsun (1920). I want to read ‘Hunger’ and maybe ‘Growth of the Soil’.

Henri Bergson (1927). I want to read ‘Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic’.

Thomas Mann (1929). I want to read ‘Buddenbrooks’.

Luigi Pirandello (1934) I want to read ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’.

Pearl S. Buck (1938). I want to read ‘The Good Earth’.

Andre Gide (1947). I want to read ‘The Immoralist’.

Boris Pasternak (1958). I want to read ‘My Sister, Life’.

Mikhail Sholokhov (1965). I want to read ‘And Quiet Flows the Don’.

Patrick White (1973). I want to read ‘The Eye of the Storm’.

Saul Bellow (1976). I want to read ‘The Adventures of Augie March’, ‘Herzog’ and ‘Henderson the Rain King’.

Wole Soyinka (1986). I want to read ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’.

Naguib Mahfouz (1988). I want to read ‘Children of Gebelawi’.

Octavio Paz (1990). I want to read his ‘Collected Poems’.

Toni Morrison (1993). I want to read ‘Beloved’

Kenzaburo Oe (1994). I want to read ‘Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness’.

Dario Fo (1997). I want to read ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’.

Gunter Grass (1999). I want to read ‘The Tin Drum’.

Gao Xingjian (2000). I want to read ‘Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather’.

V.S. Naipaul (2001). I want to read ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’ and ‘A Bend in the River’.

J.M. Coetzee (2003). I want to read ‘The Life and Times of Michael K’.

Harold Pinter (2005). I want to read ‘Betrayal’.

Orhan Pamuk (2006). I want to read ‘Snow’.

Doris Lessing (2007). I want to read ‘The Golden Notebook’.

Mario Vargas Llosa (2010). I want to read ‘The War of the End of the World’.

Tomas Transtormer (2011). I want to read ‘The Great Enigma’.

This would bring my total to 46, a full 44%, close enough to half for me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The State We're All In

I'm working on something lengthy.

Increasingly I'm concerned about the state of the nation. Two recent coups in Africa (Mali and Guinea-Bissau) have me thinking on statecraft.

To be brief, upon reflection I assume most would agree with me with the following pre-requisites for a true democracy:

1) Democratic Institutions (voting, etc.)
2) Rule of Law (law is absolute, no funny business)
3) Subservient Military (lest coups occur by strong generals)
4) An Educated Populace (lest rights are diminished with citizen's consent)

India, for example, is struggling mainly with (2) - rule of law is still second to bribery and corruption, which cannot prevail in a true democracy beyond the fringe. Singapore is struggling with (1), having a 'voting' system that allows for 40% of Singaporeans who are the opposition to not be represented in parliament. Mali, it would seem, is struggling with (3).

For the United States I'm increasingly concerned by (1) and (4) being bungled.

Our democratic institutions are under threat from the well-known, and acknowledged, issue of money undermining free and open democratic process. A nice example from that lengthy work aforementioned:

"The 2004 election is a good example of how wealthy candidates can rely on their existing assets to squeeze out any competition. Rodney A. Smith explains the situation in Money, Power & Politics:
“In December 2003, during the early stages of the 2004 presidential primary campaign, Senator John Kerry was mired in a crowded field with the support of only 9% of Democrats nationally. He was running a distant third in Iowa and was over 30 percentage points behind in New Hampshire, his cash reserves were running low, and his campaign was $3.8 million in debt…
“Caught in this do-or-die situation, Kerry quietly set up a $6.4 million dollar personal line of credit for his campaign, using his home in Boston as collateral. Immediately thereafter the campaign borrowed $2.8 million dollars in December 2003 and $3.5 million in January 2004, for a total of $6.3 million just prior to the Iowa caucuses. This quick injection of cash gave Kerry the financial resources he needed to win a come-from-behind victory…
“While neither Senator Kerry nor campaign did anything illegal or unethical in setting up a bank loan, this large infusion of cash at just the right moment vividly demonstrates the importance of money in politics, particularly to a campaign that’s struggling.”
Smith, who served as the National Finance Director of the Republican National Committee, concludes that it would have taken a competitor, making phone calls under the best possible circumstances working ten hour days until mid-May to have raised the same amount."

Smith's example is only one of many such cases I've been researching. As he clearly states there was nothing illegal in the matter - but this does not preclude us from still reaching the critical conclusion that money wins. The most frightening fact, as of yet, that I've come across is a simple statistic: over 90% of recent House and Senate elections since the 1990s have gone to the candidate who spent the most money.

This is not a coincidence, this is long-studied phenomenon. This is cause and effect. The result is that the constituents, the voting public and greater population, is no longer represented by our Representatives and Senators. Considering we had to especially fight for the latter (direct election of Senators began only in the 20th century) this should be cause for anger, concern, frustration and outrage. And indeed it is: 80% of Americans polled are dissatisfied with the current Congress (the same percentage who disagree with the loathsome Citizens United Supreme Court Decision which allowed companies unlimited campaign finance). Of course there's nothing we can do about it.

Government, we are told from our youth, is a self-regulating system of checks and balances. So when Government breaks down we can sit back and wait for it to fix itself. It is this quality, ultimately, for which we hail the brilliance of the founders' design: the government fixes itself so we don't have to bother in the unpleasant ways they had to.

Rarely has this system failed, but three great crises are critical examples of such a failure. A failure of the Executive led to the needless 1812 War with Britain, which saw Washington D.C. sacked, and the White House burned to the ground. A failure of the Legislature led to the Great Depression, for not putting in place rules that might protect us from such an event, causing 1 in 3 to be unemployed, and the creation of safety regulations which, being repealed by a different set of Congressional sessions led to the current Deep Recession. Finally there was a failure of very nearly all parties, including we the populace, which led to the bloody horror of our Civil War.

These were all preventable catastrophes, and we are not, now, facing such a cataclysmic system failure. We are a battle-scarred nation. We have become inured to taking bullets and fighting on regardless of a bloody gash. Such a strength was, if not outright admired, envied by most nations once. What we face now is a different harm to the body of the state. We fight now a cancer, not a wound. The methods of treatment are different, but it is as deadly.

Since it moves slowly many do not heed it at first, indeed only in hindsight can the initial time and place outbreak be diagnosed at all. This diagnosis, then, means the damage is already present, and sufficiently advanced to be readily detectable.

I mentioned two symptoms that have me fearing cancer. The first was the loss of democratic institutions to money. The treatment is increased citizen action and care. If we vote the Representatives out who cause the harm, then, perhaps the system will fix itself anew. When government stops regulating itself, or doing its duty to its citizens the citizens must use the ballot and their voices, and sometimes more. When WWI veterans were not paid their due by the government they marched on Washington, 43,000 strong. They were paid. King's March on Washington gave an important push to getting the Civil Rights Act passed.

Other countries do not have the same problems as we with money corrupting the democracies. We could easily adopt the system where candidates with a certain number of signatures are given equal amounts of campaign air time and publicity, paid for by the state. We could shorten our electoral nomination process to a period of only a couple months, as a result. As elections are increasingly expensive, during a time of recession and high un- and under-employment such savings would be a welcome relief (the 2008 election costing $5.3 billion). Further, if Congress members and Senators had only to listen to constituents, and didn't have to constantly fund raise (to the average tune of $10,000 a week every week for two years to clinch reelection) instead they could get back to their intended role: legislating based on their constituents.

Which brings me to the second cancerous symptom, the declining standard of education in the country. It was Benjamin Franklin who said "The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance." In other countries economics professors teach a simple rule about recessions is that education is a recession-proof job. No other developed democracy country is firing teachers the way we are now. An astounding 8.6 million teachers were unemployed by the recession. That's more than the entire population, every man, woman, and child, in New York City.

Fully 60% of our population a decade ago thought there was a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. (There was not.) Polled in 2010 1 in 5 said Obama is secretly a Muslim (He is not.) Roughly 200,000,000 Americans are eligible to vote: What to do about the apparently 40 million (more than the total population of Poland) in our country who think Obama, in secret, is practicing the Islamic prayers of salat?

Jefferson stated that "...wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government..." The opposite then is implied, that when citizens are not well informed they cannot be trusted with their own government. Our citizens are increasingly uninformed, and the recent complacency towards the ravages of our constitution bear this out. Most Americans do not think corporations should be allowed unlimited spending. But what are they doing about it? The past two administrations have battered down rights to privacy and not made an effort to build them up again - for we have not asked for it, nor hollered and demanded it.

Here is where we must conclude. Voter ignorance, and apathy, has kept money in Congress since we do not care deeply enough to insist the rules be changed. Since we have begun to give up our hard-won rights we are weakening, slowly but ever more perceptibly. And so it is that America may end up as the Ottomans once did: a twilight empire, taking centuries of dry-rot to accumulate in the bones so that the illustrious glory, stripped by stronger nations, doomed by internal dysfunction, fades to darkness. I hope this is not our scenario, for it would have global repercussions for stability, human rights, and democratic governments. But until I see Americans take charge of this illness, we cannot but waste ever further away, and succumb.