Wednesday, June 30, 2021

how the states got their shapes

Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands by Derek R. Everett (University of Oklahoma, 2014)

There is actually another book with the title of this post, but it's loose, anecdotal, and speculative. This book is a scholarly study of several specific western U.S. state border segments, thoroughly researching the reasons for placing the borders where they are, and also discussing the effects on the surrounding populations.

After an introductory section on the previous history of state border-drawing, going all the way back to the "sea-to-sea" colony grants of James I, it concentrates on the 19C creation of six exemplar borders:

1) Arkansas and Indian country (later Oklahoma), or how the whites kept granting the Indians land and then changing their minds and taking it back, pushing them further and further out.

2) The "Honey War" between Missouri and Iowa over competing lines for a poorly-surveyed border. What I hadn't known about that is that the governor of Iowa Territory at the time was the same man who'd been Governor of Ohio during the similar "Toledo War" with Michigan. Both times, his side won.

3) Oregon and Washington, and how the governors of same ignored jurisdictional borders to cooperate moving troops around during the Indian wars, to the annoyance of the feds, who thought they should be rigidly separate.

4) California and Nevada, and the chaos that ensues when people have no idea which side of an unsurveyed border they live on. (It seems like they're wrong more often than not.) Also each state's attempts to lay claim to the other state's territory.

5) New Mexico and Colorado, or how Colorado was created with a bite taken out of New Mexico just so it could be a perfect rectangle, and how the New Mexicans in the area felt about being moved to a hostile Anglo-dominated jurisdiction.

6) North Dakota and South Dakota, or, should the Dakota Territory be split at all, and if so in which direction and where?

I found this a fascinating account of just the kind of niggling detail that interests me.

Monday, June 28, 2021

ill literacy

So last week I wrote about the closed-captioning that gave us titles like Adipose Wrecks, and today I open my local newspaper and what do I see? Two articles on the front page.

1. Fears that amateur fireworks displays will set off wildfires in our drought-stricken landscape. Such fireworks are illegal, "but that has done little to stop their rising use in the days leading up to a crescendo on the Fourth of July."
Crescendo - that's a technical term. It doesn't mean what you think it means.

2. Prospective candidates for the gubernatorial recall election are facing a new law: it requires them to submit five years of tax returns. (A law originally aimed at DT, but ruled ineligible for presidential elections, it lives on gubernatorially.) This is a rare provision: "Vermont is one of the only other states that has something similar."
"One of the only"? What does that mean, "one of the only"? It sounds as if you started to say "one of the few" and then changed your mind to "the only." Which is it?

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Frederic Rzewski, 1938-2021

(it's pronounced zhev-ski)

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. You want music that actually sounds like a cotton mill, but which is also smooth and jazzy with a hint of ragtime? Here:

Friday, June 25, 2021

not a play

My experiences with pandemic-era streamed theater productions have not been good. I liked the first one I saw, which was a video of the last in-person performance of a production of Amadeus before it was shut down, but the ones performed without audiences have not appealed to me. It's not just that there's no audience and consequently that which should get a reaction - not just laughter - falls flat, and the actors have nothing to build their energy off of, but also that the absence of an audience enables the cameras to be closer in than they were for that Amadeus. And since stage actors perform for a large room, get too close to them and they'll look like they're overacting.

In particular, I've got to learn to stop being tempted by Terry Teachout's rave reviews of various regional theater productions. The latest one I was burned by was a comedy called It's Only a Play by Terrence McNally, set at the opening night party of a new Broadway play which turns out to get terrible reviews. The author is there, the star, the director, the producer, a critic, various other hangers-on. They're all lovey-dovey to each other's faces and biting behind their backs, and they're all frantic to convey the farce in a script which isn't really all that funny. It might have been better with some audience laughter, but even then not all that much better. Teachout says the cast have "contagious zest," but I found it deadly and could only watch a few minutes at a time.

What I found most interesting, and even amusing, was the transcription once I turned the close captioning on. One character exclaims bitterly, "I'm no good" several times, which came out in the caption as "I know God." Then he mentions several works for the stage, whose titles were transcribed as adipose wrecks, waiting for couture, and libel whim.

You shouldn't have any trouble guessing what the first one really was, and the second shouldn't be too difficult either. But if the third one stumps you, what the speaker actually said was, La Bohème.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021


Alex Ross, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020)

New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross's third epic-length book on the history of music (660 pages, not counting notes and index) purports not to be about Richard Wagner, but about his influence on the other arts, particularly literature, and on politics and the general culture. But it keeps forgetting itself and being about Wagner anyway. When approaching one especially sensitive subject, Ross writes, "What Wagner thought of Jewish people and people of color is an inescapable question, although the answer is not as simple as it seems. Since this is a book about Wagnerism, the even more crucial issue is what Jews and people of color thought of him." An appropriate distinction, but it doesn't prevent Ross from going into the first question in considerable detail too.

This book is very long on many writers and thinkers who were obsessed by Wagner, from ones whom I know nothing about, like Baudelaire, to ones I know a little about but didn't know they were Wagner fans, like Willa Cather, to ones I do know something about. Like Hitler. Or let's say like Bernard Shaw or Philip K. Dick. For the late 19th and early 20th century, these relationships are explored in great detail; in the final, post-1945 chapter, they get hastier, and sometimes of somewhat wobbly interpretive accuracy; the chapter includes a run through a series of modern philosophers - Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Lévi-Strauss, Derrida, Sontag, and others - of particularly unintentionally comic brevity.

Also apparently unintentional is the evaluation of Wagner's work presented, which has a lot more negative in it than Ross apparently had in mind. In a personal postscript, he writes that his first encounter with Wagner left him with "a kind of auditory seasickness," and while he later came to love the work, it was more through emotional connection with the characters than with the music, and the ghost of his first reaction haunts the book. I first noticed this in the opening chapter going through Wagner's own life. Ross writes of Die Walküre: "Settled in Zurich, [Wagner] composed at a manic pace. By September, he had churned his way through the first act." Yes! I thought. Churned? That's exactly what it's like to listen to it! Auditory seasickness indeed. What's more, many of those touted in the book don't like Wagner either. Starting with Schopenhauer, who read the text of Die Walküre and at the end of Act 1, where it says "The curtain falls quickly," he notes, "And it's high time."

I set aside the long discussion of Nietzsche, who apparently went insane, so his violently anti-Wagner period is no more meaningful than his violently pro-Wagner period. But I found a key point in this skepticism when the narrative reached William Morris (p. 124-26). Having already noted Wagner's appeal to English artists of a pre-raphaelite bent because of his "proximity" (delicate way of putting it) to the Matter of Britain, here Ross emphasizes how Morris's and Wagner's interests and topics "overlapped ... to a remarkable degree." But then he is forced to acknowledge, "Yet Morris loathed the very idea of Wagner." Why? He doesn't say, except to hint that their philosophical conclusions differed.

This stricture becomes useful over 500 pages later when Ross gets to a brief, hasty, and sloppy consideration of Tolkien (p. 642-43). Again he starts by citing parallel or overlapping interests, including Tolkien's own retellings of the Siegfried stories, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, which at least he's up to date enough to know about. He then notes that "Tolkien fans have sometimes argued that the manifest resemblances to Wagner result from a common use of older sources," an argument he could have gotten from my own article on Tolkien and music, though I'm not cited; but he then adds, "but the claim does not withstand scrutiny." Only because he doesn't scrutinize it very much. Ross says that Tolkien's One Ring "has no plausible antecedent" except Wagner's; but, even leaving aside the glaring fact that it doesn't have to have an antecedent, the relationships between the Ring and the magic, especially the invisibility factor; the role of the Ring as treasure; the way in which its power is used; the whole history of its ownership; etc etc, are so totally different in the two stories as to leave nothing in common but a magic ring with a curse on it (the curses, and their nature, are totally different too: Tolkien's isn't even actually a curse, it just functions as one). And a cursed treasure is a fairy-tale motif a lot older than Wagner. As for Ross's claim that Tolkien's "restorative ending" also comes from Wagner's Ring, that's just absurd. Again, they're nothing alike.
(What makes Wagnerians so eager to seize on flimsy evidence for an influence on Tolkien, anyway? They seem desperate to find something, anything, to claim as a resemblance between these artists, which is why it's necessary to point out how entirely disparate they are.)

So that leaves very little likelihood that Tolkien got the idea of the Ring from Wagner, and even if he did, it's reduced to so trivial a borrowing that it's of no significance whatever. The Morris case becomes a useful parallel when Ross spends the next two paragraphs of the Tolkien section itemizing some deep philosophical differences between Tolkien and Wagner. You realize, even if Ross doesn't, that the two really have nothing much to do with each other (also that Ross doesn't understand Tolkien very well, but never mind that). For evidence that Ross can consider an apparent borrowing to be insignificant when he wants to, turn back to the section on the Nazis, where you'll find Ross arguing that Hitler - a known, avowed, and deeply knowledgeable and enthusiastic Wagner fan - was not very influenced by Wagner's philosophy after all (p. 515-16) and didn't even get his anti-semitism from Wagner (p. 532).

Here you'll also find, as I've read elsewhere, that while Hitler loved Wagner, most of the other Nazis didn't, and Hitler had to keep poking them to wake up during performances of Wagner operas that he'd forced them to attend. What was new to me was that Winifred Wagner, the virulently pro-Nazi and Hitler-loving daughter-in-law who was running the family businesses at the time, knew all of this and feared that a post-Hitler Nazi regime might lose interest in the government financial and publicity support which was keeping their Bayreuth festival running. Ross remarks dryly, "This was one problem the Wagners did not have to face."

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

mattress abortion

I guess the story of our mattress should begin close to 20 years ago, when B. and I took our fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime, vacation in Rome. We stayed in a rooftop apartment in the medieval quarter, which we'd rented from an Airbnb-like agency before Airbnb existed. We slept in what I'm told Italians call a "marriage bed": a king-size bed made out of two twin-size mattresses put together in a single frame with a single set of sheets. The idea is that if one party gets up during the night or twists and turns a lot, vibrations through the mattress don't disturb the other person's sleep.

When we replaced our mattress the next year, I thought we should get something like that. But for some reason it wasn't available, so instead we minimized the vibration factor by getting a mattress without connections between the coils. This has served us fine, except that such a mattress doesn't spread out the pressure from where you sleep, either, and over time develops sags in the spots where you are.

B. awoke from a bad night's sleep on Monday and said, "We're going mattress shopping, today." OK, but I need a lot of time to get ready these days. We went to the same shop where we bought the previous mattress, and their records go back that far. Nobody there except the manager, who was very helpful. And yes indeed, they do now have the Italian marriage bed, which is called a "split king," and furthermore each half has an independently controlled hospital-bed function to raise both the head and the foot, and we could really go for that.

Though it does mean that, though we can share blanket and comforter, we'd best use separate sheets for the two halves.

It's in stock, so delivery: next day, Tuesday. I did warn the mgr: when we moved, soon after buying the old mattress, getting it up the twisty staircase to our new bedroom required folding it in half and strapping it down (because a fat mattress doesn't want to stay folded), and it still took three strong guys a lot of struggle to do it. B. showed him some photos she'd taken of the stairway area. He thought the removal could be done.

The mattress deliverers came today. Two of them. First they were confused that they were delivering two twin mattresses but there was only one frame, but once we got over that, they wrestled the old mattress into the upstairs hallway and then realized they couldn't get it downstairs. They couldn't fold it, because an old mattress would probably break up. They couldn't flip it over the hallway railing into the area above the staircase, because the weight of the mattress would probably break the railing. It would take four guys to do it properly, and they didn't have two extra guys.

So they put the mattress back and will return on Friday. And the cats wonder what the heck is going on to disturb the normal course of their lives.

Monday, June 21, 2021

past events

Things I didn't mention at the time.

1. A week ago on the date of our anniversary, with my brother being in town, we held a reunion of the surviving members of our wedding party: my brother, B's sister and her husband. Only all of our parents were there then but are no longer with us. The celebration took the form of a post-pandemic dinner at an Italian restaurant, a place we'd liked before, but it's in the middle of a crowded downtown so parking was worse than I expected, and walking nearly half a mile back from the nearest parking space is ceasing to be in my repertoire. The other problem was that B's sister insisted on paying. This should not be so: they were our guests. But she arranged this before we got there, the rotter.

2. On the same day, the Tolkien Society held another one of its online trivia quizzes. Only about 50 participants, which is perhaps how I managed to come in fifth and have my nom-de-game on the big board at the end. Go me.

3. Our MythSoc discussion group met online to discuss another novel, The Way Between, by our next Author GoH, Rivera Sun. B, unusually, wasn't there - she was off practicing with her orchestra - and didn't even read the book, but she bought it on Kindle and gave it to me to read. No wild enthusiasm, but everybody rather liked the book: and for the first of a series, it ended at a good stopping place.

4. Next day I had a medical appointment, but I had a cough so they sent me home. Figured that in that case I should be tested for the virus - you can still get it even if vaccinated; our niece-in-law's parents both did - so I did that the next day. All clean. Anyway, by that day after the appointment, my cough, which had started the day before the appointment, had disappeared. Must have been just a cough.

5. Our play-reading online group, having wiped out A Midsummer Night's Dream and Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, has moved on to The Crucible, our first serious play since Anne of the Thousand Days. Serious, yes; dire, even; but at least not dour, like, say, Death of a Salesman. Full of scenes with like 13 people in a room, all of them talking at once, so a bit of a challenge to arrange for only four speakers.

6. Yesterday, online concert by Brocelïande, I think their first in this format. Usual delightful folk/Renaissance repertoire, with uneased comments by the performers on how odd it was to perform to a camera in an empty room instead of to rows of attentive faces.

Friday, June 18, 2021

two book talks and a play

I had a very busy day online on Thursday. Besides a previously-scheduled Zoom meeting, I attended two online book talks and a play. It was useful to see how much of these I found it physically possible to sit through.

First, the University of Glasgow Centre for Fantasy held a Zoom interview with Katherine Langrish, a children's author who's written a book called From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my nine year-old self. Immediately I thought of The Magician's Book by Laura Miller, whose childhood Narnia fan was crushingly disillusioned by the books when older. Langrish isn't like that. Though she says she has some criticisms, her talk suggested that her book is mostly about the greater appreciation adulthood brought, for instance realizing Lewis's use of literary antecedents, e.g. Sir Gawain in The Silver Chair. (At which point someone in the chat mentioned looking forward to the upcoming movie of Sir Gawain and others replied, "There's a movie?!" Yes indeed, and here's the trailer. Looks a heck of a lot more authentic to the source than that Beowulf movie was.)
Langrish said some gratifying things. As a child she wrote Narnia fanfic, but gave it up because "I found that writing about Narnia wasn't the same as reading about Narnia." Yes! And this is why I have no interest in fanfic of my favorite worlds. She's avoided movies of Narnia because she prefers the vivid pictures in her own head, another sensible reaction. I don't understand people whose reaction to a vivid book scene is to want to see it depicted in a movie. Langrith also praised both Lewis and Tolkien for the sense they give "of the physicality of the world." If you thrust a shovel into their landscape, there'd be real soil underneath, unlike some fantasy worlds which feel like you'd break through into empty air.
Unfortunately Langrith also had some gratuitous criticisms of Tolkien (as did Miller). She found The Hobbit condescending to the child reader where Narnia is not. Where Narnia is not? Really? She did see the Jackson films of The Lord of the Rings and thought they captured the book's essence, which is ludicrous, and offense even to suggest; and worse, she thinks the negative responses were for leaving parts of the book out. No, no, no! It's for the nonsense the films put in in its place.

Second, the Wade Center had CS Lewis scholar Michael Ward for a book launch: his book, After Humanity, is a gloss on CSL's The Abolition of Man. The talk was rather abstruse, but then Abolition is a rather abstruse book. Not their fault, but I had to bow out of this one before the Q&A session.

Third, I'd bought a ticket for the livestreamed version of a live performance of a local theater company's production of a one-man play, Shylock by Mark Leiren-Young. Doug Brook plays a Shakespearean actor who's frustrated by having drawn abusive criticism for his interpretation of Shylock. It emerges over the course of his monologue that, for all his paeans to artistic freedom, he believes it's just wrong to portray Shylock sympathetically. He's the villain of Merchant, so he should be played that way. So this actor does, and he gets slammed and literally spit on for being racist and a self-hating Jew (he's Jewish).
But then he starts drawing parallels to reinforce his argument against this response, and by the time the play's 2/3 over, it's devolved into a right-wing rant against a caricature of "cancel culture."
The second problem is that I've seen many productions of Merchant over the years with many different readings of Shylock, and it's usually seemed to me that Shylock portrayed as a pure villain comes across as a litigious crank; you can't even be sure that any of his accusations are real. It diminishes him. And the third problem is that the actor in this show gives some examples of his readings of Shylock's lines, and no, it doesn't sound like a particularly villainous reading, so that kind of undercuts the anger he claims the audiences showed.
I didn't give up before this was over, though I thought of it, and I did think that if I were there in person, I couldn't leave without causing a fuss.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

pocket air conditioner

We're having the first serious heat wave of the summer (about 97-100 F) and I'm sitting here getting moderate relief with my new pocket air conditioner. B. ordered us a couple of these. It's about 7 inches by 5 inches, 6.5 inches high, and it runs on a battery (recharged by plugging it into a USB port) and a small bottle of water that snaps upside down into a holder. When I turn the fan on, a faint stream of coolish air comes out the back and makes a modest attempt to refresh me. Really, it's at least as comforting as pitiful meows from a cat or two.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

scares children

The other thing I learned from my visit to the public library yesterday is that I have evolved to the state where now I frighten small children.

What is it about me that does this? How should I know? Perhaps it is the sight of a large elderly man, face obscured by mask, beard, glasses, and hat, clumping slowly along with a cane.

All I know for sure is the manner in which the small children skitter nervously away.

And to think that once I was a small child myself. Well, that was a long time ago. But it cuts. Even in mid-adulthood, playing with small children was a joy - I remember play sessions with a 4-year-old, doing her parents the favor of getting her out of their hair, and that must have been 15 years ago because now she's 19 - but I may be more cautious about such sessions in the future, especially so long as masks are on.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

day of unmasking

So this was the day, the day on which the state officially lifted its covid restrictions.

Not that I could tell. All three business or public establishments I entered today, it was business as usual, assuming you consider the last year to be usual. I had my mask too.

One of my visits was to the public library where my hold had come up for a copy of Alex Ross's Wagnerism, not so much a book about music as one on the composer's influence on other media. Browsing through it I'm finding it to be - apparently unintentionally - quite condemnatory of Wagner's work. This cheers me, as so am I. More on this later.

Another reason for visiting this particular library is its adjacency to the park at which the community orchestra in which B. is a violinist will be playing on the Fourth of July. B. asked me if the park's amphitheater had any shade. One-word answer, no. The tall trees shade the audience seating but don't get to where the players sit: at least not at that time of day.

The concert will be a potpourri of patriotic music. Sousa marches, including this one; Elgar's "Nimrod" - say, whose patriotism are we celebrating here, anyway?

Friday, June 11, 2021

Pinochle National Park

Which is how I began to pronounce it after an exhausting afternoon there. It's actually Pinnacles National Park, an eroded extinct volcano out in the deepest countryside, the main entrance 20 miles even from the nearest country store, yet less than 2 hours' drive from my house.

It's only been a national park for 8 years, but before then it was one of the earliest national monuments. I hadn't been there since many years ago when it was still a national monument, and an intent to re-visit last year was derailed by the pandemic. So now that travel has eased, a visit from my brother - who's up for expeditions of this kind - seemed like a good excuse to try out a day trip. Back in pre-pandemic times I used to take trips like this all the time, but I actually felt a little nervous about this one beforehand, so out of practice was I.

I needn't have been. There's nothing to do at Pinnacles except hike, and it's pretty clear that my hiking days are now behind me, but you can at least look at the rocks from a distance. They look like this:

Pinnacles may be approached by road from either west or east, but the roads terminate with a trail gap between them, and while the gap is only 2 1/2 miles in length, it's a 60-mile drive around from one end to the other. Amazingly, we had time to visit both sides. The eastern and more isolated side has got the visitor center and campground, and most of the trails, but the western side - overlooking the Salinas Valley - though it has less there, it does have the better roadside views of the rocks.

We had both lunch and dinner out, at restaurants in towns along the way. Both places were open for spaced-out indoor dining, and the customs were the same as I'd observed at my only previous post-pandemic meal out nearly two months ago: servers keep masks strictly on, customers take them off to eat and then don't bother to put them back on again.

At dinner, in a slightly pretentious bar-cum-restaurant improbably set in a ranching town far up the Salinas Valley, as I wasn't the one driving I indulged myself with the very rare ordering of a cocktail. It was made with corn vodka, so I judged accurately that it wouldn't taste as rancid as something with whisky or rum. I couldn't resist the name of the drink, which was "Grapes of Wrath," though it tasted mostly of mint and the grapes were restricted to three speared on a tiny plastic skewer laid across the top of the glass.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

English suites and others no. 45

I've been following a general rule of limiting entries in this series to 2 per composer, but I'm allowing a third from Antonín Dvořák. Why? Because his top crust of music is probably the most tuneful and charming body of work in the classical field. And because we already had Brahms's Serenade for winds, so why not Dvořák's?

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Kennedy Center Socially Distanced Honors

These were accumulated and broadcast yesterday, so I watched the result. I enjoy the disparate styles and specialties of the honorees, and this was a good year for that.

There was a classical musician, as there is about half the time. This year it was the violinist Midori, whom I've heard live once. She got a reasonable ration of tribute performances: fellow former child prodigy Yo-Yo Ma in some solo Bach, Gil Shaham and Adele Anthony (a married couple, by the way) in a bit of Bach two-violin concerto, Hilary Hahn in part of Bernstein's Symposium (definitely not one of his populist works), and a young violinist named Randall Goosby in a Paganini caprice.

Of the other honorees:
  • Nobody else sings classic Joan Baez songs as well as she does;
  • It was worth honoring Dick Van Dyke for the acappella rendition of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang theme song alone;
  • I'd not previously heard of Debbie Allen nor known her work, but I enjoyed her choreographic style;
  • Garth Brooks was the final honoree and took the most honoring. Judging from the clips provided, I wouldn't enjoy his stage shows, but his songs (all new to me) were all right, and a couple of them made admirable socio-political points, which allies him with Joan Baez more than I'd have expected.

Sunday, June 6, 2021


DT is being widely mocked for his declarations that the presidential election will be overturned and he will be reinstated as president.

And rightly is he being mocked, for his only evidence for this scenario is the Argument from Personal Incredulity, the incredulity being DT's refusal to believe that he could possibly lose; therefore arguments must be invented that the ballots were somehow miscounted.

But I have also seen mockery to the effect that overturning an election after it's certified is unknown to the US Constitution, ridiculing the whole idea that it could ever happen.

But that's not true. It hasn't come up in a presidential election, and the insertion of the Electoral College into the process may change the way the rules work, but it's a long-established process in congressional elections.

First, though, let's eliminate the term "reinstatement." This is about a challenge to the 2020 election, and who was the incumbent has nothing to do with it.

Challenges to Congressional elections were a common feature of the 19th century, and they were often successful. They lingered on into the 20th. This link will (I think) enable you to open a PDF with a CRS report on all contested congressional election cases 1933-2009. As far as I can tell from this, the last time a seated congressperson was ejected in favor of a challenger was in 1938, but it has been known to happen, usually (at least in more recent cases) because of vote-counting questions in exceedingly close elections.

Again, the Electoral College complicates this in regard to presidential elections. In some states, the electors are legally required to elect the winner of the popular vote; in others, it's only customary. Can the electors be overturned if they weren't legally required to abide by an overturned vote? On the other hand, if they were, can the other party's electors be summoned to cast a new vote? This has never happened, so it's murky, whereas with congressional elections the mandate is clear: Article 1 Section 5, "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members."

So it'd be unlikely that DT could overturn the election even if he had any evidence to do so, but inherently risible? No, the idea is not.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

baseball movies

I almost never watch actual baseball games. I think I've seen two - both World Series games on TV - in the last twenty years, both of them because I happened to be there where they were on.

However, I occasionally watch baseball movies. A League of Their Own is one of my favorite movies period. I also enjoyed Moneyball and 42. However, I thought Bull Durham was boring and tedious.

Here are two, actually one and a half, that I saw on the Disney channel:

The Rookie. Dennis Quaid in the true story of a 35-year-old high-school science teacher and baseball coach in rural Texas, still reminiscing about his brief early career as a minor-league pitcher, derailed by arm injuries. When he discovers he still has his sizzling fastball, his team convince him to go for the major-league tryouts. (This must be to get rid of him. I can't believe a bunch of high-school boys would really care about their coach's lost dreams.) So he goes, and Tampa Bay signs him, despite his age. He relief-pitches in the minors for a couple months, and is just about to quit and come home when, near the end of the season, he's called up to the majors. When they play a road game in Texas, the entire town drives 300 miles to see him in the big lights. Fortunately he's called in near the end of the game. He strikes out a demon hitter in three fast pitches (in real life it took him four), and everyone cheers him after the game. The end.

It doesn't say what happened next. Actually it says he pitched for two seasons. That's not true. He pitched in two seasons. He played briefly at the end of 1999. Then in 2000 his arm problems started to come back. Early in the season he was called in to face an extra inning, tie score of course, bases loaded. And he walked the first batter. I don't know that much about baseball strategy but I do know that that's one situation where you really really don't want to walk the batter. He was immediately cut, and that was the end of that. Was it worth the trouble for such a petty result? Did he achieve his long-sought satisfaction from such a meager crumb of a pro career? Or was it enough to be able to say, "I was a major-league pitcher," even if it was only for a moment?

The Sandlot: Heading Home. According to a list I saw of films on the Disney channel, The Sandlot was a charming coming-of-age comedy. But it turns out not to be on the Disney channel. I didn't realize at the time I watched this, the only listing that came up, that it wasn't the original movie but the second direct-to-video sequel, and it really sucks. A pompous self-centered major-league hitter is magically transported back to his 12-year-old self and his sandlot team of the time, where his inability to grasp what's going on, despite the fact that he should recognize the settings and notice that even guys he still knew as adults are now, like, 12 years old, goes on long past plausibility, so I turned it off.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

movies on the disney channel

The difference between Freaky Friday (1976, remake 2003) and The Parent Trap (1961, remake 1998) is that, with Freaky Friday it's the remake which is smartly and wittily made while the original is stiff and awkward, while with The Parent Trap it's the original which is still charming and watchable while the remake is a bland copy.

The difference between Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994) is that, while both have a villain who might as well be carrying around a big sign reading, "Hey! I'm the villain!", The Lion King has nothing else. Aladdin at least has Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried to keep things amusing, while the main characters in The Lion King are all drips. I turned it off after not too long, and actually should have done so upon encountering the opening scene, which was a case of royalty-gushing so garish I thought it was 1894, not 1994. A retainer holds up the newborn lion cub, heir to the throne (is there only one lion at a time? no wonder Scar is PO'd), and all the animals, predators and prey, who have gathered from miles around just for this purpose, literally bow in homage. This movie deserved the pre-screen warning that they put on Aladdin for song lyrics like "It's barbaric, but hey it's home."