Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday night cat blogging

Charlie Parsley found these two little kittens, Campa and Quino at a friend's house. I think that's all the context you will need.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Some more trading card scans

The first two (and possibly the third) are from the show UFO Robot Grendizer. I don't remember watching this show, but certainly the image is familiar.I'm not sure about the one below. The bottom of the card says "otsunokogoro" but I'm not sure what that refers to. Also, I would think even Japanese anime characters would use katana looking swords, but this dude has a straight sword that you'd expect to find in some western fantasy story. And what are the spurs for?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Odious Trail

A hefty percentage of the Liverputty readers mail invariably inquires about our missing advice columnist, Finknottle. What's more, various persons of dubious background have come about the offices looking for Finknottle and spreading around threats and accusations. As a result, Liverputty has obtained the services of a certain agency skilled in finding and returning missing persons. The account of their investigation can be read at a new subsidiary site called: The Odious Trail. If you are one of those readers who cannot imagine life without Sir Augustus Finknottle, seek therapy. If that does not help, feel free to visit the The Odious Trail for the latest details.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Snarky Reviewer

by Escutcheon Blot
This is a follow-up to my interminable reading list of last week.

I want to talk about the Harry Potter series, and address the negative, both private and printed, critiques that I have read or heard from acquaintances. Please do not read this if you have not read the books. The following essay contains more spoilers than a white-trash Trans-Am circa 1979 (with a big fire eagle painted on the hood). I think that the series is a great of the landmark literary achievements of our time, and do not want to spoil the pleasure of any body's first read of the Potter saga.

Harry Potter's adventures in teenie-land have enthralled (if that's not too strong a word) me for the better part of the last decade. I started reading Rowling's saga in 2001 or 2002, when I, getting tired of the hype over what I expected to be a perfectly banal series (alla Bridges of Madison County--boring book, ugly bridges), bought the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone at the local supermarket. (I won't use the dumbed-down American title, which smacks more of English condescension than actual cultural differences...I knew what a philosopher's stone was when I was a teenager, and all that would have been required was an explanatory sentence...not too difficult, even for us dum 'merkins. I blame her publishers though, not Rowling).

Expecting a vacuous nothing, I was surprised in my first read, at how engaging the book was. It being, after all, a children's book, I finished in three or four hours. The world created by Ms. Rowling in this first, and shortest of the series, was so persistently in my mind, that I re-read the book a few days later, to try to figure out what it was that just wouldn't let me be. There are very few books that stay with me for more than a few hours after I have finished them (The Lord of the Rings and War and Peace spring to mind). I was unable to see beyond an admittedly clever, amusing, and well-paced story. I put it down to witchcraft.

Within a week, or so, I was in the Walmart near my parent's house, when, seeing the next three books in paperback and on sale, I splurged and bought the lot. (Being only marginally committed to the lunatic fringe, my single problem with Walmart is their unconscionable land-use, building mega stores next to existing, smaller, older stores, then closing the first one, which, due to Walmart's unassailably complete inventory, usually remains empty and becomes derelict.) I quickly sprinted through The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkabahn, and The Goblet of Fire, ever increasingly delighted by the improving quality, complexity, and--admittedly-- the length of the books. I accepted Rowling as a very clever writer, and an accomplished plotter who, even if she wrote relatively pedestrian prose, could pace a story brilliantly. I also suspected she was writing increasingly difficult books to mirror the development of the main characters, i.e. Book One for 11-year-olds, Book Two for 12-year-olds, and so on; a sort of latter-day graduated McGuffey Reader for the modern adolescent. What I missed at the time was the strong moral emphasis of the original McGuffey series.

The Order of the Phoenix, which I purchased on the day of its release, was a more difficult book, considerably darker, and showing Harry as much less charming as a 15-year-old than he was at younger ages in earlier books. He yells at everybody, whines constantly, and I personally would not have been terribly disappointed if Voldemort had appeared in his bedroom at Hogwart's and cursed him out of existence. But, upon reflection and my customary follow-up read, I remembered my own, spectacularly charmless adolescence, and applauded Rowling's verisimilitude and courage in writing for her heretofore lovable hero, a very un-lovable year. Harry even manages, through his own arrogance, and, as Hermione says rather presciently, his "saving-people thing", to get his own godfather killed.

Then came The Half-Blood Prince, which, purchased on the first day of course, was eagerly devoured. After re-read and reflection, I was, on the whole, disappointed with the complexity and sophistication of the storytelling. The book was considerably shorter than its two predecessors (a fact which her publishers tried to hide by larger, more widely-spaced print), and also much-simplified. But the plotting, which is, after all, the strong point of the author, was upon further consideration, not just strong, but perfect (dare I say that?). The logic which underlay all the previous episodes began to bear fruit in this the penultimate. Chance, or rather, seemingly chance paragraphs, sentences, even words and objects from the previous five books were explained in the sixth. The mystery of the ghost of a Tom Riddle not actually dead, which possessed Ginny Weasley in the second book was explained by the revelation of the Horcruxes in book six. Finally realizing that there were no throwaway lines, no chance revelations, I re-read all of the previous five, and then the sixth again.

The result was stunning. Here was a single novel, plotted over 3,000 pages (at that point)which maintained not only a through-line, but seemed not to possess a single logical or temporal inconsistency. One cannot say that for Tolkein's, considerably shorter, though considerably more elegantly written masterpiece, to which Potter is often unfavorably compared. Anthony Trollope's Barchester Chronicles, though they hold a firm place in heart and in my regard, cannot compare with this achievement. And I can think of no similarly lengthy novel series which even pretends to accomplish the same thing (I must admit that I have never read Proust).

I discussed the books with a very good friend and with my sister, both mature women, well-read and well-educated, and, like myself, enraptured by the ongoing perfection of plot. We eagerly awaited the final book, The Deathly Hallows. We all agreed that Snape was good--that he was working undercover and had killed Dumbledore upon his own request--nay, demand. That he had been protecting Harry all along, due to his life-long and unrequited love for Lilly Potter. We also were sure that the R.A.B. was Sirius Black's younger brother Regulus. We suspected that there was a Horcrux in the Room of Hidden Things at Hogwarts...there would be no reason to detail the contents otherwise. We, independently, came to these correct--as it proved--conclusions because they were inescapable. Of course, none of us knew what the Deathly Hallows were, but then that was unrevealed information. (Although even with that there were clues; the black stone in the ring of Marvolo Gaunt and the peculiar appearance of Dumbledore's wand, so unlike the polite, well-formed wands of Ollivander's make.) There are, quite simply, no chance remarks in Rowling's work.

Like a well-plotted mystery of Agatha Christie, the answer is obvious and inescapable if one has read the book carefully. (I have less regard for mystery writers who, either for lack of ability, or simply a desire to remain opaque, do not allow their readers this chance to come to the correct solution before the solution is revealed--this doesn't mean they don't write well--often considerably better than Christie herself did.) That a book can be so perfectly plotted is, witness Christie, eminently achievable, and unsurprising. What is unprecedented, indeed, amazing, is an overarching thematic scheme, complete to small details, spanning what is, in the end, over 4,000 pages of entertaining storytelling. The choice of Rowling to couch this in the simplistic language of her initial, pre-teen readers made this obviously more easily achieved, but the achievement is nonetheless remarkable.

The first critique of the books, then, that they are poorly written and dull...childlike and vacuous, are patently false--they are merely simply written. J.K. Rowling may not be a mistress of elegant prose, but Henry James is considered one of the all-time prose geniuses, and he often lost the plot before he finished a sentence. There is, of course, the pleasing narcissism of being able to pooh-pooh all that is popular in order to appear sophisticated and intellectual; but I don't think this explains either the undercurrent of supercilious praise of Rowling as a children's author, or the outright condemnation (as in the recent review in the Christian Science Monitor or the faux review in the Guardian) of the central character as having made no moral journey. Or that he possesses flawed morals and presents an ambiguous debate of good and evil, where evil is obviously evil, but good lies and cheats, and, quite frankly, steals...Snape's potion ingredients in book two, Dobby's gillyweed in book four, the cup of Helga Hufflepuff in book seven...are just three examples.

Harry gladly accepts the help of Mad-Eye Moody (actually a Death Eater in disguise) to win the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The fact that he honourably passes on the ill-gotten information to Cedric Diggory is an important facet of his character--that Harry is essentially fair, good, and absolutely unselfish--though self-involved, at times. That Barty Crouch Jr. uses the goodness of Cedric to his advantage is typical of the disdain evil has for goodness...and that brings me to the crux of what I see as the thesis of Rowling.

J.K. Rowling has said many times that she absolutely believes in the existence of magic, and in the need for magic in the world today. (This is the reason for so many religious groups' condemnations, unread, of the Potter series--no belief system relying upon the existence of the supernatural can tolerate a seeming competitor: fanatics understanding no metaphors.) She also says, ad infinitum, through the mouth of Dumbledore, that the greatest magic of all is selfless love. She underscores this by the constant mockery of this concept by most of the Death Eaters, and by Voldemort himself. They believe in power, which enables them to rain down death upon their foes; not realizing that only love can defeat death itself. Rowling even "let slip" in an interview earlier this year that a member of Harry's family would reveal latent magical talent. I was annoyed, at first reading that I did not find this event. But, but, but...there are no random events in Potter's World, and apparently not in Rowling's either...Dudley Dursley learns the power of gratitude, and discovers his love for his former punching-bag of a cousin, much to the horror of his thoroughly unloving parents. It is love for Draco (though selfish) that keeps, inexplicably, the two elder Malfoys alive, seemingly alone among all the Death Eaters who have invaded Hogwart's in the finale. Draco, who through his (truly inexplicable) love for Crabbe and Goyle, and attempt to save them, is himself saved by his arch-enemy, Harry. (NB: Rowling has since said that she changed her mind...but I don't buy it)

Harry's mother dies before the action of the first book. She dies in a selfless, and seemingly futile attempt to save Harry's life, just as James Potter, wandless, throws himself in the path of Voldemort, buying not more than a second or two of respite. These sacrifices endow Harry with a powerful protection against Voldemort, and sow the seeds of Voldemort's undoing.

The accusation that Harry makes no moral journey is a considerably more serious, and seriously flawed one, than the snarkily intellectual dhimmitude that he and his fans undergo from critics of the left, who (perhaps) see the strongly moral underpinnings, and, much like Screwtape, point out gleefully the personal foibles and inconsistencies in order to discredit the professor and possessor of a despicable (to them) sense of good and evil.

From the revelation of the prophecy in book five (in my mind, the best of the series from a purely literary standpoint) that "Neither can live while the other survives" makes clear to Harry that his destiny involves certain death, either his own or Voldemort's...and he must be Voldemort's executioner. Heady stuff for a 15-year-old. That Harry is put (a bit daringly) in his own Garden of Gethsemane at less than half the age of Christ, and no son of God, begotten, not made, is the ultimate test of character.

In the sense that Harry does not start out bad and end up good, yes Virginia, there is no moral journey. Harry starts out instead, as a child, and in seven short years, becomes, in the words of Dumbledore, "a much better man than I". And it's true, amazingly enough. Harry is not a brilliant man--often mistaken in this world as being of more worth than a good man--he is merely good. This is what so inflames the intellectual critics who damn him and Rowland, and the only thing that enables him to defeat Voldemort, an incomparably more intelligent, powerful and gifted wizard.

Harry, after his "let this cup pass from me" moment, fulfills Hermione's messianic allusion (the "saving-people" comment of book 5) in his willing self-sacrifice(earlier eschewing the pursuit of the Elder Wand, thus abnegating the possibility of victory through power--apparently)...going into the den of beast, offering himself as willing sacrifice, as did his mother, for his friends...and wins the ultimate victory over death itself. This is a great journey, but not, perhaps, the moral one of the narrow world of the Christian Science Monitor. I think, or rather suspect, that Rowling is quite a fan of C.S. Lewis, not, as I have stated earlier and elsewhere, of the childish pablum of Narnia, but of the philosophy of Mere Christianity and the negative lesson of The Screwtape Letters.

Of course the fans of sophistry and snide, intellectual brutality will never be fan of a boy/man who tries simply to be good, and to do what's right. He is brave, he is true, and in the end, he triumphs. READ! THESE! BOOKS!

Yours, selflessly, lovingly,

Escutcheon Blot

Please don't laugh, this is a comedy -or- Spider Pig

by Escutcheon Blot
On my recent trip to Warsaw (a trip I make every year...failing every year to read some book or other on the long train ride)I put aside a little time from the spreading about of that fresh, clean, invigorating Blot-essence which is my normal wont when in Warsaw(Vienna on the Vistula) to catch a couple of flicks I wanted to see in the Original.

You see, (or maybe you don't--I'm very open) in Poland, films--those not for children--are not dubbed, as is done in Germany, France, or Italy (children's films are dubbed). There, they simply turn down the volume, and over it they record one speaker, usually male, reading all of the dialogue. He is called the Lektor. Like Lecturer (or Hannibal). Which is exactly what he sounds like to my non-Polish-understanding ears. Hectoring, very. The original soundtrack is still audible, but not to the point of understanding. This practice my Polish friend, herself almost perfectly bi-lingual, defended over dubbing; asserting that, since one heard the original voices of the actors, this enabled one, with a bit of practice, to colour the dialogue as delivered by the Lektor, with the intended vocal qualitites--and required no knowledge of English. This is a positive, of course, only assuming that the voice in question is one whose original sound is not a detriment to the characterization(referencing Keanu Reeves here would merely be gratuitous--and mean--so I won't mention him).

They also have a practice, lately especially, of playing original language films with sub-titles (big hits only) concurrently with the lektored Polish versions(on different screens, of course). I have taken advantage of this English-friendly attitude (common in Holland and Norway--although in those countries one hears curiously little Polish) by seeing several first-run films which I would otherwise have had to have seen dubbed into German, or have waited until they came to premium cable, or have seen them on the way to or from America, on a 10cm screen attatched to the headrest of my forward neighbor (whom I will usually have ended up hating, as they always recline 10 minutes into the flight, and don't raise their seats until the last 10 minutes). Needless to say, this has been a great boon for me. As long as there are no laughs.

A drama, requiring only a sad and profound understading of great human strife and woe, is just fine and dandy when readers and hearers sit in close proximity to one another. Aside from the occaisonal gasp, the audience is not expected to make much of a fuss. But a comedy is made to be laughed at (or with). "But Blot!" you say, "what's wrong with a little laughter?". Everything.

The vast majority of people, even seemingly perfectly bi-lingual, will read their own language much more quickly than they will understand a text in a foreign language; even one ostensibly known to them. I first noticed this problem a few years ago in Munich, when I went to a subtitled showing (relatively rare in Germany) of Calendar Girls in an art house kino (a movie theater is a 'kino', 'theater' is for live theater only). I was at first surprised, then increasingly frustrated as I missed joke after joke, as the audience was reading the German translation far more quickly than those elderly, over-exposed English ladies could possibly spit out the original. The preemptory laughter obliterated the actual jokes. At the time, my German was much weaker than now, and I had no hope of reading the sub-titles quickly enough to 'get it'.

As I had not yet seen a comedy in Poland (or at least not one where people laughed), I eventually got over this trauma, and the pain receded into distant memory. I went to Warsaw full of hope and hype for Harry Potter V and The Simpsons Movie. Harry was first in the queue. During the previews, a dubbed trailer(Poles, for some strange reason, consider The Simpsons to be a children's series, and hence, a children's movie) for The Simpsons was played, featuring Homer and Spider Pig. Homer was singing "Spider Pig", which was also dubbed by the Polish voice actor. "Shpaiderr Krumm, Shpaiderr Krumm, something something something in Polish dum dee dumm", elicited uproarious laughter in the audience. My friend later informed me that the text sounded simply funnier in Polish than in English...of course she did not grow up with the Spider Man cartoon--being communist at the time.

Bemused, but not forwarned, I blithely went to The Simpsons the next day. Fortunately the theater was nearly empty(the film had been running almost a week--and it was dubbed completely into Polish on the screen next door). It was, however, a surreal experience. I laughed when no one else laughed. Everyone else laughed as I sat silent, uncomprehending. (Yes, I know; after high school this should have come as no great surprise.)

Due to fundamental differences between Polish and English, some jokes were either not translated at all, or translated in very unfunny ways. Homer's farewell to the Indian seer "Goodbye Boob Lady" earned a rare Blot bark of surpised laughter; ringing sharply through the silent theater. One could hear the shocked chirruping of central european crickets. My friend whispered that it had been translated into Polish as, "Goodbye Old Gypsy Woman". Nearby, a young woman with a dusky cast, and flashing, black eyes, stared intensely at me. The rose in her hair quivered indignantly.

Now, we Blots have long been possessed of a magnificence unsurpassed when forced into an attitude of cold disdain. I therefore coldly disdained with every fiber of my being. Disdain of rare magnitude seems to have saved me from a gypsy curse.

Other mis-cues followed. I was alone in gasping at Marge's "Throw the G.D. Bomb!": not translated into an appropriately shocking Polish equivalent. This is an aspect of Poland that seems to have changed since the ascension of the Kreepy Kachinskis Twins to the posts of President and Prime Minister. Team America, a film of rare pathos and emotional depth (and marionette sex), is not to be found in Poland, although the preceeding South Park movie was almost immediately available of DVD. There is a disconcerting rise in censorious prudery in the Polish capitol; although the store with the English name(I kid you not); Five Finger Erotic Store (!) still sits on a major thoroughfare. It seems one is still allowed to be shocking in Poland, as long as one is not shocking in Polish.

But that's neither here nor there. I was mildly disappointed in the Simpsons, although not surprised that a brilliant 22 minute form couldn't be extended to ninety minutes--or whatever it was. I would like to defend it, however, from one criticism which came from a writer I normally enjoy--Mark Steyn.

Steyn makes the argument that the Simpsons fails because it lacks the brilliant musical parodies that so enliven the TV series. Well, I beg to differ. Certainly there is only one song parodied, that of Spider Man. And Homer's words are trite in the extreme. But they are also brilliant in that they are self-aware in their obvious banality.

"Spider Pig, Spider Pig
Does whatever a Spider Pig does.
Can he swing from a web?
No he can't, he's a pig,
Look out! Here comes the Spider Pig"

The very insouciant stupidity of the song, I would argue, is its brilliance. Steyn also makes the error, distressingly common in today's "intellectual" circles, of conflating brilliance of text (not immediately obvious in Spider Pig) with brilliance of music. That, or he left before the credits ran. The magnificent choral anthem "Spider Pig" was one of the most intelligent bits of musical parody(and funniest) I have ever heard. My friend and I (she is a concert pianist) were rocking with laughter. But musical, as opposed to musical theater, literacy is a quality so rapidly decreasing as to be almost unknown today--outside of trained musicians. I remember reading many years ago(I think it was in the New Criterion) a writer lamenting the fact that the self-identified intellectuals of today could tell you all about the latest writers, graphic artists, philosphers, et al, but if pressed to talk about music, would fall back on popular singers of a few decades past, as an example of "serious music". And then they would quote texts. Texts are not music. Understanding and appreciating one is no substitute for understanding and appreciating the other.

This was not always the case, by any stretch of the imagination. In Patrick Dennis' book Aunty Mame, Mame punctures succinctly the prospective bride Melissa Maddox's musico-artistic pretensions:
"Have you noticed, too, my little love, that Melissa's 'Fugue in D' is actually 'Ramona' played backwards and in C--her only key?"

Or Lady Catherine De Bourgh's (Pride and Prejudice) statement that " I would have been a great profficient had I but learned to play". There are many other examples. The point being that a basic knowledge of music used to be considered a fundamental aspect of a well-educated person, and the shamming of such knowledge ripe fodder for satire.

Some of the greatest music works ever composed have no text at all. Some have rather banal texts which are elevated by musical brilliance. One of my favorites, the opera Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell, is set to the rather pedestrian doggerel of Nahum Tate (later poet laureate of England--go figure). A simple test of musical, as opposed to textual, literacy, proposed many years ago by someone whom I don't remember, is to ask someone to go to a piano, and starting on middle C (everyone should be able to find middle C on a piano--this requires only visual memory and no musical ability whatsoever) pick out the initial theme of the overture to Carmen (The Bad News Bears theme). Many will play an F as the 6th note, whereas the actual note is an E. This is not as difficult a test as it sounds, as the first four notes are a repeated C.

This is not said as an harangue to learn about music (although that would be far from a bad thing) but rather as a warning not to criticise that which one does not understand. Mark Steyn should stick to politics and other family games. A qualified music critic he isn't--although he is far from being alone there. Most music critics are not qualified to criticize either--the common denominator among them being the ability to witily and scathingly destroy careers, rather than find middle C.

And stop laughing when I am trying to hear the damn jokes.

Yours in moderately High Dudgeon,

Escutcheon Blot

Friday, August 24, 2007

Japan in the 1930s

Japan Sugoi had some really cool film clips of 1930s Japan. The one below is from 1937. Interesting to see Ueno Park and the Ueno zoo back then. And notice that the men are almost all in western clothes, but the women are still entirely in kimonos. Go here for more clips.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Uchuu Tetsujin Kyodain

Outer space iron robots/humans. Kyodain must be the family name. I confess remembering hardly anything about this show, except that the jet guy turned into a jet and the car guy turned into a car. Stuff that I didn't remember: they fought aliens that kidnapped their super scientist father and made him create something or other that they planned to use to destroy the earth. On the sly, the super scientist father made his two sons into kickers of asses with some really bizarre costumes.

Ryouji - aka Granzel:
Granzel as a car:
Jouji - aka Skyzel:
Skyzel as a jet:
Of course, as the Go Rangers made clear, no self-respecting hero goes around without a matching dirt bike (being five heroes on a budget, the Go Rangers managed with only three bikes and two stylish side cars...please forgive their frugality).I don't remember if the following badman was a villain on their show (they fought these types of things). All I know is I wouldn't take my chances leading him into the swamps:And this guy, whether he fought the uchuu tetsujin or not, has an outfit that is simply too good not to share:This Wikipedia article mentioned the heavy merchandising that went along with the show. I don't remember having any toys of theirs, except the two cards (or three, counting the possible Michelin man gone wrong) pictured above - but I imagine I wanted them at one time. It seems that all the shows, whether live-action or anime, had excellent metal toys to go with them. Maybe they were ahead of the U.S. in marketing toys based on shows. I'm not sure, but I'd venture to suggest that Japanese toys (not talking about the Shogun Warriors marketed in the U.S.) were the best toys made in the 70s - worldwide...action-figure wise. But that's another post.

The Wikipedia article also mentioned the show's trademark fast-pace editing during the fight sequences, which, being a pet peeve of mine, kinda makes me glad I couldn't find this DVD:It's sometimes best to keep such memories vague and romantic. And, in case you were wondering: Wagstaff was the car guy, I was the jet guy:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Blot's Read List

From Escutcheon Blot
Hallo Kiddies!

The ever and ever-increasingly beloved Blot has returned home to Berlin (also known as Sodom on the Spree) from a very busy season. As you all know by now, I accomplish a lot of reading in the down-time on the road and between performances.

I wanted to share with all of you who actually work 40+hour weeks, and then go home to families who adore you, consequently having no time to read so exhaustively, what I have exhaustingly read--who do the first only occasionly and the second almost never.

First the list of the 2006-7 season: I was going to list it here, but it is long, boring, pretentious, and actually rather embarassing when one considers the implied aspersion it makes upon my ability to interact with living people. In my defense, when I am at home I accomplish no more than 2 books per week of reading, rather than the book-a-day pace of my on-the-road sojourns.

In no particular order (actually the order that I found them in my bookshelves, and could remember if I had read them this year or last--a concomitant hazard of reading so much and so quickly that some books are forgotten as soon as they are finished: conversely, a benefit is that good books can be read over and over again, as I have always missed something the last time around):

Venice-Tales of the City, by Michelle Lovric -- a chatty history of sinking city.

The Middle East-2000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day, by Bernard Lewis --very good history-deliniates Shia-Sunni strife and history thereof.

Charles Dickens, The Last of the Great Men, by G.K. Chesterton -- acceptable paeon to Dickens, whom I love, by an author for whom I have no particular regard.

Rosenkranz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard -- OK, it's a play...but I read it, didn't I?

Howard's End, by E.M. Forster -- better than the film, but then, what isn't? (Later NB: there should be no apostrophe, apparently, but my copy, an relatively early American edition, 1921, has an apostrophe on the cover and then none in the either the running titles or the text itself...just another fun bibliophilic brouhaha---thanks to Edward Copeland for bringing the problem to my attention)

Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, by C. Dickens -- all re-reads, of course - a recurrent, spasmodic reassesment of my favorite books of Dickens' -I liked Copperfield better, Twist rather less: never liked Cities, and still don't.

Journey into Christmas, by some chick named Aldrich -- blah! Tripe.

I Claudius and Claudius the God, by Robert Graves -- great historical novels.

The Honey Badger, by Robert Ruark -- a more than semi-autobiographical book of Ruark's approaches the lyrical beauty of The Old Man and the Boy.

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole -- I finally found a good, used copy, at the same time remembering that I wanted to read it...lots of fun.

Vanity Fair and the Christmas Books (collection), by William Thackary --VF a re-read, still like it, although I prefer Dickens; Christmas Books mostly forgettable, except for the diary of WT's gourmandizing for a week or so...amazing what that man ate...course he died young...and fat.

Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion, by Jane Austen -- just a re-read of my 3 favorite Austens...for my money P & P is the most perfect novel in the English language.

False Impression, by Jeffrey Archer -- Lord Archer, convicted of perjury in politically-motivated gotcha trial after Tories lost '97 election - better writer than politician, though - The Fourth Estate is a must-read.

Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin (the Berlin Novels), by Christopher Isherwood -- I expected more from this iconic writer whom I had never read--Oh well.

Village Centenary, Tyler's Row, Summer at Fairacre, Farther Afield, Village Affairs, and A Peaceful Retirement, by Miss Read -- I found these all at a used bookstore in Darmstadt, discarded by some Anglophile--slender but pleasant reads, especially for those who have seen Last of the Summer Wine on PBS or BBC America.

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth -- Biography of beloved Aunt and Uncle...I like Seth, loved A Suitable Boy...but this and his other few novels are simply not up to what is still his magnum opus.

Out of Africa, by Karen Blixen --nice, but not really worth the hype...a rare instance where the film might actually be better than the original book.

Perfume, by Patrick Sueskind -- yucky yucky book...I read it English, not wanting to wade through the German...good though, in its way.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco -- another author who seems to have shot his wad early on...Foucault's Pendulum and the Name of the Rose have not been equaled by later efforts.

The Voyage Out, by Virginia Woolf -- Juvenelia - nice first effort, of interest only to Woolf fans.

North Toward Home, by Willie Morris -- from whence came the basis of the film My Dog Skip...good book, but not worth the attention it got...another example of the tendancy of northern critics to beatify mediocre southern writers who leave the South and then bad-mouth it.

The Winter of our Discontent, by John Steinbeck -- I like Steinbeck, and I like this book.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville -- great book - homoerotic like all his seafaring efforts.

Evelina and Cecilia, by Fanny Burney -- first important female novelist, late 18th century, daughter of the great music writer Dr. Charles Burney--very enjoyable portraits of upper-class life in the reign of George the Third.

The World of Mr. Mulliner, by P.G. Wodehouse -- anyone who has read my periodic effusions knows I love Wodehouse...this book is no exception...a good intro to old Pelham Grenville(Plum) they are all short stories.

My Uncle Oswald, by Roald Dahl -- the amorous adventures of a fictional uncle...typical Dahl, a comedy involving syphillus.

The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids, The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndam -- early British sci-fi writer: I found an omnibus edition--well-written and enjoyable--more personal than most later sci-fi techno-babble.

My Antonia, by Willa Cather -- always wondered what the fuss was about Willa Cather...still wondering.

A Widow for One Year, The Fourth Hand, The Hotel New Hampshire, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving -- went through an Irving spasm...enjoyable reading...lots of perversion.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke -- a sort of Jane Austen meets Harry obviously JK Rowling-inspired writer who, although she writes considerably more elegant prose, is not the storyteller that the Potter-plotter is...very good books though, well worth a read.

Chance, by Joseph Conrad -- I don't like Conrad, and though I remember reading this, I don't remember what it was about...something Edwardian and plodding, as I recall.

What Came Before He Shot Her, by Elizabeth George -- an unpleasant follow-on to the last, and upsettingly-concluding mystery in the Lynley series - which are generally very good.

Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard -- if this is what Scientology is all about, then the German government should stop persecuting the poor deluded idiots...they make enough problems for themselves.

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami -- a somewhat scatterbrained, deconstrunctionist fanatasy novel, full of cultural references--the disturbing thing is that almost all of the references are European, leading one to consider the borrower label the Japanese have carried for almost a century as being, in the person of this very popular author at least, well deserved.

Moving Mars, by Greg Bear -- a lightweight novel by one of sci-fi's more respected "hard" authors.

Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan -- again, enjoyable, but not really worth the hype it garnered.

The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov -- Asimov, like Heinlein, was great for his ideas, rather than his prose--but both good storytellers, nonetheless.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, age 13 & 1/2, and Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, by Sue Townsend -- the first and latest in the long, and putatively hilarious series by English authoress Townsend...she's no Wodehouse.

Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin -- Early eighties fantasy, alternative history...sweet and entertaining.

The Flight of the Falcon, by Daphne du Maurier -- mystery novel, typical du Maurier; mid-twen-cen gothic.

Black Narcissus, by Rumer Godden -- Big hit in 50's, made into moderately successful film...nuns run amok in the Himalayas; Whee!

The Beautiful and the Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- a lesser novel by a near-great novelist...certainly it disturbs all that within oneself which says one is not achieving what one should, and one is spending far more money doing it than one should, to boot.

Helen with the High Hand, by Arnold Bennett -- Slim, mildly amusing novel by mildly amusing early twentieth-century humourist.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis -- a re-read from teen years...too irritatingly wholesome and dated for my taste...The Screwtape Letters are a far better exposition--in photographic negative - of Lewis' Mere Christianity than Narnia ever was, despite contrarian hype.

Pandoras Star and Judas Unchained, by Peter Hamilton -- a very well-written Parable of the Enemy Within and Without, set in the middle of the new millenium(4 or 5 hundred years from now, that is; very literary sci-fi, and very little techno-speak.

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger -- a recent effort by a new author, part of the whole chick literature movement, meandering - on purpose, I think - but surprisingly moving at the end.

Chesapeake, by James Michener -- a re-read, one of Michener's greatest books, especially for this transplanted Tidewater Virginian - although the whole book takes place in the Maryland end of the bay...blech!

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith -- Good!...Evil wins in an entertainingly bloody fashion.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley -- Arthurian legend retold - for the umpteenth time - this time from the vantage-point of the Druids and Morgen le Fay; worthwhile.

The Lighthouse and The Children of Men, by P.D. James -- the poor man's Agatha Christie...good writer and plotter, but no Christie...Lighthouse written recently and showing a lamentable decline in ability from an author in her eighties.

Parsival, by Richard Monaco -- Arthurian re-telling found in remaindered bin for fifty cents...worth the fifty cents.

How to be Good, by Nick Hornby -- another putatively funny British author...why can't the English write comedy anymore? I think they have become, like the rest of us, too angry.

The Risen Empire, by Scott Westerfield -- don't buy this looks great, sci-fi tome with mystery surprise ending...but no big surprise; plod-o-rama.

Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreissler -- amoral morality tale from Gilded Age...clumsily written by newspaper man, but enjoyable to the end, even if it drags a bit in spots.

The Ponder Heart, by Eudora Welty -- I like ol' Eudora, and this is one of her most famous books...but it copies a little too much of Faulkner for me to respect its originality.

Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi -- an at-times pedestrian, at-times chilling non-fiction account of an female intellectual's life in the Islamic Republic.

Dublin and Ireland Awakening, by Edward Rutherford -- Historical novel by English author who, chaemeleon-like, dons the mantle of unquenchable Irish grievance against the English occupiers...not perhaps as good as Sarum, but Dublin, especially, is one of the best in this, to my mind somewhat questionable, genre.

The Testament, by John Grisham -- good beach read.

Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess -- P.G. Wodehouse meets Noel Coward, travels the world, becomes pope's in-law, has lots of faithless boyfriends, and writes a lot.

The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis -- purchased in the Atlanta airport to wile away the time on the flight back to Europe...mission accomplished.

Theft, by Peter Carey -- who-dunnit in modern art world...pretty good actually, now that I think about it--Australian.

Changing Planes, by Ursula le Guin -- whatever - not bad if you can find a used copy...not worth ten bucks for a new one, however.

Harry Potter Years 1-6, by J.K. Rowling -- I wanted to refresh my memory for Year 7.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling -- tome to be posted next week.

These are the books that I can remember having read in the 2006-7 season (September to July). Obviously, I read too much and reflecting upon how many are re-reads and how some books I can't really even remember; too quickly. The list is not too terribly serious, taken as a whole - for, when I am working/travelling, I am often too pre-occupied to concentrate on weightier matters, and I try to buy most of my books in second-hand shops, which tends to render my reading list a bit scattershot and eccentric - especially when one considers that I live in Germany, but don't enjoy reading in German, so must choose from the far less multitudinous English section.

As I said, I don't mean to fact last week I had to stop reading for three or four days, because of eye-strain. Reading this much is merely a function of how much time I was on the road.

Yours, lovingly,

Escutcheon Blot

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Go Rangers

These guys are as tough as they come in bizarro future/present/past Japan (see back story here). There were a bunch of these types of shows in Japan during the 70s and (I guess) 80s, but the Go Rangers (five in number, as the name suggests) were one of the most popular. With the exception of the shot direcly below, these are more scans I picked out of storage, mostly thick trading cards. I love their mode of transportation, particularly the side cars. Dressing up like this would be my only incentive to attend Sturges (where my friends and I would start kicking asses!).The leader of the pack was Red Ranger. He had jet packs on his belt and was good with a whip. This would make an excellent Halloween costume.I'm not sure if he used his jet belt to get to this altitude, but they all know how to jump and kick.As a kid reenacting these characters in the neighborhood, I was usually the #2 guy - aka Blue Ranger, subordinate to my older brother who assumed the role of Red Ranger - not to be confused with America's Red Ryder (in which case, I would have been Little Beaver). We had masks for each character and, in the spirit of sharing, would swap them occasionally, before embarking on some mission somewhere on the base. But I was generally the blue guy. As you can tell in this photo, Blue Ranger was amazingly quick.Here's another look at that villain. I believe if I were up against this, I'd use the summer heat against him.Green Ranger had a boomergang, though he's not using one here. I can't help but notice that his adversary's eyes are bulging vulnerably away from his head. Surely that must be a weakness to exploit.Yellow Ranger (Kiresoja?) was the strongest of the bunch, according to the reference linked in the title of this post. The second picture below seems to bear this out, showing that he is able to lift a 120 lb. man over his head. He is also fond of curry.

And then there's Pink Ranger. Prrrrr. I'm not sure who Nancy is, or why her name is etched on this card, but as you can tell, Pink Ranger is not incapable of kicking in a bronze head. I remember that Danielle from across the street wore the pink mask. And boy she could wear it. Yow!The Go Rangers stand for nothing if they don't stand for justice, revenge and teamwork. The latter is shown here, where they have apprehended a character who seems to have plenty of ready-made handles on his head. Don't ask me what Yellow Ranger is up to.