STUMP » Articles » Meep Media: Give Me Brain Candy » 1 October 2017, 16:01

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Meep Media: Give Me Brain Candy  

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1 October 2017, 16:01

Because meep cannot live on soda tax posts alone (which reminds me of a vegan blues song I wrote once upon a time:)

then i went to that place
just down the street
where you can get cheap falafel
(and if you want to, some meat)
belly-fillin and crunchy
but now i must moan
good lord, man does not
live by falafel alone.

That was the second stanza and it was in 2001, so it’s been a while. Stu is no longer a strict vegetarian, but I seriously can make awesome vegan baked goods because of all those years Stu was a vegetarian.

Anyway, I devour books and movies. Let me share what I love with you!

I am watching a documentary about the band They Might Be Giants right now.

It came out before any of my kids were born, and I bought it when it was released. The first TMBG album I ever had (on cassette) was Flood. I was in high school at the time.

My only criticism of the documentary is the amount of “um“s and “you know“s.

My big plaudit is that the doc is full of music.

And that’s TMBG’s big plus: they are always producing more music. Back in the day, they had an answering machine playing new songs all the time. Now it’s a playlist on Youtube, but it seems they’ve not updated it in a couple years.

Anyway, here is a video where I sing a TMBG song with help from my daughters.

That’s from almost a decade ago. I like TMBG, and it is a little different.

Speaking of different, let me shift gears!

HAVE A LITTLE MAGICAL OPERA

I will be getting to books in a bit. But I just finished an audiobook, and then switched over to listening to Die Zauberflote (aka The Magic Flute).

This opera is known for a couple songs in particular.

The Queen of the Night aria:

and the Papageno/Papagena duet:

Lots of fun productions of The Magic Flute out there in all sorts of languages. I really enjoyed a Star Wars-themed Magic Flute which was hilarious, but there are others out there as well.

I won’t call this representative of opera, because dang, Mozart is the best, not representative. But also, the Magic Flute was intended to be easily accessible to the public at the time (unlike some of Mozart’s other works.) You can make all sorts of adjustments as to language, setting, etc. and it still works.


Here’s the Star Wars-themed Magic Flute in Norwegian:

I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE

So the two books I finished recently have as their focus: children and the future.

First up: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. While I have cut out a lot of my commute by dropping my UConn job(s), I still drive a lot and so this made it into my audiobook rotation. Excellent audiobook (though the reader sometimes had odd accents that didn’t quite work.)

I could spoil the book, but not spoil it — the big thing is to work through the societal changes with the coming of the Overlords. It’s not a big thing to note that the book ends with the last man on Earth recording his observations of the end of the world. Because that the world ends is not quite a surprise… it’s a question of how (and why) it ends.

The main critique of Clarke is that he explains too much — Mr. Exposition. He makes things transparently clear when he wants you to know what’s going on. There’s no subtlety in it.

But that’s okay, because his strength is working through an idea, and it takes several steps. And in this one, the “spoiler” is in the title. Childhood ends, and thus humanity’s future ends. Again, not subtle.

But it’s not what you think. And it’s not depressing – it’s just different.

THE LAND CAN BE STOLEN

The other audiobook I went through was The Good Earth. Again, an excellent reader.

I enjoyed it, but it’s essentially plotless. It follows one man, from the day of his wedding to not long before he dies. The man is a man of the land. Yes, there’s a specificity that it’s in a particular place in China, but the Chinese specifics aren’t actually important.

Let me bring it back to something different: Jane Austen’s novels are extremely popular still and many people find a lot to relate to in the books. But we’re not in the same socioeconomic landscape anywhere. But while entailment and the 4-percents aren’t exactly around now, one can still understand the human dynamics.

And I saw that with the primary character Wang Lung. The main theme is that Wang Lung gets his strength from the land he owns and works, and when he can’t work the land productively, there is a deterioration.

But the details are amusing as well. I really appreciated the cluelessness of a man who has never had to deal with a woman’s world — Wang Lung not understanding why there is no peace in a household with 3 adult women who have past issues with each other.

One detail that stood out to me: very few people had real names in the book.

The protagonist, Wang Lung, has two names. He’s the only character with two names.

Most of the characters are identified as “Wang Lung’s uncle”, “Wang Lung’s uncle’s wife”, “eldest son”, and the like.

Except: O-lan, Wang Lung’s wife. She is something of an enigma, but a powerful personality on her own. No, she doesn’t talk much, but for that matter, neither does Wang Lung. Wang Lung keeps vigil as O-lan dies, never fully understanding her but ultimately understanding her value.

Ching, Wang Lung’s neighbor and then employee. Wang Lung doesn’t feel confusion with his relationship here and this is the only person one sees Wang Lung really grieve when he dies.

There are other characters with supposed names, like Cuckoo, Lotus, Pearblossom, and Liu, but I don’t see any of these as real names. Cuckoo, Lotus, and Pearblossom are whore names. There’s no getting around that. Liu and the House of Hwang are family names. I suppose Ching is also a family name, but he has more personality than anybody from Liu or Hwang.

This book isn’t a re-read book. I got what I wanted out of the book from one exposure, which tells me it will likely die off over time (unlike, in contrast, the Odyssey).

But while I liked the book for being a very human story – of an ordinary person, dealing with ordinary human problems – it was something from the very end that provided an irony I don’t think the author, Pearl S. Buck, intended. The novel ends with Wang Lung overhearing his sons talking about selling his land after he dies. Wang Lung gets upset and says something akin to “you can’t steal land” to his sons.

But Pearl S. Buck, writing the novel in 1929, did not know that the land definitely could be stolen. Given she died in 1973, I assume she realized that land could be stolen by that point. But when she originally wrote the novel…..

YOUR FATHER SMELT OF ELDERBERRIES

This one is a bit of a smash-up. I’m not finished with this book on the Norman Conquest by Marc Morris.

I’m barely past the 50% mark, and William (the Conqueror and/or Bastard, depending on your allegiances) has already won the Battle of Hastings… so what’s the rest of the book about? Obviously, it’s about William making sure his conquest stuck.

But the reason I mention the book before I finish is this delightful line:

Indeed, according to William of Malmesbury, one of them staged something of a counter-demonstration by dropping his trousers and farting loudly in the king’s general direction.

Look, this book was published in 2014. The author, I assume, was familiar with this:

But I really doubt the author was making the incident up. I think the book (so far) has balanced sources, and made it clear of the allegiances of various historical sources and likelihood of fabrication. I really like it when academics bring laymen into their arguments.

This puts me in mind of a hilariously biased history of some Byzantine emperors, which I appreciated because it was written by an insider, and his bias was so obvious, one didn’t feel a sucker. But that was obvious — the politics of early medieval Europe are not so obvious at this distance.

A MYSTERY THAT’S NOT MUCH OF A MYSTERY

But the whole Monty Python sideline there reminds me that Terry Jones is a medievalist, with some solid scholarship. Don’t let his schtick fool you.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, check out Terry Jones’ Great Map Mystery, which is a lovely bit of history of some special travel maps (very like the AAA’s TripTiks back in the day) from the time of the Glorious Revolution.

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The mystery wasn’t much of a mystery, ultimately, but a lot of people are not familiar with history from this particular period, and the Puritan/Catholic dynamic in the United Kingdom of the time (remember: this was from before Scotland joined). Terry Jones is Welsh, fwiw, which I learned from watching this — because it never occurred to me before to check. Wales isn’t just a source of Doctor Who shows, but all sorts of interesting things.

It was a solid 4-episode program(me). If you’ve got Amazon Prime, you should watch it.