Category Archives: Literature

Kennedy’s perfect, boring college-entry essays

To get into any college you have to write an essay or two, generally including one describing why you want to go that particular college, and many students have trouble. How do I make myself stand out, they ask. My suggestion: Don’t. Make it clear that you want to go, but dare to be dull with the details. John Kennedy did; you can too.

JFK's dull letter to Harvard. It's his only essay.

JFK’s dull letter to Harvard. It’s his only essay.

Most school essays limit the number of words. The reviewer too prefers you keep it short. If you want to go to Harvard, or Princeton, or Iowa state, show you can say what needs to be said within the word limit. The first sentence must tell them that you want to go that college, specifically. Mention the college: you want to go to Old Ivy, say. Once that’s taken care of, just state your reasons. Unless you’re going into the writing program, the baldest, simplest terms will work just fine — e.g. that Old Ivy provides an excellent education. It’s better if you can mention a more-specific field of study, e.g. liberal arts or zoölogy, but that’s not necessary. You can now list three or so details to back up your claims. For example, you might mention that the zoölogy program at Old Ivy is well-regarded (mention the school often), that you enjoy their sports team (the ground-hogs, say), or their extracurriculars. Mention that your dad went there or your uncle (and is your hero — hero is a good word) or that you like the location. Surely there is some reason you want to go. If you can mention a famous teacher or alumnus, all the better. Flesh it out if you have space; don’t if you don’t. Conclude with a sentence pointing to the future: that this school will help me do something you want to achieve. You can be specific or not, but don’t lie. Dull is more effective than a lie. I’ve copied, above, John Kennedy’s essay to Harvard, and below his essay to Princeton. These essays follow the pattern, and are dull within the pattern. His conclusion for the first essay: that he wants to go to Harvard to be “a Harvard Man.” He got in. He used the same, dull letter for Princeton, but had more space. For Princeton he said It would have a good effect on me, and that he wanted to be “a Princeton Man.” He got into Princeton too, and went there for two months before switching to Harvard.

John F. Kennedy's, almost identical letter to Princeton. He got in there too.

John F. Kennedy’s, almost identical letter to Princeton. He got in there too.

You may think that letters like this only work if you are John F. Kennedy, and to some extent that is true. But not totally. I got into Princeton grad school from a background in public school, with no famous relatives or money. My grades were better than JFKs, but my essay had the same structure with some more specifics. As I recall, I explained that I wanted to go to Princeton because I wanted to study chemical engineering in a top department. I may have mentioned a famous professor, and stated I wanted to work on nuclear fusion — a big Princeton specialty at the time. That’s about all, as I recall.

This formula can be tweaked for the other college (and non-college) essays. I’ve previously written about the two speeches at the opening of the Gettysburg cemetery, in 1863. Edwin Everett gave the first speech of the day, excerpted and analyzed here. His speech followed the formula and was lauded. He told folks that it was important that we are here honoring the dead, and followed with three or four reasons for why it was important. His conclusion pointed to the future significance of the events. Republicans and Democrat listeners agreed this was a speech to remember from a scholar of note. Everett’s face graced the $50 bill for the 40 years after his death.

Abraham Lincoln also spoke at the Gettysburg dedication, but he didn’t follow the formula. He spoke of liberty, and America, and of a government of the people. His speech was panned at the time, even by Republicans. More details here. Though people now see his Gettysburg address as a landmark, at the time even the Republican press didn’t like it  Fortunately for Lincoln and the republic, they warmed to the speech over the next year – in time for the election of 1864. When you apply to college, you want entry now. You can’t wait a year for people to warm to your essay. Stick to the formula. You don’t want the compliment of finding, years from now, that one of the reviewers who rejected you remembers your words fondly. That will be too late. Write for the dull audience in front of you; help them put your application in the “accepted” box. As a last note: If you can not find any truthful reason that you want to go to Harvard or Old Ivy you probably should not be going there. The beginning of wisdom is self-knowledge, and the primary audience for your essay is you.

If you find you have good reasons, but find you need help with the process or with your english grammar, I should mention that my niece owns a company to help folks get into college — link here. She also has a book “From Public School to The Ivy League.

Robert E. Buxbaum, August 7, 2017. Some two years ago, I wrote an essay for my daughter on the joys and pressures of entering her junior year in high school. Here it is. 

Edward Elric’s Flamel

Edward Elric, the main character of a wonderful Japanese manga, Full Metal Alchemist, wears an odd symbol on his bright-red cloak. It’s called a Flamel, a snake on a cross with a crown and wings above. This is the symbol of a famous French author and alchemist of the 1300s, Nicholas Flamel who appears also, tangentially, in Harry Potter for having made a philosopher’s stone. But where does the symbol come from?

Edward Elrich with Flammel on back.

Edward Elric wears a snake-cross, “Flamel” on his back.

s03_ama

Current symbol of the AMA

A first thought of a source is that this is a version of the Asclepius, the symbol of the American Medical Association. Asclepius was an ancient Greek doctor who, in 85 BC distinguished between chronic and acute disease, developed theories on diet and exercise, and cured parasitic snakes under the skin by wrapping them around a stick. In mythology, he was chosen to be ship’s doctor on Jason’s voyage, and was so good at curing that Hades told Zeus he revived the dead. Zeus then killed him and set him among the stars as a constellation (the snake-handler, visible in the winter sky between Scorpius and Hercules). Though the story shows some similarities to Full Metal Alchemist, the Asclepius symbol don’t look like Elric’s Flamel. Asclepius had two daughters, Hygeia (hygiene), and Panacea (drugs?); the cup of Hygeia, below, is similar to the Asclepius but not to Ed’s Flamel.

The cup of Hygia, the symbol of pharmacy.

The cup of Hygeia, the symbol of pharmacy.

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Another somewhat-similar symbol is the Caduceus, symbol of Hermes/ Mercury, left. It was the symbol of the AMA until 2005, and it has wings, but there are two snakes, not one, and no cross or crown. The AMA switched from the Caduceus when they realized that Hermes was not a god of healing, but of merchants, liars, and thieves. Two snakes fighting each other is how the Greeks viewed business. The wings are a symbol of speed. The AMA, it seems, made a Freudian mistake picking this symbol, but it seems unlikely that Flamel made the same mistake.

The true source of the Flamel, I think, is the Bible. In Numbers 21:8-9, the Jews complain about the manna in the desert, and God sends fiery serpents to bite them. Moses prays and is told to put a bronze snake on staff as a cure – look upon it and you are healed. While one might assume the staff was a plain stick like the Asclepius, it might have been a cross. This opinion appears on a German, coin below. The symbol lacks wings and a crown. Still, it’s close to the Flamel. To get the crown and wings, we can turn to the New Testament, John 3:16-17. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up … “that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” The quote seems to suggest that the snake itself was being lifted up, to holiness perhaps or to Devine service. In either case, this quote would explain the crown and wings as an allusion to Jesus.

German coin, 1500s showing Jesus, a snake and cross on one side. Christ on the other. Suggests two sides of the same.

German “taller” coin, 1500s showing Jesus on the cross on one side, a snake on the cross on the other. Suggests two sides of the same holiness.

I should mention that Flamel’s house is the oldest still standing in Paris, and that it contains a restaurant — one that would be nice to visit. Flamel died in 1418. His tomb has this symbol but was found to be empty. A couple of other odds and ends: the snake on the cross also appears in a horror story, the curse of the white worm, by Bram Stoker. In the story (and movie), it seems there are serpent-worshipers who believe it was the serpent who died for our sins. If you re-read the lines from John, and take the word “Him” to refer to the serpent, you’d get backing for this view. Edward might have adopted this, either as part of his mission, or just for the hell of it. The following exchange might back up Ed’s desire to be controversial.

Roy: I thought you didn’t believe in gods, Full metal.

Edward: I don’t. That’s the thing. I think they can tell, and it pisses them off.

salvation-army

As for the color red, the color may allude to blood and or fire. In this direction, the Salvation Army symbol includes a red “S” on a cross with a crown and the words “Blood and Fire.” In the manga, life-blood and fire appear to be the ingredients for making a philosopher’s stone. Alternately, the red color could relate to a nonvolatile mercury compound, red mercury or mercuric oxide, a compound that can be made by oxidation of volatile mercury. Flamel claimed the symbol related to “fixing the volatile.” Either that’s making oxide of mercury, or putting a stop in death.

Robert E. Buxbaum, February 9, 2017. I’ve also opined on the Holy Grail, and on Jack Kelly of Newsies, and on the humor of The Devine comedy. If you have not read “Full Metal Alchemist,” do.

Everett, the better reviewed Gettysburg speaker

Lincoln’s election was greeted with horror by the educated classes who considered him a western rube. “Honest Ape” he was called in the press. Horace Greeley couldn’t stand him, and blamed the civil war on his reckless speech. Continuing their view that the press is never wrong, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, November 17, 1863 was given very poor reviews, see my essay on why.

But the press wasn’t all bitterness and gall. A two-hour speech earlier that day by Edward Everett, was a hit with those who’d travelled, some hundreds of miles to hear it. Everett’s showed he was educated and understood the dire situation and causes of the battle. And he presents the conflict in a classical context, as a continuation of Roman and Greek conflicts. Here follows the beginning and end of his two hour address.

Edward Everett on the Fifty dollar silver certificate.

For nearly fifty years, Edward Everett’s face graced the Fifty dollar silver certificate. Now the world little notes, nor long remembers him. So passes glory.

[1] STANDING beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. But the duty to which you have called me must be performed;–grant me, I pray you, your indulgence and your sympathy.

[2] It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered. On the fourth day the mournful procession was formed: mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, led the way, and to them it was permitted by the simplicity of ancient manners to utter aloud their lamentations for the beloved and the lost; the male relatives and friends of the deceased followed; citizens and strangers closed the train. Thus marshalled, they moved to the place of interment in that famous Ceramicus, the most beautiful suburb of Athens, which had been adorned by Cimon, the son of Miltiades, with walks and fountains and columns,–whose groves were filled with altars, shrines, and temples,–whose gardens were kept forever green by the streams from the neighboring hills, and shaded with the trees sacred to Minerva and coeval with the foundation of the city,–whose circuit enclosed

“the olive grove of Academe,
Plato’s retirement, where the Attic bird
Trilled his thick-warbled note the summer long,”–

whose pathways gleamed with the monuments of the illustrious dead, the work of the most consummate masters that ever gave life to marble. There, beneath the overarching plane-trees, upon a lofty stage erected for the purpose, it was ordained that a funeral oration should be pronounced by some citizen of Athens, in the presence of the assembled multitude.

[3] Such were the tokens of respect required to be paid at Athens to the memory of those who had fallen in the cause of their country. For those alone who fell at Marathon a peculiar honor was reserved. As the battle fought upon that immortal field was distinguished from all others in Grecian history for its influence over the fortunes of Hellas,–as it depended upon the event of that day whether Greece should live, a glory and a light to all coming time, or should expire, like the meteor of a moment; so the honors awarded to its martyr-heroes were such as were bestowed by Athens on no other occasion. They alone of all her sons were entombed upon the spot which they had forever rendered famous. Their names were inscribed upon ten pillars erected upon the monumental tumulus which covered their ashes (where, after six hundred years, they were read by the traveller Pausanias), and although the columns, beneath the hand of time and barbaric violence, have long since disappeared, the venerable mound still marks the spot where they fought and fell,–

“That battle-field where Persia’s victim-horde
First bowed beneath the brunt of Hellas’ sword.”

[4] And shall I, fellow-citizens, who, after an interval of twenty-three centuries, a youthful pilgrim from the world unknown to ancient Greece, have wandered over that illustrious plain, ready to put off the shoes from off my feet, as one that stands on holy ground,–who have gazed with respectful emotion on the mound which still protects the dust of those who rolled back the tide of Persian invasion, and rescued the land of popular liberty, of letters, and of arts, from the ruthless foe,–stand unmoved over the graves of our dear brethren, who so lately, on three of those all-important days which decide a nation’s history,–days on whose issue it depended whether this august republican Union, founded by some of the wisest statesmen that ever lived, cemented with the blood of some of the purest patriots that ever died, should perish or endure,–rolled back the tide of an invasion, not less unprovoked, not less ruthless, than that which came to plant the dark banner of Asiatic despotism and slavery on the free soil of Greece? Heaven forbid! And could I prove so insensible to every prompting of patriotic duty and affection, not only would you, fellow-citizens, gathered many of you from distant States, who have come to take part in these pious offices of gratitude,–you, respected fathers, brethren, matrons, sisters, who surround me,–cry out for shame, but the forms of brave and patriotic men who fill these honored graves would heave with indignation beneath the sod.

[5] We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?

………………………………….. The speech went on for 58 sections of more-or-less this size and ends by mentioning the achievements of the other union armies and navy saying, “But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country there will be no brighter page than that which relates THE BATTLES OF GETTYSBURG.”

_____________________________________________________________________

I find it long-winded and boring, but the crowd thought this speech wonderful. As grand as Lincoln’s 2 minute coda was plain. Part of the draw of Edward Everett was his cultured demeanor and his wide classical knowledge —  a big contrast to Lincoln. Everett had been president of Harvard, and had been a senator, a congressman, governor of Massachusetts, Secretary of State, and US Ambassador to Great Britain. Lincoln had been a country lawyer and one-term congressman. When states started succeeding, Everett had been the one called on to negotiate a compromise that delayed war until the firing on fort Sumter. All impressive in the day, now mostly forgotten glories. Today, many of his lines ring hollow today, e.g.  ” … that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country.” It just sounds weird to my ears. And the classic allusions sound pointless. By the early 20th century, most public pinion had changed; people decided that Lincoln’s was the better presentation, a monument to the spirit of man. The world remembers Lincoln fondly, but little notes, nor long remembers Everett, nor what he said there. The lesson: do not judge hastily. All things exist only in the context of time.

Robert E. Buxbaum, November 14, 2016. A week ago, Tuesday, our nation elected Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States, an individual as disliked and divisive as any since Lincoln. I do not know if he will prove to be honored or hated. There are demonstrations daily to remove him or overthrow the election. There are calls for succession, as when Lincoln took office. At Hampshire college, the flag was lowered in mourning. It’s possible that Trump is as offensive and unqualified as they say– but it is also possible that history will judge him otherwise in time. They did Lincoln.

What I liked most about superman: the disguise

Superman's costume, like Clark's, is mostly affect.

Superman’s costume, like Clark’s, is his affect.

Like many people my age, I find that the current movie versions of Superman miss the points that I most liked in the comics and movies of the 60s and 70s. The thing that most impressed me about Superman was the disguise, or the lack of one: it was mostly his affect. Though Clark Kent wore glasses and a conservative suit, this only accentuated his main disguise, that he kept his head down. This shlumpy affect was the main reason, as best I could tell was what kept people from realizing he was super strong and from a different planet. Superman, by contrast, wore a fancy outfit of bright, primary colors and stood with his chin bizarrely up. Superman was careful to keep his hands on his hips or outstretched in front when he flew. Standing and dressed this way, they didn’t recognize him as Clark Kent, and they instantly liked him; everyone except for Luthor, it seemed. It’s a fantasy: being able to blend in when you want, and being able to stand out for the good when you want. As best I could tell, this was the main (Jewish) fantasy of the series: to think that you’d be liked if you stood erect and affected confidence, and that you could pass un-noticed if you wore a suit and slumped over. The current movies get rid of all of this affect and all this fantasy. He no longer flies with his hands out, and Clark is no longer a schlump. You have to wonder why no one suspects that Clark Kent is Superman. And I have to wonder what people find attractive about the movies. Where’s the fantasy?

This didn't happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

This didn’t happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

Another fun aspect of the comics that the movies have dismissed was the love triangle of Clark, Superman, and Lois. Or, if you like, of Superman, Supergirl, and Lois. In the comic books of my era, it was clear that Lois is attracted to Superman but feels nothing but feminist revulsion for Clark. Meanwhile, in the comics, Superman clearly felt no attraction for Lois, not in his guise as Superman nor as Clark Kent. There is a sort of paternal affection, but nothing more. Humorously, this paternalism attracts Lois when it comes from Superman, and repeals her when it’s from Clark, the sexist schlump. There’s probably something Freudian there, and it makes perfect sense in context too: You, the reader, know that Lois is of a different species. Clark/ superman would just as soon fall for her as for an orangoutang or a rare potted plant. It’s funny and comforting that he cares nothing for her physically in the comics since she’s such a weaker species that, if they were to mate, the Super Sperm would probably cut Lois in half, or impregnate the entire city. It’s funny because Lois is entirely oblivious to how hopeless her case is and this causes narrative tension. All this tension is removed in the current movies and comics: Lois and Clark, as it were, are a sexual pair, and there is no super sperm disaster.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, just as normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a morality lesson here.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, while normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a moral lesson here.

Highlighting the humor of the interspecies romance, occasionally Superboy or Supergirl would show up in the comic books of my day. The comics of my day showed a chemistry between the two supers that did not appear between Lois and Clark/ Superman. Furthering the humor, it is clear that Supergirl does not share Superman’s affection for mankind. She has an alien morality and it shows. Supergirl generally can’t understand why superboy/ superman takes such care of the humans, and Supergirl finds Superman’s “Truth, Justice, etc. ” morality childish. It’s like she sees him as a grown man playing with toy soldiers or with an ant farm. Super girl makes sense here, by the way. Why would someone from a distant planet share the same morality that we have unless they shared Clark’s Kansas upbringing.

Lois, true to form, is totally oblivious to the interspecies morality difference, and is jealous of supergirl. It’s super fun, made somewhat better when super-dog shows up (he’s a dog in a cape). There is no super-dog in the movies, and no super girl or superboy, so far. Super girl is supposed to appear soon, but it’s hard to guess why.

Mr Mxyzptlk gets superman to say his name backwards. Why? It’s fun.

And then there are the villains. In the comics of my day, the villains were there to develop the humor. Except for Luther, they were aliens and thus didn’t need a real motive for their mischief. Take Mr Mxyzptlk, a favorite of mine and of may others. He meant no harm, but was an alien from the 5th dimension who just wanted to have fun (don’t we all?). Like Superman, Mxyzptlk was super powerful, and Superman had to defeat him with his wits.

Another favorite super villain was Bizzaro Superman. He was a Superman variant of another planet or dimension and , as seemed perfectly reasonable, he has a completely opposite morality from Superman. He’s happy go lucky, robs banks and does other crimes (why would you think otherwise — it’s normal on his planet.) Interestingly, Bizzaro does not keep his head up, and has none of Superman’s charisma, Bizzaro is there, I think, to emphasize the fantasy of Superman’s non-disguise and semi-human morality. And as such he was a favorite.

These musings on the morality and charisma are all left out of the current movies. There is no Bizzaro, or Mxyzptlk. Instead, Lex Luther is the universal villain and he’s crazy-evil. In the current movies, it’s hard to guess why Lex Luther doesn’t like superman as strongly as he does, or why he puts so much effort into fighting him to no effect. In the comics of my day, Lex’s job was much simpler, get kryptonite and hit superman with it, and his motivations seemed reasonably normal. I’d be put off too by a super-strong flying guy in blue tights who foils my illegal plans. As soon as Lex discovers kryptonite and realizes Superman has an Achilles heal, Lex goes about using it. It seemed normal enough to me then. Why does Luther now have to be a psychopath now.

Robert Buxbaum, October 20, 2016. The original super-costume was super Freudian too. It was supposed to be his baby blanket sewn by his mother in Kansas with design input from dear old dad. As a result the original costume looked soft and puffy, like a baby blanket. Nonetheless, Superman wears it with pride — in the open when saving the world and under his Clark Kent clothes at all other times. it seems he’s a momma’s boy clutching his baby blanket. It what way are the modern movie changes better than the original Freudy cat.

Disney’s Star Wars seven: muppets in space

I just bought tickets for opening night of the new Star Wars movie, “The force Awakens,” now produced by Disney instead of Lucas Film. While the original films were not family unfriendly, Disney has a peculiar wholesome reputation to uphold and a peculiar taste for cross marketing. As Disney now owns the Muppets, too, and the muppets 30 years ago made some cross-promotional photos with Kermit and Piggy, I now propose the following plot to integrate the photos into the saga as it stands.

We know that the main characters from SW6 (Empire Strikes Back) are back. Harrison Ford appeared on an entertainment magazine wearing a peculiar black vest. I expect to see them on sale, as the Indiana Jones hat was on sale, and maybe still is (I nearly bought one). In a preview he’s shown handing a blaster to a young girl dressed vaguely like a Jedi. My guess is this is an orphan he’s found, and that she’s going to become a Jedi. Han’s personality never changes in the earlier movies, and neither did Leah’s, so my expectation is they’re still the same here. I see Leah leading the free rebels, making pompous comments about uncle Luke, or about the kids (I expect they have at least one child). Han remains a grumpy fly-boy, with perhaps some depreciating humor about his age. I expect Leah to plan the winning air battle, and expect Han to pick the kids up at the end of the movie, and to fly off in the old Millennium Falcon station as the credits roll. Han and Leah are not main characters; mostly there for reference and continuity.

This is a meme on Facebook, don't know who did it, but clearly relevant to Star Wars 7.

I saw this on Facebook; don’t know who did it.

In the preview, the girl enters a wrecked star ship and hears a voice saying, “who are you?” The girl answers “nobody.” I’ll guess this is a new female companion, who is, like the girl a castaway. All the key people enter Star Wars as castaways of one sort or another (Han, Luke, Chewie, Obiwan, Yoda, Anakin, Qui Gon, Jar Jar Binks…) It’s a pattern found with the baby Moses, or the young Oedipus found by Polybus. Finding such castaways is rarely good luck for the finder’s clan. As the castaway is unseen, I’ll assume it’s a certain muppet, a voluptuous pig who dresses like Leah. We’ll call her Lola. My guess is that Luke will be taken by her. Is it love? Can Luke be true to her and to the force? The Ghost of Yoda will appear to claim she’s trouble, and will remind them that control of feelings is of utmost importance. (Yoda’s a creeper, as was Obi Wan: teaches emotion control and pacifism; helps Luke blow up a death star).

The previews also show a handsome black ex-storm trooper, perhaps he’ll be a love interest for the girl, and perhaps the next generation of Jedi: the force has to awaken in someone. Either way, he too is a castaway. There’s also a bad guy in black. I don’t expect another castaway, so I’ll guess this finally is the biological son of Han and Leah, and that he’s the first student of Luke.

I see a new love interest: Lola, the she pig. Can she be trusted? Can Luke keep true to her and to The Force?

I see a new love interest: Lola, the she pig. Can she be trusted? Can Luke be true to her and The Force?

The bad guy is shown at the head of an army of Imperial storm troopers. He’s been turned bad, perhaps by the skull of Vader? Luke, dressed in black, is still on the good side and will try to teach the girl and storm-trooper, dressed in white, but without much success. He’s lost his nerve. Someone is shown in black, with a cross- shaped light-saber; my guess is it’s Luke. Disney would not put a cross in the hands of a villain (just saying). The red cross shape flickers suggests anguish. My guess is there is a foreshadowing that Luke will eventually perform an act of self-sacrifice, like Christ or Obi Wan; can’t let the cat out of the bag.

Not knowing otherwise, I’ll assume that the ex-storm trooper is the McGuffin, or has it. It’s he that attracts the bad guys. He conveniently crash-lands on a desert planet where we also find Han, the mystery girl, and the mystery pig (the force is strong with him). Perhaps he’s been turned to the good side by the mystery pig. The Empire attacks and Han takes them all to the Rebel base where we meet Leah and Luke. Luke sees something in the trio and (I’ll guess) takes them to Degoba, the planet where Luke was trained. Why? Luke won’t say. I picked Degoba because that’s where the muppet shoot was. I expect one robot to go, and the other robot to stay behind with Han and Leah. Robots always accompany people in SW, like valets.

I expect Luke’s ship to be blown up on Degoba, stranding them. They get stranded in every movie, so why not. But who did it: Luke? Lola? One of the kids? Something’s not kosher about the pig. Is she a sith with a snout (say that five times fast). I imagine Luke teaching the kids some Jedi stuff, but growing frustrated. He tells them to control their feelings; that fear leads to hate, etc. His niece will say she’s already heard that from Yoda, and will add, What are you doing with the pig? Don’t you see the danger? Luke will try to explain: “You’ll understand when you’re older,” and will walk off with the pig into the woods.

Star Wars, green with envy.

You make me feel like I’m 500 again, but my place is with Kermie. It’s another awkward family reunion photo.

The kids will meet another green, wise one. A frog, named Kermit, who will train them using music and laughter. The kids will then try to explore the woods with Kermit in tow.

Meanwhile Luke, will fire up his cross-shaped light saber and raise up a hoard of dark assistants (or assassins?). Who are they? They are phantasms of Luke’s wayward student, and of other’s he’s injured. Luke will fight a phantasm and kill it; again it’s himself. The girl will show up and he’ll nearly kill her, but Lola will stop them, and tell Luke not to feel bad about the bad guy, his student.

The ghost of Yoda appears, and Lola says, “It’s about time, sonny-boy..”  Yoda will say, “Yes, mommy.” Luke says, “She’s your mother?!”. Lola will look up at Luke and say, “yes, and a very troublesome lad he’s been. “He’s told you all wrong about feelings. “Feelings are good.” The ex-storm trooper and the girl look at each other. Lola will look at Luke and say, “you make me feel like I’m 500 again, but my place is with Kermie.” Kermit  looks lovingly at Yoda.

There’s a space attack from the Empire. Rescuers appear, with Han at the lead in the falcon. The two youths turn out to be excellent flyers. Everyone flies off. Inside the ship, Lola turns to Kermis, “Feelings, Kermie, I’ve been in that prison ship for 800 years, get behind the seats, and I’ll show you feelings.”… Kermis makes a face. Han hits the hyper drive. Ship vanishes, Music swells, and the credits roll.

Buxbaum, Yes, that’s a winning combination script, written. November 23, 2015.

Comedy: what is comedy?

It’s a mistake, I think, to expect that comedy will be funny; the Devine comedy isn’t, nor are Shakespeare’s comedies. It seems, rather, that comedy is the result of mistakes, fakes, and drunks stumbling along to a (typically) unexpected outcome. That’s sometimes funny, as often not. Our expectation is that mistakes and fools will fail in whatever the try, but that’s hardly ever the outcome in literature. Or in life. As often as not, the idiot ends up as king with the intelligent man working for him. It’s as if God is a comic writer and we are his creation. Perhaps God keeps us around for our amusement value, and drops us when we get stale.

It’s not uncommon to have laughs in a comedy; a Shakespearian comedy has some, as does life. But my sense is that you find more jokes in a tragedy, e.g. Romeo and Juliet, or Julius Caesar. What makes these tragedies, as best I can tell, is the great number of honorable people behaving honorably. Unlike what Aristotle claims, tragedy doesn’t have to deal with particularly great people (Romeo and Juliet aren’t) but they must behave honorably. If Romeo were to say “Oh well, she’s dead, I’ll find another,” it would be a comedy. When the lovers choose honorable death over separation, that’s tragedy.

hell viewed as a layer cake. Here is where suicides end up.

Dante’s hell viewed as a layer cake. The “you” label is where suicides end up; it’s from an anti-suicide blog.

Fortunately for us, in real life most people behave dishonorably most of the time, and the result is usually a happy ending. In literature and plays too, dishonorable behavior usually leads to a happy ending. In literature, I think it’s important for the happy ending to come about semi-naturally with some foreshadowing. God may protect fools, but He keeps to certain patterns, and I think a good comic writer should too. In one of my favorite musicals, the Music Man, the main character, a lovable con man is selling his non-teaching of music in an Iowa town. In the end, he escapes prison because, while the kids can’t play at all, the parents think they sound great. It’s one of the great Ah hah moments, I think. Similarly at the end of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, it’s not really surprising that the king (Mikado) commutes the death sentence of his son’s friends on the thinnest of presence: he’s the king; those are his son’s friends, and one of them has married a horrible lady who’s been a thorn in the king’s side. Of course he commutes the sentence: he’s got no honor. And everyone lives happily.

Even in the Divine Comedy (Dante), the happy ending (salvation) comes about with a degree of foreshadowing. While you meet a lot of suffering fools in hell and purgatory, it’s not totally unexpected to find some fools and sinners in heaven too. Despite the statement at the entrance of hell, “give up all hope”, you expect and find there is Devine grace. It shows up in a sudden break-out from hell, where a horde of the damned are seen to fly past those in purgatory for being too pious. And you even find foolish sinning at the highest levels of heaven. The (prepared) happy ending is what makes it a good comedy, I imagine.

There is such a thing as a bad comedy, or a tragic-comedy. I suspect that “The merchant of Venice” is not a tragedy at all, but a poorly written, bad comedy. There are fools aplenty in merchant, but too many honorable folks as well. And the happy ending is too improbable: The disguised woman lawyer wins the case. The Jew loses his money and converts, everyone marries, and the missing ships reappear, as if by magic. A tragic-comedy, like Dr Horrible’s sing along blog; is something else. There are fools and mistakes, but not totally unexpected ending is unhappy. It happens in life too, but I prefer it when God writes it otherwise.

It seems to me that the battle of Bunker Hill was one of God’s comedies, or tragic-comedies depending on which side you look. Drunken Colonials build a bad fort on the wrong hill in the middle of the night. Four top British generals agree to attack the worthless fort with their best troops just to show them, and the result is the greatest British loss of life of the Revolutionary war — plus the British in charge of the worthless spit of land. It’s comic, despite the loss of life, and despite that these are not inferior people. There is a happy ending from the American perspective, but none from the British.

I can also imagine happy tragedies: tales where honorable people battle and produce a happy result. It happens rarely in life, and the only literature example I can think of is  1776 (the musical). You see the cream of the colonies, singing, dancing, and battling with each other with honorable commitment. And the result is a happy one, at least from the American perspective.

Robert E. Buxbaum, September 17-24, 2015. I borrowed some ideas here from Nietzsche: Human, All too Human, and Birth of Tragedy, and added some ideas of my own, e.g. re; God. Nietzsche is quite good on the arts, I find, but anti-good on moral issues (That’s my own, little Nietzsche joke, and my general sense). The original Nietzsche is rather hard to read, including insights like: “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.”

Pelham G. Wodehouse would like to acknowledge

Here is the acknowledgement page of P. G. Wodehouse’s autobiography, “Over Seventy”, published 1957. Wouldn’t we all like to be able to write an acknowledgement like this (and have enough of an oeuvre to make it funny)?

Wouldn't we all like to write one like this.

You have to have a lot of hits — or an imaginary Frisby –to get away with an acknowledgement like this.

For those who don’t know, P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)  was the author of some 150 books and plays, plus a hundred or so short stories, radio-sketches and songs. He is best known as the creator of one of the great bromance relationships: carefree Bertram Wooster and his super-competent valet, Jeeves. Wodehouse collaborated on two dozen Broadway musicals including with Jerome Kern (Showboat), Cole Porter (Anything Goes), Guy Bolton, and George Gershwin, and once had 5 running simultaneously. But, to my knowledge, he has never sold an eel, jellied or otherwise.

Robert E. Buxbaum, September 1, 2015. “It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can’t help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect. I explained this to Jeeves, and he said much the same thing had bothered Hamlet.”  (Jeeves in the Morning).