Canada Post humour

I don’t think mail delivery is that boring a job. I’ve never done it, but it can’t be as bad as, say, working on a line in a factory. Even so, I guess mailmen do have to find ways to amuse themselves, just to get through a dull day.

As evidence, I present this:

Well played, Canada Post.

Well played, Canada Post.

As someone who reviews books, I get a lot of books in the mail. Some come in boxes. This box apparently just fit into the small parcel slot in my community mailbox. A very snug fit indeed. Getting it in couldn’t have been easy! Removal, of course, proved to be impossible, even with the use of a screwdriver and other tools. You can’t tell from the picture, but there’s  a lip over the edge of the parcel slot once the main mailbox door is closed, so there really was no way to retrieve the package.

I have to admit, I just laughed when I saw this. Of course, right next to the small parcel slot is the large parcel slot, which was empty (I shone a light in to check). Well played, Canada Post. Well played.

Hunting humans

deliverance7

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching movies that deal, however loosely, with people (or monsters) hunting people. This is a pretty basic theme, and has been expressed in a variety of different ways. In the first place there are all the adaptations of the famous Richard Connell story “The Most Dangerous Game. ” Then there’s the Predator franchise. And then there are movies where people just go off into the woods and discover that the woods are no longer a safe place to be. Here’s the line-up:

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
A Game of Death (1945)
Run for the Sun (1956)
Bloodlust! (1961)
Deliverance (1972)
Shoot (1976)
Rituals (1977)
Predator (1987)
Predator 2 (1990)
Hard Target (1993)
Eden Lake (2008)
Predators (2010)
Embedded (2012)
Beyond the Reach (2014)
The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Re-reading Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus

(1) There was no Titus Andronicus. I don’t know why this bothers me, but it does. Of course there was no Prospero. There probably was no King Lear (or Leir). But in Lear’s case you can at least place the character in a historical context (pre-Roman Britain) and give the story a source (Holinshed’s Chronicles). And Shakespeare’s other Roman plays are all about real historical figures and draw on sources like Plutarch. But Titus Andronicus is a made-up figure living in a fantasy world. The presumed source dates the events to the reign of the Emperor Theodosius, but that’s nothing more than a wave of the hand. In many ways this is a more primitive Rome than that of Coriolanus, which is set half a millennium earlier.

Like I say, this shouldn’t matter. Shakespeare’s Rome, like his England in the history plays, is a fictional place. And yet it’s always made me uncomfortable. Perhaps I just don’t like fantasy, or fantasy that plays fast and loose with history. It’s the same sort of feeling I get from the Nibelungenlied, which has its germ in actual historical events but really can’t be thought of in those terms. Burgundy might as well be Middle Earth. What you’re getting isn’t an interpretation or mythic re-imagining of history but something entirely other. And by breaking that link it seems to me that you end up with a play that loses some of its connection to the present as well.

(2) When Marcus discovers Lavinia after she has been raped and mutilated, he exclaims

Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopped,
Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is.

This is very well observed. Physically, Lavinia is incapable of speaking her sorrow because her tongue has been cut out, but we can see her silence as metaphorical as well. One response to rape is shame, and when the victim doesn’t speak out her rage often does turn inward, expressing itself later through other emotional disorders. With no outlet, the victim’s anger is directed back upon itself. The heart consumes itself in silence, but it does burn.

(3) Titus makes Lear’s mistake of giving up power. He could have been emperor but he turns the job down. Richard II is another example of a Shakespearean king who flubs the same test, effectively deposing himself. This was an important lesson in leadership for pre-modern rulers: If you’re the king you have to be a king. But I wonder if such a message resonates as much today, when institutions take precedence over individuals.

I think it is still relevant, though perhaps not in the way it is most often taken: to do unto others before they do unto you. In Shakespeare such situations lead to more than just a passing of the guard; they toss the whole world into chaos, and begin cycles of violence with long tails. That’s a pattern we should be familiar with today, though twenty-first century blowback is less of a family matter.

I don’t think they misunderstood anything

From The Invention of Russia (2015) by Arkady Ostrovsky:

The new class of businessmen that emerged from the rubble of the Soviet economy thought of themselves as the champions of capitalism as they understood it. In some ways they were the victims of Soviet propaganda that portrayed capitalism as a cutthroat, cynical system where craftiness and ruthlessness were more important than integrity, where everyone screws each other and money is the only arbiter of success.

Russian capitalism was far removed from the concept of honest competition and fair play or Weber’s Protestant ethics. It was not built on a centuries-long tradition of private property, feudal honor and dignity. In fact, it hardly had any foundations at all, other than the Marxist-Leninist conception of private property as theft. Since Russia’s new businessmen favored property, they did not mind theft. The words conscience, morality and integrity were tainted by ideology and belonged to a different language — one that was used by their fathers’ generation. “For us these were swear-words which the Soviet system professed in its slogans while killing and depriving people,” Vladimir Yakovlev said.

The tenets of socialism were removed only to reveal a vacuum of morals — in itself the result of the Soviet experiment in breeding a new being. The transition from Soviet to post-Soviet society was accompanied by a change in perception of what makes one succeed in life. In 1988, 45 percent of the country felt it was “diligence and hard work.” In 1992 only 31 percent felt these would get you anywhere. The factors that gained importance were “good connections,” “dexterity” and “being a good wheeler-dealer.” The first Russian businessmen had all those qualities and boasted about them.

The happy nine-fingered shepherds of pastoral

From Deliverance (1970) by James Dickey:

There is always something wrong about people in the country, I thought. In the comparatively few times I had ever been in the rural South I had been struck by the number of missing fingers. Offhand, I had counted around twenty, at least. There had also been several people with some form of crippling or twisting illness, some blind or one-eyed. No adequate medical treatment, maybe. But there was something else. You’d think that farming was a healthy life, with fresh air and fresh food and plenty of exercise, but I never saw a farmer who didn’t have something wrong with him, and most of the time obviously wrong; I never saw one who was physically powerful, either. Certainly there were none like Lewis. The work with the hands must be fantastically dangerous, in all that fresh air and sunshine, I thought: the catching of an arm in a tractor part somewhere off in the middle of a field where nothing happened but the sun blazed back more fiercely down the open mouth of one’s screams. And so many snakebites deep in the woods as one stepped over a rotting log, so many domestic animals suddenly turning and crushing one against the splintering side of a barn stall. I wanted none of it, and I didn’t want to be around when it happened either. But I was there, and there was no way for me to escape, except by water, from the country of nine-fingered people.

For God’s sake, get out!

More than a fixer-upper.

More than a fixer-upper.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been revisiting the Amityville Horror franchise, a series of terrible movies whose success is made all the more depressing by the fact that they were based on a tragic true story — by which I mean the DeFeo family murders, not the subsequent “haunting.”

The Amityville Horror (1979) is crap, but has some camp value today thanks mainly to James Brolin’s performance. Amityville II: The Possession (1982) is better made but is still crap, though it’s enlivened by a bizarre incest subplot. Amityville 3-D (1983) is in 3-D. The Amityville Horror (2005) is a fairly typical twenty-first century franchise reset. Casting Ryan Reynolds as George might have given things a boost, but it’s a gamble that doesn’t work. He just seems out of place.

Why buy cold medicine?

I’ve had a cold for the past week. My nose has been so stuffed-up I can’t breathe through it at night, plus I’ve got a headache, sore throat, and I’m always sneezing

Because I rarely come into contact with other human beings, getting sick is something that doesn’t often happen to me. This cold is probably the first time I’ve been sick in over ten years. And it’s been so unpleasant I went to the store and bought some cold medicine.

I didn’t want to. Most colds just run their course and then go away after a week or two. But I wanted to feel like I was doing something because I was really miserable.

But there is no cure for the cold. As the old saw has it, we can put a man on the moon (we accomplished that one quite some time ago, actually), but we still can’t find a cure for the common cold. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, the common cold isn’t a single disease but a general name for over a hundred different viruses. In the second place, since it isn’t a very serious disease (that is, you don’t die from it) there is no financial incentive for drug companies to find a silver bullet.

Which isn’t to say that drug companies don’t make money out of selling cold remedies. They certainly do. The stuff I ended up buying sounded just right: Extra Strength Tylenol Sinus, for “sinus pain and pressure, sinus headache, and sinus congestion.” It cost $8 for 20 pills (12 daytime tablets and 8 nighttime tablets). I don’t know why I even bothered. I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to work because I know that nothing works. And it didn’t work. Three days later I hadn’t gotten any relief at all from any of the cold symptoms I had. None. In fact my cold got worse. I might as well have been eating Smarties.

I might also add that I couldn’t detect any difference between the daytime “non-drowsy” pills and the nighttime “lets you rest” variety. I was actually kind of looking forward to being knocked out by the latter. No such luck.

I don’t mean to pick on Tylenol. I mean, my mother swears by it. And I’m sure none of the other brand names would have done a bit better. But it makes you wonder. Seeing as we all know that there is no cure for the cold, how do such products remain on the market? I mean, they don’t even provide relief from cold symptoms. I still can’t breathe.

Maybe cold medications are like vitamins, most of which do absolutely no good at all unless you have an impossibly bad or deficient diet and you’re in need of some particular supplement.

Seeing as I still have this cold, I suppose I’ll just keep taking all these pills until they’re gone. But I know there’s no point.