Friday, March 22, 2019

The TV Show "Lucifer" and the Difference Between Real Evil and Stage "Evil"

Recently I’ve started watching the series “Lucifer” on Netflix. Lucifer Morningstar is the devil, and he is on vacation and running a nightclub in Los Angeles. I’m only on the third episode and it’s clear that he’s being influenced (for the good) by some of the people around him, but even apart from that influence, this character isn’t very devilish. He isn’t evil; he’s only “evil.”

That is, there’s a difference between real evil and stage “evil”, rather like there’s a difference between being a ballet dancer and simply wearing a costume of tutu and ballet shoes. I’m not complaining. If the character were truly evil, the show would be unwatchable. Who wants to watch a show with a totally unsympathetic main character?

(Note: I did just finish watching “Deathnote”, but the main character started off thinking he was pursuing justice, even if he was wrong about his methods. He became increasingly evil as the show went on, but he was opposed by some good characters and it made for a fascinating battle of wits. As long as you have equally important good characters in opposition and the main character isn’t completely evil, you can still have a very watchable series.)

Stage “evil” is the fun kind, the trappings of evil without the substance. Lucifer has devilish good looks and charm, a bold disregard for rules and authority, and a penchant for causing trouble. But let’s notice that the people he causes trouble for are usually themselves either troublemakers or really irritating people. He scares a school bully and terrifies a fraudulent street preacher. If he really wanted to increase the misery in the world, he should have encouraged them, not scared them. But the audience wouldn’t like him then, because that would be real evil.

He also runs a nightclub with scantily clad dancers and is often found in bed with a number of individuals of either gender who are equally scantily clad (and would be wearing even less if this weren’t a TV show.) But notice that it is strongly implied that all these individuals chose to be there, and that there is never the slightest hint that the nightclub dancers might be exploited or working for him only reluctantly. He’s sleeping with a psychiatrist, but there’s no suggestion that she might be married or otherwise attached. No one gets hurt.

I said that he does cause trouble for troublemakers, and Lucifer rationalizes his selectivity by saying that he is punishing evil-doers, and isn’t punishing evil what the devil is supposed to do? 

 That’s curious, because punishing evil doesn’t itself seem evil (though it isn’t merciful either.) If the devil is supposed to be evil, presumably he would encourage evil-doing in order to cause more misery. The devil is supposed to tempt people in ways that twist their souls and ruin their lives and the lives of other people as well.

But again, a main character who was truly evil wouldn’t make for an entertaining show. If you want to learn about real evil, there are plenty of documentaries, but I wouldn’t call them “entertaining.”

Why make a big deal about this distinction between evil and “evil”? Because real evil doesn’t come with labels, and people sometimes mistake stage “evil” for the real thing.

I’m thinking, for instance, of people I have known who find dark, occult-looking things appealing. Or maybe they’re into vampires. Stage “evil.” They’re playing with props. They aren’t really evil at all. But some people don’t seem to realize that. They take the appearance of stage “evil” as a desire for the real thing.

Granted, there are some people drawn to stage “evil” who really are kind of twisted, and others who do so in order to shock and offend (not exactly a kind motive). On the other hand, there are people who are drawn to exactly the opposite symbols (of goodness and light) while behaving in a genuinely evil manner. You really have to look at people’s deeds, not their outerwear or outer attitude.

So, I’m enjoying a TV show about the devil on vacation in Los Angeles. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’ve been drawn to the dark side. I know the difference between “evil” and evil.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Playing With Ink

When I was about eight years old, my grandmother gave me a Parker 45 fountain pen and ink cartridges. I still have it and it still works, though it had to be repaired once. Since then, I have accumulated other fountain pens: some that can take cartridges of ink, and some that must be filled from bottles. So today I’m going to talk about the fun of playing with ink colors.

Ink cartridges usually come in a limited range of colors. Parker offers black, blue, red, and green. I think they once offered turquoise, but I may be misremembering. Pilot offers cartridges in black, blue-black, blue, green, red, purple, and sepia (brown), which is quite a variety.

The fun comes when you change from one color of ink cartridge to another without rinsing your pen. Your words slowly change in color as the old ink gets flushed out of the nib. (Sorry, no photo.) This is playing with ink without any mess and fun for kids. (Just remember to show them how to write with a fountain pen—gently, and holding the pen at an angle, not upright. Nib right side up, and both sides of the split in contact with the paper--don't write with the side of the nib.)

Bottled ink currently comes in an enormous variety of colors. I think most pen companies offer their own selection. Noodler’s Ink even offers an invisible ink that shows up under UV light. As far as I know, there is no need to match the brand of pen to the brand of bottled ink.

Ink bottles come in varied shapes as well as colors.
You can't quite see it, but I tested the UV ink, too.
Here it is, with a black light shining on it.

Most of the cartridge pens can take a converter that allows them to use bottled ink. However, since you dip the pen into the bottle when refilling it, you shouldn’t go straight from one color to different one without rinsing out the pen. There’s way too much ink residue still in the pen, even if the pen has run completely dry. You don’t want to contaminate one color of ink with another. So you can’t do the same trick with bottled ink that you can with cartridges.

However, I just realized recently that writing with various dilutions of ink is also fun! I don’t know why it took me so long to try it. I started writing with a pen that had held violet ink and which I was trying to rinse clean. I had filled it for the umpteenth time with distilled water and it was still writing violet—but pale violet. (I think I needed to take the converter out and rinse the nib thoroughly.)

Testing various inks and pens.

Inks can do strange things when diluted, especially black ink. Probably you’ve seen the result of black marker on paper towel getting wet and spreading out in different colors that you didn’t realize were in there. For this post, I took two pens that I thought had been filled with black ink and refilled them with distilled water. Strangely, one started producing yellowish writing for a while, then darkened to a dilute black. The other behaved oddly (I should have taken a photo of the paper towel I was wiping it on), then settled down to a bluish black. Turns out I don’t even have a bottle of black ink. I must have filled one with Ebony-brown and the other with Blue-black.

I should also add that ink that has been diluted with water isn’t going to behave quite the same way as undiluted ink. I don’t know what other ingredients go into ink, but I am aware that there is more than just water in there. Probably there are ingredients that thicken it slightly, or help it flow or help it dry quickly… I don’t know.

Some people take playing with ink to higher levels. Some people mix ink colors and then fill their pens with them.  Other people refill cartridges from a bottle using a syringe. 

Maybe someday I will be one of those people. For now, I’m having enough fun swapping out cartridges to watch the color change, and writing with diluted ink en route to switching colors of bottled ink.

Till next post.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Reflections on The Roly-Poly Pudding, by Beatrix Potter

In a previous blog post, I mentioned The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, orThe Roly-Poly Pudding, by Beatrix Potter, and how it had left me afraid of giant rats at bedtime. (I incorrectly called it The Tale of Tom Kitten, which is a different story about the hapless Tom.) 

I don’t regret having read The Roly-Poly Pudding when I did (third or fourth grade?). I knew perfectly well that our house had no rats and that I was much bigger than a rat in any case. Considering that I then went on to read collections of Strange But True and other explicitly scary stories, I can’t have been too upset about it.

I just reread The Roly-Poly Pudding, as I have done a number of times before, and it’s such a fun story that I decided to blog about it.

It starts like this:

Once upon a time, there was an old cat, called Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, who was an anxious parent.

As a child, I never thought much about her name or about her being “an anxious parent.” Looking at the colored plates (illustrations) now, I can see that she is in fact a tabby (“Tabitha”) who probably has a tail that twitches a lot (“Twitchit”.) As for her being an anxious parent, it makes sense that a cat of that time period would have great concerns for the safety of her kittens. On top of that, we learn that her kittens are constantly getting away from her and getting into trouble. No wonder she’s worried. So she takes steps.

On baking day she determined to shut them up in a cupboard.

Why on baking day, particularly? Because she will be too busy to keep an eye on them? Because they will get their paws in the dough? (Turns out she has reason to worry about that.)

I notice that she isn’t the only mother in Beatrix Potter’s stories to have a mischievous child. Mrs. Rabbit has Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. We all know what Peter is like. And while all Mrs. Twitchit’s kittens have tendency to get into trouble, on this baking day it is Tom kitten who is missing.

So she pops Moppet and Mittens in the cupboard and goes in search of Tom.

It was an old, old house, full of cupboards and passages. Some of the walls were four feet thick, and there used to be queer noises inside them, as if there might be a little secret staircase. Certainly there were odd little jagged doorways in the wainscot, and things disappeared at night—especially cheese and bacon.

Spooky! Even now it gives me a little chill. And Mrs. Twitchit seems very worried indeed.

Naturally, now that her back is turned, Moppet and Mittens get themselves into mischief, sneaking out of the cupboard and getting into the bread dough.

They patted it with their soft little paws—“Shall we make dear little muffins?” said Mittens to Moppet.

Cats love to pat anything squishy, hence the term “kneading” and also the expression “making biscuits”. Or in this case, muffins.

Then Cousin Ribby shows up, a no-nonsense disciplinarian. When Mrs. Twitchit moans that Tom is missing and she is afraid the rats have got him, Cousin Ribby says

“I will help you find him; and whip him, too!”

Cousin Ribby isn’t afraid of rats. She’s also a sharp observer, more so than Mrs. Twitchit.

“What is all that soot in the fender?”

Mrs. Twitchit probably should have paid more attention.

At any rate, they find Moppet and Mittens and learn that a lump of dough has been stolen by a rat--along with a pat of butter and the rolling pin! Mrs. Twitchit wrings her paws, while Ribby remembers that they heard a roly-poly noise in the attic.

“This is serious, Cousin Tabitha,” said Ribby. “We must send for John Joiner at once, with a saw.”

Now that we’re properly worried, we are given Tom Kitten’s side of things.

...and it shows how very unwise it is to go up a chimney in a very old house, where a person does not know his way, and where there are enormous rats.

Yes, enormous rats. Certainly by comparison to a kitten. 

The description of Tom’s journey through the system of interconnected chimneys/flues sounds unpleasantly dark and confined. He can’t go back the way he came, because the fire has been lit and it will be too hot and smoky. So he keeps on and finds a loose stone and very tight passage beyond, and then falls right through the floor.

...he found himself in a place that he had never seen before, although he had lived all his life in the house.

It’s that kind of house. Spooky! 

Unfortunately, he’s in Samuel Whiskers' bedroom and in no time he is tied up by Anna Maria “in very hard knots.” Then the rats argue about whether roly-poly pudding is properly made with butter and dough, or with bread crumbs, and off they go to get the ingredients. No one hears his muffled cries

Except a spider, which came out of a crack in the ceiling and examined the knots critically, from a safe distance.

The poor kitten is buttered and wrapped in dough, though Samuel Whiskers seems to be having doubts, both about the digestibility of the string and all the soot.

“I do not think it will be a good pudding. It smells sooty.”

Fortunately rescue is here—John Joiner with his saw! Samuel Whiskers knows when to leave.

“We are discovered and interrupted, Anna Maria; let us collect our property—and other people’s,--and depart at once.”

A happy yet practical ending ensues. The stolen dough is not wasted--it is peeled off and made into a pudding, with currants added to disguise the fact that it has bits of soot in it.  Meanwhile, Tom Kitten gets a hot bath—not the usual sort of bath for a cat—to wash the butter off him.

I said the ending is happy, but that isn’t entirely true. Tom Kitten has suffered a traumatic experience, and it has left its mark. While his siblings grow up into excellent ratters,

...Tom Kitten has always been afraid of a rat; he never durst face anything that is bigger than—a Mouse.

 Till next post.