Ten Twists on Well-Known Titles

Some books/movies would be interesting if they were rewritten about completely different things. Here is what some classics well-know stories could have been about if the title had been just a few letters different. In no particular order:

1. Count of Monte Crisco: concerns the same titular character as Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale of revenge, but documents his hairdresser’s struggle to deal with the Count’s prison-learned habit of slicking his hair with vegetable shortening. Also describes his hairdresser’s despair at removing eight years accumulation of fat from Edmond Dante’s hair follicles. Philosophical monograph.

2. A Tail of Two Cities: a Frenchman discovers that he is being followed whenever he visits two major cities and only those two major cities. His tail has squeaky shoes. But why? Footsteps. Echoing Footsteps grow nearer and nearer. Detective Thriller.

3. Tim: Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, but cuts out the boring parts and adds more spy stuff. Twist: Tim is the Llama, an eccentric schizophrenic master spy. Suspense. Thriller.

4. Package to India: Tells the story of a parcel’s journey from the British mail service and through the Indian postal system. Likely more interesting and slightly more fulfilling than E. M. Forester’s classic novel on religion, equality, and justice in colonial India. Informational pamphlet.

5. Fat and Furious: Teenager is infuriated when he is refused admission to police officer training academy after failing a physical fitness exam. He steals cars and blows things up. Action Adventure.

6. Clear and Pleasant Danger: Jack Ryan smiles more. Spy Thriller.

7. Moles: Adaptation of the novel by Louis Sachar. By freak accident, a teenage boy uncovers a plot by the mole people to create so many sinkholes that the ground is destabilized and entire cities collapse. He is enslaved in the mole tunnels where he meets a boy descended from the man who helped his ancestor defeat the mole people the last time they tried this. Unfortunately, that boy’s ancestor did not get a congressional medal of honor (nobody did) and he cursed our teen’s ancestor’s family line with having an abnormal number of facial moles and acne. To regain his dignity, our teen must defeat the mole people and get a congressional medal of honor for his young friend. Teen Adventure.

8. Fellowship of the Bling: It is the 90s. Freddie Baggens is given a necklace with the smallest bling ever. His friends think it’s hideous. Also, he goes on an unpleasant drug trip whenever he wears it. They go on a cross-country trip to Yellowstone to destroy it in the most epic way possible, which, since it’s the 90s, involves unrealistic CGI volcanoes. Campy Classic.

9. Less Miserable’s: Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. However, after he is given parole, Inspector Javert, motivated by a desire to see the maximum amount of justice done, opts to investigate child abuse, prisoners’ human rights violations, and underground revolutionary rings instead of ex-cons who steal small change. As a result, the people of France are less miserable. Moralistic Novel.

10. Encouragement: In the wake of Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant, and….Four comes a groundbreaking novel about a girl whose parents encourage her unique personality. The government doesn’t try to kill her, and as a result, she does not seek solace in questionable friendships or overthrow the government, but instead pursues art and science. Teen Fiction/Philosophy.

Bonus: 11. Mad Max: Furry Road: Max is angry because his cat sheds a lot. To prove the point, he takes his cat on a road trip to place cat hair end-to-end across the entire continental United States. Not everyone appreciates this. There are lots of car and foot chases, flying fur, and sneezing. Documentary.

I’m collecting ideas for an eventual second edition of this list.


So it turns out that grad school is an exercise in self-control. “I can do this,” I tell myself. “I motivated myself through homeschooling high school and through college.” However, in the second year of grad school I have neither parents and siblings monitoring my activities nor (many) deadlines hanging over my head. I find myself going to bed at late hours, putting off productivity. And yet, when I realize that I’m embarrassingly late somewhere, I can shower and pack my lunch in a breeze, though I had previously procrastinated for hours.

(portrait of Gilbert DeBlois by J.S. Copley at Boston MFA. photographed by myself)

But think of all the *other* things I could be doing!

This is probably because in the real world, the what motivates me is what needs to get done. So I suppose what I should be asking myself is “What am I ok with leaving undone?” Am I ok if I never write for fun again? If I do not prepare sufficiently for my oral exams, do not submit grant applications, if I never set aside time to talk to God? Am I ok if I don’t comment on some aspect of my students’ lab reports? Well, maybe I’m ok with that last one.

This priorities-time management thing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Yet, I can’t help but think that maybe it’s one of the most important things I’ve ever struggled with. I’m not giving up just yet.

(Image is portrait of Gilbert DeBlois by J.S. Copley at Boston MFA. photographed by myself)


Sometimes people do thoughtless things. In their glow of righteous judgement, they assume that their listeners agree with them on some issue because it would be unthinkable not to, and they start seemingly consensual bash fests on *other* “stupid” people. But just because I don’t say anything doesn’t mean I agree. I mean, I’ve seen the quality of the bashers’ rhetoric’s and attempting to diffuse it isn’t worth my time. Being angry about this isn’t worth my time, either.

Nevertheless, I find myself increasingly annoyed with people for reasons it isn’t quite politic to explain. As a result, what I really want to do is find someone in this state who has the substance of my values and rant to them about shenanigans. But this makes me almost as bad as the people I’m ranting about because I’m tearing them down behind their backs. Indeed, for all I know, the person I’m ranting to doesn’t share as many of my values as I think they do.

The difficulty with writing about something like this is that it tends to come across overly vague. I have mentioned no issues and named no names because I have lost count of how many times and over how many issues this has happened to me in the past few months. It’s as though I’m a magnet for this behavior. In fact, as irritating as these people are, and as often as it happens, it remains that they feel comfortable enough around me to confide their annoyances and frustrations without fear of judgement. Alternatively, they think I’m a spineless wimp rather than a highly disciplined logic machine.

Either way, I can work with this. I have genuine arguments I can pick apart on my own time, and I have friends to whom I have grown so close that a revelation of my true values wouldn’t destroy the relationship. Indeed, I’d be surprised if most of my friends hadn’t guessed already. More importantly, I have an opportunity to force myself to love people. (Anyone who doesn’t think you can force yourself to love someone probably doesn’t have a great relationship with their siblings.) And that is a skill which will likely save my job for me one day…unless I become the Hulk, an occupation to which my present temperament is much better suited.

Me Hulk

Something You Probably Shouldn’t Ask A College Student

Someone recently asked me whether I felt “victorious” in the context of checking up on my progress through grad school. I demurred, but if you think about it, that’s a really relative question.

victory First off, unless you’re talking about college students who just aced really difficult assignments, I don’t think students generally feel “victorious”. (Maybe your experience has been more special than mine.)  I don’t feel victorious, like, ever. I feel loved. I feel safe. I also feel stressed and , scared. The good news is the answer to that question does not determine how things are actually going.

This is firstly because my feelings do not determine reality and reality does not determine my feelings. Sure, there’s a strong correlation there, but it’s one which (I hope) grows weaker by the day. Secondly, we have to draw a distinction about who’s doing the winning here. If I ace an assignment, but don’t feel I’ve done my best, I’ve lost. If I ace an assignment, but have to work myself to exhaustion, both the teacher and I have lost (It’s not supposed to be that hard). If I fail, but I accomplish what God has me here to do, He’s won. If I do my best, learn a lot, and still fail, I’m not sure if I’ve won, I’ve lost, or I can draw a tie. (Also, who do I win against? Myself, the educational system, or a difficult subject?)

You’ve asked the wrong question, probably because you don’t know what you want to know. Even I don’t know whether I feel victorious. If you want to know how I am, ask directly and expect an honest answer. You probably don’t want to ask about my studies unless you want to hear jargon. I’m not going to tell you my grades. I’d rather you told me you were praying for me. I’d rather you told me about a really hard test you once took (and didn’t fail). I’d rather be a person rather than a collection of grades and feelings.

Awkard Silences and Being Like Jesus

I moved to a new place recently. There is a large amount of economic disparity here, especially along racial lines. There is also widespread atheism. Putting aside all policy arguments, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do about the problems this city has using a Godly yet uncondemning approach. Jesus is the best example of how to deal with these problems. He hung around with poor and marginalized people, and although he alienated the upper crust of society, most people loved him. My question is…how?

CityI mean, Jesus was perfect. But does that imply sinlessness or complete perfection in all areas? He seems to have known exactly what to say to make people feel loved, even when he didn’t agree with them. Does perfection also mean he never had awkward moments where he didn’t know what to say to homeless people, how to talk to his teachers, or how to solve a math problem? Did he ever not know how or even whether it would be wise to talk to people about God?

On one hand, Jesus was fully human, so he had moments of extreme mental distress, exhaustion, and he had to keep in contact with God by prayer. On the other hand, God seems to have come through an *awful lot* and told him what to say when. Unfortunately, my words never seem to come out right. Perhaps this imperfection itself is not a sin, but a symptom of not spending enough time with God.

On the bright side, whatever it is, it seems to have afflicted a lot of people in the Bible. Elijah hid in a cave because he didn’t want to face Jezebel right after God had sent down fire from heaven to burn up Elijah’s sacrifice. You’d think that would have given him some nerve. Nope. He ran away and hid in a cave even after God sent an angel to feed him en route. It took God passing by the mouth of the cave and talking to Elijah in person to give him his nerve back. Even then, God didn’t yell at him: he sent him reinforcements in the form of Elisha, and allowed him to continue calling down fire from heaven.

God seems to do that a whole lot. The Bible says fear is the opposite of love, and God is love, but most of the important people in the Bible are really fearful. Peter failed walking on water and denied Jesus because he was afraid. God had Aaron speak for Moses because Moses was too scared. After John the Baptist was thrown in prison, he sent people to verify Jesus’ identity even though he had already heard God identify him. Abraham lied about his wife because he was afraid the Pharaoh would kill him. Paul doesn’t seem to have been too fearful as a Christian, but prior to that, he was a legalist, which in my experience is an expression of fear of the consequences of personal insufficiency.

The good news is that this discussion of perfection is arbitrary. Perfection is not gained via legalism by wanting to be perfect. If Elijah’s experience is relevant, the proper approach is to talk to God (sans hiding in caves), find reinforcements, and keep on trying to love people. As Paul said of legalism, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Even if the silences are *really* awkward.

The Post About Frozen

So I finally watched Frozen. A lot of the delay had to do with my frustration with its most familiar song, “Let It Go”. Now, I’d been told not to judge the movie on the basis of that song, and my knee-jerk reaction upon actually seeing the movie is that the song is acceptable in context and that it’s a brilliant movie. On the other hand, despite it’s placement in the movie, the popularity of the song brings to light some problematic values which the movie dealt with and which the movie-going public has completely ignored.

Firstly, my initial problem with “Let It Go” is that it’s a rebellion song. (Anyone who disagrees needs to deal with “No right, no wrong, no rules for me/I’m free!”.) The movie deals with this by giving Elsa if not strictly a “good” reason to rebel, certainly a sympathetic reason. When Elsa finally caves to the incredible pressure of her isolation, loneliness, and anger, leaving her responsibilities as queen, the audience wants her to escape. However, this ultimately leads to the dawn of an eternal (or however long Elsa lives) winter of suffering that even Elsa cannot control. Unfortunately, this is not recognized in popular use, as the song functions more as a statement of “I’m going off to do whatever I want” rather than, “I’m trying to leave my issues behind.” The emphasis is on the injury rather than on healthy ways of healing. Parental restrictions *can’t* be what all these people are singing about, can they?

(c) Disney, etc. etc.

(c) Disney, etc. etc.

Looking more closely, however, Elsa was not required to seclude herself as she did. Even had her parents forbid her to speak to Anna, which was suggested but not made explicit, Elsa would have had ample opportunity to throw off the bonds of seclusion after her parents died. She didn’t. This suggests that her restrictions depended largely upon fear, and were largely self-made. Now, one could argue that her parents’ past restrictions and fear of hurting Anna still bound her. Having been a sister, I certainly appreciate the difficulty of opening up to an impossibly inquisitive little sister. But then the song becomes about Elsa’s own pride and fear, and the rest of the movie becomes about being so lost in self-pity that one can’t see the outside world. I can certainly relate to that.

You know who’s less relatable? Anna, the main character. I know that a lot of people *do* relate to Anna. As a younger sister, I find that understandable. Anna is less relateable overall because she spends the bulk of the movie in increasingly fantastical chase scenes which prevent extensive character development development. Where her character is developed Anna is essentially a weaker reflection of Elsa.  Both sisters are excited about gaining their freedom (opening the gates, on the mountain), both do stupid things with it (getting engaged, moping about an ice castle), and the movie can’t move on until they get past their expectations (rescuing Elsa rather than having Elsa or Hans fix the problem, only controlling snow). 

The real point of the movie is that we build emotional prisons for ourselves, and without outside help, we can’t escape them. For Anna, this was the need for validation from a guy: validation she eventually found from both *another* guy and her sister *after* she stopped trying to find validation and acted sacrificially. Elsa, on the other hand, trapped herself in her room even after her parents were gone and then in an ice castle because she couldn’t control her emotions. Of course, in the end it turned out that she just needed to think about how much she loved her little sister as she did her magic. So, Frozen is a brilliant movie for several reasons, and “Let It Go” is an important song, but it’s a song about a mental prison: wouldn’t a song about love make more sense in the context of the movie?

As a side note: where on earth were the trolls during Elsa’s childhood? Maybe the king should have asked for their advice more often as Elsa’s control over her powers slipped.

Red Flags in Activism

Grass-roots activism has been a powerful force in American-history. However, there are certain common problems with activists’ arguments, which, if not obliterating that cause’s chance of being taken seriously, prevent *me* from taking them seriously.  Every organization that exhibits one of these warning signs is not necessarily foaming at the mouth, but has blind spots and should be approached with caution.

Darn Commies! (C) Paramount Pictures & Lucasfilm

Darn Commies! (c) Paramount Pictures & Lucasfilm

Persecution Doctrine is the belief that people/the establishment are actively persecuting a cause. But exactly what is persecution? Merriam-Webster defines “persecute” as

1: to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs

2: to constantly annoy or bother (someone)

Often, however, no evidence of constant harassment or unfair treatment is presented. Nor does such evidence prove that either viewpoint is in the right. It only suggests that one side finds debate threatening. However, if said cause wishes to proceed in this vein anyway, I find their arguments more convincing if they document a substantial number of concrete examples of how the organization/specific people have been harassed or focus their argument on things the organization has done, rather than ways it has been disenfranchised.

Squelching Debate. Ironically, the people who complain that their viewpoint has not been given a fair hearing often deny the opposition the same thing. This may take the form of deleting criticizing comments or banning commentators from web-page. Debate suppression may take the form of ad hominem attack, building straw-men, or bulverism. Indeed, if these organizations actually believe that their opponents are “haters” whose viewpoints are dictated by the “establishment” one begins to understand their persecution doctrine. However, the correct viewpoint will not be injured by answering the opposing arguments, and will be more respected for it.

Excessive Adherence to/Refusal to Acknowledge Authorities is another warning sign. One may disagree with the authorities, but to do so, one must present reasons, and one’s own authoritative voices. Or activists may attempt to cover their back by only citing particular authorities without addressing personal experience or opposing arguments (See Squelching Debate). The potential activist should realize who their authorities are, determine whether that authority applies, and present challenges to and alternative viewpoints to their own.

Excessive Attention to Marketing need not signal duplicity, but it has been used to “crowd-out” bad stories. To establish credibility, one might address these bad stories openly, and without generalization. They won’t be as apt to pop up later.

Fear-Mongering is used as a recruiting technique. Unfortunately, these fears often rely on unproven assumptions or there are alternate means of preventing the feared outcome. To make these strategies more effective, one should ensure the feared outcomes are direct consequences of your cause’s failure, rather than one-thing-leads-to-another scenarios.

Refusal to Compromise or Leave Opponents an Honorable Out commonly prevents amicable agreements. For example, after WWI, the French insisted that the Germans shoulder the bulk of the war debt and accept responsibility for the war. Regardless on your opinion of whether the French were justified, the Germans never would have taken such an agreement had they any choice, and Hitler’s rhetoric at the beginning of WWII highlighted showing the world the superiority of the Aryan race. Policy change is essentially a treaty, so I believe in giving your opponent a way to come out of a skirmish with dignity intact. For example, Germany could have given up Alsace-Lorraine in exchange for debt forgiveness or trade agreements or something else, which might have allowed the new German administration (over which France had just become dominant) to remain in office where France could exert its sway.

Partial Falsehoods fall under the umbrella of intellectual dishonesty (unless, of course, there’s no way one could have known the truth). Activism is all about morals. What are yours?

Poor Spelling and Grammar does not imply poor reasoning skill, but look at it this way. If you can’t be bothered to proof-read or hire an editor, than why should I give you money? Quite probably, you don’t have an accountant either. If you don’t care about your cause enough to discuss it in an educated way, than why should I care?

Excessive Anger is both one of the most detrimental and most difficult problems to cope with. If you didn’t believe in this cause, then you wouldn’t be an activist. Yet anger clouds thinking and allows the opposition (if it exists) to write-off your supporters as a bunch of frothing at the mouth idiots. Rather one might formulate with possible retorts and ways to address them in a professional manner.

While these warning signs are present in a number of popular activist causes, I believe that they are the reason a lot of causes haven’t gone further: the organizers refuse to address people who value complete logical arguments or the organizers have not thought about why the opposition might oppose the movement or whether the movement’s goals are even viable.

While I find these characteristics troubling, they do not imply that an activist cause is necessarily wrong. There are some causes I support which display some of these red flags. In addition, there are many opposing outlooks on this issue. In researching some of the rhetoric out there, I stumbled across a post opining that youth activism is actually too “safe”, politically correct, cool-headed, and dependent on authority. While I agree that government-funded activism isn’t a good idea, my gripe with activism is that it is too emotionally driven, and the public makes decisions based on fear, rather than reason, while the activists place the appearance of righteousness over reason.