Big Mother

Julia sank wearily down into the deep cushions of the staff lounge couch. The TV was on, set to some new reality show where politicians cooked meals for celebrities, but Julia hardly noticed. She was still processing.

A grueling, 36 hour labor. Normally a C-section would have been in order, but the patient refused to be cut. And at the end of it all…

Her eyes flicked up to the door. She could still hear the baby crying, though she knew it was just in her head. The Repose Room was soundproof.

Shaking her head as if to expel such thoughts, she looked down at the coffee table. The various sections of Today’s USA were scattered across its surface. The top-most, “Health and Living,” prominently displayed an article titled “New Healthcare Law Protects the Most Vulnerable.” Her eyes scanned the text; apparently it was a story about how the newly expanded universal healthcare system would greatly improve the lives of underpaid journalists.

Julia heaved a heavy sigh and buried her face in her hands. She had known that remaining in perinatal medicine would eventually test who she was. She just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. Not here. Not at St. Agnes.

But they had allowed it to happen. Jennifer and the doctor spoke for a few minutes, in private, with the patient. And then the baby was wheeled out to the Repose Room.

Julia imagined her own daughter lying in the darkness, alone, left to expire. It was too much. The shock and confusion were gone, replaced by anger and determination.

She pulled herself up and hurried out of the staff room.

Kathy was leaning against the wall next to the Repose Room and nursing a cup of coffee while fiddling with her phone. The healthcare liaison looked up at Julia’s approach and smiled plastically.

“Hi, Julie. Are you okay?”

“No. Nothing about this is okay.”

Kathy reached for Julia’s arm, halting her entrance. She lowered her voice to a hush.

“Look, I know this is difficult. But we have to respect the mother’s choice.”

Julia shook off the restraining hand and entered the room. It was complete dark inside. The baby was no longer crying, but Julia could hear a soft whimpering. She paused as the door closed behind her and Kathy’s surprised exclamation was cut off.

She reached for her phone and unlocked the screen, using the light to look around the bare room. A sink and cabinet fixture was set against the wall – the same one found in nearly every modern examination room. In the corner opposite her stood the bassinet, mounted atop a sterile, steel cart. The baby lay swaddled inside.

As she stepped toward the infant, the door opened behind her and in stepped Kathy, accompanied by Jennifer, the shift supervisor.

“Julie, what are you doing? You shouldn’t be in here,” the senior nurse admonished softly, frowning. She reached into a pocket and drew out her own phone to further illuminate the dark room. Her other arm cradled a clipboard – clearly she had been interrupted while doing important paperwork.

“This isn’t right, Jen. We can’t do this.”

Jennifer’s face softened. It was Kathy who replied.

“It was Mrs. Peters’ decision after speaking with Dr. Danton. Even Mr. Peters agreed. It’s her right. Come on now, everything is going to be all right. Let’s just…leave it alone.”

“Not it, Kathy. Her. You want to let her die!” Julia had difficulty controlling her voice now, and the baby started to whimper loudly.

“It’s not up to me,” Kathy answered. “And it’s not up to you. The infant simply isn’t viable.”

“What the hell do you mean she isn’t viable? She’s laying there right now, breathing on her own. Alive.”

Jennifer cut in. “What Kathy means is the baby can’t survive on her own, without state resources. You know that. She’d have to be put up, and that’s expensive. And there will be no legal parents to put up climate credits…I don’t like it any more than you do, but there’s nothing we can do.”

“For God’s sake, she’s perfectly healthy, Jen!” Julia was practically shouting.

Kathy answered “It’s an unfortunate rarity, but post-birth abor-”

“Don’t call it that,” Julia snapped. “We’re letting a healthy baby die. And for what? Why? Why are they doing this?”

Jennifer and Kathy exchanged an uncomfortable glance and the former answered “Her eyes.”

“What? What about her eyes?” Julia asked.

“The Peters ordered blue eyes, but the baby’s are brown. It’s not what they paid for. Mrs. Peters said that she always wanted a daughter with blue eyes and blond hair, like a doll. She said that…that having to raise a botched child would be too traumatic for her,” Jennifer muttered.

Julia shook her head in disbelief. They were all silent for a moment.

“I’m taking her,” she said finally.

Jennifer’s eyes widened in surprise. Kathy looked scandalized.

“You can’t do that, Julie. It’s illegal!” the liaison exclaimed.

“Think about this,” cautioned the supervisor. “They’ll fire you. Hell, you’ll probably go to jail.”

“I don’t care,” replied Julia. “I can’t do nothing.”

Kathy glared angrily at her, looked meaningfully at Jennifer, and then exited the Repose Room quickly.

“All right,” said Jennifer. “But you’d better hurry. No doubt Kathy has gone for security.” Jennifer, too, stepped out.

Julia switched off her phone and flicked on the room’s fluorescent light. The baby girl squinted and began once again to cry.

 

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

Advertisements

My favorite Liam Neeson deaths

 

I can’t remember what thought process lead to this, but I was going to attempt a list of all the movies in which Liam Neeson dies.

It’s been done already, though. Of course it has.

liam neeson

So instead, here are my favorite Neeson deaths, of the ones I’ve seen:

1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Voiced by Liam Neeson, I’m not totally sure if Aslan’s death counts here, since there wasn’t really much (any?) voice work during the scene in question. However, it was probably the most affecting death on the list. Because Aslan is a good lion.

 

2. Krull: He was almost a no-name character here, but after having seen Krull so many times now, I can more deeply appreciate Kegan’s sacrifice.

Good start, Liam, to the years of deaths to follow.

 

3. Gangs of New York: Not everyone likes this movie, but I find it quite entertaining. What’s not to like about brutal hand-to-hand gang warfare in the streets of early New York? We don’t get to know Priest Vallon very well, but he’s painted as a good leader, a beloved father, and I guess a decent man (as decent as these street warriors can be?). Good death, Liam.

 

4. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: Maybe not a great movie, maybe not a great performance, but when I was younger watching this, Qui Gon’s death was the highlight of the film. Not that I was glad he died, but it was exciting.

 

5. Batman Begins: I remember this being a pretty good movie, but honestly neither the film nor the Neeson death here were that memorable for me. But there are worse ways to go than in a runaway train crash, right?

 

6. Excalibur: Off-screen, so not really sure how much this counts. But Gawain was kind of a dick, so serves him right. Awesome flick, for what it’s worth.

 

7. Schindler’s List: Another off-screen, just mentioned at the end of the film, I believe. Good movie, though.

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

Christmas Music

Merry Christmas (Eve), everyone!

Every year, right around Thanksgiving, radio stations start saturating the airwaves with Christmas music. Some people eat it up. Others get sick of it before Christmas Day even rolls around.

Over the years I’ve vacillated, and have landed somewhere around mild forbearance and occasional flickers of enjoyment. Some Christmas music just feels so vapid and asinine to me these days, though, that I have trouble recapturing anything near the pleasure felt in youth. Have you ever really listened to “Santa Baby?”

It’s become quite a cliched complaint – “Christmas has become too commercial.” It’s also become too secular. How many Christmas movies and songs these days completely leave out Christ? Many? Most?

Ironically, in voicing this observation it’s all too easy to sound the Grinch. I do think about this stuff a lot more now that I’m a dad, though. It’s not like I’m going to gatekeep everything my kids are exposed to, but I can certainly exert my influence. In fact I’d say it’s a parental duty.

Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on the bad right now. Instead, I’d like to share some renditions of a few of my favorite Christmas songs.

-Bushi

bushi

The Sword of Doom

The latest samurai flick I was able to watch, The Sword of Doom, was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. I’d read positive reviews of it by fans of the genre, so I picked it up during my last Barnes and Noble Criterion Collection sale binge.

There were some definite bright spots to the otherwise dark, unsatisfying watch, though.

First off I should note that The Sword of Doom is based on a novel of the same name. It’s also, I believe, the third take on said novel. There was a movie adaptation in 1957, then the Satan’s Sword trilogy in 1960, and finally The Sword of Doom in 1966. The Sword of Doom only covers the first part of the story, and it seems a sequel was planned but never made.

Anyway, the story focuses on a twisted swordsman played by Tatsuya Nakadai – a name you might not know, but whose face you’ll surely recognize if you’ve seen enough samurai films.

The movie starts off by letting you know what you’re getting into – a girl and her grandfather are traveling as pilgrims along a mountain path. The girl goes to fetch some water, and while she’s doing so her grandpa prays at a little shrine. Before long he’s interrupted by Ryunosuke (Nakadai), out for a little stroll. He’s overheard the old man praying for death so that his granddaughter can be free of obligation to him. Ryunosuke unfeelingly obliges, cutting down the old man.

Throughout the rest of the film we follow Ryunosuke in his cruel, violent exploits. We also get a look at some other characters, mostly victims whose lives he’s affected for the worse.

Toshiro Mifune makes an appearance as a sword master, and thankfully we get a nice action scene out of him.

mv5bmdjmzjnjyzktmjk4ms00mmyxlwi4yjutzwvhy2ewnda2owyzxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymte2nza0ng-_v1_

There’s also another cool character – a seemingly mild-mannered merchant who in protecting his foster daughter shows that appearances can be deceiving. The dude is actually a rogue ninja-type who knows how to handle himself (and others).

Camerawork and acting are noteworthy; the use of shadow is especially noticeable. The plot does get bogged down from the amount of minor characters bouncing around; I sometimes had trouble keeping track of all the names.

The most disappointing part of the story is that it’s all one big Chekhov’s Gun fakeout. The brother of one of Ryunosuke’s victims, seeking justice for his kin and begged by Ryunosuke’s own father, sets out to train under Mifune’s character in preparation for an ultimate confrontation with the evil samurai.

In the end, though, nothing comes of this. The film ends on a cliffhanger, with Ryunosuke descending into a berserk madness fueled by the weight of his sins. Even were there to have been a sequel, however, the Internet informs me that the novel itself never allowed for a battle between Ryunosuke and his heroic antagonist.

sworddoom-nakadai

Disappointing, and yet I’ve come to expect these kinds of endings from Japanese films. Still, the acting is good, the action is good, and there are some interesting characters. Worth a watch, but there are plenty of other samurai movies I’d recommend above this one.

-Bushi

bushi

Single-Issue Voting

Recently I was talking with Kaiju and a mutual friend about “lesser of two evils” voting. That is – both are bad choices, maybe both support an abhorrent policy, but one is clearly a worse choice, so you vote for the other one. Like Bob and Jim both favor cannibalism, but at least Jim is willing to let everyone walk around with a pointy stick to defend themselves. Jim’s got my vote!

I’m not sure if I’m 100% on board with the lesser of two evils vote, but it’s at least a reasonable and justifiable position.

What I’m not sure I get is the reluctance of some people to be “single-issue voters.” Ok, I mean if you’re talking about trivial issues, fine. If you won’t vote for Karen soley because she supports an ordinance to put up more city traffic cameras, that might be kind of dumb. You should be not-voting for Karen because she also supports selling weed in school cafeterias and claims it’s part of a balanced diet.

But if there’s something you think is an intrinsic good or evil, I honestly have trouble understanding how a bunch of much less morally gravid issues can alter the calculus.

thanos

Sure he wants to wipe out half the population of the universe, but he also supports universal healthcare and sees education as a human right! I’m voting for Thanos.

negan

I don’t like that Negan practices slavery, or that he executes people without due process. But the economy is booming and crime is down, under him, so…

1722_moloch2

I don’t like that Moloch demands child sacrifice, but I don’t want to be a single-issue worshiper…

I know it turns some people off, and no one wants to be judged, but seriously. If you honestly think abortion is murdering an infant, or if you honestly think the second amendment is rudimentary in one’s right to defend oneself and one’s family, or hell, even if you think cow farts and cars are going to spell ultimate doom for mankind – those are serious enough issues that you should probably vote for the candidate who falls on your side of the aisle on them, no?

But anyway don’t mind me. I’m just some internet schmuck.

Just go vote your conscience.

-Bushi

bushi

Three Outlaw Samurai

I recently cobbled together some time to watch the chambara classic Three Outlaw Samurai. The film was apparently set up as an origin story for a TV show of the same name.

81y-syp-8vl-_sx466_Compared to some of the other samurai films I’ve watched in recent months, this one was pretty enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very Japanese – you’ve got plenty of tragic death and loss, but the dynamic of the three protagonists makes for a fun watch. Each of the characters is simple and somewhat archetypal, but there’s also a certain depth to the plot and cast of characters as a whole.

The first samurai we encounter, Shiba Sakon, initially presents the kind of swagger we usually get from Toshiro Mifune. Looking for shelter, he stumbles upon a group of dirty, ugly peasants in a mill who have kidnapped their lord’s daughter. In many other traditions, the hero would slice up the thugs, rescue the girl, return her to her father, and spurn any sort of reward.

Shiba, however, listens to the peasants tell their side of the story, and ultimately decides to help them out! They’ve only kidnapped her, after all, because of their lord’s oppressive rule and he just won’t listen.

three-outlaw-samurai-banner

We encounter our second samurai hero after Lord Igawa rounds up a few warriors to go take care of the peasants and get his daughter back. Sakura Kyojuro is a wandering samurai who’s gotta eat, and rescuing a damsel in distress sounds good. On the way to the mill, one of the villagers jumps him, thinking he’s just a hired goon (which he is) going to kill his friends. Sakura dispatches the man with minimal effort. Thinking him a bandit, he just shakes his head and clucks his tongue.

When Sakura and band arrive at the mill, Shiba explains the situation. Coming from farmer stock himself, Sakura sympathizes and changes sides. This guy, the stocky samurai with the heart of gold, is probably my favorite of the group. He’s brave, compassionate, and hey, he fights with a spear! Incidentally, when he finds out later that the guy he killed was one of the villagers, he feels terrible and tries to make amends.

Our last of the three, Kikyo Einosuke, is harder to peg. For most of the film, he’s the lord’s hired dog, but he doesn’t actually kill anyone. He mostly just leads the other goons around and banters with Sakura. Although he seems to admire the vagabond samurai, he also loves living the high life.

At one point he aids one of the good guys in escaping from the lord’s manor, but it’s not until the lord betrays him, killing his hooker-girlfriend and trying to have him killed, that he turns and joins the other two outlaw samurai.

And once the band is together, well. They’re a force!

51aktf2dyyl

Like many other samurai movies, Three Outlaw Samurai is jam-packed with social commentary. There’s good and bad to be seen in all of the characters, making for an engaging, stimulating watch. Recommended!

-Bushi

bushi

 

“Cultural Appropriation” in Fiction

Let me start by saying that I find the concept of “cultural appropriation” itself to be wrongheaded, foolish, and kind of absurd. It assigns some kind of collective ownership of the nebulous basket of language, tradition, customs, food, clothing, fashion, and all kinds of other ill-defined elements that supposedly belong to a given people.

Nevermind the fact that peoples and nations interbreed and change and that cultures develop and assimilate and adapt.

And who is supposed to arbitrate these transgressions? If one single Chinese person indicts me for enjoying their dim sum, am I guilty of creating a problematic situation?

Does it matter that another Chinese person rules that it’s ok for me to eat dim sum, but that I may not make it myself? Or that a third, more rational native doesn’t give a crap?

Does it change the calculus when the majority of a country or culture like having their culture appropriated (the real term is “appreciated”)? I can tell you from my time living in Japan and consuming Japanese media that the people over there are flattered and pleased when foreigners try on kimono, or dress up as a popular anime character, or take an interest in  Japanese language, lore, history, whatever.

It’s ridiculous to think cultures should be treated like private (group) property.

And so I was disappointed when I was listening to an otherwise quite interesting discussion of an old weird tale yesterday, and the speakers posed the question of whether a white man writing about a black protagonist was cultural appropriation.

Really?

Thankfully they were gracious enough to rule that this was not the case – after all, the white (racist) narrator was really who the story was about.

I’ve gotta say, I find it quite troubling and a bit confusing, how such big fans of speculative fiction could conceivably buy into the idea of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to the fiction they read.

Scifi and Fantasy are full of stories about aliens and other non-human beings. But they’re not real, so I guess this is in-bounds. Well, women write male characters and men write female characters. Should this gender appropriation be pooh-poohed?

Is Captain Blood cultural appropriation, because it sees an Irish protagonist written by an Italian author? Or is this okay because they’re both white ethnicities? Do “White People” all get lumped together into one culture?

Is Othello problematic because its noble Moorish (often portrayed as African) hero was written by a white Christian?

Should books written by White People only feature white characters? If you think so, it sounds like you’re ready to nix an awful lot of cool SFF and other great literature. And why? Because a few emotionally unstable people have nothing worse in life to worry about than some white dude writing a story about a black guy?

51isW1RdvyL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_51oo82fc0kl-_aa300_Zorro

(Whoops – forget that last one – he’s one of those white hispanics!)

Are Japanese manga and anime highly problematic for featuring so many Caucasian characters?

And if you answer “yes” to all these questions, or even if your response is more nuanced or qualified, what’s the solution? Do we need a tribunal to determine which cases are acceptable and which are “problematic,” and then to rule on a remediation?

It’s such a silly piece of business. I’d be tempted to ignore it if I didn’t see the idea as such a threat to creativity and freedom of expression. Of course no one’s talking about outlawing cultural appropriation, but if it’s such a bad thing, I could imagine things moving in that direction in some quarters, someday. And really is there much practical difference between outlawing something and drubbing it out of polite society?

-Bushi

bushi