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TIMES THEY ARE A WRINKLING – commentary on Madeleine L’Engle’s novel “A Winkle In Time”

7567On the occasion of a major motion picture adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time 56 years after its publication, I decided to tesser through the fifth dimension back to 1962 to learn about the novel’s apparent durability among middle-grade literati. What I discovered is a mid-generational artifact wedged right between the 60’s feminist movement and McCarthy era preoccupations.

Meg is a twelve-year-old science nerd and bullied weirdo at school. However, at home she is the fulcrum of her weirdo science nerd family, including her unusual five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, who hides his amazing intellectual gifts from other children. After Meg’s father, a physicist, mysteriously vanishes during a top secret experiment, a trio of intergalactic ferry-like women – Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit – arrive offering to help find him. They lead Meg, Charles Wallace, and a teenage friend, Calvin, on a dangerous mission to rescue the father, and introduce the children to the Tesseract, a method of space travel that involves folding (or wrinkling) time. From a luminous spot in the cosmos, the children are shown Camazotz, a dark planet shrouded by a malevolent cloud called The Black Thing and inhabited by people whose minds are controlled by IT. The authoritarian IT, is a disfleshed, mechanical brain, imposing total social conformity among Camazotz population. IT also holds Meg’s father prisoner. Meg and the other children are the only beings capable of traveling through The Black Thing to Camazotz, and risk being indoctrinated into ITs ethos of homogeneity. Through Meg’s journey two major themes emerge, the indicated one, appointing a young girl as progressive protagonist and hero of individualism, the other a subtextual bulwark of anti-communist zealotry and prevailing conservative values.

Meg begins the story as a hesitater and social outcast among her peers. Because she does not fit it, she is considered stupid, (a missummation also applied to Charles Wallace). Although, the three missuses celebrate Meg’s differentness and individual gifts, ultimately saving her family and the world from galactic evil is something she accomplishes alone. They provide the vehicle of the Tesseract, the mission, and the encouragement, but Meg’s strongest tool is her inner ability to overcome self-doubt. That is the novel’s timely, broad-minded wrinkle.

Within the same pages a second, less forward-looking theme lurks. The nebulous Black Thing is slowly encompassing planet Earth, as it has to completion the less resistant planet Camazotz, a name which happens to rhyme obliquely with communist. Citizens of Camazotz live in identical suburban houses, where all children play games in unison and parents fearfully obey an average routine. The Black Thing suppresses individuality itself, replacing its importance with the false bliss of social equality. Camazotzians are not starved, or deprived of civil rights. Sameness, civic efficiency and the provision of equal economic resources are depicted as worse deprivations. “[Meg] held on to her moment of revelation. Like and equal are two entirely different things.” Children of Camazotz are bereft because they have been absorbed philosophically by IT. The literal brain IT takes over independent thought making a person not just part of IT but turning them into an IT, and IT takes over Charles Wallace’s mind. Depriving Charles Wallace of self-determination is described as an act hate, so Meg resolves to give Charles Wallace what ITs vacuous equality cannot – love. That is, nonsectarian Christian love, which is moderately referenced throughout novel.

Besides Economic Liberalism and Christianity, there are other quaint ideological convictions touted. Intellectualism is a bogeyman as demonstrated when Charles Wallace, the most erudite of the children, falls into ITs mind control most easily because he has the arrogance to think he can defeat IT with logic alone. Meg’s father admits to irresponsible scientific exploration of the Tesseract – “we’re children playing with dynamite” – a reference to nuclear weapons. Also, L’Engle’s composition has a formal, fairy tale cadence that was perhaps the culture of children’s books in 1962 – a lot of dears and darlings and Faaathers.

This brings me, in brief, to the 2018 movie version. The adaptation is successful in imagining a fantastic special effects vision of the novel, distinguishing the characters, and abandoning some of L’Engle’s passé ideology. The movie seizes on the spirit of Meg learning to take pride in being an individual and turning her anger, stubbornness and impatience into strengths. And the filmmakers grow L’Engle’s feminist seed into an inclusive and multicultural universe. There are some deficiencies. The acting is broadly terrible, and L’Engle’s Christian sentiment has morphed into New Agey child-of-the-universe-summon-your-inner-light platitudes that feel drippy. But the best parts of the movie would not exist without the best parts of the original novel.

On the whole, A Wrinkle In Time is a novel from which young people will still draw relevant positivity. It is a story about a girl possessing the ability to solve problems with interior powers even the immortal, interstellar traveling women do not have. Maybe its 1962 first-world triumphalism does not hold up, but the message of children, particularly female children, learning to respect themselves is enduring.

Why the Tears of Strangers Are Only Water

Shocking results using sports fans at the Us vs. Them dividing line.

“Evidence that human empathy and kindness stop at the border between “our group” and “others.”

link:  Still More on Why the Tears of Strangers Are Only Water | Mind Matters | Big Think.

The Over/Under: One Nation Rally. Does Size Matter?

I am but one of the thousands who attended the One Nation Working Together march to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. this past Saturday.  It may be a spitball, but experience and wisdom tell me I saw at least 2000 people there.  That makes it thousands, right?  At the peak hour of this awesome day someone from the dias announced that satellite images showed our liberal crowd was bigger than the well publicized Restoring Honor rally held Glen Beck and other T-Bags last month.  Saturday evening liberal blogs started using the number 175,000.  But some independent observers differ with One Nation’s headcount magnanimity.  The AP reported that One Nation’s crowd was “less dense” then Beck’s, but did not provide further clarification.  Restoring Honor estimated their rally drew 500,000.  CBS news

commissioned aerial photography of that August event and estimated 87,000.  If you relied on the difference in those estimates in percentage, then One Nation’s rally would have had only 14,790 attendees.  That can’t be right either.  ABC said Restoring Honor had more than 100,000.   NBC said tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands.  None of these media organizations seems to have estimated or really even given much attention to the One Nation rally (Bias, but that’s for another article).    This happens at every public rally I go to.  Denver, Colorado has a huge gay pride parade every summer.   I used to go to it when I lived there.  Pride would always estimate their crowd was, say, 250,000 people from all across the West and the Denver police would tell the papers it was just two drunk fairies and a donkey.  There are two reasons why unticketed public crowd estimates seem to vary so widely.  The first is the scientific methodology of the counter.  The second is the political affectation of the counter.  The second reason often clouds the accuracy of the first.

While professional crowd estimators may use lasers, satellites, recorded video footage and surveillance balloons, advances in aerial digital photography and computer image-processing  make it possible to get a fairly valid head count.  The formula ends up being pretty basic arithmetic – square footage divided by occupation density.   They take a picture from about 2000 feet over a crowd, break it into regions of similar density, measure the square footage of each region, apply a reasonable value for the density in each region, and then add the calculated number of people in each region back into a total estimate.  There are three major variables: the area of the available space, the proportion of the space that’s occupied, and the crowd’s density.   The similar density variable is the trickiest because the amount of square feet a single person occupies may be 2.5 feet, or 5 feet, or 10 feet as they get farther away from the center of whatever event.  Although there have been advances in computer technology  the basic mathematical formula has been utilized for decades.

Yet, even with this combination of complex models and simple math, the number of people attending rallies still seems to be elusive.  This is because the technology hasn’t ever prevented political event organizers from relying upon what they say they saw from the stage.   Yes, there is an easy, accurate way to count crowds but nobody wants to use it.  In 1995 Louis Farrakhan and the organizers of the Million Man March said that their famous event in Washington had 1.5 million.  The National Park Service estimated the number to be 400,000.  Farrakhan threatened to sue the agency, and, to avoid future threats and controversy, Congress banned the Park Police from counting crowds at any future demonstrations.  During protests against the war in Iraq, counts of the crowd size varied widely.  Did political right-leaning police have a motivation for underestimating?  Probably, but war protestors could have inflated their numbers to enhance their public significance.  War supporters repeated the lower estimates while antiwar activists used higher numbers as proof that public sentiment was growing.  It’s in the interest of political event organizers to promote the highest estimate.  Their political opposition will always promote the lowest.  Police and governing agencies want to show that they provided adequate resources and avoid controversy.  And the media can slip in meaningless phrases like “tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands” without the cost or time of any factual research.  It’s been no different this year for Restoring Honor or One Nation where the missions of the rallies is to bring in votes in the approaching mid-term elections.  Crowd numbers are politics.  When crowds gather to make political statements, it doesn’t matter how many people turn out.  It’s whatever number the people who stayed home will buy.

Links to articles on crowd counting:

link:  http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/how-is-crowd-size-estimated–1074/

link: http://www.slate.com/id/2265622/

Real Science on Parallel Universe Theory

“Will Proof of an Adjacent Universe Be the Next Great Discovery?” (Weekend Feature).