Friday, August 31, 2012

Fish for Friday

This column serves up fish caught by casting our hook into the waters of recent correspondence—fish that we think will be good for you, either for information or for provocation to think about something new, or about something old but from a different perspective.
Last week's column presented a riddle about what a gun-carrying man whose brain has instinctively registered that his attacker is in full stride and only 20 feet away should do.
    Answer: Even though the police don't train this tactic, in other circles people are taught to take off running as they draw their weapon then turn and fire. This buys the extra 1-1/2 to 2 seconds needed. If you stand your ground and try to quick-draw, and if the person with the knife has a running start, they will be on you before you have the gun ready to fire. [personal communication]

The Romney campaign blames the stagnant economy on President Obama. The president does not have the power to fix the economy alone. Congress, as per our Constitution, approves and passes bills then sends the future laws to the president to sign or veto. In January 2009, when President Obama took office, the leaders of the GOP in the Senate and the House met secretly. The meetings hatched an "obstructionist plan." In the Senate it was it to filibuster. The number of these filibusters has been unprecedented in the Senate's history. The House of Representatives also blocked many bills that would have improved the economy and jobs. The GOP did not care about the pain and suffering of the American people. Almost 700,000 people lost their jobs just in Republican-controlled states: teachers, firemen, police, and other government workers. [from a letter to a local newspaper]

Another proud day for North Carolina. [personal communication; excerpt from the article linked to:]
A worker caught on undercover video abusing turkeys at a Butterball factory farm in North Carolina pled guilty Tuesday to felonious cruelty to animals.
    Brian Douglas was one of six workers facing charges after undercover video shot by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals and published on the Blotter revealed alleged abuse. An MFA activist had worked undercover at the farm for three weeks and documented what the group called "acts of violence and severe neglect." In the video, workers can be seen kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as dragging them by their wings and necks.
You titled Saturday's lead article on p. 1 "Race offers voters clear choices." Because my wife had to read the title three times to realize that "race" was PROBABLY referring to the presidential campaign rather than to skin color, I looked up AP's original title and learned that it was "White House race offers voters many clear choices."
    What considerations led you to shorten the original title the way you did, so that it might be interpreted "Race offers [racist] voters clear choices"?
    Has the Herald-Sun just acknowledged that there may be a sizable number of voters in the upcoming presidential election who will cast their vote for the candidate more nearly their own color? None of them read the Herald-Sun, though, right? [from an unpublished letter to a local newspaper]

How about the Mormons? Do we want to just beat the presidential race like a drum until it is over? I heard someone last night being interviewed and saying "Oh, we Mormons don't really believe that Eden-in-Mississippi stuff" and the interviewer just let it go! I would have been all over that and made it an excruciatingly uncomfortable moment for everyone. To me that is when an interviewer has every right to say, "Do you realize that makes you sound like a completely uninformed moron?" To me, the problem is that the media don't drop more bombs, not fewer. First off, as you know, LDS scripture teaches that Eden was in Missouri, not in Mississippi, and for an alleged Mormon to not even know that says something profound. Sort of like someone saying they are pro-abortion but still a devout Republican. Or they are devoutly Catholic but use birth control. No one is devoutly anything if they don't follow its rules. It would be like a vegan's saying "I'm a vegan, but I have to eat fish once a week for the protein."
    To me the media should nail people on absurd statements at every opportunity and show them up for the scam artists they are.
    It's the same on the question of people's being against Obama just because he isn't white. If an allegedly devout Mormon doesn't know enough about Joseph Smith's teachings to know Missouri from Mississippi, what do non-Mormons know about his other teachings? How many people are getting ready to go vote for a potential nut-case candidate because he is white, instead of for a sane, if mostly incompetent, sitting president because he is black? [personal communication]

Yet another reason why some of us no longer care what happens to the Israelis. [personal communication; excerpt from the article linked to:]
HAIFA, Israel—An Israeli court rejected on Tuesday accusations that Israel was at fault over the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an army bulldozer during a 2003 pro-Palestinian demonstration in Gaza.
    Corrie's family had accused Israel of intentionally and unlawfully killing their 23-year-old daughter, launching a civil case in the northern Israeli city of Haifa after a military investigation had cleared the army of wrongdoing.
Everything is relative & also paradoxical. As humans, we simultaneously:

  • Choose & yet don’t choose.
  • Are kind but cruel & even indifferent, sometimes even in the very same moment.
  • Exist (we’re “solid”) but not really (more space or “nothing”—no thing—than matter).
  • Live but often don’t really live at all (a lot of zombies out there).
  • Know but don’t know (we know so much, & yet so little).
  • Are needy & yet really already have everything we need.
  • Can be right but also wrong (the sun rises & sets, but only if we’re on Earth).
  • Are limited/finite (physically) yet are unlimited/timeless (live on in other ways—others’ memories, what we leave behind, etc.)…& even then, what we “contribute” can be both momentous (in terms of human lifespans) & insignificant (negligible in geological terms). [personal communication]

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thor's Day: Predestination

John Calvin (1509-1564)
Thursday of the week is devoted to airing out religion and religions. Thor (from Old Norse Þórr) is [or was] a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing, healing, and fertility.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Announcing Ask Wednesday: Ken Marks on Digital Painting

Click to enlarge
and see the painterly effects
Ask Wednesday will regularly feature an interview with an interesting person on an interesting topic.
Ken's Photo Treasures have long been a treasured sidebar feature of Moristotle. A click on the photo displayed under that heading in the sidebar takes you to Ken Marks's photostream at

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Siegfried worries not

Siegfried isn't worried that he'll have to go on a presidential road trip with Governor Romney.
     Siegfried has no 9-letter English anagram, nor canine a 6-letter one, but dog is still God spelled backwards.
    And Moristotle says that Romney's motor is let.
    Thus spake, and so on.

The End

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tropical Storm Isaac raises theological questions

Because of Tropical Storm Isaac, the Republican conventioneers are taking cover down in Tampa today and have already shortened the program for the rest of the week.
    Because a number of "religious leaders" suggested back in 2005 that Hurricane Katrina was God expressing His wrath, the question arises now, What are religious Republicans (which is pretty much all of them apparently) thinking God might be saying now?
    Is God mad at the Republicans?
    Has Mitt or Paul forgotten to pray?
    Is Isaac (appropriately sporting the name of the only biblical patriarch who did not leave Canaan) God's punishment for the Mormons' believing that all those ancient stories took place in North America?
    Is God telling the Republican faithful to stay home on November 6 to ensure that Romney & Ryan can't unseat Obama & Biden and won't be able to name another conservative to the Supreme Court or dismantle Obamacare or do anything else to make life in America even more dog-eat-dog (i.e., unChristian) than it already is?

Maybe. But less faint-hearted, less soul-searching Republicans are wondering whether God is just saying that they can't depend on His help on November 6, so they'd better hustle to make sure their fellow Republicans get out to the polls that day and redouble their efforts to prevent non-Republican types of voters from being permitted to vote?
    Much wind blows on which theological question prevails.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Always on Sunday: Woody Allen and others

Sunday's regular movie review.
I didn't think that I'd missed any of Woody Allen's nearly fifty films (other than his latest, To Rome with Love, which I intend to watch soon), even if I've not liked all or even most of them very much. I thought that many of them had suffered from a central character portrayed by Allen himself as a self-absorbed, nattering, whiny neurotic, who I always assumed was a version of the actor himself. I did not much enjoy the stories in which these characters figured.
    One of the gifts of Robert B. Weide's recent film, Woody Allen: A Documentary (which took him years to get Mr. Allen's permission to undertake), is that I now know that Woody Allen, in an interview at least, isn't much like those neurotic characters. Never, in the many minutes of interviews included in this long film, does he seem any more neurotic than I am myself. Maybe he's outgrown it (he'll be 78 his next birthday).
    Mr. Allen himself doesn't seem to like a lot of his films. And a number of them he disliked as soon as he had finished them. They just didn't come out the way he had hoped. Someone suggested that maybe if he took two years to make a film, rather than one year, then he could make one that lived up to his expectations. No, he wasn't having any of that. He says that he'll just keep making lots of movies, hoping that occasionally he'll make a good one. He's more interested in getting home on time and playing his clarinet.
    Robert B. Weide's documentary is excellent, We enjoyed it immensely. I was prepared to watch half an hour (less than a quarter of one of the two DVDs in the box) and return the movie to my local library. But both my wife and I were mesmerized by the tour through Allen's oeuvre, learning about his childhood, his parents, his sister, his wives (all of whom are interviewed), some of his friendships (particularly with Diane Keaton), and his long-time association with the producers and the cinematographer and others who have collaborated with him on most of his films. A very informative, even enthralling film. Excellently edited with many interviews interspersed topically.
    I learned that I'd missed quite a few of his films over the years. So far as I could remember, I hadn't seen You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), Whatever Works (2009), Anything Else (2003), Hollywood Ending (2002)—whoa, this is getting ridiculous, I'm only a quarter of the way down the list, and there seem to be quite a few I haven't seen, even several I've never heard of.
  [I've not provided links to any of these titles, you can find them in the Internet Movie Database, in the list of films Allen directed.] 
    Have I been believing that I care more about Woody Allen films than I actually do care? Perhaps, but, well, there have been quite a few that I really liked: Midnight in Paris (2011), Match Point (2005), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Husbands and Wives (1992), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), September (1987), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Zelig (1983), Interiors (1978), Annie Hall (1977), and Sleeper (1973). At least I think I did, it's been a long time.
    I'll plan to check out the ones we haven't seen and maybe watch again a few that I think I remember with affection. In most cases, I mean "check out" in two senses, one of them being that I'll borrow the movies from a library.

The others besides Allen that I'm going to mention are Nicolas Winding Refn and Assaf Bernstein, whose films Drive and The Debt, respectively, we also watched this week—both of them also borrowed from our local library.

    I expected to enjoy Drive (2011) simply because of its cast, including Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, and Bryan Cranston [who plays methamphetamine manufacturer Walter White in the compelling TV program Breaking Bad, now in its fifth of sixth announced seasons]. But it was better even than I expected, an outstanding thriller. I have to rate Drive ExtraOrdinary.
    Gosling's character is a criminal, but with otherwise impeccable moral principles, which is what gets him into big trouble, primarily in the form of having to deal with a big mobster—Brooks's first role in which he kills people.

    HaHov, HaChov [The Debt] (2007) is an Israeli film, with subtitles. It is not a first-rate film, but its story kept my wife and me spell-bound, about the apprehension of "The Surgeon of Birkenau" by three young Mossad agents. The Surgeon is a Nazi monster who was never brought to trial in Israel.
    The official reason that he was not brought to trial was that he was shot in 1965 as he attempted to escape his Israeli captors. But today, 35 years later, a small article appears in a minor newspaper in Kiev, Ukraine announcing that The Surgeon is alive and admits his crimes....I rate The Debt Very Good.
    Don't overlook your local library as a source of laudable movies. DVDs include bonus material, you know. How else did I find out that Albert Brooks had never killed anyone before?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ry Cooder's political protest music

I hadn't heard anything of Ry Cooder since I watched Wim Wenders's documentary film, Buena Vista Social Club (1999—an informative and enjoyable film, by the way). The article For Ry Cooder, a Dog’s Life and a Deal With the Devil, published yesterday in The New York Times, talks about Cooder's latest AlbumElection Special,” which takes on Republicans. Excerpt:
On Tuesday he released a follow-up, “Election Special” (Nonesuch), in which he pokes fun at Mitt Romney, the Republican Party and the Koch brothers, the Kansas industrialists who back the Tea Party movement and other conservative causes. In a telephone interview from his home in Santa Monica, Calif., Mr. Cooder, 65, talked about writing protest music and his need for acupuncture and French classical music to relax in such troubling times. [Edited excerpts from the conversation follow].
    Here's the link to listen to tracks of  Election Special.

Political quote of the month?

Mitt Romney, yesterday:
No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.
It appears to be true, as reported, that Donald Trump will be on the dais in Tampa….

Political quote of the week

From conservative columnist David Brooks’s August 23 opinion piece in The New York Times, “Ryan’s Biggest Mistake”:
It’s obvious why candidates talk about the glorious programs they’ll create if elected. It fires up crowds and defines values. But we shouldn’t forget that it’s almost entirely make-believe.
In the real world, there are almost never ultimate victories, and it is almost never the case (even if you control the White House and Congress) that you get to do what you want.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fish for Friday

This column serves up fish caught by casting our hook into the waters of recent correspondence—fish that we think will be good for you, either for information or for provocation to think about something new, or about something old but from a different perspective.
If the Republicans get caught in the hurricane during their convention, it will be interesting to see how it affects the thoughts of Ryan and Romney on self-reliance versus well-funded emergency services.
My brother moved to St. Pete nearly 20 years ago. I have ridden out two hurricanes in Florida, one in a sailboat. If the Republicans get hit hard by a hurricane during the convention it will be a great test of faith not only in their plans to gut the budget for essential services but also in their god. For an American city, Tampa/St. Pete already has a Second World attitude about maintaining basic services on its good days, and it slides quickly toward Third World under challenging circumstances. [personal communication]
A man carries a handgun and is trained to use it. He practices shooting moving targets at a range once a week.
He drives home from work, gets out of his car, and walks toward his front door.
He hears a noise to his left and sees a man running at him with a knife. As he reaches for his gun his brain instinctively registers that the attacker is in full stride and only 20 feet away.
What should the man with the gun do? [riddle from a personal correspondent]
Thanks much for Wednesday’s link to Robert Reich’s piece on “The Ryan Choice.” I’d like to repay the favor.
I saw an insightful opinion piece in Wednesday’s Chapel Hill HeraldWe don’t cotton to tax cuts for the rich,” by North Carolina businessman Eric Henry; he’ s the president of TS Designs of Burlington, whose trade-marked motto is “printing t-shirts for good.”
Here’s how Mr. Henry’s piece begins:
If anyone tells you that ending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent would hurt job creation, tell them to talk with me. We founded our business, TS Designs, in 1977 as a small manual screen-printing company and grew to land contracts with some of clothing’s biggest brands. In the mid 1990s, we lost much of our business as a result of the supposedly job-creating NAFTA trade agreement as large brands sought out the cheapest labor costs they could in Mexico.
We decided to stick it out and keep good jobs in North Carolina. We invested in new technologies that reduced our energy and waste costs. We found new markets for our T-shirts. And we looked at our location as a virtue, not a problem. We decided to manufacture T-shirts from cotton grown, ginned, spun, knit, finished, cut, sewn, printed and dyed all within our state’s borders; or as we like to say, from dirt to shirt in North Carolina.
And here’s how it concludes:
The Senate recently passed a bill extending the Bush tax cuts on income below the $250,000 level for households. Almost everyone—98 percent of Americans including small business owners—have income below that. The richest 2 percent would keep their tax cuts on their income below $250,000 but not their extra tax cuts above that level.
On Aug.1, the House passed a bill to extend the Bush tax cuts for 2.7 million high-income earners and pay for these tax breaks by raising taxes on Americans with less income—reducing the child tax credit, college tuition tax credit and earned income tax credit, which help 13 million working families, with 26 million children. North Carolina is home to more than half a million of these working families who would be hurt.
Taking money from the budgets of families struggling to make ends meet and giving it to the most prosperous families won’t help my business or our economy. Instead it will continue us down the path of subsidizing the already well-off instead of making the investments in our economy and our people that truly strengthen our nation and our homegrown jobs.
You can read the whole article at [personal communication]
Did you hear about the woman who flew from Pakistan to Paris, slept through the unloading of passengers and luggage, and woke up to realize she was on her way back to Pakistan? Seems no one noticed she was still on the plane....
Doesn’t that make you feel good about the hundreds of billions of dollars we have wasted on air travel security?
This is an almost perfect footnote to the jet skier who accidentally thwarted JFK airport security. His jet ski broke down in Jamaica Bay and as it got dark he swam toward the only lights he could see. They were the runway lights at JFK. He climbed a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, walked past several security cameras as he crossed two runways and entered the terminal—all while being soaking wet and wearing a bright yellow life jacket. He finally asked someone for help...and was arrested for security violations. [personal communication]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thor's Day: Abide with me

Thursday of the week is devoted to airing out religion and religions. The column’s title, “Thor’s Day,” comes from the etymology of the word Thursday, literally “Thor’s Day.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

November 6 will be a vote on dog-eat-dog*

William Graham Sumner
On my errand to Chapel Hill yesterday, I stopped at a coffee shop and was lucky to find a copy of last Thursday’s Carrboro Citizen. I read it over a cup of coffee and a bowl of granola. Admittedly, the weekly Citizen reflects the liberal community of Carrboro and Chapel Hill, and I don’t apologize for that.
The issue’s featured opinion piece was “The Ryan choice,” by Robert Reich (published on August 11 on his own website). Reich was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. He’s now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, the city of my birth.
If you would like to learn more about perhaps the central issue facing us all in the upcoming presidential election, I highly recommend “The Ryan choice” to you, if you haven’t already seen it. Some excerpts from the article:
Ryan is not a firebrand. He’s not smarmy. He doesn’t ooze contempt for opponents or ridicule those who disagree with him. In style and tone, he doesn’t even sound like an ideologue—until you listen to what he has to say.
It’s here—in Ryan’s views and policy judgments—we find the true ideologue. More than any other politician today, Paul Ryan exemplifies the social Darwinism at the core of today’s Republican Party: Reward the rich, penalize the poor, let everyone else fend for themselves. Dog eat dog….
Ryan’s views are pure social Darwinism. As William Graham Sumner, the progenitor of social Darwinism in America, put it in the 1880s: “Civilization has a simple choice.” It’s either “liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest” or “not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.”
Is this Mitt Romney’s view as well?
Romney hasn’t put out much but the budget he’s proposed would, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, throw ten million low-income people off the benefits rolls for food stamps or cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or both.
At the same time, Romney wants to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy, reduce corporate income taxes, and eliminate the estate tax. These tax reductions would increase the incomes of people earning more than $1 million a year by an average of $295,874 annually, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center.
Social Darwinism offered a moral justification for the wild inequities and social cruelties of the late nineteenth century. It allowed John D. Rockefeller, for example, to claim the fortune he accumulated through his giant Standard Oil Trust was “merely a survival of the fittest… the working out of a law of nature and of God.”
The social Darwinism of that era also undermined all efforts to build a more broadly based prosperity and rescue our democracy from the tight grip of a very few at the top. It was used by the privileged and powerful to convince everyone else that government shouldn’t do much of anything.
By choosing Ryan, Romney has raised for the nation the starkest of choices: Do we want to return to that earlier time, or are we willing and able to move forward—toward a democracy and an economy that works for us all?
Ryan’s views are crystallized in the budget he produced for House Republicans last March as chairman of the House Budget committee. That budget would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs over the next decade. The biggest cuts would be in Medicaid, which provides healthcare for the nation’s poor—forcing states to drop coverage for an estimated 14 million to 28 million low-income people, according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Ryan’s budget would also reduce food stamps for poor families by 17 percent ($135 billion) over the decade, leading to a significant increase in hunger—particularly among children. It would also reduce housing assistance, job training, and Pell grants for college tuition….
The phrase dog eat dog is a reference to ruthless competition. It is a translation of the Latin proverb, canis caninam non est, dog will not eat dog. English use of the phrase dates to the late 18th century.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rabbit climbs wall

I was delighted yesterday to see that one of our rabbits—hey, we're their people—had climbed the wall of our raised planter (which is three 6" x 6" timbers tall, plus 2" cap).
Yum, yum, good, I'm imagining him (or her) thinking.
And a yum-yum good photograph too.
It's looking to me more and more possible that our rabbits can climb over the 2' cage wire I stapled around the bottom of our shadow-box fence. Of course, they may be using a tunnel that could even be part of their underground warren (or warrens)....

Monday, August 20, 2012

Was Osama bin Laden the ultimate suicide bomber?

Apparently Osama bin Laden's confederates balked at his vision of an attack on the Twin Towers. "It would be the end of our organization," one of them is said to have said (in Arabic, of course).
"Piffle," Osama (is said to have) replied. "It would make the ultimate recruitment poster. Recruiting jihadists would become easier than pie."
"Bah!" his confederates cried in unison. "Do not do this, Osama."
The question for the United States and other Western nations is: How effective are we being in making Osama wrong and his nay-saying confederates right? Will Osama's recruitment vision fade and his own violent death serve as a symbolic warning for other potential jihadists?
I’m not encouraged by reports coming out of Afghanistan or Iraq or, frankly, anywhere else in the Near East. In Syria, al-Qaeda is apparently playing a larger and larger role in opposing President Bashar al-Assad (“Al Qaeda Taking Deadly New Role in Syria’s Conflict,” published in the New York Times on July 24). For example.
But if the 9/11 Truthers are right, and Osama wasn’t even responsible for the attack on the Twin Towers, and it was instead a plot carried out by a cabal in our own government to provoke taxpayers’ dollars’ going to “the military-industrial complex,” then the question for the United States would seem to be—
Or, rather, the answer would seem to be: "Damn, it worked!"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Always on Sunday: 2006 was a very good year

Sunday’s regular movie review.
I’m cheating. Sort of.
I discovered while researching Déjà Vu last week that I’d mentioned it in another post (dated July 7, 2007), in which I’d generally enthused over a fairly long list of movies that we (my wife and I) had then fairly recently watched.  I decided that it was incumbent on me to share the list with you and provide links to their Internet Movie Database (IMDb) pages.
You know the feeling you get upon reading a great novel or watching a great film. I know the feeling well, because I read a lot of books and watch a lot of movies and try to not to miss the good ones. Movies like the following (listed most recently watched first) just exhilarate me:
The Human Stain (2003: Robert Benton) [When a disgraced former college professor (Anthony Hopkins) has a romance with a mysterious younger woman haunted by her dark, twisted past (Nicole Kidman), he is forced to confront a shocking secret about his own life that he has kept secret for 50 years. Adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2000 novel.]
Breach (2007: Billy Ray) [Based on the true story, FBI upstart Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), an agent who was put on trial for selling secrets to the Soviet Union.]
For Your Consideration (2006: Christopher Guest) [Hollywood send-up. No-name actors are making a low-budget period drama called “Home for Purim,” when an anonymous post on the Internet suggests that one performance is Oscar-worthy. Then, two more cast members get Oscar-related press....(Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy)]
Déjà Vu (2006: Tony Scott) [An ATF [Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms] agent (Denzel Washington) travels back in time to save a woman from being murdered, falling in love with her during the process.]
Blood Diamond (2006: Edward Zwick) [A fisherman (Djimon Hounsou), a smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a syndicate of businessmen match wits over the possession of a priceless diamond.]
Hollywoodland (2006: Allen Coulter), [A detective (Adrien Brody) examines the mysterious death of George Reeves (Ben Affleck), TV’s Superman. [George Reeves was among the very first actors I became acquainted with, as a boy in the 1950s.]
Infamous (2006: Douglas McGrath) [While researching his book In Cold Blood, writer Truman Capote (Toby Jones) develops a close relationship with convicted murderers Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace). I liked this adaptation of the true story at least as well as Capote (2005: Bennett Miller), in which Philip Seymour Hoffman played Capote, for which performance he won the Oscar.]
The Last King of Scotland (2006: KevinMacdonald) [Based on the events of the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker)’s regime as seen by his personal physician (James McAvoy) during the 1970s.]
The Good Shepherd (2006: Robert DeNiro) [The tumultuous early history of the Central Intelligence Agency is viewed through the prism of one man’s life. (Matt Damon & Robert DeNiro)]
Keeping Mum (2005: Niall Johnson) [A pastor (Rowan Atkinson) preoccupied with writing the perfect sermon fails to realize that his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) is having an affair and his children are up to no good. I “nearly split my sides” laughing.]
Running with Scissors (2006: Ryan Murphy) [Young Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) absorbs experiences that could make for a shocking memoir: the son of an alcoholic father (Alec Baldwin) and an unstable mother (Annette Bening), he’s handed off to his mother’s therapist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), and spends his adolescent years as a member of Finch’s bizarre extended family. Black humor.]
The World’s Fastest Indian (2005: Roger Donaldson) [The life story of New Zealander Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins), who spent years building a 1920 Indian motorcycle—a bike that helped him set the land-speed world record at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967.]
The Devil Wears Prada (2006: David Frankel) [A naive young woman (Anne Hathaway) comes to New York and scores a job as the assistant to one of the city’s biggest magazine editors, the ruthless and cynical Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). Stanley Tucci is particularly enjoyable to watch as Nigel, Priestly’s “fashion assistant.”]
I tingle and shift into a higher gear of aliveness while watching movies like these. I clap my hands, I fidget, I make side remarks. (I’m glad that my wife usually tolerates this and, especially, that she mostly shares my taste in movies.)
But when we see two movies in a row of the caliber I’m talking about, wow! We actually saw Breach and The Human Stain back-to-back, then a few days later had that glorious experience again. The first movie was the taut, dramatic, perfectly plotted, utterly gripping tale, Notes on a Scandal (2006: Richard Eyre) and starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. I was struck by the remark of Zoe Heller, the author of the book on which the movie was based, that she deliberately concocted a “bait and switch” with the sophisticated narrative device of employing an apparently reliable narrator (the Judi Dench character) who later proves to be unreliable....
The second was a brilliant twist on the fictional device of having characters literally take on a life of their own and become unruly, which was exploited so well in novels by Flann O’Brien (At Swim-Two-Birds, 1939, which James Joyce read and said delighted him) and Gilbert Sorrentino (Mulligan Stew, 1979). The movie was Stranger Than Fiction (2006: Marc Forster), starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Queen Latifa, with Tom Hulce (who played Mozart in Amadeus and, incidentally, is an alumnus of the UNC School of the Arts Drama School, Winston-Salem) in a delicious small part.
You might want to watch these films if you missed them. Or watch them again. I could watch a few of them again myself.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday at home

We were all here. My wife and I and Siegfried. And some of the birds and the rabbits. And a frog. Flowers, shrubs, trees, grass, fungi. Some worms and slugs and butterflies [like my wife and me, not shown]. Bliss to be alive.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fish for Friday

This column serves up fish caught by casting our hook into the waters of recent correspondence—fish that we think will be good for you, either for information or for provocation to think about something new, or about something old but from a different perspective.
Four people were already in the hot tub at my local gym when I arrived there yesterday. "Mind if I join your group?" I said to no one of them in particular.
An older lady (she might have been my age ) said, "Of course, the more the merrier."
She was very friendly. She said, "We all need the hot tub after working in the yard," which I guess is what she'd been doing earlier.
I said I hadn't done anything as strenuous as that, just picked up some dog poop and fed the birds.
She thought I meant birds in a cage, but I straightened her out and we went on to talk for several minutes about birds. She didn't know that some birds lay their eggs in other birds' nests.
"Oh, yes," I said. "Non-human animals can cheat, just as human animals can. Get someone else to do the work for you."
This made her stop for a moment. The others had just gotten out of the hot tub, and she had started to follow them.
"That reminds me of our federal entitlement programs!" she said. "Boy, they really get me mad!"
I said, "You mean, like the loopholes that our wealthy Congressmen have made into law so that the rich can legally hide their money off-shore and avoid paying income taxes?"
If looks could kill, Morris, I'd be a dead man.
She stomped out of the hot tub and headed for the exit. [personal communication]
I am not so naive that I do not know some people use the system. However, I do not criticize anyone that welfare helps, because neither am I so naive that I do not know that because of circumstances beyond my control, I too could be added to their list. None of us knows what tomorrow holds. We might be OK today, but could very well stand in need tomorrow. [from a letter to a local newspaper]
I just heard on NPR an excerpt from a Romney speech in North Carolina yesterday where he went on and on about all the damage the liberals have done around the world and "even in the great state of California." As I recall, the major changes that had the most impact in California weren't from the "liberals" but from folks like Ronald Reagan and the corrupt Republican industrialists in Texas who used Enron to take the state of California hostage over its power bills and ultimately bring Arnold Schwarzenegger to power. [personal communication]
Paul Ryan is a fly-weight next to Rob Portman. But fly-weights are often VPs, and this one would likely do the bidding of a Romney.
The debates should be entertaining.
The underlying politics is not. [personal correspondence, from someone who had predicted Romney would pick Rob Portman]
Paul Ryan is the author of the most extreme right-wing budget ever proposed in Congress. He wants to dismantle Medicare, privatize Social Security, and cut taxes for millionaires while raising taxes on the middle class.
Ryan isn't just an extremist—he's young, smart, and charming. The media constantly describe him as looking like "the boy next door." He's the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. [from Political Action]
If you want to see  where corporatization is taking us, look for the documentary Bitter Seeds, by Micha X. Peled.  This is where the policies of the Republican/Tea Party are heading.
They showed it at the Boulder International Film Festival. Basically, it is the story of how Monsanto convinced farmers in India to grow genetically modified cotton which did not reseed, so they had to buy new seed every year from Monsanto, requiring them to take out loans that they then could not repay. Short term profits trump long-term economic and environmental health. [personal correspondence; I’ve added a link to a description of and a trailer for Bitter Seeds]
Morris, I recommend that you read Leonard Pitts’s recent column in The Miami Herald on domestic terrorism ("Demanding an honest accounting on homegrown terrorism"). He lists a number of terrorist events in America over the last twenty years, then comments:
These incidents and dozens more comprise a list maintained by the Southern Poverty Law Center. What they all have in common is that they spring from motivations (i.e., opposition to taxation, government, immigrants, blacks, gays, abortion, and Muslims) that more or less define modern, mainstream, conservatism. So yes, it is time to say the obvious thing no one seems to be saying:
America is under attack by right-wing terrorists.
He hastens to add that his point is not that conservatism equals terrorism; his point is that
the perpetrators of these crimes are overwhelmingly white Christian men and thus, invisible in a nation where danger is routinely defined as Them, not Us. Maybe it’s because media have become cowed and self-censoring, reflexively flinching from that which might bring accusations of anti-conservative bias.
[personal communication]

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thor's Day: Politics and religion

Thursday of the week is devoted to airing out religion and religions. The column’s title, “Thor’s Day,” comes from the etymology of the word Thursday, literally “Thor’s Day.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day not taken off

Members of Moristotle's staff were out on the grounds admiring mushrooms early this morning, and that reminded one of us that there was a cut drain pipe in the front yard that needed to be repaired. (The pipe had been installed too shallowly and had been cut by a lawn-edging machine.)
We collected the tools required—a shovel, a spade, a trowel, some buckets, a hacksaw, gloves, and a roll of duct tape—and started to work. One of us took photographs of the project.

Cut in pipe exposed
Damaged section removed (with the hack saw)
Not only did we have to cut out a small section of pipe and reconnect the whole thing with a piece purchased the day before at Lowe’s Home Improvement, but we also had to dig enough soil out from beneath the pipe to lower it a few inches—to be out of the reach of the lawn edger.

More soil removed to facilitate lowering the pipe
More pipe cut out for
inserting connector
Pipe ends and connector taped
and held down with staple fashioned from a coathanger
Soil and sod and drainage rocks replaced--project complete!
We were of course distracted from producing today’s post, but we figured we could at least post evidence that we hadn’t simply taken the day off from our mission to celebrate life on earth.
Life is good, work and all! And that isn’t ironic.