Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Danger of Watching Old Favorite Movies (plot spoilers ahead)

Every so often, when the stars are aligned just right, a movie will hurl past your defenses and make such an impact that it will end up haunting you for years. Sometime back in the mid-70’s, I recall an unforgettable evening of late night television watching Elia Kazan’s 1961 heartbreaker, Splendor in the Grass.

Splendor in the Grass won an Oscar for best original screenplay, and netted Natalie Wood a nomination for best actress. Set in the late 1920’s, the movie presents us with high school sweethearts Bud and Deanie (who came up with these names?) played by very young versions of Warren Beatty and Ms. Wood.

From the start, they are caught up in a feverish, all-consuming passion which, under the moral constraints of the time, they dare not consummate. The movie unfolds like a Greek tragedy and, before it’s over, this great love is destroyed beyond recovery, Natalie Wood descends into madness and winds up in an asylum, and the 1929 stock market crash takes its own ruinous toll. It’s hard to overstate the level of bleakness here.

Perhaps it was because it was late at night and I was alone and particularly susceptible, and had no idea what I was in for, but the movie drew me in heart and soul and left me practically inconsolable for days.

At the end of Splendor in the Grass, Bud and Deanie meet one last time after several years. He’s married to someone else, and she is engaged. When Deanie asks Bud if he’s happy now, he answers: “I guess so. I don't ask myself that question very often, though.” Bud in turn wishes Deanie happiness in her upcoming marriage, and she responds, “Well, like you, Bud, I don't think too much about happiness either.” Bud agrees, “What's the point? You gotta take what comes.”

I remembered this scene almost verbatim, and to me it was achingly sad. These two will probably be married to decent enough people and live out their quiet lives, but their one chance at happiness together is gone forever. So, it’s best just not to think too much about it.

The only hope offered by the movie is found in lines from the Wordsworth poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” from which the movie’s title is taken: sometimes, you have to let go.

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind. . . .

So, anyway, some 30 or more years later, never having seen it since, I get this great idea to rent the movie from Netflix and let it work its melancholy magic on me all over again. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as planned.

The acting was nowhere near as powerful as I remembered it, and seemed stilted and at times a bit over the top. I also realized that there was no effort whatever to try to re-create the clothing, hairstyles and manners of the 20’s and 30’s; instead, the movie was content to let everyone remain in contemporary styles of 1961. Maybe people of the 60’s didn’t notice this, but I sure did. And this overpowering love? Bud and Deanie seemed more in love with the idea of being in love than they were with each other. There was plenty of lust but not much chemistry. On top of that, despite her mental illness and institutionalization, Natalie Wood at all times remained nattily dressed, and never failed to look terrific, even in the deepest pits of despair. There were still some powerful scenes and the unbridgeable gap between parents and their children was painfully real, but overall it seemed like a lot of the air had been let out of the movie’s emotional wallop.

So, now I know the danger of seeing old favorites. My wonderful memory of this film, which I use to dwell on and force upon others from time to time, has now become hopelessly unraveled. I’ll never be able to enjoy those recollections in quite the same way again.

The funny thing here is that my disappointment in the movie underscored the very point the movie was out to make: that there are peak moments in life that you just can’t get back to. It’s tragic, but they’re gone. I’ll never have that exquisite, bittersweet pleasure of being hit over the head and laid waste by this movie again.

I’m left with Wordsworth’s advice: grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.

Last Pirates Post

This will be my last Pirates post due to the fact they...Pirates...are any of the left?? I'm not talking about the ones that go aaaarrrrhhhh me maty. I've been saying it for years that the Pirates aren't even trying to compete. I wonder when they will put the pierogies in the infield, the Pirate parrot can pitch, and the Pirate will catch (college humor). Maybe they can get some lucky fan to play in the outfield. Pretty soon they will give everyone lawn chairs for the fireworks. Personally I'm looking forward to the new football season and the rumors that the Steelers are going to sign Michael Vick.

Do you know how to tell who will be the next Pirate traded??? Just check the salary chart. I put my money on Freddy Sanchez. I think the Pirates are shooting for a roster with all players at the league minimum.

Salary (US$)
6. Jason Bay (traded away last season to Boston)
1. Jack Wilson (just traded)
7. Adam LaRoche (was in Pittsburgh a week ago to Boston)
10. Xavier Nady (traded last season to yankees)
2. Freddy Sanchez
3. Ian Snell (just traded)
12 a. Nate McLouth (traded this season to Atlanta for I guess money (what the analysts say))
4. Paul Maholm
5. Matt Capps
6. John Grabow
7. Zach Duke
8. Ryan Doumit
9. Ramon Vazquez
10. Tyler Yates
11. Craig Hansen
12. Lastings Milledge
13. Joel Hanrahan
14 a. Andy LaRoche
14 b. Ross Ohlendorf
16. Brandon Moss
17. Charlie Morton
18. Jesse Chavez
19 a. Luis Cruz
19 b. Phil Dumatrait
19 c. Jeff Karstens
22. Donnie Veal
23. Jason Jaramillo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Food for Thought

If our solar system was reduce in size to a CD the Milky Way Galaxy would be the size of the Earth.

No worries though, if we achieve spaceflight within a few decimal points of the speed of light we could circumnavigate the known Universe in 56 years. Unfortunately, when we return home the Sun will be a white dwarf and our Earth a small cindered rock 10s of billions of years in the future.

The famous picture of the Pale Blue Dot (above) is exquisitely commented on by Carl Sagan.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Landing- 40th Anniversary

Meant to post this earlier. This website- We Choose the Moon is following the moon landing in real time as it happened 40 years ago. The recordings and pictures are great. Landing in less than 2 hours.

Also the Anniversary has renewed the call to go to Mars, an article from Tom Wolfe, author of the awesome The Right Stuff, a book about a time (1950s 60s) when NASA and our country actually looked to the heavens.

Healthcare Costs

A New York Times article by Peter Singer to supplement our Sunday morning talk.

French Music

This was the song I was telling Uncle Peter about, sorta the French version of "We are the World". Famous french singers sing this song in rounds at charity concerts.

And here is the French Pop star I was talking about.

Assisted Suicide in Canada

As it turnes out, a timely discussion over Sunday morning breakfast.

Debating life's end

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Where's Bruce Lee When You Need Him?

Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearing. Questioning by Senator Orrin Hatch, 7/14/09:

HATCH: Right, that's my point. That's my point. As a result of this very permissive legal standard -- and it is permissive -- doesn't your decision in Maloney [v. Rice] mean that virtually any state or local weapons ban would be permissible?

SOTOMAYOR: Sir, in Maloney, we were talking about nunchuk sticks.

HATCH: I understand.

SOTOMAYOR: Those are martial arts sticks.

HATCH: Two sticks bound together by rawhide or some sort of a...

SOTOMAYOR: Exactly. And -- and when the sticks are swung, which is what you do with them, if there's anybody near you, you're going to be seriously injured, because that swinging mechanism can break arms, it can bust someone's skull...

HATCH: Sure.

SOTOMAYOR: ... it can cause not only serious, but fatal damage. So to the extent that a state government would choose to address this issue of the danger of that instrument by prohibiting its possession in the way New York did, the question before our court -- because the Second Amendment has not been incorporated against the state -- was, did the state have a rational basis for prohibiting the possession of this kind of instrument?


Hey, Orrin, here's your rational basis:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bioethics- Definition of Human and Stems Cells

A very interesting bioethics discussion. A few questions put forth by the discussion- As we harvest the organs from clinically dead patients (irreversible cell arrest) for the benefit of others, can the same be applied to clinically dead embryos? If an embryo has irreversible cell arrest and will not differentiate further is it ethnically alright to harvest? Also, is an embryo consider an embryo/human if scientists conduct a nuclear transfer into an empty egg which is program not to differentiate into a human (actually happens in natural births-never has turned into a human but often results in runaway cancer in the woman)? Would it be alright to harvest stem cells from these embryonic entities since they lack the potential to form into an embryo?


Well, it was good while it lasted men but we are now obsolete.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

No Argument Here

Recent Chinese cookie fortune

The Mind's Eye Shortcoming

How many colors do you see? If you answer 4 your mind should not be trusted- it is lying to you. The blue and green are one and the same color. Always be skeptical of your mind, instead rely on hard science. From Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Here Come the Catholics

Awhile back I happened to see that, if Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed, six of nine Supreme Court Justices will be Catholic. That got me thinking about other Catholics in government. Right off the top of my head, we’ve got the vice-president, Biden, and the Speaker of the House, Pelosi. The American spy network is now being run by Catholic Leon Panetta. And then with some internet checking, I found out that one third of Obama’s cabinet – an historic high – is Catholic, and that 26 out of 100 U.S. Senators and 161 out of 534 House members (30%) are Catholic. And, as of May 2005, the latest date for which I could find any information, 22 out of 50 governors were Catholic – a whopping 44%.

Since it now appears that Catholics are taking over this former Protestant country, what does that say about the direction of American politics and society? Will we soon be lining up lockstep with the Vatican? Will Catholic moral teaching become public policy, our version of Sharia?

I don’t think so. If you look at the polls, Catholic views on everything from abortion and gay marriage to the death penalty and immigration don’t differ significantly from those of the population at large. Even in important matters of Catholic doctrine, like the nature of the Eucharist, American Catholic views are all over the place. The fact is that most Catholics today share their Protestant cousins’ healthy skepticism of authority. This is America, after all, where truths are “self-evident” and not handed down by monarchs, secular or religious.

Fr. Andrew Greeley, stealing a few pages from theologian David Tracy, argues in his book The Catholic Imagination that what really distinguishes Catholics and Protestants are not their beliefs. Rather, the difference between the two is most fundamentally a difference of imagination.

The Protestant imagination sees human existence as a solitary pilgrimage in a foreign, hostile land where the only hope lies in a very slim chance of salvation from a God generally displeased with us. “In short, [natural men] have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted unobliged forbearance of an incensed God,” says Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon. The Catholic, however, sees a more accessible God lurking everywhere: in candles, statues, stained glass windows, incense. Once you start regarding a lot of unremarkable stuff as sacred, it’s not too great a leap to imagine – as did Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins – that the world itself “is charged with the grandeur of God.” General Loewenheim in the movie Babette's Feast makes the point: “the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite.”

This sense of the world as a place of wonder and enchantment changes the focus of morality. While Protestants gird themselves with virtue to ward off a corrupt and godless world, Catholics don’t worry so much about resisting earthly delights (when has a Catholic ever passed up a drink or a good meal? and those red-hot Latin lovers, they’re Catholic, too). Another Catholic, Hilaire Belloc puts it this way:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Catholics, instead, follow a more communal morality. With their strong ties to family and neighborhood, Catholics judge morality in terms of how well they support and treat their clan rather than the degree of individual moral progress they’ve achieved. Even the mafia takes care of its own.

I’ve long maintained that Christianity is really just paganism brushed over with a thin veneer of respectability. With Catholicism, that veneer is even thinner, and slightly less respectable. Back in 601 AD, when St. Augustine of Canterbury wanted some papal guidance on whether he should be tearing down pagan Saxon temples in England, Pope Gregory wrote back and urged him to leave the temples standing. He told Augustine to just sprinkle them with some holy water and declare them Christian places of worship. The pope reasoned that this would make conversion easier: the Saxons “may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed.” Apparently, Augustine took this idea to heart and did pretty much the same thing with the Saxon holidays. The pagan festivals of Eostre and Yule were thus converted into Easter and Christmas, complete with the same customs. (With Easter, they didn’t even bother to change the name.) It is no accident that the Catholic imagination, with its emphasis on the presence of the divine among ordinary things, its tendency toward heathen revelry (think of the ethnic Catholic celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Oktoberfest) and its communitarian moral values, begins to resemble good old-fashioned paganism.

So, perhaps, this is where the Catholicization of America is leading: a society which looks more pagan, with a bit less temperance and more exuberance, an honest fidelity to the American tribe, and a sense that there is magic and possibility everywhere. Not entirely a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Megan and Ted - Professional Wedding Pictures

The professional photos from our wedding are up now. There are some GREAT action/dance pictures.

To see them, you have to make a sign-in and password. The event key is 061209

Ted and I own the digital rights to each one, so if you want some of them, let us know and we'll send them to you.

Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh

Franken is now a U.S. Senator (Al Franken Senate win has Barack Obama laughing) and Rush Limbaugh is still a big fat idiot. Here's Limbaugh defending Sanford. The excuse: Obama made me do it.

Another Trade

At some point will the remaining Pirates simply revolt and stop playing for an organization that is bound to trade them anyway?