Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Guessing Game

Study the photo shown below, then choose one of the following to explain it:

1. The woman is one of those nasty illegal aliens Donald Trump complains about.

2. She's a refugee from a war-torn nation who is now homeless in America.

3. A teen-age rape victim who was left only with her coat, shoes and handbag.

4. A newly-arrived prison inmate waiting for her orange jumpsuit.

5. A client of the Hunger in America Project.

6. A model in a photo-illustration for an article about the dangers of anorexia.

7. A battered and abused woman found wandering the streets of New York City.

8. An ad for a shampoo specifically formulated for extra-dry and over-bleached hair.

9. A Wall Street Journal ad ($398,147.58) extolling today's most fashionable woman.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Film Review: LOVE & MERCY

A lighthearted moment for the Beach Boys in the recording studio.
For anyone who came of age listening to the Beach Boys and loving the band's ebullient leader, Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy is a shocking and emotional roller-coaster ride lasting almost too long. For everyone else it will simply be a searing portrait of mental illness with memorable performances, a challenging script that keeps you guessing and a catchy sound track filled with those sweet harmonies we all remember fondly.

To tell Wilson's complex life story, two excellent actors share the lead role throughout the film: Paul Dano channels the young Wilson perfectly, right down to his cherubic baby face and endearing onstage persona. It's hard to believe that while he was singing about California girls, sun and surfing, he was also suffering such inner turmoil. John Cusack plays the older Wilson, now visibly schizophrenic and made even more paranoid by too much medication doled out by an incredibly evil shrink (Paul Giamatti) who literally controls his every move. If this were a silent film, the audience would hiss every time he comes on the screen.

You should know in advance that Love & Mercy is no walk in the park. For much of the time it's tough going, with flashbacks to childhood beatings by Wilson's brutal father interspersed with him lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, tormented by the voices in his head. In between those dark scenes we get happier glimpses of the boy genius he truly was, writing beautiful and groundbreaking music and directing seasoned studio musicians with professionalism and aplomb well beyond his years.

Relief for Wilson finally comes in the form of a beautiful automobile saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks) who eventually grows to love him and ultimately takes legal action to rescue him from his living hell. Good thing, otherwise this story, and this film, would simply be too hard to bear. During the final credits Wilson is seen as he is today, alive and well, performing at a recent concert. That's when the tears really come.

Try to Read This

I recently received an email from a friend offering all sorts of reasons why we could not get together. It ended with the promise, "I'll try to call you tomorrow." This got me wondering how one would go about trying to make a phone call. Would they get near the phone but not pick it up? Maybe start to enter my number but not finish? Or enter the entire number and then hang up before the first ring? How, exactly, could one accomplish it?

"Try" is a funny word. In some cases it implies huge effort, as in, "I tried to summit Mt. Everest but I ran out of oxygen halfway up." Or, on a lesser scale, still implying desire but defeated by an inherent weakness, "I tried to move the refrigerator to clean behind it, but it wouldn't budge." For many people, those three little letters offer a delicious way out, as in, "I'll try to come to your art opening." Again, imagine the scenario: The person dresses for an evening out, leaves home, enters the car, inserts the key into the ignition, and then what? The car won't start? There's a flat tire? A pit bull hiding in the back seat lunges forward and rips off their scalp?

To more fully understand my point, go ahead and try to pick up a pencil. Don't pick it up; just try. There you go. There it is, right there. That's trying.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pay Attention Before It's Too Late

Newborn undergoing escapism indoctrination.
These days everyone seems to play games. Not the old-fashioned kind, like when you tell someone you'll call them tomorrow or that the check is in the mail or that you really, really like them but things are crazy right now or your car broke down in the middle of 295 and you had to wait for a tow and that's why you never made it to their party. No, I mean the kind on digital devices that are little more than a way to kill time. I play one of those, except I rationalize that it has value as a way to keep my brain healthy and stave off dementia, which personally matters to me since my mother died of early-onset Alzheimer's which may be inherited. Yeah, yeah, I know -- I'm too old for early-onset anything -- but still, that's what I tell myself.

The game I play for free is called Words With Friends, and between each of my turns I must tolerate a 25-second commercial, unless I want to pay ten bucks to get rid of them altogether. I don't. The most annoying part is that they run the same commercial each time for like a month until they get a new advertiser, so you have to see it over and over and over and over until you want to break a window or slit your wrists but instead you just slam the computer closed. Usually I mute the the sound and use the time to meditate, eyes closed, repeating my mantra and listening to the sounds of the birds outside my window, relishing my delicious hot coffee and generally Being Here Now.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the commercial and wonder what they're selling. Today I listened, and it turned out to be an ad for a purveyor of audio books. We are shown people doing everyday things like eating a bowl of cereal at a kitchen table, out running on a dirt path, vacuuming a living room and lying on a lounge chair at the beach. In each instance the person is wearing headphones and instead of their authentic surroundings, suddenly they are in the midst of a wild scenario like a violent war, or a fancy party in Merry Olde England, or discovering a dead body at a grim crime scene or moonbathing on another planet entirely, the point being that listening to these audio stories can take you away from your real life.

This is the exact opposite way to live a fruitful life, and yet another travesty being foisted on an unsuspecting public, as if Hillary Clinton is not bad enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

19th Nervous Breakdown

I have a new friend who is really special, at least for a neurotic person such as myself. Two of his sterling qualities are the letters that follow his name: MD. This is because I seem to have been chosen as one of God's test subjects for interesting yet nagging health problems that show up out of the blue and convince me I have only days, perhaps hours, to live. Having someone on the premises who can assure me that I should go ahead and order my snow tires for the coming winter with confidence is comforting.

The latest symptom which I assumed signified a brain tumor showed up yesterday morning. It turned out to be something fairly innocuous called "Benign Positional Vertigo" or BPV. (Right away I liked the name, since "benign" is possibly my favorite word in the English language, followed closely by "slender.") The syndrome comes without warning and leaves quickly in most cases--medical websites claim it can last only a minute or two, although my discomfort continued for about an hour.

What happens is something like this: Sometime during the night a minuscule, broken fragment of calcium deep inside your ear travels around upsetting your hearing and balance, and when you wake up and try to get out of bed, everything looks like the scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo when black and white spinning circles and crazy music filled the inside of Kim Novak's head. Mine was even more severe, closer to Mel Brooks in his own parody of that film, High Anxiety. My bedroom felt like this:

Actor Mel Brooks experiencing BPV in the film "High Anxiety"
To have everything spinning around when you know you did not get drunk, take drugs, or do anything but put on your jammies and get into bed the night before is disconcerting; who wouldn't suspect a brain tumor, or at the very least a nervous breakdown? That's where a doctor friend comes in handy.  Ed was able to put a name on my condition, allowing me to research it and learn it's nothing to worry about. My advice is to invite a GP or family physician to dinner as soon as possible. (Stay away from surgeons, they are little more than ego maniacal car mechanics.)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dr. Laura, Gays and God

Laura Schlessinger, former radio host
Back when she had her call-in radio show, pop-shrink Dr. Laura proclaimed to all her listeners that, as an observant (and converted) Orthodox Jew, she believed "homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance." Wow! Really, Dr. Laura? I was speechless.

Fortunately not everyone was.  James M. Kauffman, a professor at the University of Virginia, wrote an open letter to the radio host and posted it on the Internet. It's funny, as well as quite informative, and explains better than I ever could why The Bible is good for nothing except maybe as a doorstop on a windy day. Here it is:

"Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,
James M. Kauffman,
Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

P.S. (It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian.)"

Andrea Schamis shared a link.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Clowns On Parade

The reason Donald Trump is going strong is because he is a real person with a real personality. He is not parsing words that were written by a speechwriter, he is saying what is in his head and in his heart. If he has done anything of merit, it has been to show how stilted, phony, prepared and manufactured everyone else in the race is by comparison. And in contrast to Hillary Clinton's obfuscating and dodging of all the issues, he comes off like a choirboy. People say he's a clown, he can never be taken seriously. All I can say is, if you're looking for a clown, be sure to check the White House.