A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts While Showering

I considered giving the title of this post in French, which Google Translate tells me would be pensées sous la douche, but I thought better of it. Never mind why.

I am one of those people who are restless when they don't have something in front of them to read, so this morning I found myself fixating on the label of a bottle in the shower. It belongs to someone else in the household, and is a product called "therapy reconstructor." Since I could do with both therapy and reconstruction, I was intrigued until I realized it was just for hair.

What really caught my eye, though, were the words on it in French. For some reason grooming products always seem to have French on the label. The therapy reconstructor explains that it is pour revitaliser et renforcer les cheveux abîmés, gros ou cassants.

I like a challenge, so I summoned up my college French and read it as: "for revitalizing and reinforcing abysmal, fat or broken hair." I rather like the idea of abysmal hair. We've all had mornings like that. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone with fat hair, but it certainly sounds abysmal. And I guess if you use too much hairspray you could break your hair, though it also seems to me you might run the risk of breaking it if you reinforced it too much.

The English on the label assured me that my translation was faulty: "repairs and strengthens stressed, coarse, brittle hair," it says. I like my version better. I'm sure it would be abysmal to have stressed tresses. And though my French may not be up to the task, I found the translation experience to be both therapeutic and reconstructive.

Monday, November 22, 2010

JFK Without Tears

Forty-seven years ago today, I was walking into Harvard Yard on my way to Widener to work on some paper or other when two undergraduates ran past me and I heard one of them ask, "Is he dead?" An unsettling question to begin with, and I'm convinced that my mind went immediately to President Kennedy, although that may be only a memory tainted by hindsight.

At the entrance to the library, a guard was listening to a transistor radio, and I found out what had happened. But, being the dutiful graduate student that I thought I was, I kept going. At the entrance to the stacks I met two history grad students I knew, who were already talking about the assassination's implications in dry, clinical terms. I remember saying to them, feeling faintly disgusted at the intellectualization of the event, "Just write November 22, 1963, on a note card and file it."

But I couldn't concentrate on what I was supposed to be researching, and I turned and walked back to my dorm room where my roommate and I spent the weekend listening to the radio. (Believe it or not, nobody had a TV in their dorm rooms in those days.)

All of this came back to me only because I was listening to NPR on my way to the grocery store and some announcer was playing a snippet of the funeral march movement of Beethoven's "Eroica" and commenting on the anniversary. Then it was back to news about the North Korean nukes and the TSA patdowns.

I won't say it only feels like yesterday, but it hasn't been so long ago since November 22 was an occasion for memorials of one sort or another. Now it's just another day to mark off the calendar on the way to Thanksgiving and Christmas. And maybe that's the way it ought to be. But those of us who "remember where we were when" can recall November 22, 1963, as vividly as most people now remember September 11, 2001. Those beautiful autumn days when human life and death seemed so out of phase with the weather.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thoughts While Shaving

We seem to be a country incapable of learning from its mistakes. Like never fight a land war in Asia and don't put Republicans in charge of the economy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Death of Shame

Last night I watched this and was very moved:

Today I read this on Talking Points Memo:

Bryan Fischer, the "Director of Issues Analysis" for the conservative Christian group the American Family Association, was unhappy yesterday that President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to a soldier for saving lives. This, Fischer wrote on his blog, shows that the Medal of Honor has been "feminized" because "we now award it only for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them."

Here's how the AP described Medal of Honor winner Army Sgt. Salvatore Giunta heroics:
Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor winner of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, braved heavy gunfire to pull a fellow soldier to cover and rescued another who was being dragged away by insurgents.
Fischer's take? "So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?"

"We have feminized the Medal of Honor," Fischer wrote. He also quoted General Patton: "Gen. George Patton once famously said, 'The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his.'" (Actually, Patton doesn't say anything about the other guy: "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.")

Fischer recently argued that it's time to get rid of the "curse" that is the Grizzly Bear because of the number of humans who have been killed by bears: "One human being is worth more than an infinite number of grizzly bears. Another way to put it is that there is no number of live grizzlies worth one dead human being. If it's a choice between grizzlies and humans, the grizzlies have to go. And it's time."

Fischer is a favorite of social conservative Republicans, and spoke at the Values Voter summit this fall alongside Mitt Romney, Jim DeMint, and other big-shot Republicans.

And what I want to know is, when did people lose their sense of shame? At what point did it become acceptable for anyone to make statements like this? Have we become so corrupted by the filth on talk radio that a "favorite of social conservative Republicans" and a professed Christian can write such utterly contemptible stuff?

Doubtless there will be some blowback, and Mr. Fischer will issue one of those "if I offended anybody" non-apologies, but the level of discourse in this country is already damaged beyond repair by crap like this.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ignorance Is Bliss

From Leah Garchik's column in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

Home School Day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium allows kids who are educated at home to have the same visiting privileges as kids who visit as part of school groups. Many of the homeschooled are kept away from schools because their parents are fundamentalists. So it's not surprising that on Home School Day on Nov. 8, George Post overheard a docent telling a group, "This fossilized seashell is around 80 million years old," to which one kid responded, "Excuse me, but how is that even possible, since the Earth itself is only 6,000 years old?"

The aquarium's Ken Peterson says although the aquarium "is a scientific organization," staff members and volunteers do their best to make sure visits are "productive and respectful." That means, he said, that talks to these visitors don't focus on how the Earth came to be but rather how it is now, and the universal obligation to take care of it for future generations. As to creationism versus evolution, "we acknowledge theories exist," but the desired focus, he said, is how "we can all be better stewards."

Post, a photographer, sent some photos of cards homeschooled kids had posted on bulletin boards in the aquarium's learning center. Among them: God "will bring to ruin those who are ruining the earth," a quote from the Bible; "God is grate"; "It's a big hoax you crazy lunatics. Global warming is happening as fast as it was 6,000 years ago."
Something like that happened to me once, many years ago when I was teaching freshman English in Texas. I had assigned a particularly eloquent passage from Darwin's Origin of Species to an honors class, ready to talk about prose style, when one of them raised her hand to advance the proposition that Darwin's theory had been disproved by the second law of thermodynamics. Naturally, like most English teachers, I had forgotten what the second law of thermodynamics was. (Entropy in closed systems, which organic systems aren't, so the second law doesn't apply.) Unprepared to reply, I gulped, muttered something like "perhaps," and forged ahead with whatever I was prepared to say about sentence structure. I heard her whisper to a friend, "Look how red he's turning." 

So Garchik's anecdote leaves me wondering: What was the docent's answer to the question? How do you handle blind ideology "productively and respectfully"?  How, in a "scientific organization," is it possible to reply intelligently to anti-scientific thinking? Why would fundamentalist home-schoolers even let their blinkered darlings loose in a place full of scientists? 

And isn't there a way we can charge these parents with intellectual child abuse?