Friday, August 29, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors & Others

Film: Another Earth made by Mike Cahill and starring Brit Marling
I was not expecting much from this movie despite its being the big winner at Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Ironically, this is because i was a huge sci fi fan as a kid and young adult. However, i got rather burned out in the genre by the explosion of special effects movies over the decades. So I thought, ho hum, another razzle dazzle sci fi movie. No, it isn't. It has a significant sci fi element to it but the bulk of the movie is about her attempt to redeem herself with the man whose family she killed at a crossroads traffic collision four years ago. She was somewhat drunk from a party and looking up at the other earth planet when she plowed into their car.

Her brilliant future at MIT is smashed to pieces as she serves a four year jail sentence. It is then that she seeks out the man whose life she ruined. Simultaneously, she writes an essay so she can be one of the people allowed to go on the first flight to the alternative earth. She sees that as a way of redemption too, after she fulfills this first redemption. This very much reminds me of an art house feature which at one time i would have seen at the film society. Nowadays i see it online. I highly recommend it.

My Hero - Season One starring Ardal O'Hanlon

If you love UK comedies, you will love this one. If you find most of them barely comprehensible, much less funny, you might hate this. Quite simply, the Brits have a unique sense of humor which takes some getting used to but once used to it, you come to love it. I remember the first time i saw Absolutely Fabulous and thought it was absolutely dreadful. A few years later, trying it again, I was laughing myself silly. So if i weren't used to these comedies by now, I'm sure i would have thought this comedy was quite dreadful too.

What they do is turn the whole Superman comics idea on its head. Thermal Man has all the same powers as superman but in his private life he is a bit of a dork named George. One day he rescues nurse Janet from falling into the grand canyon. He falls in love with her on the spot and moves himself to her village and sets himself us as a health food store proprietor. His wares are so ultra healthy that he has virtually no customers. This is good because his real job is saving people. His secret identity gets more hilarious from there. He says he is Irish but he doesn't drink and comes from a part of Ireland where the pub in his village is non alcoholic!

He meets Janet in her clinic and they do fall for one another and move in with one another. But the fun is only beginning as we now meet the potential in laws from both sides of the family, all of whom of course want to break them up as does Janet's employer doctor, a good looking, conceited prima donna, who wants to get her away from our caped hero. There is also: a crazed neighbor next door; a hilarious office manager in Janet's clinic with an acidic view of life; and George's cousin in New York, now running a diner there since he was fired from George's job by the planetary elders when they caught him charging people for heroic feats. George turns to this character for advice whenever he has problems with Janet or the in laws.

If you are having a bad day, week, month or year, tune in to this show. it will transport you to a much funnier world at once.

Novel: Defending Jacob by William Landay

This novel reminds me of Scott Turow's classic PRESUMED INNOCENT. That novel was also written in the first person and was a legal thriller. The plot is one heck of an idea. Most of these legal thrillers go over the same well trod ground in book after book, never carving out new territory to engage our interest. This novel, however, tells us very quickly, after the son is accused of the murder, that the father has a long line of murderers in their shared genetic line. Thus, they may all have the murder gene which could be used as a partial defense to drop the conviction down to manslaughter if the murder trial starts going south. I was hooked from the moment I heard that phrase "murder gene" and the family began meeting with both the psychiatrist and the lawyer to work with that defense. This novel very quickly became a big seller as word of mouth on it spread.

Debussy: Complete Works for Piano, played by Walter Gieseking
If you love DeBussy, and I do, then this is a flawlessly rendered piano performance of his work. This was some undertaking with four complete discs made as recordings. I have prior to this listened to DeBussy with full orchestral performances, not just a single instrument. I imagine this is the way the pieces must have originated. It's a pared down minimalistic way of listening to DeBussy but that is not a detraction. I am not going to say this is the only way I would listen to DeBussy. It is one way of listening to his music and I still will enjoy listening to the full orchestral alternative. I don't listen to that much classical music but DeBussy is right at the top of of the list of what I like when I do.

Everything reviewed above is carried by Amazon, iTunes, Audible, the Overdrive app for your public library and most other outlets both online and in the real world. These are taken from my five star reviews at Amazon where I am a Top Reviewer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Murderous International Crime Spree

There are quite a few of us who love reading crime, detective and thriller novels. In recent years we have been able to indulge ourselves worldwide with this genre of fiction. It is very interesting what you can learn about these cultures based upon what their policemen, spies, soldiers or politicians develop as personal habits.

My biggest discovery was that most of these law enforcement people eat the same fast food we do. There is nothing more jarring than to be following a murder mystery in Sweden, for example, and having the police person stop off for pizza, Chinese or a burger. It is the same kind of fast Chinese we get in America too, fried rice for example, not something more haute cuisine. They do stop for curries in the UK which is something we don't see here. We have Indian food and restaurants but not take out curry joints on just about every corner.
There is only one food exception in law enforcement I've found thus far. In Sicily, the police eat like kings. They all cook as does everyone they know. They all use fresh seafood, homemade cheese, found snails, etc.,. They dine seaside in the open air over wonderful Italian food and wine. This is how they often interview suspects! These are The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries by Andrea Camilleri, shown above. Montalbano actually cancelled going on a weekend to Paris with his gorgeous girlfriend because his cleaning lady was throwing a party featuring one of his favorite meals. Not only did he go to the meal, he also let her son out of jail so he could go too! No other fictional detective in any other country acts like this.

Guns are used by most police people in these books. Generally, no one is armed more heavily than the Americans. Our police like having multiple guns on themselves. Guns are still not used much in UK policing, except for Ireland. It is positively baffling when reading UK police based fiction to see inspector after inspector going into ultra dangerous situations with no gun at all. Even people who have never touched a gun, like me, are appalled. I would no more take on a serial killer or fundamentalist terrorist without a gun than I would confront a rattlesnake without one. SWAT teams are called in when they feel a gun is needed (when even a single gun is needed!).

Women police people, detectives and spies are still much fewer in number in these stories regardless of country. This is changing slowly, with America and the UK in the lead. The other European countries are not far behind in this genre fiction. I was surprised to discover in a New Zealand police series how hostile the police were to a woman detective among them. So rate of acceptance varies from country to country. It is far more common to see women doctors-pathologists straight across the board in these international law enforcement series, which is more lucrative and prestigious, but lacking the image luster of chasing murderers. Left to right above, Elisabeth Moss in the New Zealand series Top of the Lake, Gillian Anderson in Belfast, Ireland's The Fall and Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect in London. Moss and Anderson carry guns at all times. Mirren does not.
In the Danish The Killing police tv series, one character dies because he did not take his gun into the field with him. They view carrying their guns as optional. When the series was remade in America, this character lived instead because he was armed to the teeth 24/7. No one in our country would have believed that a Seattle police detective would be hunting for a murderer without at least one gun on him. In the above image, the Danes are the ones in the sweaters and other nice clothes. All the other images are of the Seattle police, both in the series and real life, all armed all the time.
You tour just about every kind of alcoholic drinking hole there is in the world with these stories. Virtually all of these detectives drink. Although they do show up at bars and pubs, most of them also drink at home alone. It is typically some form of whiskey, taken straight and without ice, except for Americans. No one loves ice like we do in our drinks. In Europe, one often starts with a pint of beer or ale if drinking in public. In Sicily, of course, it is fine wine paired with some wonderful food. In Russia it is vodka. Inspector Morse in Oxford, England, was a world class imbiber, shown above.

Coffee has entrenched itself among almost all of these people. They do without a good deal of sleep so they need the punch of strong coffee. In the UK there is a lot of tea drinking but as the detectives close in on a case and are sleeping less and less, they too swill coffee with the rest of us. If the police go to someone's house in the UK, they drink tea there. But back on the job they revert to high octane coffee, just like other police do.

In all of these countries, when having to work with police in other countries, I discovered there was a universal language they all use in that situation: English! They sound like Americans instead of sounding like they are from other English speaking countries. They revert to their own language as soon as they are dealing with their own people again.
America has sealed off its borders and made getting in and out of the country harder and harder. By contrast, in other countries, they have been overrun by opening their borders or poor control of them. This is especially true when it comes to potential Middle Eastern terrorists moving about. So a European country is overwhelmed by this stress on their law enforcement whereas in America there is an avalanche of federal law enforcement people to first get past if you are such a terrorist. Thus, a police person in Europe has a much bigger problem than an American police person does with this crime threat on a daily basis. This is reflected in the detective fiction. French detective fiction is as mired in this reality as is Danish or Swedish.
One of the strangest places to set these stories is in the Middle East. I was reading one recently set in Dubai and most of the things present in these novels are missing when you set them there. First off, is the lack of alcohol. If you do drink as a police person in such a place, you can't do it openly. Secondly, is the lack of women as we are used to seeing them in this kind of fiction. It is impossible to carve a femme fatal of noir crime fiction into a place where local women don't even drive. Third, the political and religious unrest and threats are much more a part of daily life than murders done by the civilian population on one another for the reasons usually given in these books. Most curious, everyone speeds in their cars everywhere, upwards of 100 MPH on the freeways. The police force uses luxury cars like Ferraris. No one walks on the streets for fear of being run over. Maybe I need to try this again at a later time but in general I would much rather read a spy story set in the Middle East than a murder story with Middle Eastern police people. Above are two of Dubai's luxury Ferrari police cars.
Medical thrillers are now accepted within the genre with doctors becoming detectives as people are killed in their hospitals. Michael Crichton and Robin Cook were the two American doctors and authors who were responsible for launching this subgenre in the 1960s and 1970s. The medical thriller is now written internationally. Medical care has grown more problematic worldwide. Keeping in line with worldwide recessions, the influx of immigrants, the falling of the Berlin Wall, and so forth, even the most famed Socialist medical systems are straining. Germany, for example, used to be known for its universal medical care but in a series of medical thrillers by cardiologist Christoph Spielberg, getting quality socialized, universal medical care is a very strained situation both there and in much of the rest of Europe. Above are covers from his books. 
I have found a rich resource for finding these books are the many international crime writing awards. In America we are used to the Edgar award and a few others (named after Edgar Allen Poe). However, there are crime writing awards which exist on a world wide basis. All one has to do is go to the Google search engine and enter international crime writing awards. I got pages of hits including the above one for the annual convention. Go here for more information.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me: Marvel I'm Still Here

Today is my birthday. I am 66. When I was younger, I envied my classmates who had the earlier birthdays. They could start driving and drinking before me and enjoy almost every other pleasure dictated by age in our society. There is no such pleasurable event left so now no one in my age group is eager to be the first to attain the new age.

It is a marvel I am still here. I should not be. The medical conditions I've had have been treatable for only a very short time in history.

I survived an emergency appendectomy in 1953 at age 5. In 1887, Thomas Morton performed the first successful appendectomy in the United States so people had been dying in America of this malady before then.

I first got unipolar depression as a teenager but did not receive treatment for it until I was in my early 20s, in 1974. In 1952, doctors noticed that a tuberculosis medication (isoniazid) was also useful in treating people with depression. Shortly after this significant finding, the practice of using medications to treat mental illness gained full steam. Prior to the 1950s, talk therapy alone was used. I've had both form of therapies. Although talk therapy is valuable, in my opinion it is useless without the drugs. I got both types of treatment in 1974 and that enabled me to get to a state where my depression could be managed clinically.

I got colon cancer at 58 in 2006. I was treated with both surgery and chemo. It was not until the 1870s that it was discovered that the cancer spread if the tumor was not removed. Hygiene had not been discovered yet in surgery so it was not until the late 1800s that the first patients survived cancer surgery of any sort. At the same time, the Curies discovered radiation as a cancer treatment. It was only in the twentieth century that chemotherapy was developed.

So if I dropped dead tomorrow, the very last thing anyone should be saying about me is how tragic it is that I was taken so young. I should not be here as an old person at all. This is incredibly what we do hear when a person of my age dies, that we were taken tragically young. 

There is a website which has just about every piece of data worldwide on life expectancy. So I hopped over there this morning to see my current predictions. If you want to check it out yourself go here.

As a female in the United States, this was my prediction. The USA is 39th in life expectancy world wide for females. There is a complete list of all the gruesome causes of death which are likely to fell me as well at this age. I devoted little time to reading it, que sera, sera. 

Then I checked my horoscope, as a Virgo on the cusp of Leo (Lergo), and here it is:

"People born specifically on the 25th of August are believed to be intellectual and charming with the sensible, practical friendliness akin to all Virgo's. Your requirement for plenty of mental stimulation gives you a natural thirst for learning and challenges. Your kind caring temperament guides you to like helping others but your independent streak and dislike of advice directs you to insist on doing anything your own way. Highly communicative and full of creative talent."

I think the least apt is my charming nature and the most apt is the at times will be very anti-social.

I can see why people prefer reading their horoscopes to their life expectancy charts. The horoscope is much kinder and gentler.

As for my plans today, I will be going to the pool and then toasting it late this afternoon with Jim and Rebecca. Essentially I am still glad to be here and I am glad I am able to say that. I will leave you with a swimming image that you probably need to be at least 66 to remember, Esther Williams as the screen siren of the swimming pool. She couldn't act but she could swim, dive and stage swimming spectacles like no one else ever has. These are wonderfully camp films, best seen with someone who appreciates campy films.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors and Others

Film: The Big Sleep, directed by Howard Hawks, starring Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart

Lauren Bacall died this past week at age 89. Her husband, Bogie, died when he was 57 so she was incredibly longer lived despite being known to be his match for anything, including smoking and drinking, if needs be. This was one of their very best movies together and is a splendid example of film noir. Film Noir was and is very heavy on style. It is very high contrast with black and white. There is always a femme fatal and a detective. Bacall is the dame with the rich father and the younger sister whereas Bogie is the detective, Phillip Marlow, called in to work on a case for this rich family.

If sparks don't fly off both guns and male and female leads in a film noir, it is a dud. This is no dud. Bacall and Bogart sizzle onscreen. The mystery is complex but that too is not unusual for film noir. Raymond Chandler wrote all of these Philip Marlow detective stories set in 1930s-1940s Los Angeles. This was a bit odd considering that he was an Englishman and also dead drunk almost the entire time he was upright. So the film noir setting of hard drinking and smoking guys and gals was right up his alley. To see Los Angeles in this time period is also a good part of the pleasure of this film noir.

The Big Sleep is Death, which is at the heart of any film noir because they always involve a murder and a murderer. The question is who is the murderer and, of course, upon first meeting this family, Bacall is the one who seems to have the brains for it to Bogie. No one did film noir quite as well as the Americans in the 1940s and 1950s. This film was made by Howard Hawks who was a leading American director of that era and known for film noir pictures. Although Hitchcock was English, he couldn't wait to get over here to be making his own film noir on our soil. There are plenty more great film noir movies but this one is a very good place to start.

TV: The Sopranos by David Chase, starring James Gandolfini

I became hooked on these characters and the intelligent writing. I didn't know how I was going to make it between seasons I was so hooked! One would think nothing new could be done with this mobster scenario but boy, does brilliant writing make the difference. Each episode is very well thought out. The females are not slighted in the storytelling which is usually the case in these mafia story lines. Both Tony Soprano's mother and sister are major characters as well as his wife, female psychiatrist and daughter. Tony's mother was especially the first time that this major aspect of the Italian-American son's genesis and development is ever handled in a mobster show. She is the most vile of people and acted to perfection by Nancy Marchand until her death from cancer in real life. However, on the show, her wake becomes a festering point where only so much hypocrisy can survive before exploding. 

Carmella, Tony's wife, seeks separate psychiatric help and that is my favorite scene in the whole series. Her psychiatrist is the one and only person to turn down Soprano money in the series, saying that the reason he won't accept payment is that it is blood money. He says that she has to hear and understand that she is living on blood money and that is the root of her problems. Now she will not be able to say she never heard that truth. 

These women are not doormats. There is a lot going on in each and every one of them and I find them even more fascinating than the men in the series. Tony's psychiatrist has trauma of her own to handle and she is tempted to let Tony handle her problem for her in his usual violent manner. 

James Gandolfini did not long survive the series. He died of a massive heart attack while on vacation in Italy in the summer of 2013, aged 52. Many of the others have gone onto new work, however. The most visible is Edie Falco, who played Tony's wife Carmela, who has been Nurse Jackie for many seasons.

Amazon Prime members can currently see the entire series for free.

Novel: Age of Miracles by Karen Thomson Walker

One of the great beauties of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was that it was written in the first person from the point of view of Atticus Finch's young daughter, Scout. It was an exquisitely crafted and written book about universal truths of all mankind. Likewise, this book is written from the point of view of Julia, a young girl on the cusp of puberty adapting to her changing body and her changing planet. The earth is slowing. Gravity is changing. Days swell with bouts of light and dark. What better metaphor could there be for a girl's body being hit by all the hormones which will change her into a woman? This is just one of many profound truths to be found in this remarkable literary yet compulsively readable novel. I can only hope this goes on to win many of the prizes in writing awards for its year. Bravo to a dazzling writer!

Music: Mozart: Clarinet Concerto & Quintet 

I love the sound of the clarinet. In fact, I love almost all of the reed instruments. I was surprised to discover that Mozart had only one work composed for the clarinet. So I resolved to listen to it. This was the recording I chose to listen to of it and it was flawlessly performed by Martin Fröst. I need to hear it many more times as I simply do not listen to much classical music so it takes me awhile to fully appreciate it. Some of the reviewers here at Amazon think there may be a performer or two who do a slightly better job and some reviewers feel that it should be played more as an orchestra ensemble piece than as a soloist's tour de force. I do not know enough about classical music to make these kinds of distinctions. Let's just say he renders a totally perfect solo version and if you need more than that, other suggestions are given by other Amazon reviewers. Apparently there is a version which is the same composition but adapted for the oboe. I would like to hear it with the oboe instead of the clarinet as I also greatly like the oboe. So I hope to hunt that down as well.

Reader David Hartley from Pierre South Dakota has a different recording of this concerto to recommend. This is the recording done by clarinetist Sabine Meyer, shown to the left.

Everything reviewed on this page is carried by Amazon, iTunes, Audible, the Overdrive app for your public library and most other outlets both online and in the real world. These are taken from my five star reviews at Amazon where I am a Top Reviewer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Put Sneakers on Your Fingers & Stroll Along With Me

I haven't done a technology entry in a long time. I am not going to attempt to teach anything here today about technology. Rather this is an overview of changes which are going on in high tech and online which might make a senior's life better. Think of these as tips so keep them in mind for the future. These are in no particular order so just skim through them looking for ones which fit you.

If you have a subscription to the New York Times, it now has a recipe box for you (mine is shown left). You have access to its backlog of thousands of recipes and can put as few or as many as you want into the recipe box. This is a very nice new feature. Prior to this I was putting them into my Paprika Recipe Box App but this is much nicer and easier to use. Go to the Cooking section of the NYT, under the Dining Category, to access your Box.

I also subscribe to the NYT Crosswords, which are excellent. However, you do have to pay for those. If you want free Crosswords, there are a number of stops online for those.  These are: USA Today's , Los Angeles Time's , Universal , Jonesin' (join his Google Group and he sends you his free puzzle).

Your public libraries are also now making magazines available digitally. Instead of using Overdrive though, they are using Zinio, which already is in the magazine distribution business. My library has a button to click on which takes you to the Zinio sign up and check out page, also shown. 

Amazon Prime now is carrying all of the earlier HBO shows for members to watch free. HBO will not give Netflix the right to show these.

Quibids is after some of eBay's and Etsy's business. It has a new auction model which is very different from theirs. I signed up and then was asked to buy my first $60 worth of bids. Even though the prices are fantastic, I didn't want to spend $60 when I did not even have any merchandise. But there are a ton of new followers and all the major groups and publications endorse the site. Check it out.

I have been a long time user of Google Chrome and suddenly began having problems with it. First, my crossword puzzles would not load, then weird ads started popping up, then my New York Times arts section would not load, etc., I checked it out and apparently the problem is the extra stuff Google is letting advertisers load into the browser. I could only partially solve this as it is now a big flaw in the browser itself. My best solution was just to start using two browsers. I still use Chrome the most but on those features which I know act up, I now use Safari instead. If I was not on a Mac, I would use Opera or Firefox. Also, both Chrome and Safari are being paid by Yahoo to load its search engine. I've changed the preferences to not allow that but it still doesn't stop it from loading Yahoo search if I restart my computer.

I needed to buy some new bras. I bought direct from the manufacturer online. Before I completed the sale, I went to Google search and entered the name of the manufacturer plus the word coupon. The search results showed various places where I could use coupons to reduce my cost. One such coupon was at Retail Me Not which gave me a two bras for the price of one coupon. It worked great so I got my bras for half price. If you find this too involved, just go to the Retail Me Not website and look for your deals there directly or use its App on your phone or tablet.

This is a blog I recently found which features recipes to match the produce being offered at your Farmer's Markets. Go to Seasonal Eating here.

Apple's iTunes now offers iMatch where you can store 25,000 songs in the clouds for $25 bucks a year. This means you can access all of these songs with your phone, tablet or computer for $25 a year. You must be connected to the internet to hear them and they take up no storage space on your computer devices since they are in iCloud. Both Google and Amazon also have cloud services for your music since this is a new, competitive service.

The Google search engine is amazingly versatile. I was writing the entertainment recs and needed to figure out an actor's age. I just typed into the browser window:
I then hit the enter key and the answer came up on the next screen:
Yes, the Google search engine is a calculator. Google's founders were math students at Stanford, not computer science majors. 

My childhood friend Mary was asking me how I found our old haunts online and once again it was Google doing all the work, this time the Google Image Search Engine. Notice the camera icon in the search box and also the word Images turns to red and is underlined. Either bookmark the link given or just look for the word Images whenever you use the general Google search engine. Click on Images and you are ready to start hunting.

Apple is about to have some huge updates to its operating system platforms. It seems like we haven't had Mavericks all that long but a new one is coming our way soon. Use App Store on any Mac, which is on your dock and in your Applications folder. Increasingly, it can make updates on its own so that you don't even need to be bothered. But you must use App Store. Eventually Apple will have App Store take care of everything on your machine and you can forget whatever you once knew about installing and updating software. We're already quite close to that state.

The App Store is also on the iPhone and iPad, with the same above icon. You can also set your preferences on your device so that it updates from the app store automatically so that you no longer have to go into the app store to do your updates. Now I only go into the App store on my devices when I am looking for a new App. Your iPhone and iPad are also getting a new operating system quite soon, IOS8.

I have been quite happy using Mavericks on my Mac Air and IOS7 on my iPads. Apple's reliability is its biggest plus. I hope these new systems do as well. I will state it once again: if you don't want to fuss over your computer systems and you also want the most idiot proof computer devices on the market today, buy Apple.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Killers Inside Us, Hear Us Roar!

You would never know that we can carry on an intelligent conversation if you had to drive with us yesterday. I once again had to drive Jim to see his eye surgeon because the bubble in his eye made him fret about his driving on the Ohio Turnpike. I thought my ordeal was over but no--so into the breach once again. En route and back I made five driving errors, including almost hitting another car in the Bob Evans' Restaurant driveway and almost paying the state of Ohio double my toll payment for using the Ohio Turnpike.

So what is surprising is that once out of the car, I was actually able to carry on an intelligent conversation over breakfast at Bob Evans. The topic of our conversation was killing other living organisms. What got this going was that Jim just saw his drumming friend who had come into town for a wedding. She told him that she and her boyfriend were in a house in California which was built in an area where rattlesnakes lived. The rattlesnakes still come back and they are divided in opinion about whether to kill them. She says no; he says yes. She does not like killing living things and is a vegan. We've had this come up other ways, such as hearing objections to killing hornets, wasps, or voles. Lest you be thinking these living things do not have the ability to do great damage, samplings of their attacks are shown below.

Over breakfast was the first I had heard the rattlesnake story and Jim wanted to know what I would do if placed in that situation. My fellow predators, shown below, are not having discussions about this, by the way. They are busy just getting the job done, as they were designed to do.

The below image demonstrates that this rattlesnake problem is not limited to Jim's drumming friend in LA.

If you know me well, you know that I would never even consider living where there were rattlesnakes in the first place. So let's assume that I had been forced to live where rattlesnakes hang out. Here is my take on why I go ahead and kill them. By building, buying or renting this house in the first place I have entered their space as a predator. I have come in to take over their place. This is their natural habitat, not mine. This in itself is an act of war. Once you engage an enemy in territory, you have lost the option to fight unless you entered combat with the idea of sacrificing yourself. I am not a martyr. I am a member of the homo sapiens species, a mammal. It is well documented that I am a predator.

I hire an exterminator to kill the rattlesnakes and to lay whatever snares or traps are necessary to keep killing them.  I do not take a walk outside my house without having a loaded gun on me which I know how to shoot so as to kill them myself if I run into one or more. If it is legal to carry a gun with me to the park, I do so.

If you do not want to kill the rattlesnake population in southern California, your best option is not to move there instead of moving there, entering their territory and expecting them to change their natures and leave you alone. So yes, although I am not Oscar Pistorius, I am indeed a killer. I accept the way the universe was designed and play the part I was designed to play in it.

At this point, as I near my conclusion, our waitress shows up with my extra salsa for my omelet and Jim turns to her and asks her, "If you lived where there were rattlesnakes, you'd kill them, wouldn't you?" The poor woman almost drops what she is carrying but Jim simply rephrases and asks her again. I apologize to her while telling him to knock it off. This kind of situation is where he turns into being a Felix and I need to play Oscar and shut him down before he traumatizes someone else, someone besides me.

While eating our breakfasts, I warm to the topic further. I use the colon cancer tumor I had in 2006 to take the living organism to the nth degree. A cancer tumor is a living organism. It has declared war on me by entering my territory (my colon). So I fought back by having it surgically removed and then assaulting it with chemical warfare after surgery (chemo). It was a living organism. If you are against killing living organisms, then you must be against killing my tumor and would choose to die instead if you were in my situation.

Now I'm really on a roll. Next analogy: Do you drink water or use water in cooking? Before water was treated to eradicate living organisms within it, there were cholera epidemics. Huge amounts of people died in cholera epidemics. When we as a species gained the knowledge of how to treat water, we ended cholera epidemics. We waged war against cholera and won it by killing what was in the water. You cannot get around this by buying bottled war. Bottled water also must have anything removed from it which could harm you. This is why you cannot just stick your head into the nearest stream and take a nice drink from it. 

But if you find cancer and water too nebulous, let me assure you that you do participate in killing people. Surrounding every American is a vast structure of defense. We pay for this with our taxes. This structure of defense operates on many different levels. On a national basis we fight wars against other people and kill them. This covers everything from defeating Nazis to killing Osama bin Laden to invading Iraq (yet again).

Should we have let the Nazis live so they could continue being predators or should we have supported WWII and eradicated them as far as humanly possible, like the cancer they were?  Would you have not fought the Nazis simply because they were living organisms whose right to live was sacrosanct? If one truly believes this, then one should stop paying taxes immediately as paying them is the same as paying the exterminator to kill the rattlesnakes.

What is one of our basic failings in society in America? We still have that "can do" attitude about us and this permeates everything. This includes many of us believing that we can change the inherent natures of that which makes us uncomfortable. Yet it is beyond unlikely that the rattlesnake will not try to bite you, the hornet will not try to sting you or the vole will not try to eat your food, destroy your lot or gnaw your tree.

Why are some of us espousing this no killing any living thing belief? I have a theory and everyone is welcome to shoot me down for it here by filling out comments in the comment section. Here it goes:

I think if we do not want to kill living organisms or beings, it is because we cannot accept the universe the way it is, a place where all living things die constantly. Nor can we accept that the world's design is predicated upon one living thing killing another living thing constantly. We do not want to accept the way the world is because it may mean that the world is a cruel place. We don't want to end up like the rattlesnake, the hornet and the vole. Maybe, we think, if we become kinder and gentler, the world will become kinder and gentler too. I too would like a kinder and gentler world. The difference is that I don't think I personally can make it happen.

The central flaw in this no killing any living thing concept is that we did not design and create the world we live in. Since we were not the creators, we do not have the tools to create it in another fashion. It would be an easier task by far to decide that you could repaint MichaelAngelo's work in the Sistine Chapel simply because you could hold a paintbrush in your hand. At least in that hopeless example one could try to recreate the Sistine Chapel because one could hold the brush. One would fail but one could try. We can't even try to recreate the world because whatever brush or tool painted it into existence, we can't even access it.

Or as Richard Preston states in The Cobra Event:

We are finishing up breakfast and I notice the waitress is almost tip toeing to our table to avoid Felix who started this whole rattlesnake discussion. Who can blame her? What is he going to ask her next? She gently lays our check on the table and flees, never to be seen near our table again. We pay at the register and I get behind the wheel again, feeling for all the world like I wish I had a giant swatter so I could squash the gnat that already is beginning to buzz behind me with comments about my driving. "You are not concentrating on your driving. You need to concentrate on your driving." Blah, Blah, Blah.

Yes, I am a predator and I accept that fact. Only the laws which Oscar Pistorius violated are holding me in check so I don't act like the Terminator and zap Felix on the spot.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors & Others

Film: Moscow On The Hudson by Paul Mazursky, starring Robin Williams

Robin Williams just died and I thought this would be a good time to revisit his breakout movie as a serious actor with comic overtones. He made this film with that great avant garde film maker of that time, Paul Mazursky, who himself died just last month. Williams always had so much energy, verging on the manic, that he needed a director like Mazursky to reel him in with gentle restraint. 

Williams plays a Russian defector to America who is a jazz musician. His is a very gentle performance and romance. He defects to the leading lady in a department store. There are sad moments, comic moments and romantic moments throughout, all perfectly realized. It was made in 1984 when Williams was at the zenith of his powers. He had many great performances to come but in some of them, this kind of sincere role would have him descend into mawkishness and sentimentality. Under Mazursky's influence, however, this film never does that. It remains a delightful character study and romance of a Russian immigrant coming to America. 

One of his best lines is: "In Moscow, we fight for a crumb of freedom! Here, you s*** on it!" In later years we tended to forget how charming Williams could be in a gentle, romantically oriented movie. In this film you can easily see why the leading lady falls in love with him. His character's exploration of freedom in all aspects from love to making money to expressing himself are all masterfully handled. 

Williams himself probably thought his "Popeye" with Robert Altman was his breakout film. I thought he did a good job with that material but he was born to play this role. It is his true breakout film as a movie star to watch.

TV: Manhattan (as in Manhattan Project)

I think this is promising. I have always been fascinated by Los Alamos which is the setting in the New Mexico desert where the atomic bomb was built to be used against the Axis powers to end WWII. It was used twice against Japan which did cause Japan to finally surrender.

One vastly encouraging thing is that these are all adult actors, all playing PhD scientists who have brought their families with them as they attempt to build the bomb. As we open, the setting is extremely primitive, rather like going to summer camp in the desert. However, you are surrounded by high military security during your entire camp experience. Since this is 1943 there is also a lot of sexism going on. Most of these male scientists met their wives at major universities while getting their degrees. So most of the wives were at least college grads and more likely masters or PhDs. Nevertheless, their main role was as wife and mother and any other role was an uphill battle. Major inroads against this mindset would not occur until another thirty years went by.

Beyond all this human interest stuff though, nothing can beat the fact that this is the story about building the bomb before the enemy builds it and using it to win the war.

For those who liked the actor who played Laura Linney's brother Sean in THE BIG C, that actor has a major role as a scientist in this series.

Novel: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

You might think that the politics of grade school in an elite Australia seaside community might differ somewhat from the same situation in America. However, except for their Australian accents and looking upon a different seascape, we could be identical twins. The political situation is the same. The big story is not the kids and the teachers in the school but instead their parents and most especially their mothers. We open with kindergarten orientation and the battle lines are drawn right there and then. The children set it in motion but the mothers pick it up and run with it as if they were playing the Super Bowl. The author zooms in on a few key mothers and families and thereby sends up a whole new generation of foibles.

There is Madeline whose first husband remarried Bonnie so that now both Madeline and Bonnie have kids in the same class. Bonnie is a yoga embracing, vegan, spiritual wonder woman who even cooks meals for the first family, which Madeline's husband and children love, much to her horror. Her older daughter wants to follow Bonnie's lead and become a vegan and spends Xmas morning feeding the homeless at a shelter. The daughter won't even set the table in Madeline's home. This is all so "right now" that it is hilarious.

On a more somber note, Chelsea, the beautiful one, has a behind the closed doors violent relationship with her rich banker husband. This no one else knows. And Jane is much younger than the other mothers, early twenties, on her own with her child Ziggy. Renata is the obnoxious mother of "gifted children" within the school who spends all her time at board meetings.

And throughout we are constantly made aware that something big has happened at the school's fundraising trivia night. Maybe murder?

I have also read THE HUSBAND'S SECRET and THE HYPNOTIST'S LOVE STORY by this author. So far THE HYPNOTIST'S LOVE STORY is my favorite. However, it will be matter of personal preference which book you prefer. They are all very well written and plotted.

Music: Nirvana, Unplugged in New York, Kurt Cobain

I cannot claim to be a Nirvana fan per se. They were way after "my time". I did give them a try after songwriter and lead singer Kurt Cobain's suicide, however, out of sheer curiosity over all the fuss made about him. I was then able to understand why he had such a huge following. 

The advantage of this album over any other Nirvana one is the "unplugged" nature of it. In other words, it is not as loud because they turned off all the enhanced electrical musical instruments. There is a sheer rawness of emotional pain in this album that speaks to everyone. That Cobain did not survive this album by long comes as no surprise. Great talent, great pain. What else is new? 

This is on "Rolling Stone's" TOP 500 ALBUMS OF ALL TIME list and deservedly so. This album was probably Cobain's ultimate cathartic act before his suicide. No one could have left a better suicide note about death and alienation. It is an intense, exhilarating musical experience nonetheless.

Everything reviewed above is carried by Amazon, iTunes, Audible, the Overdrive app for your public library and most other outlets both online and in the real world. These are taken from my five star reviews at Amazon where I am a Top Reviewer.