Monday, July 6, 2015

Inside Out

Remember those cartoons that were shown to you as a kid in which tooth decay would be presented as a kind of medieval epic with mighty white knights battling their evil counterparts.? Pete Doctor and Ronaldo Del Carmen's Inside Out takes a similar approach to the neuropsychology of the brain. “Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside?” is the question this Pixar animation poses at the beginning. Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is born with Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). They are the committee that is constantly meeting in her head and that in the first years of her life commune copacetically with her loving parents Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan. Then the equanimity that has previously reigned within the child's psyche (with disgust limited to stimuli like broccoli) gets sorely tested by a move from a bucolic existence in Minnesota to San Francisco. This is the point at which the movie also makes a furious jump from something simple that most kids can identify with to concepts, that would be way above the ken of most children and adults too. Joy’s role becomes that of preventing Sadness from reconsolidating  Riley’s core memories, which, in lay language, means simply changing them. This process is a hot subject in neuroscience today. In the course of the movie Joy and Sadness find themselves chasing a train of thought through the depths of the subconscious and back to “headquarters,” aka the executive functioning of the brain. Naturally such trains can only be ridden when Riley is not sleeping. The disintegration of Riley’s personality is not child’s play. The art of this animation is the way in which it functions as both a fairytale and a story about defense mechanisms and repression. The average neurotically inclined adult  will likely come away with an unsettling feeling of "deju vu" (one of the many mental states alluded to in the movie) about the "apres coup" following early traumatic experiences.

Friday, July 3, 2015

CALLAHEAD on the Fourth of July

photograph by Hallie Cohen
It takes an innovative mind to make it in the outdoor toilet business. Portable toilets or porto potties are a dog eat dog business. These mobile outhouses reside at the lower registers of the food chain and aren't priorities for the average consumer—however necessary they may turn out to be. Wit and forthrightness are two qualities that are required if you want to make it in the latrine business. But if there was a prize for creativity in naming these toilets, which are as popular on beaches as they are on construction sites, it should go to CALLAHEAD, a company that offers to a complete line of attendant services which can include “a guaranteed cleaning service with our trained service technicians." People invest lots of time and energy in the their bathrooms which is understandable since in modern secular life they’ve taken the place of houses of worship and even libraries—to the extent that a good part of the population are estimated to read their newspapers and magazines while sitting on the loo. But the allure of the outdoor toilet resides in the packaging. Due to the odor you’re not going to read in an outhouse, no matter how many times a day the sewage is drained and due too to the olfactory sensations produced it’s an unlikely spot for meditation. Portosan which sounds like port o' call is the name of one competitor and you can also go to if you are looking for a porta potty. But CALLAHEAD is a catchy brand which brings up the image of a bank of operators waiting to attend to your every need. CALLAHEAD will undoubledly give other porto potties a run for the money this Fourth of July weekend. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pornosophy: Tweedledum and Tweedledee

The good thing about the politicization of sex is the Supreme Court decision about gay marriage. The bad thing is the politicization of sex, the ideologizing of the intimate moment and just about everything else in our lives. Aided and abetted by social networking and crowd sourcing, people are increasingly finding strength in numbers. Make your tweet viral and your dreams will come true or at the very least you’ll have a lot of company. Advertising your screwing on Facebook is tantamount to putting a nail in the coffin of solitude. But there are burdens that come with playing your private life to a bigger audience. If sex is a political act, you have to have a lot of it to continue to assert your rights. While the average couple or menage of any persuasion live lives of quiet desperation, sexually politicized couples have to carry the torch. If carrying on a relationship weren’t difficult enough, they’re burdened by a cause. Yes, there was Stonewall and there was a struggle and those growing up in more oppressive eras had to live with closeting and shame. The exuberance of this year’s Gay Pride parade was fueled by a landmark judicial decision which helps to change how an oppressed minority view themselves. Finally there's nothing to hide and all the legal rights and tax benefits of being married are available to everyone. You can be proud, but it’s like VE Day back in l945. Then too the streets were filled with revelers, yet when all is said in done gay, straight or transgender, you have to go back to the bickering and boredom of everyday life. Once the freedom has been achieved, then the real struggle begins, that of living with the petty annoyances, anal struggles and irritations that characterize most relationships after the flame of initial passion is spent.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

photogarph: Pete Souza
Sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Tim Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KO’s) was facing Jessie Vargas (26-1, 9 KO’s) for the interim WBO Welterweight title on Saturday night. The fight was plainly going in Bradley's direction. Vargas’s performance seemed lackluster as Bradley stalked him around the ring. Bradley was obviously ahead on points. Then Vargas hit Bradley with a big punch that wobbled him and just as Vargas was about to throw another punch the referee Pat Russell waved him off stopping the fight. It was a big upset and Vargas was jubilant. The only problem is that the fight wasn’t over. Russell had mistakenly thought the 10 second warning was the bell signalling the end of the final round. There was time left and there had been no valid reason to stop the bout. The stoppage was a mistake. However, because there was no knockout, the fight went to points and Bradley took the belt. There are many practical lessons to be learned from the events that transpired, amongst them, it ain’t over until it’s over. If this were a work of fiction, we might have faulted the author for a trick ending. Because it’s life, it affords us a lesson in the kind of improbabilities that constitute the nature of the universe. If you look at the recent headlines, you might say the same thing about the Obama presidency. Here we had a beleaguered leader with a recalcitrant Republican dominated congress whose sole mandate was to frustrate the Democratic agenda. There was little aisle crossing in the name of principle and it looked like the presidency might even go down as a fiasco. Certainly Obama didn’t show the political muscle of the great populist arm twisters like LBJ, who got things done. But then with the stunning affirmations of Affordable Care and Same Sex Marriage, two decisions of historical importance, the passage of the Trade Pact and the possibility of deal with Iran on nuclear weapons, Obama’s approval ratings soared to 50%, according to CNNOn a more poetic or shall we say global level the fight teaches a less optimistic lesson. You may fight until the end, score a terrific upset and still lose because life is unfair and man a puny animal in an indifferent universe. You might admire Bradley for his tremendous drive and secretly feel relieved he prevailed, yet the truth is the fight was unfairly stolen from Vargas. Unlike in our judicial system, the judges in this case, were not able to declare a mistrial. Will Hillary Clinton who everyone thinks is going to win, get sucker punched, looked like she's going to go down and then prevail on a technicality?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Escape From Dannemora: The Game

Now that David Sweat has been caught and Richard Matt killed one can’t help speculating on what they did right or wrong. They certainly did a lot right in terms of the success of their project, though it seems like the bulk of their planning had to do with escaping from the Clinton Correctional Facility, the maximum security prison in which they were held and less on what they would do once they got out.What was right was to create relationships with two Clinton employees, who essentially provided tools and guidelines which made the escape possible. What was wrong was the planning on what they would do once they were released which rested on the flimsy hope of escaping to Mexico in a  getaway car provided by Joyce Mitchell, one of the prison employees. All of this would make a great computer game, perhaps of the old-fashioned kind in which the universe of the game somehow reflects the twists and turns characteristic of real life. Perhaps Escape from Dannemora could compete with Grand Theft Auto. Of course one thinks of the famous television series, The Fugitive, which was also made into a movie. The subplot concerning Gene Palmer, the corrections officer who traded a screwdriver and pliers for artworks (not far from the arms for hostages used during Iran- Contra scandal) will embellish the movie adaptation which is undoubtedly already in the works--though the lack of the moll in the getaway will dampen the action. When one thinks about it, it seems far harder to break out of a prison like Clinton than to escape from the adjoining territory. No one had ever broken out of Clinton in its 150 year history! But look at it this way, the prison might be thought to be what an inmate knows best. Surviving inside and even figuring out how to escape the structure is a lifer's meat and potatoes. The one thing prisoners like Sweat and Matt begin to lose is the ability to negotiate the real world. You’ve heard all the stories of how difficult many freed prisoners have in adjusting to everyday life. Exiting that manhole cover from which they escaped must have proved a rude awakening. Here they were thrown back into a hostile world in which they’d never functioned very well in the first place. Being a criminal is a calling, but so is being a prisoner and from what it sounds like both Sweat and Matt came into their own in prison (after all they ended up on the honor block). You could say that the force of 1200 that were pursuing them was a formidable obstacle to overcome. Yet you could also surmise that no matter how harsh, men like Sweat and Matt would always do better in the controlled environment inside then within the unpredictable world that lay without.