|Royal Bedroom in Residenz Palace, Munich, Bavaria|
Friday, April 28, 2017
Thursday, April 27, 2017
“There’s nothing you can do about dying, I just thought I might point that out,” says New York Times Obit writer Bruce Weber in the concluding lines, shall we say the epitaph for Vanessa Gould’s Obit.—which just began a run at Film Forum. The movie concerns the writing of New York Times obits, much of the back up for which is notoriously stored in an area of The Times known as the morgue. It’s one of the many pieces of nomenclature that makes Obit. particularly affecting. A world historical figure or a celebrity might make the front page, but next down the food chain is “the reefer,” which is what those little front page blurbs, announcing a death which will be covered on the obit page, are called. Here are some other pieces of information you might like to know. The obit using the verb is the lead obit on the page. You always want to state how, when or where someone died in paragraph two of the obit, as the failure to nail this information can lead to a situation like one to which Mark Twain once referred when he said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” It’s better when someone dies at nine in the morning as it gives the obit writer most of the day to do his or her piece. Unfortunately news about Michael Jackson’s death started to come in at around 4 PM which didn’t leave much time to create a major obit by 7 or 8 o’clock, when the paper was put to bed. Margalit Fox, another prominent Times obit writer remarks that the significance of the obit is that it “captures the person at the precise point that he or she becomes history.” Gould uses the obit of William P. Wilson, who advised John F. Kennedy to use makeup in his first debate with Nixon, to provide a unifying thread. In the beginning of Obit. Weber is on the phone getting the salient details. There are numerous digressions covering obits like those of David Foster Wallace who committed suicide at 46, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, someone named Jack Kinzler who saved the Spacelab and Eleanor Smith, an early female pilot whose advance obit was written in l931 (because it was thought she would die young) and hung around the morgue for decades until she died at the age of 98. But the William P. Wilson obit, together with a mistake that it contained in identifying his father’s father as a Democratic congressman from Illinois (in fact, he was a Republican) is the leitmotif running throughout the movie. We actually hear Weber as he mistakes the information while conducting his initial interview with Melody Miller, who was Wilson’s wife. Sherwin Nuland wrote a book called How We Die. Obit. deals with the ins and out of how death is written about in our paper of record with a particular emphasis on the touchy and even weighty subject of whose death will be remembered journalistically and in how many words.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
|Photo of USS Carl Vinson by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Coffer|
Dealing with rogue states like North Korea is reminiscent of road rage, both from the point of the view of the person who is the victim of it and also of the perpetrator. Kim Jong-un not only acts but looks like some people you might see on the LIE, the kind of person who barely misses your front fender as he or she weaves in and out of traffic at perilously high speeds. It’s a little like Kim’s current threat to test another nuclear device after the recent failure of an ICBM launch. You want to do something to stop him in his tracks the way you might tailgate the weaving driver or pull up alongside him or her and give him or her the bird. Conversely, by threatening to blow up the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, Kim Jong-un is expressing his own version of road rage, in fact the kind where you pull up alongside the offending vehicle and attempt to run it right off the road. In between these two extremes are a number of themes and variations, one of which is pulling right in front of the car that has been tailgating you and stopping short. Don’t do it, if you want to walk away in one piece! But the question is how to deal with road rage when you're either the object of it or the perpetrator? Well if you are the victim, don’t react. Instead, take down the license plate of the offending driver and call the cops. In the event you’re the one who has committed it, don’t make things worse by upping the ante. Of course if you're two nation states, rogue or otherwise, this is easier said than done.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
|Robert G. Ingersoll was a famous free-thinker (photo: Mathew Brady, Levin Corbin Handy)|
It is extremely uncomfortable to take unpopular positions and say things that others don’t want to hear. If you consider yourself a liberal you have a self-conception that's predicated upon a concern for victims and a desire to provide for those who have less than yourself. If you're a conservative you might view yourself as someone whose brand of humanism encourages the notion of self-reliance. Less government is better than more since it forces people to pick themselves up by the bootstraps. Less government and less regulation also make individualism more possible. Whichever side of the fence you stand on, eventually you establish a comfort zone in which you exercise your values. The problem comes when you find yourself inadvertently questioning some of the positions that might have been at the heart of your own program. You might hate Bill O’Reilly’s politics, but find his verbal suggestiveness with women a far cry from more extreme forms of abuse which are ubiquitous in the media and the academic or corporate worlds--and literally any situation where the cocktail of power and sexuality is brewed. If you're a conservative you might find yourself cast adrift in the no man’s land of health care legislation. You dislike big government, but you can’t abide lessening Medicaid benefits that mean that people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder might not be able to afford life saving mediations for diabetes, heart disease or cancer. As either a liberal or conservative crossing the literal or metaphoric aisle, you may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being regarded as a heretic in the world of like-minded people in which you generally operate. When society is polarized, as it currently is, divagations from the party line tend to be viewed as a form of treason. The lone voice in the crowd, that of the free-thinker, is something that few on either side of the political spectrum want to hear.
Monday, April 24, 2017
Relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionized physics and one of the problems for the casual observer is that their truths are not easily verifiable to the naked eye. In one way of another experience is deceptive. People pay lip service to the unconscious or subconscious as it’s sometimes called, but few people really believe such an entity exists. One of the jokes about the unconscious concerns its exact location. Is it a lower or higher brain activity or somewhere in between? It’s a little reminiscent of the argument concerning consciousness and whether it’s a physical property of the brain or whether, as dualists since Descartes have argued, its something separate. Though some scientists like Richard Dawkins might bridle at this, the same can be said about God, whose existence is denied by agnostics and atheists on the basis of the fact that it can’t be proven. In any case, the ultimate subject from an eschatological or teleological point of view is really what is the final nature of things. Lucretius wrote a famous poem, De rerum natura which deals with the nature of reality and of course there’s Plato’s metaphor of the cave where the ideal forms of human existence are only shadows on the wall. The theory of Dark Energy posits that space will become darker and darker as the universe continues to expand and objects drift further from each other. The more that occurs and empirical observation is pushed to the wayside, the more faith will come into play.