Archive for 2010 September

What Tennessee Williams really thought of the movies

The writer character named Tom, widely agreed to be a stand-in for Tennessee Williams himself, in his aria on the movies from a great production of The Glass Menagerie running in Los Angeles now:

Tom:Yes, movies! Look at them [a wave towards the theaters outside] All of those glamorous people — having adventures, hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! Yes, until there's a war. That's when adventure becomes available to the masses!…Then the people in the dark room come out of the dark room to have some adventures themselves. It's our turn now, to go to the South Sea Island — to make a safari — to be exotic, far-off! But I'm not patient. I don't want to wait till then. I'm tired of the movies and I am about to move

Glass Menagerie Photo 13

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Three strikes for bears

Ted Rall likes to work from bizarre but real news stories. Sometimes this makes his work seems a little beyond belief, but when you see the context, it all begins to make sense…in a 21st sort of way. 


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The science of romantic comedy

The part they don't tell you in school about semen (from Scientific American):

Semen has a very complicated chemical profile, containing over
50 different compounds (including hormones, neurotransmitters,
endorphins and immunosupressants) each with a special function and
occurring in different concentrations within the seminal plasma. Perhaps
the most striking of these compounds is the bundle of mood-enhancing
chemicals in semen. There is good in this goo. Such anxiolytic chemicals
include, but are by no means limited to, cortisol (known to increase
affection), estrone (which elevates mood), prolactin (a natural
antidepressant), oxytocin (also elevates mood), thyrotropin-releasing
hormone (another antidepressant), melatonin (a sleep-inducing agent) and
even serotonin (perhaps the most well-known antidepressant neurotransmitter).

How it figures in plot (from an essay in The New York Review of Books):

Sex drive, for instance, is associated with the hormone testosterone in
both men and women. Romantic love is associated with elevated activity
of the neurotransmitter dopamine and probably also another one,
norepinephrine. And attachment is associated with the hormones oxytocin
and vasopressin. “It turns out,” [writer/scientist Helen Fisher] said, “that seminal fluid has
all of these chemicals in it. So I tell my students, ‘Don’t have sex if
you don’t want to fall in love.’”

But the easy part is the falling, isn't it?


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Is America getting weirder?

Forget the inescapable Tea Party for a second. Just consider: GOP voters nominated a woman to run for a Senate seat in a populous Eastern state whose signal achievement in life, seemingly, is not having sex. 

Isn't that a little, um, peculiar? 

Not an exaggeration. Here's Christine O'Donnell opining on the subject of procreation on the radio a few years back, debating a regulation-issue safe sex advocate:

NIES: I tell them to be careful. You have to wear a condom. You have to
protect yourself when you're going to have sex, because [young people] are having
it anyway…There's nothing that you or me can do about it.

O'DONNELL: The sad reality is — yes, there is something you can do
about it. And the sad reality, to tell them slap on a condom is not —

NIES: You're going to stop the whole country from having sex?

O'DONNELL: Yeah. Yeah! 

NIES: You're living on a prayer if you think that's going to happen. 

O'DONNELL: That's not true. I'm a young woman in my thirties and I remain chaste. 

Which made her famous. Which made her viable as a candidate.


In America today, fame is its own reward. From whence it comes matters not.

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Scary graph of the day: the heaviness of the USA

The US is not alone in this trend…but why are we so much worse than other wealthy nations?

 For more troubling stats, see Economix.

h/t: Andrew Sullivan

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The plot escapes me, but the wraith of memory remains

In the New York Times Book Review, novelist James Collins admits an embarrassing secret.

I have just realized something terrible about myself: I don’t remember the books I read…

Nor do I think I am the only one with this problem. Certainly, there are
those who can read a book once and retain everything that was in it,
but anecdotal evidence suggests that is not the case with most people.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that most people cannot recall the title or
author or even the existence of a book they read a month ago, much less
its contents.

So we in the forgetful majority must, I think, confront the following
question: Why read books if we can’t remember what’s in them?

But then Collins does something very interesting. He calls up an expert on the science of reading named Maryanne Wolf, and asks her what she thinks about this quandary:

“There is a difference,” she said [to Collins], “between immediate recall of facts
and an ability to recall a gestalt of knowledge. We can’t retrieve the
specifics, but to adapt a phrase of William James’s, there is a wraith
of memory."

Paul Raeburn, at the eminent Knight Science Journalism Tracker, responds with a complaint that Collins hasn't "done his reporting properly, even if this is a personal essay."

He has a point; the reader does want to know more about the building of "networks" in the brain Wolf refers to.  which, translated into the vernacular, sounds as if she's saying — by reading that book, you have changed your mind. 

But one can only admire Raeburn for finding a quote (from Tennyson, no less!) that describes the situation just as beautifully: I am part of all that I have met.

Yet and still, Wolf's reference to the "wraith of memory" corresponds quite exactly to what Collins recalls about the book in question — how he felt about it, and the experience of reading it. 

And here's a possible measure of what it means to change your mind: What you can remember and retrieve is as good as what you have discovered or written yourself. As fully earned.

In the words of the late great (and too little missed) poet Joseph Brodsky:

Living is like quoting, and once you've learned something by heart, it's yours as much as the authors.

(from In Memory of Stephen Spender)

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Falconry from the bird’s-eye point of view

The English have always been legendary falconers; here, a scientist's camera and the BBC reveals what it looks from the bird's eye view…


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NBA: Five weeks away

Mark Heisler has held down the NBA beat for The Los Angeles Times for the last quarter-century or so. SoCal is lucky to have him; he's as spiky and surprising as ever, with no sign of weariness.

Heisler's also ahead of his time, stylistically. He's been mixing commentary into his league updates, which Times reporters are clearly encouraged to do in their reporting these days, for decades now.

In the piece below, Heisler gives Miami's infamous General Manager Pat Riley, at helm of the Lakers during their Showtime glory days, credit for the "Frankenstein Revival" that is the new Miami Heat. 

But what if it's a case of the Super Friends — Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh — conspiring, agreeing to take less money to play together? What GM wouldn't agree to such a deal?

Some have speculated the three stars had been talking about a deal like this since they played together at the 2008 Olympics, where they easily triumphed.

If this team works — and it's difficult to see how it could not, especially with superb long-ranger shooter Mike Miller on board — will this be an argument for the mind games of Pat Riley, or simply for employees working together to get the job done?

The NBA: Five weeks away from Chris Bosh et al at Boston:


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The most Orwellian twist in today’s most Orwellian novel

Gary Shteyngart is a fan of George Orwell, but his new Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian novel inspired by l984, isn't all that Orwellian a book. 


Because, for all Orwell's greatness, Shteyngart is a much more amusing writer. 

But the book does have a couple of surreal and ominously Orwellian moments. The most memorable comes out of the fact that the armed force overtaking American society, the "American Restoration Authority," won't allow anyone to recognize its takeover. It's officially invisible. When the ARA sets up a checkpoint, with the inevitable sandbags, barbed wire, and men armed with machine guns, a large sign is posted:


Now that's creepy. 

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Delta earthquake risk serious, but not catastrophic: USGS

A soon-to-be-released report from the US Geological Survey finds the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta would be hit even harder by an earthquake than previously believed, but with winter rains, the Delta would also recover more quickly than was estimated in a state study just three years ago.

This excellent story by Pat McBroom in The California Spigot highlights the earthquake risk, but given that previous scenarios predicted it could take as long as eighteen months for the Delta and State Water Project to recover from a 7.0 earthquake on the Hayward fault, a projected three-to-four month recovery, with winter rains, might even count as good news. 

“It’s not true that a
major earthquake would mean the end of the delta and we’d never be able
to use it again,” said Greg Gartrell, a hydrologist with the Contra
Costa County Water District, who is familiar with the new modeling. “Yes, you get a lot of salt water coming in, but as soon as it rains,
that water can get washed out.” 

Pumps that supply California’s urban
and agricultural water would have to stop for about three to four
months, under the conditions studied, said Gartrell, and then could
become operational again.  Most urban water districts have local water
supplies to cover such a period.

Politically, this means that the underlying justification for the so-called "isolated conveyance" — a euphemism for the politically untouchable peripheral canal, defeated in a l982 vote — is taken away.

Will the water bond that was taken off the ballot this fall ever come back?

Maybe not.

Here's the delta, and, by the way, here's another excellent (if less cheering) story about it from the Contra Costa Times, called Delta: A Lake in the Making.


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