Sunday, May 27, 2007


Did you know that bacteria outnumber human beings by a trillion to 1? According to Gerald Callahan, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Colorado and author of Infection: The Univited Universe, only about 10 percent of the cells in a human body can be called human.

Does that freak you out?

If it does, you're not alone. Our society has become obsessed with the fear of infection. So you'd think that a film like Bug - about two people whose home seems infested with microscopic, blood-sucking insects - could convert that fear into smashing success at the box office.

Last night, when we saw Bug, the theater was more than half empty. More notably, when the closing credits rolled, there were four audible reactions in our theater:

"I want my money back."

"That sucked."

And "Thanks alot Tanisha."

Followed by, "I'm sorry."

The film suffers from a number of obvious problems. For one, it was marketed as a horror film. I spent the first third of the film waiting for it to get scary.

It is not a horror film.

It is a psycho-drama. The main character Agnes is a lonely woman, a victim of abuse with a weak sense of self whose tragic past is inexplicable to her until Gulf War veteran Peter shows up and provides some semblance of both love and answers. If you were prepared for a psycho drama, it wouldn't sound too shabby, would it?

Yet, by the end of the film, all I could think was, "So?"

Bug spends 110 minutes showing us how two lonely confused people find each other and then go crazy.

And? So?

It is also based on a play. Blech.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I have always hated films based on plays. Because plays are almost always set in one or two rooms, they're just not cinematic. In the case of Bug, the film happens almost entirely within the confines of Agnes's room at a rundown roadside motel. Director William Friedkin tries to overcome this limitation with lingering closeups on the degrading details of the characters' lives - crumpled beer cans, lines of coke, the glowing remnants of a joint, the holes in Agnes's tank top. He also throws lots of bug-like shadows on their skin as they make love, making it way too obvious that he thinks the characters are nuts.

Throughout the film, he tosses in some perfunctory inserts of surveillance style overhead shots of the motel and very low angle pans across its parking lot as cars come and go, probably intended to make us wonder (cue timpani) what's really going on.

In the end, all we really wonder is, "So?"

To keep us engaged, the film has to help us identify with the characters enough to feel afraid either with them or for them. We have to wonder whether the bugs are real or at least whether we could end up in the same kind of horrific mess. Otherwise, it becomes the celluloid equivalent of spotting a homeless person swatting at his head next to a dumpster; our natural instinct is to give him a wide berth.

It starts out OK. Agnes is beautiful, fragile, alone. Peter is sweet, quiet, attentive. He's also intelligent and thoughtful unlike her brutish ex-husband. It seems to be a match made in heaven, until, after their first night together, Peter spots an microspic aphid in the bed. Agnes can't see it but the force of his conviction overcomes her doubt and, in seconds, she's convinced.

Perhaps if we had seen the relationship rot slowly from the inside, instead of imploding in the span of 15 minutes, and if the characters had revealed glimmers of their better natures throughout, we could have stuck with them to the end. But their reactions become so obscene and disconnected from reality so quickly that we have to check out. They're no longer compelling, just freaky. And not even all that fascinatingly freaky.

Another road to cinematic success might be to create a commentary on the nature of man or the state of today's world. And Bug pretends to ask alot of important questions like: What happens when we identify as threats elements of our environment that are actually part of a complex ecosystem the workings of which scientists hardly understand and lay people like the two main characters find utterly confounding? Or what impact has the military's documented history of experimentation on service men had on our ability to trust that institution?

Instead, nobody else can see the bugs at all and when at an offscreen doctor's visit, a medical professional identifies Agnes wounds as self-inflicted, we're not given any reason to disbelieve him. It would have at least been interesting if we'd seen the examination and been given even the tiniest reason not to trust him. At the height of the main characters' paranoia, Friedkin uses patently, purposefully false helicopter sound and light effects as if to elbow us in the ribs and say "See, they are crazy." While trying to manipulate Agnes into turning Peter in, a disaffected military psychiatrist plops down on a giant can of gas and takes a few hits off a mini-bong. "See, the military and medical professionals are evil. Banally evil."

While a good film would either suggest some answers or at least make you care about the questions, Friedkin swats these ideas off the top of his head as if they were little creepy crawlies themselves. It is only instinct for the audience to stomp on them and walk away.


Friday, May 25, 2007

fire now, not next time

Thanks to my friend the fire next time, I now understand the purpose of fair and balanced reporting. Thanks, fire!

I used to think that it had to do with being nice - in the "share the Legos" or "don't eat the last bite of cake" sense of nice. The sense of nice you can't exactly articulate but you can certainly cock your head back and glare when someone violates it. And when they say "What?" you can bulge your eyes at them and huff.

This principle is also not intended to promote "understanding."Of course, my attempts to provide this version of fair and balanced in the reporting of the events of my own life have caused me no end of grief, as in:

I think he cheated on me because he was rejecting himself. Poor him.


She doesn't have anything nice to say about me because she doesn't love herself. Poor her.

No, friends, fair and balanced reporting is also not a euphemism for masochism. It doesn't mean you stand aside and let people abuse you or your cause because you're supposed to have compassion for defectives.

The point of fair and balance reporting is simply to keep the discussion going until the majority of the public has finally made up its mind. And we can't have a discussion if we only hear one side of the story.

"Why do we need a discussion about this?" you ask. "That's fucked. The answer is obvious."

I agree.

Unfortunately, not everybody does. According to estimates by political scientists, regarding any given issue of public concern, while about 20% of the population has strong feelings about it, 15% couldn't give a flying fuck and 65% are disengaged but could become actively involved if they felt they could make a difference.

That's right. For any position about which you feel strongly, 6.5 out of every 10 people you encounter might actively support your cause if somebody would spend time explaining to them in a calm and reasonable manner why you're right and the other guy is wrong.

Whereas if you take the two out of ten people who feel strongly about an issue and pit them against each other, those other 6.5 people might watch the screeching from a distance but more than likely they'll just bow out. It is one of the reasons voter turnout is so low; when you're preaching to the choir or railing against the idiots, you're not engaging the people who aren't sure what to think.

That's why we need a discussion. The Disengaged.

Please don't misunderstand me. I do not expect everybody to become expert canvassers for their causes. Most of us, when we encounter an opposing viewpoint, clamp our jaws shut, turn red, briefly consider violent retribution, and then walk away from the offender. Or we shout, turn red, throw a brick, and then walk away.
That's fine. We're human beings, not automatons. Or debate nerds.

But, surely, considering the large pool (65%!!!) of potential supporters for your cause, you can understand the need to engage the public at large in some kind of judicious consideration of the issues.

We can't rely on television for this service since it relies on violence, sensationalism, and horserace coverage of poll results instead of sober discussion of issues. When pundits actually discuss issues, they tend to focus on a particular candidate or organization's strategy and character rather than their actual platform. Radio is mostly the same. We can't turn to the internet because if we do, we're likely to go the sites with which we already agree. Or to news sites like CNN that, in a desperate bid for clicks, focus most of their efforts on writing ridiculous headlines ("Mom wants husband, microwaved baby back at home") .

We certainly can't turn to political figures themselves since they've made a habit of mudslinging and labelling issues in a manipulative manner to squelch debate.

Barring any radical transformation in the way this society conducts public discourse, the semi-objective "news story" is the only real venue for bringing out both sides of any argument. Granted, the reporter ought to fully disclose each source's qualifications, or lack thereof, to the reader, but the reader also has the obligation to understand that reporting some person or group's opinion is not the same as supporting it.

In fact, we should be glad when a reporter quotes someone we disagree with because it gives us a starting point for refuting that person's arguments.

Ok, so you might already be completely familiar with your opponents' arguments and don't need to hear them again. But the Disengaged I mentioned earlier are not. By bringing those opinions into the public sphere you have a chance to show everybody why they are wrong.

And by "you" I mean you the blogger. You the guy in the pizza parlor. You at the gym. You in the office. You talking in public about the issues you feel strongly about and about the people who disagree with you.

But if one side or other is kept out of the media, the more public (pizza parlor, gym, office) discussion never gets started. Those ideas never get refuted so if any of the Disengaged stumbles across them, they don't have any ammunition to reject them.

You know what? Fuck it.

I've written all this stuff about being reasonable and calm and shit and that's all fine and dandy for some people. In fact, I hope that every cause has their reasonable and calm representatives to deal with the Disengaged. But I'm also glad for the ranter and the fist shaker, the red faced quaker, the shouter, the railer, the impaler (OK not the impaler), the holier-than-thou-er. All these people are part of the conversation.

It is the silent ones and the ones who want to silence people I object to. If they win the day, discussion becomes impossible.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

holy crapamoly

We made an offer on a house yesterday and it was accepted. If everything goes according to plan, we'll be closing in 3 weeks.

Lord, lord, lord.


Monday, May 21, 2007

eat, pray, love

Screw you, Liz Gilbert.

How dare you write a really good book about getting a divorce and traveling for a year to find spiritual and emotional fulfilment. That's my book, dammit.

Of course, it is a book I haven't even outlined yet, much less begun writing. But mine's better than yours! And more interesting ... and funnier ... and well just better.

Sure you went to Italy, India, and Indonesia and I only went to Mexico. While you lived in an Ashram and made amazing strides in your Yoga practice, I struggled to keep my head above water (spiritually speaking, that is) and often found myself either terrified by or dismissive of other yoga students and seekers I encountered. You were making friends by the fistful; I cultivated my inner curmudgeon.

The contrasts are endless and striking!

I'm only about halfway through but I'm sure that by the time I finish it I'll feel even more jealous and lame than I do now.

Thanks, Liz. Thanks alot.

PS: Just kidding.

PPS: Sort of.

PPPS: Seriously, thanks. It is a wonderful book. Thanks to Kelly too for the gift of it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I spy with my little eye ...

... a slippery slope.

(Granted, I'm prone to slippery slopes)

(That's a funny image. Me prone on a slippery slope)

A wire story on Salon describes efforts by federal prosecutors to "enhance" the sentences of some arsonists as follows:

Prosecution filings argue that though the defendants were never convicted of terrorism, they qualify for the label because at least one of the fires each of them set was intended to change or retaliate against government policy.

What does it mean to "enhance" a sentence? Is that constitutional?

Is an action "intended to change or retaliate against government policy" the definition of terrorism? Apparently it has to be violent, but how violent?

home sweet home

I'm out of town for work this week. I'm in Waltham.

That's Wall-th-ham.

It is outside of Boston.

I'm staying at the Doubletree Guest Suites.

PS: CSI Miami is a snuff flick. The cameras linger on dead girls' slender figures and play sexy music over the blood draining off the autopsy table.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

indictment of an imbecilic interloper

A body can only devour so much psychobabble. At some point, it is stuffed beyond comprehension and no more will fit.

At the same time, it always is much easier to swallow something when you've asked for it than it is when someone crams it down your gullet.

In other words, nobody wants to hear your lame psychological theories, so shut up.


I'm sorry. That was rude. Let me start again.


Having had a very strong negative reaction toward Anonymous's response to my divorce post, I felt the need to look more deeply into it in hopes that exploring these reactions might provide a little insight into my psychological makeup.

Those reactions follow, in order of arrival:

1. What?! Who the fuck are you, Anonymous? Get out of my shit.

2. Probably the Ex, sneaking around behind his new wife's back to look me up. Typical.

3. He's such a fucking narcisist, making it all about him. Physically incapable of seeing another person's point of view. Whatever it was in our relationship, it was always about him not me.

4. Wait. What if it is from someone who cares about me, who wants me to feel better by saying "It was about him, not you."

5. Hmmm ... They still need to fuck off and get out of my shit. This is such a lame excuse for bad behavior. Just apologize. No need to get all "psychological" on my ass.

6. Yeah, but you "get psychological" on people's asses all the fucking time. Why can't anybody else?

7. Because I didn't ask them to. There are only two times when it is socially acceptable to get psychological on someone's ass. Time number one is when they ask you to. Time number two is when you're talking behind their backs.

8. That's rude.

9. Shut up.

10. Besides, who ever asked you?

11. We're losing track of the point here.

12. You're being evasive because you can't defend yourself.

13. The point is ... Shit. What was the point?

14. Besides, you're the one who wrote the post so that anyone on God's green earth could read and reply to it.

15. Shut your hole. I can't think!


Having reviewed these responses, I have come to the following conclusion:

I'm an imbecile and noone should listen to me.


Also, while it is fun and interesting to get psychological on someone's ass, it may cause the other person to seriously consider spitting on you.

Even if what you say is true.


Especially if it's true.


Lastly, Philip Roth is right. Living is about getting - not just people but - everything wrong.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

eureka springs revisited

Ah ha!


All is clear!!!

(If I keep writing things like this, this, and this, will I eventually stop searching for "clarity" and be content? Or at least, maybe I'll stop leaping out of my bathtub and running naked through the streets.)


You know what's funny?

(Sturge says: Jokes?


Well, yes.

Hopefully, anyways.

But in this instance, no.)

What's funny is I wrote the first part of this yesterday and now I can't remember what I eureka'd.

Oh wait ...


The Five Stages of Grief

That's it!

Career-wise, I've been working my way through the five stages of professional grief!!

Here they are, adapted from Business Balls.


Stage 1: Denial
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned.

In the Denial stage of our career, our job is mostly make believe. Or at least, we actually have the job but because it is intolerable to us, we pretend like it is make believe. We wear suits and take copious notes but we believe that when the sun goes down Mom will call us inside and feed us popsicles. We also have the other truly make believe job (or jobs) in our heads. The ones we really want to have which typically are some variation on "famous" or "influential."

Further wisdom from Business Balls: It's a defence mechanism and perfectly natural.


Stage 2: Anger
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Knowing this helps keep detached and non-judgemental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset.

See the rest of this blog for examples, most recently this one.

Stage 3: Bargaining
Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.

This is where we say to ourselves: "At least the money and benefits are good." or "At least the benefits are good." or "At least I have a job." Or "at least there are ten things I love about you."

Stage 4: Depression
Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it's the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the 'aftermath' although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It's a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment.

Good ole Stage 4. Here I am. Despite the fact that I:

* Can barely bring myself to get out of bed in the morning
* Stare listlessly at the computer screen without understanding what's in front of me
* Don't hear half the words my co-workers say
* Panic at the thought of staying here for another six months much less the rest of my life

I'm glad to be in Stage 4 after all these years.


Depression sucks, unless you can see your way around it to ...

Stage 5: Acceptance
Again this stage definitely varies according to the person's situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity.

Are you thinking: "Don't accept! Your life doesn't have to be like this!! You can have the job you really want!!! Don't detach!!!! There's nothing wrong with wanting more out of your career!!!!!"

If so, I love you for worrying about me.

(Although I love you even if you're not worried about me. I mean, if I already love you, that is.)

But don't. I'm OK.

And acceptance is not the same as complacency.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

from Philip Roth

The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that---well, lucky you.


I dance like a cowgirl who doesn't know she can't work a rope.

Tractorfacts- "A bird continually trying to fly through a reflective window."

What about you?

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

dance like nobody's watching

No matter what the music, all babies love to dance. And all dancing babies resemble paper sacks with kittens in them; they're squat, shapeless, and likely to jerk arrhythmically in unexpected places.

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