Mike Kueber's Blog

December 31, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #136 – A Dangerous Method and Sunday Book Review #151 – Man’s Search for Meaning

Filed under: Book reviews,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:37 pm
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The movie A Dangerous Method, which revolves around the development of psychoanalysis by two leading European doctors in the early 1900s – Jung and Freud – includes dialogue with Jung declaring that he doesn’t believe in coincidences. Well, immediately after finishing the movie, I started reading the next book in my reading queue, Man’s Search for Meaning, and discovered that the book is written by a third 20th-century European psychotherapist, Viktor Frankl.  No coincidence, indeed.

A Dangerous Method (2011) depicts the turbulent relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), founder of analytical psychology and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis. To spice up the movie, Keira Knightley plays Jung’s patient-cum-colleague Sabina Spielrein. Unfortunately, Knightley’s rough-sex scenes with Jung seem gratuitous to an otherwise dry storyline that consists primarily of Freud arguing that sex is the key to understanding all neuroses while Jung counters that therapy can and should do more than just understand neuroses. The Rotten Tomato critics seemed to have enjoyed the argument (77%), but the audience not as much (50%). I agree with the audience and give the movie two stars out of four.

Man’s Search for Meaning was written by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl in 1946. The first half of the book describes life in a concentration camp and the second half describes Frankl’s logotherapy, which is considered the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy,” after Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology.

Logotherapy posits that humans are motivated not by Nietzsche’s will to power nor by Freud’s will to pleasure, but rather by Kierkegaard’s will to meaning – i.e., the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary, most powerful driving force in humans. Logotherapy focuses on envisioning an individual’s future instead of trying to understand his past.

Sources of meaning:

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed (achievement or accomplishment)
  2. By experiencing something (nature, culture) or encountering (loving) someone
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering

The first two ways to find meaning in life seem intuitive, but the last one is a surprise and apparently is prompted by the author’s stay at German concentration camps – i.e., a helpless victim in a hopeless situation. For now, I am happy to focus on the first two ways, but one never knows what is just around the next corner in our journey of life.

 

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December 30, 2014

Does the Silicon Valley need affirmative action?

Filed under: Business,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 1:23 pm
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USA Today is known for superficial reporting and splashy graphics, but today the paper contained an article that seems more suited for the NY Times or Washington Post. In an article titled, “Few minorities in non-tech jobs in Silicon Valley, USA TODAY finds,” the newspaper did extensive research to determine that African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented at three dominant companies in the Silicon Valley – Google, Facebook, and Yahoo – and that this underrepresentation extends not only to technical white-collar jobs, but also to non-technical white-collar jobs.  The article indicated that concomitant over-representation inured to the benefit of whites and Asian-Americans, but failed to provide separate statistics for those two groups, apparently considering them to be a single behemoth for purposes of this article. The article also suggested that women were being shortchanged, but provided no statistics to support this.

After providing statistics, the article quoted several affirmative-action proponents, starting with Jesse Jackson. One of the proponents admitted that their objective was “the dismantling of this myth of meritocracy” and “Ultimately, changing these numbers will be critical to the continued success of the American tech sector, which in turn helps power the national economy.”

All of this suggests the catchphrase made popular in the Lost in Space TV show in 1965 – “That does not compute.” The affirmative action proponents are suggesting that three of the most successful companies in America (and the world) need to fundamentally change so that they better reflect the more bureaucratic, underperforming sectors of the economy. It also calls to mind two comments made by two conservative icons from the 80s:

  • Margaret Thatcher – Socialists are happy until they run out of other people’s money to spend.
  • Ronald Reagan – If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

December 27, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #135 – Wadjda, The Duchess, Tombstone, An Unfinished Life, and Temple Grandin

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:39 am
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Wadjda (2012) is the first feature-length movie to come out of Saudi Arabia, and it was a huge success. Ninety-nine percent of the Rotten Tomato critics liked it, and 89% of the audience did. The movie is about an 11-year-old girl being raised in a strict Muslim environment in Riyadh, with two complications:

  1. The beautiful mother is trying to keep her husband monogamous (with an alluring red dress), but because she is unable to provide him with a son, he is considering taking a second wife.
  2. The young girl dreams of having a bike to ride with her best guy friend, but bikes are considered inappropriate for devout girls.

If you think this plot sounds a bit like O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” you would be right. I loved seeing middle-class Saudi Muslims dealing in a realistic way with common issues, so I give the movie three and a half stars out of four.

After being bewitched by Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice, I decided to see if her appeal extended to other movies. The Duchess (2008) seemed like a good bet because, like P&P, it is an English period piece involving romance within the aristocracy. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed for the identical reason that I found Belle so disappointing – i.e., “The problem with this movie is that Belle is supposed to be turned off by an arranged, loveless marriage to a gentleman and drawn to an idealistic young lawyer fighting against slavery, but because of bad casting or acting, the supposed loveless gentleman is more interesting and charismatic than the Pollyannaish sap.” But Knightley and her “loveless” co-star Ralph Fiennes are excellent, and the true story of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire is fascinating. The Rotten Tomato critics scored the movie at 61% and the audience liked it a bit better at 67%. I liked it a lot better at three and a half stars out of four.

Tombstone (1993) is a classic western that somehow avoided me for all these years, even though some friends have told me that it is one of the best ever. It’s ending its run on Netflix streaming in a few days, so I caught it just in time. The movie stars Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer and co-stars Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, and Dana Delany. Its storyline, which is based on the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Earp Vendetta Ride, is pretty standard, with the Earp brothers trying to settle down, but being called upon to help the local folks stand up to an evil gang – shades of Alan Ladd’s Shane and Gary Cooper’s High Noon. Wyatt’s love interest with an Eastern singer and his friendship with a dying, gunslinging friend make the movie special. The Rotten Tomato critics generally liked the movie (73%), but the audience was much more approving (94%). I agree with the audience and give it three and a half stars.

An Unfinished Life (2005) is a drama about a modern cowboy (Robert Redford) struggling to get on with his life after his rodeo son is killed in a car accident. He is estranged from his son’s wife (Jennifer Lopez), but after a decade she returns to the ranch because she is broke and trying to escape an abusive boyfriend. Plus, she has a granddaughter the cowboy never knew about. Redford and Lopez are great, and co-star Morgan Freeman is perfectly cast as the wise, loyal friend. Damian Lewis from Homeland is weak as a one-dimensional abuser, and Josh Lucas is weak as a shallow new love interest for JLo. Based in Wyoming, this movie reminds me of Montana’s A River Runs Through It. The critics were ambivalent about the movie (53%), and I’m not surprised the audience liked it better (68%). Like usual, I agree with the audience and give it three stars out of four.

A few months ago I watched a movie called Adam about a young man with Asperger Syndrome. When I blogged about the movie, I provided the following description of AS:

  • An autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development.

Since watching Adam, I have noticed that a good friend of mine seems to have several symptoms of AS, which caused me to dig for more information about AS symptoms. Wikipedia provides the following, all of which ring true for my friend:

  • Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject
  • One-sided verbosity
  • Restricted prosody (the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech. Prosody may reflect various features of the speaker or the utterance: the emotional state of the speaker; the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or by choice of vocabulary)
  • Physical clumsiness
  • A lack of demonstrated empathy
  • A failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (for example, showing others objects of interest)
  • A lack of social or emotional reciprocity (social “games” give-and-take mechanic)
  • Impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture
  • An inability to engage in back-and-forth conversation
  • People with AS may not be as withdrawn around others compared to those with other, more debilitating forms of autism; they approach others, even if awkwardly. For example, a person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener’s feelings or reactions, such as a wish to change the topic of talk or end the interaction. This social awkwardness has been called “active but odd.” This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people’s feelings, and may come across as insensitive.
  • Not all individuals with AS will approach others. Some of them may even display selective mutism, speaking not at all to most people and excessively to specific people. Some may choose only to talk to people they like.

To gain some increased understanding of AS, I decided to watch some other movies that feature characters with AS. My first choice was Temple Grandin because this bio-pic was critically-acclaimed and starred Claire Danes, from Homeland fame. Danes plays a bi-polar person in Homeland, so casting her as autistic (not AS, but very similar) in Temple Grandin seems inspired.

Unfortunately, she is unattractive in both roles. As Temple Grandin, she is the daughter of a Harvard-grad mother who refuses to accept lowered expectations for autistic children in the 60s and who pushes Temple toward an advanced scientific education related to her enhanced sensitivity toward animals. Critics loved the movie (100%), and so did the audience (95%), but me, not so much. I give it two and a half stars out of four, mostly for its educational nature.

Although the story of Temple Grandin is a success, I am troubled with her admission in real life that the possibility of emotional connections are not a part of her DNA. How sad that is! Although “some researchers and people with Asperger’s have advocated a shift in attitudes toward the view that it is a difference, rather than a disability that must be treated or cured,” I think we all agree that the possibility of emotional connections is something we wish for every human being.

 

December 22, 2014

Sucking the joy out of yoga

Filed under: Fitness,Philosophy,Self-improvement,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 11:41 pm
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This past Sunday one of my favorite yoga teachers was conducting a special practice called “108 Sun Salutations.” This practice is traditionally done on the Winter Solstice and consists of 108 Sun A’s.

At the same time as the practice, one of my fellow yoga students was doing a marathon-training run. This morning he told me that he thought about the 108 Sun Salutations just as he finished Mile 17 of his run, and decided that he was fortunate to be running instead of saluting. What’s that say about 108 Sun A’s?

After sharing that bit of wisdom, my friend and I embarked on a Hot Vinyasa practice. Consistent with the Lifetime Fitness format, the practice primarily consists of three Sun Salutation series (A, B an C) before throwing on a few “logs” – i.e., holding a series of strenuous poses for several minutes. They are called logs because the three Sun series are supposed to generate a blazing fire in our bodies while the finishing strenuous poses are supposed to be “logs” to keep the fire blazing a bit longer. Although today’s logs weren’t particularly sadistic, the logs this past Sunday were. They caused me to wonder, is that really yoga?

So I asked Google – “Is yoga supposed to be hard?” The first result came from a Fitness blog, with an entry titled, “Is yoga supposed to kick your butt?”  The author seemed eminently qualified because she taught both yoga and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In a nutshell, her answer is “no”:

  • “I don’t look at my students before a yoga class and think, ‘This class is going to kick everyone’s butt today.’ (Full disclosure: I do have those thoughts before teaching my HIIT classes!) With yoga, the intention is different. We are there to shift our energy and find inner peace. That doesn’t mean the class is just gentle stretching. We build power and heat doing Down-Dog flows. We discover our strength in Warrior and Plank. We challenge ourselves with balancing and other advanced poses. But all that’s done with a mindfulness toward inner peace, a sense of stability and a deeper connection with oneself. No one feels ‘beat up’ after class.”

Other blogs talk about yoga expanding its boundaries in recent years to include strength and cardio fitness, and that is what has happened at Lifetime Fitness. Its website describes a Hot Vinyasa practice as follows:

  • “Enjoy an energetic yoga class that uses a flowing series of postures to create heat within the body as you increase strength, flexibility, endurance and balance. The teacher first guides the class through the flow together before freeing each student to move at his or her own pace. Hot Vinyasa is good for new students who are physically active, those interested in the fitness benefits of yoga, and anyone who wants to dive in to a strong, multi-faceted practice. This practice is typically accompanied by more upbeat music.”

The concern with an energetic yoga class is analogous to the concern with vitamins and medicine – i.e., if a certain dosage is good for you, is a double dose twice as good for you. Some yoga teachers inevitably start thinking that more energy is a better class, so they push their students to use more energy, which can leave them feeling “beat up.”

The solution, of course, is for each student to modify their practice to suit themselves. The problem is that many teachers, either explicitly or implicitly, discourage modifications. In fact, after practice one day last week, a yogi came up to me and gravely asked if I were injured. When I said I was fine, she said she had noticed so many modifications that she assumed I was injured.

LOL!

December 19, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #23 – Youth is wasted on the young

Filed under: Aphorism,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 3:02 pm
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Earlier this week there was a shocking report on an NFL football player, Chris Conte, who opined that he would accept a shortened lifespan in return for a career in the NFL. He loved NFL football that much.   I fully expected Conte’s sentiment to be quickly repudiated by the politically-correct ESPN, but instead ESPN interviewed two thoughtful, former NFL players – Mark Schlereth and Herm Edwards – both of whom agreed with Conte.  Both suggested that the quality of their lives was more important than the quantity.

Amazingly, this story has developed little further controversy. No one is questioning Conte’s sanity. And no one is suggesting Conte shouldn’t have the right to make this decision.

But this morning’s SA Express-News contained a Roy Bragg column that attacked the issue from a different angle – i.e., instead of criticizing Conte, the column criticized the American public for idolizing sports and its heroes. Indeed, Bragg compared sports fans to drug addicts:

  • Comparing sports fans to substance abusers might seem ham-fisted, but there are some similarities to consider. Addicts want to get high or drunk right now, and damn the consequences. They want to get high all of the time, and damn the consequences. We, by the same token, want sports all of the time, damn the consequences. Our addiction has created a juggernaut sports economy that feeds off our addiction. Hence the proliferation of sports platforms — paper, online, broadcast, cable — reporting the same trades and injuries and arrests, over and over, 24 hours a day. Occasionally, as a bonus, they mix in some scores and highlights.”

I disagreed with Bragg and left him the following on-line comment:

  • Roy, at least you take an unexpected tack by blaming us instead of blaming Chris. But I think you are wrong because your assertion is based on a hyperbolic exaggeration of America’s love of sports in general and football in specific. I know lots of sports fans and none of them is consumed by their love of the game.”

Regarding Conte’s thought-process and analysis, I expect most young athletes would come to the same conclusion about an NFL career. Giving up some vague future is easier to do than giving up the glorious present. And although I would be disappointed if any of my four sons felt so strongly about an NFL career, I suspect that my only son who played high school football would make Conte’s decision in a New York minute.

As George Bernard Shaw said – “Youth is wasted on the young.”

December 17, 2014

Bill Clinton on race relations post-Ferguson and post-Staten Island

Bill Clinton was recently interviewed by the modern Walter Cronkite, Jorge Ramos of Fusion TV (a network directed at millennials and Hispanics). During the interview, Clinton weighed-in on race relations in America in the aftermath of the Ferguson and Staten Island killings.  When asked if race relations in America were getting better, Clinton said “yes and no.”

  • Yes, there are more opportunities for blacks in business and the professions.
  • No, there is an on-going problem with the American majority acting out of fear because of preconceived notions based on race and socio-economic groups that don’t share the majority’s values and lifestyle, which results in arrest rates, with a wild racial disparity.

Clinton suggested that this on-going problem was manifested in the Eric Garner killing in Staten Island. While noting that Garner had six children, was overweight and afflicted by heart and lung problems, and was trying to supplement his income by illegally selling untaxed cigarettes, Clinton declared, “he didn’t deserve to die.”

The injustice to Garner prompted Clinton to comment on the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson. According to Clinton, even if the grand jury was right, with Brown “being super-aggressive and all that,” it is undeniable that Brown was chased down, unarmed, and shot.

Based on these two incidents, Clinton concludes that there is a huge problem because of the divide between the community and police. Further, this divide is caused (a) by preconceptions that are triggered in scared people, and (b) the fear of minorities in these communities that they are disposable and not important.

I find several flaws with Clinton’s position:

  1. As a factual matter, Brown was not chased down and shot. According to Grand Jury evidence, he was a fleeing felon who was pursued, but he wasn’t shot at until he turned and charged Officer Wilson. Are police not supposed to pursue fleeing felons? Are they not to shoot a charging felon who has already tried to take your gun?
  2. Clinton implies that the wide disparity with African-American arrest rate is based on more on racial discrimination than on actual criminal activity. What support is there for that suggestion?
  3. Clinton is using a straw-man argument in declaring that Garner didn’t deserve to die. Who has said that Garner deserved to die? His death was an accident precipitated by a sickly 350-pound guy resisting arrest.
  4. Clinton complains that the majority has a preconception (as well as a pre-wired DNA) to fear minorities from a lower socio-economic level, the same people who are arrested and incarcerated at alarming rates. It seems Pollyannaish for Clinton to think that people should ignore their common sense. He might be more effective if he focused on reducing criminal activity in those communities.

I think Charles Barkley has provided better insights on this issue.   He points out that the police are not the bad guys in these situations. Rather, they are the only people who are preventing these communities from devolving into the Wild West, much like northern Mexico. Instead of focusing on the police, Clinton should be focusing on how to transform these communities so that they share mainstream American values.

Ironically, Clinton ended his interview by lamenting about black parents with good values having to explain to their kids about the death of these two unarmed black men. That explanation doesn’t seem difficult to me. Both deceased men were criminals who resisted arrest. The one who acted in a “super-aggressive” fashion was shot in self-defense by a police officer; the other was a Goliath who was accidentally killed while being subdued.

This sort of explanation is far easier than trying to re-wire people to ignore the obvious.

December 14, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #134 – The Americans, HBO’s State of Play, Belle, Bye Bye Love, and The Lunchbox

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 11:57 pm
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The Americans is a spy-drama FX series set in the Cold War of the 80s. I previously blogged about how good Season One (2013) was (four stars out of four), and now I just finished watching Season Two (2014). Although I was told by a friend and several critics that Season Two is even better than the first, I disagree.  As I noted in my previous blogpost, I loved the first season, not because of the spying, but because of the interesting, albeit strained marital relationships of the Soviet spy and the American counter-spy.  In Season Two, that strain seems to have squeezed much of the love out of those relationships, and that is difficult to watch. Kind of like Brodie’s marriage in Homeland. And House of Cards. That is why I give Season Two only three stars out of four. But I haven’t given up on The Americans and am anxious for Season Three, which starts in late January 2015.  (Incidentally, I binge-viewed Season One on Netflix, while watching one episode at the time for Season Two.  Binge viewing is much better and that could have factored into my comparison of the Two Seasons.)

State of Play is an HBO documentary series produced by FNL’s Peter Berg on a variety of sports issues, such as concussions and retirement. This week’s episode – titled “First Ladies” – examines the lives of three sports spouses. The subjects are DeLana Harvick (husband Kevin is a NASCAR racer), Kiya Tomlin (husband Mike is an NFL coach), and Megan Lehnhoff (husband Scott coaches a high school football team in the SA area).  Megan is a regular at my yoga practices at Lifetime Fitness, and the HBO people took some video at a couple of our practices, but that video went directly to the editing floor.

Even before watching the episode, I was a little turned off by Kiya Tomlin because a pre-show article in the Pittsburg media noted that she didn’t allow HBO to film her house or her kids because that was something she didn’t want to share with the public.   If I were HBO, I would have told her that her private life, not her budding career as a designer, was the reason that HBO was interested in her. The same Pittsburg article had her suggesting that she was the only wife of an NFL head coach that currently “works.” According to that mindset, DeLana and Megan weren’t “working” either, but I doubt they would agree with that.  (Despite my antipathy toward political correctness, I might be guilty of that a bit here because I have become so sensitive to anyone diminishing the stay-at-home mom.  I still remember Hillary Clinton saying, “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.”)

Early in the show, Kiya seemed to quickly dismiss being a stay-at-home mom:

  • I just started working again once my daughter went to kindergarten, and I’m very happy to be working. (Big laugh.) The routine of laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning gets old. (Big laugh.)”

When Coach Tomlin was interviewed, he quickly revealed himself to be a charming, self-deprecating guy:

  • When Mike is asked Kiya’s football interest, he notes, “She never cared; she’s artsy. I’m somewhat of a caveman, you know. She cleans me up.
  • When Mike is asked about his role in running the house, he says, “I do nothing. I go to work. I come home. I don’t know what the phone bill is; what the mortgage is.”

When Mike and Kiya go to a restaurant for dinner, Mike carries the conversation by solicitously asking her about the logistics of an upcoming trade show. And then she takes a couple of business call during the meal.  Talk about role reversal!  Seems to me that Kiya is not comfortable being married to a man as successful as Mike Tomlin (even though she says that his success is a joint achievement), and she is trying mightily not to be overshadowed by him.

DeLana Harvick is similarly driven. Her family was involved in racing, and she followed the family tradition:

  • I never wanted to get married; never wanted to have a family; that wasn’t in my frame of stuff I needed to do. And it happened.”

When she started managing her husband, she admitted that people in the business would say, “She’s a bitch, she’s a hard-ass. Whatever, I don’t care.”

Megan Lehnhoff is the polar opposite of Kiya and DeLana. The show begins with Megan saying her pre-children job in the energy industry, “felt like such an important job, but once I became a mom it just seemed way less important.”  When she decided to become a stay-at-home mom, she and Scott were worried about the economics because, “They fire coaches if you don’t win around here.”  Despite the stress, Megan begins her pre-dawn day with some yoga meditation and a run amongst the deer in typical suburban Texas.

In one scene, Megan asks Scott if he will be home at four or leaving for home at four, and Scott dourly says, “Either or.” That is typical of the repartee that Megan humorously recounts in her Blog in the “Scott says” section, which reminds me of George & Gracie Burns at their best. (HBO failed to mention the Blog in show, and I wonder if they were aware of it.)

Megan told HBO that Scott doesn’t discuss football with her, either because he thinks she doesn’t know enough to discuss the subject intelligently or because he wants a respite from thinking about it. Almost on cue, though, in the next scene Megan then asks Scott a football question at lunch (“At the risk of sounding stupid, what is the scout team?”), and Scott ignores the question. Only after she repeats the question does he finally give her an answer. Shortly thereafter, baby Rex has a diaper blowout and there is no question that Megan is going to change it even though one of the diner patrons suggests that Scott should take care of it. (I don’t think I ever changed diapers when my ex- was present, but I know that my oldest son often does.)

Toward the end of the documentary, Megan offers a couple of far-sighted insights that are sad:

  • I don’t see the time commitment ever getting less. If anything, it’ll probably just get more, so we’ll just miss more and more of him.”
  • “I mean, I’ve always thought about, like what if he were to go into college or to another level of coaching, he will be sacrificing his family and time with his kids, but also part of me whatever he wants to do. We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it.

Following the video part of the documentary, Peter Berg has a panel discussion with the three spouses. The questions were OK (role model, roller-coaster life, etc.), but they didn’t generate many insights other than Megan’s little nugget regarding the roller-coaster life:

  • You take joy in little things, that doesn’t have to be living this giant adrenalin lifestyle all the time.” (Berg responded jokingly, “Doesn’t it? Are you sure?”)

Her advice to someone preparing to be a sports spouse:

  • I feel like it’s such a negative answer. You aren’t going to see him much, and be prepared for that. And be prepared for [the Roller coaster].”

And finally, Berg asks the spouses if they would change their husbands’ occupations if they could. Berg seemed to recognize that the question was almost nonsensical to the driven, intense Kiya and DeLana. But Megan said:

  • He would be miserable. It wouldn’t be worth it.”

Although Megan is much younger than the other two first ladies, she seems to have a better grasp on her situation. It must be the yoga effect.

Belle (2014) is a period drama that reminds me of Pride & Prejudice because it deals mostly with arranging marriages amongst the landed gentry in England in the 1770s. Belle’s story is complicated because she is a naval gentleman’s illegitimate mulatto daughter who is handed over to be raised by his powerful uncle. In his fine household, she is treated as less than a lady, but more than a servant. The storyline is further complicated because her uncle is the country’s most prominent judge confronted by a case relating to whether slaves should be treated as people or property. The problem with this movie is that Belle is supposed to be turned off by an arranged, loveless marriage to a gentleman and drawn to an idealistic young lawyer fighting against slavery, but because of bad casting or acting, the supposed loveless gentleman is more interesting and charismatic than the Pollyannaish sap. The Rotten Tomato critics loved the movie at 83%, along with an audience of 84%. By contrast, I can’t get past the sappish knight in shining armor and give it only two stars out of four.

I’m not sure how Bye, Bye, Love got into my viewing queue of highly rated, recent movies. It was neither (19% by the Rotten Tomato critics, 50% by its audience), nor recent – 1995. The movie is a light-hearted look at three lifetime friends – Matthew Modine, Randy Quaid, and Paul Reiser – dealing with divorce. The problem with the movie is that, although the three guys are skillfully drawn and played, they are so flawed as to be almost unlikeable. The Modine character is so dissolute that he reminds me of Californication’s Hank Moody; the Quaid character is a grouch; and the Reiser character is a pusillanimous wimp. None has integrity. By contrast, their ex-wives are not fully drawn, but they seem to have integrity and perspective. I agree with the audience and give it two and a half stars out of four.

The Lunchbox (2013), according to Wikipedia, is an “epistolary romantic film.” I had to look up “epistolary” in the dictionary to learn it means something carried on in writing, and it is used accurately here. The movie, which is set in Mumbai, India, concerns an old, widowed insurance claims guy (Irrfan Khan) whose personalized lunch is delivered every day from a caterer, which seems to be a widespread practice in parts of India. One day, he accidentally receives a lunch that was intended by one of the caterer’s employees (Nimrat Kaur, from Homeland season four) to go to her husband. The old guy loves the lunch and sends a complimentary note to the employee, who is a young woman married to a cold, dispassionate young man who never much like the lunch she made for him. She appreciates the complimentary note and begins to prepare the claims guy’s lunch every day, and each day she includes a note, and then he includes a note in the empty metal containers that are returned to her each day. Although they are both by nature formal (they are Indians, after all), they eventually make an emotional connection. The Rotten Tomato critics love the movie at 96%, and the audience is almost as favorable at 87%. I agree with the audience and give it three and a half stars out of four because this story of loneliness involves a couple of stars that you learn to care about.

 

December 12, 2014

Racially insensitive?

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 10:53 am
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This morning I woke up to an article in USA Today charging two Hollywood types with “racially insensitive emails about President Obama” that were hacked and then published by Buzzfeed.  According to the article, producer Pascal was planning to attend an Obama fundraiser, and she joked in an email exchange with fellow producer Rudin about asking Obama at the fundraiser whether he enjoyed a particular movie, and they exchanged suggestions for various black-themed movies – Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, Ride Along, and Think Like a Man.

The joking (some articles called is mocking) seems benign to me. Although it has some similarity to Fuzzy Zoeller’s infamous comment in 1997 about the prospect of Tiger Woods designating fried chicken as the main course for next year’s Masters’ Champion’s Dinner, there is a big difference between (a) associating a person with low-brow fare (the Washington Post recently apologized for jokingly connecting Julian Castro with fajitas) and (b) suggesting that a black president might be inclined to be interested in black-themed movies.

And it seems totally inaccurate to characterize this joking as racist, as the NY Daily News did. The NY Times probably got in right in calling the emails, “Embarrassing, racially tinged.”

Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete until we have heard from the so-called race hustlers. (As defined by Urban Dictionary, race hustler is “a term coined to describe those individuals of a particular race who project themselves into the media spotlight as spokespersons whenever there is an alleged racial incident which involves their race. The use of the word implies that these individuals exploit a racial situation to serve their own interests.” The Times concluded its article with the following:

  • Also on Thursday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, in a statement, condemned the exchange between Ms. Pascal and Mr. Rudin as “offensive, insulting” and took further aim at Ms. Pascal, saying her comments reflected a “troubling” lack of diversity at her studio and others.

Sounds like Pascal and Rudin can buy their peace with Sharpton by spending some money on affirmative action for African-Americans. Kind of reminds me of medieval Catholics and indulgences.

Sharpton’s full statement reads as follows:

The statements in the leaked emails by Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal to producer Scott Rudin are offensive, insulting and should be denounced in the harshest terms.

 What is most troubling about these statements is that they reflect a continued lack of diversity in positions of power in major Hollywood studios. The statements clearly show how comfortable major studio powers are with racial language and marginalization. Her apology is not enough there must be moves by her studio and others to respect the African American community and reflect that respect in their hiring and business practices.

She should meet with Black leaders immediately to deal with the gravity of her statements as well as the inequality of how they do business. I have asked Rev. KW Tulloss of National Action Network’s Los Angeles Chapter to convene an emergency meeting to weigh further actions in this area.

These emails nominate Amy Pascal to be considered by some of us in the same light that we concluded and moved on the ownership of Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers.”

-Reverend Al Sharpton, President, National Action Network

 

Oprah shares some wisdom

Filed under: Facebook,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 3:15 am
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I participated in two yoga practices this morning, and both yogis were preaching from the same book – The Book of Oprah. There is a short clip currently circulating on Facebook showing Oprah giving some guidance on life, and her message resonated so much with my two yogis that they wanted to share it with their classes. Oprah’s two big points:

  1. Every older person, when asked what advice they would give to their younger self, says in one form or another they would tell them to “relax, relax, it’s going to be OK.” Do older people really know this? I have given this same advice to my kids, but I thought I was being especially wise. Seems elderly wisdom is more widespread that I thought.
  2. What is the next right move? Instead of obsessing over past decisions that may have turned out badly, a person needs to accept what has already happened (it can’t be changed), and focus on what you have the ability to decide in the future.

 

After discussing the clip with one of my yogis, she suggested that I watch the entire interview on YouTube – “Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life, and Leadership at Stanford University.”

Although the interview is lengthy, I decided the nuggets above justified an extended viewing (plus, I’m retired so it’s not like this would interfere with more important things in my life). After watching the full interview, I gave the following feedback to my yogi:

  • You want me to watch the full interview? All 1:04:03? Actually, I did, and Oprah is truly a Renaissance woman. But how about those nerds from Stanford posing convoluted, multi-prong questions that stumped her (global warming and logical vs. emotional decision-making)! Who are they trying to impress? Although Oprah claims to be more of a conversationalist and less of a writer, most of the really juicy insights came in her canned 3-minute closing.

So, what did Oprah have to say for an hour about career, life, and leadership? Mainly, that everyone has a Supreme destiny or calling (not necessarily your job) and that we will eventually find that destiny/calling if we remain open to it and listen to our heart. Her calling is to help people find their calling by increasing their self-awareness.

Oprah talks a lot about consciousness and being grounded, about an inner voice and being centered. And, of course, spirituality. When Oprah interviews senior executives for a job with her company, they are often flummoxed when she asks them about their spirituality.

Oprah feels strongly that her external accomplishments are fueled by her internal peace – you can’t help others until you first take care of yourself. Every person’s objective should be to become the highest/truest expression of themselves as a human being. (I have read that formulation more than once before – e.g., “the best version of yourself.”)

Oprah uses the term, “life coach,” and I think that is a good description of her.

December 8, 2014

Yoga doesn’t care….

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 9:56 pm
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This morning, as I was sitting with a good friend at the back of the yoga studio waiting for practice to begin, I started talking about some of our classmates. Although the term “catty” may be associated with the fairer sex, I take a back seat to no one when it comes to being catty.  The targets of my cattiness today were people who seemed to be excessively proud of their appearance. I mentioned to my friend that back in high school we used to call these people “stuck up.”

My reference to life in high school reminded me of how much yoga practice resembles high school, one of the most egalitarian places in America. In high school, at least at my high school, you were judged mostly on your personality and your character (the way you treated other people). It didn’t matter how much money your parents had or whether you were a great intellect or possessed a strong work ethic or had some special skill (music, athletics).

After high school and college, however, things change. Socio-economic status becomes more pervasive and invasive. Relationships often involve either networking or deferring to those with higher socio-economic status.

But yoga is different. It harkens back to the egalitarian days of high school. Students dress mostly the same and people aren’t treated better just because they are more skillful with the various asanas. Your relationships with your classmates depend on your personality and character, not on whether you are “successful” in a socio-economic way.

Coincidentally, at today’s yoga practice, my yogi read a poem (from Elephant Journal) that relates exactly to what I was already thinking. The following are some excerpts:

  • Yoga isn’t about our lifestyle, our beliefs, our weight, our diet, our flexibility, how spiritual or enlightened we are—yoga is just about showing up and doing our dance on our mats.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you wear Lululemon or Spiritual Gangster.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you are vegetarian, if you eat meat or know what Kombucha is.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what kind of mat you have, brand new or eating away at itself.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what religion you believe in.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what color your skin is or what gender you choose to love.
  • Yoga doesn’t care how much money you have, what house you live in, what car you drive.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you fall over in Trikonasana.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you ever make it into head stand.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you smoke cigarettes and drink whisky.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what political party you vote for.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you are single or divorced.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you shop at whole foods.

Yoga is just happy you show up.

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