I added the 1952 film, Umberto D, to my Youtube TV watch list months ago, and finally watched it last weekend, commercial-free thanks to TCM. The title character was a retired public servant trying to maintain a precarious life for himself and his little dog, Flike, as the lire in his fixed pension were rapidly devaluing. Afterwards I tweeted, “Boy, things haven’t changed much.”
The film is in Italian with subtitles, and I didn’t realize that neorealist director Vittorio de Sica regularly cast non-actors in all the roles until reading reviews. Reportedly de Sica searched for months to find just the right man to play the lead.
A few days later, TCM was showing 1973’s Harry and Tonto, which I had seen years ago. But this time, the opening scenes of an old man living with and talking to his cat, Tonto, couldn’t help but remind me of my own father who lived with and talked to his white cat, Mu. The cat lived a very long life, but passed away several years ago. My Dad followed him a year or so later.
Mazursky and Greenfeld wrote a fantastically touching road movie, but even though he was evicted from his apartment, retired teacher and widower Harry was wealthy and successful compared to Umberto. Even though 1973 was the beginning of a period of stagflation, Harry (Art Carney) had benefited enough from the post-FDR period of prosperity that he could travel across the country, buy a used car and eventually loan one thousand dollars to his son struggling in LA.
Yet, if they made a similar film today, I suspect it would play more like de Sica’s. Some old man, or woman, would have lost everything in the Great Recession, and would be fighting a losing battle against opioids and homelessness.
After signing on to HBO Now to get the disappointing last season of Game of Thrones I firmly intended to drop the service. Really. But then they advertised the new His Dark Materials series from studios in Great Britain. I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy almost twenty years ago after catching a review of his middle novel, The Subtle Knife. Like most people I was underwhelmed by plotting failures in the third novel, The Amber Spyglass, but overall Pullman created a fascinating world. The major motion picture version was really OK, but ended strangely and didn’t do well enough in theatres to justify a sequel. The new series is keeping my interest. As Lyra Belacqua, Dafne Keen is a can-do heroine, along the lines of Emma Watson, Maisie Williams and Bella Ramsey. Ruth Wilson is delightful as a can-do villain. I’m not sure if Lin-Manuel Miranda was the best choice to play an alt-universe Texan, but he’s not pissing me off. The Gyptians are all great. I particularly like how race doesn’t seem to matter in this series. Heroes and villains come in all skin tones. But the daemons steal every scene.
Since I have HBO Now, I’ve been watching some of the other offerings. I already knew that Westworld was awfully violent. The Watchmen turned out to be almost as violent. A friend and I took in the first two episodes, but despite the dramatization of the Tulsa Massacre, I haven’t felt like watching any more. My youngest is always after me to watch The Walking Dead, which is a fairly good show except for all the people getting stabbed or shot or clubbed in the head. I can only watch so much of that gratuitous violence. Even though it is supposed to be zombies or robots getting killed, it bothers me.
I also watched two episodes of Divorce, which was not too bad, and one of Euphoria, which was disturbing because it might be accurate. I tried watching Succession, which is well-liked on twitter, but after the first episode, I didn’t like anybody. I also tried watching Mrs Fletcher, also a fav on twitter. I might show Mrs F to my wife and see if she wants to keep watching.
I raced through the season of the Japanese series, Miss Sherlock. I always appreciate a fresh version of the Holmes stories, and besides, Elementary is over, and Sherlock is on semi-permanent hiatus. Yūko Takeuchi plays Sara Shelly Futaba, whom the police refer to as Sherlock. Does that mean the Conan Doyle stories exist in this universe, or does it leave the door open for Benedict Cumberbatch to drop by? Dunno. Futaba-san is joined by Shihori Kanjiya playing Dr Wato Tachibana, recently returned from volunteer medical duty in Syria. So we have Sherlock and Dr Wato-san, and characters roughly equivalent to Mrs Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, and Mycroft Holmes. Takeuchi’s Sherlock is more brusque and socially inept than most Western versions, and that means something in Japan. Her playing a stand up bass instead of a violin is a nice touch, but I do wish they would find some less familiar pieces than The Passing of Time for her to play. I did guess a major plot twist. Can’t wait for the second season.
I then watched Teenage Psychic, which has a bit of a misleading title. Filmed in Taiwan, the heroine, Xie Yazhen, is actually a Temple Maiden: a medium who can communicate with the dead. When she’s not earning her keep consoling bereaved and troubled folk at the Taoist temple she is, however, a typically troubled 16 year old high school girl confounded by social expectations and one boy in particular. Played by Kuo Shuyao, she appears very homespun Chinese in contrast to some of the more Western-looking popular girls.
Finally, as a guilty pleasure, I’ve been watching a series that ran from 2011-2014 called Hung. Like Breaking Bad, Hung features an antihero high school teacher fallen on hard times. Thomas Jane as Ray is a former star athlete, current coach and history teacher, but his wife has left him, his house was damaged in a fire, and he lives in a Detroit long hollowed-out by neoliberal politics. Ray’s worries include paying support to his ex-wife, played by Anne Heche, and staying in the lives of his unhappy teenaged son and daughter (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee).
Instead of selling drugs, he decides to sell his well-endowed body, and with the help of two odd women, lines up wealthy clients willing to pay him for sex. If the genders were reversed, this would be entirely believable, but I take it in as a dark comedy.
Ray happens to be an escort with a heart of gold. An Atlantic review praised the show as featuring men who were competent instead of idiots, but I wouldn’t go that far. These men have a lot of blind spots, but they usually want the right things, while many of the women are batshit crazy, particularly his unofficial pimp, Lenore, played by Rebecca Creskoff. His official pimp, Tonya, played by Jane Adams, is a mess, but generally means well. Lenore calls her, “Tea Brain,” and muscles in on her business relationship with Ray at every opportunity.
I think my next attempt will be Catherine the Great, who according to Helen Mirren, was savaged as sexually-obsessed by political rivals like Frederick of Prussia, but who was in fact simply a competent female ruler with a few lovers.
I’ve been watching tennis for a long time. The US Open has come down to two compelling finals. In one, Serena Williams faces Bianca Andreescu. By winning, Serena could tie Margaret Smith Court’s record of 24 wins in majors. Eleven of Court’s titles were Australian Opens during an age when not all the players chose to take the long flight down under – but she did win them. But Court’s homophobic religious views have become extremely unpopular inside and outside the locker room, so a lot of tennis people want Serena to consign her to the history books.
Andreescu, though, is a solid player. Just a teenager, she moves well, hits hard off both sides, and competes well, having mowed down every top ten player she’s faced in the last several months. She’ll be tough to beat.
On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal seeks to move to only one win behind Roger Federer’s twenty major titles, with the realistic prospect of winning another Roland Garros next year. After a tired-looking loss to Grigor Dimitrov, Federer’s chances of extending his lead seem about as compelling as his spaghetti commercials. Opposing finalist Daniil Medvedev is fast, powerful and a strong competitor, but has a history of behaving poorly on court, so the wealthy crowd will likely be rooting for Rafa.
Who will win? One strategy is to minimize errors, another is to go for winners, but tennis seems to come down to a balance of consistency and aggression. You can’t just get the ball back in play, but you also can’t give the opponent lots of free points by going for winners on every shot. And, you have to deal with the increasingly intense summer heat.
A few days ago, CNN hosted a Climate Crisis Town Hall for all the major Democratic presidential candidates except Tulsi Gabbard, who is on military duty. Climate activists wanted there to be a climate change-themed debate, but the always timid Democratic National Committee wouldn’t allow it. So instead – over seven hours – each candidate was interviewed in a town hall format by CNN anchors and concerned citizens with prepared questions. In past town halls, these “ordinary citizens” have turned out to have industry connections or concealed agendas, but this batch seemed mostly on point. In fact one flummoxed Joe Biden by asking about him attending a fossil fuel-sponsored event directly after the Town Hall. I’m still amazed CNN let that happen.
Who won the Town Hall? Well, as in the debates, the tone was essentially set by the progressives. Naomi Klein considered it a victory to simply have the words Climate Crisis in large red letters on television. With category 3 Superstorm Sandy shocking NorthEast elites and category 5 hurricanes like Matthew, Irma, Maria, Michael and now Dorian becoming yearly events, even conservative people are realizing that severe weather events are occurring much more frequently than ever before.
How do you win a town hall? Most of the candidates tried to minimize errors, reciting the green talking points they learned from Governor Jay Inslee, who recently ended his candidacy. Some candidates assured us we could still eat hamburgers and use plastic straws – business as usual – while they pursued some incarnation of a Green New Deal.
Several candidates pledged to eliminate waste, or increase efficiency in this or that, which sounds good on the surface. But there will always be a certain level of inefficiency in human endeavors. After hearing decade upon decade of such pledges, I now take them as a veiled promise to not structurally change the status quo.
“Whether they need it or not, government always spends the money it is allotted,” is a standard issue talking point, one I’ve heard since I worked a summer job for county government. Accordingly, Julian Castro recounted an anecdote about Air Force pilots dumping their fuel in the ocean to maintain a yearly allotment of fuel.
Only Bernie Sanders actually went for his shots. Unfortunately for his candidacy, Sanders is proposing to revamp several of our major industries – government/lobbyists, banking, military, pharmaceuticals, insurance, automobiles, prisons – and while he assures us that the workers in those industries are not his enemies, management of those industries will certainly see Sanders as their enemy, as does management of the major media. It remains to be seen whether the Sanders plain-spoken populist agenda constitutes an error or a winner.
While on vacation a few weeks ago, I used the vacation club’s weight machine and free weights. I tried a variety of exercises, and found that using the cables seemed most suitable for training swimming muscles. (SwimmingWorld agrees.) Then last weekend I watered plants for a friend, and seeing his powerblock sets and barbells made me think again about adding to my one kettlebell.
I stopped by Dick’s to look at free weights, but after a while noticed the elastic resistance bands. These are a lot more portable than any sort of weight set, are said to be less likely to cause injury and are comparatively inexpensive. So I got two handles and a red 50 lb tube, all by Fitness Gear. I’ll go back for the door attachment next weekend. Not sure if it is a good idea to install a wall attachment in my apartment.
Bob and Brad, the most famous physical therapists on the internet (in their opinion, of course), have several youtubes on resistance training. I watched the one on training at home or while traveling. So I have added some of their resistance routines between the stretching and the kettlebell core training that I do while watching old episodes of Babylon 5 on Comet TV.
Bicep Curls (standing on band).
Crossover Curls (standing on band).
Tricep Curls (standing on band).
Push one leg sideways (standing on band).
Squats (standing on band).
Lunge Down (one foot on band).
Stretch Arm Sideways (holding band tight to elbow).
Stretch Arms Open (holding band short).
Behind Head Triceps Pull (holding band short).
One of my work friends used to rave about Bab5 when it was first broadcast, but my kids had control of the TV back then, so I had to do without. Thanks to Youtube TV, and Comet, I have watched the first four seasons in order, on my own schedule. I’ve read opinions that I shouldn’t watch Season 5, but I will.
It was initially hard to watch Capt Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) give all his rah-rah speeches without recalling Capt Sherrypie of Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, a very low budget Finnish parody of both Trek and Bab5 universes. But eventually I forgot about both that and his turn as the government spy Scarecrow. Now I wonder if I should cosplay as Londo Mollari. Peter Jurasik plays the politically-absorbed ambassador so consistently over-the-top it is hard not to like him.
I posted a few months ago about being pleased to have lost fifty pounds.
Well now I have lost seventy pounds, and have maintained it for about a month. My diet is about the same, with only two intentional changes.
First, I am no longer eating fruit with lunch. I’m just not as hungry for sweets midday.
Second, I am eating more protein after exercising. I am eating larger portions of meat at dinner after swim practice, and either a vanilla yogurt with fruit, or some hard-boiled eggs. For weekend breakfast after running or biking, I am eating more eggs in my omelets, and adding more meat and cheese.
Why? Because my wife always worries about me, and she was concerned that I was losing weight too fast, or as she put it, “you’re just melting away.” My stepson theorized that by doing mostly aerobic instead of strength training, my body may have been burning away muscle mass. I was initially not concerned because I have been lighter than my current weight as an adult. I was only training about an hour and a half each day, and I felt that there must be an anaerobic component to swimming, cycling and running. But, I’ve learned the hard way that I should listen to my stepson, and I am at the age when men often begin to lose significant muscle mass. I also noticed that while I have become much smoother in the water over these last few months, I haven’t yet regained that much speed. And, there were little flaps of skin dangling from my upper arms – whether from losing fat or muscle, I don’t know.
So I did some research and found that the body is constantly burning mostly fat but also constantly breaking down lean tissue, like muscle, tendons, ligaments, etc. The body uses what you eat to replace the fat and lean tissue. The body needs enough calories to replace everything, or you lose weight. The body also needs the right types of foods to replace what it breaks down, or you lose what gets broken down. In particular immediately after exercise, the body will need protein to rebuild muscles. Hence the added protein in my diet after workouts.
I also decided to address my stepson’s concerns with specific strength training. The apartment complex already has a full set of barbells, and a simple lifting machine, but for my pre-practice warmup, I bought a kettlebell. I felt that it would be best to work on my core strength first.
There are any number of youtube videos with specific kettlebell exercises, but that big swing routine felt a bit scary. So I first tried a very safe looking basic routine, Kettlebells 101: How to Get Started + Beginner Kettlebell Workout with Brittany van Schravendijk. I went with her weight recommendation and bought a 16 kilogram Ethos kettlebell.
-Dead Lift (from between heels).
-Two Arm Clean (to neck height).
-Goblet Squat (hold clean during squat).
-Overhead Press (clean to over head).
-Halo (circle head each direction).
Following Brittany’s most basic advice, I’ve also concentrated on keeping my back flat while sitting at work and while riding my bike. That has helped to relieve some lower back pain.
Later I found a more advanced routine, Enter The Kettlebell, by a proud-to-be-Russian fellow named Pavel Tsatsouline.
-Two Hand Swing.
-One Arm Clean.
-Lower the Kettlebell.
Tsatsouline’s workout is a lot more aggressive, so I have something to work towards.
Men marry a body, women marry a lifestyle.
I ran across the above statement in the comments section of a youtube video, probably the one called How to Fix a Broken Heart. After citing A Tale of Two Brains in a previous article, I had watched the full, five-part Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, and of course if you watch anything on youtube they will lead you to more of the same. So I watched a lot of TEDx talks, the best of which was, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person by Alain de Botton.
Again, Laugh Your Way was very amusing, and probably helps more than it hurts. But Mark Gungor is a minister, and in religious fashion he asserted that access to sexual relations should be reserved until after marriage. Why? Because he believes sex is a sort of bargaining chip that women should hold to induce men to commit to marriage. I think a situation where one person only “performs” sex to get marriage demeans both parties.
The most interesting TEDx talk was Maria Røsok’s The Unknown Greatness of the Clitoris, which I would recommend for anyone who either has one, or who wants to be intimate with someone that has one. Spoiler: there’s a lot more to it than that little button-sized glans most old textbooks labeled as clitoris.
Botton is a philosopher and essayist, born in Switzerland, but raised in Britain. Having attended Harrow, Cambridge and Harvard, he is extremely well-read, but uses a disarmingly dry wit to bring things back to earth. Botton writes on a wide range of topics, and even hosted a three-part television series called The Perfect Home, in which he decries the English developers’ penchant for building safe neo-Georgian and neo-Tudor tract houses. Here in America, you could probably substitute neo-Colonial, and perhaps neo-Spanish Colonial in the West.
One of Botton’s premises was that when we seek a love partner, we are unconsciously looking for the familiar. Over the years a lot of people (often girlfriends) have given me pearls of wisdom from magazines, like, ‘men secretly want to marry someone like their mothers,’ or ‘women want to marry someone like their fathers,’ and one girl swore that ‘both men and women want to marry someone just like their mothers.’ According to Botton, as infants and children we become accustomed to certain behaviors as we receive love from our parents, and are attracted to familiar behaviors in a potential mate. That can be very sad, of course, if someone had a dysfunctional childhood, and seeks to find someone just as violent or perverted as dear old Mater or Pater.
But usually these accompanying behaviors are a lot more innocuous. So if your mom or dad was demonstrative, you may be attracted to demonstrative people rather than reserved types. If your mom or dad delivered love with humor, you might look for funny partners. My parents were very smart, and Mom could tell great stories. I was an introvert, and Mom always felt compelled to jolly me out of a bad mood. I know that I was initially attracted to bright, sunny and cheerful women that could do most of the talking. However as I adapted to become less introverted, I would say that I became much less reliant on later mates to cheer me up. Now I’m often the one that makes my wife laugh, though she certainly has her moments.
Botton also believes that the overarching theme of the romantic age – finding our one, true soul-mate – has been good for quite a few industries, but tough on individuals. He believes that instead of searching for the one and only, we should be searching for someone who is good enough. My wife and I had a lot of fun with this concept one morning. I asked her if she felt she had married the Wrong Person, and she replied, ‘No, I found you and you’re Good Enough.’ To which I replied, ‘Honey, you’ve just made me the happiest-enough man in the world!’
Regarding the title, I have found articles that support the idea that men marry primarily for the person while women marry for the lifestyle and children that go along with marriage. I’ve never been one to believe we are from Mars and Venus, though. Although men and women are different, I think both genders hope for a certain life to go along with their partner. I do think that with certain individuals the potential lifestyle, or perhaps the physique, will drive the romantic attachment, though.
For a recent article in The Real News, interviewer Taya Graham starts off, “We all know men like to pay for sex.” Seriously?
I’d say that a far more acceptable generalization would be, “We all know men like sex, and some are even willing to pay for it.” But that is still a generalization, because while some of us may care very deeply about the exploitation involved, others simply want at least some bit of romance in their hookups. Some really believe it is sinful, or at least a bad idea. And others are simply too poor or too cheap or too afraid of getting caught.
I forget when I first learned – probably from TV – that some women traded sex for money, but I suspect I first thought more deeply about prostitution while reading The Catcher in the Rye, through the characters of a pimp, the elevator operator Maurice, and a young hooker calling herself Sunny. As I look back, it was quite an accomplishment for the reclusive JD Salinger to have permanently soured a sexually curious young high schooler on the idea that there was any glamour in paying for intercourse.
After my freshman year of college, working for the county, two of us summer interns were surveying the police offices, and saw a woman handcuffed to a chair, awaiting her turn before a magistrate. She could have been there for any reason, but somehow from her dress and demeanor we had the idea that she was a prostitute. My coworker couldn’t stop staring at her until she scared the bejesus out of him by flashing a big, toothy smile.
A year later, during another summer job for the Corps of Engineers, I first heard prostitution – along with drug abuse – justified as a victimless crime. My fellow intern Alan was just as young and callow as I was, but he seemed confident that it was simply a blameless business transaction.
The following year, at another summer Corps job in Southern VA, I was at a crowded bar with three fellow college interns, when a good old boy offered to introduce us to some whores. “If you want,” he said. “I don’t give a shit.” We all laughed a lot, and I thought, “Uh, no,” but one of my comrades wanted to know more. “Are they pretty?” he asked. Now the GOB had a thick local accent, so we thought he replied that they were fat, but when my friend said, “We don’t want fat!” he clarified, “No not fat, fair! They’re fair.” Fair. What an elastic term. We laughed some more and let the subject drop.
In the Real News article, Kate D’Adamo takes the mainstream liberal viewpoint that prostitutes, now called sex workers, are primarily just workers, and should enjoy the protections of society. She admits that trafficking is bad, but believes that the decriminalization of prostitution in New Zealand has resulted in the, “healthiest sex industry in the entire world,” with low rates of violence and sexually-transmitted disease. The International Union of Sex Workers asserts that sex work is an empowered choice.
The mainstream conservative viewpoint is that prostitution is a sin, but a lot of them are sinners. In practice, when a prominent conservative is caught soliciting, he must claim to be truly sorry, return to the arms of family and religion, and hope that the prostitute mysteriously hangs herself, all of which happened with former Senator, and now lobbyist, David Vitter. That was before serial sex consumer Donald Trump was president, of course. More recently Robert Kraft simply relied on his lawyers to have the video evidence suppressed. His massage parlor madam was not so lucky.
A third viewpoint is the so-called Swedish or Nordic model, in which the customers and pimps are vigorously prosecuted while the sex workers are referred for counseling and job training. This viewpoint considers prostitution a form of male violence. As reported in The Guardian:
A statement signed by 177 verified sex trafficking survivors from Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU) suggests that: “Without the buyers of commercial sex, sex trafficking would not exist. If we start penalising and stigmatising the buyers, we could end sex trafficking in our lifetime … prostitution is not a victimless crime; it is a brutal form of sexual violence.”
A few mornings ago, I turned on my cell phone to find two similar text messages, supposedly from young girls (21 and 23) who supposedly live near me and supposedly want to find older sexual partners. Seriously?