Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tell Nobody

A strength of French filmmaking is that it emphasizes nuance and allows protracted footage of facial expressions, so viewers may fully empathize with characters. The weakness of French filmmaking is that it emphasizes nuance and allows protracted footage of facial expressions as a means for further existential monotony. A vast majority are the latter, without drama. With the former, you usually get a compelling drama and well-constructed characters. With the latter, you get virtually no drama and lots of modern angst; it is what it means to be “European.”

The new French film “Tell Nobody” (Ne le dit personne) is decidedly not European. It is a text study in the former. It is a brilliant mystery-drama about a man whose wife is killed at a favorite pond soon after they had been lovingly enthralled in naked swimming and lovemaking – only for the man to discover eight years later that his wife may be alive after all. There ensues a complex study of personal courage and dizzy plot-twisting that is astounding and riveting as the protagonist (a sympathetic doctor) goes in search (a la recherche de la femme perdue) of his woman and the true assailants (he had been an initial suspect in the murder investigation). The film is steady paced and full of scintillating action scenes and terrific tete-a-tete intellectual combat. The acting is superb, and the subplots are woven into the main plot to add heft and mystery to an already weighty and mysterious plot.

We as an audience find ourselves surprised by what the formerly nice doctor will do to find his woman and unravel the mystery, all the while pursued by the authorities. This is “The Fugitive” without clich├ęs and the overwrought acting of Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones and without the simplistic plot – though I stil enjoy “The Fugitive.”

My only complaint about this film is that the clues we are given are not quite enough for us to unravel the mystery just before the film's denouement, but perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Really, I didn’t care. The ending made sense, and it was the kind of satisfying ending that made me want to eventually buy this movie and keep it in my short catalogue of classics.

(“Ne Le Dit Personne” is subtitled.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"We've been blessed" -- I've been bullshitted

I was talking with an acquaintance at the birthday party for a good friend's daughter yesterday. We talked about the bad economy. He said he got the equity out of his house just before the economy collapsed almost a year ago, so he and his family had enough money to ride out the storm. "Good job," I said. "Yeah, we've been blessed," he said with serious doe eyes that started to tear up.

"Sounds like you did some good planning," I said, trying to be subtle.
"Yeah, we were fortunate," he said, blowing smoke from his cigarette.

I finished my cigarette he'd offered me, stamped it out and said, "Well, I'll go back inside and see what my daughter is doing on the trampoline."

Occasionally, in such conversations, I'll push the envelope and ask, "What do you mean by 'blessed'"? But such questions usually elicit a response of befuddlement -- or anger, if they know I'm an objective atheist and know where I'm going with the conversation.

Whenever I hear "blessed" or "gifted" or "fortunate" or "grace," I shudder to think of what era we still find ourselves in modern life. If we survive as a human race, our ancestors will look back on our era and lump it in with the early mystics of 3,000 years ago and all those in between. Our era will be known as the Age of Mysticism, sprinkled with a dose of humanism but still horribly ancient and primitive.

The man above had made himself completely unaware of the smirking implications of his statement: That there is somehow a god, that that god is somehow looking out for him but not others (who are not "blessed" in our trying times), that he and his family somehow warrant that extra measure of fondness and care from his fictional god. The intellectual and moral hubris is astounding.

How on Earth (literally) can the rest of us expect such a mercilessly mystical nightmare of a being to EVER understand what it means to be responsible for one's own life and thoughts, meticulously examining every aspect of the nature of humans and the universe, the nature of rationality, the nature of ethics, and the nature of politics to arrive at a definition of reason and virtue and liberty -- and then demand to live by those definitions to achieve happiness and to leave others alone to pursue their own happiness?

The answer, of course, is it's virtually impossible once such men and women have surrendered their own rational hegemony for a wish, for a mystical construct. Few, a very few, will actually re-evaluate all of the above and be honest.

The one bright light in this modern mess we find ourselves in is Ayn Rand's philosophy of egoism and rationality -- and the thousands of us who have determined to be honest, as well as the Ayn Rand Institute and other such organizations whose lifeblood is our donations to help reach those whose minds truly yearn to understand and live freely under the guiding hand of rationality. One of ARI's primary projects is to catch young minds before they have an almost inextricable inertia toward subjectivism -- the philosophy of believing what one wishes, according to feelings and preconceived notions and irrational ideologies, rather than the facts of reality.

To see thousands more each year agreeing with Rand and becoming part of a formidable force of intellect and integrity is heartening -- quite heartening. Eventually, if we have enough time, we'll defeat our "blessed" foes and inaugurate an era that our distant ancestors will proudly call The Age of Reason.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Conversation with dental hygienist

Dental hygienist: … So how’s it going with your little girl? Are you still home-schooling her?
David: Yep. Actually it’s unschooling. But yeah, it’s great.
DH: Oh yeah, “unschooling.” So is she learning things.
David: Seems to be.
DH (incredulous): You don’t know for sure?
David: She knows how to speak English.
DH: All children know how to do that, don’t they?
David: Yes, without being schooled.
DH: Yeah, but don’t you think it’s different for, um, higher stuff, like reading and math and things like that?
David: No.
DH: You don’t think children need to be taught how to learn complex subjects.
David: Math and reading are considerably less complicated subjects than learning an entire language. If you mean particle physics? Perhaps but probably not. Livy already can do rudimentary addition. Once she get subtraction and division and multiplication, she’s good to go as an adult.
DH: But do you teach her anything in any kind of standard format?
David: No.
DH: So what else does she know besides English and addition?
David: She knows how to run her own life.
DH (snickering): Children don’t know how to run their own lives.
David: That’s what I hear.
DH: I know you disagree.
David: If parents back off and let their children bounce happily through the universe looking for that connection that gives their lives meaning, then the parent can grab a cigarette or a martini and enjoy the experience.
DH: Does your child ask lots of questions?
David: She asked me the other day where squirrels come from.
DH: What did you tell her?
David. Told her that squirrels came from even smaller animals a very long time ago.
DH: What do you mean?
David: I told Livy about evolution and we got into a complex and invigorating 30-minute discussion about how simpler life forms can become immensely more complex through the evolutionary process and how humans themselves evolved from monkeys and how we all share a large portion of similar genetic makeup, which led to a discussion about genes and unseen things.
DH: Oh, we don’t believe in that.
David: Excuse me.
DH: I would never say that to my children.
David (forgetting his gatekeeper): You don’t believe in evolution?!
DH (shaking head): No, but we believe that all beliefs should be taught.
David: But you’re a dental hygienist!!
DH (stopping teeth cleaning to understand gist of comment): What’s that got to do with it?
David: Can you grab anyone at random off the street and have them come in here and clean my teeth as amazingly as you do?
DH: Of course not.
David: Why not?
DH: Because I went to school for this. I …
David: What did you learn at school?
DH: Lot of things. What’s your point?
David: What kind of things? How come somebody couldn’t just stroll in here and make me all shiny?
DH: Gum disease and recession, enamel, bacteria, heart conditions, scraping, analyzing x-rays, lots of stuff.
David: You mean you learned a lot of facts about hygiene and cleaning and science stuff?
DH: Yeah, a lot!
David: Evolution is about facts – facts relating to reality. Archeology, anthropology, genetics, everything. Have you looked at the facts?
DH: We’re Christians.
David: What’s that got to do with it? You didn’t let that get in the way of learning facts about dental hygiene.
DH (laughing): David, you’re something else.
David: I’m a dental hygienist.
DH: You are?! You never told me.
David: I’ve just decided I’m a dental hygienist. If I wish it to be true and don’t wish to look at facts, well, then I can be anything I like and believe anything I like. So, I’m a dental hygienist.
DH: Well, I don’t think your patients will be too happy with you.
David: Sure they will. I’ll just tell them that their teeth are clean and that they should just believe it’s true and have faith that it is so and don’t worry themselves over facts.
DH (shaking her head and smiling): David, shut up and let me clean your teeth.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Solzhenistsyn was no hero after all

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. He was a powerful voice for the overthrow of the Soviet system of murder and communism and an advocate of freedom. Right?

Yes and no. His written works did help bring about the downfall of the Soviets, but he was, in fact, infatuated with communism and despised capitalistic freedom for allegedly making westerners "soft" and being favorable to "tycoons." He was infatuated with socialism and failed, remarkably, to see the connection between statist control and murder, economic suffocation and battered liberty. He, like his socialist apologists, believed the Soviet system of socialism was merely "imperfect" and taken over by tyrants and that that was the reason for its failure.

I write all of this with much displeasure since his "Gulag Archipelago" informed me and millions of others of the utter monstrosities performed behind the dark Soviet veil. With great eloquence, he told us all of the Stalnist pogroms of farmers, Jews, "undesirables" and others.

But, alas, Solzhenitsyn ended up being the typical intellectual with a mind-body dichotomy, refusing to see the necessity for the body to be free so that the mind remains free. He was the kind of intellectual (actually they're all this way) who enjoys a "good fight," whose raison d'etre is an eternal battle against bad government (insisting upon governmenet foils for life's meaning) instead of the honest and energetic exertion to earn one's living in a free and competitive environment. He, like his French and other supercilious European counterparts, finds in the capitalistic system a degradation of the human condition, rather than what it really is: the ecstacy of hegemony and the wondrous thrill of running one's own life and enjoying the bounties as a result. His brand of "utopia" is similar to religious "heaven": a place wherein one no longer has to work to survive, missing the point that work IS one's raison d'etre. The irony is obvious: a man whose whole being is built upon fighting but disdains capitalistic "fighting" to survive and prosper.

In this light, we see Solzhenitsyn's "courage" as simply a man who saw obvious wrong and ostensively challenged it, but did not have the courage to face the fundamental reason for the wrong. He, unfortunately, died ignorant and is now only a symbol of ignorance, rather than true courage. He is a sidebar to history and no hero to liberty.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Unschoolers have attitude

Check out this blog post by a 14-year-old unschooler who decided to try out public school. It's an insightful and colorful post and gives some indication of what my daughter, Livy, will be like in 9 years: attitude, intelligence, insight.

BTW, "unschooling" is a means of raising children without formal schooling or direction on their learning and lifestyle. The parents ensure that the learning materials relevant to the child's values and direction are always (or as often as possible) provided. This kind of "schooling" allows the child's volition to remain intact.

Friday, August 01, 2008

New letter in Wall Street Journal

(Newest letter of mine in Wall Street Journal, printed on July 30, 2008)

Experience Versus Judgment Concerning Foreign Policy

Richard Allen's "Obama's Experience Doesn't Match Up" (op-ed, July 24) on foreign policy experience is right, but for the wrong reasons. Good foreign policy is not about experience, it is about principles. More specifically, who best defends American liberty? John McCain has better liberty principles than Barack Obama, but both are far from a Ronald Reagan, who had little foreign policy experience before taking office. He proved that principles are the primary mover of good foreign policy. Mr. Allen touches on this but doesn't get to the point of President Reagan's strength: his love of American liberty and his almost unshakeable dedication to protecting and nurturing it.

Did his principles come before or after his voracious reading? Many leaders have read as much as Mr. Reagan did but they did not have his discerning mind or visceral understanding of what liberty is. He understood that sometimes it is necessary to preserve liberty through violence or the explicit threat of violence against belligerent foes.

David Elmore Roswell, Ga

A boy and his grand volition (and piano)

Steve sent out a movie suggestion last week for “Vitus.” I rented it from NetFlix and watched it today. It is an absolutely amazing movie. It is both loving and lovely. It is about a boy who follows his own volition, against his parents’ wishes for him (a child prodigy) to be a concert pianist. The boy, Vitus, devises an ingenious means for circumventing his parents. He is stubborn, rational and sensitive. His soulmate is his grandfather, who loves the boy dearly and never suggests that the boy do anything other than the boy wishes, while the grandfather himself pursues his own interests with great and infectious enjoyment. The boy wishes to do many things, but on his time schedule.

The movie has so many astounding plot twists that are glorious and tear-jerking in the perfect way, and it has moments of uproarious candor between Vitus and adults. The ending is astonishingly perfect as well. I won’t give anything away in recounting plot or characters, so as not to disappoint or mitigate the experience. I’ll just say that the first 20 minutes are a bit slow as it sets up for what is to come, but after that, it is celestial. What may be the most amazing thing about this movie is that it is not in the least preachy. It is breezy and mellifluous.

It is a five-star movie, in my book. Rent this movie and be entertained and inspired. And let me know what you think, please.

Thank you very much, Steve, for this recommendation.

P.S. If you need an uplifting, yet complex, movie as an antidote to the execrable Batman, this is it.