The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — April 2010


Practicing kinhin
In an icy mountain stream
To forget one’s feet.

April 28, 2010   Comments Off on 266


Agent Zigzag is the story of an English spy, a double agent, whom the Nazis recruited from a Paris prison and sent to England on a mission to blow up an aircraft factory. They embraced him on his return (the destruction of the factory had been faked) because they lived in a world of their own creation and believed they were smarter than everyone else. Of course, the Nazis did not know, and could not imagine, that Enigma had been broken and every message they sent and received was decoded and read by the English.

Although originally a thief, Zigzag hated what he saw in France, Norway, and Germany, rightly understanding that life under Nazi rule was oppressive for almost everyone except the German elite and their collaborators. Most everyone lived in poverty and fear if they were lucky enough to avoid execution. The Norwegians, he noticed, in particular, resisted. They treated their occupiers with contempt and refused to sit next to them on buses and trains, always serving them last in restaurants, and never giving them the least sign of respect. They formed a stern resistance, helping Jews to escape to neutral Sweden, and destroying German installations, including the famous heavy water plant, making it impossible for the Nazis to develop nuclear weapons. Of course, not every Norwegian was like this, but many were.

Noam Chomsky recently said that he sees parallels between the democracy of the late Weimar Republic and our own. Right wing radicals and their methods frighten him. Then, as now, the citizens had a contempt for the political system and desired a leader who would transform the country into a simpler, more “moral” society. We’ve been lucky so far, Chomsky says, because the leaders who have been put forth (Bush, Cheney, and the like) are so easy to see through. No one can really follow them to the extent that the Germans followed Hitler.

Of course, it is Zigzag’s courage (and that of the Norwegians) that interests me. How do you find that extra element of strength that enables you to maintain your dignity and fight against oppression? Why do some choose to fight and others passively follow? Often, in this life, we are required to find greater reserves of strength when we are least equipped to do so. Certainly, the English did this. Will we be able to find this strength when the time comes?

April 28, 2010   Comments Off on Zigzag

Oh My Golly, Josie

Not such a great weekend for Americans in the Premiership. Josie Altidore, the Hull City forward, head-butted an opponent with the intention to injure, and Jonathan Spector, the West Ham back, headed in an own goal to open the scoring for his opponents. Both Hull City and West Ham are fighting relegation, so the mistakes by the Americans could not have come at worse moments. Of course, timing is everything. Luckily for Spector, his team came from behind to win the game. Altidore was not so fortunate. His rash act will be remembered for a long time.

As one who is capable of such acts of stupidity myself (though I don’t go around head-butting people), I have sympathy for Altidore, who has transformed himself this year into a player of quality. Hopefully, he will learn from what happened yesterday and realize that you can lose everything you’ve worked for in one moment of idiocy.

April 25, 2010   Comments Off on Oh My Golly, Josie


Our resident tom
Knows every move I make
Just before I do.

April 23, 2010   Comments Off on 265

Come Again? Who’s Fake?

The Los Angeles Times had the weirdest interview with a guy (John Kelly) who impersonates Joni Mitchell and Joni herself, in which she stated that Bob Dylan is an absolute fake—fake name, voice, lyrics, and everything else. It made me laugh. What was so funny was that the female impersonator looked better than Joni herself. I happened to see his picture before I read the article and thought, wow, Joni is looking good these days.

April 23, 2010   Comments Off on Come Again? Who’s Fake?

What I Wished For

I like the fact that there’s nothing in it
A lot
That there never will be anything
That the end comes
And no one cares whether I lived or died
Not one single person
Not even me
For it is how I planned it
What I wished for
From the moment I first drew breath
The end that is no end

April 22, 2010   Comments Off on What I Wished For

Every Man Dies Alone

Earlier this week I went to St. Anthony Village to buy a case of Two Hearted—the hoppiest ale on earth, way, way past an IPA—from Jeff at the Little Wine Shoppe, whom I like for his sober man’s way of dealing with me and reality in general. He was late, of course, so I went next door to Micawber’s Books and chatted up one of the owners, a graduate of St. John’s who had the courage to buy the place out of college. It was either that or get a regular job. He was an English major, so I asked his advice about good novels, and he pointed me in the direction of Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone (Jeder stirbt für sich allein), and told me part of Fallada’s story. He also said that Charlie Rose had done a piece on him and that I should check out the video on his website. When I got home I did, and found a fifteen minute segment that included Fallada’s son, a critic, and the book’s publisher. It was the son, of course, who was the most interesting, a very German man with a divided hank of hair who spoke English as if it were being extracted from him. An emotional, caring man who bore his father’s genes and shared part of his pain. Fallada, you see, was somewhat psychotic and a morphine addict. The idea for the novel came from a Nazi file on an ordinary German couple who started a card-writing campaign as a protest against the insanity of the Hitler years. They, of course, were caught and beheaded. Fallada wrote their story in a “white heat” in 24 days, and then died a few months later. The novel has only recently been translated and published in English. I’m reading it now and will tell you what I find in another post. Of course, no one died more alone than Hans Fallada himself.

April 21, 2010   2 Comments

A Beautiful Mind

One of my favorite books of all time is A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar’s wonderfully detailed biography of the mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. What I like so much is that this brilliant man—whose ideas in game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations provided profound insights into the forces that govern chance and events inside complex systems—also went totally bonkers, and, later still, regained his sanity through sheer dint of will. He said that the thoughts and insights that led to his brilliant theories were the same as those that enticed him into schizophrenia. He couldn’t distinguish between the two and willing went into the pit of madness. Most of us, because we don’t trust the constructs of our minds as much as Nash, would have stopped far short of blinding paranoid schizophrenia (assuming, of course, that we had some control over our illnesses). We would have compared our thoughts and actions with the world around us, balancing them against the reactions of those we loved, and ceased to act in an insane way. Nash, of course, did not, because he wholly trusted his mind.

Interesting, isn’t it, that our strengths often contain our mortal weaknesses?

April 20, 2010   Comments Off on A Beautiful Mind

Beware of Hotbar!

The company that fixed my Windows portable after my hard drive died (too many corrupted clusters to function any longer) restored the image from the old drive onto the new one they installed. They did this so that I wouldn’t lose data. The problem was that it left XP functioning in a strange state, and I had to either reinstall XP or buy and install Windows 7. Since my Sony portable does not have a graphics card, has limited horsepower, and only a gig or so of memory, I had some misgivings about installing Windows 7. But it was either that or reinstalling an operating system that would no longer be supported in the future, so I chose to install Windows 7.

The installation went swimmingly until I began to add programs I normally use—browsers, a word processor, and the like—and then added VLC, which I think is an awesome video and music player. Because I was in a hurry, I downloaded it from a bogus site that paired it with a program called Hotbar. I tried to stop the installation, but couldn’t. I then tried to uninstall Hotbar, but couldn’t. Microsoft’s Security Essentials kept identifying it was adware, but would not remove the program itself. It’s hooks were too deeply embedded into the OS. It was frustrating, though normal in today’s world. So I had another decision to make. Download a program that would actually get rid of Hotbar or start over. Because the installation of Windows 7 went so smoothly, I started over. A half an hour later I was up and running.

All I can say is beware of what you click on. There are so many shits out there using every trick imaginable to get you to install crap on your computer. Hotbar is one of the worst. Avoid it like the plague.

Anyway. Despite the hiccup, I’m very pleased with Windows 7 on my old portable. It’s fast and easy to use. Definitely better than what I had going with XP.

April 19, 2010   Comments Off on Beware of Hotbar!

Akshara, the Imperishable

I’ve been reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation of The Upanishads, which is quite good, and ran across this definition of God—almost like something you’d read in a Buddhist text, so different from our own prescriptive God, who is always telling us whether we are good or not and how to behave. I remember first reading texts like this in my twenties and wondering what kind of bullshit this was. Of course, now I know better. It describes something as real as what we perceive with our senses—more real, perhaps. Some call it the Life Force, some call it Self, some call it God. Not to know it is to suffer interminably.

The sages call it Akshara, the Imperishable.
It is neither big nor small, neither long
nor short, neither hot nor cold, neither bright
nor dark, neither air nor space. It is without
attachment, without taste, smell, or touch,
without eyes, ears, tongue, mouth, breath,
or mind, without movement, without limita-
tion, without inside or outside. It consumes
nothing, and nothing consumes it.

April 17, 2010   Comments Off on Akshara, the Imperishable