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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What else happened...

Anybody want to read another review of the events of 2008? I didn't think so. Instead, let me tell you about some of the best films of the past year. Between traveling, biking, and surgery, I fell slightly below my usual average of 12-15 movies a month, but some great art was produced in 2008. The most remarkable fact is that, while many films aimed to be topical, only two were convincingly so. I'll talk about those two last. The Coen's Burn after Reading, Maher's Religulous, and Nachmanoff's Traitor tried too hard to address issues in contemporary culture and managed only to be opinionated. Anderson's There Will Be Blood was more subtle and featured an extraordinary performance by Daniel Day Lewis, but was limited by the Sinclair novel that was its source. Marjane Satrapy's Persepolis is a highlight, at least for non-Persians, for its rendition of Iranian life. My vocabulary is strained by the effort to praise the brilliant composite of 18 short movies that make up Paris, je t'aime. Released in France in 2006, it came out on DVD in the U.S. this year. You must see Margo Martindale's performance in the last segment, Alexander Payne's 14th Arrondisment. Shanley's Doubt is an affecting movie featuring some of the finest acting you will ever see by Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Meryl Streep. Which brings us to the best of 2008: Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Tom McCarthy's The Visitor. These two films don't make the error of telling you what's been done wrong, they show you. Lumet's story exposes the self-serving and criminal behavior that has been encouraged for years, only to produce the current economic failure. Even more perfectly, The Visitor dramatizes the equally criminal policies instituted since 9/11.  I won't give you a long review. You have to see it. I do want to make one point, though. The acting of Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman, playing the professor and the immigrant, perfectly embodies the affection and understanding that will eventually redeem us. The political change that the majority of us have contributed to creating can begin, in 2009, to restore integrity to our nation and our lives. Not to mention our economy. I look forward to that, and to our friendship for another year...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Climate change

One of the homilies I enjoy repeating at this time 0f year, here in Wisconsin, is that "the climate guarantees it'll never be too crowded." As long as we have snow for xc skiing, the winters at nearly 45deg N are great. And there's plenty of free parking. For the most part, you don't even need to drive. (Yes, you can bike in the winter. As with everything else, all you need is the right gear.) Of course, for more than ten years now, we haven't had reliable snow all season. The climate has changed. The average temperatures at our latitude are now what they were 100m south of here when I moved to Wisconsin over 40 years ago. This warming trend, as even reactionaries have been forced to agree, is global. So there's general agreement that we have to do something about it. I'm all in favor of reducing our carbon footprints. It might make a difference for some future generations of humans. But not us. Twenty-five years ago three German hikers above Innsbruck came upon what turned out to be the corpse of a 5800-year-old Italian, nicknamed "Oetzi" after the Oetztal glacier where their discovery was made. I highly recommend a trip to see the corpse and fascinating details about his life--and murder--in the South Tyrol museum in Bolzano. The corpse was exposed because the glacier was melting. Six thousand years after that death we're taking notice of glacial melting worldwide. But the process has actually been underway for nearly 20,000 years. In that global-warming "window" the whole of human history has unfolded. Around 12,000 years ago it closed a little; that was the last "glacial age". Wisconsin gave its name to the ice sheet that was one mile thick here where we live now. Some years ago Jane and I climbed up to the limestone caves at Settimemama, near Guernica, in Spain's Basque country. I looked around and realized that humans then must have got good at spotting such outcroppings, where water was sure to be found seeping through the porous rock and deep shelter could be had. These are skills we'll evidently need again in a few generations. I'm practicing...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The difference...

Malcolm Gladwell's revisionist Outliers has been receiving deserved attention and commentary. Gladwell--in his inimitable way--subverts the sentimental fantasy that each of us can "be whatever we want to be" by demonstrating that the most successful among us are always the beneficiaries of fortunate social circumstances. I agree with him. But that's not the whole story. There's another quality that distinguishes not just the "successful" individuals (for "success" is also socially-determined) but the most creative humans. That quality is skepticism. Specifically, it's the power and tenacity to question the conventional. This distinctive ability--which really is nevertheless available to all of us--characterizes all the people who's work has endured, from philosophers to physicists, and includes not only artists but uncategorizable individuals like Jesus. If you don't believe me, mention anyone you care to and I'll show you how they illustrate my point. As I like to say, answers can only be enforced, while questions can always be asked...

Friday, December 05, 2008

CRISIS AND PROSPECT

  Isn't it great that years of Republican misrule have left us in economic, diplomatic, and military crisis? Nothing could bode better for the future--given the imminent resurrection of government behind the efforts of Obama and company--than the creative management of these troubles and failures, not to mention the likely dominance now for a generation of active policy in the public interest. Politics is exclusively about interests. Advocates for the public interest have been in short supply for a generation. Despite some good intentions, Bill Clinton was a disappointment in this respect. Now we can look forward to a rebuilding on the scale of the last disaster of this magnitude back in the 1930s. And I'm doing great, too. Now within weeks of meeting Jane's test for a successful year--no ER visits--my rehab is 80% complete following arthroplasty on my right knee two months ago. I'll be testing my newly-aligned joint tomorrow in the Frostbite 5Mile. Predicted snow overnight will help moderate already low expectations.
  The children and grandchildren are as well as can be. Jane and I begin teaching our Healthy Relationships course again next month, in the interim before the spring term begins. We've been presenting it twice a year now for some time and the two sections are always oversubscribed.
  I'm sympathetic in the face of the suffering this economic distress will inflict all over the U.S. and the world. It will affect many more people than the--admittedly large--number of self-serving reactionaries who perpetrated the conditions for this collapse, both by their policies and by their votes. You know who you are. But now the rest of us can pull together for the first time in several generations. Our recovery and our future will be all the better for it.
  I recall the eagerness with which I pitched in for the many kinds of "war efforts" the population was called upon to contribute when I was a schoolchild in the 1940s. Once again now we will be called upon and I expect we'll achieve something much greater in consequence than the mere expansion of consumption that followed World War II. I look forward to it here at the end of the year, and I hope you do, too. Best wishes...