A few words from Daniel Kahneman

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him), Read it in books on December 26th, 2011 by bill

One of my Christmas presents was a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a somewhat intimidating tome that I am tackling on sheer momentum after successfully conquering Anna Karenina over the last few months. Confidence is high but this is exactly the sort of book I start with great enthusiasm and get bogged down in after 95 pages, not unlike Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, currently propping up a window in my bedroom.

12 pages in I mostly feel like I’m following what Kahneman (a Nobel prize winner in economics who is very fond of the word “heuristics”) is saying. But whether I go the distance or not, here is a sentence that I loved and that seems worth remembering for its own sake:

When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.

Merry NBXmas

Posted in Golden (State) Years on December 25th, 2011 by bill

How is today different from any other day? Because not only is it Christmas Day — when we observe the birthday of the man who, in the words of Douglas Adams, “said how great it would be to be nice to everyone for a change” — it is the first day of the NBA season. There were five games back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, but I have been pacing myself because for some inexplicable reason the nightcap features My Golden State Warriors hosting the L.A. Clippers.

I only had a couple drinks today, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine Justin Bieber singing “Little Drummer Boy” to open the broadcast. I guess this is what it means to be in the big time. As of this writing the W’s are beating the Clips 43–41 and it is approaching midnight EST; it’s pretty touch-and-go as to whether I will make it all 48 minutes, so…merry NBXmas to all, and to all a good night.

Happy Festivus 2011

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him) on December 23rd, 2011 by bill

“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.”

—Frank Costanza

That Time Again

Posted in Whatever Else on December 22nd, 2011 by bill

I am quite fond of the winter solstice, signaling as it does that the days are finally going to start getting longer again. Which is funny, because it also signals the beginning of winter, of which I am not so fond. Conversely, I love the summer, but have bittersweet feelings about the summer solstice, cause it’s all downhill from there.

You wonder how primitive man must have felt this time of year, with the sun disappearing more and more…and how long it took people to figure out that it was just a cycle, that this happened over and over, that all you had to do was wait and eventually things would start moving back in the other direction. And I also wonder, if I can get all heavy and metaphorical for a minute, why we don’t apply this kind of thinking to more areas of life. Cause if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that whatever life is like now, it’s going to be different three months, or six months, or nine months from now.

Things are fucked now? They will change. Things are great now? That’s not going to last forever. So why worry? Just live as best you can in accordance with the time and wait for the next thing to happen.

Thus endeth the sermon.

Omigod

Posted in The sacred box on December 19th, 2011 by bill

I just wanted to post this so I would be sure to never ever, lose it. The key line comes 1:13 in: “He’s been consistent since he changed his mind.”

Priceless.

A few more things about “Altered States”

Posted in Movie of the week on December 10th, 2011 by bill

Little Drew

  • The screenplay of Altered States is credited to Sidney Aaron, a pseudonym for Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the script based on his own novel but asked that his name be removed from the final product. Janet Maslin had an interesting theory about this: “It’s easy to guess why (Chayefsky) and Mr. Russell didn’t see eye to eye. The direction, without being mocking or campy, treats outlandish material so matter-of-factly that it often has a facetious ring. The screenplay, on the other hand, cries out to be taken seriously, as it addresses, with no particular sagacity, the death of God and the origins of man.”
  • This was the first movie for both William Hurt and Drew Barrymore, who was 5 at the time and appears very briefly as one of the Jessup kids. A young John Larroquette has one scene as an X-ray technician. And Hurt’s right-hand man is played by the great Bob Balaban, veteran of everything from Midnight Cowboy to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but perhaps best known as the NBC executive on Seinfeld whose love for Elaine causes him to lose his mind and eventually his life.
  • An isolation tank also appears in the tragically underrated Simon, where Alan Arkin plays a philosophy professor who’s tricked into believing he’s from another planet. IMDB calls Simon‘s tank scene a “parody” of Altered States, but seeing as both movies were released in 1980 and Altered States came out on Christmas, I don’t think that’s the case. Perhaps you’d like to judge for yourself? Unfortunately, Simon remains out of print. To the YouTube!

Altered States cont’d

Posted in Movie of the week on December 7th, 2011 by bill

One of the strangest things about Altered States is that — spoiler alert — in the end it reveals itself to be fundamentally a love story.

A romantic comedy it’s not. The first time William Hurt’s character, Eddie Jessup, does it with his lady love, played by the delectable Blair Brown, he talks about Jesus and the crucifixion then recounts the story of his father’s “painful and protracted death of cancer.” Despite or because of this she falls for him anyway, and their courtship / marriage / separation / etc. runs as a counterpoint to the many bizarre events that transpire.

As Emily Jessup, Brown is utterly crucial to this movie’s credibility, such as it is. Not only do you believe that she is an anthropology professor who just happens to look like a movie star, you believe that she loves Eddie despite his being a singularly difficult person to love. She does as good a job as humanly possible of delivering lines like this:
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Movie of the week: “Altered States”

Posted in Movie of the week on December 5th, 2011 by bill

I’m probably one of the few people on the planet who has sentimental feelings about this movie, a truly oddball piece of work from legendary oddball director Ken Russell. Altered States announces itself as a transmission from Planet Weird in its very first moments, where wires float in what appears to be a copper hot water heater with a porthole. Then up into the frame drifts William Hurt wearing dark goggles with his head ensconced in some kind of clear, round space helmet. And we’re off.

This is really Hurt’s film; its story is the story of his character, Edward Jessup, a Harvard professor with a mystical streak who likes to float for hours in an isolation tank. He also develops a certain fondness for the psychedelic mushroom amanita muscaria, and when he decides to mix the two, trouble ensues.

I don’t want to say too much, on the very slim chance that you haven’t seen Altered States and would like to. I recommend it, but not without qualifications: It walks a very delicate line between deep and campy, scary and silly, and sometimes stumbles and treads all over that line. But not unlike Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it is loaded with such energy that it jumps right over the normal categories to become an animal completely its own. And speaking of animals…well, no, that would be a spoiler.

There will be more to say on this topic, but for now I just want to get something up there, quiet the nagging voices. Happy Monday, everybody.