Visits

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mr. Mercedes

Nearing the finish of this novel and yeah, okay, it's cotton candy -but it's really good cotton candy 😛 As has often been said, Stephen King has yet to meet a genre that he cannot do, and this mystery/thriller is as good as most in the genre, and better than more than a few. With twists and surprises salted in at just the right places, Mr. Mercedes serves well as a vehicle (no pun intended) for King's favorite theme of good versus evil, with the villain being, in my opinion, one of King's most convincing to date.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Two Really Bad Movies and a Trail of Blood

I always find it particularly unsettling when I see a movie set in a historical period that has the historical period of its setting all wrong, and largely, moreover, by intention.  The will of the Hollywood invention is to remold history such that it will conform to modern sensibilities and sensitivities. But I don’t see that this really does anyone any favors. Rather, when history is falsified, the truth is made more and more inaccessible, especially in the sphere of common knowledge, and these falsehoods are then applied in the realm of contemporary ideas and relationships.

Such a movie is the recently released Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey. The story involves a disaffected Southern soldier who deserts the ranks of the Confederate army in 1862 in order to convey the body of a fallen young comrade back to his home in Mississippi, and who is thereafter pursued and harassed by those who would not only prefer him to return to service, but who spend the rest of their time robbing the countryside blind in order to supply the armies in the field. Okay, that’s fine. Except …

Firstly, we are given an ahistorical view of the nature of the battlefields of 1862. We are shown trench warfare, which did not come around in any big way until the end of the war. We see soldiers carrying rifles instead of muskets. We are asked to belief in a tyrannical government that robbed its own countryside of food and provisions, somehow able to spare plenty of soldiers for this purpose who could otherwise have been on the front line. Further, we are shown a generally disaffected, demoralized Confederate army, the rank and file members of  which are merely, and rather gloomily following orders such that those at the top – the slaveholders, of course – may retain their slaves. It all feels rather more like Vietnam than the American Civil War.

What the student of the Civil War will find straightaway is that the soldier of the Civil War is very unlike the soldier in Vietnam, or even of World War II. These were young men of high ideals and high notions of honor and bravery. The essential ingredient in their will, and willingness, to fight had more to do with a conception of tradition and honor and home than with the politics of slavery and States Rights. Most Confederate soldiers owned no slaves and certainly did not picture themselves as fighting for the rights of rich people to own slaves. That this issue became the central issue of the war is manifest. Nonetheless, it would be completely unrealistic to imagine that the common Confederate soldier had any such conception of the thing – or even the Federal soldier, for that matter, at least up till 1863.

And yet, this is the picture that Free State of Jones would like to impart – because it is the reductionist, simple minded picture than our modern culture demands – history be damned. Slavery was most certainly the fatal disease of the South, and yet it must be acknowledged that the common Southerner of the time had no very meaningful connection with the institution. His connection was to the land, family, history. Far from moping about in the (nonexistent) trenches and deserting at the first opportunity with bitter acrimony on their lips, a faithful reading of the wartime experience reveals a vigorous readiness to engage in combat that seems almost maniacal in our time, much more like the gung-ho beginning of WWI than the self preserving reticence of Vietnam. These were soldiers, after all, who fought barefooted at Petersburg in the driving sleet. These were soldiers who  advanced across the open fields at Gettysburg, to be mowed down by grapeshot and massed musketry on Cemetery Ridge, and returned at the end of the slaughter to plead with General Lee to let them try one more time.

A band of ragged pawns of the rich, made to do the sinister bidding of the man? Not at all. When we misrepresent history in order to believe what might seem proper at the moment, we do a disservice not only to those who lived before us, but also to ourselves.

To be honest, I found this dishonest movie so discouraging that I couldn’t even watch it to its end.

My second really bad movie of the day was one called Something in the Woods. Based on “actual events”, this movie tells the story of a good old fashioned Texas family which must deal with an aggressive monster – the fabled Big Foot, or Sasquatch. It is a right wing fable of the struggle between decent family values and a stalking beast, and how good an idea it is to own several guns. But what stood out above all in this movie was the really, really, terribly bad acting 😂😂. I mean, the directors must have scoured the earth specifically for people who could not act! It was, at least, absolutely spellbinding for its clumsiness at every possible aspect of filmmaking, from the monotone delivery of lines, to the staged scenes, to the big, furry Sasquatch that looked more like a giant muppet than like a monster. If they hadn’t pissed him off so bad with those rifles, they might have been able to invite him in for milk and cookies.

And then, lastly, there’s this thing with the trail of blood. Which has nothing to do with either movie. Yesterday, I suddenly noticed what appeared to be drops of fresh blood, on the front porch and then also in the entryway. Naturally, my first suspicion was that Sparky had been bleeding from his injured tail. But there were two problems with this theory, the one being that I did not see the blood when he came into the house and the other that, upon examination, his tail was completely dry and the wound appeared to have healed. Well, you can’t figure something out, so you just drop it, right? But then it happened again this morning. Sparky had come in the house, eaten some breakfast and then jumped up on the bed. No blood, on him, on the bed or on the floor. I was outside in the back for a while, reading the gospel of Mark (just the same, in fact, as yesterday), and when I came back inside, I found once again this trail of blood, this time on the living room and bedroom floor. Another examination of Sparky revealed a completely dry tail. Nor was he bleeding from any other part of his body. Nor was I bleeding from any part of mine!

Hmm, what to make of this? It’s a sign, I reckon. I just don’t know what the message is. Yet.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Cognitive Dysfunction

“Cognitive dysfunction (also known as brain fog) is the loss of intellectual functions such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning of sufficient severity to interfere with daily functioning. Patients with cognitive dysfunction have trouble with verbal recall, basic arithmetic, and concentration.”  [The Marshall Protocol Knowledge Base, Autoimmunity Research Foundation]

Cognitive dysfunction. They are just two words - until you meet them face-to-face in daily life, that is. As a classic symptom of MS, cognitive dysfunction can become a defining characteristic of self – a new self which, like it or not, has been conferred by the destructive processes of the disease, MS.  Where once you may have been verbally sharp and articulate, now you find yourself slow and clumsy. It is like a closed door between your mind and its interaction with the world, and the door is often locked from the outside. You know what you are thinking, and you know the form that you want your thoughts to take in communication, but suddenly you find that a fatal short circuitry has interrupted the path between the mind and the tongue. The eloquence of thought stumbles on the dysfunction of mind, and what tumbles out on your tongue is often but a vague shadow of what you meant to say – or, worse yet, so completely disjointed that it becomes little more than gibberish.

And so you keep it simple. You learn to hold your peace in intelligent, demanding discourse, because the alternative, as you have now learned from experience with your new self, is that you may well end up looking like a complete idiot. The well ordered, well considered thought in your mind has been lost in translation from brain to tongue. You wait till later, when you can write the thing down – when you have the time to pick the lock from the inside and turn the knob.

For someone like me, who has spent his life working with the English language, this failure to be ready, to cogently produce a complex thought in speech, is particularly frustrating. The inclination to share my viewpoint has not left me, but the ability to do so has. It is something I have faced little by little over time. You don’t get around it by trying harder. You get around it by acknowledging the fact, learning patience, learning to defer.

Difficulty with verbal recall is just one facet of cognitive dysfunction, but it is the one that bothers me most. The others, as described in our quote above, are not fun either. The inability to remember details, names, events, people, how to get to where you had gone just the day before – or even to where you had gone many times before – these are all bothersome in their own way – and yet when the transmission of language, this essential means of interacting with ideas and with the people around us, is compromised, something essential seems missing from personality itself.

And the silver lining? Yes, there’s always a silver lining. For just as the nervous system in MS finds ways around the short circuits to accomplish its goals, so we find ways around the deficits. We learn to be patient with ourselves. We learn humility. We learn to practice nonverbal expressions where words fall short – and the truth is, words often fall short, no matter how eloquent or  well informed they may sound. And in learning these things for ourselves, we ultimately share something new and, in its own way, more meaningful with others.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Facing Facebook

Facebook is ruining me. It's abbreviating me. It's lulling me to sleep with single sentences attached to someone's else's thoughts. You read something and you say to yourself, Yeah, I generally agree with that, and so you click on share and type your intellectual contribution at the top - I agree, too true, worth reading, and so on. Whatever this writer said - that's me. Only it's not.

And then you wait for a response. Do other people - your friends - agree as well? Will they click on like or flash a smiley face? Or maybe they will comment. Great! Now you have someone else who agrees with someone else's idea thanks to your free advertisement.

My God, I'm lazy. I could be blogging here on Jim Dandy - I could be thinking, making some effort, examining myself, seeing what I think, going out on a limb - but I'm busy looking at the next and the next post on Facebook, losing focus, flying from politics to religion to Bob's summer vacation to what Mary had for dinner.

Worse yet, you may begin to answer comments written by total strangers who do not agree with the ideas that are not really yours in the article that you did not write. This is where you get to practice the fine art of the effective insult, negative rejoinder, which may inspire a like effort in reply. Now you're arguing with a total stranger from Des Moines. Or not arguing, really. Not even communicating. Basically, what you're doing is name calling. You find that you despise Jake from Des Moines. You cannot believe that such stupid peopke exist. You cheer when sone other stranger who also despises Jake pitches in - so there, Jake, now we see who is right - but then you notice that Jake's comment has 15 likes while yours has two.

And all this time, I could have been blogging. I could have had a V8.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Toothless

Went to put in my false teeth this morning, and couldn't find them to save my life. I don't like wearing false teeth, but they do come in handy for chewing or smiling, though I don't do a lot of the latter. Still , I do kind of need them. Where could they be? 

My first thought was of Sparky. Had he eaten my teeth? Or perhaps he is wearing them? Ah, there he is in the corner. 

"Sparky, here Sparky, smile Sparky." 

Nope, definitely not my teeth. But where then? How can it be?

Ah, but the maid was here yesterday. Surely she will know. In fact, I see that she has washed the little bowl that I always keep the teeth in

So we call her on the phone. 

"Oh, yes," she says. "I threw them in the garbage."

Naturally. Simple as that. After all, no one was using them at the time.

Good grief. Who throws away false teeth? False teeth, moreover, that cost several millions of Rupiah? 

I did find the teeth at the bottom of the bin, but I'm still trying to figure out the decision making process here.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Back in the Swing

Having recovered from his most recent troubles, Sparky has returned to a more familiar lifestyle. When ill or injured (ie consumed garbage, hit by car, hit by motorbike, involved in serious dog fight), Sparky will convalesce, which means he will sleep all day and all night for as long as it takes to recover. Now, he sleeps during the day, shifting positions or locations several times, gets up to look for dinner at around 4, eats his dinner, eats my dinner, wrestles after dinner, then goes outside to roam to and fro in the world, as he puts it, seeking whom he might devour.

Gelandangan

Last night, a man on Facebook referred to me as "gelandangan". New word for me. This would seem to mean, in common usage, "bum". Right. Later, he tried to soften the meaning to "One-who-does-not-own-a-house-in-Bali". But then, I can't own a house in Bali, can I, given the Indonesian laws. So we're back to "bum", or freeloader, or foreign alien. Made me feel like a Mexican in a Trump America. And quite honestly, this was the first time in 6 years in Indonesia that an Indonesian has directly insulted me. Leave it to the anonymity afforded by Facebook, I guess. My goodness, what is the world coming to when even an Indonesian is rude?