Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category

While watching the smash hit  Netflix series The Crown, I was struck by how the Duke of Windsor has gone from being a hero to a shallow,  selfish dilettante and quite likely a Nazi sympathizer. Initially, he was admired by many of my parents’ generation for giving up the throne of England to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. That view has long since been discarded. Historians now feel that it was lucky for his country that he abdicated, paving the way for his younger brother to become King George VI.  By all accounts, the latter was a man of sterling character who overcame his insecurities and worked well with the wartime prime minister Winston Churchill to guide Britain through her darkest days. The Duke meanwhile was an embarrassment who was appointed Commissioner to the Bahamas to keep him out of the way and spent his later years as little more than a pitiful shell of a man who spent his days travelling and attending endless parties.

An even more striking example of changing perceptions is Herbert Hoover, the most derided American president of his time. His image is forever tarnished by his ineffectiveness during the Great Depression  which began in October 1929, just eight months after his inauguration. Hoover’s insistence on balancing the budget even at the cost of raising taxes sent the economy into a tailspin from which it never recovered until FDR succeeded him. And yet, there was much about Hoover that was laudable. His early years read like a Horatio Alger story. Orphaned at age 9, he was sent to live with an uncle who disregarded the young boy’s brightness.   He was sent to work as an office boy even  before he completed high school. At age 17, he passed an entrance exam that enabled him to attend Stanford University, then a free school. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in geology, he was unable to find an engineering job. He took a job loading ore carts at a gold mine in Nevada City  CA, working 10 hours a day, seven days a week for the miserable pittance of ten cents an hour. After several years of this dead end job, he was chosen as trouble shooter for a British mining company where he rose to become chief engineer. When World War I broke out he helped evacuate Americans stranded in Europe by the war and displayed remarkable efficiency in bringing home 120,000 of them home. His finest moments were after the war when he was chosen to head The Committee for Relief in Belgium. At the time, Belgium was in sad shape , its  farms destroyed, its factories shut and its food stocks depleted. The Belgians were in grave danger of starving but Hoover managed to supply them with 20,000 tons of food, every week for a period of 2-1/2 years – a feat which made him an international hero and earned him the title of the Great Humanitarian. However, a  recent book by Bill Bryson is not so laudatory. Bryson’s book says that Hoover missed no opportunity to publicize his humanitarian work and that others, such as Myron Herrick, the U.S ambassador to France worked just as tirelessly but never sought the spotlight. So how should Hoover be remembered … for his humanitarian feats or for his ineffective Presidency? There is no easy answer.

In bygone days, celebrities were usually protected from the results of their peccadilloes and their character flaws hidden from the public. JFK , for instance, was  a serial womanizer whose affairs were kept under wraps until long after his assassination. Journalists felt an obligation to do so out of respect for the President, the position not the man. In those days, there was too little information about public figures. Nowadays, there is too much. Every action is dissected, audio and video equipment intrudes on every moment, public or private. News is mostly opinion and it is difficult to know what the truth really is.

The British cricket writer , Peter Roebuck, tells in his autobiography of a chance encounter with a soldier.  At the time, Roebuck had been dealt with rather shabbily by the powers that be. The soldier approached, shook his hand, wished him well and said” The closer you get to men of substance, the more they seem like shadows.”

How true.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The director Judd Apatow once bought a home gym. After using it three or four times, he stopped lifting weights and the gym fell into disuse. He didn’t get rid of it, however. It still sits in a corner of his office where it functions as a storage room cum clothes hanger. Apatow tells himself that it could be used one day. As he puts it “ … anything’s possible. All hoarding is hope. You think ” I can’t die because I have to watch that stack of DVDs! Makes you feel immortal, having too much stuff.”

Really? For a moment I thought that Apatow might have hit upon something. But , upon further consideration, my reaction is ” Nah!”

I have a friend who has 5,000 records and CDs. He is retired now and is busy cataloging his collection and , of course, listening to his favorite songs over and over again. Another friend is at once a bibliophile, a film buff  and a music lover. In his house he has a large loft, three walls of which have shelves containing his collection of books ( many of them autographed by the authors) and CDs and DVDs. He admitted to me that there is no way he could possibly read, listen or view his entire collection. Once in a while ,he may dip into this or that but his chief pleasure is in owning that collection and knowing that he can access it whenever he wants. I myself had a large collection of books ( particularly cookbooks) before I gave half of it away to an acquaintance. What remains is still sizeable and I have no illusions that I will read all those books again or cook one tenth, one-hundredth of those recipes. I like having those things around because of the pleasure of possession.

A good friend of mine put it perfectly. He said” I have boxes and boxes of stuff, most of which means something only to me. These things are not valuable but I will never get rid of them. One day, when I am gone, my son and daughter will go through the things in my garage , then call the junk man and have them hauled away. That’s OK but, as along as I’m around, I want them.”

Read Full Post »

Some years ago, when we were in Siena, Italy our guide told us about pro basketball as it is played in Italy. He described a match between Bologna and Siena played on the latter’s home court before 6,000 frenzied fans. Before spectators could enter the arena, they were searched for concealed weapons. Just before the game started, five busloads of Bolognese fans were escorted into the stadium by policemen in riot gear. They took their places in the visitors section – a virtual cage surrounded by metal bars. This was for their own protection as soon  became apparent. When the home team took the court, the visiting fans played drums and trumpets , then turned around as one, dropped their trousers and mooned the home fans. This resulted in an outpouring of rage as Sienese fans stormed the cage , throwing missiles, cursing and spitting through the bars of the cage. This set the tone for the rest of the proceedings which featured rude chants, constant drumming, taunting and frequent stoppages of play due to court invasions. When the visiting team won the game on a last second three pointer, there was a full scale riot during which the police were overwhelmed and dozens of fans wound up in hospital. I wish I could give you more details of the game but will not do so because I cannot do so without bursting into gales of laughter. It really was too funny though not to the participants. For them , these basketball games are deadly serious: a re-enactment of past struggles when city states were bitter enemies that fought constant wars over territory.

In comparison, American sports fans are well mannered and civilized. But, only in comparison. There are certain rivalries in American sports which generate the worst in people. One of them is that between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, two baseball teams many of whose fans hate each other with a passion. In the Bronx, there are certain bars which are for Yankee fans, others which cater to Red Sox fans. Woe betide the unwary fan who strays into the wrong bar. I remember reading about a fan wearing a Red Sox  journey who was walking home from a game at Yankee Stadium. As the fan passed a ” Yankee” bar, another fan came out and challenged the former to a fistfight. What blew my mind was that both fans- the Red Sox fan and the Yankee fan- were women ! Yes, women fans can be passionate too.

Too my mind, football and ice hockey attract the most aggressive fans because of the nature of the games and because more drinking goes on during these contests. My acquaintance Steve told me about a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions that he attended in Philadelphia. He was not a particular fan of either team but when a Lions receiver made a spectacular catch he applauded . At the time the Eagles were leading 38-9 and the game was not in doubt. However, an Eagles fan took umbrage and started directing obscene comments and threats at Steve. Steve took it quietly for some time but it finally got to be too much. He was there with his young son and did not want to give him the impression that he was a wimp. When the Eagles fan went too far, Steve got up and challenged him to a fight. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and the other guy backed down. This is not to criticize Eagles fans; Giants fans, Jets fans are just as bad.

There was a time when visiting fans clad in their team’s colors could sit anywhere in the stadium, in the midst of home fans. They would have no fears for their safety. Both sets of fans would watch the game without fear of violence. This is still mostly the case but increasingly I read of altercations between fans of opposing teams. This is a pity because I fear such people are missing out on the real beauty of the contest they are watching. They may call themselves sports fans but what they really are fans of a particular team, not of sport.

My friend Arnie used to support all the New York teams at a time when none of them was doing well. Towards the end of the basketball season, as soon as the Knicks were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, he would say ” OK. Game over. Time for hockey.” He would stop following basketball and switch to reading about hockey.A month later, the scenario would be repeated . ” Time for baseball”. And so on. It’s OK to root for a team but when you identify so closely with its successes and failures, you open yourself to disappointment.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Once a month , on a Sunday afternoon,  our Active Adult community shows a movie at the clubhouse. There is no charge. Attendees bring snacks for general consumption and the club provides coffee and tea. A moderator introduces the movie and, after the screening, leads a discussion on it. Yesterday, the club screened Mira Nair’s 2001 hit ” Monsoon Wedding” and I was the moderator. Everything went well,  it was an interesting experience and I came away with some fresh ideas on how best to enjoy a movie.

My wife and I saw ” Monsoon Wedding” when it first came out 16 years ago ( It really doesn’t seem that long ago). We saw it at a theater in Westfield, N.J and  were surprised by the reaction of the audience at movie’s end. When the lights came on, there was a sustained burst of applause and they then remained seated for a full five minutes  as if stunned.

I remembered the main points of the film but had long forgotten the details. So, the week before the screening at the clubhouse, I watched a video of ” Monsoon Wedding”, not just the movie but the bonus features too. They included a commentary by the director, Mira Nair, that was as long as the movie itself. It was a good thing I did because it cleared up some questions I had besides providing some interesting insights. Watching the movie for the second time was very helpful too. Since I already knew the plotline, I was able to focus my attention on the faces of the characters and appreciate the fine nuances of their acting.  At some points, I replayed the scenes and picked up additional details that I’d not previously noticed. One other thing I did was to read as many online reviews of the movie as I could.

All this prep work came in handy  since it gave the confidence that I could handle most anything that came up at the screening. I kept the introduction short and gave just the barest description of the beginnings of the plot. I mentioned that it was an ensemble drama and that while the movie might seem chaotic in the beginning with lots of characters coming and going, they (the audience) would know every character intimately by the end. I warned them of some graphic language in the movie and re-assured them that this Indian movie at least was not over-long.

After the movie, I began by asking the audience what they thought of the movie, and we were off to the races. Their comments were very perceptive and  one comment led to another. When the conversation seemed likely to flag, I threw out a question of my own. Every now and then, I had to clarify some point about Delhi society and Indian wedding customs and was able to do so without any problems. All in all, a most enjoyable experience because of this sharing of views. I was most impressed by the depth of understanding and the broadmindedness of the views expressed by the audience members

So.. what did I learn about how to watch a movie? Well, if you like the movie and want to know more , watch the bonus features, particularly the director’s commentary. It will give you fresh ideas about the plotting and how the director translated the script into the action on the screen. If you still want to know more, read what some of the well known film critics have to say about the film. Don’t just take their opinions as gospel but examine them and see whether  or not your own views are in agreement. This may sound like a lot of work but it really isn’t because you doing something you like. It’s  fun too because, once in a while, there is an “Aha!” moment when you stumble upon some the answer for some obscure point and then discover that it was what the director intended. In time, these practices will make you a much more discerning viewer and bring you much enjoyment besides.

Next post: Starting a Movie Viewing Club

 

Read Full Post »

I am a little tired of hearing the adage” Money can’t buy happiness”. It’s true, of course, but the words are often conflated to mean many things that are not true. They do not imply, for instance, that money is bad. It’s true that having a lot of money can lead to selfishness and greed, but it is also true that having money is better than not having it. Very much so. And properly used, money can buy happiness. Consider the following findings, all the product of research studies:

  1. People who spend their money on experiences are happier than those who spend it on material things. Experiences can be re-lived over and over again ( even the bad ones if they are shared) but that new videogame, that dress or that curio soon loses its appeal.
  2. Social experiences bring more happiness than solitary ones. We enjoy an experience more when we do it in the company of others.
  3. Spending money on friends or family makes us happy because it brings us closer to them.
  4. Using money for good deeds also brings positive feelings and
  5. ( This one is my favorite insight). According to an article in Emotion magazine, the amount of cash in your checking account is a good indication of your happiness and satisfaction with life. Not your investments, income or net worth. Your Checking account. When I first read this, I was a skeptical. Isn’t the total amount of money you have the most important indicator of your well -being? A little thought soon set me straight. The cash in your checking account is what you can spend, what you will spend one day soon. Your investments and net worth, on the other hand, are good for your peace of mind, your security against a rainy day. You will probably never ” enjoy” that money.

    Simple when you think about it, isn’t it?

Read Full Post »

At a picnic last month, a friend called out to me , saying that he had badminton rackets and shuttles and would I like to try a few rallies? I accepted with alacrity because I’d always loved badminton. We walked a little ways to a grassy patch and began to play. What a disaster! For one thing, there was a mild breeze blowing. When it was at our backs, the shuttle sailed over our heads and far out of reach. On the other hand, when we were hitting into the breeze, the shuttle didn’t make much headway and fell well short of where we wanted it to go. All in all, it was the rare ” rally” that lasted even three shots. What was more frustrating though was the difficulty I experienced in trying to get to the shuttle. My reactions were slow and my feet felt leaden. It was no fun stumbling around and I was not unhappy when my wife sent word that I should call it a day. A doctor friend who had been watching us play cautioned her that we were risking injury by playing in our casual footwear.

As we walked back, I reflected how the passage of time lays everyone low. I had last played badminton in 1975 and now, more than forty-five years later, at age seventy-five, just getting the racket on the shuttle was difficult. I had thought that because I still play table tennis reasonably well, that my skills had not eroded so much. I was wrong, as my brief foray proved my badminton playing days were over. So gradually does the change take place that one is not aware of it and thinks he is still almost the same as he once was.

However, the discovery was not in the least a cause for lament. After all, I had not played the game for forty-five years so how could I miss what I’d not enjoyed in so long ?  In fact, it was a liberating feeling. There is nothing to prove anymore. If others continue to play the game, more power to them. I’m not in competition with them or with anyone else.

There are other  advantages too. Now, when I see a game being played I am better able to appreciate the skill, the dexterity and the endurance of the players. At the recent All England championships,  Nozomi Okuhara ( Japan) defeated P.V. Sindhu in the Women’s Singles final in an epic match that some have called the greatest of all time. One amazing rally lasted seventy -three shots. Seventy three ! In fifteen minutes of play, my friend and I barely managed to hit the shuttle that many times. I now appreciate Okuhara and Sindhu’s performance even more than I previously did. So too do I feel about Roger Federer’s balletic grace on the tennis court or Odell Beckham’s acrobatic catches in the end zone.

So, you will not see me feeling sorry for my lost skills or for the fact that some pastimes are now beyond me. When one door closes, another one opens. Next spring, as soon as it is warm enough outdoors, you will find me on the bocci court trying to pick up a game which I can easily hope to play for the next decade.  Who knows? I might even try my hand at pickle-ball.

Read Full Post »

There are several lists of the dirtiest jobs in America. Some of the jobs on those lists are:

Septic Tank Servicer         Horse Castrator        Sewer Inspector          Pig Slop Processor

Charcoal Maker                 Road kill Cleaner      Termite Controller      Embalmer

Bloodworm Hunter          Animal Vet                Bat Cave Scavenger      Coal Miner

Slaughterhouse Worker

As bad as these jobs are, and they are all really really bad, there is one that is worse than any of them. The crappiest job in America is White House Press Secretary (in the present administration). Consider what poor Sean Spicer has to go through every day. As in many of the jobs listed above, he has to deal with a whole lot of crap. In his role as spokesperson for the executive branch, he has to explain actions and events within the President’s administration to the world. Thus, he has to deal with the White House Press Corps on a daily basis and explain the President’s latest snafus. He has to use his wiles to evade… and deny … and deflect … and obfuscate. In short, everything short of outright lying.  After tying himself up in knots trying to do the impossible, he is regularly undercut by his boss who contradicts what he has just said. How he must dread those early morning Tweetstorms!

As if this is not enough, he is the butt of jokes and is regularly caricatured on Saturday Night Live and by late night show hosts. As someone has said, working in this administration means being perceived either as a fool or as a liar.

When something goes wrong, as it invariably does, it is never his boss’s fault; it’s his. He may be a decent chap but he is mistrusted by everyone, thanks to his job. Nor can there be any satisfaction in the job itself. Every day is worse than the last and, when his head hits the pillow at night, he must have nightmares about what the next day will bring.

Finally, as hard as he works, his job security is nil. There is constant speculation that he is about to be fired and, in the last week, the whispers have been growing louder. If I were a betting man, yesterday I would have been willing to wager that he would not last six months. Today, amidst reports that a Fox News correspondent is being considered for his job, it seems I was too optimistic. He may not last out the month. Yes, this is the crappiest job in America and Sean Spicer will probably heave a sigh of relief he hears the dread words  ” You’re fired!”.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Mr. & Mrs. 55 - Classic Bollywood Revisited!

Two Harvard students relive the magic and music of old Bollywood cinema

Golden Ripples

About Food, Travel, Sports , Books and other fun things

47 Japanese Farms: Japan Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities -- 47日本の農園

A journey through 47 prefectures to capture the stories of Japan's farmers and rural communities

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

%d bloggers like this: