To Love Is To Be Vulnerable

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

On the Boulevard

On Hollywood Boulevard Near Grauman’s Chinese Theater

I have spent two days at the Cinecon show in Hollywood so far this week. Because the films playing tonight don’t interest me, and because tomorrow, we’ll be here for fourteen hours, we decided to leave early today and on Sunday. I had to do that to retain Martine’s good will so that we could see a rare print of John Ford’s Upstream (1927) ending around 10:30 pm.

In the meantime, the short walk (two and a half blocks) between the Egyptian Theater and the Loew’s Hollywood Hotel where the film memorabilia vendors (and Martine) are working and where our car is parked, is as wild and woolly as ever. Tattooed monkeys and brainless girls wearing next to nothing seem to predominate. There are endless tours of Hollywood surrounded by teams of touts who try to funnel tourists into the buses. everal times a day, I have to tell them I’m not interested because “I live in this sh*thole.”

The scene above is of Zoo Central in front of the Hollywood & Highland Center next to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. You see one girl at the left being photographed by one of the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Behind her is one of the tour buses, accompanied by someone dressed as Johnny Depp in some recent movie whose title slips my mind.

I have been seeing some great films at the Egyptian, however, especially today. I sat through Robert Florey’s Dangerous to Know (1938) with the lovely Anna May Wong and Akim Tamiroff; Madge Kennedy in Dollars and Sense (1920); W. S. Hart in Wild Bill Hickock (1923); and John Blystone’s Gentle Julia (1936) with Marsha Hunt and Jane Withers, both of whom were in the audience as guests.

Last night, Martine and I saw Erle C. Kenton’s Always a Bridesmaid (1943) with the Andrews Sisters. A special treat was a film clip of the famed Nicholas Brothers dance duo, with two granddaughters of Fayard Nicholas tap dancing in synch with what was on the screen.

So, on the whole, it’s a mixed blessing: Great films in a particularly nutty place.

“The Business of Somebody Else”

Some legislators only wish to wreak vengeance against a particular enemy. Others only look out for themselves. They devote very little time on the consideration of any public issue. They think that no harm will come from their neglect. They act as if it is always the business of somebody else to look after this or that. When this selfish notion is entertained by all, the commonwealth slowly begins to decay.—Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War

Hollyweird Again

On the Boulevard in Hollywood

I will be taking a break from posting to this weblog over the next few days. Every year during Labor Day Weekend, Martine and I have been attending the Cinecon show in Hollywood. While Martine helps my an old friend of mine sell movie memorabilia at Loew’s Hotel at Hollywood and Highland, I will be spending most of my time at the Egyptian Theater watching somewhere between fifteen and twenty old movies that, for the most part, have not been available to the public since they were first released.

Many of the titles will be silent with organ accompaniment, with most of the others dating from the early sound era. Typically, there are a few outliers whose originals were on nitrate film stock that has been transferred to safety film and cleaned up in the process. Nitrate stock is a fire hazard, and virtually all films before 1948 or so were shot on it. (I recall seeing the studio version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 production of Rope go up in flames at a USC screening years ago.) Some more recent films had serious problems with fading color which film technicians have been able to restore to their almost original color quality.

For more information about Cinecon 48, visit their website for background information, a summary of films being screened, and the screening schedule.

As much as I like old films,spending time in Hollywood will be a drag. Labor Day Weekend almost always brings with it a heat wave.Add to that the problem of finding a decent restaurant on the Boulevard, where most of the eateries are oriented to downmarket tourists who come to stare at the stars’ names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Or to the even more downmarket residents of Hollywood, consisting in teenage runaways, low-rent hipsters, prostitutes of multiple genders, and the homeless.

It has always amused me that tourists who have failed to do their research come to Hollywood expecting to see celebrities in what has evolved over the decades into a rather ugly slum. The only hope I see for Hollywood is that public transportation improvements, especially with the Red Line, have made it profitable for developers to try to do something to gentrify the place a bit.

Half Empty … Half Full

There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: “This glass is half full.” And then there are those who say: “This glass is half empty.” The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: “What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! Who’s been pinching my beer?”  And at the other end of the bar the world is full of the other type of person, who has a broken glass, or a glass that has been carelessly knocked over (usually by one of the people calling for a larger glass) or who had no glass at all, because he was at the back of the crowd and had failed to catch the barman’s eye.—Terry Pratchett

Road Kill

Everyone wants to be rich, but does everyone want to be like the rich? As one who has spent twenty years working with wealthy clients in an accounting firm that caters to them, I would have to say that, for the most part, the wealthy are not nice people. Superficially, for short periods of time, they can appear to be charming. But when they feel their interests are at stake, there are only two classes of Americans: the wealthy and road kill.

We are living at a time when many who are not wealthy idolize those who are. I must ask those people whether they think a Donald Trump would look after their best interests. Now Mitt Romney is passing himself off as a job creator, despite his reputation as an outsourcer of American jobs for Bain Capital.

Look back over American history: Why do you suppose American voters did not push for the likes of Commodore Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, Jay Gould, Andrew W. Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller to run for president? Perhaps voters were too smart then to vote for thieves. Now they are less smart, and they believe the lies peddled by false radio pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who themselves are in the pay of wealthy corporations and individuals.

The whole theory of trickle down economics is still making the rounds after more than thirty years. In its essentials, what trickle down economics presupposes is that if you feed the horse enough oats, he will leave something in the middle of the road for the poor. That part is true; but where money is involved, give the rich more money, and—instead of creating jobs—they will salt their cash away in offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.

Am I stupid or something? How do the voters who support wealthy candidates like Romney think they are going to share in their candidate’s wealth? Will Romney create jobs? No. Will Romney and his friends get even more obscenely wealthy? Yes. That is a dead certain guarantee.

Speaking as one classified in the 99% (a.k.a. road kill), I tend to vote for candidates who have my best interests at heart. Candidates who will do something for America, and not merely for their own capacious pocketbooks.

Wonderment …

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.—St. Augustine

In the Year 2000

It is always fun to look at how a previous age viewed the future. More than a hundred years ago, Jean-Marc Côté drew a series of illustrations to be used for cigar boxes and postcards depicting what the world would be like in the year 2000. You can view a selection of these pictures at The Public Domain Review, from which I have taken the charming “Rural Postman” above.

Far from having flying postmen covering the farm households of America, we are now considering how to pay to deliver mail to them at all. And what kind of fuel would all these personal flying vehicles use? And, given France’s horrible auto accident rate, who would police the traffic in the air so that an accidental sneeze or text message would not send flyers plummeting to their deaths below?

A casual look outside your window would demonstrate that the steampunk dreams of yesterday were not realized. We now live in a digital world, immersed in tiny handheld gadgets with teeny-tiny screens that contain our lives and distract us mightily from the business of daily life.

And our forecasts for the future? We are so tied now to a digital paradigm that we don’t see that it can—and will—be replaced by something else, and probably sooner than we realize. Subconsciously, we have internalized Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on integrated surfaces doubles every four years. But as we know, trends do not last forever. There will be a new paradigm, a new equivalent to Moore’s Law, and there we go again!

What will it be? Can it be, possibly, a return to analog? It’s possible. There may even be something which we haven’t yet begun to imagine.

Nonetheless, I will hazard a prediction. I predict that the future will bring new wonders and new problems in roughly equal measure. Certain problems that we now regard as insoluble will be solved; and new problems which will seem insoluble will emerge. Of one thing we can be sure, our children will look upon the wonders of the digital age exactly the way we look at steampunk. Those thirty-somethings tapping away on their notebook computers and iPads at Starbuck’s will look like mustachioed suspender salesmen behind the wheel of their Ford Model-Ts.

Time and Chance …

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.—Ecclesiastes 9:11, King James Version

Death for Some

Anders Behring Breivik

Now that Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik has been ruled sane and sentenced to twenty-one years in prison, I keep thinking about the death penalty. Norway, like most of Europe, has no death penalty. In fact, Breivik will spend as little as ten years in a fairly luxurious prison.

Call me bloodthirsty, but I think Breivik should have been hauled out of the courtroom and executed at once without the possibility of appeal. In a Europe that is reeling into recession, a long prison sentence in a facility with a private gym, laundry service, flat-screen TV, and access to computers and the Internet. Sounds to me as if killing Norwegians is an excellent career choice. And, when Breivik will be freed at some point between the ages of 43 and 54, he can do it all over again—probably with even more conviction.

The idea of rehabilitation, I fear, is a mere ignis fatuus, mere swamp gas. A cold-blooded murderer is not likely to come out of stir smelling as sweet as a petunia. (Certain young offenders who are in for minor crimes, on the other hand, can benefit a small percentage of the time.)

In the United States, much is made of the high cost of execution compared to a lifetime prison sentence. That’s because we allow them to clog our legal system filing endless appeals: We even encourage them to do it. People like Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City) and James Holmes (Aurora) are definitely guilty of the crimes with which they have been charged. I believe that it is irrelevant whether they are sane or insane. When there is no question of identifying the guilty party of a particularly heinous crime, the result should be summary execution within twenty-four hours without the possibility of appeal.

Most people on death row in the United States, on the other hand, probably shouldn’t be there. Mostly, these consist of poor black or Hispanic males who impulsively murdered someone. Or, more likely, they committed the unpardonable felony of “messing with Texas.” (Over 1,235 men and women have been executed in the Lone Star State, which prides itself on this statistic.)

I hold with former Minnesota Governor Jesse L. Ventura, who wrote in Ain’t Got Time to Bleed:

How come life in prison doesn’t mean life? Until it does, we’re not ready to do away with the death penalty. Stop thinking in terms of “punishment” for a minute and think in terms of safeguarding innocent people from incorrigible murderers.

If I were a Norwegian, I think the only advantage of a prison sentence for Breivik is that it allows me some time to file papers for emigrating to a “less civilized” country.