Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Disappointing War of the Worlds

When I first heard that Steven Spielberg was directing a new movie version of War of the Worlds, I was quite excited, even though a small voice within cautioned me not to get too worked up over what could turn out to be a crushing disappointment. Sure enough, when the movie came out, many reviewers criticized it. Still, I waited eagerly for it to come to DVD so that I could see it for myself and make up my own mind about its quality.

When I finally saw it the other day, I was forced to agree with the critical critics. Yes, it was a masterpiece of visual and auditory special effects, rendered all the more impressive by my big screen TV and thundering surround sound system. But it lacked just about everything else that makes a movie good. Tom Cruise seemed to sleepwalk through his role, even at his most histrionic moments. His children were so obnoxious that I wanted the death rays to incinerate them and get them the hell out of the way. There was an extended scene in the basement of a building with a survivalist character played by Tim Robbins that seemed pointless if not “creepy,” as one reviewer called it, in its gratuitously pedophilic overtones. The movie, even with its stunningly graphic portrayal of extraterrestrial dominance and destructiveness, seemed too narrowly focused upon a family I cared nothing about and too little on broader scientific, social, philosophical, religious, or just plain human themes. And its ending seemed like little more than an afterthought.

This is in stark contrast to some of my favorite sci-fi films such as “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Forbidden Planet,” or even Spielberg’s own masterful “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” all of which managed to engagingly blend personal stories of human interest with compelling treatments of broader issues. I’d like to see the 1953 version of “War of the Worlds” again. It seems to me that even it was superior in some respects to Spielberg’s mindless, soulless extravaganza, and I understand that there’s another fairly new movie version of the story that may also be better than Spielberg’s, even if a great deal less flashy.

I wonder if anyone will ever make another truly great sci-fi film that engages the heart and mind as readily as it does the senses, or whether we are doomed to either cheesy Sci-Fi Channel potboilers or prodigal clones of the “Clones.”

Monday, November 28, 2005

Physics and Mysticism

A number of popular works, including Fritjof Capra’s “The Tao of Physics,” have argued that modern physicists have come to understand things about the universe that corroborate what great mystics the world over have been telling us for millennia about Reality. But Ken Wilber doesn’t buy it. He argues that when physicists tell us that subatomic particles depend on one another for their existence and behavior to such a degree that they comprise a unified whole, this is not the same as the mystic telling us that all the parts of all the various levels and sublevels of Reality are so interdependent that they comprise a unified whole. In other words, the physicist is addressing only one level of Reality—the physical level--and then only at the submicroscopic sublevel, whereas the mystic is addressing every sublevel and part of the physical, biological, psychological, socio-cultural, and spiritual levels of Reality. Thus, argues Wilber, it is only coincidence that physicists now see interdependence or “interpenetration” between some subatomic phenomena, particles, or quanta while, at the same time, mystics see the unity of all phenomena, and it is a coincidence that the physics of the future could conceivably abolish with a different understanding that no longer sees the subatomic phenomena in question as interdependent and interpenetrating. But if we don’t hitch the insights of mysticism to the current understanding of physicists, it doesn’t matter how future physicists understand the sublevel of subatomic reality.

I guess I understand Wilber’s point, but I don’t know if I agree with it. For it seems to me that if Reality is a unified whole of interdependent parts, why shouldn’t this be true for the parts on one level or sublevel as it is between levels and sublevels and between the parts of the various levels and sublevels? That is, for example, if the thoughts in my mind are interdependent with, among innumerable other things, the electrical impulses in my nervous system, the sights and sounds of my socio-cultural environment, and with the promptings of my spirit, why shouldn’t it also be the case that the spin of one subatomic particle should be interdependent with the spin of a “twin” subatomic particle far away from it? Why shouldn’t the interdependence or interpenetration that physicists see on the quantum level mirror what mystics see on and between all levels? And if physicists someday don’t see this interdependence on the quantum level, is this because it doesn’t exist, or because they have temporarily lost sight of it through flawed theory? I’m inclined to believe that it would be a case of the latter and that there is not necessarily anything wrong with using quantum physics to support mysticism right now.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Is It True?

"Myth, my friend, not alcohol, not marijuana, not meth- Myth has always been the most popular drug (hallucinogenic) in the history of humankind. Humankind loves nothing more than to hypnotize itself into a stupor by watching the distorted refracted bits of its own mind projected out onto a Universe that is actually wholly unconcerned with man's silly stories."

--Stuart Davis' Inner Voice of the

Blessed Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Arising in North America as a celebration of the harvest, it has evolved into a holiday occasion when families in America and Canada gather to feast and give thanks for all that they have. I am exceedingly grateful for all that I have—my wonderful wife, family, friends, home, health, and countless other blessings, and I am very mindful of the fact that most people in this world have far less than me. I know how fortunate I am and wish that I could find effective ways of giving back more to a world that has given me so much over the course of my life. But one area where I feel so lacking is in talent and skill that I can share with others in an uplifting way, and it is my profound wish that I can gain realistic confidence in my abilities to give something valuable of myself to others beyond what I’ve ever done.

But today I will visit and feast here at home with family and friends and give silent but constant thanks for the incredible abundance with which I’ve been undeservedly graced.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Goodbye, Ted

Ted Koppel said goodbye last night to ABC News, with which he’s been for the past 42 years, and to “Nightline,” with which he’s been for the past 25 years. I will miss him. He was my favorite of the news heavyweights who used to grace us with their impressive combinations of intelligence, eloquence, hard-won journalistic experience, broad knowledge, and calm, dignified news reporting and interviews. I’m not much impressed with the way TV news is going or with those who are taking over the jobs once held by the likes of Jennings, Rather, Brokaw, and now Koppel. Perhaps they will grow into their roles, but I doubt that they’ll given the chance to by news organizations that seem to be increasingly focused on youth, glitter, and, of course, dollars over substance, on “emotional reporting,” as one leading news organization boasts of its new hotshot anchorman, over graceful and dependable sobriety and reason. I guess I sound like an old fuddy-duddy pining for the “good old days.” But, in some ways, the old days WERE better than today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Coincidence or Causal Connection?

The other day I mentioned a guy I knew in high school who ended his life as a disgraced ex-police officer who fatally shot himself after robbing a bank and being cornered by police. The next day, I read about a CHP officer being shot to death in a nearby community by someone in a car he had pulled over for a traffic violation. The next day I discovered that the suspect, who police say is definitely the man who murdered the CHP officer, is the son of that guy I used to know in high school. An interesting coincidence. But how coincidental is it that this young man, if he did what he’s accused of, is the son of a guy whose life came to such a tragic end, or is there a strong causal connection between his father’s behavior and his own? If so, might this connection have a genetic as well as psychological component? That is, might the son have learned bad lessons from his father’s conduct and subsequent departure from his life, and might he also have inherited bad genes from his father that contributed to his and his father’s destructive behavior? Every time I encounter stories like this, I am more skeptical than ever that we humans truly have “free will.”

Monday, November 21, 2005

What Turns Men On

In looking at the photo of the young woman I wrote about recently, I’m reminded of the fact that I’ve long wondered why most men seem to feel the most physically attracted to the same kinds of women—women with bigger eyes, smoother skin, fuller lips, and other so-called “feminine” features. What is it about these features that are so universally attractive to men? Well, this article reports that Scottish researchers have linked the phenomenon to estrogen and fertility. That is, men are attracted to women with these physical features because these women generally have the highest estrogen levels and are therefore the most fertile.

I’ve read about other studies that link our perceptions of physical beauty with symmetricality—i.e., both sides of the face and body being equally proportioned—but the Scottish study is not addressing beauty per se but female sexual attractiveness. I suppose it’s possible to rate high on the beauty—symmetrical—scale but not so high in sexual attractiveness. In fact, I seldom feel particularly attracted to “beautiful” women. I tend to go for the cutely sexy ones.

Of course, many women do not have high estrogen and fertility levels and don’t naturally look as though they do, but they can often get around this by judiciously applying make-up that fools males into thinking they’re more fertile than they are. Furthermore, there is more to overall attraction than physical attractiveness, especially in terms of long term relationships. There are psychological dimensions, as the online dating service eHarmony emphasizes. But speaking strictly of sexual attractiveness, the physical indicatiors of high estrogen and fertility are very compelling. Women are acting naturally when they do their best to highlight these features, and men, of all ages, are acting naturally when they respond positively to them.

However, I wonder what it is in males that is most sexually attractive to females, in females that is most sexually attractive to other females, and in males that is most sexually attractive to other males. Are more complex variables involved in these attractions? Studies have shown that females are not necessarily physically drawn to the most overtly virile looking males. The explanation is that females are programmed by their biology to seek men who can not only impregnate them with good genes but who will also be good providers and protectors for them and their offspring, whereas men are biologically programmed to be more narrowly focused on propagating their genes via as many fertile women as possible.

It’s fascinating to contemplate the connections between biological drives and other factors in our sexual and romantic attractions and behaviors, and also the relative degrees to which these various factors should govern our sexual and romantic behaviors. I feel frequent tension between what I think I, as a married man, should feel and do and what I actually feel and want to do. I want to copulate with every pretty woman, especially if she’s Asian, in sight, but I love my wife and feel committed to her. But what would I REALLY do if the Asian equivalent of Jessica Alba came on to me? Would it be as easy as I’d like to think it would be to say “No” to her? Fortunately, this seems as academic a question as the one of what I’d do if I could go back in time knowing what I do now. Unless I ever end up taking an unsupervised trip to Asia, that is.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I don’t usually think much about the past. But I’ve been doing quite a lot of it the last couple of days, as my latest entries show. In perusing websites aimed at my high school graduating class, I encountered pictures and names of classmates who are, as they say, “no longer with us.” Some of them I knew fairly well, some I hardly knew at all. But there was one young woman named Teresita I have no recollection of whom I wish I had gotten to know. If I could go back to high school then knowing what I do now, I would try to get to know this extremely pretty young woman and see if her character and personality matched her physical beauty. She’d probably have nothing to do with me, but I’d like to think that I’d have more courage than I had then and would at least give things a chance. No, I’m not talking about a sexual relationship. I’d like to think that having experienced plenty of that in my alternate timeline and remembering it all vividly would tame my physical desires to controllable levels and I would not be, in essence, a 50+ year-old man (albeit in a horny teenager’s body) taking unfair advantage of teenaged girls. But if this young woman were as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside, I’d sure like for us to be friends while we were classmates and, perhaps, even until she left this earth. Or maybe our relationship would somehow, for better or worse, change things so much that she wouldn’t leave prematurely. I don’t know how she died, but maybe it wasn’t disease. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe she was in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe our friendship would somehow lead to a different outcome. I’m not sure why I’m thinking these strange thoughts. I guess I’m only now beginning to get a real sense of what I missed during those precious, irreplaceable years.

What am I missing now?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Changing the Past

I graduated from high school in 1971. In my entry yesterday, I mentioned that I posted a message in a public forum dedicated to my graduating class. In my message, I addressed the question of whether I would do anything differently if I could go back to my high school days knowing what I do now. This is the message I posted:

I'm delighted that you would change little or nothing if you had high school to do all over again, knowing what you do now. However, my answer is profoundly different. If I knew back then what I do now, I think, or would like to think, that I would do virtually EVERYTHING differently. For I was a painfully shy and geeky young man in high school who largely stayed to himself and graduated in the class of '71 not with a bang or even a whimper but so nondescriptly that I doubt that anyone even noticed. I regret that. For I believe that there was so much more I could have experienced and given of myself during my time at LAHS if only I'd had the confidence and self-discipline to do

There's a great episode of the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in which Capt. Picard is propelled back in time with his knowledge and character of the future, and he does many things differently and ends up far worse off than he was before. He concludes from this that life is a "tapestry" composed of innumerable interdependent threads and
that to remove any of these threads is to risk having the whole tapestry come disastrously apart. However, if I had the opportunity to do what Capt. Picard did, I would enthusiastically take the chance of changing almost everything and seeing what happened.

But since such opportunities are the stuff of fantastic fiction rather than reality, I will simply say that, despite my misgivings about the past, I am truly grateful that I was privileged enough to attend LAHS
and meet so many nice people and enjoy a good many wonderful times.

Blessings to one and all, now and forever.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Last night I watched a movie called “Normal Life.” It was about a police officer (Luke Perry) who meets a very troubled young woman (Ashley Judd), falls hopelessly in love with her, and plunges with her into a bleak hell of crime and death.

This movie came out in 1996, and I saw it for the first time a year or so later on cable. When I saw it again last night, I shook my head in disbelief that the straight-laced Luke Perry character could lose his heart so quickly and completely to such an obviously disturbed woman and later resort to such extreme measures to keep her in his life. But when I saw the movie nine or so years ago, my reaction was very different. The movie resonated with me profoundly back then because I knew all-too-well what it felt like to love someone with such obsessive and desperate focus that one would do almost anything to have and keep her in his life. I didn’t rob or even contemplate robbing banks for the woman I loved at that time. But if she had wanted me to and I had felt capable of pulling it off, I have little doubt that I would have done it if I thought it meant keeping her with me. Nor do I doubt that I would have acted much the way the Luke Perry character did at the very end of the film were I to face similar circumstances.

I would like to think that it’s a measure of how much I’ve matured over the intervening years that I no longer empathize with this character or think the movie is particularly good. But have I REALLY matured all that much emotionally, or is it more a matter of having suffered a figurative hardening of my heart to the slings and arrows of unrequited love that I experienced with the woman in question. After her, I think I permanently lost the ability to love anyone with that kind of overwhelming passion and depth and to empathize with anyone else who could. That’s probably a good thing overall, but it’s not completely good. I think I lost a vital piece of myself when I lost that young woman’s affections. I’ve spent the last nine or so years feeling too little emotional connection to other people and to the emotional aspects of my past. I’ve sheltered myself from the pain and sadness that can come from getting too close to others and to a less than fulfilling past, and, in so doing, have sacrificed some of my humanity to the insipid God of comfort.

But the film reminded me of a somewhat similar story of a guy I used to know in high school who ended up being a cop who lost his job over his illicit involvement with a woman, eventually took to robbing banks, and killed himself when he finally faced capture. So I went online to refresh my memory of the precise details of his case and stumbled across a couple of websites for fellow class of 1971 graduates of my high school. There I found brief messages from people I hadn’t seen or heard anything from in almost 35 years, and I felt the sadness as well of pleasure of connecting a little with that long ago time and place in my life.

I was an impossibly shy geek in high school with no close friends. I didn’t attend school dances or other functions, I was terrified of women, and I earned decent grades but never really challenged or applied myself in school. After I quit the varsity basketball team as a sophomore because my learning disability rendered me incapable of learning the plays or even executing simple practice drills and because I had a recently diagnosed heart arrhythmia that would have made effective play on that level difficult under the best of circumstances, my passions were playing playground basketball on weekdays after school and then retreating into my bedroom at night to lose myself in books and television, and bowling on the weekends. To say I was outside the mainstream at my high school would be an understatement, and I hung out with my out-of-the-mainstream casual male friends and was so isolated from the overall scheme of things that I didn’t even know enough about what I was missing to really miss it all that much.

But when I saw a brief message from one of the guys I knew in elementary and junior high school and spent quite a lot of time with in high school, I felt the happy warmth of nostalgia and sent him a message telling him how much I admired and liked him all those years ago and that I hoped things were going well for him.

I also posted a public message to another forum for my graduating class in which I addressed a poster’s question of whether she would do anything differently if she had a chance to go back to high school knowing what she does now. She said she would do almost everything the same the second time around. I said I would do almost everything differently. And so I would, or would like to think I would. But that’s perhaps a subject for another journal entry someday.