Tuesday, June 30, 2009

David Souter: A Life Engaged, "...where love and need are one..."


Dear Colleagues,

Your generous letter has touched me more than I can say, and I will only try to leave you with some sense of what our common service has meant to me. You quoted the Poet, and I will, too, in words that set out the ideal of the life engaged, "...where love and need are one..."

That phrase accounts for the finest moments of my life on this Court, as we have agreed or contended with each other over those things that matter to decent people in a civil society. For nineteen Terms, I have lived that life with you, all of us sharing our own best years with one another, working side by side as fellow servants and as friends.

I will not sit with you at our bench again after the Court rises for the Summer this time, but neither will I retire from our friendship, which has held us together despite the pull of the most passionate dissent. It has made the work lighter through all my tenure here, and for as long as I live, I will be thankful for it, and be under a very grateful obligation to each one of you.

Yours affectionately,


Monday, June 29, 2009

The Beauty That Still Remains...

"At such moments I don't think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: 'Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you're not part of it.' My advice is: 'Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.'

I don't think Mother's advice can be right, because what are you supposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You'd be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance. A person's who's happy will make others happy; a person who has courage and faith will never die in misery!"

-- Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank, March 6, 1944

(hat tip to Gretchen Rubin (www.happiness-project.com)

Saturday, June 27, 2009


The movie, Amelie, takes a magic marker, draws a big question mark over its heart and asks, "Where and When?"

Daydreams and a vivid imagination inform Amelie who cannot otherwise piece together the formative events of her life (her mother was freakishly killed by a falling suicide who had jumped off a building). Events seem to happen When and Where they please. Amelie discovers, wedged in the wall boards of her apartment, an old tin of childhood toys that once belonged to the now middle aged former tenant who is estranged from his daughter - the toys recall for him that time - maybe the past can repair the present.

A young man, Nino, who works in an adult video store spends his afternoons painstakingly collecting discarded photo-booth portraits of strangers at the local train station. He pastes the torn photographs into a scrapbook in jig saw fashion trying to piece together the lives of strangers.

Amelie devises elaborate covert stratagems to set things right: from behind the scenes she teaches the mean shopkeeper a lesson; she plays matchmaker to the lonely woman working the cashier at the cafe, "The Two WindMills" (is she tilting at them in her quixotic journey?); she leaves a torn photo of herself in the photo-booth hoping that the scrapbook maker will piece the picture together and be able to read the note she holds up in the photo suggesting they meet.

He replies with his own photo - "Ou et Quand" - "Where and When?"

Ou et Quand? Amelie doesn't know. The portraits in the scrapbook are fragmented and mis construed - the lives do not make sense (yet). The work in an adult video store is not in the least bit exotic. The diabolical appearing man mysteriously photographing himself in the booth is in fact a simple repairman. The brow beaten assistant to the sadistic grocer has lost an arm. The painter endlessly copying an outdoor landscape paints in his apartment, shades drawn, with a video camera recording the clock outside so he can see the time projected on his TV. For him "Where" is somewhere else, "When" is not now.

When Amelie and the young scrapbook maker finally meet, he starts to talk, she raises her hand to his mouth to stop him from anxiously ruining the moment and kisses him, first the right corner of his mouth, next the corner of his neck, then each eyelid. He follows her lead, silently kissing her back... the four corners of her torn self portrait come together as "Where and When" is gently and sweetly answered - or is it?

Amelie uses a a kind of modern voodoo to control her world and the people who inhabit it. Abandoned through death by her mother and left with a cold and aloof father she retreats as a little girl (and young adult) into a magical world of her own making. She remains in her solitary world untouched, unloved, unharmed, until the radio reports the death of Princess Di. The unthinkable has happened, the fairy tale princess is no more. It's time to grow up Amelie.

Tentatively Amelie bridges her inner world of magical thinking to the adult world, much the way a voodoo shaman uses pins and dolls - only in her case she uses garden figurines and personal artifacts (old toys, slippers, torn photographs, masks.) She rarely leaves the boundaries of her small almost play house village. She often goes to the train station but she never gets on a train.

The world frightens Amelie and she hides from it effectively. No one sees her behind the scenes setting in motion the events that lead to the mean shopkeeper's lesson in compassion; her father's release from agoraphobia; the cashier's sensual return to her hot blooded self. When Amelie finally comes face to face with the young scrapbook maker she is standing behind a glass wall upon which she is writing the restaurant's "specials" (she looks like she is on the menu) - but what if she isn't quite to his taste? Only moments before she witnessed his disappointment when he realized that the conventionally attractive young woman approaching him in the restaurant was not his mystery date. Just as it wasn't safe for Amelie's mother to walk by a building perhaps it is not yet safe for Amelie to go out.

Where and When anyone emerges from childhood to adulthood (as we watch Amelie so quirkily do) may be about learning to overcome the fear that keeps us from traveling beyond our own borders - merely manipulating from a safe distance whatever idiosyncratic toys we have at our disposal within the confines of our childhood experience. That is the question Amelie tries to answer for herself. In the end she emerges, pale from a childhood spent mostly in the shadows into the bright sunlight shining on her face as she rides on the back of the scooter, arms around the man she has discovered the courage to finally meet.

Now she is going somewhere.

[Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (English: Amélie, literally The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain) is a 2001 French/German film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou. Amélie won best film at the European Film Awards; it won four César Awards (including Best Film and Best Director), two BAFTA Awards (including Best Original Screenplay), and was nominated for five Academy Awards.]

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Shortest M. Night Shyamalan Movie Ever Made...

In a way I hate how good some commercials are. Commercials are supposed to be bad (after all they are commercial). That said, a lot of creative stuff goes on in the advertising world. PS This was not actually made by M. Night Shyamalan (Sixth Sense, among others) but you will see what I mean.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Woody Allen Interview On Fresh Air...

Woody Allen speaks with Terry Gross about a wide range of topics including what his childhood was like, how the public (mis) perceives him, his athleticism, flunking out of college (he was a movie production major at NYU) and the role that his career and occasional moments of pleasure (watching sports, playing music, being with his family) play in distracting him (us) from the inescapable fact of sadness, suffering and the unsolvable problems of life. (Jobs are good because they present us with problems that can be solved - unlike the problems that life throws at us.)

It's a really fun interview with some very thoughtful moments. If you click on the title of this post you will be taken to it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Conversation with Quinn

I found this video interview of the Bradlee/Quinn family of interest. If you click on the title of this post - "A Conversation With Quinn" you will be taken to the video.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran, Obama, McCain

For eight years, as Bush demonized Iran, including them in the famous Axis of Evil, reactionary, fundamentalist, Mullahs held sway with out too much visible opposition. It can be lost on no one except the knee-jerk jerks looking for any way to attack Obama, that the President's respectful appeal to the Muslim world, and his willingness to allow that Iran might have its own legitimate interests, may have helped spark this moment in Iran. There can be no way of knowing, but the facts are that during previous eight years there had been nothing like the current Iranian uprising, and now, there is a major, vocal and seemingly fearless opposition. This may end terribly, or may be the beginning of a new Iran, but the idea that the President should irresponsibly ratchet up the rhetoric is dangerous, ignorant and heartless. Unless you advocate invading Iran on behalf of an opposition not asking for you, caution and letting the events play out with careful comments is the only way to go. Obama is so sophisticated on the international stage; it is heartening that he is not taking the bait. Even George Will, in a moment of lucidity argued against heating up the language. That McCain is willing to be a vocal critique of Obama with such a wrongheaded position really makes one happy that he is not calling the shots.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Is It This About Sports...(?)

It is possible that sports appeal is based in part on our identification with the act and the actor. Not everyone could imagine being an astro physicist - but almost everyone can golf to some extent or hit a baseball. We can imagine being up at the plate. Couple that with the hardships we face while doing our ordinary work and maybe we identify with the guy hitting the golf ball on TV while his wife is ill and project onto him what feels like our own everyday heroism. Maybe when we manufacture our sports heroes - we are to some degree manufacturing our own imagined best selves. Maybe when we see excellence in sport - we imagine our own excellence and maybe that is not a bad thing (though it could also suggest a yearning for something that we are missing and to the extent it partially fills that gap our yearning is sublimated rather than acted on). Or maybe people just like to watch high level athletic competition and achievement.

What Is It About Sports?

The other day watching the tee-off of the golf tournament happening at Bethpage (is there both a tennis and a golf tournament each called the U.S. Open?) the announcer said, when Phil Mickelson came on screen, "This is going to be an emotional tournament for Phil because his wife was recently diagnosed with breast cancer".

And I thought to myself: Really? - the guy is golfing. Admittedly it's a competition and a lot of people are watching him and it's his job (weird job - hit a little ball with a club into a small hole about 500 yards way in as few shots as you can) and also no doubt when one's wife is ill it can be emotional but somehow the notion that there is some sort of heroic, stoic, emotional quality deserving of comment in the instance of a millionaire golfer is off-putting to me.

Compare that to your average working guy, say a guy who works in the post office or maybe he is a middle aged waiter at an Appleby's Resturant. Maybe his wife is sick too, only in his case there are few doctors rushing to treat this celebrity postal worker. The medical world frightens and intimidates him but he has no doctor friends he can call for counsel. Maybe he would like to take some time off to be with his wife but cannot afford it. Maybe he is struggling to make ends meet and to pay for his kids to go to college. Maybe he hates his job and is really bored working in the post office. Or, if he works at Appelby's, is really hassled by the constantly complaining customers ("Eat your hamburger and shut up - this ain't fuckin Lutece."). There are a million things I can imagine that would seem to qualify this post office worker for sympathy and understanding - but no one comments as he heads off in the rain to work that this is an emotional time for him. 

Turning back to Mickelson -  I think Mickelson, is playing a game that he is good at, is famous for and is highly (if not insanely) compensated for. His wife is sick - he has all the resources anyone could possibly hope for to deal with his wife's unfortunate illness. If I was his friend, I'd feel for him just as I would for the post office worker if he was my friend.

Maybe it's just me but this kind of lionizing of sports figures seems a little like anthropomorphizing animals. The Lion King is great - but he is a cartoon - these are human beings we are talking about and somehow the notion of elevating and focusing on the emotional states of celebrity (sports or otherwise) when it comes to the very real things that everyday people also face with the same degree (or higher) of selflessness seems banal.  I would not be surprised to learn that Mickelson agrees with me.

PS. I see that today's NY Times cover story is about the tennis player, Nadal. I think I will read it but I will have my bullshit radar turned way up. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

What we (almost) learned from watching Felix The Cat cartoons...

I was at the train station today and ran into the daughter of a friend and I said hi and complimented her on her back pack which was a very interesting old fashioned style that you do not see too often. She said it was her "possibilities bag".  Upon inquiry she explained that when she was camping in Wyoming she learned that every day she needed to pack for possibilities (e.g., rain, thirst, sun, hunger, getting lost, bugs) so now, whatever the environment (rural/urban), she tries to pack for what could happen. I try to do that in my head - be ready for possibility and I pack my brain with the things I may need, flexibility, some humor, curiosity -  all the stuff I can think of that might be needed at any given moment. Sometimes I am well provisioned, other times I totally left the bag at home. 

Shortly after running into her (the daughter of my friend) I ran into a guy I know in front of his workshop/office/studio and I said hi to him (the guy I know)  and went into his office/studio/workshop for like only the second time ever and realized (for the first time) that it is almost a museum. The guy has been collecting stuff for 40 years. He had a deer head AND a tiger head, a deer skin rug, at least 10 old radios from the  50's, an orange art deco couch, cabinets filled with glass, chairs, tables, art work, old hand tools, movie posters, pinball machines, old photos, comic books, move projectors... and I happened to see covered in rugs and books and other stuff two old green chairs that, incredibly enough, are exactly a match to the old green chairs that I have in my kitchen that we bought 20 years ago and are now falling apart. Only his are nicer - mint condition. He happily sold them to me or $25 each.

Fortuity met Possibility...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

World events

Hi, I am in charge of US foreign policy. Just a few thoughts:

I cannot control world events. No matter how brilliant my analysis, no matter how strong my army, I cannot mandate, cajole, bully, co-opt, or command enemies or allies of the United States to behave as I would like. Countries have long, complex and independent agendas. We are one player in a living, breathing matrix of values, history, culture, power and ideology. My goal is to diminish the risk of war, to build new alliances. to be a respectful member of the international community. We are a major player, but we are not all powerful, or all knowing. I know this is not what you want to hear. But you need to hear it. Thank you.

How Cool It Is To Be A Dog...

Iggy Pop was one of the first (if not the first) of the nihilistic punk rockers. He recently turned 60 and has a new album of ballads. When he was younger I think he succeeded more on attitude than talent but as he has aged I think his talent has developed and his attitude has become a kind of charming charisma based on thoughtful self awareness (never easy especially for someone who was such a total lunk head). He was recently interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air and I found it really fascinating to hear about the arc of his life from his perspective. You can hear the interview at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104735787.  (In the trailer for his new album I think he sounds a bit like Jesse Ventura another guy whose talent and charisma evolved from attitude into something else over time.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

(Some) Men Are Real Buffoons.

I loved this rant I found on the blog "The Girl Works" (http://thegirlworks.wordpress.com). We at RF have posted some of her other entries before. (One about what she wants to do with her life that was amazing called "The Way My Mother Was When She Was Young" that was posted on Rough Fractals on March 28, 2009 and can be found in the archives on the right side of the page or at http://roughfractals.blogspot.com/2009/03/way-my-mother-was-when-she-was-young.html). She is a young woman who lets words rip and is smart and funny and observant.

"Just listened to the most infuriating segment on Tell Me More: the flaccid opinions of two advocates for men. Never have I ever witnesses such a potently impotent admixture of chauvinism, racial ignorance, homophobia, lack of self-knowledge, and whining. In fact, sexism might be the least of the charges to lay at the door of this group of selfish motherfuckers.*

Sample soundbytes:

“All this talk today about rights for this group, rights for that group… when I was growing up we didn’t talk about rights; men in my day had responsibilities.”

Yeah, you had the responsibility of a high-paying, secure white collar job because you and your cracker family never lacked any of those rights you now sneer at women and people of color for working so damn hard to achieve. Responsibility? You don’t even know how light your burden is. You find it so easy to dismiss the value of your rights because no social majority ever dictated that you earn them to its satisfaction.


“Tell us about your book, The Myth of Male Power. What exactly do you mean by power?”
“What I mean by power is the responsibility to work hard at making a living and earning money that is then spent by other people.”

FUCK you. I can’t come up with an applicable epithet that doesn’t also denigrate women, so just… fuck you.

“Its not about entitlement.”

The hell it ain’t. I feel real entitled to punch you in the face for that statement.

Oh, and I’m calling it homophobia but not sexism because the entire conversation was couched in terms of the supposed enmity between men and women, in which men are alleged to be losing. “The women’s liberation movement has done so much for women’s confidence and success in education, business, and other fields, that we wanted to form an organization that could do the same for men.” Are you extending the disadvantages you perceive and the brotherhood you offer to gay men as well as straight? And do you hate lesbians for ostensibly bringing you down, or is that rancor (strong words for such a weak sentiment) reserved for straight women?

I’m guessing more eloquent representatives of the White Male Empowerment Movement could have been dug out from under a rock somewhere, but next time let’s focus on statistics for men of color, and see how much you white boys have to complain about then.

It’s a blessing I didn’t destroy my car radio with evil looks. The funny thing, though, is that I rather like men. They make excellent snacks.

*My mom’s got better taste than that, I like to think."


Friday, June 12, 2009

Ven and The Art of Work.

At first I did not think this ven diagram was all that interesting but as I stared at it and thought about the individual circles and the overlap points I changed my mind about it and think its a pretty good summary of what is a kind of unconscious process of the way people think about work, that is, starting with the notion of doing something you get paid for, wanting to do that and doing it well and then taking that to the next level which is learning to do what you do better. The learn to say no part sort of threw me but I can see how that's an important part of doing anything. 

Anyway, the hooray part where all of the elements intersect (the "Ven"), where you are doing what you want to do well and are getting paid to do it, makes sense to me. The question is how do you know what you like to do? If you have never tasted chocolate ice cream how do you know if you like it or are good at eating it? 

Take something that I am pretty good at for example -  collating and stapling.  You probably do not think you either like doing that or are any good at it. But you never know,  if you were well paid to collate and staple you  might find you like it and if you like it you might be darn good at it especially when the view of midtown from, say, the 53rd floor of whatever building your are in, is amazing. In my opinion a lot of white  collar workers in big buildings are doing just that. I think another thing they like about it is that they are only actually working about 3 of the 5 days they are in the office. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Unmistaken Child

The title above is the name of a recently released documentary about a Tibetan monk's 4 year search for the reincarnation of his Master who died at the age of 84. This movie is chock full of stuff to noodle, such as; faith and proof (the belief in reincarnation is based on faith but identifying the reincarnate is done through proof so there can be no "mistake"); loss and grief; parents and children; social/political/religious order; family; father and son; Rimpoche and monk; purpose... Is the Unmistaken Child the actual reincarnation of the deceased Rimpoche? Does it matter if he is not?

Below the trailer:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Laura Bush endorses Sotomayor

It appears Laura Bush has endorsed Sonia Sotomayor's nomination. She is proud that another woman will soon be on the Supreme Court. Such a genuine sentiment, and sensible too. There have been two woman and no Hispanic Americans on the Supreme Court in over two hundred years, but expressing pride or enthusiasm for either of those steps forward is either dastardly reverse racism, or shameful identity politics. Of course hundreds of years of a court of white men is not to be questioned. Welcome Laura, you are now going to be the object of rabid Gingrich, Limbaugh scorn.

From Supreme Court to Supreme Happiness?

Gretchen Rubin, the woman who made this video, as well as the one entitled The Days Are Long, The Years Are Short, (which Rough Fractals posted as well under the heading Time Is Now Video, graduated from Yale Law School where she was Editor In Chief of the Yale Law Review. After law school she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. At the end of her clerkship she said she found the law unfulfilling and she left the field to become a writer and start a blog. Her web site can be found at happiness-project.com. 

I think she is very smart in what appears to be an uncomplicated way. Here's another video:


The Time Is Now Video...

I believe the message of this video is that life is a journey not a destination, that we should live in the moment and that it's the small things that count. The video itself does not seem very sophisticated and does not seem to have a sense of irony but perhaps both those concepts are overrated.  Anyway here it is, I think I like it. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fortuitous Event Of The Week...

For a while now I have been spending some time on a modest goal - to figure out if there is a unifying theory of the Universe, something that will explain everything. I think I have it. I call it The Unifying Fortuity Theory Of Everything. 

Here is both an example and the thought process that led me to this.

I was out jogging today and was listening to music from the album titled: "Steve Miller and Friends" on which Steve Miller is accompanied by various musicians doing covers of Steve Miller Band songs. A song came on featuring Les Paul and started with a recording made about 50 years ago when Steve Miller was 8 years old and Les Paul (a family friend) says to him - "Steve you sing real good, you should keep singing. Steve someday you are going to go somewhere" ... and then the song begins... "Fly Like an Eagle". Right as the chorus "Fly like an Eagle" begins, a guy on his bike about 50 yards in front of me takes his hands off his handle bars only he doesn't just lift them off - he spreads his arms like wings and shifts balance just a bit to mimic gliding so that he looks like, well like,  he is flying (like an eagle). And I thought - "wow, look at that,  just as the words "fly like an eagle" start this random guy in front me starts pretending he is flying like an eagle. And then I thought - there is no real reason for why things happen - they just do, by fortuity. And this is why that matters...because by far the biggest influencing factor in everyone's life is something they have zero control over - namely, where they are born. If you are born, for example, in Calcutta, you are going to have a very different life than if you are born in the U.S. Talk about the illusion that we control our own destiny. Our destiny is set in motion way before we are even conceived. And then if you think about all the littler accidents that have happened to you that had a huge impact such as friends, family, acceptance, rejection, injury, health, lottery number in the draft, and the thousands of things that we do not control it started to seem to me that fortuity plays a much larger part in the course of life than say, free will or self-determination or individual responsibility and accountability (not that any of those are bad things but if I am right about the way the universe works then I suspect those attitudes and the way we individually adhere to them (or not) are largely fortuitous as well). 

So then I was thinking maybe I will start recording all the fortuitous events that happen to me almost daily (it seems). Call it the fortuitous/accidental event of the week. 

My randomly running into a guy pretending to fly like an eagle on a bicycle while Fly Like An Eagle comes on my headphones event is this week's.


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