Vedantam and Solnit on Swimming with the Tide

April 20, 2016

From the March 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine – Rebecca Solnit’s article entitled “Bird in a Cage”:

There are two things I think about nearly every time I row out into San Francisco Bay. One is a passage from Shankar Vedantam’s The Hidden Brain, in which he talks about a swim he once took. A decent swimmer in his own estimate, Vedantam went out into the sea one day and discovered that he had become superb and powerful; he was instantly proud of his new abilities. Far from shore, he realized he had been riding a current and was going to have to fight it all the way back to shore. “Unconscious bias influences our lives in exactly the same manner as that undercurrent,” Vedantam writes. “Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine.”

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Quote of the week: the Godzilla trailer

May 21, 2014

Richard Corliss in the May 26, 2014 edition of Time magazine:

“Sometimes, the perfect version of a two-hour movie is its two-minute trailer” – (writing about the new Godzilla movie).


What makes Americans Americans, and why I love them

February 17, 2013

David Denby, one of The New Yorker‘s film critics, does what a good critic should:  he writes reviews that transcend their subjects.

In the January 28, 2013 edition of The New Yorker (p. 81), he reviewed Michael Apted’s 56 Up, and commented thus about the British subjects of Apted’s astonishing historical “follow them through life” documentary series”:

In all, these men and women don’t seem to have the seething ambitions and the restlessness of so many Americans.  They don’t expect to get rich, somehow, next year.  They may be happier than we are but they’re also less colorful.

Three sentences.  A very good summary of the American character, particularly from the viewpoint of this American expatriate living in Sydney, Australia.  Well, most of the Americans I know definitely do NOT seem very happy (at least compared to Australians), but they sure are more colourful.  (Different spelling of “colourful” this time purposeful.)


From Brooklyn to Manhattan

December 2, 2012

One of the most quoted lines about New York City is the one from Norman Podhoretz:  the first sentence of his 1967 memoir, Making It, goes: “One of the longest journeys in the world is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan”.

This is, of course, not simply a geographical journey, but a journey between worlds.  It’s one travelled by many in the film and entertainment worlds, both the real (Woody Allen) and the fictional (John Travolta’s character Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever).

In the case of Woody Allen, Nathan Heller (“Little Strangers” in The New Yorker, November 19, 2012, pp. 85-90) describes Allen’s film Annie Hall as a prime example of “disparate worlds” and “a narrative of horizontal identity, a story about being born ‘out of step’ with your family and joining a community alien to your parents’ milieu”.  In this case the Alvy Singer move from “the deep-seated Brooklyn coral of roller coasters, diabetees, and tallis salsemen” to a Manhattan “post-Freudian paradise of entertainment-biz parties” is the massive shift.

A great quote, and a good idea. But we are forgetting the second half of that first sentence from Podhoretz, one which follows the hypen: “— or at least from certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn to certain parts of Manhattan.”

A qualification to be sure.  So Manhattan is an idea – sophistication, fame, fortune – and Brooklyn, in this instance, is the opposite – working class, mundane, pedestrian.  Hmm, tell that to the residents living in Brooklyn Heights living in their multi-million dollar homes with outstanding views overlooking the East River and the skyline of Manhattan.

Annie Hall slide


The test of our progress is not adding to those who have much

November 14, 2012

Here is the best quote of the week, originally spoken by Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his Second Inaugural Address, on Wednesday 20 January 1937:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

The quote seems particularly important, given that last week’s re-election of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden has confirmed that the majority of Americans do, after all, consider the needs of the “community” to be equal – if not more important than – the individualism put forward by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  The American election was indeed a choice between two competing ideologies:  the importance of government and the triumph of the private sector.  It was close, but those who favour government were (and are) in the majority.


Film quote of the week

January 24, 2010

Film quote of the week:

Meryl Streep accepted the Golden Globe Award for best actress in a musical or comedy – her seventh Golden Globe – for her role in Julie and Julia, saying

In my long career, I’ve played so many extraordinary women that basically I’m getting mistaken for one.