Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Travels

I’ve written a couple of travel posts before. I thought I’d write this one that mostly just reviews up the travels in life.  I’ve been pretty lucky, getting to go to many places, enough to satisfy me anyway. Some people have gone on many more trips than I have, of course, and I’m not trying to compare myself to others. I have friends who don’t like to travel at all, those who want to but are afraid or think they don’t have the money, those who prefer cruises, those who don’t want to be on the water, those who prefer to go back to the same place year after year, those who go different places but many times to one place, some who love to plan trips and some who only go when others plan them, those who like touristy places and those who are less interested in them. And so on. Everyone does it differently and I couldn’t tell you who gets the most out of it, because some people go but seem to hate it, some people revel in it, some brag about them and some barely mention or remember where they've been.

I frequently ask people where they’ve gone. Not too many people ask me, even when I've asked them, so I guess it is more my interest than other people’s, but I have found that when people have asked me where I’ve been, I just say I’ve been lucky but it seems too hard to name the places. Once I tried, but got interrupted so fast, it just didn’t seem like a good idea to continue.

There was a time that travel was extremely important to me, sometime into my forties. After living in a rural community for a while, with years to kayak and hike, I found that though I still love to travel, and will again, I had lost my burning desire. That had already happened to me with things like skiing and chasing girls, so, it’s not much of a surprise. I think it is because I was able to spend so many years in a row at relative leisure, but who knows? Maybe I’m just older and don’t want to make so much of an effort to do anything anymore. Now, frankly, going to my favorite beach on the north shore of Long Island seems a lot easier and as much fun for me as going to one at a distant location. But, that’s where I am now and I don’t expect others to agree. And I’m sure I will have other trips, money and health permitting.

My bucket list is very small at this point.  New Zealand, probably with stops in the south Pacific there and back, is the big one, and I think I’d like to spend some few days by myself in Rome and Venice, mostly for the art. Anyway, here’s my list of where I’ve been. I know that many people include places they’ve driven through on the way to somewhere else or were at the airport or dock without getting to explore, but I do not. E.g., I have driven through Delaware many times more than I’ve been almost anywhere else, always on the interstate and rarely stopping except at one of those stops for gas, McDonald’s, etc. Nor the night I spent in Memphis, where we were warned not to leave our hotel. I attached a few pictures, but kept it light, mostly because it would have made it too big. I think they are clickable though.

U.S.

NY. Not including where I live on Long Island, because I’ve been to most of it over the years, obviously a lot of time in Manhattan, which I still think is the greatest city in the world. I’ve visited the estates in Westchester on a few occasions. The Washington Irving Estate (Sunnyside) and Rockefeller Estate (Kykuit) both come to mind. One major trip up to Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes area and some spots in between, including Corning (glass factory) and Cooperstown for the baseball Hall of Fame, with which I was not impressed. Many trips kayaking, but I’ll put that under Pa. Went to summer camp in the Adirondacks for two years when I was a kid at Raquette Lake, have visited Lake George a few times (I hate the touristy part) and stayed in nearby Lake Lucerne for quite a while. Also stayed up in Schroon Lake one day when picking my daughter up from camp and Mohonk Mountain and its fantastic lodge is one of my favorite places in the world.


Mohonk Mountain House.                                       Mineola, NY, Court House.                                      

NJ. Up to the mountain country for skiing a number of times, visits with a relative and also my daughter’s family on small lakes a few times and lovely, lovely, Newark and some other small cities.

Connecticut. I’ve only really spent time in Hartford on business a couple of days at my Uncle’s house in Greenwich. But it adds up over time.  I’ve also driven through it many times, but, only count the former occasions as having been there.

Rhode Island. Went to Providence for a weekend. Lots of mansions mostly.

Massachusetts. I’ve been to Boston three times and the environs. This time added Lexington and Concord, including a walk around Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Like Connecticut, I driven through it many times on my way to Vermont, through little towns.

Vermont. Many ski trips in the mountains, particularly at Killington, but also at least once Pico, Okemo and Mount Snow. There’s a beautiful little town called Woodstock I’ve spent many days in not far from skiing, but usually in bad weather. And I have visited a few college towns, like Middlebury.

Killington Ski Resort, Vermont.

New Hampshire. Two ski trips. Also climbed Mt. Washington in our car once. Scared the bejeesus out of my evalovin’ gf. She made me stop at a resting point and insisted we go back down. I wasn’t about to do that. And up we went.

Maine. A week exploring some lakes. Maybe I’ll go back to Bar Harbor someday. That is real pretty and I only had a couple of hours there. There’s a national park there that seems like it should be explored.

Pennsylvania. Four trips to Gettysburg, which is really sublime. Please go and stay there two days if you haven’t. Spent many days, probably adding up to a couple of weeks at this point, kayaking on the Delaware River, which is actually the border of NY and Pa., but I’ll include it here. Philadelphia once to see all the touristy things, like Convention Hall.

Maryland. I’ve been to Baltimore many times under the guidance of the estimable Bear, who is a pretty good tour guide. I was not expecting much the first time we went, somewhere between 10-15 years ago, but they’ve done an amazing job gentrifying the city and it is beautiful and fun. I’ve also spent enough time driving in rural areas around Maryland that I would include it anyway. A night in Fredericks on our way back from Gettysburg once too. Almost forgot, a weekend in Colonial Beach on the Potomac River (the river looks like the ocean there, being so wide at that spot), which was once a rip roaring place and now a quiet and less inhabited beach town, and stayed at the old home of Alexander Graham Bell.

Washington, D.C.  I have probably been there five or six times, enough to lose count, anyway. Restaurants and museums mostly, The Newseum and the Spy Museum being my favorites, visited the presidential monuments (Lincoln's choked me up), saw the cherry blossoms but not the Vietnam Memorial. Places where they list the dead make me sad. Love Georgetown. I once spent a weekend there trying not to think about a broken heart. Worked okay, actually.

Virginia. I lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains and James River Valley for four and a half years. I did too much to say in a paragraph, but I’m sure more there than anywhere else I’ve gone in my life, particularly around Buchanan, a tiny town on the James River, where I lived. As for other places, I saw Richmond and Jefferson’s, Madison’s, Washington’s homes and Robert E. Lee’s childhood home in Charlottesville, Montpelier, Mount Vernon and Stratford, respectively. Been to Lexington, Va., many times. It is the town that led me to live in the area (although in Buchanan, on the James River, a half hour south). I spent endless hours on the Washington & Lee campus, at the cemetery (Stonewall Jackson and others), the Jackson House, the Lee Chapel and on the Maury River. And, spent many days in Roanoke, a city of roughly 90,000, about a half hours south of my home there, and Smith Mountain Lake, an incredibly beautiful lake another 45 minutes from Roanoke, surrounded by spectacular and surprisingly cheap homes right on the water.


Peaks of Otter, Virginia.

North Carolina. I’ve been to Charlotte, where I have friends. It’s a nice city, but the suburbs are too much like Long Island to suit me. Lake Norman to the north is pretty and my evalovin’ gf says she’d like to live there some day. Also visited my brother when he lived in Raleigh. Not my favorite place, really, but many people I’ve met wanted to move there and every place has its charms.

Florida. I’ve driven through S. Carolina and Georgia, but never really did anything or stopped long, so I don’t count them. But I’ve been to Florida more than any other place I haven’t lived. The irony is, I’m not a fan. Too hot, too flat, too many sharks and alligators. I was two the first time I went and then the next year too. Been to Orlando, of course, and Disney, Miami, Boca Raton, Sarasota, and just recently, the very beautiful Marco Island and Key West. Boynton Beach on the east coast too. I realize that eventually most of my friends will move there, though I really would rather not.



Marco Island, Florida.

Louisiana. I was helping my friend, Peter, move from Florida to Iowa and I insisted we stop in New Orleans, where we spent one day. But, it was one heck of a day. I even had two drinks (could barely stay awake), a guy had a drink sent over to me in a bar, and there is a rumor we went to some strip clubs, which I cannot confirm or deny. Want to go back and stay longer. Not for Mardi Gras though. Too crowded and noisy for this old man.

Iowa. Yes, then we went to Iowa. It was a really pretty state, mostly farmland, of course, but lots of rolling hills and different colors. And Des Moines was a lot of fun. My best memory - there was this pizzeria where the owner would walk around with a boxing glove on the end of a trombone slide and squirt water at everyone, some who came with umbrellas.

Montana. Been out there twice with Don, who sometimes adds a comment here. He has a small house on a river in the middle of nowhere. Lots of stars and mountains though. Beautiful state. But everywhere I've been in the Rocky Mountains are beautiful. Almost froze to death there once, but that’s for another day. Skied a few times. Almost slid to my death, but, same old, same old.


Flathead Lake, Montana.

Washington. I spend a week there with my daughter’s mother once about 29 years ago. We stayed near the Puget Sound where her sister lived, but also drove to Mt. Rainer once. Some of the prettiest woods I’ve ever seen, and I have been to a few woods in my life. And Paradise, the snowiest spot on earth, was quite memorable. Walls of snow along the side of the road, much higher than the car – and it was well into Spring.

California. I’ve been twice. The first time I went by myself to south of L.A. (never been to L.A.), drove down to San Diego, then all the way up the coast to San Francisco and spent four days hiking in the Redwood Forest with a friend and his hiking buddies. A little time in Carmel and the surrounding area. The last time, two years ago was part of a longer trip through the west. But, we stayed a few days in Huntington Beach, also south of L.A., and then up the coast again to San Francisco, where I spent four days. Some of it is so beautiful, it’s hard to believe, like this little park on the coast which we almost didn’t stop at.


Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California.

Nevada. Been to Vegas twice. Everyone should see it once, but I have very little interest in it. The first time I went was to visit my father, who, though he lived a few minutes from the strip, had never been there. I took him to it for a while, but then said, "Dad, let's get out of here," and drove out into the desert, which, once you got past the houses, was as quite pretty. The last time my gf, daughter and her boyfriend were with me and I wanted the kids to see the hotels, which are a lot of fun to walk around. After dinner I went to my room and watched football while they went out. Once was enough. I know, I’m boring to most people, but it Thursday Night Football was on.

Arizona. Been there twice too. The first time we drove all over, from Phoenix, up to Sedona (prettiest place I never heard of until I got there), to the Grand Canyon (pic - if you can go only one place in America, that’s where I am recommending), then east across the state towards Utah and New Mexico. The second time my evalovin’ gf and I went camping in the beautiful red-rocked Canyon de Chelly (remember the canyon upon the edge of which Jodie Foster was sitting at the end of Contact) and Sedona. It was incredibly beautiful, but we are too old to camp.



Grand Canyon, Arizona.

New Mexico. Spent about a week there in Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque and all that space between (it's a really big state). It may be the prettiest state I’ve been too, in general, even if other states have more beautiful attractions. Not a lot of water though. I once stepped over the Santa Fe River. That's not an exaggeration - right over it. About a decade ago an environmental group named it America’s most endangered river. I thought about moving there, but realized there’d be no work for me and I might get thirsty.



Distant rain storm, New Mexico.

Utah. Monument Valley (pic) is also one of the great places to see. I was in Salt Lake City for a half day, and though the view of the mountains is beautiful, the city was too boring for words. Then, on my last trip out west, we stayed at Bryce and Zion canyons. Like the Grand Canyon, the beauty cannot be described. Even just driving from one place to another is incredible.














Monument Valley, Utah.



Bryce Canyon, Utah.

Colorado. I’ve been to Denver twice (just a city, not that impressed, though I had fun), in Boulder, where a sister lives, in the Rockies (skied once at Arapahoe Basin on July 2d), went white water rafting on the Arkansas River with a group of school kids (I was in my mid-20s) and recently spent three days in the mountain at a wedding. As with Utah, just driving through the mountains is an awesome experience. Those Rocky’s just rear out of the ground in spots like a wall. And the continental divide is really cool.

The U.S. Virgin Islands. Been to St. Thomas twice with my evalovin’ gf. I recommend Sapphire Bay for its beautiful view (pic) and Magen’s Bay, which, however, looks even better from the air. On one of those trips we went to St. John’s Island, which I find even more beautiful. I actually have an imaginary home on St. John’s run by a wise middle-aged Japanese widow named Mrs. Livingston. You should see it. Incredible sunsets from the deck.



Magens Bay, St. Thomas.

Near the U.S.

Mexico.

Isla Mujeres (Island of Women). Spent a week on Isla Mujeres there. It can be quite dodgy in spots, but not where we stayed on a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides.

Cozumel. Also went to Cozumel (where Montezuma’s revenge took revenge on me) on the same trip. 

Cancun. We went to Cancun, but it is not for me. Too touristy, too many kids. Not that it is not wonderful. But not for me. Also took a day tour to Chichen Itza with its incredible pyramid (last year they let you climb it) and other archaeological sites.



Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Bahamas. I spent I believe four days down there by myself. I was on the same island, Nassau, with that famous resort owned by Merv Griffin – is it Paradise Island? But, I did not want to go there. Guess why? Too many people, too many kids. So, I called a travel agent and asked if she could find me a resort where no one went. She laughed, but she pretty much did. I think it was called Divi Divi. Had the place almost to myself. Loved it. Walked 100 yards down the beach around a curve and might has well been on a desert island. Remember reading a lot. A book about Australia’s founding, a biography of Bismarck and two others I just can’t remember. It was about 29 years ago, so, can’t blame me.

Canada

Montreal. I went to Montreal once about 28 years ago. It was okay, but the old part of town was very small. The subways are what they mostly brag about, and they were very nice, but I’ve seen just as good elsewhere.

Quebec City. I much preferred Quebec City. Old, European, more natural surroundings in the city. Would like to go again someday.



Quebec City monument, Canada.

Europe

Britain. I’ve been three times. The first was my first trip to Europe and I was there about 5 days. The next time was just for a day, giving my friend a whirlwind tour, on our way back from Greece. The other time was four days by myself to finish up the outside of London. Believe it or not, with some exceptions, I did not go inside many places, other than most of the great churches, Winchester Castle and Hampton Court. Oxford was my one out of London trip. I seem to recall that Kew Gardens, Hampton Courts, the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park and Oxford.

Ireland. I was sick as a dog here for two weeks and yet still had a wonderful time. It’s green, mountainous, lake filled and . . . mostly empty.


Ireland.

Denmark. Mostly wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen but also Kronborg (Hamlet’s) Castle. I thought Tivoli Park was one of the best places I’d ever been. Not sure how I’d feel now some 30 plus years later.

Sweden. Really just one town, Helsingborg, celebrating its 900th birthday when I was there, for four days. Nice town though. Enough pretty girls for me to remember it with great fondness.

Netherlands. Amsterdam for four days and Haarlem for a day trip. Remember the canals, the canal houses, the Rijksmuseum and Rembrandt’s Night Watch best.

France. I really have not been to France proper except to fly in and out of Nice and Paris. But, I include it because I spent two weeks in Corsica (pic), which was a great experience. Very mountainous island. Unless you are a careful and a reasonably relaxed driver (more curves than you can count and big, big drops if you good), I don’t recommend it. But, one of my favorite trips. Napoleon was from here, but, it's really about the beaches and mountains. The cities, other than one day in Bonifacio on the southern tip, not that special.



Corsica, France. This was a waterfall for which we walked down a mountain about an hour to see. Some rock climbers were there before us.




Grotte di Bonifacio, Corsica, France.

Monaco. Tiny principality between France and Italy. Nice, if rocky, coast. Big casino my friends went to. I waited in the car. But driving along the roads thinking about Grace Kelly was fun.

Germany. I spent a week there in the south, Ulm, Regensburg, Munich, some walled towns on the Romantic Road like Rothenberg ob der Tauber, the Black Forest, Heidelberg, Baden Baden, etc.



Life sized wooden Last Supper carving by Tilman Riemenscheider, St. Jakob's Church, Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany. Circa 1500.




Heidlberg, Germany.

Austria. A couple of days in Innsbruck and Salzburg and about four in glorious Vienna, one of my favorite cities.




Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna.

Serbia.  I crossed over the Yugoslavian border (that’s the name for this and the next two entries in ’89 when I went and still communist at that time) which was a scary experience itself. Were they going to give me my passport back? Belgrade is the capital and though a semi-modern big city and I only spent a day, I enjoyed it, other than the severe sunburn I got walking around.

Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the only country that I just passed through by train that I will count, because it was a most of the day and it was spectacular - you looked out the whole time. At one point you travel on a rail suspended near the top of mountains on giant columns. The description I had read of it was "heart pounding" – and it was. I also met a Swedish couple I spent a few days traveling with on the train. Lost touch with them a few years later. My fault. Shame. Wonder what happened with them.

Croatia.  The incredible city of Dubrovnik. All limestone. There is not really a lot to do there other than walk around and go to the beach, see the Napoleonic fort, but, I could go for a week. You almost feel like you have stepped back in time.



Dubrovnik, Croatia - those are my long lost Swedish friends on bottom right.

Italy. I’ve spent somewhere around 5 plus weeks there on three different trips. No room  talk about it, but but just to list the places serially: Florence, Siena, many little Tuscan towns (Gimignano and Montepulciano stand out in my mind), Verona, Sirmione (basically a castle on Lake Garda,) Milan, Rimini, Genoa, Cinque Terra, Sanremo, Lucca, Pisa, Sicily (Syracuse, Taormina, Gela, Agrigento, Erisa, Palermo, Cefalu [pic]) and Sardinia (mostly the southeast area). And, of course, many miles of driving.



Cefalu, Sicily, Italy - like an old post card.




Portofino, Italy.

San Marino. Do I even count this? It’s basically a republic in the middle of Italy that relies heavily on Italy for many things that are normally part of a sovereign’s normal affairs (like money, foreign policy). The entire Republic is basically Mt. Titano. You drive up and around and around until you get to one of the three castle filled peaks, to be faced with touristy t-shirts and kitschy items for sale. Incredible views though.

Portugal. Probably my least favorite part of Europe I visited, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t wonderful. Lisbon, its big city, Sintra, filled with castles (pic), and the Algarve, its southern beachy coast. Most memorable were two beach towns, the castle town, Castelo (no surprise there), and a little beach town, whose name is lost in the fog of time and which I cannot even find on a map. Maybe I imagined it.



Sintra, Portugal.

Spain. Southern Spain – Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Toledo (lots of knives for sale and more art from one of my favorites, El Greco, than I could absorb in a day) and finally, Madrid, where, of course, the Prado, one of the world’s great museums, was closed the day we were there. Miles of olive trees and gorgeous hill towns. Most memorable moment – looking off my balcony into the gorge at Ronda and the mosque/cathedral in Cordoba.


Mosque-Cathedral, Cordoba, Spain.



From my hotel balcony in Ronda, Spain.

Greece. Three times, for about five weeks. I’ve been to Athens, but other to see the Parthenon and maybe a few other things, get out and go to the islands or the other parts of Greece. Islands: Santorini (pic) twice, Crete, particularly Matala twice, Mykynos rand Kos. Nafplio, which is Greece’s old capital (much nicer than Athens and near many ancient sites and great beaches) and Delphi, on the mainland. Unforgettable. I could live on any island there.



Santorini, Greece.

Turkey. Spent about ten days going down the coast. Four days in Istanbul, Izmir (formerly Smyrna), Bodrum (formerly Halicarnassus). Best memories are in Istanbul (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern - featured in From Russia With Love) and Ephesus, which has some of the most memorable ruins in the world.




Library in Ephesus, Turkey.

All of these were wonderful trips. Again, I’ve been very fortunate. Reading it over, it makes me want to go back to Europe. But, New Zealand first.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Political update for February, 2015

Some predictions are called for -

Trump will win Iowa. I know this isn't earth-shaking. He's leading in the polls. But, as is well known, because of the caucus system, who has the best "ground game," that is, who can get the most people to the caucuses, often wins. And, Trump doesn't seem to have any kind of well running machine to do so. But, I think we will see the power of social media here.

Among the Democrats, I think Sanders will pull it off. Although there have been polls putting him in the lead, most still seem to show Clinton with a slim lead. The question here is will his strong youth following matter. I think it will. That's where all of the excitement is. Of course, the number of electors it will get is proportional so long as the candidate gets more than 5%.

Who drops out? Not Martin O'Malley, who I understood had a rally which 1 person attended. He stays in to see if Clinton will be derailed by the email scandal (I still doubt it) and then if the country will prefer him to the "socialist." But if Clinton dropped out early enough, I think Biden might jump in.  How Clinton and possibly others deal with Sanders' "socialism" will be enlightening. Because the word has a derogatory meaning in itself, Clinton, O'Malley and others don't apply it to themselves. But, for the outsider, there is no significant difference between mainstream Democrat views and Bernie Sanders. On some, he is to the right of them. But, if Clinton wins Iowa and, given that Sanders will almost certainly win New Hampshire, the other early states, it won't matter much.

Huckabee and Santorum will probably be gone after Iowa, though they might hang around for New Hampshire before making the "suspension" speech. I don't know if Cruz will drop out if he loses in Iowa. He might, but I'm sure he will be influenced by the number of delegates he gets - that is, the size of his loss. He has said he has to win there. Trump doesn't. This is the problem with Iowa - it exaggerates the importance of the evangelist votes. In any event, I think he will stay in.

I don't think there is a reason for Fiorina to stay in.  Maybe she fantasizes that Trump will say one crazy thing too far, but, it doesn't seem like it.  He has cornered the business person slot and despite her loquaciousness and intelligence, she can't compete with him. I gave her a chance for a while to see if I could prefer her, but, frankly, her personal attacks on Clinton are overblown and even dispiriting. Whether Gilmore will drop out, I won't even guess, because I cannot even understand his angry old man candidacy to begin with. I doubt he would get 2% in his home state. But, the other low scoring candidates who are either governors or senators each have their reason to stay around at least through, because for varying reasons, they hope when others pull out, they will get the votes in their "slot." More wishful thinking. It is mostly wishful thinking, but, understandable. Carson may suspend after New Hampshire. Like Cruz, if he can't win Iowa, he can't win period. I think he knows that.

That's it for now. Could be updates.

UPDATE. It's the following day. Predictions laying on the ground in pieces. Mostly, anyway. That's okay. It's been that way with my football picks this year and even our tv pundits admit all political predictions are pretty meaningless. The glorified fivethirtyeight.com blog, which is rightly admired, sub-heads its section on how they make their predictions with "and why we might be wrong."  I thought there was a good chance that Trump, actually leading in the Iowa polls, would beat Cruz's ground game in Iowa. Nope. It does rankle a lot when you think about everything Cruz's campaign pulled, including, maybe, spreading a rumor that Carson was dropping out after Iowa (at least, so they say on Morning Joe - his campaign manager denies it and says they only repeated what Carson said publicly) and the "Violation" mailing. Still, he won and that is that. No one is taking it away.

The power of the ground game in Iowa's caucuses is probably unique in presidential politics. Almost all polls had Trump ahead and many with Cruz declining. Even the glorified fivethirtyeight.com, which calculates results based mostly on polls, gave Trump the best odds to win.  Ironically, virtually everyone has been wrong about Trump from the beginning - and now even when he doesn't win.   Trump made a gracious speech and Rubio actually gave a victory speech after coming in third, which I still don't understand. Politicians. Sheesh.

I also thought it made sense for O'Malley to hang tough, although his campaign has been pathetic, because if Clinton has legal troubles, and Biden stays out, he has at least a shot. He has "suspended" his campaign, which will save him a worse beating.

I also called the Democrat race Sanders, and I don't really feel bad about that one, as they are, as of right now, 5 votes apart. Five. That's amazing, and, apparently, some people decided by flipping a coin. Not bad for the "socialist." Probably she will stay ahead ever so slightly. But, he still has a shot.

People are always knocking the polls. Sometimes they are right and sometimes wrong as to a winner, but in general, they are usually very accurate. Take a look at fivethirtyeight.com's prognostications, for example. Other than the reverse order of Trump and Cruz, they were extremely accurate.

Anyway, now that it is done, I'm sure Cruz will be trying to say he has the momentum, but just as we know how important the ground game is in Iowa, we know that state will probably will not pick the president. Other than Texas, this is really Cruz's one basket so far. I do not like Trump much. He says awful things (he just told a crowd to knock the crap out of anyone with a tomato and he'd pick up the legal bills. Really, what if they kill him or seriously hurt him? Or her?) But I like Cruz even less, admiring only his steadfastness. At least Trump respects, or says he respects, rule of law. As I've said many times, I like only Kasich in this field (though getting a little fondness for Bush, who is showing humility, something sorely lacking in most of the other candidates), but he has a little better chance than I do, except in New Hampshire, where he might finish second or third.

I still expect that Trump will win the whole shebang. New Hampshire likes to go its own way and they can really surprise. I'm still thinking they will send him on his way and that once it is done, we will have far fewer candidates.

The big story is still one we may never know if lips stay shut tight and journalists who would like to know (many would not) don't do their job. I'm talking about whether there could possibly be an indictment of Clinton. I still don't see it happening. It would be historic and an amazing story. What would she do? Suspend her campaign or push through? I say the latter. I expect that the White House has its thumb on the scale - nothing ever expressly said, but there all the same - and then there is the problem of the super-secret emails which Clinton would try to force them to reveal if she has to defend herself. Other prosecutions have crashed for this reason. Of course, it might make her even more popular.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Philosophy 002 - the epistemology/metaphysics bowl of oatmeal

A couple of months ago I started this revolutionary series of posts on philosophy. By revolutionary, I mean that they it will likely cause Socrates to spin in his grave. In the first post, I discussed my reading in philosophy and set down my thoughts on epistemology, particularly how little we know, what that realization should mean to us and how to tell the difference between different levels of doubt. My approach sounds a little like Abbott & Costello’s Who’s on first? routine – with the concepts of I don’t know, I don’t care and enough being my predominant principles. If you have any more interest in it or don’t have a job and nothing to do, you can read it (11/10/15).

Towards the end, I wrote: “Just to make sure we are on the same page, when I ask the question of when we can say we have knowledge, I do not also mean to ask by it - when can we know something is real or true. Our knowledge is based on what we think is true or real and we may be completely wrong. If we learn we were wrong about a belief or fact, it merely means that we now have increased our level of doubt, or do not have enough certainty to believe we have knowledge.”

I want to tackle that question of whether we can know “reality,” that is, the essence of things. Epistemology and metaphysics are considered two separate philosophical categories, but, in truth, it is impossible to separate them as one always bleeds into the other – that is, where what we can know bleeds into what there is and vise versa. Not only is it not possible to draw a line, but probably, we are always discussing both at the same time, because we are stuck in ourselves and all attempts to escape that, even with technology, must fail.

Don’t expect a handy formula from me or that I am going to try to settle any issues. Absolute truth is, of course, unknowable – except perhaps we can know that we can know something (right or wrong) and that we are limited in what we know. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least discuss both reality and our knowledge of it. And maybe that means mostly discussing what are sometimes given as an answer, but aren’t.

The first thing that pops into my mind in thinking about how we can know what is real, is that the answer is not faith. For many people, faith allows them to believe they know the truth, but I reject it as just a matter of opinion, convenience and comfort. I’ve discussed this in previous posts on occasion, mostly concerning (Atheism on 4/28/13 and I promise not to eat your children on 5/30/10). I don’t want to repeat everything I wrote there, so it will be much shorter. Faith is merely a form of belief that something is true based on other evidence. Probably faith is most often discussed concerning the existence or not of God. Although people may share a religious faith in general, often that means that they say that they belong to the same religion (whether or not they know anything about it) or perhaps have memorized similar or rituals, icons, prayers, etc. Even if someone is deeply knowledgeable about their religion dogma, it doesn’t upgrade their faith to more than a belief and I find that even people professing the same faith find, if they can speak openly, that they differ on precisely what it means. Hence, there were and still are many divisions of religions, claims to be the “true” religion and the concept of heresy. One man’s true religion is another man’s cult and arguably, for every religious person, there is a unique religion. 

Science, which is essentially a disciplined approach to reason made to come closer to the "truth" does get us a little closer. By that I mean that I accept to some degree the philosophies of Charles Peirce and Karl Popper to the extent that we cannot know the truth, but through rigorous procedures, scientists or we ourselves can learn what is not the truth, and thereby by subtraction add to our empirical knowledge brick by brick, unpeeling layers and chipping away by experiment and moving forward haphazardly by educated guesses – hypotheses – and sometimes dumb luck (some would argue, mostly dumb luck).

But, Popper would tell you that at the bottom of science or any rational thought is some type of faith. First, all knowledge just leads to other questions, and eventually you get to those axioms or premises that can’t be proven or disproved, and you believe them because they seem necessarily true. One is the belief that reason can lead us to the truth or experience tells you that you can rely on it (like the sun coming up tomorrow or the earth not disintegrating beneath you). How do you prove that? You can’t. Still, every philosopher and scientist inherently accepts it, at least implicitly if they don’t think about it.

But is the “faith” that lets us accept basic premises of logic or reason the same type of “faith” that there is a God or that a religion is true? I don’t think so though we use the same word for it. The first is something that without which we could not use logic or reason or function and everything that we believe is real would no longer be a belief. The second is the acceptance of a much more complicated analysis without reason (which is essentially what faith means). As even believers know, it is quite possible to believe or use reason without the basis of believing in God or religion. Though some philosopher/theologists argue that reason begins with the concept of a deity or God, I consider them so divorced from any reason or logic that can be cogently stated, that I can’t take it seriously. Even among philosophers who beat these issues to death in page after page, sometimes that is what the argument comes down to – we just know it isn’t so. Others can differ, of course.

Another category, perception, without reason or faith, is meaningless as far as knowledge is concerned, but I will add that it is undeniable that what we perceive has to pass through the filters of our senses, and that we can only approach existence or reality through them. We can know about things we can't perceive - for example, we can't perceive x-rays, but we can know they exist by perceiving their affect on other things, like marks on special film, or we can reason that things exist, which probably do, such as a black hole, but again we only get there by perceiving other things which we reason about.

But, whether we are applying faith or science or other processes like intuition, nothing can ever let us know what is true or real absolutely and reason, including science, and experience can only tell us what we are pretty sure isn’t true in particular times and places - and it is very uncertain knowledge. Descartes would argue that perhaps it is a dream or perhaps a demon has caused some belief, but I don’t think we have to go that far. Both reason and experience can tell us as much.

All this presupposes that there is a “truth,” to be known, something we can call “reality,” at the bottom of what we experience, even if we can never really approach it closely or know it fully?
We can start, again like Descartes, and say, “I think, therefore I am.” It makes immediate and intuitive sense. Even if everything thought is wrong or what we think is doing the thinking ain’t – there has to be something. And maybe that is the one thing we can be surest of – there is something, not nothing, because we wouldn’t be having this discussion if there wasn’t.

In the beginning of the 20th century though, the idea that there is some reality, something certain at the bottom of everything we think we see, hear, feel, etc., was thrown into question. It wasn’t the first time that the idea that we are not experiencing reality directly had been considered – Plato, Mahayana Buddhists, Bishop Berkeley and many others all discussed these issues. But with all of them, though they differ in some aspects, there was an underlying if unknowable reality. Even a minimal understanding of perception tells us that what we perceive is not identical with what exists, although once we state that, it becomes much harder to understand what exactly is there that we can’t comprehend. This is the juncture of metaphysics – which concerns that underlying reality - with epistemology., They are not the same though, even if the line is gray. If epistemology is a bottomless well, metaphysics is a bottomless well that we can’t even find. Said another way, we can always discuss what we know. It is not even clear if a statement about metaphysics even has any real meaning.

But as soon as I write this, I remember the little Kant that I possess. Usually, I shy from Kant because he is hard. But there are times I see a glimpse of something that I suspect may be beyond Spinoza and onto something – if only there was only an easier way to think about it. There no doubt is truth in his concept of “things as they are” - as opposed to “things as we perceive them"; that parts easy. But then you start thinking about his concept of the noumena, which I think, in one sense is like Plato’s forms (a ridiculous philosophical idea, but possibly the first fully developed philosophical idea in the West – something more than an aphorism or formula - that has framed a central discussion perhaps forever). And then when I start trying to understand positive as opposed to negative noumena, I google away from it very quickly. I’m working myself up to it, but like everything in philosophy, it is interpreted many different ways and Kant wasn’t all that clear – if he really understood his own concepts himself. Some day, maybe.

Plato and Kant and all of that thought, sometimes hopelessly sharp and gloppy at the same time, but always untestable, at first glance seems to have lost a great deal of importance in the advent of quantum theory, which has been experimentally shown to have remarkable staying power, even with all its paradoxes and even mind-boggling concepts that most physicists believe is the correct interpretation of nature. No, I don’t intend to work my way through that here either in any great detail, as I can’t satisfactorily summarize it in a few paragraphs. But it is not without its paradoxes too and that is where I want to focus. 

Standing on Max Planck’s shoulders (and Planck was the initiator of the concept of quanta) Einstein’s work on the quanta of light in the same “miracle year” in which he formulated special relativity and two other revolutionary theories was a primary generator for later quantum theory by Bohr, Born, Heisenberg, Dirac, Schrodinger and others. But he himself was also quantum theory’s greatest critic. For quantum theory, as most widely interpreted (usually called the Copenhagen interpretation) has a view of reality that does not seem very real at all. It posits that underlying the material world we know are not just particles and waves, but probabilities.

If that sounds confusing, or just ridiculous, you are on the right track. The great physicist Richard Feynman famously said (at least everyone is sure it was him, though it isn't clear when and where) that if you think you understand quantum physics, then you don’t understand quantum physics. If that is true, then we are right back to the type of zen-like concepts that brings Plato, Berkeley, Kant and so on roaring back.  And that would be fine with most physicists. Because, first, most don’t seem to care if their theory is complete, because it is testable and therefore, in at least one sense of the word, provable. And, second, most if not all of the great physics theorists, if you scratch the surface, are philosophers at heart, and often wrote quite a bit about it.

Wasn’t I talking about Einstein? It's so easy to get lost in this stuff that I can’t blame any of the philosophers for the muddle. It’s like Bilbo Baggins told his nephew, Frodo –It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Dammit, I did it again. Anyway, Einstein would have these intense informal debates with Niels Bohr, who was perhaps as great a theorist, that were sometimes the real show at physics conventions. Bohr would hold strongly that there was essentially nothing underlying reality but probabilities which would “collapse” upon being observed into what we think is reality. Einstein claimed that “God does not play dice with the universe,” to which Bohr replied “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.” It was a lot more specific than that, but those are pithy summaries. They’d go back and forth but Bohr seemed to always come out on top, at least in the mind of most quantum theorists. 

Einstein, with two colleagues, Podolsky and Rosen, formulated a thought experiment which, if correct, meant at least that quantum theory was incomplete. In my own admittedly sketchy understanding, it goes like this: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle holds that you cannot measure both the position and momentum of a particle at the same time, because the measurement of one itself affects measuring the second. You can conceive of a thought experiment though which would enable a particle to know of the spin of another particle at a distance – even an unimaginable distance like a different galaxy.

And this “spooky action at a distance” (Einstein’s phrase) concept, now usually called entanglement, would require that the information travel faster than light, which relativity says is impossible. All that probably sounds rather murky. Except, entanglement has been tested experimentally over and over again in every conceivable way, including with the most modern instrumentation. And the particles seem to know instantaneously what a paired particle is doing.

To be clear as possible in this miasma, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox did not mean quantum theory was wrong at all – some aspects of it have been declared to be the most experimentally proven concept of all time – but the interpretation of the results. And there are other interpretations of it that I’m not going into here. Einstein simply offered that the theory was not complete and Heisenberg’s principle, which seemed unassailable, was therefore not necessarily true. But no matter what he threw out there, Bohr always seemed able to convincingly bat it down.

Except . . .  only recently, a group of scientists (Aephraim Steinberg and friends at the U. of Toronto) have claimed that their experiments have shown that Heisenberg’s principle does not always hold so tight (relax, not even going there), which, would mean, if they are correct, that now it appears that maybe Einstein was right after all, although it is too late to tease Bohr about it. All of this is the subject of those who are looking, as did Einstein, for a theory of everything or a quantum-relativity theory. Maybe it’s possible. Maybe it’s just not understood at all yet. But, if it is possible to solve this paradox, the technological revolution it would engender would probably make the computer revolution look like tinker toys in comparison.

So, of course, I went through all of that stuff in as light and fluffy as I could to tell you what I think.  
Even with the most accurate of scientific apparatus, the answer to the question of is there a reality, is there something more than potential or probabilities until something is observed, are there things as they are, and so on, continues to elude us. I'm not at all convinced by the Copenhagen interpretation. Plato’s answer that ideal forms exist is not more unsatisfying than that probability is all there is until there is a collapse of waves into reality, at least metaphorically. Some may know the story recorded by Boswell that when they came out of church and he said to Johnson that despite the unsatisfactory nature of Bishop Berkeley’s argument that matter did not exist, but they could not refute it, Johnson simply stated, “I refute it thus,” and kicked a big rock. It seems though that Bohr and Heisenberg and others have determined that Johnson refuted nothing in terms of what existed before Johnson observed the rock and the wave pattern collapsed into its form. They hold it did not exist, and they and their successors can wave oodles of experimental results which say they have the better of the argument.

A well-known thought experiments popularly called Schrodinger’s Cat, was conceived by Erwin Schrodinger, one of the most brilliant of quantum theorists, who helped provide a mathematical basis for the science. Stated succinctly, if you have a cat in a locked box and dropped poison in the box, there is a 50% chance that the cat is alive or dead before you open the box, because that is when the probability waves collapse into reality - you just can't know when that is. You are probably thinking, I don’t care what anyone says, that cat is either dead or alive. And I agree. The truth is, as often as you read about Schrodinger’s cat, remember in your head that the experiment was made not to prove the Copenhagen interpretation, and that himself rejected that interpretation. I admit to some confusion as to whether this is originally so or that he changed his mind, as I've read both, and to be honest, there is only so much rereading or research I can do on a topic if I ever want to post. I know that because I’ve read him directly in a little read essay, but I believe that Schrodinger's original or latter interpretation is almost never stated accurately or fully in any popular retelling and perhaps even in physics’ books. Schrodinger, like many great physicists, was quite taken with philosophy, particularly ancient Greek philosophy (both he and Heisenberg wrote on the topic). His own views in the end are possibly even weirder than quantum theory, in short, that all existence is one great mind. But, this is not my conclusion either and I really don’t think even the most brilliant physicists have the advantage over us in thinking about this.

I doubt you disagree with Einstein and Schrodinger (and much less importantly, me). Something happens in that box. We don't know what it is, but it happened at a certain time that can be fixed, if we only knew how, and it isn't going to change upon our observation of it. There was a time, probably like many young people and some fictional authors, when I wondered if I left a room, it blinked out of existence. This solipsism (all that exists is our own mind) or ego-centrism that the universe exists just for us, or whatever you want to call it, is passed by rapidly by most people as they age.

So, yada, yada, yada, let me sum up even shorter what I take from all of the above, in which I’ve as pithily as possible condensed my decades of reading philosophy, without all that many references to any particular philosopher or scientist from who I may have glommed this or that idea:

There is a something which we can say is real. Upon saying that I am suddenly reminded of Thomas Carlyle’s response upon hearing that American transcendentalist Margaret Fuller remarked that “I accept the universe.” He said, “Gad, she’d better.” And so better we all. In fact, if you don’t read philosophy or about quantum science where the idea is batted about that maybe there is nothing, of course you accept and never think about it. And even if you adopt a Bishop Berkeley approach or the Copenhagen interpretation, you’d better have something to eat and watch out for traffic or everyone else will get a chance to debate it except you. Whatever all this is - of course it is something. What it is, we will probably never know for sure and that is simply because we are limited in what we can perceive and understand. I’ve always been attracted to mysticism (but not rituals) for some reason, but, I don’t believe in it. We can’t expand our minds by yoga or LSD or any other manner other than study – and in that we are very limited – such that we can comprehend the universe sufficiently to approach its core unity or complexity and to get by in life. Some would say this core unity is God, and I don’t believe that (I’ve always believed “God” used in that manner is synonymous with the words “I don’t know.”)

But, whatever reality is, I believe it is beyond us.  We’ve been conditioned by the processes of evolution for millions of years to survive on this planet in certain situations. That does not include a brain that can comprehend the cosmos from every perspective. Nor do I believe we can create machines that extend our abilities, like telescopes or computers, because in the end, they are limited by our ability to design and comprehend them. Is it conceivable that there is the possibility of intelligent life that is so vastly beyond us such that it might understand it all? I guess anything is possible, but I doubt that exists either, on this planet or another. I take another philosopher’s observation as a starting point. “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” So too, I would add, does every organism take the limits of its species' perceptual abilities, even extended by mechanical means, for the limits of existence. I qualify most everything with “I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.”

We are, at least so far, helplessly trapped in our minds. Not to worry. They are big places and even a John von Neumann, who seemed almost like another species, so vast was his comprehensive ability, cannot use but a tiny fraction of what is probably possible, just like if you trap an amoeba in a small pond, it will not get to explore it all.

I also stand with Einstein, rather than Bohr. Just as a younger Einstein was able to show how to unwind the paradox between the then law of relativity with the propagation of light (for that is what his theory of special relativity sought to do), just as his predecessor and benefactor, the undersung Max Planck, was able to unravel a paradox of heat radiation by the realization that energy may travel in discrete amounts (quanta), eventually science and/or philosophy cuts through it or expands our horizons and we suddenly understand better. Or at least some of us Homo sapiens do and the rest of us hang on for dear life until technology makes it so that if we can’t understand how something works, we don’t care, because we can push a button.

I am not suggesting at all that we are not, as a species, going to continue to do and learn amazing things. I am, to the contrary, convinced that we cannot even see where we are likely going 30 years from now, never mind a century or two. But there are limits, and if Schrodinger and Spinoza or the Buddhists or mystics and others are right, and it is all just one big bowl of oatmeal or as they would otherwise describe it, we cannot get there and remain human, for it would require a nirvana like experience in which we would be something much more and less at the same time. That's for mystics and frankly, they are deluded.

So, yes, Einstein, there is something behind all of this scenery, and we can learn more about what it is. But, just as I believe he was right that quantum theory was incomplete, so I believe that all theory is by necessity incomplete and always will be. As long as I can watch football on Sundays five or so months a year, it doesn’t bother me at all. But, I do enjoy thinking about it.

You know, and I promise this is my last thought on it. Maybe my blend of metaphysics and epistemology is really the same as my epistemology. Because the last few paragraphs started to sound a lot like I don’t know, I don’t care and – mercifully, enough.









Thursday, January 14, 2016

La Vie en Rose and other things that make me cry

Somehow this morning a song got stuck in my head. I don’t know why, because I haven’t heard it in a long time. It’s La Vie en Rose, a standard, originally written (of course, it’s controversial) and performed by Edith Piaf in French, and then covered by a lot of other people, including Louis Armstrong and Jo Stafford - one of my favorite singers from the standards era. The song I was hearing in my head, though, was by no one near as famous, but a young actress named Cristin Milioti. She was the “mother” on How I Met Your Mother, which has been for the past few years one of my favorite shows. 

Maybe it was the last episode of the second to last season when she actually first appeared on the show and sang La Vie en Rose on the balcony of her room at the hotel at which she was supposed to perform at a wedding. Soon afterwards she meets Ted, sort of the show’s focus and her future hubby. Little did she know that he was pouting on the next balcony just on the other side of the wall while she sang, as the woman he loved was the bride at whose reception she would be performing (and the camera cuts to all the gang, each in their own doldrums). In narration later in the future, he tells their kids that though he has heard their mother sing that song over a million times, that was his favorite. If you want to listen to her sing this slow and haunting melody, accompanied by her ukulele, here it is. It’s less than 2 minutes, so don’t panic.


Anyway, while I was thinking about the song, particularly her version, I got a little misty. I realized that this is not the first time that has happened. I teared up when I first heard it, when I saw the episode re-run and whenever (rarely) I hear it. Now I was brimming when I wasn’t even hearing it - just thinking about it. Why? It’s a great song, but it’s not my favorite, nor even my favorite Louis Armstrong song, though it makes my top ten for him. Nor is it sad. It’s kind of a sweet and hopeful love song.  Whatever the reason, it chokes me up a bit. Maybe it was the connection to the story line and the way she sang it and the slow, longing way she performed it, but nothing on that show ever made me feel like that before – it’s a very silly comedy, with only an occasional poignant moment.

So, I youtube’d it, and listened again, and sure enough, got all verklempt. I then listened to a few other versions I hadn’t heard before. I even discovered an artist I never heard of before, who is one of those newfangled youtube stars with millions of listeners, but I’m not sure has actually released an album yet. Her name is Daniela Andrade, a young Canadian, who I think only records acoustical guitar covers of famous songs in her bedroom(?) and sometimes next to her dog. Try her La Vie en Rose (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ba_WoSZXvw), which is probably more technically perfect than Milioti’s, or her Christmas Time is Here (Cutest Dog in the Galaxy)(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ba_WoSZXvw). However, I noticed, as beautiful as her version is, she doesn’t make me cry. I guess it was the How I Met Your Mother context.

So, I started thinking, what other songs make me tear up? What movies?

The first one that comes to mind is Into the West, which is the song that ends the last of the three Lord of the Rings movies, I believe during the credits. It’s sung by Annie Lennox, who had a string of hits in the 80s with The Eurythmics, the only two of which I remember being Here Comes the Rain Again and Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). I think she’s really huge in Britain though.
Perhaps it is the quality of hauntedness, which I doubt is a word, that makes me wimpy because Into the West certainly has a haunting sound. It’s about loss and the passage of time and people and longing for what once was and other such melancholy things, which pretty much sums up a major theme in The Lord of the Rings too. Lennox wrote it with the movie's co-producer, Fran Walsh (aka, Peter Jackson’s wife) and the composer Howard Shore, who wrote most of the music for the trilogy.

I don’t think I can listen to it without being overcome and I’ve listened dozens of times. It probably has a more powerful effect on me than Milioti’s La Vie en Rose.

And, of course, because I’m human, Danny Boy. I mean, is it possible someone relatively normal could listen to it and not drop a tear?  In my humble opinion, Kate Smith’s is by far the best version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQD7XToP2Ag), but I’m sure many people have other favorites. Danny Boy seems like it must be a centuries old song, but it's not. The melody is older, but the lyrics were written only about 100 ago (my grandparents were already alive) by an Englishman named Frederic Weatherly, a name I looked up and have already forgotten at the end of this sentence. It was based on an Irish tune Londonderry Airs, the origins of the melody being unknown. It is also unknown exactly who is singing about whom in Danny Boy. I don’t know if no one bothered to ask whatshisname or nobody thought of it until he’s dead. But, it’s a tearjerker all right, because somebody got up and left Ireland, probably during the famine, and didn’t come back until someone who loved him died. In my mind it’s a young man who came home to find his betrothed in her grave. When it gets to the part when she hears his footsteps above him. . . oh, boy, I just hope I’m alone (or at least my evalovin’ gf isn’t around – because she’ll just mock me).

Many movies make me weepy at the end, even comedies, if there is some poignant moment. There are three that stand out in my mind. The first is probably no longer in my top ten movies, but this scene is in the top ten scenes. The movie is Angels with Dirty Faces, a 1938 drama with an unbelievable all-star cast – Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Ann Sheridan, Pat O’Brien, George Bancroft and the ‘Dead End’ kids aka the Bowery Boys, including Leo Gorcey.
Here’s the set up. Cagney is a gangster, Rocky Sullivan. Pat O’Brien, is a childhood friend, became a priest – Father Jerry. Cagney kills Bogey and gets a death sentence. When he’s about to go, Father Jerry visits him. He’s concerned about the young boys who idolize Rocky and wants to do something about it. That leads to this dialogue, which makes me weepy just to read it online:

Father Jerry: We haven't got a lot of time. And I want to ask you one last favor.
Rocky Sullivan: There's not a lot left that I can do, kid.
Father Jerry: Yes, there is, Rocky. Perhaps more than you could do under any other circumstances. If you have the courage for it, and I know you have.
Rocky Sullivan: You mean, walking in there? That's not gonna take much.
Father Jerry: I know that, Rocky.
Rocky Sullivan: It's like a barber chair. And when they ask me "you got anything to say?". I'll say, "sure, give me a haircut, a shave, and a massage, with one of those nice new electric massages".
Father Jerry: Are you afraid?
Rocky Sullivan: You know Jerry, I think in order to be afraid, you've got to have a heart. I don't think I got one. I got it cut out of me a long time ago.
Father Jerry: Suppose I asked you to have the heart, huh? To be scared.
Rocky Sullivan: What do you mean?
Father Jerry: Suppose the guards dragged you out of here screaming for mercy. Suppose you went to the chair yellow.
Rocky Sullivan: Yellow? Say, what's the matter with you Jerry?
Father Jerry: This is a different kind of courage, Rocky. The kind that's well, that's born in heaven. Well, not the courage of heroics or bravado. The kind that you and I and God know about.
Rocky Sullivan: I don't know what you mean.
Father Jerry: Look, Rocky, just before I came up here, the boys saw me off on the train. Soapy and several of the others. You can well imagine what they told me. "Father, tell Rocky to show the world what he's made of. Tell him not to be afraid and to go out laughing."
Rocky Sullivan: Well, what do you want? I'm not gonna let them down.
Father Jerry: I want you to let them down. You see, you've been a hero to these kids, and hundreds of others, all through your life - and now you're gonna be a glorified hero in death, and I want to prevent that, Rocky. They've got to despise your memory. They've got to be ashamed of you.
Rocky Sullivan: You asking me to pull an act, turn yellow, so those kids will think I'm no good. You're asking me to throw away the only thing I got left that they can't take away. To give those newspapers a chance to say, "Another rat turned yellow."
Father Jerry: You and I will know you're not.
Rocky Sullivan: You ask a nice little favor, Jerry. Asking me to crawl on my belly the last thing I do.
Father Jerry: I know what I'm asking. The reason I'm asking is because being kids together gave me the idea that you might like to join hands with me and save some of those other boys from ending up here.
Rocky Sullivan: You're asking too much. You wanna help those kids, figure out some other way.
Father Jerry: It's impossible to do it without your help. I can't reach all of those boys. Thousands of hero-worshiping kids all over the country.
Rocky Sullivan: Don't give me that humanity stuff again. I had enough in the courtroom. Told everything. Named names. Told the whole mess. What more do you want?
Father Jerry: What I've always wanted, Rocky. Straighten yourself out with God. Outside of that, I can't ask for anything else.

Of course at the end, when Rocky walks into the death chamber, he doesn’t ask for a massage. He mans up and does the bravest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie, deliberately lets his reputation be destroyed for the sake of some kids who idolize him:

“No! I don't want to die! Oh, please! I don't want to die! Oh, please! Don't make me burn in hell. Oh, please let go of me! Please don't kill me! Oh, don't kill me, please!”

And the tears well up just writing about it. I haven’t seen the movie in decades and I am almost afraid to.

The next movie that makes me bawl is my favorite movie, Miracle on 34th Street. For the millionth time in this blog I say – BUT only the 1947 version!!!!! It hits me three times. First, little Natalie Woods’ character, Susan, is standing on the side of Kris Kringle’s chair at Macy’s watching him talk to the children who come up to sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. A young woman comes up with a cute little girl, her foster child. The little girl is Dutch and apparently, 
her parents were killed. She doesn’t speak a word of English and her foster mom tried to explain it to her, but the little girl was sure Santa would understand her anyway. Awww. And then Kris looks down and starts speaking Dutch to the little girl. Cut to my waterworks while Susan does a double take.

The second time is a little later. Kris Kringle is at a sanity hearing to determine if he needs to be committed for believing he is Santa. Susan’s mother, Doris (Maureen O’Hara) likes Kris but doesn’t believe he is Santa either (d’uh). Susan asks Doris if Kris was sad and Doris says I’m afraid he is. Susan says she will write him a letter and she does. Doris reads it and before she seals it she adds “I believe in you too.” I know. I’m such a baby, but it gets me every time.

Third time – It’s the end of the movie. Kris is a free man. On Christmas morning, Susan and Doris arrive at a party at the old folks’ home where Kris is living. Susan can’t find the house she asked Kris for under the tree (again, d’uh). Fred, Kris’s lawyer and Doris’s boyfriend, had been quarreling with her because she didn’t believe in him when he represented Kris. He offers her a ride home and Kris gives them special directions. They are driving through the suburbs of Great Neck, New York, when Susan screams “Stop Uncle Fred, stop!”  She darts out of the car and runs into a house with Doris and Fred on her heels screaming for her. Susan says it is the house that Kris promised her and it is up for sale. She tells Fred that her mom told her that you have to believe in people, which was what Fred was trying to get through to her. Now they are embracing and suddenly they stop and look into the corner where they see - Kris’s cane. Okay, that was a long answer, but it’s really sweet and my eyes tear up like grandma’s at 1her grandchild’s first recital. I swear to you it is happening right now.

Last movie, Love Actually. It’s a romantic comedy, an ensemble piece, with a great soundtrack that sweeps the story along and helps hold the 9 or whatever separate stories almost seamlessly together. There are about 9 mini-climaxes to the movie and you could get a little misty at all of them. I find I’m generally more likely to get teary at a sentimental or happy moment in a movie than a sad one. But, the one that gets me in Love Actually is one of the two sad story lines. Emma Thompson (Karen) is married to Alan Rickman (a brilliant actor – the best “bad guy” in contemporary movie history) who plays the very British, but kind and kind of doofy Harry, the owner of a sizeable business. Karen is expecting a gold bracelet he bought (and she snuck a look at) for Christmas, but gets a CD instead. She realizes the bracelet was for someone else (a young woman who works for him who was slowly seducing him). She goes upstairs and has a cry but rallies herself for the kids’ pageant. After it, she is walking with him in the school and she lets him have it ever so subtly:

Karen: Tell me, if you were in my position, what would you do?
Harry: What position is that?
Karen: Imagine your husband bought a gold necklace, and come Christmas gave it to somebody else...
Harry: Oh, Karen...
Karen: Would you wait around to find out...
Parent: Good night!
Karen: Night, night. Happy Christmas!
[back to Harry]
Karen: Would you wait around to find out if it's just a necklace, or if it's sex and a necklace, or if, worst of all, it's a necklace and love? Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse? Or would you cut and run?
Harry: Oh, God. I am so in the wrong. The classic fool!
Karen: [voice breaking] Yes, but you've also made a fool out of me, and you've made the life I lead foolish, too!

It’s great acting by the both of them – it was the most real moment of the movie and neither raised their voice. But, when her voice broke, my wussy movie watching heart broke a little too.

Ah, well, so yes, I like to reveal my weaknesses here on my evalovin’ blog. So, I get misty at some songs and movies. Like you don’t? Well, maybe you don’t. I’m not sure I believe you. But, if it’s true, you are missing something. Those are great moments.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .