Potpourri #1 for 2012 (3 cents)

Midnight in Paris..We finally watched Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, an entertaining, if not profound, film. I like most Woody Allen films, but I always wish they could be a little better. An engaged American couple is in Paris – how they became engaged is not particularly clear, because they have so little in common. He is a writer with his head in the clouds; she is materialistic, wealthy and shrewish. Every night, he escapes by taking a midnight walk. As the clock strikes 12, he is transported back to Paris in the 20s, and he is able to meet Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and others (and once he is transported even further back, to the 1890s, and he meets Degas, Gaugin and Toulouse-Latrec). Well, it is a cute idea (sort of), but is less realistic than even a standard fantasy, as the time-travel makes no sense (less, certainly, than it did, say, in the Back to the Future films). Paris does look beautiful – better in the 20s than now, perhaps, and the actors who play the literary figures of the past do a fine job. But you can’t get beyond how silly the film turns out to be and how you really wish it could be a little better.

Vanity Fair – January. It was a pretty good edition, with an interesting biographical sketch of Rick Perry (“But ‘candidates who aren’t that smart can be really good,’ points out one Democratic consultant in Austin, ‘because they stay on message. A guy like Rick, you tell him there are three things you have to say, and it’s all you have to say, he’ll do it.’ If he cane remember them, that is.”) An interesting, somewhat depressing and not too profound account of Lady Gaga [not that I know who she really is] and her parents, with some photography by Annie Liebovitz including one unnecessary and not very attractive nude photo of the young singer. An article about the Japanese who choose to work to help clear up the radioactive earthquake site and the American expert Dr. Robert Gale who advises them. A very interesting article about George Kennan’s increasing concern about changes in the U.S., as we became more and more the policeman of the world, and a nation dependent upon our military establishment. A surprisingly interesting (even if the conclusion of the story is unclear) of the effect of Ted Forstmann’s illness on the fate of his IMG, and the actions of board member Michael Orvitz, potentially to take control of the company. An article on the courtship of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip of Greece 65 years ago (which I did not read in full). And, what I assume is Christopher Hitchens’ last piece, where he tears apart the idea that “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”, as he weakens and weakens from chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Placebos. Fascinating article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, stating that various studies have shown that often:
1. placebos work as well as real medicine
2. placebos work as well as real medicine even if the patient knows it’s a placebo
3. positive mental changes can come about from imagining placebos which can work as well as taking medicine, even if you don’t take the placebo.
Really?

Caps. Last night, went to the Caps/Calgary game, which the Caps won 3-1 for their fourth straight. They still have a way to go, but Vokoun looks good in goal, Ovechkin looks like the old Ovechkin, and Backstrom and Johannson played very strong games. Does this mean that the Caps are ready to re-rise to the top? Certainly not clear, yet.

Lecture by Ron Nessen: Ron Nessen, former Vietnam correspondent, White House correspondent, and Press Secretary to Gerald Ford, spoke this morning, sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. His presentation was based on his experience between 1962 and 1977, as stated in his new book, “Making the News, Taking the News”. His Vietnam experience, including when he was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division and when he was seriously wounded and shipped back to Walter Reed Army Hospital, his time as NBC correspondent during the Nixon and early Ford presidencies and then his time as Ford’s press secretary. He is a very engaging speaker, he allowed for a lot of insight without giving away state secrets, and fielded questions as if he had had a lot of experience during this when the stakes were much greater. I’d recommend you looking at the book.

Finally, “The Worlds Within Her” by Canadian writer Neil Bissoondath, a Trinidad born author of Indian ethnicity (he is Naipul’s nephew). A prize winning book, published about 12 years ago, it captured me because I liked its rhythm. Short, short chapters, carrying several connected and family-related plot lines, weaving back and forth. Yasmin, a news anchor married to an architect, born in Trinidad, but resident of Toronto since she was four, brings her mother’s ashes back to Trinidad, where she meets family members with whom she has had little contact. Her father (whom she does not remember) died before she and her mother moved north, but her father’s sister and brother still live in the old family house. Yasmin learns a lot on her trip to Trinidad, the readers learn a lot about Yasmin’s life (the good and the very bad) in Canada, and also about the life of her late mother, whose visits to a friend in a nursing home are reported in one of the chains. Yasmin, however much she learns, does not learn everything, but we do. Many issues are raised – family (blood and marriage) relationships, unspeakable tragedy, ethnic identity, political and economic frustrations. Recommended highly.

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