Monday, February 29, 2016


I once jokingly explained why California seemed to be the breeding ground for odd and impractical ideas and culture, by attributing the phenomenon to the Rocky Mountains: all the nuts roll downhill and don’t stop till they reach the ocean. The east coast, I was sure, was protected by the Mississippi River. Since then I’ve moved to the least populated county east of that river, a place with the highest mean elevation east of that same liquid barrier. And I’ve learned a thing or two.

First of all, not all the nuts roll downhill. Some of them remain ever stuck at the top of the rocks. Those that do roll down to the east seem somehow to be able to float until they climb out of the water and head to the Atlantic. Perhaps after rolling far enough to enter the water all the internal matter has degraded sufficiently to allow the empty shell to float. I don’t know. It seems likely, though. Then somehow these eastern nuts come to rest on the shores of the Atlantic.

Now, sitting on my Allegheny mountainside, I have a different perspective. It applies particularly to the crop of nuts known as "politicians." It seems, first of all, that no matter your taste in nuts, there is one for every tongue. It’s really hard to tell, of course, because instead of offering a sample to taste, we are instead given bites that hardly satisfy, much less give something to roll around in our mouth and decide if it matches our preference. Too often, at least in my mouth, I simply want to spit out whatever I’ve sampled. Besides that, there is a similarity of taste, regardless of the name, and they all seem to cost the same.

This week (tomorrow, as I write this) offers what is known as "Super Tuesday." I suppose "super" applies to the number of primaries being conducted on the first day of March, but I suspect that some of the candidates hope that the results will bring super support for their promises. Again, I don’t know. Late tomorrow night we’ll have lots of television "journalists" and their paid commentators telling us what the voting means, and expect us to believe. I will miss most of that because as in past years, I’ll be at our polling place from five in the morning until we have closed and counted and reported the results, which means I will arrive home around the time the polls on the west coast have closed and the pundits will have told us (without all the ballots counted), who and what has won or lost. Not that that means anything.

Come November, when we go through the final phase of the election process, the same people who will be so sure tomorow night of how the world will shift in 2017, will have a chance to tell us again what only they seem able to know before the last vote is counted and posted. It is a remarkable process, built from asking people who don’t know about things they might not understand, to give a single word endorsement or refutation of person or proposal which may or may not have anything to do with the running of a town or county, state or nation. Then these same experts will tell us how the world will end, and probably when. And then, of course, we will repeat the process when the next election cycle comes around.

If all of this seems negative, I must admit that I have some reservations about what the world my great grandchildren will inherit. My generation has done what it could, not always the best or in the best way (but we are still here and we know there is a future). Some of what is being proposed seems useful and positive. Too much appears to me to be negative (including some of what is written here). I hope we wake up on Wednesday (and again in November) to something positive and good.

We have tried to prepare the ground for the next crop. Let’s hope it is something more than nuts.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Suspension of Disbelief

There are two terms related to filmmaking that have utility in other fields: persistence of vision and suspension of disbelief.

Persistence of vision describes the phenomenon wherein sequential still pictures shown in specific time intervals, give the impression of motion. When about 18 pictures are projected per second, the brain retains each image until the next one is presented, and connects them as motion. If you want the full story on that, look up Eadweard Muybridge (Originally Edward James Muggeridge), 1830-1904, who conducted the best known experiments in this field. But I digress.

The other term of art is "Suspension of Disbelief." This one applies in all fiction genres, as well as much of real life. It is what allows an audience (reader, listener, viewer) to accept things in a story that would normally not be believed, at least for the duration of the film, book or play.

Of course, writers and filmmakers are not the only ones who depend on these to reach an audience. Leaders at all levels, from politicians to dictators depend on them to control and direct their audiences. Today that effect seems more often used than thoughtful discussion. Just look at the crop of presidential hopefuls chasing us everywhere we look or listen or read.

Certainly there are things wrong that need righting, and things that are right that need support, but so far none of what I am hearing or seeing or reading from any of the candidates in either party strike me as realistic or even marginally possible, not to say plausible.

First of all, we are a people made up of so many different strands of DNA that to assert that there is one pure brand of human, and that there is no room for disparate points of view or strains of humanity is just not possible, even if it were preferable. Who among us can claim to be "authentic?" Unpleasant as it may seem, after the millions of years of evolution, to assert that there is any single or pure human line is as unrealistic as saying some breed of dog is "pure." As far as I know, the animal we call "dog" has ancestors we can call canine, but no more specific than that. But again I digress.

What is clear to me at least, is that there are no single answers, no "my way or the highway" path to health, wealth and security, no road to salvation (if salvation itself is even achievable). To hear the politicians and their die-hard supporters, however, one must accept "my way" solutions to things that may or may not be problems in the first place. Our country, especially, has grown up facing challenge after challenge, working our way from "we don’t want a king to tell us what to do" to "We don’t want a king. Period." Or any other dictator. We still want to govern ourselves. Hopefully the final candidates will be ones who recognize that.

There is no single answer, no one path that will take us farther along the road to the "perfect union," that we seek. I, for one, find much of this year’s rhetoric disturbing. By casting our choices in terms of good and evil, of "my way or no way," we not only limit our choices. We limit our humanity. Do the politicians really believe what they are saying?

My suspension of disbelief needs new shock absorbers.