Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nature Strikes Back

Enjoy your summer vacations, suckers. Things are going wild again, and it’s just a matter of time now before we reach a tipping point on the survival of the fittest.

For a few million years, we hominids, especially we homo sapiens, have had the advantage of technology—it keeps us cool in the summers, warm in the winters, generates a realistic (if not exactly real) food supply, and lets us migrate great distances at high speeds in the relative comfort of nuclear-family-sized receptacles, in which we cocoon ourselves and our loved ones from the brutal roar and grime of the very highways we vroom-vroom over—no less oblivious to nature, what little of it we see smashed flat on the curbside, than to our fellow motorists, on whose consciousnesses likewise we have not the slightest impact.

Ironically, it’s a technology almost entirely built on rapidly diminishing (and nonrenewable) remains of dinosaurs, who, too, once had their day at the top of the food chain.

Nature—non-human nature—has proved remarkably resilient to all the shit we’ve been hurling at it for the past several hundred years. We have rid ourselves of the dodo bird and the Japanese sea lion, but have not yet seen the same coolly efficient results with wolves, cockroaches, and crocodiles.

We humans, sadly, have been striving against our own survivability for millenia—through war, poverty, and, most of all, willful ignorance of how the world around us works. Greed and stupidity have been the soils most conducive to our self-destructive antisocial (anti-humane) tendencies.

Clannishness, nationalism, religion, and addiction to mindless entertainments have been potent fertilizers.

Just for one stark though representative bit of evidence—in 2007, according to a recently published Harvard study, medical problems accounted for 62% of all personal bankruptcies in the USA, and 78% of those filers had private health insurance at the beginning of their illness.

I can’t imagine that things have improved much in the intervening years … and all evidence indicates that our elected officials are more impressed with the campaign contributions from pharma and insurance companies than with the implications of statistics like these.

And it’s likely that full-throttle ad campaigns can turn us rank and file to the opinion that big profits for Pfizer and Wellpoint matter more to us than Uncle Theodore’s kidney infection.


See ya later, alligator.

Monday, July 27, 2009


It’s hard for me to remember what feeling ashamed of myself feels like, so I’m not at all sure that I’m ashamed of myself for being a pervert.

To be sure, I very seldom speak about certain eccentric aspects of my tastes and sexual desires. For a lot of people—though fewer than just ten years ago—it’s enough of a blow to find out that I’m homosexual. I don’t think it’s necessarily shame that causes me to keep certain private matters private—I am certainly being up front right now—but really how useful is it to elaborate on matters of purely personal interest to other than likeminded listeners? (Or “impurely personal”?)

Rest assured, then, I’m not about not about to count out my dark proclivities here in this post—not in any detail, at least.

More importantly, let’s get a few things out there—I am a pervert, NOT a sex offender. I may (oh, hell, I most definitely do) transgress the line of your personal scruples about sex and morality, and do so with gusto, over and over again, but I do not break any laws and I do not use or take advantage of others—which is more than most respected businesses can say for themselves.

Pervert means perverse, against the grain—to “twist,” which, absent the word’s moral nuances, is no different than to “adapt” or “utilize” … to “make do.” It means to deviate from the norm—to twist what others consider inherently innocuous into something prurient—to take satisfaction in what most others regard as just plain wrong (or “in the wrong way”) and, vice versa, find no (or very little) satisfaction in the white-bread canoodlings of the mainstream.

Lately I’ve tried to be a bit more frank about these matters around my friends. Still I avoid going into details, not so much out of shame or guilt, as out of a commonsense acknowledgment that, however much my personal kinks fascinate me, they bore the crap out of almost everybody else.

It’s the same principle—only worse—as the more commonly observed fact that nobody really wants to hear all about that weird dream you had last night. Nobody but your analyst, perhaps—if even him, or her.

And it’s the same principle—though nobody dares to tell them—as the fact that believers’ personal confabs with God lose almost all their sparkle in their translation to third parties—meaning they are only just as interesting as having to look through and find nice things to say about somebody else’s thick stack of photos of beloved pets.

My kinks get a reasonably full airing in another blog I write. The nice thing about blogs is they tend to attract the audiences they are meant for. According to the Google Analytics app, that blog of mine has got in the past three weeks roughly three to four times the daily hits (in 58 nations and territories) as my comparatively innocuous blog Kubla Kong. This fact suggests that my private self resonates with more people than my public, political, social self—a fact that I find, to be perfectly honest, somewhat disconcerting.


My kinks—the predilections that make me a pervert—are more or less distinct from other aspects of my character. I draw a clear line between fantasy and reality and between desire and necessity. They are even distinct from my homosexuality—I am connected no less to likeminded straight people than to likeminded gays—and perhaps the same high percentage of gays and straights would find them uninteresting, if not appalling.

What I mean to say here is that one’s kinks do not strictly correlate with other aspects of one’s sexuality—some heteros and homos alike, like me, generally prefer brunets to blonds, just as some heteros and homos alike find wrestling, like me, or the texture of denim or angora wool, unlike me, erotically exciting—others in both camps have no or different preferences on these matters.

Like my homosexuality, though, I became aware, albeit only vaguely at first, of my sexual kinks while I was still a child. My earliest sense of sexual excitement, as a boy of 7 or 8, was watching Mighty Mouse beat the shit out of cartoon cats. Not only that, but I wanted to be one of the cats. Where the fuck did the feeling come from? I still have no answer, but I would be dishonest to say it wasn’t there.

The first time (and one of the rare times) that I felt a charge of heterosexuality was once, at about that same age, when I wrestled Diane, a neighborhood girl, in my back yard and straddled her flat chest and triumphantly pinned her skinny wrists to the ground. (My mother, spotting trouble at once, called me inside and told me that that was no way to behave with girls, even though Diane had giggled excitedly the whole time—and little did my mother know back then that “trouble” for 9 out of 10 of other little boys was altogether different than it was for me.)

Our culture’s difficulties with sexual kinks have many sources—the most obvious being our puritan discomfort with and fear of erotic pleasure. Some celebrities on American TV still find it necessary to whisper even the words “missionary position.”

Another obvious source is our culture’s tendency towards conformity. For all the talk about American individuality and diversity, Americans as a rule do not want to be tagged as “oddballs” or “eccentrics,” and most find a great deal of satisfaction in the predictability of sitcoms and in the knowledge that the Big Mac they buy in Durham, North Carolina, is not detectably different from the one they could buy in Chinatown in San Francisco.

Also, pragmatism counts for a lot with Americans. Pleasure—especially sexual pleasure—has to have measurable goals and predictable outcomes. Ideally, it must be reducible to a routine. “Planned” and with the proper permits and registrations. On vacation, surprising numbers of Americans prefer to follow a strict schedule governing each day’s appointed sights and activities. A kink—or, for that matter, any spontaneity or eccentric quirk—purportedly does not win wars, increase populations, turn a profit, or gain salvation for one’s imaginary soul.

Not least of all, Americans like clear boundaries, and kinks threaten the most comforting boundaries of gender, race, and sexuality. Conformist sexuality (what some call “compulsory heterosexuality”) ensures and validates the importance of clear divisions, based not on personal preferences, but a mythology of social order.

Twenty and thirty years ago, when I practiced my kinks more than preached them, my erotic interest in wrestling was one I shared not only with other gay men, but with bisexual and straight men as well. With the last of course, there was no actual sex, no penetration—or, let’s be perfectly honest, never when both of us were sober. Still, we all were aroused and came.

I did draw the line at wrestling women after Diane—and, more pertinently, after recognizing my personal preference for men as partners in both wrestling and fucking. (One point I’d like to add on this is that I find videos of women wrestling each other no less stimulating than those of men wrestling each other, though—thanks a lot, Mom!—mixed wrestling leaves me relatively cold.)

American culture is famously hypocritical about sex and other matters, as well. We probably have no fewer kinks than Europeans do; we just don’t like to call them what they are. We compliment others’ “athletic” physiques, as if to neutralize the sexual charge they give us. British novelist Graham Greene ran afoul of the American public when he noticed and dared to speak up on the frequency with which little Shirley Temple’s ruffled dresses fly up to reveal her panties while she bounces on some gentleman’s lap or other. The scandal forced Greene to flee to Mexico.

The demographic most represented in theater audiences for Mel Gibson’s epic The Passion of the Christ was conservative Christians, followed closely by bondage-and-discipline fetishists (and has anybody not noticed the frequency with which Mel the actor winds up on torture racks in his films?—I dare say that electrodes on nipples and testicles and hot pokers up the rectum became fairly commonplace with Gibson—but who would dare call him a porn star to his face?)


So here I am, folks, impiously and brazenly proclaiming that what I do behind closed doors is very different than what most people do or care even to think about. As promised, I have spared you the details—at the considerable risk that some of you will imagine behaviors far different and more bizarre than any I actually accomplished. Still, my kinks are a source of my unique identity, involving their own peculiar standards of respectability and decency, no doubt different from the public’s, and quite likely alien to your own.

But, there, I said it, folks—not for forgiveness or a cure—“I am a pervert.” Can it be said then that I have come “clean”?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Beefcake

Friday, July 24, 2009

Math Problem (A Proposed Addition to the Mathematics Content Level Exam for SAT)

Nine days ago I called Time-Warner to make an appointment to set up my computer and TV cable at my new address. I can’t remember how long we spoke on the phone, but the nice young woman on the phone (Deanna) assured me that everything was set up for Monday morning following the move.

This morning I called back to change two aspects of the work order—to notify the technician that he would have to drill the wall to reinstall cable because the renovations to the new place had eliminated the original portal for the cable, and to drop three premium channels I’m currently signed up for and don’t use, $27-$28 worth of unused services on my current bill.

The recorded message asked me to verify my phone number, told me my call was important to them, and advised me that my estimated wait would be five to ten minutes. Then the voice (or another indistinguishable voice) told me about an exciting telephone option with Time-Warner that would bring my communications with the world fully into the twenty-first century—“starting” at $39.95.

Ten minutes later I got Chemise. She said, “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Are you there? I can’t hear you.” I responded to each question, but she talked over me—apparently unable to hear me well or at all—perhaps a preview of what $39.95 a month could get me in state-of-the-art phone service. Then she said, “Wait a second.” I got another minute of the ubiquitous and nondescript sax solo, and then she was back. I said, “Hello?” She said, “Great. I can hear you now, ma’am.”

I told her it was “sir”—believe me, it’s the gay accent, and this sort of thing happens all the time with me—I am decades past being offended or annoyed.

I told her that I needed to make some changes to my work order. She couldn’t find the work order. I gave her my account number and offered to give her the work order number Deanna had given me. She told me the work order number meant nothing—but, lest it should go to waste, it was 54625606—and though insignificant in the eyes of its creator, it had a short though honored existence on the back of a Food Lion receipt.

Then, once she found it (I think), she told me the work order looked like it merely started a new account, without transferring the existing Time-Warner service. She attempted to make this correction, before taking the information about the changes I was now calling about. Apparently Deanna had seriously fucked up the appointment. So for twenty minutes (I clocked the time), Chemise would say, “Hmmm … Just a second … uh, sir [my gender not yet committed to memory] … oh … Thank you for your patience … Just a second …” Each ellipsis counts as one to two minutes of dead air—and repeat the sequence till the total reaches twenty minutes. She then explained that she should have been able to cut and paste my information onto a new order form, but the system wouldn’t let her, so she was having to transcribe the original work order by hand.

In the process, she made a thrilling discovery. If I would agree to a two-year contract, she, as a trusted representative of Time-Warner, could offer me substantial savings on my monthly bill. She then began to calculate the new charges based on my existing services, at which point I interrupted to say that one of my changes involved dropping three of the premium channels I currently subscribe to. She said that was all right; she would calculate the total without those channels, her voice barely containing her excitement. Then she announced the wonderful news that I could get a deal on Showtime for free for one year. I said okay, nice, but I really don’t want Showtime.

She then cited me a total that was $20.20 higher than my current service with four premium channels, including HBO, which was the only one I wanted to keep, and including the $9.25 for Showtime, which I should now be getting for “free.” I mentioned this difference and asked if she would explain, offering the (I thought) useful information that my current residence pays for basic cable as part of my rent. She said that that might explain the difference since complexes like the one I’m leaving sometimes pay $20-$25 for access to basic.

Still, politely, her tone of voice suggested that my inquiry involved some sort of breech in etiquette on my part—or perhaps she was just feeling a slump from her previous exuberance over the savings she thought she had to offer me.

However, if we subtract $27.75 for the dropped channels from my current bill and add back, let’s take the top figure, the full $25 my current rent covers, the “deal” she was offering was now a whopping $22.95 a month more—to get three fewer channels than I currently subscribe to.

She then invited me to look at the matter from a different perspective, since she didn’t want me to go away confused. She said that the full price for the service I was requesting, without the “special offer” a two-year contract would win me, was $52.11 more than my current monthly payment, not including the state sales tax. Keep in mind that this is a price for less service than I currently receive. So if we take the new, not-so-special total, and subtract, let’s say, the $25 my current rent covers at my complex, but add back on the $27.75 for the three channels I currently get but will soon be dropping—the monthly charge would be $54.86 more than my current bill. I was beginning to see the savings the special offer offered.

So I said, well, of course, given a choice between paying $20.20 more for fewer services and paying $52.11 more for fewer services, I am smart enough to pick the former—but I still didn’t understand why I needed to pay a good bit more for considerably less (at work—with the state community college system—I’m already being asked to do more with less—it doesn’t seem right that I should have to pay more for less for Wi-Fi and True Blood).

And, besides, I said, if I’m getting Showtime for “free” for a year, wouldn’t canceling it at the end of that year constitute a breach of my two-year contract, by which I’m getting the “special” pricing?

No, it would not, she assured me, because the “special offer” applied only to my Roadrunner service for Internet access.


Then, for my other question, about drilling into the wall of my new residence, Chemise informed me that an eighty-something dollar fee would be charged for that service. But the good news was that the $14.95 transfer fee Deanna was going to charge me (without, apparently, ever properly documenting the service appointment in the first place) would now be waived! AAAAND this new charge was “one time only.” That is, I would not have to keep paying for the hole drilling for the full 24 months of my contract!

By this time, I felt that Chemise had reached the limits of her abilities to explain her special offer in terms that my math-challenged mind could grasp. The reality was, as I saw it, I should pay the $20.20 extra for fewer channels, there not being a more enticing offer than the “special” one. Clearly, nine days ago, Deanna had taken the easy route of not even trying to explain the changes in charges to me and perhaps not even bothering to fill in the correct blanks on the Time-Warner service-request database.

So I said yes to the two-year contract. How could a resist a deal like that?

Chemise then asked if I had any further questions before she passed me on to a third party to verify the new agreement and the great new offer. No, I did not. She asked me to hold and she would transfer me.

What I got was a recording that repeated the following: “English Verification. Press 2 for Spanish Verification. Or. Press star after your customer is back on line … English Verification. Press 2 for …”


I hung up, and redialed the 866 number. This time I got Jarrod, who sounded less addled than Chemise had and somewhat more polished and assured, like Deanna nine days ago, only masculine—nobody would ever call Jarrod “ma’am.” He even seemed somewhat more confident in my own choice of gender identity.

I started out, pleasantly, informing Jarrod that I had spent (just this morning) over an hour talking with or waiting on Time-Warner. He said, “Oh my.” I told him that I had been misplaced during the “verification process” and described the recorded message I’d heard, obviously intended for the ears of Time-Warner employees, not customers. He offered to make that transfer.

“But wait,” I said, liking the commanding and confident, dare I say “masculine,” way Jarrod expressed himself. “Could you please double-check my work order? since, frankly, two calls in nine days have left me skeptical that I have accomplished much with my time spent on the phone. He helpfully pulled up my file, after verifying the last four digits of my Social Security number.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “We have you signed up for the [something] package: digital cable and Road Runner, home networking, and Turbo-Charge Road Runner.”

“And HBO?

“Oh, yes, that’s there, too.”

“And there’s a fee for drilling a hole or something. It was eighty-something dollars. Could you give me a precise figure for that? Just so I can make plans to pay it?”

“Of course, sir. That should be $80.”

“Eighty even?”

“Let me check that for you, sir. Yes, that should be $80 or $85. Different installers have different fees ….”

No fucking way I was going to ask what accounted for the difference of five dollars.

“Yes! You will be charged $85 for the drilling. You may want to ask your new landlord to go halvesies on that charge, since once the hole is drilled, it will be usable by subsequent tenants on that property, as well. I even once had a landlord who paid the whole fee, since it’s basically an improvement to his property ….”

[Note: Immediately after his conversation, I phoned Hsu, my new landlord, and floated Jarrod’s suggestion past her. She didn’t bite. Further, she said, the cable company shouldn’t be charging for the installation in the first place. Well, I said, they are. She then said that, yeah, the cable company would very probably charge me something.]

“… And, sir, we have you scheduled for service between three and five Monday afternoon.”

“But I asked for morning.” At this point, I’m just trying not to whine.

“Well, perhaps at this late date ….”

“But I made the request nine days ago … and the agent I just spoke with never mentioned that the time had been changed, even though I repeatedly referred to the appointment as occurring on Monday ‘morning.’”

“Okay. Well, sir, I can certainly arrange that for you. How is eight to ten?”

“Monday? Morning? … Okay.”

“Now, sir, let me transfer you, properly, to verification. In English.”

“Thank you.”

The Verification Process was an automated form of contract that made me affirm that I indeed understood and accepted the terms of the new two-year contract, including details nobody had mentioned before, such as that the penalty for early withdrawal from the contract is $150 and that, at the end of the two years, the two-year contract would be automatically renewed for another two years, with increases in charges being decided at that time, though I would have 30-60 days to cancel the new contract without penalty. (Will I have 30 days to cancel? or 60?)

Anyway, I said yes, yes, yes to it all. The computerized voice seemed exceptionally professional and authoritative. At the end of the process, it gave me a verification confirmation number, 6418, which may or may not mean something to the folks at Time-Warner.

So, here are the proposed questions for the SAT Math exam:

1. How much will I save on Time-Warner’s special two-year contract over the next 24 months?
2. If I had not moved, would my cable charges still have gone up $55, without the special offer?
3. Since I’m paying for an $85 cable installation, what does the extra five dollars get me? A. More accurate drilling. B. A cuter installer, without a shirt on. C. Free Showtime. D. None of the above.
4. Does my voice really sound that effeminate on the phone?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Quixote and Shit

I’ve reached a point where I don’t know what I want to do with this blog.

I’m not sure how much I want to use it just to replay favorite videos off YouTube. Or to observe and analyze my psyche. These days I read books and see movies rarely (blame the economy—blame a crappified publishing industry and “Hollywood”), and when I do read bestsellers or see blockbusters, they are no longer selling particularly well or busting any blocks, so the idea of using my blog to pimp or review the trends seems (how should I put it?) lackluster.

My politics—never especially practical or active—are at low tide.

I like Obama still, no more or less than I did a year ago—apart from spasms of love or hate that last no more than 30 minutes a shot. Basically I think he is okay. He’s a politician, a great one, a master of nuance and self-control. He works with and for the big-money, power people. Sure, he has a heart for the little people, too, but apart from campaigns (and rarely then) how many little people do politicians really get to see? And, as I see it, in all these ways he’s no different from previous US Presidents—and on most other points their superior.

Much is happening in politics these days—talk of healthcare reform, gay rights, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, the fucked-up economy (thanks Republicans—all the ones I know personally now call themselves libertarians—riiight)—but what is not happening so much is enactment of new policy—or change I can see as well as believe in.

Until very recently, I was calling, e-mailing, and petition-signing for my people in DC all the time—but lately I’m tired of getting the prefabricated responses, followed by pleas for contributions (liberal and Democratic organizations are the worst for this). My only representative who has responded to any of my many messages with any appearance of actually having read them (and, in most cases, disagreeing with them) is NC Senator Richard Burr, a Republican.

“Harry and Louise” are back, the couple in serial ads sponsored by the Health Insurance Association of America. After bashing Clinton’s try at healthcare reform in 1993, they, still shills for Big Pharma and Families USA, the influential healthcare lobbyist, now voice their fictitious support of Obama’s healthcare reform—which, as I’ve said elsewhere, is a compromise that keeps the insurance companies (one of the big problems in the US healthcare system, in my opinion) happy—and doesn’t appear to address (because, again, “we’ve got the best health care in the world”) serious failings in the delivery of medicine—for one, thanks for asking, it’s impersonal, modeled on factory assembly-line techniques of production; also, it’s conducted as an elimination game, like Survivor, in which caregivers offer pricey tests to eliminate a possible disease (sometimes despite lack of symptoms that would make it a reasonable factor in the first place), usually a high-end disease, one for which pharma and non-pharma products aplenty already exist. But if your particular headache doesn’t fit an existing product line, you’re shit out of luck for receiving any sort of care at all. And these days medical “research” is absorbed in finding new ways to market existing merchandise and copying other companies’ blue-ribbon products, not in finding cures for unfashionable hard-to-place disorders.

Basically all the things we’re told to fear about socialized medicine have been brought to pass in private health care. Just as everything we learned to loathe about the so-called “group think” and “herd mentality” of socialism has come to pass (in spades) in corporate culture, in partisan politics, in team spirit, in radio talk shows. (Even Ayn Rand is parroted endlessly, her books clutched to the breasts of dizzy devotees—the greedy bitch must be rolling in her grave.)

My blogging style is rambling and spotty. Disjointed. I know it, and I apologize. It’s also elliptical and eclectic ... a little of this, a little of that. You never know what you’re getting.

I’m never really angry enough to become the Howard Beale of bloggers. Angry blogs always seem to choke on their own hysteria in the end. On the other hand, I can’t be uplifting either—Pollyanna and Norman Vincent Peale are not in my makeup. It’s a struggle enough to be intelligent; you want inspirational, too?

I’ve almost finished reading Don Quixote—that seventeenth-century masterpiece I avoided for so many years. It both inspires me to pursue my passions and fantasies and then rebukes me for living in a dream world. It, too, is episodic and digressive. Comic and pessimistic. The human mind works this way—in flashes, in starts and false starts, in comparisons and contrasts, in mood swings. Whatever wisdom there is, emerges from boredom—not entertainment. Just as the great scientific discoveries have usually occurred as “mistakes”—more’s to pity our society of efficiency experts who strive to eliminate mistakes—and an entertainment industry intent on banning tedium—or any human touch whatsoever.

In Quixote, I see the beginnings of the modern mind—hasty to act upon high but half-baked ideals, unwilling to take responsibility for the destructive effects of those acts, vaguely aware of his ridiculousness, outraged at the aloofness of the wealthy and the servility of the poor, almost noble in his isolation and absolute (and willful) blindness to reality.

And I suppose, now that I think about it, by “modern mind” I really mean my mind.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Beefcake

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Looked at, Talked to, and Touched

Three things my dog Tom Ripley demands of me every day. He wants to be looked at in the eye. He wants to hear his name said out loud, with some sort of command (Sit) or promise (Treat) following. And from time to time when I’m reading or writing he presents his neck and back to me to be rubbed.

These are the three forms of discourse a dog understands. According to a dog training manual I read when Ripley was a puppy, the only time you should strike your dog is when he attacks a person—corporal punishment is overkill for any other sin a dog can commit. Usually, it’s punishment enough to ignore the dog—don’t look him in the eye, don’t say his name, and don’t touch him. Thirty minutes of this for a dog is worth two hours of waterboarding for human beings. He’s a social animal—and denied social recognition, he suffers.

These forms of communication represent “belonging”—that odd craving for security as found in a firm sense of fitting in and being accepted, in collaboration with another being, or perhaps a whole pack of other beings. Perhaps this craving is unique to dogs, perhaps not. Belonging sounds a lot like what we humans usually exalt as “love.” All the higher traits philosophers, poets, and preachers have cited as proofs that the human animal is superior to other animals are magnifications—perhaps even dishonest exaggerations—of simpler traits common to animals. Devoid of the exact, material, immediate, and objective “language” like looking, naming, and touching, human ideas can become mere abstractions—“love,” “freedom,” “family,” “democracy,” “health,” “wealth.” The more abstract the idea and the word used to refer to it become, the less connected it becomes to the external reality—and thus it loses meaning, except perhaps as some kind of fetishist symbol of some vague, disconnected feeling or yearning.

The philosopher George Santayana used the term “animal faith” to describe the biological urges that keep human beings from drifting off into abstract idealism and a totally virtualized existence. You don’t have to be particularly smart to “over-intellectualize”; you simply have to have reached the point where your ideas, your politics, your doctrine, and your word choices no longer correspond to the everyday reality around you. Animal faith is that part of ourselves that requires tangible evidence, rewards, and justification for ideas. It is animal faith that saves us from bullshit. It is animal faith that saves us from loss of meaning and identity. As Santayana expressed it, “Knowledge lies in thinking aptly about things, not in becoming like them.”

Extreme idealists reach a point where their thoughts are disconnected from material reality. They wonder things like whether they really exist, whether reality is real, or what “meaning” means. Dogs, as a rule, don’t raise these questions—and neither do most humans, and for 99% of their conscious lives, neither do even extreme idealists. Biological urges, such as animal faith, keep us connected to the material world. Mystics may seek to transcend these urges, and the spiritual may hope for the “life after death” that frees the “soul” from material reality—but for the time being, all of us are pretty much trapped in our natures as biological beings, for better or worse.

In attempting to communicate non-reality-based concepts, swamis, gnostics, saints, and tyrants use self-contradictory or paradoxical language: “war is peace,” “ignorance is strength,” and “freedom is slavery” (Orwell, 1984)—or say things like “atheism is a form of faith” or “he’s a politician who eschews politics.” Nonsense, unless these statements are understood “spiritually” or “figuratively.” Now, me, I have no problem with spiritual or figurative language—it is the language of transcendence and romance, both of which I like from time to time—it is, in short, the language of feeling, specifically unique, untranslatable, and exclusive feelings. Language being logical, it is primarily concerned with communications “between” and “among” people—but it often fails to communicate well the experienced feelings “within” an individual person. Therefore, we tweak language designed mainly to express the expressible to hint at our inexpressible feelings.

The problem emerges when (1) we abandon our animal faith in the concrete reality surrounding us or (2) we attempt to make our personal and ineffable feelings the basis for society—that is, a functioning collective of unique individuals with their variant value systems and unutterable egos. For society to work, there has to be a common language. It does not have to be the only language or experience available to individuals, but there have to be common, agreed-upon definitions and sentence structures—and a common respect for reality, over fantasy, over idealism, over escapism, over individual interests and values, over private wisdom.

The other animals do not have to struggle with their connection to social reality. They are attached to their pack and/or in tune with their senses and environment. They have no platitudes, no cant, and no “higher truth.” They have the “one” truth revealed through their senses, and through experience they learn to varying degrees to distinguish appearance from reality. As highly developed animals, we humans have perhaps pushed this distinction too far—in contradiction to our senses and better instincts—to imagine “realities beyond reality.” Fine. But we need to keep one foot on the ground—our advantage in dicing and splicing ideas into various ideologies, faiths, and political principles can be our undoing as a species if we lose a sense of the immediate, apparent, and real. Being right and certain is seldom as effective in addressing present circumstances as being wary and keenly observant.

My dog won’t believe I “love” him unless I look him in the eyes, speak his name, and rub the bony part behind his ears. In fact, he can take or leave the word “love.”

How different, then, are we? Can you accept that “your call is important to us” if you’re left waiting on the phone for 15 minutes? Can you believe me if I say “I love the sinner but not the sin,” if all I do is harp about your sin? What will it say about us when we become a society that is satisfied with merely “right ideas” and “virtual experiences”—each of us independently wrapped up in our own private wonderlands and frustrated that our sincerity and deep feelings can no longer connect with what other people’s bodies and instincts tell them.

No, I’m fairly certain that, however subtle and sophisticated we become in our manipulation of ideas and words, some part of ourselves, even as homo sapiens, yearns to be looked at, talked to, and touched.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Wonder If You Can

For two weeks I’ve been packing to move at the end of the month. Every morning I wake up thinking I’m almost done, only to unearth some new layer of my existence that needs to be taken out, dusted off, inspected, and packed back in bubble wrap, newspaper, and blankets.

The greater part of this build-up is books and, more recently, DVDs. Lately I’ve been ruthless in throwing away books I haven’t cracked open in over ten years and, at present, have no ambition of re-reading before I die. I’ve also thrown out some DVDs I bought under the impression that I had enjoyed them, but later discovered that I did not like them nearly as much as the IMDb readers and Motion Picture Academy do. But, for all the flaws in the digital transfer (Criterion, please help!), I can’t throw out my copy of Robert Altman’s Nashville—I did not own a DVD player until Nashville was released in digital format—and it was my first purchase.

Books, especially, I have a great deal of sentimental fondness for. I have a broken-spined book of bible stories my first-grade teacher gave me—it has the proud ex libris mark “Joey” in my childish scrawl. I have the one-volume history of British literature my master’s professor gave me when I left Marshall University. I have the brittle, yellowed paperback of metaphysical poets I had as a text in a doctoral-level class at the University of Miami. I have all the books Bruce Weber published in the 1980s—each one worth a round trip to Barcelona now, but what I love I don’t sell (although, if I had the money to invest in potentially rare and valuable books, I have the instincts for what people will want to read and look at twenty years from now). I have books about Frank O’Hara, Arthur Tress, and Pier Paolo Pasolini an old boyfriend signed to me. I have books autographed more recently by favored novelists like Don DeLillo and Joan Didion. All these are already lovingly packed away for the move.

Today I filled a large box with photographic equipment—six cameras I no longer use and will never use again, slide carousels and an old slide projector I was surprised to find out still works, and an old video recorder and a stack of tapes, including footage of me with my demented mother that I haven’t been able even to glance at since she died 14 years ago. I’m not sure whether the new, smaller place will have room for these big chunks of repressed memories and memory-makers in disuse, but I haven’t the heart to dispose of them yet.

It amazes me that I, alone, have all this stuff. Let’s say I must have a carbon footprint the size of Kong. Until 20 years ago I didn’t own furniture, preferring to rent furnished apartments or to lease furnishings for the unfurnished ones. Back then, I could move everything I owned in one densely packed Datsun. Now I have a $2,400 leather sofa I bought in Savannah shortly before moving to North Carolina 11 years ago—it’s my only furniture of value, and it’s fantastic still—long and sturdy enough to hold all six feet of me stretched out with my dog at my feet, comfortable enough for me to sleep on and, if I had to, to spend my remaining years on.

What’s my point here? I guess it’s that possessions are a burden and a pleasure—when they have to be dealt with, more the former than the latter. For days now I’ve fantasized walking away from here with just my dog, my MacBook, my brand new iPhone, and one overstuffed suitcase of clothes—which is about all I really need now. The books, CDs, and videos are all anachronisms now—the sum total of which could fit in far less than one GB of memory.

It’s sort of like St Augustine, who prayed for chastity and continence, but then added, “But not yet.” It amazes me that I’m now willing to pay $500 or more to move a bunch of junk eight miles, most of which I haven’t looked at for 11 years and probably will not even think about again until I move again, if ever. Not including the giant boxes and plastic garbage bags of stuff I’ve already thrown away or hauled off to Goodwill, the volume of my personal possessions is, while not exactly crushing, still daunting.

As extensions of who I am as an individual, possessions tend to lock me into old modes of being and keep me from being the agile, free, and unburdened creature that animals are. As I get older, possessions remind me I do in fact have a history—sometimes the nostalgia is so sweet it’s hard to express in words, and sometimes the memories are too painful to revisit even virtually (as in the footage of my dying, helpless, unhappy mother), yet to cast off the painful past and the mementos of it strikes me as somehow marking down my individual worth and putting my life thus far on clearance. So on and on I drag this shit with me. It keeps me human, I guess.

Philosophically, I want to be the man in the Datsun again—even more, a dreamer, like John Lennon, who can “imagine no possessions.” But, for now, like St Augustine, “not yet.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Beefcake: Tyler

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brüno Redux (A Response to Other People's Responses)

“GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios, who saw the film Friday, said that ‘the movie was a well-intentioned series of sketches — some hit the mark and some hit the gay community pretty hard and reinforce some damaging, hurtful stereotypes.’” –Sandy Cohen

Brüno may seem less shocking because we already experienced that response with Borat, but I think in most respects Brüno is the better movie.

I suspect many mainstream reviewers' meh responses are an unconscious attempt to diminish the discomfort of having to observe homophobia with neither the usual sentimental treatment of its victims nor the comforting illusion that it is entirely contained to certain subgroups in our society—this movie makes you FEEL homophobia, even if you are gay and not homophobic at all. Brüno, after all, is a homophobe's "straw man" of a gay person: Who wouldn't look down on Brüno?

I don't mean to imply that people who don't get or enjoy the movie are homophobes, but the way the Brüno character excites homophobic reactions seems more daring and more informative than the more mainstream-acceptable films that have the sweet, sensitive, misunderstood gay guy die at the end just because "some elements" in our society are not as highly evolved as others.

But Brüno shows us that lots of people on all levels of our culture—from Alabama rabbit hunters to Hollywood bigwigs—lose their shit when confronted with someone like Brüno.

That the movie also delves into America's conflicted reactions to class, race, violence, children, and the media further complicates our responses to it.

Nobody should feel forced to enjoy this movie. That's not my point. Certainly not. But I hope GLAAD and other respected spokespeople for the GLBT community won't let the mainstream media use their well-qualified concerns to demonize a satirical film for doing its job without pulling punches.

Satire has a long history of condemning its society's inhumanity, dullness, and obscenity and, for its troubles, being accused of being inhumane, dull, and obscene.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Brüno (Movie Review)

I want to be Brüno. In my day I’ve lost a job, been kicked by a cop, spent a night in jail, and logged upward to 30 or so mean-spirited messages on my phone—all for conducting myself in perfectly legal, private, and on occasion even community-spirited ways outside the heterosexual norm. But, damn, I’ve never told a Palestinian terrorist to his face that he needs to do something with his uninteresting hair or approached protesters from Fred Phelps’ (God-Hates-Fags) Westboro Baptist Church to help me disengage from my partner to whom I’m chained and handcuffed while anally impaled by a TV remote. Sacha Baron Cohen has—and he’s not even gay.

Unlike Borat, the character Cohen explored in 2006’s quasi-documentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America …, Brüno is not a stranger to Western culture. Borat was naïve because of geographic isolation, and Brüno too is naïve, but because of self-absorption—less because he’s gay (over-the-top über-gay) than because of his involvement in the fashion industry—a world to itself (as any watcher of Bravo knows) every bit as tribal, myopic, dim-witted, and cruel just for the sport of it as any real or fictitious Kazakhstan.

Brüno is so out of touch with the media’s concept of “real issues” as to think Hamas is hummus, Ron Paul is RuPaul (so did I, for about a month, I blush to admit), OJ is a traditional African name, Darfur is in Iraq, and John Travolta is straight. The film’s focus is on homophobia—homophobia in show business, in religion, and on the streets and among African-Americans, politicians, and good ole boys in the South. The few reviews I’ve read have attempted (from whatever motives) to downplay this aspect of the film. But the movie also deals with the West’s celebrity and fame obsession, its hair-trigger willingness to take offense, the follies of its public relations firms, its touchiness over matters relating to race and class, and, yes, post-Reagan-era gays’ simultaneous yet contradictory fixations on the outré and mainstream assimilation.

Brüno the film is, of course, not for everybody. Anybody offended by the “exploitative” and “manipulative” way Cohen’s Borat pushed real, everyday people into revealing their servility, bigotry, and foolishness is not going to like Brüno’s button-pushing any better. Anybody offended by the potty humor and near pornographic explicitness of South Park will leave the theater shaking his head in disbelief that this movie received only an “R” rating.

But, as I’ve said before, Cohen works in the tradition of Menippus, Swift, Twain, and Lenny Bruce, whose diatribes against the inhumanity, stupidity, and obscenity of their respective cultures were (and still are) accused of being misanthropic, insane, and dirty.

At least one critic has accused the movie of being disjointed, but I felt that Brüno was structurally and thematically more coherent than Borat. The film follows many of the predictable conventions of modern romantic comedy—Boy ventures out in search of love and personal advancement, ultimately finding them in an unexpected place.

And unlike another summer comedy, like, say, The Hangover—which I enjoyed very much, without once laughing out loud or caring one instant for the characters’ bizarre and increasingly outlandish escapades—I laughed quite a bit during Brüno and was strangely moved by its climax (at an already infamous mixed martial arts spectacular in Arkansas), at which insight comes to our protagonist in the midst of one of the most vicious mob scenes ever committed to film (and it’s real).

The comedy is weakest when it depends on pratfalls and buffoonery, for example, Brüno’s mishaps in a Velcro suit. The best laughs come with a good bit of cringing. And I probably flinched six times for every time I laughed. I’m not sure which gives face muscles the more exercise, cackling or wincing, but my cheeks were sore as I left the cinema (fill in your own butt pun here).

Ha, I just said “fill in your own butt”!

My recommendation? See it if you think you’re up for it. Don’t, if your idea of funny is “nice”—no doubt Patrick Dempsey and Calista Flockhart should be coming out with something really sweet and cute any day now. Brüno is anything (and everything) but “nice.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Method to Madness

Here’s my easy kit for beginners:

1. Worry about what could possibly happen as a consequence of any particular action available to you at any given time. Worry to the point of paralysis.

2. Focus on yourself alone—or at most on your tightly-knit and –wound circle of family and likeminded friends—even better, focus most of all on that unobservable, infinitesimal part of yourself you call your “soul.”

3. Fear God, fear change, fear the opinion of others.

4. Delve into the horror and suffering of existence, not to do anything about it (it’s sadly hopeless), but just to scratch at your feelings till they bleed.

5. Live in the past, or what you imagine the past should have been like, and fantasize about the future being just like the good parts of the past.

6. Always maintain control—of your actions, your words, your feelings, your thoughts. Punish yourself when you fail.

7. Tell people you’re a perfectionist. If you are religious, tell people your words and deeds are not your own, but God’s.

8. Avoid solitude, avoid quiet, avoid stillness.

9. Comfort yourself in beliefs you have never tested or even closely looked into.

10. Find someone—anyone—at whose feet you may comfortably grovel.

11. Maintain impossibly high standards for others—convince yourself daily that these standards are right and reasonable.

12. Make the only outcome that is acceptable to you be the one that ignores all present factors and violates all known laws of science and the lessons of history.

13. Stay within your limits—in fact, fortify those limits.

14. Identify scapegoats, preferably some social group it’s easy for you to blame for whatever is wrong in the world and in your miserable life.

15. Figure it’s you-against-the-world.

16. Persevere in those practices that have never before worked for you in the firm belief that either this time things will be different or you really and truly have no other choice.

17. Demonize sex.

18. Put your friends and others who “say” they love you constantly to the test.

19. Find two or three things about yourself or the life you have thus far lived that might credibly support the idea that you and your life are guided by irrevocable fate.

20. Decide, once and for all, that reality is just whatever you decide it is.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy 81st, Katherine Helmond

Happy birthday to Katherine Helmond. She’s 81 today.

Helmond was born in Texas in 1928 and raised Irish Catholic, and then, strike three, she attended Bob Jones University—the same ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian university in South Carolina I attended for three semesters before a nervous collapse triggered (my theory) by the conflict between my incipient, closeted homosexuality and my strict religious beliefs (e.g., at BJU I once got 75 demerits just for owning a Simon and Garfunkel tape).

Happily Helmond and I both shook free of the school’s malign influences … well, for the most part in my case. She went on to work on Broadway, then television and movies—most notably on the risqué serial sitcom Soap (1977-81).

She also played Judith Light’s quasi-nympho mother on Who’s the Boss? (1984-92). In film, she has worked with some great directors: Robert Wise (The Hindenburg), Alfred Hitchcock (Family Plot), and Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Brazil, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

Sunday Beefcake: Marcel

Friday, July 3, 2009

American Health Care: A Private or a Social Concern?

The 2009 CIA World Factbook estimates that the USA ranks 180 (out of 224 nations) in infant mortality rates. The number 1 country for infant deaths is Angola. Like most of the nations with higher rates, Angola is an impoverished “developing” country. The USA, however, has a greater number of deaths in infancy than Cuba, the European Union, Taiwan, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Israel, Hong Kong, Japan, or Singapore (which has the lowest infant mortality rate).

The World Factbook further estimates that, in 2008, the USA had 8.27 deaths per 1,000 people. Its death rate in general, then, is lower than the rates in Japan or the European Union, but still higher than those in Canada, Cuba, China, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, Brazil, India, South Korea, Chile, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Mexico, Singapore, or the United Arab Emirates (which has the lowest overall mortality rate). Last year, the USA had 3.03 more deaths per 1,000 than Iraq (5.14)!

US citizens have an average life expectancy of 77.85 years, lower than the United Kingdom (78.54), Germany (78.8), France (79.73), Italy (79.81), and Canada (80.22),

According to the New York Times, in 2006 Canadians spent $3,678 per capita on health care. US residents spent $6,714 per capita. (About 38% of that difference can be explained by the difference in the two countries’ economies. But even with numbers adjusted to accommodate that difference, US Americans paid $1,141 more per person for health care than Canadians.)

The National Coalition on Health Care states: “Although nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured, the United States spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens.” In 2007, health care spending represented 17% of the gross domestic product of the USA. In 2008, the increase (5%) in employer health insurance premiums was double the rate of inflation. Health care spending in the USA is over four times the amount spent on national defense.

The AFL-CIO reports, “Profits at 10 of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007, while consumers paid more for less coverage.”

Ron Williams, CEO of Aetna, earned $24,300,112 in 2008, making him the highest paid health insurance company executive. (In 1910 all the corporations in America paid less in taxes [$24,043,500] than Williams earned 98 years later.)

President Obama has introduced and supported the idea of a public option in health insurance coverage, a compromise between the current model of private insurers (as supported by the American Medical Association and fiscal conservatives) and the social-services model of public health (as practiced in Canada, the UK, France, Cuba, and China).

A public health insurance option means that the government would provide health insurance in competition with private health insurers, with the intention of driving down health care costs in America and insuring the millions of Americans now without health coverage of any kind. Only one health insurance provider or a closely tied group of providers covers 94% of metropolitan areas in the USA, with the effect of limiting competition in those communities and driving up healthcare costs. A public option could benefit from having lower administrative costs (Medicare, for instance, provides coverage with a lower overhead than the average private insurer can). If the public option proves popular and competitive, private insurers would likely lower rates to compete.

Centrist Democrats appear to be in a bind because, on one level, there is great popular support for the public option—65-85% of Americans support it, according to a variety of polls—while, on another level, health industry PACs contribute generously to Democratic and Republican campaigns—and (this is awfully cynical, I know) actually doing something about health care in America would rob them of the campaign issue that "somebody ought to do something about health care in America."

According to Nate Silver, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia has received $69,000 in contributions from health industry political action committees, even though he has served less than six months in the Senate. Like the 20 other senators currently “uncommitted” to a public health insurance option, Warner is a Democrat. (Except for Olympia Snowe, all the Republican senators oppose the public option.)

Opponents assert that a public option would be both inferior to private-sector insurance and destructive to private insurers. Their reasoning is that, although public health care would be (in their opinion) inferior, more people would gravitate to it because of its relatively low cost.

Some people object to a public option on principle, believing that the government should not interfere with lawful free enterprise (especially given the precarious position of the US economy now), and on practical concerns, believing that the government would be a less efficient provider of healthcare benefits than the current private insurers.

Many of these opponents attribute the USA’s lagging health statistics to factors other than the free market and/or monopolies, while others continue to tout the USA’s relatively good health statistics in comparison to nations in sub-Saharan Africa.

I unapologetically support so-called “socialized medicine”—on par with “socialized” highways, postal service, military defense, and public education. I don’t claim that such an approach to health care is perfect and without problems, but it does appear to me that, after decades of comparison, we can see greater benefits in, say, the British National Health Service than we Americans currently enjoy, and greater risks—large numbers of uninsured Americans and increasing bankruptcy due to high healthcare costs—in our current system.

Obama has chosen a compromise that I would not consider desirable—except for political expediency. However, the idea of a “public option” seems better than the status quo, at least—especially given my firsthand experience with increasing insurance premiums and deductibles and the rather shockingly streamlined “drive-thru” (though hardly “fast”) approach of the private medicine I have recently experienced.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Away We Go (Movie Review)

I saw Away We Go yesterday afternoon with a couple of my colleagues at work. I thought the movie was rather wonderful, but my friend Kirsten didn’t much like the main male character’s cutesy boyishness or the exaggerated kookiness of the couple’s friends and family—and Steve, my other companion, mildly objected to the film’s episodic structure, bumpy even by typical road-movie standards—three valid points, however not nearly enough to diminish my enjoyment.

What do I like about Sam Mendes’ latest film? It’s my favorite of anything of his I’ve seen (including last year’s remarkable Revolutionary Road). Well, for one, it is a movie for adults—an R-rated movie that treats sexuality with honesty, even from its opening scene (which had the sort of matter-of-fact sexual frankness I have not often seen in American films since the 1970s). Not to say that the movie is a nudity fest, it is far from that, but it handles sex as an ordinary, real part of love without sensationalizing it or obsessing over it. It helps that the screenplay is by novelists, husband-and-wife co-founders of the magazine The Believer, Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida.

The movie has been compared a lot to Juno (2007), a highly praised movie I didn’t much care for. As a road movie, it also has some marked structural similarity to Little Miss Sunshine (2006), About Schmidt (2002), and especially Flirting with Disaster (1996).

Another reason for me to love Away We Go is the small but memorable cameo appearances by some of my favorite character actors—Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton, Allison Janney, Chris Messina, Catherine O’Hara, and Paul Schneider. Gyllenhaal shines as a trippy, wanna-be feminist earth mother, and Chris Messina is touching as a happy young husband and father. But I don't want to say too much here. I would hate to spoil the movie’s little surprises, though, by further description.

The movie is a satire about romance, without falling into the twin traps of most movies that deal with romance and social satire: that is, sentimentality and cynicism. It is not a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again sort of romance. Rather refreshingly, I thought, the unmarried couple Burt and Verona (played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) are indisputably in love from beginning to end—with no fluctuations whatsoever on that score. They are full of love, respect, desire, and understanding for each other, but what they lack is a sense of belonging to the larger world. Verona fears that they are fuckups. Besides each other, they have no strong emotional connections to family or friends.

At the beginning, circumstances unfold to force them out of their isolation and onto a trek across North America in search of a new home for themselves—and their first baby who is on the way. Like most people in this situation, they follow job prospects and personal contacts, leading them to Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal, and Miami—where they encounter variations on the idea of couple-ness—people who are self-absorbed, materialistic, shrilly despairing and desperate, pretentiously “enlightened” and judgmental, burdened with a sense of loss, and, ultimately, unloved and unloving. At one point Verona senses that nobody else loves the way she and Burt do and panics at their utter isolation from the rest of the world.

This is the satirical point of the movie—the absence of love in all our talk about love and understanding. On that level, it’s a tiny bit like Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), without the infidelity. Everybody else Burt and Verona meet is a foil, emphasizing the genuineness and solidness of their love and commitment, even outside of marriage. A number of reviewers, including my friend Kirsten, felt that the other characters are sometimes cruelly caricaturized. In a way they are, but no more so than the characters viewed critically in comedies by, say, Woody Allen or the Coen brothers.

In his mostly favorable review, Roger Ebert raises the possibility that they are, instead, grotesques—that is, in the Winesburg, Ohio sense, characters who have one over- or under-developed spiritual quality that destabilizes and dwarfs every other aspect of their personality. As such, they are not so much individuals as manifestations of a sick society and its warped values.

But whether caricature or grotesque, the characters are what they are because (as in all satire) the storytellers have chosen to look at the rest of the world from a precise and individual moral stance—and satirists from Juvenal to Swift to Twain to Flannery O’Connor to Sacha Baron Cohen have all likewise been criticized as misanthropes for their coarse and cruel takes on those who fall outside the limits of their unique ethical perspectives. Unlike “soft” comedy, satire embraces many of the stark qualities of tragedy, too.

In other words, without being preachy, Away We Go is a film with a serious message. The audience is never beaten over the head with the message, and I imagine different people leaving the theater will take away with them different ideas of what that message is. Antagonists to this message—the enthusiasms, bitterness, and pretenses of the minor characters—are indeed portrayed in a disparaging light.

And the message is about love—though hardly the naïve or jaded views we have come to expect from Hollywood entertainments.

What can we understand about (and through) love and commitment? What is the right way to live as a couple—or, for that matter, as a loner? And what promise does love hold for us and for those we love?

This movie offers an elegant yet not too simple response to this eternal theme.


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