“Kept Boy”: gay dramedy about a Hollywood sugar daddy breaks out into some bigger issues

Kept Boy” (2017), directed by George Bamber and written by David Ozanich, starts out as if it could be just a silly, facetious comedy about younger gay men living off of rich but aging sugar daddies in Tinseltown. Indeed, there are prior example-setters, like “The Houseboy” (2011) and “The Mudge Boy” (2007).  But the film, however compact at 89 minutes, gets into other areas, international and scope, and turns serious and pertinent as it progresses.

Dennis Racine, played by British actor Jon Paul Phillips, dropped out of college in LA a decade ago and essentially became a houseboy of now 50-something TV producer Farleigh Nock (German actor Thure Reifenstein).  Thure produces a reality TV show about fashion and interior decoration, and probably hasn’t taken Blogtyrant’s advice to heart on how he could increase his fan base and ratings by nice blogging.  Having undergone angioplasty, he denies his health problems. He faces being cut off by investors, who like Nate Berkus better.  (Nate’s show, which I liked, is no longer on, and Nate lost his male partner Fernando to the 2004 tsunami that hit Sri Lanka – a catastrophe depicted in the 2012 film “The Impossible”.)  Complicating the question as to whether Thure can “afford” Dennis any more is the fact that Dennis approaches his 30th birthday.  And another boyfriend Jasper (Greg Audino, who becomes the most likable character in the story) could take Dennis’s place.

Dennis may, in fact, be showing his age and preparing to go downhill fast.  He smokes electronic cigarettes, which probably have nicotine. His body is just too smooth, especially in the legs.

The movie takes an interesting plot turn at midpoint (again, interesting from Hauge’s theories on how all good screenplays are structured) as the characters visit the coastal resort city of Cartagena, Colombia.  They run into a closeted gay drug lord who creates some complications in protecting his own empire. If you look at a map, you see that Cartagena is not too far from Venezuela, and is facing bigtime refugee and asylum issues, brought on by Communism.  Maybe another movie?  A friend of mine visited Cartagena last year, before his very recent passing as I learned about from Facebook. I’m also reminded of the 2001 film “Collateral Damage” whose release was held up by 9/11.

The DVD will be available August 8, 2017 from Breaking Glass Pictures (theatrical was TLA).  Expect more than just the usual happy ending;  tragedy happens.  There’s a lot more material under the covers that one could explore. I can remember once being counseled (at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s) that I ought to be open to being sponged off of.

Picture: Mine, manga doll in a bar last night

Name:  “Kept Boy”
Director, writer:  George Bamber, David Ozanich
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  2017/2/23, complimentary private Vimeo screener
Length:  89
Rating:  NA (probably R, a few explicit gay scenes)
Companies:  Breaking Glass Pictures, TLA Releasing
Link:  announcement

(Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

“Presenting Princess Shaw”: how a mashup artist helps an amateur YouTube singer become a star

Presenting Princess Shaw”, directed by Ido Haar, starts with a text tagline to the effect that user-generated content on the Internet gives potential voices to all so that ordinary people don’t have to bow down to the powerful.

Yet, we are left to wonder, what makes some artists popular and viral and eventually powerful.

The film presents a nurse, Samantha Montgomery, who built her art entertaining residents at assisted living centers in New Orleans where she works.  She writes her own songs and does a reasonable job of recording them and putting them up on her YouTube channel.  The film shows us plenty of everyday life in the Ninth Ward, years after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Negev region of Israel, Ophir Kutiel builds mixages and mashups of the works of many artists, often unbeknownst to them.  This practice, creating what is called derivative works in copyright law, is sometimes legally controversial and unclear, but very much supported by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The end result is that “Princecess Shaw” very much earns her “right of publicity”.

The film shows a lot of the tech work behind mixing, which I ought to learn in order to edit my own YouTube videos on my own autobiographical material (with Final Cut Pro).  So I guess this documentary gives me a kick in the pants.  Music is recorded and mixed in different ways, including being entered directly onto a tablet rather than through a Midi.

There is an interesting soliloquy (vertical cell phone video) where Samantha talks about being alone after a visit to distant family.  It sounds like personal growth, Rosenfels community stuff.

There’s a video with a telltale title, “Give It Up”.  Lose it.

Finally, Samantha goes to Tel Aviv and meets Ophir to put on a major show. She sings while Ophir does keyboard.

PBS did a brief director interview after the film. The director talked about passive self-promotion on the web and being found.

The POV short film was “Driven” from “Story Corps”, by Wendell Scott, in animation, about an African-American amateur race driver in the segregated South.

Negev scene.

Name:  “Presenting Princess Shaw
Director, writer:  Ido Haar
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/7/17
Length:  90 (81 on PBS)
Rating:  PG-13
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media, PBS POV
Link:  official PBS

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017, at 11:45 PM EDT

“Life After Death”: the geography of the Afterlife (Martin)

I received, from author Stephen Hawley Martin, a complimentary review copy of his Second Edition (2017) “Life After Death: Powerful Evidence You Will Never Die”.  I think the first edition was in 1995.

The author believes that consciousness generates the Universe and permeates it.  Consciousness exists apart from matter and energy – you could wonder if it has anything to do with dark energy, or with unused dimensions in string theory.  Consciousness tends to aggregate into concentrates that seek some sort of physical vehicle for expression.  Since ultimate conscious entities can make choices, in theory conscious entities – expressed (on this planet at least) with reproductive life forms, oppose entropy, which would cause the Universe to degrade.

Human being (and animal) individual consciousness comes about as genetics and “morphogenetic” influences cause a “soul” or conscious entity to become expressed or “received” by a physical body.  Many other sources talk about “free will” and self-awareness as connected to microtubules within neurons able to deal with quantum uncertainties.

Martin’s book, which is a bit random in its presentations style, focuses most on evidence from “near death experiences” or NDE’s, and many examples of reincarnation.  He mentions AMORC, or the Rosicrucian Order, as well as the Monroe Institute (20 miles south of Charlottesville VA) which he says the CIA has used to train agents in remote viewing. He cites cases of intelligent people with very little cerebrum matter, and notes that even plants can “behave” despite not having brains.

I think there is a logical question.  Do most newborn babies develop a “new” soul, or are most actually reincarnations?  If the universe expands infinitely and has infinitely many centers of consciousness, there could be an “infinite series” of reincarnation – but then again, some series will converge! He mentions AMORC’s (Rosicrucian) teaching that typical reincarnation cycles last about 140 years.

The author suggests that homosexuality may result when the person was of the opposite sex in the previous incarnation (although this idea runs the risk of confusing sexual orientation with gender identity or fluidity, very different concepts).  It’s all too easy to imagine the “Putin” argument that acceptance of homosexuality can lower procreation (and give returning souls another chance).

He also talks about “life between lives”, as being “what you want”.  Some souls “get stuck” as “asylum seekers” and become ghosts.  The sites “Afterlife Knowledge” and Mike Pettigrew’s give a geography of the Afterlife.  Note the “hollow heavens” available to those with strict religious beliefs;  “Focus 27” seems to be the most advanced level.   The author notes that a lot of souls got “stuck” after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, but not after 9/11, because the deaths were more instantaneous. That would suggest that the way you die does affect your next course in the Afterlife.

The  soul life might be the “real life”, whereas earthly life is like a “dream” (as in the song “Row your boat”);  In a dream during sleep, you don’t remember how you got there, although you know who you are.  This is the concept of Christopher Nolan’s movie “Inception” (2010).  Other films worth mention here are “Cocoon” (Ron Howard, 1985), or even  the “Chiller”, “The Disembodied” (1957). The appropriate term for a person who has passed away is “discarnate”.  We could also ponder “Our Home: Astral City” (2011, Brazil), “What Dreams May Come” (1998, Robin Williams), and “Defending Your Life” (1991).

Martin mentions the “life review” that occurs at time of passage, that seems to give the person access to every moment in his or her life as if on a video.  The term reminds me of “content evaluation” in the POD book industry.  As evidence of his theory, Martin also notes that people with Alzheimer’s disease often become lucid and get most of their memory back just before they pass on, as if the memory came from a repository of cosmic consciousness.

Martin also talks about Grace as a cosmological concept that matches up with that in the Christian and other faiths, as organizing nature.  He explains telekinesis (or maybe self-teleportation as with young Clark Kent in “Smallville”) as instances of “mind over matter”.

He does mention angels a couple times, and I’ve wondered if these are immortal physical beings, or maybe someone like Jason Ritter’s hero character Sean Walker in NBC’s series “The Event“, someone who doesn’t know he is an alien, and almost immortal, until the end.  In my own novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother” I play with the idea that a soul could experience another (younger) person’s body through “consolidation” (through a fictitious virus) but the process backfires when one of the persons separates as piece of ball lightning and then reconnects himself.

Martin mentions the Myers-Biggs personality charts (p. 173), and considers himself “INTJ” (introverted-intuitive-thinking-judging), about 2% of the population.  I fall into that category (“feminine subjective” by Rosenfels), and can be unpopular, viewed as a spectator rather than a participant.

I think the concept of relation between soul and living person can be put into analogy with a phonograph recording of a performance of a music work.  This concept may have been more applicable in the past before the Internet and digital age with cloud storage.  But an “instance” recording of a work can wear out (bad styli in the past) and need to be replaced, but the actual work and performance still lives forever.  You could even draw a comparison to object-oriented programming, with “classes” and “instances”, where rebirth is “instantiation” (or “construction”).

I have visited the grounds of the Monroe Institute (Aug. 2014), but you have to arrive very early for a one day event.   The long sessions with Hemi-Sync require a considerable time commitment.   I visited the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose CA in 1975.

Author: Stephen Hawley Martin
Title, Subtitle: “Life After Death: Powerful Evidence You Will Never Die”
publication date 2017, 1995
ISBN 978-1543134322
Publication: Oaklea Press, Richmond Va; Paper, 13 chapters, 206 pages
Link: sales

(Posted: Monday, March 20, 2017 at 9:15 PM EDT)

“Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”: thorough history of gay psychological culture (2nd edition)

I received by mail a review copy, an “Advance Uncorrected Gallery”, of the second edition of the book “Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”, by psychiatrist Loren A. Olson, MD, with a Foreword by Jack Drescher, MD The first edition had been published in 2011, with Karen Levy, by the InGroup Press. The new edition is due from Oak Lane Press on April 1, 2017.  The review copy was supplied by FSB Associates.

The book is monumental in its coverage of the cultural, moral, and particularly psychological history of “the gay community” and particularly of the value of gay men born in earlier generations. The author was born in 1943, the same year as me, even before the “Baby Boomers”. So, like me, he is a “Traditionalist”.

The book at first focuses particularly on gay men who have married and had children, and then “come out” in mid-life or later (and move out from “living straight”, often leading to divorce and custody issues). Olson introduces the acronym MSM, “men who have sex with men”, as not always synonymous with “homosexual” or “gay”.

Olson covers he vitriolic anti-gay societal attitudes immediately after WWII, that loosened in the late 1960s, leading to Stonewall. He notes that earlier generations had accepted homosexual men without naming them as such. But in the early 20th Century, the idea of eugenics became somewhat popular, along with the idea that sexuality (even to the point of considering masturbation and fantasy) should be completely dedicated to create and raising “better” future generations. We can certainly connect that with fascism. Olson presents McCarthyism (in line with the hypocritical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) as a “conflation of cowardice, homosexuality, and treason” in an era of pinko-phobia (my own take). He also relates this to his own upbringing in Nebraska (he practices in Iowa), where his mother implied that a boy who couldn’t manually start a lawn mower was a sissy. He traces the gradual change in attitudes up through the 1990s (living through the AIDS epidemic) and mentions the 1982 movie “Making Love”, as dramatizing the issue of a married man’s coming out.

Olson covers the issue of intergenerational gay relationships. He shows surprising candor in discussing the body image problem for gay men (sometimes it becomes “body fascism”), but maintains that a certain subset of young adult gay men are attracted to older men, even when overweight, bald, and hairy. The term “chubby chasers” gets mentioned. He describes the physiology of male sexual arousal, and relates it to age: young men have the greatest testosterone levels from about age 15 to about 30, with some variations; after about 35 or 40, most men drop off slowly. He does discuss the opportunism of pharma on this. He notes that men who come out later in life, after marriage, would not have experienced being “in the market” when their bodies were likely to be perceived by some people as the most “desirable”. He notes that agism has more effect on women and gay men than on straight men (even after divorce); men tend to care more about the visual satisfaction that their partners provide than women do, but then again, not always.

He also discusses the moral and legal issues concerning illegal relations between some men and underage teens. He distinguished between pedophilia and pederasty, but he might well have introduced “ephebophilia”. Since this book is in final revision, he might have the opportunity to discuss the “fall” of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos over the latter’s reported videos on this matter (my further comments).

The last two chapters do discuss briefly recent advances in gay history: the end of “don’t ask don’t tell”, and the Supreme Court victories in gay marriage. He also discusses hate crimes from enemies who remain, especially the horror of the attack on the Pulse disco in Orlando. He also mentions the arson at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973 (film review Feb. 16).

He also discusses the needs of gay seniors, often living alone, with widely varying degrees of independence and health. Many were prudent enough three decades ago never to become infected with HIV. He notes that never married gay men and women, especially, as they get older, are more likely to wind up taking care of other relatives, out of filial piety. He does provide some discussion of genetics, epigenetics, and gender expression and sexuality. A gene that makes a male brain predisposed to more sexual interest in other men would reduce births fathered by homosexual men, but might increase childbirth from women with the gene, and therefore result in a net gain in population.

He also has an interesting mathematical definition of self-esteem,, as a reciprocal of the difference between the ideal self and actual self.

My own take needs to be mentioned. As I have written before, I “came out” a second time, in 1973, after a listless but interesting period of heterosexual dating without sex. In my novel, “Angel’s Borther”. I introduce a 40-year old man, still at the end of his biological summer, married with children, with a day job as a history teacher but also as a covert intelligence agent, who is suddenly sent to the site of Auschwitz where he meets a mysterious, precocious male college student with whom he falls in love. Previously, he has avoided homosexual activity (partly out of “public health”) except for some “rite of passage” sessions when in college, which he feels need some sort of culmination.

Mentioned In the book:

Met Life’s Study “Out and Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian and Gay Baby Boomers” (link)   (2006) And sequel “Still Out, Still Aging” (link) (2010).

Author: Loren A. Olson, MD
Title, Subtitle: Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight
publication date 2017/4/1, second edition (first ed. 2011)
ISBN 978-0-9979614-3
Publication: Oak Lane Press, Des Moines, IA; 286 pages, paper, 9 roman; Foreword, Preface, Introduction, 12 Chapters, Endnotes, indexed
Link: Publisher, author

(Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric”, on National Geographic, explores gender fluidity from medical and social viewpoints

Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric” aired on the National Geographic Channel Monday, February 6. 2017, at 9 PM EST, two hours with commercial breaks.  The film is credited to “Katie Couric and the World of Wonder”.   The film could accompany (“NatGeo”) National Geographic Magazine’s recent issue “Gender Revolution: The Gender Issue” (earlier review).

Couric started by recalling how things were a half century ago.  Gender was strictly binary.

The documentary then shifted to a  rather clinical and medical examination of the brain biology of gender.  It’s rather intricate, as a schedule of hormones (especially androgens) affect the development of external genitalia and perceived gender identity and probably sexuality.  All of these can be affected by epigenetics and by mitochondrial DNA passed only from the mother.

Soon the documentary says that more pre-teens are uncertain of their gender than the public realizes.  Some physicians will prescribe puberty blockers as “pause buttons” to give the tweens more time.

The film gradually shifted focus to the social acceptance of a less binary idea of gender.  It covered an outdoor camp in California for transgender kids, and a fast food chain (Pollo Loco) with restaurants with a substantial transgender workforce.

The film moved toward the political and legal questions associated with the “bathroom bills” in several states, including North Carolina and Virginia.  (The HB 2 in North Carolina also interfered with local governments’ passing their own anti-discrimination laws, and led to a political crisis of sorts.)  The case of Virginia female-to-male teen Gavin Grimm is headed for the Supreme Court.  Gavin was shown with a pet pig and parrot.

Later in the film, Couric interviews a group of Yale students in a dorm setting.  Only one or two students are “cis gender”, that is, their gender identity matches birth sex.  The other terms like pan-gender and “gender fluid” are introduced.

The film does not mention that sexual orientation itself is usually totally separate from gender identity.  Gay men often look for other “masculine” partners, and usually identify themselves as cisgender males.  The film tends to suggest that people should get used to the idea of potential romantic partners who are less fixed as to gender, a personally discomforting notion.  The film does cover other native cultures, like in Somoa, where gender fluidity is much more readily accepted than in the west.

The film also does not cover the idea that cisgender people sometimes engage in cross-dressing for acting purposes.  Paul Rosenfels at the Ninth Street Center used to say that most transvestites are straight. I think that the Rosenfels ideas of polarity and balance can occur with a cisgender person (you can be a cisgender male and still be feminine subjective, for example).

The film does cover a transgender female surgeon who does reassignment surgery in San Francisco.  She says that the oldest person on record for reassignment surgery was 76.  In one couple, an elderly man had “become” a woman but stayed married to his wife.

The film ended with an interview of Hari Naff and tennis star Renee Richards.

The film maintains that there are about 1.4 million transgender people in the U.S., about 0.6% of the population, or about 12% of the LGBT population, even though “cis-gender” gays (especially men) are much more common. (Thinkprogress source.)

(Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 8 PM EST)

“Apostle Peter and the Last Supper”: church film actually poses a challenge in the science v. faith debate

Sometimes Biblical dramas produced explicitly for churches do pose real questions about how faith applies today, and how people could view Biblical narratives in comparison to their own modern lives.

Apostle Peter and the Last Supper” (2012, directed Gabriel Sabloff) presents an elderly Peter (Robert Loggia) in jail, a few days before his own crucifixion, giving his jailer about his own time with the real physical Jesus, including the Last Supper.  A deleted scene on the DVD actually shows the Ascension, also.

The “back story” is about the life of the apostles following Jesus on his journeys, witnessing his miracles, and them coming down to the climatic Last Supper.  The young man Peter (Ryan Alosio) certainly experiences upward affiliation for Jesus (Bruce Marchiano), and wonders how Jesus can be so sure that Peter will deny him, and that at least one other disciple will betray him with the “Judas Kiss”.  There are a few brief moments where Jesus appears supernatural in the flesh.  Life is quite communal; there is no intinction.

The men had apparently given up “normal” economic and family life the follow Him around, behavior that in the modern world would seem insecure and immature for a young adult male, who ought to be raising his own brood.  I’ve been in that situation myself.   (But some of the disciples were married.)

The Last Supper scene is indeed intimate. Jesus washes Peter’s feet, as if Jesus were showing and experiencing humility.  I did wonder, why was Peter’s leg hairless?  He was still a young man.

In thus ancient world, at a special time, all knowledge comes from religious authority, and there is no opportunity to map it onto science as we know it today. “Following me” could be appropriate in their world when it would not be in ours.

Imagine if a teen Clark Kent like in “Smallville” really does exist, maybe as a twenty-something now.  You would have to see it to believe it; there could be no Doubting Thomas.  Even then, it would be hard to make “Him” credible;  in social media it would be seen as part of the fake news aggregation.  Clark Kent might well stay off social media.  There could be a risk that if he tried to get a following, the group would become a cult.

In the modern world, there is a schism in what we are asked to believe, compared to what an “I” in the ancient world could experience.  A personal relationship with “Him” still seems abstract. But it was not so for Peter, even if he “denied” Jesus momentarily to avoid taking an unnecessary “bullet”.  For the disciples , to become apostles, they had seen and lived it.

I call to mind an incident in 1979 in west Texas, at a camping weekend sponsored by MCC Dallas, when a particular young man put his arm around me and stated I was lost and tried to “recruit” me to follow “Him”.  But “He” was still invisible, and no longer personal.  But the young man at the camp was all too personal.  What if one really could return to the original setting of Resurrection?

In fact, there is a 1969 novel “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock that sets up this dichotomy with tike travel; I vaguely remember reading the paperback while living in Dallas in the 1980s.

I’ll add that in the 2011 gay sci-fi film “Judas Kiss”, the title refers to a short film made by the character Danny about his abusive father, but I don’t recall the real connection to Judas.

It has always struck me that Jesus, as depicted in the past, was always shown as a young man who would be seen as perfect by conventional gay male values.  Perfect for upward affiliation, except from the Rich Young Ruler, who has too much to lose so he panders Jesus.  Jesus was seen as someone who would never be desecrated, until He allowed the crucifixion to pay for our sins.  But then, he “came back”, in perfection, and rose to the Heavens in perfection.  Today that’s the stuff of UFO’s and science fiction.

If a “Clark Kent” really exists somewhere (even in “Kill Bill 2”) it could mean the end of time, for us at least.

Note the meaning of the terms “apostle” and “disciple”.

The film was shot around Malibu with Italian money. But a lot of the scenery looks constructed. The DVD has a 20 minute “Behind the Scenes” and 11 minutes of deleted scenes.

Name:  “Apostle Peter and the Last Supper
Director, writer:  Gabriel Sabloff
Released:  2012
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netflix DVD
Length:  93
Rating:  PG
Companies:  PureFlix
Link:  NA

(Posted: Friday, February 3, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

“Transgender Teen”: lengthy but useful handbook for parents

The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens” (by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney) is a lengthy (338 pages) and practical guide for parents of (older) children and teens who say they do not have a conventional “cisgender” identity.

Indeed, a great deal of the book deals with basic terminology.  One of the most important terms is simply “non-binary”.  Two others are “assigned sex” and “assumed gender”, in light of “personal gender identity”. “Congruence” refers to the procedures (including medical and cosmetic) to make the person’s appearance more like what is expected for his or her   The modern use of the word “queer” refers to any aspects of gender (including but not limited to sexual orientation) that does not conform to what society has nominally expected for the person’s assumed birth gender. I recall that at the GOP convention in July, Donald Trump stumbled over adding the letter “Q” to LGBT.

Sexual orientation is a very different concept from gender identity.  The most common setting for gay men, especially, is for a someone who perceives his biological identity as “male”, and generally there is no aggregate difference in appearance or physical performance between gay and straight men.  “Gay” people are more common than “non-binary” or “transgender” people.

The book cover refers to a “generational divide in our understanding of gender”.  I grew up in the 1950s as a boy who fell behind in what was expected of future young men physically. Although I read women’s magazines and enjoyed watching “The Homemaker’s Exchange” cooking show, I was also interested in trains and science, and later music.  I never sensed a desire to be identified as female, but, as I have detailed elsewhere, gradually developed an awareness of my attraction to men during my teen years.  But the surrounding culture drilled into me that it was my duty to adapt to the needs of the world around me, to fit in to my community and be able to help protect it from potential outside adversaries.

The book dispels many of the myths, and notes that some teens will say “I can’t survive until age 18”.  The controversy over “bathroom bills”, such as the notorious HB2 in North Carolina, overlooks the fact that some transgender teens say they are not welcome in any bathroom.  State laws are likely to require a birth certificate change, which would normally require parental consent.

There is a disturbing report of a Cub Scout troop in New Jersey that told a transgender child that he (originally born a girl) could not continue to stay in the troop a month after the troop found out.  The BSA has been through a long process of accepting gay scouts (after winning a Supreme Court case in 2000 which took the libertarian position that it could do what it wanted).

Although the book goes into many concepts related to gender and sexuality, it doesn’t come close to Paul Rosenfels’s polarity theories (as in the 1971 book “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process“).

Authors: Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney
Title, Subtitle: The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens
publication date 2016 (sent to me as a complimentary copy for review)
ISBN 978-1-62778-174-9
Publication: Cleis Press, paper, 338 pages, 12 Chapters, Bibliography, Glossary
Link: publisher’s

(Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 8:30 PM EST)

“Doctor Strange”: a neurosurgeon gets to see the Multiverse — and it’s a good thing that “he’th’mooth”

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Name: Doctor Strange
Director, writer:  Scott Derrickson
Released:  2016/11
Format:  2.35:1  Imax 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common 2016/11/16 small audience
Length 115
Rating PG-13
Companies: Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Productions
Link: official 

 

Doctor Strange” (or “Dr. Strange”,directed Scott Derrickson), as another Marvel franchise initiator, seems to rework some story concepts from “Inception”, along with some space-time ideas we just saw in “Arrival”.

This 115-minute fantasy follows the screenwriting conventions of a distinct middle, beginning, and end.  After a rather superfluous prologue where dark angels demonstrate they can make the streets of London fold over (Inception-style), we’re thrown into modern New York City, where a suave neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) plays Ben Casey a lot in a Greenwich Village emergency room.   Now Strange, even at 40, looks appropriately smooth (or “thmooth”), his arms almost hairless from repeated scrubdowns, and this will prove convenient later when he needs other operations.

Strange has a Trump Tower pad, and is quite cocky about his skills.  One night he goes on a call up the Hudson and flips his sports car after some distracted driving.  The resulting operations on his hands and arms mean his career as a surgeon is over.  His girl friend Christine (Rachel McAdams) tries to talk him into “changing” and he resists, when she demands an apology.   He meets a companion in a basketball playground who urges him to go to Nepal and learn meditation.

The middle section of this ternary movie takes place in Katmandu, filmed on location, and made to look like L’Himby in Clive Barker’s Third Dominion (if “Imajica” finally gets filmed).   Rescued from street robbers by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) he is led to a sanctuary run by guru “Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton, forced to go bald herself).  Pretty soon he finds himself in “The Library”, where certain Sanskrit books are off limits until he reaches certain stages.  The books, along with other magic devices (one looks like an astrolabe) can open up floating rings into the “multi-verse”.  There is also a concept of a room surrounded by mirrors.  Like events in dreams, events inside these rooms are not supposed to affect the outside world, but (as in “Inception”) these events certainly have a “Hawking radiation” effect.  One of the techniques to reach cosmic consciousness and obtain super-powers (maybe like Clark Kent’s self-teleportation) ironically is total submission, in the sense of Rosenfels-like psychological growth,

The “multiverse” is presented quite effectively, in 3D special effects, as a collection of floating dark spheres and illuminated channels.  Strange will revisit the Multiverse after returning to New York and then visiting Hong Kong (the third alpha city, besides New York and London, protected by the Guild) for a final showdown with the “Great Satan”, or whatever.

In the middle, in a multiverse scene, the script seems to refer to Lucca Rossi’s novel “The Branches of Time” (index).

And, oh yes, I saw the black-and-white “Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” with a hairy Peter Sellers, by Stanley Kubrick (1963), in 1978 at a theater on 8th St. in the West Village with a friend.

(Published: Nov. 17, 2016 at 10 AM EDT)

Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath”: how to leverage you’re assets when others see you as the underdog

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Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Title, Subtitle: David and Goliath
publication date 2015
ISBN 978-0-316-28525-4
Publication: Back Bay/Little Brown, 327 pages, paper, indexed
Link: author

I perceive Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell as somewhat the liberal David Brooks, someone who wants to show us how to be good.  But actually he often offers what amount to conservative to libertarian arguments, more or less along the lines of Mary Ruwart.

In his 2015 book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants”, Gladwell provides a counterweight to his 2008 “Outliers” (see Index), as he looks at how underdogs, in most political and social systems, often leverage their special circumstances to prevail.

The book, while starting with recount of the Old Testament is Bible story that introduces us to King David, is laid out in three large parts (nine chapters and an Afterword): “The Advantages of Disadvantages (and the Disadvantages of Advantages), “The Theory of the Desirable Difficulty”, and “The Limits of Power”.

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His first example is given by basketball coach Vivek Ranadive, but I could digress with a discussion of “backyard baseball” (really softball and sometimes whiffleball) in eighth and ninth grade in the 1950s.  I was behind the other boys physically, but I invented a “league” of individual softball players, with the rules arranged to make the scores reasonable.  Although I was weaker, I had tremendous home field advantage because I could hit the ball just hard enough for “homers” according to my ground rules – and that could make the other kids mad, as it seemed anti-meritocratic.  Or, when I was a patient at NIH in 1962, I won a ping pong tournament by “keeping the ball on the table”, making other impatient players mad with errant slams.  I developed my own catchphrase, “fighting with my fingernails”, which I actually did once in seventh grade, inflicting potentially disfiguring forearms cuts on a bully.

With Teresa Debrito, he introduces the idea of U-shaped curves in explaining that smaller classes don’t always result in better students and better academic results.  Then with Caroline Sacks, he explores the idea of a “big fish in a small pond”, specifically with the issue of whether some students do better if they don’t go to top colleges. (I like the way he talks about organic chemistry.)   I could say that the way I leveraged my writing on the Internet in the early days of search engines, and influenced the debate on gays in the military, could have added more material to the chapter.

He then goes into the idea that having a “handicap” often precludes asymmetric, spectacular success in life.  He develops a lot of his material with dyslexia.  Particularly impressive is the way Gary Cohn talked his way into the brokerage industry by tailgating someone after an elevator pitch.  But in some cases, it’s extroversion and risk taking that has to happen for success to occur (which isn’t exactly the case with me). In discussing David Boies, he gives an important personality chart on p. 116 which is distantly related to the Rosenfels idea of polarities.  With Emil Freireich, he gives an interesting history to the development of combination chemotherapy for leukemia  (earlier account )   In talking about “tricksters” in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, he explains the advantage of having nothing to lose.  So that explains the “Rich Young Ruler” in the New Testament – a rich man who has too much, hunkers down, and doesn’t know when to let go.

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The last section, starting with the IRA in the late 1960s, does convey some lessons on why the imposition of overwhelming political and military power doesn’t always work.  The book concludes with an interesting Afterword on why US policy failed to win the Vietnam War into which I was personally conscripted in 1968 (although I was sheltered stateside).  Gladwell also gives some cogent analysis on why increasing sentences for crimes (like “three strikes” laws in California) don’t always reduce crime.  He does get into a brief but interesting self-conversation on how the criminal mind works.  One point is that the usual idea of morality doesn’t make sense to a criminal who cannot function cognitively and simply perceives the need to control others.

Gladwell gives an account of the 1940 bombings of London which could be compared to Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe” (May 31).

There are “moral” questions about the way one deploys one’s hidden assets or “poison pills” – sometimes by avoiding the risks and personal stakes that others have, without much conscious choice.  The “rightsizing” (or “karma”) debate, common in some religious circles, is never mentioned explicitly.  That sounds like something David Brooks could take up (or I will).  Maybe I could name a book “Jacob and Esau” and wonder who is manly enough.

(Posted: Monday, October 10, 2016 at 7:15 PM EDT)

“The Selfishness of Others” by Kristin Dombek, an “essay” on the moral aspects of narcissism

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Author: Kristin Dombek
Title, Subtitle: The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism
publication date 2016
ISBN ISBN 978-0-86547-823-7
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York; 150 pages, endnotes, seven chapters
Link: author


I saw the little book “The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism”, by Kristin Dombek, on display in bookshelves near the check-in desk at the Ace Hotel in New York City, on 29th St, ironically about six blocks where an explosion in Chelsea would happen later that day (and two blocks from where another device would be discovered).  I ordered it from Amazon.  At 138 pages, it is still just an “essay”.

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The book is quite abstract, and seems to be a philosophical discussion of narcissistic personality disorder in a year when Donald Trump is running for president. The last two pages of the book propose a new DSM clinical definition of “Narciphobia” as if it were a form of narcissism itself.

The book as seven short chapters, and starts out with a description of a young woman’s wanting to close down an entire street in Atlanta for her debutance or wedding party.  There are some references to Tara, the lost culture of the old South, as if Scarlet O’Hara had been the ultimate narcissist.

In the third chapter, “The Bad Boyfriend”, she seems to venture into philosophical homophobia.  She recounts Freud’s account of male homosexuality as a mirror (metaphor) where the man loves only what he would like to see himself as (and that fantasy has to be met perfectly, no flaws allowed).  That brings back my own days at NIH in 1962 (“How do you see yourself??”) – another way of putting George Gilder’s idea of “upward affiliation” (articulated in the 1986 book “Men and Marriage”).  Or perhaps we recall David Skinner’s 1999 essay in the Weekly Standard, “Notes on the Hairless Man” (see July 28 movie review for link).   I can recall Skinner’s getting into Marky Mark’s idea of “creativity”.  Finally, though, Dombek becomes appropriately suspicious of Freud himself. But not until (on p. 38) she proposed “When e grow up, we forfeit part of this early childhood narcissism – impoverishing our oceanic, boundless self-absorption in order to care and be cared about. Genuinely loving parents teach their children that it is safe to make this trade.”  It was Philip Longman, in the 2004 book “The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It”, who wrote that a lot of people are too “self-absorbed” to beget children. Indeed. Bombek sometimes comes back with the refrain that experiencing straight love is a moral imperative.

Later, in a chapter on “The Millennial” (p. 70) she describes narcissism as an artificially “self-sufficient femininity”, and odd take on Rosenfels’s polarities.  (I also wonder about whether “acceptance” is supposed to be a sub-component of “Love” from Reid Ewing’s own Twitter feed.)  Then, she gets into a most interesting and disturbing paradox in Millennial life:  no group has been so self-absorbed, but no group is so willing to pimp out sociability and self-indulgent “go-fund-me” onto others.

“The Murderer” as a narcissist needs no explanation, but for “The Artist” she retells the Greek parable of Narcissus and Echo.   All these modern romance websites “invite you to be in the center of the world. Stuck in time, assessing the moral status of others, until love is gone.” Indeed, she notes in “The World”, a third of us freelance ourselves alone on the Internet – the “alone together” phenomenon.  Finally, on p. 135, she says “The selfishness of others is the feeling of your dependence revealed, as their gaze turns away; Your independence (is) laid bare as a myth.”

(Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 2:30 PM EDT)