Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tips For Choosing A Flat Screen Tv, Part 1

You've seen them advertised online with plummeting prices, you've seen them at electronics stores like Best Buy and Circuit City, and even at Sam's Club and Costco.  They're flat screen televisions, and they're going to become more important in 2009, when all of the broadcasters switch over to purely digital systems.

Flat Screen TVs have stabilized on high quality LCD displays.  An LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) contains millions of cells (pixel elements) that crystallize when the current level drops below a minimum amount.  By making each cell a triplet, one tinted red, one green and one blue, you can make a color picture; LCD display typically have fluorescent backlights on them.

The primary benefit of a flat screen tv for you is that it's got a huge picture at a fraction of the volume of a conventional Cathode Ray Tube (CRT or just "tube") television, which more or less has to be at least as deep as it is diagonally across.  Now, if you saw early flat screen televisions, or computer monitors, or remember really old laptops, you may recall a phenomenon called "ghosting", where an image would smear across the pixels, because they couldn't respond fast enough.  Modern flat screen televisions have more or less eliminated that problem by having response times (how quickly the crystal can change phase from liquid to solid and back) of eight milliseconds or less.

Likewise, one of the other places where LCD flat screen televisions have seriously picked up in quality is color fidelity; as the technology has matured, the ability to get precise color matching has grown by staggering amounts; one of the keys to this is incredibly fine grained control over the backlight behind the LCD panels; in some cases, going up to 1024 levels of brightness, to coordinate with the millions of colors to give absolutely sharp picture clarity.

So, if you've been hesitant about flat screen televisions before, the technology has grown up in capabilities while coming down considerably in price.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The X-Files (DVD) Review

Nominated for 12 Golden Globes and 61 Emmys, including 4 for Outstanding Drama Series, The X-Files is one of the world's most popular science-fiction drama shows. Premiering in the Fall of 1993 on the Fox Network, home of popular programs such as The Simpsons (1989) and King Of The Hill (1997), The X-Files created an entire fictional world of conspiracies and secret organizations, building a legion of fanatic followers as devoted to the series as Trekkies are to Star Trek. Creator Cris Carter, a former writer for numerous TV shows in the late-80s/early-90s - The Nanny (1993) is one example - brings together the finest aspects of suspense-laden spy novels and alien science fiction. The result is one of the top sci-fi franchises ever produced, spawning its own line of merchandise and even a full length feature film - The X-Files: Fight The Future (1998). With nine successful seasons to its credit, The X-Files is one of the longest-running sci-fi series in television history…

The X-Files follows the exploits of four FBI agents assigned to investigate a series of unsolved and mysterious cases known only as "The X-Files". FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), John Doggett (Robert Patrick), and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) are the primary agents investigating these unusual cases which could never be solved by conventional investigatory methods. But Mulder and Scully in particular play prominent roles in the series. The partnership and friendship the two develop during the course of the series sets the tone for their investigations into the paranormal with Scully, a medical doctor, playing the skeptic to Mulder's deeply held beliefs in widespread government conspiracies and alien abductions. Through the course of the series, The X-Files covers a wide-range of frightening and mysterious subjects from killer insects and secret world government organizations to the colonization of Earth by parasitic aliens. In so doing, it adds its own unique brand of humor and an original blend of creativity that fans of the genre will certainly appreciate…

The X-Files DVD features a number of suspense riddled episodes including the series premiere in which FBI Special Agent Dana Scully is first paired with Agent Fox Mulder to help in his work on a special project known as "The X-Files". While Mulder is a true believer in alien abductions and other abnormal happenings, Scully is a skeptic who studies the clues with a rational eye. For their first case, the two agents travel to Oregon where they study the cases of several murdered high school classmates who Mulder believes share the common bond of having been abducted by aliens… Other notable episodes from Season 1 include "Deep Throat" in which Mulder has his initial contact with a mysterious informant named "Deep Throat" (a recurring character) who reveals his knowledge of the truth behind many X-File cases, and "Miracle Man" in which a man harboring the ability to heal people by touching them becomes uneasy when several such people die after being healed…

Below is a list of episodes included on The X-Files (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Pilot) Air Date: 09-10-1993
Episode 2 (Deep Throat) Air Date: 09-17-1993
Episode 3 (Squeeze) Air Date: 09-24-1993
Episode 4 (Conduit) Air Date: 10-01-1993
Episode 5 (The Jersey Devil) Air Date: 10-08-1993
Episode 6 (Shadows) Air Date: 10-22-1993
Episode 7 (Ghost in the Machine) Air Date: 10-29-1993
Episode 8 (Ice) Air Date: 11-05-1993
Episode 9 (Space) Air Date: 11-12-1993
Episode 10 (Fallen Angel) Air Date: 11-19-1993
Episode 11 (Eve) Air Date: 12-10-1993
Episode 12 (Fire) Air Date: 12-17-1993
Episode 13 (Beyond the Sea) Air Date: 01-07-1994
Episode 14 (Genderbender) Air Date: 01-21-1994
Episode 15 (Lazarus) Air Date: 02-04-1994
Episode 16 (Young at Heart) Air Date: 02-11-1994
Episode 17 (E.B.E.) Air Date: 02-18-1994
Episode 18 (Miracle Man) Air Date: 03-18-1994
Episode 19 (Shapes) Air Date: 04-01-1994
Episode 20 (Darkness Falls) Air Date: 04-15-1994
Episode 21 (Tooms) Air Date: 04-22-1994
Episode 22 (Born Again) Air Date: 04-29-1994
Episode 23 (Roland) Air Date: 05-06-1994
Episode 24 (The Erlenmeyer Flask) Air Date: 05-13-1994

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Wonderful Animated World Of Disney Movies

Even though Walt Disney has produced myriad movies, it is more popular for its animated ones. After starting the animated journey with 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' in the winter of 1937, Disney movies have not looked back. One can obtain a list of more than 150 animated movies that have been produced and distributed to add to the joy of children across the world.

After a certain age, kids grow out of Sesame Street, Tellytubbies and BooBaahs. At this time the next level of entertainment that attracts them generally are the Walt Disney movies that appeal to a slightly older age group. The great thing about these movies, which has probably led to the huge popularity of the animated movies, is the fact that they appeal to adults and children alike. A mother does not mind sitting through a Disney movie with her child but an episode of Tellytubbies can be wearisome.

To the uninitiated, it may be a surprise that each Disney movie comes accompanied with a movie book. These books are published under the ‘Mouse Works’ banner and contain a simple version of the story. This can help in encouraging children to not only see the movie but also to read books, which hopefully will extend to other forms of reading at some time.

Though the company is proud of all its movie productions, some of them have attained the stature of ‘classics’ based on their popularity. Abound with simple, yet meaningful songs these movies can expose the child to emotions, morals and ways of the world while telling a story. Toddlers seem to enjoy the light evilness of some of the characters like the witch in Snow White and Cruella De Vil in the 101 Dalmatians. Alternately, some of the most endearing characters that Walt Disney movies have created are Tramp in The Lady and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. But most of the leading characters in inspire awe and amazement aided by the color, grandeur and dazzle.

Some of the Walt Disney films that have become all time favorites of most kids are The Lion King, Toy Story, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, The little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella and of course Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Some of the less known but equally enticing movies are the sequels to the Lion King, Dumbo, Lilo and Stitch, Pooh Bear and the Kim Possible series.

In spite of the high levels of endearment that the movies enjoy among most people, there are rumors galore about how there are countless hidden references to perverted things in the animated movies. The most known references are made to the tower on the cover of The Little Mermaid that resembles the male genitalia, the apparent erection of the priest in the wedding scene of the same movie and the dust taking the form of the word ‘sex’ in The Lion King. Hearsay has it that Donald Duck has used vulgar words umpteen times during angry outbreaks.

Some opine that these subtle references have become a tradition at the film studios. This tradition started due to the fact that Walt Disney did not assign relevant credits to the creative animators. These animators, then, took to including hidden codes in the animation scenes to get back. One such example is that of the shorts that Goofy wears. If you look close enough, you will probably see names of artists written on these shorts. Though the given instance seems possible, the inclusion of debauchery in the animated Disney movies is debatable and it remains a question as to whether it is a fact or the Rorschach effect.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The West Wing (Season 5) DVD Review

Widely considered one of the best drama series on TV, The West Wing appeared in Fall 1999 to great media fanfare. Surrounded by various individual staffers such as Claudia "C.J." Cregg (Allison Janney), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), Leo McGarry (John Spencer), and Charlie Young (Dule Hill), the president makes his best attempt to govern the executive branch. The West Wing follows the daily exploits of the president and his loyal staffers as they work to keep the White House efficiently humming. But job stress and personal problems put a strain on each staffer's relationship to his colleagues…

The West Wing (Season 5) DVD offers a number of dramatic episodes including the season premiere "7A WF 83429" in which tensions between Walken and Bartlett's staffs continue to flare while the search for Zoey continues. Meanwhile, the death of Shareef triggers a terrorist bombing at a movie theater in Turkey which kills eighty people including members of the US military… Other notable episodes from Season 5 include "Constituency of One" in which Amy Parker participates in a personal lobbying effort that incurs the wrath of Bartlett, and "An Khe" in which Bartlett deploys an elite SEAL team to help rescue the pilots of a downed Navy plane that crashed in North Korean territory…

Below is a list of episodes included on The West Wing (Season 5) DVD:

Episode 89 (7A WF 83429) Air Date: 09-24-2003
Episode 90 (The Dogs of War) Air Date: 10-01-2003
Episode 91 (Jefferson Lives) Air Date: 10-08-2003
Episode 92 (Han) Air Date: 10-22-2003
Episode 93 (Constituency of One) Air Date: 10-29-2003
Episode 94 (Disaster Relief) Air Date: 11-05-2003
Episode 95 (Separation of Powers) Air Date: 11-12-2003
Episode 96 (Shutdown) Air Date: 11-19-2003
Episode 97 (Abu el Banat) Air Date: 12-03-2003
Episode 98 (The Stormy Present) Air Date: 01-07-2004
Episode 99 (The Benign Prerogative) Air Date: 01-14-2004
Episode 100 (Slow News Day) Air Date: 02-04-2004
Episode 101 (The Warfare of Genghis Khan) Air Date: 02-11-2004
Episode 102 (An Khe) Air Date: 02-18-2004
Episode 103 (Full Disclosure) Air Date: 02-25-2004
Episode 104 (Eppur Si Muove) Air Date: 03-03-2004
Episode 105 (The Supremes) Air Date: 03-24-2004
Episode 106 (Access) Air Date: 03-31-2004
Episode 107 (Talking Points) Air Date: 04-21-2004
Episode 108 (No Exit) Air Date: 04-28-2004
Episode 109 (Gaza) Air Date: 05-12-2004
Episode 110 (Memorial Day) Air Date: 05-19-2004

Saturday, February 25, 2012

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Friday, February 24, 2012

TiVo: A Revolution in Digital Video Recording

The latest advancement in the recording technology has transcended all boundaries and has brought convenience to your doorstep. The top American channels can be accessed and viewed at your leisure with the TIVO or the Digital Video Recorder.

A common term that is synonymous with TIVO is “personal video recorder” (PVR). The latter is a consumer video device which has the ability to capture television programming and store it on an internal hard drive to be viewed at anytime in the future.

No longer do you have to schedule your plans around your favorite television program. Let your favorite shows and programs be watched anytime and watched over and over again.

Having a TIVO gives you the option to select your preferred programs to record either by time, specific program title, or by amalgamation of genre, actors and directors etc. All programs will remain intact until it is manually deleted to give room for newly recorded items.

The capacity of the internal storage is enormous and can accommodate most of your favorite shows. The database of programs available is determined by the customer’s location and their cable/satellite services and is updated daily over the phone or network connection to TIVO control center. The TIVO system is comprised of a non-removable hard drive as well as sophisticated software that allows users to easily program and record their selected shows. The software can even be set to record shows it thinks the viewer may be interested in based on their viewing habits!

You can even pause, rewind, and fast forward the recorded programs just as if you were viewing them on a VCR or DVD player, but there are no messy tapes or discs to keep track of. If you are recording a program, you can still watch it in real-time as well.

TIVO guarantees that the digitally recorded images are received, stored, and played without any weakening in the quality of the image. Videos that are digitally stored will retain the same quality as the day the image was recorded.

TIVO also offers a user rating system where viewers can score the television shows they watch on a scale which ranges from three "thumbs up" or three "thumbs down". These ratings are then used to further determine the user’s preferences and recommendations are suggested based in part on these ratings.

"Season passes" instruct TiVo to record a show each time it is aired on television regardless of when the show begins, with the option of ignoring reruns. Award-winning features such as “Wish List” searches and TIVO “Online Scheduling” have made TIVO a necessity for every household. The home entertainment innovations provided by TIVO surpasses features of a television possessing digital music, snapshot, and picture in picture features. The inlcusion of ‘TIVO To Go’ allows for the transfer of shows to your laptop or DVD.

You can always be up to date with the current programming on your television as your TIVO routinely will keep you updated with the daily programming. The sophisticated technology combined with the user-friendly navigation allows you to search for programs just by using the remote.

The only drawback of the TIVO system is a minor one. It requires a land-based phone line to ensure successful activation and full functionality of the DVR service. This may be a problem for some customers as more and more people are canceling their land-line phone service and relying solely on their cell phone.

Your television set up is not an issue for you to make a TIVO acceptable to every household. It can be traditional cable, digital cable, satellite, or even combinations of these. TIVO is proving itself as a viable and efficient companion to your <a href="http://www.newtechnologytv.com">home theater system</a> that pledges to be useful and economical.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Titanic, or A Moral Deliberation

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The film "Titanic" is riddled with moral dilemmas. In one of the scenes, the owner of Star Line, the shipping company that owned the now-sinking Unsinkable, leaps into a lowered life-boat. The tortured expression on his face demonstrates that even he experiences more than unease at his own conduct: prior to the disaster, he instructed the captain to break the trans-Atlantic speed record. His hubris proves fatal to the vessel. Moreover, only women and children were allowed by the officers in charge into the lifeboats.

But the ship's owner was not the only one to breach common decency and ethics.

The boats could accommodate only to half the number of those on board and the First Class, High Society passengers were preferred to low-life immigrants under deck and other Third Class passengers.

Why do we all feel that the owner should have remained aboard and faced his inevitable death? Because we judge him responsible for the demise of the ship. His disastrous interference – motivated by greed and the pursuit of celebrity – was a crucial contributing factor. The owner should be punished for what he had done, we feel. This closure intuitively appeals to our sense of natural justice.

Would we have rendered the same judgment had the Titanic's fate been the outcome of accident alone? If the owner of the ship had had no contribution to the circumstances of its horrible end – would we have still condemned him for saving his life? Less severely, perhaps. So, the fact that a moral entity had acted (or omitted, or refrained from acting) is essential in determining its future rewards or punishments and in dispensing them.

The "product liability" approach also fits here. The owner (and his "long arms": manufacturer, engineers, builders, etc.) of the Titanic were deemed responsible because they implicitly contracted with their passengers. They made a representation (which was explicit in their case but is implicit in most others): "This ship was constructed with knowledge and forethought. The best design was employed to avoid danger. The best materials to increase pleasure."

That the Titanic sank was an irreversible breach of this contract. In a way, it was an abrogation of duties and obligations. The owner/manufacturer of a product must compensate those consumers whose product harms in any manner that they were not explicitly, clearly, visibly and repeatedly warned against. Moreover, he should even make amends if the product fails to meet the reasonable and justified expectations of consumers, based on such warrants and representations.

Compensation can be either in kind (as in more ancient justice systems) or in cash (as in modern Western civilization). The product called the "Titanic" took away the lives of its end-users. Our "gut instinct" tells us that the owner should have paid in kind. Faulty engineering, insufficient number of lifeboats, over-capacity, hubris, passengers and crew not drilled to face emergencies, extravagant claims regarding the ship's resilience, contravening the captain's professional judgment - all these seem to be sufficient grounds to sentence the owner to death on his own sinking product.

But shouldn't the hapless owner have availed his precious place to women and children? Should not he have obeyed the captain's orders (the marine law)? Should he willingly have succumbed to rules of conduct that put his life at risk?

The reason that the lives of women and children are preferred to men in salvage situations is because they represent the future. They are either capable of bringing life to the world (women) – or of living longer (children). Societal etiquette reflects the arithmetic of the species, in this (and in many another) case.

But if this were entirely and exclusively so, then young girls and female infants would have been preferred to all other groups of passengers. Old women would have been left with the men to die. That the actual (and declared) selection processes on the Titanic differed from our theoretical considerations says a lot about the vigorousness and applicability of our theories – and even more about the real world.

The owner's behavior may have been deplorable – but it, definitely, was natural. He put his interests (his survival) above the concerns of his society and his species. Most of us would have done the same under the same circumstances.

The owner of the ship – though "Newly Rich" – undoubtedly belonged to the First Class, Upper Crust, Cream of Society passengers. These were treated to the lifeboats before the passengers of the lower classes and decks. Was this a morally right decision?

For sure, it was not politically correct, in today's terms. Class and money distinctions were formally abolished three decades ago in the enlightened West. Discrimination in now allowed only on the basis of merit (on the basis of one's natural endowments).

But, why should we think one basis for discrimination (merit) preferable to another (money or property)? Can we eliminate discrimination completely and if it were possible, would it have been desirable?

The answer, in my view, is that no basis for discrimination can hold the moral high ground. They are all morally problematic because they are deterministic and assign independent, objective, exogenous values to human lives. On the other hand, we are not born equal, nor do we proceed to develop equally, or live under the same circumstances and conditions. It is impossible to equate the unequal.

Discrimination is not imposed by humans on an otherwise egalitarian world. It is introduced by the world into human society. And the elimination of discrimination would constitute a grave error. Inequalities among humans and the ensuing conflicts are the fuel that feeds the engines of human development. Hopes, desires, aspirations and inspiration are all the derivatives of discrimination or the wish to be favored, or preferred to others.

Disparities of means create markets, labour, property, planning, wealth and capital. Mental inequalities lead to innovation and theory. Knowledge differentials are at the heart of educational institutions, professionalism, government and so on. Osmotic and diffusive forces in human society are all the results of incongruence, asymmetries, disparities, differences, inequalities and the negative and positive emotions attached to them.

The Titanic's First Class passengers were preferred because they paid more for their tickets. Inevitably, a tacit portion of the price went to amortize the costs of "class insurance": should anything bad happen to this boat, persons who paid a higher price will be entitled to receive superior treatment. There is nothing morally wrong about this. Some people get to sit in the front rows of a theatre, or to travel in luxury, or to receive better medical treatment (or any medical treatment) precisely because they can afford it.

There is no practical or philosophical difference between an expensive liver transplant and a place in a life boat. Both are lifesavers. A natural disaster is no Great Equalizer. Nothing is. Even the argument that money is "external" or "accidental" to the rich individual is weak. With the exception of pampered heirs and scions of old families - a minority - most rich people work hard for their wealth.

Often, people who marry money are judged to be insincere or worse (cunning, conspiring, evil). "He married her for her money", we say, as though the owner and her money were two separate things. The equivalent sentences: "He married her for her youth or for her beauty or for her intelligence or for her erudition" sounds "wrong" by comparison. These are legitimate reasons to get married. Money isn't.

But youth and beauty are more transient than money. As opposed to hard cash, these qualities are really accidental because the beneficiary is not responsible for "generating" them and can do nothing to preserve them.

Money, on the other hand, is generated or preserved (or both) owing to the personality of its owner. Owning, increasing, and preserving one's wealth reflects more profoundly on one's personality than youth, beauty and many other (transient or situation-dependent) "character" traits. Money is an integral part of its owner and a reliable indicator of his mental disposition. It is, therefore, a valid criterion for discrimination and for choice.

The other argument in favor of favoring the first class passengers is their contribution to society. A rich person contributes more to his society in the short and medium term than a poor person. Vincent Van Gogh may have been a million times more valuable to humanity, as a whole, than his brother Theo – in the long run. But in the intermediate term, Theo made it possible for Vincent and many others (family, employees, suppliers, their dependants, and his country) to survive by virtue of his wealth. Rich people feed and clothe poor people directly (through employment or charity) and indirectly (through taxation). The opposite, alas, is not the case.

Admittedly, this argument is somewhat flawed because it does not take time into account. We have no way to predict the future with any certainty. Each person carries the Marshall's baton in his bag, the painter's brush, the author's fables. It is one's potential that should count - not one's standing in life. A selection process, which preferred Theo to Vincent would be flawed. In the long run, Vincent proved more beneficial to human society and in more ways – including financially – than Theo could have ever been.

But, in the absence of omniscience and precognition, all we can do is to prefer those who have proven themselves (the rich) to those who haven't (the poor) - and those who can create life or live it (women and children) to those who can't or have (men and the elderly).

Appendix - On Causation and Causality

And yet, the real question is this : why should anyone pay for his actions?

First, we must confront some thorny issues, such as determinism. If there is no free will, there can be no personal responsibility. Another problem is the preservation of personal identity: are the person who committed the act and the person who is made to pay for it – one and the same? If the answer is in the affirmative, in which sense are they the same, the physical, or the mental? Is the "overlap" between the two only limited and probabilistic?

We can assume, for this discussion's sake, that personal identity is undeniably and absolutely preserved and that there is free will and, therefore, that people can predict the outcomes of their actions, to a reasonable degree of accuracy and that they elect to accept these outcomes prior to the commission of their acts or to their omission.

This does not answer the question, though. Even if there were a contract signed between the agent (acting person) and the world, in which the person willingly, consciously and intelligently (without diminished responsibility or capacity) accepted the future outcomes of his actions, the question would still remain: why should it be so? Why cannot we conceive of a world in which acts and outcomes are divorced? It is because we cannot believe in a world devoid of causality.

Causality is a relationship between two things, or, rather, events, the cause and the effect, one generating or produces the other. The first is the latter's efficient cause and it acts upon it (it acts to bring it about) through the mechanism of efficient causation.

A cause can be direct (mediated by a physical mechanism or process) or merely explanatory (historical cause in a narrative). Of Aristotle's Four Causes (Formal, Material, Efficient and Final), only the efficient cause creates something distinct from itself.

The causal discourse, therefore, is problematic (how can a cause lead to an effect, indistinguishable from itself?). Singular Paradigmatic Causal Statements (Event A caused Event B) differ from General ones (Event A causes Event B). Both are inadequate in dealing with mundane, routine, causal statements because they do not reveal an overt relation between the two events discussed.

Moreover, in daily usage we treat facts (as well as events) as causes. Not all the philosophers are in agreement regarding factual causation. Davidson, for instance, admits that facts can be relevant to causal explanations but refuses to accept them as proper reasons. Acts may be distinct from facts, philosophically, but not in day-to-day regular usage. Laymen (the vast majority of humanity, that is) perceive them to be the same things.

Pairs of events that are each other's cause and effect are accorded a special status. But, that one event follows the other (even if invariably) is insufficient grounds to label them "cause and effect". This is the famous "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" fallacy. Other possible relations between the two events must be weighed and the possibility of common causation must be seriously contemplated.

Such sequencing is, conceptually, not even necessary: simultaneous causation and backwards causation are part of modern physics, for instance. Time seems to be irrelevant to the status of events as cause or effect, though both time and causation share an asymmetric structure (A causes B but B does not cause A).

Still, the direction (the asymmetry) of the causal chain is not of the same type as the direction (asymmetry) of time. The former is formal, the latter, presumably, physical, or mental. A more serious problem, to my mind, is the converse: what sets apart causal (cause and effect) pairs of events from other pairs in which both member-events are the outcomes of a common cause?

Event B can invariably follow Event A and still not be its effect. Both events can be the effects a common cause. A cause either necessitates the effect, or is a sufficient condition for its occurrence. The sequence is either inevitable, or possible. In short, we know little that is certain about causality.

Here, philosophers diverge. Some say (following Hume's reasoning and his constant conjunction relation between events) that a necessary causal relation exists between events when one is the inevitable outcome (inevitably follows) the other. Others propound a weaker version: the necessity of the effect is hypothetical or conditional, given the laws of nature.

Put differently: to say that A necessitates (causes) B is no more than to say that it is a result of the laws of nature that when A happens, so does B. Hempel generalized this approach. He said that a statement of fact (whether a private or a general fact) is explained only if deduced from other statements, at least one of which is a statement of a general scientific law. This is the "Covering Law Model" and it implies a symmetry between explaining and predicting (at least where private facts are concerned). If an event can be explained, it can be predicted and vice versa. Needless to say that Hempel's approach did not get us nearer to solving the problems of causal priority and of indeterministic causation.

The Empiricists went a step further. They stipulated that the laws of nature are contingencies and not necessary truths. Other chains of events are possible where the laws of nature are different. This is the same tired regularity theory in a more exotic guise. The Empiricist treatment of causality is a descendant of Hume's definition of causality: "An object followed by another and where all the objects that resemble the first are followed by objects that resemble the second."

According to Hume, nothing in the world is a causal necessity, events are only constantly conjoined. Regularities in our experience condition us to form the idea of causal necessity and to deduce that causes must generate events. Kant called this latter deduction "A bastard of the imagination, impregnated by experience" with no legitimate application in the world.

This bastard also constituted a theological impediment. God is considered to be "Causa Sui", His own cause. But any application of a causal chain or force, already assumes the existence of a cause. This existence cannot, therefore, be the outcome of the use made of it. God had to be recast as the uncaused cause of the existence of all things contingent and His existence necessitated no cause because He, himself, is necessary.

This is flimsy stuff and it gets even flimsier when the issue of causal deviance is debated. A causal deviance is an abnormal, though causal, relation between events or states of the world. It mainly arises when we introduce intentional action and perception into the theory of causation.

Let us revert to the much-maligned owner of the sinking Titanic. He intended to do one thing and another happened. Granted, if he intended to do something and his intention was the cause of his doing so – then we could have said that he intentionally committed an act. But what if he intended to do one thing and out came another? And what if he intended to do something, mistakenly did something else and, still, accidentally, achieved what he set out to do?

The popular example is if someone intends to do something and gets so nervous that it happens even without an act being committed (intends to refuse an invitation by his boss, gets so nervous that he falls asleep and misses the party). Are these actions and intentions in their classical senses? There is room for doubt.

Davidson narrows down the demands. To him, "thinking causes" (causally efficient propositional attitudes) are nothing but causal relations between events with the right application of mental predicates which ascribe propositional attitudes supervening the right application of physical predicates. This approach omits intention altogether, not to mention the ascription of desire and belief.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The West Wing (Season 4) DVD Review

The recipient of widespread critical acclaim for its somewhat accurate portrayal of White House working conditions, The West Wing premiered in Fall 1999 to much fanfare and media attention.
Seasoned acting veteran Martin Sheen plays the lead role of President Bartlett to such perfection that it's reported that some believe he's the actual president. Sheen's performance is indicative of the superb casting job pulled off by The West Wing creators. Filling with regular doses of action, suspense, and drama, The West Wing is one of the best drama series on TV…

The West Wing (Season 4) DVD offers a number of dramatic episodes including the season premiere "20 Hours in America: Part 1" in which a number of events take place - Toby, Josh, and Donna get left behind on a campaign stop in Indiana (spending the rest of their day trying to get back to Washington), Bartlet searches for Mrs. Landingham's replacement, and the Dow Jones index plummets. Meanwhile, an opposition campaign stirs up the media when Bartlet's wife claims she's "just a wife and mother"… Other notable episodes from Season 4 include "Election Night" in which the staffers eagerly await the results of the presidential contest (each in his own unique way), and "The Long Goodbye" in which C.J. returns to her hometown of Dayton where she attends her high school reunion and struggles with the horrid effects of her father's Alzheimer's disease…

Below is a list of episodes included on The West Wing (Season 4) DVD:

Episode 66 (20 Hours in America: Part 1) Air Date: 09-25-2002
Episode 67 (20 Hours in America: Part 2) Air Date: 09-25-2002
Episode 68 (College Kids) Air Date: 10-02-2002
Episode 69 (The Red Mass) Air Date: 10-09-2002
Episode 70 (Debate Camp) Air Date: 10-16-2002
Episode 71 (Game On) Air Date: 10-30-2002
Episode 72 (Election Night) Air Date: 11-06-2002
Episode 73 (Process Stories) Air Date: 11-13-2002
Episode 74 (Swiss Diplomacy) Air Date: 11-20-2002
Episode 75 (Arctic Radar) Air Date: 11-27-2002
Episode 76 (Holy Night) Air Date: 12-11-2002
Episode 77 (Guns Not Butter) Air Date: 01-08-2003
Episode 78 (The Long Goodbye) Air Date: 01-15-2003
Episode 79 (Inauguration: Part 1) Air Date: 02-05-2003
Episode 80 (Inauguration: Part 2) Air Date: 02-12-2003
Episode 81 (The California 47th) Air Date: 02-19-2003
Episode 82 (Red Haven's on Fire) Air Date: 02-26-2003
Episode 83 (Privateers) Air Date: 03-26-2003
Episode 84 (Angel Maintenance) Air Date: 04-02-2003
Episode 85 (Evidence of Things Not Seen) Air Date: 04-23-2003
Episode 86 (Life on Mars) Air Date: 04-30-2003
Episode 87 (Commencement) Air Date: 05-07-2003
Episode 88 (Twenty Five) Air Date: 05-14-2003

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The West Wing (Season 3) DVD Review

Since it first aired in late 1999, The West Wing has been one of the most popular drama series on TV. Hollywood veteran Martin Sheen plays the lead role of President Jed Bartlet in this show which chronicles daily events in the life of a president. The daily operations of Bartlet's White House are run by varying individuals such as Claudia "C.J." Cregg (Allison Janney), Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), and Charlie Young (Dule Hill). The West Wing focuses on these loyal attendants as they work around-the-clock to keep the White House running smoothly. In so doing, the stresses of the job and various personal hardships make for a voyeuristic glimpse into what many believe to be an accurate snap-shot of White House working life…

The West Wing (Season 3) DVD offers a number of dramatic episodes including the season premiere "Manchester: Part 1" in which C.J. mistakenly reveals during her press conference that President Bartlet suffers from a medical condition, prompting an onslaught of media attention regarding the president's health. In gearing up to spin the revelation, the staffers discuss whether or not Bartlet should apologize to the nation for failing to reveal the problem. Meanwhile, Abbey is not pleased when she learns that Jed has decided to run for re-election… Other notable episodes from Season 3 include "The Indians in the Lobby" in which a pair of Indians announce their plans to stand in the lobby of the Department of Interior until they receive an answer on their 15-year-old application to buy back lost Indian lands, and "Hartsfield's Landing" in which the staffers begin to execute their presidential primary strategy (beginning in New Hampshire) in their plan to win Bartlet's re-election…

Below is a list of episodes included on The West Wing (Season 3) DVD:

Episode 45 (Manchester: Part 1) Air Date: 10-17-2001
Episode 46 (Manchester: Part 2) Air Date: 10-24-2001
Episode 47 (Ways and Means) Air Date: 10-31-2001
Episode 48 (On the Day Before) Air Date: 11-07-2001
Episode 49 (War Crimes) Air Date: 11-14-2001
Episode 50 (Gone Quiet) Air Date: 11-21-2001
Episode 51 (The Indians in the Lobby) Air Date: 11-28-2001
Episode 52 (The Women of Qumar) Air Date: 12-12-2001
Episode 53 (Bartlet for America) Air Date: 01-09-2002
Episode 54 (H. Con-172) Air Date: 01-16-2002
Episode 55 (100,000 Airplanes) Air Date: 01-30-2002
Episode 56 (The Two Bartlets) Air Date: 02-06-2002
Episode 57 (Night Five) Air Date: 02-27-2002
Episode 58 (Hartsfield's Landing) Air Date: 03-06-2002
Episode 59 (Dead Irish Writers) Air Date: 03-27-2002
Episode 60 (The U.S. Poet Laureate) Air Date: 04-03-2002
Episode 61 (Stirred) Air Date: 05-01-2002
Episode 62 (Enemies Foreign and Domestic) Air Date: 05-08-2002
Episode 63 (The Black Vera Wang) Air Date: 05-15-2002
Episode 64 (We Killed Yamamoto) Air Date: 05-15-2002
Episode 65 (Posse Comitatus) Air Date: 05-22-2002

Monday, February 20, 2012

The West Wing (Season 2) DVD Review

Since its September 1999 premiere, the NBC series The West Wing immediately established itself with viewers as one of the top programs on television. With its purportedly realistic weekly foray into the inner-depths of the White House, the drama series became so popular that some pollsters claimed its president Jed Bartlet was the most recognizable candidate going into the 2000 presidential campaign. Nevertheless, the point is that The West Wing strikes a chord with its core audience, showcasing an entertaining brew of action, drama, and suspense with each new episode…

The West Wing (Season 2) DVD offers a number of dramatic episodes including the season premiere "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen: Part 1" in which the staff awaits news relating to the gunshot wounds suffered by Josh Lyman and President Bartlett, prompting them to reminisce about their initial involvement in Bartlet's campaign and how they all came to know each other. Meanwhile, Leo, Toby, and C.J. examine the formal inquiry into the Secret Service's policies as well as the legal implications of Bartlet's surgery and the transfer of his executive power… Other notable episodes from Season 2 include "In This White House" in which the White House staffers host a contingent of pharmaceutical executives and leaders from Africans nations in relation to ending the AIDS crisis, and "The Leadership Breakfast" in which the staffers participate in a bi-partisan breakfast which they hope will actually substantively tackle an issue…

Below is a list of episodes included on the West Wing (Season 2) DVD:

Episode 23 (In the Shadow of Two Gunmen: Part 1) Air Date: 10-04-2000
Episode 24 (In the Shadow of Two Gunmen: Part 2) Air Date: 10-04-2000
Episode 25 (The Midterms) Air Date: 10-18-2000
Episode 26 (In This White House) Air Date: 10-25-2000
Episode 27 (And It's Surely to Their Credit) Air Date: 11-01-2000
Episode 28 (The Lame Duck Congress) Air Date: 11-08-2000
Episode 29 (The Portland Trip) Air Date: 11-15-2000
Episode 30 (Shibboleth) Air Date: 11-22-2000
Episode 31 (Galileo) Air Date: 11-29-2000
Episode 32 (Noel) Air Date: 12-20-2000
Episode 33 (The Leadership Breakfast) Air Date: 01-10-2001
Episode 34 (The Drop In) Air Date: 01-24-2001
Episode 35 (Bartlet's Third State of the Union) Air Date: 02-07-2001
Episode 36 (The War at Home) Air Date: 02-14-2001
Episode 37 (Ellie) Air Date: 02-21-2001
Episode 38 (Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail) Air Date: 02-28-2001
Episode 39 (The Stackhouse Filibuster) Air Date: 03-14-2001
Episode 40 (17 People) Air Date: 04-04-2001
Episode 41 (Bad Moon Rising) Air Date: 04-25-2001
Episode 42 (The Fall's Gonna Kill You) Air Date: 05-02-2001
Episode 43 (18th and Potomac) Air Date: 05-09-2001
Episode 44 (Two Cathedrals) Air Date: 05-16-2001

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The West Wing (DVD) Review

Premiering in September 1999, the original NBC series The West Wing built an instant cult following with its seemingly realistic weekly excursions into the inner sanctums of the White House. The series became such a hit that some pollsters claimed that certain people actually believed Jed Bartlet was the real president (although, if true, this is more of a negative reflection on the intelligence of the electorate, and not necessarily an indication of West Wing's realism). But regardless, the truth of the matter is that West Wing definitely strikes a chord with certain audiences, providing entertaining brew of action, suspense, and drama on a weekly basis…

Seasoned Hollywood actor Martin Sheen plays the lead role of President Jed Bartlet. The day-to-day affairs of Bartlet's administration are run by a number of individuals who surround him, among them are: Claudia "C.J." Cregg (Allison Janney), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), Leo McGarry (John Spencer), and Charlie Young (Dule Hill). The West Wing follows these dedicated staffers as they work extended hours behind-the-scenes to help keep the White House running smoothly. Along the way, the stress of the job and the characters' personal lives make for an interesting glimpse into what many believe is an accurate portrayal of a real-life White House administration…

The West Wing DVD offers a number of dramatic episodes including the series premiere in which we meet each of the recurring characters for the first time. The White House has their daily routine interrupted when President Bartlet falls off his bike, and Sam realizes the girl he picked in a bar the previous evening was a high-priced prostitute. Meanwhile, several members of the administration become embroiled in an ongoing feud with the "religious right," prompting President Bartlet to personally condemn a group of fundamentalists known as "The Lambs of God"… Other notable episodes from Season 1 include "The Crackpots and These Women" in which administration staffers spend their day listening to a number of crackpot, single-issue groups lobbying for federal favors, and "Take This Sabbath Day" in which President Bartlet grapples with the decision to commute the death sentence of a convicted killer following a Supreme Court ruling upholding his sentence…

Below is a list of episodes included on The West Wing (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Pilot) Air Date: 09-22-1999
Episode 2 (Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc) Air Date: 09-29-1999
Episode 3 (A Proportional Response) Air Date: 10-06-1999
Episode 4 (Five Votes Down) Air Date: 10-13-1999
Episode 5 (The Crackpots and These Women) Air Date: 10-20-1999
Episode 6 (Mr. Willis of Ohio) Air Date: 11-03-1999
Episode 7 (The State Dinner) Air Date: 11-10-1999
Episode 8 (Enemies) Air Date: 11-17-1999
Episode 9 (The Short List) Air Date: 11-24-1999
Episode 10 (In Excelsis Deo) Air Date: 12-15-1999
Episode 11 (Lord John Marbury) Air Date: 01-05-2000
Episode 12 (He Shall, from Time to Time) Air Date: 01-12-2000
Episode 13 (Take Out the Trash Day) Air Date: 01-26-2000
Episode 14 (Take This Sabbath Day) Air Date: 02-09-2000
Episode 15 (Celestial Navigation) Air Date: 02-16-2000
Episode 16 (20 Hours in L.A.) Air Date: 02-23-2000
Episode 17 (The White House Pro-Am) Air Date: 03-22-2000
Episode 18 (Six Meetings Before Lunch) Air Date: 04-05-2000
Episode 19 (Let Bartlet Be Bartlet) Air Date: 04-26-2000
Episode 20 (Mandatory Minimums) Air Date: 05-03-2000
Episode 21 (Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics) Air Date: 05-10-2000
Episode 22 (What Kind of Day Has It Been?) Air Date: 05-17-2000

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Waltons (Season 2) DVD Review

Recipient of 15 Golden Globe and 25 Emmy nominations, The Waltons enjoyed nine seasons of high ratings and widespread critical acclaim. Premiering in Fall 1972 on CBS, the drama series catalogued the life and times of a close-knit country family during the depths of the Great Depression. Supposedly, the series is based on the real life events of creator Earl Hamner Jr. and his family. The Waltons answered critics who believed such family shows were passe, and its family-friendly content, coupled with the realistic images of Depression life that it portrayed made it creative triumph as well as a commercial one...

The Waltons (Season 2) DVD features a number of memorable episodes including the season premiere "The Journey" in which Maggie McKenzie would like to see the ocean one last time in her life, and John Boy agrees to take her, although he must miss an important dance in order to do so. Meanwhile, Grandpa Zeb and the kids nurse and injured bird back to health. This episode is also notable because it boasts of being the only show of series in which creator Earl Hamner (playing the role of Maggie's wife) appears… Other notable episodes from Season 2 include "The Fawn" in which Erin nurses an injured fawn back to health while John Boy becomes a collections agent for a notorious landlord, and "The Honeymoon" in which John Sr. and Olivia enjoy a belated honeymoon in Virginia Beach…

Below is a list of episodes included on The Waltons (Season 2) DVD:

Episode 26 (The Journey) Air Date: 09-13-1973
Episode 27 (The Odyssey) Air Date: 09-20-1973
Episode 28 (The Separation) Air Date: 09-27-1973
Episode 29 (The Theft) Air Date: 10-04-1973
Episode 30 (The Roots) Air Date: 10-11-1973
Episode 31 (The Chicken Thief) Air Date: 10-18-1973
Episode 32 (The Prize) Air Date: 10-25-1973
Episode 33 (The Braggart) Air Date: 11-01-1973
Episode 34 (The Fawn) Air Date: 11-08-1973
Episode 35 (The Thanksgiving Story: Part 1) Air Date: 11-15-1973
Episode 36 (The Thanksgiving Story: Part 2) Air Date: 11-15-1973
Episode 37 (The Substitute) Air Date: 11-22-1973
Episode 38 (The Bequest) Air Date: 11-29-1973
Episode 39 (The Air Mail Man) Air Date: 12-13-1973
Episode 40 (The Triangle) Air Date: 12-20-1973
Episode 41 (The Awakening) Air Date: 01-03-1974
Episode 42 (The Honeymoon) Air Date: 01-10-1974
Episode 43 (The Heritage) Air Date: 01-17-1974
Episode 44 (The Gift) Air Date: 01-24-1974
Episode 45 (The Cradle) Air Date: 01-31-1974
Episode 46 (The Fulfillment) Air Date: 02-07-1974
Episode 47 (The Ghost Story) Air Date: 02-14-1974
Episode 48 (The Graduation) Air Date: 02-21-1974
Episode 49 (The Five Foot Shelf) Air Date: 03-07-1974
Episode 50 (The Car) Air Date: 03-14-1974

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Truman Show

"The Truman Show" is a profoundly disturbing movie. On the surface, it deals with the worn out issue of the intermingling of life and the media.

Examples for such incestuous relationships abound:

Ronald Reagan, the cinematic president was also a presidential movie star. In another movie ("The Philadelphia Experiment") a defrosted Rip Van Winkle exclaims upon seeing Reagan on television (40 years after his forced hibernation started): "I know this guy, he used to play Cowboys in the movies".

Candid cameras monitor the lives of webmasters (website owners) almost 24 hours a day. The resulting images are continuously posted on the Web and are available to anyone with a computer.

The last decade witnessed a spate of films, all concerned with the confusion between life and the imitations of life, the media. The ingenious "Capitan Fracasse", "Capricorn One", "Sliver", "Wag the Dog" and many lesser films have all tried to tackle this (un)fortunate state of things and its moral and practical implications.

The blurring line between life and its representation in the arts is arguably the main theme of "The Truman Show". The hero, Truman, lives in an artificial world, constructed especially for him. He was born and raised there. He knows no other place. The people around him - unbeknownst to him - are all actors. His life is monitored by 5000 cameras and broadcast live to the world, 24 hours a day, every day. He is spontaneous and funny because he is unaware of the monstrosity of which he is the main cogwheel.

But Peter Weir, the movie's director, takes this issue one step further by perpetrating a massive act of immorality on screen. Truman is lied to, cheated, deprived of his ability to make choices, controlled and manipulated by sinister, half-mad Shylocks. As I said, he is unwittingly the only spontaneous, non-scripted, "actor" in the on-going soaper of his own life. All the other figures in his life, including his parents, are actors. Hundreds of millions of viewers and voyeurs plug in to take a peep, to intrude upon what Truman innocently and honestly believes to be his privacy. They are shown responding to various dramatic or anti-climactic events in Truman's life. That we are the moral equivalent of these viewers-voyeurs, accomplices to the same crimes, comes as a shocking realization to us. We are (live) viewers and they are (celluloid) viewers. We both enjoy Truman's inadvertent, non-consenting, exhibitionism. We know the truth about Truman and so do they. Of course, we are in a privileged moral position because we know it is a movie and they know it is a piece of raw life that they are watching. But moviegoers throughout Hollywood's history have willingly and insatiably participated in numerous "Truman Shows". The lives (real or concocted) of the studio stars were brutally exploited and incorporated in their films. Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney all were forced to spill their guts in cathartic acts of on camera repentance and not so symbolic humiliation. "Truman Shows" is the more common phenomenon in the movie industry.

Then there is the question of the director of the movie as God and of God as the director of a movie. The members of his team - technical and non-technical alike - obey Christoff, the director, almost blindly. They suspend their better moral judgement and succumb to his whims and to the brutal and vulgar aspects of his pervasive dishonesty and sadism. The torturer loves his victims. They define him and infuse his life with meaning. Caught in a narrative, the movie says, people act immorally.

(IN)famous psychological experiments support this assertion. Students were led to administer what they thought were "deadly" electric shocks to their colleagues or to treat them bestially in simulated prisons. They obeyed orders. So did all the hideous genocidal criminals in history. The Director Weir asks: should God be allowed to be immoral or should he be bound by morality and ethics? Should his decisions and actions be constrained by an over-riding code of right and wrong? Should we obey his commandments blindly or should we exercise judgement? If we do exercise judgement are we then being immoral because God (and the Director Christoff) know more (about the world, about us, the viewers and about Truman), know better, are omnipotent? Is the exercise of judgement the usurpation of divine powers and attributes? Isn't this act of rebelliousness bound to lead us down the path of apocalypse?

It all boils down to the question of free choice and free will versus the benevolent determinism imposed by an omniscient and omnipotent being. What is better: to have the choice and be damned (almost inevitably, as in the biblical narrative of the Garden of Eden) - or to succumb to the superior wisdom of a supreme being? A choice always involves a dilemma. It is the conflict between two equivalent states, two weighty decisions whose outcomes are equally desirable and two identically-preferable courses of action. Where there is no such equivalence - there is no choice, merely the pre-ordained (given full knowledge) exercise of a preference or inclination. Bees do not choose to make honey. A fan of football does not choose to watch a football game. He is motivated by a clear inequity between the choices that he faces. He can read a book or go to the game. His decision is clear and pre-determined by his predilection and by the inevitable and invariable implementation of the principle of pleasure. There is no choice here. It is all rather automatic. But compare this to the choice some victims had to make between two of their children in the face of Nazi brutality. Which child to sentence to death - which one to sentence to life? Now, this is a real choice. It involves conflicting emotions of equal strength. One must not confuse decisions, opportunities and choice. Decisions are the mere selection of courses of action. This selection can be the result of a choice or the result of a tendency (conscious, unconscious, or biological-genetic). Opportunities are current states of the world, which allow for a decision to be made and to affect the future state of the world. Choices are our conscious experience of moral or other dilemmas.

Christoff finds it strange that Truman - having discovered the truth - insists upon his right to make choices, i.e., upon his right to experience dilemmas. To the Director, dilemmas are painful, unnecessary, destructive, or at best disruptive. His utopian world - the one he constructed for Truman - is choice-free and dilemma-free. Truman is programmed not in the sense that his spontaneity is extinguished. Truman is wrong when, in one of the scenes, he keeps shouting: "Be careful, I am spontaneous". The Director and fat-cat capitalistic producers want him to be spontaneous, they want him to make decisions. But they do not want him to make choices. So they influence his preferences and predilections by providing him with an absolutely totalitarian, micro-controlled, repetitive environment. Such an environment reduces the set of possible decisions so that there is only one favourable or acceptable decision (outcome) at any junction. Truman does decide whether to walk down a certain path or not. But when he does decide to walk - only one path is available to him. His world is constrained and limited - not his actions.

Actually, Truman's only choice in the movie leads to an arguably immoral decision. He abandons ship. He walks out on the whole project. He destroys an investment of billions of dollars, people's lives and careers. He turns his back on some of the actors who seem to really be emotionally attached to him. He ignores the good and pleasure that the show has brought to the lives of millions of people (the viewers). He selfishly and vengefully goes away. He knows all this. By the time he makes his decision, he is fully informed. He knows that some people may commit suicide, go bankrupt, endure major depressive episodes, do drugs. But this massive landscape of resulting devastation does not deter him. He prefers his narrow, personal, interest. He walks.

But Truman did not ask or choose to be put in his position. He found himself responsible for all these people without being consulted. There was no consent or act of choice involved. How can anyone be responsible for the well-being and lives of other people - if he did not CHOOSE to be so responsible? Moreover, Truman had the perfect moral right to think that these people wronged him. Are we morally responsible and accountable for the well-being and lives of those who wrong us? True Christians are, for instance.

Moreover, most of us, most of the time, find ourselves in situations which we did not help mould by our decisions. We are unwillingly cast into the world. We do not provide prior consent to being born. This fundamental decision is made for us, forced upon us. This pattern persists throughout our childhood and adolescence: decisions are made elsewhere by others and influence our lives profoundly. As adults we are the objects - often the victims - of the decisions of corrupt politicians, mad scientists, megalomaniac media barons, gung-ho generals and demented artists. This world is not of our making and our ability to shape and influence it is very limited and rather illusory. We live in our own "Truman Show". Does this mean that we are not morally responsible for others?

We are morally responsible even if we did not choose the circumstances and the parameters and characteristics of the universe that we inhabit. The Swedish Count Wallenberg imperilled his life (and lost it) smuggling hunted Jews out of Nazi occupied Europe. He did not choose, or helped to shape Nazi Europe. It was the brainchild of the deranged Director Hitler. Having found himself an unwilling participant in Hitler's horror show, Wallenberg did not turn his back and opted out. He remained within the bloody and horrific set and did his best. Truman should have done the same. Jesus said that he should have loved his enemies. He should have felt and acted with responsibility towards his fellow human beings, even towards those who wronged him greatly.

But this may be an inhuman demand. Such forgiveness and magnanimity are the reserve of God. And the fact that Truman's tormentors did not see themselves as such and believed that they were acting in his best interests and that they were catering to his every need - does not absolve them from their crimes. Truman should have maintained a fine balance between his responsibility to the show, its creators and its viewers and his natural drive to get back at his tormentors. The source of the dilemma (which led to his act of choosing) is that the two groups overlap. Truman found himself in the impossible position of being the sole guarantor of the well-being and lives of his tormentors. To put the question in sharper relief: are we morally obliged to save the life and livelihood of someone who greatly wronged us? Or is vengeance justified in such a case?

A very problematic figure in this respect is that of Truman's best and childhood friend. They grew up together, shared secrets, emotions and adventures. Yet he lies to Truman constantly and under the Director's instructions. Everything he says is part of a script. It is this disinformation that convinces us that he is not Truman's true friend. A real friend is expected, above all, to provide us with full and true information and, thereby, to enhance our ability to choose. Truman's true love in the Show tried to do it. She paid the price: she was ousted from the show. But she tried to provide Truman with a choice. It is not sufficient to say the right things and make the right moves. Inner drive and motivation are required and the willingness to take risks (such as the risk of providing Truman with full information about his condition). All the actors who played Truman's parents, loving wife, friends and colleagues, miserably failed on this score.

It is in this mimicry that the philosophical key to the whole movie rests. A Utopia cannot be faked. Captain Nemo's utopian underwater city was a real Utopia because everyone knew everything about it. People were given a choice (though an irreversible and irrevocable one). They chose to become lifetime members of the reclusive Captain's colony and to abide by its (overly rational) rules. The Utopia came closest to extinction when a group of stray survivors of a maritime accident were imprisoned in it against their expressed will. In the absence of choice, no utopia can exist. In the absence of full, timely and accurate information, no choice can exist. Actually, the availability of choice is so crucial that even when it is prevented by nature itself - and not by the designs of more or less sinister or monomaniac people - there can be no Utopia. In H.G. Wells' book "The Time Machine", the hero wanders off to the third millennium only to come across a peaceful Utopia. Its members are immortal, don't have to work, or think in order to survive. Sophisticated machines take care of all their needs. No one forbids them to make choices. There simply is no need to make them. So the Utopia is fake and indeed ends badly.

Finally, the "Truman Show" encapsulates the most virulent attack on capitalism in a long time. Greedy, thoughtless money machines in the form of billionaire tycoon-producers exploit Truman's life shamelessly and remorselessly in the ugliest display of human vices possible. The Director indulges in his control-mania. The producers indulge in their monetary obsession. The viewers (on both sides of the silver screen) indulge in voyeurism. The actors vie and compete in the compulsive activity of furthering their petty careers. It is a repulsive canvas of a disintegrating world. Perhaps Christoff is right after al when he warns Truman about the true nature of the world. But Truman chooses. He chooses the exit door leading to the outer darkness over the false sunlight in the Utopia that he leaves behind.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Talented Mr. Ripley

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" is an Hitchcockian and blood-curdling study of the psychopath and his victims. At the centre of this masterpiece, set in the exquisitely decadent scapes of Italy, is a titanic encounter between Ripley, the aforementioned psychopath protagonist and young Greenleaf, a consummate narcissist.

Ripley is a cartoonishly poor young adult whose overriding desire is to belong to a higher - or at least, richer - social class. While he waits upon the subjects of his not so hidden desires, he receives an offer he cannot refuse: to travel to Italy to retrieve the spoiled and hedonistic son of a shipbuilding magnate, Greenleaf Senior. He embarks upon a study of Junior's biography, personality, likes and hobbies. In a chillingly detailed process, he actually assumes Greenleaf's identity. Disembarking from a luxurious Cunard liner in his destination, Italy, he "confesses" to a gullible textile-heiress that he is the young Greenleaf, traveling incognito.

Thus, we are subtly introduced to the two over-riding themes of the antisocial personality disorder (still labeled by many professional authorities "psychopathy" and "sociopathy"): an overwhelming dysphoria and an even more overweening drive to assuage this angst by belonging. The psychopath is an unhappy person. He is besieged by recurrent depression bouts, hypochondria and an overpowering sense of alienation and drift. He is bored with his own life and is permeated by a seething and explosive envy of the lucky, the mighty, the clever, the have it alls, the know it alls, the handsome, the happy - in short: his opposites. He feels discriminated against and dealt a poor hand in the great poker game called life. He is driven obsessively to right these perceived wrongs and feels entirely justified in adopting whatever means he deems necessary in pursuing this goal.

Ripley's reality test is maintained throughout the film. In other words - while he gradually merges with the object of his admiring emulation, the young Greenleaf - Ripley can always tell the difference. After he kills Greenleaf in self-defense, he assumes his name, wears his clothes, cashes his checks and makes phone calls from his rooms. But he also murders - or tries to murder - those who suspect the truth. These acts of lethal self-preservation prove conclusively that he knows who he is and that he fully realizes that his acts are parlously illegal.

Young Greenleaf is young, captivatingly energetic, infinitely charming, breathtakingly handsome and deceivingly emotional. He lacks real talents - he know how to play only six jazz tunes, can't make up his musical mind between his faithful sax and a newly alluring drum kit and, an aspiring writer, can't even spell. These shortcomings and discrepancies are tucked under a glittering facade of non-chalance, refreshing spontaneity, an experimental spirit, unrepressed sexuality and unrestrained adventurism. But Greenleaf Jr. is a garden variety narcissist. He cheats on his lovely and loving girlfriend, Marge. He refuses to lend money - of which he seems to have an unlimited supply, courtesy his ever more disenchanted father - to a girl he impregnated. She commits suicide and he blames the primitiveness of the emergency services, sulks and kicks his precious record player. In the midst of this infantile temper tantrum the rudiments of a conscience are visible. He evidently feels guilty. At least for a while.

Greenleaf Jr. falls in and out of love and friendship in a predictable pendulous rhythm. He idealizes his beaus and then devalues them. He finds them to be the quiddity of fascination one moment - and the distilled essence of boredom the next. And he is not shy about expressing his distaste and disenchantment. He is savagely cruel as he calls Ripley a leach who has taken over his life and his possessions (having previously invited him to do so in no uncertain terms). He says that he is relieved to see him go and he cancels off-handedly elaborate plans they made together. Greenleaf Jr. maintains a poor record of keeping promises and a rich record of violence, as we discover towards the end of this suspenseful, taut yarn.

Ripley himself lacks an identity. He is a binary automaton driven by a set of two instructions - become someone and overcome resistance. He feels like a nobody and his overriding ambition is to be somebody, even if he has to fake it, or steal it. His only talents, he openly admits, are to fake both personalities and papers. He is a predator and he hunts for congruence, cohesion and meaning. He is in constant search of a family. Greenleaf Jr., he declares festively, is the older brother he never had. Together with the long suffering fiancée in waiting, Marge, they are a family. Hasn't Greenleaf Sr. actually adopted him?

This identity disturbance, which is at the psychodynamic root of both pathological narcissism and rapacious psychopathy, is all-pervasive. Both Ripley and Greenleaf Jr. are not sure who they are. Ripley wants to be Greenleaf Jr. - not because of the latter's admirable personality, but because of his money. Greenleaf Jr. cultivates a False Self of a jazz giant in the making and the author of the Great American Novel but he is neither and he bitterly knows it. Even their sexual identity is not fully formed. Ripley is at once homoerotic, autoerotic and heteroerotic. He has a succession of homosexual lovers (though apparently only platonic ones). Yet, he is attracted to women. He falls desperately in love with Greenleaf's False Self and it is the revelation of the latter's dilapidated True Self that leads to the atavistically bloody scene in the boat.

But Ripley is a different -and more ominous - beast altogether. He rambles on about the metaphorical dark chamber of his secrets, the key to which he wishes to share with a "loved" one. But this act of sharing (which never materializes) is intended merely to alleviate the constant pressure of the hot pursuit he is subjected to by the police and others. He disposes with equal equanimity of both loved ones and the occasional prying acquaintance. At least twice he utters words of love as he actually strangles his newfound inamorato and tries to slash an old and rekindled flame. He hesitates not a split second when confronted with an offer to betray Greenleaf Sr., his nominal employer and benefactor, and abscond with his money. He falsifies signatures with ease, makes eye contact convincingly, flashes the most heart rending smile when embarrassed or endangered. He is a caricature of the American dream: ambitious, driven, winsome, well versed in the mantras of the bourgeoisie. But beneath this thin veneer of hard learned, self-conscious and uneasy civility - lurks a beast of prey best characterized by the DSM IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual):

"Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior, deceitfulness as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others to personal profit or pleasure, impulsivity or failure to plan ahead... reckless disregard for safety of self or others... (and above all) lack of remorse." (From the criteria of the Antisocial Personality Disorder).

But perhaps the most intriguing portraits are those of the victims. Marge insists, in the face of the most callous and abusive behavior, that there is something "tender" in Greenleaf Jr. When she confronts the beguiling monster, Ripley, she encounters the fate of all victims of psychopaths: disbelief, pity and ridicule. The truth is too horrible to contemplate, let alone comprehend. Psychopaths are inhuman in the most profound sense of this compounded word. Their emotions and conscience have been amputated and replaced by phantom imitations. But it is rare to pierce their meticulously crafted facade. They more often than not go on to great success and social acceptance while their detractors are relegated to the fringes of society. Both Meredith and Peter, who had the misfortune of falling in deep, unrequited love with Ripley, are punished. One by losing his life, the other by losing Ripley time and again, mysteriously, capriciously, cruelly.

Thus, ultimately, the film is an intricate study of the pernicious ways of psychopathology. Mental disorder is a venom not confined to its source. It spreads and affects its environment in a myriad surreptitiously subtle forms. It is a hydra, growing one hundred heads where one was severed. Its victims writhe and as abuse is piled upon trauma - they turn to stone, the mute witnesses of horror, the stalactites and stalagmites of pain untold and unrecountable. For their tormentors are often as talented as Mr. Ripley is and they are as helpless and as clueless as his victims are.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sting (DVD) Review

Recipient of ten Academy Award nominations and winner of seven, including Best Picture, The Sting is widely lauded as one of the best films ever produced. Written by David S. Ward, whose unorthodox genius has produced such Hollywood hits as Major League (1989), King Ralph (1991), and Sleepless In Seattle (1993), The Sting boasts a superbly well-written screenplay, ripe with perfectly constructed dialogue and a plotline riddled with suspense. Directed by George Roy Hill, who previously teamed with Paul Newman and Robert Redford to produce Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), it paints a colorful picture of 1930s Chicago. Complete with gangsters, card games, illegal gambling, sex, and murder, what else could a movie lover wish for?

The Sting follows the life of a two-bit grifter named Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford). Hooker runs small-time jobs with Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) and Joe Erie (Jack Kehoe). Business is decent until they pull the con of a lifetime on a greedy numbers runner. Hoping for a few dollars, they end making off with several thousand. But Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), the organized crime boss whose money they stole, places a hit on all three men that results in Luther’s death. Caught in the crosshairs of dirty cop Lt. William Snyder (Charles Durning) and a mysterious hit man (Dimitra Arliss), Johnny follows the advice of his dead mentor and contacts the best conman in the world, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), in hopes of becoming his understudy.

Gondorff promises to pull “the big con” (the ultimate score for con artists), and to sweeten the pot, he promises to make the mark Doyle Lonnegan himself. Gathering a star-studded team of con artists, pick-pockets, and grifters, Gondorff and Hooker set out to take Lonnegan for millions. Together, they set up a rival gambling operation in Chicago under the names of Shaw and Kelley. Hooker (a.k.a. Kelley) endears himself to Lonnegan so as to win over the gangster’s trust. Convincing Lonnegan he has friend at the Western Union who can telegraph winning horses moments before a race is reported, Hooker gets Lonnegan to place a series of winning bets at Gondorff’s gambling parlor. Under the impression Kelley’s goal is to break Shaw (a.k.a. Gondorff) and take over his establishment, the two agree to one last bet, with Lonnegan set to place a million dollars of his own money on the line. It’s a bet Gondorff and Hooker intend for Lonnegan to lose… But one problem remains. The FBI is hot on the trail of Gondorff, and they’re determined to break his operation at any cost…

Far ahead of its time, The Sting redefined the Hollywood plot twist with its ingenious organization of multiple subplots. Newman is masterful as the veteran cheat Henry Gondorff, and it’s well worth watching the entire film just to see the scene where he out-cheats the ultimate cheat at cards. With a parade of eccentric characters, well-developed sinister figures, and clever exchanges of dialogue, The Sting isn’t your typical sensationalistic Hollywood potboiler. Like a great novel, the film takes some time to establish its characters and develop its plotline. Patient viewers will be well-rewarded…

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Sopranos (Season 5) DVD Review

The Sopranos centers around the life of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a middle-aged father of two, husband, and successful businessman. But unlike most sitcom families, Tony is constantly irritated by his children, Meadow and Anthony (Jamie Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler). Furthermore, he regularly cheats on his wife Carmela (Edie Falco), and to top it off, he’s the head of a mafia crime organization. The constant confusion and stress in Tony’s life pushes him to seek out a therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), so he can unload his problems. Following a the outline of a traditional prime time soap opera, The Sopranos shies away from the glorification of the mobster lifestyle and paints a picture of a world not much different than that of the average middle-class family…

The Sopranos (Season 5) DVD offers a number of dramatic episodes including the season premiere “Two Tonys” in which Tony makes a play for Dr. Melfi following his recent separation from Carmela, but Carmela calls on Tony for help in fending off a bear that keeps returning to their house. Meanwhile, Christopher gets in an argument with Paulie when he realizes he’s always stuck paying for dinner… Other notable episodes from Season 5 include “All Happy Families…” in which Tony and Carmela fight over A.J.’s behavior while Carmela becomes interested in A.J.’s school guidance counselor, and “Marco Polo” in which Tony and Carmela reunite (at least for one evening) after she invites Tony to her father’s birthday party…

Below is a list of episodes included on the Sopranos (Season 5) DVD:

Episode 53 (Two Tonys) Air Date: 03-07-2004
Episode 54 (Rat Pack) Air Date: 03-14-2004
Episode 55 (Where’s Johnny?) Air Date: 03-21-2004
Episode 56 (All Happy Families…) Air Date: 03-28-2004
Episode 57 (Irregular Around the Margins) Air Date: 04-04-2004
Episode 58 (Sentimental Education) Air Date: 04-11-2004
Episode 59 (In Camelot) Air Date: 04-18-2004
Episode 60 (Marco Polo) Air Date: 04-25-2004
Episode 61 (Unidentified Black Male) Air Date: 05-02-2004
Episode 62 (Cold Cuts) Air Date: 05-09-2004
Episode 63 (The Test Dream) Air Date: 05-16-2004
Episode 64 (Long Term Parking) Air Date: 05-23-2004
Episode 65 (All Due Respect) Air Date: 06-06-2004

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Sopranos (Season 4) DVD Review

Recipient of numerous awards and critical acclaim, The Sopranos has solidified itself as one of the best shows of the past decade. A sitcom family version of The Godfather, although not to be confused with family-friendly programming, the show provides a fresh glimpse of the vast underworld of organized crime. Putting a middle-class family twist on the mafia lifestyle, it creates a seduction world that it is simultaneously easier to relate to for most viewers. James Gandolfini plays the role of Tony Soprano, loving husband and father of two. He also happens to be an organized crime boss. But the glamour life portrayed in the movies isn’t the one enjoyed by Tony. He grapples not only with the high stress of his job, but out-of-control kids, a strained relationship with his wife, and a growing bout of depression. Seeing a therapist on a regular basis, the show follows his day-to-day exploits…

The Sopranos (Season 4) DVD offers a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “For All Debts Public and Private” in which Tony and Carmela deal with the strain on their household finances in the midst of a recession, and Adrianna brings a friend of great interest to the Soprano family dinner. Meanwhile, Tony creates a special bond with Christopher when he gives his blessing for Christopher to avenge his father’s murder… Other notable episodes from Season 4 include “No Show” in which Meadow has a fallout with Tony and Carmela when she decides to drop out of college and travel the European continent, and “Pie-O-My” in which Tony develops a deep interest in Ralphie’s new race horse, prompting him to spend more time away from home than Carmela likes…

Below is a list of episodes included on the Sopranos (Season 4) DVD:

Episode 40 (For All Debts Public and Private) Air Date: 09-15-2002
Episode 41 (No Show) Air Date: 09-22-2002
Episode 42 (Christopher) Air Date: 09-29-2002
Episode 43 (The Weight) Air Date: 10-06-2002
Episode 44 (Pie-O-My) Air Date: 10-13-2002
Episode 45 (Everybody Hurts) Air Date: 10-20-2002
Episode 46 (Watching Too Much Television) Air Date: 10-27-2002
Episode 47 (Mergers & Acquisitions) Air Date: 11-03-2002
Episode 48 (Whoever Did This) Air Date: 11-10-2002
Episode 49 (The Strong, Silent Type) Air Date: 11-17-2002
Episode 50 (Calling All Cars) Air Date: 11-24-2002
Episode 51 (Eloise) Air Date: 12-01-2002
Episode 52 (Whitecaps) Air Date: 12-08-2002

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How To Be A Modern-Day Fictional Heroine

It used to be so easy. All you needed was a thick mane of tousled auburn locks, high cheekbones and a determined little chin; add an ounce of determination and an event from your past that haunts you still. Then, wham! You were the perfect fictional heroine. But now it’s not so simple. With television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Ally McBeal, books like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Good in Bed, and movies like Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde, we’re getting all sorts of mixed messages over how the ideal woman is supposed to be. What’s a modern girl who wants to hold herself up to impossible standards to do? Simple! Just follow these guidelines, and you’ll be as witty, complex and neurotic as the rest of them. In other words – you will be the perfect, modern-day fictional heroine. Step 1 – Be Flawed This step is super easy, because come on, we’re all already flawed anyway, right? Right! Except for one little catch. It is necessary to adopt the correct flaws, and these three are non-negotiable. 1.)You must be self-involved. This includes comparing your own petty personal problems to things like death, war, and injustice, and finding some sort of unique parallel no matter what the situation may be. It also includes having a constant inner dialogue with yourself where you point out these parallels with witty commentary. For example: “Even the news reminded me of him. Yesterday I saw this report that said routine circumcision in Africa could prevent 300,000 deaths in the next ten years. What a shocker! Chopping away at a guy’s penis could help eliminate pain, loss, and heart-ache. What will they think of next?” 2.)You must have issues with food. If you plan to be a television or movie heroine, this means that you cannot eat. Period. If you plan to be a book heroine, this means that you must eat all the time, except when you’re not eating, and then you should be thinking about eating. I strongly recommend the second option. 3.)You must become preoccupied with an unhealthy relationship. This includes but is not limited to, relationships with boyfriends, friends, mothers, fathers, roommates, and exes. Especially exes.(And make sure that your ex is dreamy, preferably with a new girlfriend who is in no way as good for him as you were.) Step 2 – Practice Retail Therapy Today’s modern day fictional heroine realizes one fundamental truth – that there is no problem too big or too small that cannot be remedied with shopping. Again, there is a catch; you need to be careful of what you go shopping for. Hard and fast rule – anything that’s practical or cheap is out. Other than that, I have provided you a list of approved shopping items, with the most highly recommended items on top, and continued in descending order: •Designer shoes •Designer beauty products •Designer chocolate •Designer purses •Designer lingerie •Anything else designer •Clothes (This is listed as the very last option because although clothes shopping can be a lot of fun, if you happen to have gone up a size, the blow to your ego will be so enormous that it will negate the therapeutic aspect of said retail therapy.) Step 3 – Have a purpose, deeply question it, then either accept it or abandon it to find a new purpose. Rather than go into unnecessary detail, I have created a handy-dandy chart. Just pick an option from each column and you’ll be good to go. Column A 1.You’re a (lawyer, publisher, or banker) and you love the power and money. 2.You’re a (doctor, policewoman, or writer) and you love changing lives. 3.You’re a stay-at-home mom and you love your family. 4.You’re all of the above, and you’ve never been so fulfilled! Column B 1.It’s all getting to be too much and nobody understands you. 2.None of it means anything anymore and nobody understands you. 3.You wish you could have some time for yourself, and why doesn’t anyone understand you? 4.Is this really what you set out to do? You did major in art history after all. Column C 1. After meeting the right guy, you decide to chuck it all and live overseas. 2. After falling back in love with the guy you’ve been with for years, you decide to start your own home-based greeting card company. 3. After realizing that the nerdy guy is actually the one for you, you return to your career with a new sense of purpose. 4. Who needs health insurance anyway? You decide to take some time off just to focus on you. Conclusion: So you see; it’s really not that hard for truth to imitate fiction. Gone are the days of walking moors, wearing corsets, and dying of consumption. Nowadays all you need is a little attitude thrown in with a barely noticeable social complex. So get your credit cards ready, preheat the oven for those brownies, and start living your life as if everyone can (and wants to) hear what you have to say. A new age has arrived!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just Say No To Sex

(Extended spoof, presented In 10 installments of 4 pages each. This is the second installment; previous ones are included on this site, in case you miss one.) "They all seem impressively genuine in their intentions," Dr. Coburn replied. "As young people are prone to do, they actually want to do their part to help save the world – and now they see a practical way to proceed.” “We shall see. But, even if you are able to inculcate your linguistic nonsense, how long do you expect they'll abstain before their fulminating libidos overwhelm your flimsy barricades?” “Until they are comfortably and safely married. I also assume that the most diligent students will continue to maintain a commendable degree of procreative moderation in wedlock.” “Please, they’d all be much safer simply using condoms.” “Condoms? Oh, don't even mention the word. How unnatural, how risky, how–“ “– About waiting for time to reveal the answer?” she interrupted, and then, sighing, said, “Dear me, the greatest liability a bright person can have today is the lack of a solid scientific background. Your well-intentioned mind simply does not have the knowledge required to innovate credibly in the field you have chosen. It is infested with so many cobwebs you simply can’t extricate yourself from them.” “Cobwebs to you, Prissy. Compassionate conservatism to me!” “Yes, out with the new, in with the old! Let us champion antiquated ideas, trotted out as innovations. Luddites of the world, unite!” “I admit it proudly! Antiquated ideas are my favorite kind. They have withstood the test of time and, therefore, their merit is self-evident.” Then he leaned forward and issued, what was to her, a particularly disheartening admonition. “Prepare yourself, Priscilla. The worldwide adoption of my method will actually make the need for your misguided educational programs and medical research superfluous.” “Doctor Coburn, you are – in the field in which you are dabbling – a most ignorant, insensitive, and dangerous man.” “Ignorant! Insensitive! And dangerous? Ah, now I know well the ridicule innovators have had to deal with from time immemorial. I can, at this juncture, even sympathize with the early plight of my arch-nemesis, Freud. What courage he had to persist against the Victorian tide. I shall borrow a page from him, however, not in terms of his erroneous unearthing of the sex drive, but in admirable doggedness.” “Please, don’t confound yourself with Freud. Your approach is not only unrealistic; it’s the most cockamamie – “ “– Dr. Ernst, if you please. One of my all-time least favorite words is ‘cockamamie.’ What a regrettable morass of mortifying associations.” “Excuse me, Richard. Sometimes your prudery is revelatory. I shall simply call it runaway ignorance.” “I think I have now endured enough of the slings of professional jealousy. Do you think I don’t know the medical school is beside itself because this historic advance in sexual behavior-modification has come from the sociology department?” “Not at all, Doctor. The truth, like it or not, is that at the medical school we must be entirely realistic every moment. Lives depend on the pragmatic orderliness of our procedures. Above all, we know we must deal with humanity as we find it – fragile and excitable humanity. We also know that at this particular time in history, due to the plethora of unwanted pregnancies, burgeoning overpopulation, and widespread STDs, Mother Nature has us, like it or not, by the balls!” “Shame on you, Priscilla! What language – and for a woman of your distinction.” “Oh, fiddlesticks! Would you be happier if I said it has us by the ovaries?” “Don’t make light of the dire situation we find ourselves in. You have forgotten one very important aspect of my method. It is a new reality, not a method of contraception that has proved inadequate to our overheated desires or the gleam in a frantic researcher’s eye. No, no, mine is a pragmatic approach that is available for immediate implementation.” “Oh, Dickie – “ “– Priscilla, please. You know how I feel about that alternate appellation.” “Yes, dear,” she replied with a trace of sympathy. “Sorry.” “About what?” “Calling you ‘dear.’” “Oh. I didn’t notice.” “Of course,” she said, resigning herself to his hurtful indifference and moving forward with her argument. “But somewhere beneath your self-assured surface, certainly you suspect the eternal inclinations of man and woman. How can you possibly think that your so-called method can moderate the tidal wave of sexual desire that sweeps through the world at every moment? How can it restrain the young, whose entire physical being throbs with sexual eagerness? Or the poor, who have precious few other pleasures? Or the wealthy, who perpetually court indulgence?” “My dear Dr. Ernst, what you obviously fail to understand is that I don't merely ask people just to say no to sex. I provide, in a series of one hundred compelling and self-evidently true axioms the resources the human will requires to be victorious – axioms that will one day no doubt be viewed as the Euclidean geometry of sexual resistance.” “Sorry, I remain unimpressed.” “Why? Because you’ve been dethroned. While you and your realistic colleagues have trusted to sexual propriety in the heat of desire and the far horizon of medical research, I have had the insight to see the gold at my feet.” “Fool's gold, I'm afraid!” “On the contrary, a solid gold chain every link of which consists of irrefutable logic – a step-by-step approach in which every statement follows the other as relentlessly as one moment follows its antecedent! Take, for example, Coburn's First Axiom of Abstinence. I dare you to find a flaw in it,” he challenged, and took the book from the coffee table. He opened it and held it toward her, as he recited, ‘Sex leads to pregnancy. Pregnancy leads to overpopulation. Therefore, sex must be avoided.’ Argue with that, if you dare!” “Richard, the argument is not with your self-evident nonsense but with your hopes for compliance. How on earth do you expect such a flimsy train of premises and conclusions to compel the world’s billions to adhere to sexual abstinence?” “Mock me if you must, Priscilla! Nevertheless, my hopes are being confirmed as more and more conscientious students sign up for my truly enlightened method.” “To learn what? To say no to sex, despite every natural proclivity and temptation, say no despite drunkenness or drugs? Sorry, Richard. I much prefer condoms to Coburn.” “Oh, Dr. Ernst, the effrontery even to mention my name in apposition to that sine qua non of imperfect prophylaxis.” At that moment, the doorbell rang. Doctor Coburn looked at his watch. “Ah, ha,” he announced, “that must be my new star applicant, Dan Fox.” “Fox? He wants to sign up?” “Correct. He called to apply right before you arrived. Naturally, I invited him to come over right away, lest the legendary stud have second thoughts.” “I can't believe his interest is at all genuine.” “Then it’s a fine fortuity that he has arrived while you’re still here.” “If by some chance you are able to exert even modest restraints on him, how many young girls’ hopes you’ll shatter. It’s preposterous to think you can control him, given the number of girls who’d tear their own clothes off to hop into the sack with him.” Just then Melanie entered the room, and said, “Didn't I hear the doorbell ring?” “Yes, dear. I think it's Dan Fox.” Melanie seemed unusually upset. “Dan Fox? What's he doing here?” “He wants to enroll in my course.” “Daddy, come on. He's the last guy in the world –“ “– Now, now, Mel, don’t prejudge him.” He noticed her hesitation. “Please, just get the door.” “Sure,” she consented, with a bit of teeth grinding. He stood proudly while Melanie walked there. She took a deep breath and pulled it open. “What are you doing here?” she asked the handsome athlete. “Hi, Melanie,” he replied. “I want to sign up for you dad’s course.” “Sure, you do,” she said, indicating she suspected him of harboring an unspoken motive. “Let him in, Mel,” Doctor Coburn called. “All right,” she agreed, and stood aside. “Thanks,” he told her. “Dan, my boy, come right in,” Coburn called. “Thank you!” he replied, with as much transparent enthusiasm as he could muster. Melanie closed the door and observed as her father put out his hand. “Welcome, Fox.” “Glad to be here,” he said, glancing at the skeptical observer beside his new-found mentor. “You know Dr. Ernst?” Coburn asked. “Yes, I do,” Dan said. “Hi, Dr. Ernst.” “Hello, Mr. Fox,” she replied distantly. “I'm delighted you made the big decision to study with me, Dan,” Dr. Coburn said. “Thanks,” he replied. “I'm convinced it's the responsible thing to do – I mean, with all the problems sex can cause.” “Good, Dan!” Dr. Coburn exclaimed. “I see that, besides brawn, you've got brains.” “Thank you, sir. My ideal is, like the ancient Greeks said, ‘a sound mind in a sound body.’” “In a very sound body,” Dr. Ernst commented. “The girls tell me you're quite irresistible.” “Thanks. But it’s not my fault. I was born this way.” “But you can rise above it, I assure you,” Dr. Coburn advised him. “That’s my goal,” Dan said. “I need to save my energy for football.” “Tell me, Dan,” Dr. Ernst inquired, “what makes you believe Doctor Coburn’s method can work for you? Have you read his new book?” “Not yet,” Dan admitted, “but I've heard a lot about it. From what I can tell, it appeals to the mind – and I like that. Mind over body – the same thing you need in the fourth quarter when you're behind and you have to do a lot more than you think you can.” Dr. Coburn turned to Dr. Ernst, and told her, “I have great faith in this young man.” Then he eyed Dan critically. “My hope is that you’ll become one of my star pupils.” Somehow, this comment cut Melanie to the quick, and she said, “Dad, I need to speak with you.” “Later, dear. In the meantime, please, escort Mr. Fox to my study and get him signed up.” She looked at Dan with condescension. “I cannot believe this! Come on.” “Thanks, Melanie,” he said, and followed her. “What do you think?” Dr. Coburn asked. “Me? Oh, I also have great faith in him,” she replied wryly. “Did you notice the way he looked at your daughter?” “No, I didn’t. It all seemed rather usual to me.” “Really?” she asked. “And why do you think Melanie seemed so uneasy? Could she by any chance be infatuated with him?” “Mel? Oh, please, she’s far too well trained for such an indiscretion.” “Richard, sometimes you are a blind ass. Fox obviously has something on his mind other than learning how to say no to sex.” “You suspect he's only here because he’s interested in Melanie? Little Melanie, with all the voluptuous women who are at his beck and call?” “I have a proposition.” “You mean, a proposal?” “Whatever. You teach him your method as best you can. Then you arrange for him and Melanie to be alone for an evening.” “Alone?” “Yes, and Melanie must be given instructions that she is to try every wile she can manage to break down his willpower. If he maintains his indifference to her advances, I will leave you to proselytize as extensively as you can. On the other hand, if by some chance he cannot resist her charms and succumbs, you will admit defeat and cease to promulgate your method.” “But poor Melanie – to subject her to such an excruciating experience.” “Don’t tell me you suspect she might be in any sort of danger? Richard, if your method is half as good as you say it is, she’ll be faced with an insurmountable, and therefore an entirely risk-free, task.” “But to ask her to do something so contrary to her lifelong training–“ “Yes, but think of the possible benefits if you succeed with Dan. Your triumph will resonate throughout the campus. I’ll withdraw all my objections and recommend that the medical school withdraw its. Then you'll have a free hand on campus and on to the welcoming arms of a desperate world!” “Do you I have your word on that?” “Absolutely. Now, how long do you need to indoctrinate Mr. Fox?” “That depends on how much time he’s willing to give me. But in no event will I require more than one month.” “Then you've got a deal,” she said, and put out her hand. “Deal, Priscilla!” he affirmed, and gave her hand a hearty shake. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.” “My pleasure, Richard.” “Don’t forget your gift,” he told her, and picked up the autographed copy of his book from the coffee table. She accepted it. As he walked her to the door, she said, “Good luck. You'll need it.” “Thank you, Priscilla,” he replied, “but not nearly as much luck as you’ll need.” She gave him a peck on the cheek, and his face flushed to a degree that slightly embarrassed him. “Till then,” she said, and went out the door. End of Second Installment