Rilalities VIII

People People

Have you ever met a people person?  Have you ever met one that knew what that meant?  “I don’t know, I just like people,” the may say when you ask them.  “I like being around people most of the time.  I also like to laugh and take long walks around the lake, and I like to do that with the special people in my life.”  I used to think this whole line of thought was so unusual.  I couldn’t believe that it caught on as an accepted description healthy men, and women, used to describe themselves.  Until, that is, I began hanging out at my friend’s liquor store, and worked in restaurants, and hotels.  I realized that there was this whole cadre of people out there that walk into liquor stores to buy liquor with the hope that someone will speak to them.  These people would “stick around” for a chat that could last hours.  My first thought was that these conversations sprang up in a more organic manner, until my friend said:

“Nope!  Stops in here, about every other day, and talks my ear off about the most inane stuff.”

lonely manSome men would frequent the restaurant where I worked, just to speak to one of the many pleasant, cute, young girls on staff.  Some men memorized when the young women that didn’t mind harmless flirting worked.

“Why do you stop and speak to these creepy guys,” I asked one of the waitresses.

“You can tell he doesn’t have anyone,” she said.  “And he’s harmless … trust me,” she said.  “Plus, he adds a couple bucks to the tip when you take the time to chat with him.”

I thought these girls were wrong.  I thought they underestimated these men.  I didn’t want anything to happen to them.  They were my friends.  I was wrong.  I over-estimated these guys.  They were, in fact, harmless, at least insofar as there were never any incidents that occurred in my time there. These men weren’t just alone in life, they had holes in their soul.  Some of them were old, but most of them were men in their prime that would get dressed up, perhaps sprinkle a little cologne on, and get regular, fashionable haircuts for the purpose of fostering their belief that they might have a chance to spend some quality time, between the breakfast crowd and the lunch crowd, speaking to young, attractive girls.

If the traveling businessmen that frequented our hotel were lucky enough to time their entrance into our hotel, so that one of the cute, young women on staff checked them in, they would remain at the front desk long after their check in was completed.

“So how you doing?” they would ask with the urgency removed from their voice.  They, too, were harmless individuals that just wanted someone to speak with them.  Most of them didn’t want to date any of these girls, or see them in varying stages of undress.  They just wanted to chat.  They wanted these girls to think they were just people people.  They were so alone that they just wanted a couple of minutes of that girl’s time to break up the quiet, tedious monotony of their lives, and have just to have one attractive, young female on God’s green earth say:

“Hank, how you doing?  How’s that God forsaken Cutlass Supreme holding up for you?”

When those conversations ended, be it through business needs or through the natural course of a conversation’s completion, I would watch that beaming smile on their face collapse, in a gradual manner, back into the expression of fatigue, sadness, and loneliness that the muscles in their face were used to supporting

The men at the hotels and restaurants appeared to be normal men, with normal and pleasant dispositions, and it seemed impossible to me that they couldn’t get some woman to pay consistent enough attention to fill that gap they needed filling.  It taught me how fortunate I was in life to have people that wanted to be around me on a consistent basis.  I’ve been alone in life, I think we all have, but I’ve been fortunate enough in life that I never felt the need to walk into an establishment just to get someone to speak with me for five minutes.  Who are these people, and what do they do in life to gain some separation, some events in life, and someone to notice them long enough to have some sort of companionship?  My experience has taught me that they are a lot more common than most people think.

Qualified Opinions

“You’re afraid of your own opinion,” I told a friend of mine.

His ever present, sanctimonious smile would assure me that he was smarter than I am.

“Just because someone disagrees with you … ” he would say.

“It’s not that,” I said.  “It’s the way you frame your statements.  It’s your qualifiers.  I never heard anyone qualify everything they say before, until I met you.  It’s like your running for office.  Do you qualify notifications that you’ll be using the facilities, in fear of someone, somewhere finding offense?”

Most people qualify provocative thoughts, because they know that most people like qualifiers, and most people want most people to like them.  I’m not going to say that I am immune to this, but I prefer the thought-provoking ideas I hear to standalone.  I prefer that thought-provoking, somewhat productive idea that hits people in the jugular and divides them.  Most people cannot do this, but the people that lie on the opposite side of spectrum drive me insane.

“I have nothing against food gatherers, but … ” one has to imagine that one caveman said to other caveman to introduce his provocative thoughts regarding males that decided to gather rather than hunt.  The point is that the need to qualify, to keep friends, is endemic to human nature, but in this age of Human Resources and PC language, most of us are afraid to speak, or to give voice to a thought that may be deemed offensive by someone.  The human need to be liked is too overwhelming and too ingrained.

My friend’s whole life appeared to be an effort to prove Abraham Lincoln’s quote wrong in that he thought he could please all of the people all of the time.  I will admit that when this guy spent thirty seconds qualifying everything but his trips to the restroom, it lent his opinions greater importance, but by the time he concluded a thought, I couldn’t help but think he never said anything of import.  Everything he said was milquetoast dressed up in a carnival barker’s set of qualifiers.

And he could say nothing for long stretches of time.  The few breaks in monotony this man provided his listeners were the qualifiers.  He would qualify at the beginning of his oration, he would qualify throughout, and he would then find a way to wrap a bow on his thought with a qualifying wrap up.  It was tedious.

Somewhere along the line, I’m guessing, this man was rewarded for his speaking skills.  Whether he attended a broadcasting class, where he was asked to stretch it out, or a speech class where there were points given for bringing a speech to eight minutes.  Whatever the case, the man developed an ability to cover for his inability to say something profound by clouding it in qualifiers that suggested there was something profound nestled in all those qualifiers, and if you couldn’t find it that was on you.  Implicit in his tedious orations was an invitation for you to fear that you weren’t smart enough to understand it.  My friend never said this, but it was more than implied.

Conglomeration Correct

I tried to find the perfect description for what I thought was one of the most unusual and successful pairings in music history: Ben Folds and William Shatner.  When it comes to music, Ben Folds is one of my guys, but I know he’s not for everyone.  I’d never found much in the way of Shatner, as far as music was concerned, and I had never been a huge fan of his acting.  When the two of them teamed up on a project called Has Been, it reminded me of one of my favorite concoctions: mixing granola and yogurt.  I am quite sure that banana flavored yogurt alone would be too sweet, and while cranberry granola product is tasty, I doubt that I would purchase it as a standalone.  If heaven has a taste, one suspects that the perfect combination of the two might be the sensation one feels if they were to lean over and taste the floor.  You don’t always get that perfect combination, as there are times when you have too much yogurt, and others when you have too much granola, and you may one perfect spoonful in one setting, two if your focus is more acute, but those rare occasions make the trip to the store, and all of the effort put into trying to get the perfect spoonful worth it.  I realized how hard this idea would be to translate when I was at the zoo.  At the zoo, I witnessed one gorilla remove dung from the anus of another gorilla and eat it.  When that gorilla closed his eyes –a reaction I deemed to be that gorilla savoring that dung for just a moment before he moved on to another dispensing– I realized that taste and choice are so relative that it’s impossible to define musical tastes through flavor.

Humor Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry 

We all think we have a pretty good sense of humor.  Yet, most of the laughter we receive, from adults, is conditional and polite.  It’s a quid pro quo type of agreement we enter into that calls for polite giggles at another’s flavorless jokes, if you want them to return the favor with polite giggle at your flavorless jokes.  Infants, and other young people, are not a part of this agreement.  Try your sense of humor out on a baby the next time you’re in line at a Wal-Mart behind one.  Test your best “baby laugh” material out on them to see how far you get.  The baby will turn away at some point, but if you are funny, or unusual in a manner foreign to their world, you’ll get a second glance.  If you don’t get that second look, and nothing exciting happens in front of this baby, you can go ahead and guess that you are not as funny, or as unusual, as you thought you were.

The Quantifiable Lightness of Being

Is one life more important than another? It depends on whom you ask, writes author Douglas Hofstadter. In his book, I am a Strange Loop, Douglas Hofstadter attempts to philosophically solve crisis and conflict by suggesting that all living beings have a soul. Certain beings, of course, have less of a soul than others, less of a recognition of being alive than other beings that he quantifies this through a series of ratings that leads to a scoring of that living being’s soul. For the purpose of quantifying these numbers in a display, he uses the term “light count” to describe an accumulation of a quantification we’ll call Hofstadters. Our term will be the over-arching term he uses to describe the quantifiable power of the soul.

LoopDouglas Hofstadter provides the reader what he calls a personal “consciousness cone” that he believes describes the level of consciousness a being has of its own existence. The adult human has 100 Hofstadters, for example, the dog has 80 Hofstadters, the rabbit has 60, the chicken has 50, the mosquito has 30, and the atom has zero Hofstadters. Hofstadter lists the atom at the bottom, as a result of the fact that the atom has the least sense of its own life, and the least sense of consciousness than any other life form, and at 100, the adult human has the most. He does not explain, however, how he can quantify that the rabbit has more of a sense of its own consciousness than the chicken does, or why he rates the bee over the mosquito. It’s left to the reader to believe that the author has very specific reasons for all the scores of the entries in his “consciousness cone” but it seems arbitrary in places.

The Hostadters given to adult humans are more relative than any other being however, for the adult human has more ability to increase their soul’s light count, and damage it, than any other being. Some humans, Hofstadter writes, can achieve a score higher than 100 Hofstadters, depending on how much meaning they bring to the definition of life, and the manner in which they changed the definition of life for others. Jesus of Nazareth and Mahatma Gandhi could be said to be two people that changed the definition many people have of life for the better, and they would achieve more than 100 on Hofstadter’s scale. Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung, on the other hand, diminished the value of life for many, and in general, through their mass slaughter, which basically means that if there is an afterlife, they would spend it rectifying the damage they did to life on Earth, and as a result they could be given a score less than zero.

If Hofstadter kept his scoring process broad in this manner, we might not have a problem with it in the macro or the micro, but like most modern philosophers he can’t help but bring modern politics into the discussion. He begins by begging the reader to understand that the term “the soul” he will refer to in future passages, is not “the soul” most normally associated with religion. This distinction is made, presumably, to allow Hofstadter to keep that foot in the collegial halls of academe he achieved with his first book. Hofstadter suggests that his version of the soul is more of a sense of consciousness, a lightness of being, a sense of self, and a sense of consciousness about their life. In Hofstadter’s definition of a soul, the dog has a soul, and that soul is more powerful than the mosquito’s, because the dog has more of a sense of its own life than a mosquito does, but it does not have the sense of life, or philosophy, that the adult human does.

Next, Hofstadter suggests that those adult humans that would kill a man, via Capital Punishment, have less of a soul than those that abhor such activity.  This is particularly the case, suggests Hofstadter, if the death row inmate is screaming for his life in the “dead man walking” trip to the gas chamber.  So, if a “dead man walking” goes quietly, with lowered eyebrows, dark lighting, and a scary soundtrack, the people leading him to the gas chamber presumably have less to worry in their accumulation of Hofstadters in their light count.  One would think that Hofstadter would be point blank in his scale that if you take a life, with malice and forethought, you owe something to the general definition of the value of life that cannot be recovered, and you are destined to a less than zero existence, but for Hofstadter emotion, and remorse, appear to assist in giving you a greater “light count” than the unapologetic.  The latter half of this paragraph involves interpretation for Hofstadter makes no specific distinction between the two, except to say that the henchmen involved in the death sentence are the ones that suffer by scale.  The reader is also left to wonder if Hofstadter might be influenced by the theatrical drama some movies bring to the dead man walking scenario.

Hofstadter then suggests that a two-year-old child has less of a light count than a twenty-year-old, since that twenty-year-old has had more time to build the Hofstadters in their light count, but he writes that he does not tread lightly on the life of a two-year-old since we must recognize the potential that the two-year-old has of building Hofstadters throughout the course of their life versus the mosquito’s limited capacity to build them. By doing so, Hofstadter alludes to the suggestion that make the human embryo has no sense of its own life, and by Hofstadter’s unstated rationale it is then okay to abort them. [Editor’s Note: Hofstadter does not write the latter half of that conjunction, but deductive reasoning leads this writer to see that conclusion as obvious. Hofstadter also does not mention the potential for the potential acquisition the embryo may have in accumulating a light count in the manner he did with the two-year-old. The embryo, we can infer, is simply left at zero.]

There is also no mention of the potential diminishment of Hofstadters that the aborting mother may incur as a result of deciding to abort this potential light source.  This is a non-issue in Hofstadter’s narrative. With capital punishment Hofstadter draws disparities between those that would lead a screaming man to his death versus the ones that lead an unrepentant man to his death, but he doesn’t draw any distinctions between the women that would take the potential life that would be screaming if the woman gave it the chance to become a light source outside the womb, and the woman that allows the innocent, potential light source to live.  If his inconsistencies were a mere sin of omission, we would have nothing to write about, but Hofstadter dives right into the fray and develops hypocrisies that require analysis for their hypocritical lack of objectivity.  He fails to draw such lines of distinction along philosophical parallels, in other words, and he loses points in an objectivity count with these inconsistencies.

Hofstadter does have an interesting, and unique, take on the meaning of life.  Most readers will whole-heartedly agree with the general premise he outlines, but when he ventures out into the particulars that support this theory, the reader can’t help but think that Hofstadter’s key is less about teaching how to achieve a sense of philosophical purity and more about political proselytizing about the negligible affects of abortion on one’s soul, the detrimental affects capital punishment can have on the participants, and the detrimental affects eating other animals can have on humans.  (*No such points are deducted for other animals eating other animals with the asterisk notion that these animals are forgiven for not knowing what they do.)

The author informs us that one of the keys to living a life as compassionate as his for lower life forms, a level he imparts is defined by placing spiders one finds in one’s home outside the door, in a gentle, compassionate manner, is to celebrate, honor, and respect the idea that lower forms of life have a soul.  He implicitly states that you’ll know that you’ve achieved his level of heightened awareness if you’re so overcome by the infinite reserves of compassion in your system that you one day pass out as a result of handing a test gerbil to a research scientist for its use.  This revelation informs us, perhaps implicitly, that one of the keys to being wonderful, or accumulating a greater light count, involves not only performing charitable deeds, but publicly declaring them for the publicity one receives for doing so.  What’s the point of performing charitable deeds, in other words, if you cannot toot your own trumpet?

Some readers may find Hofstadter’s writing a breath of fresh air, and others may view it as nakedly transparent, but if Hofstadter’s purpose is to provide an objective view to import a sense of life, or philosophical view on the value of life, few can deny that it is inordinately subjected to his political views.  He informs us that he has found resolution to his own conflicts by being so compassionate that he is overwhelmed beyond his ability to retain consciousness, and that his concern for light counts and souls, both large and small, leads him to being a vegetarian that will not eat those light sources with greater potential for greater placement on his soul scale.  He leads us to believe that he is a man in tune with all political variables for resolving conflict, but in the end it is obvious that all of his philosophical peculiarities line up on one specific side of the philosophical aisle, and that he finds no sense of conflict there.

Inglorious Basterds: A Review

I’ve read some reviews that say that this movie is filled with subtitles, and that there is very little Brad Pitt in it.  This reviewer said that he feels like he got jipped, because the commercials show lots of Brad Pitt and no warning about the subtitles.  There are moments in the movie in which the movie has subtitles, and I hate movies with subtitles.  It’s not loaded with them though, and you can enjoy the movie even if you hate subtitles.  It’s a World War II movie that takes place in France.   Some of the movie occurs in French.  Tarrantino was going for authenticity.  He achieved it.  He didn’t go too far with the subtitles. 

As for the writing, I know it’s a WWII piece, but I am tired of the Nazis as a bad guy theme.  It seems to me that if you want to have a bad guy in a politically correct movie, you introduce KKK members or Nazis.  It’s cliche.  It’s too easy. 

In some cases, I also believe that Tarrantino movies are a victim of his success.  In IB, for example, there are scenes that should’ve been cut.  Much of Death Proof should’ve been cut, but IB didn’t need as much.  There weren’t as many plodding scenes in this movie, but there were some.  The card scene, for instance, was far too long.  I understand that Tarrantino is probably above and beyond most editing, but this movie needed another 30-45 minutes cut from it.  I understand that he already cut 40 minutes after the Cannes premier, but I think it needed more. 

I may be a victim of the current short attention span generation that has led to all the modern day editing procedures, but it seems to me that Tarrantino is a master at dialogue, but he hasn’t quite honed his chops to the fullest in the story telling arena.  I’m sure that Tarrantino is sick of everyone comparing everything he does to Pulp Fiction and to a lesser degree Resevoir Dogs, but when you set the bar that high, comparisons become inevitable.  Inglorious Basterds is neither of these films in any way, but it does rank in the upper echelon of the man’s movies for me.