classroom

I met a woman this past week who had been my student 30 years ago. She recognized me and (as I had always told students at the end of the school year) she introduced herself wisely – “I’m Lisa and you were my eighth grade English teacher.” Some synapses fired enough that I did recall her by her student last name. She is now married with two children, one in 8th grade, and she is a teacher.

I have reconnected in person or in Facebook with a surprising number of former students who went into teaching. I’m not presumptuous enough to believe that I had something to do with their career choice, but I’d like to think that I at least modeled some good lessons and behaviors.

She was nice enough to say that she loved my class and still remembered certain lessons and books we read and even a few things I had told them that didn’t really have to do with our classwork. She asked me, “What do you think is the secret to being a good teacher?”

That is a difficult question to answer. I gave her too many possible answers (enthusiasm, willingness to experiment and fail, love of your subject…) but when I got home I thought of a poem to answer her.

The poem is one I occasionally used in class, though I’m not sure it is as good a selection for students as it is for teachers.

That poem is “The Secret” by Denise Levertov. The two girls in that poem remind me of Lisa (not her real name) and others who would come in after school sometimes to talk. At times, they had a question about an assignment or something we read or talked about in class, but once and awhile I knew that their initial question was a pretense to ask or talk about something not really part of the curriculum.

In Levertov’s poem:

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I’d like to imagine that Levertov actually did have two girls come to her like in the poem. As a poet, I would love to have someone come to me to say that a line of my poetry did that.

Levertov continues:

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was.

You read a line or someone says something in class and it is a revelation in that moment.

No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them

Lisa, what is the secret? I know that it is not just one thing, but I know that an important part of it is:

they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

 

I am so happy for Lisa and for any of my students or any teacher who want to know the secret, and for assuming there is such a secret. Yes, for that most of all.

I finally saw Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind now that it has “debuted” on Netflix. After all these years – shooting on the film began in 1970 and was not finished when Welles died in 1985 – others have finished the editing.

The film is pretty messy. Right off, it is a film-within-a-film. There is the black and white documentary a crew is shooting about the director at the center of the movie. John Huston, a real director, plays Jake Hannaford, an aging director trying for one last successful film. And there is the color footage for the movie Hannaford is trying to finish, The Other Side of the Wind. 

Welles started the film after his return to Hollywood after 22 years of being an self-imposed ex-pat in Europe. Of course, Hannaford will be seen as Welles. (Welles said later he regretted not taking the part himself.) The film within the film is a satire of the avant-garde films of the New Hollywood of the 1970s. It reminds me of Zabriskie Point, a 1970 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. The Arizona house where Welles shot the party scenes looks like the house Antonioni blew up in his film.

The film often seems improvised, and Welles did like magical accidents that occur on a set. But it was scripted. That party has a bunch of directors (Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom, Curtis Harrington, Claude Chabrol and Dennis Hopper) appearing as themselves.

After many stops and starts, principal photography ended in 1976. Welles did some editing in the 1980s but all kinds of things stopped him from finishing, including, I suspect, some of his own confusion on how to shape it into a coherent film.

Now, 137 million Netflix subscribers in 190 countries can see the film. Would Welles be happy to have a shot at that mass audience? Probably, yes. But I doubt it will get that many viewers. It is most appealing to Welles fans like myself who are curious. There are a good number of us who check out sites like wellesnet.com. But I wouldn’t even ask my wife to watch it. Like many people, she would bail out after 15 minutes.

I watched the film and then I watched Morgan Neville’s the companion feature-length documentary by Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor) called They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead and then I watched Ryan Suffern’s 38-minute documentary short “A Final Cut for Orson: 40 Years in the Making.”

Oja Kodor was Welles’ lover and collaborator in the last part of his life. She is the actress in the film-within-the-film and she worked on the script. She said that in later years she thought the best thing to do with the footage was to make a documentary about it rather than try to complete the film Orson intended to make. She might have been correct. She also got the self-admitted prude Welles to add some nudity and sex into the film. (She is the nudity.)

 

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

The movie is full of cameos and it was fun to try spotting them. For younger viewers, it would be a trivia challenge to identify most of them, such as vaudevillian George Jessel. He toasts Hannaford as “the Ernest Hemingway of the cinema, the Murnau of the American motion picture. Who Murnau is, I don’t remember.” (The film is supposed to take place on July 2, 1961, the day Hemingway committed suicide.)  Susan Strasberg plays a tough critic who is probably based on Pauline Kael. She says about Hannaford that “What he creates, he has to wreck, it’s a compulsion.”  Critic Kael’s wrote an article called “Raising Kane” in The New Yorker in 1971 which pissed Welles off bigtime. Lilli Palmer is an aging Marlene Dietrich type and Orson’s buddies Mercedes McCambridge and Paul Stewart pop in and out.

Director Peter Bogdanovich played a “cineaste” in the early shooting and then became a young director in later shoots. Of course, Peter was a young director in real life. His own very successful first film was The Last Picture Show in 1971.  Bogdanovich was also a friend of Welles for many years and wrote and made films about him.

Netflix doesn’t like theatrical releases, but it will appear in a dozen cinemas in eight states. Welles probably wouldn’t be into people watching his film on TV screens, tablets, laptops and smartphones. He would have been happy that before Netflix it played in about 20 cities worldwide at special screenings following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August.

Charles Frazier was told a story by his father about an ancestor named Inman who was wounded in the Confederate Army. Inman deserted, and walked across North Carolina, to his small hometown at the foot of Cold Mountain.

Frazier thought it would be a good basis for a novel, but he couldn’t find much more information about the real Inman. So, he wrote from his imagination, and from letters and diaries from the Civil War.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to write a “war novel.”

“I didn’t want to write a novel of the battles and the generals and those famous personalities. There have been a lot of books written about that — good ones and bad ones — and I didn’t want to add to the bulk of that literature.’

I like how Frazier divides those novels into two categories.

“I realized that there are two kinds of books about a war: there’s an Iliad, about fighting the war, and about the battles and generals, and there’s an Odyssey, about a warrior who has decided that home and peace are the things he wants. Once I decided that I was writing an Odyssey kind of book instead of an Iliad kind of book, I could move forward with it with some sense of happiness.”

Inman is a Civil War Odysseus on a journey back to, Ada, the woman he loves,

He published Cold Mountain in 1997. It was on The New York Times best-seller list for months, and was also made into a film with the same title.

 

Source: garrisonkeillor.com

The Taurid meteor shower is upon us and there are some who say that there is evidence to suggest Earth is at greater risk than we thought of being hit by an asteroid associated with these meteors. Don’t worry. A new swarm of meteoroids – icy space debris left behind by a comet – are related to the Taurid meteor stream.

Three giant asteroids will pass Earth tomorrow, but NASA has not warned or alerted anyone. Asteroid 2018 VX1 was discovered November 4. It will pass about 381,000 kilometres away from Earth, which is 3,000 kilometres closer than our Moon’s average distance from us. And there are two more asteroids in the neighborhood Saturday.

It may sound dangerously close but as some news reports have said “all the planets in our solar system, including Pluto, can fit between Earth and the moon. So there is a lot of room out there.”

Don’t panic. It’s not Vogons wanting to demolish Earth in order to build a bypass for an intergalactic highway. But, just in case, have a beer, some peanuts, and carry a towel.

 

Artist’s depiction of a near-Earth object. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)A

remote viewing of a forest

I first heard about remote viewing in the 2009 film The Men Who Stare at Goats which was more of a parody of real experiments done by the military into the paranormal. The film (starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey) is based on Jon Ronson’s 2004 book of the same title. The film got me interested enough to read the book which is about attempts by the U.S. military to employ psychic powers as a weapon.

In the book The Men Who Stare at Goats, Ronson gets into the U.S. Army’s exploration of how “New Age” paranormal concepts such as ESP were given serious consideration as having potential military applications of the paranormal.

The book’s title refers to attempts that were made to kill goats by staring at them and stopping their hearts. A three-part British TV series in 2004, Crazy Rulers of the World, was based on the book.

I got thinking about all this again when I heard the recent podcast “Spooks and Psychics: Inside the Military’s Top-Secret ESP Unit” on a podcast I really enjoy, To The Best Of Our Knowledge.

The podcast talks about one successful example of remote viewing (RV) which is the practice of seeking impressions about a distant or unseen target, purportedly using extrasensory perception (ESP) or “sensing” with the mind. In the example, a remote viewer was asked to “look” into a building in Russia by concentrating on a photo of it in a closed envelope. One soldier described a building on a shoreline, which smelled of gas and industrial products that had inside of it a large coffin-like object with fins, like a shark.

A few months later the CIA received satellite imagery showing that the Soviets had constructed a new ballistic missile submarine. It was later known by its NATO designation,  Typhoon class, but at the time of the remote viewing it was known in the USSR as the Akula. Russian for “shark.” This is purported to be one of several true examples of the military’s paranormal activity research.

My own investigations led me to another quite serious investigation in the book Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis by Annie Jacobsen. She examines the now declassified papers that came from government attempts to locate hostages, fugitives, secret bases, and downed fighter jets, and gather other nations’ secrets using the paranormal. It went as far as to try to predict future threats to national security. She says that the intelligence agencies and military services involved include CIA, DIA, NSA, DEA, the Navy, Air Force, and Army-and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the podcast noted, remote viewing experiments have been criticized for lack of repeatability, which scientists demand, but it may be that a successful remote viewing is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for a subject and just not repeatable. There is no scientific evidence that remote viewing exists, and so it generally falls under “pseudoscience,” although it is physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, parapsychology researchers at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), who are generally credited with coining the term “remote viewing.” They wanted to distinguish it from the closely related concept of clairvoyance.

Ronson’s book first looks at the small group of U.S. Army officers in the late 1970s and early 1980s who wanted to use paranormal phenomena, some New Age philosophy, and elements of the human potential movement for intelligence-gathering.

Some of these efforts included First Earth Battalion Operations Manual from 1979 which you can now buy from Amazon! and a “psychic spy unit” established by Army Intelligence at Fort Meade, Maryland, in the late 1970s that was the focus of the film. This was the Stargate Project, established in 1978 by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and SRI International (a California contractor) to investigate the potential for psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence applications.

The Stargate Project was terminated and declassified in 1995 after a CIA report concluded that it was never useful in any intelligence operation. But conspiracy theorists seem to believe that its successes have been hidden from the public and are still being used covertly.

The “men who stare at goats” were Special Forces soldiers who supposedly experimented with psychic powers against goats at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the now-decommissioned “Goat Lab” medical training facility. Legend (and probably only a legend) is that one soldier was able to kill a goat simply by staring at it.

The middle section of Ronson’s book jumps to more modern psychological techniques like the military programs from the post-9/11 War on Terror at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the psyops in Iraq. The connections seem tenuous, but maybe I am naive.

I was much more interested in the parts of the book dealing with the 1950s Army psychic program, and later the CIA’s MK-ULTRA “mind control” research program of experiments on human subjects that intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations. Early CIA efforts focused on LSD-25 to see if they could weaken an individual and force confessions through mind control. Could it be used to make Soviet spies defect against their will, or could the Soviets do the same to the CIA’s own operatives?

The MK-ULTRA project is now well known and it appears in many films, TV shows, books and even songs.

Ronson suggests that the “psychic warriors” are again active in the U.S. military again. Put your tinfoil hats back on.

sunlight

You remembered to turn back your clock last night to end Daylight Saving Time. Are you feeling any effects this morning?

People sometimes say that they got “an extra hour” of sleep, but really what you did is mess up your circadian rhythm. Much research has shown that this can disrupt our biological clocks and impact our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and more.

That biological clock of circadian rhythm regulates many important biological processes, such as hormone production and sleep patterns, and we know that it is very much controlled by external cues in the environment. The big influence is light.

You have probably seen articles in recent years about shutting down lights and screens that emit light (TV, computer, phone, tablet) in order to let our brain know it is night and time to go to sleep. The fact that many of us do not do this leads to the popularity of sleep medications from melatonin and the many pain relievers plus “PM” (antihistamines to make you drowsy) to prescription sleep aids.

Changing sleep-wake cycles by an hour has an effect on that internal clock in our brain and it can change the chemicals (like melatonin) that affect sleep, metabolism, mood, bodily functions and productivity.

This morning, do you feel sleepy, listless, a bit stressed? Do you feel an hour’s worth of better rested? It may take a few days for any negative effects to show up.

Daylight saving time-changes have been found to result in higher rates of automobile and workplace accidents, more roadkill accidents (the deer don’t change their clocks) and even a slight increase in heart attacks and stroke amongst those already at a higher risk.

Suggestions to deal with the end of DST include NOT using caffeine and other stimulants to adjust. To avoid the Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD) that comes on with shorter days get outside in the sunlight as much as possible. Maybe an extra lunchtime walk. Alternatively, there is light therapy to compensate, but getting outside is easier and cheaper.

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