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Sunday, December 22, 2013


Again this is not a Sondheim "joint" (to borrow a term from Spike Lee), as he did not write either the book or the music. It was the second Broadway project he got involved in, after "West Side Story," at the urging of Hammerstein. (Interesting that he got started as a lyricist rather than a composer, but that's another discussion.)

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the musical is that it was based on largely real events --- it was adapted from Gypsy Rose Lee's autobiography. Gypsy was a stripper (in burlesque dance) who became an international celebrity and befriended other celebrities such as Picasso, Miro, Chagall, etc. Apparently, her real life is even messier than the plot of the musical. I have suspected it for a while now: Life does not imitate art. Life is weirder and wilder than art.

Gypsy Rose Lee's story may also confirm another suspicion of mine: Today's American society (and perhaps other places as well) is a lot more morally puritanical than certain previous era. It may not be a bad thing. It may be associated with rising status of women more than anything else. I'm the last person to oppose feminism, but it doesn't change the fact that rising feminism could, in certain context, curb a loose and open sexual attitude (think Prohibition). I do not agree with those (mostly men) who claim that women are "naturally" or "biologically" more monogamous than men. Rather, women are more invested in monogamy than men are in most of history.

Gypsy hit the height of her (striptease) career in the 1930s. Gypsy the musical was written and produced in 1950s. In 2010s, such a show would never get on stage. Whether it's progress or regression, I'm in no position to say.

The real Gypsy

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Man in a Case

Supposedly this relatively short show (clocking in at slightly over an hour) is an experimental multimedia performance involving onstage narration, a bit of acting, a bit of music and dancing, some video screen juxtaposition, and sound and light effects. It seems to me, however, essentially telling stories with some gestures and props.

The stories it tells are two from Chekhov: Man in a Case and About Love. The first is about a Greek teacher at a small town school who is terrified. He follows rules and obeys authority with shuddering deference. He never puts half a toes out of line. At night he huddles in bed with fear of the world and people. For a brief moment he was on the brink of falling in love with a vibrant laughing young woman, but in the end the shock of relationship is too much to bear.

The second story tells about a university-educated farmer stuck in his boring monotonous life. He falls in love with a married woman in town and becomes a friend of the family. They are both too timid to admit their attractions until the moment she moves away with her husband and children. And they never see each other again.

The legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov plays the lead roles in both. At 63 he looks lean and sharp and entirely at ease as an actor. Although he does not dance in the show --- minus a minute or two of improvised jazzy twists in the middle to satisfy the audience who have come specifically to see him --- he moves with grace and precision. The show reaches its climax with a "dance" on the floor between the two unconsumated lovers that is projected onto a screen. It was breathtaking.

If I had seen it or read the stories even ten years ago, I would not have been moved as much as I am now. Perhaps ten years from now I will be moved even more. They are about self-inflicted failures and paralysis. "Look at you pathetic lot," Chekhov seems to say with a malicious smirk, "Look how you've ruined your own hope and happiness. Your lives are so boring and full of regret, and you have no one to blame but your own laziness, cowardice, and inaction."

Coming out of the theater I almost want to jump on a plane and fly to ... wherever, to plunge into adventures, to sleep with strangers, to feel more acutely alive. Of course it is not so simple. Thrashing around aimlessly for drama or a moment's adrenaline release is marginally more alive, perhaps, than the mundane middle-aged life locked in habits and routines and outdated rules. How do we be alive? How do we live? Ah the answer is not easy. 

The qualities that paralyze Belikov, the man in a case, and the couple in the second story are so pervasive that I see them in people all around me, even in myself, lots in myself. I feel shaken and stirred. It makes me want to change and embrace life with more urgency, exactly how to do that I don't know.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sondheim documentary

Just heard about HBO's documentary "Six by Sondheim" to be aired soon. I have to remember to get the DVD when it comes out.

It is kind of funny that Sondheim did not start a serious cohabitative relationship until he was 60 years old, even though Bobby made up his mind to be alive at 35 and Sondheim himself was in his 30s when he wrote it.

To be alive at the same time as Stephen Sondheim is like to live in the same era as Shakespeare. It's not a stretch to feel so damned fortunate. He is undeniably the best of his time. The one and only. Hands down and all agree. Sort of like Michael Jordan.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

This is the first time I have seen a musical at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. It's really pretty awesome. The audience, me included, laughed all the way through the show.

The play is very typical farce. I'd love to learn how playwrights structure a farce so that different strands of subplot always end in a big blowout in the climax. According to the playbill, A Funny Thing ... was almost dead after it premiered in Washington, before going on Broadway, because they couldn't come up with a satisfying ending. Yet somehow they wrung an ending out of it just in time. Yet again real life can be more dramatic than drama.

This was done very early in Sondheim's career, right after he wrote the lyrics to "West Side Story." The work here is clearly more funny and less bittersweet than his later products. Crowd pleasing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


终于把这套电视剧给邮购到手。网站上还警告说,这是 region 2 的原版芬兰碟,在 region 1 的美国影碟机放不出。我塞进电脑里一下就放出来了,还有好好的英文字幕!!!听着那熟悉而神奇的原声音乐,啊,浑身舒畅,汗毛倒立,真是太爽了!

第一集里有个配角在那里呱啦呱啦地讲电话,我听着就象瑞典话不象芬兰话,下一句他就自报姓名 Lundqvist,果然是瑞典人!这就是看了太多北欧影视的下场!(回头想想,大概芬兰人看瑞典人就是话痨吧。)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

When Will Health Care Ever Cost Less?

The answer is, when you reduce the amount and degree of care provided. It's an answer nobody wants to hear but it's true.

On this year's Veteran's Day, a talk show on NPR mentioned the treatment of war-caused PTSD in veterans. A caller asked why PTSD is so common among veterans of modern wars but was not nearly as common back in WWII or before. The experts and/or insiders of course corrected them that back then the same post-combat neuroses was not diagnosed as PTSD but rather was called other names, such as shell shock. Most of the sufferers were not treated, because the medical community didn't know how. So many of them treated themselves with alcohol and psychoactive drugs, and died premature deaths.

Fifteen years ago when I was in school, managed care and preventive care was all the rage. The argument was that if you give people health care before they get very sick, they would live longer and healthier lives, and the cost of health care for a population would go down or at least not continue to go up. The reality of the next decade and half has proved them wrong.

The logical flaw in the managed care premise is obvious: If people live longer and healthier, they would only get sick later, but they would get sick and eventually die anyway. Why would they need less health care in totality?

One might argue that if a person lives longer and healthier and delays the inevitable aging and illness leading to death, he could work longer and produce more in his life. I would argue, however, that the longer he works, the more disposable income he has to spend on treating his illness and delaying his death. How would that reduce the cost of health care?

Spend some time with old people and it will become abundantly clear. The demand for health care is a bottomless pit, because the thirst for life and fear of death is boundless. It is usually limited only by what medical science and technology can offer at the time. Before an elixir is invented to extend people's lifespan to 70 years, people did not spend money on it and died at 69. After the elixir is invented people spend their money to buy another year of life. The same can be said for any other treatment. Before there was penicillin, where would people with infection spend their money on? Before there was methotrexate and paclitaxel, where would people with cancer spend their money on? Not on health care. Once the treatments become available, how can you not spend money on them?

Very occasionally, spending money on one treatment can save you money on alternative treatments. For example, spending on Prozac has saved a lot of cost on psychotherapy. But such cases of saving are uncommon. Most of time, medical advances are like urban sprawl --- build it and people will come. As long as you have a few more years of life or less pain to sell, people will buy it, if they can afford it.

Built on good intentions, the third-party payers of health care only make the cost balloon. Socially it is a sensible philosophy to want to give most people access to most life prolongation technologies. Psychologically, it removes the financial measurement out of individual person's calculation. How much are you willing to pay to prolong your life for another month? If you have a billion dollars, you may be willing to pay a few hundred million. If you have a hundred dollars, you may be willing to pay fifty, saving the rest for a last meal. If you have none and need your parents or children to cough up their life savings, you might spend nothing and choose to give up the last month of your life.

However, once this contemplation is taken out of individual's consideration and put in the hands of an insurance company or the national payer, I bet everyone feels the urge to want to spend "as much as possible" to prolong one's life. It's no longer your own money you spend on the care you need and want. Everyone wants the longest life money can buy.

If I were to devise a system that can truly stem the escalating cost of health care, I would use the collective money pool (as all medical insurance, be it public or private) to take care a set of treatments that have a finite amount of cost. Beyond that, you or your guardians decide how much you want to spend to prolong your life. If you get pneumonia, the system pays for your antibiotic treatment. If your pneumonia turns into sepsis and spending a hundred thousand dollars may save your life, you or your family will have to decide if you can and want to spend the money on that. Such a system assumes that life has a price. Above that price, the system will not pay for life.

This proposal sounds horrible, I know. Life has a price. Shudder. It also highlights the gross inequality between people --- If you have more money, you can afford to live longer. If you don't, you get the basic but less care and therefore shorter life, most likely. However, in another sense, the system is quite equal. It assumes that, to the system, a rich man's life is worth the same as a poor man's. The system spends the same amount on each person. And, because this system does not endlessly escalate, it is able to sustain itself and ensures the largest number of people get at least basic care. The rest is left to the random draw of luck, be it your wealth or your genes, and your own choice.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fatal Attraction

A person, often but not always a woman, has a romantic liaison with someone, but then changes her mind or loses interest. The jilted lover is so obsessed and/or angry at the end of the affair that he stalks her and kills her. The plot is used often in murder thrillers. Underneath the obvious condemnation of the perpetrator is a faint suggestion of blame that the victim somehow brought it on herself. If she had not slept with the wrong man, if she had kept her eyes open and nose clean, if she had read him correctly ... she would not have provoked his murderous obsession.

Such things obvious do happen, including some high-profile cases, but I wonder how often they really occur. Of all the people I have met and known in my life, no one behaved obsessively and possessively toward their partner, nor were they trapped in a relationship with an obsessive and possessive partner. What's it like to believe, with conviction, that your life will be destroyed if she leaves you? It must be a frightening feeling. It's not realistic of course, but it's a possibility in rare circumstances. Does it happen to only a rare person, or could potentially happen to most people if the "right person came along"? 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

David and Goliath

No wonder he's put in so many disclaimers throughout the book --- He's not advocating for adversity. He does not condone an unhappy childhood with parental loss. He does not think it's a good thing to be born with dyslexia. Reading the character sketches in this book, it is easy to feel incredulous and misled. You can't possibly claim that it's better not to be able to read than to be able to read! Indeed he doesn't, but then the stories of successful businessmen with dyslexia are so compelling. He can explain (citing a Canadian psychiatrist) why people of London did not succumb to the bombings in WW2, but one could argue that this was only because the bombs were not big enough, as the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (intentional civilian targets) achieved the psychological effect German conventional bombs couldn't. A lot has to do with a lot of other factors.

Gladwell is the first to admit that these success stories are irreproducible. The vast majority of people are crushed by adversity, but a few special ones rise up and become better, tougher, more fearless, and more resilient. Who can argue with that? In the end the ideas are not so subversive, so revolutionary, so earth-shaking --- perhaps because Gladwell himself had a very normal and happy childhood. Just because a selected or gifted few become better through pain and suffering, doesn't mean the vast majority are not crushed.

Still it makes me feel a little bit good. Even if most of the messages in any Gladwell book cannot be adopted in life, they tickle my brain like bubbly drink with a hint of sweetness. Actually there is at least one usable message in the book --- If the rules of the game are stacked against you, don't play by the rules. Change the game. This sounds suspiciously like the quote from Mad Men: "If you don't like what they say, change the conversation." In politics as in advertising, this is an old trick in psychology known as "framing." Basically, reality is neither good nor bad, the only difference is in one's psychological framing, and any frame can be reframed. This is basically what Gladwell does so well --- he changes the frame all the time until your brain is tingling all over.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


楼兰里的短篇小说,越看越让我心惊肉跳。井上靖在其中的写作手法是我从未见过别人采用的。简单概括之就是:远镜头 --> 特写 --> 远镜头。长镜拍的是宏观景象,如俯视大漠,然后zoom in到大漠上的一黑点:可能是一个人骑一匹骆驼跋涉,马上就要渴死了。然后再zoom out到俯视大漠镜头,显示出一个渴死的人和骆驼多么微不足道。只不过他这个长短镜头的标度,既是空间,更是时间。长镜拍的是几百年乃至几千年的历史,突然zoom in到微小的个人命运,乃至一个人生命中的那一瞬转折点,然后突然zoom out,将个人弃之不理,刷一下跳过几百年。个人之渺小,人生之短暂,跟历史大漠的强烈反差,冲击想象力有限的大脑。比这效果更强烈的作品我是没有见过。The mind is too feeble to handle the vastness of space and time.  真有点吃勿消的感觉,按照眼下流行的说法就是细思恐极。

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Bull Running Story (continued)

"Before the start of the bull run, they made an announcement on the PA --- in Spanish of course --- that there would be two gun shots: One at seven fifty nine, one minute before the bulls are let out; and one at exactly eight, when the bulls are let out. So, on the first gun shot, we were still standing around, loosening our joints, preparing to run, and joking around. Then the second gun shot. After a little while we saw this swarm of people just ... rushed down the street, and we ran.

"It was a little ridiculous. The street was all cobblestone with broken stones here and there, and wet with vomit and trash all over the place --- because of all the drinking and partying the night before. You could barely run on the street by yourself, without the bull or the crowd. But I didn't get to think about it. The crowd came and I just got swept up in it."

"The whole route was 800 meters, in the middle of it was a turn on a street corner called 'dead man's turn.' The bulls are all muscle and weight, but they can't, you know, change directions easily. I saw a bunch of people get crushed into the wall by the bulls. When we got to the end where the bulls were supposed to go into the ring, I saw these people in front of me all laid down on the ground. I was totally dazed and could barely think, so I just stood there, not knowing it was actually pretty dangerous. Someone pulled me aside, like, 'What are you doing?' Then they explained to me that the bulls would just jump over the people lying on the ground, maybe someone would get kicked in the head.

"I had never been in the war but I imagine that's as close as you would get to fighting in the war. I'll never forget it.

"Afterwards we went to have breakfast. I was so hungry and ate a lot."

He told the whole story without stutter or pause, the memory apparently etched in his mind. Perhaps he'd told the same story a number of times before. His date made almost no remark on this narrative, however, either to one-up him or to make any philosophical observations; she didn't even show any signs of being especially impressed by such masculine pursuits. She just went on with her own pursuits --- diet and personal training.

I wondered whether this was a commonplace occurrence on dates. How many time does he have to tell the story before his date would give a more relevant response? Does he notice or care? Does it matter?

Thursday, November 7, 2013





Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A First Date

They were the only ones sitting at the bar. Around they were straggles of diners on the Wednesday evening. He was quite tall with gym-honed muscles. Curly dark hair and olive skin. High cheekbones. In the dim lighting the face could be anywhere between 35 and 45. She had straight hair, dyed blond, and was meticulously made up and accessorized. She was wearing a creamy thin sweater, beige pencil skirt, and tall tan boots, all of which emphasized her well-toned slim shape. She was professionally tanned, in November, from face to legs.

She said she got married with someone she met in second year of college. He asked how long she was married. "Five years," she replied. "Divorced by 27." Then she claimed that the years from 28 to 30 were really good. He said early marriage was not in his family tradition. His father married late. He always saw himself walking the same road. "If you asked me in my twenties where I'd be when I'm forty, I'd have told you I would be single, enjoying life," he said with a smile, bearing his white and slightly misaligned teeth.

He went on to recount the story of he and friends participating in the bull running in Spain. "It was seven in the morning and I was sleepy, wet, and hungover." They got drunk the night before upon arriving in Pamplona. "People all around us were chatting and joking. There was an old guy in his 60s. Steve said look, if he can do it we can too." When the bulls charged down the cobblestone alleys, he was swept up in the crowd.

"It was the most exciting thing, by far, I have ever done in my life," he said. "After it was over we went to have breakfast. Steve asked me if I wanted a drink but I didn't."

She didn't come up any story to match his. Instead she went on with her diet and personal training regimens. Her diet "really works" and cured her of cravings for starch. "The first two weeks can be tough, but now I don't even miss bread any more," she said. She had a raspy, strong voice that projected all the way to the front door. He was almost as loud.

He started to chime in with some workout tips, but not too enthusiastically. At one point the bartender, a guy with beard, younger and stockier than the date, inserted himself into the discussion about various physical training and dieting methodologies. Neither the man nor the woman seemed to be bothered by his intrusion into their conversation, so that for a moment it looked like three buddies chatting over drinks. The man had his face turned to the woman, but his arms were firmly placed on the bar table, drawing a line between her body and his. She, on the other hand, turned her entire body toward him.

On our way out of the restaurant I said to S, "He may not refuse to shag her, but I don't think they'll go farther than that."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Social Stability Pill (cont.)

The pill that has brought peace and stability to the world is now a problem. In country after country, economy has collapsed because of unmotivated young people who have lost interest in not only procreation but also consumption. A deep and pervasive laziness has permeated society. Besides eating, sleeping, taking the pill, people at all ages are content with little material goods, small living quarters, and online diversions. The pill disarms the competitive urges and no one wants to bother with keeping up with the Joneses any more. GDPs continue to plummet along with birth rates.

Under the protests of older people who now have to keep working until they die to financially support themselves, governments finally move to ban the use of the orgasm pill in anyone pre-menopause, which means men are not allowed access to the pill until they are in their seventies. However, thanks to black markets and illegal trades, the pill is still circulating. People are used to the minimalist lifestyle. Natural instincts recovery very slowly. Even off the pill, most behave as if they were still on it. Birth rates, although no longer near zero, hover around 1.

Cities are abandoned. Productions are halted. Populations dwindled.

Just when civilizations lay in the happy ruin and hope is dimming, a tribe of Polynesians sail out of their island and spread rapidly across the world. Isolated from the rest of the world, they have not been exposed to the orgasm pill and therefore remain "barbaric" with all their sexual instinct intact. They meet little resistance on their way to conquer the entire world. They fight, kill, and breed as humans did before the orgasm pill was invented. Humanity enters a new era.

New Biography on Duke

Serendipity is at work lately. I just borrowed a book yesterday that's a compilation of jokes and anecdotes jazz musicians told each other. Today I heard an interview on the radio with the author of a new Duke Ellington biography.

One of the stories Teachout told was this. Ellington had a scar on his left cheek, which could not be seen on stage (because the pianist always sits with the right side of his face to the audience) and was rarely photographed, but the scar is visible on the cover of his book (above). How did he get the scar?

At 19 Ellington married his high school sweetheart Edna Thompson. In the late 1920s, when he was a big success at the Cotton Club in Harlem, Edna and their son Mercer came up from Washington to live with him. One day in 1927 or 28, when Ellington and Edna were in bed together, without warning, Edna pulled out a razor and said, "I know what you've been up to and I'm going spoil the pretty looks" (or something to that effect) and slashed his left cheek. Ellington, who was 28 or 29 at the time, ran out of the house. Edna left New York and went back to DC. They separated but he didn't divorce her.

I gasped when I heard it. Very rarely do you get a dramatic moment in life that illuminates two persons so thoroughly and deeply.

Duke Ellington was a relentless womanizer and had countless affairs with women all his life. Edna's revenge obviously was not effective in stopping him. Jazz pianist Marian McFarland said he had so much sex appeal that it was (almost?) frightening. He was also enigmatic to men and women alike and ultimately unknowable. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Hypothetical Solution for Stability (short fiction)

By 2050, stability has become the number 1 priority of the domestic policy for the Chinese government, now that international military conflicts are no longer a major concern. Expenditure on recruiting, feeding, housing, and training millions of young men in the armed forces will have to be cut. But where else would these young men go? There are shortages of jobs, housing, and especially young women of the same age for them to marry. The gender imbalance is already causing social problems and skyrocketing crimes, flooding the general population with millions of young men would be disastrous.

The unspoken fear, of course, goes deeper. Ruling a country with massive number of young men with no way to relieve their sexual frustration will be akin to sitting on a bomb with a short fuse. A charming cult leader, an underground religion, an innocuous social campaign, any excuse, could lead to the throne blowing up under their butts. The only possible solution, starting a large-scale war with another country, is not viable.

What to do? What to do? One day the minister of interior comes into the central committee with a brilliant invention that has come from the health department: An orgasm pill with effects every bit as satisfactory as a real thing and, in most cases, far better than masturbation. It acts on the central nervous system only, but induces the same physiological response, short term and long term. Side effects are few and minor. It does not affect one's reproductive functions at all.

The first recipients on which the pill is tested, of course, are male prisoners. Almost immediately, their aggression dropped. They become unusually relaxed and pleasant in social interactions. Violent outbursts disappear. Everyone walks around with a sprint in their steps and a smile on his lips. Next the pill is tested on female prisoners. The same. Then it is tested in adolescent boys' reform schools, where the most dramatic effect is seen. The boys do not necessarily become smarter or more social, but they no longer get into fights. The pill seems to kill not only their aggression but also their competitive urges. No one seems to care much if he is the top dog in the herd.

The dream of social stability has finally come true, the central committee rejoices. All ten members of the committee vote to approve the plan to release the orgasm pill to the public across the country, except on military bases. At first, they are worried that not everyone is willing to take the pill and those who refuse the pill will be too violent for the rest. In reality it never happens. People of all ages love the pill and the more people take it the more it is sought after. Among the pill's fans are not only young men who cannot find a date but also middle-aged couples who no longer find each other desirable, middle-aged men who don't have enough money to court young women, and women who are too busy making a living to find a husband. The pill is cheaper than buying sex from prostitutes and poses no health or legal risk whatsoever. It is perfect. Within six months, violent crimes are reduced to near zero. Society has never been so stable and peaceful. Happiness is in the air from the Black Dragon River to the Hong Kong harbor.

Other countries take note. Crime-ridden big cities and war-torn countries offer to pay astronomical amounts of money for the formula of the orgasm pill. The cost of policing goes down sharply. Men and women throughout the world finally get the best sex they can hope for and they don't even have to lift a finger to get it. Paradise.

Then, naturally, people begin to lose interest in real sex. Traditional mating rituals are just too much trouble! Why bother when you can get satisfied any time you like? Soon enough, Judeochristian church leaderships begin to get worried and scrambled to find scripture to ban the pill. Some countries ban the pill regardless. Sure enough, the unrelieved young men, who are no longer interested in getting it the old fashioned way, begin to riot and overthrow some of these regimes. In other places the pill floods black market. Now the pill has solved even the problem of overpopulation, and along with it the problems of pollution, water shortage, food shortage, and housing crises.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Autumn in the Woods

Seneca Creek Park, Maryland
Even when the wind was too light to be felt, the rustling never stopped above, the trees making music. Then there was the crunching of dried leaves and pine cones under foot. No birds though, probably all gone to warmer places. On the lake shore, tiny waves broke on the boat house's wooden launch pad, the ripples quieter than a whisper. The boating season was over and all the rental boats had been stowed away, the kiosk shut and empty. On the playground children were jumping up and down recycled old tires and laughing and screaming on swings.

The air was filled with the fragrance of broken leaves and pine needles and dimming sunlight, and the shimmering afternoon lake.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Kate Shugak 侦探系列

最近开始看 Dana Stabenow 的阿拉斯加女侦探 Kate Shugak 系列。情节其实并不怎么悬疑,设局也毫不复杂,看点是跟现代都市环境截然相反的生活方式,交通不便的野外生存的社会状态,石油工业和原住民和酒民的文化。女主角是有 Aleut 血统的本地人,独自住在森林里,砍树修路赶熊样样拿手,并参与原住民社区的家长里短邻里纷争,兼破案追捕凶手,英明神武,但细节跟真的似的。照她的说法,阿拉斯加有很多移民,都是因为在大陆上受不了“正常的”生活方式或者社会氛围而逃到阿拉斯加森林,“远离喧嚣的人群”。看 Stabenow 的描述,闹得我都要产生去阿拉斯加看看风景的念头,但是她描写的棕熊吃人的段落又让我心惊肉跳。

Another Restaurant Experience

After escaping from the long line of cars waiting to get into the Great Falls Park on a beautiful and sunny Saturday, we decided to try a new Szechuan restaurant in Maryland about which I heard a lot of good things a couple of months ago. Apparently it is a new addition in the fiercely competitive Chinese restaurant market in Rockville. My hairdresser highly recommended the taste, and S is a spicy food aficionado.

Tucked in an obscure little strip mall next to some car dealerships, the restaurant is fairly small and plain, but clean and pleasant. No tablecloth, but there is a bar.

We ordered two dishes: Fried eel and fish head tofu pot. "Are they spicy?" S asked eagerly. "Yes," the waiter assured us. By then I noticed at least half a dozen items on the plastic menu had been blacked out, which is rather unusual for a new restaurant and led me to wonder if the menu had been too ambitious to begin with.

The waiter came back with water and said, "Sorry we don't have the fish head. We can't seem to get the kind of fish with big heads."

It happens. I shrugged and ordered a different fish dish on the menu.

The eel came out in about 15 minutes. It was fine, nothing extraordinary but nothing to complain about. Just then two young men at the table next to ours started a discussion with the waiter.

"We've eaten everything else," said one. "It's been almost an hour. Where's the stir fried greens?"

The waiter said something I couldn't hear since he had his back to me.

"But we're done here. Can't you cancel the order?"

The waiter said something else and walked away. A pretty young waitress came over and said something to the two young men. Again I couldn't hear her words but could hear her girly, whiny voice with a hint of flirtation. After some song and dance, she seemed to persuade them to acquiesce. Within a few minutes she came out with a plate of stir-fried bok choy. The two men sighed and began to pick at it.

I looked around and saw that the place was only half full. Did the waiter neglect to write down the order? Did the chef forget to cook it? It wouldn't have taken more than 5 minutes to cook this.

We finished the eel. The fish was still unavailable. We waited. I got impatient and waved the pretty waitress over.

"We have another dish," I said.

"I know you have another dish," she said with the same whiny voice. "The kitchen's still working on it."

I almost said in reply, "That's the wrong response, honey. You should pretend to rush back into the kitchen and bark at the chef, and then rush back and tell me it's almost done." But I held my tongue and watched her saunter back to the bar area and chat with the boss.

The boss was middle-aged, square-faced Chinese man with a vague southeastern accent. Not a Szechuan accent. He stood behind the bar counter idly with an eye on the dining room, not doing anything in particular. A couple of other waiters were hanging around nearby with nothing particular to do.

We waited some more. I asked the waiter about the fish. He assured us it was coming. Another ten minutes later it finally came. As the waitress set it down on the table I asked, "Is the kitchen short handed?"

She shook her head, "No, but this dish is particularly time consuming."

I almost said in reply, "Yes, just like the stir-fried boy choy." But again I held my tongue and shrugged.

Much to my surprise the fish was excellent. The fish was covered with a brown sauce that contained fermented soybean paste, dry red pepper flakes, and minced meat and Shiitake mushroom. It was delicious. Though not as fiery as S would like, he was also highly satisfied with it and cleaned up the last bit.

I had a hushed discussion with him about the dilemma of such a restaurant. Is this a case of a very slow master chef? Or a lack of cooks in the kitchen to do all the menial jobs like chopping up scallions and garlic and ginger? Or poor management in every link of the chain that makes up running an efficient operation? It would be perfect, I said to S, if the chef got poached by another restaurant managed by someone who really knows what he's doing.

Good food, bad service, poor management. Ah what do you do? I don't know if we will come back, but S seems to like it well enough so we just might, if the restaurant survives. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The REN Program (2)

The REN program is not the only one running in the System, of course, but it has become a bit ubiquitous of late. More copies are circulating around and processing the endless streams of data.

One day, a copy of the REN absorbed a big chunk of data input that was rather hard to digest. While trying to process and break down the data into useful pieces that could be absorbed into its own construct and the System, this chunk grew into a tumor-like piece that insinuated itself into the copy. It could not live independently, but it also did not fully integrate itself with the rest of the data and processes in the copy. It was a parasite.

This tumor was especially powerful. One day it became sentient. An awareness sprouted out of it. From then on it is an "intelligent" being.

Rather than making an accurate assessment on its situation, the awareness interprets reality with a systematic distortion. It sees the rest of the copy as part of itself --- in fact, it seems itself as the master of the copy. The rest of the copy merely exist to serve it, the tumor, the parasite, the alien substance, which calls itself, "the mind."

The mind believes it is in full control of the rest of the copy --- data uptake, calculation, incorporation of results, etc. Completely delusional of course. The mind does not even know what is going on within 99% of the copy at any given time. Conveniently, the rest of the copy does not "think" and therefore cannot argue with the mind and dispel its delusions. So the mind goes on with the game it plays with itself. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The REN Program (1) (short fiction)

There are many copies of the REN program running in the System. There are also many copies of other programs running in the system, but we are not concerned about them at the moment.

The copies are identical upon release into the system and immediately begin to absorb and process data that are constantly streaming into the System from the Outside. The data gobbled up by each copy are different, and the calculations run within each copy on these data are random, so the results generated, which become a part of the copy itself and shape future calculations every second and every minute, cause the copy to evolve and change. Therefore, copies become more unlike its original shape and different from each other as time passes.

The processing and computation of Outside data also bring about errors and noise and contamination as results get incorporated into the copy. Over time errors accumulate within each copy. No copy can stay as pristine as it is in the first second of birth. The errors slows down the processing, first by a tiny bit, barely noticeable, but as they accumulate, the copy's computing speed slows down. This happens at a different rate for each copy, some faster and some slower, and some copies can go on like new for a long time.

It is obvious when a copy is riddled with errors --- It gets stuck in the same computing process. It would take in new data but run the same process over and over, even though the results are completely wrong. Occasionally it would grind around a bit trying to correct itself, but soon it would go back to the old and incorrect process. In other words, the copy has lost its ability to adapt to the new data coming in and run on the same process it has used before. The more it repeats the same calculation, the more it is unable to correct itself, and the more errors it produces, thus hastening its own demise. Near the end it becomes a broken record, with the needle running round and round on the same track, producing the same sound, until it stops altogether.

Eventually, every copy stops. It is simply too full of errors to go on. The "dead" copies float around for a while, until copies of another program, known as the "sweepers," scurry up to them and chop them up into 0's and 1's, which then disappear into the vast space that is the System, perhaps becoming building blocks of all the new programs and copies that are born every day. Although copies of the REN program die every day, new copies are released every day as well. Sometimes there are more copies buzzing around for a while, other times the copies dwindle, but they never go away completely.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A New Restaurant

Today we decided to try the newly opened Copperwood Tavern in Shirlington. The place is lavishly decorated to appear rustic, with copper tubes running overhead and wooden benches and tables polished like metal. It is rather impressive.

An extremely petite young woman with a head half of the size of mine and weighing about 75 pounds greeted us and took us to a table. Dark hair, dark eye shadow, pale skin. Then came our waitress, who looked like a taller and less emaciated copy of the first one. I looked around and spotted a third waitress with the same style of hair and makeup, also in her early to mid 20s. Hmm, I thought, has the manager hired an army of young women and groomed them in the same way?

On the table were two glass jars that pretended to be rustic cups. I wondered whether rural people really do drink water out of glass jars. A couple of waitstaff, obviously lower than the army dark-haired petite young women, were walking around pouring water from a glass bottle with a wooden stopper, like one of those restaurants that are too fancy for an ordinary pitcher, as if the water was not collected from a tap.

"What would you like to drink?"

The hubby got iced tea and I got hot tea. He ordered biscuit with gravy and I ordered a burger.

"With fries or salad?" The girl with dark hair and dark eye shadow asked.

"Salad, please." I said without hesitation.

Some minutes later, she came back with our beverages. Some further minutes later, she came with the food. On my plate was a pile of soggy and lukewarm fries. I sighed but was not in the mood to get it changed.

"Anything else?" She asked.

The hubby wanted more ice tea and I asked her to add some hot water to my cup.

In no more than three minutes she came back with another glass of iced tea and asked me with all seriousness: "Do you mind if I just add hot water to your tea?"

I stared at her, tongue tied, and nodded.

Five minutes later she was standing at the two-person table next to me, apologizing to the gray-haired couple. With a pair of reading glasses on his nose, the husband was pointing at the check, noting that the record contained an incorrect entry. I could only vaguely make out that they were charged something they did not order. The young waitress nodded and apologized again and took the check back for correction.

I made a face to the hubby, "There's something wrong with her. Would it be rude if I suggested she see a neurologist?"

The burger was too dry, and the beacon on top interfered with the flavor. I pulled it out.

The hubby is an aficionado of grits so he ordered one. It came in a fancy little iron pot. "How was it?" The waitress asked.

"Can you tell the chef it is way too salty?" He said mildly. He almost never complains about anything and is usually horrified when I make a fuss about some inadequate service in public. It is a rare occasion that he would lodge a complaint.

The girl apologized and went back to the kitchen. Soon after she came back and whispered something with a red-headed young man hardly older than herself. She then leaned over and told hubby that the chef couldn't make him a new order of less salty grits, but the manager would take it off our bill.

Throughout the meal she had been unwaveringly polite, but we left with a bad taste in our mouth. If only they had put half of the money on decoration into better food, I'd be a lot happier. All the wooden counters and copper faucets are nice, but they are not edible.

Ripping Apart Teleology

Saw an article by Steven Poole about Nagel and teleology, which is basically in agreement with what I wrote a few days ago.

Science can’t stop talking in terms of ‘purposes’, but if the universe cares about us, it has a funny way of showing it.

Well, I don't think it's "science" that can't stop talking about 'purpose' but rather philosophers.

The impenetrable mystery to me is why or how some people seem to be physiologically unable to imagine a universe in which his own consciousness is not at the center and everything else revolves around it. The answer might have nothing to do with cosmology or philosophy, but psychology --- as in the incurable narcissism some people are afflicted with. But then follows another impenetrable mystery: Why isn't the incurable narcissist's ranting immediately dismissed? Why are the nonnarcissists of the world still talking about it as if it's worth the paper it's printed on? 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Affable Young Men

I have had two jobs in which the boss was a domineering bitch. Coincidentally, each of these bitches had a young man as her assistant to push around from time to time. The young men are so affable that they routinely obeyed the bitches idiotic and impulsive whims without complaint, running around wasting time and energy trying to fulfill their wishes. They are universally liked by everyone, me included, for their niceness and mild manners, especially their tenderness and lack of domination or aggression toward women. They inspire female colleagues' motherly instinct, yet they always run back to the domineering bitches and obeyed their orders. I often wondered why they are so willing to take so much crap, even more than us culturally brain-washed women. The similarity is striking, which convinces me again that there are only a limited number of personality types and people are not as unique as they'd like to believe --- but that's another story. These young men, it turned out, both had very domineering mothers. Hahahaha. How predictable we all are!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Again, Something versus Nothing

Perhaps this is what Jung referred to as synchronicity. A few days after I wrote the blog entry about what I think about the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", Oliver Burkeman published a rather amusing feature in Guardian on an amateur philosopher who claims to have solved the mystery of universe. This jewelry dealer and philosopher's answer is --- potential.

Whatever. I don't intend to discuss this philosophy. I just remembered a radio interview I heard some time ago with a female physics professor and researcher. She said something to the effect of "Yes there is a defined size to our universe and it is approximately 13.6 billion years old." Her point was that our universe is an enclosed system, like the inside of a ball. Also she said that it was pointless to ask what was there BEFORE the Big Bang, because "before" is a concept of time, and time did not exist outside of our universe, which was created by the Big Bang. If I understand correctly, she meant that time in itself is a product of the Big Bang, just like the 3 dimensional space itself, which is expanding as we speak. Time as we know it is just like space that exists only within the confines of our universe. Therefore there is no BEFORE the Big Bang because there was no TIME outside of the Big Bang.

Imagine a supernatural being who exists outside of our universe looking in, the same way as we, creatures of 3 dimensions, looking at an ant who lives in a 2-dimensional world. It seems obvious, isn't it, that time does not have to be infinite. It can be a line and a creature not actually ON the line can see any point on the line, but a creature living on the line can only see that particular point he is standing on? It is only the human memory that allows us to see a minute distance behind us on this line but not most of it. To organisms without memory, they live on a point, although not the same point from one instance to another, on this line.

But memory is but an illusion, not reality. It's a recording of the moment "then," which stands at some point behind "now" but it is not really "then." An analogy is that a photograph is merely a picture that depicts the image of a moment in the past, but what you are seeing now (when you look at the photograph) is the photograph, not the past itself. There is no contradiction of past and present existing together.

Anyway, so, what I'm trying to say is that humans often fall into the trap of being unable to distinguish the self, in the form of consciousness, and everything else that is not the self, including the molecular and chemical processes that enable consciousness. It is incredibly self-centered and grandiose and delusional, yes, but what else would you expect from the consciousness, especially that of men and especially that of men like Thomas Nagel (who believes that consciousness is the basis for the existence of the universe)? People do believe they are the center of the universe and they can't be reasoned out of it.

Imagine though that you were a supernatural being living outside of this 4-dimensional universe and time is but a thread laid out in front of you and means no mystery to you. You watch the little creatures crawling on the thread, blind to what lies before or behind them, yet, against all reality, they believe the electrochemical flutters in their head causes the universe to exist. Wouldn't you laugh your ass off, assuming you laugh? I vaguely remember Chuang Tzu saying something to this effect. Hmm, why do you need Nagel when you already have Chuang Tzu?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Demise of Bill Evans

I swear I had no idea before hearing about Bill Evans' addiction and death. It was shocking. Why? Because I would never have thought a man so thoughtful, rational (as much as an artist can be), introverted, and gentle of nature, and smart, would fall victim to impulses and destroy his life in this way. Like Bix Biederbacke, it was a way of self-destruction, perhaps in order to escape psychological pain, but before their deaths they coped with music.

His father was an alcoholic. How much that contributed to his own depression and addiction I don't know, but it had to have some effect. Evans was enormously successful after he was hired by Miles Davis into his band. They were very different in personality but understood and appreciated each other. America's racial conflicts in the 50s was one of the main factors that split them up. Evans went on to become the preeminent jazz pianists of all time.

He was very intellectual, and that also made his addiction a surprise. He was not one of those instinct-driven, impulsive artists who operate on pure emotions. I have seen some videos of his interviews and he talked about jazz music like an academic, minus the snobbery. So analytical. So cool and articulate. So ... normal and sane.

It's heartbreaking. This biography recounts how, when he was addicted to heroin in the 1960s and broke and starving, he regularly called his friends begging for money. When he later got a big advance on a contract, he meticulously paid each one back. A man like this shouldn't be an addict. What contradiction. What nonsense.

He eventually quit heroin for a while, but then his wife committed suicide, and he went back on dope. Then he got himself into methadone treatment and stayed clean and productive for another decade. Then in 1980 he got hooked on cocaine and died quickly. It was over, just like that.

A Dream

Every so often I would have a recurrent dream. I was walking in a stretch of grassland, with home behind me --- not far away --- and some destination ahead of me within walking distance. Lately the destination has been a grand and magnificent palace with a golden tower or dome. Like many palaces in Europe, it is possibly a museum, because in one of the dreams I was taking a group of people to on a tour.

Last night the journey was unusually vivid. The trail was surrounded by green and delicate ferns as high as my knees, gently swaying in the wind, and the prairie spread to as far as the eye could see. I was convinced I could get there very soon, perhaps in half an hour. The vision was so sharp that I could count the number of ridges on the leaves.

This is home, I thought. I have lived here all my life and know every path and every turn in the grass. Everything felt familiar. I had taken the road from the home behind me to the tower before me a thousand times. How fortunate that glamor and beauty are so close to home. The sweet anticipation before I get to the happy destination.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Horror of the Sun

The first two days in LA were a bit overcast, cool and pleasant. Then it turned hot. For the past few days the blaring sun has become increasingly unbearable. I have forgotten how much I dislike days like these.

A darkness hides in too much light. It springs on you when you leave a dark room. For a split second the brightness dims your eyes and you feel oozy and lost. This feeling lurks constantly under the blinding desert sun. Yesterday I was stuck on the freeway for two hours --- I had forgotten how much I hate this too --- and even with the sunglasses on, the effect persisted. An invisible monstrosity lurks in the inescapable light.

The effect is hypnotic. The sunlight numbs and makes the mind sluggish. The eye sees more sharply but discerns less clearly. Thoughts are muffled. Time loses its edge. The brain is suppressed and submerged so that nothing floats to the surface. 

In the bleaching light nothing looks real, including the senses. The world is plastic and fake and horrible.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


很厚的一本小说被我两天半看完,情节实在抓人。人物繁多剧情复杂令人叹为观止。每个人物能看见不同的鬼,有人能看见所有的鬼,有人能看见某个鬼,有人能看见两个鬼,有人完全看不见鬼,谁能看见哪个鬼的原因还都不一样,而且还有几场大家“欢聚一堂”的高潮戏,鬼看鬼,鬼看人,人看鬼,人看人,必须搞清楚谁能看见谁。每个怨鬼的纠结历史在每个活人眼前的矛盾身上都有呼应,同时还有 serial killer 的背景,还有经营料理店的情节。我脑子都晕了,而作者写得严谨缜密,找不出漏洞错误,这都是技术活啊!读者一般很少会注意到这些地方对功力的考验,我自己写一篇只有六七千字儿的短篇,改过几遍,还被人指出:同学你有好几处前后矛盾逻辑错乱 ...


Friday, October 11, 2013


在图书馆借了本她的中文版 period novel 《扮鬼脸》。有点类似于 GRRM 大叔(最近还同时在重读冰火第四部),她也很喜欢玩 mixed genre 混合型故事,这里包含了近代历史细节,儿童小说视角,悬疑成分,鬼故事成分,世情成分,最后还少不了...料理!剧情设定在一家刚开张的料理屋,充满了街坊邻居的生活和关系。虽然我不是日式料理的粉丝,但还是很爱看的,而且她的描写注重勤劳工作人民的日常细节,很家常又很真实。整体格调是明亮的,但也并不刻意粉饰美化现实中的冲突和矛盾,人性的弱点。跟 GRRM 大叔类似的地方还有她对人物的细心刻画,即使是很小的配角也栩栩如生,历历在目,无比精致。GRRM 大叔也很爱吃,写到宴席之处必不放过,每道菜都详细描述,可惜建立在中世纪欧洲历史上的菜谱,再怎么描写也引不起胃口,他应该去成都拜访一下!




Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Something and Nothing

My friend Terence wrote a hilarious piece today about the eternal question of "Why is there something and not nothing?"

So, it dawned on me --- What is nothing? Do we know what it is? In our world, it seems, there is no place where nothing exists. What we previously thought to be vacuum in space turns out to be an endless stretch of dark matter and dark energy. Our universe is filled with something. So what is this "nothing" we think exists?

If nothing does not really exist in the universe, then why are we pursuing it? Where did this idea of nothing come from? Ah, therein lies the rub. Our concept of nothing comes from a lack of consciousness --- the space-time before our birth and that after our death. But in fact we are fundamentally wrong. The nothingness before birth and after death is purely subjective. Something existed before we know it and will exist after we cease to know it. Just because we know it now, does not mean its existence is dependent on our knowing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Man After My Own Heart

最近看了两部 Aki Kaurismaki 的片子,Arial, Shadow in Paradise。我特别想看但是不容易找到的一部是 Hamlet Goes Business,现代芬兰荒诞版王子复仇记,只在油管上挖到几个片段,例如这段决斗大结局,笑死我了。


Measure for Measure

Isn't it funny ironic that the villain in the story, the very embodiment of hypocrisy and cowardice of power, is named Angelo? Oh you wicked, wicked Willie.

The way he wrote about the fear of death here and elsewhere convinces me that he did not believe in the afterlife. He knew very well that the rest is ... silence.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ballet etc.

Apollo's Angels 这本书基本上稀里哗啦地跳着看完了。尾章作者十分坦率地说 Ballet is dying. 而且回天无力。作为一个热爱芭蕾的人,作者对此当然十分伤感。作为一个不太了解芭蕾的人,我没有那么伤感。芭蕾的历史前前后后也就三百多年,如作者所述,芭蕾的兴起和发展与王公贵族宫廷礼节有不可分割的关联。养育的土壤已经消失,芭蕾之树不能凭空生长。芭蕾虽然无以为继,但舞蹈本身从来没有离开过人类社会,以后也会继续以各种形式流传。

同时想到古典音乐。所谓 classical music,指的是从德奥中欧发展出来的一套音律体系和作品,满打满算不到四百年的历史,目前面临跟芭蕾类似的命运。即使现在仍有很多人学教演奏古典音乐,但它在社会中已经非常边缘化,广播上成天播的是死人写的作品,还活着的作曲家的作品基本没有人听(除了Philip Glass是唯一的例外)。同样的,音乐从来不需要发明也不会消失,它会以各种不同的方式继续流传下去。


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Confessions of a Sociopath (完)

The book is fairly repetitive at places, but kind of fascinating and a fast read. The author commits a large number of curious inconsistencies and contradictions throughout, which seem to result from vacillation between self-aggrandizement and serious self-examination --- unless she's just lying randomly, which would be entirely pointless.

Nevertheless I find the book overall fascinating and refreshing. Yes, refreshing. She's completely without shame and guilt, and somehow it provides an interesting perspective on what purpose shame and guilt serve in nonpsychopathic people. But I digress.

One of the rather confusing subjects is her compulsion for "ruining" people, but then stopped short of describing any specific examples except two examples. In one case she got herself involved in a love triangle in which she "made" the young man dump another woman who was (according to her) infatuated with him. In another case she made (apparently false) accusation about a high school teacher, which may or may not have forced him into early retirement.

The author makes endless references to her habit of and skills in manipulating other people, but again gives very few concrete or believable examples. I can't help but suspect that it is her psychopathic mind that has overestimated her own effect on other people.

Also she claims repeatedly that she is only attracted to men who are handsome and rich and successful (ie, presentable) and then, in a separate chapter, recounts a very serious relationship she had with a man who was almost certainly an Asperger patient who had no job and played video games and ate McDonald's every day. It's small contradictions like this that ruin the credibility of most of her claims.

Nevertheless one can gleam some patterns in her narrative. For example, her grandiose view of herself and her power could be related to the tendency that the psychopathic brain reacts very weakly to negative cues and produces low level of negative emotions such as fear, sadness, disappointment, disgust. The psychopathic brain has an extraordinary capacity to dismiss the negative feelings that often bother the nonpsychopathic people. This allows they to indulge in an inflated sense of self-worth (almost omnipotence) and all the positive emotions associated with it. Apparently the rate of depression is very low among ASPD individuals.

The grandiosity may at times seems comical, but it does make one wonder. I have certainly felt the anxiety from other people's criticism, rejection, or negative judgment. The size of the anxiety is almost always disproportional to the realistic harm due to their low opinion of me, which is usually none. Yet I am still bothered by being disliked by someone here and there. It costs me some amount of cognitive reserve to overcome my negative reaction to others' negative opinion, obviously an inefficient mental process. Perhaps, a pinch of psychopathic indifference (without the unrealistic inflation) to other people's opinion might do some good.

Another interesting confession is that she has a flimsy sense of self. In ordinary interpersonal relationships, she takes on imitated behaviors as her "mask." In intimate relationships (often characterized as "conquering" or "possessing" others for thrills), she makes a significant effort to probe and learn the others' needs and give them exactly what they need. If they want sex, she would give them sex. If they want to confirm their own insecurity, she would feed their insecurity. She claims that no one else would work so hard to understand you. I don't know if that's true and, even it were true, whether it's good for anyone. Although she seems to feel pretty good about this quality because she's always in control, it is in a way kind of sad --- She does not have enough sense of self to offer a full independent person in a relationship, so all she can give is to feed the others' needs, albeit in an exploitative way. On the other hand, she does not feel sad, so it's irrelevant to her.

It does make one wonder: Are negative emotions important to developing a fuller sense of self?

Or perhaps the consequence of NOT having negative emotions lies in another trait of ASPD individuals. Apparently they are reckless and thrill seeking, in part because they do not learn well from their mistakes. She makes some vague references for having made some fairly stupid and unsafe choices over and over throughout her life. She admits that she is not deterred enough to not make the mistakes again. Quite possibly the reason is that the harm does not scare her as much as it does others and the regret does not congeal into lasting memory so that she'd never to do it again. If you don't feel much pain from getting burned, you'll play with fire again. Meanwhile, the grandiosity does not help her recognize the gravity of her mistakes, either and thus modify future behaviors. Avoidance is the result of learning from mistakes. Fear (and sometimes other negative emotions) drive avoidance. Without fear, the brain can't avoid the same mistake again.

So, perhaps, negative emotions are critical for learning from our mistakes.

Philip K. Dick argued in "Do Androids Dream of Electrical Sheep?" that empathy is what makes one human. For him, a person without empathy is not human. M.E. Thomas (not her real name) vehemently disagrees. She argues that she is every bit as human as nonpsychopaths, only different. It is true that a large proportion of psychopaths are not criminals and many hold high-level positions. In typical psychopathic fashion, she alternately argues that psychopathy is superior to in modern business and professional environment and that psychopathy is a disability not to be discriminated against.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Confessions of a Sociopath

Borrowed the book from the library and just began reading it. The author does sound like a genuine case of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD, also known as psychopathy, which the author prefers to call sociopathy because it doesn't make her sound like a "psycho"), but she is highly functional and smart enough to not commit any crime (at least not enough to get caught).

It is a bit amusing to read her repeated declaration, plus citing a few other fellow ASPD individuals' declarations, that they believe not having empathy is better than having it, because they are invulnerable to various irrational emotions such as guilt, shame, anxiety, or low self-esteem. I am not saying they are wrong. I just find it funny because, by definition and by all account, having empathy and not having empathy are essentially two incompatible states of existence. If you don't have empathy, you can't know what it's like to have it, and vice versa. I don't claim that life is better with empathy than without, because I can't possibly know what it's like to have ASPD. It's like, I can't claim it's better to be a woman than to be a man, because I can never know what it's like to be a man. Without first-hand knowledge it is impossible to compare. It's pointless to claim one "prefers" a life with or without empathy because it is even less of a choice than being homosexual or heterosexual.

There are some other curious "confessions" in the book as well, although I've only gotten through the first 80 pages. For example, she claims she does not empathize with people's emotions. Don't know. Don't care. But in her chapter on a fairly unhappy childhood (although she was not grossly abused or neglected by my Chinese standard) she wrote paragraph after paragraph speculating her mother's state of mind as a narcissistic aspiring actress. She presents it as "facts," of course, but it's clearly her concerted effort to make sense of her mother's mind. She also writes a rather short but heart-breaking section about her fragile older brother Jim that seems to suggest some sympathy.

Another declaration she makes repeatedly, for which I do not doubt her sincerity, is that she is fine. FINE. Great. Please don't worry or be afraid of her. She's not a monster or a criminal. Rather, she is an upstanding member of the community and goes to church regularly and teaches Sunday school and is gainfully employed and has close friends and family. I'm totally fine with that. I believe her. She sounds like a perfectly rational person ... most of the time. And then she describes her reckless, impulsive, thrill-seeking tendencies, such as choosing to live in the worst neighborhood in town and getting repeatedly broken into, driving with wild disregard for her own and others' safety, and her inability to be deterred by awful consequences. Plus she describes with vivid details an incident in which she was so angry at a trivial confrontation with a stranger where she fantasized killing him and then casually mentions that similar reactions have occurred multiple times. Well, I do hope her cold, calculating, unemotional, and self-beneficial urges keep a lid on the murderous impulses. Perhaps she gets enough release from being a lawyer and therefore never needs to resort to killing someone.

Overall I quite enjoy her candor and wish more people without ASPD would more openly and freely discuss their "dark sides" with such ease. We all have plenty of dark sides. I don't feel at all superior to her. I guess that won't happen any time soon as people without ASPD are more or less stopped by all those annoying emotions like shame, guilt, and embarrassment.

Friday, September 20, 2013


I'm watching this Woody Allen movie (1979). Wow it has the most glorious cinematography I have ever seen. Lawrence of Arabia can kiss its ass! (LOL I sound like the character played by Diane Keaton.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Cause-and-Effect Problem

It occurred to me the first time when I read something in a popular science magazine about a theory that proposes that time is an illusion and that time, as we experience it, is created by the human brain's perception alone, which begs the question of whether animals experience time in the same way. (See also here.) I can't remember the specifics, which I didn't really understand anyway, but it had something to do with quantum physics. Of course there is also the long-standing argument about time being non-directional, derived from the theory of relativity. The only linchpin that still supports the unidirectional nature of time is the second law of thermodynamics (ie, entropy).

Lately the thought has re-surfaced to bug me. It's not my concern whether in physics time does not exist. My concern is this --- If time is merely an illusion, then what we think of as cause and effect in the world is also an illusion; therefore there is no cause, only effect.

For a while I was hoping to come up with a story to describe the theory mentioned above, which says time is a conglomeration of unrelated and discrete quantum moments, like many pieces of paper stacked into a pile. So I began to dream up a series of unrelated excerpts or sentences strung together with no logic or connection with each other. Well, what a pretentious and boring pile of horseshit that would be.

It then dawned on me how the mind hates a pile of separate pieces of paper thrown together. Nope, please give us a story in which one thing leads to another until the logical end. A string of unconnected quanta of moments would not do. It's unhuman.

Then something cracked open. What if the mind is indeed wrong? What if cause and effect are merely the story created by our mind to explain phenomena of the world and it is completely wrong?

It has been known for a long time in psychological experiments that consciousness does not direct the body, but only tells stories about what the body experiences, and sometimes gets it very wrong. For example, experiments have shown that one does not smile because he feels happy, but rather the facial muscle's tension in forming a smile that sends signals to the brain to feel happy. Sounds crazy. I tried it. I pulled my facial muscle into a forced smile position for about 2-3 minutes while folding laundry. Nothing happened until about 5 minutes later. Suddenly I began to smile involuntarily but naturally with no particular stimulus. (This realization, of course, led to more giggles, although the cause and effect could not be determined.) Then about 10 minutes later, the stupid smile emerged again involuntarily while I was doing or thinking nothing in particular. There have also been experiments showing that consciousness has nothing to do with one's decisions, except to make up stories or excuses for them after the fact.

These thoughts converge into one idea. What if there is no realistic connection between what happened one minute ago and now and one minute later? There is an incentive for us (ie, our conscious thoughts) to believe in cause and effect, isn't there? Because it gives us a sense of control, a sense that things happen because we make them so, and therefore we have choices ... What if the sense of control is all false? What if my action now and my action before and my action later have nothing to do with each other? What if I cannot have what I want by reaching for it and willing myself to get it? Oh that is too awful, too horrible to contemplate. I shall have what I want by taking it, and I have what I want because I reached for it. Can't these physicists leave me alone in the happy illusion of free will and control of my own life?

I mentioned these thoughts to another sci fi writer, who said, "Oh yeah, Kant said that time, space, and causality could be all in our head, and we can never know for sure." Ugh, so it's nothing new whatsoever in what I came up with! It's all been said before!! Maybe there are no new thoughts to be thought any more!!!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Miss Saigon

Eric Schaeffer directed the revival at Signature next door. For a small theater, the show seems a bit too bombastic. I suppose one should not expect anything less from Schonberg and Boudlil. "Les Miserables" is even more bombastic.

Overall the show is very competently done. It is a bit squirm inducing for me, getting a full blast of the imperialistic symbolism through the romance between a white American soldier and a devoted Asian woman, Asia/colony as feminine and US/military as masculine, he is the sun and she is the moon, etc., etc. At least it's not a complete glorification.

The set design is quite complicated and intricate for a small stage. Actors/actresses are good, but in terms of singing not quite Broadway quality. 

Coincidentally a Cameron Mackintosh (of "Les Miserables" fame) production of "Miss Saigon" is about to go on London's West End. 

I watched the show with a friend who has a Ph.D. in theater directing. We talked about Shakespeare, family blood feuds in Greek tragedies, and directors who have their actors act naked and half naked on stage. :)  A funny thing she mentioned was an actor she had cast in a production in school who was from Kansas. He was put in some Shakespearean plays and apparently the Kansas accent is closer to English spoken in the 17th century than modern English English. Interesting ...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Apollo's Angels

The first parts in the book about the history of ballet out of the 1600s French royal court are so boring that I skipped several chapters and went straight to Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. It got a lot more interesting. And the next chapter was all about the Soviet ballet, which is riveting! All the characters, dancing on the edge of political demise and physical destruction at the hands of Stalin's machines ... Fascinating and, of course, eerily recognizable to me, who inevitably saw 红色娘子军 in childhood.

And the poor composers! Khachaturian, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev. Just trying to imagine Prokofiev being humiliated and terrified by the clueless and vulgar and stupid party bosses filled my eyes with tears.

I am impressed by Homans' nuanced assessment and sympathy for not only Soviet ballet but also the social and cultural context behind the Soviet ballet and their domestic audience. Instead of repeating the same Cold War ideology, which colored Western views of Soviet ballet as much as it did Soviet's view of Western ballet, she dug deeper and looked closely and made an effort to keep an open mind without losing the critical eye.

Plus, some of the gossip and dirt are pretty delicious and satisfy my morbid curiosity about colorful personalities.

Out of curiosity I went on YouTube and watched bits of the prototypical Soviet ballet "Spartacus" and then George Balanchine's "Apollo". Shit. I definitely prefer Balanchine to the Soviet crap. Does that mean I've been corrupted by the decadence of the capitalist culture? :D

(BTW I prefer Jerome Robbins.) 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Receptionist

Rene looked to be in her early 30s and impeccably courteous. It did not occur to me until now that her greetings and smiles, delivered with affectation and theatricality, might have been the result of acting classes. I also could not determine whether the big strawberry blonde bob with a tint of pink was a wig or her own hair. That, the heavy makeup, the false eyelashes, and the mole on her right cheek always led me to mistaken her as a French aristocrat at Louis XIV's court.

Once we chatted about what to do in the City (New York City, there is none else) that weekend --- stranded as I was in Paramus, New Jersey for two weeks. I mentioned Broadway, and she immediately rattled off all the current shows on and gave a brief assessment of each. I barely kept up, thanks to the theater reviews in recent issues of The New Yorker.

"You've got great theaters down in DC, too," she said. "I visit my brother who lives in the area sometimes. You have a Shakespeare theater. Very nice. Very sophisticated. And Arena Stage." She nodded rhythmically.

I mentioned I now lived next door to Signature. It's small and in the suburbs, I said, but it's serviceable.

"I've been to Signature as well," her head bobbed appreciatively. "It's very nice."

I asked her about great performances she had seen.

"I saw a play with Vanessa Redgrave in London," she said. "It's kind of a comedy, you know. She plays a woman visited by her old flame. She was amazing. So good, Jun, the Brits really know how to do it."

As I am writing this, now comfortably sitting at home, the New Jersey project finished and over, it suddenly occurred to me that she could be one of those struggling actors who pay their bills with a menial day job. I'm kicking myself for not having asked her whether she's ever been on Law and Order.

Saturday, August 31, 2013


The local TV station showed a bunch of interviews with the producers, director, and major actors on Detective Montalbano series. Something the producer said about the series location caught my attention. He said he went all around Sicily looking for a place that could stand in for the fictional Vigata. When he got to Ragusa he knew he had found it. The place was nearly deserted. Hardly anyone lived there. No hotels, no restaurants, no ice cream parlors. Nothing. It was a forgotten place with beautiful churches and streets and houses that had been abandoned. "It was like a faraway place," the producer recalled. Now, of course, Ragusa has become a hot tourist destination thanks to the popularity of the Montalbano series.

The mental image of a deserted town with crumbling past glory fascinates me. I am living in an era of human history that saw unprecedented population growth nearly everywhere in the world. I can only experience the fall of civilization and the gradual emptying of cities through books and movies and ... wait, there are hardly any movies or books depicting the decline of civilization, because movies have also been existing in the era of unprecedented population growth.

I have heard of only one nonfiction book that explicitly describes the details of decline over time: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. George R R Martin likes the theme of declining worlds too, but I haven't read those novels. Perhaps the subject is too depressing for most people to write about.

In reality various civilizations have undergone this "emptying" process in history, from Alexandria of Egypt to Maya cities to the Silk Road. Books usually describe the excavation of ruins but not while the civilizations are transformed into ruins. People are still hanging around but the numbers dwindle and houses stand empty and crumbling slowly. I wonder what it's like to live in the midst of the decline.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sound of Noise

This is the most weird and funny movie about music. I have never seen anything like it and doubt anything like it exists. One of the most bizarre aspects is how the movie deftly makes the music-obsessed vandalists and the tone deaf and music-hating detective BOTH sympathetic.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


在纽约跟朋友去 Angelika 看一代宗师。王家卫我基本看不下去,阿飞正传与重庆森林都是看到一半昏睡过去,对春光乍泄略有兴趣但是尚未提起足够的精神 hunt it down。对一代宗师的兴趣完全来自武打港片。


一代宗师,一言蔽之,就是一系列的 still photos,加上梁朝伟的旁白。That is all. 摆 pose 永远比不停在动的人生更美观,更简单,更易定义。对十五岁少女来说,“一坛醉生梦死酒”和“从前有种无脚的鸟”听着非常深刻;五十多岁的晚中年男还在哼哼似是而非故弄玄虚哄小孩的浪漫诗情,亲爱的,听着真有点让我起鸡皮疙瘩。

人物苍白平板,剧情懒惰俗套。华丽昂贵的武打场面及其精美的灯光与摄影,其实并不比七八十年代的经典打戏更炫,第一场的雨中群殴更有抄袭 The Matrix 之嫌 --- 或者说袁师傅 "reprise" 他在 The Matrix 中的创作。据说梁朝伟与章子怡为拍此片都曾苦练武术,但效果参差不齐,章子怡的打戏英武而优美,抢尽风头,而梁朝伟的几场打戏没有留下任何深刻的印象,恶毒地说不比 Keanu Reeves 或周润发强多少。但是,一代宗师的打戏在今时今日也算是拍得好了,尤其是袁师傅一一演示各家流派精髓,还是很赞的!另外值得一赞的是影片的音响,尤其是打戏的音响设计,是我听过的最好的武打音响设计。

所有的故事都是作者一手操纵情节从而操纵读者的悲喜,差别只是操纵手段的高低。我个人的看法是,如果能让读者感受不到作者之手,给他们自然而逻辑的进展的幻觉,就成功了;反之则是作者招之即来挥之即去,滥用 deus ex machina。王家卫就是这毛病。如果必须写一段 close but not touching 的恋爱,可以编出很多更自然更有逻辑的桥段,将两人隔开,而他只抄一段武侠片最烂俗的 trope (不孝弟子害死师父然后报仇),再简略地抄一把 Graham Greene,实在是懒透了加弱爆了。

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sound of Noise

15 minutes into this movie, I'm almost choking from laughing too hard. It's a heist movie about music. Six drummers are planning on something very big to shock the city, and the only cop who can stop them is tone deaf...

Black deadpan Swedish humor at its best. In one scene a drummer in a symphony rehearsal looked at his nearly-blank music sheet and muttered, "Fuck Hayden."

Sunday, August 11, 2013



最近在纽约附近出差,昨天星期六进城去 Whitney Museum 看了 Edward Hopper 素描展览,跟油画成品对比,可以看出他的创作思路和素材收集过程。终于看到了著名的 Nighthawks 这幅画,果然 ...我着迷地站在那里看了半天。今天闲着无事,心痒难熬,跳上火车进城再细细看一遍。

现实主义可以比超现实主义更加迷幻神秘。Andrew Wyeth 和 Edward Hopper 证明了这一点。

Conference at Night

Monday, August 5, 2013


在电视上看见 Theater Talk 节目访谈 Christopher Plummer。他说到 Laurence Olivier 有大明星必须的那种舍我其谁的 arrogance,但是缺一样天赋,pathos。Olivier 可以演出 pathos 但是他不具有天然的特质。Plummer 解释他所指 pathos 是一种 vulnerability,人生的全部喜怒哀乐都集于一体的体现。他说马龙白兰度(在银幕上)就有这种 pathos。然后他很谦虚地说自己也没有 pathos,我想大概是对的。Plummer 是 upper class 家庭出身,缺少天然的 pathos 也不奇怪。我立刻想到 Philip Seymour Hoffman 那是绝对有天然的 pathos,但或许未必有天然的 arrogance。当然,他们是演员,没有也可以演出来。

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Dream

There was a crowd in front of the elevators. I had to watch two elevators leave before getting on the third with a few other riders. I hit the bottom for the fourth floor. The interior was all brass and gleaming with a golden shine, and surprisingly spacious. I thought I had stepped into a glamorous Hollywood movie elevator from the 1940s. With a slight shudder, the elevator began to accelerate.

From windows on three sides of the elevator I could see the ground receding rapidly under us. The elevator was attached to and ascended along the external wall of the building. It never stopped for the fourth floor or any other floor. I began to feel dizzy. Eventually the building wall curved and the elevator moved laterally. We stood with our backs pressed against the wall and stared at the cloudless blue sky rising in front of us.

Suddenly a boom approached from somewhere under our feet and grew louder. A plane with a smooth pointy nose barged into the view, its body and wings gleaming with metallic silver gray in the sunlight. It flew so close to the elevator that I thought it was about to crash into us and crush everyone inside, but it barely scraped the glass window we were facing.

I was staring at the belly of the plane right above when the wings suddenly retracted and wrapped around its body. I wanted to raise my hands and cover my faces before it was to crash into the elevator, but the long, round, wingless tube continued to glide gracefully over us and toward the edge of the building and disappeared.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Junkyard Dogs (Walt Longmire Mystery #6)

The series is getting better and better. This one is not only hilarious but also elegantly plotted. I read it in 3 days.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hell is Empty (Walt Longmire #7)

Unlike the leisurely pace of the previous Walt Longmire mysteries, this one is very gloomy and scary right from the beginning. It's so gripping that I can barely put it down. Although Sheriff Longmire has trekked snowstorms before, the novel is far more chilling than any other. The atmosphere (literally and metaphorically) is freezing. I'm huddled in bed and shivering through page after page.

The novel is an unabashed tribute to Dante's Inferno. The "Devil" in the story made only a very brief appearance at the beginning and goes behind the scene for most of the novel, but his dark presence is felt on every page. Fused with Indian mythology, the journey in reverse hell is breathtaking --- I can almost see my own breath of condensed vapor in front of me in this steamy July when I'm reading the book. So good!

And ... the books have been made into a TV series! I've not seen it but apparently it's been renewed for a second season. I am pleasantly surprised that the lead actor is not a recognizable face.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

To Have and Have Not

Hemingway seems very very transparent to me in this novel (actually three shorter and interconnected stories combined). The macho male hero is not his self-portrait but the ideal he aspires to and knows very well in his heart he is not and cannot be. Life is just a downward spiral from the moment you are born. That's basically his theme. Rather than the macho tough man, the whiny and limp novelist he mocks in the later part of the story is probably closer to his self-image and self-identity.

It's obvious he was homosexual. The way he writes about the sexual energy of male characters, compared with the indifference to female characters, is unmistakable. You simply can't hide that. To confirm it he even dropped a few pages' description of a homosexual liaison. It is so cliched --- the most masculine posturing and protestation come from a self-loathing closet homosexual man.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jar City

Like most of the other Scandinavian crime movies, this one is also based on a bestselling novel, supplying rich and realistic details of a time and a place with a keen eye on social issues. This is a story about family and what binds people from generation to generation. At the center is (surprise!) a world-weary, middle-aged police inspector who has a hard crust on the outside but is actually a big softy inside. He lives alone and is divorced with a daughter. Every detective since Martin Beck is divorced with a daughter!

The movie is a part of American Film Institute (Silver Spring, Maryland) Scandinavian crime film series. More to come. In September they will again show RAID! the movie, which is a sequel to the unparalleled TV series.

The scenery in the film is harsh and chilling. There is rarely any sunshine and always windy, sometimes drifting icy rain. One also gets the sense that Iceland is a small country and people tend to know each other. 


不出所料的,影片虽然画面和题材都相当沉重,但仍少不了冷飕飕墨墨黑的幽默。例如年轻时髦的警探跟老警探一起开长途车探监一个危险的嫌疑犯,老警探不断抽烟,小警探抱怨烟味儿请他掐了,老警探冷笑说,别娘娘腔了。两人在食堂吃饭,老警探吃煮羊头津津有味,小警探问有没有素食,连食堂大爷都讥笑他一通。老警探在受害者家里发现地板有异,叫人掀起一看,挖出一具腐烂多年的尸体,几个警察捂着鼻子落荒而逃;接下来的镜头必须是在别处监视嫌犯的小警探坐在车里大嚼 donuts。要不要这么犀利啊,笑死了。

Thursday, July 11, 2013


刚做完一个项目,给自己放两天假。今天去国家艺术馆 (NGA) 看 Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909--1929 展览。看得我头昏眼花,真是太那个啥了。看看他们出产的舞剧就知道有多厉害了:Scheherazade, Firebird, Petrushka, Rite of Spring (!!), The Afternoon of a Faun, Parade. 听听跟他的芭蕾舞团合作过的大名们就知道有多如雷贯耳了: Stravinsky 和 Prokofiev 给他们写过音乐,毕加索和马蒂斯和 George Rouault 给他们画过布景和设计过舞台,Jean Cocteau 给他们画过海报,罗丹给 Nijinsky 塑过铜像。这才发现原来他们都是同时代而且同圈子里的人,不同媒体的人互相影响,cross-pollination 达到极致了。

Diaghilev 是老板,他的天才在于识货与人脉,把对的人在对的时机中搞在一起,炮制出前所未有的效果。Stravinksy 的作曲加上 Michel Foskine 的编舞(将现代舞元素注入芭蕾)加上 Nijinsky 的表演加上 Leon Bakst 的服装设计,制造出无与伦比的作品。即使今日看来,这些芭蕾和创意仍然震撼得很。

在历史上只有很少的几次有这样的机会,大量的新思想新观念与 intellectually restless 的人同时集中在很小的空间里,加入一定的经济条件,引发巨大的艺术与思想甚至科学的大爆炸。文艺复兴时代与1900-1929这段时间就是最好的例子。这种大爆炸实属罕见,但留下的影响又久又远。我们今天的音乐和舞蹈还在深受那个时代的影响,仿佛一顿撑死人的饱餐之后,我们至今还躺在那里慢慢消化那时的神奇美味。之后,创新不是没有,但绝没有这么强烈的后果。或者六十年代后期的思潮勉强可以算一个大爆炸时期,但是艺术上的成就远远不及。

Vaslav Nijinsky 和 Diaghilev 之间的恩怨真是太狗血了,太狗血了!过去只看过一些模糊不清的照片,我没想到 Nijinsky 如此美貌。据说他的身材线条不美,不符合芭蕾标准,矮且四肢粗短,正因为如此,天然的缺陷给他制造了锲机,创造出牧神午后和春之祭这样打破传统惊世骇俗的作品。

Sunday, July 7, 2013


上星期在波士顿参加的 conference,各种跟制药研究有关的 vendors 尤其是临床试验的各种服务都来摆摊儿。我在市场里转来转去,看见好几家中国的 CRO 的摊儿,还有保加利亚南美澳大利亚等地的 CRO 服务。最后在角落撞见一个芬兰的摊儿,跟一个中年女寒暄两句专业的,我提起喜欢芬兰影视,对方问看过啥,我说 Rare Export: A Christmas Story,还有电视剧 RAID,特别是你们的幽默感 ... 她心领神会地点点头:我们的幽默感,很多人欣赏不来呢。我对上暗号地说: 我知道,墨墨黑又干巴巴,我觉得特别逗。

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Take This Waltz

It just proves that when women do the female fantasy, it's usually just as self absorbed as the male fantasy.

In the same way that the female lead exists only to embody the ideals of the male lead character's ego, the same occurs in reverse. The ideal woman in the male fantasy is a projection of his needs and desires but not herself a real person. Here in Sarah Polley's take on adultery and love triangle, the "other man," Daniel, played by Luke Kirby, is as anemic and flimsy as all the other typical objects of one's fancy. 

Late in the movie Sarah Silverman's sister-in-law gave a (somewhat forced) speech to the heroine, Margot (Michelle Williams), which suggests that Polley is not completely unaware of the problem and that she must be, on some level, aware of the dark currents stirring at the heart of this fluff. However, I am unconvinced that she did fully explored the currents and knew clearly what they were about.

The movie makes half a case that it is sexual fulfillment that Margot lacks in her marriage and therefore what she seeks in her affair with Daniel, but it cannot make up its mind about the issue and drifts into other implications --- perhaps what she really needs is undivided attention to her! or grand romantic gestures! or a child! The author's own ambivalence results in the movie's indecision and ultimate demise.

As someone partial to a bit of pudge in men, it was impossible for me not to take the side of the husband (Seth Rogen) instead of the seducer Daniel. His adorably dorky laugh just ruins Margot's (unspoken) argument "My husband doesn't understand me."

It also bothered me for the entire movie that a young couple with such dismal jobs can afford such a beautiful old house in the heart of Toronto. Give me a break. She is a travel writer and his entire profession is to write and publish a cookbook on chickens. The practicality for Daniel is even worse as a rickshaw driver who doodles badly in his pleasingly messy apartment. It's a nightmare of paperback romance elements trying their darnedest to be artistic and quirky.

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