Revisiting 2001, 50 Years Later

2001:  A Space Odyssey has been one of my favorite movies ever since I first saw it.  The only word that adequately describe the film, in my view, is “awesome.”

2001-space-odyssey-watching-recommendation-videosixteenbyninejumbo1600Awesome in terms of its enormous storytelling sweep, taking us from the discovery of weapons by a bullied group of protohumans to a voyage to Jupiter; awesome in its special effects, which kicked off the rapid development of special effects in films, made “space movies” a new genre, and gave all viewers a new perspective on The Blue Danube; awesome in its anticipation of new technology and artificial intelligence; and especially awesome in its absolute embrace of an inexplicable, entirely weird, jaw-dropping storyline.  Oh, and there’s some funny moments in the film, too, such as when one of the characters has to figure out how to use a zero-gravity toilet, which involves carefully studying a long set of instructions.

It’s one of those favorite movies that I’ll always sit and watch if I stumble across it being shown on TV.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published an interesting article on 2001, its initial critical reception, and its anticipation of technology that is well worth a read, whether you are a fan of the film or not.  It’s fascinating.  And who would have thought that a movie that one highly regarded critic dismissed as “trash masquerading as art” would, 50 years later, be universally regarded as one of the most influential movies ever made?  It just reinforces a valuable lesson:  sometimes — perhaps often times — movie critics can be dead wrong, and paying too much attention to them might cause you to miss seeing a classic on the big screen.

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If You Want To Seem Smarter, Listen To Your Mom

If you want to seem smarter to your co-workers and new acquaintances, what should you do?  According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, a growing body of research shows that you would do well to listen to your inner Mom and follow her advice.

Raise your hand if you remember your Mom telling you to sit up straight and look her in the eyes when you were talking.  It turns out that those are two of the visual clues people focus on in deciding whether a person speaking is intelligent.  It’s not hard to understand why people have that reaction:  those who slouch look slothful and undisciplined and speakers who don’t make eye contact seem shifty and deceptive, whereas people who sit up straight and look you in the eye seem engaged, interested, direct, and honest — all qualities that are associated with intelligence.

According to the article, other behaviors that projected intelligence included having self-confidence, being responsive in conversation and not over-talking, using clear language and not unnecessary big words, and — and this is a key one — admitting it when you don’t know something and asking for help rather than trying to fake it.  You can bet that, in most situations, your audience will include someone who knows that you’re just trying to bluff your way through and your credibility will take a hit.

Oh, and one other cliche actually turns out to be right:  the research shows that observers inevitably conclude that people who wear eyeglasses are smarter.  No word, though, on whether darker frames are correlated with higher presumed IQ.

Shrink To Greatness

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about a novel technique that Ohio State coaches used to prepare their defense for the game against Oregon.

The coaches recognized that Oregon was a fast finesse team that specializes in up-tempo offense that sprints to the line of scrimmage and runs plays faster than anybody else.  So, how to go about mentally and physically preparing your defense for that challenge?  The Ohio State coaches decided to approach the game by asking their defensive linemen to go on diets — reasoning that, by shedding a few pounds, the big boys on the defense would feel lighter and faster, and therefore better prepared mentally for the game.  The rest is history, as the Ohio State defense held the fast-paced, high-powered Oregon offense far below its normal point output.

So, should we all go on The Ohio State Football Team diet?  Will the Silver Bullet Regimen replace the Beverly Hills Diet as the weight-loss approach of choice?  Probably not, because it likely wouldn’t work for most of us.  As the Buckeye players learned, when you’re a 6′ 5″ 300-pound athlete who is running sprints and practicing every day, you can lose five pounds in 10 days just by cutting out honey buns and candy bars.

On The (Uneven) Cutting Edge

When Kish and I first made the decision to sell our home in New Albany and move somewhere downtown, I joked that we were “cutting edge, baby!”  She scoffed at that notion.  According to the Wall Street Journal, we’re both right, in a way.

Last week the Journal published an article about how Columbusites are increasingly moving from the ‘burbs to German Village, the Short North, Italian Village, and downtown housing.  So, we may not be cutting edge, exactly, but we’re part of a growing trend that is establishing a significant shift in Columbus’ population — and Kish is right, as always, because as the Journal article acknowledges that our ultimate destination here in German Village has been an attractive, thriving area for decades.

IMG_4290The Journal article captures the upsides (like parks, restaurants, and interesting places that are all within walking distance), and the downsides (like the cost of renovating century-old homes), of this trend.  (I’d add that another upside/downside of German Village is the brick sidewalks, which are beautiful to admire but are requiring me to adjust my normal shuffling gait to avoid stumbles on bricks shoved up by tree roots.)  For many people, obviously, the attraction of these kinds of moves outweigh the risks, and since we’ve made the move many of our friends have indicated that they, too, are considering this course.

This is a good thing for the city of Columbus, clearly.  More residents means more tax revenues for city services, renovated historic neighborhoods are safer, more energetic, and more attractive when Columbus pitches itself to businesses that are considering relocating, and the influx of homeowners, condoites, and apartment dwellers is bound to bring more business downtown, too.  It will be interesting to watch how this big this wavelet turns out to be, and what Columbus looks like in its wake.  There are still a lot of downtown surface parking lots that I’d like to see filled with condos, apartments, pubs, and shops instead.

Things Have Changed, And Not For The Better

Peggy Noonan has a nice — and thought-provoking — piece in today’s on-line Wall Street Journal about Harry Truman after his presidency ended entitled “Politics in the Modest Age.”  I urge you to read it, but the basic thrust is this:  Truman didn’t cash in.

He had been president for almost eight years, had brought World War II to a close, and had presided over the Marshall Plan; he had issued executive orders, launched into the Korean War, and guided the federal government during the first crises of the Cold War.  He was an ordinary man who had been a fine President, and after his term ended he tried to go back to an ordinary life.  He returned to Missouri and lived with his beloved wife, Bess, highly conscious of not being perceived as trading on his office or his service to the nation.

Contrast Truman’s humble approach 60 years ago to the prevailing approach today, where ex-President and ex-Senators and ex-Cabinet members make millions by giving hour-long speeches, serving on boards, and writing biographies that receive huge advances.  The culture of cash goes deep: just yesterday Politico reported that Jay Carney, President Obama’s former press secretary, received a “signing bonus” to join a speakers bureau where he could earn up to $100,000 per speech; he’s entertaining job offers and has hired a Washington, D.C. “super lawyer” to negotiate any deals.  What does it tell you when even the President’s flack can leave office and be showered with money?

We could use more Harry Trumans and less money-grubbers in Washington, D.C.

The Network Issue

Another area in which the Affordable Care Act will have an impact on health care in America is beginning to get some attention.  It has to do with the “provider networks” — that is, the collection of doctors, hospitals, and other health care facilities and personnel being offered by some of the new insurance plans.

The Affordable Care Act posed some difficult challenges for insurers.  Under the statute, they were required to include a number of new, mandatory forms of coverage in their health care plans.  That requirement, obviously, limited the ability of insurers to control the costs of particular plans by tailoring the kinds of care covered by those plans.  But the insurers still need to figure out a way to control costs, because their plans need to be competitively priced.

There aren’t a lot of remaining cost-control options. One is to tinker with things like co-payments and deductibles and increase the non-premium payments that the insureds must make when they use health care.  Another is to limit the networks to particular health care providers who, due to location or contractual agreement or some other consideration, are offering health care at lower prices than their competitors.

That’s the gist of an article in the Wall Street Journal by a cancer patient whose existing policy has been canceled and who can’t find a substitute policy that includes all of the providers that have given her the unique combination of care that has allowed her to beat the odds and survive.  It’s an indication of the kind of long-term effects that will play out over time, as the Affordable Care Act reshapes the health care market.  In the individual market, at least, Americans who are used to going to whichever doctor and hospital they choose may need to change their habits — and they probably won’t be very happy about it.

My Cucaracha Cleveland Apartment

The other day I was walking and saw a large Palmetto bug, turned over, its many legs waving feebly in the air — and immediately my mind flashed back to the summer of 1979 and a truly crappy apartment in east Cleveland.

I was working for the Cleveland bureau of the Wall Street Journal as a summer intern.  I was paid $200 a week, so I had to find an apartment I could afford on that salary.  I found one in a large, brick, multi-story apartment building across the street from the municipal sewage plant in east Cleveland.  I remember the age of the place — it was probably built in the ’20s, and hadn’t had much upkeep since — its dimness and general shabbiness, and the paper-thin walls that allowed you to hear couples fighting (and sometimes doing other things) in the adjoining units.  But mostly, I remember the cockroaches.

The building was infested with them, past the point of no return.  During the dark hours, if you turned on the kitchen light the cheap linoleum floor was alive with cockroaches — hundreds of the squirming bugs, some the size of small cats, all high-tailing it for the dark areas under the cabinets and into the walls once the light flashed on.  It was telling that the cockroaches could dart in every direction and quickly find some passageway into the walls.  It made me realize that the walls must have been teeming and boiling with cockroaches, which wasn’t exactly the most comfortable feeling.

At first I tried to crush, or trap, or spray the cockroaches, but it quickly became clear that I was wasting my time.  The job was just too overwhelming, like trying to bail out a sinking cruise liner with a thimble.  So I adopted a guarded “live and let live” approach, gave the cockroaches plenty of time to scatter when I entered the darkened kitchen, and tried to forget that the filthy bugs — or their other compatriots in the insect world — were probably crawling all over me while I slept. Even scalding showers never let me feel truly clean.

I was very glad when my internship ended and I moved out of that apartment.  I think I may have burned all of the clothes I wore when I was there.