Friday, January 31, 2014


I've seen some great DVD movies in the last two weeks.  The best was "Gow, the Headhunter," a  documentary from the early thirties about Melanesian headhunters and cannibals. The film has to be seen to be believed. It's not one of those tasteful National Geographic specials where everybody's smiling and wearing Nike T-shirts.

At the time the filmmakers arrived the cannibals and headhunters were at war, if that's the word for it. I got the feeling that the so-called "war" was the normal state of affairs in those islands. You'd think headhunters and cannibals would have been natural friends and allies, united against the rest of the world but, no, they hated each other. These were highly fortified islands where strangers, including the film crew, were definitely not welcome.

Another interesting film was "Wolverine." It was fun and exciting but the subtext is what put it over for me. It posited that Tokyo is a city where everybody strives for excellence, even the gangsters, and anything less is just unacceptable.  I don't know if that's true or not, but it makes for good storytelling.

Then there was "Quartet," a nicely directed film by Dustin Hoffman. The story's about the intrigues in an old folks' home for classical musicians. Don't let that scare you away, because the film is really about music, and the kind of people who are wedded to it.

A lot of the film's music is played on upright pianos by presumably arthritic fingers, and it sounds just fine. Maybe we're all too obsessed with the concept of recorded "best versions." What's wrong with a simply good version played live by people in the room who are passionately in love with the pieces they're playing?

My favorite scene was one where the old musician tries to explain opera to a hip-hop guy.  He said it's music where a strong emotion in the singer has to come out, and it does...explosively. I like that formulation but it seems only half right. I'd modify it to say that the best operas are ones where the nobility, skill, and greatness of soul of the composer are made available to us through the medium of gifted, idealistic performers. When you hear it live, sung by singers who "get it" and are physically present, you're witnessing the proof that human beings are very great creatures indeed.

Last but not least...I saw the Third season of "Sherlock" on Orange County's PBS station. Wow, and double Wow! It was great! Geez, now I have to suffer the torments of the damned while I wait for another year or more for the fourth season.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


WARNING: This post speculates about the nature of death, and posits that it's painful and terrifying. It's a downright creepy subject, definitely not suitable for anyone who's recently experienced the death of a loved one. Be warned!


Okay, if you're still here, then I can promise that you'll at least acquire an interesting story to tell around campfires and at Halloween parties. Here goes:

Occasionally you hear families say about a deceased relative: "He died peacefully in his sleep. We can only hope to be as lucky when our time comes." Lucky? How can they be so sure? If the evidence for a peaceful passing was simply the man's relaxed corpse, then maybe they should have withheld their judgement. Who really knows what his mental state was when he died?

What started me thinking about this was a TV documentary about lethal injection. It argued that this might be a more painful method of execution than people think. The show cited a study of brain waves from the lethally injected which indicated brain activity for several minutes after the heart stopped. In view of the pain cited by survivors of heart attack and stroke, it doesn't seem out of line to speculate that these men experienced agony as their body shut down.

You can further speculate that the prisoners were paralyzed by the opiates added to the poison and were unable to show any outward manifestation of that pain. Imagine that...severe pain without even the small comfort of being able to thrash about or scream. A very scary thought! 

It occurred to me that the so-called peaceful deaths of the bed-ridden might occur the same way. Imagine a man in bed, sleeping soundly. Somehow the oxygen to his brain is cut off and he startles to wakefulness. Let me stop here to underline my belief that he wakes up. It's inconceivable that the body would react passively to a trauma like this. He'd wake up in a panic.

Maybe his lungs would still work for a time, but at a fraction of their normal capacity. If you ever choked on water that went down the wrong pipe, you know what it's like to breathe through what feels like a pinhole. Maybe our sleeper would experience this.

Maybe his heart would lose it's rhythm before it stopped beating. That's bound to hurt. The poor victim might try to get out of bed and flail about, but it's more likely that he'd take the avenue of least pain and stay on his back, hoping that the condition would right itself if only he could be still.

As his vessels constricted, his muscles would begin to fail and the victim would lapse into a state of painful paralysis. If he was sitting up before, he'd now fall down on the bed, maybe blind, and with his arms close to his side. His grimacing face would lose it's expressiveness and become neutral.

His mind would be active for some minutes after his body failed, a long time since minutes pass like hours when you're in pain. As the oxygen-deprived brain deteriorates, wild, crazy thoughts might race through his head. Along with the pain might come regret for past misdeeds and worry about family and friends. Maybe he'll think of some vitally important message he wants to convey, but can't. Almost certainly the final thoughts of his crumbling brain would be a scream in Hell... madhouse ravings, with no logic or pattern.

Of course in the morning his relatives will find a relaxed body, peacefully lying on a pillow, and covered with sunlight from a newly opened window.


I hope I haven't disturbed anybody with this. I'm happy to be able to end on a more cheerful note, thanks to Anonymous (Buzz?) who made the following comment to the original post:

Eddie, "opiates" are pain relievers. They BLOCK pain. They are not in any way "paralyzers" although too much of them can stop breathing function.

I read a fascinating book dealing entirely with the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg-the wounded, dead, the town and how the cleanup was dealt with. The soldiers left in the "hospital"(a tent, makeshift and filthy) who had undergone hacksaw surgeries, missing limbs etc. including one whose wounds were infested with squirming maggots(who wrote this story at the time in a letter), went from screaming to singing merrily when they were given a nice big dose of morphine-the root drug of all "opiates"-laudanum, codeine, etc.!

They were alert but feeling NO pain at all although some had the most painful wounds imaginable short of burns.

There's been a lot of study into this area; basically the brain when it it shutting down for real (or thinks it is, which is often near enough-i.e. when it goes into that shock) goes about the business of blocking andinhibiting pain--releasing large amounts of endorphins There's no evidence at all that an unconscious person experiences terrible pain or any pain at all, as the brain is not conscious. As others pointed out, if it were not so, every operating patient would come out of anesthesia telling blood curdling stories of the pain they experienced. That never happens.

text not in italics copyright Eddie Fitzgerald 9/16/2009

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Maybe I should have called this post, "John K Does It Again." John has a knack for discovering...or rather, rediscovering... wonderful live action cartoon characters in old films. Here's (above) his latest discovery, Louis Wolheim.

That's Wolheim on the left, listening to John Barrymore, from a 1920s version of "Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde." Wow, two great faces in the same shot! 

If I have the story right, Wolheim started out as a mild-mannered math professor who acted on the stage occasionally just for fun. He got serious about it when John and Lionel Barrymore told him, "With that face you can make a million dollars!"

I've only seen Wolheim in one starring role, "The Ship from Shanghai" where he played Ted the Steward, a mutineer on a rich man's yacht.  It was great! You feel sorry for the frivolous rich people in the story because the man they hired to serve up their drinks was a force of nature: a born malcontent, a sort of mean Elmer Fudd. He just wanted to kill all the men and take all the women. Wolheim was brilliant in it.

Unfortunately Wolheim died of cancer in the early sound era.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Above, a picture of me the way I no doubt will look years down the line, and...way down in the right corner... a picture of me the way I looked when I was "young and vigorous" (as John calls it), only a few years ago. What a difference! Man, it doesn't take long before Nature shows you the exit door.

I have no serious ailments but the recent deaths of two friends has brought anxiety about my own mortality to the fore, and thinking about it has left me in a funk. Don't worry. I'll get over it.

BTW: can you guess where the framed picture came from?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


A few days ago I discovered that animation blogger Michael Sporn died, a victim of Pancreatic Cancer. It was a real shock. I knew he'd been away from his blog for a few weeks but I had no idea his problem was life threatening.

I never met Michael but I was a frequent visitor to his blog and over the years I came to think of him as a friend. The news of his passing is very sad. I wish Michael had confided his condition to his readers. He did it in order to spare us, of course, but a person as thoughtful and aware as Michael want to know what he was thinking near the end. 

Anyway, the man will be greatly missed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I'll take this opportunity to respond to a British commenter (name witheld by request) who said that he couldn't stand to hear upper class accents on the BBC. I love that accent myself, but then again I live in America and have never had it used against me in the form of a class weapon. I thought it might be fun to put myself behind his eyes, and try to see the language war the way he sees it.

The commenter must go nuts when he sees short films like the one above. In the film Peter Sellers is a twit, but he's confident that his accent and upper class bearing will get him a date with a girl he doesn't even know, and it does. This arrogant, aristocratic confidence drives the commenter crazy. It's as if the accent was deliberately devised, not just to insult and exclude working people, but to rub their noses in the insult in as many ways as possible. Well, maybe it was, at least in part. Even so, I can't really agree that Britain would be better off without it (the commenter never said that it would, but I'll pretend that he did)

Listen to Dylan Thomas (above) read "Do Not Go Gentle." Does anyone seriously think that poem would sound as good if it were read by a cockney? Does anyone imagine that the reader (Thomas) had the intention of suppressing anyone when he read it? My guess is that Thomas talks the way he does mainly because it strikes his poet's ear as beautiful...which it is...and because it connects him to Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton. If Britain ever exterminates that language, and the best part of the culture that goes with it, then Britain won't be Britain. It'll just be another tube stop at the edge of Eurasia.

 Let me digress to talk about what language and accent is. It's more than a conveyor of text. At the level Thomas uses it, it's layered with ideals of intellect and civilized behavior, of self-discipline, dignity and compassion, of manliness and efficacy. It's amazing that an accent was forged that can convey so much information, and can attach these qualities to whatever idea is being expressed. It's a language that attempts to improve the speaker and listener alike. I regard it as nothing less than miraculous...even if it is misused by people like the character Peter Sellers played.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Here's  what I've been reading lately..."Confessions of a Sociopath," by M. E. Thomas, a clinically diagnosed sociopath. The book cast a pall over my holiday because it was so interesting that I couldn't put it down, even when I was forced to read by the light of the Christmas tree. It wasn't exactly holiday reading. My family must have thought I was nuts.

The author is unusual in that she actually likes being a sociopath. She says it confers advantages. She says her inability to experience emotional attachment allows her to be objective, to consider things on their own merit without emotional bias. She thinks the world wouldn't work without people like that. And besides, given the choice of being a wolf or a sheep who wouldn't prefer to be a wolf?

That's not to say that this condition doesn't have big disadvantages. Sociopaths get bored easy and will turn to mischief just for something to do. In Thomas's case she hinted that she filed sexual harassment complaints against innocent men she didn't like, just to watch them squirm. As a consequence she had to change jobs every two or three years because she'd get a reputation as a troublemaker. I get the feeling that sociopaths are frequent job changers.

BTW: bored easy can be a surprisingly dangerous trait. Lots of us fill in the gaps during the day with random thoughts about social relationships. Sociopaths aren't interested in things like that and the void that results sometimes drives them to do wild things to fill it. Geez, maybe thinking of social trivia keeps normal people sane. But I digress....

Another disadvantage is that sociopaths never seem to learn from bad experiences. They're driven to do what they do, sometimes with slight regard to consequences.

They're also born manipulators. They can be good listeners, but that's because they hope to discover your vulnerabilities. Sociopaths are users. Someone on the net said their true goal is to make their acquaintances into zombie slaves. They don't believe that harms us much because in their eyes the rest of us aren't fully human anyway. We're just... goldfish. It's not like they were hurting a real human themselves.

Sociopaths are said to be more likely than normals to be drug abusers. Maybe that comes from being bored easy. They also have violent tendencies but many manage to keep them in check, largely by avoiding situations where they'd lose control. One commenter on Thomas' blog "Psychopath World" says he steers clear of prostitutes because their high risk life style makes them perfect victims, and he'd rather not be tempted.

Lots of psychologists subscribe to the famous list of seven sociopathic attributes found below. You can have only five and still be diagnosed as a socio, but four or less apparently disqualifies you.

Thomas says she'd add one more attribute: a lack of a sense of self. Socios are shape shifters who tailor their personality to fit the unique need of each person they're trying to manipulate. The downside of all that role playing is that sociopaths may not have a default personality. They don't have a clear idea of who they really are.

How do you spot a sociopath? Thomas offers her own list of twelve relatively minor behaviors that might serve as a tipoff (below).

It's kind of funny that sociopaths are appalled when they're confused with psychopaths. In their eyes psychopaths are just plain crazy.  Psychopaths hear voices or see visions...they're delusional. Sociopaths aren't delusional at all. They take in information the same way the rest of us do, they just have different values, or at least that's how they see it. Haw! It's funny to think that in the world of psychological disorders each group has its own niche, which is strenuously defended. 

What's my take on all this?  I think Thomas may be right about the benefits to society of certain disorders, provided the sufferer has some self restraint. At the top of the heap are the obsessive compulsives. We all benefit from what those guys do, though they don't seem very happy and I wouldn't want to trade places with them. Sociopaths are scary because at the extreme end they can lapse into absolute evil, but a mild case...mmmm, maybe there's some benefit there, I'm not sure.

I do think that too many normal people cheerfully identify themselves as sociopaths based on the fact that they have disdain for the people they meet. That doesn't sound right. Disdain alone isn't sociopathy, it's just...I don't know...misanthropy. If the book is right, sociopaths aren't just down on people; they have no personality, are chronic manipulators and shape-shifters, are potentially violent, and never learn from experience. It's a whole package.

BTW: A commenter doesn't agree that there's a difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. I've read differently, but he cites a reputable source. Read what he says and judge for yourself. 

Monday, January 13, 2014


Yikes! I misspelled "Photographer" in the headline, and I can't change it. I guess I'm stuck with it.

Thursday, January 09, 2014


A new set of Carol Burnett TV shows came out recently and my library got a copy. What a gold mine! Gee, I miss that show. Burnett played a host of characters that were just hilarious. Here (above) she parodies Norma Desmond from Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard." 

And who's she sitting with? Is that Daddy Warbucks? No it's Harvey Corman playing Max, Norma Desmond's manservant.  Thanks to Mike for identifying these characters. 

I think this character (above, right) is called Eunice. Burnett played the role so well that you can't help but speculate that she grew up with a real Eunice in her life.

Haw! Eunice's mother (far right) sits with her legs far apart, which was strangely common among grannies of my grandmother's generation. Maybe that was a Flapper thing to do. 

Older women of that generation also stood up in an awkward way, like Carol does above. I wonder why. 
This (above) is from a flashback showing how Eunice was courted by her husband.

She wiggles out of his clutches and springs to her feet, as if she were delivering a manifesto. Note the see-through blouse...pretty racy stuff for 60s TV.

She did a great parody of beach movies. How do you like the way she dances the Hully Gully?

Here's (above) Burnett doing a dim-witted secretary, Miss Wiggins.

Tim Conway was her boss. I like the pot belly.

To get his secretary's attention he says, "Read my lips," and she does....diligently.

Sunday, January 05, 2014



GUNNAR (VO): "Admit it, this talk we're having isn't going anywere is it? You'll come away from this visit disappointed, thinking I've let you down."

GERTRUDE: "You haven't let me down. Worse things will happen before the day's over.  They always do."

GERTRUDE: "I've come to the conclusion that life is essentially meaningless."

GUNNAR: "I'm going to get half a glass of water. Can I get you some?"

GERTRUDE: "Will the glass be half empty or half full?"

GUNNAR: "Er...half full."

GERTRUDE: "Then count me out. I don't believe in mindless optimism."


SVEN: "Gertrude, come away with me. You know me. I'm just a starving student and I have nothing to offer but squalor, but think of it...we'll be young together. There'll be wine and song and, well.....gusto."

GERTRUDE: "Gusto? What place does gusto have? At some point we'll be struck down by death and all our achievements will wither."

SVEN: "Then I guess this is good bye, Gertude. Good-bye."

GERTRUDE: "What's good about it? We're fallen creatures. Humans are fallen creatures."


GUNNAR: "So you're back. I've been staring at a spot on the wall while you were gone. 

GERTRUDE: "Maybe I'll stare with you. Outside there's nothing but despair and hopelessness, just like in here."

GUNNAR: "Let's drift into the bedroom and have boring sex. There's at least a miniscule chance that it'll go well.

GERTRUDE: "Alright. I'll get the Abilify."