Sunday, May 17, 2015

All along the Apple Watchtower

I've got a mind to give up living
And go shopping instead
I've got a mind to give up living
And go shopping instead
Pick me up a tombstone
And be pronounced dead

— Variously attributed; performed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band  

Living is uncool. What matters now, for those who can or imagine they can afford it, is showing your up-to-the-second personal technology.

Steve Jobs's last words were said to be, "Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!" Not quite as elegant as Goethe's "More light," but perhaps his first glimpse into the life following death. I don't think he was looking down the tunnel to the Apple Watch.

No doubt, the Apple Watch — which has the world gaga — is capable of wonders, practical and pointless. I haven't bothered to learn all about it. Yours truly (as people used to sign letters), but I won't be yours in Apple blossom time. There seem to be three basic models, keyed to your socio-economic class, and loads of designs. Doubtless there are a billion aps, and it can do everything but spit nickels. Watch Ben-Hur on your wrist!

Throw in a Tesla to your instrumentarium and you're in the Elysian Fields without even bothering to cross over like Steve Jobs.

"The Apple Watch Will Create Its Own Market Based On Emotional Needs," writes a commentator who styles himself Clinically Sound Investor on Seeking Alpha. He's right.
The Apple Watch pre-orders totaled over $600 million. One thing people can take for granted and Apple doesn't have a problem with is heightened public awareness. The TV spots, the live demos at Apple Stores since April 24, as well as Guided Tours online, all have people thinking about the Watch even before they develop an interest. Once the Watch is out on the street and people see them on others, if there was thought of a "lack" before, it will feel more real. ...
The ability to send virtual taps, heartbeats, and drawings through Digital Touch actively reminds owners, "Great, I have the Watch," for staying connected to their community. ... For younger users, who grew up in an age where online contact with their social network is as pervasive as face-to-face time with their friends, the demand for the Watch may be even greater. The best way to stay connected is through instant sharing of emotions and ideas, which is more conveniently done with the Watch's texting and iMessage capabilities than finding your phone. 
In other words, "the Watch" enables people (especially the young, whom many from older generations now emulate) to find virtual meaning in their lives, often without interacting in "meat space."

You can argue that in principle there's nothing about wearing an Apple Watch that differs from the jewelry and decorative clothes that women and men have worn since the beginning of history (and probably before): it's a high-tech version of an aborigine's bone necklace. Right enough, it's human to want to be stylish, and if a gyroscopic sundial could have been made small enough, Egyptians of the XVIII Dynasty might have worn them or endowed their animal-headed gods with them.

I myself used to collect watches of eccentric or unusual appearance. They included a Sekonda whose face noted in microscopic letters, "Made in the U.S.S.R." My timepieces were admittedly intended to attract attention and show how hip I was. I still have them but no longer wear a watch, except occasionally on trips, because there are readouts all around on computers, car dashboards, TV screens, even electric ranges.

My watches were cheap, though, and nobody would have assumed that I'd paid any more for one than for a Timex. Style aside, all they did was tell the hour and minute. You even had to adjust them if you went to a different time zone.

There's a different and, to me, distasteful vibe about the Apple Watch. To judge from photos, some of the variations might be visually attractive, but the bragging rights they give the owner cross a line that ought not to be crossed. It's impossible to define where that line is exactly, but it has something to do with the biblical admonition that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Traditional Christianity doesn't much appeal to me, but it deserves credit for ceaseless analysis of human motives and the inner drives that can seize the soul and turn it away from the moral and spiritual. The Seven Deadly Sins are deadly precisely because they are tempting and often pleasurable. If we must derive and then satisfy an "emotional need" from a fancy science-fiction watch, we will deserve what we get.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

It's only sleeping

... I think.

It's getting on for a month since the last post. Partly your blogger has been overtaxed (and not only by the gangsters in Washington) and under-energized. Reflecting Light hasn't been reflecting much light or anything else lately. It is going through something of an identity crisis.

In its nearly decade-long existence, the blog has devoted a lot of electrons to lampooning politicians and politically correct lunacy. Mostly that's been fun for me and, I hope, for readers. But it implicitly assumed that in some small way, such posts might warn of a road washed out ahead. 

But my efforts -- and those of hundreds of bloggers more knowledgeable and influential than I -- have had, as far as I can see, zero payoff. Let's be honest with ourselves. The Left has won the political game not only in the U.S. but every major country in what was once called, with some validity, the Free World.

You've read about the two Muslim assassins who tried to put bullets through who knows how many people for daring to attend an event satirizing The Prophet. Half the commentariat blames the trouble on Pamela Geller, its organizer, not the would-be killers or their ideology. We read that before the recent election in the U.K., the candidate of the Labour Party said that if the voters in their wisdom installed him at 10 Downing, his government would outlaw Islamophobia.
"We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime,” [Labour leader] Miliband told the Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi in a wide ranging exclusive interview.

“We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country,” he said.
While they're at it, the Labour Party would "strengthen the law on disability, homophobic, and transphobic hate crime." That is, thought crimes and speech crimes by anyone who offends a protected group or member thereof.

I have no doubt the empty vessel occupying the White House would love to do the same. Maybe he'll give it a shot via executive order between now and when he can fully devote himself to speechmaking and golf in January 2017. It matters not if lots of people criticize or complain; they are powerless versus the strange oligarchy of cultural Marxists and big corporations that actually do the heavy lifting.

Anybody who still belongs to The Resistance has my blessing, but to me it's a lost cause and I'm too old to waste time on lost causes. There are other important (or at least interesting) things, some maybe even more important than politics. When and if Reflecting Light wakes up, those are what it will mainly reflect on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Of the two Italian filmmakers who came to prominence in the '60s -- Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni -- the former seems to be today's popular and critical favorite. Antonioni has mostly been relegated to the status of "important" (a kiss of death) or the product of his time.

Criterion, the company that does superb restorations of older films, has worked their magic on Antonioni's L'Avventura (1961). The movie is now on Blu-ray disc in a dazzling transfer. The image is crisper than you would have experienced it in most theaters when it was initially released, and the sound has probably been upgraded as well. 

If you've only seen L'Avventura in ill-focused, scratchy prints but found it worthwhile, you owe it to yourself to watch the Criterion Blu-ray version. The musical score doesn't strike me as particularly important in this work, but the black-and-white photography is a celebration of tones. And you get a good impression of Sicily more than half a century ago.

The knock on L'Avventura is that it's too long and under-dramatized. Long it is, about two-and-a-half hours, but except for a scene or two I found it captivating. The editing is more leisurely than is the norm nowadays, but the film is dramatic in its own idiosyncratic way. (And at least you can follow the story, which is more than can be said for many contemporary movies.)

The external action isn't particularly complicated, although what is going on beneath the surface is sometimes hard to fathom. A group of rich Romans go on a yacht trip in the sea off Sicily. Among them are Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti); his maybe-fiancée Anna (Lea Massari); and Anna's close friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti). They explore a volcanic island. When it's time to leave, Anna has gone missing. After calling in the coast guard to no avail, all except Sandro and Claudia return to Sicily, and they soon follow.

The rest of the picture focuses almost exclusively on Sandro and Claudia. He seems unconcerned about Anna, but strongly attracted to Claudia. At first Claudia resists Sandro's attentions, then discovers a passion for her missing friend's suitor.

The movie is somewhat disjointed, like a puzzle where certain pieces don't fit. For instance, the transition between Claudia's rejection and acceptance of Sandro is abrupt. Maybe she has fancied him all along, but I didn't notice any signs of it. Whatever isn't entirely clear, though, this is a movie about grown-ups with grown-up emotions, not the adolescents of all ages that predominate in American films today.

Antonioni at this point in his cinematic career had his own style, far from that of the visionary Fellini. Antonioni was more subtle, but most of his film is beautifully composed without calling undue attention its its director. L'Avventura is replete with knowingly framed shots and backgrounds that offer value added.

(I suspect this artist envied the greater attention given to Fellini, and later let himself be "influenced," partly successfully in Blow-Up, disastrously in Zabriskie Point. His last major film, The Passenger, was a recovery that played to his strengths.)

The central characters are strongly acted. And Monica Vitti -- oh, my. An almond-eyed Byzantine Madonna with wild locks of golden hair.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Constant non-comment

My counter doesn't indicate any notable drop-off in readership.

How come hardly any comments anymore? Have I become too uncontroversial? I'm not trying to stir up argument, but it would be nice to get a few reactions.

Regular programming will resume shortly.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Zephyr

Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, I will not go to church. But this past week, I went to a church.

The azure sky and warm breeze (known to the ancients as Zephyr) hinted at springtime, still shy in these parts, but with signs developing day by day. On impulse, I stopped at the Salem Church, near my home, scene of one of the many battles in this part of Spotsylvania County during Lincoln's War.

On May 3, 1863 -- a few months after the more famous Battle of Fredericksburg -- it was a center of carnage.

I was the sole visitor. The church can only be viewed from outside, the interior through a lower-story window. It is a simple building. The mid-19th century congregation consisted mostly of people from widely scattered farms, who no doubt couldn't afford a highly qualified architect or artistic decor.

As all the guidebooks note, small craters in the outside walls and broken brickwork are still visible. They are a little shocking, as they must have come strictly from rifle rounds; this was an ad hoc engagement by two armies moving fast, and there would have been no artillery.

If rifle fire could shatter brick walls like this, imagine what it could do to your skull, your throat, your intestines. Many a soldier on both sides didn't have to imagine it; they found out by experience.

Following the battle (which stopped the Union army advance) the church became a field hospital. According to an eyewitness:
Hundreds upon hundreds of wounded were gathered up and brought for surgical attention. . . . After the house was filled the spacious churchyard was literally covered with wounded and dying.

The sight inside the building, for horror, was perhaps, never equaled within so limited a space, every available foot of space was crowded with wounded and bleeding soldiers. The floors, the benches, even the chancel and pulpit were packed almost to suffocation with them.

The amputated limbs were piled up in every corner almost as high as a man could reach; blood flowed in streams along the aisles and the open doors.
The surroundings today are calm, except for the traffic downhill on Plank Road (Route 3), which follows the path via which Robert E. Lee brought a detachment of soldiers from Chancellorsville during the fight. There must be suffering spirits of dead combatants around, but I didn't feel anything creepy. The atmosphere just had that "seriousness" I mentioned earlier.

After the war the worshipers repaired the building, apparently with no architectural changes. (Interestingly, there were -- still to be seen -- separate entrances for men and women, and a third for slaves.) Regardless of how anyone feels about Christianity, preaching, praying and all that, there is something touching about how the worshipers restored their house of God to much the same condition as it had been before the savagery of war engulfed it. (Eventually, as the Fredericksburg suburbs overtook the area, the congregation built a new and larger church nearby and donated the old one to the National Park Service.)

I listened to the moaning of cars and trucks on Plank Road. I listened to the Zephyr's whistle. The past was quiet.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

When the Depression comes before the Crash

The, er, "suspect" poses in front of Suicide Bridge between
San Francisco and Marin County

There is little doubt that the crash of Germanwings 9525 was a case of suicide/murder on the part of the co-pilot (what we call first officer) Andreas Lubitz. It has been established that he in the past suffered from depression, although based on the articles I've read his mental state on his last flight is a matter of speculation. Nevertheless, depression seems a reasonable guess.

This, however, is not primarily about Flight 9525. (Does Germanwings have so many flights that they must label them with four-digit numbers?) It's about the inevitable storm over whether antidepressant medicines -- which it's not clear Lubitz was taking -- do more harm than good, or if they do any good.

Consider a posting from Natural News. The site's owner calls himself the Health Ranger and is described as a food science researcher. If you like, you can scroll past the subhead "It's not unusual for pilots to fly planes into terrain in flight simulators" (something I never heard of in more than a dozen years in the aviation safety field) to the next subhead, "FAA bans pilots from flying while on antidepressant drugs" (wrong). You will then read a distressing list of "other mass murderers who were taking antidepressant drugs."

Well, that settles it, what? 

No it doesn't.

The 510 comments on the article, which suggest that antidepressant effects are one hot topic, are mostly anti-antidepressant. A sizable bunch of dissenters, however, point out a principle known to anyone who has taken a class in experimental science, and possibly to most educated people: "Correlation is not causation."

That's why researchers, including those who have had apparent success in well-designed (randomized, double-blind, etc.) tests, are careful how they word their conclusions, e.g., "The results suggest that X is associated with favorable outcomes in the treatment of ... ."  

Depressed killers and suicides might have been given antidepressants in the first place because they were ill, in some cases already displaying suicidal and/or homicidal ideation. The medical establishment prescribes antidepressants too casually and does not monitor patients well enough, using observation and common sense. But I cannot think of any kind of experiment that would demonstrate a cause-effect relationship between antidepressants and dangerous behavior. 

Even if someone came up with an ingenious protocol to check the hypothesis, it would be unethical. Potential cures or alleviations are tried on patients suffering from a disorder. Any researcher who gave antidepressants to presumably non-ill patients to see if it would mess their minds up would be, quite rightly, kicked out of the profession and probably be looking at criminal charges.

This debate will go on and on because most of what we know about meds and the mind is hypothetical. If there were any way to demonstrate the effects by statistical analysis of large populations treated, it would have been done already. But it can't be, because there is no benchmark against which to evaluate results.

For what it's worth, my own view, based on both personal experience and a reasonable amount of study, is this: Some meds help some depressed people some of the time. That is obviously not a ringing endorsement. The inverse may also be true -- some meds hurt some depressed people some of the time.

What about the raging greed of Big Pharma? Sending cute-dolly sales reps to visit male doctors and the equivalent for female doctors, giving out free samples to prime the prescription pump? Point taken. But that doesn't mean the Health Ranger runs his site strictly pro bono. He has to make a living, too. Check out the ads from what the Ranger, to his credit, calls sponsors. ("Pain in the Butt? Hemroid [sic] Harry.")
Perhaps the best treatment for depressed patients -- if they're clinically depressed, not just unhappy -- is a combination of drug therapy and individual or group "talking" therapy. Under today's conditions that's pretty hard to arrange and it's hard to imagine who's going to pay the bills.

Here's a suggestion for the anti-antidepressant crusaders, however.

While Martin Luther King never said such a thing, and possibly never heard of antidepressants, make up a quote from him: "Antidepressants are racist! Bull Connor gives them to his attack dogs!"

The mainstream media will gobble it up. Within days, it will be unchallengeable. You're done, Big Pharma.