Archive for December, 2012


Guardians

Take your children, take your grandchildren, or just take yourself to see Rise of the Guardians.

There are times when every one of us needs a little reassurance.  Recent events make me feel that we are living in such times and Rise of the Guardians  the movie, might seem to be just for the children, but it’s not. It’s for anyone who has lost faith and stopped believing in goodness and the possibilities in the world.

My research produced a number of references from folklore to modern comics that deal with the subject of guardians and the battle between good and evil.  This particular story is based on a children’s fable described as a contemporary fairy tale entitled The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce.  I found it so charming, I sent copies to both sets of our grandchildren.  Joyce served as co-director on this magical and enchanting Dreamworks animation.  Here is an abbreviated synopsis of this sweet story, excerpted from the official website:

It’s a visually stunning yet simple story,  described as “an epic adventure that tells the story of a group of heroes, each with an extraordinary ability.   Meet The Guardians of Childhood:

Fairy.

Santa Claus – more than a legend in this story, is called North and is given voice by none other than Alex Baldwin. He’s not your typical belly-full-of-jelly character, “he’s a warrior with a heart of gold who has  ‘naughty’ tattooed on one arm and ‘nice’ on the other.  Fierce, demanding and impulsive, everything about North is larger than life.  For North, nothing is impossible as long as he believes in it.”

Jack Frost, in the voice of Chris Pine, “is more than a myth. He is a supernatural being much like the guardians, but unlike the others, he is a loner: the classic rebel without a cause.  He too is immortal, eternally young, charismatic and smart.  He has incredible weather powers that he controls with his magic staff; he can control the winds, storms, cold and snow.  He’s the spirit of mischief and chaos personified.  But until he can discover the purpose behind his amazing powers, he will never be a true guardian.”

The captivating Tooth Fairy is more than a fairy tale.  Given voice by Isla Fisher, Tooth is “beautiful, elegant,  blue and green iridescent, half human and half hummingbird.  She is full of energy and always in motion  collecting children’s teeth with the help of her fleet of mini fairies who patrol the globe 24/7.  What you don’t know is that the children’s teeth hold the most precious childhood memories.  Tooth safeguards these teeth in her palace and returns the memories when we need them most.”

Hugh Jackman lends his tough Aussie voice to Bunymund, aka The Easter Bunny, who believes that he is more than a fable.  “Bunny is a cool, calm Australian, as dry as the outback; an in-the-dirt, rough and tumble protector of nature.  He follows nature’s rhythms and when it’s time for action, he waits for the perfect moment to act – all over in a heartbeat with the help of his enchanted boomerangs and exploding Easter eggs.   Bunny is completely unflappable.   The only thing that gets under his skin is North’s constant ribbing about how Christmas is more important than Easter.”

sandman

Dear Sweet Sandman – more than a dream – has no voice, but he is still “our guardian of dreams.  He communicates through magical sand images that are conjured in our imagination, like a game of charades.  He is ancient and wise and incredibly powerful.  Although peaceful by nature, Sandman is a fierce fighter, expertly wielding his dreamsand-whips to fight Pitch and his nightmares.”

And then there is Pitch, an evil spirit perfectly pitched by Jude Law, giving voice to the “boogeyman who hid under your bed when you were a child, and gave you reason to fear the dark.  He’s had to endure generations of parents telling their children not to fear or believe in him, while the Guardians are beloved by all.

But in his underground liar Pitch has devised a plan to change all that.  With the help of his sinister army of nightmares, Pitch plans to destroy belief in the guardians and all they represent – until there is nothing left but fear.”

When Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world, “the immortal Guardians must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs and imagination of children all over the world.”

Wasn’t it Tinkerbell who said, “You don’t have to understand, you just have to believe.”  Our world is so complex, it’s easy to lose faith, but maybe it’s worth a try. At least seeing this movie made me feel that way for a while.

Give yourself a treat this holiday season.  Go to the movies!

wordsDuring the December holiday marathon, the one bit of advice is always…Breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in.  And do try to keep your sense of humor.

Thus, a little contribution to your sanity.

Did you know that December is the most popular month for nose jobs?

From the Southern Groan department:

In a small Southern town there was a nativity scene that showed great skill and talent by the makers.  However, there was one small item that bothered some of the onlookers.  The three Wise Men were wearing firemen’s helmets.

At a convenience store a clerk was asked about the meaning of the helmets.  After exploding with rage, he yelled “Don’t you damn Yankees ever read the Bible?”  When he was assured that that wasn’t the case, he jerked his Bible from under the counter and flipped through the pages and finally, jabbed his finger at a passage.   “See, right there, it says the three wise men came from afar.”

Merger-mania Hits December Holidays

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works for about 1300 years.

dredelWhile details were not available at press time, it is believed that the overhead cost of having twelve days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah was becoming prohibitive for both sides. By combining forces, we’re told, the world will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukkah, as the new holiday is being called.

Massive layoffs are expected, with lords a-leaping and maids a-milking being the hardest hit. As part of the conditions of the agreement, the letters on the dreydl, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider audience.

Also, instead of translating to “A great miracle happened there,” the message on the dreydl will be the more generic “Miraculous stuff happens.” In exchange, it is believedpeartree that Jews will be allowed to use Santa Claus and his vast merchandising resources for buying and delivering their gifts.

One of the sticking points holding up the agreement for at least three hundred years was the question of whether Jewish children could leave milk and cookies for Santa even after having eaten meat for dinner.  A breakthrough came last year, when Oreos were finally declared to be Kosher. All sides appeared happy about this.

A spokesman for Christmas, Inc., declined to say whether a takeover of Kwanzaa might not be in the works as well. He merely pointed out that, were it not for the independent existence of Kwanzaa, the merger between Christmas and Chanukah might indeed be seen as an unfair cornering of the holiday market. Fortunately for all concerned, he said, Kwanzaa will help to maintain the competitive balance. He then closed the press conference by leading all present in a rousing rendition of “Oy Vey, All Ye Faithful.”

One final groaner:

What do you call a bunch of Chess Grand Masters bragging about their game prowess  in a hotel lobby?elf

Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.

I hope you all have a peaceful and calm holiday.

Thanks once again for all your support and interest in this little labor of love.  I enjoy writing it, but most of all, I enjoy your comments and the fact that I am connecting with you. If you would like to receive notification when new posts are made,  click on the RSS Feed, highlighted in the upper right side of this page, within the words:  “Hey there! Thanks for dropping by La Bella Vita! Take a look around and grab the RSS feed to stay updated. See you around!”   Also, you are welcome to forward the blog to others who might also be interested.

 

homelesswoman

Back in the 80’s when driving to my office, I often passed  a woman on the street who was generally dressed in a peasant type blouse, a full skirt and cowboy boots.  She wore a sequined headband that held back her very wild hair.  In that same area there was another woman whom I called “The Pink Lady.”  She was always neatly dressed, wearing a raincoat of some kind with a long pink scarf jauntily tied around her neck. Behind her she pulled a cart lined in pink plastic which I presumed contained her belongings. She had long bleached hair and I often wondered how she touched up her roots.   There was another woman who showed up periodically at an insurance agency in my office building.  I eventually learned that she, like the others, was homeless.  She had family from whom she was estranged, but who provided money for her through the insurance agent.  When she needed it, she came by the building and the agency owner gave her money.

Sounds like the big city?  It wasn’t – it was the relatively small, safe upscale tourist community of Hyannis, Massachusetts.  These women, along with many others, were homeless.  I saw them on my way to work  because they had been kicked out of the local homeless shelter each morning at 8 am.  They weren’t “allowed to lay about the shelter during the day,”  so having nowhere to go, they roamed the streets until they could return to the shelter at 7 pm.

At the time I understood very little about those folks, but subsequently I was invited to join the board of directors of a local medical clinic which served the homeless  population and there I began to learn more about the root causes of homelessness, which are multiple and complex: mental illness or mental disabilities, addiction, poverty and affordable housing. (Today we can add unemployment to that list.)

The most shocking ah ha for me was that often these folks do have families who care deeply about their circumstances, but when the homeless are mentally incapable (not unwilling) of “conforming” to society’s rules the families  end up throwing up their hands.  I had two dear friends whose family members (one a daughter, one a mother) drifted from shelter or facility causing no small amount of anxiety as the family members tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to keep them safe from harm.  None of these folks received the regular and steady mental health treatment they deserved.

While the majority of the homeless I observed were disturbed but not “dangerous,” there are those that are – and you and I cannot tell the difference. I served as the jury foreman on a case where a homeless manhomeless1 was charged with assault, attempted rape and attempted murder of a young girl at a nearby beach.  He “lived” in that same Hyannis shelter and might have been viewed as “harmless.”  That is until he wasn’t harmless.  It was a heart-wrenching case that has haunted me for years and yesterday I could not help making a comparison when I listened to the news of the Connecticut shooting.   Or for that matter, the “random” shootings in Colorado and Michigan and Virginia, all the way back to Columbine.

When mental health institutions were deregulated, the sentiment was that “these people would be happier if they were released from care and given more freedom to make their own decisions.”  But the truth of the matter was and is, it was a fast way to save money by eliminating the state’s expense and load the burden onto the private sector.  The homeless population exploded. Erratic behavior was front and center – if we cared to look – but we didn’t.

Those who suffer from mental illness were and are expected and forced to make decisions that are beyond their capabilities – simple day-to-day decisions – like buying food, remembering to take their meds or doing laundry. To the mentally ill these things can be simply overwhelming.  Families are no more equipped today than they were then, to cope with the full time requirements associated with the mental illnesses of their loved ones.  Just as the Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was found to have a history of mental problems, I suspect we will learn in the coming days that there were mental health issues with Adam Lanza and there were signs along the way, subtle perhaps, but there just the same.  I can’t help but think he had somehow concluded that there was nowhere for him to go.

But instead of having a fruitful debate about how to deal with mental illness, we’ll have a polarized debate about gun control.  That’s so much easier to discuss isn’t it?

How many tragedies will it take before we really get to the heart of the matter of mental illness? The taking of 27 innocent lives isn’t about guns.  It’s about a segment of our society that we deem invisible.  That’s what we do – we look through them or past them, but we find a way to pretend that they aren’t there. Can there be any more cruel behavior than looking through people whom we consider odd, or who make us the slightest bit uncomfortable because their behavior isn’t quite “right?”  Read The Gift of Fear.  Our intuitions tell us when we are in danger.  I have to wonder about the wisdom of Mrs. Lanza having one gun in a home – never mind three,  if there was any doubt about her son’s stability.  Perhaps she felt she needed to protect herself from her son.

There are no easy answers to this enormous, terribly serious issue and I fear we will continue to have these shootings.  It’s “too hard” to have a meaningful dialogue about such complexities – we’re too busy worrying about our new i-Pads and which celebrity is getting divorced and the crass consumerism of how much stuff we’re getting for Christmas. Speaking of which, every newscaster (I can no longer call them journalists) yesterday seemed unusually outraged that this horrific shooting happened “a week before Christmas!”  Hummm…perhaps it would have been better to do it in March – there is absolutely nothing going on in March – such a slow news month.

My young man from the court case was found guilty of assault and attempted rape, but not guilty of attempted murder.  Because he had multiple notebooks filled with confused and rambling obsessions, we had an incredible glimpse of how he was wired.  As a result, we the jury believed he was incapable of organizinghomeless2 his thoughts to the extent of planning a murder.  But as I read the verdict in court, I could barely utter the words.  I couldn’t help but wonder, had he gotten the treatment he deserved, might he at least have been spared the horrible life he experienced.  He was sentenced to life in a mental institution but I doubt that he receives any better care there, than he got on the street.

My Pink Lady died – frozen in sleep one winter night, not three blocks from the shelter.  I say “My” because aren’t we all responsible for those who are unable to care for themselves?  Isn’t that what entitlements should be for?  Those who have nowhere else to go.

I recently came upon the following column, written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.  The logic in his explanation rings so true to me.  I could not endorse a sentiment any more strongly than Ben Stein’s.  I hope you’ll appreciate the sentiment.

Ben-Stein-02

My confession:

 I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, “Merry Christmas” to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crib, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her: “How could God let something like this happen?” (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said: “I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”

In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbour as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said okay.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.   Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

 Pass it on if you think it has merit.  If not, then just discard it…. no one will know you did. But if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

 My Best Regards, Honestly and Respectfully,

 Ben Stein

Isn’t wisdom gained through understanding how and why something was done?  Isn’t that the basis for forming beliefs and opinions?  Because history is no longer an integral part of a well-grounded education today, is there any opportunity for those in charge to appreciate the hard-won wisdom of those who went before us and paid such a dear price?

With the release of the most recent biographical film on Abraham Lincoln, we have the gift of a fresh and vibrant Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s luminescent film about our 16th President. We would do well to ponder the invaluable lessons of his presidency, woven like threads of gold into this brilliant historical tapestry.

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln

Although Lincoln has been a constant in our lives – from the copper pennies that bear his face, to the silhouette on the teachers’ February-themed bulletin board, to the silent, massive image gazing out upon the throngs at his Memorial in Washington –  most of us know next to nothing about him – about how he accomplished what so many believed was absolutely and completely wrong, dangerously pig-headed and impossible.  He did it because he believed in a higher ideal.

Daniel Day Lewis brings this enigmatic leader into breathtaking focus with his perceptive portrayal of a “scorned, back-woods lawyer,” contemptuously described  by his contemporaries as an uncouth, awkward, baboonish, shuffling, and uneducated creature of politics.  This Lincoln embodies everything we would eschew today, given the current trend to favor sophisticated form over honest substance.

And yet, the intricacies  found in Lincoln’s emotional and intellectual depth leave us gasping.  In one sentence he whipsaws us from the lowest political motives to literary analogies that are inspirational. It is a privilege to watch Lincoln’s steady but oh so painful efforts to move our country towards the passage of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, while Lewis steadfastly moves us towards an understanding of Lincoln’s character that is nothing short of a tour de force.

The film examines the messy process of governance, using the high drama and complexities surrounding the passage of the amendment to abolish slavery.  That event alone is worthy of study in that the sharp divide in the Union then, is disturbingly similar to the divisions we face today – states rights vs. the good of Union – The UNITED States of America.  Left vs. Right. Democrats vs. Republicans.  Liberals vs. Conservatives.  Democracy vs. Socialism.  America vs. Europe. We may be even more polarized today than we were back then, given that so many today seem so ignorant of what they are risking.

Lewis gives us insight into Lincoln’s brilliant mind through his awkward carriage, stooped low by the awesome burden of governance,  his powerfully expressive eyes, and his parsimonious language.  We see his mind – whirling cogs and wheels – contemplating the  repugnance of war, the immorality of slavery and the avarice of his fellow citizens.  His Congress vacillates, weighing the sacrifice of doing what is right and necessary, regardless of, or in spite of, personal gain.  The audience is mesmerized.  We hang on every syllable uttered by men who only in retrospect would be labeled great.

Lincoln should be required viewing for every member of Congress, every appointed government official,  as it reminds us in the most uncomfortable ways that without a greater purpose, there can be no justification for the tawdry, squalid, partisan muckraking that consumes our government – we are reduced to the lowest common denominator.  The issues of today are equal to the ones which took the country to the precipice in 1865.  Yes, we have great causes – all governments, countries, eras have them, but ours seem subordinate to petty partisanship.

Where are the great leaders who are willing to bring passion to outcomes worth more than the political patronage of horse traders and nest featherers?  There will always be that, human nature being what it is, but we’ve lost sight of the greater good and there is no one to lead us and inspire us to be better than we are.

lincoln-daniel-day-lewisI am reminded of a much used phrase, from Aesop, from Patrick Henry, from the new Testament – United we stand, divided we fall,  which also appears on the great seal of the State of Kentucky, (incidentally Lincoln’s actual birthplace.)  Lincoln understood what was at stake.  He knew that governing was a lonely business, not a popularity contest.  He was willing to risk his entire Presidency, and ultimately his life, on the strength of an ideal that he believed would right a tremendous wrong and would eventually heal the country.  If only we had such wisdom and courage from our leaders now; if only they would choose honesty and truth over political expediency.

If you don’t see another movie this year, I urge you to see this one, and take a few of the younger generation with you.  Sally Fields is at her best as Mary Todd Lincoln.  We are awed by Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus  Stevens and we are deeply grateful for the comic relief from James Spader as a hapless lobbiest who breaks the tension when we need it most.  David Strathairn as a more than sufficiently arrogant William Seward. There are a few things I could criticize about the Lincoln screen play but I won’t.  The bulk of it is just too remarkable to mention minor flaws.

P.S. If this movie whets your appetite and you are curious to know more about the subtle brilliance of Lincoln, I heartily recommend Doris Kerns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals.  It was a primary resource for this movie.

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