Tuesday, November 25, 2008

News bits

One of my many obscure interests is precious metals, especially as related to numismatics (the study or collection of monetary objects). The physical properties of currency fascinates me sometimes, the security features, and the designs of foreign currencies and what they say about the culture that produced them.

In today’s New York Times, there’s an interesting story about the launch of a new U.S. gold coin, produced at the U.S. Mint in West Point. The coin is a $20 face value solid gold coin (worth about $900) that is a reproduction of a century-old design called the double-eagle – considered to be one of, if not the most beautiful U.S. coins ever made. When the coin was originally struck, technology was not able to make it commercially feasible, plus the director of the Mint at that time didn’t want to support the design favored by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There are less than two dozen of the original coins remaining, making them among the most prized of U.S. coins, fetching prices into the millions of dollars. For the full story, see below:

"Century Later, Gold Coin Reflects Sculptor’s Vision" - Nov. 25, 2008

Also in my morning media sweep, I found a very compelling debate on gay marriage between Chicago Tribune blogger Eric Zorn and Allan Carlson, president of the Rockford-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society and Founder and General Secretariat of the World Congress of Families. What’s great about this online debate is how both sides are able to make their points in a civilized and intelligent way, without devolving into the name-calling and hysterics that the issue tends to engender among bloggers and their audiences. It’s a very interesting read for anyone who wants to understand some of the core points on both sides of the issue.

The great online gay-marriage debate

Tara came over last night for dinner and we settled in to watch one of my favorite movies, Se7en, directed by David Fincher, who went on to direct The Game, Fight Club and Zodiac. He also directed Alien 3 previously. Like Hitchcock, Truffant, de Mille and other auteur filmmakers of the past, I've admired Fincher's ability to redefine a genre, in this case, the modern thriller movie. I'm looking forward to his take on a different kind of movie next month with the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The other vampire movie

How ironic that on the opening weekend of Twilight, which as everyone knows I’m dying to see, I ended up going to see a very different vampire movie on Friday night called Let the Right One In, a Swedish film of amazing lyrical beauty. The story is not so much about vampires (although it does focus on an aspect of the vampire legend that is rarely examined in any of the popular art forms) but rather about the relationship between two outcast 12-year-olds Eli and Oskar. The film is in limited release, so it may not be showing at a theater near you, but I highly recommend checking it out when it comes to video. P.S. – if you look at the IMDB link, don’t watch the movie clip, it gives away too much from a critical scene in the movie.

Speaking of Twilight, with its opening weekend of $70.6 million it joined a very exclusive club of Hollywood movies that turned a profit in its first three days of theatrical release (the film cost $37 million to make, and $30 to market). Best of all, the indie movie studio Summit Entertainment announced that it has green-lit a sequel to Twilight based on New Moon, the second book in the series. However, they’re going to have to do some major adaptation work to give the cast something to do, since most of the Cullen family is absent for nearly the entirety of the book, including reigning teen heartthrob Edward, played by Robert Pattinson.

Also on Friday, Polina (I’m going to start calling her by her nickname, Penny) came to see me for lunch at my office, and we shared a plate of eggplant and chicken at the local Chinese fast food stand, then came up to my office to have some of the leftover pumpkin pie from Thursday’s company Thanksgiving lunch. Saturday I took my family into the city for a museum day, which started at my favorite bagel store near my office where we had breakfast. Then we walked a few blocks to MOMA, where we saw the Van Gogh exhibit once more before it scatters back to the European museums the works came from.

We took the subway to Penn Station, and walked several blocks in the frigid wind to CoSM for a last look at the installation before it is shut down on Dec. 31 and moved to its permanent home in upstate New York, 65 miles north of Manhattan. I’d only been here once before on one of my early trips to the city with Tara, and it was a very moving experience to see this space again.

After our trip to the city we came home and had our family dinner, followed by a showing of Wall-E on the big screen projector. Every time I see that movie, I can’t help crying at the end, just like some of my all-time favorites, like A Beautiful Mind, Ben-Hur, and maybe one or two others whose names escape me. I hope it does well at the Oscars next year, as it deserves to.

Sunday I had a rest & recovery day, spent mostly doing laundry and on the couch in front of my 42-inch HDTV, watching basketball games and TV shows on my DVR and old 80s movies on DVD like The Final Countdown and Blue Thunder before my family came over in the evening for ice cream and watching Heroes and Saturday Night Live from the night before. I am so ready for the Thanksgiving holiday to start!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A recovering monogamist

I think one of the toughest things to deal with in my life right now is what I call the "poly/mono schism" between Tara and myself. We continue to make progress, one small, painful step at a time, and last night and today we made a pretty big step by making a decision to try and focus on being peaceful with each other. Aside from love, cultivating peace is probably the most important factor in building a sustainable relationship. Some people like the drama and fighting and making up - I don't think we are those people. We're like hobbits after a long quest - we've both had enough drama to last a lifetime.

I'd also like to show you an article published by one of my online friends who is a freelance writer for The Truth Quarterly. She wrote an article on her exploration of polyamory with her husband titled "Rethinking the Conventions." It's a nice introduction to polyamory from the viewpoint of a recovering monogamist, as she calls herself. The article starts on page 18 of the e-zine.

The Final Issue of The Truth Quarterly

This Sunday was the last of my burlesque dance classes with Agnieszka, and it was on glove and stocking peels. We're both a little bummed the class is over. After getting back from the city, I met my family at the movie theater and we saw Quantum of Solace, a first-rate James Bond movie. I was struggling with my toothache (I need a root canal repair on an infected tooth) but I still had a good time.

Afterwards, we came back to my place where I made dinner for everyone and taught them to play poker. Bee came out the big winner thanks to a smooth bluff she made on me - I came in second. Once everybody gets comfortable learning the order of the hands and betting rules, we might expand our repetoire to include some other games besides five-card draw.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"The Emperor is dead!"

Driving to the train station this morning, I heard this story on NPR about the mysterious death of China's second-to-last emperor, Qing Guangxu.

"Who Murdered China's Emperor 100 Years Ago?" - November 14, 2008

Modern science has now concluded that he was poisoned by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who followed him in death a mere 22 hours later, leaving five-year-old Pu Yi (a distant ancestor of mine) to ascend the throne as China's last emperor. This part of the story is told at the beginning of the movie The Last Emperor, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, which swept the nine Oscars that it was nominated for in 1988.

Some of you know that my family history dates back more than 800 years in China, and includes a distant link to Pu Yi - my father's people were from Manchuria, what they used to call the northern part of China, and I am a quarter Manchurian by blood. Pu Yi was the first emperor from Manchuria - you can find a synopsis of his true story and tons of references at this site:

I've been trying to find time to watch this movie since I bought the four-disc Criterion version several months ago (it's almost four hours long in an expanded director's cut) and this new revelation has made me want to see it very soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The war against love

Something that my women's poly group talked about last night - I've never watched Keith Olbermann before (except on ESPN SportsCenter long ago) but this is the most heartfelt televised news commentary I've ever seen. Ever. And a compelling argument that I fear will fall on deaf ears.

Here is another facet of the debate that was featured in an op-ed in the New York Times recently - the attack on gay rights to raise children that could have far-reaching consequences beyond the issue of gay marriage.

"Anti-Gay, Anti-Family" - November 11, 2008

Plus, here is an interview in the Wall Street Journal with a constitutional law professor from the University of Southern California (Pearl's alma mater) about what's next in the aftermath of Proposition 8:

"Gay-Marriage Ban Sets Up Host of Battles" - November 7, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Absolute Sandman

I was shopping on Amazon.com today, getting my fourth and final installment of Absolute Sandman and I came across these delightful bookends of Dream and his sister, Death. Fantastic!

Only two problems: first is that the set costs $345, which is a princely sum of money, even for me. Second is that I don't have any room for bookends on my shelves because they are too full of books. In fact, I'm about ready to buy a new DVD cabinet to handle the overflow of DVDs that are taking up bookshelf space, but I don't have much room in my apartment for a new shelf of any kind. Must think on this some more.

Speaking of books, I've been tracking my books on GoodReads for the past few weeks so people can see what I'm reading and what's on my bookshelves. Unfortunately, the site does not support comic titles, which make up a large percentage of my reading material, but oh well. You can see my profile and current reading materials by clicking on this link (you don't need to sign up to see this).

Monday, November 10, 2008

A museum weekend

I took the day off on Friday to celebrate my friend Polina's birthday - she had invited me to her party Friday night but I wasn't able to go, so we spent the day together instead. We met outside Penn Station in the middle of the tourist crowd and walked up to 42nd Street-Port Authority Bus Terminal to meet Laura, one of her friends who also came in from New Jersey, probably about the same time I came in on my train. Interestingly enough, Laura lives in North Haledon, which is very close to where I live.

The three of us headed uptown to the Museum of Modern Art, and we sat out in the courtyard so Laura could interview Polina for an anthropology project for school. After that was done, we took a short break in the cafe before visiting the marvelous Van Gogh exhibit that I saw a few weeks back with my family ("Poly public relations" - October 5, 2008) and viewing some of the contemporary art galleries. Since it was getting late and it was starting to get crowded because of Free Friday Nights at MOMA, we took off to do some shoe shopping so I could buy Polina a birthday present. We went to two stores and she picked out a pair of black Timberland hiking shoes, which will hopefully keep her feet dry this winter without having to resort to using plastic bags.

At one of the stores, we met up with another one of her friends, Patrick, who is a visual arts student and aspiring cartoonist. The four of us went to have a quick dinner before they had to take off to Brooklyn for the party, while I went home for my Friday night date with Tara. We finished our Hannibal Lecter mini-marathon with a viewing of Red Dragon and had our pancake breakfast in the morning, which unfortunately was marred by some difficult conversation.

Saturday was also a miserable day weather-wise: cold, drizzly and windy. I got my usual errands and grocery shopping done, and also got a manicure, since my dark purple polish was chipping off, and my nails were getting too long anyway. In the evening we had a nice dinner followed by a quick lesson in poker - five card draw and Texas Hold'Em - in preparation for watching Casino Royale, the last James Bond movie in advance of Quantum of Solace, which we'll go see this weekend.

I'm hoping we will have a full night of playing poker someday soon so I can play all the game variations I used to play with my old poker group (Pearl, Amy, Dominic and Little Vic) like Five Card Double Draw, Follow the Queen, Guts (or Balls, as we called it), and so many others. Good thing I wrote all these games down in a notebook that survived the two fires or else I'd have forgotten them myself. I'll have to poke around and find that.

Sunday we were planning to visit Alex Gray's Chapel of Sacred Mirrors but unfortunately we found out that morning that it's closed on Sundays. Then we wanted to visit the Picassos at Aquavella Galleries, but that too was closed - bleh! So we strolled around Central Park outside the Met and saw Cleopatra's Needle, a five-story high granite obelisk covered with hieroglyphics before going inside and touring the Philippe de Montebello tribute exhibit and the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art.

Busy long weekend, but lots of fun. Plus, I'm so happy that the weather is back to being cold and dry.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Love in the present tense

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've been thinking about my theory of unconditional love that I blogged about back in September ("Theory of unconditional love" - September 24, 2008) and how walking the talk is proving to be something of a challenge for me. Also, I just finished reading Jonathan Carroll's "A Ghost in Love," and that gave me even more to chew about on the subject of love.

What concerns me is that I find myself thinking about the future more than I should, and letting it affect me in the present. This must stop. I've proven adept at letting go of the past, but for me, that's easier than for most people. Thinking about "what might be" should not be allowed to determine the choices in how I live my life today.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The f-word

Some of my readers know that I have a peculiar interest in the f-word. I'm sure I don't have to explain what word I'm talking about - even my younger readers aren't that young.

Anyway, I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal today about the Supreme Court hearing a case involving U2 band front man Bono and his run-in with the FCC at the 2003 Golden Globe Awards, where upon winning an award, the singer exclaimed on live TV "This is really, really f---ing brilliant!" The FCC declared his remark "shocking and gratuitous," and a threat to "the well-being of the nation's children." You can read the full article here:

"Don't Read His Lips - You Might Be Offended" - Wall Street Journal, Nov. 4, 2008

Sometimes I look back on the past few decades of my life and marvel at how acceptable the f-word has become. I still remember a time when it was absolutely taboo to say it in the workplace. I grew up in a family and community that is much more genteel than my present surroundings - I can't recall a single instance of my parents using that word, for example.

But I still remember one night about a year ago when I was walking into the mall here in New Jersey and there was an older woman dropping f-bombs literally every sentence in a conversation. Of course, my family uses it frequently, but I think they try to restrain themselves around me.

Personally, I'm not offended by hearing the f-word, and I've been known to let one slip maybe once a month. I just feel that if the FCC is right, that the word is "one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit" words "in the English language," maybe we should save it for when it's really justified instead of wearing it out like a favorite pair of shoes.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"Decode" video premieres

Lots of Twilight-related stuff, since as some of you know, it's so addictive!

The Wall Street Journal on Friday ran a story on the front page of the Lifestyle section about the evolution of vampires in literature, from Bram Stoker to Stephenie Meyer, going from monster to sensitive alpha male. It's quite interesting.

"Real Men Have Fangs" - Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31, 2008

The video for Paramore's "Decode" from the soundtrack premiered today on MTV.com - nice forest scenery, and some new clips from the upcoming movie.

Also, here are two TV trailers for the upcoming movie - unlike the book, Bella gets a little frisky in her undies (which one fan comments is wrong because Edward would tear them off with his teeth if things got that far).


Check out this video: Event

All for now - back to work.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Samhain at the Met

It was a wonderful Samhain for Tara and I, and we did a little of everything. We woke up together and had our breakfast together, to the strains of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Then we drove into the city where I surprised her with a tour of Acquavella Galleries, which had a special exhibit of Pablo Picasso's Marie Therese, a series of colorful and erotic paintings inspired by the painter's chance encounter with 17-year-old Marie-Therese Walter. The artist, then a 45-year-old father, was instantly enthralled by the young, voluptuous blonde girl, and for the next nine years, she was to be the artist's greatest love and inspiration.

After the quick tour, we went back to the car and got our baseball gloves and played catch in Central Park. Then we walked a few blocks to Papaya King for some of their famous hot dogs. Kids were trick-or-treating at the stand, and instead of hot dogs, they were giving out small, unripe oranges (much to the chagrin of the kids, if not their parents).

We came back to the Met and found it blissfully uncrowded, and it was pure heaven to walk through some of the galleries all by ourselves without the usual weekends crowds. Tara took lots of pictures, including this one of me in one empty gallery:

Samhain at the Met

We finished at the Temple of Dendur, which looks spectacular in the dark and mysterious when it's empty of crowds. Then I dropped her off at home and finished my basketball game, a second win in a row for the Rockets, a good start to the season.