“Extreme” Challenges: One Film, One Book

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Let me be perfectly clear at the outset of this post: I have no personal interest whatsoever in “extreme” challenges, that is, testing myself against the elements, physical, psychological, or whatever one might come up with. Heck, I can’t even get up the courage to watch or listen to 13 out of 14 Red Sox postseason playoff games (see previous post, An Admission). But the two accounts I discuss below (one a film, one a book) of meeting physical and psychological challenges are mesmerizing, well told, and thought provoking. However, even though I have no personal interest in under going such challenges, I am fascinated by what these true stories reveal about human behavior — and attempting to understand human behavior has long been one of my own passions.

There are no spoilers in the two short reviews below as one part of Ellen’s and my enjoyment of these two adventures came about without us knowing the results of either of these “extreme” challenges.)

Free Solo *****

This National Geographic documentary is an account of Alex Honnold’s (age 33) attempts to free solo climb (i.e., no ropes) the 3,000 foot high El Capitan Wall in Yosemite Park, arguably the most difficult solo climb in the world.

Free Solo is directed and filmed by the award winning duo of Jimmy Chinn, photographer and mountaineer, and Elizabeth Chai Vasashelyi, documentarian. Their previous film, Meru, told the story of three climbers attempting to scale Mt. Meru in the Himalayas. It won the Sundance Audience Award in 2015.

You don’t have to care about or have particular interest in rock climbing to be mesmerized by this film. It is both an intimate portrait of the climber and of the film making of this adventure. It’s  a thriller told cinemagraphically in a way that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.

Free Solo is in the theaters in the DC metro area now and in other theaters around the country. See it while it’s available on the big screen. I suspect, unfortunately, it will not be there very long.

The White Darkness *****

This true story of adventure and obsession was originally a two part story in The New Yorker (Feb. 12 & 19, 2018) by writer and author David Grann (Killers of the Flower Moon, The Lost City of Z, The Old Man & the Gun, and The Devil & Sherlock Holmes).

It tells the story of Henry Worsley, a British special forces officer who idolized Ernest Shackleton and sought to repeat two of Shackleton’s famous polar explorations (attempts to reach the South Pole, 1902-4, and to cross the Antarctic on foot, 1914). Worsley’s journeys took place in 2008 and 2015, roughly 100 years after Shackleton’s.

The printed book is short, 146 pages, including wonderful photos of both Shackleton’s and Worsley’s adventures. It is also a detailed narrative of adventure and a spell- binding story about an individual who pushes himself to extreme limits.

I listened to the Audible edition of The White Darkness, read, ‘dramatized,’ by Will Patton, in (an all too short) two hour and 28 minutes. Consider doing the same yourself. It’s simply superb.

For me these two somewhat short accounts of “extreme” challenges are also stories of obsession, courage, and compulsion. They both go beyond the physical and psychological challenges of each journey. They both discuss the individual, where he came from, what seems to make up who and what he is, and equally of interest, the affect these accounts had on those around the two individuals, in one case a girl friend and a mother, in the other a wife and children.

(Editor’s Note.1: If there is interest, Ellen and I will host one of our ‘pop up’ Sunday night suppers where we not only enjoy Ellen’s good cooking but also exchange thoughts and reflections about these two narratives.

A Double Winner in the 2018 MillersTime Baseball Contest Winners

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We’ve got a double winner!

CONTEST #1: 

Pick your favorite MLB team (or the one you know most about) and answer the following questions to prove whether you’re just a homer (“Someone who shows blind loyalty to a team or organization typically ignoring any shortcomings or faults they have”) or whether you really know something about your team and can honestly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Answers to the following three questions will determine who wins this contest:

A. What will your team’s regular season 162 game record be in 2018?

B. Will they make the playoffs (or postseason as someone pointed out to me MLB calls the playoffs), and if so, how far will they go?

C. What will be the most important SINGLE factor in determining their season?

I asked for help in determining the winner to this contest (see Comment Section with the many of the answers I received. I had a few more sent to me in emails). Your responses were thoughtful, readers make strong arguments for A, B, C, & D (see Comments at the end of this post, and led to the following very close decision(s) between A, B, C, and D.

Winner:

Mary Lincer. Contestant D: Picked the Nationals whose season record was 82-80. They did not make the postseason, tho many had predicted they would, and probably the two reasons they did not do so had to do with not bringing in runners who were on base (i.e., hitting) and/or being ranked 7th out of 15 National League teams in pitching). Mary predicted their record would be 83-79, they would not make the playoffs, and said the single most important factor in their season would be lack of hitting.

(Editor’s Note: Not only did Mary get the most votes from MillersTime readers, it was comments such as the following that carried the day for me: “(D) wins with not only the closest record prediction, but the most unexpected. Picking the Sox to win between 90-99 wins was not a stretch, but picking an expected winner to struggle and nailing it (only better prediction would have been because of injuries) is the point of this contest.” She’s definitely not a homer. PS – She didn’t even vote for herself.)

Mary gets two tickets to the game of her choice for the NATS’ 2019 season and, of course, the prized T-Shirt.

Runners-Up:

Ben Senturia. Contestant A:  Picked the Cards whose season record was 88-74. They did not make the playoffs. They were ranked 9th out of the 15 teams in the NL in terms of BA vs their pitchers and were 13th out of 15th in WHIP. This contestant predicted the Cards record would be 86-76, they wouldn’t make the playoffs, and said the single most important factor in their season would be pitching. (T-Shirt winner.)

Chris Bourtourline. Contestant B: Picked the Red Sox who season record was 108-54. They won the World Series, hitting and pitching and some other factors all played important roles in the season and the postseason. This contestant said the Red Sox record would be 93-69, they’d win the WS over the Dodgers, and said the single most important factor in their season would be hitting. (T-Shirt winner)

Jere Smith. Contestant C: Also picked the Red Sox who season record was 108-54. They won the World Series, hitting and pitching and some other factors all played important roles in the season and the postseason. This contestant said the Red Sox record would be 99-63, they’d win the WS, and JD Martinez would hit 44 HRs (he hit 43) which would be the single most important factor in their season. (T-Shirt winner)

Meg Gage & Steve King: Contestants E: Also picked the Red Sox who season record was 108-54. They won the World Series, hitting and pitching and some other factors all played important roles in the season and the postseason. This contestant said their record would be 95-67, they’d lose to the Dodgers in the WS, and the single most important factor in their season with be hitting. (T-Shirt winners.)

CONTEST #2: (See All Details – Previously announced)

Which League will win the All Star Game?

Tie-Breakers: Name the first MLB player to hit 30 HRs and the first MLB pitcher to win 12 games.

Winner:

Tim Malieckal wins as a result of his being the first (3/21) to chose the American League and Judge & Scherzer. Tim will join me in 2019 for a Nats vs Mets game in DC. And, of course, he will receive the ever popular and desired MillersTime Baseball Winner T-Shirt.

Runners-Up:

Justin Stoyer (3/24) and Brandt/Samantha Tilis (3/26) are the runners up, predicting the American League and Judge & Scherzer. They will receive the fabulous T-Shirts. (Note for 2019: Just a bit slower to get in their predictions.)

CONTEST #3: True/False:

A. The new MLB rules (shorter commercial breaks and limit of six non pitching visits to the mound by manager, coach or other players) will NOT result in reducing the average game time to under three hours. (Average time in 2017 was 3:04.) TRUE. Average time in 2018 was 3:08.

B. The New York Yankees WILL win the AL East in 2018. FALSE. Duh.

C. The Washington Nationals WILL NOT win the NL East in 2018. TRUE. Sadly.

D. There will be no 20 game winning pitchers in either league in 2018. (There were none in 2017 and three in 2016.)  FALSE. Snell won 21 and Kluber won 20.

E. At least one pitcher in the regular 2018 MLB season will have an ERA under 2.0. (There were none in 2017 or 2016. One did it in 2015 and two in 2014.) TRUE: De Grom – 1.70 and Snell – 1.89.

F. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge together will hit at least 115 regular season HRs in 2018. (In 2017 they ‘combined’ for 111.) FALSE. Stanton – 38, Judge 27 + 65 HRs.

G. At least one MLB batter will strike out 220 times or more in 2018 regular season play. (Aaron Judge struck out 208 times in 2017, and Chris Davis struck out 217 times in 2016.) FALSE. Moncada the closest with 211 SOs, followed by Stanton’s 211.

H. There will be at least 8 Triple Plays in the MLB this year. (Over the last 10 years the average has been 4.1 per year, and in each of the last two years there were 7 each year.) FALSE. There were only two. Mariners and Rangers, the latter, not done for 106 years, an unusual 5-5-4.

I. At least three teams will win 100 games or more in 2018. (Three teams did so in 2017: Astros – 101, Indians – 102, Dodgers – 104). TRUE. Yunkees 100, Astros – 103, Sox 108.

J. One of Grand Papa’s (c’est moi) grandchildren will witness in person (at an MLB game) a grand slam, a triple play, a no hitter, an extra inning game, or Teddy win the President’s race at the Nats’ stadium. FALSE. Unfortunately.

WINNER:

Mary Lincer, see Contest #1 above, got the first nine correct and only missed the final one, probably because she thought I’d get the grands to more games than I did. Wins her choice of one of The 20 Best Books Ever Written About Baseball or a new book Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game by ESPN writer, Rob Neyer (Published Oct. 9, 2018) and not to be confused with Michael Lew’s’  Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

Runner-Up: Shawn Scarlett got eight right. T-Shirt winner.

Losers: Most of you who got five or less correct.

CONTEST #4:

Who will be the two teams in the World Series in 2018 and which team will win it all?

Tie-Breaker: Name the five teams in each league who will make the playoffs.

Winner: Chris Bourtourline had the Sox over the Dodgers. No need for the tie-breaker (tho he got 6-10 right there). He is a repeat winner in these contests and will get one ticket to the 2019 World Series. Plus one of the new, updated T-Shirts.

Runner-Up: Maury Maniff, who both had the right teams in the WS but the wrong winners. He gets runner up based on his 6 out of 10 correct teams in the post season. He gets a T-Shirt.

Meg Gage/Steve King had the right teams but were behind Maury in the Tie-Breaker. Jere Smith had the Sox winning it all but over the Cubs, not the Dodgers. They both were runners- up above, but if they want to give a T-Shirt to a friend, I have plenty.

And that’s all for 2018.

An Admission

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(Photo by Jim Davis / Globe Staff)

An Admission

The Red Sox played 14 postseason games this year.

As everyone who cares about such things knows, they won the World Series.

They lost only three games on their way to the World Series, one each against the three (other) best teams in 2018 – Yankees, Astros, Dodgers.

Admission: I did not watch the first 13 games.

But I did watch the 14th and final game from start to finish.

So what’s up with that? How could I not watch my heroes?

Digression: In 2004, when the Sox hadn’t won the World Series in 86 years, I was watching at home on TV when they defeated the Cards in the third game of the WS to take a 3-0 lead. I got on a plane in DC early the next morning to fly to St. Louis (didn’t have a ticket to the game), after wrestling with myself whether or not to go.

My dilemma was how could I not go when my wonderful grandfather (Pappy) had introduced me to the Sox when I was seven years old. Never in his lifetime did he see the Sox win a World Series. I had to go for him. But, having been ‘schooled’ by being a Red Sox fan for 54 years at that time (now it’s been 68 years of pain and joy), I feared another disaster (think Bill Buckner, Bucky Dent, etc.) and wondered about being far away from home if that disaster struck, and the Sox lost to the Cards.

My love for my grandfather and reasoning that if I went to St. Louis and they lost the fourth game, I could stay for one more game. If they lost that one, I could hasten home with the Sox up three games to two, and I could lock myself in our study and suck my thumb while they blew the next two games.

I went. They won. It was the end of a long nightmare and a wonderful night that I will never forget (see this earlier post from my younger daughter who left a letter for me on the kitchen table to see when I returned: The Email on the Kitchen Table).

Admission, cont.:

Knowing myself, somewhat, I chose not to watch or listen to the first 13 games of the 2018 post season. The regular season had been superb with the Sox winning the most games ever in their history, going 108-54. They had a winning percentage of 67%, and I had watched many of those games as it was clear to me that something special was happening this year. And I posted that it didn’t matter if they won the World Series or not as they had given me and other fans a wonderful season (see For Me, the Sox Don’t HAVE to Win the World Series). I got a lot of criticism for that post and disbelief. But I meant it.

Plus, I couldn’t bear to watch them lose to the Yankees, Astros, or the Dodgers, as anything is possible in the postseason, especially to the Sox. So I went to bed every night not knowing the score of the first 13 games, often waking in the middle of the night to see what had happened. (Fortunately, Ellen kept silent about what was happening in each game as she apparently continually checked the score on her iPhone). If I saw they won, I would then watch every video and read everything about that win. If they lost (which they only did three times), I would immediately go back to sleep, except for that 18 inning game they lost to the Dodgers. That one demanded I read about what happened, and the ‘boo birds’ started with saying the WS had turned around, and the Sox would likely lose now.

When the Sox won the next game the next day and went ahead 3-1 over the Dodgers, I was presented with the same dilemma as I had had in 2004. If I watched, and they lost, it would be a miserable three-four hours, leaving me in pain.

But if they won, how could I not have watched it, including the celebrations at the end?

And after all, I ‘reasoned,’ they still would have three more chances to win the WS. So I didn’t really need to be fearful of sharp instruments or high places if they lost that fifth game.

I watched it.

You all know how this story ended.

Land of the Incas: It’s More Than Machu Picchu – Photos & Words by Ellen Miller

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By Ellen Miller:

When fellow world traveler Fruzsina Harsanyi (and sometimes travel companion to Richard and me along with her husband Ray) asked if I was interested in a trip to Machu Picchu, I immediately told her “Yes.” While not at the top of my travel list, it had long lingered as a possible destination. Richard was never very enthusiastic about it, and, in fact, on an earlier trip to Peru we had chosen to spend four days on the Amazon over Machu Picchu. But here was a chance, with a great friend, to explore this mysterious place about which I knew very little.

The date was set for early October, 2018, and the travel to Lima was easy (with only an hour time change). We worked with our travel agent and a relatively new agency in Peru – Coltur Peru – to produce what turned out to be a perfectly sequenced trip that included a careful calculation on adjusting to altitudes of up to 12,500 feet. With altitude pills to help moderate the changes, we were off.

Lima, where we began our trip, contained many surprises including its Huaca Pucllana, a towering pyramid, now in the middle of one of Lima’s trendiest neighborhoods, built by pre-Inca societies; the Cathedral of Lima; the San Francisco monastery with its catacombs full of thousand of skeletons; and Convent and its various museums. We also squeezed in two museums the first day and a walk through the charming Bohemian district of Barranco on the ocean. (I was particularly wowed by the Mario Testino Museum (MATE) and a beautifully decorated private home recently opened to the public, where, by chance, we were introduced to the resident.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the ‘real deal’ began for us in the Sacred Valley. After making the acquaintance of different types of llamas and learning about weaving and wool dying techniques, we headed to the town of Pisac and its archaeological park. There we got our first  glimpse of Inca terraces, exquisitely poised on a steep hill side in the afternoon sun. We were unprepared for the absolutely glory of the perfect setting of our initial site. Our surprise and delight was amplified by every additional individual site we saw in the Sacred Valley from that point on, from Chinchero, Moray, the salt pans of Maras, to Ollantaytambo. Each of these sites is absolutely stunning and fascinating, and the beauty of them will remain with us for a very long time.

After several days in the Sacred Valley, we arrived at the Machu Picchu Citadel (via a 30 minute frightening bus ride up a mountain from the town of Aguasqua Calienties where we were staying). While we did not do the most strenuous hikes, we found that our “climb” that offered us our first glimpse of the iconic Machu Picchu scene was breathtaking (double entendre intended). Our first surprise was that the mountain made famous by every picture is really called Huayna Picchu, while Machu Picchu is a larger mountain after which the entire region is named. Our second surprise was that the Incas, at their most powerful in the 14th and 15th centuries, had no written language, nor had they invented the wheel. And yet their accomplishments in architecture, engineering, astrology, and physics were astounding. We stayed that day until sunset (which was spectacular) and returned for a full morning on the next day when it was misty with clouds temporarily covering much of the view, creating a very different sort of atmosphere. This day we explored the ruins in detail. Thanks to our guide, who was a marvel of facts, stories, and mythical tales, we were stunned by the sum of what had been accomplished at Machu Picchu and throughout their empire.

We left from Machu Picchu on the Hiram Bingham train, named after the famed
explorer and modeled after luxurious train travels of yesteryear. We spent a full day in Cusco, once the capital of the empire whose reach and power we could still feel as we explored the enormous stone structures of Sacsayhuaman. Cusco itself is a jewel, (a very lively colonial town which we thoroughly enjoyed), visiting the San Pedro Market, The Golden Temple, the Cathedral, and the historic sites.

We flew to to our last major stop, Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable body of water in the world – that spans both Peru and Bolivia. There our pace slowed down (as did our oxygen saturation rates!), and we moved more to the cultural side of rural Peru; groups of families living on floating islands; families as subsistence farmers; and rich lands being prepared for post-rainy season planting. The vistas were spectacular, and I often remarked that the skies simply couldn’t be real. We found the people we met, whether walking along the side of the road, or those who invited us into their homes on a prearranged tours, open, curious, and friendly. We also went to the little visited site of Sillustani near Puno –– a breathtakingly beautiful necropolis.

Our biggest takeaway will be no surprise. While people generally talk about going to Machu Picchu, we were so taken by the beauty of the Sacred Valley, and other sites we visited around the country, that we learned that a trip to Peru is so much more than one famous single site. We’d urge any fellow travelers to take their time in Peru and see the full range of its wonders.

Below are a dozen of my photos from the trip. To see the full slide show follow the link below. (And thanks to FH for her additions to the above, and for being a most enthusiastic and companionable traveler.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to see the entire slide show of photos (highly recommended):

1. Click on this slide show link: Thru Ellen’s Lens.

2. For the best viewing, click on the tiny, tiny arrow in the very small rectangular box at the top right of the opening page of the link to start the slide show.

3.  See all the photos in the largest size possible format (i.e., use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

Every Vote Counts

When I was in Ohio working on a ‘Get Out the Vote’ campaign in 2016 and Donald Trump surprised many by winning the Presidential election, I wrote late that night, actually early the next morning, the following”

The country spoke yesterday.

And we must listen.

We’ve now had two years of Trump and his supporters speaking.

It is time the country speaks again.

And Trump and his supporters listen.

Every vote counts.

Help. I Need Your Advice.

I’ve been toting up the answers and winners, etc. for three of the four MillersTime Baseball Contests for 2018. One contest was already decided, and the winner and runners up were announced earlier: Contest #2: Which League will win the All-Star game in 2018 (click on link to see that result.).

But I need some advice and your suggestions about the winner(s) for Contest #1. Contests #3 and #4 have clear winners and runners up and will be announced as soon as I’ve sorted out, with your help, Contest #1.

So, regarding Contest #1, there are five individuals I am considering. I will list them below by Contest Number so you will not be influenced by a name (though if you recognize your own submission, feel free to push for yourself if that is something you wish to do).

Here are the details:

Contest #1:  Pick your favorite MLB team (or the one you know most about) and answer the following questions to prove whether you’re just a homer (“Someone who shows blind loyalty to a team or organization typically ignoring any shortcomings or faults they have”) or whether you really know something about your team and can honestly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Answers to the following three questions will determine who wins this contest:

A. What will your team’s regular season 162 game record be in 2018?

B. Will they make the playoffs (or postseason as someone pointed out to me MLB calls the playoffs), and if so, how far will they go?

C. What will be the most important SINGLE factor in determining their season?

Possible Winners, Co-Winners, Runners-Up:

Contestant A:  Picked the Cards whose season record was 88-74. They did not make the playoffs. They were ranked 9th out of the 15 teams in the NL in terms of BA vs their pitchers and were 13th out of 15th in WHIP. This contestant predicted the Cards record would be 86-76, they wouldn’t make the playoffs, and said the single most important factor in their season would be pitching.

Contestant B: Picked the Red Sox who season record was 108-54. They won the World Series, hitting and pitching and some other factors all played important roles in the season and the postseason. This contestant said the Red Sox record would be 93-69, they’d win the WS over the Dodgers, and said the single most important factor in their season would be hitting.

Contestant C: Also picked the Red Sox who season record was 108-54. They won the World Series, hitting and pitching and some other factors all played important roles in the season and the postseason. This contestant said the Red Sox record would be 99-63, they’d win the WS, and JD Martinez would hit 44 HRs (he hit 43) which would be the single most important factor in their season.

Contestant D: Picked the Nationals who season record was 82-80. They did not make the postseason, tho many had predicted they would, and probably the two reasons they did not do so had to do with not bringing in runners who were on base (i.e., hitting) and/or being ranked 7th out of 15 National League teams in pitching). This contestant said their record would be 83-79, they would not make the playoffs and said the single most important factor in their season would be lack of hitting.

Contestant E: Also picked the Red Sox who season record was 108-54. They won the World Series, hitting and pitching and some other factors all played important roles in the season and the postseason. This contestant said their record would be 95-67, they’d lose to the Dodgers in the WS, and the single most important factor in their season with be hitting.

You can help determine the winner by ranking these five contestants in order from one to five (one being the best answer, etc.).

You may determine that there should be co-winners (two or more being tied for first).

It would be helpful for me, who will ultimately have to make the choice of who wins, if you gave a reason(s) for you votes and rankings.

You have until Tuesday of next week (Nov. 6) to submit your votes, which you can do either in the Comment section of this post or in an email to me (Samesty84@gmail.com).

I thank you in advance for your assistance.

PFFWA: The Philadelphia Film Festival Wins Again

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Reviews by Ellen Miller:

We continue to enjoy everything about the October annual Philadelphia Film Festival (from which we returned recently): the selection of films; the ease of getting into them; the proximity of all the theaters for easy walking between them; and our long-time Philly based-friends and their friends with whom we have seen dozens of films over the years.

This year was no different. Over the course of the first weekend, we saw a total of 12 films (our goal had been 13, but I called “uncle” at the end of the 12th one!), and of this total five were outstanding; and four were very good. Only one or two didn’t seem to meet their own objectives, or, in one case, the film didn’t match the description. (And be sure to watch out for the late night films that operate under the genre of “Graveyard Shift.” You might just end up in a horror film!)

One of the things we’ve learned over the years, especially when we go to a film festival and see multiple films in just a few days, is that we enjoy many different kinds of films and that for us a five-star review can go equally to a big box office, big studio type film where the public appeal is obvious, to a small, independent, foreign film whose goal is small but compelling. And we use a set of criteria for our evaluations that we learned from a Washington Post film critic: What was the director trying to do? Did s/he do it well? Was it worth doing? All the films we rated four or five stars met each of the these criteria with flying colors.

Trust us on these films. When they come your way, and most of them will, go see them.

Here are those with five stars from both of us:

Ben Is Back *****

Most opening night films, such as this one was, tend to disappoint, but
not this time. This one is a tautly told story of a Mom (Julia Roberts) desperate to help her drug-addicted son (Lucas Hedges). It is as intimate portrait as you are likely to find on the ongoing opioid addiction and what it does to families. It’s a powerful story, brilliantly acted (though it took me a few minutes to “get over” Julia Roberts, the actress), tightly edited, and an emotionally searing film that leaves you gripping your seat until the end.

The film was written and directed by Peter Hedges, Lucas Hedges’ father. He spoke and answered questions at the end of the Opening Night screening, and it was clear from the audience’s comments that the film struck a powerful note for many of those in attendance, particularly individuals who had personal connections to the opioid crisis sweeping the nation.

Green Book *****

This film just makes you feel good, really good. It takes place in the early 1970’s and is a portrait of racial tolerance in the making. Mahershala Ali (as Dr. Don Shirley) plays a world class concert black pianist who hires the Bronx born, Italian-American, Viggo Mortensen (played by Tony Lip) as his driver for a concert tour in the Deep South. Together the pianist and his driver negotiate the racism they find along the way and emerge better people for it. This film will be compared to Driving Miss Daisy, but this version has more humor and quirkiness to it than its predecessor. It feels genuine, and both actors, along with the writer, are responsible for a heart warming and delightful viewing experience.

(Writer and Director: Peter Farrelly. USA – Many Audience Awards, including 2018 People’s Choice Award at Toronto)

Everybody Knows *****

When a film stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and the director is Asghar Farhadi (former films include A Separation and The Salesman), the likelihood that you have a winning film is strong. A family wedding in a beautiful rural Spanish town sets the  scene. Long held family jealousies and past history come to play is this compelling, complicated family drama, where deep secrets (or perhaps not so secret) are revealed in tantalizing fashion that will take several minutes and help from whomever joins you at the film, to sort out at the end. It’s both a “who done it” and a story about the larger human condition. The film is richly filmed and deeply satisfying. The acting is superb.

(Director: Asghar Farhadi, Spain)

The Guilty *****

This is a small Danish film that has the power of an atomic bomb. It’s only 85 minutes long and is shot entirely in the control room of a police emergency response center. Here we see sidelined Danish Policy Officer Asger (played by Jakob Cedergren) who has been assigned to this call center while he awaits a decision about his future. In trying to respond to an emergency call, he gets deeply into making assumptions and taking actions as he tries to find a missing woman and her assailant. It’s a nail-biting scenario for the viewer as the story unfolds in real time, with grim consequences. Phenomenal acting, filming, and direction.

(Director: Gustave Moller; Denmark, first feature film – Many awards, including the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, 2018, Cannes.)

A Private War. *****

Based on the true story of the renowned war correspondent and
journalist Marie Colvin (played by Rosamund Pike), this film is a compelling,
gripping story that takes place in various war zones around the world, though principally in Syria. The narrative, filming, and acting combine to make a powerful case for Colvin’s reporting and is a tribute to reporters everywhere.

(Director: Matthew Heinerman, USA)

**               ***               **               **

Even though this next group of films received less than five stars from your rating duo (all these were four stars or four and a half stars), they are each in their own way compelling films that make it worth while seeking them out.

Roma ****1/2

Roma is a terrific black and white film that provides an intimate view of an upper middle class family (in personal crisis) in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the 1970’s. Core to the family’s story is the relationship with their two household servants, especially that of Cleo (played by Yalitza Aparcio), the nanny to the four children. Filled with luminous film-making and painstaking details, this film explores the ins and outs of family life in multiple dimensions.

(Director: Alfonso Cuarno, Mexico – Numerous awards, including Winner, Best Film, 2018, Venice Film Festival)

And Breathe Normally ****

This film is the second one we saw with an immigration theme: a woman from Guinea-Bissau tries to enter Iceland on a false passport and is detained. She is put into a holding center for months while her application for asylum is being considered. In a parallel story a young single mother is struggling with her own life in Iceland, living out of her car with her child. She eventually takes a training position as a Passport Officer. In the course of doing her job, she is, in part, responsible for the detention of the African woman. These two women — both living on the margins — form a kind of inter-dependency that is touching and gives meaning to both of them. Eventually, the Passport Officer insures that the immigrant gets on her way to her final destination.

While this film has a slow start, midway it catches on. It presents yet another interesting look at today’s immigration crises through excellent acting, a strong narrative, and subtle filming. If the topic interests you, see if you can find the film.

(Director: Isold Uggadottir. Iceland – Winner Best Directing – World Cinema – Dramatic at 2018 Sundance)

Yomeddine ****

This movie is a perfect example of a small and meaningful foreign film. Indeed, it felt rather like the foreign produced films that we saw 20 years ago. It is the story of a middle age man (Beshay, played by first time actor Rady Gamal) who has been cured of (but deformed by) leprosy and who sets out on a journey to find “his”  people. He travels the length of Egypt in this quest and is joined by a young boy. It’s a road film, following the adventures and misadventures of Beshay and his young friend and their perseverance to the end.

It’s a sensitively portrayed film with a rich rewarding end.

(Director: A.B Shawky – Numerous awards including at Cannes and Philadelphia)

Sofia ****

Another small but powerful foreign film, this one is about a young Moroccan woman, Sofia (played by Maha Alemi) who to her surprise gives birth to a child in a society where having an out of wedlock child is severely punishable and results in great disgrace to her upper middle class family.

The film is intended to be a commentary on the old fashioned mores of the country, but it is more. The not so naïve Sofia plots her way out of the situation with unflinching dishonesty and betrayal of her family’s values, even as she tries to protect them.

There are number of very interesting characters in this film, not the least of which are the boy accused of being the father of the child, his family members, Sophia’s cousin who helps her through the birth, and her own parents. This film is a very thoughtful presentation of a society mired in outdated mores.

(Director: Meryem Benim’Barek – Best Screen Play, 2018 at Cannes)

**               ***               **               **

The films we saw that just didn’t work for us included Overlord (a horror film that appeared to be a heart pounding thriller about the Allies invading France on D Day); Transit, a modern day immigration story which hearkened back to the days of French Jews fleeing the Nazis; and Shoplifters, a quirky Japanese film about grifters who made up a most unusual modern family.

There were several others films that we missed that we look forward to seeing in the theaters, including Widows, If Beal Street Could Talk, Cold War, Birds of Passage, and The Favorite.

Finally, we just received an email from our Philadelphia friends with recommendations for films that they saw, and particularly recommend, over the second week of the festival.

The Favorite
Amin
Treat Me Like Fire
All Square
Shirkers
Butterflies
Birds of Passage
Egg
The Biggest Little Farm

“12 Rules for Living” – Antidote to Chaos

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A review and commentary by MillersTime reader and friend, David P. Stang.

Dave wrote in his email containing an early draft of this post:

“My intent is to present a case for Peterson’s views that reasonably educated people would find appealing irrespective of their political parties.”

12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos” by Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and had previously taught at Harvard. The New York Times stated that he is “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” Evidence of this claim can be found in the fact that his lectures recorded on and accessible through YouTube have attracted over 65 million viewers.

Peterson is also a clinical psychologist with a continuing active practice. He and his wife Tammy are parents of a daughter, Mikhaila and a son, Julian. Mikhaila has suffered enormous pain resulting from years of combating rheumatoid arthritis and enduring multiple surgeries. Her father fondly regards his daughter Mikhaila as a courageous hero.

Over the course of his life Peterson also has observed much suffering experienced by his patients who described their emotional pain problems during their psychotherapy sessions with him, and he learned about suffering experienced by many of his students over the years. He clearly feels great compassion for them and for others’ suffering which often results from tragedy and malevolence. So much so in fact that it drove him to write two books related to suffering.

In this new book he states, “The idea that life is suffering is a tenet, in one form or another, of every major religious doctrine…. We can be damaged, even broken, emotionally and physically, and we are all subject to depredations of aging and loss… It is reasonable to wonder how we can expect to thrive and be happy (or even want to exist, sometimes) under such conditions.” In 1999 he published his first book, entitled Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief which Peterson stresses constitutes the conceptual foundations of his 12 Rules.

Throughout his 12 Rules and YouTube lectures, Peterson presents a mixture of the diverse classic literature and teachings of the past several thousand years emanating from pre-scientific cultures, the hypotheses and scholarship of modern-day science (including particularly neurological and psychological studies) and he constantly injects first-hand, real-life examples of human and animal behavior which illustrate the concepts he is propounding.

Understanding that one’s individual self as divine or sovereign, according to Peterson, reveals the pathway to meaning in life. A major foundational principle of his 12 Rules is that every human life is confronted by order and chaos. By order he means “the place where the behavior of our world matches our expectations and desires; the place where all things turn out the way we want them to.” Chaos, on the other hand, is the “domain of ignorance itself” and is “unexplored territory.” He tells us chaos is present when you feel despair and horror and is the place you end up when things fall totally apart. Order can be disrupted by chaos and chaos can be constrained by order. Within chaos potential exists. He informs us that your attitude toward potential confers on you a certain moral obligation: The challenge is to live up to one’s potential. The potential is in the future. Contending with chaos that disrupts order is like meeting the Dragon head on.

As part of his extensive tour this year Professor Jordan B. Peterson has been lecturing about his book. In his talks he stresses that his twelve rules can be comedic, but that they are really metaphors which point to a deeper philosophic and psychological meaning. In his book he urges his readers to focus on their individual patterns of thought, belief and behavior. He stresses that his rules are not injunctions meant to make life easier. They are injunctions to make life more difficult. He asks his readers and listeners to aim higher and to seek to become the very best they can be. Peterson stated that I hope that what I’m aiming at is to tell people stories and provide them with clinical information that is derived from the best literature and science that I know so they can be fortified in their ability to contend with tragedy and malevolence.”

These are his rules:

Rule 1: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”

Peterson emphasizes that standing up straight with one’s shoulders straight reveals not only self-confidence but also indicates vulnerability. When one is standing up straight (instead of crouching or cowering) one’s most vital spots are unprotected and exposed to danger, signifying through that confident stance that one has mastered order while simultaneously that one is courageously prepared to face chaos head-on.

Rule 2: “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”

Peterson’s main point here is that people tend to treat themselves more poorly than they treat others for whom they are responsible for caring. So he advises us to treat ourselves in the same way we would like our children to be treated.

Rule 3: “Make friends with people who want the best for you.”

One way of treating yourself like someone you are responsible for helping is to make friends with people who want the best for you. Some people tear you down. Don’t put up with that, he instructs, find others who lift you up. Therefore you have an ethical responsibility to surround yourself with people who support you when you do good and criticize you when you misbehave.

Rule 4: “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday not to who someone else istoday.”

This is also a rule about avoiding envy and avoiding excessive self-criticism or self-loathing. Peterson tells us that in life we face an eternal landscape of inequality. There will always be people more competent than we are. This should not lead us to despair but rather encourage us to become the best we are able. This requires setting high goals, but ensuring that we choose goals that are possible for us to attain.

Rule 5: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.”

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Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe: Thru Our Lens.

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Family, friends, and most MillersTime readers know that Ellen and I love to travel and do so often. Actually, travel was built into our relationship as shortly after we first met I headed to West Africa for a two year sojourn in the Peace Corps. Then, soon after we married 50 years ago, we spent a year abroad in England, India, and Nepal, and when our work allowed, we traveled extensively. Once we had children, family trips became an important part of our and of their lives too. Now, the grandchildren are beginning to get a taste of traveling with us also. We’ve never tired of nor stopped exploring the U.S. and other parts of the world. Our travel has widened our understanding of the global community — of other people and other ways of living — and has allowed us to enjoy the beauty and breadth of the world. In short, traveling brings us much pleasure, perspective, and appreciation of beautiful places here and of the world beyond our own country. Travel for us is an opportunity for learning, and we frequently turn to each other during a trip and say, “We never knew that?”

Recently we returned from two and a half weeks in Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, a trip that included many of the elements of why we so enjoy traveling.

(Be sure to scroll down to see some of Ellen’s stunning photos and the link to her slide show.)

Namibia:

Formerly South West Africa, this very sparsely populated country doesn’t seem to get many American visitors, but Ellen loves deserts and never seems to tire of them. She was richly rewarded in our six days here. We spent a day in and just outside the capital Windhoek where for five hours we simply walked with a guide (Moses) in the Daan Viljoen Game Park, spotting zebra, kudu, oryx, giraffe, and springbok. But it was mostly enjoyable for its sparse vegetation, the rolling hills, and the quiet of the outdoors (particularly after a 16 hour trip from DC). On our return to Windhoek, we drove through and learned about one of the large, poor townships and explored a market, always one of our favorite activities in other countries.

Most of our time in Namibia was spent in or near the Namib Desert, said to be the oldest desert in the world, stretching for 1200 miles from Angola through Namibia and down the South African coast to the Cape of Good Hope. Our time there was divided between two of Wilderness Safari’s small camps. The first was Little Kulala (near Sossusviei) in a reserve on the edge of Namibia’s “Sand Sea,” enormous red sand dunes where Ellen was in heaven, photographing and struggling up steep, angled dunes in a moderate sand storm (while I simply stayed put and was transfixed by the scene before me). We wandered and photographed our way through a deep canyon (think Slot Canyons of the American Southwest), and as we marveled at a sunset over the desert, our wonderful guide Ulee told us a story, one we won’t soon forget, of his life and how and why he became a wilderness guide. We ended our time in this part of Namibia with a thrilling and memorable balloon float over brown sand dunes.

Three small airplane rides took us to the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp for three nights at this eight ‘tented,’ very comfortable desert ‘lodge’ in a remote part of the Kaakoveld. Again we explored the dunes (white this time) on a long drive to the Skeleton Coast with another superb guide (Michael). Another day was spent spotting wildlife (two families of elephants and two of giraffes, and a troop of rowdy baboons, sometimes called a ‘congress of baboons’). But again it was the moon like desert, the hilly and bushy terrain, and the sand dunes that most entranced us. On our final afternoon/evening exploration, while looking for lions, Michael took us to the very top of a narrow, elevated promontory where we had a 360 degree view of the landscape and enjoyed further discussions about this country and another unforgettable sunset.

South Africa:

Our week here was largely divided between Johannesburg and Cape Town and focused on exploring our long time interest in the issues facing this country. In Johannesburg we hit the jackpot with our guide, Robin Binckes, 78, a teacher, an historian, and a life long inhabitant of South Africa. The day, eight hours, with Binckes ranks as one we will simply never forget. He adjusted our itinerary to focus on the township of Alexandra, population 600,000, where he had founded and supports a school program for children 2-6 years of age (though he also took us on a brief visit to Soweto, three million inhabitants and where Desmond Tuto and Nelson Mandela had ‘homes’ on the same street, just 300 meters apart from each other). During these visits, as well as during the several hours we spent with him at the Apartheid Museum, we realized that what we thought was our knowledge and understanding of South Africa was in fact the mere scratching of the surface. Between telling us his own story (white, Englishman who has lived in S. Africa before, during, and after Apartheid) and giving us continual history lessons of the country, we felt we were beginning to understand the complexities of what has occurred and continues to occur here. The insights he gave us made us realize how much more we had to learn despite our extensive reading and following of events in this country.

In Cape Town we continued our education about South Africa, from three different guides and a number of individuals we met along the way. Our visit to the District Six museum was another eye opener for us. It felt as if we were continuing to ‘peel the onion’ as we explored layers of political, social, and economic issues. Another memorable day included two hours of walking through the ‘small’ township of Langa, with a local inhabitant who took us through all levels of the township (from the ‘Beverly Hills’ section, to the newly built apartments and sadly to the one room shacks that would not likely survive the next serious rain). That afternoon was spent with another local guide in the colorful Malay section of Cape Town and a two hour cooking ‘lesson’ with a Muslim woman who introduced us to faintly familiar dishes and ‘entertained’ us with non stop conversation about cooking, food, her family, her children, and the joys and woes of parenting and interacting with her now adult children.

We also enjoyed some outstanding food (La Colombe, Pot Luck Club, and Baia restaurants and seafood that tasted as if it was brought directly from the ocean to our table). We were driven down the coast to Cape Clear and to the Cape of Good Hope by another excellent guide who continued our education about the country. We spent our final afternoon on a tour of Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela spent roughly 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned), the highlight of which was having a former prison inhabitant, Sparks, walk us through the prison and tell us of his and Mandela’s life there.

Zimbabwe:

We spent a late afternoon and early evening floating on the Zambezi River, spotting animals – elephants and hippos ‘frolicking’ and cooling off in the water – and enjoying yet another lovely sunset. And we continued our education about another country, one which has suffered enormously under Robert Mugabe since its independence and transformation from Southern Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

But it was Victoria Falls that was our reason for coming and was the highlight here. Justifiably, in our view, deserving of its place on the list of one of the seven wonders of the natural world. You can walk along a pathway for about a mile with the Falls just across a deep ravine and the river, with more than a dozen different views of the cascading water. The dry season was approaching and so the falls were not at their most powerful, but that didn’t matter. Put them on your list if you ever plan to be in that area of the world.

Clearly, this was a special trip with its mixture of unforgettable landscapes, societies in transition, one of the remarkable natural wonders of the world, and guides who truly made these ventures rich and memorable.

Ellen’s 14 photo’s below will give you a glimpse of it “thru her lens,” and I encourage you to spend a bit of time with the slide show that links to this post (see below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to see the entire slide show of photos (highly recommended):

1. Click on this slide show link: Thru Ellen’s Lens.

2. For the best viewing, click on the tiny, tiny arrow in the very small rectangular box at the top right of the opening page of the link to start the slide show.

3.  See all the photos in the largest size possible format (i.e., use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

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For Me, The Sox Don’t HAVE to Win the World Series

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Elise Amendola/Associated Press

I head off later today to Boston with my nine year old grandson Eli for a trip to Fenway Park, planned months and months ago, to see the final three games of what has turned out for me to be a wonderful 2018 baseball season. (If you haven’t seen my earlier post about our first trip to this Red Sox temple, check out  A Seven Year Old’s First Trip to Fenway.)

All three of these games will be against the Yankees, but these three games will have no major bearing on the playoffs. Rather, for me they will be a celebration of what has been the best regular season record in the 118 year history of the team. Their record, prior to these last three games, is 107-52, two wins better than their previous franchise record.

I could write pages on why this year has been so successful (see my earlier post, Success Has Many Fathers… for at least some the reasons I believe my heroes have done so well). And I could also list dozens of reasons why it has been the single best season in at least the 68 years since my grandfather first took me to Fenway when I was seven.

Yes. They won the World Series in 2004 after almost a century of not doing so. And then they won the WS twice more within the succeeding ten year period. The 2004 win was certainly the highlight of my (baseball) life as a long suffering Sox fan.

But, in some ways, this year has been at least as wonderful. Ever since Spring Training when the Sox went 22-9 (.710), they have played at a pace between .675 and .700+. Do you know what that means to a baseball fan, especially to a Red Sox fan?

It has meant that almost seven out of every ten games the Sox have played, they’ve won – sometimes on hitting, sometimes on starting pitching, some on relief pitching, some times on fielding, sometimes on base running, and often even when they were down as many as six or seven runs. They never lost more than three games in a row the entire season.

For me, that meant that I could go to sleep most nights ‘celebrating’ a victory. Also, it meant my wife Ellen did not have to sleep beside a disgruntled bed partner. And that went on for SIX months, half a year. Simply unheard of for this obsessive baseball fan.

Now, I’ve been reading and hearing for months that the season doesn’t matter if the Sox don’t at least make it into the World Series…and for some, they have to win the WS to make 2018 truly a special year.

Not so for me.

Of course I want them to win it all, and I’ll not be a happy camper if they don’t go far into the playoffs.

But nothing can take away how wonderful this season has been. How delightful it has been to see this group of 25+ players, along with their coaches, their staff, their ownership do what no other Red Sox team has ever done, and to see the joy on their faces seven out of every ten games.

Isn’t there some over used meme about getting there being half the fun?

In fact, I think one of my daughters wrote her college essay on the Ursula La Guin quote, “It’s good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”

For me, this year’s Red Sox journey has been what matters.

 

Summer Movies

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Reviews by Ellen Miller.

We haven’t written about movies this summer in part because we’ve been otherwise occupied with travel and other pleasures. We have seen only a few, and only a few of those are worth reviewing because summer movies generally suck. That said, there are four worth talking about, three of which are in DC area theaters now.

Blindspotting

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“Leadership in Turbulent Times”

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Ellen and I had an experience Friday that will stay with us for a long time and gave us some perspective on the troubled times facing our country today.

We were attending a book luncheon at the Hay Adams Hotel, overlooking the White House, where Doris Kearns Goodwin was speaking about her soon to be released latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times. (We’ve long been a fan of this Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian and have read most of her historical works and also her wonderful memoir  – Wait Till Next Year.)

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Print vs Digital: Our Reading Brains Are Changing

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Image by Mobil Yazilar

Apparently, our reading brains are changing as we all move from a print medium to a digital one. More of our reading at all ages is being done not from print — newspapers, magazines, books, documents, etc. — but from digital platforms — screens, computers, email, iPads, Kindles etc.).

If you read the article below using this MillersTime website, you are not as likely to get as much from it as if you read it from The Guardian’s print edition. As Maryanne Wolf writes, the new norm in reading is “skimming, and while there are advantages to that, there are also costs (“unintended collateral damage”), for those just learning to read to those of us who have been reading from print formats for years, and to our society at large.

Check out the article below. I think it has important information and some things to consider for all of us.

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Thru Ellen’s Lens: Wyoming

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Usually we just post photos from trips abroad, but as many of you know, the US has as much outstanding scenery and wonderful sites to visit as almost any place in the world.

Below are a baker’s dozen photos from a recent family trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. Thus, you get not only the benefit of Ellen’s eye but also a glimpse of the family too.

The best way to see these photos, however, is in the slide show which you can access by following the instructions below.

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