A Separation: A Review

One never knows what will resonate, remain, decades later. In 1986, I watched the movie Short Circuit, the hero of which was a robot named Number 5. A lightning strike makes him sentient. Parallels to Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam aside, the little guy needs data, and lots of it. “More input!” In the stereotypical robot voice. All the time. Maybe sometimes a bit irritatingly. I am that robot.

Which you know because I’ve probably asked you for movie recommendations. At the end of a brief conversation with online colleagues (subtitles ok and they tried, but I kept saying “Seen it.”), a new person suggested an Iranian film called A Separation. There wasn’t time to hear details, so I did a bit of investigation: Made in 2011 for $800,000, box office was $24 million. That got my attention. It won the Academy Award for Best International Feature in 2012, the first Iranian film to do so. Intriguing.

A Separation begins and ends in a courtroom. We hear only the voice of the judges, once while the parents argue with the unseen judge and at the end as their child answers a judge’s questions in a way that is no answer at all: “Have you made up your mind?” with the reply “Yes.” She does not elaborate even though the judge presses her for a response that will make sense to him, either mother or father to prevail. She never does, and the film ends with a shot of the parents outside, waiting, separated literally as they sit on different sides in a busy hallway, the judge having formalized their marital separation.

The first court scene surprises the traditional American divorce with a remote judge on an elevated bench. Rather, it’s obvious the parents are in the judge’s face, almost screaming at him, imploring him to agree with one side or the other. The mother, Simin, wants to leave the country but will only do so if she can take her daughter, Termeh. Visas are waiting, and the father has changed his mind about leaving. He must then be willing to give his permission for Termeh to go, but she wants to stay with him as he cares for his elderly father who has Alzheimer’s with the hope her mother will relent. The judge—who has challenged Simin on her daughter’s future in the country—denies her request. She returns to her parents’ home, and Nader must find a way to protect his father while he’s at work.

Simin tries to help by finding a sitter, a poor woman named Razieh, recommended by a friend and who must make a long commute with her young daughter, Somayeh. Nader and Razieh haggle over her payment, he leaves for work, and Termeh is off to school. Problems arise immediately: the grandfather wets himself and must be cleaned. What happens next is crucial: Razieh calls a spiritual leader to ask if her act of cleaning him—a naked man—is a sin. She learns that it’s not, but the task is difficult for her physically, and she realizes she may have taken on too much. Perhaps her husband can come instead, she suggests.

Immediately, the subterfuges begin. Razieh has not told her husband, Hodjat, she has taken a job. She has not told Nader that she is pregnant. He must conduct an interview with Hodjat without disclosing that Razieh has worked for him. The next day, she is back at work with a vague explanation about her husband’s absence. When Nader returns from work, his father is unconscious on the floor, his hands tied to the bed. He immediately works to revive him, with Termeh crying nearby. Razieh unlocks the door and re-enters to a furious son and accusing daughter. The situation deteriorates quickly. Razieh demands her pay, Nader discovers money is missing and accuses her of stealing. She doesn’t want to leave without it, but he forces her out the door, causing her to fall on the stairs. The family later learns she has miscarried the baby they didn’t know she was expecting and go to the hospital to offer comfort. Hodjat is now the furious father with an even hotter temper. The action takes its final turn when Nader is accused of murder. Other judges—now visible and irritated—add to the tension as Nader’s future is in question.

The most insightful and poignant observation comes from Nader a bit later in the action. It can be distilled as “reasons and excuses.” Although the facts can be reduced to who knew what and when, the heart of the conflict is the play between those two concepts. The centrality of integrity—its meanings and its applications—causes real pain to all the characters. At almost twelve, Tempeh is old enough to know her own mind, her mother explains, but is that a reason for her behavior or an excuse for her lack of decisiveness? Razieh is pregnant, desperate that her husband is out of work, but is that a reason for her to find a job without his permission or an excuse for lying to him and her employer? Simin wants to leave the country for her daughter’s sake, but is the reason safety and protection, or is it an excuse to seek an easier life for herself? Nader has an elderly father who no longer recognizes him and to whom he feels an obligation, but is that a reason to continue trying to maintain care at home, or an excuse not to stay with his wife?

These questions reflect universal concerns, and an American watching the film would understand the conflicts. Cultural components are not a barrier, although some things do seem ancient to our ears such as the payment of blood money for the loss of the child. All the women wear at least a hijab; Razieh wears a chador that reflects her higher level of religiosity (itself an underlying theme). The former is common in our country, and though the latter is rarer, its significance would be obvious. Women drive in Iran and hold professional jobs even though the structure seems patriarchal. Perhaps the need for permission to leave with a child would seem unusual until the viewer remembers the initial premise in Taken. The element of families in crisis, then, is familiar.

Technical aspects crown this work, aside from its humanity. There is not a musical score, for example. Music tells us how to feel; Darth Vader’s imposing leit-motif and the violins-only of Psycho support the action and ambience. Without it we are closer to the characters who become more and more real. The single camera does not manipulate us with clever angles or artsy lingering. There are cuts, essential ones that we don’t notice because they seem unremarkable. Inconsequential actions culminate in vitally important later actions, as when Simin pays movers from a cash reserve. (It does look like a tremendous amount physically. Nader doesn’t want to pay Razieh the 300,000 rials she asks for, agreeing reluctantly. In dollars, that’s about $7.15 for a day’s work.) The tight scenes that we don’t understand immediately are reminiscent of this scene from Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful (1997).

The directorial sensibility of Ashgar Farhadi has been compared to Hitchcock’s. It’s easy to forget that we, in fact, become part of the story, willingly or unwillingly, as we react with empathy and even dread to the plight of these people, none of them innocent except the very young and the very old. All in all, this jewel of a film deserved its Oscar, something I can’t always say. Even without a definitive ending, the piece offers a satisfaction that is both artistic and experiential, taking us close as we would dare to what seems uncannily like the real lives of real people set in a place we will never go. Yes, recommended.

#mypresident, #because

…because he won the election. As of today, Joseph R. Biden is the president-elect of these United States as certified by the Senate on January 7, 2021. He won more electoral votes (306) than did Donald J. Trump (232). That he won the popular vote by just over 7 million votes does not now—and hopefully never will—matter or affect the outcome. This article (from a reliable source) explains the complicated process which involves all 50 states. Read the Constitution Section II responsible for the process; here is the 12th Amendment which changed the process, with added explanations of the reasons why.

…because the election that he won was not “stolen.” This article from The Wall Street Journal provides a list of allegations and explanations. WSJ is a right-leaning publication with an extremely high reliability record. It’s not that election fraud does not happen nor that either party is innocent of having committed it. Perhaps the most famous case is from Texas, involving the 1948 run-off between Lyndon B. Johnson and then-governor Coke Stevenson when both vied to be the Democratic candidate for the US Senate; it was essentially the actual race because the Republican could not win. Known as the Box 13 Scandal, the details are complicated, but in Jim Wells County, enough votes were “found” that put Johnson over the top by 187 votes. The word “brazen” usually appears when that bit of corruption is described. On Wednesday, January 15, 2021, a woman in San Antonio was arrested for election fraud. It appears to have been a business for her, with clients from both parties. A man in Pennsylvania registered for two dead relatives and voted for Trump using their identities; he has been charged. This NPR story discusses vulnerabilities in voting machines; it was written in 2019. This article discusses basis for claims of voting machine errors. This (extremely long) article from the American Bar Association lists all cases before and after the election having to do with procedures and actual complaints. In spite of over 60 lawsuits brought on behalf of the president, not a single one established evidence of fraud or irregularities with anywhere near the consequences that would have affected the election.

…because I have nowhere else to go. Having written about that already (June 8, 2020), I haven’t seen any realistic alternatives creep up. Yes, people retire in San Miguel de Allende, where 5% of the residents are foreigners. Paris would be nice, too, but neither is going to happen. I am a citizen of these United States. I seem to write about it all the time. Consider these lines:

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

More apt than ever, even in 1911 the author knew we needed changes. And it’s not that it’s proprietary: the truth of our system has improved the world, though I won’t give examples here. Perhaps we can agree that, on the whole at least, there is no place I would rather live.

…because our system prevents the worst of abuses of power. Although the word “demagogue” was thrown around recently, and although the definition has its obvious applications (“An unprincipled popular orator or leader; one who seeks to obtain political power by pandering to the prejudices, wishes, ignorance, and passions of the people or a part of them”), the balances within the system mitigate that narrative. Either side throwing around the terms “fascist” or “socialist” or worse comes up against a wall that would prevent drastic action. When FDR wanted to pack the Supreme Court, albeit a complicated topic, he was prevented from doing so by his own party. So if the soon-to-be former president exhibited behaviors fitting the term “demagogue,” he didn’t achieve much with it, as he has few skills as an orator and no real desire for power, just popularity. The incoming president seeks only a title; he has no real agenda.

…because I’ve been wrong before, politically speaking. Rather than going into details, my response has usually been “Oh that won’t happen.” And sometimes I’m right, of course. Maybe the new president will do better than I expect. If not, the safeguards above will help. My faith, ultimately, is that things will work out.

…because I saw the harm in the #notmypresident response beginning in 2016. The obvious irony in that impulse and the mood of millions who do not accept results of the current election results seems obvious. Vast negative coverage by most media, a long investigation, an impeachment on shallow grounds–all relied on a desire to get rid of a duly elected president. The effect on the president’s reaction to the current election will be discussed for years.

…because there is still a line at Chick-Fil-A and trucks keep rolling. Knowing the news and its implications is important to me. I read dozens of articles a week from diverse sources. A meme lately says, “To be happy don’t turn on the news or get on the scale.” After 9/11, there was a pause for a few days in air traffic, and I could tell the difference. These days, no matter who wins the election or the Super Bowl, the trucks keep delivering. The efficient kids at the most efficient fast food restaurant ever keep delivering my food efficiently. Never a mistake yet, in contrast to my local, beloved What-a-Burger which has never not made a mistake (double fries last time.) I live a block off Interstate 20. If it ever gets quiet out there, maybe I’ll worry.





The Golden: Thoughts

Ruth Dildy and Russell Trimble married on Christmas Eve, 1919. He was newly back from the Great War, stateside assigned. She was not long out of college with a history degree. Perhaps she’d taught a year. Letters between the two were private but show his ardent affection, his hope of a return, a mournful declaration of eternal love if he were to die. Besides the battles, of course, the Spanish flu raged, killing many more–20 million from the war (military and civilian) and 50 million from the virus. Sobering, desperate times.

We have no pictures from the affair. Her wedding shoes survived for decades. Tiny, pointed, cream-colored leather, and laced, they were not for play, tucked into a trunk in a basement. Nothing else commemorated the occasion except a wedding dinner bell, with gilded edges and painted pink roses, handled gently for another hundred years.

In the 1920s, four children were born. A girl, then another. The second would die of typhus the day before her third birthday; it was the same illness which would kill Anne Frank in 1945. In those days, the dead of a family were laid out at home. This beloved toddler was buried in the new blue taffeta dress Ruth had just finished for her; a lock of her pale blond hair was secured in a diary. The young family, overwhelmed by grief, could no longer live in the house and built another where members remained for 70 years. Twin boys came along, mischievous and lively, at the new house.

Of the three children, two would marry, one of those having four children. In 1969, for their 50th anniversary, Ruth and Russell held a family dinner. The meal was roast beef and vegetables, with the pièce de résistance a white layer cake with frothy frosting, decorated with pink roses. The grandchildren, in Sunday best, still young, from 9 to 19, sat at the children’s table. Silver, crystal, linen tablecloths for all, of course.

Ruth would die before the next year was out, Russell surviving her almost three years more. One twin would pass, then a grandson. Then their daughter and the second twin would go. From 1919 until then, we had begun to fly in earnest (Ruth preferred trains when those were common) and been to the moon (though none of us, yet), extended the vote (to women, first) and then to all (in Texas, sometimes including the deceased), introduced antibiotics (late 1928 discovery) and seen them expand (but not widely until 1945 and after). Telephones were cranked, then dialed and attached to a wall, then mobilized and then celled. Television would come with a station, then two, then a dozen, then hundreds. People talked and shouted, cried and regretted, observed the sun and the weather, married and celebrated anniversaries.

Mary Ann Sprague and Jerry Taylor wed January 9, 1971. He was to be off to war, not Vietnam which raged but nearby Korea. She had finished the third semester of a music degree. Letters between them, now lost, were private and never read by others. We have many pictures of a young woman, a just older man. The shoes are gone, but the dress—lace, Victorian sleeves and high neck, sewn by an elderly seamstress—lies folded in a sturdy white box on top of a shelf. Never played with, not so fragile now but a bit yellowed. The pink rose bouquet is pressed, shower lists are recorded. Lists of guests and gift-givers bring memories of college friends, kindergarten friends. The music was not recorded, but the titles remain: Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jeremiah Clark’s “Trumpet Voluntary,” and Purcell’s “Trumpet Tune,” with the prelude and postlude the organist’s choice from Bach, only. A reception, a white cake with fluffy white icing, pictures of the parents, the grieving grandfather. A honeymoon to Santa Fe, with a stop in Lubbock for Chinese food, a magician to charm. Back to school, off to Korea, February for him, July for her. Back to school again. Jobs, houses, children (three boys). Cars, many cars.

A terrible fall for him in 2004, before Christmas, with the next anniversary at the hospital. Slow walks down long corridors as speech returns, most memory, some thought, filters lost. A different life for her, caregiving then coordinating caregiving then watching a long, long decline. And then he is gone, July before the January.

So, no party for all, no celebration for what would have been the golden. A visit to a cemetery to see a carved named, a date, Army, SP4. Barely tears. For there is separation, but not loss. A glimpse of eternity, parted by time but not undone, not unwed though not yet sealed—that comes next July. Sometimes the gentlest hint of a presence gone on, just there. Waiting, patiently, for another processional to a quieter tune.

Two weddings, a century and some apart. A family of lives, between. Profound sadness, but also hidden and unexpected joys. Light and love, where no one else can go.

Suiting Up: Special Vaccine Edition

The first sentence of my first article in The Dallas Morning News: “My brother and I disagree on lots of things: politics, religion, how to load spoons in the dishwasher.” So when he asked me to report on my feelings about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, I told him I didn’t expect to have any. None with the flu vaccine (at my husband’s doctor’s recommendation because I couldn’t risk it). None with the tetanus booster (except it hurts for a week). Not even any with the pneumonia vaccine (taken years after recommended because COVID doesn’t let you breathe).

I was wrong. At first, making the appointment and driving to UTSW were just part of the dutiful response to a virus. Then I saw that the gates into the facility were raised, meaning no charge for parking. I knew the vaccine is to be free for everyone in the country. I didn’t know this simple, gracious act would be so moving.

People inside the building are equally kind, helpful, organized. Someone takes my temperature, another directs me to the lobby, and another pushes the UP button my elevator ride. Access to the actual venue is clearly marked. At the desk, I receive my card for follow-up, entering my name and age, then putting the pen in the “dirty cup.” [An aside: New word for the day is “fomite.” It’s “any object that can be contaminated with infectious agents.” Possibly overstated as a danger, but we often need symbolic actions. And why were we going in AND out the same doors at the grocery store for months?]

Once in the socially distanced line, I do have a feeling. I’m weeping at the goodness of it all. Scientists developed a vaccine using 15-years-in-making research with the viral DNA sequencing completed in January 2020. Yes, the intensity of the current vaccine need spurred funding, but the research had been underway since SARS, another coronavirus in 2002. These people had spent all that time, for me, for the rest of us in the line. Nurses were willing to inoculate hundreds of us. Administrators arranged the payments. Janitors cleaned. Electricians maintained. It all worked.

The personnel continue to be professional, calm, and confident. Focused. I can imagine the meetings in preparation, having been in event-planning groups before. The synergy of the group: Where best to hold the activity? How to arrange the rooms? How would privacy be managed? Who should do what and when? And yes, should we charge for parking?

I’m called into a large room with blue cloth dividers. Because I’m myself, I say things to the nurse that make her laugh. She, too, displays competence and a sense of the importance of the moment. But I can’t resist telling her not to ask me if I’m ready because, after all, there is a needle involved. She tells me about the 4-day window to return for the second dose. She is cheerful, and truly, it didn’t hurt.

In a large, undivided room, we sit in socially distanced chairs, set in groups of one or two. We are to wait for 15 minutes under the watchful eye of a nurse. A large screen shares the message “CONGRATULATIONS! You have been vaccinated! Set your phones for 15 minutes.” And what to do if you have a reaction. Everyone is on their phones anyway; we are savvy folk, after all. The woman in front of me leaves, and as soon as she’s out the door, someone comes over and sprays her seat with disinfectant. A delicate and polite delay. A man says to someone, “Thank you for what you’re doing.” It seems heartfelt.

I don’t set my phone but do keep watch. As I go out, the positivity continues. It’s an ennobling thing, all the work of so many for so many others. Part of history. That’s how it feels now. A combination of can-do dedication and brilliance, money and organization, clarity of purpose and suppression of anger at the Chinese government.

And I drive away into beautiful sunshine, through a garage gate that is open.

A bit more: Is this really a pandemic? Yes, by definition. A single disease infecting people in 191 countries; there are 195 on earth. There have been over 88 million cases. Of those almost 22 million have been in the United States. India is next with 10.4 million. India has 1 billion more people than we do, by the way. That’s billion with a “b.” China reports 87,278 cases. Doubtful. They also have a billion more people. Really doubtful.

More of an issue is the fatality rate. The highest in the world by far is Mexico at 8.6%. Italy is next with 3.5%. The US is 22nd with a rate of 1.8%. However, the rate per 100,000 is more important. Italy is first with about 128. The US is fourth, an unenviable spot, with almost 112. For comparison, the 1918 pandemic (a flu, not a coronavirus) infected 500 million worldwide with 50-100 million dead. Worse, it was the young who were more affected. Under 5 years, 20-40, and over 65 were hardest hit. A perfectly well young adult could come down with it in the morning and be gone by sunset. Yes, people wore masks. Gatherings were smaller. Universities were closed; the (unverified) family story is that my grandmother and her father (she doing graduate work, he lecturing) were there when the University of Texas closed down. A terrible war had ended, and then a massive pandemic.

Final thoughts: I was proud today to be a participant in a process that will save lives. It’s not my place to recommend what others do, of course. I hope that reasons for not taking the vaccine—it’s too new, I’m too young, the side effects are worse than the disease, I’ve had the disease—can be put to rest.  I also hope it isn’t made mandatory, unnecessary considering other data regarding survival rates. Frankly, I hope the year gets better, quickly. I dare not say I don’t think it can’t get worse. (That’s a triple negative, by the way. I couldn’t see a different solution.) I don’t feel safe yet. Maybe after another dose. Thank you, Pfizer.

Today: Special Edition

This is a first, in two ways: A special edition and a departure from my usual light-hearted tone. Today’s events shocked me more than anything has since September 11, 2001. The motivations have uncanny resemblances. A leader with no regard for the Constitution or the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence incited people loyal to him in ways not seen except in avowed terrorists. Until the election, I supported many of his policies. I argued that many so-called lies were misinterpreted or taken out of context or not willfully deceptive. I supported his Supreme Court nominations and his choice of people like Nikki Haley and William Barr in their positions. I acknowledged that media coverage of him was unfairly negative when compared to Democratic politicians. Today, he did the indefensible, whether out of ignorance or malice, ego or pride or demagoguery, I don’t know. But I know what he did: He sanctioned desecration.

We often hear the phrase “the hallowed halls” of this or that, used for everything from academia to churches and sometimes even government buildings. Today, Vice President Mike Pence said, “We grieve the loss of life in these hallowed halls.” The concept of sacredness is broad, but it means in its deepest roots to make something holy. Most of us, I believe, take the principles on which this country was founded to have that quality. The realities of politics aside, in spite of flaws (many corrected through the years), apart from all challenges to it, our system as based on the Constitution works. For 244 years, we have fought for its preservation, even to the loss of more blood than in any foreign war on our own soil to correct a century-old wrong.

It’s not simply the breaking of norms anymore than it is simply the breaking of glass. One former president did something unspeakable, despicable, in the Oval Office, and I took that personally, but he did not desecrate the very halls and grounds in which the work of the Union takes place. A fury was let loose based on conspiracies and unfounded allegations. Rumors spread within hours that these rioters were not Trump supporters at all but Antifa members bused in for the occasion. People repeated it and cited verification from so-called sources. If there is indeed an outside source for the turmoil since the election–and there may well be–the thousands vilifying the Capitol today were not the hired help but the useful pawns. Misinformation has greater consequences than elections, and if cooler heads do not prevail, something precious will be lost.

The passion after loss is nothing new. As I write this, I’m listening to the David Willcock’s arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” My late husband had met and worked with him at a choral workshop 20 years ago. Every Christmas, he played this everywhere. Even on my church’s electronic organ, it was moving and beautiful. One year, a man came up to me and said he was so overcome he couldn’t continue singing. When a friend died a few years ago, the organist, after a rather sedate service, gifted us with the Widor Organ Symphony #5: Toccata. It was stunning. She poured her heart and soul (and because an organ needs one’s entire body, that too) into what wasn’t a performance but a dedication of love. What happened today is the opposite of these emotions. Angry people, hateful, thoughtless people, without considering the effect their actions would have, surged ahead. Misguided, sad, appalling, illegal, every other negative adjective you can imagine—the faces they presented to the world need to be arrested, and the laws of the land enacted against them. Strong feeling doesn’t negate culpability. If you break something on purpose, you are responsible. Patriots don’t storm Congress; they die defending it.

Today, when Vice-President Mike Pence condemned the violence, he concluded with, “Let’s get back to work.” Today, when an emotional Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke about what the body needed to do, he spoke of duty, “not fear or force.” And there was agreement. There was applause. There is resolve. There is resilience. Perhaps my usual hope continues. At least for now. I don’t know about tomorrow.


On/Time/Flies Like an Arrow

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Terrifically funny, especially on a gray and rainy day last week when I heard it for the first time. It’s a pun–which some people call the lowest kind of humor–or a paraprosdokian: the latter part of a sentence or phrase surprises in unexpected ways.  This article explains the decline of what Shakespeare considered good fun and an appeal to the intellect. “The young man the boat” is another example, though not funny.

The past year has been a monumental debacle with an odd relationship to time (When will this end? How long do we have to stay home? Is two weeks of quarantine too little? Too much? When can I get the vaccine? HOW LONG DO WE WEAR MASKS?), so it seemed appropriate to delve into time as a topic. Being on time, over the past several years, has been described as culturally insensitive at best or racist at worst. This brief opinion piece discusses what the author calls “Persian standard time.” But no one group can corner lateness. Even Urban Dictionary posts “Mormon Standard Time” as a thing. Although their reasoning involves lots of kids to get anywhere, that seems too easy. Meetings start on time, but people filter in at various intervals, with or without 3.4 children. Still, Louis XVIII said, “Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” We can also lose time, have time on our hands, get somewhere in time as well as on, lose time and lose track of time, and even get something done ahead of time.

Since it’s been a year largely devoid of movies, let’s divert to a list of top time travel movies. Tenet was, literally, the only movie I saw at a theater in 2020. The title is a palindrome, a shady organization, and the chief plot feature, all three of which are lightly covered here, with a nod to  Sator’s Square, a palindromic shape in Latin for which the movie’s villain, Andrei Sator (played by Kenneth Branagh) is named. (A long time to get there.) Time travel itself is a sub-genre within science fiction, beginning well before movies. Its origins are sketchy, but one of the first titles, (wait for it) Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, was written in 1733. A series of letters written from the future, this catchy-titled novel deals not with advances just extrapolations. Novels like 1984 and Brave New World use a similar “If it’s this bad now, what will it be like then?” concept on order to warn us.

Numerous explanations exist for methods of going to the past or the future. Sometimes sleeping for a long time explains the arrival in the future (“Rip van Winkle). H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine introduces a contrivance, as did the characters in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Portals are common; a personal favorite is the Spanish series The Ministry of Time (El ministerio del tiempo). I learned a lot about Spanish history. As with many others, this one sends people to the past to rectify a potential change. A particularly good one in this sub-sub-genre is Travelers on Netflix; far too complicated to explain but well done. Even Harry Potter has a time-altering novel, The Prisoner of Azkaban.

But back to movies. At the top of this list: Back to the Future. And number two is Primer (2004). Set in Austin, this short indie captures all the potential problems with time travel with a predictable but realistic twist. What about Groundhog Day, Somewhere in Time, Sleeper, Looper, Interstellar, Arrival, Edge of Tomorrow, 12 Monkeys, Idiocracy. Termintaor, Star Trek, and too many I can’t remember?  IMDB lists 229,309 titles. No wonder.

Now a bit about calendars. Our paternal grandfather had a beef with the Gregorian calendar, called it a “humbug.” How he managed, poor as he was, to print and distribute pamphlets to that effect puzzles me. As in the new Pixar movie Soul, it must have been his spark. The Gregorian is what we live with, these days, but the older one, the Julian, still runs and some groups still use it. The last European country didn’t adopt the Gregorian until 1923. Uneven months are one of its features: The poem that begins “30 days hath September…” is old, dating from 1425. There is a mnemonic with knuckles, and (new to me) one using piano keys beginning with an F and moving up in half steps. I like this parody: “30 days hath September/All the rest I can’t remember.” This is, of course, an entire study, but some people want another change.

Some years ago, I read a book about the need for a standardized calendar that did away with uneven months. The need for an extra day every four years was resolved with a “free day” that didn’t have a placeholder. People were to just ignore it or use it as a holiday. Imagine my surprise, then, when this article appeared this week: “As We Usher in 2021, It’s Time to Adopt a Permanent Calendar.” The writers advocate a calendar that doesn’t change year to year because a general rearrangement would let each date fall on the same day of the week, year to year. An entire week would be inserted every 5-6 years for seasonal/leap day offsets. The writers refer to the Gregorian calendar as “flawed,” milder than humbug. Their proposal is The Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, cleverly named after themselves. It’ll never happen, of course. Calendar manufacturers would rise up. Congress would debate it ad infinitum (inside joke). It has a sleek, modern appeal, however monotonous it might be.

All that said, today’s conclusion goes further afield. Time is not real, after all. This article confirmed my thinking when I read it two years ago. It’s a review of The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli. No, I didn’t rush out and buy it. Yes, I admit it’s not in my range of brain. But I believe time is an illusion, that it’s a construct in which we operate in order to have beginnings and endings. In fact, the phrase “the arrow of time” was coined in 1927 to describe its forward motion. If there is a space-time continuum, if nothing can travel faster than light, and if light can be bound in a black hole, then I can almost imagine time standing still, too. Observing space from the comfort of not really being there, I can see time halted. With that said, time travel suddenly becomes not only possible but easy, in spite of the probably fact that time travels like an arrow. Now to get on to those 200K+ titles.