Previous month:
August 2012
Next month:
October 2012

Decision Fatigue

I have probably mentioned that Duke prides itself on the fact that EVERYTING in its weight loss program is research-based and rigorously documented. One of the things they told us about was decision fatigue (regular readers will recall); the more decisions you make, the worse your decisions. Apparently, we only have so many decisions in us each day. Turns out Barrack Obama has been told the same thing, according to the recent Michael Lewis profile in Vanity Fair:
This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. "You have to exercise," he said, for instance. "Or at some point you'll just break down." You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. "You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits," he said. "I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one's ability to make further decisions. It's why shopping is so exhausting. "You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia."


4 stars out of 5
A quite fascinating visit to the land of time travel, designed by writer/director Rian Johnson and realized with the help of stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (playing against type), Bruce Willis (playing Bruce Willis) and Emily Blunt (plus a great cameo by Jeff Daniels, playing against type). More and more, movies of this genre are resorting to what I call the "Groundhog Day" solution: don't bother explaining, and let the rules gradually emerge. That's what happens here. The one thing missing from all the professional reviews of this film is that it is ultra-violent. Not Saw ultra-violent, but people explode and fall apart in pretty disgusting ways. It turns out to be a love story at heart, which is the best kind of time travel story. After all, Groundhog Day, and, for that matter, the Christoper Reeve vehicle Somewhere in Time were love stories as well. The writing is very good, the story is gripping, and, at two hours, it is 30 minutes longer than it needs to be.

DVD Tip: The Game

I had forgotten the David Fincher film The Game from 1997, starring Michael Douglas, until my wife ran across it and we watched it together last week. Clever, well-written mystery. If you haven't seen it, see it. Totally impausible, and yet still thrilling.

Best line delivery, Dern finds cute campaign video, Political Briefs, Dan Grobstein File

Heard this on the Slate Culture Gabfest, and it is true: Best Line Delivery of All Time. The description: "This line is from "The Box." It came out in 2007. Do not confuse this with "The Box" starring Cameron Diaz which came out in 2009. Watch as Giancarlo Esposito rocks your world.." Esposito is curremtly chewing up all available scenery in the NBC post-apocoalyptic drama Revolution.

Daniel Dern noted the West Wing cast appearing in a campaign video.

Two political briefs: Lobbyists At Work : Terrorists no more, An Explanation For Romney's Relative Reduction In Public Events

Dan Grobstein File

Memoir Ideas

I turned 60 last week, and my daughters bought me six hours of memoir-writing lessons as a gift. The gift was not actually a surprise, and I haven't scheduled my sessions yet, but I have started gathering string by listening to reviews of memoirs and memoir writers on the podcasts I listen to. I have heard a couple of ideas I like as organizing principles. I already know, because my older daughter has taken a course in the subject, that memoirs differ from autobiography in that they are stories, rather than a recitation of facts. I thought I had written several memoirs; turns out I have written several autobiographies--and printed up a half dozen copies of each.

When my daughters first mentioned this a few months ago, I thought I'd write the memoir about my favorite subject, me. But of course any memoir I write, no matter what the subject, is about me in the end, since any memoir I write is about how I reacted to a situation, how I remember it, how it affected me. So now, I am thinking (subject to revision after talking to the teacher) or writing a memoir about my parents.

One idea: the word stories. In a sense this is a meta idea, since memoirs are stories, but in another it is a principle around which I can organize writing about my mother, since she was a story teller, a trait she passed on to me. Another idea: grudges. There are some very long-held grudges on both sides of my family, involving both family and outsiders.

Another comes from Alex Witchel of the New York Times, who was discussing her new memoir Gone. She used the phrase, "my mother lived for." Which made me think, and then conclude that my mother lived for taking care of children, and my father lived for being a driver with a commercial license (or he lived for his work). I am not sure what I live for (and I am not soliciting suggestions). My older daughter suggested "family." My mother-in-law lived for travel, my father-in-law for his work.

Finally, I heard a memoirist use four adjectives to describe his family. I am working on my list. This sounds like the old Time Magazine habit from the 30s and 40s, in which each person was described with three adjectives (balding, greedy, fast-talking). I have some ideas. I am looking for a one-word synonym for grudge holding.

Humor is Hard

Firesign Theater, the Beatles of Comedy, is my all-time favorite comedy troupe. They were based in LA and grew out of radio--grew out of it rather quickly. The San Francisco-based echoes of that phenomenon, back in the 60s, when people still made comedy albums, were different, and never as popular (and even Firesign waned after the four seminal Columbia albums). Personally, I love Ducks' Breath Mystery Theater, so much so that I played their skits in the car for my daughters all the time they were growing up. (They were from the midwest, but they were in SF by the time they were recording). When the opportunity presented itself, I hired Duck member Ian Shoales/Merle Kessler to do audio commentary for a website I was editing. He did 40 of them. I still enjoy listening to them. And, last week, I was informed of a two-man duo called Congress of Wonders. The jury is still out on this group. They have a Firesign sensibility, but not Firesign production values (their albums sound like something assembled by two guys who worked in radio, which is what they were). Maybe they'll grow on me.

The Master

2 stars out of 5
This rating is almost as hard to do as last week's six stars for Ruby Sparks was easy. Two weeks ago, this film set a record for the greatest per-screen take on an opening weekend. Reviewers were turned away from screenings. My older daughter and I went to see it in 70mm at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, one of only a dozen places in the country where it can be seen in this once widespread and still impressive format. The acting was amazing, mostly handled by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. The directing by Paul Thomas Anderson was up to his standards, the cinematography was impressive, the music was weird but appropriate. But the script, also by Anderson was... inadequate. It was clearly a roman a clef about Scientology, but it ended up coming off like a bad biopic. It was a strung together series of incidents, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Hoffman furrows his brow, and Phoenix leaves no scenery unchewed--to what end? Just goes to show you should review the film, not the box office. I suspect word of mouth is going to sink this turkey.

Groundhog Day, Borowitz, Michael Moore, No Child Left Standing, Dan Grobstein File

My rave review of Ruby Sparks last week left several readers in a state of doubt. I will not be changing my favorite film; it continues to be Groundhog Day. For the reasons why, see my fan site. Ruby Sparks had originality, but GHD has originality (yes, I know there were several science fiction stories using the same gimmick that preceded it, but I've read them and Danny Rubin/Howard Ramis were much cleverer) and a message--only through selfless service can we break out of the endless repetition of this life (or the cycle of reincarnation, if you're inclined that way).

Andy Borowitz is now blogging at the New Yorker; his Letter from Ann Romney is as funny as most of his stuff, which is to say, pretty funny.

Miichael Moore's amazing book Here Comes Trouble Again is now out in paperback. I haven't read it, but I've read other books of his, seen all his movies, and read the excerpts he's posted. It looks great. Someday, I'll find time to read it. What's your excuse?

Apropos of last week's remarks about testing, a friend sends along word that the Boston Globe looked at the relationship between family income and test scores, and, mirabile dictu, kids from well-off families do better than kids from poor families. If you predict the scores based  solely on income, you get a pretty accurate prediction of how a district will score.

Dan Grobstein File