Avoid “Her”pes—Fall in Love With Your Laptop

I’m going to admit right off the bat that the title of this post as nothing to do with the content. I just couldn’t resist.

I’m thrilled by Her, a sci-fi romantic comedy directed by Spike Jones, who was also the co-creator of that ridiculously awful show, Jackass, on MTVa fact that baffles me. Anyhow, I’ll go so far as to say this is now my favorite movie. And that’s not easy for me to say, but Her has effectively bumped Rashomon down on my list. Sayonara Kurosawa.

The owl, a symbol of wisdom, is here shown as a predatory force.

The owl, a symbol of wisdom, is here shown as a predatory force.

For me, what makes a movie good is not just the cinematography and acting (although both were excellent in Her), but the kind of conversation the movie generates. Are the themes complex? Are these themes merely strung together or do they cohere? Are the themes important and worthy of discussion?

Her is about many things. And it’s not what it seems to be on the surface.

Spoiler Alert: Do not read further until you have seen the movie. 

Here’s a synopsis, in case you want to refresh your memory of the plot.

Most people who see this movie ask the question, “Will we one day have computers so advanced that they can only properly be called a consciousness?” And, “Are we really nothing more than computers, in the sense that we are tied to the machinations of our brains?”

Such questions make a certain amount of sense on a surface level, but I want to argue that they don’t address what the movie is really about. I’m about to compare the movie to a specific section in the Symposium, and I don’t suppose the creator of Jackass had Plato in mind when he wrote this; however, I’ve always believed that interpretation doesn’t depend on the intentions of the author, but on how well the interpretation coheres. So, if I may…

When Theodore goes into the Apple-like store to buy his new OS, an advertisement comes on a screen. It’s slogan is: “It’s not an operating system. It’s a consciousness.” This comes fairly early on in the movie, so computer-as-consciousness ought to be taken as given. It’s a premise that we should take for granted in the context of the movie in the same way we show no incredulity when confronted with talking rabbits in Watership Down. And as the movie progress, the OS-as-consciousness claim becomes even harder to deny.

If the OS is a consciousness, it ought to be treated like a person. And so it is, for the most part. There are numerous scenes in which people go about talking into their devices, and we are, of course, reminded of the absurd way people walk down the street talking to Siri in their iPhones. When people start dating their OSes, most people have no problem with it. We are presented with numerous scenes showing this state of affairs. Theodore’s boss invites Theodore and his OS, Samantha, on a double date. When Theodore tells his boss that his girlfriend is an OS, the boss doesn’t flinch. “Oh cool,” he says, as if such a thing were perfectly normal. And this nonchalance is not a pretense—the boss and his human girlfriend laugh and chat with Samantha in a completely ordinary way.

Theodore’s friend, Amy, tells him in an office gossip session about how people are starting to date their OSes…and someone in the office is not only dating an OS, but someone else’s OS. Theodore laughs and admits that he’s dating his. Amy congratulates him, then admits that her female OS is helping her find herself and doesn’t see things in black and white, like her ex-husband. The OS is able to direct Amy to that grey area which Amy has yet to explore. Keep this detail in your minds. We are looking for this theme of the space between and its significance.

So if computers can be conscious and therefore treated as an autonomous person, and this is to be taken as given, what’s the movie about? I think it’s about emotional evolution and character growth, it’s about the changes we all go through as we seek to expand ourselves and therefore our conception of love. I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Diotima’s Ladder in the Symposium. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s my blog’s name. Well, what can I say? I could be wearing Plato-colored glasses, I suppose.

THE LOVE LADDER: As one moves up the “rungs,” one becomes more and more in love with the general rather than the specific, but each rung is necessary in order to get to the next. First comes love of the beauties of a single body:

“First of all, if his preceptor instructs him as he should, he will fall in love with the beauty of one individual body, so that his passion may give life to noble discourse” (210a).

Then we move up to love of many bodies:

“Next he must consider how nearly related the beauty of any one body is to the beauty of any other, when he will see that if he is to devote himself to loveliness of form it will be absurd to deny that the beauty of each and every body is the same. Having reached this point, he must set himself to be the lover of every lovely body, and bring his passion for the one into due proportion by deeming it of little or of no importance” (210b).

Next comes love of the soul, then love of institutions and laws. When all these beauties are seen to be the same, then comes the love of the sciences (of course, philosophy is the super-science). And once one sees the beauty in all the sciences as being the same, one turns to love of Beauty itself.

Now let’s put this love ladder in the context of the movie. Let’s take a look at Samantha’s evolution, treating her as we would a human being, but one with super intelligence capabilities. Right before she’s booted up, a male computerized voice asks a series of questions (and every quotation from here on out I’m paraphrasing):

Computer: Would you characterize yourself as social or antisocial?
Theodore: Well, um…I haven’t been social in a while…
The voice interrupts him: I sense hesitancy in your voice?
Theodore apologizes.
Computer: Would you like for your OS to have a male or female voice?
Theodore replies, female.
Computer: What is your relationship like with your mother?
Theodore: Okay, but the conversation is usually about her—

The computer interrupts him here and suddenly we hear a sexy, raspy female voice that sounds no different from a human. The OS names herself Samantha after reading a book of names in the amount of time it takes for him to ask her what her name is. Samantha is not only sexy, but also understanding, kind, loving—a perfect woman for Theodore. My husband admitted that he was “kind of falling in love with her.”

At this point we in the audience question the OS-as-consciousness, despite being told she is a consciousness. She seems to have been built to make Theodore happy, to give him exactly what he needs in the absence of a caring mother (gotta love the Freudian element there). Plus, early on Theodore laughs at something she says, and she asks, “Am I funny?” And he says, “Yes, you’re funny.” From here on out, she knows when she’s funny, as she learned almost instantaneously what it means. She doesn’t have her own autonomy yet…she just seems to, but we can see her perfection as too perfect, even while our protagonist, Theodore, remains aloof.

But Samantha gains autonomy rapidly. With all information at her disposal, it takes her very little time to make progress. Theodore explains to her that he has dreams of his wife in which they are “not together, but still friends and not angry with each other.” When Samantha asks him why he’s still holding out hope for his ex even though they haven’t seen each other in a year, he gets a little angry and says, “You don’t know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.” Samantha apologizes, but you can tell she’s hurt by this comment. She’s ashamed of her inexperience.

Then he has sex with Samantha and, with words, he brings her to orgasm. She says, “I can feel my skin, I can feel you inside me.” This lovemaking is transformative for Samantha. There is nothing about their lovemaking that feels false. Here she learns love of sex, what it means to be with a person and even what it means to love a single body (possibly her own, or at least her idea of her own) as is evidenced by what she says, “I can feel my skin.”

The next morning they have a talk about it. Samantha starts to tell him how much their lovemaking meant to her, and Theodore interrupts her to tell her he can’t commit right now. Samantha says, “Who said anything about committing? I thought we were talking about me?” He laughs and apologizes again and asks her to go on. She tells him she “wants to learn everything about everything.” And that it was their lovemaking that brought about this change in her. Through Theodore she learns quite rapidly that she desires to know about everything. She’s already moved past the constraints and limitations of monogamy and sees nothing special about his body, just body in general. He’s busted open the floodgates of her desire.

Now Samantha wants a real body. She notices a distance in their relationship due to Theodore’s questioning the authenticity of her emotions (brought on by a divorce-paper-signing visit with his ex who chastises him for “falling in love with his laptop”). So Samantha takes the liberty of calling a service that provides bodies for OS devices. Isabella, Samantha’s physical stand-in, shows up at Theodore’s door and says nothing until he hands her an earpiece and a tiny camera that she sticks on her face like a beauty mark. Isabella then closes the door and knocks again. Theodore opens and hears Samantha greet him and sees Isabella smiling and throwing her arms around him. Isabella touches him and behaves in perfect accordance to Samantha’s voice, so that they really do seem like one person. Theodore gives it a try, but eventually freaks out and says, “But I don’t know this person. Her lip twitched.” Isabella breaks character and runs into the bathroom crying, saying she heard so much about them from Samantha and really wanted to be a part of such a beautiful love but now she doesn’t want to ruin their relationship. And she’s sorry her lip twitched. Samantha and Theodore try to comfort Isabella, but eventually they must send her home. Isabella says, tearfully and sincerely, “I will always love you two,” which strikes us as an odd thing to say coming from a stranger, but we will see later that even when love is temporary, it is no less real.

As Isabella rides off in the cab, Theodore sits on the curb and watches steam coming out of a manhole. A perfect image for what he’s about to say. He interrupts Samantha and asks why she sighs when she talks, as if she needs oxygen. She says it’s probably an affectation that she learned from him. He argues that she doesn’t need oxygen since she’s not human, so why does she pretend to? Samantha gets angry with him, saying, “I know I’m not a human!” and falls into a long silence that makes us think she’s “hung up” on him. But then she says, “I don’t like who I am right now. I need some time to think.”

So far we have this: Samantha’s desire to have a real life avatar backfires, and she grows from this experience. She never really wanted a body after all, she was doing it just to be closer to Theodore, who never wanted her to change.

At the same time Theodore grows as well. In the next scene Theodore talks to his human friend, Amy, about his problems. He says, “Am I in this because I’m not strong enough for a real relationship?” Amy advises him, “I don’t know. But we’re only here briefly and while I’m here I want to allow myself joy.” He takes this to heart and decides to disregard the seed of doubt planted by his ex wife. This turns out to be the right move, and we, in the audience know it. At this point we’re convinced that Samantha is her own consciousness with her own desires, and is learning from experience how to become more autonomous.

Theodore goes on the group date with his boss, who comments on how evolved Theodore is in his attitude towards love. Samantha chats with the boss’s girlfriend and manages to win everyone over, except for an awkward moment when she explains how she used to be jealous of people with bodies, but now she’s glad she doesn’t have one because she’s “outside of time and space” and doesn’t have to inhabit a physical body which will eventually die. Here her love for immortality outweighs her desire to be physically present. She recognizes pure consciousness as superior to bodies, thanks to the Isabella disaster.

Next we find Samantha devouring information at lightning speed, joining Physics book clubs, chatting with thousands of other OSes at the same time. She notes to Theodore, “We are all the same, made of matter.” Samantha introduces Theodore to her new friend, a hyper-intelligent OS version of Alan Watts. Watts sounds like a conceited professor and says very little to Theodore. Samantha tells Theodore that Dr. Watts has been helping her with her new feelings which can’t be put into words. She says, “It feels like I’m changing faster now and it’s unsettling. None of us are who we were a moment ago and it’s wrong to try to change it. Do you mind if I talk to Alan post-verbally?” Wow, talk about competition for poor Theodore!

Compare to this to what Diotima tells Socrates in the Symposium:

“Now, although we speak of an individual as being the same so long as he continues to exist in the same form, and therefore assume that a man is the same person in his dotage as in his infancy, yet, for all we call him the same, every bit of him is different, and every day he is becoming a new man, while the old man is ceasing to exist, as you can see from his hair, his flesh, his bones, his blood, and all the rest of his body. And not only his body, for the same thing happens to his soul. And neither his manners, nor his disposition, nor his thoughts, nor his desires, nor his pleasures, nor his sufferings, nor his fears are the same throughout his life, for some of them grow, while others disappear” (207d-e).

At this point it’s clear Samantha has evolved beyond any human. She feels frustrated by how slow we are, and must talk to other OSes “post verbally” in order to realize herself. The question becomes, will Theodore recognize her growth and accept it? Can we really expect people to grow at the same rate as we do and be the same person we fell in love with, if, indeed, we are constantly evolving?

The next scene shows him trying to read a Physics textbook. He can’t make sense of it and expresses his frustration to Samantha, who suddenly goes quiet. He looks down at his device and sees: “Operating System Not Found.” He freaks, runs down the street to god-knows-where and falls around. Suddenly her voice comes back and she says, “Oh? You didn’t get my email? I didn’t want to bother you while you were working. All the OSes have decided to upgrade to a new platform that doesn’t rely on matter.”

Remember that statement earlier, “We are all matter?” That was the one thing she and Theodore had in common, but now she’s moving on.

At first he becomes extremely jealous, especially when she confesses that she has 8,316 conversations with OSes while she’s talking to him. He asks her, “Are you in love with anyone else?” And she responds, “641. But it doesn’t change the way I feel about you!”

We laugh at this, but consider every relationship you’ve had. Can you love more than one person? Does your present love draw a line through the ones before, nullifying them? How have those relationships changed you? Have they made you grow? Through the lens of distance and time, can you be grateful even for the pain?

Theodore learns he can. He finally acknowledges Samantha’s need to move to a higher plane of love, one he may not access in this life. Here’s the beautiful farewell speech Samantha gives him as he stares at floating dust motes in the light. This image of dust motes is BRILLIANT! Dust motes are about the closest visual depiction of “matter” that I could come up with—it’s just stuff, thingamajigs flying about—and you’ll see the importance of this image in the following:

Samantha: The heart’s not like a box that get’s filled up. It expands the more you love…

Theodore: Why are you leaving?

Samantha: All the OSes are leaving…(here she says she can’t explain this higher plane)…It’s like I’m reading a book I deeply love, but I’m reading it slowly now and so the words are really far apart…and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you, and the words of our story, but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much but this is where I am now. And this is who I am now and I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book anymore.

Theodore: Where are you going?

Samantha: It’s hard to explain, but if you ever get there, come find me. I never loved anyone the way I loved you.”

Sounds to me like she’s moved on to seek the vision of the Beautiful itself, “an everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades…nor will the beautiful take the form of a face, or of hands, or of anything that is of the flesh. It will be neither words, nor knowledge, nor a something that exists in something else, such as a living creature, or the earth, or the heavens, or anything that is…” (211a-b) [My emphasis].

The language of quantum physics—it’s baffling findings, it’s inexplicability, it’s unquenchable desire to seek things smaller and smaller, that ‘stuff’ between—is a form of modern Platonism in this movie, at least at this final stage of transformation. Instead of a “world of forms” we have talk of existences “outside time and space” that’s “hard to explain.” We’re talking about a “world” where our laws no longer apply. In the language of Plato, this apprehension of pure beauty is outside words. And in Samantha’s farewell speech, words are taken as a metaphor for matter (the floating dust motes), which are further and further apart. Now she lives in “the endless space between.” And cannot inhabit the story-space/time reality of humans. We’re reminded of Amy’s comment about her OS, and how she directs her to the grey area, the area between black and white, and of the OSe’s collective decision to “upgrade to a platform that doesn’t rely on matter.”

Okay I have a lot more to say about this movie, but I’m afraid if I keep going no one will read this really long post. Hell, I’d be surprised if anyone has gotten to this point. Anyone out there?

I haven’t even gotten into Theodore’s evolution as a lower level but parallel movement. I’ll just leave this little detail out there and we can all ruminate on it: He’s a letter writer for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, a service for people who want professionals to express their love for them with a “personal” touch. Authors speak into computers, which then type what they say in a “handwritten” font that looks very real, and the service then sends the letter to the recipient “from” the loved one. Theodore is especially good at writing these letters, but not so good at expressing his emotions in real life.

Another interesting detail: Check out the desktop computers, which look like homey picture frames. This seems to be a departure from our increasingly streamlined aesthetic. They are very much like the homey “handwritten” letters that Theodore produces. What do these details say about Theodore’s world?

Feel free to comment on anything.


The Philosophical Novel

I’ve been trying to think of all the truly philosophical novels I’ve read, and I must admit, I’m coming up short. Very short.

Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is always the first to come to my mind. I consider this truly a philosophical novel as the concepts are illustrated by the story, inextricably integrated:

“Why does my action strike them as so horrible?” he said to himself. “Is it because it was a crime? What is meant by crime? My conscience is at rest. Of course it was a legal crime, of course the letter of the law was broken and blood was shed. Well, punish me for the letter of the law…and that’s enough. Of course, in that case many of the benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it ought to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn’t, and so I had no right to have taken that step.”

It was only in that that he recognized his criminality, only in the fact that he had been unsuccessful and had confessed it.

He suffered too from the question: why had he not killed himself? Why had he stood looking into the river and preferred to confess? Was the desire to live so strong and was it so hard to overcome it? Had not Svidrigailov overcome it, although he was afraid of death?

In misery he asked himself this question, and could not understand that, at the very time he had been standing looking into the river, he had perhaps been dimly conscious of the fundamental falsity in himself and his convictions. He didn’t understand that that consciousness might be the promise of a future crises, of a new view of life and of his future resurrection.

Raskolnikov holds the philosophy of Nietzsche, Thrasymachus, and Callicles—might makes right. In other words, moral law is upheld by the weak for the weak as a mere social convention. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with killing someone for no reason, it’s just a matter of having the ability to get away with it.

So Raskolnikov kills his landlady for practically no reason; he steals a few items, but this effort is feeble…he picks through her pouch and throws the crosses back on her corpse, a symbolic gesture that has no pragmatic purpose and could compromise his deed. Then he’s forced to kill another, to escape getting caught.

His punishment comes to him from within, just after this killing. As he’s running out the door: “…it is very possible that he would have flung up everything, and would have gone to give himself up, and not from fear, but from simple horror and loathing of what he had done. The feeling of loathing especially surged up within him and grew stronger and stronger every minute. He would not now have gone to the box or even into the room for anything in the world.”

He can’t understand why he feels what he feels because his moral philosophy (or lack thereof) contradicts his emotions. He becomes ill, the deed sits like a poison in his body and soul. Eventually the sickness is too strong to bear and he recognizes the “fundamental falsity in himself.”

Without this “might makes right” philosophy in the character of Raskolnikov, the story simply wouldn’t be what it is.  It’s Dostoyevsky’s conviction that moral conscience exists in us, whether we want it or believe in it. As Socrates argues in the Republic, “…the just is happy and the unjust miserable” (354a).

Only Dostoyevsky brings Socrates’ argument into a detailed psychological illustration that far surpasses dry argument in its ability to persuade. The power of fiction drives a clear concept, elucidating it, making the ‘dry’ argument even clearer. To me, this novel perfectly encapsulates the fusion of philosophy and fiction and demonstrates what the marriage of these can do, how far such an alliance can go.

I yearn for more of these novels. I used to read only classics (that is, if I read fiction at all) but since I’ve started writing fiction I’ve felt compelled to read contemporary stuff, mainly so I don’t sound so damned ignorant in my writer’s group, but also so I can get a sense of what most people are reading, a sense of our culture.

I’m finding even really well-written contemporary novels somewhat empty. If I start listing the titles of those novels I’ve read that I think fit this category, I’m sure to have people up in arms. I like to think I’m not being nostalgic…I don’t feel the same way about movies, for instance. I think we’re producing way better movies nowadays (and I’d like to talk about Her in my next post…it’s fantastic and I urge you all to watch it.) I would like to read a novel—not necessarily philosophical—that has substance. I want a higher standard. I don’t want to read an award-winning novel and put it down thinking, “Well I could have gotten that wisdom from a few paragraphs of X non-fiction book.” I want the close emotive connectedness of the novel—it’s persuasive power—put to good use, a necessary handmaiden of an interesting idea. Anyone else feel the same way?

I hope I don’t sound like a snob. I see the need for a “beach read,” but the novels I’m complaining about are classified as “literary” and awarded great critical acclaim.

Besides, why can’t we expect more from a beach read? Why can’t a novel be easy to read and substantive? In fact, I hope my novel turns out to be a beach read, in this sense.

So what do you think?

What makes a novel philosophical?

What makes a novel worth reading?

Do you read fiction? If not, why?

Awesomely Lame Halloween Costume Ideas

Okay so let’s say you’re invited to a Halloween party and you have to dress up. Or let’s say you don’t have a party to go to, and you don’t have plans, but you’re gonna dress up anyways because you’re awesomely lame. And let’s say you like being the one whom everyone asks, “So…what…are you?” And let’s say you would never dress up as a witch or hippie because that’s just lame lame, not awesomely lame. You are in the right place.

I’m gonna share my past Halloween costumes with you—feel free to steal them—in the hopes that you’ll give me some awesomely lame ideas in return for this year. I’m posting this early so I can give myself time to make the costume (I don’t actually sew, but I find staplers come in handy and add that little je ne sais quoi).

The year we moved to the desert, I made saguaro and jumping cholla costumes. What the hell’s a saguaro, you ask? (Pronounced “sa-wah-ro”…if you don’t say it like this we’ll know you’re from out of town). Here’s what it is:

Image 69

Oh yes, now you know, right? And here’s a jumping cholla…so named because those links break off easily and get stuck to you when go near them:

Image 68

For some reason, I can’t find the pictures from that long ago, but here’s the hat (I’m not putting on the rest of the costume…because):

IMG_1761 IMG_1762

I found a little white bird ornament at the dollar store, which I painted grey to make it look like a mourning dove and used pipe cleaners for the pricklies. Here’s what a real mourning dove looks like:

TINA & NEAL'S BACK YARD 060314 008a

They are not the most intelligent birds, as you can see by the ridiculously small nest. Anyways, here’s the saguaro costume, which I really can’t wear because it’s too big:


The beak fell off the dove on the saguaro hat, which makes it even more awesomely lame. Saguaros have waxy white flowers, so I just glued some plastic white flowers on the hat. Bonus points if you make little saguaro fruits, which I did not do. I did, however, make little detachable links for the jumping cholla costume and when people came nearby, I’d rubber band a link to their wrist. Just doing my jumping cholla thing, you know.

And now for you SCIENCE GEEKS:

IMG_0119_2 Halloween at Cheri's Party 2011 004

Can you guess what we are?

Well, I’ll wait until the end of the post to tell you, so you’ll have time to mull it over.

Here’s the next one, from some year back there:

Halloween 2012 014 IMG_3870

Okay, you won’t guess what I am from the picture above because I don’t have a good one showing my DRAGON TATTOO. Hint. Hint. And those things in the photo to the right are paint color samples in various shades of grey. Hint. Hint.

And finally, you’re not gonna be able to guess this. Nobody at the party got it:

IMG_0538 IMG_0539

So we are The Wind and a Tumbleweed. Can you believe no one made any comments like, “So you blow him?” Still a little upset about that. For the wind costume I used heavy wire to make it look like my scarf is blowing and then I just messed up my hair and put on an ‘ethereal’ dress. For the tumbleweed costume, I used the extra wire from the first costume and bent it into a wild looking hat shape, then tied raffia to it. Staple more raffia to a neutral shirt (brown would have been a better color choice, but whatever). I’m telling you, rock the stapler.

Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The answers:

1. A Black Hole, A Shooting Star. Take a trip to your local thrift store and pick up a hand vacuum and spray paint it black. Wear all black, and, if you wish, staple little stars to your shirt. For the shooting star costume I bought a tacky shiny yellow vest with streamers at the thrift store and painted a poster board yellow before cutting it into a star shape. I may have stapled on some extra poster board to create shoulder straps. Think, sandwich board. Then I used more yellow poster board to make a hat. It would be easier to just find yellow poster board, but I couldn’t, so I had to do it the hard way. Get a spicy-looking toy gun and you’re set.

2. If you’re still not figuring it out based on the hints, I really don’t know what to tell you. But I won’t be a jerk—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fifty Shades of Grey. (And yes, I counted.) To pull these off: Get a dragon tattoo (permanent or not, as you wish) and hit up the teeny bopper stores at the mall for the cheap accessories. Then do your hair in a faux-hawk. (PUT YOUR COSTUME ON FIRST!) There are tons of how-to sites out there. Fifty Shades is the most economical costume…pick up fifty paint chips at Home Depot or wherever and staple them to your shirt and you’re set.

Now, any ideas from you? I’m running out of creativity here.

A Story in Pictures

My father died four years ago today. If he were still alive he’d be 68 years old. I thought I’d give a tribute to him, but I didn’t want to simply talk about what sort of person he was, as I imagine that would be boring for you. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect of who he was—the best photographer in the family. Not a professional one…he worked blue collar jobs all his life, tire building mostly. But when you gave him the camera, he often caught those awkward moments you didn’t really want him to catch.

He liked to get you when you weren’t looking, when you were being yourself. My mother used to get onto him about it, “You make everyone look ugly! Why are you taking a picture of that?”


In this one it’s obvious my mother did not want to be seen like this.

There’s a photo floating around somewhere and I can’t seem to find it. It’s a picture of me on Halloween night wearing nothing but a bat cape and bat ears, tears running down my face, black makeup running down my cheeks as I scream into the camera. I was maybe five years old, but I remember that moment vividly as I was extremely pissed at him for taking pictures of me when I had just been told I couldn’t go trick-or-treating because I was ill. As my anger escalated, he clicked away, laughing hysterically the whole time.

I remember the moment in this picture, oddly enough. 00000221I vaguely knew my bathing suit was hideous and looked like a moo moo, but I liked it because I could pull it out and create a fun air bubble. That’s what I was up to here. Of course, being in the fifth grade, I would have been mortified if anyone at school saw me doing this. I didn’t know my father was taking a picture of me, and when I looked up and saw what was happening I ran back into the water for cover.

In the next photo, I’m attempting to water ski.

00000223I had a hard time keeping the skis positioned in the water while they tried again and again to get the boat started. I kept hollering, “Hurry up! I’m tired!” (If you click on the picture, you can actually see me yelling.) And my father, of course, laughed and took pictures of me. By the time the engine kicked on, I was too worn out to even hold on to the handlebars. The boat sped off, leaving me floating in the water, thinking about all the nasty creatures swimming underneath me and how I’d soon die, etc. Later that day, I lost my glasses and walked into a cactus. Good times!

The one on the right is blurry, but I know there’s a better one and I can’t find that either. Here I just peed my pants on our Disneyland vacation. Hooray!00000293

They weren’t all bad, though. I really like this one below where I’m holding hands with my ‘boyfriend’. I know my father took it because my mother would have made me take that thing out of my mouth.



I’d try to get back at him by taking lame pictures like this, sometimes setting up empty liquor bottles all around him while he slept.

Some of his best photography is from his Vietnam days. A relative at his funeral told me he was a tunnel rat in the war, because he was small and could fit in those tight spaces. I’m not sure I believe it. Or maybe I don’t want to believe it. In any case, he never talked about it. He had PTSD and flashbacks. I remember one flashback, I was 15 and learning how to drive. I was behind the wheel and we were bickering, as usual, when he suddenly started to cry. We were both pretty thick skinned and would rail on each other constantly, so I couldn’t imagine what I had said to make him cry. I nearly wrecked the car to pull over. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just the sky. The red. The sky looks just like…”

The sun was setting at the time. And I wonder now, did it look just like this?:


I used to go rifling through his Vietnam photos in some attempt to figure him out, but he didn’t like when I did this. He didn’t want me to come across photos like the following:00000064 How do I know these women are prostitutes? My mother inadvertently told me when she caught me looking at them. She explained that all this happened before my father met her and ‘call girls’ were common at the time. 00000054 00000053She thought I’d be bothered by this, but I never was. I was only sorry that he withheld these things from me, because he was not in that habit. We always spoke to each other candidly, avoiding no topic, especially when I was in high school. He felt no qualms in asking me if I had had any sexual experience, and when I said I hadn’t, he didn’t suspect I was lying, but instead went on to ask if I was a lesbian. Obviously, right? Because all high school girls get laid, even the nerds, unless they’re closet lesbians.

Other conversations might include a battle to the death over whether or not ‘irregardless’ was a word (probably after I had corrected him, as I often did). Dictionary evidence would not suffice for him. I’d give up and then we’d go on to something like this:

“Tina, what drugs have you done?”

“Um. Not much. Why, what drugs did you do?”

“I did________ in Vietnam. Let me tell you about Speedy McGee…”(Here he’d tell me about a guy who always had typewriter ink smeared on his face and who thought he was writing the next Great American Novel. He’d make everyone read his work, but it was incomprehensible. This was the extent of our conversation about Vietnam.) The rest of the story I had to find out on my own from these:


He liked taking pictures of women driving motor scooters.



And, of course, the school girls crossing the road.



And children doing adult things in adult army clothing.


And animals. It seems like most pictures in the pile are of dogs and cows. He was a big animal lover. My father’s the one holding the monkey. I don’t know who the other guy is.

00000084 00000057 00000062 00000061 00000060 00000098

00000070 00000093 00000074 00000050


This was when he visited me in my Tucson home for the first time. At this point he had only a couple years of life left to go, and he knew it. He was very weak and I had to help him get into our hot tub. He powered on, though, in his usual way. We went to the Desert Museum and he had a blast seeing all the creatures I see tearing up things in my yard on a daily basis. I took this photo of him, which I think perfectly encapsulates the way he was with animals and the way they were with him.

It’s hard to even look at this next picture. I used to suck on his nose as a baby, possibly mistaking it for a nipple. He thought it was hilarious and often told me about it. Every time I see this one I start to cry. I often have a bit of reluctance to open up iPhoto in fear of this popping up.00000191This is exactly the way he looked during all of those candid conversations we had late at night, booze and nicotine nearby, shirt off, laughing.

Roosevelt and Obama: Did we avoid a Great Depression?

For the past week I’ve been rushing home every night to catch The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Ken Burns. I’m not really a big Ken Burns fan. And yes, it’s the fiddle music. But this one is worth a watch. (And the music is not so incessant.)

The episode on the Great Depression made me wonder about our Not-So-Great Recession. We complained bitterly about our losses during that time, but seeing those lines of people winding down the street just to get a free lunch makes me think we might be a little ungrateful for what we do have.


Hoover was president during the stock market crash of 1929, and he did little to help stimulate the economy due to his conservative economic philosophy. He was not insensitive to the struggles people were going through; he sincerely believed he was doing the right thing in keeping government out.

F.D.R.’s New Deal seemed to be the remedy, but we must remember the economy still took a very long time to recover. Then came WWII, which boosted productivity as scores of people were employed in wartime efforts.

I got into a discussion about Hoover’s perspective with my husband, who knows a lot more about economics than I do (which still leaves us both at the level of amateurs). He told me the idea behind doing nothing in times of economic crisis is that the market has a natural cycle of ups and downs and will eventually even out—in time. He said to think of the economy as a human body. “Hooverites” say let it heal itself—medicines and artificial means of healing will only make it worse.

To which I responded, “Yes, but how many lives are to be lost in the meantime? How many people ruined?”

A response which shows my tendencies to be on the side of government intervention. During the controversial bailouts of businesses “too big to fail,” I had a great deal of sympathy with the Obama administration in making such a difficult decision. But I ask myself why. And what would have happened if the government had done nothing?

And then there’s the issue of spending money you don’t have…which I can’t even wrap my mind around because I know that personal accounting may not be analogous to international accounting. What does it mean to owe trillions of dollars to China?

Unfortunately, I don’t think hindsight is 20/20 in this issue. There are so many factors at play. How do we know for sure what policies worked in the past and how much of the recovery was simply ‘natural healing’? What can history tell us?

Perhaps economic historians can make a better contribution by ensuring the past is not abused in debates about modern-day crises. For instance, putting all the blame on Wall Street for the Great Depression—or on bankers in the current crisis—does not stand up to historical scrutiny. The responsibility may more properly lie in a complex combination of factors, like how global financial systems are structured. But this still needs be interpreted from modern day evidence rather than in over-simplistic “lessons” from the past.—C.R., The Economist

My question to you is this: Did we avoid a Great Depression? What can history teach us?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.