Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why I <3 Star Wars

Well, that's personal. But since social media is the place for transparency, I'm going to give you this one.

It all started a long time ago in a town on Long Island. (You though I was going to say that other thing, didn't you?) It was 1977. There was a driving rain and my mother along with her friends decided to take the kids to the movies. My mother was a bit of a Trekkie, had tackled an engineering degree at CUNY before getting married to my father. Unfortunately the marriage ended after only a few years leaving me and my sister with my mother in a suburb of Long Island in the mid 1970s. We made our way the best we could. We saw my father frequently but when you're about 6 or 7 years old, there's no replacement for the real thing. Needless to say, it wasn't the happiest of times in my life.

Luckily I had a good imagination. I was an artist and would draw, create, and dream my days away, still as you might expect, there was something missing in my childhood.
That summer in 1977 when my Trekkie mom and her friends took the kids to the movies on one rainy day, they decided on the latest blockbuster movie when summer blockbusters were still something new that Spielberg and Lucas were helping to define. While the other single-mothers weren't so sure (they probably and rightly though that the kids might enjoy a movie more along the lines of Pete's Dragon rather than a strange space movie starring Sir Alec Guinness) my mom convinced them to take us to Star Wars. There I was, waiting in the rain, on a line that wrapped around the one screen movie house, oblivious to that something was about to change my life forever.

Let me digress here to say that before Star Wars came out, there was arguably nothing else like it on the big screen before. I had no real affinity to any movie up to that point. Perhaps there were stories that had captured my imagination, but nothing like the world - no the universe - that was the Star Wars story. I went into that theater a lonely little boy and came out a dreamer, a storyteller, with a world in which the good guys won (well, usually) and the bad guys wore black. A universe so different and so wonderful and so remarkable that it would forever control my destiny.

I was hooked. It was a place I could go to experience extreme joy and happiness to escape the times when real life was, well, not so hot. There were lightsabers to take care of the monsters, beautiful princesses I could help rescue and all types of wondrous creatures to keep my mind occupied for a while at least until the melancholy lifted from my brain. From the cacophony of the orchestra during the opening scroll it was like a revelation, a baptism of special effects and pseudo religious mumbo jumbo set against a universe that was strangely lived in and familiar, yet amazing and technologically superior.

This movie came at exactly the right time in my life. It was like George Lucas told the story just to me. I also felt immediately comfortable with everything from the shapes and sounds to the music and dialogue. It all went directly from the screen into my soul, no need to translate it or figure it out. I just knew. I felt like the characters, the worlds, the ships, the story was my story of a young boy feeling lost and shiftless in his own home, wanting something grander for himself, something where he could become more than just the pieces of his life that were left for picking up after, to be powerful and wield a Force to mold and shape the world around me. I was Luke Skywalker.

The tale only grew in the telling, as more episodes were introduced and in each one no punches were pulled. Darth Vader was Luke’s father – boy and I though I had father issues! Obi Wan lied to Luke about just about everything, manipulating the poor boy for his own endgame. Even Yoda was not entirely trustworthy, withholding the truth from Luke. The universe itself and everyone in it conspired against young Skywalker. But you know what? Despite everything, Luke became master of his own destiny.

It cost him, no doubt. He lost a part of himself, his innocence, most of his family and friends died in the epic journey but he also gained much. He gained ultimate victory, grabbing it from the edge of defeat, throwing away the one weapon that could help defend himself against the Emperor, putting all his faith in humanity of his father, trusting his instincts and feelings that someone who everyone else had written off for dead might come back and redeem himself. Not only for himself but for his son and daughter and the rest of the galaxy.

In the end, it was the boy who triumphed over everyone’s doubts. Luke ended up growing from the innocent farm kid stuck in his mundane life, unable to influence the world to the one with the ultimate power to save the galaxy. Not just brute strength, but faith, understanding, empathy and ultimately love.

How can you NOT love that movie.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kanye West Was So Wrong

Kanye West was flat out disrespectful and wrong.

Regardless of whether Beyonce had a better video or not. It happens all the time on the Academy Awards where some movie I think should have won doesn't and you don't see me running up there pontificating on which movie I think is better and should have won. Well, not yet anyway! But one day people will be saying, "Man. That Lon S. Cohen is such an idiot. Star Wars Episode IX is not better than the romantic dramedy, Bosom Buddies - The Movie!

UPDATE#2: As @Thandelike very rightly pointed out to me: "Kanye wasn't just expressing his opinion, he stole someone else's moment. ripped her joy out of her hands in front of millions."

Here are a few facts that may be overlooked in this case:

1) The VMAs are decided by a popular vote. Obviously the other nominees had split the popular vote and with Taylor Swift getting mostly all the country genre vote plus some of the popular vote, that put her over the edge to win.

2) Beyonce's video was much better but that isn't the point.

3) Yes. There really is a Wikipedia page discussing the long rumored Star Wars Sequels XII - IX

4) Bosom Buddies did indeed launch the wildly successful career of Tom Hanks so never rule anyone out.

NEW! 5) The MTV VMA should really be called the MTV VM-less A since they really don't show videos anymore. (That's for the Generation Xers who actually remember when MTV videos were a really huge freakin' deal.)

The video from the 2009 MTV VMA when Kanye made his d**k move:
(Thanks to @therealsb419 for the link to this video.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

What Do I Think Of Socialized Medicine?

I have a lot of Republican friends for some reason. It might be the area where I live (Suffolk County, NY) which I find to be very conservative. Anyway, I’m always debating politics with friends in an agreeable manner. You can imagine what it was like around November 2008! I enjoy my friendly debates. A conservative friend of mine recently asked me on Facebook the following question that prompted a long response:

“I have been meaning to ask you how you feel about socialized medicine? Are you on board with it?”

My Answer:

I'm not sure what you are asking. If you mean like they have in Canada then I'm not sure if I agree with socialized medicine. I like choices, which is why I like the Obama reform because it keeps choice in place while ensuring that the uninsured and sick can get access to healthcare. As for socialized medicine in the USA, Medicare is an example of socialized medicine we actually have in place now and the people who are on it seem to like it enough and it works so that's a model to follow for a public option. Stressing the option part. (For other examples: Social Security, pensions, organized police, military, firemen, and public schools are also socialized institutions.)

I find "socialized" to be a loaded term and don't use it. But of course health care reform I am all for as are most people I talk to. (Except one guy in my neighborhood and he said that's because he works for a health care insurance company!) We're the strongest and wealthiest country in the world and we can't take care of our sick children? US citizens go to the ER instead of a clinic or doctor because they can't afford to pay! And the hospitals get stuck with the bills, which in turn means higher insurance rates for me. I'm already subsidizing people to get health care but ER visits are expensive and well-care visits are proven to help keep costs down. I hate hearing stories of people who can't work because they are ill and can't get care because they don't have insurance. (Remember, I work for a health care non profit so I see this and we have programs to help subsidized what insurance companies won't pay for or what people w/o insurance can't afford.)

I do think that changing insurers every time I change jobs is bogus and an unnecessary hardship. Read this article, which I found helpful in sorting out what other countries do for healthcare.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Three Science Influences

Steven Hill from the Testing hypotheses… blog wrote about his three science influences in a post titled, "Science inspirations." Alerted to this post by my one of my Twitter Profs (See my Mashable.com article), Andrew Maynard on Twitter (he's @2020science), I immediately wanted to comment. Although I am not a scientist in any way whatsoever, my deep love of science is evident to many who know me. Below I list the comment I made to his post about my three influences. I can't tell you how many more should be added to this list and I've probably forgotten a few that may or may not deserve to be in the top three besides these but I can annotate the list or do another one in the future.

I'm not a scientist at all but have a deep interest of science in all forms from the sidelines. That said, I was influenced by these three people in my love of science:

1) Carl Sagan - When I was in high school I read Contact and it's still one of my favorite books & I think a decent movie despite the flaws. Then I found out that Sagan was not only an author but a real astronomer and that "Cosmos" guy. It started lifelong love of learning about science that continues to this day.

2) Steven Spielberg - OK. Don't kill me for not picking all scientists for this list. But Spielberg's movies instilled in my a sense of wonder about the natural world. Jaws made me love the ocean animals, both scary and benign. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial made me wonder what was really out there in the canopy of the stars overhead as a kid. Indiana Jones made me think about cultures, myth and archeology. Fiction may not always get the scientific facts all right, but they do provide a great jumping off point for young minds to go further and find out about the physical world and sciences in real life.

3) My mother - My mom has always taught me the importance of education. She kept the house well-stocked with books that I discovered at appropriate times growing up (including the Carl Sagan book mentioned at #1 on this list.) She also was a bit of a Star Trek and Sci-Fi fan herself so I grew up with a parent who encouraged both critical thinking and fantastical imagining. She influenced me to aspire to many of the things I am today (for better or for worse) but one thing I know is that it is because of my mom that I love to read and learn as much as I do. Both are endeavors that bring bring me great joy and satisfaction no matter what.

Alternate: My high school Marine Biology teacher - This guy was funny and his passion came out in a way that I never expected. He was so into his science that he would crack bad jokes and puns about the subject even if he was the only one to get the joke. Everyone got a good grades in his classes because he really made learning about science fun, not rote.