August 31, 2009

Do Snow Leopards Hibernate?

I really wonder whether snow leopards hibernate...

Apparently the answer is no. How did I get interested in this question suddenly?

The story goes like this. I'll upgrade soon my Mac to OS X v10.6 a.k.a. "Snow Leopard" and I'd like it to hibernate after it's been in sleep mode for a while, a functionality absent from v10.5 a.k.a. plain "Leopard". So I type "snow leopard hibernate" in Google...

What do I get? A revelation: Yahoo! Answers telling me that the beautiful and endangered snow leopards don't hibernate; they live in the snow all year round.

I do hope that Apple pays royalties to the Snow Leopard Protection Society. And I care less about my computer for a moment.

August 29, 2009

Swearing helps withstand pain

From Science & Vie, September 2009:

Cursing diminishes the experience of pain and increases tolerance to it. Richard Stephens and hiscolleagues at Keele University in Great Britain have observed the behaviour and pulse of volunteers immersing an arm into water at 5 C. The result is astonishing: they could keep their arm immersed for a longer time when they were allowed to swear and curse ad libidum than when they were using a neutral word used to describe a table. Moreover, their cardiac rhythm increased, a proof of natural survival reflex. According to the researchers, cursing could cut the link between fear and experience of pain, therefore providing both psychological and physical benefits. Researchers note that this universal reflex should be used only in case of pain, lest it would lose it's effect. It has not been proven yet whether, in addition to allowing withstaning pain longer, it also allows withstanding stronger pain.

See also:

August 27, 2009

A Liberating Dream

I just turned 10 and my name is Joseph. I live in Paris with my parents and sister. The environment at home is so oppressing that I still occasionally shit in my pants.

I suffer especially from the meals which are taken ritually in the kitchen: they are a concentrate of coldness and stress. There are rules ranging from how to hold your fork to eating everything in your plate. The vegetables are the cheapest my father could get and the fruit have no taste. Whether I like the food or not is not even a question: I have to eat it and belonging to "clean plates club" is not optional. But the worst is that I cannot even speak. I cannot say what I like and what I don't, that's obvious. But I cannot even speak of my day in school or raise an opinion on the subject Mister Father has brought up - except in the most perfect and accurate idiom approved by the bible of Mister Father: Grevisse1.

Precisely in the kitchen, that evening, my father interrupts me to correct my grammar. It doesn't matter that he makes mistakes in French (his native language is English) and hates being corrected. It doesn't matter that he hates being interrupted. He reacts with an expression of the disgust at the slightest infringement to the sacred rules of grammar and interrupts immediately to correct with an irritated voice. I cannot express myself without being at the constant mercy of his grimace and irritation.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday: there's no escaping it.

But today, for me it's the last straw. I don't know what I've just said, all I know is that he has interrupted me one time too many, grrr.... "That's enough!", I shout to him. "How many more times are you going to miss my point and insult me?" I ask at the top of my preadolescent voice.

My mother's there but she's ignoring the scene. Her French is perfect so she's on the safe side. And defending her children is really not in her habits. She actually has her back to me - probably cleaning a salad or some fruit in the sink.

I grab the bowl of hot water which is in front of me on the table and I throw it furiously at her, without adding a word.

I leave the room in a mixture of rage and tears and for a long moment I go through my rage and despair, experiencing the relief of having set free what was consuming me. Being insulted thirty times a day by someone who claims to be my father while my mother stands by as if nothing was going on: what could be more infuriating?

But I don't stop there. I return to the kitchen and grab my father by the neck till he falls from his chair. I drag him on the floor to my room and bash him in the belly, in the upper torso, in the face. I can barely see, I feel only his fat under my fists. The tears in my eyes and the rage in my mind. I shout: "You don't understand! Why do you do this? What's the point??? All these corrections, for what?!!" and I continue to hit him. Under the blows he says faintly: "A good father behaves like the grandfather..." I'm taken aback. "What do you mean? Which grandfather? This guy wasn't a grandfather, he was a monster! Sensitive like a rubber sole: that's what he was. The guy never even wanted to meet me. It's a fact. People know he's still alive and he doesn't want to see me, I know it also!"

I'm calmer now. I eat the raw onions and cook the cucumber and tomatoes. I'll do it my way from now on.

1Le Bon Usage, by Maurice Grevisse

August 16, 2009

Revolutionary Road

When a friend recommended heartily that I see "Revolutionary Road" (Sam Mendes, with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio), I was certain it was a lighthearted romantic comedy he had pleasantly watched with his wife.

The movie is set in the 50's. April and Frank are a young couple with two children. April has had enough of suburban life. Frank is bored to death by his job in a cubicle. When April convinces Frank to move the family to Paris, all those around them, colleagues, neighbors and friends, deem them crazy.

So far, all the ingredients of a good comedy, indeed.

Well, I waited in vain though for the comic twist: the story turned to tragedy - but that's not the point.

The theme broached by the movie is very dear to my heart: what it means to discover you're not really living your life, that you're going through life pretending to be happy because you fit some stereotype or someone else's fantasy but that it doesn't mean anything to you...

It is also the central theme of "American Beauty", Sam Mendes's 1999 movie, which fascinated me when I was in Engineering School: Kevin Spacey quits the job he hates, builds up his body, says the truth to his wife and opens up to the world of his fantasies - all things I dreamt of doing.

Here, the tragedy stems from the fact that, while April has clearly identified her dissatisfaction with life as a suburban housewife, Frank gets stuck into the conventional thinking that a good job and a good pay will make him and his family happier than risky adventure.

I've had this difficulty many times in my life: actually all along my life except the year I spent in Cambodia I felt that my life didn't mean anything. I am Frank. Like Frank I work in a cubicle and my work is appreciated. Like Frank, I just got a promotion. So, like Frank, I fall prey to conventions and compliments. And I miss the boat...

August 14, 2009

הבן שלי / Impressions

The movie "HaBen Shelli" (My Son) by Jonathan Gurfinkel revolves around a father-son relationship. The father wants to see in his son the courage that he himself lacks.

Avi (Danny Steg) is divorced, works in the military and is afraid to leave the military for a civilian life. His 9 year-old son, Ron, loves and admires him. There is great collusion between father and son. Soon though, Ron is becoming afraid to go to school where he is the subject of bullying. He is very hesitant to tell his father of his fears because he knows Avi values courage and manly behavior above all. Indeed, when he does tell him, Avi ignores the call for help - and dismisses Ron's fears as out of place.

The film takes us through an excruciating escalation of events: Avi's blindness while his kid is being emotionally and physically abused in school; the mother's failed attempts to protect Ron from his father's influence; the kid's increasing distress until he is eventually so badly beaten by the bullies that there is no closing the eyes anymore from Avi.

The movie was so painful to watch for me because it shows a father full of love and good intentions for his son who is nevertheless destructive through principles he voices (behaving like a "real", tough man): the kid tries to stand up to his father's expectations even while the father's example is of someone who does not stand up to them.

The film ends on a positive note of hope with Avi finally freed from his military engagement, ready to start a small business and take his life in his hands. No doubt that is what, much more than words, can encourage his son to face up to the harsh world he discovers.