How to Watch Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice 2005I just watched the 2005 film version of Pride & Prejudice. It’s the one with Keira Knightley. When it comes to filmed versions, most people mention the 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth. And I agree that it is quite a good version. But although it is well done, it is still typical of such versions: too much talking and rather too faithful a rendering of the book. The 2005 film breaks with such conventions, telling Jane Austen’s story the way it ought to be told on the screen.

A good example of this comes near the end when Lydia comes home with her Mr. Wickham. In the book, this requires a whole conversation between Elizabeth and Wickham where she makes it clear to him that she knows who he really is. This is all unnecessary. It seems to be in the book so that Austen can show that Wickham is not only a libertine, but a moron as well. Can Wickham really be so stupid as to think that Elizabeth would still admire him given what he did to the Lydia and the family? What’s more, could he reasonably think that all his other lies have not been revealed? In the movie, anything that needs to be said in this regard is done with Wickham trying to catch Elizabeth’s eye, and her turning sharply away. That’s the kind of thing that film can do and this version does an excellent job of this again and again.

One down side of the film is that it underplays just how horrible Darcy’s family and friends are. It isn’t completely absent, of course. There is plenty of Caroline and most especially Lady Catherine. What’s more, the film does a good job of contrasting Catherine with Mrs. Bennet. Neither is in an objective sense worse; they are just horrible in different ways. The Bennets may be silly and uncouth, but they are not silly and snooty. The book clearly does a better job. In fact, so good a job that I often think that Jane Austen was not a very nice person: she thought pretty much everyone was horrible. (Not that I disagree.)

The producers of Pride & Prejudice have also worked very hard to make the characters more sympathetic. Mrs. Bennet is still a ridiculous character, but she’s portrayed as a woman who is trying to do her best in a bad situation. There is one scene at the end of the book where Mr. Bennet tells Jane, “You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.” To this, Mrs. Bennet replies, “Exceed their income! My dear Mr. Bennet, what are you talking of? Why, he has four or five thousand a-year, and very likely more.” It is played for pure comedy: the silly Mrs. Bennet. But in the movie, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are in bed and he tells her this referring to Jane. Mrs. Bennet replies as in the book, but it is said playfully and then he reaches to kiss her. I really like that because it shows why Mr. Bennet might have married Mrs. Bennet in the first place and it shows that they do not have an entirely dysfunctional relationship.

This version is also by far the best cast version of the book. I’m not a big fan of Keira Knightley, but she is wonderful as Elizabeth. I particularly like her easy laugh, and this goes right along with her character in the book. In one of her first conversations with Darcy, she says, “I dearly love a laugh.” And then they go on to discuss the difference between (for example) the silliness of her family and her intelligent wit. Knightley brings that off brilliantly. Similarly, Matthew Macfadyen is perfect as Mr. Darcy. In fact, he embodies the character so perfectly that I’m not sure how well their marriage will work out. There is no question but that he needs her more than she him.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Judi Dench as Lady Catherine is wonderfully horrible. Tom Hollander perfectly captures the servile yet self-important Mr. Collins. Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn add depth to the elder Bennets that isn’t even in the book. Rosamund Pike as Jane is two things that we almost never get from screen Janes. First, she’s gorgeous. This is often a problem because she isn’t the lead. But in her case, she is actually better looking than Knightley. Second, she isn’t just a quiet beauty. She has lots of depth and her intelligence comes across on the screen. I could go on about the rest of the cast. There isn’t a single bad performance in the whole film.

Perhaps most important of all, the film makes a lot of very good assumptions based upon the novel. The most important of these is how Elizabeth and Darcy have a connection from the start. He loves her despite all of the objections of her family. And she loves him despite the fact that intellectually she’s sure she should hate him. This continues throughout the film. The following is my favorite scene. I think it is the most romantic of things when Elizabeth says she is rather fond of walking and Darcy says, “Yes. Yes, I know.” And that dates back to when they had only just met. And he remembered. Also note how after she leaves, the camera dollies back to a close-up of his hand.

There is no doubt that the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice is not terribly accurate to the exact plotting of the book. But more than any other version, it brings the book to life as it was in my head. If you love the book, read it again. I think I have read Pride and Prejudice more than any other book. But if you want to watch it, this is the version to watch.

Maxwell Said… And Then There Was Light

James Clerk MaxwellOn this day back in 1865, the great poet William Butler Yeats was born. I’ve never taken the time to really appreciate him. Perhaps someday. With all due respect (not much) to Robert Downey Jr, the ultimate and forever screen Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone was born in 1892.

A whole bunch of actors have birthdays today. Malcolm McDowell is 70. It always amazes me how badly attractive men age. Both Richard Thomas and Stellan Skarsgard are 62. Tim Allen is 60. And crush of my youth, Ally Sheedy is 51. Finally, a musician, David Gray is 45. And because I’m suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and thus just going through the motions, here’s one of his songs:

There are three great physicists who stand distinctly above all others. They are Newton, Einstein, and the guy normal people have never heard of: James Clerk Maxwell. And it is to him, born in 1831 that this day belongs. His work in color analysis alone was enough to make him famous in this own time. His work in statistical mechanics alone was enough to make him one of the most important physicists of all time. But it is for his work on electromagnetism that makes him as a scientist of unsurpassed importance.

He took the fields of electricity, magnetism, and optics and combined them into one consistent theory: Maxwell’s Equations. You may have seen t-shirts or (in this case) a mug with the following very nerdy physics joke:

Maxwell's Equations

Happy birthday James Clerk Maxwell!

Roger Waters Is Not Antisemitic

Roger WatersI am deeply confused about the Israel-Palestine conflict. I feel for both groups of people and I truly feel that other than the extremists on each side, the people just want to live their lives in peace. Unfortunately, one side of extremists have an incredibly powerful and effective military at its disposal. But regular readers will know that I tend to sympathize more with the Palestinians at this point because they have little power and die in far greater numbers. Although I understand why a Palestinian would become a terrorist, it should be clear at this point that their efforts are only giving Israel a compelling excuse for killing thousands of their countrymen. I’m not sure if a lack of Palestinian terrorism would do much, however. The current regime seems happy enough to allow illegal Israeli settlement to grow, even (especially?) at the risk of destroying any possible two-state solution. Regardless, none of this makes me against Israel, much less against Judaism.

So it should be pretty clear: I’m conflicted on this issue. But the following video from Eye on the UN doesn’t help; it hurts. The argument is one I am beyond tired of. It is, “If you say anything against Israel, you are antisemitic!” Roger Waters went to the UN and talked about the Plight of the Palestinians. The good thing is that one would have to be a true believer to watch this video and think it anything but a hatchet job. Waters provides an apologia of sorts for Palestinian terrorism by noting that occupied people usually push back. He says, “History tells us that the invasion and occupation of a land and the subjugation of its people almost always creates a resistance. Ask the French or the Dutch or the Poles or the Czechs.” The narrator claims that in saying that, Waters analogized the Israelis to the Nazis. Well, actually, he didn’t. But if the shoe fits… The Nazis did invade these countries and occupy them. That did create a backlash. I think we can all agree that as far as that goes, it is accurate. It is not at all the same as saying that the Israelis are involved in a genocide.

Speaking of genocide, the video deceptively cuts to imply that Waters says Israel is guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” He may have actually implied that, but then why the jump cuts? There are other similar edits. If I felt more up on the issues involved here, I would go and find the original video. But it is clear that this bit of video is highly deceptive. What’s more, its purpose is to stop anyone anywhere from complaining about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. And that is totally unacceptable.

Republicans Have No Healthcare Ideas

Jonathan ChaitThis morning, Jonathan Chait attacked the conservative movement for its delusional belief that Obamacare is going to be such a terrible thing that even liberals will soon call for its repeal. We always see an outbreak of this kind of triumphalism with each new poll that comes out that shows that most people don’t like Obamacare. Of course, those same people very much like most of the aspects of Obamacare. And I’m not certain we should be too concerned what the public thinks when 40% of them think that Obamacare has been repealed already.

Chait references an article by Ramesh Ponnuru in which he tried to convince conservatives that they might want to stop assuming Obamacare is going to be a catastrophe (at least in the short term). I quite agree with both gentlemen on this issue. What’s more, I really don’t see where the conservatives are coming from. Obamacare will primarily affect those people who do not now have health insurance. They may not like the new system, but I suspect the fact that they are getting health insurance will swamp any bad feelings they have about bureaucratic problems.

Where I disagree with Chait and Ponnuru is in their thinking about what the Republicans could offer to replace Obamacare. Ponnuru has a silly idea that we can get universal health insurance by providing catastrophic insurance plans. Chait rightly points out that this is just not going to appeal to the nation as a whole. I would go further. Catastrophic insurance, so loved by conservatives, is a terrible idea for the society. It discourages people from getting preventative healthcare, thus increasing the total cost of healthcare for the society. Conservatives talk about controlling healthcare costs, but their only idea is the magical thinking of the free market. And that hasn’t worked here or any other place that I’m aware of.

Chait doesn’t offer a plan the Republicans might propose. That isn’t his job, of course; he’s a liberal. But he notes this:

But there’s a reason Republicans don’t make repealing Obamacare contingent on an alternative plan: alternative plans that do anything are hard.

I don’t think that’s quite it. The truth is that the Republicans have backed themselves into a corner. It is not that alternative plans are hard, it is that they simply don’t exist on the right. When the Republicans decided that their very own Heritage Foundation plan (AKA Obamacare) was something straight from the rotting corpse of Stalin, they effectively gave up on any kind of “free market” approach to healthcare reform. Even Ponnuru’s idea is a marginal plan that will do far more to prevent medical bankruptcy (a good thing) than it does to provide healthcare to the citizenry.

My feeling is that over the years, there will be a lot of problems with Obamacare. But I don’t see it ever being repealed. For one thing, it would hurt doctors and hospitals in terms of their bottom lines. Within 5 years at the most, the conservative complaint against Obamacare itself will disappear. Then the conservatives will start complaining about liberal attempts to change Obamacare to include a public option. There will be no reason not to do that, but you can depend upon the Republican Party decrying that the public option is a Stalinist takeover of healthcare and trumpeting the base Obamacare policy as the very essence of the free market.

Disinfecting Wipes and Children’s Health

moleculesYesterday I took a trip to Target to get some cleaning supplies. First I got some Bar Keepers Friend and Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent. Then I went to the aisle that has the disinfecting wipes. I wanted to get the Seventh Generation brand which uses thyme oil as its active ingredient. Unfortunately, Target didn’t have it. Instead, there was nearly an entire aisle devoted to the disinfecting wipes I see all over the place to clean tables in schools and offices.

The company that makes these popular disinfecting wipes is not transparent about the true hazards of the active ingredients. Below I’ve listed the active ingredients along with some potential hazards:

*alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (benzalkonium chloride)-rated as a class 3 toxin, meaning it is less toxic than a class 1 or a class 2. Through what I’ve been able to gather, it is not completely clear what the health effects of this chemical are, but it is used in pesticide formulations. It is also suspected to be a neurotoxin, immunotoxin, gastrointestinal/liver toxin, a skin/sense organ toxin, and a respiratory toxin, according to Scorecard. Also, look here for more information from the PAN Pesticide Datebase.

*alkyl dimethyl ethyl benzyl ammonium chloride-is also a class 3 toxin used in pesticides, though there is less information about this chemical. It is also a rodenticide, so it might be bad for mammals (i.e., humans), in general.

In addition to these two chemicals with barely pronounceable names, there is also fragrance, isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, a mild surfactant called alkyl polyglucoside, and propylene glycol propyl ether, a low-toxicity solvent.

This little bit of information took over an hour to find. It would be nice if we could be sure the things we buy at our local stores are safe, but they may not be. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 only protects the public from “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” This doesn’t mean products we can buy are safe in the long run. Some may be very unhealthy.

If alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride is suspected to be a neurotoxin, what kind of influence might it have on my son’s brain development? I am especially concerned due to the fact that my son has a diagnosis of ADHD. Using the popular disinfecting wipes would be gambling with my child’s health, so I’m not going to use them in my home. I will be using safer alternatives like Seventh Generation products, pure hydrogen peroxide (which breaks down into water and oxygen but may leave a film), or I will make my own.

For those who are interested, here is a recipe for a disinfecting cleaner I’ve used in the past:

2 cups water
3/4 cups hydrogen peroxide
1/2 cup distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon pure castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s)
20 drops tea tree essential oil (I used 25)
20 drops lavendar or lemongrass essential oil (I used 25)
The essential oils (EO) are open to experimentation. Since thyme EO is known for its disinfecting properties, I might try that next time. Depending on what essential oils are used, this mixture leaves a pleasant and clean, but not overwhelming, smell. Better still, unless you have sensitivities to them, all the ingredients are safe for you, your kids, your pets, and the planet.