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The Rough and The Smooth

Spring is here – which means there are leaves on trees, warmth in the sunshine and cricket in the weekends. Today’s storm, because of which all our matches were cancelled, is one of the minor inconveniences that come with this time of year. The philosophical person knows how to take the rough with the smooth. Other little nuisances include daylight savings (what’s the point of it anymore?), insects, and the new Batman vs Superman movie.

I awaited this movie with lively anticipation, and even went so far as to watch it on opening night. It was rotten disappointment. I have serious reservations about them trying to make this movie in Christopher Nolan’s image, trying to make the movie dark, and trying to portray deep philosophical truths. The Batman vs Superman fight is the stuff that dreams are made of, and of which reality fell short. Lex Luthor was trying to channel Heath Ledger’s Joker, which didn’t sit right with me. Wonder Woman, who is supposed to be a powerful Amazon from Greek myth, looked positively frail.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie wasn’t all bad. The action sequences, while sometimes wooden, were a lot of fun to watch. Ben Affleck isn’t terrible as Batman. And they did a good job of laying the ground work for future Justice League characters – Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern. I’m looking forward to these movies, partially because of the sunny optimism of spring, and partially because I never learn. My favorite part of this movie is the Cold Stone ice cream promotion that has Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman inspired flavours, and the associated novelty rings.

In the past few days, I’ve had considerable exposure to the light of the yellow sun. Also, my heater broke this morning, suffusing my apartment with an invigorating cold. The resulting feeling of well being has made me unwilling to talk any further about the rough. I could gripe at considerable length, but I shall desist. Read on, my loyal band of merry readers, for the smooth.

Anna Karenina is one of those works of literature that any self respecting writer has read, or least claims to have read. It’s widely considered by the cognoscenti as among the greatest novels ever written. On the other hand, someone from my dim and distant past who had to read it for some kind of literature class – and who shall remain nameless because I can’t remember who it was – left me with the general impression that that the only way anyone would like this book is if they got Stockholm Syndrome from reading it. This sounded a lot like what I felt while reading Shakespeare in secondary school with his incomprehensible language and weird spelling. Even though four hundred years of experts have gone on about how great his writing is, I’ve always felt that his works were included in the syllabus only because gentler forms of corporal punishment, such as caning, are frowned upon.

What I’m trying to get at is that I finished reading the thing last night. It’s an enormous book, and certainly not a light read, but having started it, I felt honour bound to finish it. I quite liked the book, although there were parts where I wished Tolstoy would just get on with it. I was particularly struck by Anna’s situation towards the end of the book. It was outright painful to read about her deepening depression, the unhinged thinking and the emotional upheaval she found herself confronted with as the novel ground to its grim end. I’m glad I’ve finally made it through that book. It’s been weighing on my soul and placing unnecessary stress on my body that is accustomed to the standard 21 gram soul.

Let me explain: this a fun little artifact of sloppy science and crude measuring tools from about a century ago. Dr. Duncan Macdougall performed a series of experiments on terminal TB patients in the early 20th century. Since it was possible to predict the time of death in these patients a few hours in advance, he had them moved to an industrial scale in order to get accurate measurements of their weight before and after their passing.

“Suddenly, coincident with death, the beam end dropped with an audible stroke hitting against the lower limiting bar and remaining there with no rebound. The loss was ascertained to be three-fourths of an ounce.” – Dr. Duncan MacDougall

There is a New York Times article covering this in March 1907 (Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks).

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