Sound and sound bars

I love black and white movies. Especially those made during the Studio System era (1925 to about 1950) when studios controlled every aspects of the movie making process. They held sway over scripts, actors, directors, soundtracks, everything but the actors’ most intimate thoughts.

Under the Studio System, actors were groomed from head to toe and taught how to dress, how to walk, how to dance, how to become polished performers. When “talkies” appeared (around 1927), a good voice and a clear diction became indispensable tools of an actor’s panoply.

In those days, directors paid great attention to the quality of the movie soundtrack and the sound man was a very important cog of the filmmaking process. Directors did not hesitate to do multiple takes of a scene if the sound quality was not satisfactory, and many silent era careers floundered due to unpalatable voices or poor diction.

Today paradoxically, with a proliferation of sophisticated recording devices, the sound quality of many movies is noticeably inferior to the soundtracks of the Studio System era. This is partly due to the fact that nowadays, look is more important than sound, and that some actors are not polished enough to deliver their lines properly.
And flat screen television sets tiny loudspeakers tend to exacerbate the audio problem. They are obviously not up to the task of delivering quality sound.

And that’s why (for a while) I decided to use captions to assist in comprehending my boob tube sessions.
But the problem with closed captions is that they often mask crucial shots and they are not always properly synchronized with the actors’ lines.
After putting up with this unsatisfying process, I decided to buy a “sound bar” (a slim device containing multiple speakers) to enhance the sound of my television set.

But as I found out, adding a sound bar to a television set is not an easy task.

Today, a high percentage of television viewers subscribe to cable and have multiple devices connected to their cable box. They have to bypass the remote control that originally came with their television set in favor of the remote control device provided by the cable company.

But when you connect an additional component to your cable box, you need to reprogram your remote control to accommodate the new component, and this procedure can be highly problematic.

Instructions provided with electronic components are often difficult to understand, incomplete or not solely applying to the device that you bought.
And while fiddling with the remote control device, you are always afraid of messing up what you already so painfully trained the beast to do.

That’s why after fruitlessly spending a great deal of time trying to reprogram my cable remote control device, I sent the sound bar back to its makers.

And you might also understand why I have a soft spot for easy on the eye, clear sounding black and white movies that don’t needlessly tax your already challenged hearing.

Bite me if you can!


Democracy vs. autocracy

In light of recent events, I am republishing the translation of an article that I originally wrote in French in February 2011.

A wind of madness has recently swept the Arab world. Intoxicated by the tidal waves that engulfed Tunisia then Egypt, whole populations are rising and trampling old autocracies.

The following domino effect spread to Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. Countries long time muzzled by strongmen are suddenly rebelling and demanding a more democratic form of government.

But the transition from an absolute regime to a representative system is a Herculean task. I would compare this state of affairs with the situation of a homeless person who suddenly inherits millions. Penniless yesterday, millionaire today. Can this man who lived all his life in a state of extreme poverty manage his new riches?
I very much doubt it. If he has any sense, he will look for somebody “qualified” to manage his newly found fortune, and that’s where danger lurks.

I have always been wary of the extremists (fundamentalists, Islamists, communists, Trotskyists, pétainists, fascists, papists, etc.) who swarm into the murky waters of revolutions.
These unsavory characters are waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on the carcasses of deposed states and establish (for the good of the people of course) another kind of dictatorship, often harsher than the one that was overturned.

I would not go as far as saying that Nicolas Alexandrovich Romanov was a saint, but I think that I would have preferred to live under a Romanov than a Stalin, Pol Pot or Ahmadinejad.

All the poor devils who have lived in misery injustice and fear think that a revolution will be the panacea for all their ills. Those people are eager to listen and follow any sweet sounding demagogue who will promise them heaven on earth.

Personally, I would be more inclined to listen to a realist like Winston Churchill who famously declared on May 13th, 1940 “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” than somebody who promises me the moon.
I am ready to bet that the street vendors of Cairo or Tunis will not be better off under a democracy than under an autocracy.

Let me confess that I am always leery of being tossed from Charybdis to Scylla.
I do not mean to say that I am against the establishment of a democratic system anywhere in the world, but rather that I feel ill at ease by the inevitable vacuum created by a revolution; and especially by the unavowed convictions held by the people who are jockeying for power.

Unfortunately “freedom fighters” have a tendency to bite the hand that fed them, and often morph into mobs bent on carving their own fiefdoms rather than implementing the basic tenets of democracy.


PS: To look at pictures of recent events turn the sound on, click on the “Home” link at the top of the page, and click again on “My photos” located on the right side of the page.




In my head I keep a bunch of little drawers.
They are labeled with tags such as “stupid”, “ridiculous”, “frivolous”, “cruel”, “cute”, “sexy”, “mean”, “vain”, “vulgar”, “nice”, “dangerous”, “friendly”, “freak”, etc.

When I meet somebody, after an often brief conversation, I stick that person’s name in one of those little boxes; because consciously or not, we are all judgmental.
It might not be fair, but we will judge you by the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you walk, etc. and our perceived first impressions will end up (and remain for a long time) in one of these little filing cabinets.

Some people are not good at assessing other people. It might have something to do with a lack of proper training in the “people-watching” department.
If you are not able to “read” somebody correctly, you are bound for a lot of headaches in the future.

Neville Chamberlain never “read” Hitler properly… with the consequences that we know. He probably classified him as “reasonable” instead of “freakish”. Hitler’s imperious little mustache should have been a clue though, but Neville failed to notice the ominous threat in Adolf’s crumb catcher.

I honed my people-watching skills in my impoverished student days. For the modest price of a cup of coffee, I could sit at a sidewalk café and practice my people-watching skills for hours.
I learned to read body language, vacant eyes, smirks, etc.

It served me well. In the following years, I avoided being shot by hostile “fellagas”, fired from a lifetime job and surviving a series of amorous conflicts.

So, when you meet somebody new, watch your mouth and your steps. Avoid making insensitive comments or unsettling body noises for as long as you possibly can.
Leave immediately after making even the slightest favorable impression, for it will linger for a long time.

To sum it up, always strive to create a good first impression, otherwise in a near future, an avenging Soup Nazi will pop up and decree “No soup for you!