Seven more baseball movies

This post concludes a post I posted yesterday. Once again, I am not saying these are the best baseball movies, only that they are baseball movies I enjoy. And, again, there will be spoilers.

For the Love of the Game (1999): starring Kevin Costner (yes, again), and Kelly Preston. To be honest, I am not fond of Kevin Costner’s other work, but he excels in all three baseball movies. Here he portrays a pitcher at the end of the season and nearing the end of his career who manages to (SPOILER ALERT) accomplish one of the rarest of baseball feats, pitching a perfect game—twenty-seven batters, twenty-seven outs; no hits, no walks, and no errors. In between innings the movie portrays his personal life and career. This movie is probably too slow for someone who is not a baseball fan, but true fans will appreciate the way life and the game blend as one story.

A League of their Own (1992): starring Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks, and quite a few more good actors and actresses. At the beginning of World War II, major league owners are afraid that baseball will suffer with the men going off to war. Therefore they organize a professional league of women to play baseball. All of this really happened, although the main characters in the movie were invented for the movie. This movie also seems to drag in places, alternating between the ball games, the business worries, and the personal lives of some of the players. It is worth watching to the final credits, though, because actual veterans of the actual league are shown playing a game in Cooperstown, New York.

Major League (1989): starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, and with Bob Uecker as the radio announcer. This movie is a comedy about baseball, showing a group of has-beens and never-weres gathered into a team which the owner hopes will lose badly. Instead, they come together and begin winning. The team this time is the Cleveland Indians, and like most 1980s movies it pays tribute to the home city in the opening scenes. After that, the action becomes pretty predictable, but the movie is still likeable for the interaction of the characters.

The Natural (1984): starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey, Robert Duvall, Wilform Brumley, and Richard Farnsworth. Many people list this as their favorite baseball movie. Robert Redford plays a baseball star who gets sidetracked from his original hopes of major league baseball, but returns at an age when most players are thinking about retiring. Once again, the owner of the club is playing to lose. Like too many other baseball movies, The Natural assumes that one good player can change a team of losers into winners. It is based on a novel by Bernard Malamud; but while the novel is gloomy and ends badly for the characters, this movie is a product of the 1980s, which means that it contains cheerfulness and a happy ending.

The Pride of the Yankees (1942): starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, and several real baseball players including Babe Ruth. This movie tells the true story of Lou Gehrig—his entrance into professional baseball, his rise to fame, and his deteriorating condition due to a disease that now bears his name. This movie, more than most, is honest about baseball. It even shows the star player beginning in the minor leagues, unlike at least four movies on my list that send the star straight to the major leagues. Once again, by trying to tell his whole story, this movie might be too slow for watchers who are not fans of the game of baseball.

Rookie of the Year (1993): starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Gary Busey, and Daniel Stern, with John Candy as the radio announcer. A twelve-year-old boy breaks his arm, and when the cast is removed he can throw a fastball more than one hundred miles an hour with pinpoint accuracy. He is immediately signed up to pitch for the Chicago Cubs. This movie has several problems, including a failure to understand that winning the division, winning the pennant, and winning the championship are not the same thing. Worse, it assumes that a single player—a relief pitcher, at that—can change losers into winners. On top of that, it shows spring, summer, and autumn in Chicago without any change in seasons. Moreover, director Daniel Stern portrays an annoying and unneeded character. All that said, I love to watch this movie every year. In several scenes, it portrays the splendor of Wrigley Field and the beauty of entering a baseball stadium. This movie also captures some of the childlike joy of the game of baseball, even hinting that the adults playing baseball wish they could be children again. Finally, like John Candy’s character, I revel in hearing “Chicago Cubs” and “World Series” said in the same breath.

The Scout (1994): starring Albert Brooks, Brendan Fraser, and Dianne Wiest. This attempted comedy portrays a baseball scout, punished for past failures by being sent to Mexico, who discovers a star pitcher ready to play for the New York Yankees. Only after he gets the player to New York does he discover that this player has emotional problems which require professional counseling. The counseling sessions actually are some of the better scenes in the movie, but the story as a whole is even less believable than Rookie of the Year. My favorite part of the movie is when the scout entertains the player by showing him Damn Yankees, and the player loves the movie so much that he sings its best song in the shower.

J.

Six baseball movies

Baseball season is underway. One way to celebrate is with movies about baseball. Actually, I use these movies to fill the first three months of many years, keeping the spirit of baseball alive in me until spring training is nearly over and the real season is about to start.
These happen to be the movies that I own and like to watch. I do not pretend to have a list of the best baseball movies ever made, and I do not want to try to rank the movies from least favorite to most favorite. For that reason, I am listing them in alphabetical order. Even though I like some better than others, I am not a qualified film critic. I don’t even play one on TV.
SPOILER ALERT: In some cases, to describe a movie fairly, I will have to comment on the way it ends. If you have not seen these movies and think you might want to see them, you may want to stop reading now. You have been warned.

Bad News Bears (1976): starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. A former baseball player is persuaded to coach a community team of misfits and losers in the summer league. Naturally, he grows as a person by working with these children, and they come together as a team under his guidance. Because this movie was made in the 1970s, one of the lessons they learn is that they do not need to win the game in order to be champions.

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973): starring Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty. A baseball version of Brian’s Song, but in this case the catcher (De Niro) has Hodgkin’s Disease, and his friend the pitcher (Moriarty) is at first the only person on the team to know this secret. The pleasure of this movie is to see the back scenes of baseball, the way the players talk and act in the locker room and in their motel rooms and other places off the field. Especially memorable is the way they con money out of fans by inviting them to play a card game called TEGWAR—The Excellent Game Without Any Rules.

Bull Durham (1988): starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins. An aging catcher in the minor leagues must mentor an up-and-coming young pitcher, while both are being followed by a mystically-minded fan who wants more than just to watch the game. This is the only R-rated movie on my list; it is one to watch only after the children are in bed.

Damn Yankees (1958): starring Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, and Jean Stapleton. A fan of the Washington Senators sells his soul to the devil in order to become a star baseball player and lead his team to victory, especially to success over the New York Yankees. It is a Broadway musical about baseball (and about temptation), so the characters sometimes break into song and dance. The movie’s choreographer, the great Bob Fosse, dances in one scene (that has nothing to do with baseball). That scene alone makes the movie worth the price of admission.

Eight Men Out (1988): starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, and D. B. Sweeney. This movie is a dramatization of the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when eight players were barred from the game because they took money from gamblers who wanted their team (the Chicago White Sox) to lose the World Series on purpose. As a baseball movie it succeeds, although I cannot vouch for its historical accuracy, and – despite the fine cast – I am not sure it ranks as a successful movie over all.

Field of Dreams (1989): starring Kevin Costner (again), James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan, and Burt Lancaster. This movie is about baseball and about much more: about family and loyalty, about following one’s dreams at any cost, and about perceiving the magic that surrounds us in the everyday world. An Iowa farmer hears voices telling him to build a baseball field. When he builds it, the eight players portrayed in Eight Men Out appear and play baseball. A lot more happens after that. Field of Dreams is based on the novel Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, written by W. P. Kinsella. He wrote a good novel, but they made a great movie from his story by cutting out about half his characters and shortening the drama. Someday I may write an entire post about this one movie.

Anxiety

It happened again this morning. I went to Wal-Mart to pick up a prescription refill and to buy a few other items. In the store, I felt nervous, as if something were about to go wrong. My chest felt tight, right across the diaphragm, and my arms and knees trembled. If I were doing something wrong, the feeling would have made sense. If I was entering a dangerous place, the feeling would have made sense. But I was shopping in Wal-Mart, so there was no reason for me to feel that way.

Have you ever been driving down the street, noticed a police car off to the side, glanced at your speedometer, and realized you were going five miles over the limit? Do you know those seconds of worry, wondering if the police officer was tracking your speed with radar, wondering if the officer is going to pull you over or let you go? That’s the feeling I’m describing.

They call it anxiety. When it happens suddenly and strongly, the condition is called anxiety attacks or panic attacks. When it is more of a general, on-going feeling, it is called free-floating anxiety. By any name, it is not a good feeling. It’s like a constant caffeine high, or a constant adrenaline surge. It’s as if I’m always looking over my shoulder to see who’s about to attack.

Whenever I leave home, I feel as if I forgot to bring something important. I cannot drive to work without checking at least once to make sure my name badge and electric security key are in the car with me. I’m a cautious driver and an alert driver, always prepared for things to go wrong, always prepared for some other driver to make a stupid mistake. If I’m not worried about the other drivers, I worry about my own car. Is something about to break down? Will I have a flat tire today? Why do I smell gasoline? (Because I just drove past a gas station.) What was that noise, and what does it mean for the immediate future of the car?

Can you believe that people pay money to feel this way? Some people ride roller coasters. Some go to horror movies or watch them at home. Some visit haunted houses. I’d gladly trade them this thrill for a calm day, a confident day, a day when I don’t feel as if something is about to go wrong.

Am I getting help? You bet I am! The prescription I needed to refill at Wal-Mart is medicine that is supposed to help me overcome this anxiety. I think it might be doing me some good. How ironic, though, to wrestle with that feeling on the very trip that is supposed to be providing a solution to my anxiety.

My immediate family and my therapist know I feel this way. I keep it hidden from everyone else. I’m sure that no one shopping at Wal-Mart sensed my anxiety, although the cashier might have wondered why my hands were shaking when I took out my wallet and paid for my purchases. Most of the time I blend into the crowd, act just like everyone else, and keep control of myself. I do not let people know how I feel on the inside.

I could be someone you know. I could be your co-worker, your next-door neighbor, your bartender, or your barber. No, maybe not your barber—that’s not a good idea. The point is, you will never know how many people in your life are struggling in ways that you never imagined. It’s all around you, invisible, hidden right in front of your eyes.

J.

Of weeds and wildflowers

Let’s start with some important definitions. A weed is a plant on your property that you do not want. It might be as small as a patch of moss or as big as an oak tree, but if you don’t want it, it is a weed.

A wildflower is a flowering plant that grows without being planted or tended by any person. Wildflowers grow in the wild, of course, but they also can grow on your property. If you like it and want to keep it, it is not a weed. It is a wildflower.

Obviously, one person’s wildflower is another person’s weed. Each person should be free to make up his or her own mind about the plants on his or her own property. Members of a household may need to negotiate with one another about weeds and wildflowers, but unless a neighborhood association or city council defines certain plants as weeds, the definitions can change at each property line.

I have neighbors whose lawns are nothing but carefully tended grass. They use chemicals to kill the broad-leaf weeds that they do not want, and they limit flowers to carefully nurtured plants and shrubs in carefully tended beds. They labor every fall to remove the leaves from their lawns nearly as quickly as the leaves fall, and in spring and summer they spend hours of each week mowing and trimming and edging their lawns.

My lawn does not look like their lawns. A few days after the last snow melts, tiny flowers appear across the lawn. I think they are called cinqfoils. Most of them are white, but some of them are pale pink and lavender. I love the spring cinqfoils, and the first time or two that I mow, I leave patches of them to continue blooming.

Before the cinqfoils have finished blooming, the violets are in bloom. I have allowed and encouraged violets to grow along the edges of the lawn, especially in front of the house. Other places where patches of violets are thick also are spared mowing until several weeks into spring weather.

Then while the violets are still blooming, some wild daisies (at least they look like daisies) emerge. Some years I have mowed them down, but when I realized what kind of plant they are, I decided to leave a bed of blossoms for them also. In fact, I might leave that patch of lawn unmowed into the summer to see what else appears there when the daisies are done.

White clover grows in the lawn. I like the clover because it fills the spots where the grass is thin. It also takes well to mowing. One summer a drought killed off much of our clover, but it is beginning to return, and I am delighted to see it grow.

I do not spare dandelions the way I spare violets and cinqfoils, but I also do not work hard to fight them. When I have time, I might dig out a few dandelion plants, but I am not going to start spraying to kill them, for fear that I will lose my other valued wildflowers.

I watch my neighbor as she works harder than a golf course manager to maintain a lawn that meets her standards. I know that she resents my wildflowers, because I know that to her they are all weeds. I would like to take her aside and say to her, “Mrs. Dim, were you never a little girl? Did you never look for four-leaf clovers, and when you found one you felt that you had good luck? Didn’t you used to love to blow the seeds of a dandelion into the air? Was there never a time when you picked violets or made a chain of daisies? Why would you want to deny your grandchildren the same simple pleasures? I hear you complain that they spend all their time on video games and electronic devices. But maybe, Mrs. Dim, just maybe they would take more interest in the outdoors if their outdoors were not so carefully managed and sanitized.”

Of course I will never have this conversation with my neighbor. She has every right to maintain her property the way she likes. But I feel sorry for her. She is missing so much fun and so much beauty by eliminating the wildflowers and all that they represent.

J.

A tribute to Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, died on April 22, 1994. News reporters and analysts were not sure what to say about him. Many of them had spent their entire careers explaining to the audiences how bad a man he was. They compared every person they did not like to Richard Nixon. Suddenly, they had to decide whether or not to honor the axiom that they “should speak no ill of the dead.” Those who have just died deserve a brief time of respect and honor, even if they should be named Richard Nixon.

Nixon is the first American President I can remember. As a child, I thought well of him. I guess my family and I were part of that “silent majority” of Americans who trusted Nixon and agreed with him. He became president during turbulent times. He campaigned on a theme of Law and Order. He promised Peace with Honor in Vietnam. He hoped to be remembered as a peacemaker.

As a writer and teacher of history, I often take the effort needed to correct misperceptions many people have about Nixon. He did not expand the Vietnam War—he attacked the enemy where they were hiding. He did not plan the Watergate break-in, but he did make the mistake of trying to hide any connection between his advisors and employees and the crime. Nixon was not bad for America, even though the Watergate scandal was a national nightmare. On this anniversary of his death, I would like to say a few words in praise of the man. (In some later posts, I can address Vietnam and Watergate in more detail.)

Nixon felt that the president’s primary job was dealing with other nations and their leaders. He assumed that improved foreign relations would be his legacy. Nixon opened the doors to China. He negotiated important agreements with the Soviet Union. He maintained good relations with our allies and drew more nations into that group—notably Egypt, which drove out its Soviet advisors and welcomed Nixon’s visit. Nixon understood why we were struggling to prevail in the Cold War, when the issues between two ways of life should have been obvious. “The Communists talk about the problems,” he often said, “but we just talk about the Communists.”

Nixon’s legacy in foreign affairs overshadows his many important achievements within the United States. Awareness of environmental issues expanded during his presidency. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came into being at that time. More minority workers were hired by the federal government under Nixon than ever before. Nixon proposed universal health care for all Americans. He also proposed a “negative income tax,” which would give working Americans and their families financial support through the tax system. (That idea was eventually enacted in the 1980s as the Earned Income Tax Credit.)

I would never say that Richard Nixon was flawless. Others have written that it was his flaws that made greatness available to him. Nixon sincerely wanted to make life better for all Americans. He sincerely wanted to make the world a safer place for all people. He sincerely believed that he was pursuing these goals in the right way. It bothers me that he took opposition so personally, essentially inviting those who disagreed with him to end up hating him. But Richard Nixon was a man driven to do the right thing, a man who rose to greatness and was humbled by pettiness. I remember him as a good but troubled man, and I agree with Henry Kissinger—history will be kinder to President Nixon and his reputation than were his contemporaries.

J.

Star Trek fan

The death of Leonard Nimoy this past February was particularly sad for me and my daughter, since we have been watching the original Star Trek episodes on Wednesday nights since last summer. I doubt that I qualify as a Trekkie or a Trekker, since I have never attended a Star Trek convention, do not own a Star Trek uniform or mechanical device, and do not have any Star Trek posters or commemorative plates. I own a small number of books related to Star Trek, and I have all the episodes of the original series on DVD. (I also have about half of them on VHS.)

Moreover, I have never warmed to the Next Generation or any of the other incarnations of Star Trek. For me, the words “Star Trek” will always signify Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scottie, Uhuru, Sulu, Chekov, and the other four hundred members of the Enterprise crew. The original series had an energy that overcame its weak special effects and other limitations. As one of the most optimistic science fiction stories of its era, Star Trek deserves the respect given to the show as an icon of American culture of the 1960s.

I vaguely remember a couple of first-run episodes of Star Trek, but I was still quite young during the three years of new episodes. I became better acquainted with the show and its characters through syndicated reruns in the 1970s. My best friend in high school and I made radio plays based on the Star Trek characters. He was always Kirk, and I was always Spock. We eagerly waited for the first feature film of Star Trek and were not disappointed by it. Other reviewers complained of the pace of the movie, especially its long lingering introduction to the rebuilt Enterprise, but those scenes suited the two of us just fine.

Star Trek has remained with me through the years, and I was glad to be able to own the episodes and watch them at my convenience. I’ve shared them with my children and watched them come to understand and relate to Spock, Kirk, and the rest. Like the original cast, my children and I have a sense of humor about the show. They can, for example, identify and imitate a “Shatner comma.” Beyond that, we sometimes pretend that the family van has impulse engines and warp drive, and we know that our cell phones are really communicators.

Scottie, McCoy, and now Spock have left this world. Unlike in the TV episodes and movies, no amazing trick or alien technology is going to return them—not, at least, until all the dead are raised and the world is made new. But we will always be able to relive their adventures and to imagine further adventures for them. We too are able “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

J.

The dog and Mrs. Dim

Here is my side of a conversation I would like to have, but probably never will have:

Good morning, Mrs. Dim. You know, we’ve been neighbors for several years now. One thing I’ve noticed all this time is that, when you let your dog outside, he comes out of the house barking, and you always scold him. I suppose you don’t want his barking to bother the neighbors. If so, I appreciate your concern; but, let me assure you, your dog’s barking is far from the most bothering sounds we hear coming from your property.

They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I guess it’s probably true. I think your dog enjoys hearing his name every time he comes out of the house. It assures him that you like him and that you are paying attention to him. He barks, and then you bark back. Yes, it’s tough to train an animal, but one of you is well-trained. The other one is getting what he wants every time he goes outside.

I don’t expect this little conversation to change anything. I just wanted to let you know how I feel. Your dog’s barking doesn’t bother me in the least, so please don’t worry about it anymore.

Have a nice day, Mrs. Dim.

J.

A day for Mary

The gospel of Luke describes a visit Jesus paid with his disciples to the home of two sisters. Their names were Martha and Mary. Martha was busy making preparations and serving her guests, while Mary sat with the disciples and listened to Jesus. Finally, in exasperation, Martha begged Jesus, “Tell my sister to help me!” Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

During the Middle Ages, Christian writers spoke of Martha as a picture of the active Christian life and Mary as a picture of the contemplative Christian life. Drawing on the words of Jesus, they concluded that the active Christian life is good, but the contemplative Christian life is better. The one thing necessary is to know Jesus. A Christian needs to sit at his feet and hear his teaching. Thousands of Christians left the world, left even their families and communities, to pursue the contemplative Christian life in monasteries and abbeys.

During the Reformation, the value of monasteries and abbeys was challenged. Martin Luther said that true service to God consists of vocation, doing the task to which God has called a person. This includes being an obedient son or daughter, a faithful husband or wife, and a good mother or father. It also includes a productive career that serves others, not necessarily in church work, but in any labor that makes the world better and helps people. God is pleased by such service. Protestant reformers closed monasteries and abbeys and sent the monks and nuns to find more useful ways to spend their lives.

Visit a church in America these days, and you will see that Martha prevails. The literature you receive at the doorway has some notes about the service, but it is packed with information about what groups in the congregation are doing to serve God and help their neighbors. Announcements before the service or after the service remind people of the same activities. I have attended wonderful services that were followed by ten minutes of announcements, some accompanied by audio-video displays, and in the parking lot afterward I remembered the announcements far better than I remembered the sermon, the prayers, or the hymns.

Martha is anxious and troubled about many things. I have attended meetings of church groups where discussion of how to gather new members for the group—and dismay that more people are not joining—seemed to be a regular part of the monthly agenda. The choir needs a few more voices. The education committee is looking for two more Sunday School teachers and will need volunteers for Vacation Bible School. The nominating committee will be calling every family asking for members to serve as officers and board members for the congregation.

Scorn is heaped on those people who come to church but never get involved. They won’t usher or greet people at the door. They won’t sing in the choir or teach in Sunday School. They won’t hold an office. Some of them won’t even stay for the fund-raising meals and fellowship events after the service. I’ve heard them called “pew potatoes,” these people who come to church only for the service and otherwise refuse to get involved.

Jesus does not call them pew potatoes. He calls them disciples. He says, “They have chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from them.”

I suggest that the congregation needs Mary as much as it needs Martha. I further suggest that the congregation begin loving Mary as it loves Martha. Maybe four Sundays a year, or maybe even one Sunday each month, have a service designed to meet Mary’s needs. Offer no handouts except what is needed for the service. Make no announcements before, during, or after the service. Gently restrain the nominating committee and the recruiters for various church groups. Let Mary sit at the feet of Jesus and hear his Word. I suspect—no, more than that, I am convinced—that when word of these Sundays for Mary gets around, some of those members who have dropped out of church will be back. All they ever wanted was to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear his Word. For that they felt unwanted and unloved. Provide a safe place for them to be with Jesus, unpressured to show their love by their good deeds, and let the Lord himself lead them and guide them.

It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

J.

Polar bears and peacock feathers

For years I have been puzzled when people say that polar bears are not really white; they only look white. They also say that the dots on peacock feathers are not really blue; they only look blue. If polar bears are not white, what color are they really? They look white to me. If those dots on peacock feathers are not blue, what color are they really? They look blue to me.

Philosophical questions about colors and other qualities go back at least as far as Plato and Aristotle. These and other philosophers have tried to examine what an object is other than its qualities and what a quality is apart from the objects that have it. Can you define whiteness apart from indicating something that looks white, whether it is a field covered in snow or a polar bear? Can blueness exist apart from a quality of things that look blue? If something changes in color, how much has it changed? Has it merely exchanged one quality for another, or is it now a different object?

I know that the people who say that a polar bear looks white but is not really white were not engaged in that kind of philosophic discussion.

Among his many accomplishments, Isaac Newton revolutionized science’s understanding of light and vision. By demonstrating that a glass prism or a lot of raindrops could break a beam of white light into a rainbow, Newton showed that color and light are closely related. As understanding of light and vision grew from that observation, scientists realize that objects absorb some wavelengths of light while reflecting other wavelengths. We see the colors that are reflected without the colors that are absorbed. White objects are reflecting all the wavelengths of visible light; black objects are absorbing all the wavelengths of visible light.

But that still doesn’t explain how a polar bear could look white without being white.

I recently read an article about light and vision that finally explained what that means. Many of the colors we see in objects are caused by pigments, which are chemicals on the surface of that object which absorb some light waves and reflect us. Chlorophyll is a pigment in many plants that absorbs some wavelengths of light (using that energy to feed the plant) while reflecting green light. Anyone who has worked with paints understands how to blend different colors of paint to achieve the desired color. The mixture of paints absorbs some wavelengths of light while reflecting those wavelengths that the painter wants observers to see.

Polar bear fur does not contain any white pigment. It is the shape of that fur, especially when it is wet, that reflects white light. Peacock feathers do not contain any blue pigment. The shape of the surface of the feather reflects blue light while absorbing other wavelengths of light, causing the dots on the feathers to look blue.

If only people would have said it that way. Polar bears look white and are white even though their fur contains no white pigment. The dots on peacock feathers look blue and are blue even though their feathers contain no blue pigment. Yes, it requires a few more words to communicate the idea, but the communication is much easier to understand.

Interesting sidelight number one: A young man I know well likes to say that purple is not really a color. In one sense he is right. There is no purple wavelength of light. Look closely at a rainbow and you will see that the inner portion of the color is a deep royal blue, not purple at all. On the other hand, he is wrong. Blend a paint that reflects red light waves with a paint that reflects blue light waves, and you will have purple paint. Whatever you cover with that paint will be purple…or at least the color purple will be one of its qualities.

Interesting sidelight number two: Earlier this year a woman took a picture with her phone of a dress that was blue and black. She sent the picture to her daughter, who looked at the picture and thought that the dress was white and gold. You could blame the camera, but here it gets interesting. When the photograph went viral on the internet, people could look at the same photograph on the same screen under the same conditions, and some people saw a white and gold dress while others saw a blue and black dress. A few people could even alternate the colors they saw in the dress. For centuries, people have wondered whether we all see things the same way. When you and I look at something that we agree is red, are we seeing it the same way? The answer, we now know, is no. The dress photograph of 2015 has had its brief internet fame, but I predict that the photograph will appear in psychology textbooks and philosophy textbooks for years to come.

J.

Beatles fan

In the early 1960s four young men from Liverpool, England, amazed the world with their musical talent. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr (real name—Richard Starkey) together were the Beatles, a rock-n-roll band which became the most popular music performers in the world. Even now, thirty-five years after the group disbanded, their music and recordings remain well-known and loved all over the world.

The legend of the Beatles as working-class lads who made it big with a lot of talent and a lot of luck is popular, but it does not quite hold true. John was attending an art college when the Beatles first were formed. Paul came from a family well-versed in music. Ringo was known as the best drummer in Liverpool even before he joined the Beatles. Even if the legend exaggerates the unlikeliness of their success, it does not diminish the high standards they achieved in writing songs, performing music, and shaping culture by the trends they joined or started.

The Beatles worked hard to achieve their success. For years they performed in the nightclubs of Liverpool and of Hamburg, Germany, learning how to play together as a band and learning how to keep the audience entertained with more than just their music. Ringo frequently sat in with the band long before he officially joined the Beatles. Oddly, their audition tape was rejected by several record companies because the executives believed that the Beatles’ style of music was losing popularity. At first none of them could see that the Beatles were going to revolutionize rock-n-roll music, making it more popular than ever before.

Most of their early songs were simple love ditties set to a dance rhythm, but even their earliest music signaled what was to follow. John’s word play in the song “Please Please Me” foreshadowed the more complex poetry of “I am the Walrus,” while the unconventional harmonies of “She Loves You” prepared their fans for the many musical experiments that would follow. Their early albums included their own compositions as well as their favorite songs by other artists. By 1965 they were hitting their stride musically, ready to create a new sound or two on every album. The album Help! contained two of Paul’s masterpieces, “Yesterday” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” while on the title track John expressed the pain of feeling out of control and feeling down.

The next two albums, Rubber Soul and Revolver, continued to be filled with remarkable songs showing the Beatles musical mastery and their willingness to work new sounds into rock music. At the same time, they were following an exhausting schedule of concerts and movies. By 1966, they were writing and singing songs like “Paperback Writer” that could not be performed well on stage. On August 29, 1966, the Beatles stopped performing live concerts and became a studio band.

Their next album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was one of rock’s first “concept albums,” although many of the songs were less memorable than those of their earlier albums. By Christmas they had completed an album and made-for-television movie, Magical Mystery Tour, which continued the experimenting for which they were known. The movie was not well-received, especially because it was first broadcast in black and white, but it has stood the test of time. In 1968 the Beatles released a two disc album, officially called The Beatles but usually named the White Album. Their greatest song of the year, “Hey Jude,” was not released on the White Album, but as a single it was number one on the American charts for nine consecutive weeks.

Their greatest album came at the end of their run, when they were already about to split apart as a group. They had spent time in front of the camera creating an album and movie called Let It Be, and scenes from the movie show the tension they felt within the group. In spite of that stress, they agreed to come together for one more album, the astounding Abbey Road. Including two gems from George Harrison, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” the album closes with a montage of song fragments that are knit together in a complex yet successful medley.

The disbanding of the Beatles allowed them to pursue separate interests, including solo careers. John was assassinated in December 1980, and George died of cancer in November 2001. Paul and Ringo continue to perform and record music in their “retirement years.” Best of all, the music of the Beatles remains easily available. All their official recordings, some of their studio out-takes, and even a successful parody called “The Rutles” will keep the legend of the Beatles alive forever.

J.