Wonder from the Octopus

I just watched the Academy Award–winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. It is a remarkable film and story. Like many documentaries, I wondered how many hours of filming were required to make this beautiful piece as well as who did some of the filming. I often want a documentary about the documentary I have just watched, but this time, at least, I will never know.

I saw the film on Netflix. Even in a non-Covid year it’s unlikely that I would have seen it in a movie theater. I seldom watch a feature-length documentary anywhere other than on my own TV. On the other hand, this past year I missed seeing the various Oscar-nominated shorts that in past years I would have seen at a local movie palace. The animated, live-action, and documentary shorts get packaged together and are shown in “art” houses in the weeks before the Academy Awards ceremony. Not this year, of course, so I did not see any of the nominees in these categories, but perhaps that’s just as well. These short films, even the animated ones, are often touching, and routinely sad, unless they are about war, and then they are both sad and horrifying. This past year, in particular, I have tried to avoid books, movies, and TV that were likely to make me feel even worse about the world than I already did.

My Octopus Teacher, happily, is a movie that produces wonder. The octopus that is the focus of the film even had, bringing to mind Richard Starkey’s lyric, “A little hideaway/ beneath the waves/ resting its head/ on the seabed.”

This wonderous documentary about inner space made me think not only about the Beatles but also about outer space and our obsession with it. We look up at the night sky, and like all who have preceded us, we naturally wonder about what we see. Humans apparently have always speculated about the moon and the stars, the sun and the planets. We want to explore what is out there. We want lunar and Mars missions. Humanity has spent untold riches and risked fire and death in such endeavors. And we don’t stop. The Swedes are now building a spaceport in the Arctic, and many countries have been sending up rockets and satellites. We even have private ventures, although the commercial possibilities of space other than as a weird tourist attraction seem limited—at least to me. (Am I alone in being able to live happily without another scent of Elon Musk?) Space fascinates; we long to reach for the stars.

We don’t have similar clichéd, inspirational injunctions about the seas. We did have Jacques Cousteau who tried, like My Octopus Teacher, to tell us that we have a lot to learn about this water-covered planet. Sometimes it seems that our only concerns about the oceans are whether we can grab all the fish out of it, build wind farms above it, or find oil beneath it.

In showing how much we can learn about the octopus, the film reveals how much we are in the dark about the oceanic depths, a place of beauty and wonder as well as commercial enterprise. We have manned orbiting space stations and fantasize about colonizing the moon and Mars. Why don’t we have something comparable for under the water?


How different would news reports and public perception of the Nashville bombing be if the bomber had been Black or if he had had a name that sounded as if he were a Muslim?

A recent news story said that only one professional football team had a former NFL player as its chaplain. The article did not make clear if all professional football teams had a chaplain, but it made me wonder what other businesses regularly employ clergy. How many lumbering or office-cleaning companies have a chaplain?

The op-ed headline said, “Will Trump Force Principled Conservatives to Start Their Own Party? I Hope So”. How large do you think a party of “principled conservatives” would be?

“Tyranny is always better organized than freedom.” Charles Pierre Péguy.

The two-note introduction to some Netflix productions makes me wonder if that streaming company has the same composer as Law and Order.

Trump has made appointments to a commission he created to promote “patriotic education.” I thought of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said, “There is no patriotic art and no patriotic science.”

“The essential matter of history is not what happened but what is thought or said about it.” Frederic W. Maitland.

It is good to know that our society has something that is nearly perfect. A sports columnist, who I expect knows a lot more about football than most people including me, predicts the outcome of all the professional football  games against the point spread. To his credit, he gives the tally of how he has done throughout the season. The last time I looked he had been right 116 times and wrong 116 times. Damn, those point spreads are good.

On December 14, many news outlets had some variation of “democracy prevailed because the Electoral College functioned,” a platitude that may be repeated on January 6. Four years earlier, many said that we did not have a democracy because the Electoral College functioned.

Obama released his favorite books of 2020. Do you think Trump will?

A tiny tragedy of the winter: one small mitten on the edge of the sidewalk with no one around. Old joke: “I have never seen second-degree burns like that. What happened?” “Somebody called and I picked up the steam iron by mistake.” “But what about your other ear?” “They called back.”