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Archive for February, 2016

Of Mice And Men  (1937©)  —  book review
Continuing my efforts to die an educated man, over the weekend I finished one of the many “classics” I eluded in high school English class, “Of Mice And Men” by John Steinbeck.  The novel is the story of two friends who share a dream of owning a small farm of their own and “live offa the fatta the lan“.  The dream escapes them – and everyone else in the book too.
Written during the middle years of the Great Depression, the book is an ode to loneliness, the weakness of innocence, and the ultimate futility of tempting Fate by trying to make plans for the future.  The book “seems” full of characters who represent symbols of generalized Man in all of our various (yet very specific) facets: the competent and understanding “Slim”, the injured by work and beaten by age “Candy”, the broken, isolated, yet still proud “Crooks”, the un-named and objectified young beauty of Mrs. “Curley”, the foolish bullying of the Napoleonic “Curley”, and of course the simple, innocent strength of Lennie Small and the lost plan of George Milton.  I suppose it is too much to believe Steinbeck sat and created a “lion” (Leonard / Lennie) of a man with the intellect of a toddler (“small” child) and his best friend George (Greek for farmer) Milton (the author of “Paradise Lost“).   I suppose…
As I’ve stated in some of my other posts, there is a saying in the martial arts: “when the student is ready, the master will appear.”    I believe I am fortunate not to have read this book in high school.  Without the extra forty odd years of experience, this would have simply been a predictable story of accidental death and Karmic retribution.  It is that.  It is also a fine wine of subtle hope and deep friendship in the face of depressing reality and personal loneliness.  It is a man viewing a homeless mouse facing the coming of winter…  Coming for both of them.
Final recommendation: a “classic”.  Mildly to extremely depressing (be warned), but still highly recommended – if for nothing else, then so you’ll understand other people referencing the title.
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On This Day In (Leap Year):
2012 Stingray – TV Series Review (This is my most popular post since starting my blog – hands down! It still draws hits almost every week. The hits seem to come mostly from Central Europe. I guess the show must be in syndication there.)
A Single Thread

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I cannot teach anybody anything.  I can only make them think.
  ―  Socrates
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On This Day In (Leap Year):
2012 Stingray – TV Series Review  (This is my most popular post since starting my blog – hands down!  It still draws hits almost every week.  The hits seem to come mostly from Central Europe.  I guess the show must be in syndication there.)
A Single Thread

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A republic is not an easy form of government to live under, and when the responsibility of citizenship is evaded, democracy decays and authoritarianism takes over.
   —  Earl Warren
Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Former Governor of California
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On This Day In:
2015 A Series Of Funerals
2014 And Your Point Is?
2013 Infinitely Care
2012 In My Room
(Leap Year 29th) Stingray – TV Series Review (This is my most popular post since starting my blog – hands down! It still draws hits almost every week. The hits seem to come mostly from Central Europe. I guess the show must be in syndication there.)
(Leap Year 29th) A Single Thread
2011 Lyrical Mixture
Teaching = Translating

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A Little Lost

You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.
   –  Paul Sweeney
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On This Day In:
2015 This High Place
2014 Elected Madness
2013 Well Written
2012 Related Parts
2011 The King Is Oscar
Better Reputation?

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Men do not understand books until they have a certain amount of life, or at any rate no man understands a deep book, until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents.
   –  Ezra Pound
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On This Day In:
2015 On The Road To Failure
2014 Each Moment
2013 Conversation
2012 4 Down, 11 Done (At Last)
I’m Not Afraid
2011 Who’s Risk Is It, Anyway?

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Whatever happens, I have decided to exercise my will.  Even if I have to re-commence my difficult story ten times, a hundred times, and always arrive at the same cul-de-sac, just the same I will begin again a hundred times.  If I cannot assemble the pictures into a significant whole again, I will present each single fragment as faithfully as possible.  And as far as it is now still possible, I will be mindful of the first principle of our great period, never to rely on and let myself be disconcerted by reason, always to know that faith is stronger than so-called reality.
  —  Hermann Hesse
From his book: “The Journey To The East
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On This Day In:
2015 Absorbed And Civilized
2014 Relax And Lead
2013 Location, Location, Location
2012 Are You Really Good?
2011 Relatively Objective, Anyway

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Reflections

Books are like mirrors: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out.
   ―  J. K. Rowling
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On This Day In:
2015 Is It Time Yet?
2014 Ask Any Follower
2013 Cornered Or Surrounded?
2012 Escape
2011 Achievement
Not Unreasonable Enough

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Best Of Enemies  (2015)  —  movie review
Today’s review is for the documentary “Best Of Enemies“.  The documentary purports to show the start of today’s version of acrimonious televised pundit’s political analysis by referencing back to a series of ten debates between conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal commentator Gore Vidal which occurred during the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions that summer.  The operative word in this last sentence being “televised”.  There should be no doubt that vitriolic personal animosity has always existed (to some lessor or greater degree) between the defenders of opposing sides in virtually every political debate – especially those which deal with “moral” issues.
First, as usual, full disclosure: as I’ve stated before on this blog, I am a life-long conservative Democrat.  I grew up a BIG fan of Buckley (from TV) and have almost complete ignorance of Vidal.  I have, of course, seen his image and probably seen him on TV, but I have never (to my recollection) read any of his books.  When I saw this documentary was available on Netflix, it immediately went to the top of my “must watch” list because I anticipated a contest between intellectual giants casting Zeus-like bolts at each other in their arguments of liberalism versus conservatism.  And this with the advantage of 50 years of history to underline which side prevailed (or at least was correct).
In the end, while fascinated and wildly entertained, I was sorely disappointed.  There is no “there” there (or should I say “there” here).
Instead, what we are treated with is a documentary demonstrating the art of the personal attack as a means – not of winning a debate – but as a means of diminishing one’s opponent, so as to appear to “win” a debate by means of embarrassment.  If this movie is to be believed, Vidal is the clear winner.  If history is the final judge, the answer is less certain.
Vidal opens with the defining challenge: can a party whose sole standing policy is greed, continue to gather enough support from the masses of the public (who live with the failures of capitalism) to elect Republican politicians in general and a President in specific.  Although, the conservative (Buckley) loses the debate, the answer is ‘yes’.  Not as resounding a “YES” as one might think, but a ‘yes’ none the less.  George Wallace splits the democratic vote in the South (with the Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey) and Richard Nixon goes on to win the Presidency.  And beyond that, for twenty of the next twenty-four years, the Republicans control the White House and the Executive Branch.
From this time reference, one might judge Republican conservatism to have been successful and therefore correct as a political theory or somehow “better” than Democratic liberalism.   Again, as I said earlier, the answer is less certain.  The record of history over the last 120 years is that Conservative Republican policies lead to (“cause” is probably too strong a word) economic failure:  the Great Depression, the Great Recession of the 80’s, the collapse of the Savings and Loans, the collapse of the American middle class and the recent recession and financial collapse (of 2007/08).  The sad truth is that the “party of business” doesn’t know how to run an economy when it is in power.
But I digress.  Final recommendation: strong, but qualified.  This is a documentary about how business executives learned to turn political news into confrontational entertainment.  And, similar to modern political punditry, it entertains without providing the foundation of the ideas upon which the two sides rest.  Just because it’s spicy doesn’t mean it’s filling.
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On This Day In:
2015 Positive Acts Of Creation
2014 One Thing Is Clear
2013 Corrections
See Greatness
2012 Gemutlichkeit
2011 Back On The Asphalt
It Is Just Not The Same

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Science only renders the metaphysical need more urgent.  In itself, it contributes little directly to the solution of the metaphysical problem.  But it does contribute something, namely, the exposition of the fact that our experience of sensible apparent things is capable of being analysed into a scientific theory, a theory not indeed complete, but giving every promise of indefinite expansion.  This achievement emphasizes the intimate relation between our logical thought and the facts of sensible apprehension.  Also the special form of scientific theory is bound to have some influence.  In the past false science has been the parent of bad metaphysics.  After all, science embodies a rigorous scrutiny of one part of the whole evidence from which metaphysicians deduce their conclusions.
  —  Alfred North Whitehead
From his book: “The Aims Of Education
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On This Day In:
2015 Positive Acts Of Creation
2014 One Thing Is Clear
2013 Corrections
See Greatness
2012 Gemutlichkeit
2011 Back On The Asphalt
It Is Just Not The Same

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Amadeus (the director’s cut)  –  movie review
Today’s movie review is for the music / biopic “Amadeus” (1984) about the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (full name: Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart).  Actually, the movie is about a contemporary composer: Antonio Salieri.  Before I go much further, I will state with full voice – I have little or no knowledge of classical music or composers and therefore practically no appreciation for either classical music or opera.  Additionally, and I say this with shame and not with braggadocio – I play no instruments and cannot read music.  I am clearly not in a position to critique the music in this film.  (I thought is was okay.)
In it’s day, this movie garnered a total of eight Oscars, including best Actor, Director and Film.  That means it should be pretty good.  But, is it?  No.  Not really.  I watched the director’s cut which has an added 20 minutes of movie, but in theory is supposed to more closely match the director’s concept of what the film might have been – if there were no constraints – like the audience’s need to use the restrooms.  But I digress…
The movie is a period piece about genius and envy.  As a period piece, the movie is outstanding. The costumes / clothes, hair and make-up are all outstanding.  That is, they make you feel as if you are in the mid-1700’s.  Or, at least what we, in this day, imagine them to have been.   But all of this is only a shell without a story to go with them and I’m afraid the story was too long and uninteresting to be entertaining.  It was at best, only mildly interesting.  I kept waiting for this highly decorated film to take wing, but, unfortunately, it was more of a fluttering and flapping  turkey that it was a soaring eagle.
For me, the whole of the movie was F. Murray Abraham’s performance as Antonio Salieri.  Abraham deservedly won best actor for this role.  He is excellent as both the elderly Salieri telling of his plotting against Mozart and as the young Salieri, expressing his hatred with the slight turn of a lip / sneer.  You can feel Salieri’s love for the music and his anger at both God (for His slight) and against Mozart for his ill manners.  As Salieri curses God: “why did you give me the ability to appreciate this music if you were not going to give me the ability to create it?”
The real question is: why did it take over three hours to ask this simple question (repeatedly)?  The answer, I’m afraid is because this isn’t a very good movie.
Final recommendation: not recommended for an “average” movie goer like me.  Maybe somebody with a lot more music background will appreciate it more, but I didn’t.  As much as I tried to see this in one sitting, I couldn’t do it.  I ended up watching it over two evenings of approximately 90 minutes each.  Neither half moved me.
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On This Day In:
2015 We Are All Explorers
2014 Still Trying To Cope
2013 Dear Diary (A good chuckle!)
2012 Conveniently Sequential
2011 King’s Speech Number Four
Rational Probability

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“For you and me, we’re making it up.  Here’s how I’m going to behave, here’s what I’m willing to do to make a living, here’s what I’m not willing to do.  How we make up our lives as we go,” Kasdan says.  “That’s such a powerful idea.  It’s exciting.  The biggest adventure you can have is making up your own life.”
   —  Lawrence Kasdan
As quoted by Adam Rogers in his article: “The Forever Franchise
Appearing in the Dec 2015 issue of Wired magazine
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On This Day In:
2015 We Are All Explorers
2014 Still Trying To Cope
2013 Dear Diary (A good chuckle!)
2012 Conveniently Sequential
2011 King’s Speech Number Four
Rational Probability

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Tales From The Secret Annex (1949©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for the “other” Anne Frank book: “Tales From The Secret Annex“.  To be honest, reading this book was a mistake.  I picked it up because over the years I’d heard so much about Anne Frank’s Diary that I decided I wanted to finally get around to reading it.  I had no idea she even had a second book.  So, I saw the author and looked at the picture of the young girl on the cover and said, “Yup, this is it.”  And, I bought it.
I asked my wife if she’d read it and she replied everyone read it back in school.  We laughed a bit because I admitted I had not.  She cautioned me that it was quite sad and in fact she found it depressing.  (She knows what a cry-baby I can be.)  To make a longer story shorter, I asked her when it starts to get sad because I was finding it just kind of “girlish”.  She asked me to read her a few chapters and then said, “I don’t think you’re reading the right book“.  It’s been years since she read it, but she was confident she’d never heard these stories before.  So, the next day I looked up the book and lo and behold, this wasn’t the diary at all!  I was, in fact, reading the wrong book.
Okay.  Is this book any “good”?  To be honest, only so-so.  It’s a lovely little (150 pages) book, written by a teen-age girl, who makes some precocious observations about the world and about adults, but this is not a life-changing book.  The chapters are individual stories with no discernible arc.  Some of them are dreams and dream like.  Some are just stories.  They are pleasant enough, but there is not a lot there – for me anyway.  In any case, a book which should have taken me a couple of hours to read ended up taking almost two months, because it failed to capture and hold my imagination.  In the end, I was taking it to medical appointments to read while sitting in the waiting rooms.
Having said that, do I now recommend it?  Yes, I think I do.  I have already quoted the book in one of my postings on this blog and there are another five portions I’ve marked for posting later.  So, yes, I think I do.
If anything, without reading the primary work, I already feel like the world has lost the opportunity of sharing the life and writing of a kind and interesting young lady.  And her early passing is a lost opportunity for literature and for the world.
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On This Day In:
2015 Are You Listening Ladies?
2014 Practice, Practice, Practice
2013 A Fist Full Of Confusion
2012 Teaching Faith
2011 The Heart Of Terror
The Proportion Of Gravity And Probability

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Riding reductionism, we run into the hard wall of complexity.  We have learned that nature is not a well designed puzzle with only one way to put it back together.  In complex systems the components can fit in so many different ways that it would take billions of years for us to try them all.  Yet nature assembles the pieces with a grace and precision honed over the millions of years.  It does so by exploiting the all-encompassing laws of self-organization, whose roots are still largely a mystery to us.
   —  Albert-László Barabási
From his book: “Linked: The New Science of Networks
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On This Day In:
2015 Tools And Weapons
2014 Likes And Dislikes
2013 Pillars Of Learning
2012 Another JCoM Review
Move It
2011 Expected Value

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But the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out.  He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly to comprehend.
   —  Aldous Huxley
From his novel: “The Doors Of Perception
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On This Day In:
2015 Not Today
Wicked
2014 …Am Too
2013 Credible?
2012 Both
2011 Risking Hidden Linkage

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Nor My Dogs

I don’t want to go to heaven.  None of my friends are there.
    –  Oscar Wilde
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On This Day In:
2015 Say What?
I’m A Dog, Too!
Beginnings
2014 Astonishing Choices
2013 Three Hard Tasks
2012 The Only Remains
2011 Personal Capability
What Price Failure?
Both Of W’s Elections
Tea (Baggers) Anyone?

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