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Posts Tagged ‘2011 Book Review’

This morning I’ve added two new entries to my Poems page: Trees and Time Is…
“Trees” is, of course, a wonderful little poem – particularly for re-incarnated “Ents” (like me!).  I believe it was Robert Heinlein who said everyone should plant a tree at some point in their life.  I completely agree.  Planting trees is like having children.  It is a commitment to the future.  It is an expression of hope.  Time passing, seasons turning, growth rings and bark – just like life.
Have you hugged a tree lately?  As ridiculous as hugging trees may seem, it’s my experience that it’s very rare for someone to hug a tree and not leave it without a big smile on their face and usually a laugh (or chuckle) too.
Doesn’t everyone know the best cure for everything wrong with a person is hugs, smiles and laughter?  I think of them as living medicine.
“Time Is…” is actually a quote and not a poem.  But it has always had the “poem” feel to me.  I first read this quote when I was a youngster riding the San Francisco Muni bus to school.  They had a program to bring poetry and quotes to the masses.  I loved looking for the newest entry on each bus and occasionally you’d get on a bus which had multiple poems or all poems (instead of advertising)!  Then you had to move slowly down the length of the bus as you rode along to your destination.  If I ever had the money to do so, that’s one of the ways I’d pay-forward for the joy someone else gave me way back when.
Enjoy!
The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out  —  book review
Yesterday, I completed my fourth book by Richard P. Feynman.  This one is titled: “The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out” (1999©).  The book is a collection of short “works” (speeches, interviews, and writings) by Dr. Feynman and was edited by Jeffrey Robbins.  Some of the stories I’d already read in Feynman’s other books, but the writing is so clear and the thoughts so beautiful you’re not left feeling like you’ve paid for a new book and only got a re-hash.  Of course, there will be many quotes from this book appearing on this blog from time to time.  After all, I’m still working through the quotes from the other three books.
As usual (for this author), this book is book is both highly thought provoking and highly recommended.  I hate to admit it, but I’m really starting to feel compelled to buy and read some of his serious (non-story) books.  I feel as if I’ve met (and lost again) a long lost friend.  It’s a shame he’s passed away (back in 1988).
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Last Saturday I finished reading “The China Study“, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II (2006©).   Basically, the book is about using a plant-based diet to extend your life and improve / maintain your health.  The title comes from an extensive study of diet (what people normally eat as opposed to what people eat to lose weight) in the majority of rural counties in China which the author believes found a correlation between the amount of animal protein consumed and the level of several diseases (heart disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer).
The author acknowledges that correlation is not causation, but he proposes that based on the results of the study, we should forego the traditional “Western Diet” of meat, eggs, dairy and oils and return to a simpler diet consisting exclusively of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits and nuts) and preferably raw foods.
I got this book from my sister, who is currently a practicing vegetarian.  She loaned it to me because Hil and I were discussing the book “Eat To Live” with her.  (See my review here.)  Anyway, she said although she has not read “Eat To Live“, it sounds very much like a book she has read (“The China Study“).  So I appropriated it for the masses (or should I say massive – me).
I found the book fairly interesting (and quotable), but also a bit overbearing in parts.  The main problem with reading this kind of book is that if you’re already inclined to agree with the author, very little the author says will seem incorrect.  The three things I most agree with are 1.) excessive meat (beef, poultry, pork and fish) and dairy consumption can lead to poor health,  2) excessive reductionism in scientific research of complex systems can lead to faulty conclusions, and, 3) the government is not necessarily on the people’s side when it comes to nutrition and food.
The fundamental question is: “How much meat and dairy are too much?”  The author proposes any at all should be considered too much.  That’s a pretty tough standard.  At least in the “Eat To Live” book the author recognized almost nobody is going to go completely without meat.
Does the book, “prove” its claims.  No.  Does it make sense?  Yes, it feels intuitively correct (recognizing my personal bias going into the reading of the book).  Is the book worth reading?  I believe it is.  Will I ever stick to the recommendations?  Nope.  Not a chance…  I enjoy eating meat and will have it occasionally.  I will have it less frequently than before and when I do have meat in my meal, I will make an effort to eat less of it than I would before, but I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life with no meat whatsoever.
By the way, in my own personal struggle with weight and health – I do feel much better since moving to a “mostly” plant-based and “mostly” unprocessed foods diet.  I do seem to be losing weight slowly and I am still doing it while “mostly” not being hungry.  The down side is I can really feel the difference (mostly bloating) when I do indulge in meat, sugar or salt.  Still, while a “down side”, I’m not sure such cognitive recognition is a negative.  It’s kind of like my body saying, “See, this is the price you pay for eating that way…”  Only now, I can hear my body saying it much more clearly.
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Book Review:  “Everton Strange But Blue” (2010©)
Last Thursday I finished reading: “Everton Strange But Blue“, by Gavin Buckland (2010©).   The book was originally published in 2007, but it is updated yearly.  The author is what is affectionately known in England as a “stathead”.  That is, someone who loves (and does) keep track of the arcane knowledge of something – in this case, Everton Football Club, otherwise known as “the Blues”.  Fans of the team are also known as “Blues”.
First, a little background information.  Everton is one the oldest football (aka: soccer) clubs in England.  It is one of the two best clubs on Merseyside (aka: Liverpool), the other one being the Everton Reserves.  (Just kidding.  It’s and old joke, but it still works…)  The other, of course, being the Liverpool Football Club, otherwise known as “the Reds”.  (Manchester United fans might dispute this as their club is also know as the “Reds” and they are only a stones throw up the Mersey River.)
Anyway, getting back to the book, this was a going away present from a friend (a Blue) at the end of our trip to visit Hil’s family during this last summer.  Everyone knows I’m a avid reader, so I’m easy to get presents for.  Anyway (again), this book is a collection of short stories about interesting and unusual statistical facts about Everton F.C.  The book is well written with obvious enthusiasm by someone who clearly loves both the Blues and statistics.  There in lies my problems with the book.  “Footie” in England is not essentially a sporting event.  It is intertwined with the culture in a way that is not fully approachable for an outsider (like me) to appreciate.  The U.K. is a small enough country that you can actually attend many of the away games by car and until recently (the last 15-20 years) was reasonably enough priced that the average person could attend many home games.  The closest social / sporting equivalent in the U.S. would be the American football SuperBowl.  Even this isn’t the same, because it’s held on neutral ground, it’s only one game a year, and tickets are virtually unobtainable for the average person.  But we do hold SuperBowl parties which create the social / cultural equivalence (somewhat).
My point being, (you knew I’d get around to it eventually) while the book is full of wonderful trivia, which I normally love, I don’t have the lifelong fan experience to appreciate much of the nuances of trivial subtleties the author covers.  For example, games with four goalie changes, or games which are lost by multiple own-goals.  They are interesting occurrences, but I have not shared in the emotional depression of such a loss and so mean less to me (except as historical footnotes).  I remember being shocked by the murder of a South American player because he has scored an own goal in a World Cup match and his country was eliminated from the tournament.  The player was machine-gunned down at a restaurant after returning home.  Now THAT is a fan taking your sport a bit TOO seriously.
The second problem I had with the book – which is why it took me so long to complete – was there was no discernible theme.  By this I mean, there were no clear sections, “Here’s a few of our worst losses”; “Here’s a few of our greatest wins”; or even, the most simple – chronological – highs and lows from the earliest days to the present.  Having said this, I should say the 50 stories are chronological, it’s just that the stories don’t seem interesting that way.  Two or three goalie stories may be separated by 30 or 40 years, so by the time you get to the second or third story, I had lost track of the first.  This happened to me repeatedly while picking the book up and putting it down and I never got the feeling that reading the book straight through would have altered the perception.
The best thing about the book was (and is) the language.  “Scouse” is the local dialect of British English spoken on Merseyside.  For Brits, it’s an inflection or slurring or dropping of syllables and words.  For me, Scouse is poetry and imagery and humor.  It’s an imprecise description which means nothing and yet says everything.  One example: “the center-half finished the match courageously.”  What the heck does that mean?  Who was he (no name), what did he do (not stated), and most importantly what was courageous about it (undefined).  It says nothing, but it leaves it to your imagination to fill in the blanks.  In some ways, this is the greatest of storytelling.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend this to someone interested in enjoying the flavor of Scouse storytelling or to anyone who is a hardcore Blue stathead.  I would moderately recommend it to anyone who is a casual stathead or a Blue fan who wants to know more about the history of the club.  I’m not sure many others would find the book anything else but “quirky” and nerdy.
And by the way, thanks to my friend Dave, who gave me the book and who is one of those great Scouse storytellers, himself.  Over the years and during this latest trip, I’ve spent many hours enjoying Dave and my brother-in-law Robbie (another Blue) trading stories over a pint.  It’s a shame he doesn’t write his own book (or blog) on growing up in Liverpool, following Everton F.C. and working at Ford’s.  Now, that would be book worth reading!
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A couple of weeks ago, Hil and I were watching public television (KQED) and we saw one of their normal infomercials about dieting and getting in better health.  For some reason, the lecturer seemed to make sense to us and we discussed it and decided to buy his book (at a book store, not from KQED) and give it a try.  The next day, I went down to our local Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of the book.
Last night, I completed reading “Eat To Live“, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (2011©), originally published in 2003.  Basically, most of what we “know” about eating “right” is incorrect and based on the marketing of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) who’s main job (historically) has been to help market U.S. agriculture and not necessarily promote health by recommending food based on the science of nutrition.  Dr. Fuhrman tries to correct this food industry sponsored / government supported misinformation with this book.
According to most recent science in the field of nutrition, we are killing ourselves by consuming the food we enjoy instead of the food we need.  Now, the Doctor is not a fanatic about his suggested lifestyle (I hesitate to call it a diet) change, but he makes a pretty convincing argument for eating based on his plan.  His plan is to eat mostly uncooked vegetables and fruit with some nuts thrown in.  He considers “meat” to be any animal (or fish) flesh (beef, pork, fowl or fish) and you should eat no more than 10% of your caloric intake from meat. You can eat as much vegetables and fruit as you can hold and “around” a handful of nuts per day.  No meats, no eggs, no dairy, no oils.
If you follow the plan, he predicts you’ll drop about 15-20 lbs your first month, 10 lbs your second month and 5-8 lbs each month after that until you get to your natural body weight.  He predicts this will be 95 lbs for your first five feet of height and 4 lbs for every inch after that for women and 105 lbs for your first five feet of height and 5 lbs for every inch for men.  At 5’10”, I should weigh about 155 lbs!!  This seems quite light to me, but it is the weight I left Army basic training (back when I was 19 years old).  At 56 years old, I’m not sure I can ever see that size/weight again – or that I would want to.
I am currently about 327 lbs and considered morbidly obese.  About seven weeks ago, I started the P90X exercise program.  Although I’ve lost about two inches from my waist and legs, I had not lost ANY weight until I started Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. It’s been a little over two weeks and one day and I’m down about 8 lbs.  The cover of his book says to give him six weeks and he’ll help you lose 20 lbs, so I’m well on track.  If his long term estimate is correct, in one year, I’ll be 255 lbs, at two years about 200 lbs and about three years from now about 155-160 lbs.
My most successful dieting to date was with the Extreme Fat Smash Diet, which I was on about two years ago (October 2009) for two hard cycles (21 days each) and two moderate cycles (another 21 days each).  After that, it was kind of maintenance mode.  In total, I lost 45 lbs and was down to 292 lbs, but as soon as I went back to “normal” eating, the weight started coming back on.  This diet was extremely hard if followed strictly and although you got to eat frequently, you did not get to eat much.  The result was I was always starving except after the main meal of the day (lunch).  In the end, the Fat Smash Diet is not a lifestyle I choose to live by.  I don’t want to be constantly starving and thinking about my next bit of food.
The interesting thing we (Hil and I) discovered was how much (actually how little) we could get by on for dinner.  Basically, we could be quite full on a half cup of rice, a cup of beans and a cup of green vegetables.  This is essentially, the recommended “diet” of the “Eat To Live” program.  The exception being you are also supposed to have a large salad with your meal.
So far, (like I said one day over two weeks,) I can honestly say I haven’t been hungry once since starting the diet.  That’s not to say I couldn’t eat more if it was there.  Only, that I don’t feel particularly like I’m on a diet at all.  I’m not sure there is a better recommendation anyone can make about a diet.
Back to the book review…  The author is excited about his topic and the enthusiasm comes across in the writing.  The argument (that we are killing ourselves with what we eat) is well laid out and copiously documented in the book’s notes.
I have two real criticisms with the book.  The first is it’s the lack of menu dishes he offers in the book.  The Doctor has his own web site (www.drfuhrman.com), which he charges to subscribe to, so it’s not like he’s in it for charity (or just your health) which supposedly contains over 1,000 recipes.  Alternatively, you can get by with any number of vegan / vegetarian cookbooks – including Dr. Dean Ornish’s (which we’ve also tried and are pretty good).  There are also a host of free recipes on the web at various vegan sites.  I will admit the few Dr. Fuhrman does offer in his book are quite tasty.  We’ve tried many of them.  The second is many of the recipes require elaborate cooking / preparation.  They are NOT something you can throw together while at work (with no kitchen).
Aside from these very minor points this is a VERY informative book and should be read by EVERYONE who is interested in improving their overall health OR losing weight.  Highly recommended!!
I have added a new sub-Category to my blog for anyone wishing to follow my comments / progress on this topic.
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Book Review:
Yesterday, I finished reading: “American Fascists – The Christian Right And The War On America“, by Chris Hedges (2006©).  The book is a call to arms against the takeover of America by right-wing Christian religious fanatics who would seek to impose their religious views on all of America.
(Full disclosure – I am a “yellow-dog Democrat” and a practicing Roman Catholic.  I am a firm believer in God, but I am not one to impose my religious views on others.  I have examined other faiths and find them equally valid “intellectually” but – for me – not spiritually.  Therefore, I remain a practicing Catholic.  I am not a scientist – by training or trade – but I believe in the scientific method.  I do not find this makes me less of a Catholic or person of faith.)
The premise of the book is that there are those on the Christian Right who would destroy America in order to “save” America.  After fifty years of living experience and thirty plus years of hearing the Christian Right on both TV and radio, I would tend to agree with the premise.
America was founded on a belief of religious freedom as one of several core values.  Many of the founders were NOT Christians – although they appear to have been deists (believers in a “universal creator”).  They believed firmly in the separation of church and State and that no one faith should have a place of prominence in American politics or active support by the national government.  For example: George Washington attended a Christian church for many years without receiving communion.  When it was pointed out to him that this was disturbing to some members of his church who felt it might raise questions about his faith, Washington stopped attending church.  Thomas Jefferson “created” his own bible by removing all references to Christ’s miracles – which Jefferson believed to be pure fabrication.  Even those founding fathers who were Christian believed in the separation of church and state.  For an interesting handling of this, read my review of Moral Minority (or better yet, look the book up on line and buy a copy).
This is not deny an obvious truth that religious beliefs have had a profound and pervasive impact on American society and in American history (or world history for that matter).
The author goes down the standard list of liberal objections to the political involvement of the Christian Right – including: Creationism vs. Evolution, Right to Life vs. Right to Choose, and of course, sexual perversion and the threats against Christian marriage.  There is also repeated coverage of the obsession of the ministers of the Christian Right with accumulating wealth – mostly at the expense of their followers.
For the record:
I am not aware of a single shred of evidence that Creationism is fact or truthful.  There is not a single shred of evidence that Evolution is incorrect OR in opposition of Christian beliefs.  In fact, the Catholic Church accepts the theory of Evolution.  I believe there must be a balance between the rights of the unborn and the rights of the mother.  My faith tells me it should be absolute (for the unborn), but my heart says until such time as society is willing to accept and finance the mother and the child through to adulthood, society has no business dictating the mother what to do with her body.  The cycle of poverty is a prison for many women (married and otherwise) and their children.  I admit I am not Christian enough to support all my fellow countrymen in a purely socialist society.  Therefore, abortion for non-rape and non-incest pregnancies should remain a legal option.  I believe for cases of rape and incest, abortion is always an option.  I am opposed to late term abortions except when the pregnancy directly threatens the life of the mother.  By “late term” I mean post-viability.  This will be a moving target as our medical knowledge and skills increase, but fundamentally – life is precious, a gift from God and should be cherished and preserved.  Finally, I believe American politics needs to stay out of America’s bedrooms.  I have been happily married for over 25 years.  How some committed homosexual relationship – legally married or not affects me, is beyond my understanding.  It doesn’t affect me any more or less than a non-married but committed heterosexual relationship does.  What “matters” to me is love in their relationship, but even that does not “affect” me personally because it’s not my relationship.
Back to the book review:
Is it likely that America will turn into a fascist state?  Fundamentally, if you believe a fascist state is one in which the interests of corporations (not business) are promoted by the state to the exclusion of the individual worker, I would argue we are already in a fascist state.  Calvin Coolidge is frequently quoted as saying: “The business of America is business.”  Note – what he actually said was: “After all, the chief business of the American people is business.”  This is not the same thing if you are interested in the public’s rights versus the corporation’s rights.  At this point in history, I would argue in the interest of promoting the people’s interests in business, we have confused these interests with those of the corporations, and because of this, the government is the last defender of the people from those few (the 1% of) Americans who accrue over 20% of our annual national earnings and own over 30% of our national private wealth.  (For a discussion of these figures, please see a report from UC Santa Cruz: “Wealth, Income and Power“)
The author (Hedges) contends these “fascist” interests on the Right are the individuals supporting the conservative think-tanks, Christian universities and Conservative Christian (fundamentalist) churches and their political activity.  Again, I believe this is true.  The problem I have with the author is his flat statements we can no longer tolerate the intolerant within our society and that he offers no legal method for opposing them.  Other than making us aware of the problem – what do you propose to do about it?  Nothing is suggested by the author!
In Hedges defense, I will say, short of passing a Constitutional amendment specifically limiting the political powers of corporations (they are not people and should therefore have limited rights to free speech particularly regarding political support) and enforcing the current laws limiting political speech in churches, I am not sure there is anything which can be done.  A final note on the limits of speech in churches.  To my knowledge, it is not against the law to make political speeches or take political stances in church.  You simply surrender your tax free religious status by doing so.  This (religious tax status) is why the Conservative Right seeks to break down the wall between church and state.  Then they will be able to promote “conservative” (Christian) religious candidates without the loss of the church’s protected tax status.  The assumption is a Conservative religious person (someone on the Christian Right) is the same as someone on the conservative Right.  I would argue they are not – for a true Christian and a modern “corporate” conservative Right – we should always remember Jesus’ words: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)
As for the “ministers” of the Christian Right getting rich off the fleecing of their flocks – it has long been true that no one ever lost money betting on the ignorance of the American public.
The book is interesting, but I did not find it an easy read – partly because it tends to be too strident and partly because it seems to cover a lot of different topics without offering resolution (as covered above).  I would recommend the book to all and highly recommend it to anyone seeking a better understanding of a moderate Christian’s view of the Christian / Conservative Right.  It certainly crystallized my understanding of both the Dominionists, the fundamentalists and the dangers of either of them increasing their political power in America.  In the end though, the book will not make any converts for either side – the gulf is too great!
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Yesterday, Hil and I took Mom up to visit with Rebecca in Sacramento.  Friday was Bec’s birthday and we wanted to spend some time with her.  We brought along a little cupcake for each of us and some candles for her to blow out.  After lunch we went out looking for a couch/love seat for Bec’s place.  We didn’t find anything she liked so we ended up sitting around her place and just chatting for a while before heading home.
Book Review:
Today I completed: “Words That Changed The World” by C. Edwin Vilade (2010©).   The book is a compilation of 25 of the greatest speeches of the last century and this past decade.  Many of them I’ve read before, but some I have not.   The power of the written (or spoken) word is incredible in its ability to stir one’s emotions and move one to act.  Over the coming weeks and months I will be writing about some of these speeches and including them (those not already present) on my Poems page.  Those already on the page will be revisited in my future posts and I’ll include the links to the original post.
If you also love the grandeur (both simple words and majestic imagery) of the English language, you will thoroughly enjoy this book.  Highly recommended.
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Book Review –
Today I completed volume thirteen in the Dresden Files series: “Ghost Story“, by Jim Butcher (2011©).  Harry Dresden is a wizard who lives in Chicago.  Harry “died” at the end of the last book (vol 12) and this is his story as a “newbie” ghost.  As with all books of this genre, you have to suspend disbelief, but once that’s out of the way, each book in the series is a very fast and enjoyable read.  I would say this is the first book where I felt you really had to have read the last couple of books in the series to get the most out of the story though.  The background storylines aren’t as well developed as I would hope for if I were coming to the story as a new (potential) fan.  Being a ghost never sound like so much fun, or, so challenging…
James (my son) turned me on to the series and we quite enjoy reading the books and discussing them – particularly the mythology of the “other-worldly” characters.  So, highly recommended (both book and series) – particularly if you’re into X-files, Supernatural and other Sci-Fi / spooky TV shows.
Family:
Rebecca is spending the weekend with us.  Her boss is having his annual BBQ competition to raise money for his various campaigns for education support.  Hil and I took Bec out to lunch at a new Mexican restaurant in the Park & Shop mall in Concord (off of Willow Pass).  Highly recommended!!  The food is delicious and the service was timely and friendly.  The only draw back is it is a little pricey ($52 for three).  They also do a all-you-can-eat buffet for $13.50, from 10 to 3:30.  Given the variety of foods, it looked even snackier than the meal.  Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name and it seems as if it’s too new to be on the web.  I’ll have to do a follow-up the next time we go – and we will be going back.
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Book Review:
We all have books we KNOW we should read.  Some of us own books we know we should read.  And, occasionally, we actually get around to reading them to see what all the fuss is/was about.  Thomas Frank’s “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” (2004©) is one of those books.  I’ve heard the book discussed on TV for seven years.  My daughter has owned it for several years.  And, I finally saw it on the $2 rack at my local used book store, so I thought, “What the heck?”
Frank is a Kansan who was raised a conservative (“Reagan”) Republican.  He admits to knowing little of the working class and nothing of work as he grew up.  He goes to college and is snubbed by the “better” classes of people at school and he discovers Democratic ideas/ideals.  The book explains this conversion and, more significantly, explains why he can’t understand why so many of his fellow Kansans continue to support Republicans when it is – he feels – clearly in their best economic interest to support Democrats.
In the end, the most telling comment is that the Democratic Party has abandoned its most effective arguments for holding onto its largest base (the working class), by adopting a soft on business economic policy which is “Republicanism lite”.  Frank says this happened during the Clinton era as an attempt to lure yuppies and other higher paid professionals and manual workers into the Democratic block.  It seems this worked during the Clinton era, but failed during the Gore and Kerry runs for the Presidency.
The book also spends a great deal of time discussing how once economics are removed from the contrast, Democrats lose to Republicans on “values” issues.
In hindsight, the analysis seems correct.  Unfortunately, Frank fails to offer any workable suggestions for either moving back to economic class struggle or converting folks on values.   As a matter of fact, even just finishing the book, I’m struggling to recall ANY suggestions.
It is easy to see why the book is considered a “classic” in modern terms and I believe the judgment will stand the test of time.  I would, however, note it was not a particularly “good” read for me.  The cover implies the author is humorous/funny.  I did not find him so.   At times he seems particularly bitter about the disappointment / disillusionment of his early adulthood – the world simply wasn’t the way he believed it to be when he was growing up.  This came across as a bitter tone through much of the book.  Today, I spent some time looking at Frank being interviewed and he does, in fact, seem funny and not bitter at all.  I admit this also surprised me…
Anyway, EVERY Democratic politician and political operative should definitely put this book high on their “must read” list.  I believe it does offer honest insight and serves as a cautionary tale for what may be facing us in 2012 and the future should the country fail to re-elect President Obama and turn over the Congress.  Given the number of Democratic Senators up for re-election, it seems almost certain the Republicans will gain the majority in the Senate.  (I don’t think they will get 60, though.)  The Democrats will do well to simply take back the House.  There will almost certainly be at least two seats opening on the Supreme Court during the next five years.  It behooves every patriotic American (Democrat and Republican) to not just vote, but to actively participate in the next national election.  The last thing we need is another “unelected” President or one elected by questionable voting procedures (read: Florida and Ohio).
The future will tell…
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Well, it’s Monday of Labor Day Weekend.  The weekend has flown by, again…
Book Review:
Saturday, I completed my third Richard P. Feynman book:  “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”  The first book was a collection of three lectures.  The second was the sequel to this book.  So, now I’ve read them in completely the wrong order.  It’s not you, Dr. Feynman, it’s me.  Sometimes even when you buy them correct, you end up reading them wrong.  The doctor is still funny and his observations about human nature are still accurate, but this book is referenced in the sequel and some of the ideas are expanded on in the lecture series, so sometimes reading this seemed like it was re-hashed.  Again, this book is a compilation of stories about the life and adventures of Dr. Feynman.  It’s a very fast read because he led an interesting life and because he is able to describe his adventures in a humorous and self-deprecating way. Highly recommended!
Family:
Yesterday, Hil and I went to Sunday Mass and I found, once again, the readings spoke to me personally. They were:
7 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.
8 When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.
9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
— Ezekiel 33:7-9
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
— Psalm 95:2
8 The only thing you should owe to anyone is love for one another, for to love the other person is to fulfil the law.
9 All these: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and all the other commandments that there are, are summed up in this single phrase: You must love your neighbour as yourself.
10 Love can cause no harm to your neighbour, and so love is the fulfilment of the Law.
— Romans 13:8-10
Ezekiel struck me because it reinforced in me the view that we have a responsibility to each other to tell each other when a person is acting badly (against God’s wishes).  The failure to say anything is enough to warrant your own accountability for the action (you did not do yourself).  Interestingly, it does not say we are compelled to act to prevent an action – only that we must speak out against the action.
The Psalm was actually one of several verses stated, but this was the line which gave me pause.  I’ve been reading a number of posts in Facebook, by various individuals who are against some of the changes in the practice of the Mass since Vatican II.  Among the objections were the music, singing and dancing.  The views seemed to be the music was trivial (folk-song-ie, popular), the singing was about the participants instead of about God, and dancing altogether.  It seems the “current” Mass is “lateral/horizontal” (about the Church members) instead of “vertical” (praise to God).  As a consequence, I’ve been reading the words to the song lyrics more closely instead of just singing along.  Are they more about “me” or about “God”?
To be honest, this view has never entered my mind before and I find it puzzling.  My first reaction was: “You folks seriously need to get a Life!” Last week, I examined the songs and verses from “the other side of mind” and I concluded there may be more to this than I at first gave any credit.  After yesterday, though, I’ve decided – no, my first impression was correct.  Some of what goes on in the service is about “Me” instead of about God, but seriously, does anyone think God cares?  I may feel a little put off by folks dancing (“look at me”), but they may be put off just as much when I sing out loudly.  In other words: “To each their own in the celebration of your faith!”
I wonder if it is possible to “love your neighbor” if you are wrapped up in whether someone else’s dancing or singing in Mass is about them or about praising God?
Family:
After Mass, we picked up Mom and went to visit my sister Carm for a BBQ.  My brother Sean was there with his son, and I got to chat with Art (Carm’s husband), and Patrice (one of Carm’s sons).  I really wanted to discuss learning with my sister – she has a master’s degree in education, but we were only able to have a brief conversation.  Basically, I’m interested in if there is a systematic method of conveying “understanding”, not just memorization of steps in a learning environment.  I explained my goal is to train some folks in the use of a tool for using databases and all I’ve ever been able to come up with are examples and “performance based training” (a training concept I learned back in my Army days).  With PBT, the instructor shows and tells the steps, walks the student through each of the steps and then the student performs the steps.  If they are not able to perform the steps, the instructor goes back to step one (show and tell). My sister was not sure there was any superior way.
Subsequently, on the drive home, I posed the same question to my daughter who works in the California State Dept. of Education.  Her response was there is no such thing as a silver bullet and every class situation and student will be different.  Over dinner we continued the conversation, but it seems with our years of education – classes, apprenticeships, core curriculum – we still don’t have a proven system.
Neither response was very encouraging.
I guess the question is: Can we stimulate curiosity and the ability to apply specific learning to general (new) situations (extrapolation and interpolation) systematically?
At the moment, my response is – I don’t know…
Song Lyrics:
Since I finished a book, I went out an bought another handful.  And – since my local used bookstore was having a sale, I also picked up a DVD series:  “The Greatest American Hero“.  I watched the pilot and the first episode today – and I loved it!!  It’s a Sci-Fi comedy crime series about and odd couple who are handed an alien spacesuit which grants one of the couple superpowers.  Robert Culp plays the FBI Agent (the straight guy) and William Katt plays the superhero (gets the suit and the girl).  The “girl” is played by Connie Sellecca – Katt’s character’s lawyer / girl friend / eventual wife.  The series originally came out in 1981 and I remember watching at least some of it on TV.
Anyway, I found the pilot brilliant!!  It has lots of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” moments in it and it’s funny and reasonably well written and acted (it’s just a superhero show, it’s not meant to be Shakespeare).  I understand it’s also on Netflix and Hulu – so check it out.  The title song is: “Believe It Or Not” and it’s one of those one hit wonders that will stay stuck in you head for a week.  But it’s also fun!  So, who cares?  Check out the lyrics on my poems page and then go listen to it on YouTube.  It’s great!!
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Book Review:
Today I finished my second book by Richard P. Feynman.  This one is titled: “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”  Again, Dr. Feynman was one of the men who worked on the Manhattan Project.  Feynman’s doctorate is in Physics and he won a Nobel Prize for physics.  This was both a terribly sad and immensely amusing book.  The sad portion dealt with his growing up and the early death of his high school sweet-heart and first wife.  I freely admit to being a big crybaby and her passing and his emotional detachment (temporary) made me break down too.  The majority of the book deals with his work on the Challenger Space Shuttle commission.  There appears to be a fair amount of criticism placed on NASA’s management (which I recall from the time – 1986), but I don’t recall anyone losing their jobs because of the fallout.  The impression of NASA management in the book still rings true about many of the problems we face generally in government and in large businesses today: either management knew of the risks (and they should have) but chose to minimize (i.e. disregard) them and launch anyway; or they knew the risks and lied to the commission about not knowing the risks; or management didn’t know the risks (in which case they were incompetent).
The “amusing” parts of the book are little bits in each chapter which are sometimes self-deprecating, but mostly the observations of a man standing outside a system and watching it act irrationally.  Feynman is kind of a cross between Mark Twain and Will Rogers, but with a PhD in Physics.
This is a very fast read and I highly recommend it – for the emotion, the humor and for the science.
Movie Review:
On Monday night, the Giants had the day off for travel so we decided to watch a movie.  Last week, something reminded me of “Driving Miss Daisy“, so I asked Hil if she wanted to watch it.  As it’s one of her favorite movies, I was confident she’d say yes.  To tell the truth, I’ve only seen the movie twice before in its entirety, so I was able to look at it with “fresh” eyes.  Most of it I did not remember at all.  It is a terrific movie!!  Heartwarming and funny, sad and a bit cautionary all rolled into one.  I can see why it won Best Picture that year (1989).
The main storyline is about a wealthy Jewish lady and the twenty five year relationship (friendship) she has with her African-American chauffeur.  Jessica Tandy is the lead and she won Best Actress for the role.  Morgan Freeman plays the chauffeur (Golden Globe Award but not Oscar – he was robbed) and Dan Aykroyd plays the son of Miss Daisy and who is the actual employer of the chauffeur.  Well written, well acted, funny, touching – just a beautiful movie.  Highly recommended!  If you haven’t watched it lately, treat yourself and see it again.
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Book Review:
Today I finished “The Meaning Of It All – Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist“, by Richard P. Feynman (1998©).  The book is a transcript of three lectures Dr. Feynman gave in 1963 at the University of Washington in Seattle.  The lectures are themselves titled: “The Uncertainty of Science“, “The Uncertainty of Values“, and “This Unscientific Age“.  The lectures provide insight into the Dr. Feynman’s (a Nobel laureate in physics) views on the nature and limits of science, religion and politics.
Feynman is one of the men who worked on “The Manhattan Project” which developed the atomic bombs dropped on Japan which ended the war (WWII) in the Pacific.  Feynman’s name is mentioned frequently whenever someone talks about the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century.  It appears from this book, that he has a terrific way with words to go along with his intellect.  The speeches were fairly informal (even amusing – not quite funny), but still offered much to ponder about – particularly about science and religion.
I particularly like his openly stated views on the limits of science in explaining things – basically, science only applies when you can think of a problem and a method of testing the problem for possible solutions.  Science can’t be applied to faith and therefore not to religion.   He accepts that others can find comfort in faith.  As a believer in God, it is refreshing to not be looked down on by someone who is a scientist.  Having said this, it is, I think, important to state that lots of scientists are also religious.
Anyway, the book is fairly short (about 200 pages) and is a very fast read – although as I said, it is full of things you will find yourself thinking about later (or during) after you’ve finished the book.  I know I will.  And, yes, you’ll be seeing some quotes in the coming days.
Movie Review:
Last night, I re-watched “Percy Jackson & the Olympians“.  I’ve read the book series and saw the movie with my son quite some time back.  He saw it at the theater.  I’ve only seen it on DVD.  Anyway, I watched it again to see what I thought.  I had very mixed reactions.  I was less impressed by the acting and more impressed by the special effects.  The story in the movie was less in sync with the book (as I remember it).  All in all, I’d say it was not as good as “Transformers” and about the same as “I Am Number Four“.  Basically, okay, but not great.  Entertaining, but not “I’ll really look forward to watching that again next year.”
Other bits and bobs:
James hung around for a BBQ this evening (Sunday).  I wanted to go out, but he wanted to eat in so I went and got us a couple of pork steaks.  Hil had a beef steak and Sarah had a couple of dogs.  It was real nice just hanging out with him and chatting.
I was chatting with Hil afterwards and we’re going to miss them when they are all gone and we’re on our own.  That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to it, but time does fly and your kids are all up and grown.
Sarah has started junior college and seems to be enjoying it.  She’ll probably be there for three years with all the cutbacks in classes.  Time passes…
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Today, after work, I went to see the new movie: “Green Lantern“, with my daughter Sarah.  I had read the reviews over the weekend and got James’ (my son) review.  He saw it at the mid-night premiere last Friday morning.  I also got a short review from a guy I know at work who goes to a lot of movies.  Everyone had mixed reactions.  The professional reviews were the harshest.  James said he didn’t think much of the main Green Lantern actor, but thought the rest of the movie was good.  My work friend said it was more of a comedy movie than a super-hero movie.
I don’t know what they were all expecting, but I thought it was terrific!!!  It had very good special effects, good comedic moments, a little romance, and some pretty good battle scenes.  I thought the main actor (Ryan Reynolds) carries the movie and is certainly better than many of the actors in the early days of comic-movies – including some more modern actors / roles  like Ben Affleck in Daredevil.  I think the best way to describe it is that it is a kind of comic book / sci-fi / space opera (minus the Italian singing).  Considering Green Lantern has always seemed a third tier super-hero to me, I found the movie to be on a par with the two most recent Batman movies.  I have read rumors there may be a trilogy, and if so, I will definitely go seem them as well.
On Sunday, I finally completed the book: “Microtrends“, by Mark J. Penn (2007©).  The author is a pollster who had his claim to fame in the Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton.  Penn is attributed with the invention of the term “Soccer Moms” and the targeting of them, which is supposedly what pushed Clinton over the top to victory in the election.  The book is a collection of short essays about over seventy microtrends (defined as a trend which is or is soon expected to be at least one percent of the population).  Many of the trends do not “seem” new to me, but one has to remember the book is now over four years old, so some of these trends have now become mainstream.
As usual with many of the books I read, I will be putting some of interesting quotes up in this blog over time.  Again, it’s not so much the newness of the idea as it is the conciseness of the ideas expression which interests me.  More critical and more favorable reviews can be found at the various on-line book sales sites.  I would only note, I tended to agree more with the positive reviews than the negative.  I also find it interesting that some reviewers simply can’t get past the “he worked for the re-election of Clinton”  factor and that seems to completely cloud their judgement (and reviews) to the point of vitriol.  It must be a sad life, not being able to get over something after all this time.
On Sunday, I also completed a very short book from my past: “The Wisdom Of Gibran“, edited by Joseph Sheban (1966©).  I first heard of Kahlil Gibran when I was in high school.  I’m not sure if I read this book or another very much like it, but I remember  being very touched by this “strange” person, who seemed to write as if he were from a fictional, medieval place and time.  Back then, I used to keep a journal and I remember writing quote after quote from Gibran in the journal.  As strange as it may sound, Gibran was like a “Star Wars” Yoda figure to me, speaking honestly to me, but in a funny version of English.  It was only on reading this book yesterday, that the image of Yoda came back to me.  It’s funny how life can go around in circles and create its own chain of links.
A couple of months ago, I bought Gibran’s collected works in a single volume.  This collection of short quotes has reminded me they (the full works) are on the shelf calling to me…
Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.
  —   Kahlil Gibran
From: “Mirrors Of The Soul
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Movie Review:
James and I went to the movies this afternoon to see “Priest“.  This was a movie I thought I wanted to see for some time.  It’s been advertised as a coming attraction for several months now.  Then, last night and this morning I lost my taste for it because I’d read some reviews and they were pretty bad.  Well, we went anyway and it was a pretty good movie!  Not terrific.  Not life-changing.  But definitely a good, entertaining summer action movie.
I gather the movie is based on some graphic novel and the movie is clearly set up to be the start of a franchise (which I would definitely see at least one more of).  I wanted to see it because I recognized the star (Paul Bettany) from the movie: “The DaVinci Code“.   I thought he was weird in the role of a monk-assassin, but it was strangely suitable.  I wanted to see this movie to see if that was a fluke or if he is an actor I want to watch out for.  After “Priest“, I think I need to see a lot more of his work, because he was again excellent in this role.
Now, don’t get me wrong, vampire movies are not normally my thing (although I have enjoyed the “Underworld” series).  But, this was (for me) an interesting and entertaining movie.  Like most “comic” book adaptation, it doesn’t bear close logical scrutiny – but for the price of a matinée ticket, it is a good way to spend an afternoon.
Book Review:
Today, I also finished a book: “If Not Now, When?“, written by Colonel Jack Jacobs (Ret.) and Douglas Century (2008).   Colonel Jacobs is a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for action during the Vietnam War.  The sub-title is: “Duty and Sacrifice in America’s Time of Need“.
The book is autobiographical and it is incredibly funny, touching and up-lifting —  all at the same time.  This was another of the $2 books I’ve gotten at Half-Price books and I can honestly say this was among the two of the best dollars I’ve ever spent in my life.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the type of person America and the U.S. military can produce – and what type of man goes on to earn a Medal of Honor.
I will be using the book as a source for many quotes.  Just a terrific read!!
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This book review is a bit late because life has gotten in the way…
Last Sunday (8 May 2011), I completed the book: “A Band of Misfits“, by Andrew Baggarly (2011©).  Baggarly is a sports columnist (and SF Giants beat reporter) for a local Bay Area newspaper.  The book is a collection of stories which follow the championship season (2010) of the San Francisco Giants.  The book is a fast, fun read.  The stories add a sense of humanity to the players which rarely comes out of a shorter form of writing – like a daily column.  You may get the same picture if you follow the column every day, but I’m not sure how many folks still do this.  To be honest, I’ve never done this (follow a columnist) until about a year ago, when I began regularly reading a pro-football columnist (Peter King) in Sports Illustrated.  Since I don’t get the paper or read Baggarly’s column on-line, I can’t comment on if the book is a mashup of his columns or if the stories are extra material that never quite made the column.  Either way, they are stories worth reading.
Anyway, as one of the many old-time baseball fans who jumped on the Giants bandwagon last year, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed the book and reading about the lives and foibles of  some of the players.  I heartily recommend this book to any recently returning baseball fan!
Superman
Yesterday, Donnie and I went up to Fairfield to visit my brother Sean.  While there, we watched a movie titled: “Ip Man“.  The movie is a semi-autobiographical (dramatized) accounting of a famous martial artist from the early 1900’s.  Ip Man was a proponent (and master) of the Wing Chun (“Eternal Spring”) form of Kung Fu.  In later years, he was a sifu / instructor to Bruce Lee.
Some martial arts movies are great for martial arts and terrible movies.  This is not one of those movies.  This has both great fights and a great story presentation in movie form.  The acting is very good for a foreign film.  I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense for “foreign” films.  I mean it in the sense that, I don’t have the cultural background to relate to the nuances of most non-American films.  For example, there are multiple instances in the film where someone says the southern style of Kung Fu is for women.  Unless you know Ip Man himself taught the form was derived from a legend of a female who defeats a local warlord in battle, the comments appear to be a fairly common sexual slur.  I did not realize this until I did a bit of research about Ip Man and Wing Chun on the internet after viewing the movie.
If you like great martial arts flicks or if you’re interested in a small window of Chinese culture, this is a very enjoyable movie!  Check it out!
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Today I finished reading: “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (2006©).  The subtitle is: “Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More“.  The book purports to be about the “new” economics of culture and commerce.   I was looking forward to finally getting around to this book as I’ve had it waiting for a couple of months now.  It’s another of the $2.00 books from Half-Price Books.  I have heard the term, “The Long Tail” several times in the last few years.  Usually in context / comparison with the works of  Malcolm Gladwell (“Tipping Point“, “Blink“, “Outliers“).  The author (Anderson) has a similar, populist / popular style which I guess comes from them both being writers in magazines.  Other than this being a book whose concept has entered the popular / mainstream consciousness, I don’t think the book or the concept are as valuable or interesting as Gladwell’s works.
What is a “Long Tail” economy?  A Long Tail economy is one where culture is unfiltered by economic scarcity.  Huh?  Well, here, “economic scarcity” seems to be defined as things which are not stocked at my local store because there is not sufficient local demand.
The basic premise is that we are moving to a world where the manufacturer is going to be expected to carry the finished product in finished inventory (or build to order just in time) instead of the “retail” seller keeping goods in stock.  Given the costs of storage are zero (for the seller), they will carry an unlimited volume (and variety) of product in their sales channel (typically a database driven web site).  This will allow the seller to offer a value-added of a filter (typically some form of recommendation tool and or customer profile/history).  This added value is what will bring you back to the sellers web site for future purchases or other products.  Of course, once you know the location (url) of the manufacturer of the specific item you want, there is no need to use the seller as a middle-man.  At which point, the seller has lost their value until the next time you’re not sure where to get what you want.
The concept is plausible for items which are entirely (or mostly) purely digital – like sound, writing or images – like e-music, e-books, and e-videos.   These items are easily digitized and electronically transportable.  I am more dubious of the value of this concept for items which we buy based on touch and taste.  I have purchased shoes and clothes using catalogs, so shifting to web sites is not a “BIG” deal, but most of my purchases have been “higher-ended” where the seller will accept shipping costs in both directions if there is a problem.  I’m not convinced there are many sellers who would commit to this level of customer satisfaction on low ticket items.  “Atoms”, to me, seem a bigger problem, than bits and bytes.
The book is an expanded version of an article which appeared in Wired magazine back in 2004.  Since I’ve been a subscriber to Wired for over 10 years, I would have read the original article when it was published.  I have only the vaguest recollection of it, so it didn’t make an impact on my life.  The book is a fast read and I do highly recommend it, but recognize the recommendation is based on recognizing the application of the concept to the digital nature of the goods being sold, not on the strength of the concept applying to the world of manufactured products.
I will be offering a number of quotes from the book over the next few weeks to give you a flavor of the content.
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