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Posts Tagged ‘2017 Book Review’

Walden Two”  (1948©, 1976©)  —  book review
This is another “classic” book (novel) I’ve wanted to read for some time.  No, it’s not the original “Walden Or Life In The Woods“, by Thoreau, or its sequel.  It is the fictional description of a “scientifically” created utopian community used by the author (B. F. Skinner) to promote his theories about (what is now known as) applied behavioral analysis.  It was Skinner’s belief that most of an individual’s actions (and cultural preferences) are determined by the environmental factors / variables / cultural norms one is exposed to.  While Skinner did not start the nature vs. nurture debate, he did go some distance in promoting his side (nurture) of the argument.
Basically, the novel revolves around an academic who is approached by two students to find out if stories about Utopia’s are real or even possible.  They have heard of one (in the professor’s class) and wonder if the professor would approach the person who organized it (the utopian society) so they could visit it.  The professor writes to his old friend who agrees to host them (the visitors) for a time.  The group of visitors ends up being the original professor, another academic / current friend, the two students and their two girl-friends.  The visit is to “Walden Two” – a play on Thoreau’s Walden which uses the sequence / numeric (two) instead of the “also” (too).  In other words, “we follow, but we are not the same.”
The “visit” allows the author to present his theories about how to “properly” arrange a society so it can maximize leisure time as well as efficient productivity to generate just enough to cover more than what the society needs, but never to exceed requirements so much that people do not have time to be and to become themselves.  As an example, everyone is “expected” to do a certain amount of work / chores, and you receive “credits” for the time spent doing them.  The “jobs” average to four hours per day and the remainder of the time is yours to use any way you see fit – eat, sleep, art, play, whatever…  The job credits are scored based on the number of staff who want to do the job, which presumes fewer folks want to do “harder”, “more tedious”, or “dirtier” jobs.  This, in turn, means you can earn your four hours of credit in less than four hours of work.  The “science” comes from the statistical analysis of how many folks ask to do the job.  Of course, the majority of jobs are also shifted periodically (again using analysis) to even out the more favorable jobs, too.  For those, you have to work more than four hours to get the four hours of credit.  The “surplus” generated by efficient productivity is used to deal with external entities – to pay taxes and for buying supplies which cannot be generated within the society.
This pretty much covers the general economics of the utopia.  The social engineering and politics are also covered and they are what was found so objectionable about the book that it was banned in some places.
Can man play God?  Can we make life so pleasant that free will becomes a lost / legacy concept?  Can we eliminate greed and/or the desire to rule others?  I don’t know.  My instinct is to say “no”.  And if we could do any of these things, is it a society I would want to live in?  Again, I don’t know…  But the book sure did make it sound appealing.  What happens to the six visitors?  I’m afraid  that would be telling, so you have to read the book to find out…
Final recommendation:  highly recommended!  This is a book which made me think about my own values and what I’d be willing to give up in my “society” to have a civilization where wealth was not the “be-all / end-all”.  If nothing else, that (“it made me think”) is a pretty good description of a “classic”.  …And, of course, quotes / excerpts will follow in good time.  (LOL)
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On This Day In:
2016 Learning Subtle Differences
2015 Dog Eat Dog World?
2014 And Sometimes Blogs About It
2013 Outside-In
2012 They Are All Perfect
2011 Delegation – The “How-To’s”
2009 Diet Update and Other Bits & Bobs…

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The Return of Depression Economics (and the Crisis of 2008)”  (2009©)  —  book review
This book is authored by Dr. Paul Krugman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2008.  That’s kind of an easy way to validate that he knows what he’s talking about in terms of economics.  I actually completed this book earlier in the month, but have just been too lazy to get around to this review…
Basically, the good doctor is a progressive / liberal economist from the Keynes / Galbraith school of government “interference” in the free market to both stimulate the economy and restrict bad business practices (i.e. monopolies).  This means, when the inevitable market slow-down occurs, the author feels it is the government’s job to step in and provide demand for goods and services which will keep the economy ticking along.  The failure to do so, the author states, results in a stalled or failing economy, which starts a self-fulfilling prophecy / death spiral of recession or depression.  To prevent the excesses of capitalism, he proposes, a stricter regulation of banks and non-bank money (credit) generators.  In theory, this decreases the size of economic bubbles and the resulting “crashes” which follow the inevitable bubble burst.
The bottom line appears to be that markets are subject to “bubbles”.  Bubbles are periods of overconfidence which directly result in price increases to the point of frenzy.  However, when the frenzy pauses to catch its breath, everything tends to go to hell in a handbasket unless the government is willing (and sometimes it isn’t) to step in and save everyone’s bacon.  The buying frenzy then becomes a selling panic and the free flow of funds / capital means individual national economies can end up in very deep do-do, very quickly.
Final recommendation: highly recommended.  I recognize I am also a progressive / liberal who is predisposed to agree with the author’s opinions and arguments, but I found the basic arguments to be in agreement with my own experiences over the last 50 years.  The book is written in standard English for the “off-the-street” (non-economist) person to understand.  It is relatively short at under 200 pages and I found it to be a fairly fast read.  Well worth your time to understand some of why the world is functioning the way it does.
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On This Day In:
2016 Election + 1 Month
2015 Dance And Sing
2014 A Measuring Stick For Progress
2013 Courtly Love Or Victory Over Habit
2012 Have We Met?
2011 Efficiently Useless

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The Essential Knuth”  (2013©)  —  book review
This book is an interview of Professor Donald E. Knuth by Edgar G. Daylight (and edited by Kurt De Grave).  The book is part of the “Conversations” series and covers topics like Knuth’s childhood / family, college life, and then more typical topics – ALGOL, structured programming, other software pioneers and finally the history of computer science history.  Basically, it’s a chance to record the thoughts of a pioneer in his field (computer science) about his life and views about his accomplishments and opinions of other greats in this field.
Is it earth-shattering?  No.  Is it interesting?  Yes.  Knuth appears to be a man who rather humbly acknowledges his own “greatness” in his field, but puts it down to both ability and the good fortune of being born at a time when his field of interest was new.  If you are interested in the thoughts of a giant in his field (and I am in this field), you should like this.
The book is very short: less than 90 pages and has practically no technical information.  It is, therefore, entirely accessible to the general public.  If reading isn’t your “thing”, I have subsequently found most of the book is also available on YouTube in short interviews.  Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  The book is so short and contains so little technical info, you will lose almost nothing for investing the couple of hours it will take to read this book.  And, it is interesting (even if in only a limited way).
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On This Day In:
2016 Hoping For The Best Come January
2015 Adaptive Security
2014 Wants
2013 Side Effects
2012 Just Trying To Earn A Living
2011 Productive Worry

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Over the weekend, I finished reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” and viewing the movie based on the book.
To Kill A Mockingbird” (1960©) —  book review
TKAM was written by Harper Lee.  This was her first (and only) novel until “Go Set A Watchman” was published just before her death.  “GSAW” was / is purported to be the initial draft of TKAM, with substantial revision to focus on a particular period within the draft.  TKAM is the story of a young girl growing up in Alabama during the 1930’s Great Depression.  More specifically, it’s about a three year period where the girl begins to discover her place in her family, her town and society in general.  From just before entering school, to attending a criminal trial, to almost being murdered, the girl’s life interweaves threads of family, friendship, racism, education, poverty, politics, economics and justice.  I have not read GSAW, so I cannot comment on it at this time.
The main character / narrator is Jean Louise Finch (“Scout”), a “tom-boy” who lives with her older brother, Jeremy (“Jem”) Finch, and their widowed father, Atticus Finch.  The brother and sister befriend a boy named Dill, who visits their town each summer to stay with his aunt.  The three kids are scared of, yet fascinated by, their neighbor, the reclusive Arthur (“Boo”) Radley who lives in a relatively dilapidated house on their block.  They make up stories and believe “Boo” is a prisoner of his strict / evil father.  Although, he is not the “main” character, Scout’s father, Atticus, is the ultimate heroic father figure – kind, humble, understanding, a successful lawyer and a crack shot with a rifle.
The book also has two characters who are important in tying the other strands together:  Calpurnia (the Finch’s housekeeper / cook) and Alexandra Finch (Atticus’ sister).  The two females serve as role models for “Scout”, both in terms of “female” skills (cooking, cleaning and discipline) and in social status / behavior (dress, speaking, comportment).
(SPOILER ALERT!! –   stop here if you’ve not read the book or seen the movie.)
The two main threads of the book are the mystery of Boo Radley and the Radley house and the trial of Tom Robinson (a black man on trial for raping and beating a white woman).  Over time, the children make friends with Boo without ever seeing him.  Atticus establishes the innocence of Tom, but due to racism, Tom is convicted of the crime anyway and dies while trying to escape custody.  After a few more convolutions, Boo saves Scout and Jem from the truly guilty party and the Sheriff “saves” Boo from Atticus and the town.  In effect, although an innocent black man died, justice is served when the real “baddie” gets it in the end.
This book has been considered a “classic” since its release.  In my opinion it definitely is!  I found the story well developed and the characters believable.  It is easy to see why the fictional character of Atticus Finch has been mentioned by many as “the reason” they got into the legal profession.  Final recommendation:  highly recommended!!  As an aside, this is the first book in many years where I had to pull out my dictionary to make sure I understood what the author was saying.  I did this six(6) times!!!  How many times to you thoroughly enjoy a work of literature and learn vocabulary from it too?
To Kill A Mockingbird”  (1962)  —  movie review
I must admit I know I have seen this movie before, but I have almost no recollection of it.  Based on that, I must have seen it in my early teens, before I was aware of economics or the Depression or class / social racism.  I’m not saying I was unaware of racism when I was growing up.  Only that I grew up in a multi-cultural environment which did not “promote” it openly.  The movie closely follows the trial theme in the book.  Other themes are glossed over or poorly explained (relative to the book).
Having said the above, this movie is profoundly disturbing.  As an “older” man (now in my 60’s), I still find the overt racism (tribalism?) portrayed in this movie to be frightening real and powerfully moving.  The book has multiple threads in it which the movie simply doesn’t have the time to develop.  This detracts from the overall story, but it increases the force of racism portrayed.  I imagine though, that if you have either not read the book or not read it recently, the fact the trial of Tom Robinson was the main theme of the movie makes its viewing even more disturbing than the rendition in the book.
The movie stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch (Oscar for Best Actor), Mary Badham as Jean Louise Finch (“Scout”), Phillip Alford as Jeremy Finch (“Jem”), Frank Overton as Sheriff Heck Tate, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, Estelle Evans as Calpurnia, Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, and Robert Duvall (in one of his earliest film roles) as Arthur “Boo” Radley.  Badham received an Oscar nomination for her role as Scout.  The movie won three Oscars and was nominated for five more (including Best Picture and Best Director).  The movie is shot in black and white which (to me) increases the dramatic effects of the characters and the town / time period.
Final recommendation:  highly recommended!!  The movie skirts the social, educational and economic issues raised in the book and focuses on the racism in America during that time period.  This is not to say there is no racism in America today.  The movie is, however, attempting to bring the issue to the forefront for discussion – which for a 1962 release date – was, in itself, a powerful step forward for the country.  It continues to highlight (to me) that as far as we’ve come, we’ve farther to go.
Oh, and my suggestion is to read the book first and then see the movie.  But, that’s just me…
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On This Day In:
2016 Mirror, Mirror
2015 Speaking With Forked Tongue
2014 The Code
2013 Eventually Formed
2012 Remember To Vote Tomorrow
2011 It Sounds Like Chaos Theory To Me

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Will Rogers Says…”  —  book review
Will Rogers Says…” (1993©) is a book of quotations edited by Dr. Reba Collins who was the Director Emeritus of the Will Rogers Memorial and Research Center.  The book is small and short (barely 86 pages with photos), and it is also (obviously) both as very fast read and a very funny / amusing read.
Final recommendation: Highly Recommended!!  If you like social and political commentary, you will love this book.  I will, of course, be posting many of the quotes contained in this handy reference to plain spoken American humor.  LOL.
Two samples:
1)  Being serious, or being a good fellow, has got nothing to do with running this country, if the breaks are with you, you could be a laughing hyena and still have a great administration.
2)  Washington, D.C. papers say:  “Congress is deadlocked and can’t act.”  I think that is the greatest blessing that could befall this country.
[And thus Rogers presages the Trump Administration’s “booming” Stock Market and the Republican majority “Civil War” in Congress despite complete control of all three branches of the Federal Government.  Just saying…  —  KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2016 She Is Still Singing
2015 Don’t Complain
2014 Nothing Is The Same
Orange October (XII) – Giants Win Game 7 (3 To 2) And World Series (4 To 3)
2013 Hours, Days, And Years
2012 In Kev Are In Hil
2011 No Game, Didn’t Really Happen
A Good Post

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This post is a review of a movie and a book.  If that doesn’t interest you, feel free to move on and come back tomorrow (please) for a more regular post.
Stand And Deliver” (1988)  —  movie review
“Stand And Deliver” is a semi-biographical movie starring Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante.  Escalante is a computer engineer who quits his job to teach computer programming in a inner-city high school (Los Angeles, Garfield High School).  It turns out the school has no computers, so he ends up teaching math.  Escalante feels the students are being limited by the low expectations of the school faculty as well as by society in general, so he sets out to change that by offering to teach more advanced classes – first algebra, then analytic geometry and finally calculus.
The movie details Escalante’s efforts over two years to teach math / calculus to a group of students, and then, when they are successful, he must challenge the testing system to prove they did not cheat to succeed.
This is a little gem of a film.  Inspirational, yet rooted in a Latino and urban feel.  There are two particular performances by young (at that time) actors: Daniel Villarreal as Chuco and Lou Diamond Phillips as Angel Guzman which stood out for me.  I don’t know how much other work Villarreal has done, but Phillips is quite famous for a number of roles (especially as Ritchie Valens in La Bamba).  Many of the other “teen” actors in the movie are very good, as well, but these two stood out for me.  Villarreal because he had the “look” I’ve seen in real gang members eyes when I was younger and Phillips because he was able to show societal side of working class / struggling Americans.  A number of the female teens showed the family side (helping around the house / babysitting siblings, etc).
Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!  A feel good movie which highlights both the struggles to get ahead in America and the ability of the disenfranchised to rise to the level of their abilities when given and opportunity.  While the movie is about a specific teacher and has a specific ethnic / minority (Latino) slant, my understanding is the situation in our school systems has not significantly changed in the near thirty years since this movie was released.  In fact, it is economics / poverty and not ethnicity which defines educational opportunity in the United States.
Revolution For Dummies: Laughing Through The Arab Spring”   —  book review
Revolution For Dummies”  (2017©) was written by Bassem Youssef.  The book is an autobiographical telling of Youssef’s experience as a TV personality during the Egyptian “Arab Spring” of 2011 to 2014.  During this time, Youssef went from being a heart doctor to an internet sensation to a TV comedian.  Post that period, he has become a political exile from his home country (Egypt).
The gist of the book is that Arabs are just like us (American’s).  Those in power tend to think of themselves as the righteous voice of God when, in fact, they are all too often simply venal and greedy little men.  If there is any significant difference, it is that, at the moment, we Americans have a Constitution to offer us a limited shield from the violence of the powerful and their manipulation of the mob.
Having spent a couple of years working in the Middle East, I have an interest in their faith, culture and governments.  As such, I found this book to be a tremendous insight into the thought process of the upper and middle class Egyptian mind.  I wish I could say to the mind of the “average” Egyptian, but let’s face it, the author was a heart surgeon before he became famous.
Anyway, I highly recommend this book for the insights it provides about the Middle East generally, Egypt specifically and also about how others from around the world view us here in the United States.  I will be including several quotes from this book over the coming days / weeks as a means of further sharing Youssef’s touching / influencing my own thoughts.  Oh, and a big shoutout to my daughter Sarah for buying the book and passing it on to me to enjoy.
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On This Day In:
2016 Once Eccentric
2015 Trusted Desperation
2014 Orange October (V) – Giants Win Game 3
Who Am I To Teach?
2013 Deliver Us Something Larger
2012 Bore, n.
2011 Attaining High Office

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Book Review: “Running Blind
Today’s book review is “Running Blind” (2000©) written by Lee Child.  This is the fourth in the Jack Reacher action / mystery series.  In this episode, Reacher is co-opted by the FBI to help them solve a serial murder case.  The case seems to be related to the military, hence the need to involve a former officer in the Military Police.
By “related” I mean the murders involve females who were sexually harassed while in the military.  The initial “perp” profile indicates it “might” be someone like Reacher because blah, blah, blah and he handled a bunch of these cases while he was in the service.   If fact, he is detained by the FBI because he seems to be a likely suspect.  He worked on the cases of a couple of the victims, so he seems to be a common thread.
The story follows what is becoming the standard story for this series: Reacher is dragged into something, he goes from being an unwilling participant to being a willing participant to being the brilliant “Sherlock Holmes” and solving the mystery at the end.  The problem with the series remains: there are already twenty plus books in the series and this is only number four, so there can be no personal tension, no matter how much the author tries to create a build-up.  We know he is going to live to be in the next book.
Having said this, the book is a good, fast read even though it felt longer than the earlier books in the series.  It weighs in at 519 pages in my paperback version.  If there is one difference in this episode, it is that we have a continuation of the story arc from the last book.  That arc is his love interest and the house he inherits from the father of the love interest.  Let’s just say, Reacher is a rolling stone, and leave it at that.  It is interesting because it is the first hint the books are not 100% stand-alone stories.  Does it “matter” in the grand scheme of things?  Not particularly.  Just interesting.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  It is a good story, but I knew who the real perp was before the big resolution at the end of the book.  I didn’t know the how or the why, but I had pretty good ideas.  As an aside, I was expecting a super-twist at the end.  It didn’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I was a little disappointed.  Anyway, I’m still looking forward to reading more books in the series.
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On This Day In:
2016 There Is A Difference Between Dangerous And Frightening
2015 Always A Goal
2014 Standing Strong
2013 Shaken And Stirred
The Bird With The Broken Wing
2012 Friends In High Places
2011 Objective Independence

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